Heavy Cruisers and Battlecruisers
It is time to have a look at another couple of ships that will be appearing in A Call to Arms: Star Fleet, and this time we cast our eye on two ships that will be the mainstay of any Federation battlefleet – the truly iconic Constitution-class Heavy Cruiser and its big brother, the Kirov-class Battlecruiser.
During the early stages of playtesting, these were another set of vessels that caused us to raise our eyebrows. Surely, we thought, the Battlecruiser was not worth a whole 60 points more than the Heavy Cruiser? During subsequent games we found that, yes, it is very much worth the extra points. In fact, it could be a real powerhouse when used correctly…
First, though, let’s have a look at the Constitution, possibly the most recognisable starship in the world (it was certainly identified immediatly by US Customs when they scanned my luggage after Gen Con this year!).
This is what 180 points will buy you if you decide to become a Federation player. With a Turn score of 6, this ship can make a maximum of two 45-degree turns in each Movement Phase, which is pretty much average for many fleets (it will make Klingon players laugh though). However, the Damage score of 32 and Shields of 24 mean it can withstand a great deal of punishment. Indeed, that is enough for players to often ‘retire’ a battered ship from combat because it is barely limping along from a stack of critical hits, rather than being destroyed by being forced to zero Damage.
It carries a full suite of equipment and auxiliary systems – 4 shuttles in its hangars, 5 Marines, and a good list of traits including Labs 8, Tractor Beams 3, and Transporters 3.
The weaponry the Constitution brings into battle can best be described as ‘solid.’ You will never find yourself lacking for things to fire! The saucer bears four sets of heavy phasers (we call this the Phaser-1), with two Attack Dice each looking across 180-degree fire arcs forward, back, left and right. This means you will always have at least two main weapon systems to bring to bear on an enemy, no matter where they are and, if you get things lined up just right, three sets of phaser-1 batteries (6 Attack Dice!) can strike an enemy.
Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that while the phaser-1 is the main weapon for most fleets, it is by no means ‘weak’ in any regard. With the Accurate +2 trait you will miss close-in targets only on the roll of a 1, while Kill Zone 8 means anything within 8″ will be suffering from an acquired Multihit 2 trait. Finally, Precise means that any shots that strike the hull have a good chance of causing critical hits, and if you slip a salvo past someone’s shields, that can give them something very serious to think about.
There are two light phasers (phaser-3) that cover a 360-degree fire arc, though you will usually keep these to one side, in case someone throws an unexpected drone, shuttle or plasma torpedo at you. Finally, there are four photon torpedo tubes and one drone rack to give the ship a heavy punch.
In the Federation fleet list, we have also listed a variant for the Constitution, the Command Cruiser. An extra 25 points buys you the Command +1 trait (allowing your entire fleet to react better to the enemy), and moves the aft phasers to a 360-degree ‘turret’ mount. Though we won’t do this for every (or, indeed, many) variant ships, as the base mdoel works just fine for them, we have actually done a limited model of the Command Cruiser that we will be using to promote the game. You’ll have a chance to grab one in a couple of weeks or so, probably without paying a penny for it – stay tuned!
Overall, this is a very well-rounded ship, able to handle any assignment you care to throw at it, and come through victorious.
So, what can a Battlecruiser do by comparison?
A Heavy Cruiser with cooler looking warp nacelles? Don’t you believe it…
At 240 points, the Kirov-class Battlecruiser represents a serious investment, especially in smaller games. It showcases the upper limit of what a mid-sized ship can do in the game, before you start getting into the unweildy Dreadnoughts and other massive ships.
It has the same Turn score as the Heavy Crusier (6), but sports another four Damage (36) and more Shields – 30 of them. This latter is important as it crosses another threshold whereby (like the Battle Frigate vs. the Frigate in the last column) boosting shields becomes more efficient. In fact, if the Kirov constantly boosts its shields, it takes a serious assault on the part of the enemy to bring them down, with far more effort required than might first be obvious. Of course, the crew will always have other demands on their time so this is not usually practical in many games, but you always have the option to turn it into a nigh impregnable phaser-fortress (just watch out for shots slipping past your shields).
There are also more shuttles on board, for a total of 6, and more Marines too, 8 of them with an additional Transporter being placed for their use. It also has the Command +1 trait that Heavy Cruisers have to upgrade to get.
Then we get to the weapons. The forwardmost phasers on the saucer have been punched up to four Attack Dice and those facing aft on the Heavy Cruiser are now on a 360-degree turret mount. This means if you get an enemy dead ahead, every phaser-1 on this ship can target them which, frankly, is just plain rude! 10 Attack Dice of phasers will disabuse anyone that this weapon system cannot hold a candle to the likes of photon torpedoes.
There are no changes to the photons or phaser-3 systems, but drones get bumped up to a massive 4 Attack Dice.
During playtesting, we found a kind of Mutually Assured Destruction pattern developed when ‘low drone count’ fleets faced one another. If you get attacked by a drone, you can roll some dice for your phasers (this is what your phaser-3s are generally used for!), or simply use your own drone to automatically nullify it, no dice rolled. In fleets where every ship generally has just one drone rack, you often get into situations where no one fires a drone, just in case they get targeted towards the end of the Attack Phase.
The Kirov blows this idea out of the water. With four Attack Dice of drones, it can simply overwhelm most targets. In fact, in ‘civil wars’ we have played with the Federation facing another Federation fleet, people quickly used the Federation’s special rule of turning their drones from an offensive role to the defensive Anti-Drone trait as soon as the Battlecruiser arrives on the field!
As mentioned earlier, the combination of all these extra pieces, while small by themselves, adds up to a ship with vastly more capability on the battlefield. Stronger shields keep it fighting longer, and that means its extra phasers and drones are around to do more damage to the enemy. If you don’t know what you are facing, you cannot go wrong with a Heavy Cruiser or three, perhaps backed up by a Command Cruiser. When you face the big boys, the Battlecruiser starts becoming a very attractive option, even at its elevated points cost.
Speaking of Command Cruisers, there is no such variant for the Kirov (there is no need for one, with its standard onboard systems). However, there are two variants included in the fleet list, and they are fielded using the ‘standard’ Battlecruiser model.
First up, you have the Bismarck-class, which replaces 2 Attack Dice of drones with two small plasma torpedoes. This is a way for the Federation to experiment with plasma weaponry, though you will find you need to get very close to an enemy in order to make them work. However, if you can succeed at that, the variant costs no additional points.
The New Jersey-class Battlecruiser is actually cheaper, at 215 points. It also loses 2 Attack Dice of drones, replacing them with another 2 Attack Dice of photon torpedoes – that gives you 6 Attack Dice of torpedoes, which is the sort of thing a typical Dreadnought brings into battle. Alas, though, the Battlecruiser is too small a hull to bear the stress of so much firepower, so they cannot all be fired at once. What it does allow you to do is keep up a constant pounding of torpedoes, one set firing while another reload, though all but the best admirals will struggle to keep that volley going for more than as couple of turns or so – there is always something else you will want to be doing other than reloading torpedoes!
So, that forms our review of the two main ships of the Federation fleet. Next week, we will start to explore the vessels of the alien empires…