Monday, March 21, 2016

Adventures in Free Gaming: Star Fleet Battles

My favorite price for a game is free.  Therefore, I love getting free games.  I recently discovered that you can download an introductory module for the venerable space combat game Star Fleet Battles.  Is this too good to be true?  Is the module worth my time?  I decided to download it, print it out, and give it a try.

If you are unfamiliar with the game, Star Fleet Battles is a space combat wargame published by Amarillo Design Bureau.  The first version was published on 1979 and was based on the Star Trek universe as it existed at the time.  The company has a convoluted license agreement that allows them to use ships and races from the original series era of Star Trek, but they can use nothing from later series nor can they use named characters.  This allows them to have Federation, Klingon, and Romulan ships.  There are also Gorn, Kzinti (from the animated show), Tholians, and various other races.  If you are familiar with the tone of the original series then the setting will make sense.

The introductory module, or the Star Fleet Battles Cadet Training Handbook, is a 75 page pdf that leads you through a series of missions to teach you the rules of the game.  The pdf consists of rules and scenarios, charts, ship system displays (SSDs), counters, and hex maps.  Star Fleet Battles has a reputation as being a complicated game with thousands of rules, and this product aims to debunk the notion that the game is impossible to learn.

Map, counters, charts, and SSDs printed out and ready for play!
The Cadet Training Handbook introduces the rules for Star Fleet Battles a little bit at a time.  It breaks the game down into scenarios.  I have currently played through scenarios one and two.  The first scenario involves flying a spaceship around the map and shooting drones.  The second scenario is almost the same, except this time the drones track your ship and try to blow you up while you shoot them.  The goal of the two scenarios is to learn how ship movement works as well as learning basic weapons and damage rules.

I really like how the Cadet Training Handbook breaks the rules down and simplifies them through the scenarios.  Star Fleet Battles uses turns that are divided into 32 parts called impulses.  In the first two scenarios you use a turn that is only eight impulses long.  Star Fleet Battles uses a complex energy allocation system.  The  Cadet Training Handbook waits until scenario four to introduce the concept.  More than one of the scenarios are designed for solo play or can be played solo.  As you work through the book you gain all of the rules needed for ship on ship combat.

I am a fan the Cadet Training Handbook.  The scenarios take the right path in introducing rules to the player.  Concepts are taught at just the right level before moving on to the next scenario.  The book has twelve scenarios and includes ships for 8 of the races in the Star Fleet Universe.  If you are a science fiction gamer and have not tried Star Fleet Battles then I would recommend at least giving this book a read through.  If you don't want to print out the counters and map there is a VASSAL module available.  My goal is to work through all twelve scenarios and convince some friends to have some spaceship duels.  Hopefully I will have more posts on the topic at a later date.