Nathan and I finally got around to sitting down and playing out our ideas for a Strike Craft rules yesterday, and a new system for them has been created.
It’s a little rough around the edges and could undoubtedly be improved, but it gets close to the feel we were shooting for with a new strike craft system, where fighters get into the fight really fast and you can play with a lot of them on the table without adding a lot of game time, while still maintaining some tactical depth in your options for how you handle them.
For any newcomers, I do use a few terms (like DMG, disruption and Impact dice) that assume a basic knowledge of the rules. If you haven’t read the rules, most of this should still make sense anyway.
So, without further ado, here is our new fledgling strike craft system – one day old, and hardly playtested at all.
Fighters and Bombers
Strike craft are one of two types – Fighters (To attack other strike craft), and Bombers (To attack ships). The scenario will specify which ships have strike craft and how many, like we do with crew. For our test games we each used a single carrier with 9 fighters and 6 bombers. Like our crew, each unit represents a number of these craft.
Formations are the key to the system, and are the source of much of its tactical depth. You can arrange your fighters and bombers into groups called Formations, and these Formations each act as a unit. As you’ll see, different actions benefit from different arrangements of your formations, and the right deployment can give you an advantage over your opponent.
Under this system, we don’t care precisely about the location of a given formation. The primary reason we’re adopting this system is because under earlier incarnations we would place a strike craft in a hex, like a ship. To do this properly, each strike craft needed a vector token (otherwise a ton of odd stuff could happen with strike craft positioning), and with tons of strike craft that became unmanageable. So we arranged strike craft into formations that had to share the same hex and vector token, but it felt flat and uninteresting.
After thinking it through, we decided we didn’t really need to know exactly what hex a given strike craft was in. They already had 360-degree facing, so the angle you attacked one from didn’t matter, and in general they didn’t have much trouble entering the same hex as a target ship to attack its weakest side.
So now the system is really just going to track two locations – the Defensive Screen and Open Space. Formations in your Defensive Screen are placed adjacent to any of your ships and can protect all your ships within a radius from enemy strike craft. Formations in open space are placed out away from any ships, and from there they can attack other strike craft in Open Space and make attack runs on enemy ships anywhere on the board.
When you launch craft (each bay may automatically launch one of their strike craft for free every action round), they can be immediately placed into any existing formation or create a new one, either in Open Space or in your defensive screen.
Strike Craft Cards
We decided that we wanted to translate some of the experience we had with ship cards into strike craft, but we had to take a different approach to the cards themselves. First, there’s too many strike craft to even consider separate hands, even by formation, so each side plays a set of three cards from one Strike Craft hand each turn that will apply to all their strike craft in the game. As with ship cards, these actions may be repeated – and in this case there’s no primary/secondary distinction (not yet anyway), so the full action for any card may be repeated.
In addition, having their own cards makes Strike Craft largely autonomous in their actions, so we can use this system thematically for both manned fighters and drones. Plus, we’ve reduced the bookeeping and tracking to just units on the table – there’s no need to track which carrier a given strike craft came from anymore.
We wanted to maintain the rewards that come from being able to predict your opponent’s actions or doing something surprising, and we do it here through something of a rock-paper-scissors system – there are currently five cards, and four of them interact with each other to varying degrees of advantage and disadvantage. They are: Attack Run, Intercept, Cover, Superiority, and Redeploy.
Attack Run lets you take any of your formations in open space and assault an enemy ship with them. This is the main method of attacking ships. You simply place any attacking formations next to their target ship, then your opponent can take any defensive formations within range and use then engage each attacking formation on a one-for-one basis (but only one! This is why your formation composition is important – if your defensive screen consists of one giant formation, then you’ll only be able to engage a single attacking formation with it, and the others will get through to their targets. If you have a lot of tiny formations, you won’t be able to engage larger incoming formations effectively, and they’ll break through your thin defense. We assume that the other formations are out of position to stop this particular attack run.)
After the formations engage each other, if the defenders aren’t completely destroyed then the attack run is aborted and the attacking formation returns to open space. If there are no defenders left (or none chose to intercept), the attacking formation has broken through the screen and is attacked by one point defense weapon from any ship that could hit the target ship (this is the only time ships attack strike craft – strike craft in open space are assumed to be staying clear of ship weapons. We limit it to one point defense weapon because we assume the attacking formation is choosing an angle of attack to minimize the incoming fire they’ll have to face, and we don’t want tight formations of ships to roll so many dice that they always shoot down all incoming strike craft.)
Finally, whatever’s left in the attacking formation gets to attack. Each fighter rolls an ACC 3, 1d6 DMG attack against the target ship. Each bomber rolls an ACC3, 2d6 DMG attack against the target ship. The attacking formations then return to Open Space (they can’t stick around in the point defense envelope).
Intercept lets any and all your formations in Open Space engage any enemy formations in Open Space. This is the main counter to Attack Run – any formations you engage with this card will be occupied fighting you, and won’t be able to attempt attack run. This is also a good time to seize the initiative chip if your opponent also played an intercept, since that will let you dictate who is fighting who and you can arrange the fights to your advantage.
Your strike craft formations assume a mutually supporting posture as they look for an opening to attack. This is the big counter to Intercept – if you throw down this card against an intercept, your opponent is in trouble. After he intercepts your formations, you can take any unengaged formations from open space or your defensive screen and get a free attack on his intercepting formations, which also makes them break off their attack.
This one doesn’t quite feel elegant, so I can see us changing it in the future, but we ran into a problem where when you played an intercept vs. a ‘cover’, the opponent just wouldn’t intercept and nothing would happen. What we’re trying for now is if you play ‘cover’ against an ‘intercept’, you can make an attack run with any formations that your opponent doesn’t try to intercept – and it’s a covered attack run, so when he brings up a defensive formation to stop you, you can attack THAT with a second unengaged formation and pull them off your craft on the attack run.
Your strike craft engage the enemy at maximum range to whittle them down. One of your unengaged formations gets to make a free attack against any other formation. Against Cover, that means that you’ll get a free shot at somebody.
This is the only card that doesn’t involve some from of an attack, but it’s subtly powerful. Redeploy lets you completely rearrange your existing formations and positions, so you can take all your strike craft and completely change up their arrangement.
Formations and Cards
The cards each benefit certain formation arrangements more than others. Superiority, for instance, benefits most from having at least one large formation to attack with. Cover, on the other hand, works best if you have lots of little formations that can support each other. Attack Run works best depending on the arrangement of the enemy’s defensive screen – if he’s in a few large formations, you can split up into many small formations and thus slip some of them by unopposed. If he’s in many small formations, one big formation can break though. Be careful that your formation arrangement doesn’t telegraph your cards though – if the enemy can predict your card, being on the receiving end of the countering card is often detrimental even with a good formation arrangement.
Strike Craft Combat
Strike craft combat uses nothing but Impact dice. When two formations are engaged, they roll simultaneously against each other. In cases where you get a free attack (as with superiority vs. cover), one formation rolls the attack against another without retaliation.
When attacking, Fighters each roll one impact die as normal. Bombers roll an impact die as well, but only a ‘6’ counts, and it counts as 1 point. For every point, the opponent disrupts one of their strike craft and places it in the disrupted crew box of any of their carriers. If the entire enemy formation is disrupted, each point in excess of what’s needed to disrupt the enemy destroys one strike craft instead – destroyed craft are removed from the game.
Every natural ‘1’ rolled in the attack means that a strike craft has either run out of ammunition or fuel and needs to return home. After removing combat casualties, you disrupt strike craft that rolled a ‘1’. This rule lets you opt for a David vs. Goliath strategy with your formations – if the enemy is in one giant formation and he just plain has more strike craft than you, his combat power is basically unstoppable. This lets you throw a single fighter formation at that monster and while it’s pretty much guaranteed to be destroyed, the resulting evasive maneuvers that every craft in the giant formation needs to take to avoid being a sitting duck will likely result in fuel casualties in excess of the fighter you sacrificed.
The one thing I really didn’t want in strike craft combat was ‘Just make the biggest formation that you can and throw it at the enemy’. Now there are still some advantages to doing that (like breaking through a defensive screen), but it’s a strategy that can be countered by something other than also making a giant formation.
Strike craft disrupt much like crew do, representing the combination of strike craft returning for refueling and rearming, repair, as well as bringing up new strike craft from storage. When a strike craft is disrupted, it’s immediately placed in the disrupted crew box of any carrier the owner chooses.
Since strike craft are disrupted more often than killed, this lets fighter combat be very deadly (and it is, lots of stuff will die), but many will return to duty so while the overall numbers may gradually dwindle, you probably won’t see strike craft disappear from a scenario entirely, which should feel right for a fighter-heavy universe.
Disruption in Bays
If strike craft are in a bay that gets hit, they disrupt exactly as crew do – one point disrupts one craft, two points disrupts all strike craft, and if disrupted in a hull breach the damage is so catastrophic that they’re destroyed.
Repair / Rearm / Refuel
Strike craft can be repaired from disruption, and we’re incorporating that into our regular damage control. Instead of repairing damage, a crew in a bay may use their repair dice to repair any disrupted strike craft on the ship. For each point rolled, one strike craft returns to duty and is placed ready for launch in the bay it was repaired in. For each ‘1’, one of the disrupted strike craft is destroyed instead (couldn’t be repaired in the time frame of the scenario, never made it back to the ship, etc).
Some ship weapons will be getting a point defense value, which is just the number of impact dice that weapon rolls as a point defense shot against strike craft. We’re thinking of giving a value of 1 to some of the smaller missiles, autocannons, and pulse / defensive lasers, and higher values to flak.
Future Modification and Expansion
The way cover vs. intercept works bugs me for the complexities involved – I want each card to work on its own, and the rock-scissors-paper mechanics to emerge naturally from the actions involved rather than being a bit forced as we have it currently. Superiority vs. Cover is a great example for how I want it to be – Cover lets you attack any intercepting squadrons, but there’s none to attack. Superiority then gets its shot off and hurts the Covering side, and we didn’t need any special rules on Superiority vs. Cover.
Torpedoes and Pods
If these rules work out, we’re planning on adding Heavy Torpedoes and Breaching Pods to the system. Breaching pods will provide a means of boarding enemy ships at very long ranges – if your pods can get past the defenses.
The Sixth Card?
The way we’ll be doing repeated actions in the next card set requires that we use six or more cards in a ship hand – which was fortuitous for ships, as they already had seven (now six – this system drops the ‘flight ops’ card). This is leading me to want to add one more card to the set (Scramble? Evasive maneuvers?) as another option for players, but it needs to be something interesting and relevant – I don’t want to tack on an action just for the sake of doing so. I’d rather include a dummy repeat card than do that.
Is all this a good idea?
I think so, but it’ll have to stand up to some serious full-scenario playtesting. I’m hopeful that it doesn’t slow down the game too much (Why not? Because the extra three cards to play are only about as complex as adding a single ship to a side, and the battles should resolve almost as fast as our crew combats do.), but if it does slow down the game then we’ll either streamline this further or pursue an entirely new direction.
I wanted the system to capture the idea of the pulp sci-fi tactical control room with the hectic orders and vectoring fighter groups to intercept others, and the basic feel is pretty good from our testing so far – it’s very freeform and fast, so instead of concerning youself with precise positioning (as you still do with ships), instead you order your three bomber squadrons on an attack run. Finally, I think it’s a tactically interesting game in and of itself – when you’re at the table with a bunch of people you could probably assign one guy to just play the strike craft commander for your side for the whole scenario.
The part Nathan seems to like is that this lets you put a lot more ships on the table if you’re playing a scenario with strike craft, which just plain makes the game look cooler while you’re playing it.