Monday, September 05, 2011

Fleet Captain: I like the way this sucks

Gameblog reader amp108 asked:
[D]o the dice all have to be of different sizes? Can you have something like d6/d4/d4 or d12/d6/d6? How about something like d6/d4+1/d4?

Otherwise, you only have 3 different types of ship. What say you?
Good questions!  Energy allocation by die type is not meant to be the only method whereby ship classes can be distinguished from one another.  It's an important mechanic, but not a primarily distinguishing one past the small/medium/large size difference.  The Slowness Factor mentioned earlier is another dimension that has small differences that are meant to distinguish more between Escort A and Cruiser D, rather than Escort A and Escort B.  Most small ships involved in space warfare will be Energy Rating d4/d6/d8 and Slowness 1.  A Slowness 2 rustbucket would not be out of the question, just to give an example.

Let me explain a wider point this hypothetical rustbucket makes.  One important touchstone for me in designing Fleet Captain is this vessel:

That big slab is the Klingon L-13 K’el Ri’anda ("Dangerous Fat Man") battleship.  To the best of my knowledge it first appeared in FASA's Klingon Ship Recognition ManualBrad Torgersen makes the argument for me in his entry for the L-13 at the improbably long-named Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator On-Line Database & Archive: The L-13 sucks as bad as it looks.  It was a complete boondoggle for the Klingon Empire, slower than nearly any other vessel in space and armed no better than most cruisers.  In short, it is just the sort of thing that a real military procurement system would foist upon the troops on the front line.

In Fleet Captain, not only do most captain suck at their jobs, most of their vessels are average at best.  I have no problem with the Fleet Captain's vessel being a sweet Constitution class heavy cruiser with kickass weapons.  But I want to explore conflicts involving mostly suboptimal vessels.  Therefore, the primary distinguishing characteristic for each vessel isn't high or low numbers in stats that all vessels possess, rather we'll be looking at simple (cross fingers) exception-based rules that define how badly each class of vessel sucks.  So the Archimedes-class frigate often suffers from Torpedo Jams, while the Jehoshaphat-class destroyer tends to be a Fast Decompressor.  Other differences are bound to come up when I get serious about hull points and weapons and firing arcs, though we're still trying to Keep It Simple, Rients.

Oh, yeah, here's another picture that's important inspiration for this project:

This is you after seeing the order of battle for your own side.


  1. Love that image.
    I'm also following the Fleet Captain series with great interest--I can't wait for it to be finished.

  2. Just wanted to also say I'm loving your Fleet Captain project. I'm in the market for a simple space ship combat game.

  3. Talk about parallel development! Your Fleet Captain game is very similar to my homebrew game: War In Space.

    I think that's awesome... that two wargamers could independently come up with such a similar idea proves the mechanic is sound.

    I've been playtesting it for a year; the dice energy allocation works well. What do you use the playing cards for in Fleet Captain?

  4. Anonymous9:59 PM

    Wow - the L-13 Fat Man and the D-10 "Rickshaw"! Now that brings back memories! Keep up the good work!

  5. Anonymous11:27 PM

    I like the idea of playing the one competent person in a fleet of fools.

    Have you already decided how to allocate ship sizes and flaws? (I'm sorry if you have.)

    One approach could be a baseline / deviation model. So every ship starts medium. For each ship you make small, you have to make another ship large. Every ship starts with one flaw. For each flaw you remove, or benefit you add, to one ship, you have to add a flaw to another.

    So you could be in a slightly above average ship with an average fleet, or in an awesome ship with a fleet of scrapheaps.

    - N

  6. pahoota: I discovered your blog the other day! I was so busy freaking out over the awesome things you do with Sculpy and spaghetti that hadn't gotten around to reading your rules yet! I'll have to check 'em out now for sure!

  7. beautiful, and thank you: of course the ships should suck. Reminds me of the Lockheed Starfighter with the downward-firing ejector seat, or the Dutch warships that wallowed in high seas making even seasoned sailors sick, or the top-heavy, unstable Vasa. The best/worst thing in Steambirds is the "guided" missiles which have to be deployed very carefully or they'll go after your own engines, and which you have to shoot down yourself if they don't have any enemies left to kill.

    I'm wondering how many great spaceship tropes there are out there which will feel natural as snafus. My own imagination's feeling a bit thin.

  8. I don't know whether to respond with awe or hilarity to a class of Klingon vessel known as the "Dangerous Fat Man"