Saturday, 9 February 2013

Cyprian Rifts - Just another spaceship game

 I thought I would review these rules, but then I thought - "why bother?" and simply posted the ship data card, which I think reveals all you need to know.

The ship data card speaks for itself.

I'm not attacking Cyprian Rifts in particular (I love the idea of indie game and miniatures designers - as an aside, the miniatures look pretty good); but rather the lack of innovation in space games in general.  Every space game is either trying to remake Starfleet Battles or Full Thrust.  I'm simply using Cyprian Rifts as an example - it shows even indie developers are "stuck in the rut."

Cyprian Rifts leans towards the SFB-style of complexity, as you can see from the data card. For example, it has crewmembers (of different skill levels) who can be killed as certain bits of the ship are destroyed.  In a nutshell - it is a fairly complex game, aimed at about 2-4 ships per side. It uses a 2d10 + stats (similar to the 2d6+ stats in Warmachine) and it has a deck/hand of "event/special action cards" (like Firestorm Armada); cinematic movement (like 90% of space games); damage types which take different sized chunks from hitboxes (like Renegade Legion) but brings nothing particularly new or compelling to the table, besides rather thorough terrain rules.

Whilst it is not a bad game, like very other space game to come out in the last few years, there is absolutely no reason to switch across to it from whatever other system you are using.

The Cyprian Rift cruisers look like....

GZG ESU ships

...and the point I'm making...
While ground combat games like Bushido, MAYHEM, Infinity, Malifaux, Ambush Alley experiment with resource management, card-based gameplay, risk vs reward mechanics, dice-pools, reaction systems; or even dispense with measuring altogether (Crossfire); space games are notable solely for their lack of originality.

Grab any space rulebook of the shelf.
Does it have rows of hitboxes?  Lots of "system hits" or "criticals" to record?
Does it use a cinematic or pseudo-vector movement? Does it rely on hexes?
Is activation IGOUGO? Does attacking involve buckets of dice? 

 However the smaller Rifts ships are more interesting... I'm rather tempted to grab a few...

 Personally, it bothers me to:
Spend more time recording and writing that actually moving ships and making decisions
Have ships "teleport" past each other without a chance to fight
Have small ships always take massive casualties (most die within the first 2-3 turns)
Have battles devolve into a dice-rolling contest in the middle of the table
Have ships without clearly defined roles or jobs (carriers excepted)

Am I the only one?  Is everyone perfectly content with playing Full Thrust, Starmada and Starfleet Battles? It says in Ecclesiastes "there is nothing new under the sun" but do space game designs have to remake the same game so diligently?

I'd argue that Battlefleet Gothic with it's "Orders" and "Blast Markers" has contained the only real "innovations" in the genre in 20 years. And that was very "WW1-in-space", firmly wedded to its 40K background and gigantic baroque ship models...


  1. Spaceship wargaming needs a Forge.

    The Forge was a bunch of game designers and indie types over in the roleplaying hobby who started analysing game design and making a ton of tiny, single-purpose, tightly focused designs. A lot of them were bad, a lot of the discussion was dumb, and they eventually transitioned away from the way they had been doing things, but in the process they got a lot of people thinking about new ways to do things, and changed the default for new games away from "It's like D&D, but better!" and pointless reinventions of the wheel where someone had the unique idea to take D&D and make it classless, somehow having missed the hundreds of other games doing the same thing and therefore making newbie mistakes in design.

    Maybe a few years with people working on dedicated spaceship games to refight particular scenes from fiction or using obscure SF concepts would be good for the hobby. A game for the chase/battle from A Fire Upon the Deep, where starships move by teleporting a thousand times a second and have to sync their blink rate with the enemy in order to fire when they both exist in space? A system designed around high speed closing encounters, where combat happens in the blink of an eye and the half-wrecked fleets separate and have to manoeuvre back for another pass? A game that uses Go as the resolution mechanic /and/ the playing field?

    Anything to get away from games which are only "this game I used to play, but done right!" There's a place for incremental improvements and house rules, but stagnation is dull.

    For what it's worth, I have issues with 5150SN but it's doing enough things differently at a basic level to please me.

  2. An interesting reply. I'm not familiar with the RPG scene but there seems to be strong parallels (albeit space gaming is very niche)

    I like the idea of "focussed" game design that tries to do one universe well. I'd also suggest the relatavistic effects in "Lost Fleet" and the rather hard sci fi of "Risen Empire" might make for interesting games.

    I like the idea that 5150SN is different but for me it is simply a trim, quick-play campaign system; the tactical combat is so abstract with regards to maneuver you could pretty much play it without bothering with a table or minis.

    I'm interested to see what the other 5150 series bring, and there is also Mongoose's Blue Shift. But I'm not holding my breath.

  3. Battlefleet Gothic has always been my favorite of the GW stable. It is, however, incredibly reminiscent of WW1 naval gaming, right down to blast makers acting like spray markers. It also suffers from a major cruiser bias. Escorts, presumably meant to function like WW1 destroyer flotilas, often seem to be a waste of points.

    I would like to see some inovations. I would like to see a set of rules where escort sized ships are useful and fully developed systems for electronic/information warfare. There is a lot of good sci-fi space stuff out there it would be nice to see some of these ideas reflected in rules.

    1. Escorts tend to be so short lived (either acting as a one-shot glass cannon or as extra HP for the bigger ships they are near) that I doubt anyone would be willing to crew them.

      To use the common wet navy analogy, WW1/WW2 escorts seemed to be able to do OK - at Jutland a dozen destroyers ran into a dozen battleships point blank and from memory only 1-2 were sunk with a few damaged. In most space games you'd be lucky to have 1-2 survivors....

      The only I-war I see is "cloaks" or the old subs-in-space game (2300 AD?). Otherwise it is just a +1/-1 to firing if you have better EW rating, on a few games.

      EvE Online (the PC MMO) is an interesting universe where small ships are relevant and highly survivable.

    2. Perhaps something like the following. Make capital ship targeting very bad at medium to long range. The use of electronic camoflague, radiation bouys and other such systems makes long range fire between capital ships inneffective. Perhaps hitting on some dice value or else missing altogether.

      In order to combat this escort ships have to serve as scouts and skirmishers, providing telemetry and targeting data to larger ships. If an escort is in a certain range of an enemy capital ship friendlies lose their firing penalty and become much more effective.

      You then make escorts to small and manueverable (via some mechanic or another) to be effectively swatted by capital ship weapons. The only way to counter them is to use your own escort class vessels.

      You could expand on the idea by making the primary means of communication something like tight beam microwave so that enemy escorts between you and your capital ship could jam the targeting feed.

      I would still allow capital ships to smash escorts that come too close. Maybe use a long range, medium range and danger close system?

    3. Sounds like a pretty good idea. I think EvE Online is a good source of inspiration: escorts are almost impossible to hit by battleships if at a good angle, they are 4x or more faster than a battleship (most space games they are maybe twice as fast); and besides EW (increase/decrease "to hit" or jam weapons) they can "web" a ship and slow it or stop it from warping out (most vital role).

  4. It is a pretty complex question. For small ships I rather liked Starfire where all the stats were contained in a simple line of letters. Being contemporary with SFB, it fell into the same (boring) ideology of "The human space fleet will be just like the 1980's carrier based USN". I played a little Vector 3, but frankly tracking movement in 3D was more hassle than it is worth. If you are using big fleets sticking close to the ecliptic, movement along the Z axis is effectively a range increase. At the tactical level, the amount of detail that needs to be tracked gets out of control very quickly. Warp War had an interesting hit mechanic based on relative speed. This may be worth resurrecting.

    Frankly the best space gaming is going to be found on the computer. It really is the only way to deal with three dimensional combat. Project Rho's Space war pages and other sites show just how mindbendingly difficult actual space combat will be.

  5. Atomic Rockets have lots of stuff for/against space warfare, but that represents a particular point of view.

    I don't think I need a super realistic space game. Nor a 3D one. Just not the same rehashed one.

  6. I immediately thought 'Renegade Legion' when I saw that stat box too.

    I think some sort of think tank project would be excellent. To be honest, I dont know anymore, just that I'm 'ho-hum' with everything around at the moment that I've tried to the point where my minis have sat in boxes for years. Would love to get them out again if I found the one true space game.

    I'm looking forward to trying out Gunship: First Strike soon to reinvigorate me and try space gaming from an intermediate perspective (ie bigger than flying a fragile fighter, but not in a capital ship)

    1. Gunship looked OK but a trifle CCG-card like, from memory. I'm most interested in Blue Shift, if Mongoose ever publishes it.

      I kinda agree with the idea there is no "one true" space game and games need to be tightly focussed around a particular concept.

      That said, the complex criticals and multiple hitboxes that appear in space games seem best reserved for PC games.

      Would a task force commander be interested in the minutae that every space game presents? If you command a dozen ships, would you really check that destroyer #7 has its left port CIWS is at 50%? or that a capacitor is 33 of 35 boxes of power?

  7. Gunship is a little CCG in appearance I guess (with no collectable aspect mind you, you get everything in the box) but I'm hoping for feel reminiscent of the old PC game 'Wing Commander'. Looks fun to be with my Lad and mine is on the way!

    There cannot be a one true game because at different levels you want different things. At a Fleet Commander level the detail in BFG was quite sufficient, would he want to know about 50% CIWS? No way. Plus any space combat representation would also need to have a representation of the presumably awesome computational and analytical skills of the technology and staff - so overloading the gamer with facts is just going to be confusing in a way that is unlikely. Plus I had enough of that sort of level of detail back with Harpoon and I cant go back to that.

    This gives me an idea though, I send you an email...

  8. No innovation in 20 years? I offer to you Attack Vector:Tactical and Squadron Strike, by Ad Astra games. Practical 3D movement, energy management. In SS, which aims to be an "all things to everybody" you can have the cinema-like movement or true vector movement, or mix & match within the same game. At least review it before going back to the "nope, nothing new in 20 years" opinion.
    -- Jerome.

    1. I think I know the one - I think I played a demo version... about a decade ago. It has a rather nifty dial for representing ship facing up/down but apart from simplifying record keeping I can' remember it being that different from the few other 3D space games I tried. I can't recall energy allocation rules but I retain the impression the game was clunky and better for 1v1 duels. More an attempt at simulation than a game. But admittedly that was ages ago.

      That said, I'd like to try them again, now you mention them - checked the website but P&P (to Oz) is $22 for a $15 rulebook; and a set with all the doodads is $60 + $60 P&P which is a bit steep to simply playtest.

      How quickly would the rules play a game with say a battleship, 2 cruisers and 4 escorts per side?