Wednesday 8 April 2015

Delta Vector - Homebrew Spaceship Rules

A long time ago (2012?) in a galaxy far far away, I had a rant about spaceship games.  "WW2 Wet Navy in Space"  "Billions of Hitboxes" were terms used.  I suggested (and still do) spaceship war-games rules haven't advanced since the early 90s compared to the innovative ideas in say, skirmish war-gaming.    My more energetic and child-free self actually got off his butt and constructed a skeletal set of rules, inspired by games like Tomorrow's War rather than SFB or Full Thrust.   

The basic draft rules were collected here and the original why-all-spaceship-games-are-bad rant is here as well.  

If you're still interested, read on.  I found my old play test notes, and it's kinda inspired me to have a go at redoing these rules, as certainly nothing noteworthy has appeared in the meantime (ignoring the ludicrously expensive Star Wars clix).  I've typed the play test notes into a more readable format.  

What Worked 
The vector system is the simplest and best I’ve come across. I’m not being immodest - I simply translated concepts from the boardgame Triplanetary, sans hexes and greaseproof pencils.  It gave a space feel, and navigating an asteroid field actually took a bit of skill and commonsense.

The initiative system also was interesting – basically a side can retain the initiative by passing command rolls, Warmaster-style, and you can opt to force an opponent to move instead of activating your own forces.   Units activating close to enemies would face an opposed roll if your opponent wished to wrest the initiative from you.  When the vectors of space ships are so predictable, who goes first is quite important.

What Didn't Work (i.e. everything else)
Tokens = Mess
The vector movement system used a token for each ship to show the heading/velocity of each ship.  This can be a bit messy and confusing as there are lots of tokens lying about.   This was a bit of a problem. As I refuse to change the vector system (the best aspect of the rules), other changes had to be made.  The simplest solution – reduce the amount of ships.  The initial aim was 12+ ships per side.  Vector tokens are more manageable at 4-8 per side.  This had a few repercussions.

There were also damage tokens.  There were 4 different colours – for weapons damaged/destroyed; and hull damaged/crippled.   This was originally part of my plan to avoid SFB-style SDS charts completely and have 0 recording.  However as you have to record the ship’s stats somewhere, the tokens were a bit superfluous.  Warmachine has shown the way with neat, simple data cards; if I copied this approach I could get rid of more tokens.

The Damage System
I was never happy with it. In fact it is the reason this project has sat in limbo for years.  The results were too unpredictable and could result in a ship shrugging off a hit or being blown away outright.  Fine for a space fighter game, but I wanted spaceships to be more durable. I was also trying to make a single dice roll do the to-hit, damage effect and damage location. Again, this was a reaction from the dice chugging of Firestorm Armada but perhaps it was trying to do a bit much.  

There are three methods I’m considering
(a) hull damage  (light/heavy/crippled) + systems hits (traditional)
(b) hull damage only (with reductions in firepower etc for each level)
(c)  systems hits only

If I’m using data cards, I can use method (c ) which is the most interesting, and non-traditional. 

Reactions are Slow
Reaction systems are great.  They allow lots of decisions and player involvement for little added complexity. However they do slow the game down.  This was a further reason to scale back the amount of ships involved to a maximum of 4-8  per side or so – i.e. about the same amount of units in a reaction-based game like Tomorrow’s War or Infinity, rather than the 12-20 or so I originally envisioned.  

More terrain needed!
Terrain adds interest, tactics and depth to wargames, and space is no different.  I see a lot of space games played on a near-empty table – it’s like playing a PC game in 2D when 3D is available.  Whilst some may point to the fact space is indeed largely empty, I’d counter with “if that part of space is empty, why the hell are spaceships fighting over it?” 

Besides the fact I need quick-playing, effective rules for terrain like asteroids, space junk, nebulae, planets and rings, I want to make more terrain in the gameplay sense. 

Whilst playing with aeronef rules I revived the old BFG blast-marker concept – it simultaneously denotes a hit and provides terrain to block/degrade fire. Modelling cotton-wool ball explosions also means it looks good on the table.

Another method is using lots of Area of Effect (AoE) weapons.  For example, a missile token is placed on the table, and it can attack any ships who pass within a 6” radius.  The missile “attack radius” effectively produces a 12” wide circle of “terrain” to be avoided. 

I want shields
I tried a few systems and wasn’t happy with any.  Having directional shields would further make facing/maneuver important and avoid “push everything into the middle and chug dice” a la Firestorm Armada.

I’m not sure how to best implement this.  I have made a shield marker which can be placed around the ship’s base which I think has interesting possibilities.

Small Ships Need Love
I hate how in most space games,  “escorts” or smaller ships tend to act only as ablative armor for the bigger ships and/or throwaway glass cannons.   I want little ships to be useful AND survivable.  I’m going to give small ships much higher thrust and allow them to trade that thrust for defensive die roll modifiers (i.e. zig-zagging/tumbling along their vector).  This has nothing to do with realism and everything to do with gameplay.  I’m also going to give them important jobs (interdictor beams to stop ships warping off, EW etc).   Two small ships should be just as deadly as a large ship, and more flexible too boot.

To recap, changes needed were
+ Add shields
+ Reduce number of ships (reduce tokens, and reactions)
+ Change damage resolution
+ Add simple data cards (no more complex than Warmachine)
+ Add more terrain/blast markers/AoE weapons

+ Allow trading of mobility/defence (benefits small ships)

Anyway, I may revisit this project as I have a week's holidays (well, I have planning for work, but as I'm at home I'll have time to faff about I hope)

EDIT: Here's some new draft Damage rules if you are interested.  


  1. Hey!
    Really interesting post! In fact I'm an old follower of your blog which has really helped me when I started hobby (again) few years ago, most notably how to get cheap but great terrain, find a rule that suit my taste and all your reflexions (or rambling?) about Space rules.
    But strangly I have never see your homebrew rules about spaceship until today.
    Lastly I was less interested by your article about game design because I guess I didn't want to admit there is on perfect rules. And that's especially true for spacebattle. But today, I found that Delta Vector could potentially be the rule I was looking for. For now I play Firestorm Armada because it play quite rapidly and rules are easy to remember with not too much to recall (and at the first place I buy thier models then I made the jump in the game itself). But I has always wanted a game with fewer ships, where small ships have a roll to play, commander are important to keep initiative and ships are damaged with lesser combat capacity before being blown off. And I suppose your rule is what is closer to that paradise. Oh! and most importantly, with only a roll to see how damage is set up!
    So, my point is, if ever you decide to put together all the rule and continue to work it, I would be honored to play test the rules for you.
    Home my english is clear enough!

  2. Something you might consider is working it Calvinball style, which is to play a game and make up rules as you go along. Play the game you want to play and then describe that game using rules.

  3. Interesting ideas, I especially like the ideas concerning smaller ships. One suggestion I would make is regarding fighters and bombers. On the one hand I am as big a fan of the image of fighting swarming through the space battle as they do in Star Wars or Babylon 5. That said I think there is something to the school of thought that says a futuristic warship would have too much in the way of shields, armor, etc for some thing the size of a single seat fighter to hurt (given it's limitation in pay load/energy). Removing fighters could make the game simpler. Star Trek has no fighters and the Honor Harrington Series has some great space battles with out any fighter analogs (yes latter on they have Light Attack Craft but those are more like Heavy Bombers than fighters, with a dozen crew or and a respectable size in absolute terms even if they are small when compared to the warships of the fleet.)

    1. The only fighter ideas so far have them heavily abstracted. I'd probably only include them if I end up making the rules available for everyone and someone wanted them. I'm more a PT boats-and-drones man myself.

      To be totally "realistic" bigger ships WOULD simply be better. After all, fighters and battleships are using the same thrust/weight ratios in the same medium (space). A bigger ship wouldn't be slower, AND it could mount better and more powerful weapons and defences.

      However I am not aiming for hard sci fi, merely trying to get away from WW2-in-space a bit. My influence is EvE Online, and books such as Lost Fleet, Dread Empire's Fall, and Risen Empire.

  4. As you know Mike I am in agreement with where you want to go with this. However, I am more focused and interested on your concept of generating a new system for VSF/Aeronef style gaming. Conveniently though, there are lots of similarities you could port from one to another if you can crack them - hit boxes and cumulative hull damage being a key example.

    1. The VSF/Aeronef thing is a bit different. I am toying with "buckets of dice" and "saves" (hardly the most elegant of mechanisms) as everything else I do seems to turn out a lot like General Quarters 1/2/3.

      Basically, you name 3 orders, then throw 2d6 to see how many you can perform (target is based on crew skill). Dice are chugged, saves are rolled and damage is allocated. I'm invoking smokescreens, clouds and BFG-style blast markers extensively to provide "terrain."

      I kinda like the idea of Man O War meets Aeronef meets Battlefleet Gothic which is kinda the spirit of the game I'd like to channel. But the mechanisms are pretty clumsy, and I don't want a game that is significantly slower than Aeronef. I'd like to keep the fun spirit, but add more decision making, ship character, crew skills and tactics.

    2. Crew and Commander skills (maybe National traits) are one area I think where some relatively simple modifiers could have a huge impact on the character and flavour of the game. Special tactics - "more steam", "engage the enemy more closely" etc, possible randomly allocated by cards would do the same

    3. Crew skill will make a big difference in how much you do, i.e. a good crew can consistently make rolls to perform 3-4 actions per turn (turn, climb, fire main batteries, lay smoke) whilst a poor crew might be able to perform only 1 action in the same time. It would make it difficult for poor crews to maneuver to line up and execute a torpedo attack, for example. Using a 2d6 bell curve gives predictable (ish) results.

      I haven't given thought to special orders specific to nationalities, but they would be simple to add.

  5. I joint your followers when you started scribbling the space game, I stayed for the many other excellent articles. But I've been waiting for you to get back to this.

    I myself was developing a similar game concept at the time, but felt you were doing better than I was. Anyway, Warmachine style state / damage cards were the direction I was going... I was producing a damage map approach so that damage would flow through linked systems based on the arc of the hit.

    I may well look out my notes again.

    1. I like the idea of damage "flowing through" locations - I always thought the Renegade Legion hit grids were cool but wildly impractical.

      I like the "idea" of them but I think in practice they are fiddlier than I wish - heading into SFB territory.

      Download here if you are interested:

    2. Now that I think of it, there was an interesting and much simpler version of flowing damage in the original version of GW's Titan Legions. Might be worth checking that out. It allowed a small measure of trying to target the engines etc

    3. Never had Titan Legions - I've only played the free Epic Armageddon off GW's site (back when they supported the smaller games). Is it a DL somewhere?

    4. I think I have a copy I can email to you. Send me one at my name at

  6. Ah yes good old Renegade Legion, been a long time since I played that game.

  7. I tried using the Renegade Legion hit flowchart in a Big Stompy Robot game, but couldn't get it to work. Maybe I'll noodle on it a bit more...