Sunday 3 May 2020

Delta Vector 2020: Rebooting Space Gaming

About 8 years ago, I accidentally shifted the focus of this blog with this post about the inadequacies of space games.

Originally Delta Vector was a handy place to write reviews of rules so I didn't have to re-type responses every time I was asked. I did do over 100+ reviews, which only ended when the arrival of children imposed fiscal responsibility.

Playing Dreadnaught has reignited my love of massive starships with big pew pews

Now, after ranting about how laborious and boring space wargames were usually copies of Full Thrust, usually with onerous recording and basically using WW2 naval battle mechanics, I made a manifesto.

Here is the manifesto (they are in more detail in the first link).

1. Minimal recording, neither unsightly piles of tokens (I later struggled with the latter)
2. Vacuum, inertia, vector movement (key to differentiating space from WW2 naval)
3. Ships don't teleport past each other but can react (using mechanics from modern skirmish games)
4. No IGOUGO. Initiative should be key to victory; forcing opponent moves and keeping momentum.
5. Maneuver should matter. No pushing models into the middle of the table and chugging dice.
6. Streamlined rules offering many decisions while remaining simple. (All rules should be judged by what they add in depth vs the complexity they add.)
7. Ship design rules to make your own. Rules should be resistant to cheesiness.
8. Maximum choices, minimum recording (kinda repeating 1 & 6); no need to consult esoteric rules.
9. Rules can copy TV series - while it may be "hard" sci fi it is not pompous striving for total realism.
10. Crew skill matters, in things like reactions, initiative and orders.
11. A simple campaign system for telling stories (not making uber unstoppable fleets)
12. Each player to manage up to 12 units; games to finish from 45min to 2 hours.

I think I was influenced by playing EvE Online, reading Lost Fleet, and simultaneously impressed by a Infinity and Ambush Alley while showing the scars of Starfleet Battles and burnt out by indie Full Thrust clones.

The two past sources of inspiration for my space gaming...

Looking back I can see many of these manifesto points are still reflected in my beliefs of what makes an enjoyable game. I casually swapped mechanics (from a d10, to a d20, to Savage Worlds d6-d20); I started with a clear game design, I emphasized the importance of initiative, and identified the balance of decision points vs complexity.

I then got to it and made my first foray into game design, quickly putting out over 30 posts assembling rules which I playtested and changed. Looking back I can see how I let the rules bloat out of control and lost focus, as I experimented with heat management, detection, directional shields, and increasingly complex damage systems.  The elegant vector system relied on markers which tended to clutter the table restricting forces to only a fewside but I refused to part with a rule even if it violated the "big picture."

As I "thought out loud" and discussed my rules, I came across interesting discussions in the comments. These then morphed into generic "Game Design" posts (currently around 80) which reiterated some of the points raised in the manifesto - the struggle between simplicity and game depth, initiative and reactions, line of sight, measuring,and move:shoot ratios.

Why this trip along memory lane? Well, two things. One, During my COVID cleanout - encompassing not only my shed, but 80gig off a HDD -  I rediscovered hundreds of rules and pdfs from 2012-2016.  It was really interesting to see how my tastes have changed. (Usually towards simplicity and familiar mechanics rather than the "hipster" ones I would have once espoused. As I get older I have less time and brainpower to spare on hobbies!). 

Delta Vector fleet battle rules ceased playtesting around 2017 as I moved on to a focus on smaller, gunship type combat in and around asteroid belts (i.e. more Milennium Falcon than Star Destroyer scale) which changed the rules focus radically.  I quit EvE as it became more like a job than a game.

I found some Cold Navy when tidying my shed...

However, inspired by Dreadnaught (and on a painting haitus due to paint shortage), I have dusted off my old rules and dragged out the old GZG minis. Both rules and minis will get a touch up. I've found a bunch of old rulebooks to consult:  Dropfleet Commander, Voidstriker, Lightning Strike, Starmada Fleet Ops, Battlefleet Gothic. Just to see where I was at, and so I don't get stuck in a space rut, I'm tossing in Infinity and Ambush Alley, on my reading list along with Kill Team.  Finally, I found some Cold Navy sculpts which I haven't finished painting.

But I've been out of touch - any good spaceship games come out in the last few years?  Looking at the wargames vault page, not a lot has changed in 5 years..... Maybe my old complaints are still relevant...


  1. Probably you know my shadows in the Void (now also free):

    As constrast to individual fight combat w went into huge scale with Start and Steel - space opera style game with dozens or even hundrets of huge spaceships operating in squadrons.

    The game hits the web in two week.

    Neither of this games fullfil all yours demands: Shadows... is based on Hind Commander, so it's technical and focus on stealh and surpise, positining, lock-ons, and deadly cat-and-mouse in "2,5D" space , and S'n'S is focus on high command level of the fleet with simplifity as the key. Both of them are completly different, as they covers completly different scales of combat.

    1. I did like Hind Commander. An underrated rule set. In fact, I often use them as a 'reference work' to look through, esp when adding VTOLs/helos to games. I should add them to my reading list! (Actually I have PMC 2640 on my desk to re-try - at the time I played it I recall it was simpler than Tomorrow's War, and that may suit me more nowdays.

      Recently was looking at Shadows in the Void minis (as my starfighter minis get the most use of all my models).

      I'll check out Stars and Steel.

  2. I really really like your manifesto. Is there a beta version of the rules somewhere to try out?

    1. It was a series of 30+ posts, but I suspect a Word Copy will be in the google group. (A lot of like-minded folk share home made rules there; some are published authors)!forum/delta-vector7

      (Not sure what version; it went through 2-3 iterations and as I said, I felt it started to bloat).

      I'll be doing up a fresh set over the next few weeks. It's a bit sad people still find the manifesto relevant after 8 years though; time moves slowly in the world of space wargames it seems!

    2. It moves slowly because players do not like innovation that much. It is scary and takes effort. They like what they like. At least, that has been my experience, how many DBA clones, WHFB clones, 40K clones, Necro/Mord clones, etc. Innovation may not really be wanted by the players?

    3. I'm doing an article now, on how game designers may end up like movie critics - you know how movies get panned by critics and liked by the audience and vice versa?

      My kids love chucking handfuls of dice and getting sixes whilst I think mechanics are clumsy or inelegant.

      Funny it has probably spoiled games for me, that I once enjoyed but since I have been digging around in game design I can't like because I feel they are "bad"...

  3. I'm really excited to see this post Mike, and it reminds me of all our back and forths as we discussed space gaming and hypercavitating vessels. Looking forward to more! :-)

  4. I think your kids are around the right age for the book "Knights vs Dragons" - reading it to my 6 year old I was inspired to take up the cause of medieval low fantasy meets lost world wargaming, though I think I'm going to lean more to ancients (the next Persian invasion of Greece will be coming from below! On dinosaurs!).

  5. Hi, maybe you remember me from THW's Fight Command rulebook? I need to ask you a question. Could you email me at frajahema (at) yahoo (dot) es, please? Thx.

  6. A Billion Suns is worth a look. I don't know if the beta is still available, but there are some real innovations there. Players have to balance completing missions with staying in budget, so you are incentivized to use as few ships as possible.

    1. Maybe take a look at Mike's video:

    2. I actually had already ordered this as it looked a bit different, for this reason! Actually I'm interested in anything with new mechanics. I hear Outremer has a good campaign and I'm considering it even though I don't have any crusaders...

  7. I miss your blog! I hope everything is going well for you and your family in Australia.

  8. Hi,
    not a new system but a reissue of an out of print spaceships game from the 1980's pre FT. Encounter One is a generic system, use whatever models you have and create your own ships.
    Six and a half factions to choose from with various special systems and advantages.
    Fleet scale, no written orders, movement is cinematic. Includes systems for effect of gravity in orbit, morale, boarding actions, tractor beams, mine layers, hard fields and collision marauders.

    It is now available as a free pdf file along with some support material here:

  9. A question regarding space games in general: Do you have a system recommendation to run a "Homeworld" campaign? Ie a fleet of carrier-, battle- and supportships that try to reach a new home, encountering problems along the way.

    I am looking for a GMed game that has some campaign elements that I could run for my "roleplaying" group after we are done with the LancerRPG campaign.

    1. Probably something that could handle a lot of ships?

      It's pretty vanilla (i.e. old school, Full Thrust-ish), but maybe Starmada: Admirality Edition?

      It's hard to genuinely recommend any, maybe Lightning Strike - but it's not really suited for Homeworld as it's aimed at Gundam.

  10. Imagining space combat is an interesting one. Have you come across any underlying presumptions in tabletop space combat rules that create an internally consistent 'physics' for fleet games? Or are recreations of cinematic battles the best we can hope for?

    1. Basically, 99% are cinematic/recreations of WW2 naval combat in space. The other 1% are pompous, overly complex 3D games that can only handle 1-2 ships per side at a time...