Thursday 4 July 2019

Gunship Vector: Close Quarters Space Combat

I've slowly drifted away from big ship fleet space combat; my large Full Thrust and Firestorm Armada fleets have laid dormant for years.

However, my EM4 Silent Death starfighters are probably my most-used gaming pieces.  At ~50c each they are certainly the best value-for-use models I own.  Besides serving as supercavitating fighter subs (a niche topic that endlessly fascinates me) they also serve in their original role; as space fighters and strike craft.

A pair of gunships escort a convoy across a moon's surface.  As you can see, they are large craft with multiple crew, capable of carrying a squad of troops or carrying an underslung light vehicle.
My vision of space combat is not majestic, ponderous star destroyers firing point blank broadsides (a la age of sail/Star Wars) but rather ambushes from asteroids, in caves inside asteroids, and skimming over the planet surface.  Inspirations include PC games like Descent, Battlezone 1998, and the chaotic close range MTB vs E Boat duels from WW2 such in books like The Battle for the Narrow Seas.

Sometimes the attackers are not human; here the gunships provide fire support against the carnivorous native inhabitants of the moon.

I've always wondered why (if FLT is a thing) ships would ever duel in deep space; why would battles occur anywhere that was not near a key objective; i.e. planets, stations and asteroid belts?  The coastal warfare of space, if you will.  In this cluttered, close quarters environment, cheap small craft would be viable, able to ambush larger ships who would otherwise effortlessly pick them off in the void of deep space.  Instead of single-crew starfighters who fly like WW2 Spitfires, I envision multi-crew strike craft capable of transporting troops, co-ordinating drones, offering fire support as well as anti-ship capability; similar roles to a present day transport VTOL/gunship. Think a V22 Osprey meets an AH64 Apache meets a naval FAC like an Osa or a PBR. While able to exit and enter atmosphere, they are not "dogfighters" although they would be agile enough in low gravity environments like the the inside of an asteroid or around a small moon.  The Rocinante from the SciFy show The Expanse gives you a good idea of the size of ship; carrying automatic railguns and missiles and capable of transporting squads of troops. (Or about the size of the Milennium Falcon, for those who have not seen the series)

Here a gunship "pops up" to support some infantry emplaced on a hilltop.

At low level gunships are vulnerable to SAMs - here a sneaky scout buggy targets a gunship flight for SAM batteries hidden behind a hill.
Anyway, I've been busy adjusting rules and creating terrain for a range of environments.  I'm working on some space stations (some repurposed ISS kids toys) and asteroids for true space combat, but at the moment I'm playing with low-gravity moon/asteroids. Here, the spacefighters act like helos, transporting/evaccing troops, providing recce, fire support, as well as interdicting ground vehicles and other fighters.  My aim is to have one set of rules for all environments - which means corners will be cut -  however the aim is not realism anyway, but rather realism within my game universe.  That's why we have sci fi and fantasy- to legitimise handwavium! 

Sometimes enemies are both human and nonhuman. Here, a strafing run from a rival merc gunship "brews up" some APCs, forcing the troops to bail out.

Attracted by the vibrations, the local wildlife investigates; but the troops are rescued by a relief column of MBTs as a large transport hovers nearby ready to evac.

As you can see, I used the same simple rubber mats+PVA+sand+paint method I used for my dieselpunk landships game, to quickly whip up some moonscapes.  I'll continue to work on rules and terrain. My tinkering and changing out chunks of the rules has lead to musings on the modular nature of game design - perhaps food for an article - and I should have some space stations and asteroids ready for play soon.