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...