A few weeks back John and Steve from the Void and Stars blog, put out a call for playtesters for the "Song of Void and Stars" rules that they are writing for Ganesha Games those awfully nice chaps who have produced the "Song of Blades and Heroes" (SoBH) rules. Having played and enjoyed SoBH and as I'm always on the look out for a simple but good set of rules for star ship combat I dropped them a quick e-mail and was very pleased when I got a very quick reply with the draft rules attached.
After a perusal of the rules and raising a few initial questions with John which again produced a quick reply, I felt I was ready for the first game.
First though, a quick synopsis of what the rules entail. Anyone who has played SoBH will find the core mechanisms familiar. The game plays IGO-UGO but the key to the game is the activation roll. Each unit in the game (in this case each starship) can roll 1, 2 or 3 d6 for their activation for that turn. Each starship has a crew quality number and so if the score on an activation die is equal to, or higher than, the crew quality number then that starship will gain 1 activation. You then perform the number of activations that you were successful with for that ship. Then, you move on to your next ship and so on until you have activated all of your units at which point play passes to your opponent.
However, you turn can be brought to an end much quicker if, when rolling for a starship's activation you roll 2 or more failures. If that happens then your turn will end immediately after that starship's activation. So, for example, if your starship has a crew quality of 4 and you decide you are going to roll 3 dice for activations and you roll 1, 4 and a 2. You can carry out 1 activation with that ship (the 4 being equal to the crew quality) but as you rolled 2 failures then your turn will end after that ship has activated. Of course, you can choose only to roll 1 die each time you activate each of your starships which will guarantee your turn will never finish early but then limits what you can do with your ships each turn.
One neat mechanism that the guys have brought into the rules is the idea of "compulsory movement". In space it is assumed that the Laws of Physics can't be changed (to misquote a famous spaceship Chief Engineer) so each ship, unless it has an "All Stop" order activated must move forward. If a ship has at least 1 successful activation then it will perform a "successful compulsory move" for that turn and therefore it can move at least a "short" move (75mm) up to the maximum normal move for that starship and may make such turns as it's class of ship will allow (there are 2 classes of starships:- capital ships which allow up to a 45 degree turn at the end of it's movement and escort ships which can perform a 45 degree turn at the start and also at the end of it's movement). If a starship is not successfully activated that turn then it performs an "unsuccessful compulsory move" meaning it must move forward it's maximum normal move and no turns are allowed, not great if there is a bloody big planet ahead of you.
If you use your activation to fire weapons then combat uses an opposed roll method. Each ship has a "combat value" (CV). That CV may be subject to negatives depending on the range, terrain (for example, dust clouds, nebulae etc) and any damage the firing ship has suffered and then you add any bonuses that your ship may be entitled to due to special abilities of the ship or crew and so on. Each player rolls a d6, adds his CV and you compare the result. If the attacking ship's score is less than or equal to the defending ship's score then the attack has been unsuccessful. If the attacking ship's score is higher then damage will be caused to the defending ship, the type of damage being determined by the margin between the 2 scores and also by whether the attacking ship's total was an odd or even number. So in the extreme case where the attacking ship's score is 3 times (or more) the value of the defending ship's score then the defending ship is vapourised and becomes space debris. Other results in between will damage or destroy weapons or systems belonging to the defending ship.
Firing arcs for direct fire weapons are 270 degrees round the ship (no firing out of the rear 90 degree arc of the ship).
Indirect fire weapons take the form of fighters and also missiles. Fighters can perform attack missions on enemy starships or they can perform a "Combat Aerospace Patrol" (CAP) and help defend a friendly starship against attacks from enemy missiles and fighters.
When a ship suffers damage from combat then a "systems damage" result will temporarily increase a ship's crew quality number by 1. A "weapon's damage" result will temporarily reduce the CV by 1. That damage becomes permanent when another similar result is received thus changing it to a systems /weapons destroyed result. If a ship's permanent crew quality number becomes 7 or more then the ship is destroyed and similarly when the ship's permanent CV becomes less than 0.
Of course, a game would be pretty boring if each starship had the same crew quality, CV, movement etc, so the flavour comes from the different abilities that can be added to a ship and the starship officers that command those ships. The rules provide fleet lists based on some well known science fiction backgrounds and the ships in these lists have points costs and their abilities listed. However, you can build your own ship designs (check out Kaptain Kobold's blog The Stronghold Rebuilt for an excellent run through on this topic).
For our first game I decided that we would use approximately 750 point fleets using the lists provided in the rules in order to get the hang of the rules before tackling my own ship designs.
So it was that Ruarok entered the WaziKazi system with his Insurgency Fleet where they would be met by the forces of order, the Solar Imperium, commanded by yours truly.
Part of the WaziKazi system. The rules recommend playing on a 4ft x 4ft table (my table is 8ft x 4ft hence the "Great Barrier" appearing in the bottom right of the picture. And yes I did hand paint all of the stars on the board).
The Matahari Nebulae
Once they were Christmas Tree decorations, now they are part of a deadly asteroid field
The strategically unimportant planet "Orangeiod"
The rebellious force of the Insurgency comprising from left to right:-
"IS Truculent Codfish" - Mono Cali Star Cruiser (flagship) commanded by Admiral Ackinbar, and Commander Wedge (engineer).
"IS Underage Alcoholic" - Assault Destroyer commanded by Commander Porkin (Gunner), and Commander Egdew (engineer).
"IS UR Mom" - Assault destroyer commanded by Commander Nikpor (Gunner), and Commander Toshi (navigator).
"Y2K Pidgeon" - Corelliany Gunship, commanded by Captain Lando Solo, and\Commander Ihsot (navigator).
The enforcers of Law and Order, the Solar Imperium, comprising from left to right:-
"Stinging Needle of The Imperium" - Lancer Frigate, commanded by Commander Pettiet (navigator) and Lt. Commander Gallic (gunner).
"Piercing Needle of The Imperium" - Lancer Frigate, commanded by Commander Teittep (navigator) and Lt. Commander Callig (gunner).
"Mighty Steel Fist of The Imperium" - Imperial Cruiser Mk I (flagship), commanded by Admiral Lord Varth Dader.
"Thrusting Spear of The Imperium" - Carrack Destroyer Mk I, commanded by Captain Yoc.
"Lancing Spear of The Imperium" - Carrack Destroyer Mk I, commanded by Commander Throm (engineer).
Using his "Keen Sight" ability Admiral Lord Varth Dader added 1 to the pre-game initiative roll, which he subsequently won and deemed himself to be the attacker. So after the fleets deployed, the Imperium moved first. Full of confidence following his promotion personally bestowed on him by the Emperor himself, Dader decided to roll 3 dice for his activation roll. 3 successes soon followed so the Mighty Steel Fist moved forward, then launched missiles .
Watch out Rebel Scum!!
With his final activation, Dader called a "Squadron Order", which allowed him to activate between 2 and 5 friendly escort ships. Rolling, 1, 2 or 3 d6's each successful activation based on the Flagship's crew quality would allow each of those escorts ships 1 activation. Dader rolled 3 dice but this time only managed 1 successful activation and so all of the escorts moved forward to cover the flag and the Imperium's turn ended.
The first mistake I made was forgetting that your "successful compulsory movement" did not require an activation. I had spent the Mighty Steel Fist's first activation to perform this movement when it should have been a free move. It took a couple of turns before I realised this booboo (Ruarok on the other hand had grasped this straight away and thus his ships were moving a lot quicker than mine before the penny dropped).
Before the Insurgents took their turn there is the "Turnover" phase. In this phase all of the indirect fire weapons in play move their full move. As I had fired missiles during my turn, they streaked ahead of the fleet towards their target.
Although the rules don't state it, the intention is that when the missiles are launched you declare their target. I queried this with John and he confirmed that for the basic game you should declare their target but if you didn't mind a bit of extra book keeping and your opponent agrees then you can launch missiles and note down their target, only revealing it when the missiles hit!
The Insurgents immediately showed how sneaky they are. The Y2K Pidgeon turned out to have a "long" movement allowance (180mm)
So with it's compulsory move and a successful activation the gnat had streaked across the table
And the rest of the Rebels launched a missile barrage
The missiles approach their prey
By turn 3, the Imperial Forces felt that they were now in range to open fire with their Direct Fire weapons. The Mighty Steel Fist opened fire with using it's Gatling Direct Fire Weapon at the IS Truculent Codfish. The Gatling lets you fire 3 times in a turn but at half of it's CV per attack. Second mistake, don't use this ability against a high CV target! Better to use it against small ships with a low CV. As a result all 3 attacks against the Codfish were unsuccessful. In the turnover phase the missiles that I had launched earlier did, however, strike the Codfish and secured a "systems damaged" result. First blood to the Imperium!!
In the Rebel turn, the Y2K Pidgeon's commander, Captain Lando Solo had to use his cheesy ability "Belay My Last" in order to overcome a 2 roll failure on his activation roll (his was the first activation of the Rebel turn so if he hadn't used that ability then the Rebel turn would have ended and the rest of the fleet would have been restricted to unsuccessful compulsory moves for that turn which could have been disastrous for the Rebels). As it was the Pidgeon moved into range and opened fire on the Lancing Spear of The Imperium causing a systems damage result. The Codfish opened fire on the Piercing Needle of The Imperium also causing a systems damage.
Then in the next turnover phase the Rebel missiles hit home
To no effect!!
When a ship is hit by more than one missile attack in a turn then the ship's CV is reduced by one for each attack after the first. However, the Piercing Needle was able to use it's Points Defence Support ability to cancel this effect of the missile attack on the Stinging Needle of The Imperium which then dispatched the missiles with ease.
Just when I thought things were starting to go my way, disaster struck! On my first activation of Turn 4, Dader rolled 3 activation dice and rolled 2 failures! Using the one successful activation, Dader called a Squadron Order. 3 of the escorts were in range and on rolling 3 dice, 3 successes were scored. This result raised a query with the rules which I have reported to John as basically the Squadron Order basically negated the turnover caused by my initial rolling of the 2 failures on the flagship's activation roll. The 3 escorts were able to use 3 activations as a result of the Squadron Order whereas normally they would have been unable to do anything except move forward with an unsuccessful compulsory movement. I'm waiting to hear back from John on that query as he has advised he had not anticipated that scenario arising so he tells me he is checking the archives to see what would happen in the other games using the SoBH mechanism.
However, we played it as if those 3 escorts had 3 activations and as a result they poured fire into the IS UR Mum and IS Underage Alcoholic
And got the result their bravery deserved
Ha Ha! Destroyed Weapons and Systems on the IS UR Mom
The compulsory movement, whether it be successful or unsuccessful, ultimately means that the fleets get up close and personal. The Rebel turn 4 brought a hail of retaliatory fire, typically picking on the smaller Imperium craft
Turn 5 brought another disastrous activation failure by the Imperium flagship. Fortunately, the one successful activation brought about another successful Squadron Order and closing in on the IS UR Underage Alcoholic
The accurate fire from the Imperium gunners brought the inevitable result
And the Rebel ship becomes space dust
Rebel Ship no more!
At this range missiles launched were hitting their targets immediately
Missiles in the rear arc. Ouch!!
Fortunately, the CAP that I previously launched to help protect the Mighty Steel Fist against such an assault helped negate the strike.
In the meantime, the continued unsuccessful compulsory moves being suffered by the Lancing Spear meant it was getting further and further away from the battle
The Rebel turn brought more damage to the smaller Imperium ships and the Y2K Pidgeon was now on the scene whereas the UR Mom decided it would hunt down the Lancing Spear
Turn 6 and the Imperium Flagship rolled 3 failures on it's activation roll so not even the chance to call a Squadron Order.
Unfortunately the abuse that the Stinging Needle was receiving from the nasty Rebels meant it met a bitter end
Turn 7 for the Imperium and the flagship rolled 3 dice - 1 activation. Seeing how my dice rolling was going I should maybe have tried activating the other ships in the fleet first, but I had persevered with rolling for the Flagship first and that was now backfiring on me big time.
The Codfish away to take the Mighty Steel Fist in the rear again
In the Rebel turn, their fire caught the Mighty Steel Fist in the rear arc, meaning the Imperium's CV is reduced by 2 when defending against such an attack. Another disastrous CV roll for the Imperium produced a Crew Panic result
A morale check is called for the Mighty Steel Fist.........
Failing all 3 morale dice, the Mighty Steel Fist hits the warp drive button!
With the Imperium flagship gone, I actually started to roll better. Missiles were fired and homed in on the Y2K Pidgeon
However, the Pidgeon struck back again picking on a ship smaller than itself
The Codfish then tried to launch Missiles. Rolling the 3 launch dice, he rolled 3 "1"'s! Rolling the same number on all 3 launch dice meant jammed launch tubes. However, as the Codfish had rolled 3 successful activations that turn Ruarok immediately burnt the remaining 2 activations for the Codfish on Damage Control thus immediately repairing the launch tubes - Boo!
At least by this stage of the game the Lancing Spear of The Imperium was back in the fray and closing in on the IS UR Mom scored a vital critical hit
Another volley followed and the hapless Rebel ship became a pile of junk
But it was too little, too late. As the Imperium forces were now under 50% Lancing Spear and Thrusting Spear both had to take morale checks and failing miserably they warped out of the system leaving it in the unworthy hands of the Rebels.
So a good first run through of the rules. Yes, I made plenty of mistakes, for example, treating compulsory moves as an activation and I hardly used any of my officers' special abilities (because I kept forgetting about them), whereas Ruarok made good use of his. Admiral Ackinbar, in particular, has the "Concentrated Volley" ability allowing him to give 3 friendly ships within Long distance a +1 CV bonus each turn! A lot of the crew abilities can only be used once per game so this ability does appear to way overpowered and a comment has been made to John about this (apparently I'm not the first to mention this!), so presumably this will be toned down.
But the game moved smoothly and you pick up the mechanics pretty quickly. Yes, it will take time to know what the various starship abilities do, for example, I kept forgetting my destroyers had Hardened Armour but that will come with more playing.
So we will get another game set up soon and in the meantime I am following the blogs of the other playtesters to learn how they are getting on with the rules. But definitely Two Thumbs Up for the rules so far!!