One of the reasons I posted less in 2020 was my ongoing work on a simple rule set for space combat. I made quite a bit of progress. Most of the rules are written down and several iterations have been tested. I got stuck with some mechanics and took a long break. With the last test game I think I got some major problems ironed out.
Project Paradigm is a working title. The game aims to give a system generic enough to use with any known science fiction background material or without any. It puts emphasis on maneuver and tactics instead of detailed ship systems. So many space combat games I played focus heavily on ship construction and detailed damage but are surprisingly light on tactical gameplay. You mostly line the fleets up and shoot everything at one enemy with some maneuvering in between.
Of course there is vector movement to make things more interesting or the tons of depth of Starfleet Battles. The latter and its cousin Federation Commander are very much about interesting tactical decisions but still way to complicated for me. This is partly because I play mostly solo and you always have to control double the forces when doing so.
After years of Napoleonic gaming I saw that it is possible to develop simple mechanics which are about the interplay of units and tactics rather detailed ship status sheets or complex rules. My rules lose the details much like a high level historical wargame loses detail. You are the Admiral in charge of a small task force and it is not your job to target individual weapons in different firing modes. It is your job to maneuver your assets and determine where firepower should be concentrated.
The battle of Anselm
I used some counters I drew to try out Battlefleet Gothic (which I still have to do). The stats for each ship are the generic test stats used to design the rules and are based on strong frontal weapons rather than broadsides like the source material. Explanations are under each picture:
The Imperial fleet has two battleships in the center flanked by two groups. Two frigate groups (left) and a column of three cruisers (right).
The Chaos fleet has the same composition but chose a different formation. All their firepower is concentrated in a deathball with the battleships in the rear. Frigates flank the force.
This is the left part of the 3’x3′ mat with the planet Anselm in the center (impassable terrain in the basic rules). Both fleets chose to set up on one half of the mat.
After turn two Chaos threw their cruisers forward and concentrated their firepower on the enemy battleships. The Imperials are setting up flanking fire and already stripped the Chaos cruiser Styx of its shields (upper center). Blue dice are remaining shields, red dice are remaining hull points. No dice means the hull/shields is undamaged.
Close up one turn later. The Styx in the center regenerated some of their shields. This is an important aspect in the rules. It means that getting your ships out of the action to regenerate shields is a valid tactic. With the help of the cruiser Murder and long range battleship fire the Imperial battleship Retribution (between the Chaos ships) loses shields and takes three points of damage. This is dangerous as the ship will be counted as crippled on 6 hull points remaining and will have weaker weapons, shield regeneration and maneuvering thereafter.
After turn 4 the Retribution managed to thrust past most of the enemy ships reducing incoming fire (top left). It has some shields again but the mighty enemy battleships Acheron and Desolator are are still in arc and range. These battleships have a turn rate of 45° but can only turn once every two turns. The turning cool down is marked by the white dice. As you can see the big lumbering battleships are on cool down and will pass each other unleashing their less powerful but still formidable broadside weapons.
Meanwhile Imperial cruisers Dictator and Dauntless bring down the Styx (left with all the red dice as explosions) with concentrated fire. The Gothic, another cruiser swings wide around the planet (right).
Some time later: Imperial battleships passed the enemy on their starboard and received withering fire. The Retribution is crippled but not dead thanks to good maneuvering. The enemy cannot concentrate on it and shield regeneration keeps it alive. The firepower the Retribution was spared by is now hitting its sister ship the Overlord. It and the Chaos battleship Desolator are beginning to take hull damage.
The battle has been split in two. In a smaller engagement close to the Imperial set up area the Dauntless and Dictator are working in tandem to take out the cruiser Murder. As you can see Chaos has more ships present but the Imperials maneuvered better and the Murder could not bring to bear its powerful frontal weapons.
About halfway through the battle (15 turn limit), Chaos scores their first kill. A group of Firestorm frigates are destroyed. The fact that Chaos used their battleships for this kill helps the Imperial battleships to gain distance and regenerate shields. The Gothic completed its circle around the planet and pours fire into the nearly crippled Desolator (lower left).
The overall situation one turn later. Both Imperial battleships are crippled (top) as well as a cruiser (lower right). Chaos is worse off though. The Desolator is crippled and two cruisers are lost in contrast to only one frigate group. In the bottom left you can see Chaos Idolator frigates chasing the crippled cruiser. As cruiser and battleship stats I am using have no rear weapons it is a valid tactic to harass bigger ships with nimble frigates from the rear.
The second half of the battle begins with the Imperials concentrating all their firepower on the Desolator. It buckles under the massive barrage and breaks in half. Chaos is now seriously outgunned.
Concentrating firepower is a valid and necessary tactic in the rules but it also comes with a disadvantage. The first ship can fire normally in a turn but subsequent attacks on the same enemy are increasingly more difficult. Huge swathes of space are ablaze with nuclear explosions, laser fire and counter measures which makes it harder and harder to detect and hit the enemy effectively. The rules for this are dead simple but the effect is great. You have to make the difficult decision whether to bring down an enemy but wasting a lot of firepower or to split firepower damaging many vessels only a bit but dealing more damage overall.
In revenge for the Desolator the Chaos cruiser Slaughter maneuvers into the rear of the Overlord and finally penetrates all shields and armor of the damaged giant. With a big explosion the battleship rips apart, all hands lost.
The Slaughter is not finished though. Near the end of the battle it pushes its engines and lays into the crippled Dauntless coming around Anselm. The cruiser stands no chance and it wreck will continue to drift in orbit for month before finally slipping into the atmosphere and burning up.
Although the Slaughter managed to correct the tally somewhat the overall battle is a clear victory for the Imperial fleet. They inflicted more losses and would be in a good position to destroy the remaining Chaos forces. As you can see the Retribution, one of the first ships taking damage is still around crippled with 8 out of 12 shields regenerated.
I am satisfied with the result. It was fun, easy to play and had many interesting decisions. Even without a particular scenario or lots of terrain the rules delivered what I hoped for, although the new mechanics I tested are rather dice heavy. I rolled upwards of 40 dice in one side’s turn which takes time. But it also evens the odds quite a bit which is necessary to make tactical decisions meaningful.
There is still a lot of work to do with testing, balancing and scenario design. I tried a scenario generator this year but it failed to deliver interesting narratives so I will probably hand craft them.