Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Squadron Strike Game at MayDay

This last Saturday I hosted a Squadron Strike game at MayDay, our local gaming convention.  This was an interesting experience for me since I'd never hosted a game this complex before, and I had no idea how the players would adapt.  It all turned out quite well though, and we all had a lot of fun.

Initially, only two players signed up for the game, so I assumed this was final and emailed them links to the simple AVT/Squadron Strike introduction flyers on Ad Astra Games' website.  They actually read and understood most of it and went to the game prepared.  However, right before the game the organizers of the convention sent a couple of extra players my way.  When I started explaining the rules, one of the new players, a nice guy I knew from my 40k days, basically ran away. :(  To be fair, he wasn't feeling well and couldn't absorb all the information, and don't worry, he did have fun at another table.  His son, the other new player, was fine with it all and stayed.  So I ended up with three players for my scenario.

The scenario was set in the far off future year of 1985, where a North American Space Command (humans) squadron on patrol made contact with a hostile alien race.  The humans had relatively hard SF ships, with two small corvettes based on the Manned Orbital Laboratory design, and a larger Orion drive ship.  The aliens had bioships, two smaller corvette-sized vessels and a larger cruiser-sized vessel.  The human corvettes each had a beam weapon doing moderate damage up to 15 hexes, with a spherical all-around firing arc.  The alien corvettes each had two forward facing short-ranged beam weapons that did around the same amount of damage, but at a shorter range of 9 hexes max.  The bigger ships were more heavily armed, with the human Orion ship having two forward facing beam weapons of the same type found on the corvettes, a lighter weapon for point-defense, and a heavy beam doing a lot of damage shooting out of the rear arc.  (It was meant to simulate a bomb-pumped laser)  The alien ship had a very long range missile launcher with a spherical arc, and two forward beam weapons like the corvettes.  All ships used mode 2 movement, i.e. fully Newtonian.

The two alien corvettes.
The two human corvettes.
The two bigger ships, the human Orion ship on top, and the alien cruiser on the bottom.
At the start of the scenario, only the two pairs of corvettes were on the board, approaching each other from two perpendicular edges.  You can see all the playing aids scattered around the table.
The human players understood mode 2 movement quite well early on, and they slid their corvettes side-ways to meet the aliens, placing their armoured fronts toward the enemy ships.

For the first couple of turns, the players mostly learned about marking ship orientation and horizontal/vertical thrust on the AVID diagrams representing the ships.

As the ships got closer together, they also got to learn about targeting and firing.

The human ships took advantage of their longer range to concentrate fire on one of the alien corvettes, and it was destroyed pretty quickly.  However, it and its wingman managed to do some damage to one of the human corvettes too.

As per the scenario, the side that lost the first ship had its larger ship arrive on board as reinforcements.  The alien player decided to let the ship cruise slowly and use its long-range missiles.

Here he was figuring out the range for placing missile markers.

The two human ships now concentrated on the one remaining alien corvette.

However, the alien destroyed the damaged human corvette with a close-range shot.

The human corvette was quick to avenge.  This was turning out to be quite a bloody game.

The larger human ship now arrived too.  The human player controlling this ship decided to go for a novel approach - he let the ship fly in backwards, with its heavily armoured rear plate (and bomb-pumped laser) facing the direction of travel.

In the mean time, the remaining corvette kept on shooting down alien missiles, so the cruiser closed in and destroyed it with short-ranged beam weapons.  Up until this point, the players had been flying as if they were in a 2D environment, but they gradually started experimenting with rolling and pivoting the ships, as well as changing their altitude.  Here the alien cruiser actually shot the human corvette from above.

The two big ships now faced each other.  The human player decided to use his front weapons after all, and turned around.  However, his shots were mostly ineffective.

He finally decided to switch back to the rear weapon, and managed to do some damage, including structural damage, to the alien cruiser.

At this point though, we were running out of time, and decided to end the game.  It was a minor victory for the humans, since the remaining alien ship had taken more damage.

In the end, the players all liked the game, and they all ended up with a decent grasp of the mechanics.  The only thing I noticed, as mentioned before, was that when they were unfamiliar with the movement rules, they tended to keep to the 2D plane.  I think it was still too early for them to use 3D maneuvers to their advantage, and what little 3D stuff they did only happened at the end.

I was pleasantly surprised that all the (remaining) players were able to learn the rules well enough.  Of course, it helped that at least one of the players had played Starfleet Battles before, and couldn't be intimidated by complex rules. :)

Squadron Strike is not a quick Tuesday night game, but it looks to be a good ruleset for a Saturday all day game.

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