Tuesday 1 March 2011

The Lost Fleet, Realistic Starship Battles?

I've just finished reading the first book in The Lost Fleet series, Dauntless by Jack Campbell. The Lost Fleet is a spaceship warfare series with a depleted fleet trying to get back home after being soundly defeated by enemy. I won't go into the plot but just to say it was hugely enjoyable and I'm waiting for the postman to deliver the next three books with five and six on pre-order at Amazon!

What I was especially taken with were the space combat sequences which for a change did not ape wet navy battles but took into account the potential problems of space combat such as the time delay in imagery caused by the huge distances involved.

 Light may travel at 186,000 miles per second but that one second can be crucial and the issue multiplies the further away targets are. If we recorded an enemy fleet entering the solar system near Pluto what we would see, when we see it, happened five hours ago. Even when they get to Mars what we see would have happened anything between 3 and 21 minutes ago.

Obviously the nearer you are the less the problem is but with missile range theoretically unlimited due there being no friction, he who gets his shot in first gains a big potential advantage, especially if he can take into account the time lag issue.

This got me to thinking how we just ignore this in our space combat games (well, at least the ones I've played). Full Thrust is the daddy of all spaceship combat rules and one of my favourite games of all time but thinking about it, it really doesn't differ that much from a wet navy wargame (indeed having tried to play Harpoon once I'd say it is much simpler!).  Indeed many space games seem to have their genesis in naval rules. Call to Arms is based on War At Sea and Colonial Battlefleet on Naval Thunder.

So is it a case that the problems that Jack Campbell has his starship commanders address in The Lost Fleet series are ungameable without making things too complicated? I don't know, I'm not convinced they are and I have the germ of an idea that I want to try out. It might turn out that this idea is flawed, I somewhat suspect that it will make the starship gaming experience somewhat different and it might be unpopular as it takes people out of their comfort zone. I guess there will be some cardboard counter cutting out going on in the immediate future to give it a go.


  1. Actually its the other way around for A Call To Arms - Victory At Sea was based on the SF set.

    GDW's "5th Frontier War" dealt with this at a strategic level. I could see a similar approach working for tactical games. Either that, or have an umpire managing contact reports that were issued to each side based on the data they had avaiable at the time. Or just add david Webers gravitic FTL comms systems and be done with it :)

  2. A game mechanic to simulate this could be an aquisition roll for missles, with a negative modifier for longer ranges. It may be too simple for what you want but it is an easy fix in to simulate the time lag.


  3. I loved this series too, for those reasons plus the great character developmemt and Command decisions "Black Jack" has to face.

    Re Time Distrotion, Ian Douglas did something similar in "Star Carrier" where ships in a predictable orbit would wear a mass projectile travelling at near C from the outer system, very soon after the enemy was detected - so ships who arent ready for immediate manoeuvring don't live very long...

    On a wargames table, I guess it could be done in two phases neatly - the approach phase (which FT does have with its neat 'bogey' counter concept) then the near battle. Its that first which lends itself to adapting some of these ideas, though I think they would be more scenario based, with operational surprise being the key.

  4. Pre-plotting orders a couple of moves ahead - like in 5thFW but on a tactical level - could be an interesting, if frustrating, exercise.

  5. Heya

    There are a lot of issues with accurate space sims on the gaming table, partly because it's all theoretical.

    Inertia, comms time, 3d element, blast radius and continued dispersion, gravity caused by large vessels - Would that increase the chance of being hit or reduce the impact or both?, mass vs thrust, effect on velocity when impacted or recoil from weapons, collision, decompression and structural integrity issues,lightspeed, mass speed, future tech speed,sound speed.

    To name but afew... in light of all this sometimes it's best just to keep things simple and enjoyable. That said if you want to play test any rules feel free to share :)

  6. Get yourself a copy of Attack Vector Tactical by Ad Astra Games. They also do a simplified version for larger fleet games too.

  7. How did the experimental gaming go? I'm curious about your findings as my brother and i are trying to come up with a concept for it and implement this into a strategical board game.

  8. If you want to see a strategic wargame built around the notion of fleet battle, technology, ship design, and economics, take a look at Trillion Credit Squadron from Game Designers Workshop. Built on top of the Traveller High Guard rules, it laid out a set piece "subsector conflict" that would lead to many battles...