Star Fleet Universe Conversion Notes

This will be a discussion area about the SFU conversion for Squadron Strike. It's where I'm posting up ideas for people who are invested in both of the SFU tactical engines currently in print (SFB and FC) to critique. Not all things in SFU will get converted, not all things that do get converted will exactly match. SS is it's own game engine, and one of the meta-rules that I'm undertaking on this is that SS should be able to emulate things from SS and FC, but should not slavishly emulate them.

Shields, Weapons and Damage Allocation

As Paul Scott noted in his first playtest report on trying to make plasma work, damage allocation in SS is different from SFB or FC.

In SFB, all damage is lumped into a damage total, and then allocated at once; doing multiple small salvoes gives the Mizia effect. In FC, damage is lumped into a damage total, and then allocated in groups of 10 hits. The Mizia effect is much less important in FC due to a number of effects, and there's a minor benefit (frame hits) to doing as much damage in one fire phase as you can.

In SS, damage is generated per weapon and allocated per weapon. There is a defense in SS called Armor, which acts like Damage Reduction in D&D - an armor value of 3 reduces the effect of each weapon hit by 3 points, which means that firing a weapon that does 3 points per shot against a ship with 3 armor nets 0 damage.

Shields work largely like SFB's shields do. Right now, all the shields in the game are more or less direct ports from the Fed Com shield strengths, done in increments of 6 shields per facing. The #3 shield becomes the Top shield and the #5 shield becomes the Bottom shield. #1 is Nose, #4 is Aft, #2 is Right, #6 is Left.

Shields cover wider arcs in SS than they do in SFB - they do NOT map exactly to hex sides. This all works out due to other mechanisms, but it does mean that relying on the hex map to tell you what shield boundary someone is on - rather than do what the rules tell you - is going to mess you up from time to time.

Each ship is broken up into ten hit location zones. Each zone has groups of boxes, and each zone ends with a ">" or "#" symbol. When damage hits a zone, you allocate one damage point to each group of boxes (so, one to cargo, one to lab, one to transport, one to weapon mount X1, empty zone, one to ECM,..." and when you reach the symbol at the end of the zone, the remaining damage either wraps to the next zone down (zone 3 wraps to zone 4), shown by a ">" symbol, or goes to Structural Integrity, via the "#".

Structural integrity is largely equal to Excess Damage in SFB, except that a cruiser has 14-18 boxes of it, and it gets marked off over the course of the game, rather than all at the end. When left over damage strikes SI, you have a chance that some of it will get lost into space, so hitting an SI symbol with, say, 10 damage does not mean that you're going to do 10 damage to the SI track.

This does mean that weapon hits that do larger hits have advantages in SS (and are priced appropriately). They are likelier to overwhelm armor, and they are likelier to strike deep into the ship. Now, overwhelming armor isn't that important in an SFU conversion, but since weapon pricing assumes you're using the full rules of the game, rather than the limited subset needed for the SFU conversion, it's still part of the pricing algorithm (in large part because of the "rip through the hull and do horrible things effect"). By way of comparison, the Photon Cannon (I reserve the term "Torpedo" for weapons that chase someone across the map, rather than direct fire weapons), is about 50% more points to put on a ship than a Disruptor is.

In SFB, the photon is probably priced at about 10% more than a non-UIM disruptor, and a UIM disruptor is probably priced about the same as a photon.

Weapons with very short effective ranges are harder to use in SS - getting that range 0-1 fusion beam or gatling shot is MUCH more difficult when everything is whole turn movement. Maximum weapon range is taken from Fed Comm where most everything has a maximum range of 25 hexes or less.

Weapon accuracy and damage is currently a straight port from SFB, converting percentage chance to hit into d10 rolls, with some tweaking of range bands. Photon Cannons get the Prox Fuze built in to their weapon tables. Because of how EW works in SS, you're likelier to be firing through a shift, but the shifts are 10 basis point reductions for accuracy, not 16.7 basis points.

While I may start with direct weapon ports, I am willing to tweak to maintain SFU flavor, even if it means changing the numbers. For example, Photons may, all in all, be better balanced by reducing their base damage inside of overload range. I may need to tweak weapons to make them Not Suck. (Right now, Fusion Beams are about 80% of a disruptor, or slightly more than half the cost of a photon, and a hellbore is actually 90% of the cost of a photon, which seems about right, due to quirks in damage allocation that make a photon better).

However, this covers most of the western direct fire heavy weapons - which are the easiest ports. Next post will cover power generation and resource management.

Power and Resource Management

SFB (and to a lesser extent, Fed Comm) are built as much around their resource allocation decisions as they are about positional play and firepower. This is reflected in the X-ship problem, where the resource allocation decisions are much more loosely constrained.

You can make an argument that the SFU power allocation dynamic isn't accurate to Trek; two people I know who do game design for the Navy, one a former Naval War College instructor, feel that the classic line of "Scotty, increase power to shields..." has been misinterpreted by Cole; instead of transferring power from, say, movement to shields, the proper interpretation of that line, given the nature 1960s (and current era) combat is that Kirk was telling Scotty to fire up the auxiliary generators and where to send the power. A similar command in the Vietnam era USN would be to power up a secondary generator on a ship and use it to increase the power being sent to a radar set.

In SFB, every point of power not spent on movement can be spent on defense (shield reinforcement) or on offense (powering weapons). Because of threshold effects and the general rule that most non-phaser SFB weapons take 1 power in to produce 2 damage, this means that there's a game balance discontinuity: Ships can't appreciably change the amount of defense they have at medium to high speeds, but dropping to speed 4 or less can effectively give them 50% more strength on one shield, which is equal to making a few weapons miss.

In Fed Commander, because of the shield reinforcement rule there, this is less of an issue. It's not really possible to 'brick' in Fed Commander, and I think this is the most significant game change between the two games, and is probably the one that I agree with the most between the two systems.

As a result, shield reinforcement in SS is closer to the FC model than the SFB model...and that means that I don't need as fine a grained granularity to manage resources.

In SS, power generation is handled by a resource called Action Points, which are generated by the Bridge and the Auxiliary Reactors. Systems which require APs are shaded to show the AP costs needed, with a range from 0 to 3 APs, with 0 being the most common.

Both because SS has persistent momentum (meaning that you don't need to constantly spend, say, 20 power to move 20 hexes) and because I do not want to reward the "sit and park" tactic in SS, when determining how many APs a ship should have, I took the SFB ship, subtracted the amount of power needed to move it speed 16, and divided the rest by 2.5. If it had more than 4 batteries, I added 1 total to the result after the division...and then tweaked as playtest results came in.

This means that a D7 (39 power, 3 battery) converts to 42-16=26, divided by 2.5 is 10 APs. The Federation CAr+ has 36 power and 4 batteries for 40 total power, making for 40-16=24, divided by 2.5 is 9 APs. Whether or not I round up or round down more or less comes down to how the ship behaves in SFB; Feds are power starved, so I rounded down in this case.

Like Fed Commander, APs are spent throughout the turn, though some are spent at the beginning (for movement, and powering phasers), while others are spent when needed (powering ECM and ECCM, powering shield regeneration).

Why Squadron Strike, Why SFU?

Explaining why I want to have a new way to experience the Star Fleet Universe lies largely with the fact that I imprinted on Star Trek at an early age, and found Star Fleet Battles around 1988 - just after the Addenda Factory years (though I read all the borrowed CapLogs I could get) and just before Doomsday. So I hit SFB in the golden age of its re-release.

I like Trek. I especially like Movie Trek in a lot of ways - bigger effects budgets. I loved SFB for more than a decade, and always compared other space combat games to it, and found them lacking. They didn't have segmented movement, they didn't have the resource allocation, they didn't have meaningful seeking weapons, etc, and so on. I've taught over 200 people to play SFB from ab novo, I was one of two people to run a 64 person tournament for 2 Ace cards in the 1990s, during the time when SFB was at its pinnacle in popularity.

As I've gotten older, I've noticed that many of the complaints I dismissed early on have made more sense to me. It takes too long. Even SFBOL, speeding up the slowest part of the game (Damage Allocation), takes about the same amount of time to play as a face to face game. Seven turns in four hours can be a grind.

Squadron Strike is designed, largely, for speed of play and 3-D movement. There's more to it than that, but those are the two features I point to.

Playing the ships in 3-D adds a lot of tactical depth (pun intentional). There are four directions for evading a seeking weapon in, rather than two. Firing arcs include vertical components, shields are thinner on the top and bottom of the enemy ship.

In terms of speed of play, Squadron Strike is MUCH faster than either Fed Comm or SFB, once you've learned how to play it. Paul's missing playtest report illustrates how, in a lot of ways, the game feels like a blend of the better features of SFB and FC, in ways that Paul comments on - and in ways where it just fits with his assumptions that he doesn't mention things. (Paul gave me a report over the phone on the day of the game).

Two WEs with cloak against a Fed CAr+, 14 turns, somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours, with someone who sort of knows the game facing Paul. Assuming 6 minutes per turn (about my usual), you get about an hour and a half for a fairly long game.

Sounds like Klingon Academy

Sounds like Klingon Academy but in tabletop format... AWESOME! :D

EDIT: Tell me though, what are you doing about dorsal and ventral firing arcs? On a Federation saucer, for instance, the forward phasers are mounted ventrally, while the left and right phasers are mounted dorsally, meaning that logically the forward phasers should only be able to fire ventrally and the left and right phasers only dorsally...

Firing Arcs in 3D

The way all of my 3-D games work is built off of a play aid called the AVID, or Attitude/Vector Information Display, which is a hexagon (the hex your ship is in) with a top-down view of a sphere centered on it. You can see it here: Squadron Strike Promo Flyer.

The AVID has 50 "directions" on it: 12 around the equator (yellow), 12 each at +/- 30 degrees (blue), 6 each at +/- 60 degrees (green) and 2 each at the top and bottom (violet). Each of those spaces is called a "window". There is a corresponding play aid called the Firing Arc Diagram, which shows all 50 of those windows laid out in a 'flat' projection (and in black and white); the difference is that the Firing Arc Diagram is fixed to the ship, while the AVID is fixed to the hex map.

I can define the firing arc diagrams such that each weapon has its arc of traverse, both horizontally and vertically, relative to the center of the ship. You can see some examples of that on the flyer I linked to above, for a ship that should be pretty familiar. :)

The way it works (for those who didn't click the link) is that you draw a set of symbols on the AVID for your ship's orientation. (You've got to do this to plot your moves).

When it's time to shoot there are two procedures you do. The first is counting the distance out on the map, and the difference in altitude, and do a table lookup to find the true range to the target (Pythagorean Theorem chart), and to find which colored ring of the AVID you see the target through (the cells of the table are color coded to match the rings on the AVID). That gets written on the AVID and is called a target marker.

Next, you count how many windows the Top marker of your ship is from the target marker. On the firing arc diagram you count the same number of windows down from the top of the diagram. This tells you what row the target is visible through. On the AVID, you also look at where the target marker is in relation to one of your other orientation symbols (Nose, Aft, Left, Right), noting how far away it is in windows and in which direction ("one to the left, and one up...") and count the same distance away from the same marker on the Firing Arc Diagram.

This is explained in more detail, and with pictures, in the link above.

That sounds like a lot when you read it here, and it will seem strange when you do it the first couple of times - you are doing a lot of carefully hidden spherical trig - but once you've grown confident in it, it's very fast.

The number one point of failure: Trying to take your 2-D understanding of a firing arc (which works fine when the ship is level with the map) and mentally rotating it up or down to handle changes in pitch (which some people can do, but it takes mental effort) or changes in roll of less than 90 degrees (which a tiny fraction of people can do, but it gives them headaches), rather than doing all the steps outlined above. It's very easy to fall back on the familiar; doing so will make the game unplayable.

One of the meta decisions behind Squadron Strike Online is that I want this process automated. Click on an object you own, shift click on the model of another target, and it will shoot the bearing between those two points, show the target marker on the AVID, and highlight which firing arc window the target can be shot through on the firing arc diagram.

Differences in Weapons between FC and SS

While "roll to hit" direct fire weapons are an easy port (up until they start exceeding 10-12 damage per hit, at which point differences in damage allocation start to matter a lot), other weapon types are a bit more challenging.

First, large numbers of drones are detrimental to play speed in SFB; large numbers of plasmas are less common, and you end up with far fewer plasmas - but the trend is generalizable.

In SFB, drones serve multiple purposes

1) They provide an overrun deterrence if they're on your ship and ready to launch.
2) They provide a phaser-sponge effect; they reduce your opponent's firepower.
3) They can cause a target to turn off to avoid them, or buy time against them.
4) They can do damage to the target.

Of these four uses, the first three are the most common - and arguably the most powerful.

In SS, there are two types of "fire at where the target will be" weapons: Missiles (launched at a target's future position marker, arriving next turn after the target moves) and torpedoes (put on the map and pursue the target for multiple turns).

1) Overrun deterrence isn't as necessary. Getting to range 1 or 0 from a target with whole turn, momentum based movement in 3D ranges from tricky to impossible. (This will also come up in the discussion on Hydran weapons).
2) Phaser-sponge is good. SS is more like SFB in this regard than FC - each phaser takes an AP to fire, but that AP has to be spent at the start of the turn. Any unfired phasers remain charged until fired. Because 1 AP is approximately 2.0 to 2.5 power in SFB (but you effectively get "speed 16 for free"), the phaser has a slightly higher opportunity cost. The phaser-sponge role can be met with either the torpedo rules or the missile rules in SS.
3) Forcing someone to turn can happen, but it's more for the choice of which weapons can shoot the missile or torpedo weapon, or picking which shield to take it on if you fail to kill it.
4) Doing damage is the easiest thing to balance - if the drones take 4 points to kill and phaser-1s/2s/3s and ADDs have the right probability of kills, this will come out roughly even.

In the end, having tried both torpedo rules and missiles as drones with SFU ships at conventions, the people who wanted "Star Trek" liked missiles: Moving seeking weapons in 3D requires more thinking than "OK, I launch drones at his future position marker. They'll be here on this turn, and will meet him at his future position marker after movement of next turn." Plus, it naturally aggregates to drone salvoes.

A handful of testers (like Paul Scott) want the option for torpedo rule drones. I'm still thinking about how to do that, but it's a low priority item because the missile rules are A) faster and B) do the job at about 70-80% fidelity. The problem is that there are design constraints in the torpedo rules, meant for overall system balance, that are there to make torpedoes fit the "low number, hard to kill" seeker role. Making them a "large number, easy to kill" seeker can be done, but you can't really get them to SFB drone levels. (And any time we come even partway to doing so, it turns the game engine into "OK, I put 312 drone launchers, each firing 3 times per turn, on my ship, what've you go?" "Oh, I managed to get 414 launching 4 times per turn." "OK, you win. Want to go play something else?" for the people who design their own ships.

And that's a demographic that I've already got buying the game. While getting SFBers in to play is good, alienating the customers I've already got is a bad idea. :)

(This highlights one of the other boundary constraints of this project. Anything I add to the game to make an SFU port work has to work with the rest of the game, in large part to avoid fracturing the player base.)

Time and Distance Conversions

In SFB, ships cover between 10 and about 24 hexes per turn at full combat speeds for the majority of the game, and if they don't spend power on movement over a turn break, they stop dead.

In Squadron Strike, momentum persists from turn to turn, and you only spend power to change your speed, not maintain it. (and paying power for acceleration is a ship-design-level question) However, ships in Squadron Strike typically move between 5 and 12 hexes per turn. Squadron Strike also lacks anything resembling an HET, or a TAC.

In general terms, an SS ship will cover about half the map space between firing opportunities that an SFB ship will.

If I were doing an exact match of weapon arming cycles to "expected distance covered", I'd double all the SFB cycle rates and call it good - and games would take twice as many turns to come to conclusion.

My other alternative would be to halve the ranges on weapons.

My third alternative is to leave the mismatch in place; leaving the weapons at their "normal" rates of fire and clearly recognizable weapon tables makes it easier for SFB players to find a familiar reference point to work from. That is what I did - with some repercussions for plasma torpedoes that are still shaking out.

So far, "full range weapons at normal rates of fire, ships moving half as far between turns" is working out decently well. It's not an exact match for SFB, but the fact that it often takes one or two turns to set up a shot, coupled with the persistent speeds, means that it remains as dynamic in movement as SFB does.

Quick plug for Squadron Strike

Hello SFB Community,

I want to put in a quick plug for Squadron Strike.

Squadron Strike is a game of 3D spaceship combat, with an emphasis on designing your own ships.  You can read more about it in the thread above. But this thread is old, and I want to give it a bump.

Take the ships from your favorite Science Fiction universe, build them and captain them in battle.  Squadron Strike is the brainchild of Ken Burnside, owner of Ad Astra Games, and a long-time SFB player (and former ADB employee!).

Squadron Strike is crunchy in its attention to detail.  But the rules are good, internally consistent, and very clearly written.  If you can handle the SFB rulebook, you can handle Squadron Strike.

The 3D aspect can be a special challenge.  Addressing this, Ken recently published an app that you can run on your smartphone, tablet or laptop.  This "AVID Assistant" literally revolutionizes game play and automates a good chunk of the game.

I first played Squadron Strike a few years back.  I enjoyed it, but the 3D really does take some adjustment.  I cannot say enough good stuff about how the AVID Assistant makes the game so much more approachable.  After this new experience, I went out and bought the rules, and I'm playing in a local league tournament.

If you are attending Council of Five Nations in two weeks, you will have many chances to give Squadron Strike a try. Ken's vendor table will be in its usual place, right outside the SFB room.  We've scheduled the "Sphere of Death" scenario, with conversions of SFB Tournament Cruisers, for the 7:00 PM slot on Saturday. 

If you're not attending Council this year, I urge you to seek out this game on your own.  Ken travels to many cons throughout the year, and is very good about answering online inquiries.

You can contact Ken directly at Design /at/ if you would like info on Squadron Strike or any Ad Astra titles:

Squadron Strike
Attack Vector: Tactical
Birds of Prey

Thank you,
Dave Cheng