Thursday, January 7, 2016

Return to Starmada

Matt and I played a game of Admiralty Edition this evening, using fleets from the Imperial Starmada book (I had Imperials, Matt had Negali) and the Newtonian movement rules.  I had played one of the Hammer and Claw fleets against Negali before, and had had my cruisers cored by their high-impact, high-damage weapons, so I played pretty defensively, stacking up Evasive Action with my Countermeasures and forcing Matt's to-hit numbers up towards 6+ for most of the game.  By the time we got into a close enough range that he could start shooting at 5+ (or 4+ with double range mods), I had destroyed most of his escorts and mostly won by points.

Points of frustration:
  • Book fleets have lousy accuracy and prioritize impact and damage instead (compared to home-rolled fleets in our previous meta, where 3+ and 4+ were the norm for to-hit).
  • Countermeasures+Evasive Maneuvers+Fire Control is very effective.  The extra -1 to Matt's to-hit from evasive action halved his expected hits per shot (5+ -> 6+), and Fire Control let me ignore evasive action's penalty on my firing.  Fire Control, in effect, became a second Countermeasures.  This variable-rate stacking of to-hit modifiers was fixed in Nova, which we're talking about playing next week.
  • Shields 5 on Matt's cruiser - there was not much I could do about this, even with the impact 2 weapons available to my fleet.
  • Escorts are bad.  The optimal force composition for a straight-up, no-scenario fight in Admiralty Edition is, IMO, three ships of roughly equal point value.  This forces your opponent to destroy two-thirds of your fleet instead of half.  Escorts are best used as filler, for those last 50 points, in such a way that the destruction or survival of the escorts cannot impact the outcome of the race to 50% of the VP limit.  Matt constructed a fleet of three escorts, a destroyer, and a cruiser, while mine was two battlecruisers and a light cruiser.  Destroying all of his escorts and his destroyer in detail was easier than destroying his cruiser, and because a ship will often have guns left when it is destroyed (due to the random nature of damage allocation), destroying escorts piecemeal reduced incoming fire very effectively.  It is also sometimes possible to opportunistically destroy or badly damage escorts that stray into the wrong arcs, as their great speed sometimes lets them; flanking just lets the opponent bring more of his firepower to bear.
    • Full Thrust: Cross Dimensions addresses the weakness of escorts by changing the scaling factor on the point value of hulls from linear to quadratic with the growth of hull size, so that all other things being equal, a ship twice as big costs four times as much.
    • Battlefleet Gothic addresses the weakness of escorts with forcebuilding rules requiring everyone to have them.  I forget how they handle scoring / victory conditions.
      • BFG also has a rule that ships must fire on the closest target in each arc, unless they pass a leadership test.  Which is maybe silly, but a reasonable way to make escorts useful (and hardly the silliest thing in BFG...).
      • BFG escorts are also flotilla-esque; deployed in squadrons, take a single hit to destroy.  But they carry much stronger defenses and heavier armament than Starmada flotillas.
    • I am not sure if Colonial Battlefleet does anything in particular to make escorts useful, though I imagine there might be something in its Ship Role rules that would help.
    • Starmada Nova...  adds an Escort trait, which blocks line of fire through the escort ship's hex and costs about as much as adding three flights of fighters to the same ship.  This sounds like it would exacerbate the problem that "escorts lack survivability and are too expensive for their utility", especially given the somewhat-dubious utility of symmetric LOS-blocking with a ship that can be killed and is worth points.  Starmada could really, really use a better force composition system and non-VP victory conditions (for example, this battle I won by VP, but could probably not have effectively killed Matt's cruiser).
  • Newtonian movement was...  more work than it was worth, I think?  I don't think we ever did anything that we couldn't've done with basic movement; the only times it mattered were when some of Matt's ships took engine damage and had their potential destinations fixed, which allowed me to guarantee that they'd be in my arcs.  But that's typically also true of badly-engine-damaged ships in the naval or basic movement systems; if you're low on thrust, your options are limited.  There may have been one turn where I moved at speed equal to my thrust while using Evasive Action, which is not viable under basic movement.  I think Newtonian movement favors short-ranged fleets; it enables them to close more quickly under cover of Evasive Action (but then also forces them to slow and turn after making their pass at the enemy, during which time they are taking fire - so they must crush the enemy during their first pass).  In this case Matt was unable to turn his substantial thrust advantage into a tactical advantage, in large part because our ranges were matched and we favored similar arcs.
  • Matt commented that Starmada would make a much better video game than a tabletop game...  and he's not wrong.
 So...  meh.  We solved some of the old problems with fleetbuilding by using prebuilt fleets, and found new problems.  Nova solved some of these, but hardly all.

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