Monday, January 3, 2011

Colonial Battlefleet Review and AAR

Over the holiday I got a chance to try out the Colonial Battlefleet game from Steel Dreadnought Games. Below is the After Action Report and a quick review.

Meeting at Procyon

The tensions between the Empire of D and the T Hegemony have erupted into full scale war. The trade lanes outside of Procyon would prove a dangerous meeting ground, as Hegemony taskgroup Dreadnought and the Imperial squadron led by the battleship Wisdom would fire the first shots of the war.

This was a 1200 point game, with default tech levels, the only agreement being that fighters and boarders would be avoided since this would be our first game. Oh, and we would be going into this blind as to the other's fleet composition or ship loadouts, once on the battlemap we told each other which ships were larger than the others, but that was it. I was quite pleased with how we managed to set up and play, even being so unfamiliar with the rules. We took 3 hours total, from opening up the spreadsheet to build some ships to rolling the last die and calling it quits.

Order of Battle

T Hegemony
BBD Dreadnought – 640 tons, with turreted banks of heavy phazers, mag cannons, and anti-neutron torps
BCF Archer – 410 tons. Phazers forward, and the rest taken up with two 3 launcher mounts for its 24 ASGMs
CLR Cheetah – 144 tons. Its sole armament were 3 forward anti-proton torpedo bays spread in 2 hardpoints

Empire of D
BBD Wisdom – 640 tons. A forward firing rail gun, along with turreted banks of phazers and disruptors, and a single ASGM launcher for 8 missiles
BCB Courage – 560 tons, sporting turreted batteries of turbo heavy lasers and heavy disruptors, with a forward bank of anti-neutron torpedos.

Debriefing, Commodore Nomis of the HNS Archer

With our superior command and control we would set the tone of the battle. However it became evident that they would dictate its terms. The Imperial ships started in close formation, we closed in a slightly more open one, with the Dreadnought leading the way, the Archer and Cheetah sheltering along its flank at about three combat sectors distance. The first turn is at extreme range, and we choose a tactical option, and wait for them to close. It turns out that we are in fact, within their range. A stunned shock runs through the crews as they not only fire, but hit with enough force to heavily damage the shields on the Dreadnought, the Imperial ships are running with FC4. Our reply is minimal, as we fire at the larger ship to no effect, its shields are too heavy at this range...there is only one thing to do, close the distance to bring our shorter ranged and hopefully more potent weapons into play.

We choose the tactical option again, the two Imperial ships close to adjacent combat sectors and look to be ready to cross each other next turn. The second turn sees our small flotilla accelerating, we had a delta advantage over them already, running at 5 to their 3, all of our ships increased speed to delta 6. The Imperial ships fire, a deadly volley, that smashes through the shields of the Dreadnought, damaging the heavy phazers right as they line up on the smaller enemy ship, as well as launching an ASGM. Still, the Mag cannons do a number on the enemy shields, allowing torpedoes to get through, although there is no penetration. The Archer launches a full salvo of ASGMs, while the Cheetah continues to hide behind its larger cohorts.

The phazors were quickly repaired, but the ships are crossing at speed, and although the Dreadnought penetrates the larger Imperial ship Wisdom's shields, the combined power of the two capital ships cuts through her shields, an engine room hit seals her fate. Archer fires another salvo of ASGMs, now in sprint mode, there is little that can stop them from hitting on the next turn sequence. Cheetah darts in and fires her torps, but they do little damage against the heavily shielded Courage.

The ASGM's finally come into play, damaging the bridge of Courage, and a disruptor bay on the Wisdom. But it is not enough, the Dreadnought has drifted past the battle, and both enemy ships are lined up for a strike upon her aft shields. Her heavy armor is not enough to save her from destruction. The Archer fires another salvo of ASGM's, and the Cheetah makes use of her superior speed to place herself in the aft arc of the Courage, hammering through her shields with torps. The Wisdom however, in chasing the Dreadnought, is finding it hard to close the distance and support her sister ship. It can still however, punish the Archer with its heavy armament, cutting through the lighter ships shields with ease and damaging one of the ASGM batteries. The Courage as well is able to bring its port facing turrets to bear, the Archer is now down two shield facings, and its F/P shields will be damaged for the rest of the engagement.

Our two ships continue to rake the Courage's aft shields, but a final combined salvo destroys the Courage, it is then that taking stock of the ASGM reserves on the Archer that I decide to retreat, we will use our delta advantage to escape and fight another day. I send our final ASGM stocks in their direction, if only to discourage pursuit. It does not work very well, they burn delta to increase velocity and chase, and once again that heavy long range armament aided by superior fire control comes our way. 12 hull, 10....5.... The girders creak and grown, bridge consoles show red hull breaches across the board, and it all comes down to their final shot with the single heavy rail gun. It misses, and we breathe a sigh of relief. We will live to fight another day.

Hegemony lost 640 tons
Empire lost 563 tons

Next time, I won't skimp on fire control. Two of my 3 ships had FC 2 and short ranged weapons, D had a definite range advantage that showed at both the beginning and end of the battle. I overbought on PD given that he had a total of one launcher in his fleet, and he under bought. Even with 3 and 4 PD die my missiles consistently got through, taking his defender down to half health despite my inability to pierce its shields. And having a 3 Delta ship allowed me to plant myself firmly in his rear shields at the end. I closed too fast and didn't start my turn early enough with Dreadnought, thus its early demise, taking out about two thirds of my potential firepower.

The ASGM's were surprisingly effective on my part, partly due I'm sure to the fact that his defender had 50 points of shield in its forward arcs, something that I was hard pressed to cut through, even with my Battleship. In fact, only two flights of 3 were unable to turn and reengage effectively, and even those two were able to herd his ships, if not directly attack them. It helped that they were in effect more maneuverable than his ships. And AV8 ships are very, very hard to crit against, even with 1D10+1 weapons, although I have to say that even my AV6 ship shrugged off his weapons pretty well, suffering only three criticals as it was whittled down to 5 hull, two hardpoints(one empty) and a shield. Which was quite fortunate, since I was hard pressed to repair them.

His evaluation of the battle consisted muttering about not skimping on firing arcs, as after the first two turns, none of his forward firing weapons actually had any impact on the battle. And for him, the ASGM was nothing more than wasted space, especially since he ended the battle with 5 left in the magazine, although the last few turns I think he gave up on them, as a single ASGM against 4PD is pretty useless. He also expressed disappointment on how the battleline ship performed, he may have been able to repair those critical hits easier, but I wasn't making many to begin with. I'm pretty sure he wished it was another defender or a flagship instead, because I won every single initiative roll.

Either way, I think we both agreed that the game was quite enjoyable, and one of the easiest to be able to set up and play on short notice. Being able to work with the spreadsheet and then print out the SSDs was a definite plus. Although I knew that I wouldn't snatch victory out of it once my Battleship went down, I was definitely on the edge of my seat as my fleet tried to pull out a draw, and escape. 5 hull out of my 64 hull BC before I was able to get out of range, now that's a nail biter!

Now some general notes on the rules system. Personally, at about $15 dollars, it's a bargain. There are about 60 pages of play rules, options, and an explanation of equipment, and the remaining 60 pages are split about equally between scenarios, warship construction rules and premade faction ship lists, with a few pages of counters that one can print out. The last two sections can easily be skipped however as it also comes with an excel spreadsheet that makes creating your own ships quick and easy. Illustrations are mostly functional, it's not exactly a pretty product, but they get the job done.

I mentioned before that it only took us about 3 hours to play a game. I would say that about half an hour to an hour of that was setup and creating our fleets. Although there were only a few ships in play, I feel that we could easily expand the fleet and get done in a similar amount of time, due to added familiarity.

As for the rules themselves, the first thing that comes to mind with them is that they are clean. You won't be scratching your head looking for dice, it uses D6s and D10s and that's it. The ship datacards that one can print out hold everything one needs to know about a ship, including the special roles that they can have. Those help define your ship and fleet, whether it's a Battleline ship designed to deal hurt, a light Scout, a maneuverable Rapid Deployment Force ship, etc.

The game may only use two die types, but it uses them well. For example to attack one rolls a die and adds in their fire control, which essentially allows a player to create the best engagement range for their ships. Movement was pretty standard fare, and easy to keep track of with the ship datacards. The fleet construction rules tend to favor a heavier force as opposed to swarms, and it felt a little funny that we both fielded Battleships and Battlecruisers with only my single light cruiser as backup, as opposed to a more balanced force, although this is indirectly modified in some of the scenarios. Perhaps if a campaign supplement came out then this would be addressed.

For the price, I can't say I have many complaints. Essentially this is an excellent generic ruleset for space combat, I could well see myself playing out Star Trek, B5, and other settings, not to mention the recently released Man vs Machine expansion that covers BSG. Although I'm not sure how such a fighter heavy game would play out given that ships can't be stacked.

What wins me over though, is the ease of play. Compared to say, Starfire, Battlefleet Gothic, or Battlespace for example it felt like a breeze, and there was no need to dig out the trusty ruler as long as you have a hex grid. And thus Colonial Battlefleet is liable to become my starship combat game of choice in the foreseeable future.

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