The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Federation Commander

Back in North Carolina at the (defunct for a decade-ish) Cerebral Hobbies, at one time they had a LAN for games. The only game that really interested me was Star Fleet Commander. The computerized version of Star Fleet Battles.

I played SFB, off and on, for 5 years. I mainly played tournament duels –were short enough that you could play them in 2-3 hours and ‘only’ involved several hundred pages of rules. A gentle monster.

Needless to say, I stopped playing around the time I had kids.

Anyway, I recently got a chance to try the streamlined SFB — Federation Commander. Federation Commander brings SFB into the new millenium. Nicer components — double sided hard board maps (with small or large hexes), laminated ships (that you mark on with dry erase markers and use paper clips to track energy), small or large counters. But, at it’s heart, it’s SFB.

The rules are similar enough that when I skimmed them for the ‘intro’ game I basically just went “Same, Same, etc.” Here’s what you need to know if you haven’t played SFB.

  1. Each ship produces energy
  2. On a turn you set your base speed (0, 8, 16, or 24)
  3. You have 8 impulses, and each impulse you move 0-3 (base speed divided by 8) but you can spend energy to gain an extra hex or to not move. You have turn modes and side slips.
  4. After everyone moves, you can fire weapons. They (surprise) cost energy. If you do you roll some dice, compare range, and mark off damage to the shields. Do 10+ points of damage and some of it will get past the shields (and a computer will explode, killing a redshirt). Of course, enough damage will knock shields down.
  5. Damage that gets past shields causes you to roll on a chart to damage systems …. you cross off the box on the ship and can’t use that any more.

There’s a ton more. Lots of weapons systems, missiles, tractors, transporters, various space terrain, All familiar to SFB veterans. What is missing is the fiddly Energy Allocation … in SFB you had to pre-plan all of your energy (minus a few points that were in your batteries, which you could allocate later). So you have 40 points of energy, put 1 to life support, 18 to movement (possibly changing speeds mid turn), 8 to Photon Torpedos, maybe a few points to shields, etc etc.

Federation Commander’s “Pay as you go” system simplifies that. They drop a bunch of book-keeping as well. Pick your speed, pay the energy.

SFB also had 32 move/fire decisions a turn. Grouping them into 8 moves (with a few sub moves) and then fire speeds things up. There are a few rules that could stand to be incorporated from SFB (I’m looking at you, 8 impulse minimum delay in weapon firing), but the vast majority of things that were dropped (however cool) were fiddly or rare.

The classic “Enterprise versus Klingon” duel, which took hours, was done in about one (with a pause or two while I clarified key points). Granted, I’ve played a good chunk of SFB, and my opponent had played 5+ games of FC, but this wasn’t just a drop to point blank range and exchange fire … we lobbed drones, I maneuvered around outside of overload range (I was the Klingon), then gave up a damaging shot for a turn of chasing the Enterprise while it reloaded (thankfully for me, the photons didn’t do much damage) and pasting him hard before he reloaded and made a decisive high energy turn into me. Sadly, decisive in my favor. This took 4-5 turns (an eternity in Star Fleet Time).

If you play with more ships, you can flip the laminated ship cards over to roughly halve all the numbers (power, shields, weapons) for a fleet game. Haven’t tried that, but I imagine it works the same.

So, this is the kind of thing you’ll like if you liked that kind of thing. If you are new to Star Fleet Battles there’s a lot going on … I imagine the base rules for your first game are going to be ~50 pages. But some of us already know most of them.

Rating — Suggest (if you already know SFB and like it).



Written by taogaming

June 10, 2013 at 11:15 pm

One Response

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  1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m absolutely loving it. I know I have a tendency to become completely consumed in things until I burn out on them, but after a month of not really thinking about or playing any other game I’m still completely engrossed. This is probably due in a large to the old Star Trek: Starfleet Command series of games based on SFB, which scratch the itch nicely and allow me to play out the types of scenarios I really enjoy (that is, objectives beyond just smash up the opposing ship).

    I happened to wander into Half Price Books the other day and they had some old Captain’s Logs. I didn’t buy them because they were from older editions of the game, but I did flip through them and I happened across a little paragraph about a real-world naval tactic. Later I tried it out in SFC and literally destroyed an enemy vessel in a single pass… the same vessel that had previously taken me 4-5 turns to beat.

    I don’t normally read tactics manuals for games. I generally like to explore, and I just don’t “care” enough about winning to invest the energy… but then I get bored (probably because I don’t study the tactics and fail to improve over time). In this case, I actually picked up the old SFB Tactics Manual PDF from e23. It’s actually great for me because after reading about a cool tactic, I am anxious to go and read the rules to learn about the weapons involved. Just reading about the weapons with no basis in why or how they are best used is tough and dry in a 400+ page rulebook. Once you have some reference point to anchor your head around there is some enthusiasm to learn how to do it. Starfleet Command helps here too, as I can see these different weapon systems in use.

    Obviously, many of the tactics would be different for Federation Commander. Most of the changes are minor, but have a big impact on how things play out.

    So far I’ve found no less than 4 people in our game group who are self-proclaimed recovering SFB players… My goal is to bring you all back down the rabbit hole. šŸ™‚


    June 13, 2013 at 1:12 am

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