Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Historical Interlude - 'Space' Campaigns in the Twin Cities...

I had one of these as a kid - it was wonderful!

A question came in from a Regular Reader, and I thought it deserved a longer reply:


Desert Scribe - August 24, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Thanks for the update, and I'm glad your wife is doing well.

Since you opened the floor to questions, I'll ask something:

Do you ever do any spaceship gaming, with or without miniatures? In addition to boardgames like Starfire and Starfleet Battles, there were several lines of minis that came out in the 1970s, including Stardate: 3000 and Starfleet Wars. [Note; he put links here, which you can get in his original comment.]

I'm into that type of gaming myself, especially the old Starfleet Wars line, using those rules and more modern rulesets like Full Thrust and Galactic Knights. Did you every play something like this back in the day, or more recently?


Oh, yes, very much so!!!

We were all "Star Trek" fans (1), of one sort or another, and we all saw "Star Wars" when it came out. We played all of the rules that you mentioned, and there's still quite a lot of interest in space battles to this day. I had all of the Gamescience plastic "Star Trek" ships, that were done from the pack of 'Starfleet blueprints' (I still have the packet, as well as all my old "Star Trek" books), as well as all of the ships from Valiant. A lot of the guys at the Little Tin bought the Superior ships, and there were many, many battles and campaigns fought there with them.

I did a number of battles with my ships, as well as a generic 'space campaign' and one based in the "Star Wars" setting. We mixed ground actions with space battles; Larry Bond (2) scratch-built a landing boat, ala "Starship Troopers" for our "Starguard" games, and we played a lot of Marc Ratner's "space Marines" as well. H. Beam Piper's "Space Vikings" was also a popular setting for games, and I had a lot of fun painting up Ping-Pong balls in the liveries of the ships in the book - all of them are spheres, so it made making the models very easy.

Most of were also 'wet navy' gamers, and a lot of our space battles played like they were using "Fight In The Skies" (for fighter vs. fighter games) and naval games like "Clear For Action". "Space Vikings" games were a lot like pre-dreadnought battles - you dropped into orbit alongside the opposition, and blasted away with everything you had. My "Star Wars" campaign featured both space combat and ground action - I did the floor plan for the Rebel blockade runner from the pack of "Star Wars" blueprints I'd gotten from Lucas Films, and then did the Death Star's as a set of 'tiles'. We had a great time romping around in them - figures were either Archive, McEwan, or conversions. Space battles were done with model kits, suitably modified, or reasonable proxy ships from various manufacturers. The chase down the Death Star trench - down a set of eight 4' x 4' modular tiles - was done with Valiant 'X-' and 'Y-wings', and Superior 'TIE' fighters. Everything else had to be made from scratch, and on occasion I would get carried away; for the boarding action with the rebel blockade runner, I built the little ship at about 3" long, and then built the Imperial Star Destroyer to scale. It came out at about three feet long, and yes, I made the engines to light up.

One of the problems that we had with campaign games was that we didn't have a set of rules that addressed landing actions; we needed a set of rules that would do both kinds of games, and relatively seamlessly. Mike Mornard had been working with Gordy Dickson (3)on a set of rules set in Gordy's "Dorsai" universe, and we used these - "Planetfall". These rules worked very well - and this is important! - they were fully three-dimensional space combat. One specified course and speed of one's ship, and the attitude in space: you specified the ship attitude in the 'X', 'Y', and 'Z' axis. (Pitch, yaw, and roll, to be precise.) Height above and/or below the table surface was also specified; the table top represented a 'relative plane in space'.

This resulted what I think is the very best battle I ever played. I was one fleet, taking on Fred Funk as the other. Playing Fred was not a casual pastime - he was very, very good, and was an experienced wet-navy gamer. he came on the table at plus/minus zero relative, and 000-000-000. So far, standard tactics. I came on at plus fifteen relative, at 315-000-000. Mike Mornard, who was the referee, nearly had a stroke - we were using written orders, and he know instantly what I was doing. I had started 'high', above the plane of the table, and was 'diving' down on Fred - all per the famous "Dicta Boelcke"; some things never change. Fred blasted away at my ships, but I had my deflectors on 'full front' and took some damage - nothing serious. I didn't fire, much to Fred's surprise.

My ships 'dove' through Fred's fleet, and then I ordered a delta-v manuver to decelerate and then accelerate to match Fred's speed; as soon as this was done, I did a 'pitch-up' to bring my ships' weapons to bear on the unprotected sterns of Fred's fleet - he'd had his deflectors on 'full front' as well, which I had guessed he was going to do...

SIGNAL FROM FLAG: "ALL SHIPS! WEAPONS FREE, FIRE FREE; FIRE AS YOU BEAR!"

It was glorious. We sent out for pizza as Mike rolled dice for what seemed ages. I was gracious in victory, and offered to tow Fred's fleet home...

In all due fairness to Fred, he allowed that he sound have read the rules before the game; I offered to replay the game, but Fred - a true sportsman! - declined and simply announced that he was going off to Flight School in order to learn how to really fight space battles. And he did, too - I played quite a few very fun training games with him on my table. A number of asteroids and trainers got bashed up, but hey - that's what Flight School is for. To help Fred visualize three-dimensional angles, I took three 360-degree protractors, cut them up, and then glued them back together to make a three-dimensional protractor for him; he took to this right away, and refined the concept by adding three pipe cleaners to indicate the attitude setting os the ship. Worked like a charm, too.


Footnotes  ( 'cause this is supposedly a serious and respectable blog):

(1) I am a Starfleet officer with the rank of Fleet Captain, with a date of rank of August, 1968. Back in those far-off days in Trek fandom, you sent your money off to Gene Roddenberry's merchandising company - Lincoln Enterprises - and you'd get back a nice certificate signed by Himself making you a Starfleet officer. I did, and I still have the thing around the house someplace - maybe it's with my phaser and communicator...

(2) Yes, that Larry Bond. Author of "Harpoon", friend of Tom Clancy, and author of a whole lot of books in the 'techno-thriller' genre. Local gamer, back in those days, as was his brother Jim. You can guess what they liked to do, when they first met you...

(3) Local author, Gordon R. Dickson. Hugos, Nebulas, Gandalfs; season to taste. Wonderful guy, too. I once got a bottle of Drambuie from him for saving his books from drowning. But that's a story for another time...

12 comments:

  1. Great story! It sounds like some of the ones John McEwan has told me about the early days. He's a big fan of 3D flight games as well.

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    1. Thank you! This was a wonderfully fun game, and the way we liked to spend our Saturday afternoons.

      It's great you've had the chance to talk to John - his creations have given us loads of fun and good times over the decades!!!

      - chirine

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  2. I love reading these sorts of stories, Chirine.

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    1. Thank you! I have a lifetime full of them - ask me questions, and I'll try to answer them... :)

      - chirine

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  3. Sounds like those were some great battles.

    -Ed

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    1. Oh, they were! We didn't think a game was a success unless we'd all been laughing our heads off at our own mistakes and antics. Gaming, for us, was as much about the social aspect as it was about the actual game...

      - chirine

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  4. I don't know how I missed this when it came out, but thanks for answering my question! Those are some great gaming stories. I'm impressed that you knew Gordon Dickson; his Dorsai books are pretty big in military SF circles, and I want to say he wrote some fantasy as well: St. Dragon and the George.

    I've never played a game using the Z axis for maneuvers--in the interest of playability I stick to just two dimensions. Have you heard of Attack Vector: Tactical or Squadron Strike? Those are some hard-physics, 3-D spaceship games that are highly regarded.

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    1. Thank *you* - it was a great question, and what this blog thrives on! (and so do I, for that matter!)

      Gordy was a heap of fun. We had a lot of very good times together, and I made him miniatures and models of a lot of the forces and vehicles from the Dorsai series. We played out a lot of his scenarios from his books, too.

      No, I've never heard of those two games - any website I can look at?

      The key to using the Z axis was paying attention; I have a very good intuitive grasp of three dimensions - which is why Dave Arneson always had me pack up the truck to go to the shows, when I worked for him - and what I used to do is keep a little three-arrow axis note on my turn order pads. It seemed do work; "Planetfall" had rules for weapon arcs and such, and it paid to pay attention!

      - chirine

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    2. Squadron Strike and Attack Vector: Tactical are both published by Ad Astra Games. I've never played either one, but they sound interesting.

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    3. Thank you! I'll look them up.

      - chirine

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  5. Also, I'd love to see pictures of your spaceship minis, if you still have them around.

    Thanks again!

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    1. I don't have the Valiants; they were given away about two decades ago. I may still have the H. Beam Piper ships - I'll look around for them for you...

      - chirine

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