[This articile originally appeared in Flagship – The PBM Magazine]
Star Fleet Warlord is a strategic sci-fi game based on the universe of the venerable “Star Fleet Battles” board game. Star Fleet Battles is itself based on classic Star Trek, so if you imagine fleets comprising ships of Federation, Klingon, Romulan and a few other races, you won’t be too far out. Not that you need this background – the rules are self-contained.
The game is based around the usual themes: move your ships to capture sites and defeat your enemies. Use the income from the sites to build more ships, build bases or for other things. The economic system has four types of resource (People, Ore, Dilithium and Food) which are used for various purposes. “People” resources are required to train you crews, whereas ore is used to repair and refit them. Different major sites produce different ratios of the basic resources.
It is said that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. In Star Fleet Warlord the first few turns are particularly important. One reason is that doing well early on can put you in a good position later in the game. However, the biggest thing about the first five or so turns is that you are very unlikely to run into another player, except diplomatically. This means that you have time to sort your empire out, get a feel for the rules and get to grips with how best to run your position.
The first thing to do, though, is run the start up turn. The important thing about it is that you don’t know anything about your home sector when you order the initial build, so it’s important to get a good mix of ships with different abilities. If you fail to get a minesweeper, and there’s a major site in a minefield, you would have a problem. The default build recommended by the game designers is very good, and I rarely feel the urge to tinker with it.
Once you’ve got your start-up, look at the map. At this point I usually reach for the coloured pens (well, Paint Shop Pro these days) and mark off all the major and minor sites, along with the dangerous terrain types. This helps me to avoid mistakes. Writing the base prospecting values on the interesting terrain types also means you have a good visual aid and don’t keep reaching for the rulebook.
During the first five game years, you have several objectives:
1) Capture all the sites in your home sector. This is important because you get an income from each site that you own at the start of any turn. If you own all the major sites, you get a sector bonus, worth 100 economic points – about the same as two or three major sites. Remember that your varied selection of start-up ships have differing abilities and can cope with various problem terrain types. If you have been unlucky, and have more problem terrain types than specialist ships, take a look at your roster of “legendary officers”. It may well be that you can assign a suitable officer to one of your other ships to help out.
2) Get your scouts headed for adjacent sectors. You don’t know what’s out there until you send a scout for a look, and its possible that your scouts may have some problems with NPC ships, or annoying terrain. The earlier you get a scan of an adjacent sector, the better.
3) Somewhere in your home sector is a “space monster”. It won’t be a nasty one, and is usually about as tough as a destroyer. It’s movement is usually predictable – it will to move in a straight line unless it encounters terrain it doesn’t like or spots a planet or other site to attack. Take it as an opportunity to study the combat system and combat train your crews.
4) Prospect like crazy. Many of the terrain types have economic resources buried in them. Early in the game, the income that can be generated from prospecting can outstrip your conventional income – in a recent game, my second turn saw a conventional income of about 150 economic points, with a survey income of over 500 points. Remember that any ship can issue the “prospect” order, and a freighter is as efficient as a dreadnought, (and rather cheaper!).
5) Spend that income! Small, fast ships are usually better early in the game. They prospect just as well as a big ship, are cheaper to train, and the additional movement points mean that they can cover more ground and capture more sites.
6) Train your crews. Your ships start with crews barely competent to fly the ships. Using a couple of orders to train the crews up can take them to a level where they no longer take damage from a number of terrain types (which, in a small ship can be very important, since the shields are thin). Each additional crew level also adds 10% to attack and defence, as well as 10% to the income from prospecting.
7) Get your warp gate moving towards one of your home sector borders. You can build ships at your warp gates, so having them near the front lines can save your ships several turns of movement. Since they only move at speed two, it’s important to get your initial gate moving. You probably want to send it towards the nearest adjacent sector. You certainly want to send it towards a sector you’re going to send a scout into. This will allow you to rapidly exploit the sector when you get the map.
As warlord, you get to nominate three of the dozen or so races as your “preferred providers”, together with the generic civilian ships. Although you can buy from outside these selections, it can be prohibitively expensive, and most people don’t bother. You do get the option to change them, but this only occurs once every ten turns.
Each of the races has their own “feature”, meaning that your choice of race can influence your style of play. The Federation starts with better trained crews than the other races. The Gorn prefer hand to hand ground attacks, and their ships get bonuses in attacking sites, as well as having fearsome levels of commandos. The aggressive Klingons prefer attack to defence a fact that their ship design reflects, whereas the territorial Tholians prefer defence above all else.
Although you can choose random races, there are often good reasons to go for a specific package of races. One excellent reason is that you fancy playing them. Another reason that you might decide to choose is a lack of the “food” resource in your home sector, or other terrain related problems. If you can’t feed them then having ships with a lot of commandos is not sensible. If your home sector is full of radiation related terrain, then the WYN, whose ships are used to traversing such territory, might be a good selection. Yet another reason for choosing can be to simplify the supply chain. Federation, Klingon, Kzinti and WYN all use guided missiles called drones, and, although they have some commando ships and carriers, they are not so prevalent, so you mostly only have to worry about keeping yourself supplied with drones. Some races can be mutually exclusive in terms of combat style – its difficult to mesh a fleet of units some of which prefer to duck and weave, and others that are optimised to close to point blank range and slug it out.
You don’t get to design you own ships in Star Fleet Warlord, although some “generic” ships can be customised to various missions, ranging from minesweeping to surveying, heavy combat to commando. However, the various races have ship lists that run to a dozen pages of fairly fine type between them, providing many different ships suited to various missions, ranging from small police corvettes to dreadnoughts and the rare battleship. Most of the races also provide a good complement of support ships such as minesweepers, hospital ships, carriers and the like.
The difference between these, apart from sheer scale and price, is that the smaller ships move faster (speed 5) than the dreadnoughts (speed 3). Conversely, the larger ships have better staying power and usually provide more bang for your buck. Early on in the game, when you are expanding as rapidly as possible, most people tend towards small nippy ships and accept that they won’t win a fight. The four police cutters that you can buy for the price of one dreadnought can cover twenty hexes a turn between them as opposed to the three that the dreadnought can. Of course, if the enemy is defending the sites that you are aiming for, the light ships are going to look at the defences and refuse to attack.
Your ships arrive with crews barely competent to fly their ships. This is a slight exaggeration, but not by much. Crew levels are rated from one to nine, with nine being “legendary”. Most races start with crew three ships; the common exception is the Federation whose superior training and morale means that they start at level four.
Crew quality comes into various things. Each additional crew level gives a ten percent boost to attack, defence and prospecting. Crews that have achieved level five can avoid taking damage from a wide variety of common terrain types such as asteroids and dust clouds. This can be very important early on because a couple of hexes of asteroids and your smaller ships will have lost all their shields and possibly taken internal damage. At higher crew levels, the crew acquires even more useful abilities such as being able to repair their ship without the aid of a repair ship or space dock. Because of the advantages of level five crew (being able to go through the nasty terrain rather than round can save whole turns of movement), I almost always try to get my new ships to run a couple of training sessions. Economics (training sessions need “people” resources) or enemy action may prevent this though.
There are two ways to improve your crews. The easier and more predictable route is to send them on training courses at a convenient base or “integration” ship (integration ships are support vessels with facilities for training crews and procuring legendary officers). The downside is that, while low level training is relatively cheap, the price rapidly rises as your crews improve and has a ceiling of level six. You also need that base or training ship to be present for the entire time, which may be difficult to arrange.
The other method of improvement is through experience. Win a battle and your crews may learn something from the experience – if they survive. This method is riskier, uncertain, but is free and can exceed level six. There is one other potential problem with “on the job” training. On a couple of occasions, I have had units fight unexpected battles en route to a training vessel. Since the “training” order was processed anyway, it was a lot more expensive than I had expected because the crews were better than they should have been!
In keeping with the source material, you have access to a limited pool of legendary officers, ranging from doctors and navigators to engineers and science officers. Each, when assigned to a vessel, adds a capability to the ship. Navigators are adept at weaving through perilous terrain, while engineers can fix the ship on the fly with nothing but a ball of string and a pair of old socks. If you are really lucky, or are willing to shell out for the recruitment, you can even acquire the services of a legendary captain, who will enhance your ship's abilities in any number of ways.
You acquire the services of one or more new officers each turn. Normally the officer type is randomly selected, but there are ways of influencing this.
Star Fleet Warlord has a wide variety of terrain types, split into “point” and “area”. Any hex can have a maximum of one “point” terrain and one “area” terrain. Point terrain types are single items like planets, gas giants, Dilithium asteroids, black holes or variable pulsars. Some qualify as “major sites” (things worth owning because they produce resources each turn), and some are just plain dangerous. “Area” terrain is anything on a wider scale, such as dust clouds, asteroid fields and the like. None of these produce resources on a regular basis, though most can be prospected for some immediate cash.
Anyone with any knowledge of astrophysics needs to forget it while playing Warlord since the terrain types can co-exist without any physical basis. One of my current maps has a perfectly habitable planet balanced between two super novae. But, then, my ships can go faster than light, so perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much!
Some terrain is useful (either because it produces a regular income, or can be prospected for immediate gain, or both), some is dangerous and some terrain qualifies as both. The best prospecting terrain in the game, the variable pulsar, can swat cruisers out of the space lanes. However, most terrain has a key – something that you can use to pacify the terrain. The terrain types are all fully listed in the rule book – this is not a game where there’s a great deal of “secret rules information” to be uncovered. In the case of the variable pulsar, some ships have abilities that will help them “ride the storm”, and a “legendary navigator” can also assist.
I hope this has given you some insight into how to get started in Star Fleet Warlord. It’s one of my favourite “closed” tactical wargames (most games last about twenty turns), and I’m very pleased to be back at the helm of the Federation in the most recently started game.