Replicator Tuesdays is an article series appearing on InsideGMT. It features insights into the development of the 2nd expansion for the board wargame Space Empires:4x by Jim Krohn. Here the designer, developer and play testers will share their thoughts and experiences on this upcoming expansion. Since there is much crossover between the Space Empires and Talon development teams, both Space Empires and Talon articles will be featured in this series.
Issue #32 Advanced Ship Development – Part One, the DDX
Several years ago I laid out how the Resource Cards were added to the game and mentioned that they started as an idea that was brought to our attention during the playtesting of Close Encounters, but that we lacked the resources to add them to the game at that time. In this article I will talk about how the DDX was added to the game and the fact that its journey to publication was even longer than that of the Resource Cards. New ships and techs are about 25% of this expansion and this series is going to look at the new ships one by one.
I started playtesting the rules for Space Empires towards the end of the process, but at a time when Heavy Terrain was the standard rule. Heavy Terrain being the variant where if a hex is left empty after a Lost in Space or Danger counter is flipped a new counter is added to the hex. Also at this time the Warp Point counters were two 1s, two 2s and two 3s, which made it harder to get a usable Warp Point connection on the map. Not only that but a hex with a Warp Point counter that did not connect to another Warp Point counter was treated as a Danger counter if a ship moved onto it. So hitting a Lost in Space Counter beside Warp Point 1 when the other end was not on the map was instant death. For this reason Exploration Tech and the CAs to mount them were a requirement in my book not a luxury. With the Danger/Lost in Space counters being replaced with other counters that would include Black Holes/Asteroids/Nebulas/NPAs the maps usually would have only one path across them that did not require the ships to stop every hex or risk destruction/battle. So you could see the enemy coming at you on the Normal Map set up we used quite often for one or two Econ Phases before they reached your Home Space. This allowed time to research Attack and Defense 2 in a lot of our games.
The long lead time before combat came about in those games put the DDs in a tough spot. They were more expensive than SCs, but in most cases were still firing after the bulk of the enemy fleet had fired. With the same survivability as the SCs, but costing more and packing a bigger punch they were thus priority targets and seldom lived to fire. If you needed numbers you might as well save a few CPs and build SCs over DDs. Now part way through my time as a playtester, Jim changed the Heavy Terrain to an optional rule and dropped the part about Warp Points being a Danger counter if only one end of them was on the map. But, by this time I was pretty convinced that Deep Space should not be entered into without Exploration Tech and that combat would not start until a bit more tech than what is now considered normal would be researched so I still looked at the DDs as why bother most of the time. If the enemy had Raiders or was trying a SC rush the DDs might be needed, but as normal combat hulls they just not seem worth it to me to build.
Moving on to my playtesting of Close Encounters, I was still not seeing a good use for DDs unless they were mounting the Long Lance Torpedo. Long Lance Torpedo being my second favorite Alien Tech Card. Interlinked Targeting Computer might give them a bigger punch, but they still needed to survive a lot of enemy fire to use it. This was hard sometimes, as my wife’s CAs once proved against my DDs with Attack 3. Through most of the playtesting of Close Encounters I was usually trying to deploy BCs that mounted Attack 2, Defense 2, Tactics 1, Fast and Move 4. Back those ships up with some forward deployed Shipyards with Ship Yard Tech 3 and I felt I had a hard hitting force with some flexibility in what I could use to support it if they were not getting the job done. The downside to this research path was that only the BCs mounted Fast so if I wanted to have them operate with other ships they had to slow down. This got me to thinking about a smaller ship that could be produced in greater numbers than the BCs, but could keep up with them.
With Close Encounters finished and with the Resource Cards idea as a basis for another expansion I started thinking harder about coming up with a pure combat ship that would be worth building late in the game, that could keep up with BCs and be cheaper to build. What I came up with was a C4-0x2 ship that could mount Fast and would only count as 1 Hull Space for building purposes. You could only start building the ship once you had researched at least Ship Size 5. Put the cost at 11 CPs. So this ship would have more firepower than a DD, but less defense than a CA. With its lower ship yard capacity requirement you could build twice as many of these as CAs or BCs. I was thinking of calling it a Strike Cruiser. Then reality interrupted the process when Jim informed me that GMT was not interested in another Space Empires expansion. Though they might go for a C3i article to support the game. This would mean that anything that I proposed would have to be doable with limited to no counter support. The Strike Cruiser was dead before I even proposed it to Jim.
Knowing that counters for a new unit would be limited I started thinking this proposal over again. I decided that instead of trying to replace the DDs with another unit why not just use the DD counters to represent an Improved DD that you could build later in the game. The fact that it was an Improved DD meant it could be kept track of on the Ship Technology Sheet and thus no counters would be required. Leave its cost at 9 CPs so that once you could build it you would almost always want to build the better version. I decided to propose this one as an Improved DD that could mount Fast and if it was hit by anything other than a Titan a die would need to be rolled to see if it was destroyed or only damaged. 1-6 it was damaged, 7-10 it was destroyed and a damaged Improved DD would be destroyed if it was hit again. Thus it would have more survivability than a normal DD if the dice were kind to it. Also was thinking of giving it a +1 to its Tactics Rating so that it would have an edge over normal DDs and Raiders with voided Cloaks as to when it fired. Like a normal DD it would still be able to mount Scanners.
While the Improved DD was a step in the right direction, I was a little afraid that basing its increased survivability on a dice roll might not be enough. I was also afraid that its attack of 5 would still be over shadowed by CAs and BCs with 6 and 7 as their max attacks. So I started thinking again. With the Interlinked Targeting Card as an example of allowing a unit to mount technology that it normally could not I decided to propose the DDX. It would be able to mount one more level of Attack and Defense Technology than a DD could normally mount. It could mount Fast, Scanners and it would have a +1 to its Tactics rating. I changed the designation from an Improved DD to DDX at this time as I felt that made the unit stand out more as a unit that was being built with top of the line technology. At this time I was also adding the restriction that normal DDs could not be refitted to DDXs. This was both to emphasize that these were new hulls and to prevent people from stockpiling DDs/Raiders/Fighters 1-3 and then refitting them all at once if they researched what was required to build DDXs/RXs/Fighter4s. While I feel that the maintenance drain would keep people from actually pulling this off, I have found that it is better to assume the players will find a loop hole if you leave them wiggle room. Also the Insectoids could stockpile DDs as their maintenance is zero. So unless I wanted to rule that the Insectoids could not field DDXs I needed to put in the restriction on upgrading DDs to DDXs. I will note here that normal DDXs max out as D6-2×1 units. Insectoids DDXs max out as D5-1×1 units. Giant Race DDXs max out as D7-3×2 units.
I did give some thought to raising the cost of the DDX to 10 or 11 CPs, but in the end decided against it. It would just make players try and decide if the ship was building or not and the cost of fielding a DDX was already quite a bit higher than fielding a DD. To put a DD on the board a player must spend 10 CPs to buy Ship Size 2. To put a DDX on the board a player must buy Ship Size 2-4(45 CPs), a BC(15 CPs) and Advanced Construction 1(10 CPs). So you are looking at 60 more CPs spent on tech before you can field the DDX. To deploy the DD with the max Attack and Defense it can carry is 40 CPs. To deploy the DDX with the max Attack, Defense and Fast 2 is 120 CPs. So comparing fully outfitted DDs v DDXs is showing 50 CPs to 190 CPs. With a 140 CP difference in putting them on the board I decided to skip on changing the cost for them. This reasoning stands for the other Advanced and X Units to cost the same as their normal equivalents. I should note here that though Jim was agreeable to making more units capable of mounting Fast BC, he wanted to keep Fast BC limited to the units that can benefit from it in Close Encounters. For the new ships in Replicators that can mount Fast I am referring to Fast BC 2 which costs 10 CPs to research. Fast BC 2 gives the same bonus as Fast BC 1 and ships that can mount Fast BC 1 gain no benefit from Fast BC 2.
The next step was to talk to Jim about adding the DDX and the other units that I had come up with into the game through a C3i article. Jim approved the DDX with the provision that I remove the +1 Tactics bonus (Jim’s note – I was concerned about the interplay of the Tactics benefit with some of benefits DDs could get from cards). He did allow me to look over the Unique Ship Special Abilities and pick one of them for the DDX instead. I settled on Heavy Warheads as a replacement to the Tactics boost. I felt that this was a good ability to put on a ship that would be showing up late in a game where a lot of tough to hit targets might be on the other side. It would also allow the DDXs to at least threaten a Titan, when a CA might be shifted to the point of not having a shot. I did think for some time about asking for Second Salvo, but decided against it as I felt that allowing a player to field two different ships with that ability might be bad for the game. Jim approved my selection and playtesting of the DDX did not show any need to change the unit further.
Throughout the playtesting of Replicators the DDX proved to be pretty close to what I was looking for in a cheaper ship that could keep on with BCs and would provide a unit that was worth building in some numbers over a SC in the late game. It is not a guaranteed win if you get it on the map, but it does offer you options that you did not have before.
With the DDX design somewhat locked down as a basis as to what how we would try and boost existing units, I turned to the RaiderX and Fighter 4 designs. Those will be discussed in Part 2.