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 #34 Advanced Ship Development – Part Two, Curveballs
This article continues the discussion of the Advanced and X Units that were added to the game in Replicators (for Part 1 of the article, follow the link here). New ships and techs are about 25% of this expansion and this series looks at the new ships one by one.
The first unit is the Fighter 4. This addition did not require any special counters. My original thought on this unit was for it to be an A7/B8 – 2 x1 unit. At the start of each combat round based on the Tactics Levels of the units you would declare if the Fighter Group was configured to attack Hull Size 0-1 units in which case it would count as an A7 or Hull Size 2+ units in which case if would count as a B8 unit. If you then fired the group at a unit that it was not optimized for you would first subtract 3 from its attack strength. I was trying with this design to allow the Fighter 4s to be able to fire first against SCs with PD. The more I thought about this idea after I proposed it the less I liked it as I could see some problems in getting it quickly set up on the Battle Board if there were a lot of units involved with a lot of different Tactics Levels. I also looked over the cost of Fighters versus Point Defense and was struck that with the lower cost of PD the SC/PD player would be able to more easily afford better Tactics which would then preclude the Fighter 4s from being able to fire before the SCs. Around this time Jim proposed that the Fighter 4 be broken down into 2 types an A rated unit to engage the SCs and a D rated unit to engage larger ships. I told him that I did not feel that would work either in the face of massed SCs with PD. In the end we settled on a B8-2×1 Fighter 4. It has no other special abilities that Fighter 1-3 lack. It is just a slightly better platform. With the loss of any special abilities we also dropped the requirement that Fighter 4s be new builds like DDXs and RXs.
The second unit is the RX, which also did not require any special counters. This unit I wanted to add just to give the Raider something to do later in the game and since it would not require any more counters, why not? Initial thoughts were for a Raider that could mount Fast, Defense 3, required two DDs with Scanner 2 to void its cloak and any Decoys with it could stay unrevealed if it stayed in cloak. Around this time Chris Vanderknyff made mention of allowing Raiders to loot a planet when they blockaded it in a thread on BGG. Now, while I was a little unsure if I wanted to try an justify a Raider taking money from an enemy planet and adding the CPs to its economy it did get me thinking that perhaps the RX could carry some ground troops. If it could use its cloak to slip by the defenders it could take over an undefended planet. I added a provision to my proposal that the RX could carry two ground troops. Jim came back with the RX being able to mount Attack and Defense 3, Fast BC 2 and 1 Ground Troop. Though he did agree to allow it to mount Drop Pods if Ground 3 was researched. I will note that at an early point in all of this there was a requirement for Cloak 3 to be researched to be able to build the RX, but that was just to be able to build the new hull. There was never a thought of adding a new level of Cloak that had to be countered by a new level of Scanner to the game. Getting caught by Cloak 2 when you have Scanner 0 might require you to survive 6 turns where the enemy gets to choose what they want to shoot at. Allowing this to increase to 9 turns was not something that I thought would be good for the game. I will also note here that my initial thought that adding a better Raider to the game got a wake-up call from some non-playtest games that I had with Chris Vanderknyff. In several of those games Cloaking provided the edge for the winning side and made me rethink if adding a boost to the Raiders was a good idea. Around this time Jim started laying out how he wanted the new units to be brought into the game. He more than doubled the number of turns that it would take to research the RX from my initial proposal. I felt that was a good idea at the time as properly deployed Raiders are a real tough enemy to bring to battle. So the RX is somewhat like the Titan. It is terrifying to face if you do not have the counter-measures that you need, but if you go for it you run the risk of losing the game to less advanced units that can be produced earlier.
The first new unit that required new counters was the BV. Three changes were made to Jim’s initial design of this unit. One was the addition of an Anti-sensor hull to the BV. I told Jim that with the density that my wife sometimes deploys Mines I was not willing to lose 50 CPs of units to a 5 CP Mine. Second was the requirement that you research at least Fighter 1 before you could build a BV. This came about after I hit one of my wife’s Minefields with my BCs and I started thinking hard on deploying BVs to deal with them even though I had not researched Fighter 1 yet. I felt that was a bit cheesy so I did not do it, but I did bring that thought to Jim’s attention and he added the Fighter 1 requirement. The third change was the name itself. Jim had been calling this unit a Battlestar. Chris Vanderknyff pointed out that if it was marked on the counter as a BS it might cause laughter to ensue from some players. So Jim changed it to Battle Carriers and marked them on the counters as BVs. Jim Note: BVs with Fighter 4s are formidable. My thought in coming up with the BV is obvious and it hearkens back to the earliest forms of Space Empires. When creating a space game in the early 90s, the Battlestar was the top of the food chain in that homemade game and the expansion was an opportunity to bring it back. The greatest weakness of fighters is Mines, of course, and the Anti-sensor hull solves this problem.
The goal of these first four units – DDX, Fighter 4, RX, and BV – was to give these units “another bite of the apple.” Fighters and Raiders, especially, are curve ball units. You throw them at your opponent, they adjust, and then they are rarely used. DDs are not really a curve ball, but they are another unit that was rarely built later in games. When two good players face off, some SE games are still decided early, but some go back and forth awhile. In the latter case, the two best strategies are sticking with maxed out Battlecruisers or moving on to Titans (or somewhere in between). In both cases, the winning fleet will be built around a Ship Size strategy. These advanced ships will come into play in situations like that. For example, being able to capture planets with Raiders is game changing. Whether they decide the game or not, these advanced ships mean that there is reason to build them late in a game.