Squadron Strike up for pre-order


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Squadron Strike up for pre-order

Postby Ken_Burnside » Wed May 21, 2008 4:50 pm

Squadron Strike is a 3-D space ship combat game built around its ship design engine.

Starmada does a number of things very well - but there are some play styles it doesn't support. Dan (rightly) focuses on play speed over nearly everything else; for the game Starmada is, that serves him well.

However, if you've wanted something that plays about as fast as Starmada, but had a bit more crunch to it, this may be a game you're interested in.

Enough blather: here's some purty pictures:


(Click on the picture to go to the pre-order page)

Here's the skinny - boxed game is $55.

Everything needed to play comes in the box; no additional purchase is required. It comes with 9 laminated Move Cards, two Reference cards, a rulebook (currenly 64 pages of large type), a setting book, an SSD book, two double sided hex maps (3/4" on one side, 1.5" on the other), injection molded plastic bits, dice and four box miniature sheets (2 each of A, 2 each of B), plus some additional counters that you'll need scissors to cut out (mostly fighter and torpedo and missile tents).

Registering the game will get you access to the Squadron Strike ship builder Excel workbook. It will also get you access to the campaign game web applications; those are behind a subscriber login. You get the first 90 days with registering your game; after that it's $20 per quarter, or $60 for an entire year.

These applications include:

1) A box miniature maker. If you make 3-D space ship art, this will let you lay out box minis. We'll be building up a library of "free to use" art as well, and are trying to work out ways to make it worth people like Mike Dugan's time to do a few extra space ships for people.

2) A star map generator. This generates a complete star map suitable for a campaign game, using Squadron Strike's campaign rulebook.

3) A victory deck generator. Our campaign engine is card driven; your government type determines the distribution of your deck, and the turns of peace can zip by pretty quickly. Card have objectives on them, tech advances, dirty tricks to play on other players, and ceasefire points, so the "end of the game" condition is no longer "I've turned your homeworld into a donut."

4) A system map generator - upload the campaign file, input a few details, generate a system map with your initial fleet positions on it.

5) A web driven campaign management and ship design app - this does everything the Excel workbook does, but produces a much prettier ship sheet.

Over the next couple of posts, I'll be doing up the teaser info I'm using to promote the game...and to cover things up front:

Here some things Starmada does better than Squadron Strike:

1) It scales better to large numbers of ships. 3-D makes a hard cap of about 4-8 maneuver elements per player. Starmada doesn't bog down until about 12-15.
2) For a given number of ships, Starmada will play a bit faster.
3) It is (barely) possible to make a Starmada ship with nothing but pen and paper. Squadron Strike requires computer assistance.
4) It's easier to make a one off ship in Starmada.

So, with the notion that this is slightly different tastes in build-a-thing space combat games, here we go.

And Dan, thanks for letting me do this.

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Wed May 21, 2008 5:03 pm

Here's three sample weapons, pulled from a screen shot of the Excel workbook's SSD print page:

The name of the weapon (Basic Gun, Armor Piercing Gun, Slow Gun) indicates what type of weapon it is by the formatting.

Underlined names use Missile weapon rules
Italic names are Torpedoes that chase the target across the map.

On the same row, we get the firing rate of the gun - for the Basic and Armor Piercing gun, the firing rate is 1 - it fires once per turn.

For the burst fire gun, see that diamond? That means that it has to cool down for a turn between firings. It can also fire twice on the turn that it's ready - so it goes "cool, fire twice, cool, fire twice..."

All of these are user selectable when designing the weapons.

The next block of space is slots to list weapon traits. There's a LOT of them to choose from, and you can put up to eight on a single weapon, which is, honestly, more than anyone really needs. An example of a weapon trait is Halves Armor. The Armor Piercing gun means the defender gets half their printed armor value against it if it hits, rounding in favor of the attacker. So armor 5 is treated as armor 2 against that gun.

Below weapon traits, we have four columns (and though it's hard to see, seven rows)

Rng are the range bands for the weapon. For these weapons, I tried to get close to a Starmada basic weapon - 5, 10 and 15. You can specify the end number on each weapon range. For example, I could've set ranges of 3, 17, 21 and 28 if I really wanted to.

You can specify up to 7 range brackets per weapon. You can even specify a "myopic" zone by putting a range in and leaving Acc/Pen/Dmg blank.

Accuracy is the number you have to equal or exceed to hit a target with this weapon, using a single ten sided die. You specify Accuracy per range bracket, and are not constrained. If you want a weapon that starts at Accuracy 6+, goes to 3+ in the second bracket and gets to 6+ in the third, you can do so, the tool will calculate the cost correctly.

Dmg is the base damage of the weapon. It's how much the weapon does when it hits.

Pen is the maximum amount of "bonus damage" (called Penetration) that you can get. The roll for Penetration is 2d10- (roll 2 ten sided dice, subtract the larger from the smaller, giving a one tailed bell curve from 0 to 9). You get either the die roll, or the amount on the table, whichever is less. One trait doubles the Pen damage, which is good for making weapons that have highly variable damage. By varying Pen and Base, you can make weapons that have either highly variable damage or very predictable damage curves as you see fit.

Total damage is Dmg+Pen, so a weapon doing 3 Pen on top of 4 damage does a 7 point hit.

And this is only touching the surface....

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Wed May 21, 2008 5:04 pm

And, just to give context - here's the Sequence of Play for the entire game:


The turn is broken down into four phases - plotting, movement, combat, and fire.

Plotting works very much like SITS 2e - I'll do another teaser on that later.

Movement works similarly to SITS 2e, with some differences to cover different movement modes. Movement modes are named after the number of Newton's Laws being obeyed.

Mode 0 is Classic Starmada Movement. You move X number of hexes and stop, and you have no momentum.

Mode 1 is sort of similar to Starmada's current Basic movement engine, but sort of not. You have momentum, and it always shifts to the direction the front of your ship is pointed in; pivoting your ship bleeds speed from next turn's movement.

Mode 2 is vector movement, using something very similar to the way SITS 2e works. There is a "displacement" rule - if you thrust, without pivoting, your future position marker for this turn is nudged by an amount equal to half of your vector change. Otherwise, your thrust this turn doesn't move you - it changes your vector for next turn.

(If you look to the side of the plotting and movement steps, you'll see a space where which movement mode a given step applies to is shown).

All units move, then all units fire. Fire is simultaneous pre-plot, using a tool on the ship control card to handle it; write the target ID number the mount is shooting at, and tick off the boxes for the weapons that are firing on the mount.

If you put in "D" as a target for a weapon mount, all its weapons are devoted to defensive fire. If you put an "R" in a weapon mount, all its weapons are held back for fire after standard fire is resolved - you can direct them to finish off targets that are merely wounded. Or they can get shot off before they can fire...

Resolving weapons fire uses a system that I call "four die monte". It's a suggested way of doing it - it's faster and keeps everyone engaged at the table.

Roll a set of 4 dice - say, one red, two blue, one white.

If the red die equals or exceeds the target number for the weapon, it hits.

If it hits, the two dice of the same color are treated as 2d10-, with a maximum roll equal to the Pen value on the weapon. This is added to the base damage the weapon does for the full damage to allocate. Pen 3 plus Damage 4 is a 7 point hit.

The last die tells the target what row of the hit location table the damage should be allocated to.

In play, this is: Roll, "OK, 7, that hits, That's a 9 point hit to the 3, Steve."

Damage is resolved against shields first, then armor. Shields are ablative and come in blocks of 6 bubbles. Armor is deducted from the damage value of each hit that strikes the ship. Shields usually have regenerators tied to them which replace damaged bubbles each turn, though taking shields without regenerators is a perfectly good way to replicate Battletech or Car Wars style armor.

Assuming his shields are down, Steve subtracts his facing armor (we'll say 4) from the incoming damage, then reads down row three on his hit location table, marking off boxes as indicated.

The last step on the Sequence of Play is Crew Actions:

This is where ships use equipment like tractor beams, transporters, turn on cloaking devices, and the rest. It's where damage control parties attempt to repair things, and the last thing that happens is shield regenerators regenerate shield bubbles.

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Thu May 22, 2008 10:10 pm

Here's what the movement card looks like (well, two of them)


If you're familiar with SITS, this will look pretty familiar.

Going from top to bottom, we have:

Action Points: Action points are generated by the Bridge track of your ship. Nothing in the game requires APs to use, but making systems require them makes the system less expensive (1 AP is a 15% discount, 2 APs is a 30% discount, 3 APs is a 45% discount). APs are shown by shading the boxes on the SSD - white fill with black text (the default) is 0 AP, light gray fill with black text is 1, dark gray fill with white text is 2, and black fill with white text is 3.

In play, when you use a system that requires APs, you write the damage allocation code in the space provided. APs come back at the end of the turn.

What this means is that if you want a game where there's a "power allocation" process, it's there, and if you want to ignore it, it's also doable.

Below that, we have the plotting area, which is broken up into three parts.

The top is the AVID, or Attitude/Vector Information Display. The AVID is used to show your ship's orientation on the card, and is used to plot pivots and rolls. The hexagon is the hex your ship is in. Inside the hexagon, we have a top down view of a sphere, with the purple cell being 90 degrees, the green ring being 60 degrees, the blue being 30 degrees, and the yellow/amber being 0 degrees. Going below the amber ring (as if you're looking "deeper" into the paper), we have -30, -60 and -90 degrees respectively. Each of these rings is divided into spaces called windows. Each window is a 30 degree by 30 degree "facet" of the sphere.

Around the AVID are eight vector arrows used for mode 2 movement; your current vectors are written in the white arrowheads, the changes to the current vectors are written in the gray arrowheads. When you do vector consolidation, you add the changes to the vectors, and follow some simple steps to resolve your vector addition.

Near the AVID are four arrowheads used for Mode 1 movement - the first is your initial speed, the second is a gray arrowhead (labeled +M) to put in changes to this caused by thrust. At the end, is your movement for this turn. Beyond the "end", we have an arrowhead pointing the opposite direction with -P. For every window your ship pivoted, you lose 1 point of speed in mode 1 movement.

Next to the AVID is a key that shows what symbols mean what - triangle is the Nose of your ship, semi-circle is the tail. (And if you think of them as the arrowhead and features of the direction your thrust is applied in, they give a little mnomic). We mark the midpoint of pivots, because that's the direction your thrust will average out in over the course of a turn.

Oh, notice that the AVIDs are green and red? There are two colors of AVID (green and red) and two orientations for each (hex side up top and hex corner up top). These can be arrayed around all four edges of a hex map (labeled A-B-C-D-E-F) and everyone will share the same reference frame for tying to the map directions. (For example, the green hex side AVID has A at the top. The red hex side AVID has D at the top).

Below the AVID, we have a vertical plotting grid. If you're moving 4 hexes this turn, and the direction of travel is in the upper green ring (determining direction of travel varies a bit depending on movement mode), you pick one of the green boxes with a "4" in it on the movement grid here; you can pick a box that's half green and half blue, or half green and half purple.

Going from that box, you go up and out to find out how much of your movement changes your altitude, and how much of it changes your position on the hex map.

For your position on the hex map, you determine if your movement is heading towards a hex corner or a hex side (we have 12 point facing here), and just circle the hex corresponding to the number of movement points you're going.

For mode 0 movement, this tells you where you're going.

Mode 1 movement uses this procedure, after accumulating (or losing) speed from turn to turn.

Mode 2 movement uses this procedure to determine where your vector changes accrue, but your actual map movement is regulated by the vectors of your ship.

And down at the bottom we have the target assigment tool. This is a set of 8 boxes labeled S through Z, corresponding to the 8 weapon mounts on a ship. Each weapon mount can hold 16 weapons for a ship, in four rows of 4 each. The three boxes across the top are for tracking cool down times of a weapon in a mount.

When you fire a weapon mount, you write the ID number of the target in the box, and draw a line through the part of the grid corresponding to the weapons you're firing.

If the weapon in a mount has a cool down cycle, you mark off boxes to indicate it, and erase one box each turn until they're all clear again. This keeps the record keeping burden of tracking multi-turn arming weapons to a minimum, while allowing weapons that fire once every 4 turns (fire, cool down 3 turns).

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Postby middenface » Fri May 23, 2008 7:35 am

Ken, I am actually quite interested in this. And as the £-$ rate is a bad/depending on your point of view. I might purchase a copy when I have some free cash.

Mind you I have some work for some chaps in the states to do so I could persuade them to buy this as payment. :)

Nice art work as always.
'Full plate and packing steel' - Minsc

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Fri May 23, 2008 5:34 pm

middenface wrote:Ken, I am actually quite interested in this. And as the £-$ rate is a bad/depending on your point of view. I might purchase a copy when I have some free cash.

Mind you I have some work for some chaps in the states to do so I could persuade them to buy this as payment. :)

Nice art work as always.

For pre-orders, all we do is take your email address and name and how many copies. We use the pre-orders (our target is 105) to determine when we put this on the presses.

When the game ships to pre-order customers (currently pushing for September), you'll get an email pointing you to our shop to place the order.

Place the order before a given deadline, and you'll get free or flat shipping - free in the US, flat $20 for overseas - and that's for the entire order. So if you want to tack on minis, other games, books, etc...

So, ask yourself if you'll be able to commit to an order by September or so, and if you can, please use the pre-order page. :)

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Tue May 27, 2008 10:58 pm

This is going to be a longish post, but there are pictures to keep your interest up. We're going to walk through designing a weapon in Squadron Strike, the Grinding Beam, which is loosely modeled off of the main beam used by Shadow cruisers in Babylon 5.

In Squadron Strike, everything hooks into the campaign system. We're not going to do a full campaign run, but we'll show you what the decision making process looks like.

Here's the chunk of the Excel workbook that covers how weapons are built. The three blocks of purple cells are drop downs for weapon traits (a weapon trait is a special ability) for Beam, Torpedo and Missile weapons respectively. You select what traits are available for each family of weapons; the yellow boxes are where the resource development points (RDPs) are tabulated.


Now, thinking about the Shadow weapon, a grinding beam has the ability to stay on the target for a long dwell time, and it's either massive firepower, or some of the damage just bypasses armor. That sounds like Armor Piercing. Because we saw ships get hit with it, and take a while before they get sliced to bits, we choose Armor Piercing 1/3. (Other varieties of Armor Piercing include Armor Piercing 1/2 and Halves Armor).

AP 1/3 means that every third damage point done by the beam weapon bypasses the skin armor of the target ship - regardless of the armor value. AP 1/2 does the same thing, but every second point of damage skips armor.

Halves Armor means the armor value is halved versus the weapon.

When ships get hit with this, they get lots of bits sliced off of them, and eventually they explode real good. So we went with Double SI hits; every time this weapon hits a Structural Integrity cell on the hit location table, it does twice as many SI hits as would otherwise be called for.

Lastly, there's the "long dwell time", which we show with Continuous 9+. If the weapon hits with a 9 or a 10 on the Accuracy roll, it immediately fires again, on the same turn, and will keep firing in this fashion until it misses.

The final selection of traits is here:


Now, Squadron Strike has a number of attributes that can be defined for weapons - these are Rate of Fire, minimum Accuracy, maximum damage and so on. There's a tool (in between the weapon traits and where weapons are named) for putting caps on these abilities.

It looks like this:


We filled it out - we see the weapon miss in the series, so it's got an Accuracy of greater than 1. While it does a lot of damage, it seems to take time to chew through a ship, though there's some variability. Plus, these caps will apply to any future weapons we design (and any traits not selected in the earlier step simply aren't available.)

This is what we ended up with; the direct weapon traits that we changed are in the red area marked here.


And, lastly, we name the weapon and put a budget on it. Squadron Strike has weapons that range from 4 hull spaces (a fighter missile) up to 1750 or more (for capital ships and such). Because we're putting this on a light cruiser, and want a good firing arc, we'll cap it at around 150, and select the type as "Beam". We're going to ignore the Related box for now - in a real campaign, we'd make a couple of larger variants of this weapon and set all of them to Related to make them cheaper in "resource dev points".

On to the actual weapon design!


This is what the weapon designer tool looks like - this is the slot for weapon 1 (the weapons go from 1 to 14 in the spreadsheet; surely nobody really needs more than 14 weapon design slots per race?)

The yellow cells across the top show you how big a weapon you can put on a given size of ship (we selected the hull we're using for this class in a drop down menu that's not visible here). If we wanted a 1 window firing arc, we could mount a 222 hull space weapon. As it is, at 150, we can get an 12 window firing arc and have 30 spaces left over (which would be a good place to double mount a point defense weapon with the same arc of coverage).

Below that, we have two distinct working areas - at the right are the purple drop downs for weapon traits, and to the left of them, the white squares are drop downs for AP costs. To the right of the purple squares are the subtotals for the increase in hull spaces each trait costs.

We go and select the weapon traits we want on this weapon; it looks like this:


Notice that the final multiplier is 700%? Ouch!

On the left, we have the Attributes area, which is where we plug in most of the numbers in a weapon. The top row of the Attribute area pulls information from the campaign tab (the type of the weapon, its name, and the budget we've specified for it). The blue drop downs are used to select numbers, while the box next to Size dynamically shows us how big the weapon is.

Here's a first pass at making the weapon:


We plug in numbers for the following:

Cool 1 (the weapon has to cool down between shots), RoF 2 (it can fire twice per turn at the same or different targets), and give it a Capacitor of 1.

Then in the pink boxes we enter range bands. We'll be really imaginative and go 5/10/15/20.

After that, we select Accuracy, Pen and Dmg for each range bracket. We don't have to have the Accuracy targets increase (become less accurate) in each bracket - indeed, we could have them increase in each one. Same thing applies with Pen and Dmg.

If we select anything that goes above one of the caps we specified on the Campaign worksheet, the box will change color to black with blue lettering to let us know.

And, having filled this out, the Size box turned read - we're over budget!

Time to tone things back. The first thing we do is drop the RoF; while it was neat to have a weapon that went cool/fire twice, it's also expensive. RoF of 1 makes the weapon a lot cheaper!

OK, let's see if we can add some range and goose up the damage a little bit....hmm. Added a 5th range bracket, started at Accuracy 8+, and then went up to 9 - and we're at 152.

To bring us under budget, I assign an Action Point (AP) cost to range bands of the weapon. If I apply them to every range bracket, the weapon takes that many action points to fire. This does let you increase the "arming cost" by range if you wish. This will, on average, make the weapon about 15% cheaper for each range band cost.

In the end, we get this, and it's even under budget:


And on the SSD, it displays like this:


We changed the symbol from cooldown from a diamond (so we could use that symbol elsewhere) to the "block with a hole in it". The Capacitor limit of a weapon is appended to its name, which is why the weapon is Grinding Beam (1). It stores one AP in the capacitor, cools down one turn between firings, and takes 1 AP to fire in each range bracket. The Capacitor means we can arm it on either the turn it fires or on the re-arm turn - it doesn't matter which, so long as there's an Action Point in the capacitor. (We can even spend an AP to fire the weapon when the capacitor is full to preserve the AP in the capacitor for later...lots of interesting options here.

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Wed Jun 11, 2008 2:25 am

So, how many possible weapons are there, in Squadron Strike?


There are three types of weapons (Beam, Missile, Torpedo).

Each weapon can have an RoF ranging from 1-9 (9), times a cooldown of 0-3 (4). So 36 combinations based solely on firing cycles, times 3 weapon families, is 108.

Missiles have 3 attributes that are unique to them, with 250 possible combinations between them.

Torpedoes have 6 attributes that are unique to them, with 44.100 pissible combinations between them.

Each weapon has 7 range brackets, meaning that there are 10 million possible variations in Accuracy using all 7 brackets, times 10 million possibilities for variations in Penetration using all 7 brackets. When iterated through the caps on all the weapon base damages, that leads to:

2,000,002,885,135,810,000,000...times the above factors.

And that isn't even touching on Weapon Traits.

We've got so many of them, it takes two screen captures to show them all.

Here's the first one (which is traits common to all three families of weapons):


And here's the one that dishes most of the "family unique" traits. We cropped off the common disads towards the bottom of the Beams one, just because it's duplicated on Torps and Missiles.


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Firing Arcs and Their Selection

Postby Ken_Burnside » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:49 am

One of the things that makes space combat games interesting is firing arcs. A lot of generic space games have firing arcs that correspond to the 6 sides of a hexagon; a handful will further subdivide those into 12 point facing.

As a designer, I like firing arcs. They make it easer to catch those subtle nuances in weapon placement and doctrine. With the AVID, my atomic unit of firing arc is a 30 degree solid angle, and there are 50 of them to play with.

Now, because it's not (quite) possible to fire through your own ship, you don't get to use all 50 windows in the same arc - that'd be boring. Your weapon can cover a number of windows of arc beyond its point of origin. This is the "firing arc span" and defaults to 3 windows. (Meaning a weapon can cover the window it points at, plus up to 3 all the way around, giving a 210 degree arc).

We let this change a bit in campaign set up - it's got to be the same for everyone, because it's a hard cap for campaigns. Default is 3 windows, and you can choose 2 or 4 depending on how much you want your game to feel like dogfighting fighters or naval warships with huge traverses.

Once this has been selected, you get to select firing arcs for individual weapons. This starts off by selecting where on the ship the weapon is centered - this is the centerpoint of the entire arc.

Below, we've shown four different weapon mounts (S through V) with four different centroids selected.


Notice that to the right, you'll see different patterns of light gray and dark gray boxes? The light gray boxes can be turned on and be fired through. The dark gray boxes are not within the traverse specified for the weapon position given.

Now, in addition to the centroid of the mount, you can select an offset of 30 degrees up or 30 degrees down - this will also change what boxes are gray and what boxes are dark gray.

So, let's go select some weapons...say, four Proton Whips:


Notice that it's giving us (in the yellow space by the row we selected) the cumulative total of the weapons in that mount? And it's also giving us the combined mount total? Now let's select a firing arc - we'll do one that's 90 degrees across the nose, with some extra traverse to the sides.


It also updated the size of the weapon mount for the mount traverse and the firing arc specified, doing so automatically (and using a fairly arcane formula that seems to give good trade offs for bigger weapons versus wider firing arcs.)

Lastly, this is how the weapon mount appears on the ship sheet (SSD):


This has the firing arc down the center of the page, and mirrors the two weapon mount listings to either side. Each diamond is one of the check boxes for a proton whip, and a ship sheet has two ships per page this way.

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Postby Ken_Burnside » Sun Jun 15, 2008 4:31 pm

Oh - Dan Kast's initial comment when I sent him a much earlier version of the spreadsheet back in November:

"Your spreadsheet borders on insanity. And by that, I mean that if you look over your shoulder, you can see the wall that Sanity is cowering behind..."

The sheet lets you design 14 weapons, 16 ships and 4 fortresses, and you can basically toggle any weapon into any of the ships, and toggle any of the ships into the SSD printer page.

It's about 11.25 MB right now, unzipped...and has no macros in it.

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