Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Blue? Green? Red? Refuse? It's time to talk about rules for a new community edition of the VBAM rules!
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Tyrel Lohr
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Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Dec 03, 2016 9:09 pm

After talking with Jay about his FT playtest campaign and watching some of the discussions that have come up, I want to get a sense for how players feel that space combat should be approached in VBAM? We all know how the system has handled it up to this point, but I still get an overriding sense that some players are put off by the fact that their entire fleet isn't always included in a battle, and that only a limited number of squadrons (1E/2E) or ships (Galaxies) are involved in the battle on any given round.

VBAM bases much of its space combat on naval analogs, so we like to look to historical precedents for inspiration. I was talking to Jay last night and he brought up the Battle of Cape St Vincent where a portion of the Spanish fleet was unable to engage. This is equivalent to being in the reinforcements in VBAM. Similarly, the Battle of Leyte Gulf in WWII seems to be a good example where only a portion of the fleet was engaged at any given time.

The problem of reinforcements usually doesn't crop up very often, but it has been a specter haunting us for awhile. The command system in VBAM is setup to restrict the number of units that a player can bring to bear. In the squadron rules, this was a bit less severe than in Galaxies because you could shove a lot of smaller ships into a squadron if the command ship had sufficient CR. By virtue of Galaxies adding ships 1:1 to the task force, rather than using CC, you end up with more, larger ships in the task force.

Still, like I said, there are some players that believe that if they come into a battle with a 2:1 hull advantage that they should be able to realize the benefits from that in the fight. VBAM simply hasn't been "built" to accommodate that style of play.

My question to the community then is twofold. First, have you often found yourself with a disproportionate number of ships in your reinforcements pool? Second, has the times that this happened had a major effect on the outcome of the battle?

One way of addressing this issue for players would obviously be to eliminate the concept of having reserves in the reinforcements and just having all ships participate in the engagement. Flagship CR would then be more about applying formation bonuses to friendly ships to protect them from harm. The original squadron rules effectively did this in that the real advantage to having multiple squadrons is that each squadron command ship got a +1 formation bonus. Otherwise there was no difference between that and just bringing all of the units in.

A side effect of that which I really don't like is that you end up with the classic mutual assured destruction scenarios again where two sides just annihilate each other with no chance of cripples surviving to flee. It's just a massacre. But maybe that's what players really prefer? I don't know. All I know is that we get complaints and arguments for and against it, and at this point I'm not really sure what is "best".

I like how the Galaxies system has worked from a setup standpoint, but if we really wanted to have massed fleets it is definitely something we could do. Or we could go back to the old squadron system, but maybe with my "skirmish CSCR" optional rule that made battles squadron vs. squadron and removing flight assignments from the mix -- they would stick with their squadron and attack whichever target the enemy was attacking.

Another way to handle the problem is to further restrict the size of fleets by increasing unit costs. This runs counter to what most players want to see in the game, although it would work better with tactical system conversions as it would keep the number of ships lower. I think the current fleet sizes in Galaxies, which are about half the size of the 1E fleets, feel about right to me. Jay used 2x Construction Cost in WAP, but even he thinks that applying that across the board probably won't be a good solution.

I think part of the reason that this was less of an issue in the past is because the nature of the command system in classic VBAM was such that in most cases you were going to have enough flagship CR to command more than enough squadrons to include all of your ships. Consider that a CR 6 heavy cruiser is going to be able to command 7 squadrons (itself plus 6 others), each of which could include 3 CA for a total of 21 CA. That's a big force, and you very rarely ran into battles where you had too many ships to be commanded.

The best example that I can think of is if one side had like 50 corvettes and the other had 20 cruisers. By numerical force, you'd think the corvettes might have a chance, but with how the CR system works they wouldn't. Even in a best case where the CT is CR 3, that would still leave them at a huge force disadvantage in the actual task force. Even if you arrayed them into classic squadrons and just said that CR = # of squadrons that can attack each round, the corvettes would just not be able to deliver a concentration of fire. They'd do great for attrition, which is what you'd see in Galaxies with the corvettes dying quickly and being replaced immediately by fresh corvettes out of the reinforcements, but it is a pain point that VBAM really doesn't do a good job of simulating.

What's the consensus from the players on this one? Is this a problem that needs fixed, have you found the Galaxies task force to be a good change, or is some hybrid solution going to be better? I can see it both ways, and in some ways I could see the classic squadrons working if CR was used to activate them, and you used a version of the skirmish rules where you declare that a squadron is attacking an enemy or supporting an ally. That way CR would still have a distinct and important role, all of the units would technically be on the battle field (even if out of position to attack), and you'd have a more thematic split of units which would work better for narrative purposes. However, squadron setup and assignments would once again be something of a chore, and it would take longer to resolve battles again. One thing that I really like about the single-squadron task force rules is that the setup and resolution of a combat round is extremely straightforward.
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Emiricol » Sat Dec 03, 2016 11:32 pm

In my own testing, I have found the Single Squadon system perfectly mimics what I expect from a space engagement, as well as the fiction I've read where battles for a system can last a couple months. And from what you say, it also mimics earth naval battles as well.

Additionally, I've found that if there's a 2:1 hull advantage on one side, that translates directly into a winning hand in the long run. Firstly, they don't run out of reinforcements before the other side is crippled. Secondly, after TF1 engages the enemy, TF2 is already streaking toward the system's vulnerable underbelly and the defender's only hope of stopping me is to send his crippled fleet into the fray - possibly worth it to delay the siege of their system if they have a TF en route to counter-attack in the system.

A simple optional rule that would accommodate the Big Battle players (and critical, do-or-die defense of the homeworld?) is a suggestion I made in the Galaxies doc, wherein a flagship can command *additional sub-flagships*, each with their own squadrons, at the possible cost of a formation penalty (but I haven't tested the penalty idea).

I'm more strongly in favor of Single Squadron combat being the baseilne than I have with just about any other change I can think of. It's simple, in keeping with Galaxy's charmiest feature. It's cinematic. It mimics the fiction. Etc.

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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby BroAdso » Sun Dec 04, 2016 3:20 am

I agree with Emiricol, single-squadron does a good job. Alternate rules - like the Grand Fleets rule, his sub-flagship rule, and more - can help to bridge the gap where people are worried.

If we are really concerned about situations where one side has massive numerical superiority that isn't reflected in the number of ships they can bring to the table, one optional rule might be "Massed CC/CR." In a rough form, this could say that for every 8 or 10 CC in a fleet, the fleet's flagship gets 1 additional CR. Thus, that 30-CT fleet could bring 3 or 4 additional CT into the battle at a time, even if their "base" was only 3 or 4 CT due to the low CR of their commandships. It would still be better and more efficient to opt for fleet structures based on good command systems, but massed swarms of CTs or fighters could still get some advantage from their sheer numbers, and reflect the common fictional trope of ill-coordinated swarm attacks with this system.

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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sun Dec 04, 2016 3:40 am

From a game play perspective, I would prefer for players to be forced to rely on Tenders for a corvette swarm strategy, as that is at least interesting to see play out on the table. Then you end up with command tenders that come in with high DV, CR, and Tender value, and allow more of the little ships to be stuffed into the active task force than would normally be allowed. Kind of like how you dealt with the Jem'hadar attack ship problem: just make the larger Dominion ships into Tenders and you can achieve the same result there as carriers do for fighters.

Another option that we have for this specific edge case (corvette swarm) would be to have empire trait that lets players include 2 Corvettes per CR in their fleets. Then the advantage would be baked into their empire advantages and be a special case for their fleet. For example, the heinous hivemind on Horatio V has the Swarm trait, and now their CR 4 destroyer leader can bring 8 corvettes in with it! Oh the horror! :o

I think the opposite issue of "we only build fleets of superdreadnoughts" has already been dealt with in the single squadron system because of the 1/2 damage rule. Well, that, and a fleet of 12-16 capital ships is going to be hideously expensive and the galactic equivalent of putting all of your eggs in one basket. So we're good on that upper end of the spectrum.
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Emiricol » Sun Dec 04, 2016 4:04 am

Love the Swarm trait, Tyrel! BroAdso's idea does finally make CC a significant factor. I kind of see them handling two different issues, though -- BroAdso's addresses an incremental advantage for having numerical superiority (aside from a beefy reserve pool), while yours makes the Zerg a viable strategy. Which I love, because zerging should be a viable strategy and it's a cool word.

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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby aelius » Sun Dec 04, 2016 7:04 am

I also like the swarm trait idea.
And you can also put me down for the single squadron idea. That one change has done more for me to really like the CSCR rather than merely use it because it was the system.
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby OneMadOgre » Sun Dec 04, 2016 3:56 pm

I vote swarm.

Giant battles of all ships engaged in a battle sounds epic, but it quickly becomes routine and just becomes like a Starcraft II match. :)

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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sun Dec 04, 2016 4:23 pm

Okay, then it sounds like my jitters are unfounded and that we can find workarounds to any problems that might come up otherwise. Then I'll proceed with those edits and try to get some more rules roughed out and content moved around/filled in. :D
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Dec 09, 2016 3:33 am

Another thought to throw out there: players that want to fight these massive battles could throw the full fleets into each battle, but then have the flagship CR spend those points on formation level bonuses for the fleet. The CR cost to gain +1 formation level bonus would be equal to the unit's CC.

That would appease the players that wish they had all of their forces in the battle, while also making it impossible for an enemy to completely shield their forces. This makes directed damage more of a concern, and players will have to move to protect their most vulnerable units (such as troop transports).

The downside obviously is then you end up with massed fleets battering each other to shreds, and you're going to have a lot fewer survivors I think. But then again, maybe not. A lot of my previous concerns were predicated on the larger fleets that we saw in 1E, but the smaller economies in 2E and now in Galaxies might self-correct on that front.

But it's another option to test and see if it works better or worse.
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby murtalianconfederacy » Sat Dec 10, 2016 10:06 am

That suggestion seems to allay my fears about the Galaxies combat system--as a definitely unashamed member of the Grand Fleet school, any optional rule that would either increase the CR or give a fleet a number of special missions equal to the flagship's CR would satisfy me.
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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby BroAdso » Sun Dec 11, 2016 7:52 pm

One of the big balancing acts when I've been playing Galaxies has been which ships to include in each round of combat and who to rotate in and out each round. There are three tradeoffs:

1) I need small ships because I can give them Disruptor, Guardian, Suppression, and Support missions for 1CP each. If I have a big old battleship with 16AS and a CC of 3, I need 3 Support missions to double its AS, so I want to include three Corvettes. The tradeoff is important - though each Corvette has an AS of, lets say, 3, by sending them all on Support missions I lose 9 AS from my fleets effective value, but I can use those three functions to gain a whole extra +16 AS from doubling the AS of my battleship.

2) I need small ships to absorb undirected damage. If my opponent does 19 undirected damage in one round, I can spread some of it around to disable a couple of Corvettes or Destroyers so that I am not forced to cripple more than one CR or my flagship.

3) I need small ships in a round because they provide flexibility. What if my opponent shifted in a Carrier and a half-dozen fighters in his Reorganization phase this round? If I have all big ships, I am going to pay a high price for shifting into anti-fighter missions or gaining additional Formation Levels with Guardian missions, but if I have a number of small ships, I can give them orders which are much more efficient.

On a strategic level, it's also worth noting that small ships are where its at for building Hospital, Supply, Police and other ships - then you can easily move them around to where they're needed without it meaning a huge redistribution of your fleet power.

Finally, not having all my ships in combat at any one time makes sense. A combat with seven or eight rounds in VBAM: Galaxies will usually give most of the reserves time to cycle through, and that combat represents a whole month in the system. It seems to make sense that, in any fluff universe, not all the ships will be able to be part of the battle all the time. Plus, reserve shifting is just a useful and interesting strategic challenge.

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Re: Space Combat - The Elephant in the Room

Postby Emiricol » Mon Dec 12, 2016 4:25 am

BroAdso wrote:... ships in combat at any one time makes sense. A combat with seven or eight rounds in VBAM: Galaxies will usually give most of the reserves time to cycle through, and that combat represents a whole month in the system. It seems to make sense that, in any fluff universe, not all the ships will be able to be part of the battle all the time. Plus, reserve shifting is just a useful and interesting strategic challenge.


Certainly having reserves and moving units up to and away from the battle line is in keeping with a lot of the fluff/fiction out there, both ground and naval. Reserves have always been a tactical factor in battle. But mostly I envision it as the ebb and flow of battle bringing units into conflict and then sweeping them apart, or damaged ships limping out of battle to hide behind Saturn while fresh units rally forth from behind Jupiter.

But best of all, with the simple Big Fleet and Sub-Commands options already created, those who want that climactic, all-or-nothing decisive battle can do so without an entirely different rules subset.


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