Sword of Terra

The Space Ship Game

For almost a decade, I’ve been kicking around the idea for a space ship game.  When I first set out, I had two basic goals:

  • Fast and Simple – The game needed to be easy to learn and fast moving.
  • Focus on Big Ships – This was going to be a game of battleships, cruisers, and carriers not star fighters, so the rules needed to focus on that scale.

My first draft (written sometime in 2001) established some core mechanics that I still like.  Warships were given hull points in order to track damage with the range running from 2 to 9 points.  Keeping the number low made it possible to use checkboxes to track damage rather than tracking a written number.  The attack mechanics used two six-sided die rolls – one to determine whether the attack hit, and one to determine whether the attack damaged the target.  Weapons then varied in both accuracy (used for to-hit rolls) and power (used for to-damage rolls).  Another fun mechanic was that missile salvos took several turns to move towards their target, allowing them to be destroyed en route (inspired by battles in Master of Orion II).

Other mechanics in the original draft were pretty clunky.  For instance, the rules for boarding actions were far more complicated then I’d like.  They involved tracking the number of marines on each ship, calculating the ratio of attackers to defenders to find a roll modifier, rolling and comparing against a table to find the percentage of casualties on each side, then modifying the number of remaining marines for each ship.  If all of the defenders were killed, then the attacking player was able to seize control of the ship.  The core idea is still interesting, but it needed a much better implementation.

After that initial draft, I lost interest in the rules and didn’t pick them back up again for a little over half a decade.  At that point I updated the old draft and added a third goal:

  • Design Rules – The game should include rules for players to create their own ships.

Looking back, this draft really focused on the design rules at the expense of updating any of the games core mechanics.  I did make a few changes to the rules though.  The cap on ship size increased to 20 hull points.  To-hit rolls moved to using a twenty-sided die while damage rolls stuck with a six-sided one.  Finally, I added damage types to weapons that allowed for other equipment, such as shields, to affect only certain types of weapons.  The design rules gave each ship 10 space points for each hull point which could then be allotted to various pieces of weapons and equipment, each of which had a set space point cost.  This was a pretty basic and flexible system, but I didn’t put in the effort needed to make it balanced in any real way and it allowed for some pretty random designs.

Now, three years later, I’ve picked up the rules again.  This time I’ve been focusing on game play and a background story for the game’s universe.  The design rules from the second draft have been dropped for the time being, but I’ll consider updating them once I have game play a lot more polished.  As I make some more progress, I’ll share more details on the new game mechanics and try to post a set of quick start rules for play testing.

By Scott Boehmer

A game enthusiast and software engineer.

One reply on “The Space Ship Game”

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