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Jeff's Gameblog
Thursday, 4 March 2004
Star Fleet Battle Manual
Star Fleet Battle Manual (SFBM) is a Star Trek miniatures game that is contemporary to or even slightly earlier than the similarly names Star Fleet Battles (SFB). SFBM was authored by Lou Zocchi, one of the lynchpin figues in the history of the modern gaming hobby. SFB survived and achieved a cult status in the world of sci-fi wargaming, while Zocchi's game faded into obscurity. Many who have played both may argue that SFB is the superior game. That does not concern me. I am interested in resurrecting this out-of-print relic simply because I suspect it is a fun game.

The two Star Fleet games have some points of commonality beyond their names and subject matter. Both rely on an energy allocation scheme. Both are designed for relatively small scale engagements. IMHO SFB shines in the arena of the tournament duel. My spidey-sense tells me that SFBM lacks the intricacy needed to achieve frantic action feeling of one-on-one engagements, but that it should work well as a team game, say three or four on a team each operating an individual vessel. ("Lance-on-lance" as the BattleTech folks would say.)

SFBM is one of those games that really requires miniatures. Sure, I play BattleTech and Starmada with paper. I've even used paper for Ral Partha's Chaos Wars rules. But even I acknowledge that a few games demand the use of figures. I don't think I've ever even heard of someone playing Warhammer without figs. I remember not being able to get a 40K group started in the 80s over this very issue. No one wanted to play with paper and no one could afford enough figures to field an army. That was back when it was the "Rogue Trader" skirmish game, no less!

Still, I can't quite bring myself to put together even a few paper pieces to try out the SFBM rules. The game screams for little spaceship toys. The nice thing is that you don't need many figures. Heck, there are only a handful of ships stat'ed-out: four or five Federation vessels, the Klingon D-7, the Romulan Warbird, and the Tholian patrol cruiser. With a little math and a graphics program it wouldn't be impossible to adapt other ships to the game. I would really love to field a few old FASA vessels some day. Still, I can't imagine that you would need more than 20 or 30 ships for a more-than-complete set. Especially if you stick to my scenario-writing precept that unnecessary duplication of units should be avoided. Sure, a couple of Constitution class vessels are okay, or trio of D-7s, but who is really going to care that you're capital ships have an insufficient number of destroyer escorts? After all we're talking about a Star Trek scenario here.

SFBM strikes me as very suitable for a convention, because it is a floor game with nifty little toys. Ranges of weapons are 3 to 5 feet, so you would want at least 10 feet of space to play in. At Winter War, I kinda imagine running this game on a Friday night in the auction room, we would simply push the tables to the edges of the room.

The game does have it's problems, though, which I hope to explore in later blog entries: The writing and layout of the manual make looking things up a chore. The game requires special dice. The control sheets need to be overhauled so that they look decent. There's no point system to assist in writing scenarios. Finally, as a con game it has the problems of having a name too close to another game and, on it's own merits, it exists as an out-of-print game set in the universe of The Original Series.

Posted by jrients at 2:47 PM CST

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