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Jeff's Gameblog
Friday, 5 March 2004
SFBM Issues#5: Why do I like this game, again?
This entry does tackle much in the way of substantive problems with Star Fleet Battle Manual. Instead, the issue I want to the muse upon is why this game fascinates me. As I've gotten older the sparkle has worn off mini's intensive games. There's many reasons I do BattleTech with the old cardbaord stand-ups. Making paper counters for my Starmada games seems like fun. Priming and painting figures that I know are going to be subpar anyway has always felt like work. When it comes to wargaming I am normally a hexagon man, but SFBM uses tape-measures and protractors.

So what makes this game work for me? I like counters and hexes, it uses miniatures and is hexless. There are many, many s-f wargames out there that I have no interest in for these very reasons. I guess I can think of four or five items motivating me to tackle this project:

1) It's Star Trek. And not just any Star Trek, we're talking Original Series, baybee. We're talking Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual. I love the Fed warships first described in Franz Jospeh's fan opus, the Saladin class destroyer and the Federation class dreadnought. SFBM would also work well for FASA's apocryphal Four Years War, the subject of one of my Starmada projects.

2) SFBM in some ways functions as a sort of lite version of the similarly named Star Fleet Battles. I'm thinking primarily about energy allocation here. I've often thought that energy allocation was the shining gem in SFB design. Unfortunately its hidden under a pile of detritus that only the hardcore SFB'ers can successfully navigate.

3) This game tests different skills than many other wargames I've played. Simulataneous movement games still floor me. The alternate initiative rule rewards the quickwitted (weapons fire comes in order by which you completed your allocation, slow people can be destroyed before they return fire.) The call-your-shot-by-protractor method of aiming looks like it could ride that fine line between fascination and frustration. In this game you literally program (during energy allocation, no less) something like "fire phaser at 75 degrees starboard". You then strecth a line from the base of the figure (which has a protractor overlay) out at the appropriate angle. If the line falls on another figure's base THEN you are allowed to roll to-hit. The first few shots ought to be absolutely maddening. Oh, but the joy of getting a hit!

4) Then there's the joy of resurrecting a nearly dead game. Especially if you can get other people to play it, love it, and look forward to it at the next con. And I'm kinda a sucker for old, out-of-print games. My ideal Christmas would probably involve a delivery from the Island of Misfit Games.

5) Finally, I like the idea of the project itself, the task of making, acquiring, and assembling all the stuff to play the game. When I decided to run DinoWARS it became a big project. Before I even got to the con I found a LOT of satisfaction just out of assembling and preparing the playing pieces and hand-outs. In some ways, I greatly prefer this do-it-yourself approach to simply buying a big box full of game. That way is fine, don't get me wrong. But man, I feel a real sense of ownership toward my DinoWARS set, a real affinity that I would never get from a ready-to-play game.

Posted by jrients at 3:42 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, 6 March 2004 2:55 PM CST

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