Power Armor

Power Armor
Khurasan power armor infantry with conversions

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Rail Gun: Carrier Operations

Starfighters are a cornerstone of sci-fi media and it just wouldn't be right to leave them out of a spaceship game.  In this post I'll describe the way I've integrated fighters and bombers into my spaceship combat game Rail Gun.  More after the bump. Thanks for reading.
Bombers, by Andy Nelson

My original idea in Rail Gun---and what's in the playtest version now---was to treat fighters and bombers as special kinds of ships.  They would have a Crew Quality and weapon systems, be subject to stress and recovery, and use a special kind of movement to account for their maneuverability. It looked good on paper, but then I played it out, and it was a headache.  So I dropped it and did some thinking.

What did I really want to represent with fighters and bombers? I got to thinking about the barest essentials of real world carrier operations, which can be broken into two broad categories: concentrated strikes against a known target, and general patrols to cover an area or search for an enemy.

Instead of fighters moving on the board as independent elements, I have a new system in place now in Rail Gun.  Each carrier manages its fighters and bombers (FBs for short).  It can assign them to a Strike Mission, against a particular enemy ship or planet within a certain range of the carrier; or it can assign them to Patrols, where they are assumed to be flying around space within a certain distance of the carrier.

In a strike mission, you take all the FBs assigned to the strike and hurl them at an enemy target. All the FBs then fight against any enemy fighter intercepts (if your strike mission is ending up within range of a carrier whose fighters are on Patrol, and not committed to a strike mission of their own) before seeing if they can push through and hit the target.  The target's defense systems---as well as any supporting ships very close by---might shoot down the Strike Mission's elements before they launch weapons.

Carrier, by Andy Nelson.  Note the arrestor rings on left and right, which "grab" fighters before cranes return them to the hangar for rearmament.

After the strike is done, the FBs return to base.

It is also possible to organize ad hoc strikes out of your bombers on patrol---this requires the carrier to pass a Control test (using the carrier's CQ) to see how well they organize the strike on the fly.  A similar test is taken to see how many fighters can be sent to intercept a strike mission.

In combat with each other, FBs are paired off and match Dogfight ratings.  Crew Quality plays a big role here, as well.  Opposed rolls are compared quickly and FBs are either driven off or destroyed.  

Interceptors, by Andy Nelson

After FBs have fought, they must return to base---their carrier or planet of operations---and rearm, typically taking a turn. I'm thinking of adding a rule where carriers can try and hurriedly send the FBs back into combat in the same turn, perhaps with a penalty to the FBs crew quality or similar (representing fatigue, lack of maintenance, and lack of careful planning). 

These rules let players keep the focus on the big ships but allow them to use FBs in an interesting way---hurling them in big strikes or holding them back to act as screens and as harassing attacks.  And of course carriers will probably want to keep a few fighters on station so things don't go Midway for them while rearming!

The fighters, carrier, and bombers seen here are part of the ship counters available in the Rail Gun playtest version.  Anyone who gets the playtest version will receive all the updates to include the final version when it's done.

The artist, Andy Nelson, sells numerous other games and paper models as well, available on Wargame Vault.  

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