Saturday, January 12, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Boardgame House Rules

The Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game is a pretty tight set of tactical rules, and shows evidence of actual playtesting; I don't think that it needs a major overhaul, but I have found a few places where it benefits from some touch-ups. My current house rules for the game are presented below; we'll see if these change by the end of the year or not. Some of these items will be given more detail or explanation in future blog posts.

Knight Hawks Boardgame House Rules

  1. Starting Speeds: Ships should not start the game with speed more than 10 hexes/turn. This prevents one-sided opening moves where an attacker can cover the entire distance to the defender, and launch an unstoppable attack before the defender can respond, move, or even raise shields. (This is particularly unfair in the Campaign Game, where the Sathar player can easily meet their victory condition by bombarding each space station on turn 1, and then jumping off the other edge of the map on turn 2.)
  2. Orbital Movement: A ship or station in close orbit around an Earth-sized planet should travel 1/2 hex per turn, i.e., 1 hex every other turn (not 1 hex/turn as in the rulebook). Note that other, much more massive planets may permit faster orbit speeds. Orbital movement should be made after normal ship movement.
  3. Space Stations: Docking and undocking ships from a space station should be done as the first step in the sequence of play, prior to any other movement. Ships that are docked cannot fire any weapons whatsoever (which would contradict background info on how ships dock inside a station). Docked ship counters can be stacked under the station, or off to the side of the game map. Note that statistics for stations in the Campaign Book are higher than those in the Tactical Manual, and may be preferred for use in several scenarios.
  4. Assault Carriers: Carriers mostly use the same rules as for stations (launching/landing at start of turn, etc.). Fighters start with the same speed and direction as the carrier that launched them; and landing likewise requires matching speed and direction with the home carrier (not speed 0, as given in the published rules).
  5. Assault Scouts: Assault Scouts are given 25 hull points (not 15 as in the published rules).

Note that the sequence of play for movement changes a little bit under the house rules above (compare to Tactical Manual p. 3 and 10). The Movement Phase is now recommended to follow this sequence: (a) activate defensive screens, (b) dock/undock ships, (c) move seeker missiles, (d) move standard ships, (e) move orbiting ships and stations.

A few other rule highlights or things to keep in mind: For any scenario, I fill out ship rosters (copied from the Campaign Book) in ink, with game effects in pencil, so I can erase and re-use them later. When ships move, I usually mark the initial space with a face-down counter (a "tee", if you will) to help justify the move speed and defensive fire. So, for simplicity I also rule that defensive fire is permitted in that initial space (although someone might counter-argue the "hex they moved through" language). And recall that limited-supply rocket weapons can only be fired once per turn (see p. 5, under "Rate of Fire"; I once got in a big argument with a friend over this and couldn't find the exact line in the book to show them at the time).

Finally, the other thing I usually do is hand each player a card with the relevant game weapons tables. There are a few glitches in the published tables, like -- hit percentages differ between Basic and Advanced games (compare torpedoes and lasers-vs-masking-screens); laser cannons do get half damage vs. screens in 2 references but not in 1 (compare p. 6, 12, and back cover); and half damage is rounded up in 3 references but down in 1 (ibid). Perhaps these differences are leftovers from early drafts of the rules. Now, for the Advanced Game charts you can just photocopy the back cover of the rulebook. For the Basic Game, I've made a consolidated weapons chart which, in conjunction with ship rosters, is everything a player needs to know (fixes to the preceding have taken a "majority rules" criteria). Download this image below and print it on cardstock, or get a triplicate PDF version here.


  1. Glad someone else is still playing this too!
    Starting playing with my son who is into Warhammer having last played in the '80s.
    I agree that most of your house rules are useful, particuarly the orbit one which I always found a bit odd. I have always played "hex they moved through" otherwise ships get two bites at the cherry (defensive and movement turns) at fighters for example even if they try to move out of range, and they usually don't survive. The fast-in, fire, retreat method is what they were made for!
    Well done anyway.


    1. Thanks for the comment! I agree that prohibiting defensive fire in the starting move hex is a pretty reasonable rule -- at one point I had that penciled in my rulebook, for the exact same reason you mention here. Problem was, it was kind of confusing to adjudicate that after the ship had moved -- when I use a "tee" counter to mark the starting space of movement, it seems easiest to also permit that as a shootable space. But if not for that logistical issue, I'd do the same thing.