Saturday, November 23, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Heavy Cruiser Play

On the heels of duplicating the light cruisers for my Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks fleet, I finally got around to assembling and painting the Sathar Heavy Cruiser figure. It's a very impressive sculpture, the largest in the line: twice again as big as the cruisers I cast last weak (see below for comparison to UPF scouts, frigate, and cruiser). I considered doing my duplication job on it, but it comes in five separate big pieces and that's enough work that I wanted to avoid it;besides, the times when you'd have two Heavy Cruisers in a fight are rare enough that it's probably not worth the trouble.

While my boxes of miniatures are apparently in unusually good shape (no visible lead rot), when I started working with it I did find there was a little bit of a chalky residue all over it. So I gave it a very light sanding with fine paper, and cleaning with rubbing alcohol, and it shined up quite nicely. Then I cemented it together (everything fit perfectly) and did my usual grey prime, black-green base, metallic gold drybrush job on it. I think it looks really nice.

Now let's try it out in a game. According to my game-balancing program, the Sathar Heavy Cruiser should be about balanced against 3 UPF Assault Scouts (6 mega-credits per side, according to my point-buy system). Below you'll see me starting that game with the opposition on either side of the table (UPF on left, Sathar on right), so we can see if my game-balancer program is totally insane or not. You can also see my standard gear for playing the game – dice, protractor, tape measure, pencil, eraser, and index cards for all the ship statistics. I also got about a yard of black vinyl fabric as "space" playing surface.

Coincidentally, this engagement appears to be exactly the same as that portrayed on the original Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks box and book cover; a Heavy Cruiser being attacked by a squad of three Assault Scouts (or maybe there were four just a second before the picture was taken). We can tell the target is a Heavy Cruiser based on the number of engines it has. Although the vessel doesn't exactly have the classic Sathar ship profile, the Sathar don't have any Assault Scouts at all, so they can't be the attacker. (The only other option might be a bunch of pirate Assault Scouts versus the UPF's one-and-only Heavy Cruiser, but it seems highly unlikely for pirates to stand and fight in that kind of situation, and an otherwise odd choice of subject for the game's cover.)

Turn 1 – Heavy Cruiser moves forward one single inch. Assault Scouts race across the space at a speed of 15 inches. Weapons are just outside firing range (barely).

Turn 2 – The Heavy Cruiser comes to a complete stop, and the Assault Scouts zip in for close-up attacks (speed 12), with their path avoiding the forward-mounted Laser Cannon on the cruiser. Sathar get defensive fire, and shoot everything they can at Assault Scout III (bottom-most in the picture), hitting with a Laser and Rocket Battery for 20 points of damage (leaving that scout with 5 hull points). Then the Assault Scouts return fire, including their dangerous Assault Rockets (CA fires most of its Interceptor Missiles as defense); one Rocket hits, along with all 3 Laser Batteries, for 24 points of damage (reducing the CA from 80 to 54 hull points).

Turn 3A – The Heavy Cruiser rotates to point its Laser Cannon at one of the Assault Scouts. It's only allowed to do this because of its current zero-movement; in fact, that's why it started so slowly and came to a stop to begin with. (Generally that's the strategy I use with the big slow ships now, to use them as stationary gun platforms; otherwise their cannons can't get lined up at the faster ships. Good idea or not?) You can see in the picture that the enormous size of the Heavy Cruiser miniature makes it a bit awkward to portray this on the table. But the figures aren't to scale, and this does count as the Heavy Cruiser being lined up at Assault Scout II. All of the Scouts' defensive fire misses, while the Heavy Cruiser scores hits with 2 Laser Batteries against Scout III; with another 12 points of damage, it is destroyed. (Cannon, torpedo, and rocket fire against the other Scouts all miss.)

Turn 3B – The Assault Scouts, already traveling at a speed of 12, fly by the Heavy Cruiser, arcing around for second attack-run. Long-range laser blasts shoot out from each side, but none of them make contact (only 5% chance to hit at this range).

Turn 4A –The Heavy Cruiser slowly rotates, following the retreating Assault Scouts with its main Laser Cannon; a rather intimidating sight. While the Laser Batteries on both sides again score no hits (just barely at the edge of their effective range), the Heavy Cruiser rolls a perfect 01 with its Laser Cannon, scoring an unexpected hit on the lead Assault Scout! Rolling 2d10 for damage comes up with 19 points – a thunderous shock, leaving the Scout with only 6 points remaining.

Turn 4B – With the Assault Scouts' only legitimate threat being their short-range Rockets, they fly in for the next attack (traveling 12" and ending within 3" of the Sathar ship). The Heavy Cruiser fires all defensive batteries against the damaged lead ship; while its Rocket Battery misses, all 3 Laser Batteries hit, scoring 19 more points of damage and destroying it. The remaining Scout fires its Assault Rocket; and even though the Cruiser launches its remaining ICMs to fend it off, the Rocket hits anyway and explodes for 13 points of damage (leaving the CA with 41 hull points left).

Turn 5 – The Heavy Cruiser rotates again, zeroing in all its weapons systems on the remaining Assault Scout. The Scout's laser battery misses. The Heavy Cruiser then hits with the lined-up Laser Cannon and two of its Laser Batteries, and with good rolls for damage, hammering home for 28 points of damage; the last Scout is instantly incinerated.

Conclusion – The Heavy Cruiser, sledgehammer of the Sathar attack fleet, wins this fight, and accelerates back into the dark regions of space! While it was only brought down to about half-damage in the engagement, I've played out other fights and in a perfect reflection of the game-balancing program, it does win about half the time. Basically it comes down to the early die-rolls; note that the Heavy Cruiser had spectacular rolls here, eliminating one Assault Scout while none of the Scouts' Assault Rockets landed in the first attack. Reverse that and the game goes very differently.

One particular house-rule point: Note that I don't enforce the "closest point" defensive fire rule (by the book, ships should be able to target their defensive fire at any point traveled by the victim ship in the prior turn). Reasons for the change: (1) It's already the clunkiest part of the game on a hexmap, trying to mark & adjudicate all movement for that rule. (2) It's even more fiendishly difficult, basically infeasible, in open tabletop play without discrete hexes. (3) It would discourage or eliminate this fast-moving flyby attack by the scouts/fighters as seen here, which I really like a lot. (If it was enforced, the CA would get double shots at close-range above; so it would seem that the VS couldn't afford that disadvantage, and instead would have to make a slow controlled approach to get off all their Assault Rockets on a single attack run. Much less interesting.)

Finally, any thoughts on my use of the Heavy Cruiser as a motionless gun platform, rotating in place to line up its main Laser Cannon on each turn? Can you think of a better usage in this or a similar scenario?


  1. I really enjoy these posts. I haven't played Knight Hawks in forever, but I still have all my stuff and very fond memories.

    I did manage to get a short Star Frontiers campaign going. So who knows? Maybe I'll get a Knight Hawks game in one of these days.

    Good memories. Thanks for posting about it!

    1. Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you've enjoyed them! I agree, I've been tooling on ways to maybe have an SF RPG game in space, like maybe the PCs are crew on a carrier or something (opportunities for scouting, landing, combat perhaps...)