2013-02-09

SciFi Saturday – Assessing Assault Scouts

In my house rules for Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks, I increase the hull points for the ubiquitous UPF Assault Scout from 15 (as in the published rules) to 25. To see why this makes sense, consider the following comparison of Hull-Size-versus-Hull-Points for all the different military ships in the game:

Looking at the pro-rated value of how many Hull Points you get per unit of Hull Size, you can see that this number is relatively high for small vessels and diminishes somewhat for larger vessels (trend line in the chart is the best-fit linear regression). I'd say that this broadly makes sense, since larger ships would have more structural stress and likely more failure points.

However, there's really one obvious outlier: Assault Scouts (the second point from the left in the chart, at Hull Size 3) have the lowest such ratio in the game with 5.0, even though all the other comparably-sized ships nearby (Fighters, Frigates, and Destroyers) have high ratios of 8.0 or above. So if we brought Assault Scouts back in line with the rest, then they would reasonably have at least 8×3 = 24 Hull Points (say 25 for a round number and simple one-digit change in the book).

But that's not the only reason to motivate this change. Increasing Assault Scout durability (1) does make the game statistics more generally consistent (as above), but also (2) makes for a better value proposition when purchasing an Assault Scout by rules in the Campaign Book (as we'll see later), and (3) gives some extra survivability to PC's adventuring in an Assault Scout.

This latter point may indeed be the most important. Clearly, Assault Scouts are intended as the canonical ship for PC's to adventure in. Consider their crew size of 4-6 (Campaign Book p. 5), their versatile use as exploring-rescue-combat ships (ibid.), the fact that it is the only ship with complete deck plans given in the rules (map sheet back side), and also their featured use in almost all of the official adventure modules (including the game-box adventure SFKH0, as well as modules SFKH2, 3, and 4 -- the Eleanor Moraes research vessel being "similar to a stubby assault scout", SFKH2 p. 16). So it always struck me as rather odd that in most tactical combat scenarios I play, the Assault Scout is the very first thing to blow up from an opening salvo of laser cannon or rocket-batteries, when presumably that's where the PC's would have been. (Arguably for that reason, Assault Scout hull points could be even higher than I've made them -- but I'll stick with just 25.)

As a separate issue, you might also notice the other abnormalities in that Destroyers and the Battleship class have upticks in their hull-point-to-hull-size ratio, when the rest of the progression is all downward. But these are fairly minimal and don't have the side-effect of deterministically TPK'ing your PCs in the first turn of every spaceship combat. (And there are implications in the rulebooks that the UPF has some secret, special technology for Battleships that the Sathar haven't been able to replicate, so perhaps that's reflected in their unusually high durability rating.)

1. One wonders whether the published 15 points for Assault Scouts wasn't a typo...

1. I considered the same thing! But is consistent (at 15) in at least 7 places in the tactical book alone.

2. Yeah, but maybe the typo was really in some pre-pub notes somewhere that then got perpetuated throughout the published MS.

Hard to say whether that's more or less likely than such an odd design "decision" (if such it was).

1. Yeah, I can totally see that. As I mentioned before (bottom here), there are discrepancies between Basic/Advanced game tables, rounding rules, etc., that I can only explain the same way.

3. As an addendum, note that civilian vessels are all stipulated as having 5 hull points per hull size (CB p. 8). So it would be very odd for Assault Scouts to have no more hull points than a civilian ship.