If there is one profession I dream about, it’s starfighter pilot. I have played many flying games, from X-wing to Independence War to Crimson Skies. The exhilaration of being behind the stick is almost without compare.
That exhilaration is harder to attain in a non-videogame. Like for example, tabletop gaming. Almost every system I have tried (not many, mind) has failed to make aerial combat engaging. Star Wars D20 Revised was a hideous mess that I could not even understand. Saga Edition was functional, but a tad boring. I have yet to see a fast-paced and engaging small-scale simulation of space combat. So why not make one myself?
First of all. Why have the other systems failed?
Space combat is big. Distances are huge, speeds are fast and there are three dimensions to use. In Saga Edition space combat happens in two-dimensional grid for simplicity’s sake. Most of the players (huge nerds like myself) disliked this. I was indifferent to that, but hated the huge work it was to maintain distances and relative positions of everyone in the combat. With two PC ships and five NPC fighters, it was a huge hassle.
Simplicity. That’s where we’re going. We need to eliminate the distances and exact positions to reduce bookkeeping. That leaves us with one thing: Relative positions.
In space combat, I have noticed that if there are several combatants, the encounters evolve into small dogfights where pursuers try to get to the pursuees’ blind spot. Or smaller and more numerous craft attempt to swamp bigger ones. When in these dogfights, there are only a few things a pilot can pay attention to; His target and his pursuers. Everything else usually drifts away when the ships wrestle each other. Therefore we can assume that there are three positions in space combat where a ship can be: In a blind spot (behind you), as your target (in front of you) or somewhere else. If your ship has turrets, the enemy can be neither behind you or front of you, but still capable of being fired at.
Let’s use this. Let’s take a card and draw a starship on it. Now let’s divide the card’s sides to Front, Side and Behind. That is our starship. Place it on the table and we have simple, abstract coordinate system.
We need an enemy. Let’s draw another ship and place it on the table. If it is separate from our ship, let’s place it a couple of handspans away from it. But since it is an enemy, it wants to engage us. Let’s move it behind our ship, its front facing us. It is chasing us, probably shooting at us with its space guns. We can’t shoot at it, so we shut down our main thrusters and yaw our ship left. Inertia takes us forward, so we can turn our side cannons at the enemy. Let’s turn our ship 90 degrees, so that our Side is facing the Front of the enemy ship.
That’s it. We can now represent almost every conceivable position our ships can be in with these cards. Letting inertia take us and turning our main guns to the enemy? Front to front. Both trying to evade other’s guns, letting our turrets do all the work? Side to side.
Adding other ships is easy. More cards, and as long as they are somehow related to our ship, they stay in one of the four quadrants. If they chase our pursuer, then put it in their Rear.
Next time, let’s add some mechanics.