In the 1980's I was a total Traveller geek. While the role-playing game was fun, it was the other Traveller games that held my attention – Imperium, Invasion: Earth, Fifth Frontier War, High Guard, Striker and Mayday!. Yes it was the games of combat in the Far Future that fired my imagination.
Now Mayday was fine for small space battles and High Guard was great for very large, abstract fleet actions, but what I always wanted was a Traveller version of Star Fleet Battles – a tabletop miniature game for gaming space combat at the task force/fleet level. Twenty years later, my wish has been fulfilled by Dom Mooney and the team at British Isles Traveller Support (BITS) and their set of miniature gaming rules – Power Projection: Fleet.
Power Projection: Fleet (or PP:F) is a comprehensive rules set covering the tabletop game, ship design and campaign operations. In 60 pages, Dom has crafted a rules set that captures the essence of Traveller in a quick playing game that avoids bogging down in the gory details.
Starships are represented by a Ship Status Diagram (SSD). Players of Full Thrust will recognize the SSD immediately. The two games share many of the same icons. Coming from a FT background, I was able to instantly pick up the meaning of the SSD and begin playing.
PP:F uses a vector movement system akin to the old GDW Traveller products Mayday and Brilliant Lances. The vector movement system captures the flavor of traveling in space. It is a very different model from the cinematic movement model used in many other game systems. Ships are grouped into task forces (a great idea!) for command and control purposes. Like many historical naval games, each side plots their movement and then executes their moves simultaneously.
Combat is the heart of the game turn. Remember how ships are grouped into task forces for command and control? Here's where it really impacts the game. Combat is resolved by task force with the player that wins the initiative starting things off. The neat twist – phasing ships inflict their damage when they shoot before the defender shoots back.
Getting the initiative and keeping it are critical to winning!
The combat model includes all the classic Traveller weapon systems – meson guns, particle accelerators, missiles and beam weapons (lasers, plasma and fusion). Defenses include hull armor, sandcasters, repulsors and the mysterious 'black globe' generators.
Using a D6, weapons fire is resolved with a single die roll for each firing battery, modified by a number of factors. The spinal mounts are true 'ship killers'. In some cases, a single spinal hit is sufficient to inflict a 'mission kill' on the target. Missiles can be deadly, but countermeasures can limit their impact. Given that some ship designs mount hundreds of batteries (I'm not exaggerating!) you may need lots of dice! However, a statistical damage system is provided to speed play along in these cases.
Power Projection: Fleet includes a section on 'designing ships'. More accurately, the game provides a ship conversion mechanic. Players can create Power Projection: Fleet statistics for Traveller ships designed using High Guard, MegaTraveller, Traveller D20, and even GURPS Traveller and Traveller: The New Era.
In practice, to design 'new' ships I found that I needed a copy of High Guard, second edition (or MegaTraveller, etc.) and a design sheet to first create the High Guard statistics. I then converted the HG statistics to Power Projection: Fleet. It can be a little tedious. The easy part is the conversion to PP: F. Fortunately, PP: F includes SSD for 11 capital ship designs, split between the Imperial Navy and the Zhodani Consulate, all usable for the Fifth Frontier War period. For additional designs, you can convert the High Guard designs found in Traveller Supplement 9 – Fighting Ships.
Speaking of the Fifth Frontier War, players of the board game of the same name will be quite familiar with the campaign rules found in Power Projection: Fleet. It is basically the same movement system with rules governing set up of the resulting battles.
As mentioned earlier, former players of Full Thrust will feel at home with Power Projection: Fleet. Weapons are grouped into batteries with each battery is displayed on the SSD including its defined firing arcs. Damage to systems and repairs to those systems are similar to the Full Thrust mechanics – you allocate your damage control parties and roll your dice. One nice aspect here is the inclusion of the 'frozen watch' as a way to restore your damage control parties.
So you've read the overview of the game. But the question you still have is 'how does it play?' In a word – great! The game does a superb job capturing the spirit of the Traveller universe. Weapons systems function much as veteran Traveller players would expect. Missiles are most effective at long range whiles beam weapons are best at close range.
Spinal mounts are awesome in their damage when they hit. The main classic capital ship designs are included in the rules (smaller vessels can be found in the companion 'introductory' version of the rules Power Projection: Escort.) Some of these hulls are huge – especially the Tigress class dreadnought – and they carry huge numbers of weapons systems. The Tigress for example is practically a fleet unto itself with a staggering number of missile batteries and fighter squadrons.
From a player's perspective, there is a bit of a learning curve. The Vector movement system used in Power Projection: Fleet takes time to master. I repeatedly managed to drive my ship off the table by creating a large thrust vector. This was not the fault of the game, but the movement that I chose to carry out. As in many naval games, you have to predict where you opponent's ships will end their movement and plan you movement accordingly to bring your guns to bear. A good introductory game would be run in the guise of a 'training exercise' in which players must maneuver from point A to Point B while engaging targets on the gunnery range. Players that can complete the exercise the quickest would win.
Fortunately, movement is the steepest part of the learning curve. Combat is straightforward with only a handful of modifiers. The standard rules for sandcasters seem to overstate their abilities by creating 'clouds' of sand on the tabletop that screen against all weapons passing through the cloud. An option rule calls for applying the sandcaster's defensive benefit to the fire of only one incoming battery, which seems more in keeping with the spirit of High Guard. Also, it gets tedious moving the masses of sand counters on the tabletop.
These days support of a game system is almost as important as the rules themselves. The BITS team has a good support infrastructure in place through a dedicated Power Projection web site and a Yahoo discussion group.
If there is one thing that I would improve it would be miniatures themselves. As we all know, there are almost no official Traveller ship miniatures. Oh sure, back in the 1990's just before the demise of GDW the classic adventuring ships were released, but we have never had access to scaled miniatures for the capital ships. The result is that each group of Power Projection: Fleet players fields their own bashed together line of ships representing classic Traveller designs. One group's Plankwell class may be another's Atlantic class. If anyone's listening, I suspect you would make a killing if you produced an actual line of ship miniatures for Traveller.
As I said at the outset, I've been looking for a set of tabletop rules for Traveller space combat for some time. Power Projection: Fleet is that product. The games we have played have ranged from Imperial Civil War within an Imperial scout squadron of 100 ton scout ships to duels between squadrons of capital ships. If you feel the need to push Imperial, Zhodani or Solomani battle squadrons around the tabletop this is the game you've been awaiting.