I've always been in a love-hate relationship with space combat games. I love space. Star Wars was the first film I saw in the cinema that broke through my childhood deafness. The terror of being in that loud, dark room as John William's score began, the joy and awe and the film that followed, are all indelibly printed on my mind. It started a love affair with sci-fi that has lasted over fifteen years so far - currently my favourite series of books is David Weber's Honor Harrington series. I love reading the stories, watching the stories, and I love the idea of refighting them.
But I generally dislike space combat games. The closest I've come is with Full Thrust and Warcosm, both of which are fine systems, but still involve more book-keeping than I'm really comfortable with in a game.
A Song of Void and Stars on the other hand, is perfect for me. I was already a big fan of the Song of Blades and Heroes system (I own it and several of its supplements), and the record keeping is minimal. The damage system has two tracks: Weapons (as a whole) and Systems (non-combat systems, including crew casualties and morale) which cascade: get a certain number of one type of damage, and it bumps up to type 2 damage etc.
It's clean, quick and simple - but don't think that means easy! There are still tactical issues to consider, especially with the special rules that both ships and the exceptional personalities of your fleet bring to the match. While effective, these are not the Special Rules of your various international army book dealers - it's very easy to keep track of things in-game.
Here's an AAR from a battle between the Solar Imperium and the Colonies of Man, which are in no way at all based on the Empire and the Colonials of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Both fleets are just slightly over the usual game size of 750pts, and are roughly equivalent to a modern carrier group - one capital ship plus escorts.
The Solar Imperium has long cast a covetous eye over the Free Colonies. Living under its long shadow, the Colonies themselves have been arming slowly, developing their fleets in order to provide a stay of execution to their homes and families.
When the blow came, it fell not against the Twelve Worlds, but against the mining outpost of Casus B. Luckily for the miners, the Perilous and her escorts were on a training mission in the area...
MkII Cruiser - Supremacy
2 x MkII Carracks – Warden, Valour
Assault Frigate – Fellowship
Lancer Frigate – Guidance
Hermes Battlesun – Perilous
4 Berserker Escorts – Illyria, Thesean, Tyndarus, Medusa
4x4 battlefield. Two minefields in the centre, 7 inches from opposite board edges, 1 nebula in galactic northeast. Imperials started galactic north, Colonials south.
Turn One – Colonial
Having noticed the Imperial presence early, the Colonial commander decided to hang back and spam the inner system with missiles. His ships launched preliminary missiles waves, moving slowly towards Galactic east. Unfortunately though the Illyria's inexperienced captain broke formation, ploughing straight in-system - alerting the Imperial forces.
Turn One – Imperial
Effectively directed by the Fleet Command Centre aboard the Supremacy, the two Carracks moved forward on the Imperial right flank, launching missiles of their own. Worried by the number of Colonial birds launched, the Supremacy spawned two Combat Space Patrols, ordering its fighters to protect the flagship as it moved forward, hoping to bring the Perilous under her guns. The Fellowship tried to follow suit on her activation, but a computer glitch caused a catastrophic failure in her launch bays! As her flight crew choked among the acrid smoke of the fighter that crashed taking off, the turnover came, and the missiles moved again.
Turn Two – Colonial
The Illyria swerved back into formation as the task group as a whole moved east. Her fellow escorts fired another five waves of missiles. With a surge of power, the Perilous moved safely behind her screen and launched a CSP of her own, noting with a nervous glance the Carracks' birds.
Turn Two – Imperial
The Escorts around the Supremacy went mad trying to kill some of the incoming birds. And all failed - there were just too many. The Supremacy launched an extra CSP and braced itself for the incoming attack. One Carrack launched more birds, and the Warden's captain lost his head.
After all the other missile movement, four waves of missiles hit the Supremacy simultaneously, completely swamping her point defence capability. Luckily, her three CSPs were on hand to reduce the effectiveness of those attacks, but the damage was still awful to behold. Even with her shields up and ready, the maelstrom of blistering nuclear explosions tore the skin of her armour and ripped apart her weapons blisters, leaving her offensive capability critically low.
Turn Three – Colonial
The fire of three escorts removed only a third of the missiles threatening the Perilous, so she launched more fighters in an attempt to shield herself. Though her armour bucked and melted under the strain, she survived the firestorm wholly intact thanks to the efforts of her brave pilots, swooping in and out the incoming birds to destroy as many as they could.
Turn Three – Imperial
A potentially lethal short turn for the Imperials. With five waves of missiles threatening the flag, the Guidance moved close to offer point defence support. Unfortunately, before any more preparations could be made, the Fellowship's captain, no doubt worried by the accident in his launch bay, became hysterical. He broke formation and potentially doomed the flag by forcing a turnover.
Despite Guidance's valiant attempts at point defence for her flagship, there were too many missiles for Supremacy's design to handle, and again her anti-missile defences were rendered useful. Having lost most of her pilots fighting off the last assault (and without the time to launch more thanks to Fellowship's shenanigans), she had very little with which to thin the tide approaching. The shields stopped a few missiles from doing their nightmarish work (quadrupling the Imperial score!), but they could not stop the inevitable, and the Supremacy silently popped out of existence in a maelstrom of fire and flying metal.
Turn Four – Colonial
Continuing east, the Berserker spammed seven waves of missiles toward the approaching Carracks, and the Perilous launched another CSP.
Turn Four – Imperial
This was a short turn. The Valour's captain shouted at his crew until they ignored the loss of their flagship, the Warden fired unsuccessfully at the approaching missiles, and the Fellowship ruined things for everyone again by forcing a turnover. When the missiles struck, the Warden took terrible damage, losing nearly all systems AND weapons functionality.
Turn Five – Colonial
Continuing their tactics, the Colonials fired another nine missile waves as they moved east. As the first ones struck the Valour, the ship writhed and bucked, weapons blisters sloughing off under the rain of explosive.
Turn Five – Imperial
As the Warden drifted into empty space, the Valour got the first distance kill on a missile all game! Stuck on the wrong end of the Colonial firing line, the Guidance turned to rejoin the scattered Imperials in the west, and the Fellowship's captain opened his liquor cabinet. What difference did it make?
Once the Fellowship forced the turnover, the missiles struck again. The valiant Guidance was utterly annihilated by the Perilous' powerful payload, shattering into infinite pieces in the black. The Valour shortly followed her, having barely survived four missile attacks and being annihilated by the last.
With that, the crippled Warden and wholly incompetent Fellowship jumped to lightspeed, hoping to purge their logs and present their superiors with a more palatable version of what happened at Casus IV.
Missile spamming works. There's no other way to say it, and as an Honor Harrington fan, that makes me rather happy. Every Colonial kill was down to 4+ missile markers striking on the same same turn. Activating escorts on 2 dice and using the full 3 for the flag once everyone else has moved is also a winner, at least by this game (each activation is an action the ship can perform, but two failures on the same roll forces a turnover).
There was no Man of the Match this time – the Beserkers co-operated fully in swamping the enemy point defence. But the wooden spoon definitely goes to the Fellowship, which achieved precisely nothing except for forcing THREE of the FIVE Imperial turnovers. Ludicrous.
Point defence is potentially understrength in this. The Escort Support rule was used ten times and provided one kill on missiles, which is probably contrary to designer expectation. I would submit that it should be d6+CV vs the missile's CV only. This would allow escorts to effectively shield their flag.
The basic mechanics are fun though, very engaging (as all Song of Blades and Heroes games are), and I think have inspired me to run a campaign based on the war between the Imperials and the Free Colonies. Homemade Counters ho!