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STAR FLEET BATTLE FORCE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

STAR FLEET BATTLE FORCE (Amarillo Design Bureau, Inc., 2-6 players, less than 60 minutes; $22.95)

 

Star Trek is a phenomenon that has few rivals. Inauspiciously born from a faltering TV series that limped along for three seasons, the Star Trek universe has expanded with all the force of the Big Bang itself to become a formidable film franchise, a series of TV series, a myriad of merchandising and a gamut of games! Star Fleet Battle Force is one of the better space combat card games set, unofficially, in that Star Trek universe.

Star Fleet Battle Force is a Steven V. Cole design (with development by Steven Patrick and Richard Sherman). It comes in a videocassette type box while contains two decks of cards (36 Ship Cards and 90 Action Cards), a bag of red, plastic damage markers, play aids and a 32 page rulebook containing rules for the Basic game and the Advanced game (even rules for solitaire play) plus designer’s notes and a glossary of terms.starfleetbatcover

The Ship and Action Card decks are separated and shuffled. In the Basic game, each player begins with five Action Cards and is dealt a fleet of ship cards (from 5 ships in a six player game to 15 ships when two are in the game).

The ships in the game represent seven races found in the Star Trek universe: Federation, Klingon, Romulan, Gorn, Kzinti, Orion and Tholian. Regardless of their origins, all ships have certain characteristics: the name and type of ship, a series of “buttons” on the card which indicate what weapons they can fire and the damage they can sustain as well as a “pointer box” which contains a number indicating the number of Victory Points that particular ship is worth if you can destroy it. The ships are arranged face up in front of each player and the game begins.

Play advances in a clockwise order with each player doing all his actions before the next player goes. A player begins his turn with a full hand of five cards so, if he has spent a few cards on a previous turn, he may replenish now. Then, any repairs to damaged ships are done and, in another move to strengthen his fleet, he may play, at this point, any reinforcement cards to draw a new ship to add to his forces. But the key to Star Fleet Battle Force is battle.

Action Cards grease the action. They include weapons cards (for attacking with phasers, photon torpedoes, plasma and drones), defensive cards (allowing for erratic maneuvers, electronic counter measures [ECM], shield reinforcement etc.), repairs to damaged vessels and special cards (which allow for new ships to join your fleet, the launching of planet based fighters in support etc.) Not only can weapons cards be used for offense (their power to inflict damage indicated by the large number shown on the card) but in some cases (indicated by icons on the card) may also be used in defense.

When conducting an attack, the active player designates one of his ships as the attacker and names a specific enemy ship as the target. Now, he may play weapons and combat support cards from his hand to bring down the enemy ship! His target may also play cards in defense. The total attack value (with any modifiers) minus the total defense value (with any modifiers) is calculated. If the resulting number is positive, that number of damage markers is placed on the target on the ship’s buttons. If a damage marker covers a weapon button, that weapon may not be fired by that ship until it is repaired on a subsequent turn. If all buttons are covered and one additional damage point is scored, that ship is destroyed! The player causing the final bit of damage gets the card of that ship and all of its Victory Points. Cards used in the attack (offense and defense) are discarded.

The game continues until only one player has ship cards remaining. At that point, ALL players tally the amount of Victory Points earned from destroyed ships. The player with the most VPs wins!

The Advanced game allows a seven card hand and offers many strategic options including creating a ship formation (breaking your fleet into three parts: a “screen”, main body and reserve), continuous damage repair to vessels and more. Several optional rules add some spice to play including allowing players to select their starting fleets, play in partnership, vary the turn order of players and change the end game conditions (such as having the game end when the first player is eliminated or when a certain number of ships is destroyed)

Game play is generally fast helped by a list of action cards and a glossary of the Star Trek universe. But it can bog down as the number of players increase. Two reasons for this. On offense, you get Victory Points by destroying enemy ships and when you attack an enemy ship, you have a good chance of weakening it. But, unless you destroy the ship, no Victory Points are earned. Instead, you’ve created a tempting target for one of your opponents! You need to be fairly certain you have enough firepower to annihilate your target or all you’ve done is given your enemies easy opportunities for scoring! On defense, you’re vulnerable to becoming the focus of a “feeding frenzy” if you’ve taken a hit. You are sure to use up your hand of cards in fending off the first few attacks of a swarm of starships, leaving you helpless as other players take their swipes at you. The rules allow for a player in this position to draw 2 cards immediately should he run out of cards. A good attempt at a “fix” but too little too late! A better approach that we suggest is to limit game participants to no more than four players (in partnership) or concentrate on two player play.

Star Fleet Battle Force does not boldly go where no one has gone before. Rather, it borrows some good concepts from previous games, mixes them together, gives the thing a hearty shake – and it works! Star Fleet Battle Force creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts, delivering a well constructed game of starship combat. – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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