“You’re using Star Wars and physics in the same sentence….”

I had an unusual exchange on Twitter the other day. Unusual because I (frankly) was a bit of a jerk to @beltalowda_ and unusual because I let popular sci-fi get under my skin.

First, the exchange:

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I cut off my response because I was a bit of a jerk and talked down to @beltalowda_ (hey, if you’re reading this, sorry!).

The main point I was trying to make (on Twitter? I must be crazy!) is that science fiction and science fact don’t mix well, especially in the realm of gaming. Star Wars is nominally science fiction (I would argue it is more science fantasy but that is another, fruitless, discussion) and the games related to the franchise reflect that origin. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game today is ranked as the #63 game overall on BoardGameGeek as well as the #7 Customizable Game (interestingly, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures – The Force Awakens Core Set is ranked #4 in the Customizable Game category). These games use what gamers often refer to as “cinematic movement,” i.e. they fly about in space like airplanes. This is far different from what space combat will likely look like. Atomic Rockets, IMNSHO one of the best sites on the internet, devotes a whole section to Space War and what is closer to reality. For me, one of the hallmarks of a hard sci-fi game is the use of vector movement, ala (loosely) The Expanse.

Overall, The Expanse is better at hard sci-fi than many shows but even here there is a good deal of “handwavium” involved. Scott Manley on YouTube has made one of the better explanations so far:

My personal gaming experience has shown the same conflict between hard and popular sci-fi. I have bounced between hard (realistic?) sci-fi and more cinematic portrayals. Here is a list of a few games in my collection and how they looked at space combat:

Finding the right balance between popular sci-fi and hard sci-fi gaming is tricky. For myself, games like Star Fleet Battles and its derivatives are fun because of the theme since when playing these games I am choosing theme over mechanics. Some of the more hard sci-fi games are fun with a bit or realism thrown in (like Mayday) but some go too far (Squadron Strike: Traveller) where the fun has a hard time overcoming the difficulty of rules and play.

The upside of all this is that the gaming scene is broad enough that either preference, cinematic or vector, can be accommodated. It’s a matter of choice, and the game industry is healthy enough to give us that choice. Even if I am choosing not to play.

Hattip to @TableTopBill who commented on my tweet with the title of this post.

Wargame Wednesday – Veterans Day Outlook

Looking forward to a long weekend and hoping to get in a few games.

Aeronef – Will try to get my “Savage Aeronef” battle done.  What will happen to ‘Ace’ Woodley?

Imperium – Will try to find out what happens in the Second Terran War.

Star Wars Saga Edition – Following my Star Warriors and Star Wars Silent Death games I am going to give a similar scenario a shot using the SWSE starship combat rules.

Star Wars: Star Warriors Battle Report

Getting the Jump – A Star Wars: Star Warriors (West End Games, 1987) Battle Report

 

Star Wars: Star Warriors (WEG, 1987) Courtesy BGG

 

Guh Arbe was worried. As flight leader of four Imperial TIE fighters on patrol in this out-of-the-way sector, the last thing he expected was to run into Rebels. Certainly not Rebel fighters. Especially not three X-Wings.

Standard Dogfight Scenario: 3x X-Wings (Veteran, 2x Average) versus 4x TIE Fighters (2x Veteran, 2x Average)

Yet there they were, three marks at 000. Arbe called out to his charges, “Steel Flight, split left-right and lets get them!”

Arbe broke to the left with Steel 2 following along. He breathed a bit easier for Steel 2 and 4 were junior pilots in the squadron; so new you could still smell the freshness of their flight suits. Steel 3 was a veteran like himself with a bit more experience.

TIE Fighters – Steel 1 (Arbe) Pilot 8D/Gunnery 5D; Steel 2 Pilot/Gunnery 4D, Steel 3 Pilot 4D+1/Gunnery 7D+2, Steel 4 Pilot 2D+2/Gunnery 4D+1

X-Wings – Rebel 1 Pilot 6D+2/Gunnery 5D, Rebel 2 Pilot/Gunnery 4D+2, Rebel 3 Pilot 5D+1/Gunnery 6D

As the TIE fighters split wide left and right, the rebel fighters did a quick double-slip to the right. To Arbe it looked like the were going to try to get 3:2 odds on Steel 3 and 4. “Step it up, Two! We need to get into the fight!”

Steel 3 and 4 went to the merge. Steel 4 was quickly vaporized while Steel 3 made some solid hits on the second rebel fighter.

The two groups literally blow right into each other. The TIE fighters have the initiative and Steel 3 gets a Weapons and Body hit on Rebel 2. When the rebel move comes, the hapless Steel 4 is caught by Rebel 3 who snap-fire at range 1 and vaporize the TIE fighter in one pass.

Arbe could tell his command was in trouble. There was no way Steel 3 could take on three X-Wings by himself. Arbe shouted out, “Push it past the redline!”

Out of position, Steel 1 and 2 over-accelerate to get to the fight.

While Arbe tried to get close, he watched as Steel 3 played with all three X-Wings. Steel 3 and the second rebel fighter traded shots again. The other fighters also tried to get shots. Somehow, Steel 3 came through it all.

The X-Wings have trouble staying in the fight because they need to half-loop to stay in the battle when Steel 3 gets behind them. The TIE fighters keep the initiative thanks to the 8D from Steel 1. This allows them to move first. Steel 3 gets another shot on Rebel 2 and knocks the rebel skills down to 3D+2 with a cumulative 3 Body damage. Rebel 2 is hurting. Meanwhile, Rebel 1 uses his piloting skill (6D+2) to gain position on Steel 3 but his pitiful gunnery skill (5D) means that after all the maneuvering he is unable to get his quad guns to connect. Rebel 3 misjudges the progression of the fight and ends up out of position.

Arbe was now close. Steel 2 was right behind him. The rebels were so caught up concentrating on Steel 3 that Arbe was sure this was going to be easy. But as he went to the merge, Steel 2 went wide. Shots crossed the starscape but nothing connected.

Steel 1 gets into the fight but his overspeed and crossing angles make the shot too difficult for his 5D gunnery skill. Steel 2 fails his hazard check and loses an action meaning he goes wide. It also means he overshots his target and can’t even fire.

Arbe twisted and turned. He saw an explosion as Steel 2 became a bright vapor cloud. “Steel 3, break off and let’s get out of here!” But it was to late, Steel 3 was gone.

 

For the first (and only) time in the fight the rebels get the initiative. Rebel 3 maneuvers into position and gets a good shot on Steel 3, taking him out. Rebel 1 gets the angle on Steel 2 and despite his poor gunnery skill makes the hit when it counts and blasts the TIE fighter to vapor. Steel 1, still overspeeding, is maneuvering but not getting a shot angle.

Arbe knew he was very alone. Thankfully, he still had good speed on his fighter. He left the X-Wings behind.

The TIE fighter keeps speed up and extends from the engagement, effectively ending the fight.

Hapless TIE Fighter (Courtesy My Free Wallpapers)

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This battle was a great illustration of how skill can make a huge difference. Rebel 1 had pretty good piloting skill but his limited gunnery skill meant he either had to fore-go maneuvers to keep the difficulty down or suffer having a lower chance of getting a hit once he got position. The excellent gunnery skill of Steel 3 (7D+2) was so far ahead of his 4D+1 pilot skill that it was almost a given that he could get a hit once in position. But here the lighter TIE fighter weapons proved not up to the task of hitting the heavier and shielded X-Wings. Whereas the X-Wings were virtually assured destruction if they could get a TIE fighter in their sights, an X-Wing (like Rebel 2) could take multiple hits and stay in the fight.

This battle scenario was around 10 turns and took about 90 minutes to play. That works out to an average of about 2 minutes per fighter per move.