Declawed in Talon (@gmtgames, 2016) #wargame #scifi

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Courtesy ADB

FOR THE MOST PART we are a historical wargaming family. The RockyMountainNavy Boys are also science-fiction fans. For myself, I have a long history of sci-fi wargaming going all the way back to the original pocket edition of Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979).

Although derided by many gamers as “Accountancy in Space,” SFB at it’s core is a resource management game for spaceships. Energy management is the key to maneuvering your ship and powering weapons.Managing the balance between the two is the real key to victory and is what makes the game enjoyable. Talon (GMT Games, 2016) is a true successor to SFB that keeps the core energy management theme but implements it using a set of very playable game mechanics.

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Courtesy GMT Games

So this past Family Game Night found Talon on the table. With three players we made a scratch-built scenario with myself leading 2x Talon Battlecruisers (BC) against the two RMN Boys each controlling a Terran Light Cruiser (CL) and Destroyer (DD). With relatively balanced fleets we played a simple Meeting Engagement.

The RMN Boys quickly figured out that if they divided their forces and tried to take on one BC individually they could be overwhelmed. Instead they concentrated their forces against one BC at a time. After some initial “learning” about the difficulty of hitting at maximum range they quickly figured out how to use the Power Curve to their advantage (slowing down when needing to power weapons followed by slashing attacks when ready). They also paid real close attention to weapon arcs and were very successful in avoiding my most dangerous armaments. It seemed that whenever I was ready to use my Missiles (Speed 6, Range 4, 2 Damage) they were not in arc! Not that they avoided damage; by Round 6 when I lost my first BC (mostly because a Critical Hit prevented it from maneuvering and avoiding fire) the Terrans had lost a DD and all the other ships had at least one Critical Hit. But my BC was also hurting and in Round 7 my FTL was “spooled up” and if I could last to the end of the round I was going to jump away.

Not. So. Fast.

I was hurt and I knew it so I adjusted my Power Curve to get going as fast as I could. However, I had a fast Terran DD on my tail and it was not going to be denied. In literally the last Impulse of the turn the DD reached optimal weapons range for its Anti-Matter Torpedo (Hit on 2-6 at Range 2, 4 Damage) and blew past the lone shield reinforcement to destroy the last of the Hull boxes in my BC. GAME OVER…for now.

As I write this post, the RMN Boys are poring over the new ships in the expansion Talon 1000 (GMT Games, 2018). They want to play a larger fleet battle with fighters and bases. Both told me they really enjoy the meaningful decision challenge that comes from having to manage your energy and optimize your maneuver and firing actions. From a component perspective, they really are taken by the laminated counters and how easy it makes play.

Talon is probably going to get thrown into the gaming rotation in a fairly heavy way this summer. I’m certainly not complaining; Talon uses easy game mechanics to create agonizing, brain-burning decision points. And it’s fun!

How wrong is @sowronggames about Talon (GMT Games, 2016)?

ziyx3sp8_400x400If you have not listened to the boys from So Very Wrong About Games you certainly need to. Like the title of their podcasts says, they relish in pointing out what they like, and especially what they don’t about boardgames. They are not shy about offering their opinion, which is what makes SVWAG a worthy listen. Be warned though; if you have your own opinions and cannot listen to your games taking criticism then you will not be happy. Further, if you are a wargamer, you could become agitated as one of the hosts, Mike Walker, is not a wargamer and openly (at least on the show) despises wargames. On the other hand, co-host Mark Bigney is a wargamer, and apparently an old-school wargamer at that.

Given this split in the interests of the hosts, I was mildly surprised to hear their review of Talon (GMT Games, 2016) on their podcast recently. Like the hosts themselves, what I basically heard it come down to was an old Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games/Amarillo Design Bureau, 1979+) player versus a new Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2012+) player. One wanted fast “pew pew” starfighter play with ships dashing across the board while the other relished (anguished) over the decision points brought out by the “ponderous” movement of behemoths in space. My first reaction was like that of the old school Bigney – Talon is a spiritual successor to Star Fleet Battles only Talon does the resource management in a much more playable manner. To Walker on the other hand, the game was just too slow with not enough action.

Neither of them are right, and neither of them are wrong.

If you are looking for a manual videogame version of the Star Wars universe and enjoy competition play through buying ships, adding “power-ups,” and then throwing miniatures down on a mat then X-Wing is definitely your game. This is game Walker wants; Talon is not going to give it to him.

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Courtesy GMT Games

But…if you want another view of starship combat, one where managing resources (power) is interesting to you, then you may want to look at Talon. This is the game Bigney relishes; a game of tight resources and decision points.

For myself, I think I have made it clear before that Talon is more my preference. Sure, there is an element of “chits on the table” in Talon like Walker complains about but in this game it all fits thematically. In my more recent plays, I have also come to more deeply appreciate the ingenuity of the dry-erase ship markings and how they portray information that before was consigned to ship data sheets and the like. To me, Talon delivers an experience of starship combat through a game whereas X-Wing delivers, well, just a game.

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Courtesy BGG.com

One problem with Talon may be it’s age. Designer Jim Krohn has offered up a very modern interpretation of “I need more power, Scotty” science fiction battles. To us grognards, Talon is a refreshing look at an issue that was first tackled nearly 40 years ago in a little pocket folio game from Task Force Games. But what started out as as just over 100 counters and about a dozen ships blossomed into Master Rulebook of over 460 pages.  Even with that you still need pages and pages (and binders and binders) more of ships and scenarios to play. Although the core game mechanic of energy allocation was reimplemented and much streamlined in Federation Commander, the fact remains that to play these games requires a major investment of money for materials and time to learn, and play, the games. Talon on the other hand returns to a much simpler implementation of the core mechanic using a different streamlined approach and mixes it with graphics right on the counters to help convey the information quickly and enable speedy play on the table. But how do you explain all this design beauty to a generation of gamers that grew up on Star Wars and barrel rolls in space and never had to fill out an Energy Allocation Form, or as some call it, Accountants in Space?

I doff my cap to the Boys at So Very Wrong About Games for talking about Talon even though it was clearly “not in the wheelhouse” of one of the hosts. In the end though, Mike and Mark actually do science fiction boardgamers/wargamers a great service. The real take-away message from the podcast is that games come in many different forms. The only wrong message one could take away from their them is that there is not a game for you out there. On the contrary, So Very Wrong About Games shows us why the industry is so right; we are very lucky that we can have both X-Wing and Talon.

…But I can’t help but wonder how they would handle Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018) with its AVID displays and 3D vector movement in space. For sure I think Walker would have a meltdown….

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Squadron Strike: Traveller AVID (courtesy Ad Astra Games)

Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek