Reworking Fighters (and some other things)

For the first iteration of star eater, we were aiming to prove our concept. I’d say mission accomplished. We’ve had close to 20 playtests at this point and the feedback has been excellent.

In general I feel as though the premise is well worth further exploration, and the mechanics in place seem to be effectively selling the fantasy that we’re looking for. The game is tense and fun.

That said it’s far from being perfect, or even complete. To that end we’ve spent the last week or so re-working various parts of the game thanks to the wonderful feedback that we’ve been able to get from our playtesters.

First and foremost is the nature of fighter squadrons. The squadrons, I feel, are extremely important to not only the fantasy, but they’re also a sort of lubricant for the gameplay. As a part of the fantasy, the player’s warship needs to feel large. Its actions need to feel above all else to be the most consequential aspect of gameplay. This is a game about giant warships duking it out in deep space, but if it were just two ships on a board flinging pot-shots at one another alone, you’d really lose that sense of scale. In order to feel like your warship is a lumbering titan of death, there needs to be tiny nimble ants to flee under its reverberating footsteps, so to speak.

As a gameplay element, fighters provide a sense of immediacy by being directly controlled. In doing so they provide a needed contrast to the heavy-lifting prediction and planning needed to effectively operate your warship. They’re also a sort of ticking clock on the game; Fighters are designed to provide a low but reliable source of damage for both players to keep the engagements flowing, and to ensure no game can be extended indefinitely by overly defensive play.

I think our orignal fighters were a mixed bag in terms of success. They certainly provided the ticking clock element, as they were infinite-ammo swarms which would constantly harass your opponent unless they sacrificed precious turns dealing with the threat. Where I think we failed was in 2 main categories: 1. The fighters were incredibly over stated, and it felt like games were being won or lost based on the fighters alone and 2. Exacerbating this fact, fighters were far too simple to use. There was not enough room for strategy or decision making. When using the fighters, the gameplay boiled down to: if your squadron is in range, shoot the enemy. If not, move closer so you can shoot the enemy next turn.

As an ancillary matter, a lot of playtesters would be too distracted by the fighter phase and seemed to lose track of their strategy when dealing with the fighters. and we found that it was a little too unintuitive to balance using your fighters with using the main damage dealing weapons on the main ship, or to balance your own offensive actions with defending yourself from enemy squadrons.

So here’s what we’ve changed:

  1. instead of picking the type of all squadrons on your warship, 3 individual squadrons are brought into battle – this allows a lot more decision making in the fighter selection process and makes optimising your squadron loadout less trivial. Synergies between different types of squadron are also now possible, increasing the tactical depth of your squadrons.
  2. Squadrons now use ammunition. – This helps address a few things. firstly it’s an important limiting factor on the power of a squadron, and allows them to be balanced along the axis of ammunition capacity. It also provides a meaningful consequence for firing your squadron’s weapons, and therefore an interesting decision in how you use your squadrons. As a good example, imagine your squadron has 2 units of ammo remaining, and you’re not in range of the enemy warship. you ARE however, in range of an incoming torpedo. You now have a decision to make: do you use one of your shots to destroy the incoming torpedo, or do you let it go by and damage your warship, but conserve that ammo for dealing damage to the enemy in a few turns.
  3. destroyed squadrons can be repaired. – This uses the same action card as supplying squadrons, so provides another interesting decision when you lose one: Do you resupply the squadrons who survive and try to make-do, or do you want to spend a turn repairing your lost squadron.
  4. The fighter phase has been moved closer to the end of the turn, between the action and weapons phases. – This means all the little decisions made during the fighter phase are the last decisions made each turn, so you won’t lose track of your strategy as easily.

You may notice that there are a lot of new things you can do to fighters. They can be restocked, they can be recalled, they can be launched or repaired etc. Most of these actions are tied to action cards which brings us to the next big change: Players now play 2 action cards each turn rather than just one. This prevents the new fighter related cards from being overwhelming and we think the game flows a lot better this way.

There are some other changes as well, including ship-specific special abilities. Check out the latest rulebook for details.

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