All the greatness of Star Trek, without having to put up with William Shatner.
“One more shot! Just one more phaser blast and we’ll have them, Mr. Chalko!”
“I’m sorry Captain, the forward phaser banks are still cooling down from our
last volley and our energy reserves are gone.”
“I don’t care, Chief Engineer. I want that extra shot even if you have to throw
your pet Tribble into the warp core!”
Starfleet Command is the best attempt to date to port the venerable
board game “Starfleet Battles” to the computer. For those that aren’t
familiar with the old pencil-and-paper game, imagine this. You, a bunch of people,
a small hex map, dozens of pieces of graph paper, little cardboard cut-outs,
dice, and enough game manuals to fill up a bookcase. Arguments galore about
which rule takes precedence over which manual (I laugh at Magic
the Gathering rules. So simple in comparison). A single turn taking over
an hour to complete. Death threats against felines for disturbing the carefully
orchestrated and arranged pieces.
Ah, but the fun and joy of commanding a starship! Using those powerful weapons
to blow the snot out of your preferred enemy. Using those complex rules to come
up with combat tactical options that would have left Kirk breathless with admiration
(yes, I shudder at the thought too). Oh, those were the days. The feeling of
absolute power as you outmaneuver an enemy, get behind his ‘6,’ unleash the
full fury of your overloaded Hellbores into his vulnerable flank, and blow that
hulking Klingon Dreadnought to kingdom-come.
I heard that someone was taking this decades old game and putting it on the computer,
I was skeptical. I mean, people have tried putting complex board games on the
computer before and, for the most part, the conversion was lacking. Look at the
AD&D world. We’ve seen dozens of games over the years, but until recently, none
have even tried to claim to be faithful to the original rule set … and Starfleet
Battles is even more complex (people are still trying to determine if the
full SB rulebook is more or less complex than the US tax code). But I’ve
been very pleasantly surprised by Starfleet Command.
You can play any one of six major races, each with its own specialization in
ship designs/weapons (the Federation has phasers, photons, and missiles. Romulans
have plasma weapons. The Hydrans have Fusion Beams, Hellbore cannons, and Gattling
phasers. Etc.). Suicide shuttles, tractor/repulser beams, T-bombs, mines, security
teams, boarding parties, missiles, point defenses, shields, repairs, Star Bases,
asteroids, nebulas, and Orion’s … oh my. Not much is missing.
Some design compromises have been made. For instance, the cumbersome turn system
has been streamlined into a real time, 3-D game that is a joy to play.
In the campaign game (playable from any of the six races), you start as a lowly
starship captain in your first command. As such, you have a piddly little craft
incapable of scaring most Orion pirates you might find – the only danger they
will be in is from a laughing induced heart-attack. But as you successfully
complete missions, you will be rewarded with prestige points that you can parlay
into better ships, more experienced crew chiefs, spare parts, etc.
Completing these missions is no mean feat. The heart and soul of Starfleet
Command is power management. Your ship generates a limited amount of power
to do everything you want. For instance, you can’t travel at max speed, charge
all your weapons to full, and fully reinforce your shields. You have to pick
and choose … and do it at the right moment, since everything takes time. But
a successfully orchestrated tactic will have you pulling into a flank position
on an enemy just as your photon torpedoes have reached overload status, your
phaser capacitor is full, and the range is point blank. Hit the Hail Mary firing
button and that big boy is down for the count.
to manage your power correctly, and your shields will fail spectacularly when
that Klingon Cruiser unloads it’s full frontal fury into your side as you sail
past him. Not the best way to get your crew to like you.
A tactic I particularly enjoy is transporting a T-Bomb into the oncoming path
of a big nasty ship. They’ll swerve to avoid it, I turn to pass them on that side
and do a 120 degree high energy turn that puts my frontally faced heavy weapons
into their ‘6’ shield. Bye bye, bad guy.
My only real complaints are minor. During tactical combat, the game ‘field’
is a fixed border and if your ship crosses that border you go into warp and
escape. But the computer opponent can cross over at will, effectively outmaneuvering
you and gaining a bit of a respite. My other complaint has to do with the campaign
game. Due to the very dynamic nature of the progression of the story, it can
be very difficult to follow the plot because there are no intervening cut scenes
to spoon feed you the information. The information is there, but you have to
be alert for it.
The one missing element that I would have loved to see is a ship builder. You
are provided with about 40 stock ships for each race. This really is a lot,
but I love tinkering with things. I want to build that ship with 40 forward-facing
phaser 3’s. I want to see what happens when I have a rear facing photon torpedo
bank. A lot of the fun of playing Starfleet Battles was building new
ships to suit a particular tactic that you wanted to employ. It’s a minor quibble,
but one that I hope is addressed by a follow-on pack or patch.
But even without a ship builder, Starfleet Command is an excellent game
with a tactical depth that would be hard pressed to match anywhere else. If
anybody needs me, I’ll be locked in my quarters with extra batteries for the
food replicators. I’m going to be playing this one for a long time to come.