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Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Unintended Consequences

This is Steven Petrick posting.

Over the years players have found loopholes to exploit in Star Fleet Battles. These are always the unintended effects, the players taking advantage of a rule in a way that the designer did not imagine.

One example is T-bombs and NSMs. Back in the 1980s virtually any unit that had commander's option points could purchase NSMs, you just could not buy more than two. The upshot was that no matter what empire I was playing, I almost always bought the two allowed NSMs. You can probably imagine how gingerly the opposing players would maneuver around each other knowing the other guy might have left such a nest egg.

You were also allowed, back in the day, to purchase up to a dozen T-bombs. And whether you purchased T-bombs or not, you automatically had an unlimited, u n l i m i t e d, number of dummy T-bombs (they were not called that at the time). This had another effect as during play large "fields" of dummy T-bombs would be laid to "influence" the maneuvers of the opposing player. After all, it only cost 1/5 of a point of power to lay the dummy mine and a point of power could usually lay as many such mines as you had transporters.

In  those days piracy operations were truly thrilling, as the convoy you were approaching had its own Commander's Option Points, and large freighters could easily afford an NSM among a few other things. Light Raiders learned to purchase all the boarding parties they could as it was not all that unusual for a small convoy to board the pirate ship. Tactics for the pirates were always to approach from the side of the convoy, never from the rear, and rarely from the front (from the front you often wound up overrunning the convoy and hitting the mines they laid behind them). You never tried to board a freighter within a convoy, you tried to tractor one and drag it off to board later. All this even if there was not a Q-ship in the convoy.

Inevitably this led to an amendment to the rules prohibiting civilian ships from having mines at all, and greatly reducing the numbers of mines available to warships and pretty much restricting NSMs to Old Romulans (one for free), Romulan KRs and Hawks (still allowed to buy one) and minesweepers and minelayers. (The latter has, in this modern age, led to more than one player trying to include a minelaying freighter in his convoy.) And the number of dummy T-bombs has been massive reduced. (Really, only the Kzintis truly applauded the limits on T-bombs as they saw this as making their drones more effective . . . okay, the Romulans like the reduced incidences of being "flashcubed" and the Orions are able to approach convoys with more confidence.)

The game is actually better for these changes, as they re-emphasized maneuver over fortification.