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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

RANDOM THOUGHTS #294

Steve Cole's thoughts on playtesting.
   
Many people ask to playtest our games. Few of those who are given something to test actually report anything worthwhile or anything at all. Playtesting is hard work, and your gaming buddies may not be as enthusiastic as you are. Playtesting delivers a great sense of accomplishment, of making the game and the world better, but it's not really what anyone would call fun. It's also not a free ticket to insist on any changes to the game that you think are cool; your suggestions and reports will be considered along with those of other playtesters but you're not the game designer and don't get to change the game on your own whim.
 
Many players don't understand what playtesting is, or they do understand it but don't want to do THAT and want to define their role as something else. It's not proofreading. If you notice a mis-spelled word or a missing comma then you're welcome to report it, but that's not something you get playtesting credit for.
        
 Playtesting is not reading the rules by yourself and commenting on your gut feelings about how the game will work out when real people try to play it. You can certainly do that, but it's not playtesting, it's commenting, and anything you notice will, if the game designer thinks it valid, have to be tested by live gamers in a real game. One applicant recently said he'd been on the playtest mailing list but had never sent in a report because he wanted to wait for and comment on the final copy. That isn't how it works. For one thing, asking to be on the mailing list and never reporting is the way to never get picked for another project. For another, it's not really fair for you to stay out of the ongoing debates on rules developments then drop in at the last minute and argue with the designer about rules changes when nobody else is looking.
        
 Playtesting means you sit down with live opponents and play the game/scenario/ship multiple times, trying different tactics and then (after checking with the designer) multiple tweaks and changes. Playtesting means playing to the end (or until you find a game-killing problem) and then writing up a report and sending it in.
    
Playtesters must play to win, but they must also play to explore (which is why playing the game/ship/scenario once is nowhere near enough). We sent Star Fleet Marines to several test groups who all reported by "fine, print it!" but then one day Steve Petrick and I sat down to play it for fun by ourselves. We found out that the playtesting had missed, well, everything, and it took months to redesign the game and test it ourselves. 
 
Sometimes you do something that isn't the way the game is supposed to work just do see what happens. Decades ago I was working on a game an outside designer had sent in. I had tested it with live opponents and it was ready for press on Monday morning. Then at the Saturday game club meeting somebody said he really wanted to playtest something. I sat down with the finished game, expecting to simply evaluate his potential skills. He read the rules, read the scenario, read the little history article, then did something no one else had ever done. He spent the first turn shifting the Japanese Army to the north before moving west to attack the British. (The map was a very dense jungle and the Japanese attack involved sending part of their army down three roads through the wilderness. By shifting to the right, he had more troops hitting the north end of the British line, the place where all of their supplies and reinforcements entered the map.) The net result was a blowout, and the British were lucky to escape to Egypt. (We changed one hex on the map from clear to jungle and the whole "north shift" plan became unworkable. Further research proved that error on the original designer's map was why the Japanese didn't use the northern strategy in the historical battle.) That incident became part of how I trained playtesters from then on. If the scenario says the Klingons attacked Georgia, see what happens if they go around Florida and attack New Orleans!
        
The best way to get hired as a playtester (and by "hired" we mean you get a couple of free copies and your names in the book) is to start playtesting. Check the BBS for new projects, check the newsletters for new scenarios and new ships. Don't wait to be hired, just grab something and test it and tell us how it works. If we think you have the skills and the drive to stick with it, we'll start sending your playtest stuff the public hasn't seen.

Monday, September 18, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 10-16 September 2017

Steve Cole reports:

This was a week of steady work on current projects. The Orville changed SF/TV forever. The Cassini space probe ended a 13-year visit to Saturn by crashing into the clouds.
 

The Starlist Update Project moved forward with one new entry and three updates.
 

Steve Cole worked on Shapeways, fiction, A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Book 2, blogs, and other projects.

3788 Scale Klingon B10B boom
in our store on Shapeways.  

Steven Petrick worked on Star Fleet Battles updates, quality control assembly and shipping, and the Kzinti and Gorn Master Starship Books.

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   

Simone did website updates and some graphics.
   

Wolf guarded the office, chasing away a pack of lions. (In truth, they were leaving for their winter range anyway as every year the pride goes before the fall.)
        

Jean worked on the GURPS Prime Directive revision, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,896 friends), managed our Twitter feed (236 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, took care of customers, and did some marketing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SEVENTH ANNUAL STAR FLEET BATTLES PLATINUM TOURNAMENT

Our seventh Internet SFB International Championship Tournament will be open for registration as of September 8, 2017. Registration will close midnight (Pacific Daylight Time) on October 12, 2017. This is a single-elimination tournament using a standard tree. This tournament will be conducted through SFBOL and you will need to be a member of that service to participate.

We will have at least 32 seats, and up to 64 if there is demand. There will be no entry fee; ADB will provide the prizes. The winner will receive $100 and a plaque (once the "Victory at" article is completed and the winner is paid for this article). The second place winner will receive $50. Third and fourth place winners will get $25 in credit; fifth through eighth place will get $5 credit.

After we know the number of entries, we will lock in the format (i.e., decide if there are 32 or 64 seats, decide how many seats will be reserved for re-entries, seed the aces, and assign byes). Aces will be "seeded" according to the total number of ace pins and SFB Gold/Platinum hats (total) each player has in his lifetime record. Other players (and perhaps lower-rated aces) will be distributed randomly in a way to avoid same-ship duels as much as possible. Depending on the size of the tree and the number of active players, we may give some first-round byes to the highest rated players, and we may reserve some seats for re-entries. Re-entry seats will go to eliminated players in the order they ask for them.

Fleet Captain Bill Schoeller (winner of the 2016 tournament) is the judge for this tournament. As we did in Platinum Hat 2016, Tournament Marshal Steven P. Petrick will also "ride herd" on the tournament to ensure that games are played on schedule and the event does not drag. There will, inevitably, be some delays near the end when re-entries have to "catch up" to the initial entries. A firm hand on the helm will ensure that these are as minor as possible. People who do not get their next game completed in a set number of days will be disqualified and the player they beat (or a wildcard selected by the judges) replaces them. Deadlines may be adjusted by the Judge or Marshal to allow for a player's serious real life unexpected problem or issue.

The winner must send in his Platinum Victory article (which must meet the standards of previous articles) within 90 days of the end of the event or be disqualified (in which case he will get no prize and there will be no winner named). Assistance will be available if the winner would like help writing his article. 


Sign up for this tournament here: https://sfbonline.com/tourn_signup.jsp

Monday, September 11, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 3-9 September 2017

Steve Cole reports:

This was a week of steady work on current projects. We released Hailing Frequencies and Communique #141 on Saturday the 9th. Because the new ship in Communique was Lyran, we also included the LDR version.
  

New on Warehouse 23, DriveThru RPG, and Wargame Vault this week were the revised Star Fleet Battles Module R3 Rulebook, the new Federation Commander Scenario Log #2, and the Romulan Armada Unity rulebook.



      

 
 
 

The Starlist Update Project moved forward with six new entries.
 

Steve Cole worked on Shapeways production management, Communique, Hailing Frequencies, blogs, and other projects. He sent the reprint countersheets to press for Star Fleet Battles Basic Set, Federation Commander Klingon Border, Federation & Empire Planetary Operations, and the TU sheet from F&E Fighter Operations.
     

Steve Petrick worked on the Star Fleet Battles Module R3 update, quality control assembly and shipping, and the Kzinti and Gorn Master Starship Books.
    

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   

Simone did website updates and covers for the new PDF products posted above.
    

Wolf guarded the office, chasing away two serial killers who were pretending to fix their truck on the parking lot next door.
   

Jean worked on Hailing Frequencies, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,893 friends), managed our Twitter feed (236 followers), commanded the Rangers, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS and the website itself, managed the blog feed, proofread Communique #141, took care of customers, uploaded PDFs, and did some marketing.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Federation Commander Scenario Log #2 Released



Scenarios form a great deal of the history of the Star Fleet Universe. These scenarios (over 50 of them!) were originally published in Communique #1 through Communique #85. Here they are gathered into one spot as you requested.


 

Earlier scenarios have been updated to the current format. More options have been added to some of the scenarios. Even better, there is an index by empire involved and the number of players.

You will need Federation Commander ship cards and rules to play these scenarios; however, you can also simply enjoy reading about the various parts of Star Fleet Universe history.

Find your copy here:





Wednesday, September 06, 2017

SHAPEWAYS: The Fourth Mile

Steve Cole writes:
On August 2nd, I walked into my office and finalized a memo to the staffers creating a priority system for new miniatures. Every staffer was consulted about what he wanted to do and could do, after which Jean and I selected the ships for release on September 1st. The point was two-fold: First to make sure we got the most important ships and second to establish that once we had about 30-36 ships for the next release we would upload more when we had a chance to do so without delaying non-Shapeways projects.
   
Every sculptor was assigned an easy-kill ship or two and asked to get them in by the 10th and a priority ship to be delivered on the 20th, after which they could create and send whatever they wanted to based on our prior guidance of their priorities. The sculptors are creative guys and sometimes during August they got inspired and created ships nobody put on the schedule. They were officially told that we would still accept and eventually upload these extra ships but that we would first process their priority and easy kill ships. Extra ships might be delayed to the next month if we were busy.
The system recognized a salient fact: just because a sculptor can do it doesn't mean that Steve Cole, Jean Sexton, and Chief Engineer Will McCammon have time to deal with it. Jean and I got almost nothing done except Shapeways during July because we allowed the schedule to grow from 30 ships to 55. I have my projects (countersheet reprints, Federation Commander Scenario Log #2, A Call to Arms: Star Fleet Book Two, Captain's Log #53, and Federation Admiral) while Jean has hers (marketing, revising GURPS Prime Directive, editing Traveller Prime Directive, and proofreading Master Starship Books). Will McCammon (besides a daytime job and a family) has his own ships to do; scaling the first ships of a new empire can take more time than creating several new ships. With the ships coming in early we could all get the key units done, then focus on non-Shapeways projects and work a few extra ships into the store during odd moments. The easy kills and priority ships would never be the only thing that got done, just as far as we could afford to give Shapeways total priority over all other projects.
   
If any part of me expected the sculptors to push back and want to do more ships, not less, I was wrong. They quickly joined into the team effort, working on what they were assigned first and everything else later, fully expecting that just because they sent six extra ships didn't mean Jean was willing to delay the GURPS Prime Directive revision to process them immediately. Jean actually set up a system to do a ship a day and on the 17th commented that she was uploading the 19th ship for 1 Sept (the last one she had) and would I please "guide" the sculptors to send a few more. They did.
        
Will McCammon had an easy ship (the Federation Galactic Survey Cruiser, since Jean wanted a Federation ship and Will already had the Federation cruiser) and had a priority target in the B10 for 1 September and the key drone-armed fighters for 1 October.
     
Matthew Lawson, who has years of ships already done and on file, selected easy kills from Omega, the Seltorians, and the Frax, then focused on the Falcon Mauler for 1 September and the King Condor battleship for 1 October.
  
Steve Zamboni already had four Tholian carriers sent to us during July, but those were all extra ships. He had an extensive bank of freighters already done and we had already scheduled the two empty civilian tugs. His priority mission was the WYN dreadnought Nancy, which he had already finished, giving him time to work on the Tholian dreadnought for 1 October and some other projects.


WYN Auxiliary Dreadnought in our store on Shapeways.

Gary Pollock picked off a couple of Hydran frigates as  his easy kills then got quick scale approval for the Paladin Dreadnought as his priority ship. He also finished the Hydran gunboats.
     
Chris Nasipak picked off the Lyran gunboats for his easy kill and the Lyran dreadnought for a priority target, then moved on to the Lyran light cruiser (which will be uploaded on 1 Oct).
      
It was a good plan, and deserved to work, but we all knew by the time the plan was down on paper that something would go wrong and some opportunity would come up. But nothing went wrong that could not be dealt with. The sculptors took quickly to the idea of having a plan instead of a vague outline.
        
One question that came up many times was whether we could have the sculptors do flight stands for the ships. (Not just gamers asked this. Leanna was having trouble finding the commercial stands we have been using.) A few people even wanted the old Zocchi stand that had to have a firing arc overlay card. The problem is that Shapeways cannot compete with a mass production injection molded process using a very expensive mold that paid for itself a decade ago. The best approximation we could make of such a stand priced out at $2.67 per stand in trees of six or twelve. That was of course too high, but other people were selling similar stands for higher prices on Shapeways.
    
One aspect of the overall plan was to get the rest of the fighters and gunboats done. This worked amazing well with Lyran, Hydran, Orion, WYN, and Romulan Centurion gunboats showing up from the sculptors, some of which were even on the schedule!
   
In the end, the number of uploads steadily climbed from 36 to 56. These included the B10 booms and B10K which were cloned from the B10B model, some 3125 scale Omega ships that players asked for, the stands and toppers, and a few other odds and ends. (We will get the rest of the 3125s Omegas up next month. We just ran out of time.)
    
At one point during the month we contacted Karen Schnaubelt, the daughter of Franz Joseph, who graciously changed our license to allow us to put the official Franz Joseph models on Shapeways. We'll have the destroyer next month, and the scout after that, with the tug and dreadnought for sometime this winter.
   
Someone asked us why we were doing so many non-television ships but only a few Federation and Klingon ships. The answer is that the Federation and Klingons ships have to be created, while two of the sculptors have dozens of ships for the Frax, Seltorians, freighters, and Omegas already done. (They did them for their own collections a year or two ago.) We see no reason not to proceed with uploading those as, well, they're ready. That said, we are working on more Feds and Klingons. We uploaded three Klingons (variations of the B10, each in two scales) and the Fed galactic survey cruiser this month. The schedule includes a new Federation ship and a new Klingon ship (in both scales) every month. Sometimes we'll even have two or three.
       
Monsters are a special passion of mine, and we want to get a new one out every month. This time, Matthew Lawson surprised us with the Space Manta.
      
People often ask when we're going to start doing Gorns or Kzintis or Andros or the ISC. The trick is that every time we start a new empire it takes a ton of work to dial in the scale and the features. At best, we can do one project like that a month. For October 1st, that project will be to get the drone-armed fighters scaled, matched, and into the store. Sometime after that, we will decide what new empire will come next. This will probably be Kzintis but we will get around to all of the others, including the Carnivons and Paravians sometime in 2018.
    
The same answer applies when people ask when we will do elite-scale (1/7000) and mega-scale (1/2500) ships, X-ships, Early Years ships, RPG figures, and other things. We need to finish a few empires before we launch some big new project. Nobody wants a product line that includes only half of each category.
        
Let me conclude by mentioning that we did the B10 this month. The Shapeways store began as a way to get the missing 3125 big ships into production. A metal B10 in 3125 scale would have retailed for at least $60 and we'd have never made a profit on it because it would take at least seven, maybe ten, molds to cast parts you would have to glue together. Now, you can get it all in one piece! We do still have metal B10s in Starline 2400 (3788 scale) for sale and will continue to have them for at least a year.
  

The B10 is the first of what we consider the battleship of the month club. The Romulan King Condor will be next. Later this year we will have the Tholian, Lyran, and Hydran battleships, and next year, we'll do the rest of them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Fourth Wave of Ships Released!

On September 1, 2017, Amarillo Design Bureau released its fourth wave of ships (56 in all, for over 150 available ships) in its store on Shapeways.

The Federation gets the galactic survey cruiser which in peacetime cruises through areas not yet explored, searching for new civilizations and for planets suitable for colonization but not inhabited by sapient species. In wartime they become powerful fleet scouts that can carry six fighters.

The Klingons get the largest ship ever to fly, the B10B battleship. While this ship is one piece, the B10B boom was originally designed to detach and so the B10B boom is also available. The B10K battleship with more aztecking is also available.

The Romulans get a flotilla of Centurion gunboats. They also get the powerful Falcon mauler.

The Tholians get even more carriers: the destroyer carrier, the heavy carrier, the police carrier, and the war cruiser carrier. These one-piece ships have the fighters they carry molded into the mini.

The Hydrans add to their fleet with the Crusader frigate leader, Cuirassier frigate, and the Paladin dreadnought. They also get a flotilla of Harrier gunboats.

The Lyrans and their wayward county of the Lyran Democratic Republic get their dreadnought. They also get their Bobcat gunboat flotilla.

 
3125 Scale Lyran Lion Dreadnought

The WYN Star Cluster has a ragtag fleet that can only win because every ship that comes through the radiation barrier is badly degraded. Their auxiliary dreadnought is known as the "Nancy." They also get their Freedom Fighter gunboat flotilla.

The Seltorians add a new heavy cruiser (NCA).

The Frax get a war cruiser scout to use its powerful special sensors to locate enemy targets and threats.

The Maesron add a light cruiser to their fleet. They all are also now available in the larger 3125 Scale.

The Trobrins add the Patroller to their fleet.

The Koligahr are part of the Omega Octant and the spherical hull sections of their ships are built underwater, and then launched into space to be assembled in orbit. Check out their patrol boat!

Two new tugs show up without any pods: the Harbor and Salvage tugs.

And we introduce some new empires, too!

Probr ships are built from a combination of one of more of the "basic hulls" and various wings are added on. Their Steel Heavy Cruiser is an example of this building technique.

The Orion Pirates are, well, pirates. They get their Buccaneer gunboat flotilla.

Have we got a monster for you! The space manta wasn't found until fairly late in recorded history because it destroyed every ship it found. Can you be the first to defeat it? The space manta comes in three different sizes.

Because you asked for them, we have added stands (both a single one and a dozen in a sprue) and stand toppers that will hold three, four, or six fighters or gunboats. We hope you like them.

Monday, September 04, 2017

This Week at ADB, Inc., 27 August - 2 September 2017

Steve Cole reports:

This was the week we released 56 new ships on our store on Shapeways. We did get hit for 15 minutes by a DOS attack but the hosting company shut it down.
 

 
Tholian Heavy Carrier in our store on Shapeways.

The Starlist Update Project moved forward with six new entries and an update.
     

Steve Cole worked on Shapeways, countersheet reprints, Federation Commander Scenario Log #2, Federation Commander Reference Book Federation #1, blogs, and other projects.
   

Steven Petrick worked on Captain's Log #53, Star Fleet Battles Module R3, quality control assembly and shipping, and the Kzinti and Gorn Master Starship Books.
     

Leanna kept orders and accounting up to date.
   

Mike kept orders going out and rebuilt the inventory.
   

Simone did website updates, product covers, and some graphics.
  

Wolf guarded the office, chasing away a dachshund and a pit bull who dared to look in his window.
    

Jean worked on the GURPS Prime Directive revision and our store on Shapeways, managed our page on Facebook (which is up to 3,890 friends), managed our Twitter feed (234 followers), commanded the Rangers, proofread Federation Commander Scenario Log #2, dealt with the continuing spam assault on the BBS, managed the blog feed, took care of customers, and did some marketing.