General thoughts on rules

General Starfire discussion, including information about old products and editions.

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General thoughts on rules

Postby brasidas19004 on Fri 27 Mar 2020 10:43

Interestingly, while I like a lot of older games I used growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, including the graphics, I find myself increasingly unable to plow thru the cumbersome design mechanics. Having been in the military a while, I'm noticing that wargames that quest for "realism" become exercises in game mechanics that take as much as 10-20 times longer to play than the nominal length of the history it represents! Extreme example was a not-to-be-mentioned set of modern dogfight rules that took 3-4 hours to play a scenario that modeled an encounter of 2-3 minutes.

That's not realistic.

In the real Army, everything is moving faster and faster, including decision-making processes and both action and reaction to enemy activity. The commander leverages trained and experienced staff to gather the necessary information to build situational awareness and then makes decisions - simple decisions, that are impactful, as in THEY MATTER.

Many games don't even attempt this.

Contrast the classic Steve Jackson future ground combat game Ogre/G.E.V. with the Frank Chadwick classic "Striker". The first is still a highly playable hit that has been resurrected, cleaned up and is just as much fun as ever. Meanwhile, Striker is in the dustbin of game history - and not because the rules aren't any good. It's simply that working with them requires a college degree, game experience, and a whole bunch of time.

There is still room in the world for great games with the 4 X's [as they are termed here]. However, boardgames are beating out miniatures and tactical boardgames because quite frankly they are better designed. Once you get into the woods with gadgets and exceptions and special rules, play balance is adversely affected and tactics are secondary to designing ships with "gotcha" potential. This is very much the Games Workshop game design philosophy - and why so many gamers hate them.

So, all this to say...Starfire 1 & 2 were great games altho they had a few design issues. I believe these were addressed in the version I acquired, the TFG 1984 box. Overall though, it is a bit of a complicated game. The future success for Starfire, and games like it, would be:
- few rules, but lots of tactics
- Tactics > gadgets [but yes, naval tactics are shaped by gadgets]
- gadget layers can be added on thru advanced rules, with advances in offense always being offset by defense.
- basic rules should be workable for an attentive 10yo. That's actually where most gamers are, anyway.
- everything "ready to go out of the box" so that the game can be hosted easily and quickly.
- cost should be low. That's the original purpose of the Starfire pocket game! Add-ons can be bought later, if desired.

A few thoughts as I await an Army teleconference. But I'm seeing these trends to be very strong in miniature and board gaming, and it is important for game fans and designers to take heed to the time, attention and cash limits of their target audience.

Cheers! Alex
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby Cralis on Mon 30 Mar 2020 20:10

brasidas19004 wrote:So, all this to say...Starfire 1 & 2 were great games altho they had a few design issues. I believe these were addressed in the version I acquired, the TFG 1984 box. Overall though, it is a bit of a complicated game. The future success for Starfire, and games like it, would be:

- few rules, but lots of tactics


Even the best of games find this difficult. These two goals are generally inverse values. The less rules you have -- the simpler the game -- the less choices you have to make. The more choices you have, the more rules required to define them.

The alternative is to leave parts of the game "open" to interpretation. Games like VBAM go this route. They have less rules but they leave large parts of the game undefined. The downside to this method is that each game will be different as game masters will choose to handle the undefined portions of the game differently. This is basically making the game master create rules where the game designer did not. Some players like this, some players don't. And it's very difficult to get consistency across different games because of it.

- Tactics > gadgets [but yes, naval tactics are shaped by gadgets]
- gadget layers can be added on thru advanced rules, with advances in offense always being offset by defense.


"gadgets" is an interesting way to define technological systems, but I get your point. In Original and Classic Starfire, tech tended to have large advances that were handled only by gaining the same technology, and devastating if you could not (or gained it too late).

Starting with Galactic Starfire, tech trees were introduced and balanced to allow a player to choose pretty much any technology choices and have a chance at victory. There were advantages and disadvantages, along with some technologies being strong or weak towards other technologies, so that there was always a balance as you explored the game. And strength vs. weakness was designed so that it wasn't devastating unless you choose not to adapt.

- basic rules should be workable for an attentive 10yo. That's actually where most gamers are, anyway.


Different target market. Tabletop wargames are not intended for young players. Now if we created a modern board game version of Starfire, that would be a consideration. :D

- everything "ready to go out of the box" so that the game can be hosted easily and quickly.
- cost should be low. That's the original purpose of the Starfire pocket game! Add-ons can be bought later, if desired.


Again, a different target market. Later versions of Starfire cater to the wargamer while earlier versions... and the Quick Start Rules ...cater to the more casual gamer.

Right now we are looking for a way to do a print-on-demand gamebox, or print-on-demand maps.

It is important to understand that every member of the Starfire Design Studio works on Starfire because we are passionate about the game. Every one of us has a regular job and works on Starfire in our extra time. Starfire has nearly died out at least 2 or 3 times.

But in the last few years we've been slowly working to revive it. We have brought back the older versions and put them up on Wargame Vault. We have a few awesome partners, such as Otterman for miniatures and Jack Southerland for the art we are using on Zazzle.

And we have some new ideas for the future... it just takes time.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby brasidas19004 on Mon 06 Apr 2020 08:27

Cralis wrote:
brasidas19004 wrote:So, all this to say...Starfire 1 & 2 were great games altho they had a few design issues. I believe these were addressed in the version I acquired, the TFG 1984 box. Overall though, it is a bit of a complicated game. The future success for Starfire, and games like it, would be:
- few rules, but lots of tactics


Even the best of games find this difficult. These two goals are generally inverse values. The less rules you have -- the simpler the game -- the less choices you have to make. The more choices you have, the more rules required to define them.

**Must disagree here - there are loads of games that offer plenty of choices, every turn. They do not have complicated rules. The attributes of the units and the simplicity of the rules actually make for the choices. An obvious example of this would be chess - a number of different pieces with different qualities, but extremely simple rules. And it is beyond the ability of most gamers to play well!

But Ogre, Melee, Wizard, GEV, Grav Armor [indeed, Dwarfstar products in general] - all games that have pretty simple rules, but tons and tons of options and choices every turn. Consider the Horse and Musket period - there's really only 3 basic types of units [four if you differentiate skirmishers] and it's among the most popular miniature periods. It has rules that vary from the unplayable [*cough*cough* "Empire"] to Volley and Bayonet and the Sam Mustafa designs that are eminently playable. Personally, I have a set of WWII miniature rules that are 4 pages long and I can have you playing them in ten minutes - but you won't be able to master them for ten games or so.

The alternative is to leave parts of the game "open" to interpretation.
** again, have to disagree. My rules are tighter than a crab's butt...and that's waterproof! Allessio Cavatore's "Kings of War", "Terminator Genesys", very tight rules, because that's how he makes them. But it is correct to say that there are trends to write loosely - British gaming is infected with that disease.

- Tactics > gadgets [but yes, naval tactics are shaped by gadgets]
- gadget layers can be added on thru advanced rules, with advances in offense always being offset by defense.


"gadgets" is an interesting way to define technological systems, but I get your point. In Original and Classic Starfire, tech tended to have large advances that were handled only by gaining the same technology, and devastating if you could not (or gained it too late).
** I don't have a problem with these tech discrepencies, as long as the game offers interesting tactics for both sides. If it is just "I fly around while the death star blasts my ships to pieces one by one" then no thanks. But if I can just sneak a few fighters in there... Starfire II has a nice balance and it is in the hands of the GM/host to keep it balanced. That's fine, as long as I understand it in the game's intro, and especially scenarios.

- basic rules should be workable for an attentive 10yo. That's actually where most gamers are, anyway.

Different target market. Tabletop wargames are not intended for young players. Now if we created a modern board game version of Starfire, that would be a consideration. :D
**Not if you want to break even or have a little left over for the next game. I guarantee that most gamers can't read rules or use tactics better than a bright 10yo. One game designer I know says they have little to no sense of tactics. What they usually have is a greater understanding of rules and how to manipulate them. That's not good gaming, that's just, well, Warhammer, for example!

- everything "ready to go out of the box" so that the game can be hosted easily and quickly.
- cost should be low. That's the original purpose of the Starfire pocket game! Add-ons can be bought later, if desired.

Again, a different target market. **don't think so...
Later versions of Starfire cater to the wargamer while earlier versions... and the Quick Start Rules ...cater to the more casual gamer. Right now we are looking for a way to do a print-on-demand gamebox, or print-on-demand maps.

It is important to understand that every member of the Starfire Design Studio works on Starfire because we are passionate about the game. Every one of us has a regular job and works on Starfire in our extra time. Starfire has nearly died out at least 2 or 3 times. And we have some new ideas for the future... it just takes time.


** Given that - and the shoe-string aspect of hobbies in general - means we all have to be aware that gamers have moved on to higher expectations of product in terms of both components and rules - including ease of getting into, solid playtesting, etc. Flames of War is inferior to at least a half-dozen sets of rules out there, in BOTH realism and playability, but it was the dominant rule set for a decade and brought WWII wargaming back onto the table in a big way. I just bought Richard Borg's "Red Alert" for the fleets and hex cloth alone, figuring I can intro anyone to it and make it a bit more complex for more experienced gamers. And it cost $90! But I can play fleet level Starfire on it, just tinkering a tad with the movement rules...
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby aramis on Sun 26 Apr 2020 00:29

Original Starfire, is not terribly complex. it's directly comparable to Full Thrust, or to Star Wars X-Wing. And less complex than Star Wars: Armada, SFB Basic Set, Federation Commander, Battletech, or the 1990's king of excessive details, Brilliant Lances.

The point where it became overly complex was when it moved to the strategic game.

I'd lay odds that a minis-in-the-box with large hex hexmaps (1, 1.25, or 1.5" hexes) and minis that fit the hex. Do not mention future expansions in the book. Make certain all scenarios have all needed items in the box.

Probably the only way to get the Starfire brand off life support is to go back to the roots, and give them just the stylistic update.

I realize that SDS is fixated upon the strategic game... but that's not a good fit for the modern public.

Steve Cole's original design notes point out what his goals were: every counter in the bag on the board in a single evening for a scenario played to conclusion. And those rules still provide that... but the expectation of pretty means needing minis instead of counters, and perhaps cards with the ship designs on them, and tokens to mark damage on said cards, at least for for the included scenarios.

A boxed set in the $40 to $60 range, with a lot of (admittedly not large) minis would likely do well... just make certain the final scenario includes every mini in the box.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby Cralis on Mon 27 Apr 2020 23:01

aramis wrote:I realize that SDS is fixated upon the strategic game... but that's not a good fit for the modern public.


All I will say is that this used to be true. But we aren't going to abandon our existing product.

A boxed set in the $40 to $60 range, with a lot of (admittedly not large) minis would likely do well... just make certain the final scenario includes every mini in the box.


I will agree with this. It will be nice to see this in the future.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby brasidas19004 on Tue 28 Apr 2020 13:26

Good points. My only qualifier would be that you don't need minis necessarily - and they drastically increase costs, usually. Nice counters can be made up for nearly nothing, flatten the "box" to perhaps a bag, and make the product more affordable.

No one is advocating that SDS abandon projects. We are just advising what sells and why.

I've been gaming for 38 years - my first wargame was Panzer Leader, bought at a Kiddy City nearby. I had to talk my mom into buying it b/c it said it was for older kids, but she did. However, life has moved on and if one wants to do what Decision Games does, which is basically to retreat old game designs and sell them to old guys, fine. But that is a dwindling market. I am personally connected to Clash of Arms Games, who have published two of my card games. A warehouse of stuff sitting around competing for a dwindsling group of aging gamers.

meanwhile, my FLGS has a large crowd every Saturday, all day long, playing board and card games of all kinds. A few are GMT types, most are not. You can guess it by age, pretty much.

Meanwhile, back to fooling around with 2nd Edition Starfire!

aramis wrote:Original Starfire, is not terribly complex. it's directly comparable to Full Thrust, or to Star Wars X-Wing. And less complex than Star Wars: Armada, SFB Basic Set, Federation Commander, Battletech, or the 1990's king of excessive details, Brilliant Lances.

The point where it became overly complex was when it moved to the strategic game.

I'd lay odds that a minis-in-the-box with large hex hexmaps (1, 1.25, or 1.5" hexes) and minis that fit the hex. Do not mention future expansions in the book. Make certain all scenarios have all needed items in the box.

Probably the only way to get the Starfire brand off life support is to go back to the roots, and give them just the stylistic update.

I realize that SDS is fixated upon the strategic game... but that's not a good fit for the modern public.

Steve Cole's original design notes point out what his goals were: every counter in the bag on the board in a single evening for a scenario played to conclusion. And those rules still provide that... but the expectation of pretty means needing minis instead of counters, and perhaps cards with the ship designs on them, and tokens to mark damage on said cards, at least for for the included scenarios.

A boxed set in the $40 to $60 range, with a lot of (admittedly not large) minis would likely do well... just make certain the final scenario includes every mini in the box.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby aramis on Sat 02 May 2020 05:45

brasidas19004 wrote:Good points. My only qualifier would be that you don't need minis necessarily - and they drastically increase costs, usually. Nice counters can be made up for nearly nothing, flatten the "box" to perhaps a bag, and make the product more affordable.

Nice counters still don't have any table appeal for the kids I've dealt with.

Even the difference between the toy-soldier versions of risk do better than the roman numeral versions with the kids I've taught.

Keep in mind: starting sets are essentially advertising. The minis within will have a more likely conversion of onlookers to buyers than counters do.

Also, counters aren't dirt cheap, and good looking ones are even less so.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby PracticalM on Fri 08 May 2020 14:26

The board game Eclipse has a pretty good system for building ships (there are only 4 ship types though).
Building a game like that or adapting the eclipse board game to Starfire is possible.

Between an Ascendancy type game with systems connected by warp points and a Eclipse tech / ship building system I think Starfire could build a strategic board game. Fighting the tactical battles would be optional.
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby coldsteel on Fri 08 May 2020 14:53

What about for 'counters' you use folding blocks for ship 'miniatures'?
TFN: 1 BB, 2 BC, 4 CA, 2 CL, 11 DD
RPSA: 1 BC, 2 CV, 4 CA, 2 CL, 8 DD
civilian: 4 'FTx' (made FT out of 40K Imp Guard flamer tanks), 2 FTx (old sculpts)
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Re: General thoughts on rules

Postby aramis on Fri 08 May 2020 21:12

coldsteel wrote:What about for 'counters' you use folding blocks for ship 'miniatures'?


Better than counters... but the problem there is that of scale and handling costs.

To be a ready replacement, they need to be precut, and that means die-cutting. And that's got a significant setup-cost. It helps if they're preglued, as typical small packaging boxes are when shipped. But that's even more expense.

I don't know at which point the plastic gets cheaper... but it eventually does. Unless you contract with a producer of small boxes of the right design to provide different feed stock, that die-cutting is a big hit.
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