Full Thrust is a space combat wargame by Ground Zero Games. I encountered it in the mid-90s, and played it a lot during that decade. It strikes a good balance between simplicity and complexity. Though there is a standard background, you’re not forced to use it. The core of the game is the ship design system and the combat system itself. These days, the full rule system is available for free download on the GZG store.
There are also rule systems in the same setting for ground combat, using either 25/28mm miniatures (Stargrunt) or 6mm (Dirtside) depending on whether you want an individual miniature to represent a single soldier or a whole squad of soldiers.
I’m playing with some additional rules to handle planetary assault in Full Thrust, at an abstracted level at a similar scale to space combat rather than using one of the specialist ground combat wargames, so it seemed like a good opportunity to write up a quick introduction and review of the game.
The basic system is that a ship has a Thrust rating which dictates how quickly it can accelerate. The standard rules use a non-Newtonian movement system (a ship has a velocity and can accelerate and decelerate, but it always moves in the direction it is facing, and can turn by a limited number of clock faces), but the Fleet Book introduced a proper Newtonian movement system which is a lot more realistic, but more complicated.
Movement orders are written down for each ship at the beginning of the turn by each player, then all ships are moved simultaneously. Part of the tactics is trying to guess where ships are going to move to.
Every ship has a vector in 2D space, which is independent of the ship’s facing. We provide each ship with a vector marker to show where it’s going to be at the end of its next movement, so all the players can immediately see the velocity (speed and direction) of each ship and where it will be if it doesn’t perform any accelerations.
With a lot of ships on the table, this can get confusing, which is one thing that complicates vector movement over non-Newtonian movement. I have colour coded tokens marked with ship designations to try and make it easier. Since this is a wargame, meant for tabletop play, movement is measured in ” – which can be an inch, centimetres, or whatever everyone can agree on. There’s no grid of any kind – ships are where they are on the table. Personally, I tend to assume that 1″ = 1,000km, and a turn is about 15 minutes, which means a thrust of 1″ is about ⅛g. The game itself keeps units deliberately abstract.
Movement orders consist of writing down the change in vector – so a ship may accelerate forward by 2″, and accelerate to port using starboard thrusters by 1″.
In the diagram, original movement is shown in blue, acceleration is in red, and the final vector in green. Distances shown here are rounded, but since they are represented by a token, don’t need to be whole numbers. The ship moves to the position shown by the green vector, and the token moves on to where the ship will be next turn (the dotted green vector).
Ships can turn to bring weapons to bear, so fast flyby manoeuvres are possible, swinging around to keep heavy forward guns facing the enemy and beginning to decelerate once you are past them.
There is no upper limit to how fast a ship can move, but a standard rule is that if a ship moves off the table then it is lost. There are more realistic alternatives, but they are all much more complicated.
The standard weapon type is the beam weapon, which has a range of 12″ and does 1 Dice damage. On a roll, 1-3 = no damage, 4-5 = 1 damage and 6 = 2 damage plus roll again. Small ships such as scouts may be able to take a few points of damage before being destroyed, frigates and destroyers up to maybe a dozen. The largest super dreadnaughts may be able to take up to 100 damage with a combination of hull and armour.
The damage system is simple and effective. Larger beam weapons increase range and damage. A class 2 does 2D out to 12″, 1D out to 24″, a class 3 does 3D out to 12″, 2D out to 24″ and 1D out to 36″. Since the mass of a beam doubles with each increase in class, there’s nothing larger than a class 4 in the standard designs. Larger weapons trend to have reduced arcs of fire as well, and since lots of small beams will tend to do more damage at shorter ranges than a few larger beams, there’s no one design that is best.
Combats involve rolling lots of D6s and counting hits, which is fun and relatively easy. It allows you to combine lots of attacks into a single (albeit big) roll of the dice, which makes it fast.
There are plenty of other weapon types – pulse torpedoes which do a lot of damage if they hit at any range, but their chance of hitting is reduced at greater ranges. Other weapon types are introduced in later rules, which add to the tactical options.
Hull structure is normally divided into four rows, and when you lose a whole row of hull you need to check for system loss. Each system (weapon, defence system, drives etc) rolls a d6 and may be lost due to damage. This removes the need for hit locations, but allows ships to lose systems over time.
Ships can have ‘force screens’ which reduce damage done. You can design ships to rely on heavy armour, or on screens (or a mixture of both, or none). The fewer defensive systems a ship has, the more room it has for offensive weapons, so it’s always a trade off between the two.
There are missiles (multiple types) and other weapons which either take several turns to reach the target (heavy missiles), or which are ‘instant’ but need to be placed on the table before ships move (after everyone has plotted movement, but before it is done), so you need to try and predict where the enemy is moving to.
Point defence systems help protect against these sort of weapons, but against ships without point defence, they can be highly effective if used correctly.
The use of manned fighters is supported, but this is a game about the ships of the line, so they are represented in wings of 6 fighters each. Even if Newtonian movement is used, fighters don’t use it – instead they can move 24″ in any direction each turn. Similar to missiles, they are moved between writing ship orders and moving ships, which greatly simplifies things when you have a lot of fighters.
Which brings us to one of the weaknesses of the system – fleet design can sometimes devolve into rock-paper-scissors – or fighters-pds-beams to be specific. A fleet made up of weak carriers with dozens of fighter wings will easily wipe the floor with a fleet with few fighters or point defence.
If you have a lot of point defence, and the enemy fleet has no fighters or missiles, it it pretty much wasted mass, so will lose to a fleet with no fighters or point defence but a lot of traditional (beam or similar) weapons. But such a fleet will make short work of any fighters trying to attack it.
If players are keeping the same fleet design between engagements, then it evens out since you are forced to go for a more balanced fleet design, but it can be unbalancing for one-off games.
Full Thrust is a great system for running large fleet battles. There’s enough detail at the individual ship design level to make small engagements interesting, but it’s quick and simple enough that larger battles with dozens of ships per side are practical.
The wide range of design options allow different styles of fleets, especially with the rules for the various alien races. Even with the default setting and default ship designs, there’s a lot of variety.
A system like Babylon 5 Wars provides more details for individual ships (and has some very nice differences between weapon types), but doesn’t scale as well for larger battles, and I think FT has a good balance between complexity and simplicity, and cinematic and realism to make for a good game. If you want full realism, then there are better suited games out there, but they can be slower and less generic for handling different settings.
There are plenty of fan rules for using FT with specific SciFi settings, as well as attempts to tidy up some of the rules (such as the imbalance that can exist with fighter combat). Some of the them are listed here:
- Star Ranger – A good source of stats for all the GZG miniatures not listed in the official books, plus some of the beta rules.
- Cross Dimensions – A fan made version of the rules geared towards an even more generic system, as well as some tidying up of some of the more problematic rules (such as fighters).
- Emerald Coast Skunk Works – Some setting specific rules, including Babylon 5 and other ship designs.
- NotASnark – My own ship designs and rules for the game.
There are also at least two other published game systems which are based on the FT rules set:
- The Babylon Project: The Earth Force Sourcebook – The space combat rules in here are actually written by Jon Tuffley, so it isn’t surprising he’s re-used his own rule system.
- Power Projection – A game for the Traveller setting based on Full Thrust.
Overall, FT is probably my favoured system for space combat, plus I really like the miniatures produced by Ground Zero Games. It’s been a few years since I’ve played the game, but I’ve gained a recent interest in playing with some of the rules again, especially for planetary assault, so there may well be more posts on the subject to follow.