Full Thrust Thoughts
I enjoy Full Thrust quite a bit, but there’s a couple of things that I feel that our games over the last few months have been lacking. The first is a lack of reason for the battles. The second is coherence in fleet design.
There are no official ‘book of scenarios’ for Full Thrust. In the majority of games that I’ve played, two or more fleets have turned up, shot each other to pieces, and then we’ve decided on who has won or lost based on who has the most left. From a military point of view, it’s an expensive loss of crew and ships when there’s nothing to be gained.
This also leads a bit into the second point – that there is little coherency to fleet design. FT is very flexible, so fleet designs can be all over the place. Two 1,500 point fleets can be completely unbalanced against each other, and not just because one is over-optimised. With no scenario to guide what a fleet is trying to achieve, you can end up with fleets designs to just slug it out with each other.
There has also always been the fighter-beam-PDS (rock-paper-scissors) issue in Full Thrust as well. A fleet of ‘bubble carriers’ full to the brim with fighters, will wipe the floor with a fleet based around beam (or other ship-to-ship) weapons. A beam heavy fleet on the other hand will annihilate a fleet which has large amounts of PDS (which are only useful against fighters). A fleet with massive amounts of PDS will destroy any fighters before they can do anything.
There have been attempts to fix this by various people, with varying degrees of success and complexity.
Even a small imbalance can turn the tide. With my own designs for the major nations of the Tuffleyverse, I tried to think about who the enemies of each fleet are. But even that doesn’t always help.
Firstly then, I’ve been thinking about some house rules to try and balance things. Some of these are detailed here, and will be updated over time as I test them.
One I’ve used for a long time is that PDS (point defence) can be used against ships, but in a limited capacity. They have a range of 6″, and do one point of damage on a 5-6, or on a 6 if the target has one level of shields. They are useless against ships with two levels of shields. They don’t need to use fire control.
This is mostly to allow civilian ships to have some defence against fighters and ships without having to use military level fire control and multiple weapon systems. It also means a fleet heavy on PDS isn’t entirely useless when going up against a fleet with no fighters. The short range and limited damage shouldn’t make them overpowered though.
I’m also considering limiting the number of PDS that can be used against a single fighter flight. A ship with a dozen PDS is invulnerable to a single flight of fighters. Limiting the number of PDS that can be used means fleets with low numbers of fighters can still do some damage against a fleet heavy with PDS.
The limit probably falls between 4 and 6 PDS per fighter flight. 4 PDS means an average damage of about 3, whereas 6 PDS means an average of 4-5. The former will take out half a fighter flight, the latter will come close to annihilating it. I think the former is more reasonable.
Except… heavy fighters only take half damage, so will be taking 1-2 hits from 4 PDS, allowing them to make three or four attacks before being wiped out.
One small modification would be that PDS from area defence would count separately, so a flight could receive four PDS from the target of their attack, plus up to another four from each escort with ADS that is protecting that target. This could encourage the use of escort vessels, which is a bit more interesting than just a single large ship.
Another rule I’m playing with came out of our previous game. Should large beam weapons be able to target smaller ships? From a cinematic perspective, it seems reasonable that class 3 or 4 beam weapons (or other anti-ship weapons) should have difficulty targeting small frigates and destroyers. That job should be left to smaller beam weapons.
From an engineering perspective – speed of light weapons are a bit different from classical naval warfare where hitting small, nimble frigates with the largest guns on a battleship is going to be hard. So there’s an argument that this should be an issue.
Also, large weapons already have limitations – they have smaller arcs, and do less damage at close ranges. A single class 4 beam has a MASS of 8. Though it has a maximum range of 48″, at short range (up to 12″) it only does 4D damage. An equivalent mass of class 1 or 2 beams would be doing 8D damage at short range. They also have a 360° or 180° fire arc, whereas a class 4 only has a 60° fire arc.
The massive influence of the large guns of the battleships in the last battle may have been avoidable if the FSE had got into close range quicker (something they were capable of doing). Without re-running the battle with different tactics though, it’s difficult to know.
One possible limitation that could be added is a limit on the size of target a beam can hit:
- Class 2 beams cannot target anything less than 5 MASS.
- Class 3 beams cannot target anything less than 20 MASS.
- Class 4 beams cannot target anything less than 50 MASS.
- Class 5 beams or larger cannot target anything less than 100 MASS.
Again, I’m not certain how much this is needed, or what effect it would have. It would encourage ships to have a range of weapon sizes. A few of the ESU and NSL designs have effectively large spinal mount weapons and little else.
But these ships would probably already struggle in short range engagements against smaller, faster ships. I need to do some testing.
So, as the next step, I’ve started to try to come up with a set of scenarios which can be used to not only give a reason for battle, but also to guide fleet design. For the impatient, I’ve put together an initial draft of these.
The first part of any scenario is to define what the broad objectives are. The simplest scenario is to simply turn up and destroy the enemy. This is often an element of most battles, but doesn’t have to be the primary objective.
An objective might be to control a planet. Requiring vessels to get in close to a planet and dominate its orbit space means that a ship can’t just stand back and shoot things with long range weapons. A fleet will be forced to engage in the battle.
Attacking a planet is a similar objective, which might require special equipment (ortillery systems or even landing shuttles) which again requires close engagement.
Maybe it’s an attack on a particular target, such as destroying an enemy fleet carrier or heavy battleship. Or searching an asteroid field for enemy bases or resources. Convoy raiding may require disabling rather than destroying ships.
All of these require something other than standing back and shooting each other.
Each scenario also puts limitations on the make up of a fleet. The obvious limitation is points value, but they also go into how these points can be spent.
- Are fighters are allowed? If so, how many fighters are to be expected? One fleet having a lot of fighters, and the other none can lead to a big imbalance.
- What sort of fleet is expected? Is it going to be one or two large battleships fighting it out, or a host of smaller ships?
I’ve brought back the old classifications of Escort, Cruiser and Capital ships. Escorts are anything smaller than 50 MASS, Cruisers are from 50 MASS up to 99 MASS and Capital ships are anything of 100 MASS or larger.
Some scenarios may limit a fleet to only Escort vessels, another might put a limit of no more than half points being spent on Capital ships.
A scenario may also require (or heavily recommend) ships with particular capabilities, such as ortillery, advanced sensors or mine clearing.
It’s well known in Full Thrust circles that a single big ship is more capable than a lot of smaller ships of the same mass or points. There are other ways of costing ship designs that take this into account, but I think it’s easier to simply limit what types of ships can be deployed.
This is simply how the fleets are initially deployed. Are fighters already launched? Are the ships on the board or coming out of jump? Are reinforcements available later?
If there is any terrain (normally planets or asteroids) then these will need to be detailed as well.
If there are any special rules then they will need to be described. It might be how scanning of targets needs to work, or how planets can be attacked. Anything which needs to be clarified or expanded upon for the particular scenario.
When does the game end? Is it after a certain period of time (6 turns is probably a reasonable length of time) or when an objective is achieved?
What constitutes victory? This feeds into the objectives and helps determines who won.
Rather than simply counting points of ships destroyed, victory points are scored (or lost) for objectives. They may not be the same for both sides.
A scenario where one fleet is trying to destroy an enemy carrier might score +6 points for destroying the carrier, and suffer -1 points for each ship they lose themselves. The defender might gain +6 points for getting their carrier out safely, but lose -1 points for every 3 fighters lost or left behind.
A positive score at the end of the battle is a ‘win’, a negative score is a ‘loss’. The fleet with the highest score is technically the winner, but if both sides are negative then it will have been a victory that was too expensive (maybe the carrier got out, but too many fighters were lost). Likewise, if both sides are positive, then both can spin it as a win back home since objectives were achieved.
A battle where the victor has a positive score and the loser has a negative score would be a decisive victory, where not only were your own objectives achieved, but the cost was acceptable and your opponent was prevented from achieving their objectives.
One house rule that we’ve used to deal with the “big beams pay too much for range” problem in Full Thrust is to say that a class 3 beams are 4d6/2d6/1d6, and class 4 beams are 6d6/4d6/2d6/1d6 for their ranges. We stopped playing before Class 5 and larger beams became a thing.
We also set a PDS cap of 5 per fighter flight, and outlawed heavy fighters (because heavy fighters break the PDS dynamic badly)
I like your “PDS as anti-ship” weapon, but I’d set the max range to 4 Distance Units rather than 6, so that they don’t outperform (sort of) Beam 1s.
One other thing we did, to make the long range beams more generally useful, is (shockingly) halve the ranges — this resulted in a more fluid maneuver dynamic, as you couldn’t park in the corner and make someone spend all their turns crawling thorough your longest range brackets getting attrited.
Weapon ranges versus “comfortable maneuver speeds” are very Jutland-ish in Full Thrust, which is part of the reason why “Soap Bubble Carriers” are a problem with RPS.
Interesting, so in your experience big beams aren’t powerful enough? In vectored movement, the restricted fire arcs don’t make much difference at long ranges (at least when compared to cinematic movement), so we haven’t found them too weak yet.
I am trying to use the scenarios to prevent ships lurking in the corner, by adding a need to get in close. Planets also make for good cover (I use 1″ = 1,000km as a scale, so an Earth-like planet can be quite large).
I agree that heavy fighters do seem overpowered. Maybe they should be treated like having a level of shields rather than halving damage.
We simply banned heavy fighters as not worth their weight in complexity.
The problem we were having with big beams is that for the mass you spent on them, you got one or two shots at longer range and then got murdered up close. (We also used the Continuum rules that actually imposed pivot rates on vector-movement ships, but that’s a different thing entirely).
One of the joys of Full Thrust is that it’s so mutable.
One of the strengths of Full Thrust is that it can be taught in 15 minutes.
One of the maddening things about Full Thrust is that in those 15 minutes of teaching, every group seems to teach a slightly different set of nearly identical rules called Full Thrust, and showing up at a convention and jumping into a game can have a lot of “Wait, what?” moments.
As to making scenarios, one of the products I’ve got in development might be of interest to you:
We’ve got a deck of scenario cards that range in size, from “lone escorts clashing on the border” to “Well, while everyone’s setting up their fleets, I’ll make sure we’ve got two pizza orders loaded in, one for mid-afternoon and one for mid-evenings…”
(I’m a publisher of ‘competing’ games; Squadron Strike and Attack Vector: Tactical. My general attitude is “So long as we’re all blowing up spaceships, everybody wins.” I’m not trying to get converts from Full Thrust to my titles so much as “Some of my products can be used with any space combat game engine; here’s one that might solve a problem for you.”)
I’ve heard of you. I have a couple of your books, and Saganami Island and has been sitting on my shelf (unplayed) for many years. I’m hoping to actually play it next year (we’ve started working through our unplayed, or rarely played, wargames).
Different games serve different purposes, there’s no one game fits all. That’s why I have so many on my shelves. I don’t have AV or Squadron Strike though. I don’t think I’ve seen them in the UK (if I’d seen them sitting on a store shelf, I’d probably have bought them). Having just seen that you do Squadron Strike: Traveller, I’ve discovered you don’t ship to the UK either. Time to go hunting…
Noble Knight has them and ships to the UK. 🙂 And I can drop-ship through Noble Knight, they stock from me every month.