Tag Archives: space

Spaceaton: Troublesome

Very nice space fleet by Soren

Malcolm and I played Spaceaton the other night, and I have to say this was the first time I’ve had serious doubts about the viability of the rules changes.  On the one hand, this is good because it means we’re getting useful information for refining the rules.  On the other hand, it’s kind of discouraging and makes for some difficult play.

Malcolm is fond of the heavy Battleships, and he built a couple of very nice ones that he was very keen to see in play.  I had a slightly lighter force, but still with a couple of cruisers.  This meant that with the “one pip per white die” movement rule, we both had very slow ships, with little ability to turn to stay in the fight.

The result was inevitable: “Spaceship jousting”.  Our fleets approached, engaged, and then rolled on past each other, with no possibility to stay and fight.  We captured each others’ stations, resulting in a win for the defender, but it was a very unsatisfying game.

The problem was the inability of the bigger ships to change facing or speed at all, meaning the direction you commit them to at the start of the game is how they’re going to stay for the whole battle.  I like the idea of that, and I was really pleased with the concept of choosing your battleships’ speed and direction as a major strategic decision.  In practice though, it makes for boring play.  Malcolm and I spent a long time deliberating over the best fix for the problem, creating all kinds of complicated rules, before coming to the conclusion that simple is best.  There’s no reason for battleships to be less mobile than a smaller ship.  All ships should be able to move their vector marker the number shown on their movement die.

With that modification in place, we’re keen to play again.  There are a few specific rules we’re interested in reviewing.

Stations don’t quite feel right in a space game, but they’re essential to the strategic play of the game.  You need some element that forces you to divide your fleet, to spread out over the battlefield.  Without that, it’s just a straight-up brawl with the win going to the biggest fleet or the luckiest player.  I’ll be thinking about the problem a lot.


I finally got around to taking photos of some of the ships we used in the last Spaceaton game. 

The Human Improvement League build elegant, ghostly ships using their advanced technology.  Each ship is controlled by a single implanted brain, a member of the League who has trancended their physical body.  The League’s pilots are some of the best in the galaxy – unsurprising since they literally live in their ships.

The Poisson Belt is one of the few genuine frontiers left in the galaxy.  This maze of asteroids, dust clouds, and nebulae has resisted amalagamation into any of the large factions, and its population of miners, outcasts, criminals and pirates exist almost without laws.  Ships built in the belt tend to be clunky and inelegant, but they get the job done.  Many factions hire privateers from the belt to suppliment their own forces.




I’m embracing the name unabashedly now, possibly just from some kind of linguistic Stockholm syndrome.

Whatever you call it, I played again last night, showing my cousing the ropes of the game, as well as trying out Vincent’s vector movement rules, and rules for fighter-bays.  Briefly, it went pretty well.  The Free Worlds Confederation raided a deep-space mining operation held by the Human Improvement League, and won a handy victory.

Fighters work like this: Draw three boxes next to the attachment on your note sheet for your fleet.  When the ship activates, you can choose to launch fighters instead of shooting.  You can scratch off one to three of the boxes, and roll that many d8s for your shooting, out to half direct fire range. 

Essentially they’re like a whole bunch of one-shot rockets.  In play, they lead to some cool choices – launch them all, and possibly waste some of them (since the best you can get is an eight, no matter how high you roll) or launch fewer, risking a low roll, and also risking losing the attachment before you fire them all.  There’s also the choice between using them to crack open a tough target, or holding them for use when a ship makes itself vulnerable.

They worked pretty well.  I can’t tell if they’re under or over-powered.  They were very effective in the game, but generally only saw a single use.

The vector movement rules were elegant and effective, as expected.  It did get a bit messy having vector markers cluttering up the table, but it was no worse than using a bunch of dice.  Taking stations is a bit of a hassle, especially if they’re near the table edge.  I think I will rule that stations have to be a minimum distance from the edge, to avoid ships having to slow right down to capture them. 

It may sound odd for someone who writes a blog about a giant-robot game, but I find spaceships much more compelling, fiction wise, than I do robots.  There’s something about the engagement of ships in space that I find really exciting, and I end up imagining and describing the details of each action as they happen in a way I don’t with regular Mechaton.  Possibly I haven’t watched enough shows with mecha, but I find mecha combats quite hard to imagine, even as I enjoy the game.



More Adventures in Space

This weekend saw Richard and I embark on another adventure into the world of Mechaton in space, or “Spaceaton” as I’ve rather unfortunately taken to calling it. 

Our chief change to the rules thus far has been the use of “vector movement” indicated by a couple of d8s at the base of each ship, and the use of different sizes of ship, from one-white-die “Corvettes” to giant three-white-dice “Dreadnoughts”.  You can read more about our first space-foray here.

This time around, we were trialing another departure from the core Mechaton rules – torpedoes.  Both Richard and I are fans of the old GW game “Battlefleet Gothic” (despite its failings), so when Malcolm suggested torpedoes that actually stay on the table and take several turns to reach their targets, we were right on board.  Torpedoes work like this: Instead of declaring a target, when you roll dice you can try to launch torpedoes instead.  Each Torpedo Tube attachment gives you a single red die for the purpose.  Once you’ve rolled, you can assign a five or a six either from white dice, or from your red dice, to launch a torpedo.  Only fives and sixes count – you either launch a torpedo or you don’t.  You place torpedoes at direct fire range away from your ship.  At the start of the next turn, the torpedo gets an initiative die.  On its initiative, the torpedo travels 2d6 towards the nearest enemy ship.  If it hits the ship, it counts as a “six” hit against that ship.

So how did it go?  First, let me outline the battle.

The Free Worlds Confederation – a plucky alliance of planets independant of the Whole Galaxy Empire was escorting a cargo freighter and a ship full of refugees to one of the more far-flung free worlds.

But they were ambushed by a patrol of Red Faction Corsairs!  The dastardly Red Faction is always doing the Empire’s dirty work, when they’re not themselves preying on the Empire’s shipping. 

My Confederation ships were pretty comprehensively beaten by Richard’s Corsairs.  I foolishly sent my corvette off in a mad plan to sneak behind the enemy and capture their long-range sensor platforms.  The plan failed when I foolishly engaged in a firefight with one of Richard’s cruisers, rather than drifting on past.

From there, his Dreadnought continued its slow drift towards the rest of my fleet, and obliteration was inevitable.  Still, it was a fun game.  Torpedoes added a fun and random element, where you were never sure if you’d get the initiative to speed away from the torpedo before it impacted with your ship.  I think some provision for shooting down torpedoes might be in order.  This would encourage teamwork more, and give another role to the otherwise puny corvettes.

Next time we’ll be trialling rules for fighters – allowing ships to act as carriers.  We’re still working on the rules, but I’m being drawn towards a modification on the current one-shot-rocket rules.

Mechaton… …in SPACE!

Originally uploaded by onosendai2600 (Also check out Onosendai’s awesome interpretation of Malcolm’s MgN 302)

I think most of us have contemplated playing Mechaton with spaceships instead of Mecha at some point or another. Seeing all the amazing microspace stuff out there (such as the delightfully boxy fighter above)certainly got me thinking about it.

Now, it’s perfectly possible to play Mechaton straight up, just using space ships instead of mecha in your battle. That’d be a fun game, and certainly get the job done. But to me, it just doesn’t quite feel spacey enough. I recognise the irony of tut-tutting someone in comments about introducing complexity without a corresponding increase in fun while simultaneously planning a substantial set of rules changes for playing in space, but my mind would not let the project drop.

Last night Richard and I had a quick bash at trying out some preliminary ideas.

First off, I wanted to represent vastly different sizes of ship, beyond the differences in Mechaton from one to four-attachment Mechs. A variable number of white dice achieves this, and we have three resulting classes of ship:

Corvette: One white die, up to two attachments.
Cruiser: Two white dice, up to four attachments.
Dreadnought: Three white dice, up to six attachments.

My main concept, and the bulk of the changes to the rules, concerns movement. Regular Mechaton movement doesn’t feel natural for spaceships, and I wanted something that gave the feel of vector movement without too much complexity. What I came up with was a simple system that utilises the natural “point” of a d8 to act as a vector.

At the start of the game, each ship gets a d8 that sits at the base of the ship, indicating a number, and with the top of the die “pointing” towards a table edge or corner. That’s the ship’s original velocity. Each turn, when the player assigns a movement die to the ship, they can tick this number up or down. They can also add a second d8, pointing in a different direction to the first. The cost for increasing or decreasing velocity is equal to the original number of white dice of the ship. Thus, Corvettes can increase or decrease their velocity by one point for every pip on their movement die, Cruisers take two pips to change velocity by one, and Dreadnoughts take three pips to change velocity by one. Thus Corvettes are able to flit across the field at will, while Dreadnoughts lumber about, and once committed to a destination, can not easily change course.

The result was a game that felt very different from Mechaton in a lot of ways. Ships are simultaneously more and less mobile than Mechs – they can travel very quickly, but can’t change direction easily. The game became very focused on predicting where we’d need our ships to be several turns ahead, and changing their velocity ahead of time.

We played just a quick game with only a couple of ships on each side, but the result was interesting enough for me to keep thinking about it. I have all kinds of ideas for torpedoes, fighters, and so on, but I’m acutely aware of the problem of adding complexity. Already it was slightly cumbersome having a d8 or two following the ships around the table, and I’m wary of any further complex changes.

Feel free to post ideas and questions in comments.