Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shooting in the dark

With a few exceptions, space combat as depicted in the various Star Trek television series and films has never been what I would describe as "action-packed." That isn't to say that it isn't dramatic: in my opinion, the original series episode "Balance of Terror" is one of the best space battles ever put on film, and the battle in the Mutara Nebula between Kirk and Khan in Star Trek II is a very close second.

Those battles take their cues from World War II submarine movies, slowly building tension rather than going for fast movement and explosions. While this makes for excellent drama, it may not necessarily translate into interesting gaming.

Starship Duel, designed by Heroclix mastermind Jordan Weisman and published by FASA in 1984, attempts to recreate the dramatic tension seen in the space battles from Star Trek II and III. To its credit, the game tries to do something different, foregoing the traditional board with miniatures or counters representing the ships in favor of a wheel that shows the other ship's position and heading relative to yours, with no accounting for distance.

Game play involves trying to anticipate the direction your opponent is going to move. Your ship has a limited amount of power, so you have to decide which side of your ship to charge the weapons and shields on, hoping that your opponent's ship will end up in the right position, and ideally that you'll catch him from a side that he hasn't charged his shields on.

On paper, it sounds very much like space combat the way it was depicted in Star Trek at the time, with ships floundering in the dark and never seeming to have enough power to fight effectively. In practice, however, it can be frustrating. It is often difficult to visualize the position of the ships, and in the end it's mainly a guessing game, as you try to put power into the weapons and shields that you hope will be facing your opponent.

It was an interesting idea that just didn't translate into a playable game, and FASA quickly abandoned it in favor of the more traditional Starship Tactical Combat Simulator.

Rating: 1 (out of 5) While we applaud the effort to try something different, we found this game to be frustrating and difficult to play.

Date played: October 26, 2014

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