#WargameWednesday – #FirstImpression of Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018)

pic514176The Little Black Book version of the Traveller roleplaying game was my first RPG I ever played way back in 1979. Traveller has always had a starship combat element in it and has spawned many games over the years. From the abstract High Guard (1980) to GDW’s simple Mayday (1983) to the more complex Brilliant Lances (1993) to the Full Thrust-derivative Power Projection: Fleet (BITS, 2003), all have tried to model vector-movement starship combat in the Traveller Universe. In 2016, designer Ken Burnside (SpaceGamer on BoardGameGeek) launched a Kickstarter for Squadron Strike: Traveller, based on his Squadron Strike-series of games. Late in 2018, Squadron Strike: Traveller finally delivered over two years late.

What sets Squadron Strike apart from other starship combat games is that it attempts to be a “fast-playing tactical engine that includes full 3D maneuver and firing arcs.” Indeed, Squadron Strike: Traveller was billed as the, “Maneuver-centric ship-to-ship minis game of space combat in the Traveller RPG setting.” It the Kickstarter campaign claims, “Squadron Strike: Traveller uses fully Newtonian movement, including displacement for constant thrust, something that has never appeared in a Traveller game.”

Presentation

Squadron Strike: Traveller is a big game. First off, the box is big at 13.25 x 9.75 x 2.50 inches. There is alot of stuff, well, stuffed into the box. So much so that Mr. Burnside made a “boxing” video to show the fans:

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Ship “Box”

My thoughts on components:

  • Maps – Full color and huge (two 34 x 22 in map sheets); I need a larger game table to set this game up.
  • Reference Cards – Laminated cards with most everything needed, especially the Vector Consolidation rules (another brain-hurting concept).
  • AVID Cards – See comments below.
  • Counter Sheets – Thin; I didn’t spring for the extra box stiffeners – maybe I should of. Once the ship boxes are put together I don’t want to disassemble them…meaning I am going t need another box like I would for a miniatures game.
  • Weapon Reference Tables – Tailored to the setting. Everything else was laminated but not these. The ink almost feel like its going to rub off. Going to put these in page protectors!
  • Introduction to the Third Imperium – 56 page booklet with the obligatory Traveller setting background. Focuses on the era of the Fifth Frontier War and the Third Imperium, Zhodani, and Aslan Empires. The scenarios (11) are also here and form a loose story although there is no campaign rules to expressly link them together. There is also no real ‘do-it-yourself’ scenario guidance.
  • SSD Book – 64 page booklet with both 2D and 3D versions of ships. The back page shows that there are 16 different classes of ships, almost all with multiple variants. Note that most of the 2D versions of the variants are not included in the SSD Book but available for download.
  • Tutorial – This is actually the most important of the text material; there is virtually no chance of really learning the game without this book. The first two tutorials are 2D, the last two 3D. According to the sidebar on p. 3, all that is needed is in the tutorial. I strongly recommend you use the tutorial as-is; no referencing the series Rule Book helps avoid added “confusion.”
  • Squadron Strike Rule BookSquadron Strike 2nd Edition series rules. My copy is copyright 2015 but with changes and additions through 03 Oct 2018.
  • Tilt Blocks & Stacking Tiles – Plastic bits.
  • 4D10 (Red, 2x Black, Blue) – Important for combat resolution.

The scenarios are loosely tied together with some fiction. The writing is acceptable, but nothing to…(wait for it), write home about.

Playability

Squadron Strike: Traveller has a very steep learning curve. I have played through the Tutorial book once and I need to play it again because I am still not sure of myself. There is an Actual Play & Explanations video online but it clocks in at nearly 3 HOURS!

Suffice it to say that, despite the name, Squadron Strike is more suitable for low ship-count battles. I don’t think I am really going to get beyond single ship duels for a while. In the Kickstarter campaign blurb, the time to play was stated this way:

Once you’re fluid with the game, turns take six to ten minutes each, and complete games can be done in ten to fifteen turns. In playtest, we have had the “classic meson gun shot” happen more than once: sometimes, meson guns one-shot kill intact ships.

Mechanics

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AVID (Courtesy Ad Astra)

The heart of Squadron Strike: Traveller is the AVID, or the Attitude Vector Information Display. The entire game revolves around the AVID, and wrapping your head around how it works is the hardest part of learning the game. As the Rule Book states, “The key concept of the AVID is that it’s a top-down view of a sphere, divided into windows that are color-coded rings (amber, blue, green and purple), showing how far away from the equator you are.” (Series Rule Book, p. 5).

Several years back, Ad Astra ran a Kickstarter campaign for the AVID Assistant, a computerized version of the AVID. Ken recommends you use it. I have it and have tried but this old grognard dog needs to figure out the old-fashioned analog version first before I mess around with the new tech.

The game can be played in 2D or 3D mode and both use vector movement for ships. The Tutorial properly starts you playing in 2D mode to learn the very basics.

Outside of the AVID and vector movement (and altitude if playing 3D), Squadron Strike: Traveller is a pretty pedestrian starship combat wargame. The Sequence of Play is PlottingMovementCombatCrew Actions. The color-coded dice come in handy because you can determine Accuracy (Hit), Penetration, and Hit Location all in one throw.

Historical Flavor

Being a game of combat in the Far Future, there is no “historical” flavor in the game. However, after 40 years of development, Marc Miller and his legions of fans have certain expectations of Traveller ship combat.

In a July 2017 update to backers, Mr. Burnside discussed some of the more challenging design issues the Traveller legacy was presenting him. After all, he was trying to take an existing game engine (Squadron Strike) and adopt it for the Traveller universe. Suffice it to say that Ken eventually had go all-in with the “design for effect” school of game design. Some Traveller purist may not be happy (it doesn’t work that way!) but in the end the play of the game won out over “historical accuracy.”

Support

Each Ad Astra game comes with a unique serial number that can be used to register on the company website to access supporting material. Honestly, there is not alot there and most finds it way to BoardGameGeek eventually. I don’t see Mr. Burnside very active in many forums but, now that the Kickstarter campaign has mostly fulfilled, he responds to email better than before.

Bottom Line

I am sure that someday Squadron Strike: Traveller will be a fun game to play. I just have to learn it.

And play it.

Regularly.

Or risk forgetting what I have learned.

Using the AVID is a skill that needs to be exercised regularly to maintain proficiency. I have enough interest in the theme and if the play satisfies then I may make the effort to keep that proficiency.

But I’ve got to learn the game first.

2 comments

  1. Look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this as you work towards grokking it. I also picked this up recently and have a small group willing to put some time in learning and playing the game. I’ll share my thoughts as well if I feel I can add anything of value to your time spent with the game.

    Happy gaming…

    P.S., fan of the Zozer SOLO system as well, but I’ll be using it with the MtG2 system initially (completely empathize with your feelings on the MP variant), and possibly transition to GURPS later (my true love) if the former doesn’t pan out.

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