Way before the Borg burst onto the Next Generation Trek series, Star Fleet Battles had the Andromedans. These mysterious alien invaders from another galaxy had never been witnessed in the flesh. Their boarding parties were made up of robots, so they are known primarily by their ships which operate on entirely different technologies than the more familiar Klingons, Gorn, Tholians, and Kzinti of the game. Instead of shields, they use Power Absorber Panels that can turn damage into energy that can be used against their opponents. Instead of Photon Torpedoes, they use devastating Tractor Repulsor Beams. And for something completely different, they can use their Displacement Devices to discombobulate enemy fleets and transport independent ships into and out of their spacious hanger bays.
Honestly, I never not around to playing these ships even after playing SFB for decades. They were just a couple steps too far in complexity. You know, I could probably have managed it for myself if buckled down to it. Finding an opponent that could put up with me getting the hang of it, though…? That’s something else. But Federation Commander changed all that. It boils down the Queen of Space Games into something that my twelve year old son can not only grasp, but that he also won’t stop asking me to play. I seriously think he loves this game more than I did Car Wars when I was his age.
But session length can still be an issue. With some of these games they can last four or five hours sometimes. That’s not something you casually take off the shelf for a quick session; that’s more something you plan your entire week around! Federation Commander has an answer to that, however: a “fleet scale”, which leaves all the rules exactly the same but cuts the ships down to half their size. You roll for half as many weapons for to-hit and damage. You roll for half as many internals when you penetrate shields or PA panels. And things blow up twice as fast!
How does it work? After having already gotten the hang of the game through playing six or eight sessions, we tried a fleet scale battle consisting of two Andromedan ships against three Klingon ships. We averaged one turn per hour with one ship exploding each hour as well. That seemed just about right to me. (Note: my son was not playing ideal tactics. I expect this scenario to run more towards three hours with more evenly matched opponents.)
You can see here the Klingon drones tying down the Conquistador’s phaser-2’s. While the D7 is about to have two shields downed and several internals scored against it, the Cobra satellite ship is about to be vaporized that the combined firepower of an entire fleet! (The Andromedans would have fared better if– at the very least– the displacement device had been used to break up the Klingon formation.)
Here the Klingons would normally want to get turned around so they can get as close of a range as possible on the next turn. (With the Andromedan’s Tractor-Repulsor Beam needing a full turn to recharge before it can fire again, the Klingons would do well to leverage their rapid firing Disruptors as best as they can!) Instead I opted to keep moving away so that my D7 would have time to lick its wounds. When the Conquistador turned to engage without his main weapon ready to fire, he was playing into my hands.
There’s one fire phase for every four impulses of movement in Federation Commander, so setting up the perfect shot is not easy. Here I managed to get range zero shots with two ships while my damaged D7 provided some longer range support. The damage here was great enough that I started knocking out PA panels… which then created a chain reaction that ended up exploding the entire ship! Andromedan ships can take a tremendous amount of punishment and dissipate damage from the panels so fast it’s like nothing even happened. If they can wear their opponent down over several turns, they look unbeatable. But if you reach a certain tipping point with internal damage against them… they crumble!
One final word about price. I always thought the $60 price tag for the core Federation Commander set was a bit steep. Sure, the maps, counters, and ship cards are pretty nice. But still…! After taking my son to Walmart today to let him pick up a set for the collectible card game Pokemon, I was stunned at just how little he got for his fifty bucks with that. I mean… it wasn’t even a complete game– and to add insult to injury, he couldn’t even use half the cards that came with it.
Yes, it does take a chunk of change to get going with this game. But it’s only a little more expensive than board games like Catan and Carcassonne. And going by “oomph”, it really does offer a lot bang for the buck. Just don’t get started buying supplements when you aren’t playing the game that much and Federation Commander is one of the best gaming values around.