This was the big one. After ten or so scenarios of all sizes that get you up to speed on all the ships, weapons, and tactics of the game… the developers finally throw you into the biggest monster space battle in the box with the highest stakes imaginable: the fate of Earth hangs in the balance!
There are no piddly frigates or destroyers in this one. It’s mostly dreadnoughts, battleships, and battlecruisers. What do I do with this awesome amount of firepower? Why… I squander it all on some absolutely godawful tactics. It was a blowout.
But hey, I had my reasons for setting up the way I did. In the three times I’ve played fighter squadrons, they always ended up getting in each other’s way. When they ran with my warships, the warships got in their way, too. And those Talon ships have such mediocre shields on their flanks. I put my fighters on the left with visions of them rolling up the enemy line…. (It could have been glorious!)
Meanwhile, the Talon fusion canon is no joke. It can hit several of my ships at once and it never misses! Logically, I should spread out my ships so as to avoid taking damage to two or three ships at a time!
It was a perfectly rational plan. It was developed in response to problems that had cropped up in previous battles. Once things were set in motion, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
No way was my son going to let me steal the initiative. We got to range three and I elected to fire while I still could. Range two is ideal. But firing at mediocre odds is better than not getting to fire at all! Aggravatingly, I missed with one of my Wave Motion Gun ™ shots. I’ve gotten to fire that thing three times after playing a a dozen sessions of Talon… and dang it, I missed for two of those. Argh!
But hey, them’s the breaks.
I stood back and let the Talon take their usual afterburner move on impulse E and then surveyed the destruction of impulse F. My battleships were gone. Heck, my entire center was gone. All I had left was the heavy cruiser on the far right and the fighter group on the far left.
That was when I realized I had lost the game in the set up. What should I have done different…? Well I should have interspersed the fighters in with the big ships. They are immune to the Talon Fusion Cannon and would have been really useful for finishing off ships that had gotten their front shields knocked down by my fleet’s heavy weapons. Another thing I could have done is started my line a bit further back, timing the conflagration for the early part of turn 2. The Talon have enough power they can hold on to the initiative. But they enter the board on a narrow strip. It might be possible to discombobulate their afterburner tactics and grab a range two shot.
But the biggest missed opportunity of all was relayed to me by my son– after I’d committed to my folly and rolled all the dice, of course. I could have used my Wave Motion Gun ™ to break up the Talon fleet, disrupting their capacity to concentrate their fire, giving me more time to pound on his ships, giving me a chance to turn a fresh shield to ships. I used the big gun to pick off some of the smaller ships. I could have used it to move the big ones back a hex. (Or even better… move an enemy ship into the arc of a fighter group so it could take a range one shot on a down shield!)
Are all games of Talon won or lost on the opening pass like this? No, that’s really only happened two or three times. Usually things only become clear once you see how things are going in the aftermath, when ships are desperately recharging their weapons and attempting to bring them to bear. The Saturn scenario took it another step further: two simultaneous battles descended into chaos… and then everything came down to what the battered remnants of both sides could do to each other, with every point of power, every hex, and every point of turn mode mattering a great deal.
Looking at the game immediately after playing the twelve set piece battles of the game, it’s clear that the outcome of a battle is obvious far sooner than what you’d see in either Star Fleet Battles or Federation Commander. There just aren’t going to be a lot of three turn battles in those systems. Talon will not have an entire book of tactics the way those games have… and it will not have the variety of fleets that those games have spent decades developing. That’s going to be a deal-breaker for the die-hard fans of those other space games. On the other hand, the lean and mean nature of Talon is what makes it a good fit for a strategic game where you can actually play out the battles– definitely the holy grail of space gaming and not something you can do with, say, Federation & Empire.
With its quick setup, small battles that play out in one or two hours, and monster fleet battlers that play in under four hours… Talon really has moved the state of the art in space gaming forward. The biggest problem I have with it is that my son doesn’t want to play anything else!
For the time being, Earth is just going to have to get used to its new Talon overlords.