ON THE TABLE: “The Loss of Beta Centauri”

Sunday , 19, March 2017 2 Comments

The best thing about Talon from GMT Games is just how easy it is to get onto the table. It’s got a set of twelve scenarios ranging in order of complexity from tutorials to monster space battles. Thus, you never have to hash out just what exactly you’re going to play when you open the box or when you’re going to fold in this or that new ship or rule. Someone has already thought about all of that for you.

The number of fighty space games I have that don’t get much play is legion. Probably the biggest, ugliest friction point with these is the need for working up individual record sheets for the ships. With Talon, you don’t even have to go through the hassle of setting your speeds or working up how to set up your attack run. No, to get to the shooting part, all you have to do is look up the power/speed/turn-mode stats for your ship, write them in wet erase directly onto the gloriously good looking oversized counters, and then start playing. Because the scenarios begin in medias res, you don’t have to slog through anything like an opening. No, you start right in the middle of a challenging tactical problem.

This might sound good, but you really have to be careful with this. With all of the pain and tedium taken out of tabletop space gaming, these features become insanely dangerous. This game is so fun and so easy to get into actual play… everything else in your collection is liable to start collecting dust. My son doesn’t want to play anything else, not even the role-playing games and microgames that we used to spend countless hours on. (!!)

I’m not joking, this game represents a truly disruptive moment in the history of space games. And as much as I love the old classics, I have to admit… I actually have mixed feelings about this.

So what do we get with Scenario 5: “The Loss of Beta Centauri”?

The Talon are blowing in with a couple of transports in what is supposed to be a cakewalk. If they can land them on the planet, this is an easy win for them. If they can get even one onto the planet, they still have an edge here and everything devolves into a knock down drag out fight.

Here’s the opening exchange from the first turn of our game:

The Talon have made a critical mistake here. They needed to fire up their afterburners on impulse E. If they could have done that while holding onto the initiative, they would have been in position to fire the first shot. Now they’ll not only get pounded by the full brunt of Terran anti-matter torpedoes, the Terrans will be recharging a their weapons while the Talon are only just firing their first shots on the following turn!

So yes, you can lose the scenario on the first turn. In other space games, that is practically impossible. In our game, the Talon lost their frigate altogether and got one of their light cruisers pounded down to just one hit point. A critical hit could have ended the ship altogether, but instead it had to deal with operating with decreased power, increased turn mode, and a loss of two thirds of her firepower!

The chaos following an exchange is always interesting. I mean… it’s interesting if you find terrifying things interesting. The intuition that has been trained into me by other games is of no use to me here. I really have no way of planning out the aftermath as of yet. Your ships really have to work to not step on each other. And thanks to the power allocation and movement rules, ships can be both more sluggish and more maneuverable that you’ll guess!

Here the Terrans are swinging around trying to get in position for their turn three shots while the Talon warships blow past the action:

 

How’d this one end…? Well, thanks to the incredibly good firing arcs on the Terran vessels, the destroyers were able to combine firepower at optimum range against one transport while the light cruisers were able to combine firepower against the other.

It was a blowout. And it really didn’t take that long to play out– well under the two hours we planned for. We agreed that the two Talon warships would attempt to make a getaway and called the game right there.

The action would have been much more furious and prolonged had the Talon not made a blunder on the opening turn… but fire and maneuver plays out fast enough that neither of us dread a more involved battle. This game really does hit the sweet spot in terms of complexity, depth, and tactical choice. But like I said, it’s dangerous. You may not play a competing space game again!

2 Comments
  • Random says:

    No fear of that, as it’s out of print?!

    Well done review of a game we’ll never get to play!

  • Amadan says:

    It’s on the reprint list – GMT will print a new edition later this year or next.

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