Combat Simulation Part 1

So you've learned the rules of ___________ strategy game. Now you know how to play, right? Not exactly. For the experienced player, the tactics of the moment and a general strategy for the long term are where the real magic of the game is found. Learning the rules system is merely the beginning. This applies to well established strategy games such as chess and Dog Fight: Starship Edition is no different.

In any combat/strategy type game worth its salt the rules system enables players to make decisions to affect the game in manageable ways. But what those decisions are is (ideally) up to the player. If the game is well balanced, the quality of those decisions determines victory or defeat. This is the mysterious place where game rules and player choices meet.

Dog Fight: Starship Edition can be thought of as a combat simulation game. The game system and action cards attempt to adhere to real world considerations as much as possible. Game play often works in the same manner. And as in real world situations, combat/strategy games can quickly show players that choices are not all equal. Let's look at a few examples.


Resources

Dog Fight: Starship Edition Draw 3

In a card-driven game system, the options available to players is largely determined by the cards in their hand or currently in play. In some games drawing cards is a regular but limited feature. Having few cards at one's disposal will, of course, limit the options available to the player. In games like this, part of navigating the game well is hand management - spending cards too quickly may provide a short term gain but could easily lead to a long term loss. The natural conditions of limited drawing raise the importance of hand management.

DF:SE makes drawing cards a fairly frequent and easy game event. Multiple game actions each turn provide opportunities to draw cards. Numerous cards provide a draw action, such as the INTERVENE type card "Draw 3", allowing the player to draw 3 cards in one action. With game system features such as these hand management, while still a factor, is not as vital a detail in this game. But regardless of how well the game is designed, if you have too few options at your disposal you're probably going to be rather limited in what you can do in the game, barring some special circumstances. That's the nature of the beast, so plan accordingly.

Opportunity Cost

When game actions are limited, how you spend those actions becomes quite significant. If, for example, a player uses cards with no long term plan, those cards will not be available later if needed. The sequence of game events allows for patterns of player choices, which often translates to a sequence of action choices. With a long term plan in mind, sequences can be plotted using the cards available. When cards are strategically spent (or not spent) decisions can be made for particular moments and can be adapted as the situation changes.

The Tier system in Dog Fight: Starship Edition represents time. Each player is provided 3 basic tiers each turn, thus 3 game actions. These actions occur in sequence. Spending an action to do one thing means it cannot be spent doing something else. Spending cards is as important as spending time, so plan well. As in true combat, timing can make all the difference.

Patience

Rushing into combat with no idea what to expect is seldom recommended. Waiting for opportune moments is a key factor in strategy games and in real world combat scenarios. But there is also the matter of losing an opportunity, where a not-quite-ideal moment arises to advance your situation in the game but ends up being the best chance you'll ever get. Of course, at the time, you may not know it's the best chance you'll get.

In a combat game if you don't engage in the fight you'll likely struggle to get the upper hand. Actions that are well timed and well placed make all the difference. Avoid blindly rushing in, but also be aware of losing a good opportunity to affect the outcome.

There is also a synergistic dynamic to well placed and timed actions. For example, attacking an opponent only occasionally could be effective, hypothetically. But if that opponent has some sort of regular repairing feature, the occasional attack won't be merely as effective as frequent attacks. However, if the target has strong defenses, the occasional high powered attack might be more effective than frequent low powered attacks. What should you do? As with many things, it depends on the situation. Seldom does a one-size-fits-all approach work well in a combat setting (or in life).

Exposure

Ask people who deal in or have dealt in real combat what sort of things really work and you'll probably have a very interesting conversation. You may be asked to specify some things, such as "work how" or "work for what". The "why" is often as important as the "what". How to stop the enemy is one vein of discussion, but how to survive combat is a different thing.
Dog Fight: Starship Edition Hit and Run

In real combat it's common to find that weapons can inflict more damage than defenses handle. It's a big deal. Dog Fight: Starship Edition carries this real world concern into the game and players have multiple ways of mitigating damage as well. Armor/Shielding is one obvious way to reduce damage on a successful hit. Evading damage is another prime method of survival. Cards such as "Evasive Maneuvers" allows a player to evade an attack entirely. But there are other ways, such as maneuvering cards like "Hit and Run" which allows the ship to move after declaring an attack.

Using terrain to one's advantage has proven a wise tactic over the years. Being able to deliver damage and then move behind an obstruction is a staple technique that has served many players well. "Oh, you had 3 attack cards waiting for me because you thought I'd still be in range? Too bad!" Unless your deck is designed so that moving around is of little value, maneuvering typically is a vital tactic many players find most helpful in keeping out of the fray. Without evasive tactics, the term sitting duck comes to mind. And that's entirely a matter of player choice.

DF:SE is well balanced while allowing ample room for good or bad decisions by the players. This is no meat shield game where you can replace lost personnel or ships each turn. You got one ship only, and the crew are depending on you. So take your seat, captain, and make the most of it.

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