Since the beginning of Fleet Commander, we were looking for an immersive gameplay to command an entire fleet. Managing the movement of each individual ship was quickly set aside, too tedious for the players. In addition, moving the ships on a two-dimensional board seemed not really “realistic” as space is 3 dimensional.
One of our influences was the Strategos game (not to be confused with Stratego, much better known), an ancient battle game that cuts the battlefield into areas rather than managing the individual positions of the units. This suited well our vision of the game: as Fleet Commanders, players should have a global vision of the battle and give their ships orders at the same level without having to manage their moves in detail.
In addition, this would represent a 3D space in 2D without much difficulty. The little corner of the cosmos where the Fleet Commanders fight each other would be composed of areas, each connected to other areas around, above, below, on the left and on the right, whatever. We have therefore to imagine the board squares as representing bubbles floating in the air, with links to go from one to another.
The first gameboards of the game were designed that way, circles interconnected by communication lines. As each area should be large enough to contain the miniatures, such a gameboard became soon very large. For pragmatic reasons and to save space – remember that the game was meant to be easier to set up than an ordinary miniature game – the circles became squares for having only useful space on the board. The links between areas then disappeared, because once placed side by side, the squares were naturally connected by the edges (orthogonal contact) or through the corners (diagonal contact).
Therefore we had a very classic and very convenient checkerboard. But keep in mind that this is in fact a 3D space area projected on a 2D surface which saves space, representing the control board of the Fleet Commander. Maybe one day we will take time to redraw these large gameboards, perhaps even by putting them on different levels. Playing on this board would be incredibly immersive.
To increase immersion, we have called the squares “sectors” for a while but also replaced the word “direction” of the dice by “polarity”. Indeed, we considered that the energy collected with the dice was a certain polarity, which thus allowed to interact with a connected sector. Besides there is a version of the game where the sectors have a polarity symbol (2 different) and where the sides of the dice show one of these symbols rather than a direction. It works the same way, it’s just more immersive but also a little bit more complex to understand.
Therefore, these concepts have been abandoned in favor of pedagogy and clarity of rules, because in the end, these were only words. But if you are looking for more immersion, just try to replace the word “direction” by “polarity”, it’s an interesting way to change your perception of the game.
Now that we had reinvented the checkerboard, the question of its size arose. Strategos, which reproduces huge battles for its time, has only 20 areas. There are 64 squares in chess. Having too many would weaken the macro-commandment we were looking for. Having too little would restrict the maneuvers and tactics, and therefore the tactical sensation of having a large possibilities of movements.
After playing many games of different board sizes (8×6, 6×6, 7×7, 5×7…) we finally discovered that the fight almost always took place in a zone made of 5×5 squares. A larger gameboard lengthen the duration of a game, gave good feelings of approaching maneuvers and preparation, but in the end, everything happened in this zone. By setting the boardgame to this size from the beginning, battles were fast and dynamic without reducing the maneuvering capacity of the fleets, which remained crucial and whose effects were immediate. It was the best synthesis.
Finally, with squares of 10cm per side, the entire gameboard held on a surface of 50×50 cm, a perfectly reasonable size for a coffee table. So we had the right size, fully in the spirit of the game.
From the checkerboard to the tiles
Despite all this thinking, players regularly ask us for larger gameboards. We also often put two boards side by side to enlarge the playing surface in multiplayer games. Even if we still advocate a board of 25 squares in two-player games, having the possibility to play on other sizes, larger, less symmetrical, has its charm. This is another project for which we were thinking about the possibility of offering “half-boxes” that brought to light the tiles. Each “half-box” would have contained 15 tiles, allowing to create a full boardgame or more by assimbling two.
If this project has been abandoned, the tiles remain. After some convincing tests, tiles allows great flexibility to create various combat zones, while remaining very stable and aesthetic. This flexibility has many advantages in terms of gameplay. It is now possible to adjust the size of the gameboard accordingly to the number of players or the scenario you play, and to create small areas to use “jump gates” even in two-player games. We will also offer an optional rule that will add fog of war to the combat zone. All this is possible thanks to the tiles that find their right place in the “Genesis” box.
Space is not empty
A very important element in a battle game is adding fields on the board, and the effects of these fields on the units and on the battle. It was therefore out of question to let space empty in Fleet Commander. You can try a game without any special field, it is not uninteresting, but for more replayability and tactical interest adding some special fields on the battlefield is essential because depending on their disposal, they shape games that are always different and create ever-changing tactical challenges.
The entire square is considered to have the same type of field. It’s a sector of space having this feature. Obviously there’s the asteroid field that has long remained the only field with which we played. They are often seen at the beginning as mere obstacles, but they can quickly be very interesting, and an effective utilization can be decisive, particularly in some scenarios. We wanted to add other types of fields to deepen the game and to create new situations. In Ignition you find also gravitic fields that accelerate the movement. In Beyond the Gate, gas clouds and radar anomaly appear. With these fields, we wanted to create balanced sectors, both interesting and dangerous, beneficial or blockers. The idea remains that of the tactical choices must remain predominant. Players must weigh the pros and cons before using a field.
With the wave of new expansions announced for 2016 and the Kickstarter, it’s a firework with colonies, space stations, gama storms, black anomalies and some other fields in progress. It is far from the original asteroid and care should be taken not to cover the gameboard with these fields, because we continue to recommand you to play from 1 to 4 fields per 25 squares gameboard (1 to 2 fields per 10 tiles ratio).
Einstein’s relativity revisited
It is by luck that we noticed one day that concentric circles cut into units also formed orthogonal and diagonal connections. It was therefore possible to play with the rules of Fleet Commander on this type of drawing. With 4 concentric circles and eight parts, it represented 32 squares, a little larger than a standard checkerboard, but the longest distance between two squares remained 4, like in the 5×5 checkerboard. Interesting right? Physical distance, visible to the naked eye on the board was not really the one allowed by the dice. What seems far is close and what is far seems close. The star in center of the board somehow contracts the space around it. We have just introduced the theory of relativity in a gameboard without any notice, wow :O
This board is available in the Orbit expansion and it is undoubtedly a very exciting change to the game, because without changing or adding any rule, it completely changes the way you play and the perception of the game. Watching the various areas of deployment can give you an idea of these variations.