In Pax Stellarum, everything is in motion, not only ships. The first phase on each turn is the Terrain Movement Phase. Here all terrain features are going to move according to what was determined for them upon setting the table up.
Terrain's movement represent how everything in space is flowing in the cosmic stream. Nothing is stationary. From planets to black holes, asteroid strips to distortion fields, everything moves.
Yesterday, I played my first non-solo playtesting with a friend from our local gaming club. So far, I hadn't been playing with moving terrain, as I was focusing on getting the game mechanics right, first.
Inittially, I thought of playing that game with stationary terrain, but my friend enjoyed the possibility of having cover moving around the table and asked that we played that way. As playtesting is evolving already, I thought it might be a good idea to have that game played with full rules.
The result is this: Its infinitely cooler to play with moving terrain than I ever thought it would be! I guarantee you that once you play that way you won't consider playing space battles any other way.
The movement pattern of each terrain feature is determined individually. By pattern I mean speed and direction of movement.
This is done by performing a sort of scatter roll for each feature upon setting the table. The scatter roll involves rolling a D6 for speed, and therefore each terrain is going to move at least 1" and a maximum of 6" per turn.
As the direction of each terrain feature is likely to be unique, the table is in constant change, and players have to be able to see in advance what is going to be the disposition of the table a few turns ahead, so that they don't end up performing a bad maneuver and suddely find themselves having an entire squadron being swallowed by an asteroid cluster, for instance.
Determining the movement pattern for each terrain feature doesn't take more than a couple minutes. Additionally, each Terrain Movement Phase doesn't take more than a couple minutes, either, so its all pretty simple and straightforward .
On the game we played yesterday, I led a Cardassian fleet, against the Klingons commanded by my gaming partner. On the pics below we can see how the table set up was changing on every turn:
On the inverted pic below, note the asteroid strip on the low border of the table. It is entering the table there after leaving it on the opposite end. This represents the strip being part of a much broader asteroid cluster than what we see on the table, and therefore as one strip moves away, another approaches...
Planets move just as asteroid strips would, along straight lanes that would represent their extremely broad orbit radius around a sun not present on the table. Moons and space stations, on the other hand, move around the planets they are orbiting, in addition to moving in the same pattern as the orb they are related to.
Such movement is fixed: 1" per Terrain Movement Phase. The scatter roll is going to determine only the direction: clockwise or anticlockwise. This I forget to do during game, and moons there where just following their mother planet, without moving around it.
As for ships, their movement is rather cinematic, but with enough inertial flavor so to make it considerabily tactical.
Basically, ships can move in one of 3 modes:
Adrift ships move 2" forward every turn.
Ships in Low thrust mode move at least 2.5", and up to half their Spacedrive Rating (Spacedrive indicates their total engines power for sublight travel, in opposition to Hyperdrive).
Ships in High Thrust mode move at least 0.5" more than half Spacedrive Rating, and up to their full Spacedrive Rating.
Ships may switch from one mode to the adjacent one every turn, but they cannot transit through all 3 modes in the same turn.
It means that a ship that begins the turn adrift may change its mode to Low Thrust, or remain adrift. A ship in Low Thrust may stay so, switch to Adrift or switch to High Trhust. Ships in High Thrust may switch to Low Thrust.
A Special Order allows a ship to switch from adrift to High Thrust immediattely: Its called "Engines at Full Power". Another Special Order allows a ship to switch from High Thrust to Adrift in a single turn as well: the "Full Stop" Special Order.
To switch from Adrift to Low Thrust, you simply move your ship at least 2.5" and not more than half Spacedrive Rating.
To switch from Low Thrust to Adrift, you move your ship exactly 2".
To switch from Low Thrust to High Thrust, you move your ship more than half Spacedrive Rating, up to its maximum.
To switch from High Thrust to Low Thrust, you move your ship exactly half Spacedrive Rating. On the subsequent turn, it will be able to move freely within Low Thrust limits.
Those inertial restricitions are easy to learn once you start practicing, but very challenging to master.
It was a pleasant surprise to see my gaming parter taking several minutes to decide which way to go with each of his squadrons. He was trying to predict how fast each of my squadrons would move, according to their current level of thrust, so to have a rough estimate of my final position.
That level of plotting wasn't present on playtesting so far, as I couldn't expect to be able to hide my intentions from my adversary in solo-gaming playtesting. I'm not that alienated. Yet.
Basically, players are likely to want to move at High Thrust, to approach the enemy, but once they begin to get close, that are challenged by the need of reducing thrust mode to avoid going past their target too quickly, while they would still want to preserve enough trhust available for maneuver, as close quarters can be very dangerous if you can't maneuver sufficiently.
It demands a lot of thinking ahead, and thorough observation of enemy movement, to try determining its pattern and most likely future moves.
Now, about the game we played, unfotunatelly we were unable to finish it, as we spent most of the time either discussing possible improvements (which was great!) or chatting with other folks there (again, great!), but it was fundamental to help me see some stuff that can be improved and that went unnoticed in solo-playtesting.
So, at the moment we have the following status as for Quality Control:
Terrain Movement rules: checked
Ships Movement Rules: checked
Fighter Rules: theoretically corrected, need playtesting
Weapons roll: need some addressing.
I'm rushing to get as much done on my system as I can on the near future, as I currently have more fleets coming and that are going to need painting (once again, great!) and I cannot manage to relax while having unpainted stuff on drydocks...
*End of Transmission*