Crossposted from the SFU blog on BGG

A couple weeks ago, Mark came over for a day of SFB. I was originally hoping to squeeze in two small scenarios, but the first one turned out to be slightly bigger than we thought, and we needed to do a fairly thorough rules review first. We had a fairly long talk about all sorts of things afterward; there’s lot for us to catch up on.

Module M expands the boarding party combat system in a number of ways, including a proper abstract system for combat on a planetary surface. To my surprise, a couple years back, Mark expressed interest in the scenario provided to showcase those rules. The Kzinti are besieging a Klingon-held planet, and are making one final push to take it. Normally, they could just slowly grind their way in, but previous assaults have failed, and a Klingon fleet is approaching to retake the system at large. As such, there is only ground combat. As that (and regular boarding party combat) only happens at the end of the turn, the entire impulse procedure is skipped, and instead there’s an abbreviated sequence where the Kzinti move around their troops, then the Klingons can move theirs, and then it’s time for the combat.

The general structure of ground combat is that each hexside of the planet (which ordinarily fills one SFB hex) is a separate ‘combat location’ (this ties into the normal ground base rules, where they are set up on particular hexsides). Each of those has three ‘control stations’, and, if it’s a defended planet (as opposed to the ‘defender’ having beamed down just before you did), each of those has two defense systems. The control stations act a bit like the control systems on a ship; you can give them up instead of casualties (two casualties instead for a single station), and the other side can force the issue by expending four casualties they generated. Having at least two of the control stations generates a bonus in combat, and the defense systems have to be knocked out first, and they act as a pair of extra boarding parties (each).

It should be noted that despite the details, it all abstracts down to strength points. Ground combat uses the exact same boarding party combat results table, which is purely a ‘fire’ table, no odds, or anything like that are looked at. Shuttles can transport troops, and support the fighting directly, where they provide two extra strength points, and take two hits to kill (this translates to three of the normal combat hit points per ground combat hit; the Ground Attack Shuttle counts as four boarding parties, and its better armor only takes two hit points per ground combat hit, causing it to need to take four hits…). There’s a whole bunch of other types of troops and shuttles that boil down the same way; in fact the other types of ‘boarding parties’ generally act the same as regular ones here, as the bonuses are just better results tables on specialized actions.

The Klingons are defending with 25 boarding parties per side of the planet, while the Kzinti have 200 boarding parties, and good mobility. Even with the single admin shuttle and GAS the Klingons have per side of the planet (which can move one hexside per turn while staying immune to fire from the ships up in orbit) adding another six effective BPs, it looks pretty grim. However, those six defense stations add another 12, which means the base setup is 25+6+12 = 43 equivalent BPs, and the scenario defines that only up to 50 strength can be used in any one location per turn. The Klingons also have a set of two tanks and four ground combat vehicles in one location.

I ended up taking the Kzinti, who can move 20 BPs per turn by transporters (more at the non-combat rate, which means they’re nothing more than targets on the turn of arrival, but with the ‘remote area’ rules, it could have been worthwhile, as Mark would have to go hunting for them first), and have 12 admin shuttles and 16 GAS for ‘airlift’ and fire support. We pencil and papered everything with notes except the shuttles (and I found that a helpful planetary combat diagram had been printed in Captain’s Log #17 a week later…), which we used counters for, and its been long enough that I don’t have the best recollection of the sequence of events.

I started by organizing some of my shuttles into flights of one Admin and two GAS (which is 12 strength with the shuttles loaded with boarding parties), and put a set above each of three areas (with the hexsides labeled by the usual directional nomenclature of SFB, so that A-F are the six sides going clockwise around the planet; I put shuttles over B, C, and D, while the main Klingon defense was a A), and transported 20 boarding parties directly to C.

It was while we were working things out that we remembered the extra 12 strength from the defenses, and we realized this was indeed not going to a walkover. …And I lost most of the initial party, for doing minimal damage. Though I did kill an Admin shuttle. In fact, that was a part of my early strategy. I spent 4 points to kill Admin shuttles, mostly to limit his mobility, so I had a better chance to isolate areas and pound them later. I’m not sure if it was worth it as opposed to just trying to burn out his defenses, but I don’t think it hurt too much in the long run either.

Mark had adjusted some of his defenses too, so on turn 2 I aborted my landing at B, but kept the shuttles there, while sending out a second wave there and elsewhere, and of course sent more troops in. With a lot more on the ground, things started going better, and I really started straining Mark’s defense of C. (I think I killed another shuttle or two.) After that, my pressure on him steadily mounted, with Mark taking a lot of damage on his various shuttles as combat raged across half the planet with my forces landing with more troops beaming down directly every turn. Mark just took partial damage on the shuttles, leaving them fragile, but still worth the same amount offensively.

I got lucky with two turns of relatively bad die rolls from Mark. However, the casualties in my troops were mounting quickly. In B, where there was some heavy fighting, I eventually pulled out (even beaming ten boarding parties back to orbit while the shuttles took off with the rest) and transferred over to C while grimly hanging on in D. I’d damaged some of my shuttles in this process, but mostly took it on my boarding parties so as to preserve my ability to move. In the end, Mark lost most of his assets, while I kept my shuttles, but the cost was high.

Once the defense finally cracked, I shifted back to B and mopped up in D while leaving a garrison in C. Eventually it went to a minimal 3 boarding parties (needed to hold the three control stations), but as the Klingons move last, I needed to avoid him moving in behind me. D, and then B fell, and I massed to take out E. With a better idea of what I was doing, and a lot of Klingon shuttles dead, I took it… and then declared the scenario over as a draw. I could defend against the limited Klingon ability to make counterattacks, but I’d taken 172 casualties, leaving me with 28 boarding parties to do that and then press on to F (avoiding all the nice tanks and armored cars in A). With all the shuttle cover, I probably could have taken F and held everything. By the victory conditions, the Klingons holding 5-10 control stations (with three per location) is a draw. If I took F, that’d get the Klingons down to three, and a Kzinti victory, but nearly 75% losses, and the prospect of losing most of my shuttles (which were all damaged) in the assault took the heart out of me.

Obviously, I could have planned and executed the invasion better. Probably transporting to a remote area at the non-combat rate on the first turn would have been better, even with some losses from patrols. Then a few shuttles could join them, and I’d hit the max of 50 in an area easy. I also parcelled the shuttles out over several turn instead of just putting everything out at the beginning. It did leave some much-needed flexibility, but threatening to swamp another area or two with a massive shuttle landing would keep him pinned down.

Looking at the tactics section now, there’s some interesting notes. Mark basically fought to the last man, keeping the defenses intact until there was no other choice. Preserving a few boarding parties by running for the remote areas has possibilities (that we didn’t even think of). I’ll loose a few less men, as the combat breaks off a round early, but then I have to send out teams to hunt them down before I can strip the place to a minimal garrison, which keeps me distracted while working on the other locations.

At any rate, neither of us expected much from the scenario, but it definitely made us think, and got us very familiar with the ground combat section procedures. I wish there was another scenario or two like this (maybe not entirely focused on the surface) that used a greater variety of equipment. There’s several shuttle types presented in Module M, but all you have here are normal Administrative shuttle and the GAS.