6.4 Colony Setup and Ground Combat 36
7.0 Scenarios 38
7.1 The Last Stand 38
7.2 Random Scenario Generator 39
8.0 The Design Process 41
8.1 Generic Unit Requirements 42
8.2 Damage Allocation Template (DAT) 51
8.3 Starship Design 53
8.4 Gunboat Design 54
8.5 Fighter Design 55
8.6 Base Design 56
8.7 Defense Forces 60
8.8 Other Types of Construction 61
Appendix A: Charts and Tables 62
Appendix B: Glossary 65
Appendix C: Modifying the Rules 67
Ground Movement 67
Naval Movement 67
Example of Naval Movement 68
Space Movement 68
Appendix D: Cloaking and Stealth 70
Appendix E: Component Price List 71
Appendix F: Designer Notes 73
Blank Damage Allocation Templates 77
Welcome to Tactical Command 3rd Edition, a game of tactical spaceship combat set in the not so distant future. This is the third edition of the Tactical Command series. The previous versions featured space operatic high tech ships with kiloton-per-second weapons. This edition focuses on designs that have a more hard science feel but without the overhead that a detailed space simulation requires.
TCOM can be played as a stand alone game or as an expansion to other games. It is the ship-to-ship combat engine for Cluster War although the core rules are not tied to a specific science fiction setting. TCOM is designed to be easily ported to your favorite science fiction or science-fantasy setting. In many ways, Tactical Command can be thought of as a game design kit focused on turn based space ship combat. Of course, the TCOM rules are intended for your personal enjoyment and creativity. If you plan to create your own universe and want to distribute the rules (for free or for profit), you need to respect my copyrights and contact Todd Zircher for more information and written permission.
One of the goals of Tactical Command is to create a unit design system that is also tightly coupled to the combat system. This makes the placement and distribution of your components as important as their selection when you design/build your ship. To that end, Tactical Command offers a visually appealing ship template with easy to use rules for combat and construction.
The Tactical Command system revolves around the design and combat mechanics of the DAT (damage allocation table.) This edition adds new movement rules, new components, icons, and updates to the combat model. While the rules are focused on space ship combat, the combat engine is flexible. You can easily use the DAT to model diverse units such as steam punk land juggernauts, wet navy vessels, factory complexes, and other structures.
Campaign books show how ship templates can be used to influence a ship’s style and can serve as a template for refits or new construction. Players are free to use the Vermin Campaign Book as a working example for creating their own source books for their own personal use. The purpose of these source books is to take the core rules and integrate them into a background setting for your campaigns.
A quick word on naming conventions used: ship, gunboat, fighter, vessel, base, and unit are used almost inter-changeably throughout these rules. Any exceptions will be noted along with appropriate rules and examples.
1.1 Game Components
This game embraces the desktop printing concept. The Tactical Command home page at VirMin.com contains many support files that can be printed to create game components, such as design sheets, damage allocation templates, fleet control sheets, maps, unit counters, and box miniatures. You will also need a pair of ten sided dice, and some pencils. There are some optional components that can really improve the gaming experience. Most game stores carry large black hex maps suitable for space battles. Placing a large sheet of plexi-glass over the map protects it from accidental spills, lays the map flat, and makes for a great surface for rolling dice, moving space ship miniatures, or using grease pencils or dry erase markers.
Optionally, you can use a computer to manage the maps and counters. I’ve written several programs to help gamers: The DAT Builder is a unit designer for creating your own custom damage allocation templates. V_MAP is a play by e-mail gaming aid and it simulates traditional maps and counters. And, VirMin is a virtual miniatures program that allows you to see your ships and terrain as 3D models and use them as game pieces.
1.2 Game Scale
One combat round = 5 minutes
One hex = 450 kilometers
The default time and distance scales for TCOM represent modern starships capable of high gee maneuvers and limited firepower. There is no magic warp drive. Space ship engines provide thrust which pushes ships through space like a bottle rocket. The actual engine technology can change, but the game mechanics are consistent.
The time and distance scales are not written in stone even though they were developed using physics based on expected acceleration values of the space ships that I wanted to simulate. Tactical Command is flexible and can be used as a combat engine for a wide variety of stories and technological settings ranging from steam punk land juggernauts on up to space opera fantasy tech.
Tactical Command is easy to reconfigure to meet your specific needs. The default hex size and turn length reflects an acceleration of 10 meters per second. If you multiply or divide the map scale by four and the turn length by two, you can scale the game up or down to the exact level you desire and the majority of the movement rules will work as is.
There are four common dice throws in Tactical Command: 1d6, 1d10, 2d10, and 1d100. This is the industry standard nomenclature for dice rolling. It is a short code that indicates the number of dice and the number of sides on those dice to be rolled.
A 1d6 is your typical board game die. It can be used to roll numbers from one to six. It is handy for determining random directions on a hex grid map. For most 1d10 (one 10 sided die) rolls, rolling a zero is treated as a ten. This is so the number range falls from one to ten and not zero to nine. For example, 2d10 is the code for throwing two ten-sided dice and adding the results together. Rolling a 0 and a 9 would be read as a 19. In TCOM, this roll is used to determine the point of impact on the DAT. The average value for 2d10 is 11 which is the middle row of the damage allocation template no matter which angle you attack from.
The last die roll used in the rules is the 1d100 or percentage roll. The simple way to generate this number is to grab two ten-sided dice and call one of them the tens die. Usually, the dice will be different colors making it easy to tell them apart. Some 1d10 are numbered 00 to 90 to make the tens die even more obvious. These rolls are typically used for attack rolls. Zeros are treated a little differently, a roll of 0 and 3 would be 3%, a roll of 3 and 0 would be 30%, and a roll of 0 and 0 would be 100%.
Some die rolls can be modified due to the toughness of the combat teams or perhaps due to the skill of an officer. Whether you roll one or many dice, modifiers are added from the final value rolled and not to each die. Modified die rolls are common in boarding party combat and rare in space combat (weapons fire has adjusted accuracy rather than modified die rolling.)
When playing around the table, the more dice you have the better. It helps to speed up game play and you can sometimes roll whole salvoes at once. If you’re playing Tactical Command via computer, there are several game utilities that have dice rolling capabilities built into them. There are also web sites that function as dice servers and can send/share multiple dice rolls with comments. Here is a handy list of some of the resources available:
http://www.virmin.com, the TCOM home page http://www.openrpg.comhttp://www.irony.com/mailroll.htmlhttp://www.flyingzebra.com/software.htmhttp://www.wanderinghorse.net/gub/gub.htmlhttp://cyberboard.brainiac.com/
1.4 Player Etiquette
The idea behind playing games is to have fun. Bad rolls happen and a lucky shot can ruin the most well laid plans. That is all part of the gaming experience.
Tactical Command assumes a high tech, information rich environment. The only time that DATs or die rolls should be hidden is when there are cloaked units on the map. It’s usually a good idea to have a third person act as a referee for double blind games.
When playing TCOM as a paper game, declare what you are rolling for and roll the dice on a flat surface off to the side to avoid knocking units over. Disrupting the board every time a player rolls their dice is rude and a characteristic of some cheaters.
Every effort has been made to avoid conflict in the interpretation of the rules. ‘Hoarding’ knowledge of the rules is frowned upon. If you see that your opponent is forgetting to make a point defense roll, feel free to remind them. You can be sure that the crews of those ships would not forget to use all their defenses in the middle of a fight.
1.5 Game Overview 1 - Select a scenario.
This will determine the victory conditions, what technologies are available, which forces can be used, and where the units can be placed on the map. If TCOM is being used as part of a strategic game, the larger game may act as a scenario generator for Tactical Command. See the section on scenario generation for more info.
2 - Deploy units.
This is a simple opposed roll with the winner deciding if they want to deploy first or last. The presence of a flag officer on a flag bridge or located within a headquarters component can give a bonus to one side or the other. When a player deploys their units, they have to place all their units on the map except those that are held in reserve (as determined by scenario.) This step can be skipped on later rounds.
3 - Play out the battle using the rules for movement and combat.
If exceptional leaders are present, they can use their command skills each round as a positive modifier to the initiative rolls. The winner of the initiative roll can choose (for the duration of that round) to always go first or always go last when there is a tie as determined by the movement rules. The movement section details ship agility and other movement restrictions. The combat rules determine how damage is inflicted.
4 - Determine if there is a winner. Otherwise, repeat steps 2-4 until the battle is over.
Unless specified by scenario, a battle is over when one side has completely disengaged or is destroyed. Actual victory is determined by the construction point values of the ships destroyed or driven off. Bonus points can be earned by achieving mission objectives such as destroying a convoy or protecting a colony. It is possible for a battle to end in a draw.
2.0 Playing the Game
Both players should agree as to which scenario they are going to play and any special rules they wish to use. If not playing a pre-generated scenario, both players must agree on the objectives of the current game, its force composition in Construction Points (CP), initial deployment zones and speeds and victory conditions. If the battle is part of a campaign, it is the Game Master's job to set up the scenario.
Determine available forces for all sides. This may be pre-determined by scenario. If not, both players must agree to the technology available, maximum hull sizes, numbers and types of units to be used in the battle. In pick up battles, it is common for players to select a race from the Campaign Book and a budget in CP to spend on ships and supplies.
Placing the units on map is usually defined by scenario. Sometimes there is an entry zone, other times there will be specific hexes that units are placed in. Placement in a pick up battle is usually determined on the fly. Each player rolls 1d10 and adds any situational modifiers. Highest roll wins, in case of a tie, re-roll. The winner chooses to go first or second in deploying his units. If the players are using optional rules such as graded officers, the officers can apply their skills to the roll.
There are advantages and disadvantages to going first, second, or third depending on the number of players. Going first allows you to achieve ideal starting position and can shape how the enemy reacts to your units. Going later in the deployment phase allows you to fine tune your unit placement for maximum effect.
See the Campaign section for more details on Officers. The presence of a flag bridge is required for most officers to exercise their Strategy skill, but that requirement may vary depending on the setting used. It wouldn’t make sense to require a general on the battle field to have a flag bridge, but they might need a headquarters unit with radio operators.
The game uses three simple rules in order of decreasing precedence: predictability, advantage, and tie breaking.
The rule of predictability is that all immobile, drifting, orbital, or other fixed bodies (like planets) move first even if their ‘move’ is to just sit in place.
The rule of advantage is also known as the dogfight rule. If you are chasing another unit and your forward arc is bearing on the enemy’s rear arc, you have the advantage and can better react to them. Tailing is only effective out to standard weapons range (eight hexes.)
The last rule of initiative is tie breaking. If two units are not predictable and they do not have an advantage over each other, you can break the tie with a die roll. The procedure is simple. Roll 1d10 and add any modifiers (racial ability, technological bonus, Command skills, etc.), the high roll wins initiative and can choose to go first or second.
The purpose of an initiative system is to simulate the captain’s or pilot’s ability to anticipate the movement of your opponent and react accordingly. Initiative systems help to regulate game play. Moving last allows you to react to your opponent's move and give you greater control over range and angle of attack. There are some advantages to moving first as well. You get to reach strategic locations before your opponent and perhaps color their tactical decisions by setting up a hedgehog defense.
Initiative has a hierarchical resolution to it. If unit A is tailing unit B and unit B is tailing unit C. Move unit C first, then unit B, and finally unit A. Apply common sense where needed. If two units are separated such that they can not affect each other, there’s no need for excess die rolling. For another example, unit D is not tailing anyone, but it is being tailed by unit A this puts units B and D at the same level in the hierarchy. If you have a circular situation with the head of the chain being tailed by the end of the chain, roll initiative to break the deadlock. The highest roll wins and can choose to move last.
The hexagonal grid that overlays the map helps to regulate movement, determine weapon ranges, set firing arcs, and figure out angles of attack on the DAT. A hexagon has 6 sides or facings. These faces are numbered from 1 through 6. The first face points toward the top of the map. The top of the map is called North for simplicity’s sake.
In the example above, ships A, B, and C are in low orbit while ships D and E are in free flight. Even though C looks like it is tailing D, C has a lower initiative since it is in orbit and is more predictable. Similarly, while E is not tailing C it is still ranked higher in initiative than the orbiting unit C.
If either unit claims cover then the LOS for both units is blocked. If there is partially blocking terrain, the players have to agree to stay out in the open and fire at each other.
2.2 Turn Sequence
Tactical Command is played in a series of turns or combat rounds. The sequence for each round is:
1- Reinforcement phase
Any units that are scheduled to appear - do so now. However, they do not move during the movement phase. Reinforcements are placed in a deployment zone that is specified by the scenario. Their current vector and facing are also determined by the scenario.
Reinforcements that have just returned to normal space from FTL are in a potentially vulnerable situation. They can not move until the next combat round. However, point defense, shields, cloaks, and ECM function as normal. It is very rare to be caught totally off guard.
When not specified by scenario, reinforcing units will arrive along logical paths of travel such as a road, canal, warp point, etc. If only a general direction or side of a map is specified, units tend to scatter by a few hexes. Select an entry point (a single hex) and roll 2d10. A roll of 11 means the unit arrived on target. Rolling less than 10 causes a unit to drift to the left and rolling higher than 12 causes a unit to drift to the right. Left or right is relative to the unit’s direction of travel and the hex that it intended to enter in.
2- Movement phase
Following the rules for Initiative and Movement, move all the units that choose to move. Vector movement has some mandatory and some voluntary elements unlike typical war games.
3- Combat Phase
1. All ships select targets and allocate what weapons they will fire. Boarding party attacks are considered weapons and need to be allocated when possible.
2. Resolve any point defense battery attacks against missiles, fighters, or boarding parties.
3. All surviving weapons fire is resolved and the damage allocated.
4. Damage is applied against shields (if any) and then the DATs.
5. Resolve any surviving boarding party attacks. 6. Damage is recorded and any destroyed units are removed from play.
4- Resolution Phase
Special actions like damage control or carrier operations are performed. Victory conditions are checked to see if they have been met.
If the battle is finished and it was part of a campaign game, apply all effects of the battle to the surviving fleets. Note any experience gained by crews and officers, current ammunition, and ship status (such as field capable repairs and shipyard only repairs.)
Repeat steps one to four until the battle is over.
3.0 Movement Systems
Movement is based on the units and the medium that they move through. A tank crawling along on the ground will immediately slow down and stop once motive power is removed. A ship moving through the water can coast for a little while before slowing to a stop. However, a spaceship moving through the vacuum of space will continue in a straight line unless influenced by its drives or external forces.
In Tactical Command, the primary movement system is called vector movement. Each ship has a line of movement and every round that ship will move along that path (called a vector.) A ship uses thrust to change where it is going. They can thrust to make the vector longer, brake to make it shorter, or turn and burn sideways to change its direction.
3.1 Vector Movement
The vector marker represents where you are going if you do nothing but coast. You don’t need a vector if you’re in a parking orbit, docked with a base, or sitting on a planet. To change the position of your vector marker, just apply thrust. Your facing, when you decide to use your engines, will determine if the length by which your vector increases, decreases, or changes direction.
Movement is a simple sequence of events:
1. Update vector marker position. 2. Move the ship to current marker position. 3. Move the marker to next future position. 4. Repeat every round.
Tactical Command is just a game, so why bother with any rocket science? Part of the reason is that it isn’t space combat, if all you’re doing is recreating old naval battles in space. Objects in space move differently, they orbit planets or coast forever, until they collide with something. They use gravity to perform sling shot maneuvers while spaceships fly sideways, backwards, or upside down with equal dexterity. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to create the feeling of space movement. How complicated is it? Try this on for size: two plus one equals three. Yep, that’s all there is to it.
Let’s put that in game terms. Start with a counter or miniature that represents the ship, then two hexes in front of it place a marker. This marker is the ship’s current vector. If nothing is done, the ship will simply coast to the marker at the end of the round. After the ship moves, you reposition the marker two hexes in the same direction. You can do this each round, until you smack into a planet or leave the battle. Don’t think of the thrust as moving your ship, but instead the thrust is moving the marker which indicates where your ship will go. Move the marker one hex forward and you’re increasing your speed. Move it one hex back and you’re braking. Move the mark one hex to the left or right of your current vector and you are turning.
Important concept: The hex grid does not regulate the movement of your ship as it does with most war games. Instead, the hexes regulate the placement of your vector marker. So, you can burn/brake in any one of the six directions, but your ship actually travels a path from its current location to the location of the vector marker. The ship retains its hex facing for weapon arcs and angle of attack. Entering orbit is an exception and is covered later in the rules.
When things get complicated with lots of units on the map, some players might need a little help. One technique is to use a marker to indicate the ship’s last position so you can remember where you were and make updating your vector marker in step three easier. Other players like to actually draw vector lines on the map using either temporary paper hex maps, grease pencils on a plexi-glass sheet, or use a computer game aid like V_MAP.
At the bottom of the standard DAT, there is also a hex grid that the players can use as a vector plotting scratch pad or to indicate game details such as small craft formations and hidden units.