Monday, September 20, 2010

Lightning Strike

Being under the weather today and having a day off from work, I figured this was a good time to discuss another random game from my collection, Lightning Strike. Lightning Strike is a bit different from most of the games in my collection in that it is a miniatures game, rather than a standard board game. The board for this case is whatever surface you are playing on, usually a table. A lot of miniatures games use pieces of terrain to make tactical maneuvering of your forces more interesting, but since Lightning Strike is simulating battles in the dark void of space, you generally don't have to worry about that. I have the 1st edition of Lightning Strike. There is a 2nd edition of the game, but the rules are not fundamentally different. The primary difference is that the 1st edition game comes with lots of card stock counters to represent the starships, fighter craft, and exo-armors that are fighting in the battles; whereas the 2nd edition doesn't include those because they expect you to buy and paint the miniatures the publisher wants to sell you. While I'm sure the miniatures look really cool, I am perfectly happy with my counters.

Lightning Strike is the space combat game for the Jovian Chronicles universe, which is set in the early part of the 23rd century. The set-up is that all of the inner planets of the solar system have been colonized and at least partially terraformed, and there are even colonies around Jupiter and Saturn. Due to a series of unfortunate events, the Jovian Confederation and the Central Earth Government and Authority (CEGA) are at the brink of war, and you get to use the game to play out their battles for supremacy of the solar system. Expansions to the game add in the forces of Mars, Venus, and more, but the basic game just gives you the Jovians and CEGA forces. This is enough to play many games, though.

The basic games system is not complicated. All units have a movement allowance given in centimeters, and they can move that far per turn. Small units can fly in any direction and pull off crazy stunts as desired, but warships use vector movement rules that attempt to follow Einsteinian physics (i.e., if a ship burns its engine enough to move 15cm per turn in a direction, it will keep going at that speed in that direction until it burns its engine in another direction. Units have varying weapons; when they take an action to fire, the player chooses the weapon and measures the range to the target. Each weapon has varying range bands; the closer the range, the more damage you can do with a successful hit. To make an attack (or perform any other skilled action) the player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the unit's skill rating. The highest die roll is the result of the roll, though each six after the first one adds one to the total. For example, a skills 3 unit that rolled 1, 2, and 4 would have a final skill check result of 4. A skills 3 unit that rolled a 2, 6, and 6 would have a final skill check result of 7. Certain things can modify those rolls (like taking careful aim, or taking evasive maneuvers, or overburning your engine), but the system itself is pretty simple. The defender also makes a skill check. The attacker's total is then compared to the defender's total. If the attacker's total exceeds the defender's total, then the attack hits. The damage is the difference between skills rolls multiplied by the weapon damage at the range band. This means that beating a defender by 1 isn't near as good as beating them by 5. This damage is then compared to the defender's armor rating. A successful hit can either do no damage, stun the defender (have to spend an action point to remove the stun before any other actions can be taken), cripple the defender (move at half speed and weapons do half damage), or kill them outright. So each side rolls some dice, and you compare the results to the attacker's weapon and the defender's armor. It goes pretty fast. Large ships have multiple systems that can be destroyed without destroying the entire unit, but exo armors and fighters go down all at once if you kill them.

For a set of miniatures rules, there is a surprisingly large amount of content here. Not only do you get some basic background on the Jovian Chronicles universe (I think that is removed in the 2nd edition of the game, though) and stats for close to two dozen different types of units, but there is also a set of campaign rules included to provide you with a framework for playing out a series of battles between Jovian and CEGA forces. It is a nice rules set. The game itself doesn't appear to be very popular. At least, I have never known another person who has ever played the game, but I hold out hope of one day finding someone to play a campaign against. Even though I almost never play it, the game is such a complete package (and the mental images of 50 feet tall mecha flying through space stabbing enemy warships with plasma swords are so awesome) that I'll probably always have it in my collection.

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