SFB and me

Star Fleet Battles is the first wargame that I played regularly. And by ‘regularly’ I mean to the exclusion of all other things and to the point of almost ruining my first year at college. I am glad that I didn’t harm my grades more than I did because it would make a very bad anecdote in later years.

The first copy I owned

There was a large group of us at college that would meet several times a week to play. I am not sure who had the rules and counters but when we met up there was always several rulebooks available, books full of photocopied SSDs and more counters than we ever could have used.

The first copy of the game I purchased was the Volume III boxed set. It mad a bright orange copy of the Volume III rules which were not a full version of the rules but an expansion to the other two volumes that had been previously released. We all shared SSD books and anyone who bought a new one would bring it to school and we would all immediately make our way to the college’s photocopy room and make multiple copies of them. The second year I was at college brought the Andromedan, ISC, PFs and a whole host of new additions to the game.

Our library had a study area in the back and we would routinely take it over for the entire day and play. Star Fleet Battles was not a quick game. You had to allocate energy each turn and you could also plot speed changes, High Energy turns and the game had various Impulse Charts you used to determine when ships moved based on their speed relative to the rest of the vessels and seeking weapons on the board. It was gloriously byzantine in its approach and unabashedly geeky and complex. And I adored it.

When I moved to Vancouver to go to university I stopped playing the game. There were a few people in my circle of gaming friends that did play it but I was exposed to so many more games at university (including Battletech for the first time) that it was difficult to focus on any one for too long. I was also, as many people are at this point, quite poor and trying to replicate the wealth of Star Fleet material I had access to at college would have been beyond my means.

The game continued to expand while was distracted by other games and I got reintroduced to it when ADB released Federation Commander. Federation Commander is a streamlined and simplified version of the Star Fleet Battles game. I was immediately trapped by it but it was quite difficult to get my friends interested in playing. Almost all of them are miniature gamers and even the ones that did play wargames were still taken aback by the depth of the game and the time it takes to play.

That stalled things for me for some time. I had a large amount of Federation Commander games and expansions that were gathering dust and they went unused for quite some time.

At some point during the pandemic I came across some PDFs of Starship Books for Star Fleet Battles on Wargamevault. They were dry as hell. All they were was a listing of all the ships for each faction in the SFB universe (except for the ISC and Andromedans IIRC) that served as a single source for all the rule references for the ship including such ‘exciting’ details as the strength of sensors for controlling seeking weapons, what type of carrier it was etc.

An exciting sample

I bought the Kzinti and Federation versions and actually read most of them. Truly something was deeply wrong with me :-)

My FLGS had a whole shelf of SFB and Federation Commander material and so I went down and looked for some of the print versions of the books. They had been pulled form the shelves and they found it in their storage section. I managed to finagle a good deal on the books and some time later went home with a huge stack of material for Star Fleet Battles and Federation Commander. I spent a happy week cutting out and clipping counters and then ordering all of my FC SSDs into binders.

And at some point I decided that I didn’t really care if I found any real opponents. Federation Commander was opaque enough in terms of game decisions that I could play it solo and the Star Fleet Battles material was just fun to read.

I don’t know if it is age or something else but I just decided that the game and the material made me happy and that I was going to collect it. I am currently negotiating to buy all of their remaining miniatures as I suspect that it will be easier to get my friends to play if there are painted miniatures on the table.

While I was looking through yet another box of old SFB modules at the store one of the employees there mentioned that he had said to one of the other staff that I was ‘just the right age’ to be obsessed with the game. He was right. I suspect that for me Star Fleet Battles is the same as Pokemon is for some people.

I am not sure what about the game and universe there is that appeals to me but it hit me in a sweet spot when I was younger and it hasn’t let go of me since. And I am glad that it has come back into my life. Even if it means that I now have to track down a copy of the Volume III boxed set.

2 thoughts on “SFB and me

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  1. Nice blog. I too have returned to SFB after a dalliance with the system in high school. Unfortunately this was during the Commanders Edition era with its seemingly endless addenda and errata- I have more memories of inserting and removing sections of rulebook and attendant confusion than actually playing the game. Anyway, demands of studying, other interests such as playing rpgs and eventually university pulled me away from the game. Now some 35 or so years later, I am hankering to start where I left off.

    You mentioned that FC has an opacity that makes it suitable for solo play. I am looking to rig a system where I can play SFB solo (I know difficult) as I live abroad in a non-English speaking area in a very different time zone from N. America. Your comment about FC being solo-friendly got me to think about having the opposing side (“red side”) use FC rules (no energy allocation form) while I use SFB rules for my ship (“blue side”). Wonder if it will work. Anyway, would be great to read future blog posts re. playing FC and thoughts about that and SFB.

    1. I think you might want to look at the monster systems for doing solo SFB. FC is simpler to handle because there are fixed firing opportunities and launch segments so you would know when an ‘opposing’ player would be able to fire. The different monsters, like the Juggernaut, have rules that determine their actions.

      You might want to check out SFBOnline which is a system that lets you play with other gamers in an environment similar to Vassal


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