STAR CRUISER NOTES
The text of the Star Cruiser Designers Notes is © Frank Chadwick and text entry was by Christopher Weave. It was pulled from the Grognard.com site. The text of the Missiles and Drones sections is from the Directors Guide and text entry was by myself.
As you play Star Cruiser, you will quickly find that it is considerably different from any space combat game you have played before. Our approach to designing Star Cruiser was first to try to pin down what space combat between starships was likely to be like and then to design a game that reflected it. The first step was to identify the science upon which starships were based.
THE SCIENCE OF STAR CRUISER
I've heard it said that a science-fiction author is allowed one major change in the laws of physics. I'm not certain how true that is for authors, but it's a good rule of thumb for game designers. The one major departure from current physical laws in Star Cruiser (and in Traveller: 2300) is the Jerome Drive, more commonly referred to as the stutterwarp. The Jerome Drive relies on the principle of "tunnelling" to move particles from one location to another without passing through the intervening space. Each tunnel is relatively short, but the drive cycles at a rate of millions of warps per second and thus gives the illusion of considerable speed. The apparent speed of a starship is affected by the sheer power of its drive, the warp frequency of the drive, the mass of the ship, and the presence of a gravity well. The sheer power of the drive, when compared to the mass of the ship determines the average length of the warp tunnel. Gravity severely truncates the length of the warp tunnel. Warp frequency indicates how many times the ship will tunnel per second. All of these combine to produce an apparent speed. The activity of the drive itself at high cyclic rates produces a gyroscopic effect that is referred to as pseudo-momentum. It is not true momentum in the Newtonian sense, but limits the magnitude of immediate changes in direction and velocity.
Aside from the star drives themselves; the science of starships is a relatively conservative linear projection of current technology. Power plants are based on refinements of existing designs. Weapons are directed energy beam weapons, either lasers or particle accelerators, Detonation lasers and particle accelerators are currently under development for the U.S. Strategic Defence Initiative ("Star Wars") program, and the game's submunition dispensers are an economical and logical outgrowth of this. Detection in the game is by means of neutrino detectors, infrared sensors, enhanced optics, or reflection of radar or laser radiation. In all cases these are currently available, at least in theoretical form, and require only better data processing to produce the results suggested by the game.
THE NATURE OF TACTICAL COMBAT
You can make an argument (and I am now doing so) that developments in tactical combat can largely be viewed as attempts at better solutions to the targeting problem. That is, the problem in tactical combat is seldom one of developing a weapon that will deliver sufficient damage in the event of a hit; the problem is, instead, finding a weapon that can be relied upon to achieve a hit. For example, the smoothbore musket is a perfectly acceptable mankiller, provided you can manage to hit someone with it. To increase the chances of a hit, battalions in the 17th and 18th centuries formed up in tightly packed lines and discharged their muskets in simultaneous volleys all at the same target. That enabled them to achieve a fair number of hits. To increase the individual infantryman's chance of a hit, rifling was added to the musket's barrel, and this increased the accuracy sufficiently so that a more dispersed formation could achieve the same number of hits. Massed formations could then be shot to pieces in short order, and so by the American Civil War, armies tended to fight in loose skirmish lines. The development of the machinegun combined the rifle's accuracy with the massed battalion's volley effect and did so without requiring large numbers of men to expose themselves to enemy fire. The result was more dispersion of the infantry and the need to put more firepower in the soldier's own hands-hence, the automatic rifle, grenade launcher, etc.
Naval warfare has seen a similar evolution. The 17th century's ships of the line, with twenty or thirty guns per broadside, quickly gave way to warships with rifled shell guns. Each rifled shell gun had a much higher chance of scoring a hit, and each shell did much more damage. As a result, a ship carried fewer guns but could do much more damage and do so at greater range. To counteract the effects of better guns, ships added armour. The answer to armour was larger guns, but the greater weight of large guns meant ships could carry fewer of them. To give them the same chance of scoring hits and more numerous small guns, more work was done with ballistics. Larger ships were built to provide more stable firing platforms. Rangefinders and fire directors improved gunnery accuracy. By the I 980s, many warships carried only a single gun or missile launcher.
Where is all this leading? The central problem in any tactical situation is hitting the target, There are two possible ways to increase your chances of hitting a target: Increase the per-shot chances of a hit (precision of fire) or keep the same per-shot chance of a hit but increase the number of shots fired at the target (volume of fire). Examples of both solutions can be found throughout history, but, of the two, precision of fire is clearly preferable. Why? Because the other fellow is firing at you as well, and a precision weapon is usually a smaller target than a volume weapon, all other things being equal. Consider the example of a handful of riflemen versus a massed battalion of musketeers; or the large three-decker ship of the line versus the steam frigate with a few rifled shell guns; I or the rapid-fire large calibre naval guns of a light cruiser versus the missile launcher of a Soviet Osa-class missile boat.
After thinking this through, I decided that the Star Cruiser system should concentrate on the solution of the target problem. This entails efforts of the attacker to achieve a good target solution and efforts of the target to frustrate that solution.
THE TARGET SOLUTION IN STAR CRUISER
There are three main elements to the target solution: enemy position, weapon performance, and weapon control. By enemy position we mean the location of the enemy when your shot arrives. By weapon performance we mean the actual flight path of your shot as affected by the physical characteristics of the weapon itself and the environment through which the shot passes, By weapon control we mean the degree to which you can precisely control the aiming of the weapon (quite well in a spacecraft, for example, but much less so with a rifle). As data processing improves, our ability to measure and control for each of these variables has improved, and that enables engagement of targets at successively greater ranges.
While the attacker attempts to increase his chance of a hit, the target can take measures to decrease it. Just as the two means of increasing the likelihood of a successful shot are increases in precision of fire and in volume of fire, the target's two defensive options involve decreasing the precision of fire and decreasing its effective volume. To decrease the precision of fire, the target must interfere in one of the three variables above. The easiest to control for the target is target position, and most defensive measures based on reduction of precision concern themselves with disguising target position. Simple examples of this are camouflage paint and electronic jamming of radar. In Star Cruiser the main component in this type of defence is basic ship design. Most ships are designed to minimise their "signature," the extent to which enemy sensors can detect them. Contemporary stealth technology is a good example of this. Stealth is hardly super-science; its basic principles were outlined before World War 11. In the future, considerations of radar cross section and reflectivity of materials will be basic to any military ship design.
Reducing a ship's normal emission level is important as well, as passive sensors will become much more important. Active sensors, once illuminated, are like beacons for enemy missiles and fire control equipment, and thus will often be mounted on remote sensor drones.
The second means of frustrating a target solution is to reduce the effective volume of enemy fire. Volume is reduced if rounds are rendered harmless even if they hit, and this is usually accomplished by means of armour. In Star Cruiser armour is used, but so are screens. Screens are not mysterious force fields that prevent enemy weapons from penetrating. Instead they are electromagnetic fields which hold reflective particles in suspension. When a laser hits the screen, the particles reflect a portion of the laser light and then vaporise, absorbing the rest of the laser's energy. Although some energy will penetrate the screen, often the screen absorbs or reflects enough energy that the remainder is insufficient to damage the ship.
HIDE-AND-SEEK WITH BAZOOKAS
The result of all this is that Star Cruiser sometimes resembles a very lethal game of hide-and-seek. This is certainly true of battles between smaller ships. A good analogy is to compare this to modern antisubmarine warfare. One good shot can end the battle, but that doesn't mean that the game comes down to one die roll. The true strategy and drama lies in the efforts to pinpoint the enemy and set up your shot without getting hit in return.
The most effective means of getting in your shot without being hit in return is a missile, and that is why all modern warships in the game rely heavily on missiles for their offensive ability. No matter how well a ship is constructed; it is an inherently larger target than a missile. Thus, a missile can be fired from a safe distance and has a better chance of penetrating to effective range than doe a ship. By the same token, use of a remote sensor drone can enable you to detect your enemy while remaining at a safe distance. A second solution is the use of a number of small fighters. Although a larger target than a missile, a fighter is still harder to hit than most ships and is capable of delivering a quick hard punch with either a conventional beam weapon or submunition dispensers.
In general, human fleets tend to rely more on stealth and its related technologies to avoid destruction. The Kafers, on the other hand, tend to rely more on armour and screens. This is so because the average level of intelligence and initiative is much lower among Kafers than humans, with the result that qualified pilots are much rarer. To compensate for this, Kafer fleets tend to rely on fewer very large ships, each heavily armed and protected, but virtually impossible to conceal. If human tactical battles can be likened to hide-and-seek, Kafer tactics are closer to a barroom brawl. Kafer ships close as rapidly with the enemy as possible, trusting their armour and screens to minimise damage on the approach run, and then trade broadsides until one or the other ship is crippled or destroyed, The limited number of fire directors on a Kafer ship make it fairly easy to overload its antimissile defences and land hits, but the sheer amount of punishment a Kafer ship can take can be very demoralising.
MISSILES AND DRONES
Missiles and Drones are, of course, miniature stutterwarp ships in their own right. As such they are extremely expensive pieces of equipment. The two tend to be used in conjunction with one another in combat. A vessel will send out drones to detect the enemy at a distance so that it can send its missiles to attack without having to approach the enemy itself. This means that drones are often targeted during combat. Sometimes this is because they are mistaken for missiles, but more often the enemy simply wants to deprive the missile ship of the information the drones transmit, forcing the ship to close distance itself. When considering the fact that every time a detonation missile explodes or a regular missile or a drone is destroyed by fire, another small stutterwarp engine is lost, it becomes obvious that such battles are very expensive, even if the main military vessels themselves are never hit.
- Page 78, 2300AD Directors Guide, 2nd edition