FreeSpace Tactics is a tabletop space battle game based on the classic late-90s video game Descent: FreeSpace – The Great War. Take control of an advanced space fighter and have a thrilling dogfight between the Terran Alliance and the Vesudan Empire.
Chris Taylor, who helped design the original Fallout and Fallout 2 (and should not be confused with the Chris Taylor who designed Dungeon Siege), is helming the design of FreeSpace Tactics. The base set of the game has enough miniature ships for 2 - 4 players, each controlling a single ship. Stretch goals for the game's Kickstarter could increase the number of vessels included significantly. Note that all images shown are prototypes and not final production models.
Chris explained to us a great deal about how the game will work and what players can expect.
io9: At what point in the FreeSpace timeline is this game set?
Chris Taylor: FreeSpace Tactics starts in the final years of the Great War between the Terrans and the Vasudans, just before the Shivan invasion. In the video game timeline, this is just slightly before the start of the first FreeSpace game. This ensures that we get the core ships that really form the baseline for gameplay: the Apollo, Valkyrie, Anubis and Horus. One fighter and one interceptor for each side gave us a very solid game in the core set, but one we can expand with other ship types.
io9: What factions will the players be able to control?
Taylor: The two core factions are the Terrans and the Vasudans. They each have a nice mix of ships and are similar in play, but have enough differences that you don't feel like you are playing the same side. If we're successful, we would like to add the alien Shivans invaders. The Shivan weapons are really different.
Some of the missions may refer to sub-factions. Fans of the video game know that not every Terran or Vasudan agrees with how the war should be fought. There will be plenty of opportunity for inter-faction combat.
io9: What types of maneuvers and weapons will be available to each ship?
Taylor: Each ship comes with a number of attack dice for a basic attack. This can be modified by your choice of move card. Many move cards use just the basic attack dice, others have modifiers and some ace cards replace the basic attack with a completely different pool of dice. The initiative value on each move card determines when you will get to move and attack with your ship. The stand of each ship type has a different movement arc and the colors of the arc link up with the icons on the move card. The same move card will have a different result depending on which ship you play it on.
There are move icons for straights, easy turns, hard turns and even a few 180° loops. Some cards have multiple icons, so you can make a straight followed by an easy turn or your choice of two types of turns. The maximum move distance is based on your ship.
All ships have guns, but guns come in different flavors. Some are better at attacking shields while others do more damage against unshielded hulls. There are attack bonuses for maneuvering into the rear arc of your target or attacking at close range. Long range shots are more difficult to make.
Most ships have missiles, but those are limited. Missiles can only be fired at medium or long range. They use a special attack die that varies the amount of damage they inflict but can also have a special effect. A missile can cause a critical hit that is drawn from a pile of special counters or the missile can malfunction completely!
Defensive cards can be played from your hand to counter an attack, but there are costs of doing so (usually giving up your own attack as you attempt to dodge, but there can be other negatives).
Each pilot also adds a number of ace cards to the player's deck. This gives a player the chance to customize their deck to fit their play style.
io9: Obviously this game is primarily inspired by the FreeSpace video games. Does it draw inspiration from any tabletop ship-to-ship combat games?
Taylor: I've been a fan of tabletop space combat games for a very long time. From the complex, like Star Fleet Battles, to more casual games, like Silent Death, I've played a bunch. No doubt there are some influences as I incorporate aspects of these games that I enjoy. It's not really a conscious decision, however.
The success of [Fantasy Flight Games'] X-Wing miniatures game helped launch FreeSpace Tactics by showing that there is a strong demand for these types of games. They have done an excellent job with the quality of their miniatures and rules. I'm an X-Wing player and have a decent set in my collection.
With FreeSpace Tactics, I started with rules for a fan-made convention game that I did years ago using a different IP. It was a project that let me and my friends push some cool toys around a starmap and blow things up. I'd say there are only about 10-20% of those rules remaining as we've developed FST into its own game. My favorite new bit is the deck customization, which is really a key component of the game now.
io9: In the original FreeSpace, capital ships could play a major role in missions. Is that simulated in any way in this game?
Taylor: Oh, the capital ships were one of the coolest parts of the original games. We didn't forget those! There would be no way of making "miniatures" in any scale close to the fighters, so we have plans to add a capital ship mat with defensive turrets if we make enough stretch goals. Even without the mat, there is one scenario that involves a capital ship bordering one side of the map. One team must defend the ship from attackers.
io9: Are there different scenarios or win conditions, or any way to link missions into a sort of campaign?
Taylor: We're planning on six scenarios for the core set. Each scenario will come with a suggested list of ships to use with the core box and then guidelines for how to increase the size with expansions. The first few scenarios are pretty basic, but have variants to alter how they play (by adding asteroids or fighting within a dust cloud). The others are based on missions from the computer game. Each mission has different victory conditions, but you can't go wrong by blowing your opponents into space dust.
We would love to expand the game with a full-blown campaign. We have ideas right now for pilot experience and skills, ship repairs, tech upgrades, linked missions and more. If there is enough demand, we will certainly be very happy to add that to the FreeSpace Tactics system.