Tuesday, 19 May 2015

From Space fleet to Battlefleet gothic ? Part 2

OK, after talking about the previews of "Battle fleet Gothic" in WD119 (1989) in the previous post,  I'd like to develop a bit further on the game itself and how it evolved. The previous post and discussions around it (either on this blog or on the GW specialist Facebook group) have enabled to gather a bit more information on the whole story thanks to  Evo Von Himmel who playtested it at the studio back then and Andy Chambers who supervised the release of battlefleet gothic in its later incarnation.

Evo Von Himmel :
"There's actually a further layer to the game's history. I playtested the 'original' BFG in about 1990, prior to SpaceFleet being released, when I was working at GW.

The rules were incredibly complex, and involved lateral thrust, and protractors(!), from memory. I helped run a demo game of it at the Nottingham store. The version released in 1999 bore little to no relation to the original. 
From what I remember, the released version of BFG was a total rules re-write. I playtested both it and Confrontation at about the same time. Strange that it took nearly ten years for the new version and Necromunda to be released, and both were changed utterly from what I tested!"

Andy Chambers : "Just to round out the tale a little: When I started at the GW studio in 1990, Richard Halliwell was working on a spaceship game entitled battlefleet gothic. There was all the concept material you've seen, a plastic Imperial ship and a plastic Eldar ship already made for it, I loved the concepts from first sight, but the game was honestly not great and it never got anywhere. Andy Jones and Jervis did spacefleet a few years later to get some use out of the unreleased plastics. I tinkered around with doing a tabletop battle game for spaceships in 40K for a number of years (it started out being card driven), developed it in my own time and eventually managed to persuade studio manager Robin Dews to put it on the schedule. Because I'd always liked the name and I wanted to honour all the preceding work for it I asked that it be called Battlefleet Gothic - an easy sell since there had already been vague disappointment around the studio that the original never happened. I believe the tri-tail Eldar ship was a conversion, I might even still have it somewhere."

We now have a clear view of where the game was heading then and the similarities with confrontation and its rather complex ruleset (released at the same period) is even more surprising.

So how did the game evolve then ? The gamebox contained all gaming material for a quick and easy games playable by a younger audience as a sort of introductory game :

yep, that's right 8+...
That meant the rules must have been pretty considerably changed... Well the rulebook takes a whole A4 sheet (with cover), you basically can't get simpler than that :

aaaand you're done !

Now this may seem a little too simple but in fact, from gaming with the basic rules a few times it was already quite enjoyable. Getting this box in around 1995-96 made me get a french version (at the time sold by AGMAT which later became the french studio). Said french version came with the basic rules translated into french and published on a A4 sheet as well :

BUT, it also came up with a 24 pages A4 booklet with most of the advanced rules from WD 139 to WD141, a chance UK gamers didn't have as their only choice was to take the pages from their White dwarf magazines. French got a very well translated set of rules (rare enough to be mentionned) ordered and published in a convenient and pleasant small booklet, great job really.

But what was in the advanced rules ? Well first of all the complete rules for loads of new starships but also  loads of background material. The real thing is it didn't change the gaming mechanics but just made them a little more refined and allowed you to add depth with unusual ships and a form a progression for campaigns but always in a very straightforward way. A notable feature is that unlike many other games, Space fleet is based on simultaneous turns instead of alternate ones, with the help of "computer helms" on which you assigned orders to your ships/squadrons.

One of the things that didn't change is that the "hits" still had to be determined by throwing some D6 into the box cover... I have yet to find a single person who liked that part...

Now though this had always kind of annoyed me at the time I could have let that go for nostalgia's sake and for proper oldschool credibility. The only tiny issue with it being that my box has "aged" a little...

Well "aged" might not be the proper term here... DESECRATED would seem far more adapted to the situation... See that stain right in the middle ? Yeah that big yellow stain with the nauseating ammoniac stench and the wrinkled cardboard...


Just witness Jacky's (that's my cat) total carelessness for my pain and anger
But to make things right I just found another way which would hopefully please everyone. I simply placed an order at Impact ! who quickly delivered me the solution I had wanted for so long... As the grid has 9 parts and that there are no cheap D9s to be had anywahere, I opted for D18 which will serve the exact same purpose.

Far more elegant and convenient that throwing dice in a box...
Just throw a 8+ on these babies and you get the same result (and I do NOT want to hear about math freaks telling me about the bias of bouncing on the sides...)

But back on track, what did the advanced rules bring ? They were published in WD139 from the initial release of the game (July 1991) until WD147.

Contents were the following (info stolen from some forum I can't trace back) :

WD139 :
New Components/Rules: Battlefleets, Spaceship data cards, Helm computers, counters, four pages of rules, and loads of background material.
New Ships: Emperor Capital Ship, Gothic Battleship, Ironclad Battleship, Firestorm Cruiser, Cobra Destroyer, Castellan Shield Ship; Eldar Wraithship.

WD140 :

New Components/Rules: Galactic Civilization, Stellar Fleets, Sub-Stellar Ships, Planetary Defense, Spaceship data cards, counters, & twelve pages of rules and loads of background material.
New Ships: Dominator Battleship, Tyrant Battleship, Galaxy Troop Ship, Goliath Factory Ship; Eldar Shadowhunter.

WD141 :

New Components/Rules: Flagship data cards, Spaceship data cards, counters, & fourteen pages of rules and loads of background material.
New Ships: Annihilator Battleship, Dicator Battleship, Thunderbolt Cruiser, & Stalwart Escort Ship.

WD146 :
New Components/Rules: Action cards, Command cards, Spaceship data cards, counters, & nine pages of rules and loads of background material.
New Ships: Hiveship, Dark Prowler, Drone, Wardrone, Deathburner Kraken, Doomripper Kraken, Ramsmiter Kraken, Hellblaster Kraken, Spore Mines, & Void Fiend.

WD147 :

New Components/Rules: Spaceship data card & one page of rules.
New Ship: Constellation Targeting Ship. 

The handy thing was every ship had a simple data card with all special rules and characteristics :

Note the very simple rule where each weapon gets a determined number of dice to throw (as in the box) to attack. Starightforward, simple, effective, the more the better, end of story. 
Advanced rules also introduced concepts as formations (which therefore demanded more models and board tiles).

And also gave you bits of essential knowledge about the 40k world as this chart explaining you the minimum and maximum "warp" times for a given "real world" distance...

yeah, take that general relativity !

Model wise, the 3 different factions were not really balanced in terms of variety and style...

The Imperial fleet got the lion's share of course with a big dozen of different ships from huge Emperor Capitol ships to small cobra destroyers. You can see the full collection on Solegend (from which I took all the pictures below).

In terms of style, the ships pretty much all fit with Jes Goodwin's sketches and rulewise some are really interesting with some having powerful weapons but no shields, some other the opposite and so on..

EDIT : Thanks to Ian Wood for pointing that a bucnh of teh ships were actulaly repurposed from older ranges, these are mostly the ones with no "Goodwin gothic touch" in the picture below.

Imperial fleet
Funnily enough, the eldars only got 2 ships in the whole process... a very strange thing considering how gracious and evocative these are... Considering there were no previous range to repurpose for the occasion this probably lead the studio to keep with a small amount of new ships for them.

Eldar fleet
And then the Tyrannid fleet. Now this may come as a surprise to see the tyrannids getting so much attention in this game when they were not really as well suited in Rogue trader with only few references (compared to the eldar at least).
Well the main reason is that a good amount of models were directly taken and repurposed from the Star Cruisers range.
Tyrannid fleet
But what now ? Should I go into details on how the game evolve to become Battlefleet gothic again ? Well to be fully honest, I did try Battlefleet gothic a couple of times but it needed some commitment for me (mostly in terms of models and time) and I never got round that part so I have to say it sort of passed me by...

Yep, the terrifying truth about squats is that they were wiped off by sea food...
Now I still feel strongly about Space fleet and its simplicity and it also visually refers more to the Rogue Trader aesthetic I favour... So all in all I managed to get my hands on a fistful of ships from which I'd like to make 2 roughly equal lists to have some fun. Being a game you can play with younger ones, I'll hope I'll have the models ready (and the kids too) in short a notice enough to live this bit of gaming nostalgia again...


  1. Bloody cat's!!!

    I've got the same thing in my Space Marine box lid too. Not the piss, the dice rolling grid :p

    What's special about the dice? Are they 18 sided?

    Just out of curiosity, how good/bad was the amount of English to French translated stuff from GW like? Did you miss out on much, if anything?


    1. Dude, you make me realise I didn't even explain about the dice... (just corrected that) they're indeed D18s so they can just give you a D9 roll as easily !
      To be honest, the stuff translated by the french studio was actually not bad at all, some choices were made that could have been argued but it was always made by enthusiasts and with motives. It's a real shame nowadays they don't translate any unit name or model name, leaving those who don't speak english well enough with a mixture of english and french.
      Translations of some 2000AD publications and some standards of the fantasy-sci-fi litterature (Tolkien, Moorcock, Asimov, King...) causes serious harm to the interest the french had in them (just my opinion).
      Reading expressions like "to hit the road", "kick the bucket" or other slike that, translated literrally is a killer if you don't know the expression in english (and if you do know it you prefer to read it in english).
      Anyway, all this to say that yes, we were quite lucky with the transaltion we got on that partcular point. ^^

  2. ohhh I am so full of envy right now, that's a nice (and Expensive) collection of ships you have managed to aquire, I soi regret not getting that set back when I was younger, I went for Ultra Marines and Mighty Warriors instead, neither of which I still have :(

    1. Well those didn't cost me much so far as I've got some from back then, some others were given to me and the others were simply traded for other models. I'd really like to get my hadns on Tyrannid models but I nee dto reduce the amount of lead I have for the time being... You can also get some good proxies from EM4 (3 models on the bottom right of the last picture are from them).

  3. I'm pretty sure Halliwells space combat game would have been great if taken into production, but then I tend to like his game design. Space Fleet is at the real start of GW developing very simplistic rulesets (as you note, 8+) in comparison with the more traditional wargames, something like FASA Star Fleet Battles, which was hugely popular or Battletech: Aerotech (which wasn't) with its physics, gravity wells, damage locations and whatnot - great for simulating space combat, but a bit too maths and record keeping heavy for an 8 y.o. Similarly you can compare Adeptus Titanicus with Battletech - same basic customisable giant robot tabletop game concept but with considerably less crunch.

    Also... Rogue Trader was originally going to be spaceship combat rules by Rick Priestly. No idea if he worked those up, or if they fed into whatever Hal was working on in the 90s, or the development of Battle Space Fleet Gothic....

    Certainly someone in the design studio liked the dice-drop mechanic enough to port it into 40k, but I don't know anyone who actually used it.

    1. i'll have to dig out about Halliwell's SPace combat game as I didn't know about that...
      For me from what's been relayed by the studio staffers and by what you can see from the models, the interesting point is that Space fleet was a sort of salvage of all sorts of concepts (Goodwin's sketches), models (from the previous ranges Citadel owned) and from background material they had prepared for the orginal "Battlefleet Gothic"
      It sort of echoes the salvage attempt they did with Confrontation by using the Laserburn rules the very rules heavy version of Battlefleet probably comes from imitating Batteltech Aerotech.
      We coudl also point out that sandbox games aimed at youg audience were not Kirby's doing in the first place (though he definitely turned that into the only form of marketing).

    2. Oh, I don't think we should be blaming Kirby for the simplification thing. During Steve and Ians hands-on period, we got successes like Bob Connors Talisman and their Fighting Fantasy, both very much intended to be streamlined D&D (Heroquest follows the same pattern). But I think Space Fleet / Titanicus saw the approach to simplifying and packaging war-gaming - naval/space and tank/mecha respectively.

      Might have to give Aerotech another spin before flogging it...

    3. The original game was apparently very rules heavy, with you needing a degree in Math to play it, both with both it being 3d and vector based.

      It was decreed that it was to complex.

    4. It seems so yes, the engineer in me would very much like to try it... 😁

    5. Forgot who one spoke to about the original system, off top of head you might want to try Jake Thornton.

  4. Interesting post, Mr. ALMan. I would like to see a game of Space Fleet played out, or better yet, I would love to try it. I am a big fan of Battlefleet Gothic and have also used those rules for some very enjoyable WWI naval games as well. But the thing I am most intrigued by is the D18 dice! Where did you find those? I just want to play Warhammer and Battlefleet with D18's!!!

    1. AHA !you're not paying attention ! I ordered those cool dice from Impact! just follow the link).
      From having played Battlefleet so little times I can't really have a vie on it but I know I enjoyed Space flet and I love recreating historical naval manoeuvers with space ships (I remember once when both my brother and I tried to pull the same Nelson trick on the other, trying to get our own whips between the other's...) good times really. I'll hope I'll be able to entertain you with a suitable battle report in the coming year good sir !

    2. Ooops! Sorry, Mr. ALMan, you are right. I was so distracted by thoughts and sudden dreams of D18's I did not even see your link. Even when I re-read your post! I'm like that on the tabletop too - I'll get so caught up in a particular scene or group of minis on the table that I often miss my opponent's move! Anyway, thanks for the link, I'm off to get me some D18's!!

    3. Well, not That it should comfort either of us, I'm exactly like That too... Great minds... ;)

  5. Woo, fame at last! It's an interesting story, to be sure. Just wish I'd kept the playtest rules I got given. ;)

  6. I would really, really like to catch a copy of that original and never published uber complicated BFG...

    1. Yep, same here, I believe that's it's a holy grail as the original confrontation rules ! One can always dream though !

  7. est-il possible d'avoir les pdf des regles avancées en Français merci ?

    1. Sur la page FB de la communauté oldhammer francophone, on doit pouvoir aider. ;)

  8. I remember being in my local GW store the day they were taking Space Fleet ships off the shelves. My friend and I got given a handful of blisters for free, but as there was no one playing the game in our area I ended up using an Emperor Capitol ship as a power-board for one of my plastic Space Marine captains. I thought it was cool even if no one else did!

    1. My younger self would have loved that, my present self just cringed a bit and smiled. ^^


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