Voidfall Design Spotlight #7

Exterminate, Aggression and Maps

2021. September 01.

After last week’s Kickstarter date announcement and prototype unboxing we’re continuing the design spotlight series today! Previously, the designers took a closer look at Prosperity and Reinforcements, how you exploit your Empire through production and how to reinforce your fleets. Today, it’s time to talk in a bit more detail about the eXterminate part of Voidfall: the combat system.

In our previous spotlight posts and the BGG descriptions, we’ve described the combat system in Voidfall as “zero-luck” and “deterministic”, but what do we really mean by that?

First of all, it means you can calculate the outcome of a combat before you commit to the invasion, and only attack when you know you will succeed. This will create a constant tension when facing other players’ expanding might: you know as well as they do when they are ready to take another sector from the Voidborn, or scarier still: from you. How many more turns can you delay building defences or more fleets before you become a doormat on their path to galactic hegemony?

A game of Voidfall comes with a handy set of modular combat reference boards for each fleet type in the game. If the Technology selection in a game includes a special fleet type, simply add it to the reference board for that game. Below, you can see an example reference board with the standard Corvette fleet (present in every game), plus the powerful, capital-class Dreadnought, available only by researching its Technology. As we’ve shown two weeks ago, Capital class fleets have a lower Power cap and cost upkeep, but bring some unique combat capabilities to the table.

Combat in Voidfall is split into one Approach and one or more Salvo steps. The Approach step is mostly about Sector Defences inflicting damage on the invading battlegroup. Each damage recalls a Fleet Power (of your choice) to your reserve on your player board, unless it is absorbed. Then you move on to Salvo steps, which you’ll repeat until only one side has Fleet Power remaining. At the start of each Salvo step, you check who has higher Initiative, and that side fires first dealing exactly 1 damage to the other battlegroup, followed by the other side firing back (if they’re not dead yet). In the event of a tie in Initiative, both battlegroups fire simultaneously.

As you see on the reference boards, Corvette Fleets have 1 Initiative per Fleet Power, while Dreadnoughts have 1 absorption and 2 initiative per Fleet Power. How does this work in combat?

Say you have a Corvette Fleet of 3 Power and you decide to invade a Voidborn sector which is defended with a Voidborn fleet and Sector Defence. (Voidborn Fleets don’t use cubes to track Power, each token is 1 Power.)

In our example your Fleet has no absorption capability so a Fleet Power is lost (returned to your reserve on your player board) leaving you with 2 Fleet Power. So your Corvette fleet of 2 power, which has 2 Initiative, the Voidborn have 1 corrupted fleet which has an initiative of 1, so you fire first, destroying the Voidborn and winning the combat. If you had invaded with just 2 Fleet Power, the outcome would have been rather different. After the loss in Approach you would have been tied for Initiative and both sides would lose their last Fleet Power. In the case of mutual annihilation the Voidborn reclaim the sector (regardless of who owned it originally, even if the combat is between 2 player houses).

How about some Dreadnought action in the same scenario? Let’s see what happens if you have 1 Dreadnought and you invade the same Voidborn sector! During approach your Dreadnought fleet suffers 1 damage from the sector defence, but you have 1 Absorption, so that loss is cancelled. In the first Salvo you have 1 Dreadnought Fleet Power which has an initiative of 2, so you fire first and defeat the corrupted fleet with no loss at all. What about facing two Sector Defences and a Voidborn Fleet? In this case, your lone Dreadnought would sadly lose, as it would absorb the first Defence’s shot, but perish from the second. Except of course, if you improve your Dreadnought Technology, which unlocks an additional capability shown for the Dreadnought in the Approach step: it would be able to ignore one Sector Defence entirely! Then, it would absorb the second one’s shot, and defeat the Fleet the same way as shown before.

Thus, the basic Dreadnought’s strength lies in being able to take on one defence and one Voidborn or Corvette Fleet Power (or two Fleet Power and no defence) per its own Power, but it succumbs to a large number of Sector Defences. Other Fleet types (Destroyers, Sentries, Carriers) have other strengths and weaknesses, leading to a galactic rock-paper-scissor arms race when multiple of them are available as Technologies in the game (which is the case in most scenarios).

Player vs Player Combat works in the same way, but you have to keep an eye on your opponents Technologies as they might have tricks like yours… Let’s have a look at another example!

You have a Corvette Fleet of 3 Power, and I decide to Invade. I have a Dreadnought Fleet and a couple of Corvette Fleets adjacent; so how many Fleet Power do I need to invade with to win the battle?

Let’s see what happens if I invade with just the Dreadnought. In the Approach step nothing happens, as there are no defences or Fleets that activate. In the first Salvo step I have an Initiative of 2 and you have 3. You fire first, and I absorb the damage, then I fire back and you recall a Fleet Power (returning it to your reserve). In the second Salvo step we tie for Initiative, so we fire simultaneously: I have no absorption left, so I lose the Dreadnought fleet and you lose another Fleet Power, leaving you with a Corvette Fleet of 1 power. I could do this if my only goal was to weaken you, but it’s probably a waste of an action. So a single Dreadnought power is not enough.

What about if I invade with a Dreadnought and a Corvette Fleet, both with 1 Power? I split my Corvette Fleet of 2 Power into two Fleets of one, and move one of them into your sector to help the Dreadnought. Again, nothing happens in the Approach Step. In the first Salvo we now both have initiative 3, so we fire simultaneously: I absorb the damage and you recall one Fleet Power. In the second Salvo I still have initiative 3, but you only have an initiative of 2, so I fire first, forcing you to recall another Fleet Power, leaving you with 1. Your Fleet fires back - and either my Corvette or the Dreadnought Fleet need to lose a Fleet Power (and thus removing the Fleet entirely). If I remove the Dreadnought we will be tied for Initiative next Salvo (1 Fleet Power in a Corvette Fleet each), but if I remove the Corvette Power, my lone Dreadnought Fleet will still have initiative 2 against your initiative of 1, thus I will fire first, and winning the battle before you can fire back.

You might think the mighty Dreadnoughts are unstoppable, but there is a battlegroup limit: at the end of each of your turns you cannot have more than 2 Fleets in a sector (any excess is automatically recalled). This means a player can have up to 6 Corvette Power in a sector, while with basic Dreadnought Fleets you are limited to a single Power each, so until you improve the Dreadnoughts tech, having more than 2 Dreadnought Fleet Power in a sector poses a serious challenge. Additionally, you cannot attack with all your Fleets: if you leave any sector other than your Home sector devoid of Fleets, the lurking Voidborn will immediately reclaim and corrupt it.

But looking for new Fleet Types is not the only way to enhance your military capabilities. Some Technologies allow you to gain additional firepower, while others specifically upgrade your Corvette Fleets. For example, let’s take a look at the Torpedoes Technology!

With this technology your Corvettes deal 1 extra damage in the first Salvo step. This means a Fleet of Corvettes at power 2 with Torpedoes can defeat a lone Dreadnought, for the loss of 1 Corvette Power, or a Corvette Fleet of power 3 could take out a lone Dreadnought with no loss! This is quite remarkable, if you remember that the same Corvette Fleet without Torpedoes loses 2 Fleet Power defeating the same lone Dreadnought.

So in a game of Voidfall, the tension doesn’t come from will I win the battle, but from when do I invade, where do I invade from, and how many actions do I spend setting up a more efficient invasion?

Additionally, as only two of your Focus cards have an Invasion action, and you can only invade from adjacent sectors, the design of the map and how far away you are from your opponents makes a big difference on how much potential of player-to-player war will exist during play. On a smaller map, where even after a single Invasion you might find yourself sharing borders with your rival Houses, the threat of Combat is the main driving source of tactical considerations: sure, you could efficiently invade another Voidborn sector for a lot of Influence and new space, but if you only leave one Fleet Power in your well-developed sector with three Bankers’ Guilds, surely your opponent will be able to justify “wasting” one action to snag a ready made Influence-engine away from you...

Take a look at the three-player maps of two different scenarios: Art of War is all about immediate and straight-up conflict, with a massive Vortex in the middle of the map connecting all players to each other - all sectors adjacent to the Vortex are adjacent to each other. Complemented by a rather aggressive Technology tableau, this map is all about that “Mexican stand-off in space” feeling.
On the other hand, For Peace and Prosperity is a much larger map, with a prize in the middle, which is only reachable if you focus on repeated expansion. Who will have spare time to also terrorize their opponents when they have the option of either grabbing an incorruptible Paradise World, or focus on building a small and efficient Empire using the rather combo-prone Technologies specifically selected for this scenario?

In our next spotlight, we will look at the Houses of Voidfall and the asymmetry they bring to the game, and take a closer look at the player board and the Civilization tracks on them. Don’t forget that you can now subscribe to the Kickstarter pre-launch page and get notified on September 28 when the campaign goes live: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mindclash/voidfall?ref=...