Leviathan 3000 - Designer Notes
I grew up with the Apollo moon landings and 2001 a Space Odyssey. I've always been a science-fiction nut.
So it drives me spare whenever i see spaceships flying around like Spitfires, all banking and curving and swooping.
Space doesn't work like that. There's no air, no wings, no flying. It's all about momentum and thrust.
I'd grown up from reading 1950's and '60s pulp sci-fi to the more “hard science” style – in particular Leviathan owes its roots to C J Cherryh's Downbelow Station series. Novels well written that were very aware of gravity and momentum. They depict battles in and around orbiting space stations and I still remember the tension I felt reading those books.
In my late teens along came Star Wars and the Death Star – a scientifically implausible space dog-fight that was the last straw for me.
At the time I was playing a lot of Ogre and I liked the fact that it was a relatively small and quick game, but with lots of strategic and tactical choices. Easy to understand, quick to play, but very enjoyable.
What I wanted to do was combine hard science, science-fiction and game playing and so Leviathan 3000 was born.
The core game mechanic of movement is the same as (I later discovered) the dot and dash games that many have played. It's not complicated – in fact it actually works really well on the board – I'm not going to talk about that in this article though.
The harder part was working through the choices that would (a) make the game playable and fun and (b) sort of it fit with some sense about how the real “future” world may develop that would work for a game.
So firstly, we have to invent a means by which space-ships can colonise the galaxy and easily move around solar systems. We all know from the Apollo landings and probes to Mars that space flight takes a looooooonnnnggg time. That wouldn't work for game play so I allowed that we would have powerful thrusters to move around in-system and some means of “jumping” through hyperspace between stars.
I decided that traditional missiles, which while they might work in “real” space combat could be ruled out here. Just tracking them and co-ordinating them I couldn't make work in game play. So instead I invented beam and particle weapons. Now I'll argue a case for why they make sense.
If you blow something up in space what you get is lots of shrapnel moving at near relativistic speeds – they are incredibly dangerous and destructive (you've seen Gravity, you know what I mean). So I figured the armed services would avoid those, since one good battle around a planet would effectively cover it an a shell of lethal debris that would prevent anyone ever landing or taking off from there again.
This decision also meant I could justify using the good old hex and counter mechanics of range and strength for combat. It's familiar and easy to pick up. It lets you trade long-range weak weapons against short-range strong weapons. Which is strategically fun and interesting.
Now as far as I can see a space station would actually be quite delicate when it comes to combat – nothing like the Death Star at all. A few small scale attacks could easily de-stabilise a space station. So I suggest that they are neutral zones. No-one wants to destroy a space station – all sides in the war depend on them and they are full of civilians. They are economically fundamental and represent supply channels for forces at war.
In order to ensure they were seen as neutral, the stations themselves would not be able to arm up – otherwise they would become targets very quickly.
That eliminated another problem – how a few “gnats” of space planes could sensibly game against a massive space station.
I went back and forth and around and around on this for ages. But in the end, I could not make gravity work properly within the game mechanics. So in the end I opted for a bit of cop-out. In theory you can use the game movement process to put a ship into orbit around a planet, but in practice because hexes are low-resolution compared to orbital mechanics in practice its pretty much impossible to make this work. So the cop-out is that as long as you are at the right speed in the right place, you can orbit a planet in the gravity well.
So far so good, but then I found that planets as such weren't really interesting. If I was going to stick with “realistic” space flight and space distances then I couldn't justify two planets on one map. One planet, apart from being somewhere to go, just didn't add enough game play.
So I cheated a little and said that the atmosphere (albeit very thin at orbital distances) actually affected the weapons used and reduced their effective range. That now meant that battles around a planet are very different than battles in space. This made the planets much more interesting for game play.
Leviathan 3000 - Designer Notes
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