Game Main > Fifth Frontier War

Fifth Frontier War

designed by Marc W. Miller

1981, Game Designer's Workshop

In this interstellar combat game, there is no FTL communication faster than a courier ships. So the news that the grand admiral is basing their strategy on is often several weeks old. The game gem is the elegant way this is approximated with an abstract game mechanism.

The ugly, brute-force alternative is to have two game maps in two separate rooms, one per player, and with the assistance of a referee who provides each player with each bit of intelligence delayed by the appropriate timelag.

In other words, game rules perfectly simulating the timelag would make the game unplayable.

The FFW solution is far more elegant, abet a bit abstract.

Each task force has to pre-plot their movement several turns in advance. This approximates the effect of an admiral of that task force basing their strategy on news that may be several weeks old.

Each task force admiral has a "leadership rating". The better the admiral, the fewer turns in advance the turns have to be plotted (i.e., the leadership rating is the number of moves in advance that have to be plotted). The task forces are bound to their pre-plotted moves, even as the moves become increasingly irrelevant as the situation evolves.

So the finely honed ability of an excellent admiral to predict the future movement of enemy fleets regardless of the timelag is here approximated by the flexibility of not being bound by a lengthy set of pre-plotted moves. An admiral who can foresee far in advance is modeled in the game by a short set of pre-plots, giving a faster reaction time.

And of course there is the legendary admiral who has a leadership rating of "zero".

You see what the game designers did? The FFW abstraction provides 80% of the effect of the theoretical perfect solution, but only increased the unplayability of the game by about 20%. Which is a perfectly acceptable trade-off. No referee needed.

An amusing feature of the game is how difficult it is to remove moronic admirals with abysmal leadership ratings. Many owe their positions to well-connected fathers rather than due to merit. A bit of chrome is the Imperial Writ, which allows the imperial player to swap admirals between two fleets once during the game.