Friday, March 6, 2009

First Impressions: Federation Commander

Having amassed a collection of Starfleet Battles (SFB) games and supplements, I SWORE I wasn't going to invest in Amarillo Design Bureau's (ABD's) Federation Commander.

That is, until someone on The Miniatures Page (TMP) offered a great deal for slightly-used copies of both Federation Commander: Klingon Border and Federation Commander Romulan Border. After reading the favorable reviews on TMP, I decided to take the plunge and bought both sets.

Being a Star Trek fan and a wargamer, I bought SFB when it was first published as a microgame way back in 1979. Since then the SFB series grew in size--and complexity. Nearly 50 games, supplements or modules have been produced since SFB's initial release. In addition to the increasingly complicated rules, ABD introduced several alien races that were not part of Star Trek lore; like the Vudar, Seltorians and Jindarians, to name a few. The starships themselves acquired a dizzying array of weapon systems and capabilities, while new ship-types were constantly being added to each race's Fleet Order of Battle.

By the early 90's I completely lost track of where the "Star Flee Universe" was headed and bought only a few releases that struck my fancy. I noticed Federation Commander on the game store shelves a couple of years ago, but I was reluctant to invest in it. However, as I mentioned above, after getting a great deal on the two used games, I'm glad I did.

The Ship System Displays (SSDs) are color-coded and laminated cardstock, while the map board consists of heavy cardboard displaying distant stars, versus the SFB's plain-black paper map. (The initial map was actually blue). The counters are also a great improvement over SFB's two-tone pieces. Individual ships are now represented on both 1/2-inch and 1-inch counters in full color. Some ships even sport a camouflage paint-scheme.

All the reviews I read about Federation Commander were favorable. The rules are considered more streamlined and therefore more playable than SFB.

While criticism of SFB's complexity is deserved, wargamers themselves should be aware of what SFB and Federation Commander were designed to portray. Both games are intended to give players that "Scotty-I-need-more-power" adrenaline rush, not deciding the fate of the galaxy. As such either game is best enjoyed if each player commands a small number of ships--maybe even only 1 vessel. Fleet admirals shouldn't be worried about how best to allocate energy for all his destroyer escorts' auxiliary power reactors.

But for those who do want to conquer the galaxy (or maybe even defend it), Federation Commander comes in two scales. The first is "Squadron Scale" which is suited for ship-to-ship combat, while the second is "Fleet Scale" for larger actions.

I do have one gripe about the games' packaging. Both games come in white boxes that are only 1.5 inches deep. If you're going to amass a starfleet to conquer the galaxy then the playing pieces will be difficult to store. The boxes themselves are sheathed by illustrated sleeves which are rather annoying to remove and replace. I'm assuming this is all some production cost saving measure.

Complete information on ABD's products can be found online at:

Anyone interested in the development of SFB can go to:

The Federation Commander Website:

Both games retail for $59.95.

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