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Air Ship Combat Game Ideas

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Joined: 12/01/2008

I'm tinkering with an idea for a ship combat game.

Taking some inspiration from a setting similar to the Sun of Suns sci-fi book series.
Basically, their world is set in an air filled sack 1000s of km across and their available tech is somewhat post steam-punk in nature.
So it feels similar to zero-g space combat, in air, with low-tech wooden ships and items.

Anyway, the idea is that players will construct their ship according to some rules, and then battle it out in some kind of scenario either as a free-for-all or in teams.
I've got some ideas for this, and for movement and turn structure, and how combat should feel.

I'd like there to be an element of damage control: dealing with damaged areas of the ship, crew member injuries, fires, etc.
And I'm trying to brainstorm some ideas of what all could happen on/to said ship, and what actions the crew could be involved in.
Certainly, someone has to man the helm, gunners need to aim and fire guns. If a fire is started, someone needs to put it out. And so on.

So there are the actions and maneuvers you want the ship to perform - typical stuff, move here, target this, shoot that.
And then there are crew actions - (so far) man a station, repair an item, hand-to-hand combat, brace for impact(?)

What other ideas do you have?

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
In one of my RPG campaign we

In one of my RPG campaign we were using airships. But from a strategy point of view, combat seems pretty similar to regular naval warfare except if you want to consider the height of the ships. But managing movement in 3D is pretty annoying in a board game.

Our air ships were made of hot air baloon. Propulsion was done with wind jets which are actually vent tubes going from the front the the back of the ship. You could optionally open conical sails to catch wind if any, or you could use Air captors which are pockets around the ballood that could catch wind.

For weaponry, cannons and balista was the only thing available. Oh yes, there where dragonet riders that could be carried on Carrier air ships from where they could launch from.

These are some more thematic ideas than mechanics ideas but still it could help.

Joined: 02/16/2010

I rarely have little to say but I wanted to share a resource that should assist you in gathering thematic concepts and perhaps some early rule concepts for your game. Fun game idea, I have kicked around a similar idea for some time and cant wait to see where yours goes. Please keep us posted!

Google: Spelljammer

Look at the images, read any material you can get your hands on.


larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Was not spelljammer in space?

Was not spelljammer in space?

Joined: 12/01/2008

It was, but I think the point was that the game themes between what I'm looking for, ship space combat, and even ocean combat are going to see similar concepts.

That said, I'm sure the setting will open up some more unique possibilities, though.

Joined: 08/23/2013

For propulsion would you use Sails, Manuallly powered airscrew, or other artificial means? If so you will need an engineer or shipwright to keep things working.

For weaponry ideas projectile (large Arrows or Spears launched via bow or spring), Catapult or tube launched "greek Fire", Semi Guided "Air mines" with their own gasbags, or Bombs or darts to be dropped from above the opponent.

Joined: 12/01/2008
I'm looking at steam or

I'm looking at steam or primitive combustion engines probably. Possibly as primitive as clockwork engines.
Though sails and/or wood and canvas rudders might be used to increase maneuverability.

There's no gravity in any meaningful sense, except around the larger masses of rock and dirt. Not sure if I'm going to try and portray that in the game. At any rate, there is likely to be no "down" to drop bombs. What happens instead is self-propelled torpedoes become much easier to implement tech-wise. These could even be as simple as having a clockwork spring that turns a propeller.

Other weapons will probably be a mix of cannons, culverins, and primitive gattling style guns.

I've been doing some rudimentary testing of combat, turn structure, and maneuvering. And trying out a dice system. Starting to nail down various values for range, damage, armor, speed, etc.

I've got some mechanics options to work out for armor, but I've have to detail them in another post.

Joined: 07/12/2012
Integral Trees

Looking up Sun of Suns, I'm reminded of The Integral Trees by Larry Niven.

At any rate, it occurs to me that with no gravity, boarding parties are going to be crazy. You would probably want to set up boarding parties with wings or some such, and they would literally fly to the opposing vessel. From a military standpoint, I would probably gear my forces like that. Think of aircraft carriers. I'd like to have a ship whose primary purpose is to get my marines onto the other ship. For defense, I'd have light weaponry to defend against such an attack.

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
Like in ww2 naval ship

Like in ww2 naval ship design, having various ship for various purpose creates some sort of rock paper relation ship in the composition of the fleet. If you are missing certain type of ship or weaponty, it creates a falw your opponent could exploit.

From what I remember, my friend who designed the airship wanted to have something that burn at high strength for a long time. So he thoughts of using sweet alcool. Else by thinking about it, I there are low combustion fireplace that limit the oxygen input to have low flames and high heat, that could maybe be another solution.

By the way, we also had submarines in our world where torpedoes were propelled with yiest and Baking soda with clay and sodium as war head.

Joined: 12/01/2008
So I put together some

So I put together some rudimentary parts, ran a few tests, showed some friends, etc.

At the moment there are two distinct parts to the game: The ship building portion, and the combat portion.
If you've ever played Steve Jackson's Car Wars, you'll immediately know how this works.

The combat portion is working quite well. The highlights here are:
- 2D Hex based sky map. This make for quick and easy movement, as well as how the ship is facing.
- You do your movement and crew assignments during your turn, but you fire during your opponents' turn. This solves a number of common game problems in turn based combat. Mainly: down-time, and dealing with fast movement.
- Custom die faces for weapon fire, which makes firing a gun relatively quick, yet still has some hidden depth.

Which brings me to the construction portion.
Right now it's just a free-for-all: Here's X amount of money, pick what ever you want from these lists of items.
But this could be changed to something more interactive. Perhaps based on cards with trading, some randomness, events, etc.

The item dependencies and modifications are already somewhat complex - not that this is a bad thing, per se. But I need to make a decision about ship construction.

For list construction:
- More interesting complexity
- Can be done outside the game
- Game can include pre-built ships
- Is more complex
- Steeper learning curve
- Less interactive
Pro and Con?
- An app could be designed to aid in ship construction. (Heck, I've already created a spreadsheet with drop-down lists to speed testing and balance for ship design.)

Card construction
- Simpler
- More interactive
- Great for randomness and rarity
- More elegant (Possibly)
- Less interesting
- Can't be done outside the game
- Poor for making exacting designs
- Takes up more table space.

For example:
In list form, a player could pick from a number of guns. Then he decides where to install it on the ship, and what type of mounting to use (Forward Arc, Turret, Spinal, etc.) and these may change cost and weight of the gun. And then even select special ammo for different effects.

Whereas there's no really good way to accomplish this with cards, I don't think. Cards would probably have a few predetermined configurations built into the cards. I suppose one could design varied sized cards that are meant to be stacked. Perhaps something like, here is a medium sized card that represents a gun. Then the player might have some smaller modification cards that he could choose from to place one on top that does something, like improved ammo, or a mechanical calculator to improve range.
But even with just 2 stacked cards, I think this would get messy pretty fast. Any thoughts?

Is list construction going to be too daunting for many players? Does pre-built ships mitigate this?

Joined: 12/01/2008
Oh, one more thing:Some of

Oh, one more thing:
Some of you may know I'm a bit obsessed with custom dice ideas...

So here is how this custom die is laid out on a d8 (at least for now):
The rocket is a hit only for missile type weapons.
The 3 circles is a hit only for gear gun type weapons.
The solid pip is a hit.
The larger starburst is a crit.
the hollow starburst is a crit only for culverin type weapons.

I'm not happy that missiles currently do a fixed amount of damage (when they make contact) and I'd really like to add a conditional miss. But it's simpler this way for now.

There are 3 basic weapon types:
Gear Gun: Primitive machine gun. Longer range, better accuracy, less damage.
Culverin: Large cannon. Shorter range, more damage, more crits.
Missile: Torpedos and rockets. Long range, slow travel, high damage.

Joined: 08/23/2013
constructable miniatures

If game play is on a mat should not the miniature also be constructable to reflect changes for weapons/ propulsion/ etc? You may need something to track the weapons such as cards but it might be cooler if the miniature reflects your design.

Joined: 12/01/2008
Certainly that would be neat.

Certainly that would be neat. But I can see no way that would be possible short of it being a computer game.

Mainly, because with even just a small number of items you'd need hundreds, possibly thousands, of possible miniatures.

If you had individual parts to place or snap on, you'd still have a lot of tiny bits to manipulate, but the size of the pieces would have to be much larger, and this will probably exceed table space limitations with the map size.

The card route would have to be used with a play mat for each player (up to 11x11?) that has ship areas that small cards would be arranged on. And even this is hitting some space limitations.

For a list build, the players would get a ship sheet (8.5x11) to record all the ships info, and then place crew member pawns, tally damage, etc.

Unless I completely misunderstand your idea.

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