“Babylon-5 Wars” from Agents of Gaming
Review Copyright 1997 by P. Douglas Reeder
Babylon-5 Wars is a game of spaceship combat for the universe of the popular TV series "Babylon-5." Fans will appreciate the close correspondence with the series. Gamers will appreciate the variety of scenarios and tactics possible. Those scientifically inclined will appreciate spaceships that move according to a close relative of Newtonian mechanics. :-)
Ship types included in the first release include 6 cruisers, 6 fighters, 2 freighters and 1 other from four species/nations: Humans, Minbari, Centauri, and Narn. Scheduled for future products are other races like the Vorlon and Shadows, and other units like the Babylon-5 station itself.
Novice wargamers will find this game challenging to learn. In addition to counters on the hex map, each with a velocity and heading, players must keep a detailed record sheet for each ship and fighter. Some decisions about how to use energy each turn must be made, though it is MUCH simpler than the energy allocation of Star Fleet Battles. It is more complex than Cosmic Conflict or the original Starfire, less complex than Star Fleet Battles, and about as complex as Star Fleet Battles was when it was first released.
The chief problem, which does not keep the game from being playable, is a proliferation of rules, which make it hard to concentrate on tactics. Calculating the chance to hit often involves summing six numbers, normally in your head. This must be done for each weapon fired, and a typical cruiser has a dozen weapons! Fighters have two weapons each, doubling the effort to resolve fighter attacks. There are extra rules to deal with Minbari movement and Earthforce defensive systems. Rules tend to be scattered about various places in the rulebook, making it hard to locate rules you have trouble remembering, such as how many thrust points it takes to make a sideslip.
Resolving damage is interesting - each system has its own armor, which allows a medium-small shot to take out a system. You can cripple a ship by a series of modest attacks, which is very different from Star Fleet Battles.
Movement is by class and then by initiative, so fighters always can close on bigger ships, and military ships can close on civilians. Winning the initiative is mostly luck and winning it for a crucial few turns can turn the game. Personally, I used to dislike initiative movement, but it works reasonably well here, and it certainly saves time over an impulse system, such as Star Fleet Battles.
Due to the complexity, games generally take about 3 hours for a simple battle between two cruisers, less if the players are experienced. Large fleet actions are unwieldy, and running an attack on the Babylon-5 station would probably take 18 hours.
Production values are generally good: the counters are printed in full color, but are difficult to identify; the rules are book bound and the map is in six sections, allowing large battles, but not requiring undue table space for small ones. The boxed set includes twelve miniatures -- 3 fighters for each race. The size and level of detail is good, but they are having problems with their molds -- it took a drill, a Dremel tool, and epoxy to assemble them. Agents of Gaming has plans to release miniatures for many more units.
The only change I would make to the rules is to allow the energy normally allocated to a weapon that has been destroyed to be used for something else. This allows ships with a moderate amount of damage to escape into hyperspace, bringing the game in line with the TV series, and making it less bloody.
Little role-playing is possible within the scope of the B-5 Wars rules, although there is provision for exceptional helmsmen, engineers and fighter pilots, and telepaths could give a bonus to initiative. RPG fans may want to investigate "Babylon Project" an RPG from Chameleon Eclectic. If you want to combine role-playing with spaceship combat, I recommend you use the GURPS Space supplement from Steve Jackson Games, which gives excellent rules to play space battles in an RPG, and allows maximum scope for individual action.
All in all, Babylon-5 Wars is a playable but complex game.