Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide
From: VBAM Project
Reviewed by: Ron McClung
Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide is a new Full-Featured Space Strategy Campaign System from VBAM Project.
NOTE: Because of how involved this game is, I was not able to make the time to actually play the game.
From the front cover: “A Full Featured Space Strategy Campaign System”The book boasts quite a bold statement (see above) and judging by its size, I had my doubts. Many have tried similar attempts at what it claims, only to fail miserably. At under 100 pages, it seem to me that this system is at least not as overwhelming as one would expect. I was some what intrigued by this endeavor despite its "right-out-of-Kinkos" look and somewhat lack-luster art.
Content: Within the pages of the Victory By Any Means (VBAM) rulebook are the rules to run a complete space strategy game including the economics, military and social aspects of a sci-fi universe. It really does come across as simple and straight forward, and reading it is really easy. The rulebook opens with simple introductory information including what you need to play, picking alien races and creating a galaxy map. The random galaxy map generator is really simple, but it could take some time based on the size of the map you decide to use.
The universe, once all rings of the galaxy are determined, ends up being reminiscent of something like Twilight Imperium, the board game, except a little more complicated and a little more planets. Every world has jump routes to the next ring and onward, allowing for a web of jump routs going in and out of each ring of the galaxy. The rings all emanate from a central world known as the hub. Player home worlds are chosen from the last ring.
The majority of the remaining content is an explanation of each of the phases in a turn. There are nine phases, ranging from income phase to supply phase to construction phase. It appears that all that you would expect in a game like this is covered. Also included are extensive optional rules.
The last sections of the book supply the players with source material including sample galaxies, sample scenarios and sample alien races. There are eight scenarios that range from a two player simple scenario to six or seven player free for all. Also included are the record sheets needed to play which of course need to be copied several times. They are not as complicated as they could be but in fact are very straight forward.
System: On important thing to note is there are two ways to play this game with or without a campaign moderator (CM). In some cases, the rules have variations based on whether you have a CM or not.
One of the goals of this system that is quite apparent is its flexibility. It can be adapted to any universe with a minimum amount of work, or it could even be a great venue for the ultimate crossovers you have been thinking about. The sample races act as the only guideline to creating your own race, however. It would have been nice to include a simple race creation system to create balanced races for the game.
The flexibility also extends to the modularity of the sub-systems. One could plug-and-play their own ship combat system if they did not like the one provided. This can be done with most any of the sub-systems. I found that to be a good approach to a game like this.
From the back cover: “Those also serve that stand and weld.”The turn runs through several phases, as mentioned above, and covers production and income, intelligence and diplomacy, as well as the ever present specter of war. As you read into the rules of each phase, as you might expect, much in one phase affects and is intertwined with other actions within other phases. Basically, the nine phases are as follows:
1) Income Phase - This is a fairly simple phase of calculating production from all your worlds and subtracting off maintenance of your current empire. I can imagine this being time consuming, but one would expect that. I used to play an extensive board game called Supremacy, and the income phase in that game was one of the longest.
2) Turn Order Phase - Reading this got complicated because it involves so much. This is where the strategy and ones ability to know the system comes in. All orders are written down and once they are done, there is no changing them. I like this because there are so many times in games similar to this a person cheats and changes his mind based on actions in the game. A grand empire would not have the luxury to change its mind in mid-stream in my opinion.
3) Tech Phase - Tech advancement is handled in a interesting kind of way. Every 12th turn, a percentage is calculated based on the number of economic points invested in tech advancement and the number required for tech advancement (which is usually 50% of the empire's total domestic product. If it sounds confusing, the example given clears it up pretty quickly. However, the effects of increased technology are not immediately apparent and much is left to the players or the CM to create and apply to the game. In general, a successful tech advancement increases the Empire's tech level, but nothing specific is given on what tech that is. It does say that any further detailed tech advancement would require a CM and possibility a tech tree that I suppose the CM and/or players create.
4) The Intel Phase - This phase covers not only intelligence but also diplomatic missions as well. Again, like tech advancement, this requires allocation of economic points to the Intel pool. They can be used offensively and defensively. Diplomacy is defined in good detail, outlining types of treaties and states of diplomacy between two powers. Intel missions are defined and can range from espionage and sabotage. Because much of the information a player has about his empire is kept secret including trop and fleet movement, intelligence in this game is invaluable. I like a game that puts a strong value on intelligence and diplomacy. This game does it well.
5) Movement Phase - This is what you would expect - movement between systems and along trade routs, as well as raider movement. Ships move at a fixed rate along routes. Trade routes are set in this phase and just happen unless interrupted by something. Ground Units move via ships or Transport fleets.
6) Combat - This is where it gets particularly nasty. This is by far the most complicated part of the game - but what combat system is not. It takes a macro view of fleet-to-fleet combat, using an encounter and scenario system that is quite unique. Explaining it here would be very difficult, but let us just say it covers a lot in very general but sometimes confusing terms. An extensive example is given that is pretty clear and concise. My complaint is the use of terminology - a scenario can be an overall model for the campaign or a model for a combat encounter. I think a better term could have been used for the latter to keep it from being confused.
There are five phases within combat: Supply Phase, Encounter Phase, Space Combat, Orbital Bombardment, and Troop Combat Phase. The system itself is abstract in some ways, but it does make sense. It might take several practice runs to get used to and to understand all its nuances. Space combat is handled differently from ground combat, and there are extensive examples of both.
7) Construction Completion Phase - This is another very important and therefore somewhat complex phase. Repairs and construction of any kind of unit is covered in this phase. You can also 'mothball' units or stick them on reserve status which lowers their maintenance cost. Combat damage can be repaired. Units can also be completely scrapped Everything costs economic points, of course, and is pretty straight forward. The complexity comes in when you decide where the units can be constructed based on the productivity of the system and other factors like space docks and shipyards.
8) Update Asset Phase - This is a simple book-keeping phase when all units, economic points, and other assets are accounted for. Also in this phase is an interesting aspect called system morale and loyalty. In this portion of the phase, checks are made to make sure the player's empire stays united.
9) End of Turn Phase - This is only important if the players are using optional rules like Random Events.
Layout: The rulebook is primarily available in PDF form on several PDF web sites, but the copy I received was in a spiral-bound book. The layout in general reminds me of an old Avalon Hill game i.e. "refer to rule 3.4.5 for Intel Mission...", etc. To some, this could be hard to follow, but it is not overwhelming. The art is mediocre at best, though, but that is not really important for a book like this.
Other Comments: The web site supplies several things including FAQ, errata and other important and handy support material. It does clear up a few questions I had about the game and it appears that the writers are serious about supporting the game. An extra bonus on the web site is a program that generates a galaxy for you.
In conclusion, I was impressed with their effort into this game and the amount of work they put into it. In places, it seemed to me they left it too open or too flexible and almost left too much work to do for the players or the CM. The fact that they seemed to have left tech advancement wide open did bother me. If it had an effect on game play, I did not see it. However, it is an interesting part to leave open because it opens the door for the CM to really customize his universe. I only would expect some kind of simple guidelines or at least a sample tech advancement tree. I e-mailed the writers and they promptly responded to my e-mail question in this regard. They said that a more detailed tech advancement system will be available in future supplements, but for now, it is a basic system to track a tech level of an empire and can be used in any way the CM sees fit.
Overall, I liked the game because it could be used in so many aspects. One could be an overall macro-campaign that fits around a RPG micro-campaign giving the universe the PCs are playing some life and vitality. It can also be turned into an interesting Twilight Imperium style board game. It is good work by gamers who obviously love gaming.
For more details on VBAM Project and their new Full-Featured Space Strategy Campaign System “Victory By Any Means Campaign Guide” check them out at their website http://http://www.vbamgames.com/.