Flick That Fleet
Every so often a game fully realizes the dual promise and limitations of Kickstarter. Ambitious, but not overly so. Weird, in that there isn’t anything quite like it. Underbaked, in that it never really received much of a look from anyone outside of the project, at least nobody whose actual job is to advise why certain elements needed extra polish. Visionary, because the game’s creators might have ignored such advice had it been given in the first place.
Jackson Pope and Paul Willcox’s FlickFleet is that game. And I’m smitten.
The pitch for FlickFleet goes something like this: acrylic spaceships blast each other into their constituent atoms by flicking dice from where their flight decks would be if they were aircraft carriers.
That’s it. Pitch complete. FlickFleet doesn’t need anything else.
This isn’t to say there isn’t more going on. But as a statement of core philosophy, it’ll serve. Fighter wings zip into space, only to flick dice at other ships. Carriers spit out more fighters to do the same. Dreadnoughts lumber slowly behind — and then flick even better dice. Flicking and dice. Flicking dice. There you have it. If you’ve ever played a two-sided skirmish game, you’ll be able to picture the setup. Some ships over here, some ships over there. Now add dice and some flicking and that’s the game.
Is there room for subtlety? You betcha. As far as dice and flicking will bear it, anyway. The dice fired by ships are either ten-sided or six-sided. The d10s are more common, but don’t let their higher range of integers fool you. When it comes to flicking, a d6 is immeasurably superior to a d10. Why? Because a cube rolls straighter than a pentagonal trapezohedron, that’s why. While your unassuming d6 shoots directly into your target’s hull, d10s veer off like curly-q missiles, bending probability as they manage to roll short, long, or even around their targets. And don’t think you can mitigate this fact by hammering the ever-loving numbers right off your d10. Even if your shot successfully connects with a ship, plunging from the table is counted as a “wild” shot. No damage is dealt, penalizing the heavy-fingered thug for losing yet another die under the couch. Exactly as it should be.
But in FlickFleet, that’s only the first half of the consideration when deciding which ship to activate. The numeric range of your die is given double importance. While any old shot will splat a fighter or destabilize some shields, the bigger ships — the ones with sideboards for displaying their onboard systems, like engines and weapons and holodecks — they only take damage on a range of one to six. That’s guaranteed with a d6, provided you land the shot. But landing a hit with your d10 is only the first part of every attack; you’re also required to eyeball its number before you scoop it up. Did your shot roll a five? Well done, gunner, their shield generator is down. Rolled a three? Their weapons just got weaker, which means they’re flinging fewer dice back your way every turn. Rolled a seven? Too bad. Your lasering deflected right off your target’s armor.
Put another way, it’s a dice game, except dice are hurled at your enemy with calculated torque. Ever told somebody that they need to roll their dice rather than just dropping them? In FlickFleet, your dice will roll, baby.
Brace for impact, because I’m going to dump all my negative thoughts on FlickFleet in a single salvo. That way we can finish by talking about why I like it so much, sometimes in spite of itself.
First, balance. It’s a bit gummy. Most of the time, the game’s various ships distinguish themselves. Fighters can be flicked in any direction but only launch d10s, giving them maneuverability but lacking punch. Bombers shoot d6s but can only be flicked from behind, an easy bit of rules jiggery-pokery that makes them steer like dump trucks with homing missiles mounted on top.
The three capital ships are less perfect. Destroyers are your shooters, able to angle into enemy fire and thus diminish their targetable profile, all while chucking out three dice every turn. As a downside, they’re reduced to slag instantly if a shot hits them with a four once their shields are down. Most of the time, though, this is a worthwhile risk: because they’re so tiny (and cheap when playing a skirmish instead of a scenario), they’re far harder to hit than the Carrier or the Dreadnought, which, despite their superior armor, tend to gradually lose in any exchange at distance. Both bigger ships bring extra squadrons of fighters or bombers into the battle, but as actual battleships they leave something to be desired. Especially the Dreadnought. The dang thing is just so massive that your dice are practically swallowed by its gravity well.
Second, some of FlickFleet’s ideas aren’t as robust as they could have been. For example, every capital ship has a shield generator that uses one of that ship’s two actions to immediately recharge some of their shields. This would have been more interesting as a roll with a range of outcomes, much the way d10 attacks are handled. As it stands, it tends to result in a slow-burn attrition, with capital ships always spending their first action to recharge shields rather than taking maneuvers. Yawn.
Three — nope, never mind. Those are my complaints. Every last one of them.
As I wrote up front, FlickFleet highlights both the ambitions and the limitations of independent game-making via Kickstarter. Fortunately, the limitations are easy to dismiss. Part of this is because FlickFleet clearly isn’t taking itself too seriously. Battles almost never last longer than twenty minutes. Although the scenarios seem crafted to emphasize drama over balance, a bad match-up only costs those twenty minutes. That’s nothing. Now go play with a fleet you built from scratch. It’s better that way.
More importantly, these limitations are quickly subsumed by FlickFleet’s better aspects. Because after every caveat, it’s a surprisingly solid skirmish game, one with some very good ideas rattling around its command deck.
Here’s an example. When a fighter or bomber receives damage, you physically track it on the table by removing part of that unit. Fighters lose a ring, bombers lose a wedge. Now they’ll roll one fewer die, but they’re also harder to hit. At their smallest, a single fighter can sometimes evade surprisingly close shots just by dint of being so darn minuscule.
Similarly, some of the game’s most interesting decisions arrive once a capital ship has begun to lose systems. You can order engineering to repair something, but do you need your engines to slide out of range, a fighter bay to dump another squadron into the sky, or another laser bank? Before you answer, remember that repairs consume one of your ship’s two actions. Think carefully. More often than I expected, a fight was lost because of a poor call, not only because one player’s finger shot truer than their opponent’s.
The result is a game that’s wildly silly, but also given to moments of tactical shenanigans. Players are primarily trading dice, but they’re also nudging their ships into hard-to-hit angles, using diversions and flanking attacks, and even declaring the occasional ram or kamikaze dive. These flashes of brilliance only make the ensuing two-inch miss or cross-table bridge-shot all the more weighty. And hilarious.
FlickFleet represents what I wish more Kickstarter campaigns were. Rather than a big box of plastic, this is a… well, it’s still a box of plastic, but the box is compact and this plastic is ensouled. There’s nothing superfluous. No bonkers miniatures, no novel written in flavor text, no extras or fluff. Instead it’s a goofball idea given the breath of life. True, the entire thing would benefit from some tweaking, but that’s still a possibility. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay FlickFleet is that it reminded me of a jankier SEAL Team Flix: so weird that it shouldn’t have worked, so perfect that of course it did.
Now, a version of this game with the wrinkles ironed out? Don’t get me started. FlickFleet isn’t that. But it very well might be the first step.
FlickFleet is on Kickstarter from 12 October to 2 November 2019.
A complimentary copy was provided.