Fleet & Federation: WTF?

Show Me More of This Earth Thing Called Fleet & Federation…

Fleet & Federation is a game I’ve been working on since around 2005 (off and on*), and I’ve been talking about it a bit here on SNW. Moreover, it’s a topic I like to gush about, but for the consistent need to explain what the heck is F&F and why do I keep going on about this nonsense?

So it’s time that I explain it at satisfactory (but not excessive) length, so that I have a what is…? exposition I can link to whenever I want to talk about an F&F element. Then I can gush all I want and everyone will know what I’m talking about.

Analysis: Classification of a Superset of Like Objects Into Types or Categories

Fleet & Federation is a tabletop game. It is a dedicated deck card game that uses three proprietary decks**. F&F also would count as a Role-Playing Game, in that each player takes on the role of a character in the game (called a crewmember. Throughout F&F I use crewmembers to refer to players, their in-game personas and any hybrid / networked / neuro-grafted combinations thereof). Players also track and manage some numerical attributes (albeit, a narrower set than in other RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons). Such values are recorded using cards and counters rather than pen and paper. I borrowed a lot of elements from Munchkin and Ninja Burger and like them, F&F would be regarded in 2016 game-design parlance as a card game with RPG elements.

Fleet & Federation is a cooperative game in that primary adversaries against the crew are generated through the game mechanics though the cards. Failure to resolve tasks can harm the group as a whole and potentially end the game in a collective loss. It’s up to the crew as a team to prevent these events from resolving. On the other hand, crewmembers can individually die, and the group sometimes has to decide who will perish in a dire situation when not all the crew can be saved.

Crewmembers also compete for ratings (see below). Failure to sustain good ratings can affect whether crewmembers are transferred out, and high ratings affect the post-game outcome for each crewmember. While these outcomes aren’t necessarily victory conditions, crewmembers decide for themselves if their fate, whether a glorious death, a high rank in the Fleet or the tapped lead actor in a spin off series (again, see below) is a satisfying ending.

Diegesis: The world depicted in a work of narrative art, say a film.

(Diegetic sound presents a good example of what diegesis is. Footsteps, traffic, and music from an on-set jukebox would all be diegetic sound, that is sound that is part of the setting and with which the actors can interact. The musical score behind a show is non-diegetic sound. The actors cannot (usually) hear this music, and it’s only for the benefit of the audience.)

Fleet & Federation started out as a parody of Star Trek, borrowing mostly from the Original Series and to a lesser extent The Next Generation for its themes. The setting is on a large military capital ship (Yes, the Enterprise) assigned by the Fleet to run tasks of various natures, whether military (response to belligerent action), diplomatic (negotiation between two parties, either to reduce hostilities or to improve trade relations), scientific (scanning phenomena and collecting the data for analysis) or rescue (response to calamitous events in order to deliver lives from harm).

Because Fleet & Federation started as a parody, many of its elements started as genericized versions of Star Trek, TOS elements. The Federation aspires to be an ideal pluralist commonwealth that provides for the welfare and defense of all its citizens. The Fleet seeks to be a multi-purpose response force aimed in the protection and benefit of the settlements it oversees. Pirates started as (old series) Klingons, really just generic outlaws. Now it’s something more like an organized self-regulating gray-market syndicate, some members of which engage in mischief against the Federation. Romans started as the Romulan Empire. Now they’re a far-reaching star-faring revivalism of SPQR and the greatest foreign threat to the Federation.

Pyramus and Thisbe: A Dream Within a Dream

Unlike other ships of the Fleet, the Enterprise is also the setting for a contemporary reality show. All activity from bridge to bilge to bedroom to bathroom are recorded, the footage of which is cleverly culled and edited to make a cohesive weekly episode of the show. This is distributed weekly across the Federation for public viewing in what is the Fleet’s most effective tool in its recruitment effort. Hence, crewmembers have to not only consider rank and skills but also their personal ratings, a not-entirely-accurate measure of how popular they are with the(ir) public. It also means crewmembers have to survive not only the particulars of Navy life, but also the conditions of show business.

Between Forbidden Planet and Forever Boulevard

The Star Trek franchise has moved on. It started as a Wagon Train to the Stars setting for socratic questions (what if…) and strange societies with strange customs. With time, it became a richly developed fictional universe with deeply developed cultures and technologies and scriptwriters who would check to ensure the tech jargon from one episode was consistent with previous ones. At that point Star Trek focused on relationships and ship-to-ship combat. And then it turned into the odd zappy-punchy J. J. Abrams mystery-box thing that is the new reboot movie series that could have gotten black holes right with a modicum of research, but didn’t bother.

Roddenberry didn’t invent the whole let’s see how weird we can make alien cultures thing. Even King Arthur’s knights were going to heathen castles with heathen customs and finding themselves in heathen dangers for which they were unprepared. But that’s the era of sci-fi to which F&F tributes / homages / pastiches / Nods at / whatever.

I See What You’re Trying To Do There.

Fleet & Federation started as a solution to the problem of old role-playing friends coming in from out of town. The common temptation was to start a new RPG game right there. Sadly, this would lead to the lengthy tedium of choosing a system, creating all-new characters and then choosing a referee, who would have to manifest an adventure right there. After an all-too-brief starting adventure, promises would follow that we would get back to this set of characters. This time we really mean it. And yet, every time some of the collected papers would get lost, like tears in rain.

Hence F&F was engineered specifically to:

Minimize starting character creation. Player-characters start simply and then are fleshed out as the game proceeds

Automate the adventure-creating process, and create plausible, interesting, genre-appropriate adventures for the crewmembers. No gamemaster needed!

Run a satisfying length of story arc (or three) over the course of a day or evening, so that starting crewmembers aren’t left hanging and underdeveloped, and let them get a proper denouement at the end.

Once I realized this was a crew-the-Enterprise game, allow the players to fracking crew the Enterprise!

It may not be possible to produce this game to make any kind of money without being pounced on by numerous IP lawyers (how CBS and Paramount handled the Axanar production was intentionally chilling) so the plan is (at this point) to create a version of Fleet & Federation (automating as much of the game as possible) for Tabletop Simulator as well as releasing a PDF of the cards so that anyone who wants to make prototypes the way I did can do so. Eventually, I may try to crowdsource short runs of published decks if nothing disastrously untoward happens in the meantime. (This game has limped through more than a few interpersonal tragedies, so yes, I’ve earned my paranoia.)

But I’ve done crazy amounts of work on this, and have thought out crazy amounts of source material. So yeah, I have cause to make this real and in the meantime like to totally geek out about all I’ve done and how amazingly great it is.

* The greatest bottleneck has been arranging for a consistent set of two-plus other players, say, on a weekly basis. I’ve had a few playtests once the basic set was complete. To get the game properly balanced, though, it needs many, many more.

** The deck distribution of Fleet & Federation is modeled after the Steve Jackson game (and Steve Jackson Games game) Munchkin, including an encounters deck and a rewards deck. (In Munchkin, they’re door cards and treasure cards.) In the case of F&F they’re Complications (as in plot-complications) and Screen-Time, respectively. I also use a shorter Mission deck in which each card establishes the mission setting and circumstances and gives it a sweet a raygun-gothic name, preferably after a Shakespearean phrase.

Note: The game designer Steve Jackson is not to be confused with the game designer Steve Jackson.

Post History:
Tuesday, November 01, 2016: first posted
Friday, November 04, 2016: Spelling (apparently I’ve been misspelling Axanar all this time)
As this post will be used as a reference page, it will be kept current.

Image is a wallpaper image available online. It is not directly related to Fleet & Federation


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