Homeworld: Fleet Command Dev Q&A (Part 1)

By Chris Birch & Nick Fallon


How does the game work from start to finish?

You can play one of the scenarios in the campaign that already has fleets set up, a scenario that lets you pick your own fleet, or you can create your own scenario. The fleet building is really simple. The game uses Leader and Unit cards to create fleets based on the total number of stars per side. First, you choose your leaders (eg Admirals, Wing Commanders, Captains) and that allows you to choose certain picks for your fleet, made up of different ship types - Strike Craft (Fighters & Corvettes), or Super Capitals (Frigates, Carriers, Destroyers), then there’s Platforms and Stations. The bigger ships and stations let you command more strike craft and various leaders add different bonuses to the ships they command. 

Once you have created your fleet you draw Order cards based on your leader’s total hand and play value. Each order allows you to move one or two units and may have some special ability like ‘All Ahead Full’, which adds a die when Ramming! Or ‘Pincer Attack’ lets you move two units to attack one enemy unit.

Play the right Command cards, focus on your objectives (or just decimate the enemy fleet) and you’ll be commanding the skies in no time!

How was it translating the success of Airfix battle rules to Homeworld? Did you face any challenges? How did you adapt?

We kept the best elements like Order cards and in fact streamlined them so it’s easier to judge a card at a glance. We also changed to a hex map to make ship movement more interesting. That was pretty straightforward, but the Morale system of Pinned and Retreating did not work in space, so that had to be lost. A squad on the battlefield might run, and the crew of a starship has no choice if the Captain decides to charge in all guns blazing. We had to devise a completely new system for armour that works for ships as small as Fighters, all the way up to Super Capital Ships and the Homeworld Mothership itself. There’s a certain amount of abstraction though, the pitch for the game is simple and big fleet battles, playable in a short period of time, that feels like Homeworld. So, for example, 3d movement wasn’t practical in a game that needed to be so lightning fast you could play again in the same evening. The goal is to come away feeling like you had a huge fleet battle, not to recreate every minutia of individual spaceship combat - there are plenty of games that do that, so our design goals we’re focused on getting that big fleet flavour.

How did the game come about? What is your relationship with Gearbox?

CHRIS: I remember having played Command & Conquer, Total Annihilation and Red Alert to death. Homeworld blew my mind when it came out as the graphics and sounds were stunning, and having grown up on Star Wars the idea of big spaceship battles was incredible. 

I met Randy Pitchford the head of Gearbox over breakfast at the San Francisco Dev conference and pitched the idea of both the Homeworld RPG and boardgame. The Homeworld RPG was about seeing the personal stories of the crew of the Mothership and the fleet and following their adventures, whilst the pitch for the board game was ‘big fleet battles, playable in a short period of time, feels like Homeworld’. We’d both played games like Memoir 44 - which is quite an abstract WW2 game but you come away feeling like you’d played a big wargame likely having got in two or three games in an evening. I wanted that same feeling from the Homeworld: Fleet Command game, and there just weren’t any spaceship games out there that didn’t take several hours for the size of games we envisioned. 

NICK: Both Chris and I were huge fans of the original Homeworld game, and I  had always wanted to design a space battle game, as it’s my favourite genre so when Chris came up with the idea I jumped at the opportunity. 


Why does this feel like Homeworld? What features make it feel like you're playing large fleet battles in a short time? Is it still gratifying, despite its timely conclusions?

It’s a mixture of everything from keeping the units as similar as possible to the computer game, our activation tokens use the same shapes as the radar signatures from the game, to ensure the models look like the most popular versions of the fighters, corvettes, frigates, destroyers and carriers. But look and design are one thing, you’ve got to ‘feel’ like you just played a game in the Homeworld universe. Can you harvest asteroids without the gaming taking forever to play (yes!), do you have lots of ships to command (yes!) and do they behave like the ships in the game (we think so!). But, the game had to be simple and quick. All this detail can’t come at the price of the game taking all day, it had to be a 30-60 min game (more if you want to literally put every ship in the box on the table) but even a quick game had to feel like a fun fleet engagement that I’d want to try again.

We worked the scenarios around some of the more memorable missions from the Homeworld video game so you’re getting to try it again this time with plastic ships at your command whether it’s Tenhauser Gate or defending Kharak.

The order system is fast and furious, but games can scale up to have dozens of fighters, carriers, and destroyers. There are even 12 Frigates in the box allowing you to play grand-scale battles! When you play the video game you start small but you soon have loads of squadrons flying around at your command and we wanted that feeling of just having many cool ships to control.