Hard Vacuum - Board Game Box Shot

Hard Vacuum

| Published: 2000
1 1

The Space Corps Wants YOU!

Eddie Rickenbacker's Space Corps battle Von Richtofen's Nazis in the hard vacuum of 1940's outer space!

Kick the tires, light the jets, and roar off into the hard vacuum of 1940's outer space! Fly a Nazi spaceplane or a Space Corps rocketship in the battle for orbital supremacy. Escort supply envoys, run combat space patrols, even do a little reconnaissance. Do you have what it takes to become an atomic-powered Ace?

Hard Vacuum is a tactical game of WWII space combat in a world that should have been. The Hard Vacuum rulebook is a complete game—just add dice.

The Hard Vacuum rulebook includes:

  • Special introductory rules that get you into the action in ten minutes or less!
  • A simple, intuitive, fast-playing movement system that handles both realistic spaceflight and simultaneous action!
  • Rules for play on a hexgrid or tabletop, with miniatures or cardboard—you decide!
  • A combat system that covers everything from machineguns to atomic death rays!
  • Five Allied spaceships and five German spaceships, plus rules for designing your own!
  • A historical time line describing the WWII that never was!

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“What if WWII Had Been Fought in Space?”

To start with, I’d like to offer you a brief history lesson.

In the late 1930s, at the request of Adolph Hitler, Eugene Sanger developed plans for the Silbervogel (the Silver Bird, aka the Amerika Bomber). The Silbervogel was a rocket propelled space plane which would be capable of reaching low Earth orbit and then, via a series of hops, it would skip along the upper stratosphere, deliver a 8,800 lb bomb to a target within the continental United States and then continue to hop around the Earth to land somewhere in the Japanese held Pacific ocean.

These are actual facts and plans for such a plane were created and had an influence on various post-war US space projects such as the Space Shuttle. Hitler, however, placed more emphasis on the V-1 and V-2 and the Silbervogel never took flight.

But, what if it had? How would the United States have responded? Would an orbital theater have opened up in the war and what might it have looked like?

These are the questions which Hard Vacuum attempts to answer.

After Battlestations Hard Vacuum is one of my favorite games, but I never have anyone to play it with. Published by (the now—sadly—moribund) Fat Messiah Games, virtually everything you need to play comes in the rule book. I say virtually because the game doesn’t come with either a map board (you can use any standardized hex grid – Chessex Battlemat, GeoHex Space Mat, heck! the Battlestations map boards work great – or use tabletop minis (the rules have conversions so you can play either way). Nor does it come with dice, but all you need is two standard d6s (and who among us doesn’t have those?); although they also sold sets of specialized Hard Vacuum dice. All the various counters and markers and such which you will need come printed on a heavier card stock which is bound into the centerfold of the book. Sure you had to cut them out (and possibly mount them—I mounted my ship counters on cardboard, but you don’t really need to), but giving them to you in this way vs die-cut punch boards saved on costs and thus kept the retail down. FMG was all about keeping costs low and making its games more affordable to the average gamer.

Simply put, Hard Vacuum is a fighter based space combat game using vector movement. Oh god! I used the “V-word” (something which FMG avoided in the rules).

Ack! Vectors! I thought I left those behind in high school physics… Yuk!

I feel some of you stopping right here, but bear with me. Each player (or team of players) controlled one or more WWII-esque space fighters in a variety of combat situations. In the base game, all the fighters are either American of German, but the expansion—Science Gone Mad—had rules for British craft as well.

Each ship had a small control sheet (click here for example blank sheets for American or German ships) which denoted its various systems – fuel, weapons, ammo, hull integrity, and any special equipment (such as radar, or booster rockets) it might be equipped with. It also has a small diagram of the ship, centered in a hexagon with numbers in small circles along the edges. These numbers showed where each ship had thrusters and how much thrust could be applied in that direction (e.g. – a ship with the number 6 in the bottom, or aft, position could apply up to 6 points of thrust behind it, thus propelling it forward 6 hexes). It would also have two small boxes above the hex representing “spin thrusters” which would allow the ship to change facing without changing the direction of its movement (vector-based flight, remember?). Lastly it would have Maneuverability number (say 3) which represented how nimble the ship was; basically it told you how many of your thrusters (directional or spin) that ship could fire each turn to effect its movement.

Now, now; it’s alright. Let me explain. The game comes with a supply of small, triangular thrust markers. When your ship applies thrust in a given direction, you place an appropriate valued thrust marker along the side where thrust was applied; make sense?

OK, try this: if you apply 6 points of thrust aft (to move your ship forward), you place a “6” point thrust marker behind your ship. Got it? Now, space in Hard Vacuum is just like space in the real world: Newtonian. That is to say, once you apply thrust in a specific direction your ship will continue to move in that direction (forever) until you apply thrust in another direction and alter its course.
I see that confused look creeping in on some of your faces again… So, here’s the simplest example: If your ship is moving forward at a rate of 3 hexes per turn, and you apply an additional 2 thrust aft (for forward movement) you will now be moving 5 hexes a turn. You will keep moving 5 hexes a turn in that direction (which is important as you can change the facing of your ship without altering the direction of movement) for all your subsequent turns until you do something to change that.

Like this: Now you want to slow down from 5 hexes a turn, so you apply 3 thrust fore (for reverse movement) and that will slow you down to 2 hexes of movement per turn. There are two ways to arrive at that number (2 hexes/turn): you can either move your ship forward 5 hexes (your original speed) and then backwards 3 hexes (the new thrust you have applied this turn) for a net forward movement of 2, or—and I recommend this—you can combine the thrust markers into one and just move that many hexes. In this case you would subtract 3 hexes of reverse movement from 5 hexes of forward movement and come up with 2 hexes of forward movement. Just replace the existing thrust markers with the one combined thrust marker and that’s what your ship will do (and keep doing) until you change that.

I won’t continue to confuse you with more detailed examples of how to combine thrust markers from multiple directions down into the fewest possible markers, but the rules do have a very simple way to do this and it makes the horror of vector movement very simple (thrust me on this—pun intended).

Rotating your ship (spin thrust) works similarly, but only has two possible spin directions (clockwise vs counter-clockwise). Thrust markers for movement are placed alongside your ship’s counter along the relevant side (as mentioned above). Spin markers are placed directly onto your ship’s counter to show which way you are spinning. Again, your ship will keep spinning until you do something to effect that spin (increase, decrease or cancel altogether).

Various ships designs have movement thrusters in different directions, so being familiar with the thrust combining rules is useful so that you know how best to maneuver your ship. But, enough about movement; I can see your eyes glazing over.

For flavor, the two sides of the war (US vs Third Reich) have different technologies which they use.

The Germans use radium pellets (which they mine from their not-so-secret base on the far side of the moon) to fuel their ships. This means they have a limited amount of fuel to use over the course of the scenario and the ship control sheet has a fuel track which you mark off as you use it. For the most part, the Germans use traditional gun-powder weapons—machine guns, cannons, and the dreaded 88mm AT gun—but they also have space mines (watch out you don’t fly into your own mines—I have done this) and a radium powered Death Ray (which also uses radium pellets).

The Americans make use of the scientific genius of Nicola Tesla and employ small Tesla energy collectors and batteries to both power the ships’ thrusters and weapons—heat rays, plasma bolts, etc…— for a more Flash Gordon style of ship. While this technically gives them limitless fuel and ammunition (did I forget to mention the Germans have to keep track of ammo as well?), their collectors will only generate so much power/turn and their batteries will only store so much, so the amount of power available to an American pilot will vary from turn to turn and power management becomes a factor for these ships.

NOTE: The British have yet a third technology—liquid fuel rockets—which they use for their ships, see the expansion, Science Gone Mad for those details, and the Russians and Japanese (which were only ever explained in an online sets of supplemental rules which may (or may not) be available here) have a fourth and fifth technologies for their ships.

Next, as you may have noticed on the blank ship control sheets (if you followed either of the above links) there is something called the Silhouette for each ship. This number represents how large the ship is (and thus how easy it to hit when you shoot at it); small ships have a larger Silhouette than large ships (that will make more sense in just a moment)… which brings us to combat!

So, you want to blow the enemy out of the sky? Here’s how you do that:
First, you have to check to see if you can see the enemy ship. To do this you count the range to the target and roll three dice. If the number rolled is greater than this distance, you can see (and thus shoot at) the target. If you fail the roll, it is assumed you spent the turn scanning space trying to find your opponent and just missed him against the inky blackness of space. This is somewhat true to what actual fighter pilots in WWII had to do when fighting in the skies (either in day or night time). The die roll is modified by whether the target is using his thrusters and/or firing his weapons (both of which make it easier to be spotted).

So, now you see the whites of his eyes and you want to shoot. Each of your ship’s weapons will have a small table (conveniently printed on the ship control sheets) which shows how many dice you’ll roll at various range increments—typically from 1 to 3 dice. You’ll need to roll greater that your target’s Silhouette (oh, now I see why small ships have a larger Silhouette than larger ships) in order to score a hit.

But, there’s one more thing to take into consideration – deflection. Again, deflection is something which actual WWII fighter pilots had to contend with; heck, modern pilots have to as well, but computers do much of the work for them now. Deflection is a complicated way of saying that it is more difficult to accurately track a fast moving target vs a slow moving one (and it takes your own speed into account as well). This is one of the few things about the rules which is bit confusing —even for me, and I’ve played the game a fair amount—so I won’t go into the full details of it. Suffice to say that if you and your target are both moving fast, it makes it harder for you to hit him. Based on your speeds (yours and his) you’ll come up with a modifier to the target’s Silhouette. Add the modifier (which will be anything from 0 {very easy to hit} to +5 or more {very hard to hit}) and you have the final number you need to roll against to score a hit.

Roll your dice. Assuming that you hit him you’ll do damage based on the weapon you fired. Again, looking at weapon on your ship’s sheet you’ll see two things: Rate of Fire and Damage. Rate of Fire is how many shots you may fire in an attack—you might want to conserve ammo or power and thus fire less shots than you could. And Damage is how much damage your attack will do/shot (RoF) you use in each attack. So, I fire a weapon with an RoF of 2 and a damage of 5 if I hit and use both shots (I have to decide this before I roll my dice) I would inflict 10 points of damage to my target. That’s a lot; most ships in the game have 10-12 hull points 9which is what gets marked off by damage). NOTE: even if you have a RoF greater than 1 you will still only make one roll to hit your target.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a critical hit system as well. If any of the dice which you roll in a successful attack are doubles then I score a crit in addition to my normal damage. Crits don’t normally do additional damage per se, but they will have an effect the one of the target’s internal systems—such as weapons. What critical hit you inflict is dependent on the ship’s Size stat (also listed on their control sheet). Size is more properly thought of as mass, and more massive ships are better able to shrug off crits that lass massive ones are. Being large might mean you’re easier to hit (small Silhouette), but it also means you’re better able to take it (more Hull Points and larger Size). Critical Hit effects range anywhere from Chain Reaction (i.e. – the target is automatically destroyed) to +1 Damage (this hit does one addition point of damage). The only time in which doubles will NOT score a critical hit is when the only way you could succeed in hitting your target is by rolling doubles (typically this happens at extreme range).

How do you survive? Well, as you might have figured from the bit about Silhouette and attack rolls, speed = life. Move fast and be hard to hit. Again, real life fighter pilots found this to be true. You can also be a wizard pilot and try and out maneuver you opponent and stay outside of his weapon’s firing arcs (yep, various weapons are restricted to certain arcs of fire). Or, you can rely on your ship’s Hull Integrity and Armor to see you through. Armor? Didn’t I mention? Some ships have an Armor stat which is basically the amount of damage subtracted from incoming hits. Most ships don’t have any, and even the toughest of ships only has 3, but since it is subtracted from each hit (remember an attack can score multiple hits based on RoF) armor can really help out. In the above hit example—RoF 2 x Damage 5 = 10 points of damage—if the target had 2 points of armor that 10 would become 6 (5-2=3 x RoF2 = 6); this is more survivalbe, but still hurts.

A quick word about dice in Hard Vacuum; the dice they use are numbered 0-5 (as opposed to 1-6). This is easily simulated with normal d6s by subtracting 1 from the face value of each die you roll. And, the dice explode on a result of a 5. So if you roll a 5 (on their dice, or 6 [minus 1, remember?] on a regular d6) you get to roll an additional die and add it to your roll.

To sum up, Hard Vacuum is a solid game with well explained rules. The rule book is lavishly illustrated with many examples (which are very useful) to help you understand all the various rules—visibility, deflection, damage, critical hits, etc… It manages to both deliver a retro-science fiction feel while preserving a certain amount of real-world combat in a small package. Only 23 of 44 pages are rules – the rest is optional ship construction rules, scenarios, and ship control sheets. Also included in the book is a four page, removable insert, of quick start rules to get you flyin’ & dyin’ in no time.

SPOILER ALERT The Nazis lose the war…

 

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