Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core game of a squadron of starfighter pilots at war. You play pilots in the eponymous Tachyon Squadron, defending a star system against an oppressive empire bent on conquering it.
It’s important to note that you play pilots – not mechanics, not intelligence agents, not the hangers-on of the squadron. You play the pilots. And central to the game is engaging in space combat missions, most of which involve at least some dogfighting in your starship.
I point this out because these constraints do a lot to focus the game on the experience its designed to emulate. It’s not a generic science fiction game, or even a generic military science fiction game. It is specifically a game about science fiction fighter pilots. The mechanics of the game are fine-tuned to provide fun support for this type of story, and the setting elements give a solid underpinning for the game world that allows the GM to build a coherent, logical series for the players to play through.
Now, this is a Fate Core game, so it’s certainly possible to go beyond the narrow focus of this book to play a broader, more generic science fiction game, but Tachyon Squadron doesn’t do much help you with that. Which is fine; the game in the book is solid and fun as it stands.
Tachyon Squadron is a digest-sized hardcover, like most of the RPGs coming out of Evil Hat Productions. It’s a solid book, with nice, thick pages and interior colour art. Evil Hat makes really gorgeous books, and this is no exception. The art is nice, and the layout is very clean and readable.
As a Fate Core game, there’s a lot of familiar stuff in here. For the core systems, Tachyon Squadron points you to the Fate Core book, so the TS book is a fairly slim volume1. It uses all the standard elements of Fate Core, with aspects, skills, stunts, and fate points. You’ll recognize most of the elements on the character sheet, though there are a couple of different applications for some elements.
Page 10 of the rulebook has a nice little boxed text section called Tachyon Squadron for Fate Core Veterans that does a good job of pointing out what’s different in this implementation of the system.
Character aspects mostly work the same as in other Fate Core games. The high concept aspect is exactly the same as in other Fate Core games. There is no trouble aspect; instead there’s a two-part decompression aspect, showing how the pilot blows off steam between missions – one healthy method, one… not so much. So, you get decompression aspects like Excellent Therapist/Hitting the Bottle.
Two other character aspects are relationship aspects, which show your pilot’s ties with the other members of your squadron. This really helps reinforce the ties2 within the squadron, emphasizing the tight-knit nature of a combat unit.
The last aspect is totally free to choose, and is an extra chance to make your pilot unique.
Special bits of technology is a common thing within science fiction games, and Tachyon Squadron takes an interesting approach to gear. One of your three starting stunts is a gear stunt – a stunt that you have because of a piece of equipment your character owns. Instead of the standard bonus or use of a different skill that stunts normally give, gear stunts let you maximize one die on a roll – turn the die to the + side.
This gives gear a little bit of different flavour than non-gear stunts, and maximizing and minimizing dice offers another mechanical handle to attach various things3 to.
This is the core of the game, in a lot of ways. It’s the central piece of new Fate Core mechanics that the whole rest of the game revolves around. If you are looking at Tachyon Squadron as a source from which to loot stuff, this is the main thing you’re gonna want to loot.
It’s very cool.
The engagement is how the game handles space battles, including dogfights, battles with capital ships, raids on space stations and ground bases, and all other kinds of battles involving starfighters. It’s a fairly simple, narrative system that doesn’t require miniatures, yet still manages to capture the thrilling movement and desperate action of a space battle.
It involves a ranked play area, with slots marked out for a range of numbers, usually -3 to +6 or so. There’s a slot at the top for Undetected, and a slot at the bottom for Special. Ship markers are placed on the ranks based on a Tactics roll, and can attack any ship ranked below them. Ships can also maneuver to change their ranking, to gain special advantage, to lock on an enemy’s tail, to shake an enemy off their tail, and all the rest of the things you want to see in space combat.
The rulebook spends some considerable time4 explaining how the system works, with copious examples. It’s very clear explanation, and a really clean system for running something that could be ugly and complicated. It might be a little bit harder to follow if you’re not familiar with Fate Core and the way overcome rolls and create advantage rolls work, but those aren’t difficult concepts to master.
There’s also a new damage system for starfighters, so you can capture the feel of having different systems fail during combat, just like in the movies. Again, it’s a clean, straightforward system that allows you to show surprising depth in play without resorting to excess complexity.
So, Tachyon Squadron is set in a defined universe. A star system has just declared their independence from an oppressive empire, and a freedom-loving space superpower that just finished a war with that empire is funneling fighters and pilots to the newly independent star system to help it defend itself5.
You are among these pilots, in Tachyon Squadron6. Your job is to use your space combat skills and very limited materiel to hold off the attempts of the enemy empire from retaking this star system.
There are clear instructions on how to build individual engagements of various flavours, including how to scale the difficulty of these engagements. There’s also a nice, step-by-step guide for building a series of engagements that tie together into a campaign arc, and two sample campaign arcs in the book.
Joining together a few of these campaign arcs can tell the entire story of the conflict in the system, from the first attempts at reconquest to the abandonment of these plans as not worth the effort7. In all, it provides a firm foundation for building a story that extends just exactly as far as is interesting to you.
I really like Tachyon Squadron. The source material is not necessarily my favourite stuff8, but it’s fun. The game design to reproduce the fun parts of that source material is sheer bloody beauty. It’s clean, it’s flavourful, and it’s fun.
This is another one of those games that, after reading it, I really want to run it.
If you like the idea of roleplaying space dogfights, as seen in Battlestar Galactica and Robotech, you should definitely check this book out. If you want a masterclass worked example of how to design a game to focus on a particular subject, you should definitely check this book out.
If both those things are of interest to you, you need this book. So go get it.
- 184 pages.
- And the drama.
- Like spaceship damage.
- Over 40 pages.
- Think of the Eagle Squadrons in World War 2.
- The other two squadrons, Axion and Graviton, are (mostly) friendly rivals of Tachyon Squadron.
- Or, of course, to the evil empire’s victory. That’s possible, too.
- You can really tell that Clark Valentine, the writer, loves the source material, and has thought long and hard about what is good about it.