While I’ve had Silent Death: the Next Millennium for a while, I recently had my first opportunity to play it. In short order I discovered the qualities which gave it the reputation for being a fast-moving, easy-to-play, and exciting space combat miniatures game.
What follows is my brief description of the game’s contents, rules, how it felt playing for the first time, and why I’m very eager for a rematch!
Game Contents in my Next Millennium Edition Box
Iron Crown’s Silent Death has been around for a long time, and the rulebook in my box referred to plastic minis but I received a bunch of metal miniatures instead – fine by me. Plus dice, ship bases and stands, the rulebook, counters, booklets of ships and scenarios, and hex maps. Everything needed to play in fact – it’s probably useful to copy the ship record sheets, but we just kept track of damage on a separate sheet of paper.
As with any miniatures game, the minis take center stage. These are detailed and feature distinct ship designs that are easy to tell apart on the battlefield; they definitely helped to bring the action alive.
We played the first scenario, designed to introduce the game’s basics while leaving out things like missiles, torpedoes, asteroids, and gunboats. It took very little time to get the hang of moving and firing energy weapons using the two premade teams of light fighters for scenario one.
Each ship has a drive rating, and it costs one point to move forward one hex and three points to turn one hex side. In between turns your ship must move forward at least one hex, but you can get around this by making a tight turn to rotate your ship by more than one hex side. The cost of performing a tight turn is based on your ship and your pilot, generally three points plus a die roll, where the pilot’s, uh, piloting skill determines the type of die (the highest skill levels roll 1D4 and lower levels roll larger dice up to 1D10).
Tight turns add a bit of unpredictability to maneuvering and grant an advantage to more highly skilled pilots in a dogfight. The better pilots and faster ships will usually be the ones looping around to get behind their opponents or otherwise flanking for superior position.
Piloting skill is also very important because it determines initiative each round, along with a die roll. With multiple ships in a battle players take turns moving ships, starting with the lower initiative – winning the initiative and getting to move last can make a big difference in ensuring you can evade enemy fire while lining up a shot of your own.
The light fighters in the first scenario are each manned by a single crew member, just a pilot without any gunners onboard. Pilots are only allowed to fire weapons that are mounted on the front firing arc (60°), another reason why maneuverability is important.
Attacks are resolved by a single roll, first to determine a hit and then damage from the same dice. A weapon contributes 2D6 or 2D8 depending on its type, sometimes with a flat bonus for double/triple cannons (or more; generally +1 per cannon after the first on the same mount). The crew member firing the weapon contributes a third die based on gunnery skill, from 1D4 to 1D10.
Totaling all three dice and comparing against the target’s defensive value determines whether the attack hits. Then the weapon’s damage level of low, medium, or high indicates whether to use the lowest, middle, or highest die result rolled for damage.
Damage is compared against the target’s damage reduction, which is essentially armor, before crossing off boxes on the target’s damage track. When certain boxes on the damage track are crossed off the target may suffer a critical hit, have stats like drive and damage reduction reduced, or even have a weapon destroyed or crew member killed. Larger ships get larger damage tracks.
Easy to Learn
Playing the first scenario, my friend and I breezed through the basic rules fairly quickly and didn’t have much trouble picking up the mechanics. There are still more rules to learn when we’re ready to move deeper into the combat system, but they look very reasonable and I don’t expect an abrupt change in difficulty, it seems well-designed throughout.
Those curious take note: this photo shows only a portion of the game contents
Designed for Fun and Excitement
The design that went into crafting the combat mechanics is particularly noteworthy, because there are some spots where I expected at first to be disappointed by the lack of realism, only to discover the areas where compromises have been made were all carefully chosen to present a smooth and exciting experience for the players.
For example, there’s no “drift” or inertia, ships simply move when you expend drive points and stop when you want. Yet combining this with the turning rules, and the firing arcs for weapons, set the stage for simple yet strategic dogfighting maneuvers to emerge during play. Turns out that simplifying rules for movement and not worrying so much about realism makes for a more fun game without meaningfully detracting from the experience.
Another aspect that I find particularly well-designed is the weapons fire mechanics. You roll once and use the result both to determine a hit and damage. Dice for your roll come from both the gun’s characteristics and the crew manning the gun. The result of the single roll has enough randomness to be unpredictable, yet is still meaningful as well as streamlined. It’s really elegant design and makes weapons fire, one of the two pillars of player action in the game, very exciting.
Great First Impression
A game of miniatures space combat is not going to be for everyone. But if it even sounds partially of interest to you, it may be worth trying out – I really like it so far.
At the time of this writing the boxed set is also 25% off at ICE’s online store, if you needed another incentive.
I definitely enjoyed playing, and can’t wait for a rematch! Not to mention a game with larger teams!
This is a game that seems best played with an even number of players; you could probably cook up scenarios that involve more than two teams, or free-for-alls, but dividing into two teams seems like it should work out the best.
The rulebook includes a lot of optional rules, some of which can add more realism like the “drift” I was mentioning above, as well as things like a third dimension if you’re not satisfied with the 2D spacescape.
The rulebook also includes a comprehensive ship building system, so you can customize your own ships to complement the (fairly good-sized) collection of premade ship stats provided. Without saying too much I’m working on a little something related, which might eventually see the light of day on the web…