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Keith Tracton

Fire Power Pass

09-27-07: interviews Keith Tracton publisher of the military science fiction game Fire Power Pass.

MilSciFi: "Welcome. What was your inspiration for your gaming universe?

Tracton: "A friend of mine wrote a universe based on a Poul Anderson story called "Interloper". It grew and grew over the years as we discussed it and developed it into the current Firepower Pass universe. Interestingly the main subject of his universe - the Al'Farr of Imperial Albion - are yet to be introduced into the FP mythos as a product. But soon... :-)"

MilSciFi: "Do you have any future plans for stories or novels set in the same universe?"

Tracton: "Each additional scenario will have an introductory story advancing the timeline of the universe, and an "historical outcome" similar to existing scenarios."

MilSciFi: "What can you tell me about your gaming mechanics?"

Tracton: "I picked a squadron level scale for a few reasons, and that concept wends its way throughout the design. Ships in squadrons fire separately but are deployed in squadrons so they can defend each other. Unlike many tactical minis games, the location of the squadron represents the locus of all the ships in or attached to that squadron: capital ships, escorts, light attack craft (fighters) etc. It is therefore possible to play a multi-squadron game fairly quickly, representing 20 or so capital ships a side (4 or 5 hours). BTW the minis (once we get some made!) are placed in any aesthetically pleasing order near the tile. If the minis happen to be on flexible stands (not a requirement) they can be angled to represent the nose orientation of the squadron at any given moment.

The concept I am most proud of is the 3D movement concept. Each squadron moves together (all the ships are located on one squadron tile, if you will). One of the hardest things in a spaceship minis game is infusing the 3 dimensional aspect of space combat into the game without overwhelming the players with math.

I strove for a graphical (i.e. measuring tool) solution to the 3D issue, and developed an octagonal tile representing a drive speed of 1. There are lines marked on the tile which indicate where the edge of the next tile should be placed if there is a change in altitude (+ or - 1 level) on that tile. The horizontal distance traveled across the table is shorter if part of the ship's velocity is spent in changing levels, and that is reflected simply by placing the tile on a line of the previous tile, rather than adjacent to the previous tile.

Its easier to show than to describe of course... :-)

I am also proud of the combat system as I have found it be a good cross-section of what players (and myself of course) want to see in a space combat game: Capital ships with gun turrets and firing missiles waves; fighters (we call them Light Attack Craft or LACs); Escorts (ships larger than LACs but smaller than Heavy Cruisers); and Boarding Actions(!). :-) And I think I have attained a good balance between them all.

The different Strike types all use the same combat result table, but interpreting the result of course depends on the kind of strike and its target.

Point defense is emphasized as each squadron can defend its members as a group, there is a very interactive feel, especially for the defender, as the target of a missile strike (the latter which will most likely have multiple waves, each wave is an attack) has to FIGHT his/her squadron using its Point Defense and defensive LAC and Escort assets.

Pace is important, a turn is scaled to 20 "real time' minutes and a lot happens in that time in both game scale and real-world game activity. Both sides are involved all the time, and players have expressed that they really like that, not much you-go I-go going on in FP.

Moving a squadron, for example, may encompass placing 4 or 5 tiles, adjusting the squadron's altitude markers to reflect any changes and perhaps a die roll or two. Grand total about 30 seconds to resolve for one squadron. So  for 5 squadrons on a side (typical for a larger scenario), it takes about 5 minutes to do movement for the turn.

The majority of the time in a turn is spent in the Strike (Combat) phase, and people seem to like that. Each individual strike takes only about 10 seconds to resolve but because many strike assets can continue to fire until they are destroyed themselves or opt to stop or are Scattered, there can be a lot of strikes and interdiction. Interdiction are attacks against incoming strikes to repel/destroy them. (BTW: Gunnery strikes are not susceptible to interdiction in FP.)

There is an extensive but easily implemented Command system, based on Command Points and Actions, and reflecting the command hierarchy in a multiple-squadron (i.e. task Group or Fleet) action. Higher level command assets can be used throughout their commanded squadrons, and the prioritization of Command Points once the battle is joined is a critical element of the game. As player, you represent the Commander of the Task Group or Fleet, so you do not have to run the individual ships (but you can), they may attempt repair themselves to some extent, for example."

MilSciFi: "What other upcoming works are on the horizon for you?"

Tracton: "Along with additional scenarios - which are and will continue to beavailable on the website for free - I am in the preliminary stage of working on a Campaign book with another company, which will not only be a game in its own right, but can be used to generate scenarios for FP.

Also of the 11 FP ship designs, 2 have been converted into production 3D files for prototyping by Charles Oines, noted 3D artist of Attack Vector: Tactical and Saganami Island Tactical Simulator (amongst other projects of course), both games by AdAstra Games. I am still working on a production schedule for minis, that has been difficult as it is a new world for me, as I come from a board wargame background (Grognards-R-Us). :-D"

MilSciFi: "How would you describe your experience developing your system?"

Tracton: "It was the longest term paper I have ever done. ;-) The final version of FP is 257 pages long, the first 51 pages are the rules and even that is long only because it takes more words to describe something than to show it, and many internal systems are just sumple "find the value and roll on the table" items. But you have to DESCRIBE them ALL of course... :-) It reads quickly thoguh! ;-) Consequently the remaining pages includes 11 pages of detailed examples. After that are the charts and tables, but most of the package is scenarios with the storyline, historical outcomes, pref-filled ship logs per scenario, setup maps, and of course game markers you might want or need, game tiles for movement and planets and other terrain, and 3D rendered topview counters for all the ships you need in the scenarios plus blank ships to make your own. :-)"

MilSciFi: "What would you say was the strength of your game, compared with what else is on the market?"

Tracton: "The feedback I have been getting is that players really like the 3D movement system. Also the combat systems satisfy their urges to blow up ships in ways not availabel from other games. :-)"

MilSciFi: "What is your favorite aspect of the game and why?"

Tracton: "Oh boy, I like the way the whole thing hangs together, The first turn of any scenario so far is always VERY different in each game (high replay value there), and the second turn even more so. There is no way to predict the outcome yet good tactics are rewarded, dicerolls aside. :-)

I think I just got lucky, but the combination seems to make the whole greater than its parts: easy 3D movement; fast and furious multi-weapon starship combat; integrated point defense on a squadron level; an easy but essential Command System which emphasizes prioritizing assets; even logistics. :-)"

MilSciFi: "Is there anyone you would like to thank for helping to make Fire Power Pass what it is today?"

Tracton: "There are a whole slew of them they are all on the title page of the game. :-) But truth to be told it would not be a product if my friend Chirs Mark had not written the universe of the Imperial Al'Farr, and let me develop the Terran Confederation and the Procyonese Concordat! Thanks again Chris!"

MilSciFi: "Give us the details on your upcoming author appearances."

Tracton: "I maybe at Philcon, my schedule has not been settled as yet. But next year I hope to hit the main miniatures conventions in the east, Cold Wars, Historicon, etc. I am in Pennnsylvania so Lancaster is close. ;-)"

MilSciFi: "What challenges do you face putting out a product in such a competitive market?"

Tracton: "Mainly it is the same as any other product in any other market: marketing itself. He who markets loudest, sells more. :-) I think I have a great, unique product (IIDSSM) for a great price, I mean 15.00 for a .pdf with 257 full color pages. Compare that to other .pdf games on the market, I think it will pass muster. :-) And there are hardcopy book versions available for 32.95 and 57.00. But getting the word out can be dicey.

Miniatures are the meat of it though, my next big challenge is getting them produced and marketed for fans (and me and my sons!). ;-)"

MilSciFi: "Who is your single-most influence in developing Fire Power Pass?"

Tracton: "Oh that would be Chris Mark, the universe-author, see above. :-) But I would like to highlight the invaluable contribution of ideas from other freinds who have been a part of our development discussion all through the years (and are on th title page as well): Dave Wilson, Ed Zagadinow, Darrell Bell, and (though sci-fi is not his first love) Mark Singer. :-)"

MilSciFi: "What is the one thing you find the most difficult about creating a military science fiction universe?"

Tracton: "Balance. I find that you cannot neglect the culture in which a military force originates, that is what determines its character and how it interacts both politically in its own culture and militarily with it opponents (and allies). And building that "reality" factor into your game before you can actually make units to shoot at each other can be tricky. :-)"

MilSciFi: "Do you have any awards you would like to tell us about?"

Tracton: "Not yet. :-)"

MilSciFi: "Do you have any other products under development?"

Tracton: "I am working with Victory By Any Means and Jay Waschak to develop a VBAM Campaign book for FP. And as I mentioned, I am continuing the slow process of developing miniatures for production. :-D"

MilSciFi: "Is military science fiction the only thing you are working on, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?"

Tracton: "I use Cyberboard, a free PBeM toll to prototype my games. I come from a board wargaming background, and many of the concepts of FP came about from other projects upon which I labor. Its just that FP was the one that came out first. :-)

Projects in the pipeline - and FP has taken priority over these all for the moment include:

The Ridge - Waterloo 1815: a Cyberboard-only PBeM release (unless I find a boardgame publisher I can afford), brigade level, with command system similar to FP; map is licensed and based upon one from the Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars. In alpha playtest, the components are all in Cyberbaord

Gettysburg - Fight of July - 1863: another Cyberboard only PBeM release, brigade level, with command system similar to FP; map is based upon USGS topographic data. This is in the graphic rework stage to make the final counters, about 20% done.

The American Civil War Miniatures System - brigade level 1:10 scale, but you can use your minis as based usually from 1:10 through 1:20. Still under development though playtests have been going well. A variant of the above two systems geared to minis, more of a tactical feel of course.

Homeland Defense - Invasion of the USA in 2080: strategic game still in alpha development, with command and control systems, air-naval-ground units and interactions,a and some twists! ;-)

A Matter of Bridges - Operation Market-Garden, Sept 1944; still in alpha development, map is a rough draft, but the ideas here became the ideas for extended line markers and light infantry markers in The Ridge (go figure!). :-)"


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