Nodal graph. Each players side is entry (dot) home (dot) entry. Each of your entry are connected to opposing entry by three dots; and one of your dots connects to a dual-route of 5 dots to one of the opponents home dots.
You have three ship types. Rock-paper-scissors; capital-fighter-bomber. Fighters move 3, others move 2; and on entry to the fields, everything moves 1 less. Cannot move over opponents units, or share a space with your units. Attempting to move into opponents units causes a fight. (I think you have 1x, 3x, 2x of the types)
If you surround an enemy unit, so it has every exit leading to you - you remove it. Strategic victory; no need to fight.
If you can get a bomber or capital ship onto the opponents home; you just won.
Blocking an opponents entry point can be done by any unit; and is a very good idea. They cannot come onto the board and attack.
That's almost enough to be a game; but it's too obviously soluble. So spice it pup with a bit of randomness, and rules for a draw:
Fighter vs fighter. Both become 'remnant'.
Remnant lose, and get removed, against everything; but still have strategic value because they end movement. (They only sort of block entry points though; an enemy can arrive and crush them.)
Fighter vs bomber. Fighter wins, flawless victory.
Capital ships are represented by a die; initially showing '4'.
Capital vs capital - reduce both by 2. Now 0? Removed.
Capital vs fighter. Roll a die; get higher than the capital shows? Reduce by 2. Otherwise turn the fighter to a remnant.
Capital vs bomber. Roll a die; reduce the capital by that much. If it's still around; remove the bombers.
Bomber vs bomber. Exchange positions.
Reinforcements: The first two things that get shot up, just get removed; not returned to stock. When you lose a third thing, the first goes back to stock; ready to re-enter the table.
Hopefully that gives you enough room to capitalise; while allowing someone down by a unit or two to not feel inevitably helpless.
Playing against myself - maybe it's just me being too cautious? It's easy to end up zugzwanging yourself. I think I'll add an extra rule:
Initiating an attack with any craft, lets you +1 your captital ship.
Need to keep an eye on that, because it makes it easy to become completely immune to fighters. But then, rps suggests you should be anyway.
After first playtest, several comments stuck out; and some things needed changing. So:
It is now a game of helicopter, submarine, battleship. (Replacing fighter/bomber/capital ship in that order) Flavour sense making to people who haven't played space flightsim games now?
No, it doesn't make sense that submarines impede the movement of your helicopters. Deal with it.
For simplicity, and physrep reasons, remnant is gone - helicopters just go boom.
When a unit dies, it goes to its opponents reinforce queue.
Alternately, you may let it go to its owners queue, and draw a card.
Cards are used on your turn, the available options are:
+1 to all battleships you control. (This replaces the current automatic +1)
Roll a 5 on this attack.
After this attack; whether or not your unit would be destroyed; return it directly to your ready queue. Skipping the reinforce queue.
oh, right; submarines just cannot attack each other; rather than the swap-space dance silliness.
Second playtest was much better. Rules slightly revised further - anything can capture, submarines don't take retribution when the capital ship survives.
Generally players agreed it played much better - partly physrep, partly felt a bit more strategic and had options. Interestingly, capturing pieces played really well even though the actual difference was quite minimal. Cards costing your reinforce was a big cost, and felt right.
Allow the 'roll a 5' to also be 'they roll a 2' so you can use it to attack with a capital ship. After a bit of thought - sure, let's do that. Actually; to simplify the physrep - make it "Pretend you have a 5 on your die" - so they can still damage you, but they need to roll a 6 to do it.
Make more obvious on the tokens themselves what the beat. Maybe a little crossed out (thing you beat) icon on it?
Surrounding never happened. Might be nice if it was more of a thing. Removing remnants is what done it - maybe start with more pieces in play?
Replayability was mentioned as a problem. Several possible alternatives were proposed - switching up the fleet mix; allowing non-symmetrical fleets; switching up the board. It could be done just by slotting new reminder tiles onto your home-board - but the capture rules make it much more fun to have it on the tokens, and permit asymmetry. Of these, I think the most interesting is probably to have multiple varieties of the 3 units; and players get to choose some, and some random. I'm thinking things like "This helicopter only moves 2, but it gets a +1 on its attack rolls" or "This helicopter only moves 2, but it deals 3 damage when it hits (needs improving, losing one speed is huge, and capitals are rareish)". Capital ships that do get to sink opposing subs if they survive, but start on only 3 life. Submarines that have a 5+ roll to blow up a helicopter; but roll 1-less when attacking capital ships. That sort of thing. (Speed 1 capital - reduces all incoming damage by 2)
I also kinda want to force a "Stop thinking, you have 15s to decide" rule; but... well, we'll see. It's already fairly quick even with the occasional "Sorry, I was thinking 4-moves ahead and it didn't work out".