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Trade Empire-class Commercial Transport

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue.

Trade Empire-class Commercial Transport. Michael Johnson.
Independence Games https://independencerpgs.com/
38pp., PDF or Softcover

I have been looking forward to this release since I saw it was coming. I have enjoyed my previous purchases of Independence Games ships and supplements for years. So, let’s get into the review.

Overall I’m pleased with my purchase. The cost (at the time of release) was a very reasonable $5.99. The length of the PDF matches the price – official page count is 40 pages, but actual (i.e., usable with information/illustrations) clocks in at 36 pages. As I have come to expect from the publisher and illustrator, the artwork is top-notch. All of it is very clean, making the PDF easily printable if you prefer to have your own hard-copy or to share images of the ship with your players. It includes some variations of different types, with short descriptions of the variants listed in their own section. However, the ship stats and deck plans are only for the primary listed class. I should also mention that this ship is designed using the rules of the Independence Games Clement Sector/Earth Sector, and some of the items, like the Zimm drive, can be easily substituted for standard Traveller. But do keep in mind that the versions handle some of these mechanisms differently so it’s not always possible to do a straight-up conversion between published versions. On a positive note, the designers did actually square off the interior portion, making it so you could fully use the space inside if you are using something like containers – a nice, realistic touch.

I also want to take the time to call out the extra details I love about these series of ship books. In nearly every one they have a size comparison for previous ships – which give you a sense of scale in both written and visual comparisons. I think that’s a great eye towards detail and is very much appreciated! There’s also a short (about a page) example of an interstellar cargo carrier, the British Interstellar Company, that briefly gives a history of the company and ties in the other ship supplements that have been previously released. That’s a nice nugget to be used in games to help gin up plot points if needed.

While I may have questions about the “why” on some of the design choices, I have to give props to the thoughtfulness of the design layout. Access to the various parts of the ships are not only clearly defined, but also make logical sense. Since the ship has no weapons that have a need for ammunition, you really don’t need to have access to each weapon station/hardpoint. Maintenance and support can be done externally – though that would, I think, slow down any tasks since working in a shirt-sleeve pressurized environment is faster. That’s just a minor quibble and not a necessity – but something to think about if you did change things on your particular model of ship. Though magazine space would need to be dedicated as well – especially for an offensive system like a missile launcher.

Now, on to the critique and questions. Every designer has their own reasoning for why they did things. And every other person (usually) has their own head-scratching moment of “why’d they do that?”. So here’s my head-scratching commentary.

For a cargo ship, it seems pretty heavily armed, with 20 turrets and a point-defense system – though the stock freighter has a maximum of 45 hard points, only 20 are actually installed for the provided sample. Since the ship description calls this ship out to be basically owned by the larger lines, that would mean its routes are going to be those that require a lot of cargo space – which means between busy and habitable worlds. Busy shipping lanes are rarely the target of space pirates because navies tend to put their ships in those areas. The ship is also armored. The naval variant could possibly explain the weapons and armor (though from a regular wet navy they are significantly armed/protected) – but from a pure merchant standpoint it’s hard to justify such extra expenses. The addition of an armory and brig on a merchant ship also seems a bit excessive. Brigs are expenses that merchants don’t want to deal with because that space eats into your profit – and an armory falls under the same thought process. Those two items would be better suited for naval vessels than pure merchants.

I’d liked to have seen more details around the ships accommodations and tying together the well-laid out deck plans with the descriptions. While the distinct areas are clearly marked on the deck plan, the area numbers don’t tie specifically back to the description (and these two sets of information are about 10 pages apart). The decks are clearly split up, though the organization of these are slightly off. Normally you’d either start with the lowest decks and work your way up (which itself is unusual, though logical) or you’d start with deck 1 and work your way down to deck 7. For some reason the layout starts with deck 4, goes to deck 7, then starts back with decks 1-3 laid out on the final page. Deck 4 is the “top” of the main cargo area, so perhaps they wanted to start there, or else they were looking to start with the main cargo area and then move their way through this section, then go back to the other ones? Either way it seems a little odd to me (hence the head scratching).

The overall layout of the ship’s cargo holds, in general, makes sense. A careful reading and viewing of the ship/deck layout helps you understand the main hold is three decks high (with no actual decks), and the secondary are two high. The deck plan itself states “3 decks (9m)”. At first I thought it was three separate decks looking at the text, but after comparing the three sets of data I realized that was an incorrect assumption. But it may be one that others could make. Maybe a little more clarity around the description or the label?

Speaking of cargo holds, there is no mention of any cargo handling equipment inside the hold, such as overhead tracks/crane to move cargo around or to assist in the unloading. According to the cut-away diagram accompanying the text description of the ship there is supposed to be a two-deck tall bow cargo hold, but when I look at the deck plans I cannot find it – at least as I would expect it to be placed from the illustration. The deck plans do show a much smaller cargo section at the bow of the ship, but the cutaway scaling leads me to believe it would be, well, larger than the deck plans make it out to be. As an aside, I can’t seem to find the stated cargo capabilities of each of the separate holds. That would be nice to know.

The general layout of the ship seems well thought-out, with a few exceptions. All of the major holds show the ability to open up to be loaded/unloaded. The description states that the ship isn’t meant to land, so all cargo transfer will be done in a vacuum. Only the larger forward hold shows the capability to use an airlock (the other two do not) – but the airlocks as shown are virtually useless since their width is only 1DT wide. I cannot imagine what kind of cargo would be moved through a lock that tiny (though they are quite long). Again, I suppose certain gyrations would be possible, but not practical. And since this ship is space-going only, it would require all cargo to be packed in vacuum-rated containers, or else smaller containers (such as you see via trucks on the road today) are packed in larger ones. Perhaps the authors assumed there would be a two-tiered system whereby cargo transported between planets are sealed in vacuum-rated containers and containers for planetary delivery are similar to the thin-skinned aluminum/canvas ones we see on the road today? Once again it is possible, but no real mention of the activity of loading/unloading or anything else is mentioned in the text. I would have liked to have seen more descriptions of such things – and even, perhaps, descriptions and illustrations of cargo tugs that are used for the ship. That would have been a fine addition in my opinion. There is one illustration of the ship approaching a large hub-and-spoke station, so maybe a few paragraphs about how the ship would normally dock with one to transfer cargoes?

Generally I’m very satisfied with my purchase – I’ve yet to have buyer’s remorse from anything from Independence Games. There are some areas that I think would benefit from more descriptions (and since it’s a PDF there isn’t really additional costs associated with adding more details/explanations). I think it’s a solid 4+ stars. I was vacillating between giving it a 4 or 5 star rating and eventually settled on 5. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from purchasing, nor do I want to make it look like the authors didn’t do a bang-up job to begin with. I think most buyers appreciate the little things that make a great supplement shine even more.

I’m looking forward to purchasing future supplements from this team of designers and artists.