Free classic space board-game that teaches vector arithmetic and Newtonian mechanics

Greg Costikyan, the tireless, incredibly prolific games designer, has released his classic tabletop game "Vector 3" as a free Creative Commons download. The game's more than a strategy diversion -- it also teaches vector arithmetic and Newtonian mechanics. Greg says,
Vector 3 is a 3D space combat board game; its virtue is that players learn the essentials of vector arithmetic and Newtonian mechanics by playing. On a number of occasions, people have told me they learned more about this from the game than from lecture courses. I could see using it in the context of a high-school math or physics course.

It's not a brilliant game, but not a bad one, either. I've rewritten the rules extensively, both to eliminate old-school SPI legalese and make them more readable, and to make some changes that I think improve the game. Mainly, these increase the effectiveness of torpedoes and mines; the problem with games where there's no terrain, facing is unimportant, and there's no equivalent of the weather guage, is that maneuver becomes irrelevant. The presence of missiles and mines at least gives some texture to space, and therefor a reason to maneuver.

Vector 3


  1. On a related note: I’ve learned everything I know of vector mechanics from “Elite II: Frontier”, easily the most-physically-accurate space computer game. It is available as shareware nowadays (with no fucked-up functionality, too). Get it if you can.

  2. Ah, a blast form my past. It’s amazing that we used to play games like this ‘back in the day’ with nothing more than paper, pencils, dice and our minds. No computers needed.

  3. my intro to newtonian mechanics.

    It needs a polishing yet, but it’s got all the basics of newtonian motion in about 50 pages.

  4. My introduction to vector mechanics was Game Designers Workshop’s Triplanetary, which had an elegant hex-based, grease pencil movement system, which for terrain also incorporated a simple system for planetary gravity wells. A lot of fun.

    After that, I think, was the paper-and-pencil system in the original Traveller, which was a simple step up (and my maths lessons had covered vectors by then). Gravity wells were a lot trickier to navigate around in that system, so we tended to avoid them, making them less fun.

    Then there was SPI’s BattleFleet: Mars, in which the tactical game, I recall, was very similar to Vector 3. Like V3, it took the action into the third dimension, but while I found it an easy transition, none of my friends took to it. Also, it had no gravity at all, so no terrain. I had a go at hacking a facing system to it at one point, but I didn’t get anywhere satisfactory with it.

    (This probably has too many links for the automatic system to pass, but I assure the mods that I have no commercial links with any of these sites.)

  5. Free classic Costikyan game?


    (And if he re-releases something like Creature That Ate Sheboygan, I will do a happy dance indeed.)

  6. zOMG I REMEMBER THIS GAME!! I got it when I was in 5th grade and tried to make head or tail out of it with a friend of mine. Years later, when I would learn about vectors in Physics, it finally dawned on me how to play this damn game.

  7. A few vector games worth checking our that haven’t made the list yet:

    On the PC: I-War and I-War 2. Now dated, but IMO I-War 2 is the closest thing to a spiritual successor Elite 2 has ever had.

    For simple vector wargames fun, it’s hard to beat ‘Full Thrust’ by Ground Zero Games – the base game does not have vector movement, but a good (and still simple) set of rules were included as an option in Fleet Book 1.
    Rules (and fleet book) available to download free from the downloads section at their page.

    For added coolness, FT still works well if only _one_ player is using vector movement… cue plucky human defenders versus superior invading alien go-where-we-want-drive ships.

    (ObDisclaimer: I have no financial interest in GZG. But I have thought Full Thrust was frakkin’ awesome ever since I bought the first ever flimsy-yellow-booklet edition from the designer at a con nearly twenty years ago. It remixes easily and well.)

    At the exact opposite end of complexity, check out Attack Vector: Tactical for 3-D, accurately simulated vector space combat. Vector movement in this is actually more accurate than in other games, physics fans. And it has some cool orientation-in-space stands so you can tell which way you’ve rotated. Downside: this game is not simple; first-time space combat gamers should play something easier.

    (It is possible that there are some first-time space combat gamers on this thread, surely?)

    Also, the old BattleSpace rules for BattleTech are due to be revamped in the upcoming Strategic Ops sourcebook, due out any minute now. The old version had decent hex-based vector movement. But people who aren’t already BattleTech players will probably not find this to be the best place to start.

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