Maybe I’m alone in this, but I think it would be cool to explore the dynamics of space combat by setting up a wargame according to real physical constraints and let the tactics emerge from the sum of the players’ creativity and engineering abilities.
Before we get into any of the ridiculous complexities that I’d want to introduce, there is an underlying rock-paper-scissors that never really loses its appeal. As far as we know, there are only three types of weapon in space: directed energy, projectiles, and missiles.
Energy weapons are pretty useless at range due to the inverse square relationship between their intensity and the distance of the target. But they are also impossible to dodge because they arrive before they can be detected by sensors. Plus, they can be used to explode incoming missiles and to deflect projectiles off-course.
Missiles are slow (on the distance scales of radiation sensors and DEWs), but they always reach their target. There is no effective “cloaking” technology in space, because any ship looks red-hot to heat sensors next to the near-zero temperatures of background radiation. You could reasonably fire these at the beginning of a battle and exhaust the enemy’s DEWs with the task of deflecting your projectiles, so that they don’t have the energy to destroy the missiles when they actually arrive.
Projectiles are not difficult to understand, but the physics and 3D trigonometry would make it very difficult for dullards to play this game.
Speaking of which, here’s my vision: two players and a moderator are sitting at a table with laptops, pen, paper, and whatever math/physics references they want: formula cheat sheets, trig tables, etc. It is a basic necessity that they are familiar with some kind of scientific computation software: Matlab, Mathematica, Sage, SciPy, et al.
It would otherwise be very difficult to perform the sorts of calculations required to decide the angle at which to fire your DEW in order to deflect a fast-moving projectile of a certain mass, or how much power to use. You might be surprised at how quickly such plug ‘n chug calculations become routine, given software that can do the algebra for you.
Really, your responsibilities would be to formulate efficiency calculations (where in the projectile’s path does my DEW require the least energy to deflect it?), to build an intuition of the function inputs and dependencies, and to plug your geometric formulas into the computer. The computer can do the heavy lifting.
The appeal of such a wargame is mostly in the extreme intellectual difficulty, the intellectual competition, the cold realism, the acquisition and application of useful STEM knowledge, the development of relatively unexplored dynamics and tactics that are accessible to our current understanding, and the creativity possibilities between games during which time a player can develop tools, heuristics, and strategies.
An easy way to make sure the game must have an ending is to make sure the ships run out of propulsion before they run out of weapons. A ship that can’t accelerate is a sitting duck for a projectile weapon.