Thursday, 13 December 2018

Mortal Engines and Dieselpunk Tanks

I only saw the trailer for Mortal Engines and although the "tracked cities" seems ridiculous I kinda love the whole landship-but-a-city idea. It's probably too "young adult" for me to enjoy, but I plan on watching it soon for inspiration. As the google group discovered, the idea of "landships" has legs.

 Toss in the videogame "Deserts of Kharak" and landships are back on the menu, boys!

Deserts of Kharak is a pretty good RTS by the folk who made the classic Homeworld, and a good source of gameplay ideas for a landship+tank game.

So..... I've just ordered some 1:300 tanks.  Lots of  kinda steampunk/dieselpunk-y ones from prewar.  You know, the tanks which were rubbish in WW2 but LOOKED cool. Or at least, like a mad inventor threw them together.  I love what I call "developing periods" - when technology was not settled and there was no "best"design. Air combat now is very stale.  The basic fighter design hasn't changed much in 20-30 years. Soviet and Western jets are virtually identical.  Contrast this with the madness of the 1940s-60s, where we have F-104s, Mirages, Phantoms, Vampires and Sabres.  Or Napoleonic - boring! - it's just identical soldiers but with different coloured uniforms. Contrast that with the pike-arquebus-swordsman tercios of the 1500-1600s.

Well, the tank came of age in WW2.  By the end of it, we had an "optimal" design - the T-54/Centurion MBT style heavy-medium.  But before then....

Well, in my world, giant landships will serve as mobile bases to repair and refuel swarms of light tankettes, like a tank-aircraft carrier of sorts.  Brigade Models have done a landships themed game, but unlike their excellent aeronef, their landships look... kinda crap.  Like I could do better with balsa wood and blu-tac.  The now-defunct Spartan Games did the Dystopian Wars but the cartoon-y models never appealed.

So.... let's look at history.

Tankettes are pretty cool. With 2 or 3 men crews, they are the light "fighters" in the game. 

My favourite is the Mark VI - it reminds me surprisingly of a modern Wiesel used by the German airborne.

I mean, look at stuff like the CV/33....
Turretless MGs, StuG-style? Yes please!

 Or a twin-turreted T-26?

I may expand to armoured cars (there's some weird ones for sure!) and I'm going to use a few half-tracks and Bren carriers for logistics. But what about the big hitters?  Well, nothing says "heavy tank" like lots of turrets.  Lots and lots of turrets.

If tankettes are the "fighters" then we need some "destroyers." Tanks like the T-35 will work well as slow, heavy hitters.

With its extra rear turret and extra piping and engine bits sticking out, the Char 2C seemed purpose built by a mad steampunk scientist.

 But what of the landships themselves? I'm thinking just more multi-turret tanks like the Char 2C, but in 15mm (1:100) instead of 1:300 (6mm).  That should create an impressive size gap.

I'll just get a 15mm (or 1:76 or even 1:48) multi turreted tank, and file off any details that give away the scale - and "voila" - a landship.  Placed alongside the teensy 1:300 models they should be super impressive. 

As for rules, I've been experimenting with some tank rule for 15mm (posted on the google group) which I think I tested a while back.  I'll simplify them (FFTW3 will give useful ideas) but I want rules for a campaign (i.e. players control landship each, plus 8-12 tankettes and 4 or so heavy tanks). The tank crews can be upgraded and gain skills and perks like a RPG, and perhaps some mods to the tank itself (i.e. "tuned engine" +20% movement speed or "extra armour bolted on" +1 armour).

Whilst I am using the historical tank stats as the basis for my forces, I'm going to deviate from reality where needed (i.e. FT-16 won't go 5kph to scale with other 50kph tanks!) based on good gameplay rather than realism. Not that I really need to justify deviating from realism in a game focussing on giant landships that roam the inner deserts of the Hollow Earth....  Hmm, I wonder if I can find dinosuars in a small enough scale to match....

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Micro-level Combat: Gaming in 100:1 /Drone Wars

This is not 1:100 scale (aka ~15mm Flames of War) but the reverse - miniatures are dramatically LARGER than the unis they represent.  I.e. the actual real world units are tint, almost invisible to the naked eye.

I've thought about 1:1 gaming (using both insects au naturale and also human-controlled insect "drones" with guns attached) and have purchased a few hundred plastic ants or ant colony wars, but at the moment I am rather lazily waiting for this videogame to go on sale.  I did explore the dinos I mentioned in the post, and am the proud owner of an extensive plastic dinosaur army (both pillaged from my son's sandpit, and bought from junk shops in bulk). But my psychic-knights-on-dinos (and the rules I am developing for them) are meat for another post.

No, the current musing is about drone/miniature vehicle warfighting.  I've been eyeing off normal toy drones lately (which have advanced amazingly in tech while dropping in price) especially the ones you steer in FPV (using goggles you "see"what the drone sees, kinda "flying"the drone from the cockpit so to speak.

You can see the potential of drone dogfights.

Drone dogfights would make a pretty cool wargame.  (Also, a pretty cool videogame as well - I wish someone would make one). There are already drones with sensors where you can "shoot down" your friends' drone, so to escalate to real weapons doesn't seem to much of a leap.

Now using drones in "current"size (say your average drone about the size of a pizza box) would make for interesting and unique combat. The ability to make violent maneuvers at G-forces far exceeding a human pilot, and the stunning agility would put it apart from the usual dogfight genre.  Add in "lag" and EMP weapons (or jamming) and it gets yet more unique.  Furthermore, the ability to evade detection ("nap of the earth" is literally a foot off the deck) and fly into structures/launch ambushes.

Micro drones are not new, and have been around for a while, especially as a recon unit.

Drone swarms are also becoming (a somewhat terrifying) reality.

But what if we project even further into the future? Perhaps where drone-on-drone combat has become the primary means of warfare.  Duels between drone swarms fighting though buildings at high speed, using unique weapons (including EMPs) would be like supersonic helicopter combat, mixed with sudden ambushes, like Descent on steroids. 

As a wargame, you could play as a pilot of many drones. You could have some sort of resource pool of tokens representing your "attention" which you could distribute among individual or groups of drones, who would otherwise act automomously. Kinda like a Warcaster in Warmachine boosting his warjacks.

The ability to create unique weapons (and tactics - suiciding your drone to take out key opponents would be an option) and unique environments. 

Drones could even be aquatic. Which could have its own hazards - your super high tech drone swarm could get gulped by a trout....

But what if we go smaller?  I'm not original here, I like the Eylau Sequence (one of the coolest wargame settings no one has ever heard of) and their micro-tanks (though the rules are too gluggy and the minis a little expensive to an Aussie).  Their MGVs are 20:1 drones. 

Microscopic? In the Scott Westerfled book Risen Empire there is a scene about drone combat.  The drones are the size of dust motes. They have pincer claws and explosives and can "go silent" using thermals to navigate a room and land in a glass of water (which magnifies their listening/detection systems).

Imagine microscopic squidder drones headed up your nasal cavity and burrowing into your brain - yikes!

Models require imagination....  My cheap EM4 spaceships (which have lately seen service as supersonic submarine fighters and MTB-like strike fighters, Descent fighters as well as hovertanks ) may now see service as drones.  Probably painting out the canopies would give a more "drone" feel. I swear they have been the most cheap (~50c) and versatile minis I own. For value/usefulness, they can't be beat.

Heck you could even use an actual 1:48 model of a drone... a target drone.... The sky is the limit with  sci fi and your imagination....

 I think I could probably use quite a few spaceship models that are scale-agnostic,and of course there are the cool MGVs. For the hipsters, there's always scratch-building your own; deoderant cans, end caps, disposable razors, and LEGO and hydroponics piping + various weapon bits from everything from 40K to 1:48 WW2 boxes can result in some amazing stuff. (google "scratch built spaceships" and you will be amazed). 

Anyways, I think there is fertile ground for sci fi drone wars.  You could have drone swarms, antonymous vs piloted, unique tactics and weapons, and have games ranging from 1:1 duels to 100 vs 100 swarms.  Stealth, dogfights, kamikaze attacks, and dogfights in the kitchen. You can change the scale from pizza box to dust mote.  Heck, spider-bot drones the size of literal spiders...  Or hovertanks that skim centimetres off the ground....

In a wargaming sense, you could use magic mechanics to simulate management/processing power of AI, as well as layers of EW including jamming, ECM and EMPs. Perhaps they can be coated in thermal camo or float silently to attack like dust motes.  Drone combat can be a fun wargaming area which can be taken in any direction you want it to....

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Subterranean War

Watching the Netflix's Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War piqued my interest in the tunnel systems of Vietnam, and inspired musings on "underground warfare" in general.

Besides Vietnam, I know a bit about WW1 fortifications, and the tunnels in Okinawa, but I haven't really studied much about underground warfare.  I know currently caves in Afghanistan seem to be used a bit, and of course sieges/mining/counter-mining in the ancient/medieval world. From memory, North Korea has complex tunnels including ways to rapidly shuttle troops to forward areas, and even underground runways. Hezbollah and Syria/Libya have tunnel systems. In WW2, I recall fighting in the Odessa Catacombs.

I enjoy reading about abandoned underground Cold War bases and doomsday hideouts and complex underground facilities like the ill-fated Maginot Line.

I've seen a few US documents where they government is exploring subterranean/tunnel fighting technology, as ISIS and North Korea for example, can negate many US advantages by moving underground.

The subterranean world is an untapped domain.

So... what underground warfare might look like for wargaming?

I'm concerned that while modelling it might be fun, trench warfare and tunnel-rat style warfare might be a bit dull in the sense that maneuver is limited. Detection and reaction mechanics would probably be key here. Booby traps and mines that insta-wipe an entire force are not so fun... The fields of fire are narrow and the chokepoints are many.  Reduced lighting means night-fighting rules would apply. I'm travelling into "what if" territory....

Well, sci fi has rich ground. Google "underground base" and 99% of hits will refer to Greys, reptilian aliens and government conspiracies. Scenarios pretty much write themselves.  I'd imagine any small-skirmish rules (aka 40K Kill Team or Infinity or Black Ops) could be fun. Think small scale (squads and fire teams) of men-in-black hunting down reptiloids beneath Antarctic bases.

As I type this, I'm eyeing off my Secrets of the Third Reich weird-war-two Nazi mech suits; Nazis and underground bunker complexes seem to go together. Toss in some mad scientists and perhaps ravening undead, and fun could be had.

At the far end of the spectrum is the Hollow Earth/Lost World - where the underground spaces are vast - whole islands or continent-sized spaces; perhaps inhabited by dinosaurs and lost tribes.  Or aliens. Or giant apes. Or all of the above.

Define your world

I think the thing that stands out to me is "how cramped is your underground?" - ranging from a battle in a single waist-high tunnel to giant underground cities to a complete "Hollow Earth."

I'm thinking that subterranean warfare could be used conveniently prune and focus warfare to suit your interest.   Let's assume big caves (Sarawak chamber is 600 x 435 x 115m) - this would mean infantry- only battles, probably squad/platoon sized, with some maneuver.

But what about really big caves? Say hundreds of metres high, and kilometres wide?

You could design your underground world to answer questions like:

What would modern warfare be like without artillery, airpower and helicopters?  I've always liked small AFVs like Scorpions, Wiesels, and ASUs. You might even be able to remove MBTs as they would be too expensive to risk in confined spaces. Small, compact vehicles (the sort that support airborne units).

It would be fun to answer questions like: if a nuclear war forced us underground in the 1960s, what would military tech look like today?  Or - what future weapons and equipment would form the focus of future underground warfare, in say ~20 years?

Small AFVs might be relevant in a subterranean setting...

You can make an interesting setting

In a future where the Earth's surface is unfit for habitation, the nations have moved below ground. Fungus farms and bioengineered animals provide food, and nations fight using small strike teams utilizing high tech drones including spider gun-bots.  You get the idea....  ....underground as a genre has not seen much use.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Nazis and Dinosaurs in the Lost World

The fascination with dinosaurs continues....

After Operation High Jump in 1947 finally discovered and captured the main Nazi cave entrances to the Hollow Earth (the original entrances in the salt mines of Bavaria being dynamited shut in 1945) the Allies are finally exploring the lush jungles of Middlehiem, in search of the two divisions of Nazi troops and untold concentration camp slave labourers who disappeared into the underworld in 1944-45.

The charming log chalets of Nieu Deutschland were made with slave labour....

With mainland Europe devastated by the Z-Virus, and much of Eastern Europe still quarantined due to hordes of wandering undead, there is an eye to colonizing the Hollow Earth.

 The British Empire has found new lease of life, with their experience of "colonising" hostile regions...  They are one of the foremost nations exploring the Underworld...

But first, threats must be neutralized.  Without the ability to use air support or heavy vehicles, Allied light infantry troops must fight their way through the caves and jungles of Middlehiem.  Giant beasts, dinosaurs, and primitive tribes are not the only horrors they must face.

The armoured Bren suits are well adapted for exploring the dangers of Middlehiem...

The Nazis have brought many of their most deadly weapons with them: werewolf soldiers, light mecha and psychic troops wielding alien tech.  Warfare tends to be on a small scale; scout squads and light infantry recon platoons clashing in the remote jungle far from support, or battling in claustrophobic cave systems.  

 The Soviets, wary of their erstwhile allies, are also energetically staking claim to the underworld, through their Tunguska entrance.

 Their vaunted sniper teams are very useful for dealing with rogue dinos, and they use anti-tank rifles to good effect.

Already cracks are appearing between the old allies - there have been clashes between British and Russian troops, and their is talk of a "Cold War" as the Soviets attempt to establish a new Communist empire.  

Saturday, 10 March 2018

French and Indian Dinosaur Wars 1754

We all know how the French and British colonists in the New World clashed over the lucrative dinosaur trade. Dinosaur skins, teeth and other products provided an irresistible lure to those in search of wealth. Dino trappers and hunters roam the wilds, hunting dinosaurs which emerge from the cavern entrances to Middlehiem in the depths of the deep woods of the Ohio Valley. 

French and British troops, supported by allied Indian war parties, clash both in the deep woods and in the lost underworld of Middlehiem.

Here some French Compagnies de Marine explore the depths of Middlehiem, staking a French claim on the new lands of the underworld.

They are countered by Rangers who patrol to protect British interests.  Primitive grenades are effective in deterring larger predators like the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Indians are allied to both sides. They trade enthusiastically for muskets, whose .75 cal stopping power is very useful against larger dinosaurs. I'll need to touch the models up and base them properly, but I aim for "tableworthy-and-painted" as my #1 goal.

I love the French-Indian Wars as they have a very skirmish-centric focus with very different forces (militia, Indians, line infantry, etc). Plus, canoes! What could improve this? Dinosaurs of course!

I actually feel dinosaurs fit well with the hunting-trapping-exploring-the-deep-woods vibe of this era.  What would be more natural than to hunt and trap rare dinosaurs for their skins?

Toys dinosaurs are very cheap. This is two $10 packs of dinos from K-Mart, painted with cheap craft paints. The terrain came with it, and I think it's quite servicable, given the price point...

Again, this is another spin-off of the "lost world/jouney-to-the-centre-of-the-earth" setting of my Middleheim homebrew rules, which one may suspect merely serve as a vehicle for playing with cool toys (dinos ftw!).  I've been forced to make my own rules as the newer campaign skirmish games (SoBH etc) have "missed the mark" for me by adding 101 special rules and dumbing down the campaign aspect; whereas the Necromunda reboots and similar seem mired in 1990s mechanics with few changes.

I'm eyeing off "Aztecs vs Conquistadors vs Dinos" next but sadly my gaming budget is crippled nowdays (two young kids will do that!) so I may have to settle for "Vikings vs Indians vs Dinos" instead, repurposing some of my bow-armed FIW Indians and paint my Gripping Beast vikings (untouched since playtesting SAGA years ago) for earlier battles in the New World.  Or maybe Dinosaurs: The Vietnam War where Vietcong train dinos to ambush US patrols, and then their tunnel system extends into Middlehiem.  Hmmm, is a common theme emerging? Well, at least it isn't zombies....

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Psychic Knights Riding Dinosaurs: A Lost World

This is my current "default" Middlehiem setting for my homebrew skirmish campaign rules.  I thought I'd share some WIP shots and a bit of background on Middlehiem.

I suppose Middlehiem could be described as a underground "lost-world"(think Journey to the Centre of the Earth) where dinosaurs can be telepathically controlled by dino-knights - wearing plate armour. It has War of the Roses/late-Middle-Ages tech where gunpowder is in its infancy.  Middleheim's core setting may or may not be expanded to include not-African-tribesman, not-Incas, and not-Japanese samurai as my budget permits.

I think the genre I am aiming for is "medieval pulp" - high middle ages swashbucking rather than the usual Iron/Bronze Age Conanesque sort...

Underpinning this is my magic system. This is just typical psychic abilities from modern and sci fi, transplanted back to the Middle Ages. I'm not a huge fan of wizards in pointy hats - borrowing psychic powers means I have a "established" magical framework that works in a consistent, coherent manner.  Knights with psychic powers feels "new" but enables me to steal from established systems (cough Savage Worlds cough).

The ruling class are all psychics - the telepaths are the "dino knights"- they alone can control the giant beasts and tend to be the upper nobility of Middleheim.  They have an array of mind-focussed psychic powers - focussed on mind control and illusion. Typical abilities would include confusing foes, creating illusionary doppelgangers, mind control and mental attacks, and buffing/debuffing morale, and obscuring (invisibility) as well as limited precognition. They can also shield themselves and nearby allies against mental attacks.

Perry medieval plastics have been wonderful for making random minis; they have a myriad combos and extra arms/legs/heads make them awesome for scratchbuilding/body swaps...

The second, lesser noble class are telekinetics.  Typically fighting on foot, they tend toward physical powers - pushing, pulling, deflecting and directing projectiles, augmented blows, spraying fire, with some healing and limited levitation.  Deadlier in direct combat, they are less effective at commanding both men, and the mighty dinos that decide most battles.

The rank and file are equipped with long pikes and powerful polearms; well-suited to taking down large reptiles as well as armoured knights. Half of most forces are equipped with either powerful crossbows and longbows. Lately primitive muskets have come onto the scene, capable of propelling a lead ball through even the toughest dino hide.

The smallest military unit is the "lance" - usually a telepathic dino-knight and his apprentice squire, both riding raptor-sized dinos.  They are supported by several telekinetic men-at-arms, and up to half a dozen each of both bowmen and pike/halberdiers - usually over a dozen men total.

The models need a lot of polish but my aim was to give them a basic coat so I can playtest the rules...
I'm quite happy with the $1 dinos and I think they will paint up well with a bit of drybrushing and simple detailing... 

 Middleheim is made up of small duchies and city-states.  Battles are fought on a small scale - with hundreds per side being common, and large battles being rare.  The underworld is lit by luminescent plants and lava pools; the terrain can range from rocky desert to lush jungle.  Dinosaurs and giant creatures roam the wilds, with spiders the size of horses amongst the horrors of the wilds.

In Middleheim, the gamer controls a lance of mercenary dino-knights. They can hire out to fight battles for local lords, escort caravans through dino-infested terrain, and hunt down rogue T-rexes. They can defend settlements against Aztec raids.  The troopers in the lance can then "level up" in both psychic and physical abilities in a campaign. 

Anyway, that might give those who are interested a background on my homebrew skirmish rules' setting. It started as I felt dinosaurs were vastly under-represented in wargaming (compared to say, zombies/undead: which I am heartily sick of) and I wondered how I could include them. I noticed some of my 2-year-old's cheap $1 plastic dino toys fit with some 28mm Perry knights... and the rest is history....

Monday, 12 February 2018

Domina - Gladiator Management (PC)

This is an awesome game. 

It's also a good game if you're more wargamer than PC gamer. 

You manage your own ludus, with a stable of gladiators who rank up with training and successful fights.  Besides choosing their training regime (modifying their stats) and equipment through your doctore, and allocating gladiators to fights, there's a lot to do between fights; keeping nice with the town magistrate and military commander, organizing exhibition matches and pit fights, as well as organising an array of specialists (doctors, augurs, architects, spies etc).  It's a simple game with a lot to do. There are constant random events (usually with funny stories) that crop up in a RPG fashion.  I like how you can turn your gladiators into specialists, so you have a tool for every fight.

You can upgrade your ludus significantly with baths to assist healing, practice dummies, etc.

Unlike football management games where no one watches the boring actual games, the "games" in Domina contain hilarious and unexpected pixel violence.

If you want to control a gladiator in fights you can; I personally let the AI control the hilariously bloody pixel violence.  The bouts are varied; gladiators chained to the ground, lions, uneven numbers or gear. I haven't even explored the chariot racing yet.

Domina has a vaguely roguelike vibe (keep characters alive/fed/happy/permadeath) and I found myself trying to keep a few better gladiators alive while heartlessly feeding others to the meatgrinder. Everyone, though, is ultimately disposable, though (like X-COM) ending up with only rookies left late on would be punishing.

It's meant to be played in short bursts - there's no full-featured save; so you can't go back to an older save undo your mistakes - and wipe outs do occur (everyone starved to death in an early playthrough when I ran out of money...).

Why chariot race when you can fight instead?

Buy this game. You need no "gaming" skills. You don't need a good computer. You could download it on dial-up (it's 500MB). It's fun.

Do you like campaign or narrative wargames (Mordhiem etc)
Do you like gladiators?
Do you have a dark sense of humour?

If you answered yes to any of these, buy this game.  The downsides are: I suspect it could get repetitive/would be easy to "cheese"/min-max. It's also more a casual game than mainstay of my gaming time.

Recommended? Yes. A blood-spattered thumbs up!