Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Aeronef Ramblings

This is the prelude to working on a set of aeronef rules, as per my holiday "to do" list.
(Warning: Wall of text/think aloud incoming)

First, a quick explanation of why I'd bother when Imperial Skies is successfully KickStarted.   This will also serve as my rationale/design notes.

Let's start with what we know about Imperial Skies.  It is elbowing into the partnership with Brigade Models previously occupied by Aeronef.   Now the Brigade Models minis are characterful, cheap, easy to paint and generally awesome.  I've wanted a good ruleset for ages (my thoughts on the original Aeronef rules are familiar to regulars - the words "Yahtzee" "zillion meaningless hitboxes" "exploding d6s" tend to figure in disparaging tones.)

Here's my observations from the rules explanation in the Kickstarter.

Guns come in three sizes - small, medium and large.  This makes sense.  Original Aeronef lumped them all together.  You use buckets of them - e.g. 10 large, 4 medium and 2 light in the example I noted.    They all score the same damage - 1 hit point - and any 6 is a re-roll. Hang on - isn't this the same exploding d6 method as from Aeronef? Why, yes, yes it is.  



Original Aeronef has only "light" guns which work exactly the same way as the IS ones.   In both games, dice are halved if you don't fire broadside. Sadly, IS adding other gun classes is a mixed blessing due to the way it is implemented (i.e. guns do the same damage, but bigger guns have a better chance to hit....  which is mixing shell size, accuracy, rate of fire, and turret tracking - three very different things). Basically, little ships get screwed over even more.    And they still have the random 'exploding 6 on d6' roll.

Ships have hitpoints (up to 24 for a battleship in the example).  After you take out a row, you -1 off each weapon dice pool, and off the ship's speed.  Which is not a whole lot different to Aeronef, simply replacing division with subtraction (much more acceptable to today's degenerate gamers as you can do the math on your fingers).

Movement is pretty similar too. Imperial Skies has nifty turning gauges instead of having to measure out when you can turn, but big ships turn slower, and small ships turn faster.  There are five turning classes instead of three.  So adding differentiation as well as speeding up...  good  ....but....  altitude rules are still optional.  So basically, IS waved away a key point when making a game about flying battleships, and relegates itself to be simply, in effect, another poor naval wargame.

What's good.  So - guns and hit points aren't much better than Aeronef, and altitude is again peripheral.  Is there anything to approve of?  Yes.  Command points.  You roll d6 and get that many command points to spend on any ships within 30" of your flagship.  You can use command points to co-ordinate group moves (activation is alternate move otherwise i.e. each side moving one ship at a time), boost ship speed, damage rolls, repair, or initiative.  This was great in Robotech and will doubtless add a great layer of resource management atop Imperial Skies.  Sadly, for me, it feels like ladling delicious chocolate topping onto stale bread. I wanted cake! 

I've always liked the Brigade Aeronef models but never really enjoyed the rules...

I was cynically expecting Imperial Skies to be a Warmachine clone i.e. sharing mechanisms with Gruntz, in a shiny package.  I wasn't concerned - that's not necessarily a bad thing. Gruntz is a well thought out, well produced game, and has good unit cards and unit builder - one of my recommended 15mm sci fi rule sets.  Instead, Imperial Skies to seems to be an Aeronef clone which doesn't really fix any of the faults of the original and just glosses over them, before waving around command points with a flourish.  

From where I stand, Imperial Skies has simply added in range bands for gun types (which are a mixed blessing) and its only major improvement over Aeronef seems to be a command point system which you could easily house rule yourself.   Has it improved on Aeronef? Well, yes, I suppose... but not by much. And that wasn't a high benchmark to jump step over.   I have the greatest respect for Rottenlead's efforts (Gruntz is a great ruleset for 15mm sci fi), and Brigade's minis are awesome, but I'm going to pass on this one.

House Rule Design Brief
So, we've established what I don't want - i.e. more Aeronef, tarted up with command points.  So what do I want?  Given aeronef isn't exactly a wildly popular genre (compared to the hordes of platoon level sci fi and WW2 rules that seem to breed like rabbits) I might make a more determined effort to make my own.

Aeronef Manifesto:
#1.  No meaningless hitpoints.  All hits do something or we simply don't record them.
#2.  12" battleship guns do not accurately track small fast moving targets. That's why ships were equipped with quickfiring secondary or even tertiary guns (see rule #8.)
#3. Altitude is not an optional afterthought but integral to gameplay and tactics.
#4. Crew training is essential to gameplay, as are command skills
#5*. Movement and shooting ranges are low, and ratio between gun range/movement is 2:1 at most.
#6. Ships cannot teleport part each other unscathed.  Some sort of reaction fire mechanic?
#7. Terrain! Clouds, sky islands, weather, mountains, smoke screens. Maybe BFG-esque flak bursts?
#8**. Escorts are not #@$*ed over by the rules. Small ships actually have a purpose and a lifespan beyond the first game turn.

(?) Guns fire by salvoes or individually? We could reduce dice rolls (a la General Quarters 1-2) but dice chugging (within reason) is fun. Also, do we make generic firing arcs? Seems a pity due to the wacky, characterful WW1 gun configurations on the 'Nefs.
(?) Serious or lighthearted?  Should I aim for more "simulation" (I say this tongue in cheek) or go Man O War style.  Or rather BFG style. BFG had a real WW1-in-space feel. 
(?) How many ships per side? How much "grit" do we add? Aeronef/IS is 10-30 per side.   Maybe aim more for 5-15?

*The gun range/movement of a WW1/WW2 naval game is skewed radically in favour of gunfire. Ships are slow. Guns shoot far.  I.e. a ship might move 6" and shoot 30".  Shoot/move ratio is 5:1.  As a game design point, it means a ship with a 30" gun range in the middle of a 4x6' table can completely interdict from one side of the table to the other. Gun stats reign supreme. This detracts from maneuver in the game.  How to fix it?  Let's reduce gun range to 8" and  ship movement to 4". Only 2:1 shoot/move now.  Maneuver now matters a lot more - we can skirt around enemies firing arcs and launch flank attacks. I do this for gameplay purposes but we could explain this away as Aeronefs move much faster (100kts not 25kts) and are hard to hit. 

**Allow me to elaborate on #8. It is traditional for all naval or space (and even aeronef, apparently) wargames to defecate on small escorts (destroyers, frigates, corvettes - call em what you like) from a great height.   In such games the role of anything small (i.e. less than a cruiser) is to act as ablative armour for larger ships, a distraction or (if lucky) a kamikaze.  Basically, they are Star Trek's Red Shirts. There to die to make the cruisers and battleships look heroic.  Many games, like Imperial Skies, are even blatant about it "The screening rule allows a larger ship to pass off shots that hit them to a smaller ship within 4" if they have allocated a command point."   Great.  So your 24 hitpoint battleship takes 6 damage, hands all of it off onto the luckless nearby escort, vaporizing the escort but maintaining its pristine paintwork.  It's all in a day's job for the 150 crew on board the luckless destroyer.
 Given space combat is invariably based on WW1/WW2 naval this makes no sense.  (It might if space games actually treated space as 'space', but that's another rant). Destroyers and escorts would not be the most numerous and versatile class in modern naval history if they had the 90% casualty rate they have in tabletop games. Remember the destroyer Spitfire at Jutland? The battleship Nassau blew away a funnel then rammed it because the battleship guns could not depress low enough.  That's.... pretty point blank. Even then, Spitfire got away.  From memory in the same action about a dozen destroyers charged the entire battle line (i.e. about a dozen battleships) and in some cases could not fire torpedoes because they were within 150 yards.  I think one was sunk...  (the other two damaged collided with each other).  If that was in a wargame it would have been 9-10 sunk and maybe 1-2 getting away... You know it's true.  Anyway, I'd love to see a naval, space or aeronef game where small ships have a meaningful role, and a survival chance that depends on how they are used, not on their stats and size.   I don't care how fast a ship is... if it has 4 hitpoints and rolls 4 dice hitting on a '6' out to 10".... and an enemy ship has 20 hitpoints and has 10 dice hitting on a 5 and 6 to 20".... do the math....

Well, since this wall of text has gone on far enough, and a "game design manifesto" has emerged from among the rantings, I can move on to the making bit.... to be continued


  1. I agree with everything you posted!!

    My one game of Aeronef went very badly when the escorts had all evaporated by the end of the second turn ... and Brigade's ships are wonderful ... I have more than I want admit and no rules that I feel do them justice :(

    So keep on with this PLEASE!!

    1. just applied to join the google group so I can help rather than just keep whining! ;)

    2. Cheers! You're added to group. I'm going to do one more "think aloud" post narrowing choices down, then start putting up docs in the group to test/try.

  2. I'm a big fan of your thoughts on game design...

    A couple of mine on than whole aeronef business (a genre I've never played nor even considered so far):
    - X-Wing miniatures ships can be organized in a "rock-paper-scissors" scheme... "Jousters" have good damage & survivability versus cost ratios, "Arcs Dodgers" excels at avoiding being into ennemy fire arcs and "Turrets" can fire 360° (where most other ships have a fixed 90° forward arc)... "Jouster" are strong against "Turrets" (more damage output & survivability for a given cost) but are weak against "Arc Dodgers" (cannot fire at them), "Turrets" are strong against "Arc Dodgers" (negating their strength) but weak against "Jousters"... Long story short, I thing that kind of triangular scheme with each one category being strong against another one and weak against the third is a great way to ensure each ship as her role to play.
    - X-Wing miniature play sequence (moving in ascending "piloting skill" order - worst crew moves first, best moves last, with the benefit of knowing where the enemy ends its movement - and shooting in the reverse order - best crew shoots first with a chance of destroying its target before it can shoot back) is a fairly good way to make crew quality important. What about different crew quality for manoeuvering and shooting?
    - Man 'o War has ships silouhette with different "hitable" zones numbered 6, 5, 4 (the bigger the ship the more zones). The to hit roll was also the hit location one. A small (three zones) ship is harder to hit (there is no 1, 2, 3 on the silouhette) but as less room for different systems.
    - Some bigger ships were split into upper (masts) and lower (hull) zones (and zones that where both - decks). If I remember correctly the shooter choose which (up or low) it aimed for before rolling. What about using it in relation with relative altitude? Shooter is higher than target -> use the upper zones (can hit the kill if your above your target), Shooter is lower than target -> use the lower zones.

    That's all I have... I'm interested into the group. Add me?

    1. In WoWs (which I'm playing as per post) destroyers kill battleships, cruisers kill destroyers, and battleships kill cruisers. Carriers kill everyone at range and die to everyone close.

    2. That said, I don't want a simplistic hard counter in any game - more how you use it. I.e. a DD vs a BB is not an auto victory to either side. If the DD parks alongside the BB to trade shots it gets blown away; if it launches a stealthy torpedo attack from a cloud then zig zags off laying smoke it might win....

      What you DON'T want is like those 40K games where you know the outcome before a dice is rolled....

    3. I'm not advocating a strict Rock-Paper-Scissors system without any randomness of course!

      But the triangular A is strong (but not invisible) against B but weak (but not completely fucked) against C reward good maneuvering (you jockey to get your "rocks" in position to shoot at your ennemy's "scissors" while at the same time keeping them away from the ennemy's "papers".

      But a "scissor" shoudl definitely be able to take a rock if lucky!

  3. Please allow me to add into this mix our very familiar discussion about class roles. Escorts must be more than small version of capital ships. Flying ships need to be more than naval ships that fly. All things need their own attributes in a paper-scissors-rock combination. Pretty sure we worked something out like this neat in some emails - et me know if you need me to go find those again.

    David Manly had some neat home brewed rules for Surface ships - these had Heavy Guns. Aeronef by fluff definition could only mount light guns, so the big guns on surface ships gave them a different role which offset their different mobility and design issues. I thought that was a neat distinction, very similar to Napoleonic ships mounting generally lighter (ie less range less damage) guns than shore batteries and fortresses

    1. I think the sheer speed will preclude 12" and 11" guns anyway. In your studies, have you come across any good gun data? I'm interested in *rough* figures for 3 classes, armoured cruiser 7.5-9.2"; light cruiser/2ndry 6"-5.9"; escort 8.8cm/4"/4.1"/4.7"

    2. But perhaps 11 and 12" guns are good for blasting other surface battlewagons...

      It depends on what kind of data you want - rate of fire, time of flight, penetration at different ranges (i.e. direct vs plunging fire). Email me and we can go from there.

  4. Late to the party, but those Imperial Skies rules are a bit conservative and old fashion. I hate the alternating activation, lack of altitude in a flying game and hit box squares.

    1. I wouldn't necessarily blame the designer: I have a feeling Brigade said "update the Aeronef rules a bit, make them a bit more 'modern" - and thats what he did.

      I do think gamers are ready for a "revolution" in how we game warships (both naval and space) like we have had in skirmish wargaming.

  5. What about Dystopian Wars?

    I've only today found out that Aeronef & Imperial Skies exist, as i went looking for 2mm scenery for DW. These three systems seem to be almost carbon-copies of one another (apologies to the originator), but there's no mention of Dystopian in either this post, or the comments above.

    You guys are aware of Dystopian Wars, right? ;-)

    Just wondering whether there was anything in that ruleset that works for you, or if it's all too same-same as the others?

    I've got to admit, DW feels a bit brutal, and boarding actions seem to be just tit-for-tat, until one side runs out of nearby models.

    1. I'm aware of Dystopian Wars but it's another Spartan game using the same mechanics I have found bleh in the past. I may say no more as legions of Spartan fanboys will descend on me.

      There's a funny post where I pay out on Spartan mechanics and all 10 people playing FA worldwide arrive in righteous fury...