Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Middleheim - Magic // Grey Order Warband

After looking over magic systems, I'm going to keep with my original idea:

1. Mana is a stat - only for mages - (which can be resisted by Will amongst non-mage troops)

2. Like all other stats, you roll under the TN to succeed on D10.
I.e. A mage with a Mana of 6 needs a 6 or less to succeed  to cast an ordinary spell.

3. The spell difficulty modifies this TN. (-2 very difficult, -1 difficult, +1 easy, +2 very easy)
If the mage casts a very difficult spell he would need a 4 or less, rather than a 6 or less.

4. If the spell fails, you are out of Mana and receive a "out of mana" token.

5. You can regain mana by forfeiting 2 actions next turn.

My own personal "game world" is a 100-Years-War with magic.

Optional Thoughts:
You can instantly regain mana by sacrificing a wound/losing stamina (or maybe merely rolling against the Physique stat to see if you do)

Spell limits.  Extra spells are (-1 or -2) to cast/maintain; you can cast or maintain 2 spells during any given turn.  I.e. if you are maintaining "magic armour" from last turn then you can only cast one other spell this turn.

Maintenance.  You still must make a "Mana" roll to see if you successfully maintain a spell from last turn/run out of mana, but simply maintaining a spell (as opposed to casting a new one) is a free action and does not count against your action limit.

Reactions.  Single-action spells can be cast in reaction, with an appropriate modifier (-2?) to show the mage is rushed in his casting.  Attempts to "dispel" other magic has no such penalty.

Prepared Spells.  A spell can be "prepared" (taking an extra action) which then doubles its range or AoE or effectiveness/damage.  This will only be once the other stuff is sorted.

The knights of "Grey Order" have taken vows of poverty, and to defend Christendom against witches, demons and the unquiet dead. Plate armour is quite effective at blocking vampire fangs...
 
Whilst not the "best" method (I'd have preferred a resource "pool" of magic tokens a la Warmachine or Savage Worlds) I've gone with it for a few reasons:
 
1. Ease of balancing.  There's two variables - the spell itself, and the modifier to cast it.  This makes it easy to balance "overpowered" or "weak" spells: I either reduce/increase the difficulty modifier, or (at last resort) alter the spell itself.   Having a separate "casting cost" would add a third variable and make it much harder to work out the "right" thing to do.
"Larry uses his mage to cast fireballs EVERY action, and ignores all the other spells." 
"OK, then let's make it a -2 modifier to cast them"
"Now no-one uses fireball, but are spamming "Mage Armour"
"Ok, let's make fireball a bit easier - change it to -1 and also give a -1 to mage armour and see if people start using other spells"

2. Consistency. Using the "fail a roll, get a token to show you've run out" mechanic keeps it consistent with other mechanics like Stamina   
 
The Brothers of the Order wield both a mace (so they may not spill the blood of fellow man) and a silver sword (for battling the forces of Darkness).  Torches are handy, as many species of undead are surprisingly flammable.
 
I am starting to ready supernatural forces for Middlehiem; demons, a pack of ghouls, a pair of vampires, werewolves and some gargoyles are all undercoated and sitting on my paint table. 

Crossbows, with blessed silver-tipped (or explosive) bolts, are also a sensible weapon

I've been playing with my pulp spin-off rules, but I'm ready to return to Middlehiem.  Hopefully I can get some magic playtests posted up before the holidays end.  (When you have a 12-week-old, nothing is guaranteed)

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Rules Showndown #1: Savage Worlds vs Song of Blades and Heroes

This is for Paul who asked "Is Song of Blades like Savage Worlds?"
I started to type an email, but thought I might as well do a test run for a "rules matchup" instead.


Note: I'm often asked to do "rules matchups" which seem like a lot of extra work for me, given people can read the reviews and make up their own minds, the lazy buggers.  In most cases I've given pretty thorough reviews already - case in point:

http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/review-savage-worlds-skirmish-gaming.html
vs
http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/song-of-blades-heroes-rejuvenating-your.html

..heck I even reviewed some some spin-off rules
 http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2013/01/rippers-horror-wars-rules-review-savage.html
http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2012/05/savage-world-of-solomon-kane-review.html
 and
http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/review-of-gods-and-mortals-mythological.html
http://deltavector.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/flashing-steel-rulebook-review.html

But since I was going to discuss a lot of these points in this blog with Paul anyway, I decided to do this as a post, and test out possible layouts/categories for a "rules showdown" format.

Why they were "matched up?"
Both rules are an "engine" used for many different genres.  SoBH is a fantasy ruleset that has been adapted (some would stay stretched) to subjects as obscure as galley naval battles.  Savage Worlds is a pulp RPG(!) ruleset used from Weird West, to fantasy, superheroes and sci fi. In other words, both are rather "universal" game engines used for a wide (perhaps too wide) range of subjects.  For skirmish gaming, they are two good choices.


Activation
Savage Worlds is much more "conventional".  You draw cards to determine initiative (groups of minions move together on a card, and heroes get their own).  It handles more minis (10-20) than SoBH (<10).

Drawing a Joker gives you special bonuses. 

You can "reserve" your card and use it to interrupt an opponent later (reactions).
Song of Blades has a great activation mechanism. Your choose to roll 1-3 dice, and the number of successes (you roll vs a TN) determines activations.  If you fail 2 rolls initiative passes to your opponent. 

The more dice you choose, the more potential actions, but the greater the chance of failure and the initiative passing to  your opponent.

Great risk vs reward idea, but limits the minis you can use.
Both are solid systems, though the risk vs reward of SoBH is cooler, the ability to reserve cards to "react" is also an advantage to SW.  Winner: Song of Blades on the cool factor


Combat
The mechanics are simple - roll a  d4/d6/d8/d10/d12 vs Target Number (usually 4).  Beating the TN by a larger score (+4 "raise") means the effect is greater i.e. the better the hit, the better the damage you do.
Troops can be "Shaken." Minions die on a hit, but heroes can take a few wounds. 
 Heroes get 2-3 "bennies" (reroll tokens) they can spend, which adds resource management. 
Combat is pretty much DBA stat+d6.  You win by beating, doubling or tripling opponents' scores.

It's quite cinematic - opponents can be pushed back, knocked down, killed, or killed so messily their nearby allies flee after being showered with gore. 

However having only one stat "Combat" for everything is very limiting - especially for a fantasy game. 
SW is more complex, but simply because it offers so many combat options - the mechanics are easy and familiar.  SoBH is simple and pleasingly cinematic, but the limited stat line does it no favours. 
Winner: Draw

Rulebook 
(polish, clarity, fluff)
Savage Worlds is amazing value at $10 for a full cover 140-page softcover.

It further wins my heart by its succinct and useful rules summaries at the end of each chapter, making it easy to revise rules "at a glance."

Its crammed with content allowing you to easily play sci fi and fantasy as well as pulp. So much so, that I have found the supplements to be largely unecessary.
Most will buy SoBH as a $8 black & white PDF with only the cover in colour, though they can be $14 "print on demand."

However you'll end up buying 2-3 more SoBH books as the limited stats means you need the special rules and campaign rules.  So the true price is more like $36 for the extra PDFs.

To come close to SW's versatility you'd need the sci -fi and modern supplements - add another $16.

Some might find it the art "old school" and quaint. 
Not even a contest. Savage Worlds at $10 is one of the most complete rules you can get - it covers many genres; and it easily downs the PDF/POD SoBH which would cost $48+ to even come close to its versatility.   Winner: Savage Worlds romps home

Extra Rules, Magic Systems, Fluff 
(ie. the stuff you find at the back of the book)
Savage Worlds has about ~30 spells, cleverly grouped by effect - which have rules to adapt them to weird science and psionics. 

Naturally handles non-combat tasks with aplomb. Also has advancement rules - it IS a RPG after all.

There is a "character creator" but it's not balanced for wargaming.  
SoBH has two spells "fireball" and "freeze enemy."   That's it.

There is a campaign system...  ..and a RPG...  ...and more spells...  ...if you buy all the supplements.

However the unit creator, while not balanced, is great fun.  You can spend hours "statting up" random cool models from your collection.
Whilst Song of Blades has an fun unit builder, it's not like either game is balanced for competitive play anyway.    Winner: Savage Worlds is far more complete. 

 I'm not sure about the categories - I don't want to spend too much detail

Duelling Dot Points (aka the Summary)
(+) Works as a RPG (it IS a RPG) and handles non-combat activities with aplomb
(-) Works as a RPG if you buy "Tale of Blades and Heroes" - another $8 but still falls short
(+) handles more minis on the table (ironic given it is more complex)
(-) activation means it is capped at around 10 minis
(+) Reactions/overwatch, solid card-based activation
(+) very cool risk vs reward activation
(-) No unit builder; character builder is not balanced for combat-only wargaming
(+) Fun but unbalanced unit builder
(-) not balanced for competitive play
(-) not balanced for competitive play
(+) superb value for money (excellent little full-colour rulebook, very versatile, for $10)
(-) you kinda "need" supplements
(+) one rulebook allows you to play many genres (pulp-sci fi-modern-fantasy)
(-) expect to pay $50 worth of PDFs to even approach the versatility of the $10 SW book
(-/+) Combat can be complex give you have lots of options (sweep, grapple, group fire, etc)

..but that adds to your choices in combat, which is good.
(+) Cinematic, simple fun combat; familiar
(+) Combat has familiar d4/d6/d8/d10 vs TN mechanics; simple resource management; heroes/minions defined well
(+) Uses familiar DBA-style combat resolution; surprisingly tactical for such a simple game
(-) Has superfluous stats like Intelligence and Charisma
(-) Has NO stats (well, only 2 - Combat and Quality) and struggles to describe units without 101 special rules

In short, I recommend both.   

Song of Blades is easy to teach and learn, and fun to stat up random models.  It has clever activation and cinematic combat, and is quite tactical.  However, it is ultimately a little shallow and the lack of descriptive stats is an issue.  Also, expect to pay $50 to get all the supplements you want - not cheap for a bunch of unattractive PDFs.  It is a great "gateway game" into wargaming.

 The official website:  http://www.ganeshagames.net/
Where I buy my rules: http://www.wargamevault.com/

Savage Worlds is exceptionally versatile "out of the box" and is great bang-for-your buck - an attractive, cheap full colour $10 softcover.  It is more conventional - but has a lot of mechanics only now becoming trendy in mainstream skirmish gaming, and the base game does pulp, fantasy and sci fi with no add-ons required.  It's main flaw is the lack of a proper unit builder, and the sheer amount of choices in combat can be daunting.  But if I was condemned to use only one rulebook for all my skirmish gaming, it'd be among the first on my list. 


Combat rules are here:   https://www.peginc.com/freebies/Showdown/Showdown.pdf
as is a free "test run" https://www.peginc.com/freebies/SWcore/TD06.pdf

However for $10 I can 100% recommend this as the best bang-for-your-buck rulebook you'll buy.
https://www.peginc.com/store/savage-worlds-deluxe-explorers-edition/

Monday, 28 September 2015

Game Design #54: Special Rules Best Practice - Infinity vs Savage Worlds

The special rules issue is one I've visited before, but emerged again due to two things - trying to make a generic special rules list for my homebrew Middlehiem/Pulp rules, and trying to relearn (and review) Infinity the Game V3.

A quick recap:

What do special rules and abilities do?
They give factions and units flavour.  They cover exceptions to rules - they do things that normal rules (and stats) cannot describe otherwise.  By their very nature, they also complicate the game due to the fact they are deviating from the norm.

When should something be a stat, and when should it be a special rule?
Stats give granuality and describe traits possessed by all (or nearly all) units.    They are a rule shared by everyone.  Whereas special abilities are not the norm. They describe and detail unique rule exceptions in a way stats cannot.  That's why they are "special."

Whack it again, the horse is still moving
Lately there has been a push to remove/reduce stats and replace them with special rules in the quest for simplicity. Adding extra rules is not simplicity. When you add in more rules, it is complication

Let's take the near universal 6" move.  Once upon a time there was a Movement stat.  It had a number next to it which showed how many inches you could move.  This wasn't a complicated rule.  No one I am aware of, ever, had trouble understanding that Move 5" mean to Move 5", or that Move 6" meant Move 6".  In fact, the stat itself was pretty self-explanatory - even to people with zero background in wargames or gaming in general.

However this was deemed to complex. It was replaced with a everyone moves 6" rule.  Now some enlightened souls realised not every man, beast or alien moves exactly the same.  So they added in Special Rules (also known as extra rules or extra complication) to deal with this newly created problem.  So we have Fleet Footed guys who can add 1d6" to their movement, and a Mounted special rule allowing horses (and every other cavalry beast) to move 12".  Then we have Slow & Steady troops who cannot ever do a double-move Sprint.   We've added 3-4 extra rules and yet still have less granularity and differentiation than our single Move stat.  We've gone backwards.

Okay, that's out of the way.  On to the examples.  First a pop quiz. Subject: Infinity the Game.

Q: How much of this page is about Infinity's Camo Rules?
(a) a paragraph or one of those text boxes
(b) one column (half the page)
(c) all of it
(d) keep reading, champ, this is page 1 of 4!

 If you answered (d) you can expect what is coming.....

Infinity the Game = BAD
They frequently have 3 or more versions of the same rule; i.e  you have Camo: Mimetism, Camo, and Thermoptic Camo.  Not only that, the rules interact with each other in complex ways.
Those 3 levels of camo? Well exactly what they do depends on if your enemy has Multispectral Visor in level 1, level 2, or level 3. (I'm not joking).  But is it actually Camo,  or simply an Optical Disruption Device?

Most special abilities and equipment have multiple levels.  If you want to Impersonate an enemy, is it Level 1, Level 2... or Impersonation+, a hybrid of both? Are you a Markman Level 1, 2 or X class?  Airborne Deployment (aka Deepstriking for 40K reference) comes in no less than 5(!) different versions.  Actually, six. Oops. I forgot Level X: Tactical Jump. 

If you don't think this is at least faintly ridiculous, please leave the room now.

What does Level 4 in Martial Arts do?  Well, it kinda depends on the Level in Martial Arts your opponent has....

Special Rules are Special
They exist to give armies, units and factions flavour. If everyone has it, it becomes flavourless.  They aren't special anymore.  If everything had curry in it, eating Indian wouldn't be interesting - it'd be the norm.

If you cannot resist giving half the units in every single faction Camo, then it's a little wonder you need to make 3 different versions of it to make it "special" for a faction.  Show some restraint!

This, for me shows a RPG-centric game dev; to have a very specific object or creation in mind, reproduce it faithfully in game world, regardless of complication to gameplay.  It puts the game universe ahead of good gameplay. (Actually, for years I reckon Infinity devs fell into this category - they've confirmed it by Kickstarting an Infinity RPG - though I wonder what the point is... though heck, it'd have be simpler to play than the skirmish game, right?)

After that sweeping generalization, it is ironic that my "good" example is, in fact, a RPG

Savage Worlds = GOOD
This game classifies powers by their in-game effect.  I.e., do the powers act the same way in the end?  The actual working of the power are dismissed as "trappings" that add fluff but are largely irrelevant to gameplay.  In short, they can easily condense their special rules to manageable levels.

A blast of fire/ice/lightning has the same effect - i.e. roll to damage those inside a spray template, identical bar some perhaps some minor optional trappings.  Heck, the flame blast can come from a flamethrower or a battlemage.  Those on the receiving end have the same roll to save etc.  Sweet, we can use the same rule - we've cut down on the extra rules!  A WW2 medic, a Alien automedkit, and a healer mage all "heal" targets by performing a roll vs the target's toughness. Same rule! A model can "regenerate" and recover from being downed - a Terminator, a vampire and Marvels' Wolverine can all share the same rule - they have very different "trappings" and methods how they resurrect, but the end result is the same.

Instead of having 3 versions of the same rule; they have one rule that can be used for 3 different situations.

Furthermore, unlike Infinity the interaction between rules is minimal.  If anything, interacting/conflicting abilities tend to simply cancel each other out rather than adding complicated extra effects.   Special rules can (and should) be described in a paragraph, not a page.  

Savage Worlds keeps a relatively short, restrained yet comprehensive list of magic skills and abilities that nonetheless works for a wide range of genres (fantasy, pulp, sci fi) - so well that I have been unimpressed with the supplements who have struggled to add significantly to the base game.

Let's take it a step further.  Disguise and Invisibility. They seem rather different, but are they - really? Disguise stops enemies from attacking you - perhaps until they pass a Will roll or you perform a hostile action.  Invisibility stops enemies from attacking you - perhaps until they pass a Will roll or you perform a hostile action. In effect, the rules can share the exact same mechanics.  The trappings are different - in one you might be a Predator-like shimmering outline, and the other you might disguise yourself as an enemy soldier.  But they have the same effect and thus can share the same rule.

Equipment and innate abilities can share rules.  If a solider has Night Vision Goggles and a Werewolf has Night Vision - great, it's the same thing.  They can share the same rule.  Advanced Senses (hearing/smell/etc) vs Advanced Robotic Sensors? Ditto.   Vampires might possess a natural form of Thermal Imaging.

A Summary:  Do's and Don'ts
Special Rules are special. Keep them that way.  Use them too often and they are the norm.
If it's the norm, it probably should be a stat.
Don't have 3+ versions of the same special rule.
Keep the interactions between rules to a minimum. Unique interactions multiplies the rules exceptions.
Classify and condense special rules by game effect, not by "trappings" aka game universe fluff.
Can you describe the special rule in a paragraph? Better yet, a sentence.
Equipment and innate abilities can share rules (animal night vision = night vision goggles)

Friday, 25 September 2015

Wargaming the World of Darkness?

After stumbling across an unofficial patch that made the PC game Vampire: The Masquerade finally work on my Windows 7 PC (wow, it's an excellent RPG game, and has held up amazingly considering it is a decade+ old), I have become interested in the potential of the World of Darkness for modern pulp.

I'm sure RPG nerds will be experts on this (and cringe at my descriptions), but for the rest of us wargamer purists, there's a few main RPG lines, focussing on:

Vampires 
The most famous line.  A lot of skirmish gaming potential between cabals/covenants/covens and their respective thralls (called ghouls - they drink vampire blood which makes them junkie servants but also gives them some powers) as the vampire world is very "political."

Werewolves
A bit like vice cops; they hunt supernatural entities and fight human spider/rat hybrids.  I'm not sure I'm keen on the whole shaman/guardian/spirit warrior direction they've taken werewolves (don't they know werewolves are the daylight guardians of vampires who rebelled?), but it gives them a clear mission. Find bad things and rip them into little pieces.

Admittedly this isn't modern, but these werewolves know their mission in life: kill the distinctly non-sparkly Underworld vampires

Mages
This one has a lot of wargaming potential.  Not only can mages fight other mages (or competing orders), but uppity mages can be hunted down by the inquisition-like Seers, who do not like mages who try to learn what man-was-not-meant-to-know.  Which of course, is the whole purpose of being a mage. Poke the universe with a stick to discover arcane secrets to make a bigger stick to poke with....    I liked Shadowrun but this does away with the more corny elements. 

There's other spin-off lines such as mummies (do they really need their own series?), monster hunters (bound to appear, given the quantity of supernatural vermin which populate the WoD), Frankenstein-esque promethians, revenants possessed by avenging spirits (geists), Fae changelings returned to the mortal world - I cringed a little at the Fae bit, modern urban elves being a favourite trope of bad romance writers.   My favourite (unsurprising for regular blog readers) is the Fallen - bad angels looking for redemption (or not) which are for me a (little) less cliche than vampires and can wield some interesting powers which they power with Faith.

I'm currently digging through a few core books to see if there are any cool mechanics.
Oh my goodness....
 
RPG Writers Need to Get Their Head out of their butt Fluff 

The core rulebooks make the most obscure wargames sets look like marvels of precision of clarity.  They are buried amongst huge fluff passages usually hidden at the middle or back of the book.  It's like the writers went "omigod I have this awesome universe come lookee come lookee!!!" and then "oh, I sorta chucked in some random mechanics, that you can play a game with... ....it if you insist"

Okay, I get that RPGs are mostly about fluff.  But it's no excuse to lay out your book poorly or write incoherent rules.  Since they inevitably write a dozen sourcebooks/supplements which are 99% fluff (and that's OK, because that's what they're supposed to do) why not devote a little more time and effort in making the core rules clear and easy to find?

There were plenty of interesting ideas - like making Faith a resource that Fallen angels need to manage/earn - might be a fun wargame mechanic - but reading the rules themselves gave me a migraine. 

This is how I feel when I look for minis on the Reaper website...

Modern 28mm Pulp = The Cupboard is bare?
If miniatures sales drive rulebooks and vice versa, it's little wonder modern pulp hasn't got more traction.  Copplestone, Hasslefree, and Heresy have modern/near sci fi collections, and I'm sure if you knew what you were looking for Reaper would be helpful.  There are also older (usually smaller scale, and awkwardly sculpted) collections of civilian minis buried amongst the lines of older British manufacturers. But there isn't exactly one-stop shops like for sci fi or historicals - you have to dig and mix-and-match. Which (for me, in Australia) = prohibitive postage.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

World of Tanks: Improving from the Basics

I'm a distinctly average player.  However my efficiency, win ratio, kills:deaths and damage ratios have all been climbing distinctly and steadily upwards.

This is not for "pro" players but rather average players like myself who are looking to improve. 

I already know the basics - camo, armour, positioning.  The improvement is coming through being more aware and responsive to the battle around me.  In other words....  It's all about the Minimap, Baby!

#1. Start of the Game - Where should I be?
At the start of the game I have a good look at the minimap as the lemmings my team mates rush off to deploy.

Is there a weaker flank I can reinforce?
Is that flank even worth reinforcing?  (defending a flank solo or in a pair is usually suicidal)
Where are our top tier tanks going?
Is there somewhere I am "expected" to be (i.e. heavies in city fighting, mediums sweeping open flanks, TD camping spots, areas I need to scout as a light)

TL:DR Wait a minute, see where everyone is going, and pick a flank

Cautious Early Involvement
Now we deploy. I like to get into position to do early damage, but not at the expense of losing HP (or worse, the tank).  Basically, get your gun somewhere (safe-ish) it can be shooting early.

I'd add: don't go far from friends unless you have the raw speed to get out of trouble.   I'd also add a corollary: and you can fight off any tanks of equal speed. I.e. if I'm in a Tier 5 Chaffee and I see two fast Tier 6 Cromwell mediums and a Leopard on the other team, I'm not going yoloing off solo into enemy territory.

However, ask yourself: can I flee?  If things go pear shaped and you find yourself heavily outnumbered and outgunned, do you have an escape route?  That bush in the middle of the open fields might seem like a good spot - but it'll be hard to escape unscathed when spotted.  Likewise canyons can trap you.

No yolo! Charging in (aka "suicide scouting") seldom works. Maybe 1 in 10 it comes off, you throw the enemy into disarray, kill their arty, etc; the other 90% of the time you condemn your team to being 0-1 down.   Most times, you will charge into a bunch of otherwise useless enemy campers who will quickly vaporise you.  The current maps are too narrow and crowded for meaningful manuevers at this stage.

Throwing Good Money After the Bad
If you see a single tank charge way off in front to fight enemies by himself, let him go. And die.    Don't "help."   By following him and trying to support, you have likely doomed yourself too, and hurt your team. Now your team is 0-2 down, instead of 0-1.  Worse still, allies may follow you and then your flank will crumble as you go in to attack and die piecemeal.  Sometimes you have to sacrifice the intellectually weakest for the greater good.

Example: In this "defence" game, five team mates ignored the game mode and decided to attack (despite the fact there was no flag); attacking piecemeal in a conga-line on the flank.  After three died, instead of trying to save the last two (who were already being swarmed by six foes); I took up an ambush position overlooking the flag which I could control with vision.  After five tanks died trying to cross open ground to my position, the last two foes were too scared to approach the flag and we won.  If I had rushed to try and save my team mates, I would have got off maybe 2-3 shots before being wiped out by the focussed fire of 6 enemy tanks...

#2.  Early Game - Where are they?
As contacts start "bleep" and contacts pop up on the minimap, I reassess the minimap.
 How many enemies have we spotted? Where are they?  Where are the still-hidden tanks likely to be?
I.e. 7 enemy tanks have been spotted on the left flank, and 2 are destroyed.    Setting aside the two artilleries, that means 4 unaccounted for; of which probably one is camping near their base.  So we are only facing 3, maybe 4 tanks on this flank.
If you have XVM installed (which you should) you'll also know which tank has been spotted where.

TL:DR  Find them, get your gun where it can shoot ASAP, but stay safe - preserve a line of retreat.
Don't lose too many HP.

#3. Mid Game - Finding the Gaps
Once about half the tanks are gone, gaps will start appearing in the enemy line.   By now, after looking regularly at the mini-map, you will also have a fair idea of where most of enemy team is located.

Yolo time! This is where an aggressive push often works.  There are often opportunities to flank enemies - you now (hopefully) know where the weak points are.  This is a great chance to get in "free damage" 

If you're in a light or fast medium, you might consider a run through to their artillery.  Or maybe you can get behind their main force and harass them, distracting them and relieving pressure on your team mates.  If you have a more powerful tank, you may even completely break the enemy flank.

TL:DR  Now is the time to seek out and find gaps, push or flank your foes.  Check the minimap, think, then act decisively.  

 Know When to Hold Em, Know When to Fold Em
...know when to walk away, know when to run.  

The  mid game is also when you really notice things going pear-shaped.

When you lose tanks, and the death message appear, check the mini-map and quickly consider the big picture:
Is your flank crumbling?  
Is the other flank crumbling?

If you are going to withdraw, be decisive.  A slow"fighting retreat" just sees you exposed as you withdraw.  Don't hang around for one last shot. Once you decide to pull out, go.  That low tier medium facing three full-HP enemy top tier heavies? He's about to die anyway.  Make sure his sacrifice isn't in vain.  Escape, and set up somewhere you can engage the heavies on more even terms.

If you think it's time to withdraw, the time is now.  Not in a minute or two when escape is impossible.

Amusingly, a team-mate gets stuck...



 ...and has to be pushed free.  Names hidden to protect the innocent :-P


#4. End Game
This is where preserving your hitpoints early is handy. It's why I have become more selfish when retreating/sitting behind allies. Would you rather it was you, or  that red WN 30 potato left fighting in the clutch stages?

I notice many blue-purple (good-great) players are rather cautious and they are usually always among those left alive at this stage.  They may be "campers" and "farm damage at the expense of team mates" but they are also winners.  There's a reason they do what they do.

If you have been paying attention to the minimap, you should have a fair idea where enemies are.  It's why fast tanks are so dangerous - they can swap flanks, or attack/defend unpredictably.  Whereas that 15kph TOG is probably is where you last saw him.  Vision range is also useful here, which is why you should never throw away your light tank in a suicide mission early in the game.  

If in doubt, defend cap rather than attacking.  If you have XVM, you can tell who will win a race to cap and how many are on cap. This is VERY useful.  Only 3 tanks count towards capping at a time, but extra tanks can be useful backup if one of the three is hit (and has its cap points reset.)  Often, if there's already 3 on cap, I usually move off cap a bit where I can intercept enemies and protect the capping tanks.


GENERAL TIPS
Get Comfortable in Your Tank
If you're always grinding "stock" tank to get better guns, engines and equipment - you're always driving a sub-standard tank.   Likewise if you're always training up new crews, you are gimping your performance. A 80% crew has 15% lower speed, accuracy and DPM than a maxed 110% crew.   If you're only playing for the "grind" and to unlock tanks, and not to have fun and blow stuff up, why are you playing the game?

A corollary to this is - get comfortable in your tier.  Players often "grind" quickly to high tiers without understanding or grasping the gameplay (or learning about enemy tanks) at the lower tiers.
For example, in tier 5 I am a good player (usually one of the best ones on my team); in tier 6 I am capable, in tier 7 I am so-so, and I am outmatched in tier 8.  So I confine the majority of my games to Tiers 5-6, while "learning" in Tiers 7-8.

 ....The Need For Speed
 ....Is the other flank crumbling?
This question highlights another point - the need for speed.  A slow tank cannot easily withdraw, or switch flanks to support a flank, or race back to stop an enemy cap.   Many game-winning strategies are simply not possible with a slow tank.   Speed > Armour.  Many slow tanks have great armour.  Great if facing their own tier or below. But how often are you top tier?  1 in 3?  When lower tier, your armour is likely to be outmatched, especially with the prevalence of gold ammo. So while armour is useful 33% of the time, speed is ALWAYS useful: 100% of the time.  And speed is arguably even more useful when you are a lower tier

Slow+ Tough: An armoured AT-2 tank destroyer, against foolish opponents, who don't know it's weak points, is almost impervious to frontal fire from equal or lower tier foes.  It can chew through swarms enemies who obligingly attack it frontally in chokepoints. However once it moves to a flank, it cannot redeploy elsewhere.  It's hard to "win" a game in an AT2 unless the opponents co operate. It's only tactic is a slow, frontal advance or a "back to the wall" last stand. Against higher tier foes (most of the time) it is largely neutered - the armour is negated by gold spam/better players/better guns, and its gun cannot always penetrate foes in a head-on duel. Furthermore, its lack of speed makes it an easy artillery target. It is a one-trick pony that relies on your opponents and team mates making certain choices.

Fast: A T-67 (also a tank destroyer) is a speed machine which can outrun some light tanks.  It has armour weaker than a coke can - but it doesn't care.  It can use its speed to flex all over the map, controlling engagements with superior vision range, fleeing unfavourable fights, and flanking with ease.  It can blast across the map to support allies or reset an enemy cap.  It's useful in higher tier games where its gun reliably pens when flanking and it can even be used as a pseudo-scout.  You can do well regardless of your opposition or team mates. 

Make Favourable Trades
If you're facing 3 enemy tanks with their guns trained on the rock you're hiding behind - why roll out and exchange 1 shot but get 3 in return?  But it's amazing how many players cannot resist doing this.
 They roll out, do 250 damage, get 3 x 250 damage shots in return; and are probably now tracked and mostly dead where opponents can easily finish them off. 

Usually they are loath to rush you and possibly lose their precious HP, so you have time to sit behind your cover and consider you situation.

Can you retreat toward backup?
Can I use my armour? (Sidescrape > Peek-a-boom); 70d+ = nearly automatic bounce
Can I ensure I get the first shot in/can I position myself so they can't flank me if they charge?
Is there a weak tank I can finish off? (gambling on one-shotting a tank and reducing the odds to 1:2)
Do I need to pop out and shoot to discourage them from rushing me?


I was quite proud of this game; after four team mates "lemminged" to their doom, I held off 5 enemies on my flank solo, through judicious retreating and sidescraping, killing their heavies (O-Is, KV) and holding them in place long enough for my artillery to take the others out. 

Remember - there's rarely a need to trade damage at a loss.  Ultimately, if you and your opponents remain in situ for the rest of the game, you've just tied up 3 enemy tanks with one of yours.  You can then pop out and hurt them when your team mates flank them in the end game.

"Free" Damage.  This is the holy grail.  Enemy tank turret facing away from you?  Maybe you're in a bush out of his view range. He can't shoot back! Awesome!  "Free" damage is damage you do without risk to yourself.  Something for nothing - it's the best trade of all. Constantly be thinking: how can I get in position to do unanswered damage?

A corollary to this is get the first shot in. This could be done by abusing camo/vision mechanics, or simply using cover wisely.  Having a first shot can damage crew/modules (making return fire less effective) and has a psychological impact on the enemy player as well.  It also gets you 'one-up' if it becomes a race to trade HP.

However, if you are a heavy, I would expect to lose some HP. If you are leading the line, you will take hits for your team.  You have the biggest HP pool and can lose chunks of HP with less risk, and negate hits with your armour.  For example, if you are a KV-1 with an allied Crusader, you should be the one to push around the corner to fight that 105mm-toting Pz IVH.  You might take 100-150 damage of your 640+; whereas the Crusader might get derped outright.   A heavy that has 100% HP at the end of the game is either very skilled at angling or (more likely) has been sitting back, hiding behind mediums and lights.... ...i.e. not doing his job. 

Focus Fire, Secure the Kill
I don't call it kill stealing, but kill securing. The faster an enemy gun can be put out of action, the better.  Work on one enemy tank and take it out of action ASAP.  This preserves your team mates precious HP.  Occasionally I leave a kill for someone else (i.e. I'm in my slow loading SU-152, with 700+ damage gun, vs a enemy with 50HP and two team mates are close by) but 90% of the time, focus your fire, remove the enemy tank, and take its gun out of the game.

It's not kill stealing, it's a public service.  You've made your team mates safer, sooner!

TL:DR
Use your minimap
Use your minimap all the time
Actually play your upgraded tanks and don't rush off to grind the next tier
Don't always rush in to help team mates in trouble
Withdrawing is a valid tactic: when you decide to do it, do it early and decisively
Don't use slow tanks; speed > armour
Don't trade damage at a loss (ie. play peek-a-boo with superior enemy forces)
Focus fire & kill steal - take out the enemy gun ASAP

These are not hard-and-fast rules (I can think of lots of exceptions) but are good general guidelines which have improved my play ~50%. I'm trying to widen my horizons from managing my tank (tunnel vision), to managing the entire battle (tactical awareness).  The key is the minimap. Did I mention that already?

Multi Storey Terrain // Homebrew Rules

It's holidays, and I am dutifully putting shelves in a cupboard for my beloved wife....

...who am I kidding.

Ah, bookshelves...NOT!

Some of the shelves are....    ...a tad unconventional.

It will form the basis of some multi-storey terrain, that I can store the terrain in.  The cupboard will form the "base unit". I will put balconies etc off the outside, and more walkways (like the top floor) with ladders etc connecting the floors.  I can use foamboard (like the castles on top) for lighter attachments; the wooden bookshelves will just form the core support.  And in the end, I can pack away my minis...   ...inside the terrain?

It will serve as a castle dungeon, a hollow mountain, an Umbrella Corp/MJ12 corporation secret base, an undersea base, a vampire tomb, a multistorey modern apartment block...   ...I have plenty of ideas. 

I'm not sure how to make doors as I'm not terribly handy; maybe some sort of Dremel cutting blade to cut out small doors to connect the two "sides" of the bookcase?

Obviously only early stages, but you can see where it is heading.

I've decided to standardize templates to 3" and 6"; with my own homebrew spray template which works the same for 6" and 12" range versions. 

In other news, I am making some templates for Middlehiem and Modern Pulp (working title); two rulesets that are increasingly sharing mechanisms.  Originally Middleheim was a mix of modified Bolt Action activation, Warmachine (but d10 not 2d6 + stat), with DBA/SoBH damage resolution.

However the game (in play) had a pleasing SoBH/Infinity vibe and I've decided to emphasize this and try making an engine for modern pulp games.  Annoyingly, this off-the-cuff creation (I think I wrote it in an hour) played much better than Middlehiem, so I'm now porting the better ideas back to Middleheim, sans the Infinity-esque unlimited reactions. 

I like both rulesets (especially Infinity), but regard them both as flawed:

Infinity has excellent decisions and player involvement, but a ridiculous amount of (complex) special rules, but it's excellent for shooting combat, though it suffers from cheerleading (models who stand around doing nothing);  SoBH has an excellent risk-v-reward activation and momentum shifts, but is  overly simplistic/bland with limited customisation; whilst ironically suffering from excessive special rules and a shortsighted marriage to d6. In contrast to Infinity, it is weakest in shooting combat. 


Modern Pulp uses "roll under d10 TN" and unlimited reactions similar to Infinity, whilst using a risk vs reward activation like SoBH; eliminating the cheerleading from Infinity whilst allowing the momentum (who is active - a major advantage) to switch fluidly within the turn, making it a bit more dynamic. 

So far I'm liking Modern Pulp better than both games.  I'll do a Middleheim test soon once I fully convert in the mechanics to suit medieval/fantasy. If folk are interested, I'll start doing up illustrated examples and work on making the rules more coherent as I think I'm now content with the core concepts (after completely overhauling activation twice, and replacing the complete mechanics once).  

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

HELP WANTED: What is the best RPG/wargame magic system?

In wargames, there has been advances in game mechanics. I'd say the primary beneficiary is activation - it's moved away from default IGOUGO as designers realise the tactical gameplay possibilities in allowing players to manage activation and reactions.  Another area is resource management - they are now commonly added to games, often in clever ways.  

However - has there been any cool advancements in how to manage magic?

I must admit I don't play many magic-heavy games.  The magic systems which immediately come to mind are....

LOTR:SBG
How: Spend Will from a pool (resource management), then pass a d6 roll to cast (test). Can use one at a time.
What: Mages have several preassigned spells according to movie/book settings. 

Savage Worlds
How: Spend a Magic Point (resource management). Your character must = the spell level (i.e. novice, experienced, master). Can cast spells concurrently but -1 each spell.
What: Mages select 3+ spells from a generic list.  

Mordhiem
How: Roll above Spell Difficulty on 2D6 or no magic that turn. One spell per turn - replaces missile fire.
What: Can use ~6 spells from their faction list. (x5-6 factions)

Warmachine
How: Spend Focus points from a pool that replenishes every turn.  Can spend to cast spells or buff allies with in a control radius.  
What: Warcasters (mages) have several preassigned spells according to movie/book settings, and usually a powerful "feat" that be used only once per game. 

The PC game Verbus Virtus you use a voice and your mic to cast spells.  Sounds cool... ....but what about weak, repetitive spells? Saying "kazam" until your throat is hoarse.... yeah.

Same old same old?
A quick look at my random grab bag of wargame magic systems shows there is usually (but not always) a casting roll to pass, and often magic is drawn from a pool of "magic points."   Magic often functions in the place of the missile phase. I like the resource management aspect to the magic point pool. 

However, they are all pretty similar in how/when they work.   Have you seen other, cleverer ways of using magic in games?

I'm thinking RPGs might be a fertile source of ideas...   ...but it has to be a practical, "closed" system that can be balanced.  Some RPG stuff is waaaay to abstract and open-ended.  Fine for storytelling but not for a wargame.  I'.e. I'd avoid magic systems like "if you can rhyme the effects of the spell in a haiku, you can cast it"  or  "player describes the spell aloud and GW assigns a casting rating from Easy to Very Tricky."

Any cool magic systems you've seen lately?