Saturday 3 December 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #3: Missiles, Lethality, "To Hit"

 I'm still avoiding activation/initiative as I'm paralyzed by indecision about a few key factors (reactions, etc). So I'm going to do 'shooting' as it's pretty simple and logical.

I'm still mulling over detection; my current rules (from the last post) may be replaced by a different set of rules. I'm replacing the word 'detected' with 'tracked' - showing it's more about clearly locating/acquiring the enemy rather than the enemy 'uncloaking' in case I am not clear enough in my description.

Version #2: Aircraft can only "track" 1, maybe 2 planes at a time (using similar 180d front/rear rules to detection. Again, it's either/or, front/back; a pilot can either be looking at his radar screen or over his shoulder; not both. "Untracked" planes get an initiative advantage and a bonus to dogfights, + missiles cannot be as easily evaded etc.

Missiles = Simple as 40K Shooting?

As a more relaxing focus, I'm going to look at missiles aka "shooting" in a skirmish wargame. If dogfights are melee, then missiles are going to parallel the rifle shooting phase. They need to be about as simple as shooting in a game like Infinity, while 'feeling' a bit different. Angle and status of the firer/target will matter instead of cover.

I don't really care about mechanics or dice that much so long as the methods are consistent and simple, it's the % chance for success that ultimately matters.  

In a normal 40K-style game, 50% chance to hit, and 50% chance to kill is usual. Which means each shot has a 25% chance of being lethal. Obviously, cover/saving rolls can reduce this further; perhaps ultimately to about 12.5% lethality. This gives us a ballpark for what is 'normal.'

Without getting bogged in ultra-realism and rivet counting, for Vietnam/70s Cold war, I think I recall AIM-9s had a 20% 'to hit' and AIM-7s had around 15% 'to hit'; with about 50% or so actually being lethal. I.e. 7-10% = remarkably similar to the 40K-esque numbers above. I could have a missile roll 4+ on d6 to hit, then 4+ on d6 to kill, and give sat a 4+ saving throw for flares/dodge and get the same end effect...!

Obviously missiles are more lethal now; in the 90s-on - in the 60-70-80% range; but that's pretty un-fun so I may artificially nerf them a bit.

No Rivet Counting

I obviously want some variation in missiles, but again, it should mirror the complexity of a skirmish wargame at most. I'll lump them into dogfight (usual infa-red) and med/long (BVR) range. (usually radar/SARH). Percentages are just my rough idea and are subject to change. This is an idea of how missiles will be categorized into broad groups:

Dogfight (~4-8km range)

Rear-Only (1st, 2nd Gen i.e. AIM-9B, K-13/AA-2). Must be fired into enemy rear 180. Not very accurate (30%?).  Earliest ones can't be used in combination with wild maneuvers. (Later AIM 9 G/H, R-13M/AA-2C/D can...)

All-Aspect (3rd gen; AIM-9L). Can be fired into any angle, but better chance of success to rear (50%) than front on (20%).

Thrust-Vector (4th gen, AIM-9X, R-73). Can be fired from any angle, but very agile, often cued by helmet sights. Say 40% front, 80% rear. Better resistance to ECM/flares. May have electro-optics. Better kill %.

BVR (Medium/Long ~20-50km range)

Early SARH (AIM-7E, AA-7/K-23). Can be fired from any angle, but needs a moment to line up so cannot combine with crazy maneuvers. Say 40% rear 20% front.

SARH (AIM-7M, AA-10/R-27)  More accurate, longer ranged, reduced chance of being decoyed. Say 70% rear, 50% front.

F&F 4th Gen (AIM-120, Meteor, MICA RF). Modern, accurate, use multiple tracking methods. 80%/50%. Very hard to decoy.

Hypersonic Long Range (active radar - AIM54, R-37).  Superfast long range, fitted to interceptors like MiG25/31, F-14 for interdicting supersonic bombers, AWACs etc. Unlimited range on table. Etc etc....

...anyway, you get the idea. While this is fun, it's not really important and it's a bit of a waste of time until I work out all the mechanics surrounding them. How can we make missiles in this game seem like missiles and not just rifles?


I really like Tumbling Dice's chunky 1:600s - easy to paint, sturdy gaming pieces

Lock & Hit? Well, you can only engage a target that is being tracked.  In addition, most missiles will require a "lock" as well as a roll to hit? You could roll two different coloured dice together; one to lock, the second to hit. SARH missiles roll against the plane's Radar stat to lock, whereas heat seekers probably have their own Lock stat (based on search angle and seeker system quality).  Pilot skill modifies this a bit. Modifiers would be the same as radar detection/tracking in the last post, for simplicity sake.

Range will vary, but if our jets are moving 4-8"like 40K infantry, let's say our BVR missiles will average 24"(40K rifle) and dogfight missiles 6-12" (like 40K pistols and SMGs); at least to start with. We can reduce this after playtesting; but we'll start with these familiar distances for balance purposes.

If 'dogfights' and gun range are melee (1-2") = a few km; and 'visual' range is say 6-8" or so - 12-16km or so, then we can adapt missile stats easily enough, always bearing in mind realism is always trumped by fun/playability.

Let's say 1" missile range every ~5km of 'factory spec' range; this would give an AIM-9 3-4"range, an AIM-7E 6" range, and an AIM-7M 14". Seems a little low, but we can get range bonuses depending on the firer's energy/height and the target aspect.

Closing time: Head-on missile targets (fired into target front arc) get +100% range, but are easier to spot/dodge with maneuvers.

High energy launch: Maybe high energy fighters get extra +50% range, low energy lose -50%?

So an AIM-9 could actually fire 10" in optimal conditions = 4" (base) +4" (closing), +2" (max energy)

Evasion (Dodge/Evade Save): Allow some sort of opposed roll or penalty to-hit; if target is facing missile launch it gets a bonus. Radar Warning Receivers (RWR) increase this bonus. Based on pilot skill.

Countermeasures (Cover Save): Allow some sort of opposed roll or penalty to hit; maybe can combine with Dodge Save. Again, a RWR makes it more effective.

Hmm. I really need to make a decision on whether I allow reaction mechanics. I usually build a game using initiative mechanics first, and it's coming back to bite me now...

Ok, so let's put it all together into a sequence. A F-4 Phantom armed with AIM-7Es (medium energy) can engage enemies at 8-16"; newer-gen AIM-7Ms would cover 14-28". 

It would choose a tracked aircraft in its front arc, within range, and roll 2 dice; a lock dice that must pass it's radar stat (say 60%) AND a to-hit to actually have the missile connect (also, say 40% for a rear-on AIM-&E launch). At the moment, it's 24% lethality presuming the missile is 100% effective and insta-kills every target.

Now, let's presume the missile only gets a kill 60% of the time. Some are duds/near misses. Now it has 14% lethality. 

OK, but what about flares/chaff/evasive maneuvers? Let's say it's based on the mid-level agility of a MiG-21; it probably could be a contested roll but for the sake of simplicity let's say it's 50%.

So... in the final wash out, our AIM-7 has a 7% chance to actually kill.   That's actually close to my 40K-style 4+ on a d6 to hit, 4+ to kill, 4+ saving throw... ..and not far off the historical 9% from Wikipedia.

This is a useful design concept to ponder; "how" you get there is mostly flavour; the ultimate success % is the actual effect. So while the process of 'how' may add a sense of realism and involvement, I could technically just skip it all, roll a d10 for each Aim-7, and remove an enemy jet each '1' that was rolled. Effect would be almost identical. But it wouldn't be as satisfying for the players.

It's why I am never too attached to dice mechanics; whether it is buckets of d6 or d20 contested rolls, it's the end result that matters.

I'm not too wedded to the above missile mechanics, but as it is it's no more complex than any skirmish/40K game - merely necessitating an extra 'lock' dice to be thrown alongside the 'to hit' dice -  I'm going to label it 'good enough for now' and move on.

I'm going to review the missile ranges with an eye to linking with radar/detection ranges (which I haven't set in stone, but I'm going visual range as 6-8" and radar may as well be the same as missiles. If missile range is 5km/"  (actually 2.5km/" when you count closing bonuses); then radar range will fall somewhere in there. An F-4 AWG-10 radar has around 100km range, so 20-40" seems fair.  Again, scale is not precise it's more about gameplay feel, and how weapons and radars work relative to each other.


  1. I may be missing something, but currently I don't see any damage rules. In my own somewhat similar rules (inspired by the original posts about air wargames on this blog, which I have recently dug back out) there were only 2 damage levels - damaged and destroyed (keeping with the low record keeping idea) and missiles had around a 60-80% chance of destroying, whereas guns had only about a 40-60% chance. Also, an interesting note if you do intend to make a campaign system (which was a particular focus in my rules) is that ejecting is important. I had rules for ace pilots, and just hiring pilots in general for the mercenary company, and ejecting from a damaged plane is easier than an exploding one. Anyway, just some random ramblings, my come back with some more flushed out ideas on how to separate missile launches from regular gunfire later.

  2. My actual rules are a separate document; I'm just kinda chatting about my thought processes. Damage/destroyed is as complex as I'll go (based on my "is this more complex than a skirmish game" criteria). Probably just a score to damage, if exceed by say +2 or +3 will kill outright "boom!" (aka a critical)

    I'm also using "suppression" from skirmish wargames which I'm rebadging as pilot "stress" - the pilot freaking out in the chaos of a dogfight.

    1. Are the full rules in the google group? I'll have to see about joining that sometime, I really like reading the blog and as you've said previously, everyone here's comments are really good, and bring up points I never would have thought of myself.

  3. I am enjoying all this activity here. I look forward to seeing you put it all together.

  4. I know your a counter minimalist, but it might be worthwhile having a "lock" token that can be an amalgam of eyes on target and missile lock. If each aircraft can only lock on two enemy at a time (possibly one per pilot "level": green, veteran, ace?) There shouldn't be too much counter bloat from what you've already been looking at and it allows you to have action/reaction battles over several turns as aircraft make, break, and require lock on each other. Different systems could make lock at different ranges, two aircraft locked by the same enemy can split and force the aircraft to choose which lock to relinquish as one target would be forced out of their front arc in order to stay on the other, etc.

    1. I think you have the idea of what I am aiming for - it's the state of being tracked/focussed by the pilot; who is kinda aware of other aircraft but looking at only 1-2.

      I'm not sure which will yield the fewest tokens: giving a plane a token if it is tracked; or instead giving it a token if it is UNtracked.

      I'm not sure if I can merge track and lock; it would be nice and streamlined (appealing) but it's a key differentiator between planes; i.e. radar vs heat seeker vs eyeball vs ability to multiple lock vs two seaters (and detection is a key design plank)...