Friday, 9 December 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #4: Actions, Reactions, Stress

 Small Chunks of Time

Now I'm starting to think about Activation and Initiative.  Normally this is #1 for me when designing a wargame (how and when you act) but streamlining movement seemed more urgent in this instance as this is where air wargames tend to bog in excessive detail.  

An aerial wargame is very chaotic and fluid. You might be able to co-ordinate a wingman but there is no grand strategy.  Is a pilot better? Is he undetected? Does he have more energy? These should convey a big advantage, as all 3 link with my initial manifesto dot points; but there should be a random element.

I'm really quite split on how to do this. A big issue is how much it bogs the game down. It can't be slower than a skirmish game. I.e. the complexity and time required to determine initiative, movement and resolve any detection and firing cannot be slower or more complex than a game like Infinity or Mordhiem.

Reactions or No Reactions

Now all this talk of skirmish wargaming has me thinking of Infinity - do I want a reaction mechanic? They can bog a game down (bad), but can add fluidity (good).

We need to divided the game into very small segments of time; especially if we have no reactions. A very real danger is if planes can always get on each other's tail each move, do to much, or maneuver too freely.

Example A: Plane can move 24", move freely and face in any direction, and fire 4 missiles and kill 4 different targets, while other planes sit motionless and just 'suck it up'. Having your 'turn' is too powerful. You can do whatever you want...

As we don't have real-time/simultaneous moves, planes are pretty much teleporting while the rest of the planes on board are motionless. So we want the move to be short; it is a tiny sliver of action. Seconds of real time. (Note: I don't tie myself to a scale, as I don't want to shackle myself to the alter of 'realism')

Example B: Plane can move 4" into front 180d arc only in a straight line from its origin point, and fire ONE missile. IF they move into rear 180d they must pass a Pilot Test to fire (so only elite pilots can reliably Immelman and pull off a missile shot at a target behind them). This turn is much more limited and forces more player decisions. 

A further reaction mechanic option to Example B is to allow other planes to react if the plane moved into their 'threat zone' say 8" like Infinity (or equal to the Pilot Skill in inches i.e. Pilot 6 = has 6" radius). This further takes away the 'power' of the moving player and removes the sense of planes hovering motionless in the sky awaiting their turn. It also allows both players to be involved in all aspects of play. Downside: more complication, slowing the game down.

Some implications:

In my rules, I have based normal movement on thrust/weight: i.e. if a plane exceeds 1.0 thrust/weight it moves 6", if it is 0.8-1.0 t/w it moves 5", if 0.5-0.7 = 4", 0.4 or less = 3". This is kinda to line up with infantry movement (you know, typical W40K 6" move, 24" shoot).

Sprint (top speed) has limited maneuvers due to Gs (it's also like a 'run' move in a skirmish game) and is based on maximum Mach, i.e. Mach 2.3+ 12", Mach 2+ 10", Mach 1.7+ 8", Mach 1.3 6", Mach 1.0+ 5" or something similar.  Subsonic planes have no Sprint capability.

Obviously these are just rough guidelines; but with reactions we can allow longer move distances, and without reactions we may need to reduce distances moved even more, so planes can't teleport past each other.

Would you still respect me if I admitted I haven't seen Top Gun: Maverick yet?


Using "action points" is very 1990s - you know, remember the RPGs where heroes could take 4-5 actions, regulars 3 actions, and rookies 1-2 actions?  .....I also recall those games usually being pretty fiddly. We do, however, want to show that veteran pilots can coolly plan out moves while rookies are panicking, not knowing what is going on.

But remember we are not micro-managing each plane; if you have 4-12 planes per side, you are a flight or squadron leader, able to give directions, but not precisely micromanaging each twitch of the joystick or throttle input: merely giving pilots general instructions which we can presume they will carry out. Instructions like "break left"  "split S" are fine; precisely setting each plane's speed and altitude to the nearest kph or metre or degree of AoA is not. Our scale is deliberately vague and fits this; 1-2" is "dogfight range" and could be several kilometres; our only angles are "front 180" and "back 180"; each 1" is 2-5km where missiles and radar are concerned....

For example, it seems silly to spend action points/actions or whatever just to make a pilot turn his plane; it's presume a trained pilot could rather easily bank his plane without much concentration. If I do "actions" it will be for complex actions requiring sustained concentration; perhaps like performing an Immelman,  a 'scissors'  to lose a pursuer, or guiding a semi-active radar missile in.

So we'll probably give all pilots a single complex action, with a chance (perhaps pass a pilot roll) at performing a second action. This is actually pretty common in a lot of skirmish games where I am heavily drawing my inspiration from. So a rookie pilot could perform an Immelman, but would find it hard to Immelman and then immediately lock and fire a Sidewinder, which may be quite easy for a skilled ace.

Stress aka Suppression

OK, I'm now borrowing a second concept from skirmish games - "suppression."  In most Dirtside/Ambush Alley-style games suppression is when a fire team cops incoming fire and can't advance or do much. Well, I'm renaming it pilot Stress but the idea is the same; a pilot can't do much when he is being locked onto by a beeping missile or is trying to evade a foe at treetop height; he is panicked and not seeing the big picture; he is likely to mess up something he can easily do in practice.

"Stress" is kinda like suppression; it's an intermediate stage where things are going wrong, but not deadly yet; but it's more psychological than physical. For example, a pilot may attempt to perform a complex maneuver like a Split-S and makes a pilot test.

If he fails the first time, he is merely Stressed. This is because most trained pilots can easily perform an Immelman under normal conditions, 99 out of 100 times. 

Only if he is already Stressed is there a negative consequence; a loss of control (spin) which might see him lose energy and face a random direction; or even crash if he is already low energy or on the deck.

This represents how a pilot could Split S flawlessly in training, but misjudge and crash into the ground when freaking out being chased by an enemy bogie.

Stress could also be removed; merely by the pilot  'collecting himself' maybe by spending a complex action (or rather, forfeiting the opportunity to do so).

There will be a range of things that may cause Stress; attempting complex maneuvers or trying to do "too much at once"; being fired at, losing dogfights, etc. I'd presume none would automatically cause stress; you'd probably only be Stressed if you fail a Pilot Roll triggered by the event.

Ugh. Another counter. 

So far we have a counter for,,,,

(a) energy status (high or low energy only; regular energy = no counter)

(b) tracked/locked/detection (to be specifically determined later)

(c) if "on the deck" <- rare?

(d) if damaged <- rare?

(e) Stress aka suppression

,,,,Eww. That's very messy. A energy token could be placed under the clear base of a plane, but there could be 2-3 others beside it. I'm thinking the counter situation may be spiralling out of control...

I've said all this about actions and reactions, but haven't even stated the "how you take turns" and "who goes first" which is is kinda the core of initiative system...  I'll have to save this for another post as my kids want to play Sea of Thieves (co-op pirate PC game) and I have some new LoTR to paint...


  1. " I'm thinking the counter situation may be spiralling out of control..." I may post some thoughts on the main ideas covered above, but wanted to comment on this aspect quickly = my solution is to mark the vertical post of the stand with a scale and then use variously colored clips that can be attached/moved to indicate all of the mentioned status. It keeps bookkeeping to a minimum and everything about an aircraft is out there on the table for all to see.

  2. Do you have a photo of this somewhere? I'm keen to avoid table clutter but don't want complicated bases (I have lots of jets!)

  3. lessee if I can post one here?

  4. Okay, that (sort of) worked - it's only thumbnail size but gets the idea across? The different colors can represent different things - it could get too messy if lots are used, of course. I included the little (crafty) foam magnet squares in the photo as another on-base/stand indicator - I use those to show the intensity of an aircraft's maneuvering. I like to put as much as possible on the table with the models themselves - helps to avoid having to query players about what's what about a certain aircraft, as well as reduce bookkeeping/tracking for a player handling multiple models in a game.

  5. re: Action Points and Stress.
    These could be handled with the use of 'pilot points' (from 'Watch Your Six!' by Mike Clinton). They can be as granular as desired, ie: as simple as 0 for poor, 1 for normal, 2 for good, and 3 for great pilots. Each could be used for a task (spotting, difficult maneuver, etc...) per turn. Lacking a point would result in a roll and/or penalty to complete the task - thus poorer pilots could TRY something but have long odds to succeed? They could be lost to reflect minor damage and/or stress?

    I know: another marker/token...but including/tracking pilot skill is, imo, worth the bother, and it is a single facet/rating that can be used in a variety of areas?

  6. Top Gun Maverick is very much something that you should watch, because it goes out of it's way to use obsolete aircraft and tactics. None of this FAF BVR OHK stuff... No, that's not cinematic!