Sunday, 3 May 2020

Delta Vector 2020: Rebooting Space Gaming

About 8 years ago, I accidentally shifted the focus of this blog with this post about the inadequacies of space games.

Originally Delta Vector was a handy place to write reviews of rules so I didn't have to re-type responses every time I was asked. I did do over 100+ reviews, which only ended when the arrival of children imposed fiscal responsibility.

Playing Dreadnaught has reignited my love of massive starships with big pew pews

Now, after ranting about how laborious and boring space wargames were usually copies of Full Thrust, usually with onerous recording and basically using WW2 naval battle mechanics, I made a manifesto.

Here is the manifesto (they are in more detail in the first link).

1. Minimal recording, neither unsightly piles of tokens (I later struggled with the latter)
2. Vacuum, inertia, vector movement (key to differentiating space from WW2 naval)
3. Ships don't teleport past each other but can react (using mechanics from modern skirmish games)
4. No IGOUGO. Initiative should be key to victory; forcing opponent moves and keeping momentum.
5. Maneuver should matter. No pushing models into the middle of the table and chugging dice.
6. Streamlined rules offering many decisions while remaining simple. (All rules should be judged by what they add in depth vs the complexity they add.)
7. Ship design rules to make your own. Rules should be resistant to cheesiness.
8. Maximum choices, minimum recording (kinda repeating 1 & 6); no need to consult esoteric rules.
9. Rules can copy TV series - while it may be "hard" sci fi it is not pompous striving for total realism.
10. Crew skill matters, in things like reactions, initiative and orders.
11. A simple campaign system for telling stories (not making uber unstoppable fleets)
12. Each player to manage up to 12 units; games to finish from 45min to 2 hours.

I think I was influenced by playing EvE Online, reading Lost Fleet, and simultaneously impressed by a Infinity and Ambush Alley while showing the scars of Starfleet Battles and burnt out by indie Full Thrust clones.

The two past sources of inspiration for my space gaming...

Looking back I can see many of these manifesto points are still reflected in my beliefs of what makes an enjoyable game. I casually swapped mechanics (from a d10, to a d20, to Savage Worlds d6-d20); I started with a clear game design, I emphasized the importance of initiative, and identified the balance of decision points vs complexity.

I then got to it and made my first foray into game design, quickly putting out over 30 posts assembling rules which I playtested and changed. Looking back I can see how I let the rules bloat out of control and lost focus, as I experimented with heat management, detection, directional shields, and increasingly complex damage systems.  The elegant vector system relied on markers which tended to clutter the table restricting forces to only a fewside but I refused to part with a rule even if it violated the "big picture."

As I "thought out loud" and discussed my rules, I came across interesting discussions in the comments. These then morphed into generic "Game Design" posts (currently around 80) which reiterated some of the points raised in the manifesto - the struggle between simplicity and game depth, initiative and reactions, line of sight, measuring,and move:shoot ratios.

Why this trip along memory lane? Well, two things. One, During my COVID cleanout - encompassing not only my shed, but 80gig off a HDD -  I rediscovered hundreds of rules and pdfs from 2012-2016.  It was really interesting to see how my tastes have changed. (Usually towards simplicity and familiar mechanics rather than the "hipster" ones I would have once espoused. As I get older I have less time and brainpower to spare on hobbies!). 

Delta Vector fleet battle rules ceased playtesting around 2017 as I moved on to a focus on smaller, gunship type combat in and around asteroid belts (i.e. more Milennium Falcon than Star Destroyer scale) which changed the rules focus radically.  I quit EvE as it became more like a job than a game.

I found some Cold Navy when tidying my shed...

However, inspired by Dreadnaught (and on a painting haitus due to paint shortage), I have dusted off my old rules and dragged out the old GZG minis. Both rules and minis will get a touch up. I've found a bunch of old rulebooks to consult:  Dropfleet Commander, Voidstriker, Lightning Strike, Starmada Fleet Ops, Battlefleet Gothic. Just to see where I was at, and so I don't get stuck in a space rut, I'm tossing in Infinity and Ambush Alley, on my reading list along with Kill Team.  Finally, I found some Cold Navy sculpts which I haven't finished painting.

But I've been out of touch - any good spaceship games come out in the last few years?  Looking at the wargames vault page, not a lot has changed in 5 years..... Maybe my old complaints are still relevant...

Thursday, 30 April 2020

2020 Painting Projects

Well, I shared my lead-pile of shame - stuff I have no intention of painting anytime soon - so what projects are "live" for 2020?

Confrontation - I have about ~20 each of Daikinee elves, Wolven and Sessairs. I've worked my way through 3 similar warbands previously, so I should get to them sometime this year.  Not high priority as I don't have a goal for them and I've got bucketloads of other C3 and Warmachine models for heroic fantasy.

Kill Team - I've got GW's latest (highly convoluted) rules, and I figure I can make kill teams for Necron, Tyrannid, Eldar, IG, Tau and Space Marine factions using my abandoned 5th ed minis.  Given Kill Teams will be 10-15 models each, they are small tasks which are likely to get finished.

Lord of the Rings. In my latest posts, I've taken a 120 mini chunk out of my 600+ LoTR collection. However a personal shortage of black, metallics and green paint (curse this Covid - I swear hobby shops are essential) means I've stalled on my tree huggers and viking horsie guys.

Secrets of the Third Reich. (~30) I've already painted quite a few - the only thing stopping me is I don't currently really need more for gaming (I tend to play squad games rather than platoon size games that I bought it for).

French & Indian War. I have a force of ~30 each of British and French to paint and I'd like to do a "horror - Cthulhu in the dark woods of Maine" game and get some of those splendid zombie Indians from Warlord.

~10 Tumbling Dice Age of Sail. They are sturdy playing pieces that seem surprisingly fiddly to paint. I really wish I knew some naval sail games that didn't involve recording 100,000 hitpoints.

~16 Cruel Seas PT Boats. I've wanted PT boats for ages as I love the period and the feel of the combat - stealthy stalks, high speed dashes with tracer flying - I actually designed my supercav subs and space dogfight game to reflect this. Ironically, now I have some nice PT models I am playing my homebrew PT imitation games instead.

~24 Black Scorpion Pirates - I painted undead pirates ages ago, rediscovered them in my recent "Covid Quarantine Cleanout" of my shed. I'd like to get more as the sculpts are great but the dastardly swine have changed to resin. .

Perry 100 Years War plastics - about 2 dozen - I love assembling and painting them. So many options - and they fit so well!  They have turned into the stars of my Middlehiem psychic-knights+dinos world. I need a Vampire/monstrous army, so enjoyable kitbashing awaits with bits from zombie sprues and Tyrannid boxes.

Warmachine Jacks - I found a pair of heavy Cygnar jack kits and plan to try my hand at magentizing weapons.

Empire of the Dead ~10 Gentlemans Club who will serve as wizards for my Weird West universe.

~60 Empress Modern 28mm - with some Viking head swaps, and Perry swords etc added to make them more pulp-y as alien and vampire hunters. (I can't see myself wanting to play modern Iraq or Afghanistan anytime soon)

~12 Assorted prepainted AT-43 mecha - washed, based, converted to either SoTR or even 15mm or 6mm sci fi scale.

Collection of ~20 various assorted Horror and Heroclix, with some random Helldorado and Anima Tactics - to be filed into fantasy, pulp or weird west categories. Enjoyable kitbashing as I am bold and creative when I'm messing about with 50c clix.

I'll continue to dig through the shed, but combined with my "don't want to touch this" pile this makes up the bulk of my unpainted toys.  My aim is to paint half by the end of the year - and do about 24+ a week.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Eternal Projects - Homebrew Rules

I recently dusted off a hard drive from 2015 and had fun digging through my old wargames folders. I had many hundreds of rule sets (I think there is 150 or so reviewed on this blog alone in that period) and I found it interesting to compare my dozens of ongoing projects compared to my relatively small array of projects nowdays (post-children).

However it was interesting to see how my rules had progressed. Some had gone through many iterations and changed radically. Others share the same core. Others have interesting ideas I abandoned but might be quite interesting to use in another context.  I can even tell the games I was playing at the time I was working on them - an Aeronef game had "command points" suspiciously like Robotech tactics mixed with orders borrowed from Battlefleet Gothic mixed with SoBH.

Many projects continue to be worked on. Others I really need to revive as they have interesting ideas.

Here are the homebrew rules I continue to play with and tinker with. Generally I have a few out on my bench at any given time.

I like Brigade's Aeronef but no rules have ever captured the feel I am looking for... the flavour of 1990s GW with more clean rules....

Supercavitating fighter submarines. A mix of sneaking on electric engines mixed with high speed dogfights using solid fuel rockets, it is a mix of helicopter gunships, sub warfare, and 1950s Sabres vs MiGs style dogfights at 400kph under the sea.  I every few months I come back to work with it because it interests me and is a relatively unique setting.

Intercept Vector
A spin-off of my first game, Delta Vector, it continues with the "vector movement" trope with PT-boats-in-space. Think the Rocinante from The Expanse TV show meets Descent and the dropship from Aliens. The focus is close-combat around atmosphere and asteroids and I have expanded to include ground support with simple tank and infantry rules.

 Middlehiem was designed for my collection of Confrontation minis, but my Perry 100YW models have somehow taken over, evolving their own gritty setting (low, psychic-powered magic and mercenaries).

This is due to my dissatisfaction with modern skirmish games to replace Mordhiem.  It's been radically stripped back and simplified, with characters able to take very limited actions and minimal tokens and recording. I use it to fight with 100-Years-War psychic knights mounted on dinosaurs but I aim to make it open to any melee-focussed setting.

Supercavitating sub fighters patrol the mineral refineries of Europa moon.

Jet Vector (currently working on)
This is again due to not enjoying any current air combat rules (they are all painfully gluggy). Currently I have abstracted it to "high energy" "normal" and "low energy" with special maneuvers forcing pilot checks and changes of energy state.

I use Iron Winds Battletech power armour as my mechs (as they stand about as tall as a 15mm mini and compare well to 6mm sci fi tanks).
Mecha (currently working on)
I want my mecha to feel like mecha (aka sense of scale, jump jets, heat management and limbs being blown off) rather than just infantry game with different models. I also do not enjoy record keeping or table clutter.  I tend to get bogged designing weapons that work simply without too many modifiers, ranges or special rules, yet feel different i.e. railgun vs laser vs low velocity howitzer.

Tankettes scout ahead of their mothership/carrier.

Aeronef (currently working on)
I want to evoke the old feel of GW games like Man O War, BFG, Titanicus with a more streamlined modern game with little to no recording of damage or height or speed (at most, a token under the model's base).  I've tried a few rules but none (even my own!) have ever captured the feel I am aiming for.

I enjoy Tumbling Dice's cheap 1:600 jets - they are fun to paint and are great playing pieces. Pity all air wargames suck so much...

Modern Pulp
Basically, a simplified Infinity with d10s meets the activation of SoBH. Aimed for a minimum of special rules, and restricting models from acting too many times, this is focussed on shooting-centric games (like a modern X-COM style aliens vs soldiers game).

 Middlehiem troops clash in a playtest which removed reactions in an attempt to simplify the game.

Landships & Tanks
This was originally a game for 15mm FoW style Tigers and Shermans but has evolved into a 1:300 warband campaign game with those quirky 1930s tanks, where you have a giant landship mobile base and field a team of ~12 tanks.

These are the games I have on my current hard drive, but there are a few I'd like to revive. Both have strong resource management aspects.

I've always wanted to use my 15mm for something that isn't ripped from  Vietnam-in-Space or Star Wars.

Alpha Projects
These are very early alpha sets of rules that never make it to the proper playtesting stage.

In one, the player is a "demon" who can possess (and buff and boost) models by placing possession tokens on them. However, when a possessed (buffed) model is killed the points are lost. So a player only "dies" when he loses his possession points.  I.e. a real risk vs reward - do you buff a fighter to be mega powerful, but lose too many possession points when he dies?

The other is a sci fi game (for my dusty-from-disuse 15mm sci fi) where there is a strong scissors-paper-rock between humans (squishy but reliably immune to hacking/EW/EMP) and robots (tougher but vulnerable to cyber attack), chipped or cybernetically augmented troops (a bit of both). AI processing relays provide AoE boosts to cybernetic troops in range, and nanite swarms add a "magic" element.  Basically, hard sci fi which strays so far from "Vietnam in space" to stray towards the feel of space fantasy.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Middle Earth SBG: Uruk Hai Siege Troops (Part B)

Well I ended up doing more of these than planned (my goal is 24 plastics + ~6 heroes/metals per week).  I haven't highlighted them or anything - they are simply at "acceptable for tabletop" standard.

The simple sculpts help - old school LOTR is far less "busy" than newer sculpts and there is far less fiddly detail. I like it - it actually looks better from tabletop range.

I only did 24 minis, but since I did 36 or so last time, my ~30 mini/week average is maintained. 

Uruk Hai beserkers - I now have about 8 or so painted and I think another 6 remain in my spares box. I'm quite happy with the flame effects as I did them in 5 minutes with only 3 colours of paint.

All my elites got some white handpainting to make them "pop" from the drab rank-and-file.  Some feral Uruks (I think these were invented by GW late on). I am pleased with how my handpainted flag turned out.

The siege troops (with the torch-bearing beserkers again making an appearance). The amount of armour meant they were easy to paint, but I may need to come and adds highlights etc due to their blandness.

I have another half-a-dozen crossbowmen which I was given for free, sans bows. However my much-plundered Perry plastic medieval sprues (they have been fantastic for kitbashing) may provide enough crossbows to reactivate them.

As usual I will record the "present day" cost (I eBayed these in job lots during the "lull" between RoTK and the Hobbit when no one was playing - so I doubt I paid even a quarter of the current costs.)

Siege troops $45
Beserkers(6) $35
Ferals (2) $26
Crossbows (6) $50
Command (2) $33
Total $189AUD

Well, I'm motoring along nicely - I'd say I've painted ~120 models in the last 2 weeks which is double my output goal. At this rate my dwindling paint supplies may provide the biggest impediment!

Though I just looked over and realised I have only painted 3 boxes.... and there are 11 more equally sized boxes to go.... Eeek!

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Middle Earth SBG: Uruk-Hai (Part A)

My favourite factions in LOTR is Isengard. I can sympathize with Saruman, who was good for millennia, but was corrupted by a greater power through very human weakness like pride.  Creating your own army like he did also seems eminently sensible.

I meant to do my "faction box of 24 + 5-6 heroes/specials" task I have set myself but I have ended up doing far more stock troops.  This is Part A - Part B includes crossbows, siege teams, more beserkers, and feral uruks.

Ugluk, Saruman and Lurtz are the lead heroes.I have a few more metal heroes in my unpainted box.

Some Uruk beserkers. I have only put the white handpainting on key characters, to make them stand out from the drab rank-and-file.

These are the fighting Uruk-Hai from Helms Deep.

Uruk Hai scouts from Amon Hen.

These were really fast to paint - I speed-painted them with about 5 colours. I'll add some detail, but this can come later. The simple, clean sculpts are so pleasant and rather easy to paint.

OK, what would this cost in today's money?

Saruman = $15
Lurtz, Ugluk = $40
Box 24 Scouts = $70
Box 20 Uruk hai = $70

$195AUD is quite a chunk of change. Again, this was a very easy army to paint, so I am optimistic about finishing off the equal number of siege troops beserkers, crossbowmen and feral uruks.

Game Design #79: Modular Game Design - Being Open to Change

When making or reviewing games, I divide rules into two main areas:

1. Activation & Initiative - who moves or acts, in what order. This is the area I tend to spend the most time agonizing over. This also includes command and control, etc.

2. Game Mechanics - how we resolve the action.  It includes sub categories like:
Morale is also technically a sub category but it can fit elsewhere.

My thesis here is that you should view each category or subcategory as easily replaceable and not be too strongly attached to them.  Anything can be sacrificed swapped out for the Greater Good of the rules overall.

Mechanics are interchangeable
For example, Middlehiem (my homebrew fantasy skirmish) has evolved from a modification of my simple-Infinity-ripoff modern pulp rules. At first (as there was reactions and contested rolls) I resolved interactions with d10 + stat (a bit like Warmachine's 2d6+stat but with less weird 2d6 math).  I felt it was awkward, and reverted it into a Infinity-style "highest roll which is also under a stat wins" only with d10s.  Finally, I ditched reactions (as they are better suited to more modern shooting-focussed games rather than medieval fantasy) and accordingly simplified it to a 40K-style "roll under a stat" again using d10s.

Besides illustrating why I like d10s (it's simple 10% increments making balance calculations easy + you can effortlessly switch between systems - just make sure the chance to succeed - conveniently in 10% hops - is the same) it shows I am not wedded to a particular mechanic.  In fact, I sometimes write next to a special rule or spell something like  "60% chance to work, 10% miscast chance" without specifying the mechanics or the exact methods so I can more easily port it across if I change systems.

Basically, I feel the mechanics are important merely so much as they are quick, simple and do the job with minimum brainpower or consulting of the rules. Also, they should be consistent across all the sub-categories where possible - i.e. the same dice roll method is used for morale as it is for shooting.  This need for uniformity actually tends to disqualify most whacky dice resolution methods.

While I obviously find d10s convenient math-wise, I am not dogmatic about them - sometimes buckets of d6 might work better, or maybe a d100.  Or maybe a range of dice from d4s to d20s.  Whatever is simplest yet suits the game style of play you are aiming for. A single d20 might be too "swingy" and a bucket of d6s gives a more predictable result.

"Middleheim" - my homebrew successor to Mordheim, only with psychic powers and dinosuars - has undergone several iterations and quite a bit of playtesting.

A quick rant about cards....
I'd like to deviate slightly to briefly discuss cards. Increasing number of games are including a card deck the player manages. Sure, it might add some resource management as he may discard, and save/spend cards to perform actions on the tabletop.  However most of these card decks are "bolted on" - i.e. not integral to the game.  Sometimes they seem to be a cynical way to sell "content" i.e. extra card packs which are just random mechanics offering gotcha moments to surprise your opponent.  It may add a layer of strategy and depth, but it may equally add unnecessary complexity and randomness. Next time you see a wargame with a card deck accompanying it, ask yourself "If I removed the card deck completely from the game, would it make the game less interesting/fun? Would it remove tactics and strategy, or merely randomness?"
If the card deck is included under "advanced rules" it suggests even the developer did not view them as vital to the game.

..and now back to discuss Initiative and Activation
Once thought of as an afterthought - in many cases along with morale rules, the other stepchild - I'd view the activation as the cornerstone of the rules and even influencing the choice of mechanics. If combat resolution mechanics are what you do, activation is the when and how. I'd regard it of equal value to the combined total of all the other mechanics.

Activation is harder to change, as a shift from traditional IGOUGO (side A acts with all units, then side B acts with all units) to alternate activation (side A acts with one unit, side B acts with one unit, etc like Chess) can have a massive impact on gameplay.  Furthermore, changing activation is not just a shuffling of dice mechanics which can share the same percentages  but usually involves a major revamp.

Again to use Middlehiem as an example - the original game had (similar to Infinity) an activation pool (with one token per model). Models could take up to 2 tokens (actions) as long as they were non-sequential.  Opponents could react to any action in line of sight.  The change to opponents alternating models, each having a single action, had far reaching consequences and required nearly every rule to be re-written.

This post is probably a corollary to "dice mechanics aren't important" and "your best idea is not necessarily best for this game" but I think the topic focus is more "be prepared, and open to swapping mechanics in and out" - and as you can see from my Middlehiem example, you can even set yourself up to more easily swap them out.  When you note in your draft rules that "spell has ~60% chance to cast" rather than the very specific "roll d10 + average stat of 4, to beat a target number of 10" it signals you are open (and able) to change.

Why medieval knights on dinosaurs? It's a sadly under-represented genre, I'd argue, giving it innate awesomeness. Also, psychic powers seldom appear outside of modern pulp/sci fi but provide a coherent "magic" system for fantasy.

The final evolution of your rules may look nothing like your original idea. You may completely swap out any or all of your mechanics and activation. You can make yourself more flexible as a designer by going in prepared to make changes (for example, giving special rules a percentage chance, rather than tying them to a particular dice roll, until your final rules draft). If you go in prepared to change, you are less likely to cling to a rule which seems cool but is perhaps not appropriate for this game.

Activation and initiative systems have a huge impact on the game and bear the most careful thought when changing things. Unlike combat mechanics like shooting where you can swap out dice types and roll methods and get the same end result, activation changes are often far reaching and comprehensive. Imagine swapping a traditional IGOUGO game to something like Infinity. The consequences (and necessary adjustments to the rules) would be far reaching.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Middle Earth: SBG - Dwarves

I call them the dwarves of Krasha-Duum. Because I've dropped their box three times now and broken quite a few weapons.  This is one of my smallest collections - I'd like another 12 dwarf warriors but they can't be had for love or (reasonable) money.  They work fine for a Battle Company though.

One of my smallest warbands, though I can supplement them with 24 dwarf rangers (i.e. not proper dwarves, but the suspiciously elf-like sort who gad about in forests).

Gimli, Balin, and a random king, plus what I assume is a dwarf captain or minor hero of some sort.

I really wish LOTR movie hadn't made Gimli into a cross-eyed comic relief. He just seems so lame compared to the Hobbit movie dwarves.

Talking about comic relief, while painting Balin I realised....

...bit slow on the uptake, I am.

Iron Guard, and Vault wardens.

I have a lot of Khazad Guard. Two more are on the hospital bench awaiting repairs.

Finally, my half-box of Dwarf warriors. I'd like 12 more, but *shrugs* I now have kids.

Reminding me of money, I'll do an estimate of what this would cost in today's GW (AUD):

12 Dwarf warriors = $35
9 Khazad Guard (metal) = $66
Dwarf commander (metal) = $18
Balin (metal) = $20
Iron Guard (metal) = $35
Vault warden team =  $26

Well, 26 models for only a trifling $200.   This reminds me of why I can't afford wargaming toys any more.  I'm saving the dwarf rangers to do together with elf and human rangers (so I have also finished a Battle Company at the same time).