Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Micro-level Combat: Gaming in 100:1 /Drone Wars

This is not 1:100 scale (aka ~15mm Flames of War) but the reverse - miniatures are dramatically LARGER than the unis they represent.  I.e. the actual real world units are tint, almost invisible to the naked eye.

I've thought about 1:1 gaming (using both insects au naturale and also human-controlled insect "drones" with guns attached) and have purchased a few hundred plastic ants or ant colony wars, but at the moment I am rather lazily waiting for this videogame to go on sale.  I did explore the dinos I mentioned in the post, and am the proud owner of an extensive plastic dinosaur army (both pillaged from my son's sandpit, and bought from junk shops in bulk). But my psychic-knights-on-dinos (and the rules I am developing for them) are meat for another post.

No, the current musing is about drone/miniature vehicle warfighting.  I've been eyeing off normal toy drones lately (which have advanced amazingly in tech while dropping in price) especially the ones you steer in FPV (using goggles you "see"what the drone sees, kinda "flying"the drone from the cockpit so to speak.

You can see the potential of drone dogfights.

Drone dogfights would make a pretty cool wargame.  (Also, a pretty cool videogame as well - I wish someone would make one). There are already drones with sensors where you can "shoot down" your friends' drone, so to escalate to real weapons doesn't seem to much of a leap.

Now using drones in "current"size (say your average drone about the size of a pizza box) would make for interesting and unique combat. The ability to make violent maneuvers at G-forces far exceeding a human pilot, and the stunning agility would put it apart from the usual dogfight genre.  Add in "lag" and EMP weapons (or jamming) and it gets yet more unique.  Furthermore, the ability to evade detection ("nap of the earth" is literally a foot off the deck) and fly into structures/launch ambushes.


Micro drones are not new, and have been around for a while, especially as a recon unit.

Drone swarms are also becoming (a somewhat terrifying) reality.

But what if we project even further into the future? Perhaps where drone-on-drone combat has become the primary means of warfare.  Duels between drone swarms fighting though buildings at high speed, using unique weapons (including EMPs) would be like supersonic helicopter combat, mixed with sudden ambushes, like Descent on steroids. 

As a wargame, you could play as a pilot of many drones. You could have some sort of resource pool of tokens representing your "attention" which you could distribute among individual or groups of drones, who would otherwise act automomously. Kinda like a Warcaster in Warmachine boosting his warjacks.

The ability to create unique weapons (and tactics - suiciding your drone to take out key opponents would be an option) and unique environments. 

Drones could even be aquatic. Which could have its own hazards - your super high tech drone swarm could get gulped by a trout....

But what if we go smaller?  I'm not original here, I like the Eylau Sequence (one of the coolest wargame settings no one has ever heard of) and their micro-tanks (though the rules are too gluggy and the minis a little expensive to an Aussie).  Their MGVs are 20:1 drones. 

Microscopic? In the Scott Westerfled book Risen Empire there is a scene about drone combat.  The drones are the size of dust motes. They have pincer claws and explosives and can "go silent" using thermals to navigate a room and land in a glass of water (which magnifies their listening/detection systems).


Imagine microscopic squidder drones headed up your nasal cavity and burrowing into your brain - yikes!

Models require imagination....  My cheap EM4 spaceships (which have lately seen service as supersonic submarine fighters and MTB-like strike fighters, Descent fighters as well as hovertanks ) may now see service as drones.  Probably painting out the canopies would give a more "drone" feel. I swear they have been the most cheap (~50c) and versatile minis I own. For value/usefulness, they can't be beat.

Heck you could even use an actual 1:48 model of a drone... a target drone.... The sky is the limit with  sci fi and your imagination....

 I think I could probably use quite a few spaceship models that are scale-agnostic,and of course there are the cool MGVs. For the hipsters, there's always scratch-building your own; deoderant cans, end caps, disposable razors, and LEGO and hydroponics piping + various weapon bits from everything from 40K to 1:48 WW2 boxes can result in some amazing stuff. (google "scratch built spaceships" and you will be amazed). 

Anyways, I think there is fertile ground for sci fi drone wars.  You could have drone swarms, antonymous vs piloted, unique tactics and weapons, and have games ranging from 1:1 duels to 100 vs 100 swarms.  Stealth, dogfights, kamikaze attacks, and dogfights in the kitchen. You can change the scale from pizza box to dust mote.  Heck, spider-bot drones the size of literal spiders...  Or hovertanks that skim centimetres off the ground....

In a wargaming sense, you could use magic mechanics to simulate management/processing power of AI, as well as layers of EW including jamming, ECM and EMPs. Perhaps they can be coated in thermal camo or float silently to attack like dust motes.  Drone combat can be a fun wargaming area which can be taken in any direction you want it to....

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Subterranean War

Watching the Netflix's Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War piqued my interest in the tunnel systems of Vietnam, and inspired musings on "underground warfare" in general.

Besides Vietnam, I know a bit about WW1 fortifications, and the tunnels in Okinawa, but I haven't really studied much about underground warfare.  I know currently caves in Afghanistan seem to be used a bit, and of course sieges/mining/counter-mining in the ancient/medieval world. From memory, North Korea has complex tunnels including ways to rapidly shuttle troops to forward areas, and even underground runways. Hezbollah and Syria/Libya have tunnel systems. In WW2, I recall fighting in the Odessa Catacombs.



I enjoy reading about abandoned underground Cold War bases and doomsday hideouts and complex underground facilities like the ill-fated Maginot Line.

I've seen a few US documents where they government is exploring subterranean/tunnel fighting technology, as ISIS and North Korea for example, can negate many US advantages by moving underground.

The subterranean world is an untapped domain.


So... what underground warfare might look like for wargaming?

I'm concerned that while modelling it might be fun, trench warfare and tunnel-rat style warfare might be a bit dull in the sense that maneuver is limited. Detection and reaction mechanics would probably be key here. Booby traps and mines that insta-wipe an entire force are not so fun... The fields of fire are narrow and the chokepoints are many.  Reduced lighting means night-fighting rules would apply.

..so I'm travelling into "what if" territory....

Well, sci fi has rich ground. Google "underground base" and 99% of hits will refer to Greys, reptilian aliens and government conspiracies. Scenarios pretty much write themselves.  I'd imagine any small-skirmish rules (aka 40K Kill Team or Infinity or Black Ops) could be fun. Think small scale (squads and fire teams) of men-in-black hunting down reptiloids beneath Antarctic bases.

As I type this, I'm eyeing off my Secrets of the Third Reich weird-war-two Nazi mech suits; Nazis and underground bunker complexes seem to go together. Toss in some mad scientists and perhaps ravening undead, and fun could be had.

At the far end of the spectrum is the Hollow Earth/Lost World - where the underground spaces are vast - whole islands or continent-sized spaces; perhaps inhabited by dinosaurs and lost tribes.  Or aliens. Or giant apes. Or all of the above.


Define your world


I think the thing that stands out to me is "how cramped is your underground?" - ranging from a battle in a single waist-high tunnel to giant underground cities to a complete "Hollow Earth."

I'm thinking that subterranean warfare could be used conveniently prune and focus warfare to suit your interest.   Let's assume big caves (Sarawak chamber is 600 x 435 x 115m) - this would mean infantry- only battles, probably squad/platoon sized, with some maneuver.

But what about really big caves? Say hundreds of metres high, and kilometres wide?

You could design your underground world to answer questions like:

What would modern warfare be like without artillery, airpower and helicopters?  I've always liked small AFVs like Scorpions, Wiesels, and ASUs. You might even be able to remove MBTs as they would be too expensive to risk in confined spaces. Small, compact vehicles (the sort that support airborne units).

It would be fun to answer questions like: if a nuclear war forced us underground in the 1960s, what would military tech look like today?  Or - what future weapons and equipment would form the focus of future underground warfare, in say ~20 years?

Small AFVs might be relevant in a subterranean setting...

You can make an interesting setting

In a future where the Earth's surface is unfit for habitation, the nations have moved below ground. Fungus farms and bioengineered animals provide food, and nations fight using small strike teams utilizing high tech drones including spider gun-bots.  You get the idea....  ....underground as a genre has not seen much use.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Nazis and Dinosaurs in the Lost World

The fascination with dinosaurs continues....

After Operation High Jump in 1947 finally discovered and captured the main Nazi cave entrances to the Hollow Earth (the original entrances in the salt mines of Bavaria being dynamited shut in 1945) the Allies are finally exploring the lush jungles of Middlehiem, in search of the two divisions of Nazi troops and untold concentration camp slave labourers who disappeared into the underworld in 1944-45.

The charming log chalets of Nieu Deutschland were made with slave labour....

With mainland Europe devastated by the Z-Virus, and much of Eastern Europe still quarantined due to hordes of wandering undead, there is an eye to colonizing the Hollow Earth.

 The British Empire has found new lease of life, with their experience of "colonising" hostile regions...  They are one of the foremost nations exploring the Underworld...

But first, threats must be neutralized.  Without the ability to use air support or heavy vehicles, Allied light infantry troops must fight their way through the caves and jungles of Middlehiem.  Giant beasts, dinosaurs, and primitive tribes are not the only horrors they must face.


The armoured Bren suits are well adapted for exploring the dangers of Middlehiem...

The Nazis have brought many of their most deadly weapons with them: werewolf soldiers, light mecha and psychic troops wielding alien tech.  Warfare tends to be on a small scale; scout squads and light infantry recon platoons clashing in the remote jungle far from support, or battling in claustrophobic cave systems.  

 The Soviets, wary of their erstwhile allies, are also energetically staking claim to the underworld, through their Tunguska entrance.

 Their vaunted sniper teams are very useful for dealing with rogue dinos, and they use anti-tank rifles to good effect.

Already cracks are appearing between the old allies - there have been clashes between British and Russian troops, and their is talk of a "Cold War" as the Soviets attempt to establish a new Communist empire.  

Saturday, 10 March 2018

French and Indian Dinosaur Wars 1754

We all know how the French and British colonists in the New World clashed over the lucrative dinosaur trade. Dinosaur skins, teeth and other products provided an irresistible lure to those in search of wealth. Dino trappers and hunters roam the wilds, hunting dinosaurs which emerge from the cavern entrances to Middlehiem in the depths of the deep woods of the Ohio Valley. 

French and British troops, supported by allied Indian war parties, clash both in the deep woods and in the lost underworld of Middlehiem.

Here some French Compagnies de Marine explore the depths of Middlehiem, staking a French claim on the new lands of the underworld.

They are countered by Rangers who patrol to protect British interests.  Primitive grenades are effective in deterring larger predators like the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Indians are allied to both sides. They trade enthusiastically for muskets, whose .75 cal stopping power is very useful against larger dinosaurs. I'll need to touch the models up and base them properly, but I aim for "tableworthy-and-painted" as my #1 goal.

I love the French-Indian Wars as they have a very skirmish-centric focus with very different forces (militia, Indians, line infantry, etc). Plus, canoes! What could improve this? Dinosaurs of course!

I actually feel dinosaurs fit well with the hunting-trapping-exploring-the-deep-woods vibe of this era.  What would be more natural than to hunt and trap rare dinosaurs for their skins?

Toys dinosaurs are very cheap. This is two $10 packs of dinos from K-Mart, painted with cheap craft paints. The terrain came with it, and I think it's quite servicable, given the price point...

Again, this is another spin-off of the "lost world/jouney-to-the-centre-of-the-earth" setting of my Middleheim homebrew rules, which one may suspect merely serve as a vehicle for playing with cool toys (dinos ftw!).  I've been forced to make my own rules as the newer campaign skirmish games (SoBH etc) have "missed the mark" for me by adding 101 special rules and dumbing down the campaign aspect; whereas the Necromunda reboots and similar seem mired in 1990s mechanics with few changes.

I'm eyeing off "Aztecs vs Conquistadors vs Dinos" next but sadly my gaming budget is crippled nowdays (two young kids will do that!) so I may have to settle for "Vikings vs Indians vs Dinos" instead, repurposing some of my bow-armed FIW Indians and paint my Gripping Beast vikings (untouched since playtesting SAGA years ago) for earlier battles in the New World.  Or maybe Dinosaurs: The Vietnam War where Vietcong train dinos to ambush US patrols, and then their tunnel system extends into Middlehiem.  Hmmm, is a common theme emerging? Well, at least it isn't zombies....

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Psychic Knights Riding Dinosaurs: A Lost World

This is my current "default" Middlehiem setting for my homebrew skirmish campaign rules.  I thought I'd share some WIP shots and a bit of background on Middlehiem.

I suppose Middlehiem could be described as a underground "lost-world"(think Journey to the Centre of the Earth) where dinosaurs can be telepathically controlled by dino-knights - wearing plate armour. It has War of the Roses/late-Middle-Ages tech where gunpowder is in its infancy.  Middleheim's core setting may or may not be expanded to include not-African-tribesman, not-Incas, and not-Japanese samurai as my budget permits.





I think the genre I am aiming for is "medieval pulp" - high middle ages swashbucking rather than the usual Iron/Bronze Age Conanesque sort...


Underpinning this is my magic system. This is just typical psychic abilities from modern and sci fi, transplanted back to the Middle Ages. I'm not a huge fan of wizards in pointy hats - borrowing psychic powers means I have a "established" magical framework that works in a consistent, coherent manner.  Knights with psychic powers feels "new" but enables me to steal from established systems (cough Savage Worlds cough).

The ruling class are all psychics - the telepaths are the "dino knights"- they alone can control the giant beasts and tend to be the upper nobility of Middleheim.  They have an array of mind-focussed psychic powers - focussed on mind control and illusion. Typical abilities would include confusing foes, creating illusionary doppelgangers, mind control and mental attacks, and buffing/debuffing morale, and obscuring (invisibility) as well as limited precognition. They can also shield themselves and nearby allies against mental attacks.





Perry medieval plastics have been wonderful for making random minis; they have a myriad combos and extra arms/legs/heads make them awesome for scratchbuilding/body swaps...


The second, lesser noble class are telekinetics.  Typically fighting on foot, they tend toward physical powers - pushing, pulling, deflecting and directing projectiles, augmented blows, spraying fire, with some healing and limited levitation.  Deadlier in direct combat, they are less effective at commanding both men, and the mighty dinos that decide most battles.

The rank and file are equipped with long pikes and powerful polearms; well-suited to taking down large reptiles as well as armoured knights. Half of most forces are equipped with either powerful crossbows and longbows. Lately primitive muskets have come onto the scene, capable of propelling a lead ball through even the toughest dino hide.

The smallest military unit is the "lance" - usually a telepathic dino-knight and his apprentice squire, both riding raptor-sized dinos.  They are supported by several telekinetic men-at-arms, and up to half a dozen each of both bowmen and pike/halberdiers - usually over a dozen men total.

The models need a lot of polish but my aim was to give them a basic coat so I can playtest the rules...
I'm quite happy with the $1 dinos and I think they will paint up well with a bit of drybrushing and simple detailing... 

 Middleheim is made up of small duchies and city-states.  Battles are fought on a small scale - with hundreds per side being common, and large battles being rare.  The underworld is lit by luminescent plants and lava pools; the terrain can range from rocky desert to lush jungle.  Dinosaurs and giant creatures roam the wilds, with spiders the size of horses amongst the horrors of the wilds.

In Middleheim, the gamer controls a lance of mercenary dino-knights. They can hire out to fight battles for local lords, escort caravans through dino-infested terrain, and hunt down rogue T-rexes. They can defend settlements against Aztec raids.  The troopers in the lance can then "level up" in both psychic and physical abilities in a campaign. 


Anyway, that might give those who are interested a background on my homebrew skirmish rules' setting. It started as I felt dinosaurs were vastly under-represented in wargaming (compared to say, zombies/undead: which I am heartily sick of) and I wondered how I could include them. I noticed some of my 2-year-old's cheap $1 plastic dino toys fit with some 28mm Perry knights... and the rest is history....

Monday, 12 February 2018

Domina - Gladiator Management (PC)

This is an awesome game. 

It's also a good game if you're more wargamer than PC gamer. 

You manage your own ludus, with a stable of gladiators who rank up with training and successful fights.  Besides choosing their training regime (modifying their stats) and equipment through your doctore, and allocating gladiators to fights, there's a lot to do between fights; keeping nice with the town magistrate and military commander, organizing exhibition matches and pit fights, as well as organising an array of specialists (doctors, augurs, architects, spies etc).  It's a simple game with a lot to do. There are constant random events (usually with funny stories) that crop up in a RPG fashion.  I like how you can turn your gladiators into specialists, so you have a tool for every fight.

You can upgrade your ludus significantly with baths to assist healing, practice dummies, etc.

Unlike football management games where no one watches the boring actual games, the "games" in Domina contain hilarious and unexpected pixel violence.

If you want to control a gladiator in fights you can; I personally let the AI control the hilariously bloody pixel violence.  The bouts are varied; gladiators chained to the ground, lions, uneven numbers or gear. I haven't even explored the chariot racing yet.

Domina has a vaguely roguelike vibe (keep characters alive/fed/happy/permadeath) and I found myself trying to keep a few better gladiators alive while heartlessly feeding others to the meatgrinder. Everyone, though, is ultimately disposable, though (like X-COM) ending up with only rookies left late on would be punishing.

It's meant to be played in short bursts - there's no full-featured save; so you can't go back to an older save undo your mistakes - and wipe outs do occur (everyone starved to death in an early playthrough when I ran out of money...).

Why chariot race when you can fight instead?

Buy this game. You need no "gaming" skills. You don't need a good computer. You could download it on dial-up (it's 500MB). It's fun.

Do you like campaign or narrative wargames (Mordhiem etc)
Do you like gladiators?
Do you have a dark sense of humour?

If you answered yes to any of these, buy this game.  The downsides are: I suspect it could get repetitive/would be easy to "cheese"/min-max. It's also more a casual game than mainstay of my gaming time.

Recommended? Yes. A blood-spattered thumbs up!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Shadow War: Armageddon - The New Old Necromunda

"the more things change, the more they stay the same," (Alphonse Karr, 1849)
The "new Games Workshop" has returned with lots of new Specialist Games-style offerings.  Too many for me to afford or test, that's for sure.  Whilst the company policy apparently has changed,their pricing certainly hasn't - $70AUD ($55 USD/40 pounds) - for a softcover rulebook when Privateer is moving to free pdfs - I could buy a Malifaux or Warmachine starter box (with rules) for that price.

Since Shadespire is looking more like a CCG/boardgame hybrid than a miniatures game, my hopes of a "New Mordhiem" seem dashed. But what about the new Necromunda

Well, it's out. But paying  $250AUD for the box set...  ...THEN having to folk over another $50 book to play the campaign (wtf?!)... that's the old mercenary GW at it's best.  It's the equivalent of removing a faction in a PC game (like, say, Warhammer: Total War) so you can sell it later as a DLC.
The old Games Workshop style gouging at it's finest.  About to walk away, I paused when I came across a copy of Shadow Wars.

Campaign skirmish in a hive world? ....sounds familiar. 

That's because it is. Shadow War IS the old Necromunda, with standard 40K factions replacing the gangs, and a lot of interesting campaign options trimmed out/dumbed down.  In fact, you can pretty much stop reading now, as that sentence pretty much summed up these rules.

Shadow War is simply the Necromunda rules (now feeling clunky and outdated) rebadged as an expensive softcover.  They kept the worst bit (the rules themselves) whilst removing/simplifying much of the best bit (the campaign system.)  There's probably some subtle differences (I'm sure there's detailed blow by blow details on some 40K fansite somewhere) but from what I can recall, it's the same game. 

For those pining for Necromunda, Shadow Wars allows you to use your 40K models. Sadly, the rules are dated, and the campaign is simple and bland.

The Shiny
It's comparable to a $40 Warmachine softcover, but just $30 more expensive. It's pretty, but somewhat unintuitive to use.  Unlike the New 2017 Necromunda, it has 15 kill teams AND the campaign rules included (like you'd expect) - so there's that, I suppose.

Activation & Stats
Remember this is Necromunda (aka modified 2nd ed), pretty much word for word. So typical IGOUGO (ignoring any advances in the last 20-odd years) - you do everything with all your dudes, before the opponent can respond. And my goodness, the nostalgia - I haven't seen a stat line as long as  this:  M  WS   BS   S   T   W   I    A   Ldr - outside of a RPG, for years.

Movement
Remember when charging was a double move, rather than a random dice amount added on?  And - yay - not everyone moves 6"- some factions are faster or slower. Like the old Necromunda, there are rules for climbing, hiding, falling etc - and like the old Necromunda I'll still have to houserule what you can do if halfway up a ladder.

Combat
Yup, old-school tables which you need to consult before you can make rolls. And modifiers - lots of modifiers. I'd forgotten just how many. Shooting is very much old-school 40K - but models if hit are automatically pinned. Then there's the roll against toughness. Then a saving throw.  It seems clunky - there's too many steps and modifiers.  Tracking ammo is a pest, as is "flesh wounds"- that is a -1 to BS/WS for the rest of the game. There's good old-school overwatch. Models can usually fire 360d (wasn't the old Necromunda 180? not sure - if so it's the fist change I've noticed). Melee is a different mechanic - roll 1d6 per attack and add the best to the WS. Difference in score is the # of hits scored by the winner. 

Morale
Again, a new mechanic (well, the same as the old one, but this is the third or fourth dice rolling mechanic so far - very inconsistent design) - 2d6 and must roll = or under Ldr to maintain nerve.  If a friendly goes down close by, allies test morale to see if they break. Once 25% of the warband is downed or fled, a bottle test is made for the whole gang - if they fail the game ends.

The art and graphics are nice, but the rules are a bit unintuitive - nice to look at, not particularly handy for actually searching for rules...


Warbands & Campaign
You get up to 10 guys, (more if Orks) including a leader and 2-3 specialists.   Different factions get access to different skill trees.  You can use pretty much all the 40K factions - great! This is why I bought the rules - to reinvigorate many 40K dusty 40K models lying dormant since... 5th ed? 

But Shadow Wars is disappointingly streamlined - as there's no XP, territories, or sending guys out to do odd jobs. You can choose between recruitment or new gear; and you can choose exactly what you want - no need to roll for availability etc.  Even serious injuries are simplified to a d6 - I can see a lot of models will end up with Frenzy. You choose exactly which one character to get a new skill/advance each game. Sounds totally not open to being abused.....  Even on the skill rolls, you choose the type of skill and then roll twice on the table, choosing your favourite - so you have a great chance of getting exactly what you want...  No min-maxing opportunities here, no sir. 

So basically, the best part of Necromunda got dumbed down and ever easier to min-max; though it is much less likely you'd get the "snowball" effect where a winning gang becomes an unstoppable juggernaut after a few games. 

Finally, promethium replaces cash (it's kinda a mix of cash+VP) which you can use to win (once you accrue 15) or hire "free agents" to bolster your force. It feels odd.  Also, when replacing losses you can spend up to 100 points on a new recruit; but many troops cost over 100...   ...so you can't replace elite troops when you lose them?  Again, feels a bit "off."  The scenarios seem the same as the old Necromunda ones.

While I can finally get some use out of my dusty 40K models again, Shadow War leaves me feeling vaguely cheated. 

TL:DR
Well, you could have stopped when I said "exactly the same as old Necromunda, with 40K instead of gangs, with the campaign dumbed down." The new GW hasn't got better at writing rules, that's for sure - and why would they, when they can lazily rehash the older ones?  Worse yet, they streamlined the wrong thing - keeping old clunky game rules, whilst gutting many characterful campaign mechanics.

+ Does allow you to use 40K models to play a campaign game
- You could probably find fan-made 40K gangs on the net for old Necromunda and have the same experience (example links) if GW hasn't shut them down
- Same chaotic rule writing from original Necromunda; dated rules design
- Overpriced for what it is.
- Campaign overly dumbed down; easier to min-max... (seems more league rules than narrative campaign)
+ .....BUT less likely to get overpowered teams after a few wins
- I have to go looking for funky dice like scatter dice, artillery dice etc
- Quite a lot of token clutter for such a simple/old game
 - It feels like it needs house rules (and after spending $70, I'm resentful) 

Recommended: a guarded and resentful Yes merely as it allows you to re-purpose 40K models in an acceptable skirmish campaign; the small numbers needed to play make it affordable; even if the rulebook is a ripoff. But if you have old Necromunda you could probably find house rules on the net that do the same thing, for free. Worse: instead streamlining and modernizing the games rules themselves, GW mistakenly kept the old ones verbatim, but opted to trim the once characterful campaign system to be rather generic, McDonalds and bland.