Saturday 28 April 2012

Space Fighter 3012

This is another experiment borne out of annoyances with record-keeping (missiles and damage in particular) with Silent Death which has been for years the "go to" game for space fighters.  

I'm not aiming for much hard sci fi realism and am eschewing drift markers as I think having a distinct 'facing' is very important for the fixed guns on fighters. I'm thinking B5/new BSG style - still somewhat WW2-in-space but with drifts, slides and spins, giving a nod to intertia. 

Initiative is card based and thus unpredictable, simulating the chaos of a dogfight - only wingmen can operate with a degree of organisation.

Again we have reactions that have been so successful in skirmish games. 

Deccelerate:  costs 1 thrust to slow 1"
Accelerate: costs 1 thrust to speed up 2"
Facing: costs 2 thrust to change to any hex side of facing
Heading: costs 1 thrust for each 3 velocity the ship is travelling i.e. a ship traevlling at 7-9" velocity would cost 3 thrust to turn 60d. Ships noses must face the direction they are moving in to attempt a heading change.
Turn Radius: After a heading change, a ship must travel a distance = to the thrust cost before attemping another maneuver - i.e. the ship example above would need to travel 3" (= to thrust cost of 3) before trying another turn

Any time a ship moves within 10" of another ship, the other ship may 'react'

Both ships roll a d10. They must score under their Crew Skill level but also beat their opponent's roll to succeed. 

A ship may choose to "evade" or "fire"

Fire:  The reacting ship must have the firer in its weapons arc. The winner then rolls to hit with his weapons.  As long as the loser also 'succeeds' by rolling under his Crew Skill, he can fire second after taking any damage. The reacting ship has -2 to his 'to hit' roll due to making a snap shot. 

Evade: The reacting ship dodges the attack

Fighter Modifiers:
Very Agile Fighter +2
Agile Fighter +1
Normal Fighter 0
Slow Fighter -1

Pilot Modifiers:
Elite Pilot +2
Veteran Pilot+1
Experienced Pilot 0
Green Pilot-1
Measure distance to target. That is what you need to roll under to hit the target. Roll 1 d10 each weapon.
Use pilot modifiers to adjust the to hit roll, and also the angle modifiers:

Angle Modifiers:
Firing into target rear 0 (also parallelling target)
Firing into target side +2
Firing at head-on target  +1

This is done by assigning a card to each pilot + wingman combo.  When a card is drawn, a pilot can activate.  Veteran pilots have 2 cards, and Elite pilots have 3.  They can only activate once but can choose to discard a card and activate later; giving better pilots some control over their activation.

Fighters have a threshold to damage, and to destroy.  I.e. a medium fighter might take 2 hits to damage and 4 hits to destroy it.

"Damage" can be either
(a)  Engine (halve thrust - round up; -1 to all rolls, +2 to be hit)
(b) Hull (halve weapons, sensors out; -1 to all rolls; +2 to be hit)

A second damage destroys the fighter.  

Pilots can lock on using their Crew Skill.  Once locked on, the missile can be fired.  It  can attack any ship in its forward arc.  

Missiles roll a contested roll against the pilot of the fighter it is attacking. 

Missile Damage is d10/2.  

Thursday 26 April 2012

Refinements (Reactions & Damage) DVtG

A few things I have realised:

Allowing ships to react to an enemy ship' s fire by moving complicates things vastly.  If a ship reacts to an enemy attack and responds by moving... perhaps into the path of another ship, which also reacts....  by moving into the path of another ship.... you can see how things could spiral out of control and it would almost be impossible to remember who is reacring to whom and in what order

Solution #1
Change the 'move' reaction to an 'evasive' reaction.  The reacting ship gets a modifier = to thrust to any fire aimed at it. I.e. a 3 thrust cruiser can add +3 to fire aimed at it.  This makes the 'evade' choice more valid for smaller, more agile ships whereas bigger ships are likely to forgo this in favour of firing back... which makes sense. This also has the benefit of being the simplest - the only ship actually ever moving is the active ship. The approach I currently favour.

Soluton #2
Allow ships the evasive bonus AND to make their move out of seequence; with the following rules:
(a) the reacting ship cannot initiate fire at any other ships as it moves
(b) ships can react to it by firing at it with an Offensive Reaction only (i.e. they cannot themselves move, thus avoiding a chain reaction move. The original reacting ship gets the defensive bonus against all incoming fire.
I am slightly against this as the 'initiative' rolls already allow crew rolls to determine who moves next - this almost duplicates the same effect.

 My current hull/damage rules do not allow for the difference between hull types without neededing crazy amounts of dice to destroy them.

I want to tweak this - the current model means a 4 DF ship would need 12 hits to destroy it - we are heading into 'buckets of dice' territory.

Hull Level Option 1: Use the original method (1x= light damage, double damage = crippled, triple damage = kaboom) but start at smaller increments, by allowing decimals (.5, 1.5, 2.5 etc). This allows a wider range of hull types.  This is an improvement on what I have.

x1                       x2                               x3
Damage           Heavy Damage          Destroy
x                       1*                              1.5*
1                       2                              3
1.5*                    3                              4.5*
2                       4                              6
2.5*                    5                             7.5*
3                       6                             9

This has middle-range dice total and the middle range of decimals (.5 scores)

*Numbers with fractions i.e. 1.5 or 2.5 etc....
If most of the hits were EVEN numbers, do that level of damage; if most of the hits were odd, do the lower level damage. If the dice are even, the highest odd or even determines it. 

I.e. a ship with a 4 .5 heavy damage threshold takes 4  hits.  If most dice rolled                    
 are even, it would do the  higher (heavy) damage. If most dice were even, it would do lower (light) damage. 

Hull Level Option 2:
Change the level the damage goes up: 1x is light damage, 1.5 x is light damage, double = kaboom)
This seems 'neater' but ships blow up faste. A little like the Firestorm Armada thresholds. 

x1                                x1.5                       x2
Damage               Heavy Damage             Destroy
1                            1.5*                             2
1.5*                         2                                3
2                            3                                  4
2.5*                         3.5*                           5
3                           4.5 *                             6
3.5*                       5                                 7

This has the fewest dice and a moderate amount of decimals.  However ships do get destroyed sooner.  My current favourite nonetheless.

Hull Level Option 3:
Using smaller increments  (i.e. 1.5 etc) but have "destroy" at 4 x not 3 x which is mathematically neater and makes sense according to the 2 x heavy damages = destroyed rule.

x1                          x2                            x4
Damaged           Heavy Damaged       Destroyed
.5  *                        1                            2
1                           2                            4
1.5 *                      3                            6
2                          4                            8
2.5 *                      5                            10
3                         6                            12

(X)  Whilst I like method 3 as it is the most logical and has the least decimals, it does not solve the 'bucket of dice' problem that I set out to solve.... 

Saturday 21 April 2012

"Battleship" & Shipwreck!

Yesterday I went out and saw Battleship. Yes, it was every bit as corny as you would expect. A movie based on a boardgame? With Rihanna as a star actress?

The plot was as cheesy and unlikely as you'd expect.  But there were explosions. BIG explosions!

The CG was pretty awesome though. It was practically a recruiting movie for the US Navy - after watching Harpoons and gunfire rip explosively into alien motherships and Phalanx gatlings spew streams of cannon fire, I wanted to join myself!

I remembered I had a set of modern naval rules which I had dismissed for no other reason than the rationale that naval combat was boring, involving 2% maneuver and 98% electronics capabilities.

Having been frightened from modern naval gaming by Harpoon (a game that made Star Fleet Battles look as simple as tic tac toe) in my formative years, I opted for a slimmer 48-page ruleset, "Shipwreck" by Martin Bourne.

The Shiny
Softbound and slim, it has a range of nice colour photos in the middle section and black and white elsewhere.   A card fast-play sheet looks promising.  Neatly and pleasantly presented. The text is a little small so bring your reading glasses. Only 24 pages of core rules looks good as far as complexity is concerned.

Weapons are abstracted into six range bands (v short to extreme)  so ground scale is a bit hazy.
Time scale also varies: there are 10 minute maneuver turns in which ships move, and 2 minute combat turns in which jets and missiles move. Gameplay has take priority here, which is good.

Initiative/Play Sequence
This is broken into movement, reapirs, detection, combat and air support.  The first two are simply but combat is pretty complicated and can involve 9 sub-phases.

Maneuver moves are made by ships on the map.  Combat moves are made by missiles and jets abstractedly, from range band to range band.

This is very important.  Ships need to determine if they are active or passive and make a detection roll against any target they wish that is in range. This could be time consuming if you have a lot of enemy ships.

USS Bainbridge firing a Harpoon

This has rules for launching and defending against missiles. EW, chaff and flares also play a role. There is only simple record keeping (light, heavy, crippled, sunk) and ship tonnage is used to determine resilience to hits.  I like the use of a d10 for all Shipwreck! rolls as it offers more choices than a d6 and is simple to use.  There is a single, easy to use table for resolving hits with a single d10 roll. 

These have to be the most brilliant "hidden movement" systems I have come across.  They are simple - there is only ONE roll made per side against each sub to detect them. Sub movement is largey abstract - only detected subs are placed on the board as the enemy knows of their presence, but they cannot be attacked.  The contact needs to then be localised before ASW can engage them.  In this process the submarine may be able to break off contact and escape. It is simple, effective, and I am stealing some ideas for it for my own homebrew games...

Air Operations
These are pretty abstract but include dogfighting, CAP and land and naval strikes. Since the focus is on naval combat I think they have a good balance here.

Other Stuff (the other 24 pages)
They have included an example scenario which I found very helpful for understanding the detection rules which for me were the hardest to understand.  They also showed how you switch time scales from maneuver turns (10 minutes) to combat turns (2 minutes) when a missile or jet is present on the game table. There is a modelling guide and ship and aircraft data sheets for you to copy.  A general list of common ships, aircraft and weapons (guns, missiles, torpedoes etc) are included. 

I'm not sure modern naval combat is prime wargaming material as the emphasis on maneuver is low, but this ruleset makes a good stab at simplifying it to a playable level. I think the design captures the hide-and-seek nature of modern naval combat, whilst abstracting a lot of the errata.  The submarine rules in particular are a great mix of playability and abstraction whilst retaining the flavor of detection and localising contacts.

Get this game if: you like the idea of actually playing a modern naval game more than looking up their stats in Janes Fighting Ships.

EDIT: Worried about the ground scale and table size, I found these 1:6000 scale Hallmark ships which are kinda pricey for their tiny size but pretty impressively detailed

CAV: the "other" mecha game

 This is a relatively unknown mech game put out by Reaper miniatures (yes, the guys who make RPG minis).  It uses N-Scale mecha (model railway terrain would fit nicely)

Like Heavy Gear they live in the shadow of Battletech, which has a wonderfully developed universe and is good for 1 v 1 duels but has impractical record keeping for playing larger games - and chipping off armour hit box by hitbox so I can actually damage the frickin thing seems a bit silly.

At around $10 apiece they are similarly priced to Heavy Gear mecha but are somewhat larger and could almost double as 15mm mecha (depending on the cockpit size). 

This would just about do for my 15mm troops as well...

Since the rules are free to download here I will limit my comments.

For those who couldn't be bothered reading the rulebook....
Initiative is determined by drawing from a deck of cards (random alternate movement).  It can be played with or without a hex map.  Movement is pretty standard. Mech pilot skill is important and modifies most actions.  Electronic Warfare is important and the attacker must win a contested d10 roll to lock on.  Direct Fire is similar - weapon attack + d10 vs defender armour + d10. The difference in the die rolls determines the damage. A d6 or d8 is used to record damage and placed next to the model. Units can attempt to repair damage on-the-fly. Units can be suppressed.  Defenders can always fire back once fired upon in an automatic free 'reaction' of sorts.  There are rules for indirect (artillery) fire and close assault.  CAV has a loose army construction feature with general guidelines rather than strict army lists. Vehicles have a points cost which is modified by the level of pilot.  These are listed in the back of the rules.

 John Bear Ross - one of the best 15mm sculptors - is involved in CAV

I liked these rules (initiative, reaction rules, low record keeping, simple combat resolution, pilot skill, suppression) and will test them alongside Heavy Gear: Blitz! when I order my 1:300 mecha. 
Check them out!

Luft Krieg

I liked Lightning Strike by DP9 so I was interested in their Weird WW2/Pulp air rules.

 The cover is rather sombre - a Weird WW2 game should have Nazi saucers duelling Spitfires...

The Shiny: The rulebook is softcover with black and white illustrations.  It is not laid out as elegantly as Lightning Strike and info is harder to find. It comes with colour card cutouts for markers needed in the game - always a good feature - I dislike having to make markers just to try a game.

Initiative: The winner of the initiative gets "command points" which he can use like overwatch to interrupt an opponents turn. It is alternate move (by flight); i.e. Side A moves its flight of 2-4 aircraft, the Side B moves a flight, then Side A etc.

Movement: It has 20 altitude levels which is a bit much to track. I prefer Bag the Hun's 6 levels which could be tracked on a single tiny micro dice.  Speed is sensible - a unit is either at normal or combat (double) speed which requires a counter. Planes also have a minimum speed which they must move - or stall. Turn radius is how far a plane must move before turning.  I think Luft Krieg was aimed at 1:144 aircraft using hexes but it can be played hexless and at smaller scales.

Planes may perform sideslips, tight turns, roll and lop but must test pilot control or spin.

Detection: This always bogs a game down.  I found these rules somewhat involved and confusing.(Crew Skill + Modifiers to beat a Threshold that is also modified) I would probably ditch them or substitute my own.

Combat: This uses the great DP9 contested roll system, where the degree of success of the attacker influences damage.  Basically, it is a single roll with a built in critical hit effect; criticals are thus more likely with an easy or point blank shot.

However Luft Krieg has added in an unneccessary and complicated critical hit table (actually 4 tables!) which adds little to the game besides a hitherto unneeded level of bookkeeping. 

Advanced Rules: These include weather, barrage balloons, helicopters, remotes, and joy! aircrew rules and traits including morale and special abilities.  There is also a hex map conversion guide.

There are 24 aircraft profiles which include some of the weirder Luft 46 planes and some that don't even have miniatures made for them. Apparently DP9 ran out of enthusiasm when making minis for this game, like they did for Lighting Strike.

Luft Krieg has stats for lots of experimental craft like the J-7 Shinden interceptor

A slim book (47 pages of core rules, 96 total including advanced rules and fluff) with decent initiative and movement rules. Definitely aimed at flights of aircraft rather than 1 on 1 duels, but held back in this regard by an overcomplicated damage system and clunky detection rules; 20 levels of altitude are a bit fiddly and either need writing down or a chunky d20 beside the aircraft stand. I would have liked a points system to modify or create aircraft.

A coherent, logical system that could be modded into something sleeker; you could adapt the core rules quite easily. 

I'm probably going to simplify the aspects of these rules I criticized and post up adaptions in the this blog; this may just be my ticket to a playable Crimson Skies game

No-record keeping Damage (Mod)
Light = -1 armour; - 1MP, -1 maneuver
Heavy =-2 armour;  halve MPs; -2 maneuver, -1 to all firing
Crippled (heavy+light) = -3 armour; halve MPs; -3 maneuver; -1 to firing + halve weapons

Now I just have to get rid of the detection and the d20 altitude recording....

Friday 20 April 2012

D20 Damage System: DvTG

Whilst I rail against buckets of dice damage systems my current combat mechanics design certainly uses a handful.

This system I designed for naval combat might be adapted. It has the usefulness of being mathematically logical which is good for ship building/points balancing.

To hit works like normal using a d10; but only a single d20 damage roll is made for all weapons in the battery.

D20 Damage Roll



50% (10)

100% (20)

Vaporized 200% (40)

I may adapt this so it can register 25% damage and 150% damage by adding in extra rows.

Some weapon examples:

Energy Weapons:I
If your attack roll was double what was needed (i.e. 3+ needed and rolled 6+)  do 50% extra damage
Lose 50% damage beyond half (5") range

Projectile Weapons
x2 to any velocity penalties
Do 50% extra damage if closing velocity exceeds 10"/turn

Heavy Gear 6mm/1:300

 This 6mm Iron Wind Asura battle armour looks quite sharp

I have considered this project a long time but have just been given impetus by the purchase of several cities worth of 6mm terrain from Brigade Games.  20% off if you are outside UK which covers postage neatly.

A good near-future-desert vibe and at $1 apiece I'm not complaining

I initially was interested in Future War Commander which seems the "go to" 6mm sci fi game. It has a Warmaster/Epic feel which is good as most GW Specialist games are well designed... opposed to their mainstream rubbish.

However I have always loved the Heavy Gear universe.  Their mechs seem practical war machines (as opposed to the ridiculous  back-flipping-lightsabre-wielding-hoverboard-riding-gargantuans of mainstream anime) and the game seems quite hard-edged.  I also love their damage system, with the accuracy of your hit influencing the damage done.  They also use the light-medium-heavy-destroyed damage system I favour.

There is a very thorough review here which breaks down the rules very well. 

Sadly, there was always too many good reasons why I would never get into it - all of them dollars -  the cost of their 1:144 models is exorbitant and makes Games Workshop look like benevolent uncles.

Their $115 "Starter box" with rules contains a princely eight 28mm mech models.   Toss in a "codex" $35 and some foot troops ($23) a two-pack of specialist mechs ($21) and a couple of tanks ($54) and you are staring at $250+ for a single army... ouch!

That does not include the terrain needed for a new scale...

So what are our 6mm options? I am mostly interested in mechs and found a handy list here.
I know DP9 has a limited fleetscale Gear range (but I avoided it as their pricing extends to 6mm too!)

Main Suppliers
GZG have the not-VOTOMS range and a wide selection but seem to now focus on 15mm
Iron Wind Metals have a huge change of battlesuits that will provide most of my Gears I suspect
Brigade Models are blocky and bland but their Neo-Soviet line shows promise

Nephilim Assault Battle Armour. Iron Wind Metals has a wide range of battlearmour that can stand in as 6mm Gears
 Other Stuff of Interest
Dark Realm have a lot of nice vehicles that have a HG feel to them but seem very pricey
ZandrisIV has interesting tanks
Reiver Castings is a company of I was not aware of and has some nicely cast vehicles
Plasmablast Games have an awesome land fortress; both they and Reiver seem 10mm+ scale though
Old Crow are good but I'm not a fan of Hammers Slammers tanks which look like an clothing iron
Microworld Games has some interesting stuff
Adler has some interesting stuff but their ordering system is offputtingly archaic
Exodus Wars are developing a range

I think the Neo-Soviet stuff is the best of the Brigade range

Example 6mm force cost:
4 x Asura Battle Armour (IWM) $4
4 x Nephilim Battle Armour (IWM) $4
4 x Purifier Battle Armour (IWM) $4
2 x Theseus support Battle Armour (IWM) $2

2 x Mammot super-heavy tank $3 (Brigade)
 4 x Kunitza APCs $4 (Brigade)
24 x Infantry pack $3

Total Cost = $24

That's 10 x cheaper than the respective 10mm HG stuff!

I will probably keep the scale in inches but will shift to cm if needed or halve ranges

I'll make up an order Tuesday...

Advancement Ideas: Delta Vector the Game

#1. Ships must level up quickly
#2. Nothing will be tracked - imagine the paperwork nightmare tracking XP for each ship!
#3. Combat should be encouraged

At the end of each battle, ships may see if they have "levelled up"

 Captain Picard initially thought he might have to track his crew's Experience Points

Currently I am using a dice system for crew quality - which may change if the damage rules get too clunky. Crew pass a 4+ on a die to pass their Crew Quality check.

d6 (green)
d8 (regular)
d10 (veteran)
d12 (elite)

Diminishing Returns
I think I will make this a CQ roll in reverse; i.e. crew must FAIL their crew check.
This means rookie crews with low CQ are more likely to level up to the standard of regulars, whereas veteran crews are less likely to become elite.

You can level up when.....
During the game, certain events must occur for a ship to qualify for the 'leveling up' roll

Your Ship Size    vs   Enemy Ship Size (Ratio)
                      1:4 - you must simply score hits on the enemy ship
                      1:2 - you must "shake" the enemy ship
                      1:1 - you must lightly damage the enemy ship
                      2:1 - you must heavily damage the enemy ship
                      4:1 - you must land the final blow that destroys the enemy ship

Heroic Actions
Some heroic actions lead to an instant level up chance - the roll is taken on the spot, and again at the end of the game. 

Your Ship Size    vs   Enemy Ship Size (Ratio)1:4 - you lightly damage the enemy ship
1:2 - you heavily damage the enemy ship
1:1 - you land the final blow that destroys the enemy ship

You can see that smaller ships have a greater chance of levelling up. This reflects naval tradition, where MTBs, strike craft and escorts/destroyers showed greater elan, dash and morale than battleships. This also compensates for their more expendable nature. 

Losing Levels
I'm not sure if I want to go down this path as we want to reward aggressive players. 

Damaged Ships: If a ship is heavily damaged it cannot level up, even if it deserved it. This represents the loss of life of key crewmen and the green replacements that will be drafted in

Optional: If a ship is crippled, it must roll above CQ or lose a level or trait

When a ship CQ becomes regular, any rolls after that must consider if they have gained a Trait instead. Check your roll.
If it is odd - you have gained a trait
If it is even - you have levelled up

Generic Traits
We want to keep these pretty generic so they work for any space race or genre. The trait you get is random.

Engineering = re-roll failed damage rolls?
Navigation = re-roll failed checks to navigate obstacles/allow thrust to be overboosted/add to evasive action? re-roll reaction checks if you are reacting by moving away
Weapons  = re-roll failed reaction rolls for firing?
Bridge = re-roll failed Initiative rolls

Well I'm not sure if I'll have to tweak the 'level up' criteria but so far no record keeping or tracking "Experience" so seems OK so far

A Reason to Fight II: Campaigns & Advancement (DVtG)

Competitive fight-to-the-death games satisfy a certain type of gamer, but such battles are unusual in reality.  One side will leave well before total destruction, having achieved or failed its mission or in response to strategic dictates.

A campaign system gives context to fights, and can generate interesting situations beyond simple "kill em all" battles.  Mining outposts can be defended, merchant convoys raided, shipyards blockaded. Surprise attacks can be launched on naval shipyards. Sometimes forces might only gather intel - other times they may lure enemies into a trap.  Battles need not always be perfectly balanced affairs and sometimes 'victory' might be simply extricating the force with minimal losses.

It's All About Combat
These sorts of games can devolve into economic and political sims with nary a shot fired. This defeats our purpose - we want to pew pew with our spaceships.  The campaign game mechanics must:
*abstract economics and politics
*encourage regular combat and discourage "turtling" - i.e. hiding behind powerful defences whilst building up an overwhelming force

Detailed simulations of trade, economics, politics and research are best left to video games. We just want to pew pew with metal spaceships!

Units that gain experience and skills are fun. They have character and flavor. Giving ships the ability to gain traits and advancements through combat will encourage players to engage in minor skirmishes to 'blood' their crews and gain experience levels. 

Campaigns are important to give context and variety to battles but should encourage (or indeed mandate) regular battles rather than players meta-gaming any economic or social aspects of the game. Campaign record keeping and paperwork should be minimized.

A Reason to Fight: Terrain (Delta Vector the Game)

When people talk about a 'good' space board, they are talking about more than a black sheet with three rocks scattered on it.  No, they are in fact about a black sheet with background stars airbrushed on it, with three handcrafted foam and plaster asteroids on it, artistically painted.

What I'm saying is, terrain is pretty spares and plays little to no part in most games. A quick google of "space wargame" "full thrust battle" and "starmada battle" showed me 10 images with a total of:
Asteroids: 4, 6, 0, 0, 0, 5, 7, 0, 1, 11 = 3.4 asteroids per table
Planets: 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 2, 0, 1 =.6 planets per table

From my masterly research, we can assume 4 objects, covering about 4-8 hexes of a average 1.5" hex map. Which has about 780 hexes in it. So terrain covers 1% of an average space table. 

Compare this Infinity table, which is a little more populated:
This photo is from Makatish's Teahouse - a site I recommend visiting (see links in the blog)

No wonder space games usually involve charging into the middle and chugging dice, killing all the small craft in the first 1-2 turns and then grinding the enemy hitboxes down.  Your most important decisions are limited to managing range and choosing targets, and who to send into the meatgrinder first. 

"But space is empty!" the masses cry
To which I respond: "Then why are they fighting over it?"

If ships possess jump drives or some sort of FTL travel there are no logical reasons to fight in deep space. Why would anyone want to defend empty space? I can see why they would protect a homeworld, a industrial moon, and agricultural base and a mining asteroid, or a space station though.

Furthermore, terrain makes for interesting gameplay.  It can provide a variety of effects such as blocking line of sight, provide a manuever hazard (especially for vector games); and a form of cover.

Space terrain is actually more interesting as you are limited by your imagination in possible effects. Effect fields can conceal, fry sensors or effect only particular weapons. Radiation zones can render fightercraft useless and impact the balance of power in a game. 

More terrain is more choices. More choices is more tactics.  Thoughtful players will be rewarded over simply lucky ones...

Terrain is Good Cos: 
#1. It makes gameplay more interesting, introducing new variables to firing and maneuver
#2. Gives a logical reason for the fight to take place

Take the planet Saturn, from our own prosaic, commonplace solar system. It has its own ice debris field surrounding it and no less than 62 moons. Would that be an interesting terrain table to play on? You bet!
Now imagine asteroids with gun emplacements firing into certain arcs; it would make navigating it a puzzle and a game in itself....

Jumpgates vs Jump Drives
I like jump gates as they seem somehow more logical.  They also provide natural chokepoints for interstellar traffic and a good place for fights to start.  We are, after all, interested in space fights.

Jump drives need to be limited as they are susceptible to abuse.   The ability to disappear and reappear anywhere on the battlefield, or easily disengage from any fight is a powerful one that should not be owned by each and every unit.  Limiting jump drives to and from jump beacons (based on planets or maybe certain ships) and certain ranges from gravity wells; and needing a long a spool-up time might help prevent abuses and make it a means of travel rather than a win-button.

Space games need terrain, as much as any game. The 40k tendency to use a few pieces of terrain is hurting the space genre.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Flashing Steel Rulebook Review

I am somewhat of a Song of Blades & Heroes fan, as I enjoy the interesting activation mechanic, the ability to faff around creating warbands from random and cool models, and the ability to run a 3-4 game campaign in an afternoon.  A simple toolbox of fantasy fun.

That said, I felt Ganesha Games's attempts to translate the same mechanics to 1001 different settings was a mixed success - I felt Flying Lead was a bit of a mess - a good example of trying to make a good system work in a period for which it was not designed.  I am a firm believer that there is no universal game engine that works for every single period or genre of wargame. I call it 'sequel sydrome' - we see it in the movies as studios try to cash in on a successful brand.  For small independent wargames designers (Two Hour Wargames springs to mind) the temptation to regurgitate a sucessful formula must be just as high.

So I'll be interested to see how Flashing Steel differs from the original, given that I feel I could pretty much play a swashbuckling game with the original fantasy rules as is...

Presentation (The "Shiny")
Well it is a pdf so not much to say here.  At least it is only 40 pages to print out and prints out well to a B&W printer.  Not a lot of wow in a pdf to be sure.

 Don't get too excited about glossy hardback rules - it's a pdf!

What I liked about SoBH is that all key info could be noted on a small triangle that also served as a measuring stick.  Allowing only 3 ranges - short medium long (approx 7.5cm, 12cm and 18cm) is limiting but is rather easy to remember.

All models had a Q (kinda a 'Quality' or skill) rating (of usually 2-5) - which was imporant because rolling under this number determined how many activations you got.  Unsurprisingly FS uses the same formula.  It is a pretty nifty one as it adds an element of tactics/risk vs reward every time you activate a model.

Basically, you choose how many dice to roll against the Q, and each success allows an extra action or move by the model. But the more dice you rolls the greater the chance of failure, at which point you totally lose your turn and the initiative passes to your opponent who gets to move until he fails (or moves all his models).

Each success means you can choose from a wide range of actions including getting up from prone, to firing or reloading, opening doors or swapping weapons. 

Terrain rules are pretty vanilla and modify movement and firing in simple ways. 

A player can 'reserve' 2 actions and use them to interrupt an opponent's turn, where he can take only 1 action.  This is serves as a kind of versatile overwatch, with its own tradeoff - lose 2 actions now, for the chance of a lesser action that could be timed perfectly to best hassle your foe.

Group actions in the newer Ganesha titles have made groups more useful.  The base SoBH tended to punish lower Q as horde armies of weaker troops were difficult to control.  A leader character can order troops close by to take actions -a  little like the Heroic Actions from LOTR.  A leader can spend his actions to make a group of grunts more effective. 

Troops add their C (Combat) skill to a die and compare them.  If the winner beats his foe, his foe will fall to the ground on an even roll and be forced back on an odd roll.  If the winner doubles his enemies scored, his enemy is out of action.  If he triples the score the enemy is messily and instantly killed.

This is fun and surprisingly cinematic, with figures being forced off ledges and heroically parrying deadly attacks when fallen. 

FS differs from SoBH by having "better" and "worse" weapons list which can change these results slighty if you have mismatched fighters (i.e. pike vs knife).

Firing has a lot more modifiers.  There are some fun new effects where low quality troops can accidentally discharge their weapons or misfire. There is rules for the wind blowing clouds of blackpowder smoke across the battlefield, creating moving cover.

Other Stuff
Quality Checks
These are needed to do difficult feats like cutting the rope holding a chandelier or shouting out  a warning before being silenced, and range from the tricky to the very difficult. They are based on a Q roll.

Swashbuckling Checks
These are used to perform swashbuckling feats like disarming their foes or backflipping out of the road. It is based on the C roll and a failure could leave a model flat on its back.

This is a simple check when a leader or half the force is lost.  I miss the old "gruesome kill" rule though.

Special Rules
The ability to create your own character is a Ganesha Games trademark.  Various skills are assigned points values - from an "Acrobat" who gets bonuses to Q tests when climbing, falling or leaping, to a person who can use "Double Pistols" for rapid fire, to "Duellists" who get a bonus when facing a similar opponent, "Drunkards" who lose Q but gain C and morale.  Traits can even be negative, like the "Guardsman" trait which ensures the miniature will be merely a minion, grunt, or unlucky extra.

There are lots of these (35+) but as models stat lines consists of 2 scores (combat, quality) it is easy to check any opponents' special rules, so you don't get "Warmachined" i.e. defeated by an super-uber unexpected trick your opponent possessed; which caught you unawares because you did not understand every naunce of the 500 special skills your opponents force possesses. Not bitterness there *cough*

Flashing Steel gets away with all these special rules as the base rules and stats are so simple, as are the special rules themselves.

 There is a cool little campaign generator which explains terrain, mission, motivation, and if needed, opposition. An example of a mini campaign is provided (3 x 45min games)

FS is aimed pretty obviously at the "Three Musketeers" and "Pirates" genres.  It has quite a few fluff pages giving stats and traits, and historical data on a wide range of famous pirates.

 He has a jar of dirt - or is that a peanut?

I often thought SoBH stats were TOO simple. Lumping defence, attack and shooting into a single combat valueis carrying the simplification process a bit far.  I felt it did not show the difference between a barbarian with an axe and loincloth and a dwarf in plate armour - they might both be C3 fighters.  People will argue the 'traits' were supposed to do that, but separating the universal Combat stat into "Attack" and "Defence" stats (maybe even a "Missile" stat) would have added more richness without much more complexity.

Also, using a d10 would allow Q and C ranges from 1-10 rather than 1-6, giving a wider range of ways to describe characters. This would add NO complexity and again give a wider range of character stat choices.

Ironically, in FS I am not so worried about this. As in FS the fighters are always humans, similarly attired, there is less need for a wide variation than a fantasy game.  A swordman and a pikeman, both in leather armour, need less differentiation in stats and fighting skills than a dragon and a gnome. 

FS has a wide range of traits, but has 0 allowance for monsters and creatures like I had hoped for.  It is far more specific and less of a random toolkit than SoBH but seems a more naunced, balanced game.  

Activation system is tactical and balances risk vs reward - this is a cornerstone of the successful Ganesha formula.  The gameplay is simple and cinematic, and can be taught to a new player in a few turns - they are a good series of rules to teach to kids.  It's a pdf so 'new shiny book' excitement is low.  FS seems to refine the SoBH formula , but the refinement comes at the expense of the flexibility that made SoBH so versatile.  A simple campaign can be run in an evening, and the 'build your own character' ability is fun as always.  A definite must for pirate or three musketeer gamers but more historical than pulp/fantasy.  

Witchfinder General - Days of Revelation (Rulebook Review)

Whilst I don't pretend to be scooping anyone there doesn't seem to be many detailed reviews on this around - this one was the most clear one I could find although I also found a description of a game played, albeit off their official website.

So here goes. Bearing in mind my Warlord Games Pike & Shotte battalion sit assembled but unpainted, this is not backed by playtesting.

The Rulebook (Or "Shiny Factor")
Glossy, with decent production values, it has photos of games and miniatures and is quite a bit nicer than the very bland cover suggests. For $25-35 delivered (18.50+ pound) you fall into the middle zone of rulebooks; you can get good, bad and rather ugly. For the price range the production values are solid, but I wouldn't be buying it for the art, unlike say Infinity the Game or the wonderful Song of Our Ancestors the latter of which is practically a coffee table book.

It uses bold text a lot to emphasize things which loses its impact and can get annoying when every second word is bolded. Others may find it useful though.  I'm going to continue in this style for the rest of the review.

 Rather nice photos like these are more inspiring than the front cover:
...which is rather bland and suggests 1970s black-and-white productions
It's kinda retro-cool woodcut, but a cover of a musketeer beheading a werewolf would sell more rulebooks

The Mechanics
It has a integrated IGO UGO system that is a little more involved than the one from GW's LOTR.
Sides roll for initiative, the take turns activating a formation each or up to 3 individual models. In fact it is  technically more an alternate move system. It lacks the ability to interrupt enemy turns (no reaction system), but it's pretty nifty.

Remove any markers/tokens
Side A - does command (shoot, move, reload) for formation or several individuals
Side B - does command (shoot, move, reload) for formation or several individuals
Melee "Fisticuffs"
Side A - does command (shoot, move, reload) for formation or several individuals
Side B - does command (shoot, move, reload) for formation or several individuals
 Melee "Fisticuffs"
Repeating this process until all have moved....

Markers, Markers Everywhere
I am not a fan of record keeping, but neither am I a fan of markers cluttering up my game table and detracting from the atmosphere.  WG:DoR uses up to 13 which in my opinion is about 7 too many to remember easily, given the fact I would use generic markers and dislike having to make up special cards or markers for a specific game (if they are vital to the game, they should be included with the rulebooks as a cardboard punch-out, for example)

Movement is interesting in that figures combine a shorter movement with a dice roll to add to their movement when in range of a dangerous creature. I.e a figure that moves 8" might move 6" + d3 (i.e. 7-9") when in proximity of a dangerous creature.  This makes chases by savage creatures uncertain. Will the werewolf catch you or not?  An interesting idea, but it had individual movement distances for each creature, which besides being a pain to have to remember, showed up the rather limited bestiary

Firing is hardly ground breaking, using a d6 roll to hit in the usual manner (ie. 4+, 5+ etc) and the only modifier is range, weapon and shooter experience; which is fair enough given the limited variables of a single d6. It has defensive saves - pretty vanilla -  and a form of suppression, which is refreshing as it is rare for a ruleset from this period.  Most rules assume people would carry on unaffected if a enormous musketball is fired from a shockingly loud gun (accomanied by a cloud of fire and smoke) with narry a flinch.

Melee combat considers facing and range (models have different reach) which may add more tactics but also looks a bit tedious to measure.  I'll have to road test this. However every model type in the game has its own method of attacking, and its own die roll modifier.  Looks rather clunky and you'd be referring to the two-page chart a lot,at least initially.  There are different types of attack, which is interesting (pounce, slash, rage etc).

Injured models have their dice rolls degraded which involves markers.  I'm not a fan of wound tracking in a skirmish game, unless for heroic models. Admittedly grunts tend to be either wounded or dead, but a combat system with specific hit locations is a bit complicated and stays into RPG territory.

 Players can push back and take enemy positions, or hold.  They can perform surprise attacks (all 9 creatures/human types have their own roll and traits for this -  little clunky?)  . I like the inclusion of overwatch as it allows a modicum of control over enemy movements.

Morale is pretty standard, and as I mentioned, the suppression effect of gunfire is a nice inclusion. There are also rules for artillery should your game require it.

 Force List/Creating Armies
The force list (or bestiary) has no way to create your own monsters.  So you are limited to:
witches, werwolves, hellhounds, generic pikemen, musketeers, swordsmen, cavalry, dargoons & clubmen;  vampires & noctelingers.

There are special rules for preachers, apocatheries, heroic swordsmen; several creatures have special traits like vampires who can shape-shift into bats.

Model stat lines include 15 factors which is about double the amount I find easy to remember without recourse to the rules. 

WG:DoR is very specific in its available forces -  more limited in scope than I would like - a 'build your own' ability to modify your monsters and hunters with a point system would allow wider variety. However, it does what it says on the packet - just without as many options as games like Song of Blades and Where Heroes Dare have accustomed me.

That said, the gallery is inspirational.

Terrain rules are very detailed, and besides the usual cover saves have rules for jumping, falling, climbing over obstructions and using ladders,opening or smashing through obstacles like doors, battering rams and petards.

I find the rule for foraging (stealing livestock) a fun inclusion.   

I like it when a rulebook includes them - there are six  and they seem rather good.  However I feel the game lacks a points system for balancing your home made scenarios and creating your own monsters and heroes.  The guy is there to sell rulebooks, not minis - if I was in it for the $$$ I would make my rules to encompass the most miniature types possible.

 I gotta get me some of those barghests (hellhounds)

I found these rules to be far nicer presented than I anticipated. The initiative system is far better than the usual IGOUGO, but combat is rather complex and marker-heavy - it feels more like a lite RPG. That said, it would probably be full of detail and flavour if you are willing to wade through all the sub-rules. It is very period-specific and lacks a points system to build, balance and modify your own forces.  The rulebook has a slight 80s feel (perhaps from the amount of charts and stats). I'll be reviewing Flashing Steel next as I feel this is a little involved and narrowly focussed for my swashbuckling and monster hunting needs.

Wednesday 18 April 2012

Aeronef - Ship Examples

I have very much gone for the ww1-in-the-air as I think that is true to the spirit of VSF.

I reckon besides ww1-style biplanes, gyrocopters and maybe ornithopters would be cool!

A more old-school version of this - with a steam engine maybe?

Anyway, here are some stats to try:

DF 2
AF 2 (4" guns)
4 Aerial torpedoes
Speed 12"/turn

Scout Cruiser
DF 4
AF 3 (6" guns) primary; AF 1 (4" guns) 2ndry
2 Aerial torpedoes
Speed 10"/turn

Armoured Cruiser
DF 8
AF 6 (9" guns) primary; AF 4 (6" guns) 2ndry
2 Aerial torpedoes
Speed 8"/turn

DF 12
AF 12 (12" guns) primary; AF 6 (6" guns) 2ndry
2 Aerial torpedoes
Speed 6"/turn

Monday 16 April 2012

Aeronef & Brigade Games

I really like these models. I have a lot of them I bought for a Crimson Skies/Last Exile pesky pirate game that I never got off the ground. 

A British Aeronef battleship from the Brigade website.

Although their squarish spaceship models are a little dull and bland compared to their GZG cousins, Brigade seems to have made up for that imagination deficit elsewhere and their VSF stuff (aeronefs, landships, tank-trains and tripod alien walkers) are inspired and intriguing. 

Brigade games have goods pricing and cheap overseas shipping (if you are overseas, when they deduct VAT tax from the listed price at checkout it almost covers your shipping). In contrast to JR Minis that appears to charge 50% shipping; I bought a complete 1/300 town from Brigade for the cost it would take to ship sa similar amount of buildings to me from JR). Brigade is a company friendly to overseas purchasers and they are easy to deal with.

These are minis that are crying out for a good set of rules.  Yes, I know there is the Aeronef rules that comes with them.  However these rules basically involve throwing handfuls of d6s (with only '6's hitting and re-rolling as well - exploding dice in its extreme) and ticking off huge rows of hit boxes.  Basically, Yahtzee is more tactical.  David Manley is a great naval wargames designer but this is a bit of a casual effort.

It has no altitude rules (gravity, lift etc are as integral to aerial combat as vector movement is to space). As the '6' to hit is universal to all units, smaller nefs serve no purpose other than to be ablative armour to larger ships. 

I hear rumours that Steel Dreadnought Games is working on a ruleset. I doubt they will deviate from their formula that was successful in Colonial Battlefleet (a game for not-BSG minis that polished the Full Thrust formula but is still book-keeping heavy). 

Since nef combat simply seems to be predreadnought combat in the skies, I am wondering if a set of fast-play naval rules could be adapted . I think General Quarters 2 (the old, simple-to-play booklet not the clunky new one) or Battlestations! might be the ticket.

While I was thinking about this (and a way to do faster damage systems than Aeronef) this damage idea occured to me (a modified form may be useful for Delta Vector)                                                         
                                                            To hit
                          Extreme x4     Longx2     Standard    Close /2 (50% bonus)
D20 Roll             18+                   16+              11+              6+
Accuracy            15%                   25%            50%          75%
If a player rolls exactly the d20 score needed he rolls a critical hit as well as doing usual damage 
I replaced the old chart with one that flowed mathematically - if 50% is normal, then the chance to hit at double range is half that, i.e. 25%.  Handy for working out point values of ships when there is a coherent pattern....

As usual I want escorts to be survivable:
-2 heavy guns firing at escorts
-2 heavy guns tracking fast targets (undamaged escorts moving at flank speed)
-3 enemy in cloud/smokescreen
-2 target already took hits this turn from same side (explosions and smoke obscure spotting)
-1 target head-on or stern-on
+2 enemy stationary/slow/hovering

                                                     Damage Roll



50% (10)

100% (20)

Vaporized 200% (40)

% shows the percentage of firepower needed to inflict the damage
All you need to know is the dice number (i.e. 16+) which shows d20 roll or more needed to inflict that damage                   
50% (round up) firepower bonus if close
halve firepower if armour is heavier than gun level (i.e. medium gun vs heavy armour)

Roll a d20 each on the damage chart for Hull (mobility, lifters, hull integrity) or Systems (Weapons).
This new chart is pleasingly mathematically logical. I may use this damage system again in other games. 

Damage Effects:
Hull damaged = halve speed, cannot climb
Hull crippled = ship cannot turn; slows by 1 speed level each turn to the minimum possible; 'sinks' downwards 1 per turn; if not regain power by time ship reaches the ground, roll on damage chart with ratio = to levels fallen (i.e. 6 levels = 6:1, 3 levels 3:1...). Ship, if it survives the landing, remains grounded until repaired.

Weapons damaged = halve weapons
Weapons crippled = no firing allowed

Any hull damage at all after a ship is crippled results in it breaking up and being destroyed. 

Critical hits:
The hit automatically causes damage
Any rolls of "damage" upgraded to crippled
Any rolls of "crippled" instantly destroy the ship

Damage tokens can be placed under the clear base of a normal EM4 flight stand.

Repair: Ships can be repaired 1 level in either hull OR weapons IF they have not taken damaging hits that turn, and pass a crew quality roll. Ships cannot be repaired back more than 1 level from the worst damage taken (i.e a crippled hull can be repaired to 'damaged' but never fully repaired to 100% capability.

Ships have 3 speeds - 'hover'  'normal'  'flank'
Ships that are at flank or hover are marked with a marker.You may increase/decrease speed by 1 level per turn i.e. you cannot go direct from flank speed to a hover...
Hover = ship does not move, but can turn on the spot  and change levels
Normal = 1"-half speed

Flank = half-full speed
Ships may make a turn at the middle or endpoint of a move.
Escorts = 90d
Cruisers = 60d
Battleships = 45d

There are 6 atltitude levels, shown by microdice beside the nef stand.
Each level adds 4" range to any gunfire.  So a ship 3 levels higher must be 12" away to be engaged. 
Being above or below a target creates a deadzone that guns cannot aim through.  For every level above or below, a 4" dead zone extends in a radius around the ship.  Ships within the deadzone cannot be engaged with heavy batteries. 

Weather Effects
These are at levels marked by dice
Ships can see into a cloud, or out of a cloud (at +3 modifier to firing) but cannot see through a cloud

Ambushing forces can place ships in any cloud on the map.

Cloud Cover/Mist/Heavy Fog
Sometimes an entire altitude level will have restricted visibility range and gunnery modifiers.

High wind disperses smoke; wind is usually at high level ("jet stream"); ships flying into the wind can have speed reduced slightly

These interfere with gunnery as ships are thrown around; bigger nefs are affected less. Usually low visibility and the chance of a lightning strike (20 on d20) temporarily knocking out electricals.

Reduces visibility drastically, messes with optics; disperses smoke

Pass a CQ test on d20
You may test using the best CQ in a squadron
There will be no record-keeping - tests are rolled for on CQ table as needed
Make Smoke:  Ship uses plume of smoke that extends in a line behind it, that blocks visibility
Evasive Action: -2 to enemy fire but -2 to own firing
Rapid Fire: Add 50% firepower to close range attacks but pass CQ roll or have magazine jam until pass CQ check to unjam
Change Speed: Increase or decrease speed (between flank, normal and hover)
Hard Port/Starboard!: Make an extra turn at the middle or end of the move

Vent aetherium: Change 2 levels instead of 1 per turn as massive ship enters a steep dive.
Emergency Boost: Only lightly armoured ships (escorts, scout cruisers) may climb 2 levels per turn.  They halve their speed.
Ramming Speed: Ship may only move straight, but any enemies in their path can be rammed: Damage done is DF ratio compared to each other.  Ship must be at flank speed. The rammer is treated as having double DF.

Rules as per Delta Vector

Due to slow-moving ships and slow firing weapons, ships do not 'react' per se but may fire once at any time in their or their opponents' activation.  Fire is considered to be simultaneous if you 'react' to an enemy shot at the same range the enemy fired.   

Ships can split fire and fire half their main battery AF into opposite broadsides or fire twice at half power on the same side.  The may fire seconday weapons once at full power into each broadside.

Probably need small thin bars of card to mark this; place on base on side broadside was fired.
Red = primary battery full shot, used
Orange = Primary battery half power shot
Yellow = 2ndry battery full shot, used

Weapons & Armour
 Type                               Ranges
Very Heavy (11-12"+)  4/8/16/32
Heavy (7.5". 8-10") 3/6/12/24
Medium  (5-6") 2/4/8/16
Light (3-4") 1.5/3/6/12

Very heavy (battleship)
Heavy (armoured cruiser)
Light (scout cruiser)
None  (escort)

Aerial Torpedoes
These are short ranged but hard hitting. 

Aerial torpedoes have a 'attack counter' placed within the broadside arc of a ship.
Any ships next turn passing within range of the attack counter are attacked with the torpedo salvo.

Torpedoes can be engaged by machine-guns and secondary weapons.  

Proximity Mines
These are dropped by parachute and descent 1 level per turn.  They attack any enemies passing through their level and zone. They can be deployed to any level below or equal to the ship.  They have no IFF and will attack friendlies.