Sunday, 12 August 2012

Interview - 5150 Wing Leader

Space fighter gaming has been a niche genre within the relatively small spaceship gaming community, with Silent Death notable in its longevity (and without serious competition).

However this all looks set to change this year, with FFG's X-Wing, Blue Shift (Mongoose) and 5150 Wing Leader (2HW) all "in the pipeline".

With regards to 5150 Wing Leader, I really enjoyed reading Javier's batreps, which are really well presented, and show characterful action. Intrigued, I went hunting for more information.    Since it is still in its final stages of development, there isn't a huge amount of information on the net about it, but Javier very patiently answered my many questions - and kindly allowed me to share his responses in a quasi "interview" of sorts. 

Javier's well-written BATREPs got me interested...

EM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your gaming background
I spent my youth among comics, wargaming and surfing. I started wargaming in the early eighties mainly with boardgames from Avallon Hill games like Squad Leader. Then I was introduced by a friend to ancient and Napoleonic battles in 6mm, and later I discovered Laserburn from Tabletop Games and the first editions of Warhammer and I started to collect Sci-Fi and Fantasy miniatures. 
In Spain in those days there weren't any shops or clubs to play, nor any publications about wargaming. There wasn't Internet either so everything that came from outside were like precious pearls of a mysterious hobby nobody had ever heard about it before, and in English! We played with the ruleset on one hand and the dictionary on the other. Everything was difficult but new and exiting.  Today I'm 46, married and with two children and two cats and my gaming time is considerably less than before. My gaming is quite eclectic as I'm always looking for new rulesets and projects. You can see what I have been doing lately in my blog, Javier at war.
(EM: Looking at your blog, that is a very mixed selection of games - everything from Crossfire to Battlefleet Gothic!)

EM: What got you involved in 5150 Wing Leader?
J: I wanted a solo game to play with starfighters like in the PC game Wing Commander, and as there wasn't anything like that I took the THW mechanics to create one for me to play. When I published some BATREPS in my blog Ed Teixeira asked me if I was interested in writing a ruleset for him. I said yes.
(EM: For those interested, 2HW showcases some of its "reaction" mechanics in its free ruleset, Chain Reaction 3)

EM: What are some things that influenced you when making Wing Leader? (i.e. movies, other wargames, videogames) What was your aim when you sat down to design the game?
Like I said above, Wing Commander strongly influenced me in the view of how it should be a space fighters game with miniatures. Of course there are also Star Wars, Galactica and similar films.  My main aim was to be able to play solo missions Hollywood style and have fun without much complication.
If you like Wing Commander check out the pics on Agis Neugebauer's site - the man is a brilliant painter

EM: 2HW games usually have a strong campaign/storytelling element in them. Will your pilots be able to improve their skills and abilities?
Instead of gaining experience and abilities the game rewards you in the following encounters if you do it well, or punish you if you do it bad. 
However, there are many attributes in the rules for pilot fighters as well as for capital ships, and it will be very easy to add a simple rule for your pilots to gain experience and better or worse Rep depending if they are doing it OK or not.

EM: Games which are simply "kill all opponents" can get repetitive. You seemed to have a range of missions in your BATREPS. What sort of missions are available in 5150WL?
J: As you said above there is a strong campaign component in this game and depending if you are doing it good or not you will have more or less attacking or defending missions. There are five different types of missions in 5150WL.
You always start your campaign with a patrol mission and depending on the result of that mission you then go to an Strike mission in which your main objective is to destroy a big capital ship with your bombers, or to a Boarding Action mission in which you have to board and capture a capital ship; or if you are defending then you can be taken to defend a stationary capital ship or strategic jump point, or do the Rendezvous mission where you have to meet and escort to safety a friendly capital ship. To all this you have to add the random encounters and the escalating engagement (friendly and enemy reinforcements) optional rules which will always give you different games.

Some Studio Bergstrom not-BSG "Cobras" and "Raptures" I painted this week

EM: I notice in your BATREP you have "PEFs" or "blip" tokens that are revealed in the game be enemy craft. It seemed the enemy fighters were controlled by game mechanics - is this correct? What element of solo/co-op play does 5150 include?
PEFs and NPC controlled by game mechanics are THW characteristics in all their games. In 5150 Wing Leader these charts vary depending on the mission (e.g. Enemy will not behave in the same way when attacking than when defending) and if they outnumber the enemy or the other way round. Actually, the game is greatly based on 5150 Star Army and its excellent campaign system. WL is geared more towards solo and co-op playing than head to head although it can also be played in that way.
When you start to play you only know your main objective, then as the game progresses you discover if there are enemies or not and how many and which type they are and if they will attack you or not, etc.

EM: How many fighters will 5150WL handle in "two hours?" Your BATREPS show you controlling flights of 4 or less. Would WL be able handle larger squadron-sized battles of, say, 12+ planes - like in the movies? How many fighters is 5150 designed to handle - how fast do turns play?
J: I play comfortably with four fighters but we must take into account that I'm also moving the enemy ships. If playing head to head you can play with some more fighters and a few Capital ships without much hassle. Theoretically you can play with say 12+ fighters per side but I reckon it could be a bit confusing.
Turns are fast but impredictable so I cannot say it how fast they play, it depends on many factors.

EM: Will movement be more "hard sci fi" vector movement (like 5150 Space Navy) or cinematic (more like WW2 fighters as seen in Star Wars)
J: This game is totally Star Wars style and there are not vectorization at all. Fighters and capital ships move very straight forward excepting for some special maneuvers limited to aces and Stars.
 All this talk of Wing Commander has me nostalgic.  Now where did I put that old CD?

EM: Some space games make it best to simply move into the middle of the board and blast the opponent head on. What does 5150 do to encourage tactics and maneuvering?
J: Well, in WL you can definately move and blast away the opponent head on but you possibly won't make it in one piece. It is important to guess where you enemy is going to end his move or how will be his flight path so you can either blast him or avoid his firing; but you cannot plan far ahead as you don't know who is going to activate first or if you going to activate or not every turn! Also it is very unwise to fly without wingman.

EM: In games like Silent Death, bigger "heavy" fighters usually easily defeat smaller ones 1 on 1. Do smaller nimble ships have a fair chance in 5150WL?
J: Heavier fighters have more guns and consequently have more chances to win in a front duel, but light fighters move faster and have better maneuvering, so it is a matter of not letting your enemy shoot at you basically. Anyway, even the most nimble ship has some chances to destroy any ship, even a capital ship.
 WL 5150 avoids the usual "lotza hitboxes" most space games use

EM: Many space games traditionally have lots of record keeping, especially when doing damage (often with big "ship damage charts" with lots of hitboxes, criticals etc) - 2HW games usually do not have much record keeping. What approach have you taken with 5150 WL?
J: This is something I really take care about, as I hate bookkeeping. Both fighters and capital ships have a simple damage chart where one hit can affect one area of the ship. There are no hull points and the only record keeping is how many missiles you still have and which part of the ship is damaged. But fighters usually have 1-4 missiles each and only six parts of the ship can be damaged. They are 1 cockpit, 2 engine, 3 hull, 4 guns, 5 communications and 6 shields, so you can easily mark the damaged area with 1d6. Each damaged area will affect the ship or the pilot in some way, and If a fighter receives a second hit in an already damaged area it is then destroyed. Some areas can be repaired in battle.
(EM: I've seen this done with Hind Commander using microdice stuck to the flight stand and it works well)

EM:Your BATREPS have a large ship in them - will there be rules for large ships to fight each other or are they solely targets for fighters?
J: Yes. One aspect I much loved in the PC game Wing Commander was attacking big ships with my missiles and torpedoes and watching them explode. 5150 Wing Leader is a game about starfighters and capital ships which carry them. Think of something similar to the Battle of Midway on a small scale and in space.
There is a whole section of rules for capships which includes transports, frigates, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, starbases and carriers as well with many fighters in them, and you can certainly play a game of only big ships firing their big batteries against each other although the game is designed with space dogfighting in mind.
1999?  It's been a long wait between drinks for PC gamers

EM: Your BATREPS show ships flying through asteroids. Terrain makes space games more interesting - what other terrain rules will feature in WL 5150?
J: There are asteroids, dust or gas clouds, minefields and drifting space hulks and everyone of them affects differently the game play.

EM: I know 2HW has a generic "5150" sci fi universe. However the name "Wing Leader" reminds me of the very cool old PC game "Wing Commander". Will WL support fighters from TV shows and movies like Vipers, X-Wings, and Starfuries? Will you have a ship-builder system that allows you to design your own fighters?
J: I don't have a builder system to design ships but it is very easy to design a ship without points as you only have to decide if the ship is light, medium, heavy or a bomber, how many guns and missiles it carries and its acceleration, speed and turn rate. There are some lists of fighters and capships in the rules that you can use as a guide to make your own ships.
I'm sure that players will soon post their own unoffcial lists of ships based on popular films.
(EM: Given how active the 2HW Yahoo group is, I think we can take that as a given)

These Studio Bergstrom minis are beautifully painted by audstrauss of the SCN forums

EM: I notice you use EM4 plastics using designs from the old spacefighter game "Silent Death." Are there any minis you recommend? Are there any minis you had in mind when you designed 5150WL?
J: I don't recommend any type or brand of ships as I like to use any kind of ships or figures in my games. I'm using EM4's plastics because they are cheap and look good. I wrote WL thinking of WC and the ships I had in mind were those from that game.

EM: "Silent Death" seems to have long been the most popular commercial space fighter rules. Have you played it  - and if you have: how does 5150WL improve on it?
J: I'm afraid I never played it and it is still in my things to do list but even without having played Silent Death I dare say 5150WL is better at least in the aspects of solo gaming and campaigning.

EM: If I asked you to describe 5150WL in a paragraph so I could "sell" it to my mates at the local gaming club, you would say....
J: If you liked flying a Rapier on the computer, you alone against the Killrathi, you will like as well flying it on the table against the Hishen.
(Javier's obviously a Wing Commander tragic. I like him already!  I have always wondered, in an era where sequels and remakes are so popular, why the PC industry has never produced follow-ups to both WC and the X-Wing series)

This "Kitty Disk" from Studio Bergstrom looks like a good Kilrathi fighter substitute

EM: Any comments you would like to add?
J: 5150WL is still waiting to be read and approved by Ed Teixeira and it also needs some more testing by people not involved in the writing, so everything can happen. However, as WL is strongly based on the pretty solid THW mechanics, I dare say it will be a good game. Time will tell.

I want to thank EvilMonkeigh for this opportunity to allow me to talk a little bit about 5150 Wing Leader.

EM: Thanks.  

Final thoughts:
Well, I'm quite excited about this. The "solo/co-op" focus means a primary gripe I have with space games (finding opponents who are interested) is solved. Having little record-keeping already edges it ahead of Silent Death for my money). Javier is obviously passionate about what he does and that he is a Wing Commander fan is a bonus!

Using EM4 miniatures (At $4 a pack, they work out at 30c each including bases) and with the usual 2HW rulebook around $20 - you could be gaming for under $30. Very affordable. 
Studio Bergstrom has great metal minis  for $1.50ea (including "not" Star Wars and BSG) which I reviewed this week. In fact, their "Kitty Disks" and "Rapiers" look perfect for Wing Commander.
Two Hour Wargames has a great yahoo group (and Ed, the "boss" is very active in the online community) so you can expect it to be supported energetically if/when " 5150 Wing Leader" gets the green light.
2012 is looking good for space gamers!


  1. Thanks for sharing this interview, EM. One thing--the interview mentioned vector movement. For the record, 5150: Star Navy (the THW big battle spaceship game) will not have vector movement. 5150: Fringe Space (another THW space game) will have vector as well as cinematic movement.

  2. Ah - thanks for pointing that out - I confused the two. 5150: Fringe Space is the one I am familiar with.

  3. I like it! A lot!
    I'll have to keep an eye on this one.Do you have any idea when it will be available?

  4. I believe Javier says it is finished - he adds at the end of the interview that it is still being playtested though.

    I suspect official announcements will be made by 2HW if/when Ed gives approval.

  5. Ok thanks. I guess I'll go badger Ed some then ;-)