Thursday 24 December 2015

Aerial Wargames Manifesto - House Rule Musings

I must admit, after publishing a manifesto, I usually go off and make some house rules (which usually never get completed) but I usually have a clear idea of how to "fix" most of the issues.  Not so aerial wargames.  I'm going to repeat the manifesto from my last post, with my thoughts underneath.

*Pilot skill paramount   Not difficult.  Many rules can do this.  Bag the Hun perhaps the main one that springs to mind. 

*However, planes SHOULD be differentiated i.e. P47 dive, Fw190 roll rate, Zero wing loading/turn Hah, BtH falls down here.  Easy enough to do; perhaps pull out some of the dreaded "special rules."  Consider high/low altitude performance and high-low speed turns, as well as dive, roll rate and horizontal turn-n-burns.

*Spotting important - most fights won without the other side even seeing them; obviously this is not overemphasized as it isn't too much fun, dying before you can react; but it's an important element  Again, not a big deal. Some sort of simple decoy/blind system with unspotted planes having initiative/activation advantages.

*Energy management - trading of height for speed and vice versa; extreme maneuvers bleeding off energy Okay.  Now I'm stumped. Most games tend to have some sort of movement points, subtracting.  Wings at War have the explicit energy-management system I've seen, but it's a bit jarring and I don't know if I can fit it into a "unified" mechanic. 

*Represents chaos of dogfight; no "tail chasing" where players take turns being on tail/shooting Pilot checks for sharp turns; restrict maneuvers; basically playtesting will sort this. Also consider m:s ratios; I'd say a 4" shoot to a 8" move would be about right. 

*Does not require stat cards etc (a la Wings at War) + unit builder for balancing scenarios  This is more a directive for commercial sets than for me; cards of no more than Warmachine complexity should be OK.

*Can track stuff without expensive fancy bases or (preferably) hex maps
Might be a good idea to base all angles on 60 degrees to keep options open for both hex/hexless.
 I like the idea of using d6 to track energy/speed and a different colour d6 to track height. Again Wings at War springs to mind.

  *No written orders or guessing game mechanics; consistent mechanics
Written orders are easy enough to avoid - have to come up with a good activation system that represents pilots sensory overload/reactions to craziness of dogfight; consistent mechanics simply something I need to be aware of during design phase. I do like the random card draw of BtH, but maybe link it to some sort of dice pool for pilot attention/action points

*Minimal record keeping/fast to play - a game about high speed dogfights should play fast; preferably no hitpoints  Lightning Strike is inspiring; crew are simply "Stressed/Stunned", "Light Damage"  "Heavy Damage"  "Destroyed".  So many rules overcomplicate this.  Do we really need to know if one of the 8 .303 MGs is knocked out?  Is the pilot stressed/under fire?  Is he cautious in face of light bullet strikes to his plane "what's that knocking sound?", or nursing it home with significant engine or airframe damage - or perhaps with a serious personal injury? How much detail do we need?

*Allow to handle a decent amount of planes (or I'd simply play a PC flight sim)   Keeping it fast playing is really tricky.  The 3D movement; tracking height/energy.  There's a reason 90% of aerial games are designed for 1-2 planes per person.  

How abstract do we go, and in what areas?  If we're aiming to handle 4-12 planes per side (the "sweet spot" for units) do we really need to micromanage each individual pilot?

*Inexpensive (not a boardgame?)  Well, duh, homerules. Next point please. 

*Campaign system to allow the players to "run" a squadron Easy enough.  Using d10s in the design phase should simplify a "points calculator" but to be honest this is so far in the distance I don't care at this point in time. 

Ok, so where can I draw inspiration?  Well I'll consider all my collection, but I'm going for the more "left field" games - Luft Krieg (consistent mechanics, handles quite a few planes, complicated cousin to Lightning Strike); Wings at War (energy system, victory points); and Bag the Hun (willingness to abstract/break convention, blinds, activation).  I'm also going to look at Angels 20 as it is an example of a modern "commercial" game, with less emphasis on 'simulation' and more on playability. I'm going to avoid  dwelling on "conventional" aerial games like CY6 as they have their roots in 1970s games.

Summing up my initial thoughts:
A semi-random, perhaps card based activation
Two D6s to mark altitude and energy? Too messy?
Maybe some sort of SoBH-style roll where "actions" for pilots are semi-random based on skill
Can the WaW energy system be streamlined, or should I go a simple Angels 20-style movement?
Make turns/angles in 60d increments to allow both hex and hexless
Keep movement speeds low (say 6-8") so plenty of room on table; also make gun ranges lower (4"?)
d10s to make mechanics/balancing simple?
Can we avoid damage on a "data card" altogether and go with tokens for stun/damaged/crippled (with maybe a d6 denoting systems hits if we reaaaally need the extra "grittiness")

I must say, the movement/energy management is what really concerns me.  Games like Bag the Hun have good non-plotted manuevers but simply give a fixed movement + a d4. I like the unpredictability of not being able to perfectly "judge" your move relative to other planes, but the lack of proper energy management is almost as annoying as C21s disregard for altitude. 

"Never run out of speed (energy); altitude and ideas (maneuvers/reactions/action points) at the same time."

The gameplay should reflect these three points.  Energy is a resource that can be managed, by trading it with maneuvers or altitude.  Better pilots react faster and can process more information; they can execute maneuvers more efficiently, spot and stalk enemies better and shoot straighter.

However more than other genres aerial warfare tends to be quite complex in the factors to consider - it's easy enough to make another 1970s ripoff where one guy controls one plane; fast-playing simplicity is always harder to design than complexity.  As I consider this I have new sympathy for those who omit energy management or altitude from their ules - it makes things much easier to manage - but ignoring them ignores key facets of aerial warfare. 


  1. I got to thinking this morning about contemporary air wars. At what point would such a game cease to be interesting, if it comes down to who has the better and farther seeing radar, target acquisition and air to air missile systems? Would that still be interesting for a game? How many of the categories in your list of desirable house rules (good list, BTW) would that sort of game meet?

    1. Good point. CY6 specifically limits their rules from 1950s to early 1980 as missile reliability/electronics means it remains a true dogfight. After that, they say it becomes more about BVR.

      If it is BVR, you may as well use C21 as lack of altitude would be less of an issue.

      Most of my models are from the 60s-70s (Arab-Israeli, Indo-Pakistaini, Angola, Vietnam, Korea, Suez, Falklands) as that was the most active period anyway.

      My more modern stuff is being set aside for a near-sci fi project involving Avenger style helicarriers where much handwavium is involved anyways...

  2. *Energy management - trading of height for speed and vice versa; extreme maneuvers bleeding off energy

    I wonder if a die pool approach would work for this, including climbing to gain additional die...

    1. I was interested in a dice pool mechanic and the game "Watch Your Six" (no relation to CY6) and its free spin off game Albatros-something had it, I think.

      It's available from a yahoo group but if you want a copy of the freebie one I have a copy on my HDD somewhere...