Tuesday 29 December 2015

Air Wargames - Activation

I dislike the "write down orders" of traditional air wargames like CY6 - so what other activation options are out there?

Skimming through my rules a few days back I noticed two major trends outside the "written orders" trope.

C21, Scramble! and Luft 46 use a d10 + pilot skill to determine the sequence.  I dislike this as recording this needs ANOTHER dice on the table. And knowing ahead of time who moves when seems a bit overly predictable for a whirling dogfight.  So no, for philosophical and practical reasons.

Luft Krieg uses alternate movement (each side takes turns moving a flight of 2-4 aircraft) which can be interrupted by use of command points.  While I like the idea of command points as a resource (representing leadership, initiative, tactical advantage) the alternate movement still, I think, allows you to pre-plan a bit too easily.  Mach Speed Hunters and Angels 20 uses straight alternate move which are even less interesting.  So no, for philosophical reasons.

My other choices are unappealing - Wings at War used IGOUGO (hell no) and Wings of War's cards are too fiddly to duplicate, and also use the "guessing game" mechanics of the order system.  So no and no.

Now, the most interesting to me was Bag The Hun; flights of 2-4 had two cards; one for movement and one for firing. This was very random - a plane might draw a move card and position for a shot, but his opponent might then draw his move card and escape before the attacker's shoot card was drawn.  Aces got an extra card to represent their better awareness/reactions, as did units in formation and the highest flying unit.  I didn't love the semi-abstract implementation of this (the  extra activations might give planes a double move in a turn, effectively doubling their airspeed) but I liked the philosophy.

Further, there was CY6 itself, which allowed better pilots to adjust their move orders after poorer pilots to show their better reactions/awareness. A less extreme version of the "better pilots move last" of say, Silent Death.

So how do I want the planes to activate?

#1. Well, I want the dogfight to be chaotic.  It should be possible to co-ordinate with a wingman, and within the finger-four, but I want players to be "reacting" to a rapidly unfolding situation, not planning ahead like some sort of set-piece division level battle.

#2. I also want good pilots to have a significant advantage.  They have better awareness of the situation, are cooler under pressure and work better with their wingmen.  Perhaps a bit more "graduated" than BtH's "aces get extra activation, everyone else is the same" - divided into rookie, regular, veteran and ace, perhaps.

#3. I would prefer the turns themselves to be unpredictable.  I don't want pilots to know they can do x, y or z perfectly every time.  Under perfect circumstances, a pilot might be able to barrel roll away from enemy fire, split-S and fire at a target - but combat is not perfect circumstances.  I generally dislike games with "random movement" - you know, where you roll 2d6 to see how far you move, and sometimes figures move 2" and other times 12" - as that kinda ignores ground or time scale. I do like games with semi-random actions as reactions and awareness do differ.

This last point ties in with movement rules. If planes are too agile, they can get into good firing positions every turn.  I.e. some rules, the planes take turns circling around onto each others tail.  I have concerns about Angels 20, for example, with regards to this.  Making the turns themselves unpredictable mitigates this as well; perhaps a random roll for the number of actions; better pilots tend to accomplish more things but a rookie pilot might fluke it and pull off a lucky sequence of maneuvers and a veteran pilot might freeze up.

In conclusion:
At the moment I'm leaning towards a similar system I use in my SubWar game of supercavitating fighter subs; pairs of planes (pilot + wingman) are assigned a card in a random draw a la BtH.     However, when their card is drawn, they have a variable pool of action points which they use to perform climbs, turns etc.   The action points vary depending on skill; each pilot gets one action automatically, but rolls 3 dice against a piloting stat for the number of extra action points.   So pilots could have between 1 and 4 actions, with better pilots tending to have more.   Adding in a SoBH-style risk vs reward mechanism where 2 failures results in pilots being "Stressed" and losing their automatic activation next turn - so pilots may choose to "play it safe" and roll only 1-2 dice. 
As well as penalties, I can add extra actions for formations etc - i.e. a pilot gets a free action if a wingman is covering his tail.

However I've got other ideas percolating around; a modified Bolt Action where each side draws dice and can move any pair of planes, but gets an extra action if the dice roll is below the crew stat; or take it further with a Chain of Command-style dice system.  I don't really mind as long as it fits my design points #1 to #3. 


  1. Your fertile thinking is a source of shame for those of us whose creative ideas seldom extend beyond blindly tinkering with, or ignoring, a rule we don't like...and then buying something else when this fails to produce satisfying results.
    You should know your efforts are not in vain, and you have the gratitude of the multitudes of less analytically gifted (would-be) gamers. I only wish my own restless but undisciplined mind percolated to anything like such productive effect.

    Needless to say (which, like too many, I all too frequently do say before expressing something I have just declared redundant) I look forward to your further ruminations on this subject, and the eventual results. I am particularly hopeful of finding a use for my thus far unused Bolt Action order dice, other than as tokens of shame.

    BTW, I've now ordered The Battlefield. Check Your 6! should be one of my first acquisitions of 2016. Lacking any model aircraft smaller than 1/144 scale, however (and a highly random assortment at that) it may be some time before I am ready to try it out.

    1. Can I make some suggestions for aircraft scales?

      1:600 for jets. Tumbling Dice make cheap, easy to paint ones.

      1:300 for WW2. Because WW2 fighters are so much smaller. The 1:600 I have are just way to small,unless you have supernaturally good vision and amazinly detailed paint skills.

      WW1 - well I have only 1:600 but they were also way to small. 1:300 is the smallest I'd go, but I'm thinking 1:144 might be best, albeit pricey.

  2. I collect - rather haphazardly) prepainted Japanese 1/144 aircraft (and tanks) just because I like them, but it would be good to put them to practical use, if only occasionally. (I've always planned to do this with the tanks, in preference to 15mm, for company-sized engagements, but the relative shortage of infantry is a drawback.)

    I'm aware 1/300 is the standard scale for air wargames, and expect I'll go that route eventually, particularly if I progress to more than two aircraft per side. 1/200 is another option, but models are far less common. (I've forgotten the name of the one manufacturer, which I've only just discovered, and is, inevitably, based in the Land of the Freely Available). I was also thinking of 1/285, on the assumption that GHQ make them - which if so, would no doubt be miniatures of jewel-like beauty and precision - but thus far I can find no sign of such a range.

  3. Following some research - i.e. visiting the companies' respective websites - it appears that GHQ - the reprobates - do not produce aircraft models, but that their competitor C-in-C does:


    1. I quite like Raiden for 1:300. GHW are nice, but seem way overpriced for what they are.

  4. I'm not familiar with Raiden, but will seek them out. How do you mount the miniatures? I've seen lots of photos of models attached to aerial antennae, presumably to take advantage of the telescoping feature to reflect altitude changes, but don't care much for the crocodile clips used to hold the miniatures at the top. I've no idea how to mount the 1/144 models, but in both cases a metal base appears mandatory for stability.

    1. I use clear bases from EM4, with a 3mm circular rare earth magnet on the bottom of the aircraft, aligned with a similar one on the top of the stand, which is filed flat to allow the magnet to sit flush.

      You can see a example (albeit distant) here:


    2. Or with less glare, here


  5. Is the height adjustable on those stands? Or the attitude, for that matter? I assume you find them stable enough with metal miniatures, at least the 1/700 ones shown, but I'm inclined towards hexagonal metal bases, as produced for Battletech.

    The Raiden models are 1/285, I see, which seems to be the hallmark of superior micro models. There is a free set of rules on the website:


    1. No, not height adjustable. Just (IMO) better looking and 1/10th the price.

      They work for 1:300 and larger models. The magnets are very powerful.

    2. How do you depict altitude? I see that Raiden make some stands with a rotatable arrow around the post, but they cost about $27 (US) for six. Blue Sky Gaming, as previously mentioned, also have their own , not inexpensive, solution.

    3. I tend to use a d6. You can simply sit it behind the base, or use a tiny 7mm one blu-tacked to the base.

      For some of my homebrew games, I use the colour to indicate speed.


    4. You pair this with the clear flying bases

      I'd toss in some 3mm rare earth magnets, eBay,

      Total cost - 3 pounds ($6) for everything.

      Enough to base 15 minis.

    5. Thanks. I will investigate in due course, but it looks as if this project is going onto the backburner for the time being.

    6. "Backburner project" is a fair summary of aerial games as a whole.

      Aircraft in 1:600 or 1:300 are very cheap and fun to paint; but rules aren't strong enough.

      Compare this to say 15mm sci fi where there are a plethora of engaging rules to choose from.

    7. How true. If there where an obvious rules candidate - rather than a couple of 'least worst' options - things might be different, but I'm loath to commit to something that might just prove frustrating (which is why I'll be looking out with particular interest to your own developments in this area).

      Another reason for putting this on hold for the time being is that I simply have too many transactions to conclude - including for some 1/144 aircraft, as it happens, which I still hope will see serious action at some point in the not too distant future, if only to make brief visits to the land battle. One can hope...

  6. About the mechanic you ask for, I can suggest the next one.

    First of all, every airplane will be represented by a card. Every card will be the activation of its represented airplane.

    During an "Iniciative Phase", you take all the cards to form a deck, then you shuffle it, and finally you put all the cards face-up on the table, forming one row. The card located leftmost will be the first to be activated; the next card (located to the right of the first card) will be the second to be activated, and so on.

    Finally, you and your opponent can use "Iniciative abilities", that can alter this card sequence. In alternative sequence, a player can use a "pilot ability" that let his card to swap position with one card leftwards (if he wants to do anticipation move) or rigthwards (if he wants to do a delayed move). Or he can position a specific card in front or behind another one. Or he can put one card in reserve, and use it as an interruption. Even you can use specific resources to allow, improve or negate some of these abilities. Not all the abilities must to be good ones.

    And, as a possible improvement, you can split the card of every airplane into a "movement" card and a "fire" card (even you can give some extra copies for some kind of airplanes or pilots).

    With this system, the activation sequence will be random, but the players will have some kind of control over it.

  7. I agree with your conclusion - BtH (for all its faults) replicates the chaos of an aerial melee best through its activation system. Everyone strains to see what card comes up and you are always thinking about the 'what ifs' of who might go next. It also means that great players cant wipe the floor with rookies every time too, so its more challenging and enjoyable for all.

    1. Yes - the trick is perhaps giving some control to better pilots (perhaps through example above), whilst remaining chaotic. Actions should be "reactive" with little planning ahead.

  8. Perhaps, until the necessary conceptual breakthrough is made, we need to think even more out of the box than we'd imagined, though, at the risk of sounding infuriatingly cryptic, just possibly a possible solution may be found inside a box? Specifically, the one that houses the newly released Tail Feathers by Plaid Hat Games, which, to judge by reviews and comments being made on BGG, appears to offer something genuinely new in dogfighting games. Part of the originality admittedly lies in the subject matter - ahem, rodents flying on birds - but there seems to be a good deal of blue sky thinking in the game play too. (Or so I'm told). It's all about having an open mind, people. To put it another way: birds may have an unsavoury reputation for crapping on people from a great height, but they don't crash and burn. We could learn much from them.

    1. Probably because the subject matter is original, they don't simply automatically copy what has gone before.