Sunday 24 September 2017

The Train of Thought #1: Morale, Reactions, and Wrath of Kings

A few random topics that have been percolating in my head. I tend to have a bad habit of not posting until I have a complete article where I explore the topic from a few angles: which means many many posts don't get finished and sit eternally in drafts. I'm going to experiment with releasing "trains of thought" or doing a post covering several topics that are currently running through my head that I haven't fully investigated myself.

Reaction Mechanics: What makes a good activation system - or "reactions in fantasy?"
The more I think about it, the more I am convinced reaction mechanics only belong in modern combat wargames involving large capacity weapons.  I've explored reactions before - here and in a more negative manner here - and have tried to shoehorn reactions into my homebrew Middlehiem rules (which shared SoBH and Infinity mechanics with my homebrew Pulp rules). The problem is balancing missile weapons; a bow that fires once every 3-4 seconds is quite a different beast to an assault rifle that can engage over a dozen targets with 30 rounds or more; basically at any given time it's highly likely that there is a shot up the spout to "react" with. Unlimited (or at least, strong) reactive fire in particular makes sense in the context of a suppress-cover style modern gunplay; quick play Infinity demonstrates this well; players leapfrog models from cover to cover, positioning models to cover; it feels right.  Obviously in a medieval/fantasy setting, crossbows and bows need to be very limited; otherwise they will become inordinately strong, pumping out "extra" shots due to reactions- I discussed how they could be limited for fantasy here and discussed "free" (easy, or involuntary reactions such as ducking back or warding off a blow) vs more costly deliberate reactions (careful aim at distant mini, or counter charging a foe) here.

There's plenty of reading to explore in the links; but basically, reactions slow down and complicate a game (an allegedly simple game like Tomorrow's War can really slow due to reactions) and tend to emphasize firepower and restrict maneuver.  The "new defacto activation" - which I call "Chess activation" or "alternate activation" players take turns moving units or models (as opposed to moving their entire force a la IGOUGO) allows a modicum of "interruption" but has a few flaws; individual units can still do a significant amount unopposed (usually the active player gets at least 2 actions, sometimes three); also having the players have such a predictable and gameable Chess sequence (I move one, you move one, I move one... und so weiter).   One solution is to restrict models to a single action (move or shoot or melee) not "typical" double or triple actions like charge (move+move+melee) or the usual move+shoot.  By breaking the game into smaller increments, it makes the game more "fluid."  This is good. The recently reviewed Broken Legions does this; models either move or shoot; with melee occurring simultaneously after all have "activated."  Activation can be randomised a bit; perhaps with card activations (like TFL)  or my favourite, a Epic/Warmaster style dice roll to "follow on" and retain the initiative; or leaders may allow more than one model to activate simultaneously.  Reactions can be limited by merely old fashioned "overwatch" or a "hold" action; models reserve their turn to interrupt an opponent later (perhaps needing to pass a roll of some sort to see if it interrupts in a timely manner).

TL:DR - limit the actions in a "turn" to a single action; keep activation from being a perfectly predictable ABABA by some sort of dice/card/leader based mechanic, and keep good old fashioned overwatch and you can mimic the effects of most reaction systems with far less complication; though a strong reaction system may be best for modern combat with high rate of fire/potent shooting.

I got interested in Wrath of Kings thanks to hunting down the makers of these awesome crab warriors; the rules seem decent with some interesting twists whilst not going too outside the box. 

Morale and Wrath of Kings
While trying to find out who made some awesome hermit crab warriors, I stumbled across this skirmish game. (< free rules).  Two things stood out (well, three - their werewolves are a complete ripoff of Confrontation 3 Wulfen; Warmachine warpwolves tip their hat to the old C3 stuff but these are pretty much exactly the same)  - the combat resolution and the morale focus. Actually there is four - the model count is aimed ~20-24 which is kinda weird ground I feel only LoTR did well; most skirmish games are aimed at smaller model counts a la Mordhiem ~10-12 or at the platoon+ level (30+ with extra specialists etc).

Morale & Victory Conditions
Given morale is a recent topic it's interesting that the core aim of the game is to win by destroying enemy morale; morale = models/3 + leader rank.  So a 15 strong warband with 2 ranks of leaders is 15/3 + 2 = 7.  Obviously killing troops (and especially leaders) is a good way to reduce enemy morale, but wait, there's more.  The other way to win via morale is to impact their motivation.  What's that? Glad you asked.  At the start of the game, players choose warband size, build their army, and choose a motivation. The faction's "motivation" is basically a set of missions to choose from. Each faction can choose from two motivations.  For example the Duty motivation might include missions like "escort civilians" or "stand your ground" but the Vengenace motivation might have missons like assassinate a leader or burn down a terrain piece as the mission.  This is a really clever idea and gives factions flavour. Completing your missions can boost your morale score and remove a chunk of your opponents' morale.  I'm not sure if you can complete two missions at once i.e. assassinate an enemy leader AND burn down a terrain piece - but if so, that'd be even more cool.  There's been effort put into deployment zones and game size. For once, a game that does not add scenarios and missions as an afterthought!

Combat Resolution
Also a bit different; models roll a # of d10 to attack (usually one d10 for a grunt, and several for a hero) and the dice is compared to a "Defence Chart" on defender's Warmachine-esque unit card.

The d10 result is compared to the chart, and might come up as "overpower" - two hits/wounds, "strike"  one hit/wound, "magic" - deflected by magic, "parry" defender parries attack, and "block." So with a single roll of a few dice, the to hit+wound+saves etc are all rolled into one.  Each unit has a unique special rule or two (it could be simple such as a "Sundering" attack that trats all "block" results as a "strike.") or a more unique AoE or magical attack.

Anyway the rules are a free dl so check them out; they seem pretty sensible and solid - though I'll probably persist with my homebrew Middleheim rules.  The starter kits seem affordable ($75USD/$90AUD for a complete ~24 man warband; pretty good as far as skirmish games go) so I'll probably pick some up... ...after I finish my current 28mm fantasy (Sessairs, Wulfen, Orcs from C3, Legion from Warmachine) under my rule of "no new minis til the old ones from the same genre are painted."

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Broken Legions - Skirmish Wargame Review

I found a few rulebooks when cleaning my shed; generally I don't review anything I haven't playtested thoroughly but there's nothing about these two sets that I haven't seen before. (Plus: they've been out for a while, so other reviews are available). 

Accordingly, I'll start with Broken Legions by Mark Latham. I was super excited about this when I heard of it: small skirmish campaigns where warbands of Roman special forces and barbarians battle over occult artifacts? Written by one of the LoTR/Legends Of authors?  Sign me up!

...So why does this rulebook lie abandoned?

Roman secret agents vs the occult... my imagination ran riot...

The Shiny
Broken Legions is attractively packaged softcover from Osprey. At about $15 posted it is priced very well.  It has a good mix of colour pictures and photos of miniatures in action. It's easy to read and clearly enough laid out. But... why did they chose such ugly minis? I don't know who the manufacturer is, but I looked to find out...   so I never purchase any of the stunted little dwarfen things.   Honestly, they killed my urge to collect a warband...  I think the big problem is the rulebook, nice as it is, failed to "set the scene" very well. The occult-Roman setting (in theory) is amazing and full of potential - but the rulebook never "pulled me in" to its universe, nor did it even attempt to. I was left with less interest in the setting then before I read the book.

Stats & Dice
Minis have usual stats - Melee, Accuracy, Physique (a mix of Strength+Toughness, I use this in my own rules a lot), Agility, Presence (basically Will); Wounds aka Hitpoints (urk - hope this isn't common) and Fate (basically a saving roll for heroes a la LoTR). Oh, and everyone moves 6".
RANT: Why the heck does every game nowdays make everyone move 6"?! Not only do you lose differentiation/tactics for a minuscule increase in complexity, but it makes no sense.  I'm a PE/outdoor ed teacher, and the most obvious physical trait a person has is speed.  If mobility/defence/offence are three key elements of combat; why ignore/abstract mobility so?

The dice resolution method is one I used myself (but later abandoned for reasons) in my homebrew rules; d10+stat to beat 10. A natural 1 is an autofail. However I am not a fan of the "critical dice" - this is an extra dice rolled alongside any attacks to check for crits; a roll of 10 on this extra dice means an auto-wound; and a 1 is a fumble (enemy gets extra attack in melee, or cannot shoot next turn if shooting). Whilst this sounds cinematic, it's just clunky, and probably could be built into the dice roll without extra dice if it's so "necessary" (see Song of Blades and Heroes, which can push back/knock down/kill/gruesomely kill without recourse to extra dice).

The illustrations were good, but the rulebook seemed bland; somehow it never "sucked me in" to the arcane world of Broken Legions despite the fact I wanted to "buy in"....

I quite liked this. Players take turns activating a mini each; players may shoot or move or charge or hide.  Once all troops have acted; everyone melees, with the player with initiative deciding the order/arrangement of combat (rather like LoTR) which is something of a skill in itself.   In fact, by making melee a separate phase, it sets itself apart from the usual alternate full activation of minis which is the "new standard" in wargames (instead of IGOUGO which has mercifully died out).

Movement, Missiles, Melee
Yeah everyone moves 6"; they can test agility or move half speed (difficult going) or take a wound (dangerous going) and there's good, sensible rules for jumping gaps and vaulting obstacles.

Shooting is resolved by beating 10 with shooting stat+d10; with a reasonable amount of modifiers.

Melee is different: models take turns striking, in order of highest to lowest agility, it's a contested roll; melee skill+d10 with the attacker doing damage if he wins or having no effect if he loses. I'm not sure why each combatant needs separate rolls and why melee couldn't be made a single contested roll like LoTR or early 40k 2nd ed etc. The current method seems to double the amount of dice rolling, to gain little in return.

Oh, there's always the critical dice to roll alongside your normal dice when shooting/meleeing, to make things interesting (or waste time, depending on how you view it).

Doing damage is a contested roll: the shooting weapons have a "damage" rating + d10 to beat the target's Armour + d10, scoring one wound.  Physical strength is not considered.  In melee, the attacker's strength is a factor, but you have to consult a separate table for the modifier.

However my big gripe is hitpoints. Multi-wound heroes aren't a big deal; but having the rank and file legionaries have two wounds is... poor design.  It's unarguable that wound markers clutter the table. And wounds in Broken Legions don't do anything (i.e. halve movement, or -1 to rolls, etc) besides make soldiers die slower. And if you merely want soldiers to die slower, simply modify the bloody damage rolls with a -1 or increase Armour to make soldiers tougher - or add a saving throw (after all, a rather meaningless "critical throw" was added; hmm, hang on - perhaps the critical throw was to mitigate all the multi-wound models... )

The extra dice rolls to resolve melee; the critical dice, and the proliferation of multi-wound models; all this seems like a step back compared to the swift resolution of LoTR and its historical clones.

The usual. Well, your guys can take 75% casualties before they even need to check to see if they run. Which seems frankly ridiculous and shows common sense/self preservation on the level of cheerleaders in a horror movie.  I've recently discussed it here, but honestly if you need 7 or 8 of 10 guys to die  before the others think it maaaay be time to bail....  the last couple of guys have the self preservation of jihadi lemmings.  The rules - which given the casualty tolerances may as well  not exist - are otherwise standard, with units passing their Will (sorry, "Presence") rolls or they break/flee etc pretty much as usual.

Fate & Heroic Actions
Fate (a saving throw for heroes) is cribbed straight from LoTR, and heroic actions seem pretty similar as well, albeit with much more variety and no "cost"   beside missing an action.  Actually I quite like Heroic Actions (not explored fully in LoTR, imo) and here you can direct massed archery to "bring down" a monster, challenge enemy heroes to duels, entreat the gods for extra Fate, boost allied morale, and have troops "follow on" or move/act with the leader (i.e. LoTR's heroic move).

The minis pictured in the rules were not appealing; some might label them "old school" or "characterful" - for me they were merely squat, malformed and ugly.

Magic (or "Miracles") & Special Abilities
These are pretty standard, but along with the stat "Presence" has triggered the following rant...
RANT: What the heck is with game authors renaming common stats just to confuse people? If your stat is and acts just like "Willpower" as used in a zillion other games don't rename it "Presence."  If your magic spell causes enemies within range -1 to their Will Presence, and makes the caster Terrifying, why do you need to call it something verbose like "Nightmare of Alu" instead of "Fear" or "Terror" or something short and intuitive.  Names should be simple, self explanatory and generic.  If I have a spell that adds +1 to melee damage, does it make more sense to call it "Smite" or "Enscorcelled Ankh of Glowy Righteousness."  I mean, what does "Dirge of Kotys" mean to you? If you want an example of how to do magic and special rules right, see Savage Worlds.

Anyway magic/miracles are cast by passing a Will Presence roll,  with a natural 1 losing a hitpoint of the caster and a 10 restoring a hitpoint previously lost.  There are 20 spells (with annoying names) and 29 special rules (more mundanely named, which did not draw my ire) and about 30 rules specific to weapons and wargear.

Warbands and Campaign Rules
Broken Legions has, like every recent skirmish campaign game (bar perhaps Frostgrave), completely missed the mark here.  Remember how everyone is so nostalgic about Mordhiem and Necromunda? That's because of the gloriously complex campaigns, full of detail and drama. Like everyone else, Broken Legions attempts to simplify the campaign bits; to the extent it is bland and boring.  "Wound resolution" campaign rules are basically 5+ you live, 4 or less you die; herowounds are hardly more complex; "miss a game"  "-1 physique next game"  "perfectly fine."

Guys - it's OK for campaigns to be complicated! We've got time to record and do stuff between games - it's during games that recording and tracking stuff (like wound markers, ahem!) is bad.  If the main point of your game is to be a campaign wargame that's about advancement, gaining XP, controlling territory, upgrading skills and weapons; make it meaty! make it interesting! Don't just chuck in a few pages of half-assed stuff in the back of your book and call it a day.  Likewise, 5 scenarios are fine for a wargame (actually, I'd argue it isn't enough) but it's not enough for an engaging narrative campaign wargame.  Have a look at Malifaux if you want a good example; there are truckloads of missions, plus "side quests" (which can be revealed or hidden from your opponent) making dozens of permutations: mission variety is good, especially if a particular warband excels at a particular mission (oh no, it's a "get the treasure off the board again" mission and my opponent has elves - might as well give up now). 

Anyway, the campaign system is more in line with the simplicity of "LoTR: Battle Companies" and has little in common with Mordheim/Necromunda etc.  The warbands are Romans, gladiators, barnarians, Dacians, Greeks, Parthians and Egyptians.  They are accompanied by their various mythological/magic totems. Hydras, harpys, minotaurs, Amazons, skinchangers, druids etc; you can hire wandering heroes/monsters, and each warband has a "army list" showing how many of each unit and what extras they can carry. Very much Legends of Roman Times as you were.

It's not an upgrade from LoTR/Legends of the High Seas/Old West so much as a more (needlessly?) complicated "side grade."  The barebones campaign and advancement system means it is not a Mordheim/Necromunda replacement. It's on a par with, say, Empire of the Dead though at $15 it's hard not to recommend it. I just am left with a feeling of... disappointment?  Andy Chambers must have been the inventive one back in the old days in GW, cos this has all the inventiveness of Rick Priestley's latest offerings. The rulebook was nicely presented (great for its cost) but fails to inspire; after I read it I was less interested in the setting and decided not to buy any warbands.  Perhaps I'm overly harsh, but I'm sure there'll be plenty of sycophantic gushing reviews by bigger blogs who want more free review copies whose writers have had more coffee before sitting down to review.

Recommended? Yes. It's an OK rulebook, very attractively priced, and allows you to fight Romans legionaries against werewolves, druids and chimeras in a secret occult war.  Besides a few annoyances (hitpoints boo hiss) it's an otherwise solid rules set which does what it says on the tin.

Sunday 10 September 2017

Diary of an Average Painter: Robots, Zombies and Superheroes

As part of my "don't buy new minis until the old ones are painted" campaign, I've been aiming for the low-hanging fruit; 50 zombies looks impressive for little time invested; undercoat, bit of a tidy up; the blood spatters and a dirty brown wash to cover a multitude of sins.

The models are Wargames Factory; I have been critical of their other plastic box sets, but with zombies the awkward sculpts/arm joins aren't an issue, and the plentiful extra bits are great. These are from their male and female zombie boxes.

50 zombies looks impressive; it cheered me up and inspired me to make more inroads into the lead mountain...

The crawling zombies were my favourites.... 

A bit of red paint hides much dodgy worksmanship...
Some Renedra gravestone sprues added a bit of variety to the bases...

In a nearby box I spotted some (EM4?) Terminators; they were also an easy painting job...

Plot twist: the Terminators are part of a US Army search-and-destroy team (this is before Skynet went rogue)

Old blog regulars may recognize this as an Infinity terrain project from way back in '12 or so...

Sometimes you need to call the professionals: the Sisters of the Blood Rose were founded by nuns in 1943 to take on Hitler's occult creations...

The Sisters wield not only swords but blessed relics from the war such as the sacred Sten of St. Josephs and the PPsh of Our Lady of Crimea.

..but sometimes you need superheroes.  I'm starting a new round of playtesting of my homebrew "modern pulp" rules and the zombies, Terminators and superheroes are to test melee horde, robot and magic/power rules respectively.

At the moment I'm eyeing off a few projects:
-Finishing my cowboys/Indians for my weird west setting
-Doing some pike+shot troops for a Inquisitors/Helldorado game
-Starting some LoTR Rohan
-rebasing some Necrons
-painting some Confrontation orcs in a red-skinned homage to Oni
-starting some French & Indian war models
-doing some cool undead pirates
-more undead (this time, from the 1900s)

...but I'll probably end up doing something totally random as I rummage through my shed...

Saturday 9 September 2017

Cold Navy (Part 2) - All Your Spaceships Belong Me

I think this means I have no unpainted spaceships, and therefore I can buy more! (hmm, I think I have a box of GZG Kra'vak pieces someone gave me, but I don't know if I'll paint them - might just give them away/use them as a painting project for my daughter who at 4 is looking with avid interest at my painting table...)

Anywhoo, these are more old Cold Navy sculpts (due to excessive mold/casting issues they sat unused for 5 years in a drawer).  Designs are great though.  I think they are the "Mauridians" or something. 

As usual I go for bright colours on smaller models to make them "pop" better; as usual I overemphasize detail which makes it look good at range but a bit slapdash up close (click on photos to see what I mean).  I found some light blue I never use, and I likewise avoid white, so it seemed a good time to experiment.

The colours were determined merely by looking through my paint pots and saying "what haven't I used lately"...

Besides reading The Lost Fleet series, Netflix has S2 of The Expanse which is perhaps the best sci fi show in recent memory.

Again I use "reverse drybrushing" where I paint everything except the edges near the cracks.  You can see the dark blue where I have deliberately left a gap.  

The Expanse's space battles has only a few ships per side, but they are very gripping; railguns punch straight though ships. They seem like space battles, not just rebadged WW2 naval/dogfights/age of sail.

The larger ship is a carrier.  I considered another colour (perhaps a bronze/metallic colour) to make things "pop" even more but I decided it might look too "busy" - the ships are pretty bright and garish as it is!

War Thunder Air Battles Review (PC Games for Wargamers)

War Thunder is a WW2-focussed PC game where players can pilot tanks or aircraft (sometimes on the same map) and when I heard they would have a naval aspect focussing on coastal forces - E-boats, MTBs, MGBs and destroyers (possibly my favourite genre of historical warfare, period!) I downloaded it, afire with dreams of piloting a "Dog Boat" against E-boats in the Med.

Well, the naval side of things has not come out of beta yet, but I've had a lot of fun flying air battles.  As a kid I had "Encyclopedia of World War II Aircraft" on near-permanent loan and without exaggeration I could probably name (and give key stats) on pretty much every combat aircraft  of the era (though trainers and transports were a bit more dull to my 12-year-old self).

This review will focus only on air battles - I haven't explored ground forces (tanks) beyond the tutorials.

Aircobras and Kingcobras are some of my favourite planes; good at the low altitude of Arcade mode; solid all-round and packing a 37mm with decent .50 cal backup. Also they look sexy!
War Thunder allows me to live out my dream of flying Kittyhawks with shark nose art against Zeroes; Spitfires against 109Es, taking down B-17s with a cannon-festooned 190, flying a Molins armed Mossie against German shipping...

It has a range of difficulty settings: arcade (very much Crimson Skies with simple damage and physics; you usually fly with a mouse) realistic (more realistic physics and damage, logistics) and sim (cockpit only, joystick only, "full real" settings).  I must admit I only play arcade; with small kids I don't have the luxury to spend 30 minutes climbing to altitude like in sim mode and with limited time I like air-spawning straight into the action.

There is a huge range of game modes; you can play 12v12 arena, fighting to capture airfields, bomb targets, fly historical missions or campaigns or even make your own.  You can fly historical lineups or just mix up teams with random planes in multinational lineups; my mate might fly a Hurricane while I back him up in a 109.  There's something for everyone; for the die hard historical buff to the casual dad who wants to jump in and pew-pew in a Spitfire for 5 minutes using merely a keyboard+mouse and the most basic flight controls.

I have focussed primarily on Arcade quick matches; they go for 5-10 minutes, perfect for a busy dad; and you can get away with a minimum of controls (i.e. non-gamers can easily jump in fly about and pew-pew using only a keyboard and mouse).  If you die you can respawn and return to the fight if you desire. Arcade mode is divided into tiers 1 to 5; basically by historical era and performance; tier 1 may include Gladiators, I-16s, 109Bs, A5Ms, CR.42s etc - mostly nimble biplanes with low firepower - I did not enjoy this tier as much due to the frustration of peppering a biplane with dozens of non-vital MG hits.  Also, it's very dogfight-y with aircraft tailchasing in circles a lot.  I really enjoyed tier 2 play, early war craft like 109Es, Spits, P40s, Wildcats, Yaks, Zeroes and Hurricanes. I prefer energy fighting in the vertical and I did well at this tier against opponents who still only wanted to "turn and burn" low.  I'm at tier 3 now (Corsairs, Hellcats, later 109s, Spits and Zeroes, Mustangs, La5/7s, P47s, P38s etc).  Tier 4 is late war super-props like La11s, Bearcats, Do335s and Ta152s and Tier 5 is jets up to the Korean War (including my favourite quirky jet, the DH Vampire).

The Korean War jets reminded me to visit Caloundra's  Air Museum for a day trip. They have a great selection of 1950s jets, including some quirky planes like Fairey Gannets.

Gameplay wise; it's hard to review as War Thunder varies wildly between game modes - in Arcade mode I've noticed that as ground targets are often the objective, bombers tend to determine the win unless the fighters actively hunt them and don't get tempted into the nearest furball.   I've had a lot of fun brushing up on air combat maneuvers; whilst I already "got" simpler stuff like Immelmans, Split-S, scissors and yo-yos, I'm learning to spiral climb and perform hammerhead turns.  I found this WarThunder-specific  Youtube channel handy (he's also an Aussie).  Playing with friends is fun; having a wingman to clear your tail is pretty handy and I like dragging enemies out with climbing turns to bleed them of energy, leaving them hanging as easy targets for allies to kill.  If dogfighting isn't your thing, bombers have a big influence on the battle.

The planes seemed reasonably balanced (unlike games like World of Tanks where a tank can find itself unable to damage a "better" tank) and it can be fun to frustrate faster "superior" planes in a slow but agile lower-tier plane like an I-15 biplane which can pretty much spin on its own axis.  A good pilot or an altitude advantage is more important than the plane model.  If you have a rough grasp of energy tactics and fight in the vertical where possible, you'll be above-average at lower tiers where things tend to often dissolve into low level turning fights.

The P-38 is my other favourite ride; surprisingly agile, a good climber, with firepower concentrated in the nose. Also, it has quirky good looks.

It's not perfect: there's a lot of target fixation and a fair bit of accidental ramming; "allies" often "shoot through" you to try to secure a kill; I hate getting sniped out the cockpit by .303s at 500m (always seems to happen to me, but the MGs seem dammed ineffective when I use them). Also, arcade mode is rather  "Air Quake" at times but that's not really a negative (after all, there's realistic and sim modes for those who want to spend 30 minutes stalking a single plane or performing complex engine start routines).

Also, all planes are not automatically available; you have to "earn" your way to higher tiers by gathering XP - through winning, kills and mission objectives.  If all you want to play is 1950s jets (tier 5) I recommend you get IL:1946 where 400+ planes are available instantly; getting to jets in War Thunder is the "end game" achieved after months of gameplay.   If you just want to try all the planes, it's not an issue: I'm lingering at lower tiers learning to fly properly and unlocking all the interesting looking planes (rather than racing to the "endgame" tier; too often players assume because they've got a good plane it means they are good players).

I found I had to switch around some controls (elevator for throttle) and make the "look around" key and combat flaps buttons easier to access; but I didn't have to spend an hour setting up my controls like some games.  In Arcade, a mouse > joystick due to more precise aim (heresay, I know!) but after all there are joystick-only modes so it's a bit of a non-issue. Flying can be as simple (i.e. WASD + mouse) or complex as you want it.

I like 109s (my favourite to fly in IL-2:1946) but have struggled with the elevator/high speed control issues in War Thunder, compared to the better high speed controls of many American planes.

In summary: War Thunder (air battles) is a free-to-play game which does not force you to spend, which has a game mode for everyone; be it historical campaigns, homebrew missions with friends, or arcade mode "air quake" with multinational fantasy lineups.  It can be as simple or complex as you wish; from mouse aim to joystick full-real settings; from instant dogfight air-starts to complex engine management and takeoffs - from 5 minute "quick matches" to long campaigns.  Whilst it is not as "hardcore" as the DCS series, it caters for a wider range of modes and styles; for the first time I feel like I might finally uninstall IL-1946 (the greatest combat flight sim, ever!) as War Thunder gives me similar options, but is more user friendly and exponentially easier to play multiplayer or with friends.  Probably the major downside is that all planes are not automatically unlocked but you have to "earn" them (though you can test-fly them solo.)  Oh there's also tanks and (upcoming) naval forces included in the game you download.

Recommended:  Yep. If you like WW2 props or Korean jets, there's something here for you, whatever your interests or level of ability.  It's free - so there's no reason not to try it; you don't even need a joystick.

Friday 8 September 2017

Game Design #73: Willpower and Morale as a Resource

A few people I know hate wargame morale tests of any kind.  They say it slows the game down and takes away from the pew-pewing.  I can't argue with what someone regards as fun; others like systems with complex morale systems

Morale (in most cases) is usually a test against a morale stat; perhaps if a unit loses xy amount of troops in a single turn, or maybe each casualty if an entire army or unit drops below 50% numbers; perhaps if faced with a terrifying enemy or weapon (flamethrowers ftw). 

Other systems (especially in the age of firearms) deal with "suppression" - units accumulate markers, perhaps "pinning" them in place or routing them off the table entirely.

Fleeing troops can often be "rallied" by a successful roll (perhaps by a command or hero unit), or perhaps by breaking line of sight or getting in cover.

Pretty standard.

But there is pretty good evidence that "willpower" or morale is a finite resource.  We have finite mental energy. (This would be as applicable to certain magic or psychic systems).  I enjoy the "You are not so Smart" website; so I'll summarise a few interesting points from this article.

Researchers did some experiments to test if willpower was finite: like tell people they were awesome/worthless, then get them to count cookies (yes, as expected the "rejects" gorged themselves, having already suffered a blow to morale they couldn't resist delicious cookies); or putting participants in a room with cookies and radishes; one group was told to only eat radishes, others were told to eat cookies; a third group wasn't shown the food.  All three groups were then given an impossible puzzle.  Two groups lasted ~20 minutes; the poor radish group lasted only 8 minutes.  Resisting the cookies and forcing themselves to eat radishes caused some psychic cost.  But it isn't always negative uses of willpower; it can be any choice or complex process; for example finding every "e" in a nonsense sentence is easier than searching this paragraph to find each "e" that is two letters distant from another vowel....  Subjects who had the more difficult initial task or decision tended to give up faster on a subsequent task.  Conscious choices or exercises of willpower come at a cost; though it is easy to coast on autopilot (like showering and driving to work), manual "executive decisions" come at a cost. Although what is being depleted may just be glucose...

Anyway, this got me thinking to morale systems where morale or willpower is a resource than can be managed, or depleted.  I remember AE:WW2 having a "Drive" value that is gradually eroded (or restored) by various actions.  Once the Drive score got to zero, the unit routed.

Morale is arguably a much larger determining factor in battle than... pretty much everything; fights seldom go to the "last man" and most usually end with one side pulling back (or fleeing outright).  It's much easier to scare the pants off someone than kill them.  I think the overall casualty rate in Iraq was around 2% (albeit massively skewed in favour of the Coalition) and Antietam from the ACW was similar.  Saratoga was also about 2%.  Overwhelming force seems to be a factor; the more evenly matched the force, the longer the contest; the more casualties; casualties also are much higher if the loser is unable to easily retreat.  Agincourt was around 25% casualties; Normandy was about 18%.  Yom Kippur was about 1%.  I'm sure I'll get some nerd in comments correcting my numbers to the nearest decimal; but point is, there was seldom a fight to the last man. Even in battles where one side was pretty much surrounded and slaughtered (Cannae?, WW1 "boodbaths" marching into MG nests) casualty rates seldom exceeded 40%.   In short, forces should be testing for morale well before 50% casualties - probably more like at 2%.

Interestingly, I remember reading only 1 in 3 soldiers ever fired their weapon in combat in WW2; and only 15% actually fired at an enemy; in Vietnam 8 out of 10 did; nonetheless a significant proportion of soldiers in shooting combat are not actually... shooting.  Combat ranges are also interesting: in Vietnam, only 30% of those who fired, ever fired at under 100m; only 15% fired at under 50m... perhaps a topic for another post)

Anyway back on topic. So morale and willpower are finite resources; someone under stress or making decisions will struggle to make decisions or use willpower on subsequent occasions - which points to morale being a "resource" that can be steadily eroded.  Some systems allow morale to be increased due to actions of leaders, but should morale ever improve beyond the rested, pre-battle level, even if sarge is yelling?    So tracking morale/willpower as a resource makes sense, albeit perhaps a bit messy (perhaps a micro d6 next to a unit, for example?).

Secondly, traditional wargaming "break tests" at 50%+, while easy to keep track of, seem nonsense; forces will break and retreat well before that; 50% casaulty rates tend to only occur if a army is unable to retreat (ambushed/surrounded) or if forces are evenly matched and the battle goes for a protracted period. 

As usual, I'm not advocating a "best method" or even forcing folk to use morale tests at all (I can sympathize with people who want to "fight to the last man" as I myself dislike rules that stop me activating all my soldiers in a turn - even though it would be quite reasonable to have poorly trained troops paralysed/indecisive compared to better trained troops with more initiative).

I'd just like to shine a spotlight on morale; I feel it is often ignored in favour of cool mechanics and "tacked on" as an afterthought - should it be more central to rules than they usually are?  After all, breaking morale and forcing the enemy to flee tends to be how battles are won; killing is just a means to that end.  Many rules spend a lot of effort on a new mechanic to resolve shooting, or melee - but ignore perhaps the key aspect of warfare. 

Thursday 7 September 2017

Dreadnought vs Fractured Space (PC spaceship game faceoff)

Space games have seen a bit of a revival lately. With the perhaps-never-to-be-completed sims Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous (more on Elite in later post) leading the charge, there are also a few more casual space games for those who want to spend more time pew-pewing in their spaceship rather than travelling about.  I dismissed Star Conflict as a typical Russian "freemium" and so tested two arena-style space shooters: Fractured Space and Dreadnought.

Fractured Space has potential on a tactical level, but it's ultimately boring steering your blimp spaceship around and pew-pewing; it's a reskinned ARPG.
Fractured Space
It's also a "free-to-play" game, but this is not my main objection. It's that it's boring.  For some reason most space games treat spaceships with the flight model of blimps, ignoring vector movement and Fractured Space is no different. There technically IS 3 dimensions of maneuver; but as all objectives are on the same plane it's not terribly relevant. It has an interesting tactical level; where 5v5 you can contest 3 "objectives" to collect resources, levelling up your ship before attacking the enemy base.  Sadly it's slow moving and about as engaging as an ARRPG; park alongside, click on targets and spam the occasional special attack.  Whilst the tactical level was interesting (which cap to attack, when to warp out, etc) the actual ship combat was dull and the ships felt generic and similar. You could replace the ship with a fantasy hero and it would be similar to games like Diablo. It seems well balanced and fair, but it's basically a slow, generic RPG-esque game with a space "skin." I can see there is room for tactical skill, but ultimately it's slow and dull, and does not feel very "space-y".   
Not recommended. 

 Here's someone else's opinion of Dreadnought, with gameplay. Ultimately just a very slow paced shooter, lacking depth.

Another "free-to-play" game, Dreadnought was a tad less boring to play, but tactically shallow.  The massive scale of motherships-duelling-in-atmosphere in the trailer was lost due to poorly scaled terrain.  The "star destroyer" size ships reminded me more of flying submarines rather than gigantic motherships; like Mechwarrior Online the buildings and terrain are too large; making the ships feel small.  You need tiny trees, cars and aircraft buzzing around, skyscrapers SMALLER than the spaceships. If you make terrain gigantic to match your gigantic unit...  ... the unit doesn't seem so gigantic anymore. The gameplay is more engaging. There's more to do; ships move faster, you can channel power to shields, lasers or thrusters with a wider range of weapons and modules; the ship classes are more distinct; lumbering dreadnoughts, support (healer) or sniper cruisers, all-rounder destroyers or speedy ambusher stealth frigates.  The classes again seem inspired more from traditional ground shooters/RPGs but they do give a distinct feel.  Seems less balanced and it's progression system is not optimal. Also 5v5, in contrast to Fractured Space, the tactical side of things is boring; pretty much straight deathmatches which get old fast; leaving Dreadnought as slow, dull shooter where concentrating fire and blobbing targets seemed the order of the day.   
Not recommended either.

So the search for a casual multiplayer space game continues. There are RTS style games (Homeworld has been upgraded graphically, and Sins of a Solar Empire is a competent 4X-meets-RTS) but there's not much about where you can fly a spaceship with or against your mates.  Singleplayer, I can recommend Space Pirates and Zombies for top down vector maneuver, and Rebel Galaxy (channeling Firefly) for 2D Freelancer-esque play; the X-3 series (aka EvE Offline) seems so promising but isn't worth the learning curve; I keep trying to play it and tend to quickly lose interest. 

Tuesday 5 September 2017

To Infinity and Beyond! Reviving the Cold Navy

I'm following my rule of "no new minis until I've painted all the others of similar type" (this does not preclude starting new genres and scales...  ..heh) and as I'm eyeing off some Dropfleet Commander ships I decided to see what spaceships needs be painted first to "clear the decks".

These are very old (5+year old)Terran Cold Navy resins; a bit dodgily cast, with lots of mold lines and bits of miscast resin to be sliced off.  However the designs are lovely.

I call this the "Bunnings Fleet" (Australian readers will get this joke) due to the colour scheme; I wanted to use orange (after realizing I had 2-year-old bottle of orange I'd never opened, let alone used) and as a contrast colour I briefly considered purple before deciding it was too 'High Elf' and settling on an aqua-ey blue.

I use my normal 15mm-and-smaller paint method; I call it "reverse drybrush"; basically I paint the ship; wash it to make it darker; then fully re-paint all the "open spaces" leaving the cracks dark. It tends to look ugly up close but "pops" really impressively at table-top range (i.e. usual 2-3ft away). 

In hindsight I don't know why I didn't get more escorts; my task force seems a bit "heavy" without enough screening ships and scouts. 

If you click and zoom in you can see how ick the paintjobs look up close; but this paint style is my favourite for "small things" when on the tabletop.

The "Delta Vector" blog got its start with a focus on space games; it's been a while since I revisited this genre (though I sporadically experiment with homebrew rules inspired by the Lost Fleet series; books whose somewhat cheesey plotting and writing is compensated by some excellent space battles where relativity/time-space distortion and velocity play huge roles).

Not sure what colour to paint the thrusters; my usual red and light blues won't pop well against the current paint scheme. Maybe violet thrusters?

Anyway while digging these up I found some Cold Navy Mauridians as well as demoralising myself when seeing just how many unpainted LoTR I have (for some reason; few dwarves - they were never popular locally and always seemed overpriced on eBay).