Wednesday 9 January 2019

Aerial Rules Revisited - Part 3 Detection & Distance

I've covered maneuver in the last post - it is a very simple system, far more "gamey" than realistic. The aim was to keep the "feel" of air combat (tradeoffs between speed/position/height) without strict scale besides "it looks OK on the table."

I toyed with "limited fuel" i.e. after say 3 game turns all planes using supersonic must make a crew check or be bingo fuel." However this would mean tracking another token on the table, so instead I made supersonic less attractive by making supersonic planes unable to climb. Technically this is wrong, but it forces the tradeoff between speed/height, and makes supersonic less attractive, so players don't use it so often.  The end effect is the same. (i.e. supersonic not overused)

The player is a flight leader/squadron leader controlling 4-12 aircraft, and the aim is to make the game play no slower than a skirmish game like Mordheim or Infinity.  As a result, we don't need to micromanage each plane, measuring precise airspeed, doing 5 degree turns etc. Instead we are giving pilots general instructions.

I do have a more traditional style of movement (has similar effect to CY6 but without the recording and charts, uses 3 colours of d6 to track 3 height and 6 speed bands) but this slows the game.

Some FA/18s and Tornados. I enjoy painting 1:600s - they are simple, satisfying, and "pop"well at tabletop ranges. 
Besides maneuver trinity of positioning/speed/altitude, detection is the vital element of air combat. Most planes are shot down without seeing their attacker, and nowdays planes carry complex electronics for detection, stealth, countermeasures etc.

I'm going to use the same 180d hemispheres as the movement rules; enemies are either "in front" or "behind" and can be "above" "below" or "same altitude." I like 180d as you can simply eyeball things without measuring - or if needed, hold your ruler in front of the model's base to check. No fancy charts or measurement aids needed.

Radar Detection
To limit the amount of die rolls, players may attempt to spot using radar OR Mk1 eyeball, not both (unless a 2-seater like F14).

I may allow hidden movement - i.e. counters which are only revealed when enemies detect them, with dummy counters etc - but at the moment I'll focus on the ability to engage enemy targets.

Radar range will vary depending on the plane
Radar arcs - the front 180d arc, + targets above or below must be at 4" range or longer
Radar lock is a roll based on the quality of the radar, say 3+ for a good one

There will be penalties if targets are lower, and/or on the deck, and if a target is stealth (F-22, F-117).

A single roll is made and ALL planes in the correct arcs/range who pass the roll will be spotted/locked.

As an example, a plane might need a 3+ on a d6 to lock.  Target A is at the same altitude so needs the usual 3+, but Target B is below, so needs a 4+.  A single roll is made for all targets, so a 4,5 or 6 would mean both planes are detected but a 3 would mean only Target A was detected.

Visual Detection
Visual range - enemies are hard to see, if they are: above and sunward, behind or below or in clouds. Each condition halves the visual range. E.g. if behind AND below, 1/4 usual visual range.
Visual "lock" - the lock/detect number is based on crew skill i.e. say 2+ elite, 3+ veteran, 4+ rookie?  Perhaps add a -1 penalty if to the rear with a bad-visibility cockpit like a MiG-25.

Sunward - an edge of the board is designated as sunward.  Clouds can be seen into/out of (at half range) but not through.

Again, like radar a single roll is made and all targets that roll equal or above are spotted.

Well, this may seem quite detailed compared to my casual approach to maneuver rules, but that is because I think detection is so important to simulate air combat.

These F-14s remind me of Macross fighters. I may do an anime space spin off (eschewing height and adding zany heroic feats and swarms of missiles).

Move/Shoot Ratios
As I've said, scales are pretty loose - it's more about how it looks on the table and the 'feel' rather than precise measurements like 1" = 500m, 1 turn = 5 seconds etc like some rules specify. 

What I DO want is to keep firing ranges relatively low and movement high. A normal skirmish game has a move/shoot ratio of 1:4 (i.e. 6" move, 24" shoot); I'm aiming for 1:1 or better in favour of movement.  I want to encourage planes to move and maneuver, not snipe from long range.

Let's do some examples:
F-14 subsonic move 6"; sprint 16"
= vs =
Cannon range = 4"
AIM-9 HS range = 2"min to 8"
AIM-7 RH range = 4"min to 16"

These are just ballpark figures, but you can see the firing ranges seldom exceed the movement ranges. In practice, this emphasizes maneuver.

Game Mechanics? Bah Humbug!
Well, it's getting late so I'll save game mechanics for another day. Spoiler: I'm actually going to use the Warhammer 40K roll to hit-save-roll to damage using simple d6s.

The older I get the less I care about mechanics. Move shoot ratios, activation, resource management, modifiers, maneuver, etc - all these things matter. The mechanics themselves don't so much (I'll do a game design post on this sometime soon) as long as they are simple and consistent. A bonus if they are familiar, to decrease the "buy in" for new players. I personally prefer d10s (10% increments make balancing the game easy) and d6s (everyone has them, familiar).


  1. Hi,

    I like your approach to wargaming air combat, and was happy to see the topic return in your recent blogs. I have multiple wargame rules for modern air combat, but found none entirely satisfactory for similar reasons as your own.

    Your approach 'feels' good, in the sense that it focuses on what is really important; energy management or speed/position/height.
    One comment I would like to make is that in energy combat (speed/position/height) an important factor is how quickly is the plane/pilot combination able to change the (speed/position/height).

    To some extend this could represented by the subsonic/supersonic distinction. Somehow this doesn't feel complet. For example in a memoir on the Harrier I read that in training skirmisches it could hold it's own vs F15's and others. Presumably because it was more agile, could change speed/position/height more quickly than the F15? Perhaps due to its ability to vector trust in flight?

    At least I am looking for way to incorporate the 'agilty' element into my rules, without having complex charts.

    I know that the focus is on skrimishing, I cannot help though to think about the ever expanding ranges of sonsors and weapons. this might mean that skirmishes already start at long range, or perhaps the skirkmisch happend after a long range exchange.
    One way to play this out is using a Hornet Leader type board for the long range duel, and transitioning to the skirmish areana afterwards. It'simple enough,but not sure whether it would be practical in play.

    Just my 2c in feedback