Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Game Design #87: Design Goals, 'Key' Mechanics, and Dice Methods

Design Goals Are Important

Most game designers, before they start, have a design goal in mind.  It might be "make a better 40K" or "make a spaceship game without so many hitboxes." It may be to make a game of a genre no one else has made to your satisfaction (my primary motivation).  Sometimes it revolves around recreating combat from a period of history (WW2) or setting (Star Wars, Conan). 

Without design goals, it's just throwing sh*t at a wall and hoping something sticks. Or (more likely) rebranding your own or someone else's mechanics to a new setting (however unsuited).  Without clear design goals, we have no way of thinking critically about our rule choices. 

"I wanna make a 15mm sci fi game" <- very vague, will probably end up reusing current favourite rules

"I want to make a 15mm sci fi horror game of demon possessed special forces teams" <- more goals, more specific, allows you to make critical choices about which rules you should use

"...which should include drones, hacking, a demonic mana pool shared by cultists, emphasis on morale and terror, darkness & vision, ammo jams, and horrific wounds - Alien meets Doom meets Event Horizon..." <- now we are really specific! We have a very clear framework to measure rules against.

Once we have a clear game design in mind, we know what we can include and what we can prune out. Furthermore, we also know what aspects of the rules we should pay particular attention to. I'll call these "key mechanics."   We have the 4 Ms - Move, Morale, Melee, Missiles - and also Initiative/Activation, Vision Mechanics. These are bare essentials, common to all rules. There's also the extras - "Chrome" - the shiny things. Perhaps a "5th Element" - like magic (fantasy) or hacking (cyberpunk). Or some sort of resource management. These "extras" are usually setting specific.

Now, we can choose mechanics. Or rather, the mechanics we will emphasize.  The setting and your game design aims will inform these choices. Usually, the more effort and detail we put into a rule, the more complex it is.

Does the rule give a good decision point?

Does the rule suit the the setting?

Is the rule worth the hassle? (aka complexity/extra work/recording/memory/dice rolling)

A game about WW2 would probably have robust shooting mechanics, cover and suppression rules (key mechanics). It may not fuss much about hand to hand combat. A game about high fantasy will probably have extra rules for magic. It would probably not bother with suppression or reaction fire, and may be dismissive of morale.  

By picking and choosing your focus, you can abstract/simplify less important rules and put more effort and detail into what matters. By having a clear idea of the 'feel' of your game - the way you imagine it will play, the tactics it will use - you can better optimize your rules.

Now I'd like to pause and discuss two schools of thought:

"Fit the Game Setting to the Mechanics" - this is getting an existing ruleset, bolting on a few extra rules, and using it for a completely new setting. Think 40K morphing into FoW/Bolt Action. Or Stargrunt turning into Tomorrow's War. Or pretty much everything in Wargamesvault (indie designers have little time for playtesting, so using an already successful ruleset is very appealing). Whilst the trimmings are different the core of the game is the same. The benefit is tested (presumably popular) mechanics and an already receptive consumer base who need little effort to relearn familiar rules.  The design goal might be "Turn my WW2 rules into a sci fi ruleset because people asked for it."

The downside is lots of generic cookie-cutter rules and clones of popular rules, and you can end up with WW2 games that play like medieval fantasy.

"Fit the Mechanics to the Game Setting" - this is starting out with a clear setting and goal in mind, and choosing mechanics to suit. "I want an aeronef game with little recording, but orders like Battlefleet Gothic, that isn't just WW1 naval in the air, but has actual unique aerial tactics." I can now borrow from other rules (or invent my own) to make the gameplay on the tabletop match my vision.

A good exponent of this is Two Fat Lardies. They pick mechanics to exactly respesent how they want the game to play. While TFL rules usually ends up as a (deeply flavourful) mass of house rules all using different dice and mechanics - it doesn't have to be that way. We can use consistent dice mechanics by looking at the underlying percentages and what you need the dice to do (more on this later.)

There's nothing wrong with re-using other rules. In fact, I heartily recommend it. Why reinvent the wheel if you know the rules work? What I dislike is wholesale converting of rules from x to y setting, when the rule/mechanic is not suited to the genre, or better/simpler/more flavourful solutions exist. 

"Steal from one person and it is plagiarism - steal from many and it is masterful research." 

May I recommend regularly looking through your library of rules books from ideas? It's so easy to fall into a "type" (Frostgrave, SoBH, 2HW - they all have a set of mechanics they default to). It's not always even deliberate. Constant exposure to rules also can lead to unintentional duplication. I mean, how many games has 40K influenced - sometimes even people who were trying to escape 40K and make their own, better game?

Heck, today I went into Secrets of the Third Reich to borrow wound mechanics and found myself being influenced by their morale rules which I had NOT intended to copy. Oops!

With a clear design goal, you can pick the mechanics and rules you think best suits your game, using critical thinking - not blind copying.

Hmmm. Now I'm not sure if I was clear on a Game Setting vs a Design Goal. I've kinda used them interchangeably above, but they aren't the same. A game setting is a playstyle that mimics a particular style of combat defined by history, tech, movie, literature - or your imagination.  A design goal is more a wishlist or specific point. A design goal could be "make a sci fi ruleset that allows me to use any 15mm mini." But that's not game setting- which would be more like "Star Wars" "Napoleonics with Magic" or "Supercavitating Jet Submarine combat" A game setting probably includes several design goals to define it.

 Wow that was a big segue....  ..okay, back to "Key Rules" or "Key Mechanics" - areas of the game where you will expend more time and effort. These could be from what I'd call core mechanics common to most game - initiative/activation + the 4 'M's. Or they could be 'extras' - special rules, magic, and other shiny, setting-specific mechanisms and rules.  If it is a key mechanic it is an area of the game which you particularly want to emphasize - it is important to the feel and tactics of your game setting.

Morale (as I have noted recently) is seldom a key feature of a game. Who wants to focus on people freezing or running away? It's just not fun. So it makes sense to many devs to expend little time and effort here. Despite being a core plank of warfare, they never take up more than a paragraph or two. But if you are playing a horror game, you may wish to expend more effort in this area - it may be a key mechanic.

Psychic Powers (space magic) are a part of 40K Kill Team, but they have less weight than shooting mechanics (and are not a key feature) compared to the magic in Warmachine which is much more of a central feature of the game's tactics.  

You also need to consider the overall complexity of your game. I mean, in my Forgotten 15mm house rules, I wanted drones, hacking, robots as well as a magic system that underpins the whole game. That's a lot of extra bolt-on rules. The rest of the game had better be pretty darn simple or it will bog down. So movement, shooting, initiative - it all had better be pretty simple. My priority list goes:

1. Magic system is very important and underpins the game - similar to Warmachine

2. Morale is a bit more involved than usual

3. Simple but familiar shooting, melee, movement (cover is important)

Nice to Have: Dark/light vision mechanics, ammo shortages, wounds

So now I know not to make up some super complex activation mechanic, but instead keep it simple - maybe alternate activation or something basic. Likewise I'll probably keep easy, familiar 40K-ish shooting and movement - you know, roll 4+ on d6 to hit, 4+ to wound or something of that ilk. This reduces the mental overheard, if I'm going to have all these extra morale and possession rules I need to keep the rest of the game flowing. If I add detail in one area I have to simplify elsewhere; otherwise the game bogs down.

Dice Mechanics vs Dice Percentages vs The Feel of the Game

What dice mechanic best suits my game design? What suits my setting?  This is something I think of only once the game is well-shaped in my mind.

Despite folk loving particular dice methods, they are just a random number generator. It's the effects that concern us - or the underpinning math that gives results. 10+ on a D20 is the same 50% as 4+ on a D6 (albeit more swingy), but when you are rolling multiple dice things are more complex.

What matters more when choosing dice mechanics is simplicity/familiarity, ease of use, and granularity (i.e. how many results you need to show on the dice). Single d6s like 40K have limitations because it doesn't allow enough variation between troop types, weapon etc - you end up with extra rules, rolls and saves etc to compensate. Another is consistency - can you use the same dice mechanic for shooting, melee, morale AND your magic system? A consistent dice mechanic is great as it is intuitive and reduces the mental load on the player. 

First decide - What do you need the dice to do? Then ask: Which is the simplest/fastest dice method that does this? Finally: Can I use this mechanic consistently in most areas of my rules?

Random: While I usually dislike custom dice, I enjoyed this article about Warcaster's dice (or the underlying math behind using specialist dice; there are arguments in favour of them; simplicity and managing odds)

Ultimately dice mechanics (d10 vs d20 vs 2d6 vs buckets of dice) matter less than you'd think, compared to the underpinning math. (I've talked about lethality percentages elsewhere). For example Infinity is a game with very strong shooting and cover mechanics. Standing around in the open is well-nigh suicidal. This is because guns are very strong and have an excellent chance to kill.  Cover actually gives big boosts to both 'to hit' and 'damage.' But what if I nerfed all gun accuracy -30% but removed all cover modifiers? 

The d20 Infinity dice mechanics remain the same. All the rules are the same. I just changed a few modifiers. I've just radically changed the feel of the game. Now there is less incentive to camp and shoot from cover and melee is more viable. The dice system is less important than the underlying math.

Early in the design stage, I actually often merely state the % chance of something happening without specifying a mechanic i.e. infantry 50-60% to hit, if hit, 30-40% chance to wound, 20% chance to die outright. Or spells have 60% chance to work, but novice spells are +20% and master spells are -20%.  This can then be converted approximately using whatever dice system you prefer.

Conflicting Design Goals

Before I head back to work, I'd like to discuss  conflicting design goals. This is when two design goals hinder each other. For example, in my 15mm sci fi horror house rules, having a strong horror vibe is a core design goal.  Another design goal was to play a game with lots of minis - ~16-20 per side a la 40K, working in 4-man fire teams. This is because (imo) 15mm minis look lame individually, and I want them to look cool. However, this conflicts with my other game design aims, which would work much better in an individual-models-are-their-own-unit (like Infinity or Kill Team) with only 6-12 models.

- Scary things are scarier when you are one guy, rather than 4 guys

- I want it so ammo can run out (at the worst moment), and models can be wounded and drag themselves around; both are easier to track with less minis

- Removes the 'who is effected by what' of a fire team, and arbitrary coherency rules etc

-There's a lot going on (possession 'magic', hacking, drones, morale) so less minis = less dice rolling etc

My heart says "Keep fire teams so they look cool on the table!" while my head says "This would all be more logical and easier if you went to single models."  I have conflicting design goals.

A common, but less obvious conflicting goal indie developers struggle with is "make a generic rules that allows you to use each and every model in your collection" vs "make a fun, unique game/a game people actually want to play."  A sign of this is when the main draw is creating/painting up warbands but no one actually plays the game for long. Or one person is really keen but no one else is; as the setting is uninteresting or the gameplay is bland. By trying to do everything it is good at nothing.

It's why Frostgrave succeeded. It came with a strong, distinct theme and setting (duelling wizards hunting relics in icy wastes) which didn't lock you in a manufacturer but it's primary selling point wasn't to allow you to use each and every model, but to deliver a deep Mordhiem-esque campaign - and it stood out from the countless generic fantasy indie rules (despite it's rather meh gameplay).

Argh - there's more to explore but I've run out of time. I've been busily painting supervising children so I should have some posts of my 15mm toys up sometime soon.


Having a clear design goal allows you to choose which rules to emphasize (key features) and which to streamline

Different genres have different key features (i.e. shooting & suppression in WW2, melee and magic in fantasy)

Rules should be critically analyzed based on their relevance, simplicity and the decisions they add

Usually designing the mechanics to fit the setting is better than making the setting fit the mechanics

Dice mechanics are less important than the math underlying them; they should do everything the game needs them to do as simply and consistently as possible

Beware of conflicting design goals - something has to give

Sunday, 26 September 2021

Hitpoints vs Wounds & "Downed" Characters

Most folk know I strongly dislike hitpoints. This is due to early exposure to Battletech and Starfleet Battles as a new wargamer. I swear I spent more time photocopying data sheets and filling in hitboxes than playing the games.

What I hate are hitpoints for human characters. I grudgingly agree that a kilometer-long spaceship or a skyscraper size mech may need to take gradual, incremental damage due to their vast size, but with a human character it is silly. Especially if losing the hitpoints has no actual effect. I.e. you lose 9 of 10HP due to giant axe blow, but 1HP remains = you are perfectly fine, operating at maximum capability. Then a rabbit bites you and you lose the last 1hp = boom - you dead. It's both illogical AND a waste of time

I was excited about the new Kill Team. GW finally breaks free of 40K to make dedicated skirmish mechanics! Then I saw this. Proudly advertising - "Even a humble guardsman has 7 wounds hitpoints? F-- off.

But aren't wounds just hitpoints with a different name? Yeah, but traditionally characters only have a few wounds, and they nearly always have an effect; i.e. 1 wound= -1 to all rolls, -1" move; 2 wounds= -2 to all rolls, halve move; 3 wounds = dead. They often correspond to real life injuries - flesh wounds, serious injury, and incapacitating/lethal damage. Wounds tend to be simpler, more practical hitpoints. I prefer only 3 states (1 wound) - OK, wounded, dead - so you can represent the wound by tipping the model on its side if you want to minimize tokens.

When your infantryman has 7 wounds, they ain't wounds anymore, GW. They're goddamn hitpoints.

And usually, wounds are only for named heroes or big stuff. You know, something to make your hero last a bit longer than the average mook, who is usually just alive/dead. My rule of thumb is:

Is it a rare hero or gigantic monster? = 2, maybe 3 wounds are OK

Is it a average grunt? = nope, no wounds allowed - either alive or not

How many minis have multiple wounds? = if 3-4 or less, then ok I suppose

Does the wound have an actual effect in-game? = if no, then no

Is the base unit a fire team or squad? = then probably no - the individual models are the "hitpoints"

Are the wounds actually needed? As a rule of thumb, I avoid wounds unless the heroes and monsters need predicable survivability that a damage re-roll just won't give them. Or the setting seems to indicate it. I'm revisiting wounds as part of The Forgotten - my homebrew sci fi horror game where wounded soldiers dragging their bleeding stumps away from nameless horrors would fir the mood and style of the game. So right now, I am very interested in wounds.

In re-opening? the discussion on wounds, I'd like to look at two damage/wound systems that have caught my eye. 

The first was Reality's Edge. 

Each side takes turns activating a few models, and any shots place hit markers on the opponents. However, the actual effects are only resolved just before the opponent moves.  The intent was: in the chaos of a gunfight you can pump shots into a target and not know if it actually goes down. Instead of shooting something until it dies, then swapping targets - there is a decision point - do I score a hit and move on to a new target, or do I fire multiple shots into something to have a better guarantee of a kill.

Whilst I love decision poins and thought it was a cool idea (choose: how many rounds do you put into the charging alien) - I felt this wasn't worth the effort of tracking multiple hits of different strengths. The complexity cost was too high for the actual impact of the mechanic. Interesting, but no thanks.

Secrets of the Third Reich. Like Battlefield Evolution, a game that improved on the 40K formula; ironically a Weird War II game is a far deeper and more tactically 'realistic' game than Bolt Action.

Also sitting out for 'reference' was Secrets of the Third Reich. 

This one was much better. Shots hitting targets either "kill" or "down" them. E.g. with a rifle shot against a human roll d6; 2+ to down a target, and a 4+ will kill them outright.  Now downed targets are disabled for a variety of reasons - they could be merely shocked, stunned, winded, or holding their guts in or dragging an amputated leg. Downed targets can't shoot or even defend themselves (they die to any CQC) - they can merely crawl/drag themselves 2"/turn towards squad mates or a medic. A second downed result also kills them.  

But there is still uncertainty as to how bad they are hurt - just like Reality's Edge. Do you keep shooting? At the start of each turn, downed models roll a d6. 1,2 = they jump up and recover. Just a flesh wound! 3-4 = they stay Downed and drag themselves around, 5-6 = they bleed out and die. Having a medic nearby improves the roll. 

Now this is better than Reality's Edge for a range of reasons. First, it is much simpler. Instead of tracking multiple hits and how strong the hit is, you merely need to tip the downed model on its side. There is less complexity and "overhead." And it also gives you the same decision point - keep shooting or move on to a new target?

Secondly, it actual gives a proper wounded effect; a meaningful, ongoing effect in game. (The Reality's Edge 'mystery damage' merely impacted a very small segment of the game turn). So in addition to giving the same decision point, it gives extra decisions (i.e. do I try to carry this model, do I try to move in a medic). With less tracking.

OK, so my space horror game gets wounded models dragging themselves around, vulnerable to being butchered by passing aliens or hellspawn. Sold! Even better, it is so fast/easy to resolve I could probably allow quite a few models (heck perhaps even everyone) to have a 'hitpoint' wound.

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Game Design #86: Space Horror "The Forgotten" (Discussing Morale & Suppression)

A bit of background

I've often tinkered with my space horror "Forgotten" rules - basically Doom meets Event Horizon meets Mass Effect where the Biblical rapture has occurred and the earth has been destroyed - but humans still live on space colonies and bases, but demons now run things, controlling their own special forces teams which they enhance with their dark gifts. I wanted 15mm sci fi that was NOT Vietnam-in-space (Stargrunt/Tomorrow's War - slightly modern weapons, AI, drones and mechs) or space fantasy (40K - swords, lasers and magic), but something different - sci fi/cyberpunk horror which mixes both and makes it more cyberpunk-y.  Platoon-level Shadowrun with a Mass Effect aesthetic. Something with a strong theme or backstory so it wasn't just generic chicken flavour.

I actually may end up with 2 games: I suspect The Forgotten will evolve into to squad level skirmish (a la Necromunda) as horror is best experienced when outgunned, alone and isolated - bringing several fire teams with heavy weapons makes monsters less scary - whereas Platoon-level Shadowrun (tm) will remain a more conventional 40K-scale game.

While revising my early drafts (Part 1 and Part 2  and Part 3 on the blog - originally only with the aim of removing d6s and replacing them with a better d10 mechanic - I ended up thinking more about the core aims of the game. I'm always more interested in the "feel" of the game or how it should play - the core dice mechanics are secondary. D6, d10, whatever. But does the game feel/play like a horror game? The mechanics should be chosen purely to compliment the chrome.

So what did I want my space horror game to focus on? How will it be different from the 101 other generic sci fi squad/platoon games I could buy and play from say, Wargamesvault. Why bother to make a new game?

Cover matters. I want the game to be cover based (so use strong dice modifiers when in cover vs open). I want minis to be crouched behind doors or crates, scurrying from door to door; if they are an ordinary soldier.  This should be easy - just a matter of strong cover modifiers and powerful ranged weapons.

Ammo matters. This is not so much a key decision point - I just want it to run out at the wrong time! Panicked full auto sprays can jam the gun leaving you at the mercy of some inhuman monster...  Again, pretty easy - an "out of ammo" roll when firing in reaction or when panicky.

Darkness matters. Standing near a light source means you can be engaged from further away - but also light can hold back many predators. Logically, something like a hard limit on all firing due to visibility- say 12-18" - but if you are within 6" of a light source range is up to the weapon's maximum (say 24-36"). However - many monsters need a morale test to enter the same 6" light radius or have penalties to rolls when in bright light.

Wounds matter. This is a strong argument in favour of a shift to a squad level game with solo models instead of fire teams - as tracking wounds is a pain in the bum (and tokens=mess). However a wounded soldier dragging himself away from a monster at half speed just has a good horror vibe for me. Probably a shift from fire teams/platoon (~12-24 minis) to single minis/squad (6-12minis); and also some sort of wound token would be needed. However see Secrets of the Third Reich and platoon level games where wounds are used.

^ As an addendum to this squad vs platoon, I'd suggest facing matters; i.e. soldiers backing away but being blindsided by critters in the air ducts; a further argument for squad level

Monsters matter. Not just Alien style, but possibly trained monsters. We have drones and remotes - why not organic drones - a tentacled chaos panther piloted by a drone operator via a chip emplanted in its neck? Or merely bioengineered pets - hyper-clever space velociraptors? Tyannids look pretty terrifying in 15mm scale.  Maybe some simple "solo" rules for random movement of monsters, or Space Hulk style blips; have a dig in the shed and see what toys that could go with 15mm sci fi.

and finally

Morale Matters. Obviously a sci fi horror game would have to have strong/influential morale rules. Maybe a shared "morale resource pool" that slowly is nibbled away as scary stuff happens? I grabbed out a few random rulebooks to see what ideas I could borrow (originality is overrated imo). That's when I realised how awful most morale rules are. <--This is the first problem I don't have a quick fix for. Unlike activation mechanics which I always pay cost attention to, even when testing rules I regard morale as an afterthought - along with 99% of game designers actually. See my game design rant link above.

Show us your solution to bad morale rules, O Sarcastic One!

Well, I don't have a good answer. That's why I blog about rules instead of publishing them. A critic is a legless man who teaches running, right? (Also probably why I work as a teacher)

So right now I am not sure if my "maneuver units" for The Forgotten are fire teams of 3-4 minis (like Tomorrow's War) or individual models (like Necromunda/Infinity). I want the former (as I want to use 15mm and they look better in groups) but I suspect the latter is best suited to horror. I'm still keeping my options open at this stage.

I'm thinking of morale in horror movies; how do people react?

Confident/relaxed = happily playing with test tube, unaware of alien in air vent above

Cautiously advancing = gun up, super alert, clearing room (normal wargame posture)

Hold up, I heard a noise = stands ground but not going into the room with the bloodstains leading to it

Fall back! = firing wildly on full auto, backing away into the next room, eyes wide in horror

Run!  = sprinting away from the charging monstrosity (flight)

Paralyzed = rooted to the spot as monster closes (freeze)

Frenzied Attack = running for the monster, screaming and swinging a wrench (fight)

Catatonic/Mind Broken = rocking in the corner/gouging eyes out, sole survivor of abandoned ship

Hmm. Seems like a reasonable selection. Have I missed anything important? How does this line up with typical wargames?

Well, typical wargame morale rule responses are:

1-"Break/Flee" = Unit runs towards table edge ("Run!")

2-"Suppressed/Shaken" = Unit moves to cover or goes prone ("Run+Paralyzed")

3-Sometimes a model must test to move towards a scary monster or tank ("Hold Up!")

OK how does this work for my wargame?

It will depend on the units - am I using individual solders or fire teams/squads? Because it's unlikely an entire squad will be paralyzed or catatonic. Or suddenly become frenzied 'en masse' in response to seeing a monster - unless they have drugged themselves/worked themselves up to it beforehand.

So in a game with "units" of 4-6 men fire teams (aka 40K or platoon scale), I'm left with Hold Up, Fall Back and Run. Actually pretty similar to most wargames, maybe with an extra step. I'm not thinking very out of the box here, sadly!

If however I am using ~12 single models (also bringing down the model count) I could probably have the whole range of more varied responses - as individuals would react far more differently/to extremes than the "average response" of a 4-man squad. 

So the scale of the wargame matters for what morale you use. Am I testing a single guy, or 4-5 guys as a collective "group."

Kill Shots vs Suppressive Fire

I recall reading that the switch to 5.56mm was in response to (a) the fact most firefights were under 300m, and (b) suppressive fire/volume of fire was the biggest factor in a fight, so magazines with 50% more ammo were important.  The math said to "Suppress" you needed a shot every 1-2 seconds within a metre or so of the target. However between 300-500m heavier 7.62mm rounds have better killing power and accuracy, so now the US Army is looking to go to 6.8mm + plastic cased ammo to get the best of both.  Anyway point is, suppressive fire is important. It's job is to degrade enemies or render them temporarily ineffective (i.e. as long as you are shooting). Basically the enemy keep their heads down and don't move or shoot back, enabling your side to move freely and more safely.

All that said, conventional rules that make units pass a Will test or they can't shoot back are pretty logical. Maybe make it two steps - Level 1 "Suppressed" means they can fire back, albeit at reduced accuracy/only using suppressive fire themselves; Level 2 "Pinned" means no firing back at all.

Obviously while not the primary focus, suppressive fire may cause casualties. A bullet is a bullet. So rules where suppressive fire cannot kill minis seem silly. But I'd suspect a unit cannot be carefully aiming for long range killshots when suppressed.

Welp, I still don't feel like I'm adding anything new here. *Shrugs*

Suppression Intensity = AoE 

"Intensity" is the volume of fire vs the target area size - also the weapon's size and impact. I.e. a artillery shell might suppress for 100m and a bullet only 1m.

Perhaps you could assign weapons a suppressive value i.e. 1 each rifle, 2 for SAW/support weapon - and that equals the "frontage" you can suppress. I.e. a fire team with 2 ARs, a SAW and a AR+GL would have 6 suppression or be able to suppress 6" area.  I like this as I think AoE templates are good for creating maneuver decisions.  Perhaps each mini in the AoE zone would take a morale test and perhaps have the chance of receiving a single random hit (at low odds) also modified by training level. 

Veteran and rookie might output similar suppressive fire; but how they react would differentiate them - veterans may be unaffected or suppressed, while rookies are swiftly pinned and ineffective.

Lack of Clarity in Morale Rules

One thing I noticed in my trawl through 9 random rule books last night was how ambiguous and vague the wording was in the morale sections. "If you fail a test, move towards your baseline, avoid enemies where you can."

How do I avoid the enemies? What if by moving away from one enemy I move closer to another? If I am shot, should I retreat closer to an enemy? What if one enemy is scarier, but further away? What if you need to move towards an enemy to move to cover? What if the most logical route away from enemies is NOT towards your tabletop end? When do you re-rest morale to rally? And most importantly - What if your opponent disagrees on what you think is the logical response?

Obviously you could say "I only play with mates so we'll just make up a house rule and agree" but that doesn't excuse poor rules design or clarity - it just papers over it.

Flight-Flee-Freeze vs Clarity

I'd like to loop back to the "run" "paralyzed"  "frenzied attack" from my "horror movie morale" examples. It's pretty detailed and would imo only work at Necromunda scale - you know, with less than 12 or so individual minis per team.

In interests of "clarity" I think you could give them some logical if/then triggers. 

What do you do? (when you fail a morale test)

1) Flee if there is clear path to an exit that does not move the fleeing unit closer to a foe

2) Freeze if you do not have a clear exit and score 2 or less than your Will target

3) Frenzy if you do not have a clear exit and score 1 less than your Will target or if your opponent is Hated

We could get complicated and have branching if/then off each of these - like a decision tree. Outside the scope of a normal wargame but probably acceptable in a horror skirmish game.  Or particular minis are more likely to Flee then Frenzy or vice versa.

When to rally (test to regain control of mini/calm it down)

1) No enemy in LoS

2) No "scary" enemy in 8" regardless of LoS (they make scary noises!)

3) The closest enemy is downed  "Yay it's dead!"

4) A leader/hero attempts to rally them "Stand and fight you cowards!"

How do you  

Freeze = You skip a turn and can only defend yourself in CQC

Frenzy = You are immune to further morale tests and must attempt to sprint towards the enemy triggering the morale test and engage in CQC

Flee = You cannot move closer to the enemy who triggered the morale test; you must attempt to move towards the evac point/table edge; ignore cover - you are fleeing crazily away

Now these rules are far from good but they are much more clear and comprehensive than "If you fail a test, move towards your baseline, avoid enemies where you can."

This is definitely a topic I'll explore further (with a focus specific to The Forgotten) but my kids are waiting about impatiently so I can't conclude my thoughts properly. Please share your ideas (or morale rules you regard as "good") as I like talking about rules, but not reinventing them.

Game Design #85: Morale Rules Suck

While changing mechanics in my 15mm space horror homebrew (think Event Horizon meets Doom) I was thinking about key design elements to emphasize. One of them was morale.

Obviously a sci fi horror game would have to have strong/influential morale rules. Definitely a key design plank. 

How would I do it?  Maybe a shared "morale resource pool" that slowly is nibbled away as scary stuff happens? How do I link squad or individual morale to overall army morale? I grabbed out a few random rulebooks to see what ideas I could borrow (originality is overrated imo). That's when I realised....

Morale Rules Suck!

Morale is always something I've been a bit ambigous about it; apart from noting that willpower/morale is finite and can be eaten away slowly (and perhaps should be a global resource or dice pool).

But it's obviously something other game designers are ambiguous about as well.  Activation and initiative is something many ignore - but I've seen some brilliant innovations. Campaigns and scenarios are often put on as an afterthought - but I've seen great, deep campaign rules. 

I don't think I've ever seen good morale rules. In fact, they are usually unclear, obscure, and most look like they were thrown together in 5min with minimal thought. Activation rules have moved on from IGOUGO - but morale remains mired in the dark ages. It's an area even more low-effort than campaign rules yet it's a vital part of the game.

Let's grab some examples. On top of my recent rules pile, somewhat topical to my rules:

1.Reality's Edge cyberpunk was a hefty 320 page book. Less than 1 page was devoted to morale. Models test when: they are wounded, a leader is downed, crew is reduced to 50% or 25%, or by a special ability. A failed Will test means they move towards their board edge*, preferably to cover if possible. Once they get to the board edge they test again, a fail = removed from play.

Wow, so many questions. So many gaps. So - can a model re-test each turn, or only when it gets to the board edge? What if moving to the board edge moves it towards the model that caused the test? if they hit the board edge and pass the test, they are back to normal?  *If a model didn't deploy from a "home edge" it attempts to escape to the nearest edge...

There is also suppression rules - if a model is hit but not damaged it must pass a Will test or move to cover within 3" or go prone. What if the cover is closer to a flamethrower? 

OK let's skim a few more rules...

2.Zona Alfa near future sci fi/horror was a 64-page Osprey. There was actually no morale rules, but just suppression from a non-damaging hit - you must pass a Will roll or collect a Pin counter. A model can collect up to 4. It needs to spend an action to remove them and cannot do anything (except defend in melee) until Pins are removed.  FAIL/INCOMPLETE.

3.Space Hulk - Space Alien Horror (admittedly a boardgame) has 0 morale rules. Well, I suppose they are superhuman Space Marines, so I'll let that pass. PASS not GRADED

4.Dracula's America - Wild West Horror. 137 pages. Less than a page. The whole crew makes a single morale test if 50% or more models are down. If the leader is down, less dice are used. A failure means the entire team is magically removed and the game ends. 

There is a "Shaken" - an unsaved hit can be 1-2 shaken, 3-4 damaged, 5+ dead. Shaken is basically a permanent penalty to everything* - so it's not suppression, but basically a permanent wound with a different name. (*this game is one of those ones who proudly use "one stat does everything" in the mistaken belief they are smart). EPIC FAIL.

Lol this is getting ridiculous.

Let's try some more. I'm grabbing randomly from my horror/pulp section of my rules cupboard*. (*Yes it is an embarrassingly large cupboard and 90% of them have only been playtested a few times then abandoned)

5.Empire of the Dead. Weird Steampunk includes vampires etc. 152 pages. Another single morale page. Again the "everyone tests when 50% casualties" but can use leaders morale if within 6". Must also test Will to charge a scary critter <- ooh after 3 rulebooks focussed on horror - the first actual reference to scary things. Anyone failing a morale test is magically removed. *poof*

There's  kind of suppression - after you are hit, you roll - can have no effect, suppress (move only 2" can only defend in melee); wounded, or dead. Since it actually wears off after a turn, it's actually a temporary effect not a wound (glares at Dracula's America). FAIL.

6. Malifaux 1st ed (Steampunk Horror) 202 pages. 1 page of morale rules. God, it's been 10 years since I played this. Umm no force-wide morale rules at all, but there is a morale "duel" against scary things - losing it means you fall back at 2x normal walk toward your board edge, avoiding enemy melee and hazardous terrain if possible. If forced to fight it does so at a penalty. Once it hits the table edge, it skips a turn, rallies and returns to normal. FAIL/INCOMPLETE

7. Strange Aeons - Cthulu Mythos Horror 74 pages.  Ok this is all about horror - but there's till only 2 pages!  There are no whole-team tests (unless you are literally the last man standing) but models must test if: a friendly is killed nearby; if no friendlies and 3+ enemies close by; hideous enemies in CQC or any scary enemies nearby, or if trying to cast a spell. Hatred of a particular foe allows you to ignore its effects. A failed "Will" test means you may be catatonic (skip 2 turns); stupefied (skip 1 turn); revolted (run towards own table edge), or go into a frenzy (CQC against nearest enemy, pass all further  morale tests). It's go more detail, but given the whole bloody book is about horror, I'd give it a MEH.

8. Secrets of the Third Reich (Weird WW2 Horror incl vampires aliens zombies). Man this is such a good game. So underrated. A  fantasy game much deeper and more realistic than Bolt Action. (Admittedly not hard bar to step over). About 3 morale pages from 154. Some effort made....

Squads take a morale test for each time any squad models are 'downed' - a failure means they must flee at speed towards cover, and if in cover become "disorganized"; if no cover in range they flee toward their table edge and go prone. In melee, the unit suffering the most casualties must test. Tests must be made to fight horrifying foes.

Squads with enough firepower can "suppress" either units or terrain features like houses - forcing units to take morale tests and interrupting overwatch.

Disorganized units may only move to cover and rearrange themselves behind cover/to improve coherency to leaders. They can be regrouped by a leader command, or by themselves at a penalty.

Models which are hit can be dead or just "downed" - which includes everything from stunned to wounded. Downed models are helpless and crawling 2" - which can recover. PASS

Wow 8 rule sets before a valid set of morale rules. Let's do one more.

9. Kill Team (not the last one). 205 pages, 1 page (paragraph, actually) of morale rules. Ok there are whole team morale rules; a whole team is broken automatically if all models have wounds/are shaken, or if 50% are wounded/shaken and the best morale model fails a test. 

There's also shaken aka suppression - test each model that takes a wound (or everyone if the whole team is broken). A shaken model must miss a turn. The test is modified if friendlies are nearby; negatively if the friendlies take injuries. MEH.

OK, this was a random grab out of my cupboards pulp/fantasy/sci fi section. Let's discuss:

The Math = 1338 pages of rulebook. Merely 11 pages of rules devoted to morale (and that's being charitable). That's .008 - not even a tenth of a percent!

And you can see the rules, usually are desperately poor.  A complete token effort. And these are mostly rules about supernatural and horror - surely a key design element would be the morale rules. All of them left huge questions and ambiguities.

Let me create a typical morale rule for you, the amateur designer.

"If 50% of a team/army are killed, the rest must test their Will: if they fail, they magically disappear"

"If a model is hit but not wounded, make a Will test: if they fail they move towards cover/the table edge"

Boom! Publish me now! Insert this as needed into literally any skirmish ruleset you want....

To return to my argument. Morale rules suck. They are low effort parts of the rulebook and are very seldom done comprehensively. Morale is a very important aspect of warfare - and is one of the core 4M mechanics - Melee Missiles Movement.... and Morale.  But it's definitely the unloved stepchild.

Most "real" battles are decided by morale. Casualties (regardless of era) in history tend to be around 2% (not 50%!) until the mopping up stage aka after one side breaks (or if the battle runs for weeks not days).

Morale is important in real life battles, but not in wargames. Is this because wargames intrinsically unsuited? I mean, removing 1 man of 20 (5%) then ending the battle is lame - you'd spend more time setting up than playing. But can we do better? I think so. I'll explore this a bit myself when making my own sci fi horror game, but I don't promise any clever solutions. 

However I think this rant is worth keeping in the Game Design series - merely because of the consistently weak effort by a wide range of designers. If you're making a wargame, think carefully about your morale rules and what you are trying to achieve. If your rules are uncomfortably similar to my spoof rules above.... *shrugs*

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Intercept Vector - WIP - Pulp Jet House Rules (2021)

I've often said how discontented I am with aerial wargames. They are usually copies of 1970s boardgames, have guessing games and are universally clunky and awkward, with recording and inconsistent mechanics - everything a game about jets blasting through the skies shouldn't be. C21:Air War (too complex for its simple gameplay, wrong "feel") and Bag the Hun (like most TFL stuff, a chaotic jumble of house rules turned into a game) are the only ones I've tolerated.

This is probably due to the complexity (and 3D nature) of air combat along with a desire to "sim" and micro every aspect of the aircraft - most air wargames work OK when 1 player controls only 1 aircraft, but quickly breaks down when they have to control half a dozen or more. It's also a disconnect in the "level of control" - if you are a squadron leader with 8 planes, you actually don't micro the precise throttle controls of each aircraft. You'd give them general instructions and the pilots would carry them out. Air wargames often attempt to make the gamer both squadron leader and individual pilot and it just doesn't work.

I've always loved 1:600 jets - they are just big enough to be characterful and detailed, and small enough to be extremely cheap, and I have a fair collection, largely from Tumbling Dice.

Why have I labelled these rules "pulp?" Mostly to remind myself not to get bogged with simulating every last detail. Cinematic combat - Ace Combat not DcS. If I want realism I should be playing a PC game where it can easily deal with the minutinae "under the hood." This should be about pushing miniature jets around, pew-pewing and making zooming noises. 

I've mused a few times over aerial wargames - creating a manifesto of rules musings, and revisiting them in 2019.  Trapped in a car trip with kids yesterday, I made some notes in my "game diary" about key features of an aerial wargame - for me at least.

1. Energy Management. The interplay between kinetic (speed) energy; potential (height) energy; and position (maneuvers) vs enemies.

2. Detection. This encompasses both visual and radar detection. 

3. Pilot Skill. This impacts #1 and #2, as well as evading enemy fire and reacting to opponents and dictating the pace of the fight.

I also added in

4. Endurance & Ammo. Many fights were decided when one or both sides ran low on ammunition or fuel

Now, how could I emphasize these factors, in as simple a way as I could?

Pilot Skill 

This is probably the easiest - I could implement using modifiers to evasion, attacks, and increased chance to perform special maneuvers. However I'd also like it to impact initiative and reactions. Initiative means controlling who moves & acts when. Perhaps a good pilot could also roll for extra actions representing his greater calm and focus in combat. I also would like to experiment with my "reaction radius" mechanic from my Delta Vector space rules; in this case, better pilots have a larger AoE ring around them; any enemies entering this can be reacted to; whereas oblivious rookies have a small AoE "reaction radius" - only responding to enemies who are very close.


While I'd like to go with blinds, blips and cards (moving tokens and dummy tokens around the map, only revealing them when "spotted"- I'm probably going to give it the flick, due to all the extra complexity and fiddliness. I'll save that for a submarine game where detection is paramount. Instead, I'll probably assume planes are aware of the rough location of enemies (due to AWACs, ground control etc). "Undetected" planes just have a bonus to initiative - i.e. they can control who moves first and kinda "dictate"the fight (gaining a large advantage) without being invisible Klingons or SSBNs. So detection will be important, but not have huge amounts of complex mechanics devoted to it.

There shouldn't be much to record either - maybe a black counter to indicate if a jet is undetected.

Endurance and Ammo.  

This is the first big problem. Individually tracking missiles, ammo and fuel supplies is, like blips, something that can bog the game down. However I was re-looking through Infinity the other day (as I was thinking the opposed rolls/AROs might be useful for dogfights) and I thought "why not an abstract, shared 'endurance' pool instead of an order pool?"

Basically all jets would contribute their endurance (a mix of fuel and loadout) to a combined "endurance pool" which is shared by all jets, who deduct from the corporate pool as they perform actions that expend notable amounts of ammo or fuel.

 So you look at the aircrafts common loadouts, and add "endurance points"

+1 for each missile

+1 if internal guns

+1 each ~200km of combat radius 

So a MiG-21 (+2 fuel, +1 23mm gun, +4 AAM2s) add 7 endurance to the pool each.

A F-4 Phantom (+3 fuel, +1 20mm gun, +2 AIM9s, +4 AIM7s) each add 10 endurance into the pool.

A flight of 4 MiG21s (28) would have far less endurance than 4 F-4s (40) presuming an equal distance from base.

Jets then "spend"endurance from the communal pool for actions such as

-1 gains energy (uses fuel)

-1 fires missile or gun (-2 if limited gun ammo <250rds; or only 2 missiles of that type carried)

Once a side loses its endurance it cannot perform any more combat actions and will withdraw. This communal endurance would be easily tracked as you could just make a ruler and slide a token along it.

This then allows mission and campaign level decisions where you might be operating far from your base (halve endurance). It would also simple allow campaign balancing; as you win the air war you range further and further from your base (and closer to enemy bases) i.e. the weaker side gets better endurance.

Energy management. 

This is another tricky one. There's always the X-Wing card based style, but I'd like to avoid guessing games and needing to make special templates or cards if I can. I think the success of this will hang on the "initiative system" I choose. We don't want players able to effortlessly move onto one another's tails, and there has to be some chaos in air combat (i.e. only wingmen should be able to reliably co-ordinate).

At the moment I favour a "energy bar" or "stamina bar" a bit like a RPG. This represents the amount of potential (height) and kinetic (speed) energy a plane has, and will be simply high (fast high), medium (fast and low/high and slow/medium-medium), and slow (low, slow) - using a green counter (high) a red counter (low) and no counter (regular). Thanks to Blood Red Skies for helping clarify my thoughts.

I've combined height and speed together due to the high thrust/weight and speed of jets - I probably wouldn't do the same with WW1-WW2 props.

So jets will have a top speed of say 4-12". I've made a list of maneuvers which is the minimal I think I need to represent the majority of air combat maneuvers. Tricky maneuvers will require a piloting test to pull off, or they may not occur quite as the player plans.

As you can see I'm assuming hex based aircraft and the possibility of using a hex map or plain table.

Now energy will impact the choice of maneuvers and both the chance of completing them and the effects of failure. A low energy (red) jet may have -1 to perform tricky maneuvers unless it has, say, a Low Speed Agility trait.  Failing a tight turn or reversal at low energy may result in a crash. 

I'm considering allowing an "On the Deck" option - pilots at regular energy can deliberately fly at high speeds at treetop height to evade enemies but risk crashing in exchange for being hard to hit. Maybe they get a bonus if they have a Terrain Following Radar trait or similar.

Additionally, high energy jets may opt to go "Supersonic" - limiting them from high-G tricky maneuvers but allowing higher speed sprints across the tabletop (and also to disengage freely from the fight).

I like this so far as there are merely red or green counters at the base of the plane; no altitude dice and speed dice, no written orders or complicated unique maneuver charts, or written orders to choose from. It's also simple as everyone shares the same rules.

What now?

OK, now we have a rough frame of the game. We can see where it is going. Obviously we need mechanics for shooting, etc but as usual I don't regard these as important - I'll just pick a simple consistent mechanic that fits the theme - probably d10s so the math doesn't hurt my brain.  For me the outsanding issues to go are detection and initiative

Initiative is probably the biggest issue as it's a bit of a multi-faceted problem.  First, air combat is pretty chaotic, so some randomness is required. However, wingmen should be able to work together ('follow-on''from each others moves, maybe) and better pilots should be able to control the flow of combat (decide when they will act).  I'd also like to consider 'reactions' to enemies who pass in range of jets; as jet combat should be fast and fluid and no one should be sitting around, hovering frozen while other jets shoot at them. The core dice mechanics should probably include some sort of opposed rolls as well.  In addition, the "better pilots do more" - in past homebrew air games I allowed pilots an additional action if they pass a piloting roll - I may do something similar again.

So far I'm pleased at how recording has been kept down - a "endurance ruler" as each player's side of the table, red (low) and green (high) energy tokens, and black (undetected) tokens won't even be used all the time for each plane. Probably a yellow (damage) token will be the sum of all the tokens/recording - which again, will only be used when needed.  Most jets should be "token less" most of the game. Which is good as I hate tabletop clutter almost (but not quite) as much as writing things down.

In the back of my mind I'm thinking 6-8 jets per side, bought in wingmen "pairs"  - I think the game as it stands will handle this without bogging down.  

Whether I finish it or not... well, let's just say I have a new idea for a wargame based on this....

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Modern Sail Combat (no, not that boring Age of Sail)

While I've played my fair share of Naval Action on PC and attempted many age of sail miniatures rules, wargaming sail combat seems stuck with ancient galleys, Napoleonics, and those Dutch wars no one cares about*. (*Unless you're over 60 or actually Dutch)

But to be frank, the sailing bit in these wargames is lame. The ancients galleys cheat a bit with oars and aren't proper sailing ships, and the Hornblower stuff isn't exactly riveting with most ships peak performance at  ~10kts and the handling of a gravel barge. Boring!

Compare this with sailing gear we have today.  Ice yachts, catamarans, hydrofoils - most of which can turn on a 10c piece and do ~50kts.  Epic!

Yes, there is the small issue that regrettably few wars have been fought with modern sailing boats, but wargamers have never let that stop them. I mean, the USSR and USA never fought in Fulda Gap, and the most popular wargaming franchise, 40K is 100% completely ridiculous handwavium.  So modern sailboat combat isn't that far fetched. 

In the frozen near future of a global cooling event, pirate ice yachts equipped with remote controlled GPMGs slaved to head tracking helmets, speed through the frozen northern wastes to intercept convoys carrying food and precious minerals. You could imagine one or two man "fighter" yachts spraying tracer and dodging between ice fragments.

In Waterworld-gone-hi-tech, you could imagine American's cup hydrofoils armed with Stinger missiles, rocket pods and .50 cals weaving in and out of skyscrapers drowned cities in high-speed duels*. I could just imagine a boat flipping up onto one hull to allow a missile to whiz underneath. 

(*Yes I know the wind conditions around skyscrapers would be funky)

I mean - a "74"' ship of the line's most exciting sailing mishap is going in irons or grounding. Boring. A hydrofoil can come unstuck more spectacularly.

In the drowned cities of the future, sailboats would have to deal with pretty intense wind conditions.

Although space sailships seem to default to "Napoleonics in Space" aka Treasure Planet aka Spelljammer there is a lot of latitude here. Vector movement meets solar "wind" might be interesting tactically.

A lack of cool sailing miniatures is the issue for me. I could buy a functioning RC yacht for the price of larger model kits, and the small ones are very "kiddy."  I'm actually considering making some hydrofoils from LEGO.

Everyone loves wargaming the age of sail ships of line. But the actual sailing bit isn't exciting.

Anyway, I'd just like to see some wargaming love for something with sails that wasn't a trireme, galleon or a 74. Sail combat has opportunity for interesting tactics - I'm just not interested in the most boring version of sailing. If only I had a 3D printer.... (coughs guiltily).

Modern sail combat rules and minis are something our hobby desparately needs. 

There are dozens of us! Dozens!

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Delta Vector Spaceship Musings 2021

My original 2012 homebrew space rules (which inspired my interest in game design) were heavily played and playtested for a few months, but I gradually lost interest despite yearly attempts to revive them.  

The problem - I don't practice what I preach.

The game slowly lost their main design focus as I attempted to do too many things with the rules - they bloated and became generic. In attempting to make the rules work for all and any TV space settings, I lost the focus on the space settings that interested me - Lost Fleet and EvE:Online. I was reminded of this reading Eric's guest game design post last week - he mentioned "make games for yourself."

My most regularly worked-upon rules (psychic dino knights, simplified-Infinity-pulp, mechs, aeronef, tankmunda, demon-possessed cyberpunk, modern jets, dogfighting submarines, and space PT boats) all had a very specific focus and were because I felt I had to make them to fill a gap (i.e. there was - and is - nothing already available that "worked" for what I wanted to play)

So what did I want when I set out to make a space game all those years ago?

To move away from existing rules with hundreds of hitboxes and dice chugging a la Full Thrust or WW2 wet navy clones; to something with minimal record keeping, where initiative and vector maneuver mattered; with lots of decisions, and ship design was simple. Crew skill would matter. No written orders or IGOUGO. Ships could react to each other like modern skirmish games. Games would handle ~6 ships in 45 minutes.  Maximum choice, minimum recording.

The flaw was I wanted to make it "simulate all TV series."  

I noted "a game that allows every space show and element tends to be generic and bland" but a strong "theme" or particularly focussed gameplay element (i.e. the heat management in Battletech, the ARO system in Infinity) tend to be stronger and more interesting. 

...But I drifted off course regardless.

So what was the game I originally wanted to play? What space combat do I enjoy?

Lost Fleet - primarily the vector movement and plotting ahead of time; a kinda predictable maneuver ballet making initiative very important; plus the interplay of missiles/kinetics grapeshot/lasers. There is a hard limit (lightspeed) on combined velocities. There was ammo and shield management but no fighters or stealth of any time. Jumpgates were the primary combat chokepoints.

EvE Online - that every ship had a role. Even small ships are essential for tackling or jamming (debuffing big ships' speed/dps). Small ships were also very survivable due to a small "signatures" making them hard to target and again like Lost Fleet, relative velocity/vector affected how easily they could be hit. Their agility and utility made them able to dictate fights. Again there was no 'fighters', but limited amounts of drones who were leashed to the launching ship; neither was there stealth except one "submarine" style class. Weapons included both rapid fire and long range versions of kinetics and lasers, missiles as well as AoE bomb type weapons. Jumpgates were primary chokepoints but ships could "warp" between objects within a system. Again there was ammo and shield management.  The ship design system of high-medium-low slots allowed customising classes of ships within limits.

So, taking out the key points of Lost Fleet + EvE

+ No stealth rules needed

+ No fighter rules needed (perhaps drones)

+ Simple weapon list (kinetic railgun vs massdriver, laser beam vs pulse, missile/torpedo/AoE bomb)

+ Utility buff/debuff (tackle, EW) modules to make small ships useful/maybe tie to EvE-style module design system

+ Small ships made survivable via "signature"/size/velocity

+ Vector movement is very important

+ Initiative rules are very important

+ Chokepoints (jumpgates/planetary bodies) to attract fights

- Some sort of energy management and/or shield management

- Ammo is tracked

While most of these ideas fit under my original 2012 design brief, I'm a bit concerned about shield/energy management and ammo as they may run counter to "minimal recording" and "extra decision making layers must be simple to execute" design goals.

I think I'm struggling with what will satisfy me as "minimal recording" - I'd like to avoid piles of tokens which seemed to accumulate in many skirmish games I play. If I make a ship data card for each ship about the complexity of a Warmachine card it shouldn't be to onerous if I only use 4-8 ships. Out of all the space games I played, I remember not minding Battlefleet Gothic recording - so I'll aim for that level.

How to Fix Small Ships

I always hate how in 99% of space games, small "escort" class ships like frigates/destroyers are pretty much glass cannons at best, and cannon fodder/ablative armour for big ships at worst. Small ships rarely survive many turns into a game and are just window dressing for the big boys. 

It's probably realistic, but not fun gameplay.

I always enjoyed playing as an tiny, speedy interceptor frigate in EvE; bring difficult to lock/hit due to small signature and performing a vital job to "tackle" and stop huge battleships warping out. Sure, you could only nibble away at battleship defences (unless you were in a wolfpack) and if you flew carelessly in a straight line you could get blown away, but if well-flown you were extremely survivable and could "dictate" the fight.

I've been thinking about how to implement this in a wargame.

1. The obvious, initial answer was to steal the "signature" from EvE and make it the base "to hit" number against say a d10. I.e. a frigate with a sig of 4 would have a 40% chance to be hit, and a battleship with 7 sig would have a 70% chance to be hit by the same weapon. 

2. In addition, there will be velocity modifiers - i.e. the combined velocity of firer and target will impact this - a frigate whizzing past head-on and angled will be harder to hit then one who is slowly closing in from the stern. A higher thrust ship can obviously manage its velocity/position better.

3. But I want initiative to matter too. Small ships should dictate the fights against larger clumsier brethren. Another thought is to make the signature also the "reaction radius" - the radius at which enemies react. So the sig 4 frigate would only trigger reaction fire from enemies within 4" - but the battleship would trigger reactions within 7".  Basically, this means a frigate 4-7" from a battleship could choose to continue a fight or fly away; and also "dodge" between other ships without triggering reactions. A big sig (aka reaction radius) is bad for initiative/reactions.  ^I quite like this idea but have yet to test it in practice.

4. Finally, I'd like speed (thrust) to matter.  Perhaps the difference in thrust could be a modifier to the faster ship in reaction rolls (i.e. a thrust 5 frigate gets a +2 to any opposed rolls with a thrust 3 battleship).  Thrust could also be used as a modifier to "dodge" enemy fire at longer ranges. 

To stop small ships being too attractive, this would be balanced by vastly better armour/strength of larger ships; i.e. a small escort will struggle to do meaningful damage (or even drop the shields) of a battleship - but dps is not its role - instead the escort will screen against enemy escorts, and "tackle" big ships and stop them warping off, or debuff them in various ways such as EW/jamming - or even launch AoE-ish torpedo attacks which are only dangerous in numbers or if the target is crippled already.

Anyway, enough rambling - off to the shed to dig out some spaceships...