Tuesday 29 November 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #2 (Detection)

 In Part #2 of revisiting aerial wargames, I'd like to make sure I stay focussed on my manifesto:

-Energy management (potential vs kinetic vs position to foe) 


- Pilot skill 

-Aircraft Performance

The game should be fast, with no token clutter and recording. It should be about zooming planes around the table and tossing dice to pew pew, not plotting turns or consulting movement templates or special custom dials. I want all my toys on the table in a cool spectacle, not just a 1v1 duel. Skirmish wargames seem to manage this, so we will borrow from them. It should look more like Infinity or Mordhiem than a rehash of some 1970s Blue Max air rules or something X-Wing-y with special move rulers or dials.

Currently the movement rules play like a melee game where you spend stamina to melee, change direction or boost speed, with some sort of involved melee mechanics.

Tidying Up...

I feel there is quite a bit to tidy up from last post, unanswered questions like..

How do you regain an energy level? Perhaps if you are making a normal move, roll equal or below your Thrust on a d10 i.e. if your Thrust is 6"; you regain an energy level on a 6 or below.

What if there are multiple planes in a dogfight? I.e. 2v1, 3v1? Maybe just a +2 bonus each extra plane; but only one plane can attack. Planes pair off where possible. This will need a bit of playtesting.

Can planes lose control /spin? Probably only a very stressed pilot doing complex/tricky maneuvers (reversals. dogfights etc), so not a test to do frequently (we want to minimise needless dice rolls), but it should probably be possible.

Any other glaring questions I've missed? Obviously activation, detection and pilot skills have not really been addressed.

F-100 and MiG21 mercenary aces buzz a drilling rig...

Detection (ok, finally to the topic)

This is important in air warfare; but I don't want it to be the main focus. 

I'm not going to faff around with 'blinds' and tokens and hidden movement like this is some sort of submarine game. Neither do I want constantly rolling for detection to interrupt the flow of the game - the movement and pew-pew. We're here to dogfight, pew-pew and shoot missiles, and we can assume ground control have made either or both sides at least aware of the possibility of hostiles. I.e. surprise should be an important advantage - a "first shot"/ambush bonus, or activation/initiative advantage - but it's not the "main game."

So to minimize unecessary dice rolling, we'll set out a few simple rules. (I kinda have Infinity in mind here). You can use visual OR radar, but not both. (Unless maybe two seaters?) You need to choose if you are peering at the radar screen or scanning the sky around you.

Also, in my campaign against extra measuring or special dials, I want to make it so you can eyeball most situations, so I'm going to have just 2 'arcs' - the front (180) and the back (180). You can look to the front or the back, but not both.

Yes, radars, guns and missiles might have much narrower arcs, but remember - simplicity - and we can presume the pilot can move the nose of the plane around and make commonsense adjustments. In Infinity facing matters, so 180 arcs should be good enough for us and dispense with the need for special protractor-ish devices.


Now I'm not exactly sure what max air-to-air visibility is, but I'm going to ballpark ~10km or so. I don't have (or want!) a precise scale, but I want to have a rough idea vs weapon ranges. If dogfight range is 1-2", then I'm going to say visibility is 6-10" or so.  Perhaps it is equal to pilot skill - a 6 skill pilot sees 6"? 

This would fit with my 'pilot skill matters' key concept. The ranges can be tweaked after playtesting. Remember movement is like a 40K or skirmish melee game - in the 4-8" range.

Maybe a pilot makes a single roll for EVERYTHING in either the front or rear (not both) and if he passes he spots EVERYTHING in that 180.  A bit crude - but we want it to be fast. Rolling for each target would be unbearably fiddly.

A few logical modifiers; poor visibility or night would halve the maximum range, and targets in the rear 180 may have a penalty of -2 to the spotting roll (or -4 if poor rearward visibility like a MiG-23), maybe +1/-1 for big/small planes.


While radar arcs vary, we'll say radar works for everything in the front 180 only. Just like visual spotting, you make a single roll (this time, vs a radar stat rather than pilot skill?) and anything that passes is spotted.  

Again, a very few logical modifiers; +1/-1 for big and small, -4 for targets which are 'on the deck', and maybe -1/-2/-3 for varying levels of stealth or hostile EW.

K.I.S.S. - are the detection simple/minimal/unobtrusive enough?

+ We use just 2 arcs, front and rear, which can just be 'eyeballed'

+ A single roll is made for each plane (of a single type - radar OR visual) in a single arc

+ Anything outside visual range in rear 180 arc can be ignored

+ Few modifiers and things to remember

- We'll probably need a token (table clutter) to denote undetected aircraft

I've introduced two new stats here - Pilot Skill and Radar. Radar will be a number and a range i.e. Radar 5/24". So a plane might be Thrust 6", Sprint 10", Agility 7 with a Radar of 5/36." These are core stats. It's no worse than a unit from a 40K army list. I think it's still simple enough. I don't want it to bog down with 101 stats and rolls. Basically, my benchmark is: would this rule/level of detail be fine in a Necromunda/Infinity level skirmish game? Can I play a game with 6-12 aircraft per side in an hour?


Now, what benefit does being undetected be? How do we track it? 

Ugh, probably will need a token - a Black Token next to an undetected jet. Which hopefully means we can remove them once the shooting starts. Token/table clutter is a concern. I'm looking at you, X-Wing.

Probably undetected jets get a significant 'to hit bonus' - i.e. +2-3 to initial Dogfight rolls etc. Like a charge bonus in an infantry wargame, or an unopposed action in Infinity. Maybe also include some sort of activation or initiative advantage; undetected models can move out of sequence before/after detected models. So undetected aircraft, if not truly invisible on the tabletop, can 'dictate the fight' to a degree.

We seem to be heading into discussing initiative (and activation/actions/reactions) which are probably food for another post, and probably need to consider weapon range vs detection range vs movement range which may be yet another topic.


  1. This might just be me, but this is where I think combining airspeed and altitude into one "energy state" marker falls apart. Personally, I want to be able to recreate the moments of aircraft flying low among the mountains at high speed to dodge radar and avoid missiles. I'm not sure how to model that without complicating the game too much though. Perhaps a simple trait would say that a plane can fly low below radar, and at high speed? And other than that, planes would be assumed to be at radar height as long as they are not at low energy. In addition to that, terrain, such as mountains could increase radar acquisition difficulty. This is probably more in depth radar rules than you were thinking of, but I figured I'd throw it out there. Also, I support two-seaters being able to take two actions (radar & visual, or other actions). Just a note, but has endurance in a fight been removed from the manifesto? It seemed like a unique mechanic, but I can also understand why you would get rid of it.

    1. There is a state "On the Deck" which I mentioned in passing; the status of deliberately flying to avoid radar. It'd be a token, but I feel it's probably important in modern combat (i.e. fly low to avoid radar)

      In my notes it says you can only be low energy unless you have terrain following radar (in which case, medium energy is OK); more energy/faster forces a pilot test which can cause stress, or if already stressed, a spin. Also, spins out of control are instantly fatal instead of just losing energy and stressing the pilot.

      I haven't got to endurance, but what I used last time
      ^was OK as it was a 'track' that was shared with all planes and didn't add too much to the overall complexity/tracking

  2. There are really two types of detection - "I know he's out there" vs "I know where he is enough to effectively engage right now". You read about the second type all the time, in a dog fight a pilot loses their opponent for a moment and maneuver in a way that makes them vulnerable. My thought is that detection (the second type) is a moment-to moment check in a fight. A plane attempts to fire missiles at someone resolve detection - did they misread the situation and fire in the wrong direction/no lock/etc. In a dog fight check detection before combat, does someone slip up and make themselves an easy target?

    This removes the need to use tokens and is the more common form of detection to crop up under the assumption that ground control has communicated enemy activity. True "no idea someone was here" detection really only applies for the first few moments of an engagement (mostly), however deadly those moments might be, and would be more of a scenario r rule than a core game rule. Communication systems ensure that once one element of a flight realizes there's an enemy the rest of the flight soon hears about it and will have a general idea of their range and bearing.

    1. I think what you describe is what I am aiming for; i.e. I assume everyone knows there is something in the vicinity due to ground radar/AWACs etc (there is no true 'submarine' stealth); and the rules are just the moment-to-moment "where is he" aka lack of radar or visual acquisition.

      I don't WANT true stealth even if it was 'realistic' or even possible on the tabletop. It's just not fun.

      I think you are suggesting just ditch the counter and make a check whenever you need to, say, shoot? I'm kinda wanting it to flow into initiative, though, so unspotted planes can move last etc; hence the token. I'd assume if one person in a flight gets a clear lock they all do (i.e. using radio to focus allies)

      Alternately, I could move detection completely into initiative, and make planes in the front arc of another move last or something. Initiative and reactions are giving me a lot of problems at the moment; as fights are split into very small chunks of time and I'd like it to 'flow' - while still keeping it simple as a skirmish wargame like Infinity.

    2. That's a tough balance to strike. Trying to make the game "feel" like air combat without being too detailed is hard, because as much as air combat is fast and largely instinctive it is built on a huge amount of technology and tactics that influence the fight. Pay too much attention to the tech and tactics and you end up rivet counting, pay too little attention and you're playing a game of infinity/mordheim/whatever using aircraft miniatures because the game won't encourage anything like air tactics.

      I look forward to reading your solution 'cause I certainly don't have one!

    3. I think a key factor is the tactical level; are you (the gamer) a solitary pilot pushing every button and lever, a flight commander-squadron leader with 2-12 planes, or a wing commander commanding dozens of planes on a map. The latter wouldn't be concerned with maneuvers at all, but more ranges (BVR vs visual etc). A wargame where you are a wing commander could just be moving blip tokens on a radar-map (might make a good boardgame!).

      Most aerial wargames are at a level that works fine for 1 gamer:1 mini, but break down at the usual 'Mordhiem' level of 4-12 minis as they are simply too detailed. (Or if you can command more than 1 mini, they allow you to unrealistically micromanage each jet in perfect precision.)

      The trick is what makes the cut for this 2-12 plane 'intermediate level'; i.e. I think flight commanders would communicate with stuff like 'break left' or 'split s' 'go vertical' but wouldn't obviously be precisely positioning their wingmans jets. They'd be able to call missile launches "Fox 1" "Evade!", but the cut and thrust of dogfights would be beyond them (hence my 'melee' dogfights being abstracted). They'd know the energy state of allied planes (low and slow) but not the precise airspeed. In the detection rules if one jet spots an enemy they are spotted for all, as we assume they are calling out 'Bandit on your Six' to orientate allies.

      So I think an important thing is 'if you were jet Biggles leading Ginger, Algy and co , what could you realistically be aware of/influence'- while keeping the game fun/cinematic, and give a FEEL of planes.