Thursday 29 December 2022

Cheap Wargames Terrain: Toy Medieval Castle Repaint

This was part of a $20 find at "Lifeline" - the secondhand charity shop.(There's more stuff but it has already been claimed for the sandpit!) 

I decided to only use cheap craft paint and old brushes; basically whatever I had lying around. My aim was also to make the toy castle look tabletop-worthy in 2hrs and not waste any of my good paints and brushes.

Kids toys are a great cheap source of wargaming gear. I used to carry around a 15mm and a 28mm mini in my glovebox but I am getting pretty good at eyeballing things now.  I notice the Buzz Lightyear space fighters will do well in 15mm scale I think; the included plastic pilots are very close to 15mm.... 

....anyway, back to the castle - some before-and-after photos.

I used only craft paint; I spraypainted black; then lightly with grey, then a VERY rough light grey drybrush. You can see some of the original 'minis' it came with besieging the front gate.

It looked pretty 'plastic-y' and not quite the right scale....  ...but because it is meant for younger kids it is very robust - good for gaming. 

You can see the men of Gondor don't look terribly out of place, and when I consider how much a terrain piece of this size would cost from GW, I am happy enough how it turned out. A fair return for $20 and 2 hrs, I reckon.  I have promised to play LOTR with my kids and I have sneakily been teaching my son the core rules through my home-made 'army man' game (we play at the beach with a dozen or so plastic army men each - last mission was for him to retrieve data from a downed fighter and escape - I control the opfor in a 'cinematic' manner...)

We've also been playing a lot of Mechwarrior:Online so I suspect mech-related wargames will emerge. More randomly, I'm thinking about inventing a rock-wars game (glue eyeballs on rocks and they have stats/combat values based on how shiny/how big/heavy/what colour etc)....  

...Anyway here are the 'after' shots....

Saturday 10 December 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #5: Initiative & Taking Turns

This is kinda the flow of the gameplay. Who goes first? In what order? Can you interrupt an enemy turn?

Now if planes are undetected (or at least, not clearly tracked/acquired) or have a lot more energy (height/speed) they should be able to dictate the fight (aka the movement order) to some degree.

Some common methods of taking turns:

IGOUGO - you act with all your planes, then I act with all my planes - a la oldschool 40K

Youmove/Imove/Youshoot/Ishoot (a la LOTR:SBG) - you move all your planes, then I move all mine, then you shoot any missiles/guns, then I shoot any guns/missile

Alternate Move - You act with a single plane, I act with a single plane - taking turns until all move (probably the default system for most 'modern' games)

Random Draw - pull out a token, if it is your colour you choose a plane and act with it; if my colour I choose a plane and act with it (like alternate move but randomised - a la Bolt Action)

Reaction Mechanics - allow you move all your forces like IGOUGO, but I can interrupt by 'reacting' with my unit/s if certain triggers/criteria are met (a la Ambush Alley/Infinity)

What I am looking for:

Air combat is pretty chaotic once the fight is joined. You may be able to plot BVR engagements via AWACS and ground radar but once the furball is on, complex co-ordination is difficult. The activation system should reflect this: make it hard to reliably co-ordinate anything except wingmen (aka pairs of planes).

So I need for players to be able to co-ordinate wingmen (i.e. pairs of planes) but prevent complex combined moves with planes flanking, pincering, etc. No grand strategy bar pairs of planes co-ordinating. Randomness, chaos - but with sneaky or high energy planes being able to somewhat dictate matters.

So something like IGOUGO or LOTR-style is out. It allows too much co-ordination between all your planes. Vanilla random draw or alternate move does not allow faster or unobserved planes an advantage.  In fact, I am going to probably have to mash-up some system of my own.

I want the aircraft stats to be simple but give defined flavour,i.e. a MiG-25 may have great Sprint speed but poor agility and dogfighting; carry hard hitting, extreme ranged anti-bomber missiles but have difficulty hitting agile fighters...

Superior numbers does not mean superior tactics:

I also don't want a situation where the side superior numbers also gets to co-ordinate too easily. Imagine an alternate move situation where 2 "A" ace planes face 4 "B" rookie planes.

A1 acts, B1 acts, A2 acts, B2 acts, then B3 acts, then B4 acts. B jets 2-4 could co-ordinate rather easily to get perfect tailing shots or box in the enemies - even if the 'A' side had ace pilots with more energy.

Even if you made it A1, B1, B2, A2, B3, B4 - there is built in co-ordination for jets B1 & B2, and then B3 & B4. I don't want the side with superior numbers (but possibly worse pilots) to be able to rely on this. Even random draw (like Bolt Action) suffers from this to a degree even though it is allegedly random.

Whilst this is an issue in all wargames (i.e. the horde army should not automatically get good co-ordination just becaue it has lots of guys) I'm particularly touchy as I want ace pilots, energy and detection to matter as per my initial rationale.

Some ideas to negate the 'extra numbers = better tactics"...

1) Handicap the planes moving last. Remember the 'actions' we had? Well, any plane moving after the last enemy is limited to 1 action, not 2 actions, or has some other modifier handicap. So if we went

A1, B1, A2, B2, B3, B4 - B2-4 could only take 1 action, or perhaps have -1 to dice rolls, or be more likely to be stressed. So having lots of planes and moving them last would not be a 'gotcha' but mean the pilots acting last could not keep pace or react enough to the action.  Perhaps B2, B3 and B4 would have to pass a dice roll or they could only perform a 'normal move.'  So having a heap of planes go last would not be a good thing.

2) Allow better/higher energy pilots to force enemies to act. Perhaps each side picks a plane. A1 and say B3 make opposed rolls - d10+pilot skill+energy bonus+stealth bonus. The highest scorer can either act OR force an enemy plane to act. In fact, you could choose the specific enemy planes to act if you can track them. So A1 could duel B1 with an opposed roll. If he wins, he could choose any B-jet he can track to move, or allow any he cannot see to move or insist the duelling jet (B3) moves (whatever he prefers). If you gave say a +2 for energy advantage and +2 for untracked advantage (or even front angle vs enemy rear aka tailing) - then better pilots, up high, could dictate fights. Basically instead of acting yourself, you force the opponent to act.

^This is just an example, not set in concrete, of course.

Hmm, kinda interesting if you combine them. Say A1 and A2 are are better pilots with energy advantage; they could likely win all the dice duels and force the order say B3, B2, B4, B1... then go last... A1, A2...  ...but they could only do 1 action themselves.

This also might allow us to avoid reactions as the 'duel' roll is kinda a reaction/opposed roll.  Or we could combine them and allow a player winning a reaction roll to size the initiative somehow.

A concern would be one good pilot, up high, dictates the  flow of the entire fight - it might make an individual pilot too strong and completely control and choreograph the whole fight (which is what we were trying to avoid! - we were only allowing the precise co-ordinating of wingmen!)

How to fix?  ...Maybe we could scale back the energy and stealth bonuses to +1 instead of +2 (to make it more random) and make sure A1 MUST act before doing opposed rolls with any other A-jet, AND each subsequent duel with the same jet means it is -1 to the roll.

But who goes first? 

I kinda didn't answer that, but I'd say there is some sort of opposed roll, where pilot skill, + BVR capabilities (radar, AESA etc) + stealth or amount of planes + friendly support (home territory, ground radar, AWACS) modify the roll in some ways.

I kinda like the idea of opposed rolls, as it involves players and gives more of an aerial 'duel' feel but it does slightly slow things down and makes the math for balancing a bit trickier...

So - do you have initiative and taking turns worked out yet?

Not really. I think I'm clear what I want and don't want - just not the precise mechanics to get there... but I have a bit of a skeleton framework to work from (albeit one I can easily abandon if I think of something better...)

Initiative and activation sequence is a tough topic - far (imo) more complex than the dice mechanics used to resolve actions (such as in post #2) - and usually it would be the first thing I focus on - however I've kinda come into this backwards/painted myself into a corner as I identified movement mechanics as being the big  'problem' issue with aerial wargames so I started there...

Friday 9 December 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #4: Actions, Reactions, Stress

 Small Chunks of Time

Now I'm starting to think about Activation and Initiative.  Normally this is #1 for me when designing a wargame (how and when you act) but streamlining movement seemed more urgent in this instance as this is where air wargames tend to bog in excessive detail.  

An aerial wargame is very chaotic and fluid. You might be able to co-ordinate a wingman but there is no grand strategy.  Is a pilot better? Is he undetected? Does he have more energy? These should convey a big advantage, as all 3 link with my initial manifesto dot points; but there should be a random element.

I'm really quite split on how to do this. A big issue is how much it bogs the game down. It can't be slower than a skirmish game. I.e. the complexity and time required to determine initiative, movement and resolve any detection and firing cannot be slower or more complex than a game like Infinity or Mordhiem.

Reactions or No Reactions

Now all this talk of skirmish wargaming has me thinking of Infinity - do I want a reaction mechanic? They can bog a game down (bad), but can add fluidity (good).

We need to divided the game into very small segments of time; especially if we have no reactions. A very real danger is if planes can always get on each other's tail each move, do to much, or maneuver too freely.

Example A: Plane can move 24", move freely and face in any direction, and fire 4 missiles and kill 4 different targets, while other planes sit motionless and just 'suck it up'. Having your 'turn' is too powerful. You can do whatever you want...

As we don't have real-time/simultaneous moves, planes are pretty much teleporting while the rest of the planes on board are motionless. So we want the move to be short; it is a tiny sliver of action. Seconds of real time. (Note: I don't tie myself to a scale, as I don't want to shackle myself to the alter of 'realism')

Example B: Plane can move 4" into front 180d arc only in a straight line from its origin point, and fire ONE missile. IF they move into rear 180d they must pass a Pilot Test to fire (so only elite pilots can reliably Immelman and pull off a missile shot at a target behind them). This turn is much more limited and forces more player decisions. 

A further reaction mechanic option to Example B is to allow other planes to react if the plane moved into their 'threat zone' say 8" like Infinity (or equal to the Pilot Skill in inches i.e. Pilot 6 = has 6" radius). This further takes away the 'power' of the moving player and removes the sense of planes hovering motionless in the sky awaiting their turn. It also allows both players to be involved in all aspects of play. Downside: more complication, slowing the game down.

Some implications:

In my rules, I have based normal movement on thrust/weight: i.e. if a plane exceeds 1.0 thrust/weight it moves 6", if it is 0.8-1.0 t/w it moves 5", if 0.5-0.7 = 4", 0.4 or less = 3". This is kinda to line up with infantry movement (you know, typical W40K 6" move, 24" shoot).

Sprint (top speed) has limited maneuvers due to Gs (it's also like a 'run' move in a skirmish game) and is based on maximum Mach, i.e. Mach 2.3+ 12", Mach 2+ 10", Mach 1.7+ 8", Mach 1.3 6", Mach 1.0+ 5" or something similar.  Subsonic planes have no Sprint capability.

Obviously these are just rough guidelines; but with reactions we can allow longer move distances, and without reactions we may need to reduce distances moved even more, so planes can't teleport past each other.

Would you still respect me if I admitted I haven't seen Top Gun: Maverick yet?


Using "action points" is very 1990s - you know, remember the RPGs where heroes could take 4-5 actions, regulars 3 actions, and rookies 1-2 actions?  .....I also recall those games usually being pretty fiddly. We do, however, want to show that veteran pilots can coolly plan out moves while rookies are panicking, not knowing what is going on.

But remember we are not micro-managing each plane; if you have 4-12 planes per side, you are a flight or squadron leader, able to give directions, but not precisely micromanaging each twitch of the joystick or throttle input: merely giving pilots general instructions which we can presume they will carry out. Instructions like "break left"  "split S" are fine; precisely setting each plane's speed and altitude to the nearest kph or metre or degree of AoA is not. Our scale is deliberately vague and fits this; 1-2" is "dogfight range" and could be several kilometres; our only angles are "front 180" and "back 180"; each 1" is 2-5km where missiles and radar are concerned....

For example, it seems silly to spend action points/actions or whatever just to make a pilot turn his plane; it's presume a trained pilot could rather easily bank his plane without much concentration. If I do "actions" it will be for complex actions requiring sustained concentration; perhaps like performing an Immelman,  a 'scissors'  to lose a pursuer, or guiding a semi-active radar missile in.

So we'll probably give all pilots a single complex action, with a chance (perhaps pass a pilot roll) at performing a second action. This is actually pretty common in a lot of skirmish games where I am heavily drawing my inspiration from. So a rookie pilot could perform an Immelman, but would find it hard to Immelman and then immediately lock and fire a Sidewinder, which may be quite easy for a skilled ace.

Stress aka Suppression

OK, I'm now borrowing a second concept from skirmish games - "suppression."  In most Dirtside/Ambush Alley-style games suppression is when a fire team cops incoming fire and can't advance or do much. Well, I'm renaming it pilot Stress but the idea is the same; a pilot can't do much when he is being locked onto by a beeping missile or is trying to evade a foe at treetop height; he is panicked and not seeing the big picture; he is likely to mess up something he can easily do in practice.

"Stress" is kinda like suppression; it's an intermediate stage where things are going wrong, but not deadly yet; but it's more psychological than physical. For example, a pilot may attempt to perform a complex maneuver like a Split-S and makes a pilot test.

If he fails the first time, he is merely Stressed. This is because most trained pilots can easily perform an Immelman under normal conditions, 99 out of 100 times. 

Only if he is already Stressed is there a negative consequence; a loss of control (spin) which might see him lose energy and face a random direction; or even crash if he is already low energy or on the deck.

This represents how a pilot could Split S flawlessly in training, but misjudge and crash into the ground when freaking out being chased by an enemy bogie.

Stress could also be removed; merely by the pilot  'collecting himself' maybe by spending a complex action (or rather, forfeiting the opportunity to do so).

There will be a range of things that may cause Stress; attempting complex maneuvers or trying to do "too much at once"; being fired at, losing dogfights, etc. I'd presume none would automatically cause stress; you'd probably only be Stressed if you fail a Pilot Roll triggered by the event.

Ugh. Another counter. 

So far we have a counter for,,,,

(a) energy status (high or low energy only; regular energy = no counter)

(b) tracked/locked/detection (to be specifically determined later)

(c) if "on the deck" <- rare?

(d) if damaged <- rare?

(e) Stress aka suppression

,,,,Eww. That's very messy. A energy token could be placed under the clear base of a plane, but there could be 2-3 others beside it. I'm thinking the counter situation may be spiralling out of control...

I've said all this about actions and reactions, but haven't even stated the "how you take turns" and "who goes first" which is is kinda the core of initiative system...  I'll have to save this for another post as my kids want to play Sea of Thieves (co-op pirate PC game) and I have some new LoTR to paint...

Saturday 3 December 2022

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2022 #3: Missiles, Lethality, "To Hit"

 I'm still avoiding activation/initiative as I'm paralyzed by indecision about a few key factors (reactions, etc). So I'm going to do 'shooting' as it's pretty simple and logical.

I'm still mulling over detection; my current rules (from the last post) may be replaced by a different set of rules. I'm replacing the word 'detected' with 'tracked' - showing it's more about clearly locating/acquiring the enemy rather than the enemy 'uncloaking' in case I am not clear enough in my description.

Version #2: Aircraft can only "track" 1, maybe 2 planes at a time (using similar 180d front/rear rules to detection. Again, it's either/or, front/back; a pilot can either be looking at his radar screen or over his shoulder; not both. "Untracked" planes get an initiative advantage and a bonus to dogfights, + missiles cannot be as easily evaded etc.

Missiles = Simple as 40K Shooting?

As a more relaxing focus, I'm going to look at missiles aka "shooting" in a skirmish wargame. If dogfights are melee, then missiles are going to parallel the rifle shooting phase. They need to be about as simple as shooting in a game like Infinity, while 'feeling' a bit different. Angle and status of the firer/target will matter instead of cover.

I don't really care about mechanics or dice that much so long as the methods are consistent and simple, it's the % chance for success that ultimately matters.  

In a normal 40K-style game, 50% chance to hit, and 50% chance to kill is usual. Which means each shot has a 25% chance of being lethal. Obviously, cover/saving rolls can reduce this further; perhaps ultimately to about 12.5% lethality. This gives us a ballpark for what is 'normal.'

Without getting bogged in ultra-realism and rivet counting, for Vietnam/70s Cold war, I think I recall AIM-9s had a 20% 'to hit' and AIM-7s had around 15% 'to hit'; with about 50% or so actually being lethal. I.e. 7-10% = remarkably similar to the 40K-esque numbers above. I could have a missile roll 4+ on d6 to hit, then 4+ on d6 to kill, and give sat a 4+ saving throw for flares/dodge and get the same end effect...!

Obviously missiles are more lethal now; in the 90s-on - in the 60-70-80% range; but that's pretty un-fun so I may artificially nerf them a bit.

No Rivet Counting

I obviously want some variation in missiles, but again, it should mirror the complexity of a skirmish wargame at most. I'll lump them into dogfight (usual infa-red) and med/long (BVR) range. (usually radar/SARH). Percentages are just my rough idea and are subject to change. This is an idea of how missiles will be categorized into broad groups:

Dogfight (~4-8km range)

Rear-Only (1st, 2nd Gen i.e. AIM-9B, K-13/AA-2). Must be fired into enemy rear 180. Not very accurate (30%?).  Earliest ones can't be used in combination with wild maneuvers. (Later AIM 9 G/H, R-13M/AA-2C/D can...)

All-Aspect (3rd gen; AIM-9L). Can be fired into any angle, but better chance of success to rear (50%) than front on (20%).

Thrust-Vector (4th gen, AIM-9X, R-73). Can be fired from any angle, but very agile, often cued by helmet sights. Say 40% front, 80% rear. Better resistance to ECM/flares. May have electro-optics. Better kill %.

BVR (Medium/Long ~20-50km range)

Early SARH (AIM-7E, AA-7/K-23). Can be fired from any angle, but needs a moment to line up so cannot combine with crazy maneuvers. Say 40% rear 20% front.

SARH (AIM-7M, AA-10/R-27)  More accurate, longer ranged, reduced chance of being decoyed. Say 70% rear, 50% front.

F&F 4th Gen (AIM-120, Meteor, MICA RF). Modern, accurate, use multiple tracking methods. 80%/50%. Very hard to decoy.

Hypersonic Long Range (active radar - AIM54, R-37).  Superfast long range, fitted to interceptors like MiG25/31, F-14 for interdicting supersonic bombers, AWACs etc. Unlimited range on table. Etc etc....

...anyway, you get the idea. While this is fun, it's not really important and it's a bit of a waste of time until I work out all the mechanics surrounding them. How can we make missiles in this game seem like missiles and not just rifles?


I really like Tumbling Dice's chunky 1:600s - easy to paint, sturdy gaming pieces

Lock & Hit? Well, you can only engage a target that is being tracked.  In addition, most missiles will require a "lock" as well as a roll to hit? You could roll two different coloured dice together; one to lock, the second to hit. SARH missiles roll against the plane's Radar stat to lock, whereas heat seekers probably have their own Lock stat (based on search angle and seeker system quality).  Pilot skill modifies this a bit. Modifiers would be the same as radar detection/tracking in the last post, for simplicity sake.

Range will vary, but if our jets are moving 4-8"like 40K infantry, let's say our BVR missiles will average 24"(40K rifle) and dogfight missiles 6-12" (like 40K pistols and SMGs); at least to start with. We can reduce this after playtesting; but we'll start with these familiar distances for balance purposes.

If 'dogfights' and gun range are melee (1-2") = a few km; and 'visual' range is say 6-8" or so - 12-16km or so, then we can adapt missile stats easily enough, always bearing in mind realism is always trumped by fun/playability.

Let's say 1" missile range every ~5km of 'factory spec' range; this would give an AIM-9 3-4"range, an AIM-7E 6" range, and an AIM-7M 14". Seems a little low, but we can get range bonuses depending on the firer's energy/height and the target aspect.

Closing time: Head-on missile targets (fired into target front arc) get +100% range, but are easier to spot/dodge with maneuvers.

High energy launch: Maybe high energy fighters get extra +50% range, low energy lose -50%?

So an AIM-9 could actually fire 10" in optimal conditions = 4" (base) +4" (closing), +2" (max energy)

Evasion (Dodge/Evade Save): Allow some sort of opposed roll or penalty to-hit; if target is facing missile launch it gets a bonus. Radar Warning Receivers (RWR) increase this bonus. Based on pilot skill.

Countermeasures (Cover Save): Allow some sort of opposed roll or penalty to hit; maybe can combine with Dodge Save. Again, a RWR makes it more effective.

Hmm. I really need to make a decision on whether I allow reaction mechanics. I usually build a game using initiative mechanics first, and it's coming back to bite me now...

Ok, so let's put it all together into a sequence. A F-4 Phantom armed with AIM-7Es (medium energy) can engage enemies at 8-16"; newer-gen AIM-7Ms would cover 14-28". 

It would choose a tracked aircraft in its front arc, within range, and roll 2 dice; a lock dice that must pass it's radar stat (say 60%) AND a to-hit to actually have the missile connect (also, say 40% for a rear-on AIM-&E launch). At the moment, it's 24% lethality presuming the missile is 100% effective and insta-kills every target.

Now, let's presume the missile only gets a kill 60% of the time. Some are duds/near misses. Now it has 14% lethality. 

OK, but what about flares/chaff/evasive maneuvers? Let's say it's based on the mid-level agility of a MiG-21; it probably could be a contested roll but for the sake of simplicity let's say it's 50%.

So... in the final wash out, our AIM-7 has a 7% chance to actually kill.   That's actually close to my 40K-style 4+ on a d6 to hit, 4+ to kill, 4+ saving throw... ..and not far off the historical 9% from Wikipedia.

This is a useful design concept to ponder; "how" you get there is mostly flavour; the ultimate success % is the actual effect. So while the process of 'how' may add a sense of realism and involvement, I could technically just skip it all, roll a d10 for each Aim-7, and remove an enemy jet each '1' that was rolled. Effect would be almost identical. But it wouldn't be as satisfying for the players.

It's why I am never too attached to dice mechanics; whether it is buckets of d6 or d20 contested rolls, it's the end result that matters.

I'm not too wedded to the above missile mechanics, but as it is it's no more complex than any skirmish/40K game - merely necessitating an extra 'lock' dice to be thrown alongside the 'to hit' dice -  I'm going to label it 'good enough for now' and move on.

I'm going to review the missile ranges with an eye to linking with radar/detection ranges (which I haven't set in stone, but I'm going visual range as 6-8" and radar may as well be the same as missiles. If missile range is 5km/"  (actually 2.5km/" when you count closing bonuses); then radar range will fall somewhere in there. An F-4 AWG-10 radar has around 100km range, so 20-40" seems fair.  Again, scale is not precise it's more about gameplay feel, and how weapons and radars work relative to each other.