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...


  1. Have you played Star Wars: X WIng? If so, would adapting the pilot activation mechanism to make lower energy aircraft move before the higher energy ones to simulate the tactical advantage be of use?

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  3. Sorry about that...thought to edit, but not possible here? anyway...Skip ways to activate players - I don't see any reason to include them at all? Activate aircraft using a simple initiative roll (which can include bonuses/penalties reflecting aircraft/pilot status/quality). This contains a measure of the opposed rolls you favor, as well as sets up a reaction system of sorts. Wingmen (that have attached themselves as such) would act with their leader, gaining the coordination benefit while trading away the 'horde' advantage. All models move and then all models conduct simultaneous firing - though perhaps long-range missile launches would be part of movement?

  4. I've used forcing enemies to act (approach #2 above) in mass combat games. It does a great job replicating the abilities certain historical generals had to bait their opponents into rash actions.

    I had never considered that mechanic for a skirmish level game but it reminds me of the memories of a Japanese ace over Guadalcanal where he observed a US ace baiting the faster zeros to go after him and cause them to overshot.

  5. Force all units to roll d6 to determine whether they act, react, or "pass" (keep doing what they are doing). Elites might pass 2+ or 3+, rookie 5+ or 6. Totally ok if Maverick 'freezes' and barrels headlong into a furball of enemies who happen to be on alert.

  6. So far, I see 3 major pieces to this initiative puzzle:
    1. Pairs of planes.
    2. Limited coordination.
    3. Aces have a situational advantage.

    Some thoughts:
    Idea 1: Make a player's turn consist of activating a wing (pair of planes) rather than just one plane. No more, no less. So player one activates a wing, then player two activates a wing, repeat ad infinitum. This gives the player a small degree of coordination and still retains the chaos of a dogfight. It is also a simple way to handle a pilot and wingman combo in one turn.

    Idea 2: Give each wing a point pool to use instead of an individual plane/pilot. The player can split up the points among either plane as they see fit, but both must move. This way, again, there's some coordination but only between the two planes.

    Idea 3: Let Aces have a point advantage, or use points more efficiently than a Rookie. So Aces either have a higher point cap, or less point cost for actions. (Or both?)
    Example stat: Pilot Skill.
    Point Efficiency
    An Ace may spend 1 point per action, Rookies spend 3.
    Point Cap
    Aces have a PS of 10 and Rookie PS 5.
    Use both.

  7. Dang it, google. Tried to login and it goofed up. I made the comment on the 3 ideas above.

  8. Okay, so, cardinal sin, I haven't read the entire post or the comments, but I'm writing this before I forget it. What if it was random draw, but it just said the type of plane. For example, stealth, high energy (there would be more of these tokens) vs low energy, spotted, etc. There could also be follow on tokens that say for example, plane + wingman.

  9. Interesting approach. Perhaps an Initiative Track, where all Wings roll an Initiative dice and + bonuses. Lower base numbers go on the ladder first. They then create a ladder with low scores first, to high scores last. You then go down the ladder to move Wings, and then back up the ladder to shoot. Do this each turn?

    High initiative/equipment planes will have an advantage, but not a guarantee. It is still an opposed roll. You can differentiate for different states/planes/gear/doctrines/skill level with Mods.

    The Con is additional book keeping on the side board. :(

  10. Hello evilleMonkeigh. Tomek here, I'm a big fan of your blog. Want to invite you and others who are into wargames design to this discord server: Hope to see you there!

  11. Hi,
    Something we used for WW1 aircraft participation games with multiple players might work here. Determine Initiative for each aircraft as:
    Height + Speed + Pilot skill roll.
    Aircraft move in order of Initiative, lowest going first.
    Damaged or out of control aircraft move before any other aircraft. Assigned Wingmen get to move (immediately) after their leader.
    After all aircraft have moved, then shooting.
    Tailing opportunities or dogfighting could be resolved with opposed pilot skill rolls.