Monday 10 April 2023

Revisiting Jet Wargames 2023 #6: More on Activation & Detection


I've laid out my aims here. The aim is for somewhat unpredictable activation, with better pilots, undetected planes and higher energy giving an advantage.

 A commentator laid out some of my issues:

1. Pairs of planes.
2. Limited coordination. (aka. somewhat random - no overarching planning ahead/grand strategy allowed)
3. Aces have a situational advantage. (I'd add + energy & detection also should factor in)

Now, for a bit of background: I'm almost certainly using a 1.5APT (1 automatic action plus 50% or so pilot roll/chance of a 2nd action) method, i.e. jets can move for free and make 1 90d turn, but need it's 'action' to perform a special maneuver (Immelman, yoyo, etc) or lock+shoot which shows the extra concentration needed in combat. This represents that the pilot can still fly the plane even when flustered, but may not be able to coolly line up shots, and only very good pilots can consistently roll a second action and thus reliably combine complex maneuvers and shooting... 

I think I can easily solve the pairs of planes aka wingman concept, but the overall method for move order still bothers me.

Here's some example activation/move order methods and why/why not I'd use them.

Bolt Action. One dice per unit. Pull dice out of a box. If it's your dice, choose a unit to act.

Good: It's random. Perhaps too random. It's easy.

Bad: It favours the side with more units, not better energy, detection or skills.

1/5 stars


Modified Bolt Action. Pull a dice randomly out of a box like above. If it's your dice, roll it.You can act on 3+ (d6), +/- 1 high or low energy, +1 undetected, -1 tailed, +/-1 good/bad crew. If you fail the roll, you move straight ahead or lose an action or some penalty.

Good: Mix of randomness and energy/skill/detection. Outnumbering is not as impactful. It's not too predictable.

Bad: No one will enjoy failing the roll. Maybe just can either turn or fire OR... passing the roll gives you an EXTRA action<-it's all how you spin it!

3/5 stars

LoTR. Side A moves. Side B moves. Side A shoots. Side C shoots.

Good: It breaks the turn up a bit. It's very simple.

Bad: It isn't random. It ignores energy, detection and pilot skill.

Note: you could combine LoTR with "better pilot" below

 1/5 stars

Better energy/better pilot first (X-Wing). Move in order of most/least energy or best/worst pilot. (Whatever you choose, use the other one to break ties)

Good: It's consistent and factors in skill/energy. Very simple. But you have to ignore one factor (i.e. detection). Maybe... undetected planes move in their own phase using the same sequence?

Bad: It isn't random, you can see the exact move order before you start activating units

3/5 stars

Card based (Bag the Hun). Each unit is assigned to a card, they act when the card it pulled. You could add in extra cards for aces, the unit with the highest energy or undetected units.

Good: It's random but not completely random (you can add in some limited nod to energy/ace/detection). It's not predictable.

Bad: I'm not a fan of cards and tracking who is what card, or the gaminess of a special 'ace' or 'high energy' card.

2/5 stars


--OK, now for some I'm seriously considering--

Modified D6. Each unit rolls a d6. +/-1 high low energy, +1 undetected, -1 tailed. Max is 6, minimum is 1. Better pilots break ties.

Good: It considers detection, skill and energy AND is random-ish. Not too complex.

Bad: You'd have a micro dice sitting on the table next to the plane until it acts. And I'm trying to remove clutter so much I abstracted altitude FFS. It's only slightly better than 'better energy first' as you'd still be able to see what order things would happen in before the round starts.

4/5 stars


Opposed Roll D10 (Infinity). Player with initiative at start of gamer nominates a model. If the opponent has models in detection arc, they roll an opposed roll with modifiers like

-2 enemy in rear 180

+/- Better pilot

+/- Better radar

+/-2 High/low energy

The winner can act OR choose to have the loser act. Then he chooses another unit to duel.

Good: You can mix detection in with activation and consider angles etc. Gives a feeling of a 'duel' between pilots. Initiative can swap at any time, unexpectedly.

Bad: It's more complicated - what do you do if you pick a model and there's no one detecting you? (Pass a simple target number to retain initiative?) What happens when one unit has models left over after the other has activated? (penalty to actions of leftover units - so having more planes/going last isn't too OP?)

4/5 stars



It's not submarine-like detection 'stealth' so much as 'tracking' i.e. not losing sight of an enemy jet at a vital moment. I was hoping could combine it with activation and enemy lock on to remove an extra phase.

So far it looks like

#1. Roll to find move order (any method above) 

#2. Roll to see how many actions (1 or 2) based on skill etc (this could be combined with #1)

#3. Roll to track enemy <- this is a detection roll

#4. Roll to hit missiles / resolve dogfights

#6. Resolve damage

While this isn't worse than Necromunda or Kill Team (level of detail I'm aiming for), I'd like to streamline where possible. So rather than detection #3 being it's own thing, I might see if I can shift its effects into

#1 (untracked = a bonus to initiative/activation) and #4 (untracked = bonus to missile hits or dogfights) could be combined with #3 somehow.

Buuuut - how do I determine who is tracked or not without a separate roll?

Better radar/AoA could be bonus to the move order/activation I guess - but how does that tell me if they are tracked or not? Maybe if opponent fails a TN they are untracked? (See Opposed Roll method above)

I.e. Plane A has stat 5 + rolls 7 = 12. He wins and beats Plane B who is stat 4 but rolls a 4 = 8. Now Plane A goes first AND remains untracked as Plane B missed a target number (say 10?) however if Plane B rolled a 6 and got a 10 total (loses but equals or beats the target number), Plane A still goes first but is tracked by Plane B.... 

Perhaps I am overthinking things and should simply roll an extra detection roll. I mean, most games would...  I could move the detection roll BEFORE #1 (say as a #0) so both players could be making detection rolls simultaneously (speeds up play) and THEN actions and initiative occur AFTER detection is resolved...

Sunday 9 April 2023

Tankhiem - Detection & Combat (+ Spaceships)

Well, I've settled on Activation C (with some tweaks); and now I'm working on detection and combat.  Since it's only ~12 units max, and usually 4-8 per side, I'm allowing myself the same level of 'mental load' and modifiers as an average skirmish game.


Units start with a set 'autodetect' distance. This is ~24"for a tank, 18"for SPG, 12" infantry. This can be modified by +6"(target firing small arms or moving) or 12"(firing a big gun or double move), and halved if in cover. Units beyond this range (or out of the narrow 90d frontal arc = tanks have poor vision) must be 'acquired' by the commander by spending an action to co ordinate with the gunner. (It's kinda like a lock on and includes traversing the turret) Units with superior optics can spend an action "unbutton" instead of moving to get +12" bonus range. The maximum possible acquisition range is x2 the autodetect distance. 

Yes the village is too crowded for tank warfare, but my wife can't resist re-arranging my tables....  My son was gobsmacked to discover I had a sand table hidden under a sheet of MDF... "An indoor sandpit Dad!"


A d10 is nice and simple math-wise; say 6" 80%, 12"70%, 24" 50%, 25"+ 30% (each 12"= ~500m). 

The damage and hit location dice will be d6 of different colours. So I can toss them all together. Something like:

Damage dice (Red D6) - compare gun pen to armour

+3 gun = 2 damage, 3,4,5,6 kill

+2 gun = 2,3 damage, 4,5,6 kill

+1 gun = 3,4 damage 5,6 kill

equal = 4,5 damage 6 kill

+1 armor = 5, 6 damage

+2 armour = 6 damage

(gun pen is for 12-24"; closer range is +1 pen, 25"+ is -1 pen)

Hit Location dice (Black D6)

1, 2 = mobility. 1st hit = immobile till repair roll, 1/2 speed. 2nd hit = permanent immobile, fire

3 = something explosive. 1st hit = fire, chance to boom. 2nd hit = boom!

4 = main gun. 1st hit = no shooting til repaired. 2nd hit = gun permanent knocked out

5,6 = crew hit. 1st hit = no actions till crew check. Penalty to activation. 2nd hit = all dead

+1 to roll if front on, -1 if rear on (presuming crew compartment front/engine rear)

There will also be 'bail out' rolls - often crew will jump out (or even be forced out to repair?). Maybe a crew check to remain in a damaged tank. A crew once bailed out, must pass a crew check to re-board, if it fails it the tank is abandoned.

I think also there will be a 'shock' token that kinda acts like suppression - a -2 modifier to rolls etc and takes an action to remove.

I actually am far more casual about mechanics than I am about activation. I think the above is sorta the level of detail I am after - a bit like Mordhiem with downed/dead models, mixed with hit locations like Battletech. The aim is to make it cinematic. 

The PzIII's 5-pen 50mm struggled against the KV-1's 8 armour. At armour +2 or more, only a '6' damages it. The KV-1 might bounce 5-6 rounds frontally without any damage. But a side shot faces only equal 5 armour. A sneaky flanking PzIII rolls 4 to pen and a '5' location - shrapnel sprays into the crew compartment. The KV-1 cannot respond (skips turn, crew busy checking injuries). The crew roll to see if they remain in the tank; but as the KV-1 has the Steel Wall trait they have confidence in their vehicle and can re-roll a failure and remain in the tank. the KV crew then rolls to recover in the move phase, but fails the roll. The PzIII pumps 2 more rounds into it - bouncing with a '2' and scoring another damage with a '4' - jamming the turret ring and knocking out the main gun. The KV-1 will hope its crew can recover and it can back out of there...

This is my 2nd Buzz Lightyear toy (this was $25AUD from K-Mart)

I didn't disable the light and noise - this big boy still thinks it's cool...

The EM4 starships (~$10 for 12) must be my most used minis; they serve as fighter subs, conventional starfighters and space PT-boats...

Tank Traits

These add flavour to the tank. "2 man turret" - overworked commander is -2 to shooting activation rolls; "flammable" means mobility hits can cause fire. "Slow turret" is -2 to acquisition rolls outside the front 90d. A radio allows you to pass on acquisitions (locks) with friendlies and is a +1 activation if in visual of friendlies (increased awareness). Neutral steering allows 2 90d pivot actions to spin 180d in a turn instead of the usual 1. Slow reverse means tanks move half speed in reverse. Etc etc.

Some traits can be upgrades - camo nets, smoke launchers, home made armour and radios can be fitted to most tanks and many guns can take special ammo.

Crew Traits (Campaign)

These are like RPG and can be levelled up.  The crew themself have a level that corresponds to their crew check roll i.e. 50% green, 60% experienced, 70% veteran... but you might have a crack gunner who might specialise in snap shots or sniping, or a driver that can thread effortlessly through obstacles...

Wear & Tear & Supplies (Campaign)

Like injuries in Mordhiem, damage can have a permanent effect; -1"speed for engine hits, -1 permanently weakened armour in a particular arc, a -1 to hit for a gun knocked out of alignment....

In the campaign, tanks need supplies - a catch all for ammo, fuel and parts to repair.  I'll probably track this in game by sliding a counter for each team down a 1m ruler. (It's tracked by team, as individual tanks do things to increase wear-and-tear like sprint, fire maximum RoF/in 2 consecutive turns, and quite a lot are required for after-game repairs (I've been playing a bit of PC Mechwarrior 5...)

Battletech Alpha Strike Box Set (Rules Review)

The Package: "One of the best and most complete box sets I've seen - it has it all, for a good price."

The Rules: "If you have to add lots of house rules to make it good - it's not good."


The Shiny

I'll start with the contents of the box, so the true Battletech nerds can then skip the rest where I nitpick the rules and possibly hurt their feels. 

The miniatures are that dodgy 3D-printer-y plastic not the good stuff, but the 13 models you get are all pretty decent and paint up pretty easily. I've only done a very fast job on mine and they look good on the table. You get plenty of dice, nice thick card markers and trees and plenty of rather nice houses for terrain. You can get playing right out of the box. 

The rulebook is unfortunately but unsurprisingly a 'starter' rulebook - you have to shell out for the full rules - but it's easy to use and nice to look at. You also get quick-reference cards and stuff as well as stats cards for all the mechs in the box. I laminated my mech cards so I can use whiteboard pens on them but you can also make them online.

It's a very nice box of toys for $120AUD ($80 freedumbucks) but I'm not really enthusiastic to play it because of.... 

The Rules

An unsuccessful attempt to simplify a bloated 1980s quasi-RPG makes questionable choices. I was constantly thinking not "this is cool" but "this x could be changed to y". As the quick-play game this was a lost opportunity to update the clunkiness. The Battletech rules could have been kept the same to appeal the hardcore BT nerds and their rose-tinted glasses, but Alpha Strike could and should have been modernised to increase its accessibility.

What you need

Each mech comes with a unit card which tracks damage to armour/structure, heat and critical hits along with stats like speed, firepower in each range band, special abilities and points cost.  It gives 5 'missions' and explains how to fairly set out terrain (a welcome addition too few rules do). It then goes into a fair bit of detail of how each piece of terrain works - I'm not sure this is the place in the book for the terrain rules though - and how to set up and start. 

Initiative & Order of Play

Players roll off for initiative and the players then alternate moving. Each side then shoots ALL their mechs, then the other side shoots ALL their mechs. Damage is applied immediately doesn't take effect til both have fired so you get to shoot back before you are destroyed. While nice in theory, the combat sequence seems a bit clunky to track. It'd make more sense to allow sequential firing and just implement damage instantly (perhaps in order of pilot skill - perhaps you could then tie movement order to mech size/agility (aka TMN) making lights even more useful?


While firing arcs and flanking matters (good), it's still a very detailed and involved process for a fast-play entry game (19 modifiers!). You need to track attacker and defender movement, as well as the usual range/cover. Making things more Battletech-y, you can spend heat (which you need to track) to boost damage. 

I dislike the 2D6 bell curve as it can be 'gamed' - not all modifiers are worth the same. A switch to d10 or d12 would improve the game. If you go 'past the curve' or fall short of the curve it can make a big difference i.e. d10 = 10%, 20%, 30% etc is a flat 10%; 2d6 = 3%, 8%, 17%, 27%, 42%, 58%, 72% etc - the gaps vary in size making modifiers more or less valuable at certain points; a +2 modifier on d10 would be a reliable 20% but could fluctuate between 30% or 11% on 2d6 depending on where it is on the curve. There's a place in gaming for 2D6 - but this isn't it.

The flat damage i.e. weapons deliver an all-or-nothing set damage chunk at certain range bands (i.e. firepower 5 mechs do 5, firepower 7 mechs do exactly 7HP damage) which is weird; they even have their own modified rules in the book - but this modified rule means you roll individually for each point of damage (slow/clunky using 2d6 each time) and this has further effects such as disadvantaging lights; which are more vulnerable to smaller but more frequent 'chip' damage. As expected the 2d6 complicates the odds as well and makes the knock-on effect of house rules less obvious.

The move/shoot ranges also seem a bit off but that may just be my experimenting on a 4x4' table.

Despite my dislike of hitpoints they are pretty reasonable in Alpha Strike and fit the feel of the game, as does the critical hits. A sensible level of abstraction to speed things up while retaining a Battletech feel.

Lights are harder to hit (higher base 'to hit' aka TMN) - which is good and gives them some survivability - but you'd need to wisely sprint/jump/have plenty of table cover to 'manage' the 2d6 curve to make them worthwhile.

Overall, the whole combat section feels like a dodgy homebrew adaption of the original 80s rules and would benefit from being ripped up and redone completely fresh. I know there are a plethora of house rules about trying to 'fix' this (heck even these starter rules even have 'house rules' in them) but if your rules need house rules to be good - they aren't good. To compound this, Alpha Strike seems to be lacking the character of OG Battlemathtech. It's too generic and bland. It's probably fun when you add in all the extras like aircraft, tanks and infantry but when you get to a bigger battles (12-16 or so, with all the 'extras') it wouldn't actually be that fast.

Heat & Other Stuff

I do like heat rules (it makes mechs play/feel different than just big infantry). Heat is used to boost damage. The rules are simple and easy to remember - reduce -2" and and 1 penalty to hit each heat level etc.  A shutdown mech is -4 to be hit; which seems a bit extreme a penalty. 

There is some special mech traits and rules for force building. Formations may be designated by role (assault, fire support, recon, command etc) which can give bonuses and also determines the type of mech that can be included. Mechs have point values which seem reasonable from my limited knowledge but I strongly suspect how much cover is on the table would impact the value of many mechs.

There is rules for climbing, destroying and collapsing buildings and calling in artillery and airstrikes off-table. This section is obviously missing a lot from the full rules, and it is a little disappointing infantry and vehicles are not included. 

Given how much work the Alpha Strike rules seem to need to be decent, I think shelling out another $80AUD for the 'proper' rulebook (2/3rd the cost of the entire box set!) feels like a sunk cost fallacy.

The models scale well with 6mm sci fi...

TL:DR - "Yes to the mechs, meh to the rules"

For the price the box set is a very complete package at a reasonable price - 13 mechs, terrain, dice, rules and I'd recommend it as decent value if even you only have a cursory interest in mech combat. It's one of the best box sets I've seen in a while, actually.

However the rules themselves feel like a hasty band-aid adaption to speed up the ancient 1980s Battletech rules and seem to invite a fair bit of house-rules which is not what you want when introducing newcomers. It feels like it's lost a lot of BT flavour and still feels pretty awkward. With its rich history and lore BT seems well positioned to hoover up discontented 40K refugees, but as a starter/entry to Battletech, Alpha Strike seems like a missed opportunity to modernize and streamline - you always have the OG Battletech rules for those with well-tinted nostalgia goggles. 

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Wargame Eras & Eternal Projects

I remember my first wargame. It was an accident. Interested in history, I bought a book Battlegame Armada - that happened to have a map and counters embedded inside. It had fleets and a hex map of the Channel, and you moved at different speeds depending on the wind. Fleets could damage each other, launch fireships, etc. Dice were involved. I played it for hours.

15mm are affordable. That's why I have so many armies. I was weak...

The Early Era

I then quickly discovered Starfleet Battles and Battletech which gave me a lifelong dislike of record keeping, DBA which taught me wargames did not have to be complex, and 40K which taught me to make house rules (and the lifelong lesson that GW products were unaffordable). But the most play came from Blood Bowl (I played solo leagues), Battlefleet Gothic (home made 2D ships cut from ice cream tubs) and General Quarters (a WW1-2 naval wargame - I could afford 1:2400 NavWar ships). (a godsend) allowed me to explore new genres as far as my parents tolerance for printer ink allowed.

Girls and Sport Era

Unsurprisingly, not much wargaming was done in this era. 

Infinity was a favourite... before it was crushed under the weight of 100s of special rules...

The Cashed Up Childless Era

While those around me tried to get me into Warmachine, Malifaux, and 40K I instead drifted into Infinity and Ambush Alley/15mm. I played various Song Of rules and bought some big batches of LoTR on ebay. I bought and tried a lot of rules. I mean a lot. This blog was started as I was tired of explaining rulesets to those who were directed to me, from others who knew I'd have tried/played/owned it. (There's ~150 reviews on this site and it's probably not a quarter of the rules I own). I was exposed to many unique mechanics - especially enjoying reaction mechanics - and grew convinced the turn sequence/initiative was an important and overlooked; and card mechanics and special dice were usually gimmick$. My wargames.vault account saw many pixels downloaded. The unpainted lead mountain grew out of control. But never mind - I'd get to them, right?

The Nappies Era

Also unsurprisingly, not much wargaming was done in this era either. The lead mountain remained. Well, at least if I died, I'd have many warriors to accompany me to the afterlife. The terracotta army wasn't painted either, right?

The Homebrew Era aka the Era of Discontent & Penury

Ah, budgets. Now time poor (kids demand attention) and money poor (kids cost a lot) I mostly halted my purchasing, but didn't actually paint much either. Mostly I experimented with home rules. 

I grew frustrated with the general poor level of wargames which regurgitated the same ideas and concepts - ground sci fi as Vietnam-in-space, Starships which played identically to WW2 warships, aerial rules which were agonizingly gluggy remakes of WW1 boardgames, and everything-else-as-a-40K-clone - with surprisingly little variation. It was like seeing the same CoD or FIFA game every year. 

I went exploring the internet to see if anyone else was talking about wargame design and didn't really find anything except some blog posts by the guy who did Dreadball. So I 'thought aloud' about topics that interested me, and so far have done 92 posts on wargame design, some of dubious worth - but in return received many interesting ideas in the comments. Weirdly, I did continue to paint and collect a lot of Warmachine in this era - a game I have no intention of playing. I'm not proud. I just like the models I guess. I also created a gigantic collection of Weird West models from existing various Malifaux, Confrontation3 and Perries.  This is the time most of my 'eternal' homebrew rules started - when I couldn't find good rules in a genre or the genre simply didn't exist... (I still can't believe there isn't a market for a game with dogfighting 300kph supercavitating submarines... hmph!)

The Painting and PC Era (current)

COVID (and being flooded in several times) provided impetuous to paint, as my now-school-aged kids like hanging out in the shed. Long forgotten 15mm sci fi armies were painted (I now have about 12 forces each the size of a 40K army) and ~500-600 LoTR models were rediscovered, and energetically painted at the rate of several hundred a year. Each week I paint ~10 minis. I am rediscovering hidden boxes in the lead mountain, and have cautiously purchased new minis - Battletech, 1:100 WW2 tanks, Imperialis Aeronautica, Cruel Seas, Dropfleet Commander and I am starting to cautiously buy more rules (but not PDFs which are insanely overpriced).  As I have read both Lord of the Rings and Hobbit to both kids in the space of two years LoTR:MESBG continues to stay prominent (and my favourite GW game - I retried Blood Bowl recently and it hasn't aged well, sadly).

The thiftiness from the previous era continues but now it's deliberate - we choose to do up Hot Wheels mad max cars, or Fisher Price castles or block cities not because we must, but because it is a fun project with kids.

This era is also a bit schizophrenic as it tends to be dictated by whatever cool thing I have unearthed in the shed or discovered with my son via books or digital media (major current projects in WW2 tanks and mechs came from PC games War Thunder and MWO respectively) and sit alongside French Indian War dinosaurs...

I also rediscovered an old HDD with many old projects which I sporadically work on and test. I seldom post on them, because I tend to time how long games takes, and taking photos on top of my scribbled notes would slow things to a crawl. Also, by the time I have written the rules, playtested, then retyped again, I am not in the mood for an hour of blog typing. However here are some that regularly get worked on:

Vector Strike gunships escort an armoured convoy....

"Eternal Projects"

Delta Vector. The eponymous game of big starships that started my interest in space combat. Vector mechanics, and combat that borrows from EvE Online and Lost Fleet. No stealth, but lock on/signature, relative velocity and lightspeed plays a part and microwarps allow teleportation on table. Small ships are useful and survivable - not just cannon fodder.


SuperCav. Supercavitating fighter submarines either sneak and use micro-torpedoes or duel in loud 300kph battles using underwater cannon. WW2 underwater, with stealth. Influenced by the book The Battle for the Narrow Seas.

Vector Strike. Rocinante from The Expanse meets the PC game Descent, PT boats and modern helicopter gunships. Small crew space strike gunships who fight in asteroid fields and close quarters environments with missiles, drones and chainguns. Cos 1-man space fighters are stupid.

Aeronef. Channelling Battlefleet Gothic for Victorian steampunk shenanigans. Influenced by old school GW, Warmachine and General Quarters. Give those Boche a pasting!

Modern Pulp was a modern Middleheim spin-off that originated as a simplified Infinity for generic rules to handle Stalker/modern/paranormal/vamps vs werewolves and has morphed more into sci fi horror The Forgotten where demons control strike teams of human puppets... ...and I explore morale mechanics.

Intercept Vector. Modern jet air combat that completely departs from 1970s aerial wargames, borrowing more from modern ground skirmish games so you can play with a dozen jets per side and not take forever. No written orders or fancy move templates and rulers.

Mecha. Cos Battletech is so 1980s RPG. Nothing I've seen has the right feel of mechs (vs just big humans) yet fast enough gameplay. Heat management, jump jets and stompy robot feel required. Blow off limbs, but don't record 101 hitpoints.

Middleheim. My narrative skirmish rules - base setting is psychic knights riding dinosaurs. Tend to use this as a test bed for concepts. Influenced by Savage Worlds but dice mechanics change often.

Tankmunda. Mercenary tank troops duel in a 1945 alt-history dieselpunk postapocalypse where chemicals and viruses from WW1 devastated Europe. Mortal Engines but with Tiger tanks, fortified bases, mutants and cannibals with WW2 tech.

These are the most-updated rules - but there are others. The micro-scale rules where nanomachines duel among ants and grass stems recently caught my eye....

Game Design #92: Complexity v Detail v Realism, Decisions and "Flow"

While sitting in the car pondering my tank rules, I was thinking about where the rules would be allowed to be complicated and detailed, and where they are not. I.e. I didn't mind complex activation rules (see previous Tankhiem post) but I was keep to keep the shooting/damage mechanics pretty basic and minimising recording.

Complexity. This is how elaborate, or convoluted the rules are.

A ruleset is complex if it has many special rules/traits/abilities which 'break the rules' or are an exception to the normal rules. For example, the Song Of... series boasts of its simplicity with only 2-3 unit "stats" but then has hundreds of special rules and traits to differentiate units - not so simple!

A ruleset is needlessly complex if it does not follow normal gaming stereotypes and tropes. This could even be how the rules are laid out - having to find a rule in a random spot. Or the language used. I recently read Killwager and it was needlessly complicated by renaming common wargaming terms "flow" "measures" "performances" "conflict" - having to mentally translate them to "action points" "actions" and "turns" "opposed rolls" is exhausting (and it smacks of pretentiousness).

A ruleset is complex if it does not use uniform, consistent mechanics - i.e. Warmachine uses 2d6 + stat to beat a target number. This method is used pretty consistently.  In contrast, Bag The Hun uses 7 dice methods (and dice types!) including tables, beating a target number, counting doubles, etc.

A set of rules can be complex in many ways. A good sign a rulebook is complex is if you have to regularly consult it, not for tables and modifiers (see detail below) but because it is often unclear how you should do something.

Detail. A detailed ruleset might have modifiers for everything, including if the commander spilled coffee on his lap. It might have individual stats for every tank gun used in WW2. Detail does not automatically = complexity, but usually infers an increase in things to recall. The super detailed tank guns might share simple, easy-to-follow rules: beat a number on d10 to hit, beat a number on d10 to knock out. That's quite a simple method. There just might be 101 different variations of gun. Detailed rules tend to have long lists, tables and inventories which may indirectly be exhausting. A more abstract ruleset might classify those guns into 4 groups, lumping similar-ish guns into Type A, B, C or D. Detailed rules may also be more dense, detailing every possible outcome or permutation of an action. More abstact rules tend to be far more brief (but may be ambiguous or feel too 'vanilla'). Detailed rules are not necessarily tricky to play - the mechanics may be logical - but usually involve checking tables and modifiers as there is too much to easily remember. It's a sign it's detailed if you check the rules - not how to do something, but to check exactly what a particular modifier, range band or piece of kit does.                                                                                                                                                   

Decisions. When discussing my tank activation rules with a friend, we kept using words for 'gives you a chance to decide' or 'gives you a chance to act'. aka Player agency.  

Now your decisions usually always include Where to Move and Who to Shoot.  This is your basic old school IGO-UGO 40K-a-like.

However they can also include: Who Moves First (alternate activation) - which is about the action sequence/move order.

But depending on your rules, it could include:

Who activates first? Who shoots first? Should I make an opponent activate? Should I move OR shoot OR choose between other actions?  Should I 'save' my shot (or move) for later? Should I interrupt my opponent? Should I use area fire or direct aimed fire?

Many decisions lie in the part of the rules which is usually named something like 'initiative' or 'activation' or 'move order' or 'sequence of a turn.' It usually is to do with WHEN and WHO of an action. As you can see, relying on IGOUGO tends to strip away many decisions. Alternate move (you move a unit, I move a unit - like chess - at least adds a "who acts first" element.

Having lots of decisions allows a lot of player influence on the game. However, too many decisions can actually be exhausting and create mental overload. A bit like trying to watch Inception when you are tired. I call this mental load. Sometimes you're just in the mood for Pirates of the Carribean.

Realism. This does not mean rules are complex or detailed; just that they give results that are similar to real historic battles. Players would make decisions similar to those historic commanders would have faced. Historical tactics work in game as well. A historical battle, if replayed using game rules, will yield a similar or logical result. Science fiction and fantasy has 'realism' with regards to aligning with popular media such as movies, books. I.e. star fighters tend to be expected to behave like WW2 aircraft, while the larger ships act like WW1-WW2 naval ships. Let's say a division always inflicted double the casualties than another. Having the first division damage on a 1234 and the second on a 56 is actually realistic - just not detailed. Realism does not automatically equate to complexity.

"Flow" / "Actions per turn"

We are trying to simulate a simultaneous real time event with turns - slices of time that represent actions a real soldier can take within that period. Basically, everyone but the acting forces 'pause' while your unit/s take their turn - frozen in place. Imagine a slide show. A 10 second pause is more obvious and jarring than a 1 second pause.

The slice of time your 'turn' takes can vary; but I'm more interested in in-game effects. The more you can do in your turn, the more obvious the 'pause' and the more disjointed/less 'real time' the gameplay is. I use the term flow to describe how fluid a wargame is. Is it 60fps or 1fps?

APT 2.0

I'll call the amount a unit can do as 'actions per turn' - and the average is 2 actions. Typically, move+shoot, move+melee, move+move (sprint) or even shoot+shoot are common. In effect, everyone pauses while the unit does its two actions. It's pretty standard in wargaming if you think about it.

So - the less actions, the shorter the pause - the greater the flow. I've been using the "APT 1.5 method" in many of my homebrew games - one-and-a-half actions per turn. Basically, a unit gets 1 guaranteed actions, and rolls against a stat to possibly gain a second action. I reduce the average actions by .5 (better flow) and add more uncertainty (friction) into the game. Obviously only 1 action or less per turn would give even more 'flow' but I have found it can be too restrictive. 

Less actions = better flow; no actions = boring

If a unit could have 4 actions - 4 x 6" moves, or 4 x shots - the game is far more disjointed than if it could make a single 6" move or a single shot. The more the activated unit rambos around; the more obvious that everyone else is a static NPC. The stronger the active turn, the more you do in the active turn - the more obvious it is that everyone else is standing around like dummies.

Reactions, Overwatch & Flow

Reactions and overwatch (hold fire/move) increase flow, adding a feel of 'simultaneity' as you can interrupt an enemies turn. However they do add drawbacks in terms of 'exceptions' to the gameplay (complexity); i.e trying to determine who reacts or when units can react, what sort of reaction is allowed etc - you could end up reacting to reactions!

Some activation methods include an element of interaction. Alternate activation (chess style you-move-a-unit-I-move-a-unit) allows some measure of natural reactions and flow - you can't always react with a specific unit (micro reaction) but you can often respond with a different friendly unit (macro reaction) - there is some degree of response to your opponents action/s. IGOUGO has no natural reactive flow - you move every unit, unopposed, while my whole army stands around like dummies. You can respond only once - after every unit has acted. There is no reactions or give-and-take within the turn.

It's important to be allowed to react at some level to enemy actions - feeling helpless is not fun. For example, one activation method (B) discussed (see previous Tankhiem post) could conceivably have a tank fire 3x and knock out 3 tanks if they got the initiative first - not much fun to be on the receiving end - and also not 'realistic' in the sense a single tank could dump 3 rounds before any other tank could even move.

Okay, this post has gone on for a bit and I feel that reactions could probably be explored more thoroughly a separate post - as I do not enthusiastically espouse reaction mechanics like I would have 5 years ago (Infinity and Ambush Alley games were my jam...)