Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Lord of the Cheapskates: a LOTR Latecomer

After years of being a GW hater (I haven't bought GW product since 2008, discounting the Space Hulk boardgame 2nd ed which is, I notice, worth more than it was originally) I have been buying GW again. What caused this change of heart?  A random flick through the GW website to look at Specialist Games downloads triggered the following thoughts:

Fact #1: Any game which GW has let die are their best ones. Rather like TV shows Fox cancels.
Bloodbowl    Space Hulk    Epic   Man O War  Mordhiem   Necromunda  Inquisitor  Battlefleet Gothic...  a roll call for the fallen - I rest my case

Fact #2: LOTR looks in danger of dying becoming a "Specialist Game." Having to stay within New Line parameters tends to hurt the creation of new models (re-releasing as "FineCrap" is not a new model); after the movie "The Hobbit" there seems little impetus for supporting the game (or renewing the licence); LOTR is both less popular than "kiddie crack" 40k and WFB and is vastly cheaper with a single troop box and a few blisters needed to play (something GW is trying to address by making the mass battle "War of the Ring" to push more mini sales)

TL:DR - Conclusion: As GW's best and most consumer-friendly games are the ones they have dumped, and LOTR looks headed for similar "Specialist Game" fate in the not-to-distant future (post Hobbit movie) - and indeed seems to be a "Specialist Game" in everything but name; LOTR must be a good game. Therefore I will start collecting LOTR minis.

I've started to watch LoTR again and man, Frodo irritates me. In fact, a "Frodo", aka
"a little turd that will not let go of the ring" has been used to describe toilet problems in our house.


The "bastard stepchild" of GW's core series, LOTR is the least popular with powergamers  the core GW demographic as model differences are less marked and forces are more balanced bland; magic is subtle and not a "I win" button boring; and the rules are cleaner and faster too simple.

(Interestingly LOTR:SBG has formed the basis for the historical skirmish games "Legends of the Old West/High Seas" and heavily influenced the VSF game "Empire of the Dead.")

The focus is on recreating skirmishes from movie scenes, which I find of limited interest, but what I did like was Battle Companies.  A simple, Mordhiem-lite campaign system for gaining experience, skills (and if unlucky) wounds and you only needed a single standard troop box to play!  As usual with all its good ideas, GW had shelved it (and deleted it off its website).  Here is an archived pdf link: Battle Companies.

Like many I bought a Mines of Moria box set in an initial burst of enthusiasm, played it a bit and let it collect dust.  A quick trawl through ebay collected me a decent skirmish force for $30 delivered.
A box set of Gondor troops (8 archers, 8 spears, 8 swords); some metals (3 Gondor rangers, 3 Fountain Guard elite troops, plus heroes Elendil, Denethor, Faramir and Isilduir.   That's pretty darn cheap - not even enough for a single 40K unit.

The unlucky Boromir has 0 Fate saves. But anyone who accepts the will of the idiotic Council deserves what they get.  Walk into Mordor indeed!

LOTR has a few major differences from earlier editions of 40K which it somewhat resembles.  Each model can move independently and does not need to be "grouped" into squads.  But most important is the segmented turn sequence (you move, I move, you shoot, I shoot, both melee) and the ability to interrupt this sequence with heroic actions adds interest and tactics to the usual GW bland IGOUGO whilst being just as simple to play.

In 40K or WFB most named heroes are walking tanks with impossible godlike stats, all but immune to harm.  LOTR heroes are more naunced.  Their stats tend to be very similar to  baseline troops, though they can usually make extra attacks and can take more hits "wounds." They instead get their heroic capabilities from their "Might" "Will" and "Fate" - resources unavailable to standard troops.

Might, Will & Fate
These are the stuff of heroes, and allow players to adjust dice rolls or interrupt the turn sequence (Might); cast or resist magic (Will) or miraculously avoid harm with a "save" (Fate).
Each hero has a finite amount (usually 1 to 3) of each to "spend". So a hero can attempt to take on impossible odds, but will eventually run out of might, will and fate...

The Heroic Action
There is another use for Might - you can spend it on a heroic action, which usually allows the hero (and any friendlies within 6") to interrupt the usual move sequence and move out of order.  These can be heroic moves, shooting, or combat (allowing a follow-up move and combat).  If used wisely, they can tip the outcome of a game.

The resource management of Might, Will and Fate brings a whole new tactical aspect to the game.

There are rules for jumping, climbing, lying down, being thrown from a horse, etc - but all use a similar simple method - roll d6 - 1 = poor result, 2-5 expected result, 6 = great result.  There are also rules for fighting on stairs, when trapped, on ladders, battering open gates or doors, demolition charges and more. But all share the same d6 mechanic. Simples!

 Here's what the Council should have done....

 An example game
 In last night's game I pitted a force of Uruk-Hai scouts (and Lurtz) against Gondor troops and Elendil.  The game flowed well, despite both of us having to refresh ourselves on the rules. 

I has split my force into three; my opponent had his forces divided into two.  I withdrew one flank while combining  two of my groups to outnumber my foe in the middle.  

I spent my Might points on heroic actions to dictate the flow of the game, quickly racking up kills and pushing back my opponent in both battle areas. My opponent saved his to cut loose in melee combat - his Elendil quickly killed Lurtz in a duel of heroes but the damage had been done; I had already forced his side to the 50% "Break Test" for morale.   When we called the game, Elendil was valiantly  fighting a last stand in the centre, surrounded by six Uruk Hai, while more orcs hovered on the wings.  A few Gondor bowmen were stubbornly giving good account of themselves on the right flank but were being pressed back by greater numbers. 

Coming out of the game, a few observations:

 Manage Your Resources
I spent my Might points on heroic actions to dictate the flow of the game, but was then without Might needed to duel the enemy hero and swiftly was hacked down.  It highlighted the importance of good resource management.

 Push-back & Priority
The 1" push-back of losing models gives importance to Priority (and thus, heroic Might)  - units activating first can either flee or re-engage in combat.  This also means faster models have an advantage - LOTR has units with varied speeds (i.e. dwarves are slower then  humans) unlike the 40K nonsense of "everyone moves the same."

Tactics, not Coin Flip
 Having a higher Fight (melee) skill (no matter what the margin) simply means you win ties. At first I thought it was a bit arbitary ("might as well flip a coin") but then I noticed how the subtle differentiation forced me to carefully match up fights to ensure outnumbering situations and thus an extra dice roll.  How you fight is just as important as who is fighting. 

Priority Matters
Rolling for priority each turn made the games interesting; as having Priority and moving first allows your opponent to "react" to your move, but you get to fire first. On the other hand, having Priority allows you to arrange melee combats to your liking if you manage to get into contact.  You can, of course, interrupt the order of play by spending Might.

Too Much Terrain?
The 50% cover save offered by intervening obstacles (and the general weakness of bows - a '6' is usually the only way to wound an armoured target) made archery very ineffective on my rather cluttered board (I'm used to shooty games like Infinity and Tomorrow's War).

 No wonder Boromir could fight with a dozen arrows sticking out of him - the shooting in LOTR: SBG is just as weak (you pretty much need a 4+ then a 6 to kill; i.e. about a 8% chance per shot)

No Hidden Knowledge
Unlike, say, Warmachine, games are not won by players knowing combinations of special rules.  You don't need to pore over an opponent's unit cards - after a few turns both of us knew the stats and abilities of all the units on the field. The fact a single "Damage Chart" is used for all melee and firing allows matchups of strength vs defence to be easily memorized - we were soon not even bothering with the rulebook.  Having a common set of simple rules with only a very few "special rules" allowed us to concentrate on maneuvering to create favourable tactical matchups; rather than "playing the rules."

Anyway, this has left me itching for more. I'll have to start watching the movies for "research purposes" to help my paintjobs, and I've started to scour eBay. (What the heck is it with dwarves - no one ever sells them secondhand, not even the plastic unit troops...)

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Cheap Fast Infinity Terrain - Space Station Part 2

Changed my mind about how I will lay out my space station.

I am doing away with purpose-built corridors and instead am simply making rooms.  I will separate "rooms" with a corridor-sized space.

This allows more flexibility in room design and simply in the ability to easily re-arrange the board in new patterns of rooms and "corridors".

I do not have any "corridor pieces" per se (like the painted one on the left); this should make layouts more flexible

Using this premise I made a bunch of buildings in my usual 10cm-increment pattern (10x10cm or 10x20cm rooms). Doors as usual at 3cm side by 4cm high; inset 1cm from a wall edge.

20/20 Hindsight:  My experiments with my quasi-Middle Eastern terrain showed me that offsetting the doors is important to maximise the usable space in a room, and to minimize firing lanes and angles. 

Thoughts: There is a 5mm lip from the corridor areas into the room.  I may have to use a strip of foamboard in the corridors in order to make rooms and corridors "level"

I will probably not put any piping on the outside of the "rooms" in order that they can fit neatly together in any pattern.

I also might paint the corridor sections with metallic spray paint and then use a black wash to "grimy" it.  I think metallic might be good to make it seem more "spaceship-y". Failing that grey paint will be option 2.  I'll try to prep and paint some tomorrow.

The problem with the "no corridors" approach is that the rooms look like, well, separate buildings rather than part of a whole. Painting it all metallic, and using a strip of foamboard to "raise" areas between the rooms should sort this out.

I'm getting faster now - I freehand cut all the foamboard and assembled the rooms in under 2 hours while watching the Olympics, despite the fiddly flyscreen-mesh flooring slowing me up. 
Total Elapsed Time:  2hrs 45 minutes

Remember, my "Quick Cheap Terrain" terrain construction challenge is this:
To produce a "unified" terrain board; that is fully modular; costs under $100 to make; and can be completed in 10-12 hours or less (a "weekend") solo.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Interview - 5150 Wing Leader

Space fighter gaming has been a niche genre within the relatively small spaceship gaming community, with Silent Death notable in its longevity (and without serious competition).

However this all looks set to change this year, with FFG's X-Wing, Blue Shift (Mongoose) and 5150 Wing Leader (2HW) all "in the pipeline".

With regards to 5150 Wing Leader, I really enjoyed reading Javier's batreps, which are really well presented, and show characterful action. Intrigued, I went hunting for more information.    Since it is still in its final stages of development, there isn't a huge amount of information on the net about it, but Javier very patiently answered my many questions - and kindly allowed me to share his responses in a quasi "interview" of sorts. 

Javier's well-written BATREPs got me interested...

EM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your gaming background
I spent my youth among comics, wargaming and surfing. I started wargaming in the early eighties mainly with boardgames from Avallon Hill games like Squad Leader. Then I was introduced by a friend to ancient and Napoleonic battles in 6mm, and later I discovered Laserburn from Tabletop Games and the first editions of Warhammer and I started to collect Sci-Fi and Fantasy miniatures. 
In Spain in those days there weren't any shops or clubs to play, nor any publications about wargaming. There wasn't Internet either so everything that came from outside were like precious pearls of a mysterious hobby nobody had ever heard about it before, and in English! We played with the ruleset on one hand and the dictionary on the other. Everything was difficult but new and exiting.  Today I'm 46, married and with two children and two cats and my gaming time is considerably less than before. My gaming is quite eclectic as I'm always looking for new rulesets and projects. You can see what I have been doing lately in my blog, Javier at war.
(EM: Looking at your blog, that is a very mixed selection of games - everything from Crossfire to Battlefleet Gothic!)

EM: What got you involved in 5150 Wing Leader?
J: I wanted a solo game to play with starfighters like in the PC game Wing Commander, and as there wasn't anything like that I took the THW mechanics to create one for me to play. When I published some BATREPS in my blog Ed Teixeira asked me if I was interested in writing a ruleset for him. I said yes.
(EM: For those interested, 2HW showcases some of its "reaction" mechanics in its free ruleset, Chain Reaction 3)

EM: What are some things that influenced you when making Wing Leader? (i.e. movies, other wargames, videogames) What was your aim when you sat down to design the game?
Like I said above, Wing Commander strongly influenced me in the view of how it should be a space fighters game with miniatures. Of course there are also Star Wars, Galactica and similar films.  My main aim was to be able to play solo missions Hollywood style and have fun without much complication.
If you like Wing Commander check out the pics on Agis Neugebauer's site - the man is a brilliant painter

EM: 2HW games usually have a strong campaign/storytelling element in them. Will your pilots be able to improve their skills and abilities?
Instead of gaining experience and abilities the game rewards you in the following encounters if you do it well, or punish you if you do it bad. 
However, there are many attributes in the rules for pilot fighters as well as for capital ships, and it will be very easy to add a simple rule for your pilots to gain experience and better or worse Rep depending if they are doing it OK or not.

EM: Games which are simply "kill all opponents" can get repetitive. You seemed to have a range of missions in your BATREPS. What sort of missions are available in 5150WL?
J: As you said above there is a strong campaign component in this game and depending if you are doing it good or not you will have more or less attacking or defending missions. There are five different types of missions in 5150WL.
You always start your campaign with a patrol mission and depending on the result of that mission you then go to an Strike mission in which your main objective is to destroy a big capital ship with your bombers, or to a Boarding Action mission in which you have to board and capture a capital ship; or if you are defending then you can be taken to defend a stationary capital ship or strategic jump point, or do the Rendezvous mission where you have to meet and escort to safety a friendly capital ship. To all this you have to add the random encounters and the escalating engagement (friendly and enemy reinforcements) optional rules which will always give you different games.

Some Studio Bergstrom not-BSG "Cobras" and "Raptures" I painted this week

EM: I notice in your BATREP you have "PEFs" or "blip" tokens that are revealed in the game be enemy craft. It seemed the enemy fighters were controlled by game mechanics - is this correct? What element of solo/co-op play does 5150 include?
PEFs and NPC controlled by game mechanics are THW characteristics in all their games. In 5150 Wing Leader these charts vary depending on the mission (e.g. Enemy will not behave in the same way when attacking than when defending) and if they outnumber the enemy or the other way round. Actually, the game is greatly based on 5150 Star Army and its excellent campaign system. WL is geared more towards solo and co-op playing than head to head although it can also be played in that way.
When you start to play you only know your main objective, then as the game progresses you discover if there are enemies or not and how many and which type they are and if they will attack you or not, etc.

EM: How many fighters will 5150WL handle in "two hours?" Your BATREPS show you controlling flights of 4 or less. Would WL be able handle larger squadron-sized battles of, say, 12+ planes - like in the movies? How many fighters is 5150 designed to handle - how fast do turns play?
J: I play comfortably with four fighters but we must take into account that I'm also moving the enemy ships. If playing head to head you can play with some more fighters and a few Capital ships without much hassle. Theoretically you can play with say 12+ fighters per side but I reckon it could be a bit confusing.
Turns are fast but impredictable so I cannot say it how fast they play, it depends on many factors.

EM: Will movement be more "hard sci fi" vector movement (like 5150 Space Navy) or cinematic (more like WW2 fighters as seen in Star Wars)
J: This game is totally Star Wars style and there are not vectorization at all. Fighters and capital ships move very straight forward excepting for some special maneuvers limited to aces and Stars.
 All this talk of Wing Commander has me nostalgic.  Now where did I put that old CD?

EM: Some space games make it best to simply move into the middle of the board and blast the opponent head on. What does 5150 do to encourage tactics and maneuvering?
J: Well, in WL you can definately move and blast away the opponent head on but you possibly won't make it in one piece. It is important to guess where you enemy is going to end his move or how will be his flight path so you can either blast him or avoid his firing; but you cannot plan far ahead as you don't know who is going to activate first or if you going to activate or not every turn! Also it is very unwise to fly without wingman.

EM: In games like Silent Death, bigger "heavy" fighters usually easily defeat smaller ones 1 on 1. Do smaller nimble ships have a fair chance in 5150WL?
J: Heavier fighters have more guns and consequently have more chances to win in a front duel, but light fighters move faster and have better maneuvering, so it is a matter of not letting your enemy shoot at you basically. Anyway, even the most nimble ship has some chances to destroy any ship, even a capital ship.
 WL 5150 avoids the usual "lotza hitboxes" most space games use

EM: Many space games traditionally have lots of record keeping, especially when doing damage (often with big "ship damage charts" with lots of hitboxes, criticals etc) - 2HW games usually do not have much record keeping. What approach have you taken with 5150 WL?
J: This is something I really take care about, as I hate bookkeeping. Both fighters and capital ships have a simple damage chart where one hit can affect one area of the ship. There are no hull points and the only record keeping is how many missiles you still have and which part of the ship is damaged. But fighters usually have 1-4 missiles each and only six parts of the ship can be damaged. They are 1 cockpit, 2 engine, 3 hull, 4 guns, 5 communications and 6 shields, so you can easily mark the damaged area with 1d6. Each damaged area will affect the ship or the pilot in some way, and If a fighter receives a second hit in an already damaged area it is then destroyed. Some areas can be repaired in battle.
(EM: I've seen this done with Hind Commander using microdice stuck to the flight stand and it works well)

EM:Your BATREPS have a large ship in them - will there be rules for large ships to fight each other or are they solely targets for fighters?
J: Yes. One aspect I much loved in the PC game Wing Commander was attacking big ships with my missiles and torpedoes and watching them explode. 5150 Wing Leader is a game about starfighters and capital ships which carry them. Think of something similar to the Battle of Midway on a small scale and in space.
There is a whole section of rules for capships which includes transports, frigates, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, starbases and carriers as well with many fighters in them, and you can certainly play a game of only big ships firing their big batteries against each other although the game is designed with space dogfighting in mind.
1999?  It's been a long wait between drinks for PC gamers

EM: Your BATREPS show ships flying through asteroids. Terrain makes space games more interesting - what other terrain rules will feature in WL 5150?
J: There are asteroids, dust or gas clouds, minefields and drifting space hulks and everyone of them affects differently the game play.

EM: I know 2HW has a generic "5150" sci fi universe. However the name "Wing Leader" reminds me of the very cool old PC game "Wing Commander". Will WL support fighters from TV shows and movies like Vipers, X-Wings, and Starfuries? Will you have a ship-builder system that allows you to design your own fighters?
J: I don't have a builder system to design ships but it is very easy to design a ship without points as you only have to decide if the ship is light, medium, heavy or a bomber, how many guns and missiles it carries and its acceleration, speed and turn rate. There are some lists of fighters and capships in the rules that you can use as a guide to make your own ships.
I'm sure that players will soon post their own unoffcial lists of ships based on popular films.
(EM: Given how active the 2HW Yahoo group is, I think we can take that as a given)

These Studio Bergstrom minis are beautifully painted by audstrauss of the SCN forums

EM: I notice you use EM4 plastics using designs from the old spacefighter game "Silent Death." Are there any minis you recommend? Are there any minis you had in mind when you designed 5150WL?
J: I don't recommend any type or brand of ships as I like to use any kind of ships or figures in my games. I'm using EM4's plastics because they are cheap and look good. I wrote WL thinking of WC and the ships I had in mind were those from that game.

EM: "Silent Death" seems to have long been the most popular commercial space fighter rules. Have you played it  - and if you have: how does 5150WL improve on it?
J: I'm afraid I never played it and it is still in my things to do list but even without having played Silent Death I dare say 5150WL is better at least in the aspects of solo gaming and campaigning.

EM: If I asked you to describe 5150WL in a paragraph so I could "sell" it to my mates at the local gaming club, you would say....
J: If you liked flying a Rapier on the computer, you alone against the Killrathi, you will like as well flying it on the table against the Hishen.
(Javier's obviously a Wing Commander tragic. I like him already!  I have always wondered, in an era where sequels and remakes are so popular, why the PC industry has never produced follow-ups to both WC and the X-Wing series)

This "Kitty Disk" from Studio Bergstrom looks like a good Kilrathi fighter substitute

EM: Any comments you would like to add?
J: 5150WL is still waiting to be read and approved by Ed Teixeira and it also needs some more testing by people not involved in the writing, so everything can happen. However, as WL is strongly based on the pretty solid THW mechanics, I dare say it will be a good game. Time will tell.

I want to thank EvilMonkeigh for this opportunity to allow me to talk a little bit about 5150 Wing Leader.

EM: Thanks.  

Final thoughts:
Well, I'm quite excited about this. The "solo/co-op" focus means a primary gripe I have with space games (finding opponents who are interested) is solved. Having little record-keeping already edges it ahead of Silent Death for my money). Javier is obviously passionate about what he does and that he is a Wing Commander fan is a bonus!

Using EM4 miniatures (At $4 a pack, they work out at 30c each including bases) and with the usual 2HW rulebook around $20 - you could be gaming for under $30. Very affordable. 
Studio Bergstrom has great metal minis  for $1.50ea (including "not" Star Wars and BSG) which I reviewed this week. In fact, their "Kitty Disks" and "Rapiers" look perfect for Wing Commander.
Two Hour Wargames has a great yahoo group (and Ed, the "boss" is very active in the online community) so you can expect it to be supported energetically if/when " 5150 Wing Leader" gets the green light.
2012 is looking good for space gamers!

Friday, 10 August 2012

Battlestar Galactica Fighters Review (Vipers, Raptors, Raiders) - Studio Bergstrom

I have often looked at these, and always decided against a purchase as (a) I lack a set of good spacefighter rules* and (b) the webstore paintjobs do not cast them in a very favourable light.

 Wife's words: "I think Vipers are the coolest of all spacefighters"
Husband interpretation: "Go buy some Viper minis"

However last week my wife mentioned that Vipers were her favourite of all spacecraft, so, ever the opportunist, I decided the time was right to "dip my toe in" with a test purchase.  The communication was instant, and when I decided to change my order a minute after pressing "Send" it was adjusted promptly. (Without any comment about idiot customers..)

The minis made the journey from USA to Oz in very fast time (5 working days) and I was very impressed when I opened the box.

A remarkably clean cast. The Raptor seems oversized and the Heavy Raider undersized.
I wish they were all 50% bigger.

More specifically, what struck me was the total lack of the usual flash, or miscast mold bits typical in most metal models.  I was really impressed. The casts are so clean I wondered if Mr Bergstrom checks them and trims each individual model before packaging. There literally was 0 prep time (besides 1sec taken bending back a Raptor "Rapture" fin that had been twisted in transit).

In addition, all the models fit perfectly onto a "standard" EM4 flight stand.  With most other spacecraft I have had to resize or drill out the holes but they simply popped onto the bases without fuss.  I certainly regard the models as excellent value, considering they are only $1.50each.

The "Rapture" has well-emphasized features which will drybrush well. It seemed larger and somewhat out-of-scale with the other fighters.  In fact it is the size I'd like the others to be - i.e. about 50% larger.  The minis have good detail but I'd have liked them just a tad bigger as they are on the small end for 1" fighters.

 The Raptors were the best sized models, with details that really "popped"

The Viper "Cobra" cannon mounts impressed me (seriously there was NO flash around ANY protruding bits for any of the models I ordered) and I definitely think the Mk.2 Cobra is the best of the Cobra models on offer.

The "Zylon" Raiders were sleek and evoked their movie menace with only a simple metallic undercoat. For me, the Heavy Raider "Turkey" transport (you know, the one with the quad miniguns) was the least interesting model and seemed rather small, especially in comparison to the chunky, bold Rapture sculpt.

My only gripe is that all the models, except for the Rapture, seem a tad small (I'd like them 50% larger); especially the "Turkey" transport.

The Heavy Raiders seemed small compared to the Raiders

Due to the total lack of prep I had time to whack a quick coat of paint on the models.  I'm sticking to "canon" paint schemes, with the goal of (a) taking as little time as possible, yet (b) doing better justice to the models than the online shop paintjobs. After a quick spray of black undercoat:

Cylon raiders, transports - Boltgun metal, black wash, chainmail highlights/drybrush

Viper - light grey, black wash, light grey drybrush, white drybrush, red/blue stripes

Raptor - German camo biege, brown wash, camo beige drybrush

I stuffed up the Vipers as I used my stiff drybrush by mistake, giving the paint a "textured" look; I also rushed the detailing stage as I had to go out for dinner.

I probably should have done more coats but remember I don't like painting and I have a LOT of projects to finish up, not least my latest batch of Infinity terrain.
(OK, you might say "Then why the heck do you collect wargame minis?" Well, as an example, I like the feeling of satisfaction I get from mowing the lawn. Doesn't mean I enjoy sweating in the sun pushing a mower, though. Ditto wargames painting and terrain prep)

 The Raiders have swooping lines that radiate menace. Easy to paint too!

Excellent service and astonishing lack of casting defects (0% flash). These crisp models are far far better than the online shop photos suggest.  My only complaint (such as it is) is that I would have liked the models to be about 50% larger. They are also surprisingly cheap at $1.50 each. ($3 for the larger fighters, including a flight stand.)

There is also a line of smaller "fleet scale" fighters and Full-Thrust sized basestars and battlestars to accompany them; I suspect this would actually be the more popular line.  I think a lot or people would naturally pair them with the Colonial Battlefleet** .pdf rules from Steel Dreadnought Games.

Recommended?: Most definitely.

 I kinda stuffed up the Viper paintjobs - they look almost as bad as the minis in the online shop :-/

(*And if you're going to suggest "Silent Death" we'll have to agree to disagree as to what makes 'good' spacefighter rules). I have high hopes of the upcoming Blue Shift rules and fighter minis - even though they are made by Mongoose.

**If anyone wants me to review these, I can dig them out.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Scramble! Air Combat Rules Review (A&A Publishing)

In my round up of WW2 air wargames I realised I missed "Scramble" - a .pdf from the Wargames Vault that has been warmly recommended by quite a few folk.  I recalled downloading it a year or so ago and dismissing it as rather unappealing, confusing and clunky but I decided to haul it out again for another look:

The Shiny
This is a rather rough, unadorned 54-page pdf.  No shiny here.  It is as dense as I remembered - quite hard on the eyes with info in small font packed into two columns, and no photos or pictures to break up the "wall of text".  Bring your reading glasses and an Asprin. There is a thorough table of contents which is much needed as I felt not everything was laid out in a "natural" sequence and info was hard to find when paging through the rules.

The Fw190 looks sexy. The "Scramble!" rulebook does not.

Planes have quite a lot of stats:
Stall and Maximum speed;  Maneuver and Climb rates, Ceiling, Defensive Values; Damage; Dive, and Aerobatic Modifiers. 

Crew skill (including Gunnery skill) comes in a range of levels and is tested against. There are actually two sorts of tests - a "Standard Pilot Skill Roll" or SPSR - used for unusual circumstances such as recovery from fire, and the co-pilot to take over; and a Variable Pilot Skill Roll (VPSR) used for more common maneuver tests like zoom climbs, half loops etc.  Gunners also have their own skill level.  Crews can gain experience, and be dazed, wounded or killed. A pilot can fall unconscious from wounds.

Like BtH, Scramble! uses blinds (or markers) to show  possible enemy formations. These move at a generic speed and have some generic rules of their own such as ignoring stall speed.  They are revealed when spotted by passing a crew check.

Initiative is decided by d10+highest pilot skill. With the usual proviso of "tailing" aircraft getting to move after their targets, sides alternate moving a single aircraft or a formation.

I actually quite like the movement rules which are surprisingly straightforward. Aircraft move between their stall speed and their maximum, and perform turns, climbs, dives, and an array of maneuvers like half-loops, loops, zoom climbs, skids, sideslips and power dives that need to pass a piloting test to achieve.

The movement rules are easy to remember and are nicely summed up in a small box.  There are some good ideas here I will be be borrowing when making my own homebrew air rules.  The main downside are the climbing rules which include writing down/carrying over information from turn to turn. And if you're doing that, you might as well be pre-plotting orders like in Check Your Six.

Fixed guns use a rather narrow 30d arc. Deflection is taken into account.  The firer shoots pairs of weapons, using the following method: Pilot skill + weapon modifiers + deflection/range + d10 vs the enemy's "Defence Value."  A player can choose the length of his bursts. Any d10 rolls "to hit" that also exceed a "Ammo Depletion Score" (usually 8 or 9) means the weapon runs out of ammo.

Each hit rolls a number of d6s depending on the gun calibre.  Scores of 1-5 do that amount of damage to the aircraft's "Damage" track. Any "6"s cause criticals and need to be rolled on a d10 chart, in which a range of Bad Things can occur to the target plane.

If an aircraft's altitude, damage, defence value is reduced to 0, if maximum airspeed is reduced below stall speed, or if the pilot is killed, the plane goes down.

Continuing our Luftwaffe theme, a Bf109. 
Photos break up "wall of text"; something the writers of Scramble! might well consider

Other Stuff
There are rules for special weapons like air-to-air rockets, ground attacks (level and dive bombing); strafing with bombs and rockets; anti-shipping attacks, and kamikaze missions. There are rules for ground defences like AA; night missions, radars, jamming and searchlights.  Extra rules include computer gunsights, transonic speeds, some German "Wunderweapons" . The base rules cover 27 pages which seems like less than it is, given the density of the text. 

Aircraft Tables
These are almost impossible to use, given the way the columns are aligned, and the information is jumbled together. I had to use a ruler to work out what each stat was.  This is major headache and should have been fixed well before publishing. For God's sake, use some vertical columns at least to break up the stats!

The weapons lists are more easy to use and classify weapons into MG, HMG, 20mm, 30mm, 30-40mm and 40mm+ cannon.

There are aircraft availability lists for each theatre, which is quite handy if you want to stop your friends using their Tempests in the Battle of Britain; or to have an idea of what aircraft to use for a lesser-known campaign such as the RAF vs the Japanese Army Air Force in Burma.

Right at the back (rather than in the "additional rules" where they belong) there are, yes, additional rules for crew skill and training levels.

Rather crunchy. Falls into the more complex end of the spectrum.  Definitely an alternative for those who dislike the written orders of Check Your Six or guessing game nature of Wings at War, and more "realistic" than Luft Krieg or Luft 1946.  There is lots of stuff here - it is a very "complete" toolbox for playing WW2 in the air - but a rather hard-to-use rulebook does not help its accessibility and the aircraft tables are very poorly laid out. I can see why I initially dismissed it as "not worth the effort."

Recommended?  Although Scramble! has its good points, lying at the "deep end" of the complexity pool means there is little to recommend it over pre-plotted games like the polished Check Your Six! It is also a tough sell compared to its non-preplot bretheren; such the less conventional Bag the Hun which plays faster and has an interesting card activation system which makes dogfights more chaotic and less predictable. I can see how it appeals to some, but Scramble! is definitely an acquired taste.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Blue Shift - (Starfighter Combat) Mongoose Publishing

This might be the one we have been waiting for.

 Choose your weapon - fighter loadouts are customisable

Without any real competition, the aging Silent Death has remained top dog of spacefighter gaming. This might be about to change with Blue Shift from Mongoose Games (ETA Winter 2012/2013).

Set in the remote sector of Nethersky, small corporations try to scratch a living in a system which has been stripped of resources and abandoned by the "big players".  Small corporations, miners and prospectors scratch a living from what was left behind. It is a natural breeding ground of mercenaries and pirates.  You play as mercenary leader, who, within an integrated campaign, commands a fighter squadron.  You can hire and fire pilots and buy and equip fighters.  Fighters are highly customizable and players can equip them with a wide range of weapons.

 I'm excited about more sources for starfighter miniatures 
(..besides Studio Bergstrom and EM4)

The idea of Necromunda-esque campaign for fighters is a certain winner. But in particular this comment from the Mongoose site caught my eye:

 "Throughout the development of Blue Shift, we have concentrated on what makes fighter combat different from anything else. Principally, speed. Turns for each fighter are very, very quick to play through, allowing you to see a dogfight unfold as fighters zip across the table, perform breathtaking manoeuvres, and settle on the tail of an enemy before blowing it out of the sky. The rulebook has been specifically designed to aid this, with one page holding all the information you need for every fighter, from its speed and turning ability, to its individual critical hit table. There are no ‘damage points’ to track as, being fighter combat, all we are really interested in is a fighter’s ability to carry on, well, fighting.  As with all our miniatures games, the core rules of Blue Shift are extremely easy to get into, but there are a wealth of options and additions to continue breathing new life into your games. Add to that a drop in/drop out campaign system, and you will have everything you need to wage war across Nethersky and get rich in the process…"

 Fast turns, no "hit boxes", little record keeping, campaign-based - this sounds good.

From what I can gather of the beta rules so far:
*you can force enemies to move instead of yourself (tailing or recon pods)
*ships have slow, medium and fast movement rates (with different turn rating for each speed)
*damage is simple: roll to hit, then roll damage dice vs armour; if equals = superficial damage; if beats score does heavy damage (on randomly rolled location); a 2nd hit is a critical; if hit again for a heavy = fighter kaput!
*Fighters can dodge incoming fire (ECM, decoys and pilot skill helps)
*Fighter combat is cinematic "Star Wars"-style WW2-in-space, not Newtonian

Spacefighter stats, from what I can see, include armour, agility, speeds (lo-med-hi), turn rates (lo-med-hi); hardpoints, equipment slots; and special "traits."  Jamming and EW seem to be included in the rules.

External hardpoints will allow things like recon pods, guided missiles and rocket boosters.  Extra armour, range finders  and thrusters can be added. These "bitz" can be added to the fighter and several come with the core box set ($39.99) with the rules and 4 fighters - which seems an accessibly cheap "jumping off" point to get into the game.

Spacefighter fanboys, rejoice!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Tumbling Dice 1/2400 Napoleanic Sailing Ships - Part I

A discussion the other day resulted in my wife stating that sailing ships > space fighters > robots > battleships > jets in her list of "cool things" and offering to rig some mini sailing ships if I got some.
Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I straightaway sent off an order to Tumbling Dice who again impressed me with their good customer service and very quick delivery times.

Left to right: 36-gun frigate and 28-gun frigates; 100-gun 1st rate; four 74s and a 64-gun two-decker.

Having experimented with 1/4800; I think 1/2400 is the best size for gaming.  They are large enough to retain some detail and their 'rate' or class is easily discernable (as opposed to 1/4800 where frigates were both longer and bulkier than the 74-gun SOLs). There is a great variety of ship types including the merchants and specialist ships (bomb ketches, junks, dhows etc) missing in 1/4800. In addition, the ability to buy models for $3ea makes customising your force easy.  You can also choose whether or not to rig it - in 1/1200 rigging is mandatory and assembling and rigging time would be greater by an order of magnitude. A single ship could take a few evenings.

There was modest flash (on mast tips etc) where you'd expect it and the sails glued on surprisingly easily.   I think I took an hour to glue and prep the 8 ships pictured.

 1/2400 is considerably more detailed than the 1/4800 and specific ship types are easily discernable from table-top distance

I'm not sold on the solid ratlines/shrouds and will paint them black to minimise their visual impact. The sailing ships I've seen in the flesh had rather unobtrusive ratlines, unlike the cheese-grater-cum-cargo-net monstrosities on these models.  Hallmark has 1:2400 models without them; but at $4-50ea they are 50% more expensive than the TD models.

I don't think ratlines are so obvious in real life as to be worth casting solid on the models

I'm looking forward to doing some 1/2400 terrain. I'll probably make it a bit outsize - 1/1200 buildings are available from a range of manufacturers - I may even use Monopoly buildings - you can get 100-bags of them from PicoArmour for $7-60 (8c each).