Thursday, 31 December 2009

Five Hours of Fun

  

Tuesday was spent painting figures, though not for me, but for Oliver. Oliver is my friend Trevor's son who I bought Warhammer 40K for his Xmas present, when I took him to the SELWG wargame show. Trevor used to play D&D when younger, and like a lot of players fell out of gaming with family and work commitments. I'm hoping that he will rediscover his passion for gaming now that his son is starting to get interested.

Anyway, I promised Oliver that I would teach him and his dad how to paint figures. So, they came over Tuesday and we spent five hours painting on the dining room table listening to film sound tracks. My new Lord of the Rings three volume film soundtrack, followed off with a bit of Pirates of the Caribbean to energise us during the last hour.

Result some new space marines painted, and a bunch of orcs started. Much fun was had, and Oliver's parents were amazed that I had kept him siting still painting for five hours.

   

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Xmas Blog 2009

   

Well, I'm going to wish everybody who has come here to read my humble witterings about Battletech, wargaming and modelling a very Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.
This year I'm expecting several nice things from Santa, and in fact I can see the boxes under the tree as I type this now. As they say a picture says a thousand words, so here is the Paint-it-Pink Xmas tree.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

BattleTech Jumping the Shark Reboot


On the official CBT forum there has been a rather long thread about has BattleTech jumped the shark? Warning 22 pages of repetition.


To summarise the thread topic was defined as the moment when a series delivers the ultimate desire of the characters; from the "Happy Days" scene where the Fonz always dreams of jumping over a shark and gets to realise his dream. If your dream has been realised then what is there left to do? I'm not sure I would agree with that interpretation, as for me "jumping the shark" implies more of the idea that a story has gone beyond believability, but YMMV on that, especially with something involving giant walking machines?

Then there is the idea that the in game ComStar aims, namely the coming of the third transfer would also mean that BattleTech had jumped the shark; it is suggested that the formation of a new Star League would be that third transfer. From a meta-gaming perspective I'd argue that one could see the real transfers of the game coming from changes in the rules, as they have evolved over time.

If you agree then using this analogy one can argue that the first transfer was from the 3025 rule-sets to the Clan invasion of 3050 rule-sets. I would argue that the game changed fundamentally at that point. Even though on the surface the rules are the same, the balance of the game changed. Battlemechs became brittle eggs that could be cracked open by superior firepower, rather than something that had to be slowly ground down to be destroyed (barring lucky shots that is). The second transfer was Clicky tech and the Age of Darkness, which unfortunately crashed & burned causing a reversion to the "classic form of BattleTech". Now we have the third transfer, which is the introduction of Word of Blake cybernetics to uplift the Inner Sphere to match the Clans and lead the game into the redefined new Dark Ages of the 3130 Battletech universe.

Rant on: As I said on the CBT forum, my only problem with the Jihad is that there was not enough destruction done by the Word of Blake as of yet. I want to see billions of people starving to death from the repercussions of war. Billions more dying from crops failing due to a lack of fertilizers and pesticides, and I want to billions dying from disease arising from unclean water, and a lack of medicines. I want to see the remains of humanity reduced to scavenging from the rubble. I want a future where a lance of battlemechs can rule a world, where the pilots are like gods, lording it over the cowered and subdued populations of denuded worlds. I want to see the Word of Blake/Comstar reap the whirlwind. If we see thousands of nukes raining down on the planets of the Inner Sphere during the Word of Blake retreat, then I could see how peace would break out and mechs mothballed for later on.

Showing that war leads to widespread famine, the rise of pestilence,and outbreaks of plagues. Would be a good message to send to the players that these are consequences of apocalyptic wars. Of course all the players will be moaning about how their favourite faction was robbed etc., but that is life. Rant off.

Like it or not, we know that due to the "second transfer" that BattleTech moves to the era Republic of the Sphere. For me this is in and of itself is not a bad place to play games of BattleTech. It is an ideal period for small unit actions of giant battling mecha-on-mecha action, which is where IMNSHO the rules work best. As a diehard old time fan, described on the BattleTech forums as a Retarded-Old-RetreadTM, and proud of it too. I welcome the return of BattleTech to its roots of small unit actions, where desperate home defence units field industrial mechs as a futuristic variant of tactical trucks seen today.

However, nothing lasts forever, not even D&D, without a reboot. Will BattleTech need a reboot? Probably over due for one, but I think that the likelihood of it happening is small.

A Sort of Extended me too Blog


Over on the BBC website i
s a clip of Fede Alvarez's short film "Ataque de Panico" (Panic Attack), also on Vultures Blog in my side-bar list. I just felt I had to write something about this on my Blog too.

Apart from the Transformer movies that have come out recently, which while they deal with giant sentient mecha are not really giant piloted battlemechs, we have poorly served by films about my favourite gaming background. Now obviously Avatar is now out, but the focus there is not really on the mecha as such either, though I'm sure it will be fun to watch. However, for years the
BattleTech community has wanted a movie that did the background justice, and this may just be the movie, but I'm not holding my breath on this one you understand.
   

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Six Shades of Green: Terrain Boards 3


Well, it has taken me some time to get around to posting some more stuff on the terrain boards I'm making. This has been the number one project this year, having displaced pretty much everything else I've been doing into second place, if it gets done at all. And it's nearly Xmas. That joyous time of the year where everybody feels down, miserable and tired by all the enforced seasonal jollity. I've done the Xmas party thing last weekend when I had two to go to. 


Parties are a bit like buses. You wait and wait and then three come along at once. I ended up blowing off my office party as a consequence. If for no other reason than I still have problems with side-effects from the chemotherapy I'm on making me feel incredibly tired all the time. Anyway, had a great time at the two parties I did go to, but obviously no time for model-making and stuff last weekend. This weekend I could take it easy and get on with the terrain boards I wanted to finish off, so that I can start the next batch I have planned. This is actually the third batch of boards I've done. I'm limited to the amount of space I can have in my flat, so I can only really make about 8 or 9 boards at once. I've posted a blow-by-blow account of how I painted these boards on the BattleTech Universe Forum, where I post most of my projects

Check it out and either leave comments there, if you are, or want to be a member, or
leave comments here if you want?

What you can see is some boards that have had multiple shades of green dry-brushed over the top of a base layer of static grass. I've still to finish the rock faces and rock debris that you can see.
While taking a load of pictures, I had a thought about using pictures for playing campaign games. If one were setting out a table with the boards one could take pictures of the arrangement and email them to the players before they arrive to play the game. Objectives could also be marked, and special effects like clouds added, or vehicles placed somewhere. Then the players are told that this is the result of their recon flight, and that their mission is XYZ.


Obviously, one could spend time blending the edges of the boards as well, so as to hide the joins, and adding clouds would be fun too. I can see that clouds might be used as a way of limiting the intel one gives to the players if they fail their recon flight. Of course, if one really wanted to, one could give then pictures of a different set of terrain to simulate a total failure by the recon assets to take the right pictures. The possibilities for fun are endless, and allow for that RPG flavour that campaigns can generate, without going into levels of detail that are not all that relevant to playing a game of BattleTech.
   

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Nailing it Down


This piece is a follow on to my previous entry "Crunching the Numbers". I've been delaying posting this piece for a whole load of reasons. Some are around doubt, and some are due to the effort it has taken me to calculate and then interpret my results.


And then today I had my eureka moment.

After the thought experiments I wrote, I had a fair idea of what a weapon was capable of doing, and the one big things that came out of this was range. If you are out of range, it doesn't matter how good the weapon is, as it can't hit the target. Thank god for spreadsheets is all I can say. The new algorithm that I came up with today is as follows:

(R/9)*D/(W+H+A) = CV

Range divided by 9 times Damage, all divided by Weight plus Heat plus Ammo equals a weapons combat value.

What we get is a range of results as follows:

Machine gun: CV = 4
Autocannon 2: CV = 7
Autocannon 5: CV = 10
Autocannon 10: CV = 10/10
Autocannon 20: CV = 9/9/8/8
Ultra autocannon 5: CV = 10/9 (13/12 double shot)
LB10X autocannon: CV = 14
Gauss Rifle: CV = 22/20

Small laser: CV = 7
Medium laser: CV = 13
Large laser: CV = 10
PPC: CV = 12
ER large laser: CV = 10
ER PPC: CV = 15
Small pulse laser: CV = 3
Medium pulse laser: CV = 5
Large pulse laser: CV = 6
Flamer: CV = 2

SRM 2: CV = 8
SRM 4: CV = 8/7
SRM 6: CV = 10/9/8
Streak 2: CV = 9

LRM 5: CV = 14
LRM 10: CV = 16/15
LRM 15: CV = 18/17/16
LRM 20: CV = 18/17/16/15

The numbers with slashes indicate how the combat value changes as you increase the ammunition from one ton, to two tons and so on. The reason for doing an extended calculation on some, but not all the weapons that carry ammunition, is that some weapons come up rather short, and I wanted to see if carrying more ammunition affect the combat value adversely.

In particular the autocannon 20 with five shots is a bit of liability, and my gut feeling was that four LRM5 were as good as having an LRM20, which they nearly are.

Summary

According to these calculations the gauss rifle rocks, followed by the LB-10X, which pretty much sums up my players feelings about carrying projectile weapons. The UAC5 is good when double firing, but otherwise it appears that it doesn't offer much over a standard AC10.

Unsurprisingly in the energy weapon category, the medium laser still looks good, but not as good as an ER PPC, and it only has a marginal lead over the PPC, which has a longer range to compensate for the one point difference.

With the missile launchers, I was surprised to see that the LRM15 appears to be the best LRM launcher to have from this algorithm. While the Streak2 is notionally the best SRM launcher, but there is not much in it really.

Your thoughts, considerations on what is implied, as always very welcome.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Warfare 2009: Reading


Okay today was spent at Warfare, a games show in Reading, which is rather good. I went to buy stuff, look at the tabletop terrain action, and hang with a couple of friends. Met up with Martin from Manchester, and Clive came over last night to travel down in the car with me today.


Like all good friends we chatted about our mutual obsessions including playing Contact!, which is a live role-playing game, or LARP, whichever floats your boat? Contact! can be described as a full size one-to-one wargame that uses airsoft to simulate combat. No die rolling, just screams of "stop shooting at me I'm dead". The plot of the game, can be loosely described as Stargate meets the X-Files, with various scenarios being generated from the consequences of the previous mission, which then creates the campaign in real time, so to speak. We've all had a lot of fun running around the wood at night hunting down, or being hunted by the bad guys.


Anyway, after looking around, and having a coffee, I got down to the serious buying that had to be done. I went and made Martin at Peter Pig's day by buying a shed load of 15mm militia for AK47 Republic. I have this grandiose plan to run a three way game inspired by Blackhawk Down, with two warlord gang factions and a bunch of US Marines. Lots of technicals, RPGs and the like.
After what Clive described as money pouring out of my iPod, which I had the list of things I wanted on it, I then we went to see the guys at Pendraken. However, I only came away with a few items, because they mostly bring army packs to shows. Even so WW1 tanks and stuff were bought, along with a Vietnam PBR, and a pack of their SF range tripods to try out for size. .

Great things iPods, as they are like Palms, but play music and do a shed load of stuff with third party apps. I use Momo for my lists, which makes keeping track of things you've bought, or want to buy quite easy.


I've been re-evaluating the game-scales I choose to buy, probably because as I get older I need glasses to see things, and while I love 6mm, 10/12mm is a lot easier to see what the figures are. Of course I could play just in 15mm, which I love, but I also love big action games. For me this is lots of figures. Yes I know that BattleTech is hardly the best set of rules for big action games, but I consider BattleTech to be a skirmish game between battlemechs. See one can justify anything, if one tries hard enough.

So here are a couple of pictures comparing a 15mm Vietnam PBR with a 10/12mm scale PBR (I use scale advisedly, because size is not a scale) for you to see for yourselves.


The second picture is the smaller PBR on a piece of my river terrain. I quite like the look and feel of 10/12mm, and may well go down the Vietnam route in the future.

 
On the
BattleTech front there was a heap load of books at the Bring & Buy. They had tables set out with stuff that pretty much occupied a whole hall at the show. I'm not a big Bring & Buy person, because I don't carry large amounts of cash around with me. I'm the kind of girl that likes to get her credit card out. I saw a whole bunch of stuff that was tempting, both BattleTech and other miniatures. However, all I ended up buying was a copy of the Comstar Sourcebook for £5.00, about $8.00 for my US readers, which I thought was a good deal, given it is in pretty fair condition. So much BattleTech happiness found, as I had been wanting to get hold of this for a while, and copies can go for a hell of a price on eBay.

After that, Clive and I went around looking at the games, and there were lots of them. A Flames of War competition was also being run, so lots of WW2 action. Personally, I'm into the oddball stuff, so very early WW2 is fun, Spanish Civil War too (which is like Monty Python's Life of Brian for real), and other interwar periods have a charm that comes from seeing the people in command pioneering new technology on the battlefield. Funnily enough I quite like Korea, Vietnam and the wars in the Third World too. Go figure? All I can say is that I have eclectic tastes.

Finally, while looking around the show I saw some really fabulous resin building from Fieldworks.

Well worth checking these out.

   

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Movement in BattleTech


I had written part of this blog before I read a post by Coyote in the piece I wrote on reserves, who said... "Random reserves defeats the purpose of reserves. Historically battles are won or lost by judging when and where one should commit reserves...
...There are two keys to making reserves useful in a wargame - troop density and combat friction."

So I rewrote this piece to talk about combat friction, which for me translates as how fast the units move around the tabletop? From years of playing games I do object to solutions that either allow unrestricted movement, or restrict movement all the time, because doing either one ends up with rules, which due to the games time and ground scale relationship, that produce units that manoeuvre far too quickly, or not at all.

Looking at this problem from another perspective for a moment, I can think of times when time and distance are disconnected for me. For instance, when I go mushroom picking in the countryside, and have to pass through woods and undergrowth, I can spend a good ten minutes traversing about ten meters, and yet when playing a game under the same conditions it can take a few seconds to traverse the same distance.


I think we can surmise that the variables that arise from adverse terrain affects troops formations movement far more than we normally take into account.

Then the next question is what is the relationship between the speed that units are assumed to move in games versus their maximum speeds?


During idle moments of thought whilst travelling down the motorway, on one long journey, I noted that average speed was about two thirds of my cars maximum, around eighty miles per hour in this case. This is down a road where I am not expecting someone to try and shoot at me. That's the best speed I can manage. However, on short journeys, I find the journey takes about twice the time as distance covered. For instance a twenty-mile journey will take about forty minutes, due to traffic congestion where I live. Therefore my assumption is that the top speed of the car is almost irrelevant to the total time travelled. And of course as soon as you start driving cross-country you can't go as fast either, as the surface is too rough and you can't be sure what's over the next dip etc.

When a unit moves into a combat zone, which can defines as either somewhere that reports suggest enemy units are deployed, or where enemy units are sighted, then the speed you can travel at will drop. Even a charge by cavalry across country will not be as fast as horses running around a racetrack. Adding the element of engaging in combat while moving will slow things even down more, because you have to spend time acquiring a target. The unit will travel from point A to point B as fast as they can, but delay creeps in because they will stop at safe spots to check their next move. Which therefore leads me to believe that most rule sets, Battletech in particular, allow units to move under fire too easily.

Where does that leave us? For BattleTech, my poison of choice, I think it is quite difficult to reconcile things due to the time and groundscale. Actually, I can think of several answers, but the choice will very much depend on what you want out of a game of BattleTech?


First off would be the variable length bound. Turns take as long as needed to complete the move from out of contact, to being in contact with the enemy. This sounds good, but it can leave you in the situation of having combats being resolved out of order, with all that implies.


Second would be to play with the time to groundscale ratio. However, some players will object to this, as a longer turn should allow units to fire more often. Therefore changing the game's feel.

My current favourite front runner is to forget the whole time and groundscale ratio thing exists at all. A turn is as long as it takes to move and fire units. This does away with the whole a hex is 30 meters and machine guns fire only 3 hexes problem. After all BattleTech is a game of giant battling mechs, does it really need a fixed ratio of time to groundscale?


Anyway my conclusion is that the maximum speed of a unit is almost irrelevant to its ability to traverse terrain under combat conditions. The exceptions to this like the recent Gulf War where vast distances were covered in hours only seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Reserves in Games


Let's be blunt, one of the reasons people don't use reserve forces when playing wargames is that they can't see the benefits of doing so. Often the rules of the game don't actually allow reserve formations to work as they do in real life. Often as not any player who does keep a reserve back suffers because his or her opponent will be able to concentrate more of their force against them.


I can quote figures for forming a reserve, and know that they helped to win battles, but it doesn't give me a real understanding about the subject. For a start most of what's written about wars have a number of assumptions made about the general knowledge of the reader. Hence studying historical texts produces someone who is well read, but usually with no real appreciation of the practicalities of the problems involved. We can see this manifested in many different forms, which produces people whose knowledge is largely irrelevant to the real life experience, myself included.

Given that BattleTech is a science fiction game, for me, the immediate question that sprung to my mind is how are reserves deployed in real life? I would say that I am woefully ignorant on the use of reserve forces in real warfare, since I have what I can only describe, on reflection, as a facile understanding of the topic from reading about the subject. I am pretty sure that I am not the only one to be so afflicted by such a deficiency.

However, I recently played an introductory game of AK47 Republic. A set of rules by Peter Pig that covers wars in Africa and the Middle East. They are described as rules for the common man, or this case woman. I really enjoyed them, even if I have some reservations about what the figure bases are supposed to represent in real life, but that requires another article to discuss. However, playing AK47 introduced me to another approach to representing reserves in wargames, and how to do so in Battletech for instance.

To briefly summarise the rules in AK47 has players make up forces, and before deploying. Rolling 1D6 for each of the units, where a unit represents a company, a low roll results in nothing be taken off to the reserve box and the higher the number the more that are. At the beginning of each turn after the first one, players can roll to see if one of there units in the reserve box enters the table. Additionally, you only get so many chances to roll for reserves, but can spend all your chances at once if you so desire. Failure means that unit never arrives. AK47 also has other tables that cause units to fail to arrive for a host of other reasons too.

Now for BattleTech we generally have a game that plays best with a small number of units per side. However, we could set up a game where at the start one assembles a company of mechs, and then roll for each mech in each lance appearing at the start of the game. So on 1D6 a result of 1/2 equals no effect, 3/4 put one mech in the reserve box, 5 two mechs in the reserve box, and on a 6 one mech in the reserve box and the other lost for the game. I suggest that the owner rolls to see if a mech goes to the reserves, but the opponent chooses the mech that does.

After turn one, players can roll for reserves to appear, and I’d suggest that a 10/11/12 on 2D6 should be required. To mimic the AK47 limit on the number of rolls you get for reserves I think it should be equal to half the number of units that are in the reserve box. Players can choose to roll all their chances at once, or keep them back for later.

To encourage saving your reserves, everytime one brings on a mech one loses a percentage of the possible victory points. I suggest that as the rules are set to get about 2/3 of the company into the reserves box, that each mech that comes on deducts from your victory points a proportional amount of that total.

Now this might sound rather harsh, but at the end of the day we want a playable game, and we know that too many mechs on the table slows things down quite considerably. The values here are basically set so as to put more than 50% of the force in the reserve box.

The advantages of playing the game this is that one will have less control over the composition of your forces, which means that one will need to think about tonnage balance of each lance, and whether or not bringing on reserves is actually helpful, or whether it would be better to withdraw?
   

BattleTech Déjà vu


I saw an interesting post on on a now defunct site that required me to go away and write my own perspective.


As an early adopter of BattleTech, quite literally at the time I started playing the game was called Battledroids, and the number of players was less than the first print run world-wide, with virtually no magazine support either, what I feel is déjà vu. The Word of Blake (WoB) is the Clans all over again, an upgrade to the universe that deletes the original. We all know where that one leads to don't we? It leads to players who are heavily invested in the old paradigm not wanting to transfer to the new one.

As I sit here typing this I can't help but think of the in game transfer of power plot that is the ComStar plan and thinking that this is a metaphor for what is happening in the game itself. Depending on how you look at it, we are seeing the second or third transfer in the game.

The original game was set in a Mad Max universe of scarcity, where manly men, or strong women, piloted mechs that ruled the battlefield. The first transfer was the development on new technology from the Grey Death Legion Helm core. This brought double heat sinks into the game, which unwittingly made all auto cannons pretty much redundant as primary weapons (specialist functions still exist for them, but no-one would want an auto cannon over a PPC for instance; my caveat here is that I've summarized a very complex argument into that one line).

The second transfer, or cementing of the first (depending on your viewpoint), was the coming of the Clans. Players went from making sucking noises about Gauss rifles being too powerful, to the Clans allowing you to field munchkin mechs. This time players voted with their feet big time, and today we have the situation where there are people who will only play 3025, and I don't blame them. I've never found the game more fun to play because of the extra toys that newer tech brings to the table. For me the game is fun due to the central conceit, and conceit it is, because giant humanoid war machines make no sense in the real world.

Now we see the third transfer within the game from the Clans, to the threat that is the WoB. The problem is that the WoB need to be able to beat the Clans, and the Clans are already have the most munchy game stats. The question then becomes how to make the WoB better without destroying the game again? The answer is to take it to the max in a way that is limited in some way. Therefore we get the WoB Munchkin-Max tech from the introduction of prosthetics. I imagine that this route was taken, because it allows the writers to remove it naturally at a later date.


Within the game architecture, having something that makes the players feel revolted, is a very good way of limiting the use of said tech. By this (and again I'm simplifying a very complex argument), I mean that though the tech is available the cost benefit analysis of having it is such that it is no longer seen as the solution (short character life, going mad etc). In this case given the introduction of the RPG, very few players would want to play monsters (or more likely the CGL scenario writers and GMs would allow) , because that is what the WoB are. By using implants they become monsters.


Phew, sorry if this argument has been a bit tortuous, but I'm thinking through the ideas as I write them down here.

The Clan warriors were never seen as monsters. Not quite fully human, and certainly the enemy, but not monsters. The WoB start off as fanatics, and the tragedy is that they become monsters. So all that is good about them is sacrificed because they believe that the end justifies the means.
I also see that the writers at CGL are doing a grand job of writing a set of very comprehensive rules that have transformed the games from giant mechs kicking ass, to a more subtle game of combined arms, but here's the thing. If I want a more subtle combined arms game I wouldn't be playing Battletech.

I'm of the school where mechs are a conceit, but you then run with that conceit, rather than try and create a more realistic and balanced game.
As one of the old time players I stopped with the Clans, and have rather jumped over the middle period to come back into the game at the Jihad. I like the Jihad, conceptually, but you know what I still mostly play 3025 games, because it is what I know and it is fun to play.
   

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Busy Blogging About Stuff


I'm starting to think that blogging is what one does to tell others what has got in the way today of doing stuff. I've been busy this weekend, what with going to a Halloween party last night, sleeping in late this morning and then reading a BattleTech book in bed. What decadent luxury. In the time in-between I've been working on my terr
ain boards a bit more, having had one of those classic two steps forward and one step moments.

I had built nine boards on thinner foam board than I usually use, due to mistakenly buying the wrong size. As a result the boards were a bit bendy, not being stiff enough. For some of the boards I was able to just skim some extra filler over the top to thicken up some areas. The other boards required that I laminate another base layer onto the bottom, and then carve and reshape the top so that they would still match my other finished boards.

This was actually surprising hard work and I built up quite a sweat doing the job, but it was a bit depressing to see the boards needing to be re-textured with foam and be repainted all over again.
 

Monday, 26 October 2009

I'm Late, I'm Late for a Very Important Post: Terrain Boards 2


I've been as busy as ever, or at least that what it feels like to me as the last 5 months have flown by. Some of that is down having been quite ill this year and off work, and the rest is probably down to getting back into the groove at work when I returned. In the mean time I have been building terrain like there is no tomorrow. This has been this years monumental project for me. I've now finished 20 boards, and have 4 that I need to modify as the facing on some of them are not square, which affects laying them out as they don't quite fit properly. One more board require some super detailing for a rock face that I haven't gotten around to yet.


In the process of being built are 9 ridge line boards and 5 town boards, the latter not shown here.


Also today I cut and drew out another 12 boards that include 3 river mouths, 3 coast line boards, 2 lazy delta river sections, 2 outer curving hill corners, 1 inner curving hill corner, and 1 end of ridge line board.


So I had quite a busy day on my day off. I also, spent some time drawing out more terrain combinations to make in future, so I kept busy and out of trouble.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

SELWG 2009: Crystal Palace


I've just got back from a day our at the South East London War Games club annual show, which was canceled last year due to venue problems, but is now back. 


Lots more information about the previous shows and the club on their site. Anyway, if you live within striking distance of London this show is well worth going to. Not as high profile as Salute, which is in the Excel Centre, but every bit as big with lots of stuff to see and do. I took a friend's son, Oliver, with me, and he got to take home a Warhammer 40K box set for his Xmas present from me. Oliver also had a whale of a time playing Weird World War Two game featuring giant mecha, and got given a werewolf figure by the nice guys running the Westwind demo game for doing so well. He enjoyed this so much he went on to play another game with them, playing the other side.

Oliver then went on to play a Russian Revolution aerial game and enjoyed himself with the nice crew who were running it from the South East Essex Military Society. The game was called Wot, no parachute, and Oliver played and really enjoyed trying to shoot down the enemy bomber. Actually it was nice to see quite a lot of youngsters at the show, and that they were being encouraged to join in the games, which can't be a bad thing. I wish I had taken a camera, but I'm sure that the SELWG site will upload pictures of the day in due course. Hey no sooner said than done I found that Bob's site has photos.

No BattleTech stuff of note at the show, but I've already got plenty of unmade mechs in a box to paint on a rainy day, so that didn't bother me at all. I bought some Peter Pig stuff for their AK47 Republic rule set. I was lucky to play in a demo game of AK47R, which was a hoot. We sort of won, I think, or least didn't loose too badly. The owner of Peter Pig Games ran the demo, and he was an absolute gem, showing patience and humour to help us newbies understand the rules. I plan on doing a Somali based Black Hawk down inspired game using these rules, and after reading on Bob Cordery's site here:

I've been inspired to start thinking about doing some inter-war period games around the Spanish Civil War using the AK47R rules modified to suit. So I bought a Gaz truck and T26, because they were cute and would fit the period quite nicely. I know that is a bit random, but hey it's a hobby.

Finally, I succumbed to some Pendraken 10mm World War One armies, and bought a British and German starter pack. Not going to use AK47R for these, but rather the TooFat Lardies ruleset Through the Mud and the Blood. My Uncle-in-law writes military books and gave me one on the Somme, which I found to be a real eye opener to the period, which is mostly seen as portrayed in the TV series Blackadder Goes Forth. Needless to say I have another shoebox of miniatures to paint up.

What else? I saw some excellent looking games. South London Warlords presentation had players getting into role as Zulu warriors with leopard print head bands. I really thought the Southend-on-Sea Wargamers 1984 game was impressive, and wish I had time to stop and chat with them. Finally, I was also totally impressed by Operation Peace for Galilee run by Crawley Wargames Club. Amazing looking game. There was also a very nice 15mm Flames of War Russian game, unfortunately the name escapes me, but the terrain boards were superb.

So that was just over three hours of entertainment for the two of us, and I would like to thank all the clubs and the organisers for putting on such a good show. Next year how about advertising it a bit more, as you deserved to have a lot more people through the door for a show of this quality?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Two Films on a Theme


At the moment I'm really into my terrain building, but this week I thought I would do something different, and I don't mean more number crunching. I've been to see a couple of SF movies recently, and as both have been interesting to me as a gamer I'm going to review them en passant.


The first film was District 9, which quite frankly was the best SF film I've seen so far this year. Not that I haven't enjoyed the Watchmen, Wolverine was far better than I expected, the revamped Star Trek fun, and Transformers 2 action packed candy-floss.

However, District 9 made me care about what was happening to the people on screen. The use of the SF trope of aliens landing on Earth as a way to discuss Apartheid in South Africa, can be seen a weary over-worn conceit. District 9s strength was that the story concentrated on the characters, and we see the characters grow and change from what has happened to them. Something that is rarely addressed in the usual Hollywood fare. For me it didn't hurt to have a bit of mech action at the end either. Though I'm not sure in BattleTech terms whether the mecha was power armour, battle armour, a proto-mech, or even a very light battlemech? My gut feeling it was equivalent to a proto-mech. I must admit I have an aversion to BattleTech proto-mechs, because of the animal forms the artwork uses to represent them. I think the mecha in District 9 looked like a mechanical version of the alien Prawns, but done in such a way that it still looked like a machine, and not some transformer beast wars cartoon.

The second film I've seen recently was Surrogates. A Hollywood blockbuster with Bruce Willis, where the main character might as well have been called Bruce Willis. Surrogates is pretty much the usual fare of Bruce doing his whole Die Hard thing. Not that I mind Bruce being Bruce, as I quite enjoy watching him go through the motions. However, Surrogates presents a future where everybody is living in a virtual world through the use of physical representations of themselves. Not robots, but waldoes. I understand the film is based on a comic/graphic novel, but so far I've not found a copy to look at, so I can't comment on how faithful the film is to the source material. I imagine it is not that close. Anyway, Surrogates is not a bad film, I quite enjoyed it, but again it was not a great movie, and in some ways this is really sad, because it so could have been great.

Surrogates is like District 9, in that it is talking about how society is dealing with common fears around change brought about by outside factors. In the case of Surrogates it is the fear of death that is making Western societies risk aversive. However, what then happens is that we get a Hollywood visual feast of beautiful people. All entertaining, but so many missed opportunities. A part of the plot revolves around an epiphany that Bruce has after losing his surrogate during a crime scene, which then leads to his character re-evaluating the effects of using surrogates. This is what makes the film better than okay. However, the film makers missed out on the fact that if you are living your life through a surrogate, then you have the opportunity to show how the virtual world can be enhanced.

In practical terms what we saw was beautiful people playing surrogates, and beautiful people made to look slightly less beautiful when they were themselves, except when the film makers wanted to score an emotional hit. If they had made the surrogates look less real, as Spielberg did in the film AI for the robots, then we could have seen the surrogates through the eyes of the virtual interface as beautiful people, and when Bruce is sans-surrogate he could have seen the plastic quality of the world he was living in. This would have made the point that the virtual world enhanced reality, and given more credence to the anti-surrogate humans he meets in the film, because quite frankly with such perfection the film shows you, why wouldn't you want to live in the cleaner, brighter and safer virtual world?

From a gamer's perspective, I could see the technology being useful for Cyberpunk scenarios, and even advanced neuro-helmet technology for BattleTech, though obviously non-canon. 
   

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Crunchy Geeky Goodness


After the first round of weapon testing, the decision of the review committee is to widen the remit of the tests. Noted expert witnesses point out that missiles were left out of the equation, and those new emergent technologies from deploying ultra-autocannon 5s, and LB10-X autocannons show great promise on the battlefield.
So another round of static firing tests are set up, this time comparing battlemechs with SRMs, LRMs and two new contenders.

Again the trial will be over 36 shots at short, medium and long range. To allow the test results to be compared with the first round results, all battlemechs will be given 21 tons to allocate in for their choice of weapons and heat sinks, but all weapons must carry 35 rounds of ammunition, to be the same as the autocannon 20 ammo limits from the first test.


The SRM2 weighs 1 tons and generates 2 heat points. Therefore our battlemech can carry 5 SRM2s for 5 tons and be heat neutral. This leaves 16 tons, but the calculation is complicated by the requirement to carry 35 rounds for each one. Each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 50 shots. The initial 5 SRM2s will need 175 rounds, which is 3.5 tons. So what we have left is not 16, but 12.5 tons to spend. Each remaining SRM2 will cost 3 tons each, to remain heat neutral. We can therefore have 3 more SRM2s and 2.5 tons of ammo, for a total of 11.5 tons. We have 1 ton left over for a spare heat sink, so that the battlemech runs at -1 heat point per turn. So this battlemech has 8 SRM2 launchers.


The SRM4 weighs 2 tons and generates 3 heat points. Therefore our next battlemech can carry 3 SRM4s for 6 tons and have 1 spare heat sink. This leaves 15 tons, to spend on our requirement to carry 35 rounds for each launcher we have. Each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 25 shots. The initial 3 SRM4s will need 105 rounds, which is 5 tons leaving 20 spare shots over. What we are then left with is 10 tons to spend. Each remaining SRM4 will cost 5 tons each, to remain heat neutral. So we can have 2 more SRM4 and 1 ton of ammo, for a total of 10 tons, because we have that spare free heat sink that comes with the engine. This means that that the battlemech runs heat neutral. So this battlemech has 5 SRM4 launchers.


The SRM6 weighs 3 tons and generates 4 heat points. Therefore our final SRM battlemech can carry 2 SRM6s for 6 tons and have 2 spare heat sinks. This leaves us 15 tons, and each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 15 shots. The initial 2 SRM6s will need 70 rounds, which is 5 tons leaving 5 spare shots over. What we are then left again with is 10 tons to spend. Each remaining SRM6 will cost 7 tons each, to remain heat neutral. So we can have 1 more SRM6 for 7 tons to remain heat neutral, have and 2 tons of ammo, which with our spare ammo adds up to 35 shots. This adds up a total of 9 tons, and we will fill out the last 1 ton with an extra heat sink. This means our battlemech runs -3 heat point per turn. So this battlemech has 3 SRM6 launchers.

The LRM5 weighs 2 tons and generates 2 heat points. Therefore our first LRM battlemech can carry 5 LRM5s for 10 tons and generate 10 heat points. This leaves us 11 tons, and each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 24 shots. The initial 5 LRM5s will need 165 rounds, which is 7 tons leaving 3 spare shots over. What we are then left again with is 4 tons to spend. Each remaining LRM5 will cost 4 tons each, to remain heat neutral. As there is only 4 tons left, 1 more LRM5 with 2 tons of ammo will generate 2 heat points per turn. This means our battlemech runs 2 heat point per turn hot, therefore it will fire all 6 LRM5s for 4 rounds, and take 1 rounds to cool down. This battlemech has 6 LRM5s launchers.

The LRM10 weighs 5 tons and generates 4 heat points. Our next LRM battlemech can carry 2 LRM10s for 10 tons and have 2 spare heat sinks. This leaves us 11 tons, and each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 12 shots. The initial 2 LRM10s will need 70 rounds, which is 6 tons leaving 2 spare shots over. What we are then left again with is 5 tons to spend, which is not enough to buy a launcher and ammo, so we take 5 extra heat sinks because we can. This means our battlemech runs -5 heat point per turn. So this battlemech has 2 LRM10s launchers.


The LRM15 weighs 7 tons and generates 5 heat points. This battlemech can carry 2 LRM15s for 14 tons for 10 heat points. This leaves us 7 tons, and each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 8 shots. The initial 2 LRM15s will need 70 rounds, which comes to 9 tons, but the battlemech can only carry 7 tons, which is 56 rounds. Therefore our battlemech runs heat neutral, but can only fire 28 shots. So this battlemech has 2 LRM15s launchers.


The LRM20 weighs 10 tons and generates 6 heat points. Our final LRM battlemech can carry 1 LRM20 for 10 tons and have 4 spare heat sinks. This leaves us 11 tons, and each ton of ammo weighs 1 ton for 6 shots. The LRM20 will need 36 rounds, which is 6 tons, leaving 3 spare shots over. What we are then left again with is again 5 tons to spend. Cleverly the designers argue that they should be allowed to add an LRM 5 as it shares the same ammo and all. The referees agree. Another LRM 5 cost 2 tons, generates 2 heat points, and will require 2 tons of ammo to fire. This adds up a total of 4 tons, and we will fill out the last 1 ton with an extra heat sink. This means our battlemech runs -3 heat point per turn. So this battlemech has 1 LRM20 and 1 LRM5 launcher.


Now for the final two contenders in this round we will arm one with ultra-autocannon 5s, and the other with LB10-X autocannons.

So, ultra-autocannon 5 weighs 9 tons, and generates 1 heat point every time it fires normally, and double that when in ultra mode. Our model will not jam, as it has been lovingly prepared by the crew, and is straight out of the special lab. So it will generate 2 heat points per turn and fire 2 shots everytime. It will therefore need 8 tons of ammo for 80 shots, which will leave 10 shots over. This comes to 17 tons, leaving 4 tons over, which will be taken in heat sinks, and therefore it will run at -12 heat points per turn.


So, LB10-X autocannon weighs 11 tons, and generates 2 heat points every time it fires. It will need 4 tons of ammo for 40 shots, which will leave 5 shots over. This comes to 15 tons, leaving 6 tons over, which will be taken in heat sinks, and therefore it will run at -14 heat points per turn. Again we will run three test firings at short 3 hexes, medium 6 hexes and long range 9 hexes.

For the cluster hits we will add up damage by discarding one double-one die roll, one double-six die roll, and one natural seven roll for 33 results. We again assign all of these to the missed shots from our previous thought experiment, giving the benefit of any doubt surrounding missed shots just like our first round of tests.
The LRM battlemechs were allowed to fire at 7 hexes, because they argued that was short range for them, and the PPCs were allowed to do this.

The results of the short range-firing test are as follows:


8 SRM2 fires 33 times for a total of 752 points

5 SRM4 fires 33 times for a total of 870 points

3 SRM6 fires 33 times for a total of 720 points

6 LRM5s fires 29 times (in a 4:1 pattern) for a total of 564 points

2 LRM10s fires 33 times for a total of 416 points

2 LRM15s fires 28 times (ammo limit) for a total of 536 points

1 LRM20+LRM5 fires 33 times for a total of 524 points

UAC5 fires 33 times for a total of 330 points

LB10-X fires 35 times (hits more at -1) for a total of 350 points


The results of the medium range-firing test only required the SRM launcher mechs to fire as the results for the LRMs and autocannons remains the same, and are as follows:


8 SRM2 fires 26 times for a total of 574 points
5 SRM4 fires 26 times for a total of 660 points
3 SRM6 fires 26 times for a total of 588 points


The results of the long range-firing test only required the SRM & LRM launcher mechs to fire as the results for the autocannons remain the same at 9 hexes, and are as follows:


8 SRM2 fires 26 times for a total of 400 points
5 SRM4 fires 26 times for a total of 450 points
3 SRM6 fires 26 times for a total of 588 points


6 LRM5s fires 26 times (in a 4:1 pattern) for a total of 510 points

2 LRM10s fires 26 times for a total of 332 points

2 LRM15s fires 26 times (ammo limit) for a total of 496 points
1 LRM20+LRM5 fires 26 times for a total of 366 points


While I would concede that the use of SRMs to generate critical hits is a good strategy, the 7 medium lasers still deals 1155 points at 3 hexes, 910 at 6 hexes, and 525 at 9 hexes. And this is why the medium laser still rocks the boat, and shows that there are some serious imbalances in the BattleTech when using tonnage to balance sides.


Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Terrain Boards a go go: 1


  
Well this weeks post offers me a respite from crunching numbers, because I have been busy working on making terrain boards to play games on. I have a thread over on one of the BattleTech boards.

This started of as a tutorial thread, which as metamorphosised into an experiential diary of my travails into making terrain. The boards I first started on are now going through yet another upgrade from their original finish. Each time I try something new, it is a case of two steps forward and one back, but the terrain looks better each time. I don't think I'm yet at the stage that I'm producing terrain that looks real, though that would be nice, I'm not sure that it is achievable within the remit I've set myself, namely terrain to play games on. So my boards are designed to be robust, yet light, and unfortunately that has come at a price.
Quite frankly you could do what I have done at less cost by going to one of the terrain making companies that advertise, for instance TSS.
 
I kid you not that I have spent several hundred pounds building my 45 terrain boards, some of which are still to be finished. And that is without adding a nominal cost for the hours that I have spent making, sculpting, and painting them. I've even bought a static grass applicator off eBay, which is much cheaper than the Nock Gras Master. I call mine the Grassinator.

All the usual disclaimers here, I'm just a satisfied customer.
Of course, if you buy a bunch of terrain you won't have the hours of fun I've had doing what I call "adult finger painting". Also, as I said, my terrain boards are pretty tough, and can be walked on in stockinged feet. Boots might be a bit too much for them, but it would be a close call. The same can not be said of most commercial terrain boards, with a few notable exceptions that use injection moulded parts, and even then I'm not sure they wouldn't crack under the weight? Anyway enough of the talk, here is a picture, enjoy.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Getting My Geek On


Well, well, well, the medium laser looks like it is pretty well balanced, but in my experience of playing BattleTech it is the "best bang for the buck" in 3025. Other eras not so much, but I don't play other eras, as quite frankly I find I don't enjoy the games anymore than the 3025 period game, and they are a lot more faff to play.

Now it is not enough to make an assertion, like the one I've just made above, unless one can support it with some evidence. So what evidence can we get to disprove my assertion? One sort of evidence would be to log a sufficiently large number of game results where you pitted medium laser armed mechs against a more balanced force of mechs armed with different combinations of weapons.

However, the problem with doing so is that mistakes made by the players during the game would add what are called "confounding variables". Also, we would need to know how many games would have to be played to have confidence in the power calculation. I am not a statistician, but I know that in research trials you are generally talking 40 or more participants per condition, where you normally compare a control sample to the trial sample, with randomised allocation to either. Such research trials are not done for fun, cost an arm and a leg to run, and often turnout inconclusive, or with a low value for the correlations that are being tested for. I don't have those resources to bring to bear on this problem.

What I can do is a non-randomised "thought experiment" to test my hypothesis that the medium laser is too powerful. My null hypothesis is that the combat value I calculated is correct. For my thought experiment I'm going to start by comparing three different weapons that I've calculated a combat value for. So I'm choosing the autocannon 20 (AC20), and the particle projection Cannon (PPC). The reason for choosing these two BattleTech weapons is that received opinion is that they are good at leveling out the inherent advantage I perceive the medium laser as having. What I hope to do is see, if my hunch is correct? Is the medium laser is the best hammer, and if it is show why? If not then then maybe we might find out something more interesting and prove that the combat value I calculated in my previous post is right.

However, as I said above we need to reduce the "confounding variables" as much as possible, because we are not interested in the luck of the dice, or the quality of the players. I only want to know if the weapon is costed correctly by the combat value algorithm I constructed. Other "confounding variables" would be movement, terrain, pilot skill advantages, and range. All of these things make for a fun game of BattleTech, but being able to roll a double-one on and get a centre torso critical hit, or rolling a double-six and blowing the head off only tells us that one can be lucky with the dice, not how effective the weapons is?

Now what I'm going to do for my "thought experiment" is level the playing field and remove all the tactical considerations that are the "confounding variables". Imagine, instead of a game of combat between two or more people, we are going to play a game of firing at a static target. In real life the military runs various trials and live fire exercises. We can imagine that Inner Sphere military doing some test shots against a static target for the same sorts of reasons.

The next thing we need to decide is how many shots to fire for each test? Now during a game we are not likely to have a large number of combat rounds, but the problem with taking data from too small a dataset is that statistical errors from rounding out the results will adversely affect the correlations between the various factors that make a weapon effective. This could be to either the advantage or disadvantage of any party, and we don't want that. We want to control for that too. As I said earlier, in real life randomised control trials one generally has around 40 participants in each condition, but this can be lower, or higher depending on a "power calculation" which is made before the trial begins by a statistician.

I'm not a statistician, so I'm going to choose a number that will make it easier for me to calculate the percentages at the end of the trial. Therefore I'm going to say that each weapon will fire 36 shots at the target, because BattleTech uses two six sided die (abbreviated as 2D6 from now on) to generate random numbers, and if we roll enough times, then over a large enough number of rolls the average number of results will tend towards a normal distribution. Now 2D6 have a Bell curve and what that is looks like this:

02 = 1 + 1
03 = 2 + 1, 1 + 2
04 = 3
+ 1, 1 + 3, 2 + 2
05 = 4 + 1, 1 + 4, 3 + 2, 2 + 3
06 = 5
+ 1, 1 + 5, 4 + 2, 2 + 4, 3 + 3
07 = 6
+ 1, 1 + 6, 5 + 2, 2 + 5, 4 + 3, 3 + 4
08 = 6
+ 2, 2 + 6, 5 + 3, 3 + 5, 4 + 4
09 = 6
+ 3, 3 + 6, 5 + 4, 4 + 5
10 = 6
+ 4, 4 + 6, 5 + 5
11 = 6
+ 5, 5 + 6
12 = 6
+ 6

So, an AC20 weighs 14 tons, and generates 7 heat points every time it fires. It will need 7 tons of ammo for 35 shots, and as that it close enough, it will do, because I'm going to make an assumption that three shots miss the target, and that one of them is the empty chambered shot. Does that sound fair and reasonable to everyone?

Therefore the AC20 battlemech will have 14 tons for the weapon, and 7 tons for the ammo for a total of 21 tons. The mech will run cool at -3 heat points per round, which is good.

Now I will bring up a PPC armed battlemech with two PPCs that weigh 7 tons each, for a total of 14 tons. To make things fair, we will make sure that the battlemech carries 7 extra heat sinks, for a total payload of 21 tons. However, the PPCs will generate 20 heat points per turn, so the battlemech will run at +3 heat. As we are comparing damage down range for our test the battlemech will fire both PPCs for two rounds, and allow itself to cool down from the +6 heat by only firing one PPC the next round.

Finally, I bring the medium laser armed battlemech onto the firing line and again we will have 21 tons of payload. A battlemech has 10 heat sinks, so the first 3 medium lasers will only cost us 3 tons of payload, with 1 heat sink left over. The next medium laser will need 2 heat sinks to be heat neutral for a total of 3 tons, which means we have spent 6 tons so far. We have 15 tons left, and each medium laser we now want to put in our battlemech will cost us 4 tons; 1 for the medium laser plus 3 for the heat sinks to keep it nice and frosty. So we can have 3 more medium lasers for 12 tons, and still have 3 tons of unused payload, which for the hell of it we will use for more heat sinks, just because we can. This battlemech has 7 medium lasers, does 35 points of damage and also runs at -3 heat points (hopefully you see my cunning plan unfold, because I could have chosen to add another medium laser, but instead I will make this and the autocannon armed battlemech run at the same -3 heat points? This is because I have another theory I want to test later and like any good researcher I'm starting one trial with the intent of a follow-up one).

Now since we are playing BattleTech, we have to throw dice to hit anything, so as our thought experiment was constructed with the idea of firing 36 times, I'm going to assume that we get a perfect standard distribution of the die rolls. By that I mean, one double 6, one double 5, one double 4, and the equivalent sets of 6 & 1, 1 & 6, 5 & 2, 2 & 5 and so on. This isn't at all realistic, but after serious peer review on a BattleTech forum the consensus was that it does represent the ideal and is therefore a fair way of working out the damage a weapon does in the ideal situation. And remember all the weapons in this test are treated fairly, well mostly fairly as I will lean over backwards to not favour the medium laser, and therefore undermine the results.

So for the first set of 36 shots we are going to fire our battlemechs at short range. We need 4 plus to hit, and therefore we get 33 hits at short range. For the purpose of the test the PPC battlemech is standing at its short range of 4 hexes (otherwise it would be shooting at a plus 1 penalty, and it really serves no useful purpose to penalise the PPC), while the AC20, and medium laser battlemechs are standing at 3 hexes from the target.

The results of the short range firing test are as follows:

The PPC armed battlemech delivers 33 hits for a total of 550 points of damage.

The AC20 armed battlemech delivers 33 hits for a total of 660 points of damage, with a loud huzzah.

The Medium laser armed battlemech delivers 33 hit for a total of 1155 points of damage, and people are cheering and booing, saying not fair.

Anyway, order is restored and the battlemechs are reversed out to be at medium range to the targets, but the the PPC crew argue that they should be allowed to shoot at 6 hexes rather than 7 hexes, because they can. The referees agree with them so the PPC will fire at 4 plus to hit getting 33 shots on target. However the to hit numbers are now 6 plus to hit for the autocannon 20, and the medium laser contenders, so they will only hit the target 26 times out of 36 with the same perfect standard distribution of the die rolls.

The results of the medium range firing test are as follows:

The PPC armed battlemech delivers 33 hits for a total of 550 points of damage, with a big yay all round.

The AC20 armed battlemech delivers 26 hits for a total of 520 points of damage, with a mumble of that's not too bad is it?

The Medium laser armed battlemech delivers 26 hits for a total of 910 points of damage, and the generals are in an uproar.

After a lot of very pointed and heated discussions, another round at long range is set up, with the targets now at 9 hexes from the battlemechs. This time the PPC battlemech is also set at 9 hexes, but fires at medium range, which is still 6 plus to hit, which gives it 26 hits on the static target. Meanwhile while both the other battlemechs now fire at 8 plus to hit, which will give them both 15 hits on their static target.

The results of the long range firing test are as follows:

The PPC armed battlemech delivers 26 hits for a total of 480 points of damage, with a resounding cheer.

The AC20 armed battlemech delivers 15 hits for a total of 300 points of damage, with a mumble of it could have been worse?

The medium laser armed battlemech delivers 15 his for a total of 525 points of damage, and everyone is up in arms at the results.

How can it be so obvious, why has no one ever seen this before? The PPC crew say that it is not fair as they can still hit the target at a longer distance. While the AC20 crew say, but you are forgetting that the bigger the hammer the harder it hits. The medium laser crew look around and whistle quietly to themselves. A decision is made by all and sundry to send the results to a review committee who will look at all the evidence and issue a report in due course.

However, peer review of the above by the committee raised two clear objections. The first was that no-one in their right mind would field a battlemech carrying 7 tons of ammo for its AC20. The second that 3 tons of ammo would be fairer, with a sub-note that since this is a firing range trial why can't the AC20 just carry 1 ton of ammo and be reloaded each time it become empty?

So let's see what happens when we adjust the firing test to take onto consideration the objections of the review committee? We will do another round of static firing with a special AC20 with 3 tons of ammo, total payload weight of 17 tons versus the medium laser contender.

Now for 17 tons the medium laser battlemech can have 3 medium lasers for 3 tons with one spare heat sink left over, and 14 tons to spend on more weapons and heat sinks. The next medium laser will cost 3 tons, because it can use the remaining heat sink, leaving 11 tons to spend. Now each remaining medium laser will weigh 4 tons if it is to remain heat neutral, so that gives us two more medium lasers. However, with 3 tons left we can buy one more medium laser with only 2 heat sinks and run at plus one heat point per turn. This gives the medium laser armed battlemech a total of 7 medium lasers running at 1 heat point per turn, which seems only fair given what the committee have asked as if you are going to deliberately rig the jig, then having the the medium laser battlemech rigged this way seems fair too?

We will run two sets of 15 shots for the AC20 for its 36 shot trial, as it doesn't have enough ammo to fire every turn, which is a disadvantage of the autocannon. Meanwhile the medium laser will fire 8 times in a row and then pause for one firing round, which means it will only fire 32 times out of the 36 shot trial.

Short range 4+ to hit (assuming 3 misses on empty chamber for the AC20 & just 3 misses for the medium laser):

The AC20 will do 600 points of damage versus 660 points of damage over 33 shots. The 7 medium lasers will do 1015 points of damage versus 1155 points of damage over 33 shots.

Medium range 6+ to hit (30 shots fired 10 miss for both):

The AC20 will do 400 points of damage versus 520 points of damage over 33 shots. The 7 medium lasers 700 points of damage versus 910 points of damage over 33 shots.

Long range 8+ to hit (30 shots fired 20 misses for both):

The AC20 will do 200 points of damage versus 300 points of damage over 33 shots. The 7 medium lasers 350 points of damage versus 525 points of damage over 33 shots.

I surmised that the AC20 would not really be hindered by carrying 7 tons of ammo as carrying less ammo directly correlates with being able to do less damage, which is another "confounding variable" for ammo using weapons versus energy weapons that get unlimited shots.

However, if one divides the number of points of damage the AC20 does into the number of points that the 7 medium lasers do, we can calculate a ratio to compare the effectiveness of both weapons at dealing out damage. Apart from at short range, where the AC20 does 1 point of damage for every 1.69 that medium laser does when carrying 3 tons of ammo, at both medium and long range it does 1 point damage to 1.75 points that the medium laser does, whether it is carrying 3 or 7 tons of ammo. Surprising huh?

The difference between 1.69 and 1.75 is less than 5%, so it suggests that the amount of ammo I used in my "thought experiment" while not indicative of a typical load out, only affects the results by less than 5%. That is actually a very good result for my argument that the 3025 medium laser is over powered.

Finally, what about the AC20 with 1 ton of ammo argument? The best comparison between the medium laser and AC20 happens when the AC20 only has 1 ton of ammo where the ratio of damage is 1:1.5 in favour of the medium laser. My initial thoughts were that by giving the AC20 7 tons of ammo I would reduce its effectiveness by less than 20%. As the best ratio for the medium laser is 1:1.75 versus the AC20, what we have is approximately a 15% increase in the effectiveness of the medium laser over the AC20 when you give the AC20 a ridiculous amount of ammo.

For me the question then becomes what is happening here? The answer would seem to lie with the construction rules giving each mech 10 free heat sinks versus the weight penalty for carrying ammo in relation to the tonnage of extra heat sinks that the medium needs. However, that is for a future blog. I do hope that by being amusing I've made an otherwise number crunching exercise a bit less dry?


And this is why the medium laser rocks.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Crunching the Numbers


I think have a natural aptitude for numbers. I can just add and multiply things that others find difficult. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a genius, or a arithmetical savant, I just can hold numbers in my head and using tricks I’ve learnt over the years multiply and divide etc. I enjoy being able to do this. I think numbers can be fun. This blog you are reading now is going to have a lot of numbers in it. No need to step away, I will keep it easy and where anything looks difficult, remember you can always skip to the next paragraph.


A long time ago, in a town that is not too far away from where I live now, I had become an avid fan of a game called BattleTech. I was young, full of youthful passion and over here in England BattleTech had yet to catch on, as it was the 1985, and it had only just come out. At the time I worked in a games shop, and had been introduced to BattleTech when my boss imported Battledroids. We use to play every weekend and played lots of games and RPGs over the years.

Anyway, I produced a small fanzine called MekTek, and one of the articles I wrote for it was called the “Meka of Design”. In this article I outline some of the factors that needed to be taken into consideration when designing your own battlemechs for a game.

D = Damage
R = Range
W= Weight
H = Heat points
A = Ammunition
CV = Combat Value.

Using these terms I created an algorithm, which is a procedure, or formula that allows one to work out an answer to a problem. I wanted to calculate the combat value for each of the weapons available so that I would know how effective each weapon was. Well you can’t go around designing the ultimate battlemech without having some idea of how to get the best value bangs for your buck. The formula I used back then was as follows:

D x R
CV = W+H+A

Back then I calculated the combat value using the full attack value for both the Short and Long Range Missile racks. However, it would have been better to use the average value, and here are the results.

Autocannon 2: CV = 6
Autocannon 5: CV = 9
Autocannon 10: CV = 9/9
Autocannon 20: CV = 8/7

Small laser: CV = 6
Medium laser: CV =11
Large laser: CV = 9
PPC: CV = 11

SRM 2: CV = 5
SRM 4: CV = 6
SRM 6: CV = 9

LRM 5: CV = 13
LRM 10: CV = 13
LRM 15: CV = 15
LRM 20: CV = 15

As can be seen from the rounded out combat value that the medium laser appears to be the same as the PPC, and therefore these two weapons are equal in their combat effectiveness. The reason I bring this point to your attention is because experience from many games that I’ve played my experience is that bang for buck the medium laser is one of the best weapons you can buy for a game of BattleTech set in 3025.

Also it should be noted that the combat value I’ve calculated for the autocannons only allows for one ton of ammo, which is fine for the two smaller models, but not quite enough for the AC10, and the AC20 is poorly served with only five shots. So I’ve included a combat value with two tons of ammo, which is the figure after the slash. From this one can see that while the autocannon 10 remains the same, the autocannon 20 takes quite a hit in this calculated combat value system.

Now, I’m not saying that the system I’ve illustrated here is what Jordan & Co. used when they were designing BattleTech. From what little I know, I gather that the process of designing the game was far more intuitive, with ongoing fiddling of the weapon stats to get to something that was enjoyable to play. Though I admit I could be wrong on this conclusion, and would be open to anyone coming along and giving a first hand account of the design process.

Anyways, next post I'm going to show how all of the above assumptions are wrong, when I get my geek on...

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.


Saturday, 29 August 2009

Yippee Kay Yay Bloggers!


Well this is starting to another good weekend for me, if for entirely different reasons this time. For a start it is the British August Bank Holiday, so it is a three day weekend, and I like three day weekends, as they feel more like a weekend is suppose to. I'm sure I remember as a child seeing Tomorrows World where it was predicted that by the year 2000, we would all be working a four day week and have more leisure time. Yeah right...

So, I went and had my hair done this morning and I think my hair is looking good. Then I spent the afternoon tweaking a bunch of battlemech designs in a program called HM Pro, which is a most excellent product. I'm going through and making sure that all the mechs that I'm likely to use with the players are all equally efficient in their balance of weapons, armour and heat sinks. I'm currently working towards setting up a campaign game to generate scenarios for BattleTech. I like scenarios that are generated from a battle having consequences, because one of the main problems is that certain strategies become more optimum when you know that the results do not affect the next game.

As an aside to this I've been following a thread on the Classic BattleTech forums about medium lasers, which started off quite well, but kind of went around in circles. it seems that no one want to admit that there might be game balance issues with BattleTech from the statistics that some of the weapons have. I can kind of respect TPTB for not wanting to address these issues. Afterall the game has been around for 25 years, and a lot of people enjoy playing the game as is. More power to them, is what I say.

However, I'm a game designer, and have more that a token interest in BattleTech, as I once wrote for FASA and designed some mechs for the game. I'm also in the very privileged position of not having to make a real living at this hobby, I have a full-time job that does that for me. This does give me the luxury to stand back and look at things from an outside perspective. So a cliff note history of BattleTech is probably in order now.

The game was first released back in 1984, and was called BattleDroids, which Lucas Film took exception to, so the second edition was called BattleTech. Now the original games premise was that things made in the past were better than things made in the future setting that the game took place. There was a very strong Mad Max feel, and civilisation was on the brink of darkness. This was later changed when the game took off and they realised that the setting really didn't leave much room for future growth. Now the thing is that the game was, for the 1980s anyway, very much a glorified beer & pretzel game, good for picking up and getting on with some action. Since then the game has grown and this observation is no longer the case.

The trouble is that FASA, god bless their little cotton socks, weren't the best people in the world at play-testing their games, and game balance appears not to have been tested to destruction, which is what you really need to do when designing a game. Certainly Steve Jackson of the company that bears his name argues so, and I would agree strongly with him on this. The best people to have on a play-test team are those players who will mini-max designs to within an inch of their lives, and having some munchkin players to really beat the crap out of your work, will ultimately keep the designer honest. I've been there and had it done to me, it's a horrible feeling to have your baby pulled to shreds, but like any crucible, what comes out is pure gold. BattleTech appears to have missed out going through this process.

Back in the day I was almost hired by FASA to work for them full time, but in the end I ended up only doing one contract for them. Unfortunately, my circumstances changed, and it would have been hard for them to justify a Green card to allow me to come over from England to work in Chicago. It would have been nice though. Anyway, my group of friends had done a lot of mini-maxing munchkinisation of BattleTech, in our own time, and given the opportunity back then, some of the things that are still present now might have been different. As I said, I can see why the current owners of the franchise didn't rewrite the rules more for the current edition. It doesn't fit their profile, and it would have caused ructions amongst the die hard fans of the game. However, I'm a free fan, and happy to take CGL at their word when they tell me that what I do on my table is up to me. So in future posts I will be talking about the things that I do that make the game better for me.

Feel free to try, or not, as the case may be.

Disclaimer: All posts are condensed & abbreviated summaries of complex arguments posted for discussion on the internet, and not meant to be authoritative in any shape, or form on said subject, T&CA, E&OE & YMMV.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Muwuhaha, and Now I Have a Blog: Trees too!

   

Taking my cue I enter from stage left to talk about my weekend. I had a good one, in fact given how ill I've been over the last three months, after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, it was a very good weekend indeed. What made it good was that I got to do somethings I wanted, have a friend come around and play a game, stay for a meal and generally managed to enjoy shooting the breeze. So where to start?

Well I'm a pretty avid model maker, and spend lots of my spare time building stuff that interests me. I'm also a wargamer, though truth be told I don't play games as often as I would like, but do probably play as often as I can, all things considered. What I was making on Saturday morning was a bunch of trees for for playing miniature games with, namely BattleTech, Ogre and the like, as I'm a big SF fan too. So I'll start with the trees.


In the picture at the top are the trees I've mounted on some metal bases to make them stand up and more resistant to falling over. I've also added extra ground foam glued on to bulk them out a bit. In addition, I've added some Woodland Scenics foliage netting to to some of them, which creates a nice airy volume.

These are not what I would call "hero" trees, but I hope that they will look better than the average wargaming tree. One of my bugbears is that most wargame terrain and trees, bar the very best top quality presentation games, are very much tokens that nod to the concept of the reality that underlies the game. I'm striving to raise the standard, whilst keeping the terrain modular and generic.

Anyway, as I said, my friend Clive came around in the afternoon and he indulged me by choosing to play BattleTech with me. Clive is a good sort like that. We set up a game on a hex map, but used some miniatures I have, and we only had to use one substitute mech, so that was good. Got through about three turns in about an hour and a half, which again is not bad for a three-on-three mech game. Also, I was having to talk Clive through the rules, and he was struggling with tactics, as he generally plays more strategic and operational level games. He said he enjoyed playing, but I'm not convinced he is a convert to the BattleTech cause.

Afterwards we ate and chilled out chatting about other stuff, including the Live Action Role Playing game that we are both in called Contact!. This generates a certain amount of discussion, because the plot is quite convoluted, and the game has been running a number of years with player attrition due to real life issues raising their ugly head.

So, that's all until next time.

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