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.


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

Vietnam PBR 15mm versus a 10/12mm model.

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! It is best 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 (one can justify anything, if one tries hard enough).

So the picture at the  top compares a 15mm Vietnam PBR with a 10/12mm scale PBR (I use scale advisedly, because size is not a scale). The picture below 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 (no longer available), but you'll see mine I used for my Newten Town project.

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 traveled.

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 be defined as either somewhere that reports suggest enemy units are deployed, or where enemy units are sighted, then the speed you can travel 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 ground-scale. 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 ground-scale 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 ground-scale 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 ground-scale?

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. More often than 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.

These are a set of rules by Peter Pig that covers wars in Africa and the Middle East. They're 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, every time 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?

The Word of Blake Déjà vu

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

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 Blakeis 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 The Word of Blake.

The problem is that the The Word of Blake 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 The Word of Blake 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 terrain 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.