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.