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.


  1. Great article, very thought provoking...


  2. Pink, I thought the speeds listed for BattleTech *were* the reduced speed one would find in combat. That is, these machines are capable of higher speeds but it is not listed, as no one would use a given machine in a non-combat scenario.

    Once that 'Mech or tank hits the table, it has traveled as far as it can at non-combat speed (something like 1.5 times combat speed) and it is considered to be 'in combat' regardless of how many hexes away the enemy might be.


  3. You are probably right, but to be honest, I can't remember. However, this still doesn't make a lot of sense to me, as 1.5 times what? The walk, or the run speed? Assuming it is 1.5 times running speed then an average 4/6 movement mech can go up to 9 hexes per turn when not in combat, which is not bad.

    What we would then need are rules/guidelines to cover the transition from one state to another, if we want to be able to play games where non-engaged forces can make large flanking movements etc.

  4. PiP, I think you're best option is best lol. Ignoring things like ground scale and timing, especially when it comes to scifi is fine, and the 'clean' way of doing things. You can rationalize it as you see fit. Maybe the BT speeds are "combat" speeds - the speeds mechwarriors would only dare use in a combat situation, if it helps.

    I think inherently most game rules include the concept of units moving at acceptable "combat speeds". For example, in my 20mm rules a single human figure can move up to 6" during an activation. There's no direct mph/kph translation to that, it's just the concept that a trooper moves as fast as he needs to, to get where he needs to go. 6" represents the longest distance he can cover (in an all out dash, carrying a weapon and 20-80lbs of equipment, while being shot at!) in one turn. Why 6" Because it seems resonable for miniatures scale, and size of the battlefields I plan to set up. I use that as my average and establish speeds of other models in the game based around that. I'm not going to worry about how long a turn is as long as everyone and everything is moving at a reasonable distance each turn.

    And that's ultimately the key. If it seems reasonable, then why worry about exactness. Most games are simulations, nor should they really try to be. Most should strive to have an apropriate feel, and balance that out with being fun to play.

  5. Pink, the point I was trying to make is that we never see non-engaged forces in a game of BattleTech. By definition, if they are on the table and represented by a miniature of some sort, they are engaged.

    Now it is true that in a role-playing scenario, there might be a question of who got what and where. In Champions, the superhero RPG, they have something called 'combat speed' and 'non-combat speed'. In combat, I can only fly 30 inches per phase. When not in combat, I can fly at speeds approaching Mach 2. The difference is that non-combat flight or any other kind of movement is *always* 'off-camera' - because when the heroes arrive, it is assumed when they appear on the table that they immediately assume combat speed and the turns are now divided into the twelve phases and recovery phase.

    1.5 x running speed seems about right, but again, that is movement which is assumed to throw caution to the wind.


  6. Good point, and it kind of suggests that flanking manoeuvres and the like need to dealt in an abstract fashion. I think this brings me back to how one handles the arrival of reserves, and adding the ability to make flank attacks.

  7. Then we are agreed? Reserves would move at 'non-combat speed' and this would translate (in game terms) to their controller being able to deploy them anywhere he or she had control of the field. They would appear at that edge of the map and immediately assume the 'combat speed' listed on their sheets.

    If the area was well away from the controller's existing unit's starting point, then you might want to enforce a delay proportional to the distance the reserves actually have to cover to enter at the new position - using non-combat speed on a map temporarily placed next to the one being used for combat. This would be purely for the figuring of delay, if any, and the opposing players would have to be out of the room while you were doing this in order not to tip your hand...


  8. I'd still be inclined to abstract it more so as to reduce the amount of faffing around on other maps. Okay, random arrival times and location points means less control, but it does represent the fog-of-war rather nicely.