Tuesday 28 December 2010

Battletech 2.5: Manifesto Tight & Fast

Since I started discussing on this blog the problems that I have with some of the game mechanisms of BattleTech, my favourite wargame in the whole wide world ever, I have become more focused on how to address my need to tinker?  Realistically, there is no way that CGL would rewrite the core BattleTech rules to satisfy me.  I'm under no illusion about this. 

I also think that any house rules that I write will always been seen as something that stays in any group I play or communicate with.  At best one might get a general consensus that some idea is worth adding to a game, but not everyone is going to agree.  Especially those that prefer to play the rules as written on the tablets brought down from CGL on high.  

So where does that leave me?  What I want is a true quick play version of BattleTech.

Well, I've decided that instead of trying to rewrite the
BattleTech rules, hubris and arrogance beyond belief really for one person to attempt.  I would instead try and write an introductory quick play version of the rules instead. 

The reason for this choice is that I think that the current quick play rules for BattleTech that come in the starter set cut too much out, and that the Quick Strike variant rules for BattleForce are conceptually not BattleTech, but a higher level game. that creates its own niché within the CGL product line; an alternative game to play, rather than a rewrite of the core rules.  So now I need to set the agenda for this project, my six point manifesto is as follows:

1. These rules will not be a top down rewrite, but a bottom up process, so as not to conflict with the BattleTech's overall approach.

2. Must look like BattleTech e.g: record sheets must be similar even if simplified.

3. Must feel like BattleTech i.e: initiative, target to hit and location rolls, even if the charts are changed.

4. Must be compatible with all pre-generated units designs that exists now, or may be introduced later by following the current construction rules in full.

5. The rules must allow two players to be able to control six units each, and play four turns an hour minimum, and ideally up to twelve units each.

6. Speed of play scales consistently up to six players and six units each indicated by no less than three turns per hour i.e: BattleTech tends to slow logarithmically as the number of players and units increase, while these rules will be designed to slow proportionally as game friction increases.

Of course now I've got to go and write this, but how hard can it be? 

Oh I've just noticed that I've hit the 10,000 views.  Thank you all for taking the time to read my blog.

Saturday 25 December 2010

Xmas Blog 2010

May I wish festive Xmas greetings to all the readers of this blog of mine. I hope that you are having, or had a good one this year.

Listening to Kate Bush as I type this blog, after the present opening frenzy earlier. Goose is being dealt with and we have a day of TV highlights to watch, including Dr. Who. Got a bunch of things I wanted, plus a couple of surprises.

You all have a great time now and see you all on the bounce...

Wednesday 15 December 2010

BattleTech 2.3.1: The BattleTech Reader

A riposté to The BattleTech Reader post. As always Steve's awesomeness in spending his time to think about this stuff amazes me. :-)

Moving on rapidly from evolving language jokes, to the meat of the post.

Even Bigger 'Mechs

Steve’s reply, "What players choose to field is going to be limited not by what the company provides in the way of ‘canon’ designs, but what the rules support... I know will not start churning out 400 ton machines just because they found a nifty set of add-on rules for it out on the net [snip]."

You are absolutely right on this account.

Steve’s reply, "First, the game has been tweaked and balanced to accommodate ‘Mechs and other machines of the current tonnage range [snip]."

I agree again, but will add the caveat that the balance in the force (game mechanics) can be restored, there is still hope in the galaxy.

Steve’s reply, "Second, who wants to allow such a beast in a game that is supposed to be over in hours?... The Ares is interesting and yes, cool, but only time will tell whether or not there will be rules to permit such a machine... I wonder if they are even going to bother with a set of rules for what is, admittedly, the only example of a +100 ton machine in the game – and which came from a spin-off game at that. It sets a precedent for something quite unpleasant to consider – the complete overhaul of a good portion of the TW rules. And once a foot has been wedged in that door, only God knows how and when they’ll get it shut again."

Not my call and the rules for the Ares have been announced as in the works. I think you are being to pessimistic here. YMMV.

Steve’s reply, "Finally, controlling the background setting of BattleTech is what keeps it BattleTech and also something they can put up for sale in the shops. Would you have them hand everything over to us (ugh!) fanfic writers? We’re a pretty shady lot. Someone has to set the limits, after all. Why not the folks who have the license and practically invented the game as we know it?"

Why not, but as many people have pointed out, just because you own the license to the game, doesn't mean what one writes will not unbalance the game?

Quad 'Mechs  

Steve’s reply, "[snip] I think that the idea behind leaving turrets off the standard quad is intentional. It is in the interest of game balance, which I mentioned before.

Six legs – visually, quite impressive, but what effect in the game? Why would more legs help?
... I can see it in a movie or an anime series where the Rule of Cool is king. But translating it to a game where physics are paid a little more than lip service (not much more, I grant you), it just won’t wash.

The Centauroid ‘Mech is another product of the Rule of Cool... But I cannot think of anything, even a ProtoMech, which would benefit from that body plan in terms that would be meaningful in BattleTech [snip]."

Turrets have always been FUBAR'd ever since the construction first came out.  IMNSHO after 25 years I think it's time to fix them.  More legs, simple answer, it's a two for the price of one deal.

If you are adding hexapods, then Centaurs are just an easy variant.

As a Dougram fan I want hexapods so that I can field Desert Gunners, to go with the Crab (Goliath) and Tequila Gunners (Goliath variant).  As for Centaurs, it is a logical design progression from biped with arms to quadraped with arms.  Heck, one could even have a tripedal mechs with arms!  Oh yeah, we are going to get one of them in a year or so. ;-)

As for in game benefits, more locations to cover (downside), but more internal spaces (upside).

Steve’s reply, "Moving the engine, gyros and such inside a battlemech would, I believe, break some fundamental rules in the game... There is something about the game’s insistence on placing the goodies in a location represented by a ‘7’ that says to me there is more going on there at the game’s structural level than meets the eye. A ‘7’ is the most commonly rolled number on two six-sided dice."

Your point is taken, but let me turn it around.  Quads are too good at present, or would be too good if changed, is an argument I've seen used on the official forum.  If the internal allocation for the engines and gyro were spread across all three torso locations it would make the quads more vulnerable to internal hits, which would balance out any perceived awesomeness of the changes.

Steve’s reply, "Some kind of balance is kept on the tabletop by this arrangement, I don’t understand it and as a consequence, I am loathe to screw with it. There is no telling what will happen, good or ill. Mayhap Mr. Eastwood could look into this?"

It would be great if he would, as it will take the skills and contributions from more than one person to rewrite a set of rules that are as much loved as BattleTech.

Steve’s reply, "Flexibility is fine, but the more detail you have, the more things slow down. I am not sure the addition would be worth the eventual cost. There’s a break-even point and I believe the game’s designers know where it is better than I do."

That last sentence is total hubris Steve, because by that argument I can turn it around and just say that the game designers haven't done a 3063TRO, because they know best what to write for the market.  Sorry if that offends.  Perhaps you were being the Devil's Advocate here?

Breaking the Game with TarComps

Steve’s reply, "Slow moving assaults move slowly because they are armored out the ying-yang and have a significant warload... Stationary opponents automatically gain an effective –2 bonus against targets that are running as a ‘Mech that stands still does not have a movement modifier to add to it’s own gunnery [snip]."

Calling EastwoodDC, calling EastwoodDC. What do you say?

Steve’s reply, "Furthermore, the lighter machine’s warload is not likely to hit hard enough to match that of the stationary target – who, even when hitting less often, hits much harder with guns only a machine of his size can carry – and usually in quantity."

As you well know using light mechs is not something that occurs in isolation. So your point while right, is rather largely academic. Light mech users, like myself, tend to be doing "pea in a pod" tricks, dividing the audience's attention and generating chances to roll dice for critical hits. A very metagame approach to playing BattleTech.

Steve’s reply, "Finally, the lighter fast ‘Mech is nearly always much more lightly armored. The hits from those big weapons that do land are going to get through pretty fast."

They sure do, no disagreement there, but academic, because when I play you will always be faced with a dilemma; shoot the little mech, or shoot the bigger mech.

Steve’s reply, "Yes, the big stationary pillbox can use a tarcomp to tip the balance. Many do. However, not many pack pulse weapons and the reason is simple – they don’t move fast enough to compensate for the shorter range. Now that light, fast ‘Mech?  It practically begs for pulse weapons, as it needs something to offset the penalty for running with the throttle slammed forward all the time.   And a lot of them have such weapons."

However, as I'm the kind of player that parks right behind your assault mech to get the kick in, you having pulse lasers or a targeting computer can mean "Big trouble for a little mech in BattleTech town".

Steve’s reply, "Die re-rolls replacing gunnery bonuses?... In any case, how will you translate the ability of the targeting computer to select a given location – at a +3 to hit – and slam it with every direct fire weapon that makes the to-hit roll?"

Not going to argue this as my comment was an off the cuff proposal meant to illustrate options, rather than a specific game mechanism I had in mind.  

Not you, but people have somehow got it into their heads that I've already got this house version of BattleTech already written and ready to roll.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I have some house rules I've used in the past, and some I've stolen, but as these blogs progress I'm realizing that house rules to achieve my goals will need much more work that the little fixes that most house rules cover.

Electronic Countermeasures, Sensors, Networks a Waste of Time

Steve’s reply, "If they were standard on every ‘Mech, THAT would be a pain in the tuckus.  Can you imagine trying to figure out the effective ECM bubble for every machine?   When would C3 ever be effective?  When could you field hidden units?

The one thing about the game that I think really reflects how much electronics are packed into the average machine is this: all players, at all times, can see what units are on the field of combat.  They can identify them, determine their state of damage and furthermore, know exactly where every machine is – friend or foe - even if it is behind cover.  Unless the unit is specifically Hidden or the game is Double Blind, we all take this privilege for granted."

I think you are absolutely right, but these additions are IMNSHO things that have been added to the game that break the spirit of the original rules.  If one is to keep them, then it requires some more digging into the core mechanics and assumptions of the game to make them fit better.  YMMV on that opinion.

Steve’s reply, "I see the ECM, ECCM, Beagle, etc as just specialized gear designed to get around unusual starting conditions or to counter special link systems – such as C3... Would you deny us the one piece of gear designed to combat it until such time as all machines can boast of having ECM?"

No I wouldn't.  I might deny you both, but not just one thing. :-)

Gentlemen Do Not Fight With Anything But Ranged Weapons & Their Bare Hands

Steve’s reply, "Ah, but the Solaris comment was supposed to elicit the understanding that physical weapons also appeal to the Rule of Cool – note their popularity with the gathered throngs – even when they are not strictly practical."

Agreed, which is why I wouldn't ban them or anything like that.

Sunday 12 December 2010

BattleTech 2.4.1: Music Metaphor for Rules

In my previous blog I wrote about house rules for games of BattleTech. I removed my first comment I made there, because after other comments were posted, it seemed natural to expand it, and to discuss the links I posted.

Reminder; last time I compared the process of digital encoding of music to how it could be used to compress the time it takes to play a game of BattleTech.  Now I'm going to expand my ideas with an extended, and somewhat tangential discussion on music, inspired by comments made by Bradley & Farady77, with a links to threads on the CBT forum about house rules etc. for BattleTech.  I want to use the analogy of a "cover version" in music to discuss the process of rewriting of a set of gaming rules.

Let me start first by going of on my tangent about music and ask you to listen to Bear McCreary's rearrangement of All Along the Watch Tower used in Battlestar Galactica the TV series by using this link.

Now compare it with Jimi Hendrix's version, here.

Arguably the Jimi's is most well known version, but the original song is actually by Bob Dylan.

That link pushed my GoogleFu on YouTube to the limit, just so many dam covers. Would you all agree that they are just different versions of the same song, and recognizable as such? if not what was it that made it a totally different song?

Now for my second example let's listen to "Mad World" from the Donnie Darko film by Garry Jules.

The original 1980s Tears for Fears version is here.

And just to complicate matters Tears for Fears recent live version of their own song, which IMO appears to be a response to the success of the Garry Jules version here.

Still the same song? What do you think?

And my third example is the cover of Kate Bush's Running Up The Hill for the film Daybreakers by the group Placebo.

Kate's original here.

I would argue that fundamentally that all of the above examples are intrinsically the same song, which have been re-scored for different singers, or instruments. After all, the last time I heard Kate Bush sing live, she openly admitted that she can no longer sing Wuthering Heights the same way she did when she was a teenager.

Now my next example is of what I would call a rewrite of a song. I've chosen a reggae version of Dark Side of the Moon called Dub Side of the Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars.

Versus the original Pink Floyd here.

Now I think, if not this song, then the album by the Easy Star All-Stars, is sufficiently different that though I recognise themes from the original, it is no longer IMO the original song.  OTOH one could just argue that it is a terrible cover of the classic.  What do you think?

So how about listening to this classic version of My Way by Frank Sinatra.

Versus the Punk rock version of My Way by the Sex Pistols.

I would argue that both of these versions are classics.  However, the Sex Pistols version of My Way, is far truer emotionally to the content of the lyrics than the original version of the song, because they really sung the song in a way that was "their way"- Punk rock.  For me BattleTech is all about having fun from playing games of giant stompy robot action.  This was epitomised in the original second edition rules.  Since then there has been a slow, but inevitable layering of extra rules to address perceived shortcomings that has ended up slowing the game down.  So I want to go back to a faster paced game and have a version of the BattleTech that has the energy of Sex Pistols version of My Way, rather than the slow Frank Sinatra version.

Finally, a reach out to Professor Jamie Angus, all of the above links were of course digital recordings that have been compressed, so none of them are exact replicas of the original live performance of said songs.

In gamer speak, we are talking about a game where the ultimate war machines used are really not all they are made out to be, due to unintended consequences of how some of the rules have either shadowed the original intent, or have compressed the affective (fun) component of the game through excessive optional rules IMO.  Now let's move to the comments made on my previous post.

[snip] Bradley said, "The core idea and subsequent extrapolations: First make the turns express 1 minute of time. This allows the hexes to be 6 times larger, and range 6 times greater, to better simulate a longer ranged ground conflict. Second, thanks to the 1 minute turn length, all weapons will fire 5 times in a round. Thus, armor/structure on a mech will be 1/5th. This allows the record sheet to be shrunk to the size of a playing card,... [snip] Third, because damage is being inflicted 5 times as fast, game length will be reduced to 1/5th the duration. So a duel that lasts 20 rounds in BattleTech will be concluded in 4 rounds in BattleCommand... [snip] Forth, and this part really pertains to your post: Change the dice rolling conventions. 2d6 as a mechanic has the advantage of a bell curve, but in practice with modifiers and such requires numerous individual rolls and doesn't make use of the bell curve distribution well... [snip] [snip]... the initial reaction was that if I wanted to speed up BattleTech I should play BattleForce (despite my dislike of BattleForce for stripping too much personality of the mech away); also people were very adamant that their was nothing wrong with the 2d6 system, you just need something like a box of death to handle lots of 2d6 events."

Looking at the description of the comments that were made about BattleCommand, I would infer that the the consensus was that this was no longer a game of BattleTech.  I can also agree with Bradley's comment that BattleForce strips too much of BattleTech's personality away ("personality" here being define as "look & feel"), and that I would have no problem with the house rules as written.  However, the question is more what is it about these house rules that provoked people into labeling them as not BattleTech?  All I can see is the change of dice rolling conventions, because logically none of the other modifications change the mechanics of the game.

Moving on now to the second poster.

Farraday77 said, "There are many ways to streamline the game, and they all boil down to personal preference.   For my own, I i.e. cut down on irrelevant stuff (like FF and ES crits written on the record sheet when they're only relevant in the construction phase), took the good old medium lasers heat and damage as baseline for other weapons as well as armor and internal structure diagrams, and gave the players the option to switch to a 1d8 mechanic and a base THN of 0." 
Looking at the this comment what I see is not so much a "cover version" of BattleTech, but a change in the core rule mechanics, which while perfectly logical would be a new game.  I assume that people on the forums have said as much, assuming Farraday77 has posted them up for discussion?  

If not and if Farraday77 wants comments/feedback, then these house rules they could be posted on the CBT forum, assuming that Farraday77 is a member there? Also, talking about ultimate house rules and new editions of BattleTech try reading this thread, link.

"After skimming through the BattleTech: Omega rules from 1992 (not to be confused with FASAs 1999/2000 Omega rules), IMO they seem to me to be more like extended house rules rather than a completely new version of BattleTech, but YMMV."
Or, if you want to see what people think about changes to the BattleTech rules then go here.

As can be seen this topic is discussed quite a lot on the CBT forum. It seems to me, that any new version of the rules would have to feel like the original (so as to keep the diehards happy), but be new, which is a pretty tall order when you come to think about it.  However, if we use the analogy of re-scoring a song for different instruments versus rewriting a song, then perhaps one could end up with a more successful "cover version" of BattleTech that overshadows the original?  More like Bear McCreary's All Along the Watchtower rather than the Easy Star All-Stars album Dub Side of the Moon.

Then the question becomes how?  What can be changed when any change will be seen as not being true to BattleTech?  The only approach that I can see working here is one where basic "look & feel" of the game mechanisms are kept, but streamlined so as to speed up the time it takes to play a game.  Sounds like a manifesto to me, and I'm reminded of my April Fool I posted here.
Talk about full circle etc...

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.

Thursday 9 December 2010

BattleTech 2.4: Purpose of House Rules

Why have house rules? Or a more helpful way of phrasing this question, what purpose do house rules serve?

From a purely pragmatic perspective house rules are the players of a game system using their power to audit what has been given them, by saying "yes but" to the rules of the game.  However, as soon as one enters house rule territory one has to get others to agree with you about your "yes but", which often leads to a reversion to a "yes but, let's just use the rules as written".

Now I've made it clear in past blogs that I'm an OSR kinda gal, and for me realism and BattleTech are not synonymous, which means I can accept I'm just playing a game.  However, the pedantic wargamer in me also wants the rules to touch some sort of base with reality.  Fickle female I suppose?

This also touches on some science fiction mantras that writers use when creating new universes for their stories.  Change one thing to the reality of your universe to allow your story to work, but follow the laws of physics etc with the rest.  Of course it's not that easy to do this, and writers end up using a combination of unobtainium and handwavium at times, but in principle less is more.  Stories where the writer moves further away from "keeping it real as much as possible" tend IMO to be writing science fantasy, rather than hard science fiction.

Like most things though, there is a continuum from hard SF to soft SF to pure science fantasy.  Hard SF tend to limit things like tractor beams and anti-gravity usually, because they indicate soft SF by having consequences to the universe that are conveniently ignored.  Scantily clad women and muscle rippling heroes with swords tend to fit better in a science fantasy setting.

Where does BattleTech fit then?

Well it's not ultra hard, despite of having no anti-grav and tractor beams, because too much unobtainium and handwavium exists around the size of the ships (mass to volume ratios too low), and having ludicrously high thrust drives with handwaved reaction mass.  For more on this I can highly recommend the Atomic Rocket's website.

Therefore I've decided I'm going to put BattleTech in the soft SF category, especially since the literary form of the universe is predicated on telling stories within a pulp fiction/juvenile rite of passage mix.  So it's a bit borderline to science fantasy, but on the whole BattleTech keeps itself in the middle-lane.

So what leads me down this tangential path from my starting position of house rules.  It's the "yes but" part.  The rules of the game do not simulate the novels particularly well.  To some extent it's good that they don't, because games follow rules, whereas stories are about emotional and physical responses by the characters to situation the plot has landed them in.  Both have logic driving them, but the purpose of games is to play, whereas stories tell a tale about people.  Of course games can also tell stories too, but that really would be going off on another tangent.

Either way both stories and games require people to spend time to enjoy the pleasures that each offer, and this is where my "yes but" comes from.  I no longer have the time to spend playing a game that will require more than a few hours of my time.  Long gone are the day where I would stay up until the early hours of the morning involved in a role playing game, or a weekend playing a wargame.

Books are easy enough to put down and pick up.  Films generally don't run more than three hours or so, but wargames can run for 10 to 15 hours, and what is worse not have been played to a satisfactory conclusion.  Large games of BattleTech fall into the latter category.  I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just saying it is hard to pull off without a lot of preparatory work by everybody involved in playing the game, and the thing is that I don't have the time to do this anymore.  Again I'm long past the time in my life where I can rattle of chapter and verse on any set of rules, let alone BattleTech.

So what's my plan?  KISS; Keep it Simple Stupid.  Seriously, simplify the games and then simplify some more.  The problem is not only how, but by what has to be be simplified?

One evening this week I went to a lecture by Professor Jamie Angus on compressing sound recording through digital encoding.  She was a fascinating speaker, and even though I have little interest in audio engineering (I just like listening to music), when the presentation moved into system analysis and statistics I saw the same patterns I recognise in the probabilities from using dice to generate outcomes for games.  Fascinating stuff, and most of of it way above my head. Link. 

She described a three stage process for digital audio encoding, which is about reducing the number of bits of information it takes to record a piece of music.  The first stage is the use of lossless compression, which leads to the second stage of "quantitative entropy" that can allow music to be compressed further, but with various levels of information lost depending on format choice.  Running in parallel is an intermediary third stage, the "psychoacoustic components" to the digital encoding, which one can then use to massage the music.  Psychoacoustic modeling accounts for things like how loud music shadows underlying tones that precede it, which can then be removed with no audible loss.  Thereby saving a bit of information in the process.  This allows the encoder to take into account masking of sounds that occur due to the biological limitations of the ear's acoustic range, and the brain's processing of music and people's affective responses to sound combinations.

As I listened to her talk about this I had an eureka moment about applying this to games.  If you agree that games are based on information theory, then what we want is for the outcomes to be calculated with the minimum of loss: all be it of detail resolution, realism and time among many things, rather than soundwaves.  In this case I'm going to target one particular loss that BattleTech manages poorly, and that is the time spent by player's resolving each turn of the game, which increases as the number of battlemechs and players rise in a game for my examples.

From EastwoodDCs Giant Battling Robots I know that 2D6 encodes 3.27 bits of information, link.

I also glean from then same article that 1D6 rolled twice encodes 5.17 bits of info.  Both of these are relevant to BattleTech, because both mechanisms are used in the game to generate combat results.  The first 2D6 for one's to hit number, and 1D6 rolled twice when damage goes internal (Ed. correction, except that in BattleTech the first 1D6 roll is actually a 1D2 roll, so instead of this encoding 5.17 bits of information, it only has 3.58 bits, assuming I've got my maths right?).  These rule mechanisms tell us the maximum amount of information that can be encoded, or in game speak the granularity of the detail that can be resolved, or accounted for.  For instance as Steven Satak in his blog The BattleTech Reader made some relevant comments about the limit that the groundscale imposes on the game, link:

His comments were about the 30 meter hex size and how the game rules breakdown, and this is a good example of granularity in a games resolution of underlying detail, and illustrates what the game designers assumed could be ignored, discounted, or waved over.

Now if I've understood EastwoodDC & Professor Jamie Angus right, then approximately three bits of information is all that you can encode when rolling 2D6. Now I put my neck on the line and see how stupid I can be made to look on the internet. This means that rolling 2D6 encodes just a little bit more than rolling one D8, and I'm now going to round down and treat them as synonymous to each other, because it allows me to use heuristic analysis based on 8 bit computer systems.

Now when one applies modifiers to a 2D6 roll, if one knows that it only encodes 3.27 bits, then a modifier of one is equivalent to one bit.  If I'm correct then a modifier of three is equal to three bits of information, which has the effect of reducing surprise in the diced for result?  Such modification of the base 2D6 roll is therefore highly significant, which seems to me to support my proposition about the modifiers for targeting computers and pulse lasers in the BattleTech game being too coarse.

"Yes but" I hear, but what about the modifiers that you get from movement that make it harder to hit a battlemech, aren't they the same?  Yes they are, but they add to the granularity of the game, not take away from it.  By granularity I mean that more bits of information are added to finesse the combat results, whereas reducing the information in the 2D6 combat roll coarsens the granularity of the combat resolution results.

For instance, my hunch (WAG), is that if BattleTech had used 1D6 rolled twice to resolve hits, and 2D6 to resolve internal damage then the minus three modifiers of having both a targeting computer and pulse lasers would be far less unbalancing, because 1D6 rolled twice encodes 5.17 bits of information, rather than 3.27 that the current 2D6 system can encode.  Now if I've not just made a complete ass of myself, which will then require me to edit and delete said parts of this blog, where we go next is to look at "the what" consumes time when playing BattleTech?

Reducing the amount of time it takes to resolve the action each turn will streamline the BattleTech game resulting in either quicker games, or more turns in the same time period.  So what is the first step?

First we start by identifying where dice rolls, or modifiers are not needed, because if you can reduce the number of things one has to do in a turn, then the game will go faster.

Secondly, using the concept of digital encoding would allow the compression of game data, while still retaining the original granularity of the game play.  Where this choice comes into conflict with the need for speed, the encoding model would indicate the appropriate game mechanism (choice of dice to roll, or rule) to use so as to be able compensate for any loss granularity from the reduced number of dice rolls.  I imagine this will be equivalent to the concept of reverse shadowing in psychoacoustics; where a sound is revealed that was previously hidden by the change in timing of a louder passage in the score.

However, big problem number one.  Taking the standard BattleTech rules and rewriting them using this model of information coding goes way beyond any set of house rules that I've encountered in all the years I've been playing the game.

Quite frankly this really would be BattleTech 2.0, the next generation, or re-imagined game universe, and I can't see anyone from CGL reading this and saying to themselves "you know what, why don't we let her do this?"  I'm under no illusions here, as after all CGL have said that no outside contributors are being sought at this time, and as and when they do seek new freelancers, it will be to fulfill their long term business plan for the game.  Given that CGL have not yet finished their six volume core rule set, one which is rumoured may/has been cancelled, I'm not so much holding my breath, as waiting for Hell to freeze over.

So do I now go back to my metaphorical drawing board and rethink my approach to house rules, or do I run with the idea of compressing the core rules of BattleTech?  The former is quick and easy, the latter not so much.  Time is probably going to dictate what I do next.

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Saturday 4 December 2010

BattleTech 2.3: The BattleTech Reader

This post is going to be a response to the one made over on The
BattleTech Reader by Steve Satak. Linky:

A lot of what Steve says I basically agree with, but have you thought of this, or yes that works for me etc.  I'm only going to address those points where it is obvious to me that I did not make my position clear, and thereby caused misunderstanding.

Even Bigger 'Mechs
Steve said, "There are rule sets out there cobbled together to allow larger ‘Mechs and other machines.  But reality (such as it exists in BT) in the form of the in-universe flavor the writers want prevents this from becoming canon.  Also, there is the acknowledgment by many players (including myself) that a machine much over 100 tons becomes little more than a slow-moving pillbox.  We have no shortage of ponderous gun platforms at 100 tons – why would a 200-ton machine be anything other than more of the same?" [big snip]  
I mostly agree, but they already exist (Ares Colossus Class) from MW:DA and sometimes one has to make the most of things as they come.  While all you point are valid, the truth is that CGL can't limit what players choose to field, only players can do that.  The attempt to control the shape of BattleTech through the use of canon designs only works if the players buy into it.  I've never bought into canon as the only one true word of BattleTech.  IMO trying to control the background setting is doomed to failure.

I see the universe canon code more as "guidelines", if you savvy?

Quad 'Mechs
Steve said, "I think advanced rules already allow for a turret in a quad ‘Mech.  I have used HMP to make them.  The loss of internal space in a quad’s legs is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are permitted to carry armor equivalent to a bipedal ‘Mech that is ten tons heavier...  Neither is their ability to fire in a hull-down position behind Level One terrain,...  That’s four out of twelve hit locations that are essentially ignored and that is the same as a LOT of extra armor!"...  To put them in a position where they enjoy not only the hull-down ability and the extra armor, but all of the advantages of a bipedal ‘Mech as regards field of fire is to negate any real difference at all... [lots of snippage]
Yes but, the construction rules are clunky, and IMO could have been phrased in such a way as to make them conceptually easier to stat up designs that look like quad mechs with center torso turrets e.g: unseen Goliath.  I also want six leg designs for a Desert Gunner from Dougram, or a quad with an upper body and arms.  I'm not interested in super munch, but I am interested in look and feel.

To do this one needs a slightly redesigned record sheet, and the ability to move engines and gyros etc around the center and side torsos.  That's all I'm asking for.  More flexibility. 

Breaking the Game with TarComps 
Steve said, "You flummoxed me here – earlier, you wanted the option of heavier machines that for most practical purposes are designed to get to the area of operations and... sit and shoot...  Targeting computers take up tonnage, are tied into all weapons and grant only a +1 to hit.  Are you going to nix precision rounds for the autocannons as well?  After all, they negate up to 2 points of movement modifier on their chosen target.  Ma’am, those rounds are the best reason anyone would use the AC/10.  Which is it to be?" [some snippage]
Can't have you all flummoxed now.  Okay, here's the thing.  Slow assaults moving 2/3mps per turn are sitting ducks to fast light mechs, which IMO is a good balance for the game.  Anything that makes it easier to hit has consequences out of all proportion to the on the face of it bonus.  For example, using weapons giving a minus two to hit bonus has effectively made the pilot an elite 2 gunner.  That's a big bonus.

My proposal is that targeting computer allow a player to re-roll one die, and the minus two weapons allow a player to re-roll both dice.  Only once per weapon per turn of course.

Electronic Countermeasures, Sensors, Networks a Waste of Time 
Steve said, "I have never played in a double-blind game, so for me the Beagle and ECCM are things which rightly should exist but which are not necessarily critical assets when playing at the local game shop.  That said…  I have equipped several of the machines in our TRO with ECM for the express purpose of ECCM, because when it DOES affect my local game, the impact is phenomenal." [snip again like we did last summer]
I agree, these things have to exist.  They are just a pain in the ass, because IMO such things as ECM, ECCM and Beagle probe should be standard on every mech, not additions that take away from the combat effectiveness of the mech itself.  YMMV, and there is little that can be done about it either, so I put up with the stuff for the time it can serve a purpose.

Gentlemen Do Not Fight With Anything But Ranged Weapons & Their Bare Hands 
Steve said, "Given that most ‘Mechs repeat the human form in large, it seems to me nothing is more natural than two ‘Mechs facing off against each other with swords and such.  How is that not cool?  Several million avid fans of the Solaris matches would beg to differ."
Ah but, what happens on Solaris stays on Solaris.  Carrying a dead weight around that can only be used close up and personal, is IMO (and Greyson Death Carlyle) a waste of the opportunity to carry something more useful; like armour, heat sinks, or ranged weapons. ;-)

Final Comments 
Steve said, "I once called the fuzzy line between what ‘Mechs do and what infantry do the ‘30-meter Limit’.  Once you begin trying to play BattleTech inside that single hex, the rules break down – and fast.  You are effectively in RPG territory.  You can’t have it both ways, though the writers and designers have worked hard to make it at least somewhat possible.  I strongly believe that there is an upper limit to the game’s resolution as well, one I call the ‘100-ton Limit’.   Once you start playing above that limit, you are in BattleForce territory, and again, the BT rules break down pretty fast." [from snippage done earlier]
You are right, but the easiest answer is to ignore it, just like the ranges.  It is an artifact of the game to make it playable.  However, I disagree with the 100-ton Limit rules, because in practice I have found that while the younger players will revel in the awesomeness of the Colossus mechs, in the long run they are very specialised units that exist really for the Rule of Cool.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Newten Town 1 Paint 0


As promised here are the pictures of the the 10mm scale Fieldworks buildings that I bought at the Warfare show last weekend. I spent this afternoon cutting up some terrain boards and fiddling around placing the buildings down in a pattern that looked right to me. 

Unlike my Mogadishu town, this time I was able to take what I've learnt from basing them on previously scenicked boards and come up with some rules for myself to keep the layout looking stylistically consistent. 

As you can see from comparing these photos to the ones of the Fieldworks web site, I've broken apart the bombed out buildings so that I could fit them on my terrain boards as I wanted. This is quite easy to do, and if you do make a mistake, gluing these models back together with superglue is really easy to do. if anything it adds to the dishabille charm of the ensembly.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Warfare 2010: Reading


I have been looking forward to this show after going for the first time last year and discovering those amazing Field Works' building that I posted picture of in previous blog entries. Also, having missed SELWG due to the rather inconvenient need to stay in hospital after surgery, this show was my last chance of this year to shop for stuff, and see games etc.

Last year I had gone with my friend Clive, wave Clive you are on my blog, who having worked in Reading, was an effective local guide. This year I had to drive to Reading by myself, using a Bing map and directions I'd printed off. Yes, I got lost, not once, but several times; for a definition of lost that equals I don't know how to get to where I want to go, rather than one of where am I? At all times I was clearly not lost, as I knew I was in my car, and various road signs told me that I was either approaching Reading, or leaving Reading. Despite this, I kept looping back on myself and managed to trip over the Rivermead Leisure Centre in the end. This added about 45 minutes to my journey.

Then I rang Clive to remind him we were meeting up at the show this year. Good thing I rang him too, as I had failed to tell him what day I was going on. Doh!

Anyway, While waiting for Clive to arrive I did my shopping. What did I buy? Fieldworks buildings of course. I splurged on a load of 10mm buildings, and picked up a show special on the 15mm F16, which I call the "Le Corbusier" building, which is touted as a WW2/Sci-Fi building. I understand that this is no longer going to be made, so once they sell out it will be gone.

I asked about the withdrawal of some of the buildings? It seems that a lot of parcels are being damaged in transit, which means that the cost of replacement makes the whole transaction a loss to Fieldworks. Shame really, but it can't be helped.

After visiting that stand I spoke to Mel & Jon at Ground Zero Games. They are long time friends whom I've known for more years than I care to remember. Then I said hi to the guys at Pendraken and talked to them about Vietnam riverine monitors, which serendipitously Skytrex had on their stand in 20mm. Hopefully, some enterprising manufacturer will do 10mm versions at future point, as I think the riverine monitors look pretty cool, either way they are the perfect addition for the upcoming Charlie Don't Surf riverine special from TooFat Lardies.

After stopping at Skytrex, I popped my head in Peter Pig to catch up with what was new. Lots of American War of Independence figures, but still no Humvees for AK47R I'm afraid. Then I wondered around and browsed the stands that sold books, and bought a couple. One called Spanish Civil War Tanks by Osprey, and the other called Armoured Fighting Vehicles of the World Vol 1: AFV WW1 by Cannon Books (being a collected reprint of all the AFV Profile magazines about WW1 tanks).

Anyway, onto the games I saw...

The first game that took my eye was Grunts from GZG, I think presented by The Society of Science Fiction & Fantasy? Grunts has had a lot of buzz around the SF forums as being an innovative quick play game that is non background specific. So you can have conventional future tanks and stuff, or more outré stuff like mecha and giant tanks (cough) Bolos (cough).

I thought that the terrain and set up were very good. Eye catching, yet set at a level that any wargamer could aspire to achieve. The only critical thing I would say, as a modeler, IMO if you using building then they will blend better if they are all painted the same way. Not aimed just at Grunts, but at a lot of the demo games I saw, where really nice buildings jarred, because one set were card set right next to resin, or plastic. YMMV on this.

The next game that really caught my eye was Cowboys & Indians in 54mm called Buffalo Bill and the Ambush at Dismal River presented by Skirmish Wargames. Wow, what a good looking game, using Teddy Bear fur for the grass was very effective ( I was told no teddy bears were hurt, as they had really used puppy dog skins!). This game was inspired by Hollywood and had all the clichés in it to make for a crowd pleaser.

And here is what the Injuns were waiting to ambush, but is seems the stage was delayed due to some contrétemps between two of the passengers.

Finally, a non-FoW WW2 game based on a hypothetical alternative landing site for D-Day that was planned for (unfortunately the name of the game escapes me), I think presented by the Maidenhead Wargamers. However, while extensive plans were made for Operation X, nothing came of the plans due to the Royal Navy pointing out he difficulties of getting landing craft to shore while under fire from an emplaced naval gun battery was a non-starter. Thus I was told to have pulled this off the Allies would have had to deploy paratroopers, and the only free ones would have been British. If so, this would have meant no Operation Market Garden. So an interesting alternative WW2 scenario.

So, I had a great time, even though I was totally exhausted by the time I got home due to the extra time to get there, and spending longer at the show from meeting Clive, who arrived late. It showed me one thing though, I am getting better and my stamina is improving.

PS: I will post pictures of my Fieldworks purchases soon.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Mogadishu 2 Update


It has been a while since I posted any updates on my AK47 Republic armies and terrain, but today I started work on developing the downtown boards for the games I plan to play. I'm sure Martin B. will be pleased to see me post these. Wave Martin you are on my blog!

To give a sense of scale, there is a squad of my warlords militia and a couple of technicals too.

Part of what drove me to start on these is the fact that the Reading Warfare wargames show this coming weekend. I went last year and saw these Fieldworks building at the show, and the shame of having them sitting since I got them at Xmas was just too much to bear. After all, I can hardly ask for more if I haven't finished painting the last lot, can I?

Anyway, if all things go according to plan I'm off to Warfare again on Saturday, and I'm taking some cash with me (as they don't do plastic) to specifically buy some more of this companies excellent products.

I will say that these look even more impressive that I've now set them into their own boards. 

I originally made the my town boards generic tiles, which I just intended to place buildings on as needed for games, but the end result was not very convincing to me. Why, because one of the things that really bugs me (only one of the things, jeez who am I trying to kid) are buildings that are not bedded into the ground. It just doesn't look right to me.

I've also re-thought how I'm tiling my town. Originally I planned to make tiles that had ways to place them together to suggest roads etc. by just placing buildings in a rectangular pattern. My plan is now to set each building into a terrain board, and modelling any alleyways or roads as I feel fits best. A bit random, but I will also have central connection points on a lot of the boards, which can also act as links to create scenes that flow.

Thursday 11 November 2010

BattleTech 2.2: More Rule Problems

Quite clearly the BattleTech Universe is not the real world, because if it is were then the underlying rules of what makes sense to people have radically changed due to a combination of technological handwavium, buckets of unobtanium, and an economic system that defies our understanding of how the free market, or even state controlled economies work.  Though BattleTech clearly tries hard to hold onto some sense of rationalism, what makes for a cool game background leaves the players a lot of choice as to where to strike a balance between cool versus realistic.  I would go so far as to argue that 90% or more of the current discussions on the CBT forum are generated by the friction between the assumptions that players of the game make about the way they reconcile the irreconcilable to themselves.

This leads to the problem of people taking entrenched positions on the rules i.e: the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs, and can be modified by agreement.  I should applaud the CGL crew for taking the latter position, but often see the forum members arguing the former.

At its heart the BattleTech the game is a set of rules for small unit actions, ideally around lance on lance (four to six units per side).  In short a highly detailed skirmish game.  However, the rules can be stretched to cover company versus company actions, if the players are very organised and dedicated to playing the game, but at the cost of escalating time to play each game.

Certainly as I've got older what I would have considered a reasonable time to play a game to a satisfactory conclusion as dropped.  I remember back 25 years ago thinking nothing of playing any game for eight or more hours.  The thought of doing so now just seems to impractical, because playing late into the night, or the early hours of the morning would just wreck me the next day.  I no longer have the luxury, or ability even, to just catchup my sleep after burning the candle at both ends.

So time is a problem, because the detail of the rules eats away at time like a horde of locusts eats a farmer crop.

The original BattleForce was a game that sought to reduce the time costs of BattleTech, and therefore allow players to game larger conflicts.  Unfortunately, IMNSHO, the original was deeply flawed by the concept of having to field lances, rather than mechs, because this choice change the game from individual units to groups as units, and as a result lost a lot of the flavour of BattleTech.

I remember rewriting the rules to do just that, and again IMNSHO, this made for a far better game as a consequence.  The latest edition of BattleForce, in its Quick Strike variant, does exactly this, and is all the better for it.  However, for me, this game feels rather like closing the stable the door after the horse has bolted, because MW:AoD Clix does a far better job of allowing players to play big games in far less time, with no paperwork, and finer granularity of damage resolution.  YMMV on this opinion.

I also hold to the opinion that BattleTech is about battlemechs.  Battlemechs are meant to be the "Kings of the Battlefield". If only FASA had called the game BattleMecha when they decided to change the name from BattleDroids back in 1984.  For me this means that battlemechs have to be better than any other similar sized unit that a player can field, by combining the strengths that other units have e.g: act like infantry for occupying territory, provide a heavy punch like tanks, and be able to deliver fire support like artillery.  These three things are what would make a battlemech unique and so necessary for winning future wars.

However, what we have is a game where hovercraft etc can wipe the floor with battlemechs, and this is despite of a rewrite to limit vehicles.  For the definitive discussion of this that I've ever read one really need to have a copy of Glenn Wallbridge's Iron Wolves article that appeared in the long defunct Games Review Monthly in the late 1980s.

Another problem is that within the structure of the BattleTech rules is that force homogeneity isn't necessarily the best strategy for winning games.  In the real world you would mostly likely want all your tanks in a company to be the same for logistical reasons, if nothing else.  Within the BattleTech Universe while it can work with some mechs, allowing them to deliver coordinated close and long range attacks, by and large there is no real benefit, or downside for fielding forces with one of everything.  However, in this case I think rule of cool wins, but YMMV.

So how to fix this?  Well one way is to rewrite the rules, and in some cases I think that this is exactly what needs to be done.  However, to quote Bad Syntax, from this thread here (broken link removed).

There are only 2 ways at going about this:

#1. Fluff is law, rules kinda sorta follow fluff. End result = game is nothing like the writings.

#2. The rules are law, artistic licenses allow the fluff to vary a bit either way. End result = game is fun, imagination is fluff.

Personally, I prefer to go with the RULES, and not the fluff, the fluff doesn't win arguments in games, the RULES do.  Fluff is for RPGs, CBT is *not* an RPG.  The single RPG type CBT book released in the last decade (ATOW) is a huge chunk of non-rpg."

I shall end my post on that note as their is lot that can be discussed about background "fluff' and rules, because this brings us back to my first point on whether the published rules are sacrosanct versus the rules can't meet everyone's needs and can be modified by agreement.

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.