Thursday 28 July 2011

Card Decks for Epiphany


I was asked in the previous blog how I decided what cards to design for using with BattleTech?

The answer is actually by trial and error, though at the time I started I thought I had worked out what I needed and that it wouldn't need correcting. How wrong can one be? Hubris I'm sure. Anyway, I thought that the question deserved an answer, if only so that others can make their own mistakes and not repeat mine, which is always a good things to do.

I started by having a pack of cards that were made up for TooFat Lardies Through the Mud and the Blood and Charlie Don't Surf games that I got from ArtsCow that had been graciously posted as being freely available to anyone who wanted to buy a set. Unfortunately, I don't think I can return the favour as I've used some imagery for my sets from Catalyst Games Limited, and therefore my sets fall under personal use only, so you will have to make your own. Having a pack of cards to look at allowed me to at leat think about what I might need.

So the first thing I did was make a list of all the mechs I had and to what factions they belonged.

Obviously, if you are not fussed about factions, or just want a card for very mech you own as a generic card, then I can't see why one couldn't just make up a deck with all the different mechs you own, or want to play with. Though I'm not a big faction fan, I do have all my mechs assembled into units that I think match each other in some way. So all my Dougram bipedal mechs are in my Pink Panthers Battalion, while the Dougram quads are in my House Steiner unit, along with faction specific mechs like the Zeus.

My House Kurita unit is made up from models from the Macross show UN Spacey forces, while my House Marik unit has Marauders from Macross and Locusts from Crusher Joe, mostly because I think that a unit should look like all the units came from one design philiosophy. YMMV.

So, where was I? Ah yes, making lists. I then added some extra cards to the pack. These included two what I call "vent" cards. When both of these are drawn the turn ends. Given that they are shuffled into the pack at random this means that some turns can be very short, or you can run through the whole pack on occasion, but by and large you only get through about two thirds of a deck. So not every unit in the deck will move every turn.

This mechanism generates a lot of extra tactical problems for players, and yet at the same time it simplifies things. The first thing is that you can't be sure when the vent card is going to appear, but as soon as one does then you know that the turn could end on the next draw of the cards. This strangely makes it a lot easier to move units as over planning stuff by micro managing doesn't work when you can't guarantee what you will be able to move in a turn. This also speeds up the turns.

At first I planned on giving all units a card, but since this is BattleTech, a game about battlemechs, I decided to make all vehicles and infantry move by platoon. However, after the first game it became apparent that battle armour is better moved by squads, as each squad is effectively equivalent to an infantry platoon in defence and offensive capabilities.

For artillery I again had a card per battery, but wrote on the cards that they could either move or fire. Now most of the time artillery will be off board, but given I was going to allow counter battery fire, adding in the option seemed like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately, not yet play tested, but I imagine it will happen at the next game. I also added a forward observers card so that one could call in the artillery. This allows one to dispense with tracking how many turns the fire takes to arrive, as all too frequently what happens is that the artillery cards are drawn before the forward observer card and when it is drawn no more artillery arrives before the vent cards are drawn to end the turn. Neat huh?

Finally, I added special cards. First of were cards blind movement, again not yet play tested, but in principle one will be able to move units as blinds, which are not revealed until spotted, fired upon, or when they fire with a certain amount of dummy blinds to add to the confusion. Then I added a special event card that could be scenario specific, and a faction specific card. For the House Steiner unit this was the "wall of steel" that makes all the units fire when it is used at the expense of being able to move, and of course the units can fire again at the end of the turn as well. Assuming the player manages the heat build up of course. I plan to have a House Kurita "banzai" when I make up a pack for them at some point. I will have to think what special stick I can assign House Marik though? Suggestions welcome if anyone has any ideas. And I think that is it?

Not quite, I remembered I also made cards for air strikes, which we play tested as if they were artillery strikes. That didn't work out all that well, so the use is going to be changed to when the card is drawn it can be used there and then, but afterwards it has to be discarded from the deck. This is to represent the limited amount of air power available in the campaigns and the fact that aircraft have to go back to re-arm and refuel between sorties.

So, I made a couple of decks up and I then had to go back and make a couple more decks up from the refinements that came from play testing the idea. Ideas for variant cards become quite addictive as one thinks if I had a card that did this? So this is not something for people who want a ready to go answer as making cards, by whatever process, will require some play testing and modifications to meet your needs, but I for one will not be going back to games without cards for controlling movement and length of turns, because for me it has just made the game so much more fun to play.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Epiphany Cards

As I said in an earlier blog entry I would come back and describe the card system that we have implemented for playing with BattleTech. The goal for using the cards was to remove the control players had over the order they move their units in and too replace the certainty of knowing one would always have one spare unit to move last if one had won the initiative.

By replacing the you move one unit and then I move one unit with a random order of movement system one has to deal with the battle developing from chaos into order, rather than having control from the get go.

The way the cards work was shamelessly stolen from TooFat Lardies games, in particular their Charlie Don't Surf  and Through the Mud and the Blood rules. At first I found the need for cards off putting. Why oh why not have some simpler mechanism driven by dice? However, after playing Terrible Sharp Sword, an American Civil War supplement for their Sharp Practice at Salute this year I was taken by the flexibility that the addition that cards bring to a game.

So I set out to make some cards of my own, and not satisfied with using standard playing cards with sticky labels stuck on them I took advantage of a Hong Kong based playing card maker called ArtsCow who do print on demand cards set to one's own specification.

So I made up a list of all the units that I wanted to be able to field for my campaign, used ArtsCow's online Silverlight design package and got my first two sets of cards made up for my Mummerset campaign, which you can see a selection of in the picture at the top of the post.

I also stole another idea from TooFat Lardies, the idea of a variable length turn that is governed by what they call the "tea break" card, but for BattleTech I'm calling the "vent" card. I use two of these for the game shuffled into the pack. One ignores the first draw, but the turn ends when the second one is drawn. This means that turns can have lots of units being moved, or very few units being moved, and it is all down to the luck of the cards.

Besides the vent cards and the various different unit cards each side has, I also added other specials. For instance artillery barrages that need a forward observer to be called in, and again the order that the cards are drawn in matters. If the forward observer card comes first then the players keep it until the time when the artillery barrage card is drawn, and can then use it to designate a target. If on the other hand the artillery barrage card is drawn first and there is no forward observer card to use, then the artillery barrage doesn't happen.

I've also added a House Steiner "Wall of Steel" card that allows the Steiner side to fire when the card is drawn, and fire again at the end of the turn, but at the cost of losing movement for all battlemechs that haven't yet moved that turn. However, this is a very powerful special card and after the game we decided that once the Steiner player uses it, the card is then discarded from the deck.

Other cards include "airstrike" and moving on "blinds". Airstrikes work a bit like an artillery barrage and a special event, so the airstrike doesn't require a forward observer card to use, but once used is discarded from the deck. Blinds are for hidden movement. Each side will be able to deploy as hidden identity, with a number of dummy blinds as well. Units on blinds are revealed if observed on a roll of 8+ on 2D6, when the unit on the blind fires, or if it is fired upon.

No doubt I will think of other special event cards, for instance "Banzai" for House Kurita, and add them to packs of cards I will need to design for my other BattleTech forces I have, but at the moment I'm concentrating on only adding stuff I need for the campaign, so I will need to think about House Marik next.

Monday 18 July 2011

Epiphany Play Test Review

This is a review of the Epiphany game rules we used to play the Battle for South Boring with notes and amendments from our discussion on how the game went.

Guideline 1: Amended to movement and range now to be two inches per hex/movement point equivalent. Needs further play testing.

For the game we used two inches per hex for movement, and doubled the range of the weapons to four inches per hex. This played a lot better than using one inch per hex for both weapons and movement, which is what we had done in earlier games, but it had the effect of putting everything into short range.

Guideline 2: No changes were deemed necessary as the game played well with this house rule. So movement is now just measuring the distance and having a free facing change at the end for all units.

The modified movement rules really sped up play a lot with minimal loss of tactical flavour.

Guideline 3: Amended to we will colour code the weapons on the record sheets, use one matching die for each colour, plus one die for the base roll that all the weapons will share for their targeting solution. So still one roll, but many dice, so needs to be play tested.

We started the game by rolling 4D6 and discarding the two lowest results to calculate whether or not all the weapons for a unit has hit or missed, but it became apparent we didn't need to stack the rolls for the players. However, on reflection we didn't on balance like the all miss, or hit effect this produced.

Guideline 4: Roll 4D6 and discard highest and lowest results for all the missile weapons fired to get an average of number of missiles hit e.g: you fire five LRM launchers of say three fives, and two 10s, you would then roll on the 35 missile to hit table, rather than for each launcher in turn.

We kind of fumbled this, so it needs to be properly play tested, which we will do next time.

Guideline 5: Ammo explosions are calculated as the value of one round of the ammo cooking off when they explode. However, after applying the internal damage, roll again on 2D6 (the usual roll of plus eight) to see if more critical damage is done to the mech (if the ammo bay is hit again, this too will explode one round and so on).

Not tested as no mech suffered a critical hit to the ammo, so again this guideline needs to be properly play tested, which will hopefully happen next time.

Guideline 6: No change to Ferro-fibrous armour, endo-steel count and empty slots count as valid locations for an internal hit and need not be re-rolled.

Happened a few times, didn't seem to affect the game balance either.

Guideline 7: No change to head hits do not automatically kill the pilot, instead the auto-pilot is assumed to eject the pilot, unless of course there is no ejection system or auto-eject is turned off for some reason. Pilots only die from wounds received.

People like this, even though the only pilots that ejected were the enemy, when Dan was hit in the head he appreciated the fact that had it all gone terribly wrong his pilot character would have survived.

Guideline 8: Initiative to be governed by using cards, which will randomise what moves when during a turn.

While there were some problems with some of the special cards, and how to use them without unbalancing some aspects of the game, but in principle this was the outstanding success of the Epiphany game guideline changes, as it really was a game changer.

For instance I lost count of how many turns we played after we got to turn seven in the first 90 minutes of playing. What was really good was that it eliminated up the tactical dithering that plagues most games of BattleTech, as you really didn't know when the turn would end as the it was based on the draw of the cards. I will explain the cards more in a separate post.

Guideline 9: No changes needed to the idea that we just use the Introductory Rules as the jump off point with the minimum amount of extra rules from other books as necessary.

If you can't remember a rule, or it can't be added to a record sheet, or quick reference sheet, then for all practical purposes it doesn't happen in the game, as it slows down the game to be constantly referring to rule books during a game.

Mummerset 07.18.11: The Battle of South Boring AAR

The session started with me bringing the players up to speed on real life and in game developments.

Trevor couldn't make it so I accounted for that by having some in game problems develop that allowed his mech to be detached, and unfortunately, Graham was required to be in Bournemouth, which meant that I would be both the GM and have to run the OPFOR; the 1st Battalion of the 1st Republican Guards under the command of General Spencer.


At the end of last session the players had taken off in their dropship and were heading towards the jump point.

But the flight plan was a ruse, and that in fact they were only boosting out on an extended elliptical orbit, by using the local satellites to swing back and fall back to Mummerset pulled by gravity, rather than boosting all the way in.

Meanwhile, there are two incoming dropships from the Lyran jumpship inbound for Landfall that will take about a week to arrive and therefore land about three days after the the battle that is about to occur. 

In addition, the so called "pirate" jumpship has used the pirate point and released a dropship that will arrive in orbit around Mummerset at about the same time as the players will be dropped off at South Boring.

This will mean that their dropship can't be used to dominate the airspace over South Boring.

While all this is happening General Spencer has led the 1st Republican Guards out of Clear Water Boring and is heading towards South Boring to deal with Colonel Whales and his 3rd Royal Guards Regiment.

This move will take him approximately three days, with the attack beginning on the third day.

General Spencer has managed to pin Colonel Whales force in South Boring with his 3rd Battalion, while the 1st and 2nd Battalion's are sweeping round the flanks.

The 1st Battalion is under General Spencer has three battlemechs; an Awesome with a command console for the general, a Blackjack and a Hornet. The 2nd Battalion has one battlemech and two industrial mechs; a Fireball and two custom converted industrial mechs with weapons.

Colonel Whales is in a bit of a pickle as his naval convoy that was moving the 3rd Royals up the Fork River was attacked on route by Republican Guard air units. This sunk one of the boats, damaged another and this has meant that the only one battalion of the 3rd Royals in actually sitting in South Boring, and it has been forced to take up a defensive position in the town.

The good news is that he does have two of his four industrial mech with him, but these are seriously outclassed by the enemy Fireball, and the Colonel requests that one battlemech be sent to ease the pressure on his left flank, with the players being tasked to stop General Spencer's attack on his right flank.

1st Republican Guards 1st Battalion

1x Awesome AWS-8P custom modified 3132 Inner Sphere tech worth 1768 bv (move 3-5-0, armour 232 points, and 11 double heat sinks). Loadout 1 x autocannon 10 (with 20 rounds of ammo), 1 x large laser, 2 x PPCs, 2 x ER medium laser, and 1 x small laser.

1 x Blackjack BJ2-0P custom modified 3132 Inner Sphere tech worth 1134 bv (move 4-6-4, armour 125 points, and 10 double heat sinks). Loadout 2 x Er large lasers, and 2 x autocannon 2s (with 45 rounds of ammo each).

1 x Hornet custom modified 3132 Inner Sphere tech worth 585 bv (move 5-8-5, armour 69 points, and 10 single heat sinks). Loadout 2 x medium lasers, 1 x LRM5 (with 24 rounds of ammo), and 1 x small laser.

4 x Vedette light tanks worth 475 bv each (total 1900 points)
4 x Striker light missile tanks worth 564 bv each (total 2256 points)
4 x 3039 wheeled APCs that could carry one squad of infantry worth 157 bv each (total 628 points)
4 x 3039 GEV APCs that could carry one platoon of infantry worth 102 bv each (total 408 points)

1 x mechanised infantry platoon
2 x jump infantry platoons
2 x foot infantry platoons

Also on call were three artillery batteries and one possible airstrike.

4th Battalion of the House Steiner 4444 Regimental Combat Team

1 x Zeus 2C XP custom modified 3132 Clan tech worth 2973 bv (move 4-6-4, armour 240  points, and 16 double heat sinks). Loadout 1 x ER PPC, 1 x LRM20 (with Artemis with 24 rounds of ammo), 3 x ER medium lasers, 4 x ER small lasers, and 1 targeting computer.

1 x Scorpion 2C XP custom modified 3132 Clan tech worth 1763 bv (move 6-9-0, armour 192 points, and 10 double heat sinks). Loadout 1 x ER large lasers, 1 x ER medium laser, 1 x LRM5 (with 24 rounds of ammo), 2 x  SRM2 (with 50 rounds of ammo to share), and 1 targeting computer.

1 x Commando 2C XP custom modified 3132 Clan tech worth 1067 bv (move 6-9-0, armour 86 points, and 10 double heat sinks). Loadout 2 x ER medium lasers, 1 x LRM5 (with 24 rounds of ammo), 1 x Streak SRM4 (with 50 rounds of ammo), 1 x ER small laser, and 1 targeting computer).

4 x Anhur VTOLs that could carry one platoon of infantry 720 bv each (total 2880 points)
1 x Grey Death scout battle armour platoon 16 bv each (total 320 points)
1 x Grey Death assault battle armour platoon 43 bv each (total 860 points)
4 x foot infantry platoons

Initial Deployment

As the players had aerial recon and orbital dominance General Spencer's forces were deployed on table in order of the line of march.

As can be seen above our Captain Green (Dan) looks as happy as Larry as he surveys the oncoming battle. I'm using MechWarrior Dark Age models for the vehicles, with all the vehicles being stand ins for General Spencer's forces.

From the other side Captain Magnusson (Clive) is feigning his usual indifference to such trifles, as for him the battle is won or lost prior to the deployment. He may not look it, but he was feeling quietly confident.

This is the first kill of the game as the 1st Republican Guard Hornet is caught in open by Dan's Zeus that manage to blow both legs off, the left arm and gut the left torso completely in one round.

Prior to this move Susan's Scorpion had blown the left arm off the Blackjack.

The two Republican Guard Vedettes, next to the Hornet, are eliminated by a combination of Susan's Scorpion and House Steiner infantry attacks from the buildings they occupied when the players VTOLs swept in and deposited infantry in choice buildings that then were able to act as choke points to threaten the Republican Guard infantry forces.

We are well into the battle at this point.

Clive's finger is pointing to where the Dan's Zeus is as it lines up to brew up the 1st Republican Guard APCs. One of the Strikers has also been taken out by Susan's Scorpion, which you can just see a bit of a leg of in this picture (the orange blob between the destroyed tank and the tree).

The Blackjack is taken out by Susan's Scorpion, which takes out both gyros and leaves it with one functioning autocannon 2, so at that point the pilot ejected as he was no longer combat effective.

Meanwhile Dan's Zeus takes out the first Republican Guard APC, but misses the shots on the second, third and fourth, which at least allows the remaining infantry to de-bus. Not that it will do them any good, because they then come under a hail of withering fire from the House Steiner infantry that have occupied the building they were about to try and enter.

The MechWarrior mono-cycle horde represent a motorized infantry platoon that was delayed getting onto the battlefield.

Finally, one of the Republican Guard jump infantry platoons was able to deploy while the Awesome and the Zeus face off to exchange pleasantries with each other.

While the Awesome held its own against the Zeus it was forced to move as the Susan's Scorpion was flanking it.

I was trying to get the Awesome off the table at this point, but assault mechs are just too dam slow, and I had nothing that I could use to slow down the House Steiner advance at this point.

However, I was able to move the Awesome away from the Susan's Scorpion and avoid my mech being shot in the side. But, Clive's Commando had been keeping up small scale indirect harassing fire all this time and it was chipping away at my armour, and I felt quite put upon by the cheekiness of it!

Unfortunately the Zeus was waiting and this time Dan got the better of me, as my shots missed, and his didn't.

By this point the Awesome had 5 points of armour left on the right torso, had lost its left arm and had taken internal hits on the right arm, left torso and center torso sections with a gyro hit. The left leg had 12 points, and the right leg 5 points of armour left.

Needless to say as it fell over from failing the piloting roll and the General with his pilot ejecting to be retrieved by the motorized infantry platoon.

And above is the final shot showing the position of the Susan's Scorpion that had herded my Awesome into the Zeus's kill zone, with Clive's Commando snuck in between two buildings lurking with intent.

So another glorious victory for House Steiner, which has saved Colonel Whale's from ignominious defeat at the hands of the Republican Guards.

We of course still have the second battle of South Boring to fight, where Trevor's Firestarter will be facing a Republican Guard Fireball. 

All I have to do now is work out when we can fight this next action? Once this battle has been resolved this will bring this phase of the campaign to a neatish resolution, in that the Republican Guards are now going to be very much on the defensive. 

This then just leaves the Freedom Army of Mummerset to be dealt with by our heroes. I suspect that this will be a far trickier proposition.

Note: No points cost were used in the creation of this scenario, I just added them in so that BattleTech players could see what the totals added up to to satisfy any curiosity about the balance.

Saturday 16 July 2011

BattleTech Infantry

I've been painting infantry today, and yesterday, and the day before. Surprising how long it takes to paint a load of infantry, when it the bigger scheme of things I'm only painting a couple of hundred troops per side. Mind you in BattleTech terms that is a pretty large infantry force, but when one steps back not so much in the broader scheme of things.

Anyway, not going to write about the numbers being painted, rather about some thoughts I've had on playing with said infantry tomorrow. If you play BattleTech you kind of know that everything has a record sheet.  I'm okay with that for mechs, can live with it for vehicles, but even then I want to simplify the records sheets down some more, but plain infantry it just bugs me to do the paperwork.

So I had a thought, like one does when one is cogitating stuff as one is painting, and I think I can simplify the paperwork for infantry by throwing it out. See it doesn't get simpler than that does it? No seriously, use the bases to keep track of the infantry, and either use dice as casualty markers, or base the infantry so that one can remove bases. I mean this is done all the time as standard in miniature wargames, so let's apply the idea to BattleTech is what I say.

As for calculating damage I'm going to use the rule of thumb that each infantry man is worth half an attack point, add up by squad, section or platoon and round down, and that is the number of attack points they do; in groups of two as per the standard rules. The difference between a rifle armed infantry versus rockets launchers, or laser armed men will be range, mg units will get a 1D6 bonus against other infantry, and flamers will catch stuff on fire as per the standard rules. Swarm attacks are calculated exactly the same way, but the damage is applied to the legs of the mech, or the transmission of the vehicle. I think this keeps infantry nice and simple, but still effective when used properly, but we shall see tomorrow what happens when the guys go to it.

As a result of this brainwave I realise that I now have to make up some infantry bases for my militia with two figures per base and mix these with the three man bases I have, which will double the number of platoons that I have. Now the question is would it be reasonable to treat four platoons as two Company's and therefore call them Battalions? Especially considering I'm going to be adding APCs, and helicopters for transporting the troops with integral artillery and some tanks to make a fairly formidable combine arms team. Let me know your thoughts on this?

Saturday 9 July 2011

Next Weekend

Next weekend is the big one, as the three way clash between General Spencer's Republican Guard face off against Colonel Whales 3rd Royal Guards, and the 4th Battalion of the Spirit of Steiner Regimental Combat Team. 

I have managed to invite a my friend Graham, who is a WW2 gamer, to come and play as General Spencer, while the players will each manage their own battlemech. Colonel Whales forces will be in defense and only react to orders from the players, assuming said orders are received and passed on by Colonel Whales HQ?

Trevor can't make it for the big battle of South Boring, so I've devised a cunning plan to account for his absence and have adjusted the battle lines accordingly. Actually makes for a fairer game, for definitions of fairer that don't include easy, or walk over, for the players.

Anyway, enough of me letting the plot out of the bag before hand, I've been busy all day painting up four town boards, and in eight hours I've gone a long way from white undercoat with a wash, to something that at least looks presentable, if not finished. 

I will be spending more time tomorrow as I'd like to flock the boards with static grass just to get them up to a basic standard that won't look to bad to me.

I've also chosen the other terrain boards for the set-up and really would like to add some tree trunk stubs into the two original open terrain boards I've chosen for the game. 

So, another job for tomorrow, and I still have to slap some paint on the infantry units for both the Republican Guards and the 3rd Royals. As luck would have it this scenario doesn't require the players infantry, which are of course all pretty much painted up and ready to go. 

However, they will be deployed at a future point. So hey ho, nose to the grind wheel.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Evil is as BattleTech Does?

Over on the Classic BattleTech Forums there has been a certain amount of banter about evil in the in game universe with particular respect to two of the developed powers that people can play. This made me think about what is evil, or what makes something evil?

One definition of evil is that it is something defined by some source or another. For instance, from deities, religion, nature and evolution, morality, or from common sense, whatever that means? Such an approach can be described as one of moral absolutism. Here if an action is wrong, then regardless of any good that might arise, it remains a wrong thing to do.

The dichotomous opposite would be that there is no such thing as evil per se. So killing someone is neither right or wrong. Obviously, the consequences will depend on whether or not the action takes place within a framework where the rules permit, or do not permit such an action, and therefore the term evil is something we create to describe the breaking of rules that have been made by mankind.

Another stance is to look at evil from the perspective of moral relativism, which leads to the position that what is evil is a subjective product of local customs, mores and prejudice. To me this seems so open minded as to be a position where one has no brain because it has fallen out.

Finally, another approach to the definition of evil is to come from the position that one has to compromise between the absolute and the relativist position to find a third way. This way posits that morality has to be flexible and one must finds ways of measuring happiness and suffering to find the common denominator of what is considered evil.

Needless to say all of these arguments are rooted in ethics and philosophy and can make for an interesting discussion in any group, depending on the definition of the word interesting?

Within the BattleTech universe background I think that one can see that all the majors powers have done things that would be considered evil from at least one of the above four perspectives. Depending on one's beliefs the individual details of the various evils will appeal, or disgust you accordingly. Therefore I am of the opinion that any Inner Sphere polity that either all are evil, or none are truly evil.