Friday 21 September 2012

Little Big Mechs

There are several problems when converting playing a game of BattleTech on a hex board to playing the game on scenic terrain boards that are at once obvious, subtle, and often bogged down by hidden assumptions.

The obvious point is that very few terrain boards have hexes drawn over them, so you have to convert the movement point allowances of BattleTech into something that works with miniatures on an unmarked playing surface. This is not too hard, and there are various well established rules that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately the specific details will have to be changed, since they weren't written to represent mechs forty feet high.

However, the subtle problem is quite a fundamental one. Boardgames deal with hexes which are measures of area. Miniature games deal with linear distance.

Let me put it like this.

On a board, if two mechs are three hexes from each other, the nominal distance is ninety metres, but a mech is not thirty metres wide and could therefore be standing at one edge of the hex, as could the other mech. Hence they are nominally ninety metres apart, but potentially between sixty and one hundred and fifty metres away from each other.

Of course this doesn't actually matter in the boardgame, because the ground area is clearly defined by the hex pattern, so that there is no confusion over what is implied by the weapons range, and the players know that the rules are fair to both sides.

This is not the case with a table top game where such looseness would cause problems, so a measure is normally defined as the centre-to-centre distance between models.

The final problem is one that has weighed down the traditional wargame for years, as it makes underlying assumptions about the structure of a wargame. This is something that I am very concerned with. The lengths to which the arguments have gone have caused ructions amongst miniature wargame enthusiasts, and have been going on and off for some quite considerable length of time. Put simply, what do the models represent?


  1. This is why I've always played on the boards rather than terrain. The whole scale is borked by the fact that a 6-8m 'mech is standing in a 30m hex. what is the weapon distance/range? Is that 1 hex for a MG 30m or something different. I mean, if the firing 'Mech is standing at the back of his hex and the target is standing at the back of his hex, they're actually closer to 60m apart. It gives me a headache!

    But, yes, I think you're's a board game played with minis, not a miniature wargame. :)

    1. I did ask about CGL doing some new miniature wargame rules on one of the Battlechats with Herb and got this reply:

      "A separate book for miniatures-only play? Consider the fact that miniatures play is based on concepts explained in detail across all of the core books, and you might see why a separate book would just be a redundancy. Plus, we want to avoid the "red-headed stepchild effect" like we had with AeroTech."

      and then this to my follow-up question, which was a yes but...:

      "That's just it; if we make separate books for miniatures wargaming and regular hex-grid gaming (when the conversions are ultimately so simple), then we'll either be giving the minis gamers a pamphlet and referencing them to the core rules for basic rules anyway, or we'll be reprinting an entire core book series JUST for a small segment of our gaming community. Both options are expenses neither we nor our customer..."

      end cut off by the software, so fill in the blanks.

      This makes the Lead Developers position on this matter quite clear. I disagree with it, hence this post.

  2. I haven't tried the miniatures ruleset in StratOps, but I think that would be my starting point. The BattleTech I know and love is still a hex-based game, though.

    1. Can I ask do you like playing miniature tabletop games though?

      For me the hexes are neither here, nor there. When they work they are great. When they hinder a game, not so great.

      IMO, the reason I get hung up over hexes in BattleTech versus say hexes in OGRE/GEV, is that in the former they represent quite small areas, whereas in the latter they are a metric mile across, and clearly an abstract representation of the terrain being fought over.

    2. And yet, taking the hexes away changes the flavour of the game quite dramatically.

      (It's horribly easy to over-analyse BattleTech - your "Love the Medium Laser" post sounds a bit like where I was in the late eighties, drawing expected damage curves for each 'Mech I designed and optimising for planned pilots and situations. One of the reasons why I dropped it around then, apart from the Clan thing and the rule-breaking, was that I found much more success playing a pure numbers game than playing immersively. These days I've regained a bit of balance...)

    3. Doesn't it just, taking hexes and replacing with straight inches just doesn't work, in that it changes the flavour of the game, which is my whole point. It is not just a matter of changing hexes to inches and sayingthe game is the same, because clearly it is not.

      BTW: I did the medium laser article as a response to BT forum post, and it's posted here so it doesn't get lost.

  3. With respect, I believe you are over thinking the range question. All a range of three hexes means is that when you average out a large number of engagements in the 60-150 meter range, most take place at 90 meters.

    To look at it another way, hexes are simply a type of built in measuring stick with ticks every 30 scale meters coupled with a rules set that measures distances only in full ticks. For conversion, the 60 and 150 edge cases do not matter just go with 3 hexes = 90 meters.

    Of course some complexity (or subtlety if you prefer) can come into play. Flame throwers in real life have notoriously poor ranges often under 50m. If your game system does not allow opposing units in the same hex and your hexes are 100m across, the FT gets its range doubled or more. In a hexless systems this doesn't happen the FT has a maximum range of 50m. Another consideration would be area weapons like unguided rockets. How big an area can they hit? With hexes it is easy - 1 hex, take out the hexes and you can get as complex as you like. Finally in this line, say an average "plasma cannon thingy" has a range of 6 hexes. Take away the hexes you can allow for the Walmart Weapons World version at 5.5 hex equivalent range or the H&H Gunmakers to Her Imperial Majesty version at 6.75 hex equivalent range.

    Moving onto what do models represent? For most non-skirmish miniatures games, the models are not required at all. Their bases cover the same area on the board that an equivalent actual formation would in the field. For skirmish games, a model represents what it represents be that a tank or a single man. There is some wiggle room since most models are over-sized for the ground scale. This can be addressed by saying all ranges are measured form the head, turret centre or some other agreed upon point. For games like Battletech where single mech models are mixed with bases of infantry you might need to measure ranges from a mech's head or closest infantry base edge.

    One thing you must be aware of is balancing the quick play advantages of hexes with the (possible) complexity of a miniatures game. Just because one can add detail does not mean one should.

    To close off this ramble, If I was converting, I would convert the hex ranges as is: 1 hex = 30 m. Area weapons affect all units within 15m of the impact point. Ranges are measured from mech head, turret centre or centre of closest base edge. Everything else remains the same e.g. weapon arcs stay in 60 degree increments. Then I would play a couple of test games and see what needs tweaking. Wash, rinse, repeat until happiness achieved.

    Have fun and don't drown yourself in the detail.

    1. With respect... Uhm I guess I said something that has pushed your buttons? Sorry about that. Writing is an art, not a science. if it were just down to the mathematics we might have a correct answer, but we don't.

      I take your opinions on board though, but you've kind of preempted my next blog post.

      However, you did a great job of summarising my point that three hexes represent the average range of combat that takes place between 60 and 150 meters. I should have said that.

    2. No - no buttons pushed and if anyone should be apologizing it is me :) I have the mind set where one sees all the possible outcomes and complexities simultaneously and promptly enters into analysis paralysis.

      "Without respect" - Keep it simple stupid and assume centre to centre ranging and get on with it. ;)

    3. You Sir, are speaking my language! :-)

  4. "Put simply, what do the models represent?"
    Nooooooo! Why would you ask such a question! They represent me wanting to be a kid forever. It isn't about re-creating the Battle of Whatsit, it's about not doing anything of importance for three hours on a Saturday. The models represent our inner 4-year old, believing in Santa and the monster-under-the-bed and that these giant Mechs are really fighting over a moon in the Ford Galaxy.

    Not the answer you were looking for but your question was just too good to let go... :)
    I just started reading your blog and am digging it.

    1. Cool, and just to say I'm not looking for specific answers, as I think answers are less important in this kind of situation than questions, which make you think and reassess what you believe to be true.

      So surprise me.

  5. What about an overhead light source that projects the hexes onto your battle fields?
    How hard could that be?, and think of the sales potential............

    1. What about the problem of shadows?

      Once you've sorted that out I look forward to seeing your product. ;-)