Sunday, 4 November 2012

Mummerset Reflection & Overview

It has been more than a year since I last ran a game, which makes me ask what do I and the players want, or expect from playing the game? A better question perhaps is what makes it so hard to run regular games? 

I guess that as I no longer go to a games club each week the opportunity to play games is reduced, and that all of us have jobs and family commitments, which all leads to less games played. I will have to think about a new plan of action that addresses this problem, as the current one is not delivering the goodies.

Some of players have asked me is the Mummerset campaign based on Vietnam? 

No, not really, though it has some shout outs to Vietnam, like airborne formations and riverine operations. The genesis of the Mummerset campaign is rooted in the inter war period, especially the Spanish Civil War, with bits taken from the Russian Civil War. 

I like the whole feel of the period with its ad hoc use of armour, and mix of old and modern tactical doctrines. And yes House Steiner is a nod towards the German support for Franco, as played by General Whales. 

Saying that though, the campaign is not meant, or set as a Nazi Germany parable. The real villains are a blast from the past that have only just been revealed.

The campaign falls under Operation Sandbox, because it is my sandbox where I can kick around ideas. 

I use BattleTech rules, but these really focus on battlemech combat, and presents a vision of combat that is rooted by the constraints of being board game based. My goal is to develop rules to help speed up the amount of time each turn takes, and play games where the focus of the game is on combined arms where the battlemech is important, but doesn't work alone. 

The focus is also on playing with the miniatures on nice terrain too.

Currently I want to polish up the artillery rules, and write them up for the blog.

Then I want to work more on the infantry rules, which are proving to be problematical. This seems to be down to a combination of the size of the figures, which makes them hard to see clearly, and a lack of understanding of how to deploy infantry in BattleTech? 

The basic BattleTech rules for infantry are really rather simple, all things considered. Platoons get an attack value based on size and weapons. It all leads to rather bloody combat. 

I want to get players to enjoy deploying infantry, rather than them being some after thought that gets in the way of the battlemech action. I can see that I'm going have to rethink the organisation into squads/sections and make it easier for the players to understand and use.

When we do the next AAR role-play debrief, and plan the next phase of the campaign, I will sit and talk through the problems the players are having with using infantry. Meanwhile I shall go and jot down some notes and think about how to base the figures so that the organisation tracks both the number of casualties, and allows one to calculate the attack values without having to use a record sheet.

Finally, I've been thinking about using the BattleTech introductory rules from the box set that eliminates all the critical hits and internal structure from play. 

However, a part of me loves the detail, so I'm caught by the desire for fast, yet at the same time, detailed games of giant battlemechs fighting it out. I know that if you reduce the stats for the battlemech too far you end up with something like BattleForce. 

Quite frankly this doesn't satisfy me as it seems to me that there is still too much paperwork, with none of the atmosphere that comes from the details of playing a regular game of BattleTech.

I enjoy the feel of a game where the battlemechs are having bits & pieces shot off and degrading slowly under fire. If I can keep that, and get the game to run with a battalion per side in under four hours per game, I will have cracked it.


  1. Hmmmmm.

    I think the core problem is that without the complexity, the game is a whole bunch less fun; and with the complexity, it's slow.

    Obviously one option is MegaMek, which is certainly a whole bunch faster, but then you don't get the nice bits of lead on the table.

    Some of that detail can be reinvented: if you don't have criticals, then you need some other way to make XL engines dangerous to ammo-carrying 'Mechs. This is something BattleForce largely fails to do, it seems to me.

    BattleTech was always a 'Mech game to start with - hence all those special rules making it easy to damage and immobilise vehicles - and to my mind that's where it's at its best. I haven't done much with infantry, but they seem happiest lurking in buildings and ambushing anyone who goes past. Which is probably not wildly unreasonable.

    1. I think we haven't quite yet reached the limits of what we can do to speed up the game, but I suspect that there isn't a lot more we can do. However, what we have done is pretty good at keeping the pace up and what I'm doing now is polishing the rule tweaks.

      I suspect that I could write a new set of rules that were BattleTech like, but not BattleTech, as it seems to me that one could simplify the structure of the record sheet. For instance one could halve the damage weapons do, and halve the armour and internal structure. Then one could combine the drawing and list the weapons etc. as locations without need of the critical hit part of the record sheet.

      Just a thought.

    2. Something that might be worth a try: record a game session, then break out the actual time spent in each phase. That should give some optimisation candidates.

      I think that fire resolution has the highest ratio of player time to decision-making - once you've chosen what to commit at which target, everything else is automatic, but it can take a fair old while to work out what's happened (especially when the LB20-X starts up). Having to roll a separate hit location for each weapon certainly takes a while, even without rolled damage (in most cases). Given that one can't aim anyway, all the hit locations really do is add randomness - this time the hits against me are spread out and I last a while, next time I get headcapped the first time out - so one simplification would be to have a single stock each of armour and internal structure points. Perhaps Full Thrust style - each 1/4 of your armour that's lost, make a critical check for every internal system to see if it's still working.

      What this would lose: distinction between crit-seeking and armour-piercing weapons. (Perhaps borrow something like the K-gun rules from FT...)

    3. I think I would go with making things easier and having less detail. I'm not wanting to add ammo choice etc. as I want the simplicity of 3025, but with a bit more choice and design flexibility.

  2. Well, the rule of thumb seems to be that game length is equal to #players * #figures * #turns (plus or minus some, depending on house rules and experience), so 2 players * (36+36) figures * 10 turns would be 1440 minutes, or 1 full day. So to finish that in 4 hours, turns would need to progress 6x as fast.

    Could make each unit 6x as simple, or find a way to declare & resolve actions en masse for 6 units at a time... it's hard to make something that plays fast without simplifying things down to the level of BattleForce. A while back (years now?), I was trying to collapse the To Hit Roll, Hit Location Roll, Critical Slot Table, and Armor Table into a single throw of the dice on a single (possibly large) table.

    BattleTroops had a neat trick for faking complexity: each trooper had a single track of 12 hit points, and you rolled 2d6 to see which box you started marking from. So any hit could kill the guy fast or slow. A 'Mech could expand this by varying how many armor boxes are at each "step" on the track, and placing different critical hit effects (weapons, actuators, engines, etc.) at different steps as well.

    Considering that BT is designed around 5-point damage groupings, you can probably divide existing armor and damage counts by 2.5 with very little loss of detail.

    ...I've got much less to say about infantry, at least as presented by current rules. Basing the figures so they visually track both hit points and attack value sounds intriguing.

    1. I think the Epiphany House Rules have already broken length of time it takes to play a game of BattleTech paradigm that you mention as we had five players, 34 units and played about ten turns in 300 minutes (five hours).

      Your idea about armour boxes on a track with critical hit effects is close to what I've been thinking about where critical hits are assigned to internal locations. However, what we are at risk of doing is so totally rewriting the rules that it is no longer BattleTech.

    2. I think it's inevitable that it won't feel like BattleTech any more - that sequence of armour, internal and critical hit charts is a defining part of the game (even though it's not something over which a player has much influence).

      I wonder whether a network of tablet PCs would make sense - each player has his own record sheets on the tablet, and the machinery does the work of fire resolution, but movement is still on the board.

    3. I think that would make perfect sense, but it is way beyond my level of expertise.

  3. Without criticals and internal structure the 'Mechs would lose their advantage over AFVs and infantry and I think the game would lose a lot

    I've got a crib sheet mostly put together somewhere on my hard disk with a lot of the tables we use etc and can print off a few for the next game (actually I will send them to you to proof first) and hopefully this will help speed up the post-dice-roll bit

    The BattleTech fan in me wants to re-break artillery but I feel the frustration of seeing infantry totally nerfed as I despise the "field gun" rules developed in canon to give them some punch

    1. Well, Susan had a couple of points to make about the artillery, which were really insightful, and as a result I'm tweaking the artillery rules for the next game. After all we don't really want to be playing Battleship!