Sunday, February 26, 2012

Another Battle, Another Fleet

Since I didn't post a proper Battle Report of the latest game I played, but simply explained how the mechanics work on my ruleset, I thought I'd say something about the most recent hostilities between Klingon and Cardassian forces.

The Klingon side, controlled by my friend, had a Negh' Var escorted by a suqadron of 5 Birds of Prey, and a squadron of 4 Vor' Chas escorted by another squadron of Birds of Prey, this one with only 4 ships.

The Cardassians had 2 squadrons of Galors, one with 3 ships, the other with 4. Each was escorted by  a squadron of 5 Hidekis.

My adversary had better overall Spacefaring, so I had to deploy first. He then concentrated all his forces on his right side of the table - facing my own left flank.

As the game started, I quickly maneuvered that flank out of there, bringing it to the middle of the table, using an asteroid strip as cover while doing so.

My right flank made it full ahead trying to go around another asteroid strip before it would close in on the first cluster, as those terrain features were kind of converging, and there was the risk the passage between them would get closed soon.

The Klingon paved their way with mines, so to keep me from chasing their rear. Luckly, the asteroid strips remained sufficiently apart so that my right flank could be brougth upon the enemy through the middle of the table.

The Klingons kept a compact formation, and their concentrated fire power did away with the Cardassian Flagship. I recently changed the rules and now the destruction of the flagship doesn't force a morale check to leave the game. It now works simply as a modifier to the morale check for leaving the table if the fleet is under 50% initial hull points.

I managed to kill a Vor' Cha and cripple another, negating its capacity to fire, with the remains of the Flagship's Galor Squadron. Unfortunatelly for me, the 3 Klingon destroyers still on the game made a combined boarding action on one of my galors. It meant that I had 1 Cardassian Troops and 4 crew points to defend my ship against 5 Klingon Troops. 

A little note here: On Pax Stellarum, players can customize troops abundantly. The Klingons, for example, I designed to have 3 nice traits that represent their in-show characteristics. They've also got better attack value than the cardassians.

For all that, it was pretty much a massacre against my galor, which was easily taken, earning the enemy double victory points.

I could attempt retaking it with the 2 troops I had on my other galor nearby, but the ocuppied galor had the 3 surviving Klingon Troops guarding it. On the other hand, no Klingons were guarding the Vor'Chas, so it was just a matter of invading and killing the crew - which is never a huge threat for troops, unless in very big numbers.

We couldn't play any longer, though, as my friend had to go by then. At that point, he had more victory points, so it could be claimed that the kilngons prevailed, alright...

Changing topics, my Narn fleet from Agents of Gaming arrived this week, and I've already put everything together. On the pic below, you can also see some Minbari reinforcements that came along. 

Don't really know why I bought so many Minbari (and Vorlons!) in the first place. It's not likely I'll be able to field that many of these advanced ships at the same time in any single battle...

Several G'Quans. Cool ships.

The Bin' Tak Dreadnought. A real beast.

On the next couple weeks I'll be working on these ships while also trying to make the final adjustments on my ruleset. I believe I'm not far from finishing the later (!).

*End of Transmission*

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Everything in motion: From Terrain to Ships

In Pax Stellarum, everything is in motion, not only ships. The first phase on each turn is the Terrain Movement Phase. Here all terrain features are going to move according to what was determined for them upon setting the table up.

Terrain's movement represent how everything in space is flowing in the cosmic stream. Nothing is stationary. From planets to black holes, asteroid strips to distortion fields, everything moves.

Yesterday, I played my first non-solo playtesting with a friend from our local gaming club. So far, I hadn't been playing with moving terrain, as I was focusing on getting the game mechanics right, first.

Inittially, I thought of playing that game with stationary terrain, but my friend enjoyed the possibility of having cover moving around the table and asked that we played that way. As playtesting is evolving already, I thought it might be a good idea to have that game played with full rules.

The result is this: Its infinitely cooler to play with moving terrain than I ever thought it would be! I guarantee you that once you play that way you won't consider playing space battles any other way.

The movement pattern of each terrain feature is determined individually. By pattern I mean speed and direction of movement.

This is done by performing a sort of scatter roll for each feature upon setting the table. The scatter roll involves rolling a D6 for speed, and therefore each terrain is going to move at least 1" and a maximum of 6" per turn.

As the direction of each terrain feature is likely to be unique, the table is in constant change, and players have to be able to see in advance what  is going to be the disposition of the table a few turns ahead, so that they don't end up performing a bad maneuver and suddely find themselves having an entire squadron being swallowed by an asteroid cluster, for instance.

Determining the movement pattern for each terrain feature doesn't take more than a couple minutes. Additionally, each Terrain Movement Phase doesn't take more than a couple minutes, either, so its all pretty simple and straightforward .

On the game we played yesterday, I led a Cardassian fleet, against the Klingons commanded by my gaming partner. On the pics below we can see how the table set up was changing on every turn:

On the inverted pic below, note the asteroid strip on the low border of the table. It is entering the table there after leaving it on the opposite end. This represents the strip being part of a much broader asteroid cluster than what we see on the table, and therefore as one strip moves away, another approaches...

Planets move just as asteroid strips would, along straight lanes that would represent their extremely broad orbit radius around a sun not present on the table. Moons and space stations, on the other hand, move around the planets they are orbiting, in addition to moving in the same pattern as the orb they are related to.

Such movement is fixed: 1" per Terrain Movement Phase. The scatter roll is going to determine only the direction: clockwise or anticlockwise. This I forget to do during game, and moons there where just following their mother planet, without moving around it.

As for ships, their movement is rather cinematic, but with enough inertial flavor so to make it considerabily tactical.

Basically, ships can move in one of 3 modes:

Low Thrust
High Thrust

Adrift ships move 2" forward every turn.

Ships in Low thrust mode move at least 2.5", and up to half their Spacedrive Rating (Spacedrive indicates their total engines power for sublight travel, in opposition to Hyperdrive).

Ships in High Thrust mode move at least 0.5" more than half Spacedrive Rating, and up to their full Spacedrive Rating.

Ships may switch from one mode to the adjacent one every turn, but they cannot transit through all 3 modes in the same turn.

It means that a ship that begins the turn adrift may change its mode to Low Thrust, or remain adrift. A ship in Low Thrust may stay so, switch to Adrift or switch to High Trhust. Ships in High Thrust may switch to Low Thrust.

A Special Order allows a ship to switch from adrift to High Thrust immediattely: Its called "Engines at Full Power". Another Special Order allows a ship to switch from High Thrust to Adrift in a single turn as well: the "Full Stop" Special Order.

To switch from Adrift to Low Thrust, you simply move your ship at least 2.5" and not more than half Spacedrive Rating.

To switch from Low Thrust to Adrift, you  move your ship exactly 2".

To switch from Low Thrust to High Thrust, you move your ship more than half Spacedrive Rating, up to its maximum.

To switch from High Thrust to Low Thrust, you move your ship exactly half Spacedrive Rating. On the subsequent turn, it will be able to move freely within Low Thrust limits.

Those inertial restricitions are easy to learn once you start practicing, but very challenging to master.

It was a pleasant surprise to see my gaming parter taking several minutes to decide which way to go with each of his squadrons. He was trying to predict how fast each of my squadrons would move, according to their current level of thrust, so to have a rough estimate of my final position.

That level of plotting wasn't present on playtesting so far, as I couldn't expect to be able to hide my intentions from my adversary in solo-gaming playtesting. I'm not that alienated. Yet.

Basically, players are likely to want to move at High Thrust, to approach the enemy, but once they begin to get close, that are challenged by the need of reducing thrust mode to avoid going past their target too quickly, while they would still want to preserve enough trhust available for maneuver, as close quarters can be very dangerous if you can't maneuver sufficiently.

It demands a lot of thinking ahead, and thorough observation of enemy movement, to try determining its pattern and most likely future moves.

Now, about the game we played, unfotunatelly we were unable to finish it, as we spent most of the time either discussing possible improvements (which was great!) or chatting with other folks there (again, great!), but it was fundamental to help me see some stuff that can be improved and that went unnoticed in solo-playtesting.

So, at the moment we have the following status as for Quality Control:

Terrain Movement rules: checked
Ships Movement Rules: checked
Fighter Rules: theoretically corrected, need playtesting
Weapons roll: need some addressing.

I'm rushing to get as much done on my system as I can on the near future, as I currently have more fleets coming and that are going to need painting (once again, great!) and I cannot manage to relax while having unpainted stuff on drydocks...

*End of Transmission*

Monday, February 20, 2012

Pax Stellarum: Dindrenzi x Star Wars Empire

Yesterday I played another battle: A 1900-point game with the Dindrenzi and the Star Empire.

The Dindrenzi had a Conqueror Class Battleship, 2 Fury Class Cruisers and a Claymore Class Carrier escorted by 4 Buckler Class Corvettes.

The Empire had 7 Star Destroyers, with a handful of Tie squadrons onboard.

I used a token as a reminder of which Destroyer was the Flagship (one could say I really like tokens...)

The Empire was attempting to reach a terran planet occupied by Dindrenzi troops (20, to be precise), and bomb the enemy, thus paving the road for a following invasion.

The game begins with both sides maneuvering to bear their broadsides to the enemy, as both fleets are stronger there than on their prow.

The initial exchange of fire damages a Fury, while the squadron moves away in order to deploy mines along its path. The Tie fighters, too small to trigger the explosives, are dispatched to try inflicting further damage to the cruiser with reduced Shields.

Note the Empire Flagship, on the middle of the table. I made the terrible mistake of placing the flagship in position to receive enemy fire from all sides...

On the upper side of the table, the Dindrenzi Carrier started launching its complement, and more Tie squadrons had to be activated to intercept them and stop those from firing at the Star Destroyers.

The Imperial Flagship is heavily damaged by the Battleship's broadsides and the Furys' prow torpedoes. 

The Star Destroyer and its trail of tokens. It got Shields reduced to 50%, which then collapsed alltogether, with a critical; more criticals on Sensors, both Target Control Systems, Stern weapons and Power Core.  It was also reduced from 15 to 3 hull points. Now that's what I call a crippled ship...

Another Star Destroyer squadron was doing away with the carrier's escorts. One destroyed and another damaged. Here is something we don't see everyday: a small ship with a critical hit. They usually die before having any, as they have so few hull points.

The battleship  reverts additional power to engines to move faster, thus crossing the mine field in a single turn's movement; after all, not even a battleship wants to be surrounded by mines in case they go off.

In consequence, it had less power available for weapons. A pitty, really, as it had an imperial squadron on the perfect spot for a full broadside fire. It even attempted locking tractor beam on the nearest enemy, to no avail.

The mine field grows longer, as the Furys keep deploying mines while chasing the enemy flagship. By then, it was attempting to hide behind an asteroid strip, to survive longer and keep the fleet from having to roll a morale check.

The Dindrenzi bombers were chasing it like piranhas after a bleeding cow crossing the river.

Meanwhile, the Ties finish a Fury. Too many Ties on your rear, and too low Shields to defend your hull is a nasty combination. 

The Dindrenzi bombers retribute the favor most galantly: The imperial flagship is doomed shortly after.

The Empire gets rid of a couple more enemy corvettes, and then chooses to head for the planet and start bombing it.

On the other side of the table, one Star Destroyer manages to avoid the minefield for just that much, but the other (on the center of the pic above) is brought by inertia within the mines' range, and the entire field goes off. 

The Ships survive, but the Tie fighters that had just scored a kill on a Fury Cruiser are lost.

With the path now clean, more Star Destroyers approach the planet, and orbital bombardment starts. The Dindrenzi Battleship has now got a long way to go to be able to properly maneuver and bear its batteries at the enemy once again.

On the right corner, we can see an imperial ship surrounded by Dindrenzi bombers, which failed to inflict a single hull damage on it. Turned out fighters are effective only once ships start losing Shields. Until then, there is just so much they can do.

The game ends shortly after, due to the imperials failing the morale check for losing the flagship, but not before they finish the remaining enemy cruiser. Regardless of leaving the battle, the victory was theirs, once victory points were calculated.

My remarks; Fighters are working better, but I feel I still need to improve them a little. Other than that, the system is working smoothly. 

The are still some buts, though. It took 3,5 hours to play 4 turns. Again, it ended with too few turns, and each took too long to play. 

I'm already considering some changes to be done to address those issues. Minor things that I believe are going to make a big difference. The morale check, for instance, could be easier to pass, considering that the imperials were clearly on their game here. I'm going to add a modifier to work on these cases. That would make the game last more turns.

As for the length of each turn, the dierolls are probably going to need some tinkering to work faster.

More on that soon.

*End of Transmission*

Monday, February 13, 2012

Babylon 5: Pax Stellarum

I'm glad to announce my ruleset is almost all ready. Some minor issues still need addressing, but overall, it's working fine.

Pax Stellarum is not a simple system. It's not complex either. It's elaborated. By that I mean that there is a lot that can be done on it, and each possible action interacts with others, and so players are required to think a little ahead rather than just throwing a bunch of dice once it's their time to fire weapons.

I created rules to allow me to do almost anything I could imagine doing in a spaceship game. Rules cover from boarding to ramming, from deploying fighters to deploying mines, from bombarding planets to invading them with spaceborne troops, from bringing ships from reserve through hyperspace jump to leaving the battle due to failing a morale check, from moving through an asteroid field to destroying an entire planet with a single shot from a massive gun (Death Star Superlasers, anyone?)

Players can give Special Orders to their ships, that go much beyond the standard move forward/pivot and fire. They involve redirecting energy to move faster, or to turn sharper, to increase Shields endurance, to lower your signature, to perform an emergency jump into hyperspace, to force a battered enemy ship to surrender, and so on. All that with no book keeping.

The Rulebook have roughly 100 pages, divided in 2 chapters: Basic Rules and Advanced Rules. The Basic Rules have 50 pages, with loads of examples and pictutres to ilustrate the rules, that are written on a not much space-friendly font (Bankgothic Lt Bt, which I use cause it looks cool!). 

All that aside, the basic rules could probably fit on 25 pages, not that much scaring. But playing only with the Basic Rules won't give you the actual feel of the game.

The Advanced Rules is what takes the game from 30% tactic/70% dice luck to 70% tactic/30% dice luck. There is where one can find all the possibilities I briefly meantioned above.

Knowing all the Advanced Rules is not required for playing, but not knowing too much of it is probably going to lead you to be outclassed by an adversary who knows, so there is definitely a learning curve here.

Anyway, it won't be long before I feel confident enough on the consolidated rules to share them for free, so that anyone interested may give it a try.

Now, enough of cheap chat, and lets see some fighting!

My latest playtesting game had 2 of my most cherished fleets clashing on the Babylon 5 Universe: The Minbari Federation and the Centauri Republic.

It was a 1850 point game, but I allowed both fleets to go over that limit a little.

The Centauri had a Octurion Class Battleship, escorted by a squadron of 6 Haven Class Patrol ships, and a Primus Class Battlecruiser, escorted by a squadron of 4 Vorchan Class cruisers.

The much more expensive Minbari had less hulls: 2 Sharlins, one escorted by a squadron of 3 Torotha Class frigates, and the other escorted by a squadron of 2.

I got to the game willing to put at proof the myth about the Sharlins being undestructible. I gave them very high stats, trying to truthfully represent what we see in the Series, but had my hopes the Centauri fire power could play a trick on those legendary vessels.

The game begins and the flagships head for each other, along with their caravans of escorts.
The Primus and the Vorchan Squadron made a turn to head for the other Sharlin, which was escorted by "only" 2 Torothas.

The Sharlin left flank was out of reach of the Primus and Vorchans' Sensors. Although they had high rating for that system, the Minbari had Stealth, which reduces their Signature considerabily, thus making them detectable only at close distance. The Centauri worked that out by sending 1 Haven to the proximities of the enemy.

The Havens have got the Scout ability, which enables them to share their Sensors findings with any other ship on their side of the battle.

The Centauri left formation unleashed its tremendous fire power on the Sharlin and one of its escorts. The Torotha suffered 5 hull damage, out of a total of 8, and had criticals on its Shields, Life Support System and Port side weapons.

The Sharlin suffered 1 hull damage, and had its Shields dropped to 87.5%

The Sharlin flagship getting a warm welcome from the Centauri Octurion. It can be damaged after all.

"If you could make God bleed, people would cease to believe in him, there will be blood in the water, the sharks will come."
Ivan Vanko, in Iron Man 2

The Minbari payback doesn't take long. The other Sharlin destroys a Vorchan, and soon after another is doomed by the Torothas.

Big ships roll lots of dice for weapons' fire. Here is how I speed game play for this. Each color is a diferent weapon. Above, I've selected the dice for the firing of 2 Vorchans from the same squadron: Each is going to fire 2 Heavy Battle Lasers, 6 Twin Particle Cannons and 1 Missile Silo.

The Minbari flagship formation begins showing some service and opens a hole on the Haven lines.

On the other side of the battle, the 2 remaining Vorchans were trying to go around an asteroid field and attack the Sharlin flank, but one of them got too close and was targeted by the Cruiser's Tractor beam. What started as a good firing position...

... ended up as an unsettling situation, after the Minbari used its tractor power to move the enemy through the asteroid field to the other side of their formation. The Vorchan was now with its rear facing the enemy, and with its Shields reduced from 4 to 3D6 (75%), after sustaining several asteroid hits.

With the enemy "outmaneuvered", it was just a matter of finishing the job with proper broadside fire power.

The flagships' confront rages on, as both sides choose to close in at low speed, thus allowing them more time to hit the enemy with their prow weapons. 

The Havens were all gone by then, as well as 1 Torotha frigate. Another was crippled, with a critical hit on Life Support System, among others, and its crew was dying slowly, as it repeatedly failed to fix it.

The Octurion uses the same tractor beam tactic with the single still sound Torotha escorting the Minbari capital ship. It targets the minbari and moves it to its right side, putting it in arc for its destructive broadside.

 I thought of pushing the torotha all the way into the asteroid strip, in order to damage it a little or at least inflict some Shields' damage, but then I realised the Octurion broadside would have a hard time hiting the frigate among the asteroids, and so I choosed to stop it just there.

On the left side of the table, the Primus passes by the Minbari formation, taking the opportunity to use its own broadsides to fire at both Torothas, succeeding at destroying one. Meanwhile, the remaining Vorchan gets in position to fire at the enemy from the rear.

But the day was Minbari's. The Octurion fails at finishing the Torotha, and the Sharlin blows the enemy up with several Neutron Cannons' and Fusion lasers' shots. The battleship had its Shields totally down, and was unable to defend itself.

Soon after, the frigate with a Life Support System hit finally dies. We can assume crew either suffocated craving for air or managed to abandon the ship in time, through scape pods.

After that, the battle was over. The Centauri automatically failed a morale check, as it had its total fleet hull points dropped to under 50% and lost the Flagship as well.

The remaining of the Minbari formation. 1 single hull damage to the Sharlins...

The Centauri that survived the engagement left the battle to fight another day.

My remarks about this latest game were dubious. On one side, the Sensors/Signature rules are working great, but a little adjustment is going to be needed to the to-hit values. The game only lasted 4 turns with the recent changes in range modifiers.

 The rules are working fine for range modifiers, but need a little touch to make the game go back to 6-8 turns length. But I know where exactly to look for that, so I expect it to be working fine next time I play.

The fighters, on the other hand, are performing poorly with the new Shields' rules, and are going back to the drawing desk.

All in all, the game is likely to be all ready in a month or so.

*End of Transmission*