Saturday, November 28, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Extermination service

This is the first battle report for Battle for Zorpel campaign.

In this mission, the human group was called to clean an infestation of forest jellies from an outpost. What they did not know was that a group of skelebots was on their way to recover a probe nearby. [I rolled the outpost terrain. Each building corresponded to two Ikubes.]
Board setup created with the mission generator.
As the robots had one level, I gave them a commander figure. All robots were armed with blast rifles and cyber claws or saws [winning a brawl on a draw.] All soldiers were armed with infantry rifles.

I had the first turn of the game, rolling a normal turn. Don fired at the red jelly with no effect. Alex fired at the robot commander, and he flinched, moving into the woods. Brent entered the wooded area, firing again at the commander. He bailed, and then fled the battle.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

First impressions: Savage Worlds Showdown for solo play

Recently I read and played a bit with Savage Worlds Showdown, the free set of miniature rules based on Savage Worlds RPG. It is available as a PDF book 44 pages long and very well produced.

Miniatures are grouped into units, and the game assumes most of a player's force will be organized this way, although it is also possible to have single miniatures acting independently -- usually heroic figures, or "Wild Cards." Each unit or figure has a number of traits and skills, adapted from the role-playing game, which are rated in terms of dice size, e.g. Agility d8. Action resolution involves rolling one or more dice against a target number, and on a few occasions players roll against each other.

There is also a handy unit builder spreadsheet to calculate point values for different figures and groups. Even those not inclined to use point systems may use it to get a feeling of how to build new profiles, based on the samples included. The upside is that units can be varied and detailed; the downside is that setting up a force takes some time.

Although the game does not provide any rules for solo play, it does have a number of features that make it suitable for that purpose. Specifically, I would highlight the following:

  1. The rules for "rogues", figures that act independently of the players and may attack anyone, may also be used as a basis for a simple "artificial intelligence" for automated enemies.
  2. The card-based activation system provides an order of activation of units, thus removing the need for a solo player to select which enemy to activate.
  3. The "fortune and calamity" system adds random events that are welcome in solo play, as they provide another source of uncertainty.
On the other hand, there are a few problem points in adopting these rules to play alone. Here are the ones that drew my attention and some proposals to handle them:
  1. The choice of when to use "bennies" can be problematic. Removing them altogether is probably not the best option, unless playing a "gritty" scenario. My approach is to roll a six-sided die to decide if a "benny" should be spent. If the roll is equal to or lower than the current number of available "bennies", then it is spent. Subtract 1 from the roll if the "benny" would be used for a soak roll of a Wild Card.
  2. The choice of when to hold an action can also be problematic. One option is to simply remove this action from the game. An alternative is to judge the option to hold an action as one would consider the option to set a unit on overwatch in other games, e.g. if it would benefit from guarding an area.
In my test games, combat with modern weapons was very lethal: a single pistol shot is quite likely to take down a figure, and smaller units soon start suffering morale effects. Therefore, a large table with lots of terrain is recommended.

My initial impressions of Savage Worlds Showdown are positive. It may take some time to build the unit cards but the game flows quickly, with a simple turn sequence and combat resolution. The trait and skill rolls are very flexible and might be used for battles with role-play and stunt elements. It is worth a try for those interested in an alternative for large skirmish games (say, up to platoon size). It might also work with a handful of Wild Cards fighting each other, but I have not tried that. Although the system does not include support for solo play, it is not hard to adapt it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Battle for Zorpel

During the Skeletron Incursion on our galaxy, several human colonies were attacked. The invaders would send a factory ship to land on the planet, and then start producing hordes of robotic soldiers to dominate or destroy the colonists.

A recently-installed orbital defense cannon at the Zorpel colony damaged the invader ship as it entered the planet's atmosphere. The colonial troops then gathered to repel the robot invaders. A large force was mobilized to attack and destroy the factory ship. Meanwhile, multiple teams would run disruption missions against robot targets.

This is the beginning of my new campaign, the Battle for Zorpel. I intend to use the various campaign and mission generators that are part of Five Core 2nd Edition, including the victory point system for missions and the campaign progress system. Therefore, Progress starts at 0; the campaign will be won if it reaches +10, and it will be lost if it reaches -10.
Skelebot invaders (including leader) and colonial troops.
In addition to the mission and terrain generation rules present in the book, I will use the following system to generate the board: Roll one die to determine if the battle will be fought on a settlement (1-2), ruins (3-4) or an outpost (5-6).

The board will always have six terrain pieces spread around. Each area has different odds of generating terrain pieces:

  • Settlement: buildings (1-4) or ruins (5-6)
  • Ruins: woods (1-3) or ruins (4-6)
  • Outpost: woods (1-3), buildings (4-5) or ruins (6)
 The campaign will follow the adventures of one disruption team. I will start with four "goons": Alex, Brent, Charles and Don, who might level up and become characters along the campaign. The enemy will always have one more level than my forces.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Breaking through!

While I was looking at my collection of rules, I found out that I had never tried the Gunstorm solo skirmish rules by Spacejacker. So I picked up some miniatures and set out to do that. Instead of chits for phases and wounds, I used cards from a common deck. Not as simple to manipulate as I had to keep shuffling the wound deck, but usable.

In my trial games I just used two squads of regular soldiers with light armor, assault blasters and no stunts [other stats were Shoot +2, Fight +2, Sprint 0]. The enemy squad must break through my defenses and escape through my board edge.
Enemy on the left, my squad on the right.

In the first game, I forgot to roll the guts saves when a model was hit. This, combined with drawing only "dead" counters, resulted in a very lethal game. The enemy crossed the bridges but was defeated before escaping. The game played in 15 minutes or so, and this made me want to play a bit more.

In the second game, the guts save rolls made the enemy survive longer, and they even killed more of my troops, but in the end, did not complete their objective.

For the third game, I decided to use Aleksandar's alternate wound resolution, presented at the end of his battle report for Gunstorm. This completely removed the need for a wound deck. The result was a faster game as I did not have to reshuffle the wound deck. If using chits, I suppose the speedup would have been minimal. As I was using a small number of figures, the game played a bit longer as one-hit kills were less likely.
I used dice to mark bleeding wounds.

I liked Gunstorm, even playing with basic troops. The game plays quickly and the solo mechanisms work well. I liked the movement table, which makes the enemy more cautious as they lose units. The variable turn sequence is another favorite mechanic. My only doubt is about the use of the "power" stat for ranged weapons, as I did not see it mentioned anywhere in the rules.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pseudo-Tactical Simulation

I picked up "Professor Badger's Quasi-whimsical Pseudo-Tactical Simulation of Military Encounters of a Science Fiction Persuasion at the Company Level" by impulse, as it was offered at a deep discount from the already low regular price. Besides, who could resist such an intriguing title?

The rules are set in 10 pages plus cover, in what one might call a "no-nonsense" style: The first paragraph gets straight to starting the game, of which you know nothing about in your first read. After that come turn structure, unit actions, unit definitions and their stats, unit creation rules and three scenarios.

The forces created to test the game.
Visually, the book could have been improved in layout and would gain a lot from the inclusion of some diagrams or pictures, for instance, in the scenario descriptions. The writing is too concise (and there are also a number of typos and mistakes around), and some examples of the rules and unit creation would be helpful.

It took me three reads to get the rules, due to the problems above (and I am not sure if someone new to miniature games would understand the game enough to play it.) Still, once I was done, the important question became: "how does it play?"

The first step was to create some units. The rules allow the creation of infantry squads and vehicles. These are then combined into infantry platoons and vehicle platoons. I made a regular squad of soldiers and a medium attack vehicle, considering the limits to unit stats.

Infantry squad (Trained, armed with assault rifles)
AIM 4 / STR 2 / ARM 3 / MLE 7 - 14 points per squad

Battle tank (Trained, with a light gun and HMG, movement type: tracked)
AIM 6 / STR 4 / ARM 5 / MLE 8 - 28 points per tank

Then I created two opposing forces using these units, each one adding to 336 points:

2 infantry platoons, 4 squads per platoon (including command)
2 tank platoons, 4 tanks per platoon (including command)

2 infantry platoons, 3 squads per platoon (including command)
3 tank platoons, 3 tanks per platoon (including command)

And finally I put them to fight each other in a board with some rough terrain, using the basic victory condition (80% casualties). I played with reduced scale counters (equivalent to 6mm miniatures), measuring distances in centimeters on a 60cm x 90cm board. With assault rifle fire reaching 50cm (or 50" in the rules), the board still felt a bit small.

Setup for my test battle.
A few remarks about the rules: activation is per squad or single vehicle, and based on card draws. It is therefore possible that one side activates three squads in a row before play passes to the enemy. Combat is resolved with each side rolling a die and adding modifiers given by the units and context. Morale checks are performed on specific circumstances.

While playing, I assumed that suppression and fatigue only affected infantry units, and that the "fire and maneuver" option was only available to infantry squads, too. There were a few other questions raised:

  • What are the arcs of fire of units? I adopted the usual 45 degrees to either side but I am not sure if this is the case. 
  • When do the forced moves caused by failed morale tests happen? Some of them explicitly state that they happen immediately, others do not.
  • How does line of sight interact with broken terrain, cover and elevations? This is a point in which different rule sets tend to disagree, so I am not sure about the approach here. 

"Professor Badger's..." is a light game that delivers what it promises in its long title. Do not expect detailed modeling of unit profiles for various alien races or special equipment: this is mostly sci-fi human (or human-like alien) grunts and tanks, with some options to add variety. However, it did work well, fast and did not feel overly simplistic. It also does not require many counters on the table (only to mark hunkered down and damaged units.)

I really wish the author creates a revised version of the game, including more examples and adding a little more detail in all areas.