Thursday, June 24, 2010

Building the Big Boys, Part 1

I'm such a lazy sod! Look at that frickin' mold line...!

The Commander series of wargame rules is a marvelous example of what Ty Bomba likes to call "design for effect", by which he means that it concentrates on producing a believeable looking game while not worrying about small details. Units are abstracted in the interest of maintaining a quick and fluid game experience and, by and large, this is a good decision. Few rules systems allow one to really feel like a commander on the battlefield. In the xxC system, however, because the system glosses the small stuff, one experiences something like the worries of a real-life military leader, concentrating more on the big picture rather than on whether or not a 76mm cannon can penetrate a Tiger II's front armor at 500 paces.

The only problem is that when we get to the sci-fi installment of the system, Future War Commander things seem just a tad TOO abstract. Maybe it's because I cut my sci-fi miniatures gaming chops on Games Wankshop's Adeptus Titanicus and Steve Jackson Games Ogre Miniatures, but one of the things I look for  in my sci-fi games are large combat vehicles. I mean ridiculously fucking spectacularly unbelievably large vehicles. And for the game system to work well for me, these titanic monsters have to be integrated into the system in such a way that they simultaneously play differently from the small "popcorn" units, but don't absolutely dominate the game.

Those of you who play Ogre know what I'm talking about. In that game, one rarely sees more than two massive cybertanks on the battlefield and, when present, ogres are indeed a major focus of the game. But without appropriate support from conventional units and infantry, ogres will quickly find themselves ground down and worn out.

I think Future War Commander, as it stands, just misses this effect. Its massive units are not quite differentiated enough to give them an individualized feeling which, let's face it, is what you want to have when manuvering a robot the size of an office building through downtown Tokyo. As the rules stand, massive units are just regular units writ large and are generally too vulnerable to make them worth their cost.

This really isn't the fault of the rule's author, Peter Andrew Jones. After all, he was looking for an quick play, simple rules system which could, simultaneously, be stretched to fit any sort of sci-fi universe one chooses. And it is this flexibility which is ultimately FWC's saving grace. Peter hasn't so much given us a rules set as a nice big Lego box. By tweaking unit construction and inventing new optional rules and upgrades, it is very easy to take Future War Commander in any direction one wants. And that, of course, was Peter's main goal.

So now that my 1/600 armies have some titans and cybertanks painted up, I`ve decided to give some thought as to how I want them to work on the battlefield. What follows are some of my ideas.

Massive Units in General - Rules Tweaks
The following are some general rules changes which I intend to employ regarding massive units. They add a small amount of complexity but, in general, I`ve tried to hew to Peter`s "design for effect" philosophy and keep them as simple - and thus memorizable - as possible.

As the rules stand, massive units are far too easy to suppress, being treated like a regular unit in this respect. Because of this, a lowly infantry unit with popguns can easily stop a massive cybertank in its tracks. Sorry, I feel this is far too much vulnerability. To fix this, apply the following rule:

Massive units only test for suppression when hit by another massive unit's primary armament. Shielded units (massive or otherwise) do not test for suppression until their shields are down.

Fall backs
It should be noted that massive units do not fall back under any circumstances and that multiple fall backs are one of the main ways in which units are killed in this game. This is probably a good thing, otherwise popcorn would be knocking massive units out left and right. However, it seems to me that massive units should be at least somewhat vulnerable to other massive units. For this reason, apply the following rule:

Any time a suppressed massive unit is hit, it must roll for fall-back normally. Massive units are never knocked out by fall backs, even if forced to fall back more than 10cm by another massive unit's primary armament

So now conventional units can force massive units to fall back if another massive unit has already suppressed the target beforehand, but you still have to kill the buggers the hard way. Also, the new rules on suppression mean that even if you concentrate a lot of conventional unit's fire on the massive unit, you're not going to do much good unless you take it out completely.

Firing to damage
Add the following rule:

Any unit may "fire to damage" a massive unit. This is declared after activation and before any attacks are made. Units firing to damage do not count damage normally, but for every X unsaved hits, eliminate one hit point from the target PERMANENTLY. X = the massive unit's damage threshold, which is typically "3". Note that an attack which is declared to be "firing to damage" cannot kill a Massive unit unless it makes X * Hit Points worth of unsaved hits.

Critical Damage

Add the following rule:

For every hit point permanently removed from a massive unit via "firing to damage", roll one die: on a "6", the massive unit suffers critical damage. Roll on the following table for each critical hit:

1 Movement reduced by 5 cm
2 Shield generator destroyed
3 Secondary explosions cause two more permanent hits (roll for crits)
4 Secondary Armament destroyer (choose at random if more than one)
5 Secondary Armament destroyer (choose at random if more than one)

6 Primary Armament destroyed

If a critical hit can't apply (e.g. the primary weapon is already gone and you roll a "6", continue rolling until you get a result that can be applied.

Building massive units The following additions should be added to the rules for creating your own units:

Unit Attributes
  • Massive                                +5 for each hit point
  • Command Capable              +1/2 CV cost                        Massive unit is also a command unit
  • Expendable                           +5 per four hits
  • Damage Threshold 1             -10 per hit point
  • Damage Threshold 2             -5 per hit point
  • Damage Threshold 3              0
  • Damage Threshold 4             +10 per hit point
  • Damage Threshold 5             +15 per hit point

Points formula for units
  • Massive units count each weapon seperately.
  • Regular units count a scondary weapon at half cost and a tertiary weapon at 1/3rd the cost
New or Revised Attacks
  • Stabilized                                 +10 for regular units, +10 for each massive unit weapon
  • Half AV versus AFV (I)          -25% from the attack points before tech upgrades
  • Half AV versus Infantry (A)     -15% from the attack points before tech upgrades
  • Hard Attack only (#)               -25% from the attack points before tech upgrades
  • Soft Attack only (*)                 -50% from the attack points before tech upgrades
  • Artillery Attacks                       AV x15, plus range points. Range cost for 200cm is 100. If off board, range cost is 150.
  • Divisable AV                            May divide the AV into as many attacks as player wishes, +25% of the attack points before tech upgrades
  • Restricted Ammo                    x25% per shot (so four shots is effectively unrestricted ammo)

Tech Upgrades
  • Electronic Warfare Suite         +15 per attack value (note that this is simply Cryonics Weapons in a less orky guise).
  • AEGIS system                        +40/+70/+100 Works as a shield dome, but only against smart missiles and indirect artillery attacks. Does NOT absorb attacks from friendly units, but does attack enemy units moving through it in the same way as a shield dome.
  • Shields                                   A unit can now have any number of shields, regardless of its hits.

Optional Rules
I also decided that I wanted artillery and missile rules which didn't seem like WWII on the game table. The following rules make both more flexible (and artillery more costly):

Smart Missiles
  • Smart missiles can be (*), (#) or regular. If they have a restricted target type, they gain the regular discount.
  • Smart missiles DO NOT have the "auto-linked" upgrade: they are strictly "fire and forget". However, smart missiles now IGNORE line of sight restrictions. If at least one friendly unit is within 30cm of the target and has a line of sight to it, it can spot for any smart-missile equipped unit or units, as long as it activates together with these firing units. Spotting in this fashion is considered to be an action.

  • - Any HQ unit can now spot for off-board artillery using its CV value.
  • - Any friendly unit can now spot for off-board artillery using the CV value of its activating HQ/CO unit, -1.
  • On-board artillery can fire at units outside their LOS if at least one friendly unit is within 30cm of the target and has a line of sight to it and activates together with the firing units.Spotting in this fashion is considered to be an action.
  • - Artillery targets can attempt Evasive Action against indirect fire artillery.
  • - Artillery is now costed out according to the following formula:
     Artillery Attacks AV x15, plus range points.
     Range cost for 200cm is 100.
     If off board, range cost is 150.

Building the big boys
So now that we have some basic rules, let's build us some ridiculously large combat vehicles!

(By the way, I suggest that you make a little unit card for each type of massive vehicle you control, instead of sticking all its information on one or two lines).

Cybertanks versus Titans
In my gaming universe, cybertanks use strictly human technology and are thus considered obsolete. Walkers, of all sizes, use neural feedback network and shield technology acquired from the Siliaz Hegemony and are thus much more effective, though also quite costly. Walkers are they only units which can have stabilization and their field of view is 180 degrees (not restricted, as in the regular rules). So why does humanity still use cybertanks? Because they are relatively easy to build and maintain on colony worlds, using the technology and resources commonly at hand. Plus, the buggers are as tough as old horseshoe nails.

Mark III Cybertank
Let's start off with Fred, a Mark III Cybertank.

Fred was built as a colonial defense unit and still fulfills that role quite adequately, though without shields, he's increasingly vulnerable to enemy titans. Fred's chassis is about 50 years old, though his brain has been repeatedly upgraded with top-of-the-line AI softwear. He's close enough to self-aware as to be no nevermind. His hobbies include football and chess. Fred has been known to play an entire battalion of infantry, simultaneously, at the later game.

Mark II Cybertank
This is Dave, a slightly smaller Mark II cybertank, also built as a colonial defence unit.

(You'll have to forgive Dave for being a little dusty. Apparently some mold is growing under his starboard missile launcher).

Dave currently workd for Baron Hisa Möder-Fokker and is shown here in the colors of the Baronial Guard. Mostly, Dave stays stored in the basement of the Fokkin Castle, waiting to be called out to repell any invasion of the baronial lands. In his spare time (of which he has plenty), Dave writes a "lonely hearts" advice blog which is syndicated across the Human Sphere.

Next up, Titans!


  1. Hi Thaddeus, some thought provoking stuff there, and great to see some good 'ole Ogres getting a run out!

    BTW, thanks for your posts on my Blog the other day - seems Blogspot ate them when I tried to publish them to the page concerned - so far no luck retrieving them - but don't worry, I definitely received them!

  2. Thanks! These are kit bashed 1/300 Mauss WWII German üiberheavy tanks.

  3. I agree on the Massive units being too easy to suppress - I'm considering floating exactly the same 'may only be suppressed by other Massive units' idea with my group. Would make them really usable again, IMO. Hadn't thought about the primary vs secondary weapons, but it's certainly an interesting idea as well...

    The rest looks a bit too much chrome for my tastes, but if people go lightly into Massives it might be worth visiting :)

    Also, the post is worth it just for the write ups on Fred & Dave!

  4. Just want to say....yours is a very nice gaming blog. Thanks for the ideas.