Sunday, June 29, 2014

First Impressions: Tabletop Simulator

After some consideration, I decided to get Tabletop Simulator during the Steam summer sale -- even though I find it a little unnerving that they put so much emphasis on the "feature" that you may flip the table tossing board and pieces around.

Tabletop Simulator is still a work in progress, being sold under the "early access" program. There are already several game modes for things like chess and poker, but honestly I think there is more usable software for those games. Users have been creating custom content (or adapting Vassal modules) for several boardgames, and there is the option of using it as a "sandbox": just a plain table where you can place a board and pieces as you wish, and move them around.

My expectation is to be able to set up and play wargaming scenarios in full 3D. In the best case, playing it with an Oculus Rift or similar device, it might get close to a real tabletop experience... the reality, however, is still a bit far from this. Only recently, a (very rough) measuring tool has been added to it, and there is no convenient way to measure movement distances or even mark movement paths. There is no support for moving formations of figures, and as far as I know the custom table has a fixed size -- so there is no way to set up some great 6'x8' tables for instance.

It is possible to import custom models or even make figurines that look like paper stand-ups, but the mechanisms are clunky and limited. For instance, the stand-ups have 1.5" round bases. If you want other sizes, you have to scale them down manually, a process that involves trial and error and is tiresome. Also, for some bizarre reason it seems that the game cannot import model files from local storage. You have to upload the models and images and then write their links in the program. [EDIT: you can use local URIs, i.e. file:///c|/somefile... but that will limit your ability to share savegames and mods with others.] I also would expect the game to come with an assortment of tokens, chits and markers but that is not the case.

As the program is still under development, I have hope that the missing features will be added with time. For now I might try to set up a spaceship combat game or something else with small number of models, grid-based movement and limited board size...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Brink of Battle: more Romans and Celts

Here are two more reports of Celts vs. Romans skirmish battles using Brink of Battle. This time I have played against an "automated" force. The enemy always has the Break but I still make the Strategy check to determine which side gets the bonus action tokens and initiative. Each turn, I must first allocate all my action tokens. Allocation of enemy action tokens follows these criteria, in order:

1) figures that are in danger of being eliminated. This includes broken figures, as they might leave the battlefield if they do not recover.
2) figures that might complete an objective.
3) figures closest to the enemy.

I am using Jay's suggestion for an automatic use of the Break by the "enemy":
"I don't know the rules, but as for the "break" action. Could you possibly have a number which you increment by 1 at each opportunity for a break. You could then roll a die, add this break number and if it hits or exceeds an amount you set for the scenario then a break occurs. This way there is some tension as to when the break occurs, and more and more likely as the turn goes on. You could also tweak that break limit, and possibly increment the number more when performing actions which are particularly harmful to the enemy so a break is more likely to occur."

Since Brink of Battle uses ten-sided dice, I am starting the "break counter" at 5 each round. Each time the break could be used, I roll a d10 and if it is equal to or lower than the "break counter," the break occurs. Otherwise, the "break counter" is increased by one.

The roman forces are the same as those in the previous battle report. The celt forces have had a small adjustment, by swapping one spearman with one archer and changing the archers' attribute from Gung Ho! to Marksman level 1. The detailed roster is presented at the end of this post.

First battle
In the first battle, I controlled the celts. The river in the map is fordable but counts as difficult terrain that does not provide concealment or cover.

The forces approach each other. My archers take position by the river banks. At the third turn, the romans enter the river and the archers fire at them, but do not cause any damage.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

City Patrol AAR

Following the release of Chain Reaction 3.1, I played a small game using the good old Patrol scenario... as usual, the text between brackets is additional commentary about the game and the rules, and may be safely ignored by those interested only in the narrative.

In this case, a city is being contested between the national military and a rebel paramilitary force. The military have established a foothold in a commercial neighborhood but they are concerned that the rebels might want to take it back, so they must keep patrols around the area.

For this game, a recon team has been assigned one of these patrols. They are sergeant Higgins (in the center), pvt. Jones (on the left) and pvt. Krantz. [Higgins is a Rep 5 star, armed with a shotgun. The others are Rep 4 grunts with submachine guns.] I played the game with 15mm miniatures halving all distances.

The team entered the board through the southeast section. Everything was silent, as the shops and offices were closed down due to the conflict. The streets were filled with debris and even some abandoned cars. [It is not possible to see the PEFs because they are behind buildings. The humvee provides cover, the overturned taxi provides cover and blocks line of sight.]

The soldiers advanced towards the closest building, wary of nearby sounds. At first they were relieved that the sound came from an empty soda can, pushed by the wind. However, moments later Krantz spotted an enemy soldier before he could hide behind a distant building. [The first PEF moved closer and resolved as nothing but nerves. The second PEF resolved as a single Rep 5 enemy soldier far away. I assumed that he used his allowed 2" movement before the In Sight test to hide back, as he was outnumbered.]

Worried about a possible ambush, the team rushed to take cover behind the abandoned humvee. Higgins ordered Krantz to keep watch, while he and Jones were to move forward, towards the turned taxi. [The team made a successful fast move to reach the humvee. Notice that the last PEF is behind the cab.]

Higgins and Jones moved around the cab and met another enemy soldier! [The last PEF resolved as another Rep 5 soldier. I rolled the new In Sight test and the soldier won. Since I was not sure if he would concentrate fire on one figure or fire at both, I randomly allocated his shots.]

The enemy soldier sprayed his submachine gun at the surprised soldiers. A bullet glanced Higgins' helmet and he instinctively dropped to the ground, while Jones was missed completely. As Jones hurried to take cover behind the taxi, Higgins fired his shotgun at an awkward angle (being on the ground.) While he missed the enemy soldier, this also made him go to the ground. A moment later, the enemy soldier stood up, faster than Higgins, and shot him again, a bullet grazing his arm [actually, he got an Obviously Dead result but i was saved by star power.]

The other enemy soldiers appeared from behind the building, surprising both Krantz and Jones. He opened fire with his submachine gun, wounding Jones who had just moved to hide from the other enemy. [I ran an In Sight test between the three "groups" of single soldiers, each counting as their own temporary leader. The enemy won and fired at Jones. As Krantz was far from Jones, he did not need to make a Crisis test.]

As the enemy soldier was exposed, Krantz fired at him and managed to take him down. Likewise, Higgins rose to a kneeling position and hit his opponent with his shotgun.

After this firefight, the team retrieved the wounded Jones, captured the two wounded enemy soldiers and completed the patrol mission without further incident. Back at the base, Jones' wounds were treated and he recovered well. This encounter with the enemy was evidence that the rebels were indeed sending scouts to probe the area.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alien Fight Night: First Impressions

Since I am having so much fun with 5150 Urban Renewal, I decided to buy the two supplements available for it, New Hope City PI and Alien Fight Night. As I really liked Red Sun Black Moon, I decided to try Alien Fight Night first.

Alien Fight Night is a stand-alone supplement to play boxing matches between humans and even aliens. It can be used on its own, for one-off fights or championships, and it can be combined with Urban Renewal in some ways. You can convert your 5150 character into a fighter, or make a character who is a manager of various fighters. You can add a boxing match as part of an encounter, as illustrated in this action report on the Two Hour Wargames blog.

To try the game, I built the ring template and fighter tokens. Then I picked up two low-ranking pre-generated fighters, among the dozens given in the book. Here is how the fight went, in a very shady club in Little Hisha, New Hope City:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we begin tonight's show with a match between two rising stars!" Despite his best attempts, the hishen announcer's rasp voice didn't do much to draw the spectators' attention. "On my right side, here comes everyone's favorite, Neby!" Some spectators, most of them hishen, roared as Neby stood up and removed his robe. He was taller than the average hishen, and also carried more muscle and fat. On the streets, he was known as Neby, the Burly Hishen.

"And on my right, I present you with Ken 'Lightning' Folstom," shouted the announcer. The crowd was a mix of applause, cheers and laughter. After some failed attempts at high tech theft and other shady jobs, Ken had fallen on hard times. A "friend" convinced him to start fighting in these boxing matches, and he was still trying to build a reputation.

Ken and Neby walked to the center of the ring, touched gloves and the announcer-turned-referee stepped back. Staring into the hishen's eyes, he felt his heart pumping and his muscles tingling. And then the fight was on.

Round 1
The two fighters started circling each other, throwing jabs and feinting to try to "read" each other. It became clear to Ken that the hishen was slower than him, and soon he found an opening, landing a few punches and moving closer. Neby covered up, blocking the punches and eventually clinched him. The referee pulled them apart and resumed the fight. Ken tried again to gain the advantage, but the hishen dodged his punches and hit back, and hard. Ken stepped back, trying to block the alien's strong hits but soon he was with his back against the ropes, then trapped into a corner and finally lying on he ground, with a swollen eye after taking a straight on the face.
Round 2
Ken didn't have much time to recover, and the new round began. Sensing the advantage, Neby started the round with a sequence of punches, causing a cut over Ken's left eye as he was again pushed against the ropes. By this time, his reactions were slow and he couldn't block the following jabs and straights. Cornered once more, he was knocked down and the referee ended the fight with a TKO for Neby.

The crowd cheered and Neby stood at the center of the ring, while the club staff carried Ken to the locker room.

This was a fun game session, and even though I had just read the rules, it was not difficult to learn. Like in Red Sun Black Moon, the fight is driven by a set of tables depending on the tactical situation. However, each one has its own "flavor," be it boxing or gladiatorial combat, reflected on the rules and tables.

This match was played with two "grunt" fighters, that is, running all their actions based on the game mechanics. As discussed in the book, when playing with a Star fighter, the player has to make some tactical decisions, involving the use of star power dice and bonus dice. Regardless, I like how both games build a narrative of the fight, to which the player can add details according to their imagination. I might run a new small tournament-based campaign using these rules.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Chain Reaction 3.1 Final Version!

By the end of May, Ed from Two Hour Wargames (THW) announced that he was about to release an update for the free Chain Reaction and Swordplay systems. Today Chain Reaction 3.1 Final Version has been released. This is the "introductory" game for people interested in THW products and also a very flexible toolbox that allows solo (or co-op) play of a variety of skirmish scenarios.

So, what has changed? For starters, the new book is even better organized than the previous one. The many examples and the "Stop!" boxes will probably be very helpful for newcomers.

The rules also saw some cleaning up and streamlining. Many different reactions have been grouped up into the Crisis and Recover tests. One could argue that the reaction tables still have conditional text for some specific situations. Still, this move makes the learning and look-up of reactions simpler. Oddly, the simple campaign present in the previous version has been removed.

Lastly, there is some blending of old and new ideas, as could be expected as the game systems evolve. For instance, the "hunker down" status has been added back. This, along with the "duck back" status can model different levels of suppression. The "in sight" test also looks like a mix of those found in 5150 Star Army (and older titles) and the one introduced in Chain Reaction Final Version (and also present in After the Horsemen, 5150 New Beginnings and Urban Renewal.)

Overall, I would expect this new version to be easier to learn and faster to play. I am thinking of adopting the new "in sight" rules for Star Army, and maybe even other titles that I own.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Jenkins' Story - Part 2

Here is another part of Jenkins' Story in New Hope City. This time I decided to set up a board and play with the aid of a tablet, instead of using the computer. It turns out that switching between reader, dice roller and note-taking apps works quite well. I also built a number of miniatures of the 5150 Paper Warriors set, as well as some PEF markers.

February 2220
At the beginning of the month, Jenkins receives a call from someone called Audrey. She sets up a meeting at a cheap hotel near the spaceport to talk about a job proposition [an involuntary encounter.]

Jenkins meets with Audrey and some "friend" of hers. It seems that they work at an industry in the spaceport area and need someone to guard them during a certain "transaction." The pay is not great but he takes the job. Audrey and her friend want him to guard a deal where they will be selling some drugs. They are afraid that Steve, their former "partner in crime" will try to interfere. Although Steve is a pharmacy clerk, he has contacts with gangers.

The deal takes place at a building in the spaceport, in the evening. This time, Viper comes along with Jenkins, so they stand in front of the building [the table setup was also very similar to the picture above.]

Time passes and there is no sign of gangers. A group of workers leaves a nearby building and walks down the street. Jenkins nods at them and they seem to tired to care. Late in the night, a single ganger comes around the block, pointing a weapon at them. Jenkins shoots first, knocking the ganger to the ground. Viper shoots and misses, and then the ganger shoots Jenkins in the chest [an Obviously Dead result, reduced only to Out of the Fight by a bad Star Power roll!] Viper shoots again, this time hitting the ganger in the head. Worried about the police sirens, she picks up Jenkins and carries him away. Across the street, a single worker going home late witnesses the firefight, hidden behind a dumpster...

Two days later, Jenkins is arrested due to an anonymous tip. He is charged for brandishing a weapon and for disturbing the peace, and this time is found guilty. He spends the next two months in jail [and his People skill is reduced by 2 points, ouch!] Despite all this mess, Viper remains loyal to him.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Urban Renewal: Jenkins' Story

I have finished reading 5150 Urban Renewal, the revised edition for Two Hour Wargames' 5150 New Beginnings. There is a bit of streamlining of the rules (for instance, no more stunned status or hit locations) but, more than that, there is a considerable overhaul of the campaign system.

In Urban Renewal you start a campaign with your Star alone. Recruiting grunts is a mission in itself, and sometimes you may actually want to do missions on your own. There is a defined goal: improve your character as much as you can before retiring, over a span of at most 10 years -- the campaign officially starts at January 2220 and time advances by months. This way, characters now will want to complete jobs mostly for a better chance to improve their Rep and skills, balancing risks and rewards.

To try out the campaign system I created the following character:

JERRY JENKINS (Star) - Sales Clerk (LWC) / Cash 2
REP 5 / FIT 4 / PEP 5 / SAV 3
Resilient, Greedy
Equipment: BA Pistol, Com-link
Home: Lower Polariston

Instead of making my Star as a bounty hunter, ganger or some other more "adventurous" type, I decided to go for one of the "ordinary joe" professions. Jenkins is a clerk at a holo-vid store, with plans of getting rich quickly. He has made some deals involving contraband and is looking for other profitable jobs. So let's get started:

January 2220:
Jenkins decides to look for others who might be interested to work with him. [This is my first encounter for the month and I set it up as a Chillin' encounter at a bar in Lower Polariston, during the evening.] On the way to the bar, he notices three women leaving an abandoned building. He recognizes their jackets: one of the local gangs. Jenkins walks into the bar, sits at the counter and looks around. There is just a bunch of old drunk men sitting around, no one he would want in a risky job. Not long after, the three ganger women enter the building. Eventually, Jenkins starts talking to them and gets on their good side [a successful People challenge.] He writes down Viper's comlink ID and tells her that he will call if a job comes up. When Jenkins leaves the bar, he is approached by a man in a trenchcoat, coming from an alley: a robbery. He draws his pistol when he sees the robber's machine pistol pointed at him. Shots are fired but no one is hit. While Jenkins runs away from the robber, police sirens can be heard in the distance.

Jenkins then starts looking for jobs [I spend another encounter to look for jobs, getting two offers.] He meets with a certain Mr. Rolf in a Green shop at the Financial district. Rolf is looking for someone who will "retrieve" something for him. The pay is good, so he accepts the job and gets the details. So now Jenkins must break into a restaurant in Middleton and steal some body parts (!) from there, no questions asked. The catch is that the restaurant owner's brother is a police sergeant who has the habit of protecting the place.

Jenkins contacts Viper about the job, but when he mentions the involvement of a police sergeant, she says that she will not take part in it. He decides to break into the restaurant late in the night, so he prepares and takes the train to Middleton. He moves down the street to the restaurant without drawing attention, forces the lock of a side door and enters. Once inside, he catches the sergeant off guard, causing him to snap fire and miss [thanks to the Resilient attribute and Star power.] Jenkins shoots back and also misses. In a rush of adrenaline, he jumps at the sergeant. Taken by surprise, the man fires again but Jenkins pushes his arm to the side and knocks him out with a well-placed pistol whip. He manages to find the body parts while hearing police sirens. As he runs down the street, two police cruisers appear and quickly he has two pistols and two shotguns pointed at him. Jenkins surrenders and is arrested, charged for attempted murder and stealing. Surprisingly, he manages to get bail until his judgment.

Nine days later, Jenkins is summoned to court. After a long and taxing trial, he is considered not guilty due to some technical issues! His lawyer boasts his own ability to defend him... but maybe someone in the shadows wanted to avoid exposing the whole issue with the body parts in the restaurant... [Some lucky rolls allowed this "not guilty" result while rolling 3 dice against 7 of the accusation, so I came up with this idea about some "shadowy" influences...]

This completes the first month of Jenkins' campaign. Characters that may re-appear later: Mr. Rolf, Jocelyn and Hannah (the other two gangers he met in the bar), Jonah (the police sergeant). Despite his failed mission, Viper has remained in the group.

My first impressions about the campaign system of 5150 Urban Renewal are very positive.  As I am still "learning my way" around the new campaign system, this took me a few hours to play. In a way, it reminds me of Larger Than Life, also from Two Hour Wargames: very narrative-driven, a real blend of RPG and wargame. I played this in the computer, as it made it faster to set up different boards than doing so on the table. I will continue Jenkins' campaign to see how far he goes.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Another test build for 2mm scale sci-fi paper miniatures

Today I spent some time trying to make a new set of paper miniatures at around 2-3mm scale. They will be used to play large sci-fi battles with games like Battalion Commander, Strike Legion and Future War Commander. This time, I went with 15mm square bases for infantry and 15x20mm bases for the tanks, glued to a 2mm thick sheet of "foamies." Each square in the grid shown in the picture is 5mm.

I created some simplified models for the tanks, so that they would be easier to build at such a small size. These test models were printed on a sheet of yellow paper; for the final models I would print the bases on green paper and the models on red or blue paper. At this reduced scale, this saves ink that would be lost at tiny details anyway.

Here are a couple of shots with three different types of tokens and figures that I have tried to produce to play these large battles. In the front, some top-down bases pasted on corrugated cardboard. Then there is the family of abstract tokens I devised with different profiles for each unit type (infantry, vehicles, mechs, flying units, command units and so on) and the new models in the back.

To be honest, although the mini tanks and individual soldiers look cool (to me at least) the top-down tokens are the most readable at a distance -- and at the same time they are the easiest to produce. On the other hand, I have to admit that my abstract tokens are the worse option among them...

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Trying some Future War Commander solo battles

I have been interested in trying Future War Commander (FWC), after reading reviews such as this one in Dropship Horizon and this in Life vs. Gaming. In gaming forums, it is also often recommended as a system for solo gaming. Currently I use 5150 Battalion Commander and Strike Legion for large-scale sci-fi battles. In my opinion both are great games, each with a different gameplay experience. Both also include rules for solo play. Still, I like to read and try other games, so I finally bought the PDF.

The rulebook for FWC is 142 pages long but the rules for large-scale battles actually take about 40 pages. The rest are scenarios, army lists and a system to play skirmish battles with a few changes to the rules. It does not include specific rules for solo play, but the game has some mechanics that work well for that purpose. These include the command system and the risk of "command blunders" that may ruin the best plans, and the possibility of hidden deployment and ambushes.

I have started playing some test games on a small dry-erase board, using forces of about 1000 points each, with tokens that I use for other large sci-fi battles and halving all distances. So far, I have tried a few simple encounters with different area terrain and obstacles on the field.

In my opinion, FWC is a bit more abstract than the other games I mentioned before. For instance, many units (including infantry) can attack infantry and armored vehicles equally well. This can be accepted if one considers that those units actually have different weapons systems or munitions for each target, that just are not explicitly modeled by the unit's profile. Likewise, reconnaissance and command units have simplified rules that model their roles, not necessarily simulate them.

There is little bookkeeping in FWC but some markers for suppressed units, as well as units that used opportunity fire can be very handy. The rules for movement, ranged fire (direct and indirect) and close assault are simple and consistent. The turn structure is essentially IGO-UGO but with the possibility of opportunity fire by the enemy. Given these features, the game moves at a good pace and I can imagine that good friendly games can be played with it.

For solo play, the command mechanics do add some welcome uncertainty. Other than that, one must define scenario and force objectives to help playing a "non-player enemy." An auxiliary decision system, such as the Enquiry Table or Mythic Game Master Emulator might be needed to help deciding when the enemy will call an air strike or artillery barrage, however, the command system is also helpful there.

Future War Commander seems to be a simple and consistent game. The command mechanics make the battles unpredictable and suitable for solo play. Although my test games have been fun with smallish 1000-point forces, I think that its abstractions will really pay when playing very large battles, where each battleforce has multiple battalions or even regiments.