Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Starmada Campaign Rules, Take 2

The last version of the campaign rules met with limited popularity during playtesting.  The primary criticisms were as follows:
  • Random appeals meant you could get really screwed for reinforcements just by chance.  Of the four total losses, each of which was followed by a reinforcements check by the loser, two of the reinforcements rolls came up 1s.  Likewise, tech was simply too unlikely to be useful, as were special appeals.  The arbitrary nature of special appeals rankled as well.
  • Overloaded flotillas were absolute bears to kill.
  • High-engine, low-cost striker carriers could launch every game and then evade enemy fire, meaning that guns were largely useless except for shooting down incoming ordinance (or against foes also using guns).  That strikers were recovered for free after the game added insult to injury.
  • The ability to field the same ships over and over seemed unrealistic.
  • The ability to capture only one system per game, and even then only half the time, meant that expansion would be unduly slow.
  • Scenarios felt somewhat contrived - the whole point of scenarios, as expressed in Starmada Core, was to give the game a little variety beyond "Last fleet standing."  In a campaign system, this is unnecessary - sometimes you will want to run to conserve your forces.  Basically, a campaign system does a better job of providing a context to a battle than a scenario could.
So, to address these concerns, we spent a good portion of last week drafting a new campaign system.  This one abandons the "Play a game with ships from the registries and it counts as a campaign turn for all players involved" approach, which had a nice asynchronity property (in that you didn't have to get the whole gang together to play a turn of the campaign).  However, the new model is significantly more 'realistic', drawing heavily on Master of Orion and other 4X games, and having a full economic model of the game universe.  We've removed scenarios and VP entirely, dropped flotillas back to a hard 40SU limit, added replacement costs for strikers and seekers, restricted maximum engines to 15, and added locality to all independent elements in the game.  We also have some draft rules for pirates, but they're still extra-super alpha, and are not included here (I'm not really happy with them yet, and not just because I'm playing pirates :P ).

And so, without further ado, I give you our Starmada Campaign Rules, V2.  It's not written up all pretty-like, but it'll do for a 'working notes' draft.

Kudos to Matt Britton, Tim Vaughan, and Jared Goerner for helping in development (we saw how well solo development worked out last time...).  Tim, Matt, and I ran a first playtest turn this last weekend, but Jared was out of town, so we've put it on hold until he gets back (because we really don't want to leave his empire in stasis and have it come back only to face a single, monolithic enemy empire, or to be marginalized on the borders of two much stronger warring states.  I think there'd be a lot of opportunity in such a situation, but hey, that's why I'm playing pirate).  I'll post a map here post-turn 1 after Jared's run his first turn.  I'm also sad to say that it seems unlikely that our other two pirate players, Mark and Alex, will be as able to play as they wished...  This is part of what I'm looking to fix in the upgraded pirate rules, but I'm still not sure how I'm going to do it.  Suggestions, internet?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thought for the Evening: Starmada as Ground Combat

Last night's game with the Searchlights really got me thinking about using Starmada to simulate ground combat.  There's been a previous attempt at this, converting OGRE to Starmada, but it was a little simplistic and was developed in the early days of the Admiralty Edition, before there were many supplements (whether this was good or bad is somewhat uncertain).  I've been having a BattleTech / giant stompy mech game with tanks itch recently, and I've been thinking about buying Wardogs, but I don't know that I really want to buy Wardogs if Starmada can do the same thing with a little conversion work.  So I think that's going to be my project in the near future, since the campaign rules are in a playtestable state (and thus are released into the wild to remain fairly static, leaving me free to create other stuff)...

Some preliminary notes:

I'm looking to make things armor-centric, whether that armor is tanks or mecha (I'm a tank guy myself, but hey, if mecha draws a larger playerbase, I'm not one to stop 'em).  Movement should probably be Basic Movement, and possibly alternating rather than pre-plotted, but pre-plot would work fine, too.  My thought is that most vehicles should be flotilla ships without normal SU caps (with hulled ships being reserved for big things - OGREs, superheavy tanks, titanic mechs, naval vessels, fortresses, and the like), but with some other restrictions...  I guess what I need to do is build 'templates' for what is legal and what isn't.  Something like the following:
Light armored vehicles: flotilla ships, max engines 6, one weapon of up to ## SU mounted in an ABCD turret, max armor 2.
Medium armored vehicles: flotilla, max engines 5, one weapon of up to ## SU mounted in an ABCD turret and a coaxial weapon of up to ## SU, also in an ABCD turret, max armor 3.
Heavy armored vehicles: flotilla, max engines 3, one weapon of up to ## SU in ABCD, one coax of up to ## SU in ABCD, up to two sponson weapons each of up to ## SU in AC and BD, respectively, max armor 4.

The purpose of these templates, naturally, is to create some degree of verisimilitude.  Land vehicle design is just different from naval ship design (which is the assumed basis for starship design).  Tanks covered in guns facing in all directions have been out of fashion since World War I, and G-arc tank destroyers haven't seen a whole lot of use since World War II.  I think the existence of templates might help facilitate a minimally-painful transition from normal ship design practices (read: as many range-15 G weapons as you can fit in your hull and CRAT limits) to some that are slightly more believable through the lens of modern armored warfare.

Mechs are going to be a little tougher, but probably arms should map to ABC and ABD.  I think shoulder-mounted weapons may be just A and just B...  GH and GI feel wrong, since they shouldn't be able to fire directly left and right.  Maybe just AB regardless of the shoulder mounted on.  Also considering mandating Overthrusters for the torso twists, or maybe just the Grumm Pivot ability (which would match the BT fluff, where the neurohelmets enable faster reaction times).

Finally, infantry is looking like fighters.  Slooow fighters and inexpensive fighters, but they do get to react, and you can carry, embark, and debark them (going to modify retrieval so that you can retrieve and then relaunch - doesn't make much sense otherwise).  Not planning on using marines, boarding, teleporters, or any of that...  likewise, I guess strikers and seekers could be used for guided missiles, but I'm not sure it's necessary.  I've also considered using them for airstrikes - you have a HQ unit near the rear of the map with strikers.  You call in an airstrike, which is launching the striker in-game, and then the enemy has a chance to shoot down the incoming aircraft before their weapons impact.  So that's a thought...  might also have to use seekers, but secretly designate a target hex instead of a target unit.  That makes sense with calling in coordinates.

This leads into artillery.  I really want to use a variant of the searchlight rules for spotting for artillery.  I want to have range 30 minimum-range artillery pieces where you basically need to have spotting units (going to need some "Indirect Fire" and "Can't fire while moving" traits for those, too), and I think that can be achieved with searchlights.  Terrain's going to effect this, too - that's the other tricky part of ground combat games, terrain.  Something to work out tomorrow / later today / in the near future.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Starmada Campaign: Week 0

The opening battles of the war for the Sakkara Sector were fought this evening, with the native Sayok (moi) defending their claim to the sector against the hive-minded Bedechnis (Jared), the time-traveling space Romans of the Mythic Legion (Tim), and the Royal Brittonic Navy (Matt).  The first game saw the Sayok allied with the Legions, as the carriers of both fleets were caught trapped against a black hole known as the Maw by the combined fleets of the Bedechnis and the RBN, who hid in the dust clouds accreted around the Maw.  The Legion was bolstered by unexpected reinforcements, as were the Bedechnis, while I had a poorly-chosen vendetta against a Bedechni cruiser known as Sajuk.  The RBN's subplot was Surprise Attack, giving them 2 turns to win the battle...  I suppose their intelligence network was responsible for the trap, perhaps.  While a group of Sayok raider frigates was able to capture one Brittonic vessel, both of our carriers were destroyed by enemy small craft, and we lost (and also failed both of our subplots, while Jared and Matt both achieved theirs).  This allowed Matt and Jared to extend their influence deeper into the Sector.  Tim failed his appeal for reinforcements, while I managed to procure a flight of lance frigates and a flight of independent fighters.  The Legion, however, took possession of the captured Brittonic vessel, as no Sayok vessels remaining on the field, precipitating a declaration of war against them as well.

In the second battle, the Battle of Dark Space (though the Bedechnis and the Legions have a different name for it - we named it for the sensor interference which greatly hindered our fighting), I allied with the RBN as the attacker on Patrol.  We'd never played Patrol before, which perhaps contributed to our poor tactics.  We should've hung back...  but the captains of the Sayok cruisers, hungry to avenge their fallen comrades, engaged somewhat more hastily than was optimal.  All four fleets rolled Extended Duty for their subplots (with odds of 1 in 1296...), leaving the Legion's capital ships nearly weaponless and inflicting light inconveniences on the other fleets.  The Legion flotillas arrayed themselves in one corner of the map, while a Bedechni flotilla attacked along the south, and the Bedechni missile carrier from the first game hung back and launched missiles.  The RBN ships remained behind the Sayok cruiser line and launched a huge wave of boarding pods...  but the Bedechni flotilla managed to cripple two of the Sayok cruisers (though it was destroyed in turn), and the rest of the enemy fleets managed to escape, scoring them many VP.  Jared and Tim were both promoted to Subsector Commander, while Matt was demoted to Battlegroup Commander, and I remained merely a commander (with Renown 2 after as many battles), and my fleet held together by duct tape and military aid (repairs) from the RBN in exchange for a non-aggression pact during our next game.  And no aid from the home front, either...  failed my reinforcements roll.  But hey, if they take my homeworld (which Jared and Tim are poised to do in two more wins - I had last pick of systems, and the corner industrial world was looking kind of meh), then I can play Eldar pirates like I really want to.  Likewise, if I hit Renown 0, the Sayok tribes may disband into leaderless raiders, prompting a similar transition to piratehood. Arrr.

So, the map:

Jared's green, I'm grey, Matt's red, and Tim's blue.  Neither of our pirate players was able to play today, but I'm hoping I might be able to score a win against one of them during the week so I can grab another system for much-needed repair output (probably that civilized world as a buffer against Tim).

Other things I learned:
  • Man, flotillas.  More forward firepower than a cruiser, faster than fighters, and more searchlights than you can shake a flaregun at.  Part of why I really wish I were playing Eldar; easy enough to get behind a flotilla with cloaked Eldar, and then you can open up on them from relative safety.  Especially annoying because my long-range guns are No Hull Damage, for a -1 penalty to shooting against flotillas.  Basically I need to build high-IMP weapons to deal with them.
  • I think we're going to see a lot of "Stand off and let the fighters do the talking", especially with the higher-CRAT games we've started playing.  This makes me sad, because my only carrier was destroyed in the Battle of the Maw, so now I'm stuck with fairly expensive independent fighters and mediocre long-range firepower (especially against Tim's Stealth fleet).  On the other hand, they're a lot better than my carrier fighters were, so meh.  I am also disappointed that I bought Extra Shield Damage, since nobody else is actually using capital ships or shields much (Jared's got screens, while most of Tim's stuff seems to have Shields 3, and Matt's running mostly Shields 1 from what I've seen).  Failed to read the metagame correctly, I guess.
  • Searchlights and localized dust clouds were actually really interesting, terrain wise, though I like planets better.  The localized dust clouds provided an area of cover where you had basically had to be in the cloud to shoot other things in the cloud - most of the battle took place there.  I guess it was kind of the equivalent of forest or town hexes in some of the older SPI games I've read, where you want to hold it because it's hard to shoot through.  Searchlights were interesting because it provided a decent simulation of sensors that weren't of infinite power.  It also prompted the notion of using flotillas as spotters; they get so many searchlights that you could build a flotilla of high speed, with a bunch of defensive specials and like one teleporter for a little ORAT so they're not free, and then buy them in huge numbers.  Then use them to light up enemies, since they have a ton of searchlights, so they'll make the range rolls eventually (or just run them up to within 10 of the enemy and have them auto-light for not very many points).  I might actually have to keep some flots designed like that around for that purpose.  I think it might be interesting to make searchlights kind of a standard rule - it does nicely cut down the long range factor (unless one side has many many more searchlights than the other, as happened to us).  Also interesting would be to add a modification where a ship that fires is automatically illuminated for the next turn's shooting phase (the old counter-battery fire trick).  
So yeah - crushing defeat.  I think things will get more interesting once someone else takes the center industrial world and one or more strong powers end up fighting over it, though I'm also not sure how much repair they're going to need - Tim and Jared have both been unable to use their full repair capacity either battle.  Guess we'll see next week.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Starmada: Campaign Begins

I finally finished hammering out a set of campaign rules that I'm reasonably satisfied with, available for download here.  We also have a map:

The letters in each system represent the type of the system's primary world; Industrial, Civilized, Mining, Farming, Penal, or Uninhabited.  Each player may choose a color, and the systems that each player holds will be updated to their color.

The goal is to start the campaign this coming Saturday.  Alex, Matt, Tim, Jared, Mark, and I are all confirmed players, and I'm pretty sure Ethan will play as well.

Let the fleetbuilding commence!

Edit / Update 20 May:
We've made a few rules updates by popular demand, and I think most of us have fleets now as well.  Ethan's out, but the rest of us are still good to play, so Saturday's looking promising.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Starmada, Week 3

So...  there were two gatherings for Starmada last week, but I wasn't able to make it to either of them (finals and whatnot).  Here's what I've heard through the grapevine:

Jared fielded a faceted-shields cloaking ship that got mauled by unexpected maneuvering, and a ship with a 1-ammo long-range area effect extra shield damage weapon that did a number on Matt in the opening round.
Matt tried a close-range fleet backed up by Tim's fighters, and did good damage, but got wiped out by enemy return fire.  Also in one game, Tim and Eric managed to find a defensible corner back in some asteroid fields and destroy all of Jared and Tim's small craft, after which Tim and Jared conceded.
Tim experimented with strikers, to great effect, in addition to fielding more 250-point independent Extra Hull Damage superfighters.
Alex began a reduction in his heavy weapons in favor of more medium weapons (a trend that Matt's also been following....  interesting), and rolled a ton of evens on damage from Matt's fire.
We had two new players: Eric and Matt II.  Don't know how they did, other than that Eric and Matt won in the Battle of the Asteroid Fields.

Now that finals are over (finally!), and summer is officially beginning, the constitution of the group's going to change a bit.  Matt and Alex are both leaving for the summer, but Tim, Jared, Ethan, and I are all staying here, and we're looking into campaign systems.  Ideally we'll be able to fit Alex and Matt into the campaign as well as perhaps less-frequent players.  Options that have been discussed include:

  • Simplest Campaign System - Sounds like a good time, and simple (and the resourcing mechanic is elegant).  Main problem is that the initiative system kind of pushes for "everyone around the table all at once"; slightly harder with distant / digital players.
  • Sovereign Stars - Very hexish...  Tim and Matt kind of want to use the campaign to generate a plot around which to run a Traveller campaign at a later date, so SovStars' usage of a nice, big hexmap fits in there.  It looks like victory might snowball, though, which would be bad, and that's a lot of hexes...  also, the fact that individual ships aren't preserved between games is saddening.
  • VBAM - Expensive and complicated, but really detailed.  The turns would work OK, since each player can take whatever actions he wants on his own realm, and then everybody syncs at Combat, but it takes a lot of turns to get anything done.  I don't think we're going to go with this one, but mention it for completeness.
  • Battlefleet Gothic's campaign rules - it would take a little adaptation, but I think this is pretty close to optimal.  It's got a nice map that could easily be converted to a hex grid for Traveller later, persistent ships, campaign turns only require two players present, weak snowballing (destroyed ships are 'regenerated' with low leaderships and no upgrades, systems held only provide repairs, rather than reinforcements, and ability to gain reinforcements grows pretty slowly), and Subplots look entertaining.  However, some conversion work would be necessary...  all of their refits, Leadership, flagships, crew skills, point values for Battles and Raids, scenario generation.  Might be a fun project, actually; expect to see some draft conversion rules up soonish.
I almost half want to try something like BattleTech's Operational Campaign system from the Tactical Handbook, but it's very 1v1 focused, and we have more players than that.  Still, the notions of the four pools (Combat, Logistics, Repair, and Reinforcements) between which you have to divide your points, and the flowchart-based structure both have potential.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Starmada, Week 2

We had six players for Starmada this last Saturday after Jared's Paranoia one-shot, but people (namely me) kind of wandered in and out, so none of the games actually had all six playing at once.  Here's the run-down:

Game 1: Matt vs. Jared's Star Control II and Homeworld ships and Tim's Mythic on The Trap.  Rolled up a huge pile of asteroid fields which kind of hemmed Matt in, and he had some bad luck for a close loss (if he'd downed one more ship, he'd've achieved victory, but his Catastrophic weapons were rolling terribly).

Game 2: Jared's SCII and HW and my Eldar vs. Tim's Mythic fighters, Matt's catastrophizers, and a couple of ships Ethan threw together (a 100-point broadside escort and a 400-point carrier) on Planetary Assault (homebrew scenario):

Planetary Assault

Attacker: Your objective is to inflict as much damage as possible to one of the enemy's colony worlds. CRAT Limit: 1500.

Defender: Your colony world is under attack!
CRAT Limit: 1800. However, the defender must spend at least 600 points to purchase 6 planet-side fortifications from the following list:

Type: Fighter Base (101)
Hull: 4 3 2 1
Engines 0
Shields: [TL0] 3 3 2 1
Special Equipment - Equipment Tech Level: 2
Carrier (50) : Armor Plating:
Point Defence:

Type: Beam Base (100)
Hull: 4 3 2 1
Engines 0
Shields: [TL0] 3 3 2 1
Weapons : 1:[V], 2:[V], 3:[V], 4:[V], 5:[V], 6:[]
Battery V: Particle Beam TL2, 1-3/4-6/7-9, 2/4+/2/1
Piercing +1
Special Equipment - Equipment Tech Level: 2
Fire Control : Armor Plating:
Anti-Fighter Batteries (5):

Type: Missile Base (100)
Hull: 4 3 2 1
Engines 0
Shields: [TL0] 3 3 2 1
Weapons : 1:[2V], 2:[2V], 3:[2V], 4:[2V], 5:[2V], 6:[V]
Battery V: ICBMs TL2, 1-6/7-12/13-18, 1/4+/3/1
Special Equipment - Equipment Tech Level: 2
Fire Control : Armor Plating:

First, a planet of size 1d3+1 is placed at the center of the map. Then, 2d3 moons are placed, each between two and four hexes from the planet (attacker and defender alternate placing moons). No two moons may be placed in adjacent hexes. The defender must then place one planetary base on each 'corner' of the hexagonal planet. He and the attacker then alternate placing ships. The defender's ships may be placed anywhere within 6 hexes of the planet, while the attacker's ships may be placed anywhere within 6 hexes of the edge of the map.

The defender scores victory points as normal. However, the attacker scores double victory points for destroyed planetary bases, in addition to standard victory points for destroying the defender's ships. Either side may claim victory when it has scored 800 VP.

Jared and I were defending, and everybody else was attacking.  We had three fighter bases and three missile bases - we used the fighter bases for interceptors for Tim's fighters, and the missile bases for long-range firepower.  They split their fleet into three groups by player; Ethan didn't pre-launch his fighters, and got mauled by a missile base, one of Jared's flotillas, and an Eldar cruiser.  Matt's spent a lot of firepower on one of Jared's ships, and then got toasted by a pile of strikers that Jared had launched and an Eldar torpedo flotilla.  Tim's fighters were probably a real threat, but I put up a minefield in front of them and then ran a flotilla behind them, and they took the bait (went for the flotilla rather than the planet's surface where there were more victory points).  So a resounding win for us, but I think the scenario is definitely winnable for the attacker - don't split forces, do prelaunch fighters, and bring faster ships.

Game 3: Alex and Tim vs. Matt and Ethan on Dreadnought Engagement (another homebrew):

Dreadnought Engagement

Some species have a tendency towards building the biggest, most expensive ships that they possibly can and then trying to field them in wartime – Death Stars, Planet Killers, Command Carriers, the Bismarck, and the like. When these massive ships engage, they become centerpieces of the fleet, and their destruction often leads to a rout. Each side has a combat rating limit of 1500 points; however, each fleet must have a single ship with CRAT between 751 and 800 points.

Setup: Setup as for a normal scenario, except as noted above.

Victory: Each side receives victory points as normal, and may declare victory when it has scored 750 VP. The only way to accomplish this, however, is to destroy the enemy dreadnought.

Tim fielded two flights of 350-point Defense 5 independent fighters, Alex had a dreadnought, Ethan had a carrier with a bunch of flights of strikers as well as several flights of  Defense 3 fighters, and Matt had a dreadnought with Cata weapons.  We rolled Nebula for the terrain, but it was decided that it would be several localized gas clouds rather than a full-map effect, so there were three nebula patches of sizes 4, 4, and 5.  These were largely avoided.  From what I hear (I had gone to bed by the time the game started), Ethan's fighters managed to keep Tim's pinned down in dogfights, his strikers did significant damage to Alex's dreadnought, and then Matt's catastrophic guns finished it off for a win for Ethan and Matt.  There were several critiques of the scenario in the reports I read, with the general consensus being that "In future, make it 2000 points, 800 have to be the Dreadnought, and you get double VP for destroying the Dreadnought" would be preferable.  So maybe we'll try that next weekend.

Other things of note:
Jared's ship designs were eerily similar to mine - we both brought out gun-flotillas, minelayers, and lots of speed.  I think he'll be an interesting opponent (and he's undefeated so far...).
Also, we've played the Trap twice, and defense has lost both times.  I think it's winnable, but nobody's managed it just yet.  So that might be on the agenda for next time.
There was some discussion of starting a proper campaign.  Options mentioned for system included Simplest Campaign System, VBAM, Sovereign Stars, and Battlefleet Gothic's system.  So we'll see if that pans out.

And the scoreboard for this week:
Alex: 0/0/1
Ethan: 1/0/1
Jared: 2/0/0
John: 1/0/0
Matt: 2/0/1
Tim: 1/0/2

And cumulative:
Alex: 1/1/4
Ethan: 1/0/1
Jared: 3/0/0
John: 4/1/1
Matt: 3/2/2
Tim: 2/2/3