BattleTech

April 1, 2019

 

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Catalyst Games released a new starter box set last month for the venerable BattleTech board game.  I remember looking at BattleTech back in high school (a loooooong time ago), but we never really got into it.  I think we may have thought it was too complicated.

The components of the new box set are fairly high quality.  The plastic mech models, especially, are very nice.  They’re high quality unicast model’s using new designs.  They really look the part of robust mechs striding the battlefield.  The set also comes with a number of cardboard stand ins, a pair of nice paper maps, some dice, a really well designed cardboard reference sheet and, of course, the rules.

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All the mech miniatures from the core box and the beginner set box, primered in sand color

So we gave the new BT box set a try a few weeks ago.  At first glance it seemed way more complicated than I like, and I wasn’t sure this was going to be the game for me.  However, the core rules, despite appearances, are actually fairly easy to work with.

It probably helps that the rules have been gradually refined over the last 30-ish years, so that they are basically consistent and they make sense.  This is unlike a certain British game company that shall go unnamed (Games Workshop 😉 ) that basically rewrites their rules sets every few years.

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Awesome and Battlemaster assault mechs painted up in camouflage pattern

Right now I’m still playing at what is considered Level 2 rules, which don’t include things like artillery, infantry, tanks, aircraft, as well as some of the more complicated situational rules.  However, the nice thing about BattleTech is that it’s designed so that you can layer additional complexity as you’re ready for it.

Nor have I tried my hand at building a custom mech yet, which is a huge part of the game.  I’ll give that a try once I have a better grasp on the important concepts of the game.

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The rest of the gang, painted up.

A friend also started a Savage Worlds BattleTech campaign.  It uses SW rules for the RPG bits, and BattleTech for the combat bits.  The hybrid rules have been working pretty well and the game has been a blast to play.

Cheers!

Megadungeon as Campaign World

June 30, 2019

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For the uninitiated, Necromunda is a hive world in the Warhammer 40K universe.  The planet is an industrial wasteland, covered in massive orbit-scraping hive spires.  Beneath these spires is the underhive, vast subterranean complexes, one layer built upon another across 10 millennia, creating what is, for all intents, a mega-dungeon.  Perhaps the most mega of all mega-dungeons.

Apocrypha Necromundus

But it’s more than just a mega-dungeon.  There are entire communities, cities even, within the underhive.  And the populace of the underhive rarely, if ever, has an opportunity to travel above to the upper spire levels.  In other words, it’s a mega-dungeon that people live in, full time.

For some time I’ve been mulling the idea of a mega-dungeon campaign where the mega-dungeon is the entire world.  The PCs never leave the dungeon, though there are sanctuaries, “towns” if you will, within the dungeon where the PCs can find respite, replenish supplies and sell loot.

Necromunda isn’t my only inspiration for this idea.  Originally I had the idea after reading the Metro series by Dmitry Glukhovsky, where the survivors of WWIII live in the metro stations beneath a nuke-blasted Moscow.  The network of stations and subterranean levels below Moscow are themselves a type of mega-dungeon.

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I’m thinking such a dungeon would have to be mapped at two scales.  The “big picture” map would be nodal, with points representing various adventure areas with lines, representing tunnels, connecting them (like the metro map above).  Some nodes would be towns, other long-abandoned areas, and others still monster infested.  Each node, or at least the important ones, would then be mapped at traditional 10’/square scale, though they could be limited to a single sheet of graph paper each (or I could use an online dungeon map generator to save time).

So, why does this vast complex exist?  My immediate thought is that it’s essentially a gigantic “vault” designed to preserve tens of thousands of people from some calamity on the surface of the planet.  People have been living below so long that history has morphed into myth and legend.  Conditions have deteriorated, and the population has declined over time, leaving vast empty sections (inhabited by monsters now, of course).  Some sections may have been sealed off for some reason (perhaps to contain a zombie plague outbreak), just waiting for the PCs to rediscover them.  Perhaps entire levels have been forgotten.

The PCs start in one of these sanctuaries, which has probably been their home for their entire lives.  They have a limited knowledge of the surrounding tunnels and nodes, so part of the campaign would involve mapping the dungeon’s nodal network, figuring out where different sanctuaries are, which factions control which areas, where special resources are located, and so on.  And another part of the campaign would be filling in the back story of what happened to the sanctuary, how things deteriorated so badly and, perhaps most importantly, how to leave (or, if it’s even safe to leave yet – “What happened to the all clear signal?”).

Cheers.

Starfinder Beginner Box

May 24, 2019

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So, this more in the way of an overview rather than a proper review.  I haven’t taken the time to thoroughly read the rules of the Starfinder Beginner Box (SFBB), and I’m not likely to.

So, the box still comes with a Heroes Handbook, Gamemaster’s Guide, dice, pawns and a flipmat.  As with the Pathfinder Beginner Box, the quality of the contents seems high.  The pawns are nice, though no longer novel as they were when the PFBB was released, and the flipmat has an excellent space dungeon/post-apocalyptic bunker map on one side, and 1-inch square grid on the other.

The major difference I noticed is that the SFBB includes 6 classes and, I think, 6 races.  Unfortunately, the classes only go to Level 4 (unlike the PFBB’s five levels), so it’s a little less useful for the “game in a box” thing (though, of course, it’s not meant to be).

I’m not terribly familiar with Starfinder’s mechanics…I didn’t play the game enough.  But from what I’ve seen flipping through the books it looks like the SFBB doesn’t stray too far from Starfinder core (unlike the changes made in the PFBB, some of which were adopted in Starfinder).  The organization and format are very similar to the books in the PFBB.

So, overall, the Starfinder Beginner Box doesn’t excite me like the PFBB did, but it’s still probably a good introduction to Starfinder.  The flipmat is excellent and I can see using it in other games.  The pawns likewise are nice quality and could be useful in other games.  But I know I’ll never play Starfinder again, beginner box or not.

Cheers.

Broken Links Repaired

March 17, 2019

All broken links in the downloads section have been repaired and should be working normally again.  I apologize for the inconvenience.  Apocalypse averted…for now.  Cheers!

cyberdino

Awwww….I was looking forward to the cyber-dino apocalypse.

 

Deadzone 2nd Edition

January 27, 2019

 

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Edit:  Deadzone 2.0 PDF rules available here for free.

I recently had a chance to play Mantic Game’s sci-fi skirmish game Deadzone (2nd edition).  It combines elements of board games and wargames to create a streamlined and intuitive system.

The two major innovations, as I see them, are the cube system and the dice pool mechanic for resolving conflicts.

A Deadzone board is divided into three inch spaces called “cubes” (because technically they’re 3D).  Deadzone terrain is designed to comport with these three inch cubes, creating “stacks.”  Distance and weapon range is tracked by counting cubes (as one would count spaces or squares in a board game) instead of measuring inches with a tape measure.  A model moving into a cube may be placed anywhere inside it, even slightly over the cube’s border (the center of the model determines which cube it actually occupies).

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Thanks to my buddy Randy for taking this picture.

The cube system resolves many of the problems I have with more traditional skirmish games like Necromunda and Kill Team.  It combines the certainty of grids or spaces with the fluidity of measuring inches on an open board, while also encouraging maneuvering for advantage.  It’s bloody genius, as far as I’m concerned.

Deadzone uses an opposed dice pool mechanic to resolve most conflicts.  A standard roll is three 8-sided dice; each dice rolling a certain target number is a “success.”  Your opponent does the same, and then total successes are compared (ties usually go to the defender).  Dice rolls of 8 “explode,” allowing you to roll another dice, and keep doing so as long as you keep rolling 8’s.  Modifiers add or subtract dice, rather than changing the target number.

For example, shooting an opposing model requires a test where you’re trying to roll equal to or higher than the model’s Shooting stat (which may be 3+, 4+, 5+, and so on).  Your opponent then makes the same test, but using their model’s Survive stat.  If the shooter is higher, or if the target model is completely in the open, then the attacker adds bonus dice to their roll (I learned the hard way that controlling the high ground is very important in Deadzone).  The number of successes generated are compared to determine the potential damage inflicted on the target.

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In close combat, the defender may choose to use their Fighting stat, thus having a chance to wound their assailant, or they may just use Survive to simply avoid the attack.  But otherwise the dicing mechanic is the same.

What I like about using a dice pool mechanic is instead of 3 or 4 separate dice rolls to resolve an attack, as in most Games Workshop games, everything is reduced to a single opposed dice roll, speeding up the game.  Also, the mechanic is just dead simple to remember.

One final note, Deadzone also uses an alternating activation sequence.  One player activates a model, then the other player activates a model, back and forth until all models have been activated.  I prefer alternating activations because it avoids the situation where one side can blow the other off the table before they can even move (like 8th edition WH40K), and it avoids many of the messy situations created by Kill Team’s hybrid IGOUGO/alternating shooting system.

On the down side, if you’re used to a weightier, crunchier wargame, then Deadzone may be a little too simplistic for your tastes.  Also, while Mantic’s models are decent, they still aren’t as nice as GW models.  And Mantic doesn’t include instructions for assembling the models, which can be frustrating if you don’t have any experience putting miniatures together.

However, on the whole I’m very impressed with Deadzone and prefer it slightly over Kill Team.  And while the rules may be simple (or even simplistic, depending on your point of view), I feel there’s enough complexity there for some nice tactical decision making.  And it would be relatively easy to house rule it to add more complexity, if that is what you prefer.  Deadzone is also an excellent gateway for first time wargamers.  Oh, and did I mention Deadzone is significantly less expensive than similar GW products?

Cheers!

Free Deadzone 2.0 PDF available here for download.

Deadbolt’s Derelict Corridors

December 27, 2018

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So, I picked up the Derelict Corridors bundle for Necromunda from Deathray Designs.  It provides 3D walls for the 2D zone-mortalis style boards that Necromunda uses.  I really like how they look, but they’ll look even better once they’re painted.

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Picked up the cool door set as well.

 

The walls are MDF, so you have to punch them out and glue them together.  All together it took me about 4-ish hours to do (working off-and-on).  It’s monotonous work, but worth it I think.  And it goes a bit faster if you take an assembly-line approach to putting it together.

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Hooks on the walls slide into slots on the column pieces.

There are other wall sets available, some of which come assembled and painted, but a couple of things I like about this set is that the pieces lock together, and Deathray designs has produced a bevy of accessories for the line.  You can add gantries and ladders to take your games 3D, if you want, for a true underhive experience.

Can’t wait to get it a try.  Cheers!

Kill Team Campaign

November 28, 2018

So, I started up strategic map-based Kill Team campaign at my FLGS.  This is sort of a trial run, since I’ve never run a campaign like this before.  Just six players (though one had to drop out unfortunately).

Kill Team Campaign Map - Short Victorious Campaign

Start of the campaign.

I favored a map-based campaign because I thought it would bring out the scheming and plotting in the players, and so far it seems to have worked.  I also modified the casualty table from the standard Kill Team campaign rules so that models might be captured by the other player, adding another layer of political maneuvering.  Kill Team battles are fought between players for control of individual hexes.

Each hex controlled by a player is worth 1 VP at the end of campaign turn 12.  The starport hex in the center is worth 3 VP, and each player has a secret victory hex worth 2 VP if they control it by the end of turn 12.

Players collect Supplies for the hexes they control, which are used to purchase additional kill team members, ransom captured models, or to trade with other players.  And, as you can see, there are also a number of hexes which provide special abilities either during the campaign turn or in individual kill team battles.

Following are some pics of the campaign map as the game unfolds:

Short Victorious Campaign - Start of Turn 3

Start of Turn 3

Short Victorious Campaign - Start of Turn 5

Start of Turn 5

We’ve finished 4 turns so far.  As you can see, Elijah seems to be running away with the game so far, but there’s still 8 more turns to play out.

Cheers!

Edit:  Here’s the campaign document for those who are interested:  Kill Team Campaign

Spear vs. Sword

October 26, 2018

 

This is an interesting video by a fellow named Lindybeige (Lindy Beige, I guess?) regarding which weapon was better in a medieval fight: the spear or the sword.

It gives some credence to Chainmail’s man-to-man combat tables, particularly the part where longer weapons strike before shorter weapons in the first round of melee, though after the first round shorter weapons then strike first.  If you can get inside a spearman’s reach, that spearman is probably dead.

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At any rate, he has a number of historical and military related videos, many of which answer questions that may be of interest to RPGers.  And I find them to be fairly entertaining, to boot.  Hope you enjoy the video as much as I did.

Cheers!

Kill Team

September 17, 2018

 

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So, Games Workshop released a new version of WH40K Kill Team about a month ago (give or take).  For the uninitiated, Kill Team basically uses Warhammer 40K 8th Edition rules (with a few modifications) to fight smaller skirmish battles instead of large battles.  Battles use between 3 and 20 models per side, and take about an hour or so to complete (once you’re familiar with the rules).  If you’re curious about Warhammer 40K, or wargaming in general, Kill Team can be a relatively inexpensive way to explore the hobby.

Earlier this year I’d gotten into Necromunda, which is another skirmish game published by Games Workshop.  Overall I liked the game, especially the premise and fluff behind it, but found the rules to be rather fiddly and, at times, downright grating.  My hope for Kill Team was that it would be simpler, cleaner rule set to work with.  And in most respects, it is.

Shooting combat in particular has been vastly simplified, at least compared to Necromunda.  Instead of having to subjectively judge whether a model has partial cover or full cover, Kill Team uses obscurement:  if any part of a model’s body is obscured by terrain, the attack has a -1 to hit.  That’s it.  Likewise, instead of Necromunda’s numerous range modifiers varying by weapon, Kill Team just applies a -1 to-hit penalty for any attack between 1/2 and the weapon’s maximum range.  Clean, elegant, objective and simple.  I love the shooting rules.

Kill Team 2018a

However (you knew it was coming), other parts of the rules are far more fiddly.  Particularly dealing with movement, close combat and firing pistols in close combat.  Kill Team uses a hybrid of IGOUGO mechanics (for movement), and alternating activations (for combat).  It also uses measurement of inches to regulate movement (like a traditional wargame).  And it is the combination of these factors that I think causes problems for me.

Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

  1. Can that model slip around two models in close combat without coming within 1″ of them, or going over the edge of the board?  Maybe, but measuring it out with rulers can be a pain in the ass.
  2. If you charge, but fail to roll high enough to reach your target, you can still move towards your target, but it also still counts as a failed charge.  This can affect the order in which close combat is resolved if that model is then in turn successfully charged (something I got wrong in a recent game, much to my chagrin).
  3. Pistols are the only ranged weapons that can be fired at models less than 1″ away (i.e. in close combat), but not on a turn in which they charged or were charged.  Again, a fiddly little distinction rule tacked on, required because of the hybrid movement/alternating action economy of the game, and a rule that causes considerable confusion.
  4. A model in close combat can choose to Fall Back (i.e. move out of close combat).  But only if it began its movement phase within 1″ of an enemy model.  That’s another way of saying that a model can’t Fall Back on the turn it was charged, a rule that is required so that a model that was charged cannot then fall back and shoot its charger in the same turn (again, because of Kill Team’s hybrid action economy).  But what if the model started its turn in close combat, and was then charged by a different model?  Can it still Fall Back?  Turns out you can’t, but I had to look it up, because the whole sequence of events is not intuitive, or well written.
  5. If your model is charged, you can choose to Overwatch.  However, all other shooting rules apply, such as line-of-sight, whether the overwatching model did a regular move, advance move or charge, the weapon it is equipped with, etc.  Yet more side rules to keep track of, and could have been vastly simplified without breaking the game by just saying models always get to Overwatch, unless they’re already locked in close combat.
  6. Alternatively, a charged model can react to a charge by Retreating.  But if that model is charged a second time in the same turn, it can’t retreat a second time.  Also, if the model already moved in the turn, it cannot Retreat.  More fiddly side rules.
  7. It also doesn’t help that rules for the same concept are sometimes spread over two or three different pages.

I don’t think I’m the only person having problems remembering all these “side-case” rules.  Read any Kill Team forum and questions regarding the proper sequence of movement and close combat are, by far, the most common.

Kill Team 2018d

I wish Kill Team used a more regulated system of movement.  In other words, a grid, hexes or at least some form of zone-based movement (similar to Deadzone or Deathwatch Overkill).  Kill Team is already firmly wedded to a literal game board, so it wouldn’t have been much trouble to print a grid or hexes on top of it.

With a grid (or hexes), you don’t have to worry about whether your model’s base is going over the edge of the board, or whether it will cross the base of another model, or whether you’re within 1″ of an enemy model.  The grid handles all of that for you (and so much more)!

Combining grid-based movement (or something like it) with full alternating activations (like Necromunda) instead of WHO40K’s IGOUGO mechanics would eliminate the need for most of the fiddly side-case rules, which cause the most confusion.  And not having to spend mental processing power on tracking lots of little annoying detail rules leaves more processing power for actually playing (and enjoying) the game.  It would also make the game more accessible to new players, making Kill Team a gateway to the wider world of miniatures wargaming (a good thing for GW, and the hobby as a whole).

One final thought/suggestion:  Kill Team uses Tactics, which are similar to WH40K’s Strategems.  Players spend Command Points (CPs) on tactics/strategems to gain temporary bonuses or advantages.  One nice improvement is that Kill Team allocates CPs on a turn-by-turn basis, as opposed to WH40K’s approach of dumping all your CPs on you at start of the game.

Kill Team 2018c

However, there are simply too damn many tactics to keep track of:  there are 6 general tactics any player can use; each faction has 10 to 12 tactics; kill team specialist models have their own tactics (up to 4 specialists on a team, including the team leader); specific kill zones have special tactics; and some missions have their own tactics, as well.  With so many tactics to keep track of, it’s very easy to forget to use them at the right moments (or at all), especially if you’re already trying to keep a bunch of other rules straight in your head.

It would have been great if Kill Team had used a card-based mechanic instead of Command Points.  Each player builds a Tactics Deck of roughly 12 cards, drawing 1 or 2 of them every turn to create a hand, and then playing them when needed.  Faster, cleaner game play, more opportunities for strategy in designing a deck (and building a kill team around the deck, or vice versa), you only need to worry about the tactics in your deck, and it creates interesting fun-hard choices during the game (“I only have 2 of this tactic in my deck – do I use it now, or wait and hope a better opportunity presents itself next turn?”).

Okay, so overall I like Kill Team (I know it doesn’t sound like it, but I really do).  However, the fiddly bits are starting to wear on me some.  I feel like GW missed (another) opportunity with this game.  I wonder if the design team felt they needed to adhere closely to the game’s WH40K roots, so they weren’t willing to go too far afield.  It’s hard to argue against the game’s success so far, but I think just a few more flourishes could have made Kill Team a classic for the ages (like HeroQuest or Necromunda), rather than just another good game people will play only as long as GW supports it.

Still, if you’re already an experienced wargamer, then most of the things that grate on me will probably be old hat for you, so no worries.  And if you’re new to wargaming but thinking of giving it a try, then Kill Team is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to get into the hobby, and the rules are cleaner and simpler than most I’ve read (despite my issues with them).

Thanks for reading.  Cheers!

Starfinder Beginner Box

August 5, 2018

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So, this might be old news to some of you already, but Paizo is going to release a Beginner Box for Starfinder sometime next year.

Starfinder was sort of a fizzle for our group.  We played it for a bit, but it didn’t really spark much interest for us.  None-the-less, I’ll likely pick up the Beginner Box version just to see what’s in it and how it differs from the core rules.  Plus it’ll have mats and pawns, just like the PFBB.

Cheers!


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