Monday, March 24, 2014

The Martian Colonists: Infantry Squads

Let's take a closer look at the Martian Colonists Force Book.

Here is the entry for the core unit in any infantry Platoon: the Infantry Squad.

There are four Qualities of troops you can select in the Colonist list: Reserve, Regular, Veteran, and Elite.  Each has different Skill ratings (for shooting and melee) and Leadership.

  • Reserves are crappy troops, with a rating of 1 in Shooting Skill and Melee Skill.  They are, however, patriotic and well-motivated, and have Leadership of 4+.
  • Regular troops are, well, regular.  They have a 2 in Shooting and Melee Skill, and a Leadership of  4+.
  • Veteran troops are better trained or more experienced.  They have a 3 in Shooting a 2 in Melee Skill, and a Leadership of  4+.
  • Elite troops are extremely well-trained light infantry.  They have a 3 in Shooting a 3 in Melee Skill, and a Leadership of 3+.  They also have a better RoA in hand to hand. 

The cost of models and equipment for  each Quality can be found under the appropriate column.  You will notice that each Quality may have different types of equipment available to it.  Reserve troops lack the fancier options.  Veterans get more of most equipment, if they want it.  Elite troops have more portable equipment, but lack the vehicular options available to Veterans.  This is deliberate, designed to give each Quality a different feel on the gaming table.

Although this is a sci-fi game,  the Martian Colonists are more or less a historical force.  Their options are based, loosely and generically, on the common organization of interwar and WW2 armies.  (And indeed, the list is designed so you can use it to represent an existing WW2 collection.)

The basic purchase is 7 soldiers and a sergeant, equipped with rifles.  (Or a pistol for Sarge if you want it.)  This is a bit small for most historical squads, but the list is also designed to allow you to play with squads that are under-strength, have suffered casualties, and so forth.

You can then buy up to 12 more dudes to fill out your squad.  A 20 man squad would be pretty huge in historical terms, but maybe your Colony has lots of recruits or some weird organization.

There is then the option to replace 2 Soldiers with an LMG team.   This represents the squad weapon, such as an MG42 or a Bren gun.  (The terminology LMG is largely an abstraction: it might actually be an HMG used on the move.)  On the table top, an LMG will double a typical squad's Rate of Fire and greatly enhance its odds of Suppressing an enemy.  I assume most Squads will take this option, as it was historically the basis of most squad doctrine in WW2.

Veteran and Elite squads have the option to take two LMG teams.  This represents the greater number of weapons one might find in, for example, a Panzergrenadier squad.

(For those FoW players out there reading this: My 28mm squads are roughly equivalent to two Flames of War infantry bases.  A nekkid squad with no LMG is roughly equivalent to two Rifle bases. A squad with one LMG is roughly equivalent to two Rifle/MG bases.  A squad with two LMGs roughly equivalent to two MG bases.  Flames of War abstracts the weapons into a single rating.  In my game, with its larger scale, we can actually worry about who holds what weapon, how many there are, and where they are placed.)

Then we have some additional options.  Everybody except the poor Recruits can buy an SMG or a grenade launcher for one model.  The SMG was historically common in WW2 -- the BAR, the Sten gun, etc.

The grenade launcher is not meant to represent a modern, post-WW2 grenade launcher.  Rather, it is meant to represent the odd, and rather less effective equipment used in WW1, the interwar years, and a very few WW2 combatants.  (The French come to mind.)  It's funky, but not very good.

" Don't shoot till you see the glow of their eyes."
Australian troops at Tobruk, Wikipedia.
There is also an option to purchase a squad anti-tank weapon, either an AT Rifle or an AT rocket.  The AT rifle is for weapons like the Boys AT rifle.  It is probably the fluffier option for the Martian colonists.  The AT rocket is meant for things like a Bazooka or Panzerschrek. It's a bit advanced for the Colonies, but I know lots of WW2 collections will have them already.  So it's included.

Veteran and Elite squads may be better-equipped.  They have the option to buy two SMGs/grenade launchers and/or two AT-rifles/AT rockets.

If you want your squads to have heavier equipment, such as HMGs or AT-guns, you will need to purchase them out of the Support options, then Attach them to your squads.

Finally, the Veterans (only) have the option to purchase a Truck or a Half-Track.  This will let you represent forces such as Panzergrenadiers, American Armored Rifles, and suchlike.  The Half-Track can even have a cannon.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Really Big Models

I got my Warhammer 40k Imperial Knight Titan yesterday.  For those of you who haven't seen it, it is a really cool giant robot, about a foot tall.

This is one of several kits Games Workshop has produced lately that's really, really big, such as the Wraithknight, the Riptide, the Stormraven, and more.  Plastic technology has improved a lot in the last few years, making such kits possible.

However, it does present a game designer, even an amateur one like myself, with a dilemma: are they too big. A standard table is only 4' x 6'.  A 28mm game is already pretty constricted, even if it consists entirely of infantry figures.  Tanks or other vehicles are already looking pretty goofy-large, like some kind of balloon animal.

I notice this especially switching back and forth between 15mm and 28mm.  In 15mm, there is a sense of sweeping movement on the table.  It is common to flank behind terrain or make an indirect movement around an enemy unit.  In 28mm, I find my toys just move straight at the enemy, and none of the terrain seems big enough to matter.  Some of this is a visual illusion, brought on by the height of the model.  For example, the footprint on table of a FoW platoon and a 40k squad is probably about the same.  But the 40k model stands so much higher, it feels like it occupies more space.  Similarly, the footprint of a tank platoon in FoW is probably larger than the base of a 40k tank, but the 40k tank is much taller.

Put one of these jumbo-sized plastic models on the table, and the effect is even more amplified.  A 12" tall model is as tall as one quarter of the table width!  Terrain is largely meaningless, and movement relative to the size of model means you are probably moving it 12" or 24".  Other models are basically locked in a cage match with it.

So, let us assume that now that the technology exists for such large models, they are likely to be permanent parts of sci-fi/fantasy games (even if they are somewhat silly).  What are the best options for representing and playing with them?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Exploding Kind!

My local gaming group has been playing Savage Worlds lately.  I've been game mastering, using a nifty Romans meet the ice age world.  (You can see my campaign design here.)

I'd not previously played Savage Worlds to any great degree.  Game mechanically, it uses different-sized dice, with more skilled or capable characters getting a bigger die.  So a crappy creature might roll d4, a massive one d12.  Player characters and important NPCs always get a second, "wild" d6, rolling both and taking the highest.  So far, so simple.  The parameters of such a system would be easily predictable and limited, if left there.

However, Savage Worlds uses "exploding" dice.  If you roll the highest number on the die, you get to roll it again, and add them together. If you roll the maximum again, you do it again.  So the high end of die rolls is potentially infinite.

This has some interesting mathematical ramifications. In game play, typically results will remain in the single digits, providing "normal" results.  But every so often, there will be a super-dooper roll in the teens or even over twenty.  In practice, this means that every so often, a roll will simply exceed any normal defense.  We have a large player group, and players characters are more likely to make a super roll than regular characters.  So in aggregate, the group has a lot of super rolls.  I'm finding it hard to keep any single monster or NPC alive long enough to be interesting!  Instead, I tend to throw a lot of smaller opponents at the group. 

This isn't entirely unexpected or inappropriate -- Savage Worlds is a pulp system, in which the players should be able to perform sword-swirling feats of daring-do.

Anyway, as a mathematically tool for game design, I'm finding the exploding die interesting, even if I can see no use for it in my current wargame.