About Me

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My name is Gavin McClements. I am a wargamer and family man, living in Los Gatos, which is a suburb of San Jose, CA. Building terrain is one of my favorite aspects of the wargaming hobby - in fact, lately I've become more interested in making my battlefields "pop" than in actually playing.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

6mm Wargame Rulesets - What I like and what I want

I was in a discussion with a friend over what I was looking for in a 6mm wargame, or even more specific, what I thought MADE a good 6mm wargame. Here are some of my ramblings:

Gavin’s 3 Questions Regarding 6mm Sci-fi Miniature Wargames:
  1. What do I want in a 6mm Sci-Fi game?
  2. What do I think makes a perfect game at the level I am looking for?
  3. Why would I want to play my game instead of some of the other games I have experience with?

Gavin’s Background:
Much of my gaming experience is with the 28mm, typically in the Skirmish genre. However, as more and more smaller-scale miniatures began showing up on news sites such as Tabletop Gaming News (TGN) and The Miniatures Page (TMP), I became enamored with how much detail some of the figures could possess, and so I began my foray into games of a larger scale but using smaller scale miniatures. This was near the end of 2008 or so.

I quickly settled on 6mm, and in my search for a rule set to use, I came across “Epic: Armageddon.” There were a few competitor rules I looked at, but at the time, Epic suited all my wants.

What do I like so much about Epic?
Epic had a few things that I have since included in my definitions of a perfect game:
  • REGIMENTAL GAME (8-12 units): The size of the game feels just right. Having 8 to 12 units on the field, each anywhere from 5 to 20 models strong, was the regimental-level game I was longing for. It gave careful balance to “combined arms”, and including infantry, armor, and air support/artillery all worked well with each other.

  • ALTERNATING ACTIONS: The alternating activations was good as well. I cannot stand IGOUGO rules, so taking turns after each unit was activated helped the game feel fluid, and allowed nearly-instant reactions to opponent’s actions. I also really liked the Overwatch mechanic, as well as Retaining Initiative (which had a nice risk vs reward element: yes, you can double up on front-end actions, allowing for carefully coordinated assaults or firing for effect on a wounded-but-not-killed enemy unit, but it also increased the chance that a unit wouldn’t activate correctly, and if your surprise didn’t work, you might be outnumbered in activations near the end of the turn, letting the enemy act with impunity and without response.

  • EASE OF GAMEPLAY: I really liked the ease of game play as well. If Games Workshop does one thing well, it is writing pretty straightforward rules. The act of attacking is really quite simple: count up all the attacks coming from my unit, roll the dice. Any hits are saved against by the target unit; if there are multiple types of viable targets, allocate hits before rolling. Then all failed saves are removed, front to back. While there may be a case that requires the two players to think about how hits are allocated, etc, in general it is quick and efficient, and allowed players the tactical considerations of who to place up front, because location mattered.

So why didn’t I keep playing Epic?
Honestly, it isn’t so much that I stopped playing Epic as it is that I just haven’t gone back to it yet. I still feel it is one of the best, most elegant rulesets I have ever played. However, as I started collecting more and more models for my different armies, I started looking at them and wishing I could use this unit with that army, and my hunt for new armies revolved around unit types rather than tactical considerations…and so I began the hunt for a ruleset that allowed me to “Make My Own Army,” or even, in some cases, “Make My Own Units.”

I also really wanted just a tad more in my games. I wanted a rocket battery to feel just a little different than an anti tank missile, or to have a unit that had a cool defensive measure or little extra that might make it more unique than another, similar unit on the opposing side. A few extra special rules wouldn’t be too bad, and if done properly, could really add some extra flavor to the game.

As an aside, my gaming time and availability of viable opponents has dwindled to the point that I rarely get the chance to put lead on the table any more. This has much more to do with my lack of playing Epic than any other decision.

SEEDS OF WAR: Once I realized I wanted to “Make My Own (MMO)”, I stopped considering rulesets that had their own universe (“Seeds of War” by Dark Realm Miniatures, for example, no matter how good the ruleset was supposed to be) and started really examining the rules that let me MMO. There weren’t many.

FUTURE WAR COMMANDER: The first I bought was “Future War Commander.” When considering games that cater to the “collector”, ie the gamer who buys figures “just because” and then wants to use them all in a game, FWC is the current leader and has quite a following. I admit, I wasn’t thrilled by what I saw, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, so it gathered dust until Aron ran it one weekend for his birthday. I did, however, get a chance to play “Warmaster” with him, and this was my first experience with the “Command” system.

I hated it. I wanted to move my units as I saw fit, and have them fail to accomplish their shooting, or armor saves, or Morale Checks, but not just to do something! Epic had Activation Rolls, but if you failed the roll, the unit could still do something, just maybe not exactly what you wanted, or maybe it would just suffer a penalty as well as the blast marker. And more importantly, failing an activation roll didn’t end your turn. This goes back to my dislike of IGOUGO, but I just don’t fancy games that don’t allow me to marshal my forces how I want (in board game form, this is the “Battle Lore” system by Richard Borg – it’s just something I don’t enjoy).

The other small thing that bothered me about FWC was the stat lines of units. Often times, special abilities are represented by “#” or other symbols. I prefer a Notes section on my unit that has an entry there to remind me; nitpicky, I know, but there it is.

STRIKE LEGION: The next ruleset I found that let me MMO was “Strike Legion.” The more I read it, the more I saw potential in it. I felt that it was like “Battletech” – it had so many options, and picking and choosing what to use was half the fun. I even ran some games with friends, just to get the feel of it.

I really loved how the game seemed to encompass all the stuff I was looking for. Missiles and Rockets and Electronic Warfare were all really represented well. Field Guns looked and felt like they should, and offboard artillery and ortillery was quite a reality. However, the execution just fell a little flat in my opinion.

LACKING SHOOTING MECHANIC: For one thing, the shooting mechanic was anything but elegant. As mentioned before, in Epic, my unit of 4 tanks firing at your 4 tanks was a pretty straightforward affair. In SL, it wasn’t. I had to declare each of my tank’s targets, and then make separate rolls for each. Your tank 1 might have been hit once, tank 2 was hit twice, tank 3 was missed, and tank 4 was hit once. Not only was dice rolling not quick, but you had to accurately mark who got hit and with what.

In addition to this, SL added Hit Location, and differentiated between Hull and Turret, so now you have to denote that Tank 2 was hit once in the turret and once in the Hull (or what have you), and remind me when it came time to inflicting damage where it was that I hit. In a game that should be streamlined at the regimental level, this wouldn’t fly, and this is why I believe that SL is more of a battalion-sized game and not the large-scale combined arms regimental combat I want.

EXCESSIVE COMBAT TABLES: The other thing about SL was that it had tables to refer to in combat. Once I hit and rolled for damage, I had to see what I hit. I imagine that in time I could memorize the tables (two, since there are different locations for hull and turret-ish), but that isn’t the speed of play I am looking for. Combine this with unit cards for each unit, complete with hit points and hit locations and expendable munitions that need to be tracked, and it just slows play down.

STRIKE LEGION’S GOOD VARIETY: I do, however, really like the way SL uses different sizes of dice, and I do appreciate the different weapon types. Having an Armor value work against ballistic/gauss weapons, and Shields work against Lasers or energy weapons, was kind of cool. If the to-hit process was more streamlined, it could have been a winner. I’ll revisit this later.

DIRTSIDE II: I admit that this is pretty much my experience with rulesets at this scale. I have read, but not played, Dirtside II, but can’t stand the idea of chits for combat.

What else do I like?
Dice: As mentioned before, I like different types of dice. I like them representing troop quality and shooting values, I like them representing different weapon strengths, and I generally prefer anything to the bog-standard d6. I just don’t like the d6 as a randomizer, and the d20 is way too generalized. The d6, d8, and even d10s all can work in concert together, if done properly. I feel that SL got a lot of this right.

I DON’T like weapons that cannot damage a potential target. This could lead to something running rampant and without consequence. There are many ways to represent a horribly tough unit, such as incredible defenses, multiple wounds, etc, but weapon strength to armor strength tables (as seen in both “Warhammer 40K” and “Dropzone Commander”) have at least a few situations where something cannot hurt another unit. I think, in general, this should be avoided.

Bases: How a unit is based is important to me. Having a unit based for one game, which then does not work for another, pretty much defeats the purpose of having a generic game that works with everything. Epic did this really, really well: it stated that there are minimum measurements for basing, but that “almost anything goes”.

Tech Levels: I like the fact that not all armies are created the same. I like the concept of defining different technologies and assigning them to Tech Levels. I think that when building an army, taking the TL of the units should be a major consideration, and should affect cost of the units in general. I think Strike Legion did this pretty well, but his unit building computations got so insane that many of us tried to write a “Unit builder spreadsheet” and failed. I hear buzzers going off in my head at the thought of this, showing just how wrong this is!

TECHNOLOGICAL COST EFFCIENCIES: I also think SL did it right by allowing a unit at a higher level TL to buy a lower level tech item and get some savings from it. My TL 10 tank with TL 10 gear and an average crew should cost slightly more than your TL10 tank that is running TL8 gear and an average crew. It might be minimal, but I think it should exist. It could be even just that a d6 gauss weapon requires one tech level, while a d8 is slightly higher, and a d10 is even higher still. This is, in my opinion, one thing SL did really well. If only the author had the foresight to then print the TL of the unit on the unit card! This is such a major considering while building the unit, that it should be shown to the world during game play.

Close Combat: Who doesn’t like the idea of sword-wielding tanks?! This is one of those philosophical issues that is almost too scary to touch, but that I feel both “Epic” and “Dropzone Commander” got right:
  • Epic’s Firefight (FF) and Close Combat (CC) stats work really well, I feel…
  • And so does DZC’s restriction that Close Combat really only ever happens indoors, because seriously, if you have a working gun in your hand, would you really drop it and charge the enemy?

Again, this is a touchy subject, and making CC too hard to manage would really be eliminating or penalizing an “Aliens-type army” maybe too much.

So what do I wish I was playing?
Epic, with build your own rules. Seriously. Add a bit of meat from SL and you could have a perfect game. But how do you marry two differing game concepts:
  • The regimental fast-flow game and
  • The battalion-sized near-skirmish game?

Man, isn’t that the million dollar question?

Again, if SL had simplified its to-hit system, and then had a competent unit builder that didn’t require calculus, I’d be all over it.

How do I think it should run?
Let’s say I have a unit of 4 tanks, each with a burly gauss weapon and a smaller laser gun. Your 4 tanks have medium armor and medium shields. I roll my 8 attacks: 4 gauss and 4 lasers. This is probably done with one die per attack, which is based on my Quality (like “Tomorrow’s War”). Maybe in my case, I am veterans and am throwing d8’s. Three gauss and 2 lasers hit (maybe the formula is similar to SL: base range gives a to-hit, modified by what, armor, special defenses, your skill, terrain, Electronic Warfare?). I roll my 3 gauss versus your armor and get 1 hit, and roll my 2 lasers versus your shields, and get 2 hits. Now you assign 3 hits and be done with it.

Maybe these tanks are 2 wounds per, and one is knocked out right away. Maybe the extra wound, if it just “sits” there until the end of turn, is discarded like it is in FWC – not sure. I typically prefer higher defenses rather than multi-wound models, to ease record keeping, but certain circumstances like ‘War Machines’ in “Epic” might call for it.

What will I play in the future?
I’d play most anything that let me play with anything from my collection, and would really love something that let me build my own units. I think keeping a Force Organization in play is important, otherwise I could really take a 100% air force army and mob an unprepared enemy with it (even in Epic, taking 2 units of flyers versus someone with little to no Anti-Air is a train wreck waiting to happen). Maybe giving three or four doctrines to choose from, which defines how many of any given unit type you could take, wouldn’t be amiss…but that’s another hard call.

I wouldn’t play anything that made me roll to activate my units, “Warmaster-style.” I wouldn’t play an IGOUGO system, and in the vein of my first point, might buy the rules for (but not play) rules that wanted me to own proprietary models.

Why do I write all this? Do I have hope for the future of my own wargaming? Yea, I think so. I think I am desperately hoping that Polyversal is the next "big thing". Commercial games are important to me because they bring people together (just look at the Epic community over at Tactical Command and how massive and international it is) and can be easily shared and played with other people. If it isn't the "one" (and let's face it - many of us gamers suffer from the "looking for the next big thing" syndrome), then maybe I'll need to embrace FWC, or SL, regardless of their faults, or just get used to forever proxying in Epic. Or maybe someone else will bring out "the next big thing" and it'll be something I feel comfortable getting on. Or...I'll just be stuck daydreaming and not actually playing. Wow, what a sad waste that would be...and something I should really be conscious of and avoid!

I know this was a lot of free-form rambling, but I wanted to get this down while I had the creative juices going. I hope this helps, and I would be certainly willing to expand on any point I made here, or on any that I missed.

Gavin McClements,
February 2013.

[For completeness, I also posted this on TMP and TacCom]