Archive for the Boardgames Category

Goodbye Vectors, hello April fools!

Posted in Boardgames, Films and TV, Intercept, Rules, Science fiction, Vector movement on April 1, 2013 by Mr Backman

I have recently come to the conclusion that not many people find Vector movement to be neccessary or even preferrable for a space combat system. Less and less people read actual Science Fiction, ie something not based on films, games or comics, so it gets harder and harder to sell the idea that vector movement is how spaceships move and they should therefore like it.

So, today I have decided to go with the flow and embrace the more cinematic style of space combat. Battles from SciFi universes such as Star Wars and Star Trek could run battles using the Intercept rules with double blind hidden movement, fully deterministic, logarithmic values etc without foregoing their popular cinematic movement style.

What then IS a proper cinematic movement system? I have decided to break down the two most popular settings, Star wars and Star Trek and see how we could emulate that in our game:

Star Trek

I have complained about the various scientific inaccuracies of Star Trek but failed to mention its strengths; Star Trek shows us a positive and humanistic view of the future. Enterprise and its brave crew aren’t on a mission to subjugate planets and aliens, they are there to explore and help and always keeping in mind the prime directive, never interfere destructively. Star Trek also gave us the female perspective with Lt Uhura as a near equal on the bridge yet still able to express her female side with her short hemlines and sensuality. Star Trek also stress how important emotions are to us humans, always trumping cold logic. Kirk wins by persevering over staggering odds despite Spocks logic telling him his efforts are futile. We can learn something from this as politics is often too much ruled by logic and hard facts ignoring the very thing that makes us unique in the world; our emtions.

Star Trek ships use subspace warpdrives to quickly move from system to system. There are cases when they have battled during warp but this is too different to regular combat and will be covered in a future post. Star Trek ships always move with the nose in their forward direction. Some kind of drag seems to be in effect as ships with damaged impulse drives tend to slow down and ultimately stop. Top speed vary little between capital ships as is eveident from their inability to outrun each other. The Wrath of Kahn end battle has Kirk using thick clouds of a Nebula to turn the tides on Kahn instead of merely outrun him. The ability to turn seem more or less the same, regardless of speed and ship size.

Star Wars

I have often critizesed Star Wars for being a fantasy story disguised as Science Fiction. This may or may not be true as all Science Fiction is really nothing but some other literary genre in disguise (Blade runner is crime fiction, Barbarella and Zardoz is soft-porn etc). What Star Wars did to Science Fiction is to put religion as center stage. Many know me as a fervent atheist but what is atheism exactly, if nothing but a different faith? All humans need to believe in something and to hold something higher than himself, to serve and strive for. Star Wars also show us that not everything can be settled by a majority vote; there are issues and questions that must be handled by wise and spiritual elites, far better at judging changes in tradition and culture. Jedi knights show us a solution to the problems facing todays democracies; the lack of spirituality and disregard for tradition.

Star Wars ship jump between solar systems very much like the Traveller jump drives but no combat seems to occur while in jump space. Star Wars ship seems to have vastly different top speeds depending on size where smaller ships outrun bigger ones. Star Wars ships turn slower the faster they go as is evident if one analyze the dogfights in Star Wars Episove IV.

Star Trek cinematic movement rules

Use as much of the Deterministic optional rules as possible to get the feeling of Kirk and Klingon in a battle of the minds. It is especially important to use the deterministic ruls of Initiative where the Initiative goes to the ship which ‘skipped’ more steps, see the Deterministic combat rules for details on this.

Ships should note their speed and can move to any square in their forward arc. Turning is done anywhere during movement.

All ships can turn 4 steps each turn regardless of size, -1 step if Hull or Crew has Light damage, -3 if Hull or Crew has Severe damage. No turning if Hull or Crew has Critical damage.

Ships can increase or decrease speed by Acc, top speed is 6 regardless of Size, Acc etc. Ships lacking thrust reduce speed by 1 each turn until stopped.

Star Wars cinematic movement rules

Do not use the deterministic rules as Star Wars portray battles as individual skill rolls. Give your hero characters lots of skill bonus.

Ships should note their speed and can move to any square in their forward arc. Turning is done anywhere during movement.

Ships roll Pilot tasks vs Size as usual noting the steps of turning. Reduce turning steps by one for each full multiple of Acc in speed. Ships moving at top speed cannot turn at all.

Ships can increase or decrease speed by Acc, top speed is Acc * 4. Ships lacking thrust reduce speed by 1 each turn until stopped.

Well, that is all folks, get out and enjoy this beautiful April fools day!

Large counters and maps

Posted in Intercept, Rules, Vector movement on October 9, 2010 by Mr Backman

Why has there been no updates you ask? Well I’ve been busy working mostly but I have also spent some time preparing counters for the game.

Large scale maps and counters

When a ship has been spotted in Intercept one can keep playing on the small maps, drawing with pencils as usual but one could also put all the spotted ships onto a larger map with real counters and do the fight there. As the counters depict the position and vector on the map you still get the same feel for how the ships move as on the smaller map. The larger map is split into 9 separate pages to print out, making a 3 x 3 sheet larger map. Each square on the map as well as the counters are 15 mm wide. The map download contains both black space with white lines (better looking) and white space with black lines (saves on toner and ink).

Each ship or missile volley is represented by three counters, Present, Past and Last. One can get away with using only two counters per ship but then you wouldn’t be able to see how much a ship has accelerated by the counters alone and I believe very strongly that as much information as possible should be shown on the map itself

Ship and missile counters; Present, Past and Last

Present represents where your ship is located but also in what direction it faces. It depicts a solid ship or missile volley. The counters are double-sided so one can show that a ship is rolled by flipping its counters over. The Present counter is moved by gravity based on the Past counters position relative to the planet.

Past represents your ship’s position and facing in the last turn. It depicts an outline of a ship or missile volley. The position of the Past counter vs the planet determines how the Present counter will be moved by gravity.

Last represents your ship’s position and facing two turns ago. It depicts a dashed outline of a ship or missile volley.

Last, Past and Present counters moving north

Movement procedure

Movement in Intercept is done in two stages; drift and thrust. First we drift all ships and missile volleys and this can be done in any order as there are no choices to be made. They blindly follow the laws laid out by Mr Isaac Newton. The next step is done in reverse Initiative order with the worst Initiative moving first before the second worst Initiative, and so on until all ships have moved. Missile volleys are then moved but the order which this is done doesn’t matter as missiles cannot attack missiles.

Drift is performed by moving the Last counter to the Past, moving the Past counter to the Present and then finally repeating the Last to Past move again for the Present. If done right the three counters will lie along a line with Past at its center. The final step of the Drift phase is to adjust for gravity. If the Past counter is inside the central planet’s (if any) gravity field note what arc it lies in visavi the planet. Move the Present one square in the same direction, be careful to keep the facing. Do the same for all ships and all missile volleys and then the Drift phase is over.

Thrust is performed in reverse Initiative with lowest Initiative going first. Each ship may turn up to its turn limit and then thrust in the new direction. Rolling the ship costs 4 turn and is shown by flipping the counter over to its Rolled side. Optionally, a ship can turn after thrust but all turns and thrust will then cost double.

Making your own counters

You can download the countersheet here and print it out. The shipcounters with Rolled printed on them should be on the flip side of each ship counter. Missiles don’t roll so they have no flip side artwork. I printed them out on regular paper and the glued them onto cardboard, one can also buy 15 mm octagonal plastic pieces from here and glue the paper counters on, which makes for nice and sturdy counters. I’ll post pictures the plastic ones when I am ready with them. Each ship comes with four volleys of missiles with roman numerals to separate them. You can download the 9 mapsheets here (both the black and the white versions are included) to print out.

In space, nobody can hear you scream – except yourself, really loud, when you scream inside your helmet, and everyone else on your radio channel.

Gravity in boardgames

Posted in Boardgames, Design system, Intercept, Other vector movemet systems, Scenarios on May 13, 2010 by Mr Backman

 

Introduction

Space combat games are typically played on black hexgrids with no terrain features at all. Some games add asteroid fields, planets, nebulas, electric storms etc and some even try to incorporate the gravity field around planets. This is at least something we know, real planets do have gravity fields around them and climbing up the gravity well takes serious effort; just look at how big the Saturn V needed to be in order to send three guys to the moon and back.

What can we say about gravity then? Well, it pulls you back toward planets, a ship can remain indefinitely in orbit without thrusting, the higher above the planet a ship orbits the longer it takes; 1.5 hours in low orbit, 24 hours in Clarke orbit and a whole month per lap when you are as far away as the moon. We also know that if a ship has enough speed it can escape the gravity of a planet, this speed is called escape velocity for obvious reasons. Orbits don’t have to be circular either, they can be elliptical with one part getting real close to the planet and the other part taking it back further out, these orbits are also stable and require no thrust to maintain.

Prior examples

The first boardgame I came across that used vector movement was also the first that tried to depict gravity in a sensible manner, that game was Mayday. Mayday borrowed its gravity rules from Triplanetary and the mechanics where simple: If your vector, including its endpoint but excluding its startpoint, intersected one or more hex adjacent to a planet its future position would be affected. Another game with gravity rules was a game called Orbit war that was published in the Space gamer and then became a full blown boardgame.

Intercept version

In Intercept we want to do more than just being in orbit or not. Having several stable orbits with different periods allow us to model low tech orbital warfare with limited endurance fission/fusion rockets and spotting limited by the horizon. We can do elliptical orbits but that is something that just happen to work, free chrome one could say.

How do you do gravity in Intercept then? If your ship is inside a planet’s gravity well (6 squares for Earth) check what arc of the
planet you are in and adjust your drift in the direction of your current position towards the planet. Yes, gravity pull is based on the
position of your ship versus the planet but applied on the drift of your ship. If your ship is on the planet itself you do not adjust for
gravity (what direction would that be?).

That is all folks; if the ship is inside the gravity well but not on the planet you note the direction towards the planet and move your drift in that direction.

Scenario: Fission duel

This is a simple scenario with two equal ships battling it out in orbit above a planet. the ships start in the same orbit on opposite sides of the planet knowing where the opponent is but they cannot track him because the planet blocks LOS. The ships are 1G fission thrusters with 8 turns of thrust endurance and they are armed with a single small missile turret. You must carefully maneuver your ship close enough for your missiles 2G range single turn range. The ship has a crew of two; 1 pilot and 1 gunner/sensor op, there is no repair crew so there can be no repairs. Use the orbit from the image, ship A starts at x=0, y=-1, ship B starts at x=0, y=1 with the drift positions as shown. As I said earlier, this scenario is especially suited for deterministic play.

Gentlemen, start your fission drives, let the duel commence!

Major victory: Your opponent is a mission kill (incapable of firing and incapable of maneuvering) and you manage to land on the planet.

Minor victory: Your opponent is a mission kill and you are not.

Draw: Both ships incapable of maneuvering  and in such orbits that they will never get within 2G of a missile shot.

Make your own TL 8 Fission thruster equipped ships, equal or custom designed by each player. 100 MCr each is my suggestion for price.

Intercept rules

Posted in Boardgames, Intercept, Rules, Vector movement on April 2, 2010 by Mr Backman

I finally gotten around to posting my homebrew spacecombat system Intercept. I have been a Traveller gamemaster since around 1980 or so and as my campaigns always have player owned ships there has been quite a lot of space battles. Originally we used the boardgame Mayday for space combat but when the High Guard rules came out we switched to that, mostly for its more detailed ship design system. When GDW released Striker, a wonderful miniature ground combat system with a highly detailed design system for tanks etc, I decided to do my own design system with more depth than High Guard, more along the lines of Striker. High guard based their designs on dTons and Energy Points and but my design system would be built around cubic metres, metric tons, Megawatts and SI units, similar to Striker. I had my own tech progression and added semi-realistic fusion thrusters, semi-realistic sensors, stealth, hydroponic lifesupport, got rid of the silly plasma and fusion weaponry (these may work in an atmosphere but sure as hell not in space) etc etc. It grew over the years to incorporate aircraft, cars, robots, helicopters, submarines, motorbikes, missiles, grav belts etc and eventually became unwieldy, buggy and really hard to maintain.

In 2009 I started fiddling with a new system from scratch, new rules and new design system specifically made to be simpler to use and easier to play (my daughters use it in our Traveller campaign, aged 11 and 15, so it cannot be that hard to use). That is what Intercept 3 is, a space combat system with some simple design rules for spaceships. I may eventually publish the design system in some form, Excel or text or both, but at the moment I will only have ready-made ships and some simple rules for converting whatever ship designs from whatever rules version you have, Traveller or other, into stats for Intercept. There is a table with weapons for small ships that can be used as guides for conversion from existing designs.

Intercept

The rulebook, maps, datacard and the optional transparency are available as pdf files for download. Start out small with one ship each, maybe skipping the Sensor rules out the first times if you are unfamiliar with vector movement. There are no counters in the game as the ships are plotted directly on the map (just print more mapsheets as you need them).

Intercept 3.0 space combat is the main rulebook for the game. The last four pages contain reference tables and should be printed separately and given out to each player. They are organised so they can be printed double-sided as you will never need the information on opposite of a page at the same time.

DataCard is used to fill in gameplay values for your ship, two ships fit on each paper.

Maptemplate is the map used both for the double-blind sensor rules and the actual action when Spotted ship duke it out. Print one for each player and one for the actual combat.

TransparencyTemplate is not strictly needed but helps when plotting sensor scans or determining whether your ship is inside a scan or not. It should be printed on OH film so you can see the map beneath.

You can get the whole shebang including the design system from here.

The emptiness of space

Posted in Boardgames, Computer games, Films and TV, Science, Science fiction, Uncategorized on April 2, 2010 by Mr Backman

The Atomic rocket website deal with realistic space flight and combat in the most exhaustive manner possible. You can get tons of information on just about everything dealing with realistic spaceflight there and I consider it the best website on the net! There are however some assumptions they make which lead to the conclusion that space battles will have no ambushes, no role for stealth or sensors and little tactical decisions. The assumption is that space is empty and any approaching ship will be detected well before it come in harm’s way. There is no preferred direction in deep space so a space battles involving two ships could just as well be fought in one dimension, range only.

In air to air combat the two horizontal dimensions work the same but the vertical dimension works differently: The highest planes can dive for speed, lower planes run the risk of hitting the ground. As air pressure diminish with altitude each plane has ceilings above which they can no longer fly. Ship to ship combat in the age of sail had the weather gauge which gave the upwind ship advantages over the downwind ones and if the ships were close to shore there was also the consideration of how deep water each ship required to avoid running aground.

But space IS empty and equal in all directions so space battles WILL be predictable and leave no room for maneuver you may say, or you could grow pointy ears and say that space is filled with nebulae, dense asteroid fields, mysterious energy fields etc which give ample opportunity for ambushes, stealth and tactical maneuvering. I believe that we don’t need to go all Space Fantasy to have interesting space battles if we only change the our assumptions a little about where the battles take place.

In Traveller, the rpg I originally wrote Intercept for, ships use jump drives to travel between planets, you fly 100 planetary diameters away, jump to the next starsystem and fly the 100 planetary diameters to land or orbit. All space battles would take place near a planet or gas giant, more rarely near single asteroids or comets. Planets are huge, even as space combat ranges go and gas giants are even larger. If a ship is on the other side of a planet you have no way of knowing how it changes its vector, regardless of the amount of heat and light from its drive. When two ships moves so they have line of sight which each other again the ship that shoots first will certainly hit the other and probably take it out. The commander that is better at outguessing his opponent will spot him first and can get off the first shot, simply because surveying the sky takes time so where you start scanning is crucial. Ships in planetary shadow will be as dark as space itself and only visible on infrared. Ships near the direction of the Sun will be harder to spot, their weak signature drowning in the huge outpouring from the sun. The excellent Rocketpunk Manifesto website has an interesting article that also question the assumption that space battles will and should be fought in deep space.

All this allow us to make somewhat realistic space battles where ambushes are possible, maneuvering matter and sensors vs stealth plays a part, only if we assume that battles will take place near planets instead of in deep space. When we design space combat board games, computer games, books etc we should take planets, sun direction etc into account to make space battles more realistic while keeping the fun. Star Trek and other space fantasies are cop-outs, and there is no excuse to go there for whatever reason.

The vector on the map or not?

Posted in Other vector movemet systems on March 29, 2010 by Mr Backman

You want to display the ships current position and perhaps in what direction it is facing, you also need to display the speed and direction of the ship. The basic system of having a past, a present and a future marker to depict the position, vector and acceleration is in my opinion the most elegant as it puts so much information on the gameboard. The GDW boardgames Mayday and Battlerider used this system but there other ways of depicting the vectors.

You can have one piece showing the position and facing of your ship and use other means for depicting its velocity (or vector). In grid based systems such as the tactical space combat in Battlefleet Mars you used three numbered chits to depict vector length, one for each of the three dimensions. In Brilliant lances they used a 12 point system for facing (you were either facing a hexside or a hexedge) and two counters on your status display for the direction and length of the vector. The system hardest to grasp of all vector system I’ve tried is the one used in Attack vector: All other vector systems I am aware of depict one unit of thrust as one unit of speed added, ie if you thrust one unit you move one unit and add one unit of speed. This is a simplification as the ship is thrusting during the entire turn so one unit of thrust would add one to speed but only one half to position. Attack vector does this correctly and they also consider the fact that a turning ship that thrusts will spread out the thrust from the starting direction to the ending direction. These effects are real and by taking them into account one could argue that Attack Vector is the most realistic vector movement boardgame there is. There are however other aspects of space combat that I think Attack Vector fails in namely the fact that ship commanders should know how to fly their ships and what their enemies are capable of. Playing several games of Attack vector we all felt like drunken monkeys trying to steer our ship by guesswork alone. As the game offers no features of the mapboard itself such as planetary shadows, sun directions, whiteouts from nuclear explosions etc the entire game boils down to understanding how ships move.

If the vectors aren’t displayed on the mapboard you must rely on looking at the counters and doing some head math to predict where your enemy is going, the gameplay becomes guessing how the enemy ships moves. In my opinion you should put as much information unto the map itself as possible to help with the gameplay. Why do we have mapboards at all? Showing the ships position on the map helps the players decide how to maneuver but in vector movement one could argue that the vector information is even more important to show on the map. We could have games where ship position, ship orientation and ship vector were all tracked on a status board with no map at all. We would no longer need to bother mapboard edges etc but everyone would agree that the game would be really hard to play. If we track position on the board we should track vectors there too as we want the players to win by tactical choices rather then knowledge of the rules.

Put the vector information back on the mapboard and let the players concentrate on playing the game!

Hello world!

Posted in Vector movement on March 23, 2010 by Mr Backman

Well, this is my very first post for vectormovement.wordpress.com. This blog will try to deal with everything related to vector movement but first and foremost to my paper and pencil space combat system called Intercept (and yes, of course it uses vector movement). Vector movement in games has been with us a long time and my contact with it dates back to the early 1970s when I was taught car racing on graph paper by a teacher. For those who have not heard about vector movement or doesn’t quite grasp the subject let me explain it a little:

Vector movement is a way to simulate, in games and elsewhere, how objects move when they are subject to Newtonian movement and as long as we stay well below the speed of light that is true of everything, you, me, our planet and all real world space craft. The reason we lack an intuitive grasp of vector movement is because real world objects are subject to air friction, rolling resistance, muscular resistance etc as all these hide the underlying mechanisms of vector movement. Hovercraft and Curling stones have reduced ground friction to a degree where the Newtonian nature of their movement is clearly visible. Spacecraft, moving in the stark vacuum of space are subject to even less drag, so little as in fact that the Voyager probes sent out in 1977 are still travelling at about the same speed except for the speed loss caused by ‘climbing uphill’ in the gravity well of our Sun.

Doing vector movement in a game goes something like this (not all games do it this way, notably the Attack Vector boardgame)

  1. Measure the speed and direction of you last move
  2. Apply it again as your future drift position.
  3. Apply acceleration from the drift position to get your true future position.
  4. The speed and direction (together we call speed and direction a ‘vector’) is your new move.

Yes, vector movement is this simple and you can do car races or space fights with just pencils and graph paper.