#Coronapocalypse #RPG – A different #TravellerRPG future with @IndependenceGa6 #TheClementSector Earth sourcebooks

IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS, I PLAYED SEVERAL Traveller RPG-related wargames. Invasion: Earth (GDW, 1982) and Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018) are based on the Third Imperium setting. However, my modern “preferred” setting for my Traveller RPG is The Clement Sector from Independence Games (formerly Gypsy Knights Games) using their modified version of the Cepheus Engine ruleset.

A major reason I like The Clement Sector is that it is in the future, but not so far in the future (like the 56th Century of the Third Imperium) that I cannot relate. Here is how Independence Games describes the core setting:

In 2210, scientists discovered a wormhole allowing travel to the opposite side of the Milky Way galaxy.  Once across, exploration teams discovered worlds far more suited to human habitation than those in star systems nearer to Earth.  Were they terraformed by some unknown race?  Are they just a coincidence in the vast diversity of the universe?

Over the ensuing years humans left Earth and began to colonize these worlds.  Nation-backed colonies.  Corporate colonies.  People who simply no longer felt compelled to remain on Earth.  The best and brightest.

In 2331, the unthinkable happened.  The wormhole collapsed leaving those in Clement Sector cut off from Earth.  Now these new worlds and new civilizations must stand on their own.

The year is 2342.  Adventure awaits!

Originally, The Clement Sector focused in ‘the other side’ of the wormhole and the regions that grew up around there. I really like the setting because it has everything one may prefer; a subsector that is very Space Opera, another that is Space Western. I also absolutely enjoy how Independence Games makes their sourcebooks; a combination of wide topics with ‘seeds’ of adventure thrown in. They paint the broad strokes of the setting but leave plenty of space for you, the GM or players, to fill in. In an era when so many folks play IP-derived settings then complain of being ‘constrained’ by canon, The Clement Sector is a refreshing dose of freedom. Which is why I approached a few of the most recent releases with a bit of trepidation.

Earth Sector: A Clement Sector Setting

Earth_Sector_Cover_540xI actually talked about this sourcebook back in February 2020 and was not so keen on it then. Truth be told it has grown on me in the short time since. Earth Sector: A Clement Sector Setting focuses on the Earth Sector but AFTER the Conduit Collapse. I was concerned about this ‘alternate-future’ look and although there is certainly a good deal of ‘history’ in the product I am very pleased on the post-Collapse focus. Indeed, that is what saves the entire product for me – it is as much more of a look forward into the ‘future’ than a tie to the ‘past.’

A major reason Earth Sector has grown on me is another one of those Traveller games-within-games. As the ad copy for Earth Sector states:

Using the relationship matrix developed in Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in Clement Sector, Earth Sector contains detailed reports on which nation is doing well, how much they are raking in from their colonies, and upon which nation they may yet declare war.

CTadv5Long ago, Classic Traveller Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron included rules for determining budgets for a world. The idea was players could design and build fleets and fight with them. Over the years, this world budget concept has often cropped up in the game. Independence Games added their take on the concept with Balancing Act: Interstellar Relations in the Clement Sector:

It also includes a game within a game called “The Balancing Act”. This game will allow you to take on the role of a head of state in Clement Sector and go up against other leaders as you attempt to push your world ahead of your competition. These rules can easily be used in other settings and games where one might wish to become a leader of a world.

What I really like about Balancing Act is that it is not solely focused on the military (although that certainly makes up a large part of the ‘balance’). Although most RPGs are inherently very personal and focused on a individuals in a small group, as a GM I can use Balancing Act to ‘world-build’ the setting.

Subsector Sourcebook: Earth

EarthSectorFrontPromoCover_1024x1024@2xComplementing Earth Sector is Subsector Sourcebook: Earth. This product looks beyond the Earth and to the whole subsector. Again, the post-Collapse focus is what makes this product; there is enough history to broadly explain how the various locales came to be and how they are dealing with the post-Collapse situation. In addition to all the ‘details’ about the planets, this subsector book also includes the Balancing Act data meaning it is ready-set for GMs and players to start their own world-building adventure game.

Which brings me to the last new product this week…

Tim’s Guide to the Ground Forces of the Hub Subsector

Tims_Hub_Cover_Final_1024x1024@2x.pngIndependence Games already publishes their Wendy’s Guides for space navies in The Clement Sector. Tim’s Guide to the Ground Forces of the Hub Sector takes that same concept an applies it to non-space forces (ground, aerospace, naval) and organizations. Unlike the other products I talked about above, this first Tim’s Guide goes back to ‘other side’ of The Clement Sector and focuses on the Hub Subsector.

Like the Wendy’s Guides before, each planet has their non-space forces laid out. Planetary factors related to The Balancing Act are also included. As I so often say about Independence Games’ products, the depth of detail is just right. For example, one entry may tell you that the planet has a Tank Company equipped with FA-40 tanks, but they don’t tell you the details on that tank. It might be in one of the vehicle guides or, better yet, you can use the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System to build your own. [I guess it is just a matter of time until Independence Games publishes their own The Clement Sector-tailored vehicle design system too.]

The other part of this book that I appreciate is the fully detailed “Hub Federation’s Yorck-class Battlecruiser, a seafaring vessel capable of engaging forces both on the oceans and in close orbit.” The Traveller grognard in me wants to take this ship and place in a Harpoon 4 (Admiralty Trilogy Games) naval miniatures wargame scenario and see how it goes.

So there you have it; three new The Clement Sector books for YOUR game. That’s probably the most under appreciated part of Independence Games. Unlike so many other settings, The Clement Sector empowers the players and GM. There is lots of material to chose from, and many adventures to be created.

#Coronapocalypse #TravellerRPG #Wargame – Math lessons with Squadron Strike: Traveller (@AdAstraGames, 2018)

I HAVE BEEN A TRAVELLER RPG PLAYER SINCE 1979 when I got my Classic Traveller Little Black Books set. Over the years I also played many wargames based on the Traveller setting. Of those, I always had a soft spot for tactical starship combat. This week my #coronapocalypse wargame was Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018). What sets Squadron Strike: Traveller (SST) apart is its fully 3D model which uses Newtonian movement in space. Be warned – the back of the box rates the game as Moderate complexity and notes, “Players need to do addition and subtraction.” The last time I played SST was January 2019. At that time I was working my way through the tutorial booklet and was not past the 2D scenarios. Well, this weekend I worked my way through all four scenarios of the Tutorial and discovered SST is not for the faint of heart; there is a steep learning curve that will challenge (and burnout) your brain cells. You WILL need to do more than just addition and subtraction! However, if you persevere the payoff is a very good, playable-albeit-complex model of ship-to-ship combat in the Traveller RPG universe.

The Tutorial book in SST uses a programmed learning approach. If you are a player that just wants to read the rulebook and play you will fail. The 3D concepts used in SST almost defy writing – they really must be experienced in a structured manner to be understood. As designer Ken Burnside writes in the sidebar Don’t Just Read, Play:

The first tutorial is highly scripted – you pretty much follow along and mark boxes. Get in the habit of playing the tutorials; the verbiage is intended to be read while you’re doing things. If you just read the tutorial, there’s a non-zero chance you’ll find it tedious and overwhelming. If you play the tutorial as you read it, you’ll see how it all the pieces and parts fit together.

Tutorial 1 introduces the Sequence of Play and the 2D version of the Altitude Vector Information Display – AVID. The AVID is the heart of SST and to understand the game one has to master how to use the AVID. The tutorial walks the players though the 2D version of the Ship System Display, the SSD, as well as basic 2D movement and combat. At the end of Tutorial 1 the player is familiar with the basics of Plotting, Movement, and Combat.

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AVID. This ship starts facing hexsides B/C and is rolled 30 degrees right. The plot calls for pivoting 60 degrees to the right and pitching the nose up 30 degrees. Easy to read, yes? (Courtesy Ad Astra Games)

Tutorial 2 is another 2D scenario, but this time new concepts like Sandcasters (defenses in the Traveller universe), ECM (used to show technological advantages), Profile Numbers (harder to hit when a narrow profile is presented), missile combat and defense, Crew Rate (just how good are your redshirts?), Damage Control (Where’s Scotty?), and different damage allocation. The concept of Action Points (a combination of power allocation and command and control) is also introduced. For real Traveller RPG fans, there is a sidebar note about integrating character RPG skills into a portion of the game here.

At the end of Tutorial 2, Squadron Strike: Traveller looks to be a moderately-more-complex version of Mayday (GDW, 1978) or Power Projection: Fleet (BITS: 2003). Tutorial 3 changes all that with the introduction of 3D movement.

The first concept that one has to wrap their head around is the 3D AVID. One has to take the 2D graphic shown on the Movement Card (shown above) and imagine it as a sphere.

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3D AVID imagined (Courtesy Ad Astra Games)

The tutorial makes it clear that there are a few skills are needed; skills that wargamers may not have:

There are three skills you’ll need to master with the the AVID. Unless you’ve been an astronomer, pilot, or driven a submarine for a living, none of them match things you’ve done in gaming or in real life before. It will take some repetition before things “click” The first skill, which we’ll go into now, is orientation. We’ll cover the other two (shooting bearings and mapping them to firing arcs) in the Combat Phase.

If you cannot handle this you will make it no further in learning the game. To help your imagination visualization, the game uses Tilt Blocks to show your ship’s altitude and orientation on the mapboard.

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Left – Ship facing A, no pitch or roll, altitude 0. Right – Ship facing A, pitched up 60 degrees, rolled right 30 degrees, altitude +2
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Target is visible in red box so Mounts S & U bear but Mount T does not (Courtesy Ad Astra Games)

If you have not given up yet (and you shouldn’t because the Tutorial steps you through everything – although you may need more than one pass to grok it all) you now need to Shoot Bearings to see which weapons bear and can fire. This again requires some imagination math because you have to figure out which window the enemy is in and then see what weapons bear and can fire. Fortunately, the tutorial steps you through the process and there are many helpful tables on the Reference Card.

As “complex” movement is, I really appreciate the “simplicity” of combat resolution. For each attack you ALWAYS roll 4x d10 (1x red, 2x black, and 1x blue). The red die is your Accuracy– roll Accuracy or greater to hit (very few die mods). The two black are “2d10-” which means you subtract the smaller from the larger for a difference which is additional Damage added to the Base Damage number. The blue die is the Hit Location. I really like this streamlined combat approach – roll one die pool and you immediately have hit, damage, and hit location!

The end result of all that math work is a VERY good game of Traveller. Ken Burnside writes of the differences between generic Squadron Strike and Squadron Strike: Traveller:

  • The Traveller universe, set 3,500 years in the future, uses Mode 2 (Newtonian) movement and doesn’t use tactical fuel
  • ECM is turned on, but ECCM is deliberately not used; only the Imperials have ECM in this product, and it shows a Traveller tech-level advantage
  • The Traveller setting uses sand, hull armor, and component armor as the primary defenses of warships
  • Sandcasters, which are “burst mode” shielding with a name change, throw sand in the path of incoming fire
  • In a break from normal Squadron Strike usage, but consistent with Traveller, the “meson” weapon trait makes the weapon vulnerable to meson screens, but lets the weapon ignore sand and the surface armor of the ship
  • Traveller uses two SuperScience Defenses: The meson screen works against weapons with the Meson trait….Nuclear dampers work against missiles.

After I got thru all four tutorials I had several ships and SSDs ready, so I just played around with the system. Once you learn the game it plays fast. The tutorial mentions The Hockey Puck Analogy which is very appropriate:

One of the best explanations of Squadron Strike tactics came from a player named Patrick Doyle. Momentum movement games are about where the hockey puck will be; not where it is now. Always keep an eye on both the target’s ship and how far out their EoT (End of Turn) tent is from their current location.

Squadron Strike: Traveller is a game that will require regular play to maintain proficiency. As tough as the game is to learn, once learned it plays pretty quickly. Fortunately, the game support small engagements as well as larger squadron-level battles. That said, Ship Book 1 has 15 different ships (although many have variants) and there are a few extra ships available online. Like most every Traveller RPG player, I like to design my own ships and I would like to put them into this game. There is supposedly a ship design spreadsheet available for registered users (so…where is that login?). I guess this is also a good place to mention that there is an AVID app available for web/Android/iOS devices. I looked at it but it was not immediately intuitive to me so I just kept plodding along (and learning) the manual way.

Given the abundance of extra time from the Coronapocalypse I think a few battles may be shortly in order!

#Retro #TravellerRPG #Wargame #AAR – Invasion: Earth – The Final Battle of the Solomani Rim War (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1981)

BLUF – Game mechanics are deceptively simple but through play one discovers it’s not necessarily combat that is important but executing an invasion plan that requires proper logistical planning and bringing the right forces to bear at the right time and place versus a stubborn defense that must know when to ‘hide’ and fight another day.

NOW THAT I ACQUIRED A GRAIL WARGAME IN THE TRAVELLER RPG UNIVERSE, it was time to play it. Invasion: Earth – The Final Battle of the Solomani Rim War (GDW, 1981) takes place in the Third Imperium setting of the Classic Traveller RPG. The game depicts the invasion of Earth (Sol) by the Third Imperium in the year 1002 (the 55th or 56th Century compared to today). Interestingly, Invasion: Earth (IE) is a ‘historical’ game in the Traveller RPG line as the invasion takes place just over 100 years in the past of the default setting (years 1105-1107).

Physically, Invasion: Earth is a small game more suited to a folio than a box. The map is small, 16″x21″, which covers not only Sol but also holding boxes for different space locations as well as the terrain key. The game includes 480 counters although half are game markers leaving only 240 pieces for actual combatants. Yes, the counters are small – 1/2″ sized – and challenging to this grognard’s eyes. This is a game where a magnifying glass and tweezers to move stacks is required!

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The rule book is just as small – 16 pages – and I previously talked about what I like about it. Although Invasion: Earth is both a space battle and ground combat game, a scenario will see mostly ground combat. As I played my first game of Invasion: Earth I discovered the game proceeded in noticeable ‘phases’ where the players face different challenges and are forced to make sometimes painful decisions.

Phase I – The Space Battle

The Imperial player starts in the Out-System Box and has to ‘jump’ into the Sol System. The arrival area is known as Deep Space. Since the Solomani ships cannot ‘jump’ the Out-System Box effectively serves as the ‘off-map’ assembly area for the Imperial player. The Solomani player cannot set up in Deep Space but instead is limited to Far Orbit (which includes Luna) and Close Orbit – the only orbit which interfaces with the planet. In Phase I the Imperial player has to push aside the Solomani space forces to get to Close Orbit and land troops on the planet.

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Invasion begins….

The problem is those pesky Solomani ships and boats. All ships and boats (non-FTL capable ships) have three ratings – Attack Factor / Bombardment Factor / Defense Factor. However, using the right ship/boat in the right space combat is important. In combat against starships you use the Attack Factor. Combat against boats and ground units use the Bombardment Factor. Each has its own Combat Resolution Table (CRT) where losses are expressed in ‘hits’ or Defense Factors that must be eliminated. This means the first decision the Imperial player faces is how to divide his force to attack defending ships and boats because each squadron can only attack one or the other. Space Combat continues until one side is eliminated or disengages. Ships that disengage move the the Deep Space box where they go into ‘hiding.’ Additionally, if there are no Imperial ships in Close Orbit, those pesky System Defense Boats (SDB) can hide in the ocean. Hidden units have advantages later during the actual Invasion and Occupation phases of the game.

Phase II – Advance Base

For the Imperial player, movement to/from the Out-System can only happen once a turn. This means to bring reinforcements from the Out-System effectively takes two turns. However, if the Imperial player lands a Base on Luna, it becomes an advanced staging area. The challenge for the Imperial player is balancing a need to invade Sol and consolidate forces on Luna. Sounds easy until you take into account Transport.

Different space units have different transport capacities. Ground units have different strength based on their size. Generally speaking, an army is 5C (500), a corps 1C (100), a division 20, a brigade 10, and a regiment 5. Bases (supply points for the Imperial player) are the equivalent of 1C. Different ships can transport different ground units; an Assault Carrier (AR) can carry 6C, a Battle Squadron (BR) carries 20, and a Cruiser Squadron (CR) carries 5. Each ground unit must be carried by a single naval unit – there is no combining 4x CR to carry that 20-Factor division. So the Imperial player has to figure out the logistics game of what ground unit is carried by what squadron. This challenge is not only present in this Advance Base Phase but throughout the game. It becomes even more challenging after Turn 2 when two of the four AR in the game are withdrawn.

Phase III – Invasion!

The invasion of Sol can take place in parallel with the consolidation of an advance base; indeed, the Imperial player is almost forced to execute these two in tandem given the need to achieve victory in the least amount of time. In Invasion: Earth there is little differentiation between ground units but the few differences there are make a big difference.

When landing, eligible defenders roll on the Surface Bombardment Table to see what percentage of the landing attackers are destroyed. The defender totals their Bombardment Factors and rolls single d6 on the column that is closest to, but not more than, that value. The roll is modified by two qualities of the attacker – Tech Level and unit  type.

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Tech Level (TL) is a key concept in the Traveller RPG setting. The higher the TL the more advanced the unit is. TL is one of the most important factors in combat (more on that later) but in an orbital assault units of a lower TL have a -1 DM to the defenders attack roll, meaning they are likely to suffer MORE casualties. Unit type also plays an important roll. Performing an orbital assault with a unit other than a Jump Troop or Marine is a -3 DM (!). The last thing an attacker from orbit wants to do is land a low-tech, non-Jump or Marine unit against a determined enemy! This means the Imperial player should try to lead the orbital assault with those (few) Jump or Marine troops – assuming they are available and loaded properly on the lead wave.

Phase IV – Occupation

Assuming the Imperial player is able to land troops, in order to win they must control, through occupation, all but 10 Urban hexes on Sol. Control of an Urban hex is through Garrisons. To Garrison a hex it must be either occupied solely by an Imperial unit or within the Zone of Control (ZoC) of an proper Imperial unit and NOT in the ZoC of a Solomani unit. In practice this means the Imperial player will have to slog through many Solomani defenders. To do so will require a thorough understanding of Supply, what makes units different from one another, and Replacements.

Supply for the Solomani player is easy – any Urban or Starport hex is a source of Supply. The Imperial player on the other hand must bring their own supply with them in the form of Bases – that cost 1C to transport – meaning only the (few) AR can deliver them to the surface. Bases also make great targets for the Solomani player. Units that start the turn out of supply may not attack and can defend with half their current value.

At first glance, the ground combat system looks rather like a Lanchester Attrition Model that Trevor Dupuy would be proud of. Combat is a simple odds roll with results expressed in Percentage Loss. The stacking rules allow up to 1000 factors (!!!) in a single hex. So why would one want to play this uninteresting attrition game?

Well, because of the few unit types and Tech Level.

There might not be many different ground units in the game, but the few differences are very important:

  • Army, Corps, and Planetary Defense units ONLY extend a ZoC
  • Armor units have their strength doubled in attack or defense
  • Elite units have their strength doubled (this can stack with the Armor bonus)
  • Tech Level differences are COLUMN SHIFTS on the CRT
  • Mercenaries with over 50% losses have their attack strength halved (they are in it only for the money)
  • Commando units ignore enemy units and ZoC during movement and are always in Supply making them the ultimate infiltrators
  • Guerrilla units are attacked with a +3 DM when hiding.
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An Imperial TL14 Elite GravArmor Division takes on a Solomani TL11 Infantry Corps. 1:5 odds? Not so fast….

In keeping with a core tenet of the Traveller RPG the greater the TL difference the more the hurt! Assume a TL14 Imperial Elite Tank Division (20-14) is attacking a defending TL11 Solomani Infantry Corps (1C-11) as shown above.

  • Imperial attack 20×2 (Armor) x2 (Elite) = 80 vs 100 (1:1.5 SHIFTED UP 3 columns to 2:1) – 8 in 11 chance of 10-70% losses
  • Solomani defend 100 vs 80 (1:1 SHIFTED DOWN 3 columns to 1:3) – 3 in 11 chance of 10-20% losses.

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At the end of each calendar quarter, a special turn is executed. This is where both sides can receive Replacements in the form of Replacement Points (RP).

  • Solomani – Accumulate 1x RP for each ungarrisoned Urban hex on the map (there are 61 Urban hexes at the start)
  • Imperial – RP comes in the form of a Wave of 100 RP.

Each RP can rebuild a single ground unit combat factor. It takes 100 RP for the Imperial player to build a Base. The Imperial player can also use a Wave to replace any three eliminated naval units. The Solomani player can start to rebuild an SDB unit at a Starport for no RP but it will not be completed until the next quarter’s special turn (assuming it was not destroyed by being overrun or bombarded). There are additional rules for Emergency Replacements which can be called upon outside of the special turns but are not as plentiful.

End State – Victory

Victory in Invasion: Earth is not based on playing a set number of turns. Instead, in each end of quarter special turn Victory is checked. The Imperial player always has the option of abandoning the invasion which awards the Solomani player a Major Victory. If not, play continues every quarter until the Solomani have 10 or fewer Urban hexes ungarrisoned by the Imperial player. At this point, the Imperial player is awarded 10 VP. Modifiers are then applied:

  • -1 VP for each quarter of the invasion
  • -1 for each Replacement Wave taken by the Imperial player
  • +1 if all Solomani surface units eliminated
  • +1 if all Solomani naval units eliminated.

The Level of Victory Table is then consulted:

  • VP 7+ > Imperial Decisive Victory
  • VP 4-6 > Imperial Major Victory
  • VP 1-3 > Imperial Marginal Victory
  • VP 0 or -1 > Draw
  • VP -2 or -3 > Solomani Marginal Victory
  • VP -4 or less > Solomani Major Victory

In order to win, the Imperial player must be both quick AND efficient with their resources; making as much as they can with the assets they have on hand. The Solomani player benefits from a long, drawn out war of attrition and hiding some units to prevent their destruction (a Fleet-in-Being?).

In my game, the Imperial player did not achieve the Standard Victory (10 VP) until the fifth quarter of play (-5 VP). The Imperial player also took 3x Wave of RP (-3 VP). Not all Solomani ground forces were eliminated and there was a lone Solomani CR that hid in Deep Space the entire game . This was enough for an Imperial Marginal Victory – and boy did it feel marginal!

AAR – or – After Action Reaction

Invasion: Earth turns out to not be the game I was expecting. Looking at the box and the first pass through the rules thought I saw a somewhat staid game with a very old-fashioned combat model that didn’t look like a vision of the future but rather a rehash of the past. Instead, what IE delivers is a master-class lesson on opposed landings and shows a vision of the future where timeless lessons of amphibious landings are applied to orbital assaults. The rules drive the players to carefully husbanding their resources and allocating forces with thought. Indeed, I had not expected a game that appears this simple to be this deep in the decisions it forces upon players.

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I note that Invasion: Earth was published in 1981, a year before the 1982 Falklands War where the Royal Navy and British ground forces were challenged to figure out how to carefully load troops and logistics on few amphibious ships and execute an amphibious landing far away from their bases. The British also faced a narrow timeline for action being called upon to invade and retake the islands before the winter.* Invasion: Earth and the Falklands War are eerily similar, and even more eery when one considers IE came before the Falklands War. Then again, maybe designers Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick were just expressing age-old, never-changing lessons of amphibious warfare in this paper time machine.

If so they did a very good job.


*For a good modern wargame on the Falklands War that is soloable, I recommend Mrs. Thatchers War from White Dog Games.

#TravellerRPG #retro #wargame – Remember the time we were invaded? Invasion: Earth – The Final Battle of the Solomani Rim War (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1981)

IN 1979 MY LIFE CHANGED FOREVER WHEN I STARTED WARGAMING. At the same time, I discovered role playing games (RPGs), but my RPG of choice was NOT Dungeons & Dragons, but rather Traveller in the classic Little Black Books. Game Designers’ Workshop was the publisher of Traveller and many other wargames. Alas, for some reason (price?) I saw several Traveller-related wargames but didn’t buy them. Over the past 40 years I have tried to build out my collection and for a while had to satisfy myself with only PnP versions on the The Classic Traveller CDROM from farfuture.net.

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Classic Traveller in the Little Black Books. My copies are much more used….

GDW published seven boardgames for Classic Traveller. Over the years, two of those games, Fifth Frontier War and Invasion: Earth achieved ‘grail game’ status to me. I am lucky to own physical (boxed) copies of Imperium, Mayday, Snapshot, and Fifth Frontier War. This week I added the other grail game to my collection, Invasion: Earth – The Final Battle of the Solomani Rim War (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1981). The back of the box further adds to the title with, “A complete Adventure Game of science fiction from Game Designers’ Workshop.”

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Going through the box and rules is a real adventure and nostalgia trip for all the right reasons.

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Even the Comment Card is in there!

Component-wise, Invasion: Earth looks more like today’s print-on-demand products. There is nothing wrong with that; just by today’s standards it is not a ‘top line’ product like it was ‘in the day.’

Mechanically, the game is rated as Intermediate complexity. Maybe so in terms of 1981 games, but with the rules taking a paltry 12 double-column pages, one of which is the cover, another front matter, a third the Order of Battle, and a fourth the back cover with the Unit Identification Chart. The other 8 pages of actual rules are actually not very complex mechanically. Noted wargame designer Frank Chadwick is credited as a co-designer. I definitely see shades of Chadwick’s design here. It’s not his finest work, but by no means is Invasion: Earth a stinker either.

What I really love is what the other four pages of the rule book includes. Two pages are background on The Solomani Rim War. This is where lead designer Marc Miller, the father of Traveller, makes his major contribution. I think this game was the first place where the ‘details’ of the Solomani Rim War were discussed (Supplement 10: The Solomani Rim was not published until 1982). Like many wargames used to do, this ‘history’ helps bring the theme to life and makes playing the game seem to really mean something far beyond being an exercise in pushing chits across a map.

The last two pages are devoted to Traveller and helping Game Master’s fit the game into their adventures. There are seeds for Casual Adventures, Continuing Campaigns, and using the game as a Campaign Background. Then there is a section titled, “Other Uses.

It’s pure grognard heaven.

The Other Uses section explains how to use the rules from Invasion: Earth as the foundation for other planetary invasion campaigns. Rules are provided for other forms of mechanized forces or even foot soldiers beyond the default Grav Vehicles in this game. With these rules I can do what many Traveller players love; tinker with world-building (or in this case, wargame-design) as ‘Systems Engineers.’*

So how does it play? Well, does it really matter? I personally don’t like the percentage Casualty Markers and see them as clumsy. I wonder what a modern design approach could look like. Then again, I don’t. Invasion: Earth is a snapshot in time that even today, nearly 40 years later, should be savored in its original format. I play, and enjoy it, more for the nostalgia – and definitely for the adventure.

Life is good.


* In Marc Miller’s Traveller, commonly referred to as Traveller 4, Marc Miller discussed different types of Traveller players. One set he referred to as ‘Systems Engineers’ – those who want to “create custom equipment or information.”

 

#RPGThursday – Odds and Ends for the summer with #TravellerRPG and #T2K

I AM REENGAGING ON PLAYING RPGS after a long hiatus. The RockyMountainNavy Boys have fully embraced Cepheus Engine and we are mixing a RPG session into our normal weekend family game night. With that change I have started stalking publishers on DriveThruRPG again and making a few purchases.

The first book I picked up is Shipbook: Type S Scout Courier from Moon Toad Publishing. I belatedly realized this book is intended for Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition. That’s OK, Cepheus Engine grew out of MgT 1st Edition so it’s usable. My intent is to pass this along to the RockyMountainNavy Boys to use as inspiration. It’s such a classic Traveller RPG ship they deserve to see it in all it’s glory. Update – Yup, they definitely have latched onto this one for inspiration.

The second book I picked up is Moon Toad Publishing’s Shipbook: Type A Free Trader. Like the Scout, this is another “classic” Traveller RPG ship. Again, my intent is to pass this along to the RMN Boys for their inspiration.

Another item I picked up is a throwback to a much older game. I have impatiently awaited a Korean sourcebook for Twilight: 2000 and now the T2000 v1 Korean Peninsula Sourcebook is available. Having been stationed in Korea the first time in 1992, I must say that the data feels authentic to me. I have not played T2K in a long time but I may just have to set up an adventure.

One part of the Traveller RPG system I have always liked is that there are several min-games in the game. Like character generation. I really enjoy taking a collection of stats and skills and a bit of die rolling and making it into a living character. After the other night, the RMN Boys now understand my joy.

The RMN Boys and I sat down after dinner to roll up a few characters. Middle RMN Boy ended up with a character with low Education and low Social Status. He tried to get into the Marines, failed, and became a Drifter. He eventually did enlist in the Marines, but failed to reenlist and went back to being a Drifter. After three terms the character mustered out. Middle RMN was a bit frustrated. Younger RMN Boy had rolled up a Scout with a ship. This really wasn’t fair! I asked Middle RMN what skills the character had.

“Nothing. Just Driving-1.”

“Sounds like an Uber driver to me,” Youngest RMN said.

“Yeah, an Uber with Streetwise and a bit of Recon skill. Sounds like a good contact,” I said.

“Well, he was in the Marines. Maybe he was a friend of Little John,” said Middle RMN [Little John is another character Middle RMN rolled up before].

Before we knew it, we had fleshed out an entire backstory for our Uber driver. He is a Uber driver on “Planet Kool-Aid,” the Religious Dictatorship planet in the sector. By the time we were finished, Youngest RMN declared, “This is the coolest character ever!”

That’s the power of Traveller.


Feature image imgur.com

#Wargame Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) – Modernizing Harpoon 4 (Clash of Arms/Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2006+)

WHEN IT COMES TO TACTICAL MODERN NAVAL WARGAMING there is only one game for me: Harpoon. I started with Harpoon II (Adventure Games, 1984) and their awesome module Resolution 502 covering the Falklands War. I kept playing Harpoon even when it changed publishers to Game Designers Workshop (GDW) with Harpoon 3rd Edition (1987). I followed along when Clash of Arms picked it up for Harpoon 4 (1996). These days the game is published – electronic version only – by Admiralty Trilogy Games. I recently pulled out Harpoon 4 as part of my 2019 Origins Challenge. Harpoon 4 won the 1996 Origins Award for Best Modern-Day Board Game.

I find that surprising because, 1) Harpoon 4 is a set of miniatures rules – not a board game, and 2) the Harpoon series has many more vocal detractors than advocates.

Harpoon has never had a board. From the beginning it was designed for miniatures. The Clash of Arms version came with counters that one could put down on a board but that alone doesn’t make it a board game.

The Harpoon series also has many detractors. I have heard Harpoon described as “ASL for the sea.” There is a bit of some truth there as one of the issues in Harpoon has long been that speed of plays dramatically slows as the most important actions occur. I believe this occurs because for the longest time the designers of Harpoon saw the product more as a “simulation” than a “game.” Thus, realism took precedent over playability. However, that balance is in the process of changing.

I think the real impetuous for change came when Clash of Arms published Persian Incursion in 2010. PI used Harpoon 4 as its base game engine:

Persian Incursion explores the political and military effects of an Israeli military campaign against Iran. It uses rules adapted from Harpoon 4 to resolve the military action. But its goal is to look beyond the military action by modeling the political and intelligence actions and consequences of a potential political conflict by including a card-based diplomatic/political component to the game.

Players spend Political, Intelligence and Military Points to influence allies or enemies, purchase reinforcements, execute military strikes or shape their own domestic opinion. Players choose variable starting conditions that shape scenarios, while random strategic events influence play in unexpected ways.

That said, PI took a long time to play, mostly because it took a long time to plan. Once play started, the speed of combat resolution was slow even with streamlined air-to-air combat or bombing rules changes.

Looking at the ATG presentation at Cold Wars 2010 one can see the level of detail that went into the game. But even though PI streamlined air-to-air combat, it still was not enough.

ATG is now in the process of updating Harpoon 4 to what they are calling Harpoon 4.2 (4.1 being an incremental update published in 2001). Two presentations, one at Historicon 2018 and another at Cold Wars 2019 lays out their plan.

Going beyond a simple edit and update, the ATG team wants to incorporate many new understandings of naval warfare they have uncovered. Some of these are the result of declassification of Cold War records, others are original research. The part I am most interested in is when they say, “Virtually every section of the rules will be modified, re-written to improve playability while retaining the fidelity of the earlier versions of Harpoon.”

Play-a-bility.

As much as I love Harpoon (I rate Harpoon 4 8.25 on BGG – # 17 or in the top 3% of my collection of 700+ games and expansions) even I will admit it can use a playability scrub. I hope the focus on playability delivers a playable game that simulates modern naval warfare, not a ponderous simulation that purports to be a game.

Can’t wait!

Admiralty Trilogy – A Willing Foe and Sea Room

CSR #Wargame Challenge Saturday – Azhanti High Lightning (GDW,1980) & Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games, 1981+)

It was a bit cold and windy outside this weekend so it was a good chance to work off another few games of my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge.

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Courtesy BGG.com

Up first was Azhanti High Lightning (GDW, 1980). I played using the VASSAL module since my copy is all electronic on the Far Future Enterprises Classic Traveller CD. AHL is a very “typical” GDW wargame of the 1980’s – heavy on rules and procedures. While billing itself as a game of close quarters combat aboard large spaceships (as compared to Snapshot (GDW, 1979) for small ships) I couldn’t help but think AHL is a fair model of indoor skirmish combat. There are rules here for doors and corners (no, not The Expanse Doors & Corners although….) as well as consoles and elevators and the like.  I mean, the deck plans for the AHL-class of ships are building style since the ship is a tail-sitter (again, ala The Expanse). A part of me wants to rename this Die Hard – The Boardgame.

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The Expanse Doors & Corners (courtesy IMDB.com)

A very good rule I had forgotten about was Morale. I should not be surprised since Frank Chadwick was involved in this game and his designs always seem to emphasize the importance of Morale.

Here are the two most important sections as I see it:

C. Procedure: Roll two dice. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the character’s modified morale value, the character passes the check. If it is greater than the character’s modified morale value the character fails the check. All positive leadership bonuses are added to the checking character’s morale value (not the dice roll), and all negative bonuses are subtracted from the checking character’s morale value.

A character with a leadership bonus (referred to as a leader) uses the bonus to modify the morale values of all friendly subordinates (all who check morale after that leader) within the leader’s line of sight, but only if the leader did check morale that step. A leader may not apply his or her bonus to his or her own morale checks.

If the leader passes all morale checks, that leader’s bonus is added to all subsequent morale checks of friendly subordinates; if the leader fails a morale check then that leader’s bonus is subtracted from all other morale checks of friendly subordinates. The effects of several leaders in the same area checking morale are cumulative.

For example, lntruder officer 3 (bonus of +2) and lntruder NCO 2 (bonus of +3) are leading an assault party across an area swept by covering fire. Officer 3 fails his or her morale check and thus NCO 2 checks morale with 2 subtracted from his or her morale rating. Assuming NCO 2 passes the check, all of the other members of the assault party check morale with a positive modifier of 1 (+3 from NCO 2 and -2 from 02 for a net modifier of +1).

The penalty for failing a morale check is harsh:

D. Effects of Failed Morale: Failure of an exposure to covering fire check causes the character to avoid exposing him or herself; any other movement (or allowable combat action) is permitted as long as the character does not enter a danger space of a covering fire. Failure of a moving adjacent check will cause the character to stop moving before coming adjacent. The character will stop with at least 3 APs left (if possible), and if 3 APs are left will execute a snap shot at the character to whom he or she was intending to move adjacent. Failure of a casualty or unexpected fire morale check will cause the character to panic and flee. Regardless of what was chosen for the character in the decision phase, the character must, in the action phase(s) immediately following the failed check, run away from the location of the enemy characters until he or she reaches a position of complete cover (referred to as cowering). The character will then remain there until he or she successfully makes a morale check. This morale check is made at the start of each decision phase. Any friendly leader who moves to the square containing the cowering character may apply his or her leadership bonus to that character’s morale value. In this case, it is not necessary for the leader to pass a morale check before applying the bonus to the cowering character. Note that any leader may carry out this function for any friendly cowering character. This is the only time that the leadership bonus of a lower-ranking character may be used to assist a higher-ranking character in making a morale check.


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1st Edition (SJ Games)

The second CSR game of the weekend was Car Wars. I have the original pocket box first edition from 1981 but for this game I pulled out my Fourth Edition, Third Printing from 2015.

I was surprised that the rule book for 4th Edition clocks in at 64 digest-size pages! In reality, the “game” itself is not that long as the rules for movement and combat are covered in 37 pages (18 pages if full-size) and the balance is mostly Characters (psuedo-RPG?) and Vehicle Design. I chose to concentrate on the simple game and created a three-way Amateur Night scenario featuring a stock Killer Kart ($3,848), a Stinger Option III ($3,989) and a Stinger Option IV w/spikedropper ($4,293). The game was fun but it does take work to use the Movement Chart with its five phases. I do not have the latest Sixth Edition but I wonder if Steve Jackson Games has leveraged any of the new approaches to graphical play aids like Jim Krohn did for Talon (GMT Games, 2016). Both Talon and Car Wars use “impulse” movement but the new graphical play aid in Talon makes the flow of the turn go much quicker.


With these two games I have now worked played off six of 20 games in my CSR Challenge. In my other 2019 Challenges I still have to play 13 of 15 in my Golden Geek Challenge and 14 of 16 in my Origins Challenge. All that while playing new games too. Ah, the challenges of being a gamer….


Feature image – Azhanti High Lightning VASSAL module

#RPG #Wargaming – #TravellerRPG Tech in #Mayday (GDW, 1978)

pic4387901Mayday (GDW, 1978) won the Charles S. Roberts Award in 1978 for the Best Science-Fiction Board Game. On this snowy weekend in January I played the game as part of my 2019 CSR Wargame Challenge. As a longtime Classic Traveller RPG player and more recent fan of the Cepheus Light: Old-School Rules-Light 2D6-Based Sci-Fi Role-Playing Game it was interesting to see just how Mayday’s take on the Traveller RPG universe was different even back then. The differences in the setting means Mayday is not true to the Traveller RPG universe but makes the game challenging and fun in its own way.

Movement

pic514041Mayday uses a simple vector movement system adapted from Classic Traveller Book 2: Starships. The major setting difference in this case is in the technology used to express Small Craft. In Traveller, small craft are usually propelled by the M-Drive. As described in Traveller 5:

M-Drive: Maneuver is the standard in-system ship drive. It interacts with gravity sources to produce vector movement. It requires a separate power plant. (T5 p. 323)

Power plants in turn are usually fueled for for two weeks. For the purposes of a Mayday scenario this means a ship has unlimited maneuverability. However, in Mayday the Small Craft found on p. 13 are rated in terms of G Level; the maximum acceleration in a movement phase and the total acceleration allowed. For example, the classic Fighter is rated “4G12” which means it can burn up to a maximum 4G in a movement phase but can only make a total of 12G of vector changes before it is out of fuel. In Traveller 5 terms this looks like the Fighter is equipped with Rockets (“Chemical fuels combine in an exothermic reaction in a combustion chamber to produce thrust. Rockets are high volume fuel users”). Rockets are the lowest-Tech Level drives represented in the Traveller/Cepheus Engine rules – and even then in certain setting-specific versions (like Orbital 2100).

The implication of this technology limit for Small Craft means maneuver must be a carefully considered choice. This makes Mayday a much more interesting game with a bit of resource management.

Laser Fire

In Mayday there is only one energy weapon, the Laser. This single Mayday weapon covers all the energy weapons found in Traveller/Cepheus Engine; Pulse Laser, Beam Laser, Particle Beam, Plasma Beam, Fusion Beam. This simplification may be in part because Mayday does not use any armor on ships. In this game, ships are small and fragile.

Ordnance Launch

Surprisingly, Mayday has a complete section on building customized missiles. Players can design missiles with different guidance packages, propulsion options, warheads, and fuel. This is far more in depth than what is found in Traveller/Cepheus Engine where there are three classes of missiles; Regular Missiles, Smart Missiles, and Nuclear Missiles.

Computer Programming

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biomassart.wordpress.com

Many people criticize the computer rules in the Traveller universe as “wrong.” After all, in this day of iPads and miniaturized computing, how come shipboard computers are rated in terms of displacement tons (13.5 to 14 cubic meters depending on the rules version used). In Mayday, like Classic Traveller, computers are rated in terms of CPU and Storage. The CPU rating is how many programs the computer can run simultaneously while Storage is the number of programs that are “loaded” in the computer. This leads to challenging game decisions. When flying my little Free Trader running a Model/1 computer (CPU 2 / Storage 4) I need make sure the right programs are in memory to be used during the turn. I may have the right program on hand, but my computer is too small to keep everything loaded and ready. Larger military ships like the Destroyer with a Model/2 bis (CPU 6 / Storage 6) don’t have as many constraints (and access to many more advanced programs too).

Although Mayday is not “true” to the commonly accepted Classic Traveller/Cepheus Engine rules the differences make for a more interesting game. Incredibly, it’s all because of the technology chosen.

#SciFiFriday – #Triplanetary (@SJGames) Third Edition @kickstarter

I first played Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat back in the early 1980’s. One of my friends had the GDW version and we (kinda) liked it, but all that vector movement seemed like so much work. Worse, moving in space using vectors made it impossible to do all those fancy X-Wing maneuvers like in Star Wars.

When a new Third Edition was Kickstarted by Steve Jackson Games, I jumped in. The game was promised for an August delivery; I got my copy in June! You can see more about the game at the SJGames.com website which also has some neat older, and newer, materials.

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Courtesy SJGames.com

My first out-of-the-box impressions are positive:

  • Classic Feel – The counters are retro but it reinforces the “classic” game feeling.
  • White Maps? – I first thought it silly that space would be a white map but it has to be to plot your vectors!
  • Game Mechanics – The rulebook is 16 pages, inclusive of rules and scenarios. The core mechanic (vector movement) is dead simple with an uncomplicated combat system included.
  • Model Enough – As game designer Volko Runke (@Volk26) says, all games are models. This model of space movement (vector movement) is a 2D representation of a 3D problem presented on a map that is NOT to scale. That said, the basics of moving in space are here. Want to see what a flip and burn is? How about a gravity slingshot? Watch your fuel supply! It’s all here!

I am looking forward to playing this one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, especially Youngest RMN who has an interest in aerospace engineering. As much as he likes the (legitimately awesome) Kerbal Space Program, and as much as Kerbal shows about space engineering, I think Triplanetary will deliver another level of learning and discovery. That is because it is a boardgame, where the model is manipulated by the user and not hidden in a black box like in a computer game. What I saw as “useless work” back in the early 80’s I now see as a very useful model that is fun to play AND enlightening.

Featured image courtesy SJGames.com

Red Alert – or Dread Alert?

Richard Borg’s Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare is up on Kickstarter at the moment. Offered by the Plastic Soldier Company (PSC) I can pledge to support for about 120 US dollars.

Bonding with Board Games posted this “digital preview:”

While the game topic (theme?) is interesting to me, as a longtime naval and space warfare gamer I have mixed feelings.

First, I am not sure that the Left-Center-Right concept of a battlefield makes sense for space combat. The core issue in any space combat game is how to show three-dimensional combat on a 2-D board. Who can forget the classic “two dimensional thinking” in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?

Most space games simply ignore the three dimensional aspects. Other games, like Squadron Strike: Traveller (another Kickstarter I am – still – waiting for) make it part of the game, albeit at greater complexity.

Some space combat games take the other extreme. A favorite game of mine is the space combat system found in the (Classic) Traveller RPG Book 5 High Guard. This game system has its weaknesses, as defined by the famous Eurisko incident using the Trillion Credit Squadron (TCS) tournament rules:

Trillion Credit Squadron was used as a test case for artificial intelligence researcher Douglas Lenat’s machine learning system Eurisko. Lenat programmed the TCS tournament rules into Eurisko, and the system designed a fleet of large, stationary, defenseless, and heavily armed ships.

  • This fleet then won the 1981 TCS national championship tournament at the Origins ’81 convention. GDW changed the rules for the following tournament, but Eurisko adapted to the changes and its fleet won the championship again. GDW threatened to cancel the tournament if a Eurisko-designed fleet entered again, and Lenat declined to do so, accepting the title “Grand Admiral” as consolation.[1] Lenat’s 1981 fleet design (including 75 Eurisko class Gunships) was printed in JTAS issue #10. (http://wiki.travellerrpg.com/Trillion_Credit_Squadron)

So the question facing me is playability or realism? More directly, is this game worth $120 of fun with my family, or is it $120+ of personal frustration? As I look at the campaign this morning, the Carrier Escalation Pack has unlocked, for a mere £14.50 extra. PSC apparently hopes we all subscribe to the old saying. “in for a penny, in for a pound.”

Then there is my usual Kickstarter concerns. Giving $120 +shipping +expansion packs NOW for a game SCHEDULED to deliver in March 2019 (or 9 months from campaign end) is becoming harder to accept.

As appealing as the is campaign looks to the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I think I am going to pass. The money involved can get us lots more gaming products NOW rather than a riskier investment into the future.