#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.

avid+example
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.

Avid+Ball
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.

Box+Mini+Roll+and+Pitch
Left – Ship facing A, no pitch or roll, altitude 0. Right – Ship facing A, pitched up 60 degrees, rolled right 30 degrees, altitude +2
weapon+bear+2
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!

#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

beowulfii
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.

My CSR #Wargame Challenge for 2019

This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year. As a wargamer, I sort of like that thought but want something more applicable to my niche of the hobby.

The other night I was messing around with the Advanced Search function of BoardGameGeek and sorting my collection in different ways. For some reason I noticed certain games of mine are Charles S. Roberts Award winners. This drew my attention because wargamers know that Mr. Roberts is the father of modern wargaming:

Charles S. Roberts…invented the modern wargame industry virtually single-handedly. As a designer and original owner-operator of Avalon Hill, he was responsible for the creation of the first modern wargame, including many of the developments, such as the Combat Results Table (CRT), which were later to become commonplace. (grognard.com)

According to Wikipedia, the Charles S. Roberts Awards are:

The Charles S. Roberts Awards (or CSR Awards) was an annual award for excellence in the historical wargaming hobby. It was named in honor of Charles S. Roberts the “Father of Wargaming” who founded Avalon Hill. The award was informally called a “Charlie” and officially called a “Charles S. Roberts Award”….Created at the first Origins Game Convention in 1975….The last year the awards were given was 2012.

After sorting my game collection, I discovered I own 20 CSR Awards winners. The challenge I am giving myself is to play all 20 games at least once by the end of calendar year 2019.

CSRAward
Courtesy consimgames.com

My 2019 CSR Challenge games are:

  1. Squad Leader – 1977 Best Tactical Game
  2. Victory in the Pacific – 1977 Best Strategic Game
  3. Mayday – 1978 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  4. The Ironclads – 1979 Best Initial Release Wargame
  5. Azhanti High Lightning – 1980 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  6. Wings – 1981 Best Twentieth Century Game
  7. Car Wars – 1981 Best Science-Fiction Board Game
  8. Ironbottom Sound – 1981 Best Initial Release Wargame
  9. Illuminati – 1982 Best Science-Fiction Board Game*
  10. World in Flames – 1985 Best Twentieth Century Game
  11. 7th Fleet – 1987 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  12. Tokyo Express – 1988 Best World War II Boardgame
  13. Tac Air – 1988 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  14. Operation Shoestring: The Guadalcanal Campaign – 1990 Best World War II Board Game
  15. For the People – 1998 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  16. Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 – 1990 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  17. Crisis: Korea 1995 – 1993 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  18. Paths of Glory – 1999 Best Pre-World War II Boardgame
  19. Downtown: The Air War Over Hanoi, 1965-1972 – 2004 Best Modern Era Boardgame
  20. Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear – 2008 Best World War II Boardgame

A nice perk of making my own challenge is that I get to make the rules. For instance, since I don’t always own the edition that won substituting a later edition or version that I own is acceptable. For instance, I own Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) – that is a legal substitute.

I will keep this blog and a GeekList over on BoardGameGeek updated with my progress throughout the year.

So, what is your 2019 Wargame Challenge? 


*  Yes, I know Illuminati is NOT a wargame, but it is the only non-wargame CSR winner on my list. Besides, the RockyMountainNavy Boys may like it, so it stays!

Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek. Afrika Korps was a 1964 design by Charles S. Roberts.

“You’re using Star Wars and physics in the same sentence….”

I had an unusual exchange on Twitter the other day. Unusual because I (frankly) was a bit of a jerk to @beltalowda_ and unusual because I let popular sci-fi get under my skin.

First, the exchange:

IMG_799365D945E9-1

I cut off my response because I was a bit of a jerk and talked down to @beltalowda_ (hey, if you’re reading this, sorry!).

The main point I was trying to make (on Twitter? I must be crazy!) is that science fiction and science fact don’t mix well, especially in the realm of gaming. Star Wars is nominally science fiction (I would argue it is more science fantasy but that is another, fruitless, discussion) and the games related to the franchise reflect that origin. Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game today is ranked as the #63 game overall on BoardGameGeek as well as the #7 Customizable Game (interestingly, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures – The Force Awakens Core Set is ranked #4 in the Customizable Game category). These games use what gamers often refer to as “cinematic movement,” i.e. they fly about in space like airplanes. This is far different from what space combat will likely look like. Atomic Rockets, IMNSHO one of the best sites on the internet, devotes a whole section to Space War and what is closer to reality. For me, one of the hallmarks of a hard sci-fi game is the use of vector movement, ala (loosely) The Expanse.

Overall, The Expanse is better at hard sci-fi than many shows but even here there is a good deal of “handwavium” involved. Scott Manley on YouTube has made one of the better explanations so far:

My personal gaming experience has shown the same conflict between hard and popular sci-fi. I have bounced between hard (realistic?) sci-fi and more cinematic portrayals. Here is a list of a few games in my collection and how they looked at space combat:

Finding the right balance between popular sci-fi and hard sci-fi gaming is tricky. For myself, games like Star Fleet Battles and its derivatives are fun because of the theme since when playing these games I am choosing theme over mechanics. Some of the more hard sci-fi games are fun with a bit or realism thrown in (like Mayday) but some go too far (Squadron Strike: Traveller) where the fun has a hard time overcoming the difficulty of rules and play.

The upside of all this is that the gaming scene is broad enough that either preference, cinematic or vector, can be accommodated. It’s a matter of choice, and the game industry is healthy enough to give us that choice. Even if I am choosing not to play.

Hattip to @TableTopBill who commented on my tweet with the title of this post.

#WargameWednesday Retrospective – Victory in the Pacific (Avalon Hill, 1977 Second Edition)

pic188896_mdVictory in the Pacific (VITP) is one of the oldest games in my collection. Originally published in 1977, it won the Charles S. Roberts Award for Best Strategic Game that year. My copy is a Second Edition with a 1988 Avalon Hill Game Company catalog inside. For many years the game sat on my shelf partially because – as itself states – it is an Introductory-level wargame and my personal tastes run to other difficulty levels. However, with the RMN boys now getting into more wargaming, I pulled VITP out to see if it would make a good game for them. What I discovered is that VITP is a “diamond in the rough.” The game itself (mechanics and gameplay) are wonderful, but the game suffers from early wargame publishing issues that present challenges.

1.0 Rules

pic669500_md1.01 The rulebook for VITP is short but difficult to understand. It is laid out in the old SPI style (numbered paragraphs) that should make it easy to cross reference. However, the arrangement of the rules is not intuitively easy to follow; finding even basic game concepts like the Sequence of Play or the Combat Round Action Sequence [my term] is very difficult. It’s all there, but buried within walls of text with little real cross-reference or even logical order. I do not want to turn this game over to the RMN boys “as-is” because the rules will likely create confusion. Even if I was to introduce the game to them, I eventually will need to let them go it alone; the rules as written are not very supportive of that course of action.

Mapboard

pic669499_mdThe mapboard is functional. The colors are very 1970’s – not totally hideous but abstract in a classic Monopoly sort of way. The mapboard is in some ways too big; there is some real estate around the edges that could possibly be used for port holding boxes (like Yokosuka or Truk or Ceylon or Pearl Harbor). This would certainly help with stacking counters on the map!

Counters

pic175059_mdSpeaking of counters, they are nice and big. This makes them easy to stack or sort. The counters themselves are a great example of functional simplicity with easy-to-read factors. The color palate is a bit bland, but once again it was the 1970’s!

Game Mechanics

Reinforcements – Movement – Combat – Control. Speed Rolls can be a bit confusing because the Speed Factor on the counter is not a “speed” in terms of areas moved but number that must be rolled under to move an additional area. Combat resolution is from the school of “Yahtzee combat”; roll a number of d6 equal to your Attack Factor and try to get 6’s (or 5-6 if the firing unit has an Attack Bonus). A 5 Disables, a 6 is a Hit with another d6 rolled for the amount of Damage. When Damage exceeds the Armor Factor (defense rating) a ship is Sunk (removed from the game) or an air unit/amphib destroyed (to return two turns later). Doesn’t really get much simpler.

Now that I look at it, I see that movement is “roll low” but combat is “roll high.” Another rules area of potential confusion?

Gameplay

Although VITP is an Introductory-level game, I was pleasantly surprised (and delighted) with the “historical feel” of the game. At the strategic level, the Japanese start out dominating in force but must husband ships for the long conflict. This is neatly in contrast to the Allies who over the course of several turns build up huge forces. Thus, the Allies will likely favor a longer view of battle (i.e. the Allies must be patient and not rush for a quick victory). This in turn drives a strategy that is very historical where the Japanese player pushes out to establish a defensive perimeter and then tries to attrite the Allied player as they start the island-hopping campaign across the Pacific. Having the US move second in each phase also is a nice nod to the historical intelligence advantage the US possessed.

At the operational level, the choice of Patroller or Raider makes for an interesting dynamic. Patrollers move first and can control an area at the end of the turn. Raiders move later in the turn (after Patrollers have been set) but cannot control an area. Like at the strategic level, having the Allies move second is a nice nod to the operational advantage intelligence gave Allied commanders.

At the tactical level the choice of Day (air strikes) or Night (surface gunnery) actions is evocative of the era. Even the use of a simple Attack Bonus creates the feel more capable/better trained/elite forces.

All that said, it is indicative of just how “game changing” the Japanese battle plan for the opening of the war was that it requires special rules to handle. The Turn 1 Pearl Harbor Air Raid and Indonesia rules actually “break” the game to force a more historical opening. I look forward to playing where the Japanese forego the Pearl Harbor Air Raid and see how that war develops.

Metagaming

pic207078_mdIf I had to pick a weakness of the game, I would point to the Order of Appearance charts. Not that they are ahistorical, but I wonder if they give too much information to the players. The Japanese player can easily see that the forces they start with are pretty much going to be it for the war, whereas the Allied player will see his forces grow turn after turn. This potentially creates a metagame situation for the players; does knowing what reinforcements are coming unduly influence player decisions? I understand that this is addressed by the Japanese player bidding Points of Control at the beginning of the game, but this is a mechanic to balance between players and in effect recognizes that the game (like the historical situation?) is not balanced. In effect, VITP is “play with what you get” not necessarily “what you need.” Does this make it a failed game? No, but it explains other strategic Pacific War games that introduce resources and variable reinforcements. It certainly gives me a new appreciation of the Card Driven Game (CDG) mechanic used in games like Mark Herman’s Empire of the Sun (GMT Games, 2005) which has, to borrow an RPG term, more player agency (and complexity).

Conclusion

Even given its warts, VITP is a good introductory-level wargame. Like I did for GDW’s Mayday game before, I come back to my “simply complex” characterization; the game is simple in mechanics but complex in the depth of gameplay. That said, on the scale of game vs. simulation VITP certainly falls on the game side of the spectrum. That doesn’t make it bad, but highlights to me how I need to frame any “history lesson” that my boys may derive from play. I will eventually hand VITP over to the boys, but not before I search grognard.com or ConSimWorld for some player aids to help “smooth the edges” of this great game.

pic8696_md


All images courtesy BoardGameGeek

#Wargame Retroactive – Mayday (Traveller Game 1, Series 120, GDW 1983)

pic900819_mdWhile I’m waiting for my Squadron Strike: Traveller Kickstarter to deliver, I went back to my first vector movement starship combat game. The game is Mayday from the Classic Traveller RPG-universe. I have the third edition GDW flat box, copyright 1983, with the Series 120 rulebook copyright 1978 and 1980. A Series 120 game was supposed to be playable in under two hours. The back of the box taught me what mayday means and why it may still matter in the future:

 

In the earliest days of radio, a standard distress call was established using the international language of the day. In French, the simple statement help me was expressed m’ai dez. English-speaking radio operators pronounced and spelled the word as mayday. Since then, the word has become as accepted as its Morse code predecessor S.O.S.

In the future, it is likely that monitoring stations will receive the same call from the depths of interplanetary space, faintly repeating a position and a single word, mayday.

Mayday is a science fiction game of small spacecraft in danger, distress, and ship-to-ship combat. The ships are out-fitted by each player with a variety of laser weapons, missiles, defensive systems, and computer packages. Using realistic vector movement, players maneuver their ships against each other on a hexagonal grid. Scenarios include The Grand Prix, The Attack, Piracy, Battle, and Smuggling.

Mayday is played “using realistic vector movement and intriguing combat systems….” Recently, I closely looked through the short (15 page), digest-size rulebook and was struck by both how simple the game was, and yet how much detail and universe-building was contained within.

A Small-Ship Universe

pic514041_mdMayday was also marketed as Traveller Game 1. Mayday took Traveller Book 2 Starships and brought it into a hex and counter setting. What struck me looking through the book is that Mayday is firmly in the “small ship Traveller universe.” Section 8. Ships provides the following starships:

  • Scout (100 ton)
  • Courier (100 ton)
  • Escort (100 ton)
  • Free Trader (200 ton)
  • Yacht (200 ton)
  • Transport (400 ton)
  • Armed Merchant (400 ton)
  • Destroyer (400 ton)
  • Colonial Cruiser (800 ton)
  • Corsair (400 ton)

Small craft are also fuel-limited in Mayday. The Fighter is rated “4G12” meaning it has a maximum acceleration of 4G in a turn, and cannot make more that a total of 12G of acceleration/deceleration before running out of fuel.

Vectoring About

Mayday is the game the taught me what vector movement is. Each starship, small craft, or missile has three counters; the past position, the present position, and the future position. The use of these three counters allows one to readily see the vector movement of the combatants. This easy vector movement system is what I had always focused upon and I didn’t really pay attention to the combat.

Lasers and Missiles Oh My!

In the Mayday version of the Traveller universe there are basically two offensive weapons; Lasers and Missiles. Of the two, the Laser is the most common starship and small craft weapon. However, a close analysis of the Attack Table and Damage Table reveals it is actually not the best weapon. Without consideration of any modifiers, a Laser will hit a starship 58% of the time, whereas a Missile will hit 83% of the time. Against small craft, the chances are 42% for Lasers and 58% for Missiles.

pic516813_mdLasers are also very close-range weapons realistically effective out to no more than 5 hexes (or 5 light seconds). This is because Laser Fire has a -1 Die Modifier (DM) for each hex of range. [Interestingly, Mayday page 12 references Traveller Book 5: High Guard and its fleet combat rules. The Mayday rules state that ships with matched courses (same hex, course, speed) are at “boarding range.” Short range is within 5 hexes (5 light seconds). Long range is beyond 5 hexes, but less than 15. Ships beyond 15 hexes/15 light seconds range are “out of range” and cannot fire.]

The damage potential of a Laser versus a Missile is also dramatically different. If a “hit” is achieved a Laser gets one roll on the Damage Table whereas a Missile gets two rolls if it has a proximity fuse or three rolls (!) if it uses contact detonation. This dramatic difference in damage potential finally brought home to me, more than any number of damage dice, the difference in the power of these two weapons systems in Traveller. It also vividly showed me why Missiles are the weapon of choice for starship combat at the mid-tech levels of Traveller.

Computing Power

Many people criticize the assumptions Traveller made when it came to computers. Marc Miller and company missed with their prediction of the computer revolution. For myself I tend to ignore the inconsistencies with our reality and try to play the game. In the case of starship combat, I think the problems are not as dire as some make them out to be. Instead, I try to play the game using the rules as written to see what the designers were trying to communicate.

In Mayday, like Book 2, computers are actually a key part of ship-to-ship combat. This is because Traveller computers are limited. For example, a Model/1 computer has a “CPU” of 2 and “Storage” of 4. What does this mean? It means that the ship can “load” programs taking up space equal to “Storage” and can “run” programs in a given phase of the turn with sizes the “CPU” can support.

Take a typical Free Trader with a Model/1 computer. According to the ship description, the available computer programs (and size) are:

  • Target 1, Launch 1, Gunner Interact 1, Auto/Evade 1, Return Fire 1, Anti-Missle 2, Maneuver 1,  Jump-1 1, Navigation 1.

No more than 6 “spaces” of programs can be loaded. As you can hopefully see, not all the programs can be “loaded” at once. Thus, the crew must make a decision.

  • Target is needed to shoot, unless one wants a -4 DM for “manual control”
  • Maneuver is needed to change course/speed.
  • Launch is needed to fire missiles…or a small craft
  • Gunner Interact allows characters to use their Gunnery skill (one of the few connections between Mayday and the Traveller RPG)
  • Auto/Evade makes you harder to hit, but cannot be run with the Maneuver program
  • Return Fire must be used with Target and allows ships to fire at ships/craft that fired at them first
  • Anti-Missile is used for point defense against impacting missiles
  • Jump is needed to activate the FTL (hyperspace) drive…useful to escape
  • Navigation is needed to compute the hyperspace jump

There are other programs available, such as Predict (positive DM to hit), Selective (ability to target specific systems), and Maneuver/Evade (harder to hit but less maneuver capability).

Making sure you have the right program available at the right time is crucial for combat in Mayday. For many years I ignored this section and just played with the Simplified Computer Rule:

Any activity may be performed, without regard  to computer program requirements. The size of the ship’s computer is used as an attack DM for lasers (computer model 1 gives a DM of +1) and as a defense DM when attacked by lasers. DMs for range, sand effects, manual control, and anti-missile fire still apply, but no others do. This simplified rule allows concentration on movement and basic combat. 6. Computer Programming (p. 9)

Simply Complex

Mayday is what I call a “simply complex” game. The rules are simple, from easy vector movement to a straight-forward combat system. Taking into account the computer rules really does make this game “intriguing” like the rulebook claims, and that makes it complex in that the choices one makes are relevant, interesting, and impactful. I also appreciate the insight this simple game gives me into the universe building that Marc Miller and friends started 40 years ago.

Mayday is currently rated 5.8 on BoardGameGeek. I personally rated it a 7 (Good – Usually willing to play) back in 2008 when I think I was updating my collection. Given my more recent appreciation for the game, I think it deserves a rating increase to 7.5.

 

 

Wargame Wednesday – Carriers in Space

Courtesy loomingy1 via Flickr

Michael Peck, writing for Foreign Policy National Security Blog, had a very interesting interview with naval analyst Chris Weuve on the concept of aircraft carriers in space. Basically, Mr. Weuve discusses what is “right” and what is “wrong” about aircraft carriers in science fiction.

After reading this article I think it is easy to say that Chris would probably agree that starship combat games that use vector movement (such as Mayday, Power Projection: Fleet, Full Thrust, etc.) are far more realistic than ones that don’t. The article also explains why it was so easy to base Star Wars: X-Wing off the Wings of War series (WWI and WWII) and make it appear “cinematically correct.”

Good comments for designers of science fiction games to keep in mind.