Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Balance, and Bombers in Blood Red Skies

Morning everyone!

Yup it's just gone 5am here in Renkoville and I can't sleep so I thought I would try and get a blog post out. I've been slipping of late, mainly due to some work\life\game balance issues, so I thought I would try and kill 2 birds with one stone, and look at some new scenarios Andy Chambers is working on for Blood Red Skies. First up is "Transport Hunt" - which can be found in it's beta form here on the  Ready Room Facebook Group (where all discerning BRS players meet) or here on the Warlord Games BRS Forum for those who prefer not to sell their soul to Facebook. Transport Hunt is one of a batch of interesting new scenarios Andy is developing for a future BRS expansion, and he kindly agreed to allow me to publish it early to give players something to do with their Ju52s and DC3s.

The scenario is based around an offensive sweep of fighters through an area being used by transports, with some escorts thrown into the mix. It's an interesting game because the transports only appear when the sweep finds them, and then they head for safety as fast as possible. However there have been a couple of  queries raised about balance, and rather than pop a quick answer on FB where it would probably be lost in a week, I thought it may be better to give a fuller version of my thoughts here (where it will be lost in a fortnight). So - balance and bombers in BRS.

The fundamental issue with bombers (and transports) in BRS is that the game is about fighters. Andy Chambers made a decision early on that bombers and other non fighters would really play secondary roles, basically as targets or objectives. The scenarios are all written with this in mind, and to me it makes a lot of sense. The problem with bombers is, they're not fighters (doh!). Their role in the air war is pivotal but essentially passive - they go from a to b, do their thing, then go back (hopefully) from b to a. Enemy fighters will try and stop them, and friendly fighters will try to protect them. So, point 1, bombers are not fighters :-)

Point two is about players and game styles. BRS was written with a large audience in mind. Parts of it are pure historical \ scenario driven, but it also tries to include a more casual \ tournament style of game play, where you just turn up with 500 points and get stuck in. It is extraordinarily difficult to get the two to mesh because the historical features of bombers are not the same as fighters (see point 1) so working out a "points" value for them using the same formulae for fighters is not going to work. The way Andy is trying to get around this is by broadly assuming that most bombers are functionally similar, so a Blenhiem is broadly equivalent to a Do17 or SB2, and adding elements to bomber missions based on that broad type, so a mission will include up to six single engine bombers, or three twin engine, or two four engine bombers. It is broad brush, but it does work. A fighter pilot really doesn't care if the target is a Do17 or a Ju88, and nor should we.

However where there is a problem where the broad brush approach does stutter a little, and that is is pilot (in this case crew) skill.  In "Transport Hunt", and indeed all the bomber scenarios, there is no mention of crew skill levels. Partly this is my fault - I asked Andy to trim the scenario down to a manageable size for publication on The Ready Room. It is part of a bigger document and some bits are still in development, but also when written I suspect Andy didn't think crew skills were that much of an issue, but players sometimes have different viewpoints and questions about crew skill have appeared. Anyway, here is my solution to the "what crew skills should my bomber have" question. It depends!

Option 1 - use the random crew skill option. Page 3 of the BRS Scenarios booklet has a random pilot skill table you can use. This is mainly designed for the historical scenario players, and can result in some wild variations. There are some problems with using this option in games with lots of bombers as it is easy from a management point of view that all the bombers move together as far as is possible within the advantage system, but with relatively small numbers involved it works.

Option 2 - rate all bombers the same. The KISS option. Assume all bomber crews are reasonably experienced and rate them as Skill 3 (or 2 if the scenario is about rookies).

Option 3 - use an average skill rating over all the bombers in a Squadron. For instance three twin engine planes could all have skill 3 crews, or one could be skill 4, another skill 3 and the last skill 2 - they average out at skill 3 so overall should balance. This is more interesting for the mini-max players out there.

So there is my insomnia dealt with, plus some ramblings and suggestions. I'm hoping to try another playtest of Andy's draft scenarios this evening - "The Way Home", a battered bomber formation struggling back to home and under attack, and then on Friday I'm at Nottingham where we will be having a go at trying to sink some ships with Mosquitoes - watch this space :-) 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

That sinking feeling - Fallout 76 and Cruel Seas ramblings

Loads of real world "stuff" has kept my gaming limited, plus Fallout 76.

For those of you who may be interested F76 is the latest pc (and console) game set in the Fallout \ Post Apocalyptic world. Unlike the previous versions it is multi player, which is certainly different. It is also bugged to hell and on balance should never have been released in the state it is in - but it is clear the "suits and accountants" have rushed it out. The reception has been hostile and the reviews brutal, and mostly justified. The problem is, behind all the damned stupid bugs, disconnections, stability issues and plain screw ups there is a rather good game lurking underneath. I have been playing it quite a bit. It will be interesting to see how it develops, or if , as some suggest, it is fatally holed beneath the waterline.

Which smoothly segues into Cruel Seas, which should be out in a few days time. CS is Warlord Games' foray into WW2 Coastal \ Fast Attack. Still not a lot known about it, other than it is John Stallard's (who owned Warlord) pet project. Warlord are throwing the kitchen sink at this. The first two plastic frames have been given away free on the front of Decembers Wargames Illustrated, and another two in January's issue. As I mentioned before, they're in 1:300, which is a bold choice. Initially I was a bit sceptical as this is a big scale, but having painted one of the boats I can see the appeal. One other (I assumed) unplanned side effect is this game isn't going to suffer size creep - anything larger than a gunboat or corvette will be too big to put on a table. Warlord are not trying to tie ground scale (sea scale?) into the models or weapons ranges - pretty much like Bolt Action this is TLAR (That Looks About Right) so we will have MTBs moving further than some of their guns can shoot - which is a bit strange. I do have some misgivings about the rules, but it is a bit difficult to articulate - there seems to be a lot of dice rolling - in fact it seems very "traditional" - in fact that is the term that has been used several times when in discussion with people who have played. That may not be a bad thing, but we will know at the weekend when they hit the shelves - assuming there are no last  minute delays - something Warlord seem prone to at the moment. The ranges thing may not really be that much of an issue - you can justify it by saying it is all happening at night - as no MTB or S-Boat would be running around in daylight unless something very strange was happening.

Anyway, here is the first MTB painted - a Vosper, and I think it's a 72 footer but more knowledgeable heads may correct me. I do think it looks rather nice - even accepting the massively overscale mast 

Meanwhile I have ordered a couple of models from Heroics and Ros who also do a small 1:300 range of Coastal Warfare stuff, so I can compare the two.

Anyway, enough for now - hope to have something more informed on CS at the weekend. Cheers

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Blood Red Skies Retrospective

Blood Red Skies (BRS) has been out for a couple of months. Written by "veteran" games designer Andy Chambers and available from Warlord Games. Now the bloom of enthusiasm has worn off, I thought it worth having a warts and all look at the game.

So what do you get for your £40 RRP?

Assuming you have bought or are looking at buying the starter set you get quite a lot. Six Spitfires, six Me109Es, bases, skill disks, cards, dice, rules, scenarios, measuring sticks, cloud and bomber templates and counters. You also get three rule books - basic rules, Advanced Rules and Scenarios.  Its all well made, the card parts particularly are excellent quality and look the business. There is a nice Art Decor theme to the graphics which ties it all together well.  The models are pre-coloured - brown for the Brits, grey for Germans, and they come with some stickers for national emblems which are clearly there for six year-olds but add little or nothing to the more experienced war gamer. I think Warlord hope to sell the game as playable out of the box, with no painting or assembly needed, possibly hoping to get it into non war gaming players?

There are some annoying issues however.

The models are prone to warping - particularly the Spitfires wings. This can be fixed with a quick dip in hot water to straighten them, and is nothing unusual with plastic models. The problem is there seems to be a tendency for that to be repeated, and sometimes it is quite serious. I don't think I would be keen on having to regularly dip painted models in hot water. The 109 is also a strange model in that it seems to be a "generic" 109 with some features of different versions. There is a more detailed look at them on an earlier post.  The models also seem to be a little under 1:200 scale - no idea why as the resin masters I saw were spot on so clearly a production issue (China I presume). They are in the "gaming piece" rather than "model" end of the scale - but serviceable non the less and they paint up really well.

Then there's the "cool" measuring template. It looks quite nice, but about thirty seconds into your first game you realise that when you use it you have to place the model on top of the template then remove the template -  it is a bit of a faff on. Later it becomes apparent that for some reason the actual measuring scale is wrong at the far end of the scale - I can only assume the original got re-scaled somewhere along the line. This isn't a problem if both players use the same tool, but as soon as someone starts to use a tape measure it becomes one because they go further! There are also a couple of typos (we all make mistooks) and some of the wording and diagrams seem less clear than they could be, leading to some confusion when playing. This last is causing some comment from ex X Wing players who are used to a much more precise style of rules writing than the historical guys.

The "Advantage" bases are pretty nice too. These are a clever pivoting base that is used to represent status on the table - reducing the need for counters and therefore table clutter, and after several months of playing mine still retain the necessary "click" that makes them work. I have heard some people don't like them, but if they bother you that much you could just use counters.

The Basic rules work well, and certainly will hit the casual gamer target audience. The Advanced Rules introduce card play which adds an additional level of game play and detail that will give more interest and longevity. The six Scenarios are designed to guide the player through the concepts in easy steps - which they mostly do, although I must admit the bomber escort scenario is one that could have used a bit more polishing as the interaction between the rules for multi engine aircraft and loaded bombers seems to confuse some people.

The rules are slick and give a fast game that does not, as someone else said rather cruelly but with some truth about another set of WW2 dogfight rules, feel like "Penguins on roller skates". The "Advantage" system manages to give a fast flowing and fluid game in 2D that represents the essence of a swirling dogfight in 3D, situation constantly changing. Initiative means even a poor pilot can get the drop on an Ace if he is set up right, but Pilot Skill is everything when you get into a dogfight, which is as it should be, and even a marginal skill advantage can really turn the tables.  Gunnery is easy to understand and again flows well, and the adoption of the "Boom Chit" as a morale \ fuel \ ammunition count system for air games is both novel and interesting. The card play is interesting too,  a bit clunky at times but adds a real extra dimension to the game.

There has been some criticism about the balance of the starter set, with the 109s being overpowered by the Spitfires, but I think this is a learning curve issue - basically the Spitfire gets the "Tight Turn" trait card, which is easy to use and because you have one per plane you are pretty much golden in a straight turn fight. The 109 has Great Climb and Great Dive. These are harder to get the most out of, particularly Great Dive, but once players understand Great Climb, and use it as often as they can, then the 109 really starts to compete - which is another way of saying "don't turn fight a Spitfire in a 109", which seems spot on to me.

The other criticism levelled with some validity is the choice of planes in the initial release. In addition to the 109E and Spitfire MkII Warlord have released a Yak 1, A6M5 Zero, and a P51D - all available in Squadron boxes of 6 with all the cards etc you need to play them and colour coded - another nod at "out of the box" and casual gamers. For the historical gamers this choice really causes problems as the Zero is the late version and the P51D is way out of sync with the others as far as service dates goes. Warlord are working on new releases, but having set their standards at pre coloured plastic there is a significant delay before any new releases - Wave 2 is Fw190, Hurricane, Me110 and Mosquito, but no official release date has yet been announced other than some time this year.

So is it worth it?

In my opinion , Oh YES. Possibly the most innovative set of rules out there for years. They're far from perfect and still need some polish - odd rough edge smoothed off, but I suspect BRS is going to be around for quite some time if Warlord get the support for it right.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Wasteland Wanderings

I've been a bit busy with work and "stuff" recently, and not doing a lot of gaming, however I have a soft spot, and it just got prodded.


For those of you who don't know, Fallout is a series of computer games set in an alternate future, a rather bleak post nuclear apocalypse where small groups of survivors struggle to survive against each other, horribly mutated creatures and all that. The games have a rich and interesting background, and allow you on the whole to wander around to your hearts content til you get eaten by the aforementioned horribly mutilated creatures. One of the attractive parts of the background is the image of mankind desperately trying to rebuild but without the technology - nothing new is being built, everything (just about) is scavenged from the ruins of the old.

Modipius announced they were going to be bringing Fallout to the tabletop a year or so ago. The game is called Fallout Wasteland Warfare. I was lukewarm about it when the details came out - it was expensive and another game in another non standard figure size - 32mm, which would mean you couldn't easily use other miniatures.  I shrugged and got on with other projects.

One of my regular opponents Paul decided to buy the starter set, and we had a go last week. It was an interesting game - enough to make me pick up a box of figures and paint it. That seems to have been a good decision.

First impressions was this was a very fussy game, with a plethora of counters, cards, different dice, measuring sticks - just about every gadget under the sun. The rules at first glance were similarly complex and labyrinthine. However once we played a couple of turns it all seemed to click into place, and much of that fussiness and complexity now looks like an attempt to be complete and future proofing.

The miniatures in the starter set are slightly bendy pvc plastic - not too bad, however the resin models in the expansions are very nice indeed.

We're still learning how the game works, but I have to say I am quite impressed and have rushed out to buy some more. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Cruel Seas - Warlord Games goes Postal - err Coastal

So I was at Warlord Games Open day on Saturday (22nd September). This was my second year at the event, and truth be told this time it seemed slightly less busy, however I assume it being held on the same day as the nearby and new Derby convention ChillCon contributed to the fairly muted atmosphere.

I was there to do some Blood Red Skies, and in theory Warlord were pushing their Black Powder 2 release, Strontium Dog etc, but the main interest for me and most of the others I spoke to was my first look at Cruel Seas.

Cruel Seas is Warlord's entry into WW2 naval wargaming - and they're doing it with something of a bang. The game revolves around Coastal Forces - shorthand for Motor Torpedo Boats and the like. They were running demo's but as I was busy elsewhere I missed them sadly, so I cant comment on game play, but I can comment on the models, which were stunning.

Clearly inspired by the phrase "Go Big or Go Home" Warlord have went for 1:300 scale for their models. That's twice the size of the older Skytrex "Narrow Seas" range. For example an S Boat is almost 12 cm long.  I missed getting a game, but I did acquire a couple of test sprues, one German, one British, and they are VERY nice indeed. Each sprue contains 2 boats. The British one has a Vosper 73 ft MTB (beloved of Airfix) and a 72 ft. the German has two different S Boats (sorry, I don't know which they are). As with all test sprues there are issues - some sink holes and I think the S-Boats are missing some guns, but the overall level of detail and proportions look excellent, and the whole point of test shots is to highlight problems before they happen so they can be fixed.

Warlord are planning at least 6 "Fleets" - UK, USA, Germany, Italy, Soviets and Japan. Each will get a selection of ships, with the majority being in resin but at least the S Boats and Vospers being plastic - possibly the PT boats too. The fleets all are very well developed - no sign of the "one model a side" approach taken with Blood Red Skies, there seems to be half a dozen models for each faction increasing in size up to Corvette size. That p*ssed me off a bit as a BRS player - we've had to wait a year for any real  expansion, but it is clear where Warlord have been prioritising. Sour grapes aside, the models look bloody good.

Release date is being mooted as December, so something very much to look forward to for Christmas

Warlord Games Open Day - The Future is Bright, and Blood Red

So back from the Warlord Games Open Day, with a bunch of updates and general BRS related information gleaned by attending the seminar by Andy Chambers - Internationally Renowned Games Designer (or IRDG for short) and also cunning interrogation techniques worthy of the KGB.

So all that aside here we go, and in no particular order

1. Warlord are planning a second Blood Red Skies Starter set for release "next year". It will follow the same format as the Battle of Britain one but will be centred on Pacific carrier warfare - Midway being the focus. Still in development but Plastic Wildcats (huzzah!) and Zeros. The Zero is slated to be the same one from the current release - ie the later A6M5 not the A6M2 that should be there - rivet counters like me will be disappointed but the costs of another tool when the models are so close visually it doesn't make financial sense, however the stats and cards will be different (I assume). Lots still unanswered such as will the Wildcats be hard or soft plastic, when is it expected etc, but plenty to be hopeful for - would expect some new scenarios involving torpedo and dive bombing too. ETA "Next Year"

2. Card packs. Warlord are releasing card packs (Hallelujah!) to allow some expansion. These will be Nation specific sets to allow you to play aircraft that are not available yet. The example given for the RAF was it would include later marks of Spitfire, plus possibly Typhoons and Hurricanes, plus the associated Trait and Doctrine cards. Similar packs for US, German, Russian and Japanese, with the possibility of USN\USMC and Italians. First release expected "early in the New Year"

3. Plastic expansions. We saw "test shots" of the new Hurricanes, Mosquito, Fw190 and Me110. Test shots are pre production models that are run to test the mould for issues before it goes into production. They are hard plastic NOT the soft of the current releases. They still have a couple of issues but initial impression was very favourable - I will do a full post on this later but for now thumbs up. Hurricanes and Mosquito's release is expected early November, 190 and 110 January (ish). No idea if the production ones will be pre coloured - forgot to ask (doh!). On the subject of hard plastic, it is unlikely the current "soft" plastic models will be re released in hard plastic if it means new mould plates, again a question of economics over desirability.

4. Plastic Yanks. This slipped out in conversation but the next plastic set AFTER the Germans will be US and will be the P40 and P38 - no confirmed date but next year.

5. More metal. I've rattled on about why BRS should be in plastic or resin not metal but I could be wrong. Warlord hope so - they've released the Wildcat set in metal and I bought it to try it out. Again I will be doing a fuller review at a later date. The advantage of metal is the individual models are more expensive to produce but the set up costs are far less - the upshot being if the Wildcats and Kates sell we may see some more in metal. They have already done the 3D design work on Beaufighters and Ju87s for Cruel Seas (more later) and they see no reason why they could not upscale them to 1:200. If the metals work we could see more by the end of this year so......glass half full I suppose.

6. More Aces. There is a good chance we will see more aces, at least two for each release. Bombo Schenk, Otto Kittel and Pips Priller got a mention. Ace packs are a good way for Warlord to fill release schedules as they will use existing models and they give players more options.

Andy Chambers IRGD is busy on new ground attack rules and missions for BRS too. We playtested his early draft High Altitude Interception scenario and it worked rather well - needs tweaks but where it went wrong was more me trying to push too much in rather than problems with the scenario, which I suppose is why IRGD is IRGD :-)

So overall I came away from the Open Day feeling quite positive for the future of BRS. It was pretty clear reading between the lines Warlord were surprised by the success of BRS and they are taking a bit of time adjusting, but they are getting there. I also bagged a test shot Mossie and Hurricane so I will be able to do a more in depth look at those later.

What do you think - comments welcome below

EDIT I forgot 7. Warlord have a deal with Rebellion who have the rights to the old 2000AD and other UK Comics. This is of interest to BRS players because that includes "Battle", and therefore "Johnny Red". There was a mention of a special Ace \ Squadron box for this , which could conceivably include some Russian planes along with the signature Hurricane.

EDIT I also forgot 8 (old age I suppose) but the possibility of Jets was discussed, with WW2 being pretty much certain, but also extending into the Cold War and possibly Alt History 1946 etc - not the weird war stuff, more the new tech. Similarly pushing the system back to 1914-18. All that seems perfectly possible, at least up to the arrival of the missile which may mess with the way Advantage works, so more to look forward to.


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Uncle Sam to the Rescue - Armaments in Miniature and Miscminis -Superb service from across the pond

 OK this is a quick mention for two US companies based who offer a great service at a very reasonable price, even taking account of the cost of shipping to the UK.

Firstly Armaments in Miniature (link) . I ordered ten models late in the evening of 11th September -  exactly one week ago - and they arrived this morning. Beautiful models, crisp details. Cost to ship them over the Atlantic? $14. Their website is a bit clunky and you have to email your order in, but its well worth it.

Secondly, on the same day I also ordered matching decals for them from Miscellaneous Miniatures (link) , and they too arrived today, shipping $2.50. What is even more impressive I asked Kevin at MiscMinis if he could do me some bespoke decals for a project I am working on, quite a complex one at that, and they were included. That's damned good by anyone's standards.

I'll post the details of the loot at another time, but for now I have to say I cannot recommend both highly enough,  so if you need 1:200th planes, or decals, give them a try, you wont be disappointing.