Sunday, October 9, 2016

Target Locked-On! Play Test and Rules Review

I have sort of came out of my funk. Part of crawling my way back to the top was to give myself permission/space to do something fun for me. A lot time ago, I had planned to play a series of short microarmor games using the same units but using different rules. This would be a way of playtesting various rules. I decided to do the same with modern jet combat rules. I think I have about 16 sets of rules including both hard copy and on pdf. I don't think I can play test all of them, but I'll give it my best shot. I've already played AirWar:C21 a few times, so I will put that one on the bottom of the playtest list.

First off is Target Locked-On! by Rory Crabb.

He has put out several rules including ones for both modern and pre-dreadnought naval. You can find them on Wargames Vault, but the supplements are free on his website.

For all of these test games, I will be using my two favorite protagonists, the MIG-21 and the F-5A/F-5E. They duked it out the first air combat game I played with my friend Karl and I've come to liked them. I played around with ComicLife app for the pictures. The captions within the pictures gave the narrative, whereas the text below each picture is the commentary on the picture.

The Battle
The battle took place on a 2' x 4' foam game mat:

The two sides were at opposite ends of the game mat. In hindsight, I probably could have used only a 2' x 2' playing area.

The colored die behind each plane serves to indicate which plane corresponds with its data sheet and to indicate the current altitude. The altitude range from one to six. The die in front indicates who goes first, second, etc. This is determined by the skill level of each pilot. I made all pilots the same skill level.

I rolled for altitudes. The F-5 group rolled low. This cost them a lot of fuel to gain altitude.

Turn 1

The F-5's, especially the black one, wasted a lot of fuel early in the game trying to reach the MIG-21's altitude. This would force them to really have to think about maneuvers later in the game as all maneuvers except dives use up a lot of fuel. On the other hand, the MIGs just cruised along until they were close enough to dive in and attack the F-5s.

Turn 2
Again, probably could have made the game board smaller. Oh well. A way to remedy that might be to increase the movement increments.

Your maneuver is a freebie, after that, you have to roll versus skill level to execute a maneuver. Planes have a set number of maneuvers. For example, the MIG-21 can execute three per turn; the F-5 can execute four. However, every time you try another maneuver, not only do you have to roll for success versus pilot skill, you subtract 1 from your roll. 

Radar locks are not required to launch missiles, but they improve the chance to hit. Unfortunately, there were a lot of radar lock failures.

I called it a night at the end of turn 2 and resumed the next evening. There was a lot of finger crossing that my son wouldn't get in and disrupt things.

Turn 3

Having four successful maneuvers paid off for the black F-5, or so he hoped. He pretty much left himself open to the white MIG-21 to swing around and attack him, and so he did...

What seemed to come up in the game was that most of the time the planes were too close to use their missiles. Missiles have a minimum range, and each time planes ended up too close to their opponent to use them. So, they resorted to their guns, which missed all the time.

Turn 4

By turn four, it seemed that there wasn't going to be a resolution. The F-5s were running out of fuel. The MIG-21 should have fired his missile at the yellow F-5, but missed the chance.

I thought I'd be fancy and try a split-s. The black F-5 had just enough fuel to pull it off. He did, and it have him some speed to escape.

The consequence of failing a maneuver. The white MIG-21 could have had a chance at firing a missile at the black F-5, but he failed a second turn and was out of the zone. 

I suppose that the yellow F-5 could have tried to attack the white MIG-21, but I gave a quick decision die roll and the yellow pilot decided instead to just leave off the board. He didn't have a whole lot of fuel left either.

Although the two MIG-21s had plenty of fuel, their speed had been greatly reduced. The green MIG tried to gain some speed to catch up to the fleeing black F5, but the pilot figured he wouldn't have gotten within missile range before the F5 left the table. This was because he had really lowered his speed early on but never sped up. Even with a dive, which adds to your speed, wasn't enough to catch up.

Critique of the Rules
OK, now for the critique of them. I have to preface this by saying that first, I only have played a few air combat games such as AirWar: C21, Panzer 8's air combat rules, and AH's Richtofen's War to compare with. I do not claim to be an expert on air warfare games. Second, it could be that I missed something when reading the rules so my criticisms could be invalid. If that is the case, please let me know.

Sequence of Play
Target Locked-On! states there are three phases to each turn:

1. Reaction
2. Activation
3. Morale

Reaction is just deciding when each plane gets to do something. Morale is whether or not a plane remains in play based on things like damage, etc. Activation is when all the action happens: movement, maneuvering, firing weapons and all that good stuff. The problem is that the rules don't say when to do what. Can you shoot first then move/maneuver? Or is it the other way around? Or does everyone move first, then shoot? Based on the order of the reading of the rules, I assumed that each plane moved and maneuvered first, then fired at an opponent. In some cases actions are rather vague.  Attempting a radar lock occurs after you fire guns and before you launch missiles,based on where they were in the rules. I made the decision to attempt a radar lock before a plane moved/maneuvered. That way the pilot can plan his moves better. Another example is that an opposing player can execute an evasive maneuver when it's the target of a missile attack. Does this mean the plane gets to move before it's supposed to? What if the plane already moved? A clarification of what happens when during the activation phase would really help.

I really liked the mechanics of movement and maneuvering themselves, especially the fuel loss and that the pilots have to roll to see if a maneuver succeeds. It made me really think long term, especially for the F-5 jets who wasted a lot of fuel trying to get to the same level as their opponents. It also gave a tactical advantage to the MIG-21s who were at a higher altitude. Having a one to six altitude range made book keeping very simple: just use a D6 to indicate current altitude.

Movement Increments
The movement is in centimeters. It seemed like that was a little too small of an increment. On the other hand, inches may be too large. A good compromise could be 2 cm increments. The maneuver templates seem about that size anyway.

Missiles all have a minimum and a maximum range. The problem for the game that I played was that the planes ended up not being able to fire missiles due to the minimum range constraint. The maximum missile ranges for almost all missiles are the same as a gun range.  Missiles do double the damage that guns do, but I am not sure what the advantage missiles have beyond that. I think that making missile ranges longer or gun ranges shorter might might improve the usefulness of missiles. I'd make the minimum missile ranges a little more minimum.

A bigger issue I had was that it seemed awfully hard to either hit or do any damage. Both times, jets firing their guns missed their targets and they were not lousy die rolls; i.e., rolled a one. For fun I rolled a bunch of times on the F-5 firing on the MIG-21. It took four tries before I rolled a hit, but then the hit didn't damage the MIG even with the 4+ roll to do damage.

The last thing I have to say regarding weapons is the type of missile guidance. The missile chart shows the type of guidance each missile has, but it doesn't seem to make a difference in combat, or at least I didn't see it in the rules. In AirWar: C2, the type of guidance does make a difference. It's not a big deal, but why put it into the rules if they are not to be used.

I think Target Locked-On! is a good game. It's worth the money and is becoming more and more supported as the author puts out new aircraft stats. I think it took me about three hours to complete over two nights. Once I got used to how the rules worked, it moved pretty fast. If the author puts out a second edition, my main suggestion is to better clarify the order things take place during the activation phase. It also makes for a pretty good solo game. I didn't use morale, but the pilot data can help make decisions during a solo game.

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