Friday, October 21, 2016

Wings At War: Thud Ridge Play Test and Evaluation

I managed to squeeze in another quick air combat game to test out another set of rules. This time it's Thud Ridge, part of the Wings at War series produced by Tumbling Dice.

Thud Ridge takes place during the Vietnam War. In addition to the rule book, you also get a bunch of Tumbling Dice 1/600 scale jets. A while back, I purchased their air rules covering the Falklands War. I hadn't read that set in a while, but they are identical in mechanics with some particulars to each game setting.

I did say in my previous AAR post that these games were going to pit the MIG 21 against the F5/F5A. When I first read through these rules, I didn't notice that F5 stats were included. I decided to have a match between two opposing MIG 21 forces. Hey, it could happen! Two minor nations both equipped with MIG 21s, or for my fictional campaign, the General tries to depose the Sultan of Northern Chalupistan resulting in a civil war. My friend Karl (a.k.a The General) threatened to do just that several times, but I've managed to hold him off.

Thud ridge has some MIG 21 models, so I painted them up, sort of:

One of these days, I'm going to figure out how to make roundels for 1/600 planes
I couldn't decide how I wanted to paint them, so I made a wash of Future Floor Wax with some India ink and slathered it on. It gave the planes a natural metal look and got into the cracks and panel lines. The photo doesn't do them justice. I was pleased with the result. They faced off against my MIGs that are painted in the official camouflage colors of Northern Chalupistan. For this game, there will be few pictures done in Comic Life. While entertaining, they take too long to make, and the learning curve is still a little high for me.

The Battle
The game required aircraft to be on square bases of 40mm a side. All I had were 25mm steel bases, but I figured close enough. This time, I used cylindrical rare-earth magnets to attach the aircraft to the base and to indicate altitude differences. These would prove to be something of a major inconvenience later in the game.

The opposing sides started off at different altitudes. A roll of the die determined that the silver MIGs were an altitude of 4 whereas the camouflage MIGs were at an altitude of 3. The die behind each plane represents its current energy level. Different maneuvers cost different amounts of energy, so the more energy you have, the more you can do things. The die color also indicates which plane is which.

Turn 1
The rules have the Americans always go first, so again, I randomly chose the camo MIGs to go first. Not much happens on the first turn. Both camo MIGs move straight, which costs only a single action point per 5cm. The silver MIGs moved then breaked to slow their speed. Both plan to dive the next turn. If they dived under full energy, they would have gained two more energy points than their maximum, running the risk of breaking up and crashing.

Turn 2
The camo MIGs decided to climb. And climb they did, costing them three action points and more importantly, using up a good chunk of energy to do so:

Camo MIGs climbing to meet their enemy. Big drop in power: from 5 to 2.

Seeing how the camo MIGs climbed to meet them, the green MIG of the silver side flies straight at the black MIG of the camo side. Unfortunately, he stops just short of cannon range, and can't launch his heat-seeking missiles because he must be behind his target:

Yellow MIG does go ahead and dives thinking he can get behind white MIG:

Yellow MIG-21 just after his dive. One altitude level lower and back to full power.
With these rules, you don't get to move further on just a dive, but you do pick up energy.

Turn 3
Now things got exciting...

The camo MIGs really needed to get their energy back up and you get more when you dive as opposed to using a Power action. Both executed a dive with the black MIG diving underneath the green MIG and then making a slight turn after the dive:

Now this is the start of my magnetic stand issues. The planes were getting close enough to each other to where they were pulling together! And these are pretty strong rare-earth magnets that make it even more of a pain to break them apart.

During the silver's turn, the yellow MIG pulled off a tight turn maneuver. This was a nail biter because the number of action points needed to perform the maneuver is random based on a roll of a D3 (yes, a D3). If that roll goes over his current energy points, he will stall. He passed. Looked like he might get behind white MIG for an attack:

Green MIG was even more daring: he attempts a dive, followed by a Reverse (basically becoming a Split-S). Again, roll for variable action point usage. Does he succeed in not stalling?

Yes! Just made it:

Yes, I have a three-sided die.

He then fires his missiles at black MIG, but misses:

Turn 4
Things didn't look good for the camo MIGs, BUT, they got to go next. Sometimes, going first does have it's advantages...

Black MIG radios his wingman for help:

White MIG tried tight turn maneuver, barely passed the random D3 action point throw, did another shallow turn and attacked green MIG with guns blazing:

And green MIG goes down in flames:

In this game, pretty much all hits are lethal. I would have played another turn and perhaps yellow MIG might have come in for an attack, but the magnets were really getting annoying. The picture above was taken after I broke up the two planes doing the Tango. So game over.

Reflections on the Rules
Again, the caveats for the previous post still hold. 
I enjoyed this game very much and I don't really have many issues with it. There are some pros and cons in no particular order:

Action points and energy points
It took me a number of reads before I understood the interaction between action points and energy expenditure, which is critical to both these rules and to their Falkland War rules. Maybe it is the way they were written or organized in the rules, I don't know. 

To do anything except dives cost action points. The number of action points you have available any given turn is based on your current energy points. Energy points reset at the end of each turn. You do have quite few maneuver options available to you with the exception of barrow rolls. Immelmans and Split-Ss are both reverses depending on whether you dived or climbed beforehand.

Shooting and missile fire are pretty straight forward. At first, I wasn't happy that the green MIG couldn't fire his heat-seeking missiles, but then the rules are period specific and the earlier generation heat seekers were effective only when fired at the target's rear. Like Target Locked-On! rules, its pretty hard to hit a plane, but lethal when you do. The firing ranges are a little more forgiving than those of Target Locked-On!, but I didn't use radar guided missiles.

Game turn sequence
This is my biggest issue with these rules. These are the first air combat rules where there is an IGOUGO turn sequence. I much preferred Target Locked-On! plane turn initiative sequence, which is also found in AirWar: C21 and Pz8 simple air rules. The turns themselves go pretty quickly. I finished the game in half the time of Target Locked-On!

Aircraft stats
The stats are pretty simple. You really don't need a stats sheet to keep track of things, or at most, you can put all of your planes on one sheet of paper. 

It was interesting that the MIG-21 was slightly better than the F5 in these rules whereas, the F5 is slightly better than the MIG-21 in Target Locked-On! My question is, will the aircraft stats from Thud Alley compatible with other Wings at War rules, particularly Flames over the Falklands?  I don't have those rules with me, but I don't think there are any aircraft that overlap between the two game to compare. My suspicion is that the stats are game specific, so a MIG-21 couldn't go toe-to-toe with a Mirage III or a Harrier from the Falklands game as is. The only way to make these rules more universal is to sit down with a rules set that is universal, like AW: C21, and play around with the stats. I've done that with some armor rules, but it takes some work. I tend to like more universal sets of rules than those that are too narrow in their time period. 

Solo friendliness
I forgot to mention this aspect for the Target Locked-On! review, but both these games are pretty solo friendly. I think Target Locked-On! is a little more due to the move initiative, and also some decision making based on the experience of the pilot. But that is balanced in Thud Ridge by far less book keeping. 

Again, I enjoyed this game. Once I understood how energy and action points worked, I got into it a little faster than I did Target Locked-On! 

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