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! 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Even More Stone Walls

I seem to be obsessed with making walls. This is the latest of my wall making. I built a form out of thin cardstock. The form consisted of a strip of the cardstock of the height I wanted the wall to be glued onto another strip of cardstock that acted as a base. I then squished a ribbon of polymer clay onto one side, used a stamping tool that I made also out of polymer clay to make rock impressions, then baked it. I then did the other side the same way. The result is wall #2 in the picture below. I still need to give it a wash, which will make the impressions of stone stand out more.

1) made directly from model railroad ballast, 2) made from polymer clay, 3) made from mold of RR ballast
I showed off wall 1 in a previous post. Not to rehash the pro's and con's of it, but frankly it looks too much like the home of a caddisfly larva:

Maybe I should have caddisfly larvae make my walls? They seem to know what they are doing.

The cast I made using railroad ballast really looked nice ( Wall 3) and is what I was going after, but the two sides of the wall didn't fit well. I think I might try making more of the wall 2 method. It is less tedious than making wall 1, and I don't use up bottles of superglue gel, which have become pricey.  The cardstock form has the advantage of keeping the height of the wall a little more consistent and doesn't melt in the oven.

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.