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Apr-23-2016

Interstellar Operations Beta Recap

Summer of 2015 was an unexpectedly busy one for BattleTech.  After many many years of waiting we got a look at the upcoming Interstellar Operations core rule book.  The open beta period featured a sequence of smaller online releases followed by a limited edition softcover print run of the full book at GenCon 2015.iops - 1

Fortuitously, I was able to make it to Indy and snagged my very own copy.  It was something to behold.  This, among all the other books in the series was the one I’ve waited the most for.  In it, the Grand Strategic game rules were waiting to be poked and prodded.

Catalyst gave us a month for play-testing and feedback, and what a month it was.  Below is a recap of my experiences and the work I did to explore the deepest crevasses of Interstellar Operations.

Kicking the Tires in Style

I can’t say enough about the value of the print copy of the Beta rules.  I know they sold out at GenCon and for good reason.  Not only does it provide a unique collectors item but also provides a way to get the best playtesting out to the fans.  I know I can’t be the only one that stares at a computer screen most of the day.  I prefer my BattleTech and other leisure reading to be of the dead tree variety.  That reduced eye strain and the ability to quickly flip between sections of the book was vital to getting any testing done on these rule systems.

Pick and Choose

Interestingly enough I only had any use for about half of the rule book.  I don’t have a lot of use for the alternate eras sections.  My focus is the game rules, including Strategic BattleForce (SBF), the Abstract Combat System (ACS), and the Inner Sphere at War (ISW) rules.  You can keep your LAMs if you like.  Makes no difference to me.  I’m here for the grand level strategic gaming and always have been.

The Inner Sphere at War

The Inner Sphere at War is the latest incarnation of a Grand Strategy game for the BattleTech universe.  It allows dedicated players to take the reigns of entire factions to wage war across the Inner Sphere.

That is quite a lot to try to cram into even 1/2 of the 367 page rule book we have today.  Interstellar Operations takes its lead from the old (and much derided) Inner Sphere in Flames rules found in the poorly edited Combat Operations rule book from the FanPro days.

The Inner Sphere in Flames rules had several issues.  First and foremost, it was an incomplete set of guidelines around which players could build a complete set of game rules from.  My heart sank a little bit when I then read this line at the start of the ISW rules in Interstellar Operations;

While these rules attempt to capture the basics needed to run a campaign, the scale of ISW is too great to cover all possible variations in game play.  These rules are a framework around which players can construct a campaign spanning just a few worlds, or all 2,000-plus worlds in the BattleTech universe.

Despite this potential cop-out, I was pleasantly surprised by the rules and their level of polish.  There are areas to improve and I hope that Catalyst takes the communities’ ideas to heart.  You can read all about the beta and the community feedback below.

So what is in the ISW rules?  Let’s take a quick tour of what’s included and major differences from previous Grand Strategic Games.

At first blush ISW begins like most other Grand Strategic Game iterations we have seen in the past.  Game turns are divided into familiar phases; Order Writing, Economics and Logistics, Military Development, Commerce and Diplomacy, Military, and End phases.

In a new twist, player controlled factions are given faction abilities that provide special abilities involving different phases of the game.  They are meant to be advantages and hindrances that combine to give a more nuanced picture of a particular faction.  For example, the Lyrans are Merchant Kings with Superior Black Ops, but suffer from Flawed Doctrine owing to their social general based military hierarchy.

The bulk of the game will have players plotting invasions, forming alliances, and developing Combat Commands to wage war.  Once war does inevitably break out we turn to a brand new way to play BattleTech; the Abstract Combat System.

The ACS is a battalion to regiment level combat system that covers planetary scale battles.  We are talking 700km hexes using turns of 2.5 days in length.  Individual Combat Units hold entire battalions inside formations of one or more regiments.  And all of this scaled up complexity is the distilled product of the Alpha Strike stats of the individual units.  This is quite the departure from combat systems of the past which abstracted commands into a tiny handful of strength numbers.  Instead of combat being resolved by a single die roll (where invariably the bigger stack shall win) we have a much more detailed system of positioning, recon, and die throwing.

Unfortunately and perhaps not surprisingly, there are more than a few things missing in ISW at the current moment.  Rules for War Ships, Espionage, and alternate eras are suspiciously absent.  The book had unfortunately outgrown the confines of its simple binding.  We have been promised additional product releases which will expand the game system to include these rules.  I have it on good authority that these rule developments are underway.  Hopefully we will not have to wait too long for them to materialize.

Playtests and Automation

I wanted to get as much play testing in as possible within the short month we were allotted.  Not a lot of time.  There was no chance for me to meet fellow BattleTech players in person.  I was limited to time available in my evenings.  So naturally I started to think about ways to automate the system to be easier to test and be accessible online so I could receive help from willing guinea pigs online.

For those of you who follow the blog, you know I run a companion site where players from around the world can play games of the the old FASA era board game Succession Wars.  My goal was to build a similar site minus a good bit of the automation capabilities.  What I ended up with was a website that would help to track and generate units, move combat commands, and most importantly facilitate ACS combat between players who move tokens on a common play surface while rolling dice by themselves in real life.

isw1isw2

One day I hope to be able to create something fully automated that will live up to my grand ambitions.  For now though, the web code served its purpose and allowed us to play a test game involving a single planetary battle, namely, Altais in 3039.

These test games would later be the inspiration for my entry into the IO scenario contest which I was able to win after there were no other entries besides my own.  Look for The Battle for Altais in a future ISW based product.

For those of you wanting to take a peak at the code, it is available online on Github.

Thoughts and Questions

While the bulk of ISW and ACS seem perfectly serviceable there are a few rough edges that myself and more than a few forum dwellers have focused on as potential problems.

For instance there does not seem to be an incentive to invest in the advancement of planets beyond a certain point.  After upgrading to minor industrial there is little to push you to upgrade any further as the investment would simply produce more money for you by sitting around and collecting interest.

One of the more confusing rules is that newly minted Combat Commands (regiment level forces) may be placed anywhere when purchased and there is no limit to how many forces may be bought so long as you have the funds to pay for them (production capacity is divorced from factory quantity/quality).  This presents a few problems.  Number one, there is no need to build forces for an invasion or defense because you could easily conjure required forces at will with sufficient funds.  There is no weak spot to invade an enemy when they can instantly counter your attacks with perfect placement under this system.

So there are still a few things I would expect will see house rules to make the system as a whole palpable.  As many know, I’ve never been shy to change a rule or two to fit my particular needs.  I think the BattleTech community is well know for innovating when called upon.

Looking Ahead

After a long long road, we are almost home.  Interstellar Operations finally has it’s street date; April 27th, 2016.  I will be first in line to grab a copy to add to my gaming shelf.  With final rules in hand, there is only one last thing to do…  We need to grab our dice and start conquering the Inner Sphere.

Posted under Articles
Feb-11-2016

Designing Altais, Part One

Alongside the Interstellar Operations (IO) Beta held last year was a scenario contest aimed at highlighting the new game modes created for the book.  The Abstract Combat System (ACS), pages 304-325 in IO, is a large scale strategic game meant to compliment the new Inner Sphere at War (ISW) rules, pages 344-368 in IO.  ACS covers regimental engagements over entire planets.

My scenario, The Battle for Altais, is set in the War of 3039 and features a combined force of the Mercenaries and the 8th Donegal Guards fighting it out against the mysterious Ghost Regiments.

In the end my scenario was the only entry.  Hurray for small victories!  I guess they could have not picked anyone at all.

With only a month allocated to the Beta period, I spent a lot of time trying to get a handle on the rules, providing feedback, and corralling individuals across the internet to help me test the ACS rules using some hastily created software utilities.  With the very little experience I had using the system, I made my best attempt at a balanced and interesting scenario for the contest.  Sadly, I was not able to playtest the entire thing prior to the entry deadline.  Now that IO is off to the printers and we have the final rules PDF there is no time like the present to get cracking and properly kick the tires on the ACS rules system.

Altais

The War of 3039 is familiar territory for me which worked well with the Succession Wars era focus of ISW.  The scenario is based on the planetary invasion of Altais, which takes place in the first wave of attacks on the Draconis Combine.  I used reference material from my well worn copy of Historical War of 3039 and tried my best to capture the essence of the battle while providing interesting strategic choices for both sides.

The scenario is a Victory Point race between Attacker and Defender.  There are three objectives worth points every turn, however the Defender gains points late in the game just for surviving.  The Attacker has the advantage in terms of force size and experience but they cannot bring all of their strength to bear at once.  Tough choices must be made by Attacker and Defender alike if they want to claim victory.

BattleforAltais

Bringing Altais to Life

In order to properly play Altais in person and in style, we are going to need a few things.

  • Formation Tokens
  • Maps
  • Record Sheets

Formation Tokens

The Battle for Altais, and any other ACS game uses regiment sized formations.  The previous release of Strategic Operations gave us a view of what strategic level tokens should look like.  The good people at Catalyst even released a set of free print your own tokens which Custom BattleForce Tokens.

But for Altais, I wanted to step things up a notch.  Enter The Game Crafter (TGC). TGC is a print on demand board game component company.  Most importantly, you can design and print your own board game quality chits. These are thick, punch board type tokens that would work great for Altais.  Their “mini hex tile” is a nearly perfect 1.25×1.08″ which is slightly smaller than a standard BattleTech map hex.

Unfortunately I’ve never been great at artwork or design and I couldn’t just copy paste what CGL provided.  I had to find a way to make my own.  The answer I found was in a Ruby Design Specific Language (DSL) called Squib.  Squib allowed me to programmatically layout a design and use my own data to fill in the details.

Here is what I came up with.  Note that these will be cut at the printer to a hex size.  The art is designed to “bleed” to the edges to compensate for any possible drift between the print and the cut.  I’m looking forward to seeing these in person when the order comes in.

show_1_small

Maps

ACS uses two maps, the Star System Radar Map (SSRM) and the Planetary Combat Map (PCM).

The SSRM covers the space around the target planet including the Zenith and Nadir jump points.  IO includes a copy of the SSRM but it is a one page black and white bare bones version.  I wanted something I could custom print in a larger format.

Luckily the geometry that makes up a SSRM is fairly basic and easy to duplicate.  I leveraged Squib again along with some freely available NASA images to produce some nice looking images suitable for large format printing.

ssrm00_3

The PCM is an abstract view of the planet surface.  Rather than an accurate model of the planet, the PCM represents the usable area for movement and conflict.  There are no features of note on the PCM.  Each hex is 700km wide so terrain is abstracted to nothing. Yes, even oceans.

IO recommends using the back of a standard BattleTech map for the PCM.  That will work for most since the PCM is really only an abstraction.  I wanted to do something a bit more interesting.

I browsed a lot of gimp tutorials and freely available art for assets to make a PCM worth playing on.  Here is a short list of the possible solutions.  Once again, I am planning on having these printed in large format so the final files will be high resolution.  I am not completely thrilled with the final results so far.  I intend to do some tweaking before I make the final selection.

pcm00_3 pcm00_5 pcm00_4

Record Sheets

IO comes with two record sheets for ACS.  The first is a Formation Tracking Sheet which lists the details of up to 14 Formations and the bare minimum stats of each of their constituent Combat Units.

The second sheet pertains to those Combat Units with details on the Combat Teams that make up that unit.

I find the format of these sheets to be severely lacking when it comes to actually playing the game. There are a number of charts and additional details left off the record sheet which will require frequent cross referencing of the tables within IO.

Also, why list Combat Teams?  Perhaps this is done to aid construction, but for actual game play, there is no point since all combat takes place at the Combat Unit level.

So I went about making my own set of record sheets with a focus on gameplay and making it easier to get ACS to the table.

My goals were to simplify gameplay with aids baked into the record sheet.  One sheet would hold information on a Formation and its Combat Units.  I brought back bubbles, because why break with tradition?

I’m not totally sold on the layout just yet and I am still contemplating doing full page record sheets for Formations and Combat Units alike to support more tables and game play information.  There is certainly a trade-off between complexity and playability.

For what its worth here is my first cut, subject to change based on my own testing and game play feedback.  I hope they are an upgrade to the current offerings in IO. Please leave a comment below with any suggestions.

Formation Record Sheet

More to Come

Stay tuned for more as material comes in and we finally get to some serious play testing.  I am very excited about the new ACS rules and can’t wait to get them to the table in style.

Posted under Articles
Sep-8-2012

Defender’s Choice

Every so often when playing BattleTech you stumble upon a rules question that contradicts years of belief in how the game works.  It doesn’t happen often but when it does, you have to shake your head and smile.  Who knew the game worked that way the whole time?  Just such an event occurred at GenCon 2012.  It happened at the annual Battle the Masters event no less.  And it wasn’t the game developers who righted the rules question but a persistent Catalyst Demo Agent thanks to a inquisitive and stubborn player (kudos to Mark Erikson!).

Defender’s Choice

Examine the following scenario for a moment.  Here we find the state of the game directly following movement and before attack declaration.  The Ballius, piloted by one of the Masters, Paul Sjardijn, has made a daring flanking manuever intending the use partial cover to its fullest advantage as only a quad ‘Mech can do.  The Nova Cat  (being proxied by a MadCat) has flip arms and intends to do his best to put the pony down.

Both ‘Mechs are on level 2 terrain with the level 3 terrain on the line between them.  The Nova Cat is in a bit of a predicament.  If he takes the partial cover he has to take the shots into the rear arc.  Taking into account the Balius’ weapon load out it would be far too risky to allow the rear shots.  His best option is to take the shots on the left side where his armor is more sufficient.  Everyone at the table agreed it was the best tactical decision.

So the question is, what happens when two attackers want different line of sight?

My reaction and the first reaction of both the Masters at the table was that it was always defender’s choice.  No matter what.

Unfortunately we were dead wrong.  Thanks to the persistent questioning of one of my fellow fan player’s we wrangled Demo Agent Charlie Tango into the argument who promptly and decisively laid a Total Warfare size smack down with thunderous implications.

The Rules

TW page 99 for those following at home.

If the LOS passes exactly between two hexes, the player controlling the targeted unit decides which of the two hexes lie along the LOS.  This choice can also affect the attack direction for incoming attacks (see Attack Direction, p. 119).  The chosen hexside is used for all attacks between those two units for the remainder of the turn (see Line of Sight Between Two Hexes diagram on p. 101).

Since the Balius declared his attack first the Nova Cat is the first defender and his decision to NOT take the partial cover (and take the hits to his left side) affects both of the units.  The situation is clarified further by the Line of Sight example on page 101.

Paul Sjardijn, Lauren Coleman, and myself were all dead wrong and never saw it coming.  It just so happened that that Balius would see his demise that turn and the game quickly turned in favor of the fans as they whittled the Master’s ‘Mechs into scrap before the night was out.

It just goes to show that there are always new things to learn even in a game with so much history.  I’m by no means a rules expert but this was a rule I thought I knew cold.  Maybe I’m just out of touch.  I’d love to hear in the comments from my readers if you were surprised by this rule.

Keep an open mind out there and keep those dice rolling!

Posted under Articles
Apr-26-2012

Moving at the Speed of…

I’ve played quite a few games of A Time of War.  Granted I use it solely as a infantry skirmish ruleset.  The finer point of roleplay (or roll-play as the case may be) are lost on a simple wargamer such as myself.  Regardless there is quite a lot to enjoy from A Time of War.  Who wouldn’t want to command a squad of Blazer wielding 31st century soldiers in a fight to the finish against your buddy?

I’ve been struggling with an issue with the core mechanics.  It seems to come up in almost every game and for the longest time I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until now.

Movement is too darn fast.

Why bother staying at range when you can easily race into medium or short range, negating the effectiveness of long range rifles and the lot.  I’ve seen the most average of stat’d soldiers cover massive distance in a single turn and still have the spare actions to pop off a shot.  In a nutshell the games I’ve played just don’t seem to be very “shooty” which is a shame considering the backdrop of the BattleTech world.

To start off I have to make the following assumption.  Weapon ranges are ok.  With this in mind lets evaluate movement rates.

There are three items that affect movement rates in A Time of War.

  • Attribute: Reflex
  • Attribute: Strength
  • Skill: Running

Reflex and Strength are attributes that all characters have.  The average joe is assumed to have a score of 4 in each while an exceptional individual can max out at 8 each (10 for clanners, but lets not go there right now).

The running skill is an added bonus, which maxes out at 10, that affects running and sprinting and can add up to 10 meters of movement per turn.

So how fast can a foot soldier move in the 31st century?

A Foot Platoon of about 2 dozen persons in the BattleTech board game moves 30 meters in a 10 second turn or 3 meters per second.  Not a bad pace while hauling around a full military kit in combat boots across unpaved terrain while shooting and being shot at.

How does this match up with real world examples?  Surprisingly well actually.

  • From Yahoo answers the average human walking speed is 3.5 miles per hour or 1.5 meters per second.
  • The average human running speed is around 10 miles per hour  or 4.5 meters per second.
  • The current olympic record in the 100m dash is 9.58 seconds or an average speed of 10.4 meters per second.

To put a personal spin on my analysis I crunched the numbers for my own running speed at various distances.  I’m by no means an olympic athlete but I do consider myself above average in a foot race.

  • 5km in 20 minutes or 4.1 meters per second.
  • 800 meters in 2 minutes or 6.7 meters per second.
  • 400 meters in 56 seconds or 7.1 meters per second.

Please note that these times are my personal best under ideal conditions.  I wear light running shoes for my 5k road races while my 800m and 400m times were on a fast track (the surface is a bouncy rubber which helps return energy to the runner with each step) with proper track shoes with spikes.  Hardly representative of a combat situation.

A Time of Running

Here are the average and elite movement rates using the A Time of War system ordered by speed.

  •   1.6 m/s  Average Walking
  •   3.2 m/s  Elite Walking
  •   3.6 m/s  Average Running
  •   5.2 m/s  Elite Running
  •   7.2 m/s  Elite Running with max running skill
  •   7.2 m/s  Average Sprinting,
  • 10.4 m/s  Elite Sprinting,
  • 14.4 m/s  Elite Sprinting with max running skill

Just to recap here are those values in a table.

Situation Speed (m/s)
Average Human Walking (Yahoo) 1.5
AToW Average Walking 1.6
AToW Elite Walking 3.2
AToW Average Running 3.6
My 5k Personal Best 4.1
Average Human Running (Yahoo) 4.5
AToW Elite Running 5.2
My 800m Personal Best 6.7
My 400m Personal Best 7.1
AToW Elite Running w/ Running Skill 7.2
AToW Average Sprinting 7.2
Current Olympic 100m Record 10.4
AToW Elite Sprinting 10.4
AToW Elite Sprinting w/ Running Skill 14.4

Ok then, I’ll grant that an elite runner in the 31st century can run as fast as the fastest human being alive today…  He just can’t do it with combat boots, carrying a gun, gear, ammo, grenades and doing it over real terrain ( not a track designed to be run on ).

To put that in perspective, an Elite Sprinting with max running skill could run the 100m dash in an astonishing 6.9 seconds (remember that the Olympic record is 9.58 seconds).

The ScrapYard Movement Modifier

So whats a 31st century tactical infantry enthusiast to do?  For me, I’ll be reducing all movement by one third (multiply by 0.66).  I’ve yet to extensively test it, but (while using a very simple formula) it seemed to produce the best looking movement rates when compared to quartering or halving.

Situation Modified
Speed (m/s)
Average Human Walking (Yahoo) 1.5
AToW Average Walking 1.1
AToW Elite Walking 2.1
AToW Average Running 2.4
AToW Elite Running 3.4
My 5k Personal Best 4.1
Average Human Running (Yahoo) 4.5
AToW Elite Running w/ Running Skill 4.8
AToW Average Sprinting 4.8
My 800m Personal Best 6.7
AToW Elite Sprinting 6.9
My 400m Personal Best 7.1
AToW Elite Sprinting w/ Running Skill 9.5
Current Olympic 100m Record 10.4

More playtesting is sure to be in my future.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!

Posted under Articles
Dec-17-2011

The Succession Wars, Play by Email

The Succession Wars board game was originally released by Fasa back in 1987.  It took a birds eye view of the five great houses and provided a Risk like game system for playing out the Succession Wars of the early 31st century.

Succession Wars has been long out of print and copies on eBay are a coveted commodity.  That doesn’t mean that the game is out of reach though.  The rules are available to those who know where to look and many conversions have made play by email possible.  This article will dive into the experiences of a small group of gamers who have played the game completely over email and are hungry for more.  We’ve compiled rules, argued intention, and generally made a mess of the place in the hopes of clearing up the cluttered and at times ambiguos rules set.

First, a special thanks to a couple people that have acted as GM while we here at the ScrapYard have participated as players and for the first time got a chance to play this game:

Oboe Cop GM of the “December Winds”, a game that ran from March into October of 2011.

nckestrel GM of the “A New League”, a game just getting started as of this posting.

nckestrel developed a cubic version of the map for displaying the progress of December Winds that we’ve adapted to several other presentations.  I use this one as a reference map:

Playing-by-Email

GM

To play by email effectively, you’ll need a GM to host.  Most importantly, the GM will receive your orders, make the rolls, and clear up or decide any rule interpretations.  However, they can also assist by providing documents to the users for them to fill out.  For instance when the A New League game first started, nkestral provided a list of the starting units with a space for each for where the player wants to deploy them.  Those units that have an assigned location to start had their locations already filled in already.  For placing units and declaring attacks you are generally given 48 hours and for other responses you are given 24 hours.  As usual though, life can get in the way.  Just keep in contact, let everyone know if you need more time, and make a reasonable effort.

Communications

As far as communication procedures go, you email only the GM when it is a secret or a choice made at the same time as someone else such as a bid or what cards to play as you attack.  Otherwise you email the entire play group (and the lurkers).  Some declarations such as changing unit combinations need to be declared with other required responses such as when you decide to retreat or not.

Bidding Procedures

Traditional means of bidding, as can be observed on tv shows such as Storage Wars, would be fairly time intensive when bids are received via email and everyone has to keep track of the latest bid then how do you figure out when to stop accepting bids?  Like ebay allowing bid snipers, and what if players aren’t available?  To speed up the process and not require too much time from players, we use a Highest Unique Bid Auction where all players make a secret bid to the GM within a certain time, usually 24 hours, and only the highest bidder wins.  In December Winds and A New League, the highest bidder paid what they bid, while in A New League the highest bidder will pay 1 more then the 2nd highest bid.

Tracking Tools

By all means, you can use The Succession Wars board game itself.  I think most of us playing have a copy, though maybe not all the pieces.  Also, it is sometimes difficult to give up that much space.  Others may have cats or dogs nicknamed Hurricane.

VASSAL is a free open source board game engine for playing online and several modules have already been made for you to play The Succession Wars using it.  However, I’ve found at least one mistake in version II: Liao is marked as a Regional Capital.  However, this is actually easily fixed since the map is just an image inside the module which is really just a zip file.  Still, once you get used to how to select and expand a stack of pieces or an individual piece it is pretty awesome.  However, a not so easy fix is that Ozawa should be connected to Tikonov, the only enemy territory Almach should only be connected to is Tikonov, and Acula should not be connected to Liao.

Cyberboard is another play by email application. BoardGameGeek hosts a Gamebox for The Succession Wars in the Files section.

If you like to play with the original board game pieces but find the map provided a little unclear or so little space to do anything besides stack the pieces in some regions you could also make your own map with larger boxes and hide it in the basement to keep it from your dog’s tail.  The one on the right is based on the reference map above.  Actually you can see an 8.5″x11″ copy of it along with the original map for size comparison.

Read The Standard Rules Carefully

Stealing Periphery Units: If an enemy bids on and wins a periphery state and then takes all their units elsewhere, simply capture the periphery region and you gain control of it’s units.

Once a player gains control of a Periphery state, he may move and attack with that state’s forces just as if they were his own.  If another player captures the Periphery state’s Region, he gains control of those Periphery forces. -page 12
Hidden Merc Unit: Just like the rules for mercs you can effectively deploy hidden merc units in the game.  New mercenary units are placed at a house or regional capital, not a factory (although, there could also be a factory).  Use it as a surprise defense (or attack) at any capital.   Keep in mind that new Mercs are only created by using the card (which may be used at any time).
New Mercenary units are formed in Regional or House capitals.  Rebuilt Mercenary units are placed in Manufacturing Centers in the same way as House units. -page 11

You can control periphery units from the other side of the Inner Sphere: We’ve seen it.  A player leaves no combat units between (nor on) their capital and a Periphery state nearby thinking their front line troops separate their space from the enemies’…  Instead, an enemy bids on and wins a Periphery State just before their move phase and uses those periphery units to take control of an enemy House Capital!

Rules Addendum

Below is a collection of rule additions, subtractions, or clarifications that came up while playing (or preparing for) the game.  Use some, all, none, or modify them to your heart’s content!

Note that these are NOT the official rules that will be used to play, though I’ll probably update these as we play as well.

Placing units: The rules make it sound like you pay for units during the “Spend taxes” phase, but then get to choose where the units get placed during the “Place new units” phase, especially since it talks about not being able to place units at newly constructed factories.  Well duh…

Units purchased during the Spend Taxes phase must have designated locations where they will be built.  i.e. Their placement designation occurs during the “Spend taxes” phase and not the “Place new units” phase.

Hidden Merc Units: Since the rules don’t specify, your GM may allow you to use the card to create Merc units at any capital.  But, it obviously doesn’t seem quite right to be able to hire them behind enemy lines.  Still, you can use them in a surprise attack if your dropship has an extra spot that your enemy didn’t expect filled.

New Mercenary units are formed in Regional or House capitals you control.

Don’t Follow Your Leader: He was bribed…  Don’t follow them.

No troops will change affiliation because a Leader is bribed (with the standard exception of Mercenary Leaders and their associated units).

Standard Game Pieces: Because when playing by email we aren’t playing with a single customized map, it is best to use the standard pieces as they are to prevent confusion and errors in tracking.

Regions, Leaders, Units will not have their names nor stats changed from the rules as in the original rule book.

Bribed Leaders: This is really just a restatement of a rule from the rule book.

Leaders of yours that have been bribed that are in a region you control during the tax phase will reduce your overall tax revenue by their administration skill.

Travel in Terra: Even a Marik Leader starts on Terra according to the rule book.

Jumpships and leaders may pass through and even stop in Terra (while it remains neutral) and will not be captured by Comstar.

More then 2 House Combat: Even the standard rules allow this situation if a 3rd party bids on and wins a merc unit in an already contested region.

When more then 1 enemy House has units in a region where your units are participating in combat, you declare which units of yours are attacking which enemy House.  You may switch their target when you reply that you are not retreating with them.  They will automatically be switched between (not during) combat rounds if all but one enemy House are eliminated.

Extra Cards: These rules make it possible to have more then 4 cards, however it is expressly forbidden by the rules and creates

If you get more than 4 cards in hand, you can look at them all before discarding.  You must discard down to 4 cards before playing any.  Once told what the new ones are, it is too late to play cards before you recieve the new ones.

Discard Cards: Since you can give, trade, or sell cards to other players, why not be able to just get rid of them?

You may discard cards voluntarily to the discard pile.

Changing Combined Units in Play By Email: Because waiting for yet another email to arrive takes time… your choice is simply required with your required response.

You can you mix up the combinations of units from the first attack if you include the combinations with your order to retreat or not retreat.

Interdict and Combine: There is no defined interaction between these rules nor an example.  This rule will encourage keeping combat units from the same ‘unit’ together and reward combining units if an interdict is played.

Interdict effectively occurs after 2 units combine. example: Unit4+Unit3 = Unit7 w/o Interdict = Unit5 w/interdict.

ComStar Regional Interdict: The card is pretty general since it only defines that it affects a region, and a -2 to the roll rather then the attack force would actually be a bonus making the troops more deadly.  However, there is a lengthy description of interdicts further on in the rules manual.

*The card: “ComStar Regional Interdict. -2 on combat rolls in affected region.” is a -2 to all enemy forces in a region just before the attack roll.  These cards (like others) may be played on behalf of another player.

Create new Merc Unit: I think this is a ruling in A New League to get more merc units on the board faster, though I don’t have enough experience yet as to say why.

Merc counters count as one unit when creating new mercs.

i.e. Both counters of the mercs “Bounty Hunters” (a unique unit in the print board game) will count as one for the card to create new merc card.

Combining Conventional Units:

Conventional units are considered to be in the same unit for the purposes of combining attacks.

Build a New House Unit: I was a little confused in that the rules specify rebuilding merc units and also say new House unit.

Rebuilding a House unit is the same as building a new House unit.

Setup:

During setup, you cannot place any units on territory you do not control.

Bidding: I thought some of these auction models were interesting, so I’m providing a sample of options here for you.  A slight change goes a long way here.

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays 1 million more than the next closest bid. (Highest Unique Bid Auction)

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays 1 million more than the next closest bid.

When bidding, each player shall submit two secret bids to the GM.  The winner pays their lowest bid higher then the next closest bid.

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  All players pay their bid. (All Pay Auction) It may seem odd, but scholars use it to model lobbying/campaign donations and… bribes.

When bidding, each player may pay 1 million C-Bills to submit only a single secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays [choose something from above]. (Bidding Fee Auction)

Spy-Trade

Spy-Trade cards with another player’s hand.  The player playing this card can look at an opponent’s hand.  The player may then choose any number of cards from the opponents hand to trade with an equal number of cards from their hand.  The target lppayer may not play cards in response to the spy-trade.

Lift House Interdict: It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to lift an interdict from Comstar from an entire house, but leave regional interdicts in place.

Lift House Interdict removes any House interdict and all Regional interdicts for a chosen House.

Death Commando: The Death Commando cards will be removed from the game after they are used.  They could be shuffled into the deck with the rest of the discard pile, but they aren’t called Special Forces cards.

Death Commando cards are removed from the game after being used.

Mercenaries with Leaders: Hired leaders lead their own troops.

If all associated combat units are destroyed, the leader may be automatically moved to where the first new associated combat unit is built for free.  Mercenary leaders can only use their Combat ability while in the same region with at least one of their associated combat units.

If a merc leader is bribed, only the associated combat units change sides, but all associated combat units change sides, regardless of region. (Jaime Wolf is bribed, all Wolf’s Dragoons change sides, but no other units even if in region with Jaime Wolf and without another leader).

“5. Adjust Technology Scale”: Specifically defining that technology is only adjusted at this time for the current player rather then whenever something might adjust it, whereas it may seem that this phase is meant to adjust technology only from the results of combat.

Technology does not change for a player until their Adjust Technology phase.  Technology rolls, cards, gaining/losing regions, etc. do not take effect until that player’s own Adjust Technology Phase.

Official Capital: Some rules assume you have your House Capital, but you could have lost it…

When a player looses their original House Capital or their current Official Capital, they must first choose their Official Capital from other House or Regional Capitals that they control, and then finally they must choose from any plain region they control if they control no Regional nor House Capitals.  If they recapture their original House Capital it automatically becomes their Official Capital.

Periphery Movement: Nothing specifically forbids you to move through a periphery state with your units, although nothing specifically allows it either.  It doesn’t seem right that you could move freely through an enemy region though.

You cannot move freely through Periphery states and they will attack/capture.  If you move units into a periphery state you cannot move them out. i.e. You cannot “pass through”.  Combat will occur during the next combat phase and they will capture any leaders or jumpships that remain.

Faction Leader: This will prevent the last leader of a House from simply being bribed away.  Because a House that controls you leaders gets a portion of your House, this will prevent somone from throwing money at a bribe just to end up getting money back.

If faction leader is bribed/captured/killed, and no other Leaders have * for loyalty, the heir chosen by the player becomes Faction Leader.  The faction leader is always * for loyalty (not bribable).  If an old faction leader that is naturally unbribable (* for loyalty) is returned, the Faction Leader status is automatically switched back to that Leader, returning the previous Faction Leader to their old loyalty.

Elimination Outfall From Losing Your Leaders: There are quite a few holes on what to do when a player is eliminated when they lose control of all of their Leaders.

A player is eliminated if the only Leaders they control are of Houses they do not have the ability to build units of.  If a player is eliminated by losing control of all their leaders, their forces come under control of other houses.

If another House controls all of the Leaders of a House controlled by a player who was just eliminated, the House is merged with the new Controlling player’s House. They gain full control including all Regions, units, money, and cards that were controlled by the eliminated player and they may build new or reconstructed units as that House could. All units and Leaders are now considered to be affiliated with the controlling player’s original House.  Such leaders are no longer considered captured nor bribed.

If more than one House controls Leaders of the eliminated House, the House’s forces are split between the Houses that have control of the eliminated. Immediately after the player is eliminated, the units, money, and cards are split randomly in proportion to how many Leaders are controlled by other Houses.  If there are 3 Leaders left and a House controls 2 of the Leaders, their chance is 2/3 of gaining control of a particular unit.  Money and cards should be split in proportion, but where any remainders of less than 1 million c-bills or 1 card are combined and randomly given to a House similar as to units, 1 card/million at a time.  The Leaders and combat units retain their House affiliation, but combat units are controlled and act as though part of the new controlling House.  No units of the eliminated House can be built nor Leader’s abilities used until a single House controls all of it’s leaders at which point the House merges with the controlling player’s original House and are then considered to be affiliated with that House and those leaders are no longer considered captured nor bribed.  All units that had retained their House affiliation now come under control of this merged house and are now affiliated with the controlling House. If a region has occupying combat units from multiple Houses, combat will take place during the next available combat phase. If the player was eliminated during a combat phase, combat will take place immedately.

Example: Marik’s last leader is captured (as result of capturing a region).  Since Marik’s last leader was captured, the region and jumpships in that region belong to the conquering House, regardless of leaders, and are not affected by player elimination.

Marik had the following in other regions: Jumpship 5 Jumpship 3 Jumpship 1 SuperLegion 9 ScrubbyMilitia 3 HighlyPolishedGuard 2 Conventional Conventional Conventional 32 c-bills 7 cards.

Steiner has 2 of Marik’s leaders, Kurita has 1, Liao has 2.  We roll for each unit separately.  2/5 for Steiner, 1/5 for Kurita, 2/5 for Liao.   (Conveniently we can use a d10, 1-4 Steiner, 5-6 Kurita, 7-10 for Liao).

Kurita could end up with most or even all of the Marik’s combat units and jump ships by sheer lucky dice rolls.  If Kurita gets the Jumpship 5 but no combat units in that region and Steiner gets the one combat unit in that region, next combat phase Steiner takes control of the jumpship (unless Kurita got a move phase before the next combat phase and was able to move it to a safe region).  For the cards, (don’t ask me how Marik got 7 cards…) there’s 1 for each leader, and then the last two are individually rolled for as the units were.  32 c-bills are split 6 per leader, and the remainder of 2 are individually rolled for as the units were.  Regions are conquered as usual…  After combat, whoever is the only one with combat units in the region gains control of  it.  Until then they are still effectively owned by Marik.  But, you can’t move through until you gain control (or there are no enemy combat troops).  For more complex or fractional house asset distribution you can download and use this Distribution of House Assets calculator.

Wrapping it Up

Running or playing a play by email Succession Wars can be a lot of work but it is tons of fun.

If only there were a way to play the game online, with friends or strangers without all the record keeping and rules arbitration.  That would be something indeed…

Posted under Articles
Oct-20-2011

Interview with Ben Rome, Chaos Campaign

Ben Rome is the Assistant Line Developer for the BattleTech line at Catalyst Game Labs.  He is also the creative force behind the Chaos Campaign, a multi-faceted, fast playing, abstract campaign system with game supplements spanning almost every BattleTech era.

I’m a huge fan of the Chaos Campaign system in all its iterations.  You can view previous articles on the Chaos Campaign PDF exclusive series below.

The newest incarnation of the Chaos Campaign debuted with the Wars of Reaving sourcebook.  The campaign rules in the rules annex provide a pick your own adventure flavor of system that spans all the worlds involved in the Reaving story arc.  I plan on fully reviewing this new campaign in future post.

I am pleased to have had the opportunity to interview Mr. Rome about all things Chaos Campaign and a little bit more!

Ben, first off, let me thank you for the opportunity to chat.  It is always a pleasure when the developers make themselves available to the fans.

My pleasure.  I enjoy the interaction, especially since I can never make the online chats any more.

The Chaos Campaign made its debut with Dawn of the Jihad.  Did you view the campaign system as a grand experiment at the time?  Did you have any idea it would grow well beyond the Jihad sourcebooks?

Grand experiment?  Definitely.  Back when Randall and Herb were taking pitches for DOTJ, which was also the first BattleTech product I’d been invited to write in, someone in the ensuing mass email discourse wished we could put in some sort of campaign for players to enjoy the coming “hot mess” of a war.

At the time, I’d been toying with a flexible campaign with my (then) gaming group, the Steel City Mechwarriors over in Pennsylvania.  We disliked “account tech” but were using an abstract system of points derived from victory conditions to affect repairs, reinforcements, and whatnot.  (We also did this with our MechWarrior: Dark Age and Age of Destruction games.)  I’ve always liked the “video game” treatment of campaigns in various games, where certain details are abstracted but others not.  MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries and the MechCommander games come to mind.

So, I reasoned, why not attempt to redefine how BattleTech presented scenarios?  Perennially poor sellers, this seemed a way to make them more fun and give the control to the players with regards to force selection and a myriad of other battlefield details.

I quickly pulled a proposal together after mentioning the idea to Paul Sjardijn, who gave some great feedback.  Together we drafted the initial campaign rules and pitched a 12-track arc for DOTJ.  The initial idea was to promote continued replayability for ground, air/space, and RPG games – and that each player’s experience would be different and unique.  Just like a video game.  Both Randall and Herb liked the idea, so I quickly drew up the 12 tracks and crafted how the arcs would work; the whole “choose your own adventure” style seemed to add to the coolness factor.

We had hopes it would be maintained throughout the rest of the JHS books, if only so it would “guarantee” us continued writing work for those books.  We were really excited when fans seemed to take to this new, fresh take on scenarios.

There have been several authors of the Historical, Jihad, and Turning Point Chaos Campaign supplements.  How do you select a writer for a new addition to the line?  Do you have someone in mind based on the faction or timeline involved?

Herb and I still see the TP series as a “breaking in” point for our more new authors, as well as a vehicle for our more veteran writers to use for generating some quick product (and cash).

I’ve sent out a few “calls for proposals” over the last couple of years and got some interesting responses and pitches.  Most of those you’ve seen come into print over the last year or so, such as Geoff Swift’s HTP: Mallory’s World or Jason Schmetzer’s OTP: Death to Mercenaries.

I’ve been pretty open to whatever a writer proposes, as long as it “fits” the aesthetic of the various TP branches (Jihad, Historical, Operational, Dark Age).  More by accident than purpose have we had the Combine as a common antagonist in several TP works; the Dracs seem to be a popular foil and opponent in many a BattleTech war!

At any point did you throw a new writer into the series to shake things up to get a fresh perspective on the system?

The closest I’d come to that is introducing Geoff Swift through the line.  He actually started pulling in more core sourcebook work because of the quality of his stuff for the TP line.  Those writers who work (and write) well with me with this project tend to find me back them for more work with in-print material.

It has been reported that sales of the Jihad Turning Points series (as well as other PDF exclusive products) have performed well.  Has the series kept up the momentum with later releases and the expanded lineup?

It has.  Initially, the idea was simply to do them for the Jihad: all five capital worlds and a couple on some key industrial worlds – Dieron, Hesperus, Irian, Solaris.  Because the reception was so far beyond what we’d thought, it was easy to expand the idea into pretty much any era.  As long as the conflict made sense within the scope of the line, I was willing to give it a go.

Why do you think the Starterbook series which borrows the Chaos Campaign framework has not flourished?

No idea, and that really bummed me out.  And I’m not saying that because I was one of the two principle authors on both projects, either.  Those books were awesome ideas and it really surprised us all they didn’t do so well.  Jason Schmetzer and I had worked up several more ideas for the Starterbook idea and to see it cut off at the knees was a huge disappointment.

Are there any more Jihad Turning Point episodes to come or is the series wrapped up?

For the Jihad line specifically, I still have a few on the table I want to see finished off.  Hesperus, Solaris VII, and a “special” one for Terra.  Of those, Solaris is half-written but has been on hold ever since I had to take on finishing Masters and Minions, then Jihad Hot Spots: Terra, and Wars of Reaving.  I do hope to get back to it to finish it off, as it will help fill in a lot of gaps from that world’s struggle, but I also have Handbook: House Kurita to write.

Hesperus and Irian are writer-proposed projects from some of our authors who have been just avalanched with other life issues, and I’m not sure they’ll ever see the light of day.  Terra’s a project that Øystein Tvedten and I have bounced around but I’ve not had time to do much more than sketch it out.

Most likely, any future Jihad-era Turning Points will end up falling under the “Historical” banner instead, as we’ll be moving BattleTech past that era before I have time to put them out.

The format of the Chaos Campaign has evolved over time. Can you elaborate on some of those changes?  Specifically, between JHS 3072 and JHS 3076 the tracks became more ‘Mech force centric and looked much closer to the PDF only releases.

Part of that shift came from the release of A Time of War, the BattleTech RPG.

Initially, I was writing each track to encompass all portions of the BT line: standard, AeroTech, and RPG.  It’s a little difficult to work a track into a generic enough guideline that can account for each “version” and in some cases, clear delineation needed made such as buildings and asteroids.  And it was pretty impossible to do more for the RPG (such as providing stats, layouts, etc.) other than provide a story framework for a creative GM to build on.

As ATOW continued to be written and shaped into form, we were still progressing with the next couple of JHS books.  Without being a part of the RPG’s reformation, I didn’t want to put in guidelines and rules for that system without it being formally released.  So I either went pretty vague in the hopes that really creative GMs could pull what was needed, or “ignored” it altogether.  There was—and still is—a TP-style RPG-only concept on the table that would help alleviate that need.  But with the JHS campaigns, it came down to addressing the primary two systems in use.

By JHS76, I had really streamlined the process through several Turning Point releases.  With those products, the overall bias by our authors is to be ‘Mech-centric (very understandable) and something I continue to remind them to be aware of going forward.  Time constraints sometimes keep me from really tweaking them to handle or be adjusted to AeroTech-style and RPG play.

Regarding the layout and information for the tracks—yeah, they’ve adjusted with time.  As the TP series began to unfold, it became evident that despite a variable fundamental difference in setup, the overall look needed to be consistent.  So we did some tweaking with regards to presenting the awards amounts, Objective and Options wording, and Special Rules.  I’ve continually aimed to streamline and simplify the language and structure to best get the maximum use of space for providing the necessary game information, and less the standard nomenclature.

On your blog you alluded to the fact that a Chaos Campaign construction system was tossed around for Interstellar Operations.  Can you elaborate on your hesitation to the idea?  Will we ultimately see a generic construction system in the finished tome?

Randall asked me back in 2009 to consider including a base “setup” rules chapter for IO.  I’ve been really hesitant on that for a couple of reasons.

Initially, it was because that was my “in” with the entire line.  By keeping that process insular, I guaranteed myself continued work for future projects.  But that attitude isn’t exactly the best to have within a licensed game line, where we thrive on the concept of a “shared universe.”  What if I’d been hit by a bus?  No more track campaigns!  Paul would’ve been the closest writer to understanding the process but considering out of the first five JHS books, he’s only written one complete track (the rest were constructed and written by me), it would’ve been a steep learning curve.

Contrary to some opinion, there is no actual written-down formula for creating tracks.  What I’ve told my TP authors is to look at the campaign in general and figure where the climax battle will be, as well as the biggest “struggles.”  Those are the “peaks” of the arc; every track that leads to those peaks needs to provide enough gradual points to pay for it—but just barely.  You really want to force the players to step out into risk-taking to really build their cushion to handle those peaks, as well as the increased damages those difficulties will cause.

From there, it’s a matter of keeping the point totals in mind, including how a min/max player might fare if they tried to break the track and scoop the points.  It happens; that’s not something you as a writer can mitigate but have to trust that the gaming group will balance things out instead.

One other thing I look for: ways to make each one challenging beyond “enter battlefield, kill all opponents, leave.” Games are the most fun when you have different objectives and plans besides “kill ‘em all” and I really try to shy away from those formats, especially if the game is played with the bare minimums.

That entire thought process isn’t exactly the easiest to express in written rules.

Finally, there’s another reason: wiggle room.  I’ve found that many projects tend to vary the scope and idea of a campaign arc.  The Starterbooks, for example, are focused on a single company-level unit.  Many of the Historical Turning Points involve forces that can be regimental-sized.  And the Jihad arc is very mercenary-centric.  Each of these really requires different looks and perspectives with regards to the tracks, and that’s simply not a very scalable idea to translate into rules.  By keeping them “unwritten,” I can not only construct tailor-made tracks for various projects, but also keep them from being analyzed and broken down into component parts and compared to a written rule set.  It keeps the focus away from number-crunching and rules lawyering and squarely on what’s important: carrying a story through the game that is personal and unique to your experiences.

Do you have a favorite Chaos Campaign supplement so far?

Wars of Reaving, to be honest.  And yes, I say this in light of what I just mentioned with regards to a possible IO construction chapter.

WOR was a different animal.  With the amazing amount of conflict I put in those pages, there was no real campaign I could offer that would be “generic” enough to allow any Clan unit to adventure through.  While a mercenary angle (and less so, a House unit) works well for the Jihad series, it doesn’t fit at all for the WOR.  And I really, really wanted a campaign set there.

So, I hit upon the idea of making a true “mix-n-match” experience for a Clan campaign while allowing a construction rule set to be made a la IO.  You’ll also notice I made it very clear that the rules for the WOR Chaos Campaign were specific to that time and conflict, keeping it confined within the era but still very wide open for limitless possibilities for player campaigns.

And I think it covered all of those bases fairly well.  As an added bonus, we got to insert planetary data for all of the Clan home systems, several Periphery systems, and even a modified version of Clan zellbregin designed for the CC system.

You were the first author in the expanded Chaos Campaign PDF series.  When it came time to delegate the writing duties for future releases, did it feel like you were giving up something personal? 

Oh, most definitely yes.  But, I had to delegate if I wanted to work on other BattleTech projects.  I simply had no additional time to keep it all to myself.

Did you have any fears that new authors would not be able to do the series justice?

Initially, yes.  But I made sure that I got all of their drafts before shipping them off to playtest.  Tweaking point totals, adjusting options and objectives, adding/deleting special rules was a common occurrence.  I think out of all the authors who’ve done various TP releases, Geoff Swift had the best grasp of what I wanted.

Is there anything you can tell us about the future of the Chaos Campaign series?

It’s not going anywhere!  I’m still inordinately pleased the system is in continued use and that the PDF line is still very successful three years after its first release.  While most of the series will shift to more “Era” specific in the title (e.g. “Succession Wars Turning Point,” “Age of War Turning Point,” etc.), I do not lack for proposed ideas.  If I did every single one of the projects pitched to me that I liked, the line would still be going three years from now—assuming a one- per two months release, that is.  This year’s been a challenging hiccup, as a backlog of product has pushed layout and design of some of the current TPs in production to the bottom of the pile.  But we’ve got a few fixes in the works that will correct this problem in the near future.

As far as upcoming planned titles, we’ve got in various stages of writing:

  • DATP: Vega
  • DATP: Irian
  • DATP: Marik
  • HTP: Towne
  • HTP: Chesterton
  • HTP: York
  • HTP: Luzerne
  • HTP: Rezak’s Hole
  • HTP: Tortuga
  • JTP: Solaris VII
  • JTP: Hesperus
  • JTP: Priori (WOR)
  • JTP: Vantaa (WOR)
  • OTP: Wolf and the Widowmaker
  • OTP: Somerset Strikers

Now, that’s not a definitive list. And understand, it’s not a guarantee that all of those will see publication.  But they are pitches I have accepted or are in progress of some form, so they’re more than just ideas.

Slightly off topic but I must quash my curiosity.  Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming Solaris 7 product tweeted by Randall?

Not really, no.  Though it does tie in somewhat with the upcoming Jihad Turning Point: Solaris VII release, which I hope to finally kick out the door before GenCon next year.

Is there a conflict or significant event in BattleTech history that you would love to see covered in a Chaos Campaign product but know it never will happen?

There’s a couple I can think of that are more RPG-centric that I’d like to see—and hopefully end up covered in Paul’s RPG offshoot of the line.

Probably the best non-candidate I can think of is Tukayyid.  It’s not really conducive to a campaign, per se, and would need a lot of specialization rules to fight that battle.  My concern there is that it would end up more a reworking of the original scenario book and less a campaign-style Turning Point, which defeats the purpose of the line.

But, as in all things BattleTech, you never really know, do you…

Posted under Articles
Oct-8-2011

Portable MercRoster

Back in September of last year I reviewed the open source BattleTech tracking tool MercRoster.  After helping a reader through the process of setting up their own instance I thought it would be appropriate to provide a step by step guide to make it portable.

MercRoster is a great tool and I want to show how easy it can be to setup and use.  All you will need is an internet connection (you got here didn’t you?) and a USB stick.

My web stats tell me the vast majority of ScrapYardArmory readers use Windows, so that’s what I’ll use in this post.

XAMPP

Visit the XAMPP project website and download the latest ZIP option.  http://sourceforge.net/projects/xampp

Extract the files into the root of your thumb drive. For me, that ends up being the E: drive but your system is likely to be different.  Inside the xampp directory you will find a executable batch file called setup_xampp.  Go ahead and run it.  It’s job is to figure out what drive letter you are using and map xampp correctly.

Setting Up PHP

To make sure we have a smooth experience I have found that a small modificcation is needed to the php.ini configuration file.  On your thumb drive locate the php.ini file in the following directory E:/xampp/php.

Find the line in the file that sets up error reporting.  It will start with something like error_reporting = E_ALL | E_STRICT.  Change it to the following: error_reporting = E_ALL & ~E_NOTICE.

Running XAMPP

In the xampp directory find the xampp-control executable and run it.  Start both Apache and MySql.

Once they are up and running you can head over to your favorite web browser and go to http://localhost.

You should see the following screen if everything is up and running.  If you don’t, check the XAMPP icon or the Xampp control panel  to see whats the matter.

Select your language to get to the next screen and on to the next step.

MercRoster Installation

Next, head back to sourceforge.net and download MercRoster.  http://sourceforge.net/projects/mercroster/

Extract the files to your thumb drive web directory.  The directory on my machine was E:/xampp/htdocs.  You will have to replace the index.php provided by the xampp installation with the new one from MercRoster.

Back in your web browser, access PhpMyAdmin at the following address: http://localhost/phpmyadmin.  At the top of the screen click on the tab titled SQL.  In your MercRoster directory open up the file mercenary_roster.sql.  Copy all and paste into the SQL text box in your browser.  Click GO and give it a generous few seconds to build your database.

Final Configuration

We are getting close.  Go to the directory E:/xampp/htdocs/htdocs.  You will find two files, appsetup and dbsetup.

In appsetup change your site path to the following: $sitepath=”http://localhost/”.

In dbsetup change your db user and password to the following: $dbuser = ‘root’; and $dbpass = ”;

These are the default settings and are fine for a local thumb drive portable app.  If you ever attempt to use MercRoster on a real webserver, you will need to change your mysql password to something a bit more secure. You can find password settings in the Privileges Tab in PhpMyAdmin.

Now everything should be setup.  Open your browser and point to http://localhost and you should be treated to a fully functional MercRoster installation.  It’s your sandbox to play in and is a great tool to help tell your BattleTech unit’s story.  Best of all it fits in your pocket and is easily transported to wherever your game takes you.

Let me know if you have any trouble with this installation guide and I’ll be happy to help you out if I can spare the time.

Posted under Articles
May-14-2011

A Time of War Initiative Analysis

One of our projects here at The ScrapYardArmory is to create a system to calculate a Battle Value for RPG characters for use in tactical infantry games.  This only takes into account skills, abilities, and attributes that are directly or semi-related to what happens in combat situations.  For starters, Initiative is an important factor and in order to better understand what affect modifying a character’s initiative has, a fancy pants graph was made to visualize it.

First a little about how we do personal initiative… The standard initiative is 2d6.  Combat Sense makes it 3d6 and ignore the MINimum (or lowest) roll.  Combat Paralysis makes it 3d6 and ignore the MAXimum (or highest) roll.  (Max and Min is sort of habit from working in LibreOffice’s Calc and Excel.)  Furthermore the Tactics/Infantry skill is added to the roll up to a maximum of +6.  The resulting number is displayed using two 6 sided dice adjacent to the character on the map.  The highest initiative a character can have is 12.  The Reflex Attribute breaks ties and where Reflex is the same, the characters act simultaneously (appropriately conducted by the GM).

To see what affect Combat Sense, Combat Paralysis, and the Tactics/Infantry skill have, an analysis was conducted.  The average roll for each was calculated and represented by a bar on the graph below.  The  Combat Sense, Combat Paralysis, and standard initiatives are colored differently so you can see their relationship.  Ignore Max is Combat Paralysis while Ignore Min is Combat Sense.  Then every individual roll’s winning percentage against other rolls was calculated and averaged together to get an average Win % vs 2d6 OR Win % vs All.  Win %’s are the blueish shapes and labeled on the right side of the graph.  The +0 to +6 mods are from the Tactics/Infantry skill bonus to initiative.  The rolls were then ordered by their Average Roll where you can see the standard initiative 2d6+0 averages to 7 as expected.

 

What I didn’t expect was that only 2 of the Combat Paralysis rolls were lower than 2d6+0, and not really a whole lot lower.  But, the Win % drops off swiftly at the low end.  (Note that 2d6 only wins against itself 44.4% because ties don’t count.)

If you look closely, you will notice that while the Average Roll increases from left to right, the Win % doesn’t always increase.  Ignore Max+3 has an Average Roll a only few hundredths more than Ignore Min+0, but has a slightly lower Win %.  I believe this is due to an increased number of ties (Remember that only wins were counted and a tie is not a win).  You can see this happens again closer to the right, but really neither matters a whole lot since the numbers are still so very close.

You may also have noticed that the colors of the bars are symmetric left to right with Combat Paralysis tending to the left and Combat Sense to the right.

Not too many characters probably end up too far on the right side with high Tactics/Infantry skills, but you can see how they are much more likely to get a high initiative hitting the maximum of 12 more and more often.  With Combat Sense they’ll tend to the right pretty quickly though.  How does this affect our Battle Value?  We’re still not sure as we try to estimate the value of initiative vs other things like weapons, health, etc.

This post is really just meant to share our findings with you so you have a better understanding of the effect your character creation has on Initiative.

Posted under Articles
May-2-2011

Should you Become a BattleCorps Subscriber?

Let me start by telling you a little about my situation so you can get an idea of my perspective (Saxywolf).  I like my stories in dead tree format instead of staring at a screen.  I previously have no experience reading ebooks.  I don’t own a Kindle or other special device beyond my Android phone.  I don’t read a whole lot of Battletech fiction (actually I just haven’t read much at all lately).  The last Battletech fiction I read was the 8 novels of The Great Refusal to prepare for our convention games.  I have no real clue what is offered beyond the general description:

Each month we bring you exciting new content, including a mix of exclusive fiction, in-universe new articles, opportunities for interaction with writers, developers, and artists, sneak-peeks at upcoming products, and even scenarios and tracks you can’t get anywhere else!

As I’m writing this portion, I’m still not convinced to purchase a subscription.  I took the plunge anyway just so I could see what the deal was and let you know the details.  I also wanted to get the First Strike: BattleCorps Compilation Vol 2 as a PDF so I could verify some information on an upcoming scenario post.

BattleCorps subscriptions come in three sizes depending on your tolerance for long term commitments.

  • 1 Month for $9.95
  • 3 Months for $26.95 (saves $2.90 over a monthly subscription)
  • 6 Months for $44.95 (saves $14.75 over a monthly subscription)
  • Recurring 1 Month is -$1 and recurring 3 Month is -$2.

When ordering the subscription, the page for adding a subscription to the cart has you select a faction and says:

If you do not already have an account, please select a faction below.  Existing accounts will not change faction if a new faction is chosen.

What does that mean and why am I selecting a faction?  Since I’m logged in, it should auto-detect my faction instead of telling me that my choice doesn’t matter.  I realized however that this body of text is not automated.  So, I’m actually not even sure if I had a faction.  There isn’t an option to choose later, but while not immediately obvious you can switch factions.  It isn’t a comprehensive faction list, but it does have the popular ones.  Also, since the faction specific forums are not as active, limiting the choice some helps to avoid joining an inactive forum.

I was pointed to a ClassicBattleTech.com forum with threads announcing releases, but who is going to read a forum like that to figure out what kind of fiction they would have gotten.  Anyway, this is what I got:

  • Over 120 products for free download… right away.
  • Access to purchase over 440 additional products in ‘Battletech -> BattleCorps’ Fiction
  • 5% discount on ALL BattleCorps purchases.
  • Access to a faction forum in the BattleCorps forums (Presumably to discuss ‘Mech configurations, tactics, etc.) Not to be confused with the Classic Battletech forums.

A very nice surprise was that it turns out that there is a plethora of previously released products you get for free right away.  There isn’t a list or even a way to figure out what they would be before buying.  But once subscribed, they aren’t too hard to find.  I found 85 free products in my Fiction page right off the bat.  I also found 38 additional free products in the BattleShop under Battletech -> BattleCorps Fiction.  I don’t know why they weren’t automatically added to my fiction page, but I simply sorted the BattleCorps Fiction by price and went down the list adding all the $0.00 products to my cart.  If you too are going to download all the free stuff right away, add the $0.00 products before going down your fiction list and downloading every item so as to avoid having to figure out which you already downloaded.

What exactly does ‘stories from five years of back issues‘ mean?  This seems to be another instance of static text.  It seems I now have access to purchase upwards of 7 years back and all of it is still only for members.

What is the ‘Subscriber Exclusives‘ category?  I don’t see anything in that BattleShop category.  It’s as though I weren’t even logged in.  The message at the top says “Join the Corps” but since I know this body of text is static and not automatically customized for me, why isn’t there also a statement like there is at the top of ‘Battletech -> BattleCorps Fiction’: “If you are a BattleCorps member, but see no fiction on this page, then…”?  I’ve heard talk that at some point there was an exclusive mini, but now the mini has since been made available to non members.

How do subscribers get new products that are released?  Does BattleCorps send a notifications when a new product is released similar to a ‘BattleShop Product Update Alert’ when there is an update to a product previously purchased?  I found an option in the Control Panel to ‘Notify on New Fiction’.  I highly recommend you change this to YES if you sign up so you’ll get a ‘BattleCorps New Fiction Communique’ when something is released.  Otherwise you can periodically check your Fiction page where items with the latest release dates are listed at the top.

How long am I going to have to wait for them to release new products?  Well, there is no comprehensive schedule.  In fact, the only planned date I see is for Exodus Road on Aug 27th a whole 4 months away.  So, I took a look at their release schedule history.  You can see from the chart below that they release products almost every month (Note that I did not include subsequent chapters of a product release if chapters 2 through 10 were released at a later date than chapter 1).  Last year was pretty good and they even seem to be kicking it up a notch this year.

There are dozens of readers, both physical and software, that will read some or all of the dozens of different formats.  Some readers are DRM restricted in that they only allow you to read the ones you buy through that reader.  There are fortunately a bunch of free software readers that will let you read non-DRM ebooks, convert their formats, and help you upload them to any physical reader you may have.  I won’t go into detail (especially since there are so many combinations), but you can read more about readers from your ebook reader’s forums or Google.  Getting the first book to my phone was a bit of a pain, but from here on out at least I have the process down.  It also isn’t so bad reading it on my phone and it’s really nice to have with me whenever I need to kill some time.

Unfortunately, Instead of giving you a download link when viewing your order, there is a link to your fiction page, and then you must search that page to find what you just purchased.  Fortunately it is just one long page so you can do a quick Ctrl+F and type part of the name to find it on the page.  Which reminds me of something else that irks me… You get sent an email when a product you previously purchased has an update for you to download, but instead of linking to the PDF or even just linking to the order that has the download link, they only tell you the order number for you to go find the download link.  On the bright side, there doesn’t appear to be a download time limit on fiction so your collection is always available to you.  I can’t tell you what happens to it if your subscription lapses, let alone if you re-subscribe later.

In case you too thought “Print PDF” would send the ebook to your printer, it’s actually a link to download a version of the product that prints well to hard copy.  It isn’t in color nor does it have fancy graphics in the margin nor any background.  This makes me wonder why the margins in the “PDF” version are so big, though I guess somebody might want to print it in color.  I’m guessing the sidebar graphic is to reduce line length to help make it easier to read (and maybe to increase page count, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt).  It seems kind of random which have “Print PDF” and which have “PDF” (or both).

What about value?  A subscription is $10, $9, and $7.50 per month for the standard 1-, 3-, and 6-month subscriptions respectively.  Here is the current value of the products previously released:

It seems as though you only barely got your monies worth for 2005 through 2008 if you did the 6-month subscription.  However, there have since been a number of products from those years made free (and still exclusive) to subscribers:

If you want to save your money now by not buying a subscription and are willing to wait 3 or more years before buying all the old products, then you’d only have gotten your monies worth for 2006.  All the previous years still would have been cheaper if you had done the 6-month subscription.  If you had the 6-month subscription for 2010 then you would have saved a whopping 64% over purchasing all the products now.  Keep in mind that we are only 1/3 of the way into 2011 and already we’ve seen about as many products released that we would normally see released in an entire year (except 2010).

My biggest problem with BattleCorps and the BattleShop is that it seems to be shooting itself in the foot.  Making it easier to make purchases while clarifying what you are getting for your money are key issues.  I counted 6 products that don’t seem to be available anymore while 4 of them are the beginning parts to stories where additional parts are available.  18 products have slightly different names that make them harder to find counterparts such as “Art of War:  Earth: Part I” and “The Art of War: Earth: Part II” which are not listed anywhere near each other thanks to “The”.  3 items in the BattleCorps fiction seem to have duplicate entries such as “Under Pressure” which has two entries but with different descriptions.  5 of the 16 EPUB novels seem to have duplicates in the BattleCorps Fiction section with different prices.  3 of the BattleCorps Fiction products have a Part 1 released, but no follow up or the subsequent parts are not available.  A bunch of listed release dates aren’t consistent, but that’s not such a big deal.

Still, I’m glad I subscribed and from here on out I plan to be on the 6-month subscription.

If you are still on the edge or even if you decide not to subscribe, head on over to your personalized BattleCorps Fiction page to get a tiny taste of the free stuff you get right away when you subscribe.

Posted under Articles
Feb-3-2011

Chaos Campaign Warchest Calculators

Fresh from the new forums, we have some new tools for Chaos Campaign enthusiasts.  One of the strengths of the Chaos Campaign system is the streamlined calculations that get into and out of tracks.  Still, given opportunity and ample free time, we have found a way to make life even easier.

Bedwyr has done some great work crafting an online javascript calculator to convert between Warchest Points, Support Points, and CBills.

Inspired by such efforts, I took it upon myself to cook up an offline version in Java.  This app should work on any machine running Java in the event that you are caught without an internet connection.

Please leave some comments if you can find some improvements or bugs.  Links are provided below.

Posted under Articles