Monday, January 31, 2022

Battle Report: White Star/Red Star - CAP in MIG Alley II


Image from here:

MIG Alley was the nickname for the Northwest corner of Korea, where the Yalu River enters into the Yellow Sea.  This was the area where Communist MIG-15s tended to scrap with USAF Sabres for control of the skies.  Here, high above Korea was the site of many of the first Jet-vs-Jet battles in history.

The Korean War officially began June 25th, 1950.  The initial air battles were fought between the North Korean Air Force using old WWII era planes, and the South and their allies.  The USAF used later WWI propeller driven aircraft and some early Jet aircraft.  

On November 1st, 1950 the first MIG-15 jet fighters attacked a flight of USAF F-51 Mustang fighter-bombers.  Later that day, the first jet vs. jet combat took place between the MIg-15 and the F-80 Shooting Star.  The USAF's early jets were inadequate for the task, and soon the USAF was resupplying and using the new F-86 Sabre to counter the Communist threat.  

The MIG-15's during the early phase of the war were secretly being operated by the Soviet Unions highly skilled 64th Fighter Aviation Corp.  While the Soviet pilots were engaging in the air, they were also starting to build up the North Korean and Chinese pilots to eventually rotate in and replace them.  

As the F-86 began to appear in the skies over North Korea Mid-December the stage was set for a clash for control of the Skies over North Korea between the MIG-15 and the F-86 Sabre.  

After several play tests, and getting feedback from others I made a couple of BIG changes to these rules.  The first big change was to remove the "action economy" element of the game.  In the old version, all pilots took action in the Rookie Phase, Experienced Pilots and Aces in the Experienced Phase, and Aces only in the Ace phase.  This proved to be unpopular as an Ace pilot in a Prop plane could go faster than a rookie in a Mig.  Therefore, I removed this and instead gave the different levels of pilots the ability turn or change altitudes differently.  Rookies could only initiate a turn at the start of their move OR change altitude, experienced can at any point OR change altitude, while aces can change altitude and turn freely.  

I also made a bit of a change with Wingmen and formations.  Therefore, you can better imitate the true Finger Four formation or pairs of aircraft working in tandem on the table.  A formation has the Wing Leader activate first, and it auto actives the wingman who must maneuver the exact same way as the Wing Leader. 

Finally, I modified Detection so it was a bit harder to detect some planes right off the bat.  This allowed you to "sneak" them in and deploy them closer to the enemy.  I did this by changing it from a straight d6 to a d6+Turn mechanic.  I then increased the Detection number of all aircraft.  It is possible to detect a Jet fighter on turn 1, but it is unlikely.  Let's see what these changes did to the game. 

I intend on giving both of these changes a try today.   


This time, I am purposely re-creating a playtest battle I posted previously.  As such, it will mirror the set-up of that battle in order to test the key changes I made to the rules.  The UN is the attacker, and the sortie will be the Combat Air Patrol.  


Again, we are mirroring the original combat.  The weather was determined to be clear.  

Since this is a standard Combat Air Patrol in MIG Alley, no additional terrain is needed.  However, we add some hills on the edges of the board, ad determine them to be difficult terrain at Low Altitude. 

The board is 48MU by 48 MU and an MU equals 1 inch.  


Today's battle will be using my (in)famous Paper Templates


4 F-86 Sabres- Experienced Pilots


4 Mig-15s- Experienced Pilots

This will be a straight up dogfight between the two sides of equal points and aircraft.  

Turn 1: 

Detection Phase:
A great Soviet roll, leaves all the Sabres detected, while the Migs are not detected.  The Soviet player rolled a 6 +1 for the turn to get a 7.  The detection rating on a Sabre is a 7, so the Sabres are detected. 

I place the F-86's in a finger 4 formation, relative center of the table, and at high altitude to get us all started.  I decide that Sabre #1 and #2 are wingmen, and #3 and #4 are also wingmen.    

No Migs in sight yet. 

Action Phase:
The F-86s have no reason to split up, so continue going forward on their merry way.  They are blissfully unaware that Soviet Migs are about. 

Turn 2:

Detection Phase: 
This time, I roll a 5 + 2 for the Turn for a total of 7. This time, I get eyes on the Migs.  They can deploy up to 12 MU in on the board.  They deploy at low altitude, echelon right on their right edge of the board.  The Soviet player declares all her Migs are Wingmen to each other, so they will move as a unit.


Action Phase: 
The Sabres move forward and stay in formation, at high altitude.  The Migs also just stay going forward and in formation. 

Turn 3: 
We dispense with the Detection Phase since all planes are in sight.  

The Migs ae coming in at an angle, so the question is whether to turn towards them to engage, or if I should do something different.  I am reluctant to go head-to-head with all that firepower, but to maneuver away may leave me sourly out of position, and still in a danger zone.  I decide I want to try to lure the big formation after i set of Sabres, while the other gets behind the Migs.  

Sabres #3 and #4 break left with a 45 degree turn.  The Migs, do not deviate from the low altitude flight path.  Sabres #1 and #2 using wingmen rules break to the left at 45 degrees.  

We will see if this works! 

Turn 4:
Sabre #1 & #2 continue with slight 20 degree turns to get behind the Migs.  The Migs, keep going forward in formation and pivot 20 degrees as well, towards Sabre #3 and #4, but stay low.   The final Sabres do a 180 degree turn by inverting, and drop to Combat altitude.  They are trying to avoid the oncoming MIGS.  

Turn 5:
Sabre #1 and #2 do 90 degree turns at high altitude to try and start getting behind the Migs.  The MIGs use their wingman formation and all go to Combat speed, and open fire on Sabre #3 and #4.  

Only Mig #3 has a shot and he fires at Sabre #4 at long range.  He gets two hits, but thanks to range and deflection, the Sabre jinks away.  Mig #3 has fired off all his limited ammo.  

The last Sabres hard break back towards their fellows and the Migs at Combat altitude. 

Turn 6:
Sabre #1 and #2 take 45 degree turns to get in behind the MIGs.  They still do not have the Angle as the MIG formation turns 45 degrees as well and towards Sabres #3 and #4.  

Mig # 4 and Mig #2 light up Sabres #3 and #4 respectively.  The Sabres again manages to shake off the shooting with maneuvers.  MIG #4 runs out of ammo from his pass.

The Sabres turn in and good head-to-head against the MIG line.  There shooting fails to bring down any enemy planes either.  They also have more ammo left in their feeds.  

Turn 7:
The aircraft maneuver around, but are in a furball up close.  

Sabres #1 and #2 are up high and failing to get the drop on the MIGs.  Meanwhile, the MIGs stay in formation and break hard left.  Sabres #3 and #4 cross their trail, but can't get the bead as they break 45 degrees to their right.  

Turn 8:
Sabres #1 and #2 drop to combat altitude.  

The Migs turn towards them, hoping to get a bead on them, but fail.  

Sabres #3 and #4 bank hard and swoop in on the MIGs tails.  Only #3 has a shot and opens up.  MIG #2 manages to maneuver away from the shots!  However, Sabre #3 still has ammo left.

Turn 9:
Sabres #1 and #2 cut across the MIGS flight path as they roar past the opposite way.  

Sabres #3 and #4 seem to have them in firing position and chase them down with a hard bank. 

Sabre 33 opens up on MIG #4, but the pilot evades masterfully.  Sabre #4 also fires on Mig #3, and this time he manages to blow the wing off his foe.  Scratch 1 MIG! 

Turn 10- Disengagement Turn
Sabres #1 and #2 try to gain altitude and disengage.  However, the MIG flight inverts and climbs to take them on.  MIG #1 opens fire on Sabre #1, but misses.  He still has ammo.  

Sabres #3 and #4 jet past underneath the MIG formation.  

All aircraft break for home, running low on fuel and ammo.  The USAF won by downing 1 MIG to 0.    

So, the game felt very different with the changes I made.  Planes did less, zipping around then they did before, and the battle felt a lot less Vertical.  This felt like a more traditional WWII air battle game this time.  I am do not think it accomplished my design goals fully.  

I think I am going to go back and take another shot at the action economy approach, but this time, all pilots activate in the turn, but only the turn names pilots can maneuver in their turn.  otherwise they just fly straight?  That is another big change to the rules.  

The Detection rules worked better though, so those can stay!  I am also less sure about Wingmen movement, as they just ended up being big "groupings" of aircraft.  This is not necessarily bad though, and seemed to match my reading of the Korean War.  I will have to test those with the new "Action" economy again. 

Back to draft again...... 

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Monday, January 24, 2022

Battle Report: Darkest Knight - Scout the ShadowPoints


I have been working on a solo/co-op/versus game tentatively called Darkest Knights.  I have always liked the idea of doing a horror themed game, and have many starts and stops at this goal.  After a lot of work, I finally got to the point with a game where it is ready to hit the table and get tested.  However, there were a few design goals and hooks I wanted to put into the game.  

  1. RPG Light elements
  2. LOS as a resource due to darkness
  3. Solo/Co-op/Versus playable
  4. Escalating tension/difficulty
  5. Lot's of choices
  6. Scale and Model Agnostic
  7. Modern horror veneer
So, here we are with a Playtest of Darkest Knight on the table using my infamous Paper Templates!  The Paper Templates were made using random images of models on the internet.  The heroes are mostly images of Reaper Models I was eyeing up for this project.  

The concept is simple.  Each player gets a team of 4 models that are their team of "Knights" to go on missions against the forces of "Darkness".  Each of the 4 models can be customized by choosing their attributes and a template that applies starting gear and special abilities.  The game itself uses dice shifting and a target number of 4+.  Monsters also have an escalating level of dice based on the level of Fear on the board that accumulates from player actions.  The last hook is that the board is considered to be constantly shrouded in darkness, and LOS is limited.  Therefore, the use of sources of light and illumination are critical for success.  All "monsters" spawn randomly through out the game.  

Lt. Wulf re-checked her weapon.  It was in prime condition and ready to rock-and-roll.  Next she checked her ear piece Comm.  

"Testing 1, 2, 3..... team check in."

"Sister Winifred, ready." The stocky, middle aged women clutched her holy symbol to her chest, and huge pistol strapped under her arm.  It was a sharp contrast to her nun's habit.  

"Heidi Kroft, ready." The tall, lanky woman racked her sub-machine gun.  Her hair had been pulled up into braids, keeping them out of her way.  Her gear looked strapped down and secured.  

"Lui Xujiang.  Checking in," her english was flawless, perhaps better than Ilsa's own.  There was no trace of her Chinese heritage.  However, of all the team, she looked the most nervous.  She rubbed her palms on her utilitarian coveralls.  Hard to believe she could freeze a foe with just her mind, but Ilsa had seen it herself.  

She nodded to her team, "Time to get out there and see where this mystical Darkness is coming from.  let's get ready to light it up!"  

The rest of her team gave nervous grins and glanced around the cabin of their APC.  It rumbled to a halt, and the back door dropped down with a clang.

"Go, go, go!"   

Our heroes are a team of "Knights" that have been gathered together and trained by a wealthy patron.  Exactly who this mysterious benefactor is is unclear, but they are loyal to each other and the mission of halting the spread of the Darkness across the land.  Our cast of heroes are:  

Lt. Ilsa Vulf
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
d12                      d4                        d6                        d8                        d10
Archetype: Leader                                                                  Keyword: Awareness
Starting Equipment: Battle rifle, Low-light goggles, pistol
Power: Re-roll failed Rally tests, Can activate another model rather than themselves on Activation

Sister Winifred
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
d4                        d6                        d10                      d8                        d12
Archetype: Devoted                                                              Keyword: Brains
Starting Equipment: Pistol, Holy Symbol, Flashlight
Power: Repulse Undead, Spectral, and Occult.  Use Occult texts with a Brains test
Heidi Kroft
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
D8                       d6                        d10                      d4                        d10
Archetype: Freerunner                                                         Keyword: Brawn
Starting Equipment: SMG, Knife, Satchel
Power:  Re-roll failed Brawn test for Dynamic Movement

Lui Xijiang
Shoot                  Fight                   Brawn                Brains                 Awareness
D8                       d6                        d4                      d10                        d8
Archetype: Psyhic                                                        Keyword: Brains
Starting Equipment: Pistol, Flashlight, Knife
Power: Freeze Target- Successful Brains test, the target is pinned

 For this test run, the team needs to "scout the area".  They do this by moving within 6 MU of a Shadowpoint Marker and make a successful Awareness test.  The more they investigate, the more they score victory points.  They do not need to "shut down" a Shadowpoint Marker to score. 

The game is played on a 36MU by 36MU board with 1 MU = 1 inch. 

The board has a variety of LOS blocking terrain in the form of walls and buildings.  There are 4 Shadowpoint markers starting on the board, and 4 potential Threat markers.  The Shadowpoints are placed randomly around the board with a Threat marker adjacent to them.  There are also four illumination points, with a 6 MU radius that are also randomly placed.

Shadowpoints= Black Tokens
Threats= Red Tokens  
Lights= White Tokens

The "Knights" all deploy together in a corner of the board behind cover on the more well lit side of the board.     

Turn 1:
This is a solo test game, so the "knights" get to go first.  

The Knights choose Heidi to go first, as she is a Free Runner.  She has a d10 Awareness, so makes her check.  She rolls a 3, which is a failure!  Therefore, the Darkness gains 1 Fear marker and play turns over to the Darkness.  The Darkness fails to spawn a new Threat, but an existing at the nearest Shadowpoint moves 4 MU away.  

This time, Lt. Wulf tries to activate and successfully does so with a 5.  This gives her an LOS of 7 MU.  6MU is base, and she scored 1 over 4+ to add 1 MU.  She moves up, but can not see the nearest Threat marker due to blocking terrain.  Afterwards, play goes to the Darkness again!  

Sister Winifred gets an 11, so activates with a 13 MU LOS.  She goes around the other side of the buildings and draws LOS to a Threat Marker.  Thankfully, it was just an abandoned newspaper blowing in the wind, and making all sorts of noise! 

The darkness spawns a new Threat marker at the far Shadowpoint.  Then, Xujiang moves up to stay with Lt. Wulf.  

The Fear level is 2, and the Knights have not scouted any Shadowpoints.  

Turn 2: 
Heidi shakes herself out of her revelry and moves out.  She activates and passes a Dynamic movement test to get on top of the nearest building and nimbly move over its roof.  

Sister Winifred acts next, and moves forward.  She peaks around a corner and sees another threat marker.  Thankfully, it is just a stray cat!  

Lt. Wulf tries to activate next, but hesitates as Sister Winifred's voice buzzes in her ear bud, "Just a cat".  The Lt. breathes a sigh of relief, but the Fear level goes up 1 for failing an activation check.  The moment of concern causes Lui Xuijang to also freeze up!  Another Fear token means it is more likely for threat markers to spawn, and those threats to be enemies!  

Fear Markers 4, 0 Shadowpoints scouted! 

Turn 3:
Sister Winifred moves to go around a nearby wall, but can not get close enough to scout the second ShadowPoint yet.  

Heidi moves to the edge of the roof and squints off into the distance.  She had seen movement, but it was just a long shadow after all!  

Lt. Wulf moves to the first Shadowpoint, but can not inspect it yet.  To busy covering her movement from an attack.  However, her vigilance is warranted as a rifle toting zombie shuffles into view in the distance!  It fires at her, but misses! 

Hearing the gunshot crack through the night, Xuijang freezes up and takes cover.  1 more Fear Token!  

A second gun toting zombie spawns and attacks LT. Wulf up close!  It came out of nowhere!  However, the LT. fends it off!  

Fear Tokens 5
Shadowpoints Scouted: 0
Threats: 1
Enemies: 2

Turn 4:
Heidi opens fire with her sub-machine gun at the distant zombie, and forces it back 1 MU.  However, it is immune to suppression as it is undead and does not know fear!  

The Shadowpoints spawn another threat!  Meanwhile, Lt. Wulf struggles with the Zombie that jumped her!  She is not much of a fighter, more of a shooter!  Thankfully, neither is the Zombie!  However, the Shadowpoint spawns another Threat!  

Seeing the Zombie fight with Lt. Wulf the Psychic again stays in cover.  Sweat and nerves keep her pinned in fear! More fear Tokens! 

Hearing more potential threats in the darkness ahead causes Sister Winifred to also take cover and peer into the darkness!  

The rifle zombie that was pushed back fires on Heidi, but fails to hit.  

Fear Tokens: 10!
Shadowpoints Scouted: 0
Threats: 3
Enemies: 2

Turn 5:
Sister Winfred squints into the darkness and sees her caution was warranted.  Ahead in the darkness is a Zombie with an idling chainsaw!  The sister brandishes her Holy Symbol and calls down the power of Jesus to repel it.  The beast shambles back!  Away from the Sister's holy aura! 

Lui Xuijang concentrates on the Zombie fighting Lt. Wulf, and causes him to freeze in place with the power of her Mind!  This allows the LT. to blast him with her pistol up close and kill it!    
The other gun-toting zombie fires at Heidi and causes 1 MU of push back, which knocks her from the roof!  She takes an injury and reduces her fight to D4.  The fall also causes Heidi to fail her awareness check! 

Fear Tokens: 11
Shadowpoints Scouted: 0
Threats: 1
Enemies: 2

Turn 6: 
Lt. Wulf takes a moment to catch her breath after her close call with the zombie.  However, this means she can not scout the Shadowpoint.  This takes them to 12 fear, and triggers the Doomsday Turn next turn! 

A new Threat spawns near the Shadowpoint by Sister Winifred, and this causes her to huddle into cover.  Her Holy Symbol gripped in her hand.  

Heidi gets up, fires at the Zombie with the rifle, and fails to hit him.  

The Threat marker near the Sister charges at Winifred.  It is revealed to be a powerful undead Devourer! The attack strikes her in the head, and she reels back.  Her Brains are reduced to d6.  

Lui Xujiang moves up and draws a Line-of-sight on the rifle toting Zombie.  

Another Threat Marker appears, but goes behind a building by the second Shadowpoint.

Fear Tokens: 15!
ShadowPoints Scouted: 0
Threats: 3

Turn 7- Doomsday Turn: 
Finally, Lt. Wulf activates and scouts the nearest Shadowpoint!  The nearest Zombie rifleman tries to push her back with shooting, but fails.  

Sister Winifred activates, and holds out her crucifix defiantly and screams in latin at the Devourer Zombie, who rushes off in terror of the mystical symbol!  

Another Devourer Zombie appears at the Shadowpoint near Sister Winifred!  

Heidi fires her SMG at the rifle toting Zombie, and hits him.  Causing him to go to d4!  

Another threat marker appears at the furthest Shadowpoint.  The undead forces are starting to respond to the Knights in their region!

In the last activation, Lui Xujiang hunkers down in fear, her eyes darting around in terror!  

Seeing that the undead hordes of the Darkness were starting to gather, Lt. Wulf called for the withdrawal.  She triple clicked her ear piece, that was the signal for the rest of the team.  They fell back to their exfil location and loaded up in the armored vehicle waiting for them.  They rumbled away into the night.  

The radio crackled to life, the scratching, disembodied voice of their patrons filled the cabin, "Well?" 

The team sheepishly looked around before Lt. Wulf cleared her throat, "We didn't manage to get very far before the Undead started to swarm our position.  We located and pinned the location of one potential Shadowpoint rift in the target area."

"That will do,  Send the co-ordinates so we can target it for destruction via other means.  Was anyone hurt?" 

"Nothing serious, just some minor injuries.  However, we are all a bit shaken up.  I thought I was ready for the oppressiveness of the Darkness, but when you are on the ground.... in it......," her words trailed off.  

"No need to be ashamed.  That creeping dread is spreading everywhere.  That is why we need to locate and destroy more of these Shadowpoint before it is too late." 

The silence hung in the air uncomfortably for a moment.  

"Good for now.  Return to base, and we will plan our next move."  The radio snapped off.  

Well, that was fun.  How did it play?  Well, activation did not go nearly as well as I would have hoped!  Half of the Fear Tokens were generated as I blew activation rolls on d10's and d12's!  That sucked!  Poor Lui Xujiang spent more time scared of her own shadow than doing anything.  I think I will make the Awareness test to activate a choice.  You can activate with 6MU LOS for free, but making a check could allow a larger LOS, but the chance of failing and getting FEAR tokens and not activating.  Now, it is a decision point.    

I normally only let a model get 1 action to create more tactical play, and that really hurt in this game.  I had to make tough choices, but I also didn't get to do much before I got swarmed by tougher and tougher enemies.  I honestly did not expect those d6 rifle toting Zombies to be so tough to get rid of!  As you acquire Fear Tokens, the enemies that are spawned are tougher and tougher to drive off, and get better at killing you!  The main threat in this game is not the enemy models or Threat tokens, it is running out of time and getting bogged down in Fear Tokens and the game ending.  

The Illumination and LOS rules seemed to work fine.  The dice shifting and 4Ms worked fine as well.  I am unsure about the Frequency of the Fear Tokens, might need to dial them back a bit or not give them out so easily.  Also, currently it is easier to spawn the harder monsters and hard to spawn the easier monsters.  That escalates the tension, but seems "wrong" at the same time.  There should be more easier monsters and fewer harder ones.  I think I will tweak that spawning system a bit.  

The models all having different strengths and abilities worked well.  I liked that, even if one of my best shooters got jumped into close combat right away!  The special Repulse and Freeze powers worked well when they were used.  I think I will need to get these out on the table again and see what happens next time before I make too many adjustments.     

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Monday, January 17, 2022

Wargame Design: "Invincible" Units

I think we have all seen those "invincible" units.  The ones that can out-shoot, out-melee, or simply out-last anything else on the table.  The are frequently a powerful beat stick that your opponent can use to hammer your army into dust, where your lowly troops barely have a chance!  I had been on the receiving end of those "Deathstar" units on many occasions, and I did not like the chunky, meat paste it made of my troops.  I quickly started to think that if a lowly conscript did not have at least the ghost of a chance at defeating it with a crazy luck or massively out-numbering than it was "unfun".  

If you read many of my rules, you will find the ability to make "Invincible" Units that can not be killed.  You could use combinations of traits, stat lines and command points to buff units to invincible status, especially against other non-"invincible" units.

Now, let's fast forward to my most recently published book, Wars of the Republic.  Roman Legionary troops can go into a formation called Legion.  This formation gives them powerful armor bonuses in exchange for some reduced mobility. However, the concern is that the Armor rating for this formation can make them essentially immune to other unit's attacks!  This frequently came up in play testing, and was a concern for some of the play testers.   

Oh no!  It looks like I have fallen into the trap and designed "Invincible" units!  

Perfect Balance

The idea of perfect balance is that any unit of a given points cost can perform just as well as any other selection of the same points. Quality can off-set quantity, damage output can be off set by damage resistance, speed can be off set by control, etc. Essentially, perfect balance would be that two players could choose any options they want and their abilities would off set enough that the game would still be completely fair and even. Only the skill of the two players would impact the outcome.  

It is a common belief that balance can be created using a simple formula, where various values can be input and the output is a given unit's effectiveness.  This can then be turned into a Points system, so theoretically any given point was worth X amount of effectiveness.  It can be really easy to build a number of spreadsheets and statistical models that would allow you to create the "true" points value of a model.    

"Invincible" units would seem to be anathema to this idea of Perfect Balance, as some units were wildly out of sync with other units capabilities on a point by point basis.  X points of a Buffed Mounted Unit in Heavy Armor should always beat Y number of less buffed units in combat.  Y would never have a chance to even scratch them! 

The problem is, Perfect Balance is a Myth.  It is a unicorn.  There will always be unbalanced units.  

The Unicorn 
Perfect Balance is impossible for a couple of reasons: 

1. Games have a lot of variables that can not be accounted for

I have a two level hill that has a radius of 6 inches, but Billy has a two-level hill that has a radius of 6.5 inches.   This is a variable that a designer can not account for unless they put rigid requirements on terrain that players can use.  Terrain is the most common example, but there are a ton of others such as table size, accuracy of measuring tools, consistency of RNG, model variability, and many, many more.  

Even if the game strictly confines the game into a set series of known quantities by enforcing standardization such as all terrain must be X, or this particular SKU, or use only casino dice, or all bases area  cylinder, etc.  That is not going to ensure "perfect balance", but it does reduce the noise of variability.  

2. Players are all different! 

Sorry, some people are better at calculating distance on sight, others can do probability calculations, others can count cards.  Therefore, we have another factor that creates variability.  Game designers can not account for Player skill mismatches.  

Therefore, "perfect balance" is a myth and as game designers we should not get hung up on the issue. 

The Invincible Unit
On its surface, a unit in Restless Hordes (and similar generic games I have builtcould effectively be invincible to other units.  In fact, it was intended that players could do so!  The same with the Legion rules in Wars of the Republic.  These were not put in by accident, they were not a mistake.  They were intentional choices.  

Why would I do something like that?  WHY!!!!!!!!!

How a player structures their army is a strategic choice.  It is one they make outside of the game, and it will impact how they decide to play on the table.  A player has to choose if it makes sense to create a "invincible" unit at the expense of the rest of his army.  For every point spent to "buff" your invincible unit, less points for the rest of your army.  This makes them strategically vulnerable to being out-maneuvered, out-activated, and not able to cover objectives.  

Invincible units face hard tactical choices, for both players IF the game itself has tactical choices built in.  As the player of the 'Invincible" unit you have to decide where is the best place to apply said unit for maximum effect?  For the opponent, you have to decide how you are going to counter these difficult to face units.  

For example, in Wars of the Republic playtesting the following "solutions" were found to the Legion formation.  The easiest was to feed them a Light Infantry unit to tie them up so they couldn't then maneuver or get to a more impactful element of the army.  The other was to never attack them head-on, or force them to come to you where their unit lost the benefit of the formation.  Thirdly, you would just use support units to overwhelm them where a single unit could not even hurt them.  All of these options required the opponent to think of how to "solve" for the legion formation and that makes choices.  For the Legion player, they had to think about how they wanted to engage and where for the proper match-ups.  

3. Resource Management

In many of my games, you can use Command Points to buff/de-buff/trigger effects.  The Invincible unit forces all players to decide if they need to buff/de-buff that unit or that Unit's opponent.  Like points, any advantage given by Arete Points, Commander's Gaze, or similar command points means that those points are not available elsewhere.  Those re-rolls or buffs are often the "lynch pin" of success and having to think about where to use them to either make sure a unit is invincible or not is a key decision point.  

Most games have more scenarios than simply killing your enemy.  In scenarios where killing the enemy is less than optimal, such optimized units will fail to deliver on their promise.  Instead, units that apply to the scenario matter much more.  These "invincible" units will not be worth their cost any more.  

For example, if the mission is to get more units within X distance of an objective having only 1 "Invincible" unit with a couple of support units will be much less effective than having a shed load of medium skill, mobile units.  Therefore, the scenario options and the need to build for a variety of options means that "invincible" units become a gamble.  

5. Games are not played on Paper

While playtesting Men of Bronze, Warband infantry were proving to be much more effective than Peltasts.  On paper, Peltasts were better!  They had better stats, missile abilities, and better special rules.  However, they were getting rolled over and removed from the game frequently.  The Warband infantry was not only staying on the table, but helping to win the games!  

How was this possible?  

Well, the special rules and better stats were leading to players using the Peltasts much more aggressively.  They often went in front of the Phalanx to act as a screen and trying to use their missile weapons.  This would cause minor injury, but the counter-attack would frequently catch or rout them.  Meanwhile, the Warband Infantry was held back to either act as a support unit, flank unit, or scurrying across the board for objectives once the main engagement occurred.  People were using Warband Infantry in a different role, and using them more effectively.  This lead to Warband infantry getting costed 6 points, to the Peltasts 4; and led to a lot of pushback from players in the larger community.  Ultimately, I made the change to make them all equal points in the FAQ.  

Therefore, one of the worst units in the game "on paper", became the most valuable.  

Final Thoughts
The ability to build an "Invincible" unit is not an inherent flaw in a game.  The designers just need to build methods and ways to make sure that the "invincible" units are not auto-win units.  Just because a unit can ROFL stomp any other unit on the table does not mean that the game is lost.  If a designer builds in downsides such as scenarios, strategic penalties, and tactical elements that can be used to negate that units advantages, the game is winnable.    

As a player, it can be really frustrating to meet-up with these types of units.  However, it is also very satisfying when you still manage to beat them!  A solid game will allow a player to choose to make an "Invincible" unit, but will not guarantees the player of that unit an auto-win.  

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Monday, January 10, 2022

Battle Report: White Star/Red Star- Intercept to Suwon Airfield


Image from here:

Between June 25th and July 20th of 1950 the North Korean air force engaged the United Nations forces in the Air Battle of South Korea.  The month-long air battle for supremacy saw several engagements over the airfields in Seoul and Taejon. 

One of the first battles was around the Suwon Airfield on June 27th as North Korean aircraft tried to raid the United Nations air field there.  UN forces had begun evacuating civilians and diplomats.  However, they were engaged by North Korean aircraft.  The North Korean forces were mostly left-over World War II aircraft, versus F-82 Twin Mustangs and F-80 Shooting Star jets.

This was one of the first engagements of the war, and heralded in the jet age.   

I intentionally chose an early war battle as I wanted to see the prop planes of the North Koreans and how they faired against the early USAF Jets in the game rules.  In addition, I wanted to see how Rookie pilots vs. Experienced Pilots played out.  This will be a big test for the game system.  Let's see how it goes! 

Set up:

We used the rules in the manual to determine the game set-up.  

The weather is clear.  The mission takes place as the North Koreans attempt to attack the Suwon Airfield in South Korea, which is off board.  There is no real terrain except for aesthetics in this mission.   

We are using a 48MU by 48MU board where 1 MU is 1 inch. 


We determined this was going to be a Intercept mission with the Communists as the attacker.  The Communists are trying to fly their aircraft across the board while the UN is trying to stop them.  The North Koreans get extra Kills for every plane that makes it across the board. 

The UN aircraft have scrambled to intercept incoming ground-attack planes trying to thwart refugees and diplomats from escaping, and to damage the airfield at Suwon.     



2 F-80 Shooting Stars- Experienced Pilots

2 F-82 Twin Mustangs- Experienced Pilots

North Korea

4 Il-10 Beast- Rookie

2 La-9 Fritz- Experience

2 La-9 Fritz- Rookie

That puts the North Koreans at a slight edge in points, but much less skilled pilots.  Plus, half of the North Korean force is ground attack oriented.   

As usual, I will be using Paper Templates while I keep testing the game.  However, the templates are now in Techno-color!  Fancy!  

Also, as normal, I will use dice to show the 3 elevations of the aircraft.  No dice is low altitude, 1 dice is combat altitude, and 2 dice is high altitude.  I will place the dice under the template to "raise it" up from the board as needed.        

Turn 1:


Despite the F-82's enhanced radar and detection phase re-roll the USAF only sees the 4 IL-10's flying in at combat altitude in a wide wedge formation drifting to the East side of the board.    

The North Koreans have not detected any of the USAF aircraft at this point.  

Rookie Phase: 

As The Il-10's are the only aircraft on the board, they proceed as planned towards their target.  

Experienced Phase: 

No Experienced Pilots are detected or deployed yet. 

Turn 2: 


This time, both sides get good rolls with the North Koreans getting a 5 and the USAF getting a 6 thanks to the F-82 re-roll.

The North Koreans had initiative and chose to go second.  The F-82's were placed in the center at Combat altitude moving to intercept the Il-10s, while the F-80's were at High altitude to the West angling towards the IL-10s.  

The La-9's were at High altitude across from the F-80s, heading straight for the Jets.  The two Experienced pilots were lagging a bit behind, while the Rookies were deployed as far forward as possible.  

Rookie Phase: 

Everyone stays on target and moves forward. Distances are too great for shooting, but the gap is closing fast.  The fritzes make a 20 degree turn to try to intercept the P-80's moving on the Beast formation.   

Experienced Phase:

The USAF can still move, and two of the North Korean Fritzes.  The rest are only rookies.  

The second F-82 makes a 20 degree turn to spread out the formation a bit to try to catch some more enemy aircraft on the approach, but everyone just hangs on and stays committed to their course and altitudes.  

Turn 3: 


All aircraft have been detected now, so there is no need to detect anything.  I will be dropping this phase as we proceed in the game.  

Rookie Phase: 

Beast #1 and #2 turn towards the approaching USAF Twin Mustangs, while #3 and #4keep pressing ahead.  

Shooting Star #1 drops to combat altitude, but stays on course otherwise, while his wingman stays high.  The Fritzes press forward, with #1 dropping to Combat altitude.  

Everyone is just out of combat range, but the Experienced Phase may get a bit nasty! 

Experienced Phase:

The USAF has more Experienced pilots, so gets to move the first plane.  F-82 #1 flies in and opens fire on Beast #1 at long range.  He rolls his 2 experienced dice and gets 1 hit, but the Beast gets an extra Maneuver dice to dodge due to long range.  The Beast pilots makes the Maneuver roll successfully and keeps on flying! 

Fritz #1 tries to chase down the Shooting Star #1 at Combat altitude, but is just shy of having the range.  He may not be able to catch up to the USAF Jet now!  

F-82 #2 fires on Beast #2, but fails to find the target.  However, he still has ammo left for another pass.... if he survives! 

Fritz #2 drops altitude to Combat altitude and fires on P-80 #1.  First blood to the Communists as the Fritz takes out the P-80 at range.  However, he also runs out of ammo in the process! 

P-80 #2 tries to stay high and blast past the North Korean defenders.  

Turn 4

Rookie Phase:

The F-82's try to split away from the oncoming North Korean planes.  It works for #1 avoiding Beast #1, but Beast #2 fires on the second Twin Mustang.  His shots do not find a home, and he still has ammo in his bays.  

Fritz #2, out of ammo drops to low altitude.  Meanwhile Fritz #1 turns to chase the USAF planes, but is too slow.  The other Fritz stay at high altitude and head for the mission objective.  

Beast #4 turns towards the F-82 #1 and opens fire.  A lucky shot downs the USAF plane!  Did not expect that! He even has ammo left! 

Experienced Phase:

Things are not looking good for the USAF!  

P-80 #2 swoops down and ices Beast #3 with a burst of machine guns.  However, it took all of his ammo to claim that kill!  

The rest of the planes just maneuver for position for next turn.  

Turn 5- Disengagement Turn

The USAF has lost too many planes and is given the order to fall back.  This will be the last turn.  

Rookie Phase: 

The Americans dive to the hard deck to avoid the oncoming North Korean Beasts.  The Fritz continue on their journey, unopposed.  

No shooting as no one has the angle.  

Experienced Phase: 

The Americans try to maneuver back around, but they will run out of time before they can do anything about the other North Korean planes.  Meanwhile, the North Koreans just continue to fly towards their board edge.  


The North Korean forces win 2 Kills to 1.  The USAF was forced to disengage this time! 

The North Koreans got some lucky hits, and the USAF had some unlucky Maneuver rolls.  As the Communists, I think the USAF set up their Jets poorly and forced them to fly across the front of my fighters to get to their targets.  However, once the Jet got past the front of my Fritz, there was no way I was going to be able to catch up or maneuver to face them again.  I was lucky that my Beast's were able to shoot up an F-82 head-to-head, otherwise it would have been tough to stop them from plinking me off with deflection shots and tailing.  

The rookie pilots managed to hold their own, even though they were at a big disadvantage.  The Beast pilots in particular got lucky when they turned into the USAF attack and went head-to-head.  They were rolling 1 dice to hit, and managing it.  Meanwhile, the USAF with 3 Maneuver dice to dodge were not managing it!  Despite the Rookie pilots, we saw here that Quantity of shots had a Quality all its own.  

I was pleased that the Shooting Star #2 was able to out distance and avoid the pursuing La-9's.  If that did not happen, I would of had serious questions about the game design as is. 

So far, the game has been a pretty straight forward affair.  Most kills have happened in the opening head-to-head pass.  Then maneuvering after the first past takes time and energy to get back into position.  The battle is much more about initiative, height, and speed than it is about horizontal maneuver and positioning.  That reflects the period in question.  

Testing continues for the various aircraft and sortie types.  

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