Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Star League is Stupid

Ok so I was reading the Liberation of Terra book, which is right up there with Reunification was as the best products since FASA died, and came to a conclusion.

The SLDF is stupid.

The US island hopping campaign of WW2 is a decent comparison to the SLDF retaking the worlds of the Terran Hegemony.  However, while the US bombed and island, then bombarded it until there was no resistance, the SLDF just sent troops in without any preliminary bombardment.

That is how most of their losses occurred.  If I was a grunt in the SLDF, I'd be defecting to the rebels as well as my naval officers are idiots.

The SLDF should have jumped in with combat fleets, removed the Caspars and Rim Worlds fleets, *THEN* sent an HPG back to the staging area for the transports to jump in system.  Instead, the transports jumped in with them, and entire divisions were blown away in space before they ever set foot on the ground.

No wonder their losses were so horrible.  I guess if they didn't do that though, the SLDF would be so potent after retaking Terra that they could have just conquered the entire inner sphere instead of going on Exodus, and 300 years of peace would have followed.

I'll also say this to Randall:  "Good luck with IO".  There is a problem with Battletech.  While it is a small enough universe to get your head around (opposed to say Traveller or Warhammer) it is still a REALLY REALLY big universe.

3000 worlds.
The SLDF had 451 divisions and 301 independent regiments, 3000 warships, 500 naval bases, and who knows how many transports and facilities scattered about.  How in the heck would you model a game with that?  Sure, by division, otherwise you easily have 4000+ counters, for the SLDF only.  Problem is, there isn't 1 division per world attacked in canon, so you really need to break up those divisions brigades at a minimum (1353 brigades), but it'd make more sense to do regiments (4360).  Then warships, it appears that squadrons average about 18 vessels, that is 167 or so counters, doable.  Bases tho, well we can assume that a huge chunk are irrelevant in game, so the SLDF could be done, at a regiment level (plus a few SAS battalions and what not), with about 5000 counters.  Woah, thats a lot.  I have that many counters and more for Federation and Empire, but sheesh.  5000 counters, over like 150 worlds.  Thats 30+ counters (regiments) per world, on average.  Far too many to use on a map, and too many to track with paper.  The other alternative is to just drop the detail.  Use divisions, and instead of each world track regions.  This simply becomes risk and all battletech "flavor" is lost.

Now, after the SLDF evaporates it becomes easier to track.  Roughly 500 mech regiments and 240 warships by non-periphery nations in 2765.  About 500 mech regiments in 3025 too.  At this scale it makes sense to have counters for a mech battalion, armor regiment, infantry brigade, 10-15 dropships, 3-6 jumpships, and 1 warship.  Add in miscellanous markers and units, and you are probably looking at about 6000 counters to model the 3rd Succession war, perhaps 8000 or so with various addons.  While that is a lot, it isn't unbearable.  It could also be reduced by having more larger formations, then generic units when those larger formations are broken down (like 1st Davion Guards could become 3 generic heavy mech battalions).

Ok, now problem #2.  How to track the units.  Lets say we have a mech battalion, with a unique name.  There are 3 ways to track it.  First is simply make it generic, give it a unique name for flavor, but make a heavy mech battalion always equal to another heavy mech battalion.  You could mark the counter with a quality icon for elite/green, but that gets annoying if you track XP and have to have +/-1 quality to them.  I really don't like this method, as again it makes battletech feel more like risk.  Option #2 is each counter has unique stats on it, perhaps 1 heavy battalion has an attack of 8 and defense of 6, while another attack/defense of 7.  You could flip the counter when the unit becomes damaged, having reduced values on the back.  This is probably the simplest method, though things like fatigue and experience are still a real pain to track.  Option #3 is the best for detail, and worst for people who hate using pencils.  This option you simply have unique counters, but they have pretty much no values on them.  Instead you track everything with paper.  The paper could have a unit ID, damage, fatigue, supplies, XP, and combat values, at the least.  These would be circles that get filled in and changed as the game goes by, and your enemy is never totally sure as to their capabilities (scouts could force you to give up information).  Now, the issue with #3 goes back to all them counters.  Even with mech regiments that is 500, and if you want track each regiment each needs at least 1 line of paper... lets assume you can fit 2 columns on a 8.5x11 piece of paper (no way with all them stats).  That is still 3, or more likely a dozen, pieces of paper to track just your mech regiments.  Multiply that by 3 for battalions, add in armor/infantry/etc and suddenly you have a book to track your game.  Nobody wants that.

So it comes down to making the game VERY generic, removing the battletech feel, and essentially making Succession Wars all over again, or, have so much detail that there is simply no way a succession war can be fought.  Little stuff, like the invasion of the Taurian Concordat by the SLDF in the Age of War sure, but a full blown game nope.

Speaking of the TC invasion, that is another issue.  Some of those worlds, with SLDF *divisions* on them, took over a YEAR to conquer.  With 1 month turns that is 12 full turns both sides have forces on 1 planet.  That is a LOT of die rolling.  With more sensible 1 week turns that is over 50 turns with both units having forces on planet.  ACK!

Oh, we have the map too.  With 1 hex = 7.5 LY, the smallest scale you can really do and still see mobility and only 1 system per hex, the map is over 6' in both directions, WITHOUT the clans!  That means you'd need a 3' reach to even play it.

I love counters, not sure why but I really do, but there is simply *NO* way to recreate a succession wars game on the tabletop without dumbing it down so much, that your unit doesn't matter, and the game no longer has a battletech feel to it.

I really just want to see rules for scaling battleforce, intelligence, politics, manufacturing, etc.  Stuff that if it was all there one could create an entire succession wars game, and with that I can convert it all to computer and it could become playable :)

Scaling may seem problematic but I think battleforce is perfect for this.
Right now battleforce is 4-6 units per maneuver element.  This allows a battalion to be played, or maybe even a regiment, but not an RCT.

So, to scale it up a notch, average out all the stats for the 4-6 units in a battleforce element.  Then, call that an element in battleforce company scale.  Your company would have 3 elements, each acting almost exactly like their battleforce stats would indicate, but are actually averages for a lance.  Lots of rules could be removed, like overheating and special ammo.  Ranges/movement get reduced to 1/3rd.  At that point playing out an RCT wouldn't be impossible.

Then, for a battalion, simply average the stats so a battalion maneuver element is composed of 3 companies (the average of stats for the 12 units within it).  Ranges get reduced to adjacent hexes only, movement is 1/9th normal.  Some new stats are added, like a recon factor (since C3, AEP, ECM, etc no longer do anything).  Simple enough, now even bigger battles are easier.

And finally, for a regiment, average the battalions.  Same method, but only battles in the same hex.  This scale should be pretty rare, as even the biggest planet battles would maybe be 8 counters on a side.

To go up/down these scales is easy, just take a hit and mark 3 to the subordinate unit (or whatever).  A lance could be in a company level game, but each hit would take off 3 circles.  That same lance in a regiment game would take perhaps 9 circles from a hit.

So scaling is pretty easy IMO.  Adding in fatigue, quality, XP, supplies, etc at all of these levels is pretty easy to do as well.  Units could be listed with stats like "Armor +4/Speed +1/Attack -2/Recon +1/Artillery -2" to let you have regiments have some detail to them.

Anyway, going off topic now.  My point remains, the SLDF was stupid.


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  2. Eric, the trouble with the SLDF in the Reunification War is simple - it was a military campaign written by a bunch of civilians with little or no sense of history as written by ANY side.

    Yes, that is a sweeping statement. Ignorance, however, is preferable to the alternative, which is that the writers simply fed the entire SLDF enormous amounts of stupid pills.

    This is why I don't watch horror movies. It's not because I can't stand blood and guts (I can't), it's because the people in the movie are deliberately written to act as stupid as possible. If they acted normal, your movie would last about twenty minutes before they'd all run away.

    This is also why I read very little BT fiction of any kind - the authors are constantly putting characters into situations where they do the most unlikely things - either because the author knows dick about the topic, or because the situation requires sudden out-of-character behavior.

    And when I say out of character, I mean 'beyond foolish'. To the point where my suspension of disbelief is completely ruined, anyway. One of the reasons I took up writing BT fiction (yes, Virginia, TROs count as fiction) was simply that I *knew* I could do a better job than most of the BT 'authors' I'd seen.

    Years of experience show that I am *not* better than they are. As good as, in many cases, but it's a team effort. Which brings me back to the beginning - if they are that bad, why doesn't anyone call them on it? We have scores of BT novels out there. Most are unreadable crap.

    On the other hand, the Stratemeyer Syndicate was wildly successful, and I would never describe my Tom Swift Junior book "Tom Swift's Triphibian Atomicar" as anything but formulaic crap. The guy had a nuclear powered car that could fly. Could he get laid? NO.

    Where is the realistic behavior *there*?

  3. Yeah, your right. I try to think of it as the writers, no matter how bad some think they are, are the ones that created the universe, so I *try* to make myself think the way they were trying to. Some things do however *really* stick out as just crazy talk. The battle hardened SLDF sending precious ground troops into warship battles, 50+ regiments of Wobbies appearing from a few "hidden" worlds, a huge army that just fought for 10+ years deciding to run away instead of holding ground they knew nobody could hope to take from them, etc, etc.

    I spent 7 years active duty in the US Army Infantry. That basically means that anybody is very hard pressed to make a war movie, and in many cases action movies, that I don't sit there under my breath moaning about unrealistic things. I notice the blank ammo on the gun belts, the completely unrealistic behavior out of soldiers, improper radio commands, explosions that create fire, bullet penetration, etc, etc, etc. Yet I have to try to enjoy the movie anyway. Some are easier than others. Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down, Three Kings, were all excellent for military accuracy, the series' Falling Down and the Walking Dead make my skin crawl so bad with inaccuracies, I can't even watch them.

    I think the thing that keeps me into the Battletech universe is:
    #1. Constant flow of new products. Name another sci-fi game out there doing that. Even if the products are rife with errors.
    #2. Rules for everything... well nearly. I can have a warship fire on a mech, or play an RPG game with a soldier against a dropship. Pretty much anything goes.
    #3. The universe is small enough that every unit could be listed, yet not so small that the loss of a unit is a very big deal.

    and my big complaints:
    #1. Lack of support after products are completed. The errata system isn't very good, updated PDFs aren't re-relased, etc.
    #2. The community mental state is abhorrent. Heck, I'm ashamed to admit to anybody without a miniature in their hand I play Battletech. Something to be said there, I'll freely tell them I do "military wargaming".
    #3. Paranoia that too much detail would constrain writers creativity. Thats just completely absurd, the 1 in a 10,000 chance some writer needs a detail changed for his story could easily be retconned, though a more creative writer may be a better thought (if one can be found).
    #4. The fact that the core rulebooks are horribly designed, and still filled full of inconsistencies and missing data. Apparently nobody, not even TPTB, can actually design a unit and know its all accurate.

    Only #2 can't be fixed.

    Now if only I could figure out what I should do with mental hours expended on this silly game ;)

  4. Just do what I do. Keep raising the bar. Do keep some perspective, however. Folks tell me my stuff looks as good as the company's work, and in some cases, better. Ah, but the company didn't spend four years making theirs. Or six grand. Or all the goddamn mistakes I've made.

    What do you think of the TRO we're working on? I assume you have at least one thumb up or you would not be working on it. Am done pulling the proper BV2 from the RS, am now putting them into the MUL.

    1. If I, or any fan was to pick up TRO3063 in a store, it'd be purchased just as any other TRO would be. The mech artwork is far above canon standard, and its a product easily worth $30 like most TROs.

      Too bad TPTB couldn't just adopt it, give you enough cut to cover the expenses, and let it become canon ;)