Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Star Wars: Echoes of the Sith Recap – Session 1

HurriconCampaignTitle.v1The following includes works of fan-fiction. It is not endorsed by Lucasfilm™, Disney™ or any of their affiliates. Star Wars is copyright and trademark Lucasfilm, Ltd.

For those just tuning in, our “Star Wars: Echoes of the Sith” campaign was conducted at Hurricon 2015 by The Just Dice League and The Lakeland Roleplaying Guild. It went extremely well and we got several requests for re-caps of the games, the story and to have the scenarios posted. The following write-up is for Session 1, the first miniatures game in the campaign.

Session1a

Rebel convoy leaves the station.

Lothal, Two Weeks After The Battle of Endor…

Captain Lo’Pu sipped her drink as she skimmed through her holo-newsfeed on the bridge of the Nebulan B Frigate, Justice. The beverage was from her home world, Ry’loth; one of the few comforts she allowed herself. She preferred an austere lifestyle, one of discipline and dedication to a singular goal. A goal that had not changed for years, but now seemed closer than ever – defeating the Galactic Empire. Even the one small treat she allowed herself served that goal. It was a reminder of what lay at the center of her resolve: her home and the suffering Ry’loth endured under the boot of the Empire. Each sip she took from the hand-crafted pottery kept the memories alive and honed her focus.

And focus was exactly what she needed. The mission she had been given was as routine as they come. Escort duty. Not just escort duty, but escort duty over junk and low-level prisoners plucked from the hulks around Endor, the remains of the Imperial ships unable to escape the death throes of the second Death Star that the Alliance had recently put down. In actuality the assignment was a mixed blessing. While it gave them a welcome respite from the intensity of the past few weeks it also tempted them to relax drop their guard, something that was dangerous in a galaxy thrown into chaos.

But it was worth the risk. The strain of the recovery operations in the battle’s aftermath broke some of her comrades and drove the rest to the brink, including herself. The destruction and loss of life was catastrophic to both sides of the battle and, to her, dealing with the screams of the wounded and disposing of the dead were even more traumatizing than the combat that caused the casualties. In the heat of battle she was in control and her actions saved lives. She could still summon the exhilaration from when her ship took the kill shot on an Imp-star deuce moving to intercept Home One. It was…

A warning alarm sounded. Incoming ships. Several and large.

Snapped from her reverie, Lo’Pu stood and stepped closer to the viewport. In a matter of seconds the space before her was filled with a massive Imperial fleet, a mix of star destroyers and dreadnaughts. Her hands went numb, allowing her cup to slip from her fingers and smash onto the deck, the hot, viscous liquid spreading out like the blood she knew would soon be spilt.

“Open a channel to all ships,” she commanded. Steeling her voice she issued her commands, “We don’t have a chance against those ships, but we need to do as much damage as possible. All warships form on the Justice. We will isolate and destroy one of those Victory Star Destroyers. Freighter captains, if you are boarded you are clear to abandon ship, the cargo is not worth the risk. I say again, abandon your cargo if necessary. May the Force be with us all!”

***********

Vice Admiral Emmett’s teeth ground together as his fleet dropped out of hyperspace. Their deployment was not at all what he had ordered. His subordinates had each taken it upon themselves to jockey for a closer position to the objective. Whether due to arrogance, over eagerness or desire to prove themselves was irrelevant, the result was the star destroyers far too close together and with virtually no room to maneuver. Luckily he expected this mission to have some rough patches. After all, his ships and their crews were pulled from all over the galaxy and thrown together, the only commonality being their devout loyalty to Lord Vader. He didn’t know them and they didn’t know him. It appeared he would need to forge them into a cohesive unit in the fire of combat. Not ideal, but doable.

The admiral first dispatched orders to his dreadnaughts. They were to give the destroyers some space and close on the rebel convoy that was strung out from the station like a string of pearls, their hulls glittering in the light of the system’s sun. They were also told to fire at will on the combat vessels pulling away from the unarmed freighters. The rebels’ abandonment of their cargo was a good sign because it indicated they had not discerned how important their cargo was.

Next he orchestrated the movements of the destroyers, at times having them pass close enough to have set off proximity warnings had he not ordered them disabled. The whole time his voice was calm, yet firm. In short order the ships had righted their courses and were bearing down on the insurgent vessels. Better still, the voices of his captains had transitioned from strained to confident. Clasping his hands behind his back, Admiral Emmett walked to the main viewport and issued a final, simple order, “To all captains,” he said. “No quarter to the enemy and secure all transports.”

THE GAME

System: Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Armada.

Armada is part of FFG’s family of Star Wars miniatures games that delves into the area of capital ship battle. The game currently focuses on ships of the Galactic Empire and Rebel Alliance. Ships are modeled on stands that have dials and cards. The dials denote shields, which decrease as hit are taken, while cards on the stand give the firing arcs and dice the ship may fire. Like X-Wing, each ship has cards with more detailed information and two other decks of card with upgrades available (at a points cost) and damage as hits finally deplete the shields and hit the hull.

Following X-Wing and Imperial Assault’s examples, FFG will be offering successive waves that will enhance the game. The miniatures are made on a sliding scale, meaning that they are not truly in scale with each other as you may remember them in the movies. Fortunately for those interested in a constant scale, there are alternatives. More information on that will be at the end of the article.

While normally a two player game, Armada can easily be adjusted to allow for more. At Hurricon ’15, we had a total of eight players, each with two ships. The break down was as follows:

Galactic Empire

  • Four Victory Star Destroyers
  • Four Dreadnoughts (Using stats from FFG’s Gladiator)
  • Fighter Support
  • Two stands DX-9 trooper transports

Rebel Alliance

  • 2 Nebulan B Escort Frigates
  • 2 Bulk Cruisers (Using stats for Nebulan B Escort Frigates)
  • Four flights of Corellian Corvettes
  • Fighter Support

GM Controlled

  • Five stands of Rebel transports

Scenario

The Imperial fleet’s objective is to recue Admiral Montferrat who is aboard one of several transports. The admiral is vital to leading the Imperials in the rest of the “Echoes of the Sith” campaign. Meanwhile, the Rebels must simply make it out alive, after destroying as many Imperial ships as possible. Neither side knows the objective of the other.

Deployment

Rebel Deployment

Rebel Deployment

The Rebel fleet was set up at the narrow end of a 8×5 foot gaming table. The fleet was set up with the transports in the center and escorted by Nebulan Bs and Corellian Corvettes on the right and left. Each player had a Neb-B and Corellian Corvette flight stand.

Imperial Deployment

Imperial Deployment

The Imperial fleet was set up at the opposite end, with two players on each side. Each player had one Victory Destroyer and one Dreadnought. Both sides were also given modest fighter escorts, while the Imperials had special stands with custom fan made DX-9 Stormtrooper carriers.

Game Summary

The game played out pretty much as the fan fiction above outlined. The Victory Star Destroyers are slow and not very maneuverable. As they turned in to move towards the enemy fleet, chaos ensued with several near collisions. The Rebels, on the other hand, aside from the GM controlled transports, were fast and flew circles around most of the Imperial fleet. While they were generally weaker and more fragile, their maneuverability allowed them to damage several Imperial ships before being forced to leave the table. The Imperial were able to capture two sets of transports, recuing the Admiral and the winning the scenario.

Imperial ships overtake the convoy of freighters.

Imperial ships overtake the convoy of freighters.

GM Afterthoughts

First, the miniatures. By using custom made, as well as FFG, miniatures, the game was vey cinematic. Aside from the fighter stands, capital ships were in a nearly consistent 1/7000 scale. The custom ships included DX-9s and Nebulan-Bs from Mel Miniatures on Shapeways. Resin Dreadnoughts and transports were made by Utar of Task Force 4222. He also has a Shapeways store, Space Supply Depot, that offers Corellian corvettes and several corvette variations. And he offers stand adaptors, so that “flights” of three corvettes can be on one stand. If you want to make your table look more like the opening scene of A New Hop. Mel and Utar’s models are the way to go.

Secondly, game setup. Given the length of the table and how far each fleet was placed, the opposing fleets should probably start out closer than the 4 feet they began at. Also, with the Imperial fleet having two lines turning inward from the sides of the table, the game had a real chance of ending before it started. Had the Imperial fleet collided, severe damage could have taken out all four of the Empire’s heaviest ships. If the scenario were run again, we would deploy the Imperials across the table and two feet closer.

Another issue was the fact that, when the game was played, Wave 2 of Armada had not yet been released. At the time of writing, they are on the ship transiting the Pacific Ocean. That would have changed the composition of both fleets. Rather than four Victories and four Gladiator proxies, the Imperial would most likely have had one Imperial Star Destroyer, two Victory Destroyers and four Gladiator proxies (Dreadnoughts) and two Imperial Raiders (with proxy Lancer models supplied by Utar Ships). The Rebels would have remained the same, but gained one MC80. The Rebel players would have more investment being potentially able to engage and defeat one or more of the larger Imperial ships before escaping to hyperspace. However, the Imperials still need to be overwhelming in order to give the scenario the correct feel for the rest of the campaign.

Rebel Bulk Cruiser skirts the action on the way to hyperspace.

Rebel Bulk Cruiser skirts the action on the way to hyperspace.

Epilogue

Admiral Montferrat sat alone on the floor and leaned against the bulkhead with his eyes closed in hopes to dissuade conversation. The rebels had converted a Class-A cargo container into a field expedient prisoner conveyance and all around him junior officers from an array of branches filled the cavernous hold with the hum of conversation, coughing and snoring. Luckily none of the others had indicated they recognized him as anything other than the lieutenant his rank board proclaimed. While he had no way of knowing if a fellow captive had revealed him to the insurgents it seemed unlikely that, if his cover had been compromised, he would still be among the rabble and not undergoing strenuous interrogation. So he waited, knowing that his future was rescue or obscurity. Fifty-fifty chance at best.

It had been at least a couple days since he was herded into the container, though exactly how long he couldn’t be sure. He was working through estimates based on sleep and meals when a shutter passed through the ship that caused his eyes to snap open. It was a familiar sensation, but hours of doubt and tedium made him question his first instinct until it happened again and he was sure. The freighter was taking fire. And a lot of it. The admiral was willing to bet much of it was coming from turbolasers. All around him his fellow captives began to shuffle and chatter in nervous confusion. Those who were asleep were now waking up and looking about as if they could see through the metal hull and discern what was happening.

The admiral simply waited. He closed his eyes again and visualized the scene playing out just a short distance away.

The Imperial ships would use their larger guns to bring down the shields first. They would avoid using the full battery for fear of over-penetration. The DX-9’s will have already launched, the Storm troopers aboard doing a final equipment check and getting last minute intelligence from the sensor sweeps of their target. When they got the word the shields were down the DX’s would unleash a devastating salvo of ion cannon fire….

Almost on cue the dim lights inside the container failed and cast the prisoners into darkness, which elicited a few shouts from those with less fortitude. The lack of emergency lighting was yet another sign of the rebels’ lack of resources and their fragility even while basking in a great victory. It caused the admiral to grin for the first time in weeks.

With the ship disabled the assault craft would mag-lock onto the hull, most likely near the freighter’s central walkway. The troopers would set shape charges, blast a hole in the ceiling, then use the smoke for cover as they dropped in and spread through the ship to eliminate any crew that had failed to make it to an escape pod. Once the craft was secure the specialists would move to the cargo container access port knowing it would be locked and require forceful entry. This time they would forgo the shape charge and use a more delicate approach.

Admiral Montferrat stood up in the darkness, smoothed out his uniform and straightened his hat. After a few minutes the darkness was shattered by the bead of plasma torch beginning to slice through the center of the main cargo hatch. It casted odd shadows around the hold and across the huddled officers who inexplicably shied away from what was clearly the first indication of salvation. The admiral walked against the tide toward the ever growing hole to freedom and waited patiently until the uneven oval crashed inwards landing a meter in front of his boots that, while dulled somewhat from his captivity, still managed to shine in the brilliant light stabbing through the breach. On the other side a handful of soldiers in white armor snapped to attention and saluted, no doubt updating the fleet commander through their helmets that their target had been located.

Stepping carefully through the still smoldering opening the Admiral said “You have my gratitude gentlemen. Now, please get me off this hulk so that I may assume command.”

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Battletech Part II – Angel Breakthrough

This is part 2 of a 2-part series on Battletech. You can check out Part I here.

Omega Paladin Unit Crest

Omega Paladin Unit Crest

Having crept up the left flank and holding to cover I was finally closing in on my target. I fired my jump jets and lifted off the canyon floor. As I cleared the edge of the cliff I got my first visual of the valley and the battle unfolding to my right. The communication channels had come alive in the last few minutes, so I knew generally what to expect. Paratrooper was in the center, backing up and furiously exchanging fire with a Crusader to his front. To my front another Crusader sat stoically on a hill and added to the punishment of my lance mate. And on the far side of him I could just make out movement in the tree line that was the point of origin for several missiles, some of which were streaking toward his Trebuchet and others whose contrails went out of view as they tracked on Frosty’s Catapult, the only member of the team I couldn’t see. It would have been a grim sight if not for the final member of the Lance, our commander Sketchy. Her Atlas was just entering the valley and delivering some missile packages on our enemies, a preview of the hell she was capable of unleashing.

A few seconds later my mech settled into the next canyon with a crunch and I waited as the heat indicator dropped. I listened as Sketchy attempted to cover Paratrooper’s withdrawal, her voice calm, but with an underlying tension that told me the situation was getting dire. Finally cool I fired my jets and launched into the air. When I got the next snapshot of the battle my stomach clenched. Para’s Trebuchet was dragging one leg and spewing black smoke into the air. The Crusader he was squaring off with was charging forward, tasting the kill. For my part I took a pot shot at the Crusader that was over watching to my twelve o’clock, but it did no good, it just ignored me and continued to contribute to the fire the enemy lance was converging on Paratrooper. I heard a panicked shout from the comm channel before watching powerlessly as ammunition stores cooked off and the Trebuchet detonated, blowing metal fragments onto Sketchy’s hull as a gout of flamed licked high into the air. His location indicator just disappeared from my HUD.

When I landed this time it was at the base of the rocky hill on which my mirror was perched and I maintained a visual on most of the valley, once again willing my engines would cool faster. I saw as, inexplicably, Para’s killer continued its charge only now redirecting it at the Atlas. In fact, a majority of the enemy fire was targeting the Atlas now. Sketchy seemed unconcerned, our lance channel remaining eerily quiet, as her hulking machine of war turned into the charge. As the two mechwarriors converged the enemy fire became desperate, missile contrails coming from three directions. Then one of those rare battlefield moments occurred, something that sends a chill down your spine because you know it’s a harbinger of death and destruction. Everything went quiet. Not a quiet of peace and tranquility, but a cold silence pregnant with impending violence.

Then the Atlas fired.

The sheer brutality of an alpha strike at close range is an impressive sight when delivered by any mech. When it’s done by an Atlas it takes the experience to a unique and awe inspiring level. One that is rarely a prolonged encounter for the target. This attack was no exception. It was hard to tell which detonations were from Sketchy’s munitions and which were from the Crusader itself, the whole thing just seemed to disintegrate like a child’s sandcastle caught in a Tsunami. The most disturbing part was how casually the deed was done and that the Atlas continued its inexorable march forward without pause.

I was glad she was on my side.

At this point I figured the enemy lance would be shaken and scrambling to adjust their deployment, so I took my chance. Juicing the jets again, pushing them to the limit. I rocketed into the sky and immediately saw that the Crusader was already moving away, down the hill. The worst part was it was also disengaging from its attack on Sketchy and finding a new target. Me. I was letting loose some colorful language aimed at encouraging my Assassin to clear my attacker while pivoting 180 degrees. Sweat was beading up on my skin as I switched to piloting by sensor, the view out my canopy now being a sweeping panorama of the canyon network I had just navigated. I winced as I watched the distance to target indicator counting down to an uncomfortably low number as our mechs passed within a few yards of each other. But we missed and, back on terra firma, I found myself exactly where I needed to be – behind my enemy. Unfortunately it was not square behind and I saw the Crusader’s torso twisting left to bring its weapons on that arm to bear. As I came under fire tracers skipped off my armor plating and the incandescent beam of laser fire slammed home, a reminder of just how outgunned I was in that moment. Knowing that my life expectancy was dangerously close to being measured in seconds I unleashed everything I could into the back of my opponent.

At first I thought I had only scraped some paint, then I saw the mech freeze. That’s when I noticed a scorch mark between two armor plates that was emitting more smoke than the impact of a single missile should have produced. A few seconds later, as I frantically prepped to make a hot jump in hopes of escape, an explosion ruptured the side of the enemy mech. It was quickly followed by several more, each one coming quicker and with greater intensity. Then the Crusader exploded, its hull spreading across the top of the hill and clattering across the canopy of my cockpit. It was probably the greatest kill shot of my mechwarrior career. But it was one that I would sooner have not taken because of what I heard right before the first explosion when the enemy pilot activated the open channel and began calling for aid. It was a voice I hadn’t heard in years, one from my youth.

It was my sister’s.


Omega Paladin Crusader

Omega Paladin Crusader

The Game

Part two of our Battletech battle picked up where we left off. EXACTLY where we left off thanks to the nature of the game board, the mech locations having been noted and the paperwork preserved. As the above fan-fiction outlined we dove right into the combat. Paratrooper and Gigabyte were duking it out and it wasn’t long before Gigabyte killed Paratrooper and then was quickly dispatched by Sketchy. That left us at 3 on 3. A few turns later is when I delivered the lucky shot that took out Crafty (yes, she really is my sister, I wasn’t being melodramatic). With my sibling on the sidelines I then decided to PTFO and scooted off the far side of the table to earn us some VP’s.

At this point Pookie and Preacher were in a bit of a quandary – discretion or destruction? They chose the latter and, though they were able to rattle the Atlas’ canopy a little, they weren’t able to do enough damage and were quickly rendered combat effective by the massive mech and the added pressure of Stinky Cheese’s Cat’pult pouring on the missiles. The game was called when time ran out and was declared a victory for Aynsley’s Angels!


Conclusion

Winning aside, this scenario was extremely enjoyable and once again proved how Battletech is a game system. It’s no surprise that it has truly stood the test of time. The rules have little abstraction and are scalable to player experience and desire for complexity. This is done most obviously by either using the basic rules found in the “Battletech Introductory Box Set” (see below) or the complete rules found in “Battletech: Total Warfare”. The selection of game board can also be used to scale the game difficulty. For example, using a map with little terrain and few elevation changes will make the game simpler and naturally omits many of the rules.

Probably the most defining aspect of the game is the record keeping. Each unit requires a fairly significant investment in time to track damage, heat, speed, etc…. This can be a bit overwhelming at first, but is worth the effort to learn as it provides a gaming experience with depth not often found in a board game (see “Pro Tip” below). That being said, it is generally a good idea to start off by controlling only one model until comfortable with the rules. With practice it will not be long before you have a full lance under your control.

Finally, going beyond the rules Battletech has one of the most established universes in the gaming community. They have built a rich history that spans centuries and encompasses not just the board game and its expansions, but books, video games and a plethora of official and fan-made online content. This background makes it one of the most immersive gaming experiences you can find on the tabletop.


Pro Tip

For each mech it is helpful to use several different colored dice corresponding to the speeds at which the mech is capable of moving (e.g. white=stationary, yellow=walk, red=run and blue=jump). After a mech moves and the number of hexes moved is determined place the appropriate colored die next to the mech showing the To Hit modifier the opposing player will need to add when targeting the mech (use “6” to represent zero if necessary). Doing this will speed up the shooting phase considerably as anyone targeting the mech can see the target move distance modifier and the controlling player can use the color of the dice to determine the modifier of the attacks they make based on their movement speed.

Example:

An Assassin ASN-21 walks 5 hexes in the movement phase. The controlling player places a white die next to the model with the 2 showing since the mech moved 5-6 hexes. During the shooting phase an opposing player targets the Assassin and knows that they have to add 2 to the difficulty of the shot. The controlling player sees a white die and knows that they white, so must add +1


The Introductory Box Set

The introductory box set for Battletech is one of the best on the market and offers a complete game experience. It is, technically, a standalone product and doesn’t require any further investment, but, what’s the fun in that?

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X-Wing RPG Crossover AAR

Last week Metalhead and I had the opportunity to try out some rules that bridged RPG and miniature gaming using Star Wars X-Wing. In doing so we tweaked the Stress rules and expanded the options available to the four PC’s who were crewing a single YT-1300 with a pilot, 2xGunners (top and bottom quad-lasers) and an Engineer. The scenario had them being chased by 8 vanilla TIEs run by the GM and temporary assistant GM (me). Instead of the normal turn order we did the following:

  1. TIE’s Activate (Maneuver from dial and single Action)
  2. YT-1300 Activates (see below)
  3. YT-1300 Shoots (see below)
  4. TIEs Shoot
  5. End Phase
The TIE Swarm advances in V formation.

The TIE Swarm advances in V formation.

The YT had upgraded Shields and Hull (+1 to each), was equipped with a Stealth Device and had 2xHoming Missiles (fired by the pilot). During activation the players did the following:

A) Pilot executes a single maneuver:

  • White Maneuvers (on dial): No additional effect
  • GREEN MANEUVER: -1 Stress Token
  • RED MANEUVER: +1 Stress Token
  • Maneuver NOT on the dial: Make a piloting skill check
    • SUCCESS=Maneuver completed, +1 Stress
    • FAIL=GM Selects Maneuver & +1 Stress Token
    • CRITICAL FAIL: 1 Critical Damage & +1 Stress Counter
  • STRESS: Only white/green maneuvers may be performed (i.e. only on dial)

B) Perform an Action: Pilot could Focus, Evade or Target Lock. The two gunners could make a skill check to receive a Focus token. Critical Failure resulted in no shooting that turn.

TIEs pursue the fleeing YT-1300

TIEs pursue the fleeing YT-1300

During the Combat Phase the two gunners and the pilot (if applicable) could make an attack. Gunners were considered to have Luke Skywalker’s crew ability.

The Imperial pilots close in for the kill.

The Imperial pilots close in for the kill.

Finally, during the End Phase the Engineer could make a skill check to do one of the following:

SUCCESS: perform one of the following:

  • Redirect Power to Shields: Restore a Shield
  • Redirect Power to Engines: Remove 1 Stress Token
  • Repairs: Flip a face-up damage card face-down
  • Countermeasures: Provide Pilot +1 Agility in following turn.
  • Engine Boost: Pilot immediately performs a free Boost Action.
  • Fire Anti-pursuit Lasers (if overlapped)

FAILURE: do nothing.

CRITICAL FAILURE: GM selects one of the following:

  • Engine Glitch: Only Green maneuver may be performed in next turn
  • Weapon Glitch: One quad gun knocked off line for one turn OR missiles disabled for one turn.
  • Computer Glitch: Red Target lock removed
  • System Overload: Gain +1 Stress token
  • Shield Failure: Lose 1 Shield

photo 3The result of the encounter was that the YT-1300 was able to splash 2 TIEs and then was disabled just before it could get off table (i.e. to the hyperspace point), which was technically a PC loss. Here’s what we learned:

Improves

  • Allow multiple crew and/or droids to take actions during Activation or in the End Phase (the latter if they didn’t perform one in the former, for example, a Co-pilot could establish a Target Lock while the pilot performed an Evade).
  • Limit the off-dial maneuvers available and/or increase the difficulty.
  • Increase difficulty of End Phase actions.

Sustains

  • Crew acting independently in their assigned roles
  • Objective driven scenario (not just fight to the death)
  • Beefed up PC ship

Overall the concept really worked. The game played quickly and smoothly and all players were engaged in the action. The build up in the RPG portion preceding the battle really amped up the tension and was framed by some more role playing that further increased the cinematic feel. It also turned out to be a great way of introducing new players to X-Wing.

I greatly look forward to trying this again with some of the tweaks we identified with a large ship or a small squadron of fighters. A few more stabs at it and I think it could easily be applied to the epic ships, too!!

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X-Wing Epic Play Game Review Part II: The Challenge (Tournament Format)

IMG_7149

In Part I we reviewed the CR-90 campaign and the first go at epic/cinematic play for the JDL. We also established we butchered the energy rules. A few weeks later we played our Hurricon 2014 JDL Challenge based on the epic tournament format and with a splash of cinematic flair in that there was some flavor text and the lists were built so they somewhat made sense for a mission taking place before the Battle of Yavin. You can find the scenario brief here.

Game Overview

Scenarios: Epic Tournament Format, 300pts

Imperials: Stinky Cheese, Pookie, CSI & Corpsman

  • Mauler Mithel (Squad Leader)
  • Backstabber
  • Dark Curse
  • 6x Black Squadron Pilot
  • Major Rhymer (2xProton Torpedoes, 1xMunitions Failsafe)
  • 2xScimitar Squadron Pilot (2xProton Torpedoes, 1xMunitions Failsafe)
  • Colonel Jendon (Heavy Laser Cannon, Rebel Captive, Stealth Device)
  • Bounty Hunter (Gunner, Stealth Device)

Rebels: Mr. Cupcake (me), Metalhead, Pawatrooper, & Papa Bear

  • Wedge Antilles (R5-P9, Proton Torpedoes, Squad Leader)
  • Jek Porkins (R5-D8, Proton Torpedoes)
  • Biggs Darklighter (R2-F2, Proton Torpedoes)
  • 3x Red Squadron Pilot (R2)
  • CR-90: Fore (Weapons Engineer, Quad Laser Cannons, Single Turbolasers, Sensor Team)
  • CR-90: Aft (Quad Laser Cannons, Engineering Team, Tibanna Gas Supplies)

Setup: We randomly selected teams and assigned ships then conducted the game per the tournament rules.

Summary of Rebel Strategy: On the Rebel side I deployed the CR90 on our left angled to traverse the play area lengthwise with the intent in engaging the Imperials early and be able to avoid the asteroids. Papa Bear deployed Biggs and a Red Squadron pilot on the left as an escort, ready for some early coordinate actions. Metalhead deployed Porkins and his wingman in the middle and were tasked with breaking up the TIE Bombers in anticipation that they would focus on the CR-90. And Pawatrooper took Wedge with his wingman to the right flank where he was hoping to draw off some of the fighters and be ready to cut back toward the center once he had thinned the ranks.

Summary of Imperial Strategy: TBP if a member of the Empire provides me with their strategy. As near as I can tell they intended on focus-firing on the CR-90 and then clean up the fighters.

IMG_7148w


The Game

In the initial phase of the game things went about as can be expected. Very little maneuvering, just closing up on each other for the first pass. The CR-90 didn’t do a whole lot thanks to my less than stellar rolling (a problem that did not correct for the entire game), but, thanks to it not taking stress, it was able to ignore the Rebel Captive upgrade and open up the shuttle to fire from Biggs and wingman, who also targeted the Firespray. Backstabber’s flight, the shuttle and the Firespray shot forward and I got the distinct impression their goal was to pull in behind my Corvette in hopes of chewing up my aft section. In the middle, as we expected and somewhat feared, the bombers made a bee-line toward the CR-90. Porkins made a decent first pass, getting his red dice to show a good number of little blast marks. Unfortunately, Major Rhymer had an extraordinary run of good luck in which we were convinced he could roll nothing BUT evades and his flight was only scratched then left with clear space between them and their target (i.e. me). On the right Wedge was accomplishing his mission quite well, facing three TIE’s as well as drawing off an additional three TIE’s that were deployed in the center. In no time they had built up quite a furball.

With the initial pass complete the maneuvering and shooting began in earnest. The Shuttle and Firespray slowed and began to open fire on the Corvette as I scrambled to maintain shields and divert some power to the guns (still firing ineffectively). Backstabber directed two of his TIE’s after the Corvette and then, unexpectedly, peeled off to go after Biggs, who, after making a slow advance to maximize shooting opportunities, was coming about. The Red Squadron escort, who we will now refer to as “Ensign Meatshield,” turned into the traffic jam building in my engine wash and engaged all the ships that had me in their sights. Porkins and wingman did a fantastic bit of maneuvering to come in behind the bombers with target locks and focus stacked only to encounter stiff resistance when Rhymer’s luck held, leaving him and his flight free to unleash hell on the CR-90 in the form of multiple torpedo barrages which collapsed shields and slammed into my hull. On the right Wedge and wingman continued to mix it up with Dark Curse and Mauler Mithel, slowly splashing TIE’s and somehow staying in the fight despite being severely outnumbered.

IMG_7156

Coming into the back half of the game the situation balanced on a knife’s edge and it looked grim for the Rebels. Thanks to the multiple torpedo hits both sections of the Corvette were severely damaged. Wedge and Biggs both lost their wingmen, though they took TIE’s down with them. Major Rhymer’s wingmen made an extremely gutsy maneuver that landed them millimeters away from being run over by the CR-90 and allowed them to fire point blank into the aft section, which was now critical. This prompted Porkins to try for an equally risky maneuver that, unfortunately, ended in disaster as his ship clipped the port side of the Corvette. Uncharacteristically he ejected, knowing he couldn’t hold it together, and his ship disintegrated along my hull, but luckily caused no additional damage. Our luckiest moment was when, by chance, the Firespray miscalculated a maneuver and rammed the back of the CR-90. It didn’t cause any damage, but the follow on laser cannon fire was enough to finally cripple my engines and many crewman were lost as the aft section of the ship was sealed off.

With victory slipping through our fingers and time running out there appeared to be only one viable course of action: I diverted all the power I could scrounge to engines and began to calculate a jump to light speed. With most Imperial threats behind me this seemed the best chance at preventing the ship from being completely lost (and for us to retain as much of our squad point value as possible for the final tally). While I was effectively out of the fight, the fight was not out of the Rebels. The fortunes of war began to turn our way as Wedge splashed some TIE’s out front, opening a nice, clear lane for my escape, then raced down my starboard side to join Biggs and Porkins’ wingman in a brutal assault on the remaining TIE’s. They quickly reduced several of the enemy ships, including Major Rhymer, and disabled the Imperial shuttle. While not an overwhelming victory, it was enough to encourage the Imperials to withdraw and gave the Alliance force a chance to recover a jettisoned (and much chagrined) Porkins, board the Lambda shuttle. With their rebel ally liberated and a scowling Imperial officer in restraints they returned to their base on Yavin 4 looking forward to some much needed downtime.

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Summary

The game was extremely well balanced. At several points it could have gone either way and, frankly, we got really lucky with the Firespray ramming the CR-90 as its presence in the endgame could have spelled my doom (to CSI’s credit, she is a relatively inexperienced player and had never handled a large ship). One big Rebel mistake was that we failed to take into account how much effort it would take to get through the TIE Bombers’ hulls and prevent them from delivering their ordnance, which was one of the Imperials most successful attack runs and might have won them the game had they been able to follow it up with concentrated fire on the fore section of the Corvette. Also, with the exception of the first few turns, my inexperience with the Corvette kept showing as I had trouble maximizing the effectiveness of my target locks, which was part of the strategy with the selected upgrades. Also, with a little more experience maneuvering, I might have been able to take a less safe route across the board and prevented Porkins’ demise, crushing the bombers instead. On the Imperial side I think, in hindsight, they made one, critical mistake – sending the middle TIE group after Wedge and wingman instead of escorting the bombers to their target. Unbeknownst to them, but beknownst to us, that was playing right into our strategy. Any other setbacks they experienced were just due to capriciousness of the dice and inexperience navigating a swarm to get the right angle on the CR-90 (my one “huzzah” maneuver was fishtailing to block LOS to my fore section in the next to last turn). All in all both sides played a close match that was a lot of fun.

MVP Rebels: Pawatwooper for using Wedge effectively to isolate and destroy so many TIE’s despite being outnumbered 3:1.

MVP Imperials: Pookie for using Major Rhymer’s flight to effectively deliver all ordnance, thus allowing his forces to render the Corvette almost totally combat ineffective.


Epic/Cinematic Play Conclusions

First off, I love the feel of cinematic play and definitely think that larger games with themed lists is the way to go for a truly immersive experience. While not necessary to achieve this goal, the huge ship was definitely an enhancement and not a detractor. I especially like how the CR-90’s upgrades can be used to fit it to many different play styles or simply give it a different feel game to. On the downside I’m not a fan of its primary attack as, with a 3’ wide table, it’s too easy to get “under the guns” (i.e. hug the Corvette’s belt). And, even when you do get a shot at long range, it is really tough to hit targets that are rolling at least two more dice than you AND have access to focus/evade. In other words, I would much prefer the primary to be less like the turbo laser and more like the quad-laser, which is a “no-brainer” upgrade in my opinion. It’s also really important to keep in mind that it is easily damaged and, thus, relatively easy to marginalize early in the game, especially if you can cripple the aft section and cut its energy supply to a trickle. That being said, managing the energy felt like a game within a game and really added an enjoyable layer to the overall strategy. The entire game I was picturing my crew scrambling to keep the shields up and desperately trying to pick out targets as they screamed by the ship.

Bottom Line: If you like your games to have theme, context and a depth of strategy, then the huge ships are a solid investment that will give you endless returns.

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X-Wing Epic Play Game Review Part I: The Point of No Return

Back in 2012 I was fortunate enough to attend Star Wars Celebration VI with Stinky Cheese. One of the things I was most looking forward to was checking out a miniatures game that Fantasy Flight Games was about to release: Star Wars X-Wing. Swinging by their booth we drooled over the preview models, picked up a copy of the core game (foolishly skipping the expansions) and, within hours, had our fighters battling it out on my kitchen table.

I immediately fell in love.

Over the next several months I bought another core set and consumed the new waves as they were released. At Gen Con 2013 I ran to the FFG booth in the opening minutes and waited nervously in line until I had secured the new releases. Later that weekend was when they made the official announcement about epic/cinematic play and debuted the first “huge ship” models, the CR-90 Corvette (the first ship shown in the SW saga) and the GR-75 (of “escape from Hoth” fame). We, of course, gawked over the display, marveling at how gorgeous the models appeared.

Over the next several months more details emerged about the huge expansions and the new Epic Tournament format. Tons of speculation (read “arguments”) could be read on the forums as to how viable the expansions would be and if their overall impact on the game would be positive. One of the sticking points for many of the hardcore miniature gamers was FFG’s decision to use a “relative” scale which is smaller than the fighter’s 1/270 (FFG’s rationale for this can be found here). Overall I remained tentatively optimistic. And, one year after I put my nose print on the glass case at Gen Con, I finally got to man the bridge of the CR-90 and give epic play a shot.


Game Overview

Scenarios: CR-90 “Point of No Return” Campaign Scenarios 1, 2b & 3b

Imperial Objectives (all scenarios): Disable 1 section of the CR-90

Players: Mr. Cupcake, Metalhead, Pawatrooper, Stinky Cheese, Pookie and Shart Storm. In Scenario 1 I took the helm of the CR-90 (the only Rebel ship). For the succeeding games we randomized the teams.

Note: I’m only providing a cursory overview of the squadron lists and objectives as the former has assignments that are fixed and the latter is directly copyrighted material that I don’t want to post completely online. The full details of the scenarios can be found in the campaign booklet provided with the Tantive IV Expansion.

Scenario 1: Imperial Victory

Rebel Objective: Survive 6 Turns

Rebels: 1xCR-90 Corvette

Imperials: 6xTIE Fighters

This game was pretty straight forward. The Imps closed in on the Corvette, got inside the turbo lasers’ minimum range and chewed up the hull. The zero agility of the CR-90 pretty much allowed the TIE’s to cause damage with impunity, especially when they got to Range 1. The one moral victory was splashing two TIE’s with the “cowcatcher” effect when I executed a bank that they didn’t expect. It wasn’t enough, though, as the fore section was crippled early in Turn 5’s Combat Phase.

Scenario 2b: Imperial Victory

Rebel Objective: Escape off neutral board edge.

Rebels: CR-90, 2x X-Wings & 1x B-Wing

Imperials: 3xTIE Fighter, 2xTIE Interceptor, 1xTIE Bomber and 1xTIE Defender

This game went rather poorly for the Rebellion. The fighter screen moved forward and got one, solid volley off before the Imperials shot past them. This was exacerbated by an unfortunate overlap that blocked on of the X-Wing’s Koiogran Turn and, for all intents and purposes, put it out of the game. The rest of the fighters did their best to come about, but couldn’t prevent focused fire from virtually every Imperial fighter that crippled the fore section in turn 4 or 5 (can’t remember exactly).

Scenario 3b: Imperial Victory

Rebel Objective: Fix the Hyperdrive

Rebels: CR-90, Wedge Antilles, 1x B-Wing

Imperials:

Group 1 – 2x bombers, 1xLambda

Group 2: 3x TIE Interceptors

Group 3: 6x TIE Fighters

This was a really fun scenario to run. It involved an escalation of force by the Imps as Groups 2 and 3 arrived several turns into the game. In retrospect it was also the scenario where the Rebels did the best job in working toward their objective, especially considering we were not doing energy management correctly and the scenario heavily depended on energy management (see below). They also did an excellent job keeping their fighters shooting and splashed several Imperial ships, including the Lambda shuttle and several TIE’s.

Scenario 4: (not played, ran out of time)


Campaign Summary

The biggest thing we noticed was that the tactics for the Imperials over the campaign got fairly repetitive: ignore the fighters, close with the CR-90 as quickly as possible and focus fire on one section. In each game the Corvette was put out of commission with relative ease (3b being the closest it came to victory). This prompted us to review of the rules1 and it turned out that we mishandled the energy steps (see below), most likely due to the fact we were using printouts from a squadron builder that obfuscated/confused the energy rules.


Mistakes We Made

  1. The Reinforce action can be performed FROM any section ON either section.
  2. The CR-90 should have rolled for potential damage when it collided with the TIE’s.
  3. CR-90 secondary weapons do not allow for the additional Defense Dice from extended range (caught this mid-game).  For example, the “hard points” upgraded with Turbo Laser and Quad Lasers, which is why the Turbo Laser has the rule that the target doubles their agility.
  4. When allocating energy it is placed on the Ship Card up to the maximum amount of energy then can be assigned to upgrade cards up to the card’s energy limit. The Energy Steps include:
    1. Gain Energy: Place the energy on the SHIP Card
    2. Allocate Energy: Move energy from the SHIP Card to any Upgrade Cards (up to the energy limit)
    3. Use Energy: Use any upgrade abilities that have the word “energy” (once per card per turn, secondary weapons still fire in the Combat Phase)

Primary takeaway: use actual game components should be used for the first pass at new expansions.


First Impressions

The campaign itself does have some merit and was, for the most part, a ton of fun to play through. Next time I will definitely play it using the optional rules for “non campaign play” where players are given freedom to equip the CR-90 as desired. This would allow the Rebel player to equip quad lasers in the fore and aft sections, something that I believe would help it fight off enemy fighters.

As for aesthetics I think the huge ship scale held up quite nicely with the fighters. The ship is big enough to look impressive and the detail is so exquisite you can’t help but cut it some slack. That being said I am still interested in doing a test game with the Kenner CR-90 and some modified movement rules (or simply let the model move in a set path) as it does look a lot more epic next to the fighters.


Part II – The Hurricon 2014 JDL Challenge (coming soon):

In the next few weeks we will have run a JDL Challenge using the Epic Play Tournament format I will post a recap as well as final thoughts and impressions of the huge ships. Stay tuned!!


Notes

1There is a standing rule in “The Bunker” that we are not a book club. If a rule isn’t known and can’t be looked up quickly we make our best ruling and drive on with the game. This sometimes leads to errors, but it also prevents things from becoming too bogged down. There’s plenty of time to read between games and make adjustments for the next time.

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Battletech Part I – Aynsley’s Angels Take the Field

Logo finished

About a year ago I was finally introduced to Battletech. I’ve always been aware of it, but getting started always seemed like such a daunting task given the scope and breadth of the universe and the game that bears its name. My first game was a “boot camp” run at a fairly obscure convention, GenCon, where I sat across from Stinky Cheese and we were walked through a few rounds of the game. About a month later we got to play a fantastic “King of the Hill” game at a local convention where each of the eight players ran an Atlas. In turn 3 Stinky Cheese was kind enough to perform an alpha strike on my mech (that is when you fire every single weapon in a single round, which is not an insignificant amount of firepower when performed by an Atlas) resulting in an Autocannon 20 hit to my cockpit that reduced my pilot to a smear on the smoking crater where once my mech’s head rested atop it’s shoulders.

Just recently, many months after that unsettling encounter, we finally got to play again at a game night co-hosted by the Lakeland Role Playing Guild and Lakeland Tabletop Games Club. Over the course of several emails we outlined a basic scenario focused on teaching the system using the Introductory Rules and involving two lances. I was asked to build one of the lances and have a backup lance just in case the level of participation called for more units. My primary lance, apparently, was actually a “star” and so the backup lance was fielded. It should be noted that I had the option of using Pookie’s lance, but, given that he landed on the opposite team, I didn’t feel comfortable running mechs selected by an opponent, so I stuck with my original, second choice. After we randomly assigned the mechs on our side (aka “the side of goodness and righteousness”) I ended up swapping with Stinky Cheese as he was a little hesitant about running a light/reconnaissance mech. About turn two I realized the keenness of his foresight. We’ll get to that later.


Game Overview

GM: Metalhead

Scenario – Breakthrough: Attacker’s goal was to advance North and leave the battle area with as many mechs as possible in order to move toward the off-table site of the “MacGuffin”1. Defender’s goal was to reduce attacking mechs to heaps of molten steel.

Play Area: Four map sheets with a canyon network in the South, woods in the Northeast and an open plain in the Northwest over-watched by two hills.

BattleTech-Aug14

Defenders: Omega Paladins

2xCrusader CRD-3K

2x Crusader CRD-3R

(I have no idea which were which as they looked the same to my amateur eye, but they were piloted by Preacher, Gigabyte, Pookie and Crafty)

Attackers: Aynsley’s Angels*

Sketchy (LRPG’er) piloting an Atlas AS7-D

Paratwooper piloting a Trebuchet TBT-5N

Stinky Cheese piloting a Catapult CPLT-C1

Mr. Cupcake (yours truly) piloting an Assassin ASN-21

*Our team name was made up on the spot by Paratwooper and a few minutes later our namesake had a team logo/crest sketched out (more of her art on DeviantArt, wafflemaker9000). Our opponents’ lance had a well defined history and an official crest hand-painted on their mechs by a third party who wasn’t present. Given that nobody at the table actually produced their work of art we determined that it was inferior to our impromptu back story and we mocked their lack of originality. (Psst…don’t tell them that the mechs were actually quite well painted and the logo was pretty boss, too).


The Game

After a quick strategy huddle the game began with each team simply placing their mechs in the first row in the North/South. We went heavy on the left flank and they formed a loose skirmish line covering the width of the board. On turn one we won the initiative (the least important initiative roll of the game and the last one we won that night) and they moved first with the teams alternating until all mechs had moved. They decided to consolidate two mechs on the right and Crafty sent her mech up our left flank, opposite my light mech. There was no combat for that turn or the next couple as we all jockeyed for position. Paratwooper and Stinky Cheese were able to secure vantage points and I hunkered down in a valley while I waited for the Atlas to catch up.

At this point the turns get a little fuzzy on exactly what took place in the turn sequence, so I will summarize. Most of the mechs came into Long Range Missile (LRM) range and started to exchange pot-shots while continuing to maneuver for an advantageous position. This was not easy shooting as the difficulty of the firing was requiring rolls mostly of 10-11 on 2d6. Damage was minimal with only a brief moment of excitement when a critical hit was rolled, but failed to be confirmed. From our side most of the shooting was done by Paratwooper and Stinky Cheese, though I did get a whopping 3 points of damage on Crafty before scuttling back to my hiding place. At the end of the middle turns we had some scratched paint on both sides and the battle was beginning to take shape.

From a strategic standpoint we were not looking too good, mostly due to our lance composition. The scenario required a lot more speed on our part than my lance was capable of mustering (though, in my defense, I had no idea of the scenario when I built the lance). The Atlas, which soaked up most of our Battle Value (the points used to build lances), was still lagging too far behind to add much weight to the battle. This is not a criticism of Sketchy’s tactical acumen, she was doing her best to get weapons into the fight, it’s simply the nature of an Atlas. They are slow, ponderous beasts bristling with weapons of virtually every class covered by the game. This gave our opponents time to secure some key terrain, especially when Crafty achieved the high ground on the left flank (Northwest quadrant) that gave her a field of fire covering the open ground that we had to cross. This prevented me from completing a flanking maneuver that I was desperately trying to execute. Which leads me to another flaw – my inability to go toe-to-toe with any of the opposing mechs. The defenders lance was composed of four mechs of equal, moderate strength where ours was more of a combined arms approach (recon, assault and two fire support). Their lance was a lot more forgiving for mostly new players as it lacked the reliance on a highly coordinated attack. Bottom line: I was beginning to doubt our chances.

In the final turns of the night Stinky Cheese inched his way to the right flank and Paratwooper made a bold move by sprinting forward and alpha-striking an enemy mech standing in some water. This triggered an alpha strike from his opposite as well as Crafty and some flanking missiles launched by Pookie and his file partner in the Northeast quadrant. Much to all our surprise relatively little damage was done for the amount of munitions expended and Paratwooper was left in the open and fully operational.

As the night wound down heat synchs where in overdrive from a LOT of shooting and the mighty Atlas began to emerge from the shadowy depths of the mountain canyon. Will it be enough to breakthrough? Will Aynsley’s Angels carry the day and fight on toward the mighty, glorious and most treasured MacGuffin? Stay tuned to find out!!!


Notes

1During the initial scenario brief I assumed that a “MacGuffin” was some sort of in-universe commodity, so didn’t put much thought into its origin. As the game commenced I finally asked what the hell it was and learned that it was not so much a “commodity” as it was a way of releasing the GM from any responsibility to come up with an actual objective. It was quite entertaining…at my expense. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin

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