Friday, December 31, 2010

Future War Commander with rebased MechWarrior clix

After a few very successful online trades, Karl and I found ourselves with a surplus of MechWarrior clix. Maybe surplus is too generous — we each snagged hundreds of mechs, tanks and infantry for the mostly-defunct game. Our plans are to rebase them as "proper" miniatures and play Future War Commander, the excellent mass battle game from the publisher of Blitzkrieg Commander, and we tried our hand doing that very thing last night.

I've played plenty of Blitzkrieg Commander, so there wasn't a learning curve at all for FWC. Karl picked up the game after just a few turns too.

We played the Surgical Strike scenario, with two 2,000-point armies. I used the Reaper/CAV army lists to create both of our armies; this list, while not expressly designed for MechWarrior units, was nonetheless full of ideal surrogates for the tanks and mechs that we pushed around the tabletop. A MechWarrior Marksman M1 tank was easily statted up as a CAV Wolverine tank, for example. There are also several fan-made BattleTech lists floating around on the web for use with FWC.

For the scenario, we set up two installations — Forward Hangar JX-7 and the Noonien Astrophysics Laboratory — as the objectives. I was the attacker; it was my job to push onto the table and infiltrate the two facilities using my infantry units. As the defender, Karl was allowed to deploy a small force near each installation while the bulk of his army deployed near his table edge.

As the photos show, the two facilities were positioned on opposite ends of the table, with several built-up city blocks separating them. The buildings are actually superb paper models from Dream Pod 9 (perfectly in scale at 10mm), assembled by me and Karl and mounted on vinyl tiles to add stability. They're cheap, modular and stackable, so you can create multiple stories and entire city blocks with ease.

I moved onto the table with my infantry-heavy force and immediately sent the bulk of my forces toward the Noonien Astrophysics Laboratory. For the remainder of the game, this sector of the table saw the fiercest fighting, although a few firefights erupted near Forward Hangar JX-7 on the opposite flank.

I scored two lucky shots early in the game and destroyed two of Karl's three battle tanks. Behind a heavy mech and a tank bristling with weapons, 6 squads of my infantry advanced steadily on the Noonien Astrophysics Laboratory, led by an elite unit mounted in an infantry fighting vehicle.

This spearhead surged forward under heavy fire, delivering its squad of battle-armored soldiers to the laboratory entrance — where they were met with a withering hail of fire from the defenders of the installation. My elite infantry was forced to fall back in the face of the entrenched defenders.

But it was only a matter of time before I overwhelmed the Noonien defenders with sheer weight of numbers. Moreover, a lopsided turn of point-blank shooting by my armored vehicles on the opposite flank had crushed Karl's defenses, leaving behind two burning tanks and a flaming mech wreck. Unopposed, my remaining infantry raced toward Forward Hangar JX-7.

By turn 7 I had moved four squads of infantry into the Noonien Astrophysics Laboratory, thereby allowing me to roll on a cool chart to see if my guys were able to carry out their mission. Indeed they were! Charges were set and the lab exploded while my soldiers evacuated to safety.

It was a very fun game, and a good reminder of why I like the "Commander" series of games. Unit statistics are abstracted a bit, but the focus on command units ensures that players remain "in the game" turn after turn. Both Karl and I agreed that we could easily scale our game up to 4,000 points (or more) per side. We definitely have the miniatures to do that!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Invading the solar system with Full Thrust

Tim and I found ourselves with a random weeknight free, so we got together for a game of Full Thrust. A couple months ago Tim picked up a fleet of Cold Navy ships at an auction, and this was his first outing with his newly painted fleets. They ended up being two separate factions: the brown/yellow asteroid pirates and the green/blue...somethings. Yeah, we haven't done much with the backstory yet.

I managed to come up with names for my fleet of blue-and-gray ships — all Scandinavian names from various cultures throughout history. I have this idea that they're a quasi-Germanic far-future federation that's exploring the stars, etc. I definitely had a lot of fun saying stuff like "OK, the Rensselaer is going to open up with its laser batteries while the Gothenburg II tries a torpedo run."

Tim had been on a planet-making bender over the last couple of weeks...he literally showed up with a dozen painted planets, so we put about half of them on the table and came up with a quick scenario: the invasion of an alien solar system. Our two fleets would compete to land ground forces on the planets in an attempt to conquer and subjugate them. To land a strike team, a ship (any ship, we said) had to enter orbit around the planet and spend a turn orbiting it to drop sufficient troops and supplies. We came up with some fast-and-dirty rules to accomplish this, based around the Full Thrust framework, and then went at it.

My kitchen table is large and square, but it's only 5x3, whereas my space hex mat is 6x4. So we were playing on a slightly smaller area than our previous game. In retrospect, we could have compensated by changing all measurements from inches to centimeters, but we realized that midway through the game. Oh well — it just meant that our two fleets crashed together one or two turns ahead of schedule.

Tim sent his smaller ships to the planets nearest his side of the table, and I did the same on my side. Our largest battleships all converged on each other in an attempt to engage and destroy the most dangerous ships in the opposing fleets. Thus there developed a huge scrum between battleships in the center of the table, with little support ships flitting around on the fringes, landing troops and supplies in the middle of a huge firefight.

This proved to be my undoing. I was doing fine at mauling his big ships, but I had trouble getting my smaller ships into orbit to land strike teams. In the end, both of our fleets were hurting badly — note the raging inferno engulfing the bridge of the battleship Ostrogoth in the pic below — but he had claimed a decisive victory by occupying 4 planets to my 2.

Interestingly, one of those planets was occupied by one of his strike teams and one of mine. Full Thrust dovetails nicely with Dirtside and Stargrunt, two other sci-fi games published by Ground Zero Games, so it's possible that we could play out the fight between the two landing parties at a later date using either of those two other systems. Both include rules for orbital bombardment, which could definitely be interesting considering we both had ships in the vicinity of the planet when the game ended...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rebased MechWarrior clix in action

For Karl's birthday last week, we got together to play Armor Grid: Mech Attack!, a fast-play skirmish wargame for sci-fi wargames featuring — you guessed it — BattleMechs, along with assorted infantry and tanks. The game is designed for paper miniatures, but you can just as easily use classic BattleTech figures, Reaper CAV models, or in our case a bunch of re-based MechWarrior clix.

Karl has amassed an impressive collection of MechWarrior clix (infantry, vehicles and mechs) specifically for this game. These are prepainted figures from the WizKids game, and most of them look quite nice on the tabletop — especially when removed from the clicky base and put onto a proper miniatures base, complete with drybrushed desert sand.

At 13 pages, Mech Attack is most definitely rules-lite. Like the other skirmish games that our group regularly plays — including Song of Blades & Heroes and Wastelands — Mech Attack is designed to be played with anywhere from 5 to 15 models, depending on the size of game. We played two games, the first being five mechs vs. five mechs, the second being combined arms with light mechs, a vehicle and a couple infantry squads.

Both games were a lot of fun. Players take turns moving mechs and firing their weapons, which include lasers, cannons, machineguns and missile launchers. But be careful — moving and firing generates heat, which can cause your mech to overheat if you try to do too much in a turn. I never played classic BattleTech, but I understand that heat and heat dissipation was a big part of that game. As it was, heat is certainly a unique mechanic in Mech Attack, and it really forces players to carefully consider how they use their mechs on the battlefield.

The most innovative part of Mech Attack is the armor grid (from whence came the publisher's name, no doubt). Picture a big grid of boxes, with each vertical column numbered 1-10. Each type of weapon (cannon, laser, missile, etc) does a different damage "shape" (I'm talking Tetris pieces here) that is applied to the armor grid based on a dice roll. In this way, you gradually fill up the armor grid columns by dealing damage. Once filled, these columns force critical damage, which in turn causes the mech or vehicle to lose weapons or get destroyed outright.

Anyway, the armor grid was far and away the most interesting part of the game. Some weapons are good in combination with others, combining their shapes to create devastating damage patterns on the armor grid. Infantry weapons are applied to the armor grid as well, giving infantry a real chance of harming mechs by peppering them with relentless small arms fire. In the picture below, an Ocelot mech tried to assault a dug-in unit of light infantry, only to be destroyed by a lucky critical result on the following turn. (That made the game for me right there — I heart games where infantry has a valid role to play on the battlefield.)

Overall, Mech Attack looks to be a great excuse to fiddle around with bucketloads of prepainted MechWarrior clix. For a slightly more strategic gaming experience, I'm planning to use these same re-based MechWarrior figures to try out Future War Commander (which has plenty of reference points for classic BattleTech players).