Posted in Artwork, Rules Design

Triggered! Random Events in SW1

Trigger Cards and why there are no dice in Saucer War One

Hello, Miniaturists! Welcome back for another game design-related article, as we navigate through the process of bringing Saucer War One to reality. Today, I’m revealing the Trigger Card, which provides the mechanism for random events. Let’s take a look.

In terms of the ‘look’ of the cards, I’m trying for a ‘nose art pin-up’ feel, but with a retro sci-fi vibe. The illustrations are not mine; they are the work of the talented Dan Morton, (part of his Stellar Queens folio), and are there entirely as ‘placeholder’ art, until I commission some bespoke artworks. But, they give you a feel for what I’m aiming at.

Incidentally, if anyone has a website for Mr. Morton, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a link in the comments; I’d intended to provide a link in this article, but no site can I find.

I’ll talk more about the artwork later, but right now, let’s break down the symbols on a Trigger Card…

Each Trigger Card displays a Randomizer Number from 1 – 12 in three places. (That’s just to make it easier to read the number regardless of the card’s orientation.) This is used in the same way as a normal twelve-sided dice (D12) and most commonly tells us if a Crew Check has passed or failed.

The Grav Shield Result tells you if your Saucer’s Grav Shield bounced an incoming Hit, or if the Hit got through the Shield, inflicting Damage.

The Damage Result tells us how many Pulses a Saucer loses as a result of taking Damage. The number is sometimes replaced with a Critical Hit Symbol, which is bad for whoever is on the receiving end, as Critical Hits inflict special effects such as disabling a Weapon, bashing the Crew around, or making you explode, scattering you as debris all over a ranch in New Mexico. (What, again??)

“So why not just include a D12 in the game? Wouldn’t that cover all these random elements, aided by a written table or three?” I hear you growl.

Fair question! Read on, and things will become clear.

Fractions for Factions

Trigger Cards come in decks of 36 cards, with each deck customised for each faction; Hence the changes in colours and Faction Icons. This is not merely for appearances’ sake. The proportions of certain results change from Faction to Faction, reflecting their different technologies and doctrines.

For example, the Noordicans have the best Grav Shields, so their Trigger Deck has a higher number of ‘bounce’ results than the Grav Shield Results of the other Factions.

Similarly, there are features on some Faction’s Saucers that just don’t appear on those of their rivals, so those features need only appear as Critical Hits on that Faction’s Cards.

In other words, customising a Deck to its Faction elegantly avoids many of the ‘special rules’ that are such a feature of wargames which utilise one dice type as their randomiser. It also allows a lot more finesse when fine-tuning results to achieve factional balance, without the need to add more rules to ‘beef up’ or ‘nerf’ a faction which becomes too powerful.

And, if players agree, they can swap certain cards in and out of the Decks, customising results to their tastes! Does your gaming group like to see Saucers exploding in droves? Add more lethal Critical Hit Cards! Using Saucer War One for combat in a RPG, but don’t want to kill your characters too easily? Take out the Crew Hit results. The possibilities are endless.


Yes Cheesecake but no Beefcake?

Now that we’ve looked under the hood of the Trigger Cards, let’s take another look at the bodywork.

When I went Googling for images of sci-fi pin-up art, I knew I wouldn’t find much material in the masculine form. Pin-ups are overwhelmingly female in subject, and sadly, often demeaning.

This may be perfectly fine from an historical perspective. Much of the past was a sexist place, the 1950’s doubly so.

But for the men and women fighting side-by-side in Saucer War One, there’s no room for such nonsense!

ANTIC in particular has a deliberate policy of ignoring a pilot’s sex during selection; either you’re good enough, or you’re not, genitals notwithstanding.

The Mondreich can hardly pick and choose, up there on the Moon, and besides, they’re ruled by a mysterious woman with remarkably long hair…

The Noordicans have been through the population-shrinking horror of nuclear war, and have no time to debate the roles of the sexes. For the denizens of Venus, the grains in the hourglass are running out…

This is a little closer to what I have in mind; a character who can appear sexy, dynamic and in control of her situation, unlike the Fay Dunaway stand-in below.

So, I liked the idea of adding beefcake to my cards, alongside the cheesecake. But there’s an acute lack of good-looking beaus in goldfish bowl helmets from this era. Most of them are portrayed wearing very unsexy rubber diving suits. Who the heck was their tailor?

So, I seem to have a quest in the future, to find an artist who can create a balance of male and female pin-ups, each equally appealing and dynamic. If you can think of someone, I would love to get their details!

I’m also thinking it might be neat to offer a Kickstarter stretch goal that enables a backer to become immortalised in a card. Do you think that might be a fun option?

That’s all for today, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into the mechanics and philosophy of Saucer War One. Next time, we will move onto the Weapons with which the Saucers blast each other out of contention!

Until then: Watch the Skies!


Posted in Rules Design

They Rode the Flying Saucers

Saucer-Jockeys Brave Extreme G-Forces in Deadly Sky-Fights!

It’s time for another look at one of the key components of Saucer War One.

You’ll remember last time, we met the Saucer Data Disc and learned that it connects to a series of smaller Discs that provide information about Weapons, Equipment, and, most importantly, the Saucer’s Crew.  Let’s start our examination of these discs with the Crew Disc, and see how it interacts with the Data Disc. 

I wonder what ANTIC’s Crew Familiarisation Course teach about these things…?


From the ANTIC Lenticular Vehicle Handbook (TD-34.1)

As mysterious and even ethereal as flying saucers may seem to Earthbound witnesses who gape at their impossible maneuvers, these marvels of super-science are nothing without their most essential components: The flesh and blood beings at their controls. 

Being the Crew of a Saucer is no easy job. Regardless of their affiliation, all ‘Saucernauts’ share a common bond formed through their courage, skill, and willingness to risk death in the skies. 

To the Noordicans they are Charioteers; chosen Priests of Technology entrusted with the most valued artefacts left by the gods. In Mondreich society, the Untertasseflieger is a hero, the ideal of Mondmenschen Perfektion and defender of Lunar Nationalism.

But the pilots of ANTIC are the cast-offs of Earth’s airforces; The misfits, the non-conservatives, the people whose politics, race or gender ostracises them in the narrow minds of generals and politicians. However, most ANTIC pilots have few professional regrets; they may never get to fly fast in their nations’ jets, but as Saucer Crew these mavericks fly a helluva lot faster. 

Unfortunately, the faster one goes, the greater the G-force one is subjected to when you suddenly change direction. Anyone who has swerved in a fast moving car knows this G-force, and how it can feel as if one has been suddenly shoved aside by a huge, invisible hand. In a Saucer flying at several thousands of miles per hour, such a ‘shove’ is colossal, and can be as lethal as colliding with an express train. 

So how do Saucer Crews survive these immense forces? With their Gravitic propulsion systems keeping them aloft, all Saucers generate their own gravitational field. Without going into the physics in detail, it is sufficient to say that this field insulates a Saucer’s Crew from the G-forces generated by the maneuvers of their amazing machines. In fact without this field, such maneuvers would kill anyone in a Saucer in a heartbeat, crushed and broken by the tremendous physical stresses. 

As long as a Saucer keeps within the limits of its gravity field it can neutralise most of the effects of extreme G-force. ANTIC Crews call this ‘pointing it in the green’ or just ‘staying green’ after the triangular, green G-Stress Indicator on their instrument panels.
If a maneuver pushes the ‘pip’ on this indicator outside its triangle, then the G-forces upon the Saucer have exceeded the field’s capacity, and the Crew might feel the full power of the G-force on their bodies. If that force becomes strong enough, unconsciousness — or even death — is certain. 

Of course, pilots will be pilots, and cannot be prevented from dancing on the edge, chancing death. The very nature of combat flying requires the acceptance of terrible risk, and victory sometimes requires ferocious maneuvers, subjecting Saucer Crews to dreadful G-stress. To help guard against this, every G-Stress Indicator has a G-Stress Ring that is specifically calibrated to its Crew. As G-Stress rises, so the Ring rotates, giving the Crew a visual guide to the danger they are in. If the Ring stays at ‘0’ then there is no danger. As the value rises between ‘1’ and ‘4’, the Crew will experience sluggish reactions and impaired vision. If it reaches ‘G-LOC’ the Crew have reached their consciousness threshold, and will pass out. Should it reach ‘G-FIN’ then it is likely they will be killed by the crushing force they endure.


So, that’s the background to the Crew Disc; In short, G-Forces are scary, but the super-science of a Saucer’s propulsion enables its Crew to get away with crazy moves.

Now let’s describe it in game terms. We’ll start with a break-down of the icons and what they mean:

Crew Check Target Number

Central to a Crew’s role in a Saucer is the Crew Check. This is the number you’re trying to beat when you want to Hit a Target, pull off a Stunt, attempt a Repair, and other tasks.


Gunsight Bonus

As you can probably guess, this bonus improves your chance of beating the Crew Check whenever you perform an Attack with a Weapon. 


Abilities 

These characterful additions provide some flavour to their game, and maybe give a little edge to the better, more experienced Crews like Herr Nowotny here. There are also negative Abilities, so watch out! More about Abilities in a future article.


Points Value and Allegiance

Exactly what they say. A Crew’s Points Value is added to that of its Saucer, along with any Weapons and Equipment to determine its Full Points Value. Allegiance is simply the symbol of the nation that can use this Crew in the game. Hauptmann Nowotny is a Mondreich Crew. 


G-Stress Ring

Arguably the most important part of a Crew Disc, this ring records a Crew’s current G-Stress Penalty. This penalty reduces your chance of beating the Crew Check.

Here’s how the G-Stress Ring interacts with a Saucer’s Data Disc:  At the start of a game, a Crew Disc is usually aligned to its Connector Point at the lowest number (0) on its G-Stress Ring. 

A Crew Disc rotates with the amount of G-Stress that a Saucer generates: Clockwise when G-Stress increases…

and Anti-clockwise when it decreases…

A Crew’s G-Stress rises by +1 for each extreme Maneuver.

Usually, an extreme Maneuver is a Pivot that exceeds a Saucer’s Safe Zone, as described in this earlier article about the Maneuver Disc. (There are also Stunt Maneuvers intended to give a feel of 3D air combat, but we’ll discuss these another time.) 

So, performing an extreme Maneuver requires a trade: It might give you a bead on an enemy Saucer, but your Crew take a penalty to their chance of scoring a Hit. Too many extreme Maneuvers, and you risk the Crew blacking out, or even being killed!

But its not all bad; a safe Pivot (Inside the Green) causes no increase to G-Stress. 

Finishing a Maneuver with no Pivot at all (following the Exit Disc’s Centerline), reduces G-Stress by -1. (A very good thing.)

As ANTIC’s Handbook warns us: If G-Stress rises too high, the Crew can be imperilled as they reach G-LOC (Loss of Consciousness) and G-FIN (Final). (A very bad thing!)


Mix ‘n Match

Many Crew Discs are interchangeable with their nation’s saucers. This means you can switch them between Saucers to achieve certain outcomes, such as putting a hot-shot Beta Saucer’s Crew into a big Alpha Type to see what they do. (Rather akin to giving a B-29 bomber to a Mustang fighter pilot and telling them “Have fun!”)

Likewise, Weapons and Equipment are interchangeable, allowing a huge variety of configurations, each with its benefits and disadvantages. I’m hoping players of Saucer War One will enjoy experimenting with various combinations, and pitting their favourite ‘combos’ against those of their opponents. 

We’ll be looking at Weapon and Equipment Discs in a new article soon, but what’s coming up before that? Put away your dice, folks, you won’t be needing them when I reveal the Fate Deck for Saucer War One


Posted in Rules Design

All the Data Disc Data

Dialling-in Control of a Flying Saucer

Last time we previewed one of Saucer War One’s game mechanics, we looked at the Maneuver Disc and how it is used to move a Saucer miniature. For this week’s preview, we’ll eavesdrop on an ANTIC training lecture somewhere in the central Asian CAPER RED operations area, in 1955… 

Welcome back, eager. young saucer-cadets! For today’s lesson, I’d like to introduce you to the most fundamental instrument in the cockpit of any saucer: The Data Disc. This multi-purpose dial tells a pilot at a glance the essential information they need to keep in the air, and fight their foes. No matter what saucer you are flying, you will learn to rely on your Data Disc, so let’s take a good look at this vital component. 

Saucer War One Data Disc

Our example is a Data Disc for a Mondreich Haunebu II-C, which is essentially a simplified copy of the Noordican Biga. Are you listening at the back there? 


Pulse Track

We’ll begin with the most important read-out on the Data Disc. Pulses define how many Actions a Saucer can take during a game Turn. While a saucer’s Pulses are in the healthy, Optimum range (OPT), all is good. But, damage from enemy weapons, or risky maneuvers (like ramming somebody else’s saucer!) can force down the number of Pulses a saucer can generate. If Pulses drop to 0, (CUT) then a Saucer’s reactor, gravimetric drive, and physical structure are so compromised that it cannot stay airborne and will crash. (Probably onto a ranch in New Mexico…)

Should a pilot find themselves in dire need, it is possible to push a saucer’s reactor to its Emergency (EMRG) setting. This allows the saucer an extra Pulse or Pulses, but there is the danger of the extreme pressure shattering the reactor vessel, blowing the saucer to pieces! (Which then definitely crashes onto a ranch in New Mexico…)


Distributor

Below the Pulse Track are these three numbers which tell us how the saucer can ‘spend’ its Pulses on Actions. Actions are use to do, well, anything really. Usually, one Action allows you to do one thing, such as place a single Maneuver Disc, or fire a single Weapon.
It always costs at least one Pulse to perform one Action. 

The Distributor numbers show the maximum Pulses that can be spent on a particular Action: Maneuver (MNV); Attack (ATK) and Special (SPC). Because this is only an introduction to the Data Disc, I won’t go into details about Actions just now. Let’s move onto some other parts… Miss Konstantinova, are you flirting with your fellow cadet?
I expect better from a Hero of the Soviet Union, you know! 


Callsign

Each Saucer in the game has its own callsign, to make it easier to keep track of each one during the game. 


Points Cost

How much the ‘basic’ saucer costs when constructing a force of Saucers and Assets for a game. 


Connection Ring

This orange circle has a number of what we call Connector Points around its rim. The Connector Points are: Crew; Special; Hardpoint 1 and Hardpoint 2. At each of these Connectors are placed an associated, smaller Disc;

The Crew Disc aligns with the Crew Connector Point.

‘Special’ things like Equipment Discs, and the Discs of Assets being transported, connect to the Special Connector.

And finally, at each Hardpoint a Weapon Disc can be placed. 


Grav Shield

The Gravitic Drive was probably the Annunaki’s most important invention. It enables Saucers to zip around at thousands of miles per hour, making impossible break-neck turns without breaking necks. This seemingly impossible device generates intense gravitational fields. By focusing the fields at a point above you, it is possible to offset local gravity and up you fly, chasing the intense gravitational point you are generating. 

One of the benefits of a Gravitic Drive is that the field deflects projectiles and energy, acting like a force field. This gives a saucer a sort of armour that can save it from damaging cannon shells and explosions. In game terms, this provides a ‘saving throw’ against damage.


Max Crit

This is the number of Critical Damage results that a saucer can absorb before it falls apart. Generally speaking, the bigger the saucer, the more Criticals it can endure. However, some Critical Damage is serious enough to force a saucer’s crew to turn tail and run for home, before they become exhibits in the Area 51 museum! 


Saucer class and Type

The designation for this class of Saucer (Haunebu II-C), and its Type — either Alpha (the biggest of Saucers), Beta (middleweight all-rounders), or Gamma (small fighters and scout Saucers). 


And that’s all you need to know to read a Data Disc. Next time, we’ll see how the Crew and Weapon Discs interact with the Data Disc, but that’s all for this lesson, cadets. Dismissed! Break out the vodka and spin me some Charlie Parker sides, Cats!


Posted in Miniatures Design, Rules Design

How a (tiny) Flying Saucer Flies

Anti-gravity Acrylic Rods are the Real Secret Free-Energy Device!

You know what really gets up my wargaming nose? What really sticks in my miniature-building craw? Flightpegs!

Yes, I said flightpegs! Those little, skinny plastic sticks that are supposed to keep ‘flying’ models eternally suspended above the Earth, balanced over a circle or square of plastic on the bottom that keeps the model from tottering over on its monopole mounting.

But do they? Reliably and without fear of gravity’s destructive influence? Do they never topple over, casting beautiful miniatures to their destruction? Do they never break, usually somewhere near where they’re glued into the model, thereby inflicting hours of re-drilling and re-mounting upon the frustrated modeller? Like Hell!

Clearly, the flightpeg was to blame.

And that constantly frustrating aspect of ‘flying’ miniatures was what drove me to find an alternative solution. How to get the flying discs of Saucer War One in the air, keep them there, and on a mounting that didn’t rely on a single, skinny, breaking, balancing pole?

That was when I remembered the method used by a friend of mine many years ago to keep his 1/300 scale aircraft high above his earth table. (That’s a sand table, but with clean soil as the sculpting material, rather than sand. Makes for great, muddy battlefields.) With sculpted hills, valleys, and trenches, liberally sprinkled with tiny villages and forests, it was impossible for a conventionally-mounted miniature aircraft to stay upright as it prowled the skies, looking for tiny tanks to bomb.

The solution? My friend mounted his aircraft on a simple wire tripod. With three legs on the ground, it was virtually impossible for an aircraft to tip over, even while thundering down a thickly-wooded mountainside. And of course, because each of its three wires had a diminutive contact area on the table surface, it never damaged any miniature real estate.

So, this is how I envision the way the 1/200 scale miniatures of Saucer War One will achieve the magical, gravity-defying act of ‘flight’:

Each model rests on three identical, 2mm diameter pegs. Ideally, the pegs will be friction-tight so they can be removed for transport if desired.

I should probably point out a couple of things about the illustration above: Firstly, why the tiny trees, relative to the size of the saucer? That’s because I imagine the 3D scenery used in Saucer War One will be several scales smaller than the saucers. Perhaps 1/600 or 1/700 scale. This gives a forced-perspective sense of the saucers flying high above the ground, and allows multiple towns, villages, missile bases, etc, to be placed on the table without things getting too crowded.

Oh, and a note for boardgamers who are recoiling from their screens, horrified at the thought of all the crafty modelling and super-glued fingers this scenery stuff might involve: Saucer War One will include easy, flat, card Scenery Shapes that do the same job, requiring no trips to the Casualty department of your local hospital.


Pole to Pole

Monopole flightstands do have a real advantage in tabletop warfare; They provide a convenient, constant reference point to make accurate measurements from. That was something the tripod concept lacked… from where do you measure? I had to do some thinking for a while, but eventually I realised the tripod offered a new way to measure movement, weapon ranges, and move / fire arcs. Let me show you what I mean:

Here we see an ANTIC NS-99 ‘Silverhound’ Beta-type saucer viewed from above. (The ‘nose’ of the Silverhound is ‘up’ in this view.) The 3 Pegs are shown at the points that they touch the ground. See how they form a triangle? (Yes, I hear you cry “Obviously!” but stay with me, folks.) Each side of the triangle makes a movement / firing arc: Front; Left; Right.

It also provides a ‘blind spot’ called the Tailing Arc at the rear, which saucers don’t actually have, but is a disadvantage suffered by more conventional aircraft in Saucer War One. (I added it here just for the sake of being comprehensive.)

Why don’t saucers have this Tailing Arc? That will become clear in time, but essentially, because saucers can fly forwards, sideways and backwards equally well, they do not have the restrictions that winged fighters or bombers endure. They don’t really have a ‘tail’ as such.

The triangle formed between the Pegs is the saucer’s Safe Zone. So, what the heck is that? ‘That’ and all else will become clear (I hope), as we go through the steps in a Maneuver.

Let’s see the way we plot out a saucer’s movement using Maneuver Discs.


Maneuver Discs — The Keys to the Saucer

This is a Maneuver Disc. It is 89mm (3.5″) across, and by placing them edge-to-edge along the flightpath of a saucer we can plot its course during its game turn. Each consecutive Disc must be placed against the preceding Disc’s Exit Point. The Centreline is used with the Safe Zone to determine if a Maneuver is legal, or too dangerous. (You’ll see this in a moment.)

So, what’s with the Entry Arcs at the bottom? Each Saucer is one of three Types:
Alpha (the biggest, baddest saucers);
Beta (‘middleweight’ all-rounders), or
Gamma (spunky, little fighters).

Alphas are tough and pack a punch, but they lack maneuverability. They must use the narrow Alpha Entry Arc. Betas are a better blend of capability and maneuverability, and they use the mid-width Beta Entry Arc. Gammas are the hot-shot, crazy flyers of Saucer War One, and get to use the big Gamma Entry Arc when they perform a Maneuver.

(Each Type of saucer can also use the Entry Arcs of their less-maneuverable cousins, so a Beta saucer uses both the Beta and Alpha Entry Arcs, for example.)

Still with me? Okay, let’s see how the Maneuver Discs and Tripod Pegs work together to move a saucer.


Come Fly with Me

When a saucer or anything else in Saucer War One wants to do something, it must use a Pulse to get it done. A Pulse is a combined unit of ability, made up of its energy systems, aerodynamics, handling, etc. The more potent a saucer is, the more Pulses it has. I won’t discuss Pulses further in this post; all we need to know is that each Pulse that is ‘spent’ on performing a Maneuver entitles a Player to place one Maneuver Disc for their saucer.

The first Disc that is placed is called the Entry Maneuver Disc, and it is placed like this:

The edge of the Entry Maneuver Disc must touch at least 2 Pegs of the saucer, inside the Entry Arc that matches the saucer’s Type. As long as neither Peg is outside the Entry Arc, the Player can rotate the Maneuver Disc however they like. Now we can place more Discs!

Get the idea? As long as the Maneuver Discs can form an unbroken ‘chain’, edge-to-edge, the maneuver is legal, and the saucer can be moved to the end, completing the Maneuver. But what happens when it reaches the end?

This is where the interaction between the Maneuver Disc’s Centerline and the saucer’s Safe Zone comes in. The Saucer ends its Maneuver with its trailing Peg touching the edge of the Exit Maneuver Disc at its Exit Point. The Saucer can pivot on the trailing peg as its Player wishes, left or right, but, the pivot must leave the Centerline pointing inside the saucer’s Safe Zone.

This is because for all their uncanny maneuverability, even flying saucers have their limits before g-forces threaten to break them apart. ANTIC pilots are reminded of this with the saying: “Point it in the green, Dean!”

Of course, that’s the ‘in-game’ explanation for this restriction. In truth, this is to prevent any tripod-mounted unit in the game from performing bootlegger turns at the end of each maneuver, which would negate a major skill aspect of the game. There’s got to be a certain amount of judgement at play, both to help players remain engaged with what’s happening on the table, and to ensure occasional misjudgements with the missed firing opportunities, mid-air collisions, and other mirth they provoke!

Yes, you can veer drunkenly across the sky in your saucer! The real advantage a saucer has over any other unit in Saucer War One is its ability to place the Entry Maneuver Disc against any two Pegs. This gives them unrivalled maneuverability that will turn any jet fighter-jockey green with envy. Conventional aircraft must always place their Entry Maneuver Disc against the left and right Pegs (in the Front Arc), no matter what.


Well, that’s how my frustration with the minor real-world problem of flight pegs led me to the design solution of the tripod pegs, which in turn led me to the Maneuver Disc. Funny how inspiration sometimes comes from the necessity of change, born from things we really shouldn’t get so worked up over.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this insight into my design process. If you have (or even if you have not!) please feel invited to comment, or even email me. I’m always happy to hear what others think of my mad solutions.

See you next time!