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…)


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! 


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!

Posted in Artwork

More than just Bumper Stickers

Why Visual Identity is Essential in a Game’s Storyline

Since the dawn of eyeballs, Humans have relied on symbols, icons and logos to quickly and positively recognise the meaning of a thing. We see this all around us, every day; the use of a crucifix to identify a Christian place of worship; a blue, white and red roundel proclaiming an aircraft as belonging to Britain’s Royal Air Force, and huge, curved, yellow ‘M’s that tell us “Caution: Unwanted kilos ahead!”

Wargamers are particularly aware of the important role that identity plays in their appreciation of their tiny warriors. The look of an army is just as significant as how it performs on the table. That’s why they labour for hours, covering fingers, furniture, and occasionally models with paint, decals and varnish. Even the most die-hard, tournament-centric, power-gamer will usually concede that a well-painted force, upon which much attention and detail has been lavished, is a thing of beauty, and something its creator can justly take pride in.

But how can identity apply in a game about flying saucers? Do saucers even have identity?

Flying saucer undergoing identity crisis

Every Club needs a Badge

From Simple Heraldry Cheerfully Illustrated by Iain Moncreiffe and Don Pottinger

Back in the days when knights in full armour hammered each other with sword and mace, there was a great need to distinguish foe from friend on the battlefield. When your visibility is limited by an armoured visor, or because you’re reeling from the anvil chorus being played on your noggin, you have to be able to identify the good guys from the baddies — fast!

To achieve this, knights and their followers took to wearing some form of identifying mark, and a clear combination of colours that left no doubt of their allegiance. This was known as a ‘livery’ and it formed the foundation for European heraldry.
We continue this tradition to this day, in both military markings and sport team strips.

Are you a fan of a team sport? If you are, you’ll instantly know what I’m aiming at here.
If you’re dedicated to your favourite club, you’ll immediately know their badge or motif. Manchester United have their ‘Red Devil’, for example, and it is very distinctive.
The Greenbay Packers have that big ‘G”, and fans who wear cheese hats. The Toronto Bluejays have — well, a bluejay. You get the idea.

Saucer War One kicks off in 1952 with three rival forces vying for supremacy. Two of them — The Venusian Noordcans and the Moon-conquering Mondreich — use saucers that are very similar, so they need their own ‘liveries’ to identify them from each other.

Part of their identity comes from their colour schemes. The Noordicans, in keeping with their ancient origins, maintain the gold, silver and bronze embellishments with which the Annunaki decorated their Sky Chariots. The Mondreich use the unique ‘splinter’ style camouflage patterns of the Luftwaffe. (You just know you’re going to want to paint those!)

But, wargamers are a very individual bunch. I can be certain that someone, somewhere, will want to paint their Noordican collection in sinister, jet black, or their Mondreich fleet as the My Little Pony Space Empire.

(Seeing pictures now, ain’t you? But hey, who am I to suppress creativity?)

So, how to link these many saucers in many schemes to a common identity? That’s where the factions’ symbols — their logos, if you will — come in.

Here’s the symbols of the three initial factions of Saucer War One. I’ll elaborate the rationales behind the choices of the first two in a future post, but for the moment, let’s focus on what proved the trickiest of the three to design: That of the Mondreich.

To Nazi or Not to Nazi?

Without saying too much (because spoilers), creating the Mondreich as a faction for Saucer War One was a real challenge. That might surprise those of you with an interest in Ufology or alternate history. ‘Nazis in space’ is a pretty well established sci-fi trope nowadays, after the many ‘revelations’ of German wunderwaffe flying saucers that were supposedly developed in World War Two.

But it wasn’t the background story of how the Germans got their saucers, or into space that was the pachyderm in the room. It was the Nazis. No matter how we might like to think of them as zany bad guys in Hugo Boss greatcoats and leather, let’s get serious for a moment: The Nazis are the people who plunged Europe into the most terrible conflict in human history, murdering millions in their insane quest for racial ‘supremacy’.
While no ideology was entirely innocent during the dark days of 1939—1945, a great deal of the burden of guilt is rightly dropped on the shoulders of National Socialism.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my Nazis dead. So, I made the decision to keep Nazi symbolism out of the Mondreich’s identity*.

That pretty much left me with the Balkenkreuz — the national marking used by German forces throughout World War Two — as a base for the Mondreich symbol. That allowed me to keep a connection to that conflict, but turn my back on the Nazis, and get away from them. (Had to. They smell funny…)

So, I worked up some concepts, and then shared them with a number of Facebook wargaming groups for feedback:

Early passes at Mondreich Symbol

One of the things many people commented on was the ‘Islamic’ vibe they felt was apparent in #3. (Although the crescent in middle east iconography actually dates back to the Byzantine Empire.) I had no desire to offend anyone’s religious sensitivities for the sake of a game, so changes were needed.

Thanks to the great feedback I received from dozens of people, I was able to whittle and hone the designs down to these:

Aside from comments about #1 being a rivet, and #2 looking like a German condom (ahem…) the reaction to these designs was encouragingly positive. People recognised the symbolism of the Moon with the Earth rising in the background, the balkenkreuz superimposed over the Moon upon its ‘dark’ side.

But a final pass was warranted, to make sure I had it right:

I kept the ‘rivet’ because I could imagine the first Mondreich saucer groundcrews quickly making this minimum effort modification as they struggle to keep their charges in the air in the early days of Saucer War One.

The other variations provide two options (always nice to have options!) for modellers when I release decal sheets for the Mondreich kits.

As I said, I received a lot of useful feedback from many people during the process of designing these symbols. But no design is ever completely finished, because it changes with each interpretation applied by fresh eyes. So, if you feel so inclined, do let me know what you think of the designs, in the comments below.

Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next time!

*Just who the Mondreich really are, is a secret I’ll keep for now… stay tuned for future developments!