Last post I discussed how aerial rules (simulating combat that takes place over minutes or seconds) tends to be bogged down with written orders, rivet counting and an innate complexity. Most aerial wargames have more in common with doing a tax return than a swirling dogfight.
I identified four factors (speed, height, positioning vs foe, detection) as key elements to track. Now, I’m considering how to simplify them. Note these rules aren’t good, but more an example of my thought process and what I am striving for.
I’ve decided there will be 3 heights – high, medium, and “on the deck.” As I am trying to do away with recording (and also I’m not using fancy bases) I’m simply going to record it thus: high = blue token, low = green token, medium = no token. I considered using a d6 and having 6 heights (using the dice to record it) but sometimes I bump the dice over, and the token can be fit neatly under the model’s plastic base. Besides, I’m trying to abstract here.
OK, now for the speed/height/positioning interactions. I’m avoiding plotting moves or recording anything (including speed) so I have decided to divide aircraft speeds into supersonic and subsonic.
Supersonic is a sprint move. It’s used to transit the battlespace quickly. A supersonic plane can dive one level and/or turn up to 90d after the midpoint of the move. A supersonic plane has high speed, but poor positioning (maneuver angles) and whilst it can dive it has no ability to gain height. You can see the trade-offs.
Here is an example of a F-14 making a supersonic sprint. It moves quite far (up to 16″) and may make a turn after the midpoint. Interceptors with a high Mach number topspeed (like the Mig-25) have a great sprint ability, whereas light dogfighters (like the F-16) have a lower top speed.
I also call this supersonic sprint extending or pursuit as it is primarily to chase down or flee enemies.
Subsonic speed is where you perform extreme dogfight maneuvers i.e. it is strong in positioning and changing heights but much slower than supersonic sprint . A jet making a subsonic move can move into the front 180d arc and move up to it’s subsonic speed (6″in the case of this F-14).
The jet may either turn OR climb – if it does both its move is halved and it can only move 3″. It may dive without penalty. As you can see, attempting to climb (height) and turn (position) has a penalty on speed. I’m trying to main the trade-off.
The F-14 can make a tight turn (high or low yoyo) combined with dives or climbs (chandelle). The F-14 can even stay still (simulated by a loop). As you can see, I am lumping lots of maneuvers into the one rule, to keep things simple. Whilst I could have had separate rules for all these maneuvers, I’ve kinda made a single catch-all rule, so you never need to consult the rules or a maneuver chart. (Savage Worlds does this well).
I’d like to add an “evade” subsonic maneuver where the plane gains saving rolls against hits, perhaps. This evading would encompass scissors and barrel rolls and probably restrict speed to half. I’ll think more about it when I add a combat mechanic.
Reversals are basically half-loop maneuvers into a plane’s rear 180d arc. The main difference from a frontal tight turn is that the plane MUST either climb (Immelman) or dive (Split S) – it cannot remain at the same altitude. The plane’s height will impose some restrictions; you cannot Split S on the deck; or Immelman when you are high.
Now last post I mentioned plane performance and pilot skill as being important modifiers. You might include pilot skill as a “crew check” on a d6, perhaps 2+ for ace, 3+ for veteran, 4+ for rookie – in order to pull off such a violent subsonic turn or reversal. A failure would see them move straight ahead or 180 behind, and get some sort of penalty (perhaps a “stun” token that gives them -1 on all rolls until removed, or being unable to fire or evade this turn).
Plane performance could be simply movement based – i.e. supersonic movement is based on pure top Mach speed and thrust, whereas subsonic movement is more based on power/weight + wing loading + agility benefits like fly-by-wire). So a F-14 in the example would have 6″ subsonic, 16″ sprint – while a more nimble but slower F-16 might have better 8″ subsonic, but only a 12″ supersonic sprint.
I haven’t mentioned detection at all, but this gives you an idea of how I am thinking about movement. I’m not claiming these are even good. Just showing how I am striving to show the interactions between height, speed and positioning in as simple a way as I can.
+ There’s no charts A-F, or complex maneuvers or speed to track. There’s no “accounting.”
+ There’s no fancy bases needed or complex turn templates; the only “clutter” is a token that fits under the aircraft’s base (so it’s not really clutter) showing if it is on the deck or high.
+ There’s no need to consult rulebooks – you can memorise the rules and move a plane as quickly as a 28mm infantry figure in a skirmish game; so a player can handle 8-12 planes (like a Mordheim warband) rather than 1-2 planes each in traditional aerial wargames, making it a wargame rather than a laboriously slow duel.
Obviously I’m not saying this whole idea works well – or even works at all – (I need to bolt on detection as well as shooting/damage mechanics). Obviously activation is important; I’m thinking something somewhat random (like a card draw?) to simulate the chaos of a dogfight.
But what I hope I’ve shown is the intent to keep key concepts (height vs speed vs positioning) while abstracting where possible and removing complexity, charts, fancy gear and accounting. I’d like to see aerial wargames evolve similar to skirmish wargames instead of remaining a laborious chore based on 70s mechanics, while retaining the “essence” of air combat.