The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Wargaming rules post collection

| June 27, 2015

So, I’ve been wanting to do a couple of these posts for awhile, one for wargames and one for roleplaying games. This is the one about wargaming. I’ll break it down by scale (meaning the size of miniatures) and scale (meaning the size of the engagement), the latter which I’ll call “scope” for clarity, and Genre. I’m ignoring genres or scales which I don’t play.

  • Scale: 15mm-30mm (one figure per base)
    • Scope: Platoon to company size (15 – 250 soldiers) (aka “army”)
      • Genre: Modern/SciFi
        • One Page 40K – This is basically the only game in town for games of this scale. All the other ones I’ve tried are just a boring slog which take too long to play. This is largely because they’re “scaled up” skirmish games. OnePage rules sacrifices a lot of fiddly bits (namely, weapon strength and rate of fire are aggregated together into the number of dice rolled, and the different models’ strength, toughness, and separate melee and ranged skills are aggregated together into a single quality number). The overall goals are fun and simplicity, and I’m finding that this leads to more tactical depth, because you can focus on tactics and not get hung up on the crunch. The rules aren’t currently generic, but they aim to be once they get the bugs worked out of the point calculation system.
    • Scope: Squad to platoon size (4 – 15 soldiers), maybe a little bigger (aka “skirmish”)
      • Genre: Modern/SciFi
        • One Page 40K This is the scaled down version of the One Page 40K rules. I have not played this extensively. As above, it is not currently generic, but intends to be.
        • Zed Or Alive is a modern post-zombie-apoc skirmish game. Uses the Savage Worlds Showdown engine, which is familiar to me. It’s less wargame-y and more “RPG light”. It is miniatures agnostic with point values for unit creation.
        • This is Not a Test is a near future postnuclear skirmish game, which throws a pile of different tropes together and hits blend. It’s pretty obviously heavily influenced by the Wasteland and Fallout series of games, as well as tabletop campaign-oriented skirmish games like Necromunda. It is miniatures agnostic with point values for unit creation.
        • Pulp City is a superheroes game, with mechanics that fit the theme and a rich backstory, and rules for doing all the fun pulpy stuff you’d like to do. It’s designed for play with their miniatures, and no unit creation rules are provided.
      • Genre: Fantasy/Steampunk
        • Warmachine and Hordes are a superbly balanced, well-modeled, strongly thematic, nominally skirmish pair of games which are widely played and I highly recommend. (Warmachine is based around the command of steam-powered robots, Hordes is based around the command of large creatures, and the two systems are compatible, so a Warmachine army can fight a Hordes army without issue). My only drawback to it is that I get burnt out on it because I love SF stuff and start to miss it. But, that’s not the game’s fault, it’s my malfunction.
  • Scale: Smaller than 15mm.
    • Genre: Space ships
      • Firestorm Armada is a space ship game which hits all the happy buttons with regards to space ship combat. It’s not generic per-se, but there are various homebrew points systems for creating ships, which I’ve found to work out to be pretty balanced.
      • Full Thust deserves an honorable mention. I very much like this system, but Liz doesn’t, mainly because of the pre-plotted movement. She vastly prefers the alternating system of Firestorm Armada and, while we could use the Firestorm Armada movement system with Full Thrust, it’s easier to just make up ship cards in Firestorm Armada.
      • X-Wing is a really good game and has the distinction of having the only movement pre-plotting mechanic which Liz likes (because it’s done very quickly and unobtrusively). Plus, the minis are prepainted, so it’s really a “pick it up and play” gateway game (or game for the busy gamer). I like the system so much, I may try to port it to the now defunct Crimson Skies game, because I have a pile of those planes, but everyone hates the movement system (alternatively, I’d use an alternating system, not unlike Firestorm Armada).
    • Genre: Naval
      • Dystopian Wars. So, I don’t generally like naval games. They just don’t really appeal to me. The exception is that very narrow period of time which was WWI-WWII, with large battleships with big guns with lots of aircraft flying around. Dystopian wars hits this in a Victorian SF setting, so you get a pile of weird things (cloaking devices, tesla guns, flying ships, etc.). It is non-generic. You use their minis and unit cards. There are no unit creation rules.
    • Genre: Land
      • Dystopian Wars covers land warfare too, with the same notes as above.
      • I don’t have a generic one. I’m looking. I own several, but I don’t really like them. I’m waiting for the One Page Rules guys to come out with something in this scale (likely called 1pEpic or something like that, after the now-defunct Epic 40k game, but the key here is that is must be generic. I have a pile of modern microarmor, as well as a bunch of epic 40k stuff, and I’d like to be able to use all of it under the same ruleset. In the One Page Rules Forums, some folks have reported success using the One Page Kill Team rules in that scale, and that’s not a bad approach. I mean, when engaged, infantry will either get killed, driven back, or pinned (called stunned). This makes sense. I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense with vehicles, but I could be sold on it – they either blow up, back off, or get rattled and don’t act. Fair enough. However, there aren’t rules for making units, nor are there some units that are really common in epic 40k games. It also is kind of an “all or nothing” killing of units rather than a graceful degradation of capabilities, like there is in the Dystopian Wars ruleset.. which may be another option – come up with a points system which works and use those rules. Not sure.
      • Dirtside II is a solid generic contender, but I need to play it more to determine if I really like it.
      • Axles and Alloys Post apoc automobile warfare with kitbashed matchbox/hot wheels cars. This is kind of its own thing, and is just fun.
      • Battletech: Alpha Strike This is a giant stompy robots (and, actually, airplanes, tanks and other combined arms) in the future game, and is a streamlined version of the regular Battletech game. This allows for both larger games playable in a normal time frame, or the same sized games as regular Battletech, but played in a shorter time frame. Liz and I played a 2 on 2 battle in half an hour, and that was while learning the rules. The game is fast, brutal, dynamic and, while the rules cover all situations, they are pretty simple, while keeping the real flavor of Battletech. As with other rules discussed in this post, they get out of their own way, and make you want to focus on campaigns and strategy, and not making sure you get the rules correct, because doing so is simple.
    • Genre:Air
      • Dystopian Warscovers air warfare too, with the same notes as above.
      • I don’t have a generic one here either. I’d love to use my Crimson Skies planes, but there are two problems with those rules as written:
        1. Liz hates pre-plotted movement.
        2. I don’t like the way the guns are done – large caliber guns make big holes at short range. Small caliber guns make small holes at long range. I get why they do this (game balance), but it’s kind of annoying.
        There are a couple of ways to fix these items. I’ll take them in order, using the same numbers as above.
        1. The simple solution is to not pre-plot movement. Have the activations alternate between players, even better, happen based on pilot skill. This is how most of the games detailed above work. Alternatively, you can borrow from X-Wing, which does pre-plot movement, but uses a really good mechanic for doing so (namely, a little dial which you set then put upside down near the ship or plane). With the advent of 3D printers, making your own really nice looking ones becomes easier.
        2. There are a couple of steps to fix this. The first is to rework the ranges so small caliber has a short range and large caliber has a long range. However, you need some type of way to keep it in balance. Options:
          • Limit ammo for larger caliber ones (this ends up requiring more bookkeeping, which is not great).
          • Let smaller caliber stuff shoot more (roll more dice). This results in rolling buckets of dice.
          • Make smaller guns cost less in terms of game points.
          I’m not certain which is correct. It also influences how damage is recorded. The original game uses sheets where you color in boxes for your planes as they get damaged, which is a lot of fun to watch your plane get shot up. But, if you let some guns shoot more, you end up having planes get shot down more quickly. If you drop this requirement, and give each plane a certain amount of damage it can soak before it gets destroyed, then that works, and is pretty conventional. So, yeah, I’m not sure what to do here, which is why I’ve done nothing. If anyone knows of a good set of generic airplane rules, leave a comment.

Gaming table update

| August 3, 2014

For fathers’ day, Liz got me printed maps for my table, to replace the ones I made up myself last year. These are large format single prints, rather than US letter size taped together. So, you don’t have any tape lines, and there’s no repetition, which is nice. Much more aesthetically pleasing.

It took me so long to get them on the table, because I had a demo game of Alpha Strike set up from before the boys were born, which Liz and I finally got a chance to play on my birthday. While she liked the aesthetic of Battletech, the classic rules are tremendously in depth which means that it’s a bit complex for a casual game. You need to know how every weapon and bit of gear works, and you need to be quick on the dice and quick on filling in the dots (and there are so many dots to fill in, I’ve heard people say that it reminds them of taking standardized tests). If you do not, it takes FOREVER. Like, I’ve had games where each person has 2 mechs and it takes 2 hours to play – which is about all the time one can expect to have on a weeknight. Alpha Strike is loads better – Liz and I played a game with 2 mechs per side, including my explaining the rules, and it took us half an hour. She says that she still prefers Warmachine, but that this is loads better than classic BattleTech.

Anyway, table pics.

Water map

Water map

Space map

Space map

Both Maps

Both Maps

Gaming stuff

| August 10, 2007

(This is partially a test of Deepest Sender, an LJ app which runs as a FF widget. I am not tremendously impressed – it gets clobbered if you use it in the sidebar and then open your history, which was the compelling thing about it…)


Video games:

I started playing Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn again. I'd forgotten how much fun this game was. Problem is, I was playing an “interesting” (read: dies easily) character – a bard/cleric, if I remember. If the character dies, your game ends. Finally, I just gave into it and remade the character as a fighter, restarting the game. If they're going to write an automated dungeon crawl, then I'll play the absurdly strong fighter.

Tabletop games:

  • I've managed to convince Liz to try out a Battletech campaign. She likes Battletech well enough to play, and the campaign makes it a little more interesting.

  • I might have convinced her to play an RPG, if we can get her friend Sarah to play, and it's only them, and it's a setting that they like. Liz's problem with RPG's is that they end up just dragging on as we look up rules and bicker. I tend to agree, but am willing to put up with it.

Anyway, In that vein, I am looking for simple, easy playing systems.

First, I had a look at Fugde. Meh. Their core mechanic is simple (tally the +’s and -‘s and they bump your skill up or down for an end result) but I don’t know if it is any more simple than d20 (d20 roll + bonuses – penalties = result). Then I pulled out my d20 modern book. It’s not a bad system, except there are some big things in it which I don’t like, specifically: – the wealth system – classes – the way armor is handled – some other things which I don’t quite recall. Now, d20 Call of Cthulhu fixed most of this. Problem is, my d20 Call of Cthulhu book seems to have been misplaced. Since they’re out of print, they’re going for obscene prices on ebay. I’ve also been looking at True 20, which might actually work well. However, I need to do more research to ensure that it is really compatible before I go spending money on it. Basically “will my big book of d20 guns work with this system”. If it works, I’ll probably buy the PDF. I’m really liking these PDF’s – they’re cheaper, I can grab the tables from them and make a GM screen, and if I do buy a paper copy of the book, using the PDF keeps the Mountain Dew stains off it.


| July 23, 2007

I think I have clevered it out.

MechSheet produces the best output. This is what I want my sheets to look like, though I may add an optional movement chart at the bottom if printed on legal paper. It does not, however, do any type of creation, it just makes sheets. So, for now, I can make mechs in HeavyMetal Pro, then convert the output stats file to the MechSheet format, then create the sheet. It sounds like a pain (and it kind of is), but it works for now.

Now, Phase 1 would be to rewrite MechSheet as a Java app. This makes it easy for me to get into Java with something I have a good handle on – a command line app which just puts things on the record sheet where they need to be. In this way, I could take a batch of already created files and generate them.

Phase 2 would be to integrate the HeavyMetal Pro file format reader from MegaMek to have my version of MechSheet be able to read those files directly.

Phase 3 would be to actually write a mech design engine to replace HeavyMetal Pro. This is the largest part of the product, and likely the hardest, since I have no idea how all these widgety things work.

The nice thing about this is that it allows me to actually PLAY while I'm working on this…

Late night postiness

| May 15, 2005

Liz isn't here this weekend (visiting her folks), so I've been being bad and staying up and sleeping late.

Working on my BattleTech software (Mono/GTK# is pretty cool). Doing some more video editing of the old home movies. Painting miniatures (more Battletech, right now). Modified my coffee grinder to not suck.

I'll post pics of the mechs I've painted recently, and I'll be putting up a project page of how I hacked the coffee maker. Plus, I have a pile of random pics to post and show. Some technology, some kitties.. Just general stuff..

Probably going to see Star Wars on Thursday. W00t.

Liz is supposed to go out to California in two weeks. I am less than amused. I worry about her. I mean, take a VW driver used to a standard and stick them in a shitty rental Ford Taurus (or even worse, a Focus) and then in the middle of LA traffic trying to find a place she's never been before and it kind of worries me. When I went, I was just along for the ride, plus there were plenty of people to navigate. One of my big fears (and one of the reasons my life got much less stressful) was that I would have to go out there alone. It's not the new place so much as the new car. With my current company, most of the places I'd have to go would be within driving distance (most of our clients are the north east US), so I would end up being able to take my car. Or, I would end up going at the beginning and end of a project, which would likely include my boss as well. Either way, I'm either in my car, or in an unfamiliar car but with a navigator. Both make me a lot more at ease.

Battletech software

| May 4, 2005

Okay, so here's the initial stuff I've been working on.


This basically handles all the initial weight stuff.

I'll do a project page at some point.

The interesting bit is the data-driven design: engines, chassis, etc. are all stored in .xml files, which should be editable by normal people.

For Windows people, 7-Zip should be able to uncompress it, and you'll probably need to install GTK+ for Windows.

For Mac people, you need Mono, GTK+ and X11.

Anyway, poke it, let me know what you think.

Up next: weapons.

I'll probably set up a project page soon.


| April 29, 2005

So, I started work on my BattleTech Mech design app today. Originally, I was going to store all the various tables as XML and then suck them in as a bunch of DataTable objects populating a DataSet. No big deal, right? Well, I got them to load, but since my various widgets are dependant on that data, I needed to do things like get Min and Max values for a certain column. Something like this should have worked (quick and dirty proof of concept test):


Should select the minimum weight from the “chassis” table . The [0][0].ToString gets the first column from the first row and converts it to a string. Now:

Console.WriteLine(Chassis.Tables[“chassis”].Select(“weight = 20”)[0][0].ToString());

works just fine. But not the above. It throws an error of:

Unhandled Exception: System.InvalidCastException: Cannot cast from source type to destination type.

I don't know what it's trying to cast that it's getting angry about (the string perhaps?), but I tried to get it to work for about two hours with no luck. It's either a bug in mono or I simply can't do what I want to do.

So, I've implemented it as ArrayLists for now, but the inefficiency of it kind of grates on me, so I might just do a bit of hackishness to compensate for the lack of Min/Max and write a function that iterates through the data set to get the current min and max (this data is NEVER changed by the user inside the application, so I can get away with this approach).

Of course, anyone who has any other brilliant ideas is welcome to suggest away.

Battletech woes

| April 26, 2005

Okay, so now that my computer list has gotten shorter (and I'm getting bored with that), I'm back to focusing on gaming.

Specifically, I want to start playing Battletech. This is one of those games that requires a bunch of record sheets, and a way to generate them. Problem is, the software out there for generating these is a bit lacking, for one reason or another.

HeavyMetal Pro is the FASA/WizKids approved product for generating all kinds of sheets. Problem is, the sheets are ugly and the interface is kind of convoluted and overgrown (and badly in need of a redesign). I could handle the kludgey UI; it's the ugly sheets that get me (specifically, the “frankenstein” mech as opposed to the “pretty” anime-style mech that everyone else uses for their generators.

BattleMech Designer This one produces very nice sheets (though the font sizes for certain things could be larger). The problem with this one is that the progress stopped at Level 2 tech (current tech is level 3). The developer hasn't worked on it since 1999 and doesn't sell it or otherwise seem to derive revenue. However, he won't share the source code (I asked).

The problem here is that my immediate reaction is to write a .NET app in Mono using GTK# (winforms isn't there yet). That way, anyone can run it and all is good. Make sure the rules validation and equipment lists are in something easy for folks to modify (I'm thinking XML) and life is easy. However, that would represent a lot of time, and I want to game right now, not code.

I'll probably shelve this and use HeavyMetal until I get fed up with HeavyMetal or have an itch to code again. However, if someone else knows of someone who has a not-sucky mech design package looking for a code port / migration / maintainer, by all means let me know.

A collection of rants

| May 3, 2004

Before you read my LJ, read this essay about Why he hates weblogs. I think I'm a combination of his “Obsessive-Delusional Ranter” and “Tragically Geek”.

Why Gentoo is super cool It’s the only distro I’ve used where I can do the installation via ssh from my living room. My latest experience with proprietary software I’ve gotten in to Classic Battletech again. This necessitates the ability to make up character sheets simply and easily. At first, I was using Battlemech Designer. The only problem with it is that it doesn’t support the Level 3 rules, and it only does battlemechs, not protomechs, vehicles, or planes. It ran under Wine, and did the job. So, looking around, I couldn’t find any free (freedom) or free (zero cost) software that did the job, but I found HeavyMetal Pro, which people seemed to speak highly of, and everyone seems to use. So, I pony up the $90 and buy the whole kit, the software does it all. It doesn’t run under wine – the software just exits. Okay, I can handle that. So, I install Bochs. Bochs works surprisingly well, and is even fast enough to run Windows 98 on a 1GHz laptop. However, no display driver exists for Windows 98 under Bochs, so only the default 640x480x16 colors mode works. So, that’s a no go. Installing it on my actual Windows 98 machine worked just fine. Using it, however, was less than productive. The interface was kludgey and hackish. I mean, people rag on F/OSS for having “bad UI”; this app had just about the worst UI I’ve ever used. (This is not a F/OSS vs. Proprietary argument, however – Apple has some GREAT UI’s). Anyway, so I contact the man and ask for a refund. He tells me that, like other software places, he does not accept returns because you could steal it and never pay for it. WTF? Turns out, that is the case. When you buy general PC software (console video games seems to be a different animal), no one lets you return it if it sucks. Talk about fucking over the customer. To quote South Park: “This is America, and if something sucks, you’re supposed to be able to get your money back”. I have become unaware of this trend, because I haven’t bought anything except console games in about the last 4 years. So, this has taught me a lesson: don’t buy proprietary software unless I can try it first. Now, this leaves me with a problem: while I can use Battlemech Designer for now, it won’t meet my future needs (Level 3 rules + support for vehicles and aero). So, I think that I will come up with my own mech and vehicle design software, Free Software, of course, and it will provide me with the impetus to try out some technologies that I’ve been wanting to learn, including: – UI design under Linux (I know how to do this under Windows, but not Linux) – XML (all the mech files will be saved in XML) – Printing (I have no idea how to actually print something nicely – sure, I could fiddle with raw postscript, but that’s not much fun; there must be an easier way) and for the second iteration: – reverse engineering BattleMech Designer and HeavyMetal Pro files to write filters that convert them to my XML format – optional integration with a DB backend (the mechs are stored in the DB for easier searching and organizing. XML will be retained for import/export) This will also run under OS X, provided you install the right GUI toolkit (whichever one I pick..) On the off chance, if anyone is interested, let me know. I’m going to do this right – write up a feature spec, some UI sketches, come up with the specs for the XML file format, etc. Why Microsoft can never produce a useful OS” (This is more a play on the terms “useful” and “OS” than anything else.) I have no doubts that, despite their various faults and problems, MS will eventually fix the issues in their OS that are actually “bugs”. However, the following problems will still remain: 1.) Bad decisions (such as ActiveX) 2.) Lawsuits, litigation, etc. Now, lots of people have talked about 1, so I’m not going to. However, I was hanging out with my girlfriend, and she was using her PowerBook (as she always does) and I was watching the tools she was using the most; namely: 1.) Mail 2.) Web 3.) Instant messenger 4.) Movie ripping (from old home videos) 5.) DVD creation/Burning. Let us examine these one by one. 1 and 2 are included in Windows. Fine. 3 is, to an extent, but only MSN, IIRC (other folks, is this correct?), as Microsoft wants to make it more difficult to use other systems to protect another business model; therefore this is a decision, not a “bug”. 4 and 5 are not included. Why? Well, I don’t know for sure. They don’t compete with an MS product, so there is no reason that MS cannot develop and bundle such applications with their OS, thus enhancing their product offerings. However, this would complete with other people’s products, and therefore they would get sued; over and over again, for using their monopoly position to attack other markets. This is why MS will never produce an OS that is as useful out of the box as OSX – they’d get sued over and over again. How the DOJ missed the point The above brings up application bundling, which is, of course, what the DOJ and independent lawsuits seem to have focused on. However, I think that all of this completely misses the point. The danger from Microsoft; the real danger, is NOT the bundled software, the fact that windows media player competes with Real, the fact that MSN competes with AOL. The real problems are: 1.) OEM installed software limitations: MS’s bundled software is not a threat if OEM’s are allowed to install other applications. However, in order to get the most favorable terms, OEM’s need to agree to not install additional software that competes with Microsoft’s (this is part of the reason that OpenOffice, StarOffice and Corel Office have had difficulty gaining and holding ground). 2.) PC Shipment Exclusivity agreements: OEM’s get “market development funds” for each Windows PC they sell. Fairly normal and standard, right? Well, here’s the catch – if you sell one machine; ONE MACHINE without Windows on it, you lose ALL the money, which can be hundreds of thousands (or more) of dollars. 3.) The two above are typically secret agreements – these OEM agreements are secret so that no one knows who signed what with whom and under what terms. This is typically the case in business, but in the case of monopoly, it is bad for the public interest. I would even go as far as to say that Microsoft should be forced to disclose all contract terms with all OEM’s, and enforce standardized pricing: so that they can’t go to HP or Dell and strongarm them away from attempting to sell non-windows machines. Now, I think some of this has been done as a result of the DOJ investigations, but it’s not gone far enough. Microsoft needs to be relegated to a place where they MUST innovate in order to keep people wanting to buy their product. All things being equal, the DOJ rulings do not acheive this. However, Linux just might. It’s coming faster and faster, and Microsoft is scared. I suppose that is it for tonight. It’s getting late and I need to work tomorrow. Oh, I’m playing paintball next Saturday; WOOT! My mom will be there. The field is Fox 4 Paintball in Upton, MA. They’re running a “women in paintball” day, where women play for free. If anoyone is interesting in going alone, let me know. Liz will not be going; she was going to, but then realized that it was Mother’s day and is going home that weekend. Looking at the website, this field looks like a really pro operation; it might just be worth the drive up there on a regular basis…

What I originally got a hosting service for

| October 24, 2003

These are the images for which I originally got a hosting service. This is a Battletech Miniature – a WarHammer IIC. I shot it with sunlight at my back and the flash off to try and give it a more natural, less harsh look.

WarHammer IIC Front WarHammer IIC Side