Sunday, April 23, 2017

Templates vs Allowances

In my experience, air combat games can divided into 2 types based on how they handle movement.

The first category involves the use of maneuver templates. Each turn, players secretly choose maneuvers from a template then reveal their choices.

A template example from Blue Max / Canvas Eagles
The players' planes are moved in accordance with the template, then combat is resolved. The old board game Blue Max is a perfect example of this category.  Ace of Aces and Wings of War / Wings of Glory are other examples of this type of system.

There are some drawbacks with these systems:
  • Low Solo-ability - in general, the challenge in these games come from out-guessing your opponent. This is hard to do if you are picking maneuvers for both sides. When soloing, the game devolves to sequential movement, with the plane choosing last having a decided advantage. This can be mitigated by choosing maneuvers for one side and randomizing the moves of the other.
  • Possible Unrealistic Results - If you mis-anticipate your opponent's move you could end up going in the wrong direction! This is a tad unrealistic; the pilot should be able to see the enemy's movement and make some corrections. Of course, this can be explained away. Perhaps the pilot lost temporarily lost sight of the enemy and headed the wrong way. If the movement rate is short, the issue won't be too pronounced and the lost sight explanation makes sense. Longer movement rates could be problematic.
Despite these drawbacks, I like maneuver templates. As long as the template does not have too many choices, it speeds up the movement phase. I also think it gives a good "feel" for combat flying as the pilot does have to judge where the enemy plane will go.

The second category generally involves some sort of movement allowance. By this I mean systems where aircraft have specifications with regards to the number of inches (or spaces) moved and degrees turned. Players have a lot of freedom to tailor each craft’s movement every turn. Often, these systems feature initiative systems and sequential movement. Examples include old board games like Dawn Patrol and Air Force, as well as Kaptain Kobold’s Spandaus and Lewis Guns.

These games can also have drawbacks:
  • Static targets - The aircraft moving last in a turn won't have to worry about leading its target because the target is stationary. In an abstract way, this does provide a proper advantage to the plane with initiative (providing that the initiative system accounts for things like tailing). However, it generally feels a little odd to me, like the enemy is just hanging in space. This issue can be especially pronounced if each plane is allowed to shoot after its move. I've seen games where one plane circles around to the other's rear and shoots. Then the target (assuming it survives) does the same thing!
  • Slower pace - it seems to me that moving and turning planes a space at a time is slower than using a template. This has the potential to make the game drag on longer than one using templates.
My Preference
For me, templates win out over allowances.

Even though it is not entirely realistic, I like the guessing game approach. It makes me feel like I'm in the cockpit, trying to anticipate my enemy's next move and then put myself in position to make the kill. I just don't get the same sense from games with allowances. Thus, templates have the right feel for me.

There are some disadvantages to the template approach and up to now I considered those to be insurmountable. However, I have been experimenting with some solutions and feel that they are workable. I'll be sharing my solutions in later posts.

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