#FirstImpressions #SupplyLinesoftheAmericanRevolution from @Hollandspiele

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Initial Setup

Supply Lines of the American Revolution: The Northern Theater, 1775-1777 (Hollandspiele, 2016) is a very interesting design. Supply Lines looks like a wargame, but plays more like a Eurogame – and its not just because it has little wooden cubes!

First off, Supply Lines has a very eurogame-themed focus – logistics. Many games have supply rules (some too many rules) but none in my collection have placed logistics in this sort of prominent role. Before you go off saying logistics is unimportant, take a look at a few of these historical quotes:

“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.”
– Gen. George S. Patton, USA

“Forget logistics, you lose.”
– Lt. Gen. Fredrick Franks, USA, 7th Corps Commander, Desert Storm

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”
– Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980

“Logistics is the stuff that if you don’t have enough of, the war will not be won as soon as.”
– General Nathaniel Green, Quartermaster, American Revolutionary Army

“There is nothing more common than to find considerations of supply affecting the strategic lines of a campaign and a war.”
– Carl von Clausevitz

“Leaders win through logistics. Vision, sure. Strategy, yes. But when you go to war, you need to have both toilet paper and bullets at the right place at the right time. In other words, you must win through superior logistics.”
– Tom Peters – Rule #3: Leadership Is Confusing As Hell, Fast Company, March 2001

“Logistics sets the campaign’s operational limits.”
– Joint Pub 1: Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States

“Logistics … as vital to military success as daily food is to daily work.”
– Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, Armaments and Arbitration, 1912

My copy of Supply Lines is the boxed version that comes with a 12-page rulebook, a 22″x17″ map, 88 counters, 2 dice, and 100 wooden cubes. The game has only one scenario (campaign) beginning late 1775 and progressing to the end of 1777 with 5 turns each year. Armies are represented by generic leaders (few) and numbered chits that represent  the size of the force with no relation to any real unit organization or echelon.

At the beginning of each turn supply is generated. Supplies come in two forms, Food (green cubes) and War Supplies (natural wooden cubes). Supply is only generated in cities that are occupied by armies. Once generated, supplies can be moved, but only if the “supply line” exists. When armies move they need Food (one cube per four armies or portion thereof). When armies fight, they gain “Battle Die” based on the number of War Supplies they expend. There are other rules which limit the amount of supplies that can be held in cities or that an army can carry with them.

In Supply Lines the Patriot player is trying to reach the Treaty of Alliance which represents the entry of France into the war. The Crown player is trying to take Victory Cities and deny the Patriot player from moving the Support Track his direction. This is where Supply Lines gets REALLY interesting, because in order to move the Support Track the Patriot player needs to win battles but for the Crown player to take Victory Cities he will need to win battles (moving the Support Track away from the Treaty of Alliance) which means calling call on reinforcements, which moves the Support Track in favor of the Patriot player. Of course, there is never enough Food to move ones armies, and it always seems to be the case that there is not enough War Supplies on hand when the battle is joined. Some battles can be big armies but few Battle Die because there are not enough War Supplies. In Supply Lines, battle favors the defender who often only has to expend a single War Supply for a Battle Die whereas the Attacker not only has to expend Food to move an army into battle but also two (2) War Supply for each Battle Die.

Thematically, I find Supply Lines evocative of the history published about the American War of Independence. The Patriots were always short of troops and trying to muster the militia (reinforcements in the game) while constantly fighting the specter of enlistments ending (seen here in a special Continental Army Disbands rule during Winter Turns). The Crown player either has to come overland from Canada or use his command of the sea to transport troops from port to port.

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Early 1777 – Patriots have yet to Declare Independence while Crown player has four Victory Cities – and will go on to win. Note lots of Food but few War Supplies available.

In my first game the campaign went poorly for the Patriots. Pushing out aggressively, they lost a few battles shifting the Support Track in a negative way. This gave the Crown player room to call for reinforcements while the Patriots had yet to reach the Declaration of Independence – and get more Patriot reinforcements. The Patriot player tried to hold New York City, but a large, well supplied amphibious force landed on Long Island, marched overland to the city, and after a pitched battle dislodged the Patriot defenders. From this point on the Patriots, unable to muster forces in the months of 1777, simply did not have enough force – not to mention War Supplies – to eject the Crown player from a Victory City.

Supply Lines’ focus on logistics highlights an important aspect of the American Revolution. Playing this game one gets a sense of the challenge George Washington faced in the dark days of 1777 – how to keep an Army together when you have little food, fewer war supplies, and expiring enlistments. The one blessing is that the Crown faced many of the same problems – not having enough supply at the point of battle.

The game mechanics of Supply Lines make this game worthy of replay even though there is only one campaign setup. In my first game, battles drained War Supplies at an incredible rate. But after a few combats I realized that, just like in history, it is not necessary to destroy the enemy simply to get them to retreat. In this game, retreating comes when the Defender is defeated (has less forces after the battle) AND fails a Morale Roll (where the Defender has to roll the force differential or more on a d6) which makes them retreat.

I personally have grown very fond of Supply Lines after just one play. Not only is it evocative of the American Revolution, in terms of mechanics it is yet another “simply complex” game – simple in game mechanics but complex in strategy. I also think my appreciation of Supply Lines shows my shift in wargaming tastes. More on that later, but suffice it to day for now that I enjoy exploring the different challenge Supply Lines tees up for the players.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict – PLAY MORE!

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#WargameWednesday – Not Conflicted Anymore about #ConflictofHeroes

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Earlier this year I got Conflict of Heroes: Guadalcanal 1942 – The Pacific (Academy Games, 2016). I wrote out my First Impressions where I was impressed with the game mechanics but unsure about how the game came together.

In early August I was fortunate to attend CONNECTIONS 17 and met the designer of Conflict of Heroes, Uwe ('Oova') Eickert. In the evening "game labs," I actually sat down with Uwe and he walked me and others through the Conflict of Heroes system using Awakening the Bear (2nd Edition).

I'm absolutely sold – on several levels.

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From the GAMEPLAY perspective the Active/Spent Units, Action Points/Command Action Points, and Command/Bonus/Action Card mechanics make for quick play. In the rules I can see the influence of Nicholas Warcholak, in charge of Editing and Game Development for Academy Games. The Academy Games website lays out the Warcholak Guide to keep game rules streamlined:

  1. Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2.
  2. Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3.
  3. Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.

Conflict of Heroes implements the Warcholak Guide in spades! The rules, in combination with the graphical presentation, means the game can be taught almost without referencing the rule book.

From a HISTORICAL SIMULATION level of play, Uwe opened my eyes to the deep amount of historical detail baked into the game. For instance, the number of Action Points necessary for a unit to shoot is often a reflection of leadership and command & control. Unlike other games which use many 'rules by exception' to implement the intended effect, Conflict of Heroes "bakes" the rules into a few key factors. For example, when a unit is activated it gets 7 Action Points (AP). Both German and Russian infantry use 1 AP to move, but it takes a Russian infantry unit 4 AP to fire whereas a typical German infantry unit only needs 3 AP to shoot. Thus, A Russian unit will only be able to fire once per activation unless they call upon Command Action Points (CAP – representing higher HQ and prior planning). A German infantry unit can fire twice without calling upon CAPs. This subtle one-factor difference brings out so much of the command & control issues facing the combatants without needlessly complex rules.

fullsizeoutput_242This past weekend, the RockyMountainNavy Boys (even the oldest) play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (2nd Edition). We played Firefight 2 with four commanders (two per side). IT WAS A BLAST. The rules were easy for me to teach (and the boys to learn) so we got into PLAY right away. All the RMN Boys are now Conflict of Heroes fans (dare I say the youngest is a FANatic?).

I have also purchased the Firefight Generatorand the Solo Expansion. I saw Uwe demo the Solo Expansion with its 'Athena AI' at CONNECTIONS 17 and I have to say I am VERY INTERESTED.

The Eastern Front Solo Expansion is the highly anticipated rule set that has been in development for over 3 years! A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player's own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI. (From the Academy Games website)

Honestly, I found many solo game engines quite cumbersome; or very formulamatic (see Tokyo Express from Victory Games, 1988). The Athena AI, implemented using cards in the Conflict of Heroes system, looks to create a "living opponent" again without a burdensome rules overhead.

Though not recognized as one of the true "Grognard" wargame companies, Academy Games is truly on the cutting edge of game design. There are several other companies trying to do the same, but it remains to be seen if the wargame hobby as whole can keep up with the likes of Academy Games.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MORE MORE MORE!

 

#Wargame Wednesday – Merrill’s Marauders (Decision Games) First Impressions

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Merrill's Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944, Decision Games, $12.95. Designed by Joseph Miranda. Part of the Commando-series of games. A Decision Games mini-series product which is intended to be introductory-level and playable in an hour or less. Comes with an 11"x17" mapboard, 40 counters, 4 mission cards, 14 event cards, a four-page series rulebook and two-pages of scenario instructions. Play time is rated at 1-2 hours, but this seems to be the time necessary for an entire four-mission campaign as an individual mission can take 30 min or less.

Merrill's Marauders is a solitaire game that covers commando missions behind enemy lines in Burma during World War II. The player is the Allied commandos while the game engine is the OPFOR (opposition force). The commando player has to enter the map area and recover objectives while avoiding ambushes and other patrolling Japanese units. The game comes with four "missions" that can be played separately or strung together to form a campaign. The Mission Cards specify the number of objectives and ambushes to be secretly placed, the mission objectives, how many "operations" (time) is allowed, the force level available to buy, and any leaders. During each operation a stack of units move and event cards are drawn to determine what happens next. Battles are a simple nd6 roll against a Battle Results Table and is bloody.

The rules and game mechanics for Merrill's Maraudersare easy and certainly meet the "introductory-level" criteria of a mini-series game. The map is extremely functional, with almost all the information needed to play on it. Once the rules are learned (not a very steep learning curve to achieve) between the map and the event cards almost all the information needed to play is present. The "Operations" mechanic which counts down the number of operations (actions) available to the commando player is a nice touch that adds a time-crunch element, and winning battles (gaining Operations Points) becomes a key part of the commando players strategy. Although only four missions are included, the variable setup ensures the few missions are not going to be identical, leading to increased replayability.

Although the rules are easy to learn, they also are the weakest part of the game. This is because more than a few of the series-standard rules are superseded by the scenario instructions and the differences can dramatically alter play. For instance, standard rule 16.0 EVENT CARDS specify that when a commando force ends its movement, an Event Card is drawn. If there is an objective marker in the space, one Event Card is drawn normally and implemented, then a second Event Card drawn and implemented. This goes hand-in-hand with 23.0 OBJECTIVE MARKERS which specifies that a marker is not revealed until AFTER the two events are played. However, scenario instruction 38.1 Objective Segments & Real Objectives are revealed before drawing an event card and if an Ambush no Event Card is drawn. Elsewhere, standard rule 22.0 KILLED IN ACTION (KIA) which scores panicked and eliminated units is totally changed by scenario instruction 39.9. This change is welcome, but even with this change the ability for the commando player to score the necessary KIA to win is extremely difficult to achieve.

Despite the rules challenges that require careful reading and cross-referencing the first few times thru, Merrill's Maraudersturns out to be a short, enjoyable game that really captures the flavor of commando actions behind enemy lines. Once the rules are understood, the game becomes a deeply narrative experience that can turn out to be quite immersive.

RockyMountainNavy Verdict: MUST PLAY

#WargameWednesday – Close to Home: Battle of Ox Hill

IMG_1759Living in the Mid-Atlantic region means we have many historical places from the Colonial, American Revolution, and American Civil War close at hand. This past weekend, we took a short trip to a very local battlefield. After the trip, I pulled out one of my latest gaming acquisitions, Chantilly: Jackson’s Missed Opportunity 1 September 1862 (Decision Games, 2013). As the Historical Background lays out:

The ensuing battle, misnamed Chantilly for a plantation several miles to the west, was a disjointed, inconclusive affray that petered out in a thunderstorm that evening. But it need not have been so. It must rank as one of the great “lost opportunities” of the war; had Jackson got onto Pope’s line of communication, the result might very well have been the destruction of an entire Union army.

My copy of Chantilly is part of the Mini Games series that comes in a ziplock bag.  As the DG site tells us:

The Mini Game Series provides a variety of introductory games that are designed to be played in about an hour. The eras covered are: 19th century, Ancient, WWII and Modern. Each game is an 11 x 17 inch map sheet, 40 counters and a rules sheet. The mini game series takes only minutes to learn and once one game is played, players can immediately play other scenarios with the same standard rules.

The rules for Chantilly are based on DG’s Musket & Saber Quick Play Mini Game System Rules (4 pages) with 2 pages of scenario exclusive rules.

After several rules run-thru and two plays, I must admit I am disappointed with the game.

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Game map covers an almost identical area – though in a much smaller format

Component-wise the game is fine, and at the $9.95 price point is a great value. The rules complexity are a bit above pure introductory-level. BGG rates the complexity for Chantilly at 1.67 out of 5; a rating I agree with.

It is also that very simplicity of the rules that gets the game in trouble. Chantilly obviously uses a cut-version of a larger rules set. This leads to several issues that make gameplay challenging and lessens the gaming experience.

The first item that jumped out to me is F. Lee’s Cavalry Brigade. This unit has a Combat Factor (CF) of (2) – that is – a 2 in parentheses. NOWHERE in the Game System or Scenario rules is this explained. Luckily the question was asked on BGG, and a blessed soul referenced the full-series rules for the answer (“A parenthesized CF is halved when attacking”).

The FLee cavalry counter also confused me because not only did it have the parentheses around the CF, but it didn’t have a Charge Factor as seen on the counter example in 9.1 Cavalry Units. As I was studying 9.0 Cavalry, I read through 9.3 Squares with mounting anger because there were no square markers in the countermix! It was not until you get to the end of scenario rule 12.2 The Scenario that you discover that all the rules study is for nought:

All standard rules apply except 9.0. Treat the lone calvary unit (FLee) like an infantry unit for all purposes. There are no charges or squares.

The next part of the game system that I am unsure of is the combat results. There are six possible combat results:

  • Ar/Dr = Retreat. All units either disrupt or retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ac/Dc = Retreat Check. If MC [Morale Check] failed, treat as Ar/Dr. If MC passed, apply parenthesized result.
  • Ax/Dx = Retreat or Loss. If MC passed, unit may take a loss. If MC failed, or if passed and player chooses, all units disrupted and retreat 1-3 hexes.
  • Ex = Exchange. Each side loses step.
  • NE = No Effect.

I’m not going to show the CRT here, but suffice it to say that outright killing a unit (Ex result) is very hard. Indeed, it appears on the CRT only as the parenthesized result of the Ac/Dc – which is a bit counterintuitive to me. Most units have a Morale Rating of 4, meaning they must roll a 4 or less to PASS their morale check. But in the case of the Ac/Dc result, “passing” your morale check is BAD (Step Loss) whereas “failing” your morale check is good (retreat).

One other way to kill a unit is by Standard Rule 7.8 Rout. Basically, if a retreating unit has an Unsafe Line of Retreat (buried in 7.6 Retreats & the SLR [Safe Line of Retreat]) then it routs per rule 7.8.

Even the victory conditions are confusing. The scenario rules for Chantilly have conditions for either a Confederate or Union Major Victory. Scenario rule 14.3 Minor Victory states, ‘If neither player wins a major victory, calculate the VP scored by each. The player with the larger total wins a minor victory.” So I went hunting for how to score VP. Scoring VP is found in the Standard rule 3.4 Winning the Game which states, in part, “Unless otherwise specified in the exclusive rules, each player scores one VP for each enemy unit or leader eliminated, two VP for each enemy unit or leader captured.”

Capturing a leader is found at the end of Standard rule 10.0 Leaders while captured units are buried (again) at the end of 7.6 Retreats & the SLR in the discussion of No Line of Retreat.

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Situation after Second Player (Union) Combat Phase Turn 5 – Ferrero’s Brigade of Reno’s 2nd Division gallantly holds off the Confederate onslaught. Poe’s brigade with two batteries of artillery has retreated out of the picture.

All these rules nuances I discovered over the course of several plays. Yes, the answers in most cases are in the rules – once you find them. In DG’s effort to “standardize” as much as possible, they actually created confusion with poorly cross-referenced or formatted rules. They are not alone in this problem, I pointed outs similar issues with newer games from GMT and C3I such as Plan Orange and South Pacific.

In Scenario rule 16.0 Designer’s Notes, Chris Perello points out:

There were three major design issues that needed to be addressed in this game. First was the omnipresent mud. That was accounted for by reducing the movement allowances for all units, dropping it to four instead of the system-norm of six.

Second was the need to slow the Confederates. If they retain full initiative throughout the game they will steamroll the Federals in the early going.

The “full initiative” reference is to Scenario rule 15.0 Confederate Initiative, which is a mechanic for determining each turn if the Confederates have full movement or half movement. If the result of a d6 roll is less than the turn number, the Confederates have full movement. This rule is needed because of Standard rule 4.3 March Movement which allows a unit that starts and remains at least two hexes away from an enemy unit the entire movement to DOUBLE its movement allowance (meaning that when the Confederates have half-movement, March Movement allows them full movement – got it?). This allows units to fly across the map at a rate faster than rush-hour traffic on I-66 in the same area today. I am not sure Chris actually met his design challenge. I might try a variation where rule 4.3 is suspended just to see what it’s impact is on play is.

All this seems to me a lot to think about and write about a very short and simple game. But that’s my point; what is a short and should be a simple game is actually needlessly complex. I feel that the designer and developer looked at the Battle of Chantilly (nee Ox Hill) and thought that with only a few small changes it could work. It does, to a point less than what they probably hoped. Like the actual battle, Chantilly is a game of lost opportunities because of disjointed rules.

 

#TSAO These Stars Are Ours! A setting for #CephesusEngine or #TravellerRPG

 

 

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Courtesy spacecockroach.blogspot.com
These Stars Are Ours!  (TSAO) is a tabletop RPG Sci-Fi setting for the Cepheus Engine or 2D6 OGL SCIFI (nee Traveller SRD). TSAO is a complete Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU) small-ship setting that offers rich background, interesting aliens, and many adventure seeds for the Referee. Though not without a few warts, TSAO shows the great potential of Cepheus Engine used in a setting beyond the classic Third Imperium.  TSAO may be the first setting to take full advantage of the Cepheus Engine rules from the ground up and joins Gypsy Knight Games The Clement Sector and Zozer Games Orbital 2100 as yet another example of the vibrant Cepheus Engine community of rules and settings.

 

 

The setting of TSAO is a logical outgrowth of 20th century UFO conspiracies:

Set in 2260 AD – two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. (DriveThruRPG)

TSAO is delivered in a 209 page pdf (also now available in a POD option). This meaty setting is explained over six chapters and two appendixes.

 

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Courtesy spicapublishing.co.uk
Chapter 1 – The United Terran Republic provides much of the history and setting background. Included is not just a recap of events to date, but also many groups or factions or agencies that the player characters (PCs) could interact with. Psionics has a role in this setting. Given the assumed Tech Level (TL) of 11-12 (with some military at 13), TSAO (like Omer Golan-Joel’s earlier Outer Veil setting) is a high-tech but small-ship universe.

 

Chapter 2 – Aliens describes the humans neighbors, opponents, and allies(?). In the space of just a few pages many races are fully described and (again) are rich with adventure seeds and story hooks for development.

Chapter 3 – Characters and Careers is a great example of how to take the basic character generation system in Cepheus Engine and stretch it to showcase it’s full potential. PCs can be the default Humans or select from several alien races. Careers are taken from 13 civilian careers in Cephesus Engine or an from the 20 new ones in TSAO, including seven (7) alien “careers.”

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Courtesy spacecockroach.blogspot.com
Chapter 4 – Starships showcases alien saucers and Terra’s ships along with a few other alien constructs. Art is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead and others. Make sure to look at the 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport (and especially the Decommissioned Shaka-class Transport) for a not-to-subtle nod to Serenity and the Firefly-class.

Chapter 5 – Terran Borderlands is combination gazetteer and Referee’s Information. The worlds of Known Space is detailed, along with many story hooks and adventure seeds. The usual World Generation process from Cephesus Engine is expanded upon here with an Expanded Universal World Profile that adds a bit more detail but also a whole many more ideas that PCs or Referees can grab onto.

Chapter 6 – Patrons describes 12 Patrons that might engage the PCs. The chapter is not only a grouping of ready-made adventures, but also provides insight into the setting as viewed by the authors.

Appendix A – Terran News Agency Dispatches, February 2260 is a call back to the Traveller News Service snippets that were a staple of Classic Traveller and its successors. Again, these short news items can be the start of yet more adventures!

Appendix B – Sources of Inspiration, Literary and Otherwise is TSAO‘s Appendix N. I always look over these lists to see what inspirations the authors took and to see what I may want to add to my reading/viewing.

The last part of TSAO is an index. This is one of the best indexes I have ever seen in a book. However…the pdf is not cross-linked. This highlights some of my pet peeves with so many pdf products; page numbering and no linking. TSAO is paginated like most books, with page 1 being the interior title page. Unfortunately, this is “page 3” of the pdf, meaning if using your pdf page search you will always be three pages off from your target! The publisher could of avoided (or lessened the impact) of this issue if the Table of Contents (or even that great Index?) was linked.

Production quality is very good. Compared to Stellagama’s previous The Space Patrol I can see definite improvement. Get the linking and page numbering issues nailed and I will likely have nothing to complain about….

The authors call TSAO the first in the Visions of Empire (VoE) space opera settings. If TSAO is any indication, the VoE series will be settings rich in background using (and stretching) the Cepheus Engine rules to their finest.

 


These Stars Are Ours!  By Omer Golan-Joel, Richard Hazelwood, and Josh Peters. Stellagama Publishing, 2017.

#RPGThursday Retrospective – Prime Directive 1st Edition (Task Force Games, 1993)

In terms of my RPG history, I now refer to the the time between Traveller:2000 and Prime Directive (1st Ed) as my “RPG Interregnum.” Although there were seven years between he publishing dates of the two products, the reality is that I didn’t buy PD1 earlier than the 1994-5 timeframe (and possibly even later) after an interval of at least eight years. PD1, along with Traveller 4 (T4) and The Babylon Project were to be my only 1990’s RPG purchases.

Prime Directive (1st Edition) was the first official RPG for the Star Fleet Universe (SFU). The SFU is not “true Star Trek” and instead focused around Task Force Games’ flagship Star Fleet Battles. This meant the SFU was much more militaristic than the “official” Star Trek setting. PD1 reflected this difference, but at the same time tried to bridge it with, IMHO, only limited success.

PD1 starts off with a short story. For those familiar with the SFB support zine, Captain’s Log, the style is familiar. The story itself is a hostage rescue mission and, honestly, is a bit cheesy in dialogue.

The rules start off with an introduction to the SFU, important background material and probably very confusing to mainstream Trekkies that came in looking for Kirk and the Enterprise.

Character generation is an 11-step process that starts out with selection of race and recording initial characteristics. Each character is then assigned to a Service Division and gains associated “basic” skills. To this point, I was comfortable because chargen was very Classic Traveller (CT)-like. The next steps reflect the military aspects of the setting, with Seniority and Professional/Heroic Reputation being determined. I found it interesting that the designers worried about the impact of Seniority and ranks, to the point they added a sidebar note:

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE TO PLAYERS

Prime Directive is a Role-Playing Game set in a military situation, and as such, the concepts of rank and chain of command are important to establish the “feel” of the Star Fleet setting. However, something to remember is that YOU ARE PLAYING THIS GAME TO HAVE FUN! After a hard week of class or at the office, the last thing that someone wants during a game session is to be ordered around by his “Superior Officer”. The point of rank and chain of command is to structure the relationships and responsibilities of characters, not to give one player the right to control every  situation, responding to every argument with the stock phrase, “Hey, who has the highest Seniority Rating, anyway?” No player character will every bring another player character up on charges of insubordination. (Of course, mouthing off to superior Non-Player Characters, like the Briefing Officer or the Ship’s Captain, is another matter entirely.) – p. 25

At this point, the PCs are very “stock” and not very different from one another save for some Service Division skills. The players can now breathe life into their characters by purchasing skills. Once complete, the final step is to derive characteristics. To assist in understanding, a comprehensive example is provided.

The next section is the core mechanic discussion. A basic Skill Task in PD1 requires the player to roll a number of d6 equal to the average of their Skill + Characteristic. A natural roll of 6 is rerolled with the reroll -1 ADDED to the original 6. (I think this was the first time I ran into the concept of “exploding” die rolls.) Each die roll is compared to a series of “Tricodes” for the skill attempted, which in turn give a Success Level (SL). To assist in understanding, the following (not so short) example is given:

For example: Peltier is tracking renegades across a wilderness hillside. His tricode for Tracking is, after all mods, a 3/5/9. Peltier rolls 5 dice and gets the following numbers: 1, 2, 3, 6, 11. [My note – that last roll is only possible with an exploding die] His roll of 1 and 2 do not meet the tricode for Minimal Success, and if they had been the best he rolled, then he would of Botched the task, probably with disastrous results. His roll of 3, however, DOES meet the tricode for Minimal Success, so he escapes the horrors of Botching. If this had been the best Peltier had rolled, then he would know that the renegades HAD been by that spot, but he would have no idea how long ago it had been nor any idea of the direction in which they had continued. But, his roll of 6 meets the tricode for Moderate Success, so he finds out even more. If these had been his best rolls, then Peltier would know that the renegades passed this way within the last hour and they were headed up the slope. However, Peltier is an expert tracker, and so it comes as no surprise that even in these difficult circumstances he manages to completely succeed in this task. His roll of 11 is well over the tricode of 9 that he needs for Complete success. With this level, he also learns that only TWO of the renegades passed by here, and that one of them is slightly wounded. Knowing this, he can follow the pair up the hill or back to track to (hopefully) find the spot where the group broke up and start to trail the others. – p. 39

The next section, Actions and Initiative, goes hand-in-hand with the core mechanic. PD1 asks players to determine a Level of Action, which is a test that results in a SL determining WHAT the player can do. Once the LoA has been determined, player determine Initiative, or the WHEN of the action. Finally, players and the GM must figure out the “Time in Combat” (TIC) or “Time out of Combat” (TOC) which tells them HOW LONG the action took.

At this point, PD1 tries to be more dramatic. With a COMPLETE success for the Level of Action test, the players can make a Complex Action.  As defined by the rules, a complex action allows for more dramatic choices:

A Complex Action is just that, a complex series of actions that can be considered as several linked simple actions. A Complex Action is anything that can reasonably be summed up in a simple phrase like: “I run up to the Klingon and kick the disruptor out of his hand.” or “I activate the (already armed and sequenced) self-destruct module and run to the transporter pad.” or “I grab a new power pack from the satchel and slap it into my phaser as I turn to face the buckling door.” The pro forma limit is ‘I do something’ and then ‘I do something else’ (usually while someone else stands by, astonished that you could get away with all that before they could react). These two actions do NOT necessarily have to be directly related, as do those in Simple action, although they could be if you wished.

A Complex Action lets you grab the Ambassador’s daughter and swing from the chandelier, sweeping just beyond the reach of the Orion Pirates below, to the safety of the balcony beyond or make two attacks on an opponent before he can react at all! All in all, Complex Actions let you get away with murder, completely baffling those poor slobs who are slogging along at Minimal or Simple LoAs. – p. 42

Actions and Initiative ends with another important sidebar:

IMPORTANT NOTE TO BOTH THE GM AND PLAYERS: The spirit of the Action and Initiative rules in Prime Directive are not meant to be a meticulously detailed series of minutely considered “war game moves”. Rather, the designers hope that the players (and the GMs) will paint their actions with a wider, more colorful brush. Instead of thinking: “Hmm, could an Olympic athlete REALLY do all that in four seconds,” you should think “Have my favorite SF/Adventure movies ever had someone doing this?” – p. 45

Skill are very combat-focused, as expected in this very militaristic setting.  I find it interesting that Leadership skills include what is these days are commonly called “social combat” and that Discipline-related skills is where the psionic skills are collected. Overall, there are 11 Skill areas with 85 skills!

The combat section is complicated; so complicated that it actually has two examples and an alternative combat system over 27 pages. Part of the combat section bloat is that it also includes weapons (commonly found in other RPGs in an equipment or ironmongry section). At its heart, combat is broken down into four steps: Time, Position, Attack, and Defend. The first combat example, 5.2, is presented in a highly narrative manner with little reference to actual die rolls. The second example, 5.27, is presented as an Advanced Combat Example which replays the first example but with all the die rolls included. Finally, and most interesting to me, is rule 5.28 SIMPLIFIED COMBAT SYSTEM:

The combat system in Prime Directive is often both intense and complex. There are a great many things which the players can do, and the rules must account for all of these. Veteran players of RPGs will easily adapt to the system, while new players may find it hard to deal with all at once.

To make the entire game more accessible to new players, we have included a simplified system for combat. The entire rulebook is written for the more intense Veterans Combat System (a term you will not find anywhere in the rules except on this page). The ‘Simplified Combat System’ or SCS is contained entirely on this one page of the rules, and the designers have chosen not to clutter the game with hundreds of references (one in virtually every rule) defining how that rule would work if the Simplified Combat System was in force. It will be obvious, in each case, what to do. – p 93

Buried within the SCS is one of the few narrative play elements found in this entire rules set. Simplification #6: HEROIC DAMAGE SURVIVAL, allows the players to spend one point of Heroic Reputation to reduce the damage in a Lethal attack to one point less than it takes to kill them outright. So intense is combat that Healing gets it own section.

Advancement and Awards is another interesting section, where players are evaluated and reviewed. Buried within this section is one other narrative element which allows character to use a Heroic Reputation feat to convert an ordinary result into an Extraordinary Success. I also like the section on Wheedling for points.

The rules finish off with an Equipment sections more racial backgrounds and NPCs, and two adventures. There is also a SFB scenario that (amazingly) can be linked to an RPG session:

(SD1.47) LINK TO PRIME DIRECTIVE: Do not use the SFB boarding party system. Simply transport the Prime Team (SD1.49) to the derelict using transporters and conduct actions inside the derelict as per the Prime Directive game system. Each “action” in Prime Directive consumes two impulse(s) in Star Fleet Battles. This scenario cannot be played without Prime Directive. – p. 172

For the even more masochistic, a variant rule was given:

(SD1.62) Have the Prime Team play their battle in a separate room, with the Game Master advising each group when it can proceed to the next action/impulse (keeping the two groups at the same time-point, with the Prime Team moving first in each case). Because of the jamming, there is no communication between the two groups except notification that the “beacon” has been activated. – p. 172

What I Thought of It Then – Given I was a huge SFB player, I really wanted to play Prime Directive in the SFU. However, I remember finding character generation to be a real chore, and the limited scope of play (the military setting with characters in Star Fleet) seemed to reduce adventure options. Most importantly, I couldn’t wrap my head around the whole task resolution system of nD6 versus a Tricode. Finally, I totally missed the Simplified Combat System and instead tried to make sense out of the Veteran Combat System, even as I struggled with the core mechanic or how Levels of Action, Initiative, and Time interacted.

What I Think of It Now – These days I pay a lot more attention to the core mechanic and actually study them. Today I see, and understand, the PD1 task resolution system. I can see how the designers tried to make die rolls determine a Success Level. I now understand how Level of Action is the WHAT can be done, Initiative is WHEN the action happens, and Time is HOW LONG the action takes. With this understanding, I can better grasp the Veterans Combat System. At the same time, I now see (and prefer) the alternative Simplified Combat System.

That said, the Tricode approach is a hot mess. Each skill has a unique tricode demanding it be noted or easily referenced. This in turn demands a detailed character sheet clearly noting Characteristics and Skills and nD6 to roll and Tricodes. The GM needs easy access to the many Tricodes and numerous modifiers and…well, I think you get the point.

These days I also prefer to have more narrative elements in my RPG, and in that way PD1 is weak. While Level of Action determines WHAT can be done the player influence is subject to the whims of  die rolls (i.e. less player agency). Indeed, there are only a few areas where player agency is given any attention, and those usually revolve around a very limited use of the Heroic Reputation points. Heroic Reputation could of been PD1‘s game currency, but the designers don’t take the concept to the natural limits of that thought.

From an RPG-perspective, I give Prime Directive (1st Edition) Totally Subjective Game Rating (Scale of 1-5):

  • System Crunch = 4 (Crunchy, especially for combat)
  • Simulationist = 3 (Wants to be dramatic, but rules don’t often support)
  • Narrativism = 2 (Few rules support narrative play)

Prime Directive (1st Edition), Copyright (c) 1993, Task Force Games.

#ClementSector : The Rules #RPG

Clement Sector: The Rules – An Alternate Cepheus Engine Universe; Watts, Johnson, and Kemp; Gypsy Knights Games, 2016. PDF $14.99 (accessed 22 Oct 2016)

Clement Sector: The Rules (CSTR) is Gypsy Knights Games rules set for playing in their Clement Sector setting. CSTR is an Open Game License (OGL)-based set of rules deriving from Jason “Flynn” Kemp’s Samardan Press Cepheus Engine System Reference Document. CSTR gives referees and players a complete Cepheus Engine-based rules set tailored for the unique aspects of the Clement Sector Setting.

CSTR is a 217-page product loosely organized in a similar fashion to the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document.  The first section, The Basics, introduces the now-familiar 2D6 classic sci-fi task resolution system of roll 2D6>8. In a difference from Cepheus Engine, CSTR defines a natural roll of 12 as an “Exceptional Success” and a natural role of 2 as an “Exceptional Failure.” This can be a bit confusing because at the same time the usual Cepheus Engine “Effect” definitions of “Exceptional Success” and “Exceptional Failure” are also retained.

Character generation is laid out in the next section with an extensive 26-step checklist. In another break from strictly following Cepheus Engine, characteristics are generated by rolling 3d6 and keeping the best two die. Chargen in CSTR is of the expanded kind found in Mercenary or High Guard of the older Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition. The result is a more robust character with more skills than a comparable one generated using solely Cepheus Engine. Setting-tailored details are also here, such as Aging (Clement Sector postulates extended human lifespans) and a tailored skill list and cascade. To assist in understanding chargen, an extensive (5+page) example is given. What is NOT provided in CSTR are the career tables. For Clement Sector careers, CSTR calls for the use of a second product, the Clement Sector Core Setting Book Second Edition.

The Equipment section includes robots and other vehicles. These can be a bit harder to understand because nowhere in CSTR nor Cepheus Engine is vehicle construction defined or otherwise given. The OGL Traveller Vehicle Handbook SRD does exist (being released in 2008 along with the base Traveller SRD) but Cepheus Engine and CSTR avoid going into that area. The lack of fully defined vehicle rules does not make the game unplayable, but does limit the expandability of this section.

Personal Combat is very extensive. As envisioned by the setting designers, personal and vehicle combat is a major aspect of the Clement Sector setting and as a result the combat rules are fully fleshed out.

Space Travel in earlier generations of rules would be known as Spacecraft Operations; here the unique FTL drive of the setting, the Zimm Drive, is explained. There is a very nice rule included for Characters and the Law which adds detail for characters encountering law enforcement as well as arrest and sentencing. Trade and Commerce is relatively unchanged from Cepheus Engine and focuses on speculative trading, another core component of the Clement Sector setting.

Space Combat is another extensive section. Technically composed of three major rules sections, the first (basic) Space Combat is the CSTR version of Classic Traveller Adventure-class ship combat with its focus on characters. The second section, Advanced Space Combat, is the CSTR version of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition High Guard for Capital ships. The third section is an Appendix that adds setting-specific rules unique to the Clement Sector, most importantly a Railgun Spinal Mount.

Like character generation, the Space Travel and Space Combat is notable for what once again is NOT included in CSTR. For ship construction (small craft, Adventure-class, and Capital ships) CSTR directs you to the Clement Sector book The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture Second Edition.

Environments and Hazards is a very straight-forward port of Cepheus Engine. Worlds provides the rules for generating the Universal World Profile (UWP) but, given that much of the Clement Sector setting is already defined, CSTR directs readers to the Subsector-series of books (like Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia 2nd Edition). Planetary Encounters are detailed, though Patron Encounters CSTR recommends the 21 Plots-series of books (starting off with 21 Plots 2nd Edition). Similar, Starship Encounters has very generic ship descriptions, but for more details it is recommended to look at the Ships of the Clement Sector-series (like Ships of the Clement Sector 13: Strikemaster Class Brig). CSTR concludes with Refereeing the Game.

Art throughout CSTR appears to have been taken from previous Clement Sector publications. Especially notable is the ship art by Ian Stead. Character art is what I term “CGI poser” and fortunately avoids being too cartoonish; instead it seems to communicate the setting as envisioned by the authors in a fairly effective manner.

Although CSTR has an long Table of Contents, it lacks an Index. The pdf version is also not bookmarked, making someone like myself dependent on my tablet reader search function. I also wish that Skill or Task definitions were consistently called out. For instance, matching velocity and boarding a hostile ship (a highly likely event in the Pirate-infested Clement Sector) is communicated in the rules as follows:

If the enemy ship is still moving, then the prospective boarders must match the target’s velocity and dock with it (a Difficult (-2) Pilot task), …. (p. 106)

This could alternatively be formatted – and more easily recognized – using the Task Description Format (p. 43) as something like:

Match Velocities and Dock with Hostile Ship. Pilot, Dexterity, 1d6 minutes, Difficult (-2).

I found it interesting that at least one setting-specific alteration to Cepheus Engine was not included in CSTR. Given Clement Sector has no nobility structure, the Social characteristic is used to reflect wealth and class. Tailored rules are found in the Clement Sector Core Setting Book on p. 195. Whereas setting-distinctive rules like Aging and the Zimm Drive were included in CSTR (as well as the Core Setting Book), the equally setting-distinctive SOC and Wealth rules were not included. Was this a simple oversight or clever marketing plan?

Clement Sector: The Rules accomplishes what it sets out to do; provide a setting-tailored version of Cepheus Engine to maximize play in the Clement Sector setting. Unfortunately, it is not a “one-stop” collection, needing to be expanded by the Clement Sector Core Setting Book for character generation and the Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture for ship construction. To help referees and players, Gypsy Knight Games offers a Core Bundle of pdf’s for $38.37 on drivethrurpg.com which includes the three necessary books along with the Introduction to the Clement Sector (also available as a free separate download and a great intro overview of the Clement Sector setting – well worth the look!). This is a very good deal compared to Mongoose Traveller Second Edition. To get the equivalent in rules material in Mongoose Traveller Second Edition one needs to buy the Core Rulebook (pdf $29.99) and High Guard (pdf $29.99). But this still leaves you without any “setting.” To get something similar to the Clement Sector Core Setting Book one might have to invest in a sourcebook for the Spinward Marches – once it becomes available.

Can one play in Clement Sector without CSTR? You certainly could use the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document or the soon-to-be out-of-print Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition rules in place of CSTR. The disadvantage to that approach is that one loses out on the collection of setting-tailored rules CSTR provides; instead you would have to constantly be making home-brew adjustments to fit rules to setting. To me, it is far easier to get the items in the Clement Sector Core Bundle and start adventuring!

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Clement Sector: The Rules; Copyright (c) 2016 Gypsy Knights Games.

Cepheus Engine: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Game System. Copyright (c) 2016 Samardan Press.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1977-2016 Far Future Enterprises.”