2E Design Journal #5

Check here for updates and discussion about the new edition of the Victory by Any Means Campaign System.
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2E Design Journal #5

Postby Charles Lewis » Thu Jun 11, 2009 8:02 pm

You requested it! Hereit is!
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Postby nys » Wed Jun 17, 2009 8:56 pm

I'm pretty new to VBAM. I own the 1st Ed but have never played it (for probably the same reasons why a 2nd Ed is being made).

Anyways, not to get too heavy into semantics, but CSCR sounds more like a CTCR (Campaign Tactical Combat Resolution) to me. Especially so with the added decision making embedded into the rounds and sub-phases.

Additional player decisions are a good thing, but I'm concerned that adding a bunch of sequential decision making that spans across each battle will break the possibility of playing via email. For example: having to pause the battle and send the player an email asking where they want to assign Long Range Fire damage they accumulated before moving onto Medium Range Fire.

A tactical combat system might be a good facet of the game, but I'd still like to see a strategic one too. Something that involves making a batch of interesting front-loaded decisions that define the terms and conditions of the battles.

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Postby Gareth_Perkins » Thu Jun 18, 2009 6:50 am

nys wrote:A tactical combat system might be a good facet of the game, but I'd still like to see a strategic one too. Something that involves making a batch of interesting front-loaded decisions that define the terms and conditions of the battles.

I have to say that I agree with you,

IIRC Jay has previously mentioned that he might include something like that,

But that aside (as I may be wrong) VBAM is easily modular enough that you can add your own system,

I'm currently coding up a homebrew system of my own (which will hopefully work with VBAM2 as well). My idea is pretty simple, the focus of it being C&C and setting priorities.


Essentially I have discarded the CSCR in its entirety, battles are defined by Duration (Long, Medium and Short) and Intensity (High, Medium and Low). Damage is figured by totalling AS scores, multiplied by the middle roll on 3D6 (i.e.: a roll of 1,3,6 results in a 3), and a couple of factors (for duration, intensity, surprise, etc). I am trying to balance the game so that a vessel with an AS of X will on average deal X damage across a Medium-length battle with Medium Intensity.

This damage is then distributed between targets by die rolls according to each ships "percentage chance of being hit" with your total fleets chance of being hit adding up to 100%. At the battle start you assign Targeting Priorities and Defensive Priorities to Escorts, Cruisers, etc as Low, Medium or High. Target Priority determines what you want to shoot, defensive priority determines which of your vessels you want to protect (both are relative - there's no point in assigning high to everything).

If you assign a Low defensive priority to Escorts and High to Cruisers, then your escorts have a higher percentage chance of being the "victim" of damage than your Cruisers. If the enemy assigns a High target priority to your Escorts then they get an even higher percentage chance, etc. Vessels with a formation score get hit less, etc.

Damage is distributed like this in quantities enough to cripple a ship until it is all gone (as you are doing this, crippled ships either increase or decrease their hit chance for later "rolls" depending upon mission Intensity - this means that in Low Intensity battles you get more cripples, in High Intensity battles you get more kills).

There are a couple of extra factors I haven't discussed. The flags CR can be moderated by some factors, and "Out of Control" squadrons lose 1/2 AS, slightly increased chance of their ships being hit, and use up less damage to be crippled or destroyed (Out of Control squadrons are determined by the squadrons average defensive importance). And of course flights which I have some ideas for. Intensity and Duration are determined by a combination of the type of battle (Pursuit missions tend to be long and low-intensity, etc) and the wishes of the players.

Virtually no decisions after the battle starts, but a pretty boring system to roll out. That's why I'm coding it up to run on a PC (perfect for pbem, especially as I'm using .csv files for the input - so data can be cut-and-pasted from Excel).


However, I got distracted by building an Admiral-level system generator (higher priority I'm afraid) - Admiral-level systems are great, but it takes ages to generate them (especially in an exploration game where you need lots of them). That is nearly finished (just the lunar trait table and cleaning up the interface to go),
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Postby Charles Lewis » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:28 pm

nys wrote:I'm pretty new to VBAM. I own the 1st Ed but have never played it (for probably the same reasons why a 2nd Ed is being made).

Anyways, not to get too heavy into semantics, but CSCR sounds more like a CTCR (Campaign Tactical Combat Resolution) to me. Especially so with the added decision making embedded into the rounds and sub-phases.

Additional player decisions are a good thing, but I'm concerned that adding a bunch of sequential decision making that spans across each battle will break the possibility of playing via email. For example: having to pause the battle and send the player an email asking where they want to assign Long Range Fire damage they accumulated before moving onto Medium Range Fire.

A tactical combat system might be a good facet of the game, but I'd still like to see a strategic one too. Something that involves making a batch of interesting front-loaded decisions that define the terms and conditions of the battles.


With the exception of resolving hits after each round, pretty much all the decision making is front-loaded. Many of those decisions could also be spelled in S.O.P.s for the CM.

That said, it is important to keep in mind that VBAM 2E is still in the pre-alpha stage of development and everything you've seen so far is subject to change.

If you've only ever read VBAM and not played it, it can seem daunting and nearly over-whelming as you try to comprehend all of the various options and how they work together. Trust me, once you actually are in a game, it all falls together and makes sense AND the vast majority of those rules don't come into play at the same time. It's really not as bad as it looks.

As for the comment about the new CSCR being a tactical engine, well it's not. Compare the decision points and effort involved with the new CSCR with pretty much any actual tactical tabletop space combat game. If you want to argue semantics, it could be said that the new CSCR should be called the COCR - Campaign Operational Combat Resolution, as there far more decision points than a purely strategic aspect (we could always gin up a CRT - Combat Resolution Table like the halcyon days of Avalon Hill!), but isn't nearly as fiddly as an actual tactical engine. The intent is to tone down the all-or-nothing aspects of the 1E CSCR while improving the overall narrative flow of the system.

That said, the modular nature of VBAM easily allows you to slot in your resolution system or to slip any tweaks to make your game experience the way you want it. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to season to taste. :)
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Postby Charles Lewis » Thu Jun 18, 2009 7:30 pm

Gareth_Perkins wrote:[Virtually no decisions after the battle starts, but a pretty boring system to roll out. That's why I'm coding it up to run on a PC (perfect for pbem, especially as I'm using .csv files for the input - so data can be cut-and-pasted from Excel).


Sounds like a great idea. Please feel free to share when it's ready. If it turns out as well as you hoped, there's also the possiblity of it becoming an offical optional system. :) Sounds like it would be very useful for large PBEM games, like Tyrel's old Starlight campaign.
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Postby MarkG88 » Thu Jun 18, 2009 8:31 pm

Charles Lewis wrote:
As for the comment about the new CSCR being a tactical engine, well it's not. Compare the decision points and effort involved with the new CSCR with pretty much any actual tactical tabletop space combat game. If you want to argue semantics, it could be said that the new CSCR should be called the COCR - Campaign Operational Combat Resolution, as there far more decision points than a purely strategic aspect (we could always gin up a CRT - Combat Resolution Table like the halcyon days of Avalon Hill!), but isn't nearly as fiddly as an actual tactical engine. The intent is to tone down the all-or-nothing aspects of the 1E CSCR while improving the overall narrative flow of the system.

That said, the modular nature of VBAM easily allows you to slot in your resolution system or to slip any tweaks to make your game experience the way you want it. Everyone is welcome and encouraged to season to taste. :)


I second Charlie's comments. CSCR 1.0 is an operational level combat system (with monthly turns but combat respesent a small fraction of the turn length). A strategic system would warrant turns that were 3, 4, 6 or 12 months long (something I've been working on infrequently the past year or so). I'm definitely interested in anyone's concept for strategic scale space warfare so post away!

I've had the reverse scale probem with an hypothetical world war three game I'm working on: my combat system drifted towards the tactical end of the scale while I'm trying to make it operational level (3-5 day turn lengths), without using the venerable CRT from Avalon Hill or the current trend (roll to hit), it has been a challenge I must say.

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Postby nys » Thu Jun 18, 2009 9:58 pm

Well, it wasn't my intention to start a digression into semantics, but I do feel the need to justify myself a little bit. :) I considered it tactical solely because I was focused on how the new system involves making decisions as to what ships will attack what target and at what range on a round-by-round basis. Overall, I would agree that it is on the operational level.

On an unrelated note, I envision two major types of groups of players: those that meet in person and those that play via email or forums.

The first group probably is meeting in person because they are replacing the CSCR with an actual tactical tabletop space combat game. They have no use for the CSCR.

What about the second group? Will the CSCR be feasible via email? Is it being designed and playtested with that in mind? Is modifying the system not just encouraged but expected in order to get it to work in such a format? Perhaps an interesting metric would be to compare how many emails it takes to resolve an encounter using the new system versus the old.

Maybe my concept of two major groups is flawed?

Just to clarify, I'm asking these questions in an attempt to be helpful, not to be passive aggressive. :)

As far as the intent of the CSCR is concerned, I would think that amount of player decision points and the all-or-nothing aspects of the 1E would be mutually exclusive. One could presumably have a resolution process with no decision points (other than the initial setup) that is capable of generating interesting and varied results.

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Postby Charles Lewis » Fri Jun 19, 2009 2:58 pm

The vast majority (probably 85%+) of VBAM games are played via email, so that is a facet very much on our minds as we progress on 2E. My experience is that the fast games manage about a turn a week, so there is plenty of time in all that for some back and forth here and there when a battle pops up.

That's not to say we're ignoring this concern. You are not the first to mention it. While we're pretty happy with the overall draft of the new CSCR at this point, it hasn't hit even Alpha playtesting, so it may yet prove too cumbersome and get reworked. Our initial tests have been quite positive, but we've not actually reach the point where we can try some full-on actual games to make sure all the various interactions both in the system as a whole, as well as the CSCR, are working as intended.

The 1E CSCR was all-or-nothing not because of the decision points, which are many, but because the system as a whole is very bloody, and doesn't model anything less than decisive battle very well. We are definitely working on a system that models low-intensity conflict better. One of our objectives is an environment that allows for border conflicts to simmer for a while before they boil over or get resolved without automatically degenerating into full-scale total war. The CSCR needs to support that, as well, and the 1E version didn't.
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Postby mriddle » Fri Jun 19, 2009 3:25 pm

One thing to remember on the number of decision points is that some games will have people in multiple time zones. So getting answers from 2 players on one question is can easily take a day..

I like the idea that the relationship between two powers limits the intensity of encounters.

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Postby nys » Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:08 pm

I'm getting some mixed signals. The blog suggests an eagerness for feedback but I'm getting the impression that the repeated mentions of the current stage of development is just a polite way of saying "your feedback is not desirable at this time."

I didn't think my high level comments were inappropriate for something that has not yet been tested. I didn't even come close to touching on the nitty-gritty stuff, like suggesting the use of the more modern terms for electronic warfare (electronic attack and electronic protection, instead of ECM and ECCM). I get the impression that if I had, I would just get a thankless response that the lexicon has not been finalized with a pushback of how it has not been tested yet and how I could substitute my own terminology, as if I wasn't already aware of that. :roll:

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Postby Charles Lewis » Mon Jun 22, 2009 3:53 pm

OK, everybody take a deep breath.

nys, you had indicated that you had not actually played a game of VBAM, which put your concerns and comments into a different perspective than one of our hardcore veterans with many games under his belt. This was not meant to be dismissive of your concerns, but a reflection that our experience over the last 5 years since 1E was first published has shown that how the impression of the system to someone who hasn't yet played can often change dramatically after actually running through the mechanics in an actual game.

I was attempting to share some of that with you as well as a broader knowledge of the general VBAM experience, and somehow this has become a situation of bruised feelings - not my intention.

Feedback is indeed encouraged and welcome, but that does not mean we're going to automatically accept all comments and incorporate them as fast as possible. Some will strike one or more of us as a facesmack moment (why didn't we think of that sooner?), or will at least be in our minds as we progress in alpha playtesting. The comments we've received about the new fire phases is very much one of those. If it turns out that this spiffy new idea just doesn't work as well as we'd hoped, or if it works, but seems to be a lot more awkward than intended, we'll be mindful of those concerns posted, and work to improve or even scrap that aspect in favor of something that works better.

Now, if we can all maintain a positive frame of mind going forward, then I can say thank you for the comment, regardless of the original tone and intent, about the use of the terms electronic attack and protection; not only are they more modern in useage, but they're a lot easier to use than ECM and ECCM.
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Postby Tyrel Lohr » Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:11 pm

There has been enough of an outcry against some of the increased details in CSCR 2 (nys is certainly not the first), that we are almost certainly going to provide a Task Force-level (vs. Squadron-level) version of the CSCR so players that use that. The Encounter system will stay the same, but instead of dealing with Squadrons players will deal with Task Forces as a whole.

Once the CSCR 2 is firmed up, we should be able to deconstruct it to fit that mold. The biggest hurdle will be figuring out how Command Rating will slot into the structure; it will probably end up being something similar to Command Rating x Command Unit SIZ = Command Cost worth of units that can fire that turn. Formation Levels would likely translate based on the number of units in the Task Force, using that total as a divisor against the number of Formation Points available.

So, in short, we will almost definitely be providing a simplified version of the CSCR that is more in line with the scope of CSCR 1 for players to use in case they either don't want the extra options or, as in the case of PBEM play, the added weight makes it more time consuming to complete a battle.

Related to this discussion, we might also want to take a look at what elements of the CSCR 2 are problematic to PBEM play so that they can be addressed, whether by a simplified CSCR or by a special set of PBEM rules. Right now, resolving a PBEM battle looks like it would involve the following:

1) Both players simultaneously perform actions in the Command Phase, recording unit activity and Command Actions.

2) Formations and Electronic Warfare. ECCM and EW are the problem children here, requiring a bit of back and forth. For PBEM, this could surely be simplified a bit, or else the effects changed so that the attacking player gets a fixed advantage that they can use/declare during firing (which would be more conducive to PBEM play, as you could then order the use of, say, ECCM to lower Formations when you issue your firing orders, if in conjunction with Directed Damage).

3a) If either force is firing at Long Range, they total their AS/AF, roll for damage, and then allocate it.

3b) If either force is firing at Medium Range, they total their AS/AF, roll for damage, and then allocate it.

3c) If either force is firing at Short Range, they total their AS/AF, roll for damage, and then allocate it.

[You could also rule that Long and Short range are not available in PBEM campaigns, to eliminate these two possibilities. We are also working on possibly just having them go back to be special "attack phases" that only units with those abilities participate in, which would truly make them conditional effects]

4) Any of the other phases afterward are conditional already, and will occur infrequently enough to not be worried about; if it takes an extra email or two to resolve ramming or boarding, that isn't that big of a deal (unless of course you and your opponents are on opposite sides of the planet, but then there will always be issues with that).


In the final equation, however, for truly speedy combat resolution in PBEM games you are left with two options:

1) Let the CM resolve all battles, basing player actions on a battle plan or other orders provided by the players. I have always had to do this, because otherwise players have trouble finding time to coordinate battles.

2) Adopt a PBEM-specific CSCR similar to what Gareth has described, where damage is spread between units with a minimal number of die rolls being required.

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Postby Tyrel Lohr » Mon Jun 22, 2009 4:18 pm

Charles Lewis wrote:OK, everybody take a deep breath.


What if I pass out?

Charles Lewis wrote:If it turns out that this spiffy new idea just doesn't work as well as we'd hoped, or if it works, but seems to be a lot more awkward than intended, we'll be mindful of those concerns posted, and work to improve or even scrap that aspect in favor of something that works better.


That is the very reason that we posted the pre-alpha, working version of the CSCR 2 to the forum for feedback, and all of the feedback (from new and old players alike) has been very helpful. Has it been everything we wanted to hear? No, the reaction wasn't all rainbows and sunshine; but we have gathered (and continue to gather) feedback that I think will help us at least reach a compromise on the level of detail, and/or provide us direction in creating an alternative option for players that want combat to resolve faster with fewer decisions. The combat qualities that each camp is looking for are equally valid.

Charles Lewis wrote:Now, if we can all maintain a positive frame of mind going forward, then I can say thank you for the comment, regardless of the original tone and intent, about the use of the terms electronic attack and protection; not only are they more modern in useage, but they're a lot easier to use than ECM and ECCM.


What? You mean that spelling out Electronic Protection is easier than Electronic Counter-Countermeasures?! :)

Nys has a good point about the names. We starship games seem to be stuck in WWI/WWII in space, both in style and in nomenclature. I will be sure to update the text to Electronic Attack (EA) and Electronic Protection (EP) when I get back in to do my next wave of writing on the rules.

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Postby nys » Mon Jun 22, 2009 7:17 pm

Of course I don't expect you guys to automatically accept all comments and incorporate them as fast as possible. Heck, that's why I stated up front that I haven't played a game of VBAM. I know everything I say should be taken with a grain of salt. :)

What I must confess I got frustrated with is that I was trying to spark a discussion, but I felt it kept getting snuffed out at the mention of the game not being tested yet. I don't mean to put you guys on the defensive over what you've already created. I just think discussion is important because it lends more clarity.

For example, Tyrel, I'm actually *not* of the opinion that combat needs to resolve faster and with fewer decisions. I like the idea of having more decisions and I can't really say one thing or another about the speed as I have not played out a combat. (Just because I suggested the CSCR was more aptly named CTCR does not mean I thought that was a negative thing!) What I am specifically concerned about is the number of "decision phases" (the terminology gets a little rough here) where a CM will have to pause the resolution of the round until he gets additional feedback. I don't have to have played the game to know that if there are too many of these, it won't be easy to play over email.

That doesn't mean I think it is some sort of lost cause though. Now that Tyrel has laid out where the possible problem areas are for PBEM, it certainly looks like something that could be tuned to make PBEM a non-issue.

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Postby teinedraig » Tue Jun 23, 2009 1:03 pm

Can I just say that the new combat system looks great - I am lucky enough to have a group that can play face to face so detail and tactical considerations are important.

For example - the three ranges of enguagement are something I like as it makes for an interetsing tactical balance which then can be reflected across play styles / racial concepts.

It would be interseting to see how the technology items will impact upon / enhance the various elements of the CSCR


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