Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Blue? Green? Red? Refuse? It's time to talk about rules for a new community edition of the VBAM rules!

Tech Era or Tech Level?

Tech Era
6
55%
Tech Level
5
45%
 
Total votes: 11

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 20, 2016 1:31 pm

I think that chart is a good first step towards making the abilities clearer, especially for a reference sheet when players just want to look things up quickly to see what special abilities they can add to a unit and what they cost. Then the full descriptions could provide a complete context.

Inefficient for "Ammo" sounds like a good name, and I think that the effect will be to lose extra AS/AF when the unit is out of supply to show that it is ammo reliant.

In talking with gstano about his Nexus setting, another ability that we should probably toss in is Vulnerable, where a unit must roll a d6 when it becomes crippled, and on a 6 it is instantly destroyed. This represents ships that have volatile weapon systems that could be detonated by an unlucky magazine hit.

I can't remember if I've shared the Engineering Manual draft yet or not, but some of the stranger traits are going to spill over into there, but I think it's important to have a "core" selection of abilities in the basic rules that can represent the bulk of the units you see in common sci-fi settings.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Thu Oct 20, 2016 5:04 pm

The main thing keeping me from spamming new units is the maint cost. Having lots of classes can get expensive. I don't use the pregen empires because for me designing my fleet is part of the fun of running a galactic empire.
A friend and I used to run great wars between the Vampires and the Gremlins in Starfire. Even though we had the same tools, our fleets wound up being very different because we had different philosophies on fleet design.
BroAdso, I like the chart. I think Mercs could work as a "you don't buy it, just pay maint" type unit.
You call it into service on one of your systems, but the maint numerator is doubled to represent the high cost of mercs. There would need to be limit on how many you could recruit in one system, or maybe per turn.
It would also be a cool trait for the new Menagerie.
The Aslan from Traveller would have mercs running out of their ears.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 20, 2016 8:53 pm

aelius wrote:The main thing keeping me from spamming new units is the maint cost. Having lots of classes can get expensive. I don't use the pregen empires because for me designing my fleet is part of the fun of running a galactic empire.

I am about the same way, but I play a lot of "crossover campaigns" where I mash all sorts of sci-fi empires together and let them duke it out. Or just start with completely unique empires, which is made a lot easier with the Menagerie rules to give you a feel for the personality of the empire in question.

That being said, having pregen empires already generated DOES make it easier to setup or add empires to a game. I've had a lot of campaigns that just kind of stopped because I ended up running into a NPE that was too big or was going to require too much setup time. Which is why I homeruled that new empires only started with a number of classes equal to their homeworld Productivity plus like 1 per colony.

A friend and I used to run great wars between the Vampires and the Gremlins in Starfire. Even though we had the same tools, our fleets wound up being very different because we had different philosophies on fleet design.

I always get worried that the subtle differences between units is too subtle, but when you pull back and look at the fleet as a whole it becomes obvious that each fleet ends up with strengths and weaknesses. And those weaknesses become most apparent when you run into an enemy that is designed to exploit them mericlessly.

BroAdso, I like the chart. I think Mercs could work as a "you don't buy it, just pay maint" type unit.
You call it into service on one of your systems, but the maint numerator is doubled to represent the high cost of mercs. There would need to be limit on how many you could recruit in one system, or maybe per turn.
It would also be a cool trait for the new Menagerie.
The Aslan from Traveller would have mercs running out of their ears.


The original interpretation was to have Mercenary units be purchasable by anyone you met, but then you'd get some of the maintenance income. However, I think I like the idea of shifting to them being either more costly to maintain but can be raised anywhere or having a chance of defecting when you get into battle. The latter would make them like the Vulnerable trait that gstano and I were discussing for his setting, just in this case you'd be rolling a d6 to see if they just up and leave or not, or join the other side :)

I am getting the new Menagerie rules for First Contact put together. I spent last night on those, but still need to add some content before I think it's going to be ready for us to start hashing through. I'm looking at putting traits on a +-3 range, none of them ranked (you just purchase them once, not multiple times), and limit the basic traits to about 99 main ones (enough to fill a d100 chart with 100 being for special traits). Then we can add other special traits, like Assimilation for the Borg or Vampiric that sucks the life from other ground forces and heals themselves, into the special column that you just don't see very often.

I'm thinking that something like what BroAdso did with the special traits would work for the Menagerie rules, with the random chart including a short description or distillation of what the ability does so you end up with a quick reference sheet.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Oct 20, 2016 9:17 pm

Another random thought: Hospital ships don't get used very much because ground forces tend to heal pretty quickly. But what if we restricted the automatic Attrition heal to ground forces on friendly colonies? That would mean the only way to heal ground forces that are on convoys or enemy/uninhabited systems would rely on Hospital ships for healing.

Also, that brings up another option: when it comes to determining control of a system, instead of trying to make starbases a control option would it be more interesting to use ground forces to secure systems? So you could load up some troops and drop them in uninhabited systems to take control of them? That would make troops more useful and promote a greater amount of ground combat.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Oct 21, 2016 2:32 am

aelius wrote:The main thing keeping me from spamming new units is the maint cost. Having lots of classes can get expensive. I don't use the pregen empires because for me designing my fleet is part of the fun of running a galactic empire.


This is one of my favorite inbuilt strategic limits and decisions in VBAM, bar none/

Tyrel Lohr wrote:]
I always get worried that the subtle differences between units is too subtle, but when you pull back and look at the fleet as a whole it becomes obvious that each fleet ends up with strengths and weaknesses. And those weaknesses become most apparent when you run into an enemy that is designed to exploit them mericlessly.


This, too. Do you rely on big old battleships with high AS escorted by destroyers with low AS and high AF? Better hope there's no heavy fighters out there. And so on.

One of the things I ran into in VBAM 2e was how much was available on the "universal" list. A smaller universal list would force players into more distinctive empire lists. Want Marines? Spend a unit slot on it. Want an Explorer that's not an unarmed probeship? Spend a unit slot on it. Want a Flight with special abilities, like Boarding or Supply? Spend a unit slot on it.

Each empire has 24 total slots, with 6-8 slots per era and 5 eras by default (0-4), the Tech Era system combined with a very limited initial universal list could force players to have a more distinctive, tactical unit list.

Implementation seems to be intuitive, to me, that players must simply research all 6-8 units in an era in any order, so they can pick the one which meets their current needs best. Once all units in an era are researched, they can move on to the next era.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Oct 21, 2016 2:49 am

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Another random thought: Hospital ships don't get used very much because ground forces tend to heal pretty quickly. But what if we restricted the automatic Attrition heal to ground forces on friendly colonies? That would mean the only way to heal ground forces that are on convoys or enemy/uninhabited systems would rely on Hospital ships for healing.

Also, that brings up another option: when it comes to determining control of a system, instead of trying to make starbases a control option would it be more interesting to use ground forces to secure systems? So you could load up some troops and drop them in uninhabited systems to take control of them? That would make troops more useful and promote a greater amount of ground combat.


I like the hospital ship idea quite a lot. However, the new system of colonization you're using - establishing an Outpost which eventually grows into a colony - means that the idea of using ground troops to 'establish control' seems unneeded. Once you invest the points to and Outpost down, you're a fool not to defend it, after all, so players will be moving ground units out to those new Outposts fairly quickly even without a rule using troops to establish ownership.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Oct 21, 2016 3:42 am

BroAdso wrote:This is one of my favorite inbuilt strategic limits and decisions in VBAM, bar none/

Maintenance is really the only I know of to limit player fleet/army sizes in a kind of self-correcting way. You can do it with hard "command point" caps, but then you hit an arbitrary limit when your economy seems like it could definitely support more construction, which ends up being a nuisance.

This, too. Do you rely on big old battleships with high AS escorted by destroyers with low AS and high AF? Better hope there's no heavy fighters out there. And so on.

I've had some memorable experiences where I converted over a faction from some source and was instantly faced with the problem of how exactly to make any of these units work for this particular empire. Let's say its a Mon Calamari, and they can build a big cruiser! But they can't afford it! Or they can build a carrier, but can't afford to stock it with fighters! Those kinds of things.

One of the things I ran into in VBAM 2e was how much was available on the "universal" list. A smaller universal list would force players into more distinctive empire lists. Want Marines? Spend a unit slot on it. Want an Explorer that's not an unarmed probeship? Spend a unit slot on it. Want a Flight with special abilities, like Boarding or Supply? Spend a unit slot on it.

We adapted the universal list concept from Federation Admiral, and I can see where there are probably too many decent ships there. What do you guys think are the absolute bare essentials that should be on the universal list? Other than the basic campaign units like convoys, shipyards, supply depots, etc? I guess it could be limited to a Militia (cheap ground force) and maybe a Probe (unarmed Explorer). Is there anything else that you think is essential or ubiquitous enough that everyone really should have access to it?

Each empire has 24 total slots, with 6-8 slots per era and 5 eras by default (0-4), the Tech Era system combined with a very limited initial universal list could force players to have a more distinctive, tactical unit list.

I've been working with 10 slot Eras in my conversions so far, but that is because I'm converting from other settings to make sure I can still represent all their stats and abilities. But from a game standpoint I could see 6 slots working. Of course, I always frame it in the context of "how can I randomly roll up starting tech for these empires?" In this case, I could say they have d6 units at their current Tech Era. Then I know what Era to use to design those ships for them, and then go backwards into the past from there.

As for determining that starting Tech Era for a new empire, without ISD as a guide, I would probably do a roll and add the Era of the most advanced player empire:

(d6)
1: -2 Era
2: -1 Era
3-4: Same Era
5: +1 Era
6: +2 Era

That way you'll never find another empire that is way more advanced than you (to the point of it not being a fun game), but you'll never find anyone that is still a complete pushover, either.

Implementation seems to be intuitive, to me, that players must simply research all 6-8 units in an era in any order, so they can pick the one which meets their current needs best. Once all units in an era are researched, they can move on to the next era.

This is the direction the Endless series has gone, and it seems to work. You know where the breaks between levels are, it makes unit design much easier, and especially in solo games you can expect to eventually get enough tech advances to unlock those newer ships. But then I find unlocking ANY ships in VBAM is a huge advantage, because then I have the opportunity to try and adapt to a situation that has come up in the game and try to make up for an existing disadvantage.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Oct 21, 2016 10:59 am

I kinda like the idea of letting players start with 4 or 6 "Era -1" units chosen from the Universal list, in addition to their 6 to 8 faction unique units starting at Era 0. That gives them a large number of classes to choose from, but some of them are going to be the inferior "universal" ones.

I've always played my campaigns either with players or as solo with two or three sides pitted against each other. That means I've never generated new empires by encountering them. That caveat from lack of experience aside, that dice roll to determine a new empire's tech era seems appropriate.

Here's a version of the universal lists. The "expansive" version of universal military list stays a little closer to the version already in VBAM 2E - giving players some basic options and help to start with, but cut down a little so the player doesn't get access to neat goodies like Boarding Pods without using an empire design slot.

The "minimalist" version is the stuff all players just need, and would render the game unplayable if they didn't design one for their empire and didn't otherwise have access to them. On that note, I know it seems weird to give the Mobile Shipyard "atmospheric," but it's intended for the possibility that the player doesn't have any shipyards left and doesn't any convoys/can't safely build convoys to build a new shipyard (since they count as bases built by convoys in Galaxies).
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Oct 21, 2016 4:16 pm

I guess one way to address that would be to get rid of the universal list, per se, and instead give each empire a unique set of Era -1 units that tick a very specific boxes to ensure that they have something that they can use even if they have nothing else at the start of the game:

  • Base for defense
  • Explorer
  • Assault or Marine unit for invasions
  • Supply ship
  • Basic ground force

That would leave only one slot free for something else, but then again you could end up combining some of these. to open up some more room. Or keep a universal list but have it be very marginal, and then have the Era -1 as the "Early Interstellar" Era of tech.

And as much as I would like just going Era I, Era II, etc., I do agree with you, BroAdso, that it more clear if it is Era+0, Era+1, etc. so you know how far ahead you are. But the other Era numbering is cleaner looking for presentation :? I'll have to decide what makes the most sense.

Thinking about the Eras, I also wonder more and more if it is even worth having special types of low tech empires (planetary, orbital, interplanetary) or if it would be just as easy to just have the least advanced "empire" you find be interstellar, albeit possibly with just a progressively lower Tech Era. Like if you instead rolled 2d6-7 (+-5 Era) and added the highest player Era to get the current. That way early in the game you could run into some pretty pitiful empires, but they'd all be interstellar and at least capable of doing something, even if not very well.

An Era -5 destroyers would only have 6 points to spend, after all. That would probably look something like that given that DV/CR has to be greater than CC:

Junk DD: DV 2, AS 1, AF 1, CV 0, CR 2, CC 1, Atmospheric

I mean, sure, these guys are in space, but it's not like they're going to put up much of a fight.

Their CT would be a complete joke. at 4 points. It would be DV 2, CR 2, and that's it. No guns at all, and all it could do would be to throw on a special trait like Explorer and hope for the best.

That actually seems to work pretty well. But I almost always play 1-2 player solo campaigns and then rely on the random generation to provide new and interesting opponents. Which is why I needed to adjust the sysgen in Galaxies to make the Homeworld result more likely. But that's a whole 'nother topic!

Hmm. So 2d6-7 + Highest Player Era. And then we could just make sure that the sample empires have units from Era -1 to Era 4 or so. Or effectively whatever would fit with art and a description onto a two page handout-style sheet. I think breaking everything down by Era makes more sense at that point, so that you could see each "tech block" together to see what you could research or not. And on a handout having a check box on there to mark when you have unlocked the unit could be handy.

So that would mean a very limited universal list that would only include the bare minimum units that you'd be able to build, and then advancing from there. And giving each empire its own Era -1 section would let it fill in with some crappy units if it wants to have something even older than Era 0 (traditional starting units).

For raiders, this does open up the possibility of having the raiders use units that are an Era or two older than your current Era. For example, if a raid is generated in the Tirelon space and they are at Era+1, then the pirates would be able to use Era-1 or Era+0 units. But that is assuming we want raiders to be using units off of the player force lists and not have them just always be using their own special force list. The raiders could always be included as "special" empire, too, with their own force list, and the raiders have an Era based on the tech level of the system owner where they are raiding. That would effectively add another sample empire to the game, but give a more complete set of raider units that would scale over time. I'm not sure that's really necessary, either, though.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sat Oct 22, 2016 1:55 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:I guess one way to address that would be to get rid of the universal list, per se, and instead give each empire a unique set of Era -1 units that tick a very specific boxes to ensure that they have something that they can use even if they have nothing else at the start of the game:

  • Base for defense
  • Explorer
  • Assault or Marine unit for invasions
  • Supply ship
  • Basic ground force


I dunno - that would make players designing empires design two lists at once to start with, which seems like an unneeded complication.

Tyrel Lohr wrote:Or keep a universal list but have it be very marginal, and then have the Era -1 as the "Early Interstellar" Era of tech.

And as much as I would like just going Era I, Era II, etc., I do agree with you, BroAdso, that it more clear if it is Era+0, Era+1, etc. so you know how far ahead you are. But the other Era numbering is cleaner looking for presentation :? I'll have to decide what makes the most sense.

Thinking about the Eras, I also wonder more and more if it is even worth having special types of low tech empires (planetary, orbital, interplanetary) or if it would be just as easy to just have the least advanced "empire" you find be interstellar, albeit possibly with just a progressively lower Tech Era.


I agree with this approach. Honestly, though, a simple formula - something like a D6
1 - Player tech era -2
2 - Player tech era -1
3 - player tech era equal
4 - player tech era equal
5 - player tech era +1
6 - player tech era +2

Would yield fun results, since it's not fun to regularly meet interstellar pushovers or the Endless Cosmic Death Mongols, but slightly more or slightly less challenging opponents.

Tyrel Lohr wrote:For raiders, this does open up the possibility of having the raiders use units that are an Era or two older than your current Era. For example, if a raid is generated in the Tirelon space and they are at Era+1, then the pirates would be able to use Era-1 or Era+0 units. But that is assuming we want raiders to be using units off of the player force lists and not have them just always be using their own special force list. The raiders could always be included as "special" empire, too, with their own force list, and the raiders have an Era based on the tech level of the system owner where they are raiding. That would effectively add another sample empire to the game, but give a more complete set of raider units that would scale over time. I'm not sure that's really necessary, either, though.


This seems like a good system for Raiders - they become renegades, uprisings, and pirates using stolen older military and private-military technology from your own archives.

Here's a short version I drew up of three Era-0 force lists and the Era -1 Universal List they could all have access to. It's not totally complete (writing the flavor text still) but I think it's a good example of how different empires choose to use their limited higher-level slots to replace a variety of the available universal units. For example, the ISDY coalition has decided on a fairly peaceful and diplomatic approach with lots of exploration, so their Era 0 list doesn't include a ground unit or Marines - they'll have to make do with Planetary Militia and dropships if they want to do planetary invasions for the first few years.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 22, 2016 3:48 pm

Okay, so a single universal list of about 12 units + basic campaign units that equate to an early Interstellar era. That sounds fair enough. Looking over your expansive list, it looks like it gives each empire just enough basic forces that they could get by until they get some of their own unique units online.

I like having a bit more variability with the Tech Era, and having it on a bell curve keeps any of the powers from being too powerful. Of course, I am also moving away from having new empires start with large empires as was possible in 1E. Right now I'm thinking about shifting the NPE pre-contact exploration to about a 2/3 chance of having explored each lane in their home system, and then with diminishing chance each jump from there, then giving them a limited number of colonies.

For example, let's say I just found a NPE in a system with 3 jump lanes. My explorer just came through one of them, so we know that the NPE hasn't explored that one yet. That leaves 2 lanes. I roll a d6 for each lane, and on a "4" or greater the NPE has explored the lane. I roll "5" and "3". The first lane has been explored, but the second one hasn't. I then proceed to the next system. It has three unexplored lanes in it. I roll again, but this time subtract 1 from each roll because I am 1 jump from my homeworld. The modified die results are three "4". A lucky result, to say the least.

You'd continue with this process until all of the NPE's pre-contact exploration is complete, then I think it gets a number of "colony points" equal to the number of systems explored (excluding its home system) that it can spend to place colonies in the systems it explored. If the NPE had explored 7 systems, I would have 7 points to spend on colonies. I'm not sure on the point costs now that there are just three system importances, but I'd say 1 (unimportant), 2 (minor), and 4 (major) would be fair. Majors are the hardest to balance because they are just so good.

Here is a quick example of what I've kind of had in mind for a "player handout" version of a force list, that could include a number of predefined force lists plus some art and description of the alien in question. An alternative format would be to have the background on one side of the sheet and then the universal list + Era I on the opposite side. That would fit better if the game goes in the direction of not having full force lists for the empires and instead focuses on just a starter package and then the players just create their own units from there.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 22, 2016 9:26 pm

And here is an attempt at adapting the Human (now Terran) Commonwealth over to this kind of format.

Looking at the formatting we used in 2E, I think I could probably reformat these for portrait orientation and get 5 Eras on one sheet of paper. That would leave the second side for the background et al for the pretty handout versions.

I'm also leaning very heavily towards including the derelict owner as a special "Precursors" sample empire that just has a selection of units at Era VI, which would be above the five Eras available for the sample empires.

I'm also thinking that while it makes the math slightly funkier listing them as Era I-V is going to look better, even if it isn't quite as intuitive. I don't know. Still thinking about that.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 22, 2016 10:57 pm

Looking at things some more, from a presentation standpoint I think we could almost go like this:

[*]Interplanetary (Universal List)
[*]Era I
[*]Era II
[*]Era III
[*]Era IV

And possibly even give players the option of starting with only the "Interplanetary" (TL-1) units. That would make the presentation clean, and then we wouldn't have to worry about truly ancient units outside of special rules that introduce even poorer units.

It isn't as intuitive what the multiplier is, but it looks prettier.

Alternatively, we call Era 0 "Interplanetary Era" and then build upwards from there with Era I being the TL+1 units. So on these examples, the first block would be Interplanetary Era, then the next would be Era I.

I just think Era 0 looks a bit out of place, and effectively in the new VBAM rules the Era 0 ships are what the empire would have before it ever left its home system since we're using a start-from-scratch scenario as our baseline assumption.

The game setup rules for Time Period would then ask which Era you're starting in, and then how many units are already unlocked in that Era. Most games would then be Era I start with no units unlocked, but you could also do an Interplanetary Era start with only some (or none) of your starting forces unlocked. In those games you would have to rely entirely on the universal list.

That solution seems to be more in line with what we've been discussing, now that I think about it. Sorry for the stream of consciousness here, this is one of the quirks of how I attack problems and try to virtually talk through issues :)
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Oct 22, 2016 11:58 pm

Since I'm continuing to spam the thread, another question:

Should maintenance fractions be reduced at the end of unit design? For example, if I have a unit with a maintenance cost of 2/4 should I reduce that fraction to 1/2? Or if I have 2/6 should it become 1/3?

This has been a sticking point for awhile, and I guess this is as good a time as any to ask what people think.

I can see the argument either way. Reducing fractions makes some maintenance groups look more appealing, especially when it is something like 4/6 reducing to 2/3. On the other hand, that unit has received a lot of modifiers to boost its maintenance to that level, and specialized units should probably have some maintenance inefficiencies.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:54 am

Here's my idea for how to represent a faction in one page. Still trying to address the dilemma of intuitiveness/nice presentation on the tech eras, see what you think of this method.

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The idea that players start with all the universal units plus however many additional units they agree on is a great one. I think the "default" could be all the universal and all the Era 1 (+0% CP) units, so that the first unit the players discovers via tech unlock is their first choice among the Era 2 (+10%) units. That being a default certainly leaves other choices open - for example, they could start with their choice of 3/6 of their Era 1 units or something.


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