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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Tyrel Lohr
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Nov 15, 2016 12:12 am

The issue you do run into there is that in many source materials the refit version of a ship will probably just show up as another class in a higher Tech Era. The Constitution-to-Enterprise is a good example, where you are going from an Era I Constitution to the Era II Enterprise.

The avenue that you do have available for these kind of "Fleet Upgrade" refits would be to have them increase the Cost or Maint of the unit each time the class is upgraded to a new Era. That would ensure that eventually the class would just not be economical to keep around because it would price itself out of service. And you could probably go with a straight Cost modifier for most classes, or have it be based on the ship class.

For example, it might be +1 Cost for a CT/DD upgrade, +1 Cost / +1 Maint for a CL/CA, +2 Cost, +1 Maint for a CB / BB, etc. Stagger it so that the increase is commensurate with the size of the vessel. Or you could do it as a +1 Cost per X CP added to the design by the upgrade.

This would allow you to continue upgrading existing classes to the new Era, but it would eventually make it cost-ineffective to keep them in service after awhile.

If you really wanted to "sock it to them", you could do +1 Maint per Era upgrade instead. That would rapidly make the units an albatross around your neck. You might do it one or maybe two generations for ships that you thought worth keeping, but beyond that you'd cast them aside very quickly. Which is why it would be the brutal "are you sure you want to do this?" option.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Tue Nov 15, 2016 12:34 am

You might have missed my edit to my last post. I had the idea that a New Vessel result (2 tech advances) could simply bring the old ship up to modern standards and reset the Refits to 0. That would perfectly mimic what you're talking about the Constitution-to-Enterprise, maybe?

Which do you prefer - Refits are equivalent to new designs coming out of the shipyards, but cost more to buy and to maintain, or you pay the usual Refit cost but the bonus decreases each time unless you "fleet upgrade" with a 2xTech Advance in lieu of an entirely different design? And why do you prefer the one you chose?

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Nov 15, 2016 1:48 am

I haven't had that many situations where I would have seen the need for a rapid refit of an old class to bring it up to new standards, so this is new territory for me. Usually if there is an upgrade to an existing class it has just appeared as a new model on the force list, and once unlocked I could use the existing Refit rules (50% of construction cost) to upgrade to it if I wanted. This is effectively what you are doing with your second tech advancement, just creating a fresh new design that is thematically the same ship, but is a "new class" for the purposes of not having any extra economic penalties layered on top of its basic cost.

For having the Refit/Upgrades running in parallel to tech advancement, the reason I would go with an economic penalty but the same stats for the given Tech Era is that then it would be obvious what Era that unit is from, which is nice for spot checking stats and being consistent between units, and the economic penalty would give players a clear reason to favor new classes versus upgrades.

Much like the Variant rules I have slotted for the Engineering Manual, I personally would see the Refit/Upgrades being a stop-gap measure meant to try and bring older units up to a new standard but with a serious financial penalty for doing so. For example, with the Variants I make sure that each package isn't as good as a straight tech upgrade, and you're usually losing something in exchange for getting access to a new unit that you would otherwise not have had (although I may be a bit too punishing there).

I would see the Refit/Upgrades working a similar way, just in that case you're looking at a straight upgrade and not the trade offs of the Variant system.

If I could take a last-generation light cruiser and upgrade it to the current era in exchange for +1 Maint, I might be tempted if it was going to be awhile before I could get another class, or if I wanted to use my next tech unlock for something else. At that point jumping from 2/4 to 3/4 might not be a bad trade off. But come another Era down the line, going to 4/4 to keep this old light cruiser upgraded is probably not going to be worth it, and at that point I'd want to get rid of it or just keep it in its current state.

Alternatively, if the unit received a Cost penalty instead of Maint, then the penalty might be equal to the CC, or +2 per Era for that CL. At that point maintenance stays the same, but the cost to build them would rapidly spiral out of control. Even at a flat +1 per Era you'd run into some classes that just aren't worth keeping around because the cost proposition becomes untenable. That would favor BB's getting constant upgrades, though, so it would have to scale, but you get the idea.

To answer your question, my preference is for any Refit/Upgrade system to run in parallel to core tech advancement so as to not muddy the waters, but keep it something that could be easily slotted in. Your holistic replacement option could then be included as an alternative to that. I haven't run into that many situations myself where it was obvious that I needed to refit an existing class, but that's because my campaigns usually only last about 10 years at most, and within that time frame I don't start feeling the crushing atrophy of my older classes. With the Galaxies 6 units per Era model, I would probably get to Era III by the end of a normal campaign, and that's assuming a few double tech advance years along the way. The starting forces would start to feel a bit long in the tooth by then, but they'd still be useful and I'd probably have enough of them running around that I wouldn't feel too bad continuing to produce them.

This would be the Trek "Miranda/Excelsior conundrum" where the two classes continue to be used several Eras down the line, largely because they work and we already built a lot of them. The noodling around I did with statting out the Federation fleet as a test showed that the units remained pretty viable up through the TNG era, but the DS9/VOY era they started to flag. But that's also when you start to see a new generation of replacements, like the Saber, which helps fill in those gaps.

I think this is a place where it would be beneficial for me to convert at least the first few eras of the existing sample empires so we have some force lists to use in a "live trial" as it were to hash out how these changes would affect the powers.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:24 am

Very good points. And some good ideas that might be useful for Galaxies. I see how what I'm going for isn't really in line with what is needed from a core rulebook, though.

What I had in mind was, much like now, when technology advances to the point where we can make a next generation vessel, it's cheaper to refit old units than replace it with entirely new units. Say you have 500 Destroyers and your basic tech goes up to where a new destroyer is as durable and dangerous as an old frigate. Do you buy 500 new destroyers and mothball the old ones, or is it cheaper to swap out components and add some reactive armor plates (or whatever)? Eventually you replace your F15s with Joint Strike Fighters, but for a long time it's cheaper and less disruptive to upgrade the components of your F15s.

Or those movies like Firefly, where someone says, my god you're flying one of *those* rustbuckets?

So, I wanted a system with a lot of refits. But occasionally you get a class that is just the perfect workhorse. You don't want to pay escalating maintenance costs by abandoning its upgrade program, nor do you want to replace a good design. Time for a Fleet Overhaul, bringing the manufacturing plant up to modern standards so you can keep building the design, just better than it would be with a simple Refit.

That's where my idea came from for a cumulative penalty of some sort for old designs unless you refit each era; refits are a stopgap measure as you bring out newer ship designs; and old workhorses can be refit and built new with now-current technology.

I had in mind a MNT penalty for not refitting them; decreasing return on investment for refitting them; and complete overhauls to keep iconic workhorses, via both retooling the factory and drydock refits of existing units. The latter could be done by using a New Design double tech advancement to bring it current, rather than beginning an entirely new design. Or perhaps you get both a new design and an overhauling of an old design.

But, I am seeing more and more that a lot of this belongs as a house rule, not core rules. Hopefully there's some useful ideas in all that for the Galaxies CG, though :)

Now, you asked why would they want to refit rather than build a new design? Because tech advancement is slower - new design slots don't come up every day. And you really want a new cruiser that does more damage and takes more punishment than your now-outdated current cruiser.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Nov 15, 2016 4:10 am

Emiricol wrote:Very good points. And some good ideas that might be useful for Galaxies. I see how what I'm going for isn't really in line with what is needed from a core rulebook, though.

I ended up pushing my Variants off to the optional rules for the same reason; too many options. It's kind of like the three tech rules that I had highlighted in the rules (tech trading, operating alien units, and reverse engineering) -- they are rules that I'd probably always use, and that I included in the 2E book, but that are probably overboard for what new players would want to deal with. I'm fine with moving those to another location and keeping them optional.

It ends up being a painful balancing act trying to figure out what is a "core" rule and what isn't, so the constant back and forth and reorganization battles that you've been privy to!

So, I wanted a system with a lot of refits. But occasionally you get a class that is just the perfect workhorse. You don't want to pay escalating maintenance costs by abandoning its upgrade program, nor do you want to replace a good design. Time for a Fleet Overhaul, bringing the manufacturing plant up to modern standards so you can keep building the design, just better than it would be with a simple Refit.

From a game play perspective, I think that escalating maintenance costs for older designs would end up actually penalizing tech advancement to the point that players would just not invest at all to prevent them their older units from being hit with a maintenance penalty. It creates a negative feedback loop that is almost as bad as some situations where players ignore tech advancement because they can just prototype whatever units they want at any time.

That's where my idea came from for a cumulative penalty of some sort for old designs unless you refit each era; refits are a stopgap measure as you bring out newer ship designs; and old workhorses can be refit and built new with now-current technology.

The thing is, these older units already have a penalty of sorts in that they are not as efficient as newer units, while still occupying the same "space" in a task force or army. That qualitative advancement is enough to reflect that they are not as good as their modern equivalents.

Now, the second hand of that equation is I think the crux of the discussion, and that is allowing you to upgrade the workhorse classes and keep them relevant. Let's say we have a light cruiser called the Ascension (Era 0, Cost 6, Maint 2/4, DV 4, AS 4, AF 3, CV 1, CR 4, CC 2). We are starting the game in Era I, but with no units unlocked (default rule). At this point, after a tech advancement trigger we would be able refit/upgrade the Ascension to Era I. This new ship would gain +2 CP, probably going 1 each into DV and CR. Then comes the economic penalty. If we have a +2 Cost per refit/upgrade, based on the unit's CC, that would increase the Ascension-II to Cost 8. With this construction cost it would cost 4 EP to refit an existing Ascension-I into an Ascension-II.

The ship is now 33% more expensive than normal. This makes it cost more to repair and refit. It also requires more construction capacity, a consequence of the growing inefficiencies of the class.

Continuing this example, in Era II this empire decides to "overhaul" the class and has a new unit class called the Providence take its place. This new ship still only costs 6 points, and is a much better CL to boot. Rather than upgrade the Ascension-II again (at an additional +2 Cost penalty), they instead decide to refit the remaining Ascensions into Providence cruisers. The Providence has a cost of 6, so it costs 3 EP each to refit the ships.

Now, instead of the +CC Cost modifier, we could have done a +1 Maint. This might still be cleaner, except that it would make the upgrades of questionable value. Gaining +2 CP for a one time +2 Cost is something you might choose to do, but paying +1/4 EP per turn for a +2 CP is not really cost effective and outside of emergency situations I don't think too many players would do it. The Cost modifier has the other positive side effect that this is more about refitting the existing ships to the new standard rather than producing large numbers of the aging class. You're just trying to get another few years of useful life out of the hulls after all.

But, I am seeing more and more that a lot of this belongs as a house rule, not core rules. Hopefully there's some useful ideas in all that for the Galaxies CG, though :)

House rules are by nature optional rules, and there is always a strong intersection between what players want to do in the rules. I'm just being obnoxiously stubborn and debating around in circles because I think this is a point that SHOULD be addressed in some way, as you're definitely not going to be the only person that's going to want to do that. The conundrum for me is then figuring out how we can achieve that in such a way that players would choose to do so. The cost-to-effect issue becomes key there.

I need to work through the logic again, but if this was tied to getting that second tech advancement each year (or as a separate cost equal to your tech advancement requirement), it would limit the number of upgrades that you could do, preventing you from upgrading absolutely everything.

BTW, I am using the term "upgrade" more here because we already have Refit rules for changing one class into another that exist for situations where you have two units of the same type (CT, DD, etc.) and you want to convert one into the other. That way we prevent some confusion on the mechanical terminology.

On the flipside of all this, the higher construction costs and cost to refit would make free availability of upgrades not a serious issue in a lot of cases. So it might be fine to make them freely available, too. Or tie them to the first tech advance instead of the second each year. It is something that would really need to be tested, but I can see it being a good stop-gap as you said for those situations where you need to get a better ship out fast and you can't wait for your tech to catch up.

I guess once concern if they were freely available is that on the first turn of the game you'd be able to insta-upgrade all of your classes to Era I, which doesn't feel right. At that point gating it behind some tech advancement is probably the right answer.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Tue Nov 15, 2016 6:39 am

Only apply the cost penalty to the second and later upgrades.
That way there is no penalty the first time you upgrade a design. But if you get stubborn about it and just have to keep that class rather than design a new one, then you pay the penalty.
This would allow players to create variants and upgrades without the negative reinforcement. But that reinforcement comes out with the second upgrade to say "The Enterprise is 20 years old, she'll never stand the pounding."
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Tue Nov 15, 2016 2:48 pm

That's a good idea, and easy to incorporate. After Tyrel's input it's clear I need to rethink the specifics on a couple of things to get the tech advancement rate, costs, and decreasing returns to work in a way that does a better job encouraging refits over just waiting for a new design. All while remaining as simple and easy as possible. Delaying any penalties for refits makes a lot of sense. Removing penalties for outdated designs should also help without impacting the flavor I seek, because as Tyrel points out, players are eventually motivated anyway because new ships are better.

Perhaps delayed MNT or Cost penalties for non-refitted units; making refits automatically "known" and which will delay any penalties, and making a Tech Success provide either a New Design or a Fleet Refit that upgrades the unit to CP values for the power's current tech era/resets the penalty clock... Still need to figure the math. It has to be cheaper to refit a fleet than to replace it OR deal with penalties, and Fleet Refits should be more attractive in the long run than new designs.

A lot to think about.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Wed Nov 23, 2016 5:56 am

My foundation of a campaign diary, Rising Tide, has my current heavily-revised ideas for tech advancement, fleet refits, eras, etc. I would love additional thoughts on it now that I've heavily remodeled it - https://drive.google.com/open?id=1VhIrQ ... EA8xQMLXiI

If you're interested in the spreadsheet for it, check here - https://drive.google.com/open?id=19mr0L ... 6OmWWbj0FM

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Nov 23, 2016 4:53 pm

I'm looking forward to seeing how Rising Tide turns out!

I did get a chance to jump in and try converting some more of our sample empires again, and it's looking like me might need to give them a slightly broader selection, and then see about the unlock restrictions from there. I say that because keeping a new base + troop in each Era doesn't leave much room for ships. So going back to 8-10 units per era might make more sense.

I think a lot of that comes down to how conversions from other settings fit into that model, too. If it seems like most conversions need 10 slots, then it might make more sense for each era to be 10 slots instead of 6. That doesn't have a player getting more advanced units as often, but that might be a necessary abstraction.

The alternative of course is to have bases and ground forces be generic units for most empires, but I don't feel that works for most settings. I can see it working in some settings (like Starmada), but in settings or games where ground combat is more important you'll want to be able to unlock special new troops, too.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Emiricol » Wed Nov 23, 2016 10:41 pm

An alternative (which I won't be using, but might be worth considering) would be a lower number of slots, but Universal List ships don't take up those slots...

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Jan 13, 2017 12:14 am

After having another two months to hash out options, here is something that I am going to be testing:

As with Starmada Edition, the VBAM tech gets broken down into research categories along military lines: Escorts, Cruisers, Capital Ships, Flights, Bases, and Troops. Your empire has a tech level in each of these fields, starting with TL0 and going up to TL5 by default.

The tech advancement cost to raise your TL in a field is equal to the new TL times your total system income at the start of the turn that tech advancements are checked. For example, researching Cruisers-2 would cost 48 if your total system income was 24 at the start of the turn.

With the basic rules, unlocking that TL would then give you an associate unit at that TL. Researching Cruisers-2 would therefore give me a CL or CA that TL 2 (+20% construction points).

This can be combined with prototyping rules for settings (like tactical conversions) where you want to allow players to build any ship they want. The tech progression model also works well for games like Starmada where there are already well defined research fields.

# # #

The goal with this is to deviate away from the linear tech progression of classic VBAM and allow some player choice while at the same time not forcing players to design new units on the fly, making pre-generated empires more interesting to include in the game. This way you have some choice in the order in which your empire develops new units.

It still needs some playtesting to see if it hits a sweet spot or not, obviously. The 6 research categories aligns well with our "6 classes per era" concept that we've been working on up to this point, and makes presenting units on a force list easier as you can now do it by type.

Like I said, it also leaves the door wide open for players that want to go whole hog with designing their own units or creating their own force lists.

# # #

As per the other thread, if any of you are interested in participating in a concept test for some of these elements, I'd really like to get some outside perspectives in a "real game" to see what expectations are and if we are on the right track.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sat May 06, 2017 11:50 am

I tested this new system a while and I REALLY like it!

However, I think there should be a little more flexibility in the slots given in each era. After "messing around" a little bit, I found that having six slots in each era arranged as follows:

Ship - Escort (CT or DD)
Ship - Cruiser (CL or CR)
Ship - Capital (CB or BB)
Special (Flight, Ground, or Orbital)
Open (Any unit)
Open (Any unit)

Allows players to prevent too much "sameiness" in their force lists. It also allows players to have a wider variety of CT and DD ships specialized in particular roles, an important element of many force lists that couldn't appear if there were only six total CTs or DDs available (and the last one would cost 5x your income to unlock!).

A prototyping variant could also allow you to unlock a new design AT your current tech level for an investment of 1x your current GDP. In this scenario, I have tech levels of Capital-1 and Cruiser-2, and have an income of 61. This would mean I could develop a new Cruiser design at TL-2 for 61 EP or a new Capital design at TL 1 for 61 EP, since those are at my current tech levels. However, it would cost me 122 EP to develop at new Capital design at TL-2 and 183 EP to develop a new Cruiser design at TL-3.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby MarkG88 » Fri May 12, 2017 9:45 am

Neat alternative, I like it. Flexible and realistic.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sat May 13, 2017 1:05 pm

I tried this out a bit to see how some universes we're all familiar with might look in this new form of tech advancement...

Star Trek:
Image
Image

Star Wars:
Image

It seems to work well overall! It can be a little tricky because some settings have lots of similarly-sized ships, so making them fit into the number of slots available doesn't always work, but otherwise this model seems strong.

I'm also trying it out in practice in my Galaxies campaign journal.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Tue May 16, 2017 3:30 am

Don't take this the wrong way, It's not snark just an honest curiosity. :?:
I have never understood the need for a limit to ship classes. Maybe its because I came up with Imperial Starfire, but if I want a new class then I design a new ship and put it in production. Especially considering how much of a pain it seems to be to make sure everything necessary is available at the right place on the charts for each empire.
I could see it as an optional rule or for a campaign where the player is the admiralty instead of the emperor. But if the emperor wants a ship why shouldn't he get one?
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