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
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Tech Level
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Wed May 17, 2017 10:59 am

aelius wrote: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?


Honestly, I think you are in some ways right. There's not always a good reason for pre-generated ship lists and they do take a lot of effort. The main reason they can be interesting is that they represent a chance to build theme and strategy in at a very early step. One power might have a ship list that emphasizes the Disruptor special ability while another might emphasize Stealth, for example, which would add a layer of strategic challenge to the game for the players.

However, I think a lot of people want more flexibility in ship design, especially given how hard tech advances are to get in VBAM in terms of time - it can feel less than thrilling if there's no ship to advance to that actually fulfills your strategic needs at the moment.

One option is to simply abstract the system we're talking about here. So, for example, the Empire has a current TL of 1 across the board, except for having a TL 2 for its Cruisers. It can use a "cheap" tech advance equal to 1x its total EP income to design a new TL 1 corvette, destroyer, battlecruiser, battleship, or any other unit. It can also use a "cheap" advance to design a TL 2 light cruiser or cruiser.

Or, it can use an "expensive" tech advance equal to 2x its system income to advance one unit group (escorts, capitals, supercapitals, orbital bases, fighters, ground) to TL 2. It may also use a MORE expensive tech advance with a cost equal to 3x its system income to advance its cruisers to TL 3.

This would make tech advances flexible (as you said, why should the space emperor have to settle for "the next ship on the list") but also meaningfully differentiated and valuable each time you get one.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Fri Jun 09, 2017 2:37 am

aelius wrote: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.


After a lot of playtesting over the course of 2E, I came to the realization that because VBAM doesn't have the tech granularity of a game like Imperial Starfire where you're researching individual components you end up relying on your overall selection of units to define your empire's overall character. In other games you are committing resources to developing certain technologies that your opponent may not have yet, or may never be able to replicate. In VBAM, you have DV, AS, AF, etc. A finite number of stats that describe basic capabilities but doesn't concern itself with the types of weapons, components, etc. that your fleet is using.

We encountered a particularly telling scenario during the Glorious Stars playtest where, with freeform unit prototyping allowed, one player effectively replaced all of their ships with an entirely new force list. It would be like if you had a Federation player start with the Excelsior and then scrap it on Turn 1 to replace it with an all Battlestar/Viper fleet.

A fleet's doctrine as defined by its force list gives it character. Without that sense of "self", for lack of a better term, you end up with fairly cookie cutter fleets that are limited solely by the amount of economic points you have to prototype new units.

There are ways to design around this, but they don't end up giving the player particularly interesting decisions. If you are solely advancing our Tech Level to get a boost to future prototypes, then it becomes a bit soulless grind as you work to get that extra +2% point bonus every year. You'll eventually see gains, but it's not the same as unlocking a new unit each tech year.

I do agree, however, that if you ARE using a set of tactical rules where you can design your own ships and where research can net you minor upgrades, too, then freeform prototyping is not an issue at all. I had a lot of fun with Starmada Edition and prototyping new ships as I needed them. But there I had individual weapon techs to research to unlock new abilities, so even if two ships had identical VBAM stats they were still different in Starmada.

There is also something to be said for having a consistent, dependable tech tree for each faction in a 4x game. It provides a set point of reference for what the unit is and does for when players commiserate about their campaigns. It's a great shorthand for players, and a reason why total conversions for Star Trek/Wars and other properties are so popular. You mention that you ran into a Mergen Gorgship and you scratch your head and have no clue what that means. But you say that the USS Enterprise fought an Imperial Star Destroyer and players have enough context to fill in the gaps in the mental image and get a rough idea of what might be happening.

I have also found players that just hate to create their own ships, no matter how simple the construction system is :lol:
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby aelius » Mon Jun 26, 2017 6:16 am

I see where your coming from with that. And it makes sense.
Having said that, I love designing ships and always do for myself.
I can't help it, if the option is there I have to do it myself. That's one of things I like about VBAM. It actively helps the gamer run the game the way they want instead of being stuffy about the specifics.
That's how I came up with my fun mine laying fleet doctrine. Of course Galaxies seems like its going to trash that one (grumble something grumble) 8)
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Tue Jun 27, 2017 1:34 am

I'm enjoying thinking about the options presented by the new, more organized Galaxies system.

Here's what the Federation might look like in this system, where each player has six tech levels, and each tech level has one slot each for Escort (CT/DD), Cruiser (CL/CA), Capital (BC/BB), Superheavy (DN/SDN), Defense (Base/Mine), Flight (FL) and Troops.

Image

There's certainly an opening for creative fleets and doctrines, as far as I can tell, though Starfleet doesn't exemplify that.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Thu Feb 15, 2018 11:16 pm

Revisiting this breakdown, it looks like right now the rules have settled into 5 tech levels instead with the following tech year subdivisions:

TL-1: 3000-3004
TL-2: 3005-3009
TL-3: 3010-3014
TL-4: 3015-3019
TL-5: 3020-3024

This breaks the game timeline into 5 year chunks, and right now I have penciled that you get 10 cost of new units every tech year. This allows you to introduce a number of new units at the end of each year (making tech advancement more useful overall).

A slate of generic starting units are going to be standard to go with your empire-specific year 3000 units. Right now this looks to be a selection of basic campaign units everyone needs, with better or more specialized varieties being restricted to specific empires.

Looking at what you have for your Trek conversion, you'd probably start with the Oberth and Enterprise as pre-3000 starting units, while the Excelsior is unlocked at year 3000. The Axanar BB would probably show up alongside another support unit in the first few years, too.

The reason for this relatively rapid development cycle is that realistically most campaigns are going to last about 120 turns (10 years), which means maybe 10 years of tech development on average. Spacing tech years out every 5 game years means that you can advance 2 tech levels in a single campaign. Again, going back to your Star Trek conversion, it means you'd go from Movie Era ships to pre-TNG or early-TNG era by the end of the game.

This progression could easily be changed by reducing extending that timeline out for a given setting. For example, you could have TL-1 last from 3000-3009 and only get 5 points of new units every tech year if you'd prefer a slower tech progression.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Fri Feb 16, 2018 7:58 pm

This sounds like a pretty good idea to simplify things. To clarify, though:

A player's initial units would be 5-6 'Universal' units plus 1-2 'TL+1' units, right?

And then, each turn, the player would collect tech advancement points. The rate of collection aims to create an average of one unlock per year, but sometimes players could unlock more than one unit per year. Each tech level consists of five 'unlocks,' after which the player can proceed to the next tech level.

We don't expect that the players will unlock all 25 potential units in a given game. Instead, players accumulate tech points each turn. With average game length of 10 years (120 turns), they should accumulate enough tech points to unlock between 10-15 new units across all 120 turns.

By assuming a longer game timeframe, decreasing the number of tech points required to unlock a unit, or increasing the rate of gain for tech points, you allow players more unlocks if you want to use more units over the course of a game.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Feb 17, 2018 9:06 pm

The initial spread of units is currently covering everything that you'll need as a baseline to play the game. That means ships through CA size (have being been doing through CL, but that seems limiting), including support craft, starbases, and troops. Unique versions could be created for each empire, but there would not likely be enough variation to really warrant this. This approach ensures that you will have enough units available that you can field a balanced fleet while also having things like a Scout, Supply, or Assault vessel available, albeit a pretty basic model.

The tech progression is currently up to 10 cost of ships per year. This may prove to be too quick, and it could be scaled back by half, but realistically most games are over within 10 years and we need there to be a reason for players to invest in research. Otherwise, with tech advancement being evaluated every 12 turns, you need to have enough of a carrot on the end of the stick to make it appealing to spend resources on new units rather than just building more of the ones that you've got.

The problem with having too few (or incredibly low cost) units available at each tech year is that then you feel a bit shafted when you spend an entire year developing a new fighter but your neighbor does the same and gets a dreadnought.

A middleground between the fast and slow tech advancement may be to reduce to 5 cost of units per turn (but at least one unit) and double the length of the tech level "windows" to 10 turns. Then the default would be a slower tech advancement rate, but then it would be easy to have an optional rule that says that each tech advancement increases your tech year by 2 instead of 1, in effect speeding the tech gain back up.

The net effect would be that I could end up getting a 6-pt Heavy Cruiser this tech year, but next year I could get a 1-pt Flight and a 4-pt Frigate.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Feb 18, 2018 9:54 pm

Tyrel Lohr wrote:The tech progression is currently up to 10 cost of ships per year. This may prove to be too quick, and it could be scaled back by half, but realistically most games are over within 10 years and we need there to be a reason for players to invest in research. Otherwise, with tech advancement being evaluated every 12 turns, you need to have enough of a carrot on the end of the stick to make it appealing to spend resources on new units rather than just building more of the ones that you've got.


I agree - usually as the Federation in my playtests I invested a lot more in tech and didn't really have that much to show for it, as opposed to other factions that outbuilt me.

Does this move to a model where there is no active investment on the behalf of the player, but instead they accumulate 'points' at a set rate (10 per year)? If so, a slightly more dynamic system of one point per turn might be pretty easy to comprehend and would let players unlock at a variety of times, not just the last turn of each twelve-turn year. Here's how that might play out.

A player begins on 1.3001 with no tech points and their TL-1 DD and CL already availabile. Almost immediately, they purchase their TL-1 fighter (1) on 2.3001 after getting their one point for turn 1.3001. Then, after getting their points for 2.3001 and 3.3001, they could unlock their TL-1 Corvette (2) on 4.3001. The player then waits a while, collecting one tech point each at the end of 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12.3001 and at the end of 1.3002. Then, they use the accumulated 9 points to unlock their TL-1 DN (9) on 2.3002. They've now gotten five units from TL-1, and they're partway into Year 3002. If they want to unlock their CA for TL-1, they won't be able to do so until 9.3002 - they need to save up six points to do so.

I'm not sure I love this model in some senses, as it reduces the feel that some players can invest in high-tech forces and others lag behind, but it does remove some elements of book keeping and simplifies how many things the player can choose to spend their EP on, bringing it down to a choice between Units, Intel, and Productivity.

Another initial thought is that it does free up unit design a little bit to allow for unique feeling unit lists. For example, If players had a set number of designs per TL, and they moved to the next TL once they finished those units, they could be free to really customize. Want to move through the tech levels quickly? Make 3-4 of your unit designs per tech level fighters! Want to concentrate on fleet firepower? Don't include any ground units in most of your TL groups!

Take the first example: the "gnat strategy" player could unlock a new specialized fighter class every turn on 2.3001, 3.3001, 4.3001, and so on if the fighters all cost 1pt and the player is getting one TL per turn.

Glad there's some activity, even if a lot of what we're talking about is theoryhammer!

Later that day edit idea: You could impost a maximum and a minimum on the total cost of units in a tech era. So, lets imagine that a player has a 25-35 total cost to spread around for their tech year's total cost of units - if we're getting one 'tech point' per turn, that mans the player will need 26-36 turns, or about 2-3 game years, to unlock all the units in their era.

The player can choose to create the units in that era however they want within that window. For example, they could build a whole era of five cheap classes of fighter, three cheap new ground units, and two capital ships at the absolute minimum of 25 points, making it a cheap era to move through. Alternatively, a player could design an era where their units are mostly frigates and cruisers, coming out at the top end and era that will take them longer to get through - but where each unit they unlock has enough points and power to be a real heavy hitter.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Tue Feb 20, 2018 12:34 am

What I've found with the tech rules is that we have a few different outcomes that players generally want, and they are at issue with one another:

  • A linear tech progression to handle historical scenarios
  • Pre-generated force lists that make empires unique and so players don't have to touch the unit construction rules if they don't want to
  • The ability to produce new unit classes as needed during the game
  • A sense of meaningful progression so that there is some reason to invest in technology research

The classic VBAM approach has embraced the first two points, and for scenarios it works great. Even for settings like Star Trek or Star Wars it's not that hard to break things down to a rough linear tech tree, even if you don't use literal in-service dates.

The issue becomes messier in games that are more sandbox oriented and players want to be able to design their own units. At that point you almost have to use the prototyping rules and rely on tech investment as more of a way to open up new avenues.

Part of what I think we need to do to reconcile this is to keep the tech year system as the basic rules (as they are the simplest to explain) but then have advanced rules available for players that want something a bit more involved.

After discussing this with Geoff last night, I am thinking that an option could be to break down the units into macro tech levels like Starmada Edition did. Then you would use tech advancements to increase your macro tech level to unlock new "branches" of higher tech units, and then the prototyping rules could be used to handle the introduction of new units.

For example, let's say we broke units into five different categories. Rather than being categorized strictly by unit type, we could have things like Light Warships (CT,DD,FF, CL), Heavy Warships (CA, CB, BB, DN, SD), Support (scouts, supply, assault, etc.), Strikecraft (carrier, flights) and Planetary Defenses (bases, minefields, troops). Then you'd start the game at TL-1 in each of these areas. For each successful tech advance you could raise your tech level in any one field by 1. So in 3000.12 you could decide to raise your Light Warships to TL-2. Now, starting on 3001.01, you could begin prototyping new ships of those classes that appear on your force list.

For a bit of a conversion situation, consider the following ships that I would have as the TL-4 TNG Era Federation fleet:

2018-02-19 TNG Era.png
2018-02-19 TNG Era.png (198.15 KiB) Viewed 2618 times


Under the above category assumption, you'd have the Freedom, Cheyenne, and New Orleans as the Light Warships, the Springfield, Challenger, Olympic, and Phoenix as Support, and the Nebula and Galaxy as Heavy Warships.

The above demonstrates that maybe Support doesn't work as well, and it could be better served to be broken into Escorts (CT,DD,FF), Cruisers (CL,CA), and Capital Ships (CB,BB+) rather than function. In that case you'd have a more even split between the classes.

(I also realize that I'm missing the Saratoga variant of the Miranda, which would be thrown in here somewhere)

The other way to implement a Starmada Edition-like tech system would be to upend the current unit construction rules and have players research individual stats (DV,AS,AF,BC,CR) and then adjust the cost of the stats on a +-50% level based on their tech level. That could work as an optional rule, but it would make things very messy designing ships and I'd prefer to avoid that route outside of a very, very, very optional rule. I like being able to design a ship at a given tech level and not have to worry about fiddling with stat point costs.

# # #

Going back to the idea of earning a pool of points to spend on new unit classes, I've thought of that and the one logical problem I have is that you are going to have some player that is going to just sit on all of their points until they pop the next tech level and then go whole hog designing new units without having anything at their previous tech level.

# # #

All in all, this is a good explanation of why the tech year model, for all its flaws, continues to be the easiest way to present and use the rules. I'm still open to alternatives that are easy, such as being able to select up to X points of new units at your current tech level upon earning a tech advance, as those systems are easy to explain and adapt to sandbox games. With those rules it would also be fairly easy to say that you have to spend at least X points per turn or put other spending restrictions in place to prevent a player from carrying over too many between tech levels.

Example: The Federation player has 3 research points leftover from TL-3 and just advanced into TL-4 and got 5 more research points (assuming a 10/year, 5 year tech advancement rate). I now have 13 to spend unlocking TL-4 units. I choose to unlock the Galaxy (8) and the Cheyenne (4). This leaves 1 point that I can spend in the future.


I will admit to a bias against freeform unit design outside of specific scenarios where tech advancement is being used to earn some other bonus (like Starmada Edition where you are improving macro techs or getting new weapon modifications/systems for the tactical game). Otherwise you end up with situations where a player can completely abandon the theme or flavor of their empire and shift to some other entirely alien order of battle. We had a few people do that in the Glorious Stars playtest years ago, and it has stuck with me as something I really don't like. :(
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby PaulB » Tue Feb 20, 2018 7:03 pm

In terms of designing ships and having a fleet veer off at a tangent.

Maybe one way to combat that is to make each new design a variation of a previous one and to impose limitations on how much those designs can vary. And you can create designs that differ more from their predecessors but the more the design is changed, the higher the cost of the new design.

Also another separate idea is perhaps new designs have higher than normal maintenance costs. And then the more ships you get into service, the lower those costs will become until they reach a certain base cost. That's already sort of the case for just having less ships than a full group, but maybe there can be additional costs on top of that.


So the first idea wouldn't limit what a person can do, they can still totally change the feel of their fleet but to do so it will gradual, not overnight. The quicker they try to change it, the more it's going to cost. The idea can also allow for explorative designs, like all the low-number destroyers the British designed before WW1s and WW2. They experimented with a few different designs and by the time the war rolled around, they focused on one design their Destroyers were best in the world.

And the second idea with additional costs would encourage fleets to be more, homogenous. Instead of having 7 different cruiser types maybe you only have 2-3. These additional cost would also slow how quickly a fleet can transition from type to another, because if a fleet builds a lot of one-off designs to shift their design methodology those one-off designs are going to be costly in terms of maintenance.

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Sat Feb 24, 2018 11:12 pm

We actually tried the "evolutionary design" path during 2E's development. That led to a few problems in that players were more or less locked in to a certain design path and you couldn't replicate equivalents of some of the post-Washington Treaty pre-WWII refits where battlecruisers were converted into carriers.

That approach honestly does work better, too, if you are working from a fixed tech tree where you are marching down a tree rather than designing your own ships. For example, unlocking a stock Heavy Cruiser and then researching an Attack Cruiser-I that is AS-heavy and then going for an Attack Cruiser-II that is a level more advanced but it is still oriented towards that AS role.

With that kind of tech development you don't have to worry as much about on-the-fly game balance because you can balance the tree itself irrespective of a standalone unit design ruleset.

After talking with Geoff, I think we've decided on keeping tech years as the basic rule (works best for historical progression) and then having a 10 year / ~6 points per tech advance rate for the advanced rules. This will allow both systems to work in tandem, and importantly it means that we can design units at a given tech level and not have to worry about adjusting their stats further. This makes it MUCH easier to do conversions.

Another advanced rule that I'm thinking of is to allow you to prototype additional units at your current tech level but at a significant cost penalty (likely equal to total system output) for players that absolutely want to introduce new units that don't appear on their force lists. But I have to think on that further. At this point it gets a bit deep into the weeds for what Rebirth is doing, but it's an idea for the expansions.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Feb 25, 2018 6:40 pm

Hmm, I think I understand and like this idea. So let me get this straight:

1) The game is divided into Eras, each of which has 60 Tech Points worth of unit types in it.
2) Players get approximately 1/2 point per game turn of Tech Points (TP), meaning they get 6 Tech Points in each game year. This means that it will take ten years to accumulate 60 Tech Points in most cases.
3) Once a player accumulates a sufficient number of Tech Points, they can unlock unit types within their current Era costing that many Tech Points.
4) Once a player unlocks all the units in their current Era, they may begin unlocking units in the next Era.

Units look something like this:
Image

So here's a thought experiment example:

A player's Era One contains: One Dreadnought (13), one Battlecruiser (10) three Fighters (3), one Light Cruiser (7), two Frigates (10), two Corvettes (6), one Light Troop (3), and one Heavy Cruiser-sized Orbital Station (8). That's twelve unit types with a total tech development cost of 60 Tech Points.

The player advancing through that era could choose to save up Tech Points over a long period of time until they had enough to gain access to the Dreadnought for that era - it would take 26 game months. Alternatively, in just two months, the player could get enough Tech Points for one of the new Fighter classes.

The next Tech Era is focused on light ships and variants. That Era might contain seven different Destroyer designs (28), four Corvette designs (12), four Fighters (4), and two Heavy Cruisers (16). That's seventeen units, all adding up to a total Tech Advancement cost of 60 points.

Players wouldn't want to do this very often, as large numbers of classes tend to increase your overall maintenance cost. However, while moving through this Era, the player would be able to unlock new units pretty often, rarely waiting more than eight or ten turns before a new unit is available.

The next Tech Era for the player might deliver heavy flagships to lead all the light units unlocked in the previous Era. Here, the player could include one Dreadnought (13), two Battleships (22), one Battlecruiser (11) one Heavy Cruiser (8), one Destroyer (4), and three Fighters (3). This Tech Era has only nine units, and each one would take a long while to accumulate the Tech Points to unlock.

In this scenario, across three eras, approximately 360 turns of play, the player could unlock 38 total unit types.

This seems like an interesting and workable system to me, and it combines some of the advantages of the Era system with some of the 'historical' translations of the Tech Year alone system.

Here's an example of what Fed Era 0 might look like under this system:
Image

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby Tyrel Lohr » Wed Mar 07, 2018 4:55 am

I think a system like what you've outlined is roughly along the lines of what I think would work for an advanced set of research rules. I am going to keep the more standard tech advancement rules for the basic rules, however, but the major difference there is that you end up with a more start-and-stop development cycle rather than the persistent model you outlined. But the result is the same.

After working with Geoff to test more combat rules and work on the unit stats, there is a good chance that we may consolidate to 5 "core" unit classes, one for each command cost, and then leave the hooks available for advanced rules to add back in the missing breakpoints. The reasoning is that it delineates the roles of the ships better, makes the unit design rules cleaner, and cuts down on the number of units that you have on the basic force lists.

This is all still up in the air, but I'm experimenting with doing the 10 year plan, with roughly 10 units per tech level, plus some extra TL-1 units that everyone gets at the start to ensure that an empire that starts at the equivalent of Year 3000 has just enough units to operate. Then at each tech year / advance, you unlock one additional unit at your current tech level until all are unlocked, at which point you can start picking from the next tech level.

I am not sure at this point if that means that the tech year rules will become scenario only, or an integrated option, or what. I have a feeling that most players would prefer the flexibility of getting to choose what they unlock from a selection of choices rather than being locked into the linear tech year model.

Geoff and I are testing these in a combat-focused mini campaign. Once we're done with that I should be ready to start the broader test game.
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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:26 pm

So for fun I messed around with the current tech advancement model - fixed points per month or year, 60 points per era, different costs to research and unlock different classes of ship. Here's how the federation might look!

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Re: Tech, Special Abilities, and Unit Design

Postby BroAdso » Sun Apr 01, 2018 12:54 pm

Oh, and while I was working on these, an interesting idea crossed my mind: rather than making all ships 'upgrade capable," it could be a special ability that ties two classes of ships together. Might make an interesting design choice - if you give a ship that special ability, you can place a 'copy' of that ship in the next TL or later down the line, but you can move, say, one point in each category for a new version. Old versions of the ship can then be upgraded to the new versions at a shipyard for a decreased cost.

Example: In my TL0, I have the 'Miranda Block A (Soyuz)', a FF with DV4/AS3/AF3/CV2/CR4. It has the special ability 'Refit Path: Miranda Block'. In my TL1, I can therefore include a FF 'Miranda Block B (Miranda), a FF with DV5/AS4/AF4/CV1/CR4. Any Block A I have built can stop into a shipyard and become a Block B for 1/2 the cost (2 EP) of building a new ship.

It's probably overcomplicated and better suited to a house rule, but since the biggest question mark right now is how the classic slate of basic special abilities will fit into the Rebirth design and combat system, figured I could throw it out there!


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