BattleChrome — Zone 17

Origin

In the beginning, there was RoboTech. Geeks looked upon it, and decided it was good. So the geeks went to the video store and rented other anime. And some that had mecha. And it was good. So one of the geeks bought FASA’s Battledroids game. And it was not good. So that geek designed his own game. Its name was Biomech.

We playtested the hell out of it on five different play sessions every weekend at two colleges and one community center. The universe loved it, but the universe didn’t have to buy a copy in order to playtest it. It had 324 cards. And when it was designed in 1983, that would have placed a cover price of a bazillion dollars on it. And that was bad.

So Biomech was tossed into a drawer and forgotten. For a decade.

In 1995, Jon Compton called me and proposed we start a game company. One Small Step was born. And Biomech came out of the drawer. Publishing the game in the 300+ card format was way outside of what we could afford. The design was a card game that was too much of a wargame to make a practical transition to a CCG. The path we settled on was to trim the game to one third of its original size, rename it BattleChrome, and ship the files to the printer.

Zone 17

Once in a while, I get an email from a BattleChrome fan who asks when we will publish an expansion pack for the game. In its current format, the game really has too few cards to realize the elegance of the game’s systems. The thing is, as much passion I had for the game 30 years ago, I’m really quite done with it. I like the subject matter, but I’d rather do something new than revisit an old game with old methods.

This didn’t mean that I had to toss out the baby with the bath water. I had a mountain of background material on paper and in my head, and there was no reason to toss it all. A couple of game types I always wanted to explore included role-playing and miniatures. BattleChrome provided a deserved outlet for both.

Star Fury

Concept

Star Fury is the realization of a desire I’ve had for a couple of decades. I wanted to pit-fight different ships and races from different science fiction universes. What would a battle between BSG’s Cylons and SW’s Galactic Empire look like? How might STTOS’s Fesarius fare against a fleet of Klingon D6s?

I would never be able to afford the licensing to publish a game that had all the statistics for all of the possibilities, but I could publish a framework that would provide players the tools to explore the answers themselves. The resulting discussion forum banter concerning the proper design for some particular piece of hardware should be quite entertaining…

Big Picture

The exploration of various fictional universes revealed a number of abstraction models that compose the personality of that universe. Some of the major differences include the presence of fighters and carriers; low-tech, pulse-based energy weapons versus more advanced beam weapons; and fleets composed primarily of mid-sized cruisers versus epic-size monstrosities.

We used these and other factors to organize the material. Two distinct kits were necessary to properly isolate some of the significant technological distinctions. As we assembled the material for the two games, we found that we had to trim out much of it just to keep each kit the proper size. This left an entire book’s worth of tasty goodness out of either game. We grouped all of it into a third book that we could make available as an option, either in paper or digital format.

Engineering

Star Fury is hardly the first science fiction fleet game. The only older title that provided most of what I was looking for was Task Force Games’ Starfire. Starfire’s ships had great personality and the ship design system was amazing. Starfire’s primary deficiency was the inability to handle larger fleets. The complexity of the damage allocation system limited each side to about six to eight ships as a practical upper limit. I realized that if I wanted to put up to two dozen ships on a side, I would need a simpler damage system.

Expressing the status of each system on a vessel in a fleet game seemed overkill. I boiled each ship down to a collection of basically five numbers at four damage levels. Two numbers expressed the unit’s capacity to damage targets, one number for defense, one to express non-kinetic capabilities, and one for maneuverability. Four damage levels seemed to be an absolute floor to keep vessels from melting too quickly under fire.

Realization

Originally, I was hoping to reduce each game to a rules booklet, a single page map, and a half counter sheet. In order to provide players with complete fleets, missiles, fighters, and status markers, several counter sheets are required. The ergonomics of a small map are challenging due to unit and marker congestion. The large map and counter volume require a box, and all of that together requires a higher price tag than my original plan entailed. But the total kit provides proportionately more value to players than the lower-calorie alternative.

Millennium Wars Advanced

What is it?

Millennium Wars Advanced (MWA) is a system that Modern Conflict Studies Group and One Small Step build modern military and political simulations around. The first of those game is States of Conflict, a boxed game covering the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. States of Conflict is in the final pre-press stages. The next game in the series covers the current and near-future conflicts in southeast Asia.

So what?

MWA is something new, and it is very, very special. We built a new design from the ground up. Our intent was to leave all of the normal mechanisms on the cutting room floor, unless they could establish themselves as the finest means of abstraction for a particular purpose. Almost no legacy war game methods made the cut. We did keep some of the best ideas from the original Millennium Wars and used them as foundational structures in a whole new design.

The game covers conflict on land, sea, and air, but also includes battle-spaces in near earth orbit and cyberspace. The core is a magnificent political system that provides control and understanding of the drivers for the conflict, and how those change as each side pursues objectives.

The game does not focus on kinetics. Units have neither combat strengths nor movement allowances. The variety of units in modern warfare requires a bit more creativity/open-mindedness than an old-school system could provide on a good day with a favorable tail wind. Each unit type has one or more Capabilities. Each Capability gives that unit one or more Missions that the unit can undertake. Missions from several units combine to create an Operation. Operations achieve objectives.

Each Operation type is associated with a specific Casualty Chain. A Casualty Chain is a collection of effects the target of the Operation can suffer

What is the scale?

That depends. In the original Millennium Wars, each game in the series had a unique scale. We standardized the scale in Millennium Wars Advanced, so that large seminars could conduct conflicts at a grand scale simultaneously, using a common framework. There are three core concepts that have scale in the game: Time, Area, and Units.

In the time dimension, there are two scales: Political (PolScale) and Military (MilScale). PolScale is used when kinetic operations are at a very low intensity. Each turn represents about a month, and available missions focus on strategic intelligence gathering, building efforts, and infrastructure deployments. Kinetic and high-intesity operations are resolved at MilScale. MilScale is the more typical time scale used. Each MilScale turn represents approximately one day.

In the area dimension, there are also two scales: Strategic and Operational. Strategic Scale is rarely used, and does not even appear in States of Conflict. Each hex represents approximately 300km. It is used to deploy forces and visualize counter deployments at a strategic scale, with the entire theatre represented. Operational Scale is where the scrapping takes place. Hexes are about 10km across.

In the unit dimension, there is only one scale. Air units are wings. Land units are generally brigade size. Naval units are individual ships. Offboard assets can be agency size or smaller.