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Thursday, 3 August 2017

Overview of changes from v2 in Fanstorm

After the last post there were a certain portion of the Facebook fraternity (yes, they're all guys) who started trolling me and my post/blog. Now I don't mind healthy discussion, but when things start to get nasty, personal or just dull with people asking the same thing that you really don't have to justify, it's trolling. These ranged from people arguing that v1.5 was the best version ever and saying v2 was awful (yeah, really!), to unrelenting demands for evidence to be shown on my claims.

I guess this is inevitable, and I've set myself up for it by putting supposedly "controversial" statements into the public domain, but it still feels unpleasant. It made me think whether I should continue, or whether just to leave FA to v3 and walk away.

But guess what? This is a personal blog, it's my opinions, thoughts and feelings, and I don't HAVE to substantiate my claims beyond getting people to look at things themselves. Do I have evidence to support my claims? Yes. Is all of it in a format I could share? No - because some of it is in personal emails from Neil, some of it is from my former privileged access within Spartan which is not publicly available, and despite my lack of faith in Neil and his company's direction - and my vocal opposition to the things he's doing - I'm not Julian Assange!

So if my writings make you angry, if you don't believe my claims - that's fine. Don't read my blog, don't read my Facebook posts, just carry on - if all is good and I'm an annoying fly buzzing around, you have nothing to worry about, do you? If you think I've got "sour grapes" or am just grinding a personal grudge, then leave me to it - how can it affect you? When TheoryMachine release Fanstorm, don't even look at it - how can it be of interest? Here's a thought - you're probably not the demographic I want to support anyway.

In any case, I am going to continue, so like it or lump it!

The people I DO want to support are those I've always wanted to support, those invested in the Firestorm universe as it developed from v2 release. Those who have bought into that (sometimes in a large way) and have felt let down and disappointed by unfulfilled promises. Those who crave more depth and background in their FA universe that works with the prior background and timelines (such as they are) and flesh out the technologies and structures therein. People who like the structure and playstyle of FA in v2, but want those tweaks made to make the game flow better than it did before, without losing the complexity of the game.

FA is a relatively "chunky" wargame - it's got lots of stuff in it. It's like 40k in that regard, rather than X-Wing. It SHOULD be a 90-120 (maybe 180) minute game, not a 30-60 minute game. That's what Fanstorm is aiming to do - preserve (or actually increase) the tactical depth of the game, whilst making elements identified by the bulk of the community and metas faster or flowing more easily.

So what does this mean? What changes were the FFG looking at and how does that affect Fanstorm - in short, what is due to change in Fanstorm, what will it give you? 

  1. Making movement faster/easier. I've already described this in prior blogs.Someone has commented that "Firestorm doesn't need templates" - well, true, it doesn't NEED them. So why did we look at this as a solution? Well, they have been playtested worldwide with a number of groups, and most like them....there's a couple of reasons for that I believe. 
    1. It makes predicting movement easier, because a template shows where you'll end up (roughly) before you move the model, and "rewinding" ship movement is a time-killer. This means you can see where movement will leave you touching other stuff before starting - this is really important in the later stages of the game (or "the knife fight"). 
    2. It makes movement easier whilst preserving the "feel" of existing FA movement (since you're still describing a polygon of the same radius. In fact, I'd argue that the movement feels more like space combat movement than v2.0, because it's more fluid on the tabletop.
  2. Adjusting SRS. This is a hugely controversial topic, and one solution is unlikely to satisfy everyone's personal likes in this regard. The route we talked about most was to remove PD from bombers entirely, keeping their potency but making them very vulnerable to Interceptor cover. Interceptors are "attached" to squadrons for PD support, preventing wholesale PD wall spamming. They can also be "attached" to large tokens to provide protection on attack runs. Fighters now become more useful because they do a little of both roles, a bit less well. So you can run in two squadrons of Bombers on a target, but if the opposing player can get Fighters or Interceptors there, they're going to get mauled. This makes SRS collaborative, and not just a plain binary choice between Bombers or Interceptors. There are reasons for taking the other SRS types too (more below)
  3. Firing Options. Linking is a bugbear of some (not all) players of FA. It can get a bit complex at times with squadrons of partly damaged ships with multiple linking weapons...what dice do you roll? We tossed this around a lot, and the best way seemed to be to have a second stat for every weapon showing their linking values, and then just subtract all damage from the linked pool before rolling. This makes calculation faster, and also opens up some design space where some weapons are better than others at linking. We also looked at other options, like Targeted Strikes, which are hardly used in FA v2.0. Moving to a Heavy Dice mechanic for them, together with a redesign of the TS table increases their potency without making them indispensable. Overwatch was also introduced to add another tactical option without any real increase in complexity - we determined it would probably be little used, but situationally it would be important to have, so why not?
  4. Fleet Building. This was one of the highlight innovation successes of v2, but it was restrictive in some ways - releasing new ship types for a race caused issues if it didn't already have it in there, and it was possible to build some effective spam lists. Fanstorm approaches this by using a more fluid definition of Tier level based on a ships value. This provides much more design flexibility and actually allows much more balanced but creative list building, with no extensive calculations.
  5. The Aquans. This is really about points balancing and adjustment. Because SRS can be spammed easily by the Aquans (and the Relthoza), and the Aquans have lots of arcs of fire, and are quite forgiving to play they're often seen as "easy mode", especially by new players. This is an issue because perception is reality, but actually is addressed a lot by a variable threshold fleet building tool and some overall recosting. The Aquans should be a highly efficient, highly technological race but without the reserves to field masses of top-tier stuff, which the current rules allow. What they have is very points-efficient, but they have to grow their ship hulls, meaning they should be (from a fluff perspective), a bottom-heavy race. What plays at the moment is the exact opposite. These unintended effects occur in a few races, but its actually very simple to rebalance that without nerfing the hell out of anyone.
  6. Command & Control. We saw an opportunity to have a more structured C&C function than the FTB/TAC card/Admiral interaction in existing FA, to add some tactical depth to this and other elements. As such, we introduced Command Allocation Dice - a pool generated at the start of a turn and used for various effects - re-rolls of disorder and repair checks, overwatch fire, TAC cards, Admiral special abilities and Cyberdefence. As they're dice it's easy to track, since when you roll it it's gone - and everyone has lots of dice in FA to use in this regard. It also adds flavour to races such as the Directorate, who wear down the CAD pool, but also allows the opposing player to be more tactical with their cyberdefence, rather than the "Dindrenzi are immune, Sorylians are very vulnerable" result that using FTB had in v2
  7. Terrain. Some Terrain needed tweaks, and interactions with terrain clarified in some areas (e.g. the ghost ship/station). The main issue with terrain was how much to put down and how - a more structured way to build your gaming tables is presented.
  8. Cyberwarfare. You either love it or hate it, and it feels either OP or worthless - in effect down to a table where 33% of the time you generated a Hazard marker. These are now tweaked to make them more appealing and consistent, without making them direct weapons
  9. Mines. Although I never really had an issue with v2 mines, some people did - especially in where they come in the order of play, specifically making "drive by" minings that are indefensible a thing. Making Mines regular indirect weapons solves this to a large extent...drive by minings put the mining ship equally at risk....
  10. Damage, Degradation & Repair. The double degradation method with HP and CP affecting AD was complex for new players, and didn't add much to the game. We got rid of CP affecting AD, and instead had it affect repair instead, which seems much more logical and interesting.
  11. Streamlining MARs. There are a lot of MARs in FA, and not all of them are extensively used or particularly useful, so an examination or those and making them either more useful or getting rid of them entirely seemed like a good idea. Also, MARs that required iterative dice rolls (like Torpedo Spook - which force re-rolls) were looked at to see if the feel/effect of the MAR could be preserved whilst reducing the time to resolve it. So in the case of Torpedo Spook, halving the defensive PD successes of a target is a faster (and more consistent) way of reducing the effectiveness of PD than re-rolling those same dice. Additional dice-rolling steps where they don't add much to the overall experience is always a preferable route.

Now is this going to be universally loved? Probably not - but the beauty of Fanstorm is that if people adopt it and think things should be changed, we can look at them and do what the community wants - or provide solid reasons why we think that would alter other aspects of the game.

Anyway, let me know if you think this sounds interesting, and it's worth TheoryMachine finishing the ruleset - we don't want to just waste our time on something no one wants, after all.