After being gone for the first half of August, I’ve spent most of my free time the last month working on Second Edition. I’ve been shooting reports back and forth to Jay and Charlie and getting some responses back from them on a few points, and as of this weekend I’d like to report that the VBAM 2E rules look to be nearing feature lock status. What this means is that the rules are close enough to final form that barring any major problems during the final rounds of playtest there aren’t going to be any substantial deviations from what’s already written. I can now safely move on to final testing, filling out missing rules, correctly ambiguities, and generally getting the rules ready for press. I’ve already scoured the two preceding drafts and collected up all of the content that will be repurposed into final form in the current draft.
Here’s a brief overview of the changes that have occurred with the rules based on internal and external playtesting over the course of the summer:
Star System Generation: The detailed star system generation rules from previous drafts have been deferred to the Companion. The decision was made that these were too involved for what most players would want starting out, and it would be better to present them alongside the other advanced system generation options in the Companion. I’m still deciding for sure if any of the special encounters will remain in the core book or likewise be completely deferred to the Companion. I will make a final determination in the next two weeks.
Non-Player Empires: After much internal debate the decision was made to leave the NPE rules in the core book, space permitting. They are important enough to have available to all players that we want to make every effort to keep them available.
Military: Two new types of units (gunboats and satellites) have been added to the rules. Gunboats act as flight/starship hybrids, while satellites act kind of like gunboat/starbase hybrids. There are several advantages to each that should make them interesting additions to a campaign. Gunboats are now the type of unit that can be based from Tenders, and satellites are fixed defenses that unlike starbases can be moved from system to system. A new “system defense net” rule has been added to allow starbases to bring satellites into combat in the same way that carriers bring their based flights into combat.
Colonies: There have been some substantial changes here from previous drafts. I ultimately decided to roll back to a monolithic Infrastructure statistic, analogous to Productivity in 1E, for the 2E core rules. Rules for “diversified infrastructure” that splits it out into Economy, Industry, and Agriculture will appear in the Companion. This change was precipitated by game balance issues and the fact that the split infrastructure types were causing readability issues with some elements in the rules. Better to start simple and expand out afterwards.
The current rule draft has also shifted back to using colony ships to colonize distant systems. Colony ships cost 50 EP and are purchased at colonies using their industrial capacities. Players then move them to their destination in the normal way. This replaces the automatic, range-based colonization option in previous drafts.
Rules that were added but later discarded include paying upkeep for Infrastructure. A nice idea, but ultimately wasn’t necessary after a few other changes to the rules.
Morale: Morale has also seen a few significant updates in the new draft. I have reintroduced event based Morale check triggers ala 1E, but with outcomes based on a D10 die versus a D6. If a system meets an event trigger they roll a morale check and see if their system’s Morale value changes. The morale shift rules remain in effect, too, so that each colony rolls a D10 each turn and can gain Morale on ’10′ or lose Morale on ’1′. This keeps Morale values fluid, something that was a big problem in 1E.
Facilities: The facilities rules have been redone. All facilities now cost 50 EP and require 1 EP per turn to maintain. The maximum number of facilities per system is equal to its Carrying Capacity. Right now Census is required to operate facilities, though I may remove this stipulation pending the next playtest cycle if I find that it doesn’t add anything to play. My biggest concern is that it prevents players from operating facilities in uninhabited systems, which I would like to have as an option.
Commerce: The commerce rules have undergone significant revision based on rules I developed while on vacation in August. I have since tweaked them based on subsequent testing and rule editing. As it stands now, a system has a commerce range equal to 5 times the number of active Starport facilities in that system. This is the maximum distance (by jump lane movement cost – more on that later) from the system that the player can establish a trade route. Trade routes connect two systems together for the purposes of trade, and both systems are added to the player’s trade network. System trade values are now equal to Census + Utilized Infrastructure. This is the amount of commerce income a player earns if the system is part of their trade network. Note that a player won’t earn any commerce income from its home system unless it can create a trade network to another system, and you only earn commerce income once from any given system even if its part of multiple trade routes.
Piracy remains largely the same, except that piracy checks are only rolled for systems that have trade routes connecting to it. Commerce raiding rules still need to be finished, but their effects will negatively impact a system’s trade value for all empires trading there based on the total Command Cost of raiding units. For example if you had 10 CC of ships raiding your system its trade value would be reduced by 10 EP per turn.
Movement: This is probably one of the larger changes in the game in this draft. I have rolled back to having jump lane classes as a mandatory part of the rules, with movement costs assigned accordingly of major (1), normal (2), minor (3), restricted (4). The movement cost is the amount of FTL value a unit must expend to move across the lane. This means that a unit would need FTL 4 to be able to cross a restricted lane in a single turn. Extended Jump rules are available to allow a unit to cross a lane that has a cost greater than its FTL value, or you can order your units to make an Emergency Jump that may or may not result in them being crippled or destroyed. You have to weigh the risk versus the reward in those cases.
The main reason for these changes to the movement rules is to correct some issues I was running into with how units were interacting during movement. I wanted to slow movement a bit and better control how commerce and supply interacted with the rules. In the old drafts it was becoming almost too easy for ships to move around the map, and move too quickly for comfort. While it’s true that the current rules allow units to move very quickly over major lanes, the cost of upgrading lanes to that level is extraordinary.
Exploration: The one change to the exploration rules is that Scouts now allocate their Scout value to a lane in order to get their exploration bonuses instead of relying on the partial success result on the Exploration Table. The tempo of exploration is that you allocate your Scout value before your exploration roll and then get +1 per 5 Scout value that has been accumulated against that lane (rounding down). A fleet with 3 Scout value would get +0 on the first turn , +1 on the second and third turns [6, 9], +2 on the fourth turn , +3 on the fifth turn , and so on. This adds a bit more bookkeeping to exploration but it allows for a more natural progression towards exploration success.
Technology: Again, this new drift marks a major shift in the rules. Taking a cue from previous incarnations of the rules, I’ve decided on a system that eschews overall tech levels in return for having a separate tech level for every ‘technology’ in the game. This includes things like Defense, Attack Strength, Point Defense, Command Rating, and FTL plus all of the other special abilities. Each tech level reduces the cost per point of value by 5-10% (still getting a feel for which is the best for the campaign rules, but leaning towards 10% to make it better for standard vs. long term campaign play).
The next major change to research and development is that empires no longer have universal tech pools. Instead, each system allocates tech points towards its own research projects. This serves the purpose of limiting tech advancement (which was a major issue in previous drafts) and gives an empire the opportunity to research multiple technologies simultaneously. Each system has a research capacity equal to its Census, +1 per Research Lab facility. Tech advancement costs are equal to an empire’s system income, and each tech advance increases the associated technology’s tech level by 1.
The reason for this change is because it’s frankly more interesting to play a game where each empire can specialize in a specific area of research and have ships that have better defenses, better guns, or otherwise excel in specific ways. The empire tech level concept will live on in the empire setup rules, but it’s role will be restricted to telling players how many ‘points’ they have to use to buy their starting tech levels.
Sadly, the pre-interstellar empire rules from previous drafts have been moved out of the Campaign Guide and back to the Companion. The page length they added to the book is significant enough that they’d be better served as a full chapter in a later book. I would have preferred to keep them standard, but we’re already looking at the Campaign Guide being a 200 page book once all of the other content is finished.
Intel: The new intel rules are finished (finally), and so far the people that I’ve had review them haven’t found any glaring issues with them. These rules have probably been the hardest to pin down, and I ended up looking back at other 4X games for inspiration. The current incarnation of intel has the player purchasing “System Intel” in the same way they would buy Infrastructure. System Intel provides both offensive and defensive intel benefits. They can also use intel to place Operatives in an opponents systems to aid their offensive intelligence efforts. The outcome of an intel mission is then decided by rolling a D20 and adding your offensive intel and subtracting the enemy’s defensive intel. The break points for mission success and detection are split between different results on the table. To balance intel use, any mission that is detected results in each participating system losing 1 Intel. This should dissuade players from overusing intel mission, as intel mission spam has been a problem with some of the previous versions of intel.
Diplomacy: This is the one section of the rules I’m still hashing out the most details with, but look for it to be a hybrid of the 1E and previous 2E draft rules. You’ll still have culture (AIX) interactions here, but you’ll also have treaty modifiers similar to those in 1E diplomacy. Each empire will have a limited pool of diplomatic points to spend on diplomatic actions each turn equal to their imperial capital’s Census plus 1 per embassy they’ve established at foreign capitals. These points can be used to influence relations with other powers, offer or break treaties, declare war, etc. The idea is to remove some of the rules kruft that has developed in this section over the last few revisions.
Encounters: Whoa, boy, this is the big one. Encounters have been changed so that each player has a set pool of command points that it uses to perform actions during each encounter. This is similar to the old intensity mechanic except each player has his own pool of command points to spend. These points can be spent on generating space combat scenarios (the bread and butter of encounters), but they can also be spent to bring reinforcements into the system from nearby systems, retreating units, and performing emergency repairs.
Squadrons are back in the current draft (in pog form!), as they fixed a problem I was having with getting the new task force generation rules working. Under the new system, when number of command points you spend on a scenario tells you the maximum Command Cost of squadron command units you can add to your task force. If you spent 6 CP on this scenario then you could add 2 x 3 CC squadron command units, or you could add 6 x 1 CC squadron command units if your preferred wolf pack tactics. You then fill out your squadrons with units up to the command unit’s own Command Rating.
CSCR Combat: This is where those encounter changes come home to roost. The flow of combat has been streamlined, and in most cases a player is only going to be making two die rolls per combat round (one for PD and one for AS). Combat rolls have changed, too. The basic concept remains the same in that you’re multiplying a value times your stat total and then dividing by 10, rounding to the nearest whole number. What’s different is that you roll a D6 for each squadron in the battle and use the highest number rolled. In the case of multiples, you get a +1 bonus per die that matches your highest roll. This means a task force with three squadrons would roll 3D6, and if all three were ’6′s it would end up with a 8x multiplier to its combat roll. This makes having large number of squadrons a good thing, as it moderates your die rolls and keeps you from rolling really lousy. It also adds an extra layer of tactics in that an opponent really wants to take your squadron out to deprive you of those extra dice.
The way damage is scored has also changed. The attacker now scores all damage against targets. The defender does get a chance to intervene in the process however based on how he spends his PD to purchase formation bonuses earlier in the combat round. Don’t want an enemy to target your wounded flagship? Improve its formation value to a level that your opponent is going to be sacrificing a lot of damage to get those hits in. Practical testing shows that this should speed up CSCR resolution a lot, especially during PBEM or IM play.
Ground Warfare: Ground combat follows the same path as encounters and the CSCR. There are a few other special options that are unique to ground combat, like ordering your troops to “go guerilla” as a command action, but otherwise it’s largely the same as the encounter rules.
Supply: I have to finish making some changes to out of supply level rules, but otherwise supply follows the same ideas from commerce in that a system’s supply range is equal to 5 times the number of active Supply Depots in the system. A system with 2 Supply Depots could trace supply over 10 cost of jump lanes. That’s a substantial distance over major or normal lanes, but still pretty limited over minor or restricted lanes.
Construction: This section is requiring some fine tuning to adjust to changes I’ve made in the past month, but essentially the total number of purchases that a system can make each turn is equal to its industrial capacity (Utilized Infrastructure x RAW). I really would have loved to have enough resource govern that, but the overwhelming reaction to that idea was negative so I’ve dropped the idea for now. Players can increase a system’s industrial capacity (IC) using Orbital Factory facilities, each of which provides +5 industrial capacity to their system. You can apportion IC and EP to units over multiple turns using extended construction, which allows a system to build units that are greater than their IC.
I’ve also reintroduced the dock space concept. Dock spaces are required to build starships, and the number of dock spaces a unit requires during construction is equal to its Command Cost. You start with a number of dock spaces at your planetary construction sites equal to Utilized Infrastructure that can only be used to build atmospheric starships. Orbital Shipyards each add an extra 10 dock spaces. There are also Repair Yard facilities that can only be used to perform repairs, but they provide 20 dock spaces per facility, or twice that of a conventional Shipyard.
Construction time have been shortened to being equal to a unit’s Command Cost. This seems to be a good balance between playability and resource scarcity. While longer construction times can be fun, they can also be counter productive in traditional games that might only run 30-40 turns.
The next public playtest draft will be released on or before October 8, 2012. I’m going to use the next two weeks to run some more internal tests, finish up as much of the rules text as possible to get it to a playable format, and generally get the rules into a presentable state. There are a few spot rules that are still in need of revision to bring them back in line with the recent changes.