October 20, 2014 by crew
At last we come to the end of our article series on “Make the Game Your Own: Star Wars Ground Minis.” It’s been a fun little journey, starting with an “accidental” treasure trove of old Star Wars PocketModels TCG game packs and ending with some epic recreations of Star Wars commander-level ground battles. While it will probably never be as fun as Warren has flying around the studio with his enormous X-wing, our “miniatures” system nevertheless has provided some great games, not to mention sparked great conversations here on Beasts of War.
To close out the series, I wanted to roll out some of the last additions we’ve made to the game. These include experiments with Jedi commanders, Republic drop ships, Mandalorian mercenaries, and enhanced Separatist droid variants such as the “destroyer” and commando class droids.
Our first experiment with this range involved Republic drop ships. Specifically, we’re talking about LAAT/c (Low Altitude Assault Transport / Carrier) ships, famous for dropping six-legged AT-TE walkers onto the battlefields of Geonosis. Drawing inspiration from Hawk Games and Dropzone Commander, we wanted these drop ships to be “scaled” where they could actually drop the AT-TEs as they do in the movie. Building a five-ship fleet of these from scratch (cardboard, matte board, toothpicks, and balsa wood) was no picnic, but well worth the effort once on the table.
In our game, we imagined a small force of elite 501st Battalion clones, supported by a single AT-PT walker, having seized an isolated landing pad somewhere near the Geonosis droid foundry in Episode II. Once the Separatist leaders start to flee, however, they’re determined to retake that landing pad so they can make their escape. The outnumbered clones immediately call for reinforcements, and a reserve force of AT-TE walkers and 501st infantry is detached to come to their aid. But would the initial vanguard of 501st clones hold out long enough against the much more powerful Separatist force?
For this game, we were testing not only the new drop ships (stats based on the smaller LAAT/i infantry gunships published in Star Wars: PocketModels), but also the idea of phased force deployment commonly seen in other games. After all, the idea of everyone’s forces lining up on opposite sides of the battlefield and simply colliding “Braveheart-style” can get a little boring. New detachments of reinforcements arriving at different times, and from different vectors (sometimes at the player’s discretion, sometimes not), can add new tactical depth to a game. But these games can also be tricky to balance. For our game, we started the clones with a mixed batch of elite- and regular-level 501st clone squads (five in all) and one AT-PT walker, for a total of 14 “build stars” worth of units. The droids started with a mass of OG-9 spider droids, “AAT” droid tanks, and our first try of B1 “battle droids” totalling 40 stars, giving them a huge and obvious edge until the Republic reinforcements arrived on Turn 4.
The trick was how big to make the reinforcing Republic force. The obvious answer is 26 build stars, which would bring the Republic force up to the same total (forty) as the Separatists. But is it really that simple? How much damage would the much weaker initial force of clones take during the first three turns of the game? Should the Republic get 28 or even 30 reinforcement stars to compensate? Given that the first turn of the game would see the droids simply advancing to the target, and that the Republic drop ships could bring in the reinforcements from any angle they wanted, and the initial 501st infantry would have the benefit of a building for cover, we decided to keep the force at 26. The extra damage the 501st would likely sustain in the opening turns would hopefully compensate for all the other advantages listed above.
This turned out to be an almost perfect balance. The droids managed to engage partially on Turn 2, fully on Turn 3. As expected, the initial force of 501st troopers took a terrible pounding, with the AT-PT and three out of five infantry squads eradicated before Turn 4. But early in Turn 4, some fortunate pulls of our Bolt Action-style poker chips allowed for the first reinforcement drop ships to zoom in and drop fresh squads and AT-TE walkers. This stabilized the situation, although one drop ship was taken out by “opportunity fire” – a concept often borrowed from classic Avalon Hill games like PanzerBlitz and Panzer Leader. To make an opportunity fire attack against a moving enemy unit, we required the firing unit to make 3-up check. But if this roll failed, the fire phase had been declared and the unit bad basically wasted its upcoming turn. The B1 battle droids, meanwhile, were annihilated with predictable ease, yet their cheap price (just one build star per squad) allowed the Separatist player to bring lots of them to the game. And let’s face it, in wargames, numbers matter.
Yet the staying power of 501st infantry and the flexibility of fast-moving, hard-hitting drop ships wound up being the decisive factors. After dropping their troops and walkers (sometimes behind the Separatist units), the drop ships were able to use their fast movement rate to carefully select where they would fire from, ensuring that the only enemy units in range would be the ones they destroyed that activation. This mitigated their rather weak defence values (they are aircraft, after all), and allowed them to survive long enough to lay down withering cover fire for the grunts of the 501st.
Using The Force
Another experiment was conceived based on comments we received to previous articles in this series. Basically, readers were all but demanding that we somehow include Jedi commanders in our Star War PocketModels development. This was originally something we were not interested in, since wargames are about UNITS, not heroes. Then again, what would Star Wars be without heroes? Besides, many of these Jedi weren’t just space wizards wielding silly glow sticks . . . but actual battlefield commanders. This was the angle we decided to take with our PocketModel Jedi.
One special rule our Jedi would get (regardless of which side they were on) would be a -2 to hit at ranges exceeding three inches, and no ability to engage beyond six inches whatsoever. On the other hand, they would get a +2 to hit and a +1 damage at ranges under three inches. This, naturally, is all a reflection of their reliance on melee weapons (devastating as they are) on battlefields dominated by long-range lasers and vehicular artillery. Jedi also add a +1 defence to all friendly units in their zone (within a six-inch command diameter), reflecting how their inspired leadership helps hold units together even under heavy fire. And finally, having a Jedi in your force adds an extra poker chip into the blind-pull bag that determines unit activation. Armies that have good commanders in the field, after all, have a shorter reaction cycles, sharper tactical reflexes, and a better chance of making that critical move at just the right time. At the same time, we couldn’t have Jedi be invulnerable to massed weapons fire. Remember, when Order 66 hits they’re basically wiped out in one day by their own troops. And of course with all these special abilities, they are pretty darned expensive (three build stars each).
This concludes our series on “Making the Game Your Own: Star Wars PocketModels.” I’d like to thanks everyone who read and posted on my articles, the Beasts of War team for giving me this opportunity, and of course my “BoW Editor” Ben Shaw.
"Building a five-ship fleet of these from scratch was no picnic, but well worth the effort once on the table..."
"Besides, many of these Jedi weren’t just space wizards wielding silly glow sticks...but actual battlefield commanders!"