As we’ve been going through Rules overhauls one thing that has probably changed the most has been shields. At the bottom we have the latest version.
In the earliest versions Shields were a simple bonus to your Armor Save (+1 Shield, +2 for a Super Shield, +2 Melee shield in Melee) that applied whenever your Shield was useful which meant anytime you weren’t getting blindside and shot in the back.
Shields then later moved away from having a bonus to your Armor save, that way your armor save number would always be the same. It made the game much easier to play when you were running multiple suits and not have to do several layers of mental math every time you were shot. Shields instead provided a die bonus, changing your armor save from a d8 to a d10 for instance.
To recap in the old system it might go something like this. You have an ARM Save of 4+, your Shield gives you a +1 bonus, so in effect you have a 3+ save, but your opponent fires a giant bazooka at you with PEN 2 so your final save is a 5+ on a d8. Contrast this with, you have an ARM Save of 4+, your shield lets you roll a d10 instead of a d8, you are shot by a giant bazooka so your ARM Save is a 6+ on a d10. We’re only eliminating one step here but it saves a ton of time in larger battles and smooths things out when you’re running 3-5 types of suits.
Over time we added in rules for Shield breaks, after having a lot of fun using them as an optional rule in fantasy RPGs. Believe me there have been over a dozen revisions of Shield Break rules. They were introduced to give our weaker units a chance to break their shields and survive a hit, which seemed to synch up well with what we saw in the animation. Problem of course is that more rerolls tends to bog the game down, and we hit peak rerolls in our large scale playtest in December.
We tried a few more ideas for rerolls, the most recent one was the most streamlined. Break your shield to pass any Armor save. Easy to remember! No rerolls needed, gives grunts a lifeline. But it has some unintended consequences. Now every grunt with a shield has a get out of jail free card, so you have to double tap every grunt with a shield which now bogs down all your hero units. That’s not great from a gameplay or lore perspective.
Okay so looking at the animation we can think of plenty of times where a beam shot will go through a cannon or when a death ray simply annihilates a suit, shield or no. So we can come up with a caveat that says, you cannot break your Shield against “Anti-ship” weapons. Alright, so as long as your hero unit has one of those good to go, no problem.
It doesn’t solve the issue of grunts fighting grunts, where now you have to track if someone’s shield is intact and decide if it’s worth using and whether that shield break applies to the entire burst of rockets or machine gun shells or just the one they choose from.
In short, it’s quite a bit of bookkeeping especially if you’re running 5-20 grunt suits. So at the end of the day we decided that Shield Breaks would stay an optional rule for Mechastellar. It’s best in RPG mode when you’re only managing 1 suit, or in small scale games where both you and your opponent are happy to track one more line item in your force.
So what did we decide on? Well, we came up with a few options.
The first option was to have Shields eliminate PEN from weapons, except for Anti-Ship weapons like a Hi-Power Beam Rifle or Giant Bazooka which would retain their killing power. With grunts have poor armor saves (6+ or 7+ on a d8) they only had a chance of making a Saving Throw against machine guns or rocket barrages. Any beam shot would kill them instantly. By taking away PEN they get to roll their 6+ or 7+ on a d8 and have a small chance of surviving megaparticle guns, beam rifles, and beam pistols if luck is with them.
The problem we ran into with this rule was that units that took a +1 PEN weapon upgrade were essentially useless against anyone with a shield. If I send 6 machine gun shots at you with +1 PEN, as long as you have a Shield I now have 0 PEN. Ultimately I just spent a precious equipment slot on a weapon upgrade that would have no effect on half the units in the game. This is problematic. So here’s what we settled on.
- A standard Shield allows you to block and negate one Shooting Attack (and all effects) in your front 180 sight arc. You may not use your shield when blindsided.
- A standard Shield cannot block Anti-Ship weapons
- A Super Shield (WT+1) can block Anti-Ship weapons
While your Shield is in play the enemy you may stop a single shooting attack on an enemies turn. This does not work against Anti-Ship weapons (Deathray, Giant Bazooka, Beam Cannon, Gundam type Hi-powered Beam Rifle) unless the target has a Super Shield like the Physalis or Gelgoog.
This rule has been a hit so far since it’s breathed new life into our grunts. By equipping a shield its a guarantee they can survive a single shot from say a Megaparticle Gun or Beam Rifle but not an Anti-Ship weapon. Since they can survive one shot, opponents now need to be judicious with their attacks often sending 2-4 shots at one target to ensure it results in a kill.
Additionally this rule has made Penetration on rapid fire weapons quite valuable. Now a Hi-Zack or Gelgoog Marine with a PEN +1 upgraded Machine Gun can be quite threatening to a unit with a decent armor save since their large volume of fire means more than few shots will get through and a Shield can only stop one. Overall, it added a bit of depth and strategy to the game so it’s here to stay.
We ran through 5 playtests today for Shields involving GM Customs & Gelgoog Marines in a few games and HiZacks and Nemos in the others. (Pardon the lemon, we frequently use citrus to represent asteroids.) Overall the rule is fast, light, easy to remember and resulted in a lot of fun games so it’s here to stay.