MechaStellar Version 7

In Version 6 we are able to test out a lot of ideas on how we wanted Skilled and Ace Pilots to function as well as trying something different from the Army Skill / Army Morale system. Version 7 had three defining characteristics, the Momentum system, Updated design math, Streamlining of core mechanics.

Momentum

The Momentum system was our evolution of the Army Skill system. It’s creation was an attempt to blend together Army Skill as well as Command Points which were previously used to issue orders. We took the concept of Army Skill being a reflection of individual pilot skill and overall Morale and expanded it to be a reflection of the Momentum your side has on the battle. Spending momentum is meant to reflect you prioritizing survival for a unit who is now on the backfoot reeling from an enemy attack. On the other side of the coin wiping out the enemy your side builds up Momentum.

Momentum starts off by adding up the total pilot level as normal but it also includes ways for your to gain Momentum where previously the Skill system did not. We wanted Momentum to be a relatively small number that would fluctuate throughout the battle and shape how you plan out your unit turns and respond to the enemies actions. Previously you might have 20-30 Army skill if you had multiple aces, now a team usually starts between 3-7 Momentum. Quite a big difference.

By having a much smaller pool of Momentum you have to be careful about when you spend it to protect your units, as the Commander of this Army you will have to decide each turn whether you can spare the Momentum to save the unit or let it be destroyed to protect a more strategic unit.

With Momentum a player can gain more by destroying enemy units, attacking in melee and either winning or forcing a draw, lastly each player gains 1 Momentum at the end of each round. Let’s say for instance on your Ace’s turn they destroy 1 unit with a shooting attack, then destroy another with a melee attack, that +2 Momentum for destroying 2 units and another +1 for claiming Victory in Melee resulting in a big upward swing for your total Momentum. That extra momentum can let you as the Commander protect your weaker units on following turns or you can carefully save them to keep your Ace an untouchable unit.

The Momentum system is built off the Army Skill / Morale system, they are very similar in their core mechanic but very different in their total number, methods of gaining more and with a key distinction that the Momentum system can be used by any unit in your army. Previously you could only spend Army Skill if the unit had a Pilot Level of 1+. The only limiting factor is that you cannot spend more than 3 Momentum per unit turn.

We also gave Momentum an Offensive side where you could spend Momentum to improve your accuracy. This way armies with a surplus of Momentum but Grunts who have issues hitting the enemies top of the line super-prototype can spend Momentum to improve their odds. Since the aiming happens on their turn it does not affect Momentum being used for defense which happens on the enemy’s turn.

Streamlining Core Mechanics

Gaia Gear by Mamoru Ito

Shooting Vs Evade

Definitions: Shooting+1 means the accuracy has gone up by 1, essentially a 10% accuracy boost. Shots+1 means your opponent has to dodge one additional shot.

In Version 6 a Machine-gun may have Shooting-1, a railgun sniper may have Shooting+2, if you spend an action to focus you may gain +1 Shooting, if you have the high ground you’d get +2 Shooting, your opponent may get +2 Evade from a Pilot Trait under certain circumstance. Overall these are tiny modifiers and not an issue if you’re playing MechaStellar like an RPG. When you’re controlling between 3 and 30 units each of those tiny extra steps can become a headache.

To solve that we looked for ways to cut down on the mental math but still give a bonus from actions like Focus or when you have a Tactical Advantage such as firing at a target’s rear arc. Accuracy as a stat was removed from weapons, it meant sacrificing some granularity to abstraction but it was well worth the speed up in gameplay. For other actions that improved accuracy with +1 Shooting we would instead look at +1 Shots instead.

The Focus action went from +1 Shooting stat to +1 Shots with your next weapon attack. Tactical Advantage like Blindside, High Ground, etc when from Shooting+2 to Shots+2. Going from 4 shots to 6 shots doesn’t require any mental math, just an increase in the number of dice your opponent is going to roll.

It also has the nice side-effect of raising the potential damage when striking the opponents rear armor. Likewise, more shots means the enemy may need to spend more momentum to avoid being shot from behind which is very immersive without having to rely on previous exception based rule like “Blindside requires 2 Momentum to dodge instead of 1”.

Here’s a quick example of the different models. Previously you may have seen a Blindside attack having a 20% accuracy boost so let’s say 3 shots and the target Evades on an 8+ on the d10 instead of a 6+. In the new model this would be +2 Shots, so 5 shots evading on a 6+. The new +Shots vice +Accuracy model was well received by playtesters and we decided to stick with it after a couple dozen trial games.

In Melee there are no Shots so these benefits translate into bonus d10s on the Melee attack. For instance Focus gives Melee+1d10 and Blindside gives Melee+2d10. Melee itself received a major overhaul so let’s discuss that next.

Melee

In Version 6 each suit would have it’s own target number to succeed on a melee die. For instance Hyaku Shiki might have Melee 6+ where every roll of 6 on a d10 generates one succcess in Melee while the Nu Gundam has a Melee 4+. Melee damage involved adding up those hits, so if you had 4 hits and the dice showed 6, 6, 8, 10 = 30 you would deal 30 x100 or 3000 DMG. The Defender in Melee would remove one of your dice for each success they had, let’s say they had two successes so they’d take way your 10 and 8, so they’d take 1200 DMG, ouch.

In Version 7 we moved away from Accuracy being based on the Mech. Instead every die your roll succeeds on a 5+, and damage would always be 500. This made it much quicker to add up Melee damage and also brought the ceiling on Damage down. In the previous example the attacker had 4 successes, the defender has 2, so the total unblocked hits is 2 and the defender takes 500×2 = 1000 Damage. Not a large difference on damage but a significant speed up for both you and your opponent when it comes to resolving melee.

Another reason for moving away away from Melee accuracy on the suit due to the limitation on design space. So with Melee your target number could go from 2+ to 10+ on scoring a success on Melee, but let’s say you want to avoid 2+ melee monsters and don’t want to saddle anyone with a 10+ to hit in Melee. So now we’re down to 3+ to 9+. When you consider the different effects you want to have that improve Melee, a units performance, perhaps it’s size, it’s role (Battlers vs Gunners), specialist roles like Melee, and of course Piloting ability. Suddenly we have a lot of +1 traits to cram into a 3+ to 9+ design space.

One other downside to Version 6 was we had ATK and DEF profile for each weapon, for instance a Beam Saber is ATK 5d10 and DEF 2d10. This was to ensure even if you had a poor accuracy you could throw more dice at the problem on attack and generally have a chance to win and deal damage. We applied enough compensators here that most battles resulted in a tie or dealing a small amount of damage. It worked fine but one of the favorite rule systems for playtesters (and myself included) was the chance the Defender could counterattack and destroy the attacker. It was exceptionally unlikely with this system.

As a result we decided to use the Mech to determine number of dice rolling. So a Gelgoog may have Melee 5d10 while Hyaku Shiki has Melee 7d10, all Melee dice succeed on a 5+. Additionally it’s the same dice pool for attack and defense, so if luck is on your side you may be able to nail a Defense roll and score a counterattack instead of a parry.

Recap:

Version 6: Melee Target Number on the Mech, Melee dice on weapon.

Version 7: Melee dice on suit, Target Number is always 5+.

Actions

The last thing we tackled with streamlining was the Action Economy. There were various small rules scattered around that generally necessitated that most powerful suits would need or want 2 Actions. Overall we found the 2nd action wasn’t very valuable for a large number of suits or it became a needless complication.

Some units had so many useful options for their 2nd action it could lead to a bit of choice paralysis and could make a turn drag on, or worse a player may avoid using that unit until late in the round when there were less options present. Holding off on using a powerful unit because you’re worried about a misplay was not something we expected or intended so we had to figure out a way to adjust the type of actions or number of actions.

We considered dropping things down to 1 action but we were reluctant to get rid of that 2nd action since we always had Shooting and Melee as requiring an Action. Eventually we decided to give it a try where by default all suits had 1 Action but Melee was a free action one per turn. It worked out fantastically.

The small amount of suits that really needed a second action were coincidentally almost entirely Gunner types, so we brought back the old Gunner rule from VER 4 where Gunner’s got +1 Action. Since Gunner’s in general have a rather poor movement, think Guntank or a Zaku Cannon, having them burn their 2nd action on Full Throttle just means they can keep up with faster units rather than outpacing them.

Design Math

As seen in the Melee section when we were overhauling and streamlining core mechanics we would occasionally run into issues where there wasn’t enough space available to accomplish what we wanted to do with a d10 system. With Melee we saw there were many traits (Performance, Pilot, Size, Role, Specialist Role) we wanted to affect Melee but we could not fit all of that into a small range. We saw similar problems with Shooting vs Evade.

For suit design we typically give suits in an era a range of 5 points of Performance. From a Gundam perspective the One Year War era would be performance 1-5, Zeta Gundam era 6-10 and Char’s Counter Attack era as 11-15. Of course there will always be suits that are either old or exceptional that straddle both eras.

In a perfect world MS in a particular era would be able to shoot and evade one another at a reasonable scale. If every AEUG suit dodged a Hizack on a 2+ it wouldn’t be a very dangerous suit, likewise we try to avoid situations where grunt suits are unable to dodge super-prototypes. The design ethos is a general one trying to ensure that the iconic grunts of an era are effective units to field. We’re more concerned about the Hizack being able to dodge vice the Guntank II.

This means having to compress numbers on that d10 range such that a Grunt suit can still be a threat to high end models, otherwise they become dead weight in your army. To that end we had to adjust many of the modifiers on Combat Role, Specialist role, Pilot Level, to avoid situations where high end suits are dodging grunts on a 2+. Edge cases can still happen when an Ace in high mobility suit but it should not be the norm.

One additional goal we had was cross era compatibility. That way when you see older units still be a threat in the modern era. When you think of the Jaburo drop operation in Zeta Gundam some of those older models are unfortunate cannon fodder while others are still able to put up a decent fight such as the Guncannon Heavy Custom who got the drop on that poor unsuspecting Nemo.

We also want to consider the opposite problem. Looking at the Char’s Counterattack Era while the overall performance is higher does that mean that every mass produced suit should have better stats than the high end models of the past era such as the Zeta Gundam or the Byarlant? From our bench we wanted to have those high end units still be competitive in the next era, so a Zeta Gundam isn’t completely outclassed by a Jegan but it is outclassed by the cutting edge prototypes of its era such as the Nu Gundam and Sazabi.

To accomplish this goal we modified our formulas for Shooting, Melee and Evade the big three of combat to include a unit’s Frame Level. The rationale being that Frame typically represents either an advanced prototype or a high end model and those usually had cutting edge technology for their time period. While their cutting edge tech will no longer advanced in the next era, they are still powerful units who can hold their own.

In this regard a Frame 4 Performance 10 model may still have comparable if not better stats to a Frame 1 Performance 12 model. The formula’s output tends to let high frame units advance their Shooting/Melee/Evade stats faster than lower Frame units. When comparing a Frame 4 to a Frame 1 unit with the same performance the Frame 4 unit typically is typically 1-2 points higher on its combat stats. After all we don’t want to too large of a bonus otherwise we’ll end up with a high frame monster that dodges everything and hits every enemy.

Lastly like with all version the points costs of all the Mecha were updated.

Summary of Changes and a recent Playtest photo

  • Momentum System – Replaces the Army Skill / Morale system
  • Updated formulas for Shooting/Melee/Evade
  • Removal of Weapon Accuracy
  • Update various effects to switch from +Accuracy to +Shots
  • Addition of penalties when firing weapons outside max range
  • Melee overhaul & return of melee counterattacks
  • Each Mech gets 1 Action. Melee Attacks are free and Gunners get +1 Action.
  • Points Cost Update
  • Adjustment of bonuses for Indomitable and Heavy Arms
  • Revised Pilot traits
A Playtest recreating the space battle just prior to the Jaburo Drop in Zeta Gundam

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