[MS] Design Goals VER 8 – Pilots

Our biggest factor driving the Version 8 update was an update to the Pilot rules. Pilot has stayed fairly steady over the last few Versions with each rendition improving your Army’s Momentum. In Version 8 we wanted to make Pilot more important on an individual unit basis instead of just strengthening your army.

In Version 7 Skilled & Ace Pilots offers three major benefits. The first is that they can target whoever they want, they don’t have to target the nearest model or in the case of Return Fire they don’t have to attack the person who just attacked them. A convenient and valuable rule so no change there. The second was that your Pilot Level added to your Army’s starting Momentum, so if you had two Skilled Pilots (Level 1) and 3 Ace Pilots (Level 2) you would start off with 8 additional Momentum (2×1 + 3×2). The third benefit was that Skilled / Ace Pilots could use a better assortment of Skills & Commands.

Let’s start with Momentum. Improving Starting Momentum was one of several Pilot bonuses we used in VER 6 & 7 and to great effect. One player who took an army of grunts might start with only 3 Momentum while another with a few units comprised of Skilled and Ace pilots could start off with 10 Momentum, this would matter quite a bit in the first few turns of a battle where too few Momentum meant that a beam rifle or beam cannon could take out a valuable target early. It also matched our expectations where an army of elites would have more Momentum than a horde army.

The problem that arises from this system is that the Momentum was for the army and not just for the pilot. Normally you’d be spending Momentum on the better pilots since they generally had either a good unit or pilot trait, often times player’s would end up devoting lots of Melee protecting one unit then running out when it came time to save their Ace.

Next up we have the expanded Skills & Commands. Some very powerful Commands were Ace locked, or turned into a Reaction command when used by an Ace which made them quite versatile. This was useful but we always saw Commands as an optional layer of the game and not quintessential to the gameplay experience. When it came to Pilot Skills Skilled or Ace pilots most commonly used “Make it Count” which allowed them to transform Momentum into a Hit. This was useful but again felt pretty lacklustre and more importantly meant that our Ace pilots were quickly burning through the Momentum you started the battle with. Version 8 sought out to address these two weakenesses.

We tested out a large number of ideas for Pilot and went back to the drawing board (and previous Versions) more than a few times. Below are some examples of different ideas we tried out

  1. Pilot reduces the Momentum cost of Skill Defense by their Level (Minimum 1)
  2. Skilled Pilots get +1 Hit, Ace Pilots get +1 Block
  3. Pilot Level increases weapon Penetration by their level.
  4. Reroll dice (Melee or Evade) equal to your Pilot Level
  5. Pilot gives a 1-2 free focus actions on each unit turn
  6. Gain Momentum equal to your Pilot Level each time the unit activates
  7. Pilot gives Skill (think of it as temporary Momentum) equal to their level which can be used to pay for Skills (but not Commands)
  8. Pilot increases the Momentum limit
  9. Pilot level determines the number of times a unit can be activated
  10. Skilled pilots can gain a bonus action (5+ on a d10) Ace Pilots can gain a bonus turn (10+ on a d10) add your Pilot Level to the d10

When evaluating we considered the following critera: Is this a benefit for all unit types or just some? Is this intuitive or easy to remember? Is it complicated or mechanically fiddly? Does this make the unit unkillable (or close enough)? Does this make your Ace feel like an Ace?

A lot of these rules were fun but unfortunately didn’t satisfy an important criteria. Let’s run through them.

Does this benefit all unit types?

A rule like reroll dice equal to your Pilot level is very easy to remember, intuitive, and overall solid benefit. Unfortunately there are no die rolls for Shooting so this would only benefit units in Melee or when Evading. While most units will need to Evade at one point or another it didn’t feel fair to Gunner & Sniper type units. Likewise for free Focus actions, this could improve ones Shooting or Melee but had no effect on Evade, which doesn’t exactly make your Ace feel like an Ace especially when they’re piloting a unit with a modest Evade bonus.

Similarly with Pilot level gives +Level in PEN mostly affected beam weapons and to a modest extent weapons like a bazooka. Units that preferred Machine Guns (or low PEN Melee weapons) were left out in the cold for that bonus.

Is this intuitive or easy to remember?

There were several rules we liked and were easy to remember. Many of them had varying strengths so there were proposals to use two or more of the above list and that got a bit cumbersome at times. Letting Pilot level give you additional actions was easy to remember but perhaps too potent at times, it’s suggested replacement which involved dice rolling to activate wound up being annoying and complicated most of the time but an absolute blast when it went off.

Is it complicated or mechanically fiddly?

The first one on our list was a contender for the longest time, it seemed simple enough and was well balanced but after our large Super Robot Wars style games it was eventually scrapped. While the rule was universally helpful and balanced by the fact that Skills would cost a minimum of 1, it was a pain to remember and the mental math was painful. To give you an example: Big Duo is attacking Death Scythe. Death Scythe evades 2 out of 6 shots, so there are 4 hits coming at him, normally this would cost 4 momentum to block but Death Scythe has an Ace pilot so instead it costs -2 Momentum to 2 Momentum to block. Seems straightforward when reading, it’s a bit more cumbersome when playing and holding conversation, it gets even worse when you dodge 4 out of 6 hits, so it would cost you 2 Momentum, but then it would cost you 0, but it’s minimum 1, so on and so forth. A balanced system but it ground gameplay to halt on several occasions.

One of the replacements was to make Pilot Skill, a call back to what Momentum used to be called. This would in effect be temporary Momentum only usable on the Pilots turn they could spend on whatever they wanted. Of course, in order to be used with Skill Defense it had to be usable every unit turn, the possibilities were endless there and not in a good way. It also meant mental math on both player’s part and really wasn’t fun when you deduce there was no point to attacking.

Does this make the unit unkillable (or close enough)?

More than a few of these rules made an Ace feel like an Ace, which to our playtesters meant unstoppable killing machines for the most part. The problem was many of these rules meant the Ace was simply too hard to bring down and could often go the entire game without risk of death as long as the player hoarded Momentum. Giving bonus blocks or cheaper blocks unfortunately ended up making the game drag out into stalemates and these weren’t very fun, especially for testers who preferred death match over capture the objective.

Does this make your Ace feel like an Ace?

There were several ideas above that were fair, balanced or fun but didn’t really satisfy the desire to make the individual unit matter. For instance instead of starting Momentum letting the pilot gain Momentum each time they activate equal to their pilot level was extremely good but it was more of the same, a benefit for the army and not for the Ace.

Tying multiple activations to pilot was a novel idea we had a lot of fun with. Ultimately though that dramatically improved a units potential and at that point it would no longer be fair for Pilot to remain a static cost remover. Take for instance an Ace in a Gundam vs an Ace in a Zaku II, one is far more capable than the other so each bonus turn they took were valued much higher. In order to make that one work Pilot would turn into a cost multiplier which made some games swing very hard, since a unit became 2-3x more expensive but if it died too early never made a commensurate impact.

Unfortunately we couldn’t settle on the ideas presented above, since they ended up violating one or two of our criteria. So we kept modifying and combining these ideas and testing them until we found one that we are happy with. For VER 8 here is what we came up with.

Pilot Level

Your Pilot Level reduces the Momentum cost of Pilot Skill to a minimum of 0. It does not reduce the cost of Universal Skills such as Defense or Disengage whose cost can never be modified. You may only use one Pilot Skill per unit turn.

Simple, easy to remember, and keeps the Ace pilot from becoming Immortal. With this ability we combed through the Commands list and moved any ability that was closer to a Skill than a Command. This gives each unit a wide flexibility on how you want to represent your Pilot on the battlefield by letting you use Skills that fit your unit and making them affordable for your unit.

For instance Vulcans are 1 Momentum normally, so a Skilled Pilot could fire them for 0 Momentum. They could even fire them on their opponent’s turn as they close in to range. Since they can only use one Skill per unit turn this means they need to consider whether this is worthwhile if it means losing your change to spend Momentum to block incoming attacks. It opens up a wide array of playstyles for the different units and a bit of tactical thinking when it comes to using your skills or setting traps for the enemy.

Since there are quite a bit of Pilot Skills now in Version 8 we do limit them for your army. In addition to the Universal Skills each Army may select two Pilot Skills for their army to use prior to the start of battle. Of course if you and your opponent want to run a showdown of Aces and War Heroes feel free to apply Rule 0 and select more Skills for your battle.

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