This is the 2nd in-depth post looking at the changes made in VER 8.8, you can read the full VER 8.8 summary here and the design goals post on the weapon rebalance here.
With the update to VER 8.7 we upgraded several of the Pilot Traits to have 2 effects, a good number of these ended up giving a +1 Evade bonus. While this was a nice bonus, especially for several units who were middle of the road for Evasion, I personally got a lot of great feedback on these our players and other members of the team regarding that. Mainly that with VER 8.7’s goal of reducing mental math, adding a slew a +1 Evade bonuses runs counterproductive to that goal.
And that’s a great point! So in VER 8.8 we went about trying to scrub as much mental math as we could from the game. No longer will your gameplay halt every time a Skilled or Ace pilot comes up and you have to add in several steps of bonus accuracy and bonus evade, and “what was the target number again??”
Lesson learned! Let’s see what we can do instead.
The first item to tinker with was the +1 Evade bonus. I went combing through some of the older versions of MechaStellar to see if we had any good ideas for Evasion that don’t require an annoying amount of Mental Math. I came across an idea we had a few years ago and saw some play in VER 3, our extremely experimental version. There was a trait where you could lose [M-1] to gain +2 Blocks. At the time a very powerful trait, however, it could be repurposed now.
With the Pilot Traits having evolved quite a bit since then, many of them had specific conditions, for instance the Evade bonus would apply only against targets within a short range (16″) or only against lower level pilots. With that condition in place the spend 1, get 2, trait while powerful wouldn’t be as unilaterally overpowered as it was in VER 3. So it’s worth consideration.
Often when we consider a rules change we like to also think how this will affect some of the more iconic units, in this case we were really happy with how it would work for two units in particular, the Blue Destiny EXAM series and Evan Unit 01.
The Blue Destiny units were remarkable for running berserk since the machine itself carried the spirit of a Newtype who was twisted with the malice of the machines creator, the machines were almost impossible to take down in anything besides Melee, so a Spend 1 to Block 2 Shots works out perfectly here.
Likewise, Eva Unit 01 is known for turning a fight around single-handedly (quite literally, pardon the pun) after it goes Berserk, so Spend 1 to Block 2 Melee Hits would be perfect here as well. These traits are still a bit on the strong side so we’ll be monitoring them in test games along with player feedback to ensure they don’t become an overpowered tool.
Now for Accuracy bonuses. There were only a few +1 Accuracy bonuses under Pilot Traits; for those we didn’t see too much of an issue with instead converting them into +1 Hit instead. Both provide a similar outcome (more hits against the target) with a bonus Hit generally being stronger, although there are some edge cases where +1 Accuracy is more useful. A stronger trait isn’t a bad thing here since we’ve been looking for ways to make Pilot Traits seem more valuable for a while now so a modest power boost for a few traits was fine.
Now for the difficult one, the Focus action. Swapping out the +1 Accuracy bonus for something else proved to be a very vexing problem. Applying the same logic and making it +1 Hit would have a few unintended consequences. Setting aside Commander traits, Pilot Skills and Events, people using a Focus action are predominantly the Firepower type, or the rare machine that has the Assault or Heavy Arms tag.
In the past the Focus action on a Firepower unit meant they would be have a total accuracy bonus of +3, still lower than the Accuracy+4 bonus for the Sniper role; if we instead transformed Focus into +1 Hit, suddenly the Firepower type has an edge over the Sniper; the Firepower is accuracy +2 with +1 Hit, while the Sniper is accuracy 4, depending on the roll the Firepower may wind up with more hits giving the player the impression the firepower type is a better sniper than the sniper. To resolve that you could give all Sniper units a bonus action, but now we have an arms race issue, not to mention another movement rebalance so Snipers don’t wind up as our fastest unit.
We looked at using the VER 7 rules for Focus since those were a big hit when they released. VER 7 let Focus actions give +1 Shot, so if you had several Focus actions your Beam Rifle might be laying down 6 Shots from a far range, pretty handy and a lot of fun if you gave Amuro the Focus enhancing Commander trait from VER 7. This of course had issues with machine guns who could not benefit when they were often already at 10 shots in Rapid Fire range, but with the recent change to machine guns being 6 shots and bonus hits we had design space again.
While considering this option we also had to consider the melee option for symmetry. While the mental math for Focus 5+ to a 4+ isn’t too bad, and is pretty standard fare for a 40k player, it is a rather strong option for Focus. It also has an unintended consequence of making the “Bold Leader” Commander Trait the least used out of all Commander traits. We looked at the below two options extensively first to see if they would be a suitable replacement.
The Focus to Melee Accuracy would be replaced and in this case would be bonus dice. Perhaps as +2d10 (the same as an attacker bonus) or +1d10 to ATK & DEF. The first one we immediately ruled out since it could let a Firepower Type have +4d10 Melee in lieu of shooting; while the Guncannon pummeling a Zaku is an incredible and memorable scene from MSG, we didn’t want that to be the norm for all Firepower types. The second option saw some consideration for a bit since we were interested in seeing how valuable the Defense bonus dice was. Ultimately while good it didn’t feel like the best option.
We finally settled on a third solution that merged several ideas together. The Focus action would give +1 Shot like in VER 7, however for weapons at short ranges (i.e. 16″) including all Melee weapons it would instead be +1 Hit. This way Firepower types are not better at hitting than Snipers, and instead that bonus shot at long ranges can be viewed as laydown a barrage from afar, such as the many times we see Guncannon get on all fours and start shelling the area.
It also provides a valuable bonus to short range weapons such as the tomahawk boomerang and melee attacks and as mentioned in our VER 8.8 weapons post the bonus Hit will come in handy when dealing with cross era and cross universe play. For now the range will initially start at 16″ but it may get bumped up to 24″ as we monitor its usage in gameplay.
With a solution in mind for Focus our last item to look at was the Close Combat Expert (CCE) pilot trait and its associated Tier 2 versions of Merciless Melee and Close Combat Mastery. CCE has been a bit of a problem for a while, not so much for current gameplay but certainly for all the design efforts on our forthcoming Super Robo units as well as G Gundam.
The problem arises that since CCE was the only way to get a Melee Critical Range boost, any unit using a High Crit weapons such as GaoGaiGar, Shin Getter Robo, and various units from G Gundam, felt like they were at a disadvantage if they chose any trait besides CCE. This is a rather large problem since we want traits to be equally viable and not feel as though a trait is required to be effect and not having it puts you at a disadvantage, especially when another trait would better suit your mecha.
The first step was removing the Crit range boost, but we couldn’t simply increase the melee accuracy bonus either since we’d wind up with the same problem where any melee unit who doesn’t take that trait (GoLion / Voltron for instance) is now immediately at a disadvantage. So we looked at previous versions and found a good baseline in VER 7 which we upgraded to parity with Gunnery Expert. So CCE will give +1 Hit and Block in Melee.
With that we’ve removed almost all the major elements of Mental math from the game including the most time consuming parts where you are modifying Shooting Accuracy vs Evade. For those of you who really enjoyed VER 7 you should see a few highlights come back in VER 8.8. Thank you all for reading and best of luck in your next game of MechaStellar!