Gaming: Axis & Allies Air Force Miniatures: Angels 20 is finally out, and so far I’ve been very happy with the reception it seems to be receiving. In particular, I’m relieved to see that the gameplay is receiving high marks from many of the fans. It was more than a little challenging to design a system that struck the right balance between air combat simulation and fun gameplay, and while I was fairly well satisfied with the compromises I settled on, you don’t really know how it’s going to hold up until you see what thousands of people who weren’t in your design meetings do with the system. First, let me post a link to a pretty lengthy preview article I wrote for the Forumini newsletter back in December. It’s a good overview of the gameplay, the scale, and the general design objectives we had for the game.
And here’s a link to the Forumini message boards. If you’re a fan of the A&A minis game, Forumini is a great message board to visit.
Anyway, in no particular order, here are a few reflections I’ll add now that the game is out. First: Why did we include altitude? The answer is that WW2 fighter planes generally fell into two categories: turning fighters such as the Zero or Hurricane, or vertical fighters such as the P-38, P-51, or the later Bf 109 models. (Many excellent planes were pretty good at both, of course.) Although altitude is on the complicated side for a beer and pretzels game, we felt that we needed to include it so that the vertical fighters could fight their fight just as well as the turning fighters could fight theirs. I’m pleased to see that AAAFM players are aggressively seeking out altitude advantage and making use of these rules already; it was one of the hardest things to playtest since many casual playtesters around the office simply didn’t grokk altitude tactics.
Next thought: speed. In my earliest design draft I played around with systems that conserved speed from turn to turn; if you did a lot of tight turns you’d kill your speed, and getting speed back was hard to do. Obviously that would have been much more realistic, but it was shaping up as really complicated and, well, un-zoomy for a relatively light game. In addition, we worried about creating a game that was too dependent on “system memory.” (System memory is when it’s important to remember what you did last turn, and we try to make sure that when we include a system-memory element in a game, we provide players with as much help as possible for it. In AAAFM, aircraft status is a system memory element, but we make sure the game tells you exactly when to choose it and the model’s pose reminds you what you chose when the next turn rolls around and it matters again.) Anyway, we ditched the idea of only changing speed within a narrow band of your previous speed because we didn’t want any more system memory requirements than we absolutely had to have. If you don’t mind the extra tracking, it would be easy to houserule this one.
Onto unit costs (I told you this was in no particular order). The unit point costs are definitely a little inconsistent, and I apologize for that. For the first draft of the costing I created a simple scheme that rated units A-B-C-D for offense, survivability, maneuverability, pilot quality, and special abilities. Those weren’t weighted equally; my scheme heavily weighted sheer gunnery and defense more than maneuverability. For example, planes received 5/10/15 points for frail, average, or sturdy Armor and durability. I knew it was a shaky costing system, but I had to start somewhere; that’s why the P-40 and the P-51 are so close in cost. As the game developed we chose a couple of benchmark units and did a lot of comparative costing against them, but you can tell we should have spent more time on this. In retrospect, I wish we’d weighted Climb a little heavier, since it’s proving to be more important in real life gameplay than our playtesting indicated.
One last thought for now, on the unit mix. If you’ve seen the whole set, then you know we stretched 17 distinct sculpts into 31 different units for the game. At one point the set list was more like 36 units, but cost constraints reared their ugly heads. For example, we had to push the Ki-43 Oscar and the D.520 into later sets to save on sculpting costs (a painful decision, to say the least), and we left a Spitfire Mk II and a South African Hurricane Mk I out of the mix to save on painting costs--we had the units designed, but creating the extra paint schemes proved too costly (a decision I was not too happy with). So, for those folks who wonder why we only made a Spitfire Ace, that’s why. But one interesting thing that turned up as we had to get leaner and leaner on the final set list was the way we were pushed to use the sculpts we did have in surprising combinations. For example, the MS.406 is fun because it not only covers the main fighter of the Armee de l’Aire, but also gives us an overperforming plane in the Finnish air force without using a sculpt on the infamous Buffalo. Down the road, the Hurricane could show up for any number of Commonwealth air forces—but it also flew for the Soviet Air Force and the Romanian Air Force. I’m looking forward to seeing an Axis Hurricane at some point, just because it’s something people don’t expect to see.
Politics/Current Events: My wife asked me an interesting question the other day: “Why are you conservative?” She asked because the great majority of my friends and colleagues (especially in the gaming industry) seem to hold liberal views, and she wonders why I don’t conform. It’s a good question, and it’s one I have wondered about myself.
First, a bit of clarification: I’m actually a moderate on a lot of social issues. For example, gays in the military never bothered me; I knew some when I was serving. I think evolution should be taught in science class while creation should be taught in church, and I certainly don’t have any issue with contraception. But in the big picture, I strongly favor conservative (conservative, not necessarily Republican) philosophy and governance. I have seen no evidence in my lifetime that a Big Government can live within its means. Our government has made promises in the large entitlement programs that cannot possibly be honored down the road; I do not expect to collect a Social Security check or enjoy the benefits of Medicare in my old age unless tough choices are made now. Given that, I’d rather see a smaller government that promised less and offered people more freedom to succeed to the fullest extent of their talents and hard work. In other words, I vote conservative because I think the cultural and social stuff can be worked out, but the questions of fiscal responsibility and national interest require answers at the ballot box.
Why do I think this way, when many people in my line of work cheer for the other team? Ultimately I think the native predilection toward progressive (society can be perfected) or libertarian (the individual is the best judge of his or her own good) philosophy derives from your life experience and your values. Liberalism is not a mental disorder, nor is conservatism. For the most part, people on both sides of the issues dividing our country are well educated, equally intelligent, and are decent human beings, no matter what the obnoxious pundits of both left and right claim. So why is there disagreement? I think that Occam’s razor provides an answer: Issues are complex, there are many “true” ways of seeing things, and people can disagree because there’s more than one valid way of looking at issues.
Final thought: I find it profoundly troubling when I encounter statements from people I know and respect to the effect that Republicans/conservatives must be a) uneducated, b) gullible, or c) evil. Which, exactly, do you believe applies to me? That’s an easy way to dehumanize your opponents and refuse to engage their ideas, which seems pretty bigoted and intolerant to me, especially coming from the side that claims to stand for tolerance and open-mindedness.
The Finer Things: Girl Scout cookies. The Do-Si-Dos are the best. Those are the peanut butter sandwich cookies, which rise to an unprecedented level of Sheer Awesomeness when paired with a glass of cold milk. Do not confuse the Tagalongs with the Do-Si-Dos; Tagalongs are chocolate-covered evil and do not deserve to be known as peanut butter cookies.