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Re: OFF-TOPIC mini review B5 Wars (Designers Comments)

From: Jim Bell & Christine Hartig <jnbell@i...>
Date: Wed, 23 Jul 1997 22:39:46 -0400
Subject: Re: OFF-TOPIC mini review B5 Wars (Designers Comments)

Here is an offical response to the Review.

Before you flame me I'll say that most of the points raised by Chris may
be valid. So I gave AoG a chance to respond and this is that response. I
was also a playtester for AoG and did not agree with all the original
rules. Though at this point I can't comment on the released rules
because it hasn't reached the local stores yet.

Jim Bell

> Subject: OFF-TOPIC mini review B5 Wars
> Date: Tue, 22 Jul 1997 13:52:43 -0500
> From: "Christopher Weuve" <>
> Reply-To:
> To:
> 1) I haven't played the final version; I was a playtester, though, for
> earlier incarnations, and I have looked over (somewhat briefly) the
> version purchased at Origins.
> 2) Almost all of the suggestions our playtest group made were ignored.
> this means you think that I am a cranky and bitter old coot whose
pissed he
> didn't get his way, well, I would like to point out that my opinion of
> product hasn't changed since I saw the first playtest copy.
> It's better -- barely -- than the playtest version.  Unfortunately,
most of
> the things that were broken are still broken, with the likelyhood that
> something was fixed being inversely proportional to how seriously it
> broken (i.e., they spent a lot of time changing light bulbs on the
> Black unmounted maps with white hexes.  Counters are beautiful (they
were done
> by Mike Wikan) but printed too darkly.  Includes a half dozen minis
which need
> to be assembled and painted.	(I wonder if they tried to arrange a
deal with
> Galoob for B5 micromachines? Probably not.)
> 1) Lots of background info, it seems.  Big thick rulebook (90+ pages)
> plenty of black and white photos from the show.
> 2) They also came up with a somewhat-clunky-but-I-guess-it-works fix
to one of
> the more serious problems, the "energy point" problem.  In the
> version, ships moved by funnelling energy points from the reactor
> their thrusters, which generate thrust points.  Each reactor point
> of the ship) generated one thrust point, and each thrust point
(regardless of
> the ship) generated one one hex per turn of thrust. Think about this
> thirty seconds, max, and you will realize that implies that ALL SHIPS
> Well, they fixed it, and while it wasn't exactly how we would do it, I
> it will do.  They added an "engine", which has two salient features: 
> it provides a certain number of "free" thrust points which can be
> through the thrusters to produce thrust; second, for "extra" thrust,
> converts energy points to thrust points which are then routed through
> thrusters, based on an "engine efficiency" rating.  While this is
> cumbersome from an engineering point of view, it has the distinct
> that, in most cases, the players don't have to calculate anything to
> thrust.
> 4) Combat system has been simplified a little.  Basically, its a d20
> now, instead of d100, with DRMs based on 150+ variables.  (Okay, it's
> only about ten variables.)
> 1) The biggest con is that the movement system is STILL broken. 
Anyone who
> has read my earlier comments on this game knows that I think the
> system is clunky and unrealistic.  (See [
> aogprob.htm] for details.)  Well, it appears that they have tweaked it
a bit,
> but you still have things like rotating is in increments of 180
degrees and
> takes *exactly* three turns (regardless of the size of the ship), 60
> turns cost less energy than 30 degree turns, etc.
Designers Comment:
	He is correct in that all current ships (not fighters) take
three turns
to completely turn around.  However, what is not mentioned (and is not
in the book as it is not yet needed) is that this is not going to be
true for all future ships.  There will be a series of medium class ships
(such as the White Star or the Drazi SunHawk) which will be considered
agile and be able to pivot and turn at a greater rate.	None of the
ships in the basic set have EVER been seen doing excessive maneuvers in
the show and they will not do them in the game.  As for the 60 degree
turn costing less than a 30 degree turn, I have no idea what he is
talking about.	The game is currently based on a hex map and 30 degree
turns are #1-not possible and #2-not in the rules.
> 2) One other problem with the playtest version that I have not had a
chance to
> test with this one was the arbitrary nature of the combat system. 
This is an
> excerpt from our second playtest report:
> > The more we play the game, the more uneasy we feel about the combat
> > system.  We made certain assumptions about what the various values
> > (defensive ratings, damage ratings, fire control, etc.) are intended
> > represent -- many of these are detailed in the discussion on fire
> > and defensive ratings.  The more we played, however, the more we ran
> > specific instances that seemed to not fit in with the implicit model
> > had constructed.  Therefore,  either our understanding of what the
> > represent is wrong, or the value itself is wrong, or both.	Next, we
> > realized that not only had we not determined in the system and/or
> > made sense, but that we _could_ not do so without more information. 
> > best, we would have only a vague feeling that this or that value is
> > wrong -- often times it seems that different ships are different
> > for the sake of being different, or that the values were assigned in
> > totally arbitrary manner.
> >
> > While bad enough in itself, this will potentially become intolerable
> > the ship design system is introduced, for two reasons.  First, if
> > is no method by which a ship's ratings are determined, it will be
> > difficult if not impossible to devise a system which will allow you
> > design the ship's included in the game.  Second, even if the
> > ships do not become illegal, it promises to make them suboptimal
> > designs.  There should always be room for players to improve on the
> > efforts of the naval architects of the fictional setting, but care
> > to be taken not to invalidate all the designs which came before.
Designers Comment--
	The values were assigned based on a variety of factors-but not
on a
specific formula.  The most influencial information was feedback we got
back from some contacts we have with Babylonian Productions.  As for the
ship design system, the decision was made not to build the historical
ships to a specific system.  In truth, when we do print the ship
construction rules, you will not be able to build ships which will out
perform the ships in the game on a point for point basis.  This decision
was reached after looking over various other companies systems and
talking with other game designers who have had the same issues come up. 
The problems are this: players can always find loop holes in design
rules which will allow them to build ships which can outperform
historical ships if the historical ships are built by the same rules. 
This is because historical ships are usually designed with 'realistic'
budgets and racial tendencies in mind.	We will be providing the
equivelant custom ship value for all historical ships for players

> 3) My personal pet peeve -- the Earthforce Omega class destroyer does
not have
> a rotating section.  Anyone who has seen the episode where the
loyalist forces
> attacked Babylon 5 know that the bridge crew of the _Alexander_ was
> worried about damage to the spin section forcing them to stop
> Considering the damage system involves specific hit locations, you
would think
> the rotating section would have to be included.  Yet, there is nothing
in the
> game to indicate the ship even has a rotating section!
Designers Comment--
	We did not include anything on the rotating section because
Johnson of (co-producer of the show and the tech head there) told us
that the control systems on Omegas are designed to automatically
compensate for the spin of the section and thus did not need to be
simulated in the game.	These sections can be locked down if necessary. 
The crew of the Alexander was not worried so much because of the fact
that the rotation would stop (it wouldn't effect the combat capabilities
of the ship) but rather the fact that the crew was not set up for zero-g
operations.  Within the game, there will be rules (and this was told to
playtesters) on the rotating section when we do the Earth-specific rules
in the Earth Wars supplement.  We did not do it in the basic set because
we were told it was NOT something that was necessary to simulate in the
basic game.  
> 4) The Earthforce ships have "interceptors", which are CIWS designed
> intercept incoming fire.  To their credit, AoG change it so that the
> interceptors can no longer intercept incoming laser fire.  However,
they have
> added the idea that the interceptors somehow generate a forcefield
> degrades laser fire.	Yuck.
Designers Comment--
	Once again, this was done because we were specifically told by
Johnson (and he has also stated this in public moderated groups) that
this is the case.  He specifically said to us that interceptors use have
two basic functions: an active mode which is the little white balls
which are fired at incomming fire or fighters, and a passive function
which is the energy net around the ship.
> 5) The ship sheets are in the back of the book, perforated for
removal.  Why
> do it this way?  Why not make the ship sheets a separate booklet,
where they
> would be easy to photocopy (which they grant permission for), like GDW
> with _Star Cruiser_, TFG does with _SFB_, etc.?  Players are left with
> alternatives of defacing the rules or limiting the quality of the
copies that
> can be made.
This was a business decision.  The price difference of printing the
SCS's seperately as another book or including them in this book are
rather significant.  For the printer, it's the differnce between two
differnt set-ups and amounted to over three thousand dollars for the
print run.  This breaks down into around 30 cents per box which, while
is does not sound like much, is too much.  There will be a series of
products released which will contain multiple copies of every SCS we
publish in the future.	I should also note that we also have to look at
our re-print costs.  As our re-print will probably be half the size of
the first run, that 30-cents jumps to nearly 45-cents per box. 
> This is a generic tactical space combat game with the name "Babylon 5"
> on the front.  As such, there is little to recommend it *out of the
box* over
> simply playing  _Renegade Legion:Leviathan_, _Silent Death_,
_Battlespace_ or
> a host of other such games. Anyone wanting to play a B5 game would be
> off playing _Full Thrust_ with one of the four or five B5 rulesets
> around the net ([] is a good
> to start searching for them), or waiting a month and getting Chameleon
> Eclectic's _Earthforce Sourcebook_, which, as we all know, includes
> Tuffley's _Full Thrust_-derived system.
> This is not to say that I don't intend to purchase it.  While pretty
> useless as is, I think that _B5W_ can be saved by scrapping the
> system and replacing it with a homegrown system.  A colleague and I
> working on such a system, which I will put on my website as soon as
it's done,
> and which we hope to run at NOVAGCon in August.
> -- Chris Weuve   [My opinions, not my employer's.]
> (h)
> (w)		  Fixes for AoG's B5 game,
> (perm)	  stuff for sale and more

Final Designers Comments:
	Earlier the author of this email commented that we ignored
which the playtesters stated.  This couldn't be further from the truth. 
We had over 180 playtesters on this job, not including those which were
directly linked with the company.  We made literally dozens of changes
because of what the playtesters stated, commented or requested.  We did
not do 100% of the changes as some of them were simply too complex for a
game which is intended to run large fleets (and the current version can
and has in many games).  The biggest request we did not do was creating
a true vector movement system as a system like this is simply too
complex for the average gamer.	The movement system is as realistic as
you can get in a simple system and it has been commented by a great
number of people that it is more realistic than most games on the market
while still be playable.  If people wish, contact Mike Wikkan at and ask him about how much we listened to our
playtesters.  We take everything any playtester has to say very
seriously and I do not appreciate the implication that we ignore our
playtesters.  If I simply planned on ignoring our playtesters, I would
not send out material for playtesting.	I do not make a change, however,
when only one group out of 20 request it, as was the case with the
rotating section of the Omegas.  I do not make changes which I feel
would over-complicate a game, such as a vector movement system.  
	I don't mind a player posting negative comments about a system
one which I wrote), however, I do mind when that post includes false or
misleading comments.

Robert Glass

Agents of Gaming: Designing the Next Generation of Games
New web site! 
Agent One: Bruce H. Graw; Agent Two: Robert N. Glass

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