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  1. My ReaperCon '14 CAV:SO Evaluation

    I offered to objectively play demo and participation games of CAV: Strike Operations (henceforth referred to as SO) and provide my feedback. I think we got halfway through the demo before it devolved into about an hour~hour and a half conversation with Jon. I started a participation game playing against a couple teens and Ludo administrating, but they conceded after a few turns (some incredibly lucky die rolls on my part probably influenced this more than anything else, I was even trying to offer them some advice on how to beat me). I then played a game against Colonel Kane the next day, which we played to conclusion. I have to admit that I had some incredibly lucky die rolls during all of these games. (Actually the whole weekend, I managed to bring the Bolt Action participation game to a screeching halt in turn 3 after a series of unlikely rolls. I did not touch any of my own dice at all during the weekend.) These are my observations on what I experienced and are my own opinion. Bottom line up front: I don't hate it. I can't say that I like it better than CAV2 either. CAV models in Bones (not new news now). Rules were changed from day to day during the con. If given the choice between playing this and Battletech, I’d play SO. Between this and CAV2, I’d play CAV2. Colonel Kane ran the demo, a one-on-one Dictator-A (Dictator 60 for us old-timers) mirror engagement on a hex shaped board about 20~24" across with a hill in the middle and some trees. Terrain is area terrain, not WYSIWYG, which I actually like better. Datacards were very colorful, which is nice for demos, but I would hope that there is a low-ink version for those of us that don't want to have to buy new printer ink just to print the cards out (especially if you're like me and have a bit from each faction). However, I'm not a fan of the layout. I'm not sure what would be better, but it just didn't flow if that makes sense. It seemed like I was working to find the information I needed. Datacards also fundamentally changed the functionality of several CAVs. Some models gained attacks. For example, Vanquishers were fairly competent at anti-CAV with four moderate RAV attacks when historically they were generally only good for taking out infantry/soft vehicles. The increase in number of attacks has significantly increased its potential performance. The Katana is another example, instead of linked attacks allowing a reroll, it has four PBG attacks. In another example, the Kahns LBGs have Overload now. I never used it, but it seemed odd. Datacards also saw a significant increase in the number of damage tracks each model had. In CAV2, attacks generally only did one point of damage and models (with the exception of superheavy CAVs and tanks) could take anywhere from four to six points of damage. In SO, each attack has the potential to cause one, two, or three points of damage (more on combat resolution later) but the models have more tracks, so I think this is a wash as far as “lethalityâ€. CAV2 was already a fairly “lethal†game with plenty of fast kills, so if you want to make models go down even faster keep the same number of tracks and a resolution mechanic that increases the chance for multiple points of damage per attack. It didn’t seem like models attritted any faster or slower than before. I had some confusion with SAs of all types, mostly because some were mostly the same as before, some had the same name but changed how it works, others were just new. The reference sheet was handy, but some things were misprinted, like a repeatable action that was listed as a free action (it makes a big deal for those not familiar). Some basics, the initiative deck and two action activation mechanic were retained from CAV2 with free, repeatable, and non-repeatable actions. That's good, I liked the mechanic with only a very few specific issues in CAV2. Ranges are shorter. Weapon types have been renamed. Most are innocuous, others have some significant changes, like PBGs have a range band of 6 inches (which I don’t get at all and played into why Colonel Kane got mauled so badly in the game we played). Missiles probably took the biggest change. Instead of Indirect Fire Missiles and Direct Fire Missiles, you now have rockets and guided missiles. Rockets are indirect fire only and do not require a target lock and generally work as before, even with the new attack resolution mechanics. Guided Missiles are different. They require a target lock in order to be fired (in either direct fire or indirect fire), so if the model is providing its own target lock it can’t move that turn. A model with an EST pod can pass it’s lock as normal, allowing for some movement. This came up for me first when I attempted a Run’n’Gun (more on that later) during the demo. In CAV2, direct fire missiles did not require a lock and could be included in the RnG. I went to roll for the missiles and was advised that they were unavailable for use because I didn’t have a target lock. So if you don’t have a recon model providing a TL for your attack CAVs, they’ll never get to add guided missiles to their RnG. I will say that allowing the guided missiles to fire indirect gives more utility to the missile-boat CAVs like the Conqueror, Archer, and Specter. I probably wouldn’t mind guided missiles if the TL was only required to fire indirect. If the WSO is firing at a target with the guns, the targeting computer already has the target acquired. My fear that the requirement to have the TL to use the missiles in a direct attack role will either cause the game to become more static without as much fire and movement or to take longer as the total number of attacks being attempted goes down. I need to see larger games than what were at the convention to properly assess if this will be an issue or not. Provided I understand it correctly, combat resolution is a two part mechanic with a single 2d6 die roll per attack. The first part is determining whether or not the shot hit, the second to determine damage. To determine if the shot hit the player rolls 2d6 and adds/subtracts modifier for range, target lock, WSO, and anything that assists with hitting the target (this also serves as the roll to determine if an indirect shot hits the intended target point or drifts). If this is greater than seven (the average roll on 2d6 by the way) then the shot hit, if not it misses (drifts in the case of indirect fire). Now the modifiers that effect damage are added/subtracted. RAV, and other modifiers are added, Defensive Value and a collection of SAs related to the target subtract from the total. The difference between the final total and seven (the margin of success) is compared to a damage table. Damage increases for each five points of margin of success. So 1-5 points margin of success do one point. 6-10 does two and an increasing chance to knock the target down (which only has the effect of -1 to ranged attacks greater than 6†away and causing the player to spend an action to stand up on their next activation). 11-15 does three and a roll on the critical hit table which has specific effects, but it never came up in my games. I saw several different methods for working this out, but the one I liked was roll 2d6 and add targeting mods, subtract seven from this, if positive it’s a hit, then add damage mods (like RAV), then subtract damage mods. I don’t hate the 2d6, but I think rolling multiple d10s to resolve all of a model’s attacks is more efficient than rolling 2d6 for each weapon, though color-paired 2d6 could help with this. I also think that there is a lot of conceptual complexity and mechanical complexity (using different types of modifiers on the same die roll at different points of the process). I prefer the single die that indicates that the shot either did damage or didn’t. The math isn’t difficult, but it is a process. There were several times where figuring out what was going on with modifying the die roll took what I thought was a relatively excessive amount of time. In CAV2 I figure out the modifiers, roll the dice and compare to the target’s DV. I also don’t have a problem with margin of success modifiers, I’ve toyed around with them quite a bit myself actually as a house rule for CAV2 and getting rid of the automatic 10 critical hit. I’d rather see a system where the “damage bands†(for lack of a better term) get increasingly longer to cause more damage rather than a set number each time. I think it’s just the way in which they are combined that it doesn’t do much to improve to the game experience. Ammo depletion is still a thing; on a double one result on a hit roll the player rolls a d6 and a one results in ammo depletion, 1 or 2 in some cases. Also, if a double six is rolled on the hit roll, an additional six is rolled and added to the total which increases the margin of success. (My first attack roll I rolled a double six and followed up with a six, my dice luck was on fire that weekend.) I did not use ECM in a game, so can’t comment. My understanding is that it negates positive modifiers within 18†of the jamming model, but does not add additional negative modifiers. (Say a model had no modifiers on the attack, jamming would have no effect. If the model had a positive modifier, to hit a model within the ECM bubble, then the jamming would negate the positive modifier concurrent to the rating of the ECM SA.) Neither of my games were very mobile. Both games were played on what I’m assuming was a 4x8 table with canyon terrain. The canyon splits in the middle and goes around an “island†in the middle of the board. Models have spots where they can climb onto the high ground on either side of the canyon and there are rock bridges connecting the four corners to the middle. A hill on top of the “island†blocks LOS from one bridge to the opposite bridge. In the first game I was playing two teams of two Terran models (A Ronin and Talon and a Thunderbird and Raptor against two teens each running a team of Rach models (one team was an Emperor and Khan, the other was two Conquerors and a Dictator-B {Dictator 70}). Both sides deployed in and advanced within the canyon. In the first turn I scored an amazingly lucky hit with the Ronin utilizing a target lock from the Talon. I rolled double six and the follow-up die was also a six on a 68†indirect fire shot. This did a point of damage on the Emperor and knocked it over (due to an SA) and did two points to the Kahn. For three turns I moved each of my models one move action and the recon model performed a Target Lock and the other model performed an indirect attack. I put a few points of damage spread around the five models, I only took one point to the Thunderhawk by the time it got halfway across the board. The opposing team only moved about a quarter of the way up the board, then conceded the game before any of the models were able to engage in direct fire combat (no LOS yet). In the second game I played Colonel Kane. I took an Emperor and a Khan (teams were preset based on point value) and he took a Starhawk VI and a Katana. He deployed his CAVs on top of the canyon wall. I deployed mine in the canyon, but positioned the Emperor so that it could climb up and take a protected position on top of the wall on the opposite corner from where the Terrans deployed. Basically I knew he was going to have to come across the choke point of the bridge between the canyon wall and the island and be in the open. That would be close enough for the Emperor’s guns to shred his CAVs. I moved the Emperor into place, using a Run’N’Gun for the final movement as his ‘Hawk was already on the bridge. The Khan moved into a covered position in the canyon that allowed it to move out if it needed to. I had scored a couple lucky indirect hits as the ‘Hawk VI was advancing, the Run’N’Gun did it in. I returned the Emperor to its position and waited for the Katana to come across (they had gotten separated, and the bridge would have only allowed them across in single file anyway). It came out onto the bridge and got to activate before I did. That’s when I learned that the PBGs now have a range band of 6 inches. He got a single point of damage on the Emperor. On my activation I Run’N’Gun’ed into point blank range and took him down several damage tracks and knocked the Katana down. The Kahn moved out and fired, and did another point. I got activation the next turn and took him out with the Emperor. There was some more movement in this game, but not the fluid advances, withdrawals, flanking, and charging that expect from CAV2. Mostly the path he chose to take through the terrain made it easy for me to wait for him to come to me. This game gave me a much better understanding of the combat resolution mechanic. However, I still need to see a larger game to see how all of the changes impact the game in aggregate. For example, there was never a really good point for me to use ECM in this game. The thing that makes me the least confident is that rules were still being adjusted from day to day during the con. I’m sure this is from play results during the con, but makes me wonder how widely play tested the game was. If there are only a small handful of people play testing then there are going to be a lot of issues that were missed or opportunities to smooth out mechanisms. If released as is, there will be an errata document issued that will serve to only confuse things. Regarding the game background, I was told the fluff is changing. I was told that part of the reason is marketing. Regardless whether it’s good for the health of the game or not, it’s going to cause confusion. At best the different background timelines will need to be treated like parallel universes. In the end, I don’t hate the game. I do think that it needs a lot more play testing with a lot more people outside of the group that has been working on it. I prefer CAV2’s combat resolution. I don’t mind the concepts introduced in this combat system, but don’t like aggregate result. I don’t care for the changes in model stats. Ultimately though, I can’t really give a final opinion since the rules still seem to be in flux. Given the choice, I’d play CAV2 over SO, but SO over Battletech (I hate the bubble sheets). Maybe I should try out Alpha Strike… Of course I’ve got Robotech on the way eventually too… I think the biggest issue here is what people want CAV to be. I, and to my knowledge most of the CAV2 “Old Guard†though I don’t presuppose to speak for them, want high level combined arms with fast streamlined play abstracting the processes to get the end results. We want maneuver, not static engagements. I think where SO is today is more focused on intermediate steps to get to the result, but not with a lot of recordkeeping and not as much maneuver as the “Old Guard†would like. I can’t assess the combined arms portion as I have not seen any stats for or play reports involving vehicles or infantry. I want to make clear that I appreciate that Reaper has continued to keep the CAV models available during periods of “less demandâ€. I wish for CAV as a property to be successful because I really like the models and think that CAV2 was the best option to playing the bigger, better known BSR* style games and want them to remain available, as well as Reaper’s continued success. I’m not entirely sold that the changes (both mechanical and background) in Strike Operations are the path to take. *Big Stompy Robot, otherwise known as mecha or mechs. Edit: I also want to point out that at all times, Jon (CAVBOSS), Colonel Kane, and Ludo were all curteous during our conversations and gameplay. We kept things civil and focused on the game.
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