Thursday, October 2, 2014

I've Never Understood the Allure of the Blast Cannon

I generally feel the Blast Cannon is too expensive and too bulky for the limited number of shots it has by default.  The Blast Cannon costs $5500 loaded in its basic form, takes four spaces, hits on a base of 7 and has 10 shots.  You can make the ammo HESH for $500 more, but HEAT ammo is prohibited as being too powerful.

You can add an extra magazine to boost the number of shots to 20, but at five total spaces, you can only put that in a non-sloped non-streamlined sedan or larger vehicle.  That is not much of a problem itself.  It just limits your options.  If you want to add Component Armor to that facing, your up to an non-sloped non-streamlined luxury as the minimum.

The Blast Cannon is a fine weapon and definitely has its place in considering offensive options.  I have been surprised by people's near obsession with the weapon - to the point where people seemed to believe any other weapon option was substandard.  When I went to GenCon for the 2050 Tournament, I was surprised by the number of people using the Blast Cannon in the Preliminaries.  In the Finals, four of the eight duellists had a Blast Cannon, either Front or Side mounted.  (Two had triple linked Rocket Launchers.  One was Laser Guided.  I believe that was a holdover from the mid to late 2030's when LGL and Rockets were the rage - Expanding on that is for another post.)  The Blast Cannon, with or without HESH, is great for punching through thick metal armor, which also seemed to be very much in vogue at the time.  I had a sloped sedan with a turreted VMG with HD ammo and a FCGS with an extra magazine.  I kept my speed up to maximize targeting penalties for the big guns and tried to keep my distance until I could close in and use the Flameclouds.  I never took a single hit from the Blast Cannons, only from the Rocket Launchers.  (I also finished all of my kills in that duel with the FCGS - Writing about my love of Flameclouds is also for a future post.)

2051 was similar.  Again, in the Finals, four of the eight had a Blast Cannon.  Again, I had a turreted VMG and FCGSs.  Again, I never took a hit from the Blast Cannons.

The Blast Cannon is accurate and can readily punch through armor.  It is a good option to try to get to a quick kill count in AADA convention scoring.  It is expensive and bulky and not suitable for long fighting with only ten rounds.  The Blast Cannon is a fine weapon.  I just don't feel it is the pinnacle of Car Wars offensive technology.

Bringing Balance Back to the (Motive) Force

To bring some balance back between Gas Engines and Electric Power Plants, I would propose giving ICEs Overdrive back, reducing the range requirement to 100 miles, to get closer to the real lower limit in place for Electrics, but leave the extra gallon of gas per bottle of Nitrous, if losing the gallon would reduce the ICEs range to below 100 miles.  Make Electrics meet the 100 mile minimum range as well.  They will in most cases but if they have a weapon that can drop their range below 100 miles in the 30 turns (or whatever the maximum length set for the duel) they would need either Laser Batteries or Extra Power Cells or maybe just Streamlining.  The key is to give ICEs back Overdrive to counter HTMs and whatever minimum range limit is applied, apply equally to both ICEs and Electric Power Plants.

From the CWRQ/ODQ/MADHAT PBEM Rules – On Overdrive for Gas Engines - "For $400, it would eliminate the gas engine's weakness of a low top speed." (This ruling was put in place before HTMs were introduced and was never reconsidered after HTMs were introduced.)

Yet that same $400 can be used to eliminate the Electric Power Plant's weakness of a low acceleration with HTMs.
Gas Engines are required to carry enough gas to travel 200 miles on a tank at cruising speed with one extra gallon per bottle of Nitrous.  Electric Power Plants do not have similar restrictions.  A car with HTMs consumes power at 1.5x the normal rate - meaning engaging HTMs reduces cruising range from 200 miles to about 133.3 miles (check my math - I may have gotten my formula backwards - but it does reduce it).   HDHTMs, which consume power at 2x the rate, reduce the normal 200 mile range to only 100 miles.  By the logic applied to Gas Engines, Electric Power Plants with HTMs need also to have a set Extra Power Cells and vehicles with HDHTMs need to have 2 sets to achieve the AADA standard of a 200 mile minimum range.

A similar, but smaller, effect exists with Lasers, Sonic Cannons and other power draining items.  A single shot from a Laser starts lowering the maximum range below the 200 mile standard.  This would be similar in effect, although probably a lesser effect in most cases, to the one extra gallon of fuel per bottle of Nitrous.

Imagine a car like the Superflash, from the original Vehicle Guide, that has three Lasers.  Simply spend $400 to give it HTMs and have it fire all three Lasers every turn in a standard AADA 30 turn limit duel.  The Super Power Plant has 300 PU that will take it about 200 miles, meaning it burns 3 PU per 2 miles at cruising speed, that goes to 4.5 PU per 2 miles with HTMs engaged.  Thirty turns of firing 3 Lasers burn 180 PU, bringing it down to 120 PU for range.  That means the stock Superflash with added on HTMs can only have about a 53.3 mile minimum range.  My math is estimated, but I think it is not too far off.   I really think that whatever minimum range we set, we apply it to both Electrics and ICEs.

All three of these AADA-only arbitrary restrictions on ICEs - 200 mile minimum range, extra gallon of gas per bottle of Nitrous and no Overdrive, combined with HTMs and HDHTMs swung the pendulum in very heavy favor of the Electric Power Plant.  Even in the last few MADHAT PBEM duels, going back to about 2007 or 2008, shows that 31 of 38 vehicles used were Electric and only 7 were gas.  Of those 7, 3 each were in Division 35 and Division 40 and one in Division 25 and none in any lower Division.

Gas Engines already have several disadvantages.  They are expensive, easier to catch the vehicle on fire and cause it to explode and they have a low top speed.  They cannot use power draining devices without a Laser Battery.  They are also very delicate.  There are several ways to disable a Gas Engine without completely destroying it (several engine Critical Hit Table entries and destroying the Gas Tank without even hitting the engine).  Their advantages are high acceleration and low weight.  The Gas Tank may be considered both an advantage and a disadvantage – It is a separate component to take damage, but once destroyed will shut down an otherwise untouched Gas Engine in just a few turns.

Electric Power Plants' disadvantages include low acceleration and high weight.  Their advantages include resilience - the only way to disable an Electric Power Plant without completely destroying it is to hit it with an APP Rocket (that I can think of??) Other advantages are low cost, high top speed, the ability to power draining devices, like Lasers, on their own and not being automatically volatile.  For just $200 (cycles with HTM) to $2400 (6 wheelers with HDHTM), you can eliminate the low acceleration disadvantage and potentially turn it into a high acceleration advantage. 

Can you tell I have been thinking about this off and on for over a decade, since I first learned about HTMs in 2050?  Hehehe  My thoughts are still not complete on this, but I would like to put it out there for review and comment.

Thoughts on AADA Scoring

In current AADA scoring, gaining two and a half kills, if you are still in control of your vehicle, will win you the duel instantly.  Reaching two kills will start a 5 turn timer that, if no one either kills you or reaches the two and a half kill mark in that time, will also declare you the winner.  This is applicable if there are three participants in the duel or eight.  This was put in place to try and fit duels into a four hour gaming convention window.  It works well in this regard.  However, I think that it does not produce a clear victor in the duel.  In an average duel of six to eight participants, you can be declared the winner and vanquish less than half your opponents.  If the duel were to go to the very end, you could get your two and a half kills and an opponent could get three and a half in an eight way duel and not kill you in the process.  This promotes designs and strategies around gaining quick kills in favor of endurance.  In my opinion, this has led to an increase in the use of designs whose primary weapon system is designed around the ramplate.

A dedicated ram car can be very deadly in the arena, no doubt.  The inherent weakness of its philosophy, though, is that when you hit someone and deal out potentially massive damage, you lose some of your defense at the same time.  The theory is that you give more than you take.  However, a successful attack still leaves you weaker when it is time to face the next opponent, making you less able to engage the next opponent and eventually leaving you unable to engage with your primary attack.  This is fine for a quick duel where it is a race to get to a certain point total, but not so good for the long haul.

I’m not sure I have a perfect solution.  If the primary goal is to fit a duel into the time slot of a convention, then a race to a point total is the most effective means to accomplish that.  If, however, the time restrictions are removed, I feel that to declare a true victor in an eight way duel, you would need to score four and a half kills to win instantly and score at least three to start a five turn countdown. 

My Introduction to Car Wars

I have been an avid fan (a rabid fan?) of Car Wars for over 30 years now.  A friend of mine in the Air Force, stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, came home over Labor Day weekend with a couple of his fellow Airmen and introduced us to this game they had been playing called Car Wars.  That Friday night we played on his kitchen table, where we had played innumerable games of Dungeon and Dragons and Ogre in the years before.  My first game of Car Wars was in the Buffalo Municipal Arena (still my favorite arena to play in).  I took a basic Mini-Sherman directly from the pocket box, dropped the Smoke Screen, upped to a Super Power Plant, added Solid Tires, a Hi-Res Targeting Computer (we had a very generous budget) and maxed out the chassis and the armor.  For personal equipment, I had Body Armor and three LAW rockets. (He only had the Pocket Box, Sunday Drivers and the Double Arena at the time.)  With my forward mounted twin machine guns, decent armor and nice acceleration, I eagerly took to the field.  My buddy, who was also being introduced to the game, took the City Cowboy option of the Vigilante pickup, reduced the armor slightly to give him enough weight allowance to replace the two Recoilless Rifles with Vulcan Machine Guns.  For Personal Equipment, he took Body Armor, a shotgun and four grenades.  Our host took a Subcompact with a forward mounted Laser.  I do not really remember what the other two Airmen had.  I think one of them had a van, though.

We started out the gates, everyone eager to engage and get the carnage started.  I noticed every time I turned my guns toward someone, they would veer away, forcing me to take long shots and missing. After a while, I commented on this and someone said they didn't want to face my two Vulcan Machine Guns.  When I said they weren't Vulcans, only regular Machine Guns, that sealed it for me. Everyone turned toward me and started pounding me with all their weapons.  I tried to use my speed to keep everyone at bay while returning fire where I could, but eventually, I lost control and rolled the car and caught fire.  I knew I was likely to die before the car slowed down enough for me to have a reasonable chance of getting out.  I convinced everyone that in true A-Team fashion, my LAW rockets would cook off and explode my car in a spectacular fashion.  I grabbed a handful of debris and obstacle counter, even adding a couple of mine and spike counters for fun, and scattered them where my car had been.

My friend with the modified City Cowboy fared better.  He too, however, eventually lost control and skidded into one of the perimeter TV bunkers.  Underestimating the thickness of his armor, he primed a grenade intending also to take himself out in a glorious manner.  After the collision, he realized that not only did he survive the crash, his Front armor was still pretty sturdy.  Rather than eat the live grenade, he threw it up into the TV tower.  We decided he blasted a cameraman out of the tower and he landed in the pickup bed.  We placed a pedestrian counter on top of his pickup counter.  For the rest of the duel, he drove around with the body of the cameraman in the bed of his pickup.

The next day the five of us took a pontoon boat on one of the nearby lakes and enjoyed the sun.  I spent most of the time studying and absorbing the Car Wars material.  I was hooked.  I realized that even though I had good armor and good acceleration, my twin Machine Guns were just too light of armament for the duel the night before.  I also saw the effectiveness of the modified City Cowboy and everyone's reluctance to engage me close up when they thought I had a pair of VMGs up front.  I felt that the Vulcan Machine Gun could rule the roost.

After the holiday, I spent that fall, in my Geometry class, transcribing everything I could remember from the Car Wars material.  I guessed or extrapolated the data I could not accurately remember.  I learned some rudimentary design strategies doing this - for example -I saw that the Rocket Launcher was cheap and light, but was inaccurate and only had 10 shots.  I saw the Rrecoilless Rifle was effective, but again was restricted on ammo at 10 shots.  I gravitated toward the Machine Gun and the Vulcan Machine Gun.  That Christmas, my friend who introduced me to the game, gave me the Pocket Box, Truck Stop and the Double Arena. He gave my friend the Pocket Box, Sunday Drivers and the Armadillo Autoduel Arena.  That was all it took.  I started introducing Car Wars to our regular gaming group at school and have enjoyed the game ever since.