Monday, July 12, 2010

KublaCon 2010

I’ve been catching up on several blogs that I follow and I recently read Scrap Yard Armory’s post regarding his experience at Historicon. It sounded like a pretty good Con and I sometimes wish I lived on the east coast of the US, because it seems like all of the major Cons are back east—Gen Con, Historicon, Origins, etc. I’m not sure what the reasons are—more people…more rain and snow…I don’t know. What I do know is that because we don’t have many Cons out here in California, that when one rolls around, I’m sure to attend. (Above: British Marines arive late to help the surounded army in the Congo)

Once a year, my friends I go to KublaCon in Burlingame, California (just south of San Francisco). It is held every year over the Memorial Day weekend. We usually try to pick out what we want to play over the weekend mixing our itinerary with new games and familiar games. Though, like any battle plan, it never survives after making contact with the enemy, so by Sunday we are usually playing a scheduled game that we hadn’t thought of playing or we are playing a new game that one of us bought. We always have a good time regardless.

Every year at KublaCon, there is a large Battletech game with something like two mech companies vs. two mech companies with a couple of lances of tanks thrown in to make it even larger. It’s usually pretty cool, but we have never stuck around to finish the entire battle, because the battles take too long. For example, this year we started at Noon and by 1700 only 60 seconds of game time has transpired. Mind you that for most players at KublaCon, it’s a new game, and for those that are experienced, the game gets boring because they have no investment in the outcome, nor were we able to play using any of the so called level 3 rules. For me, most of the level 3 rules I can take or leave, but I feel that one has to run the game with logical LOS rules not the unrealistic LOS rules in the basic game. Many feel that calculating the LOS, when playing a game that uses hexes, bogs down the game, but I feel it's a pretty simple step to maintain some semblance of realism (at least as much realism that can be found in a game surrounding walking robots 10 meters tall).

Anyway, I have to give the guys that run the big Battletech game each year credit for attempting such a large game and keeping it fresh by presenting a new battle every year. Through their toil, I have garnered a few concepts that I will use in my eventual Convention game. They are:

1. The game must be manageable in size and unit count. It must have a reasonable timeframe for the game. Six hours is about all one can focus on a game without a break.

2. I’m doing away with hexes for two reasons, so that the game board looks as realistic as possible and it eliminates the LOS issues that bug me so much and cause arguments (what a unit can see is what it can shoot at).

3. Because the game is much smaller, I will be able to give a small back ground paragraph on each of the pilots/commanders thereby giving the game a little bit of an RPG feel which enables the players to feel a little more invested in how well they play.

4. Moreover, the battle will have a “historically accurate” opening situation that is rooted in Battletech cannon and will remain cannon regardless who wins.

5. Finally, the game will have discernible objectives for each side that are more then just “kill the enemy”. Just killing the enemy usually digresses into slug fest in the middle of the map at point blank range—a lame and unrealistic situation. The objectives will include, among others, “survive the encounter with XX amount of survivors” or “Survive the encounter with XX percent of your force combat operational” Retreat should be an option as well that will save a few points. There is no objective worth feeding an entire unit into a meat grinder, sooner or later one commander or another will retreat after realizing that the cost is not worth the benefit of continuing the battle.

These are some of the major guiding principles that will influence how I will undertake the design of my Battletech scenario for the 2011 KublaCon. Until I have more, please enjoy these photos from KublaCon 2010.

The Battle of Belchite, 1937, Disposable Heroes.

Overview of the battle, The Republicans are winning!

The Final Push for a Republican win.

Valley of the Thunder Lizards, Caliber .45 Pulp Adventure.

Fighting breaks out between players for the dino prize.

The 8th Sword of Light didn't stand a chance against hordes of missile tanks and fast jump capable mechs of the 42nd Avalon Hussars.

A small portion of the combatants.

Richard Borg shows off his new Creation.

Dylan discovers he is wrong in a game of Settlers of Catan.

A pick up game of Battle Line between Dylan and I.

The Battle of Zambezi River, Triumph and Tragedy

Final defensive line against the Congolese, good luck...

All that gaming makes Patrick thirsty.


  1. Thanks for the pics and the summary of the Con. Running those big battles and keeping the game moving is something of an art.

  2. Specter83 has a good post that dealt with the subject of game management:

    Personally, I'm not a huge fan of the usual 'Big Game' because there is a lot of sitting around waiting and the game often doesn't have a conclusion let alone a clear victor. A single turn can take an hour and a half!

    Vertical LOS isn't usually something we consider unless the target is directly adjacent to cover. Yea, it's less realistic, but faster to calculate. Trying to calculate it for a group of hexes at a funny angle from an attacker to see just where you want to be to hide... takes too long. Granted the terrain I see used isn't usually so varied, but this is a realism that even I will give up to save time. Granted if you do away with hexes, you won't have the funny angles, just funny shaped/sized hills. I'd rather use 6" hex terrain and THEN use actual LOS.

    1. Smaller unit count games are faster, but they don't have that 'Big Game' feel, which I think a lot of players want. Even 5 hours is quite a bit. Especially if late at night.

    2. Really? We used hexes to AVOID conflicts such as "Is that rear arc? I woudn't have moved there then" and prevent people from having to measure from this 'Mech to this 'Mech to this 'Mech... oh and they aren't reachable from this side of the table. Sometimes horizontal LOS is in question when firing medium-long distance at a funny angle, but thats when someone pulls a ruler out and says, that hill is/isn't in the way or those trees block. too close to call? defender's choice. Also, buildings with hex templates underneath help a lot too (nobody seems to make hex buildings). I'll admit you do lose some realistic aesthetics, but I think hexes more then make up for it in faster turns and less arguments.

    3. I don't know if I'd go so far with each pilot, but kudos if you do. You can even give them quirks (keep an eye on SYA for more on that)! I usually like to know the situation and motivation of the unit. Is it a ragtag unit that would rather give up area control to stay alive, is it a group fighting for their home world and protecting their civilian neighbors, or is it an objective worth sacrificing a world for?

    4. I really can't comment on cannon since I'm terrible at Battletech knowledge. But I like when there is a story to it (even if made up to fit with cannon).

    5. Oh thank god. Too often I see the 'kill the enemy' games turn into a clump of 'Mechs and if not painted in team colors I get confused as to who is on my team. Sometimes it is worth feeding your unit to the meat grinder as long as you control/complete the objective in the end. A small unit is worth sacrificing if it is to prevent the enemy from having a much larger advantage in the overall war. Plus it's just plain fun to blow 'Mechs up even if you are on the receiving end.

    I REALLY liked the way Specter83 ran his big game at Historicon 2010 even if it was just a kill the enemy. I'm sure he'll have a post pretty soon.

  3. Thank you for the comments gentlemen. Saxywolf, you make some good points regarding point #2. I suppose arguments can be generated the other way too. They do in fact, though I have never played Battletech without hexes, I’ve played many other miniatures games, so I see your point. I’ve seen a game recreating the battle of Rorke's Drift turn into a shouting match between two players. I really wanted to make the whole map in the same fashion as my artillery diorama though. Perhaps, if I really play test the scenario well and do a good job supervising the combatants, I can alleviate some of the headaches associated with hexless Battletech. You have given me some great stuff to think about, thank you.

  4. Great post! Looks like it was a great convention.

    While I prefer using the standard LOS rules, I wouldn't get bent out of shape if a game decided to use something different.

    That goes for a lot of "level 3" rules. There are some very strong opinions about floating criticals, TacOps hit location tables, and other rules.

    So long as the rules are clear to all players before the game begins, it's all good.