Saturday, October 26, 2013

SciFi Saturday – UPF Ship Names

The Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks Campaign Book concludes with a treatment of the Second Sathar War, a grand campaign scenario for two players, simulating an all-out war between the UPF and Sathar invaders throughout the Frontier sector of space. This includes a complete "Order of Battle" listing all the ships available to each side at the time of the conflict (upwards of about 100 ships per side; CB p. 55). Below I present a list of ship names for every one of the UPF vessels involved in the campaign:


UPF Ship Name Roster

  • Assault Scouts (14) – Stiletto (TM8), Dauntless (TM9), Razor (TM9, Ares91), Scimitar (TM15, Ares91), Dagger (TM15, Ares91), Rapier (TM16, Ares91), Lancet (TM16, Ares91), Avenger (SFKH1), Justifier (SFKH1), Morning Star (SFKH1), Starpacer (SFKH1), Dirk (SFKH1), K'Riss (SFKH4), Doboru (SFKH4), Arrow (Ares95), Remora (Ares95)
  • Frigates (7) – Z'Gata (TM8, Ares91), Driadia (TM9, Ares91), Shimmer (TM15, Ares91), Zz' Nakk'T (TM16, Ares91), Z'Yttl (SFKH1), Daring (SFKH1), Flying Cloud (SFKH4), Electron (Ares88), Proton (Ares88)
  • Destroyers (5) – Allison May (TM9), Melinda McCoy (SFKH1), Chivalry (Ares88), Faith (Ares88), Arcturon (Ares95)
  • Minelayers (3) – Z'Rak't Zoz (TM16), Hiskassan, Siren
  • Light Cruisers (8) – Courageous (TM15, SFKH1, Ares91), Honor (Ares88), Glory (Ares91), Audacity, Gallant, Resolution, Valorous, Stoutheart
  • Heavy Cruisers (1) – Zamra (Ares91), Grak (Ares91)
  • Assault Carriers (3) – McCormick, Kimura, Hakosoar
  • Battleships (3) – Admiral Clinton (TM9, CB48, Ares88), Admiral Morgaine (CB48), Admiral Harsevoort (CB48)
Source Key: TM = Tactical Operations Manual (i.e., boardgame rules, with page number);  CB = Campaign Book (with page number), SFKH (SFKH official module, with number), Ares (Dragon magazine Ares section, with issue number). Where no source is given, the names were added by myself (Delta).


Where did these names come from? First, note that the campaign ship rosters precisely match the number of cardboard counters for each ship type that come in the SFKH boxed set -- so you can just split up all the counters to each player and that represents their total fleets. There is one exception: while the order-of-battle text gives the UPF side just 2 Assault Carriers, the box comes with 3 Assault Carrier counters (A, B, and C). For simplicity, I do give this third carrier to the UPF player (also: at some point I lost an Assault Scout, so they don't get that).

Given that synchronization, I started by compiling all the ships identified by name in the Tactical Manual, the Campaign Book, official SFKH Modules, and various Dragon/Ares magazine articles -- at that point I was pretty close to having an official name for every ship in the boxed set (excepting fighters, who go without names).

Now, some ship types are given an overabundance of names -- more than exist in the boxed set -- and with some outliers, I've included them all above (e.g.: assault scouts, frigates, and heavy cruisers). Compare to the values in parentheses for the actual number commissioned in the Second Sathar War, and use the extra names for any new ships or replacements. But in other cases, there were some missing ship names that needed to be filled in. So I did an analysis of the existing names and made up some new ones that fit the same character. Generally, for UPF vessels, we see names that are in one of the following categories: (1) synonyms for the word "courage", (2) weapon types, especially small blades, (3) names of people (including non-human aliens), and possibly (4) names of places. (Note that this pretty much closely matches how U.S. Navy ships have been named; frequently using a person or city/state name.) I've followed the same distribution of each for the ones that I added.

Some publications I didn't include above: Ares #17, prior to the fold-in to Dragon magazine, has an article on miniatures variants (basically the same content as the conversion booklet that comes with the miniature packs, here credited to Carl Smith), including a scenario with a battleship Constellation, destroyer Port Yziar, and frigate Klikk-T'llicck. However, this contradicts the key point that the UPF only has 3 battleships (with the names given above), and the article has other details incorrect, so I consider it to be non-canon. Meanwhile, the much later Zebulon's Guide supplement has so many contradictions and misunderstandings inside that it's painful for me to even read it, so I've skipped that, too.

Other notes: Ares86 includes a UPF assault scout named Devastator, duplicating a name previously given for a Sathar destroyer (in SFKH1), so that was not included above. Ares91 has a light cruiser named Courage, which in the interest of clarity has been assumed to be the same as the vessel Courageous (originally from TM15). This scenario also includes two heavy cruisers in the battle, even though the UPF only has one in the entire fleet per the boxed set (but I've included both names above). Ares96 speaks of a UPF frigate called the Hellscar, which seems much more likely the name of a Sathar vessel, and so I've moved it to that list instead. (Perhaps these are more miscommunications due to Sathar saboteurs? Crafty devils.)

With this list, I never have to think about making up a new name, I just pick one from the established list -- for example, that's what I did for my new boardgame scenarios from earlier in the year (link to the 1st). I'll treat the Sathar fleet in a separate post next week.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Forging Fighters Foes

Previously I showed how I made custom UPF fighter miniatures for the Star Frontiers: Space Hawks game (to fill in one of the types for which no official miniatures were ever made). Of course, it wouldn't be fair to do that without also making some for their enemies, the evil worm-like Sathar. So here's how that went, including a cautionary tale of something that didn't work out:


First of all, as a guide for both sets of fighters, I've been using this extremely nice close-up illustration by Jim Holloway (from the Campaign Book p. 54; as well as details from the counter sheets that come with the game). This would be from the year right before the Paranoia RPG was first published, and Holloway became forever associated with sci-fi dystopia comedy art (at least in my mind). The Sathar ship type is in the lower part of the picture.


Here's my best replication of that ship, in green stuff sculpting clay. This took me about an hour of work and actually came out better than expected. (There's a first attempt, not shown here, that was stretched out too much for the desired scale.) I'm about to start the process of half-packing it into play-doh and pouring rubber compound on top.



A day later, once the rubber has cured, I unpack it and clean up all the play-doh. Now it will go back in the box for the second part of the rubber compound.



A day after that, I have my two-part mold ready to go and I'm casting the first copy. This is coming out very nicely, I think.



Similar to the UPF fighters, I'm making a squad of 3 fighters cast together. So here's the 3 copies of the first fighter. They are very small. (This was surely the lower limit of my personal ability to detail the figures.)



At this point I've super-glued the 3 individual figures together into a joint squadron (which surprisingly difficult to do, because of the tiny contact points: a lot of filing and figures slipping off each other). They've been half-packed in play-doh, release agent sprayed on, and the rubber compound is mixed and about to be poured on top.



One day later I get to clean up that half of the mold. Note the rather unusual arrangement; since one fighter is sitting "higher" than the others, it's kind of sitting in a trench of the mold that I have to dig out. The empty space between them is being taken up by a narrow flap of rubber that I'm hoping hangs to the rest of the mold. Also, I was a bit indecisive about placing the pour-hole (I think the most critical part of mold creation), and the sprue is actually aimed right at that empty space. I'm trying to clean that connection up with a dental tool before then second part of the mold gets mode.



Next day: I've got both parts of the mold complete and I'm in the kitchen about to pour metal into it. Also, I have the mold for the necessary base platform going at the same time.



Here's the first cast. Unfortunately the empty space between the fighter figures has entirely filled up with solid metal. This is due to a confluence of the issues with the narrow flap of rubber not sitting in the right place, and the pour-hole spilling directly into that space on its connection. I consider a couple things at this point -- living with the miniature as-is (super ugly), or drilling out the center of each cast I make with a pin-vice (labor-intensive and winds up not looking good an the one attempt). Ultimately, I wind up tossing this particular mold as a failure and have to start the whole process over again.



After another weekend of work & rubber curing, here's the new mold (abbreviating the repeated construction steps for this). Note that, on my partner Isabelle's suggestion (she's actually the MFA sculptor in the house) I've got it aligned in a different direction. Instead of the empty space running vertically down the upright mold as before (and hoping for a little rubber flap to hang in there right), the ships and the empty space now sit horizontally in the mold (so the gap is recreated more solidly, half on each side of the mold). Also I've actually planned out the pour-hole connection, running into the fuselage of the fighter on the far left of the mold. This had the side-effect of metal not wanting to run all the way across the figure and fill up the right-hand side (it has to take two right-angles on different axes to get there). So I cut in another connection to the right side, and after a few test casts I got it to work at least half the time, thereby completing the couple of casts that I wanted out of it.

So you've been warned: planning out the arrangement two-part mold, and as always the pour-hole connection is extremely important -- especially if there's any negative space in the figure, which makes it extra-tricky. (In fact, I'm not sure how my prior UPF fighters actually came out like they did; I guess maybe I just got super lucky with that one.) Of course, after this I took my figures and assembled and painted them as usual. I'll skip showing that for now, possibly they'll pop up on a future Saturday.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Mini Hull Sizing

Something that I recently discovered by accident -- If you line up the official Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks miniatures on top of the ship-profiles found on Campaign Book p. 6-7, most of the sizes match almost perfectly. Coincidence?


There are two obvious exceptions. First, the Battleship miniature in the top left is way, way too small relative to the other miniatures (as I've pointed out before) -- it's even smaller than the Sathar Heavy Cruiser immediately below it. Second, the Freighter in the top right is much smaller than the book image -- but this is more easily explained by a wide variation in possible hull sizes for those ships (see text in lower left for details; miniature would be HS 5, while page profile is HS 15).

Obviously, it's the shrunk-down Battleship that really irritates me here. What to do?


Saturday, October 5, 2013

SciFi Saturday – Point-Buy Combinations

Last time, I presented a fairly simple point-buy system for setting up games in Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks. This was established as the best we could do with a fairly crude battle-simulator program (no movement; faster ship fires first and then each side blasts away). And happens next once I get one of these wargame balance-simulators going is that I get a little addicted to seeing what questions I can get it to answer for me.

6-Point Combos

While simulator runs uniform (homogenous) groups of a single ship type at each other to see which is best, obviously in reality the game is played with combinations of whatever ships a player think work well together. And I wanted to find out which combinations would have an advantage, and extended the simulator a bit to handle that. For starters, what if we give each player 6 points (mega-credits) to play with under that system? There are only 4 combinations possible, actually:

Index Ships
0 Heavy Cruiser
1 Destroyer & Scout
2 2 Frigates
3 3 Scouts

(These are indexed starting from zero to match up with the internal simulator program code.) Here are the results from these matchups:


Assessed win percents (6-point combo squads):

. .0 .1 .2 .3 Wins AvgPct
-----------------------
0 -- 54 -- -- 1 45
1 -- -- -- -- 0 45
2 64 53 -- -- 2 55
3 52 56 50 -- 3 52



So what this shows is that combo #0 (the lone Heavy Cruiser) is favored to win 54% of its fights against combo #1 (the Destroyer & Scout), but not against any other combination. In summary: As we observed when we first started gaming with the SFKH ship prices, the smaller ships tend to beat the big ones. The all-Assault-Scout combination seems to be the best here, favored over the other combinations. But under our point-buy system, the advantage is quite small: all of the combinations are close to 50% win percents across all the other types (within +/-5% in each case). The Scouts are only a 52% favorite over the Heavy Cruiser, basically a coin-flip. Almost surely the victory will be decided by the better player's tactical movement and decision-making, or simple luck of the dice, regardless of which combination they play with. (Side note: I also considered these with 5-point combos of a Light Cruiser, or Frigate & Scout, but the 5-point combos were roundly beaten by all the others, with average win percents only in the 30% range.)

12-Point Combos

As considered above, 6-points are not a bad entry point to the game for possibly brand-new players, but it's a very small engagement compared to those seen in the SFKH rulebooks. (The small scenarios have about 10 points to a side by this measure, with the large ones around 30 points.) In the last post, we had some evidence that the 12-point level might be an interesting threshold. So I also mapped out all the combinations at this level and ran them against each other (ships listed in abbreviated format; see here for key):

Index Ships
0 CV, VS
1 BB, DD
2 BB, VS×2
3 CA×2
4 CA, DD, VS
5 CA, FF×2
6 CA, VS×3
7 CL×2, VS
8 CL, DD, FF
9 CL, FF, VS×2
10 DD×3
11 DD×2, VS×2
12 DD, FF×2, VS
13 DD, VS×4
14 FF×4
15 FFx2, VS×3
16 VS×6

And below are the results of 10,000 combats each between each possible matchup of these 17 different combinations of ships:


Assessed win percents (12-point combo squads):

.. 00 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Wins AvgPct
--------------------------------------------------------------
00 -- 67 68 68 74 59 75 68 68 66 82 82 66 78 -- 65 70 15 69
01 -- -- -- 72 -- -- -- -- -- -- 70 -- -- -- -- -- -- 02 36
02 -- 73 -- 74 61 67 55 58 75 53 88 70 58 63 65 53 52 15 62
03 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 00 31
04 -- 60 -- 63 -- 54 -- -- 63 -- 78 60 -- 55 -- -- -- 07 50
05 -- 77 -- 79 -- -- -- -- 58 -- 90 54 -- -- -- -- -- 05 49
06 -- 67 -- 68 54 61 -- 50 69 -- 84 63 -- 56 56 -- -- 10 55
07 -- 64 -- 66 55 58 50 -- 67 -- 80 61 -- 57 50 -- 50 11 54
08 -- 67 -- 71 -- -- -- -- -- -- 85 -- -- -- -- -- -- 03 39
09 -- 72 -- 76 60 67 55 58 77 -- 88 68 55 61 63 -- 53 13 61
10 -- -- -- 52 -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- 01 19
11 -- 51 -- 55 -- -- -- -- 57 -- 74 -- -- -- -- -- -- 04 41
12 -- 68 -- 70 56 60 52 53 71 -- 86 64 -- 61 56 -- 55 12 57
13 -- 60 -- 60 -- 54 -- -- 65 -- 79 55 -- -- -- -- -- 06 47
14 51 80 -- 84 54 56 -- 50 63 -- 94 58 -- 52 -- -- -- 10 55
15 -- 72 -- 74 58 67 55 56 78 -- 89 68 55 63 64 -- 56 13 61
16 -- 72 -- 70 55 66 55 51 73 -- 83 62 -- 57 53 -- -- 11 56



Obviously, that's a lot of data there (I had to shrink the font to fit on the page, sorry), so let's analyze. Here's the Top 5 best-performing combinations in this batch:

Top 5 (12-Point Buy)




Index Ships Wins AvgPct
0 CV, VS 15 69%
2 BB, VS×2 15 62%
9 CL, FF, VS×2 13 61%
15 FFx2, VS×3 13 61%
12 DD, FF×2, VS 12 57%

What we see here is that there are some clear favorites among the choices (as opposed to the 6-point level, where everyone hovered around 50% average win rates). The favorites again have a tendency towards the smaller ships: every one of the top 5 includes one or more Assault Scouts, and the very best performer -- a Carrier and one Scout escort -- is really attacking by way of 6 Fighters and the fast Assault Scout. However, the big ships are not totally useless, either: Note that the 2nd best combo features a Battleship with two Scout escorts (and I'm quite pleased to have the BB be a legitimately strong option here). The all-Scout combination, #16, does not appear in the Top 5 (although it is actually 6th-best, with an average win percent of 56% against all other types). But note that none of the Top 5 can be fielded by the Sathar (since they don't have Assault Scouts).

On the other hand, note that none of the combinations beat all of the others. Intriguingly, the #1 combo (Carrier with Fighters & Assault Scout) is actually usually beat by combo #14, which is just a squad of 4 Frigates (with no scouts involved). It's a narrow advantage (51% to the Frigates), but there it is. We did note last time that the Frigates are a strong choice in this point-buy system, and it appears that their many beam weapons do a good job of shooting down a squadron of incoming Fighters. So if you know for a fact that your opponent was always playing Carrier & Scout, then your response should be to bring a squadron of all-Frigates to the table.

For comparison sake, here are the bottom 5 in this matchup:

Bottom 5 (12-Point Buy) 

Index Ships Wins AvgPct
3 CA×2 0 31%
10 DD×3 1 19%
1 BB, DD 2 36%
8 CL, DD, FF 3 39%
11 DD×2, VS×2 4 41%

The lesson here is that what you don't want to do is bring a fleet of only-large-capital-ships to the fight without any speedier escorts. A pair of Heavy Cruisers alone, or three Destroyers, are simply awful. So is a Battleship with one Destroyer. Generally speaking, the Destroyer suffers a bit in this point-buy scheme compared to the Frigate (it has only 2 extra rocket battery shots, and 10 more hull points, in exchange for slower maneuvering and +33% cost), but as we noted before, there simply isn't any wiggle room available in the numbers we used to modify that at all. Thus it's not too surprising that it shows up a lot in the Bottom 5 here. But it did show up in the lead of one of the Top 5 combos, too, so it's not a total lost cause.

So in summary, it seems like this point-buy scheme is pretty robust, especially taking the 12-point-buy level as an exemplary example. No combination of ships completely dominates all of the others, and the best results come from mixed combinations of different ships. That should provide a lot of space for players to play with, both in the meta-game (of determing which group of ships to bring to the table), and the tactical game itself (maneuvering and shot selection to make the best of the fairly narrow advantages between each combination of ships).

Java Code

You can see the revised Java code to this simulator program below (version 1.03). If you make any interesting extensions or come up with what you think is a better point-buy regime, please let me know about it!