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“Three If By Air”

Okay, this is one run at “Three if By Air, the Game of Revolutionary War Air Combat.”
Written by Owen K.C. Stephens, Illustrated by Stan!

The final may play nothing like this.

MAP

Play on a hex grid at least 22 x 36. Each player sprinkles a handful of coins (no more than 20, no less than 5) across the grid for terrain. These represent things sticking up into the air–steeples, treetops, flagpoles, and so on. (Look it’s the 1700s, You are fighting HIGH in the air!) Center each coin in a hex. If an attack you be traced through a hex with a coin, you can’t make that attack unless an ability says otherwise.

PLAYERS

Players — 2          Units — 6 each
Players — 3          Units — 4 each
Players — 4          Units — 3 each
Players — 5 or 6  Units — 2 each

Each player is British, or American. In 2, 4, and 6 player games, make teams of an even number of players. In 3 or 5 player games, it’s a free-for all (fog of war, and all that — the final game may include more factions such as Canadian Moose Dirigibles, Tidewater Steam Gliders, and Pogo-Armed Yetis, for all I know).

British players may have British or Hessian troops. American players may have American or French troops, but cannot have more French than American.

Make your units before play. You get 10 points. Divide them among these 5 attributes, which are used with combat characteristics, no more than 4 in any one attribute.

Attributes
Offense: Used with ATTACK.
Defense: Used with EVADE.
Toughness: Used with HEALTH.
Speed: Used with MOVE.
Accuracy: Used with RANGE.
.
COMBAT CHARACTERISTICS
ATTACK: For each attack, roll 1d6 and add your Offense. If the value exceeds your target’s Evade, the difference is the damage you do.
EVADE: Each time you are attacked, roll 1d6 an add your Defense to see if you are damaged.
HEALTH: You can take damage equal to 2 + double your Toughness value. If damage would reduce you below this number, that unit is removed from play.
MOVE: Determines both movement order and how far you can go. Each round you can move a number of hexes equal to 1d6 + your Speed, to a maximum of 7. If you choose not to ATTACK, you may move an additional 1d6 hexes in phase 2. You can always move less than your maximum (including moving 0).
RANGE: Each round at the beginning of Phase 2 you roll 1d6 -3, and add your Accuracy. On that Phase you can attack foes a number of hexes away equal to this number, to a minimum RANGE of 1.

UNITS

If you are AMERICAN, your units are Lightingrod Class War Kites. If on your first attack against a target your attack roll is a natural 6 (a 6 shows on the d6), you may also attack a second unit if it is within 6 hexes.

If you are BRITISH, your units as Beefeater Rocket Cavalry. You gain a +1 to attacks made against a target in an adjacent hex.

If you are FRENCH, your units are Hot Air Balloon Dragoons. When one of your units takes damage, it moves 1 hex in a direction of your choice.

If you are Hessian, your units are Trebuchet Infantry, lobbed into the air by ground forces each round. You may only move in a straight line each turn, and gain +1 ATTACk and +1 EVADE.

PLACEMENT

Each player picks one side of the map to begin on, in secret. All sides are then all revealed. If two or players pick the same side, and there is a side with fewer players having picked it, the players each roll a d6 (rerolling ties) and the one who rolls highest decides to stay or move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players. After that, each other player in descending order of die rolls must  move 1 side clockwise to the nearest side with fewer players until there is not a side of the map with fewer players assigned to it.

The each player rolls 3d6 and totals them. In descending order of those die rolls, each player places 1 unit within 3 inches of their side of the map. Proceed through this order until all units are placed.

PLAY
Phase 1.
Everyone rolls their MOVE. The unit with the highest move may choose to go first, or wait and go last. If two units have a tied MOVE, they may defer to one another, or write down their movement and reveal them simultaneously to move simultaneously.

The unit with the next highest MOVE then decides to go immediately, or go last (or next-to-last if the highest MOVE is going last).
Proceed until everyone has moved.

Phase 2.

In order of MOVE, each unit rolls its RANGE, then attacks or moves another 1d6 hexes.
Proceed through all units, then the round is over, and go to Phase 1 of the next round.

RETREAT

If a player ever goes 3 rounds in a row without any unit making an ATTACK against a target in range, that player’s units are considered to have no taste for battle and retreat, and are removed from play.

VICTORY

If you have eliminated more than half of an opponent’s units, that opponent is eliminated and any remaining units are removed of play.

One side wins when all opposing sides have had all their units removed from play.

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Metagames and Ethics

A lot of people define the concept of the “metagame” differently, but the definition I run into most often is pretty close to “actions taken outside of normal defined gameplay that are driven by or the result of game rules, but not defined by those rules.”

So if you are deciding what cards to put in your CCG deck? Metagame. Sure which cards you CAN put in a deck are covered by rules, by actually choosing them and adding them to your deck is not defined, and you do that before you start playing the game itself with someone.

Choosing a feat to pick when you gain a character level and update between sessions? Metagame. Making props for your larp session? Metagame. Buying themed dice so your fireball looks cool because you have ten red-and-gold d6s? Still metagame.

But the definition I see most often can also cover actions that occur during the game. “Outside normal gameplay” doesn’t limit you to actions before or after the game, as long as they aren’t things controlled or referenced by game rules. And this can have expectation clashes. I have never had anyone get morally upset if I bluff in poker, but I’d expect everyone to be pissed if I used loaded dice in an rpg. But what is and isn’t acceptable isn’t always universally clear to players.

For example:

In the 1990s I played a game with some boardgame enthusiast friends that features a Bell, Book, and Candle (it was not Betrayal at House on the Hill, but I don’t recall the name). EDIT: It MAY have been Castle of Magic, though I am not certain of this.

It was the first time playing the game for all of us. Each player has a goal card, which outlines your victory conditions. You could have the candle lit or unlit, the bell rung or unrung, the book open or closed, and some other specific things could factor into it (are you out of cards, in anyone in their starting space on the board, and so on). If the exact combination of things your victory card says occurred, you won. Now many of these elements you had to just wait for, but everyone had some control over the bell, book, and candle. That meant if you moved for the book to be open, someone else could decide that meant having it open was on your victory card, and move to close it. Of course if they ALSO needed it open…

So obviously a big part of the game was figuring out other people’s victory conditions, while simultaneously concealing your own. Hoard resources to make a big state change when it’s close enough to your victory condition that no one can stop you, or make changes apparently at a whim so no one thinks you are moving toward your actual condition.

Since it was friends playing, we often wheedled each other about making or not making changes, which was part of trying to guess others’ victory condition while concealing our own.

Then when we took a break a friend took me aside, and suggested we team up. He had, he claimed, guessed my needed bell book and candle states, and he needed the same. He suggested a specific order we work together to fix those, and then whichever one of us managed to get out other needed conditions met first would win.

I like cooperative games, and it seemed reasonable, so I agreed.

So we worked together to fix the bell in one state. Then we fixed the book in another.
And then he won because the candle was already where he needed it. He didn’t need the same states I did. He lied, to convince me to help, and got me to agree to do things in a specific order so he’d win before I could.

Now, he and I talked it out, and came to understand where we were coming from. To him, this was all part of the metagame of what we were playing. No different from Diplomacy, or bluffing in poker. Lying was part of his game strategy, and only acceptable because we were playing a game that highlighted deception. To me, it was not something the game explicitly called out, and thus a lie is a lie is a lie. (Though, confession time, part of my social anxiety includes preferring a rigid adherence to rules, because that makes it easier for me to understand how I am supposed to react in a group, and when I don’t I sometimes panic.)

I took this as an example of a place where expectation conflict caused an otherwise fun game experience to end on a sour note, and have tried hard to remember what we appear to be encouraging players to do in game material I have written, developed, or consulted on ever since.

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