Fellow blogger Chris from Just Another Wargames Blog asked me to stat up some more aircraft for my homebrew solo air combat game Our Space Age Air Force (OSAAF). I haven't updated this blog in a while due to a hectic work schedule but Chris' request is a perfect reason to get back into it.
Embarrassingly, I abandoned posting about OSAAF back in 2015(!), after promising to continue presenting my rules, which I was doing in installments. I've had "Part 5: Gunnery" in my Drafts folder here on Blogger for nearly four years. Dang. So I kind of feel like I owe Chris and any other readers...
OK, before presenting any new rules, let's talk aircraft. As a reminder, aircraft only have three stats in OSAAF: Energy Factor, Maneuverability, and Maximum Speed. Additionally, in game terms the planes sport a finite amount of armament (# of shots) as well as fuel (game-turn the aircraft must exit). I'm contemplating adding a fourth stat, Visibility, but I still need to playtest this.
Anyone who knows a little about air combat knows it's all about energy management (kinetic and potential) and that a tremendous amount of factors play into an aircraft's ability to build and retain that energy. It's ludicrously simplistic to boil these factors down to two stats, Energy Factor and Maneuverability, but I feel a minimal number of characteristics keeps play fast, which is key in a solo game.
So how do we decide on the stats? I use what's called the TLAR method, or "that looks about right". Since, at its core, OSAAF uses what's essentially a "roll for degree of activation" mechanic, I've found an Energy Factor score of 3 or 4 works best for playability. The game is specifically meant to simulate the Korean War to Vietnam War era of jet combat, therefore Energy Factors of 4 and 3 represent typical fighter jets from that time. An Energy Factor of 5 (the worst) remains reserved for aircraft ill-suited for the air combat role, such as bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Superior Energy Factors of 2 or even 1 would be "futuristic" aircraft (from a 50s-60s perspective) featuring innovations such as turbofan engines, stability and control augmentation, and advanced structures allowing higher load factors.
Obviously, I've structured OSAAF so that (density) altitude plays a key role on aircraft performance. I therefore try to use historical engine data, such as thrust to weight ratio, to decide on the Energy Factor stat for each jet. A powerful engine will allow a plane to gain a lot of energy but keeping it, especially in a turn, relies on additional characteristics such as wing loading, maximum load factor, and most importantly but maybe the most nebulous, general handling qualities. If the historical data indicates that a jet was particularly demanding on the pilots, as demonstrated by something like a high accident rate in training, I may bump down the Energy Factor by one.
Maneuverability is just another aspect of energy management but for game purposes I broke it out into High, Medium, and Low ratings. In nearly all cases however, I use Medium for jets of this era while reserving High for exceptionally agile aircraft (like a WWII dogfighter for example) and Low for heavily loaded aircraft (bombers, transports, etc).
Maximum speed in OSAAF scales linearly at about 110 kts for each point of game stat, so that a jet with a Max Speed 6 can just kiss Mach 1 at sea level.
Initially I simply divided the combat radius (in NM) of the jets by 100 to yield the Fuel Capacity game stat, which again represents the latest safe turn to exit. Playtest revealed that to be extremely limiting so I now use 40 as the divisor. Generally this still puts a tight time limit on the games but allows the jets to get to the merge.
Armament, especially number of missiles, reflects a fairly accurate amount of available shots; I typically just use the historic load-outs including actual cyclic rates for guns and an assumed 2 second average burst length.
I generally don't account for differences in gunsights, air-intercept radars, human-factors in cockpit design, and additional crewmembers, mostly because I haven't playtested any modeling of these factors. I recognize however that all these are vitally important to weaponeering so I intend to introduce some aircraft-specific modifiers.
All that being said, most aircraft probably converge around the same general stats. This has become a hallmark of my solo games: vanilla-bland sameness for individual game statistics, hopefully offset by a few fun randomizers to introduce unexpected and interesting twists.
Despite this warning, I'm still happy to crank out some aircraft stats for Chris and anyone reading. I'm thinking I should do the ubiquitous F-4 and MiG-21, as well as perhaps the F-105 (to show how a jet can have multiple Energy Factor and Maneuverability scores depending on loading). Please send your requests.