Quadrant 13 – The Author Interviewed
Quadrant 13 is Robert Avery’s forthcoming set of Lardy sci-fi rules which have just been published. I caught up with him just before he was abducted by aliens, and asked him what it was all about.
Let’s start at the beginning. Robert, can you give me the gist of the game?
Q13 is a company-sized game covering science fiction warfare aimed primarily at using 6-15mm figures. It uses the same basic mechanics as IABSM and/or CDS, but is as different in flavour from them as they are from each other.
Company-sized? I thought most sci-fi games on the marketplace were aimed at the skirmish gamer?
Yes: you are right, they are. This may be a bit of a paradigm shift for many sci-fi gamers, but the marketplace is pretty packed full of sci-fi skirmish games, and I wanted something that covered sci-fi warfare on a larger scale. Q13 is not a game designed to be played with a couple of squads on each side: much like IABSM, it won’t really work unless you have a minimum of a couple of platoons on each side, and really comes into its own with at least one of the sides fielding a full supported company.
So it’s aimed at a gap in the marketplace, but is there a market for it?
I think there is. Over the last couple of years there has been a real explosion in 15mm sci-fi models, and to me 15mm is not a skirmish scale: 15mm is a company-sized scale.
Can you give us some examples?
Manufacturers such as Khurasan, Ground Zero Games, Critical Mass Games and many, many more are releasing range after range of beautiful figures, and increasingly providing more than just the basic grunts.
What do you mean?
Well, the traditional sci-fi range was squad-based. You got one command figure, a handful of rifle-carriers, and someone with a light support weapon. That was it. Ideal for skirmish gaming, maybe, but not for larger actions.
Nowadays, a range isn’t a range unless it includes different infantry types (e.g. basic, recon, heavy) and a whole range of vehicles whether they be wheeled, tracked, hover or walkers. Q13 allows you to take advantage of this change, and field a decent-sized force.
Okay, but you’ve just mentioned three different manufacturers, each with multiple ranges. How does Q13 cope with the huge variety of troop types and weapons just from those manufacturers. And aliens! How does Q13 cope with aliens?
The rules are really divided into two sections. The second section covers gameplay, and players of IABSM and CDS will recognise the basic mechanics.
The first section, however, covers building your army. You see, Q13 doesn’t come with any fluff: the rules themselves are completely generic. What the first section does is provide a framework into which players must fit the armies they wish to field. This framework will translate the vast variety of concepts possible in an effectively infinite science fiction universe into a common idiom, allowing the game’s systems to operate.
For example, larger support weapons are defined not in terms of calibre, or Earth-specific terms such as HE or AP, but in terms of man-ratings and load.
Man-ratings define a weapon’s size: the bigger the man-rating, the more powerful the weapon.
Fire effect is simply Boom, Bolt or Both i.e. whether the support weapon fires something that goes, er, “boom”; or something goes “slam”: striking like a bullet whether actually solid or a bolt of energy. Add in the generic term “flame” for anything that spews acid, plasma or the like, and Bob’s your alien uncle. Everything is generic, and there are plenty of examples, put in 20th century terms, to help.
So I can field anything I like?
Anything you can correctly represent with a figure…but, basically, yes.
So I can field a force of super-amazing space marines capable of devastating any opponent?
In the same way you could field a force of King Tigers in IABSM, or Old Guard in Napoleonics, or Macedonians and Romans in Vis Bellica.
But with those examples, I have historical reality to stop me doing so?
Plenty of power-gamers ignore history when it suits them: they just don’t tend to follow the Lard. Q13 will work in exactly the same way.
Also, because the rules are generic, all that will happen is that your opponents will start fielding equally super-amazing troops: an arms race that will cancel out any advantage you might think you have.
Interesting. So what you are saying is that you effectively put together your own army lists?
Exactly: with the fun being that you have to actually put together proper “on-paper” OBs to justify the inclusion of any particular troop types, and are encouraged to do so in a proper, balanced way. I’m also going to publish my army lists, covering many of the current ranges on offer, so players can use them if they choose.
Dealt with by the mechanics above and the Q13 equivalent of nationality cards.
Right, moving on, you mentioned earlier that Q13 had a very different flavour to IABSM or CDS. Can you expand on that a bit please?
Yes, of course. The first thing to note is that Q13 is a pretty lethal game. By that I mean that if you can see an enemy unit, you can generally kill it. Yes, having powered armour and shields will protect you for a bit, but that just generally means you hang around for a little longer before being killed!
Q13 is hard sci-fi. You have to forget the idea of a handful of super-armoured men romping their way up the battlefield spewing death to alien hordes whilst remaining untouched themselves. In Q13, the alien hordes have read the rules and army generation options as well!
This concept of increased lethality took the playtesters a little time to get to grips with, especially if they had a background in historical gaming. They tended to stick to tried and tested 20th Century tactics such as a bit of suppressing fire then advancing forward by rushes.
Well that seems very logical to me. Surely that sort of thing would still be done in the future?
Yes, but you have to think technology. First up, electronic warfare. Why risk your precious troops in advancing towards the unknown. Deploy scanners from the baseline, or send forward scouting drones.
Now you know where his troops are, interfere with their communications. The rules allow you to field electronic warfare specialists who can reduce the command pips available to enemy Big Men by jamming their comms.
So when you do advance, you’re facing a known but leaderless enemy?
Yes. Hopefully. Unless they have the same idea!
The last time I played Q13, I had great fun with aircraft.
I remember: and another real point of difference is the third dimension. Airpower in IABSM or CDS can be very significant, especially in CDS, but is still an occasional factor. In Q13, however, there tend to be a multitude of flying units on either side, be they infantry with wings or jetpacks, or some kind of flight-capable vehicle. Therefore, the second thing most people familiar with the game think about when constructing their armies is anti-aircraft protection of some kind.
Seriously: turning up for a game of Q13 without aerial assets and something to knock enemy flyers down with is a recipe for disaster. Your troops need to have one eye looking upwards all the time.
But what if the range of figures your army is based on doesn’t have any aerial or AA units?
Then you have to improvise. I find that some of the new starship ranges, such as those from Spartan Games, provide excellent 15mm fighters and bombers. In fact, the two flying units you were using last time were actually made up of models from their Firestorm Armada game: frigates and heavy cruisers translating to one-man fighters and two-man bombers respectively.
Putting together your army is all part of the fun. My space frogs started off with infantry and grav bikes from Zombie Smith’s Aphid range; then added armoured infantry from Battlestations; elite scouts from Team Frog; hover tanks from Blue Moon Manufacturing; and the flying stuff from Spartan Games. All woven together into a logical and justifiable OB with no cheese…hence the reason they got stuffed last time they were on the tabletop!
I remember that too: I was playing them! Anyway, to sum up: the key differences in flavour to IABSM and CDS stem from increased lethality of weaponry, technology in all sorts of forms, and aerial assets?
Yes…and the fact that you, yourself, build up your force so it’s just how you want it. Provided you can find the figures that is.
But a bit more on technology. Every army has a Tech Level, defined from zero to four. Zero is about equal to the late twentieth century i.e. about now. Level four is equal to, say Star Trek. Almost every dice roll you make that involves doing something to your opponent is adjusted by the difference in your Tech Level. So if my Tech 4 troopers fire at your Tech 0 National Guard in an aliens-invade-Earth game, then I’m effectively adding four to my roll every time.
For a 3D6 squad, that’s taking the average roll from 11.5 to 15.5: nasty! Oh, and reducing your effectiveness from an average of 11.5 to 7.5. Add in my powered armour and shields (meaning that you still die on a 5 or 6, but I only die on a 6 and get a saving roll and possibly have ‘lives’ as well) and things are looking bad for you Earthling scum!
But I thought you said it wasn’t about a few super-armoured men killing loads of, er, aliens?
Good point! But that is a particularly extreme scenario. What I should have said that the game isn’t usually about a few powered armour troopers slaughtering everything they can see…but it can be if you want it to be. Also, it’s worth pointing out that of my eight sci-fi armies, none are Tech 4, and only three have Tech 3 elements in them. And a couple of turns of HMG fire would soon whittle down my armoured infantry if I just marched straight up the battlefield. I said they would die more slowly, not that they wouldn’t die at all!
Right then, before we finish is there anything else you’d like to say about Q13?
To sum up, I’d say that Q13 is an attempt to translate the core Lardy principle of playing the period not the rules to a period that is defined really by your own imagination. The rules provide a hard ‘realistic’ framework for you to construct your own ‘historical’ background for your games, and contain the same sort of generic scenario-generation tools that Platoon Forward and the IABSM v3 rulebook do to allow you to easily play pick-up games with an opponent using a different ‘historical reality’.
I actually can’t wait to see how other people construct their armies and backgrounds, or how they use different figures to interpret the multitude of lists I’ll be posting. Q13 is the future: a future I can’t wait to experience!
As a real job, you’re in advertising, aren’t you?
Well, Robert, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on Q13 with us. I can see from the flashing lights and the weird gravitational effects that your ride has arrived. Until next time…What? No…not the probes again?
At this point, our interview was sadly cut short. Q13 will be published in pdf format only in the Summer of 2012. Live Lard and prosper.