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28mm/15mm Miniatures Gaming Game Design; In-depth Rules Reviews; Game Discussion Google GroupevilleMonkeighhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/11998198938697175335noreply@blogger.comBlogger493125
Updated: 48 min 13 sec ago

Game Design #74: Why Aerial Wargames Suck

January 16, 2018 - 15:01
A bit of a clickbait title, but this is a genre which I feel has seen very few good rule sets.  Contrast this to the plethora of decent WW2/modern platoon+ level rules, for example.

Perhaps there is something about aerial wargames that does not adapt well to wargaming (I feel age of sail also suffers from this).  I'll highlight a few issues.

First, it's not like we have a lot of good rules to choose from. Most rules are simply rebadged mechanics from the 1970s. Check Your Six is a good example of this.  It's more polished than its ancestors, but still has unwieldy mechanics (add firepower dice - say 8 x d6, total them up, then consult a chart, roll 2d6 and add modifiers, to see final damage - just so clunky). And it has written orders, ffs. This is aerial dogfights, not 1970s Napoleonics brigade level wargames.  I want to move model Mustangs around making pew pew noises, not be writing C12+H1 or whatever.  Bag the Hun at least tries to be different with card activation, but has the usual 101 different mechanics and chaos of a Lardies ruleset. Also, planes moving double speed because they are in formation or at a higher altitude just feels wrong.  I know it's meant to show the tactical advantage, but a Spitfire moving twice as far as a 109 in a game turn because it is in formation is just... jarring.

Many aerial games are designed for 1v1 or 2v2 duels. That's not a wargame - that's a cardgame or boardgame! If you rocked up at my house, handed me a single 40K model and said "OK, get one model each, let's play a wargame"...   ... I would likewise decline to admit we are wargaming.  I'd say Wings of War (the grandaddy of X-Wing) falls into this category.  Some aerial games seemed designed for exhibition games where there are 10+ gamers, and everyone flies a single plane. For the average gamer, good luck arranging a 10-a-side air wargame every week. Finally, if I want to fly a single plane, I'd can play one of the many excellent PC games which can do the job immeasurably better and faster and in more detail. 

While I also think, say, space wargames tend to have poor rulesets, at least I can see a way forward.  Use vector movement, for a start - at least then it's not blatantly WW2-naval-in-space.  Dropfleet Commander (with its atmospheric combat, focus on supporting meaningful planetary missions, and use of detection risk v reward) for example, shows innovation in the genre.

But let's do our best. What are some issues with aerial wargames? How could we fix them?

Well, I think the primary focus is energy management - trading height/speed for position against an enemy. So generally you need to track height and energy - I do this using d6 (for energy) of different colours (for height).  Even this simple tracking adds to the "time cost" of moving a single plane.

Another key issue is pilot skill - this is probably more important in terms of initiative (who moves when) but always letting better pilots move last or whatever removes much of the chaos from a dogfight and makes it easy to game the system. You can randomise this with dice rolls or cards but there is more "time cost" added.

I feel aerial wargames which handle larger quantities of planes fall into a bit of a trap; it's the old "wrong command level" or "excess micromanagement" where in, say a WW2 company game, you the gamer (the company commander) might position individual models...   ...where a real company commander would not be bothering himself with individuals, but at most "two levels down" - his platoons, and perhaps squads.

If you do have say 8 planes - what role are you, the gamer, taking? Squadron leader? Then why are you steering each individual pilot and choosing their exact positions, maneuvers and throttle settings?  That's something no squadron commander could do, especially once battle is joined.

But...   ...you're making up arbitrary rules to define what "aerial wargaming is."  I don't think it's unfair to suggest a 1v1 game is a duel, not a wargame. It's not unreasonable to suggest most wargames involve 4+ maneuver units. Interestingly, 4-8 units is about what most commanders control in real life. If you are playing Napoleonics and each player had a single troop block, it's not really a wargame.  You'd just push them together and roll dice. 

Okay, so how can we fix this? Abstraction vs Detail.
I'm wondering how much we can abstract. Remember abstraction is good is it retains the same effect, while cutting out the "time cost" and "complexity."   You can abstract too far, though - I remember playing a squadron-level game where it was simply "range bands" in which you rolled dice contests - without any need for a table, terrain or models at all.

Do we need altitude?
If it's trading energy for position - could we simple say any non-combat, straight line flight was "gaining energy."  Whether you are accelerating in level flight, or climbing for height/stored energy, it's a net gain.  Turns, change of facing and dogfighting is an "energy loss" of varying amount.  Adding extra speed (diving) could also be spending energy. (Speed and energy are not the same thing)  C21:Air War does away with altitude (with jets, this seems more feasible) and Blood Red Skies seems to simplify altitude into an "advantaged/disadvantaged" states.

Should we actually plot the precise moves of each aircraft?
How big are these hexes?  How long is the turn?  What if we just pushed two planes together (like a melee in ground rules) and said they were "dogfighting?"  Are we the  pilot, a flight leader, a squadron leader - what should we be controlling?

What about a dice pool to represent the pilot's multitasking ability?  Here's a random idea of a movement/combat mechanic to show you what I mean:

Gain Energy
Aircraft may move between half and their total "energy" (noted by a d6) in movement, and get a free 60d turn at the end of the move.  If they only do this, they gain one energy. This represents straight line movement or slight climbing.

Spend Energy
You must move 1 hex forward before turning. Any extra 60d turn beyond the free one mentioned, costs 1 energy, and any 120 or 180 pivot costs 2-3.  You can dive and spend 1 energy to move an extra hex (beyond your actual energy).   So as you can see, energy can be swapped for turning ability, more speed... or better dogfighting (see below)

Dogfighting
Any time two planes are in adjacent hexes they are dogfighting. They get 1 free d6 if they are facing their opponent, and +1d6 each energy they spend.  Winning the dogfight means they can make 1 attack roll for their margin of success, and may turn their plane 60d to face their opponent if they are not already.

What are you doing here?
Okay, the example I did might be poorly illustrated, and might fail in practice, but can you see how I'm trying to remove the maneuver charts and complexity.   I've abstracted all the precise maneuvers from CY6 or BtH.  Moving individual aircraft would be easy, but there would still be decisions (do I spend energy to turn or move further; or save energy up to last longer in a dogfight; planes starting a dogfight with lower energy will get less rolls and run out sooner etc etc)

Look at the Big Picture
I'm not saying my solution is even a good one; I'm just showing how I'm trying to explore beyond the usual mechanics.  Pushing models together like a skirmish melee and claiming they are "dogfighting" may seem weird; where's the "tailing" and complex Immelmans and maneuver sequences we are used to from our usual Blue Max ripoffs?  But does my "napkin sketch" idea focus on energy management? Yes, it does.

What I'm trying to say, is I feel aerial wargames are re-using the same mechanics, and are very limited. We need to get away from traditional mechanics, and look for solutions/mechanics based on the key issues, not simply re-using things for the sake of tradition.  I'd like to start from scratch, not using another set of aerial rules as a guide. Get right out of the box.  What if you used Infinity as the basis for an aerial wargame? Could it be used to emphasize energy management and pilot skill?  What about the old impulse tracks from Star Fleet Battles - could we make a 8-impulse chart? Or would this slow things even worse?

This design process isn't easy - aerial wargames are, I think, inherently more complex than most other genres, as it is in a 3D realm, with an element of resource management (height/energy) attached by default to each unit - tracking this automatically adds to the time cost/complexity.   Using more than a few aircraft per side leads easily to the "wrong command level" trap where the gamer is micromanaging too much - yet managing only one aircraft either makes for a bland game or limits its appeal; most gamers, in something as niche as aerial wargames, have lots of plane models and few gaming friends; more common than the situation with 10+ gaming friends all wanting to play planes with only one model each...   ..and I feel 1-model-per-player leads to unfavourable comparisions with PC games such as the free War Thunder or $5 for IL-2 Sturmovik.

I'd love to see a set of aerial wargames rules made with someone with fresh eyes, who build a game based around their philosophy of air combat, rather than building it in imitation of an Avalon Hill game they played back in '82.
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Diary of an Average Painter: Street Wizards, Thule Gelleschaft and Zombie Pirates

January 14, 2018 - 07:49
Painted these a while back but my 4-year-old assistant only based them yesterday.  (Hence why I always do bland plain sand bases; less to go wrong with a small child involved!)

Black Scorpion do brilliant pirates and wild west. I'd own more but they switched to plastic (boo hiss) robbing me of my enthusiasm to collect more. There's just something about metal that makes plastic seem so tacky and insubstantial...   ..I feel cheated paying equal or more for plastic replacements of metal mini lines...

Having just started to read her Tin Tin, it was a given Captain Haddock would make an appearance, along with a Rick O'Connell. The pulp minis come from Black Cat, Artizan and Copplestone - part of a huge backlog from years ago I am working through...
Some ghouls, irredeemable tainted by consuming human flesh...
Some urban "practitioners" of the arcane arts.  My wife recognized a Dresden and a Constantine...
I think a few might be EM4 (my source of bases and cheap 50c space fighters).

This German secret society will also do double duty alongside my West Wind SOTR models. I'm due to playtest my SoBH-meets-simple-d10-Infinity hybrid rules, as I've never done a good magic system to suit me yet.

As usual, I'm not showing off painting masterworks; just showing typical "tabletop" standard work. As I get older, I tend toward simpler paintjobs, with more bold highlighting to look effective from tabletop *(~2-4ft) range; whereas they don't look as good on close inspection.  I don't even make an effort with things you are unlikely to see, anymore (anything held up and viewed critically from below, for example, will reveal a fair bit of basecoat!)
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World War 1955: The Space War

January 12, 2018 - 13:09
Space Nazis has a certain ring to it, right?

In the dying days of the Reich, as Allied forces drove  hard through the heartland, a brilliant halo appeared high above the Bavarian mountains.  Operation Sternsprung had succeeded in opening a warp gate: taking the cream of their scientists and technology, die hard forces of the Reich boarded jets, flew through and disappeared.

The victorious Allies and Soviets quickly entered a new arms race; to exploit these rifts which were appearing in the skies in a range of locations.  The Cold War became a space war.  Within months, both sides had heavily modified their jets to operate in vacuum, and were exploring our Solar system, laying claim to rich mineral asteroids.

In the vastness of space, far from the eye of the public, Soviet and Allied forces clashed in small skirmishes, as the power blocs sought to assert sovereignty over valuable chunks of rock. Space bases were built.  Soon, big corporations moved in. Protected by their own national governments and increasingly, hiring private mercenary air forces using surplus jets, the asteroid belt quickly became a "wild west" where disputes were settled with jets and cannons. 

...and increasingly, outposts and bases have been destroyed with no survivors. Tensions between superpowers escalate, but - has the Reich returned from the depths of space? The last Nazi outpost in Antarctica fell in 1947, but there is speculation it was in contact with other German forces through the Argentinian rift...


Modified Vampires clash with Horten Ho.229s around an asteroid belt.

The planets and asteroids were simply styfoam balls, dipped in a water+PVA mix, then sprinkled with sand and spraypainted.  They took about an hour to make, even with frequent interruptions by my kids...

American forces; radar-equipped Sabres and Thunderjets armed with rockets; including "rock cracker" asteroid-killing nukes. Many older model jets have been sold off to private contractors.

Soviet jets not only equip their own vast space armadas, but have increasingly found their way into the hands of satellite nations and rogue states. The Communist threat has spread to the stars!

Meteors and Vampires were amongst the first jets to be modified for space use; with advanced life support and thrust-vectoring nozzles among key changes. 

The menacing Horten flying wings battle alongside the Ta.183s who replaced the Me.262. These models are Raiden, and they are much finer cast models. Sadly, they are inferior to the chunky robust detail of Tumbling Dice and I prefer the latter, both to paint and at tabletop distances.

These models and asteroids will serve to test my "Vector Strike" homebrew rules.  Sadly there are no actual modern jet rules I like. Check Your Six is too fiddly (and screw written orders!), Bag the Hun is too jumbled (I swear it uses 100 different game mechanics); neither allow me to use 4-8 planes per side.  Hmm - might be a good game design article: "genres that defy good rules" - (aerial rules and age of sail spring to mind - I've never found a good set and the subject matter seems to defy ease of play) as opposed to genres saturated with decent rules (platoon level WW2-modern-sci fi, for example.)
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Simple Vector Rules - for Grav Tanks and Space Stuff

January 5, 2018 - 13:50
I need a simple set of drift rules for my grav tank game, as well as my PT boats/MTBs-in-space rules I'm working on.  I've already got a very good set of rules for vector movement I made years back; but the drift markers clutter the table - restricting fights to about 4-a-side before things got messy...

My design goal: minimum clutter, while imparting a feeling of momentum. Plus, ships should be able to flip and strafe sideways while drifting past enemies - because it's cool.

My current idea steals from Full Thrust only I've eliminated the need to track velocity and simplified it further. Loses a bit of granularity but I think it still feels right, and is fast - and sometimes needs no marker at all!

When moving slowly, a unit can move it's thrust in any direction. It can end up with any facing... anything goes.  For the purpose of the example I'm going to say the thrust is 4."

This gravtank, when moving at low "normal" speeds, can move anywhere in a radius = to it's thrust, unconstrained by facing etc. Like infantry do in most games.

Now this gravtank is being ambushed by a cave monster. So it wants to accelerate away and shoot backwards. The tank moves directly forward it's full thrust. When a unit moves directly forward at it's full thrust, it can opt to "drift" and use a drift marker.

The grav tank has moved it's full thrust (4" in this case) directly forward and opts for drift marker. The marker placed directly astern of the unit's base, with the arrow facing forward in the drift direction.

Now, at the start of it's next move, the ship drifts directly ahead of the drift arrow. It moves a mandatory distance - the same as it's maximum thrust. In this case - thrust is 4" - so the gravtank moves 4" directly forward. This is the "drift" stage, and occurs before all other movement.
(Luckily the tank chose to drift - the monster was closing in!)

Once the drift is done, the unit can make a "normal" move - i.e. 4" in any direction.

A ship's path is between the drift marker and it's new location (shown here by the red stick).
In this case, moving sharply to the left (where the tape and stick intersect) would be a bad move - the gravtank would smash into the wall!

Instead, the gravtank might boost 4" further forward, getting more distance between it and the monster, and pivot to shoot at it; shooting backwards while drifting the other way!  Finally, we move the drift marker towards the back of the unit's base, in a straight line.

Now, the unit's facing does not have to be the same way as the drift marker; the arrow on the drift marker dictates the drift; not the ship facing.

For example, the tank might have faced sideways to shoot a new threat. However the drift is still heading towards the wall dead ahead!  We need to stop drifting and slow down to more controllable "normal" speed.

To stop drifting, the procedure is as follows.  Next turn, you must move your mandatory drift distance like usual (=max thrust, in this case, 4"). As usual, you move/drift in a direct line in the direction of the drift marker arrow.  You then ensure the unit is facing the drift marker.

You can see the grav tank has spun to face the drift marker. This represents the unit using it's powerful rear thrusters to brake it's forward momentum. 

Having braked and removed it's 4" drift velocity, the drift marker is now removed. Voila, the unit is back in normal movement mode.

The grav tank is back at normal speed. It can now move up to it's thrust in any direction; it won't smash into the wall now!

Hmmm, so how do I feel after this playtest?

Successes

Did it remove clutter? Sure. Half the time there IS no marker (unless you are drifting).
Did it retain the "feel" of drift? Can you shoot backwards/sideways when drifting? Sure!
So it successfully met my design criteria. I'd label these rules a success.

Drawbacks/Limitations
Hardcoding the drift = thrust obviously is a bit unrealistic and loses some granularity.  
Sure, you could put a dice on the base but that means you'd pretty much permanently have to keep it there - a counter + a dice permanently goes against my "minimal clutter" policy.

Ideas
Maybe you could "double boost" - i.e. follow up your first "drift" with a second full-thrust move forward to establish a 2x thrust drift (8"in this case). This would not add any clutter as you could simply use a different coloured drift marker.  You would have to spend two turns braking, facing backwards to return to normal speed....

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Old School Epic Grav Tanks

January 4, 2018 - 03:21
Found three dozen Falcons(?) - they're such an old edition I don't even remember! - grav tanks in a box when tidying my shed.  2017 has been a year of frugality - with the Dropfleet rules, some 15mm tanks, and some discounted Warmachine metals my main purchases of note. So anything novel is good.

 The 90s called - they want their Eldar hovertanks back...
I've been working on eking away at the lead mountain, with a rule of "no new minis till you paint the old ones." 28mm Fantasy still has a few Confrontation 3 warbands -  (oh beauteous models!) to go, along with some WM Scyrah and assorted solos; but hundreds of fantasy models have been painted this year. It'd make me feel good if I didn't recall my LOTR boxes; ~500 various models I bought in a few job lots; but I'm so overwhelmed by them only a small proportion (for Battle Companies) has been painted.



Anyway, the grav tanks kinda have no foes to fight, and anything GW is too rich for my budget, so I'm going to make a homebrew set of rules, a homage to the hovertank FPS/RTS Battlezone (remember PC gaming in the 90s? There was some great gameplay. Seems like most new games are 90% shiny and 10% content..  mutter mutter old codger rant).

 You'd think someone with a username like evilleMonkeigh would be better with his Eldar. Well I do remember a few paint schemes... see if you can identify them...

The hovertank game going to take place in an abandoned ruined city/underground (underhive? Moria? abandoned Craftworld?) caverns. The hovertanks are going to be scavenging for precious lostech, and transporting cargo between colonies. It's not just enemy hovertanks; monsters lurk in the underworld....

In the depths of the underworld, enemy monsters lurk, to be fought with crackling energy beams...

I'm going to use it as a test bed for campaign rules, the more "gimmicky" rules that don't make it into my tank game (see last post), and experimenting with drift mechanics for space games.  Because a 50 ton sci fi flying tank drifting sideways while firing backwards at 100kph is cool. I'm making pew-pew shwooosh noises in my head as I type this.   Yeah, the tanks are identical but I'll allow them to be "customized" with extra thrusters, afterburners, and the top weapon bay can be fitted with autocannon, rockets or missiles, or even sensors.  Extra armour plates can be fitted at the expense of agility.  I may even add cloaking devices and shields.  The main spinal mount energy beam can be set for rapid pulse, normal, and sniper beam modes between missions.   It might be a good place to test spotting mechanics for the conventional tank rules (or night fighting in the gloom of the underworld).

Only agile hovertanks can navigate the treacherous underground tunnels and paths...

I used the opportunity to try different bright paint schemes, in preparation to when I can (perhaps) one day afford Dropfleet factions.

Okay, I give up - there's just so many of them.... it was a quick and fun task though, compared to say, the hassle (and feelings of inadequacy) when painting Infinity (yes, I have 20+ of every faction; yes, I've only painted 3 of those factions...).

I'm going to keep the homebrew hovertank game simple; but I want some sort of drift mechanics (or ones that sort of simulate it and give it the right "feel" even if it isn't 100% accurate.

 These paint schemes give me an urge to fire up the old Dawn of War 1 on PC. Biel-Tann, Sann-Haim, Ulthwe, Iyanden...

Last ones! Below you can see more of my game table. A few pieces of cheap pine makes a handy city scape etc - not the prettiest, but very cheap (I think the wood was free!) and is excellent for testing cover mechanics in games as it is good for testing angles/ranges etc and their impact on game tactics.


Terrain density and how it impacts games (vs artificially short weapon ranges) is a topic I've been musing about. Maybe time for a game design post again?
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Tankmunda Game Rules: Test Game

January 3, 2018 - 09:26
Having played a fair bit of War Thunder recently, I was bitten by the tanking bug - I dragged out my 15mm tanks and a revised version of the homebrew rules I'm experimenting with.

I want basically tank-Necromunda; where teams of 8-12 tanks (mix of recce, medium, heavies and TDs) can play a series of skirmishes in a campaign and "level up" their skills (and sometimes their tanks.)

What am I playing?
With this in mind, the rules are simple and GW-y; 3+ to hit up close, 4+ normal, and 5+ long on a d6. Tanks get 2 shots; or can "sprint" a double move without firing. There's a bit more to it, of course; my main interest was the damage and damage charts, shots that beat the target number by two knock out the tank instantly; i.e you need a 4+ and roll a 6 = instant knockout.   Once this occurs there is a table, basically
1,2 = mobility (engines, tracks, driver etc)
3 = gun/turret/gunner/loader
4 = explodey burney things
5,6 = squishy crew
The tank is tagged  with the effect, some are resolved instantly; some can be "fixed" the next turn or at least used in a damaged state (i.e. a mobility hit can be repaired, but tank speed is halved).

Basically, similar to GW ripoffs like FoW or Bolt Action, with a bit more detail given the tank focus.  I did not use any spotting rules but they exist in the draft rules; they take the form of "autospot" ranges.  I can probably post the rules up here if there is interest but they usually go in the google group.

Turn 1
The first turn was a long range exchange of fire between the two forces (Pz IV with short 75, supported by a StuG with long 75; against Cruiser 2pdrs supported by a Grant); the Grant was stunned (caused by a non-penetrating hit) while a PzIV was immobilized. The range was beyond the 20" (1000m) effective range, so 5s and 6s were needed to hit; and penetration was correspondingly reduced.

Turn 2
The Stug III's long 75 drills through a hapless Cruiser IV and it explodes.  First blood.
On the other flank, tanks exchange fire but surprisingly the armour holds up - lots of crew stuns from non-penetrating hits (which need to be removed by a "crew check" of 4+ next turn; or else -1 to all rolls).
The activation is supposed to be "each players take turns activating a tank" but you can follow-on and move again if you pass a Crew Check (4+); stunned units cannot "follow on" like this.

The teaboos strike back; a Cruiser angles a shot through a gap and takes out a Pz IV.
Turn 3
Back on the other flank, a luckless Panzer is stunned, immobilised, then knocked out. The Grant does some good shooting with its dual cannons.

A speedy Cruiser flanks a Panzer on the other side of the battlefield. It is immobilised and set on fire.

Turn 4 & 5
The burning Panzer from the photo above brews up; the crew had already abandoned the tank after failing morale and firefighting rolls.

Back on the far flank the Grant continued its stellar display; the rear Panzer was limping to cover (with mobility damage sustained in the first turn) when shots from each gun rolled '6's.

The StuG  moved to the middle where it ambushed a Cruiser on the opposite flank; however the Grant escaped by moving into cover of its burning wreckage.


While the Cruisers used their blazing speed to flank, the Grant backed up and whacked the StuG through the front armour. The lethal '6' is displayed next to the German assault gun.


Thoughts and impressions: 
The mechanics were pretty easy.  Activation was a bit to easy to "chain" i.e. one side could activate almost all tanks in sequence like traditional 40K  IGOUGO - but as tanks got stunned and damaged it became more chaotic; which I guess makes sense.  Shooting ranges (10" short, 20" normal, 30" long) worked OK on the tabletop. It got a bit to hard to track which tanks had already activated; which might be an issue when I play up to 12 a side (the upper limit of the rules). 

I deliberately placed cover every 10" (~500m) so tanks could engage and move up to closer ranges without it being a long-range gunnery competition from the starting positions, and I think this helped the gameplay a lot.  It would have been a very boring game on an empty flat tabletop or the "traditional" one with 2-3 pieces of cover.

I'd like to look at the damage tables a bit more (i.e. how often do crew "bail out"? it seems like quite a lot, historically).  Also, with tanks that were relatively balanced (PzIV vs Cruiser; Panzers had better armour, Cruisers were much faster) kills/hits seems OK, with quite a few glancing shots at long range, becoming deadlier up close - but with a vastly more powerful gun (75mm StuG) the game could be too deadly?  It could one hit kill the Cruisers comfortably from long range, which I suppose is pretty accurate, though I think I'm more interested in fun "balance" rather than super-historical-accuracy.  Tanks get 2 shots per turn, which "smooths out" the dice a bit i.e. 2 shots to hit/damage makes damage a bit more predictable.

The ground scale (tanks moved between 3-6" at combat speed, and 6-12" when sprinting) were balanced against traditional wargame gun ranges (8-10" close, but 16-20" effective, 24-30" long) which feel a tad short.  If I added in spotting rules I could increase gun ranges (perhaps to 32-40") as I could use spotting rules to avoid long range gunnery dominating.  Technically I feel the guns should always go across the tabletop; but I wanted some benefits for say a long 75mm vs a 2pdr, and having a hard-coded maximum range is one way to do it. 
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