Mobile Suit Gundam for a One Year War Gamer

Wednesday , 30, December 2015 5 Comments

Reading Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin recently has re-sparked my desire to adapt classic war game rules to my favorite science fiction property.  Wargames in the classical format set during the One Year War are virtually non-existent* in both tabletop and electronic format.  Recently, the Gundam model industry made a foray into “serious” kits via the UC Hardgraph line, in which military hardware from the franchise was presented with the same aesthetic one would expect from WWII kits.  I only wish that games taking place in setting could be given similar treatment.

Mobile Suit Gundam

Seriously, how about a Gundam game that captures the feeling evoked by this?

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, Mobile Suit Gundam was a seminal anime series from 1979 important for beginning to erode the ‘super robot’ elements of giant robots and take the genre in a Mil-SF direction (known in fandom as “real robot”).  Prior to Gundam, giant robots were more magic than science, superheroes made of metal. Gundam, however, presented a large scale war fought on earth and in space with infantry, tanks, artillery, aircraft, warships and giant robots.  There were large-scale mixed forces operations of which the heroes were just one small part.  The story focused around the ”One Year War”, in which a group of space colonies** declare their independence from Earth and launched a massive pre-emptive strike against the Earth Federation; after several months of stalemate, the Earth Federation is finally able to ratchet up both their warship and giant robot development capabilities and turn the tides of the war in their favor.

So how would one go about creating a hex & chit style war game of the One Year War?  The biggest challenges would be to handle the asymmetrical combat strengths of mixed unit types (tanks, for instance, have their tactical and strategic uses, but one Mobile Suit squadron could easily make short work of a tank battalion) and to make the game feel as though you’re fighting with giant robots.  Many excellent war games use straight odds based on units’ SP values to resolve combat; but then you wouldn’t really be doing anything that felt different from playing a normal wargame with normal troop types.  To address both issues, I propose two options for two different scales of combat.  The first, at the tactical level, would use a modified version of Steve Jackson’s Ogre, a game purposely designed to handle asymmetric combat in a traditional hex & chit format, and the second, at an (almost) operational level*** using a heavily modified version of the engine featured in several of SPI’s medieval battles.

Ogresuit Gundam

Ogre began as a micro-game about asymmetrical warfare, in which one player controlled a force of infantry, armor and artillery opposing a second player controlling a single super-tank.  The anti-Ogre forces attack and movement values are plainly stated on their pieces while the Ogre has so much going on in terms of multiple weapons systems and hit points that it requires a small character sheet to keep track of.  While there are rules for Ogres fighting non-Ogre troops, there are also rules for Ogres fighting other Ogres and allows fights in which both players can have Ogre and non-Ogre units. Despite the complexities worked into a single piece in terms of strength and ability, Ogre is a relatively simple and quick to play game that offers all the tools we’d need to simulate a battle involving Mobile Suits.

Mobile Suits are very different from tanks, however, in how they fight and how they are destroyed.  Ogres are disabled by attacking their treads, losing movement by degrees as tread points are lost.  They are also disarmed by attacking specific weapon systems.  Mobile Suits, on the other hand, are bi-pedal and more or less anthropoid; while some may have weapons systems built in, the point of having a humanoid fighting machine with arms and hands is that it can carry and use different weapons.  So the biggest changes to implement would be having the superunits be modular in their weapon system, and using a fixed HP for the entire MS rather than allowing for targeting of treads or individual weapon systems.  Original Ogre systems rules would work for some of the landships (such as the Gallup or even the White Base) or even the RX-75 Guntank (which could be treated as something like a Mk I Ogre!), but that is beyond the scope of this post.  It should also be noted that while powerful, most MS would NOT be as powerful as a Mk III Ogre; for this reason, I would recommend adhering to the squadron based scenarios (3 suits with one possibly being an advanced “command” model).

Here are a few examples of some iconic MS, beginning with the Zaku:

MS-06 Zaku II

Primary Armaments (select one only):
ZMP-50D/120mm “Zaku Machine Gun” – Attack: (Inf 1, Armor/MS 2) Range: 2 Ammo: unlimited
175mm “Magella Top” cannon – Attack: (Inf NA, Armor/MS 5) Range: 4 Ammo: 4
H&L-SB25K/280mmA-P “Zaku Bazooka” – Attack: (Inf 2, Armor/MS 3) Range: 3 Ammo: 4

Secondary Armament (select one only):
Missile Pods – Attack: (Inf 3, Armor/MS: 4) Range 3, Ammo: 2
MIP-B6 “Cracker” grenade: (Inf 6, Armor/MS: 1) Range 2, Ammo: 2

Melee Armament:
Heat Hawk – Attack: (Inf *, Armor/MS:3) Range 1

Armor: 12
Movement: 3

Okay, so the limits on ammo the heavier weapons reinforce the support role of units carrying these; they would primarily be used against other MS or armored targets, while those armed with the machine guns would be more “all purpose”. The Heat Hawk has a star under infantry attack, as a mobile suit attempting to “melee” infantry would involve more squishing with feet than anything else.  I would recommend using the same rules as an Ogre entering an infantry unit’s hex, only I would disregard the part about AP guns being present; a Zaku II could spend its moves stepping on infantry and not need a gun to do the killing.  As you can see, the Armor is fairly low.  While Mobile Suits have a decent bit of armor and can take some hits, these aren’t ‘super’ or magic.  In Zeonic Front, a Gundam game that perhaps aimed for greater realism than that have gone before or come after, a solid hit from a tank shell can take down even the toughest MS.  The damage balancing here is more reflective of Federation vs. Zeon, where most MS can withstand 2-5 hits before getting blown to bits.

Since systems cannot be targeted, I would say that non-MS vs MS attacks would be treated as 1-1, doing damage equal to SP used in the attack.  MS vs MS attacks would be treated as the weapons attack vs. a defense of 2 AND do damage equal to the attack value if the attack is successful.  MS vs non-MS would always treat the defense value of the target as 1.  Note that this also includes “stacked” infantry.  Therefore, a Zaku Bazooka attack (3) would hit an infantry unit at 2-1 odds, hit a tank unit (regardless of its standard given defense value in Ogre) at 3-1 odds, and hit an enemy MS at 1-1 odds.

Note that while several of these weapons have “unlimited” ammo, it is more a case that the effective ammo capacities would be unlimited in terms of the game.  For exact capacities, I recommend consulting MAHQ.

MS-09 Dom
Primary Armament (choose one):
ZMP-50D/120mm “Zaku Machine Gun” – Attack: (Inf 1, Armor/MS 2) Range: 2 Ammo: unlimited
H&L-GB03K/360mm giant bazooka – Attack: (Inf: 3 Armor/MS: 3) Range: 4 Ammo: 10
VAL-RB-T27/880mm rocket bazooka – Attack (Inf: 2, Armor/MS:6) Range: 5 Ammo: 4

Secondary Armaments:
Diffuse Beam Cannon – Attack: (Inf:1, Armor/MS: 1) Range: 1 Ammo: unlimited

Melee Armament:
Heat Saber – Attack (Inf *, Armor/MS:4) Range 1

Armor: 18
Movement: 5

The Dom is a big step up from the Zaku II, and was close to on par with a Gundam.  Their movement is augmented by back and leg Vernier, making them one of the fastest MS on land and in space of the One Year War. They are primarily anti-MS MS developed to combat rise in number of the Earth Federation’s mobile suit force, faring especially well against the mass produced RGM-79.

On to some Federation MS!

RX-78-2 Gundam
Primary Armament: (choose one)
BOWA-XBR-M-79-07G “Beam Rifle” – Attack (Inf: 2, Armor/MS: 6) Range: 3 Ammo: 2 (+1 every 3nd turn)
BLASH-XHB-L-03/N-STD 380mm “Hyper Bazooka” – Attack: (Inf: 3 Armor/MS: 3) Range: 4 Ammo: 6
“Gundam Hammer” – Attack: (Inf: *, Armor/MS: 4) Range: 2 Ammo: Unlimited

Secondary Armament:
60mm Vulcan – Attack: (Inf: 1, Armor/MS: 1) Range: 2 Ammo: Unlimited

Melee Armament:
Beam Saber – Attack: (Inf: *, Armor/MS: 6) Range: 1

Armor: 20
Movement: 4

RX M-Sh-008/S-01025 Shield – may be used to negate any one successful attack.

Now, the Gundam is a LOT more powerful than Zakus, but until the introduction of the MS-14 Gelgoog, there was little the Zeons had that were on par with it.  For mass produced ground-type Gundams, however, some of these numbers would be scaled back.

RX-77-2 Guncannon
Primary Armament: (choose one)
2x shoulder mounted 240mm Cannon – Attack (Inf: 2, Armor/MS: 3) Range: 4 Ammo: Unlimited
2x shoulder mounted spray missile launcher – Attack (Inf:3, Armor/MS: 2) Range: 4 Ammo: Unlimited

Secondary Armament:
BOWA-XBR-M-79-07G “Beam Rifle” – Attack (Inf: 2, Armor/MS: 6) Range: 3 Ammo: 2 (+1 every 3nd turn)
60mm Vulcan – Attack: (Inf: 1, Armor/MS: 1) Range: 2 Ammo: Unlimited

Armor: 18
Movement: 3

The Guncannon is primarily a support unit, though as you can see, its armaments are formidable.  It lacks a shield and can’t take the beating that a Gundam can.  Two Zakus should be able to take one easily.

RX-75-4 Guntank
180mm Cannons (linked fire/att. same target 2x) – Attack (Inf:3, Armor/MS 3) Range: 5 (min3) Ammo: Unlimited  Def: 2
2x Quad bop missile launchers (Arm Mounted) – Attack (inf: 2, Armor/MS: 5) Range: 1 Ammo: Unlimited Def: 3

Movement: 2

Because the Guntank is a tank, it DOES have tread, which can be targeted and attacked as though it were an Ogre.  Additionally, its fixed armaments can be attacked and disabled.  If a Guntank can get the drop on enemies with indirect fire, the effects can be devastating, however on its own can easily become a sitting duck.  Treat as an Ogre for ramming rules.  Movement is halved when tread is reduced by 5, immobilized when tread is reduced to 0.

Now, there are a TON more Mobile Suits that I could include, and I do feel remiss in excluding the Zeon MS-07B Gouf (It’s no Zaku, boy!) or the Federation’s RGM-79, but I think I’ve laid enough groundwork that others can follow behind and begin working on some adaptations of their own.

Here’s a little bonus for you guys.  Have you ever heard of the micro-game “Holy War”?  It had a 3D map (each hex contained 7 additional hexes in a spiral representing a Z axis).  You can use that to recreate mobile suit battle in outer space with this modified Ogre.

Operations Level Mobile Suit Battles

Now, Ogre is great for replicating the battles between Char or Ramba Ral and the crew of the White Base or your own favorite matchups between squadrons of this or that team of mobile suits, but unless you want to break out a giant hex map or use several copies, Ogre might not be ideal for recreating something on the scale of the Battles of Odessa, Jaburo or Solomon (though I’d still recommend trying to use a 3d map if you could find one for Solomon).

Growing up, I enjoyed the tactical level SPI games in the Great Medieval Battles series and the Middle Earth games that used a variant of that engine.  They offer a level of unit-granularity that I think could work with a Gundam adaptation.  Each unit had a lettered attack rank, numeric armor value, and lettered morale rank.  A unit’s stats would look something like D–4–W: a poor but not terrible attack(A through E) the best armor (1-4) and excellent morale(W through Z).  You would check a matrix when attacking using the attacker’s attack rating and the defender’s armor rating to determine what range you would need to roll within on two dice to determine if your attack succeeded; if the attack succeeded, you would roll one die against the defender’s morale to determine the results.  The Medieval Battle series was based around unit retreat (1-4 hexes per turn); a unit moved toward their edge of the map, increasing their retreat rate for each hex they had to move laterally (i.e. another formation in the way of their retreat) until they retreated off the map, were eliminated (unable to retreat directly when retreat rate is 4) or rallied by a leader.  The Middle Earth series included leaders and troop rallying, but results included elimination, ½ elimination (flip the piece) or retreat (+Demoralization).

I would borrow the combat system (most likely the tables from the Middle Earth variant) but be forced to heavily modify the rest of the game engine.  The leader rules would not make sense in the context of a more modern battle involving small squadrons of giant robots; while I would include the retreat results, I would be very tempted to remove the unit demoralization rules.  I would also modify the morale check table to offer slightly more varied results to accommodate the ‘half-strength’ing of units with different morale ranks.  Essentially this would be done to make the rank and file Zakus and GMs less cannon-fodder.

One challenge that operations level combat provides that can be met with Ogre but less easily in other systems is the mixed unit aspect of the fighting in the One Year War.  Even the weakest Mobile Suit squadrons would be more than a match for most infantry or even tank battalions.  One MS piece would represent something like three MS, while a tank piece could represent a dozen tanks, an infantry piece represent a few hundred men with mixed weaponry.  I would consider allowing MS exclusively to stack, as they represent a significant amount of fire-power taking up very little geographic real estate.

Note that I think an extra stat should be included for movement to account for the difference in assorted MS movement rates.  On the other hand, I don’t have a definite scale, so movement rates would be hard to determine.  Put this under “needs more work”, but I do want to make a stab at it.  Here are some examples using the Middle Earth game stats:

Zaku II Squadron: E-1-Z

Now, this is INCREDIBLY weak by the standards of this system, but Zaku IIs are kind of the baseline for power in the Gundam Universe.

Gouf Squadron: D-2-Y

Dom Squadron: C-3-X

Gelgoog Squadron: B-3-Y

Gundam Squadron (Ground type): D-2-Y

GM Squadron (Ground type): D-1-Z

Guncannon (Squadron): eC-2-Y

Guntank (Squadron): cE-1-Z

Gundam (individual): C-3-W

White Base Squadron (Gundam, Guntank, Guncannon): dA-4-W

The small letters in front represent artillery capabilities (attacks at range of 2 hexes);

This needs some testing, and obviously the combat values of the various infantry, armor, air and landship units would need to be accounted for, but I think this groundwork may be a first step towards creating a fully functioning One Year War battle game.  Until then, I strongly recommend the Ogre variant I have suggested above.

*:The one possible exception to this is the Ghiren’s Greed series.  From what I’ve seen, it IS a turn AND hex-based war game with both strategic and tactical elements, but the possibility that it these video games would receive a US release is virtually nil.

**: Non-robot sci-fi elements of Mobile Suit Gundam are drawn heavily from Gerard O’Neill’s The High Frontier, published only a few years before Gundam was aired.  Many of the backgrounds, particularly shots inside and outside of the colonies, could’ve very well used Rick Guidice’s illustrations as references.

***: Because of the physical scale of MS, a single squadron of Zakus would operate on the same level of an entire battalion of infantry.  For instance, a mixed unit Zeon force of regimental size would likely have a battalion of Magella tanks, 1-3 Mobile Suits, and a battalion of infantry or mechanized light cavalry (usually kept in reserve).  In one of the Battle of Jaburo, one of the largest of the One Year War, the Zeon only fielded about 50 MS.


  • Paul S. says:

    Are you familiar with Tsukuda Hobby’s Gundam wargames from the 1980s. They offered a variety of ground- and space-based wargames based on Mobile Suit Gundam through ZZ. Some look like they are pretty simple, but the original, Jabro, is said to be based on Squad Leader (so, tactical ground combat, I’m guessing).

    Here’s an overview of some of the offerings.

    Here’s a (partial) BBG listing:


    Which has a 30th anniversary edition for sale here:

    Afraid I can’t offer much in the way of commentary, alas! But if you are interested in purchasing Jabro, I can help with that if you like.

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