Two Lights Under A Bushel
Metagame Concepts certainly had a few hits, and a few misses (I’ve looked at some of both in this series). There was a group of titles I’ll call midrange, decent designs that could really deliver in th egameplay department, but never really took off. Here are two of them, RIVETS and BLACK HOLE.
Rivets was a tactical level science fiction game of robotical warfare in the 22nd century. Humanity has long since been wiped out (apparently), and now only a the machines are fighting each other in mindless frenzy, a premise highly evocative of Vaughn Bode’s great old comic series JUNKWAFFEL.
The “robots only” setting is at odds with depicting the milieu as being concurrent with the OGREverse, as the introductory paragraphs of the rulebook claim. The players choose their robot army units, program them with a very simple command language, and maneuver them to destroy the computer complex that controls the enemy’s robots. The ‘hook’ was that you program the Rivets robots (called “boppers”) at the robot factory (e.g., home base) and the program locks your bopper into fighting a specific type of enemy bopper. If the battle changes and you are trying to fight other types of boppers, you have to retreat back to the factory to be reprogrammed. The strategy behind RIVETS (such as it was) was to try to guess the right combination of attacker and defender, or you were in for a little bit of tedium as your “bopper” (robot) clanked slowly back to home base to be reprogrammed.
The theme was played for cutesie factor (the illustrations look very cartoony) and I think that was a mistake. As I said, the rulebook alludes to the boppers as being part of the OGRE universe (programmable robot soldiers that are affordable by third world nations– those OGRES are too expensive). I think if the designer had worked a more substantial tie-in with either OGRE or GEV, it might have made for a bigger seller.
I’ve played this one a few times, and I really like the programming element of the game, which reminds me of ROBORALLY to some extent. The rules were likely underdeveloped to some extent, as I’m unconvinced that the movement and combat is as good as it could be. Games tended to be long, perhaps longer than they should have with a game of this scale and complexity, but it was still a lot of fun.
Apparently this game generated a line of miniatures by Martian Miniatures back in the early 1980s. This makes sense. I suspect RIVETS would make an excellent tabletop miniatures game, it would be fairly easy to convert hexes to inches. Here’s a bloke who converted Rivets to Dirtside II, which seems the wrong scale to me, but the idea is presented reasonably well.
More information on the extremely rare “Martian Metals” line of RIVETS minis shown above can be found here.
This was a game with a very unusual twist. The game takes place on a giant asteroid. The asteroid is a “toroid” or a giant doughnut shaped rock. Inside the center of the doughnut is a miniature black hole, causing a zone of intense gravity inside the “doughnut”.
The players take the parts of rival mining corporations seeking to set up mining bases on the asteroid; points are earned by how many turns you inhabit the three base locations on the map (this is an absolute score; you can inhabit one only for ONE turn and you’ll score something).
The physics are absolutely awful, but the game is actually a heck of a lot of fun. Players select a mix of unit of six possible choices (Heavy, Medium and Light units, armed with a choice of Lasers or Missiles). The players start with their units offboard and land any combination of them at the beginning of each turn. The fun comes in when the game factors in the environment of the asteroid. For instance, you fire a missile towards a target on turn 1. The missile may or may not hit the target but it doesn’t stop moving, and will continue until it impacts on something– a mountain, a base, etc. Lasers are also very effective, but only at close range.
I’ve played this one quite a few times, and really enjoyed it. Here’s a PBEM REPLAY with Joe “Brainiac” Hartley. I smoked him, mostly out of luck. We used THIS CYBERBOARD GAMEBOX.
Aesthetics: In both instances, the physical components of the games are outstanding. Counters are still stripcut and the map still only boasted two or three colors on standard creme color map paperstock, but the art was great and the covers were professionally done. I thought the Black Hole counter art was somewhat uninspired (the shuttle counters are basically jets with exta wings). The Rivets silhouettes were great (I personally like the cover of the first version, myself).
In summary, there’s a lot of fun in Rivets and Black Hole, and they are easy enough to find on Ebay and other venues.
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