One Giant, Two Pygmies
Time to get back on track with this series.
I’m putting the Metagaming Microgame Nostalgia up for a “best blog article series” on the GONE GAMING AWARDS website, so if you are enjoying this series, please, show the love, baby. Likely we don’t stand a chance, but you never know.
13. Annihilator and One World: Microgame #14
I’m bouncing back and forth in time with this series mostly because the later micros have many flaws and it’s a drag to write consistently downbeat statements about games
of such spotty quality as the last few that Metagaming published. Still, as far as
Metagaming was concerned, for every pig of a game, there’s a diamond in the rough lurking around the corner. In the case of Annihilator/One World (Metagaming’s two-in-one follow up to the far more interesting HOLY WAR), you get a pig and a diamond in one package!
One World and Annihilator were two designs that had been in house at Metagaming, and both of them were too small (in counter density and rules) to make even one microgame (no a high bar to jump over, admittedly). ANNIHILATOR is the pig of the pair,a forgettable two-player science fiction wargame of a standard situation, mega-giant invading robot ship immune to most weaponry must be boarded by elite space marines– naturally, they’re the only way to “kill” it. They are met by the ship’s internal defense system of robotic sentries, so it’s really a game of soldiers and robots. I’ve played this a grand total of one time, and found it uninspired and dull. The mechanic are extremely basic and unimaginative, and the artwork so crude you can barely figure out what the intention of the artist was. The map is something of a joke. The poor art was enough to turn me off of the game–if I couldn’t even figure out what the pieces were supposed to be, why put up with a boring game?
The diamond in a rough is ONE WORLD, which really makes this game shine, in my opinion. Two buddha-like “gods” are in an almost featureless plane, sitting on two ziggurauts and meditating. Their “children” are swords, clouds, and rocks that move around on their own accord. The combat system, which is basically “rock, scissors, and paper”, really seems to work in this design.
Surprisingly there are a lot of options and strategizing with this simplistic system. Not a work of genius but very clever and imaginative. Alas, not so clever as to lift this game out of pig status, since it was sabotaged by truly awful artwork, but worth the dollar or so you’ll pay for it in a budget bin.
Hotspot is another SF tactical micro of two corporate forces fighting for control of an energy source on a geographically unstable planet with a volcanic surface that is dotted with little islands of relatively cooler “crustals” that are floating on the the lava.
The “crustals” are in motion, floating around the map — a nifty situation that would seem to have made a great little game.
Unfortunately the moving islands don’t seem to be very interesting or important in the final analysis. The mechanics are simple enough, and the artwork surprisingly good for this period (at least the counter artwork is)and the map was a dreary mess (just a giant yellow hexmap, basically).
I found Hot Spot to be a big disappointment, but there is one happy outcome– it was designed by Bill Armintrout, who did NOT go on to be a famous boardgame designer, and instead went on to found “the Miniature Page”, one of the best online communities on the Internet.
Ice War is the outstanding “giant” of the games reviewed in this post. Designed by the quite talented Keith Gross (Air-Eaters, Hitler’s War), Ice War is a near future war simulation of a cross polar strike from the still existant Soviet Union on oil fields in Alaska. There are many, many little elements to this design that make it outstanding. The Soviets enter the map from the North side, and approach using a crude hidden movement system. The Americans have satellites deployed in space that will reveal the location of the invading forces (conversely, if an American unit blunders into an invading Soviet’s path, it is also revealed).
The unit mix on BOTH sides is very interesting and appealing. Missiles, hovercraft, tank, light tanks, infantry, picket forces, satellites.. the purchase system makes it possible to customize your force with a combination of units that all are somewhat specialized; there are many paths to victory on both sides, depending on what you purchase and how you deploy your units. The graphics on the counters are particularly bad; the classic brown and white reversed strip cut that dominated Metagaming’s artistic efforts in the later years of their existence. Fortunately, the situation and the mechanics are so darn good it is very easy to forget about how crappy the components are (the map, however, is workmanlike enough– it’s very clear and reasonably well drawn).
If I were to chose an essential microgame library, Ice War would be included in the list. It’s THAT good. I wish this could be republished with a graphics update.
Next: Hmmm about 8 more to go before I move on to the microhistories and TFT adventure modules. I have, maybe, 3 “stars” and 5 “less than stellars” to go, so I will review FOUR in the next installment.
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