Metagaming Microgame Nostalgia, Part 8

Finishing Up!

Well we have four left in the Fantasy and Science Fiction series, by my counting. Fortunately two of them are in a series.

So we’ll take a look at both of them together at the same time.

Microgame #20: Trailblazer


This is one of those games that could have gone somewhere, with a little care and effort. First of all, it’s a Greg Costikyan design, and he can deliver.
However, he also has a tendency to throw in everything AND the kitchen sink in his designs, and all his games I’ve played have a heavy micromanagement factor. Trailblazer has this in spades. To begin with, it is not a wargame in any sense of the word. It’s a discovery and economic trading game. There’s no combat whatsoever. You start with some mapped stars
and a few trading routes. Then you fill the map in with star system chits and discover new places to trade with. There’s a HUGE amount of bookeeping in this game– charts and graphs and whatnot, all typeset with an IBM Selectric typewriter.. yick.

Trailblazer Counter Snippet

The closest analogy I can come up with is that old Stellar Trader game we played on mainframes and BBSs a long time ago, but with your own charts to fill out instead of a computer doing all the work for you. Not a bad premise, but a lousy game in execution. With better graphics (or as a computer game) it might have been quite impressive.
Trailblazer Map Snippet

The components were incredibly sub-par.. nice use of color but the map is a grid and the rulebook is typed and copied, on reduced size paper. I love the idea of a complicated economics game done in this size and format, but it’s no surprise to me that this game was a flop. It’s just not all that fun. I tried a few homemade fixes for it, including creating pirates and arming ships to have some form of intercompany fighting between ships… the problem was that there was always a better looking or playing game out there that already existed, so I finally gave up. Costikyan meant this game to be a game of trading and economics, not a game of ship to ship combat. Unfortunately, not that many people are running to the shelves to buy economics games.

Microgames #19 and #22: HELLTANK and HELLTANK DESTROYER

Covers: Helltank and Helltank Destroyer

These two games are really ONE game with a continuation of the game as an expansion product. Phil Kosnett designed these games and later went on to become a very reliable and capable foreign service officer (and is our current ambassador to Iceland).

Kosnett’s approach seems to be to recreate the general gaming themes of Metagaming’s earlier huge successes, OGRE and GEV, but with, let’s say… a “grittier” feel. Hell Tank is actually not a bad little design, perhaps the last “Unembarassing” product Metagaming made. Hell Tank and Destroyer had many great elements that always seemed missing from OGRE/GEV, like air support and patrol boats, and various forms of mobile artillery. Tactically, this series seemed more like “warfare” to me, but it didn’t have the simple zen-like elegance of OGRE/GEV. Alas, the previous game may have stolen this one’s thunder.

The theme and “milieu” may seem very, very similar to OGRE/GEV, but the mechanics were different enough to be of interest. Instead of boring old Igo-Hugo, the game is fought by moving one, having your opponent react to you, then you move back again. Highly interactive, almost impossible to play via pbem. Such is life.

Graphically, the Helltanks were pretty impressive for this point in Metagaming’s existence. Some money was spent on color, diecutting counters(!!) and the second map (Helltank Destroyer) has more color in it than most Metagaming titles ever did. A pity the trend could not continue.

Essentially, DESTROYER adds more cool units (including naval ones) and adds some new scenarios. It really fleshs out the package nicely. The maps are supposed to be “geomorphic” and match up together, but they really don’t.. the roads don’t align.

In summary, Helltank’s a better game than Metagaming had put out in a long time. It didn’t do well through an accident of timing.

Microgame #18: Lords of the Underearth

This one is really puzzling me. I know I have it somewhere in a foot locker. I remember cutting out the counters and the maps (see anon). I remember playing it and thinking that “they” (Metagaming) were trying to pull a fast one and recreate
THE FANTASY TRIP. The game is supposed to be set in some Dwarven caverns that are being overrun by Orcs and Trolls if memory serves. The map was a true geomorph, meaning it was printed into four strips that could be cut into quarters or left
as is. If you quarterd the map it could be laid out in a variety of layouts. There were a few scenaros. I remember it being a mostly RPGish fantasy skirmish game, tied in somehow to the existing Fantasy Trip system but somehow (if I recall) it was being developed as the next phase for the base game.

I remember the artwork was very good for this phase of the company’s life. The map was excellent and the line drawings of the dwarves and orcs and such were just plain great– far better, in fact, than the origial MELEE and WIZARD artwork. Like the rest of this bunch, it came around kind of late and wasn’t exactly innovative enough to set the world on fire.

And that’s the end of the Fantasy and Science Fiction games done by Metagaming. I will continue with the Meta-Histories as a separate unit, and will not touch upon the mini-quests done for The Fantasy Trip– they have been profiled elsewhere.

Metagaming Nostalgia Project Posting Index

1 OGRE and Melee

2 WarpWar and Olympica

3 Starleader: Assault, Chitin:I and Dimension Demons

4 Rivets and Black Hole

5 G.E.V. and Holy War

6 Ice War, Annihilator/One World, and Hot Spot

7 Invasion of the Air Eaters and Artifact

8 Trailblazer, Helltank/Helltank Destroyer, and Lords of the Underearth

One comment

  1. Mister Nizz, thank you so very much for taking the time and effort to post these articles on these games. I’ve played some of them and am just starting to get back into war gaming (the wife is buying me Ares magazines from Australia on EBay, God Bless Her) and I’ve found your insight and experience to be of great help in deciding which games I’m going to torture my kids with (they play Tactics II and Richthofen’s War now… games that I played when I was a kid).

    If no one else on the web that is reading your commentaries appreciates what you’ve done, I want to let you know that you’ve inspired at least one old Grognard to get back to his old self.

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