Bringing back an old classic in three dimensions, two approaches.
If you have ever read the “Microgames” page on this blog, you know of my high regard for small concept, low complexity games at a low price. In a previous era, these were called “microgames”. One of my favorite Micros was relatively obscure back in that era, but it really holds up as a game. OLYMPICA was a small two player game that presented the player with a very unusual tactical situation:
“OLYMPICA simulates the U.N. Mars raid to capture the Web Mind Generator from a heavily defended area near Nix Olympica‘s massive caldera. The Webbie revolutionaries are deep in their tunnel complexes surrounded by strong points and infantry. The raiders will use infantry, laser tanks, lifters and the tunnel blasting BOAR drill. If they fail man’s future may fall to the telepathic, religion/machine Web Mind of Mars.” — From the back cover of Olympica
So we have a tactical situation where two very different forces with very different strengths and weaknesses are in opposition to each other. The UN has manpower and hitting power– heavy infantry, light infantry, Landers to drop them places, and Laser tanks. The Webbies have light infantry, tunnels, strong point bunkers, and the Web Generator. I love asymmetrical game like this.. life is asymmetrical, after all.
Converting the game into miniatures format isn’t particularly original.
So I’m not going to pretend that this is is some genius idea; it’s really just something I’d like to see because I’m a fan of the old game.
Approach 1: 28mm, smaller map, by Steve Johnson
The first miniatures version of Oly that I ever noticed was put on by Steve Johnson, from Fredericksburg, who used to run “The Empire Club” down there. He had a prototype of the 28mm game years ago. I’ve never played it (mostly because of opportunity and time), so I’m only guessing what the mechanics are like. As it was a 28mm scaled game, Steven selected a scale that doesn’t allow for a lot of space to replicate the same map on a standard table space. I think the scale is attenuated and compressed, and the OOB greatly reduced from the original. Here’s some pictures of the game Steve ran at HISTORICON 2012.
I really like the Steve version for the visuals and creativity, but I wanted to have a larger portion of the map on view and have a wider battlefield to play with. Which leads us to:
Approach 2: 6mm-ish, bigger map, by me.
So I scaled the figure size down to “nominal” 6mm, using Mechwarrior Clix miniatures from Whizkids. Whizkids makes a wide variety of support troops in the Mechwarrior universe, including several infantry types, artillery, shuttles, landers, tanks and other ground units. I could have gone with a true 6mm instead of the 10-12mm that is the probable scale of Mechwarrior clix, but the choices are relatively few in that scale and more expensive. By using clix singles, most of what I purchased was about 45 cents a fire team, and it comes painted (though I did touch the UN troops up in a distinctive UN Blue uniform highlight). I found some cheap infantry types that looked like Heavy Infantry, and lighter looking troops for Lights:
Bases were simple. I popped them off of the Whizkids base and glued them to overlarge heavy poker chips I got for next to nothing at a Five Below. This looks a little artificial but they are easy to see and easier to handle.
The BOAR was slightly problematic as, shocker, nobody makes an in-scale vehicle with a giant drill on it! Fortunately I found a clicky construction vehicle that really worked with some kit-bashing.
Terrain is almost as important as figures in this game, as the unique cliffs, rocks and “Zone of Uncertainty” needed to be recreated in a fashion sort, kinda like the map (which is no work of art, either).
If I tried to recreate every single hill on the map it would be fairly dense. So I concentrated on the important things– cliffs, tunnels, a crater (or something like one). I made a mix of one, two and three story hills out of cheap styrafoam packing sponge primed and sponge painted orange over the brown primer, then flocked with a rust red ballast and sealed. The result is a functional, 6mm scaled hill with a distinctly Martian look (I think).
The base ground cloth was a large piece of orange felt on sale at the fabric store, it cost about 8 dollars. I sprayed it with two colors of rustoleum (red-brown and grey-tan) which gave the ground some shadows and a mottled look.
In general, the scale is still greatly attenuated from what was depicted on the map, and I took some shortcuts I may address by adding a couple more ridges somewhere. The map just doesn’t seem dense enough, but maybe that’s just me.
Rules.. okay, don’t sneer. I wrote them in one night and they fit on a double sided letter page. I took a synthesis approach, grabbing elements from games that I enjoy and fusing them into something that I think is fairly fast playing and with decisive resolution. The rules are not a boardgame converted to be played with miniatures– they are a miniatures game with a boardgame scenario. The rules need work on sequencing and I’m going to tinker with it for sure. Take a look at the preliminary test rules here. Unit Chart Here. First playtest was heartening; the lads liked the concept and were enthusiastic, but some timing and multiplayer issues arose that I will need to work on. So, please don’t be too harsh, it literally took me an evening to write them.
There are no surprises with the approach I took to Olympica in 6mm. I didn’t want to replicate the Metagaming game by Lynn Willis. It’s all very fun but a boardgame transposed to miniatures is still just a boardgame with hipper pieces. So I tried a core “dice pool” concept, wherein each player uses a secret pool of five dice he throws whenever he needs to resolve something, and his opponent can counter with failures and successes in various categories. Range bands, six siders, and big dice throw turn resolution are all things I am comfortable with.
The two hardest elements of Lynn Willis’ boardgame design to replicate in miniatures were the hidden movement and placement of the Webbie side. I accomplished this in two ways. First, I created a lot of markers to represent the initial Webbie placement:
The other element that is rather hard to simulate in the parent boardgame was the tunnel movement of the Webbies. I never did this well on paper and thought it might be easier with miniatures somehow. So I created a bunch of tunnel mouths out of Sculpey brand clay on wooden disks with numbers on them. I then invited the Web players to draw a tunnel network naming the tunnels between the numbers specific names like “Alpha”, “Bravo”, “Charlie”, etc. They actually drew this up on a piece of poster board that I could see and respond to the UN Player with short verbal descriptors when he followed them into the tunnels. “You see light ahead in direction six” “You hear the noise of footsteps ahead”, etc. And then the figures would be placed on the table for actual fighting.
This being me, I added elements that I liked to tinker with, such as “Mind control” conversion of the UN Forces by Web Pulse (temporarily), giving the Lifters a 1000 pound bunker buster weapon, a force structure of sorts to the UN side so they can recover exert leadership, morale rules, more weapons types, two series of Strong Points with customizable weapon loadouts for the Webbie, etc. Nothing took away from the parent game, I thought.
On the down side from a timing perspective, The “offboard poster” did take a few minutes to create and adds to setup time, but the outcome was surprisingly effective. You get that hidden tunnel movement benefit, and the chart helped ME tell the UN if they were successful with the BOAR drill or not.
I daresay, it was fun to play, warts and all….
So there you have it. Olympica 6mm, my way. Test games have gone well and I’ve listened to things people want to change.. I’ll release the update when it gets done. For a surprisingly small investment I feel like I have created a decent SF game that echoes its illustrious predecessor.