A very long time ago, I used to run a website called “The PBeM Emporium“. There was a lot of stuff on that site, but it was mostly a haven for Cyberboard gameboxes created by myself and others. For a long time after I discovered PBeM utilities, I busily created “gameboxes” for the microgames I played in my youth. One of these was a game called BLACK HOLE. Black Hole (BH) followed the Metagaming publishing paradigm: an 11 x 17 crudely printed map, about 50 stripcut counters of dubious quality and a rulebook with a color cover and text typset on an IBM Selectric typewriter. I see you smiling. Believe me, for 2.95 back in the day, this was like gaming mana from heaven. A tiny game you could put in a pocket or the outer pocket of your school backpack, and it played all the way to completion in about an hour. Perfect!
Leaping forward a few years, It was the mid to late 90s, and I was getting heavily into PBeM gaming. I liked to write about games back then and I still do. I conceived of a notion of publishing a web article (blogs weren’t quite the thing in that era.. yet) that was like a SERIES REPLAY article such as they had published in Avalon Hill’s The General magazine. A series replay featured two well known players sitting down and playing a game they know very well to conclusion, and writing a turn by turn commentary as they played. What better counter to that than two obscure players that barely have a nodding acquaintance with a poorly done 2.95 game from their respective teenaged years? Joe Hartley, who hosted the Emporium site, was more than happy to oblige me– we played two PBeM games of Black Hole using Cyberboard to capture screen shots and dice roll results and each of us wrote turn commentary as we went. I then put it all together on another static site hosted on freeservers.com (back in the day, I was always using the free option–I’m still that cheap.. so space being at a premium, I didn’t over do it with putting too much on brainiac.com. I switched to blogging instead of static websites in the early 00s, but I still find artifacts here and there, and the Black Hole replay was one of those I rediscovered recently. So what the heck let’s migrate it off of bad old embarrassing freeservers.com and host it here, it’s still a hoot after 13 years.
Black Hole Game Premise
You should note that the game Black Hole, which I’ll lay even odds you’ve never heard of, is set on the inner surface of an asteroid shaped like a toroid. What’s a toroid? This:
Apparently there’s two companies scrapping over mineral rights to whatever unobtanium is in plentiful supply on this asteroid. Both companies are deploying militarized mining vehicles to try to claim jump the other. The player can create his or her own special attack force from the counter mix which is the same for both sides. The basic weapons are missiles and lasers, and the vehicles are all classified heavy, light or medium. The game starts with a drop phase which is very random, but also imposes deadly results, such as when a dropping vehicle might randomly smack into a mountain. Only the inner ring is habitable. Vehicles must engage each other in the inner ring hexes and can also use JUMP to a programmed location– which is a huge surprise. Missiles also can act like pool balls in a bank shot and literally shot off the map edge of the asteroid and reemerge across where they exited, but oriented in the direction it was moving it went off. Confusing? Yeah? Well it was never a big seller, either.
I’ll present these in tables, just like I did in 1999, except maybe without so much comic sans ms font.
Black Hole Replay
This page illustrates a replay of a game of Metagamng’s Black Hole that Joe Hartley and Walt O’Hara played recently. We utilized Black Hole rules and map and the Cyberboard PBeM gamebox for it available on the Emporium (see the Metagaming Section).
If you would like to view this game in Cyberboard to see everything that transpired (warts and all), you must download the Cyberboard engine, the Black Hole gamebox, and our scenario and game file.
Walt O’Hara (Blue)
Joe Hartley (White)
Game Design Challenges
None for the basic game, which we played the 1st and 2nd time.
Black Hole is a “purchase style” game, allowing you to buy a certain amount of units (40 pts worth) from the following unit list:
PSV-L (laser Personal Service Vehicle)
PSV-M (missile Personal Service Vehicle)
MPV-L (laser Mobile Platform Vehicle)
MPV-M (missile Mobile Platform Vehicle)
HEV-L (laser Heavy Equipment Vehicle)
HEV-M (missile Heavy Equipment Vehicle)
|Blue Team (Walt)||White Team (Joe)|
Joe’s comments on his purchases: My rationale: lots of units to land, and an even number of each unit. My plan is to take 2 bases and try and hold them. I’ve got first move, and can land up to 4 units. I’ll land 3: an MPV-M, an PSV-L and a PSV-M near the south base.
Walt’s comments on his purchases: I like smashing power. I favor going after the other player’s units first and then seizing bases. You don’t get an early win that way, but this is a strategy that pays off in the long run. The PSV-Ms seem to be a waste of time to me, but the PSV-Ls can double their firepower close in, and a 4-1 attack isn’t anything to sneeze at. The extra HEV can prove to be decisive.
Narrative: this is a special turn for landings only, no combat is possible this turn.
Blue Landing (north map)
White Landing (south map)
Joe has a plan to take the Southern base, and actually lands one unit right on top of it. Pretty hard to do! Walt spreads out more, going for the Northern base and Middle Base.
Comments (Joe): I’ve got first move, and can land up to 4 units. I’ll land 3: an MPV-M, an PSV-L and a PSV-M near the south base. Next turn I’ll do the same near whichever base is further away from Walt’s forces. Hopefully the turn after that I’ll land near his forces
And try to do damage to his actual forces – an offensive rather than a defensive
front – but I may not want to spread myself around that thin. We’ll see. BTW, I chose the south base because it’s got more mountains around it than the other bases. That gives it a tiny but more protection than the other bases. I’ll take whatever edge I can get!
Comments (Walt): Well, he got the benefit of the first move, and the benefit of the South base with all its missile-blockin’ mountains. That’s okay, I’ll try to deny him the middle, easy base and land in a heavy (though safe) landing around the Northern base. He took more chances than I would in landing, but then again, I lost a unit in last game’s landing drill– I’m not eager to repeat that. I land a HEV and PSV up North to take the top base, a PSV in the center to deny the middle base to Joe, and a MPV to cause trouble with Joe’s forces in the South. As long as the firefight happens down there, I can consolidate and land more guys to attack his strong Southern position.
Narrative: The dice favor Walt in this turn. He manages to nail not one, but two enemy units in the laser phase (a PSV and a HEV, giving him 8 vps). He is not as successful in the missile fire phase, only disrupting the units that have collected on the Southern Base. Landings all go well. Joe blasts away with missiles in this turn and disrupts one of Walt’s precious HEVs. Joe’s landings are pretty bad… almost disastrous.
Blue Turn One (north map)
White Turn One (south map)
Joe Comments: I ended up with 2 more pieces than Walt, who likes the HEV’s. I’d really like to try and hold off and save some units for landing later in the game when things get tight.The temptation to move all my units onto the southern base is great, but if I keep the PSV-L off the base, I can hit the HEV-L at F3 with a double-power laser blast! I can’t resist that. Disrupted the HEV – I was hoping at 4-1 odds I’d be able to kill the sucker. I will probably wipe it out with the missile I fired. I *hope* that I’ll wipe it out with the missile I fired! The landing went poorly. I rolled a landing roll of 6 for all 3 landings, including the MPV I tried to land in row K. I am *not* happy about that! I’ll land one of the HEV’s that I was hoping to save for later in its place, and not in row K, tempting as it is! All units land farther away from the north base than I’d hoped. The PSV’s should be able to take it next turn, though. Still, I have 2 units on the southern base, so I’m getting an early start on the VPs.
Walt Comments: Not much to complain about here! Luck was on my side this turn. I take out a PSV-L AND a HEV! That’s 8 pts. of his striking power down the toilet (Joe lost a MPV-M during his first landing, making it 28 to go). I’ve also disrupted the PSV-M and MPV-M in the Southern base, which doesn’t deny him VPs, but will assure me that I’ll dominate the board for the next turn– and there won’t be so many of those nasty missiles flying about. Joe’s being cagey, holding some units back to make a reserve, but I wonder if that’s sound. At this stage, I outnumber his active units on the board 8 to 1 after my landings, which went well (I didn’t risk anything beyond the K row).
Narrative: Walt’s second “lucky turn” and the most effective. Joe’s not having a good day, as more units are lost. By the end of the turn the Blues have a clear lead in units, but not in victory points.
Blue Turn 2 (north map)
White Turn 2 (south map)
Comments (Joe): Curses! Blue did more damage than expected, taking out a PSV-L and an HEV, and disrupting 2 other units. Foul Blues! Time for some revenge. I’m not rolling very well here, but I did manage to take out an HEV and an MPV! I consolidated my position, so I’ve got the VP thing rolling right along. Unfortunately, I got cocky with my landings and lost a PSV-L due to another 6 on a landing roll. Why is it that I only roll 6s on landing??? I have 3 forces left to land, blue has 2. I’m limiting my landing to 2 units (one DOA) this time, and maybe only one next turn.
Comments (Walt): Sonuva… frappin’ Whites, they took out an MPV and a HEV (the one that was disrupted before). Probably shouldn’t have moved that MPV so close to the South base. On the other hand, it’s my “killingest” turn yet! I take out an MPV-L on the North map, with one 4-1 attack. Combining fire from one of my PSV-Ls in the middle base and a MPV-L within 6 hexes of the Southern base, I get a 10-2 attack on Joe’s MPV there, which kills it. Note to self: combined attacks are the way to go. I disrupt the PSV in the Northern base, which isn’t bad for such a weak shot, and finish it off with a heavy missile in the missile fire phase. What a meat grinder! Just to psych Joe out, I don’t land anything this turn. I have a clear advantage now, and should win if I don’t do anything too stupid.
Blue Casualties: 1 HEV, 1 MPV
White Casualties: 1 PSV, 2 MPV
Narrative: Joe starts this turn with just 1 PSV-L, in the Southern base. He lands the remainder of his troops (a HEV-M, a MPV-L, and a PSV-L) this turn, though, and manages to nail Walts’ MPV near the Southern base.
Blue Turn Three (north map)
White Turn Three (south map)
Joe Comments: Grrrrr…. Blue’s taking out a unit on every single shot. This has _got_ to stop. I’m down to one frikkin’ unit left! He took out *3* of my units this time. The missiles in the air did squat, though my laser did take out an MPV. Blue figured out that reserves are nice to have, but my heavy losses have taken away the luxury of waiting to land the last units. I need to land the rest of my units and try to take out as much as I can. I must say things look grim. There’s a delicate balance here; you’ve got to take the bases to get the BIG VP’s, but you’re open to fire from laser units in any inner hex. I’m going to keep my remaining missile unit out of the inside, so either a laser unit will have to come right up to me, or I’ll have to get tagged with a missile, but they can be avoided (I hope).
Walt Comments: So far, so good. Joe dropped my Southernmost MPV with a single PSV laser shot, which sucks (well, what did you expect, his luck couldn’t be sh*tty for the entire game, eh?). The missile I launched last turn came home to the Southern base, taking out a PSV but not scratching the paint of the other one. I launch some missiles, one of which doesn’t appear to be aimed correctly!
Blue Casualties: 1 MPV
White Casualties: 1 PSV
Narrative: Joe slides a MPV unit South far enough to get a double strength shot on the PSV Walt has in the Northern base (remember, this is a toroid, so Joe can actually “shoot around the map edge” in this game). He also lobs a Heavy Missile at the now fortified middle base. Walt counters by moving these units out of the way. The missiles Walt launched last turn are now winging their way around the map, on a sure path to…. Walt’s Northern base! Pretty stupid shot!
Blue Turn 4 (north map)
White Turn 4 (south map)
Comments (Joe): Dammit, I forgot about that missile heading towards the base. Another unit lost. Blue’s dropped his last forces, so everything’s on the board right now. He’s fired a number of missiles… and it’s the strangest deployment I can think of! As long as I stay out of the way, the 3 SMU’s will blow themselves up on a mountain next turn, and the DMU will, 2 turns from now, hit the north base, which he currently holds!! I’ll take my breaks where I can get them. I’ve moved a PSV onto the south base – gotta keep those VPs coming! I also moved an MPV south to get a double-strength shot at the north base, but my roll sucked. Why do I only get 6’s when I land???? I was considering splitting up the HEV-M’s attack, but I’m hoping my luck will turn slightly. Next turn the missiles hit the base at 3-1 odds, hopefully enough to take at least one of them out.
Comments (Walt): I tried lots of stuff this turn, including PSV Jumps, missile launch into jump, which worked but was ineffectual. I do manage to vaporize a MPV by wrapping a missile around the North edge of the map, and launch another killer stack of Small Missiles, a tactic I learned from Joe in the first game we did. Laser fire was disappointing– I combined my HEV (northern map) and a PSV to only get a Disrupt on Joe’s the Southern base’s PSV. Since Joe fired a Heavy missile at the middle base, I move the occupants out of the way (one of them using Jump movement). It will cost me VPs, I know, but hey, it’s still early in the game.
White Casualties: 1 MPV
Narrative: Joe and Walt have a spirited discussion about how many turns a missile moves until it stops. They agree to allow a missile to “fizzle” after 20MPs for this game only, and from now on allow a missile to wing its way around the map until it hits something. Walt’s “bank shot” missile of last turn would eventually hit his Northern base, but Walt interperted the 20mps rule literally. Joe disagreed, eager to see Blue vaporize himself.
Joe’s question: Do missiles destructy after one full movement phase or continue flying? The rules don’t say either way. I can justify both scenarios! Blue already detonated missiles after one full movement phase, so I’ll be consistent, but it’s worth resolving for future games.
Blue Turn Five (north map)
White Turn Five (south map)
Joe Comments: Well, I’m an idiot. I moved my MPV right into the frikkin’ triple missile attack. I deserved to lose that unit. I did absolutely no damage this turn. My missiles fizzled as Blue moved off the base, but that’s 25 VPs he won’t collect next turn. I fired a DMU towards his HEV-L – he’ll probably notice, but if he doesn’t… I moved my HEV-L onot a mountain hex for double defense. I need all the help I can get! Oddly enough, we’re still pretty darn close on the VP tally: Blue 84, White 94. I don’t think I can keep this up, though. I’m badly outnumbered,and once he takes me out, that’s it..
Walt Comments: A lot of moves from last turn bear fruit this turn. My killer stack of SMUs lands on the Southern base, killing one PSV with multiple disrupts, disrupting the other. My “In Jump” PSV lands RIGHT NEXT to the base, and in the following laser fire turn eliminates the remaining occupant. I fire off some missiles at the HEV and some laser fire at the missiles white has in flight: I take out the DMU but NOT the SMU, which eludes THREE shots at it. Oh well. I wanted something to shoot at, and there are so few White units left. I move my middle units back on the base in order to grab some VPs in what is sure to be the last turn next turn.
White Casualties: 2 PSVs
Narrative: Joe is down to one HEV, and no bases. He launches a series of SMUs at the nearby MPV, but it is futile. Blue lasers his final unit into vapor in his segment, and that’s the game.
Blue Turn 6
White Turn 6
Comments (Joe): Badly outgunned, I have little choice left. I move out of the way of the incoming missiles and take another shot with my remaining HEV-M. I try using 3 SMUs. If I’m lucky, I’ll take out the MPV I’m aiming at before I run out of missiles. Denied. I just got a disruption out of it. I should have gone with fewer but stronger missiles… but it really didn’t make a difference by this point. Blue just took me out, ending the game. A blissful end to a painful game! I rolled poorly, and made some bad choices. Losing units on landing is just a waste, but forgetting to move out of the way of incoming missiles is just stupid, and I paid the price.
Comments (Walt): The HEV is toasted in the Laser Fire phase. Good game.
White Casualties: 1 HEV
End Game Comments
Victory was Blues’ at 131 to 84. Not as close as last game.
Things to try again: Jump Movement of PSVs, which can come as a nasty surprise. Firing around the Map Edge. Multiple Shots with smaller missiles sometimes is a good tactic. USE mountains, especially if you have HEVs on the board. And above all… be lucky!
Things not to bother with: Firing missiles into jump. Staying near bases early in the game, despite the VP cost.
Suggested changes to the (Cyberboard) gamebox: Perhaps to add an “In Jump” marker or counter tray to clarify JUMP status.. otherwise, this gamebox allowed us to play the game pretty much as it was designed.
So that is my game replay from 1999. It’s actually pretty readable. I wish the graphics were a little crisper, but I think the casual reader can pick up on what is going on easily. I wish I had written more of these back in the day– it does illustrate the charm of Microgames. We played a game to completion in 6 turns! Black Hole isn’t exactly The Longest Day, but it’s not a lightweight, either. There were plenty of hair raising moments and good tactical thinking was rewarded. From the perspective of 13 years later, I can see that Joe gambled more than I did, but I tried out more and different rules than he did, so it was decent meeting of the minds.