Revisiting Return to Lilliput 2.0

Many years ago (roughly 2007) I saw an article about doing a version of Gulliver in Lilliput in Ragnorak issue 41 of the SFSW (an issue that has seemingly vanished– not even reprinted as a PDF any more!). I loved the idea of the game, but two things stood out– the scale of the Lilliputians to 28mm Victorian Adventurer figures seemed all wrong to me, and I wasn’t a fan of the core mechanics as published. So.. I tucked that away in the back of my head thinking it would make a great convention game some time, but I need to look at it in depth. Some years pass, and I’m running a gaming camp for kids at an Intermediate School in Alexandria (2009), something I did every Summer for a decade. I recalled the long stalled Lilliput idea. I wanted to do a few things with it.. I basically just borrowed the basic idea of the article and wrote my own, very linear and simple rule set for a very niche situation of large beings stomping tiny beings. Design for effect? You got it. Those rules– “Which I call “Battling Bigguns” can be viewed here on Calameo. Or you can break it up by its component parts here:


Cheat Sheet 1: Pirate Combat and Movement
Cheat Sheet 2: Lilliputian Combat and Moves
Pirate Character Sheets

Some foundations: I decided to create a backstory. The Lilliputians had access to Gulliver’s pocket pistol and reloads that he left behind when he left the island. From that and some discussions with “the Man Mountain” they deduced what firearms were and how the worked in very short order. Gulliver had gone over just how things like Armies and Formations worked, so the Lilliputians created their own regiments on a much smaller scale to fight external menaces (like the Big Folk) that they had suddenly become acutely aware of. Local sources for Powder, Shot and metal were found and soon, Lilliput underwent a rapid technological change– to the level of late 18th century gunpowder armies– not quite Napoleonic but they had cavalry, artillery and infantry formations. To represent this I bought some 6mm period troops and painted them generic colors. Against these, I created a band of 54mm pirate castaways (source: Marx Plastic Pirates from years ago). The difference between 6mm and 54mm seemed much more like the actual scale in the story. I gave the Pirates goals and had them be played by the players. The Lilliputians were handled by the game system.

The Pirates enter on one edge of the table, and have to make it to the FAR edge, so they can capture the Lilliputian fleet. Their goal is to make a serviceable raft from lashing all those ships together and hopefully they can float away and get out into the sea lanes. The Lilliputians are not going to let this happen without a fight. They invested a lot of time and effort into building a defense against this sort of thing, so they are going to do what they can to stop this second invasion by big people

Start of the Game: Played on a hex map. The Pirates start on the edge. Terrain effects change movement. The 3d elements are villages, farms, Wineries and distilleries, and Bakeries along the way. They can be used as ways to replenish energy for the pirates.

Looking back on something that’s 11 years old like this, I can see where I was trying to simplify for the audience, mostly youngsters. However, there are points in this design I still like. As in the Pirate’s sobriety table. As they advance down the road to the Harbor to capture the fleet, they start off all pretty drunk. They broke into ship’s stores on the way off their sinking ship. This odd landscape is what they woke up to after recovering from passing out. The drunk rules work inversely– the drunker the pirate is the easier it is from him to shrug off attacks easily, but it impairs his ability to do any of his attack types: Stomp, Stab or Shoot. As he sobers up he takes more damage when attacked, but can hit easier. So this gives the player an interesting decision they need to make– get hurt less and hit less, or get hurt more and hit more? Pirates can replenish the drunk by raiding a distillery or winery on the way towards their goal. Each decimated resource increases their drunk by one.

Liliputian Troops (line and militia infantry) engage the Pirates at the first line of villages. They are already taking casualties.
Lillipution response teams: Cavalry, Artillery and Line and Militia in this picture
The pirates are armed as sculpted.. giving them a range of attacks and movement.

Gradually there will be contact with the Lilliputian defense forces and the Pirates. For the Lilliputian Army, I made generic troop categories (Artillery, Infantry, Cavalry) with two subtypes– Horse and Field arty, Line and Militia Infantry. Cavalry was just cavalry. Combat from the Lilliputians to the Pirates was on a series of tables- an artillery table, a cav table, and an infantry table. Each troop category had a general characteristic, and the subcategory had another characteristic. Horse Artillery did less damage but could move two hexes and fire at end of movement. Field Artillery did more damage but could only move one hex and had to wait to fire next turn– so placement and timing was critical. Line Infantry moved well on roads, had more HP, and did more damage. Militia could move better off roads, had slightly less fire power, was easier to kill and ran away from time to time. Cavalry could move the longest on or off road but had the ability to charge if it had an unimpeded (empty) hex between start of move and finish. It could also move one distance away after a charge. These are not the most original mechanics, but I think they are serviceable for what is being gamed here. There was an activation level that impacted how quickly Lilliputians would respond and assemble to march towards the threat:

As the Pirates start decimating the countryside, the Lilliputian can activate more and more troops, which are recycled.

As the Lilliputian infantry troops are destroyed, they are sent to an off table marshaling area. As soon as three line of the same regiment are there, they “recycle” and enter the table at the far end, to march up the road and fight again. Artillery takes a while longer and Cavalry doesn’t require as many troops to recycle.

Pretty Soon, the Lilliputian countryside is swarming with troops.

How do the Pirates fight back? They have three different types of attack, Stomp, Stab, Shoot. They can only stomp at a troop in the hex with them. They can stab one hex further and Shoot (or use a reach weapon like an oar, shovel, or crutch) from two hexes away. Fire combat is modified for drunkeness. The Pirates can Move, Shoot or move AND shoot (but moving shorter). Gradually, the pirates will take damage in their legs, which are the target of relentless attacks. This causes the Pirate to fall down.

Pirate undergoing Cavalry attack from two regiments, plus in range from Line Infantry fire (1 hex) plus Militia in square in the village. This could get quite nasty. The pirate can STOMP (the cavalry) OR STAB (the Infantry) OR SHOOT (the militia) The militia could also be stabbed as they are within range, but they get a defensive bonus for being in a village, so he may want to use his firepower.

If the Pirate gets knocked down, this is bad news for him. If his feet are badly wounded, his movement slows even when erect. He can move normal, then limping, the crawling. As his movement decreases, he is constantly in danger of being swarmed by the Lilliputians. That’s REALLY bad news. The Lilliputians literally stake the pirate down to the earth with ropes. He can either attempt to break out, or be assisted by another pirate, or that ends the game for him.

Pirate down, in big trouble. There’s enough troops around to pound him into chutney and his mate yonder doesn’t appear to be coming to the rescue.
A properly staked Pirate. Pirate is effectively out of game but can attempt to break out every turn. If he is only moving at a crawl he will be in danger again shortly.
Another Pirate down for the count. Not a great day for those scurvy dogs!

The Pirate players initially think this is a pushover but numbers tell over time. The best strategy is to stay mobile and actively avoid alerting more lilliputians.. so even though it will be tempting to raid distilleries and wineries (see the painted tokens above), each one of those raided creates more troops for the Pirates to fight eventually It gets to be a crowded map towards the end of the game.

In this game, three of the six pirates are staked and effectively OOG.

The end goal is just a set of toy boats at the end of the table. If a pirate can reach it, that’s a pirate victory. If not, he’ll likely be a rapidly sobering up staked out pirate somewhere mid field.

Victory in Sight

SUMMARY: why am I revisiting this? I’ve always liked this game idea, but it’s missing something. I think the mechanics are unexceptional but they do a very capable job of defining a somewhat absurdly asymmetrical victory condition. I didn’t want it to be too tough for the players, so I made it a straightforward proposition and I gave the human players many options to make the game different– Each player is somewhat different from the next, based on how their figure is sculpted. The tactical nature of the game allows for experimenting with the tactics. I think that given the limited victory condition of the game, it will always be somewhat of a niche game with limited appeal outside maybe “cult players” of absurd and whimsical games. That’s okay, that’s kind of my niche anyway. I think I would revisit the mechanics, revisit the terrain (I used hex map buider terrain sets and regretted that– they take forever to set up and take down). I would use an oversized hex map grid cloth, like this player did, for the next game I ran, but keep the surface tokens for resources. Who knows, I might change it to a hexless system, I don’t know. I recall it as being a fun game but kind of slow for six players. I’ll have to work on that. So the big things I would change in 2021 would be the terrain setup (speed it up), Activation of Lilliputians, The Staking Rules, and maybe work on the Pirate attack choices. Honestly, it’s not a bad game as is, but I want to find ways to make it faster than it is. Perhaps combining dice rolls.

Imgur gallery of RTL images:

One comment

  1. I’d love to play this, Walt, just the off the wall type of game I like.Love seeing the old Marx pirates in use (very N. C. Wyeth / Howard Pyle looking).

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