Small is beautiful… my experience with microgames, mini-games, Quads, pocket games and the like.
I’ve always enjoyed tiny, contained game designs where all the components you require are included, no expansions are required to play, and all you really need to get going is a dice and maybe a pencil and scrap paper. This is almost the opposite of publishing philosophy in modern times– which seems to dictate “make a hit, exploit the hit, make expansions to further exploit, repeat process”. We called small, self-contained games microgames when I was a kid, which still works.
Maybe the best of the best was the cheapest (back then), a small company from Texas called Metagaming.
Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was a small gaming company in Texas that published a wide range of mostly SF and Fantasy games, called Metagaming. Metagaming Concepts published a variety of boxed games of various sizes, but the series that is indexed here focuses on a revolutionary concept the company came up with starting in 1979 with the publication of a little game named OGRE… namely “Microgames”. These were small, easy to carry (all of them fit in your pocket) and never cost more than three dollars. I bought almost all of them back in the day, when most of them were already out of print, and I have for certain played almost all of them.
The production standards of micros were pretty thin. Strip cut counters you had to cut yourself. a small 11 by 17 map that folded four times. Four color separation was considered an expensive luxury. They’d be laughed at today. Still, there was a lot of game in these micros, though a lot of them were marginal as the company’s fortunes declined.
This series has been published here in 8 articles throughout the blog, starting back last Fall. This post will be the master index if you need to navigate through the series. The index (below) will be at the bottom of every post.
Now, there were several games in this series, but I’m breaking them into four categories:
1) The Fantasy and Science Fiction Series (outlined in Series 1)
2) Micro-Quests for the Fantasy Trip system, which also were numbered in the series. I won’t be going into these in any kind of depth, because Ty Beard has done a superlative job of supporting the original Fantasy Trip system on this site: http://www.reese.org/tft/ Joe Hartley goes into the microquests (including box art) in some detail here: http://tft.brainiac.com/. To add any more to this would be repetitive and to be honest, I only played a few of them. I was more of a D&D fan.
3) The METAGAMING series was a series of much larger (not pocket sized) games in cardboard boxes and with diecut counters. They weren’t micros and they cost about ten to fifteen dollars (edit: Joe Scoleri points out that they were closer to 7 dollars. The BOXED games were in the 10 dollar range). I don’t think they fit in this series but may get back to them at a later date.
4) The METAHISTORY series were a small series within the larger group of micros that concerned themselves solely with historical subjects. This will be Series 2, and it will be substantially shorter than 1.
1) A particularly good GEEKLIST about Metagaming Micros. You can see where I broke out the history games from this.
3) Brian Train’s LITTLE WARS
5) The Metagaming Ludography, what I checked this list against.
6) Joe Scoleri’s Microgame Museum, longterm source for images and important trivia regarding micros.
7) Marginalia has a rather nice restrospective essay on micros, and Metagaming in particular.
8 ) Vindicator was a very well done paper ‘zine in the late 90s that I used to get created by a gentleman whose name, IIRC, was Michael Friend. Might be wrong on that. Vindicator covered small format games of the SF and Fantasy genre, and pretty much everything Metagaming ever did. He had to give it up because of financial constraints and the zine foundered shortly handing it off to someone else named Duke Rittenhouse. Some kind soul digitized parts of the zine archive (there wasn’t a huge amount, but what was there was choice), which is now archived at the Micro Museum run by Joe Scoleri. Here’s the INDEX. It is well worth the time for a visit.
9. The Black Gate gaming magazine has written a few pieces on Micros from Metagaming. Here’s one on The Lords of Underneath. And another on Monsters! Monsters! and the Wizard/Melee system. There’s additional microgame material in Black Gate Number 12.
10. Right here on this blog, I re-hosted an annotated replay of a PBeM game of BLACK HOLE, a science fiction micro from Metagaming (1979) that was played by email. The replay was done in 99 and hosted on freeservers.com. I re-hosted it here recently. I wish I had written more of these! It’s very entertaining to read in retrospect.
10. STRONGLY related, but not the same thing, as the TFT system, is the material being published by DARK CITY GAMES. DCG is a garage band style company selling microquests very similar to the old Microgame programmed adventures from the grand old days of the 1980s. This is mostly a one man effort named George Dew. If you liked the Fantasy Trip, Dark City is your next logical step.
Does the artwork “ring a bell”? It ought to. it looks like upgraded artwork from the old Melee/Wizard counter sheets.
Current Products, as of late 2013:
- Ancient World (Fantasy: Melee/Wizard-like)
— Shadows in the Dark
— Emerald Twilight
— The Thing in the Lake
— The Oracle’s Breath
— Raid on Cygnosa
— Fire in the Streets
— The Dark Vale
— Wolves on the Rhine
— Gates to the Underworld
— Sewers of Redpoint
— Island of Lost Spells
— Crown of Kings
- Time and Space (Science Fiction Tactical)
— At Empire’s End
— Dark Star Incident
— Void Station 57
- Untamed West (Wild West, like Boot Hill)
— Blood in the Dust
- Rules Downloads (all very similar)
Time & Space (PDF)
Untamed West (PDF)
HERE is a micro-library of sorts, shared out on BOX.NET. Original material from periodicals and webpages from long ago on micro-gaming.
Metagaming Nostalgia Project Posting Index
on Third Point of Singularity
(links still point to Another Point of Singularity, my blogspot blog, I’ll have to fix this some day)
Other Micros about the same size & (roughly) price Point
There have been other companies in this market niche. I’ll address them here:
SPI Folio Games
If we’re discussing SPI, Inc, the game publisher that folded back in the 80s, there are six small format “micro sized” games that are truly representative of the genre, published back in the early 80s in response to Metagaming’s Microgame line. They were all of F&SF content and were called “The Capsule” line, Magic Capsules for Fantasy themes and Space Capsules for Science Fiction.
- Demons (also a boxed edition, which I still own). Very wacky theme about demon summoning and treasure seeking. Check out the videos, below.
- Death Maze (also a boxed edition) I really liked this one.. a build your own dungeon game similar to Citadel of Blood)
- The Creature that Ate Sheboygan giant monsters invade Midwest city, very tongue in cheek.
- Stargate (not the one you’re thinking of) Small space battles game
- Vector 3 Small Space battle game. Now released via Creative Commons license on BGG.
- Titan Strike! orbital battle for control of a moon.
There were also Folio games (not in the above series) associated with SPI’s War of the Ring game, designed by Richard Berg. They were titled GONDOR and SAURON and were the same size as the Capsules. There may have been military history subject folios from that time period, but I’m not recalling them.
All, or some of the folios were eventually published as small format boxed games, generally the size of their bookcase games but flatter. I am only sure of two of them, the Magic Capsules.
SPI died (or was killed), as has been chronicled in great depth by Greg Costikyan, but the successor to SPI was eventually Decision Games, which inherited a lot of their titles, including Quads (which I don’t include here, as I’m fuzzy as to whether they were ever published as single game folio editions). Many of the single historical games from that era, and NEW designs, are now being published by DG! Which is a proper segue into:
SPI– sort of.. 2012 Update
- Check the Decision Games page for the latest, DG is jumping back into quads in a big way, any list I give here will be dated rather quickly.
Decision Games started republishing the old SPI Historical Folio games, which they have rights to, circa 2010. As of 2012, here is what is currently in print:
- Stones River
- Frayser’s Farm
- Naktong Bulge
The new Decision/SPI Folio series isn’t exactly priced micro-sized these days, as each one is 20 dollars– though adjusted for inflation it’s not entirely unreasonable. Folios fit my definition of a micro right down to the ground: purposely small, affordable, self contained games of a small scale and low component count. Perfect. If you are feeling nostalgic, there are many of them available now, just not any SF and Fantasy selections. Check out their product page, they added a bunch of new ones in 2013
Steve Jackson Games was one of the pioneers in this area. Steve left Metagaming to create his own gaming company which has stood the test of time. He took his big hits, OGRE and GEV, with him to seed the product line of his new company. In rapid succession, Steve Jackson created the following small format games, each packaged in a distinctive black plastic box that could fit in your hip pocket. SJG games were an immediate hit. Even if the counters were stripcut, the artwork was generally much better than the old Metagaming stuff, and the production values were superior. Besides, those little boxes were great– they could fit right in your backpack pocket.
- Raid on Iran (originally a ziploc game, later in a black pocket box)
- One Page Bulge (ditto)
- Kung Fu 2100 (ditto)
- Car Wars (and several supplements, ziploc and pocket box versions)
- Illuminati (plus two expansions, all in pocket boxes, and a third expansion in Ziploc) (and one of your humble narrator’s favorite games of all time)
- Awful Green Things from Outer Space (in a green pocket box)
One should note that in these modern times when Steve Jackson Games seems little more than a factory for Munchkin expansions, there was a time when the games above where the definitive core of his product line (along with GURPS, the successor to the Fantasy Trip, which Steve Jackson never acquired the rights to). With the exception of the poorer sellers, many of the games you see above have resurfaced over the years, sometimes multiple times, in bigger and more lavish productions– which indicates that Steve Jackson acknowledges his microgaming roots to this day. This does beg the question as to whether or not the later era small format boxed games count as “micros” in the classic sense. My sense is that they do, but they really should be viewed as a second phase of evolution. Back in 1982, 20 dollars was not a “micro” price or a micro format. Now, that’s a cheap price for a game. The distinction blurs when you have a series of expansions and modular releases for a single gameset, as is the case with SJG’s greatest success, MUNCHKIN. Is it a micro? Maybe not in the classic sense– I don’t regard trading card games as micros, but do regard standalone games with cards as micros.. so I’ll revisit this at some point.
Greg Aleknevicus wrote an excellent summary review of all of the “black plastic box game” series which is still on the web.
2012 Update: Steve Jackson’s OGRE/GEV will be republished in a coffee table sized edition that is about as far away from being a microgame as the game can get. More details HERE. Look for the same treatment for CAR WARS next year!
Cheapass Games was a pioneer in the area of low cost games that had featured cheap, almost disposable publishing standards at the outset of their existence. Printing was black on white, games showed up in envelopes, pieces were usually generic so you could use the same elements (tokens, dice, cards, money) from game to game. It’s a lovely concept. I would definitely call MANY of these early Cheapass games “micros”. They fit my own notion of affordable and portable.
Here’s an almost complete list. I’ve edited a few out that don’t seem to match my criteria. SOME of these have received the big-money treatment, either as not-so-Cheapass games or under some other game company label.
- Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond (a game of attracting interesting people to your lair, then killing them. Reissued in 2004 as James Ernest’s Totally Renamed Spy Game)
- Ben Hurt (An out of print game involving betting and chariot races)
- The Big Idea (A game involving venture capitalism and marketing)
- Bitin’ Off Hedz (A simple game of dinosaurs and rocks)
- Bleeding Sherwood (An out of print game with a Robin Hood theme available for download)
- Brawl (A real-time card game)
- Button Men (A collectible button-and-dice game, sold in sets of two or five buttons)
- Captain Park’s Imaginary Polar Expedition (A game of faking travels)
- The Chief Hermangames:
- Deadwood (A game of bad actors)
- The Devil Bunnygames:
- Diceland (A collectible cardboard dice game. Multiple sets)
- The Doctor Luckygames:
- Enemy Chocolatier
- Escape from Elba (An out of print game of many d6 and spelling weapons)
- Fightball (A real-time card game about a futuristic sport)
- Fight City (A trading card game of gangs and cards)
- Freeloader (A game about borrowing all that you can)
- The Friedey’sgames:
- Get Out (A game of finding work)
- Girl Genius: The Works (A game of Phil Foglio‘s Girl Genius comic)
- The Grave Robbergames:
- The Hip Pocketgames:
- Agora (A game of market stalls)
- The Big Cheese (A small bidding game featuring mice and dice)
- Cube Farm (A game of cubicle layout)
- Light Speed (A real-time card game about mining spaceships)
- Nexus (A game of nodes)
- Safari Jack Remix (A game of tracking animals)
- Steam Tunnel (A game of tunnel control)
- TimeLine (A game of time travel)
- The Very Clever Pipe Game (A game of connecting pipes)
- Jacob Marley, Esq. (A game of loans)
- The One False Stepgames:
- Secret Tijuana Deathmatch (A game of buying the contracts of illegitimate wrestlers and pitting them against each other)
- Spree! (A game of firearms and larceny)
- Starbase Jeff (An out of print game of gambling in space)
- U.S. Patent No. 1 (A game of racing through time to get the first patent issued)
- Unexploded Cow (A game of marching mad cows through bomb fields)
- Witch Trial (A game of pressing the innocent to death with stones)
A relative newcomer, Victory Point Games, has seemingly brought back the concept of the microgame (via the Cheapass Model of lower production costs). VPG games are small in scale, quality desktop publishing in quality, and mostly about historical subjects.
As of early 2012, VPG has the following titles either published or is planning to publish:
- Malta Besieged
- Objective: Odessa
- Paul Koenig’s Market Garden: Eindhoven
- Dawn of the Zeds
- We Must Tell the Emperor
- Leipzig 20
- Paul Koenig’s Market Garden: Arnhem
- Zulus on the Ramparts!
- Ottoman Sunset
- Nemo’s War
- Keep Up The Fire!
- Waterloo 20 2nd Edition
- We Must Tell the Emperor Exp. Kit
- Gettysburg: The Wheatfield
- Legions of Darkness
- Hero of Weehawken
- Israeli Independence
- The Barbarossa Campaign
- Trenches of Valor
- Assault on Galactus Prime Expansion #1
- Nemo’s War Expansion Kit
- A Blood-Red Banner
- Forlorn: Hope
- Zulus on the Ramparts! Exp. Kit
- Legions of Darkness Expansion #1
- Empires in America
- Astra Titanus
- Empires in America Exp. Kit
- Israeli Independence Exp. Kit
- Trenches of Valor Expansion Kit 1
- Levee en Masse
- Toe-to-Toe Nu’klr Combat with the Rooskies
- Disaster on K2
- No Retreat! Solitaire (NR1 Exp. Kit 3)
- Soviet Dawn Exp. Kit
- Ancient Battles Deluxe
- Austerlitz 20
- Battle for Moscow Exp. Kit
- No Retreat 2
- Battle for Moscow
- Levee en Masse Expansion Kit
- The Lost Cause
- ABD Exp. Kit 5.1: Way of the Samurai
- Circus Train Expansion Kit
- Loot and Scoot
- Operation Veritable
- Soviet Dawn
- Berezina 20
- Disaster on Everest
50 titles in a very short space of time may seem like a lot, certainly it’s more games than the entire run of Metagaming, for example. However, many of these games use systems that change little between games, and some of them are expansion kits. VPG’s biggest “hit” appears to be the STATE OF SIEGE system, which is a solitaire system that places the player in a central role, which is then threatened by a series of card-driven events that draw “fronts” ever closer along a pre-determined track. These games are simple but loaded with historical detail and have proven to be very popular sellers.
Fat Messiah Games is a company that sort of hovers in and out of existence, depending on whom you ask. They currently have a web presence but don’t appear to be designing or publishing anything new any more.
- Shapeshifters 10th Anniversary Edition
- The Vesuvius Incident
- Insecta, 2nd Ed.
- Desert Hive Pack
- Mutant Kit
- Insecta, 3rd Ed.
- Hard Vacuum
- Science Gone Mad
Of these, I’ve got the Vesuvius Incident, which is a great solitaire game, Shapeshifters, which is worth picking up, and Hard Vacuum. I like this company and I hope they stick around for a while. They certainly hit the microgame cost threshold for me. I doubt any FMG product was ever more than 20 bucks.
Game Designer’s Works Shop Series 120 Games
GDW was a great publisher that went out of business in 1996 (and are still missed). They had their own line of “micro sized” games called the SERIES 120. This was a little upscale for a micro, being color printed, die cut counters, a small folded map, and a box. The “120” of the series was derived from the intended game length of 120 minutes or less. Initially the Series 120 Games were ziplocked. Later they were released in the 6×9″ boxes they were ultimately associated with. Most of the games used 17×22″ mapsheets and had 120 counters or thereabouts. With a lid.
Great artwork, if not exactly colorful, and decent production values. These were quality items:
- 1940 (vol 2. in a series, vol. 1 appears never to have seen print!)
- 1941 (vol 3.)
- 1942 (vol 4.)
- The Battle of Agincourt (review)
- The Battle of the Alma (review)
- Asteroid (review)
- Beda Fomm (GMT to give it the full up treatment at some point) (review)
- Dark Nebula
- Battle of Guilford Courthouse
- Battle of Lobositz (review)
- Mayday (boxed like a 120 game, basically starship rules to Traveller RPG) (review)
- Battle of Prague (review)
- Battle of Raphia (review)
- Snapshot (boxed like a 120 game, but really a Traveller RPG accessory)
Of this group, I owned Asteroid, Mayday, Snapshot (can you tell I was a fan of Traveller?) The Battle of Alma, Prague and Raphia. They were heavy on slightly obscure historical titles, but that was just ducky to me. Series 120 played fast and furious, wasn’t hard to understand and were well written. I liked them. On the list above, I include SNAPSHOT and MAYDAY which were technically published as Traveller RPG gamettes to game out boarding actions (snapshot) and space battles (Mayday). Since they had a similar look and feel to 120 games, I threw them in the list.
The Microgame Design Group (MDG) and Microgame Co-Op.
This was a venture started as “The Microgame Co-Op” by Kerry Anderson, John Kula and Brian Train (a frequent commentator on 3PoS), a trio of talented Canadian game designers. The notion behind the MDG was to provide a venue for niche interest games that probably wouldn’t see a publisher in any large commercial venue. Desktop Publishing (DTP) wargames were very popular in the MDG time period of roughly 1996-2004 in reaction to rising publishing costs back in the day. Many of these designs would see later incarnations with other companies.
Notes: I’m not sure if my list is entirely comprehensive or not– I borrowed the text of the descriptions from the Stromata Blog as I only had about five of these– I remember many of these titles but none of the Paul Rohrbaugh ones.
The Marcher Lords: The Norman Conquest of Wales (2003), designed by David Cuatt. Grand strategic treatment of the Norman advance from 1066 through the end of the 11th Century.
The Dutch Revolt, 1566-1609 (2003), designed by Michael Gilbert. The political, religious and military struggle to keep the Netherlands Spanish and Catholic.
A Mere Matter of Marching: The Niagara Campaign, 1812-1814 (2002), designed by Bruce McFarlane. The American invasion of Canada during the War of 1812.
Trampling Out the Vintage: The Campaign for Atlanta, 1864 (1999), designed by Paul H. Rohrbaugh. High-level operational treatment (3 week turns) emphasizing the relationship of Sherman’s drive through Georgia to the rest of the war.
Bittereinder: The Anglo-Boer War (2000), designed by Hjalmar Gerber. The Second Boer War, 1899-1902; probably the only game on this topic to make extensive use of Afrikaans language sources.
Clash of Empires: The Battle for France, 1914 (2003), designed by Kerry Anderson. The initial phase of the war, continuing until decisive victory or (more often) stalemate. Novel mechanics intended to reflect the opposing sides’ ignorance of what weapons and tactics would work.
Ypres, 1915 (1998), designed by Kerry Anderson. The first gas attack of World War I. A more elaborate edition was published by Moments in History under the title In Flanders Fields (1999).
Vimy Ridge (2001), designed by Kerry Anderson. One of the finest hours of Canada’s military history: the capture of Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. One of the few games to make a serious attempt to portray WWI trench warfare.
Across the Piave: Italy 1918 (2002), designed by Hjalmar Gerber. The last two major battles on the WWI Italian front: the Piave and Vittorio Veneto. One of the rare games in which a unit can be placed “between” two hexes.
Byzantium Reborn: The Greek and Turkish War, 1920-1922 (2004), designed by R. Ben Madison. Borrows from the ¡Arriba España! system to give due weight to political factors and the key role of foreign support.
Freikorps: The Bolsheviks Attack Germany, 1920 (1999), designed by Brian Train. A hypothetical Red Army invasion of Germany following a communist victory in the Battle of Warsaw.
Land of the Free: American Politics During the Depression (1996), designed by Brian Train. A two or three-player political game in which extremists try to win power between 1930 and 1941.
War Plan Crimson: The U.S. Invasion of Canada (2001), designed by Brian Train. Based on actual, though highly hypothetical, American plans in the event of war with Great Britain during the 1930’s.
¡Arriba España! (1997), designed by Brian Train. The best game, IMHO, yet devised on the Spanish Civil War; pays attention to factions within the opposing sides, military developments and varying levels of foreign aid and intervention.
Battle for China (1999), designed by Brian Train. The Sino-Japanese War, 1937-1941, for two or three players.
More Battle for China (2001), designed by Brian Train. Extends Battle for China through 1949, covering World War II and the ensuing civil war.
Zhukov’s First Victory: The Battle of Nomonhan (2003), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. The clashes in the Far East between the Soviet Union and Japan in July and August 1939, whose outcome dissuaded the Japanese leadership from joining in Hitler’s invasion two years later.
Mediterranean Fury: The Battle of Cape Matapan, 1941 (2001), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. The battle that ended Mussolini’s hopes of challenging the Royal Navy.
The Siege of Hong Kong (1997), designed by Michael Gilbert. The last week of the battle, covering the Japanese assault on Hong Kong island.
Switzerland Must Be Swallowed! (2001), designed by Peter Schutze. Hypothetical German invasion of Switzerland during World War II.
Stalingrad: Pivot on the Volga (2003), designed by Hjalmar Gerber. The campaign in Southern Russia, July 1942-January 1943, with a rational portrayal of the effects of Hitler’s interference and some unusual rules.
Blood & Steel: The Battle of Prokhorovka, July 12, 1943 (1999), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. The climactic engagement of the Battle of Kursk; one of the largest tank battles in history.
Blood & Steel Expansion: The Battles of Oboyan Hills and Rzhavets Bridgehead, July 12, 1943 (2001), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. Two companion battles to Prokhorovka, which can be played without the original Blood & Steel; with the earlier game, all three battles can be combined.
Patton’s Finest: The Battle of Arracourt (2001), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. Uses the Blood & Steel system for the 4th Armored Division’s clash with counterattacking German panzers, September 19-21, 1944.
Operation Veritable: The Battle for the Reichswald (2000), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. A free,downloadable game, later incorporated into Schutze Games’ Breaking into Valhalla (2001).
MacArthur’s War: The Korean War and Beyond (1996), designed by Kerry Anderson. A fairly conventional treatment of the conflict coupled with possibilities of nuclear confrontation.
Vallée de la Mort: Dien Bien Phu (2000), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. Semi-tactical portrayal of the siege that ended French rule in Indochina, March-May 1954.
Algeria: The War of Independence, 1954-1962 (2000), designed by Brian Train. A classic asymmetrical war, as FLN rebels try to erode the colonial power’s political will before they are physically destroyed by its military superiority.
Operation Whirlwind: The Soviet Invasion of Hungary (2002), designed by Brian Train. Street battles pitting Hungarian patriots against Soviet tanks in 1956, with options for NATO intervention.
Cuban Missile Crisis: The Threshold of Nuclear War (2002), designed by Kerry Anderson. A board game with card play that makes it possible to win the 1962 U.S.-Soviet confrontation without going to war, though the possibility of military action cannot be ignored.
Victory in Vietnam (1999), designed by Bruce Costello. The War in Vietnam from 1964 through 1975, featuring a wide range of strategic options for the both players.
Victory in Vietnam II (2002), designed by Bruce Costello. A revised and enlarged second edition of Victory in Vietnam. The only MDG game with die-cut counters.
No Middle Ground: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 6 to 10, 1973 (2003), designed by Paul Rohrbaugh. The Syrian Offensive at the beginning of the Yom Kippur War; intended as a relatively simple game suitable for novices.
Afghanistan (1999), designed by Perry Moore. Tactical/operational portrayal of battles in the Panjshir and Kunar Valleys between conventional Soviet forces and Afghan guerillas, 1982-1987.
Shining Path: The Struggle for Peru (1998), designed by Brian Train. The continuing guerilla conflict between the Peruvian government and Maoist rebels.
The Battle of Armageddon: Apocalyptic Warfare in the End Times (1999), designed by Kerry Anderson. A near future, military interpretation of the Book of Revelation, for two or three players.
The Final Frontier: Man’s Expansion into the Solar System (1997), designed by Kerry Anderson. Competition, primarily economic and political, among two to four nations aiming to achieve dominance of the Solar System.
Barnard’s Star: The First Interstellar War (1999), designed by Kerry Anderson. Planetary combat between humans and aliens in a hostile environment.
Astromachia (1997), designed by Peter Drake. Tactical spaceship combat using a quasi-three dimensional movement system.
Smokejumpers (1996), designed by Kerry Anderson. A solitaire game in which the player directs a crew fighting a forest fire.
He Shoots. . . He Scores! (2000), designed by Bruce McFarlane. An ice hockey game designed to illustrate realistic tactics.
FIERY DRAGON republished many MDG games, particularly those designed by Brian Train and Kerry Anderson (in cool little tin boxes). Of the list above, I definitely had Arriba Espana, Freikorps, Algeria, China and possibly the Siege of Hong Kong game. I recall this because I was supporting PBeM gaming pretty heavily back in those days with a website I ran called the PBeM emporium and I know I made Cyberboard Gameboxes for some of those games. My particular favorite of the group was Arriba Espana.
Even though some consumers were bridling at the notion of DTP back in that time period (mounting our own counters?? the horror!), MDG definitely fits the definition of a microgame, in my view.
MDG back in Business!: MDG appears to have reformed under Kerry Anderson at some point, as they have an active website again, publishing some of the titles you see in the list above, along with new titles.
I’ll be breaking out more of these games in due course.
- Operational Studies Group (out of business, did about five ziploc games)
- Task Force Games (out of business)
- Tri Tac Games
- TSR, Inc. (out of business, swallowed by Wizards of the Coast, then Hasbro)
- Dwarfstar Games
- Fiery Dragon games (modern micro publisher)
Of the surviving publishers on that list, most of them don’t publish many small-scale self-contained games any more, if at all. Maybe Steve Jackson, if you squint hard.
How about other companies, especially modern game publishers? There are certainly modern game companies out there that try to inhabit the same niche, if you scale up for inflation somewhat.
Take Fantasy Flight, for instance… publisher of some of the biggest, most complicated and intricate boardgames on the market. Their SILVER LINE of games might be described as microgaming for a modern audience.
- Anima: Shadow of Omega (2006)
- Beyond Good and Evil (2008)
- Aye, Dark Overlord! (2005)
- Cave Troll (2002)
- Chaos Marauders (2009)
- Citadels (2000)
- Cold War: CIA vs. KGB (2007)
- Colossal Arena (2007)
- Condottiere (2007)
- Drakon (2006)
- Letter of Marque (2009)
- Mag Blast (2006)
- Penny Arcade (2009)
- Red November (2008)
- Through the Desert (2000)
The way the Silver Line games get published these days, in small, durable and easy to stack packages of about 20 dollars retail, featuring standalone designs with no expansions (or at least for most of them), one could almost mistake a Silver Line game for being a micro.
Z-Man Games publishes their fair share of what I would call Modern Micros. I would call their Pocket Battles a micro, and maybe Bridge Troll, too.
Let’s not forget Eurogames Descartes and their old blue box line– games like Draco’s Tavern, Dragon’s Gold and my favorite, Castles, probably would count as microgames these days.
MY OWN MICROGAME CONVERSION PROJECTS
I have, from time to time, flirted with the idea of revisiting old microgame ideas with miniatures and create a kind of hybrid game that has the best of both– small, tightly defined concept, easy to understand and teach rules, tactical situation that is contained in a small space.
So far, I’ve had two projects that started and will see the light of day sooner or later:
1) Steve Jackson Games “Battlesuit” in 15mm SF scale: Most of the particulars are given here. I think I could contain an entire game, converted from the terrain given on the game map that was published back in 1981, in a 3 foot by 3 foot space. The Miniature element is pretty straightforward. If you read the post, you’ll see that I’ve found most of the figures I need to make a conversion happen, including drones. The rules are going to be somewhat problematic, but I’m willing to give it a try. As Steve Gibson pointed out to me, we’ve learned a lot about game design since 1981, and Battlesuit may come off as somewhat old fashioned to the first time gamer. I don’t know. The beauty is that if it really is a crap rule set for miniatures, I can back them out, use something else and retain the look and feel of the older game!
2) Metagaming’s OLYMPICA in 1:300 scale. I put a lot of effort into this idea a few years ago. The idea was to recreate a great old microgame tactical game of yore in three dimensions, using the relatively cheap 1/300 scale/6mm plastic Mechwarrior: Dark Age miniatures formerly produced by Whizkids and now relatively easy to obtain on the tertiary market. I was fairly full along with this game and it looked as if it could almost be a straight lift of the original rules into miniature format, which would have been fun and easy to do. However, I wanted to get a hexmap of the martian terrain done in the bright orange color of the original map, and let’s just say that my source for the map … let me down. I have the OOB done, the miniatures procured and painted, the “Web of the Mind” generator bought.. I just need to revisit the game to recreate the map, perhaps in a giant piece of burnt orange felt with burnt orange painted rock formations. This may necessitate going away from hexes, which will require a rules edit or two.
3) KILL THE ARCHDUKE: This is much less formalized “conversion”.. it’s really just a notion at this stage. The idea was to create a three dimensional version of the Cheapass Games’ Kill Doctor Lucky mansion, and instead of the Good Doctor, we move around a miniature Archduke Ferdinand using the Doctor Lucky card system, and instead of the killers that are in the game we use national stereotypes from various countries, like an Uncle Sam, a John Bull, the Kaiser, etc. The whole game is envisioned as a metaphor for the origins of World War One, in a comic vein. The challenge, of course, is creating a portable, durable version of the mansion that would look good enough and be portable enough to take to gaming conventions.
Microgames as EPUBs:
On the DIGITAL RULES page of this site you will see some of the results of my attempts at republishing out of print microgames as EPUB files that can be read on tablets or Ipads. Many of these games are already available as PDFs (in places) or have alternative counters and maps produced on Boardgamegeek– often far superior to the originals. I converted many to Epub for ease of use in case someone wishes to play these games again with newer DIY components. As of Summer 2014, I have converted Melee, Wizard, Warpwar, Olympica, DeathMaze, and Ram Speed., plus many others that don’t really count as Micros.
And finally, Audio Visuals:
There have been a ton of “retro micro” videos popping up on Youtube lately! I’m not going to embed all of them because that’s a waste of space. The OGRE and GEV specific ones will show up in the OGREVERSE links (left hand column link collection), but I’ll reference others here too.
Boardgames to GO podcast on Microgames (in general) by Mark Johnson
SPI Capsule Games
SPI Magic Capsule Demons (Overview, Video 1)
SPI Magic Capsule Demons (Overview, Video 2)
Charles Cabb demonstrates OGRE to a newb live using Vassal and Ventrilo over the Internet:
C. Andrew Walters dives into the OGREverse with both feet in his videos. He has put up an introduction to OGRE (in two parts), an introduction to GEV (in two parts) and sample game videos for both. I don’t want to have a giant page full of videos, so I’ll just show you part one of both the OGRE and GEV series and then a link to Mr. Andrews’ YT channel.
An Introduction to OGRE part 1:
A GEV game part 1 of 3:
Tons of OGRE/GEV goodness: Mr. Andrews’ YOUTUBE CHANNEL
“TheInsurgent1” posted a pretty neat history of ILLUMINATI: The Card Game
“Jocs Populi” did a thorough video review of Illuminati.. in Catalan. Links to a BGG page.
180 Second review of Illuminati, the original non-CCG card game:
And his YOUTUBE CHANNEL (The Gamebox Live!) also has a multi-part play-through series of the same game.
A run through of Barbarian Prince by Dwarfstar. Note to self, we need a Dwarfstar section.
Fantasy Trip Stuff:
“Diluvian Enterprises” rambles on about LORDS OF THE UNDEREARTH:
“Tinkeringtot” has produced a nice review of the The Fantasy Trip series:
Boardgames to GO podcast (hosted by an old friend, Mark Johnson) recently produced an excellent show on the concept of Modern Microgames. Click BGTG 149 to listen:
An earlier episode of Boardgames to GO podcast, episode 26, discussed CLASSIC microgames:
I’ve Been Diced (an excellent podcast on boardgames, esp. strategy games) discusses MELEE and WIZARD in depth at the end of episode 52, and ponders why there aren’t more games like them out there today. Good question, Tom!