Tag Archives: boardgame

Chariots of Rome (VPG) a review

So I received this game in the mail with an offer to review and jumped at the chance. I love Chariot Racing games and always have thought that anything since Avalon Hill’s venerable (oh, so venerable!) Circvs Maximvs kind of suffers from not being the firstest with the mostest (as in, what? 1979?80?). The problem with classics from the bad old days is that they can heavily influence the design of any other game on the same subject that comes out later (see: Circvs Minimvs). I’m not a huge fan of maintaining a race log (which was all the rage back then) or checking a bazillion densely printed charts to figure out what.. exactly.. happened in that last turn. Bottom line up front– there’s a lot that can be done with the subject of chariot racing, both in and out of a historical model.

CHARIOTS OF ROME from Victory Point Games is the latest in their deluxe line. So unlike a lot of VPG products it sports a huge box, which is an actual box and not inside a cardboard sleeve. Components are definitely up-gunned
and look splendid, if not amazing, in terms of counter and map art. I mean, they look like chariot standups, and a bunch of status markers.. and the track looks kind of like Circvs Maximvs. I think that’s because there’s only so many ways to make a historical chariot race track..


Chariots of Rome Board

Yes, it looks like Avalon Hill/Battleline/many other chariot game racing maps. The thing is, this is what they looked like. There are fewer spaces on this one than the AH/Battleline game, and thus the races go a LOT faster.

Game Counters

A chariot standup, a chariot placement marker (to help figure out where actions take place in a turn), backed by chariot wreckage.. Start tokens, Speed tokens, Lap Tokens, Endurance (blue), Tactics (green) and “Rattled” (red/brown). Think of the last as “Control” or “Stress”.

FATE cards are a neat trick that the current race leader can pull every turn after turn 4.  The race leader rolls a specially marked dice marked with sigils of the Gods.  If Jupiter’s lightning bolt shows up, he draws a fate card.  Fate cards can affect all, or one, racer for the duration of a turn.   This is different from most chariot games I’ve played.

Another unique aspect of the game is the charioteers, all of whom have some level of unique skill applicable to a game– one might be able to influence the initiative deck, for instance, or another one adds an ACTION card when he whips an opponent…

The chariot status cards are a big change from recording everything on a log sheet.  Everything you need to know about a chariot is here– Endurance, “Rattled” state, speed track and what that does for you, and tactics track.

ACTION cards process everything you do when interacting with the race turns or other chariots.  If you head into a corner and your Speed + Rattled number might exceed the safety rating of the lane– you would pick up the difference in “Corner Cards” and turn them as you executed the turn, checking the Corner section for results (top section) .  If you got whipped, you’d check the whip section (3rd down)  Ramming Damage is the track above that– the rammed chariot pulls 3 cards and the ramming chariot pulls one

The components are an integral part of this design. Instead of maintaining chariot status on log sheet, the racer uses slider bars with tokens, which go up and down as the chariot’s fate unfolds in a race. Up AND Down? That’s correct, there are actions you can take to bump up your tokens in various categories. For instance, you can gain a tactics rating by the order you enter a curve. Or, you can regain “rattledness” and Endurance, plus one tactics token, if you start the turn by switching to a slower speed. This can lead to admittedly gamey situations– slowing up one turn, speeding up the next, but it all balances out– you usually have to sprint to the finish so it’s important to keep your chariot in one piece for the duration.

How does it play?

Fast and elegant, if you want my opinion. Initiative and activation is managed by drawing color cards for the racing teams (the historical Red, Green, Blue and White teams). I’ve played five games now and each one was a little faster than before, as we got used to the mechanics. The most similar chariot racing game I can think of (one that also uses multi-use cards and special dice) is Matt Leacock’s recently Kickstarted Chariot Racing game, which is far more “compact” than this game.

Race start.  I use 6mm chariot teams instead of the counter, and I recommend you do, too.  Much better visuals.

In this race, blue has probably entered the turn going at speed 7 (the middle speed– the game has three: 4, 7, and 10, plus any extra you get from chivvying your horses– as much as 3 extra spaces.   Red has followed him but was a little rattled (for 2) and thus has to draw two ACTION CARDS and checking the “Cornering” line to see what messed up things will happen to him.  White and Green are playing it safe at speed band 1 (for four) and are going slow enough to manage the INSIDE lane.

Death comes to us all, sooner or later.  My first reactions to the game system was “What? They let  you GAIN BACK points?  A race will take forever before a chariot gets knocked out!”  Not so fast.  If you manage to RAM a chariot into a wall (as Red has managed, here) it instantly crashes.  Sure, there’s a way to regain lost points, but if a lot of bad things are happening to your chariot all in one turn, chances are he’ll be crashing before he can recover all the way, as Green does here.

We did put a Youtube video of the game here, which sums up things nicely and provides some moving pictures.

Final Thoughts

Chariots of Rome pulls a lot of familiar mechanics together (the track, initiative pulls, etc.) and mixes it with some brand new mechanics like Fate Cards, Charioteer characters and the Action Card draw. Everything new that was added was designed to make the game play just like a familiar chariot racing game, yet play in half the time as good old Circvs Maximvs.

Remember me?  I was your daddy’s chariot racing game!

I think Chariots of Rome delivers on this premise elegantly. The initiative draws are fast, the speed bands work perfectly and the game is able to build the tension that it requires to call itself a chariot game.

What would I do differently? Probably publish an expansion or two adding in other colored racing teams (AH had Pink, Orange and Yellow teams, why not this game?). I’d also consider adding fantasy chariots and downright designed for combat chariots like the giant multi-man Assyrian beasts.. the designer would just have to figure out rules for missile weapons. There’s nothing I’d change about the mechanics themselves.

Fortune and Glory, citizens!

PS: All the pictures for this review are here on Flickr (I took a lot more than you see here).


Game Camp 2017 Day 3: Frostgrave, extended, & Cosmic Encounters

Previous: Day Two-Frostgrave

Day Three dawned with a continuation of FROSTGRAVE by request of the campers.  The older kids love it; they like the super tactical feel, the way spells can totally mess up a plan, and the “spatial” feeling a three dimensional tactical game can be with miniatures.  You can’t get that same feeling on a flat screen.

Naturally, any game I can leave set up and not have to worry about setup times is a game I’m going to like, too.good

Right off the bat, both sides came on aggressively. The Good side got ensnared in the right corner with fending off the evil Sigilist and Elementalist (aka Johnny Flamehands). Our side was facing him with a good Soothsayer and a good Illusionist. The Illusionist somewhat dominated the right middle of the table. specatularly failing to cast a Poison Dart repeatedly so much that he was down 4 points. He redeemed himself when he was the second crew to visit the temple of Fundamental Evil in the dead center. Johnny Flamehands, the Elementalist, tried earlier in the game, and encountered a being so vile, so disgusting.. well, I’ll let the evidence speak for itself.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you! Anyway, there was indeed a Type III demon who was so messed up looking he caused everyone he came in close contact with had to check their Will at a big minus or run in fear. The Illusionist had a Transpose spell– he had tried it before with his Wizard and failed badly, so he tried it again with his apprentice and this time he rolled very high. By carefully placing himself to eyeball the contents within, he could see both the Type III demon blob and the Zombie that was standing behind it being controlled by the Elementalist.
Bam, ZIP! Guess what happens?

One EXTREMELY ANGRY, PEOPLE HATIN’ CRAZY DEMON who likes darkness transposed into the sunlight with a very confused zombie being blinked back into the temple! RUH ROH! Bad news for that Elementalist and his crew who happened to be standing right next to him, mouths gaping in shock and unspeakable horror!

We laughed for about 15 minutes.

That kind of changed the classification of the game from “Maximum Haul” to “Grab what we have and GIT!” Team Evil started leaving the left side of the board rapidly. Team Good had more distance and more leisure. We ended up calling the game and rolling up the treasure.. quickly, as the buses were coming. Team Evil won the day, but by less than ten points, surprisingly.

We also played the hands down, don’t argue with me BEST GAME IN THE UNIVERSE, Cosmic Encounter— you can tell I’m a bit biased. I sat in on this six hand game with Red Menace, Green Machine, Blue Meanies, Yellow Peril and Orange Crush. We create nicknames for our aliens by color (as you can see) so we had to settle on White Blight for me, since the cards came from an expansion set. I engineered a four way win (hey, I’m not ashamed) and it was a great time indeed.

and a little documentary evidence about how canny these little dealmakers were getting by end of game.

Day 3 was great!  A most satisfactory continuation of Frostgrave and an epic game of Cosmic!

All Frostgrave Photographs

All Cosmic Photographs

Tomorrow: Big Danged Boats, my own 15mm fantasy naval game.



Imperial Stars II, a great little 4X space game (review)

A game that’s been on my “to be played pile” for a while for a considerable time just recently saw the light of day, IMPERIAL STARS II.   Why “Two”?  Apparently the designer, Chris Taylor, created a Print and Play by the same name (but radically different game engine) at some point in the past.  Anyway, I pulled off of the pile, punched and played Imperial Stars II this weekend.  And replayed.  And replayed… But I digress– first, the basics:

Imperial Stars II
Designer: Chris Taylor
Publisher: Victory Point Games
SRP: 27$ boxed, 22$ polybag, less other sources.

Imperial Stars II (IS2) is a four X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, a term, ironically enough, coined by Alan Emrich back in 1993 when reviewing Masters of Orion for a magazine article– now he’s the alpha dog of Victory Point Games) .  IS2 comes with 2 double sided 11 x 17 star maps, each unique.  The counter mix is balanced between the two sides, at 38 space ships and bases of various abilities for each side.  There are 14 random planet pieces that will give the player certain abilities that will be of value for either economic expansion or military domination.  There are 5 pieces (each) to determine how many Action Points (APs) are available to the active player that turn, to be drawn randomly from an opaque cup– 4,5,6,7 and 3/8 APs.  More on those later.  Aside from a couple of pointy markers, two more charts and four six sided dice, that’s it.

First move, yellow side is the Acting Player, red the Non-Acting Player. Yellow draws the FIVE AP marker and adds one. That leaves him just enough to colonize, ending the turn.

The art direction on this game was stellar (see what I did there?), matched by the production values.   The maps are wonderful, depicting space not as black and white dots but with rich purple, green and yellow nebulae.  The planets are largish for the scale but then again so are the ships.  The ships on the counter art were very deco (I thought) but not cartoonish.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that they each had their own visual style and weren’t copies of each other.

IS2 starts with most of the player’s forces in two holding areas, Alpha and Beta.  A small force of DD destroyers and mixed CV carriers are on the map, plus one base station (BS).   The players take turns being active and non-active players, reaching into an opaque cup to pull out Operations Chits (OCs).  As they are pulled from the opaque cup, they are not returned, which is how the game ends– the final turn arrives at the final OC Chit being pulled.   OC chits are (as stated above) marked, 4,5,6,7 and 3/8.  The active player adds that total to the one for owning a Base Station and that becomes his ‘use or lose’ Operations budget for that turn. In the case of the 3/8 chit, the player has an option of adding 8 points straight or 3 plus a new Base Station (you have up to 3) anywhere on the map.  Operations are pretty simply defined– basically moving, colonizing, reinforcing and fighting.

Still early in the game, a yellow exploration fleet probes red’s resolve around their base station. They are outgunned.

Colonizing is fairly simple; sacrifice a ship by flipping it over and that becomes a colony.  Colonies contribute to the global economic condition for each side– you figure out your status by counting colonies.    Movement is regulated by the movement capacity on the counter and the number of APs for the Active player.
Combat is classic old style in two flavors: Fighter Swarms and Beam Combat.  Beam combat is resolved on a CRT that is so classic it would make Jim Dunnigan sigh with nostalgia.  The defender has the option to stay and fight or attempt to retreat.  If he stays, Combat strength is totaled, a pair of 6 siders is rolled and the result is cross-indexed for losses.  Losses are tracked by physically rotating the ship counter around.  When the ship/base takes its final hit, it’s thrown into the scrapyard, where it can be recycled.

Fighter Swarms can attack if the launching ship has a little triangle on it (or more than one).  See the top picture– the ship nearest the planet in the foreground, the CVB, can launch 2 dice worth of fighter swarms (btw, think of these as robotic drones more than Galactica style Vipers, that’s what the fluff says).  The number of losses is modified by a terrain table which drastically effects combat.

Once a ship hits the scrapyard it can be recycled on a graduating scale.  If you have a certain number of ships in scrap, you can get one of that type back.  An elegant method of extending the counter mix, in my opinion.

Victory is arrived at simply– if you control the enemy’s home world hex, you win a sudden death victory.  If nobody has arrived at sudden death, you count victory points for planetary systems controlled and colonies owned.

So, what do I think?

I don’t mean to gush here.  I didn’t like this game– I loved it.   It’s easy to figure out, it contains mechanics that make sense and are simple, it plays briskly once you resolve a few rules questions, and it’s expandable with lots of replay value (four maps, with wildly different terrain, for starters).  I suspect strongly there will be an expansion pack for Imperial Stars II at some point in the future– the only criticism I had was that I wanted even more units and more “science fictiony” themed units beyond the decidedly nautical unit mix– like planet destroyers, automated machine ships, espionage, technology upgrades, more and different kinds of combat.. IS2 is  a fun little SF 4X, delivering so much more with its tiny box and small unit mix than much more expensive game have managed in recent years.  I’m looking at you, Space Empires 4X…

Imperial Stars II isn’t exactly ground breaking but it is like a nostalgic return to the games of yesteryear, or it was for me.  I very much enjoyed it.

Cuba, a Splendid Little War: VPG’s other side of the story

The Spanish American war (1898) has experienced it’s fair share of myth-making. Remember the Maine. Roosevelt and the Rough Riders. The Battles of El Caney and Santiago Bay. America showing those dastardly Spaniards who was boss, eh? Stirring stuff. Except, well… yeah. It didn’t’ really have to be that way. In fact, the Americans might not have been involved at all. You see, the United States was only involved for three months (roughly) in an unequal struggle with a worn out and largely rudderless Spanish Military that STILL dealt an astonishing amount of casualties before being overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the American onslaught. The Spaniards (by that, I mean, the occupying colonial power) had been fighting an on-again, off-again struggle with the Cuban Nationalists (by that, I mean the Spaniards who had settled down and created plantations on Cuba and wanted to rule themselves) for 30 years. The roots of the conflict were the Ten Years War (1868–1878), an independence movement by local planters that was stomped down by the Spanish Government, then the “Little War” (1879–1880), which was something of a continuation of the former struggle. Finally, The Cuban War of Independence (1895–1898), ultimately successful, had been fought for FOUR YEARS before the Americans poked their snoots into the conflict. One cannot hazard a guess how successful the latter might have been WITHOUT American military muscle around to devastate the Spanish position, but the main point of all this is the Cuban resistance to Spanish rule was not a new development, nor were the men who fought it necessarily poor fighters who needed American help to win. That is a major theme of the game CUBA: A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR, by Victory Point Games. The game is a very simple card-driven game representing the asymmetric struggle between the Cuban forces and Spanish occupying forces during the third Cuban War of Independence.

Setup, CUBA: A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR. First turn: all the action starts in the South.

The Cuban War of Independence is a historical conflict that really hasn’t been modeled much in game design– I would argue that it really wasn’t much touched upon in the only two wargames set in the era that I know of, REMEMBER THE MAINE! and GWAS: THE SPANISH AMERICAN WAR. The former was an SPI/TSR era magazine game that mostly focused on the naval aspect of the war between the US and Spain that gave the land operations little thought. The latter was a pure naval game that focused on the fleet and small ship engagements between the Americans and Spanish Colonialists. So there was definitely room for a game that could tell the story of the Cuban versus Spanish struggle, which CUBA: A SPLENDID LITTLE WAR does in elegant style.

For starters, the designer, Javier Garcia de Gabiola, understood that the conflict between the native Cubans and their Spanish overlords was the focus of the game, and  the later conflict that included the Americans (and garnered all the historical attention) was, while interesting in its own right, not necessarily the preferred option for the Cubans.  Therefore, if a player can the Cuban side can manage a win WITHOUT the American intervention (and beefed up firepower), he or she has a win to boast about.  I know I have yet to manage it!

Speaking of Americans, here they come, start of Turn 5

I digress.  Let’s discuss the game itself.  You can think of A Splendid Little War as a sort of a gateway drug into more complex card driven games, if that makes it easier to categorize.  Counter density is very low.  There are 18 Spanish units, most of whom enter the board as a result of spending resource points or playing action cards.  There a maximum of 6 Cuban “Corps” in the game– don’t ask me the scale of either unit, it’s not really important in terms of mechanics.    The map is area movement– with six areas marked for resource levels, with two cities (Havana and Santiago) that become one of the victory focuses of the game.     There’s a large deck of Action Cards that represent historical events that directly effect the units of either or sometimes both sides– a leader can be killed, for instance, or the yellow fever can decimate (flip over) a unit in a map section or .  The cards are either regular actions (underlined) that are used once, then discarded, or actions that can be used again after being discarded and reshuffled back into the draw deck.  Cards with a red border around the title can be used as a reaction card to a card just played.  Cards with a blue title box show up when the U.S. enters the war (more on this later).

Speaking of cards, and I know we were.. here’s a really nasty one. Play yellow fever on a stack of troops in a single area, and they have to flip over one. Since Cuban troops max out at strength=1, this can be a bad news for the Cubanos, as you see here.

Perhaps you are used to the CDG design style popular with a lot of GMT games (and other publishers) that stipulates that a card can be used once for it’s event (and discarded) or used repeatedly for some operational or command point number on the card.  The cards in a Splendid Little War are not like that– they are simple event cards that manipulate the board situation.  The designer fills the same design space as “operational points” by giving each side a very long laundry list of specific actions that can be conducted in rounds until both sides pass.  These are:

  • Play an Event card
  • Burn Fields  (Cuban Only) Burning fields will eliminate resources in a map area for the turn, but more importantly, it will also decrease Spanish prestige, more on this later.
  • Recruit (Cuban only),  roll to get more troops.  It has proven very difficult to do!
  • Lobby The Americans to intervene (Cubans) or stay home (Spaniards)
  • Move from map area to map area, but beware, it adds a spotter marker on the moving unit.
  • Attack the opposing unit in the map area.
  • Ask for Reinforcements (Spanish only),
  • Repatriate Units (Spanish only)
  • Protect Fields (Spanish Only) — Prevent the Cubans from
  • Form Search & destroy Column (Spanish only) — this means perform an action to find the Cubans hiding out in the bush
  • Captain General Actions  Some actions require a general to perform.  A Captain General Action is ordering a unit to perform an action from the Spanish Governor General’s office in Havana– it’s possible to lead from the rear but it costs you two resources to do it.

Generally speaking the turns work out to be a mutual action phase where players alternate rounds (Cubans first), they perform action and action until both sides pass in a row.  The players than conduct an Administrative Step where there’s some card hand and resource management, remove markers, and they check the US and Spanish Stance.

Important information on these tracks… note the big yellow arrows

This latter feature is pretty important.  There are four tracks on the game board that gauge progress.  One is a turn track, the other is a resource track.  The other two are all-important.  The U.S. War Entry Track starts at zero.  Various historical events (played with cards) OR lobbying will move this closer to 10, where the counter flips to the WAR side– at that point the American Units come on the board (including naval ones) and act in concert with the Cubans.  The Spanish Public Support Track starts at ten.  If the public support for the regime hits 1 or 0, that’s the game for the Spaniards.  The Spanish player is constantly trying to nudge this up through various actions– including fighting and eliminating Cuban units, protecting crops, and historical event cards.

The game plays pretty fast (only 7 turns), and the actions are simple to grasp and easy to resolve.  I’ve played both sides and I confess to preferring the Cubans– it’s pretty challenging to try to pull of a win as the Cubans without American intervention.  I’ve yet to do it.  The Cubans have to concentrate on moving across the map and capturing at least one city, or preferably two.  The Spaniards start with relatively few units on board but can summon more reinforcements– at the coast of political support on Spanish Public Support Track.  Spanish units are usually stronger than Cuban ones but on par with American ones– however, they can’t make use of that strength easily– they have to find the Cubans before attacking.  Cubans can stay still in a map space and not be seen, but many of their actions will cause a spotting marker to be placed on them, which gives the searching Spaniard a bonus to find them.

Whoops! The Cuban moved from Oriente to Camaguey this turn, he’s spotted! The Spaniard can’t attack without a General present, but he CAN if he uses a “Captain General” action, basically having the CG Call the shots all the way from Havana. For 2 RPs.

There are a lot of small, simple elements to this game that add up to a fast-playing, simple game of insurgency and counter-insurgency. Oddly enough the one game I was thinking of when playing Splendid Little War was GMT’s Cuba Libre. Sure, the mechanics are very different, the setting a different time but in the same place– and fighting a very similar kind of war. I really like this design– it’s a challenge to play either side and I’d say it’s relatively balanced. It plays fast, has several elegant elements that play off against each other well and most importantly there’s more than one way to win. Hard core wargamers might find it a little simple for their tastes– I wouldn’t. Cuba: A Splendid Little War is more of a history game that involves war than a wargame, but I’m glad it was published– it’s a real pleasure to discover a game on a somewhat obscure historical subject with so much historical flavor. I strongly recommend Cuba: A Splendid Little War.


SPI Commercial from the mid 1970s

For your viewing pleasure. You can see famous SPI designer Richard Berg and a few other notables, including SPI President Jim Dunnigan, in some of the scenes.

Chainsaw Warrior App for IoS, a review

Warning: I’ve only played it on Easy level so far, so if there’s some advanced parts of this game that aren’t being touched on here, sorry about that!

Back a long while ago, a British company called GAMES WORKSHOP published boardgames. Some of these were fiddly, some were great, some were stupid. ALL of them were pretty macho, full of intricately drawn gaming bits with the dense art style evocative of that era of GW.

One of the less famous games of that era was CHAINSAW WARRIOR.

The premise isn’t really that important– you’re fighting a big bad something that has invaded New York City. You’ve got 60 minutes to navigate the streets of New York, encounter all kinds of minor league baddies as you prepare to beat the boss level bad guy. Encounters and locations were simulated using card flips.

Your character could go Hand to Hand or shoot something at the monsters and traps he encounters, or “use Equipment” if you have something appropriate for that situation.

Yesterday, Auroch Digital released the CHAINSAW WARRIOR app for IoS on the app store.

In every respect, the designers are evoking that earlier board game with this design. Encounters are once again done by (virtual) card flips. You roll up a character to fight bad guys (zombies, mostly) on the way to the ultimate bad guy.
If you roll even a half decent character at Easy level, you will plow through zombies in the early game like a hot knife through butter.. or perhaps, like a chainsaw through necrotic tissue. However, damage will add up and you WILL get delayed with meaningless attacks. By end game, you are being attacked far more frequently by more vicious monsters. Even on Easy Level, this game is hard to beat. The level of decision making is essentially “Do I shoot it and waste precious ammo, or go hand to hand with it and risk getting wounded?” for most of the game. They key inputs into the game are character creation, which I found to be disappointing. You go through the charade of rolling dice for each statistic, but it would be the same if you just hit ONE button that says “roll up a sample character” since you can’t reroll anything. The other big decision is what to take with you. Certain items help out a lot in certain situations, but the MOST helpful thing to bring is the chain saw, with some sort of firearm (not sure which is the optimal yet). You can’t buy reloads up front, for some reason, but you get them later in the game. Bring grenades, too.

I put some thoughts together in a video (the company is Auroch Digital, not what I say on here):

I liked the look and feel, which is VERY evocative of the time period and company of that era. However, the game becomes a very repetitive series of encounters with only a few breaks in the tedium here and there as you encounter something even worse. The tempo increases the closer you get to the boss’s location.

It was fun, but nothing great to write home about. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars for staying true to theme and not compromising on the interface– there’s not much that can be done about the lack of variety, save adding in some of the material that has been pubished in support of the Boardgame in White Dwarf.

Not the worst game I’ve tried in a long while, but not really my speed. I’ll see myself playing this for a few more days then relegating it to palookaville. Have fun!

reblog: There Will Be Blood (And Tentacles): A Review Of “Arkham Horror”

I personally love playing Arkham Horror and own the base game plus three expansions: Dunwich, Kingsport and the Curse of the Mummy. It can be quite a time commitment to play and thus I don’t see it on the table more than just once in a while, which is a shame.  This post is from the Lovecraft E-zine Blog and I’m reblogging it because I love the game.  

Lovecraft eZine

This post written by Repairer of Reputations.

Vincent Lee’s hand shook as he focused on the gun he was loading.  He gave a shudder when he heard Sister Mary scream.  It was cut off abruptly by a sickening rip the doctor knew to be the tearing of flesh. That was followed by the patter of the nun’s blood raining down on the street.  Lee tried to steel his nerves as he crouched behind the car, but the serpent god Yig let out a roar that made Lee start to tremble violently.  He took a deep breath and thrust out his guns as he stood, unloading both barrels into the Ancient One.  The great snake howled in rage as the bullets struck, leaving a bloody pulp where its eye had been.  Lee saw his opportunity and started to hobble for a nearby doorway.  The beating the monster had already given…

View original post 1,237 more words

Two views of Metagaming’s Olympica in miniature

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.

An early effort posted to Boardgamegeek: felt for terrain, wood bits for bunkers, W40K Epic Scale tanks, and probably INF from the same source.

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.

Steve running OLYMPICA at Historicon.

The main plane before the Nix Olympica crater

Action in the crater: Lifter, Tanks, Strong Points.

Web Infantry

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:

HI on the march.

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.

A little bit of kit-bashing goes a long way

Webbie Infantry popping up to oppose the main advance to Nix Olympica

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).

More hills with Webbie Strong Points on them.

Landers dropping units.

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).

Light Infantry Company hits a Webbie on the hill.

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.

The Main board from the UN entry position

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.

Lifter 3 drops a bunker buster on Strongpoint R-3, with limited success. I think I made them TOO strong, actually

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.

KER-PANG! A U.N. Laser Tank enjoys a little impromptu cover generated from the dust cloud of a near-miss.

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:

EVERY Webbie unit, past a certain line on the map, had to start hidden using these counters. It’s remarkably effective in a STATIC defense.

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.

Where the actual web generator was hidden all along (and no, it isn’t the large counter, that’s a dummy)

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.

Two web players with the web map.

I daresay, it was fun to play, warts and all….

Light and Heavy Inf assault a couple of strong points in the game, causing dust clouds, which were important in the original boardgame too. The SPs are 90 cent cardboard craft boxes flipped upside down with the lid glued to the bottom. Not bad for a bunker!

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.

THE ACTUAL WEB GENERATOR which is a 6mm scale science fiction radar station by a company called Iron Cow. It never made it on the board in the first game.

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Kickstarter: The Short, Sharp Shock of Reality

By happenstance I came across this great graphic via Mashable yesterday, and it really sang to me.  You’ll have to blow it up to see it all (links to the graphic itself, just click on it).  Why is this interesting?  Kickstarter has become a viable publishing alternative to traditional, professional routes in the last 3 years– especially for niche hobby items like boardgames and computers games (two endeavors that were never anticipated by the founders of Kickstarter, who envisioned it would be an effective way of crowdfunding film, video and book projects).  Nevertheless Kickstarter was something of a success story for two games, ALIEN FRONTIERS (2010)  and OGRE SIX (2012), plus, possibly, some smaller projects like OH MY GOD, I’VE GOT AN AXE IN MY HEAD! (2012).   All of these were funded projects (in OGRE SIX’s case, overfunded by a wide measure).  What isn’t mentioned is just how many of these projects don’t make it, or even come close.  And if they DO make it, how long will it take between funding and delivery?  That’s where this chart comes in.

KICKSTARTER STATISTICS. Click graphic to embiggen. Image copyright Jeanne Pi and Ethan Mahlick 2012

Some interesting reality in that graphic. It derives from Kickstarter’s own statistics (which they are somewhat reticent about revealing, see reference 4 below, in “Related”) and this article.

Interesting factoids to take away: 44% of projects succeed. By inference, that means 56% of them fail. 9 out of 10 failed projects ever reach 30% of their funding goals. 97% of failed projects even make 50%! Only 25% of projects deliver on time. That’s not a rate of return I’d bet my future on, but that’s the beauty of crowdfunding– it’s not your money. From the empirical evidence, the smaller projects with more connected producers are the ones that tend to succeed, which is why we see a lot of board game Kickstarters, I think.


  1. Why Kickstarter is ripe for Scams
  2. Nearly half of all Kickstarter projects fail
  3. Kickstarter Failures revealed!  What can you learn from Kickstarter Failures?
  4. Kickstarter hides failure


Review: Levee En Masse for the Ipad from Victory Point Games

Victory Point Games
Designed by Victory Point Games
Itunes Link
Version 1.0.2
size: 28.0 MB
Price: $4.99
Solitaire only, Ipad Only

Hurrah! A boardgame to review at last– and from a series I know reasonably well.

LEVEE EN MASSE is an IoS port of a board game from Victory Point Games. Victory Point Games is a publisher that specializes in small, low-cost boardgames that are a notch above Desktop Publishing quality and generally featuring historical themes (although not always). In a very real sense they fill the same niche as long ago “microgames” in every category except perhaps price– and that’s debatable when you factor in inflation. One of Victory Point’s most popular series is called THE STATE OF SIEGE series. State of Siege games are purpose designed solitaire games that all utilize a simple mechanic. The player is occupying a central point on the map board. This central point could be anything, really– a city, a fortress, or even a political position. On the map board are between 4 and 6 point to point pathways to that central position– usually starting about 5 spaces away from that position.

See, Paris is the central position here and the tracks leading inward are from the Royalist, the Vendee, English, Austrian and Prussian counter-revolutionary armies.

These pathways are associated with a faction or position, and counters are placed on the ends of the tracks at start of game. During the game, a series of event cards (usually historical, but not always) are flipped over. If the Series Game is themed around a historical time period, the cards will have a descriptive text describing the significance of the event, and how it makes the various factions on tracks move. Obviously, your job is to retard that inward movement and keep your central location secure.

As the name implies, the historical theme that Levee En Masse is focused on are the turbulent days of the French Revolution, and the rise of Napoleon. The solitary player will play the same role as he or she would in the paper boardgame, holding Paris against the inexorable march of counter-revolutionary forces, which advance with the flip of every card.

Here is a card flipping over. It happens every turn after you have expended all your actions. See how the various tracks are affected by the historical events on this card?

LeM is not one of the state of siege games I had played as a paper game before getting assigned the IoS game to review, but I have played The War for Israeli Independence and Soviet Dawn, both of which have little nuances that make them different from Levee en Masse, although their core mechanics are identical. LeM is played in a series of time stages or epochs during the French Revolution. Certain card flips can trigger the next stage of history and make another deck of event cards come into play. In this manner, key historical events transpire roughly (but not exactly) in the order they did here on planet Earth.

You can play the game in stages (recommended), or in the historical timeline, or totally random. The app will allow for any style of play.

The strategic conflicts are abstracted by dice rolls– as the forces of England, Austria, Prussia, the Vendee and the Royalist Counter Revolutionaries converge on Paris, you must defend your central position using a finite amount of actions per turn. You can roll dice to defeat Armies (military action) or affect the domestic political scene to decrease the influence of your opponent (political action) within the amount of actions you have during a turn. The Political track becomes very important because every time a faction is equal to our above the Republic on the political track, they get a bonus in field engagements. So you can either wait for the cards to shift the Political index in your favor or you can use a precious action point trying to decrease the prospects of a faction that has gotten too far ahead of you.

Those bonuses add up, too.. as the French player, you are seeking for this result every time, as actions are limited per turn.

Gradually, the game will shift focus somewhat (if you are playing in historical phases… I wouldn’t recommend any other way, myself). The events in the historical deck will become more focused on the early career of Bonaparte (Despotism) and the rise of the events that will lead to his Empire. A new wrinkle adds into the game as support armies show up for you to place in the area surrounding Paris, to act as roadblocks against invading armies. These are a very handy outcome. Sometimes a foreign power will generate a support army as a card result to do the same thing to you.

The defender gets another action point when a support army is in play, too.

Here’s what I liked: the History element, you get a fantastic overview of the French Revolution in roughly the timeline in which it transpired (via the card flips). You definitely feel that siege element at work, having limited resources to fight of the inevitable, as counter-revolutionary forces advance on you from all fronts.

Here’s what didn’t work for me: The map is a little claustrophobic. It was a nice balance with design and utility but too much information is crammed on one screen… I can see why they went with Ipad only as a choice. This game would have been unreadable on a smaller screen. Also, the tutorial guy must be fixed. He can pop up and just overlay the action while you’re trying to make some choices and you can’t see underneath him (or click under him) until you finally shoo the pest away somehow.

oui, oui, je sais, je sais .. descendez l’écran, vous imbécile!

Summary: In some respects, the State of Siege Games are perfect candidates for Victory Point to convert to IoS apps. They are solitaire, the action takes place on one map board and the mechanics can’t be that hard to program. However, much like the boardgames they are converted from, if you aren’t a big fan, a HUGE fan of history (and not necessarily military history), this game may become very repetitive for you. History is a driving force in this game, and I liked that element of it, but I could see where that might not appeal to everyone. I reviewed Victory Point’s other IoS game on the market as of this writing, Loot and Scoot, a while back and found the game extremely repetitive and limited. I think Levee En Masse has much more depth and a better execution than Loot and Scoot, but after about five plays I found myself moving on to something else. I will come back to it from time to time, I know.. but I don’t want to get into a position where I’ll memorize all the event cards, as this will truly render the game boring. For 4.99, Levee en Masse is of medium to good value for your gaming dollar, and certainly will keep a history/war game buff entertained over repeat plays. Just keep this in mind: it is not an arcade game. There are no grand animations or cut screens– minimal animation at best, no gunfire, no bams and booms. It’s not for the visceral minded. This is a History game more than a War Game, and if you’re not the kind of person who wants to actually read what’s on the event cards, sadly, Levee will not excite you.

Android Boardgame Helper apps, creating a new market

Much attention has been given to the Ipad/Ipod platform for boardgame conversions; and with good reason.  The IOS platform seems to have emerged as the primary platform of choice for boardgame conversions of all kinds, with the Android Market lagging behind the big releases by a period from six months to  a year in some cases.  For instance, Carcassonne, one of the biggest hits in the IoS Realm, has only recently been released for Android as a commercial product.    There are other big titles, such as Through The Desert, Words with Friends, and Cataan, but for the most part releases continue to lag for full up game conversions with AI and/or multiplayer/internet gaming component.   There’s plenty of reasons for this.. the two installation bases are not equal.  There is concern from developers about how they will get paid, and how quickly, whereas the Apple Itunes App store is more stable and considered more secure.

This doesn’t mean that boardgames aren’t represented on Android.  There have been a surprising amount of boardgame HELPER apps released in the last two years.  For the most part these are deck shufflers and builders, dice rollers, and “toolbox” apps that do many things.   Most, if not almost all, of them are free for the download.  I suspect this is because the licensing issues are too complex and it’s just easier to release them for free.  There are very few free (and very few commercial, come to think of it) boardgame apps that actually play the game WITH you, but there are many Android apps out there that will HELP you play a boardgame.  Some of these are helpful, some are puzzling, but most of them are free, so you will have no problem trying them out and making up your own mind.

Here, then, is a list of some useful boardgame utilities out there on the Android market right now.

Droidippy A DIPLOMACY adjudication/game play app not unlike JDip and RealPolitik, only it plays on an Android platform.  Receives email turns and adjudicates Diplomacy games with multiple players; displays a map readout that updates on all the player’s phones/tablets.

Axis and Allies Combat Simulator I never understood the reasons for having an Axis and Allies combat Simulator, but they were popular way back in the day on Windows platforms as shareware, and here’s on for about four dollars.  Has a menu driven interface and figures out the probability of success on possible combats.

The Milton Bradley edition of Axis & Allies, s...

The Milton Bradley edition of Axis & Allies, showing the game map and all 299 playing pieces (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Assorted Magic: the Gathering Utilities.  (Links to search for “Magic the Gathering” on Android Market) Frankly there are so many Magic: the Gathering utilities, life counters, card databases, toolboxes, ultimate apps, AIs and simulators out there on the market that one could write a very long blog post on that subject, and I’m not that big of a fan.    Suffice to say, the apps in this collection either count life, catalog cards, manage your collection, and provide strategy tips.  I’ve yet to find an app that actually plays the game.

Rattus Shuffle randomly selects for you with which cards you’re going to play the board game Rattus, which was reviewed on this blog a while ago.


Rattus (Photo credit: MeoplesMagazine)

To use Rattus Shuffle: Before you’re going to play the game, choose from all the available expansions, select the number of players and Rattus Shuffle will determine with which combination of cards you’re going to play the game.  The creator appears to have the cooperation of Goblin Games, as they are using the same artwork.

Dominion Shuffle: this is a helper app for the great card drafting game DOMINION.  randomly select a set of kingdom cards for the card game Dominion. It has a flexible way of specifying the shuffle rules and choosing which cards to use. The card language can be chosen using the menu.  Dominion Shuffle also includes support for Androminion (Dominion for Android, it actually allows game play)  to play with your selected kingdom cards against the computer.   Along the same vein are Dominion Card PickerDominion Randomizer, and Randominion, which are basically deck builders and shuffler apps.

Agricola Score Calculator is pretty much what it says, a scoring app for the hit board game AGRICOLA.   The app and the interface are colorful and straightforward.   Along the same lines: Agricola Score Sheet (Lite and Regular) and Agricola Buddy.

Carcassonne Scoreboard.   Since Carc is now a paid game app in the market, this is about all we’ll see freeware.  Like many other boardgame support apps, this maintains a scoresheet for repeated games.  Along the same lines are: Carcassonne Scorer and Scorer Lite.

Lost Cities CCSKC:  Another Reiner Knizia classic, Lost Cities is represented in the market by a Score Keeper app that maintains game score and tracks the cards left in the deck.  Along the same lines is Lost Cities: Help, which essentially does the same thing.

RFTG Scorer is a straightforward, useful score sheet app for RACE FOR THE GALAXY.

Munchlevel is a life counter/scorer type app from the hit card game MUNCHKIN, by Steve Jackson Games.  Not much to be said here, the app is pretty straightforward and easy to use.  Alon the same lines are: Munchkin Level Counter and Munchkimetro.

 Thunderstone Shuffle app is a card shuffling app for the card drafting game THUNDERSTONE,  similiar to others mentioned.  This app lets you choose which cards can be selected and easily randomizes which cards will appear in your game. It understands the rules of the game and generates a legal layout, has a solo option and marks cards which were in the previous shuffle, making multiple games easier.
Descent Assistant is a sort of toolbox, monster manager for the Dungeon Crawling game DESCENT from Fantasy Flight Games.   This app makes an Overlord’s job much easier by simplifying monster management tasks.  Users can add monsters to manage their statistics.  Descent Assistant contains all available monsters, including Road to Legend encounters and chiefs. Displays all capabilities of added monsters including descriptions of all abilities.  The Interface doesn’t appear to have the same artwork.  In the same vein, but different,

are: The Descent Dice Roller and Dicent.

Doom Dice Simulator rolls

the dice for DOOM the boardgame.

Lastly is the Small World Pedia, which appears to be an unofficial encyclopedia of Small World games series involving all the races, powers, relics and legendary places, are displayed the informations on the amount of tokens collected and the rules concerning the powers of each items.
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Gabba Gabba, one of us! Part 2 TABLETOP Youtube Series

Holy snikies. They are really coming out of the woodwork now. You may recall from an earlier post with a similar title that Robin Williams is a bona-fide famous person that openly loves gaming. Then we discover (though the Dice Tower and Attack of the Show) that Rich Sommer from AMC’s hip “Mad Men” show is a total gameaholic… so much, in fact, that he actually is performing in an occasional stint on Attack of the Show doing boardgame reviews, and guesting on podcasts!

So when I hear that Wil “Don’t be a dick!” Wheaton is going to host his own gaming segment on Felicia Day‘s upcoming premium Youtube channel show, I wasn’t hugely surprised. He definitely seems the type. Catch the promo blurb below.

What’s interesting is the guest stars that appear in the promo segment… hmmm… are we on the verge of a geek pride resurgence? I’m terrible with recognizing actors any more, but a couple of them look familiar (certainly Grant Imahara does). Is our beloved hobby community going mainstream? Well, probably not with a Youtube channel show, but a chap can be hopeful.

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Best and Worst of the Best of 2011

My own personal 2011 hobby wrap up was somewhat underwhelming this year.  I purchased many games and got some good play time hours in, but at the end of the year I noticed I had not really purchased and experienced a lot of the hip and the new that came out in 2011– instead I was picking up backlist titles at a greatly reduced cost, mostly from Tanga.com massive dumping of Z-man titles and a couple of sales and P500 offerings.  The sudden appearance of backlist titles in online discount outlets was an important trend to me personally, but I can understand that it wasn’t exactly significant to a hobby that worships the cult of the new. And boy, if 2011 was about ANYthing, it was about new things.

New games abounded in 2011. I have not the slightest idea of how many game titles (of all kinds) were released at the Essen Game Fair in Germany this year. It appears that the number of games published last year was very high indeed. Predictably, the hobby cognoscenti were hard at it this year, processing this vast influx of data– new games released at Origins, new games released at GenCon, new games released at Essen. New games available from the explosive growth of crowd-funded projects like Kickstarter. The abundance of titles may be a blessing, or it may be a curse. I don’t purport to be in the same crowd of gaming hipsters as some of the folks who regularly write and podcast about games, but I try to get a few new ones in a year.  I felt overwhelmed in 2011, just with the sheer number of new titles that I picked up (new to me, that is, not necessarily A dog with two bonespublished in 2011).  One starts to experience the classic Dog with Two Bones syndrome— a plethora of choices, not enough time to engage any single one of them to the extent required to enjoy a new game.  In essence, we’re starving in the midst of gluttony.  I am normally very tuned in to the board gaming blogs, podcasts and YouTube series this time of year.   More so than normal, I mean, because I enjoy reading and listening and watching what people regard as the best and worst of the previous year.  There was a lot to write about in 2011.  I have made my own modest contribution, which appeared in Games magazine Games 100 2011 special, and I don’t reprint it here for obvious reasons.   There were a lot of people writing and podcasting about the end of the year this month, and I’ve waited until the end of the month to post this retrospective of retrospectives because I acknowledge it is a mighty undertaking in a year of plenty to capture it all.  Also, I suspect most reviewers aren’t done playing 2011 games yet, and need to catch up.

Here then, is a compendium of Year’s End, Best and Worst.  This is a list of the better and worse year end wrap ups, and is strictly an opinion piece.

The Best and Worst of the “Best of 2011” Posts

These people did good things:

Overall Best: The best wrap up of the year definitely goes to the DICE TOWER Network.  The Dice Tower podcast expanded into a “network” of individual podcasts in 2011, so they, too, are providing more content than I can keep up with suddenly.  Year end coverage was particularly good, featuring two podcasts (so far), 239 and 240

239 (part 1) http://audio.funagain.com/thedicetower/TDT239-TheDiceTower-Episode239.mp3″

240 (part 2) http://audio.funagain.com/thedicetower/TDT240-TheDiceTower-Episode240.mp3″

240 features the regular top ten list associated with this program, recounting the best of 2011. In addition to all the audio fun there’s a series of YouTube videos supporting it all, all on the Dice Tower Channel. Coverage was extensive, rambling sometimes, but very enjoyable and referenced well by having a single website to tie it all together. The Dice Tower is the closest thing we have to professional electronic media coverage of the boardgaming industry (not counting boardgamegeek), and the quality is obvious.

2011 Retrospective Blog Posts

(this doesn’t count all the myriad lists and blogs on Boardgamegeek, it’s too much to cover)

Wired magazine’s GeekDad published a Best of list on January 2nd that is interesting reading.  I can’t comment on many of his choices as I didn’t play the same games he did last year.  What makes his list worthy of mention is backing up his selections with review links and contributions from multiple individuals.  Some of the selections weren’t published in 2011, which is a little confusing and others just had me puzzled.  Regardless, it’s an easy list to read and well supported with reference information.

Paste Magazine’s Best of 2011 post was simple, choosing five standout designs of 2011 (Quarriors, Kingdom Builder, A Few Acres of Snow, Blood Bowl Team manager, and Risk Legacy).  I can’t agree with every one of those titles (certainly not Risk Legacy), but these games were a big hit with many people, so they definitely score on coverage and simplicity.

Trent of The Board Game Family wrote a comprehensive post comparing his site’s choices with the Dice Tower network’s choices.  Many of the same games people are heralding the best of 2011 are mentioned here, thought the Board Game family’s choices are (obviously) more geared toward families than regular gaming geeks, so there wasn’t a lot of overlap.  The introductory paragraph is quite good, mirroring some of the points I made above– too many games, who has the time to play them all, etc.

MightyGodKing’s end of the year post was tantalizing and interesting, selecting many picks mentioned by others — Olympos, Blood Bowl Team Manager, Eclipse, King of Tokyo, and Airlines Europe.  I liked it for simplicity and good writing– he explains what he liked and why he liked it in no uncertain terms.

2D6.org went another direction and published a rather terse, and snarky list of Top Ten Disappointing Games of 2011.  I found myself agreeing with some of his choices, particularly JAB, STAR TREK EXPEDITIONS and even MANSIONS OF MADNESS, which the reviewer didn’t even play once.  This post could have been better– the author had a good idea but the tone of the writing was more quarrelsome than clever, and he probably shouldn’t have admitted he hadn’t played one of his list items, it sort of takes away from the impact of the list as a  whole.

One of my favorite Podcast/Vidcast discoveries of 2011, the Shut Up and Sit Down podcast/blog/whatever, did not wax nostalgic for 2011, but did discuss the games they are excited about scheduled to be published in 2012.   I can hardly argue with many of their selections– I’ve been jonesing for the Fantasy Flight Games version of Dune, called REX, since it was announced, and would love to see Wiz-War republished again.  Oh, and that Merchants of Venus kerfluffle, but that’s another blog post.  Excellent job, fellows.  SU&SD will probably hit my end of the year podcast review post this December, I really am enjoying them.


(Top Honors already to The Dice Tower for their comprehensive multipart Best of the Year 2011 episodes)

The D6 Generation doesn’t do anything by halves.  They brought Raef Granger back for an end of the year wrap up, of sorts.  It really wasn’t their “best of 2011” podcast but more about what they predicted for 2011 last year and what they are predicting for 2012.  If you want to skip over the multiple adverts and such the crunchy bits start about midway through.  Worth a listen, as always!

(Audio) http://traffic.libsyn.com/thed6generation/D6GEp95.mp3″

FATCAST did a two parter best of podcast that was an end of the year 2011.  I am trying to like this cast more.. despite the lapses into profanity from time to time.  They sort of wander all over the place, and that’s not a bad thing– I like chaos.  And they can be funny… it’s growing on me.

(Part 1) http://fortressat.com/plugins/content/jw_allvideos/includes/download.php?file=images/audio/fatcast_best_of_2011_part_1.mp3″

(Part 2) http://fortressat.com/plugins/content/jw_allvideos/includes/download.php?file=images/audio/fatcast_best_of_2011_part_2.mp3″

Ludology didn’t really indulge of a best of podcast as far as I can tell.  Unless I missed one.  They did a pretty good State of the Hobby podcast 2012 post which was quite interesting and thought provoking, but don’t expect a “Gee, look what we have to look forward to”.. it was more about the prevailing trends in the gaming industry from an economic perspective. Ludology is one of the more thoughtful podcasts on gaming, and seeks to (in their words) explain the “why” of games.

(Audio) http://traffic.libsyn.com/ludology/Ludology_Episode_24.mp3″

Garrett’s Games and Geekiness published a best of 2011 list, which I admit I didn’t catch for two reasons– they are way more into that Euro/Family game niche than I will ever be, and also I listen to gaming podcasts when driving, and this one is a bit subdued, let’s say.  It could cause accidents.

(Audio) http://media.podcastingmanager.com/112288-104844/Media/GarrettsGames296.mp3″

The Bob and Angus show is very cute.  Imagine a couple of muppets talking about boardgames.  The end of the year/Christmas vidcast was posted in December as “LED Angus”  This show is quite Mayfair-centric but I love the format and venue.  Worth a watch!

GAME ON! With Cody and Jeff is not a regular listen for me, nor do they do a “Year end wrap up” in the formal sense, but they do a great Christmas Gift Guide show in December every year, and that really is a sort of informal end of the year guide…

(Audio) http://traffic.libsyn.com/gameonpodcast/Game_On_Episode_77_-_Gift_Guide_2011.mp3″

I’ve Been Diced is rapidly becoming one of my favorite shows.  It’s the perfect formula for me.  They did a very reasonable and thoughtful Best and Worst of the year 2011 podcast midway through January.  This would be my second favorite wrap up of the year.

(Audio) http://armsandinfluence.typepad.com/IBD/IBDEp29.mp3″

The Gaming Gang also weighed in with a gigantic End of the Year Round up in Episode 33.  I haven’t listened to it all the way through but I’m not disagreeing with anything so far.

Lastly, Point to Point published a 2011 Gift Guide on Christmas Day, 2011, which probably didn’t support the notion of it being a gift guide very much.  No worries, it’s still a good survey of 2011.

(Audio) http://traffic.libsyn.com/point2point/Point_2_Point_51.mp3″

So there you go, a summary of most of the annual boardgaming prognostication and bloviation for another year.  There weren’t a lot of new products from 2011 I personally wanted or needed all that much– most of what I liked this past year ends up on lists mentioned in this post already.  I predict we’re going to see maybe twice as many topics to cover this time next year.

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The New OGRE from SJG

The sixth edition of Steve Jackson’s breakthrough micro-game OGRE will be released shortly, and two things are clear already:

  1. It won’t be micro sized
  2. It won’t be micro priced

For those of you hiding under a rock, OGRE was a mini game originally published by a small Texas game company, Metagaming Concepts, back in 1977.  It was part of a series of small scale “pocket” or Microgames that were cheaply made and sold at an incredibly reasonable price– 2.95 in the case of OGRE, about the same as a paperback book at the time.  Way back in 2005, I wrote a series on Metagaming games which you can see a link to in the top menu under “microgames.”  This is the link to the posting about OGRE.   Additional information can be found on the OGRE wikipedia page.

OGRE cover

OGRE 6 Cover: to give you a sense of scale, One LETTER on the box of this game is as big as the original SJG flat box version.

If you want to do the research, there’s been plenty of versions of OGRE that have come out since then.  My particular favorite was the version that was first published by Steve Jackson after he managed to wrestle the rights to his design away from a seemingly vengeful Howard Thompson as a going away present when he left Metagaming to start his own company, Steve Jackson Games.

OGRE Flatbox

OGRE Flatbox Ed., SJG

Later combined "VHS box" version, SJG

That version of OGRE came in a nice, flat paperback sized plastic box that was durable and attractive (I still have one).  The follow up to OGRE, GEV (which focuses on the OTHER stuff on an OGRE battlefield, the smaller units) also was published in a flat black box.  The price was slightly higher but still in the paperback book range, and the maps were color and the artwork generally more spiffy (featuring the work of Dennis Loubet, who would illustrate most OGRE projects in the ensuing decades).   These were the OGRE/GEV games of my youth and college years; I literally played them into extinction at least twice.   Fueled almost entirely by nostalgia, I have purchased at least one later edition of OGRE and GEV, this one in a box somewhat similar to the original SJG black plastic one, but more like the size of a plastic tape VHS box with the spindles removed (in fact, that is what they were).

No longer was OGRE the cost of a paperback, but it was still very affordable and now incorporated an expansion called SHOCKWAVE which adds much to the game (new units, new defensive installations, new rules).

The current (sixth) edition of OGRE about to hit this Spring will abandon much of the elements that made the first (several) editions so charming and elegant. To quote Steve Jackson, in a public letter to distributors posted on PYRAMID on March 12:

“Later this year, we’ll release Ogre 6th Edition. It will be a very, very deluxe boardgame, with all the rules and units from Ogre, G.E.V., and Shockwave, as well as things that have only appeared in magazines and miniature releases.

Why? Because I want to. Ogre was my first design, and the boardgame version hasn’t been available for years. And people keep asking me for it. So some of our Munchkin money is going back to support the people who bought my very first game, by bringing them an edition with the best possible components.

It won’t be “Euro” style. No meeples, no plastic. This will be the kind of hex wargame that we dreamed about 30 years ago, back when our heroes were SPI and Avalon Hill. HUGE double-sided map boards. HUGE full-color counters with HUGE type. A HUGE box to hold them in. And giant constructible Ogres!

So why am I writing this letter? Not to say “Hey, distributors, we’ll do this if you like the idea.” I’m going to release this game, no matter what. If we don’t get enough distributor interest, we’ll release it for direct sales only, with (probably) a lower print run, and (certainly) a lower price, since we won’t have to build in the distributor and retailer margin.

Here’s why you may not want this game: It’s going to retail for $100, and it isn’t full of plastic toys. It’s a classic hex wargame, and those aren’t in fashion. Here’s why I hope you DO want it:

  • It’s a humongous, heavy box that will have a huge shelf presence. How big is it? Over twice the size of Munchkin Quest. It takes three copies of the original edition of Ogre to cover up the word “OGRE” on this box.
  • It’s got three huge mapboards with 1.5” hexes, and big full-color counters. The Ogre and building counters are 3-D constructible miniatures!
  • I don’t expect to keep this in print. Realistically, I expect to print it once and let people spend the next 30 years fighting over the remaining copies. The people who get it are going to show it off at parties and conventions.
  • It’s a pretty good game, if I say so myself. A lot of people remember it. (More than 25 years after its original release, Ogre won a spot in Hobby Games: The 100 Best.) Some of them would love to drop $100 for a beautiful version of the game they played 20 or 30 years ago, whether it was in high school, or in Germany or Kuwait or some classified spot in the middle of the Pacific.”

What to make of this?  It would seem to me that SJG is betting heavily on the nostalgia factor that plays in to a lot of their older games– some of which haven’t’ been released in years and are still quite popular, like OGRE.   Steve Jackson is wisely putting it all into one box with big, expensive production values.  He’s rather straightforward about the demand and reasons for publishing it– it will be a limited run, it will be a collector’s item, and (practically), it just might infuse the coffers of SJG with lots of cash.  Somehow, I tend to agree with Jackson’s first statement– it’s his first wargame and he wants to see  the ultimate version of the game created.  SJG isn’t in business to make a loss, but the Munchkin cardgame series appear to be a cash cow they are continuing to milk for the foreseeable future, and if SJG wanted to take the safe and predictable course, they could continue publishing Munchkin supplements until the end of days, and rake in the dollars.  So it isn’t solely a profit motive that brings us this new version of OGRE.

New Counter mix

New Counter Mix and "contructable" ogres and laser towers in OGRE 6.

Frankly, when I got a look at the components and box design, my eyes popped open.  Sixth edition is a huge departure from previous editions, which have essentially reprinted the old 1977 “Strip-Style” counters, only with better production values.  OGRE Six will feature “constructibles”, e.g., Standup 3D OGRES and Laser Towers made out of durable chipboard, and thick chipboard counters cut to fit snugly into a hex.  Frankly, this is fantastic component design– I’m awestruck.  A terrific job and deserving of its impending “collectibility”.

However, I can’t shake that nagging sense that SJG is NOT going back to its roots with this release.. Instead, I feel like Jackson is trying to go head to head with Fantasy Flight Games with a component design that is exponentially better than many of his game products.   At a Fantasy Flight Games price, too.

Will people buy this thing, even without snazzy plastic pieces, which seem like such an anathema to the Steve Jackson Games company?   Of course they will.  There are plenty of oldsters like me that would get in line to get a copy.  But will retailers be especially thrilled with it?  That I doubt.  “Large shelf presence” generally equates to “Great, another pain in the butt to shelve”.  I suspect we’ll see one or two hit hobby stores in my area (near Washington DC), they’ll be quickly snatched up by people with disposable income to spare, and then we’ll never see it again.

With all that said, I’m not sure I’ll buy it.  Honestly, the game doesn’t play one whit different than the old ziploc does.  My old OGRE/GEV/SHOCKWAVE edition I bought as a combo way back in the early 2000s will play just as well as this game.  So it comes down to– will I pay 100 bones to play a game with great components that I already have in a more portable format (and by the way, can play on Cyberboard too)?  I just might give this a pass– but don’t be discouraged, Steve, we all know this OGRE Six will sell out in six months.   Good luck!

(PS: Wouldn’t OGRE make a smashing Ipad game, sir?)

My eyes glazed over with sticker shock!

My word, that’s a big’un

Pre-order price for a wargame, that is.

A news item on CSW directed me to the Avalanche page, and these two items in their queue:

Hearts of Iron

Hearts of Iron: Ironclad Campaigns, 1864 and 1866
During the age of nationalism, the Austrian Navy fought two campaigns at sea. The first came in 1864, when an Austrian squadron sailed into the North Sea to challenge the Danish blockade of North German ports. The Austrians fought the Danes at the Battle of Helgoland, winning a strategic victory by breaking the blockade. Meanwhile, Austria’s Prussian allies fought an inconclusive sea engagement with the Danes at Swinemunde.

Two years later, the Austrian fleet fought the Italians in the first open-sea battle between ironclad fleets, at Lissa in the Adriatic. An Austrian victory, it prevented Italian seizure of the strategic island of Lissa.

Hearts of Iron is loosely based on our Great War at Sea series of games, but uses the large counters found in Napoleon in the Desert or Rome at War. The “search” part of the game is very similar. There are two operational maps, one of the North Sea and Baltic and one of the Adriatic. The tactical partof the game is more detailed, with armor (or lack of it) and ship design playing a much more crucial role.

In addition to the Danish, Prussian, Austrian and Italian fleets, there are the American Mediterranean Squadron that the Austrians believed would fight alongside the Italians, and the Turkish European Fleet that entered the Adriatic to support Austria.

As with all of our naval games, there is a wide variety of both operational and battle scenarios, based on extensive archival research into the original reports and dispatches.

Hearts of Iron includes two operational maps, one tactical map, 88 double-sized ship pieces, 154 oversized playing pieces.

This is a time period that I love to read about and game in; unfortunately the sticker price is (gasp) SEVENTY FIVE simoleons. And the Commitment Price is a whopping discount of: $60

Just doesn’t seem like all that much of a break, does it?

Great War at Sea: cone of fire

Another fun addition to the much stretched GWAS engine, this time retreading the same ground taken with the DREADNOUGHTS package, only instead of having the Great Powers make use of the Latin American dreadnoughts, the game investigates the what-ifs of the countries actually purchasing said fleets and going to war with each other. Now that should make for a really fun little what-if wargame:

Great War at Sea has covered naval wars around the world, both those that occured and those that might have but did not. One of the flash points that failed to ignite was at the southern tip of South America, where Chile and Argentina engaged in a heated naval arms race in the early 1900s.

Cone of Fire adds the fleets of South America to the Great War at Sea game system: Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. Both the fleets built by these nations, and the ships planned or ordered but never received, are included. Chile’s battle cruisers and aircraft carrier, Argentina’s fast pre-dreadnoughts, Peru’s armored cruiser and more are all here.

There are more than three dozen scenarios, covering several tense periods:

The 1901-1902 Beagle Channel crisis.
1914, the outbreak of World War One.
1920, the Great War’s aftermath.
Cone of Fire includes:

Two 34×22-inch operational maps.
One 25×25-inch tactical map.
140 “large” playing pieces
280 standard-sized playing pieces.

The all too familiar retail price: seventy five dollars, with a commitment price of sixty bucks. Again.

I’m not busting on Avalanche Press in particular, here. They actually have been making great strides in the exact OPPOSITE direction lately; their line of affordable wargames is growing yearly, and I supported that by buying each one of them! GMT, Avalanche, Clash of Arms and Columbia all have SRPs that will make your eyes bug out compared to about ten years ago. I think the days of the complex, multi-mapped and multiple scenario wargame being published for a SRP under sixty bucks are rapidly becoming a thing of the past. I used to buy wargames for the sheer fun of acquiring them; some that I bought in the 90s I knew I would never play, I just wanted to get the latest and greatest thing (most of these are the ebay fodder of the past, now). That was back when wargames cost from 30 to 40 bucks each.

Nowadays, I have to think long and hard before I buy even ONE wargame, at these prices. Are my fellow wargamers that much different from me?

Both sections of quoted text copyright Avalanche Press from their website