Archive for March, 2008

Habit of Victory Demo

Your host in action yesterday at the Chantilly Game Parlor (I’m in the middle). I’m participating in a demo of OSG’s Habit of Victory, on Napoleon’s 1807 Polish campaign. Designers Kevin Zucker and Mark Herman were both there; that’s Mark eating a cookie.

Habit of Victory Demo
Photo credit: Wade Hyett.

More pics are here. Kevin and Mark have each designed games I’ve been playing since I was a teenager, so it was great to meet them both. (And that’s sure one nice thing about the DC area—seems like half the people in the hobby live within an hour or two of town.)

Comments off

Hobby Games: The 100 Best

Hobby Games The 100 Best

Arrived yesterday. Edited by James Lowder (Green Ronin, 2007), it’s surprising no one’s done this before: ask prominent game designers to write about their favorite games. So you get Richard Garfield on Dungeons and Dragons and Gary Gygax (RIP) on Metamorphosis Alpha, Steve Jackson on Paranoia and Erick Wujcik on OGRE. Collectible Card Games, RPGs, Euros, and wargames are all represented, even some miniatures. Wargame titles include Thomas M. Reid on Axis and Allies, Tracy Hickman on Battle Cry, Skip Williams on Dawn Patrol, Alessio Cavatore on Empires in Arms, William Jones on Flames of War, Lou Zocchi on Gettysburg, Gav Thorpe on Hammer of the Scots, Uli Blennemann on Here I Stand, Craig Taylor on A House Divided, Dana Lombardy on Johnny Reb, Ted Raicer on London’s Burning, Chris Klug on Napoleon’s Last Battles, John Scott Tynes on Naval War, Mike Bennighoff on PanzerBlitz, Joseph Miranda on Renaissance of Infantry, Ray Winninger on Squad Leader, Lewis Pulsipher on Stalingrad, Douglas Niles on Terrible Swift Sword, Zev Shlasingle on Twilight Struggle, Sandy Peterson on Up Front, and R. A. Salvatore on War and Peace. Each entry is about three pages long, and, in a nice touch, they’re presented alphabetically by game, making it easy to look up titles.

Other writes include Richard Berg (on Plague!) and Ed Greenwood (on Thurn and Taxis); but no Richard Borg, Mark Herman, John Hill, or Charles Roberts. There’s also an afterword from Jim Dunnigan (it says little if anything new). It’s nice to see some very contemporary games like Here I Stand and Flames of War in there along with the old chestnuts. I frankly was expected a lot of puff pieces, but overall the quality of the writing is high. Here’s Winninger on Squad Leader for example:

Avalon Hill built its reputation in the 1960s with elegant wargames that asked players to route Ney off the Quatre Bras heights, to encircle Tobruk with Montgomery’s 8th Army, or to stave off Army Group Center’s advance on Moscow. When it exploded onto the scene in 1977, John Hill’s Squad Leader presented armchair generals with a new and unusual challenge—crossing a street. (288)

And a few lines later, “Thanks to John Wayne and Lee Marvin, it was relatively easy for gamers to translate the action of the game board into ‘real’ battles in their imaginations, lending the whole experience a lively, escapist quality. (By contrast, try to imagine exactly what a ‘2-to-1 attack’ on Leningrad looks like)” (288-9).

Exactly right. And here’s Jeff Tidball on Car Wars:

From the first release of the first edition, players were empowered to create and arm their vehicles from the ground up, and they had lots of options. They were free to obsess over such minutiae as the weight and cost of the individual rounds with which their recoilless rifles were loaded. And not for nothing: trading a bit of ammo for a point or three of armor could spell the difference between life or death in the arena! By the time the various—and definitive—boxed Deluxe Editions were released in the mid-’80s to early ’90s, the game burst with options, from flaming oil slicks to tank guns, to laser-reactive webs to fake passengers.

Such deep but structured creative opportunities—long before collectible card games made “customizable” a design buzzword—gave Car Wars the effectively solo game play mode of vehicle creation, and also a mode of “extroverted” metaplay—the sharing of car designs, fan to fan, via Autoduel Quarterly, club news letters, and, later, the Web. (50)

Really excellent, that. Recommended.

Comments off

Roll a D6 for Armageddon

Counter from NATO

One of my favorite wargames growing up in the eighties was NATO: The Next War in Europe (Victory Games). This was a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe. For a kid who had just read his first Tom Clancy novel, it was heady stuff indeed. Massive columns of Soviet armor rolling across the border, a desperate defense, a maelstrom of modern weaponry. Whoah.

Although it was the hot topic during the eighties, I never thought I would have any interest in NATO vs. Warsaw Pact gaming again. I was surprised, though, by how much fun I’ve been having with Lock ‘n’ Load’s Word at War: Eisenbach Gap, a smash-mouth shoot ’em up that gives you Team Yankee facing off against platoons of T-72s. So this past week I set up the old NATO game with its now obsolescent future, and once more the red columns came rumbling through Fulda and across the North German plain.

Any game on NATO‘s scale has to deal with the nuclear option. Gamers being who they are, how do you keep them from just pressing the big red button right around turn 2? Eisenbach Gap is able to sidestep that question because it’s really not much more than a firefight game. NATO, however, offered an ingenious solution. Here’s how it worked.

Either player, during the appropriate turn phase, had the option of initiating tactical nuclear warfare. If you did so, you immediately rolled a die: on a 4, 5, 6 you got away with it, and the dynamics of the game changed dramatically as each player was able to use nuclear delivery assets to strike the opposition’s force on the battlefield. (There’s nothing like airbursting one over Third Shock Army’s HQ to bring that pesky Soviet offensive to a halt . . .) But, here’s the rub: if you rolled a 1, 2, or 3—a 50% chance—the game ended. Immediately. That’s it. It’s over, no do-overs. This represents the possibility of the “limited” exchange spiraling out of control. As the rulebook explains, “In this case the initiating player loses decisively for having brought down Armageddon.”

As a kid, playing NATO solitaire, I approached this decision, and the die roll that followed, with the greatest solemnity. I would make myself wait and come back to the game table a couple of hours later to see if I still really wanted to do it. If so, then I would toss the die the length of the room, to make sure I got a clean roll. And if I was unlucky, I would dutifully pack up the game and put it away.

What I like about this mechanic is that it breaks the frame of the game. By forcing the player to risk something very real—not just prospects for victory, because every wargamer wins and loses lots of games—but the time and experience already invested in setting up and playing the game and all the potential play that still remained. All on a coin toss—no modifiers, just a straight up 50% chance of oblivion.

Because let’s face it, having to pack up and put away a game prematurely is probably the only kind of nuclear deterrent a wargamer can understand.

Comments (2)

In Memoriam: Gary Gygax

RIP Mordenkainen, and a fantastic adventure.

Comments (1)