Games that stick.

10-greatest-ancient-warrior-cultures_8

I’ve been thinking about games that have durability, replay-ability, longevity.

As anyone familiar with hobbyists and the hobby industry knows, “Shiny” comes and goes. Indeed the hobby industry is built on ‘shiny’ and every gamer worth his salt has a lead/plastic pile that bears mute witness to the fickle siren song of new figs, a new range of figs, a different scale, genre, time period… Let’s all admit that most of the war games on Kickstarter are miniatures-driven – not rules driven. Coming to my ‘end-of-year’ game room clean up this week, I’m definitely guilty as charged.

But between tidying the game room and some recent attention to my home-brew rules, I’ve been thinking about the war games that last after the shine fades and asking ‘What games do I/other gamers return to and keep playing year after year? And why?’

I know the answers are different and flavored by individual experience and preference. Some people started playing DnD decades ago when they were Stranger Things kids and have stuck with it through all its editions. Others move on to Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020 because they scratch that Neon and Mirrorshade itch and there’s no need to look elsewhere. (Ain’t that right omae?)  Some sink their teeth into 40K early on and cling to it like a Pitbull all their days. ( I think that’s what GW wants) When I posed this question on TMP, nearly 50 historical gamers listed rules like DBA, HoTT, Johnny Reb, Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, and so on.

For a SF/F gamer like me: in no particular order and off the top of my head, I’ve played VOR, Void, Celtos, Chronopia, Warzone, CAV, Stargrunt 2, and Full Thrust. I did a stint with THW’s Bugs, 5150, and After the Horsemen. I’ve tried 40K, Necromunda, Inquisitor, and Space Hulk. Then there’s Warmachine and  Hordes, Iron Ivan’s Disposable Heroes and Ambush Alley games. (I know I’m forgetting some.) Now add Board Games, RPGs, Quick Start versions and Indie rules like One Page X, and the locust swarm of games I’ve read but never played/played once, and the trail of game rules behind me looks like a the footprints of an epic quest or an addict’s detritus. (a bit of both, I suspect)

68942967_10294019-e1474501974140

As far as I can discern, a game’s ‘longevity’ factor has multiple ingredients ranging from brand loyalty, local availability of players, and personal experience/associations, to the quality of related miniatures. But there are also underlying currents of simplicity and versatility. Those seem to be crucial.

Across the board, the common denominator in rule sets that seem to stick is that they are a reliable, straightforward framework to hang the action/story on. Sure, there may be particular flavoring and a degree of crunch/gritty detail, but the appeal seems to be that a player can plug in their force and play the game, not the rules. Combat, Movement, Morale, Special Abilities and Genre Specifics are resolved in the background while the battle, the story, is allowed to come front and center. IMO, the primary reason DnD and RPGs remain so popular is they provide mechanisms for players to participate in a common adventure, in a story.

The challenge is to translate that robust, functional dynamic to a war game, into a mock battle. The hitch is that most miniature war games seem to have been built on the back of RPGs and the detail level that’s so enjoyable and necessary for a player character in a dungeon crawl doesn’t scale up to platoon, regiment, and brigade level. Defeating Nash-Zaroth the Liche King requires the same kind of ‘combined arms’ flexibility as taking Istvaan IV in the Andromeda system, but the fine detail needs to be abstracted and smoothed out. Otherwise, the flow of the game/battle grinds to a chart consulting, modifier algorithm factoring, special rule quoting halt. CLUNK – players are disengaged, thrown out of the story, and there goes the fun. And I contend FUN is the real reason we’re still playing with toy soldiers and making up cool stories.

So as I approach Game Room Cleaning Day, not only am I going to take a hard look at the clutter, (expect a new batch of items For Sale) but in refining Zona Perestrelkimy STALKER-flavored, home brew skirmish rules –  I want bake in the brooding, dangerous, specifics of the Exclusion Zone but always remain mindful of honing the mechanisms to support the story, the mission, the game play, not bog it down.

It’ll take time, some sweat, and not a little bit of play- testing, but whether or not ZP gets picked up, that’s going to be a goal for 2018.

356306-admin

Best Wishes for a Happy and Healthy New Year to you all.

***

PS: the short story A Prayer to Saint Strelok is available at Amazon if you feel like getting in the mood. Enjoy.

possible cover2

 

Oldie but Goodie

hqdefault

Last Tues’ ASOBH AAR was cancelled due to an imminent remodeling project in the Game Room. (new windows) Everything had to be tidied up by 8 a.m. sharp the next morning. I am pleased to report that while more than half my men were slaughtered by the end of Turn 3, my trio of evil barbarians pulled glorious victory from the jaws of humiliating defeat. They rallied and swiftly sent Matt and Derek’s warbands to Valhilla. (we have a habit of placing slain models on out-of-the-way hilltops) I fondly recall  one particularly nice Gruesome Kill made by Nekhar the Red against an Elven Mage. Interesting game all around. Matt and Derek  will nonetheless resume their quest for the Liche King’s crypt in two weeks.

So apologies for no pictures.

BUT…

I do offer this little gem: a flash fiction that captures the two main wargame schools of thought. Now I lean toward the Realistic rather than Space Fantasy myself. Although call it whatever you want, I’m still just playing with Toy Soldiers.

That said, I present “Ground Zero” by Tom Sullivan.

***

Ground Zero

By TOM SULLIVAN

“Christ,” whispered Pugh, “It looks like someone slapped a set of treads onto a dumpster!”

Kemmerman snorted his agreement. “And check out Buck Rogers there! Sticking his big, ugly ol’ head outta the hatch, and not even bothering to stick a helmet on it! Think he’s got a ‘Shoot Me’ sign on his back, too?”

“Cut it,” snapped the sergeant, “We’ve got work to do here. Sorenson, have you got a lock yet?”

“Yessir,” he replied, his gaze remaining fixed on the Scorpion’s display. “Ready when you are, sir.”

Nodding, the sergeant tapped at his com unit. “Jessup? You ready?” He nodded again at the reply. “All right then, on my mark…NOW!!”

There was a sudden sharp crack, and the enemy officer’s head vanished, replaced by a rapidly dispersing red mist. This sound was followed a heartbeat later with a loud “Crump!” as the Scorpion rocket penetrated the side of the APC. The vehicle skewed sideways, smoke and flame billowing from the hole in its side, as the second rocket hit, this time impacting at the rear.

The APC exploded with a satisfying roar, scattering pieces of men and metal across the field.

“That,” Pugh said with feeling, “was abso-fuckin-lutely beautiful. You know that? That’s a goddamn piece of art right there, Billy! You should get down there and sign it, you know?”

Sorenson shrugged as he repositioned himself, targeting the second APC. “It’s eighty percent inspiration, ten percent perspiration, and one hundred and ten percent detonation, my man.”

The APC shuddered, and obligingly lost a tread, as the rocket hit it.

“It’s a damned good thing that you can shoot, buddy,” Pugh said, ’cause you sure as shit can’t add.” He shook his head, waving at the men spilling out of the crippled vehicle. “Now look at that! Bright red armor? What are they, color-blind? Or just stupid?”

“Neither,” interrupted the sergeant, “they’re arrogant and very well armored. Now, shut up and shoot.”

“Yessir,” Pugh muttered, shouldering his rifle, “shooting away, sir. Doesn’t seem to be doing much good, sir.”

“When I want your opinion, Pugh, I’ll be sure to tell you what it is, understand? Just keep firing. And Sorenson, wait for my command, dammit!”

The armored men seemed largely indifferent to the rifle fire, only a few even bothering to return it.

Miller shook his head as he sprayed bullets down the hill. “Jesus, what the fuck are they firing? Howitzers? Those are the biggest goddamn rifles I’ve ever seen!”

Pugh snorted. “Yeah, but do think they can actually hit anything with ’em? Might as well just throw the damned things at us for all the good they’re doing!” He yelped, jerking back as a crater was blasted into the ground a foot away from his head. “Yeah, yeah…fuck you too, Murphy!”

“You know,” Pugh noted after a moment, “they really don’t seem very happy, sir. In fact,” he added, as he changed clips, “they seem downright pissed. Sir.”

The sergant ignored him. “Jessup? There’s a guy down there with a very big gun. Yeah, the one painted yellow. Eliminate him for me, would you?”

There was a flash, a bang, and one of the men at the bottom of the hill collapsed, a neat little hole visible in the side of his helmet. Pugh made an approving noise. “Very nice, Jessup! You and Sorenson, you’re like the…the..Boticellis of the battlefield, you know? Fuckin’ artistes, I tell ya!”

“‘Boticellis of the battlefield’, Pugh? What are you on, anyway?”

“It’s called culture, buddy. Give it a try sometime. You’ll like eating with a fork, I just know it!”

“Um, sir?” Miller said, abruptly, “Sir? They appear to be charging, sir. Up the hill, sir.”

“Yeah,” the sergant replied with satisfaction, “Yeah, they certainly are, aren’t they? The big bastards are nothing if not predictable. Just keep firing, private. Williams, Cook? Be ready.”

“My God,” Pugh marveled, “the guy in front has a sword! A goddamn sword! What’s in his other pocket, a flint fucking spear?”

They did, he had to admit to himself, certainly look impressive. Each stood at least seven feel tall, and their brilliant red armor made them look even bigger. “Kind of a shame they’re such morons,” he muttered.

Two of the charging men fell, neither making it even halfway up the hill, but the remaining seven kept coming, firing, apparently at random,as they did.

“Now!” the sergant shouted. “Now, dammit!”

The man in the lead, the one waving the sword, was cut almost in half by the incoming plasma bolt. Those behind him stopped sort, caught in the crossfire as William’s and Cook’s squads opened fire. Sorenson fired the Scorpion, catching one man squarely in the center of his chest. The result was, while interesting, far from pretty.

The concentrated fire of fifteen men proved sufficient. Almost. Only one man made it to the top of the hill, his armor cracked and pitted with innumerable bullet holes. Moving with remarkable speed for such a large man, he surged forward, grabbing the sergant by the throat before the rest of the squad could react.

“Now,” the man rasped, his voice distorted by his helmet, “you shall die, in the Emperor’s….”

*BLAM*

He stopped.

Looked down.

Saw the smoke rising from the barrel of the pistol pressed firmly against his stomach.

And fell, gently, to the ground.

The sergant stepped back, rubbing gingerly at his throat. “He was a tough bastard, I’ll give him that much,” he said, hoarsely. He prodded at the corpse with his toe, dislodging the man’s helmet with a sudden fierce kick.

“Jesus, what did they do?” asked Pugh, “Shave an ape?” The man’s features were grotesquely exaggerated, almost to the point of caricature.

“That,” said the sergant, “is what happens when you combine several centuries of extensive genetic and bionic engineering with being raised from birth to worship an immortal psychopath. Makes you understand the Promixa Covenant, doesn’t it?”

He sighed. “Stupid goddamned fanatics. They think they entire universe should play by their rules. Well, fuck that. We’re gonna show ’em how a war is supposed to be fought. Space Marines, my ass!” He kicked the corpse again, not gently. “How do you like life at ground zero, asshole?”

***

k8oeb8id3esyzrnrf8qg