HARDWIRED

A little side project I’m working on. A cooperative game where players are jacked up Agents sent on corporate black ops.

Guess who played way too much Syndicate back in the day…

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An All-Nighter

 

Someone tipped off Han Chou Telemetrics.

 

04:17 in the Shunyi District, HCT Corporate Zone, you and your crew slipped out the back door of their secure server facility ninety seconds ahead of schedule. That minute and a half saved your life; you caught their Rapid Response Team by surprise. They came at you fast and heavy. You came back faster and heavier. When it was over, they were down but your driver was dead and the get-away was totaled. So the four of you took off running.

 

Han Chou management won’t call the police – which is good. They’d have to admit to the breach and that would translate into a huge hit to their reputation, as well as their stock values. So they’re handling this in-house – which is bad. That means every HCT Security Specialist and Rent-a-Cop in New Kowloon is gunning for you.

 

You pulled an all-nighter on this one and there’s a trail of bodies, blood, and bullet casings in the dark alleys of Shunyi to prove it.  Less than an hour of night left, you’re still on foot and low on ammo, but you’re nearly home. Asian-Pacific holo-ads glow in the sky over the buildings just ahead.

 

Your uplink squirted ‘Package Retrieved’ the second you stepped outside the HCT building, so you know your company will back you when you reach the Neutral Zone. With the UN-enforced ceasefire, Han Chou won’t risk an open confrontation. They’ll have to eat the loss. The nearest checkpoint is just seven blocks away, next to the Yintai Shopping Center.

 

All you have to do is get there.

Games that stick.

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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)

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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.

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

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

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ZP Sample Character Sheet

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SAMPLE CHARACTER SHEET FOR ZONE FIREFIGHTS

 

CHARACTER NAME: Leytenánt Timur Bok

CORE PROFILE

MOVEMENT COMBAT ABILITY ARMOR WILL
6″/Action 5 Mil-Body Armor (4) 6

WEAPONS

WEAPON TYPE RANGE FIREPOWER DAMAGE
MP443 GRACH Pistol Melee -12″ 1 0
AK74 Assault Rifle 1″- 36″ 3 1

OPERATIONAL SPECIALTY/ABILITY

SCROUNGER: May SEARCH Terrain item twice.

HUSTLE: +2″ Movement Bonus for two consecutive Move Actions in the same turn.

 

GEAR

Military Body Armor: Armor 4 PLUS counts as Obscured Target from Ranged Attacks when in Cover. Med-Kit: (2) Self-administer. No Action Cost. Automatically replace Wound Result with two Pin counters. Hand Grenade: (2) Range: 1″ -18″  FP: 1   Dam: 2/model. Small Blast Template

Zona Perestrelki – Zone Firefights

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Fast-play war game rules for skirmishing, salvaging, and surviving in the Exclusion Zone.   

 

Sorry no Bat Reps this time. I’m slammed with real life obligations and our Tues night games have been solid but not very dramatic. This past session for example, 4 out of 5 Heroes could NOT roll to get off the starting line for the first half dozen turns. Meanwhile the Baddies surged forward and killed the one character model who managed to tiptoe a few feet forward, slaughtering him while his hapless comrades watched.

Finally Derek’s Skald stumbled forward into a copse of trees behind a stone wall. He then spent his next three successes to sound his magic horn. (It requires all enemy models within appropriate range to roll for Morale) The forces of Darkness – crowding at the Heroes’ side of the table by now – promptly failed their Q checks and panicked. They actually passed the three other characters still standing on the starting line on their way off the nearest board edge. Game over, man. Game over.

DESIGNER NOTES?

So this post is me thinking out loud about Zona Perestrelki.  ZP is going to be the next iteration of our “Cleared to Engage” House Rules and once we finish up our ASOBH Summoning campaign, our game group is going back to the post-apocalypse.
So as I’m hammering out the new rules, I’m thinking about the minimum required complexity of table top war game rules.

Now my experience with wargames started 40+ years ago with Avalon Hill’s “Gettysburg,” “Panzer Blitz,” and “Panzer Leader”.  I transitioned from counters to miniatures when I discovered Airfix 1/72 plastics. I’d glue them on cardboard rectangles to form units of Chargers, Shooters, and Commanders. Informed by the Avalon Hill games, these units had 4 stats: Attack, Range, Defense, Movement. Sure, there were different troop types, specialist weapons, simple modifiers for cover or terrain, but those four basic stats defined not just the units but the game. They streamlined the play. They simplified the mechanics so rather than flipping pages for multiple charts or special rules, or grabbing the calculator every round of combat, you could get stuck in right away and fight. It was smooth. It flowed. You could play the game, not the rules.

It was my recent purchase of GW’s new Shadow War: Armageddon that pushed my mind toward this topic. I love the idea of a skirmish game. I own a fair amount of GW figs. However, on the first read-through I was reminded why I don’t play 40K; not because I’m a hater who loathes soulless, money-grabbing, devious, price-gouging, new-edition-releasing, corporate bastards. (which GW is not. They’re a business like any other business that needs to market and turn a profit.) It’s that I was struck by the notion most table top miniature wargames are built on old pen-and-paper RPG engines and IMO they bring unnecessary levels of detail and complexity with them.

Some folks like and want a lot of detail in their games. Fine. Horses for courses. Personally, I find the nuances and intricate mechanics so useful in highly personalized, intimate-level RPG combat actually slows a table top war game down. Things like hit locations, variable strength melee weapons, minute differentiation between types of assault rifles or handguns render combat and game play boggy, particularly as the size of the battle/number of combatants increases.  Not to mention they’re fertile ground for Rules Lawyers and Power Gamers. It’s like stagnant water for mosquitoes.

I think it was SW:A’s three-stage Combat Resolution that bumped me: Roll To Hit, Roll to Wound, Roll for Armor Save. Why?

Seems to me if an exploding, self-propelled bolter round hits you, you’re wounded – unless your Armor stops/deflects it. Bullets are not your friend. Neither are swords or grenades or chainsaws or industrial level hydraulic claws. You got hit with a nasty thing. Either your armor worked or it didn’t  so why the extra, in-between step? There’s a battle raging, objectives to reach, other units to move. Why add the additional time for an additional roll at all? Lose the To Wound roll, you can drop the Toughness stat and that’s one less number to memorize and quibble over.  Simplifying doesn’t mean simplistic.

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Go back a step further: Combat. Seems to me Ranged vs Melee is a matter of distance, not ability. Why two stats? I would think a military unit would be trained to a certain level of proficiency in general. Want a dedicated Melee unit? Give them melee weapons. Want a bad-ass brawler? Give him a melee-only weapon with good damage and high Combat Ability. A Ranged unit not so hot in close assault? Negative modifier to any melee then. Strength can be reflected in the unit’s Combat Ability and voila, you drop another number on the stat line.

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In my experience, players want a smooth, fast game that flows. No clunk, minimal bookkeeping, intuitive mechanisms, reduced chance for quibbling and loopholes. That’s the main reason Cleared to Engage/ZP is going to stick with the Four Number Stat line: Movement, Combat Ability, Armor, and Will.  Weapons have a Three Number Stat: Range, Firepower, and Damage. In our experience, the simplifications don’t rob a model’s individuality or homogenize units. The Mix and Match of Stat values and Weapon load-out lets us reflect all manner of troop experience, abilities, and fighting styles. The Troop Creation has to be varied and solid, not perfect or infinitely nuanced. That allows players to enjoy the mission story  and the experience of the hobby without worrying whether a game will dissolve into bickering, math equations, or sneaky special rule/exceptions.

Even though this is ‘War’, it’s also a ‘Game’. The hobby is supposed to be fun, cool, and engaging.  At least that’s what I’m here for. And I’m hoping ZP can provide that not just for us, but anyone else who wants to give it a go.

Thanks for listening. Next time I’ll talk about the STALKER-style setting. (which is so cheeki breeki awesome, it staggers the mind.)

Til then.

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