New Terrain and ZP pictures

Coming off the holiday break, last night’s game session was more shooting the breeze than miniature foes. Everyone was more intent on hanging out and chatting than getting serious about a game. That said we did a quick brawl that let me put two new terrain pieces on the table: a ruined apartment building and a swamp. The building is an MDF kit, the swamp pieces scratch- built with wood bases, foam core, water effects, flock and Woodland Scenics tall grass.

We used Zona Perestrelki – our STALKER-flavored skirmish rules – for quick combat.

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The battle ground: a refueling station eleven kilometers inside the north perimeter of the Zone.
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The swamp
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“Look behind you!”
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Stalkers and scientist make it to the fence.
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ZERTs (Zone Enforcement and Recovery Team) facing down a pack of feral dogs.
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Bandits scrounging for petrol
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ZERTs at an old supply truck. Something valuable inside, perhaps?

There’s more ZP in the pipeline, but for the foreseeable future, we’ll be doing old-school RPGs (both Interface Zero Cyberpunk and straight up DnD) and a short ASOBH campaign, “The Treasure of Sagra-Bayar.” I’m finishing the brushwork on the character figs this week and will post photos later.

In the meantime, corny as it sounds, I was struck by a deep sense of gratitude when the guys walked in last night; it’s a great hobby with great people and I’m glad to be a part of it.

Have a good day.

And if you’re in a STALKER mood, A Prayer to Saint Strelok is available for your reading pleasure. Spasibo!

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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.

***

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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Missing Persons – Part 1

New Kowloon. 2069

Shenghua Street, District 5. LNK

The members of Blue Rose Import/Export were enjoying a meal in the back room of The Osaka Shuffle when a smartly dressed woman approached them. She apologized for interrupting, sat down and explained with great hesitation she needed their help to locate her missing daughter.

“It’s been a week, no one’s heard from her. None of her friends. Not her Boss or her apartment manager. The police let me file a Missing Persons report but they won’t do anything because she’s an adult. They say she probably ran off with some new boyfriend and will turn up later. But that’s not like her. She wasn’t dating anyone and she doesn’t just leave like that. I just know something’s wrong. Will you help me? I can pay you.”

A 1,500 Yuan advance is a great incentive. Add expenses plus another 1,500 when they find her.

So yeah, you took the job.

***

The evening unfolded as the team split up – one half to her place of employment, the other to the club she frequented. (Gentleman Loser) Leads in both locations point to her apartment building in District 6. It seemed like straightforward easy money job, a “Where’s Waldo” or in this case “Where’s Sun Dai Yu?”

Until they picked up a tail.

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C33r magnifies a frame grab from local street cam footage. Some guy and his pet drone are shadowing them.

 

I won’t bore you with details, but the evening’s session ended in a messy, back alley brawl as the tail turned out to be a private investigator contracted by the Asian-Pacific military to track down AWOL combat simulacra. He flashed his credentials and a general purpose warrant that would allow him to run ID tests on Derek’s character, C33r. (that’s ‘Seer” to you)

The members of Blue Rose were disinclined to acquiesce to his request.

Part 1 ended with C33r shooting one very nosy drone out of the air and Other Pat’s character, Marlow, using his shot-fist on the investigator’s head. Shot-Fist: 1 Head: 0

The team left District 6 in a hurry with Dai Yu’s laptop. (stolen from her apartment, btw)

More next week.

 

Terrain for Interface Zero 2.0

In preparation for our upcoming cyberpunk RPG games, (both Pathfinder and Savage Worlds iterations) the tabletop miniature gamer in me demanded suitable 3D terrain.  Can’t have chrome and mirrorshade minis blasting away on mere gridded map tiles, can we?

So I went for a low cost, minimal labor 2 x 3 playing area using WorldWorks ‘Streets of Titan’ tiles and Plast Craft buildings. Added some posters, some scatter terrain, and it’s starting to take shape. There’s another pile of inexpensive Mantic plastic scenics in the queue, and I’d love to pick up at least two suitable vehicles, but it’s pretty much done. Let me know your thoughts.

Couple things I learned:

  • Paper terrain hint: get matt sticker paper (full sheet) for your printer.  Probably obvious to you all, (bit slow, I am) but it made the whole process far easier and cleaner.
  • Plast Craft Pre-colored Buildings  are pretty cool. Got mine at Miniature Market. Price is good, pre-cut, printed colors and details are crisp. Easy assembly with super glue, add some posters and scenics to taste, and you’re good to go.  Highly recommend.

Here are some pictures:

 

That’s all for now. Have a good week.

EDIT: 

CYBERPUNK POSTERS AS DOCX

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The Fall of House Navratola

Our gaming group is arranging mini-campaigns for our Fall game night schedule. John is currently hammering out the details on one, possibly two Dungeon Crawl RPG sessions. Derek is perusing the Pathfinder version of Interface Zero for some cyberpunk adventures, and Matt ordered the Blood Rage 5th player expansion so newcomer Anti-Patrick can join in the frenzy for glory as the worlds crumble and burn. (We all decided Blood Rage will be our go-to pick up game on those nights when no one has had time to prep.)

For my part, I’m currently writing up a three-game ASoBH campaign titled “Fall of House Navratola”, where a secret brotherhood of ‘Dusk Watchers’ – men and women sworn to hunt down the evil that preys on humankind – investigates arcane and bloody rumors in a remote province  of Trastaya.    

To that end, the Dusk Watcher party recently received some reinforcements. The Dusk Warden and Dusk Hunter are joined by a Dusk Medicae and a Dusk Quarreler. A Dusk Skean is in the queue.

 

While the Dusk Watchers are formidable, here are some of the ruinous powers that will oppose them:

 

Lastly, speaking of cyberpunk not only have I been leafing through the gorgeous Eclipse Phase rule book during lunch, I wanted to make sure I had suitable figs for whatever Derek cooked up. So here are a couple potentials I fished out of my c-punk storage case.

 

My workshop’s main table is filled with a commission for a large-ish memorial window at the moment, but outlining the third and final House Navratola game last night, I see a terrain project in my future. More on that as it happens.

Til then, have a great day.

 

New STALKER and Freedom troopers

More on the ZP/STALKER front: a new converted Eureka fig and some old Freedom troopers.

Took a bit more time with this latest STALKER, varying the paint scheme slightly, trying to capture the plastic orange look of those AK mags. I think he came out alright. I have plenty more in my STALKER-related bits box.

You can see him facing down some feral hounds on his own or with some comrades playing Hide-N-Seek with a group of Shufflers.

Next up are some Freedom troopers, converted from The Assault Group’s excellent Modern Russians range. Just add Pig Iron heads and you’re good. I did these a while back – before Lead Adventure put out their excellent Post-Apoc line. I made a set for Clear Sky and Duty. I’ll take pictures of them soon-ish. I think they get the job done. (This reminds me I could use a couple more TAG packs to create Monolith troops)

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Finishing my next novel will be the priority for the next month or so, which means Tuesday night Game Night is board games for a while. (Zombicide anyone?) But I picked up a copy of GW’s Gorechosen online for cheap and should be able to get in some painting time, if only to keep my sanity while I hammer out the final chapters of this draft.  Here’s hoping.

Thanks for looking. Have a great week.

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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