Monday, January 31, 2011

Game Development – Part 3: Complexity

Relaxing Pastime
Surrogate Religion?


The prevailing bias has been in no way concealed, and anything useful gleaned from the following would be implemented at your own risk. There may also be dabbling in hyperbole and sarcasm. You have been warned.

This is not a slam against "serious" gamers or even "serious" games. May you continue to enjoy quoting chapter and verse form your collection of amended and cross-indexed rulebooks during the third day of the first turn of a game that sprawls over several groaning ping-pong tables. There was a time I would be standing right beside you. Well, maybe not that close, but within polite arguing distance.

When I started “gaming” back in the summer of AD1977, it opened a whole new world of responsibility avoidance and addictive escapism that is only now being experienced by the great unwashed with online games like World of Woecraft and it’s trendy, yet short-lived, competitor of the moment. All RPG’s were “tabletop” and the only limits were your imagination sparked by whatever cool fantasy/Science Fiction book, movie, comic or TV show recently experienced. All true wargames were complex because they were “simulations” of supposed real-life events, be they ill-documented past, misunderstood present or highly implausible future. We reveled in the esoteric knowledge imparted by these verbose tomes, steeped in eldritch charts, mystic lists and the typically all but useless table of contents. There was a kinship, a brotherhood amongst the gamers as they congregated to perpetuate their chosen game(s) and indoctrinate willing converts. These tended to manifest at schools and colleges, and involved pilgrimages to regional gaming conventions. And, amazingly enough, all this happened before there was a PC hooked up to the Internet in every bedroom across the First World.

I was 11, and gaming was serious business.

My first game was D&D. Just “D&D”. Please note the lack of an “A” at the front. Then there was Metamorphosis Alpha, which eventually became Gamma World. The RPG explosion that was the 1980’s produced many games like Traveller, Top Secret, Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, Mekton, Space Opera, Bunnies and Burrows, Villains and Vigilantes, Bushido, and Space: 1889. There were also the wargames of the time, by such companies as Avalon Hill, FASA, SPI, Yaquinto, TSR, GDW and Task Force Games. Then there was the phenomenon of the mini- or micro-game: wargames that were fun, fast, portable and reasonably priced. Having always used miniatures with the RPGs, it was a very short stumble into the world of miniature wargaming. In the 1990’s, patient zero was diagnosed with what would become the “collectable game” pandemic.

I was, and still am, a bit evangelical about gaming, with a website AND a blog devoted to it. Sad, but there it is. I’d like all of these types of games to become as mainstream as watching televised sporting events while trying to get drunk, just so I can stop hiding behind the story of being a model railroad enthusiast every time I enter a craft store, feverishly looking for that elusive bit to finish the latest project. Not holding my breath, though.

As I grew older, switching from one set of rules to another every session became tiresome, as it could be months until we came around to any particular game again, forgetting enough of it to be annoying. Even using my razor-honed skill at making FAQ and summary sheets, it became tedious. I grew to appreciate :gasp: simpler games.

Yes, I could still build an 80-ton mech in my head using Mekton II, but how often did I play it? Meka Tac’s rules were nowhere nearly as “robust” as Battletech or Mekton Zeta, but it only took a few minutes to build a force of mecha and a couple hours to play a decent-sized robot battle to its obvious conclusion. Folks who were not gamers but have played Trivial Pursuit could easily enjoy that ideal gateway drug: Settlers of Catan. From there 'twas but a short, slippery slope to Kill Doctor Lucky, Bitin Off Hedz, Munchkin, and Plague & Pestilence. One Page Fantasy Skirmish was quick to grasp and fast to play, and introduced many of the fundamental miniature wargaming concepts like LoS, initiative, movement and range while still being fun. G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. gave us a desperately needed Victorian Science Fiction fix, and Where Heroes Dare! would let players Pulp to their heart’s content. I think my next RPG will be run with Action Squad.

Being much, much older, I view “gaming” as gathering friends together, old and not yet met, to push toys around a table and rolling dice while laughing. And I'm not alone in this philosophy.

I’m still a gamer, and will continue to be so as long as I’m able. I haven’t lost the faith; just no longer possessed by the desire to master the mysteries of rules written like tax law.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Game Development – Part 2: Background “Fluff” In Non-Historical Miniature Wargames

Metaphysical Mandate


Plague upon Humanity?

The prevailing bias has been in no way concealed, and anything useful gleaned from the following would be implemented at your own risk. You have been warned.

Background information is essential for Role Playing Games. The players can, if they choose, ignore any part, or all of it and create their own worlds to taste. Not always a good thing, but experimentation is essential to learning.

With historical miniature wargames, there should be a brief overview of the period, as those buying the rules are quite often familiar with the times, conflicts, and participants, but not always. Research should be a part of historical miniature gaming, if, for nothing else, to get the uniforms close to the proper color. Yes, there will always be the great fledgrau debate, but one should put in the effort.

In non-historical miniature wargames, unless you have something galaxy-shatteringly new and unique, you've paid for the license to use someone's intellectual property or this is just a thinly-veiled miniatures catalog, the fluff should not be the focus of the rules. Keep any background brief, avoiding lengthy studies into the inner working of the various races, empires, clans, corporations and factions. And no short stories, please! Put them on your website or publish a pdf, if you must. The horrifying fact is that many folks will be looking at your game just to push toys around a table while rolling dice and will completely ignore your magnum opus.

The best examples of fluff show what the players can do with your rules and their own imagination. Include a few examples or, better yet, a set of short army lists. Just enough to get them started, but not enough to stifle. If things pan out, source books based on each faction may be an option, and a bit more background on the units may be called for to the fill the empty page-space between specialized rules and new, unique units.

Some backgrounds are a marketing mechanism to sell an associated miniature line. I can’t blame the company, as they are a business and have a perfect right to not only sell their goods but to make a profit, as well. And, if the figures are good, members of the miniature gaming community will rejoice in another option to field upon the table.

Yet, sadly, there is a third category which is usually a retread of previously existing fictional universes with the serial numbers filed off because the author either lacks imagination or the licensing fee. Tolkein, Burroughs, and popular TV and film franchises often fall prey to this. Also, the “[insert traditional fantasy race here] IN SPACE!” route has been flogged to death.

In conclusion, fluff is often poorly done and does nothing but add to the page count in an attempt to cater to the “thicker is always better” rules fan. Below are examples of my rather lazy and uninventive attempts at pandering to this mindset without wasting too much time on something that in absolutely no way impacts how the rules play on the table. They are presented both in the pretentious format and the older Giant Shooty Spacefleets style.

Pretentious: The Grand Terran Imperium - The homeworld of all Humans in the galaxy. Imperial fleets plied the stars to enforce the will of the emperor, ruthlessly suppressing anything that might threaten the stability of the empire or hint at independence.

“Old Style”: The Wedgians - They’re big, they’re bad, and they’re completely devoid of anything resembling a sense of humor. And, yes, their ships are triangular. Wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

The High Lords of Hephaestus

Pretentious – A former Terran colony that rose to the status of “satellite nation”, the original settlers adopted a Greco-Roman motif. Their fleets were decidedly heavy on fighters. Intelligence circles occasionally heard whispers of something called “The Golden Throne”, though nothing substantive.

“Old Style” – A colony founded by Human frat boys with a fighter fixation and possessors of the largest “secret” stash of pr0n in the galaxy.

Pretentious: The Council of Bulblubla - An aquatic species possessed by the desire to expand beyond their home shores.

“Old Style”: The Blub-Blub-Blub – Fish people in space. Ya need more than that? Really? Well, they’re blue. And scaly. Um, that’s all I got.

The Clans of the Great Hunt

Pretentious - A loose alliance of felinoid sapients who would attack each other if no other suitable prey or conquest was available.

“Old Style” – Cat-babes on the prowl. In space.

Pretentious: The Union of Queens - Sapient insect colonies that were constantly searching for the next hiveworld.

“Old Style”: Buggians – Bug folk that were constantly searching for the next picnic.

Next time – Complexity: Relaxing Pastime or Surrogate Religion?

Saturday, January 22, 2011


Originally, GIANT SHOOTY SPACEFLEETS, er, I mean, SUNDER THE STARS was based on the mechanics of MEKA TAC - GIANT STOMPY ROBOTS EDITION. It has since moved beyond that. In an attempt to both speed up and simplify the mechanics, many things had to be altered or eliminated to allow the deployment of fleets on the tabletop, not just a paltry couple of ships per player.

For example:

The unopposed "TO HIT" roll followed by a damage roll has been replaced with an opposed roll of Attack Value +/- modifiers + D vs. Defense Value +/- modifiers + D. How well the attacker rolls vs. the defender not only determines if the attack was successful, but how destructive it was. The greater the difference between attacker and defender, the more damaging the result. It also keeps players participating in the game even if they are not currently activating units.

Weapon types have been consolidated and the tracking of ammunition has been removed.

Ships no longer have individual record sheets, but each ship type has one record sheet. This does not mean that all "Light Cruisers (CL)" are identical. If you want different types of CL in your fleet, then you would have a different sheet for each type.

Check boxes have been done away with. The entire ship's offensive and defensive systems degrade as the ship takes damage. Recording damage has been abstracted to rows of stats on each record sheet. An undamaged ship would use the top row of stats. As the individual ship took damage, you would go to the next, less powerful stat row. When sufficiently damaged, the ship would be removed from play. Smaller ships have less damage tracks than larger ships. The current status of each ship - like which damage track to use for that ship - would be recorded by a few counters next to or on the base of the model. If the model's base isn't big enough, the record sheet would have "status lines" where each ship's counters would be placed.

Some of the things that were kept:

Games may be played either on maps or mats with hex grids, or on an open table with terrain.

Ranges and movement may be scaled to fit the size of your models or play area.

Example units (and fleets) will be listed and may be completely ignored as a full set of unit construction rules will be included.

The Action Cards will be included, and remain optional.

Playtesting will be starting in the next few weeks. More information to follow.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Game Development – Part 1: What’s in a Name?

As some of you may already know, I’m currently working on, among other things, a starship combat game that will accommodate engagements of individual ships, task force vs. task force and fleet battles using the same rules no matter how large the action. It hasn’t gone to playtest, yet, but it's looking pretty good. The rules will incorporate things learned from 30+ years of tabletop gaming and the recent exercise of editing and expanding MEKA TAC into MEKA TAC – GIANT STOMPY ROBOT EDITION.

It has come to my attention that the main reason why many “serious mecha wargamers”* are hesitant to download a fresh, modern, easy to learn, playable on an open tabletop or hex mat and FREE mecha battle game is not that it did away with the archaic overheating-as-play-balance mechanism or a that battle between a dozen or more mechs can reach a definitive conclusion in a single evening of play.

No, it’s none of that.

It’s the name.


If someone downloaded GSRE, read it through and found it wasn’t for them – for any reason, such as disliking the ability to easily scale the weapon ranges and mecha movement to fit the size of mecha miniatures in their collection - great! At least they looked and made an informed decision. I respect that. But to be afraid of the word “edition” just boggles me.

[ring-ring] 'Scuse me, folks. Hey! Yeah. What? Wait. It's STOMPY? They're afraid of the word STOMPY?! Okay. Yeah. Thanks. Later. [click]

Okay. So, it seems the more pretentious the title, the greater the possibility of perusal. Taking this lesson to heart, the working title of my spacefleet battle game under development, which was referred to as GIANT SHOOTY SPACEFLEETS, shall henceforth be called:


Next: Background “fluff” in non-historical miniature wargames – metaphysical mandate or plague upon humanity?

*Yes, they are out there.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Actually Finished Something - High Lords of Hephaestus!

I was bit by the Firestorm: Armada bug only to discover that their rules got old really quickly and they weren't going to follow through with complete fleet resources anytime soon. So, I've been tinkering with a "fast play" starfleet miniatures game based on, wait for it, Meka Tac - GSRE! I can tell you're surprised. Need to get one more fleet painted so 4 player games or a simultaneous pair of 2 player games will be an option.

The other two finished fleets: