Saturday, December 3, 2011

Emergency Dispatch

I've been wondering about the fact that miniature games don't have to be miniature wargames. However, there doesn't seem to be a lot of examples around. Recently I played a 2008 game called Emergency 3, where you are an emergency dispatcher who must send rescue and police units to help people in car accidents, fires and crimes.

The game was heavily criticized for the high amount of micromanagement necessary to play. I figure part of this was due to it being a computer game, so players expected some autonomous AI from the cops, firefighters and medics. This made me think of using Chain Reaction 3.0 to add emergency teams and maybe even allow playing some random emergency scenarios on the tabletop. Bear in mind that I haven't tested these yet:

The Lists
I based the firefighters and EMT lists on the Police list. All of them are unarmed:
2 - 3: Crew commander / emergency physician (rep 5)
4 - 5: Veteran firefighter / paramedic (rep 5)
6 - 9: Seasoned firefighter / EMT (rep 4)
10 - 12: Rookie firefighter / EMT (rep 3)

For civilians, the list is simpler: just roll one die, on a 1-2 they are rep 3, otherwise rep 2.

Changes in the Flock of Seagulls Test
A civilian who passes 0d6 in a Flock of Seagulls test will hunker down instead of retiring.

Emergency medical treatment
All firefighters and EMT can rally other figures, and both can carry out of the fight figures to a safer place. All EMT may perform a challenge to bring an out of the fight character back to consciousness (stunned.) Paramedics and Emergency Physicians may perform a challenge to stabilize characters that seemed obviously dead. On a success, they count as in critical condition and cannot be further improved during the mission. Otherwise they are confirmed dead.

Sources of fire must be marked on the table as 2"x2" patches and they have a rep ranging from 1 (small flames) to 6 (raging inferno.) Civilians make the Flock of Seagulls test when they first see a source of fire of rep 3 or greater. A character who needs to approach or move close (2") to a source of fire with a rep equal to or higher than theirs must make a reaction test. Pass 2d6 = carry on; Pass 1d6 = halt; Pass 0d6 = duck back.

Characters who pass through a source of fire or finish their move within 2" of it suffer a ranged attack. The target rating and impact are equal to the rep of the fire source - 2 (minimum of 1.)

Sources of fire are extinguished by using a fire hose or fire extinguisher. Roll a number of dice equal to the character's rep (+1 if using a fire hose.) Non-firefighter characters roll one less die. You need to accumulate a number of successes equal to the fire's rep to reduce it to one rep below. So to extinguish a rep 3 fire you must first obtain 3 successes, then another 2, then another one success. You can reduce the rep of a source of fire by at most two levels on a single turn, even if multiple characters are trying to extinguish it.

If a source of fire is not being extinguished, there is a chance it will grow in intensity. Roll one die. On a result equal to or less than the rep of the fire, increase its rep. However, fires will only increase rep above 4 if there are ate least two other patches of fire within 2". If the source of fire does not increase its rep, roll another die. On a 1-4 it will spread, creating another patch of fire in the general direction: 1 = north, 2 = east, 3 = south, 4 = west.

A closed room with at least one rep 3 (or greater) source of fire will start to be filled with smoke. A character without proper equipment must make a reaction test before acting: pass 2d6 = carry on; pass 1d6 = carry on; pass 0d6 = make a recover from knockdown test, worst result is out of the fight.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Katana Schoolgirls vs. Zombie Furries

Just got the new set of paper miniatures from David Okum. Besides the schoolgirl minis (in different color schemes) and lots of zombies, furry zombies and toxic zombies, this set also comes with the game "Katana Schoolgirls vs. Zombie Furries", which can be played by 1-4 players.

In the game, each player controls one of the katana-wielding schoolgirls in a board made of randomly placed tiles, which start face down. The impression I have is that in multiplayer, it is an each-schoolgirl-for-herself affair, trying to gain more points by fighting monsters (and possibly trapping your opponents.) Playing solo, it's more of a dungeon exploration game. Anyway, these are my impressions after a quick read of the rules; I still have to print and cut all minis, tiles and cards to have a chance to test it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A quick update and an obvious, portable board

The end of the year is proving to be very, very busy. The closest I've come in the last week to tabletop gaming is getting a 90cm x 60cm cork bulletin board with an aluminium frame that will serve as the base board for my future games. The size is perfect for my 15mm games and might even fit some small 28mm skirmishes and I can put it behind my computer desk when not in use.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sidalis IV: Smuggling Artifacts

I still haven't finished making my miniatures for the Qwik campaign that I intend to run for the Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month, but I did get some time to run a little game for my ongoing multi-system "War of Sidalis IV" campaign. This time, I used Flying Lead as the rules set for the battle.

During the War of Sidalis IV, one of the main priorities of both sides was securing the alien artifacts. NovaCorp would send autonomous transports guarded by small squads of soldiers to bring artifacts from research stations to their space ports or to armored bunkers. Once they learned of these operations, the Terraforce started to set up ambushes to stop them without destroying the artifacts.

The Forces
There are five NovaCorp soldiers, all of which are Q3+ C2, equipped with pulse rifles (C+2, long range, auto fire, move and shoot) and body armor. They have the Steady under Fire special rule. They should be deployed within one base distance from the vehicle.

The transport vehicle's stats are Q4+ C3 and it has the Short Move, Slow and Vehicle special rules. It is deployed on one board edge. Upon a successful activation it will keep moving towards the opposite edge of the board in a straight line. If doubled in combat, the vehicle is disabled and won't move anymore. If tripled in combat, the vehicle explodes, causing a C3 attack to all soldiers within one Long from the center of the vehicle. If the disabled vehicle has at least two soldiers in base contact with its sides, the three figures can activate as a group to perform a short move.

The Terraforce soldiers are organized in three fire teams of three men. All of them are Q4+ C2, equipped with kinetic rifles (C+2, long range, select fire, move and shoot) and body armor. There are six patches of woods in the board, and the location of each fire team is randomly determined after the NovaCorp are deployed. Each patch can have only one fire team.

Victory Conditions
The NovaCorp side wins if the transport vehicle leaves the board through the opposite side. The Terraforce wins if they prevent this from happening. If the transport explodes, both sides lose.

Battle report
This picture shows the board setup. I'm playing the NovaCorp soldiers against the automated Terraforce ambushers. [I decided to have the fire teams activating in order from closest to farthest from the vehicle. Each figure activates independently (using Dogui's activation procedure) but all figures of a fire team should be resolved before moving to the next one.]

The Terraforce won initiative and moved out of the woods firing. Their automatic bursts didn't do much against the transport but took one of the NovaCorp soldiers out of the fight. The NovaCorp forces moved forward and managed to suppress one Terraforce soldier and take another out of action.

The Terraforce disabled the transport with an aimed shot, so the NovaCorp soldiers moved to base contact, in order to start pushing it, suppressing one soldier and sending two others into hiding.

The Terraforce soldier who was laying prone after recovering from suppression took an aimed shot against a nearby NovaCorp soldier, causing a gory death. The horrific display caused the other soldiers to panic, starting to run from the battle.

After this, there was little point in going on, so the remaining two NovaCorp soldiers left the board. One of them fired one last aimed shot in an attempt to cause the vehicle to explode but failed. The Terraforce captured the transport vehicle winning the scenario.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Failure in Solo Tabletop Games

Last week I attended a very interesting keynote talk by Jesper Juul in the tenth Brazilian Symposium on Computer Games and Digital Entertainment. The theme of Juul's talk was failure in games, how it's different from failure in everyday life and why those differences might be what attracts us to playing games.

The idea (or rather, the way I understood it) is that failure within a game's magic circle can still be emotionally and cognitively meaningful but it doesn't carry further consequences. We still avoid failure in games but when it happens, we can deny it, and try again. The fact that we can afford to fail in a game gives us freedom to explore different possibilities. Therefore, games without the possibility (or with very low risk) of failure become boring or uninteresting. An important point is that failure doesn't have to involve learning. Games of pure chance don't have any learning about them but the lure of succeeding or failing in a controlled environment is still there.

I'm a big fan of Jesse Schell's approach of seeing games through different "lenses", so after the talk, I started thinking about how would a "lens of failure" apply to solo tabletop gaming. The magic circle is still there, with the solo player constraining his actions to what the rules allow. It's possible to see how failure is still there too. Very often, solo games or solo conversions are about adding elements of unpredictability, in a way that has to be coped with during the game. Solo games often have very high failure:success ratios (take for instance Zombie in my Pocket or Island of D.) Mythic GM Emulator is another fine example: much of its appeal comes from the random events and modified scenes, which bring "mini-failures" to our planned narratives. I would say that, from the standpoint of Juul's theory, solo game systems are about adding possibilities of failure. JF of Solo Nexus has expressed a similar feeling when commenting on solo skirmish games: "The concept of a player who commands both sides AND has complete control on each turn is not, in my opinion, gaming."

The conclusion that I draw from this is that adding risk of failure may be more important than creating a very detailed and complex simulation for the "virtual opponent." A set of rules that results in some coherent behavior is still desirable, especially because a competent oponent increases the risk of the player losing -- but it becomes a means to an end. This brings two questions for me to think about:
- How success and failure are experienced by the player during the solo game? In a Mythic GME-mediated solo RPG session, success and failure occur on a per-scene basis. Would it be possible (and desirable) to add such dynamics to the course of a miniature skirmish, for instance?
- Most examples I can think of in solo games add risk of failure through chance mechanics (the prime exception being playing a deliberately unbalanced scenario.) Are there other mechanics that add to the risk of failure, or make failure more interesting?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Death and games

A while ago, author James Hutchings let a comment on this blog asking if I wanted to do a review on his book "The New Death and others." I told him I could review it from the viewpoint of a gamer looking at fiction for inspiration for his games -- I wouldn't dare making a more involved or academic review of a book even in my own language.

So, having finished reading Mr. Hutchings' book (kindly provided for the review) here are my impressions. First of all, from a gamer's standpoint I like the fact that the book is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License. So you can blog away about an adventure or scenario directly inspired by the book without worrying about legal trouble -- as long as you respect the (very open) license, of course.

"The New Death and others" is a collection of short stories and poems with varied themes, some of them related to fantasy, with a dose of sarcasm and occasional criticism. To me, his writing style is light, good to read but not simplistic or childish. Most of the short stories have some amusing element that let me wondering, sparked new ideas or surprised me at the end. Remarkable, given they are a few pages long each. One of my favorites is "The End," but I really can't comment without spoiling it.

The short length and fantastic nature of the stories (and some of the poems) also make them easy to adapt as rumors or legends, especially for fantasy games. Some might even turn straight into props (lost notes or other records, for instance.)

This was an interesting experience, as I often look for new games from independent game designers but I don't do the same for independent authors. "The New Death and others" has shown me that I should.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Creating a character to play Mutant Epoch solo

So November has come and it's time for me to join in on the solo gaming appreciation month promoted by JF of the Solo Nexus blog. My Qwik teams aren't ready for action yet so I decided to kick start my activities with something else.

In keeping with the post-apocalypse theme, I turned to my digital copy of Mutant Epoch, a relatively new post-apocalyptic RPG, published by Outland Arts. It has a very "old school" look and feel, both in the book and rules and at the same time it brings some refreshing ideas (at least to me.) I'm still reading it but I thought I'd try to make a character to run a solo adventure during this month.

In the Mutant Epoch, centuries of conflict and abuse of technology have resulted in a world in ruins, where humans are a minority fighting for their place among mutants, cyborgs and other creatures. It's gritty, violent "science fantasy" and I believe a gaming group may play it as over-the-top cinematic action as well as focus on the social issues of such a torn and changed world.

The standard method of character creation is randomized. You start by rolling to see what type of character you'll get and from there, roll on tables (sometimes shared by different character types) to determine traits, skills, mutations and so on. For those that prefer, there are rules for a point-buy system too. Using the random character creation rules I got this:

Zendar - Clone, Labor
Male, 24 years old, 89kg, 1.97m, left-handed, fair swimmer

Endurance 79/70
Strength 66, Agility 74, Accuracy 49,
Intelligence 20, Perception 18, Willpower 31
Appearance 23

Defense Value: 0 + 8 (agility)
Strike Value: 01-50 + 4 (accuracy)
Melee damage bonus: 8

Run speed: 7
Healing rate: 8

Pre-game caste: slave, labor
There is a bounty for his return

Rags, 6 silver coins, Bow and 12 arrows, Knife

And this is why I like random character creation systems when they're well done: I wouldn't ever think up of making an escaped slave clone as my character, especially when there's so much mutant crazyness to explore. Still, it is a consistent and competent character (if a little low on intelligence.) I also think that having to play a random character adds to the immersion in a post-apocalyptic setting, where resources are scarce: you don't choose your character, you have to make do with what you got.

By the way, clones are one example of interesting, if disturbing, concept in Mutant Epoch. Like a radical extrapolation of current debates on the ethics of stem cell research, clones in the game are often "DNA re-issues from the long-dead ancient people," used as slaves. Yes, imagine brainwashed clones of olympic athletes serving as soldiers or labor slaves and you get the picture.

That's it for now, later we shall see how Zendar will fare in the wasteland of the Mutant Epoch...

Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat

This is a Halloween scenario for Song of Blades and Heroes. On their way back from the Halloween festivities, four villagers stray from the road and find themselves near a stretch of woods that is said to be inhabited by evil spirits. Bolstered by the beverages they had at the festival, they decide to take a shortcut through the forest instead of a long walk back to the road and around it. Besides, just as there are legends about evil spirits, there are also stories about treasure long lost in there...

The villagers
The player's warband are three villagers (Q4+ C2) and one village leader (Q3+ C2, Leader.)

The map
I set up a 2'x2' board to play with 15mm miniatures. A green patch roughly 1/3 of the width of the board is placed in the center, creating the woods (I added some bits to make the wooded area more irregular.) The villagers are placed in contact with one of the board edges without forest terrain. Place three markers of possible treasures in the forest, evenly spread along the middle of the board.

The player may end the game as soon as one character reaches the opposing board edge. However, only the characters who are in contact or who have already left through that edge will count as survivors. Optionally, you may attempt to find the treasure. The player gains one victory point for each survivor and one for each piece of treasure.

Evil lurks in the forest
On the turnover after the first villager reaches the border of the forest, you must add three "evil lurking" markers on the board. Roll one die for each marker and place them in the middle of the corresponding numbered section, as shown in the diagram to the right.

"Evil lurking" markers activate as Q4+ characters. They will always roll a single die for activation and they only make Medium moves. If any villager used more than one action to move on the previous turn, they will move towards him (running makes noise.) Otherwise, assign numbers 1-4 to the board edges and roll a die to determine direction of movement. The markers will not leave the forest (re-roll if you get a 5-6 or an impossible direction.)

When any villager gets within 1 Medium of an "evil lurking" marker, roll one die to determine what it is. 1-2 = nothing, you must be hearing things. 3 = skeletons, 4 = wolves, 5 = ogre, 6 = vampire. Write down the number rolled. If you roll the same number again on another marker, re-roll. Once the result is determined, remove the marker and place the monsters where it was. If it was the end of the turn, the monsters may act right away. Otherwise, if the marker was resolved due to having moved towards the player, the newly placed monsters will only activate on the next turn.

The stats for the monsters are: Skeletons: two skeletons, one armed with a rusty sword and another with a short bow (Q4+ C2, Q4+ C1 Shooter: medium.) Wolves: two hungry wolves (Q4+ C2 Forester.) Ogre: one marauding ogre (Q4+ C4 Big, Long move, Slow.) Vampire: a powerful vampire (Q3+ C3 Magic-User, Terror.)

Activate the monsters in order of best to worst quality and from closest to farthest from villagers. All will roll two dice for activation except for the last, which will roll three dice. If there are still remaining markers, activate them before the monsters.

Skeletons will attack the closest villagers (the archer will prefer keeping its distance.) The wolves will gang up on the nearest villager. The ogre will attack the closest target (including monsters) except for the vampire. The vampire will target the nearest villager and will always try to transfix first. Monsters will only switch targets if their current target is killed or if they get attacked by someone else. Oh, and monsters will not check for morale.

To look for treasure, a villager must be in base contact with the treasure marker. One action must be used to search and then another one to pick up the treasure. Once the treasure is retrieved, remove the treasure marker from the board. Make a note about which villager is carrying treasure and how many (each villager can carry up to two treasures) because if they die, the treasure is lost. Note that to score victory points for the treasure, it must be with a survivor.

Other notes
Before the "evil lurking" markers are put on the map the player will be moving just the villagers. However, it's still important to take note of when a turnover happens (by failure or by moving all figures) to be able to determine if anyone ran on the previous turn. Remember that the forest reduces movement for all figures except the wolves...

Battle Report
Starting from the board edge, I slowly advance towards the forest, then move one of my characters to touch the forest edge. I then roll 5, 6, 6 for the markers, meaning evil is lurking nearby. Even worse, one of the markers is within range of my leader. I roll for it getting a 3: skeletons.

On the monsters' turn, I move the markers and then activate the skeleton archer with two successes. It moves towards the forest edge and shoots the leader, killing him! This leads to cascading morale failures, so that only one villager remains on the board. On the next activation, the villager gets three successes and runs away from danger, trying to cross the woods as fast as possible. This, of course, attracts the markers. One of the markers reaches Medium range and is resolved into the wolves (however they will only move on the next turn of the monsters.) One of the skeletons triggers a turnover.

I roll two successes for the villager, reaching the other edge of the forest. On the monsters' turn, the last marker moves closer and resolves into the Ogre. One wolf activates with one success and reaches the villager. The other one rolls a turnover.

The villager gets two successes and uses them to disengage from the wolf. On the monsters' turn, the wolf reaches the villager again and the Ogre rolls a turnover. After a series of turnovers rolled by the villager and the wolf, the villager manages to knock the wolf down (on an attack by the wolf.) The ogre activates, attacking and killing the other wolf. The villager then rolls a single success, moving close to the board edge.

The knocked down wolf recovers but doesn't have another action to chase the villager. The ogre and skeletons move towards him but are still far away. On the next round, the villager activates with two successes, more than enough to leave the board and end the game with the closest possible victory for the scenario. Whew!

After a terrible start, I got some lucky rolls, and got one survivor who'll have plenty of stories to tell on his village...

This scenario might need some tweaks for better balance. Two things I'd try, in this order, are: change the movement of the "evil lurking" markers from Medium to Short and change the skeleton archer into another skeleton warrior. Another idea is to upgrade the village leader from C2 to C3.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Gangers just wanna have fun

For my second shot at 5150: New Beginnings I created a ganger star and hired a bunch of other gangers as his crew. Meet Fingers, Chrome, Bigmouth, Vicky, Viper, and Thunder. For his voluntary encounter, Fingers interviewed with an entertainer, Nova Corp (a mega corporation) and the Gaea Prime government. Not only he failed at all three but the mega corp and the government won't ever even interview him. Ouch...

So, without an employer and with five gangers itching for action, Fingers decided to raid a building that is used by the Skulz gang. The place is located in the Lower Income neighborhood of the city and they will raid it in the evening. The objective is to hurt as many gangers as possible and to steal any stims found in the building (roll of a 6 when entering a building section, requires a character to search instead of taking active fire, cannot be done while involved in a firefight or melee.) Using the Raid encounter from the book as a reference, I rolled for seven basic gangers with one standing guard outside of the building and the other six organized into two PEFs (possible enemy forces) inside the building.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Grey City Building Templates

After a recent comment I realized that I never posted the templates for the buildings of the Grey City campaign. Here they are, in PNG format, which should be easy to modify by coloring, adding textures etc. All of these should be printable in either A4 or Letter format sheets of paper. There's a total of six templates.

The first three buildings take a single printed sheet each. By modding the storefronts (and the side window in the case of the deli) it's possible to use them as "building blocks" for a larger city.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

My portable kit for New Beginnings

Here are some pictures of my kit to play encounters in 5150: New Beginnings. The generic building map has already appeared on my last battle report; the other pieces were created today. Everything is at 50% scale so 1" squares are actually 1/2" on my boards. The small size would be bad for multiple players but it is great for solo play (for reference, I placed a 15cm ruler on the board.)
Inspired by some pictures from the game book, I created flat markers for buildings and parks using Shuffler. The car flats come from the Paper Dead (Set 1) from Daring Entertainment. For the figures, after trying several different styles (simple "inverted T", trigonal, "inverted T" with black borders and cut out contour) I decided to use standard A frames. This isn't the best-looking style for paper miniatures but they are stable, extremely easy to build, give some sense of volume and they are easy to read on the table, as the picture is slightly tilted upward -- especially important in my reduced scale setup. This also makes them appear well on photographs. These specific minis are from the cyberpunk sets from Precis Intermedia, printed at 65% scale.
Lastly, here is a picture of the kit ready for storage. I place all the terrain in a folder and all miniatures, building markers and cars in a plastic bag.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Arriving in New Hope City

I've finally got to a point while reading 5150: New Beginnings that I felt secure to try a first game. Note that this doesn't mean I've thoroughly read and grokked every detail of the game; that will take a while. However, I really wanted to try the character creation, encounter system and other immersion features of the game.

So here's my first crew for New Beginnings. Meet Ken Folstom, a computer tech who decided to start running his own shady operations [Star, Rep: 5. Class: dropout. Motivation: profit. Skills: fit 3, pep 4, sav 5, sci 0. Attributes: steely eyes, dim. Equip: BA machine pistol, armored jacket, CPU (5) with lock-on loop, local com-link, apartment (LL3) with alarm system, old car, 8 items saved]. After generating the Star, it was time to randomly recruit his assistants.

Ken, Orson and Ella

Ken's main associates are Orson, an attorney (rep 3 dropout) and his trophy wife Ella (rep 4 dropout), a married couple of thrill seekers. He has also recruited the help of a car mechanic and overall "fixer" of stuff, May (rep 4 LWC) and Rally, a bounty hunter dangerously close to the limits imposed by the law (rep 3 LWC).

With crew ready, it was time to look for a job. A smuggler named Karl wants someone to break into a police depot in the space port district (law level 2) and grab some goods that were recently aprehended. Obviously the best time for this action is late at night. Karl says that the depot is not heavily guarded as confiscated weapons and drugs are not stored there (he's interested in some expensive medical supplies). A dangerous job, but it should give Ken some fame and money.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It Is Warm Work

I hadn't paid much attention to naval miniature games so far, being mostly interested in ground-based skirmish games (whether fantasy or sci-fi.) This changed after a friend of mine commented about a soon-to-be-released fantasy naval wargame by a well-known law firm that also makes miniature games on the side. This made me want to find alternatives to that game that I could suggest to him.

So after looking for reviews on the internet, I found this interesting post about the game called "It Is Warm Work" which seemed to be newbie-friendly enough. I got it in PDF form and started reading. Since the rules are only a dozen pages long, I was quickly done and eager for a playtest. This led to the problem that I don't have any miniature "age of sail" ships (or any ships, for that matter.) The author of "It Is Warm Work" states that different miniature scales can be used but suggests 1:2400 ships placed in 1"x2" bases. Since I couldn't find any ship counters on a quick search on the internet, I made my own. You can click on the image to the right to get them at 300dpi, printable in A4 or Letter sheets. In my case, I printed them on a sheet of 120gsm paper and glued it to heavy cardstock.

After printing these and the playing aids and status markers that come with the book, I was ready for my first "naval action." It must be noted that I have pretty much no knowledge of sailing, naval miniature games or the history of the age of fighting sail. Therefore, I had to look up sailing terms such as "in irons," as well as learn more about fire ships (I never imagined that there were ships purpose-built to be set in flames as a tactic,) the line of battle, ships-of-the-line, prize crews among others. That is the downside of a slimmed down rule book -- it will inevitably rely on more prior knowledge from the reader. Anyway, good old Wikipedia was more than enough to give me pointers on the subjects.

Instead of trying to build a complete scenario I just placed a line of four class-B 74-gun ships on one side (thus dubbed "team A") against three class-A 74-gun ships on the other (which will be "team B",) with the wind initally favoring the side with less ships. My first playtest was a delightful session where I learned that maneuvering sailing ships is not like moving infantry or vehicles... after putting team A's first ship in irons and nearly dismantling team B's line, all in the first turn, I decided to start over.
The second time around, I managed to make more sensible actions. In the first exchange of fire between the ships, team B caused severe damage to team A's first ship, almost destroying it (note: in this picture I moved the wind arrow to maneuver the ships. In the future I might simply pick one of the board edges as the direction of the wind as suggested in the book.)
A couple of turns later, most ships had taken at least some damage, but team A was in worse condition, with one ship nearly destroyed and another one impaired.
Eventually the first ship from team A struck her colors and since two other ships were crippled, I decided it was a victory for team B, through a combination of sturdier ships and some luck in the attack rolls. The entire battle with seven turns lasted about 50 minutes, part of that due to my constant checking of the book as I learned the rules. Bookkeeping was minimal, with a one-line damage track per ship. Playing with ship counters was surprisingly satisfying as I could stack the status markers on top of them.

This little experiment raised my interest in naval miniature games. I guess I must thank my friend for unknowingly leading me to a great set of rules and making me find a new type of game that I enjoy. "It Is Warm Work" is designed for large fleet battles and seems to do its job very well. I'm curious now about other rules sets for only a handful of ships, that might add detail that would be unwieldly in this scale.

Incidentally, all the simulation aspects that get into naval miniature gaming -- especially the maneuvering of the ships -- made me think that this (or maybe spaceship miniature games) might be the answer to another question that has been pestering me: how can I have miniature games that do not revolve around combat? I'll try to write a fictional scenario for It Is Warm Work involving some sort of rescue, drifting ships and a coming storm...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Modular 15mm terrain - take two

So in preparation to run some 5150: New Beginnings I have gone back to creating some modular urban 15mm terrain. Each tile is 6"x6", allowing a variety of streets and blocks configurations. The buildings fold flat. The files may be obtained on this thread of the Cardboard Warriors forum. Here are some pictures of the results, printed in economy mode on gray paper.

A closer look on one of the buildings. While the streets and sidewalks look good enough in economy mode, I might end up printing the buildings again in normal setting. On the other hand, this "washed out" look makes the minis stand out.

Here's a shot with a few miniatures (from Precis Intermedia) printed in reduced scale to be used as 15mm. The tiles are connected to each other through a simple system of tabs. The buildings are slotted into the tiles so that they don't move around too.

And another shot to show a bunch of minis on the board, to get a better sense of scale. For a proper game, I think I still have to print some more tiles, to get a 2'x2' area at least. For learning the rules, this will certainly do.
The tiles are a little annoying to put together but the tabs solve the problem of having them easily moving around while playing. An alternative would be to glue each tile to a piece of thick cardboard or foamcore but then another method of slotting the buildings into the tiles would be needed.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Creating a bad neighborhood on the cheap

After Slorm's comment about the paper buildings on my previous post, I thought it might be useful to someone in need of some urban terrain done quickly and quite cheaply. It might be useful as an activity for kids, too.

Everything starts with a template. The idea is to build a box with five sides. You want to have some tabs on the open side to help keeping the building walls straight -- especially if you're using common scratch paper like me. The template is simple enough to draw by hand with ruler and squares but if you want to make several buildings, it may be worth to print the template (I have a couple at the end of this post.)

In my case what I do is to print just the outlines in "fast economy" mode and draw the details. Alternatives include drawing some basic outlines like doors and windows on the template before printing, maybe even some rough coloring (be sure to use some "economy" mode or you'll miss the point of keeping these cheap) or printing in colored paper.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Modern Havok

While I waited for 5150: New Beginnings (which is now printed and bound and I just need some time to read,) I started looking for other Two Hour Wargames (THW) products. The pulp-era games are interesting but I still have to prepare a minimum set of minis and terrain for that period before I decide to get those rules. So I found Modern Havok, a rules set written by Ed Teixeira for Rebel Minis.

Modern Havok is quite similar to Chain Reaction 3.0 but with differences (some of them subtle) that make the game simpler and possibly faster and more lethal. For instance, Stars aren't so tough and there aren't as many states a figure may be in (like Hunker Down etc.) Melee combat is also different, and most of the time faster.

For me, the three scenarios at the end of the book (Liquor Store Holdup, Man Hunt and Raid) make it worth. Lots of good ideas, like the Draw Down system for resolving an armed "face off" between opposing groups, reaction to police arrest attempts and a way to simulate a larger battlefield in a 3'x3' table.

I ran a quick test scenario with these rules. It was also a chance to try some hand-draw buildings I've been fiddling with (in preparation for some improved versions.)

In this scenario, I controlled a group of four gang members: a rep 5 star with a BA pistol, two rep 4 thugs with shotguns hidden in their trenchcoats and one rep 3 guy with a machete and pistol. They were looking for some members of a rival gang in a run down area of the city. There were some civilian groups scattered about and I placed three markers that might be the location of the rival gang. I also established that if I rolled a sum of 10+ on the activation rolls, an ambush would occur with 1-3 enemies appearing from each end of the "street."
I used the marker movement system from the Raid scenario to move the gang markers. If a marker came into sight I would roll a die to check if it was a group of civilians (1-3) or the rival gang (4-6) consisting of 2-6 members. Upon finding the gang, the other unresolved markers would be removed.

During the game, the rightmost marker (on the above picture) turned into a group of three rep 4 gangers. The leader was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and the two others carried pistols. I used the Draw Down mechanic (from the Liquor Store Holdup scenario) to have both groups see each other and react drawing their guns. The enemy gang fired first but missed. The two thugs with shotguns on my group ducked back behind the two-story building and my star stunned the enemy leader. Using the "flock of seagulls" mechanic, one of the civilian groups retired from the table while the other two ducked back behind buildings.

On the following turn, my group advanced and the enemy didn't roll well on their In Sight reaction to my thugs leaving the cover of the building. This allowed them to fire again, taking all three enemies out of the fight. The civilians remained ducked back as the firefight continued and my gang members, having dealt with their target, ran away before other threats would arrive.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Exterminator Jack

Here's the model I created for the Papercut Awards 2011. Since the contest is over, I thought I'd post the model here. It's a 28mm scale 2.5D multi-part model that I named "Exterminator Jack." Equally fit for a zombie apocalypse or post-holocaust sci-fi setting, with his plasma thrower. Some textures were obtained from and the figure was drawn in good ol' Gimp.

Here is the printable sheet in 300dpi. The red lines indicate places that should be scored and folded. For a great paper modeling guide, check this link (Dave's Games) at the top of the page.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 3

This is the last part of my  report on the experience of using the Universal NPC Emulator, Mythic GM Emulator and Weird West RPG together. Part 1 describes the creation of the characters and part 2 starts the adventure.

Scene 4 (Chaos: 4)

[The plan was to confront the mayor and the owner of the prospecting company to see if the truth comes out. However, I got another interrupt scene. Event focus: NPC Positive (mayor.) Event meaning: violate reality. Does the mayor disappear? Yes. How? calmly delightful.] As the party rides back to town, the mayor starts to whistle a tune. It is a soft, soothing and strange melody that none of the other men recognizes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Zombie Game Roundup

Having played a few different zombie survival games, I decided to write a little comparison between them, not to find out the "best" but rather to understand the similarities and differences. In this little survey, I'm considering the following titles (in alphabetical order):
  • All Things Zombie (ATZ)
  • Fear and Faith (FaF)
  • Final Days
  • New World Disorder: Zombie Apocalypse (NWD:ZA)
  • Total AR:SE (a.k.a. Akula's Rules)
To get started, here is a comparison table, based on my experience with the games:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 2

This is part two of the report on my experience using the Universal NPC Emulator, Mythic GM Emulator and Weird West RPG together. Check out part 1 for the details on the characters.

The trio of adventurers arrive in Perseverance, a small town of about 400 people that grew from a settlement of farmers and prospectors. The community leader is Adam Kinsey, a kind man who tries to keep the town growing and peaceful.

[Adam Kinsey on the Universal NPC Emulator: kind performer, comparable power level, strives music, compels the wealthy, manages moderation.]

Scene 1 (Chaos: 5)

[I used the stand event generation to set up the first scene. Focus: ambiguous event. Meaning: transform of news.] As they stop by the Shady Tree Saloon they hear a story about how a newfound gold vein proved to be an illusion, with the gold turning into rocks days after being digged. Doc McPherson was intrigued by the possibility of the illusion being caused by some magical property of the land, while William was wondering about some kind of scam being played upon the prospectors. With some reluctance from Strong Tom (who was annoyed by the doc's interest in the matter) they decided to pay a visit to Adam Kinsey and ask what he knew about it.

Scene 2 (Chaos: 6)
[The plan was to have the party talking to Adam about the illusionary gold but I rolled an interrupt. Focus: PC Positive (William.) Meaning: arrive of intrigues.] News travel fast in such a small town, and even before the trio talks to the mayor, they are approached by a man by the name of Scott Atkins. He owns a prospecting company and had invested money into hiring more people and buying more equipment to mine the new vein. He suspects some kind of foul play -- possibly involving the mayor -- and wants to hire them to investigate. It seems he's heard good things about William and is even willing to pay some money in advance. The party accepts the job and leaves to check out the gold vein.

Scene 3 (Chaos: 5)
[The idea was to travel by horse to the gold vein and look for clues. I rolled an altered scene and asked a few questions. Do they get ambushed? No. Has the vein disappeared? No. Is the mayor at the site? Yes. Hmm...] As the party approaches the location of the illusory gold vein, they notice a man standing near a horse. He greets them and introduces himself as Adam Kinsey, the mayor of Perseverance.

[Rolling on the UNE Discussion Module, I get: the mysterious mayor speaks of shadows regarding the PCs' history.] Taking care not to be noticed, Doc McPherson drinks something from his medicine bag and proceeds to question the mayor about his motives for being there. [I made a Skill 2 test for the doc to get some reliable information. Rolled a 4, modified by -1 due to his low Skill. Rolling for the Medicine Bag bonus, I got a +3: success!] As they start talking, the mayor tries to imply that they are mere mercenaries and thus untrustworthy. However, Doc McPherson keeps the pressure and the mayor lets slip he is involved in this: "It shouldn't have happened like this!"

The mayor refuses to give further explanations and when threatened to be arrested and brought back to the town, he simply asks, "who do you think the town will trust? Me or a bunch of guns for hire?" [The idea was to try the party's luck. Rolling on the NPC binary response chart, Tom agreed and Doc was against it.] "We will take our chances", answered William. They tied the mayor's hands and William pulled his horse. Tom went on the back of the group, and they rode back to town.

To be continued... (Chaos for the next scene: 4)

Friday, September 16, 2011

All Things Zombie: A trip to the supermarket

I finally had my first playtest of All Things Zombie. It's not the start of a campaign, just a simple encounter run on a small table to get the hang of things. I used the same simple buildings and scenario from my Zombie Apocalypse test so if you're turned off by simple white boxes as terrain, you may consider stopping right now.

Anyway, here's my party of three civilians. James in the middle is a star (reputation 5) bringing with him a shotgun. He's agile and stone cold and has been surviving thanks to that. Matt (rep 3), on the left, is getting to grips with reality. Luckily for him, he used to practice martial arts a lot; his brawler skills have saved him more than once since the zombies started appearing. He carries a submachine gun and a machete. Tagging along is Tricia (rep 2,) who every day wakes up wishing it's just a nightmare. If she weren't James' cousin, it is unlikely that they would bring her along. Like most peaceful civilians, she's a wuss when it comes to fights, let alone facing an approaching zombie. However, James has been trying to teach her how to use a pistol.

This "Discover" scenario is set in the suburbs in the evening. The goal of the survivors is to reach the supermarket (large building on the left ) and search it for supplies. The small boxes er, buildings cannot be explored but the medium ones may, if they so wish. They enter from and must leave through the right board edge. At the start of the game the civilians were lucky, generating only eight zombies. Here's the distribution of them on the board.

The civilians lost initiative but the zombies couldn't activate anyone in the first turn. James wanted them to run to the supermarket but Tricia was scared so they approached it at a slower pace. On the second turn the zombies got another six, so none of them moved.

The civilians entered the supermarket and found three soldiers who didn't react very well to the sight of armed civilians. As the military team leader started shouting "stand down" and pointing to them, James fired his shotgun at him, blowing his head off and all hell broke loose. Matt opened fire with his submachine gun but didn't hit anyone and Tricia didn't fare any better. One of the soldiers shouted some orders to the other and they scrambled to other positions in the room. Next turn the survivors rolled a six, standing there unable to react while the trained soldiers employed their tactics. They fired their assault rifles at the civilians but missed them and exposed themselves to fire in the process. On the third turn the civilians won the initiative. James' shot stunned one of the soldiers and Matt stunned the other. On the following turn they managed to tie up the two soldiers. "We can't just let them here," Tricia screamed. "You know what will happen!" Matt glanced at James, who didn't say anything. Instead, he just grabbed a handful of canned food and the assault rifle from the dead soldier, saying, "he won't need this anymore. Let's go, those guys will be waking up soon and if they're any good, these knots won't hold them down."

At this point I noticed two things:
1. I forgot to move the wandering zombies on the three turns of the firefight and...
2. I forgot to generate more zombies due to the gunfire. However, I generated them afterwards and found out that I would need to add another eleven zombies to the board.

Fixing this up afterwards would be complicated as at least some of the zombies would have been able to enter the supermarket. In fact, most of them would be surrounding the supermarket. In order to get some closure for the game, I decided to have each character roll a difficult challenge to be able to move to the supermarket's roof, jump across to the small building nearby and make a run from there. Failure means they are defeated (although the star may use the "cheating death" rule.) All three characters failed meaning only James escaped, with a reduced Rep. At least he didn't get infected.

A note on the mechanics of the firefight: Instead of moving to another map of the supermarket's interior, I simply considered that everybody had line of sight to each other but also had available cover. Also, given the cluttered environment everyone's a little spread apart so it's not possible to attack more than one target at once. A group may try a challenge test to position themselves better. Success removes the opponent's cover until they activate again; failure exposes the figures taking the challenge instead.

Despite my intense fudging of the rules, this playtest battle was really fun (note that the rules do not require fudging but they did allow me to do so and save my solo game, which was cool.) After so much bloodshed, I'd say that James is right on the path to becoming a raider/ganger...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Weird West and Emulators - Part 1

Recently I found out about the Universal NPC Emulator, on the Mythic discussion group. This universal system, written by Zach Best from Conjecture Games, consists of two parts: the NPC Creator, meant to give an overall description and motivations to an NPC; and the NPC Association Emulator that takes care of the interaction between the NPC and player characters.

So I decided to combine it with the Mythic GM Emulator and run a solo game of the Weird West Role Playing Game by Stuart Robertson. I started creating a party of three characters. I allocated the attributes for all three, then used the NPC creator to get the motivations of Strong Tom and Doc McPherson.

William Hays (Adventurer): Fighting 1, Grit 2, Skill 1, Stamina 7. Equipment: leather duster coat, six shooter, knife.
William came to the west on a caravan of settlers and prospectors when he was eleven. He was fascinated by the weird things that would scare other people, and soon he started his carreer as a traveling jack-of-all-trades. [This is the "main" character and as such I didn't roll for his motivations.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thoughts on playing a solo skirmish

It's been a few months since I started playing miniature games and RPGs solo, and so far I've tried a bunch of different systems and read many blogs (mostly Solo Nexus and other blogs linked from there) and discussion groups, all filled with great ideas. The goal of this post is to sort out my thoughts and experiences, specifically on playing miniature skirmish games solo.

The basic approach
The most basic way of playing a skirmish solo is to set up two "evenly matched" forces and play both of them the best way you can think of. You can play most skirmish games this way although some will require adaptation when they rely on hidden information (for instance, placing face-down order markers for each unit.) The problem with this approach is that it gets old fast, but it's still good to learn the rules of a new game. If you play this way, the main goal becomes observing how the battle turns out, rather than "winning" the match.

Uneven scenarios or "War isn't fair"
One step above the basic approach is the idea of setting up a scenario with a noticeable inbalance between forces. As you become familiar with a game system, you get a feeling for matchups that are unbalanced but interesting to play out. You still play both sides the best you can but now your goals will probably involve trying different strategies. How aggressive can the stronger force be without risking victory? How much damage the weaker force can cause before being defeated, or how long can they hold their ground? Even if you keep the "kill each other" goal for these scenarios, the uneven forces or the "unfairness" of the battle bring new questions to the table.

Alternative goals
Often combined with the uneven forces approach, in this case the goal of defeating the whole enemy group gets replaced (or complemented) by something else. Common ideas include defending a region for some time, passing through a number of regions of the table, crossing the table from one edge to the opposite, stealing an item or rescuing a prisoner, eliminating or protecting one specific figure.

Random events
One problem with solo games, especially when playing both sides of a skirmish, is predictability. In my opinion, that's the main reason why solo players like activation rolls or card-based actvation systems. There is ample discussion on why such mechanics are good to model "fog of war" and uncertainty in the battle but in the end, making the game less predictable adds fun, in the absence of a human opponent. One approach consists in making a simple scenario with specific goals and then adding random events to "spice up" the game by adding new forces, ambushes and so on. Random events are usually checked at the end of each turn, or when specific values are rolled on dice during play.

Autonomous behavior
At the top end of the scale in terms of sophistication are the systems involving autonomous behavior for the opposition. From what I've seen in games, the great advantage of autonomous behavior systems is allowing the player to focus on one force and play against the opposition, rather than ultimately taking the role of a neutral observer (when playing both sides.) As such, these systems have two main goals: reduce predictability and avoid the need for the player to make arbitrary decisions where he could (even subconsciously) favor his force in the game. Systems for autonomous behavior range from general guidelines on the behavior of enemy forces to decision tables for every possible action.

The role of narrative
Narrative has an important role in solo gaming. It adds meaning and purpose to the battles and it is yet another way to compensate for the lack of a human opponent. A basic "kill each other" solo game is made more interesting if you view it as the report of a historical battle (even if it's in the history of a fantasy world.) Adding description and features to miniatures (at least the leaders of each force) makes them feel more relevant than if they were generic troops. Making a character's tactical decisions based on their personal goals may also add variety to the game.

An extension of the use of narrative is the creation of campaigns of linked games involving the same group of characters. The appeal comes from the narrative interpretation of an ongoing story and empathy with the characters that are part of it. Since the player guides one of the forces through the campaing, autonomous behavior and random events are usually adopted for the opposition.

This is a summary of things I've learned so far regarding playing solo skirmish games. As a nice post in Solo Wargamer puts it, flexibility (in form, rules, goals and time) is possibly the greatest appeal of solo play.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Review: All Things Zombie

The last zombie game in my playlist is All Things Zombie (ATZ), from Two Hour Wargames. It is based on the Chain Reaction system that can be obtained for free at their website, with modifications and additions to suit the zombie survival genre. That said, ATZ is a standalone book, there's no need for reading Chain Reaction beforehand. In this post I'll keep to a capsule review of the printed (or in my case digital) matter. Playtest reports will come soon.

Content: ATZ is a 92-page PDF that includes the rules for the game, definitions and behaviors for the different types of survivors and for zombies and rules for campaigns, starting at the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse and onwards. There are two expansions to the game but I'd say that the basic book has enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

The book is organized in several chapters and sections. The introduction presents an overview of the game setting and the reaction system. "Getting started" is about building your group of survivors, gang members or soldiers. "Rules of war" presents the game system: turn structure, actions and reactions, movement, combat, vehicles and buildings. The self-explanatory "Zombies" chapter contains all the rules for the living dead. Then come a few sections presenting a generic encounter system and three introductory scenarios which are good to practice the rules. The book wraps up with a comprehensive campaign system and the "Top Secret" chapter that won't be discussed to avoid spoilers.

Presentation: the book has color front and back covers and greyscale interior pages -- except for two color pages advertising some miniatures at the end of the book. The visual style isn't very different from the Chain Reaction 3.0 book, so you can check that out to see what the book will look like. Although the text is set in two columns, the font type may allow for booklet format printing (I particularly like printing rulebooks this way, to make them easier to carry around or leave them lying on a corner of the table while playing.) The book includes quick reference charts, summary and index, although neither have hyperlinks.

Writing: the text follows the same informal, conversational tone from the Chain Reaction 3.0 book, which makes it a good read. It is also more clear than the Chain Reaction book. For instance, there are more examples for the reaction tests that make them easier to understand.

Solo-friendliness: ATZ directly supports solo play through the Chain Reaction system. In fact, the text refers more often to solo play or cooperative play (which uses the same rules, only with control of the survivors split among players) than competitive play. In all cases, zombies are run by the game rules, not by a player. For these reasons, I'd say that ATZ is mostly geared towards solo gaming, and there are many battle reports to be found on the web that seem to confirm that.

All Things Zombie is a great effort at creating a niche product. Until the release of 5150: New Beginnings, I believe it is also the most recent book from Two Hour Wargames with rules fine-tuned to campaigns with a "role-playing" feel.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Qwik game board

Today I finally found time to build a game board for Qwik. I drew it on a 1mm thick sheet of cork and glued it to thick cardstock using spray glue. Then I made two sticks with toothpicks and glued them to small bases, also made of cork and cardstock. Here are the results.
 Each cell is 2"x2" which is more than enough for three 20mm square bases (you can have at most three figures in a single cell in Qwik.) In this shot I have placed three figures with round 22mm bases (don't ask) to show this.
Now I plan on creating a set of figures in 20mm scale for the Qwik teams, and a marker for the "bean" that I can place over the qwik's base when he's carrying it, or on the ground when it's dropped.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Supply Run

This is a battle report based on the Wasteland Wanderer solo scenario that I posted some time ago. I created a party consisting of two humans, a mutant and a robot. Here you can see, from left to right, Pink (Q4+ C3, Free Disengage, Telepathic Scream) equipped with a pistol, Ella (Q3+ C2, Savage) equipped with an electrical gun, Jones (Q2+ C2, Savage, Leader) equipped with a laser gun and laser-reflective armor, and MX40 (Q4+ C4, Artificial, Superior Software) equipped with an embedded power fist. They are carrying 9 energy cells and 6 food points.
 The Journey
The trip from Dust, a small settlement in the wasteland, to Mart takes about three days. It's dangerous as there aren't any fixed settlements or patrols in between, but the survivors must make it from time to time. After all, Mart is on the trade route from the merchants that come from the north and south, which means it's the nearest place they can go to find any goods we need. Which in this case are medicines.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Zombies and Implants

Cyber Zone and Zombie Apocalypse are the two expansions to the New World Disorder skirmish game. The first introduces implants and other enhancements, and the other, well... zombies. In an interesting twist, implants in Cyber Zone are not only the domain of tricked-out soldiers of fortune. In a future of advanced medical procedures, a low-grade robotic replacement may be the cheap alternative for the less fortunate.

I decided to combine both supplements in a single scenario, influenced by the ones provided in the expansions. Here, a gang of cybernetically enhanced humans must enter an area infested with zombies to retrieve credit chips stored in old terminals. They can sell the credit chips to a fence who provides them to people looking for untraceable money. To retrieve the chips, a character must stand next to a terminal and perform a |brains 4| test. On a failure, there's a 50% chance that the terminal will self destruct its circuits. If it doesn't, the character may try again with another action.