In January 2006 I discovered a website called drivethrurpg.com. This was an incredible discovery; a website devoted to digital publishing of role-playing games. Here I found games I had never heard of before. My first order was for a Twilight: 2000 supplement I didn’t own. The second, on January 11, 2006 was for a 2005 game titled Luftwaffe: 1946 Role-Playing Game from a publisher I had never heard of, Battlefield Press.
At the time, I had discovered a website called Luft 46 which is still accessible today. At first I thought the RPG and website were associated with one another. Then I discovered that the Luftwaffe: 1946 RPG was based on a comic book series. Luckily, I was able to find some issues in a local comic store.
Luftwaffe: 1946 used the Action! game engine based a target number and 3d6. Basically, to make a skill check you took Attribute + Skill Level + 3d6 and tried to beat the Target Number.
If Luftwaffe: 1946 has a problem, it’s that the game engine and character creation rules are unbalanced. The character creation system in Luftwaffe: 1946 is extremely dense. The end result was my appreciation of the game was also unbalanced; I liked the game engine but didn’t like the character creation system.
Dallas ‘Tex’ Miller
U.S. Army Air Corps 1st Lieutenant assigned to a special air squadron flying captured German X-Planes
Body Group: Strength 5, Reflexes 5, Health 5
Mind Group: Presence 5, Intellect 5, Will 5
Derived: Defense Target Number 15, Initiative 5, Toughness 5, Life 25, Move 10, Cool 5, Fatigue 5
Disabilities: Famous (1), Recurring Nightmares (2)
Tex has a good life, getting to fly the latest Luftwaffe wonder weapons. Today it’s a Salamander-D, or the forward-swept wing Heinkel 162D (Maneuver Bonus +1). Tex is just trying the basics and is making a Immenlman Turn (Target Number 21).
The GM says the Governing Attribute is Reflexes (5). Tex adds his Transportation (+3) and Pilot (+4) or a total of 12. The 3d6 roll is 10 plus the Maneuver bonus of +1 for a total of 23. Tex pulls off the Immelman but the Salamander is being a bit slippery in its handling!
A bit later Tex decides to try an execute a Lag Roll (Target Number 24). The roll is as before (12 + 1 + 3d6). The 3d6 rolls com up with 7 for a total of 20; the maneuver fails with and effect of -4. Normally, Tex would have to make a TN18 skill roll to retain control with that -4 modifier added in, but his Masterful Control ability gives him the “ability” to ignore the negative penalty. The roll is 12 + 1 + 3d6 (11) for a total of 23—Tex maintains control and is starting to discover the Salamander’s true limits!
An RPG Atrocity
In the end, I gave up on Luftwaffe: 1946 not for the game, but for the politics of the comic book author. What bothered me is that he insisted that removing the swastika from plastic model kits amounted to censorship. He also stated, “I made a careful study of Nazi Germany and found out that their atrocities were not much worse than what other major countries had done to their people and their neighbors throughout the centuries of warfare” (p. 5). Now, I’m not so stupid to think my country is totally blameless, but I absolutely disagree that the United States of America and Nazi Germany are somehow morally equivalent. This forced me to relook at the entire setting in Luftwaffe: 1946. In the end, I decided not to pursue this game any further.
Dunnigan, James F., How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare for the Post-Cold War Era, New York: William Morrow & Company, Inc., 1993 Third Edition. // Written by one of the Elders of Wargaming, this book supposedly provides much insight not into wargame design, but what topics Mr. Dunnigan thought was best suited for inclusion in a wargame about the post-Cold War era..
Dupuy, Colonel T.N., U.S. Army, Ret., The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare, Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc, 1980 Third Edition. // Colonel Dupuy is in many ways the greatest evangelist of Operations Research, a field of military study closely related to but not the same as wargaming. I have Colonel Dupuy’s much later 1993 book Future Wars: The World’s Most Dangerous Flashpoints but inThe Evolution of Weapons he delivers a historical perspective.
Schelling, Thomas C., Arms and Influence, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966. // My job has me going back to the roots of deterrence theory, which also conveniently fits with my interest in game theory and wargames.
Thorpe, George C., Pure Logistics, Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1986. // With the 2022 Russian invasion of the Ukraine the study of logistics is suddenly all-the-rage. Let’s see what was said 30 years ago…
In a previous post, I explained how I totally failed to understand the d20 Modern system, in part because the system reference document (SRD) I bought was missing a key section on determining Abilities for a character. A few years later, I found the “next generation” of Prime Directive, the role-playing game of the Star Fleet Universe. This new Star Fleet Universe RPG used the d20 System. I decided to give it a try.
Technically, Prime Directive d20 required the use of the Third Edition Player’s Handbook (v 3.5) from Wizards of the Coast. The intro matter indicated that d20 Modern could be used (with a little work) so I took the dare and tried.
“A Character Starts With a Story”
So starts “Chapter 3: Character Classes” in Prime Directive d20 (hereafter PD20). This story-first approach was not my norm; I usually rolled up a character first and then developed a backstory. Not in PD20:
The usual way to create a character is to design him or her just as though he was a character in a story you were writing. Start by deciding what type of person you want to be. you can take your inspiration from a fictional hero or heroine — or create your new “self” from the ground up. Once you have some idea what sort of person you want to play, it’s time to bring him to life!
PD20, p. 44
In some ways the story-first approach of PD20 made sense. After all, how does one get a bridge crew or Prime Team out of a random character generation process? So I plunged forward.
To get some inspiration for my PD20 character I looked a the different classes archetypes in the core rulebook. Officers, agents, Marines, merchants, and rogues were all there. The character education path was again very familiar. Figuring out different Prestige Classes was a bit of a challenge, but I eventually understood. Skills were rather straightforward while Feats took some getting used to.
It’s the Little Things…
Ultimately, PD20 suffered from two problems that made it difficult for me to generate characters; Abilities and Character Sheets.
Once again, PD20 forced me to rely on my d20 SRD to generate character Abilities. Of course, the SRD I possessed did not have that section in it. It put me in a pissy mood—I needed to buy a new SRD but I was so pissed at WotC I refused to do so. Why should I go buy the latest Dungeon’s & Dragons Player Handbook just to figure out how to generate Abilities when I don’t even play D&D?
Some of you are saying, “Just go to your FLGS, find the Handbook, look up the page, and take notes!” Yeah, I could of…BUT WHY? It was such a simple thing it shouldn’t have to come to that. Others of you will say, “Dude, look at DriveThruRPG.” Well, in 2005 I hadn’t discovered DTRPG yet!
To add further insult to injury, PD20 does not have a character sheet in the Core Rulebook. Yes, there was a website with some information but once again I felt like I was being cheated out of the little things.
I would eventually get around to creating PD20 characters, but it would not be for a few years. When I eventually did I found the usual problems in a military-based campaign; too many chiefs and not enough indians. It would also take a new Star Trek book series, Vanguard, to help me see a different approach to the Star Fleet Universe and go beyond strictly “military ops.”
Fortunately, Prime Directive d20 comes at the end of my Dark Milieu of role-playing games. From 1996 to 2005 I had sought out a replacement for my beloved Traveller RPG—and failed miserably. While I failed my final Difficulty Check in 2005 with PD20, things were just as quickly to change as I was soon to go from Dark Milieu to “Into the Black.” But before I jumped that far I had to try a little alternative setting…
No epoch in American history, in fact, is more deeply steeped in myth than the era of the Indian Wars of the American West. For 125 years, much of both popular and academic history, film, and fiction has depicted the period as an absolute struggle between good and evil, reversing the roles of heroes and villains as necessary to accommodate the changing national conscious.
The Earth is Weeping, p. 7
The Earth is Weeping is a book that tries to bring balance to the historical record of the American Indian Wars. Following the tragedy/massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, most Americas for the next 80 years viewed brave Indian fighters (cavalry) and courageous settlers as heroic. But in the 1970s that view changed as people began seeing whites as villainous conquerors, and the Indians as victims—thanks in no small part to Dee Brown’s influential book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Cozzen contends Brown’s book made no attempt at historical balance. Peter Cozzens book The Earth is Weeping does not ignore injustices done to the Indians, but he insists we not ignore the white perspective, either.
In a similar manner to The Earth is Weeping, John Poniske’s game Plains Indian Wars (GMT Games, 2022) attempts to deliver a balanced view of the American Indian Wars. This balance comes in two flavors; game balance and historical balance. For the former the game excels but for the later it maybe shies away from the hard parts of history a bit too much, but maybe for the right reasons.
Long ago (and I mean LONG ago) GMT Games put Plains Indian Wars up on the P500. At the time I thought ordering it didn’t pull the trigger. The topic is not really of interest to me so I didn’t even pay attention to the publicity around it. That is, until I heard that the game system is a loose relative of Academy Games’ Birth of America-series. The Birth of America-series games (1754: Conquest,1775: Rebellion,1812: Invasion of Canada) and the closely related 878 Vikings are the favorite lite, family wargames in the RockyMountainNavy house. Yes, even more popular than Commands & Colors, Hold the Line, or even Enemies of Rome. Once I discovered Plains Indian Wars shared some of that lineage, I HAD to have it.
[In a March 16 post on BGG, John Poniske states that, “[Plains Indian Wars] was originally designed for Academy – they turned it down.” That’s…sad for Academy Games.]
Part of what makes the Birth of America-series of games so appealing to me is game balance. In every game, you have asymmetric factions working together to deliver victory. Victory is usually based on area control. Admittedly, the combat part of the history in many Birth of America games is glossed over because casualties don’t really matter—the only judge of victory is who controls a particular area.
Factions On the Plains
In Plains Indian Wars there are seven “factions.” The Major Indian Factions are the Northern Plains Tribes (NPT) and the Southern Plains Tribes (SPT). The Major US Factions are the Cavalry and Settlers. The three “minor factions”—all controlled by the US player(s), are the Enemies of the NPT/SPT, Wagon Trains, and the Transcontinental Railroad. Every major faction has a deck of 15 cards (larger in size than those found in a Birth of America game), custom faction dice, and color-coded cubes. Minor factions have cubes but no cards, and only the Enemies faction has custom dice. The 34″x22″ mounted game board is a stylized map of the area (i.e. not totally geographically accurate) but well laid out and easy to use in the game.
Each turn of Plains Indian Wars consists of a series of random draws of a faction disk from a bag. This game mechanism, lifted directly from the Birth of America-series, is in great part what makes every game so engaging; you simply don’t know in what order the different factions will operate. Major Factions use their cards in a turn to take different actions. Some cards are Migration, Engagement, War Party, or an Event.
Another asymmetrical game mechanism carried over from the Birth of America-series in Plains Indian Wars is the custom faction dice. Dice come with one of three faces; Blank (retreat), Treaty (end of combat), and Weapon (hit). Each factions dice are not the same; the US Cavalry has 3x Weapon, 1x Treaty, and 2x Blank making it deadly in combat. The NPT/SPT/Enemies dice are 3x Blank, 1x Treaty, and 2x Weapon making them rather balanced. Settlers, on the other hand, have 4x Blank, 1x Treaty, and only a single Weapon making them disadvantaged in combat.
The end result of the asymmetric factions in Plains Indian Wars is actually a very mechanically balanced game. The key to victory for each player is to use their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Although Plains Indian Wars is categorized as a “wargame” on BoardGameGeek, the real “war” in the game is for territory. The US Player(s) gain points for completing the Railroad, exiting Wagon Trains across the board, and for controlling NPT/SPT areas. The Indian Player(s) gain points for stopping the joining of the Railroad, eliminating George Armstrong Custer on the turn he enters, eliminating Wagon Train cubes, eliminating Cavalry cubes, and controlling NPT/SPT and Enemies regions. They also lose points if the US Player controls more Enemies regions than they do. All of which in play means the US Player is constantly trying to expand the areas they control while the Indian Player is trying push back the Settlers and impede the flow of Wagon Trains.
Similar to how the different factions in Plains Indian Wars are mechanically balanced in play, the game strives to depict a similar historical balance. There is no “absolute struggle between good and evil” as neither side is necessarily “good” or obviously “evil.” Event cards in particular call-out some situations that are significant and not necessarily to be crowed about. Game play tends to emphasize the broad strategy of the day (the ends) but it also tends to gloss over how that was done (the means) which in many cases carried intense racial undertones. In several discussion threads about Plains Indian Wars on BoardGameGeek, designer John Poniske has mentioned some design decisions that are ahistorical but were made in the name of game balance. Which is to say that even the designer recognizes that Plains Indian Wars is an imperfect view of the American Indian Wars.
This brings me back to Academy Games’ decision to not publish Plains Indian Wars. I don’t know why that decision was made and hope it was for financial reasons vice any “commentary” on the historical aspects of this game. One criticism of the Birth of America-series is that the Native American factions don’t have much agency and tend to be used as pawns of major factions (not rue in 1812, but I can see the argument in 1775). In Plains Indian Wars the Northern Plains Tribes and Southern Plains Tribes are elevated to major factions and certainly have “agency” in the game. Plains Indian Wars could of brought “balance” to the Academy Games catalog, but I digress.
Does that really matter? A part of me says Plains Indian Wars is fine the way it is. The game presents those broad strokes of history in a very friendly, lite-wargame manner. On the other hand, the historian in me cringes a bit because there is so much to be said…
…and maybe that’s why the game is the way it is.
If one digs deep into the myths and misconceptions of the American Indian Wars they will quickly enter into a highly controversial discussion. Plains Indian Wars is a “top-level” view of that discussion, perhaps best used not to learn the details of the most controversial issues, but to trigger a desire to further explore those outside of the game. The game does not attempt to explain the many myths of history, but instead “exposes” them for the players. This is far from a condemnation of Plains Indian Wars for like the Birth of America-series before it there is only so much that can (should?) be communicated in a historical family-lite wargame. The historical balance in Plains Indian Wars is not simply a balance between factions, but a balance in the presentation of history.
Plains Indian Wars can be played by one, two, three, or even four players. Personally, I think the game shines best as a two-player game where your “thinking” opponent presents the greatest challenge. The solo variants are useful for exploring the various factions, and the three-or four player versions are in some ways even more family friendly. But to me, the best balance between game play and historical flavor is found in the two-player version.
Plains Indian Wars is a welcome addition to the shelf of “family” wargames. Not only is Plains Indian Wars a good game, it also “teaches without preaches” and challenges your mind to explore further.
As the mid-2000’s came—and went—my quest for a replacement role-playing game after Traveller RPG had gone nowhere for almost a decade. After failing my d20 save, I went looking for other game systems. In doing so, I ended up looking at smaller publishers. Somewhere I came across a copy of a game called Cold Space from Better Mousetrap Games (2005). So desperate was I for a new RPG that I was willing to try anything. I mean, the setting looked interesting; an alternate history Cold War with counter-gravity in the 1950’s, Orion rockets, and the like.
The setting in Cold Space was not the only difference from what I was used to. The entire game system was different from my experience too. Cold Space was my first introduction to what I came to call “Indie-RPG.” These games, many times published in a kind of do-it-yourself desktop publishing manner, were maybe not as refined as the tentpole games (i.e. Dungeons & Dragons). However, each was interesting in how they brought a unique perspective on a game system to an RPG. Cold Space was built using a system called StarCluster. This was my first, and only, expereince with that game engine.
Cool Characters in Cold Space
In Cold Space, there are two “approved” methods of generating the initial characteristics and cash for characters; the Random Method and the Directed Method (p.30, 31). Seeing how I came from the random character generation heritage of the Traveller RPG I instantly went with the Random Method. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure sure I ever tried the Directed Method. Most initial characteristics in Cold Space are randomly generated with 2d6…another link to Traveller in my mind.
After generating the initial characteristics in Cold Space the character enters schooling. Ah, a life-cycle approach to character generation, ala Traveller again! Then, you enter a profession…still more Traveller-like! The skill list in Cold Space is kinda large (`100 skills) but not unmanageable.
Then I tried to play a game using Cold Space.
Check-ing Out Cold Space
Very slowly I was beginning to realize that different role-playing games had different “core mechanics.” I was learning that characteristics and skill levels were not all the same across different RPG systems, and each was related to the “core mechanism” of each design. In Cold Space, the Task Resolution system is built around several different checks:
Skill Check: Target number is the character’s skill chance which is base skill (45) plus 5 added for every level of skill with a bonus if governing attribute is above a certain threshold.
Attribute Check: A multiplier of the base attribute ranging from x1 (Very Difficult) to x5 (Moderately Easy).
Profession Check: Not a skill but familiarity from profession; 3x years spent in profession times promotion level.
Say the character, Major Tom, is an early astronaut that is launching on a mission…
As Major Tom’s rocket enters orbit, there is problem. Major Tom attempts to use his Pilot+3 skill to regain control. This is a Skill Check with a target number of 45 plus (2×5=10) or 50. A governing attribute bonus of +1 comes from IQ above 120. Final target number is 51. Major Tom rolls a 65…
If you can’t tell already, the StarCluster engine (a term I would learn later) in Cold Space is built around a d100 or d% die roll. This was certainly NOT Traveller RPG-like but I had played James Bond 007 so the d100 was not totally foreign. At the end of the day, though, the system just didn’t click with me.
In the early days of the contragravity space program, it still took a certain “steely-eyed missile man” to make an astronaut…
Mother’s Milk skill are learned before age 10. Major Tom hails from the American Midwest, and as such he has Rural Moderate resources. This gives him skill in Tracking from the Hunting Set, Endear from the Social Set, Dash from the Sport Set, and Research from the Scientific Set. Young Major Tome grows up in a very middle-class family and has an interest in science.
Initial Characteristics (Random Method)
Strength (2d6) = 5
Coordination/Agility (same 2d6 each) = 6
Endurance (2d6) = 9
IQ (%d) = 53 by lookup table becomes 113
Luck (%d) = 31 by lookup table becomes 1
Cash (%d) = 71 by lookup table becomes $13,000
Charisma (2d6) = 5
Public Junior High: CHAR+2, IQ+5, Research+2, Negotiate. Young Major Tom is a friendly, outgoing guy who loves to study and becomes a peacemaker amongst his friends.
Military High School (cost $1,300): Str+2, COOR +2, Mathematics+1, Astronomy+2. Young Major Tom starts dreaming of the stars…
Agriculture & Military (A&M College) (cost $2,000): Observe+1, Biology+1, Operate+1, Husbandry+1. Unable to get into a Military Academy Major Tom still finds a way to get a military education.
Officer Candidate School: IQ+20, Leadership+1
Skills: Pilot +3, Electronics+1, Mechanics+1, Zero-G+1
Many classic definitions of a wargame include some sort of a map. It’s not a hard and fast requirement these day with different game mechanisms, like the “tableau” wargame Tank Duel: Enemy in Crosshairs by Mike Bertucelli from GMT Games (2020). As I follow the War in Ukraine, the wargamer in me wonders about how I could depict parts of the battle. To do so I will need a map. So I started looking at the different ones out there.
Before I get into the Ukraine war maps, let’s review some wargame map basics. First, not all wargame maps are the same (duh!). Broadly speaking, I group wargame maps into several categories:
Map Board: The mapboard uses a mapping coordinate system like a real map (Ranger, Omega Games)
Hex Map: A hexgrid (or alternatively a square grid) is laid over the mapboard to regulate movement and combat (Advanced Squad Leader, Multi-Man Publishing)
Area Map: The map is divided into areas (Victory in the Pacific, Avalon Hill)
Point-to-Point Map: The map is a series of connected points or areas (Waterloo, Avalon Hill)
So, which style of map is useful for a wargame of the War in the Ukraine?
Mapping the Ukraine War
Many of the maps I see on social media are broad overviews of the fighting. As such, they tend to be small-scale (large area) with varying degrees of detail. If anything, most seem to be using an area map approach.
The UK MoD map is a broad overview of the fighting with likely lines of advance shown. It also uses what I call “creeping red areas” to show the area the Russian Army supposedly controls. The detail provided on Russian forces is extremely broad.
The official French map is a little different and focuses on the area the Russian Forces have occupied since the beginning of the war, but forces are excluded.
The open source intelligence (OSINT) community on social media is also tracking the war. @war_mapper delivers maps that show the pre-war occupied areas and the areas occupied since the start of the war. Interestingly, the illustrator doesn’t only use filled in areas, but shows a combination of “lines of advance” and “occupied areas” in a kind of combination area and point-to-point map.
Still others try to capture the seemingly different war going on in the Ukraine. @Nrg8000 produces two maps, one of which focuses on routes the Russian Army has advanced on using a very point-to-point map approach.
The second map from @Nrg8000 is a carefully labeled map showing the “furthest extent of Russian troop movements.” This wording seems to out of the way to not ascribe control of an area to the Russian forces.
Others try to capture the offensive/defensive thrusts and helpfully bring in some data from beyond the Ukrainian border.
Think tanks also are following the war. The daily map from the Institute for the Study of War is one of the more comprehensive. From a wargaming perspective, at least some force are annotated on the map. It also uses two concepts for area control; assessed versus claimed. The ISW has also been very open about how they are mapping the conflict.
If you have served in the military you very likely have heard of the Common Operating Picture, or COP. Twitter user Jomini of the West (@JominiW) produces a daily map that is the closest to a COP I have seen out there. From a pure conflict wargamer perspective this one might be the most “familiar” given the force laydowns depicted.
Zones of Control
Before we go further into maps I think it’s important to talk about another wargame concept that is highly relevant to a discussion of maps.One of the oldest concepts in wargames are Zones of Control (ZoC). In many classic wargame rules, a unit projects a ZoC into the six hexes around it. This usually represents recon and screening elements as well as organic artillery or other fires the unit posses that makes movement through the area around, but not occupied by the center of mass for the unit, become challenged.
In the Ukraine War, the ZoC concept may not be an accurate reflection of the situation on the ground. While there is most assuredly some form of Forward Line of Troops (FLOT) or a Forward Edge of the Battle Area (FEBA), if there is one thing the Ukraine War has shown is that the Ukrainian forces excel at striking into Russian rear areas. In wargame terms, Ukrainian forces often operate (quite freely) within the ZoC of Russian Army units. So how do you depict this in a wargame? It’s almost as though you need a hex map for the FLOT, an area map for the operational scale, and a point-to-point map for the supply and reinforcement phases.
The War in the Ukraine highlights to wargamers the challenge of what to map.
Hex Map: PRO: Good for depictions of weapon interactions. CON: At smaller scale (larger area) a greater degree of abstraction is required. The easiest map to integrate with ZoC.
Area Map: PRO: Can cover larger area. CON: Greater degree of abstraction; individual units cannot depict a ZoC.
Point-to-Point Map: PRO: Excellent for portraying lines of communications and key hubs. CON: Almost no integration with ZoC and unable to show “off-road” movement between points.
Tactical Battles: Tactical battles tend to focus on the interaction of weapon systems and as such are large-scale (small area). Are you recreating a tactical ambush? Then a hex map may be appropriate.
Operations: Operational-level wargames tend to focus on the interactions of larger units and different domains of battle. Some wargames, like Mitchell Land’s Next War series from GMT Games, very successfully use a hex map. If one choses to use a hex map then the map scale becomes very important. The Next War series uses a scale of 7.5 miles per hex. This would make a map of all of the Ukraine almost 100 hexes wide! In this case an area map might be more appropriate.
I think wargame designers and players will learn much from the war in the Ukraine, and challenges for how one depicts the conflict will be a part of professional and hobby wargaming for a while to come. Alas, I wish the pre-war wargaming had better and prepared all (except the Russians) for the conflict upon us. Then again, it certainly appears that the Ukrainians prepared for this war a whole lot better than the Russians did…
Well, with my busy schedule it certainly feels like I have given up boardgaming for Lent! I don’t know about you, but I am (beyond) fully back to work at something like 120% in the office (including some weekends and after hours “events”). It really has put a crimp into my wargame and boardgame time. The Shelf of Shame is growing with little indication that it will be seriously worked off in the near future.
Plains Indian War (John Poniske, GMT Games, 2022) – Very interested in this design as it has some Birth of America-series DNA deep behind it; the BoA-series from Academy Games, along with 878 Vikings,are the games that brought lite, family wargaming back into the RockyMountainNavy home and were so important to our coping with COVID.
I need to work off some of this backlog because more games are inbound. In what seems to be a post-COVID rebound, the flow of games started in the COVID-era are finally making their way through the pipeline and some are getting closer to delivery. A few titles that may show up within the next 3 months include:
Even though my Shelf of Shame is starting to sag, new games are always welcome. That said, my “acquisition strategy” has been to slow down a bit this year (Mrs. RMN says, “About time!”). Here in late March my trend-line of gaming acquisitions is a bit under-slope from the last few years:
2019 Gaming Acquisitions thru March: 12
2020 Gaming Acquisitions thru March: 19 (+58%)
2021 Gaming Acquisitions thru March: 20 (+5%)
2022 Gaming Acquisitions thru March: 13 (-35%)
I think many of us are going to look back at 2020 and 2021 and see that, even in the worst of the COVID lockdowns, our gaming was in something of a Golden Era. Sure, there was less face-to-face gaming for many, but here in the RMN house the RMN Boys and myself got in lots of good gaming. That “Golden-Horror” time has certainly come to an end, and now we struggle to keep our hobby life going.
The tabletop boardgaming life of the RockyMountainNavy hacienda has been in a bit of a funk this past year. Between myself going back to work something like 120%, full-time employment for Middle RMN Boy, and high school senior year and part-time work for Youngest RMN Boy, there is very little time for family boardgaming in the house. Further, the flavor of gaming has changed with even less three-player opportunities. Sensing this, I started looking at more two-player boardgames. One that I recently brought into the collection is 1st & Roll from R&R Games (2018). It’s been a winner!
Although I have a few sports games in my collection, finding one that feels “real” is tough. We have had moderate success in auto racing games with Pitch Car (very light and fun) to Formula D (love the different gear dice!) to Supercharged (card-based simple flavor and fun). The RMN Boys are football fans at heart, and finding a good football game was tougher. We have a well used copy of Battleball which is more toy than sport.
A “Real” Football Game
What impresses me the most about 1st & Roll is just how “real” it plays. The game starts with a Kickoff using the Kick Die. Then, the offensive player picks either a pass, run, or pass/run play (each is a different color die) and the defensive player picks a defense (pass, pass/run, run). The die are compared and if the colors are different the offensive die is rolled and the ball advanced. If they are the same color there is a dice-off. Then a Clock die is thrown which moves the clock or can lead to a Turnover. There are breakaway plays and extra yardage. There is a chance of penalties. You can punt or do an onsides kick or a long bomb or a Hail Mary or kick a Field Goal or even fumble the ball. In other words, it plays not so different from a real football game, but on a small board and with just a few dice.
Another element of 1st & Roll that I like is the game components. In particular, I’m talking about the magnetic board. Yup, the board has a thin metal layer inside and the football and down marker and clock are magnetic. Other markers are small magnets. This makes the game not-so-safe for little kids, but then again, they should be playing flag football at that younger age anyway, right?
I’ve mentioned it before, but if if you go back through this blog and look at my tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) history, you will not find Dungeons & Dragons. You will find lots of Traveller RPG, but not the other grandparent of the hobby. So to show you how really dark my RPG milieu from 1994 to 2005 was, we’re going to talk d20.
In that dark milieu I was desperately seeking a new role-playing game system. As much as I loved Traveller I felt that it wasn’t “fresh” anymore. Someway, somehow, I “heard” that you could play an RPG in a modern setting using a variation of the D&D rules. All you had to do was get this thing called a “Handbook.” So I searched, and in those early-Internet days I found a publisher all the way across the pond in the UK called Mongoose Publishing that sold this thing called The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004) for a very respectable price of $19.99. So I bought one. The first envelope arrived—empty. Fortunately an appeal to the publisher resulted in another copy being shipped “With Compliments.”
Sitting down, I immediately started out to try to make a character…and failed. What went wrong?
Remember, I had not touched any of the d20 D&D world. I had no idea about “Edition Wars.” Most confusing was the text on the back of the book that talked about something called, “Modern OGL rule set.” What the heck is OGL?
Little did I realize then, I had encountered what I later learned was called a System Reference Document, or SRD. As the back book matter states:
The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is a simple guide to the world’s most popular Modern roleplaying game system. It contains exactly what a reader need to play the game and nothing else.
With this guide to the intricacies of the Modern OGL rules set, Players and Games Masters can make use of any other setting material or devise their own for a campaign that is uniquely theirs while still retaining the basic framework of the Modern OGL game. If it is a basic rule covering character creation, combat, equipment, vehicles, creatures or magic, it has a home in these pages.
Back matter, The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook, 2004
Way too slowly did I realize that The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is not a fully formed RPG but just like it says a basic, generic, set of rules. Still, you can create characters and put them in your own setting, right?
Reading through the Modern Pocket Handbook I jumped to the character creation chapter. The first step to making a character in is to pick an occupation. This was familiar given my Traveller RPG history. Then I encountered classes.
What I came to realize years later was that many of the “classes” in The Modern Pocket Handbook were actually archetypes. Further, like The Babylon Project before this, you don’t really randomly create a character, you methodically “develop” them.
As I worked though the Modern Pocket Handbook I encountered classes and talents and feats in character creation. What also threw me off was the lack of a setting. The last real “setting-less” rules set I used was my original Traveller RPG, but even that one had moved to the Third Imperium setting rather quickly.
I also realized that character creation chapter skipped a major part of character creation; abilities. For that you had to go back to the first chapter of handbook that discussed concepts.
After learning all about occupations and classes and skills and talents and feats I tried to make a character using the Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook. I wanted to introduce you to Joe Mundane. But I can’t. The book simply does not give me the “ability” to do so. Really.
Nowhere in The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is there a single sentence on how to generate the basic ability scores. No “roll a d20.” No “roll d20-2” or “Roll d20+1.” Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how do I even start? Since I was not a d20 player, I had no “background” material to look at to see how others did it.
I didn’t look further…I just gave up and moved along.
Only later did I find another version of the Modern SRD and then have the confidence to make my own decision as to how to establish initial Ability scores. That time came only after I became more aware of different RPG system designs and actually paid close attention to the math behind the numbers.
As poor as my expereince with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook was I did learn a few things:
I learned what an SRD is.
I learned about the Open Game License (OGL)
I discovered Mongoose Publishing which in a few years grew into a love/hate relationship with Mongoose Traveller.
What I didn’t learn was how the d20 system worked in play. This would take another few years to change…but (not-so-spoiler alert) not for the better. For the time being, my dark RPG age continued.
Babylon 5 is one of my favorite sci-fi TV series. As I wargamer I certainly was entertained by the ship battles, and even went so far as to buy the ship combat wargame Babylon 5 Wars from Agents of Gaming (1997). Around that same time, there was another Babylon 5 ship combat wargame based on the Full Thrust set of rules by John Tuffley found in the Earthforce Sourcebook (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) supplement to a new role-playing game, The Babylon Project. Since the wargame and the RPG seemed to go together, I got both. Twenty-five years later, I still enjoy the Earthforce Sourcebook ship combat rules. On the other hand, The Babylon Project is little more than a footnote in my RPG history. Like I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the period of 1996 to 2005 was a dark milieu of role-playing games for me. The Babylon Project certainly cast a “shadow” in over that dark, forgettable time.
This Really Ain’t Traveller…
In every RPG I had played before The Babylon Project character generation was by die roll. In a major change of pace, characters in The Babylon Project are not “generated” but instead “developed” through a thought exercise. At first I was totally lost—where are the die rolls and tables? As much as I loved the setting, this was totally NOT what I expected in an RPG. So I bounced off the game system very hard. It also didn’t help that the Task Resolution system was the polar opposite of character generation with a seemingly endless demand for table lookups Even this Grognard wargamer had difficulty with multi-step combat resolution system that had table after table…for what? Even worse, The Babylon Project uses 2d6 but not in the traditional sense; here you have “The Random Modifier” where you roll a “positive” die and a “negative” die and generate a result from +5 to -5. Sigh…
In the last 25 years I have occasionally revisited The Babylon Project and while I really enjoy the Gamemaster advice and setting material, I have never really been able to get into the character generation part of the system. I will admit however, that this time around it was a bit better. Maybe this is because after 25 years I understand more about life and understand what happens in different eras of aging.
The first part of character development that surprised me in The Babylon Project was that you don’t roll for attributes. Instead, you started with a list based on your race and do a maximum +2/-2 exercise to “customize” that you wanted. This approach demands you know at the beginning of character development what you want the outcome to be. This was an approach I was not at all ready for; up until this point the only RPGs I had played were ones that I “rolled up” characters. While some systems gave me a degree of flexibility and choice during character generation, for the most part you “took what you got” at the end of the process. I was used to and very comfortable with this approach; I think it actually makes for a better RPG player because you have to truly role-play what you got, not what you dreamed up.
When developing a character in The Babylon Project, you go through a thought process that asks you to imagine your character in three eras of their life. You think about what they did in Childhood, then their Development years, and finally what they did in Adulthood. Along the way you pick out skills and characteristics. Again, this demands a good amount of prior player “knowledge” of what the outcome of character development will be.
When I first ran into The Babylon Project I was around 30 years old and not far into a military career. I certainly could relate, but not fully understand, what I learned and experienced in my childhood years. I was truly in the midst of my Development years and was still unsure what Adulthood really would bring. So to ask me to make a fully formed character was in some ways asking a bit much. Today, I am a quarter century older with my own children, some of whom are in those Development years already. My perspective on life gives me insights I didn’t have before. Developing a character for The Babylon Project is now a totally different experience.
J’Mak – A Reputable Business…Narn?
Meet J’Mak, a Narn trader. Well, J’Mak looks like a Narn trader. He acts like a Narn trader. He even owns a small fleet of merchant ships like a Narn trader. What only a few people know (though others suspect) is that J’Mak is much more than a trader. Rumor has it that if you want arms shipped to or from certain areas of space J’Mak is your go-to contact. Centauri intelligence absolutely believes J’Mak is a secret arms trader; the Earthforce seem less convinced. The members of the Non-Aligned Worlds seem more than happy to do business with J’Mak…though few talk about exactly “what” that business is.
A Terrified Childhood
J’Mak was born in the last years of the Centauri occupation of Narn. This was a brutal time, and J’Mak is Haunted (characteristic) by memories of losing family members to the Centauri occupiers in a brutal fashion. He also became a bit Paranoid (characteristic) about losing anything to the Centarui. In these early years, he learned to draw on Religion (skill) for personal strength but also excelled in Athletics (skill) that he often used for Survival (skill) and Hiding (skill).
The end of the Centauri occupation of Narn occurred just as J’Mak was coming of age. He eagerly joined the space forces. He learned how to Pilot (skill), Navigate (skill), handle (Shiphandling skill) and fight (Tactics and Weapons Systems skills) a starship. He also learned how to handle himself in a fight (Unarmed and Ranged skills) as well as bit of the Human language (skill). J’Mak was Fanatical (characteristic) and Proud (characteristic) of his service.
J’Mak left the service and quickly established his own small merchant trading company (Assets characteristic). For a Narn that was fanatical, he has become a very Dedicated (characteristic) businessman (skill). He has learned the art of Diplomacy (skill) and is recognized as a Savvy (skill) dealer while also being very versed in Human Law (skill).
Along the way J’Mak also picked up some skill in Driving and Investigation. He is even a bit famous (characteristic). Or is that infamous?
J’Mak – Narn Trader and regular visitor to Babylon 5…
Haunted by memories of family deaths during the Occupation
Paranoid and unable to ever trust a Centauri
Fanatical to the goal of Narn rising
Proud of his efforts to rebuild Narn
Outwardly Dedicated to his business (a ruse)
Inwardly Dedicated tot he fall of Centauri
(Assets – 3x freighters)
Famous and a popular businessman (Infamous as as gun runner)
If character development was a thought exercise, Task Resolution is a table heaven. Let’s say J’Mak has been approached sumggle arms by a contact he has never met before. Before signing on for the contract, J’mak decides to do a little “background check” on his potential client. This will require him to use his Investigation skill and let’s say he is using his Research Specialty to ask about. The Gamemaster decides this will use his Intelligence Attribute. The client is being vague and evasive with providing background information, so the GM decides this is a Difficult task,
J’Mak has an Ability of Intelligence 5 + Investigate 3 + Specialty +2 for a total of 10
The player rolls a Random Modifier (Good d6 – Bad d6) or 3-2 = +1
Ability (10) + Random Modifier (+1) = 11 which EQUALS a Difficult Task.
J’Mak has a “Marginal Success.” He uncovers that his client has some indiscernable shady past but can’t find any connection to an intelligence service. J’Mak goes ahead with the contract, but asks for a bit extra of a premium to cover potential “complications.”
Of course, when making the delivery that “complication” arrives. Just as the cases are being dropped, a “concerned” bystander pulls out a PPG and opens fire! The bad gang member’s first shot drops one of J’Mak employees, but J’Mak now has a chance to draw his PPG and open fire.
This is a Ranged Combat situation
Bad Gang Guy is standing 8 m from J’Mak making the Ranged Attack Difficulty = Average
J’Mak aims for the center of mass of the bad guy (Default Aim Point – No Modifier)