Drop by and take a listen. Jut roll with it, and may all your die rolls be boxcars.
THIS WEEK’S EPISODE OF THE Mentioned in Dispatches podcast from the Armchair Dragoons features Brandt and Jim (@TheGascon) along with your humble blogger here. I wish to give a big shout out to those two gentlemen who invited me to join them to talk about a topic that I am no expert on! Seriously, it was a wonderful experience and really crazy if you realize they reached out to me in the afternoon for an evening recording. I admit that Brandt and Jim carry the show. Once the recording started I sorta lost track of my thoughts. Even my notes I scribbled in advance didn’t serve me well. I’m not sure what point I was trying to make.
For the main part we talk about the patent application for the Unconventional Warfare Wargame that suspiciously looks alot like Settlers of Catan. First, it superficially it looks like Catan thanks to their use of Catan components. Second, and more important to me, is whether it is an original game or a thinly veiled ripoff. Amongst all the discussion I respectfully draw your attention to the analysis of the IP issues from Tabletop Lawyer (@MyuenL).
I think this patent is a real threat to the boardgame/wargame industry. I think the IP law is clear when it comes to theme. You can’t make a Star Wars game without licensing the IP from Di$ney. The real danger I see is that this patent, no matter how narrow it might (or might not) be, moves the industry further down the pathway towards patenting mechanisms in games. Sure, Wizards of the Coast has trademarked certain gaming terms but what happens when somebody patents that mechanic? I cannot see any result other than a chilling effect on the industry, from designers to publishers to players.
Not sure what I’m talking about? Want more discussion and other viewpoints? I strongly encourage you to follow @RexBrynen and his blog PAXSims. Especially see his posting on the issue here. Also, you cannot go wrong for ever reading the work of Tom & Mary Russell from Hollandspiele. Tom posts his blog thoughts online too.
Feature image courtesy Armchair Dragoons. I didn’t ask in advance so…please?
If you have not listened to the boys from So Very Wrong About Games you certainly need to. Like the title of their podcasts says, they relish in pointing out what they like, and especially what they don’t about boardgames. They are not shy about offering their opinion, which is what makes SVWAG a worthy listen. Be warned though; if you have your own opinions and cannot listen to your games taking criticism then you will not be happy. Further, if you are a wargamer, you could become agitated as one of the hosts, Mike Walker, is not a wargamer and openly (at least on the show) despises wargames. On the other hand, co-host Mark Bigney is a wargamer, and apparently an old-school wargamer at that.
Given this split in the interests of the hosts, I was mildly surprised to hear their review of Talon (GMT Games, 2016) on their podcast recently. Like the hosts themselves, what I basically heard it come down to was an old Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games/Amarillo Design Bureau, 1979+) player versus a new Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game (Fantasy Flight Games, 2012+) player. One wanted fast “pew pew” starfighter play with ships dashing across the board while the other relished (anguished) over the decision points brought out by the “ponderous” movement of behemoths in space. My first reaction was like that of the old school Bigney – Talon is a spiritual successor to Star Fleet Battles only Talon does the resource management in a much more playable manner. To Walker on the other hand, the game was just too slow with not enough action.
Neither of them are right, and neither of them are wrong.
If you are looking for a manual videogame version of the Star Wars universe and enjoy competition play through buying ships, adding “power-ups,” and then throwing miniatures down on a mat then X-Wing is definitely your game. This is game Walker wants; Talon is not going to give it to him.
But…if you want another view of starship combat, one where managing resources (power) is interesting to you, then you may want to look at Talon. This is the game Bigney relishes; a game of tight resources and decision points.
For myself, I think I have made it clear before that Talon is more my preference. Sure, there is an element of “chits on the table” in Talon like Walker complains about but in this game it all fits thematically. In my more recent plays, I have also come to more deeply appreciate the ingenuity of the dry-erase ship markings and how they portray information that before was consigned to ship data sheets and the like. To me, Talon delivers an experience of starship combat through a game whereas X-Wing delivers, well, just a game.
One problem with Talon may be it’s age. Designer Jim Krohn has offered up a very modern interpretation of “I need more power, Scotty” science fiction battles. To us grognards, Talon is a refreshing look at an issue that was first tackled nearly 40 years ago in a little pocket folio game from Task Force Games. But what started out as as just over 100 counters and about a dozen ships blossomed into Master Rulebook of over 460 pages. Even with that you still need pages and pages (and binders and binders) more of ships and scenarios to play. Although the core game mechanic of energy allocation was reimplemented and much streamlined in Federation Commander, the fact remains that to play these games requires a major investment of money for materials and time to learn, and play, the games. Talon on the other hand returns to a much simpler implementation of the core mechanic using a different streamlined approach and mixes it with graphics right on the counters to help convey the information quickly and enable speedy play on the table. But how do you explain all this design beauty to a generation of gamers that grew up on Star Wars and barrel rolls in space and never had to fill out an Energy Allocation Form, or as some call it, Accountants in Space?
I doff my cap to the Boys at So Very Wrong About Games for talking about Talon even though it was clearly “not in the wheelhouse” of one of the hosts. In the end though, Mike and Mark actually do science fiction boardgamers/wargamers a great service. The real take-away message from the podcast is that games come in many different forms. The only wrong message one could take away from their them is that there is not a game for you out there. On the contrary, So Very Wrong About Games shows us why the industry is so right; we are very lucky that we can have both X-Wing and Talon.
…But I can’t help but wonder how they would handle Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games, 2018) with its AVID displays and 3D vector movement in space. For sure I think Walker would have a meltdown….
Feature image courtesy BoardGameGeek
I am a latecomer much of the new media. In particular, I find many podcasts are too long and on subjects that only marginally interest me. With Fantasy Flight Games taking on the Star Wars gaming license, I revisited an older podcast, Order 66, to see what the gamer community had to say. I’m glad I did because Order 66 has forced me to reconsider my opinion of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG.
Order 66 started out as support for the d20 version of the Star Wars RPG, specifically the Star Wars: Saga Edition. I was first surprised to find that Order 66 has reinvented itself in support of the new FFG version of the game. This made me suspicious; are they nothing more than company hacks or do they really like the new system? What I quickly found out is that GM Mike and GM Dave are alot like me; eager to learn the new system but hesitant to jump in fully.
What finally convinced me that Edge of the Empire (EotE) has more going for it than I gave it credit for was Episode 2 – Beginner Box, Veteran Style. With this podcast I finally really understand the power of the EotE core mechanic – all those colorful dice and numerous symbols. What really grabbed me was the advantage-threat and triumph-despair conditions. I like how the rules actually assign narrative control. For instance, the player character (PC) rolls to throw a rope across a ravine. The roll is success with advantages. The player then narrates the success (subject to GM approval). In this case it might me “the grapnel holds, and wraps around twice making a very strong anchor.” On the other hand, if the roll was a success, but with threats, the GM could explain “the grapnel holds, but it looks a bit precarious as only one hook is actually caught.”
The podcast also made it clear that the core mechanic supports a highly cinematic version of the Star Wars Universe. The descriptions of game events shows that the combination of skills and fluid initiative makes for fast, pulp-like science fiction action. Sure, blasters are deadly but those minion troopers can’t shoot straight anyway (just like the source material)! This means the game should be FUN for those playing it. A major consideration as I give thought to using this game for a campaign with my kids.
The thought of a shared narrative between the GM and players is also highly appealing to me, especially as I consider using EotE as a game for my kids. The shared narrative mechanic could be a great mechanism for drawing out my son with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as it could draw him out and get him to participate more and exercise his imagination.