Wednesday 22 May 2024

Drama from Inelegance

In Rock, Paper, Scissors, players simultaneously throw out one of three hand symbols. Rock beats scissors beats paper beats rock etc. If the thrown symbols match then the result is a draw and players typically throw again.

In Odds & Evens each player is assigned as either Odd or Even. They simultaneously throw out either 1 or 2 fingers and check the total number of fingers shown. If the total is even the even player wins, if it is odd the odd player wins.

By having fewer hand-types to choose from and removing the draw it could be argued that Odds & Evens is a more elegantly designed game than Rock, Paper, Scissors. Certainly if you're using the game to quickly find a winner, such as "who gets first turn in the real game we're about to play" then Odds & Evens is going to get you there quicker.

I grew up with RPS and I remember having thoughts similar to the above when I learned about O&E as an adult. RPS is obsolete, spread the word!

But something is missing from O&E and all its elegance, and when the game is this small you really notice when something is lost.

There's power in that moment when you draw a round of RPS. Let's say you both throw down scissors. You pause, look at each other, and throw again, but now there's context. Do you stick to your guns and throw scissors again? Maybe they'll do that, in which case you should throw rock?

The idea of "gambits" for RPS is probably meant as a joke, but it ruffles my feathers that it fails to account for draws and how to respond to them. It's a real gap in competitive book play.

Of course it mostly comes down to chance, barely different to flipping a coin, but the experience of playing RPS is entirely different to flipping a coin, and O&E with its ruthless efficiency fails to capture that.

While I might seem evangelical for elegance and minimalist design, there's sometimes power in those moments of inelegance.

Something to consider for RPGs and wargames, but how about we introduce even more inelegance to RPS?

(much like Chess there's a long history of messing with the rules of RPS, so I'm not claiming origin of any of these)

All the below assume a game of playing to 3 points.

Symbol Values

If you win then you earn points based on the symbol you threw.
Rock (3pts), Scissors (2pts), Paper (1pt)
I've seen this variant with Paper as 2pts and Scissors as 1pt but I prefer it if the weakest symbol beats the strongest.

Tie Breaks

If you tie then an Event occurs depending on the symbol thrown.
Rock: Bump rocks. Both players lose 1 point to a minimum of 0 points.
Paper: Stack papers. If a player wins the next throw they earn an extra point.
Scissors: Sharpen scissors. If the next throw is won by scissors then that player immediately wins the game.

Power Creep

A new symbol is added: Dynamite, represented by a "thumbs up" gesture. It beats any other symbol, and ties with itself.

Dynamite can only be thrown by each player once per game.

If playing with Symbol Values then Dynamite is worth 1pt.

If playing with Tie Breaks then tied Dynamite returns both players to 0pts.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 15 May 2024

Week Off

Last week I took a bit of time off around my Birthday, so there's no Patreon post to share. 

However, if you haven't already been following the podcast then there are four episodes to catch up on, with another two left to come.

So far I've been joined by Quintin Smith, Laurie O'Connel, Mike Hutchinson, and Kelsey Dionne. You can listen here or on your podcast service of choice.

Expect the fifth podcast episode and a new blogpost next week.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 8 May 2024

MAC Attack x Epic 40k

MAC Attack is back on the menu!

Well, it was never really off for me. I've been tinkering away at it behind the scenes since I last wrote about it. Since my brain has latched back onto wargames for a little while I thought I'd try an experiment with the game.

Can MAC Attack do Epic 40k?

It started out with wanting to test an all-AU (Auxiliary Units, basically anything not a big robot) force against an all-MAC force. This isn't strictly legal in the rules-as-written but who cares?

This reminded me of the very first scenario presented to players of Epic 40k 3rd Edition.

Yeah, in there. 

The opening scenario in the book pitches a small Space Marine force against a lone Ork Gargant. Hearsay tells me that this battle was pretty unfair on the Marines, but I think it's a commendable choice as it brings a big scary war engine to the table right away, rather than holding it back as an option for advanced play down the line. It gets the players engaging with one of the key selling points of this scale (BIG unit) from the off, instead of putting them in the shallow end with some infantry vs infantry tutorial. 

So I set about recreating the two forces using MAC Attack rules.


Space Marines (55pts)

4x Land Raiders (16pts)
LP2 Lascannons
Armour

5x Devastators (15pts)
LP1 Heavy Weapons
Armour

6x Tactical Marines (24pts)
SB1 Boltguns
Armour
Transport (can Rush)



Next I built the Gargant as a Class 3 MAC, and with points left to spare I added a handful of Stompas to fill out the force.

Orkz

Gargant (20pts)
Class 3 MAC
1: LB3 MegaCannon
2: LB2 BigGun
3: LB2 BigGun
4: Assault Weapon
5: Plate
6: Plate

3x Stompas (12pts each)
Class 1 MAC
1: LB2 BigGun
2: SB1 DakkaGuns
3: Assault Weapon
4: Radiator
5: Radiator
6: Plate



As per the scenario I deploy one Marine formation in the central ruins (this battlefield is all ruins, as the Epic 40k starter box intended). The remaining Marines will enter from their board edge on Turn 1. 

The Gargant and Stompas start over on their edge. 


The Orks home in on the devastators. Cover is extra-beneficial to Infantry in MAC Attack, so the initial Ork salvo is underwhelming, knocking out a single base of Marines. 

Meanwhile, the Tactical Marines and Land Raiders race onto the board, the former skirting up the flank to try to find a good piece of cover. 


The Stompas break formation and put pressure on the other Marine formations. The Tactical formation hold firm while one of the Land Raiders ends up crushed beneath the green Stompa. 


The full weight of fire from the Tactical formation is too much for the blue Stompa, who gets blown apart, suffering critical internal damage. 


With supporting fire from the Gargant, the Stompa blasts away two more of the Land Raiders.

The remaining Land Radier flees into the open field and blasts the Stompa with it's Lascannons, causing it to meltdown and explode. The last remaining Stompa charges into the ruins and crushes the remnants of the devastator formation. 


As the dust clears, the Tactical Formation race into cover amongst the ruins, facing off against the Gargant. The isolated Land Raider does its best to line up a long ranged shot at the Gargant. 


The forces trade fire, the Marines holding up against the big guns, chipping away at the terrible war machines. The Land Raider's lascannon sears into the Gargant's back, rupturing the engine, but it still stands. 


The Gargant and Stompa lurch into the ruins, crushing marines beneath their feet, forcing the infantry to abandon the cover to avoid being wiped out in close combat. 

Meanwhile the Land Raider lines up another shot and lands it with perfect precision, triggering an explosion in the Gargant's grinding core. The giant collapses to the ground, its reactor in meltdown, as the Ork crew flee into the open ground. 


The final Stompa is disarmed, its guns silenced under mass fire, its reactor exposed, and with the Land Raider swooping in to support I call this as a somewhat pyrrhic Marine victory. 

Does MAC Attack work as a quick-running alternative to a more typical Epic system? 

I think it does alright! Of course you can't simulate every unit in exactly the same way as in the original game, but it gave me an excuse to crack out those lovely 6mm armies again. 

In terms of AUs vs MACs it felt about right. The MACs felt powerful, able to cut through the formations when things lined up well, but the mass fire of the infantry and powerful anti-tank gun of the tanks never felt futile, taking a steady toll and eventually breaking through. 

All of the Marine AUs had Armour, essentially a 4+ Save, so it would be interesting to try a similar battle with some unarmoured units as a contrast.  

Maybe next time I'll try a full-on Epic clash... big formations of tanks and infantry on each side... maybe bring in the aircraft too. 

Perhaps even put a forest on the table. 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

The Power of Bluntness

I was reading through the rules for Blood Red Skies. I picked up the starter set for reasons that will become clear in a few weeks.

The game appeals to me because it feels so focused, and so many areas that are often covered by deep subsystems get treated with outright... blunt rules.

The planes each have a special base that can be tilted to advantage, neutral, or disadvantaged position. You can only attack planes in a lower state of advantage to you. No, you can't take a pot shot if you're both in neutral, you've got to find a way to improve your position or worsen theirs.

Get on their tail and you'll knock them down to disadvantage, or use the outmanoeuvre action against a lower-skilled pilot and you'll automatically disadvantage them by one step, or use the climb action to improve your own position.

Fly into the clouds to return your state to neutral, and then it's like you aren't there. No harsh modifiers to attacks against you, you're just... essentially non-existent until you come out.

Clever positioning might result in you spending a few turns hardly needing to touch the dice, finding ways to line up your targets in vulnerable positions.

This all brings a sort of clarity to things, where it's quite easy to assess large parts of the state of the game, and the dice only come out for those exciting moments of chaos when you squeeze the trigger. All the while you're still thinking like a fighter pilot, being acutely aware of your position relative to your enemies, and always planning the next manoeuvre.

Of course, it still has a few of those fiddly rules so commonly found in wargames. Turret gunners don't quite work like your standard machineguns, and there's a hand-management subsystem for applying your plane's traits. Still nothing outright complicated, but they stand out slightly against such a streamlined core.

It got me thinking about the appeal of these blunt rules.

The way I see it, individual rules or subsystems can sit along two axes.

Blunt/Deep - How much processing is involved in applying this rule?
Blunt: Simple, obvious, or outright binary.
Deep: Made up of multiple pieces to remember, requiring notable maths or reference, or involving a sort of game-outside-the-game.

Wide/Niche - How many different situations is this rule applied to?
Wide: You'll use this frequently, or at least once in every game you play.
Niche: This only comes up in specific situations, and could reasonably be unused for multiple sessions.

Of course, it's all relative. A rule might feel blunt if it's surrounded by more complex mechanics, or might feel deep if it's a somewhat crunchy part of an ultra-lite game.

These can be combined into four quadrants. Wide-Blunt, Wide-Deep, Niche-Blunt, and Niche-Deep.

Brace yourselves for some graphic design. Here's where I'd put some of the moving parts of Mythic Bastionland.

I certainly have preferences here. I think Deep-Niche rules can be kind of tricky, as you sometimes don't use them often enough to properly learn their complexities. Overall I definitely lean toward the blunt side, especially in wargames, but I think a game can succeed with all different types of rule if they're implemented with purpose.  

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Wednesday 24 April 2024

A World in a Magazine

Four years ago, I wrote about my history with miniature games and getting back into them during the lockdown. Summer 1995 saw me seduced by the world of miniatures during show-and-tell, but I needed to endure the long wait till Christmas before I could get a boxed game into my hands.

Save up my pocket money? As a ten year old?? Impossible.

During this extended period of anticipation I poured over every detail of White Dwarf each month, and that very first issue I bought is still burned into my brain.

White Dwarf 187, July 1995, bought from the newsagent on the walk back from school.


(Sadly not my long-departed original copy, but rebought during my ongoing midlife crisis)

Let's take a look inside.

Actually, let's not. Before opening it you'd always flip to the back cover. 

It's hard to overstate the impact that these battle scenes had on my young mind. Much more than any mere illustration. A tantalising vision of what your dinner table could look like if you and a friend got real good at painting and modelling. 

A key factor in the impact of these early magazines was the lack of context. Sure, now I can look at that photo and pick out every unit type, but I was going in blind. What's that horse-and-cart with a load of guns sticking out? Is that a tank in front of it? Who are those guys flying in from above?

It sets the mind racing in a way that's lost once you can just tick off "war wagon, steam tank, Karl Franz".

Naturally you try to predict who would win, too. "Well, the crossbows would shoot the Knights, meaning the harpies can rush forward to get the dwarfs". 

More fantastic scenes. Epic always held a special place in my imagination.

But enough gushing over pictures. Let's actually ready something. 

See how each article is credited to a specific writer? That will be important later...

I guess there's a new tank released this month. Without a rulebook none of these numbers made sense, but that didn't stop me straining to discern the difference between a heavy bolter and a lascannon.  

Oh shit, distracted by another cool battle scene. This is one of only two appearances of the Eldar in this issue, so from this image alone I didn't make the space-elves connection. I just thought they were another bunch of guys with cool helmets. They'd later go on to become my 40k army of choice. 

The other Eldar appearance, showing the level of painting that won you a Golden Demon back in 95. 

I'm not sure anything I write could add to this image. I can feel it with every sense. 

Older folks than me will lament the decline of White Dwarf. The once proud magazine that covered every RPG and wargame under the sun, reduced to a gaudy pamphlet of adverts designed to brainwash children.

But what a joyous brainwashing it was! I wanted to play an Imperial Noble fencing with hordes of enemies and blasting them with my pistol, and I wanted to roll a Chimera across the battlefield, cutting a bloody swathe with its multilaser.

Yeah, it's marketing, and it's shallow, but it sucked me in completely. 

Ooh, here's the big one. Where do I start with this?

So Warhammer 40k was in its 2nd Edition at this point. It had a good amount of crunch, still showing its skirmish/RPG roots from Rogue Trader, but it was clearly designed for battles with a few squads and maybe a couple of vehicles. 

In this battle report the facing armies looked like this.

Each controlled by a team of four players, with special rules for communication. 

This would not be considered normal at the time, but I didn't really know that. It set the benchmark at a pretty daunting level. 

In many ways this battle report wasn't a good introduction to 40k. In reality, this battle has stuck with my for nearly thirty years. 

Not so much for what happens. Sure, it has a memorable finale, but the real appeal for me is how it felt as an observer.

It wasn't some hyper-competitive tournament event. It wasn't a game of chess. Instead, it looked like a bunch of friends bringing all their toys to the table and playing just to find out what happens when you throw together such an audacious scenario.

Growing up in a small town, this whole miniatures thing often felt like some weird hobby that consisted entirely of me and my best friend. These battle reports were plastered with images of the White Dwarf team. The articles were credited and written in their own distinct voices. With each issue I felt like I got to know them more. Those faces and names let me feel like we were part of a bigger club. 

Look, this shows just how desperate times these were. We'd drool over black and white images of miniatures, sometimes not even fully assembled! Ask an elder and they'll even tell you stories of when they had to squint at hand drawn images of miniatures. They'd have killed to have black and white photos to look at. Luxury!

So that's it. Quite possibly the thing that represents my entry into this weird hobby. 

I promise I won't throw you away again. 

 ----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.


Wednesday 17 April 2024

Making the Game Happen

My favourite RPG books do their work in three distinct stages:

GRAB: Get the reader excited to play the game and make it an easy sell to players.

PREP: Give the GM what they need to get ready to play.

PLAY: Make it easy to play the game once you get it to the table.

In short, they help the person who bought the book to make the game happen.

WHAT FAILURE LOOKS LIKE

I've got plenty of books on my shelf that fall down at one of these stages.

GRAB: Books that just don't get me excited. These don't last long. Sometimes a game has neat parts but is a tough sell to players, often lacking an easy hook to use in the pitch.

PREP: The classic is the book that reads fantastically, but you can't quite see how it actually translates to a session, or the amount of work required to prep feels overwhelming.

PLAY: Books you get to the table, with a group of excited players, but there's either something lacking or, more commonly, the rules themselves get in the way of the fun.

I'm not all that interested in the eternal "what is a game?" debate. I'd rather identify the RPGs that seem most effective at making the game happen, enabling actual play instead of sitting on a bookshelf.

WHAT SUCCESS LOOKS LIKE

GRAB: Anything with evocative artwork. I say this as a writer who cannot draw at all. A thousand times I've seen people get excited for a game before they've even read a word. This power shouldn't be underestimated.

Mothership, MÖRK BORG, Ultraviolet Grasslands. Anything that just leaps off the page and demands your attention while laying down a very clear vibe of what to expect from the game. Mothership isn't just an Alien inspired game, but it's useful to have that first hook to draw players in.

PREP: FIST is a great at this. When reading through it the prep just sort of... happens. Of course it has all those random tables, but the advice for how to run the game is so clear that just from skimming it I felt confident I could give it a shot. Cthulhu Dark has a tiny rules section, then goes into detail explaining how to use each of those rules, then how to structure your game, and includes a selection of settings to use.

Out of the three sections I think this is the one that gets overlooked most often. Sometimes it gets offloaded onto supplements assumes you're using an existing adventure module, but I'd always rather see this area covered by the core book right there alongside the rules of play.

PLAY: 24XX hits both halves of this. Firstly the rules are so light that they don't get in the way, but secondly the game gives you a bunch of tables and guidance that can help in those moments of GMing when you need a prompt or a spark. Oh, you thought we handled all that in prep? Prep never complete! Tables to help improvise NPCs and locations are downright essential for the way I run games.

I'll never stop saying FIST is great.

DO ALL GAMES NEED TO DO THIS?

Well, no... but I think these things significantly increase the chance of the game actually being enjoyed at the table.

That's certainly what I look for in a game, whether I'm buying it or designing it myself.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

April of 5, 10, and 15 years ago

Okay, let's do this again!

15 years ago

I was still deep into working on The Adventurer's Tale, preparing an all-dwarf sandbox campaign. I drew up a cool hex map, did some prep but... it never really got past a one-shot. I feel very lucky that with the last few years working on Mythic Bastionland I've been able to dive so deeply into the world of hexcrawling.

The Adventurer's Tale is a standard fantasy game. Some scraps of ideas that I like, but nothing that I haven't improved on elsewhere. Perhaps I'll do a quick readthrough stream of it some day and see if there's anything to be learned.

A post on monster design shows that I have a little affection for 4e D&D here, focusing very much on monster-as-encounter. I think most of this advice still holds up.

10 years ago

DIE BONEHEAD DIE is something I still think about from time to time. Seems like I keep coming back to ideas for a sci-fi game, but I keep burning them to the ground and starting again. I still love the focus on random tables in (what's left of) DBH, but the document itself is a mess of a half-abandoned, half-repurposed game.

Guess I'll just have to do space properly another time.

5 years ago

Not just one, but two posts about running mechs in Into the Odd (kinda)!

This would lead to Fighting Machines getting officially added in to Electric Bastionland, and this is all waaay before I got hooked into Battletech and wrote MAC Attack, so it's interesting to see a different take.

I feel like I get my mech-fix from miniature gaming more than RPGs, so not sure if this is something I'd plan on revisiting.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------

This post was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site the week after its original publication.

If you want to support my blog, podcasts, and video content then head over to my Patreon.