I’d arranged to meet a gamer passing through the area at a nearby Starbucks. This turned out to be an excellent place to game– there’s an entire room partitioned off from the main area so it is generally pretty quiet. While the drinks will run you five or six bucks if you hang around for a while, I’ve noticed that gamers that aren’t already close friends are more likely to get a game going if they don’t have to worry about imposing on each other’s hospitality. Even though my opponent was a long-time gamer, he’d never played any of Steve Jackson’s classic Ogre family of microgames. In a single afternoon and evening, we played three of these games that Steve had published in black pocket boxes in the early eighties back when he’d first started his own company.
For the first game, we broke out Ogre on the extra large miniatures edition hex map. I used counters from my ragged G.E.V. set and secretly took a substantial handicap for my defensive forces. The Ogre trudged onto the map and I sent my fast moving G.E.V.’s to meet him. I rolled poorly and the Ogre came out unscathed. (Heavy tanks seem to do a lot better in these initial engagements, in my opinion.) The Ogre struck back with his missiles and batteries and fried several of my units. In a particularly nasty turn, he trounced my forces by rolling several fives and sixes while I “whiffed” in return. He annihilated my defense force and took little damage in return.
For our second game we broke out my war-torn G.E.V. pocket box. The map is warped from an ancient drink spill. We set up the “Ceasefire Collapse” scenario and reviewed the more complex rules for spillover fire, overruns, and terrain. “Breakthrough” just doesn’t seem to go as well for new players as this one does, in my experience. Having played this one before, I concentrated my tanks in stacks as far forward on the road as possible and moved everything towards the enemy town hexes and command posts. My opponent had wisely chosen to forego howitzers, but was still spread out behind the road in a long line. I had high hopes of crushing his force in detail.
My heavy tanks aggressively entered hexes where they’d be sure to take enemy fire on his follow up turn. After taking my requisite licks, I then moved to strike back and successfully disabled many units. (G.E.V.’s and missile tanks are very vulnerable to the heavy tank’s crushing 2-to-1 attacks!) My opponent sent a group of G.E.V.’s to harass my town hexes– I should have at least left some infantry back there to guard them! (One howitzer screened by some infantry could have been very nasty….) I withdrew my own G.E.V’s from the heat of battle to respond to the attack– a critical mistake!
My missile tanks had improved movement on the road, but could not effectively engage unless I was willing to risk stacking them. My assault fell apart when an infantry unit overran one of my key armor units. To make things worse, on one turn my opponent made all of this attack rolls. I responded my making several risky attacks along his line, but missed with them all. For the first time, I’d not only met someone that was far luckier than myself… but he seemed to neutralize my own luck powers as well!
From there we discovered that his remaining forces could easily eliminate my own defenses– I was down to a lone G.E.V. and fifteen points of infantry. An exciting game: I thought I could crush my opponent but soon learned differently. His infantry units gave him a tremendous edge even though he was short on armor units in the main confrontation! Don’t underestimate them….
(While we were playing, two older ladies came in to chat while they worked on their knitting. I overheard one whispering loudly something about the two Dungeons and Dragons players in the room. It’s good to know that my hobby is still dark, mysterious, and vaguely scandalous to the right people!)
After a quick meal we broke out Battlesuit. This has a large fold-out map with “points” instead of hexes. The counters are extra-large and feature beautiful Denis Loubet silhouettes. We chose to play “Scrap Iron Hill”, which turned out to be a monster game featuring eighteen battlesuits on each side.
While showing my opponent my microgame collection before getting started, I mentioned that I didn’t ever expect to play this one face-to-face with a live opponent. I’d actually played it solitaire five times in the preceding weeks so that I could be prepared just in case I did get such a chance as this. He agreed to play mainly because it is a rather obscure and underplayed game– he enjoyed putting old games through their paces. I was really pleased to get a chance to play it– and my opponent was a hardened Advanced Squad Leader player, so he had no problem picking things up.
He positioned ten of his suits on the north hill. I moved my three rangers (each armed with heavy weapons) into hard cover and immediately began firing on any unit that lacked cover– especially his units had heavy weapons. I brought up my main force on the southwestern corner of the map. This turned out to be a bad idea as he quickly eliminated the leading assault suits that were leading the charge. I pulled my standard suits back behind the hill on subsequent turns and tried to push them forward into the trees in the central valley so that they could actually shoot something. Even though line of sight was usually blocked, I would only succeed in getting three suits into that forward position by the end of the game.
My opponent had moved several units out into the open on the northeastern ridge– they caused heavy casualties to me because they had line of sight to my standard suits huddling behind the southwestern hill. If I had thought of it, I could have used my reactive fire from my heavy weapons units to prevent them from taking their second attacks so often on their turns. After they fired a first shot, I could have responded and had a fair chance of at least putting them into shock and/or damaging them to the point where their attacks would be ineffective. So even though there is no specific rule about covering fire in the game, the concept seems to emerge nicely enough just from the way the reaction fire rules interact with the double fire opportunities that the non-moving attackers get.
I focused my heavy weapons fire on my opponent’s units with heavy weapons. I thought this was a little lame– it is a pretty luck dependent situation. My opponent assured me that the same thing happens in ASL: the heavy machine gun emplacements focus on each other first… and then the real fighting begins once the dust settles.
Drones are really neat, though. They have powerful ECM suites, but almost any sort of damage will take them out of the game: flying eggshells, as it were. They come in three types: bomb, assault, and targeting. I chose two targeting drones and managed to get one of them into a forward soft cover position where it could do some good. With that drone’s ability act as a forward observer, I could eliminate the soft cover penalties for targeting enemy units stationed on forest edges. Even indirect fire from my standard suits could have a chance of doing some damage thanks to the drone.
My opponent aggressively sent his two drones toward my forces and I immediately started targeting them with reactive fire. One of them got pretty close and I focused all of my men’s weapons on it when my turn came. It turned out to be a bomb drone, and if my opponent had thought to activate it with a reactive fire declaration, my detachment of standard battlesuits would have been decimated.
In the course of the battle, I was able to keep my heavy weapons units alive even though my opponent succeeded in putting one in shock at for a few turns. I managed to take out his command suit with a lucky shot and he suddenly had a hard time getting his units back after they went into shock. He’d played really well, though it looked like the battle was going my way after that.
I looked down at my watch and thing realized suddenly that four hours had passed since we’d started the game. I’d been so immersed, I hadn’t been aware of the time passing! I couldn’t figure out where the time went. My only explanation for that unusual level of engagement was that, unlike Ogre and G.E.V., even when it is not your turn you are still playing actively.
The unique thing about the game when compared to the other Ogre microgames is that you call out your moves on a second by second basis: “one, two, into the woods makes four, and six….” At each point, your opponent can interrupt you with reactive fire. On one turn I became terrified when my opponent started wearing down a key unit with a heavy weapon. I immediately declared all of my heavy weapons to fire in response in an attempt to stop that unit from taking his second turn of fire. It turned out that, due to the modifiers, we couldn’t hit him. I’d panicked and wasted my reaction fire on a hopeless shot– much, I imagine, the way real soldiers might.
Reflecting on these three games, Ogre appears to be much more linear and chess-like, where the Ogre player must choose hexes to “fork” his targets while minimizing potential damage to himself. G.E.V. is similar, but adds a second dimension to the game play what with each side having a variety of units operating in a more varied set of terrain elements. Infantry become a major factor thanks to the favorable overrun rules. In both games, infantry are expendable, but how they are used can turn the tide of the game.
But what happens when, in Battlesuit, infantry becomes the focus of the game? The most notable thing is the sheer nakedness of your troops. Even if you are a ranger in heavy cover, there is nowhere on the map where you can be safe from enemy fire. Your only hope is to minimize the damage you receive by keeping your head down and using as much covering fire as you can to protect your men.
My opponent’s reaction to the games was to really prefer G.E.V. over both Ogre and Battlesuit. In fact, after completing the Battlesuit scenario, he said, “that was awesome, but… I never want to play that again!” Indeed, it was a grueling and exhausting experience– almost like playing a large team event or Midville scenario with CAR WARS. You end you rolling 2d6 for each of your men, usually… sometimes twice each… and each of the opposing units gets a 2d6 reaction roll. That’s a lot of time spent adding up to-hit modifiers. Line of sight issues can complicate the first turn or so, but after a while it is pretty easy to read the map without hashing that out.
Talking it over, there was a great deal going on in the game and the outcomes of the engagement seemed to fit what little I knew of real infantry battles. We agreed that the game would be more fun if both sides had more drone units. The surprise value of keeping the exact drone type a secret until it is used is just too fun. Also, I conjecture that the best way to have gotten my weaker suits into position would have been to jump up one level at the end of one turn, and then cover them aggressively while I waited for the chance to push them forward. If they can land into soft cover on the following turn, they just might make it. This would have gotten a lot more use out of my assault suits and it seems like it might be an exception to the general rule of “jumping equals shot”.