Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Gaming Notes April 21, 2013… with Jim Krohn

This is Gaming Notes, the weekly news-magazine about all kinds of games and the home of Space Gaming News, Designer Spotlight, and Blog Watch.

This week’s special guest is Jim Krohn, the designer of Space Empires 4X.

Space Gaming News:

Ogre (Steve Jackson) 2013 Stakeholders Report — “The final box will be 24″ × 20″ × 5.75″ and will weigh 24 pounds. It will have five huge maps and more than 1,000 counters, many of them 3-D constructible Ogres and buildings. It will probably never be equaled in sheer size and awesomeness. If it were sold at a normal gaming markup over print costs, it would probably go for around $400, but retail for the base set will be $100.” And note also that the classic pocket game Illuminati is one of the few non-Munchkin items in the top twenty by sales!

Battle Wagon (e23) Now available in PDF! — “Back in 1980, someone around the Task Force Games office saw a really great photograph of an Iowa-class battleship firing its guns and said: ‘That would make a great game cover!’ Then someone else said ‘Since Star Fleet Battles [which we had published a year before] is based loosely on [the Avalon Hill game] Jutland, why don’t we just re-reverse engineer it into a World War II battleship game?'”

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (Cubical 7) — The Time Traveler’s Companion — According to Neil Riebe of the Doctor Who RPG Facebook Group, the rules in the Time Traveler’s Companion make DWAiTS crunchier than FASA’s edition in terms of judging time travel and TARDIS use. (The word “use” here includes operating the machine, damage inflicted on the machine, and repair.)

Designer Spotlight:

Jeffro: Every once in a while a new game comes along that accomplishes something that even hardened grognards might think impossible. You took an epic clash of several pocket empires that anybody else would have had us playing out for days… and you boiled it down into something that can be played out in hours. On top of that, you didn’t give up any flavor, but you made it easy to keep up with fleets of ships that are all at different tech levels in a variety of areas. Seriously… how did you figure out that you could do this? I mean, guys like me would never have tried– it’s obviously impossible, right?

Jim Krohn: First, that is a very, very kind question to ask. Thank you. I’m glad you are a fan.

As you probably know, Space Empires started as a very epic, 6-7 night, 2 player game. Kids came along as well as other responsibilities, and I just couldn’t play it anymore. I’m an engineer by original training and a problem solver by nature. This was just another problem to solve. How do I play this game I love in one night? So the first element in getting Space Empires as it stands was problem solving. The second thing I had on my side was time. I was not a game designer and it was years before it even dawned on me that I could submit this to a game company. Then, it was years before the game was accepted by GMT and years more for it to get through the development process to publication. That is a lot of time to improve things.

Jeffro: Okay, I was gushing just a tad there with that first question. It’s terrible, too, because it compromises the illusion that I’m some sort of unbiased reporter. I’m sorry, but… when it comes to this game I can’t pretend be unbiased. But it’s not just me. It’s not even the target audience. I understand that your game is breaking far beyond the bounds of the typical wargamer crowd. You’ve got people that have never played a hex and chit type game getting into this. Were you caught off guard by the broader-than-expected appeal of your game? Do you have any plans to shift gears, adapt, and capitalize on that?

Jim Krohn: I thought the game might have that reach, but many were skeptical. It is decidedly a wargame in its victory conditions and its decision making. It has a lot of conflict so I understand why they had doubts. However, GMT was pretty flexible and quick to react. When it was on pre-order and it became obvious that there could be cross-over appeal, GMT upgraded the game to include a mounted board. With the second printing they upgraded the counters to a more deluxe kind that is thicker and easier to punch. They even included a complete set of these upgraded base game counters in the expansion.

For my part, I spent a lot of time in the forums answering questions and especially trying to help those new to wargames. I even did some coaching on how to punch counters. I also cleaned up the rules based on the questions of a lot of eurogamers. I discovered in this process that wargamers tend to assume some things from the rules that eurogamers would be uncertain about. With the first printing, I had wargamers mentioning how clear the rules were and in the same thread eurogamers who were full of questions. Knowing that there were many newcomers to wargames that were interested in Space Empires, we moved on that pretty quickly and the updated rules are in the second printing. With the help of some great people on BGG, we collated every single question ever asked about the game on BGG and Consimworld and addressed them all in the rules.

As for the future, I don’t know what else I could do to spread the game to eurogamers. Of course, I am open to ideas if you have any!

Jeffro: People that don’t play wargames will definitely give it a try– they immediately recognize what it is due to to computer games like Master of Orion and so forth. What surprises me is the reaction against tracking ship tech by stack. People see that you have an optional rule for skipping all of that, but then wonder why that isn’t the default. Of course… having to plan your attacks, do reconnaissance  having to gamble on whether or not your opponent has invested in countering your preferred weapon… this just strikes me as a big part of what makes the game work. I’d just hate to get my fleet across the board, fight one minor battle, and then see my opponent upgrade all of his ships cheaply and instantly. That would just ruin my fun right there.

I try to tell my friends that feel otherwise to not make a half dozen stacks all at different tech levels, but to either upgrade their old ships or else make each ship type in large batches so that there’s not as much variety to keep up with. This suggestion doesn’t quite seem to convince them. (One guy plays a lot of Titan and just *knows* what is in every one of my stacks. But when he plays Space Empires 4X, he plays with his own counters face-up just because he gets so confused!)

In successive games, have you observed people coming around to the benefits of playing the full game? Or do you think these are maybe non-overlapping sets of gamers with irreconcilable expectations?

Jim Krohn: I have never played with that optional rule in my personal games. I included it only because I knew that some people would not like the record keeping and I wanted to give them an option to play the game. For me, managing your fleets is a cool aspect of the game.

I’m surprised that the Titan player has a problem with keeping track of his fleets. That actually makes this question difficult to answer. I would have thought that he would have had no problem with the tech. That leads me to the conclusion that it is really person dependent. Some may come around, some may not. One thing I point out to people is that, other than movement, you rarely need to know the tech of your fleet until battle.

Jeffro: Last question: can you tell me more about what’s in the picture of your game design work space…?

Jim Krohn says, “this is where the prototypes get played.”

Jim Krohn: On the table right now is Time Kampf, a eurogame involving time travel.  In the game you can purchase strength in Military, Education, and Culture like you can purchase victory points in most eurogames, but you are also fighting over the past to determine what value society places on those things – the victory points in each of the areas as well as your strength in each of the areas can be changed by changing events in the past. (Since the prototype maps are paper, the one being played is under plexi.)

Also in the picture are:
  • Some other games in progress
  • An old Space Empires prototype
  • The Columbia Games box is my Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer  prototype
  • Some of the materials and components that I use for making prototypes.  The brown stuff is the my stack of Eska board for making tiles and/or counters.

Blog Watch:

Labyrinth Lord (The Society of the Torch, Pole, and Rope) Stonehell Dungeon 2: Week Twenty-One Status Report — This is easily the most significant Old School Revival project that’s in development right now.

Swords & Wizardry (Rather Gamey) The Frog, The Finch, and The Boy — This was my favorite post out of the entire Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day brouhaha. First… it is comprehensible. It includes a first hand account of what some significant game designers are like in real life. It has a side bit on the whole father-son-gaming thing. It’s also useful in that it describes how the pros run the game in a convention environment. And note… Matt Finch makes people roll up fresh characters just like I do. (I feel vindicated!) But anyway… this is good writing.

OD&D (Blog of Holding) an early bad review of D&D — “The resulting mess in interpretations is enough to tax the patience of most gamers to the extreme.” Ultimately, this turned out to be a feature.

This week’s GURPS Day provided an excellent trifecta of posts:

  • (Gaming Ballistic) Ready, Aim, and Aim, and Aim, and . . . — Douglas Cole returns with an analysis of the aiming rules in GURPS along with some thoughts on what else can be done with them. Fortunately, he doesn’t try to derive any of the equations that are involved.
  • (Dungeon Fantastic) GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Picks — If you are not sure about whether or not to try GURPS for a gritty, combat oriented fantasy game… then this article makes about as good of an indirect case for this as you’re likely to see.
  • (No School Grognard) Improving the Effectiveness of Knights in Dungeon Fantasy — Even if I don’t take this advice on fine tuning Dungeon Fantasy, it is useful to at least know what is getting critiqued. The discussion on Wild Card Skills in the comments is also interesting.

OD&D (Nine and Thirty Kingdoms) You Start With 200 Gold — I’ve always said that wargamers are supreme court justices while role players are theologians. This post illustrates the the latter assertion to a tee.(Hat tip to Brendan.)

Star Frontiers (Delta’s D&D Hotspot) SciFi Saturday – Minelayer Map — The mine laying rules are about as big of a hassel to keep track of in Star Fleet Battles, too. Note that Module R1 came with a reduced scale map that turns out to be useful for tracking all kinds of stuff during a game.

Apropos of Nothing:

(Dungeon Bastard) Ask The Bastard: Eliminate the Weak — Ah, so this is how to handle the problem of too many players.

(Google+) Wayne’s Books — If you like vintage games as much as I do, then you’ll want to check out the Google+ feed for Wayne’s Books. He’s got games that I’ve never even seen before and they are just plain beautiful…. Games I’ve been playing the past year (B/X Expert set, FASA Doctor Who, and The Last Starfighter Combat Game) have all put in appearances in the past while.

Heh: Orchestra Surprises Unsuspecting People in Hidden Camera Pranks

Being the greatest in the world is not enough: My journey to yo-yo mastery — “I realized society didn’t value my passion.”

Watched this week: The Hunger Games — This movie lost me several times. When they tried to establish the protagonist as an uber-hunter, when everybody from her district knew that she was their best chance for a win, and when it was established that the love interest had mad camouflage skills… these were all serious groaner moments. The tension of the gradual elimination of each contestant was strong enough to keep me watching, but the capricious way in which the show’s techs and sponsors intervened soured my enjoyment of it. The way the various players teamed up together probably strained my belief the most. The most chintzy plot trick was having the main character team up with the weak token ethnic character… then have a hated character kill her by accident… and then have the strong ethnic character spare her because of this. In a true Lord of the Flies scenario, I just can’t imagine such subtleties developing. Final assessment: not nearly as tedious and embarrassing as Notting Hill, but still not great. The author and director did however succeed in making me hate the citizens of the capital city.

Listening to this week: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Trilogy — Way back in my school days, I had the chance to get inside a college radio station. (I knew one of the disc jockeys; he’d been an upperclassman ahead of me and drove a candy apple red Stealth.) There was this girl I was hanging out with at the time and I’d invited her to go in with me and look through the glorious stacks of long playing records. She’d read Atlas Shrugged and had all kinds of savvy things to say about it. She was utterly brazen. The rumors about her were appalling, but the stories of her terrible childhood made her seem like a tragic hero. I was in awe of her… and we got in there and started looking for records we could play on the air and this is the one I picked out. She literally sneered at me. Trilogy just wasn’t trendy enough for her tastes and she totally slammed me for wanting to hear it. I was completely crushed there in my first true run-in with an elite hipster. I don’t think I ever spoke to her again, either. And I never got around to hearing it until this past week or so. My, my, my… it is really a quintessential album. I should have bought the CD through one of those ten-for-a-penny deals back in the day. My life would have been all the richer for it.

Yesterday’s fiction, today’s fact: While following the news this week, I couldn’t help but think that I was seeing events foretold in Fahrenheit 451 play out right before my eyes. We are indeed a society of wall-to-wall televisions and robotic hounds– or at least close enough to one anyway. The most interesting thing to me about these developments is that they reveal that some aspects extremist behavior are a function of technology. Growing up, if a plane exploded for any reason, at least a half dozen groups would claim responsibility. Datechguy notes here that this sort of thing is a thing of the past. To claim responsibility for a large scale act of violence in today’s technological environment would be to write your own death sentence. (How do we write speculative fiction anymore now that every spy/thriller trope of the past hundred years has been summarily obsoleted…?)

Played this week: Alhambra with six players —  In the first two rounds, I held back until I had a feeling that the scoring card was about to come out. I bought everything I could at that point and ended up getting a ridiculous early lead both times. In the final round, there were lots of tile colors out that at least one player had scads of. Some of these, there would be three people with one or two people with two. I didn’t bother to purchase those, but waited for better options. I ended up overpaying for a few tiles to put me in first place for green and red. This won me the game, but if there had been a lot of table talk I probably wouldn’t have– I was very vulnerable to a pitifully small amount of group coordination. (“Don’t buy that… it’s worthless anyway. Let Fred have it so he can knock Jeffro out of first place in that color. He’s the only one that can do it!”) Half the players were under age ten and they were all able to keep up without botching the setup. I was impressed.

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5 responses to “Gaming Notes April 21, 2013… with Jim Krohn

  1. PeterD April 21, 2013 at 6:24 am

    I’m glad that Steve is finally getting to do the crazy-big Ogre of his wildest dreams. I can’t wait to play it.

    Also, I’m glad you liked the articles – mine and the others as well. The GURPS day posts are pretty good for highlighting just how GURPS games vary from each other. Mark’s games, my games, and Doug’s games all take very different approaches despite sharing the same rules base.

    I passed on Hunger Games – I’d already been there, done that kind of thing with Battle Royale, which I liked a lot.

  2. Douglas Cole April 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

    The movie and the book all shared more or less the same plot devices you describe as groaners (not arguing), though for reasons of time, the movie obviously took more shortcuts.

    • jeffro April 21, 2013 at 11:48 am

      I enjoyed seeing a Car Wars type future on the screen… but I’ve played it out myself too many times to be able to swallow the usual narrative gimmicks that you’d expect…!

  3. Pingback: Gaming Notes May 12, 2013… with guest Andrew Metzger | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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