Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Gaming Notes May 12, 2013… with guest Andrew Metzger

This is Gaming Notes, the weekly news-magazine about all kinds of games and the home of Space Gaming News, Designer SpotlightBlog Watch, and SciFi Smackdown. This week’s special guest is Andrew Metzger, the designer of the “Barbarians at the Gate” sponsored counter sheets for the upcoming Ogre Designer’s Edition.

Previous installments of Designer Spotlight featured:

Space Gaming News:

In the mail… tatoos, a book mark, and a post card from The Fellowship of the Troll!

Heroes & Other Worlds (Christopher Brandon) Magi Carta COMPLETE — The Magi Carta will provide over six hundred spells for the Heroes & Other Worlds retroclone, the game that synthesizes Melee, Wizard, and Moldvay Basic D&D to give you a tightly engineered microgaming take on old school role playing. Keep an eye on Lulu for its release, but don’t look for a Kicksarter. Christopher Brandon makes his game the old fashioned way– he just makes ’em and then, uh… sells them to you?! Yeah, I know… it’s crazy.

Other Suns (via Wayne’s Books) — “Other Suns features a setting of the L’Doran Hegemony, where humans are a defeated race, one of many. Although the alien races — let’s be honest — aren’t very alien (bears, dogs, squirrels, etc.), the setting is tantalizing. With a little less rules, and a little more background, Other Suns would have been more than the obscure game it is.”

PORPHYRY: World of The Burn (Kyrinn S. Eis) Now on Lulu! — A lavishly illustrated game set in a Chtuloid Post-Apocalypse with just a dash of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and run on top 5th Edition Tunnels & Trolls.

Designer Spotlight:

Jeffro: The Anarchist Relief Front  was of course a silly, tongue-in-cheek group for Car Wars that could function as a generic excuse to have random people with armed cars come shoot up the players. Just mentioning them brings back memories of proto-flamewars about Anarchism with Leslie Fish in ADQ’s Backfire department. So… my first question for you is this: when you set about to design your Ogre supplement, did you take ARF and run with them for the sheer, stupid fun factor alone…? Or did you invest a little on the world building side and actually try to follow this insanity through with some logic…? Or was it just the only way that you could think of to slip pink G.E.V.’s into Ogre…?

Andrew Metzger: My counter sheet is in many ways homage to a number of things that have influenced who I am at this point in my life. Some are serious (my kids) and some are whimsical. This falls into the latter category.

Initially, I wanted pink GEVs just for the pure randomness of it. SJ seemed to like the idea, which further encouraged their inclusion, and my daughter thought having a pink tank would just be amazing. She allowed that playing “that tank game” with myself and her brother would be more attractive to her if she could beat her brother with a pink tank. Finally, others echoed my daughter’s sentiment in the KS commentary as a means to encourage girls/women into the game. So in they went.

It was also easy to include them because I already knew that I wanted to include a Missile GEV (and later, a Heavy GEV) into my set. This expanded the available units for an all-GEV squad beyond just the basic GEV and LGEV (I excluded GEV-PCs because I was not including ARF Infantry in this set).

But as I began to work on a backstory for my Tiger units (which ironically, at this time is far less developed than the ARF!), I realized I needed a reason for these units, if I was to be consistent with the set I was developing. It became apparent that just having pink GEVs wasn’t enough; they needed a reason. But why would a commander have combat units with pink as a dominant color? Because they wanted to make a statement, specifically in defiance of someone or -thing else. And my backstory grew from that. I chose the name Anarchist Relief Front as a tip of the hat to Car Wars, in that Car Wars was one of my three favorite games growing up (the other two being Ogre/GEV and Traveller). But I think the name fits with the origin of this ‘faction’.

So in summary, I put them in initially “just because”, but gradually had them grow into a (semi-) feasible faction in their own right.

Jeffro: You say that you’ve put in a Missle G.E.V.– is that a completely new unit? How does it impact the battlefield? It seems it would imbalance the game to have a unit that could move like a G.E.V. but shoot with the same range as a Missile tank. Now… I realize that Henry Cobb has had a unit design system for a long time, but how exactly did you work out the issues that such a unit could create?

Andrew Metzger: It is a completely new unit. Prior to Henry, there was the great piece of fiction entitled “The Lone GEV” by Michael Stackpole. This is in part an acknowledgement of that fun piece of fiction, but the key with any unit is establishing its value relative to other units. In this case, I’m breaking (relatively) new ground in that this unit will cost 1.5 ‘armor units’. Or in other words, you can take two of these instead of three regular GEVs during unit selection. The stats aren’t quite the same as a Missile Tank merged with a regular GEV, in that a unit that had a range of 4 and an ability to move 3 hexes away after firing would give it a ‘stand off’ range of 7. In other words, in open ground a Heavy Tank could never counterstrike that unit. Thus an A3, R4, M4-3 unit was a game breaker. I softened the stats some to allow it to compete with other units, while still acknowledging that it was superior to a regular GEV one-on-one.

I stated that the new ground was conditional, in that Steve Jackson contemplated a 1.5 armor unit (or 9 VP) tank with his Heavy Missile Tank using Ogre Missiles (as seen on the Ogre page at sjgames.com). I just put that concept into actual play. My actual stats for this unit are A3, R3, D2, M4-2. It is a specialized unit; in most cases you’d be better off with three GEVs vs two MGEVs, but there are occasions where having that extra hex of range matters. It is a great infantry support unit.

As an aside, the Heavy GEV included in my set also costs 1.5 armor units during selection. This is a reinforced GEV chassis that carries two GEV cannon on it. it may split its attack in the same manner as a Super Heavy Tank, but moves like a GEV. The stats for this unit are A2+2, R2, D2, M4-3. It attacks like two GEVs, but defends like a single one. The HGEV is a very balanced unit and I think will be a popular one.

All three of my factions (the Vatican Guard, the Sons of Old Nassau, and the Anarchist Relief Front) have both the MGEV and HGEV as the available units, with the appropriate livery. Each faction will have two of each new GEV in the set.

Jeffro: I know that for me personally, I look at the scenarios that are included with the original Ogre and G.E.V. sets and I just can’t imagine surpassing them. They’re are just good, clean designs… balanced… fun… brilliantly executed. Who knows what would happen if I forced myself to sit down and come up with something. What I want to know is… how did you get get up the gumption to tackle something like this? And how did you see it through to the end to a complete, finished project?

Andrew Metzger: I couldn’t agree more that Ogre and GEV are two very elegant games. It all works very well together. And at no point did I ever think I could surpass them; I still don’t. But I hope I can add something to them that allows a broader experience, without hurting the core. My goal was to offer some variety for those who wanted it. Sometimes you jump into the lake without completely thinking through whether you can swim or not. But once you’re in, you better swim! This was a little like that…I wanted to have pink GEVs, the Vatican Guard and a tiger striped faction to play the game with my family, so I sponsored the sheet. Plus I wanted the Missile GEV on my sheet. It was then that I realized if I was to sell all of these sheets and do the game justice, I needed rules for all of this plus some scenarios. Who wants to buy just counters? So it started to grow after I was already committed.

Daniel Jew has been a huge help. He actively worked through a bunch of different designs for the MGEV and HGEV with me, forcing me to look at things from a different viewpoint. They’re as much his as mine! And obviously Steve Jackson had the final say for everything. I’m still play-testing scenarios (man, that takes time!), and with the help of a few others on the forums, tweaking some variant rules. One of my scenarios is a huge “end of the world” type battle with up to six factions on all four maps at once! I’m now mostly at the artwork and layout stage, and Alvin Helms is helping me with that. I’m grateful for all the support I’ve gotten. So no, it’s not finished yet but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is a ton of fun.

Blog Watch:

Old School D&D (Dungeon of Signs) Stuff That’s Cool in D&D — “The Owlbear is a ravening destroyer from the chaos dimension of unreasoning hate! Owlbears exist for one reason, Owlbears teach 1st level parties to run. They don’t have treasure, they don’t make sense, they can’t be reasoned with. They are real monsters, and D&D needs monsters that are strange and horrible and without reason.”

Old School D&D (Zenopus Archives) Holmes’ Little Metal PeopleThe newspaper article referenced in the post is fascinating not just for providing a window into the past of D&D culture, but for also demonstrating what in-depth reporting used to look like even for otherwise trivial topics. (See here for additional updates.)

Old School D&D (Random Wizard) One Page Dungeon Contest 2013 Slideshow — If you think that innovation would necessarily be absent from the Old School scene, then you haven’t seen any of the more mind blowing one page dungeons that have been done the past while.

Old School D&D (The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms) Playing the Game Wrong — The modern emphasis on more combat, the demand for more healing options, and the refusal to use hirelings combine to create one of the stranger quirks of the dominant D&D culture.

Old School D&D (Semper Initiativus) Some goings on in the OSR — “I think at this point our community has more to do with exploring the roads that could have been traveled but weren’t, from S&W Complete and LL/AEC making the “AD&:D Lite” that a lot of people would have preferred, to Joseph Bloch creating an extrapolation of “2e if Gary did it” to games like ACKS that explore the endgame. Even megadungeon publications focus on a style of module that never got done well rather than rehashing. There are some middle of the road modules, and there always will be, but I think the OSR has evolved into something far beyond nostalgia and it’s a shame that it isn’t really understood.”

Old School D&D (Roles, Rules, and Rolls) A Short History of Murphy and the Rules He Rode In On — “To be fair, every edition of D&D has contained a way out for the DM, a big red fiat button to push if the rules corner you into an absurd judgment. But the more rules there are, the more authority the rulebook seems to usurp.”

Steve Jackson Games: Stakeholder Wrapup — “I’m good enough that I can help my competitors without endangering myself. And I’m a game fan. I want other companies to do well, provided they do right by their customers . . . who are often my customers too. Please note that I’m still doing just fine after ten years of playing my hand face-up, and a lot of the hard-nosed “businessmen” of yesteryear . . . well, they seem to have left the building.”

Apropos of Nothing:

Currently Watching: Fringe, episode 2 — It looks like this particular show was set up such that you could follow the action without having seen the pilot. This idea of “the Pattern” is fascinating to me, but I just don’t like the characters. The fact that the main girl had an intimate relationship with her partner in the FBI is first overlooked… and then spun into being a positive character quality: she followed the evidence wherever it’d lead. She even gets promotions, job offers, and raises in spite of this clear lack of professionalism. Meanwhile, “the bad boy with a heart of gold” does little more than play the role of baby sitter for his mad scientist father. The latter, of course, is ultimately responsible for the research that is being used to create all manner of freakish accidents and death. To top it all off they collectively have the Superman problem– they spend all of their time attempting to quietly clean up after the bad guys. This passivity actually makes the melodramatically evil Massive Dynamics company compelling in contrast.

House Rules Gone Frighteningly WrongThe Night I Broke Monopoly — In its earliest iteration it was called The Landlord’s Game, and it was designed for the express purpose inspiring a general suspicion against “evil” property owners. The game became a depression era mega-hit only when the didactic elements of the game were jettisoned in favor of giving regular people a chance to revel in being the “evil” property owner. The game’s transition across the political spectrum would not be complete, however, until a few drunken teenage boys would inadvertently use it to illustrate some of Margaret Thatcher’s talking points.

“You’re Playing it Wrong,” the prequel:  A Nation of Wimps — “Over 40,000 U.S. schools no longer have recess. And what play there is has been corrupted. The organized sports many kids participate in are managed by adults; difficulties that arise are not worked out by kids but adjudicated by adult referees.”

Meanwhile, in the real world: Performance Review — “Ahhh. You inherit language from someone else, give me a grade on it and then admit you don’t know what it means. That’s one hell of a wonderful system!”

Schoolin’… Jeffro Style: My wife was out of own this weekend, so I was directly responsible for implementing school for a few days. Besides keeping up with the usual math and chores, we also did the following:

  • We watched the (1995) Biography of Stonewall Jackson. This was disappointing as it focused far more on his personal quirks than it did his specific military tactics. This topic will have to be revisited in the future….
  • We played Settlers of Canaan and got a game completed in a little more than an hour without coming to blows.
  • We got our miniature painting backlog back in process.
  • I finally helped my son finish rolling up his Uplift alien.
  • I finally tried to teach my kids some music– just some scales and a baseline ditty for now.
  • We read the last five chapters of Padraic Colum’s The Children’s Homer. Money quote: “Rejoice within thine own heart, but do not cry aloud, for it is an unholy thing to triumph over men lying dead. These men the gods themselves have overcome, because of their own hard and unjust hearts.” Epic.
  • We read “The Palantir” chapter from The Two Towers. They’d been clamoring for Treebeard for weeks now, but this happened to be where the bookmark got left last year.
  • The special treat for the weekend was getting to watch the 1962 film The 300 Spartans. The kids actually liked it a lot. The most obvious theme slathered on by the Hollywood types was a heavy handed emphasis of “E pluribus unam,” but it was a treat to see that many reenactors bashing each other without any computer graphics turning it into a glorified video game. The next day my son pretended to be a great king and his sister pretended to be his military adviser.
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