WarpWar: A classic design-a-thing game…
August 19, 2013
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This game is uber cool. The fourth of Metagaming Microgame series, it’s got the Deluxe Car Wars font for its title, neato Winchell Chung illustrations in the rule book, and an easy-to-use ship design system. Created by Howard Thompson and released in 1977… this game illustrates what science fiction used to be like before a certain blockbuster film franchise hit the theaters. It’s so danged awesome, it hurts… but what hurts even more is that it’d take a rare bird indeed to stomach sitting down with me to put this one through its paces. Decades of “cult of the new” game churn and relentless gamer-darwinism ensure that this thing will remain in the dustier corners of a very few people’s collections….
Which is sad, because there’s a lot of nifty stuff going on with this game. Like the Holmes Basic D&D set, this old school game was designed with the new gamer in mind. The victory conditions mirror those of the abstract strategy game Octi by Donald Green: do you want a quick sudden-death type game with occupying one enemy base for the win…? Or do you want a deeper, richer game where you are required to take all three enemy bases at once? Finally, there are the unique factors of the game that make it stand out: all of the ships in the games are designed by the players on the fly and the combat system is an unusual diceless system. If you feel that you never quite got the play out of BattleTech’s dropships and jumpships that they deserved… this game lets you focus entirely on those sorts of units for a while.
Unlike “monster” space games like Federation and Empire or Space Empires: 4x, the economic system is abstracted out so that the ships themselves take center stage. Everyone starts with a budget of build points with an additional number of them coming in each turn. The worlds and star systems on the map are merely battlegrounds, choke-points in the web of warplinks that spider across the map. The march of technology is the same for both players as well: ships made later on get bonuses to their damage output and shield rating. This forces the player to choose between having more force right now or better units later on. Ships that push deep into enemy territory are liable to encounter more advanced opponents that are fresh out of the space docks.
Here are the various factors that can be determined in the ship design system:
- Power/Drive — This determines how many moves the ship can make at the strategic level. In combat, it determines how much power you have for the energy allocation system. (The cost is one build point each.)
- Warp Generator — For five build points, your ship can travel on the warplines of the strategic map. Without it, your unit is a mere systemship that will have to hitch a ride with a warpship in order to get anywhere.
- Beams — This is the maximum power of your unit’s beam weapons. Note that they will still need to be powered in order to fire. (The cost is one build point each.)
- Screens — This is the maximum power of your unit’s screen systems and subtract from beam damage done on your ship. Like beams, they also have to be powered. (The cost is one build point each.)
- Tubes — This is the number of launch tubes your ship has for firing missiles. Note that you cannot power beams or screens at all if you choose to fire a missile! (The cost is one build point each.)
- Missiles — One build point gets you three missiles. Track that ammo!
- System Racks — One build point allows your ship to carry one systemship along piggyback style.
This is a brilliant game… and yet, the it strikes me more as a design study than anything else. It certainly pales in comparison to the other Microgames of its day. It doesn’t seem to “want” for an inter-compatible sequel in the tradition of Ogre/G.E.V. and Melee/Wizard. And while it is wide open for tinkering and player-developed variants, it doesn’t seem to be the sort of game that could handle a series of ten expansion sets the way that Car Wars eventually spawned. I blame the combat system: it’s just a bit too gimmicky for the game to be a serious contender for table time.
(I still would like to play it, though. If you are going to be at any of my usual conventions and want to try this one, talk to me! I plan on making it to Gamers of Winter, Madicon, and Prezcon next year….)