Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Melee for Real

Such a small box, but there’s so much game inside!

You can play it as a “design-a-thing” game where you spend five or ten minutes figuring out how to destroy your friend’s continuing character in a campaign of endless arena duels.

But you can also cut out the min/maxing element entirely by dealing several of of the fighter cards to each player and seeing what happens. How do you make these unoptimized figures work together as a team in order to crush the spirit of your opponent? It’s not immediately obvious! The range of options each turn are tremendous!

Pole weapon users really do get a great deal of attention in these rules– and do note that a few nuggets from Advanced Melee are folded into the third edition rule set here. The new tactics won’t necessarily be familiar to fans of the original microgame!

Charging a dude with a pole arm is suicidal. Letting yourself get charged by a dude with a pole weapon is also suicidal. That first contact is liable to hurt, but once engaged… you have options. He can’t hit people in adjacent hexes at all! If you have a line a men engaged with his crew… look for ways to shift your figures out of that pole weapon’s reach. Or even better… have two figures engage one of his on two sides… and then have your pole weapons dude hang back jab.

(This is something that is a huge part of classic old school D&D combat. Dungeon Masters the world over hand-wave the effects of pole weapons EVERY DAY. Having rules both coherent and playable for it is really weird. And having rules from 1980 get the job done is even weirder!)

This is just one small piece of the game, too. Coordinating the pole weapon guys with grapplers, missile weapons dudes, straight ahead skull bashers, and wizards is a whole ‘nother thing. It’s an insanely rich tactical environment with a tremendous number of permutations. The figures have scads of personality. And burning a turn to convert from pole arm to sword or sword to knife is well worth the sacrifice if the tactical context dictates it. That sort of thing just doesn’t happen in the old school rules that precede The Fantasy Trip.

But is it playable at the scale in which fantasy games tend to focus on…? New school games where there are a small number of special snowflake super hero types on each side? Yeah, probably. Old school games where the players are liable to have multiple hirelings and henchmen backing them up…? Ah, you might start to have problems there!

There are a couple of things you can do to keep it from bogging down, though:

  • In larger two player battles, make sure all the counters you use for each side are of the same color.
  • Use the erasable fighter cards (and/or the small paper record sheets) and arrange all of the characters in adjDex order next to the game board.
  • Steal colored cubes from a euro game to mark characters that have the -2 DX penalty for the next attack only and/or the -3 XD penalty for being at ST 3 or less.
  • Have one side be made up of identical units and possibly mark them with cubes based on what type of weapon they have ready.

Nothing in Melee happens simultaneously! The sequence of play for the combat round is unambiguous and detailed. It can slow things down if you have a brain burning life choice to make for each of eight or more figures every single combat round. But that’s the price you pay for being able to do something besides just rolling a d20 and dying!

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3 responses to “Melee for Real

  1. Chris Rice June 22, 2019 at 7:14 am

    I think you’ve misunderstood a bit of the rules here. They say a Pole weapon user CAN strike an opponent not in an adjacent hex (i.e. 2 hexes away), they don’t say he can ONLY do that. In other words, it’s something a Pole Weapon can do as an ALTERNATIVE to a normal attack into an adjacent hex.

  2. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: S-F Weapons, Thomas Ligotti, Savage Minicrate, Michael Whelan, Starman Jones – Herman Watts

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