Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Games

Battle Cry Isn’t Commands & Colors: Ancients

The more recent edition of Battle Cry tightens up the rules of the game by a fair amount compared to the original. I can’t say I care for the “big box of plastic” approach to the game, though. The block wargames look classy and consistently turn heads. The stickers on Battle Cry’s units will be falling apart on anyone’s game that sees any significant amount of play.

The game play is much more different from Commands & Colors: Ancients, which I have played a lot more of. In ancient warfare, generals lead from the front. In the civil war game, they… just don’t seem to do all that much. (Aside from a few odd cards, the only thing you can count on from them is their ability to ignore a retreat result. In a game where retreat results actually can help you!) Combine that with everyone having effective ranged attacks and nobody having an automatic “battle back” action, and yeah… this is a completely different game.

If you play this Civil War game in the same way as you would the the Ancients one… you will die ingloriously. Tournament grade play will feature units mostly hanging back in some kind of cover and taking mostly one die and two die pot shots at things. Charges tend to result in the slaughter of your own men, not anything remotely approaching glory.

It’s brutal.

There are only four unit types. There is less variety in the units. Formation and leadership have almost no impact on the tactics. And winning tactics are decidedly un-epic. Mostly… it just looks tacky.

If you only get one of these Richard Borg battle games… I have to recommend against your getting Battle Cry.

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Stuff I’m Actually Playing

Space Rumsfeld threw down the gauntlet today with this:

Sorry, Rummie. That’s not how we do things around here! I mean… who has the time or even the shelf space for stuff they’re never even going to play?!

Here are five games that I’ve worn out this year, in order of total time at the tabletop!

1. Illuminati with the Y2K expansion set from Steve Jackson Games — My son and I play this one to death. It’s not even designed to work well with two players, but we don’t care. Playing an Illuminati organization using guile and subterfuge to take over group after group? It never gets old! Pushing piles of cash along the pipelines of your tentacles of power? Pure bliss! Action that comes straight from the pages of The Weekly World News? Still hilarious even thirty years later. Those rare occasions that we do get a third or fourth player into the mix…? There’s always some first-rate backstabbing involved. (“Hey, if you do this thing that looks like it would benefit you more than me, I’d totally help you do it!”) Steve Jackson calls this one of their “evergreen” titles because it has never dropped from the top seller lists. Fifteen years ago it would have been on the higher end of the complexity scale, but with the advent of heavy Euros and Living Card Games, it’s now dropped down to being relatively straightforward in comparison. Finally, the inclusion of blank cards allow you to keep the game up to date by adding in Gamergate, Sad Puppies, File 770, and DiGRA to the gameplay. A classic.

2. Wizard Kings with two Heroes & Treasures expansions — Columbia Games is known for the exquisitely well-crafted block wargames. This is not one of their designs that pulls down rave reviews while soaking up tournament slots at the big game conventions. If you’re looking for a quick playing fantasy-themed battle game, though, this is the one you want! The Stratego-style fog of war means you have to make gutsy moves to win. The geo-morphic maps and the seven factions means no two games ever have to be alike. And the game design mojo of the Columbia crew means that there are paths to victory that require you to be very, very evil. Yep, this game is insane for applying “collectibility” to an old school wargame. And you won’t get a substantial amount of play out of this one unless you go ahead and buy a couple of expansions. But I think you’ll find that the excitement involved in planning out how to dole out the stickers to each faction is exactly the sort of insane fun that’s been missing from your life. (Note that I have more notes along with a complete scenario here, here, and here.)

3. 7 Ages — This is the monster game to end all monster games. I played this one with six other people for seven sessions straight and let me tell you… it was epic. Each player typically plays two empires at once. They spring up all over the world and grow and fight and collapse and break apart. All sorts of technology is in play at once. There are special leaders, special units– and the cards are all used for a half dozen things. Players build the seven wonders of the world, trigger acts of god, raid, pillage, burn, usurp, and invent. It’s insane. This game is more like a role-playing game in some ways because players end up coming up with their own personal objectives rather than simply playing for a straight ahead win. Some people do things just because they might be incredibly awesome. Other people spend the game punishing anyone that crosses them. The complexity level is high and it will be a rare group that decides to actually bust this one out, but those that do are in for an unparalleled gaming experience. (Note you can find extensive documentation of my 7 Ages game over on the Castalia House photo stream.)

4. Adventurer Conqueror King System and The Sinister Stone of Sakkara — A lot of people ask me what version of D&D I recommend, and yeah… I feel pretty strongly about the classic Moldvay Basic sets with the Erol Otus covers. ACKS takes those D&D rules that are the arguably most played of all time and develops them further. Here you’ll find extensive rules for the domain game that was only given cursory treatment in AD&D. You’ll also find a diverse range of character classes that accommodate modern sensibilities without sacrificing the old school aesthetic. And with the Sakkara adventure module, the line now has something to fill the niche that Gary Gygax’s Keep on the Borderlands established. The variety of beasties populating this dungeon makes sense and there is a wild situation brewing that has some awesome weird horror angles. Finally, there are a couple of encounters here that don’t tend to end up in most peoples’ introductory modules but that really ought to be done. There is the potential for true gaming glory within these pages. (For more in this see my posts here, here, and here.)

5. Sea Kings by Lewis Pulsipher — This one is a light board game that’s easy to teach, easy to set up, and quick to play. I had no problem getting my son (age 13) and his friends to play it. I even got a six player game together with some kids that were even younger. Unlike a lot of euros, there is an element of direct conflict in the advanced rules. The inclusion of rules that allow players to settle without using a card in order to take over over players settlements makes the gameplay much more dynamic. There’s also just enough history baked into the game to inspire young people to do some further reading about the world the Viking raiders lived in.

And there you have it! There are some lovely games that have come out this year, but none of them quite had the staying power of these five. Check ’em out! (And if you pick up a copy of your own, please purchase them through the links on this post in order to support my blogging efforts.)

What’s Going On

Okay, the blog here has mostly been taken up with answering my critics lately. The thing that sticks in my craw from all of that is Justinian Herzog’s feeling that game bloggers such as myself are getting distracted by the culture wars. So I think maybe people are missing out on where the action has shifted to in the past few months.

  • First off, I’ve just got done playing the most monstery of monster games: an eight session long game of 7 Ages played with a full table of seven players. I have not written this up, but you can find pics of this over on the Castalia House media feed on Twitter.
  • On that same feed, you’ll find numerous pics from playtests of Seven Years War: Frederick’s Gamble. This is a great game that typically runs about six to eight hours and that allows for players to drop in and out between sessions if need be. Developer Fred Schachter used to work with SPI and I have to say… seeing first hand how these games come together has been a treat.
  • A lot of my “spare time” goes into editing Castalia House blog lately. A lot of stuff that would have been run here is now getting posted over there. Blog Watch has turned into Sensor Sweep, for instance. If you have a yen for more “Appendix N” type writing, but from a somewhat more scholarly standpoint… you gotta check out Morgan Holmes’s epic series on Building A Weird Tales Library.
  • All throughout last year people were asking me to (a) read something written after 1980 and (b) identify someone that was writing “Appendix N” type literature today. Well I finally addressed that. See the retrospective here and the link roundup followup here. (Full disclosure: the author is published by Castalia House and has given positive endorsements for my stuff.)
  • I occasionally get requests that I go back to doing something along the lines of my session reports and analysis of ACKS and Dwimmermount. Well something like that is in progress as well: a new series on first edition AD&D and Oriental Adventures.

If you want more of what we did last year… well hey, I think we have most of the bases covered here.

So what’s up with this idea that I’m being distracted by politics and so forth? Eh, my theory is that it’s coming from people that read my social feed and ignore what I’m doing over at Castalia House. Don’t do that! Heck, my Google+ page has been called “Drudge Report for Nerds”. Only my closest friends and worst enemies follow it. If I start following a story from the media there, I will likely keep looking at it long after you’ve stopped caring about it. So please… do yourself a favor and don’t look at it, Marion!

Oh, but there is one more place to look if you want to see where all the effort that used to go into game blogging has ended up. It’s in Cirsova:

And if you look at the line-up for the rest of 2016, you can see that I have a piece queued up to appear there that would have in times past simply been posted to the web for free.

Wind is changing!

Yes, it is…. And one of those changes that’s coming along here is the rice bowl is about to come out. I never got around to getting a Patreon set up. I never did a Kickstarter. I never put those adds up for the “guys only” MMORPG games. I just wrote a whole bunch of blog posts. And then… Rhinestone Cowboy style, people I don’t even know started sending me vintage games in the mail. I’m not quite sure how the next phase will shake out, but I’m looking at how the Amazon Associate program at the moment. If I’ve set it up right, when you purchase Cirsova via the link in this post, I will get a kickback for spreading the word. It’s a little tacky, maybe. But for the people out there that want to get all “here, take my money!” on me… there it is.

And that about covers the highlights of what’s going on. See you around!

You Don’t Get to Rewrite History

The drama continues on this one.

I did try to leave a comment over at Anna Kreider’s blog. She replaced it with a meme and then took to her Twitter account to rant a little.

I’ve already demonstrated that Jessica Price is at the very least being extremely disingenuous in how she’s playing this. But now she’s gone beyond insulting people that really do have a history of significant contributions for not recognizing “activists, critics, academics, and community managers” and on to an entirely different level.

She’s gone… er… well I’m not sure where she’s going with this:

*sigh* at white men claiming we (women, POC, etc.) are “invading” the games industry they created. We’ve been here the whole time, jackasses

Hell, we fucking BUILT it, and are still building it today. Even though it was built *on* us and *for* you. You don’t get to rewrite history

I really don’t think very many people would have begrudged Price or Kreider a place on the GenCon lineup. I think most people are super nice and would even have backed the idea of expanding the definition of “industry insider” to include “indie LARP designers” and so forth. (And who wouldn’t want to pay big bucks to go to a giant convention to hear Alex Roberts talk about sex?) The whole thing would have been justified as being an important move, a chance to hear about things from a fresh perspective, and a great victory for diversity and all that is good and holy.

But at this point I have to wonder… can someone this stupid really have anything to say about games, gaming, or the games industry? I mean I know SJW’s always project, but this is ridiculous.

Insiders and Activists: Jessica Price’s Double Think

The announcement of GenCon’s Industry Insider Featured Presenters for 2016 left more than a couple of people scratching their heads. Some of the more, uh, zealous-minded were quick to whip people into line, however.

For instance, John du Bois commented on Twitter:

Maybe if you recognize only 1/25 people on the GenCon Industry Insider list, you don’t know the industry as well as you think you do.

And Paizo’s Jessica Price amplified the point:

Yup. No time for fake geek boys who don’t know who’s who in tabletop.

Who is she referring to? Well, check her previous tweet and it turns out it’s Mike Mearls and Lewis Pulsipher.

.@mikemearls @lewpuls Not clear why you couldn’t have done that without slamming your industry colleagues. But sure.

Meanwhile on her Tumblr, she concedes the very point she’s insulting these two men over:

Historically, a lot of the focus of the Industry Insider slate emphasized long tenure in the industry, and a history of significant contributions. That’s great, and there are still representatives of that group of people present among this year’s Insiders. However, that sort of focus also tended to ensure that the people being featured as Insiders were people everyone already knew about (and exacerbated the problem of newer people getting recognition).

(Emphasis mine.)

That’s right. The fact people have no idea who these people are is the entire point of this little crusade, isn’t it? And then Jessica pretends to be shocked, shocked that actual “industry insiders” would not recognize a bunch of “indie tabletop publishers, indie LARP designers, event organizers, activists, critics, academics, and community managers” that are– weirdly– being lumped in with them all of a sudden.

Maybe these interlopers aren’t colleagues to these men by any stretch of the imagination. I’m sure Jessica Price disagrees. Either way, her two-faced cattiness is out of line and I think she owes these gentlemen an apology.