Sunday, 21 February 2010

The Next (mini) Project

It has been bothering me recently that I'm coming to the end of a couple of projects. I'm just finishing off the last couple of dozen ECW cavalry figures, then they'll be done. Then I've got a couple of limbers for the Sudan field force and those are closed down as well.

I've got some 25mm Elizabethan Irish figures to do, but they're definitely a back burner project (until the week before I want to use them, of course!).

This is something that non-wargamers usually don't get. There always has to be something on the go. Just playing the games isn't enough for most of us, - there has to be something being built or developed. As Xander once said "It's about the journey".* So what's next?

What has queered this pitch a little bit is that the ECW project has worked out rather well. I usually go through a protracted rules design & development process for each project I work on and end up quite a way from where I started. This then provides me with a session to put on at WD's Conference of Wargamers (CoW) in July. Well this year the rules design bit went really quickly (I say design, - it was an adaptation of Richard Brooks' Square Based rule system). Usually I start off with someone else's rules and end up in a completely different place. This year I sort of ended up quite close to where I started as the rules did what I wanted with a couple of tweaks, - I dropped the squares and playing card activation and to my surprise found the remaining bit of the system worked really well without them. That came as quite a surprise.

What I also tend to enjoy is solving the problems in the various elements of game design, - not just the rules, but how to get a scenario to hang together, providing a visual environment to inform and challenge the players. The ECW project has actually had very few problems overall, so it is completed, pretty much, but has not been really satisfying on all fronts.

And left me with a hole for my CoW project for this year. was sort of coming to the conclusion that this time round I'd just go and play other people's.

However, thanks to Paint it Pink I've got my game sorted. She commented on the last blog that GZG make Prawns. She's right, - they do indeed make Prawns. They're a little too heavily armed for my liking (I'd like some civilian looking ones, - but I can probably carve off the odd rifle). Plus I usually like to have a good name for a game, and it just came into my head - "District 9 and 3/4". Not sure what the Potter elements will be (if any) but it has a hook to it.

So I've ordered a load of Prawns, and I'm now bashing a scenario into shape. I think this won't be a matrix game, and may borrow from an much earlier design called "Looting the Baggage" which had search and destroy elements in it.

It won't have President Jog-Jog in it, and will be set in Zambola's more organised and prosperous southern neighbour Swamibia (which since the transfer of power from its ex-colonial rulers is the stabilising influence in the region**). I thnk we'll have some Zambolan refugees in the mix however.

Just need to decide if I can recycle my Buffels, BTR60s and M113s for the game, or if I should invest in some Casspirs. QRF have just released some, but I'd want quite a few and at £6 a pop it soon adds up.

They are nice models tho'. Wonder if Geoff will do me a deal?

The only other problem I have right now, of course, is I've given the DVD back....

Plus there's some serious "Real Life" coming down the tracks over the next couple of months.

Oh, and does anyone make those combat walkers that get used right near the end of the movie?

*This is a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference. Great programme, - a quote for every occasion.
** Swamibia is referred to informally as The Martini Nation", as it has been completely shaken up, but still works.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Family Time & Some Inspiration

Young Master Trebian is back from the frozen wastes of the North and was able to spare his aged parents a few hours yesterday. So as his sister is at home at moment we were all able to get together as a family (once I'd extracted myself from the office).

It is always good have all the family together for an evening, even if nothing is particularly planned. He seems to be having a good term, and revealed that his local has a regular games night. Amongst the stock of games is the original "Munchkins" which he and his friends have taken to. Of course basic Munchkins is never enough., so I got the "Dad, - can I borrow one of your sets of Munchkins...." with the implication that I can't possibly play them all at once.

Of course it is actually possible to play all the Munchkin sets together at once, but in practice we never do it. I tried to palm him off with the slightly naff "Munchkin Bites" (the undead version), but he held out for "Space Munchkins", which I must admit is a good choice.

If you've never played Munchkins it is a real hoot, especially if you ever played D&D or any pen-and-paper RPG. My favourite is "Munchkin-Fu", the version based on Hong Kong martial arts movies. In fact we rounded off our TnT day with a couple of games of the 'Fu last Saturday.

Any how, having sorted that out the next question was what to do for the rest of the evening. I had borrowed a DVD of "District 9" off someone from work, and it was fairly heavily hinted ("Oh, Dad, I haven't seen that yet. It would be really good to watch it before I went back") that we should all watch it as no one had seen it yet.

I realise "District 9" is last year's news, but I have to say it was a gripping, well put together movie, with really well realised aliens and superb sfx. It is an original take on the "first contact" story, with a fair amount of gratuitous shooting.

What better way is there for a family to bond than watch alien and human gore splattered all over the screen?

It probably isn't giving anything away to say that the film, - which is set in post apartheid South Africa - has a fair amount of shooting and action sequences. In particular there was a three cornered fight between some Blackwater-style private security forces, the aliens and local Nigerian crime warlord forces.

Now, is that a President Jog-Jog scenario waiting to happen, and if so, where can I get some 15mm prawn-style alien figures?

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Real Life (part 8) with a bonus

The work project isn't going as well as it could. We have issues. One of my colleagues thinks that's because bits of it are being run by someone who is a.....well, let's just say it rhymes with truckwit.

All of which means you spend a lot of time in meetings or on the phone trying to fix things you shouldn't have to fix instead of working on what you're supposed to be doing or working out those problems in those rules or that scenario you've been working on.

And then you get to spend an hour and a half in a management team meeting, before finally exiting the building at stupid o'clock because the policy committee overran by an hour, which on a two hour meeting is good going.

At least the drive home was good and then we had pancakes, so the day wasn't a write off.

But the icing on the cake was a notification from Amazon that finally someone has got round to releasing the remaining black and white Callan ep0isodes on DVD. Okay, so they don't have all of them, - about 13 out of the 20 or so made - but I never thought they'd see the light of day.

Just search for Callan + monochrome on Amazon.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

The Advantages of Being a Wargamer (part 4)

How often do you have some one say "Have you played such-and-such it's on-line and you can play any character it does this and everything else you can imagine and you can chat on line and it's even better than World of warcaraft etc...."

Essentially the thrust of it is that any gaming experience is better for having an electronic interface. Well, I'm not a believer, and last Saturday sort of proved my point of view, at least to me.

The long awaited trip down memory lane to revisit my early RPG roots with friends who were there at the start of the journey went rather well. Yes, we may all be 35 years older. We may not have all gamed together for over 25 years but it didn't matter. The sheer joy of being in the same room with fellow gaming friends creating the game as we played it is difficult to explain if you haven't been there.

The thing is you can draw up a dungeon and populate it with all sorts of clever things but you have no idea as a GM where the game may go. Traps you thought would baffle players are negated by some simple lateral thinking. On the other hand you would not believe how much confusion can be created by a simple stretch of corridor with absolutely no special features. We spent an hour nearly on the simple task of finding the dungeon entrance then roping down into the entrance hall (I had the entrance as a trap door leading down into a cavern to stop players simply running in and out). It sounds daft, but it was hilarious and challenging at the same time.

I was going for a real retro feel for the game, so I did it all with pencil and paper, - no computer work at all. I was also not going to bother with figures as our early games were figureless. In the end I relented as you probably do need markers to show you where people are standing when it all starts to go pear shaped for the players (although no one actually died this time round).

The important thing with the figures is that they should be enablers, not limiters. You can get into the mind set of not doing something because you don't have the figures for it, whereas the best RPGs take place in the imagination. I shouldn't have to make a model of a massive vaulted hall lined with statues. The players' imaginations should do that for me.

Alas, as indicated in an earlier blog I'm a bit short on the figure front (no, that doesn't mean I've only got dwarves left). Luckily I still had a set of GW's "Talisman" and Waddington's "Dark World" at the back of a cupboard, so a quick freshen up with some magic dip and I had enough to get going.

I won't do a blow by blow account of the adventures, - maybe next time I'll set up a Twitter account and post updates - but some things will stick in the memory for a while.

In one room the players encountered a curtain strung across it. "Wodger the Wogue" confidently shouts out "There's a medusa behind that, - I hold up a mirror", so he got a bit of a shock when an Orc chieftain with three "associates" burst through it and attack the party. Secondly I protected a Treasure Room with a pit and put some bulky items in the room, forgetting they had to be taken out over the pit. I was therefore completely baffled (once the players had killed the guards) as to how they'd get the stuff out. In the end they just took the door of its hinges and laid it down over the pit.

You see in a computer game you can only do that if the designer has thought of it beforehand. In a human moderated game you can just go with it and change the dungeon or the rules.

So, what is great about being a wargamer is that the friends you make usually stay with you forever. You can not see them for years, then before you know it you're back to being a 15 year old.

We'll play T&T again, I think. However, only two of three times a year. We want to avoid getting into the obsessive questing type of game that compel you to play every day of the week. This is just a bit of fun.

Besides, we're all Grown Ups with proper jobs and Real lives to be getting on with.

But at least as Grown Ups we've always got somewhere to play.

Saturday, 13 February 2010


Tunnels & Trolls day today. Perhaps I should have set up a Twitter feed and given room by room updates.

Still, "You kick down the door, you kill the monster, there's treasure" might get a bit repetitive.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Forward and Back

I've just finished the preparation for my first big wargaming weekend of the year. I'm mostly known as a historical wargamer these days, but like a lot of people of a certain age who grew up in the 1970's my late teen years were dominated with the RPG craze. (That's "Role Playing Games" not "Rocket Propelled Grenades" if the clarity is required).

We - my school friends, older brother, other hangers on and me - played a rule set called "Tunnels and Trolls". We played it because when we went to a show to but D&D all the traders had sold out, and the guy on a stand suggested we tried this newly imported set. It was 50 or 60 gestetnered* pages, stapled together. At the time it was one of the best buys I think my brother or I ever made.

T&T had two advantages over D&D. It was cheaper and simpler. You could get up and running in a pretty short period of time and there was none of that silly mucking about with allegiances and all that. You just bought armour, tooled up and went and kicked some doors down. Actually, 3 advantages. It only used d6, and none of that multi-sided d8/d12/d20 nonsense.

When we got back from that show I took hold of the rules and built a dungeon pretty quickly. Looking back it had no logic, and the 15' x 15' room with a door in each wall was ubiquitous. However out of our group I got the first levels completed first (hey, - I had the rules and being at school had the time). We played our first game in my parents dining room, with about 4 figures painted (if that) and a whole load of imagination. It climaxed with an epic duel with a blue, chocolate cake eating ogre. From that point on there was no looking back. We trawled shows and shops looking for the right figures (it is difficult to remember that Minifigs "ME" range was still the main source, although they were just launching their "S&S" range at that time), building props, - I had an infamous chest made out of a carved up radio battery.

We spent hours playing that game. One summer we had full run of an old church hall where a youth club was held (The old Congregationalist Church in Rugby). We met there every day and multiple games were run for must have been 20 people or so. If you got killed then you went into the next room and played darts or table tennis until another game started.

We moved on from that to a system called Bifrost and then went off to university where I quickly dropped fantasy and started playing and designing historical games.

Any how I was clearing out a bookshelf and found my 2nd edition T&T rules a few weeks ago (the gestetnered set has disappeared in the mists of time), so I thought why not give it a go again? So I managed to agree a date with the 4 of the original players I sort of keep in contact with and set about putting a new dungeon together. As we are going for a retro feel there can't be any of of that quest/mission stuff. It's all money, monsters & magic. And traps. Got to have traps.

I think my brain must be slowing down. I recall having loads of levels to my dungeon, populated with loads of interesting items. This time I've struggled to put three together, and some of the traps are decidedly lame. Alas the maps and file cards of my old set up went out years ago.

To get final inspiration I went in search of any figures I may have left. I found a few in a box in the attic of the garage, - those left after bring and buy sales and conversion to other usage, or trades with other gamers. It's not a bad selection, but I seem to be heavy on Wizards and light on Warriors. Ah well, gone the way of my massive Middle Earth armies I guess.

That has sort of got me over the finish line. I hope the effort is worth it, and we all enjoy the planned day. After all, we are all much older and the fantasy RPG genre has moved on. When we started playing Games Workshop was a reseller of other people's products (still was when I had a holiday job there), and there were no Terry Pratchett novels and the only film version of Lord of the Rings was that horrible cartoon thing done by Ralph Bakshi.

So in summary, whereas Corinthians 13:11 may say "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.", speaking as a Grown Up, I can still enjoy the odd childish thing, and fully intend to do so.

* A gestner machine was a form of office printing. You typed up your work on a translucent "skin" that was then put on an ink roller. Making a mistake at the bottom of a page was a real pain. I produced several school magazines on one.