Tuesday, September 22, 2020

WEG Memoirs: Mister Donut

Several times during my five years working at West End Games I received an early morning phone call of the utmost importance. Since I had to supplement my meager salary with tons of freelance work (like most of the editorial and graphic design staffers) I was usually up early, anyway, to work in an hour’s writing before getting an early start at the office. So the phone call wasn’t waking me up or anything, but it required me to leave even earlier. Usually the caller was production manager Rich Hawran, though sometimes owner Scott Palter himself. They needed me to perform an extremely urgent task before coming in to work: buy doughnuts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Same Great Experience, Smaller Package

The board game world offers some amazing experiences, but the prospect of learning a booklet of new rules and spending several hours immersing themselves in an hours-long game can discourage some newcomers from pursuing the hobby...and even longtime gamers don’t always have the patience or time to invest in comprehending and playing a new game. As an advocate of introducing gaming to newcomers and kids, I’m always looking for games that don’t seem too overwhelming or complex, yet still offer a satisfying play experience. So I was happy to discover a few titles one might consider lighter, younger siblings of well-established games – Ticket to Ride: New York and Pandemic: Hot Zone – North Americawhich provide similar themes and gameplay as the originals without taking several hours to learn and play.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Every Star A Destination

I’m constantly flattered when fans fondly recall West End Games’ Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game. They spot references to West End creations in current Star Wars media. They remind us how much they enjoyed projects on which we worked. And occasionally we get to return to that period a long time ago (more than 20 years) far, far away (in remote Honesdale, PA) when we worked full-time and freelance to produce two or three Star Wars game products a month for a burgeoning crowd of gaming and film fans. I was lucky then for these opportunities and I’m lucky again to relive a little of that excitement creating game material to reach a similar audience. The recently released Star System: Every Star A Destination scenario collection includes an adventure I wrote, “The Jungle Prophet.” West End Star Wars line editor veteran Eric S. Trautmann approached me about contributing to the book – a D6 System homage to the popular Instant Adventures supplement suitable for sci-fi roleplaying games – to commemorate the game’s 30th anniversary and the re-issue of a slick reprint slipcase edition.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

WEG Memoirs: Foreign Language Editions

Es war einmal vor langer Zeit

in einer weit, weit

entfernten Galaxis....


Back in the mid 1990s, when West End Games had the license to produce Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game, the company also had the rights to sub-license its game materials to foreign publishers. The arrangements included the usual approvals process – especially for any changes in layout, format, and artwork deviating significantly from West End’s versions – after which West End received several copies of the published product, some of which we forwarded to Lucasfilm for its archives. I’m sure a copy went into whatever file or library West End kept at the time. As one of the few if only people on staff who had any knowledge of the German language, I usually received a spare copy of German releases from the publisher Welt der Spiel; eventually I acquired some products in other languages, too. All these years later I still have most of these foreign-language editions. They’re more nostalgic novelties now, but they remind me of the amazing reach the game once enjoyed

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Adaptable One-Hour Wargames

I’m always looking around for new games and rules, particularly ones that can put to use game materials I already have – in this case, miniatures – and ones I can adapt to introduce the adventure gaming hobby to newcomers and kids. My brother gave me a copy of Neil Thomas’ One-HourWargames for my birthday; I finally managed to read it and give it a try at the wargaming table. Thomas offers a very basic game system to which he explains and adapts numerous historical periods. He also presents 30 period-neutral scenarios useful for any wargamer seeking easy set-up with meaningful objectives. As simplistic as the system seemed, it proved just the right pace for a one-hour game with my young gamer son, adapted to one of his preferred non-historical genres, Star Wars.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Twilight 2000...or 1945

As I write this a spiffy new version of Game Designer’s Workshop’s Twilight 2000 dominates the latest roleplaying game buzz at Kickstarter. Who would have thought a game founded on situations from the late 20th century cold war would find a new audience in the 2020s? Free League Publishing, which did an amazing job on games like Tales from the Loop and the latest Aliens roleplaying game, has a slate of quality components in the game, many unlocked as stretch goals; so I’m on the fence whether to back a game I might not play but one that looks interesting to explore with lots of fun components. (The Kickstarter campaign ends Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020.) I’ve discussed my occasional interest on post-apocalyptic games before. I’ve often wanted to dabble in Twilight 2000 after seeing the ad campaign and subsequent articles/scenarios in GDW’s late, lamented Challenge Magazine. I’m not really excited about the game’s modern setting, but the survivalist theme with a hex-crawl campaign style appeals to me. Then I start thinking...what if I found a way to use the new Twilight 2000’s resources – character backgrounds, encounters, maps, adventure ideas, locations – but ported to a game system I like with a premise centered on an alternate-history end to World War II (a period that engages me more deeply)? Something like Twilight 1945.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

A Gaming Artifact from Trilemma

Artwork and production values in roleplaying game books vary greatly. They’re often constrained by the publisher’s limited budget, sometimes consuming even more financial resources than the actual content itself. Even then high production value and amazing artwork can’t make up for poor design and writing. Certainly Internet Age phenomena like Kickstarter and Patreon have enabled more creative people to release their gaming materials without the infrastructure of traditional print publishers...though quality on numerous fronts isn’t always consistent. But every once in a while a real gem emerges, something that satisfies on so many levels – substantive, graphic, qualitative – a treasure that stands out among the shelves of roleplaying game books. Michael Prescott’s Trilemma Adventures Companion Volume I is one of these amazing gaming artifacts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Entertainment Can Inspire Learning


And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait....”

Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton)


The July Fourth weekend – amid the pandemic wreaking havoc across the United States – we sat down in our impromptu yet cool basement home theater to watch the film version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical. Though I’m not a fan of the rap and hip-hop musical styles, the songs, staging, and compelling story provided an immersive, emotional experience. Yet in reading about it online later I became aware of some criticism that it contained historical inaccuracies. Well of course. It’s a musical, not a documentary. This kind of media is meant to entertain, even when based on real people and events. But in some people it can inspire an urge to lean more and pursue their own self-education. It reminded me how games work the same way. They’re not accurate simulations of situations, but they can impart an interest in the subject and issues delving deeper than the action we play out on the game table. Board, card, wargames, and roleplaying games can inspire further learning on related subjects.


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Our Family Plays Games

I’ve returned from my meditations at the Hermitage at the Edge of Oblivion having had some time to relax, reflect, and re-focus, though not as deeply as I would have liked. I haven’t managed to deal with the events and feelings that sent me packing to the Hermitage in the first place; but I don’t think any amount of meditation can or even should resolve those feelings. I have taken some solace, however, in games, books, history, media, and other distractions. A friend pointed me to the Our Family Plays Games channel on YouTube, a fulfilling combination of games and media. While I haven’t watched as many episodes as I would like, I realize it’s a welcome invitation to explore today’s numerous board games from a more diverse perspective.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Back to the Hermitage


One can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.”

Donald Rumsfeld, U.S. Secretary of Defense, April 12, 2003

I think it’s time for me to retreat once again to the Hermitage on the Edge of Oblivion.

It’s not for lack of material for Hobby Games Recce. Goodness knows I have pages of notes, bits of ideas, and a few paragraphs for numerous blog posts about various aspects of the adventure gaming hobby.

I am no doubt feeling the effects of the pandemic, of three months trying to stay safe and healthy, with my wife working from home and my son finishing the last semester of “school” at an amazingly minimal level. My parental duties require feeding the 10 year-old at irregular yet frequent intervals and entertaining him in lieu of other activities now eliminated by the pandemic. My overwhelming sense of spousal guilt has me working more on the seemingly infinite household and yard projects. I’ve not had much time or focus for myself or my gaming/writing endeavors; that level of non-fulfillment and dissatisfaction has drained much of my inspiration and energy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Missing Out on A World in A Box


I’ll admit I’ve never really immersed myself in pre-made fantasy world settings, particularly those that emerged in the late 1980s and 1990s and grew exponentially from core boxed set concepts to entire continents of supplements and “splatbooks.” A few exceptions exist, but they come from my earliest days exploring the adventure gaming hobby and those years after college when I had money to pursue other games with engaging settings tied to specific, non-fantasy game systems. I think my perspective results from a confluence of circumstances: the content and marketing of these worlds with my inability to immerse myself in roleplaying games at the time they were released.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Playing to “Win” the Covid-19 Game


I don’t usually indulge in politics or other sensitive, real-life subjects here at Hobby Games Recce. If I do, it’s in some way related to games. So I’d like to propose that the current pandemic situation has some parallels to gaming; specifically how we play games, strategies we use to succeed, and what happens when we win or lose. So bear with me if you will or simply come back next time for a less-politically tinged feature. And if you’re the kind of person who takes offense at my sentiments on these subjects, well, sic transit mundus.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

WEG Memoirs: “Mos Eisley Shoot-Out”


Recently the online classic game store Wayne’s Books posted the “Mos Eisley Shoot-Out” pamphlet under its home page’s “New Arrivals” banner. I always enjoy seeing West End Games material on the site. Nothing tells me more about how the gaming public views a title as the price listed at Wayne’s Books. It’s always nice to know people still appreciate the work we did long ago. Collector’s prices reflect a game book’s physical condition as well as the product quality and the demand among aficionados (and I’m sure a number of other considerations of which I’m unaware). I was somewhat surprised, then, that the 11x17-inch, double-sided, full-color folded brochure mini-game West End published and gave away for free in 1997 was listed at $25.99.


Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Game Activity during the Pandemic


For two months the covid-19 pandemic has altered how we live our lives, including our gaming habits. Most world governments imposed limitations on their population (followed more stringently in some places than others). In less than two months more Americans have died than in all the years of fighting in Vietnam. Depending on how soon scientists can develop more effective testing and tracking, vaccines, and treatments/cures, we may never really return to a semblance of “normal” we experienced before. In the face of this deadly pandemic most everyone’s trying to adapt to the new situation: businesses, conventions, individual gamers. No doubt we’ll continue adjusting as conditions change for better or worse. We just have to sit back and see how our efforts affect the pandemic...and until then, we can distract ourselves and find some respite from this grim reality through our modified adventure gaming hobby activities.


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Cooperative Wargames...for Beginners?


I was talking with someone about historically themed wargames a while back and was asked if there were any cooperative wargames in which players worked together to defeat a common adversary. We were also talking about how to introduce the concept of historical wargaming to kids in fourth through eighth grades, their parents, and interested adults. We both knew the core cooperative board games like Forbidden Island and and Pandemic (oddly relevant in today’s situation). Although I know several very good wargames for solitaire play (and adaptable for group cooperative play), I admitted I couldn’t think of any that were both cooperative and suitable for a beginner audience. So I started looking for suitable solo or coop wargames and, barring that, seeking ones I might modify to fit my parameters of something cooperative for a newcomer audience.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Alone in the Infinite Cathedral


I really did mean to set aside work on programmed solitaire roleplaying game adventures after finishing The Asturia Incident. Even during that project I briefly detoured to revise my old Trapped in the Museum solo scenario for the OpenD6 system on the occasion of its twentieth anniversary. After those forays into solo adventure gamebook writing I’d wanted to return to my long-neglected Infinite Cathedral project: a medieval roleplaying game setting bound to no particular game engine. And yet I now find myself tackling the challenge of creating a system-neutral programmed solitaire scenario. At least it’s serving as an introduction to the Infinite Cathedral and will hopefully fuel my enthusiasm for the main project ahead.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

RJ War Naval Battle After-Action Report



Tiny ships for small hands.
Last time I documented my efforts to bring Russo-Japanese War naval engagements to the tabletop. I finally pried my son from his tablet for an afternoon fighting a preliminary battle to learn the rules and get a sense of effective tactics. As mentioned before, we used a homemade ocean hex map, some ships from The Viking Forge I’d painted and based, and Bob Cordery’s Gridded Naval Wargames, with modifications from my own “Critical Damage Table” and a small historical adjustment in favor of the Japanese forces. The battle was close, the “Critical Damage Table” played a role in the action, and we learned some of the finer points about the rules.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Tsushima Project


Even before the covid-19 pandemic shut down society as we know it I’d started a new project inspired by my son’s varied interests in history: wargaming naval actions from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. After chancing upon some 1:2400 scale period Russian ships at the Williamsburg Muster game convention in mid-February I set out to acquire a small Japanese force, adapt some naval wargaming rules, and prep my play surface. It’s been a diverting side-project the past few weeks while my son’s been home, first with a mild illness, then with the state-wide shut-down of schools through March 27 (now extended through the end of the academic year...). So far I think we’re well on my way to some successful naval wargaming.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Solo Gaming in Pandemic Times


The covid-19 coronavirus seems like something from the intro to a post-apocalyptic roleplaying game. Or a night playing Pandemic. Anxiety remains high, especially with our 24/7 information highway overload and a problematic centralized federal government preparation and response. Hopefully everyone employs good hygiene practices and uses “self isolation” to whatever degree possible (I realize not everyone can engage in it, especially first responders and medical workers, but also those who have little choice but to report to work lest they lose paychecks and jobs). We need entertaining diversions to occupy our inflammably anxious minds and provide some positive, imaginative experiences. Solo gaming to the rescue!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Expanse, Mysteries, and RPGs


I am late to the party immersing myself in The Expanse television series, but I’m enjoying it immensely.* The setting, storyline, and characters offer plenty of puzzles to explore from one episode to the next in a fast-paced, well-built story. Aside from the constant concerns about how the protagonists are going to make it through the latest crisis, it challenges viewers to figure out the parameters and possibilities of the setting, the significance of plot elements, and the characters’ motivations. The show keeps viewers wondering...and engaged. My experience watching The Expanse reminds me how much mystery one can infuse into a media series...and how roleplaying gamers should keep engagement with mystery fresh in our game worlds.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Space Marine Adventures for Solo or Coop Play



I don’t recall where exactly I first heard of Space Marine Adventures: Labyrinth of the Necrons, but the concept of introductory solitaire and cooperative play grabbed my attention. I’m not a huge fan of Warhammer 40k, though in my distant past I dabbled with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (second edition) and found a used edition of the fantasy miniatures rules, more out of curiosity than any other motive. I have a vague awareness of what Space Marines are and that they apparently spend much of their time fanatically blasting things. So I’m in no way invested in the Warhammer 40k universe, but knowledgeable enough about its basics to enjoy an entertaining solo/coop game experience with high production values and good replay possibilities.

Friday, February 21, 2020

West End Memoirs: Scott Palter


On Monday, February 17, 2020, Daniel Scott Palter passed away. He was best-known as the founder and owner of West End Games, yet also infamously known as the person who sent the company into bankruptcy, losing the license for what was the groundbreaking first Star Wars roleplaying game. I’m sure some people – particularly those who lost jobs and opportunities with the company’s bankruptcy – hated him and never forgave him for what he did to West End in those final days. Over the years I’ve had to reconcile my feelings toward him. I have the natural animosity over West End’s demise. But I also realize he provided me with an opportunity to have my dream job: working full-time as a designer and editor at a roleplaying game company, and with the Star Wars franchise, no less. Despite all the frustration and drama, they remain the most fulfilling, productive five years of my professional life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Father-Son History-Wargaming Weekend 2020


My son and I spent an extended weekend immersing ourselves in history and wargaming in what is becoming an annual tradition. I took him out of school on Friday so we could leave early and spend the afternoon at the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, then attended the Williamsburg Muster wargaming convention, and finally visited Historic Jamestowne before heading home Sunday. (Our school system doesn’t get Presidents’ Day off....) Our son’s fourth grade curriculum includes “Virginia Studies” for social studies, a subject he already enjoys and which we’ve indulged with additional trips to historic sites during the past year. He’s also interested in games, including historical wargames, so the weekend provided an opportunity to engage with both history and games.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

WEG Memoirs: Sabacc Proposal


I was doing some post-holiday tidying when I stumbled upon an old manuscript box with the words “Sabacc Proposal” scrawled in marker on the side. It’s filled with a hodge-podge of cards – two full-color deck for the proposal, one black-and-white deck with card backs I think I printed for later convention games – some credit chits and bills, a few “item” cards with values for when the stakes went high, and some copies of the rules. Kind of a mess, really. It’s a relic from my time working on the Star Wars Roleplaying Game at West End Games in the mid 1990s. My boss Rich Hawran and I had an opportunity – goodness knows how it came about – to present some Star Wars-based game designs to a development team at Hasbro, specifically the card game sabacc and the holo-chess game dejarik. We drafted rules, prototyped components, and did some basic playtesting, but overall we were little more than rank amateurs pitching game ideas with fueled by our fanboy enthusiasm for Star Wars.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Having Fun with Cruel Seas


I’d been on the fence about getting into Warlord Games’ Cruel Seas since it released in late 2018. The game focuses on small-craft naval engagements in World War II featuring such vessels as the American PT boats and German Schnell-boots (“fast boats,” or S-boats). I’d read about various issues folks had with the game, but eventually I put it on my wish list and received the starter boxed set as a gift during the holidays. I’ve played a few solitaire games to familiarize myself with the rules (though I haven’t managed to paint the ships yet), enough to formulate some opinions. Most of my issues with the game relate to elements I feel might have been handled differently, primarily from the perspective of catering to newcomers or improving the product quality. Despite the expense to buy into the game, Cruel Seas offers a beginner-friendly, accessible wargaming experience for those interested in this kind of WWII naval skirmish.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Fire & Ice: D6 Fantasy before Its Time


About 20 years ago I created a fantasy version of the D6 System for my own use, unimaginatively titled Fire & Ice. Those were the days after West End declared bankruptcy and laid off its staff, but a few years before its acquisition by Purgatory Publishing and the release of the D6 System trilogy D6 Fantasy, D6 Adventure, and D6 Space. This was the time in my life I refer to as my Desperate Freelancing Days as I scrambled to line up freelance game-writing work while holding down a part-time office job. Luckily I had a solid local gaming group to provide some imaginative diversion to my real-world troubles; so it was here that, seemingly on a whim, I returned to play around with my favorite D6 System in a more casual setting.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Schweig’s Gaming Events Early 2020


I finally got around to changing the calendars from 2019 to 2020 and – goodness gracious me! – realized I already have a number of gaming events lined up for the first two months of the New Year. Ten years ago I had several conventions I’d attend, primarily running roleplaying games. I’ve had to cut back on cons, particularly those farther afield. But with a son with an interest in history and gaming as well as my greater involvement in historical miniatures wargaming, I’ve settled into a general routine of regional conventions and events we can both enjoy. As my schedule shows, however, I’m not above testing the waters with new events to possibly add to my slowly growing repertoire of conventions.''

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Yuletide Game Reflections


On January 7 we slip past the 12 Days of Christmas and back into the cold, dark, drudgery of the New Year, facing numerous tasks postponed by a month-long holiday preparation and celebration plus the inevitable disappointment when we break our New Year’s Resolutions (a ritual I’ve long since abandoned). It’s easy this time of year to descend into the depths contemplating the misery of reality, to allow the real-world anxieties to wash up over our temporary yet festive bulwark of holiday jubilation. So forgive me if I reflect on the fun game-related bits of this passing yuletide celebration in a futile attempt to prolong the uplifting spirit of the season.