Thursday, December 30, 2010

Games with the Best Replay Value

Games today often come with high price tags; gamers can feel somewhat disappointed when they play a new title only a few times before it becomes stale. For some, replay value stands high on their list of requirements for new game purchases.

Many board games have limited replay value. Gamers can mix play styles and participants to vary the action, but the base rules, elements, and goals remain the same. Similar problems accompany most traditional wargames, unless the game covers a wide scope of battle scenarios (see “Battle Games” below). Even collectible card games have limitations among deck combinations and opponents.

Several game genres deliver the best replay value for the game’s price:

Battle Games

Battle games like Memoir ’44, Battle Cry, and Battles of Napoleon create extended replay value by offering different engagements gamers can play. The rules contain a host of scenarios covering the most important clashes from a period; two players can replay numerous battles from the rulebook, create their own skirmishes, or find fan-designed engagements online, extending the game’s replay life beyond a basic two-player board game.

Battle games are extremely light versions of traditional wargames and miniature gaming, combining the most basic wargaming concepts with components and rules more suited to board gamers. Rules for these games seem very comprehensive, but overall gameplay isn’t any more complex than most Euro-style board games. Many come with a price tag higher than an individual board game, but they include everything needed to play a series of battles: high-quality components like full-color boards, cards, terrain tiles, illustrated rules abounding with examples, and detailed, sculpted plastic pieces portraying units on each side (much like miniature army men). These do not require additional work painting miniatures or crafting terrain like their miniature wargaming cousins. Some games (notably Memoir ’44) sell expansions to add new forces and terrain, further increasing replay possibilities.

Invest in a battle game from a period that interests the players; it’s a good way to learn about the history, technology, and tactics of the era through extended campaign play.

Why Not Miniatures Games? Miniatures games offer great replay opportunities, particularly when one considers the wealth of historical or hypothetical engagements to recreate; however, the buy-in for such games remains high, often including expensive rulebooks, army books, and miniatures, plus the time spent painting miniature and crafting terrain. Miniature wargames remain a great hobby, but require a bit too much cash, time, and effort for the casual gamer to undertake. For those wishing to check out this hobby, joining a game at a convention (and playing with someone else’s toys) is the best option.

Collectible Miniatures Games

Games like the Axis & Allies Miniatures Game and Axis & Allies: War at Sea provide great looking components and good replay value given the different combinations of forces one can muster. The basic sets include rules, maps boards, and units sufficient to play a few engagements, and booster packs add random components for all forces involved in World War II. An online community and product support offers a wealth of historical scenarios to play. Players can create customized forces from their armies to face off on different terrain maps using unit point values.

The rules are a little more complex than battle games, and they don’t always include scenarios, since by the games’ collectible natures, players don’t always have a common set of components to run battles. Most rules offer some objectives and victory conditions applicable to almost any engagement between different forces; online scenarios for historical battles often require players to posses specific units.

At first these games don’t seem to have the huge price tag of battle games, but as collectible miniatures games, players must buy booster packs to get a random selection of units to further enhance the basic set components. This can add up, especially when considering the random nature of booster packs; players never quite know if they’ll get the components they want. For instance, if players want to run tank battles in North Africa, they gamble that they’ll get  English and German tanks and not Russian infantry, French artillery, or American marines.

Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games have the best replay value since, by their nature, they rely more on the participants’ imaginations rather than physical components one must purchase. With just the basic rulebooks good gamemasters can create their own scenarios and campaigns without additional supplements (though those can certainly enhance the play experience).

Although prices for basic rulebooks vary, at most they cost about the same as popular Euro-games. Roleplaying games cover the vast range of genres to interest players, often with mechanics ranging from moderate to complex. Most roleplaying games today have a wealth of online resources, from official support at publisher websites to fan sites with forums, PDF files, and unofficial optional rules.

Roleplaying games require a bit more work than most board games. Players must familiarize themselves with the game rules and universe, though choosing a familiar or licensed setting can help. Gamemasters must invest greater effort either in creating adventures or becoming well-versed in the setting to run off-the-cuff games.

Roleplaying games don’t fall into the familiar concept of games most average folks maintain; they expect boards and pieces, not books, character sheets, and funny looking dice, with action taking place through conversation and imagination. They require a bit more rules knowledge, character acting, and general openness to new gaming paradigms, but the replay value remains the highest of other games.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Warning Order Offers Glimpse into Historical Minis

With today’s ubiquitous desktop publishing and internet technologies, it’s easy for gaming clubs to publish online PDF newsletters about their interests and activities. The Wasatch Front Historical Gaming Society’s newsletter, Warning Order, sets high marks for graphic design and content variety, providing interesting insights on historical miniatures wargaming, battle reports, and reviews several times each year.

The full-color, free download PDF releases to the Society’s website when the editors receive enough content to make 12 pages; but most issues run longer than that. Most articles, even battle reports, run only a few pages each. All come with color images of reviewed product, photos of miniatures and terrain on the gaming table, and tactical maps for scenarios.

The latest issue (Issue #28, Fall 2010) includes battle reports for scenarios played with General de Brigade, Warmaster Ancients, Age of Reason, Fire & Fury, and Blitzkrieg Commander 2 rules (complete with tactical maps and plenty of photos); reviews of Blitzkrieg Commander 2, USN Deluxe, The Sword and the Flame Action Decks, Republic of Rome, Guadalajara, and the new Wargames Illustrated format; an overview of terrain available in 1/285th scale; a variant for the classic Avalon Hill Starship Troopers board wargame; an editorial on World War III making a comeback in wargaming; and a host of other wargaming-related articles.

As of this date, the WFHGS has released 28 Warning Order issues, an impressive number for any club, and certainly a fantastic resource to hobby enthusiasts, who can find all the issues available for free download at the club’s website.

As with any fan-produced publication, Warning Order has some editing issues, and no articles contain any author bylines (one assumes the writers are club members). The magazine’s overall coverage of wargames obviously skews toward the club’s preferences, but is still impressive. Both historical miniatures and traditional board wargames receive representation.

Warning Order serves a variety of audiences. The newsletter offers newcomers a glimpse into the world of historical wargaming. For established enthusiasts of that hobby it provides potential scenario ideas (from battle reports), reviews of interesting products, and additional information and commentary on the hobby. Warning Order can also stand as inspiration for gaming clubs in its clean graphic design and engaging content.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Experience WWII Aviation in Wings of War

Wings of War WWII: The Dawn of World War II lets players simulate tabletop dogfights in period aircraft, gaining some sense of the chaos and danger of aerial combat while still enjoying an easy to learn game. Designed by Andrea Angiolino and Pier Giorgio Paglia of Nexus Editrice SRL in Italy, the game has English language distribution through Fantasy Flight Games.

The successor to the popular World War I aerial combat game, Wings of War, puts players at the command of Messerschmitt Bf109s, Spitfires, Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats, Hawker Hurricanes, Mitsubishi A6M2 Reisens, and other aircraft. Up to six aircraft can fly at once with the basic set; let each player have their own plane or give a player the command of a pilot and wingman to better coordinate maneuvers.
Cards represent aircraft, each with its own maneuver deck for that kind of airplane. Maneuver cards plot out where and how an aircraft card moves around the playing surface, showing two moves, one at low speed, one at high speed. Players plan their maneuvers two turns in advance, placing maneuver cards face-down in sequence with a face-down speed marker indicating how fast they’re going. All players reveal their maneuvers simultaneously, plot them out with their aircraft card, then see if any enemy airplanes are within their field of fire and range. If so, the target player randomly draws damage chits (based on damage ratings for the attacking plane), which indicate how many points of damage it takes. Reach or exceed your plane’s points and it goes down.
Those are the basic concepts in broad summary. The game includes these basic rules and more advanced rules for varying altitudes, mechanical damage complications (rudder jams, engine damage, crew hits, fire), ace pilots, campaigns, bombing, photo recon, and strafing. Eight scenarios provide ideas for missions beyond the game’s basic dogfight action.

Wings of War WWII: The Dawn of World War II
includes everything needed to play -- 24 airplane cards (12 Axis and 12 Allies), six maneuver card decks, bomb and target cards, damage and other markers, two range rulers, and six airplane consoles on which players plot their upcoming, face-down moves and speeds -- all quality components for a $34.95 price tag.

The game offers a host of other accessories to enhance play. Squadron packs include additional airplanes plus three associated maneuver decks. Perhaps the best visual play aid, actual scaled airplane miniatures each come with their own stand and maneuver deck ($12.95 each, $15.95 for large planes like the Stuka and Val dive bomber). Players can also use the play mats for the World War I version of the game; these are pricey at $39.95 considering players can create their own customized play surfaces with appropriately colored craft store felt and a sponge dappling of crafter’s paint.

A second game set, Wings of War: Fire from the Sky, introduces new rules for dive-bombing and additional planes, including bombers like the Ju87 Stuka, Aichi D3A Val, SBD Dauntless, plus more fighters. This boxed game stands on its own (complete with rules, counters, etc.) or you can combine it with the earlier set. A Deluxe Edition, costing $69.95, includes all the necessary rules, counters, rulers, and cards, plus miniatures of four different aircraft; the set might have included two pairs of similar aircraft (two Spitfires and two Messerschmitts, for example) for squadron missions instead of one-on-one dogfight dogfights.

Game fans might check out the Wings of War Aerodrome website for a host of other resources they can download free with simple registration at the site. Here you’ll find additional target cards (rail lines and yards, ships, airfields, even a German u-boat), scenario and campaign ideas, and additional aircraft cards for those not covered in the main game.
Historical Concepts

Wings of War WWII
demonstrates some basic tactical concepts from the period through its innovative gameplay. It gives participants some idea of what fighter pilots faced without actually placing players in danger.

Each aircraft has a different maneuver rating corresponding to one of four maneuver decks. These help demonstrate the technical limitations of the aircraft, especially when compared against different models.

No Plan Survives Contact with the Enemy:
No matter how much one plans out maneuvers in advance, or collaborates beforehand with fellow squadron mates, as soon as enemy aircraft engage in combat, everything dissolves into a frenzied dogfight as planes try to maneuver around each other to line up targets in their sights.

Combat Is Deadly:
Wander into an enemy aircraft’s range and field of fire? Take damage. End your maneuver with your card or miniatures base touching another? You’ve collided…take damage. Try a special maneuver (like an Immelman turn) without the correct maneuvers preceding or following it…take damage (for stress on the aircraft). Pilots might last a little longer in one-on-one dogfights, but add a few more players and the action gets chaotic and deadly rather quickly.
Check It Out

Wings of War WWII
offers great tabletop gameplay with historically accurate aircraft and extended playability with combinations of different planes and missions. Start with the original Wings of War WWII: The Dawn of World War II box set to get a feel for the rules and the aircraft. Once you’ve found a few planes you enjoy flying, purchase a few miniatures, create your own play surface, and download some extra resources to continue your World War II aerial missions.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mini Six Continues D6 System Legacy

The Mini Six Cinematic Roleplaying Game from AntiPaladin Games serves as the next iteration in the more than 20-year history of the D6 System. The 36-page rulebook with a color cover -- available as a free PDF download or an $8 print copy -- streamlines the essentials of a D6 System roleplaying game engine, provides several innovations, and offers options to customize the system to one’s tastes, including retaining mechanics from previous D6 incarnations.

This rulebook isn’t for newcomers; it’s a basic framework geared toward experience roleplaying gamers, especially those looking for the next iteration of the D6 System. Four pages cover the basic character creation and task resolution mechanics of the Mini Six system: four attributes, skills customized to the setting, the usual list of weapon damages, difficulty numbers, wound levels, and even a scale system. The authors offer two kinds of combat mechanics: the traditional D6 System roll skill to hit and roll damage, and a “Fast Static Combat” where opponents roll against pre-determined defensive target numbers, with the difference acting as a measure of damage.

Mini Six displays some other key differences from past D6 games, though optional rules allow one to easily play with the traditional D6 mechanics. The “Fast Static Combat” alternative further streamlines fights with one skill number as the determination of hit and damage; this relies on pre-calculated values for block, dodge, and parry for “to hit” Target Numbers, and soak for resisting damage. Hero Points work quite differently in Mini Six. Spending one grants one of several bonuses: gain a +6 to any roll (up to three times if you have points to spend), lower a wound level by one, make a small change to the immediate location or availability of items, or “buy” a clue (though optional rules allow one to return to the traditional “double all die codes for one round” Hero Point mechanic).

Beyond the basic mechanics of character creation and task resolution, Mini Six retains perks and complications (nicer-sounding alternatives to the advantages and disadvantages in the last incarnation of the D6 System), a version of the wild die (sigh…), and traditional target numbers, weapon damage, and wound levels.

Mini Six makes several interesting game engine choices beyond these. It omits using character points as boosters for individual skill rolls, using them exclusively for experience points. Damage rolls revert to the old Strength dice plus weapon die code formula, instead of a pre-calculated Strength value added to weapon damage (though Strength in Mini Six is called Might). The game prefers the variable wound level system of damage effects rather than the Body Point system.

Of course, all these other mechanics receive mention as optional rules along with notes on renaming and expanding attributes, increasing attribute range, getting rid of attributes altogether, adding paranormal abilities, and varying starting skill dice. If all else fails, a handy “Mini Six to traditional D6” conversion section outlines all the differences, including internal page references.

The rest of the book offers stat examples for vehicles, magic, characters, and creatures across numerous genres (useful at a glance for quick encounters or as guidelines for creating your own stats). Four pages devoted to the magic system cover not only basic spells but magical perks and complications, sorcerer’s tools and spell books, and enchanted items. Five brief, original settings outline suggested characters, adversaries, and vehicles, just enough to get gamemasters going with the right atmosphere and plot elements.

In lieu of any officially published and supported version of the D6 System, Mini Six offers a game engine familiar to D6 fans, but one that still allows a degree of customization in the gameplay styles (classic D6 System or even more streamlined Mini Six) on a rule-by-rule basis. Mini Six is a worthy successor to the long line of D6 System games, one that honors the past mechanics, respects the prerogative of gamers to tailor the system to their own tastes, and puts its own unique stamp on further streamlining the cinematic rules.

My Involvement with D6

Of course my observations are biased. I am a longtime fan of the D6 System and have worked professionally with published D6 material. I enjoyed the Star Wars D6 roleplaying game, first as an enthusiastic player, then as a writer, editor, and game designer at the late West End Games. After Purgatory Publishing’s acquisition of West End Games and the D6 System, I contributed to several D6 System supplements. I have followed the system’s tumultuous development and history.

In 2005 I set out on my own to form Griffon Publishing Studio, and have since released two sourcebooks, Pulp Egypt and Heroes of Rura-Tonga. At first I was intending to use the D6 System as published by West End Games’ incarnation under Purgatory Publishing; but after careful consideration, I decided to publish the material under the Any-System Key, a system-neutral means of describing character skills and task difficulties customizable to almost any game system (setting and adventures being more my strong suit than game system work).

Nonetheless, when I run scenarios based on my own material, I default to the D6 System. It’s easy to teach to both newcomers to the system and newcomers to roleplaying games. The rules remain intuitive without slowing gameplay or story development. Despite seeing other systems worth trying (most notably Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Savage Worlds), I continue using D6. I’ve even developed homemade versions to cover media properties in which I wanted to game (such as Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who) before officially published games released. After seeing Mini Six, I may start running games using this streamlined version of the D6 System, customized with my own preferences for past rules that worked (or didn’t work).

Other D6 of Note

Although Mini Six is a slick-looking, PDF- and print-published endeavor, one can find other useful D6 System resources online. The Open D6 Wikia contains a host of D6 resources, including free PDF downloads of the Purgatory Publishing D6 System books, links to the WEG Fan Forums, and an entire page of links to D6 materials, many customizing D6 to various media settings.