Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Summertime Odds & Ends

Summertime has distracted me from my numerous game projects with several family visits, excursions, Historicon, and a few friendly gatherings at the house. Nonetheless I managed to find game-related inspiration in a number of occurrences I hope can fuel my enthusiasm in the coming weeks.

Tank Game Playtesting

Frequent GaDeJo readers might recall I’m developing a kid-friendly tank battle miniatures wargame. Last year my young 10 year-old nephew stayed with us for a week, during which time we played a few sessions of the tank rules, which he remembered and wanted to play during this subsequent visit. While running rules through my head -- and even playing games against myself on the basement wargames table to test rules firsthand -- helps solidify game concepts and rationales, nothing tops playing the game with a member of the intended audience: in this case, a young kid with little experience with miniature wargames but an enthusiasm for games in general. During a family visit this summer we once again set up tanks and terrain on the wargaming table and blasted away at each other’s units, consulting rules, rolling dice, and racking up “hit” markers.

In an open-minded view of the experience I realized through playtesting I needed to develop a few additional game elements. Defense values need a one-point boost; I’d initially added 3 to the armor-based value for a static defense number attackers had to exceed to score a hit, but this resulted in lesser-armored tanks taking too many hits too quickly (an issue when pitting slow German tanks with strong firepower and armor against faster but lesser-well-armed/armored British tanks). I should work out rules for capturing an objective in a scenario. I need to sort out the particulars when an attacker rolls critical failure (1) when shooting a target near an explosive objective (fuel or ammunition dump). And, in my modeling endeavors, I need a massive explosion terrain piece to mark the detonated fuel/ammunition dump.

Overall these playtest sessions reinforced decisions and revisions made after last year’s games and opened up new areas to consider and develop. This experience might just fuel my enthusiasm to push the project to the forefront of my limited development time; the potential to feature the game at distant wargaming conventions in early 2014 might also serve as incentive to fast-track development.

Reiner Knizia’s Palazzo

During my nephew’s visit we pulled out Reiner Knizia’s Palazzo as a rainy afternoon activity; my older nephew, now in his teens, seems interested in real estate, architecture, and the process of building structures, so this game seemed to offer at least some thematically appealing elements. The game reminded me how, while seemingly complex at first, the game’s subtle mechanics at several different levels drive gameplay, increase tension in the final rounds, and leave everyone guessing who will come out on top of Knizia’s elegantly intricate scoring structure

Inspirational Soundtracks

Lately my toddler son has been getting into everything Star Wars, inspired not only by Daddy’s “toys” but his observation of a Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Gameat Historicon, as well as other Star Wars bits evident in our household (such as my vintage 1980 mug featuring the faces of Darth Vader and “Bobo” Fett…). Now he’s demanded to have Star Warsmusic played in the car (giving us a much-needed break from listening incessantly to the B-52s’ “Love Shack” whenever we’re in the car). So I dug out a mix CD I made featuring Star Warsmusic for use in different stock scenes when running the roleplaying game. He’s three and a half, so we haven’t show the Little Guy any Star Wars films yet (though I intend to start with Episode IV…it’s just good parenting), though I have read him my Star Wars Pop-Up Book once or twice. So the Little Guy naturally started asking what’s going on during each musical track.

Listening to the tracks from the original three Star Wars films rekindled the excitement I felt as a kid. In the days before Netflix, DVDs, streaming video over the internet, or…shudder…video tape players, listening to the soundtrack (on vinyl records, no less) remained one of the few ways fans could relive the action in the films at the time of the original movie releases. I need to prep an all-Episode-IV CD just for him, condensing the tracks in order so we can listen to the movie scenes in sequence. The experience also reminded me how much music contributes to my creative process (both focus and ideas); whether I’m listening to a Mozart violin concerto, Basil Poledouris’ Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, or other thematically appropriate tracks, music helps blot out real-world distractions and allows me to concentrate on the project at hand.

X-Wing Miniatures Game

Continuing my Star Wars theme, I finally found some time to break open the Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game produced by Fantasy Flight Games I bought from a friendly dealer at Historicon. The components have the high production value one expects from a high-end game from FFG: cards, thick cardboard turn templates and tokens, and, of course, extremely well-detailed, painted TIE fighter and X-wing miniatures (far better than the fine Galoob MicroMachines available 15 years ago we used as props in the roleplaying game). (Unlike Reiner Knizia’s Palazzo, however, only some of the numerous components -- the starship minis and stands -- actually fit into custom forms in the box.) A quick read-through of the rules brought a few interesting elements to mind, particularly when compared to the Wings of War/Wings of Glory game which broke ground in this field of casual miniature wargaming:

Graduated Rules: Several rules levels gradually draw players into subsequently more complex stages of gameplay. The “Quick-Start Rules” -- a four-page flyer separate from and situated on top of the “Rules of Play” booklet -- introduce the most basic elements to playing the game, most of which translate in some form to the general rules. Beyond the main rules readers also find “Additional Rules” and “Advanced Rules” expanding on earlier game concepts to increase the complexity level and cover specific conditions during gameplay.

Dice: The game comes with six eight-sided dice, three red “attack” dice and three green “defense” dice, each type with different symbols on them. They add an extra step (from the method used in Wings of War/Wings of Glory), determining whether an attacking craft hits a target ship within its field of fire and range. I’m not sure how I feel about this; it seems an obvious ploy to sell more separate sets of dice to gamers and capitalize on gamers’ natural predilection for nifty new dice; but the mechanic also allows for increased complexities in other stages, usually alterations to the number of attack and defense dice used or the conditions under which they’re re-rolled.

Ordered Actions: One element that often lends itself to confusion in Wings of War/Wings of Glory games is the simultaneous hit mechanic; target aircraft take damages in no particular order, with hits (and kills) simultaneously resolved. The X-wing miniatures game relies on the pilot skill value for establishing an order for revealing and executing maneuvers (lowest skill to highest) and in resolving hits (highest to lowest), resulting in situations where two craft might have each other in field of fire and range, but one shoots and scores a kill before the other gets a chance to attack. While I like that it resolves the order in which movement and hits are carried out among numerous players on a large playing area, I’m not so sure I like the non-simultaneous hit resolution system. I do understand, however, that variable pilot skill adds to the game, especially in its organized play format relying on different factors when calculating point costs for squadrons.

Expandability: The game offers several opportunities to expand the action, from addition ships from the classic Rebellion era to “upgrades” one can buy (for additional points in game set-up) to increase a ship’s capabilities.

The game seems easy enough to learn and teach to gaming newcomers, especially with the basic “Quick-Start Rules” and the essential concepts in the main rules. I’ve not yet had a chance to play the game (we came close with my nephews in the house), but the Little Guy’s been pestering me to play it, so we might try out the “Quick-Start Rules” to give him a chance to play with the starship minis and see how things work.

As always, I encourage construction feedback and civilized discussion. Share a link to this blog entry on Google+ and tag me (+Peter Schweighofer) to comment.