Tuesday, January 27, 2015

High Difficulty Threshold

Many aspects of the adventure gaming hobby present high difficulty thresholds for newcomers unfamiliar with activities such as roleplaying games, wargames, specialty card games, and particularly miniature wargames. This barrier to entry can discourage many people interested in dabbling in such supposedly enjoyable pursuits (and I’m not even going to mention the issue of the financial cost of immersing oneself in the hobby). Different elements of the hobby have tried to address the difficulty threshold with various “beginner” or “quick-start” products. Certainly the recent popularity surge in Euro-style board games (or whatever you want to call them) has successfully presented any aspect of adventure gaming to engage the general public.

Top: AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide
Middle: Panzer Leader Rules
Bottom: Settlers of Catan Rules
A simple graphic comparison of some of the materials from the early days of the adventure gaming hobby show major differences with rules for modern Euro-games. I took a look at the rules and handout from Avalon Hill’s classic Panzer Leader game (1974) and flipped through TSR’s Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (1979) before looking at the game rules for Klaus Teuber’s Settlers of Catan, arguably the first Euro-style game to break into the mainstream American gaming market and possibly ignite the recent interest in quality board games. All rules are black-and-white, but the earlier ones present readers with a “wall of text” on most of their pages, while the Euro-game rules employ plenty of white space, larger type, clear organization, and numerous images of game components. Now certainly wargames and roleplaying games have since modernized their graphic design and approach in rules presentation – with collectible card games sporting wonderful graphics yet still employing multiple layers of increasingly complex rules – but they still require a serious investment in time and comprehension to play.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Prepping Valley of the Ape for A Con

I’m preparing to bring my Valley of the Ape game to a regional wargaming convention in a few weeks, so I’m busy making last-minute adjustments, printing accessories, and planning my packing list.

I certainly have lots of “toys” necessary for the game – a huge swath of green dappled felt, dice, 54mm Armies in Plastic figures, and various terrain features from aquarium plants to custom stands of palm trees and quicksand, crocodile ponds, and a man-eating plant to place when those hazards appear – but printed game components need a bit more attention, particularly in the self-promotion department.

"Yay! More playtesting!"
Several playtest games with the Little Guy and a discussion with my wife revealed some game elements requiring revision. I needed to adjust extended ranges for some of the units; most can attack Mungo the giant ape when within 12 inches, though two had extended ranges of 24 inches...these I snipped down to a more reasonable yet still advantageous 18 inches. I quickly learned to revise Mungo’s random movement, eliminating the chance of movement toward the last group that attacked him at range (odd, too, when nobody shoots at him in a turn, a likely possibility); now he either moves toward the explorers closest to the central ruins (and hence treasure) or toward the explorers closest to the giant ape. Although I’m using a 30-sided die to track Mungo’s hit points, I also decided to employ a separate, large six-sided die for making rolls related to the giant ape (one when randomly determining toward which explorer group he moves and one to see how many explorers he takes out if he reaches them). My wife indicated kids might have reservations about hunting down and killing an ape, even a giant one that rips through one’s explorers; so I’m revising the rules text and related handouts to reflect that, once Mungo takes 30 points of damage, he’s weak enough to capture alive.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

“Helm Aye, Captain!” or An Engaging Cooperative Gaming Experience

I don’t usually discuss digital games at Hobby Games Recce; it’s all about analog tabletop games, the wargames, board and card games, and roleplaying games I typically lump together under the “adventure gaming” label. But I recently enjoyed a particularly immersive, engaging cooperative game experience on computers I feel merits note considering its essential “social” aspect.

I spent a wonderful New Year’s holiday at an old friend’s house with his family and a host of acquaintances who shared interests in gaming and geekdom; we ate, drank, and talked, I enjoyed watching our kids play together (assaulting each other and various guests with space battleships they built from bristle blocks), and somehow passed on playing Ticket to Ride despite its prominent placement on a dining room table.

Instead I tried a new computer game beyond my normal experience and technical ability: the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. It’s essentially a real-time cooperative computer game played over several networked workstations, one for each major crew member on a large starship bridge – helm, weapons, engineering, science (sensors), and communications – plus one monitor as the “main screen” serving as the captain’s view; the captain has no workstation and hence no means of personally affecting his ship’s actions beyond issuing orders to crew members at relevant stations. It’s essentially a Star Trek bridge simulator with the serial numbers filed off.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Game Material by Subscription

In the early days of roleplaying games – the mid-1970s to early 1980s – new releases of official rulebooks, supplements, and adventures seemed few and far between. Magazines served to provide a steady stream of new material to inspire gamers: insight and direction from designers, rules questions and clarifications, debates on game issues, gamemaster tips, and a host of new scenarios, settings, classes, equipment, monsters, and spells. While the pillars of print magazines that supported early roleplaying games have crumbled in the face of advances into the Internet Age, their descendents still provide inspiration for gamers across the globe and offer an different outlet for designers to bring their work to publication.

Reading Shannon Appelcline’s Designers & Dragons 1970s history of roleplaying game companies (and the trials that beset and often vanquished them) reveals an interesting trend: in the earliest days of roleplaying magazines provided the most regular flow of new content for most game lines, including TSR’s Dungeons & Dragons. Some focused exclusively on the publisher’s own games (“house organs”) while others provided news and material for a range of roleplaying games. But reading Judges Guild’s history offers yet another interesting perspective: releasing supplemental game material in a subscription format. While not technically a magazine, the subscription provided a collection of setting information and adventures to fill in the dearth of such material from official Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR, whose executives, according to Designers & Dragons, apparently laughed at the idea of producing such material; they expected players to create their own worlds and scenarios, feeling the publisher’s role was to produce rules (at the time TSR was focusing its efforts on revising D&D rules into the classic trilogy of rulebooks, ultimately released in hardcover format one each year).