Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Schweig’s Gaming Roadshow

Once upon a time I had seemingly unlimited time, funds, and energy to dash off to regional conventions with my car packed to the gills with gaming toys to share with fans. My situation has changed over the years. As a father and husband I don’t have as much time or energy in my middle-age years. Conventions aren’t as generous toward “guests” (and gaming “guests” in particular), putting more of the financial burden on them to pay their way (especially hotel costs, arguably the biggest expense attending a regional con). I don’t have as much spare cash for gaming pursuits, let alone road trips to conventions with significant financial expenses incurred by a hotel stay, meals, and gas for the car. But I still have the urge – and often fight it – to commit myself to conventions, bring all my gaming toys, and run entire weekends of fun games for appreciative fans.

Valley of the Ape "set pieces."
It doesn’t help when I head into the basement and gaze longingly at the neglected tables for wargaming, painting, and crafting terrain. A lifetime of toys from various adventure gaming hobby pursuits are stashed in, around, and under those surfaces, all yearning for some play time. Some I’ve brought out to play with younger folks; my nephew helped playtest the still-in-development Panzer Kids rules on the desert terrain with World War II tanks. The Little Guy helped me create the kid-friendly Valley of the Ape wargame with the custom jungle terrain we bought and assembled. But these remain isolated if highly enjoyable incidents. I have an urge to share my toys with more people.

I have four ample sets of toys for particular games I’ve assembled over the years:

Running a Star Wars game in Mos Eisley.
Mos Eisley Starport: When I was working for West End Games and doing frequent convention and store demos for The Star Wars Roleplaying Game (D6 version) I built several set pieces, as I call them, to arrange into game dioramas to use with painted Star Wars miniatures. The most impressive was a diorama of downtown Mos Eisley based on Jennell Jaquays’ fantastic map from Tatooine Manhunt, including the cantina and a nearby docking bay. My brother built a customized wooden box to house the entire diorama (about three by six feet when open); a combination of painted metal miniatures and Galoob MicroMachine figures populated the Mos Eisley streets, and appropriately scaled models of a YT-1300 freighter, Lambda-class shuttle, X-wing fighter, and other vehicles could dock in the landing bay. My handy brother also made a scale diorama of the cantina itself (in its own, smaller box) based on the Tatooine Manhunt map. I later crafted other set pieces, including piles of rubbish simulating a starship junkyard and a bunker, barracks huts, and speeder hangar tent for an Imperial scout post. I created two scenarios in which players moved from one diorama to the other, though I sold these in later years. I’ll admit the Mos Eisley diorama could use some work, repairs to buildings, flocking, and other details as well as improvements to the moisture vaporators (built from leftover plastic model sprues), doors, and a few other artful touches. I still have many of the miniatures (and yes, Jawas galore). And, despite several subsequent iterations of the roleplaying game by different companies using different game systems, I still enjoy running D6 Star Wars Roleplaying Game adventures...and gamers, new and nostalgic, still enjoy playing them.

The Charioteer’s Tomb: Back when I was developing the Pulp Egypt setting sourcebook I prepared a scenario to showcase the kind of adventure gamers could expect in that genre. While the sourcebook eventually used the generic Any-System Key I developed, I ran (and still run) scenarios for it using the familiar D6 System outlined in D6 Adventure. To attract gamers to the table – and provide some visual appeal for my dealers table – I build an Egyptian tomb complex. It consisted of several chambers: an entry at the bottom of the tomb shaft, several corridors, a central hall, treasury, and the tomb itself. Each chamber could fit onto others using similarly sized doorways, laid out as specified in the scenario map or rearranged in other configurations. Besides 25mm minis for the intrepid archaeological team exploring the tomb, I used a host of other minis and terrain pieces to visually enhance the tombs (and the action): large statues of Anubis guarding one of the doorways, treasure, the sarcophagus, a giant scorpion and cobra, and some wonderful one-inch square minis of swarming scarab beetles (much like those seen in The Mummy). The adventure itself didn’t include much tactical maneuvering around the tomb, but it looked fun and drew people to the gaming table. Granted, I still really should finish the tomb’s surface entrance and make more horseman miniatures (and get a real truck mini) for the chase scene on the road back to Cairo, but the tomb really remains the scenario’s focal point. I still have most of the pieces and minis, so it’s easy to pull out and run, though it all fits in a rather large plastic tub.

British tanks cooking up on the
Panzer Kids table.
Panzer Kids: I’ve been developing a basic World War II tank combat game for kids for a few years now, though I need to find the time to pull together my text, playtest notes, and other materials into an actual rules booklet. (You can read about development issues with Panzer Kids in “Playtesting A Kids’ Wargame” and “Designing Tank Stat Cards.”) But through playtesting the different systems and optional rules I’ve amassed a number of terrain pieces and miniatures for a number of different scenarios: desert cliffs, oases, minefields, ammunition and fuel depots, tanks and artillery for both Allied and Axis forces. I’ve even branched off and dabbled in the European Theater of Operations (as described in “Making Use of What We Have”), which used some existing or easily modified terrain. Most of my materials are in 15mm; lots of Flames of War miniatures as well as pre-painted plastic Axis & Allies miniatures. Although I have a decent number of 6mm tanks, I’d love to field a host of tanks at this scale to replay an interesting tank skirmish I read about once, where some American M-3 Stuart tanks in Algeria during Operation Torch headed into the desert to intercept a group of French R-35 tanks loyal to Vichy France. Sure, I have enough tanks and terrain to run several engaging, large battles, but I’d love to prepare a force (at the affordable and more easily painted 6mm scale) for a specific historic skirmish between two rather unlikely opponents. Most of the components for this game occupy various plastic tubs and smaller cases for transport, but if I sorted things out more efficiently I could probably pack it all into one large plastic tub.

The Little Guy playtesting
Valley of the Ape.
Valley of the Ape: Recent readers might have followed my design and playtest reports on my latest endeavor, rules for kids to play a jungle exploration, capture-the-giant-ape game. To playtest this I gathered and created an entire table full of jungle terrain, 54mm figures, a lost temple, and, of course, the giant ape himself. While not as elaborate as some other jungle-themed miniature wargame set-ups I’ve seen (including the one that inspired me), it’s still enough to gather a modest crowd of interested kids and grown-ups at conventions. More than any other terrain and figures, those for Valley of the Ape remain durable and easy to pack, having been chosen to endure the rough handling of kids new to the adventure gaming hobby. I’ve managed to pack all the component into one plastic tub, so it makes for a nice, ready-to-go convention kit.

I’ve talked about “showcase games” before. I love the visual spectacle some games create and really enjoy when I can offer that excitement with others by sharing my own game-related toys. Miniature wargaming conventions excel at vast tables sporting elaborate terrain and hordes of finely painted minis, not simply static dioramas of famous (or speculative) battles, but fully playable games. Even the sight of a single miniature wargame set-up in a board or roleplaying game hall creates a positive impression and enticing attraction. Roleplaying games and even board games benefit from this same spirit of spectacle. Some roleplaying gamers indulge in elaborate layouts, dungeon corridors, or wilderness terrain for their home games and sometimes convention games. Occasionally one finds giant-sized versions of board games at cons, such as Settlers of Catan sets and oversized pieces of King of Tokyo. Occasionally gamers port “battle games” like Memoir ’44 and Command & Colors Napoleonics – which rely on boards, cards, dice, and small, unpainted plastic minis – to larger tabletop set-ups like traditional miniature wargames using terrain and larger painted minis.

Sure, I could bring some boxed board games I love, or my X-wing minis to share, or any of a number of roleplaying games enhanced only by paper handouts. Sometimes I have to settle for the bare minimum depending on the time or travel arrangements. But, like many gamers, I have such wonderful toys it’s only natural I want to share them. I hope in the near future I can find more time, energy, and finances to become more involved in regional conventions so I can pack up the car with toys to share with other gaming enthusiasts in Schweig’s Gaming Roadshow.

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