Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Quest for Naval Minis

A few months ago I ordered a copy of Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame: Wargaming with Modern Ships 1900-1945 from the History of Wargaming Project storefront on Lulu. I’d read about it in Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World (which I’ve discussed before) in his exhaustive history of wargaming from the earliest German Kriegspiele to modern times. Although I only dabble in naval wargaming, the rules intrigued me because in their time they drew many non-gaming types into a serious wargame simulation in a sort of social event. The game pioneered many concepts later refined for use in roleplaying games like armor class, hit points, and character sheets. The book and its variant rules got me excited about trying them for World War II naval battles (one of my gaming areas of interest). I intend to offer a closer look at Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame in a future post; for now, however, I want to look at my quest for naval miniatures to use in playing these rules.

I’ve only dabbled with naval wargaming before, odd considering I designed a naval-themed game (the solitaire Operation Drumbeat), though not one in the traditional miniatures wargaming sense. In my younger days I was a huge fan of the classic War at Sea, one of my first experiences with chit-and-board wargames. I even bought Avalon Hill’s version of the Naval War card game which I used to play with my brother and other neighborhood kids. I bought into Wizards of the Coast’s Axis & Allies Miniatures: War at Sea game when it first released; I played a few solo games using both the included map boards and later some rules for more traditional wargame play without a gridded map. I’ve thought about getting other naval wargames – titles like Mongoose’s Victory at Sea come to mind – but their perceived level of complexity and my lack of miniatures beyond what I had for Axis & Allies: War at Sea discouraged me. Pratt’s game intrigued me in its use of historical data in the game (drawn from Jane’s Fighting Ships), its introduction to those with no gaming experience (albeit with heavy referee involvement), and the eventual adoption of some of its concepts in U.S. Naval training simulations.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Very Gaming Holiday Break

The Little Guy has spent the past several months in kindergarten – heck, they started August 10! – and now he’s looking forward to a bit of a break from school over the holidays. Two and a half weeks of break, in fact, this entire week leading up to Christmas, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, and even the first Monday of the new year. Although I have a short list of excursions and activities to keep us busy, I also expect I’ll fall back on gaming to help keep him occupied on his long winter’s break.

The Little Guy contemplating a move
in a tank game at Historicon.
His day at school offers him a good deal of structure which we’ve noticed he misses during the weekends and occasional days off. No doubt the dose of “toy-pocalypse” he gets having a birthday and Christmas so close together will give him a host of new toys to keep him busy plus a slew of new DVDs to watch. He also got his own kid-friendly tablet as a present, loaded up primarily with educational apps and a few fun bits (he loves Angry Birds). But even with his favorite PBS Kids shows and a tablet with limited battery time I expect he’s going to hit a point where he’s still bored during the day, when he gets pokey for something junky to eat every 30 minutes, and won’t let Dad alone until he’s focused on some other fulfilling activity.

I expect we’ll spend some time – possibly even develop a daily routine – playing games. We have a good repertoire of titles we play during our weekly family game nights, including Forbidden Island, Best Treehouse Ever, Qwirkle, Tsuro, King of Tokyo, and Castle Panic; some of these seem passable with two players, but not quite ideal play experiences. I’m hoping to push our bounds in the two-player game field with some new board games. The Stratego Battle Cards game is on my radar since he’s learned his numbers and concepts such as “less than” and “greater than.” I also acquired a Stratego board game set a while back he might enjoy trying. I also just got my Kickstarter-supported copy of Less: Like Chess, but Less from Slovenia, a clever little two-player abstract game with a variable board made of coasters. I also expect he’ll want to help me explore some of the childhood board games my parents rescued from their attic and brought during their latest visit, particularly the Raiders of the Lost Ark board game. If Santa decides to bring any new games for Daddy I expect the Little Guy will want to give them a try.

I’d also like to help him with some more difficult fare to expand our family’s game repertoire. I expect these might challenge his nascent reading and math abilities (which kindergarten is aggressively cultivating). He’s asked about Spearpoint 1944 (the illustrated box for the Village and Defensive Line Map Expansion has caught his eye, as will the nice components when I open it for him); while the game doesn’t require a whole lot of reading, he does need to follow a host of rules. I’d love to teach him Memoir ’44 but I’ll have to consider whether the text-heavy cards and numerous units might be too much for him. He’s also asked about Ticket to Ride Europe (I don’t have the original one for America), though that requires some reading and geography skills, something I’m not averse to teaching him. We’ve played some simplified games of Wings of War/Wings of Glory before (the World War I flavor); I might see if he’s interested in more of that or trying out the World War II planes. He has a particular affinity for the larger bombers.

He’s requested to play Valley of the Ape several times since we playtested it as part of our nearly year-long development, so I hope indulging him in that might satisfy his urges for gaming activities. I’m also playing with some mechanics for a basic-level, kid-friendly skirmish wargaming rules; my interest in these focuses on the various historical periods I enjoy and for which I have 54mm figures (French and Indian War, American War of Independence, Civil War, and British colonial skirmishes with Zulus and Dervishes)...but the Little Guy will most likely be tempted by my 54mm Star Wars Command figures in battles between hapless Imperial scout troopers and hordes of Ewoks (which the system can handle with minor modifications).

The Little Guy has also asked me about designing his own games (and bringing them to conventions to run and sell...), so I might indulge him with some basic game-design concepts or even a craft project based on a theme he likes. This is a big “if” fraught with complications and the possibility of consuming huge swaths of time. I’ve discussed managing game design concepts with kids before, so exploring this first-hand with a six year-old may offer some new insights or strategies.

Perhaps a slightly less daunting challenge comes from my urge to expose him to some basic roleplaying game experience. Although I have a host of roleplaying games, most remain beyond his grasp. As I mentioned in my recent “Share Gaming during the Holidays” post, I need to suppress my urge to run something I like in favor of a game with mechanics and theme more attuned to his ability and interests. Hero Kids seems just about his speed with a nice graphic representation of the characters and stats. I’ve been meaning to print out the game the entire year and never quite got around to it. The Little Guy’s had a stigma about them because he needs to be able to read, but as he’s already learning in kindergarten it might be a good introduction.

Unfortunately having the Little Guy home each day for two and a half weeks isn’t going to give me much time for my own writing and game design, let alone my explorations of B/X D&D, OSR titles, various wargames, and solitaire gaming. During the December holidays, however, I usually resign myself to having little time for personal pursuits; at least I can engage in gaming on some level and hopefully cultivate in the Little Guy an enjoyment of a few new games.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Share Gaming during the Holidays

The holidays seem like a great time to share our adventure gaming hobby with others, especially those not yet initiated into such enjoyable entertainments. Families spend time visiting, we receive games as gifts, kids have a few weeks off from school, and we seek some sense of the season’s fantastic wonder in escapist games. We’re often sorely tempted to invite non-gamers to try our latest pursuits, often prompted by queries of “Hey, what’s that?” upon unwrapping a new acquisition or “That looks neat, can I play?” as we show off our game libraries or peruse our rulebooks. But sharing our adventure game hobby with the uninitiated through a positive play experience takes a bit of restraint

I recall from my youth a host of unsuccessful holiday games with my brother and cousins who shared some similar interests and were easily convinced to try something new by their oldest siblings. One year while visiting I tried to run the AD&D scenario A1 Slave Pits of the Undercity. Even using the module’s pre-generated characters the effort quickly devolved into a morass of bored players, long rules explanations, and not much adventuring. My oldest cousin didn’t fare much better. His attempt at running the Avalon Hill Dune board game – newly received for Christmas – had everyone’s head spinning with no clue how to proceed. The back-up plan of Risk fared no better in the confusing explanation of how the dice resolved combat; the experience probably contributed to my life-long distaste for the game (not a bad thing in my estimation).

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Short & Sweet RPG Resources on Patreon

Patreon has revolutionized how gamers receive new content. Just as Kickstarter changed the publishing landscape for roleplaying games and board games, funding ambitious projects with high production values and tempting stretch goals, Patreon has – somewhat more quietly – enabled creators to bring projects to their fans in smaller but no less worthwhile bits. The concept hearkens back to the days when talented individuals like artists, writers, and even archaeologists (like Howard Carter) worked for wealthy patrons who believed in their efforts and funded their work; it’s an idea I fully support and have discussed in the past. Patreon provides a platform where creators (particularly those making game content) can find financial support and engagement with those who enjoy their work. I’ve found it’s a wonderful place to find “short and sweet” game material to fuel my enthusiasm for Old School Renaissance (OSR) or classic B/X D&D roleplaying games.

Patreon delivers game material to supporters who pledge donations for each work. People subscribe to creators who cater to their interests, making a payment for each new “article,” and receiving fresh game material on a somewhat regular basis...usually once a month, sometimes more often. This allows supporters to customize the content they receive, in a way serving as their own editors or curators of material that most interests them. Some designers post their creations for free, others offer a mix of free material and exclusive pieces for their paying supporters. Creators frequently offer additional perks for higher-levels patrons, including engagement through the Patreon site, influence on future projects, and even material customized for particular supporters. Each designer crafts their page differently to appeal to supporters and deliver content in a satisfying way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Obsolete Skill List

At bedtime recently the Little Guy requested I read him a rulebook for a roleplaying game based on one of the media properties he’s quickly come to adore. I’ll omit names to protect the identity of the game and its designers. It was published in 1991, around the time several roleplaying games in a similar style reached prominence, including Vampire: The Masquerade, Shadowrun, 2nd edition Dungeons & Dragons, and my beloved Star Wars Roleplaying Game from West End Games (to name only a few). Reading the game book aloud proved how tedious the language was; but the real test was reading the comprehensive skill section aloud. Although it eventually put the Little Guy asleep, it ran the risk of actually putting the reader to sleep.

Nearly every skill followed the same initial formula: “[Skill name] is the ability to [insert skill description].” The text ranged from a simple definition one could easily glean from the skill name itself to a comprehensive discussion of just what one could do with the skill through specific game mechanics. The game – like many of its time – relied on a core mechanic for most skill resolutions and combat, yet various factors complicated this in the manner of modifications; hence some skill definitions with tedious rules discussions buried within.

Comprehensive skill listings seemed standard practice for roleplaying games of that time; even today many games still rely on exhaustive and sometimes dry descriptions of skills perhaps more succinctly defined by their names. Sure, some skills require a little more elaboration than simply a name depending on both the game mechanics and the setting; but this could fit better into other rules-heavy procedural sections on resolving movement, combat, and other game issues.