Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Skirmish Wargame for Kids

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.”

Carl Jung

I’m off on another game-design diversion. Frequent readers know I’m a proponent of games suitable for kids and gaming newcomers. Goodness knows I’ve developed a few of them myself, most notably Valley of the Ape and Panzer Kids. This time I had some new motivation from my son, who has collected a few wargaming minis of his own. In my own gaming I often settle for playing with the toys I have, though I collect and try painting more to expand my options. In this vein I often have to compromise in the battles I fight, choosing smaller engagements. I’d explored a few skirmish games in the past; instead of a base or crowd of figures representing units like companies and regiments, each individual figure represents one soldier. These seemed like the perfect format for playing games with the wargaming toys my son already has...and will receive as part of his Yuletide holiday hoard of presents.

Japanese soldiers looking for a fight.
My son has a small collection of wargaming miniatures thanks to his attending a few conventions with me (in the “Before Times,” the mythical period before America’s hellscape response to the covid-19 pandemic shut down our society). He bought some Bolt Action Japanese World War II soldiers last year (which Dad painted and based), then found some British soldiers (for Bolt Action Korea, but they’re in summer dress suitable for WWII jungle fighting) Dad also painted for him. He’s played with them a little in his own made-up battles, sometimes even with die rolls; Lego clone troopers fighting off Japanese army soldiers (with a toy tank thrown in for good measure) across a terrain of cat scratch boxes with holes to simulate trenches. He’s fully capable of playing adult-level games of all kinds – board wargames, board games, card games, even some basic roleplaying games – but I wanted to create something specifically for him to use with his own miniatures in more structured play.

Armies in Plastic rangers stand against a
Native American ambush.
I’m also a huge fan of Armies in Plastic’s 54mm historical miniatures ranging primarily from 18th century conflicts like the French Indian War (FIW) and American War of Independence (AWI) to World War I (with a jump to modern “War on Terror” conflicts). For several years the company has offered “Battlefield Combo” packs with about 8-12 figures for each side of a historical conflict: Rangers against Woodland Indians (FIW); Loyalists against Militia (AWI); British against Dervishes (Egypt & Sudan); Union against Confederate soldiers. These in addition to the standard packs of 20 or so soldiers of one faction, so one could pick up two packs of soldiers and have plenty for skirmishes (packs usually sell for $12.95, though occasional sales can bring the price down as low as $9.95). Granted, these large 54mm plastic figures come unpainted in base colors denoting different sides, but they’re perfect for young hands and capable of taking paint (with an undercoat of Plasti-Dip spray) for a good “toy soldier” look.

More motivation came from wanting to provide a set of rules to use with figures I bought and painted as a Yuletide gift for my son. We both like Star Wars and have used my 25mm Grenadier Star Wars minis (from my old West End Games days) for One Hour Wargames. But those are stormtroopers from the classic movie trilogy; my son prefers the prequels and Clone Wars cartoons and, thus, likes to pit clone troopers against battle droids. So I found a good deal on clone trooper and battle droid figures for Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars Legion miniatures game. I’m sure that game has merit on its own, but it seems like it has too much complexity for even my tastes these days. But the miniatures are great, if a little larger than 28mm and painfully fiddly to assemble. I painted and based them and hope to lure my son into using them for some gaming with the basic rules I’m developing.

I felt my son and I could use a simple system for skirmish battles a few degrees above basic free play, something to set up and play within an hour or so...anything to disengage my son from his tablet and Chromebook for a short while. So I started jotting down ideas and procedures and stats, and have a working manuscript coming along I’m tentatively calling Skirmish Kids (a nod to my Panzer Kids game though, frankly, it’s a placeholder at this point). I wanted something to use with both 25-28mm figures like the ones my son has and larger 54mm figures from Armies in Plastic (and other manufacturers) more accessible to kids and parents seeking to dabble in miniature wargaming.

For the central mechanics I looked to a few tried-and-true games for their clear approach to game system. Panzer Kids uses a concept of an attack bonus to a single die roll to equal or exceed a target’s defense number; no rolling to hit with the defender making a “saving” roll. Worthington Publishing uses a nicely streamlined system for its Holdfast series of block wargames: each unit has an attack number representing the number of dice rolled and a defense rating showing the target number attackers must equal or exceed to score a hit on that unit. One Hour Wargames (and no-doubt others) allows units to either move or attack each round, but not both, leading to some interesting player decisions in their overall strategy. So I synthesized several elements and design rationales into a basic game where two groups of around 10 figures clash over a small battlefield.

Stats cover all figures on a side: move, range, attack, and defense. My intent to provide an experience using either 25-28mm and 54mm figures required a bit of dual-statting for attributes tied to measurements like movement and range. I decided on 4 or 8 inches for movement and three times those values for ranged combat. For attacking each figure has a value of 1D, rolling only one die each attack to see if they hit. This allows for variations when using more advanced rules. Each figure also has a defense value, the number an attacker must meet or exceed to hit (with cover adding 1 to the value). Players remove any figure taking a hit. If a figure moves so its base touches an enemy figure, both get to roll their attack dice in close combat, possibly resulting in no hits, one triumphing over the other, or eliminating both. With these parameters in mind, most soldiers would have Move: 4"/8", Range 12"/24", Attack 1D, and Defense 5 (allowing for cover to boost that to a 6). Extremely simplified, yet it allows for some degree of strategy moving into range, taking advantage of cover, and making risky moves engaging in close combat. It also provides the basis for variations for a deeper play experience.

Clones face off against battle droids in front of
a quick reference sheet for my skirmish game.
As with my other designs for kid-friendly games – and with other games I like – I wanted to present both a basic and advanced version. While the basic game teaches core concepts for a easy yet satisfying game experience, the advanced rules add a host of modifications giving depth to the foundational mechanics. I’ll focus on some Clone Wars-specific rules, but I expect I’ll expand on these in a broader sense in the generic rules. Right off I dropped the goofy battle droids’ defense down to 4 instead of 5, making them easier to hit (and giving the 7 clones in the set an advantage over the 9 battle droids). Each side got a leader with the special ability to give a +1 bonus to the attack roll to one soldier within two inches, assuming the leader neither moves nor attacks. I also had to figure rules for the special weapons some figures carried: a blast weapon rule for the battle droid with the bazooka-like E-60R (can use it once per game to attack all figures within 2 inches of a central target figure); a rapid fire rule (roll 3D split among 1-3 targets within 2 inches of each other) for the clone with the Z-6 cannon; and a sharpshooter mechanic (+1 to ranged attack rolls) for the trooper with the long DC-15 rifle.

I expect we’ll give these rules some playtesting during my son’s two weeks off from online “school.” Perhaps we’ll pit the Japanese against the British in a WWII jungle skirmish, then after unwrapping presents Christmas morning set up at least one skirmish between clones and battle droids. I have (possibly futile) hopes of forcing a break from tablet forays into Roblox and other electronic alternate realities for a different analog game each afternoon, including my skirmish rules; we’ll see how my resolve holds up against the unrelenting allure of staring at the tablet non-stop for hours....

Hopefully the playtesting will iron out any wrinkles in the basic and advanced rules and give me some inspiration for other options to add depth to the core mechanics (and adapt them to various historical periods). I’m still working on the basic, non-Star Wars rules; when they’re finished I’ll release them on the Griffon Publishing Studio online storefront at WargameVault.com.

We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing!”

Benjamin Franklin

1 comment:

  1. Your dueling blades chart for D6 is mankinds second greatest invention. Not sure what the first is.


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