Steve Zaccardi

Steve Zaccardi

A long time player and collector of board games and RPG's. Specializing in war games, conflict simulations, and historical subjects, I will play anything once, and some things for years.

Aug 092014
 

The vaporous tendrils of design run deep in all we do. Every gamer at one point or another smells it, breathes it in. Sometimes it’s the quick sniff while other times it is a deep inhalation.

When you momentarily see a way to improve upon a game mechanism, that’s when it comes to you. When you play a game and have an overpowering desire to throw out the entire rules set and write your own, there it is again. Different measures of intensity, but from the same source: the innate desire to make things better.

By large and small, from decades of gaming experience, I find that hobby gamers are creators. They want to tinker, construct, test, watch it fall apart and watch it work. I think, it’s an element of why we play games to being with, to be a part of it all unfolding and get that satisfaction of a conclusive end to a series of decisions and events. Game play in itself is an act of creation.

And from those basic shared elements, there is a bit of a designer in all of us. From the earliest days it peeks out. My first wargame, Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, a block game, inspired my young self to use red and blue legos to represent British and French infantry lines. The more pips on the block the more troops in the unit. I came up with my own rules to fight the battles. Those rules, as primitive and unpublishable as they were, were the earliest manifestation of an innate design gene.

Over the many intervening years I have designed for myself and my friends, a few times I put in the extra work to create something others could play. One example being my Print-and-Play (PnP) title Doubloon Lagoon. The amount of additional work to move from a personal design to a quality product other gamers can enjoy is not trivial. This is fact: to publish a quality product is a lot of work in comparison to a homebrew design. This includes PnP as well. Knowing the nature of the work involved in moving a design from its initial stages to final product, I held off any further attempts after Lagoon. I am now ready to dive back in.

About ten months ago I began researching material for a game in a genre I have long loved. Wargaming is at the core of my being, from those early days onwards, regardless of all of the other types and forms of games I have played and come to love, wargaming is where my heart lies. I wanted to wait a while before I said anything publicly about this project for a couple reasons. I wanted to make sure I could keep up the effort on it; and secondly, due to the very large scope and size of the project, I wanted to get a certain way through the initial stages to grow confidence it could be accomplished.

I feel I am at that point now. My plans, as optimistic as they are, will be to publish this game under my own label for reasons I will expound upon in the coming months. I am excited and growing more so as I see design, art, and graphics come together for this game. As I go through the process I want to share my experiences, thoughts, trials and challenges. I want to establish a rationale for what I will attempt. I hope it will be interesting and enlightening to others who will follow.

Jul 032014
 

There is nothing as fun and nostalgic as bringing out an older game and gazing upon it with fresh eyes. Recently, I had such opportunity, and not only to bring it out for play, but to play it with the same opponent I faced off against thirtysome years ago. It’s an interesting experience opening up the rules after so long, looking back on what we could remember and comparing those shadows of memory to the text before us.

The game summoned from its long slumber is the GDW classic Double Star, designed by the master of Sci-Fi gaming Marc W. Miller. When a gamer in the late seventies and early eighties wanted to get into Sci-Fi, a reliable source was GDW and one of Marc’s designs. Imperium, Triplanetary, and Belter are among some of the solid and fun games produced by GDW in those early days that reflect Marc’s approach: an interesting story to tell, a fantastic situation to be placed in, and interesting mechanics to resolve it all.

While I still have a copy of Imperium, we had long ago lost my friends original Double Star. Recently, in a determined and emphatic attempt to restore our originals, we’ve gone on a bit of a hunt to recover some of our lost treasures. Double Star was one of our first recoveries and thus one of our first old-schools to be played.

The premise of the game is intriguing. Two earth cultures, the Chinese and Islamic, have ventured to the stars and colonized two adjacent star systems: Chin and An-Nur respectively. These nova-humanitas, are now in conflict and have launched their armadas into space. Major worlds contain population (in millions), factories, bases, and defense systems. Fleets are composed of transports, destroyers, cruisers and battleships. An interesting concept revolves around the use of command cruisers, which permit the creation of fleets. These fleets have the inherent ability to train new formations which are then selected during inter-ship combat to enhance attack and defense power.

Destroying the opposing civilizations ability to fight includes devastating their production capability and annihilating the non-combatant population. If that sounds like the classical warfare of a bygone era then the classification is right-on; Miller strove for a feeling of barbarism and genocide with this title. One of the novel aspects of the game is the ability to break moons and smaller planetoids out of their orbits and send them hurtling towards your opponents planets. Needless to say these can cause devastating damage if they achieve a strike.

We played the short “raid” scenario just to get our feel for the game back. Next play will be the full game and the interstellar struggle for ruination or survival will be rendered to conclusion. Look for a piece on that experience in a future installment.


Two Islamic Cruisers have broken off the main fleet action for a raid while the planetoid Al-Akhir hurtles towards Chien.

Mar 152014
 

The art of wargaming has evolved over the past fifty years and that is a good thing. I don’t mean to take away from the wonderful designs of the past, I myself am an avid collector and player of classic wargames. Designers have introduced new mechanics and modern elements to wargames; and I speak not just of Card Driven Games (CDG), Point to Point movement (P2P), or Area Control; but of the way rules are written. Modern, well-written rulebooks are clear and precise when compared to earlier efforts. Also, in terms of components we now have excellent map artwork, accessories, and storage.

Yet with all of this evolutionary glow we still suffer from the pox of 1/2” punched counters.

There is no single element that has caused me more consternation than 1/2” counters. Hard to place, difficult to pick up, and lo-the-chaos caused when tightly stacked on small hexagons in a line or formation. It’s as if the original intent of these micro-cardboard chits were to unhinge the gamer who naively believed he could keep his French grenadier lines straight in his Waterloo game.

I can just hear the Sergeant of the Grande Armee saying from under his bearskin hat, “Do you know how hard it was to keep a formation orderly?” I am sure they took quite a bit of discipline and drilling to achieve, but must we suffer this while playing a simulation of the battle?

I have this vision of Charles Roberts, the founding father of modern wargaming, setting upon the task of representing units in his watershed title Tactics in 1954 and reaching for what was handy and available: a 1/2” die cutter. For decades afterward the 1/2” counter and hex grid continued to appear. Yes, there were a few titles that deviated from this as time went on and gamers were grateful, but the mini-counter reigned supreme.

To compensate for the difficulty of using 1/2” counters, gamers have invented various techniques of coping. The most well known of these is “clipping”, where a diagonal cut is made at each corner of the counter. One step up from that for those who can make the investment is rounder tools; I personally use a 2mm rounder tool on my sets. Both clipping and rounding permit for easier handling of the counters by offering more grip on the corners. The most extreme mitigation I’ve seen is reproducing the counters in a larger size and remounting them at the gamers own cost.

It is 2014, and last month I received a copy of Blood & Roses from GMT. There in the box, 60 years after Mr. Roberts first took hammer to punch, were sheets of 1/2” counters.

Attention game publishers! It is time to move beyond 1/2” counters. With modern production methods we can do better. Make them 3/4”, set that as a new standard, and your customers will be happy. You will have support for the very modest increase in cost for this. The economic environment of the 1970’s no longer applies, and we, your struggling, grasping, pinching, tweezing customers, would be forever grateful.