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.

Feb 082014

“…I need something more real.” One of my favorite scenes from Star Wars Episode I is the first meeting with Watto at his shop. Bartering for a used hyperdrive component, the heroes run into an age old problem: currency exchange.

Most often in my RPG games, money has been either the generic Gold, Silver, Copper coinage; or for the sci-fi theme, Credits, all tracked on a sheet of paper. Nothing actually changed hands. There were no “Watto moments” where an issue with payment lead to an adventure or series of encounters. I’ve always wanted to get some tangible, tactile money exchange into my game. Something the players could hold onto, something as Watto would say, is “real”. However, such currency available to gamers in the past was either too expensive or of such low quality to be a vehicle for in-game jokes.

As in many things in today’s gaming world: Enter Kickstarter.

Recently, we have seen some quality hobby gaming coin sets come up on Kickstarter. Myself being a long time a-wishin-and-hopin for such reasonably priced options have jumped at the opportunity and backed two such projects. The fruits of the first have recently arrived.

Future coins is designed to supply in-game currency for Minion Games 4x title Hegemonic. However, they can very much be used for any purpose. My primary use for these will be in my sci-fi RPG’s, specifically Traveller and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

I was very pleased with the quality of the credit coins. The coloring, shading, and trim, is very well done. My only nitpick is the color for the highest denomination coin, 100,000, which looks black. The other denominations more than make up for this however, the shading between the raised text and the primary coin color give them a good depth and actually enhances the feeling of being a solid coin. There are both straight colors and metallics. For those of you who lust Ferengi-like after cold-pressed latinum, the 1,000 coin will more than satisfy.

If you are interested in picking up some of these for yourself and missed the Kickstarter campaign, not to worry, Minion has you covered and you can get your hands on some right here.

The other collection of coins I have jumped into is Conquistador Games Best Damn Metal Gaming Coins. This collection offers quite a bit of diversity in choice of era including Roman (my favorite), Spanish, Celtic and others, as well as fantasy and pirate themes. This particular kickstarter has not yet shipped, so if you are interested in picking some up it is possible that Conquistador or their partners in this project, Game Salute, will be selling additional coin sets later this year.