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.

Dec 282013

I’ve been playing a fair bit of the Star Wars Edge of the Empire (EotE) RPG lately. No serious campaign this time, but an easy going romp with pre-generated characters and new players, a far cry from the experienced players I ran with in my previous Saga edition campaign. This has been filled with light hearted gamorrean stomping and stormtrooper blasting.

I haven’t played enough EotE yet to feel confident in contrasting it at length against Star Wars Saga Edition, but I do have a feel for the overall flow of the game and can make some broad observations.

If I had one big “thing” to draw a contrast between Saga and EotE it would be the distinction between the mechanics of distance and range. Saga, if one remembers, was influenced by the development of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons (4E) which was being developed at Wizards of the Coast while Saga was being finalized. In some sense Saga was an early preview of 4E, and therefore very miniature combat oriented. Using one inch grid maps was common and with both published and D20 OGL material very available. In my Saga campaign I used the fine starship maps from Future Armada, for example, where you could detail out the encounters with Line of Sight, range, and all that you would expect from a miniature-centric combat system.

With EotE that comfort of precision is unceremoniously stripped away. Range in this system is loosely defined as short, medium, long etc. and is left to the GM during game play to confirm. Rather than being a measured process based on a granular tracing of squares or distance, movement between ranges is achieved by the mere expenditure of an action by the player character. For example, to move between medium and short range would be one movement action.

This, I must say, takes a bit of getting used to. After so many years of comfort with simply allowing range and movement rules to keep a melee controlled, being awash in uncertainty can be frightening. But from a different perspective, it can also be quite liberating. There is no counting squares, no measuring movement; A quick decision on expending an action to change range is all that is needed. If you think back on all of the sessions over how many years you GM’ed in how many systems, how often did encounters begin at range “short”. Probably most. So why all the need for expansive range and movement rules with all of the time they consume? Why indeed.

I am still getting acclimated to this concept, I have a bit more convincing that needs to be done. And I must admit on more than one occasion the thought of retrofitting a Saga-like range system into EotE has crossed my mind. As of now I’ve managed to hold this compulsion at bay; I really want to see how this system works in different flavors of encounters and the multiplicity of combinations that can only come about during extended game play. For now I am pushing forward with the rules as-is and keeping my straight-edges and rangefinders in the drawer.