If you follow me, then I am sure you are getting tired of my constant #TravellerRPG praise. Sorry, but I just like the game that much!
Sure, there are other rules-lite or “microRPG” or folding-style games that do a lot in a little area, but to me the simple three Little Black Books of the original (now Classic) Traveller are what I think of in a ‘lite’ RPG. Many people apparently don’t realize (or have forgotten) that Traveller was not a setting but a simple core mechanic within a (short) flexible ruleset within which basic setting materials were provided. Like many other RPGs of that era, it was expected (demanded?) that game masters would develop their own universe to adventure in. [For the best discussion of this, see Tales to Astound, TRAVELLER: Out of the Box to the Third Imperium].
After several weeks of rules review and study, finally got Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) to the table for Family Game Night. To summarize the night, it was a great hit!
We played a three-player setup. After random draws of Factions and Player mats, Little I was Polania-Patriotic, T was Saxony-Engineering, and I was Khanate-Agricultural. Play started off a bit slow as I was teaching the boys how to play. I was actually getting worried when one hour into the game only one Achievement Star had been placed. Up to this point the boys and myself had been learning more than playing.
I need not have worried; Little I quickly understood the special faction power for Polania (“Meander”) and took advantage of it to the greatest degree possible. T also started understanding the in-and-outs of the engine-building game mechanics and started optimizing his actions. Both T and myself got a fire lit under out collective a$$es when Little I completed an Objective Card at the same time he placed two other Achievement Stars for a clear 4-star to 1-star/0-star advantage. The last 90 minutes of the game (we took about 150 minutes total – longer than advertised but we were -slowly – learning) turned a bit frantic as the action passed around the table rather quickly. A misplay on my part handed the final star to Little I who was able to complete his achievements. Final Score – Little I- 74, T- 38, Dad- 37.
I was a bit worried that Scythe would be too complex and challenging for the RMN Boys to quickly learn. After all, there are four Top-Row Actions, four Botton-Row Actions, and four Mech Abilities as well as a special faction ability for a total of 13 Actions/Abilites that need to be understood to play. And that’s before one could add a Factory Card (two more Actions), and the Structure Bonus (a scoring consideration).
I need not have worried for the outstanding graphical design of the player tableaus made all that easy. It took the first hour for all of us to become comfortable interpreting the symbology on the boards, but once it all (and I mean ALL) clicked then the real game was on. For such a heavy, thinky, complex game it was amazingly easy to teach – and learn – the game mechanics and get over the “learning curve” and start playing (i.e. strategizing) the game.
Little I has especially taken to Scythe. He has always liked puzzles and the multiple combinations of Faction-Player mats intrigues him. The two boys generated enough buzz about the game that even the oldest RMN Boy, a bit of a none-boardgamer (hey, I keep trying) who sat out the night is interested.
Our plan for Family Game Night (Saturday nights in our house) was to play a rotation of games. Maybe a wargame one week, a family tabletop game the next, and throw in a RPG campaign session too. Little I loves Scytheso much right now he has asked to preempt the kick-off of the next RPG campaign and repeat Scythe. We will have to see; Compass Games’ Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution is supposedly enroute.* I also want to play around with the Automa (solo variant) to see how it works as well as the experimental rules for playing a mix of Automa and different player-counts.
Scythe has won many awards, but most importantly it has won the RockyMountainNavy family’s admiration and respect for the enjoyment we all have playing the game. Even Mrs. RMN appreciates how Scythe has captured the intense interest of Little I. The RMNBoys are already pooling their money to purchase expansions though, to be honest, Dad will probably spring for it because, well, he wants to!
* </RANT ON> I am a bit disappointed with Compass Games. I backed C&C Tricorne on Kickstarter and now hear that it was on sale at WBC in late-July. It is being sold on-line at Compass Games since August 17, but I have not seen any shipping notice that my copy is on the way (nor have I received my game). There are some customers indicating they received their order already but is is unclear if they were KS-backers or just ordered from the site once it went on sale. Perception is reality, and my perception is that the KS-backers are being ignored. Overall, not a very positive experience. </RANT OFF>
Atomic Robo RPG is by far my favorite RPG to read. The seamless mix of rules and setting not only teach the game, but help start the immersion into the Atomic Robo universe. I actually read the RPG before the comics.
I tend to collect rules to study game mechanics and not necessarily to play. So I am going to cheat here and change the question a bit to “Which RPG have I owned the longest but not played in forever?”
My answer would be Behind Enemy Lines (FASA 1st Edition, 1982). I last really played this game with my high school friends (i.e. pre-1985). I pulled it out recently as part of my RPG Retrospective but I haven’t “played” it since the mid-80’s. I really should pull it out because it appears that it could be a good firefight generator for several skirmish-scale wargames.
From the GAMEPLAY perspective the Active/Spent Units, Action Points/Command Action Points, and Command/Bonus/Action Card mechanics make for quick play. In the rules I can see the influence of Nicholas Warcholak, in charge of Editing and Game Development for Academy Games. The Academy Games website lays out the Warcholak Guide to keep game rules streamlined:
Is the rule necessary to simulate the TYPICAL (over 10% of the time) conditions and outcomes on the battlefield? If YES, keep. If NO, go to 2.
Does the rule require significant mental resources to remember to play? (Significant is defined as needing to remember more than 2 facts.) If YES, dump. If NO, go to 3.
Does the rule add to the fun of the game? Does it produce outcomes that add significant replayability, oh-no moments, gotcha momments, or simulation pay-off outside the general flow of the game? If YES, keep. If NO, dump.
Conflict of Heroes implements the Warcholak Guide in spades! The rules, in combination with the graphical presentation, means the game can be taught almost without referencing the rule book.
From a HISTORICAL SIMULATION level of play, Uwe opened my eyes to the deep amount of historical detail baked into the game. For instance, the number of Action Points necessary for a unit to shoot is often a reflection of leadership and command & control. Unlike other games which use many 'rules by exception' to implement the intended effect, Conflict of Heroes "bakes" the rules into a few key factors. For example, when a unit is activated it gets 7 Action Points (AP). Both German and Russian infantry use 1 AP to move, but it takes a Russian infantry unit 4 AP to fire whereas a typical German infantry unit only needs 3 AP to shoot. Thus, A Russian unit will only be able to fire once per activation unless they call upon Command Action Points (CAP – representing higher HQ and prior planning). A German infantry unit can fire twice without calling upon CAPs. This subtle one-factor difference brings out so much of the command & control issues facing the combatants without needlessly complex rules.
This past weekend, the RockyMountainNavy Boys (even the oldest) play Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear! – Russia 1941-42 (2nd Edition). We played Firefight 2 with four commanders (two per side). IT WAS A BLAST. The rules were easy for me to teach (and the boys to learn) so we got into PLAY right away. All the RMN Boys are now Conflict of Heroes fans (dare I say the youngest is a FANatic?).
I have also purchased the Firefight Generatorand the Solo Expansion. I saw Uwe demo the Solo Expansion with its 'Athena AI' at CONNECTIONS 17 and I have to say I am VERY INTERESTED.
The Eastern Front Solo Expansion is the highly anticipated rule set that has been in development for over 3 years! A player will be able to play Awakening the Bear against a highly reactive game AI. This AI is based on the most modern Emergent Behavior and Agent Based Logic programming systems. AI units are not individually programmed like in past solo games. Instead, each situation is evaluated and the best course of action using available AI resources and unit assets is implemented. This is a radical and groundbreaking implementation of advanced computer programming by Academy Games for their Conflict of Heroes series. Players will be surprised by the AI strategy and actions that emerge as a result of the player's own battle tactics. This may force even veteran players to hone and adapt their own playing styles in order to overcome the AI. (From the Academy Games website)
Honestly, I found many solo game engines quite cumbersome; or very formulamatic (see Tokyo Express from Victory Games, 1988). The Athena AI, implemented using cards in the Conflict of Heroes system, looks to create a "living opponent" again without a burdensome rules overhead.
Though not recognized as one of the true "Grognard" wargame companies, Academy Games is truly on the cutting edge of game design. There are several other companies trying to do the same, but it remains to be seen if the wargame hobby as whole can keep up with the likes of Academy Games.