Random Gaming Thoughts (Good & Bad) on the First Weekend in May 2018

Sort of a hodgepodge post today. More a collection of random gaming (and beyond) thoughts than anything in particular.

Travel Gaming – Took along several solo games to play while on the road this week. Only got to play one – Merrill’s Marauders: Commandos in Burma 1943-1944 (Decision Games, 2016).

RPG Gaming – Gypsy Knight Games had their May the Fourth Sale going on so I picked up the new Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in the Clement Sector (2018). This has a very Classic Traveller RPG and Firefly-like vibe to it. I also picked up Uranium Fever: Asteroid Mining Rules for the Cepheus Engine (Stellagama Publishing, 2018). I really need to get back into RPGs. I am still awaiting my now-delayed Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Roleplaying Game by Cam Banks from Kickstarter. As much as I like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG I probably should pick up the “generic” Genesys RPG.

Speaking of Star Wars – I hear that FFG is going to be publishing X-Wing Second Edition. This one will be app-enabled.

I think I’ll wait for Ares Games and their Battlestar Galactica version instead.

Speaking of Kickstarter – In April I backed No Motherland Without, a 2-player card game about North Korea since 1953. It really looked interesting. I had really high hopes. It was cancelled – for all the right reasons I am sure. I hope they come back and try again, maybe with a stronger publicity campaign. Personally I watched The Players Aid review and was sold:

Veterans in The Expanse (very mild spoilers for S3E4) – I like The Expanse TV series but one line got me going last week. Alex states he has done his time and is an honorably discharged veteran. His implication is that he is special. As an honorably discharged veteran myself I resent this attitude. Unfortunately, I see it everyday – too many veterans who believe that since they served they have a special privilege above “mere” civilians. They grouse when a place does not offer a veterans discount or the like. Being a veteran does not make you a special citizen. This is not the world of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers (the book, not the horrible movie) where only veterans are citizens. Veterans get many privileges; be humble not an entitlement baby!

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Old Lore – #BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006)

The RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night game this week was BattleLore (Days of Wonder, 2006). This is the first edition of the game and not the more recent Fantasy Flight Games second edition. Our game this week was generally good although I made a few errors during the evening. Playing BattleLore has rekindled my interest in the game and it deserves more table time.

In the RMN family, we usually end up playing a 3-player event. This makes it harder than it should to find a good game because many games are either 2-player or a multiple thereof (i.e. 4-players, etc.).  The Birth of America-series from Academy Games (1754 -Conquest: The French & Indian War, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution, 1812: The Invasion of America) work well because they are 4-player games that also work at 2-players or – best for us – 3-players.

I own BattleLore: Epic BattleLore (DoW, 2007) that I thought would give me a scenario using the multiple boards that is suitable for 3-players. Using the extra board, it is possible to make a layout that is six-sectors wide that allows multiple commanders to play one side. But when I looked for an adventure (scenario) that used this map configuration there was none in the booklet. As the RMN Boys were already at the table and itching to play, I went ahead and laid out an adventure from the booklet that used a single army and an epic-scale 3-sector map. I asked the Boys to share command and they (reluctantly) agreed.

Wrong choice on my part.

Asking the Boys to “share” command of a single army spread over three sectors did not work. I thought about using a variation of the 4-player Reluctant Allies in Epic BattleLore but decided it would be unfair in a 3-player set-up. The Boys ended up bickering a fair bit (more than their usual friendly banter) and I could see the frustration growing in Middle RMN as his younger brother outright refused at times to work together. The Boys ended up winning, 7 banners to 5, but it was not a really fun game.

I apologized to Middle RMN about my choices going into the game and he was a good sport. I think he and I are OK but I don’t want to be his brother on the other side of a future battle because I sense there will be no mercy given!

All that said, the game night was not a total disaster. Having not played BattleLore in a long time (my last previously recorded play was in 2010!) and putting aside the command issues we enjoyed it. The addition of Lore and Creatures and the Goblin or Dwarf units – each with advantages and disadvantages – makes for an interesting game. The game is not without its challenges; soft sculpts and lack of good player aids detract a bit, but should not be showstoppers to enjoyment. I also think that the Boys are much more able to handle all that BattleLore brings to the table now that they are more experienced gamers. The last time we played Youngest RMN was a wee 6-years old and Middle RMN, my Austism Spectrum hero, was 12.

In addition to the core set and the previously mentioned Epic BattleLore expansion, I also own Call to Arms, the Dwarven Battalion Specialist Pack, and the Goblin Skirmishers Specialist Pack. Between all these expansions I “should” be able to come up with good adventures for 3-players, especially using the Call to Arms system. Although fantasy is not my go-to genre for gaming, I sense that BattleLore may actually fit many of our Family Game Night needs. BattleLore will find itself on the gaming table again, but not before I thoroughly reread the rules and make considered decisions on adventure design and balance.

Dull Claws in Game of the Week – Talon 2nd Printing (@GMTGames, 2017).

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Courtesy GMT Games

The current Game of the Week is Talon 2nd Printing (GMT Games, 2017). This game is highly rated on BoardGameGeek scoring a solid 7.7 with nearly 400 ratings. It is also ranked as the 167th War game on the site. For myself, I find Talon mechanically strong but the lack of deep theme makes it less interesting for me to play. In other words, the lack of a strong theme in Talon fails to draw me deeper into the game.

All things considered, I can see that I have become pickier over the years when it comes to space battle games. I first started out with Star Fleet Battles. Beyond the fact it is closely related to the Star Trek IP, the real “theme” in SFB is taken from the ever-famous quote from the series, “Scotty, I need more power!” In SFB everything is about Energy Allocation. This theme carries over to the new generation game, Federation Commander.

Over the years, I tried other tactical starship combat games. I like Full Thrust (Jon Tuffley at Ground Zero Games) which is a generic set of rules. To be honest, I actually like two implementations of Full Thrust, those being the the version in The Earthforce Sourcebook for The Babylon Project RPG, and Power Projection: Fleet, a set of rules set in the Traveller RPG universe. Both of these I like because the game rules implement a version of the given setting that seems thematically appropriate. I also have played around with Starmada: The Admiralty Edition, another generic set of rules that one can use to make their own setting. I find the included setting boring, and have never found a another setting that grabbed my attention. The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I play the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game but I see it as an (expensive) manual video game.

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Courtesy BGG.com

From a game mechanics standpoint, Talon corrects many issues I have with older games. It does not implement vector movement (though I happen to love vector-movement games) and instead goes for a more cinematic approach. It still has power considerations, but the use of the Power Curve makes it much easier to manage and avoids “accountants in space.” But as much as I love the game, I just cannot get into the setting. Ships move no more than a speed of 6 each turn, and combat is at ranges of 4 hexes or less. I just don’t get that grandiose feeling of giant starship battles in space. In part this may also be driven by the limited counter mix out of the box. The scenarios themselves also seem wrong, with major battles defending the Earth having only six units per side – a factor driven by the few counters included. When putting it all together I get a sense of cognitive dissonance; a game that works so well mechanically just seems wrong thematically.

GMT Games is offering Talon 1000on their P500 program. The draw for me is that it will include over 130 new ships. Given a greater fleet size, or at least a wider variety of ships, maybe the game will be more “thematically correct.” The danger, I fear, is that adding too many more ships will take the great mechanics of the game and overload it. This forces me to turn to the scenarios, and with 1000 new scenarios I would hope to find some interesting ones in there.

Talon, my Game of the Week, once again shows me how much I have changed as a gamer. I find it hard to enjoy a mechanically complex game like Star Fleet Battles, but need a good theme to keep my interest. Talon shows promise, but it has yet to meet its full potential.

Game of the Week for 12 March 2018 – Talon Reprint Edition (@GMTGames, 2017)

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Courtesy GMT Games

I have my own shelf of shame and one of the games that is sitting on it is Talon Reprint Edition (GMT Games, 2015/17). I wrote a First Impressions post last September but the game has languished, unloved, since. My past few Game of the Week have been older games; this week change that and try a newer game.

The Talon Play Book has a Tutorial scenario so that seems like a good place to start. If I can get a chance with the RockyMountainNavy boys, we might try Scenario 1 – War is Upon Us during the week. The scenario looks to be a good learning game with few ships on two evenly-matched sides duking it out. If all goes well, Scenario 3 – The First Fleet Engagement looks like a good Game Night event.

Like I wrote in my First Impressions, I see Talon as a sci-fi fleet combat game to replace Star Fleet Battles (Amarillo Design Bureau) in my collection. I tried Federation Commander (Amarillo Design Bureau) but found it wanting. I think this is because the RMN Boys are simply not Trekkies. [I know, I have failed as a Geek Father – sue me] More directly to my point, they are not well acquainted with the thematic elements behind SFB and FC, and therefore the complexity of the games push them away. I also see Talon as an inexpensive alternative to Star Wars: Armada (Fantasy Flight Games). In the case  of Armada I dislike the theme (I am very anti-Di$ney Star Wars these days) and cringe at the cost of all those miniatures in a game that is another unappealing manual video game.

To be fair, I actually have another fleet combat game in my collection. Full Thrust (Ground Zero Games) and the very similar Power Projection: Fleet (BITS UK) are probably my favorite sci-fi fleet combat games. FT is a generic set of rules whereas PP:F is tailored for the Traveller RPG universe. The problem is that both are miniatures games and I never made that investment (although with modern desktop publishing software and home printers it is possible to make custom counters and tokens).

I am also very happy to get Talon to the table in part because another sci-fi combat game I bought in 2016 has yet to arrive. I made the mistake of backing Squadron Strike: Traveller by Ken Burnside and Ad Astra Games on Kickstarter. Allegedly, the miniatures for the game started shipping late February, but for backers like me who didn’t buy minis and am waiting for my boxed set it appears that all I am going to get is a beta-version of the pdf. All of which makes me look forward to Talon that much more because its a lot easier to have fun with a game when its actually on your table and not vaporware!

#RPGaDay 2017 – What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

#RPGaDay August 20, 2017

With the rise of online publishing and a consumer ‘renaissance’ in gaming, is this really a good question?

From Wizards of the Coast putting items on DriveThruRPG to Fantasy Flight Games republishing older classics; it looks like the consumer has voted (with their wallets) and demonstrated that they will BUY BUY BUY older games.

Take a look at Gen Con 50 (especially #gencon50 on Twitter) and you will see MANY games (tabletop board and RPGs). Most new, but some old.

Speaking of older games…I guess I really am getting old when my classic RPG of choice is now in the Gen Con museum. Just remember – out of print does not mean out-of-play!

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GENCON 50 Photo – “The first ever copy of ‘Traveller’ in the museum at GenCon 50” by Marc Miller, 17 Aug 2017 (from @RMBStudio1)

#RPGaDay 2017 – Which #RPG do you enjoy using as is?

#RPGaDay August 16, 2017

pic536195_tI have a few candidates here; Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Mindjammer (FATE Core 2nd Edition), Diaspora, and FFG Star Wars. There are two (mostly) common threads amongst all those games. They all use a more narrative game mechanic and they are (mostly) all licensed IP.

Of the two, the narrative game mechanics (Cortex, FATE 3.0 or FATE Core, FFG Narrative Dice) means the games easily focus on story (adventure?) with world-building details coming in a less-structured manner. 20120423b

Although many of these games use licensed IPs, don’t think that by using these “as is” I am a canon-rigid thinker. I enjoy using the game systems “as is”, but the world-building details and adventures are definitely NOT limited by canon.

#RPGaDay 2017 – Describe a game experience that changed how you play

#RPGaDay August 13, 2017

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Courtesy quickmeme.com

When I first started GMing RPGs with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I looked at gaming with kids as a teaching tool. In one of our early sessions, when one kid (kiddingly) said he was going to backstab the other, I took control of their character and took the event out to its gruesome conclusion. All against their wishes. I took away all player agency and ran away in the wrong direction.

Total failure on my part.

I have come to recognize that RPGs are a valuable teaching tool, but learning comes best with a proper balance of player agency and GM fiat. This may be part of why I prefer systems that have a built-in narrative mechanic (like Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG) or are more narratively focused (like FATE Accelerated) or rules-lite (Classic Traveller and Cepheus Engine RPGs – yes, I said rules-lite – look at the core mechanic!).

I have found that sharing the narrative is the most important part of learning. With a shared narrative, the RMN Boys are challenged to create more themselves. Game sessions become more me responding to their creativity than me prepping in advance and laying out the adventure. This often means the adventure goes places I never expected, but never does it go in a direction that isn’t enjoyed by all.