August was a very good month for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. I managed to play 45 games this month (actually 40 games with five expansion plays thrown in). A bit incredible considering the school year has restarted and the my gaming cohort, the RockyMountainNavy Boys, are theoretically less available.
There are two major reasons so many games were played this month. First, we played many smaller, lighter games like Ticket to Ride: New York, Tiny Epic Galaxies, or Villainous. Secondly, I set up a game table in the loft and got larger games like Root or other wargames to the table more often.
These days, we keep a strategically-located collection of smaller games in the family room. This makes it easier to bring these games out and play. This is how Ticket to Ride: New Yorkgot played so often. Occasionally it served as a filler game before dinner. Once it even was a filler while waiting for the school bus!
I do expect September to slow down as the RockyMountainNavy Boys get deeper into school and they have less free time. For myself I may try to restart my Game of the Week where I focus on one game each week and try to explore it more deeply with a thorough rules review and multiple plays.
New Games this Month
Genesys: The Roleplaying Game for All Settings (Fantasy Flight Games)
In my gaming pantheon, I clearly play wargames first, other boardgames second, and role playing games (RPGs) a distant third. Spending-wise, I have bought very few RPG products since April. In the past month I came close to buying two new RPGs but didn’t. Along the way I learned a valuable lesson taught to me by no other than the Godfather of RPGs, Gary Gygax. Gary reminded me that RPGs are inherently a personal creation; if a product is “not quite right” there are tools available to “do it my way.”
I initially pledged to support at the Ship’s Boat-level which is $20 for the pdf version. I then downloaded the free Quickstart pdf and took a look. I am no hard-core The Expanse fan but I generally like the universe. I initially missed the books and became acquainted with the setting through the TV series. After looking at the Quickstart I mulled it over for a few days and then cancelled my pledge.
First, the Quickstarter did not appeal to me; indeed, it actually turned me off. My initial negative reaction was to the artwork. I think my expectations are biased from the TV series and the artwork in the Quickstarter just feels too different. More importantly, it is not what I see as evocative of the setting. It almost seems too cartoonish to me whereas I imagine The Expanse though a more hard sci-fi lens.
Looking at the Quickstarter pdf, I weighed my pledge and thought about what I was getting. I decided that I actually already have a version of The Expanse RPG. I actually have two of them, both from Zozer Games, and both using a system I am comfortable with (Cepheus Engine):
Orbital: 2100 – “Realistic spacecraft, using reaction drives and rotating hab modules for gravity. Orbital is set in our own Solar System and has a real hard-science feel to it.”
HOSTILE– “A gritty near future setting inspired by those late-70s and early 80’s movies like Alien, Bladerunner and Outland.”
There is a truly great advantage offered to the Game Master when devising a campaign set on the Dying Earth. It is not highly detailed. There is no strict timeline laid down. All that has happened before is not “recorded”, nor is there an accurate gazetteer of for the world. What magic operates? Nobody can say or guess, because in the long eons of the Dying Earth’s history, likely every form possible was discovered, used, and then forgotten…almost. That means that all that’s necessary is to have the game in hand, the books that Jack Vance wrote about the world, to create a really compelling campaign environment. Using the creative base of the author, the GM’s own imagination cannot fail but to rise to the occasion. (Emphasis mine)
In my mind, I already own The Expanse RPG. My version uses a core mechanic that I feel is evocative of the setting (Cepheus Engine). I have the sourcebooks in the form of several TV seasons and multiple books and short stories. I don’t need somebody else’s vision that doesn’t strike me as evocative of the stories or setting.
Tachyon Squadron is a Fate Core supplement that blends space opera and military sci-fi. It’s Evil Hat’s take on popular stories about interstellar battles, like the ones that have ships with wings named after letters and the one where robots chase the human race through space. If you’re interested in deep space dogfights, friendly—well, usually—rivalries with fellow pilots, and playing scrappy underdogs with the deck stacked against you, this game is for you.
The project funded with 1,401 backers pledging $25,295 against a $7,500 goal. Like The Expanse RPG Kickstarter, Evil Hat was very generous and offers a free download Quickstarter version. It is pretty much as I expected as Evil Hat has previously sold a smaller, similar setting found in Fate Worlds Volume One: Worlds on Fire. In Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie the PCs are pilots aboard a giant War Zeppelin taking on “a horde of WWI mechanical monstrosities.” For Tachyon Squadron I actually was more interested in Stretch Goal 7:
STRETCH GOAL 7 (UNLOCKS AT $26,000): The Battle of Britain: At $26,000, we’ll start work on The Battle of Britain, a 5,000 word electronic supplement that applies Tachyon Squadron’s dogfighting rules to a WWII squadron of Spitfire pilots defending Britain. This supplement will include plane stats and mechanics to help you take to the skies with the Allied forces.
Alas, this stretch goal didn’t unlock. My potential Pilot-in-Training pledge of $12 would not have made a big difference.
What really turned me off about Tachyon Squadron was the over-the-top SJW proselytizing. It is so in-your-face I think it overwhelms the game setting. Even if I am able to put the SJW part aside I see the the game offering me little new. The major rule of difference, dogfighting, is likely not far from that found in Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie which I already own. Much like The Expanse, I have a Battlestar Galactica RPG in the form of the officially licensed Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (Margaret Weis Productions, 2007). This game uses the CORTEX Classic system which I generally like (indeed, I am still awaiting my CORTEX Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game Kickstarter to deliver – only 3 months overdue…so far). If I want to do Battlestar Galactica using Fate Core I already own all the setting and rules material; why should I invest more money into a near-version that alleges to be ruleset but comes across more like a SJW propaganda tract?
Genesys is a role playing system designed for flexibility and adaptability, specifically tooled to work with any setting imaginable. The Genesys Core Rulebook not only contains an overview of the rules and how the innovative narrative dice system works, but everything a GM and players need to run adventures in five completely different settings. Everything from equipment to adversaries, character abilities to an overview of narrative tropes, all is provided in the core rulebook for Genesys. With a system so adaptable and expansive you can explore every popular roleplaying genre, from classic fantasy style campaigns, to modern day detective thrillers, and even to a far off sci-fi future, Genesys doesn’t fit into any one genre of roleplaying, and instead invites players to craft their own stories with unparalleled freedom.
Taking GENESYSand combining it with Gary Gygax’s Dying Earth GM approach, I can likely make a version of The Expanse or Battlestar Galactica – or any other setting I chose to explore – for myself.
The most important RPG lesson I learned this month is that I don’t need Kickstarter to make an RPG for me that “isn’t quite right”; I just need good books and a good ruleset.
I first played Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat back in the early 1980’s. One of my friends had the GDW version and we (kinda) liked it, but all that vector movement seemed like so much work. Worse, moving in space using vectors made it impossible to do all those fancy X-Wing maneuvers like in Star Wars.
Classic Feel – The counters are retro but it reinforces the “classic” game feeling.
White Maps? – I first thought it silly that space would be a white map but it has to be to plot your vectors!
Game Mechanics – The rulebook is 16 pages, inclusive of rules and scenarios. The core mechanic (vector movement) is dead simple with an uncomplicated combat system included.
Model Enough – As game designer Volko Runke (@Volk26) says, all games are models. This model of space movement (vector movement) is a 2D representation of a 3D problem presented on a map that is NOT to scale. That said, the basics of moving in space are here. Want to see what a flip and burn is? How about a gravity slingshot? Watch your fuel supply! It’s all here!
I am looking forward to playing this one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, especially Youngest RMN who has an interest in aerospace engineering. As much as he likes the (legitimately awesome) Kerbal Space Program, and as much as Kerbal shows about space engineering, I think Triplanetarywill deliver another level of learning and discovery. That is because it is a boardgame, where the model is manipulated by the user and not hidden in a black box like in a computer game. What I saw as “useless work” back in the early 80’s I now see as a very useful model that is fun to play AND enlightening.
As it is the summer, my gaming as slowed as the RockyMountainNavy Boys find more outdoor activities to do, the family is traveling more often, and long summer evenings make gaming less a priority. But it doesn’t mean I don’t want to play! Or try new games!
I currently have 16 items on preorder. A majority (9) are GMT Games P500 orders. I have a love/hate relationship with P500; I love the games but hate the wait. I also am a bit disappointed that GMT Games has become a victim of the Cult of the New (COTN) with newer games seemingly taking priority over long-awaited reprints or expansions. I don’t blame GMT Games; they are going after the money where money is to be had.
I am also a bit surprised at the number of Kickstarter games I have pledged for. Given my hesitancy to previously support games I am surprised that I have five on this list. (actually six but the forever-delayed Squadron Strike: Traveller does not have a BGG entry and therefore does not show up). I have to say that so far I am extremely happy with the Triplanetary campaign since it is delivering early (my copy may even be in the mail as I type).
I actually had another Kickstarter item on order until last night when I cancelled it. It was an RPG product and I had backed it because the theme was interesting. As I looked at the product a bit deeper there were aspects that I found, well, I decided the product was not for me and dropped the campaign.
Four of the Kickstarter games are to deliver before the end of the year. We will see; Triplanetarylooks like it is coming in early but three other Kickstarter campaigns I have backed (two non-boardgames) are delayed. Maybe a poor investment?
While the game topic (theme?) is interesting to me, as a longtime naval and space warfare gamer I have mixed feelings.
First, I am not sure that the Left-Center-Right concept of a battlefield makes sense for space combat. The core issue in any space combat game is how to show three-dimensional combat on a 2-D board. Who can forget the classic “two dimensional thinking” in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?
Some space combat games take the other extreme. A favorite game of mine is the space combat system found in the (Classic) Traveller RPG Book 5 High Guard. This game system has its weaknesses, as defined by the famous Eurisko incident using the Trillion Credit Squadron (TCS) tournament rules:
Trillion Credit Squadron was used as a test case for artificial intelligence researcher Douglas Lenat’s machine learning system Eurisko. Lenat programmed the TCS tournament rules into Eurisko, and the system designed a fleet of large, stationary, defenseless, and heavily armed ships.
This fleet then won the 1981 TCS national championship tournament at the Origins ’81 convention. GDW changed the rules for the following tournament, but Eurisko adapted to the changes and its fleet won the championship again. GDW threatened to cancel the tournament if a Eurisko-designed fleet entered again, and Lenat declined to do so, accepting the title “Grand Admiral” as consolation. Lenat’s 1981 fleet design (including 75 Euriskoclass Gunships) was printed in JTAS issue #10. (http://wiki.travellerrpg.com/Trillion_Credit_Squadron)
So the question facing me is playability or realism? More directly, is this game worth $120 of fun with my family, or is it $120+ of personal frustration? As I look at the campaign this morning, the Carrier Escalation Pack has unlocked, for a mere £14.50 extra. PSC apparently hopes we all subscribe to the old saying. “in for a penny, in for a pound.”
Then there is my usual Kickstarter concerns. Giving $120 +shipping +expansion packs NOW for a game SCHEDULED to deliver in March 2019 (or 9 months from campaign end) is becoming harder to accept.
As appealing as the is campaign looks to the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I think I am going to pass. The money involved can get us lots more gaming products NOW rather than a riskier investment into the future.