This is the time of the year that many in the boardgame community start their “challenges” for the coming year. The classic is the 10 x 10 – pick 10 different games and play each ten times during the year.
I am running this challenge in parallel to my 2019 CSR Awards Wargame Challenge. Between the 20 games there and the 15 here I should have a fun year. Not to mention all the new games I’m sure to get this year….
Overall, The Expanse is better at hard sci-fi than many shows but even here there is a good deal of “handwavium” involved. Scott Manley on YouTube has made one of the better explanations so far:
My personal gaming experience has shown the same conflict between hard and popular sci-fi. I have bounced between hard (realistic?) sci-fi and more cinematic portrayals. Here is a list of a few games in my collection and how they looked at space combat:
Triplanetary (2018) – Kickstarter delivery expected in July 2018 (a month ahead of schedule); vector movement around the Solar System
Finding the right balance between popular sci-fi and hard sci-fi gaming is tricky. For myself, games like Star Fleet Battlesand its derivatives are fun because of the theme since when playing these games I am choosing theme over mechanics. Some of the more hard sci-fi games are fun with a bit or realism thrown in (like Mayday) but some go too far (Squadron Strike: Traveller) where the fun has a hard time overcoming the difficulty of rules and play.
The upside of all this is that the gaming scene is broad enough that either preference, cinematic or vector, can be accommodated. It’s a matter of choice, and the game industry is healthy enough to give us that choice. Even if I am choosing not to play.
Hattip to @TableTopBill who commented on my tweet with the title of this post.
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!
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.
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.
Nearby where I live, there are four “Friendly Local Game Stores” or FLGS. There used to be five but one closed a few years back. Let me tell you a little about each.
FLGS #1 is the best for wargame selection but it is small and impossible to navigate on a weekend with gaming tables occupied in the middle. If there is a game going on then good luck getting the cashier to pay attention! The RPG section is in a dark back area with sagging shelves. They still writes out sales invoices. My wife refuses to enter the place because the regular clientele creeps her out; probably because they hit so many of the negative gamer tropes. If I want to buy a wargame this is not the place I really want come to, much less bring my boys to.
FLGS #2 is right in my neighborhood. It’s within walking distance. If I want to play Magic: The Gathering or in an X-Wing Tournament this is the place to go. If I was competitive. I say that because the players I see are hyper-competitive and this is not the place for a friendly pick-up game. That said, they did support a game outreach event at the local library, but it came and went quickly. Last year I walked in looking for card sleeves and they were helpful. This year I walked in with a card from Academy Games 1775 – Rebellion and asked for help finding the right size card sleeve. The store owner asked what game it was for and I told him. He acknowledged he didn’t know the game but after looking at (not examining) the card in my hand he declared, “We don’t have sleeves for that card.” I asked if he could measure the card (I know they have a sizing mat) and maybe find something close. He got up from behind the counter (out of his comfort zone?), walked to one display, roughly compared the card to a few packages and declared, “We don’t have any sleeves for those really old games.” I looked behind the counter at his more premium line of card sleeves but he totally missed my hint. Probably for the better as he obviously didn’t want to sell me any sleeves and I now felt like I was sullying his place with a non-MTG card. I left. I have not been back since.
FLGS #3, Huzzah Hobbies, is a real FLGS. Huzzah is the most balanced store in the area. It does have a focus on MTG and Flames of War, but also has a nice stock of new tabletop games and a few RPGs. This store actually spawned FLGS #4, Huzzah Junior, which is the “kids” version. We are patrons at both and the staff is very helpful and friendly. They usually have at least one new-ish game open and ready to demo. Huzzah sponsors many game nights (even at a local brewery) and contests. The problem is – as friendly as they are – the prices online are just so much better than they can offer. So we use these two stores mostly for game accessories, plastic models, and an occasional game purchase.
FLGS # 5, now closed, was the old veteran that had been around over 25 years. It had a fair selection of wargames and RPGs. Problem was their new item section was very small and their shelves were full of old backstock…in some cases very old. I had a love-hate relationship with the place. At first I went on weekends but came to despise the staff that always seemed to look down on my boys and I because we were not there to play MTG. I eventually figured out that the owners covered weekdays and they were much friendlier. I even made a package-deal with the owner to relieve them of several items that had been on the shelf for years (literally). The store closed because the owners wanted to be closer to their grandkids, though one candidly told me that online sales had taken a big bite out of their business.
For a good example of another real FLGS, I point you to Petrie’s Family Games in Colorado Springs. Petrie’s is a real family game shop. When we lived there it had a very small selection of wargames and RPGs but was blessed with the friendliest owners. Petrie’s also had an awesome game library and they were often willing to break open a game, even a newly released one, to look and play with it. The owners are just good people and they made this the only game store my wife ever willingly entered.
You may be offended by Tom Vasel’s tone, but you have to listen to the message. FLGS are not automatically “friendly;” it is an honor they must earn. A major part of earning the “F” in FLGS is by creating a welcoming, inviting atmosphere. If my little corner of the world is any indication, two out of five understand that, one struggled with it but is now gone, and two others are missing the opportunity. That’s a 50% failure rate amongst the existing shops. That leaves two stores doing their best to support the hobby. It’s an uphill battle against online retailers and Kickstarter, but by being Friendly they get me through the door.
This is what Tom was really trying to say. The FLGS problem I see starts when a store feels that the “F” in FLGS is their entitlement and they stop earning it. Get me through the door and they are more likely to make some sort of sale. Without the “F” it is far less likely I will enter the store. If I don’t enter, I can’t buy.
Mission F1 pits a Resistance T-70 X-Wing flown by Blue Squadron Novice (24 pts) against a pair of TIE/FO fighters (Epsilon Sqdn Pilot – 15 pts/Zeta Sqdn Pilot – 16 pts). The squadron point build imbalance is offset by the presence of three mine tokens in the battle space controlled by the Resistance player.
Swinging to the left, he tried to draw the TIEs across the minefield but they didn’t take the bait, instead sweeping to their left while keeping out of the lethal radius of the mines. Reversing hard into a tight turn, he raced through the minefield to get into position. His first shot was lucky and hit the trailing TIE which accelerated to get out of range while the second one turned to attack.
Ignoring a TIE that executed a Segnor’s Loop almost in front of him, he blasted one TIE away. Dangerously, he cut in front of the other TIE, just avoiding blasts of lethal energy. Boosting away, he extended the range as the other TIE followed. Dashing around the asteroid field, the TIE came just close enough to a mine to detonate it. His sensors told him the shields on the TIE were down. “That’s one chink in the armor,” he thought.
As he continued around an asteroid, the TIE tried to cut the corner. Unfortunately, it came a bit too close to another mine and set it off. Sensors said it was damaged!
Stressing his T-70, he reversed hard into the TIE. He quickly lined up his shot. With a sharp intake of breath he watched his energy bolts hit the TIE. He exhaled slowly as it exploded. He muttered to himself, “The Force was with me.”
It has been a long time since I played X-Wing. I had picked up Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – The Force Awakens Core Set a while back and it has sat on my shelf – unopened – for several months. The RockyMountainNavy boys seem to have passed their initial fascination with X-Wing and in many ways it was replaced with Wings of Glory. I pulled it out for a somewhat rare weeknight gaming session.
Having not played in a while I didn’t use many optional rules. The fighters were all stock with no modifications. Relearning gameplay was quick (X-Wing is not complicated). Although the gameplay is not complex, there were more than a few “tactical errors” committed since the ships were new to us and their capabilities and limitations unexplored. Most significantly, near the end the Zeta TIE could have used their Action to Barrel Roll away from the mine and stay out of the lethal radius instead of looking ahead to the T-70 threat and placing an Evade token to try to avoid any hits.
Playing X-Wingreminded me that this is one of the games in my collection that I classify as a “Manual Videogame.” The concept of Squadron Builds, Modifications, and Actions (special abilities) all are common with video games. That is not to say I dislike X-Wing; rather, I see it for what it is. The RockyMountainNavy boys, especially Little I, love the Manual Videogame-style of gaming. Pulling out X-Wing reminded us all that this is a lite, fun game that is highly thematic and “pulls you into” the story. It deserves to be on the table more.
I have been a grognard wargamer longer than I have played roleplaying games or family boardgames. However, in recent years I have fallen off in buying new wargames, partially because of the prices (generally expensive) and partially because I have spent more time and money on RPGs and family boardgames. With the rise of the online publishing industry, RPG games and supplements are way more affordable, and my family boardgames included game series like Star Wars X-Wing, Star Wars Imperial Assault, Memoir ’44, and more recently Tanks: Panther vs Sherman. These “light wargames” favor playability over complexity/realism, and in the case of X-Wing or Tanks are more akin to manual video games. These games sorta scratched my wargaming itch, mostly because I used them to introduce the RMN Boys to the hobby.
But although I was scratching the itch, I was not making it go away.
So in 2016 I made a concerted effort to return to true grognard wargaming. Looking back, my modest effort appears to have paid off.
Wing Leader: Supremacy 1943-1945 (GMT Games) [Aerial Combat/WWII-era/Large-scale Tactical-level]. A different, and very interesting, look at air combat. A nice mix of tactical and operational-levels of aerial combat.
Breaking it down, of the seven wargames purchased this year:
Plurality are Naval Combat (3 of 7)
Majority are Operational-level (if one counts the large-scale tactical of Wing Leader as “operational” (4 of 7)
Plurality are are WWII-era (3 of 7)
Interestingly, I bought no space/science-fiction games this year. That is, unless one counts my pledged
I have to say though that my biggest wargaming achievement of 2016 was introducing Little I to miniature-style naval combat using my old copy of Battleship Captain (Minden Games, 2007). This is the game that really started Little I on the path to grognardia. He had played, and enjoyed, Memoir’44 but with Battleship Captain he started seriously studying the history behind the game. This Christmas season, his attention has been seized by the Gale Force 9 Tanks game and he is seriously studying WWII armored combat now.
Here’s to hoping 2017 is a year of many more wargame experiences.
All images courtesy BoardGameGeek except where noted.