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.

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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!

Kicking Off the Year with Kickstarter

I know that Kickstarter is a big part of why board gaming is so popular. Even so, I have my doubts. That said, so far this year I backed two Kickstarter games. Either I have overcome my Kickstarter fears, or am really stupid.

Part of the reason I am gun-shy at Kickstarter is because I backed, in March 2016, Squadron Strike: Traveller. I was a bit doubtful because the Squadron Strike system looks a bit complex (much like Birds of Prey, one of my least-favorite games). But I really love the Traveller RPG so I went for it. I pledged $109 for the Boxed Game. I even had to add extra money in the BackerKit in 2017. It has not delivered. Nor does it seem it will ever deliver.

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Courtesy Compass Games

In 2017 I backed Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. I backed at the $95 level for a single copy of the game. The only stretch goal that was included was a single extra scenario. To be honest, I felt a bit ripped off by Compass Games. To me, the Kickstarter campaign was nothing more than a pre-order system. There was no price advantage. Indeed, less than a year later I can find new copies for a fair amount less.

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Courtesy Triplanetary Kickstarter

In January this year, nostalgia got the best of me and I backed Triplanetary from Steve Jackson Games. I remember seeing this title when I was a rookie gamer. As of the writing of this post, the campaign has funded and is supposed to be delivered in August 2018. We will see.

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Courtesy Agents of Mayhem Kickstarter

Finally, my love of Academy Games led me to pledge for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon. This pledge is heavily influenced by my love (and respect) for Academy Games. I pledged even though tactical skirmish games, like this or Imperial Assault, are really not in my wheelhouse. I must admit I am looking forward to this game with its many innovative combinations of components. The last big Academy Games Kickstarter project, 878 Vikings – Invasions of England did deliver very close to on time (at least the English-language copies in the US). As of the writing of this post the game is funded with 9 stretch goals unlocked. Delivery is scheduled for September 2018.

I think I am going to slow down, if not stop, further Kickstarter support for the year. At least, that is, until these deliver (except for Squadron Strike: Traveller as I have given up). It is going to take a very special game to get me to change my decision.

Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

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Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

#RPGaDay 2017 – What is a good #RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

#RPGaDay August 9, 2017

Every RPG should be good for 10 sessions. Unfortunately, I don’t see many RPGs designed to support long-term gaming campaigns.

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spacesquadrons2998.blogspot.com

I grew up in the early days of Traveller RPG and I couldn’t afford all the adventures. Instead, I used the tools presented to me and made my own adventures. One adventure after another.

Unfortunately, what I see so many RPGs do is sell you “adventure campaigns” or “modules” and the like. Each of these products is usually one campaign arc, and often use the “three-act play” approach. Can one get 10 sessions out of them? Yes – if a few of the sessions are stretch out. My point is that what is usually sold as a campaign most times does not go out to 10 sessions.

This “short campaign” focus highlights to me a problem that the RPG gamespace – many games provide the means for world building and long-term adventuring but published adventures and campaigns work in an opposite manner with a campaign that can be started – and completed – is a reasonable (as in few) sittings. I recognize why companies do this; they need to see you more products and giving you one product that doesn’t depend on future sales is not necessarily a profitable strategy. Indeed, I think many gamers expect shorter games, especially if the RPG is based on a licensed RP. The source material is often “episodic” and the going-in assumptions often so not support long-term adventuring but rather the “adventure of the week.”

Now, before you all accuse me of doom-n-gloom, let me say that I am excited at what I see on the Net and Twitter and the like. There are many home-brew campaigns that are the foundation for long-term campaigning. Home-brew, like I have been doing for nearly 40 years.

 

#RPGaDay 2017 – What was your most impactful #RPG session?

#RPGaDay August 7, 2017

Although I have been playing RPGs for nearly 40 years, the most impactful session happened not too long ago. It was the day I introduced the RockyMountainNavy boys to RPGs.

I had the new FATE Accelerated rules in hand and it looked to be easy and fun – a great lite RPG and a gateway game. I found a small western RPG scenario online (basically the PCs ride into town and things start happening). The big bad was a Hutt; his minions droids.

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The Wild Bunch by Steve Jung

I GM’d the game in a very loose fashion. After all, it was also my first really serious run of FATE Accelerated.

It was a blast!

Now my boys are heavy into Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the EmpireRPG. I am happy that they still like the “edgier” adventures since it fits with my history of Traveller RPGand Firefly.

#RPGThursday – Heavy Hover Tank Design for #CepheusEngine RPG

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By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40927431

I absolutely love David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers series of military science fiction stories. I was so excited when Mongoose Publishing rolled out a Hammer’s Slammers supplement for Mongoose Traveller First Edition (MgT1E). Unfortunately, Mongoose did a very amateur job, demonstrating they really don’t understand the military and leaving us consumers with a poor product. Mongoose claimed that all the vehicles were created with the Traveller Vehicle Creation System and were supposed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller books. NOT SO!

The Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System is Cepheus Engine RPG successor to The Vehicle Handbook for MgT1E. I have had the CEVDS for a while now and decided to try to recreate something close to a Slammer’s hover tank.

TL-12 Heavy Plasma Hover Tank

Using a closed 5-ton chassis (3 Hull, 3 Structure), Armor 25, the Heavy Plasma Hover Tank is a main battle tank. It has the Hostile Environmental Protections System. It carries a Fusion power plant, Code K, and a hover propulsion system, Code K, giving it a top speed of 150kph, a cruising speed of 112 kph, and an Agility DM of +1. Three kiloliters of hydrogen support the power plant for 1 week of use. This vehicle is equipped with the Advanced Vehicle Control System, Class II Laser Comms (LOS or 50 km), Basic Military Sensors (-2), and a Model 2 computer. There is a Basic Cockpit for the Driver and a Standard Seat for the Gunner/Tank Commander. The vehicle has one weapon points. A large, heavy turret carries a TL-12 Rapid Fire Plasma Gun. Cargo capacity is 7 spaces. The chassis is armored with Superdense (x5). It also mounts an Explosive Belt. The vehicle costs 690.12 KCr and takes 1,125 hours or 47 days to build.

Category

Component

Spaces

Price (Cr)

Notes

Chassis Base

60

7800

Code 9
Configuration Closed
Armor

-15

7800

Superdense (Armor x5)
Reinforced Hull

11200

Hull +2
Reinforced Structure Structure +2
Power Plant Fusion

-3

4500

Code K
Propulsion Air Cushion

-4.5

112500

Code K
Fuel Hydrogen

-3

120

Fuel Capacity = 1 Week
Controls Advanced

-2

10000

Agility +1
Communications Class II Laser

-0.04

3000

Laser LOS/Very Distant (50 km)
Sensors Basic Military

-12

20000

Comms DM 0, Very Distant (50 km)
Computer Model 2

1000

Options

500

Hardened
Accommodations Basic Cockpit

-2

1000

Driver
Standard Seat

-2

1000

Gunner/Commander
Armaments Turret (Large Heavy)

-3

93000

Rapid Pulse Plasma Cannon – TL-12

-3

90000

ROF 1/6, 12d6 Dmg
Explosive Belt

15000

Cargo

-7.1

TOTALS

0

690120

Total time to create this design was about 30 minutes. This is still a lot more time that a GM wants to take to create a vehicle at the table, but fine for a prep session. The design is not a Slammer’s blower tank – it doesn’t have a powergun nor the armor to match. But it was a good exercise of the CEVDS and an encouraging start to designing vehicles for Cepheus Engine RPG adventuring.