Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Year in Review - 2016

Let's Review

So what happened in 2016? Here are a few highlights:

I began the year with my Aetheria campaign - large scale air combat in a 1930s style imagi-nation.
Destruction of Lucranian defenses at Mount Branson
But I struggled with getting the rules to feel right. As a result, the campaign stalled. I then began toying with ideas for skirmish gaming. I experimented with the rules using a virtual board. The rules work well and I went on a big skirmish kick. The highlight was a series of scenarios with my sci-fi secret agent duo, Kate and Kip.
Kate and Kip (coming from the left) take on smugglers
 I moved their adventures to my Tales of the Templars blog, setting a record for most posts on there in a year.

I also experimented with virtual boards for standard wargames. Useful in a pinch but not as satisfying as miniatures.
A horse & musket battle in Francesia
 In May, I discovered Ganesha's excellent new dungeon crawl game - Four Against Darkness. I went on a 4AD kick for a few months.
4AD's cover
 Alas, 4AD does not need miniatures. As a result, I don't really have any pictures.

By the way, I dug up an old reenacting photo. This is from Gettysburg in '98. I'm the middle rear soldier.
Union soldiers at Gettysburg
 Late in the year, I returned to miniatures, thanks to Magister Militum's awesome 3mm range. Here is a battle in my fantasy campaign.
Sir Dennis defends Anarendor from the minions of evil
 I then picked up some of Germy's 2mm sci-fi miniatures.
Defending Zirconia from the robot invaders
My father broke his hip just before Thanksgiving, which has limited my gaming since then. He's home now, but the holidays have intruded. However, I am making plans for the Six by Six Challenge.

Prognostications Review
I was a bit reticent in making predictions for 2016 but I did lay out a few guesses. How well did I do?

  • Family Game Night - We play nearly every weekend. Elizabeth has become a real board game aficionado. Lately, she's been watching Dice Tower and even told me that she prefers board to video games!
  • 3mm - I definitely love small scales and started two projects late in the year. For larger actions (as opposed to skirmish), I'm definitely a 3mm guy.
  • GADD - I never know what period I'll get into and it showed. In January, I never expected that I would have done so many skirmish games.
  • One Hour Wargames - The versatility of its scenarios is breathtaking. For example, this space battle is scenario # 30.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Twelve Games of Christmas - 2016

We've started something of a holiday tradition around our home that we call the Twelve Games of Christmas. Over my vacation, my wife and I try to play 12 games. We first did it in 2014 and repeated it last year.

Last Tuesday (the 20th), our cat Thomasina (who loves watching us play games) kept trying to lead us into the living room. We could tell that she wanted us to play a game. I checked and we did start prior to Christmas last year. So the next day we decided to start our 2016 edition of the Twelve Games.

Here is what we've been playing so far:

Wed 12/20 - Castle Panic
Castle Panic is a light, cooperative family game where the players defend a castle from hordes of monsters. Although there's not a ton of strategic thought needed, it is easy to set up and quick to play. As a result, we'll frequently pull this out when we don't want to be taxed by something more complicated. We decided to start our season with it. Although we stumbled early, we recovered and won a fairly easy victory (at least compared to a recent play)

Thu 12/21 - Elder Sign
I haven't written about it in a while, but we will still occasionally pull out Elder Sign (which I described in this post). It is a bit fiddly to set up (there are a lot of card decks) so we don't play it much anymore. However, it is playable solo and my wife was not feeling up for a game. Yet Thomasina demands a game so I needed to play something.

Elder Sign is like Yahtzee, but with monsters. To defeat the elder gods and their hordes, you need to roll the special dice and get combinations specified on the location cards. Repeated failures will ultimately unleash an elder god. Rolling well goes a long way to winning the game. Unfortunately, I was rolling . . .

Anyway, the elder god, Ithaqua, appeared. To defeat it and banish it to its home plane, I had to roll a combination consisting of 3 investigations (magnifying glass), a skull, and doom (tentacles); and I had to do it 11 times before my last life. Well, I was down to my last life. I rolled the combo ten times, nearly shutting the portal. I only needed to do it one more time, but I only had 3 dice left. I rolled, and got this:
My roll - 3 investigation, a skull, and (sigh) 1 investigation
Ithaqua snatched and devoured my character, and then proceeded to destroy the world. What a cheery Christmas game!

Fri 12/22 - Once Upon a Time
Once Upon a Time (here's a detailed description) is another game we haven't played in a while. I forgot how quick and easy it is (although it will challenge your creativity). I won the first 2 games. In both stories, I managed to get the hero to marry a beautiful princess to win the game. I thought I was going to take the final game, too. I had control of the story and was weaving a tale that would use up my cards and lead to my ending. Then I used the word "cauldron." My wife had that card so she stole control and kept it to the bitter end. Well played, dear.

Sat 12/24 - No game
Visiting family

Sun 12/25 - Labyrinth
My wife is a huge fan of the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth. So much so that she was in tears when we saw it in the theaters earlier this year for a 30th anniversary showing. When I saw this game in the game store, I had to get it for her for Christmas

We tried it out. It's not complicated; essentially you roll to move, draw a card for a challenge, and then roll to beat it. Failure can land you in the Oubliette. The game is timed - you only have 13 hours (turns) to get to the castle and rescue Toby. Unfortunately, we could not get past the Humongous so Toby was turned into a goblin.

A lot of the game is random so there is not a lot of strategy. Still. we would play it again but it seems very difficult to beat it in the time allotted. We did not even find the goblin city until turn 10 and then the guards in the city are very difficult to beat. We'll have to give it another go at some point. (by the way, the components are beautiful)

Mon 12/26 - Holiday Fluxx
This night we pulled out another Christmas gift, which is yet another version of the card game Fluxx.

In the first game, I (quite unintentionally) gathered a feast-themed hand of Keepers.

Meanwhile, with candles and bubbly, my wife declared that her theme was "Get Lit."

We played 3 hands. She won 2-1.

Tue 12/27 - Batman Fluxx
For Christmas, my wife gave my brother-in-law Batman Fluxx. I'm guessing that she likes Fluxx; perhaps I should include it as part of the Six by Six Challenge.

At this point, I'm halfway through my vacation, and we've completed 6 games (including this night's). Looks like we're on pace for a dozen. I'll post the other half at a later date.

Virtual Four Against Darkness

While I still like the idea of using cards for 4AD encounters, I realize that it will be a lot of work before I realize that dream. So, in the interim, I put together a virtual version in Excel.

On the left of the screen is the dungeon "map" using the grid method I experimented with a few days ago. I can number the squares as I enter them, add notes, and display doors using shapes. The paladin figure shows where the party is located.

To the right is a random encounter. I'm creating a table with all the 4AD encounters. I have another table where I can indicate which encounters might occur for the adventure. This allows me to tailor a particular adventure. These tables are behind the scenes. When I refresh the game screen, a new encounter will pop up. To replicate the experience of drawing cards, I numbered the encounters (e.g. minion 1). If a particular encounter occurs again, I will ignore it and "re-roll."

I'm In! Part 2

Yesterday, I accepted the Six by Six challenge and discussed 3 miniatures games that I will play next year. I still have 3 more games. What are they?

Four Against Darkness
There are times when I just don't feel like dragging out the miniatures. In those times, 4AD is a great choice. It is a simple and quick dungeon crawl

I may not play it straight. Instead, I will probably continue experimenting with my card-based variant.

DC Rivals: Batman vs. Joker
After seeing the Killing Joke, my wife has become a huge Batman fan (actually, it's more correct to say that she's a Joker fan). Last month, while visiting the FLGS, she noticed this game, and had to have it.

DC Rivals is a 2-player deck-building card game. One player plays Batman and the other plays the Joker. Each player starts with a hand of weak cards, and then through game play can buy more powerful cards. Cards represent other heroes or villains, equipment, super powers, etc. Each card has a victory point amount. To win, garner the most VPs, or confront your opponent and defeat him in battle.

The game is incredibly easy to set up. It is supposed to be quick (30-40 minutes) but we usually go for over an hour. Still, we both enjoy the game.

I haven't made a decision yet for game 6. I have a couple of candidates but I'm going to keep this slot in reserve for now.

So there we have it. Now can I actually make it through the challenge? We shall see next year.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Am I in?

Last week, I discussed a challenge issued by Kaptain Kobold. I've been debating doing it but am worried that it will become like work. Ironically, there appeared a thread on TMP about hobby slumps. I responded:
I agree with the OP's blog post about making this hobby into too much work. I try to avoid it by taking a KISS approach and focusing on what I find enjoyable. If I'm not having fun, I don't do it.
Yet the idea of the challenge has me very excited; it sounds fun. Therefore I decided that I'm going to try it. With my attention span, I may not finish it but I'll give it my best shot.

Anyway, what games will I play? I am going to do 3 miniature games. Here they are:

In September, I started a fantasy campaign using my WISER* rules and my Magister Militum 3mm figures.
A horde of orcs (left) advance on the human defenders
I'll extend that campaign to get in 6 battles.

Zirconia and Beyond
Before I finished my fantasy campaign, I got distracted and started a sci-fi campaign on the planet Zirconia, using my 2mm sci-fi minis. I am using my WISER* sci-fi ground rules.
Federation forces - tanks, infantry, and missile launchers
As with Anarendor, I'll extend this campaign to get the requisite 6 battles.

After reading that they included a solo gaming mechanism, I picked up the new Osprey rule book The Men Who Would Be Kings. The scenarios and solo mechanisms seem very useful, so I've been tempted to do a colonial campaign. This reminded me of a campaign I set up years ago.

In this campaign, the British set out on a punitive expedition against the Rajah of Lumbago (box 7). There are three different routes they can take, each with hostile natives barring the way. 

I drew up the map but never managed to acquire forces for the campaign. Now here's my chance to actually use the campaign. I can use my 3mm Redgravian army as the British.
Some of my Redgravian forces
What about native forces? I have been toying with creating forces for battles in the desert reaches south of Anarendor (including a Prester John inspired army, like Kaptain Kobold's). They could do double duty as Lumbagan warriors. In the interim, I'll probably use my fantasy armies.

And rules? Again, I'll use WISER* (horse & musket this time) with modifications for native troops.

More to Come!
That's 3 of the 6 games; what about the other 3? I'll save them for another post tomorrow.

* WISER (Warwell's Incredibly Short and Easy Rules) is my name for my home-brew rules sets. They use similar mechanics across eras, although I modify each set to better reflect the period. Thus, I count each as a separate game. I've described the rules in some of my battle reports, but I'll create a separate overview post.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."

Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

May all have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Pocket Dungeon Crawl

Last Sunday I posted some thoughts about creating a "pocket" dungeon crawl, substituting cards for the Four Against Darkness tables. This morning I whipped up some components and ran through a short dungeon.

Here is the complete set-up.

To the left is the dungeon, composed of 12 encounter cards. I actually made 20 cards (of 2" squares of cardstock) with various monsters / encounters. There was one boss (a mummy), several vermin and minions (beetles, rats, evil priests, hyena-men, and skeletons), a weird monster (chimera), a few special events and features (a wandering hermit, a lady in white, a blessed temple, and a cursed altar), and some empty rooms (which the heroes could search). I randomly selected 11 cards and laid them out in a grid. I added the boss to the last row, mixing it up so I did not know which card it was.

The heroes traveled from one card to the next. In order to create a more winding path, I added a roll to move from one row to the next. A 4-6 indicated that a door led forward, otherwise the heroes had to move left or right. The little sticks between the cards indicate that there is no door. I used a meeple to indicate the heroes' position in the dungeon.
The dungeon with all encounters revealed
It actually took 10 encounters to find the boss (during the dungeon, the heroes had a quest to kill all the monsters so I went back to a couple of rooms that I first missed). I found the size of the dungeon to be ideal.

I also created character cards.
Character cards using tokens to mark wounds
You'll notice that I only had two characters. Through my experiences with my solo RPGs and skirmish games, I found that I prefer a 2-person party. It makes record-keeping a little simpler. However, it also creates a tougher challenge for the party. I compensated by starting them at level 2. Rowan the paladin (warrior) also started with heavy armor. I created a new class for Jacor - a priest, which is kind of a combination of cleric and wizard. He also started out as level 2, with a full complement of cleric and wizard spells. He may have been a bit too powerful, but he managed to use all his spells during the adventure.

I played out encounters on a separate battle board. I don't have minis for all the different monsters so I used meeples. In this encounter, the heroes are fighting skeletons.

Every turn, each figure (both heroes and enemies) could move D3 squares. Because I randomly determined the starting square for each enemy, they would come at the heroes piecemeal. It added some tactical thought to the game.
A tactical mistake! I left my priest in danger!
 Eventually, I decreased the size of the battle board to a 6 x 6 square grid.

After Action Analysis
So what do I think about this experiment?

What did I like?

  • It streamlined game-play considerably because I did not have to shuffle through a bunch of tables. Each encounter card included all the info needed.
  • Playing out the encounters on the battle board added tactical thinking to the game. The heroes could use careful maneuvering to reduce attacks on themselves but could in turn reduce the number of enemies they could kill on one turn. More decisions made for a better game.
  • The Four Against Darkness combat rules still worked well on the battle board. I was considering different combat rules but 4AD is fine.
There's only one from my perspective.
  • While actual play is streamlined, there will be far more preparations needed. It was a pain making all those cards (albeit I did them by hand). Once the cards are done, however, they can be re-used ad infinitum.
Cons for Some People (but Not Me)
I did not find these to be issues but others might.
  • There is no mapping with all the delightful, odd-shaped rooms that you find in 4AD. To me, however, the size and shape of the room is not important. What's key is the story that unfolds, and that comes from the encounters. One positive of mapping is that it creates decisions (e.g. do I go right or left?). I tried to replicate this by using a grid rather than a straight line of encounters. For me, the 4 x 3 grid worked.
  • No treasure! I didn't bother with cards or dice rolls for treasure. As I discussed before, I don't really enjoy treasure hunting. I'm considering of adding a treasure table to be rolled on after completing the dungeon. It will indicate if any special items are found.
Overall, I consider this experiment to be a success!

Now to start work adding to / upgrading the components.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Challenge!

Over at The Stronghold Rebuilt, Kaptain Kobold has put forth a challenge for 2017 to play more games. Here is a copy of that challenge:
The Six by Six Challenge 2017
(i) Select a list of Six games. These can be miniature, card, board or role-playing games. You may change entries on the list during the year, but game-plays for games you drop should no longer count towards the challenge.
(ii) To start the challenge, post the link to your blog. 
(iii) You commit to play each of  your six chosen games at least six times during the course of 2017. 
(iv) When you play a game in your challenge list, record the play in your blog. This record can range from a one line acknowledgment to a full blow-by-blow report. 
(v) If you've done it right, at the end of the year you should have at least thirty-six game sessions recorded. 
If you do decide to take part (and there's no reason you can't dive in at any point during the year), then drop me a note in the comments, with a link to your blog, and I'll set up a post listing everyone so we can all follow your progress. 
Let's get out there and Play!
I haven't decided if I'm going to do it yet. That would equal 36 games, which is a lot for me. I'm not sure if I can do it. Still, I'm thinking of giving it a try. I'll ponder it over the next week, although I am already thinking of which games to play. I have a tentative list.
  • I would have to play some miniature games using my rules. Per Morschauser, there are only 3 periods (shock, musket, and modern). Those could be 3 of the 6. I'm not sure, however, that I would be able to do 6 games for all 3 periods.
  • I'm also thinking of a couple quicker games to fill in the gaps. Four Against Darkness and my sci-fi skirmish rules are 2 possibilities.
  • My wife and I also play board games regularly. I could include some of our favorites. Perhaps Ticket to Ride or Takenoko. Recently, we bought DC Rivals: Batman vs. Joker and my wife really enjoys it. That could be another.
Anyway, I still need to think about doing it.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Pocket Gaming

A Quick Update
Since my last post, I haven't had much time for gaming. There's been a lot going on:
  • My father has been in rehab recovering from his hip surgery and I have been visiting him in my spare time.
  • My wife took a medical coding certification exam. The exam site was in Daytona Beach (about 3 hours away) so we made a weekend out of it, and stayed at a hotel on the beach. Too bad the temperature dropped into the 50s (mid-teens in Celsius). To a South Floridian, that's practically arctic!
  • I also have been making preparations for my Amtgard group's monthly battle game. It involved a couple of craft project (making award certificates and spell balls). Here is a little background for our scenarios.
Thoughts on Pocket Gaming
Yesterday morning I finally had enough free time for a game, but I was just not motivated to set something up.

Instead, I got to thinking about the ideal game for my lazy moments. I would like miniatures but I want minimal set-up. I'd also prefer a small board - something that would fit on the footstool in the family room (perhaps 1 ft square). I also want all the components to fit into a small box. That way, I could pull it out and set it up quickly. I've been thinking of this as "pocket gaming" although in reality it's a bit bigger than a pocket. 

Anyway, I mulled over some ideas. Here are some of them:

What should the game's theme be? A dungeon crawl seemed like the obvious answer.

What about Four Against Darkness then? It already provides a quick-playing game that requires minimal components. Why not just play that? I toyed with the idea but 2 things put me off:
    1. 4AD doesn't use miniatures. I want minis!
    2. I didn't feel like shuffling through all the tables.
4AD does provide a good game engine so I started thinking of ways to modify it to mitigate the 2 issues. 

Adding miniatures is easy (I've done it before). I'm thinking of using a battle board and playing out the combats there, much like what I've done with the skirmishes I've run this year (such as this virtual dungeon crawl). I want to keep the 4AD combat mechanics but add movement rules for a gridded board. I have some Perfect Six miniatures and may experiment with them, although I'm thinking of going up to 10mm or 15mm.

My next issue with 4AD was all the tables. How could I minimize them? First, I decided to dispense with the dungeon map. I know that it is one of the unique features of 4AD but I realized that, other than adding a feeling of controlling one's destiny by choosing one's path, the map did not really add to the narrative. If I dump the map, I won't have to consult the room tables.

How about encounters? Instead of tables, perhaps I can use cards, I'm normally not a big fan of cards, but in this case, I think it can streamline the game. Instead of rolling dice and consulting tables, I can just pick a card. Here is an example of a card I created (using Excel):

Another advantage of cards is that they can easily be tailored to a specific dungeon. Just create a deck using only applicable cards. Of course, this requires more initial set-up. Fortunately, it can be done piecemeal. For example, I am creating a deck for an Egyptian-style temple, with the mummy as a boss. I created some new creatures - scarab beetles, hyena men, and a giant cobra - and created cards for those. I also have cards for a special features and event. I just need to print up my deck and play. Over time, I'll add cards for other creatures, features, and event. Ultimately, I'll have all the encounters I'll ever need.

As a result of all this thinking and experimenting, I ended up not having any time to play a game yesterday. Battles in Anarendor still await. I'm on vacation all next week so I hope I can play then.