Monday, 28 December 2009

Risk - Balance of Power



A quiet night in beckoned last night so I set up the newly-purchased Risk - Balance of Power and had a looksee how the rules work trying it out solo a couple of times.

Firstly, it's a Risk variant exclusively for two players. Playing Risk with two players has never really worked that well (Player #1 always gets a massive advantage) so BoP is intended as a solution to that problem. Part of it's solution is to offer a very strong neutral player. Like the neutral powers in Diplomacy, the neutral player here (beige coloured) sits upon his own countries and simply defends. This presumably stops the first player from gobbling up lots of easy targets on his first move and setting himself up with an unassailable lead from right the off.

Components-wise you get a four-fold mounted board of Europe, from the Pyrennes to just short of the Balkans. Armies are now moulded as arrow-heads with small ones for single armies and larger ones for triple-strength armies. I like these, even if they reminded me straight away of the Dad's Army title sequence, although the neutral armies lack any triples which is awkward as the first map of the Basic Training game requires a set-up of 8 armies in each of Denmark and Switzerland - obviously not the largest areas in Europe.

A lot of Risk players don't like the modern "Arrowhead" army pieces but I have to admit to liking like quite a lot, especially if players arrange them so that they are pointing in the direction of attack and muscling up against enemy counter-attacking Arrowheads.

BoP is split into two games - Basic Training and Command Room, these differ in that Command Room has a semi-random set up and "dead" armies (your own) can be cashed in for bonuses, Basic Training lacks the bonuses and uses one of four pre-defined "maps".

Differences from normal Risk are as follows (cavaet - I don't own the most recent version of Risk and some of these differences might actually be included in that set).

1 - Each player has a Capitol, possession of a Capitol (anyone's) grants an extra army in the reinforcement phase.

2 - City pieces are placed on the map, these make their countries essentially count double when calculating areas held for reinforcement purposes.

3 - Cards are marked with 1, 2 or 3 stars. Any number of cards with a total of at least two stars can be handed in for extra armies, waiting for a large number of stars is more efficient that handing them in straight away but obviously risks delaying just too long.

4 - The map has "Rough Terrain" areas for mountainous or swampy countries. You can only attack a Rough Terrain country with a maximum of two armies, not the usual three. This reminds me very much of the similar rule in Apocalypse/Warlord.

5 - Victory can be achieved by defeating the other player or taking three objectives. Eight objectives are placed out at the start of play and if during a turn you have completed the requirements you may take one. These will be for tasks like conquering a certain "continent" (obviously, not a continent when the map shows just part of Europe, instead recreated as areas of neighbouring countries), taking six areas of Rough Terrain, taking both the satellite bases in Norway and West Ukraine etc. Once taken an objective cannot be lost even if you lose the countries that allowed you to take it in the first place. First player to three objectives is the winner. Note the limit of taking one per turn even if you fulfil multiple objective requirements - this prevents a single turn victory where a player might end up with three completed requirements at the end of one turn.

Basic Training plays with those rules and one of four set-ups in which the objectives and starting positions are already defined. In these games the neutral armies sit on the objectives and have to be dislodged.

Command Room adds a bit of complexity to the system.

Firstly, the eight objectives are drawn at random and nine countries are also drawn at random each of which holds a neutral city. This done, one player gets to set up the entire board, blue, red and neutral armies. The other player then gets to pick which side he wants and who will go first.

My early thoughts are that this is really tricky. The player has to cope with a random set of objectives, a random set up of neutral cities and create a set up that appears balanced (so that he hasn't created an obvious advantage for the other player to take), doesn't allow a player to start by claiming an objective (while remembering that the objectives are probably different to last game) and allows for a good game. I like the "never the same game twice" facet but I really wish there were some included Command Room set-ups for optional use. I fear that a couple of poor set-ups in a groups first couple of games could kill off all attraction to the game.

One player sets up, other picks table-edge is quite normal in tabletop wargaming but then all the set up player has to do is design a balanced table whereby neither edge offers too much of an advantage but that works because it's more practical for the hosting player to set up the table beforehand and is a much easier task. This Command Room setup rule is, I think, possibly the Achille's Heel of Risk - BoP.

The other rule change is that dead armies can be cashed in for various bonuses and this is what helps balance the game and avoid the first turn advantage that scuppers most attempts to play Risk with two players.

Neutral armies destroyed in your opponents turn can be partially or completely (dependent upon dice roll) returned to neutral countries. This means that you can bolster neutral countries that look threatened by your opponent in his sphere of influence.

At the start of your turn you can spend some of your dead armies to give various bonuses on this turn. The cheapest (2 dead armies) is a simple Recon Mission so that when attacking a Site (City, Satellite Base, the naval base in Denmark or the pile of Nazi gold in Switzerland) you can re-roll a 1. The most expensive is the mighty Airfield at a cost of 10 dead armies that adds +1 to your highest die in combat in that country and all adjacent ones. So there's a degree of rubber-banding here and a excellent turn for you that routs lots of your opponents armies will be tempered by giving him the opportunity to get those bonuses, which also include things like insurrections, extra armies and the special forces ability which allows for attacking into rough terrain with three armies.

So thumbs up for the intelligent approach towards providing a worthwhile approach at a two-player Risk, for the idea behind the random setup and that the fact that both games are "proper" versions (unlike the usual approach whereby the beginner game is horribly Mickey Mouse and only the advanced one is the "real" game), thumbs down for the lack of triple Neutral army pieces and the difficulty of setting up a good map for Command Room.

I have no idea of what epoch of warfare the game is supposed to represent. Traditionally, "vanilla" Risk was set in the Napoleonic Wars but the box for BoP shows massed pikes with banners and the game includes satellite uplink stations and airfields. Anybody's guess really.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Christmas Money Was Spent Upon...



Not opened yet. I had to leave the Merry Hill shopping centre shortly after buying this before I bludgeoned somebody to death with the box - the witless and aimlessly meandering were out of doors sleepwalking through the Christmas sales.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Abusing the Master of Mankind's Internets

Bloody hell! I only popped out for a pint of milk and six weeks have elapsed! Typical issues with travel through The Warp I guess - the ship's psychic navigator is currently helping Inquisitor Mugabe with his investigations...

Anyway, whilst lost in The Immaterium I noticed this in the hardback edition of Warhammer 40,000 5th edition. (click to zoom and make the text legible).



Check out the seventh line - nice to see that the Workshop hasn't entirely lost the sense of in-jokey humour it had in the 1980s.

Elsewhere in the rulebook I notice a reprise of the old anti-Brum/Black Country joke from Rogue Trader and an "Inky Black Void" reference to the Talisman The Adventure expansion. Bless them.

Monday, 16 November 2009

The Mines of Malagus


With all (virtual) copies of PROTEUS now in my possession I've started playing #2 The Mines of Malagus and doing it properly - all dice rolling religiously accepted and no cheating. It's a lot harder than it looks. So far I'm down 5 Adventurers although one of those I abandoned to his fate when I realised my mapping had gone wrong somewhere. Admittedly three of those adventurers were cursed from birth with rolling a 1 for their SKILL modifier. RIP Treson, Lucida, Estima and Sir Ruf - Treson the Younger I hope you find your way out someday. Sorry mate.

Malagus was the first issue I had and back in the day I just got lost and never got anywhere with it to my great frustration. It's actually quite a cleverly-structured adventure and does something novel with the "numbered paragraph" format.

The scenario itself is a simple "locate three geegaws in the maze" with a bit of plot armour meaning that you must get three in one expedition (otherwise the geegaws, pieces of some talismanic gravestone that has to be recovered for some vague reason, teleport back to their hiding places). So far nothing too special.

However, Malagus has an extremely clever design to allow you to not only wander around freely in some areas retracing your steps but also to allow you to not realise you are doing this with obvious and sneaky effects upon your mapping.

Here's what it does. If you stand at a N-S-W junction at paragraph 25 (with the W passage being described to you as "on your left" as you travelled north) you could go north to 180. You'd assume that travelling south from 180 takes you back to 25. But it doesn't. Going south will take you to another paragraph entirely (let's say 77) that describes the same place but from a different angle of approach - so that now, the gamebook describes a T-junction with a branch going off to your right. North from 77 will go to 180 again (because it's the same direction of approach) but South could go to 103 which is not the paragraph you entered 25 from if you came northwards from the south.

Clever stuff. It gives you the freedom to wander around some places and invites you to get lost because you don't neccesarily immediately make the mental connection to realise you have been here before.

Once I started mapping the place out and trying to discover the correct route I started to appreciate the cleverness of the design. Some areas of the dungeon are "timeless" - meaning nothing the adventurer can do will change anything and these areas are the confusing and sneaky maze puzzle. Other areas can change and then do the usual pushing forwards of the player so that they can't return. The west area of the Mines (the area I have started mapping out) introduces the player to the maze area with an immediate monster fight. Since the player will win the fight or end the game, the gamebook is safe to have a later paragraph describing the discovery of the bodies - since if the player returns here the monsters must be dead. Monsters dead or GAME OVER PLAYER ONE - there are no alternate outcomes here. In fact as I type this I realise that this rediscovering of the bodies is intended as a big hint at the free roaming nature of the place and the potential to get lost. An option to retreat to a place before the fight isn't given so continuity is preserved. At the exit of this free roaming section is another fight to the player is funneled off into a new section. This is another maze and on the way in, the player steps over a tripwire trap without setting it off. Suffice to say any attempt to return causes the player to stumble into this trap with lethal consequences.

The design has really impressed me. If the scenario wasn't so hackneyed this would be a real classic.

Anyway, next up, Sacrifical Pawn-cum-Adventurer number 6. He/she might have to be drowned in a bucket at birth if that SKILL die comes up 1 again.



Friday, 13 November 2009

Last of the PROTEUS Charsheets

The final three character sheets from PROTEUS, all ready for use as decorative borders to whichever charsheets you are using in whichever game you are playing. I haven't done every issue from PROTEUS as some are repeated, the sheet in #1 was as dull as ditchwater and the later ones have very small boxes for stats and are therefore not very useful for mashup purposes.



From #10 - Triad of Evil.



From #11 - Challenge of the Promethean Guild. Mr. Harrod clearly making a pitch for the GW gig here with his Warhammer-inspired Chaos Warrior.



And finally #12 - The Weaver of Nightmares

Sadly, GIMP doesn't seem to do "free" rotation, only allowing you to rotate to intervals of 90 degrees, otherwise I'd be putting the FF sheet straight in the middle of the last two. I'll have to find some other tool with which to do this.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

More PROTEUS Charsheets

Four more of Gary Harrod's stunning "Quest Sheets" from PROTEUS magazine, all ready for importing into your favourite art package (being a hippy freeloader I like the free and open source GIMP which comes preinstalled in Ubuntu but is available for Windows as well) and ramming your favourite character sheet layout into the middle.



This one is from #3 - Shindberg's Tomb. I have no idea what Geo-Secular Powers are but they sound important. Anyway here's a version of this with the good old Jackson/Livingstone Adventure Sheet in the middle which I will print off and laminate and have a re-usable sheet for most FF books and/or FF RPG games if I ever run that again (as is tempting). I dropped the right-hand page which was just a scratchpad for monster statistics - not very relevant for an RPG sesh.



From #5 - Caverns of the Enchantress...



...and #6 - Treasues of the Cursed Pyramid. I have no idea why a sandworm from Dune is firing lasers from it's eyes at an Otyugh with what appears to be an inflamed glans but perhaps this would suit PCs adventuring in Supplement V : Carcosa.



Finally for now from #9 - Lord of Chaos. A cracking Gigeresque piece for sci-fi gaming.

Couple of PROTEUS OD&D Sheets

Just to show you what I meant about reusing the Gary Harrod charsheets from PROTEUS - here's two I made earlier (well, about 5 minutes earlier that is).

This one uses a sheet from Dragonsfoot, Jesse Walker's version of the Rules Cyclopedia sheet. Fits perfectly in the gap (well, bar two or three pixels or so).



This one takes a different tack and uses Victor Raymond's 3"x5" index card charsheet (an idea I first came across in Tunnels and Trolls) over on Sandbox of Doom. Three of them fit in nicely for running multiple PCs or hirelings.

Creature of Habit


Call me slow on the uptake but it's taken me 23 years of this being my favourite gamebook EVAR to realise that the odd and slightly clunky title is actually a bad pun. For some reason I had the book at the back of mind (probably as a result of thinking about FF a fair bit lately) and in a matter totally unrelated described myself to somebody at work as being something of a creature of habit. And suddenly it clicked...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Proteus Magazine


Dear Wimbourne Publishing.

We already agreed by email that I don't have any copies of PROTEUS magazine being offered for download and that the other website that does is nothing all to do with me. So stop DCMA requesting this blog OK?


Found a great website last night that has all the issues of PROTEUS for download in PDF format (as well as all issues of WARLOCK, but that's perhaps a matter for another post). PROTEUS was a magazine that came out riding unashamedly on the coat-tails of Messrs. Jackson and Livingstone and printed smaller gamebooks (200-250 paragraphs or so) in bi-monthly A4 magazine format through the usual magazine retail chain (newsagents, supermarkets etc.).

The whole magazine was a bit of what The Simpson's dubbed "Non-Union Mexican" but it was very cheap (launched at a mere 80p) and the A4 format showed off the full-page artwork a lot better than the paperbook size did in the "proper" books.

Rules-wise PROTEUS was a pretty blatant copy of the FF system, simply renaming SKILL to Dexterity and STAMINA to Strength. Early issues showed a bit of stat inflation with SKILL, sorry Dexterity, being d6+8 and STAMINA, sorry Strength, being d6+15. Later issues reverted to the more familar d6+6 and d6+12. I have to say I don't remember this differential in the old days, perhaps showed I didn't bother to read the rules properly and probably struggled with the fights accordingly.

Format-wise the magazine was essentially a few pages of adverts from the usual suspects wrapped around the adventure. It was always quite heavy on the artwork, and unlike the FF or Lone Wolf books, used a lot of artists within one issue. This tended to give a disjointed and inconsistent feel to the illustrations. It also did the FF/LW thing of incorporating a lot of page furniture artworks (a lot of which were re-used across issues) probably to enable the page count to be bulked up "on the cheap." The covers were unfortunately quite flimsy and so none of my copies survived whereas contempory-purchased White Dwarfs did.

One of the highlights of PROTEUS was it's use of Gary Harrod's artwork. Harrod later went on to get the GW gig doing a load of mono illos for the Realms of Chaos books and a quick Google suggests he worked on UK videogaming mag Mean Machines as well. I think this blog is from the same man.

Harrod did the character sheets for each issue after the first, and if you are used to the boring, functional sheets from the likes of Fighting Fantasy, and indeed - every RPG ever released, then these may be a shock - fantastic morbid borders and graphic design. I'm so impressed with them looking through all 19 issues that I've started extracting them from the PDFs, assembling as JPGs with an eye to uploading here. Then you can download, remove the PROTEUS stat blocks and import your own char sheet for whatever game you are playing. I really like these sheets, atmosphere would practically ooze out of them each time you looked down to check your Hit Points.

Here are the two I've done so far from #2 The Mines of Malagus and #6 The Fortress of Kruglach.





PROTEUS was a bit of a "me too" effort and I remember a fair few digs at it from WARLOCK magazine, probably coming straight from the mouth of a disgruntled Jackson and Livingstone. None of the adventures I played ever really stood out as classics. But I have fond memories of the mag - the A4 format and huge amount of art was something to savoured and it was cheap enough for me to buy as soon as I saw it - rather than the usual wait for Christmas and Birthday WHSmiths tokens followed by the wait until my Father was free on a Saturday to take me up to Wolverhampton to spend them that was the only way I got to spend my own money on "proper" paperbacks.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Buy It Now, 99p


On the right, the original bought when I was back in Middle School. On the left, a 99p Buy It Now from eBay. I now have a usable reading and lending copy.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK



"Many of these role-playing games, like Dungeons and Dragons, RuneQuest, Traveller and Warhammer, are quite complicated, and their manufacturers recommend them for twelve-year-olds and over."

For me, this was where it all started. Already a big fan of the Fighting Fantasy books I was excited beyond all measure when this turned up at my primary school's bookshop, promising to be a multi-player game like this mythical, mysterious Dungeons and Dragons that I kept hearing about from my Father, of all people, who had reported it being played at the Technical College at which he taught. I can clearly remember the day I bought it and reading it in the back of my Father's Austin Maxi while the family drove over to Kinver Edge for an sunset walk on a balmy September evening some 25 years or so ago. The imagination got fired (here was a game where I could write my own adventures and they could contain anything) and frankly I don't think I've ever been the same since.

Being somewhat settee-ridden the past couple of days (akin to being bed-ridden but slightly less serious) I dragged FF off the bookshelf and re-read it with an eye to a modern review. After all, it's the book that gave this blog it's title.

Fighting Fantasy (The Introductory Role-playing Game) was written by Steve Jackson in 1984 and published alongside the more regular FF gamebooks (Warlock, Citadel etc.). In it Jackson presents a version of the usual FF game system and a very good, concise account of how an RPG runs for an audience that probably have never heard of such a concept. He does this by cleverly re-running the start of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain but as if it were an RPG. This is an excellent section and it works - I'm proof of that - and if I wanted to tell somehow how an RPG works, I'd lend them this book - except that this copy is a bit fragile and of considerable sentimental value. Perhaps I'd get another via eBay first and lend that one.

Mechanics

Mechanics-wise the book pretty much copies everything that the early FF gamebooks did. Adventurers are represented by three attributes, the familiar SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK (nearly always capitalised).

SKILL is generated as d6+6. This is a general measurement of how competent an adventurer is - nearly every test is made against skill (2d6, score equal to or lower). It's essentially a generic measurement to describe swordsmanship, intelligence, strength and dexterity/reflexes.

STAMINA is generated as 2d6+12. It's hit points basically.

LUCK is generated as d6+6. This is mechanically interesting. Tests that would be blind luck are made against this with 2d6, but after every test, the Adventurer's LUCK is reduced by 1. This seems to represent some form of divine favour that slowly dribbles away as it is used. Literally, your LUCK can run out. Tunnels and Trolls likewise had a similar attribute (LK) but this didn't reduce from use. This is an interesting concept and not one I've seen used in other games.

Something that FF introduced me to has stayed with me in virtually every game I've ever run. Advocates of the Old School will be delighted to hear it's a fine example of ruling not rules. Any test where the Adventurer's manliness comes into play is a straight 2d6 versus SKILL. Anything that relies upon the Adventurer's luck is a Test Your Luck, another straight 2d6 but versus LUCK this time (with the obligatory burn of 1 point for testing). Everything else is a simple n-in-6 chance. Pick a number between 1 and 5 and throw a single d6. A 3-in-6 chance is a straight 50/50 with a positive result occuring on a 1,2 or 3. If you ran a game where the Adventurers never fought anybody (a game of political intrigue for example), a whole game could be run off this single "ruling not rules" mechanism.

There is absolutely no concept of character advancement, equipment lists or presumably re-using the same adventurer in a subsequent adventure. Chargen is performed before an adventure and Adventurer's are generic fighting men with pre-defined equipment - A sword, a lantern, a backpack, a number of provisions (each restoring 4 STAMINA) dependent upon the expected length of the scenario and a choice of one potion. If you are reusing a character from a previous adventure all you are really doing is reusing a name - the Adventurer gets rolled afresh and he carries no equipment or loot over from a previous session. This is implicit not explicit. The game seems designed around what we now call one-shots.

Adventurers have no access to magic, the effects of which seem to be entirely unavoidable. Some of the denizens in the scenarios have magic spells, if they cast them they happen. End of.

Combat in FF was very simple. 2d6 plus your SKILL, monster rolls 2d6 plus your SKILL. Lower score loses 2 STAMINA. Repeat until someone drops dead. There is a rule for Testing Your Luck to change a 2 to a 3, 4 or 1 but nobody ever did that because LUCK is too precious to squander upon making tiny changes to damage dealt or taken.

FF the RPG adjusts this slightly by adding ATTACKS. ATTACKS is basically the number of opponents that a Monster can attack in one round - leftover attacks are wasted. The Giant Octopus in the first scenario has 8 ATTACKS so can attack up to 8 Adventurers - he can't claim multiple attacks on a group of less than 8. Multiple ATTACKS creatures roll one attack roll and compare this to all their enemies. If three Adventurers fight two Orcs (1 ATTACK each) then one Adventurer will have the luxury of dealing damage to his target Orc if his ATTACK SCORE exceeds that of the Orc, and taking no damage at all if it doesn't.

Time

FF is played in realtime. If it takes 10 minutes to resolve an encounter, then 10 minutes in game have passed. The second scenario even offers the option of a teleport spell delayed by 2 hours to time the game to 2 hours and teleport Adventurers from the dungeon once the time has expired. The FF GM will therefore need a clock or stopwatch. I struggle to think offhand of another RPG that does this, and think for the game it is it's quite right and proper - look at who confusing OD&D's turns and rounds get with their need to record the passage of time for the expiration of spell effects and new Wandering Monsters roles.

Scenarios

FF comes with two dungeon-bashes, the 18 location scenario The Wishing Well and the larger, 39 location Shaggrad's Hives of Peril, possibly the strangest named scenario ever. Both are traditional late 70s arrangements of occupied rooms that exist totally in isolation of each other, with no rhyme, reason or logic. To be fair, and harking back to the opening quote, for Jackson's intended audience this was probably fine. Each encounter location has it's own full-page monochrome illo (in the same style of as the gamebooks) and each location text has a mini-map with the current room highlighted with an arrow to dispense with the need to keep turning back to consult the main map.

These scenarios differ from general practise in that the Adventurers are not expected to bring any other solutions or equipment in with them. As a result, The Wishing Well looks very similar to a Zork-clone text adventure game in that it's a closed system - everything needed to resolve a puzzle or obstacle can be found within. For Wishing Well the Adventurers will need to befriend the wizard Nandras who will offer them the Crystal Key to gain access to the Spider-King's quarters, but only if they defeat the Mummy for him which respawns twenty minutes after death (twenty real minutes remember) unless burnt - for which they will need the flaming torch from the trophy room of Marg the Slaymaster. Once in the quarters of the Spider-King, they will need the spell to open the Treasure Room, which can be found in the Spellbook in the chamber of respawning Zombies. It's very text adventure-like and should the same players go on to tackle Shaggrad's Hives of Peril (I hear you can get a cream for that...) they won't possess either the Crystal Key or the flaming torch.

Presumably you'd have to construct scenarios in this fashion. The party won't have a 10' pole with which to prematurely trigger a trap, so if that's needed, it will need to be left in the dungeon design somewhere.

In Play

As it happened, despite all the excitement and enthusiasm I never played FF when it was new. Before long, September turned to October and by November, encouraged by the firm grasp of this strange new gaming concept that I'd developed from re-readings of FF, I'd requested the good old Red Box for Christmas, and the baby steps of GM-ing were all undertaken with what I regarded as the "real" game. The FF scenarios got restatted to the "proper" thing. I ran Well but never did Hives.

And that was that until the early 1990s.

At that time I was gaming at a wargames club in Stourbridge and playing with a bunch of guys who went to a bunch of different schools and sixth form colleges. Pre-mobile phone and all the other communication tools, internal communication between this group wasn't very good and periodically the Friday session would be disrupted by no-shows and wargames where only one army had turned up or someone had been grounded or unhelpful parents were whisking their brat off to visit some Aunty somewhere and devil take the four or five other kids who'd expected him to be at the end of a bus ride in the rain and were sitting around wondering where he was.

That was there FF came into it's own. Since the rules could be committed to memory on first read-through and were essentially seared into everyone's mind from an early age it turned out to be no real hassle to quickly knock up an improvised dungeon bash and dive into that, playing without access to the book (not needed really) and feeding off player suggestions in the sort of fashion that much later got codified in the likes of Donjon.

Would I ever play this again? I'm not sure. Some of the simple decisions to allow the game to work with a pre-teen age group actually look quite modern these days and tightly focused (one-shot PCs, realtime clock, use of one attribute for a million things). Perhaps for this type of game I'd stick with the greater flexibility of OD&D but I'm loathe to rule out a return to the SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK and two wooden dice looted from the family Monopoly set.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Nurglemas

No sooner do I have a week off work to look forwards to a week of housework, painting figures, loafing and getting out and about then Grandfather Nurgle strikes me down with only the second bout of asthma I've had since childhood. Arse. Thanks for that. So Monday, my first day off for what seems like ages, is spent sitting bored on the settee wheezing away like a clapped-out Austin Metro. It also means that I haven't been able to get out and buy my copy of Chaos Marauders.

I did get a game of Wings of War in over the weekend though. A bunch of us were staying the weekend at a friend's house in Worcester and I'd taken Space Hulk down only to discover that I hadn't got the Missions Book with me. To keep the not-really-a-nephew-nephew quiet I set up a quick game of Wings of War with him.



Since he's only six years old I kept things simple by ignoring all the rules on "steep" moves, just letting him pick any three cards in any order. WoW has a card draw system for damage (which, by including lots of 0's, also works as a general firing mechanism - instead of determining if you hit and how much damage you do a single card draw shows whether you hit or not and how much you inflicted) this is normally kept secret by the recepient, but we played this "open". I fanned the Damage cards out and let the player firing the shots pick the correct number. This I feel is a little more tactile than the target player just drawing off the top. It feels less scripted somehow - which isn't a solid argument I accept but I just feel that picking a card scores over being dealt the top one even when mechanically the outcomes are identical since you can't influence the result you pick.

What struck me is that WoW is a bit drawn out with only two aircraft and firing opportunities aren't that common and a lot of 0s come out, in fact in six draws, Jake draw five zeroes and the other card was a 1 or something similar. Perhaps this game should be kept back for larger, multi-player games with more firing opportunities.

Elsewhere on the geeky front I picked up a Nintendo DS and, ahem, an R4 card for, ahem, back ups. I went and bought Broken Sword Director's Cut which was a rather nice nostalgia trip. As a huge fan of the 90's era point-and-clicks it's not clear why I hadn't bothered to get one before (with the genre getting something of a revival on the stylus-and-touchscreen format) but glad I did now. Especially with the television being out of commission and the clocks having changed I can see some adventuring going on on the little screen over the winter nights.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Zoggin' Zog Zog Zog!!

The Wayland's Forge mailshot turned up yesterday and while idly scanning through it to see what else I can't afford something leapt out and hit me LIKE THE FIST OF AN ANGRY GOD thusly...

BOARD & CARD GAMES
Chaos Marauders
FFGSL04 £19.99
Warhammer Boardgame. A vast Chaos army is marching north, when suddenly the sprawling mass of bored and surly Orcs grinds to a halt because of yet another petty feud. In Chaos Marauders, each player takes control of one of the Orc clans involved, ready to show all the other mangy little creeps who's boss of dis 'ere scabby battle mob. You'll stop at nothing to win. No amount of trickery will be low enough, no amount of thuggish brutality too vile. Who knows, you may even get the mysterious Chaos Marauders on your side. Only one tribe can come out on top - will it be yours? Chaos Marauders is a fast and frenzied game of Orcish mayhem for 2 to 4 players.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I mean to say !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!111

Jesus Christ on a tricycle, Space Hulk 2009 then Chaos Marauders 2009!

So I went off to BGG and it's true...




Chaos Fucking Marauders. I never owned a copy, but loved this with a passion. And now Fantasy Flight are re-releasing it and, just to keep in with the whole nostalgia trip, while it's been redrawn it is nothing more than modern copies of the original John Blanche illos. Spirit Games had an original copy of this for sale at Expo '09 just after I ran out of cash and discovered that, unlike last year, there was no temporary cashpoint at the show.

Now, I can almost forgive them for the abberation that is/will be WFRP 3. And for ruining my early retirement plan by slashing the value of my carefully hoarded copy of Fury of Dracula (with limited edition metal figures) by re-releasing it. Re-release Dungeonquest/Drak Borgen and we'll call it quits OK?

I haven't been this excited since Space Hulk about six weeks ago. Fuck me. I can see a frantic dash up Birmingham on Saturday morning to get hold of this in my sweaty mitts as soon as is humanly possible.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Space Hulk Mission #2



Saturday afternoon saw Stu and I sit down and have two stabs at Space Hulk's Mission II, "Exterminate". In this mission the Space Marines set up dispersed so that each Marine starts within a room and on his own. Genestealers enter at both ends of a board that is roughly L-shaped but unlike most missions they don't get infinite reinforcements. The 3-strong and 1-strong blips are used and once they are depleted, no further Genestealers arrive. Marines win by wiping out all Genestealers or by getting within 6 squares of all Genestealer entry points. That done means that no blips can enter the board at these points and if the Marines get all entrances blocked they will immediately win the game. While it sounds a big ask, we worked out post-game that only two squares at either end of the board need to be occupied for the Marines to achieve these victory conditions.

On both games, Marines basically ignored the last option and went for massing everyone around the centre in overlapping "Overwatch" fields-of-fire.

I won an easy victory with the Marines by killing all Genestealers but then for the second one we'd worked out, after some discussion over hot drinks, that Genestealers need to hole up out of sight of Marines and wait for others - then attacking the Marines in large numbers rather than attacking in penny packets as they arrive and being cut to ribbons. This was happening in the first three games we played.

Adopting the new "wait for numbers" approach I took out 4 Marines by outflanking Stu's central position. In the smaller early missions where the Marines get only 5 models, an early removal of a model can hamper them badly and so it proved here. However things were turned on their heads when the last survivor (Storm Bolter/Power Fist - the vanilla SH Terminator in other words) retreated to a handy dead-end corridor. I swarmed with the remaining 15 or 16 Genestealers but the odds are dramatically on his side now and his last man wiped out all xenos and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

While it seemed unlikely at the time, as turns went on the inevitability of this result became more apparent and was due to the Command Points rules. The Marine with 4 Action Points could (once static) fire twice (no risk of jam) and go to overwatch for a total of 4 AP. He then shoots at every Genestealer taking an action in his sight (up to 12 squares) after that Genestealer has taken his move. A double six on Overwatch fire means the gun is jammed but it only takes 1 AP to clear this. The Marines draw between 1 and 6 bound Command Points a turn and now Stu was reduced to one model that wasn't going to budge off his square he could easily keep a couple back to clear a couple of jams and use the rest for interrupt fire or as bonus firing in the Marine turn. With a draw of 6 Command Points, the Marine could effectively shoot 8 times, go on Overwatch and then shoot "for free" any movement in front of him. Nasty!

With unlimited Genestealer reinforcements, his defeat would be inevitable if potentially incredibly time-consuming to play out but with a limit on Genestealer numbers he was in with a really good shout and made it tell. I managed to get one Genestealer into the facing square but he was shot down before being able to melee.

The £1 electronic kitchen timer worked well but with only 5 Marines, and those being stationary a lot of the time, it never really affected the game. It was useful being able to pause the clock during the Marine turn when the wind blew a fence panel over in the garden and Fiona was the only one holding it up until we got outside. :)

Jamie turned up later on his way to a party, and looked at the game approvingly, he is going to try and sort out a weekend to come up and play a few games.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Throwing the 4E Players Handbook away


At a wargaming club with a large RPG group I literally could not give away my copy of the 4E Players handbook. I did try. None of the RPG group even knew of someone who was playing 4E and would find a good home for it. So I've decided to put in with the next lot of books I donate to the Charity shop and bookcross it for good measure - see where it turns up.

Last time I donated books to the charity shop I gave my copy of Dawkins' "The God Delusion" to Christian Aid. Tee Hee.

Formula Chav


Years of pedantically insisting that the name of this game was pronounced Formula Day (it has an acute accent - and is French for dice) have been blown out the water by the new version which has just decided to accept what all Anglophone gamers (except me) have been saying for years. So Formula Dee it is then. Actually I just took one look at the Need For Speed/Fast and Furious street racing nonsense on the back of the board and have renamed it Formula Chav.

In the pits at a Formula Chav event, yesterday.

You can download both the Basic and Advanced game from here. The Basic game looks nice, it's essentially a revised version of Formula Dé Mini (which uses a single pool of "wear" points rather than splitting it into tyres, gearbox, engine etc.) and it answers a question I've had for years - how many Wear Points to give for Mini races on full-size boards. It looks like the answer is 18 (Mini uses 20 for a 3 lap race) so I should be able to acquire some of the full size Dé/D tracks and race on those using Mini rules.

I'm loathe to purchase the full game because the Formula Chav side of things is just not attractive to me, quite the opposite in fact, but with the new rules available for free, I've got a renewed interest in Mini. I always wanted to love Mini but the dull boards (two tracks, both very similar and with only 1 stop corners) put me off.

Spotted on eBay this week - a big bag of Chinese knock-offs of Marklin Z-Gauge model railway cars. The bag (currently en route from Hong Kong) has a bunch of Porsche 996s in 1:220 scale which should paint up nicely and I believe will be a perfect size match for the Formula Dé cars. Carrera Cup/Supercup here we come!

Space Hulk Post-Game Thoughts


Space Hulk seemed to be a great game session despite doing lots of things wrong.

Firstly I misread the rulebook and Marines on Overwatch not only got given infinite range when shooting (it should be 12 squares on Overwatch, infinite when shooting normally) but we also made them fire first at any Genestealer action within sight - it should have been after that action. This rather biased things towards the Marines but this might have been offset by another rules SNAFU whereby the Genestealer "blips" were allowed to enter Marine L-O-S and continue moving. Done properly they shouldn't be allowed to enter L-O-S when still a blip and flipping blip (to convert to models) ends those Genestealers' move.

Further unbalancing towards the Marines was down to not using the egg-timer (gives a roughly three minute time limit for all Marine actions) to reflect the fact that we were looking up the rules during play but this turned out to be accidentally the only thing we could do - when we started using the timer just to see how long our untimed moves were taking it transpired that the egg-timer is faulty and keeps clogging up! Situation was resolved on Sunday with a small electronic kitchen timer from Poundland.

Marines won both games but I'm sure that with a timer ticking away the pressure will mount and the Genestealers will stand more of a chance.

Our only real concern is that the map for Scenario #1 just about fitted on a 4'x 3' dining table and some of the later maps look as though they won't fit on our 4'x4' combat patrol board.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Staffordshire Hoard/Space Hulk

Took the not-really-a-nephew-nephew to Birmingham on the train today to spend his pocket money at GW and Waylands Forge. He picked up a set of Chessex dice and a pair of MechWarrior single 'Mechs (this is a six year old that loves giant robots) and a box of plastic Space Marine Command and the current issue of White Dwarf from GW. I saw a T-Shirt that I absolutely had to have because it had the original Warhammer box illo on it. I had the following conversation with Stu;

Stu - "It's XL."
Me - "I always have XL for the length."
Stu (looks at shelf) - "They're all XL."
Me - "Well of course they're all XL. This is Games Workshop, they won't sell any shirts that aren't."

Happily, and after many years of grumbling, somebody has bought out card condoms to fit the tiny little cards in Wings of War. That somebody is Fantasy Flight Games so I picked up two packs (50 per pack) from Waylands and sleeved all the cards. Unfortunately they no longer fit in the vacuum-formed tray in the box. But this does mean I feel happy playing the game now, I've had it a few years and as an anal type who puts all his cards in sleeves I'd only got around to playing it once due to paranoia about damage to the cards.

We went to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the Staffordshire Hoard (Flickr photostream here - a must see) which is only on display for three weeks before it's future is decided (translation - fucks off to London and never returns to the provinces again). Queued for two hours but I'd say it was worth it. You really need to get close to the things and see them in the flesh to appreciate the exquisite artwork. It's staggering to think of people working without the benefit of modern magnification methods, dremels and even artificial light. The delicate and fine nature of the pieces defies belief when you think that people made these around 700AD under natural light.

Tom and Stu ran through the first scenario in Space Hulk this afternoon when we came back from Brum, did the usual SH thing of playing the same scenario twice swopping sides. As the only one who had read the rules I started sort of GM-ing it but the rules got picked up very quickly. A great game, it seems that the Marines can chew through hordes of Genestealers but have to quickly rethink their plans as soon as they lose someone. More on SH later.

Another game of SH is planned for next Saturday afternoon with an old gaming mate (he hasn't played anything for years and we are trying to tempt him back into the fold) and a newer friend who I didn't know was into GW stuff in his younger days.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Seventy-Five Bloody Pounds? (Slight Refrain)

Chris (Vaults of Nagoh) raised a interesting point in yesterday's comments that £40 for Space Hulk in 1989 equates to £78.80 in today's money therefore WFRP III's RRP of £75 isn't that far off and we've just temporarily forgotten how old we are now. I can assure you I bloody well knew how old I am this morning when the alarm clock went off at half-six....

Now that monetary figure is interesting, because on my wargames club's forum discussion about Space Hulk I worked out that Space Hulk 2009's RRP of £58.70 (note for non-UK readers; Value Added Tax got cut from 17.5% to 15% recently to try and stimulate the moribund economy hence why all UK high street prices look really odd now) was £39.72 in 1989 land. So who's right?

In all honesty I don't know. I thought my figure seemed low when I calculated it (for a modern GW sticker price to end up being only 17p off it's inflation-adjusted figure twenty years ago struck me as so coincidental as to defy belief - assuming it was £39.99 back then) and Chris's high. In defence of my figure I remember that in 1989 I could combine pocket money and birthday/Christmas money and get a GW game - at the equivalent of £80 this would have been an impossible dream and probably not even practical as a Christmas present.

Three GW prices have stuck with me over the years, lodged away in the back of my tiny, little mind.

For Christmas 1987 I had the hardback WFRP and it was £15. Christmas money went on 40k Rogue Trader which was £12.95 at a high street store in Wolverhampton which was cheaper than GW Birmingham - probably would have been another fifteen quider if I'd gone to the GW. In 1993 I went on the bus to the Merry Hill centre in Dudley and bought Space Marine for £34.99 - that was a big boxed set of lots of plastic so Space Hulk four years earlier must have been priced similarly.

Anyway you can't directly compare costs from then with those from now because the World has changed - improved computer use has certainly brought the cost of prepping manuscripts and the like down and while oil is dearer now, the plastic moulding technologies must surely be cheaper.

What's perhaps more important is to compare this £75 price with other equivalent prices that are around today. Last year I bought Trail of Cthulhu from Leisure Games - I thought it cost me £20 but was probably £25 since the Leisure Games website lists it at £26.99. So that's a modern RPG in the modern hardback book format of similar "physical" standing (i.e. binding type, paper quality, pagecount etc.) to every other similar game on the market and it costs a third of the price.

But WFRP III is full of bits - ToC is just a book. So the direct equivalent is probably something like Arkham Horror - Leisure Games price £42.99 and the beast is so heavy that they have to charge extra for postage. Talisman - £39.99. Space Hulk 2009 - a game so beautiful and with components of such high quality that the game is practically game-changing (sorry...) for the industry - £58.70. These are all bits-heavy games and they are all significantly cheaper than WFRP III. And it's not my fault (or your fault if you are another WFRP player) that FFG decided that the game had to have a million pieces of card. If BMW decide to gold leaf the interiors of their cars driving the cost up to astronomical levels they can't come complaining when I decide it's just too much to justify the outlay. I didn't ask them to do it.

Now there's another matter we have to consider with the boardgames - they are complete. WFRP III requires the players to use all manner of physical components, cards, special dice etc. and only provides for three. So it's technically a four player game alright, but one of those is the GM so effectively it's only a three player game. And what's usually declared to be the optimum number of players in a game?

That's right, four. Check every staged photograph of an RPG session. Four players. Check every made-up transcript of a session in every RPG rulebook. Four players. So either player four will have to go out and buy the "upsell" to join in or the cost of a set of bits for player four will go on the £75 cover price.

I think it's obvious what I'm getting at. This is shockingly expensive and can never be considered as an impulse purchase. It's not complete unlike all the other expensive, bits-heavy board and Eurogames. I feel this is going to miss it's target with such a whimper it will defy belief. FFG are attempting to sell an RPG that is so different to what has gone before that the old hardcore of woof-ruppers won't be interested and is so bloody expensive that newbies could buy three RPGs for the same amount or just buy one RPG and enough supplementary material for it to last them years.

It's £75. Yes the Euro price will probably be cheaper because Sterling is weak. But the price differential between all the other games on sale in gaming stores in Holland and Ireland (to pick two Anglophone examples in the Eurozone who will be receiving the same printing) will surely remain the same. Surely somebody must have looked at the costings and what they'd have to charge the customer, and sat down and wondered if the thing was too far removed from what people recognise as a pen and paper RPG and questioned whether this was a good idea at all?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Seventy-Five Bloody Pounds?

(Back when it was all proper in the days of White Dwarf 92...)

I've just had the weekly mailshot from my FLGS. This new not-WFRP, the bastard child of 4e, CCG and the WFRP name will cost £75. Shame that, looks like I'll have to forego a copy in favour of my other, cheaper, hobbies such as off-shore powerboating, collecting vintage Bugattis and snorting coke off the buttocks of expensive prostitutes.

I assume at that price that I will never see it played and it will do precisely nothing to dislodge the installation base of 1st and 2nd editions. In other words, no effect upon me whatsoever.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Links of Leng Episode 1


With my newly resumed interest in Trail of Cthulhu causing me to wander off all over the net looking for interesting research snippets, I thought I'd start an occasional series of links for mining for Cthulhu scenarios. The idea is to to post with five links, each a potential gem for inspiration for Keepers. This means various matters Fortean, occult and generally just social background of the interwar period.

Magdalene Asylums

Let's start with a subject that has received some press in recent years, the Republic of Ireland's close links between Church and State and how that has devastated the lives of orphans and victims of society. This wikipedia article talks about the Magdalene Asylums, horrid "fallen women's homes" designed basically to hide away and punish women who were guilty of various misdemeanours such as prostitution, pre-marital pregnancy and the heinous sin of actually being a victim of sexual crime (rape, child sexual abuse etc.). The unfortunates committed to such were essentially forced to work as slave labour, most often in laundry work, and suffered all the regular abuses to be found at a place of confinement where little or no accountability exists. Many modern commentators hold that the existence of such places is directly tied into a strong misogynistic streak within Roman Catholicism. While the article, and subject, is most commonly associated with Ireland such Magdalene Asylums were also to be found in Great Britain and Australia.

For Keepers such a horrible place offers an excellent location for the investigators. Males may have to sneak in or pretend to be handymen. Literally anything could be going on in such a place where the nuns and priests often seem to be hand-picked so that their particular perversions and cruelties could carry on without the general public being alerted. Investigators will no doubt be shocked to discover de facto slave labour carrying on with the apparent connivance of the authorities in the British Isles in the 1920s.

Syldavia

Fictional countries are an excellent idea for Keepers. They avoid all the nasty problems of avoiding anachronism and player knowledge external to that of their characters. Syldavia is a favourite of mine, being from Herge's Tintin books, most notably King Ottokar's Spectre. This 1939 book shows Syldavia under threat from external Fascism and therefore nicely topical for users of Trail of Cthulhu's 1930s setting. Eih bennek, eih blavek!


Kadaververwertungsanstalt


British Great War black propaganda of the blackest kind. So hideous you have to admire the sheer gall of it's invention.

Based upon a chance juxtaposition of two photographs, one of German human remains being removed from the front in railway carriages and another of dead horses being taken by railway carriage to be rendered down, the Kadaververwertungsanstalt tale was concocted in order to convince a horrified world that the Bosche was now rendering his own war dead down in order to extract their fat for candles, industrial lubricants and bootblack.

Complete bullshit, but released into a world already half-believing tales of German atrocities across Europe.

Obviously this never happened. Except in the worlds of Cthulhu. Where maybe the facility has been demolished, but underground rooms remain untouched. Or the paperwork was lost during 1918 and the facility still stands because the Weimer republic's bureaucracy still hasn't decided what to do with it. Maybe it just closed down mid-shift and the Investigators will discover just what the place looks like when the "input" is left on the conveyors belts and left to decay for ten years...

British-Israelism

OK, here goes. The Anglo-Saxons are the descendants of the tribes of Israel and the Bible not only states this but predicts the rise of the British Empire and it's creation of the other Anglophone nations. This means that the British are God's Chosen People and the Bible says they can rule the World. Oh, and the Windsors are also the descendants of King David's lineage just for good measure (which would presumably make the Queen related to Jesus Christ as well).

Modern DNA evidence has knocked this one on the head but it enjoyed a lot of support in the past. Perhaps so much support that people would be prepared to kill in the interests of maintaining or believing in this myth? What if it were true? What horrid piece of atavism could be hanging around in the Anglo-Saxon bloodline that had laid dormant since Moses was a lad? Read the wikipedia article here.

Temple of Karni Mata

In Desnok, Rajasthan. Dedicated to rats, where shoes are forbidden so that the rats can pass on their good luck by running over your bare feet. It's also lucky to eat food or drink water that the rats have already sampled.

Have these people never played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay? There must be Skaven hiding away in the sewers beneath this place. Contains somewhere between 6,000 and 20,000+ rats, each a sacred animal worshipped as a God. Musophobic Investigator? Send him here...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix



Does anybody else ever wake up and suddenly decide that, completely out of the blue, Game X is now a item of deep longing and lust? For some unfathomable reason I woke up this morning and decided that the copy of Detroit-Cleveland Grand Prix (probably the worst named racing game in the history of racing games) that's been in Waylands Forge for the past few years is now top of my want list. I won't be there for a couple of weeks but will now be gutted if it's not there next time I go in. Then again if it is sold, it will save me the money I would have splashed out buying it. Then again, I may have changed my mind completely and not be bothered any more.

Risk Express



I know it gets lots of hate from people who've just discovered German board games and now suffer from a new-found selective memory filtering out the fun they've had with old favourites (BBG this means you) that did not originate from the Continent (erm.. except that Risk is actually French) but I love Risk. Always have done, always will do. A cracking blend of buckets-o-dice, Napoleon-complex fantasy and what I still hold to be an excellent mechanism whereby you have to keep judging how far you can push your advances, allowing for the fact that once you call a halt to your aggression you have to ensure that you are not overstretched and liable to be gobbled up by the others player's moves. BBG enthusiasts would probably rave about it if it was themed up as Swiss farmers planting carrots or something similar. Yeah, players get stamped on and knocked out of the game. War is hell. Suck it up.

In all seriousness I am aware of a big flaw in Risk, which is that it's basically the boardgame equivalent of Squash (the racquet sport, not the concentrated orange juice stuff). If one player is just a teeny bit better than the other he can make the other player(s) dance to his tune. Fun for him, not so much for the others. So Risk doesn't get played that often by the Stourbridge crew, even though the Lord of the Rings version is an excellent game. We tried Transformers Risk once with two players, the least said about that the better.

I first heard of Risk Express on BBG but it seemed unavailable just about anywhere, except possibly Australasia. (We tried to invade and seize copies but they had a massive stack of 30+ armies on there and we couldn't crack it). Then one day, about a year after I first heard of it, it just sort of appeared in at a local WHSmiths in the Christmas stock so it flew off the shelf and into my sweaty mitts. A few plays later and other Stourbridge denizens were off sourcing their own copies so at last count I believe my copy has caused the purchase of another 5 or 6 copies just within the club. For some reason Smiths picked it up for the Christmas season a year after it's release. It's now a favourite post-game-game (*) that has relegated the earlier favourite Formula Motor Racing back to the games cupboard.

So what is it?

Firstly, it's not a fast-play or "lite" version of Risk, so doesn't have the same relationship to the parent game that something like Formula De Mini does to it's parent. It's a great big dice rolling game, so manages to keep the buckets-o-dice feel of Risk, but with a board of regions comprised of circular cards. There is no movement between regions, you simply pick a region to invade and set to it.

There are seven dice, marked up with the familiar iconography from Risk. Faces are the General, Cavalry, Artillery, 1 x Army, 2 x Armies, 3 x Armies. You roll all seven and attempt to complete a lines of matching icons on a single region. That done, you roll the remaining dice and try and complete the other lines on that region. Fail to complete a line and you drop a die. Complete all lines before you run out of dice and you conquer it. Some are easier than others. You only get one shot at a region per turn so each turn you fail is technically a missed opportunity to score or bank some points.


The United States (part of the blue continent of North America) requires three lines - two of 1 Cavalry + 1 Artillery and another of 3 Armies (which could be on a single die or on two or three). If the US is held by another player the round General line must be filled as well. You can only take one line per roll.


Attack a region held by another player and you will need to roll an extra "General".

Conquer all of a continent (2 or 3 regions, although Australasia is a single-region continent) and it becomes "locked". The cards are turned face-down and can no longer be invaded. So you've "banked" these points and they may not be taken away from you, whereas regions for which you do not possess the complete set may be so if captured.

Once the last region is taken, tally scores.

And that's it. You get a nice bowl to roll the dice in (which is also the game box) but in practise this rarely gets used as the high sides tend to block the sightlines of at least some players and this robs the game of some drama as not everybody can see the bones being cast.

Initially it seems like a load of pure luck with no skill involved but after a couple of plays you learn the regions and can start to judge how soft a target they may be and whether it's worth going after one once someone else has conquered it, bearing in mind the extra "line" of a single General you will have to complete. You also have to discipline yourself into not getting drawn into long slogs to take a difficult region whilst simultaneously letting others overtake you by seizing the empty regions whilst you have your eye elsewhere. You have to decide whether to go for the easier complete continents of South America and Africa or risk it on the much-harder-to-take Europe and North America . I have been concentrating on the former and keep losing to people who capture one of the higher-scoring continents so clearly my gameplan has been lacking somewhat. I've seen Asia taken by one player just the once, IIRC this was in a game where everyone else squabbled over Europe and North America.

Amazingly Risk Express manages to capture the feel and tension of a game that has completely different mechanisms. This is a remarkable achievement when you think about it but works because you keep the epic dice rolling gameplay, the graphic design is identical to the original, continents are important and Australia remains an uncrackable early target (because of it's one region continent status once seized it cannot be lost).

Recommended, assuming that dice don't hate you. I've won this game only once out of many plays, whereas at Risk-As-Squash - I am the better player you all hate. But my Risk Express dice don't love me like all my Risk d6s do.



(*) A short, 30-45 minute game played at the end of the evening when the main game has finished and the midnight chucking out time has not yet arrived. Something of a modern phenomena spawned by modern wargames actually reaching a conclusion on the same evening on which they are started. Post-game-games need to be very portable and capable of being played with any number of players, often changing players in between rounds.

Friday, 18 September 2009

AT-43 Reversible Gaming Tiles


Latest arrival at Coop Towers is a set of Reversible Gaming Tiles for AT-43. I saw a set of these in use at Waylands Forge and decided that they were exactly what we needed for 40K Combat Patrol. Rackham stock levels in the UK are a bit hit-and-miss (essentially you get stuff when it arrives in a bulk import and then the shelves are bare until the next lot arrives) so I wasn't able to get any until this week when I got the nod from Antony that The 13th Floor had some in stock.

I collected them from the sorting office this morning. They are nice things and a great way of covering the table while remaining portable, but..

...there's a but.

You get 15. Which are each 30cm x 30cm. And our board is 4'x4'. Work the maths out yourself...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Inquisitor 28mm - First bash


Scott H. ran a game of Inquisitor last night. None of us had played before.

As mentioned before our plan was to use 28mm figures rather than the standard 54mm figures that GW produced to go alongside the game. Mainly for cheapness, mainly because we have a stack of 28mm terrain and none of 54mm terrain and have no desire to produce and store the same again in a different scale.

Scott ran it in a slightly unusual fashion. All the players were on the same side, all members of the Amblecotius Planetary Defence force. The governor of Amblecotius had declared the system to be part of the Tau Empire and loyalist PDF factions were warring against traitors. Our mission was to follow our leader (a retired Imperial Guard veteran) to a bunker within a ruined part of a city and hold it until Imperial reinforcements landed in order to retake the world.

I played the role of Nicodemus Kole, twin brother of Barbarella Kole (played by Ash) also a loyalist volunteer in the Amblecotius PDF. We were psychic mutants and could use telepathy with each other - i.e. notes. This was supposed to be a secret but the other players raised eyebrows and suggested telepathy as soon as I passed a note to Ash.

Scott had split the game into three discrete encounters.

Firstly we encountered a guard post of rebel PDF members guarding a truck. We caught them cold and tried out the action and firefight rules in finishing them off. Nicodemus didn't exactly do much, drawing a nice bead on a rebel with his revolver only to have another PDF member steal the kill and when he attempted to dive through a window, run to a fallen rebel and finish him off - he fluffed and fell through the window, lying prone in the open for a turn.

Inquisitor uses a really nice action system. Each player has a Speed rating (Nicodemus had 5, most of the PCs had 4). You declare a number of actions that you wish to undertake up to a maximum of your speed. Then you roll 1d6 per Speed point. Each d6 that comes up 4+ is a successful action. This means that you never know at which point throughout your move the clock will "tick" and leave you halfway between actions while somebody else has a go.

For example, at one point I declared that I would - Move up to the window, aim for two actions at the rebel on the truck's cab (each aim is a bonus to a shot) and fire two shots. I rolled 5d6 but only scored 3 successes. This meant that Nicodemus got up to the window, spent two actions drawing a bead on the rebel but didn't get to shoot. By the time I got to go again, the last player to go before me shot that rebel and knocked him off the cab out of Nicodemus's sight. So everyone's actions overlap nicely and add a unknown factor as to exactly how much your own plans will be interfered with. If you are going to use all your actions to fire at an enemy you don't know how many shots you will get off before he gets to do something about it - duck for cover or fire back at you.

Once the rebel mooks were neutralised, Scott rolled the clock on a bit and moved us deeper into the ruined hive city. We then encountered our old friend Inquisitor Mugabe surrounded by rebel PDF troopers. I fired two shots into the air to alert them to our threat before they finished Mugabe off and we engaged in another firefight to rescue him. Mugabe then told us he was off to try and communicate with incoming Imperial forces.

The third part of the scenario saw us holding the bunker and surrounding buildings against waves of Tau infantry before the club shut whereby Dark Angels Space Marines appeared and rescued us by obliberating the Tau. This was just a hack-and-slash part of the game shooting at Tau and removing them from the table if Scott thought we'd done enough damage.

Good fun. The rulebook looks intimidating but the game flowed far better than I would have expected for a game with 6 players and a GM, none of whom had any prior experience of the game. I look forwards to playing another scenario. The basic system of a random number of actions is excellent and allows for a lot of inventive play.

For the record we did no conversion for the changes in scale. Inquisitor assumes 1 yard = 1 inch which matches the figure scale of 54mm figures. We kept this which made our figures half the height they should be but honestly this never became an issue.

Figure wise we used Infinity figures for the PDF, Foundry SWAT team for the rebel PDF, Mugabe was a Warzone figure and the Tau hordes were Citadel.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Iacobus and Mugabe - Better Pics

The older pics were crap weren't they? Here's some decent ones, taken properly with manual setting on the camera not just with the automatic point and shoot mode.







These show the painting style up much better I feel. Everything is flat colour with no shading and no highlighting. The closest thing to highlighting is a bit of green damp-brushing on Mugabe's chainsword bayonet to suggest at being alien blood. Then a single coat of Wilkinson's Quick Drying Indoor Varnish - Satin Dark Oak to shade and topcoat everything leaving behind a sheen that I quite like for power armour. Speed painting at it's finest - not the greatest results in the world but very, very fast and easy to do.

I usually white primer my models that are going to be painted with this technique because the dark varnish darkens everything down so you need to paint with a brighter palette than you intend to end up with. Iacobus was given a grey primer basecoat because of his grey armour but I'm not certain it affected the final colours too much.

End of the Idiot's Lantern



My big CRT television starting the process of dying at some point over the weekend. It's not quite pining for the fjords but the picture quality is going to hell in a handcart and getting worse each time it's switched on. So I've decided to do without from now on. Which feels pretty good thanks for asking.

In 2011 the area in which I live goes over to digital broadcasting only. At present I still have the old school aerial on the roof and RF feed. Quality is poor because I live in a broadcasting blackspot which didn't get Channel 4 until 1989 - I hear rumours of a 5th terrestrial channel but am unable to either confirm nor deny it's existence.

Now I generally don't watch television. In my experience people who don't watch television fall into two categories - cranks who feel it's a bad influence (such as the Father of a lad in the same Scout troop as me who wouldn't let his son watch Star Wars) and geeks. Geeks are often anti-television because they feel they have something better to do. I generally like to flatter myself into thinking I belong in the latter group, not the former.

As a result, I don't have cable or satellite television. If I wanted to pay monthly for something I don't use, I'd join the local gym.

My plan was always that once the digital switch-over occurred I'd stop paying my TV licence and relegate the goggle box to being the display for my large collection of videogaming hardware. I've always said that the latter is the only reason why I keep the bloody thing around.

Now that I'd faced with paying out £250 to replace it with a like LCD or similar I just find that I can't be bothered. Even the gaming isn't pulling me towards replacing it. I generally favour old games and while I have put many hours into emulated arcade, 8-bit and 16-bit games on the XBox I can do all that on my laptop.

Besides, the television holds nothing for me any more. Post Hutton-affair, the BBC has become a spineless national embarrassment that fails to understand the words "journalism" and "critical". It's news reporting consists of unquestioningly reading out press releases from pressure groups, showing an unhealthy close relationship with MicroSoft (again, MS PR puff-pieces read out under the pretence that they are technology news items and not, as they really are, another corporate outlet for MS's abuse of monopoly position) and a wholesale acceptance of the claims of the Climate lobby, even more PR releases masquerading as news. Even the scumbag-rag The News of the Worlds goes out of it's way to undertake investigative journalism - the BBC wouldn't know it if it bit it on the arse. ITV is below contempt. Sky is out of the question as I won't put money in the pocket of that cunt Murdoch.

So there we are. Joining the ranks of the television refuseniks. The big silver box is still sulking in the corner - it weighs a bloody ton and I'm not quite sure how I'll get rid of it - but it won't be on again. I can't wait until the TV licence renewal comes around and I can smugly ignore it.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Two Dark Millenium Characters

Meet Inquisitor Mugabe...





Mugabe is an old and OOP Warzone figure. He's been painted to represent an Inquisitor in a game of 28mm Inquisitor that Scott is running on Friday. I think he'll be an NPC but in a narrative campaign where each player has an Inquisitor/Rogue Trader etc. with henchmen he would be me.

And Brother-Lieutenant Iacobus of the Spacewolves Chapter...



A plastic Grenadier Space Ranger painted up for the not-really-a-nephew nephew. I worked out a 400 point Combat Patrol army for him based upon a bunch of cheap Spacewolves that his Dad got for him via eBay, the army was short of a leader model so I've done this for him.

Both models were speed-painted in flat colours and dipped in Wilkinsons-brand tinted varnish for a superfast and tabletop-acceptable finish.