Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Assault of the Ogroids

It's 1987. You, teenaged ZX Spectrum owner, are reading Sinclair User (possibly while waiting four to six minutes for a game to load which is probably about to R Tape Loading Error anyway) with the nagging feeling that the magazine is just a crappier copy of the far superior Speccy gaming mags Crash and YS(*). This is a negative, but the positive of it being the 1980s is that Basic D&D and FF are hugely in the public eye so that Spectrum magazines(**) keep having articles on tabletop gaming.

And here's one in that very issue of Sinclair User by the blog's favourite-gamer-artist-who-isn't-Russ-Nicholson, Gary Chalk (Lone Wolf/Red Wall/Talisman etc.) that I didn't know existed until yesterday when I found it looking for something entirely different and now totally forgotten.

Assault of the Ogroids is a strange mix of boardgame and random encounter table-driven sandbox. As can be seen if you read the scans (SUBTLE HINT), the idea is to pick a route across a gridded map and reach the other city in the 30 hours time limit. Each square has a terrain type which is keyed to a random encounter table, some of the entries of which are themselves keyed to random encounter subtables which should be manna from heaven for OSR sandbox haven't-a-fucking-clue-what-is-going-on-in-my-own-campaign enthusiasts (SUBTLE HINT).

There is a computer-moderated element to this, but you don't need an 1982 vintage home computer in order to play it - all it does is book-keep and generate d% and d8 results for you. It's going to be less hassle to just do it yourself with paper and dice.

Yes children, once upon a time we actually had to type in the source code ourselves if we wanted to run the thing. And then debug our typing errors. And then debug the typesetters typing errors. And then debug the coders errors. Upon such things men were built.

A couple of simple mechanics might arouse the interest of OSR sandboxers. Firstly, each terrain type has a time cost to cross it, meaning that the player has to balance crossing mountains with going around them and decide which is quickest. Secondly, the players stats detoriate with each square crossed with hard, fatiguing terrain costing more. Thirdly, you can run from any encounter but then you will "scatter" from the space which may put you in harder, slower terrain you didn't want to be in.

P.S. Any game in which your character token is represented as a man running away frit is Old School in my book.

(*) Sinclair User started off as a hobbyist magazine for early ZX81/Spectrum adopters but went downhill when the audience changed to a younger, games playing demographic.

(**) Maybe C64 magazines as well but who gives a fuck? Amstrad? Did they make computers?

(Scans from


  1. Damn. You broke the story before me! I've had a Ogroids post sat in my drafts folder for ages, whilst I've been trying to botch up a Java Spectrum emulator so I can run Jim Grimwoods SMALL ADVENTURE BUILDER online. SAB takes Gary Chalks original programme (game designer, illustrator and ZX basic programmer - is there no end to his talents?!?) and turns the whole thing into an encapsulated programme.

  2. Fantastic. I missed that first time round. Did Gary Chalk write anything else? Actually I met him once, at some kind of event in the Barbican, probably 1985/6 - no idea what it was now. He gave a talk and showed some of his painted figures. Seemed like a nice guy. Even when some nob started badgering him afterwards to sell the figures he didn't get pissed off.

  3. Your Sinclair was great. A lot of the staff migrated to Amiga Power later in their careers, which was also a great games magazine.

  4. I don't recall many articles about tabletop gaming in the C64 magazines, although I do recall Zzap! moaning about the blue skies of the Dragonstrike game because they didn't match the apocalyptic greys of Krynn.

  5. Not care about the C64?

    Twas the ONLY 8 bit computer worth owning.

    Hardware sprites, SID chip music, 16 colors that could have multicolored sprites?

    The Spectrum was JUNK.

    Incredibly important to the UK being cheap and homegrown and getting their electronic entertainment industry started, but as a machine to play and enjoy it was always terrible hence the reason the rest of the world pretty much ignored it.

    Cool article though. I remember those old type in programs. Never did them because they never worked most of the time. Outside of this one super short Basic game on the C64 which was amazingly fun for being a sub 50 line program.

    (Defensive Driving IIRC.)

  6. Rufus - You, me, Summerhill School playground in the 1980s, outside now. Bring a mate to back you up.

    (I had both machines BITD. It was the very limitations of the Speccy that made it what it was and it was certainly a far more fertile scene when it came to people hacking it.)

    Zhu - Yeah, sorry about that. It was that page that alerted me to the existence of this and annoyingly I honestly cannot remember why I ended up there or what it was I was looking for when the mega distraction reared it's head.

    Torus - Gary also wrote the Warhammer competitor Fantasy Warlord and the boardgame Starship Captain for Standard Games.

  7. Heh. We never had the Speccy in America. Ok we KIND OF did but it was one of those systems that was around for a month and nobody bought it so it died sort of situations.

    I mean I understand WHY the Spectrum was big in the UK (pretty much the ONLY country that loved it). It was homegrown. It was dirt cheap.

    But everywhere else it was basically "no".

    Japan had the MSX platform (which wasn't much better than the Speccy honestly), and most of the rest of the industrialized western world went with C64s or Apple 2s if you wanted to pay more for a less powerful machine.

    (Apple hasn't changed much since.)

    TI 99s, Atari x00s, Tandy Color Computers?

    They really had short lives in general.

    Plus here in the states we used 1541s almost exclusively. Hence we got all the great RPGs in those days before Final Fantasy 7 made the genre popular.

    Hell, if it wasn't for Ultima and Bard's Tale I probably wouldn't be a nerd at all. (Which might be a good thing really...)

    I will give yall credit for adopting the Amiga though. A shame the rest of the world thought overpriced clunky as sin DOS machines were the way of the future.

  8. My standard grade high school computing science project basically consisted of a Traveller character generator inspired by the one in a very old White Dwarf.

    So, I share your pain.