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Random Thoughts

My schedule continues to be bad for blogging, but has improved on other fronts.

Gaming: Our gaming group had a rare double-header, holding games two weekends in a row. Our GM is running a GURPS Supers/Horror game, where the adventures feel like a mix between Justice League and Hellboy, and set in 1960’s Florida. For this game I also get to run one of my long standing desires in supers gaming, a heroic duo. My friend and I created two brothers who were subjected to experiments by a mad scientist. This gave them the power to take on the abilities of different animals, much like DC’s Vixen or Animal Man, and like those characters they don’t change shape. However they do take on some physical characteristics as a special effect, such as growing feathers when channeling a bird, fur when channeling a canine, scales for fish, etc…

Their powers are activated or deactivated when the brothers touch, bringing in the inevitable Wonder Twins jokes. The two brothers are polar opposites on philosophy and argue incessantly, but are also protective of each other. Their code names are War and Peace and the animals they channel reflect their differing attitudes. War is a hot head and channels animals like wolf, kestrel, and shark. Peace is a pacifist (and a communist) and takes on animal powers like bloodhound, spider monkey, and dolphin. Their flexibility has made them very useful heroes and a lot of fun to play.

We’re looking forward to playing War and Peace again soon. Of course in a horror game there is the strong possibility of one of us dying. What will the other brother do if this happens?

Well… we did both take the Leatherworking skill…

Projects: My schedule has been bad for a number of things, but it has let me get started on a few projects. One of which is Car Wars related.

My love for Car Wars is well documented. I picked up a copy of the Classic Car Wars box set and a .PDF copy. One of the difficulties with the Car Wars arenas of old is that they came as folded maps and could be a bear to flatten out for game play. Using my PDF I’m printing an arena out in card stock and plan to assemble it on foam core, then play some games using the classic scale and rules. I want a fresh look at the old game to compare with 5th edition. I still have my classic Compendium, but the new box set takes the game back to a more basic form, before there was too much bloat in weapons and equipment. I’m quite pleased with the set and eager to try it out.

I’ve also finally started working on painting miniatures, something I haven’t done since my undergrad days. There are some miniatures I’ve been wanting to acquire and paint, but I know my limitations and I don’t want to invest the cash in something that might end up sitting in the closet undone for years. So I made a deal with myself; if I put a dent in some of the miniatures I already own I’ll go ahead and invest in the ones I want to work on.

To that end I’ve pulled out a couple boxes of Renegade Legion: Centurion anti-gravity tanks that I’ve had sitting in the closet for years. Centurion was another outstanding game from FASA that evokes the feeling of science fiction classics like Hammer’s Slammers. In my opinion it’s a far superior game to Battletech, with tighter and faster rules than it’s stompy-mecha big brother. Once I have enough tanks painted up I plan to pull the game out of mothballs and fire it up. It’s a good goal to work towards and I now have several Renegade medium APCs primed and waiting to go.

What about the miniatures that I want to acquire after I finish my tanks? For that I’ll be turning to the golden age Sci-Fi goodness that is War Rocket.

Adventure Seeds: One of the podcasts/blogs I follow is Skeptoid, a site where they take a critical look at various events and beliefs including cryptozolology, alternative medicine, and urban legends. Recently they ran an article entitled Lost Treasures of the 20th Century, and it’s full of great plot ideas for pulp adventures.

Some of the stories covered in the post are well known to me, such as the lost Nazi gold in Lake Toplitz and the lost Amber Room of the Russian empire (a subject worthy of its own post). Others I had never heard of, such as Yamashita’s Gold and the vanished crown jewels of Ireland. The post gives a nice short summary of these and other lost treasures, any of which would be a great candidate for writing an adventure.

Kung Fury!

Kung Fury is out! It’s free on YouTube in HD! Go! Go now!

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Soon my plastic brethren! Soon we ride!

 

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Outrider!

Greetings Programs,

Being an old school Car Wars fan I’m interested in any game that lets me crush some cars. Preferably with high powered weapons. So when I learned that Dice Fest Games is running a Kickstarter for Outrider, their autodueling game, I had to check it out.

Outrider has existed for a few years as a print-and-play and print-on-demand game available through Drive Thru RPG. The Kickstarter campaign will allow them to do a full production run complete with expansions. I own a .pdf of the print-and-play starter deck so I fired up the printer, grabbed my knife and glue, and went to town cutting out cards and counters.

And counters.

And more counters.

There are a lot of counters. Most of them are small squares designed to be double sided. You could leave them single sided, but it’s easier in play if they are double sided and the added thickness of two layers of cardstock makes them easier to handle. It was worth it, but the counters will haunt my dreams.

Outrider is played using cards, but it is not a card game. Instead the cards are used as playing pieces on the board. One card represents your vehicle and displays its name, weapon arcs, and any special attributes like improved handling or armor bonuses. Another card represents your dashboard, tracking your cars abilities, damage status, actions, and skill points. Your car has four stats; Engine, Drive, Armor, and Weapons. You receive four different dice; a d6, d8, d10, and d12, and you use these to customize your vehicle by assigning one die to each statistic. The assigned die is what you roll during game play to take actions; maneuvers based on Drive, resisting damage based on Armor, etc… This offers a lot of customization options based on how you assign the dice each game, while at the same time balancing the vehicles nicely. Each car also has bonuses that add to different statistics, but these are not overpowering and are never more than a +2. This gives the cars an interesting variety without any vehicle being overpowered.

An interesting byproduct of this is that your dice allocation has a much greater impact on performance than car selection. A car whose image looks like a tank may actually have weak armor and great acceleration, while one that looks like a dune buggy may have the highest armor and biggest guns on the road.

You map out your car’s movement using maneuver cards which you lay in front of your vehicle’s card, building a track that shows where you are going. Each maneuver card has a difficulty number and once you’ve laid out the whole track you add up the total and that becomes the target number you need to beat. You then roll your Drive die and add any applicable bonuses. If you make the roll you move to the new position and if you fail you lose control.

The movement process goes quickly and we spent more time shuffling through the maneuver cards looking for the right ones than we did planning our actions. In the future I’ll try sorting the cards into different stacks instead of keeping them in a single deck.

Combat is also an easy process. If an enemy card is within range (three card lengths) and within the firing arc of your weapons, you hit automatically. Then your target rolls his or her Armor die while you roll your Weapon die. If you roll higher than your target, the target takes a point of damage. Each car has six damage points.

Outrider is fun, easy to learn, and plays quickly. Two of us were able to figure out the rules and play two games in about 2 1/2 hours.

It’s inevitable that I compare it to the venerable Car Wars and while both games will satisfy your autodueling itch, they each do so in a different way. Car Wars is more simulationist while Outrider is more of an arcade game. Movement, construction, and combat are all more abstract in Outrider, and it has less setup. When you want a meatier game go for Car Wars but if you want a quick shot of automotive adrenaline, Outrider is just the ticket. Both are outstanding games that bring different approaches to the genre and I’m glad to have Outrider sitting on my shelf.

There are still six days left on the Outrider’s Kickstarter and the current starter game can be found on Drive Thru RPG, where they have a sale going. The Print-and-Play version is on sale for $1.99 and you can get the combo Print-on-Demand and Print-and-Play games for $9.99.

Give it a look!

Outrider

 

 
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Posted by on December 8, 2014 in Gaming, Reviews

 

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The Unfortunate Story of Car Wars 5th Ed.

For my birthday gaming blow out I made use of Car Wars 5th Edition.

Several people have commented that they didn’t know there had been a 5th Edition, which is understandable because it didn’t last very long. The game was released in 2002 to much anticipation, but it sold poorly and quickly vanished from the gaming scene. It’s an example of how you can do a good job revising a classic rules set and then kill the line with bad marketing.

The Good: The goal of 5th Edition was to streamline the Car Wars system so that it would be easier, play faster, and provide a more dynamic game. In these goals they were successful. Over the years Car Wars had built up significant rules bloat. New weapons and technology combined with tons of new rules had expanded the game from a simple system that fit in a small plastic box to a book the size of a full GURPS sourcebook. To its credit this allowed the serious autoduelist to handle a huge range of situations including semi-trucks, aircraft, boats, and even tanks. It also provided a dizzying array of construction options for customizing your vehicles. But at the same time it weighed the system down. It also changed the game from being easy to learn to intimidating for a new player.

5th Edition brought the game back to basics, presenting the players with a wide selection of pre-built cars that offered good variety while focusing on the core concept of racing cars and blowing each other up.

They also made significant changes to the movement system. In classic Car Wars a turn was divided into 10 phases, which later editions cut to five. Each phase players would check a matrix and it would tell you if you moved that phase based on your current speed. Movement was usually an inch per phase, though at high speeds two or three were possible.

5th Edition dropd the number of phases to three and cars move in every phase. The distance you move is increased to a flat 1″ per 10 miles per hour. This makes the calculations easy and cars move a lot farther each phase, making for a fast paced game. For me this is the single best change they made to the game, as it gives you a much better feel for roaring down the road than.

Another significant change is to the game’s scale. Classic Car Wars was designed using 1″ long counters for cars and 1/2″ counters for motorcycles. This allowed players to run large maps using a smaller game table, but it did limit the options for miniatures. 5th Edition was designed with 1/60th scale cars in mind, making it possible to use Matchbox and Hot Wheels cars without any rules conversions. This does put space limits on the playing field but you can get a lot of arena into a regular table space.

To sum up, 5th Edition succeeded in its goals to present a faster and more dynamic game that is more exciting and more accessible to new players.

The Bad: With a successful revamp of the rules done, how did they go wrong?

In a word, presentation.

In 2002 collectible games were still earning money hand-over-fist. Steve Jackson Games seems to have been trying to tap into that mindset with 5th Edition.

First off, you couldn’t buy a single book or boxed set. Instead you bought a series of game books. Each book came with a set of rules, a set of counters, and stats for two cars and a variant design for each (effectively four cars). Each book was inexpensive and gave enough material that you could play a one-on-one autoduel with a single book. The idea was that players would each buy a book, giving everyone a set of the rules and enough cars to play with. They published nine books, three for each size class of car.

However most fans wanted to own a complete set of cars and the majority of each book was identical. it was impossible to ignore that you were essentially buying the same thing over and over.

Second was the components. On the plus side, the artwork was good and kept with the classic Car Wars designs. They were also generous in the number of components they provided, giving you no lack of oil slicks, mines, spikes, rubble, and the like. However these counters were not punched and you had to cut them out yourself. This is especially annoying on the mines and spikes, which are circular counters.

You will notice that for my game I used quarters and pennies for spikes and mines.

Then there was the release schedule. The plan was to release only one division a month, going from the smallest cars to the largest. So for the big 5th Edition launch the only cars available were the Division 5 sub-compact cars. These cars, such as the iconic Killer Kart, are light vehicles usually with a single weapon.

In other words, boring.

Oh you can have fun with them for a bit, but the excitement of driving these eggshells with popguns burns out quickly. Car Wars is about vehicles bristling with weapons and armor, but to get that we had to wait another month.

Then we had to buy three more books. With three more sets of the same rules. And three more sets of counters to cut out. And then we had to wait another month to repeat the process for Division 15.

This crushed any momentum the game had built up.

There was one more major flaw with the 5th Edition release. One of the most popular aspects of Classic Car Wars is the ability to build, customize, and upgrade your car. Players would gleefully tinker with their designs to get the deadliest vehicle possible. Duels would be as much about design as driving skill and it was fun not knowing what surprises your opponents had installed since the last game.

5th Edition launched without a vehicle design system.

Promises were made that one was forthcoming but that it wouldn’t be released until all the other books had come out. For many autoduelists this meant that not only were you buying the same book repeatedly, you weren’t even getting a complete game. The last nail had been driven into the coffin.

The Ugly: Dissatisfaction among the fans cast a pall on the sales of 5th edition. In the end they published the nine core books, a compilation book of the Division 5 cars, and a single arena book.

And that was it.

The vehicle design system was never published. Rules for motorcycles never came out. Even updates on the website ceased in short order and nothing more was said. 5th Edition was done.

The Future: The failure of 5th Edition is a sad story, especially for long time Car Wars fans. However there are a few rays of hope for aspiring autoduelists.

The first is that all the 5th Edition books are available in .PDF format from Warehouse 23, Steve Jackson Games online web store. You can find them here and they’re reasonably priced. The individual books sell for $2.99, about half the cost of the original printed books, and the Division 5 compilation book costs $7.95. So for around $26 you can have them all in digital format. Desktop printers have come a long way since 2002, so printing all the cardstock counters you want is no longer a daunting task. Throw in a $5 pack of Matchbox cars and you’re ready to roll.

Also, an enterprising fan was able to reverse engineer the vehicle design system. The rules are posted in the Steve Jackson Games forum at this location. There are still no rules for motorcycles or large vehicles, such as vans and trucks. This is a shame, as these were popular in classic Car Wars, but it still gives you enough to play with.

Another ray of sunshine came from an unexpected source. Back in 2012 when the OGRE Designers Edition Kickstarter was breaking all kinds of records they set a stretch goal at the $700,000 mark. Hitting the goal would mean that Steve Jackson would launch a Kickstarter for Car Wars in 2013.

The stretch goal was hit but 2013 came and went without the Kickstarter happening. However there have been two related Car Wars announcements. The first was a re-release of the original Car Wars mini-game that came in a plastic baggy. The second was announcing the re-release of Classic Car Wars in the small plastic box. Mini-Car Wars released earlier this year and the second is listed as “In Production”. Both of these are supposed to be preludes to a new edition. There have also been periodic announcement about staff assigned to the project, indicating that Steve Jackson Games is still working on it.

So while the wheels are turning slowly, there is still hope that a 6th Edition of Car Wars may roll off the assembly line someday.

In the meantime, remember to Drive Offensively.

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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Gaming

 

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Car Wars

Here are some photos from our 5th Edition Car Wars game.

It’s sad that this edition was so ill fated. The rules play faster and simpler than previous editions, are easy to teach, and the increased movement per phase gives the game a more dynamic feel than previous editions. Plus 5th Edition was designed with Matchbox scale cars in mind, making it even easier to set up games like this. We used Division 10 cars, large enough to have a variety of weapons but not as heavily armed and armored as their Division 15 counterparts.

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The Calm Before The Storm

I made the city using the Capitol City papercraft base set from Fat Dragon Games. I printed them on a standard color laserjet printer and attached the base tiles to foam core. I’m a big fan of Fat Dragon Games’ sets. They look great, they provide excellent instructions, and they make good use of .PDF technology. Fat Dragon has multiple layers on its designs that you can turn on or off to add variety to your structures. The result is that some of your street sections may have potholes, others cracked pavement, others can be strewn with trash, or you can turn them all on for that authentic Detroit feeling.

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The cars are from a regular set of five Matchbox cars that you can get in any toy store. I went with futuristic looking cars and those that went slightly small on size, I took the cardboard from an old pad of paper and cut the bases from them, then hit them with a layer of spray primer to give them an asphalt look. Then I used the same blue tack you use to hang posters to attach the cars. No mess and I can pull them off the bases for my kids when I’m done.

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The Carnage, A Rooftop View

The crossroads became very popular early on, as all five cars decided to cut through the center of town. This lead to major chaos. Note the debris counters. Many more would be placed before the cars got clear. The quarter in the center is being used as a spike dropper counter. The orange car has just finished a 90 degree skid to avoid rolling through the crossfire. The red car is about to suffer tire damage from debris.

CarWars4Off To The Races

The survivors turned it into a road race. Ram plates have a powerful reputation in Car Wars 5th Edition and we did see that they are very strong weapons. High speed and my car’s heavy ram plate caused my target’s car to disintegrate, while getting T-boned by a light ram plate followed by a missile launcher spelled my doom. However high speed and good maneuvering can compensate. We had several cars with ram plates that were defeated by good driving and gutsy tactics.

Although that comes with its own risks. The black car on the left lost control during a high speed maneuver and slammed into the building, crushing the left side and killing the driver.

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IT’S A GUNDAM!

I took this picture for fun. Giant mecha didn’t actually drop in on the autoduel.

After all, I need to save some surprises for next year.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Gaming

 

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After Action Report

And lo, it was indeed a good weekend for gaming.

We ended up with around 30 people at the house on Saturday, some coming from a good distance and one in particular making an insanely long trek to surprise me. Many games were played and good times were had by all.

I finally got the chance to play King of Tokyo, which has been on my “to play” list for quite some time. The game is simple and elegant, relying on a dice rolling mechanic to get victory points, heal, do damage to other monsters, and collect energy cubes for buying special powers. My friend’s youngest daughter taught us how to play and it was a lot of fun. It plays fast, is good for all ages, and it’s about giant monsters stomping around Tokyo. What’s not to like?

I hear the expansion set adds more variety to the kaiju, so I’m putting both the base game and the expansion on my list to acquire.

I was also in on one of several games of Pandemic. This is the first time I’ve played with a full five players and we did quite well, getting within a single player’s action of winning the game. Unfortunately we ran out of cards immediately before the cures could be created, meaning the game ended and the world became a wasteland of plague and death.

Sentinels Tactics did not reach the table after all! So many other games were going that the heroes of the Multiverse will have to wait for another day. Though it won’t be too long, I’m sure.

Car Wars was a big hit. The city-scape and Matchbox cars made a big impression on the group and we ran two autoduels of five Division 10 cars. I used 5th Edition rules, which play fast and are easy to teach. Almost none of the drivers had played any edition of Car Wars before and it took little time to get them up to speed and smashing cars. I refereed the first game and played in the second, where I died quickly and in a blaze of glory immediately after obliterating another car. Photos are on the way.

I saw several other games hitting tables too and late in the evening a Euker game broke out. Then at 8:00 we took a Dr. Who break to watch the season premier. I think I’m going to like the new Doctor quite a bit.

Our game Grisleigh End was also played, to good reception. On Sunday we did a demo of the game for a local steampunk group, running two tables with five players each. The game was again well received and we had good feedback. We have some more rules that will need to be adjusted and hopefully we’ll have a revised edition hammered out soon.

It was an excellent weekend. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday (slightly late) than having a house full of friends throwing dice and having a good time.

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The weekend was a crit success!

 

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2014 in Gaming, Uncategorized

 

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Table Games

It’s looking to be a good week for tabletop gaming.

Last night we had a family game of Zombies!!!. We have several expansions for the game, so we use the optional rule of shuffling the helipad into the deck instead of putting it on the bottom. When it came up in round two it looked like we were about to have the shortest game of Zombies!!! ever. This was unsatisfying, so after a unanimous decision we shuffled the helipad back into the deck.

Play proceeded from there and the city grew, but options for new tiles dwindled. We had only one non-(un)dead end left when salvation! We found the gates to the military base! This gave us hope that we wouldn’t end up locked in a closed off city trying to kill all the zombies. Unfortunately the military base also ended up closed off without a helipad showing up. This is the first time I’ve played Zombies!!! where no escape from the city appeared.

Apparently karma was upset for us throwing away our earlier rescue.

Another unanimous decision later and the last military base tile was replaced with the helipad. Also, as it was a school night and the game was going long, we decided to eschew competition and turned it into a co-op game, working together to reach the helicopter. This turned out to be quite fun and the twist breathed fresh energy into my kids. It also avoided a sibling rivalry that had been brewing between them, making it a win on multiple fronts.

Tomorrow I’m having a number of friends over for a big gaming day. I don’t get to do this very often, so sometime around my birthday I like to blow it out and get a whole bunch of people over to sling dice, cards, and whatever else we can get to the tables. There are three games in particular that I’m looking forward to. The first is Grisleigh End, this is the board game I’ve been helping develop with friends and will hopefully see production. As you can imagine I’m rather fond of it and looking forward to showing it to my friends.

The second is Car Wars. I’ve got things prepped to run a game using Matchbox cars and a 3D city layout, which I’ve always wanted to do. There will be pictures.

The third is Sentinels Tactics, the miniatures game from the Sentinels of the Multiverse line. I expected to receive it in December, but it shipped early so I guess I’ll just have to play it early.

Oh darn. However will I endure?

Then Sunday we’re going to demo Grisleigh End for a local Steampunk society, which should be a heck of a lot of fun.

Game on!

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Gaming

 

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Real Life Car Wars – Not Involving Me!

“Eight years ago: “Crazy Joe” Harshman wins Fresno destruction derby by mounting a surplus .50-calibur machine gun in his Chevy.”

-Car Wars timeline, 1983 Edition

Thankfully, this time my post on real life Car Wars doesn’t involve me getting rear ended.

What it does involve is two Audis, an (autoduel) arena, a pseudo-Kenny Loggins soundtrack, and a whole lot of paint.

The grenades were a particularly nice touch.

“Seven years ago: Armadillo Autoduel Arena opens on former site of shopping mall in Austin, Texas.”

-Car Wars timeline, 1983 Edition

If this spawns a new extreme sport I will watch the heck out of it.

The “making of” video is also a good watch.

Well done Audi. Well done indeed.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2014 in Cool Stuff

 

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Real Life Car Wars = Not Really Fun

You Know You’re A Gamer When:

You look at the diagram of your traffic accident and immediately think, “Hey, Car Wars!”

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I’m okay and in better shape than my car.

Fortunately he didn’t have a ram plate, but I wish I’d had linked rear mounted flame throwers.

We’re heading into the holiday weekend here in the US. I will resume irregularly unscheduled posts next week.

Have a good weekend everyone! And I hope you all get to roll some dice!

 
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Posted by on July 3, 2014 in Blog News, Gaming

 

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Dose of Nostalgia – Board Games

I listen to a lot of podcasts.

One of my favorites is The Dice Tower, which is the most impressive board gaming podcast available. The Dice Tower is worthy of a full review and I’ll get on that soon, but for now suffice to say that it’s a podcast that you should be listening to.

I’d qualify that by saying, “if you like board games,” but let’s be real. You’re reading my blog. It’s a given.

In their most recent episode, #350 (yes, Tom Vasel has 350 weekly podcasts about board games under his belt. The man is a machine), they did a Top Ten list of board games that were important to them from their childhood, games that had a big impact on the gamers they became.

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and this list struck a chord, so I decided to put my own list together. This list is not in order of importance or quality, it’s just ten games that influenced my future as a gamer. Also note that I am not including role playing games in the list.

Without further ado:

1. Checkers – Checkers is one of the earliest board games I learned and was taught to me by my grandmother. Almost every visit to her house included a game of Checkers and it was something I looked forward to. It was the first abstract strategy game I learned, but more importantly it came to represent the bond that gaming can create between friends and family, and bonds like that don’t get much stronger than between a little kid and his grandmother. We played other games too, but Checkers was our favorite and I can still picture her study, her chair, and hear the sound of her clock while we played.

Good memories.

2. Chess – My grandmother taught me Checkers. Chess was the game my father taught me. Dad gave me my first set and taught me the rules. He gave me an instruction book that I greatly enjoyed, one which I have passed on to my own son. Playing Chess with my father was something I looked forward to. Beating him was an elusive goal that, when finally achieved, was a great victory.

Chess was also the first game that I spent a lot of time playing with my friends. For a while in high school we had an informal club that played every day. We were never good enough to play competitively and didn’t take it that seriously, we just enjoyed the game. For a while I collected Chess sets and I still own quite a few.

I still enjoy Chess, though I’ve gotten rather rusty. I especially enjoy historical variants of the game, my two favorites being Byzantine and Papal Chess. The first is played on a round board, setting the armies up back to back. The second includes a stationary piece in the center of the board to represent the pope and includes an alternate victory condition. Instead of checkmate, if you have a piece close enough to control the pope, without interference from an enemy piece, you win. The political commentary is not subtle and it was not appreciated by the Papacy. Apparently until the early 20th Century there was a canon law on the books that said you could be excommunicated for playing Papal Chess.

How many board games can say that?

3. Trivial Pursuit – Trivial Pursuit was the first game I remember that caused a pop culture stir. When it came out it was THE big thing and everyone had to have a copy. It’s the first game where my parents and I went over to my best friends’ house specifically so that we could all play the game together.

The rules are nothing special and there were plenty of times we dispensed with the “game”, grabbed the box, and started asking each other questions. But what Trivial Pursuit showed me was that adults could get together for gaming days too, that it wasn’t something limited to kids and that it wasn’t something I had to outgrow.

4. Stay Alive – Stay Alive is a game that I have almost never played, but I was deeply fascinated with it as a kid. For those unfamiliar, you have a grid with marbles on it and slides that control strips of plastic running down and across the grid. The strips have holes in them at different points and on your turn you pull or push one of the levers to shift the strip. If holes in the top and bottom strips line up a marble drops through the trap door. The goal is to drop all your opponents marbles first.

It’s a game of eliminating your foes by dropping them through trap doors! How cool is that!

To this day I love the concept of this game. Is it any wonder I fell in love with Dungeons & Dragons? Just imagine if you could combine Stay Alive with lead miniatures and the modular wall system from that horrible Dungeons & Dragons Computer Labyrinth game! That would be fantastic!

There is an edition of Stay Alive currently in print, but it’s lame. The classic game was on a 7×7 grid and each slider had several settings. The new version is a 5×5 grid and the sliders look limited to two or three positions. They’re asking $50 for what amounts to a travel version of the classic. I think not.

5. Scotland Yard – This was the game that introduced me to hidden movement, resource management, and asymmetrical warfare, though it would be a while before I knew those terms. All I knew was that it was different from any game I’d played before.

The game is set in London. One player is “Mr. X”, a master criminal on the run. The other players take on the roles of detectives hot on the trail. Players move through the city using cabs, subways, and buses. Mr. X’s location is revealed at different points in the game and the detectives are forced to guess or deduce which way he is going.

It took me a few tries to warm up to this game because the uneven sides seemed unfair, but once I got used to the concept I came to embrace it. The noir crime / secret agent theme of the game didn’t hurt either. It’s a genre that I love but which we don’t see very often. (Honorable mention goes to Stop Thief on this point).

6. Risk – Ahh, my first game of global conquest. These days Risk seems to be looked down on by a lot of gamers, usually after they send 20 troops against two defenders and get their butts kicked because they can’t make a good roll to save their lives. Yes that element of randomness can be frustrating, however the heroic stand is not without its historical precedents, it does lead to memorable games, and lucky dice rolls will not substitute for a sound strategy.

Australia is a death trap! 

Risk is a fine transitional game between abstracts like Chess and simulationist war games. Many better games now fill the same niche, my favorite being Shogun/Samurai Swords/Ikusa, but I’m still happy to dive into a game of Risk and watch the dice roll and I credit the game for preparing me to devour those other games when they hit the scene.

Which brings us to…

7. Conquest of the Empire – In the mid-80’s Milton Bradly launched the Gamemaster Series. Their first release was Axis & Allies, which we played the heck out of. However Axis & Allies suffers from one fatal flaw; with competent players the game always resolves itself the way that World War II actually did.

The second game in the series was Conquest of the Empire. This was like Risk in the Roman Empire but with cities, and roads, and catapults, and ships! The basic mechanics of combat were similar to Risk, but the variation of unit types and infrastructure made it a much deeper game. On top of this a rudimentary economy was put in place, causing players to make strategic decisions based on triggering inflation in the Empire.

Shogun (later published as Samurai Swords & currently as Ikusa) was the last in the Gamemaster line and was my favorite. In many ways it was a refinement of Conquest of the Empire, which did have some flaws, but Conquest was the game that raised the bar for what I wanted in that style of game.

8. Uno / Euker – I’m lumping these together. While mechanically they are different they fill the same role among my friends. Both are simple, fast, and fun social games. I discovered both when I was very young and they were games I could play with friends my age and with adults. We could take the game anywhere we went, find a corner, and deal the cards.

And we did.

All through grade school, all through high school, and all through college, Uno and Euker were not far away. They were especially popular during my high school years, when I was part of choir, drama club & stage crew, and several other groups. My junior and senior years it was a lunchtime ritual.

We were also ruthless. We used house rules in Uno that let you stack Draw cards or turn them back with Reverse and Skip cards. We accepted using signals in Euker, as long as you didn’t get caught. It became a point of pride to see who could develop the most subtle signals.

Have deck, will travel.

9. Car Wars – It was 1981 and I was part of a Dungeons & Dragons group that met at a Friendly Local Game Store. I didn’t stay in the group very long, but it was long enough for me to see this small plastic box from Steve Jackson Games sitting on the shelf.

Car Wars. This game blew my young mind. You mean I get to roar down the highway, or scream around an arena, in a car bristling with weapons? It was James Bond! It was Mad Max! It was Hot Wheels! It was…

It was awesome!

And we devoured it. The Armadillo Autoduel Arena was our favorite, but we also had the complete city of Midville for our homicidal pleasure. And when we were not playing on the table, we were playing Autoduel on the Apple II (a horrible game, BUT WE LOVED IT!).

My love of Car Wars is still there. Years later when I’d graduated from university I hosted an online Play-by-Post game. I’d receive moves from the players via email, roll the results myself, use Photoshop to update the arena map, and post it up on a website. It was a lot of work, but we loved it.

With the success of the O.G.R.E. Kickstarter, Steve Jackson Games is looking at revisiting Car Wars and I cannot wait to see the results.

Drive Offensively!

10. Illuminati – Another masterpiece from Steve Jackson Games, Illuminati came out in 1982 and has been wrecking friendships ever since.

In Illuminati each player controls a secret organization bent on covert domination of the world. Each group takes control of other organizations, who in turn take over more organizations, until you have assembled a web of power with your secret society at the center. In the meantime the other players are using their own groups to try and crush you, or aid you, but always for a price.

Most games are confrontational by their nature. Illuminati doesn’t just take this to the next level, it transcends to a higher plain of backstabbing treachery. I won’t say that Illuminati can make Diplomacy look like Candyland.

But I will infer it.

So there we go, my list of ten games that profoundly influenced me as a gamer. How about you? What games did you play that you are still playing now? Or that stick out as having an impact on the geek you’ve grown up to be? I’d love to hear about them.

fnord

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Gaming, Podcasts

 

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