Category Archives: Game Design

Busy but Quiet

Despite my lack of posting to this blog during February, I’ve been quite busy on the gaming front. To be more precise, on the game design front.

Dwarfnuckle Revisited

Over the span of Jan-24 thru Feb-14, there were 15 nights & weekends where I spent the majority of my free time heads-down designing the rules & card deck for a new incarnation of the Dwarfnuckle card & dice battle game.

This work was spurred by a decision for an old friend and I to take early steps into forming a small, game development studio to push several of my in-process game designs towards the finish-line and get them published. It also included any new game designs that we had percolating in our heads.

I had pondered taking Dwarfnuckle, a little game that we played over Zoom to resolve our Sword of Severnia campaign battles, and turn it into a physical, stand-alone card & dice battle game. What’s more, I wanted to divorce it from Sword of Severnia. After some initial discussions, we had our first new game design to tackle.

I prototyped the cards and we had our first face-to-face playtests on Feb-12. For a first design, the initial playtest went very well. We enjoyed ourselves! As expected, some refinements and changes came out of that first session. I’ve improved the deck and am ready for playtesting Round-2. I think there’s good potential here for a fast-playing (20-30 minutes), 2-player game, that has a bit of strategy while remaining rules-light & fun. I’m excited to keep it going.

Other Game Designs

Besides Dwarfnuckle, I also spent time tweaking the rules for three of my miniature wargames. New rules for Buildings (terrain) and Magic Items were added to Warlords of Hexenstein. I expanded the Initiative Deck used in Sword of Severnia. And lastly, I fleshed out significant changes to the Crown of Severnia campaign rules, moving it from a 2-sided campaign back to a true multi-player affair. That involved making major changes to the 81 Land cards that are part of the campaign game, comprising the key territories in the world of Severnia.

Random Musings

Outside of game design, I haven’t played anything or painted anything during February or the first few days of March. There were a few things that grabbed my attention though.

Rise of the Crocodile Queen – The guys at Crocodile Games are running a cool Kickstarter to crowdfund a new set of Sebeki models. The new Sebeki Flingers, sculpted by the uber-talented Chris Fitzpatrick, are part of this campaign. And they’re awesome! There’s only a day and half left on the Kickstarter, so give it a look ASAP.

Sellswords & Spellslingers Video – I came across an interesting video that demonstrates the mechanics of this co-operative fantasy skirmish game. I haven’t played the game, but have always wondered about it, especially since I usually enjoy Andrea Sfiligoi’s designs. The card driven aspect of it seems cool. Worth a look.

Snakes & Ladders Campaigns – I’ve been reading a lot about wargame campaign design lately, thanks to recent development efforts on my Crown of Severnia campaign rules. Although this differs greatly from where I’m going with the design of my game, I thought this blog article by Peter on Grid Based Wargaming but Not Always was a super interesting idea. Worth a read.

2022 Goals

Over the last 2 years, there’s something that I’ve stumbled across more frequently within the blogosphere: hobbyists who lay out their gaming & hobby goals for the coming year. It’s something that I find fascinating and somewhat admirable. Generally speaking, people who set goals usually get more done than those who don’t.

But why do it?

I’ve never been one to set any precise goals in all my years in the tabletop and miniature wargaming hobby. First of all, it always seemed like WORK. I’ve got enough projects and target dates in my day job as a software developer, so why add more from something that’s supposed to be escapist fun? Second, how do I realistically achieve hobby goals when my gaming & painting frequency is truly hit or miss? And third, since I’m not accountable to anyone but myself when it comes to hobby stuff, who cares?

Those seem like reasonable thoughts and considerations. But perhaps, if approached with a light hand and “no pressure” attitude, creating simple goals is more doable and beneficial than I may initially think. Okay, but what are the real benefits of doing this?

From what I’ve seen, the benefit of goals are that they help a hobbyist focus on completing big tasks which enrich their enjoyment of the hobby and fill them with a sense of accomplishment. Ticking things off our To-Do List always feels good. And gaming experiences usually feel good. Heck, we even learn something valuable from the occasional bad one.

My Short List of Goals

So… what the heck. I’m going to go ahead and take a shot at listing a few high-level goals that I hope to achieve in 2022. I’m not going to sweat the details. I realize that nobody is going to beat me up if I don’t hit these goals. It’s simply a list of things to aspire to. Plus, it will be fun and educational to look back at this goal-list in Winter 2022 and see how I did.

Goal #1 = Finish Sword of Severnia

Back in 2006, I began the design and development of a fantasy battle wargame with the goal of making it the one wargame that I wanted to play more than anything else. Fifteen years later that game, called Sword of Severnia, has evolved through 4 major versions and is still not 100% complete. I’m finally happy with the game as it stands, and aside from a handful of straggling bits that need finished (of the less important variety), I’m almost ready to call this game done. While I hope to publish Sword of Severnia some day, that’s not my goal for 2022. My formal goal is a more realistic one, to finish the game, getting it to the point where I’m no longer changing or adding to its core elements. I want to be able to play the same game 3 times in a row, a stable, settled version; a version that plays really well and I can say is done.

Goal #2 = Play Some Solo Wargames

I’ve tested out wargame rules by myself before. It’s a good way to learn how to play a new game. But I’ve never setup an Honest-to-God miniature wargame with the pure intent of playing it to completion by myself over the course of 2-3 hours. I’ve been interested in trying solo wargaming for a while now. I have a couple of books on the subject, and I subscribe to the Lone Warrior journal. Plus, the reality of my gaming group is that my friends simply can’t find the time to get together to play wargames as often as I would like. So, solo wargaming would give me the opportunity to play games more often.

Goal #3 = Playtest PulpLand Adventure

One of my side projects in 2020-2021 was working on the design and development of a pulp skirmish game called PulpLand Adventure. Work on this game has been very sporadic and it has taken a backseat to my work on the Crown of Severnia campaign rules, a new fantasy game called Warlords of Hexenstein, and continued work on the Sword of Severnia mass-battle game. But my appetite for pulp gaming continues to grow. I really want to explore this genre in 2022. The best way to do that is to push ahead with the development of PulpLand, getting it to the point where my friends and I can playtest it in 2022. That’s one of the goals on my short-list.

Goal #4= Paint 100 Figures

For some of you, this may seem like an easy goal. For someone like me, the thought of actually painting 100 figures (28mm) in a year seems a bit daunting. I’ve never accomplished that in any year, and I’ve been a miniature enthusiast since the early 1980’s. If I can just get into a routine and be consistent, then painting 2 figures a week seems doable, right? With all the game design work that I do, this won’t be an easy feat to achieve, but I’m sticking it on the list anyway.

Goal #5 = Play 3 New Board Games and 3 New Wargames

The final goal is something that I really hope I can achieve in 2022, since it means that my friends and I will be gaming face-to-face again on a more regular basis. Lord knows, I have lots of new games waiting to be played. On the board game side, there’s Santorini, El Grande, Inis, Forbidden Sky, Blitz Bowl, Pandemic: Cthulhu, Big City, and Nexus Ops amongst the un-played games sitting on my shelves. And there’s Return to Dark Tower, Gunfight Royale, Ragnarocks, and Tiny Epic Dungeons awaiting arrival from Kickstarter. On the wargaming side there are several games I’m eager to try including Thud & Blunder, What a Tanker!, SAGA Age of Magic, Dux Bellorum, Of Gods & Mortals, Fistful of Lead, Mighty Monsters, Chaos in Cairo, and Otherworld Fantasy Skirmish. Star Schlock is also on my future radar. There’s no way we play all of those in 2022, but 3 new board games is definitely doable and 3 new wargames is aspirational.

And there you have it, five goals for 2022. At least I have them in writing and have something to shoot for. No pressure, right?

Where have you gone?

Although my blog has been eerily quiet during the month of August, I haven’t gone away. Rather, I’ve just been so busy with other stuff that I haven’t had the focus-time to sit down and blog about anything.

Getting Social Again

On a personal level, my wife and I have had events (concerts, winery outings, and dinners) non-stop every Saturday since July 31. Throw in some other events on Fridays, mid-week hobby painting, going to restaurants more often, etc., and life has been full. It almost feels like we’re back to a pre-pandemic social life. We’re not there yet, but it’s definitely getting better, especially for us vaccinated folks. Now, if I could just start getting some face-to-face gaming happening in my game-loft, that would be a welcome addition to the social calendar.

Game Design Inspiration

I’ve also been heads down in wargame-development during August. Since the back-half of July through mid-August, I worked on enhancements to my Sword of Severnia fantasy battle game. Although this game is nearly complete and I really wasn’t expecting to touch it, sometimes surprise inspiration hits you and you discover an idea that makes your creation a little better. Rulebook updates have been made and I can’t wait to get this game to the table soon.

I also made tremendous progress in August with my rules-light, fast-play fantasy wargame, Warlords of Hexenstein. I’ve finally got something playable, now I just need to carve out some time to create a set of Unit stat-profiles so that my friend Wally and I can get together for an initial playtest game. I’m really looking forward to that.

I was also struck by sudden inspiration on the development of one of my back-burner games, a pulp skirmish game currently titled PulpLand Adventure. I spent much of last weekend working on the game design and rules. Most of the core mechanics have fallen into place, and I feel like I’ve finally found my “hook” which gives the game its own unique feel. At least I hope so. I won’t really know that for sure until I get it to the point of a playable game and start playtesting it. Nothing shows you what works and what doesn’t like live playtesting.

A quick aside. Once you’ve spent several years designing games, you realize that the difficulty in developing an interesting game isn’t really in creating mechanics that work. There are loads of ways to do things mechanically. What’s especially hard is finding those elements that make your game feel different & unique from the majority of other games of its type. You ideally want something that provides a different feel and different game experience from other games. Because what’s the point of creating another slight variation of a popular game? I’m a big proponent of game designers going their own way and taking chances with their designs. Innovation is hard. Some people will hate your ideas and approach. But, I always appreciate new approaches and designers who take chances (folks like Joe McCullough, Andrea Sfiligoi, Dan Mersey, Alex Buchel, and Arty Conliffe immediately spring to mind).

Mustering Campaign Mojo

I’ve reached a real point of frustration with my current wargaming campaign. Things have petered out. Life has gotten in the way for several of the participants, me included, and we just haven’t been able to maintain the momentum and progress that I was hoping for.

I’m trying to put my finger on the problem. It’s in my nature to immediately look at myself and figure out what I’m doing wrong, since I’m the Campaign Secretary and organizer. I’m also the person who designed and wrote the rules. I realize that we’re playtesting this game, and some things will inevitably change as we go through the process of playing it. But, the feedback I’m getting from the guys participating in the campaign has been mostly positive. Really, nobody is complaining about the rules. I’m not receiving any new rule suggestions from the guys. Aside from some self-proposed refinements to the rules based on my observations to-date, I can’t say the rules are the cause of our campaign stagnation. Players seem to be enjoying themselves when we get together online and play.

The WHEN is probably the crux of our problem. We can’t collectively agree upon the WHEN. Participant schedules are either not aligning, or I’m not even hearing back from people on what dates work for them so I’m hamstrung in picking feasible dates.

I’m coming to several conclusions. First, if I don’t lay down some official schedule that we must all adhere to in order to keep things moving along, then this campaign will eventually peter out and die on the vine. That has happened to two earlier wargame campaigns that I’ve started. Look, I’ve run several successful & fun fantasy sports leagues, one for 23 straight years, and they’ve all been played to a conclusion. And they all had a set schedule that the 10-12 players stuck to. There’s definitely something to that.

Secondly, I think my current campaign rules are not as flexible as they need to be to support a group of adults who will never be available to make every single play-date. While the rules work fine for a group of players who are 100% committed to playing as regularly as possible, they fail to work well for a more casual group, where players are all-in sometimes, but missing at other times when their lives become complicated. So, I’m taking a closer look at my rules, with an eye towards finding ways to better handle casual & absent players, while still enabling the campaign to move forward with the players who play more often. Wish me luck!

-STEVE-

When you can’t play…

I’m hopeful that I can do some 1-on-1 gaming with close friends soon. My wife and I have been very cautious during the pandemic, and our interactions with friends and family have been extremely limited. But with COVID infection numbers trending downwards (thank goodness), I think it’s time to take baby steps towards increasing our interactions. Expanding our “circle of trust” if you will.

Unfortunately, I haven’t convinced any of my close friends to pull the trigger just yet. Gotta keep working on that!

I’m sure many of you are in the same boat. So, what can you do when you can’t play games? Well, here’s what I’ve been doing…

When you can’t play, COLLECT…

A month ago, I said that I was interested in buying the Four Against Darkness solo dungeon crawler game. True to my word, I ordered it and it arrived last week. I’ve only perused it briefly, but my initial impression is good. While I intend to try it out solo, I can even see it being a nice little co-op game down the road.

I also bought a trio of toy monsters that were on my Amazon Wish List. If you’ve never checked out the toys made by Papo, Safari, and Schleich, you owe it to yourself to give them a look. There’s a lot of great, affordable stuff that can be used for fantasy and pulp wargaming. I picked up a Giant Scorpion, a Diabloceratops dinosaur, and the Abominable Snowman (giant Yeti). All of these figures will work perfectly in my Sword of Severnia fantasy wargame, and for pulp adventure games. I’ll share some snapshots of these toys in an upcoming post.

I also did a bit of eBaying. My main purchase was a cool looking Egyptian Temple terrain piece that was scratch built. I’m hoping to get that in sometime this week and share pics when it arrives. On a lark, I caved to old school sentimentality and snagged 10 plastic Beastmen from the old Battle Masters game by Milton Bradley.

When you can’t play, DESIGN…

January has been a prolific month on the game design front for me. It has included:

  • Campaign Battle Resolver — I completed the development of a simple game system for resolving Crown of Severnia campaign battles online. Since we’re not going to be playing regular face-to-face tabletop battles any time soon, I wanted to create a fun and easy way for us to fight battles online. This playing card & dice based system relies on freely available card dealers/shufflers and dice rollers, and meeting your opponent via Zoom or Facetime. I created stat-profiles for 8 sample armies and a couple of friends and I played out some battles. It was fun; much better than SCRUD or other simple alternatives that I’ve seen elsewhere.
Stat Profiles for Sample Armies
  • Dark Hordes — I continued to refine the design of Dark Hordes, my new fast-play fantasy wargame that’s played on a 3″ or 4″ hex-grid. The development process of this game has been eye opening. I’ve spent parts of 14 years developing, playtesting, and honing my Sword of Severnia fantasy wargame. There were periods of great creativity and progress, followed by months of downtime. While striving to make the ultimate wargame for me, I’ve learned a lot along the way. One of those things is that my tastes are varied. While my ultimate game is meaty and deep, I enjoy lighter games too. Dark Hordes is intended to scratch that itch. It has been fun to trim the fat from my meatier design tendencies and aim for a simple core. That simplicity, combined with design experience, has made development of this game so much faster. Progress is always satisfying!
  • Feudal War — For some time now, I’ve had a gnawing desire to develop some rules to turn the old Feudal board game (designed in 1967 by 3M) into a proper wargame. The urge struck me this past week, and here I sit on Monday the 15th with a first draft to a variant I’m calling Feudal War. I’ll share the rules via this blog one of these days, but I want to play it first before I do that!
Feudal — Photo by Bill K on BoardGameGeek

When you can’t play, PAINT…

My miniature painting progress has been slow to start 2021. I really need to be more religious about it. It’s not that I don’t enjoy painting; it’s just that designing games has severely eaten into my painting time so far this year.

On a positive note, my friend Kevin and I have done two Zoom sessions over the past 10 days where we have done a “paint & chat”. It has been a lot of fun. It gives us a chance to catch up on things and get some painting done at the same time. Gotta do more of that!

I’m trying to push the rat-men towards their final stages, so that I can then make a final push to FINISH eight different projects that are all 80-90% complete. I’m not sure why I get so-close to finishing a painting project and then shelve it (sometimes for a year or more). My focus in the next few months is to finish this damn stuff and experience that good feeling seeing new figures that are table-ready. Having a buddy also working on his stuff does help, so I’m optimistic.

UNTIL next time… be safe and hobby on!

Brain Stew: 11-24-2020

I enjoyed writing the “Micro Thoughts” post from a week and half ago. It seems like a handy way to share bite-sized brain bits without worrying about delving into something deeply thoughtful. You can’t always be Julia Child. Sometimes a simple Brain Stew satisfies the appetite. I figure what the heck, let’s do it again. Maybe this will become a regular thing.

Books

One of my Top 5 favorite books of the last 10 years was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. If you grew up as a geek in the late 70’s and 80’s like me, that book will undoubtedly stir up so many fantastically fond memories. It’s a very interesting and inventive story as well. Go read it!

Today sees the release of Cline’s sequel to that book, Ready Player Two. I’m not quite sure how there are 7 reviews on Amazon already when the book just came out today, but there’s definitely a group of fans eager for more OASIS goodness. It’s on my Must Buy List.

Crowdfunding

Time is winding down on the Pig Faced Orcs and Bugbears Kickstarter campaign. I’ve got to get my butt in gear and go back it. Here’s just a small sampling of these great figures. Soooeeey!

Game Design

November has seen my game design focus return to Sword of Severnia. In addition to getting sudden inspiration to slightly revise and improve the Morale Test mechanics, I roughed out some ideas on including rules for “Big Battles” (think more figures and bigger wargame table). Veteran wargamers who own lots of minis sometimes dream about playing out large, sweeping battles with hundreds of figures on the table. Might as well ponder if it’s doable.

Prompted by my friend Kevin Sarnowski, my newest foray into the Sword of Severnia design revolves around creating a system for managing solo play. Since there are already several card-driven elements in SOS game-play, I felt that creating a “Solo Deck” to drive the actions of the “ghost player” you’re playing against would be a really fun & effective approach.

This idea dovetails nicely with a key aspect of an earlier SOS game-design, so there was this feeling of dusting off an old decent idea that had been shelved, and re-purposing it for something new. Last weekend, I created the first version of the Solo Deck. We need to give it a few whirls to see how it works in practice, but I’m optimistic that it has a lot of promise. And heck, we’re all in lockdown anyway, so what better time to test out some solo rules?

Minis

Some new toys have arrived. The Chimera from Safari Ltd came in the mail. The picture below is one that I poached off the internet — I haven’t photographed mine yet — but it’s an excellent representation of what he looks like. He’s cool and an imposing monster; perfect for 28mm fantasy gaming. The paint job is solid. I might hit the fur and scales with some dry-brushing to highlight them up a bit. But honestly, it’s a perfectly playable beast left alone as-is, and if I was smart, I would spend my free time painting the metric butt-load of other figures that remain unloved and completely unpainted on my shelves.

Also, my Time of the Orcs kickstarter package arrived today. Amazing! It wasn’t officially supposed to arrive until March 2021. I was expecting it around Christmas time based on the initial info that I received from Crooked Dice. I haven’t even opened the package yet! I will do that over Thanksgiving.

Lastly, I finally succumbed to my rampant curiosity and plunked out some dough for 6 packs of Tehnolog fantasy figures from Russia (hopefully, with love). I grabbed Minotaurs, Werewolves, Centaurs, Orcs, Vikings, and Cyborgs. These are 54mm plastic figures which are obviously ideal for 54mm skirmish gaming (duh), but also work great as brutes & monsters for 28mm fantasy gaming.

I have a feeling the Minotaurs and Werewolves will be a perfect size for 28mm gaming, while the Orcs will make decent Ogres, the Centaurs will be beefy but feasible, and the Cyborgs will be great Big Robots in 28mm. I really got the Vikings for 54mm gaming (another itch of mine), but they might be good as wild “Hill Men” in 28mm; the mead makes them grow big & strong! You can find these minis on eBay being sold by ArtOfWars. I’ll report on them once they show up, which may not be until January since they’re coming from Mother Russia.

Painting

I decided to change the color scheme on him, but solid progress is being made on the large Dire Troll (Privateer Press) that I’m painting. I’m also about 85% done on 3 Mummies (Reaper Bones) that were languishing in a partially painted state. Feels good to see these guys nearing the finish line.

I also took 36 Rat Men (Citadel Skaven) out of some Ziploc bags with the intent to paint the unpainted ones, affix shields and do bases on others, and upgrade the paint jobs on those that look shoddy. I bought these little guys in the Flea Market at an HMGS convention several years ago for a great price, knowing that there was work to do to whip them into shape. I’m not 100% sure why, but I find that I enjoy doing touch ups and re-paints.

I finally got a chance to use Vallejo Surface Primer (the Leather Brown color) to undercoat a bunch of unpainted Rat Men. I gotta say “Wow”, my first impression of this stuff is terrific. It covered well and didn’t obscure the details, which is exactly what you want from a primer.

Lastly, I ordered several new paint brushes, Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner, Flow Aid improver, Pigma Brush Pens, and some plastic pallets from Blick Art Supplies. Looking forward to when those supplies arrive.

Until next time…. HAPPY THANKSGIVING to everyone, and stay safe!

Micro Thoughts

It has been super hard to write a blog post of late. My mind is cluttered with assorted topics, but I haven’t been able to focus on taking pictures, getting rules/books reviewed, or buckling down and coherently pulling my thoughts together. Perhaps all the hubbub related to the recent Presidential election has been too much of a distraction?

In order to kickstart myself, I’ve decided to share a quick brain-dump of “micro thoughts”. Let’s see where this goes and if it’s interesting.

Crowdfunding

The HeroQuest crowdfunding campaign on HasLab raised 3.77 Million dollars. That’s a good return for Hasbro, but less than many of us expected for an anticipated remake of a legendary dungeon-crawl classic. I didn’t back it. I’ve got the new Return to Dark Tower coming next year, plus Conan and Dungeon Saga on the To-Play List.

Earlier this year, Joe Corsaro of Dragon Bait Miniatures acquired the production rights to the Dark Fable line of miniatures when its owner passed away. It’s truly fantastic to see that this excellent range has been saved. A Kickstarter campaign for Pig Faced Orcs and Bugbears in the Dark Fable line was recently launched. More on this later, but go check it out ASAP.

Painting

While size 0 and smaller brushes are great for painting details on miniatures, my go-to brush has always been a Round, Size 1. Aside from a few Filbert and specialty brushes, I don’t have many Size 2, 3, or 4 brushes. Lately, I’ve been thinking about adding more to my tool-set. Why? Because I want to get faster at painting. The bigger brushes are super effective at quickly covering large areas on a figure, not to mention being essential for painting monsters. There are some good deals on miniature/fine detail brushes on Amazon right now.

Gaming

I still haven’t done any gaming during Covid-19 lockdown and it’s wearing on my psyche. Solo wargaming is becoming more tempting the longer this pandemic goes on. Recently, I bought a copy of Programmed Wargame Scenarios 2nd Edition from the terrific folks at On Military Matters. My initial flip-through made me think “wow, this is a truly useful book that every serious wargamer should have on his shelf.” For solo wargamers, this book is indispensable.

Another idea for gaming in this age of isolation is online gaming. My friend Kevin suggested buying and downloading the highly regarded Tabletop Simulator software. I was hoping to see a sale on Steam, but what the hell, it’s only $20. I need to stop dragging my feet and go get the software.

Books

I finished the Creativity book by John Cleese a few weeks ago. It’s a very quick read, but I love that it both encourages and gets straight to the point. Everyone can be creative, you just need to continue working at it, and let your “Tortoise Mind” ruminate, rearrange things, and shape your ideas into something good. A fun little book.

I just started reading Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. I decided it was time for me to take a short break from the brooding Elric saga and take a quick detour into the zany Discworld. Pratchett is always good for the soul.

Game Design

Lately, my game design mojo has been re-energized. Whether it’s new betting rules for Gladiators of Gorrak, the big battle and revised Morale Test rules for Sword of Severnia, or finding a hook to make PulpLand Adventure more exciting, progress is chugging along on several games that I’m creating. Maybe that book by John Cleese helped? Some of these ideas have emerged seemingly out of the blue, after a good night’s sleep. Hmmm…

Feudal is an old 3M board game that’s one of my sentimental favorites. It’s a much cooler evolution of Chess and I’ll post about it separately some day. Recently, I’ve been pondering creating new wargame rules using the Feudal components. This is just for fun, since Feudal is long out of print. Inventing variations of an existing game is always fun.

Minis

I don’t need any more unpainted minis at the moment, but veteran wargamers know that it’s never about NEED, it’s about WANT. So, I always keep my eyes peeled for cool stuff. Two new boxed sets of plastic minis from CMON for their Song of Ice & Fire game are being released that really pique my interest: Stag Knights and War Mammoths. The Mammoths are a pre-order item right now, but man do they look frickin’ cool!

Last week, my wife and I watched the first two episodes of The Mandalorian on Disney+. What a fantastic show it is. It has also fanned the flames of my burgeoning interest in playing sci-fi skirmish games. In fact, I was on eBay earlier this week hunting for a pre-painted Bantha, Tusken Raiders, and Stormtroopers. I have absolutely zero problems mixing Star Wars creatures and troopers together with Genestealers, Necrons, and Space Marines from 40K, Giant Robots from HeroScape, Mechs from AT-43, and bug-eyed aliens from other science-fiction universes. The more the merrier!

Well, that’s all for now. If you read the blog, leave a comment on whether you like this random assortment of micro-thoughts. Thanks!

Preparation H

The “H” stands for Human

Like most of you, I’m not playing any miniature wargames at the moment. The guys in my regular group are playing it safe during the pandemic, which is the smart thing to do since all of us are north of 50 years old and certainly not in the lowest-risk group.

Until we can comfortably get back together for some sorely missed face-to-face gaming, my primary focus as it relates to our game group is planning and preparation for that glorious day when we can feel Human again. I’m calling it Preparation H, preparing for Human gaming. And you originally thought this was a post about suppositories, right?

Design Developments

Since the pandemic started, my main focus has been on game-design. I’ve got 4 different games in various stages of development, and I’ve worked on all of them to varying degrees since March put us in semi-isolation.

I’m feeling good about the state of Sword of Severnia, my fantasy battle game which I’ve been working on part-time for well over 12 years. My creation has undergone many changes and many rounds of playtesting, and has finally evolved to something that I’m happy with. Aside from finishing touches on minor rules and battle scenarios, my final push will be to enhance the Troop Builder and Character Builder calculators (spreadsheets) which players can use to create highly customized armies. While my whole-hearted intent is to publish Sword of Severnia and its card decks and calculators some day, my short-term goal is to have all the critical updates ready for when I can start playing face-to-face with my buddies again.

I’ve also spent a fair chunk of time developing the latest iteration of Crown of Severnia, the campaign system which complements the Sword of Severnia fantasy battle game. Great progress has been made on formalizing the rules, and I’m hoping we can light our collective enthusiasm on fire and start burning through an online campaign this Fall.

The other two games that I’m working on are less well-developed. The furthest along is Gladiators of Gorrak, a fantasy gladiators and gambling game. This is an evolution of a tabletop game that I created and last play-tested 7 years ago. While that game was fun, its playing time was too long, and it needed streamlining and a little extra pizzazz. If I buckle down and spend another 2-3 weeks of quality time on this game, I could have something for my group to play-test by late Fall.

The last game I’ve been working on is a Pulp skirmish wargame. It’s really in the early stages of development right now, and I still haven’t found my “hook” to make it unique from other wargames in the Pulp genre. I don’t envision having anything ready for playtesting in 2020.

Buying Binge

Of late, my planning and prep has been geared towards acquiring new games for me and my friends to play, as well as upgrading some of our favorites.

My friend Kevin and I really enjoy playing Saga, a warband skirmish game set in the Dark Ages. Kevin owns an Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-Dane warband and is working on pulling together an Irish force. I’ve got a Viking warband, but I’m still looking to acquire a second army. I’ve been waffling between Normans, Britons, Late Romans, and Franks. My heart is truly set on the Late Romans. I’ve been keeping a close eye on eBay for decently painted, affordably priced figures to add to my collection.

Once we have 4 painted warbands, it should be easy to get the other members of our group to try Saga because we’ll have several armies to let them use when they come over to play. I’m sure that day will eventually come. So sure in fact, that I finally went ahead and bought into Saga 2nd edition (the Core Rules and the Age of Vikings sourcebook & battle-boards).

Another thing that I’ve been looking for is a good system to use for playing small, Pulp skirmish games. I already own Astounding Tales, which is well written and looks fun. But the rules are a bit more loosey goosey than I like. It’s a game best suited to having an umpire running the adventure, and unfortunately that’s not our style of gaming. I also own GASLIGHT and want to try that game some day, but it didn’t excite me enough.

I finally settled on Fistful of Lead by Wiley Games and purchased a copy of the rules. This isn’t really a Pulp game. Rather, it’s a multi-period / multi-genre small skirmish wargame where each player controls 5-6 figures in their group/squad. It also handles multiple players quite well.

After a quick read-thru of the rules, I’m excited to give Fistful of Lead a whirl. It should work fine for small Pulp games, and we can also use it for other periods that we might wish to dabble in like small Sci-Fi skirmishes, Wild West gunfights, or tiny WWII fire-fights.

Speaking of Sci-Fi skirmishes, which isn’t a genre we play outside of Space Hulk, I’ve got a hankering to dip my toes into those waters. Both Fistful of Lead and One Hour Skirmish Wargames have made this doable since you don’t need many figures to play. I also watched a recent YouTube video that reviewed Kill Team, which is a very scaled down version of 40K, and it piqued my interest. So, the other day I bought a 15-man squad of nicely painted Necrons on eBay (think Terminators) that would work great for any of these games.

Lastly, I just purchased a surprisingly cheap copy of Blitz Bowl. This GW game is an exclusive to Barnes & Noble, so it’s not very easy to find, especially at an affordable price. Blitz Bowl is a slimmed down, much faster playing variation of Blood Bowl, and only has 6 figures per team (Thrower, Catcher Blitzer, and 3 Linemen). All of the guys in my group love sports, and with the low figure count and fast playing-time, this game is approachable. Let’s see how it turns out!

Do we have too many games to play? Probably. But I want to see us supplement our meaty, longer-playing games, with some quick-hitters that only take 60-90 minutes to play. You gotta have a plan right? All it takes is a little Preparation H!

Rambling Man

What’s New with Me?

It has been too damn long since my last blog post. When I began writing this blog back in mid-April, I feared that I might lose my mojo at some point, and my post output would dwindle. Well ashamedly, that has happened. I realize that most bloggers go through “low output periods” for a variety of reasons, so I’m certainly not going to beat myself up too badly, throw in the towel, and give up. It’s time to get back on the horse and ride again.

Although I’ve been quiet on the blog-front, that doesn’t mean I’ve been completely slacking off. My work-life as a Robotic Process Automation analyst/developer has been very busy these past couple of months. Likewise, my hobby time has been jam-packed, with 100% of that time having been spent on writing and editing rules for my Sword of Severnia fantasy battle game and my Crown of Severnia wargame campaign system. Excellent progress on rules refinements and new development was made on both games.

I can’t wait for the day that I can get together with my buddies face-to-face to play SoS again, but alas, the recent spike in Coronavirus cases isn’t helping to spur us towards extended social gatherings. That said, my wife and I finally got to spend time with friends (the first time since about February/March), spending an afternoon drinking wine slushies and eating snacks outside at a local winery. Baby steps.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to do an online walk-through of the latest Crown of Severnia wargame campaign system with my old friend, Kevin. If all goes well, we’re going to try and kick-off a virtual campaign with 2 other buddies of ours, so we can play-test the rules and share in some fictional world conquering fun together.

Bits and Bites

So what good things have I recently come across that I want to share with you? I’m going to take a page from Larry King, USA Today, Parade Magazine, Reader’s Digest, and any of the myriad of other publications and people that like to publish “quick thoughts” articles. Maybe it will become a thing here, maybe not, but let’s give it a whirl.

If you are a serious wargame or role-playing terrain builder, do yourself a favor and check out the YouTube videos posted by Tabletop WitchCRAFT. This guy is inspiring. His latest video is about building a Dwarven Tomb.

For those of you who enjoy the Wizard Kings board wargame, a little while ago Columbia Games posted 2 new scenarios for that game that you can download for free from their website. These are worth checking out. Go here to get them: Free Wizard Kings Scenarios

One thing that I loved immensely in my younger days were dexterity games. My absolute favorite was Rod Hockey. My brother Joey and I used to religiously play 55 game seasons (55 being our house number), with the season victor winning candy, ice cream, a free movie, dinner, or some combination of those things. Over the years I played countless games of Rod Hockey with friends & family, and went through several sets. I still own a really nice STIGA table hockey game (with 3D painted hockey players — including a Philadelphia Flyers team) that my wife bought for me as a gift several years ago. For some strange reason, it’s still in the box sitting in my game loft, waiting to be played. Note to self – play the damn thing when social gatherings resume!

Anyway, what does Rod Hockey have to do with anything? Well, a few weeks ago I saw a game on Kickstarter which piqued my interest because it immediately took me back to my younger days of playing tabletop dexterity games like Rod Hockey or Army Men with wind-up tanks and dart-gun “long range missiles”. That game was Catapult Kingdoms. The concept is simple, arrange your plastic castle walls and place your soldiers on them. Then, each side tries to shoot down the soldiers and destroy the walls by firing rubber balls from their toy catapults. Looks like fun! I was very tempted to get in on the Kickstarter, but I didn’t pull the trigger in time. Well, it turns out the game is still open for Late Pledges here: Catapult Kingdoms game

Speaking of kid-like toys that might appeal to us adults who have never grown up and are looking for a silly racing-game diversion, check out Racing Possums on Archie McPhee.

If you’re a BoardGameGeek user who tracks their games collection on the site, one pretty neat online tool that I discovered is the BGG Collection Stats tool. Check it out. You’ll find some neat statistics about your collection, the genres, mechanics, and weights of games you prefer based on your ratings, and other stuff. I also discovered that my board game collection is worth $7,439 as a ballpark estimate. Holy crap!

Do you play Frostgrave or other miniature wargames where Ruins are commonplace on your battlefield? Then check out this inexpensive 3D printed Ruined Walls terrain from EnderToys that I found on Amazon.com. With a 4.4 rating from 120 people, these sound promising. They’re unpainted, but classic ruins are fairly easy to paint (start with a black or dark gray, then apply consecutive drybrushing layers of dark gray, light gray, and white — this often does the trick).

What to do when you can’t play games with your friends?

It’s hard to believe, but today is the last day of the first-half of this year. Tomorrow, July 1, sees us embarking on 2020’s downward slope. Amazing. I really don’t need to tell you what a wild and wacky year it has been. It’s likely the strangest year of my life, owing to the simple fact that I’ve been isolated from so many of the people that I care about the most.

Not surprisingly, 2020 has been a TERRIBLE year for face-to-face gaming. I’ve played just two tabletop games all year (Power Grid at the Game Table Cafe with my friend Wally, and SAGA in my game loft with my friend Kevin). Once the virus puts folks in isolation, it has been lights out on hobby gaming for me. And unfortunately, online gaming hasn’t come to the rescue. Kevin and I fiddled around with HeroQuest on VASSAL a few months ago, but we haven’t revisited that. To say that I’m in game-playing withdrawal is an understatement.

But all is not lost. I look at hobby gamers as falling into one of three broad categories:

  1. Those who mostly PLAY games.
  2. Those who mostly PREPARE for games (collecting, painting, building terrain, etc).
  3. Those who mostly DESIGN games.

I collect my fair share of toy soldiers (both painted and unpainted) and nicely finished terrain, as well as wargaming books and scads of board games. In fact, if I’m being totally honest, I own entirely too many board games because I simply can’t find the time to play them all. So you might think I’m a “Collector” and fall into category #2. But nope…

All the collecting is typically done so that I can play games with my friends. I truly love playing games. The sad reality is that I don’t get to do it often enough. So, I can’t say that I’m mostly a game “Player”.

I fall squarely into the 3rd Category; I spend most of my hobby time designing games. That’s ultimately the thing that I enjoy doing the most. Not only is it a huge creative outlet for me, but it also ties into writing and developing systems, which I really enjoy.

There are social aspects of game design, with playtesting being the biggest. But game design is mostly a solitary pursuit, with hours upon hours spent brainstorming, jotting notes, writing, editing, self-testing, creating cards and custom bits, making graphics/art, and then changing big chunks of it all when playtesting shows that you need to tweak things to make it better.

Since the pandemic has driven me towards solitary pursuits, I’ve decided to embrace that and spend focused time on game design. I spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-24 hours working on editing and reformatting my Sword of Severnia fantasy battle rules last week. It was time well spent. There’s still more work to do (isn’t there always), but I’m feeling better about the state of my “alpha rulebook” than I have ever felt. I’ve also dabbled on my campaign rules for this system (Crown of Severnia), as well as snatching moments to work on a very new & raw set of Pulp skirmish rules. If I have to be stuck inside, might as well get some shit done!

What’s best for you during the pandemic? Well first, make an honest assessment of what type of gamer you really are. Once, you’ve done that, spend focused time on the stuff that fits your personality. More precisely:

  1. If you’re a PLAYER, try playing games online using Tabletop Simulator, VASSAL, Tabletopia, or even playing a game using video-conferencing software like Zoom.
  2. If you’re a PREPARER, buy some new toys, purchase and learn some new game rules, paint your miniatures that have been languishing in a box, or build some cool terrain.
  3. If you’re a DESIGNER, spend time developing your game and solo-testing them.

When life gives you the Coronavirus, make Corona Beer. Or something like that.

Overcomplexity Sucks

Recently, I’ve been watching Deano Ware flip through dozens of miniature wargaming rulebooks as part of his “Bookshelf of Shame” series on The Solo Wargaming Show. It’s an interesting set of videos. Deano is a wargames rules junkie and some of the games that he shows are fairly old or not in the mainstream. While watching these videos, the thought struck me that most of these wargames are too complex. So many of the books fall within the 100-200 page count range and are jammed-packed with an over-abundance of rules. They look daunting to read. To me, that’s just plain craziness. Let me explain why I feel that way.

Overcomplex Insanity

Most of us play games to relax and have fun. For tabletop gamers, add direct “social interaction” into that mix. But miniature wargamers are a special breed of gamer. To a minis gamer, not only are the games themselves appealing to play, but the whole look and feel of the thing is of vital importance. The eye candy factor of attractive models traversing realistic looking terrain is almost as important as the quality of the game play itself; some wargamers might even say it’s more important.

A miniature wargamer’s time is split between collecting his army, painting it (although some folks buy soldiers that are already painted), buying and building terrain, finding appropriate wargame rules to fit their genre of models, learning those rules, and finally, playing the game with all this cool stuff. Doing all that collecting & prep-work is a high barrier to entry into miniature gaming. A lot of people just want a simple “out of the box” experience, so they skip miniature wargaming altogether and stick with board games. That’s sad, because mini gaming is such a creative and spectacular hobby.

So, how do we lower that barrier to entry into the miniature wargaming hobby so that we have more gaming buddies to play games with? We sure as heck shouldn’t do it by creating formidable 200-page rule sets. I’m not saying that there’s no place for those types of games in the hobby. Different strokes for different folks. But those monster rule sets and mind-numbing complexity shouldn’t be the norm. Watching Deano thumb through his wargame rulebooks, high complexity certainly appears to be the norm.

In my view, this is why games like SAGA and the ever-growing list of Osprey Wargames titles have been so popular of late; they are approachable.

On one hand, the number of figures needed to play a game of SAGA, Lion Rampant, Dux Bellorum, Dragon Rampant, or Frostgrave is attainable to most mini gamers; no 200-minis per army games there.

But more importantly, the rules themselves are clearly written and easy to learn. That’s one mark of good game design; cutting out fiddly bits and streamlining the game mechanics into something that are intuitive and easy for a new player to grok.

With regards to the more obscure wargames that Deano showed, my Spidey-Sense informs me that it’s not the artwork/presentation that prevented those games from gaining popularity, because some of those books are downright stunning in the looks department. Nor is it the lack of depth on the subject that the books are covering. If anything, there’s simply too much of a good thing here; information overload. And I can safely venture to say that some of these rules are just confusing and badly designed. I’ve read plenty of game reviews online, and while I don’t agree with every naysayer, there’s usually more than a small grain of truth in what most reviewers say about a universally disliked game.

Let me close by saying that I don’t hate wargames with depth and chrome; I prefer it. Over-simplistic games get boring really fast. But there’s a lot to be said for streamlining your game, replacing rules that you would otherwise have to memorize with cards, special dice, markers, simple charts, or troop stat profiles. Straightforward and consistent mechanics also help a great deal. Having to make 3 sets of dice rolls to determine combat or morale results isn’t as slick as doing it in one roll. Having to measure a unit’s wheeling radius with a protractor isn’t really fun. Adding together 7 different modifiers (plus and minus) for every action your troops perform makes players go loopy after a while. Unnecessary complexity does not make a game more realistic, it makes it unplayable. Too much complexity sucks the fun out of a game.

Disagree with me? Leave a comment.