Showing posts with label Victory Point Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Victory Point Games. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Kaiju Crisis Looks Like Destructive Fun

Southern California has long had a vibrant hobby gaming culture. In the early days of RPGs there were APAs like Alarums & Excursions and D&D mods like Warlock. All over Los Angeles County there are designers and players who helped our hobby grow and who made sure that the hobby was shared with new people. Alan Emrich of Victory Point Games is one of those designers. Alan has long been active in the Southern California gaming scene. He has long been an active proponent of hobby gaming, and a few years ago he started teaching a new generation how to design games. He does so as both a college instructor and as a business owner. You see, Alan's company Victory Point Games is "a desktop publishing company for small, budget-priced games based around submissions from students, amateurs and professional game designers alike." It's a company that makes great games, but that is also designed to help gamers become game designers.

Recently, Victory Point Games has added mobile gaming to their list of genres in which they develop games. VPG has an extensive tabletop catalog and some of their tabletop games (like Zulus at the Ramparts) have been converted to mobile devices. The translations of tabletop games have been good so far, but I am looking forward to some of their direct to mobile games currently in development. In particular, I'm looking forward to Kaiju Crisis.

Kaiju Crisis

Our mobile-monster-mash, Kaiju Crisis, is coming soon to iOS and Android devices! The news from Monster Island is that we're in our first round of alpha testing, with game testers coming into the VPG offices and lending us their thoughts. Testers have had the opportunity to play the first few levels of the game, topple a few buildings, tangle with the National Guard, and gobble up some helpless pedestrians. When the dust settles, we've asked them to fill out a questionnaire with their thoughts on everything from the controls and interface to their player goals and fun factor
With all this going on, master artist Clark Miller has completed nearly all of our monster's (adorably) terrifying forms and accompanying special powers, including a flame jet, ice breath, and lightning burst. Additionally, many of the boss monsters you will combat, and the islands they call home, have made it into the game, and so his time on the project is nearly at an end
From there, and with all the feedback from our testers addressed, I will be designing, testing, and balancing the remaining game levels and boss fights, so that soon you, too, will be able to enjoy this special brand of stompy, smash-em-up fun. Enjoy this quick glimpse into the alpha build of the game, and a bit of the theme music from our talented composer, Cain German!

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Victory Point Games Christmas

Victory Point Games is an independent small press gaming company located in Southern California that is both a game company and a classroom.  Not only do they want to produce fun to play games, but it is their mission to turn game players into game designers.  They are a friendly and talented crew.

For the past few years, VPG has released playable game after playable game.  What the games have sometimes lacked in quality of components, they have more than made up for in quality of play.  Recently, VPG has made two corporate decisions that will bring the physical/visual quality of their products in line with the play quality.  First, they have ordered a die-press in order to produce high quality die-press counters for their games.  They have been hand pressing and cutting the individual games in the past.  Second, VPG has slated a series of digital adaptations of their games.

VPG has just released their first digital game, an adaptation of Chris Taylor's "Loot and Scoot" fantasy game.  The digital version of the game does a good job of capturing the simple charm of the printed version of the game.  It also features significant graphic improvement over the tabletop game.  You can compare the digital version's graphic presentation to that of the original by looking at the images below.  The first two images come from the new digital edition, while the second two images come from the physical version of the game. 

I am quite fond of the physical game, and there is no replacing a good face to face board game experience, but the digital game is both cheaper and slicker than its physical counterpart.  The new digital game -- available for both iPhone and Android devices -- comes in at an inexpensive $2.99 where the physical copy has a $17.95 price point if purchased direct.  The digital game is competitively priced, where the physical game reflects the costs associated with limited print runs, both are worth the price.  Get yourself a copy of the digital game, and purchase a copy of the physical game for a friend.
In addition to "Loot and Scoot," VPG has a large catalog of fun games that make perfect Christmas presents.  My top ten list (in no particular order) are the following:

  1. Hero of Weehawken: The Aaron Burr Conspiracy
  2. Gettysburg: The Wheatfield
  3. Forlorn Hope
  4. Nemo's War
  5. Empires in America
  6. Zulu's on the Ramparts
  7. Waterloo 20
  8. Final Frontier
  9. Ancient Battles Deluxe
  10. The Barbarossa Campaign

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

I am Now Officially a Game Designer!

Every game master is a game designer at heart.  Every game session GMs make little decisions regarding player actions that seem to lay just outside the parameters of the rules as written for the game at hand.  We're used to making these decisions, but we don't often think of these things as formal game design.  That doesn't stop almost every game master from dreaming about becoming a professional game designer.  I imagine that most Fantasy Heartbreakers got their origins in the mind of a game master turned game designer.

(I have my own thoughts about the current trend to use Fantasy Heartbreaker derogatorily, but that is another post entirely.)

For years, my own design itch was scratched by game play and on line forums.  I spent a long period of time scouring Greyhawk texts for minutiae and discussing them with fellow fans on the AOL Greyhawk boards.  I also spent time on the various DC Heroes boards arguing about rules and coming up with new "fixes" for things within that rules set.  Anyone who doesn't think of DC Heroes as an "effects based" game should hunt down those old boards in the wayback machine -- sadly many of theme were lost when the "alt dot" archives faded away.  My participation in these boards eventually led to me contributing to the <em>Blood of Heroes</em> roleplaying game where I had written some rules contributions in a couple of the powers -- Superspeed is one of them if I remember correctly.  While this initial contribution might have led some to leverage participation in one product into a career, it didn't have that effect on me.  Graduate school, work, and adjusting to living in a new city (Los Angeles) took up the majority of my mental focus and dreams of being a designer faded into the background.

That all began to change about a year and a half ago when I started soliciting opportunities to playtest new games.  I have a regular gaming group made up of some very imaginative and thoughtful gamers, and I thought to myself they would be the perfect sounding board for new ideas and games.  How right I was.  I began playtesting a number of games, some of which are listed on the right hand column of this blog, and have had a great time doing it.  In fact, this playtesting has caused me to begin to feel very comfortable with the concept of designing games and I have begun reaching out in that direction recently.

One of the opportunities that emerged as I began reaching out was George Strayton's <em>The Secret Fire</em> project.  I was initially invited in to write some flavor text for some sections of the rules -- in fact my some of my flavor text is among the quotes praised in the forum praising/dissing the game -- but my role quickly evolved into rules development itself.  I was involved in discussions of game mechanics, balance, intentions, combat, spells, etc. and it was a great time.  The game was recently formally announced and is now available on Lulu, though it will soon be available from a variety of sources.  George was a great lead developer to work with -- his credits include <em>Star Wars d6</em> -- and he allowed me to play devil's advocate and to offer seemingly random ideas.  He turned game design into a sand box of joy.

The experience has inspired me and you will definitely be seeing more game design from me in the future.  I am currently putting together a pitch for the first <em>The Secret Fire</em> expansion, a couple for Super Genius Games, some for Victory Point Games, and my own company -- Twin Suns Entertainment LLC -- will be designing a number of games in the coming years.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

[Review] "Battle of 4 Armies" is Fantasy Fun for All!

Earlier today, I made the second of what I hope will become a regular monthly or bi-monthly visit down to Victory Point Games headquarters in Santa Ana, CA.  The game company's staff are friendly and welcoming, and it doesn't take long before a visitor gets talked into participating in a playtest of an upcoming game.  On my last visit, I was able to playtest an upcoming game entitled "Assault on Galactus Prime."  The game was a blast, and I eagerly look forward to its release.

This time I playtested an expansion for "Battle of the 4 Armies," one of VPG's existing game products.  But before I played the expansion, I had to learn how to play the base game.  I own a large stack of VPG games, but I had yet to purchase "Battle of the 4 Armies" by designer Nathan Hansen.  It is a testimony to VPG's desire to support and educate burgeoning game designers that this game, which was released on May 12 of this year, already has an expansion in the works.

The premise of "Battle of the 4 Armies" is simple:

 In a wealthy valley through which a warm,  enchanted river flowed from Foggy Mountain, Queen Elyra’s Council could no  longer keep secret her mysterious disappearance. She, the last heir to the Crown of Chip, was gone and, as word of  her departure grew more dire in each retelling of this new while spreading o’er
the land, order in the realm crumbled.

The representatives of the Great Races in the Queen’s Council, long assembled in peace by the force of her will, laid forth their claims to the crown in her absence – first with words, and then with deeds, calling their armies from afar in all directions to this land, each seeking to claim and restore the Crown of Chip.

In order to lay claim to the Crown of Chip, the winning Race must either completely defeat the armies of all of the other Races or control 3 of the 4 strategic locations on in the wealthy valley. Hansen provides some very simple tile placement and combat resolution rules that constitute the majority of game play, rules that echo some of the best elements of Diplomacy and Neuroshima Hex.

At its core "Battle of the 4 Armies" is a territory control game with very few random elements. Save for one random mechanic utilized to represent the morale of units in the game, this is a luckless game. Given the strength of Hansen's basic mechanics, this single random mechanic impacts play but does so in a way that is predictable and adds realism to the game -- morale effects being a staple of wargaming of all kinds. It would be easy to give a pure description of the rules, but they really are so simple that almost any attempt to describe them would border on plagiarism. As one of VPG's "Battlelesson" line of games, the game spends more text providing clear examples of good strategy than it requires to convey the basic mechanics.

That simplicity shouldn't be misinterpreted as meaning that the game is shallow. On the contrary, the choices required of players in the game are quite complex. Where to place and move pieces, when to push forward, when to retreat, these are all very significant choices -- choices that can result in very interesting movement combinations. Not only are the choice options complex, but the size of the territory to be controlled is small enough to guarantee that players must become actively engaged or suffer the consequences. There is no stalling in Australia in order to build up your armies in "Battle." The game can be played with 2 - 4 players, and the more players participating the more frenetic the game play.

Hansen designed the game as a "strategy game" to use during a role playing game session. The game represented a game that was played within his fictional game world. It has since come to be an excellent generic fantasy war game, one that I plan on inserting into my Eberron campaign as a representation of a battle that took place during the "Last War."

In short, "Battle of the 4 Armies" is almost a definition of what reviewers mean when they call a game elegant. There are few pieces, simple rules, but complex and diverse choices to be made that result in remarkable combinations. The game is quite simply one of the best games I have played this year, and is well worth the $15 price tag that VPG are charging.

Buy the game. Play the game. And help me start a viral campaign to convince VPG to do a Kickstarter project that produces a copy of this game with a cardstock map and nice plastic fiddly bits.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"Forlorn Hope" is a Must Have Addition to the SF Boardgamer's Shelves

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of visiting the Victory Point Games office. While I was there, I playtested their upcoming title Assault on Galactus Prime with the game's designer and had a wonderful time. As the release date for that game approaches, I'll post a review of that gem. I was also able to meet one of my favorite game designers -- in both computer and print games -- Chris Taylor. When it comes to game mechanics and concepts, it just seems that Chris Taylor has a direct link into my subconscious. Either that or we have been having secret psychic discussions about games, books, movies, etc. for decades.

A perfect example of how his designs seem custom made for me is Forlorn: Hope.

Forlorn: Hope has a familiar and well loved theme...Marines vs. Aliens. Ever since I first read Heinlein's Starship Troopers, I have been a fan of the genre. I own a number of games that follow the theme: Bughunters, Starship Troopers, Space Hulk, Death Angel, Aliens, Doom of the Eldar, to name a few. Basically, if it has a small squad of outnumbered and desperate combatants facing off against a rapidly populating army of insectlike foes, I'm game.

When Forlorn: Hope was released last year, I was jonesing for a new addition to the genre. In actuality, I was jonesing for a game of Space Hulk 1st edition, but was having trouble finding one at an affordable price on eBay. I owned the 2nd edition, but I wanted to play with the original "d6" based rules. During this time, I happened to be reading one of Victory Point Games bi-weekly reports and noticed that they were featuring a new game by Chris Taylor called Forlorn: Hope. As I was already a fan of his, and of VPG, I immediately ordered a copy. Not long after this, Games Workshop released a limited edition of Space Hulk 3rd edition which used the mechanics of the 1st edition, so that itch was scratched. I carried my copy of Forlorn: Hope around for months, including to last year's Gen Con, but the stars never aligned to put together a play session.

That changed this last weekend, when most of my regular gaming group was unable to attend our regularly scheduled gaming schedule due to the game day falling upon a holiday weekend. It turned out that only one of my regular gaming group, Eric Lytle, was able to stop by. Thankfully, Eric is one of the few members of my regular group who loves board games as much as I do...and he's a fan of the Marines vs. Aliens genre to boot. I pulled out my copy of Forlorn: Hope, went over the rules with Eric, and played two quick scenarios. All of which took slightly more than two hours. The rules were clear, the play was quick, and the game exciting.

The rules to Forlorn: Hope are simple enough for the beginning gamer, but dynamic enough to satisfy the veteran.

One player takes the role of the space Marines who venture aboard a savaged space station named Hope. These Marines have been given a mission objective that must be fulfilled. The other player controls the Xeno "Mind" and seeks to devour all of the delicious Marines foolish enough to venture onto the Hope. The missions define the make up of the Marine squad and the forces available to the Xeno "Mind." The players set up according to the basic rules, and the Xeno player will draw a number of "mutation" cards which can affect game play as the mission unfolds. At the beginning of each turn the Marine player rolls to determine how many Action Points he or she has to spend on actions, every movement or shot that the player wants a Marine to do requires the expenditure of points. The Xeno player gets to activate every living Xeno during his or her turn. Play goes quickly and the combat resolution system is quick and deadly. The temptation is to play cautiously as the Marine player, but each scenario has a limited number of turns for the player to fulfill the objective and play must be fairly aggressive to succeed.

Our two sessions were bloodbaths, but the Marines did manage to recover the "Master Control General Function Neuralnet" from the Hope in both instances. Forlorn: Hope manages to capture the hopelessness, desperation, and horror of the best sessions of Space Hulk while keeping game play simple enough that the action never bogs down into rules discussions.

Like most VPG games the game is fairly expensive, but the games are crafted by hand by a company that is dedicated to making every gamer into a game designer. VPG is the only game company that I can think of that considers themselves both a company and a classroom. Given how quickly a session of Forlorn: Hope goes by, and considering the replay value due to different scenarios and mutation card effects, there is a lot of bang for your gaming buck in this product.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Thoughts on the 2010 Diana Jones Award

Yesterday, the mysterious and secretive committee behind the Diana Jones Award announced this year's nominees for the prestigious annual award.

One of the things that I really like about Diana Jones short lists is the diversity of the nominees. As usual, this year's list of nominees is an impressive one that combines things that are well known in the hobby as well as those that are more obscure. Also as in prior years, the list is a mix of games that incorporate new ways of infusing narrative experiences in a gaming format, services that benefit the hobby as a whole, excellence in game design, and artistic workmanship.

The committee is to be praised for their list this year. The nominees are discussed in the Committee's press release:

The committee of the Diana Jones Award has released the shortlist for its 2010 award. This year the shortlist contains four nominees that in the opinion of the committee exemplify the very best that the world of hobby-gaming has produced in the last twelve months. In alphabetical order, they are:

BOARDGAMEGEEK, a website edited by Scott Alden and Derk Solko; CHAOS IN THE OLD WORLD, a boardgame by Eric Lang, published by Fantasy Flight Games; KAGEMATSU, a role-playing game by Danielle Lewon, published by Cream Alien Games; MONTSEGUR 1244, a role-playing game by Frederik Jensen, published by Thoughtful Games

The winner of the 2010 Diana Jones Award will be announced on the evening of Wednesday 4th August, at the annual Diana Jones Award and Freelancer Party in Indianapolis, the unofficial start of the Gen Con Indygames convention.


A website edited by

BoardGameGeek is a resource without peer for players of board and card games. Its comprehensive database is a first and best reference for both staunch grognards and casual non-gamers, presenting not only reference data about games but also the reviews, opinions, expansions, photos, and session reports of its membership. The site's internal economy effectively rewards those who continue to make the site broader, deeper, and stronger, and as a result its community is smart, enthusiastic, and steadfast. In 2010, BoardGameGeek celebrates its tenth anniversary, adding longevity to the roll of its merits. In one small corner of human endeavor, BoardGameGeek's exhaustive knowledge base, devoted community, and collaborative bedrock exemplify the absolute best that the Internet has to offer society.

Chaos in the Old World
A board-game by Eric Lang
Published by Fantasy Flight Games

In Eric Lang's Chaos In The Old World, players take the roles of four cruel and hateful gods, competing—and cooperating—to debase and destroy the human world. Lang takes the heart and flesh of the Warhammer cosmos and stretches it as tight as a drumhead across a boardgame that richly evokes the baroque insanity of its source material while remaining elegant and rational in design. Side elements feed game play rather than distracting from it, and each god fulfills its individual character while reinforcing the game's structure as a whole. The basic mechanics repeat and reveal themselves from new angles, channeling competition and fueling flavor as the game builds to its climax. Simultaneously rewarding planning and immersion, Chaos In The Old World masterfully bridges the board-game design gap between European architecture and American art.

A role-playing game by Danielle Lewon
Published by Cream Alien Games

With Kagematsu, creator published roleplaying games boldly continue their advance into uncharted territory. Set in Japan, the game flips genders on the players, casting men as village women whose efforts to romance the wandering ronin Kagematsu are judged by the woman playing him. The text is lucid and elegant. The game plays to a natural conclusion in four or five hours—resolving the fates of the women, Kagematsu, and the village—with no need to force things along to finish on schedule. And play is lush, anxious, and partakes of great dramatic energy from its tight mechanics and device of gender-reversal.

Montsegur 1244
A role-playing game by Frederik Jensen
Published by Thoughtful Games

Montsegur 1244, by Frederik Jensen, uses actual history to frame a tightly focused game that explores faith, loyalty, and the bonds of kinship. Using the final, brutal siege in the Catholic crusade against the Cathar heresy as a backdrop, players take the roles of true believers trapped in the fortress of Montsegur. As the inevitable endgame draws closer, each player must decide—will their character abandon their faith and recant, or will they burn for what they believe? This single, simple choice drives the entire game. Montsegur1244 succeeds brilliantly in evoking the horror and pathos of the doomed Cathars, and combines the best of Nordic and North American roleplaying traditions. The game is carefully structured where it needs to be and completely freeform where it doesn’t. Elegant, simple mechanics support play that is often surprisingly emotional. The choices players are presented with are impossible to reconcile. The tangled web of family, love, duty and belief only amplify the difficulty of the decision each must eventually make.

The Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming was founded and first awarded in 2001. It is presented annually to the person, product, company, event or any other thing that has, in the opinion of its mostly anonymous committee of games industry alumni, luminaries and illuminati, best demonstrated the quality of 'excellence' in the world of hobby-gaming in the previous year. The winner of the Award receives the Diana Jones trophy.

Past winners include industry figures Peter Adkison and Jordan Weisman, the role-playing games Nobilis, Sorcerer, and My Life with Master, and the board-game Ticket to Ride. The 2009 winner was the card-game Dominion designed by Donald X. Vaccarino and published by Rio Grande Games.

This is the tenth year of the Award.

For more information, see the website or contact
the committee directly: committee@dianajonesaward.orgthe committee directly:

As I wrote above, this is indeed a list filled with games and services worthy of nomination. It is also a list that deserves some commentary.

First, the nomination of Boardgamegeek seems to be a gimme at first glance. The website has been a hub for hobby board gaming enthusiasts for the past decade and is an invaluable resource for players and collectors. I wish the site was more user friendly with regard to helping me find news on upcoming games. When one has limited time, paging through the site can become a tad bit of a chore -- a pleasurable chore filled with new and exciting information, but a chore none the less.

That's just at first glance. At deeper glance one realizes that the committee ought to have nominated GeekDo, the website that is the descendant of Boardgamegeek. It contains all of the BGG pages, but now includes areas for role playing game and video game collectors as well. The site has moved beyond boardgaming and has become the best representation of the gaming hobby as a whole.

Chaos in the Old World is a marvel. The game proved that it was still possible, and desirable, for a company to make a board game based upon a miniature game's setting. Back in the 80s-90s Games Workshop produced scads of wonderful games like Warrior Knights, Blood Royale, Doom of the Eldar, Battle for Armageddon. Some of these were board games with no relation to GW's miniatures lines, but some where and these were quality media tie-in games. When Fantasy Flight Games announced they had an agreement with GW to produce games based on Warhammer, and 40k, intellectual property, the hobby rejoiced knowing that some great games were going to be re-published. What they didn't know was that FFG had creators like Eric Lang and Jeff Tidball who would be designing new and wonderful games to add to the pantheon of the GW boxed board game. Lang's Chaos in the Old World is one of the best games of deities doing battle every designed, it is also one of the best media tie-in games produced.

I had never heard of Kagematsu. After reading the reasoning behind the nomination and visiting the website, I immediately purchased the game. This is a beautiful looking game, the component design alone is art, with an intriguing premise. I don't think my regular gaming group will have any interest in the game, but I will love reading it. I don't know how vital the "gender reversal" elements of play are, I think that the shifting of what constitutes protagonist player roles is in and of itself intriguing. Playing the villagers instead of the adventuring hero is a greatly overlooked focus.

Montsegur 1244 is the Grey Ranks of this year's nomination group. The game takes the final days of the Crusade against the Cathars and puts the players in the role of the besieged heretics. Throughout play, the players explore the emotions and consequences of choosing religious faith over life itself. The game combines tragedy and a powerful historic setting, like Grey Ranks, and I look forward to reading more about this product. I am also a fan of the movement in games that attempts to structure play that is educational and emotionally powerful. These are the games that make claims like "games can change the world" less laughable than people might otherwise think and that return play to the "sacred" sphere it originated from.

There is a company that I would have lobbied for were I a member of the Diana Jones Committee because it meets quite a few of the standards exhibited by past and present Diana Jones nominees. I would have added Victory Point Games to the list. Victory Point Games is a DIY gaming company that is affiliated with a game design program at a Southern California university. The company not only makes a wide array of games covering a wide array of play styles, but they have it as a motto that he who plays should design. A key goal of the company is to turn its customers into game designers. There are only three other companies/institutions that I think can make a strong claim to that goal: Wolfgang Baur, Robin Laws, and the folks at Gameplaywright.

Any company that has as a central goal turning its customers into designers is definitely thinking about the future of the hobby in ways that deserve recognition. Maybe the committee will consider Victory Point Games next year.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

LOOT AND SCOOT: A Win for Victory Point Games?

I am a sucker for dungeon crawl themed board and card games. I own the vast majority of the games included in Board Game Geek's Definitive Dungeon Crawl Geek List. When I saw that the scrappy independent game company Victory Point Games had developed what they believe to be a "Euro Style" and "Family Friendly" version of a dungeon crawl game, I knew that I would have to add Loot and Scoot to my collection.

Adding the game to my collection is one thing, keeping the game on the "keep ready at a moment's notice" shelf is quite another. I own quite a few games, but only a few manage to find their way onto readily accessible shelf space. Most games end up in one of my gaming closets, or even banished to my storage unit where they rest until my wife and I manage to make the millions necessary for a house big enough to house a proper gaming library. Given that we live in Southern California, that truly means millions. Storage games do get played from time to time, but such occurrences are rare and must be planned. TSR's All My Children and Fantasy Flight Games' Fireborn are both games that are currently trapped in storage. If my gaming group shared certain affections with me, Fireborn wouldn't be there but she is.

What is the fate that awaits Loot and Scoot?

My friend, and fellow board game aficionado, Eric visited my house the other weekend during a non-roleplay gaming weekend and we tried out a number of games to test their merit and Loot and Scoot was among those games we played.

Loot and Scoot is one of many genre themed games published by Victory Point Games designed by Chris Taylor, or as VPG calls him the "Maker of Games." It would be fair to say -- attempting to not tip my hat on this particular evaluation -- that Chris Taylor and I have extraordinarily similar tastes in game themes. In addition to designing the pen and paper FALLOUT game that accompanied FALLOUT: TACTICS, Taylor has designed FORLORN HOPE (an Aliens/Space Hulk inspired game), NEMO'S WAR (a solo game inspired by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), and has a number of free web-published games. Let's just say that based solely on his attempt to design a solo game based on a Jules Verne novel places Chris Taylor among my favorite designers.


Loot and Scoot is a game of exploring dungeons, training adventurers, and scoring the most "loot." Each of the two to four players in a game of Loot and Scoot takes on two roles. Every player is a dungeon owner and a band of hearty adventurers seeking to kill the monsters and take the stuff from the other players' dungeons. In this manner, Loot and Scoot combines elements from FFG's excellent Descent game with the progenitor of all Dungeon Crawl games TSR's Dungeon.

Descent has players in direct opposition to one another as one represents the Dungeon Master and the others represent the adventurers. In Dungeon all of the players are adventurers seeking to loot the same dungeon and the first player to meet certain victory requirements wins. In Loot and Scoot players stock their own dungeons and loot those of their opponents. Games with more than two opponents can see some players' dungeons become the focus of several players for a time.

Basic Flow of Play

At the beginning of each game session players select a map they will use as their own dungeon which they will stock with an array of dastardly creatures in the hopes of creating a challenge for their opponents. Each player also begins with two "level 1" adventurers and two hirelings. Players will use these character to explore the dungeons of their opponents, a player can never explore his/her own dungeon.

Once the players' dungeons have been stocked, the players' work as "dungeon master" is finished and the only ways that the dungeon will change are due to the successes of the opponents' adventurers. Monsters don't leave their rooms once they have been placed. It should be noted that the dungeon stocking phase of the game shares some qualities with Stratego. Players want to place their Dungeon Bosses -- really tough monsters -- in such a way as to make their opponents work hard to get to them.

During a player's turn he/she may use money that has been acquired, either through adventuring or using an action to "beg funds," to recruit adventurers and hirelings, train adventurers, or purchase buildings where adventurers may be trained. Different adventurers are more, or less, effective against different monsters and players are well served to have a well-balanced and highly trained party. The game's design is such that there are not enough characters, or buildings, for every player to have multiples of each character type or training facility. This can lead to trading and auctioning activities when a player encounters a monster that his/her adventurers are less than effective against. Having limited resources adds a nice level of depth to the play and increases player interactivity.

When looting an opponent's dungeon, players go from room to room (revealing and combating monsters as they go) attempting to acquire as much loot -- and defeat as many monsters as possible -- before encountering the dungeon's Dungeon Boss. Defeating a Dungeon Boss ends the game and points are scored at the end of a full round of play after the Dungeon Boss is defeated. This activity sounds easier than it actually is in practice. Defeating an individual monster is no easy task, an adventurer has either a 1/6 chance or no chance at all of defeating a monster. Certain monsters can only be defeated by certain character types. For example, the Werewolf may only be combated by the Mage, the Cleric, and the Fighter. Any Rogues in the player's party are of no use. Additionally, only one of each of those characters can contribute in a battle against a Werewolf -- each needing to roll a six in order to defeat the beast. It is guaranteed that players will lose hirelings/take damage while they are adventuring, but it is up to the player to decide how far he/she wants to push their luck as they loot dungeons. Play too cautiously and opponents will run away with the game. Play too loosely and you will never acquire enough victory points to win the game.

The game play has a nice balance of luck and skill. The luck comes in the form of the die roll resolution, but the skill comes in rationally analyzing your odds of success. This kind of luck/skill balance is common in Eurogames and is one of the reasons they have such a broad appeal. Having elements of luck in play allow less skilled opponents to win, and thus expands the number of those who can have fun while playing. Having elements of skill appeals to those who find the whimsical hand of purely luck driven games dull. Taylor's design in Loot and Scoot has the right balance of the two, both in the "planning" stages and in the eventual "adventuring" stages of the game.

Component Quality

Like all of Victory Point Games' games, Loot and Scoot is well designed graphically. Also like all Victory Point Games' games, there is a "hand made" quality to the components. This is because VPG games are designed by people with excellent graphics skills who are actually making the game by hand. The game features hand cut die-cut counters that had their graphics printed on a high quality ink jet printer.

At $17.95, the components compare well to other die-cut counter games and are far superior to the components of early Microgames like Ogre (those Microgames have an inflation adjusted price of approximately $10.00). As a die-cut counter game the components are good, but for those who prefer miniatures/meeple/wooden blocks this game won't quite meet expectations. The game also included one of those microscopic 6-sided dice, something that I actually would have preferred they left out of the bag. Did I write bag? Yep. The game, like those old Microgames, comes in a ziplock bag.

Some of the above comments regarding the components read a little more critical than I intend them too. I just want you to know what you are getting for $17.95. This is the 2010 version of a Microgame, inexpensive components and a reasonable price.


Components and rules aside, whether or not a game gets played repeatedly or gets its place on the "keep ready at a moment's notice" shelf is determined by two major factors -- is the game fun to play and can it be played repeatedly? In the case of Loot and Scoot, I can give a resounding yes to both questions.

There are a couple of things that set this game apart from other dungeon crawl games and make me want to have it as readily accessible as Descent. The game sets up and plays quickly. The games mechanics encourage player interaction due to a scarcity of resources. The game has internal mechanics that prevent one player from feeling "beat up" on for more than a short time. All in all this is a fast and furious game, and I cannot wait for the expansion.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wargaming School Renaissance -- Victory Point Games

Regular readers of this blog are well aware of the fact that I collect and play role playing and board games. My collection of each is quite large and ranges from the original D&D White Box by TSR to the recently released Old School Renaissance White Box by Brave Halfling Publishing on the role playing side, and a copy of Milton Bradley's Dogfight to Bucephelous Games Dogfight on the board game side.

What readers may not be aware of is the fact that I am also a fan of simulation war games as well. My collection currently includes the full line of Squad Leader boxed sets -- the precursor to Advanced Squad Leader (of which I don't own any sets) -- and a nice collection of issues of Strategy and Tactics and World at War among other things. My introduction to this particular market within the gaming hobby came in the early 80s when a friend named Christian Hunt introduced me to Steve Jackson's excellent mini-game Ogre which featured an artificially intelligent supertank crushing a small defensive force of human soldiers. The game was great fun, and it used all the classic components associated with the traditional war game -- i.e. hexagon maps, small 1/2" counters (hand or die cut depending on the game), and a Combat Results Table (or CRT). That game, with its small and easy to learn rules set, deeply ingrained an appreciation for how fun war games can be and made it possible for me to try out more complex rules sets -- though I must admit that I've yet to try Drang Nach Osten.

The vast majority of war games are time consuming affairs that take up a good deal of table space and require either familiarity with the underlying systems of a series of games, or the patience and time to read a complex rules set. This is one of the reasons there have been so many wargamers who play these games solitaire over the years. It can be hard to find someone else who had the time, energy, and interest to pour through pages of rules and who also spent the time futzing around with them enough that the two (or more) of you could just get straight to playing without one player having to teach the other the basics of the systems etc.

This "intimidation gap," particularly acute in monsters like Drang Nach Osten, is one of the reasons that I believe that Metagaming's line of mini-games (which started with Ogre) were so successful. They provided small, approachable, quick, and playable games that in turn gave players a substantive and robust gaming experience. A game like Ogre initially appears to have little strategic depth, but one quickly learns otherwise. In a way, the mini-game was the Eurogame before there was a Eurogame.

Recently, I had been lamenting the lack of a vibrant "mini-game" community of manufacturers. I believed, wrongly as it turns out, that there were few if any publishers selling games that offered depth of wargame experience with the compactness and playability of a mini-game or a Euro-game. I knew of Eurogames like Neuroshima Hex which were Euro-style games that approached the war game experience. I was even familiar with the Euro-influenced Card Driven Strategy war games available on the market -- ranging from Command and Colors to Paths of Glory. I was looking for a company more akin to Metagaming back in its heyday or Steve Jackson Games during its early years.

I didn't believe they existed.

Then I saw an advertisement for a new Independent French War Game Magazine called BATTLES -- published in English. That's right, a French magazine. The first issue of BATTLES contained a nice, playable, and quick wargame -- in contrast to the comparably monster games of Strategy and Tactics -- that had excellent quality components. The game was beautiful by war game standards...not to mention the magazine. BATTLES is a graphically amazing magazine that covers the war game hobby as a whole, rather than focusing on "in house" games as some other war game magazines do. But enough about BATTLES, or rather not enough but I'll save some comments for posts regarding the magazine, I want to talk about an American company that I found out about because of BATTLES.

You read that series of sentences correctly. I found out about an excellent American (Southern Californian in fact) game company by reading a French war game magazine (published in English). Talk about the world being flat!

That game company is Victory Point Games and they operate out of Irvine, CA. The story of the game company's founding, and the Wild West nature of their product line/production schedule, are very reminiscent of all the qualities I admire about Metagaming and Steve Jackson. The company started as an extension of a college course, and has become something of a "community course" in game design. From their "About Us:"

Most great game ideas begin with an impassioned gamer thinking about a game and saying, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” That’s how the best game ideas occur – not from bottom-line watching bean counters, not from Sales or Marketing, not through scientific research – it is gamer passion that creates the best games.

Enter Alan Emrich, who was teaching various game-related subjects such as Game Design, Game Prototyping, and Game Project Management at The Art Institute of California: Orange County in 2007. An impassioned gamer himself, while teaching other impassioned gamers about the art, craft, and science of making games, he had one of those “Wouldn’t it be cool if…?” moments. Although he had been ‘designing game designers’ among his students for some time, the notion arrived as a culmination of thoughts coalesced.

Just as some genius at Reese’s figured out one day, “Hey, what if put the chocolate and peanut butter together?,” Alan blended the ideas of Desktop Publishing (DTP) with his students’ game projects. The seed of an idea for Victory Point Games was planted.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if,” Alan reasoned, “I could desktop publish a few copies of some of my students’ better course project games? That way, when they graduate and go find jobs in the game industry, they’ll have a published title to their credit and a copy of it in their portfolios. That would certainly be a plus on their resume and at job interviews. What a great graduation gift I could give them!” This became a notion that he had to pursue.

A quick look through their website shows a deep catalog of games that appeal to the simulation gamer, with creations by well regarded creators like Jim Dunnigan, Joe Miranda, and Frank Chadwick, as well as light-hearted games that appeal to the casual gamer. Games like Forlorn Hope and Nemo's War address topics (space marines vs. aliens and Captain Nemo's world on the world's navies) that don't fit within the narrow confines of traditional wargaming.

What one will also find are blog entries discussing Victory Point Games' business model, and giving advice on how to design your own games the "victory point way."

These are games by gamers for gamers, but they aren't just games by gamers for "hardcore" gamers. These games are for both experienced and inexperienced gamers. You won't find any games that have "hundred" of die cut counters here. In fact, they have a whole line of games that feature no more than 20 counters used during play.

Everything about the company echoes Steve Jackson's early days -- before everything they made was Munchkin! Back in those days SJG produced games like One Page Bulge (which had one page of rules), Ogre, Car Wars, Undead, and Kung Fu 2100. The games were innovative and fun and made by people who obviously loved what they were doing. Add to this that SJG's house magazine The Space Gamer had a series of articles discussing the art of game design and you quickly see some parallels between the two entities.

Don't get me wrong. SJG is a great company. Their Frag Gold Edition is a wonderful, if overlooked by game stores, product. The same is true for their Revolution game -- and I am looking forward to owning copies of their new Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice games as well. In fact, I think that SJG has managed to recapture a bit of the creative spirit that was lost for a time as they focused on the best way to pay the bills. My point is that Victory Point Games behaves like SJG did when they were small and hungry.

Victory Point Games is indicative of a movement in wargaming similar to the "Old School Renaissance" movement in role playing.  It's a movement of gamers who want to break from the current fads of gaming and introduce the world to a robust and vital hobby.

I'm all for it.

I am very excited about Victory Point Games offerings, and am looking forward to reviewing them as I'm playing them.