Showing posts with label War Games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label War Games. Show all posts

Friday, April 03, 2020

A New Edition of H.G. Wells' Classic LITTLE WARS is on the Way from Peter Dennis' Paperboys Line of Books

Peter Dennis is republishing H.G. Well's seminal LITTLE WARS rules as a part of his "Paperboys" line of game books. Like other books in the series, this includes pages and pages of wonderful illustrations meant to be copied and cut out to make armies of paper men. I own most of the books in the series, but have only done a little bit of construction using his English Civil War book.

It's a marvelous series.

This book contains a reprint of H.G. Well's book LITTLE WARS which is a cornerstone of the modern wargaming hobby. Whether you play Warhammer or Bolt Action, you owe a debt of gratitude to Wells. You can see some elements of modern game rules in Wells' simple rules set in a lot of places, but the resolution of combat isn't one of them. Wells' rules are based on the use of a pea shooting toy cannon.

This book looks fantastic and I cannot wait for mine to arrive via Amazon.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Steve Jackson's OGRE is Coming. Can You Protect the Command Center?

In 1977, Metagaming Concepts released Microgame #1. Metagaming's Microgame series was an attempt to bring to market complex and playable wargames that had limited components and a low price point and the line was a runaway success. A large reason for that success is the high quality and amazing replayability of Microgame #1, or as it is better known OGRE.

Image Source wtrollkin2000 at Board Game Geek

The $2.95 price point of the game made it extremely affordable, and interestingly up until recently you could once again buy a copy of the basic game for $2.95, but what made it a classic was its easy to understand rules and how well they fit the game's fictional concept. It's a concept that is instantly intelligible the moment one looks at the game's cover illustration. It is the struggle of multiple small units against a nigh invulnerable towering giant. It is army vs. Kaiju, village vs. giant, weak vs. strong. Can the weaker force prevail, or will they fall before THE OGRE?

The giant tank rumbles toward its target . . . its guns are destroyed, its movement crippled, but only a few defenders are left. Will they stop the robot juggernaut, or will it crush the Command Post beneath its gigantic treads?

The game's success led to more Microgames, some of which expanded the Ogreverse and others like Melee and Wizard formed the foundation for complex and fan adored role playing games. When Steve Jackson left Metagaming, he made sure to bring OGRE with him and it helped launch his new company's success as did a continuation of Microgame style games including Car Wars and Battlesuit. Eventually Steve Jackson Games moved on to other ventures like GURPS and Munchkin, but when an OGRE Kickstarter raised almost a million dollars in revenue it proved that there was still demand for battle in the Ogreverse. That Kickstarter has led to a revival of the OGRE line, the return of Car Wars, and now an upcoming video game release on October 5th. The game has been developed by Auroch Digital, who's earlier adaption of Games Workshop's classic Chainsaw Warrior demonstrated their ability to do quality adaptations of classic table top games.

Here is a look at what Auroch will be bringing us this October.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Simulation vs. Playability: The Background Discussion for a Blog Series

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be discussing how some games balance their desire to simulate a certain activity with the need for a game to be playable. Most of the posts will be dealing with role playing games, but I might wander into wargame territory from time to time.

Let us take as a given for the purposes of our discussion that, with the exception of purely abstract games, most games are a simulation of some central conceit.

For example, both Chess and Men of Iron are to one degree or another simulations of medieval warfare. Men of Iron has what Elias, Garfield, and Gutschera (2012) would describe as higher "intensity" of the medieval warfare conceit than Chess, but both do share that central conceit. On the Elias, Garfield, and Gutschera "Scale of Intensity for Conceits," Chess is rated a 3 (Very Light Conceit) while Men of Iron would likely be rated around an 8 (Simulation, but with many sacrifices to gameplay).  As a further illustration Tic-Tac-Toe rates a 1 (Purely Abstract) and Squad Leader ranks a 10 (Full-on Simulation).  This might make one wonder where Advanced Squad Leader would rank, but I digress.

I understand that there are those who may disagree with the initial premise that "all non-abstract games are a simulation" either as a mere tautology, and others who completely disagree with the premise as an a priori. I believe it will prove useful for the series of discussions I hope to have about role playing games as simulations of the various subjects they address.

The framing of games, and in particular role playing games, as simulations should not be confused with Ron Edwards' GNS (Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist) system of game play analysis. As I interpret GNS Theory as a theory of play that can inform design and not a theory of system deconstruction and design. As Ron states in the above linked essay, "These terms, or modes, describe three distinct types of people's decisions and goals during play." These are player goals toward which games may be designed, but in my opinion a "Simulation" is not the same as a "Simulationist" game. 

To illustrate, the excellent Narrativist game The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a simulation of storytelling as the good Baron himself might engage in it. It is not a simulation of the Baron's adventures, though James Wallis considered making a game where players could enact those adventures, it is instead a simulation of storytelling in a particular style. Another example of a game that is a simulation of storytelling is Tales of the Arabian Nights. Both Baron and Arabian Nights simulate the activity of storytelling within their conceits differently, but in the end the game play of both are best described by the stories created within the rules of the game. There is a reason that Wallis calls these kinds of games "Story-Making" games. So it's possible to have simulations of storytelling that results in story-making which in the end results in storytelling when the results with game play are shared.

Okay, enough of the metaphysics of games being simulations. Let's move forward please -- ed.

Games are also about fun, and to be fun games must be playable. This is as true of role playing games as it is for any other kind of game. As Robin Laws says in his masterwork Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering, "Roleplaying games are entertainment; your goal as GM is to make your games as entertaining as possible for all participants." 

The key part of that statement is "as possible for all participants." Because players come to a gaming table with different "ideas of fun" as highlighted in Edwards' GNS theory, roleplaying game design must make decisions between the level of depth of simulation and the playability of the system. Some players find granular verisimilitude and accuracy of representation entertaining. For these players reading Chapter H of the Advanced Squad Leader rulebook is as much fun as actual game play. Other players might enjoy quick systems or systems that foster the creation of narratives.

Historically, one of the conflicts that has resulted from the attempt to design "good" games is a tension between "realism" and "playability." In Issue 8 of MOVES magazine (1973), Victor Madeja argued that "Commercial wargames fail to accurately represent modern war. Although no game will ever recreate the confusion, horror and destruction of war, we should at least expect a wargame to partly simulate the decision-making process involved in actual battle. Instead we have chess-like caricatures of reality. What semblance of realism we were led to expect is sacrificed on the altar of playability" (Emphasis mine). For Victor, there was a clear distinction between realism and playability and he thought that games at the time leaned too much toward playability and not enough toward actual simulation .

You can purchase access to the first 60 issues of MOVES magazine for the very reasonable price of $19.95 at Strategy and Tactics Press.

By Issue 14 of MOVES (1974) John Hill, the eventual designer of SQUAD LEADER, addresses the conflict by stating, "One of the hardest problems facing any war game designer is the careful balancing between playability and realism. Actually, any reasonably competent wargamer could probably design a realistic 'simulation,' but to design a good game is something else. As an example, 1914 was an excellent simulation of corps level fighting of that era, but as a game it was worthless -- it couldn't be played." John Hill would eventually go on to become an advocate of what he called "abstraction." This was a controversial game design philosophy in which the designer cared less about "what actually happened" and more concerned with the "effects" of what happened and how to model those effects. So, for Hill the fact that gunfire affected morale was more important than modelling the specific physical effects of bullet trajectories. Examples of "abstraction" designs in role playing games include D&D's "hit points" and the "effects based design" of CHAMPIONS.

The tension between simulation and realism is one that has been discussed in role playing games since the origin of the hobby. In the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons DUNGEON MASTERS GUIDE, Gary Gygax writes, "Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school." -- You can see in this discussion the origins of Edwards' GNS theory. -- "AD&D is assuredly an adherent of the latter school. It does not stress any realism (in the author's opinion an absurd effort at best considering the topic!). It does little to attempt to simulate anything either. ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is first and foremost a game for the fun and enjoyment of those who seek to use imagination and creativity...As a realistic simulation of things from the realm of make-believe, or even as a reflection of medieval or ancient warfare or culture or society, it can be deemed only a dismal failure...Those who...generally believe games should be fun, not work, will hopefully find this system to their taste."

In his paragraph on design intent, excerpted above, Gygax clearly puts himself in the "abstraction" design camp. His discussion of Hit Points in the DMG also makes this clear, whereas those who criticize hit points or how armor "makes it harder to hit and doesn't stop damage" fall more into the simulationist camp. I would like to say that I disagree with Gygax that his game "does little to attempt to simulate anything." I would argue that it is simulating heroic fantasy, but it is doing so from an abstractionist position. It's a small distinction, but not an unnecessary one.

As an aside, most gamers or designers are a combination of abstractionist/simulationist. Ken St. Andre, the designer of one of the most abstractionist rpgs I have ever played, doesn't like armor class systems because they don't simulate what he wants. This is the case even though his TUNNELS & TROLLS combat system sacrifices specificity for playability and speed of play.

When it comes to the tension between "simulation" and "playability" there is not a procedural definition of what is right or wrong. What is right or wrong doesn't even depend on what is being simulated. What determines whether it is better to favor simulation or playability is how that decision works within the rules set and the goals of the game itself. Sometimes it is important that a game be a good simulation of what it is trying to represent. CHAMPIONS is very much an "effects based design" system in character creation, but its combat system simulates the panel to panel flow of comic books extremely well. VILLAINS & VIGILANTES has a random character creation system that favors simulation -- though it also includes GM "rulings over rules" -- over abstraction as it defines specifically what Flame Powers and Ice Powers do and how they work rather than define effects and have you decide what matches what. Both are good games.

In the coming weeks, I'll be looking at some games and how they address the Simulation/Realism vs. Playability/Abstraction conflict. I'll be starting with VILLAINS & VIGILANTES and how it emulates Force Fields and Telekinesis in its simulation of super heroic conflict. While I think that the V&V system overall is quite good, I believe that the designs of these two powers demonstrate good "simulation" on the one hand and "awkward" simulation on the other.

I'd like to leave this conversation with two quotes for Will Hindmarch and Jeff Tidball from their Things we Think About Games.

1) Theme and gameplay are two different things.
2) Balance is not the same thing as fun.

Elias, George Skaff. Garfield, Richard, and Gutschera, K. Robert (2012), Characteristics of Games. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

RIP Charles S. Roberts (1930 - 2010) -- Without Roberts, There Would Be No Gaming Hobby as We Know It

Charles S. Roberts, a man who is arguably the most important figure in Hobby Gaming, died on August 20th, 2010 due to complications of emphysema and pneumonia. Roberts was the founder of the Avalon Hill game company, a company that was once a giant in Hobby Gaming. The Baltimore Sun has an extensive, though also error riddled, obituary regarding Roberts and his impact as a game designer and as a historian. High on the error list is the assertion that Roberts sold Avalon Hill to Parker Brothers in the 1960s, when the truth is that Monarch Publishing -- Avalon Hill's chief creditor -- took ownership of the company in 1962.

Roberts' impact on Hobby Gaming is undeniable. Were it not for the publication of Roberts' game Tactics in 1953, it is unlikely that there would have been the "Castles and Crusades" society that led to the creation of Dungeons and Dragons. It is possible, as there was miniatures gaming without Avalon Hill, but given the fact that the original D&D books recommended the ownership of Avalon Hill's Outdoor Survival for use in "Wilderness Adventures" it is clear that Gygax was influenced and inspired by Avalon Hill. Gygax also wrote articles in Avalon Hill's The General magazine and viewed Avalon Hill and SPI as two of his chief rivals early in the hobby, but that is another discussion. Hobby Gaming is more that role playing games, it includes Eurogames and games like Battlelore and Formula D.

To quote SPI's "Strategy & Tactics Staff Study #2": Wargame Design (1981):

Modern wargaming on boards, as a hobby, can be traced to one man and one game. In 1953, Charles S. Roberts, a young man in his early twenties, combined an interest in the military and in history to produce a game, which he designed in his spare time, called Tactics.

Roberts release of Tactics, and subsequent founding of Avalon Hill, is entirely responsible for the creation of the board wargaming hobby. His contribution to general hobby gaming is often overlooked, primarily because people view Avalon Hill as a "wargame" company and not a Hobby Gaming company. This is a huge error. To quote Wargame Design again:

The Avalon Hill Company was not founded for the primary purpose of producing wargames. This point is often ignored by those in the hobby who have come to look at Avalon Hill as a source for games. Its true purpose is, and remains, to produce the broad spectrum of adult games for which Roberts felt there would be a market. Roberts felt that the big game publishers, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, and the like, had ignored the adult game field and he was determined to take advantage of their indifference.

Roberts saw adult games as a field to be exploited and fertile soil for a hobby. He was right. As modern adult games like The Settlers of Catan, Small World, Pandemic, and Tide of Iron, as well as classics like Squad Leader, Gettysburg, Facts in Five, Acquire and Diplomacy, ably demonstrate. Gaming had room to expand into a grand hobby, and it has done so. A quick visit to and a glance at their Gone Cardboard link presents a glimpse of the Hobby games coming out this year. There is a breadth of theme and a breadth play styles represented. This comes as a natural descent from Roberts' original mission. According to Wargame Design, of the eighteen titles published during the Roberts era "nine are non-battle titles representing such diverse fields as law, commerce, and sports."

Due to a number of errors in his approach, Roberts eventually ended up in trouble with his creditors. One of these creditors, Monarch Publishing, took over Avalon Hill and continued publishing games. In fact, the company expanded a great deal under the new leadership. Unlike many brand purchases in the gaming industry, Monarch didn't cherry pick a few old titles and forget the rest. Instead, they continued in the mission set forth by Roberts and produced a wide variety of games for the adult gaming market. They also published a magazine, The General, which served as a way to promote and support their existing line of games.

Though Roberts no longer ran Avalon Hill, his contribution to the creation of a hobby was solidified by the success of his legacy.

In 1975, at the first Origins gaming convention, the first Charles S. Roberts awards were given out to games within the hobby. The winners (games published in 1974) were, Third Reich, Manassas, Strategy and Tactics Magazine, Albion Magazine, and a Hall of Fame Award for Charles S. Roberts himself. For years to come, the Charles S. Roberts Award was a part of the annual Origins Awards and winners included Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, The Space Gamer Magazine, and Car Wars. The Roberts Awards have typically gone to board and wargames, with other Origins categories covering other aspects of hobby gaming. In recent years, the Charles S. Roberts Award has been handed out at the World Boardgaming Championships -- a fact that highlights both the growth and the fracturing of the gaming hobby.

Other than my gratitude for Roberts contribution to Hobby Gaming, I have no connection to him or to Avalon Hill. Like most of the grand masters of the hobby, I never had a chance to meet him and wish that I had.

I am credited with doing some proofreading work on a game (Zulus on the Ramparts! that won a CSR Award this year, but that is a pretty tangential connection.

I would like to thank GROGNARDIA: RIP Charles S. Roberts (1930-2010), and Greyhawk Grognard: R.I.P. Charles S. Roberts for sharing this sad news.

As a gamer, I have recently begun collecting books about the hobby and copies of the games that created the hobby. Maybe I'll crack open my copy of Gettysburg -- square spaces and all -- and play a game in remembrance of one of the founders of Hobby Gaming.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Steve Jackson Games to Release OGRE 6th Edition Eventually

In 1977, Metagaming Concepts released the first game in their successful Microgames line of affordable war games -- it had a $2.95 cover price. The game had a reasonable print run of 8,000 copies and was a break out success that redefined the war gaming hobby by opening the door to new audiences of simulation game players. The game's second print run was 20,000. The game was among the first war games to have a science fiction theme, and it featured rules that were simple enough for someone who had never played a war game to pick up and play within minutes.

The game was titled OGRE and it was so successful a game that its sales fueled the development and growth of two hobby gaming corporations. The first company, Metagaming Concepts, fought hard to keep the intellectual property rights when the game's designer left the company to found his own company Steve Jackson Games. The lawsuit lasted for quite some time, but eventually the property followed its creator to its new home. By the time the game migrated over to Steve Jackson Games, it had sold approximately 70,000 copies (excluding the sales of its GEV expansion set).

It was the reliable sales of OGRE that provided the revenue which allowed Steve Jackson Games to publish their next runaway success -- a game so successful it made OGRE's sale look small by comparison. That game was Car Wars, but its story is a tale for another time. Today is a day to praise OGRE and to share our anticipation for the upcoming release of OGRE 6th Edition which should be released later this year.

The premise of OGRE is a simple one, but it is also one that captures the imagination. The OGRE referred to in the game is a cybernetic supertank that is attacking a human manned command center on a nuclear blasted battlefield. Inspired by Keith Laumer's Bolo series, Steve Jackson created a game where desperate -- and mortal -- defenders battle against the odds to preserve their fragile position against impossible odds. Though their forces significantly outnumber the OGRE, the supertank significantly outclasses them. The tone of the game can be readily seen in an article published in issue 9 of the venerable The Space Gamer magazine:

The command post was well guarded. It should have been. The hastily constructed, unlovely building was the nerve center for Paneuropean operations along a 700 kilometer section of front -- a front pressing steadily toward the largest Combine manufacturing center on the continent.

Therefore General DePaul had taken no chances. His command was located in the most defensible terrain available -- a battered chunk of gravel bounded on three sides by marsh and on the fourth by a river. The river was deep and wide; the swamp gluey and impassible. Nothing bigger than a rat could avoid detection by the icons scattered for 60 kilometers in every direction over land, swamp, and river surface. Even the air was finally secure; the enemy had expended at least 50 heavy missiles yesterday, leaving glowing holes over half the island, but none near the CP. The Combine's laser batteries had seen to that. Now that the jamscreen was up, nothing would get even that close. And scattered through the twilight were the bulky shapes of tanks and ground effect vehicles -- the elite 2033rd Armored, almost relaxed as they guarded a spot nothing could attack.

Inside the post, too, the mood was relaxed -- except at one monitor station, where a young lieutenant watched a computer map of the island. A light was blinking on the river. Orange: something was moving, out there where nothing should move. No heat. A stab at the keyboard called up a representation of the guardian unit...not that any should be out there, 30 kilometers away. None were. Whatever was out there was a stranger -- and it was actually in the river. A swimming animal? A man? Ridiculous.

The lieutenant spun a cursor, moving a dot of white light across the map and halting it on the orange spot with practiced ease. He hit another key, and an image appeared on the big screen...pitted ground, riverbank...and something else, something rising from the river like the conning tower of an old submarine, but he knew what it really was, he just couldn't place it...and then it moved. Not straight toward the camera icon, but almost. The lieutenant saw the "conning tower" cut a wake through the rushing water, bounce once, and begin to rise. A second before the whole shape was visible, he recognized it -- but for that second he was frozen. And so 30 men with their minds on other things were suddenly brought to heart-pounding alert, as the lieutenant's strangled gasp and the huge image on his screen gave the same warning...


Like the "Mayday!" on the Traveller role playing game box, this description has fired my imagination for years. The fear of the command post staff is palpable, but one can only truly understand their fear after playing the game. The OGRE is a killing machine that tears through defending infantry, ground effect vehicles, and heavy tanks alike. Sometimes one wonders if there is a way to stop the OGRE at all. Then one finds an "unbeatable" strategy that succeeds in defending a few command posts, only to find that the OGRE has adapted to the new strategies and once again exterminates those who stand in its way.

The original war game version of OGRE is a very strategically deep game, even more so when you add the Shockwave and GEV expansions, that has been printed in four "map and counter" editions and one Miniatures edition. The miniatures edition was printed in the 1990s and is a fun game, but I have always felt that it -- like the edition of Car Wars that came out at the beginning of this millennium -- was not the right direction for the game to go. I am certain the miniatures were profitable, and I believe that SJG should have made the miniatures game, but I think that SJG was wrong in thinking that the miniatures game had replaced the classic "map and counter" version of the game. It hadn't, not any more than Warhammer the role playing game replaced Warhammer the miniatures game. To be fair, SJG sold the games parallel in the 90s -- it wasn't until the early 00s that they marketed the miniatures game as a replacement. It just seems to me that OGRE's core strength is its accessibility, both in rules and in price point, and a miniatures game moves away from this strength.

OGRE has been on hiatus for a few years as SJG has focused the majority of their efforts on the wildly successful Munchkin card game. SJG has a history of focusing like a laser on their most successful titles while leaving less attention for other products.

But this year seems to be the year that SJG, after two years of excellent non-Munchkin offerings, is resurrecting the OGRE. The sixth edition of the game has components that fall somewhere between the map and counter game of old and the more recent miniatures game. This edition will feature "chipboard" playing pieces that the players construct for use in play. This is an approach that takes advantage of the cost savings of a "printed" rather than a "cast" product line, while having greater aesthetic appeal than looking at square counters bearing numbers.

I think it is the right direction for the game, and I hope that it is a successful venture for Steve Jackson Games.

I know that I am eagerly awaiting this edition and will proudly place it next to my OGRE/GEV boxed set, OGRE mini-game, OGRE Book (first and second editions), and OGRE Deluxe Edition (non-miniature) versions of the game.

If all goes well, I should be able to purchase and play the game at this year's GENCON -- though they don't include OGRE in their list of official releases yet.

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.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

FFG to Release Battles of Weteros: A Battlelore Game

Fantasy Flight Games has mated George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire and Richard Borg's Battlelore customizable Wargame and created Battles of Westeros: A Battlelore Game. The many brain cells that I have devoted to these two wonderful entertainment products have formed an endorphin mosh pit and are bashing into each other in celebration.

I can really think of no two products that would better mesh together than the fictional world of Westeros and Richard Borg's Command and Colors offshoot Battlelore. Given that A Song of Ice and Fire is filled with echoes of the Wars of the Roses and the Hundred Year's War, and that Battlelore is a Fantasy adaptation of the Hundred Year's War (and other Medieval conflicts, the combination is staggeringly obvious.

This should be a pairing without possible criticism...yet somehow Christian Peterson manages to create controversy in what should be a seamless win.

As I mentioned above, Borg's Command and Colors game engine creates the mechanical backbone for the Battlelore customizable Wargame. Command and Colors is an easy to learn, yet extremely deep, simulation engine that combines quick play with tactical depth. The engine has been used in several successful, and fun, wargames, including: Battlecry (my favorite Civil War game), Command and Colors: Ancients (arguably the best "ancients" wargame ever as it appeals to both the veteran and the neophyte), and Memoir '44 (an excellent WWII wargame). This list includes some of the most successful wargames ever produced, and with good reason given the strength of the Command and Colors system. It is this system's brand that gives the name Battlelore the premium that it has.

Sadly, according to this interview, "The classic BattleLore game is based on Richard Borg’s Command and Colors game system, while Battles of Westeros is an entirely new engine, one that is significantly more involved than C&C and more in tune with FFG’s design principles."

How one can call a game a Battlelore game when it doesn't share a rules set is beyond me. It seems that Peterson is attempting to get the financial premium that the brand Battlelore brings, without bringing the play style that that premium promises. There are likely a couple of reasons for this.

First, as Peterson says, FFG wants a game that is more in tune with FFG's design principles. FFG games have their own brand preconceptions, and deserve a substantial premium on their own. Games like Descent, Doom, World of Warcraft, Runebound, and Middle Earth Quest share qualities and design philosophies. Wanting to produce a game that shares these philosophies and thus maintains the FFG brand is important to be sure. Given the strength of Tide of Iron, FFGs excellent customizable WWII wargame, one wonders why they didn't brand Battles of Westeros as a Tide of Iron game. This is especially true given the fact that the game is going to have significant differences from its related "brand" and will likely share more with Tide of Iron than Battlelore.

Second, Richard Borg owns the copyright on the Command and Colors system that underlies the Battlelore game. Even though FFG owns the right to produce Battlelore games, they likely didn't want to have to pay Borg for other products in a related line. The easiest way to avoid that is to create a new rules set while still leveraging the brand identity due to some stylistic similarities. Contrary to "gamer knowledge" it is likely that the mechanics of games can in fact be copyrighted and FFG is being smart in not attempting to lift the mechanics and move them into their own game in an attempt to cheat Borg out of his money. Better to create a new system than engage in legal battles. While I might criticize FFG for "misapplying" the Battlelore brand, I can praise them for respecting copyright.

As you might guess, it is my belief that the Battles of Westeros game will feel more like a fantasy version of Tide of Iron than a Westeros version of Battlelore, but I don't think that is a bad thing at all. Tide of Iron is a wonderful game that holds its own against Memoir '44 with regard to flexibility and customization. Though Tide of Iron is more Squad Leader Lite than Battlelore's evolution of We the People style card driven game play.

Regardless, I'll be certain to purchase the game when it comes available -- and this is given the fact that I have committed myself to severely restricting new game purchases this year.

Monday, July 20, 2009

James Lowder Adding Another Must Buy Gaming Book to Book Shelves Everywhere

In the summer of 2007 Green Ronin released the most important book in the gaming hobby since David Parlett's The Oxford History of Board Games. The book, entitled Hobby Games: The 100 Best, was edited by industry luminary James Lowder and contained essays about 100 of the best -- and most important -- hobby games that had ever been released on the market.

Some of the games in the book have been out of print for some time. Avalon Hill's Gettysburg -- which was the first themed commercial wargame and following in the footsteps of Avalon Hill's Tactics and Tactics II created the modern commercial wargaming industry -- gets a brilliant write up by one of the founding fathers of the modern gaming industry Lou Zocchi. It is a game that is particularly difficult for collectors who like to play games as well as own them. Gettysburg went through numerous editions, each with major changes to the rules of the game. The original game featured a square grid overlaying the map used during play, the second edition replaced the square grid with hexagons, the third edition brought back the squares and added new rules, the fourth get the point. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that, while different, many of the editions are fun for their very differences.

Other games, which like Gettysburg were games that spawned genres of game play, are still in print -- though usually in a new edition that is often very different from the original game. Richard Garfield praises Dungeons and Dragons, the game that created the role playing game hobby. Jordan Weisman praises Magic the Gathering, the game that spawned the Collectible Card Game industry and paved the way for the Pokemon craze.

Even when the games aren't responsible for creating a new genre, they are still great games. Ogre, reviewed by the late Erick Wujcik, wasn't the first tactical wargame featuring tanks. But it is, to date, one of the most accessible tactical wargames and highlights the struggle of humanity against a murderous machine that echoes the "Butlerian Jihad" and predates the Terminator franchise. It is a shame that Steve Jackson Games doesn't continue to keep this game in print...even as a pdf download. It's the game that launched the company, and it is a wonderful introduction to "map, counter, and CRT" wargaming.

All 100 of the games written about are worth playing, and all 100 entries of the book are worth reading. Whether you want a glimpse in to the variety of experience the hobby offers, a look into the history of the hobby, or a peak to see if anything in the hobby is "for you," Hobby Games: The 100 Best is a must have for any book shelf.

Given the high praise above, you can imagine how much I am looking forward to the release of James Lowder's second collection Family Games: The 100 Best. The book will be released in late August, sadly not in time for Gen Con, and once again has an awe inspiring list of designers who contribute their thoughts on some of the best family games from the past 100 years.

Here is the list of confirmed authors, according to the Green Ronin website:


Mike Gray: Foreword
James Lowder: Introduction
Wil Wheaton: Afterword
David Millians: Appendix (Games and Education)

Andrea Angiolino
Keith Baker
Wolfgang Baur
Carrie Bebris
Uli Blennemann
Bill Bodden
Mike Breault
Richard Breese
Todd Breitenstein
Alessio Cavatore
Leo Colovini
William W. Connors
David “Zeb” Cook
Monte Cook
Luke Crane
Dominic Crapuchettes
Elaine Cunningham
Richard Dansky
Karl Deckard
Dale Donovan
James Ernest
Matt Forbeck
Anthony J. Gallela
Richard Garfield
Marc Gascoigne
Stephen Glenn
Eric Goldberg
Andrew Greenberg
Ed Greenwood
Jeff Grubb
Scott Haring
Bruce Harlick
Jess Hartley
Fred Hicks
Will Hindmarch
Kenneth Hite
Joshua Howard
Steve Jackson (GW)
Steve Jackson (SJG)
Paul Jaquays
Seth Johnson
Matthew Kirby
Corey Konieczka
John Kovalic
Robin D. Laws
Matt Leacock
Jess Lebow
Jon Leitheusser
Ken Levine
Nicole Lindroos
Ian Livingstone
Michelle Lyons
Hal Mangold
Jason Matthews
Erik Mona
Alan R. Moon
Colin Moulder-McComb
Bruce Nesmith
Kevin Nunn
Peter Olotka
Phil Orbanes
Andrew Parks
David Parlett
S├ębastien Pauchon
jim pinto
Mike Pondsmith
Chris Pramas
Lewis Pulsipher
John D. Rateliff
Sheri Graner Ray
Philip Reed
Thomas M. Reid
Susan McKinley Ross
Charles Ryan
Steven Schend
Robert J. Schwalb
Emiliano Sciarra
Jesse Scoble
Mike Selinker
Bruce Shelley
John Smedley
Lester Smith
Jared Sorensen
Warren Spector
Gav Thorpe
Dan Tibbles
Jeff Tidball
John Scott Tynes
Monica Valentinelli
James Wallis
James M. Ward
Darren Watts
Tom Wham
Bruce Whitehill
John Wick
Kevin Wilson
Ray Winninger
Teeuwynn Woodruff
John Yianni

Like the list of authors in Hobby Games, this is a list of some of the best and brightest game designers working today from a variety of gaming genres. The inclusion of some of the leading game historians (the aforementioned David Parlett and the as yet unmentioned Phil Orbanes) speaks to James Lowder's knowledge of the field and his desire to create a product that is important to hobbyists and useful to those outside the hobby. The designers selected range from the old guard to the exciting young turks.

Sadly, some of the designers who had articles in the prior book in the series are no longer with us. One would give a lot to read Gary Gygax's or Erick Wujcik's thoughts on the subject. I am also disappointed to see that Ken St. Andre and Rick Loomis, both featured in the prior book, are absent from the list of contributors. But an editor's job is no easy and this is a wonderful list indeed.

I am particularly interested in seeing what longtime Cinerati friend Matt Forbeck wrote in his entry as well as what relative newcomer in the industry Jess Hartley chooses for her entry. Forbeck has worked on a number of the classics of the hobby and Jess' work on the excellent Scion by White Wolf (as well as numerous World of Darkness titles by the same publisher) makes hers a voice I'd like to hear from.

Of all the names on the list, I would only remove one -- Wil Wheaton. His removal would have provided less geek celebrity appeal, but would have allowed Lowder to invite me to write the afterword.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Origins Awards Winners and Commentary

Those of you who wander into this blog from time to time know that I was one of the finalists for the position of Program Director of the Game Manufacturer's Association (GAMA). One of the duties of that job would have been the organization and running of their annual Origins Game Fair where the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design annual awards are announced. It looks like John Ward's first convention for GAMA was a success, especially given the state of the economy.

The Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design awards are the American gaming hobby equivalent to the Oscars, as opposed to the Spiele des Jahres which is the European board gaming version of the Oscars. Over the years, the award's prestige has fluctuated in the minds of consumers but it is now pretty clear that the Origins Awards are the industry standard and that other awards -- while worthy of note -- hold places similar to the People's Choice award. The one exception is the Diana Jones Award which is more like the MacArthur Genius Award of Gaming -- without the money.

This year's Origins Awards had an exciting list of nominees and as a devoted gaming fan who "came this close" to running the con (only the board knows how close I actually came, which might not actually be that close -- but I was in the finals dammit, so I'll claim that I only "missed it by that much") I have some strong opinions about a number of the nominees and the eventual winners. The net was a buzz over the weekend after Critical Hits shared the list of winners, but I wanted to have my say -- especially after having a brief twitter conversation with Ron Blessing about the controversial Best Role Playing Game selection.

Play By Mail

* Atlas Games Play by Post Forums by Atlas Games
* Heldenwelt by SSV Klapf-Bachler OEG. (Austria)
* Hyborian War by Reality Simulations Inc.
* Starweb by Flying Buffalo Inc.
* The One Ring Legends Module by Harlequin Games

WINNER: Hyborian War

Of the games listed above, I have only ever played Hyborian War. It is one of the classics of the Play by Mail medium and is very deserving of accolades. It should be noted that Hyborian War has never won an Origins Award before, unlike the multi-year winner Starweb. The fact that a prior winner (or a long standing game for that matter) was nominated in this category is not surprising, especially given the small number of participants in the medium. Play by Mail's heyday was in many ways the 1980s and very early 90s, but Play by Post and other internet transformations of the format are clearly enabling a transition into new technologies. Do yourself a favor and try a few months of Hyborian War. Me? I'm going to try Starweb. I've never played it before, but after checking out the website and seeing that it has won the Origins Award multiple times has sparked my curiosity.

The subject of what constitutes "new" and what should be nominated will come up again later, but let it be said that I don't think the same criteria for what is nominated should be used for all Award categories.

Collectible Card Game Rules or Expansion

* Chaotic: M’arrillian Invasion Beyond the Doors Booster Pack 8 TC Digital Games LLC MRN, To Be Continued LLC, Sam Murakami, and David Baumgartner
* Highlander the Card Game: Search for Vengeance 11 HighlanderTGC
Mike Sager
* Magic the Gathering: Shards of Alara 1 Wizards of the Coast
Bill Rose and Devin Low
* Portal Score Entertainment
Aik Tongtharadol, Josh Morris, Dan Posey, and Carl Braun
* World of Warcraft the Trading Card Game: Servants of the Betrayer 2 Upper Deck
Mike Hummel, Antonio DeRosa, Ken Ho, Jeff Liu, and Patrick Sullivan

WINNER: Magic the Gathering: Shards of Alara 1

The fact that Magic the Gathering won in this category should be of little surprise. Magic is the giant among Trading/Collectible Card Games. I would have liked to see some representation from the "Living Card Game" class of games. I am a fan of the modular, but not random, nature of the LCG which allows players who do not have trust funds to put together effective decks for play. I now prefer to leave the "random assortment booster pack" in the 90s when I was younger and had more disposable income to spend on multiple packs to get one card. I understand the financial model and why it works, but I am outside the demographic. I like to play a wide variety of games -- and am an insane completist when it comes to needing to "have 'em all" -- so the CCG model isn't one that I fit in with.

As an aside, I also think that the tournament play of various trading card games needs to better educate judges regarding the various types of "card manipulation" that is possible. It is very easy to stack a deck while appearing to be randomizing. Professional card tournaments would do well to have "dealers" who shuffle the decks. There's a reason they do it for poker, this game class would do well to follow suit.

Magic and World of Warcraft are strong games that are very fun to play at the casual level. Aside from the "collectible" aspect of the game, they can be affordable if you are only interested in casual play. I haven't played the others and was surprised to see that Highlander was still in print. Good for you Highlander, I might just have to pick up a couple of decks now.

Children’s, Family, and Party Games

* Backseat Drawing
Out of the Box Publishing
Peggy Brown
* duck! duck! Go!
APE Games
Kevin G. Nunn
* Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The
Mongoose Publishing
James Wallis
* Living Labyrinth
Bucephalus Games
Julie Haehn
* Rorschach: The Inkbot Party Game
Bucephalus Games
Dan Tibbles, Jeremy Holcomb, Joe Huber, and Stephen McLaughlin
* Say Anything
North Star Games
Dominic Craphuchettes and Satish Pillalamarri

WINNER: Say Anything

It's nice to see the Origins Awards nominating and awarding games that are targeted more at the general market, rather than the "gaming" market. There are some strong games in this category and one of the companies nominated is a brand new gaming company (Bucephalus Games).

Out of the Box Publishing makes a number of wonderful games (Apples to Apples and Ninja vs. Ninja jump quickly to mind) and I will certainly be running out to purchase Backseat Drawing for my twin daughters before the year is out.

duck! duck! go! looks and sounds remarkable, but the fact that it is collectible, you only get 6 out of 100 rubber duckies in any pack, is a major drawback for me. I would much rather have clear packages where I can know what ducks I am buying. My twin daughters are at an age where they like duckies, but the random assortment here makes me less likely to buy many packs. The fact that I can "make a set" at the Ape Games website makes me more likely to buy them direct, which isn't the best business model. One should either have a model that encourages small retailers to support you, or one where the big box stores want to carry you, and not a model which makes the customer avoid the retailer. Your store front is still the best place for word of mouth, especially with a family game.

James Wallis' Munchausen is one of the most entertaining role playing games written to date and can be played in a manner appropriate for all ages. One can play it as an evening storytelling game with their children, as it provides wonderful story ideas to spark a night's bedtime story. One can also play it with adult friends and listen as the stories get bawdier as the participants get drunker. Good times for all.

I eagerly await my copies of the two Bucephalus games above. They are a new company, but I am very excited about many of their games. As for Say Anything, I can't say anything. I don't usually buy the "party game" as I already own enough of them and find that Scene It! is one of the best to play with my groups of friends.

[EDIT -- added 7/01] One of the thing that frustrates me about the internet is when people make flippant comments and then when "called" on them proceed down the path of snark and venom fueled by an inability to admit error. I try to not be one of those people. So when Dominic Craphuchettes posted a comment on this blog regarding my dismissive comments about Say Anything, I figured I should review what I wrote. Dominic was right, I was too dismissive and didn't actually write what I meant to write. So here is another try at what I intended.

"I haven't had a chance to play Say Anything, so I cannot comment about it. I haven't purchased it yet because I own a lot of party games and am currently in a phase where I try to purchase games by smaller companies, older games I missed out on, and obscure war games. Bucephalus games caught my attention because they are a brand new company and the fact that I've had the opportunity to meet their Sales VP. I'll likely pick up Say Anything around the Christmas season when my purchasing habits gravitate back to party games."

At least that's what I should have written. After having Dominic comment on the blog, I'm going to buy the game today on the way home from work. I'll try it out with friends at my annual 4th of July BBQ and hopefully review it next week.

Historical Miniature Figure or Line

* 28mm Imperial Romans
* King Philips War 28MM
Brigade Games Inc.
* SS-Panzerdivision ‘Das Reich’ Panzerkompanie (GEAB06) [15mm Line]
Battlefront Games
* 28mm Celts
* 15mm Ancient Saxons
Splintered Light

WINNER: SS-Panzerdivision ‘Das Reich’ Panzerkompanie

Flames of War is one of the great miniatures war games and consistently has some of the best looking miniatures, the SS-Panzerdivision is no exception. If I had time to paint, I could easily become obsessed with the Flames of War line.

Historical Miniature Figure Game Rules Supplement

* RISE OF ROME (Fields of Glory Supplement)
Osprey Publishing
* Operation Cobra, The Normandy Breakout –FW206 Cobra FLAMES OF WAR
Battlefront Games
* WWII Eastern Front Skirmish Scenarios
Britton Publishers
Test of Battle Games
* AGE OF EAGLES: Napoleon Vs Europe 1813 – 14, AOE Scenario Book
Quantum Printing

WINNER: Rise of Rome Fields of Glory

Osprey Publishing has long been the go to publisher for the historical wargamer -- whether miniature or counter based wargaming. Osprey's publications are well researched and accessible. Their books are great touchstones for researching a particular time or place and are often written by renowned scholars of the given area. It was a long time coming for Osprey to release their own miniatures war game rules, but it was worth the wait.

Historical Miniature Figure Game Rules

* Fields of Glory Miniature Rules
Osprey Publishing / Slitherine Software
Richard Bodley-Scott
* Volley & Bayonet: Road To Glory
Test of Battle Games
Frank Chadwick and Greg Novak
* Cold Steel and Canister
Decker Game Company
Jack Decker
* Song of Drums and Shakos
Ganesha Games
Andrea Sfiligoi
* Chevauchee: Rules for Battles with Medieval Miniatures
Skirmisher Publishing LLC
Michael J. Varhola, Robert “Mac” McLaughlin, and the Skirmisher Games Development Group

WINNER: TIE between Fields of Glory and Songs of Drums and Shakos

It's nice to see both a small publisher -- who sells strictly through Print on Demand and PDF -- as well as a long time historical book publisher -- who just made the jump into gaming -- both receive recognition. I was impressed with Osprey's Fields of Glory, but the Origins nomination is going to get me to purchase a copy of Songs of Drums and Shakos in the next month.

Historical Board Games

* Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear
Academy Games
Uwe Eickert
* Espana 1936
DEVIR US LLC / Phalanx
Antonio Catalain
* The Battle of Monmouth
Clash of Arms Games
Rich Kane
* The Campaigns of King David
Clash of Arms Games
Robert Markham
* Pursuit of Glory
GMT Games
Brad Stock and Brian Stock

WINNER: Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear

Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear is that rarest of creatures in the war gaming hobby. It is a game that is easy enough to teach the novice, but complex enough to challenge the war game veteran. The game combines eurogaming sensibilities with traditional war gaming depth. I can hardly wait for the sequel. Shoot me an email and I'll play a game anytime.


* KOBOLD Guide to Game Design, Vol. 1
by Wolfgang Baur, Nicolas Logue
Open Design
* Lost Leaves From the Inn of the Last Home
by Margaret Weis
Margaret Weis Productions
* No Quarter Magazine
editor-in-chief Nathan Letsinger
Privateer Press
* Things We Think About Games
by Will Hindmarch & Jeff Tidball
Gameplaywright Press
* Tour de Lovecraft: the Tales
by Ken Hite
Atomic Overmind Press

WINNER: Tour de Lovecraft: The Tale

This is both a great category and a sad one. It's sad in that one of the entries is a gaming related magazine. There was a time when gaming related magazines had their own category and including the category in "nonfiction" might lead one to believe that gaming magazines are dead. They aren't. Some of the best, like Dungeon and Dragon are gone, but others like Strategy and Tactics, Fire and Movement and Knights of the Dinner Table are going strong in print. This is not to mention those magazines that have transformed into wonderful online publications, including magazines like Pyramid and the aforementioned Dungeon and Dragon. There are even new magazines like Battles, Level Up, and Kobold Quarterly cropping up to fill in the gaps.

I also question having Lost Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home in a non-fiction category. Certainly it is a quality publication, especially for Dragonlance fans, and it doesn't quite fit in as fiction since it isn't a piece of narrative fiction. But I think that "almanacs of fictional worlds" still count as fiction, even if the recipes are real.

Other than these two quibbles, this is a very strong category. Wolfgang Baur's Open Design project has turned out some wonderful products and I am proud to have been a patron on all of them.

Hindmarch's and Tidball's book about gaming is thought provoking and entertaining and is one of the better books that discuss what gaming is about. One could easily do a series of articles with each article being based on one of the thoughts from the book. It's not quite child friendly as it contains a little profanity, but that's expected from a book with any writing from Wil Wheaton. Wheaton may always let the wookie win, but he can't seem to write a paragraph without an f-bomb -- a well timed comic f-bomb, but an f-bomb none the less. Thing We Think About Games is a MUST own.

Ken Hite's Tour de Lovecraft isn't an essential addition to the gamer/gaming library. This is an essential addition to ANYONE's library. While there has been a lot of scholarship (and "scholarship") about and around H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, this is the first "reading companion" that I have found and it is a wonderful reading companion. Just pick a story, or use the order Ken Hite uses, read it and read Ken Hite's commentary, it is very much worth the time. It's like being able to discuss the stories with my friend J within moments of finishing a tale. That's something special. Ken Hite very much deserves the Origin, too bad more than one couldn't have been given out in this category.


* Hungerblade
by Robin D Laws
Red Juggernaut Inc.
* Infernal Sorceress
by Gary Gygax
Paizo Publishing
* Killing Ground, The
by Graham McNeill
Black Library
* Pirate King, The
by R.A. Salvatore
Wizards of the Coast
* Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Volume 2
edited by James Lowder & Mike O’Sullivan
Devil’s Due

WINNER: Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons Volume 2

This category has a diversity of medium and of genre. The selections range from e-published to comic books and they contain Gary Gygax's last story. The gamer in me wishes that they had given the award to the father of gaming and his Fafhrd and Grey Mauser pastiche. As much as I respect James Lowder, and I do, I cannot disagree more with the selection of a collection of 3 issues of a very good comic book as the best gaming related fiction of the year. James Wyatt's Eberron fiction was very strong last year, not to mention some of the weird fiction collections being released by Chaosium. I am excited to see the world of Robin Laws' Hungerblade as a Savage Worlds supplement as Robin is a creative genius, but I was unfamiliar with it prior to the Origins Awards so I cannot speak for or against its merits.

All I can say is that I strongly feel that Gygax should have won the award. He is not only the father of modern gaming, but in some ways is the father of gaming fiction.

Miniature Figure or Line of Miniature Figures

* Monsterpocalypse Collectible Miniature Game
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Bryan Cutler, Jason Soles, Rob Stoddard, and Kevin Clark
* Star Wars Miniatures: The Clone Wars
Wizards of the Coast
* WARMACHINE Steam-Powered Miniatures Combat
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Ron Kruzie, and Chris Walton
* WH40K: Space Marines
Games Workshop
* World of Warcraft Miniatures Game
Upper Deck Company
Justin Gary, David Baumgartner, John Fiorillo, Matt Hyra, and Anthony Shaheen

WINNER: Star Wars Miniatures: The Clone Wars

There are some very strong miniatures sets here. All of them deserve the nomination, but Monsterpocalypse was one of the most exciting new games I have seen in years and I think that it deserved to win the category. It's rare that a new game, not attached to any other IP, makes gamers go giddy, but that's what Monsterpocalypse did. It's giant monsters vs. giant robots for God's sake! The only thing that could make it better would be a manga license...oh, wait they have one in the pipeline. Sweet!

Miniature Figure Game Rules

* Classic Battletech: Tactical Operations
Catalyst Game Labs
Randall N. Bills and Herbert A Beas II
* Monsterpocalypse Collectible Miniature Game
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Bryan Cutler, Jason Soles, Rob Stoddard, and Kevin Clark
Privateer Press, Inc.
Matt Wilson, Jason Soles, and Rob Stoddard
* WH40K: 5th Edition
Games Workshop
Alessio Cavatore
* World of Warcraft Miniatures Game
Upper Deck Company
Justin Gary, David Baumgartner, John Fiorillo, Matt Hyra, and Anthony Shaheen

WINNER: Classic Battletech: Tactical Operations

The voters gave the award to the most detailed rules set. The Classic Battletech game is an enjoyable system that has been ruggedly playtested and refined into a fairly balanced system that doesn't suffer as badly as Warhammer 40k when it comes to "power creep." Most of the games in this category can be learned in detail rather quickly, not so for Classic Battletech. You can learn the basic rules quickly, but there is a lot of depth to the rules. A game like 40k has depth of play and is a fun experience, but Classic Battletech has a depth to its rules and is the only property to rival 40k when it comes to depth of narrative. The voting in this category was definitely dominated by the die hard grognard gamer and not the newb friendly one. I would have voted for Monsterpocalypse as it is fun, easy to learn, and actually new -- as promised more on the "new" criteria later.

Game Accessories

* Chibithulhu
Steve Jackson Games
* Classic Battletech: Record Sheets 3039
Catalyst Game Labs
Randall N. Bills, Bjorn Schmidt, and David L. McCulloch
* D-Total
Dr. A. F. Simkin, Frank Dutrain, and Louis Zocchi
* Duel Decks: Jace vs Chandra
Wizards of the Coast
Erik Lauer and Ken Nagle
* Living Arcanis T-Shirt
Paradigm Concepts, Inc
Pedro Barrenechea, Henry Lopez, Nelson Rodriguez, and Eric Weiner
* Wicked Munchkin Bag & Die
John Kovalic and Patryk Strzelewicz


This is an odd category. Personally, I like the Chibithulhu. I don't know how it will help my game, but it will entertain my twin daughters while I game -- and that is the definition of a useful accessory. Apparently, cute wasn't enough to seems nothing can overcome the gamer obsession with strange dice.

Role-Playing Game Supplements

* Buccaneers of Freeport
Green Ronin Publishing
Ari Marmell, Anthony Pryor, Rodney Thompson, and Robert Vaughn
* Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
Wizards of the Coast
Bruce Cordell, Ed Greenwood, and Chris Sims
* Hero Lab
Lone Wolf Development
Rob Bowes and Colen McAlister
* Serenity Adventures
Margaret Weis Productions
Alana Abbot, Billy Aguiar, James Davenport, Ted Reed, and James M. Ward
* Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
Wizards of the Coast
Rodney Thompson, Sterling Hershey, John Jackson Miller, and Abel Pena

WINNER: Serenity Adventures

This is one of those categories where the voters and I are very much in disagreement. First, Hero Lab belongs under accessories and not supplements as it isn't a rules supplement or expansion of an existing game. Hero Lab is a character creation accessory. Second, I think this is the first category where we are beginning to see the "intra-gamer" squabble between the anti-Wizards of the Coast crowd and the anti-3.5 crowd. Both Buccaneers of Freeport and The Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide are very strong products. The Forgotten Realms book is so strong that for the first time since high school I have thought about playing in a Forgotten Realms game. The old Forgotten Realms books suffered from an over abundance of deus ex machina style characters, so many it made me wonder as a player just how heroic my own characters can be. This isn't true in the new Forgotten Realms as all the old heroes are either dead or unable to help.

It seems to me that the Serenity Adventures vote was a vote to be non-controversial. It is a very good product, Jamie Chambers is the second friendliest person in the gaming hobby -- Matt Forbeck is the friendliest -- and a lot of gamers are big Joss Whedon fans. You can include present company under Joss Whedon fan -- especially when he and Tim Minear team up. I am such a big fan that I actually watched every episode of Dollhouse and kept making excuses for how it is almost entertaining and so should be renewed. I'll still make excuses for it, but that doesn't mean that the Serenity Adventures book is the best role playing supplement of the prior year. It isn't. My vote would have gone to the inspired Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide and if those old fans of the FR, who felt betrayed when they changed so much, would actually read the book they would likely agree.

Role-Playing Games

* Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook
Wizards of the Coast
Rob Heinsoo, Andy Collins, and James Wyatt
* Mouseguard Role-Playing Game
Archaia Studios Press
Luke Crane and David Petersen
* Trail of Cthulhu, The
Pelgrane Press Ltd
Kenneth Hite, Robin D Laws, Jerome Huegenin, and Simon Rogers

WINNER: Mouseguard

This is the category where I am most disappointed with the voters and with GAMA. Let me state for the record that I believe that all of these are excellent products, but Mouseguard is not the best role playing game of 2008 -- not by a long shot. Before I go into why I believe that the Player's Handbook should have won, let me say that my vote would have gone to Trail of Cthulhu as it is the most brilliant game design to come through the pipeline for some time. But I can only explain the fact that the Player's Handbook didn't win by pointing at the politics of the gaming industry where there is a huge, and I mean HUGE anti-Wizards of the Coast bias. It's a bias rooted in a selfish "I want stuff for free and for big companies to fail" mentality and it is total crap.

This is the game that brought about a discussion between me and Ron Blessing on twitter yesterday. I have a lot of respect for Ron. We both love Savage Worlds -- deeply -- and I recommend his podcast unreservedly. Before I continue with why I think D&D should have won -- even without my vote -- here's the brief conversation between me and Ron:

CINERATI: Mouse Guard, which uses a retread rules system, beat D&D 4E for the Origins award. Stupid anti-Wotc bias.

CINERATI: Oh, and for you haters. I own Mouse Guard, Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, and Jihad.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati 4E didn't belong in the awards because it is a new edition of an old game. MG belonged because regardless of system, it was new.

CINERATI: Couldn't disagree more @TGTT_Ron Mouse Guard is Burning Wheel. It deserves to be awarded as much as 3.5. 4e was a major shift in design.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati Origins' rules state a new edition of a game doesn't qualify. It's clear they made an exception due to the changes in 4E.

CINERATI: @TTGT_Ron I consider a change in setting to be a new edition as well. Oh, and Mouse Guard is awesome, just really impressed with 4e.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati That said, I think Mouse Guard is a better game. 4E is a fine game, which many I respect enjoy, but I agree with the award to MG.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati I agree with you about much of the WotC hate going around, but in this case I think the games were judged on their merit by fans.

TGTT_RON: @cinerati And if WotC cared about the Origins Award, they would have been at the con promoting their game. That snub didn't help, I think.

CINERATI: @TGTT_Ron I think we can agree that WotC PR doesn't deserve any awards.

First, Ron is incorrect that the "rules state a new edition of a game doesn't qualify." Specifically, the rules state, "If a product is a new release of an older product version, the new version must have been changed over 50 percent from the old version (including artwork, packaging, and design—design is given the most weight) as determined by the jury." Re-releases of products are officially allowed, as are repeat winners as the Play-by-Mail and Trading Card Game categories (among others) demonstrate. A product need not be new to be considered, it must merely be "released" during the 2008 calendar year.

Second, as I wrote above Mouseguard is as guilty as Dungeons and Dragons of being a re-release. It is the application of an existing rules set -- in this case the excellent Burning Wheel System -- to a new setting. This is as much an original role playing game as the Steve Jackson Games Hellboy and Discworld role playing games were -- which is to say, "not much of an ORIGINAL role playing game." There are fewer systematic changes to the Burning Wheel engine in Mouseguard than there were changes to the underlying Dungeons and Dragons engine in 4th edition. 4th edition, which is the first edition of D&D to be denied an Origins award -- even the unpopular 2nd edition won for its year -- is a radical shift in game design and deserves to be rewarded.

It is true that the Burning Wheel engine's focus on narrativist gaming was a significant shift when that systems revised edition was released in 2005, but it is also true that the Burning Wheel engine was an influence on 4e. The skill challenge system in 4e is a direct descendant of the system in Burning Wheel -- a game half a decade old. Mouseguard represents a simplification and new presentation of an older system -- and is awesome -- but it isn't anywhere near as innovative as 4e. Burning Wheel on its own was that innovative, but its first release was five years ago. One might ask which is a better descendant of Burning Wheel? Luke Crane is a great designer, and deserves recognition for all of his influences which include 4e's design, but I cannot see Mouseguard beating 4e without the huge levels of hate among a certain contingent in the gaming community.

I write all this even though I believe that Hite and Laws created the most exciting role playing game I have seen in some time. Not since Feng Shui -- another Laws project by the way -- have I been so amazed by a game. It is true that like Mouseguard the Trail of Cthulhu game uses an existing system (in this case the Gumshoe system) and uses that system as a framework to emulate an existing intellectual property (in this case the writings of H.P. Lovecraft). Two things set it apart from Mouseguard. First, Trail of Cthulhu's system is a "complication" of an existing system and not a simplification. Second, Kenneth Hite managed to make a better version of one of the best role playing games ever made. Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws managed to out Call of Cthulhu Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu role playing game. They made a better emulation of the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. I cannot imagine using the Basic Role Play system to run Cthulhu after reading Trail of Cthulhu. After reading Mouseguard, I'm still not convinced that Ironclaw wouldn't work better.

When the Burning Wheel engine was converted to SF with the Burning Empires game, I pretty much wrote off any other system for running science fiction -- at least until Thousand Suns came out. I didn't experience that with Mouseguard.

I also think that these awards should take into consideration impact on the hobby. Not many people will be playing Mouseguard in five years, but a lot will be playing 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons and a lot of future games will be influenced by its system. While Burning Wheel will still be influential in 5 years, I doubt this particular version will be. Mouseguard seems to me to be an excellent product based on a hot "indie" comic and won more on "cool" factor than on its merits as a game.

Just how many people are actually going to play this game?

I think that question matters most of all. In fact, it is the answer to that question that makes me believe that 4e deserves the award over Trail of Cthulhu even if ToC is a better game design.

Card Games

* Dominion
Rio Grande Games
Donald X Vaccarino
* Monty Python Fluxx
Looney Labs
Andrew Looney
* Red Dragon Inn 2
Slugfest Games
Geoff Bottone, Colleen Skadl, and Cliff Bohm
* Ticket to Ride Card Game
Days of Wonder
Alan R. Moon
* Trailer Park Wars
Gut Bustin’ Games
Lisa Steenson

WINNER: Dominion

I'll just say that as good as all the games on this list are, Dominion is a remarkable game. Oh, and it won the Spiele des Jahres too.

Board Games

* Agricola
Z-Man Games, Inc.
Uwe Rosenberg
* Ninja vs. Ninja
Out of the Box Publishing
Tushar Gheewala
* Pandemic
Z-Man Games, Inc.
Matt Leacock
Alderac Entertainment Group
John Zinser
* Wealth of Nations
TableStar Games
Nico Carroll

WINNER: Pandemic

All of the games nominated are very good games. I particularly like Agricola and Tomb, but I agree that Pandemic should have won. The thing that truly sets Pandemic apart from the other games, other than its topicality, is the fact that the game is cooperative in nature. It is rare to have an exciting and challenging cooperative game. Sometimes its better to play a game where everyone wins or everyone loses. If you want a game with super viruses and one winner, there's always Nuclear War.


WINNER: Flames of War Firestorm Campaign

The Vanguard award is supposed to go to something truly innovative, unique, or in a class of its own. Looking over the Firestorm Campaign system, I have to agree that Battlefront have done exactly that. Games Workshop has been creating campaign systems for its various miniatures games for some time, but none have managed to integrate strategic representations -- that a traditional counter based war game would use -- with the tactical action of a miniatures battle as smoothly as the Firestorm campaign system. The most remarkable aspect is that you can run the entire campaign in four to six weeks, a relatively easy commitment for the father of twins or the busy professional.