Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Walk like an Egyptian

Despite all evidence to the contrary, I generally try not to talk too much about "real life" non-wargaming stuff on this blog, or about other sorts of games.  But today I'm going to make (yet another) exception.

This last Sunday I was invited to a belated Christmas dinner with my dear friends Rick & Ruth and their three boys.  You may remember last year I visited them to help their eldest son get started figure painting and wargaming. (Sadly since that time he has "discovered girls" and lost interest in this and pretty much everything else, as boys his age tend to do.)  Not only was it a full Xmas dinner, but they went all out with decorations and seasonal music.  After the food we settled down for an afternoon of serious playing with the two youngest (the eldest slinking off to hang out with his mates)  There may have been a little bit of Scalextric played, but I think that was more for the benefit of Rick and myself than the young 'uns (we wuz too poor to afford Scalextric when I were a lad.) and of course a selection of "early learning centre" type games suitable for the boys.

One of these games really stood out for me as being rather splendid fun, with a bit more potential for subtle play than a 3 and a 6 yr old could muster.  "Tutan Loot 'em" is a pattern matching card game with an Egyptian theme.  Each player gets a hidden hand of four cards, and four cards are placed face up in a pool in the centre.  In their turn, a player has to try to match a card in their hand with one in the pool, both cards being placed face up in that player's treasure pile.  Alternatively, if they can match the top card on another player's treasure pile, they can loot it, adding the whole pile to their own.  If they can't do either of these things, they have to play a card from their hand into the pool.

This very simple game has a lot of potential for subtlety.  If you have a pair in your hand, playing one of them into the pool lays a trap for the next player who matches it, since you can then loot their treasure.  Keeping a key card as late in the game as possible means you can snatch the treasure and victory away from another player right at the end of the game.  It's not Bridge, but it's a good fun filler game if you've got 10 mins to fill.

I was so impressed with the game than when I got home I ordered a copy for myself (£7.50 from and took it along to the Old Farts gaming night last night.  After the main game was finished (Chaos on Chronos, more of which later) I tempted the Old Farts into giving Tutan Loot 'em a go, and after a couple of highly back-stabbing games of back-and-forth looting, it got the Seal of Approval.  So there you go... a game made for 3-6 year old kids that entertained a table with an average age of about 48-50.  (Mental age...?  I cannot comment!)

The evening's main game, as I said, was a test run of Chaos on Chronos, a warband skirmish game nominally written for pulp sci-fi (though the scenario we played was more in the "use a bunch of random figures" genre).  I'm not honestly a massive fan of this style of game, since they always seem to devolve into random slugfests, but the Chaos on Chronos rules, part of the Goalsystem series, worked well enough.  The basic rules mechanic is: roll number of attack dice, count successes, roll number of defence dice, each success subtracts one successful attack, excess is applied as damage.  Some special abilities or equipment allow players to reroll failed dice.  Simple enough, with only the occasional buckets o' dice moment (I managed to pitch one massive attack with my leader hitting 12 dice with 2 rerolls, which was sadly bounced by some stupendously lucky defensive rolls).  I think I still prefer Ganesha Games'  "Song of..." series of rules for this sort of game, including "Flying Lead" for modern & SF skirmishes, but there's not much between the two systems overall.

Now, after putting the task off for far too long... to the Man Cave! (cue '60s Batman music)

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

We gotta get right back to where we started from

Thanks to everyone for your messages of support.  The last month or so has been a deeply painful time, made bearable only by the fantastic support I've gotten from friends, many of whom have been mentioned on this blog in the past.  Crazy Eddy, Marvin the ARVN, the irrepressible Ms Kay Dee (the crafting goddess who makes sure I don't look rubbish at Steampunk do's), Rick (who isn't even a wargamer, yet regularly pesters me for blog updates here) and of course mi hermano fantastico Jonesy.  All of them together have kept me from going under completely.  And add to that the kind words I found in the comments to the last post... well I consider myself a very lucky man to be surround by such fine people, both near and far.  Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

So this week I've only just started to come out of the funk I've been in, feeling the first inklings of enthusiasm for doing things... when last night I found myself struck by genuine inspiration and enthusiasm for wargaming projects I might like to try.

Which sounds great....

...except said bombshell of enthusiasm exploded at about 2am in the morning.  After that I spent the rest of the small hours reading various wargaming blogs, scanning forums and generally riding a mounting wave of inspiration that made any hope of sleep impossible.  In the end I got up at 5am for breakfast after no sleep, hoping to ride out the day and try to reset the body clock tonight.  You might note the timestamp of this post and deduce exactly how successful that idea was... (I actually fell asleep eating lunch, throwing the body clock completely out of wack)

Anyway, this burst of enthusiasm was triggered by reading up on Bob Cordery's recent work (and by recent I mean last six months - yeah I've been out of the wargaming loop for that long!) on the Portable Wargame.  Now I'd tried the PW using 19thC 15mm on Heroscape terrain and found it gave a great game.  But since then the game has been developed to include a "Modern" variant.

Now here is one point where the honourable Brother Cordery and I have a difference of opinion.... modern to me means Cold War & later... guided missiles and jet fighters and helicopters, oh my. Bob's "Modern" game on the other hand seems definitely pitched at the first half of the 20th century, from the World Wars up to Korea and maybe a little later in 3rd world theaters?

(Of course technically, historians count the Modern Era as anything from the time of Queen Elizabeth onwards, but I suspect that's a little too broad for any single wargame ruleset to handle.)

So it looked like PW:M would not really work with my hodge-podge collection of ultramodern micro-armour without some serious tweaking.  That's when the idea hit me.  One of the periods that I'd been skirting around in the last couple of years has been the "1938 Very British Civil War".  For the uninitiated, it's a popular alternate history based on Edward refusing to abdicate over the Wallis Simpson affair, with Mosely's blackshirts coming to power and triggering a chaotic multi-faction civil war with some parallels to the Spanish Civil War, but fought with a classically British stiff upper lip.

I'd been entranced by the VBCW setting and bought all the published material for it, but ultimately decided against getting invested in it, since the gameplay is pretty much identical to what we get in our Victorian Science Fiction games - small unit skirmishes backed up by mechanized fighting vehicles of varying utility and reliability, with cavalry generally riding around looking splendid but ineffectually getting shot to pieces.  So I couldn't justify spending money to effectively duplicate the same game experience with different uniforms.

But last night it occurred to me..... 1938 - a Very Portable Civil War.  The match seems perfect.  PW:M covers all the necessary troop types and has a level of abstraction that means you wouldn't be too bogged down in minor differences between one Heath Robinsonesque vehicle and another.  The slightly formalised gridded battlefield works well for a conflict where fighting stops when the clock strikes four (afternoon tea, old boy!)

Tucked away somewhere I've got a fair quantity of 15mm WWI figures, some painted but most unpainted.  Mix in some VSF\colonials that I won't now be using for GASLIGHT,  all I'd need then would be a few appropriate vehicles - PW:M is vague about the unit scale, but I get the impression it's somewhere around the 1 element = 1 platoon or possibly company level.  Canonically vehicles should be relatively thin on the ground, restricted mainly to softskin vehicles for transport and a few armoured cars with the occasional poorly armed tank in support.

In theory, this game would make a great little project to get me back into the hobby and could be put together relatively easily with a very minimal outlay

In reality, this is one of those wonderful ideas that is probably going to go nowhere.  Money at the moment is very tight and there would be a bit of work needed to build the armies, painting and basing etc, instead of actually sitting down to play with some of the figures and terrain I've got "ready to go".  But I think, if we're honest, most of us have at some stage had that Great Idea that we spend hours and hours enthusing about and maybe even get as far as buying the figures and priming before...... nothing.  It's as much a part of our hobby as arcane dice rituals and painting eyebows on our figures - i.e. completely irrelevant to the game itself.

Well what will I be doing then?

I've started attending what I've previously unkindly dubbed the "Old Fart's Gaming Night" at Jonesy's. (I'm pleased to report that I am in fact the youngest semi-regular attendee)  Although the focus is usually on "lighter" board or card games (Ticket To Ride, Small World, Pandemic) next week we will be playing Chaos on Chronos, a pulp SF skirmish wargame.  And as I start to put my house in order (literally) getting the Man Cave back to a usable state will be a priority.  Once I can get into the room, and get stuff off the shelves easily, it'll be a lot easier to get a game going or assess the viability of a possible project.

Who knows.  A Very Portable Civil War might happen yet.