Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A look back at hip-pocket wargames

I just saw the documentary Game On: The World Boardgaming Championships, by Alex Dunbar of Wind-up Films, which featured (among other things) the progress of a young competitor in the Ace of Aces tournament.  And just yesterday, my friend Paul R. just contacted me, now that we are working in the same building, about getting together for a game (which we haven't done in far too long).  It occurred to me that with proper planning, we could play a wargame on a lunch break.  Both of those events reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago on what I called "hip-pocket wargames" - those that you could pull out and play on relatively short notice.  So what follows is a re-post of that blog entry, which might be new for some of my more recent followers.

[Re-post of "Hip-pocket Wargames," 30 May 2012:]

My friend Grant and I had plans to play a three-player round of The End of the Triumvirate (designers 
(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Johannes Ackva and Max Gabrian, artist Andrea Boekhoff, publisher Z-Man Games) Friday afternoon, but our third player never showed.  Having lost an hour waiting, and me having to leave less than two hours later, we were faced with having to come up with a quick two-player game on the fly.  (We eschewed the idea of playing TEotT as a two-player game, which is possible but which, in our opinion, loses the essence of the game.)  Now, Grant has quite the collection, and I was quite happy with what we ended up playing - Traders of Carthage (which is on my "must have" wishlist) and Oz Fluxx (another in the series of light-hearted Fluxx games by Looney Labs).

Filler games like ToC and Fluxx accommodate this niche perfectly.  But both of us were wishing we'd had a wargame locked and loaded as a contingency to knock out in our hour-and-a-half window of opportunity.  In retrospect, we certainly could have played my miniatures favorite De Bellis Antiquitatis or the quick and dirty card game Down in Flames: Zero!  Even a game of chess might have worked, and I think we considered it.  Grant specifically mentioned he would have liked to have played a Columbia block game, if we'd had more time.  But when you don't have your miniatures handy or can't lay your fingers on the right game on the spur of the moment, we found it hard to whip out something that's both meaty and quick.  


Image uploaded to boardgamegeek.com
by Carlos A.L. de Miranda 
So the situation spurred a conversation on Tuesday among some of us about what wargames would have fit this situation - something at hand on the shelf that can fill a contingency window of an hour and a half or so. "For short wargame, break glass."  Paul R. reminded me that Scenario 3, "Stuart's Raid," from Stonewall Jackson's Way is very quick.  He also told me that just the previous Thursday, he and Frank H. had completed a scenario of the Avalon Hill classic Caesar's Legions in two hours - including set-up, rules review, play, and clean-up.  PanzerBlitz also came up in our conversation. 

So I thought I'd review my own collection and see what candidates I have as "hot standbys" for spur-of-the-moment wargame options.  Here's what I come up with as good options from games I have on hand:

Image courtesy of
GMT Games
  • Down in Flames III: Zero! (designer Dan Verssen):  GMT's clever card game of World War II dogfighting can be knocked out in less than an hour pitting a flight of four American aircraft against four Japanese.  Always fun.
  • Memoir '44 (publisher Days of Wonder):  Richard Borg's fun, approachable World War II game that starts in northern Europe but whose expansions extend to all theaters
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men (designer S. Craig Taylor):  One of my very favorite games, an Avalon Hill classic handling of tactical naval combat in the age of sail, from single frigate engagements to large fleet actions
  • Panzer Leader (designers Dave Clark, Randall C. Reed, Nick Smith) and
    PanzerBlitz
    (designer Jim Dunnigan):  Two more Avalon Hill classics, timeless treatments of battalion-level armor and infantry combat on the western and eastern World War II fronts, respectively
  • Battle Cry  (Avalon Hill / Hasbro):  Richard Borg's American Civil War predecessor to Memoir '44
  • De Bellis Antiquitatis (designers Phil and Sue Barker and Richard Bodley Scott):  The only miniatures game on this list, appealing for its small scale and rapid play time.  Our collections are 15mm scale, which means each army fits in a cigar box and the battle can be played on a two-foot-square board with a half-dozen pieces of terrain.  Simple, quick, and still tactically challenging.
  • Richtofen's War (designer Randall C. Reed):  A favorite of mine way back in high school, I haven't touched this Avalon Hill World War I dogfight classic in a long time, but I remember it was a quick play with a lot of tactical maneuver.
  • Saipan (designer Kip Allen):  The only folio game I have from the SPI "Island War" quadrigame, this is a nice treatment of the US Marines' invasion of the very toughly defended island.  Play balance issues need some treatment, though.
  • Image uploaded to
    boardgamegeek.com by
    Andreas Johannson
  • Ace of Aces (designers Doug Kaufman and Alfred Leonardi):  A true "filler" wargame.  This was a fun diversion when I was on a submarine in the Navy.  My department head and I had a decent campaign going during one deployment.
So I think the lesson learned here is that I ought to have two or three of these "at the ready" for any spontaneous opportunity for a wargame encounter.  I wonder if I should carry some of them in my car?  You never know when the mood will strike ... to kill some cardboard!


[I added the following comment after publishing the original post:]


Follow-up: It occurred to me that I ought to see what a boardgamegeek search would turn up. The top five ranked two-player wargames with a max playing time of 1.5 hours are:

1. Command and Colors: Ancients - have wanted to try this for some time. Saw a demo of C&C: Napoleonics (ninth on the list) at PrezCon a few months ago

2. A Few Acres of Snow - got some negative comments at PrezCon as having a degenerate unbeatable British strategy. Also, the grognards looked down on it as a deck-building game with a map.

3. Memoir '44

4. Battlelore - a fantasy entry in the Richard Borg collection

5. Battle Line - a very good Knizia card game, but not the kind of wargame that would have scratched the itch on Friday.

I should also mention that the sixth entry, Up Front, came up on our conversation on Tuesday, championed by Paul R., with whom I've played it a few times (though not in some years, I think).


[And Paul R. further illuminated the topic with some more ideas:]


Congratulations on an excellent discussion on wargames. 


Your list are all excellent suggestions. The only one I can't vouch for is Saipan. I'll add Up Front, which you mentioned. 

In addition, if you want literally "hip-pocket", consider the old Steve Jackson Metagaming classics: 
- Melee
- Wizard
- Ogre
- GEV
Two experienced players -- who have the basic tables memorized -- can play a one-on-one game of Melee with just pencil, paper, and dice, without a board, counters, or even a copy of the rules, in about 5 minutes! Of course with the exception of Melee, all of these are either science fiction or fantasy games, and thus some may not consider them to be true wargames. 

Apparently Metagaming made a lot more games than I was aware of. I remember when they had only about 6 games. 
http://tft.brainiac.com/metagameindex.html

Or The Creature that Ate Sheboygan, or Pocket Bulge. [the only references I can find to PB on the net are iphone and computer versions.] 

For really short games, I'd narrow it down to: 
- Down in Flames in all it's varieties. 
- De Bellis Antiquitatis 
- Richtofen's War 
- Ace of Aces 
- Melee
- Wizard
- Ogre
Fascinating that three of them are dogfight games! Perhaps because dogfights themselves are usually small encounters, lasting only about 1 minute. And two are man to man skirmish, for the same reason. 

I extracted the following as "medium length": 
- Memoir '44 
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men 
- Panzer Leader 
- PanzerBlitz 
- Battle Cry (Avalon Hill / Hasbro): 
[you could add a lot of the Metagaming ones] 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Most highly-rated out-of-print games

I was listening to The Geek All-stars Episode 87, in which Dan Patriss and his band of merry geeks list their Top 11 Stefan Feld designs, and someone mentioned in passing that a few of these well-regarded games are relatively unknown by game hobby newcomers because they have been out of print for some time.  That got me to thinking about how many excellent games are difficult or impossible to obtain because no publisher is printing them.  Hence the inspiration for today's post - a survey of the most highly-rated out-of-print games on boardgamegeek.com.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Top ten games that I play with my wife

Quite some time ago, Chris Norwood posted a list of his top ten games that he plays with his wife.  That list in turn was inspired by The Dice Tower podcast Episode 189, in which Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer shared their own top ten games that they play with their wives.  Those lists are both several years old, but the topic is timeless, so I thought I'd confer with my wife Kathy so that we could compile our own list.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Spring and summer photos

As October begins and fall sets in, I thought I would look back at some of games I got to play over the last six months.

My friend Grant G. gave us Goa for Christmas, and Kathy and I really like this neo-classic Euro.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 3: Who else has asked this question?

I'm certainly not the first to question the disproportion of men to women in the boardgaming hobby.  Here are just a few recent efforts (and one not-so-recent) to shed light on the question in one form or another.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Feminism Discourse Part 2: Who are the women that design games?

Last week I started to consider the question about why it seemed that there were so few female game designers.  But that post admittedly begs the question:  Is it actually true that game designers are disproportionately male, or is it just that male designers are simply better known?  I decided to actively identify women designers and some of the games they've designed to see if I could validate the notion that they are rare - or if not, to investigate why they are not as well known as male designers.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Feminism discourse: Why are women the exception in boardgame design?

Susan McKinley Ross at
2013 New York Toy Fair
I've recently come to consider seriously why most of the game designers with which I'm familiar are male.  I became more aware of this observation when I learned of a couple of women who won game design awards over the last few years and realized how unusual it seemed to me at the time - specifically, Susan McKinley Ross, who won the 2011 Spiel des Jahres for Qwirkle (which I only learned of when Tom Vasel interviewed her last November), and Leslie Scott, who won the 2012 TAGIE for Excellence in Game Design for Jenga.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Confusion: Do I get it?

(c) Stronghold Games.  Used by permission
I've been enamored of Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (designer Robert Abbott, artist David Ausloos, publisher Stronghold) for a long time - partly for the cold war theme, partly for the bakelite components, but mostly for the really clever "reverse Stratego" mechanic of knowing what your opponent's pieces can do, but not your own.  Keith Ferguson picked it up the last day of WBC 2011, and we've played it a few times since - most recently during open gaming at WBC earlier this month.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Third annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

I like looking into which boardgames work for taking on family summer vacations.  The last time I looked at this question was July 2012.  This year we have plans to visit points of interest in southwest Virginia - the Skyline Drive, Lexington, the Natural Bridge, and Monticello.  We specifically will be leaving laptops at home.  Anticipating some quality family downtime, of course that means boardgames.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

WBC 2014 Saturday and Sunday: WS&IM fleet action, Acquire semifinal, and demos

One quick go-back on my earlier posts recounting my World Boardgaming Championships experience this year:  The very first thing that Keith Ferguson and I did Thursday morning, on our way to the registration desk, was to bump into Josh Tempkin of Tall Tower Games.  He spent a good part of the convention demonstrating several of his games:
  • "WarTime," which I've written about before as a fascinating, innovative real-time wargame involving sand timers
  • "Throne Dice," which surprisingly I still haven't taken the time to play
  • "Commissioner," which I learned at UnPub 4 as "Lesser Evil"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

WBC 2014 Friday: WS&IM loss, Acquire victory, and EIC demo

(c) Rio Grande Games - used by
permission
Friday August 8 was the day that the Vendors' Area opened at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, so Keith Ferguson and I headed there as soon as the doors opened to see what we could find.  I had a few specific games in mind, and I was fortunate to find immediately the one at the top of my list, Concordia, designed by Mac Gerdts and published in the U.S. by Rio Grande.  I was initially attracted to this game simply because the title, after the Roman goddess of harmony, shares the name of the protagonist in my wife Kathy's series of historical murder mysteries.  Reviews led me to believe that I would appreciate this game in its own right, so I look forward to giving it a try.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WBC 2014 Thursday: TPA and a day of not winning

Last week I conducted my fourth annual pilgrimage to the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the summer highlight of my gaming year.  I had a fairly loose schedule in mind, with only a few key tournaments that I specifically wanted to hit.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Second annual List of Shame: The Unplayed Games of 2014

Last year about this time, inspired by Chris "GamerChris" Norwood, I posted my "secret shame" - a list of unplayed games sitting on my shelves.  When I did that, I thought surely, I am now motivated to work my way down this list and play all these games - or pass them along to someone else who will.  Surely, in the next year, say, I will have played nearly all my games and the list will be shorter.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

UnPub Mini Chantilly Recap

Last Saturday, Keith Ferguson ran an UnPub Mini event at Game Parlor Chantilly.  (I helped a little.)  We had about twelve designers and about 20 gamers playtesting over the course of the 11 hours that the store was open that day.  It was about as successful as we could have wanted.  For my part, I got to playtest "East India Company" and "Reactor Scram" one time each, as well as to play about four other games, though there were many more I wish I could have played.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

More designers for 21 June UnPub Mini in Chantilly, Virginia

As I mentioned in a post on May 8, there will be an UnPub Mini event this Saturday 21 June at
Game Parlor
13936 Metrotech Drive
Chantilly, VA 20151
We now have a full slate of eleven designers lined up, so we have plenty of opportunities for gamers to come and try out new game design prototypes and provide feedback to the designers.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Leaner, meaner "Company"

I've been giving some thought as to how to streamline "East India Company."  There are a few approaches I can take.  The scientist in me wants to make one change at a time and test each change independently.  I've heard at least one designer specifically recommend that approach so that you always know the effect of each specific design change.  But my gut tells me to identify the essential core elements of the game, eliminate everything else in one big purge, and then see if anything should be added back in, painstakingly, one element at a time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

East India Company returns to the shipyard

Last February I mentioned that I'd submitted a prototype of "East India Company" to a publisher at UnPub 4 to evaluate for publication.  I just heard back from them, and they
do not find it to be a good fit for our upcoming releases. At the end of the day, the play time and complexity does not create a conducive product for a broad success, as the trends are leading away from complex play and longer play times.
I can certainly accept that evaluation.  Game length has been a challenge with "EIC" since its inception, and it certainly is complex.  Given the nature of today's game market, I agree that its appeal as it currently stands would probably be somewhat narrow.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Luck, skill, and research

Last week I opened a discussion on my effort to quantify game characteristics.  I had in mind that I would explore this question on my own, somewhat in a vacuum, based on my own experience and opinions, as something of an exercise to see what defensible conclusions I might reach.