October 26, 2012

What Actually Makes The Game "Fun"?

Recently I scaled back my weekly VS System stuff to once a month, and yet people still didn't bother to show up for that. I organize (or try to) near-weekly game nights at my house, and again most of the time the folks I invite can't seem bothered to reply, or don't always show up even if they do reply. I've got board games, card games and miniatures all over the place, most of which I know to be great fun, and yet I can't seem to convince many people to actually sit down and play games with me.

Now to be clear, I'm not painting everyone I know with this brush as there are a few exceptions. However, I wanted to set the stage for what I'm talking about here with some context for you folks that are not local to me.

So these sort of things have gotten me thinking about what makes games actually fun. Is it the rules, the components, the theme, the gameplay, the other players, or some other nebulous concept? Obviously in some cases such as a card game like VS System or Warlord: Saga of the Storm, creating decks and researching cards combinations can provide a great deal of fun and satisfaction. For miniature gaming...constructing and customizing models, creating teams or force lists, and painting your figures and table top terrain can all provide some measure of fun as well. And yes, there are some solo board games available out there.

On the other hand these are games we're talking about here, and a vast majority of them are designed with multiple players in mind. So without those other players, can one actually play a game and obtain a fun experience out of it?

While I can and would argue the answer is "yes," I think I would have to qualify that statement as "yes, but only to a degree." I have had fun playing through some games on my own. In fact, usually the first time that I play a game is by myself. I find it easier to set up all the components and read through the instructions 'playing' through the game and looking up the relevant rules as various situations arise. This is more akin to a simulation as opposed to an actual game however. In addition, the real memorable or shocking moments that can occur in a game when your opponent does something amazing, unforeseen or just plain nuts will never arise in this situation. You see, I always know what I'm going to do before I actually do it, which negates any possibility of surprise. Funny that...

Granted, without opponents I think that most people would say that games really aren't much fun, and I'd be inclined to agree. Do you? Whether in accord or not, what makes a game fun for you?

a) The rules / the way the game works
b) The components (figures, cards, board, dice etc)
c) The theme or story told during play
d) The interaction with other players
e) Something else

Drop me a comment and share your opinion, I'd really love to hear it!

October 25, 2012

More Stuff on the Way

So things have been pretty exciting on the miniature gaming front for me recently. First off the DreadBall campaign recently finished and the survey was sent out by Mantic shortly afterward. I had already pledged for all the extras I thought I'd need and filled my survey out quickly. I did end up adding a few more things but missed two of the MVP figures because I didn't realize they weren't included in the Striker package. I'm sure I can pick them up at a later time easily enough should I desperately decide I need them.

There have been some preliminary conversations between myself and the folks of my gaming shop of choice (Trilogy Gaming Club) about DreadBall as well. We've made some plans for demoing the game at an upcoming Blood Bowl tournament; to be followed up by two different league nights. Originally I had thought there would just be one event weekly. After talking about it however, it looks like we'll try doing two events per week. The one I'll be running will be aimed at new and casual players who want to play in a fun league. The other event will be store-run, and intended for those looking for more competitive league play. I'll post more details about that later on.

During the final week of that campaign I had also been watching Mongoose Publishing's Judge Dredd Miniature Game campaign on Kickstarter. Although it was labelled as a supportive effort for the upcoming Block War expansion, the main focus of the project seemed to be expanding the Judge Dredd figure range. Mongoose's campaign was definitely not as slick as Mantic's but they refined it as things went along and I think they did a good job of being accommodating to most requests.

The one thing that impressed me most about the game is that the rules and expansion book are free to download, so one could use old Games Workshop figures, converted Heroclix, or whatever other figures they had available to play without ever giving Mongoose a dime. Of course the Mongoose-produced figure looked pretty good so I decided to support their efforts with a Council of Judges level pledge. The basic pledge cost was essentially retail price for 10 of their box sets. However, by the time the campaign finished there were somewhere around 18 or 19 sets included at that pledge level, plus some other goodies. I think that'll end up being 115 or 120 figures from the world of Mega-City One!

I opted to swap out the Fatty Stampede box set for a second Zombie Horde set (everyone loves zombies right!?), and the Pat Wagon for two Judges on Lawmaster bikes. Hopefully Mongoose is able to fulfill their initial promise and get most of the stuff people pledged for sent out by end of November. A huge pile of Judge Dredd Miniature Game figures arriving on my doorstep in time for Christmas would be awesome!

IndieGoGo is a similar concept to Kickstarter, but one I've not looked at too much. In all honesty, Kickstarter has gotten a lot of my money, far more than I had intended. However, when I heard Vesper-On, that the guys who make Carnevale, were doing a campaign I had to go check it out. Initially I wasn't really interested, because it was focused very specifically on making a very big beastie for their Rashaar faction. While the Rashaar are very cool, essentially fishmen and Dagon cultists (ala Lovecraft), it wasn't enough to make me want to add my money. But things do change...

Based on feedback they received, Vesper-On added other perk levels to let people who wanted to support them get some starter boxes and models for other factions as well. They also added a sort of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink level perk which included their full Carnevale catalogue AND the big beastie AND a rule book. I've been drooling over the figures for this game for a while now, but had avoided getting in on it because the figures were quite expensive, and I'd have to pay shipping from Spain on top of that. Now however, I can get the whole line at a discount, and not have to pay any shipping fees. Consider me in!

With all this new plastic and lead winging its way to my doorstep, I know that I will soon have an exponentially larger mountain to climb, er...paint. While more than a little bit daunting I'm still very excited about all of the new stuff coming, and that's helped keep me moving along with my painting and terrain building.

I'll have some stuff from my paint station to show off in short order, so do stop by again very soon.

October 23, 2012

How Can I Play "Weird" World War II Games?

When I started testing the Kulten beta rules I thought it would be fun to put together a "Weird War" style list using some Nazi troopers, a mad scientist and some zombies. I had already picked up a really cool squad of Nazi Gestapo troopers and a leader from Bob Murch's Pulp Figures line. The leader came in a pack with a scientist figure, and I had dozens of zombie miniatures floating around so in reality I was already all set to go.

I used the Strange Aeons rules for human cultists to equip my troopers and their leader. The resulting six profiles were a nice even 25 points. The mad scientist and his batch of test zombies worked out perfectly at 15 points to round out the 40 points starting cult size. Since these models weren't properly painted, I only used them once in a test game. They won that game and the list was a lot of fun to play, so I've been itching to use them again ever since. I do hope to finish painting them shortly after Halloween, which is the main reason they haven't seen any further action yet.

There are lots of rule sets out there that cover WW2 combat, and many of those also contain or have supplements to add the "weird" element like zombies, vampires, mummies, magical powers and all that great stuff. So I set about looking at a bunch of them with the helpful suggestions of many of the folks over at the LAF forums. Secrets of the Third Reich, AE: WWII, Savage Worlds Weird War and others were all lobbied for. One of the first posters suggested the Song of Blades and Heroes system sets (Flying Lead, Fear and Faith and Mutants and Death Ray Guns) by Ganesha Games, which I had never heard of before. Their products do look really interesting and I have already posted up a review of the revised edition of SoBH..

Everyone was quick to make suggestions and comments about the different rules and figures available, but none of the rule sets immediately jumped out at me as something I just needed to buy, although I am very temped to pick up more of the Ganesha Games books. For most of the different books I'd have to drop even more money on rules, in some cases (such as Secrets of the Third Reich) quite a bit of it in order to get the requisite books and expansions being recommended as best-case. I've already spent a substantial sum on little soldiers and rule books this year, so I'd really like to stop the bleeding from my bank account if at all possible.

Then it hit me: why not just use the Strange Aeons / Kulten rule sets to do what I wanted?! I'm comfortable with the rules and they cover off most of what I want in terms of equipment, magic and monsters already! Using Threshold vs Lurkers isn't quite what I want though, since the number of points I wanted to run would be higher than most Threshold lists could ever really achieve. So that essentially brings me to cult-vs-cult. I could just play the Kulten rules. I'll have to make another list to suit my other 'cult': Canadian/British soldiers and see if will prove a satisfying experience. There are dozens of manufacturers that produce lines of British WW2 soldiers so I'll be taking my time trying to find figures that are exactly what I want...and quite likely I won't do so before year's end.

I'd eventually like to add some more thematic zombies to my Nazi squad, perhaps using some of WestWind Productions cool Nazi zombie figures, or other items from a similar range. If I don't end up with something that scratches the itch in the right spot, I will revisit my list here and maybe make an investment in yet another book.

One thing I haven't quite figured out how to handle out yet are vehicles. It'd be spiffy to have a tank or some kind of steam (or magic) powered battle suit on the field with my little toy soldiers. Maybe I'll have to talk to Uncle Mike and see what he can come up with for vehicle rules...

October 19, 2012

Song of Blades and Heroes: A Review

I've been asking around for a set of rules to play Weird War type scenario skirmish games with lately, and one of the suggestions I received was to try Flying Lead, which is based on the Song of Blades and Heroes engine by Ganesha Games. I had never heard of the system or the publisher so I dug around a bit and found that there was a new edition of Song of Blades and Heroes released in September. A few moments, and $8 later, I was reading through the PDF book and wondering why I'd never heard of it before. The reason I decided on this book, rather than one of the themed books was pretty simple: other than Hordes, I don't own any skirmish rules for fantasy gaming...so I wanted that one.

The book isn't very long but provides detailed, yet simple, rules for movement, melee and ranged combat, morale tests, larger scale battles, scenarios and campaign play. At the end of the book are several pages containing a very comprehensive list of profiles for all kinds of fantasy creatures and characters. It is also usable for both 15mm and 28mm figures which allows players to use whatever toy soldiers and monsters they might have lying around.

One item that is not contained in the book that I found very useful in my test games was a player template. It's a simple one-page template that has all three measurement lengths on it, as well as all kind of helpful facts about the rules on it. I highly recommend downloading it from their website and using it if you plan to use any of the SoBH rule sets. There are also some nice character building spreadsheets available in their free downloads section.

So what do I mean about the "three measurement lengths"? Well, Song of Blades and Heroes does away with the idea of using a measure tape for movement and checking range, in a sense. There are only three measurements needed in the game: short, medium and long. That might sound confusing, but it's really not and once you play a round or two you won't even be thinking about it.

The other, insane sounding, but utterly cool thing about this game is that every figure has only two stats. Yes you read that right: TWO. OK well actually three, if you count the points cost for each figure, which I don't. The two in-game stats for your figures are Quality and Combat.
  • Quality is an "overall indication of the model’s willingness to fight, reaction speed, initiative and morale."
  • Combat is "how well the model fights. In a fight, this value is added to the roll of a die and compared to the opponent’s Combat plus the roll of a die."
When you want to activate a figure you roll one, two or three dice and compare the dice against its Quality. The number of dice equal to or higher than the Quality value is the number of actions it gets to take. For combat, those of you who are paying attention will note that yes, it means individual rounds between two figures are resolved by rolling a single die each.

"But wait Mr. Obsidian3d-guy, if I only have two stats on my figures, doesn't this game suck all over the place then?" you ask. No, not at all would be my answer. The ingenious thing here is that characters can buy Special Rules. Special rules would be things like Flying, Shooter (which allows a figure to make ranged attacks), Tough, Terror, Undead and so on. These special rules increase the point cost of your figures and let them do additional things. It's really quite ingenious and works far, far better than I would have anticipated.

Finally, I gave the Song of Blades and Heroes rules a try through two short games last night. I grabbed some Heroscape figures and put together two different lists of characters for each game, trying to pick profiles with a good range of points and special rules. The rules worked surprisingly well, far better than I had expected but naturally there was a lot of flipping about in the rule book to look up the special rules, as well as the core game rules. The one downside, and this is personal preference more than anything else, is that it seems a little unsatisfying to roll only a single die to resolve figure combat.

However, I would certainly use this system in a convention setting or with players who want a lighter war-gaming experience. I think it would also work very well mixing and matching special rules from other books and expansions to create a custom system you like. There are several expansions to the Song of Blades and Heroes core rules, as well as other standalone books using the engine for other settings. Some that I'll certainly be looking into will be Flying Lead: modern war combat, Fear and Faith: horror scenarios and monster profiles, and Mutants and Death Ray Guns: post-apocalyptic near-future stuff...and that doesn't cover everything they've got!

October 15, 2012

Stuff That Doesn't Exist Yet

Did a little previewing last week. First up was our monthly Strange Aeons night at Trilogy. Uncle Mike and James were there with some newly made terrain pieces when I arrived. As soon as I sat down Uncle Mike nudged a binder at me, "check in there and make sure I spelled your name right" he said. Opening it up I found the printer-proof of Shocking Tales of Madness & Mayhem, cool!

Inside the upcoming book are three different Black Dossier adventures, the conclusion the "The Council of Thirteen" and tons of new Lurker profiles. Plus the book looks excellent. I can't wait to receive my copy as soon as it arrives.

Mike and I also had time to play a game. I ran a Lurker list comprised of a Winged Nightmare, Cult Leader and two measly .22 pistol-armed cultists. I ended up losing, but was able to drag one Agent off the board and kill another. Mike's character survived but will be in pretty tough shape after this adventure. I'm sure I'll get paid back for the damage I've caused in full soon enough...I still have three new Agents that haven't seen any field action yet.

Also, big thanks to James and Mike for modifying their schedule to come to a different day to accommodate me. I really appreciate it!

Second up was more preview gaming on Sunday evening. I played two basic games of Dreadball between Orx and Corporation this weekend using the available rules and team stats from the designer's blog, and a pitch I made out of Heroscape tiles. Both games were really close. The first game was just me, trying to sort out the rules while running both teams. The result was a three point win for the Orx, with each team losing a player through unlucky armor checks.

The second game was against William, who was kind enough to sit down with me to test out the rules in a more realistic fashion. I played Orx, William the Corporation. He took an early 2-point lead, which I cut down to 1 shortly after. A little after the halfway point, he scored another single to once again make it a 2 point lead...and again I was able to quickly cut that lead to one.

During my second-last rush I was able to kill one of his guards and take possession of the ball, retaining it as the rush ended and protecting my jack with two guards. William's players converged on that spot and tried in vain to slam the jack. As a last play on his final rush he moved a striker in to even up the numbers a little bit. At the start of the final rush of the game two Orx guards cleared the way to the strike zone but that lone human striker was threatening my jack. Needing to make a desperate two point throw I tried to evade the striker and move away. Unfortunately, the clumsy jack tripped...losing the ball, and the game.

Even though I didn't successfully make the play at the end it was still a riveting conclusion to the game, as it could easily have gone my way with a better die roll. Had I then also been able to pull off the shot (I'd saved a coaching die in hopes of getting to take a shot), it would have been a spectacular upset!

All in all I think the basic Dreadball rules are a lot of fun. There is a lot of room for daring plays and good strategy, even without any fouls, a referee or fan checks. I liked it quite a bit and am now awaiting my season 1 package in December  more eagerly than before!

October 10, 2012

Sentinels of...Blackwater Gulch?!

Last Thursday was supposed to be our VS System night but it ended up being only William and I. Neither of us seemed too concerned about playing so we chatted while he sorted through a newly arrived package from Greater Than Games. Seems he had gotten in on the Kickstarter campaign they had a while back to help with the enhanced edition of Sentinels of the Multiverse.

Last year I introduced Sentinels to my group to pretty much universal acclaim. I believe it was some time in August that I was trying to track down a local Canadian retailer that could get it for me. I met with zero success and ended up ordering directly from the publisher. Shipping ended up costing me half again what the game did, but I was the first person around to have it. Shortly after making my enquiries at a few shops, the game started popping up with quite a bit of regularity...so I guess my asking around did have an effect.

While going through the box William put a few things on the table and said that I was to take them home.

An empty box from the enhanced version, with deck dividers and enough space to hold all the cards! The box from the original game barely held the cards, and once they were sleeved I was stuck without a place to store them. The new box has enough room for them all, and will likely fit the second expansion as well. On the downside however, sleeved cards do not fit well in here as the sleeves make them too long. It's still an improvement though.

He had also ordered a copy of the two promo decks: Unity, a new hero...and Ambuscade, a new villain. There was also a set of over-size villain and some nice tokens. I've punched all the tokens and added them to my dice and rule book in the original game box. My Rook City expansion box is essentially useless, so it'll be getting tossed out. Anyway, these are nice additions to a good game...thanks William!

I had brought my Strange Aeons figures with me as well, on the off chance that there would be someone around to play a game with. Sadly there was not, but I had planned ahead and also bought my newly based cowboy figures and the rules for Blackwater Gulch that I'd printed out last week. We grabbed a table and set up some terrain to give the rules a go.

There are no pictures of the game because I relatively busy flipping through the rules while we tried to figure out the various skills, modifiers and other crunchy bits. Those kind of things always come up during a first play. Our table was a little bit too big, so the game ended up being mostly shooting, but I did make a few attempts at melee.

William's long-range henchman made short work of three of my figures, but with the help of my doctor I was able to revive two of them and was able to pull out a win. The doctor profession can be really strong. I'm sure if we'd realized just how good it was earlier on she wouldn't have survived past the first few rounds.

My initial impression of Blackwater Gulch is a good one. The rules are relatively simple, but there is space for good tactical play, and cover is really important. The leader's luck dice, and the various professions and skills add some good depth to what would otherwise be a very vanilla game. I'm looking forward to finding some more Western themed figures and adding to my gangs.

Next thing on my painting table will be finishing up the starter box figures for Pulp City.

October 01, 2012

Field Operative Update

October 1, 1922

Attn: Director Silver
RE: Field Operative Roster Update


After a short break to allow myself and Mr. MacIntyre to recover from our recent injuries I've chosen some Agents from those listed on file as available. As per your previous communication, I've issued recall notices to their last known field offices and await their arrival. We'll be ready to deploy immediately upon their assembly.

Please have the files for the following personnel updated to reflect their status as active members of my field team.

Dr. John McDermott

Doctor McDermott's experience in ancient architecture, language and culture will prove invaluable in our efforts to retrieve the artifacts lost in pursuit of case file SA-120816-RtA. He has also proven a steady hand in the face of the assorted...creatures we're likely to face.

Walter Daniels
Former Occupation Unknown

I realize that Agent Daniels has spent the last few months under observation in the Pittsburgh office, but his former commander Agent Henkel has assured me that despite his habit (Daniels claims that damned flask is lucky!) he is a good man, and is actually one hell of a shot. Per Agent Henkel's recommendation, I'll take him, even though it seems no one else wants him.

Professor Henry Armitage
Librarian / Linguist / Chemist

After much discussion I was able to convince the professor that his knowledge would serve us better in the field than hiding among towers of tomes and test tubes. After taking his measure, I'm willing to bet that there's a backbone of  steel in that man. In fact I am betting exactly that, with my own life.

I'll contact you again as soon as possible.

Carl Selinger
Commanding Field Agent


I spent a few hours on Saturday painting up a few new models for my Threshold team. All three models, and the obelisk started their morning wearing black primer only. I do apologize for the photos, they're not very good this time around.

John McDermott is a figure from the Reaper Chronoscope line that I really liked the look of. I used the same color for his outfit as I did on the UMW Alicia/Patricia figure I painted up a little while back. The torch turned out alright, although I'm sure it doesn't look like what real fire would. I didn't bother trying to capture the lighting it would have on the figure, that's beyond what I want to do for my minis.

Walter Daniels I bought at the same time as another figure from the RAFM Call of Cthulhu line. I gave him a new name because I couldn't find the card that he came on, which is a shame because I remember liking it when I bought it. I really love the rakish look he this figure has, with the runaway tie and flask in hand. I used greens and greys for something a little bit different. I'm not a big fan of the colour green, but I think it looks really good in this instance.

Professor Armitage is also a RAFM figure; this one is from the Lovecraft Country box-set. Very characterful, and was extremely easy to paint. He's a great looking model.

The stone obelisk is from Uncle Mike's Strange Aeons line of course. Super easy to paint and only took a few minutes, but I love how it turned out.

The flesh tone on the professor and Daniels is a little darker than I'd have liked, but I'll know for next time to use something lighter than Tallarn Flesh. As with all my figures I painted them in three steps: simple block colours as a base, various ink washes to add depth, and a final series of dry brushing to bring out some highlights and details. It won't win me any awards, but it looks good enough for me!