Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Games Games Games! -- ORIGINS 2008

This past weekend, I made a last minute decision to go to the Origins game convention in Columbus, Ohio. It's a true gamers haven. What can I say other than I'm pumped!

The last Origins I attended was in 2005. That convention, along with the truly wonderful, in-depth games database at BoardGameGeek and the entertaining and informative Dice Tower podcast by Tom Vasel (along with co-host Sam Healey and former co-host Joe Steadman), were the things that really rekindled my current interest in board games.

I'm not a total newbie when it comes to the hobby gaming scene. I grew up playing lots of board games as a kid, teen, and young adult. From Talisman to Statis Pro Baseball to Slapshot to the 3M games like Acquire and Feudal and Win-Place-&-Show, there are several old classics that I still love to this day.

But post-college, my gaming focus shifted to other things (namely rotisserie baseball and miniatures wargaming). Part of that change was just a lack-of-time for multi-player gaming get-togethers. But part was due to the board gaming scene's slow fade into the sunset. At least that's the way things seemed in the mid-1980's. But from the late 90's onward, board-gaming has experienced a major resurgence.

As I sit here and write in June of 2008, the sheer number of good games available to the board game enthusiast is staggering. Whether you like light, family-friendly Euro games, highly thematic and colorful American style games (Ameritrash), quick playing card games, abstracts, or captivating 2-player wargames, there's bound to be dozens of games out there to suit your particular tastes. And there's really no better place to soak in the atmosphere of gaming as one of the mega gaming conventions (Origins, GenCon, or Spiel in Essen, Germany). If you love games, you really owe it to yourself to make the journey to one of these conventions at least once in your lifetime. I have a hard time imagining you would be disappointed.

While I don't get to game nearly as often as I would like, and my game collection is already big enough in most casual gamer's eyes (close to 150 games), the lure of NEW GAMES is way too hard for any true tabletop games enthusiast to resist. Even though I have easily 25 games in my collection that have yet to hit the table, there's always room for more -- although my closet is starting to disagree with me on that point! I know that in order to make room for new goodies, I'm going to have to start selling off those games that I'll never play again. eBay awaits.

So the biggest blip on my mental radar as I head to Origins this weekend is "what cool new games should I buy?" Here's my HOT LIST of games:

ADVENTURE = Fearsome Floors, Drakon, Last Night on Earth, Fury of Dracula, and Bootleggers.

CARD & PARTY GAMES = Wits & Wagers, No Thanks, Dragon's Gold, Odin's Ravens, Dragon Lairds, and For Sale.

EXPANSIONS = Battlelore (Goblin Marauders, Earth Elemental), Wizard Kings (Maps 5-8), and Carcassonne (Traders & Builders).

SPORTS = Pizza Box Baseball, and Blood Bowl 3rd Edition.

STRATEGY = El Grande (Decennial Edition), Manhattan, Hive, Aladdin's Dragons, Mr. Jack, Downfall of Pompeii, Fire & Axe, Railroad Tycoon, I'm the Boss, Jamaica, Power Grid, and Taluva.

WARGAMES / BATTLE GAMES = Titan, Crusader Rex, Conquest of the Empire, Command & Colors Ancients, Battue, Wallenstein, War of the Ring, Warriors of God, Quest for the Dragonlords, and Age of Gods.

FUTURE RELEASES / NEW EDITIONS = Age of Conan, Cosmic Encounter (FFG edition), Battlelore (Heroes), Monster Liner, and Wiz War.

I'm not Bill Gates, so obviously I can't afford to buy all of these games in one fell swoop! So if I had to pick a Top-20 Most Wanted Games today, here would be my list:
  1. Fearsome Floors
  2. Drakon
  3. Age of Conan
  4. Titan
  5. Wits & Wagers
  6. Hive
  7. El Grande
  8. Manhattan
  9. Last Night on Earth
  10. Mr. Jack
  11. Blood Bowl (3rd Ed.)
  12. No Thanks
  13. Wiz War
  14. Battue
  15. Downfall of Pompeii
  16. Aladdin's Dragons
  17. Wallenstein
  18. Conquest of the Empire
  19. Fire & Axe
  20. Dragon's Gold
I'll let you know if I purchase any of these tempting games at ORIGINS. I sure hope that I'm able to snag a couple of them!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Game Droppings

Man, I've really got to find a way to write more often. Seems like life has me sidetracked from writing to this blog as often as I would like. Perhaps with Summer here, things will get better in that regard. It always seems like a much more exciting time for gaming, conventions, rotisserie baseball, road trips, and exciting new game releases.

Here's what I've been up to recently, as well as cool things which are on my radar...

Wizard Kings Sale = Columbia Games is having a Father's Day sale on their Treasures & Heroes block expansion sets for the Wizard Kings game. If you're a fan of the game, you should definitely check this out. I ordered 2 expansions, plus Map Pack #1 this weekend.

If you've never played any of the excellent Columbia block wargames, I heartily recommend giving them a try. I have both Hammer of the Scots and Wizard Kings in my game collection, and am hoping to add Crusader Rex to the mix some day as well. If you're a fan of Dark Ages and Medieval history, or a Fantasy gamer, and you like large-scale wargames of moderate complexity, you won't be disappointed with any of these games. They're fun, and each one has a very different feel due to its subject matter and how that's implemented in the game system.

Sword of Severnia Playtesting = This Summer, my playtesting group and I are hitting the wargames table on a regular basis to put the Sword of Severnia rules through their paces. Things are going well so far and I'm getting more & more excited about the game with each passing day.

Sword of Severnia (or SoS for short), is a card-driven miniature wargame of fantasy combat. There's a heavy emphasis on Command & Control, fog of war, and using smart battle tactics to manuever and attack with your troops (up to 12 different Troop Types). The importance of good Leaders, Morale, Disorder, Fatigue, Formations, using Reserves, and intelligent Deployment are also major facets of the game. And since it's a fantasy game, mighty heroes, wizards & spells, monsters, heroic duels, magic items, and unusual battle events are all nicely accounted for.

Armies are comprised of 9-15 regiments (most units are on 80 x 60mm or 80 x 120mm element type bases) formed into 3 brigades, with each brigade having its own field commander. Typical armies are comprised of 60-80 figures, which includes your core troops and any leaders, heroes, wizards, and specialists in your army. The rules were designed with 25mm to 30mm figures in mind, but are very easily adaptable to smaller scales such as 15mm.

SoS is not tied into any specific model manufacturer, so you can use whatever figures you like and have available. So whether it's models from Warhammer, Hordes, WarGods, Confrontation, HeroScape, Reaper, D&D Minis, Dwarf Wars, ancient Romans and Greeks, Knights Templar, Vikings, Celts, Saxons, Hundred Years War Medievals, Samurai, Persians, etc., you can use them in this wargame. In fact, SoS currently supports over 140 different races and creatures in the game.

Aside from the interesting game rules themselves, one of the things that really differentiates SoS from other fantasy wargames is that it's a Computer-Assisted wargame. Initially, the computer software component of SoS involves Army Creator tools for building your Regiments and Characters, assembling your Armies, crunching Point Values, and generating & printing custom Troop Cards which contain all the important stats you need to reference during actual game play. There's also a searchable digital Rulebook for quickly looking up rules or charts.

A bit later on, we'll be releasing full-blown Battle Moderator software for SoS. The software (run by a game umpire) lets you track troop status, victory points, and other key data during the battle, allows for some automated dice rolling if your group desires that option, quickly handles chart lookups, and helps enforce the game rules. Plus, the computer-assisted battle version of SoS really aids in learning the game (much less information for new players to remember since the computer does most of that for you).

So anyway... I'll keep ya posted as to our progress on SoS. It's gonna be pretty darn cool!

HeroScape Campaign = I'm also hoping to kickoff a HeroScape campaign game fairly soon. Last Fall, I wrote up a set of campaign rules that will form the basis of the campaign system in my Sword of Severnia miniatures wargame. But pieces of the system were adapted for HeroScape, so that our gaming group could use that simple yet fun system to resolve tabletop battles while our more advanced SoS miniature battle rules are still under development.

My hope is that within the next 2-3 weeks, I can get a small group to playtest these campaign rules with me. The campaign is played about 75% via email/web (sending in orders, plotting map moves, engaging in diplomacy with other players, buying items/buildings/specialists, recruiting new troops, etc.), while the remaining 25% consists of actual tabletop battles when armies encounter each other in a province on the campaign map. 

It should be great fun, so hopefully I can get this started soon.

Historicon 2008 = It's hard to believe, but the Historicon miniatures wargaming convention in Lancaster PA is only a mere 6 weeks away. Pre-registration for HMGS East members is now open, so if you're planning on attending this excellent convention, you should sign-up soon. I believe that pre-reg ends on July 3rd. I'll be there. The lure of tiny tin men is always too much to resist for this wargaming geek!

Well that's all for now.... Coming up on the blog in the coming future (God willing), will be some mentions of some new wargaming books on the market, a look at the 5 different types of wargamers, a rundown of board games on my Wishlist of games, new ideas for Rotisserie Baseball, more news about Sword of Severnia, and hopefully some game session reports. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Oh GODS, Oh GODS... Oh NO!

Hi Folks,
As of today, I'm sending the GODS gaming group off to boarding school in a land, far, far away. It's goodbye for now. Maybe we'll see you again some day in the promising future when you're all grown up.
The PROBLEM: Numbers and Scheduling  
Despite my recent efforts to relaunch the GODS gaming group, things just haven't worked out as I had hoped. There are 2 pretty big problems preventing the GODS from becoming a viable gaming group:
1) There are currently only 5 people who are highly interested in regular tabletop gaming. They are: Kevin Sarnowski, Wally Wenklar, Mayer Foner, David Schlankser, and Steve Severino.
Geoff Kyper is a special case. He's very interested in playing miniature wargames (being a member of the SOS playtest/design team), but unfortunately doesn't have any additional free time to join in for multi-player non-wargames.
While several other folks have expressed an interest in this type of face-to-face gaming, the simple fact is that they haven't done much to prove it. Whenever I've requested email responses to questions about the gaming group, or have scheduled gaming sessions, it's only the 5 core people that respond and/or show up for the occasional board game. I expected more, so that's been very disappointing.
While I'm certainly very happy at least a small group of gamers exists, the simple fact is that if you want 4-6 people to show up and participate in a regular "Game Night", then you really need to have about 10-15 gamers in your pool of people to play games with.
We don't have that critical mass of numbers, thus most Multi-Player gaming sessions I've tried to schedule just didn't pan out.
2) Scheduling group sessions has been a nightmare. Everyone has varying days and times when they can play. Finding the perfect match when everyone can attend one big game session has been an insurmountable hurdle. What's supposed to be a fun thing, has turned into a headache for me from the scheduling end of things.
The SOLUTION: Off-the-Cuff Gaming
After several failed attempts at organizing a large gaming group, I have finally resigned myself to the fact that the "formal approach" to face-to-face gaming (i.e. having people vote on various "club issues/topics", setting up a bi-weekly games schedule ahead of time, posting "club news" via email), just isn't going to work right now. Mobilizing a large group of people to action has been a real struggle; one which I've been frustrated by and don't feel is worth wasting any more energy on. All I ever wanted to do is play some fun games and get to see my friends on a more frequent basis. I never intended to get caught up in administrative and organizational duties. This was always supposed to be FUN, not WORK. 
Since there's still a small group of people eager to play an assortment of tabletop games, I'm not about to abandon them. Instead of the formal, highly organized approach, I'm going OLD SCHOOL. I'm going to arrange "Off the Cuff" game sessions at my house. 
Simply put, when I have the free time to play a game during a given week, I will simply contact a friend or two via email/phone and say something along the lines of "hey Kev, what are you doing on Wednesday Night? Do you want to come over and play Battlelore?" And I will either get someone to play a 1-on-1 game with me, or if I'm real lucky, I'll have 2 or 3 people come over for a multi-player game.
For now, the only people on my Gamer Contacts list will be Kev, Wally, Geoff, Mayer, and David. If anyone else is truly interested in having me contact them for some face-to-face gaming, then feel free to email me or call me. Otherwise, I won't be bothering you about gaming stuff anymore.
Last but not least... I'm also going to explore the CPA Games Club, and perhaps play games there some weekends. They hold gaming sessions every weekend (on the West Shore on odd numbered Sundays, and the East Shore on even numbered Saturdays). There's no membership fee to become part of the club, and they welcome all comers. They play a lot of eurogames and train games, but also some wargames and adventure games as well. If you have a particular game you really want to play, you're allowed to bring it and ask people to play it with you. A bunch of them also travel to Origins and other game conventions in Maryland each year. 
So that's the scoop. GODS, it was nice knowing you. Rest in peace. Hopefully, Off-the-Cuff gaming will work and I'll get to play more games with my friends. Maybe some day, the number of interested gamers will grow large enough to organize an honest-to-goodness game club. Or maybe, someone else will pickup the ball and run with it, and have better success than I did in getting it going. Or perhaps we'll all be assimilated into the CPA? Who knows.