Friday, October 24, 2008

Reports from Essen

The largest tabletop games convention in the world is underway right now in Essen, Germany. Spiel 2008, which will draw approximately 150,000 people, is THE PLACE where hobby game companies release their new games for all the world to see.

I've always wanted to go to this mecca of game conventions, but have never made the trip from America to Germany yet. Hopefully that will come in the future, when the US economy and my fun-money budget are in much better shape!

I truly love boardgames, and especially conventions where you can Try and Buy, which is precisely what SPIEL is (or ESSEN as it's commonly referred to by gamers in the know). Since I cannot be there myself, I'm living vicariously through the daily news reports of Frank Kulkmann. Frank is a gamer and native of Essen, and his excellent daily round-ups can be read by going here: Kulkmann's Gamebox. Check it out for yourself; it's a great little read.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gamer Perspective - OCT 14, 2008

Yeah, I know that I need to post here more often.

After one year of doing this, I'm still striving to figure out the perfect balance of blog-posting frequency versus article "meatiness". Writing often is doable if the articles are quick hitters that don't take much time to create. But then, they lack the depth and variety that's often more entertaining to a wider scope of people.

So.... What to do? I'm going to attempt to go the shorter, more frequent route. I say attempt, because finding the time to pull away from work & family to write is always tricky. But let me try it at least and see what happens.

This month's Gamer Perspective has me thinking about miniatures, books, wargames, and board gaming.

As a longtime lover of miniature wargames and game designer, my Excitement Meter rose when I read about John Bobek's new book entitled The Games of War: A Treasury of Rules for Battles with Toy Soldiers, Ships, and Planes.

There just aren't that many good, general purpose books available about the fantastic and engaging hobby of miniature wargaming.

Many of the classic wargaming books were written 30-40 years ago and include the likes of Featherstone's Complete Wargaming (by Donald Featherstone), Charge! (by Peter Young), Battle Gaming (by Terence Wise), Setting Up a Wargames Campaign (by Tony Bath), and others.

The recent book on miniature wargaming by Neil Thomas (Wargaming: An Introduction) provides a solid introduction to the hobby for newcomers, and Big Battles for Little Hands (by Buck Surdu) is a good entry-level book for youngsters.

But compared to the books by Thomas and Surdu, John Bobek's book seems to have a much broader, sweeping approach to the miniature wargaming hobby, offering up close to 40 different sets of rules for every period and style of wargame imaginable (ancient, medieval, napoleonic, colonial, WWII, fantasy & sci-fi, ship warfare, aerial combat, etc.). That's pretty adventurous.

Although my understanding is that the rules provided here are quite simple in complexity and depth, that's certainly to be expected when a broad-brush approach is taken. Too many newcomers to miniatures gaming can be turned off by games requiring 150-200 models per side to play, ultra-complex rules, and by highly restricted choices with respect to the models you can use to play the game. Bobek takes a more user-friendly approach, trying to keep costs down, options open with regards to models you can choose from, and simple rules whose focus is squarely on fun rather than ultra-realistic simulation.

This is a book that has immediately made my MUST BUY list (or perhaps it could be a Christmas present). Once I get it into my hands and have read it thoroughly, I'll give you a more in-depth review and opinion of the book.

In the neverending quest of miniature manufacturers to try and deplete my bank account faster than a 600-point drop on Wall Street, I bring to you news of these cool developments in the minis world.

Bronze Age Miniatures has released a new Norse Troll (pictured at left) whose dynamic, menacing pose is just fantastic. I'm a sucker for trolls, so I'm sure I'll add this guy to my collection fairly soon.

Plus, there's a whole new set of babelicious female barbarians who are obviously members of the "We Don't Believe in Bras" clan. Conan would be pleased.

Old Glory recently announced that they're offering pre-painted metal miniatures (called Old Glory Painted) to their line of products. Right now, the range consists of Romans and Zulus warriors. Celts, Napoleonics, and American Civil War pre-paints are on their way.

I'm very interested in the Romans and Celts. A unit of 20 painted soldiers costs $70, or $3.50 per figure. That's a very attractive deal, especially for folks who dislike painting figures. Members of the Old Glory Army (a special shopping club that entitles members to save 40% off all purchases) can save even more.

Next year, Old Glory plans to offer Spartan Hoplites, Macedonians, Dark Ages (Vikings), Orcs, and Dwarves to the available range. COOL!!! Hmm... I think it's time for me to become an Old Glory Army member.

Perhaps the biggest change in the historical miniatures industry this calendar year has been the emergence of two companies who produce affordable, 28mm plastic multi-part miniatures.

The first company to make a splash in this field was Warlord Games, a british company who released some very nice Romans and Celts. I saw these figures at Historicon and they're very nice, but are a little bit on the smallish side for those of us who play with true 28mm or 30mm figures. I'm primarily a fantasy gamer and often use ancient/medieval soldiers as forces in my fantasy games, and prefer that they match up well with 28mm to 30mm figures from Games Workshop, Reaper, Crocodile Games, West Wind, Rackham, Front Rank, etc.

The second company on the 28mm plastics scene is an American company called Wargames Factory. They're releasing figures that work well with the Field of Glory rules from Osprey, although you can certainly use these models in just about any other ancients/medieval game imaginable.

I'm hoping to get a glimpse and perhaps buy some of the Wargames Factory minis at Fall In in Gettysburg this year (provided my plans aren't squashed at the last minute). From what I've heard, these models are a bit beefier than the Warlord figures and probably more in tune with other 28mm models size-wise. We shall see. At $30 for a box of 48 soldiers (plus shield transfers), how can you really go wrong?

Moving onto board games... The huge SPIEL convention in Essen, Germany is coming up this month. When you hear gamers talking about ESSEN, this is what they're referring to. It's a massive show that draws 150,000 people and it's where the majority of new board games (especially Euro style games) are first released on a major scale. Essen is the center of the boardgaming world in the eyes of many gamers. One of these years I'm going to go there, perhaps when the US economy isn't in the shitter like it is right now.

There are several new game releases that I'm looking forward to. One is the Age of Conan, a strategic multi-player wargame created by the Italian design team at Nexus, and due to be published in the USA by Fantasy Flight Games. This game appears to be chock-full of excellent looking plastic models, provides an interesting mix of diplomacy and conquest elements, and borrows the "action dice" mechanics from the design team's other highly regarded classic, War of the Ring. Me likey!

According to the synopsis on BoardGameGeek, Krakow 1350AD is a 4-player trick-taking card game set in Medieval Poland that interacts with a map board. Players form into 2 teams of ruthless crooks, competing for influence and riches. While there's an element of cooperation with your teammate, every player has a hidden identity and secretly competes against the others, meaning that there's only 1 winner at the end of the game. This game sounds like it has a very different feel than anything else I've ever played. Plus, the artwork is eye-catching and has a humorous bent to it. That all adds up to a game that risen into my Top-10 Want-to-Buy list.

And thirdly, like many fans, I'm still waiting for more news from FFG on their upcoming release of Cosmic Encounter. I'm ready to ditch my old West End Games edition for a newer, shinier model. FFG mentioned a November release, but at this point, I'll bet 1st Quarter of 2009 is the more likely scenario based on the lack of news about it.

Until next time, PEACE!!