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Jeff's Gameblog
Monday, 8 March 2004

Another tripod blogger plugged my blog on his site, so I thought I should return the favor: swords-of-erisa. Jeff (not me, this guy) is into gaming and customizing action figures. Great pics!

Posted by jrients at 11:28 AM CST

So I've got the Erol Otus Shrine moved over to my tripod account. That ought to free up two or three meg on my home page. Added a new section for Erol's illos in the Deities & Demigods, too.

It occurred to me a little bit ago that maybe Pat and I should try a small game of BattleTech using Starmada-style simultaneous movement.

Posted by jrients at 9:14 AM CST
Sunday, 7 March 2004

So I'm scoping out the Free Wargames Rules home page for possible replacements to DinoWARS! This site is chock full of mini's rules! Some of them look promising for my needs. Useful or not, I like the look of some of the stuff on this guy's page.

It occurred to me last night that Lou Zocchi's Alien Space might be useful for designing more SFBM ships. Alien Space is a relative to Star Fleet Battle Manual that is not set in the Trek universe. I know it contains campaign rules, something missing from SFBM. I believe it also has a ship construction system. The expanded & revised edition of SFBM give notes on using both games together, so maybe I can get some guidance from Alien Space for building stats for FASA and SFB figures.

Posted by jrients at 8:07 AM CST
Updated: Sunday, 7 March 2004 9:05 PM CST
Saturday, 6 March 2004

This evening the family celebrated my brother-in-law Jim's birthday. I took my copy of Carcassonne over to his place. He and his sons Ian and Alex agreed to play it, after I lured them in with promise of new expansions. We had a great time of it. I came in last, thanks in part to some agressive play by my nephew Ian boxing-in some cities and a cloister of mine. I did make better use of farmers (better, but not necessarily good use), as I've been focusing on farmers in my last few games. Once again I was struck by how some tiles work much better in the midgame than in the beginning or endgame. I'm thinking particularly about foursided city tiles. Jim drew a cathedral pretty late in the game and it really drug him down.

Jim's is a hardcore wargamer, playing the hex-and-chit historical games that sometimes fascinate but mostly frustrate me. He has recently gotten into the "upright counter" games from Columbia. These are hidden unit games that I might be able to get into. They kind of strike me as "Stratego for adults". My old gaming buddy Dave and I played the crap out of Stratego when we were kids.

Posted by jrients at 8:28 PM CST
Updated: Sunday, 7 March 2004 9:08 PM CST
Bringing up DinoWARS in a previous blog entry got me thinking about why I didn't run it a second time. The toys themselves (rubber dinosaurs and plastic army men) are classic. The buildings, while neither expensive nor hard to make, really made for a great back drop for the game. (You can check out pictures of the results here.

As I mentioned before, I only really drew one player to the game, the other four were all folks I knew. They would have tried nearly any game once on my say so. That one player joined up late even, without the friends and family the game maybe wouldn't have even started.

Still, the basic premise of using toys for gaming is a sound one. Previous runs of Clay-O-Rama and Lego Pirate Battles have established that these sorts of games are viable at Winter War. I guess my main problem is that the DinoWARS rules just aren't very good. They're adequate, but they lack any sort of zing. As written DinoWARS is basically just move, shoot, move, chomp. Maybe what I need is to explore some other rules I could use, or devise an alternate set of rules myself. I think I'd really like something with some spiffy cards, maybe something like the initiative deck used in the old BattleMasters game.

Posted by jrients at 2:51 PM CST
Friday, 5 March 2004
SFBM Issues#5: Why do I like this game, again?
This entry does tackle much in the way of substantive problems with Star Fleet Battle Manual. Instead, the issue I want to the muse upon is why this game fascinates me. As I've gotten older the sparkle has worn off mini's intensive games. There's many reasons I do BattleTech with the old cardbaord stand-ups. Making paper counters for my Starmada games seems like fun. Priming and painting figures that I know are going to be subpar anyway has always felt like work. When it comes to wargaming I am normally a hexagon man, but SFBM uses tape-measures and protractors.

So what makes this game work for me? I like counters and hexes, it uses miniatures and is hexless. There are many, many s-f wargames out there that I have no interest in for these very reasons. I guess I can think of four or five items motivating me to tackle this project:

1) It's Star Trek. And not just any Star Trek, we're talking Original Series, baybee. We're talking Franz Joseph's Star Fleet Technical Manual. I love the Fed warships first described in Franz Jospeh's fan opus, the Saladin class destroyer and the Federation class dreadnought. SFBM would also work well for FASA's apocryphal Four Years War, the subject of one of my Starmada projects.

2) SFBM in some ways functions as a sort of lite version of the similarly named Star Fleet Battles. I'm thinking primarily about energy allocation here. I've often thought that energy allocation was the shining gem in SFB design. Unfortunately its hidden under a pile of detritus that only the hardcore SFB'ers can successfully navigate.

3) This game tests different skills than many other wargames I've played. Simulataneous movement games still floor me. The alternate initiative rule rewards the quickwitted (weapons fire comes in order by which you completed your allocation, slow people can be destroyed before they return fire.) The call-your-shot-by-protractor method of aiming looks like it could ride that fine line between fascination and frustration. In this game you literally program (during energy allocation, no less) something like "fire phaser at 75 degrees starboard". You then strecth a line from the base of the figure (which has a protractor overlay) out at the appropriate angle. If the line falls on another figure's base THEN you are allowed to roll to-hit. The first few shots ought to be absolutely maddening. Oh, but the joy of getting a hit!

4) Then there's the joy of resurrecting a nearly dead game. Especially if you can get other people to play it, love it, and look forward to it at the next con. And I'm kinda a sucker for old, out-of-print games. My ideal Christmas would probably involve a delivery from the Island of Misfit Games.

5) Finally, I like the idea of the project itself, the task of making, acquiring, and assembling all the stuff to play the game. When I decided to run DinoWARS it became a big project. Before I even got to the con I found a LOT of satisfaction just out of assembling and preparing the playing pieces and hand-outs. In some ways, I greatly prefer this do-it-yourself approach to simply buying a big box full of game. That way is fine, don't get me wrong. But man, I feel a real sense of ownership toward my DinoWARS set, a real affinity that I would never get from a ready-to-play game.

Posted by jrients at 3:42 PM CST
Updated: Saturday, 6 March 2004 2:55 PM CST
SFBM Issues #4: Who wants to play this crap, anyway?
Let's face facts here: Star Fleet Battle Manual is an old game with an old premise. There are kids gaming out there who only know the Next Generation through syndication. Heck, original Trek was old and kitschy when I was a kid. Can a game that recreates the era of velour-and-styrofoam draw new players? SFB does okay, but in many ways SFB and Star Trek parted ways a long time ago. SFB's own track record largely powers its juggernaut nowadays.

I must admit that I would not take it well if I put together an SFBM game for Winter War and no one signed up. We're talking about a major project, with serious (for me at least) time and money to be invested. I'd like to avoid the disappointment that was my DinoWARS! game. Sure, I had 5 players, but four of them I personally knew. It's hard to count as a win the one kid who signed up on virtue of the game alone.

One obvious thing I can do to try to draw players is mkae sure I have a good write-up in the con program. For rgp's especially I have a tendency to send in filler text and write the adventure laters. That works for something like Call of Cthulhu because Call of Cthulhu sells itself. With SFBM I have to make sure to a) distinguish the game from SFB and b) convince people that SFBM is rad to the max. I can also help myself by doing up a snazzy webpage about the event and sending in a link to the Winter War website. I might be able to chat up the game at the C-U Gaming yahoo group, especially if I run an open call playtest.

Past these measures, I'm not sure what else I can do. How do I make Star Fleet Battle Manual relevant to players of other Trek games or sci-fi games in general? I guess I have an extra point of connection with SFB players and the one or two fans of Last Unicorn Games original series rpg. I'm not sure how to leverage that into actual players though.

Thinking back on the one kid who signed up for my DinoWARS! game, maybe I can extract some useful info from the experience. He signed up a little bit into the start of the session, well after I had started setting up the toys. The toys are what brought him to the table. A good centrepiece (a large planet, an asteroid field, etc) would probably help me lure in a player or two.

One other idea I have is to advertise at the con. "Star Fleet Wants You" type posters on the con info wall would kick six kinds of ass. A Klingon counterpart "For the glory of the Empire!" would be even better. Hopefully the con chairman would have no problem with me posting those. (Heck, at this point I don't even have approval to run a big floor game, so why sweat this small detail?)

Past all these ideas, I'm certain the best way to get this puppy to fly is to take the long view. If I were to commit myself to running this game for, say, the next five Winter Wars, then I would have the opportunity to cultivate some regular players. Like a newly hired coach on a losing team*, I have to approach the first few years as "building years" and take my lumps. Planning to run the game many years in a row would have the added benefit of allowing me to develop a campaign approach to the scenarios. That would be cool.

*This may be the first time I have ever employed a sports metaphor.

Posted by jrients at 1:41 PM CST
Updated: Friday, 5 March 2004 2:41 PM CST
SFBM Issues #3: balancing scenarios
One of the places that where the Star Fleet Battle Manual comes up short is the lack of a points system for evaluating ships. Given the size of the document, I can't fairly expect a ship-build system, though such a thing would be very useful. Still, it would be nice if the game had something approaching SFB's "BPV" system. I assume that a Consitution class and a Klingon D-7 can square off in a fair fight. I hope that three D-7s can take on a Fed dreadnought, cruiser, and destroyer. But in the end, these are questions that can only be answered with extensive playtesting, something I just don't have time for. Can two Tholian web-ships take down the USS Enterprise? I don't really know. If I were designing the game I would shoot for the following:

one Federation CH = one Klingon D-7 = one Romulan Warbird = 2 Tholian cruisers


2 Klingon D-7s = one Federation DN + one Federation DD

But Zocchi's design goals may have been different. And even if he was thinking this way, how close did he come to achieving this goal? Not to mention the school of thought that believes a single D-7 should be outclassed by a Constitution.

I definitely need to take a closer look at some of the control sheets. Since my main goal involves Fed/Klingon conflicts, I can safely ignore the Tholians & Romulans for the moment.

Posted by jrients at 12:40 PM CST
SFBM Issues #2: Production Values
The publication of Star Fleet Battle Manual goes back to an antediluvian era wherein a shitty photocopy of a badly typed manuscripts was just fine, just as long as you got the game out the door. I'm not saying SFBM has the worst layout I've ever seen, but it lies somewhere in that terrible middle range where one can find original D&D or Superhero 2044. It ain't pretty to look at. That's not a mortal sin by any means. You can find lots of great games that aren't very fancy. To make it work, a plain jane game needs to be utilitarian. SFBM as presented is not easy to use. The font is old and cruddy, like a bad photocopy. The layout is hard to follow, organization is a bit wonky, the split between the basic and advanced rules would lead to endless page flipping, things that ought to be expressed in table format are merely listed in the rules, and so on.

Don't get me wrong. I like this game. In fact, I like it enough that I'm considering rewriting it just to fix these presentation problems (and maybe address the dice issue of my last blog entry). I at least need a ready reference sheet of some sort if I'm gonna run this as a con game, anyway. (A fella named W. Robert Portnell has done a similar project with his "Academy Edition", which you can find at his Other Game Stuff page. I'll download the file later when I get home. When I first checked it out a year or two ago it was incomplete.) The ship control sheets also need updating to look more spiffy. Doing a redesign would be a good first step towards making my own ship sheets for FASA and SFB designs.

Addendum: Found a new fanpage for SFBM today: Bart's Star Fleet Battle Manual Page. Nifty!

Posted by jrients at 10:37 AM CST
Updated: Friday, 5 March 2004 1:20 PM CST
Thursday, 4 March 2004
SFBM issue #1: dice
Star Fleet Battle Manual is so old it was written prior to the the development of the modern d20. Back in the day, d20's were labeled 0 through 9 twice. (I believe it was Lou Zocchi, author of SFBM, who eventually developed the "true" d20 we know and use today. Or maybe he came up with the true d10. Or possibly both.) The SFBM rules call for you to use a old-school d20 inked with one set of 0-9 black and one set green. (What, you didn't know dice used to come uninked and you had to fill in the numbers yourselves with crayons or pens? Sheesh. Kids these days have no sense of the history of their hobby.) Anyway, under the rules as written, "Green 6" and "Black 6" were two very different results. To my eyes ths green/black stuff looks like an attempt to get 20 results out of the old "double d10" that Zocchi had to work with.

The thing is, I can't figure out whether I consider using these odd old dice to be a feature of the game or a bug. On the one hand rewriting the rules to use straight d20 rolls would not be difficult. The rules need a bit of a rewrite anyway (but that's a different blog entry for another day). Eliminating the wonky dice cuts out one more thing the newbies have to get used to.

On the other hand you can still get old style d20's on the internet. I'm pretty sure the RPG.net shop has them in stock. Inking in green or black over pre-existing white ink should not be a problem. As a bit of an obsessive completist, I couldn't exactly pat myself on the back that I had a complete SFBM set unless I also had the wonky dice. And here's the big kicker: weird, customized, archaic dice are cool.

There I said it. Anybody who's been to a roleplaying game at a convention should immediately know what I'm talking about. Gamers have this really strange connection to their dice. That's why you can get gemstone and goldplate dice from crystal caste. That's why I have a special skull-and-crossbones dice bag. That's why many gamers own five or ten times as many dice as they need. (As an aside, this deep affinity for dice contributes much to the marginalization of diceless games, I think.)

So at this point I'm not sure which way I'm gonna go on this issue. I may end up getting/making the funky dice and then not using them. I dunno.

Posted by jrients at 3:37 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, 4 March 2004 4:05 PM CST

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