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Jeff's Gameblog
Thursday, 4 March 2004
Star Fleet Battle Manual
Star Fleet Battle Manual (SFBM) is a Star Trek miniatures game that is contemporary to or even slightly earlier than the similarly names Star Fleet Battles (SFB). SFBM was authored by Lou Zocchi, one of the lynchpin figues in the history of the modern gaming hobby. SFB survived and achieved a cult status in the world of sci-fi wargaming, while Zocchi's game faded into obscurity. Many who have played both may argue that SFB is the superior game. That does not concern me. I am interested in resurrecting this out-of-print relic simply because I suspect it is a fun game.

The two Star Fleet games have some points of commonality beyond their names and subject matter. Both rely on an energy allocation scheme. Both are designed for relatively small scale engagements. IMHO SFB shines in the arena of the tournament duel. My spidey-sense tells me that SFBM lacks the intricacy needed to achieve frantic action feeling of one-on-one engagements, but that it should work well as a team game, say three or four on a team each operating an individual vessel. ("Lance-on-lance" as the BattleTech folks would say.)

SFBM is one of those games that really requires miniatures. Sure, I play BattleTech and Starmada with paper. I've even used paper for Ral Partha's Chaos Wars rules. But even I acknowledge that a few games demand the use of figures. I don't think I've ever even heard of someone playing Warhammer without figs. I remember not being able to get a 40K group started in the 80s over this very issue. No one wanted to play with paper and no one could afford enough figures to field an army. That was back when it was the "Rogue Trader" skirmish game, no less!

Still, I can't quite bring myself to put together even a few paper pieces to try out the SFBM rules. The game screams for little spaceship toys. The nice thing is that you don't need many figures. Heck, there are only a handful of ships stat'ed-out: four or five Federation vessels, the Klingon D-7, the Romulan Warbird, and the Tholian patrol cruiser. With a little math and a graphics program it wouldn't be impossible to adapt other ships to the game. I would really love to field a few old FASA vessels some day. Still, I can't imagine that you would need more than 20 or 30 ships for a more-than-complete set. Especially if you stick to my scenario-writing precept that unnecessary duplication of units should be avoided. Sure, a couple of Constitution class vessels are okay, or trio of D-7s, but who is really going to care that you're capital ships have an insufficient number of destroyer escorts? After all we're talking about a Star Trek scenario here.

SFBM strikes me as very suitable for a convention, because it is a floor game with nifty little toys. Ranges of weapons are 3 to 5 feet, so you would want at least 10 feet of space to play in. At Winter War, I kinda imagine running this game on a Friday night in the auction room, we would simply push the tables to the edges of the room.

The game does have it's problems, though, which I hope to explore in later blog entries: The writing and layout of the manual make looking things up a chore. The game requires special dice. The control sheets need to be overhauled so that they look decent. There's no point system to assist in writing scenarios. Finally, as a con game it has the problems of having a name too close to another game and, on it's own merits, it exists as an out-of-print game set in the universe of The Original Series.

Posted by jrients at 2:47 PM CST

I finished up the ship stats for the Star Frontiers to Starmada conversion I've been working on. Now I need to write up the scenario details and scan some images to make counters.

I got an invite today for a new game being tentatively set up by Dave Hoover, a local GM of some repute. It's to run every other Wednesday, which should be just fine for me. He hasn't mentioned any details yet and my great fear is that he will want to run one of the many games I just sold off last month at the Winter War auction.

On the BattleTech front, I think I'm going to hold off writing any more scenarios until my first one gets played. Right now I'm investigating statting up the early variants and prototypes mentioned in various entries of the Technical Read Out 3025.

Posted by jrients at 1:18 PM CST
Tuesday, 2 March 2004
My Illuminati Tournament, first draft
This two-round tournament is designed for a prelim round of 24 to 36 players playing at six tables. The prelim round will probably be split over two con slots, Friday afternoon and evening. I imagine running 2 tables Friday afternoon and 4 Friday evening, but if more than 12 people sign up Friday afternoon I definitely run a third table and cut back Friday evening. The final consists of a table of the six highest scoring players who show up to play Friday twilight. If more than nine players show up, a second table would be run as 'consolation prize'. Everyone would be briefed about the consolation prize to help insure at least 4 'finalists' show up.

In my mind at least, scoring is the critical issue. Scores are reported in a three part method, the first two parts being a percentage, the last part the number of players at the table. The percentages indicates how close the player was in reaching their victory conditions when the game ended. Say Discordia won on a general victory and had 2 (out of a needed 5)Weird groups in a game involving 4 players. That would be reported as a score of 100-40-4, for 100% of general victory, 40% of special victory, and 4 players in the round. The second and third part function essentially as tie-breakers for advancement to the final. It should be noted that the two percentages should always be reported with the higher of the two numbers first.

Slots of scheduled time at Winter War generally last 4 hours. In my experience Illuminati can play in less than that time. Anyone wanting to play a second hand is welcome to do so, but must stop at the predesignated time (say 10 minutes til the slot ends, to allow for scoring).

Anyone who played in one or more games Friday afternoon is welcome to play again Friday night. Unless it turns out to be impossible in the final round, you never get to play the same Illuminati twice.

I have a concern, in that it would be theoretically possible for people to play 4 games, resulting in up to 24 finalists to a two round tournament. Should I get more than 8 winners (100-X-Y) showing up the final round, I guess I could end up running a three round torunament on an ad hoc basis.

I would love to have something to give away in the form of trophies, plaques, etc. I'll have to investigate that angle further. Maybe CafePress.com can help.

Posted by jrients at 3:07 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, 3 March 2004 4:26 PM CST

Well, scheduling the get-together with Goph and Dave seems to be a problem right now, so I think I will stop working on the D&D adventure until I think I'll actually need it.

I'm hoping to put together a Starmada scenario soon. It will be an adaptation of a Star Frontiers Knight Hawks scenario. Entitled the Dramune War, it serves as the climax of module SFKH1 The Dramune Run. One of the things that draws me to this encounter is the fact that it should work for 4 players, one team consisting of the United Planetary Federation Spacefleet vessels and the Inner Reach Militia vessels and the other team being the Outer Reach Militia and the Malthar Pirates.

Posted by jrients at 12:39 PM CST
Monday, 1 March 2004

more manifesto
9) Don't overdo special rules. (Again, I fall down on the side of playing a game instead of creating a simulation. I find such a position easily defesible when you consider I restrist my wargaming to fantasy and sci-fi subjects.)

I think I've got my ideas solidified for a set of Illuminati tournament rules. After talking it over with Don (chairman of the Winter War convention where I plan to run the tournament), it looks like I will run the entire tourney on the Friday of the con. Prelims with be Friday afternoon and evening, with the final round during the dreaded Friday twilight slot. I say dreaded because I have a feeling my wife won't appreciate me being out so late. Anyway, I hope to type up a first draft of the tourney rules in the next week or so.

I've started work on a D&D Expert adventure for my friends Goph & Dave. It looks like the scenario will revolve around following a treasure map. I'm shooting for half wilderness, half dungeon.

I posted a link to my BattleTech scenario over at www.rpg.net. So far the feedback has been very positive.

Posted by jrients at 8:46 PM CST
manifesto continued

7) Unless you have a good reason otherwise, be sure to include the stock units. For BattleTech this would mean using the Mechs from the rulebook, House specific units (Dragons for Kurita, Vindicators for Liao) and House-specific variants of the old standbys. For a Trek game, make sure the Fed have a Constitution class heavy cruiser and the Klingon's use a D-7.

8) New and variant units are dandy, just use caution when making them the centerpiece of a scenario.

Posted by jrients at 2:31 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 1 March 2004 2:39 PM CST
towards a scenario writing manifesto
Since I started writing scenarios for Starmada and BattleTech I've been doing a lot of thinking about design principles for these things. Here are my insights so far:

1) Terrain is nice, but don't make the scenario about the terrain. Sometimes a blank starmap or the Battletech basic maps are sufficient.

2) Only have duplicate units when absolutely necessary. No one else wants a BattleTech scenario with a lance of Urbanmechs or Star Trek fight with three Saladin class destroyers. Tracking which control sheet corresponds to which unit is a pain in the butt and I want no possibility of mistaking your Shadow Hawk for the enemies' SHawk.

3) Victory conditions should be interesting, but simple. Big "+5 VPs for this", "-3 VPs for that" charts are a big pain to balance properly.

4) A little background fluff really spices up an otherwise plain scenario.

5) In theory people are piloting these Mechs and starships. Try to keep that in mind.

6) A good "historical" scenario does not always make a good game.

Posted by jrients at 10:38 AM CST
Updated: Monday, 1 March 2004 10:50 AM CST
Saturday, 28 February 2004

So I decided to skip trying to turn my scenario into a PDF and simply posted it to my website. You can go directly to the scenario by clicking here. I've been thinking abit about "historical authenticity" vis-a-vis the Ripper scenario. I think authenticity (or more accurately, the illusion of authenticty) involves several elements: 1) real historical personages as PCs and NPCs 2) real locations 3) real timetable (except as altered by the PCs, of course) 4) a plausible milieu (finding ways to show that the PCs are in Victorian London and not Anytown, Anywhen) Of course, to make the Ripper work as a mythos-inspired CoC scenario will require taking a few steps away from known historical information.

Posted by jrients at 7:22 PM CST
Friday, 27 February 2004
BattleTech scenario
I finished the graphics for my BattleTech scenario. A shot of Arakkis from the first Dune movie will be standing in as "Messick IV from space". I used the nifty Traveller world/system generation program Heaven & Earth to make a hexmap of the planet surface. Finally, I wanted a little hexmap of the battle field, which I put together using Bruce Gulke's excallent Wilderness Mapper, found at the bottom of his utilities page. I think I will post the scenario to my website as soon as I can figure out how to turn it into a PDF.

Posted by jrients at 10:46 AM CST
Updated: Friday, 27 February 2004 10:22 AM CST
Thursday, 26 February 2004
Call of Cthulhu: Jack the Ripper
A good, solid, historically-based, nightmare-inducing Jack the Ripper adventure represents to me the Unholy Grail of CoC gaming. I feel like if I could pull it off with aplomb, I could probably retire my CoC stuff permanently. Here are the features I want the game to have:

1) A sense of period authenticity.
2) Use of historical personages for as many characters as possible.
3) Attempt to adhere to the Ripper timeline.
4) The PCs are all people nowadays suspected of being the Ripper, even if they weren't back then. The idea here being that these folks are suspects because they were unofficially investigating the crime.

Posted by jrients at 7:28 PM CST

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