Sunday, May 13, 2012

Funny Little Wars - Fun!

Most modern miniatures games use very detailed figures and generally complex rules. In contrast, toy soldier gamers use simple glossy figures and relatively basic rules. Further, many of them play on the lawn. I can't say for sure whether the lovely glossy figures, the simple rules, or the thought of playing on the green New Hampshire grass was the deciding factor but I decided it was time to investigate toy soldier gaming.

To be sure most toy soldier games are played by children who make up their own rules on the fly and have a fine time. A long term gamer, however, will acquire books of rules like a squirrel collects nuts- to briefly hold them and then lose them for months to years at a time. I ordered Funny Little Wars (FLW) from the Virtual Armchair General. While I have not played the game yet I do have some initial impressions.

FLW is written with a wry and funny tone. This seems to be a recent trend in British gaming and personally I enjoy it a lot. It starts with a history of early wargaming as played by H.G. Wells and then goes into a set of rules for playing with large figures on your lawn or floor. Players assemble groups of toy soldiers and then march them around, taking shots with rifles and cannon, and occasionally charging with cavalry or springing attacks with spies. The gist of this game is "take lots of toys and stage a battle that's fast and fun to look at." The time period is set around 1900 but the author is very clear that the idea is for the forces to look good, so if some hussars or zouaves find their way fighting alongside bicycle troops then all the better.

Without going into detail the rules themselves are pretty simple. Players roll dice to score hits with gunfire and individual figures are removed as casualties. Advanced rules include aircraft, spies, vehicles, morale, written orders, and hospitals. There are army lists and suggestions for where to buy figures included as well.

I was struck by a few things with FLW. I liked reading the rules and the writer makes playing the game look absolutely great. I think this is the ideal set of rules to use if you're introducing a child to miniatures gaming or if you want a casual game between adult friends. I would absolutely recommend taking a look at these if you're thinking of starting out in the hobby or want to pass on the bug to new players. For myself,  I've ordered some troops from Hobby Bunker and hopefully the Fez relief expedition will be hitting the lawn in a month or two.

Huzzah! Followup Part 3

Now that things have wound down a bit I find myself thinking about Huzzah! critically and about conventions in general. First and foremost I recognize that we all go to wargame conventions for different reasons. We may want to play a new game, or an old game, or play any game at all if we're isolated from other players. Some game masters want to turn on new players to a cool system, some want to have fun with their friends, and some want to show off their skills in painting and terrain.

As an aside, the last probably applies to every wargamer. I've never encountered a frenzy of admiration and ego stroking to rival a wargame convention. We probably spend 40% of our time praising other people's work and 40% waiting for praise of our own. The rest is spent shopping and a little gaming.

A Good Game Master
Given the multitude of reasons for people to attend conventions I still find myself wondering what makes the perfect con game. I have a few thoughts. I think you need rules that can be explained in less than 30 minutes. You need rules where the player spends very little time sitting and waiting. You need to avoid situations where action on one part of the board holds up all the other players. And finally you need rules that are either completely unambiguous or rules that don't penalize or reward fuzzy measurements.

If the above is accurate or close to accurate it is striking to see how many game masters ignore those criteria. It's striking how they can ignore the sight of players sitting and staring off into space, wandering off during the game, or just looking glum and bored. I imagine someone thinks "Flames of War is so awesome, what a great game for a convention," and doesn't stop to consider that in the end you're trying to entertain people.

For myself that's the key criteria I'll be using in the future. Does my game entertain people? Regardless of how I feel personally is it entertaining to strangers? We play at the club for a variety of reasons but I think the convention game is first and foremost there to entertain.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Huzzah! Followup Part 2

My trip to Huzzah! was a little nerve wracking because this was the fourth convention that I would be running a game at. My previous three attempts were unqualified disasters but I was determined to not be the Charlie Brown of gaming. I decided to go to unprecedented lengths. I playtested the game, I used a popular ruleset, and I finished the terrain at least 40 hours ahead of deadline.

I ran a scenario from Commands and Colors Napoleonics using their "epic" rules. The hope was that there would be a  lot more activity on any given turn and less player down time. We used the Salamanca scenario without Portuguese mainly because I didn't have time to paint any Portuguese. In the end I'm happy to say the players were pleased and the game was a big hit.

The main factor behind the event's success was probably good natured players. The rules are good ones for convention use as well- turns are fast and usually two or three players will be active at a time. Movement and combat are fast and there are no ambiguities to cause fights. Further, most of the rules are intuitive so you rarely hear cries of surprise and complaints about not knowing some esoteric mechanism. Finally, the ten millimeter scale makes large armies look just terrific on the field. Any smaller and they become indistinct, any larger and they lose a sense of numbers.

I'll certainly run the game at more cons. Now it's just time to paint up some more troops and add the Spanish and Portuguese.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Huzzah! Followup Part 1

This last weekend was the third Huzzah! gaming convention. In short it was a fun time and its established it's status for me as the go-to game con of the year.

Most of the fun in any gaming experience is in the people you talk and play with. Huzzah! is second only to Carnage for its' super pleasant folks. I met paratroopers, store owners, medical directors and state troopers and we talked about wargaming and about our kids. Really my two favorite subjects. There are always a few rules lawyers and competitive types but they're by far the exception rather than the rule.

A few years ago the hot new game was Lasalle and I got another chance to play this weekend. The fellows running the game were a lot of fun and the figures were just gorgeous. There as an old school toy soldier game with home cast figures which almost got me sold on casting my own lead figures. Close call! Then we played Day of Battle, which is a medieval battle game with some interesting role playing mechanics. Finally, I took part in a massive Napoleonic Black Powder game.

I was a little disappointed not to find a new exciting set of rules to try for the next year. Black Powder is a very nice set of rules but not really exciting- more reliable and useful. It's a nice choice for moving around lots of soldiers in a fast game. Lasalle is decent as well and probably my system of choice for that level of Napoleonics. In contrast the first time I played Disposable Heroes or B5:A Call to Arms I was stunned by how fun they were.

I did pick up a copy of They Died for Glory and Through the Mud and the Blood. I'm pretty impressed with the former so far- the question is really whether the Franco-Prussian war is a fun one to play. In any case the rules look good and I may adapt them to an imagi-nation setting. Otherwise there's always Funny Little Wars to consider.

In the end Huzzah! was a lot of fun. Good people, fun games, inspiring layouts. I'll be there next year.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Commands and Colors Playtest

Last night we playtested the Commands and Colors game I'll be running at Huzzah! I had some hope it would be a bit of a surprise since the last time we had demo'd it the minis had been unflocked, the terrain was unpainted, and the terrain mat had been just plain wrong. At the same time I had some concern that the mainly boardgaming group would be disinterested in a miniatures game.

Suspense is a source of unhealthy stress as Douglas Adams points out so let's start by saying the game was very successful. I hadn't run the troops through a full dress rehearsal so I was as surprised as anyone to see how pretty the board turned out. Let's send a "thank you" out to Games Workshop for their credo of painting everything several shades lighter than you'd think they should be painted. The terrain mat is a crazy fluorescent green, the static grass is the same day-glo color, and somehow at three feet the whole thing looks just fine.

The game itself flowed nicely. We had a full game in a few hours and all five players were engaged and active throughout. We used the "epic" rules and they stayed balanced, simple, and fun. The action was fast but stayed historically appropriate- skirmishers lodged in towns and picked off exposed troops. Cavalry bounced off of squares unless aided by artillery, in which case the squares got demolished. The British did well when in line and got crushed by melee attacks when isolated or strung out. On the whole I was very happy and the players had fun.

Next stop- Portland.