Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The John Carter Game is Mine at Last

When I was growing up our family friends the Tsocanos had a huge supply of Joe Kubert Tarzan comics. As the old folks remember those magazines also included Korak (son of Tarzan, and I blush to imagine someone might not know that), Carson of Venus, and John Carter of Mars. As a result I grew up assuming that John Carter's adventures were commonly known pop culture, along with Captain Scarlet and the Thunderbirds.

This was not the case.

That being said I ended up reading the John Carter books, buying the John Carter miniatures, and in off moments wondering whether life on mars with a sword in my hand and a princess on my arm might in some ways be more cool that school and cub scouts. At least a John Carter movie would be pretty awesome.

Again, wrong.

Really, It's All Intuitive
All this is a lead in to my recent impulse purchase of a used copy of the John Carter: Warlord of Mars game, published by SPI in 1979. I had always been curious about this game and now as an adult I could own it and play it and try and exorcise those memories of that horrible movie. Plus, it turns out the game was designed by Mark Herman, a very famous and successful designer. Further, it has an introduction from Scott Bizar, the owner of Fantasy Games Unlimited and an old friend, mentor and employer who helped shape my early gaming years. Finally, the family was going to be out of town for a few weeks so I had plenty of time to learn the game and play!

Wrong again!

After five minutes of reading the rules I was left wondering if I had actually played games like this in the past. I could swear I remember playing Squad Leader and Panzerblitz, Arab Israeli Wars, Mordor, CA, Seventh Fleet,  but maybe I just imagined it all. Because these rules are just impenetrable. There are 28 pages of "sections" and "cases" and they're all arranged digitally (ie. case [6.53]). There are also eight pages of charts and tables (at least they have the decency to call it "Charts and Tables" and not a Quick Reference Sheet). There is a Prison Companion Table, an Arena Duel Table, and a Hand of Fate Table. Plus many others.
Counters! 400 of Them

I'm probably laying it on a little thick but I think my capacity for sections and cases has diminished. About 176%. Maybe I was just extremely clever as a teen and now just mildly clever as an adult. That's probably it! Still, it's another one of those "you can't go home again" moments.

Having said that, the Kubert comics are still awesome! Reprints are available.

Another Charlie Don't Surf Playtest

Last night I inflicted miniatures gaming upon my board gaming group at Myriad Games in Salem. Suffice it to say that they were Very Good Sports and that I completely botched any rules explanations and probably left them mystified.

That being said, what lessons were learned?

Did I mention those people were indeed Very Good Sports as well as being Inhumanly Patient? If you like board games and you're in the Salem, NH area then you should absolutely pay the store a visit.

Renee's ambushing troops accumulate some shock
Secondly, while I feel I'm not unclever, I'm still struggling with the TooFatLardies rules. Charlie Don't Surf is not complex in its' foundation but the basic structure begins to fray when various details are addressed. So, for example, squads and platoons move and fire easily enough. The rules concerning them are intuitive in that once you've moved one squad you know the system. Unfortunately there is a somewhat different system for attack helicopters. And snipers. And antiaircraft fire. And artillery. Not vastly different, but different enough that you need to know them as addition sets of rules.

And then there are the modifiers. I understand the justification for modifying die rolls but there are a Lot of modifiers in Charlie Don't Surf. I ended up just ignoring a lot of them during the game and setting an arbitrary target for success in order to speed the game up and cut down on paper cuts as I flipped through the rules.

Helicopter stand in background
So beyond needing a bit of streamlining the rules are still basically sound and do create a nicely realistic Viet Nam conflict experience. The NVA are outgunned but with snipers and bunkers have the ability to slow and blunt the American advance. They do need to stay mobile. If the Americans can pin the NVA in place that's the end of the battle- and that's very period appropriate.

The terrain was also tweaked a bit and is getting closer to where I want it. I've gone through two bottles of Fray Block as I cut up dozens of tiny rice paddies out of towel material. I'm going to need a few more before I'm done.

Hopefully I'll get one more playtest in before Huzzah. Not with the Myriad folks though, they have done their part!