A few nights ago I managed to successfully completed the Boardgamegeek 10x10 challenge, having picked up the gauntlet laid down by Kaptain Kobold at the beginning of the year. I did fail to complete the full hardcore challenge though: this is the challenge to play 10 of 11 games picked at the beginning of the challenge 10 times. Basically, I didn't get all the family-type games to the table enough, so I had to swap those out with some games that I played solitaire. Manual "games" in the broadest sense are my thing, whilst the others in my family tend to prefer TV, films, crafting or video games for indoor entertainment. So from my initial list, I swapped out Heroquest, Discworld Ankh:Morpork and CSI and included Achtung Spitfire! and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay instead - the latter a mix of genuine RPG sessions with the eldest children and solo tactical wargames (doing "the fight scenes" in essence! I've been looking at them with a view to making some quite extensive rules changes). So the final list was:
Nuts! Final Edition
Wargaming: An Introduction
Lone Wolf gamebooks
WFRP 1st edition
So, well done me. It has been a good challenge, even if this chaotic year probably wasn't the best time for me to do it as my youngest child is still very young and I have moved to a different country! In retrospect, I might have chosen some rather different games for my list and emphasize the quicker, lighter and solitaire; but on the other hand, it has been good to really have a think about Polemos SPQR and Polemos ECW, which I have played a bit before, but now I feel I am really getting the hang of those systems.
So, what did I learn, if anything at all?
Firstly, given that I have played a lot of old magazine scenarios, I found that in old Miniature Wargames magazines, there are some excellent scenarios and some fairly awful ones, where you couldn't really play a game at the end of them. The modern gamer is much better served. Compare and contrast with Battlegames magazine, for example: whatever you may think of that magazine more generally, every scenario published in it was perfectly playable.
There is also a relative dearth of good Ancients' scenarios compared to other periods.
DBA is a great game - I think that its bad reputation in some quarters must be due to the style of the rules and the fact of it being a competition set. I had no trouble using it to get into the "narrative" of events, an area sometimes seen as a weakness in this family of rules. I used it for a variety of periods within the Ancient and Medieval era, but it didn't seem to fall over at any point. I like the simplicity and elegance of the combat system. The main issue is that there is no differentiation in how commanding the different armies feels, except insofar as the armies contain different troop types. This does work reasonably well, since crucially very few armies and their opponents resemble each other but it does happen that an Anglo-Saxon army isn't so different from a Greek hoplite army, which instinctively feels a bit wrong.
WRG 1925-50 is still an excellent game. It doesn't feel dated at all, in the way that playing some (most?) rulesets from the early 70s would. I am not convinced that a better set has ever been released for this period and level of combat. If we take it that we are all going to feel that nearly all rules need a couple of tweaks to make them work the way we would like them too, then these rules don't need tweaking past that base level. The only tweak I have made thus far is to make direct MG fire a little more effective, which also has small but useful secondary effects on the morale of the sub-unit under fire. I may have a look at slightly re-doing the AT gun vs armour effect table, to allow a little more granularity of effect.
I felt that I actually learned a lot from playing the Polemos ECW games, both in the games themselves and in the process of converting written scenarios onto the tabletop. I think it generally works very well and makes armies realistically ponderous - certainly it was interesting how closely many of the battles ended up resembling their historical counterparts. I think I ended up having two main issues with it:
- I think some of the combat factors are miscalibrated, in particular the advantages of Dutch tactics vs Swedish tactics.
- I think that that the way bases interact with terrain is too complicated.
Polemos SPQR is from the same sub-family of rules as Polemos ECW, even within the Polemos system as a whole, so its vices and virtues are very similar. I'm sure the author has created a lot more command feeling by clever use of the Polemos' tempo points system by really restricting how much commanders can do at any one time without the clumsy use of absolute restrictions, so commanding the different armies really feels different, in a way that isn't as true of DBA and the Neil Thomas' ruleset, at the cost of some slowness and complexity. Exactly the same could be said of the combat system, although I am concerned that there is a miscalibration in the mechanics of charging and close combat (I suspect the swing effects are bigger than intended) in addition to disagreements with the specifics of some of the tables.
Neil Thomas' Wargaming: An Introduction rules are great fun. They are a very "old school" set, but refined to a streamlined modern sensibility. They are a bit underwritten in places and the effects are designed to be exaggerated but are sometimes just coarse. In my opinion the Ancient & Medieval Wargaming and Napoleonic sets are a bit better for their periods of focus, but only a 'bit' better. Of all the rules here, these are probably the best ones for a beginner, both in and of themselves as a ruleset, and because of their versatility. As we have been discussing in some of the comments sections on recent AARs, they are a mirror to more complicated rules, asking if those complications are worth it? The answer will obviously depend upon the aims of the players but for players looking for a good game with the basics covered, this might well be the ruleset.
I do still have problems with the "representative" nature of armies in W:AI. Bathtubbing is very popular in the wargaming world, but I don't buy it. An army of 15 battalions is fought in a different way from an army of 15 brigades. A platoon is not just a miniature regiment. Combat is not fractal. So while I see the attraction of doing this, it will never sit that well with me and I will always be searching for rules which make commanding a century, a cohort, a legion and an army different challenges.
Overall, I think I prefer DBA to Neil Thomas for rules in the same weight class...
Although a degree more complicated than the Neil Thomas rules, Nuts! is the game I wish I had had 30 years ago, when I was starting out. Reasonably simple rules but with most things covered, easy entry requirements to the game and a good solo system have made this a winner for me, but would have really supplemented my actual favourite game back then - Ambush! I don't know if any younger gamers read this, but I think if you like the look of gaming but don't have any opponents, that you could do much worse than start with this one to start off with. It really is designed to transport you into the middle of a rifle section on patrol in 1944, in a way that other games perhaps aren't.
The Lone Wolf gamebooks were an unashamedly nostalgic choice, partly selected as my very personal tribute to the life of the author, Joe Dever, but also selected quite deliberately for periods during the year when any kind of tabletop gaming would be impossible. I don't think I could ever enjoy them again as much as I did when I was a youngster, and I didn't, but that didn't stop me enjoying them a lot. I found them somewhat easier than first time, so perhaps my fantasy adventuring skills have improved in the meantime! For anyone interested, they are available online entirely free. A kind legacy of a great gamer, who really inspired my imagination 30 years ago.
The last two were "emergency choices".
The first of these, Achtung Spitfire! used to be a mainstay of my gaming. I have always been really fascinated by WW2 air combat and have always played flight simulators. But these have, or at least had, series limitations and I bought Achtung Spitfire to have more sense of aerial combat as a small team event and also a way of creating limitless scenarios. In the end though, the game play always proved slightly too much faff to be really enjoyable. However, there was a very good computer conversion which was better, since the maths and record-keeping was done by the game itself. So I had an enjoyable time playing through some scenarios and starting a mini-campaign. The AI is reasonably challenging, and there is always the chance of just getting bounced by an unseen enemy or enemy reinforcements turning up at an inopportune moment! So I'd recommend the computer adaptations of Achtung Spitfire! and Over the Reich, which as far as I can see are pretty faithful, but I'd recommend something simpler for tabletop play: Bag the Hun 2 and Lacquered Coffins are the ones in my experience that are pitched at an appropriate level for manual tabletop play.
I have been messing around the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay for years - nearly 30 years now, in one form or another. I'll save more detailed comments for another time, but this year I have been working on character generation and magic and have been playing through some adventures to work out the wrinkles. For any readers familiar with the system, this is where I have gone with the changes:
Got rid of Weapon Skill and Ballistic Skill as primary attributes and made weapon use a skill instead.
I removed initiative and added perception and agility instead
I converted Strength and Toughness into normal percentile stats
I have made the base level skill for melee weapons an average of strength and agility; that for missile weapons an average of agility and perception
Adopted the multiple-level skills from WFRP 2nd Edition
All of the above is to try and get a slightly better model of learning and experience into the game
Experimented with different initial characteristics for men and women
Trialed two solutions to the "naked dwarf" problem, both of which seemed to work: halved the effectiveness of Toughness when attacked with weapons; eliminated every Toughness advance over +1 and traded them in for +2 Wounds advances; in both cases, some creatures had toughness slightly reduced and traded for armour points instead.
Trialed eliminating the "types" of magic and simply making everything just magic.
Trialed having spells "attack" the caster as a way of eliminating magic over-use. This was quite fun - the level of the spell was considered the Strength of the attack. But the problem with this is that on average 1-in-6 attack will hit the Ulric's Fury effect, which makes magic use very dangerous (I renamed this as 'Tzeentech's Blessing") - I still think this method has possibilities, but the calibration is out currently.
So all-in-all, although it is quite a difficult challenge in some ways, particularly with a reasonably high proportion of fairly complex miniature games, it has been a fun and interesting challenge. It has skewed which games I played, partly in a good way to get the best of out of the individual games, partly as a task to complete the challenge. I don't think I would have played quite so many of the Ancients games in the latter part of the year as I did, and would have focused more on my ongoing campaigns.
And many thanks to those who provided suggestions and encouragement!