Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Katana Schoolgirls vs. Zombie Furries

Just got the new set of paper miniatures from David Okum. Besides the schoolgirl minis (in different color schemes) and lots of zombies, furry zombies and toxic zombies, this set also comes with the game "Katana Schoolgirls vs. Zombie Furries", which can be played by 1-4 players.

In the game, each player controls one of the katana-wielding schoolgirls in a board made of randomly placed tiles, which start face down. The impression I have is that in multiplayer, it is an each-schoolgirl-for-herself affair, trying to gain more points by fighting monsters (and possibly trapping your opponents.) Playing solo, it's more of a dungeon exploration game. Anyway, these are my impressions after a quick read of the rules; I still have to print and cut all minis, tiles and cards to have a chance to test it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A quick update and an obvious, portable board

The end of the year is proving to be very, very busy. The closest I've come in the last week to tabletop gaming is getting a 90cm x 60cm cork bulletin board with an aluminium frame that will serve as the base board for my future games. The size is perfect for my 15mm games and might even fit some small 28mm skirmishes and I can put it behind my computer desk when not in use.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sidalis IV: Smuggling Artifacts

I still haven't finished making my miniatures for the Qwik campaign that I intend to run for the Solo Tabletop Gaming Appreciation Month, but I did get some time to run a little game for my ongoing multi-system "War of Sidalis IV" campaign. This time, I used Flying Lead as the rules set for the battle.

During the War of Sidalis IV, one of the main priorities of both sides was securing the alien artifacts. NovaCorp would send autonomous transports guarded by small squads of soldiers to bring artifacts from research stations to their space ports or to armored bunkers. Once they learned of these operations, the Terraforce started to set up ambushes to stop them without destroying the artifacts.

The Forces
There are five NovaCorp soldiers, all of which are Q3+ C2, equipped with pulse rifles (C+2, long range, auto fire, move and shoot) and body armor. They have the Steady under Fire special rule. They should be deployed within one base distance from the vehicle.

The transport vehicle's stats are Q4+ C3 and it has the Short Move, Slow and Vehicle special rules. It is deployed on one board edge. Upon a successful activation it will keep moving towards the opposite edge of the board in a straight line. If doubled in combat, the vehicle is disabled and won't move anymore. If tripled in combat, the vehicle explodes, causing a C3 attack to all soldiers within one Long from the center of the vehicle. If the disabled vehicle has at least two soldiers in base contact with its sides, the three figures can activate as a group to perform a short move.

The Terraforce soldiers are organized in three fire teams of three men. All of them are Q4+ C2, equipped with kinetic rifles (C+2, long range, select fire, move and shoot) and body armor. There are six patches of woods in the board, and the location of each fire team is randomly determined after the NovaCorp are deployed. Each patch can have only one fire team.

Victory Conditions
The NovaCorp side wins if the transport vehicle leaves the board through the opposite side. The Terraforce wins if they prevent this from happening. If the transport explodes, both sides lose.

Battle report
This picture shows the board setup. I'm playing the NovaCorp soldiers against the automated Terraforce ambushers. [I decided to have the fire teams activating in order from closest to farthest from the vehicle. Each figure activates independently (using Dogui's activation procedure) but all figures of a fire team should be resolved before moving to the next one.]

The Terraforce won initiative and moved out of the woods firing. Their automatic bursts didn't do much against the transport but took one of the NovaCorp soldiers out of the fight. The NovaCorp forces moved forward and managed to suppress one Terraforce soldier and take another out of action.

The Terraforce disabled the transport with an aimed shot, so the NovaCorp soldiers moved to base contact, in order to start pushing it, suppressing one soldier and sending two others into hiding.

The Terraforce soldier who was laying prone after recovering from suppression took an aimed shot against a nearby NovaCorp soldier, causing a gory death. The horrific display caused the other soldiers to panic, starting to run from the battle.

After this, there was little point in going on, so the remaining two NovaCorp soldiers left the board. One of them fired one last aimed shot in an attempt to cause the vehicle to explode but failed. The Terraforce captured the transport vehicle winning the scenario.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Failure in Solo Tabletop Games

Last week I attended a very interesting keynote talk by Jesper Juul in the tenth Brazilian Symposium on Computer Games and Digital Entertainment. The theme of Juul's talk was failure in games, how it's different from failure in everyday life and why those differences might be what attracts us to playing games.

The idea (or rather, the way I understood it) is that failure within a game's magic circle can still be emotionally and cognitively meaningful but it doesn't carry further consequences. We still avoid failure in games but when it happens, we can deny it, and try again. The fact that we can afford to fail in a game gives us freedom to explore different possibilities. Therefore, games without the possibility (or with very low risk) of failure become boring or uninteresting. An important point is that failure doesn't have to involve learning. Games of pure chance don't have any learning about them but the lure of succeeding or failing in a controlled environment is still there.

I'm a big fan of Jesse Schell's approach of seeing games through different "lenses", so after the talk, I started thinking about how would a "lens of failure" apply to solo tabletop gaming. The magic circle is still there, with the solo player constraining his actions to what the rules allow. It's possible to see how failure is still there too. Very often, solo games or solo conversions are about adding elements of unpredictability, in a way that has to be coped with during the game. Solo games often have very high failure:success ratios (take for instance Zombie in my Pocket or Island of D.) Mythic GM Emulator is another fine example: much of its appeal comes from the random events and modified scenes, which bring "mini-failures" to our planned narratives. I would say that, from the standpoint of Juul's theory, solo game systems are about adding possibilities of failure. JF of Solo Nexus has expressed a similar feeling when commenting on solo skirmish games: "The concept of a player who commands both sides AND has complete control on each turn is not, in my opinion, gaming."

The conclusion that I draw from this is that adding risk of failure may be more important than creating a very detailed and complex simulation for the "virtual opponent." A set of rules that results in some coherent behavior is still desirable, especially because a competent oponent increases the risk of the player losing -- but it becomes a means to an end. This brings two questions for me to think about:
- How success and failure are experienced by the player during the solo game? In a Mythic GME-mediated solo RPG session, success and failure occur on a per-scene basis. Would it be possible (and desirable) to add such dynamics to the course of a miniature skirmish, for instance?
- Most examples I can think of in solo games add risk of failure through chance mechanics (the prime exception being playing a deliberately unbalanced scenario.) Are there other mechanics that add to the risk of failure, or make failure more interesting?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

New Death and games

A while ago, author James Hutchings let a comment on this blog asking if I wanted to do a review on his book "The New Death and others." I told him I could review it from the viewpoint of a gamer looking at fiction for inspiration for his games -- I wouldn't dare making a more involved or academic review of a book even in my own language.

So, having finished reading Mr. Hutchings' book (kindly provided for the review) here are my impressions. First of all, from a gamer's standpoint I like the fact that the book is released under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License. So you can blog away about an adventure or scenario directly inspired by the book without worrying about legal trouble -- as long as you respect the (very open) license, of course.

"The New Death and others" is a collection of short stories and poems with varied themes, some of them related to fantasy, with a dose of sarcasm and occasional criticism. To me, his writing style is light, good to read but not simplistic or childish. Most of the short stories have some amusing element that let me wondering, sparked new ideas or surprised me at the end. Remarkable, given they are a few pages long each. One of my favorites is "The End," but I really can't comment without spoiling it.

The short length and fantastic nature of the stories (and some of the poems) also make them easy to adapt as rumors or legends, especially for fantasy games. Some might even turn straight into props (lost notes or other records, for instance.)

This was an interesting experience, as I often look for new games from independent game designers but I don't do the same for independent authors. "The New Death and others" has shown me that I should.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Creating a character to play Mutant Epoch solo

So November has come and it's time for me to join in on the solo gaming appreciation month promoted by JF of the Solo Nexus blog. My Qwik teams aren't ready for action yet so I decided to kick start my activities with something else.

In keeping with the post-apocalypse theme, I turned to my digital copy of Mutant Epoch, a relatively new post-apocalyptic RPG, published by Outland Arts. It has a very "old school" look and feel, both in the book and rules and at the same time it brings some refreshing ideas (at least to me.) I'm still reading it but I thought I'd try to make a character to run a solo adventure during this month.

In the Mutant Epoch, centuries of conflict and abuse of technology have resulted in a world in ruins, where humans are a minority fighting for their place among mutants, cyborgs and other creatures. It's gritty, violent "science fantasy" and I believe a gaming group may play it as over-the-top cinematic action as well as focus on the social issues of such a torn and changed world.

The standard method of character creation is randomized. You start by rolling to see what type of character you'll get and from there, roll on tables (sometimes shared by different character types) to determine traits, skills, mutations and so on. For those that prefer, there are rules for a point-buy system too. Using the random character creation rules I got this:

Zendar - Clone, Labor
Male, 24 years old, 89kg, 1.97m, left-handed, fair swimmer

Endurance 79/70
Strength 66, Agility 74, Accuracy 49,
Intelligence 20, Perception 18, Willpower 31
Appearance 23

Defense Value: 0 + 8 (agility)
Strike Value: 01-50 + 4 (accuracy)
Melee damage bonus: 8

Run speed: 7
Healing rate: 8

Pre-game caste: slave, labor
There is a bounty for his return

Rags, 6 silver coins, Bow and 12 arrows, Knife

And this is why I like random character creation systems when they're well done: I wouldn't ever think up of making an escaped slave clone as my character, especially when there's so much mutant crazyness to explore. Still, it is a consistent and competent character (if a little low on intelligence.) I also think that having to play a random character adds to the immersion in a post-apocalyptic setting, where resources are scarce: you don't choose your character, you have to make do with what you got.

By the way, clones are one example of interesting, if disturbing, concept in Mutant Epoch. Like a radical extrapolation of current debates on the ethics of stem cell research, clones in the game are often "DNA re-issues from the long-dead ancient people," used as slaves. Yes, imagine brainwashed clones of olympic athletes serving as soldiers or labor slaves and you get the picture.

That's it for now, later we shall see how Zendar will fare in the wasteland of the Mutant Epoch...