2017 Games of the Year

Posted: January 10, 2018 in Board Games
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My top 10 for the year

  1. Pax Renaissance & The Quest for El Dorado
  2. Great Western Trail
  3. Terraforming Mars
  4. Fuji Flush
  5. Argent: The Consortium
  6. Escape from 100 Million B.C.
  7. Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem
  8. Mini Rails
  9. Tokyo Highway
  10. Chaos In the Old World

A tie for first place – Pax Renaissance and The Quest for El Dorado.

Pax Renaissance because it’s an ornate, epic sweeping historical saga compacted into a tiny box. That tiny box contains about 200 years of European history and allows you to use Martin Luther to convert the Pope. I love it though I’m still not confident about how the various mechanisms hang together. Pax Porfiriana may have been the first in the series but Pax Renaissance transforms the system into something even wilder. I still have yet to play Pax Pamir which seems like a transition between the two but I hope to get to it next year.

The Quest for El Dorado because it’s a game with no flash or excess. The object is simple – get your explorer to El Dorado first (which is why I prefer the translation of the German title “Race for El Dorado”.) It’s a deck builder (Knizia’s first – Blue Moon is a customisable card game, the deck is built outside of the actual game) but Knizia has weeded the crap out of the mechanism. There’s only one type of card that enables deck manipulation, the rest enable you to pay movement costs, to bring you closer to your goal. There is always a sense of momentum and a fairly strong sense of setting for a Knizia game. It’s easy to teach and you feel like playing it again immediately afterwards. How many games do that?

Runners up in no particular order and to turn this list into a top 10 (even though there’s 11 on the list.)

Great Western Trail: Another one of Pfister’s big box games that is an amalgam of other popular game mechanisms (deck building, worker placement, stock manipulation of a sort) that somehow creates its own identity in a way that I find most Feld games (for example) don’t. Drive your cattle to market and hope to improve the herd on the way to Kansas City. It still suffers from the Euro marginalisation of indigenous people though in this case the native Americans have representation in the form of counters – in Mombasa there was only the most abstract indication that the land being exploited was already occupied. Like Mombasa though, it fuses familiar mechanisms into a system that brings them a new voice.

Terraforming Mars: Even more derivative than GWT, Terraforming Mars is at its heart an engine builder using a tableau of cards but there are enough tweaks to give it a personality of its own and everything is in service to the setting and the goal of Terraforming Mars. You add oceans and forests and cities to the barren planet, increase the oxygen in the atmosphere and alter the surface temperature – in other words you can live vicariously through Mars by performing all the changes that we need to perform on our own planet first. It’s not just the setting that makes it – the card economy ensures some hard decisions (you have to buy the cards you want to play first) and the synergies between cards are interesting in their own right. Yes it was the game from 2016 but I only had a chance to play it this year.

Fuji Flush: Also now known as Numberwang, due to some of the players being unable to grasp its unintuitive nature. Unfortunately I love unintuitive cards games and Fuji Flush can be played by up to eight players. Some of whom will grok it, some of whom will disengage and toss cards out at random. Such is the nature of Fuji Flush that both groups probably have an equal chance of winning. The goal of Fuji Flush is simple – get rid of all your cards. The catch is, you can only get rid of the card you’ve played if, by the time it gets around to your turn again, no one’s played a higher card. If someone plays a higher card, you discard it and draw a replacement card. That’s the catch – there’s also a twist. If you (or someone else) plays the same number, they’re added together (a 2 card and a subsequent 2 card both become 4 value cards.) The distribution of the cards is such that there are many 2 cards, slightly less 3 cards and so forth until you get to the 16-20 cards of which there are only one each. So you either want to play a high card, or you want to play what everyone else is playing. Because when play gets back to someone with a shared card number in front of them – all those cards flush (i.e. don’t generate a replacement draw) and everyone who played that card is one step towards winning. Honestly, the rules are shorter than that but for those on its wavelength (such as myself) its a great filler card game to pull out with a crowd.

Argent: The Consortium: Or Tenure at Hogwarts: The Final Battle. Argent is a worker placement game but they’ve ripped out the passive part of the passive agressive nature of worker placement games and replaced it with fireballs and lightning bolts. You are the heads of various departments in a university for wizards – the goal is to impress the most members of council (12 of them) so you can join them. The problem is, you don’t know what most of them like at the beginning of the game. You know what three of them like: one likes the player with the most influence, one likes the player with the most supporters and only you know what the third likes – and in a game with so many different kinds of currencies (all listed helpfully at the back of the rules book) you have to devote some of your followers to a little shmoozing to work out what the other council members are into – or you can just try and monopolise most of everything. Argent has heaps of stuff – multiple currencies (mana, gold, research, wisdom, intelligence, influence), stacks of cards decks (spells, items, followers), five different kinds of workers with multiple powers and a board set up that changes every game. The state of the game changes so much between games that it’s more a game of increments then sweeping boardclearing moves however most of the information you need to optimise your turn is in front of you (there’s very little hidden information) and, through the bell chamber cards, players control the actual length of turns. Also the interactions of spells, rooms, workers and items do allow for some clever combinations to be pulled off – but they may just as easily backfire and leave you undefended. It’s not the prettiest of games with the overly ornate anime set dressing but I think it is a very overlooked and enjoyable gamer’s game.

Escape from 100 Million B.C.: You’re all time travellers but your time machine has broken down and stranded you in the Age of the Dinosaurs. So you’ve got to get all the parts back from dinosaur infested terrain and get the hell out of Dodge. But wait, there’s more! Your presence in the past has created temporal instability and time rifts are opening up and spewing out various luminaries from both fact and fiction (e.g. Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, the Dude, Doc Brown) and they have to be returned to their respective time periods through the rifts that brung them, without being eaten by dinosaurs. And, oh yeah, you run the risk of generating so much paradox that the future you return to (if you return) in no way resembles the future you left. There’s been a spate of games about time travel (Loop Inc, TIME Stories, Tragedy Looper) recently, similar to the Mars games, but Escape drapes a cooperative framework over it with the rough mechanisms of Arkham Horror (Kevin Wilson, designer of Escape, also worked on the FFG reprint of AH.) So what you get is a fairly straightforward cooperative dice driven adventure game, with most of the chrome and complexity hidden in the cards and the tile discoveries. When you move into unexplored terrain you draw a hex of that terrain, but the other side of the hex not only tells you (through simple icons) what you encounter but also where you can move to next and, further, what path random movement from the hex will follow. Escape is what I call a stupid/smart game. There’s a lot of randomness but also a fair amount of risk management and it gives the feel of an adventure movie with very little overhead.

Sons of Anarchy: Men of Mayhem: Another Gale Force 9 game based on a cult TV property but the best one I’ve played so far. Spartacus and Firefly (the two I’ve played and are still in my collection) have a tendency to drag but at their best they communicate in game form the relationships and atmosphere and events that make the originating texts so enjoyable. GF9 have generally done a great job in converting the feel of a tv series to game form even though they can fall down a little on details. Now, I’m not familiar with SoA – in fact I’ve only watched the first episode – but I do enjoy crime based games even if they’re dependent on worker placement like SoA:MoM is. However, similar to Argent, your workers can be armed and can make a solid effort to be the last workers standing in the particular action tile when it’s resolved. In a way, it’s a stripped down version of Argent, that allows for more negotiation and table talk and more active screwing over of the other players. It’s great, and like Argent, criminally ignored.

Mini Rails: I’m not generally a fan of train games. I have Ticket to Ride, Steam and 1830 and I think that covers that particular set of genres well. However, Mini Rails is 1830 in half an hour and is a brilliant distillation of game design. Like 1830 you have train routes and train shares, but they’re both represented by the same thing – a wooden disc in the company’s colour. Game turns use the Settlers set up turn structure (i.e. first player first in, last out, last player gets two turns in a row) to either put a disc on the board (possibly driving up or driving down the stock price) or securing a stock for themselves. However, at the end of the game, not all stocks will score positive points, only the ones that were “taxed” (i.e. not selected at the end of an entire round.) It’s 1830 but playable in a lunch hour and I desperately need my own copy.

Tokyo Highway: You have elongated paddle pop sticks and thick wooden cylinders that form columns. You are using these to build a road system that you can put your cars on and the first to get rid of all their cars wins. To place a car, the newly placed road either has to be the only road crossing one or more roads, or the only road crossing under one or more roads. Each road you cross allows you to place another car. The cars are extremely small. The roads are exceedingly rickety. The penalty for having a road system collapse is onerous. Yes, the tweezers are a necessary component. Yes, this is a game that looks great (and will draw a crowd) but tends to end with a Godzilla level of destruction.

Chaos in the Old World: It’s taken me this long to play this Eric Lang classic. I like Blood Rage and I see the influence of CitOW in its design, but CitOW is clearly the better game. Each Chaos God has a different objective necessitating a unique strategy – however it can coordinate with the other gods who maybe too busy trying to keep a lid on Khorne to notice. The feel of manifesting the chaos figures (plastic) in the real world (cardboard) creates an interesting dual level that more fantasy based games should take advantage of. I’ve only played it once, but I’m itching to play it again.

Runners Up:

Azul, Barenpark, Century: Spice Road, Deception: Murder in Hong Kong, Imhotep, Isle of Trains

Cancon 2017

Posted: February 12, 2017 in Board Games
Tags: , ,

This year I was able to make the annual pilgrimage to the hallowed halls of Cancon and stay to the very end.

I had been invited to an inaugural gaming gathering (The Siege of the Fortress of Awesome) and so was staying the full week after Cancon – therefore was there to the bitter end (the stripping down and packing away of the games library)

This year I barely made it out of the board game library (except for ablutions and social functions with the family.) I didn’t even wander amongst the massive miniature setups as I have done in the past.

Friday I managed to get the two big games I wanted to play under my belt: Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars

Great Western Trail

Great Western Trail

GWT was pretty much the hit of Cancon for me and several others. I fell for Alexander Pfister’s previous big box Euro, Mombasa, in a big way. I had lost a lot of interest in the new Euro games, feeling that they were just tinkering around the edges with well worn mechanisms (especially worker placement) and were just becoming complex for complexity’s sake. They didn’t feel organic to me. Mombasa did, it had just the right amount of randomness with the market tiles coming out and every microsystem seemed to work in tune with the others. It was my favourite game last year.

GWT is somehow similar to Mombasa – it’s another setting of micro gaming systems that generate gaming wonder through their interrelationships. You have to get cattle to market (from the bottom of the board to the top of the board.) The market will pay you best for different breeds of cattle (you have a deck of cards representing your cattle, with a hand of cards representing your current stock – part of the game is improving the diversity of your hand as you make it up the board to Kansas City to sell them.)

So you can change your hand and buy new stock from it from buildings on the way to Kansas City, neutral buildings and buildings you put there yourself. Buildings, of course, cost money. It’s possible to earn money on the way, but the big pay off is in Kansas City.

You also have a train line – the train line enables you to reach further cities to sell your cattle. Which is important because you can only sell your cattle once to each city. But, then, when you do – you take a counter off your player board allowing you to move further, or to cycle through more cards or to improve other actions.

I haven’t even gone into the objective cards, trading with native Americans, avoiding hazards, the different employees and the need to leave one or more behind as stationmasters as the game progresses.

There’s so much in it, and yet none of it feels overwhelming (much like Mombasa.) Every thing you do is tied to your basic objective of getting the best price of your cattle once you get them to Kansas City. As each building forms a space, and each subsequent trip adds more buildings (yours and your opponents) more possibilities start to open up. It’s very, very clever and I can’t wait to play it again.

Terraforming Mars

Terraforming mars  1

The other game I was eager to try was Terraforming Mars – which has already received a few plays at my local games group. There were no copies for sale at all at Cancon, and the sole library copy was in constant use. Fortunately my friend Simon from Inner West Gamers had his own copy along, so I finally got to play it.

And there’s not that much to it. It’s really a tableau building game where you are building up card based resources, both on a rather unstable play mat and a tableau, to increase the oxygen level and temperature of Mars to the point where it is habitable. Whoever does the most “work” in both terraforming points and additional VPs along the way, wins.

We played a drafting variant which seems to be a good way to play. It’s basically engine building with a spatial element provided by the board and the victory point dependencies between vegetation and cities (owned by players) and oceans, owned by everyone, along with a few special hexes that can be place through the use of cards.

It’s obvious why it’s popular. The hard science setting works well but doesn’t overwhelm the clarity of the cards (like it does in a Phil Eklund game – TM could almost be called Pax Mars.) There are things to do each turn. You can screw people over (especially on the board) but not so they’re out of the game.

Other games played:

Adrenaline

Adrenaline  1

I was not as taken with Adrenaline, an attempt to turn a first person shooter into a board game – specifically a PvP shooter. The game looks fantastic with nice plastic models and droplets for damage markers, but it’s basically an area control game, with each player being the area the other players have to control. There’s not a lot to it – weapons (which do have different effects) require different kinds of ammo, but players can only hold three cubes of ammo at a time (though upgrade cards can be used as ammo cubes) so, despite ostensibly running around shooting everyone in sight, you are actually converting cubs to damage markers to claim the most damage. There are other games of that kind I’d rather play, no matter how pretty the components are.

Ice Cool

Iwg 14 7 15  1  1

I’m not a huge fan of flicking games per se, but Ice Cool has penguins in high school, so it gets a pass from me. For a game so cute there’s a weird slasher film vibe to it. All but one player are trying to flick their penguin through doorways to collect the fish above, however that one player is a hall monitor who has to hit the other penguins to collect their ID tags. Surely it’s a just a reskin away from being a Friday the 13th style game.

It’s a cute game but fairly inessential.


The Networks

Networks  1

A kickstarter game in that the emphasis was on the graphic design rather than the actual game play. My impression was of a Mad magazine parody of current tv shows, snipped up into cards with some rules tossed over the top to justify its existence as a game. There’s not a lot of there, there.

Lorenzo Il Magnifico

Lorenzo il magnifico  1

On the other hand, there’s Lorenzo Il Magnifico – which was fine. Just not terribly exciting, not engaging in the way that Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars is. Worker placement with the workers keyed to dice, and a pain mechanism based on Papal favours, it has some clever ideas but didn’t really distinguish itself, though there was much more of a game there than The Networks.

Cancon is usually a big buying con, with a second hand stall (that this time used ticketing to control the crowds) and many local game stores setting up shop. This year there wasn’t many bargains to be had and all the stores were sold out of Terraforming Mars – the most sought after game of the con.

But somehow I made do:

Cancon loot

From the top we have:

The Bots expansion for Theseus
Infiltration
Merchants of Amsterdam
Great Western Trail
In the Shadow of the Emperor
Gamma World (2nd edition)
Starfighter
The Little Prince – Rising to the Stars
Magic the Gathering – Arena of the Planeswalkers
War of the Ring

on the side:

Deep Sea Adventure
Basari
Fuji Flush
Isle of Trains
Great Heartland Hauling Company

not pictured:

Prosperity

Now all I have to do is find the time to play them and the space to store them.

New Years Day, with the help of Murray and Bruce, I managed to get two games off my unplayed list:

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Mage Knight

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WildLife

Mage Knight is the current heavyweight champion of fantasy adventure boardgames. You’re not just playing a hero, you’re playing a Mage Knight – you’re already cool, you can already do lots of stuff. Just not necessarily when you want to do it. We only played the suggested beginning scenario, and we got through it faster than expected so we had time left for another game. I want to play it again, especially a longer scenario as I thought the game ended just as I was starting to get a handle on it – realising I’d picked up precisely the wrong Mage Knight as he was good at influence, which isn’t that helpful in such a short game.

WildLife is a Wolfgang Kramer game which plays like a cut down version of El Grande. Each player is a species trying to gain dominance in certain areas. It’s kind of halfway between Genesis and Dominant Species. The Uberplay edition has fairly cheap components, especially the cards, but is otherwise playable. This is staying in the collection as it’s a solid Euro with an educational aspect.

We also played Roll for the Galaxy, which would have been my game of 2015, if I hadn’t been so impressed with Codenames.

The lunchtime group started 2016 with the print and play version of Secret Hitler. Yet another social deduction game but one that at least provides some information for the players to work with. Secret Hitler is good at what it does, but I’m still not a fan of social deduction games. I don’t find them enjoyable.

IMG 4463

“nein” indeed

My friend Cyberkev came to stay, so we had a minicon (with Simon) in his honour.

We played Moongha Invaders: Mad Scientists and Atomic Monsters Attack the Earth! (or Moongha, for short) – Martin Wallace’s attempt to woo over the Ameritrashers by designing an alien invasion/monster creation game. The back story is a little complex – it’s meant to look like an alien invasion, but the creatures are created by the players themselves who play mad scientists – probably laid off from the CSIRO. It didn’t work for Kevin and Simon – I still think it has some legs as the resource management component is quite clever – and the two player didn’t work for Kevin and I when we played it the next day. My first play of it with Murray and Phil was fine, so it may just be a difference in play styles.

IMG 4465

Cairo’s in trouble!

Cyberkev once had an obsession with a CCG called On The Edge. I’d bought a sample box from Atlas Games some years ago, so we tried to introduce Simon to it. It’s not really his thing, whereas the theme, if not the underlying mechanisms, speak to me and Cyberkev as it’s based around esoteric conspiracies. Kind of like a more macro version of the Illuminati game, where you’re playing with the actual conspirators. Cyber and I played another game, but I ran out of decent folk to block so got shredded. We plan to revisit it at the numerous conventions we meet at.

Cyberkev also had the 3rd edition of Innovation – which doesn’t have major changes, more tweaks. Simon’s started a regular Innovation game at lunch time on Mondays and it may, just may, be replacing Glory to Rome as my favourite Chudyk game.

The next wave of visitors were Steve and Dean from NZ who were down for Cancon. Steve’s an old friend of mine, who sadly moved back to NZ as he has a predilection for sane countries, but gladly he bought Dean with him.

We played Elevenses together then, after Cancon, I was able to take Reef Encounter and its expansion of my unplayed list. I’d only played Reef Encounter online before, so it took me a while to grok, but I loved the physicality of it. I lost horribly, but Steve explained it’s a game where you have to constantly feed on yourself as well as others. A concept with which I’m far too familiar.

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I have no idea what I’m doing

In between was Cancon (which gets its own post.)

And at Cancon I bought Isle of Skye – a game that’s been popular with the Inner West Gamers group – basically a mongrel cross between Carcassonne and Castles of Mad King Ludwig – you’re building a landscape in front of you, but you’re setting prices on the tiles, and paying for the ones the other players don’t buy. It’s a clever game from the designer of Port Royal (another favourite) but Simon wound up hating it – I think he had the same problem I have with Feld from time to time, I’m pushing at the game system but I don’t seem to get anywhere.

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And that’s January.

Best New Game:

Isle of Skye & Orleans (played at Cancon)

Best Old Game:

This is difficult – I enjoyed Mage Knight / WildLife / Showmanager (Cancon) and Reef Encounter. So – all of them.

Cancon 2016

Posted: January 26, 2016 in Board Games
Tags: ,

Cancon is still going as I type this.

Unfortunately Australia Day falls on Tuesday this year, so tomorrow is a work day. We spent a day and a half at Cancon before returning home.

The crown jewel of Cancon is the game library run by Merran and Terry. IN a way it’s a victim of its own success – despite constantly increasing the floor space each year around midday the space is completely full.

Which is wonderful that so many people are enjoying the board game hobby.

The best thing about Cancon for me, and what makes this year unfortunate, is the people. I get to see many of my friends, from all over Australia and, some times, get to play games with them. Unfortunate because we had to leave early, but not as bad as last year where we could only have one day because we were moving in a week.

So, here’s a quick report:

Games played:

Orleans

Played with John, Shingo and Sam.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Orleans, and was lucky enough to join the game after someone left before it started. On the surface it’s another worker placement Euro with stuff turning into other stuff turning into points – in the case of Orleans each worker has a particular job (farmer, soldier, sailor, etc – the text was in German) and you need combinations of them to recruit more workers, or collect goods by moving around a board, or placing guilds, etc, etc. The catch is, you are drawing your workers from a bag, so you can’t be sure you’ll have the exact combination you need to maximise your turn. In fact, the game encourages delaying actions so you can be sure that you’ll be able to draw the workers you need as, once an action is performed, the workers are returned to the bag.

The bulk of the turn (in thinking effort) is mapping out your turn with your available workers. Actually triggering the actions doesn’t take long, but you have to be careful about the order and it may be in your interests to hold off (but not too long.)

It’s a very clever game that gets around my boredom with worker placement games. I don’t need a copy myself because there’s at least three amongst my regular gaming buddies.

Show Manager

Played with Steve, Dean, Kevin, Bruce and Greg

I’ve been trying to play this for ages. Old school Euro combining set collection with a tight economic drafting mechanism. The only way to get more money is to take money from the productions that you’re trying to mount using actors that cost you money. It is best to use actors who are suited for the roles in each production, but you may have no choice if your money dries up. It is one of those old school Euros with a cheerful demeanour hiding a black, black heart.

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Played with Kevin, Rachel and John

And talking about old school. I remember SHCD from my early board gaming days but it sounded and looked way too complex at the time. Turns out, it’s basically a cooperative Choose Your Own Adventure with the players as the Baker Street Irregulars trying to solve a crime (and follow an evidentiary chain) as quickly as possible to Sherlock’s benchmark time. At the end, though, it seemed Mr Holmes had a number of deductive leaps that we just couldn’t account for.

Hanabi (with the tiles)

Played with Barry, Kevin, Llyn and Brendon

– because I couldn’t find anything else to play immediately and, at least, it’s short. And I get to play a game with my wife!

It was one of the new tile versions of Hanabi, but it is a game I’m very much over.

Isle of Skye

Played with Steve, Dean and Simon (finally!)

Like Orleans, the new hotness but, unlike Orleans, a game I’d played before. Last Tuesday, in fact. Well described by David as a cross between Carcassonne and Castles of Mad Ludwig – players put prices on tiles they either want the money for, or want to price out of the market so they can keep it for themselves. A simple game with tough decisions.

Games bought:

504

504 games! Or at least the components and rules for such. An art prank, a viable gaming system or both? I intend to find out.

51st State

The proto version of Imperial Settlers (succeeded by The New Era). Always wanted to try it, and it was cheap.

Mermaid Rain

I have the Japanese copy of this – the English copy apparently has better component quality, and the benefit of being in English (mine is translated through pasteups.) How cool is the title “Mermaid Rain”? More games should have allusive titles like that.

Isle of Skye

The best of the new Essen crop I’ve played so far, except for Orleans, which I don’t need.

Ploy

A 3M Bookshelf game! For $2! I now have three!

Blood Bound

Has a good reputation as a social deduction game (which I’m not that hot on) – the plus is that it handles 6 – 12 players. A game of this type is occasionally very handy for the lunch time games group.

Medici vs Strozzi

A Knizia! In a Cosmos two player box!

Port Royal Expansion

Because Port Royal’s such a cool game.

Frank’s Zoo

Legendary card game long out of print. Now I has it.

Hopefully next year I’ll have the whole two and half days available to me. Too many games I’m interested in, but more importantly too many great people to play with. Canberra has a strong and vibrant game community – there was an impromptu delegation from the Inner West Gamers, and some old friends of mine made it (including from New Zealand.) And some new old friends.

It was a great start to the gaming year and I can’t wait for the next one.

Happy New Year

Posted: January 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

I’m not making this a resolution (in fact, I’m only updating to see if this wordpress site is still active) but I intend to add much more content to my gaming blog.

You have been warned.

(this should have been posted years ago.)

I’m talking about the first boardgame to make an impression on me, the first boardgame that my and my school friends played obsessively, religiously. Not Monopoly, not Ludo or one of its popular variants (like Sorry) but something more evil – a roll and move game spiced with absolute bastardy.

It was Ludo with heavy weapons – it was Magnum Force and it was my first introduction into the appeal of boardgames.

In other words, it wasn’t my first lay, but my first real girlfriend, until she started to lose her appearance and I gradually lost interest in her and moved on to someone else. (okay, it’s analogy, not a confession, okay?)

Magnum Force was not exactly commercially available, it was the equivalent of the print and play games today. It was actually published as a premium over four issues of the notorious British comic “Action”. For the fascinating story behind “Action” (which begat 2000AD, which begat Judge Dredd, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, et al) you should find Martin Barker’s definitive book on this precusor to the extreme comics of today.

Magnum Force used characters from the Dredger story (who was the top-billed character in Action, the way the Judge Dredd was the breakout character in 2000AD – well Dredger competed with Hookjaw (a shark with a hook through his jaw) as the most popular character.) Dredger was a scummy MI6 agent who had no qualms about silencing the opposition, kind of like a low tech combination of James Bond and the Punisher – he wasn’t adverse to guns, but was more likely to reach for the nearest weapon available – like a forklift.

Magnum Force was also a forerunner of the character/role playing games of today (it predated Dungeons and Dragons) in that each character played a member of an intelligence agency. There was MI6, CIA, KGB and the Russian Secret Service (I think it was the same breakdown as The Sigma File – now known as Conspiracy). The board was a series of tracks around a New York cityscape, some of the spaces had entries to buildings – some of the spaces allowed the player to draw a Magnum Force card (most to be used immediately, some could be kept (and were marked with a huge K in the background) to be used when needed.) On your turn, you decided whether you were going to move or shoot. Either way you rolled two dice – moving was just moving the exact number of spaces, shooting was trying to get the number of spaces between you and your target (which had to be in a straight line – there was even line of sight rules) if you rolled the target number or above the target would get one wound, and the shooter would be vulnerable to being shot next turn.

If a player took five wounds they were dead and out of the game – the game would continue until only one player survived. Of course, one could make a beeline for the hospital to recover from the wounds, but the other players would make that a very dangerous proposition.

So let’s summarise:

uses dice for movement and combat

the playing piece represents the player

player elimination

action cards

Hmmm, sounds like a seminal Ameritrash game.

Magnum Force positively encouraged trash talking, alliances between players, acts of absolute bastardry and all the good things about games. We started to come up with our own rules – hit locations (if you put the wounds on the agent’s leg they’d get a movement penalty, a wound on the arm would give them a combat territory) we contemplated expanding the immunity rules (four of the buildings on the board were embassies where a player was safe – we imagined passport cards that would allow agents to use other embassies), vehicle rules, and different weapons (the card deck had a shotgun and a magnum that could be used to shoot people in buildings.)

The board, pieces and cards were stuck onto to yellow cardboard and I’d drawn a very rough board label to emulate the style of the Milton Bradley/John Sands style games.

The card and pieces were kept in an orange plastic slide box and the board folded into four parts – already I was on my way to true board game geekdom.

My coffee with Tom Lehmann

Posted: October 8, 2014 in Board Games
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So this August I was at Loncon3 – the World SF convention – where Tom Lehmann was one of the guests.

At SF conventions they offer “kaffeeklatches” – a chance to meet your favourite writer, artist or game designer as part of a small group. My wife had already attended one with Francis Harding (one of her favourite authors) so I signed up for one with Tom Lehmann. Lehmann is the designer of Race for the Galaxy as well as host of lesser known games and is currently collaborating with Matt Leacock on a Pandemic dice game.

Tom Lehmann
He’s very animated.

Whilst we waited for the others to file into the room, Tom played a game with us based around the roll of a die. We were thieves breaking into a bank – we had to roll a die to score but one of the faces was an alarm and another was a gate that would shut down. The object was to roll a certain amount and leave before you set off the alarm. The catch was, you had to steal more money than the previous player. Lehmann explained it was an experiment to see if he could come up with a satisfying game based around rolling a single die. Probably needed more plastic ninjas.

All in all he chatted with us for over the allotted hour and was prepared to continue on but my old man’s internal plumbing kicked in and I had to excuse myself. By the time I returned to the room, everyone had gone.

It was a great conversation/seminar with Lehmann about his approach to game design.

Some of the highlights:

– an anecdote about trolling Knizia with a bunch of other game designers when they were playing one of Knizia’s prototypes. One of the resources was happiness (and they were hidden behind player screens.) The game designers were identifying exactly how much happiness Knizia had behind his screen and ignored everyone else’s.

– I asked about his game Time Agent – he had worked on a two player version for Z-Man but it was never produced

– a discussion about the player interaction in The City. Lehmann’s proposal was the player interaction was in the tempo of the scoring – he’d found that there was a point where, based on the scores of the other players, you would continue with your current strategy, or adapt a new one to speed up the scoring. The City may finally be released in an English edition (it’s only been available in German so far) but the publisher is considering retheming it.

– Some of his other projects include a simplified version of Race for the Galaxy (no developments) and a version of Uno/Crazy 8s with persistent cards (like enchantments in Magic.)

– We discussed the issue of modelling narrative in a game. Lehmann has been working on dice driven cooperative starship game, that uses a paragraph system (kind of a cross between Tales of the Arabian Nights and Space Cadets though Lehmann was clear the basic dice mechanic was different to SC). After an encounter, three options are available: -mini adventure, -move on to the next encounter, -repeat the encounter with increased difficulty. A dice modifier can be agreed upon to change the difficulty, increase the chance of a mini-adventure, etc. It sounds like an interesting approach and I look forward to the final result.

– Board games that used smartphone apps. Lehmann believes that these will be playing a major role in new board games, enabling hidden information and playing the role of the paragraph books in games like TotAN and Agents of SMERSH. Lehmann had not heard of Ingress – the location specific virtual board game made by Google to improve their mapping.

It was a fascinating glimpse into the issues of professional game design and Lehmann was a charming and informative host