Thursday, May 19, 2011

Scoreboard Update (including a complete victory!)

So, our game group played a few games over the last month or so. These included three four-way games of Rogue Trader and a cooperative game of All Things Zombie. (Oddly enough, my one win did not come from the cooperative game.)

The Rogue Trader games were 2000-point(!) free-for-alls, played with similar forces each time, and having the same or similar objectives. (Basically, each force trying to commandeer a communications array or missile silo - while simultaneously trying to prevent the enemy from doing the same.) I got my butt handed to me - of course! - in two of the games, being the second player put out of action each time.

But I emerged victorious from the third game, despite one of the players fielding over 100 troops (about half of which made a beeline right for the right flank of my rogue trader's crew). It was a hairy situation, one I survived by the skin of my teeth. It tied me up for most of the game, and cost me a squad of imperial guard, a tough robot, and over half a squad of space marines. I still don't quite know how I survived, much less won the game, but when all was said and done I still had four models standing. (Although all the players almost lost, as an immature genestealer burst from the twitching body of an impregnated victim my fiancee's group had left in the middle of the objective building. We were expecting to see the genestealer end up as the last model standing. It took down my trader's ogryn bodyguard, Raymond, before being dispatched by his terrified toadie, Round-Short the gretchin.)

Our last game was the cooperative ATZ game - our first foray into that game. (We've experimented with the Chain Raction 3 rules a few times before. I really like the system, even if I have yet to fully wrap my brain around it.) Despite my character being one of the fastest on the table, an unlucky activation roll (and an almost maximum number of starting zeds) put me out of action very early in the game, as I was swarmed by nine or ten deadheads.

That event also put out another player's character, who saw "The Feast" (of zeds tearing my character to bits and devouring him) and blew his Sanity test. He ended up cowering in horror behind a house, which later mysteriously caught fire - which caused the brand spanking new Dodge Challenger in driveway to explode. We quickly made up a couple new characters who came in next turn and spent the rest of the game working their way across the table to join the remaining original characters. (Thank the gods for corn fields!) In the end, the four characters and their five new allies rolled off the table in a VW mini-bus as the table full of zombies closed in on the trailer park they were fleeing. Which brings me to my next point:

I love ATZ!

Sure, the system's a little buggy in places and the Chain Reaction rules take a lot of adjusting to, but the ability to play cooperatively, the simplicity yet personality of the characters, and the unpredictability of the game really make for a great experience, IMO. I'm hoping the other half of our game group are able to overlook ATZ's flaws and see the unpolished gem beneath, because I'd like to see a lot more of this game on our table.

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A Hard Won Thing Scoreboard:

3 wins / 2 draws / 19 losses

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scoreboard Update

My fiancee and I played our first game of Warhammer Historical's Legends of the Old West this past weekend. It's a fun game. Essentially, it's the game I set out to write 10 years ago, when my home-brew Necromunda-in-the-old-west rules were still going under the name "A Fistful of Lead." (These rules eventually became my own, non-Necromunda-based game, Tombstones n' Tumbleweeds, aka "TnT")

So, to say I was looking forward to playing is probably an understatement.

That's not to say that I in any way deluded myself about the game session's inevitable outcome.

My fiancee resurrected her family of lawmen, the Sweeneys, from our days of playing TnT. Appropriately, I resurrected my gang of banditos from that era, El Gato Gordo and his band of south-of-the-border ne'er-do-wells. (Now operating as "Los Jalapenos.") These two groups met on many occasions back in the day, and it always ended badly for the banditos. The last game of TnT with these groups saw one of the outlaws fumble with a stick of dynamite, dropping it at his feet - next to one of his comrades, who was laying on the ground after being hit by gunfire. His worries were soon over, however, as the explosives detonated next to his head. El Gato himself was caught in the blast, and although he didn't die, he suffered multiple wounds and was captured - and when last we saw El Gato Gordo he was headed out to be fit for a hemp necktie.

So, I didn't approach the game with my usual expectation of a poor showing - I fully expected to have my banditos annihilated by the Sweeneys. And I was not disappointed.

By the end of the game (when my remaining three outlaws opted to Head for the Hills rather than suffer further abuse at the hands of the lawmen) I'd lost three of my original six outlaws - including the fat cat himself - to my fiancee's lone casualty. Despite some early jockeying for better fire lanes, my fiance finally grew tired of waiting for me to close and marched her three heroes right down the middle of the street - straight into my outlaws' fields of fire. Despite having a pair of heavy pistols, a rifle, and a scattergun on them, the Sweeneys stood right there and blasted my poor banditos to Kingdom Come.

So, it's safe to say that game ended exactly as I'd expected. Oh, and also to no one's surprise, especially my own, El Gato died during the post-battle sequence. How typical.

Being the good sport she is, my fiancee allowed me to swap that result with one of the serious injury rolls for my two henchmen that had gone out of action - both of which had rolled "full recovery." (Go figure.)

So, it turns out that news of El Gato Gordo's death was greatly exaggerated. The fat man lived to fight another day - and surely will do so, so long as Seamus Sweeney (and his brothers and cousins) continue to draw breath.

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A Hard Won Thing Scoreboard:

2 wins / 2 draws / 16 losses

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blather: Thinking Aloud (Figuratively) about Randomization in War Games

A 40+-year-old article, recently posted to the Vintage Wargaming blog, has got me thinking about the role of randomization in war games.

You should read the posted article - it's only a page long. For those who don't wish to do so, the upshot of it is the idea that war games really need some form of randomization, but that dice are possibly not the best answer. The author provides an alternate form of randomization: a deck (or more) of playing cards, with each player having the same number of standard decks (each card to be drawn in place of a die roll). The idea behind this being that neither player gains an advantage, as each has the same spread of random numbers. Over the course of the entire game, the actual numbers drawn will be the same by each player, therefore no player gains advantage from being a lucky roller.

A commenter on that post pointed out - correctly, IMHO - that this is only of limited benefit: players who are good at counting cards would easily be at an advantage.

However, there's another flaw: the author's premise is predicated on the assumption that each player will roll an equal number of dice (and thus, using the alternate system, draw the same number of cards) during the course of the game. While I'm not a "grognard" by any means, I have played a wide variety of war games, and I've never played one wherein each player rolls the same number of dice during the course of the game. Based on my experience, this solution would not actually solve anything; the unlucky player, using fewer cards, would still be likely to find himself drawing more low cards than his opponent. Or vice versa: his opponent, using fewer cards, would find himself drawing more high cards. Either way, the solution fails.

I do agree with the author's point of view regarding randomization, however. A war game without chance is, to me, a flat-out mental exercise, like chess or Chinese checkers - not a war game. While I find these games fun, I do not seek the same sort of entertainment from war games.

However, being one of those Unfortunates for whom all forms of randomization seem to do nothing more than provide fickle Fate an opportunity to make life interesting (in the Chinese curse sense of the word) I can definitely see the benefits of mitigating the role randomization plays in a game.

Case in point: I recently played a pair of games that served as a prime example of how randomization can be handled badly; namely, Ganesha Games' Fear & Faith (F&F) and Song of Blades & Heroes (SoBH).

Before fans of these games feel the need to leap to their defense, let me clearly state that I'm also a fan. I love their simple yet highly flexible nature. It's not my goal to denigrate these games, but merely to point out what - in my case - happens to be a flaw in the design of their core combat system.

My fiancee and I started the day with a game of F&F. After I lost abysmally, and was left feeling thoroughly dissatisfied as a result, we tried a game of SoBH. All started well, and for a couple of turns I had a good advantage, thanks to some decent tactical use of my models. However, a few turns in, my most powerful unit engaged in melee one of my fiancee's slightly less-powerful units. In one turn, my unit - the strongest and most costly unit of my entire force - went from being fresh to the fight to being dead, simply because I rolled a 1 and my opponent rolled a 6.

It was all down hill from there; the game ended as badly for me as the previous F&F session had.

Again, I don't hate the games. But these two sessions made me wonder: why had I lost so badly?

Don't get me wrong. I'm no stranger to losing games. (As readers of this blog probably already know. Hello! Look at the title!) And I rarely blame a game system for my failure to achieve victory. I admittedly take actions to make the game more enjoyable instead of making sound tactical decisions. I'm more concerned about playing an interesting game than I am with winning. I expect that to cost me, and it usually does.

But the Ganesha Games left me feeling like I had little chance of ever winning. After a little fiddling with a Javascript dice-rolling tool I've had kicking around for while, I realized why.

As it turns out, Ganesha's house system works fine when the players' rolls average out. With a little bit of tactics to stack up modifiers, models have a fair chance of defeating enemies of equal Combat score values. It's fairly sound, and I've played games of Mutants & Death Ray Guns in the past that went fairly well.

However, the Ganesha system breaks down when one player is a lucky roller and that player's opponent is a Victim of Venomous FateTM. And that scenario perfectly describes every game between my fiancee and myself. Invariably (well, except when she's not feeling well or is tired), my fiancee bends the dice-rolling bell curve toward the high end. I, on the other hand, bend that curve toward the low end on a regular basis. (I know what you skeptics are thinking, but rest assured that it has nothing to do with the dice themselves. Regardless of which dice are used, the outcome's always the same.) In most games, this is an annoyance, but not a deal breaker.

Not in the case of the Ganesha house system, though. In that system, low rollers have little chance of defeating high rollers, much less removing them from the table. On the other hand, lucky rollers have an excellent chance of not only defeating an enemy, but in removing that enemy from the table. The minor problem of the combat system's win-to-loss ratio is exacerbated by the fact that, with a single roll, even the most powerful model can go from healthy to out of action. In the case of lucky versus unlucky, the unlucky player is going to be fighting an uphill battle to just survive the game, much less win it. That's exactly what happened to my demon, Bugly - despite a power attack (which should have put his enemy at a severe disadvantage) he was utterly decimated because of a single roll of the dice.

Honestly, after thinking about it and looking at the numbers, it seems like my best tactic when facing my fiancee in a Ganesha Games system is to stay out of hand-to-hand combat entirely. Of course, that doesn't help much, because even if I have ranged weapons and she does not (as in the F&F game we played) she's got almost a 1 in 3 chance of not being affected by my attacks. It is (and was, as a practical matter) just a matter of time before I'm forced to engage in melee - and then it's all over.

So, what does this all mean for the larger issue of randomization?

Well, I'm not saying that using dice to add a random aspect to a system doesn't work. But that random aspect has to be mitigated. The system, IMO, should never put a player in the situation I found myself in with Bugly. A unit that tough should never live or die on the merit of a single die roll, unless the system allows for stacking of modifiers based on tactical decisions (much greater stacking than is provided for by Ganesha's system). And even then it's questionable if a single die roll is a good idea...

Ideally, a system that uses randomizers should allow players to roll multiple dice (or draw multiple cards) per combat roll. Necromunda and Malifaux spring to mind as good examples of this. Also, although it's nice and simple to roll everything (win/loss, damage, and effect) into a single combat roll, it's probably not such a good idea to do so. Allowing one roll to determine the fate of a unit - especially a powerful one - doesn't allow a player a chance to recover from the effects of an unlucky roll of the dice. A simple, one-roll system too easily leaves players at the mercy of their dice, and makes tactical decision making take a back seat to the random element. It's also a surefire recipe for leaving a player feeling cheated at game's end.

Mind you, this is all opinion, expressed from my point of view as a player whose dice hate him with an unbridled passion. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Quick Scoreboard Update (and Proof of Life)

Yes, I know the blog's been stagnating - but rest assured I yet draw breath. I moved the family to new digs at the end of last September, and haven't had much opportunity to play since the last post. (Between prepping for the move, then the lack of a nearby game group, there hasn't been much opportunity to play.)

However, over the last month, I've managed to get a few games in. Most noteworthy was the most recent Necromunda session, wherein one of my old gangs ("The Roodboyz") handily bested my trio of opponents. Yay! Another win for the board!

Unfortunately, the month also included four other gaming sessions: another Necromunda session, and one game each of Strange Aeons, Fear & Faith, and Song of Blades & Heroes. All of which - wait for it! - I not-so-handily lost. Boo! Four more losses for the board! (Gee, I sure do suck at miniatures gaming! But at least I have fun.)

So, here's the latest:

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A Hard Won Thing Scoreboard:

2 wins / 2 draws / 15 losses

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