Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wargame Wednesdays: Chitin:I The Harvest Wars

A very interesting topic this week.  Actually four mushed together, but only with minor coverage for each (leaving room for future articles in all four topics).  The four ideas are this - Science Fiction board games, Micro Games, Games based on Biology, and Redesigns of old games. 

Not that kind of Science Fiction board game.
The game covered below is definitely a Science Fiction board game, actually a war game (using a loose definition of a game that conceptually represents two different factions in martial conflict with each other).  It is one of the original batch of Micro Games from the first dedicated publisher in that subgenre.  It is (as you will see) based on Biology (meaning, living units, and the game somehow represents the processes of living units).  And, there is a fantastic modern redesign of the game.

The game I am thinking of is Chitin:I (the Harvest Wars), by Howard Thompson, and published by Metagaming way back in 1977 (the Pleistocene era).  It is a very innovative game concept, being built around two hives of intelligent insects that are at war with each other, over food.  It just so happens that dead intelligent insects are an excellent example of food.

Each army has several different types of insects (fully realized in the advanced rules) that give different capabilities.  Collecting food is how you score victory conditions, and for that you need workers.  But there are also several different types of warrior bugs (each with different strengths) and also flyers, and brains (called Basics) that give a command capacity to the army.

The game came out in the micro game series from Metagaming, meaning it was in a small pocket size, with a small two color map, and a cardboard sheet of counters, and a rulebook.  Originally it was in a plasticene pouch, and the second edition came in a box (with a micro die).  It sold for the unheard of sum of $2.99.  Well, almost unheard of - it was the second game in the series, and the original game was OGRE (I shudder in the awesomeness...) which was in the same format and also sold for $2.99.  Some awesome pictures of the early cover art of both of these (Chitin:I and OGRE) are available at the Microgame Museum, which features data on many of the micrograms (both by Metagaming, and by a host of other companies).

Chitin: I is a remarkable amount of fun to play, but other than the conceptual idea (of bugs warring with each other over food), there really isn't too much new in the game.  Some common hex based wargaming ideas are present - zone of control, movement based on hexes, combat based on a Combat Results Table (CRT).  Some of the innovative things the game did offer - The hex map has Mega-hexes (a larger hex, drawn around some smaller hexes) which regulate movement for flying units.  Also, the facing of a unit matters in this game, which is not true of many other games of this era.  And, of course, dead units become victory objectives (actually, they can be harvested by worker units, for victory points).

So, we have an excellent, if old, game that may or may not be available as a used game, or through a scanned PDF source.  But that is where the idea of game Redesign comes in.  It seems that there are a number of very talented graphics design people who get a real charge out of taking existing games, and redesigning the components for them (sometimes with new art, or sometimes just to rearrange the components into more useful sizes or shapes).  The redesign of Chitin: I by Scott Everts is fantastic.  There is an article about it here, in Scott's blog on Boardgame Geek.  Here is a picture of the (fantastic) finished product.

The new board is fantastic, as are the control charts, and (not pictured) even the game manual.  Scott evidently talked with Paul Jaquays (artist for the original Metagaming game) about redoing the game.  Metagaming itself is long gone, and when he sold the company, after parting ways with Steve Jackson, Howard Thompson (the designer of the game, and the man behind the company) evidently left gaming forever.  Despite numerous attempts by people to get back in touch with him over a number of the old Metagaming designs, he has never shown any interest.  So . . . Scott went to Paul.  Paul was (as described in the article linked to above in Scott's blog) reasonable about letting him have access to the art, and even gave him some new art.  But it didn't work well, being too detailed for the size counters that Scott was doing (note: I love Paul Jaquays art, and always have since his earliest Judges Guild stuff).

(side note about Paul - known to old gamers as one of the most influential of the early fantasy game artists, and designer of fantastic products over the years like Central Casting, Paul had moved on to working in the video game industry, on titles such as HaloWars and others.  He recently - maybe 2011 - underwent a sex change process in his life and is now known as Jennell Jaquays which is mentioned here, because any modern lookup of current art projects for the video game world will most likely come up under the name Jennell.  I personally hope that Jennell continues to create, and to prosper as a designer and artist.)

A great bio of Jaquays is available from Escapist Magazine.  Anyway, the new art that Scott eventually used was from Nick Hayes.  Nick is a very talented graphic designer that makes all sorts of really interesting an innovative game components.  Here is a list (with pictures) of some of his projects.  As a comparison between the 1977 components and the modern Nick Hayes based stuff from Scott, here are the two counter types.


Finally, I should point out that the game, as it exists today, is available in two main forms.  First, you can get the files as downloads through Board Game Geek, and then print them out and assemble them (to as awesome of a level as you like) yourself.  Second, you can purchased a printed version of them from Print and Play Productions, a company that takes print and play (PNP) games from the Geek and other sources and provides professionally made physical components out of them.  Sort of like dealing with Artscow but not having to do the design and upload process yourself.

So, no matter how you get a copy, find a copy of Chitin:I and prepare to defend your hive, by eating your aggressive and dangerous (but oh, so tasty) neighbors.

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