Thursday, September 12, 2013

Flying Aces of World War I

When I was a youngster (9? 10?), I read Gene Gurney's fantastic book, "Flying Aces of WW I".  It established a life long fascination with those magnificent young men and their flying machines - the aerialists of the various military forces in the Great War.  I should point out that the book is just as old as I am - we were both first unleashed on an unsuspecting world, back in 1965.

While on a trip, this past week, back to my old hometown (Newport News, Virginia), I met up with a few wargamers who used to belong to the grand old wargaming club of Newport News, ODMS.  Alas, ODMS exists no longer, but we got together anyway and played at World's Best Comics.  The game that we played? Wings of War.  John Snelling who hosted the game, is a member of the Friday Night wargaming group Wings of War Nouvelles du Nouveau Port ("Wings of War Newport News").

Wings of War (now Wings of Glory, due to the game transferring from one publisher to another) is a fantastic game, and is the inspirational basis for the Star Wars: X Wing Miniatures game and the new Star Trek: Attack Wing game, both with some changes from the original.  The game has been very well supported, with multiple versions of the base game available.  It is playable out of the box with very nice, full color counters for each plane, and decks of cards for maneuver and shooting, and measuring sticks for combat range.  In addition, a very large, and continuing to be supported, line of miniature aircraft (1:144 scale) are available.  Each aircraft comes with a maneuver deck, and a clear plastic stand the illustrates things like the firing arc, and the deck type the aircraft uses for maneuver and shooting.

In Wings of War (the title I came to know the game under, and the version that I own), you pilot individual aircraft, each with their own behavior characteristics, although a single player may actually control more than one aircraft.  The individual characteristics are these: Different gunnery ability (signified by a letter, which determines which deck of cards to draw from when shooting), different maneuver ability (signified by different decks of maneuver cards, each deck making different maneuvers available for a player to select from, when moving his aircraft; more nimble planes are reflected by having maneuvers that reflect such; more powerful planes have maneuvers that reflect moving further in the same period of time), and each type of aircraft is different by having a different amount of damage it can take.

Additional sets of planes and rules have been released under each version of the game, allowing for other types of air combatants, other than the typical (and iconic) single engine fighter (biplane, triplane, or monoplane).  Those additional units include bombers, exotic fighters, and even balloons.

The game is lightweight, but is extremely satisfying to play.  It scales very large (so you can have large groups of pilots flying in the same game, the only limit is getting gamers all piled up together to control their fighters in tight dogfights.  It gives you the basics that you need to play a dogfighting game - a simple (intuitive) way to move/maneuver, and a simple (intuitive) way to handle combat.  What makes this so satisfying is that - (1) being able to maneuver, with limited field of fire weapons, leads to actual dogfighting, where players are trying to out think and out maneuver each other, and (2) the ability to shoot at each other gives an immediate feedback as to how well the contest is going, because you can get a feel for how much damage (in this game, in terms of how many damage cards, even if you don't know the value of each) each other is taking.

This is a very successful mix, and gives enough for a fun game.  The interactions between the players, and any scenarios that are used to give structure to the basic game (fly and shoot), mean that there is an easy way to ensure re-playability.  But, really, this lowest common denominator (move and shoot) is enough for this sort of game.  It has been used in a bunch of other similar games, all very successful.

Those include Blue Max (from GDW; now released as Canvas Eagles), although Blue Max adds some more complication to the Shooting mechanism, by introducing multiple hit locations on the aircraft, rather than a simple damage total.

Other WWI flying games where it has been done are Richthofen's War (Avalon Hill), Dogfight (Milton Bradley), Red Baron (Wargamer magazine) and Knights of the Air (TSR). An argument can also be made that the flip book game, Ace of Aces (Flying Buffalo) is of this family of games.

Each of these games adds some minor variations to the basic Shoot and Move mix.  Some use dice, some use cards, Ace of Aces uses a clever, integrated system of looking up page numbers in a book, based on what existed conditions prevail when the decision to move is made.  Some use hexes, some use free movement.  One thing that gets added to each of these games, which I really don't believe is necessary, is the aspect of Altitude.  This is not necessary, in my opinion, for the basic fun mix of Shooting and Moving.  It tends to lengthen the game, and doesn't really add too much to the basic move/shoot mix.  The same thing was true of the old Superior Models' game Starfleet Wars.  The effort to implement altitude changes, and the ability to maneuver in the third dimension, as well as the changes to shooting - just ain't worth the hassle.

Now, to all of this, I would suggest that another game that falls into this niche (and there are many, many) is the game Car Wars.  It is a dogfighting game, especially when played in an arena, involving the ability to Move an Shoot.  Of course, it is not as simple as the games listed here, but in its basic form, it ALMOST is.  Good news for fans of Car Wars - once Steve Jackson Games is done with the new version of OGRE (getting it all shipped out, which should be finished, finally, in the Autumn of 2013), they are going to do a monster box version of Car Wars.  Hooray!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Most Awesome Gaming Accessory Ever

Doodle Stitch Tablecloth

A tablecloth, with a Graph Grid on it, that you can write on, and erase it in the laundry.

 How awesome is that?

It is by a company from the UK called Stitch, and it is a product line called Doodle by Stitch.

Because, being able to fill your whole dining room table with this -

Would be the most excellent thing to do over a weekend, that I could think of!!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Gaming weekend in Clemmons

The entire staff of Gaming with Chuck (except for the two Battle Cats, who stayed behind at GwC headquarters, to defend against the encroaching hordes) took a journey from Columbus GA up to Clemmons NC, to engage in a weekend of Bacchanalian Ludo-Revelry.  The games played included a variety of board and card games, as well as loads of roleplaying.

Roleplaying Games

The roleplaying consisted of two sessions of Labyrinth Lord, and one session of D&D Next.  Yours truly ran the sessions of Labyrinth Lord (on Friday evening, and also during the day on Saturday).
Dan Proctor's wonderful clone game, that copies early D&D so very well
The Friday night session followed a character building session for folks who didn't have characters.  That included two GwC staff members (Anita and Heidi) as well as.  It was to be the first RPG session ever for Heidi, although she has grown up playing all sorts of games, and hearing her parents and all the friends of the family talk about the RPG aspect of the hobby.  She chose to create, and play, a 1st level Gnome Thief.  The session involved a bridge crossing (with a goblin ambush), some outdoor encounters, and was going to culminate in a short dungeon adventure, but the evening ended before the gaming did.  The action was loosely based in the Gran March of the World of Greyhawk.

Section of the phenomenal Darlene map for World of Greyhawk
Heidi's character, the Gnome Thief (named Trixie) was not the only newly created character for the evening,  the other players all had new 1st level characters - including Anita rolling up a 1st level female Dwarf fighter named Badb Bigaxe.  Carol had a half elf Ranger called Dil (her name was much longer, and extremely elven, but Dil is a nice nickname).  Marcy played an Elven Druid called Glengaraeth.  Rachel also played a Druid called Aerilyn.  John played a Magic User.

The Saturday day session, featured an installment in the ongoing Greyhawk campaign (detailed, moderately, over at the Sword and Potion blog) that I run.  This featured four of the five regular weekly players being present face to face, as well as one player being present via Google Hangouts (he couldn't travel to Clemmons).  In addition to the Wednesday Night All Stars, we had some additional players.  Heidi and Anita had their characters, Trixie the Gnome, and Badb the Dwarf, upped to 2nd level (for survivability reasons) and they joined the fray.  Also, Dil and Aerilyn joined the group, allowing Carol and Rachel to join the game (they were also bumped to 2nd Level).  John and Marcy are regular players on Wednesday nights, so they switched over to their regular characters (John plays a halfling thief named Flinders, and Marcy plays an Elven cleric named Rhysgil).

Saturday's adventure was a continuation (and part sidebar) of this much larger group, along the main campaign quest, to investigate a curious dungeon located inside the Rushmoors.  The Rushmoors is a swamp that lies over what was once the heart of the Occluded Empire of Vecna.  One of the most noteworthy locations in the Rushmoors is the Black Tower (or Rotted Tower), which was once the capitol of the Empire.  The characters in this campaign, however, are seeking a curious spot inside the fetid and evil swamp, where a curious dragon ship has crashed into the heart of a huge and ancient cypress tree.  This ship has opened up a portal to another world, and is called "The Ship between the Worlds" - also the name of the adventure path the players are following.  This sidebar adventure is inside the Rushmoors, but the dungeon is one where a curious little tribe of fishmen (not too different from Kuo Toa) have an underground temple.  The players invaded, began investigating, and disrupted the nest of evil.  The adventure wasn't finished, but it was a fun time for a long Saturday afternoon of gaming.

A different version of Greyhawk, this time showing the Rushmoors, lower left.
Sunday's gaming was run by John, and was a short adventure using the latest playtest package of D&D Next.  I made up a character - hailing from the city of Dyvers, at the northern edge of the Gnarley Forest, named "Robin of the Gnarley Wood".  The character has a heavy Errol Flynn influence and was quite fun to play as a swashbuckling bravo!
Robin of the Gnarley Wood
There were all new characters around - Steve with a wizard, Rachel with a Druid, Marcy with a Cleric, Heidi repeating her Gnome Thief, Rowdy with a Monk, and Carol repeating her Elven Ranger.  It was fun to play, but it still doesn't feel like AD&D (or D&D) to me, yet.

Board Games

A wonderful weekend of gaming, that also included some board and card games.  We played a game of Eight Minute Empire.  This is turning out to be quite a fun little game, I can't wait for the release of the successor (which I backed) to come out - Eight Minute Empire Legends from kickstarter.

We also played a game of When Zombies Attack. This is a new dice game based on the players trying to survive a zombie attack.  Slightly different than the (superior) Zombie Dice game from Steve Jackson Games, where the players are themselves Zombies, trying to collect Brains.  This game has the dice representing Zombies, and the players trying (through dice rolls) to get rid of the Zombies.  If a player survives a whole round being zombie (dice) free, then they are the winner.  In one or two respects it is superior to Zombie Dice, but in general, I think it will not surpass the original.  The biggest advantage, is not having to keep score.  But, I have heard that it is easy to keep score in Zombie Dice, if one uses little plastic brains or skulls (or similar) instead of writing the score on paper.  Must try.

Finally the group played a round of The Resistance.  This was a fun game as a filler between the long Labyrinth Lord session on Saturday, and the evening activity (which was a ctered BBQ dinner and a group viewing of "The Avengers" at Steve's wonderful home theater at his house in Greensboro).  We had a great time playing Resistance, even though it was a new game to most of the players.  Everyone fell into it right away, with lots of accusations and paranoia out of the gate.  It was a seven player game, and the Government Spies won!!  Treachery!