Saturday, April 03, 2010

Games that don't fit the trends

Much of our playtesting lately has been with two quite different space wargames. People like to play, I like where I've gone with them and enjoy watching them (as you know, I rarely play games other than solo tests), but I have great doubts about being able to find a publisher because of the kinds of games they are.

The first, "Doomstar", is a radical development of L'Attaque, which is the close ancestor of Stratego. L'Attaque was patented in France (by a woman) in 1909; Stratego is a slightly-modified post WW II knockoff by a Dutchman. My game "Swords & Wizardry," published around 1980 by the British publishers of L'Attaque, is a considerable development of that game. But Doomstar is very different, far more fluid: fighters (there are many) are weak but two can move in one turn, and move great distances, and they can combine strength to attack the same square. Add to this the slingshot (90 degree turn) effect of "Black Holes" in the center of the board, and all kinds of different games can develop. Add ships with special abilities to vary the game further. The intro game is 18 ships a side and lasts 20 minutes. *I* would say, and others have said, that it's much better than Stratego, with most of the virtues of that game and few of the drawbacks.

There are a few mini-mass market firms to approach, and even the Dutch company that licensed Stratego to the US publisher (now Hasbro). Ultimately I may even try Hasbro just so that Mike Gray can tell me to forget it. Limited possibilities.

Doomstar is about 30 years old, though with significant improvements made since I dug it out of storage a year or two ago.

The other game is "The Star Princes." This started as a turn-based "introductory wargame" after a discussion with the future-publisher of the reissue of Dragon Rage. But it quickly became too complex to be an introductory wargame, though it isn't too complex for video gamers who don't ordinarily play boardgames. On the other hand, it IS too complex for someone who isn't used to playing games about war, too many decisions, whereas Doomstar doesn't present the same problem.

There's a strategic geomorphic board (each section is 25 hexes), and a small tactical hex board for battles. (I'll interject that the strategic boards look great, if I do say so myself.) The strategic board has various locations of economic value, plus black holes, "quasars" (impassable), and dust clouds that limit which ships can enter. Play starts with face-down placement of ships (which are one inch squares) two at a time, in turn. This introduces considerable fog of war, but any ship in a dust cloud must be revealed (to show it can legally be there), any ship in a battle will be revealed, and any ship that moves more than one hex must be revealed (to prove it can legally move there). Sometimes the revealed ships can go into a pile in a hex, and only the top piece can be seen by the opposition.

Unlike Doomstar, which is a tactical battle game, this is a war game, so economics rule. Whichever player gains the upper hand in valuable areas occupied will, in the long run, have more ships. The two player game actually ends when a player's Prince is killed or his "orbital fort" (which cannot move) is destroyed. And surprisingly often, this is what happens, as the player who has fallen behind economically takes desperate measures with his prince, who boosts morale of adjacent ships when in battle. Occasionally the player who is clearly "behind" can pull off a victory thanks to his Prince.

Attacks use the same combat resolution I devised for Valley of the Four Winds more than years ago, two dice, each unit has an attack number and adds the target's defense number. In battles the defender places one ship, then the attacker, and so forth according to simple rules. Then they fire, defender first, one at a time, NOT simultaneous (if a ship is destroyed before it fires, it doesn't get to fire). Most ships have a range of one hex, some two. There's more to it, but I must say the battles work remarkably well. Chance plays a part (there's the legendary Armed Merchantman that defeated a Mothership (fighter carrier) and a Dreadnought in single combat), but if you have the preponderance of force you usually win. Big battles (more than 4 or 5 ships, largest ever was 20) are sometimes spectator events at the NC State game club. You generally start with 11 or 18 pieces, depending on the version.

Tactics are fairly straightforward. Strategy is more important than tactics. Someone with good strategy will beat a poor strategist even if luck is with the latter.

I designed the game for two players and have some neat asymmetric scenarios, but it's as often played with three or four as with two. It's a long game with four, and I can't say it's particularly suitable for four, but people enjoy it that way.

But who sells hex space wargames that require thick pieces that can be manipulated well (face-down and face-up)? No one I can think of. But I sure have enjoyed developing it.

You can click on the article title to get to my "in process" page, where you can see the maps. The Doomstar map is a little out of date, I have eliminated one row at top and bottom.

No comments: