Saturday 6 September 2014

Series 2 games - Micro Warfare

Ok, gone off the boil recently, work gets in the way of writing... so some '83 stuff to catch up on, there really was a lot going off including; Wargames Illustrated, Challenger, Tercio and mould making, and then I'll get onto whatever was going on in '84, but first I'll finish off the TTG history lessons for awhile, before moving onto more time related stuff...

page one, slightly damaged/aged
The next step for TTG back then in the mid-70's was the Micro Warfare Series, known as the Series 2 games, and if what Bob had done with the Series 1 games was strip the flab from American board games of the period, what he tried to do with the Micro Series games, was in a way even more radical.

Mirco Warfare Series games, Ancient Mediaeval, Napoleonic, Colonial, three Naval games (Napoleonic, WW1 and WW2) as well as a Sci-fi ground warfare game, reduced everything from the traditional wargame, the rules, the playing pieces, the terrain, everything, to the barest minimum necessary for play, turning expensive and difficult to find miniatures and terrain into card counters, and giving you everything necessary to play in an 16 page A5 booklet, with record sheets, and cut-out and keep counters, in a sleeve in the dust jacket.

Once again the rules were all Bob's, although I bet the Nottingham club had helped with the play testing, and Roger Heaton supplied the art work, and both still stand up to closer inspection. Bob had a knack for writing just enough detail into the rules to enable fun, flowing play, and Roger does wonders with 70's-printed black and white line drawings, character and action in such a small production can't have been easy...

I don't know whether Bob would thank me for saying this, or even acknowledge the existence of the word, but what he was doing, and continued to do all his working life, was democratize gaming. He was a great believer in trying to get everyone playing games, and this is what the Series 2 games did best. The rules were pocket money prices,  £1 each, and extra armies even less... you could have bought all 5 extra Napoleonic armies for less than a couple of quid... and the games themselves were pocket sized... micro even... no need for huge table, or massive amounts of toy soldiers. Everyone could play.

Which brings me to a point of contention, whilst I was looking at the Wikipedia page for Micro Games I read that...
...but TTG's Mirco Series pre-dates this release by a couple of years, and it is possible that they would have been on sale, and known to American gamers before 1977 and the Metagaming release, making TableTop Games the first to introduce the word Micro into gaming...

French and British Napoleonic ready for play

So I'm off to edit the Wikipedia, and when I get back, I'll finish off with the 1983 stuff that I mentioned above, and then onto 1984...

Monday 9 June 2014

Series 1 games

I think Bob's first love was for board games, even into the 80's he would argue that Avalon Hill's Stalingrad was the best game ever made,and I'm sure that at some point in the period between '73 and '81, TTG did in fact produce a board game, called Wild West, but on the whole I think that full-sized, boxed games, were beyond the scope of a small company like TTG at that time.

Cover by Rodger Heaton
So what Bob, and Rodger, did for their first game release was strip away all the flabby excess of the American tactical Board game, the board (!!!), the die-cut counters (players cut-out their own printed ones), and the box, and instead, produced a game in a zip-seal bag, that could be played on any flat-ish surface and packed away into a (duffel) coat pocket.

In what order, Galactic War, MTB, U Boat,and Ballistic Missile were designed and released, I don't know, something makes me want to say that they were all done at the same time in '73/4, which would have been quite an organisational achievement for a small company, but regardless, these four Series 1 games were TTG's first pop at the gaming market.

Series 1 game
MTB (Motor Torpedo Boat) and U-Boat show Bob's Naval fascinations coming to the fore, I suppose its not surprising that as a child of the 40's and 50's, World War II, and  the Navy with all it history and traditions played, such a part in his life. MTB is set in the English Channel in the mid-war period and U-boat under it, but both are very (too) similar games in out look, groups of small craft against each other in encounter battles with weapons and damage recorded on record sheets.

Fun with nukes '70's style
The only one of these games that I had played before working with Bob was Galactic war, a sci-fi ship combat to ship combat, which I suppose again owed a lot to Bob's interest in Naval gaming. I can't say it particularly grabbed me, the ships on both sides were too same-y and looked like ELO's space ship from the Out of the Blue LP cover, a bit dated in the 80's, but it was a reasonably good game and played out in 45 minutes to an hour...

Image nicked from Noble Knight Games

Ballistic Missile is only one of the four basic games that was a based on Naval warfare, it being a Cold War gone hot, shoot out, with counters, rules and record sheets all yours for the princely sum of 75p.

The thing that strikes me now and has really struck me before about these games is Rodger's art work. His covers, especially MTB and Ballistic Missile have a good deal of 'dash' about them, which can't have been easy to achieve in the two colours that they were printed in.

I am unsure of the current availability of these TTG products, if anyone has pdf copies of them I'd be delighted to see them.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Tabletop Games

Ok, well the previous posts clears the Old School games out of the way, and I can get into the meat of the next stage of this blog.

Tabletop Games, had been a new comer to the wargames scene in the early 70's, Kate told us (new boys) that the company had grown out of Bob's dissatisfaction with the currently available wargames rules for the Napoleonic period that he playing at competitive level at that time.
Quite what his beef was with the sets they were using I never got to the bottom of, ask him and you get a mumbled responses about "riflemen lying down" and the only way you could "kill them, was with Lancers..."  quiet why this got at him I have no idea... but it did, so when in 1973 Bob won the National Napoleonic title, and I assume, as part of team, was invited to host the following years tournament, he threw away the old rule set and wrote his own.

Bob's rules for Napoleonic warfare were used at the 1974 National Championship.At first they were just given away to competitors, but reaction must have been favourable, because shortly after they were being published by the infant Tabletop Games.
Cover by Rodger Heaton

Tabletop in seems was a partnership at its inception, Bob of course wrote the rules, and the other Partner, Rodger Heaton did all the illustrations.
Kate also told a tale about Richard Butler being there at the start of the company, but not becoming a partner in the business at the last moment because of the finance necessary.
Richard would later go on to write his own set of Napoleonic wargames rules used for National Championship games, To the Sound of the Guns, which TTG published, and Bob and He would remain firm friends.
Richard was one of the few people who wouldn't stop when arriving at the shop, he'd hustle on through to the back rooms without stopping, not even noticing the bemused wooden-top shop assistant sitting on the stool, with his speechless mouth open...

When or how the split with Rodger occurred I don't know; all the early games (series 1 & series 2) had an address given as Ruddington, which is a couple of miles outside central Nottingham, which I'm assuming is his, and all these early games, and many of the early rule sets published, used his illustrations as covers, or scattered though-out the text. By the late 70's Rodger seems to have dropped out of TTG leaving Bob and Kate as the sole proprietors, to run the business from the home on Acton Road in Arnold.

OK then, back after a short break, with the early TTG micro-games, and all the other products of the late 70's and early 80's

Interested in reading Bob's Napoleonic rules?
Check them out here on Scribd.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Combat 3000

As much as I was fighting shy the previous post then this one is a much more cherished task.
Of all the games that I played before leaving school, this, a sci-fi skirmish set in the distant future, was the one that really fired me up...

Written by Halliwell and Priestly in 1979, it flung gamers into a universe of possibilities some of which were trailed on the inside as including...

"Command a squad of Star troopers, blast your way into the Galaxies richest banks and out of the strongest and most infamous jails. Boldly go where no man had probably gone before, swap insults with exotic aliens, then swap blows with insulted aliens..."

Front cover by Tony Yates

Which all sound great to me as a kid raised on Dr Who, UFO, Space 1999 and just discovering The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Combat 3000 seemed like an ideal jumping off point for the whole universe...

Not that there was a whole universe inside the rule book, this was a TTG product and the whole thing ran to 32 pages long, with just three alien races (plus humans) for the players to get there teeth into; Trimotes, three armed apes, lifted shamelessly from Larry Niven's 'A Mote in God's eye', Maniblax, bipedal insectoids, and Zarquins, which had a more alien hive-mind thing going on, but this was enough, along with what seemed like an endless list (50+) of lasers and blasters to arm your soldiers, and loads of armour and secondary weaponry to add, the game lent itself to highly personal squads.

Once again, looking back, the rules themselves were quite complex, a percentile system with everything; (range, movement, target size and situations, types of weapon,  types of fire; aimed indirect, covering, conditions etc) adding or subtracting from the chance to hit, and then all that armour and variable weapon effects to take into account for damage, once a hit had been achieved... which lead to quite small intense games, 6 - 10 each minis a side on a 4 feet square area would take a few hours for us to get through, with each -5% for being hotly (childishly) contested, each move/shot/throw or melee vital...

Space Marine by Nick Bibby
I suppose that I shouldn't be surprised that this game played so sweetly, and that I became so enamoured with it, Halliwell went on to become THE greatest British game designer of his generation, with a list of credits that include; Warhammer Fantasy Battle, and it's highly regarded but less well supported sister game, Warhammer Fantasy Role-play, Battlecars, the most entertaining car-wars game ever, and of course the classic Space Hulk.

This was also the first game I played outside school, the time needed play meant we (Simon, Mark, a lad called Richard Purseglove and I) had to meet up on Saturdays to play at each other's houses. In fact the only time Andy Chambers ever came to my house, was to play was a game of Combat 3000, he arrived an hour or so late, mocked my rudimentary modelling skills on a future-tank I'd made, and then nuked the playing field from some cool looking space-fighter he'd scratch built.

Which cuts to the heart of what I loved about Combat 3000, and the problem with Sci-fi gaming in general. This is summed up in a quote from Ripley in the Aliens movie... present with an insumountable number of menacing monster aliens she says..."I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit?", in that, in the far-future whole planets can be whipped-out at the press of a button, or alien cities reduced to dust by half a dozen power-armoured Space Marines with imploding mini-nukes, so that minor conflicts can't/shouldn't exist, without some kind of narrative to drive the game forward, scifi gaming becomes a power gamers dream.

Trimote, by Nick Bibby

How much better then, not to use all those high-end future weapons (Imperial Arsenals, the standard weapon of Imperial troops, +18% to hit, +5 damage effect!) "check your blasters at the door", and duke it out with pistols and laser sabres, rather than to fight armoured combats, with roughly man-shaped future tanks... Battletech anyone?

Combat 3001 was released in 1981, this time authored by Halliwell alone, and although it did add more depth to our imaginary future worlds; gravities, vehicles, more weapon types, more Aliens, it didn't really add anything much to the gaming experience, and apart from Laserburn, British Sci-fi gaming was heading to the doldrums for half a decade or so...

Future-Cafe from the inside cover of Combat3001, reportedly showing the Asgard crowd responsible for the game
Interested in reading these veteran rule-sets?
Check them out here on my Scribd page. Combat 3000, Combat 3001

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Middle Earth

Ok, so then you look up and a month has flown by and I've not updated the blog... and...

Well to tell the truth I've been fighting shy of this one, coz the rule set that I found next in my lil'life in miniatures is Middle Earth, written by the South London Warlords and published by Skytrex in 1976, a wargame in the style that WRG were producing in the same period, and obviously based on Tolkien's world in Lord or the Ring et al.
the only picture from this 1976 publication

Now I had no trouble with the rules, slightly less involved than D&D but by no means simple, or the wargames aspect, it made a change to line up the few dozen minis we had in little warbands and advance them at each other, rather than 'roleplay' with them.

Where the issue lay was with the whole Tolkien background, implied but not exactly explained in the rules, a world similar to the one of my D&D experience, Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, even Dragons are allowed for in the rules, but there seemed to be so much more...

And this off is course the problem...
Of there is "so much more", because Tokien's world is huge, vast, a history and a mythology of a continent, over 1000's of years, and I hadn't read a single word of it...
I wanted to play, I loved the idea of battling armies of dwarves and elves but I was a complete wooden-top where Tolkien was concerned. 
"No..." Simon Maze would cry "...Nazgul do not have wings..." as I tried to rope in my Ral Patha demons as the Dark Lords servants...

a better draughtsman than writer?
It wouldn't be another three or four years (after I left school) before I even attempted to read LotR, even then it took me a couple if attempts to get through it, and as anyone who has known me at all in the last 30 years will probably be able to tell you, I am not a fan of JRR.

I find there is just 'too much' LotR; the prose is leaden, the plot drawn out, and the dialogue stilted, I admire the scope of the book, and his work in general, bringing together all the tradition elements of the myths of Northern Europe into one whole as he does, you can't doubt he knew his stuff but, but, but...

Like a huge Christmas dinner, where with the need to accommodate everyone's favourite tradition goes into the meal, it gets larger and denser with every element added, until the whole thing is fit to burst... Now everyone likes a blow-out meal now and then, but Tolkien servers his spicy stodge all the time, page after page for 100's of pages...
Ok, ok, ok, I know it's not a popular opinion, and in the Geek World in which I live, it is almost considered heresy to say you aren't a fan, but there ya'go, I can't lie to you folks can I?

So, my introduction to The Master comes not from his great work, or his kids intro book, or the film (the Bakshi version kids, go ask your Mum) or some other kind of tie-in product (like there were any), but this little fan made rule set.

Check out my copy of Middle Earth here on Scribd

Ral Partha Demons, not Nazgul.

Next Combat 3000, where stealing ballpoint pens on far away worlds, is a distinct possibility.

Wednesday 22 January 2014

D&D the game that changed the world

Well if this blog is going to be about Games and Gaming then we might as well start with the biggy, the daddy of all modern fantasy games, the system which launched a thousand imitators and made stars of its creators, writers and artists...

Dave Arneson
Dungeons & Dragons is, this year in its fortieth year, and fifth or sixth incarnations . It's creators, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, both of whom are now dead  had the genius idea of marrying, role-playing, a previously little known psychology and management tool, with escapist fantasy story telling, and traditional tabletop miniature and board games, to create a game like no other of its time...

The earliest versions of the game, simply called Dungeons & Dragons, or Chainmail, seem to have had an effect not unlike the Velvet Underground's early LP's, or the Sex Pistol's gig in Manchester 1976, not many people bought records or heard them play live, but everyone who did went away and started their own bands, or in this case their own game systems... The game was that inspirational.

Gygax, great dress sense too...
But what was it that inspired so many people? There was little in the way of story, background or plot for a modern role-player to get their teeth into, the rule system although quite complex for its time, and becoming increasing dense with each new edition, were really little more than a combat system and list of spells and their effects, it's surprising to look back at those rules now and read "the DM's word is final" and accept we live/gamed in worlds with no fixed rules.

When I got to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons as it was called, in the late 70's TSR monstrous baby was seeming huge, they had a whole world, Grayhawk, for gamers to explore, but wafer thin, huge areas were pencilled in with mountains or dessert, cities and kingdoms but very little detail was given, not even 'Here be Dragons' to aid the Characters or DM in their quests to adventure into this new world... and even where D&D did give you a grand plot or over arching scenario to discover and work through, such as in the now legendary G1/2/3,D1/2/3,Q1 campaign, the action takes place outside of the Greyhawk continuum, and outside the rest of TSR's output (other modules) completely.

my first D&D character,
in Andy Chambers's hand writing
Later as the system and the Company behind it grew, TSR became more prescriptive about its worlds and the mythos within them, they spoon fed gamers with Dragonlance, or Ravenloft, or Shadowrun or... but somehow giving us more detail, they restricted the imagination of  the gamer, they corralled  everybody, 1000's of us, all locked into the same 10' wide corridors fighting the same Liche Lords or Tentacle walls.

And although this gave people of a certain age, a shared experience, it also reduced creativity at the base level of the game, the stand alone role-play group and it's DM.
Today Dungeons & Dragons is huge, more people play now than ever have before, the conventions are better attended, gaming groups are growing and TSR's parent company knows that if it continues to nurture its brand with new product and continued support, the game will run and run...
12 pages of black & white print, and few drawings

So if you're a gamer, or modeller, or even a collector of fantasy and sci-fi metal models, and you've not already contributed to the Gygax memorial, or raised a toast to Dave Arneson and those ground breaking early guys, can I suggest you do so, salute D&D; the game that changed the world.