Friday, March 23, 2018

The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly

Last weekend I ran my first wargame for the public. I was attending Hot Lead (Canada's finest miniature wargame convention), and decided at the last minute to put on a game because I heard that they were a little thin on the first night of festivities. The game on Friday went so well that I was asked to put on the "staff game" for Saturday evening. This is an off-menu game that the guys who run Hot Lead play together once the heavy lifting of the conference is over. By custom, it's a pretty raucous affair, with plenty of drink, trash-talk and drink. For me, this was a big honour.

The game I ran was a heavily modified game of Dead Man's Hand using the small battle-board I created to represent the Old West town of Cremation. I called the scenario "The Good, the Bad and the Stubbly." I had to simplify  the rules of Dead Man's Hand so that it would be easier to learn and more suitable for 5 or 6 players. The way I designed the game, each player would control a gang of five miniatures, including one boss and one sharp-shooting lieutenant. 

Criminal mastermind Rector Riggles
The rules modification that I'm most proud of was the system I devised for activation. The original version of DMH uses playing cards to activate individual miniatures, with higher ranking cards activating miniatures first. I liked this system because the playing cards accentuate the Wild West flavour. But I wanted to take it even further. So, I created a new system where the players don't get dealt a random hand of cards with which to activate all of their miniatures. Rather, in my version, the players have to earn their activation cards. They do this by playing a quick game of Blackjack at the start of each turn. Each card they are dealt in the Blackjack game is then used to activate one figure. If a player goes bust in the Blackjack round (i.e. goes over 21), then they lose the card that busted them, plus their lowest other card. If a player hits Blackjack itself (i.e. hits exactly 21) then as a reward they gain an extra card in addition to all the ones that helped them win.

This Blackjack modification worked splendidly. It was quick, and added a spicy element of risk to the simple matter of initiative. A player was assured of activating two of his five miniatures if he played conservatively. But if a player was dealt (let's say) a King-of-Diamonds and a Two-of-Spades, he could gamble for a third activation at risk of busting out. Another advantage of this initiative system is that it contains internal balancing mechanisms. A player might get all five activations if he was dealt a large number of low cards. Although that's good in terms of mobilizing your men, it's bad because all these men are moving late in the round, and DMH is a game where a low initiative is a deadly disadvantage (aka, you're slow on the draw). On the other hand, characters with just two cards will usually be going earlier in the round.

The other element that I added to the game was to create a scenario that involved role-playing elements, with over 20 civilians that the players could interact with in order to obtain victory points or other benefits. I drew up an elabourate spread-sheet, so that every time a player's miniature encountered a civilian, he was given two choices, each with very different consequences. For instance, here's my entry for the town doctor, Dr. Friendly:

The basic scenario is that the sheriff of Cremation, Daniel "Dapper Dan" Alabama has captured the infamous crime-lord Rector Riggles, and is holding him in a cell in his office. One player manages Dapper Dan and his deputies. The other four players control the four outlaw bands who used to work for Rector. They converge on the town but have a lot of options for what to do when they get there: free Rector? kill him? Rob the bank? Terrorize the citizenry? Visit the cat-house? Shoot each other? 

Dr. Friendly meets the outlaw Eli Coffen

In order to get the players used to the idea of interacting with the townsfolk, I wrote up a bunch of random rumours about the town and passed them out at the beginning of the game. This one was my favourite:
I don't want to sound crazy, but I've heard tell that there's a mule in town who can talk. A real live talking mule, just like they have in Yerup! Otis' boy told me that the mule was real smart. 

The staff game on Saturday night was a riot. The outlaws largely ignored Dapper Dan and his captive, instead opting for senseless internecine feuding. Nuns were shot, mules were interrogated, banks robbed and buried treasure discovered. One deputy made a daring run across a corpse-strewn street in order to get Dapper Dan a can of that hair pomade that he likes so much. Even Dr. Friendly got a corpse for his medical experiments. When the dust settled, the winner was James, who is the proprietor of the wargaming blog Rabbits in my Basement and the Chairman of Hot Lead.

Well enough jawing. Here are some pictures taken by Matthew O., my friend and play-tester...

The Game Master hams it up for the players.

Cremation before the carnage starts.

Dapper Dan and his deputies outside the county jail

A table full of activation cards!

Bad Bart tries to kill some goats (?) because a talking mule (??) promised him 3 wishes (???).

The winning team: Diego's Desperados!

A big thanks to the Hot Lead team!

My appreciation goes to all the players, and especially to my play-testers (Stephen, Matthew O., David, Peter, and Travis) who greatly helped me to refine the game for public consumption, and Konrad for moral support.

And check out some of the other write-ups about Hot Lead from some friends of Oldenhammer-in-Toronto, including posts by James and Hot Dice Miniatures.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Painted miniatures for the Fallout board game

Hello fellow Vault Dwellers! I've finished painting the five characters for the Fallout board game. We have the Mutant, the Ghoul, the Vault Dweller, the Scavenger and the Brotherhood Exile. Each survivor is roughly 30mm in scale and modeled out of the semi-satisfactory plastic that thrives in board games published by Fantasy Flight Games.

Like anyone who was old enough to left-click on a mouse in 1997, I fell in love with the original Fallout computer game. There was the splendid isometric (or trimetric?) graphics, the wide sand-box of a world, the deep character development. This was all splendid but if that was all was offering, it would perhaps have been overshadowed just one year later by Black Isle Studio's other flagship game, Baldur's Gate (1998). But what made Fallout truly special was its sense of humor.

For a post-apocalyptic world, it wasn't merely Mad-Max or The Omega Man. It was (in the surprisingly accurate words of Wikipedia)  an "atompunk retrofuturistic setting and artwork are influenced by the post-war culture of 1950s America". Like the best work of David Lynch, Fallout makes you see two images at the same time: the picture perfect American dream of wholesome progress, and the self-destructive amorality seething beneath the Norman Rockwell facade. But unlike David Lynch (or Norman Rockwell), Fallout has gatling lasers.

If you haven't played fallout and don't know exactly what I mean, all of this is encapsulated into the excellent little introduction video to the original Fallout (or, for that matter, the introduction video to Fallout 2). It's all there: the sappy music (Ink Spots, Satchmo, Bing Crosby), the cheery visage of the "Vault Boy", the consumerism, and -- of course -- the desolation. I never got around to playing the more recent versions of the computer games, but when I heard that there was a board game coming, I jumped to buy it.

I'm happy to report that the game is a worthy scion of its mighty ancestors. It might not quite have as mordant a sense of humor, but it makes up for it by creating a story-driven game with cascading moral choices, criss-crossing plots and a real sense of setting. As an added bonus, it plays just as well solo as it does with three or four players. And it's the only game I know of where you're character gets addicted to drugs. So let's look at the five survivors...

Painted miniature of the Vault Dweller, Fallout Board Game

First up is the Vault Dweller... one of the lucky few who survived the nuclear holocaust unscathed by hiding in a self-sustaining bomb shelter. Thus he wears the distinctive blue and yellow Vault Suit. However, it appears he's been wandering above ground for a little while, because over his jumpsuit are fragments of more primitive armour: metal plates, leather straps and rivets. I also like his beaten up rifle (or is it a Red Ryder BB Gun?).

Painted miniature of the Ghoul, Fallout Board Game

Next we have the Ghoul. In the world of Fallout, Ghouls are not so much undead as they are undying. They're humans that were so ravaged by radiation that even though their skin and flesh was flayed away, their metabolism mutated in such a way as to not only keep them alive but to greatly extend their lifespan. This miniature nicely encapsulates the tragedy of Ghouldom. The natty suit indicates a concern for civilized niceties, but the nightmarish face is sure to be shunned by all.

Painted miniature of the Mutant, Fallout Board Game

And then there's the Mutant. I wanted to make him look truly freakish, so I painted his skin the colour of a blue Freezie.

Painted miniature of the Brotherhood Exile, Fallout Board Game

Above is the Brotherhood Exile. He wears the distinctive power armour of the Brotherhood of Steel, a sort of religio-technical community of templar wannabes. I tried to give his armour a slightly worn feeling without going rust crazy.

Painted miniature of the Scavenger, Fallout Board Game

And finally, we have the Scavenger. She is, by far, my favourite: I like her insouciant pose, the expression on her face, and the details in her model. I wanted to really bring out the motley in her outfit, so the first thing I did was give her a pink poodle skirt of the kind that was popular in the 1950's. To this I added woolen work socks, a denim vest and a camouflage head-scarf. I'm happy with how it turned out. It's a strange day when a man says to himself, "Yes! I finally nailed that poodle skirt!"

Painted miniatures for Fallout Board Game FFG

Thanks for dropping by!