Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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Family Business (Service compris)
Enjoyable card game of warring gangs. Players each have nine gangsters as well as five action cards. Action cards have the power to put other player gangsters "up against the wall". When six or more are against the wall, a mob war begins and the gangster at the head of the queue is shot at the start of each turn. This queue is a clever idea as it takes on a maddening life of its own as players frantically try to extricate their gangsters or consider adding those of other players to the list. Tactically, it is usually a good idea to play on the opponent immediately to the right since if the action is cancelled, it will be this player's turn next, followed by your own. Guillotine was a later similar game by the same designer. Service compris is a 1997 re-publication in France. [Take That! Card Games]
Fantasy Trip, The
Fantasy role-playing system based on earlier hex-based wargames Melee and Wizard. Background material for the system was more lacking than those of others, but it made up for this by being more playable and offering a more realistic "feel". The hex-based boards seem to offer more options for facing and movement in combat, although does make rooms look awkward. The board does help to keep down disputes about distance, however, compared to those systems which use a boardless, miniatures-based "inch-by-inch" distance and location system. Basic characteristics were reduced to just Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence as well, which may have cut back a bit too far, but do simplify matters. Emphasis here, coming from its roots in wargames, is definitely on conflict and overall it was the RPG of choice for those coming from more of a wargaming background due to features such as six-sided dice only, decisions resolved by rule not by whim of game master, attention to laws of physics, etc. In many ways the system was largely undercut by its own publisher. Designer Steve Jackson later lost control of the game due to a disagreement with the publisher and went on to create the role-playing system GURPS. Supplements not discussed here include Death Test 2, Forest Lords of Dihad, Master of the Amulets, Orb Quest, Tollenkar's Lair, Treasure of Unicorn Gold, Treasure of the Silver Dragon, and Warrior Lords of Darok.
Fantasy Trip, The: Death Test
Role-playing supplement in which warriors who "clean" out a set of underground areas get to join the army of, a powerful warlord, rank dependent on how well they do. An interesting test with some nicely-programmed situations which are something like puzzles that the players need to solve together. None of the opponents are spellcasters and players who don't like magic can thus choose not to use it either. Not much replay value once successfully completed. Folow-up Death Test 2 is more of the same, except that magic is required. Requires one to three hours.
Fantasy Trip, The: Grail Quest
Role-playing supplement has players taking the roles of King Arthur's knights (i.e. experienced characters) crossing the countryside in search of the legendary Holy Grail. Somewhat distinctively from most programmed adventures, there are considerable rules regarding how characters may behave. For example, it is unchivalrous to use poison or potions. Characters must pay their debts and cannot flee a fair fight. Good, solid adventure.
Guy McLimore; Metagaming; 1980; 1-5
Fantasy Trip, The: Security Station
Role-playing supplement set in a post-nuclear holocaust fallout shelter. One innovation is that the area is poor in metals thus the players must roll randomly to see what weapons are available. Full advantage is also taken of the "high tech" nature of the area which sometimes warps the way that magic works. It would have been nice however if more imagination had been devoted to the monsters which are often just the usual giants, dragons and so on. Recovering odd bits of metal is major treasure in this scenario.
Far Seas, The
Two-player magazine wargame simulating the operations of the eight German cruisers caught at sea at the outbreak of World War I and the British, French, Japanese and Russian ships operating against them. Readers of The Last Cruise of the Emden will be familiar with this topic. The map is worldwide. Light and flavorful, but unfortunately marred by poorly-written rules. [summary]
Fast Carriers
Two player wargame of navy operations in the Pacific Ocean during World War II. The basic unit of strategic movement is the task force and there are innovative rules for search including amusing rules instructing "lie freely concerning your whereabouts". At the tactical level, there are displays to efficiently organize, for example, the launch, use and landing of carrier aircraft. Interesting system simulates several different prominent battles. May run rather long.
Fatal Alliances
Wargame simulating the First World War using the maps and simplified concepts from the World War II game World in Flames. Although an interesting idea, neither of the two editions of this experiment work very well. The morale rules weigh heavily against the Central Powers, for the fall of the Ottoman Empire triggers a domino effect that causes its allies to fall ahistorically quickly. Worse, it is rather easy for the Entente to bring the Ottoman Empire down. It probably would have been better had a new game been designed for the different realities of 1914 instead.
Federation & Empire
Campaign wargame designed to go along with Starfleet Battles, the tactical spaceship game based on the Star Trek television series. Comes with two options, either abstract combat on the galactic board or as a scenario generator for battles to be resolved tactically. The latter is what Starfleet Battles very much needs, but to actually play it would require many, many hours. Prior to publication I had actually invented and conducted a campaign with my own rules which I still tend to prefer as more flavorful.
Multi-player abstract somewhat akin to Chess, as a grid and pieces with special powers are used. Piece types include the King, the Squire, Spearmen, Sergeants, Cavalry (includes the Prince, the Duke, and two Knights) and the Archer. Very intricate as well as difficult to plan as so many changes occur on the board between turns.
Battery-operated action game featuring lava-colored marbles rising from a rotating "volcano". The four players operate a mechanism to block the marbles from entering their area and instead shoot them into those of their opponents. Any player who fails to block six marbles has his flag fall down (although not reliably) and cannot win, but may still continue to participate. The player with the fewest marbles wins. The mechanism is not foolproof and over-enthusiastic players can too easily shoot marbles completely out of the playing area. [Goliath Games]
Once upon a time boardgames were adapted for use on the computer. With this one, we see the reverse as a "get weapons and shoot 'em up" is converted for the table. The luck factor is high, not just in whether one gets a good weapon or gadget, but whether one can get any at all. There is more luck involved in where one appears after being fragged. At the same time it seems doubtful that fans of the genre can get similarly excited without the music, sound and special effects that normally accompany the digital versions. One can admire the simple and clean ways in which the three statistics Health, Accuracy and Speed all work together in a smoothly-realized system, the sort of thing publisher Steve Jackson already excelled at long ago in games like Melee and Wizard. Surprising that a more realistic simultaneous movement system is not employed. Large "cardboard heroes" with stands work well on the two-sided paper board. Artwork is acceptable and appropriate for the genre. It would have been nice to avoid repeatedly printing or photocopying throwaway status sheets. And the more dice the better as they also help as tracking devices for expendable ammunition. Two expansion sets, Death Match and Deadlands, seem to have been released simultaneously.
Franco-Prussian War, The [SPI]
SPI wargame for two simulating the 1870 war between Prussia and France. It seems difficult to avoid anything but an historical result as the Germans simply dump enormous reinforcements to the front from their superior rail lines. A completely different game with the same title and subject was later published by 3W.
German light war game about Germans for up to four. Prussian King Frederick the Great, also in control of his Hanoverian ally, tries to stop the converging forces of Russia, France and Austria/Holy Roman Empire. There are no zones of control or combat results tables. There are supply depots and mild supply rules. The unit of movement is an army, whose strength, being recorded on paper, is generally unknown to the enemy. There are no special leader abilities and random events tend to arrive only when the game is nearly over, and even then, only once per round. Movement is from point to point at a fixed rate – no force marching – and is slightly improved by roads. The most unusual aspect and biggest departure from simulation is in the combat resolution and reinforcements systems. Both essentially depend on play of traditional cards, the familiar spades, hearts, diamonds and and clubs. The board is divided into large grid areas, each labeled by one of the suits. An army can only play combat cards that match the suit of the area it's in. In combat, players take turns then, adding cards whose rank (kings are converted to 13s, queens to 12s, etc.) is added back and forth, as if a virtual seesaw. When an army cannot or will not play to take its total above zero, he must both retreat and lose steps equal to the amount. The Prussians have the largest hand size and are mostly on the defensive so they often employ a trick of getting the result to -1 and thereby slowly give ground. Reinforcements are earned by turning in a large point value of cards – presumably in a suit where combat is unlikely – to get one point. The combat method deserves a lot of credit for bringing something new to such systems. On the other hand it's a little athematic when Prussia uses the same hand of cards to defend all of its frontiers. Could these presumably intangible factors really make such a difference in this era of relatively primitive communications? Presentation-wise the first edition is a curious mixture. For the most part it's wonderful, however, featuring an absolutely gorgeous map on which every last town and burg is labeled. But it also includes cardboard chits and, even worse, chits to cut out of a postcard. But it's easy enough to borrow cubes from some other game for this purpose. There is also a very small amount of writing required. The ideal number of players is two or three as otherwise the straightforward France and Russia positions have little to do and there is too much downtime for all. The main situation is really between Austria and Prussia anyway and the game could easily have focused only on this. This particular conflict, by the way, can have some strange results such as opposing armies gettng trapped behind enemy lines, a situation which the lenient supply rules permit to persist for quite some time. The Freddy the Great position is by far the most interesting one, but the others can be helmed by those learning the game for the first time. Game length is variable, but usually clocks in around three hours. Not everyone enjoys the taste for direct conflict, but for those who do, this is one of the better light options.
Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Richard Sivél; Histogame; 2004; 3-4
The rules do not appear to be clear on the point, but it seems that several different groups have been flying on a plane and crashed in a desert containing plenty of treasure but little food. Thus like the Donner Party they may be forced to attack and eat members of other parties, or, if worse comes to worst, from their own. The game system is rather interesting as all of the characters are placed face down as are food, treasure and roads. Players may move around and secure food by turning these up in the right order and combination. There is a bit of a memory aspect which may bother some players. Strategically it seems best to try to carve out a private little area where one's weaker, more valuable members can be protected and hope that food will be found there.
Fury of Dracula [2nd Edition]
One-against-four game of hunting Dracula across the cities of Europe. The best feature is the heart of the system, the rule that Dracula must, with a few exceptions, always keep moving – in general he may not stop or double back. This is very thematic as clearly a character with his looks and proclivities wouldn't be able to blend in anywhere for very long. But its implementation is quite elegant as well. The Dracula player has a card for each city and signfies travel by simply placing a new one, face down, at the end of a queue. When the queue is full, the oldest card pops off and that location is again available for travel. There are at least two other nice features. Each of the four vampires hunters – von Helsing, Lord Godalming, Mina Harker and Dr. Seward – has different abilities/limitations, but not so starkly as to make one preferable to another. Of course the hunters win and lose together anyway. What's nice also is the combined event deck which often provides great boons to hunters, but sometimes turn out to be Dracula cards which go to his hand. Deciding when to draw one is often a great dilemma. Oh but Dracula's game is a nervous one, always trying to stay one step ahead and be unpredictable. Meanwhile the hunters experience a sort of dissonance as they must stalk their quarry, but encountering him is so dangerous that they fear to do so. There is a rotating time of day track and much depends on whether an encounter occurs at night or in daylight; the rest on whether the hunters have found useful items. For this reason Dracula should be most daring and active at the outset and focus on being elusive toward the end. Some game aspects might have been handled better. A playing will probably last at least two hours, but possibly twice that. The combat system with its many cards and options is very rich, but not necessarily smooth. Is this rarely used feature really worth the level of complication revealed by a rather large combat chart? There also seem to be some strange queue situations that can arise from use of multiple special cards which might be better explained by the rules. Then there is the rule by which Dracula can stop train moves via card. This interrupt-style rule on a relatively minor game feature really slows down play and could easily have been handled differently. Handling of the presentation is very attractive. There are a very large number of gorgeous cards – items, events, locations, etc. The map is both handsome and practical, easily able to accommodate the five, unpainted plastic figures. Each player also has a mat with handy information and places to store cards, which is especially useful if a player is running multiple characters. There is even a mini-map Dracula can use for planning. Overall this is a very nice thematic experience with the twin downsides of going on too long and possible player elimination. Something closer to the length of the similar Scotland Yard would have focused on the main situation and allowed more players to try their hand at running Dracula – an important issue in this sort of assymmetrical game. I'm left pondering one question. I can see Dracula as cold, scary, romantic, sneaky, mysterious, but where does fury come into it? Hmmm, if he's a thousand years old maybe some parts have fallen off? Is dat what make he so mean?
Strategy: High; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: Low; Personal Rating: 6
Fury of the Norsemen
Tactical wargame in a medieval setting about dreaded vikings plundering a fictional village in northern France. Even if one can get over the distasteful topic of the murder of the helpless, not particularly innovative in its mechanisms. Title comes from the plaintive recorded prayer of a medieval monk, "O Lord, from the fury of the Norsemen, deliver us."
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