Spotlight on Games
1001 Nights of Military Gaming
- Sk -
On to T
- Slasher Flick
Somewhat amusing game parodying horror films with a strong
role-playing element. It can be quite enjoyable if the group
is up on their horror film clichés. Unfortunately the
game seems a bit unbalanced and it may be too easy to defeat
the Slasher, but at least it doesn't too long.
Multi-player wargame with several scenarios set in an original fantasy world.
What everyone first notices is the bedazzling hex map in six colors
plus gray and white. Game play seems much like that of any historical
game, flying dragons acting as light cavalry, demons as average infantry
and trolls as heavy but slow shock units. More interesting is the early
(first?) use of action points which the sorcerers allocate to
move and cast spells.
The fact that hex color affects both movement and combat
makes for a lot of calculation and some unforgiving effects, e.g.
units which can never leave the hex in which they were created
or units which inevitably be destroyed by the attrition rules.
Would have been greatly improved by a less clunky rules system and
a greater embracing of the genre, although each scenario does come
with a slightly cheesy background story which like old bad jokes are
nevertheless still fun if revived sparingly.
Includes a solitaire scenario which feels something like the old
Space Invaders video game (that only appeared three years later).
Redmond A. Simonsen; SPI-1975; 1-6; 60
- Source of the Nile
Very atmospheric experience game about nineteenth-century exploration
of Africa. The starting map is basically blank and players draw
in terrain as they discover it. Each player adopts a different
profession with different abilities and victory objectives.
As each player tends to work in a separate area, there is a strong
solitaire element and usually not much interaction. For this reason,
the game seems best with only about three players where there is not
very much waiting time before the next turn. If someone gets a big
lead, it is a bit difficult to catch up. After players complete
an expedition, they return to Europe to publish their results and
beg grants in order to go again. It would be nice if more interaction
could be added to the game, at least in this grantsmanship subsystem.
Maybe auctions, scandals, academic disputes, etc. could be added.
It might also be nice if drawing on the board (which is not that
aesthetically pleasing) could be replaced by nice colored
hex tiles (the rivers perhaps being done with flexible
blue wires?). Published in two editions, the first in 1978
by small press Discovery Games, then further developed by
Avalon Hill, a form of the original rules being included in an
appendix. Discovery's edition mostly uses dice to determine the
various random features while the Avalon Hill solution is to use
cards, not really a significant improvement. The two versions
tend to play quite similarly, with the original being a bit more
brutal and progress a bit slower. Slow progress is an issue with
both versions actually as players spend a lot of time feeling
that have not accomplished much of anything, especially since
being defeated by natives is incredibly devastating. Perhaps
the designers tried to make an historical point -- not knowing
the history that well I cannot say if justified -- but it is
unfortunate they did so at the expense of the fun. Best for
players interested in history and experience and is very playable
in solitaire mode. Plays more easily with a fiberglass cover
on the board, using wet-erase pens for delineation.
[AH-revised Discovery summary]
- Spanish Main
Wargame for four players, two representing Spanish and two British.
Very underrated, at least in its second edition. Features cardplay
to cross the Atlantic and resolve battles while being an exploration
game for the discovery of the New World (Caribbean islands handled
abstractly). A rare wargame with German-style game mechanics, although
perhaps too long for some tastes.
[Jeff's review of 2nd edition]
Wargame set in Europe before World War II. Players represent the
"secrets manager" of one of the five nations at that time, both
trying to steal foreign secrets and protect one's own.
Always seems to turn out pretty much the same
way, everyone protecting just one secret and losing all the rest,
but spending a lot of time at it,
especially in pointless shootings of one another's agents.
Historical event chits are interesting, although only for flavor.
- Spree! Hong Kong edition
Use two decks of cards to run your automobile into a mall, steal
and shoot up the place. Players can be knocked out before the game is
over. As much a negotiation game as anything else.
- Stadens Nyckel
The title means "The Key to the City" and the game is about
a medieval city and the power struggle within it. Players
may try an offices or a set collection strategy. Bidding
occurs on a blind basis and is always tricky. As bid money
leaves the game, if players overbid early, it is possible
to have virtually nothing left by the end. Luck of the
draw seems to play a large part in this card-dominated
game. The cards and board are all nicely illustrated after
the manner of
a somewhat similar game, by the same designer.
- Star Commander
This "Take That!" card game from Historical Concepts (1983) has
players racing to complete the first space fleet. The units of
accumulation are crews, progress being recorded on graduated
scales printed on player mats. System innovations include
proactively-protective cards for one's own ships and multi-part
"take thats" requiring player cooperation. But the most original
development is the relatively detailed combat system. Now an
attack is a multi-card back-and-forth in which many a missile,
laser, shield and evasion will fall. Long before the collectible
card game there are also rare and powerful cards such as rams and
novaguns. Play is such that attacks tend to pour in just before
someone can win so victory may seem impossible for anyone, but
attacks are wisely limited by the rarity of engagement cards so
play ends after about thirty minutes. Production is average --
the artwork monochrome and rather pedestrian -- befitting its
original $10.95 price tag. This moves right along and offers
more interaction than most, but fails to escape the frustrating
luck of the draw gravity endemic to the genre.
[Take That! Card Games]
- Star Empires
In this card game players use spaceships (Scouts, Merchants,
and Transports) to build new ships, colonize or
invade planets, and pirate other players' ships. Cruisers, Battleships, and
Dreadnoughts can be used to intercept the non-warships' missions.
Sort of a king of the hill situation when more than 3 players which can take
a lot longer than one's interest.
Designed by Richard G. Mathews of Oregon for 2-6 players and
self-published under Stargames label in 1987.
- Star Fleet Battles
Multi-player wargame set in the universe of the Star Trek
television program concentrates almost entirely tactical ship combat,
in a two-dimensional representation by the way. Although I was an
early enthusiast, even being one of the credited contributors for an
early ship type (the Gorn Dreadnought),
the endless series of rules rewrites, each time being
another item one had to buy to be current, led to an early
exit for my fandom. Also problematic is the lack of a good strategic
structure to make sense and give a meaningful context of all of
these tactical battles, although the later
Federation & Empire
did attempt to rectify this.
Multi-player tactical science fiction wargame set in an original
universe. Very innovative and simple system features ships
as simply a string of characters, each of which represents
a ship subsystem, making ship design and allocating damage
a very strategic process. Recommended, especially if one can
devise a good campaign system to give context and meaning to the
tactical battles. Unfortunately, as is the case with
Star Fleet Battles,
keeps appearing in new rules versions for
which the publishers expect to be paid again and again.
Steven V. Cole; Task Force Games; 1979; 2-4
- Starfire II
An early example of a game which is both a standalone and an
expansion kit (for the original Starfire).
Most of the original tactical game rules are included, but
unfortunately not the original scenarios or more crucially, the
design-your-own-ship rules, one of the most entertaining aspects of
the system. Added are a new race, the Rigellians – with ship names
in Arabic – who specialize in the game's new offerings:
carriers and fighters. Easily destroyed, having only a couple of
functions and featuring none of the interest in the way ships
are slowly damaged, they don't really add much, or even necessarily
make sense in the outer space environment. There are new scenarios,
but again none for more than three players. Played again nearly
three decades later, requirements that players memorize game state,
e.g. the last time a ship turned, stand out as irritants, though
at least one has pencil and paper available with which to record.
Steven V. Cole & Barry Jacobs; Task Force Games; 1980; 2-4
- Starship Troopers
Wargame for two based on the 1959 Robert A. Heinlein novel of the same name.
Early scenarios with troopers against the Skinnies are mostly unbalanced.
Later scenarios against the Bugs are not bad, especially since the Bugs
have hidden tunnels and movement.
- Stellar Conquest
Space empire-building wargame of considerable interest. Players start
at the four corners of the board and compete to build the biggest
empire starting with very little. Movements are largely hidden, but
manageable and the conflict uncomplicated. Interesting mathematics
are employed for the population increases.
A number of interesting strategies such as the "Crispy Critter" and
"General Motors" have been created to describe the various strategic
approaches to the game.
Problems can creep up if
a player gets very lucky in his planet draws and no one else suspects.
The other problem is that players do considerable recordkeeping in
private which is on the honor system and even honest recordkeepers
sometimes make mistakes which are never be caught in time. For this
reason it might be preferable as a computer game. In this case one
might be able to do a more realistic three-dimensional representation
of space as well.
- Sticks and Stones
Microgame wargame set in the "caveman" era is probably better
realized with rules from any role-playing game.
Intentionally silly two-player microgame wargame in which one
player represents a giant depicted only by his rather large feet
while the other has eighteen
elves attempting to topple him. The fourteen by sixteen hexmap depicts
grass, trees, marsh and a lake. The giant's feet have involved rules about
how they may walk and rotate as well as limits on maximum separation.
The giant also has a club which sweeps elves out of the path. Naturally
the feet may also stomp.
Elves are equipped with spears which they use to fix the sandals to earth
and rope which is used to pull the giant down once immobile.
Combat results come about via a "finger resolution" system akin to that
used by Rock-Paper-Scissors. Rather amusing if of limited depth.
Two-player abstract is much older than the first Milton Bradley
edition in 1959 and clearly bears some relationship to Chess
as seen in its setup, grid and capturing features.
Since pieces are hidden also has considerable elements of memory
and bluff. Designing the optimal beginning setup is much of the fun,
but because of the large amount of hidden information, the final result
is often one more of luck than strategy.
- Struggle of Empires
Martin Wallace game for 2 to 7 which, whimsically, I would like
to subtitle "When Prussia Ruled the Seas: 1492 - 1870". That's
because this game of European overseas domination apparently
covers that entire period, from the early conquests in the
Americas to the late colonies that appeared in the East Indies
as well as the unification of the German states. Although
a playing comprises three eras, there is no differentiation
between them which leads to strange incongruities. For example,
even in the late era sea travel is uncertain -- roll a die
wrong and you shipwreck. On the other hand, we also have the
possibility of landlocked 15th century Prussia
sailing to the East Indies. It might have been nice to see
conditions changing from era to era. "Variable powers" fans
might have enjoyed having each nation-state begin with its own
characteristic ability, e.g. Military Training for Prussia,
Naval Ability for England, etc. Instead, all of these powers
are equally up for grabs -- in limited quantities à la Puerto Rico.
This brings up a point. While limited quantities might obtain
in the small island setting of the latter game, how can it be
justified here? Why shouldn't any nation state be able to choose,
say, Military Training if it wants? Some sort of world shortage
on annoying martinets this week? (Another facet of the genius
that is Puerto Rico stands revealed.) The rest of the
game is a matter of building, relocating and attacking military
forces. Combat is resolved via two-dice rolls, one die being
subtracted from the other, which hasn't been seen in a while and
may give players some new probabilities to ponder. (The most
likely result is a "1" with chances of anything else sloping
away rather linearly down to about a 6% chance of achieving a
"5"). Just a few dice rolls probably play too large a role in
a game of this length where players tend to expect more balance.
A clever, typically Wallace-ian touch can be found in the alliance
system by which each player joins one side or the other and
is prevented from attacking his team. A vestigial form of this
appeared in Holy Roman Empire,
but here it operates as a result of auctions, making for some
tricky evaluations. At least this facsimile of medieval marriage
alliance has the effect (except in two-player games) of tamping
down the perennial negative effects that arise in multi-player
war games where anyone can attack anyone else at any time. But
this is more of a hybrid. War game fans may not find enough detail
while society gamers may find a few too many special rules and a
bit more length than they would like. The desired audience seems
to have been Puerto Rico fans who wouldn't mind it being
a military game, but it's not clear the audience branches out
very much from there. I would be surprised if most theme fans
find fun here. Not only are they forced to explicitly practice
slavery, what do the victory points represent? Since money and
population are accounted for separately, points evidently indicate
one's relative success in conquering and enslaving unfortunate
innocents around the world. Nothing to hang one's hat on really.
- Successors [Decision Games]
Multi-player magazine wargame depicts the wars between the
generals of Alexander the Great following his death. The map is
divided into areas and each area is able to produce reinforcements
of different types. Includes rules for random events table,
income, purchases and maintenance, exchange of funds between
players, sea movement. Combat is handled via "to-hit" rolls on a
unit-by-unit basis. Uncomplicated rules make for a very manageable
game, although sea invasion rules appear unbalancing. The Egypt
player has a very long coast to defend and potential invaders
have perfect knowledge of where it is most weakly-defended.
Quite a bit of diplomacy, negotiation and "hit the leader"
are involved. A bit more chrome would not have been amiss.
Cold War era wargame with attractive graphics and pieces, but
which almost always degenerates into a nuclear war which nobody
wins. Seems to be more of a tautology than a game.
- Svea Rike
Players try to build up
holdings around northern Europe, both in and outside Sweden. Events
come up, including wars, which represent both opportunity and potential
disaster. The game looks great and is not without interest, but seems
a little too driven by event cards and dictated by luck of the draw.
An overabundance of chaos.
"Sweden" in Swedish is "Sverige", and "Sverige" is a shortened old form of
"Svea Rike". Svea Rike means literally "The kingdom of the Svea",
the Svea being one of several peoples that when united became Swedes (Svenskar).
- Sword and the Stars, The
Science fiction wargame is actually the popular
Empires of the Middle Ages
translated to a new setting. As you might expect, it is not quite as good in its
new setting, although still well worth playing. It would have been nice however
if the adapters had tried harder to reflect the uniqueness of the setting.
One peculiar feature here is that it is possible that one of the non-player
forces can actually succeed in wiping out all life in the galaxy ending the game
with everyone losing.
- Swords and Sorcery
Two wargames in one in an original fantasy setting. Army game
uses traditional SPI zones-of-control and combat results table,
differentiating units mostly by the way in which they cope with
various types of terrain. Somewhat innovative is the handling
of magic as the world revolves around three suns of different
colors (the astronomy is probably impossible) which affects
which wizards' magic works best. Even more interesting was
the diplomatic system, later adapted for the World War II topic
in Days of Decision II. The
Quest version is concerned exclusively with characters and can
be considered a pseudo-RPG. This compromise doesn't really work
as on the one hand it is not flavorful enough to be an RPG, but
on the other hand has too little going on to satisfy from the
point of view of a wargame. Colorful map of a huge valley is
attractive and interesting, but most will remember this one for
its unbridled silliness, including Killer Penguins, Rex Rotary
and characters such as X the Unknown, Logarithm son of Algorithm
and dozens of others, even stooping to Unamit Ahazredit. The
presence of a Gygax Dragonlord character designed by E. Gary
Gygax is a sobering reminder of the growing contacts between
TSR and SPI at that time and the subsequent takeover. Note:
the blue box is the original SPI edition while
the TSR edition appeared in a red box.
[scenario 3 notes]
MHMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Greg Costikyan; SPI; 1978; 2-7
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