Spotlight on Games > 1001 Nights of Military Gaming

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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. [chart] [errata] [variant]
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. [Discovery summary] [AH-revised Discovery summary] [AH summary] [chart] [map]
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] [Pirate Games]
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 Svea Rike, 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. [combat chart] [analysis]
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. [combat chart] [analysis]
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.
Martin Wallace
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. [summary] [variant]
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. [summary]
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. [summary] [charts] [scenarios] [scenario chart] [scenario 3 notes] [pbem sequence] [tray chart] [Email Group]
MHMH6 (Strategy: Medium; Theme: High; Tactics: Medium; Evaluation: High; Personal Rating: 6)
Greg Costikyan; SPI; 1978; 2-7
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