Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Fluxx. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fluxx. Show all posts

Friday, November 7, 2014

A look back at hip-pocket wargames

I just saw the documentary Game On: The World Boardgaming Championships, by Alex Dunbar of Wind-up Films, which featured (among other things) the progress of a young competitor in the Ace of Aces tournament.  And just yesterday, my friend Paul R. just contacted me, now that we are working in the same building, about getting together for a game (which we haven't done in far too long).  It occurred to me that with proper planning, we could play a wargame on a lunch break.  Both of those events reminded me of a post I wrote a couple of years ago on what I called "hip-pocket wargames" - those that you could pull out and play on relatively short notice.  So what follows is a re-post of that blog entry, which might be new for some of my more recent followers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Third annual-ish "What to pack for a vacation"

I like looking into which boardgames work for taking on family summer vacations.  The last time I looked at this question was July 2012.  This year we have plans to visit points of interest in southwest Virginia - the Skyline Drive, Lexington, the Natural Bridge, and Monticello.  We specifically will be leaving laptops at home.  Anticipating some quality family downtime, of course that means boardgames.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hip-pocket wargames

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
My friend Grant and I had plans to play a three-player round of The End of the Triumvirate (designers 
Johannes Ackva and Max Gabrian, artist Andrea Boekhoff, publisher Z-Man Games) Friday afternoon, but our third player never showed.  Having lost an hour waiting, and me having to leave less than two hours later, we were faced with having to come up with a quick two-player game on the fly.  (We eschewed the idea of playing TEotT as a two-player game, which is possible but which, in our opinion, loses the essence of the game.)  Now, Grant has quite the collection, and I was quite happy with what we ended up playing - Traders of Carthage (which is on my "must have" wishlist) and Oz Fluxx (another in the series of light-hearted Fluxx games by Looney Labs).

Filler games like ToC and Fluxx accommodate this niche perfectly.  But both of us were wishing we'd had a wargame locked and loaded as a contingency to knock out in our hour-and-a-half window of opportunity.  In retrospect, we certainly could have played my miniatures favorite De Bellis Antiquitatis or the quick and dirty card game Down in Flames: Zero!  Even a game of chess might have worked, and I think we considered it.  Grant specifically mentioned he would have liked to have played a Columbia block game, if we'd had more time.  But when you don't have your miniatures handy or can't lay your fingers on the right game on the spur of the moment, we found it hard to whip out something that's both meaty and quick.  


Image uploaded to boardgamegeek.com
by Carlos A.L. de Miranda 
So the situation spurred a conversation on Tuesday among some of us about what wargames would have fit this situation - something at hand on the shelf that can fill a contingency window of an hour and a half or so. "For short wargame, break glass."  Paul R. reminded me that Scenario 3, "Stuart's Raid," from Stonewall Jackson's Way is very quick.  He also told me that just the previous Thursday, he and Frank H. had completed a scenario of the Avalon Hill classic Caesar's Legions in two hours - including set-up, rules review, play, and clean-up.  PanzerBlitz also came up in our conversation. 

So I thought I'd review my own collection and see what candidates I have as "hot standbys" for spur-of-the-moment wargame options.  Here's what I come up with as good options from games I have on hand:

Image courtesy of
GMT Games
  • Down in Flames III: Zero! (designer Dan Verssen):  GMT's clever card game of World War II dogfighting can be knocked out in less than an hour pitting a flight of four American aircraft against four Japanese.  Always fun.
  • Memoir '44 (publisher Days of Wonder):  Richard Borg's fun, approachable World War II game that starts in northern Europe but whose expansions extend to all theaters
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men (designer S. Craig Taylor):  One of my very favorite games, an Avalon Hill classic handling of tactical naval combat in the age of sail, from single frigate engagements to large fleet actions
  • Panzer Leader (designers Dave Clark, Randall C. Reed, Nick Smith) and
    PanzerBlitz
    (designer Jim Dunnigan):  Two more Avalon Hill classics, timeless treatments of battalion-level armor and infantry combat on the western and eastern World War II fronts, respectively
  • Battle Cry  (Avalon Hill / Hasbro):  Richard Borg's American Civil War predecessor to Memoir '44
  • De Bellis Antiquitatis (designers Phil and Sue Barker and Richard Bodley Scott):  The only miniatures game on this list, appealing for its small scale and rapid play time.  Our collections are 15mm scale, which means each army fits in a cigar box and the battle can be played on a two-foot-square board with a half-dozen pieces of terrain.  Simple, quick, and still tactically challenging.
  • Richtofen's War (designer Randall C. Reed):  A favorite of mine way back in high school, I haven't touched this Avalon Hill World War I dogfight classic in a long time, but I remember it was a quick play with a lot of tactical maneuver.
  • Saipan (designer Kip Allen):  The only folio game I have from the SPI "Island War" quadrigame, this is a nice treatment of the US Marines' invasion of the very toughly defended island.  Play balance issues need some treatment, though.
  • Image uploaded to
    boardgamegeek.com by
    Andreas Johannson
  • Ace of Aces (designers Doug Kaufman and Alfred Leonardi):  A true "filler" wargame.  This was a fun diversion when I was on a submarine in the Navy.  My department head and I had a decent campaign going during one deployment.
So I think the lesson learned here is that I ought to have two or three of these "at the ready" for any spontaneous opportunity for a wargame encounter.  I wonder if I should carry some of them in my car?  You never know when the mood will strike ... to kill some cardboard!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Congress of Gamers digression: Notes from a conversation with John Moller

I met John Moller of Car Trunk Entertainment in the game design contest room at Congress of Gamers the other day.  We started getting a little philosophical about game design - what we like in a game, what leaves us flat.  I like his perspective, and one observation he made stuck with me enough that I thought I'd expound on it here a little.

It's probably "card-driven" when the
printer resorts to 4-point font to fit the
special instructions on the card.
John described an interesting distinction he makes among card games into two general categories - card-driven games and player-driven games.  (I might not quite have his terminology right.)  The distinguishing concept is the nature of the cards in the game.  In a "card-driven game," most of the behavior of the game is governed by the text on the card - i.e. every card has its own rules or unique icons printed on it to describe its function and effects.  In a "player-driven game," the cards are relatively abstract, having only rank, suit, and/or perhaps a few other general categories, and the rules generalize across the deck.  In the extremes, a collectible card game would be "card-driven" and cribbage would be "player-driven."

One or two words on the "special" cards -
still in the spirit of a "player-driven" game
Of course, these are two general categories and not a strict taxonomy of card games.  Still, to refine definitions like these, I have a tendency to want to find exceptions, or ambiguities at the boundary between categories.  For example, Uno (designer Merle Robbins, artists Kinetic and Jeff Kinney, publisher Mattel) has mostly rank-suit cards, but there are a few special cards that change the play of the game - "Reverse," "Skip," "Draw two."   But really, I think Uno keeps to the spirit of what John describes as a "player-driven game," in which the card that you play depends on the tactical situation at the time and not so much whether you got a special card that drives a special effect under the circumstances.

I think Fluxx (designers Andrew and Kristin Looney, publisher Looney Labs) and its variations, by contrast, fall into the "card-driven" category.  Although some cards are simply objects ("Keepers") and objectives ("Goals"), many are unique rules and special effects.  I don't necessarily mean the simple cases of "Draw Two" or "Hand Limit Three."  The particularly unique cases of cards that interact with other cards - you can do this unless your opponent has that Keeper, etc - make Fluxx more of a card-driven game.  The point is that you can add or delete or modify the specific rules or effects on the individual cards in a card-driven game, and all you've done is change the game in some lateral way; instead of Martian Fluxx, it's Pirate Fluxx.

I think John's point about "card-driven" games is that they play themselves to a certain degree.  The course of the game is governed by the shuffle and who gets which card when, more than by the tactics that the different players choose to take.  I might not be explaining John's thesis very well, and perhaps it deserves a little more thought for me to appreciate and articulate it.  I was hoping - but failed - to find a write-up on the concept in his Car Trunk Entertainment blog, so perhaps I can persuade him to spend a few words on it some time soon.