Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Niles von Crane's Flying Circus!

Friday night brought a slightly different style of gaming session to normal. It was all straight-out-of-the-box gaming. No painting for weeks and weeks only to end up disillusioned with the average-looking results of your hard toil, no crappy-looking almost-suitable terrain (well, not much), just lovely prepackaged gaming delights with an absolute minimum of effort. It's a lazy boy's dream, and the future of gaming, boys and girls!

Just don't tell the gang at Lead Adventure, lest they burn me as a heretic!

First up was the rather delightful, and newly-acquired Wings of War. Here we see Chronoglide et Fils. Chrono is doing his best to look windswept and moody (but I think he's coming over more just as grumpy) for the camera, while Fils is engaged in Brain Training or something.

...And they're off. It's the Red Baron, failing completely to line up his shots on the enemy. There was a lot of this kind of thing. The business of having to think three moves out in advance is heaps of fun, makes for much tension and excitement, and is generally a grand idea. But it does mean, with novices like us at any rate, that you spend a lot of time flying around in confused circles not shooting at anything. Or randomly shooting at someone who unexpectedly pops up in front of you who you weren't expecting to shoot at all.

Still, one suspects that the real thing may have been a little like that. For everybody except the top aces, at any rate.

That's more like it. Take that, Englander! DAKKA! DAKKA! DAKKA! DAKKA! You have to make the gun noises or your shots don't count, it says so in the rules.

Notice my hastily-improvised playing area, cobbled together from felt, canvas and leathercloth. So rubbish home-made scenery was not entirely absent after all.

We had two games, both times with Wakey and me as the Allies, and Sickers and Chrono the Central Powers. Chrono got shot down the very first time he was fired at by Wakey (which was funny), and mostly due to luck I eventually brought Sickly down in a seething ball of flame.

In the second game my Belgian accidentally flew his Camel off the map (what an idiot!), and then the two Dr.Is rapidly devoured poor Wakey (Those Dreideckers with their tight turns are nasty little bleeders).

But because I never got shot down, I guess the Allies won overall on points (4-3). A bit like the war itself, really.

So that was Wings of War. Great fun, one to get out after Christmas Dinner, when everyone is getting tired, 'toxicated, and tetchy, I reckon. Might get one of the other boxes to add to the rules complexity and scenario options at some point.

Next it was: A Dungeons and Dragons ride!

Yes, the D&D board game. Seems to me the ideal way to play the game. I cut my role-playing teeth on the excellent Call of Cthulhu, so have no fond teenage memories of "Steal the Monsters and kill their treasure"-gaming like some other people have. Never quite saw the point in it, after atmospheric games with characters, a terrifying ambiance and an actual plot. But this is the ideal way to experience such dubious entertainment. Nicely packaged with high production values, and the plot (such as it is) already worked out for the GM (I'm not a DM, I'm a GM. Dungeon Master? Who wants to play a game where you just guard a bunch of prisoners? Well, maybe if they were sexy lady tennis-player prisoners in their knickers, but that's a whole other matter...)

Wakey bought me this as a gift ages ago, and though Sickers and his elder brother had played it, the gang as a whole hadn't touched it before. So now was the time.

It was all good, old-fashioned fun, and I think everybody enjoyed it. It was a raid on a Goblin lair, the naughty inhabitants of which had kidnapped the local mayor or something. Bish, bash, bosh. Lots of hitting things, casting spells, laughing at the Thief's complete ineptitude concerning spotting hidden traps, and finally a nice healthy dose of bickering over treasure. You get the idea. We'll probably continue with this on those occasions when nobody has met their painting deadline. A nice change from the norm of tedious painted-figure gaming. All the monster-killing, treasure-hunting, trap-setting off fun of D&D without having to keep up the ludicrous pretence that one is role-playing.

So, an enjoyable evening, particularly Wings of War for me. It's got me really looking forward to the new Red Baron picture that is supposed to be imminent. Though I do think the producers of that one have missed a trick. There is only one actor for this role: David Hyde Pierce. He's the spit of old Manfred, I tell you.

Manfred von Crane and Niles Richthofen. Can you tell which is which?

See? Uncanny, isn't it? You absolutely can't tell which is which, can you? Don't say you can because you can't. If you say you can then you're just a bloody big liar. Stop lying! What are you lying for? Don't you know lying is bad? Stop it now! I sha'n't tell you again...

There's only one Gil Gerard, Browder, and it ain't you!

My good friend Chronoglide is a big fan of Farscape. Personally I have always thought of it as "Buck Rogers meets the Muppets", only with truckloads of added tedium, as Buck Rogers and the Muppets together in reality would be brilliant. But he likes it. Bless. So it was inevitable that at some point he was going to want to game it on the tabletop. As I had yet again failed to provide anything for us to play, I reluctantly agreed to this misguided scheme. So that's what we did.

Here he is setting up his little show, while in the background Wakey fills himself full of Caffeine in order to stay awake. He's obviously seen Farscape before!

Chrono's rules set of choice for the evening was something called 5150, which I had heard Sci-Fi nerds on TMP jabbering on about in the past, but I was totally unfamiliar with it myself.

We were to have only one character each. Ooh, very RPG. This type of thing is all the rage these days, what with .45 Adventure, Gloire and all that. Thankfully, neither the preposterous Wookee Klingon nor any of the Muppets would be taking part in this adventure. But three of the heroes of the show were to land on a lawless planet in order to procure much-needed spare parts to repair their damaged mother ship, Moya.

(That shuttle pod of theirs looks familiar. If it is a consular ship, then where is the ambassador, eh?)

A picture of Moya, just so we know what we're all fighting for. At least I think that's the right Moya. I wasn't sure so I used Google Images.

Hmm. Is that right? Tell you what, why not check for yourself?

So, the characters involved: As I said, it wasn't the complete cast, just enough for us to have one each. Sickers played pale Buck Rogers imitation, Crichton, human astronaut suddenly propelled into a frightening new Muppet-filled galaxy, or something. In our gang it is the law to refer to him as Gil Gerard, or just Gil, though this really does a great disservice to that truly great actor from the 80s.

Wakey was playing Chiana, a sort of light grey alien lass with Halle Berry's cast-off hair from X-Men.

While I played sultry ex-Peacekeeper turned renegade, Aeryn Sun. I can tell you want me. Stop staring at my right boob, you lecherous dogs!

So there we were, newly-arrived on planet Numberwang, in search of a second-hand de-nobbulator or Gayon-frottage-attachment or something. So we set off for the market district, but unfortunately fell foul of the local culture. Apparently there are very strict rules of behavior between the various guilds, gangs and other factions here, and the locals police themselves without recourse to any official law enforcement. But unfortunately for us anything goes as far as outsiders are concerned.

So we were soon set upon by the local riff-raff.

So the dice were soon rolling, and laser blasts (or whatever they call them in Farscape) were flying about all over the place.

Here's me, shooting a hoodlum, and blowing most of the special effects budget in one go.

After a brisk firefight, we had dealt with the delinquents. All either dead, retired hurt or run off. A few polite enquiries told us that we needed to speak to a trader known as Honest Jangwed who had a warehouse full of Moya bits on the other side of town.

So off we went. Here's a part of the game that was rather cool. We immediately stepped into the next episode, all ready set up on another part of the table. Having a game made up of several small vignette encounters like this is something new to me, and I like it. You tend not to get bored so like with a big old fight dragging on all night all across the big table (that's a terrible indictment of our attention-spans these days, ain't it?). This kind of thing would fit in sweetly with .45 Adventure and Gloire I reckon. Don't know if it is part of the whole 5150 thing, or if Chrono made it up himself, but it is a refreshing new thing to me. I like refreshing new things.

Later, on the other side of town: We found the area of Jangwed's warehouse, but unfortunately there were lots of unfriendly-looking security types around.

It was decided that I would approach them openly, and try to negotiate an audience with Jangwed. In case things went awry, the others would sneak around the side, ready to launch into action at a moment's notice...

Predictably, things did go awry, almost immediately. Aeryn is used to getting her own way, and the guards, thinking she was a Peacekeeper, weren't really in the mood to cooperate. This combined to create an atmosphere of tension and mistrust. Talks broke down, and they ordered her to drop her weapon and lie down on the ground.

Her response?

... Predictably violent.

Chiana chimed in, too. She might as well, as she hadn't done much up to now.

This resulted in one guard taken out, and another one grovelling in a puddle of his own wee. More guards turned up, but they weren't up to much, and eventually scarpered, leaving their boss in our clutches. We held him upside down and shook him until the shock absorbers or brake pads for Moya fell out.

Back to the landing pod then. But what's this?

Bad guys, hanging around outside our ship?

Oh no! Peacekeepers! Led by a PVC-clad lady Peacekeeper armed with a dangerously low-cut top and fully-loaded cleavage! This isn't good. We'd been fighting cowardly nobodies up to now. These baddies were the real deal. And they were after us! I had totally forgotten that we were wanted renegades! How could that slip my mind?

As they advanced, Gil Gerard, hero that he is, hid in a tent. Chiana hid behind a tent, only Aeryn (that's me remember) was brave enough to face these fearsome soldiers.

Or stupid enough. Aeryn was promptly shot, and went down in a heap.

The lady peacekeeper came over to gloat and then... A-ha! Aeryn had been shamming!

The very last of the special effects money went on this shot, as you can probably tell. Aeryn brought the chief baddy down, and she wasn't shamming. She was, though, still alive.

With their leader gone, most of the rest ran off, the remainder were ruthlessly gunned down. So our heroes made it back to Moya, complete with a sexy prisoner, who Aeryn took charge of.

So what happened next?

Well, this year Moya made it to the Quarter Finals of Roland Garros before losing to Rafael Nadal, Gil continued his regular guest spot on Sesame Street: The Next Generation, while Chiana had to give Storm her hair back in time for X-Men: The Last Stand. And as for Aeryn and the Peacekeeper chick? What of them?

In the immortal words of Stu and Rich ... And then they Lez Up.


In some ways the game was a triumph (which is odd, as Chronoglide was running it), short bursts of excitement make for a good gaming experience and we all took to 5150 pretty well. It's a nice system, all the reaction checks are lots of fun, and I certainly wouldn't mind playing it again.

But this is exactly where it all fell down as a simulation of Farscape. Where was the headache-inducing tedium, eh? (Seriously, Farscape almost always gives me a headache). Where was the despair, irritation, the turning over halfway through to see what's happening in (God forbid) Hollyoaks?

So in short, the experiment was a complete failure. If we are to try and do any more Farscape gaming in future, may I suggest we use a game system that is known not to produce fun, such as DBM or Phoenix Command?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Mussey-la-Ville Road (including the Return of the Fog Machine!)

22nd August 1914, later that same morning. The Lorraine countryside is still shrouded in fog. Having linked up with the rest of his platoon, Lt. Rommel orders them to halt as he scouts ahead to the outskirts of Bleid with three men. In the poor visibility he blunders into a group of French infantrymen resting by the side of the road.

The layout of the game. The fog machine sits nervously waiting at one end for a chance to redeem itself.

Rommel's small force started at the windmill. The variable attachment they had rolled from the scenario was a squad of infantry coming to support them on turn four, entering from the northern table edge.

The French soldiers, resting by the road. Their variable attachment was the ability to act on turn five. In reality Rommel stumbled right into them and started blazing away, and normally they wouldn't be able to act until attacked by the Germans. Their attachment put their destiny back into their own hands a little.

To win the French need to capture or kill Rommel or his sergeant, or survive to the end of the game with twelve unbroken and uninjured men. The Germans simply have to prevent this.

Yeah, the whole cricket thing again. You probably know the drill by now.

So the game began with Rommel cautiously creeping forward in the fog, towards the unsuspecting Frenchmen.

Did I say fog? Hurrah! As inexplicably as its refusal to work the day before, now the fog machine was working perfectly! Bravo, Foggy!

But what's this? More blurry figures in the mist?

Yes, Rommel's support, right on time.

Hearing French voices in the fog, Rommel elected for caution, heading towards a nearby shed.

And then taking cover therein.

The German squad took cover among the haystacks, and started firing into the smaller body of Frenchmen.

Which quickly had them scurrying for cover.

Quickly, the other French lads poured into the house to take cover, and took up firing positions at the doors and windows. The house and shed fired ineffectively at one another for a while. The geese didn't seem too bothered to be caught in this fire.

This was getting nobody anywhere. The French sergeant had an idea...

He called for his men to leave their cover and take the shed. A rush and a push, a bit of bayonet work and that would be that. Things looked perilous for Rommel, if they made it into contact they would surely overwhelm his little band. But no! Despite his frantic squawking, none of the men would budge. They felt too safe in their cover to risk moving in the open under fire. It seemed the moment for French glory had passed.

For as though punished by the Gods of Battle for their timidity, their fortunes took a decisive turn for the worse. Some incredibly unlikely good shooting from Rommel's scout team brought down some of the defenders of the house. Then, their (dice-rolling) luck now totally deserting them, the French broke and ran.

Rommel quickly signalled to the infantry to advance. With a cheer they dashed across the open ground to the house.

Occupying the ground recently vacated by their foes, they then poured fire on to them...

... Causing more casualties and sending them into a headlong rout across the road and into a nearby field.

Things looked bleak for the French.

Those in the field finally managed to regain their composure, but it was too late, time was up and the Germans had won. The French here were in no state to resist. The way was open for the assault on Bleid...

It was most pleasing to see the fog machine work so well. It certainly has redeemed itself, and will definitely be used in the next scenario set on this foggy morning: The assault on Bleid. In an ideal world I'd have someone as a dedicated Fog Machine Operator, as it fills the table with fog for a short while, but it soon dissipates. You really need a hand on the button at all times, to keep the flow of fog coming. That's why in some pics there seems to be lots of fog, and much less in others. We had to keep interrupting play to make more fog.

Still, on the whole I was very pleased with the second outing of the machine.

The game itself, while fun, was slightly less satisfying, as it was so one-sided.

French Casualties:
Seven Killed

German Casualties:

This one turned on a handful of flukey die rolls. Rommel's team really had no right to expect to cause so much harm with their shooting, and the French were very, very unlucky to fail the two crucial morale roles which led them to quit the house. I have been thinking that when using these scenarios with Price of Glory, the pretty green French troops really do need to have officers around if they hope to prevail. In the one game where they had officers they did okay, in the other two where they didn't they were soundly beaten. On the other hand, I think even with officers present the die rolls in this game were so in favour of Germany that it may not have made much difference. Except that with good leadership rallying would have been much easier.

But speaking as the German player, Gott really was Mit Uns this day.