Week 2 of the Southend Toy Soldiers Club Malifaux campaign saw my Outcasts take on a Gremlin force, in a battle to take ownership of a large pig wandering through the board. The game was quite absurd, with both sides losing almost every model they fielded to a combination of their own misfiring guns and a cataclysmic chain reaction in the centre of the board described below…
While the Mega Man franchise has seen little development since the retro-inspired Mega Man 9 and 10 released some time ago, a number of imitators and homages – including the similarly-staffed Kickstarter success Mighty No. 9 – have taken up the mantle. Azure Striker Gunvolt, finally released in Europe after a period of overseas availability, is one such successor to Mega Man. Gunvolt is quite distinct from any of the Mega Man games by virtue of its core gameplay gimmick, the “Flashfield” weapon, yet the same techniques and mechanics that have contributed to the originals’ success – intuitive level design, well-designed boss fights based on pattern recognition and situational upgrades – are all in evidence. Technically it is a largely well-executed game, but as a whole product it falls down slightly owing to a number of both fundamental and very specific flaws.
Today, my local wargaming club, Southend Toy Soldiers Club, began a Malifaux campaign, starting with small games and building up using the official Wyrd Wave 3 campaign rules.
I have entered using an Outcasts faction, and my first game was against Neverborn. In the campaign system, players do not start with a Master but instead a Henchman and a limited crew. Mine is Taelor, with support from two Ronin and Rusty Alyce.
In this first game we had an even more limited force – 25 soulstones including the Henchman. The lists were as follows:
3 Soulstone Cache
The Strategy selected was Turf War. I selected the Schemes Bodyguard (for Taelor) and Entourage. My opponent selected A Line In The Sand and Entourage. The final score was 9-7 to me, having scored maximum points for a revealed Bodyguard, 3 points for Turf War and 2 points for a revealed Entourage, versus my opponent scoring 3 points for Turf War, 1 for a revealed Line in the Sand and 3 for a revealed Entourage.
Following the game, I recruited a Freikorpsmann and drew cards for injuries. One of my Ronin gained the injury Unfocused, meaning in future games she cannot take the Focus action.
What follows is a very special kind of battle report, given that apparently a magically-empowered small child killed two highly-trained mercenaries…
Photos and terrain courtesy of Adam Isherwood at Iron Forest Games, models my own.
The much-delayed Kickstarter-funded wargame Robotech RPG Tactics has finally begun to be delivered within Europe, and as my copy has arrived I have had the opportunity to play two limited-scale games of it. These are sufficient to form general opinions about the rules design – although more detailed examination of unit selection and faction play-style is currently impossible as many of the more interesting and different units are not currently available. Overall, as a wargame attempting to recreate the combat style of Robotech/SDF Macross – a translation of theme into mechanics – it works well. Using a system of named pilots adding thematic abilities to stock units like X-Wing forces can be given more flavour, while the weapon system rules emphasising mass missile attacks and divided, inaccurate fire versus enemies concentrating to bring one hero down creates a strong aesthetic element to mechanical design.
It has taken quite some time for me to properly work out why I dislike Gundam Build Fighters Try in comparison to the original first series; for much of the series’ run time I was unsure if the weaknesses I was identifying within it were based on misremembering the merits of the original. After all, both series embodied similar tropes – that of a naturally talented character helping out technically proficient but less skilful teammates in pursuit of the grand prize of a wargaming tournament. Both protagonists fielded powerful units with over-the-top weapons to face dramatic opponents, so complaining about the way in which fights were resolved by means of a finishing-move judiciously deployed seemed inaccurate. Eventually though I realised the problems with Try were as much with its ethos – its whole attitude behind the game-selling message front and centre – and its characterisation as anything else.
Today, at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, I played a game using the playtest rules of Beyond the Gates of Antares by Warlord games, using two starter forces (Algoryn and C3) against each other.
Antares is based on the Bolt Action rules, with a number of changes to reflect its science-fiction theme.
Recently, the newest Call of Duty game has been receiving significant online criticism for its apparently crass and ridiculous story; this, per se, is not interesting to me. The games have historically, since no longer being set during WW2, had exploitative and poorly-written stories which began as functional, genre-typical backdrops to a first-person shooter game but over time became even lower-quality and overreliant on shock value to try and recapture the success of Modern Warfare‘s nuclear bomb mission and execution sequence. Those were very good pieces of action storytelling for a computer game; the former was unexpected and brief enough to retain its impact, and the latter was a strong homage to things such as Half-Life‘s introductory sequence. The criticism of Advanced Warfare, though, is interesting because it shows, to me, that there are two very distinct approaches to criticising storytelling in video games. Having not played the game I can only discuss the critical debate around it, but that is the interesting part.
It has been a significant time since I last wrote a narrative battle report based on a wargame I have played, so here is one. As I mentioned in my recent article on “Forging the Narrative” in wargames, Wyrd Miniatures’ Malifaux is an excellent game for marrying narrative and mechanics, meaning that even a fairly straightforward game suggests an exciting story.
For reference, the forces used in this game were:
Mei Feng (Imbued Protection, Price of Progress, Seismic Claws)
Kang (Imbued Protection, People’s Challenge)
2x Rail Worker
2x Metal Gamin
Rasputina (Child of December, December’s Pawn, The Philosopher’s Stone)
Ice Golem (Imbued Protection)
3x Ice Gamin
The schemes and strategy were Turf War, Bodyguard, Breakthrough, Protect Territory and Vendetta. The final score was 7-4 to Mei Feng (4 points from Turf War + 3 from Protect Territory vs 2 points from Turf War + 2 points from Bodyguard). The game was played at Iron Forest Games in Benfleet, with scenery provided by the club.
In a previous article about the card game Netrunner, among other topics, I discussed how board games can combine thematic design with mechanical synergy – and how it is something which counteracts the lack of a narrative in something designed to be played over and over again. Board games, and to a similar extent miniatures-based wargames, need to be repeatable, almost non-narrative experiences because they involve large amounts of direct, unpredictable player interaction. Video games, on the other hand, have the scope in offering single-player experiences to tell a story – there may be different routes through that story, or different scenes to be selected, but there is still a story being told and the aim of the game is to experience it. This is ultimately the crux of the story versus theme dichotomy; the level of variance in the experience, and whether the narrative is crafted as part of the entire work, or emergent from interaction with it.
Kickbeat is marketed as an “innovative rhythm game with a Kung Fu theme,” but its level of innovation, when games like Final Fantasy Theatrhythm have explored adding combat and RPG elements to rhythm games in well-developed ways that closely tie licensed music to game theming, seems quite limited. Kickbeat is a straightforward rhythm game dressed up in theming that impedes play to an extent, and with a selection of music that is small compared to most competitors (Theatrhythm Curtain Call, which came out on handhelds around the same time, has a significantly larger and more varied song library – and even free-to-play rhythm games on mobile like Cytus and Love Live School Idol Festival have comparably sized or larger track lists.)