Sunday, July 17, 2005

Origins Report – Wargames

Last year I ranted about the state of wargames at Origins and the fact that CABS seems to be mismanaging them to death, and said I'd run my own events. Which I did. It turned out to be a bit of a saga.

The whole point of this exercise was to get a couple events going that would be differentiated from CABS, so I was disappointed when the prereg program for Origins got screwed up and all the wargames had their descriptions dropped and replaced with "NULL. CABS" (as I mentioned last year, virtually all CABS events are fictional, which I assume most people know at this point). Fortunately the online program was still OK. Fast forward to the event ... I arrive Thursday morning with about half an hour to spare. I get in line at the "Game Masters" queue. I stand there for about 15 minutes and, I kid you not, it does not move. Figuring at this rate I was going to be there for hours, and I don't really need a "Gamemaster" ribbon, I go right to the preregistration queue instead, which takes me under 5 minutes. Dana Lombardy, from L2 Design Group, was behind me in the Gamemasters line ... hopefully he had more luck. Anyway, I get the onsite program, and look for my event to see where it's located. "CABS War Room". OK ... but there is no map in the program indicating which of the many rooms that might actually be. After being misdirected a couple times, I finally find it, virtually unlabeled, in the most obscure corner of the convention center. Every other event type has a front desk with someone who actually cares and coordinates the events, manages table setup, etc., but not CABS, so I just pick a spot by the door.

I give folks about 20 minutes, but nobody shows up for Rommel in the Desert. I didn't expect a huge turnout, but was a bit disappointed that I got nobody at all. However, given the difficulties, I'm not sure it was a huge shock.

After this, I was ready to just say screw it, I am not dealing with wargames at Origins again. There are tons of other things to do which are not completely screwed up. This year the War Room was even more anemic than last year, with barely enough draw to eclipse the Star Fleet Battles area. I doubt wargames at Origins will recover until they are wrested from CABS (personally, I think the vendors – GMT, MMP, Columbia – are going to have to take charge; I have to assume that the fact that few if any of their games are getting organized play and visibility is not helping sales).

However, I came back for my Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage event the next day, because I knew I had a few pre-reg online signups. We ended up with 6 at start, which worked out quite well. I put the two newbies at one table, then we drew lots for the other two games. As luck would have it, I was the only one in a game that was a mismatch, with my Carthaginians winning early on about the end of turn 7 when the Romans could not remove a PC, but just a little bit after this another player showed up, so I was able to match him up with my opponent. The other two games were quite close - Kim's game came down to a card play on the last turn (her Romans won due to a last minute Celtiberian defection). The newbie game took quite a long time, so I don't know how it ended up.

Even though my game was a mismatch, it was still fun and I think my opponent learned a lot (primarily, that the Romans can't be that aggressive early in the game ... things don't get truly desperate for quite a while). Kim enjoyed her game quite a bit, and I think the new players (one of whom I ran into at our friend Mark's Carabande game) did OK. So despite my previous vow, I will probably end up running Hannibal again next year.

There were a handful of interesting new releases in the dealers' room, and I ended up buying:

Triumph of Chaos: This is a new game of the Russian Civil War from Clash of Arms built on the Paths of Glory engine. I'm really trying to not buy these new releases until I get the rules or some early reports, but they had a good convention discount, and despite being burned multiple times I'm still a sucker for these card games, I guess (although I almost certainly would have waited if it was from GMT). The core rules look very sensible, but I am a bit scared of all the special rules for the 18 different factions.

Fire in the Sky: Another game with a minimalist cover (I like it), this new MMP release is interesting in that it's an import of a popular Japanese game and so may, unlike many games these days it seem, have had some adequate playtesting. Another game I might have held out on, but they had a nice discount. I'm looking forward to playing this one, as it looks interesting and unusual, and the system looks quite clean and professional.

ASL Starter Kit #2: On the scale of wargames these days, the ASL Starter Kits are ludicrously inexpensive (only about $20). I wasn't hugely excited about the first, infantry-only one, but now with some guns I'd like to give it a spin sometime. I'd like to have a good tactical WWII game that isn't out of hand, complexity (ASL) or playing-time (TCS) wise, and ASLSK looks reasonably promising. Why no concealment rules, though? That's a head-scratcher.

Speaking of which, Band of Heroes, the WWII "sequel" to Lock 'n Load, wasn't at the con – Mark Walker said sometime around late August. I'm still torn on pre-ordering it. Unfortunately, the graphics and graphic design for the new game weren't that impressive, which is unfortunate given the now much higher price point. I like Lock 'n Load quite a bit so I'll probably end up buying it, but it's not a done deal.

I passed on GMTs Men of Iron. I've liked Cataphract and The Devil's Horsemen, but the $65 price point on Men of Iron (no convention discount) seemed truly excessive for what, 5 small battles? Most of which are probably unbalanced? I also saw a few folks playing a very nicely produced Gazala game ... but then I saw the Avalanche Press logo, so I passed.

So, some good new releases, and with Shifting Sands hopefully being released at WBC, this year could end up being a pretty good year for wargames. But the genre continues its slide towards oblivion at Origins, which is a shame, but there is still WBC and MonsterCon is going strong, so you've got some options.

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