Wednesday, 23 November 2016

So, what am I really looking for in a wargame to play with a child?

I was going to next develop a list of games that I am going to try playing – and ask for recommendations. However, thinking about it I thought that it would make more sense to think about the criteria that would make a game suitable for a child to play so I can then judge if a game might be suitable. I am in no way a game designer so these thoughts are very much of the cuff and from someone that hasn’t given much thought. Any pointers would be more than welcome.  In no particular order here are the things that I think may need to be considered.

1.       The amount of ‘manoeuvre elements’ that a player has to deal with. With the ‘One Hour Wargames’ the boy and I are trying at the moment, although they claim to be a ‘Big Battle’ game, you in fact have at the most 6 units to deal with each turn. Skirmish games are usually considered to be simpler, but if in your skirmish game you have 18 figures running around able to operate independently that is three times as many things to keep track of.
2.       How many different actions each unit can take. If all a unit can move, shot and fight in a turn, that is easy to keep track of. If you are worrying about reloads, overwatch or a morale test this turns into overload for a child quite quickly.
3.       How many rules differing units use / have access to. One Hour Wargames being a useful example again. Every unit uses the same mechanic for fighting – through a dice for a score. You may have to half it for cav or add 2 for heavy foot but this is just a bit of simple arithmetic. Games that have a mechanic that ever unit has access to differing rules can quickly become complex. I love playing Malifaux for instance, but damn, I find it difficult to remember what my units can do, let alone my enemies stuff. Differing rules can be ok if each side has different rules but are the same for that side. So in Space Hulk, Genestealers may play different to the Space Marines, but if you are playing the Genestealers, they all have the same few rules to keep track of – and their player does not have to keep a close track of the Marines rules.
4.       How complex are the command and control rules. Games without any are probably the way to go for children. Or at the least simple ones. DBA’s through a dice and you can move that many elements / groups is probably ok, anything more than that probably a no no.
5.       Are the victory conditions simple, consistent and clear? ‘Kill all the enemy to win’ simple. ‘Have a unit walk of the opposite board edge before turn 10’, probably doable. Any victory conditions that can’t be made clear in one or at most two sentences, probably to much.
6.       Last criteria that I can think of and probably the most important one. How long before stuff happens? I think Peter Pigs pre game in Poor Bloody Infantry is excellently designed to give an exciting asymmetrical game but it is a fair amount of doing stuff before you start shooting each other. Likewise, I prefer games where you can and indeed must manoeuvre for position before the fighting occurs. I feel children however are looking for a game where stuff happens from the get go. Winning may be important to them, but action all the way through is how they want to achieve it.

Any point that I have missed that I should think about. Any advice for things I should consider when looking at games to play? I would be interested in hearing any comments. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

One Hour War games - Lets play again

 After the sound thrashing that I received in the first game, we rolled on to play a more interesting scenario, where I was sure my superior tactical acumen would lead to a stunning victory. I chose more or less at random from the early scenarios number 3 - Control the River. The victory conditions were you needed to control both fords at the end of the game (15 turns). Right oh, simple enough. For terrain, again I went with a bare board that I fondly imagine is the colour of fields of Sicily in Summer, or somewhere. A river is added (fairly obviously), with two fords - one marked by the road. I also added a wood for a bit of interest - and because the boy likes having terrain.

My cunning plan - born out of my superior tactical knowledge of course was to throw my cav over the fords and fight the Romans on the opposite side of the river - where they would get butchered. However,  this would mean my heavy foot would get to the fords first. As the defenders at a ford only take half hits, on top of the half hits that heavy foot take this means they could see off all comers.

And here is the plan being put into action, horse galloping up, with my skirmishers in the middle so it can shoot in either direction as needed, one unit of heavy foot to take each ford and one in the middle as a reserve. The boys dastardly Romans are more concentrated. He has also placed his Velites in the wood, where they will be more or less useless. The wargames rule of 'you must stick rough terrain troops in a wood no matter if this is a useful thing to do or not' is followed by far more experienced wargamers than him, so  I can not hold it against him.

Realising that control of the fords is important, the boy throws his cav forward to control one crossing, so I pull my Numidians back to let the Spanish foot storm the ford. On the other side, my Gallic Cav are well on the way to carrying out the 'being butchered' part of the plan but this does allow the foot to take the ford.

 Not content with letting me attack his cav on the ford he throws them forward so his legions can dig in on the ford. It does mean his cav give up the protection of the ford and will get tonked, but all in all a good move. Hmm, my boy does seem to be a fast learner. His Triarii have also walked over their mounted opposition and move up to start the attack on the other flank. He has also realised that sitting in the woods with his sole missile unit is a waste of time and has brought it up to the river where an inconclusive exchange of javelins is taking place with my light foot.

A few turns later. My Spanish have attacked the ford to their front and my Gauls have beaten the Triarii so the Italian allied foot are thrown in. At this point, the game degenerated into a dice throwing contest as we ground out casualties on each other.

 The Spanish die so the Libyan Spearman are tee'd up for the fight.

His Italian allies die so a Legion is moved to be thrown in. The boy was also getting the worst of the Javelin exchange so has pulled back from that to save his unit being destroyed - again, a sensible and clear sighted decision.

The game was due to take 15 turns and at that limit (lets call it nightfall) whoever is defending the ford is judged to have held it. So a drawn game.

So, how was it?

As a game, not to great. There were a few moves to try and grab the fords first but most of the game were two static combats with one side having a big advantage on each combat. This may be realistic - as only battle that is funneled into two narrow areas will be a frontal grind but it does not make for an interesting game.

This is partly my fault with the choice of scenarios. Each scenario is supposed to be used with all the sets of rules. Those rules where most (or all) units shoot would have been much more interesting, as you would not need to be in contact to fight. If I had given half a seconds thought to this I would have seen that I should have used another scenario. In my defense I would say that the rules say all scenarios can be used with all rules and I took them at their word. Next game, I will be sure to run a quick mental check to ensure that it will give a suitable game.

Good points? Well, the rules worked well and were easy to follow and gave no results that I would say were odd or incorrect - so that is still a big plus. The boy understood them and could apply them himself, which in the second game of playing them is a good thing for a set of rules that I want to use to play with children. Being so simple it also gave him space to think about tactics, which he did with aplomb. We also both enjoyed the game, it gave a good focus for us spending time together and we got to cheer or curse the dice and enjoy playing together, which is the most important part of the exercise.

 I will also need to try some armies with the ancients rules that use bowmen to give all the unit types a run out which I will do shortly. Am going to go with one more Punic War game first though - 'Flank Attack' as it seems to be a far more suitable scenario for the armies involved - report to be posted soon.