Thursday, October 30, 2008

Flintlock: Black Powder and Cold Steel... a Publisher's Take

Played Flintlock, the Cowpens scenario last night. I really enjoyed myself. The game provides the feel of commanding the arnies and wheeling the troops into place.

The turnless sytem is great fun. Not because it is supposedly turnless... you do in fact take turns, but because it rewards the better historical leaders, and allows table-top commanders to boldly attempt to seize the initiative or to play it safe. Simply put, after a commander's activation, the ownling player may attempt to activate again, by rolling against the commander's initiative. This gets more difficult after back-to-back activations. The enemy commander may attempt to seize the initiative by rolling against his own overall commander's initiative. If he makes it, great; if he doesn't he's penalized.

After a handful of modifiers are learned, ranged combat is simple and a function of weapon type, range, formation, morale status and terrain. After two or three shots I had the modifiers memorized, and I'm no rocket scientist. Some nice chrome including positive modifiers for the first time a formation fires, and negative modifiers for the clouds of smoke these muskets generate.

There's opportunity fire. It's called reaction fire and can be executed against either 1) a unit that moves adjacent, or 2) a unit (usually a line) that fires. My opponent didn't like the idea of firing singly against a moving unit (the way the rules are written). He wanted it to be after the entire line advacned. We tried it both ways. I feel it works best as written, because if you wait until the line has finished advancing it allows two or three firing companies to pick on one unit. That feels way more like a Panzer Leader war than a Revolutionary War. Reaction fire against firing enemies is fun. We had a very cool Hollywood moment where Morgan's militia line traded shots with the 1/71st British Regulars.

Richard (Richard Berg, the game's designer) is correct. Shock combat is unique, and does affect the entire line... which usually means a single enemy formation. Shock is the most detailed part of the game. Not overly complex, but to be honest, we probably could have made it simpler with an additional chart that takes the player step-by-step through the process. You never think of everything. Basically you add your number units, account for their morale status, formation, and current state (disordered or reduced) and troop type (militia, Cav, regular). The other player does the same, you both roll a die, and the high man wins. What and how much is on the chart.

The game isn't without its blemishes. We found a mistake on the chart... to pass a morale check you must roll greater than OR EQUAL TO 5, smoke markers REALLY do work best when placed on individual units (that's the way Richard wrote it, but I thought it was too fiddly), and I small bit of chart organization would help newbies settle in.

Okay, so this is a review. A review by the publisher to be sure, but an honest one. So, would you like this game? It depends on the type of gamer you are. If you want flavor, and aren't concerned with spending a little time to learn a game, you'll like it. Maybe even like it a lot. On the flip side of the coin, if you are looking for a faster play, you might prefer something like Worthington's Hold the Line (another of my favorites).

Bottom line, we game for fun one night a week at Lock 'n Load Publishing. We've played Cowboys, Hold the Line, Conflict of Heroes, Axis and Aliies Naval Minis, Tide of Iron, and others. At the end of the night, finished or unfinished, we put the games away. Last night we stopped with Tarleton's troops assaulting the first line of militia and a cavalry battle raging on the flank. We didn't put it away. We carefully placed the game on top of a stack of DoH cases. This is one we intend to finish.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What do your games look like anyway?

If you are one of those folks that played Avalon Hill bookcase games or the avalanch of titles from SPI in the 1970' you are familiar with war games (they aren't really war-like... no one dies), if not, or even if you are just returning to the hobby, you might want to see what the board games I'm talking about look like. Here are a couple of pictures.

Welcome Aboard or Slapping a Title on Your Blog

I lead an eclectic life. A good one, but an eclectic one. I retired from the Navy in 1997 to pursue the writing life. A life that has treated me very well. Without presenting a boring resume, suffice to say that I've written over 40 books and God knows how many articles. The overwhelming proportion of that writing has been about games, although I've published a couple of short stories and a novel (A Craving for Blood). So, I'm a writer (no one ever shows up at your door with a certificate pronouncing it so, but if you support your family doing it, I guess you are).

On the flip side of the coin, I'm a game designer. In 2002, frustrated with the niggling problems I found in every game I played, I designed Lock 'n Load: Forgotten Heroes, a tactical game system that espouses fun and flavor over tedium and statistics. The game was a hit and won a game of the year award in 2004, and it's succesor, Lock 'n Load: Band of Heroes, did the same in 2006. So, I'm also a game designer. Again, no one showed up at my door with a certificate, but...well, you know what I'm saying.

Finally in September of 2006, as that coin continued to flip, I became a game publisher, opening the doors to Lock 'n Load Publishing. Life's good at the publishing company, we have seven games on the shelves, and at least three more due out by the end of the year. But the coin continues to flip. You'd think that writing, board game design and publishing (not to mention three daughters, a wife, soccer, dogs, cats, and what not) would be enough enough to fill my life. You'd think wrong. I'm also leading the development team for Lock 'n Load: Heroes of Stalingrad, a computer game based on the Lock 'n Load system.

The point isn't to pat me on the back and tell me what a productive guy I am, but rather present to you, my eleven readers, the problem in naming this type of blog. I'm a writer, game critic, game designer, and publisher. What covers are that? After seven minutes of intense meditation I found my answer.


Nothing covers all that, so I won't try to. This blog will focus on the design and production of games (both board and computer). Not just my touchy feely thoughts about it, but rather nut and bolt tips on creating and publishing your own designs. Will the other facets of my personality/work slip through? Sure, but they won't dominate. I want people who want a leg up to come here to get it.

Final word. I'm not an expert (not by a long shot) in all, or even most, areas of game design (whether board or computer), but I do know people who are. Hence I'll bring them in to add their comments and "how-to" articles. I hope you all like it.