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Friday, May 25, 2012

Games That Define Us- Great Khan Edition

Obviously, since this is an OSR blog, I feel like I should open with D&D/AD&D. I saw the ads for the Holmes Basic Set in "Boy's Life", the Cub Scout magazine and I was hooked, it took me something like a year to find a store that sold that D&D boxed set, sometime in early 1980. My next D&D purchase was the AD&D Monster Manual, then the Cook/Marsh Expert Set, followed by a Christmas present of both the AD&D Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide, this set the tone for some confused rulings over the years as a DM, since I was playing a hybrid of Holmes, the X half of B/X and AD&D, but over the years I started to fall more in line with AD&D orthodoxy, with a few exceptions. Then, in 1985, I pre-ordered Oriental Adventures and it has been almost an obsession ever since.

Chess- Chess had to make the cut here because it is one of the first thinking man's board games that I ever learned. I learned how to play when I was in second grade, just because it was one of the quite games on the shelf in my classroom we got to play during recess time when it was raining or the weather was otherwise too bad to go outside and play. I really didn't learn the game until high school though when I played regularly with my principal, who was a ranked player, and occasionally I'd even win. My real claim to fame though is that I once played chess against a guy who had played against Bobby Fischer, I met him through my buddy Darryl's dad. Totally got my ass handed to me, it was worth the experience.

Risk- Ah, Risk, the game of world conquest. You taught me that the Ukraine was gigantic and the names of other exotic places. You were wrong about the Ukraine, but I guess a game produced during the cold war wasn't going to give Russia it's due, right? This game taught me two things, basic strategy and the importance of luck. Play with good strategy, take a few chances, and hope your luck holds; I was Risk champion of my dorm. On the other hand I have been beaten by people that had NEVER played the game before, so there you have it.

Axis & Allies (The Game Master edition from the 1980s)- Axis & Allies wasn't the first in this series that I played, that honor goes to Conquest of the Empire; which we also played quite a bit; but Axis & Allies we played more and better. Axis & Allies was the better game right out of the box, even it's recommended optional rules made sense. By the time Axis & Allies hit the scene, I was already a veteran wargamer, but this managed to take a lot of wargame elements and make them accessible to the masses, like a gateway wargame.

Dawn Patrol- This should come as no surprise, since I am currently engaged in a new Dawn Patrol campaign, but it was my first and is still my favorite aerial combat game. I bought it because TSR put it out, and I was a young TSR fanboy at the time, it's taken me this long to get good at it.

Star Fleet Battles- I never really understood why this game got a bad reputation as highly complex to the point where you needed a PhD in Mathematics to play it. I am not a math guy, and I have played a lot of SFB, if filling out the energy allocation sheet is too hard for you I advise going back to remedial 4th grade math. I bought the Commanders edition boxed set the year I turned 14, since my birthday is in July I don't remember if it was before or after I turned 14. I taught myself and my friends how to play, we made a few mistakes along the way in learning, but we had it down after a few games; it says right on the box "1,2 or more players Ages 12 and older". Sure it got a little more complex with each additional boxed set (or module, which I never bought), but it was building on knowledge that you had already mastered.

Up Front- The Squad Leader card game, picking on Avalon Hill title to add to the list was really hard to do, then I remembered the one we always played when we had extra time on our hands, it's quick to set up and play, even when you build you own squads with the point buy system, and it is one of the only games that I have that'll bring Lance and Darryl into the same room, although maybe not anymore, we used to have tournaments. Up Front is one of the few games I don't mind losing just because I had bad luck. Theoretically Multi-Man Publishing has the rights to it now, as part of the Squad Leader line, and they were considering making it a CCG, which would make me want them all to suffer horrible curses, but I would like to see a new edition. I have Up Front and it's official expansions Banzai and Desert War, but the cards have seen a lot of wear over the years.

Koei's Genghis Khan- Yeah, I know, it's a little odd to add a NES game to the list, and this title is really representational of all the Koei titles that were turn based war/administrative games from Nobunaga's Ambition through L'Empereur and including Romance of the Three Kingdoms; but my alter-ego here being the Great Khan, obviously I was going to pick Genghis Khan. I actually still own a NES and a copy of that game, I never play it, the battery inside it is shot so it doesn't save and I can't see leaving it on for the days that would take to complete the game. Darryl and I used to play the hell out of this game together too, in multi-player mode, usually one of us would pick England and the other Japan, since the four playable countries were Mongolia, Byzantium, England and Japan, we wanted as much space as possible between us before we had to start fighting each other.

Talisman- The 2nd edition before it got completely crapped up by the people at Games Workshop and used as yet another way to promote their Warhammer franchise, although this was sneaking into this edition too. This was a go-to game for us if we wanted to play something fantasy, fun and easy to teach/learn. I had, I am pretty sure, every expansion for this game that was released in the US except Timescape, we drew the line there. I always wanted to play in a D&D campaign set in this world, minus the out of place and silly characters. The board evoked a place that was both real and medieval, yet mythic at the same time. The only real drawback to this game was that it could get tedious after having died several times and starting over. I have played the new Fantasy Flight Games version, and while it is much, much nicer than the last Games Workshop edition, the 2nd edition still holds my loyalty, the FFG version is like a more polished, prettier version of my old 2nd edition, but it loses something in the transformation.

Warrior Knights- Have you ever razed a city to win a game? My old gaming group got in touch with the designer to ask him a few questions about the rules and our interpretations and we discovered we were doing the entire political phase wrong, apparently we were supposed to spend all of our votes on a single action. We didn't. We played a much more corrupt and Machiavellian version of the game than had been considered by the designer. We bought and sold votes, forged alliances to screw over whoever was in the lead, and fought over who would hold the wool concession. Games Workshop did a great job with this one, I hear that Fantasy Flight Games has put out a new edition, but, in the words of Lance, who has played it "It sucks. They screwed the pooch on this one". He tried it several times, just to try and get accustomed to the rules changes and that was his ultimate opinion; then he taught his Tuesday Night Gaming Group how we played the old GW version and they had a blast with it.

This was fun, maybe I'll do a part 2 that includes the games I cut from this list.


  1. Man, I used to love Up Front! Never went beyond the first "meeting of patrols" scenario, but played it over and over again.

    1. I know I must have played every scenario out of each published supplement, but the scenario that we always play as our go to for fun is one from The General- Volume 26 Number 5; it's called 501 city fight in 4. It's a DIY scenario set in a city, played over 4 decks, you get 501 points to build your squad. Do you spend all your points right away and hope you're lucky enough to win before they bring in reinforcements? Reinforcements get cheaper to buy with each passing deck, so someone who spends wisely could start off with a small squad and gradually increase it in size until they finally brought in a tank or some other AFV for the final deck.

      And, again, I don't mind losing to bad luck in this game. I remember once I had the main force of a Japanese squad pinned in a stream in front of my pillbox, when my machine gun jammed. I never got another fire card I could use and I never cleared that jam; the Japanese just walked straight up to the pillbox and lobbed in a satchel charge for the win. Luck.