Friday, June 25, 2021

Game Review - En Garde!

Title: En Garde!
Design and development: Darryl Hany, Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren Wiseman
Editor: Paul Evans
Year: 1975, 2005
Pages: 88
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

We are from France! 17th or 18th century France. 

En Garde began is a fencing simulation and scaled up from there. It has more in common with Chainmails's Jousting rules and Star Smuggler or Barbarian Prince's time tables than D&D. This is rather refreshing. 

The rules are a detailed walk through this fantastic version of the 17th or 18th century. Your initial character build will require reading or skimming the entire book. While this may seem like a round about way of getting to character creation, the rules are so different than other games that the slog is totally worth it and completely understandable. The system requires no gamemaster, as it is result table based. It could support a gamemaster, if storytelling was desirable. 

I have also heard of people converting the system to an index card game for solo play. While not intended for this purpose, the results-ruling system lends itself to this. Where it falls down is the actual fencing rules. Random really isn't good enough for "reasonable" game play. However, I could see "building" a deck of index cards for certain NPC players so that they are semi-random in their actions, but still have believable drives and actions.  

Once your character or characters are built, it's time to plan. The time scale is a week of highjinx. You can duel, slum, or run off to war. Or find a mistress... Or two, if you're brave. 

The whole game revolves around picking tasks and attempting them with flair. Combat is deadly, unless your a yellow-bellied cad. Interestingly, since there is an honor system in place, you can avoid death by being a jerk. That's has ramifications for your character. 

You can get going with En Garde in about 2 hours. However, the game itself can go on forever. In fact, there really isn't a concept of party, its a social group. It's a great one shot system if at least one person knows the rules, which could turn into a session icebreaker for those who have flagging interesting the main "show". The system is quick with clear "break points" where the players can pause the action for another day. 

I found this game to be engrossing and engaging. 

I've been aware of this game since the 1980's, but only had a chance to pick it up during the pandemic. I am not aware of the rule changes that came between the original rules  and current 4th edition.  

One of the downsides of this game is the fact that there are clear gender roles which are asymmetrical. Personally, I play a rather "gonzo" style of play where I would simply ignore the fact that women aren't meant to be playable character and just roll with it. 



En Garde! is from UK based group. You can find it here from the manufacturer or get it via Amazon in the US. 


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Minigame Tryout Compartments

This game is designed to be as simple as possible. There are limited number of systems and compartments on each ship. 

In the last post, I mentioned 6 different hit "locations" for criticals. Each type of ship has a list of six hit locations, all of which are different.  

You will notice that some ships are compromised by different types of criticals while others are not. A commercial ship doesn't have the same abilities as warships or auxiliaries, so they cannot lose these systems. Warships are hardened against many attacks, so they cannot lose particular abilities. 

A commercial vessel has the following critical hit locations: 

  1. Life Support,
  2. Communications, 
  3. Hyperdrive, 
  4. Sublight Drive, 
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. and Cargo Hold.  
The Auxiliary ship has a different list: 

  1. Life Support,
  2. Communications, 
  3. Hyperdrive, 
  4. Sublight Drive, 
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. and ECM. 
The Military Ship has the following: 
  1. Communications, 
  2. Hyperdrive, 
  3. Sublight Drive, 
  4. Auxiliary Drive,
  5. Compartment breech,
  6. ECCM. 
What effect do each of these things have on a ship? 

Life Support keeps the crew alive. If it is damaged, it must be repaired at the end of combat. If it isn't the ship must be abandoned at the end of combat. 

Communications are the ship's radio and other systems. If the ship loses it, it may not surrender, coordinate attacks with other ships, combine fire (and die rolls) of two or more weapons. It's not really critical, but more of a nuisance if it is damaged or destroyed. 

Hyperdrive, Sublight Drives and Auxiliary Drives are pretty explanatory. Without Sublight drives, you can't manuouver. Without a Hyperdrive, you can't flee combat. An Auxillary Drive is a backup system for both sublight or hyperdrives. It can either maneuver a ship or allow you to escape battle via a jump. Once the choice is made, the other is ceases to be an option. 

ECM is Electronic Counter Measures. It screws with an enemy's targeting of your ship. Losing it reduces the effectiveness of you defensive systems. If an Auxiliary loses this equipment, they are hit has often as a commercial ship would be, except criticals remain the same. Commercial ships don't have ECM, so can't lose it and it is deeply buried in a warship, it can't be lost. 

ECCM is Electronic Counter-Counter Measures or the ability to fine target another ship. Warships have them as an extra part in their design. Losing it reduces your effectiveness in combat. ECCM covers an array of combat situations. For example, ECCM allows a ship to target multiple ships with one weapon. Neither Auxiliaries or Commercial ships can have ECCM as a standard part. There are a few exceptions. 

Compartment breech and Hold hits damage specific areas on the ship. For the commercial ship, it represents a large area that is easy to hit on a Commercial ship. It appears twice on the critical tables, once at the top level and second time on the compartment table. Other types of ships have holds, they are relatively small and don't appear on the critical table until specific compartments are hit. 

If Compartment breech is rolled, you have lost the use of one item on your ship and any crewmen in that area are killed either by the impact or being spaced. They can be replaced from other sections of the ship. Some items can take more than one hit. 

Here are a list of all possible compartments, not every ship will have every type of compartment: 
  1. Bridge, 
  2. Shield Generator.
  3. Emergency Station. 
  4. Turrets
  5. Weapons Bay, 
  6. Engineering, 
  7. Cargo Hold, 
  8. Shuttle or Fighter Bay/Hanger, 
  9. Magazine, 
  10. Armory,
  11. Medical, 
  12. Vehicle Bay, 
  13. Vault, 
  14. Barracks
  15. Medical
  16. Quarters.  
Once a compartment is destroyed, the next item on this list is hit in subsequent rolls. The bridge is always item 1, shield generator and emergency station is always 2 and 3. Barracks, medical and crew quarters are always last. 

Players arrange their critical list as they see fit, using the rules above. Commercial ships and Auxiliaries are at a disadvantage as they typically don't have all 16 items available to them. 

An example layout of a ship could be: 
  1. Bridge,
  2. Weapons Bay, 
  3. Engineering, 
  4. Cargo Hold, 
  5. Shuttle Bay,
  6. Vehicle Bay,
    Vault,
    Medical
    Quarters.  
The first six items are subject to hits all the time, while the items with no numbers cannot be hit until something is crossed off the list. If the ship lost engineering, the vault would replace it on the list. After vault is destroyed, medical is next. If the fighting was intense, the ship could be destroyed before anything else moves up the list. In any case, quarters would be the last compartment destroyed.  

Some items that can take more than one hit are as follows: 
  1. Turrets,
  2. Weapons Bay, 
  3. Cargo Hold, 
  4. Shuttle or Fighter Bay/Hanger, 
  5. Magazine, 
  6. Armory,
  7. Vehicle Bay, 
  8. Vault. 
The weapons bay and turrets can take up to three hits each and hits may be distributed at the captain sees fit. The first hit degrades the weapon or turret dropping it a tech level. The second hit knocks it out and third blows it off the ship. A vault can take three hits. The first two damage it and the third destroys it and its contents. 

The magazine and armory can take two hits each, but are non-functional after the first and blown away on the second. The armory stores weapons for ground combat, it has no meaning in a fight unless boarding occurs. The magazine feeds some weapons. When it is damaged, those weapons can only shoot with the ammo they have at the ready. For commercial ships, this one one more shot, for auxiliaries it's two and for military ships it is three. 

The hanger or vehicle bays can take one hit for the space and one additional hit for each vehicle stored there. Once hit, they may not launch shuttles or deploy vehicles until repaired. 

In each of these cases, the ability to be hit multiple times does not increase the number of hits a ship can take. If a commercial ship takes 5 and 5 criticals, it is destroyed. Usually. 

Cargo holds are an exception to the rule. A unit of cargo destroyed DOES absorb a hit above and beyond what a ship can take. The last hit guts the cargo bay. A commercial ship with 10 units cargo could absorb 10 additional hits to the cargo bay on top of the 10 needed to destroy the ship. Hangers and shuttles do not have this property as the items stored there tend to explode, burn or become heavy projectiles when hit. 

I haven't explained what every item is for, which will be the next post and subsequent posts will cover fighters, shuttles, boats and combat modifiers. 

Minigame Tryout


There is something liberating about a blank piece of paper. I have better tools, but paper and pencil is the best for ideation. After looking long and hard at Star Smuggler, I decided to create a mini-game based off of it. This is probably very derivative of many sci-fi games. 

Combat rules are simple. Roll one six sided die for each tech level of your guns. If multiple guns are available, they are either fired singly or grouped together. This will impact the number of critical hits you can do. If the opposing ship is a commercial vessel, you hit on a 1-3. If the opposing ship is an auxiliary ship you need a 1 or 2. If the opposing ship is a military vessel, only a one hits.

A Commercial ship is anything that is not designed by the military. A critical will be scored on two 1's or two 2's sequentially. Two criticals will be score on sequential rolls a 1 and a 2. These must be sequential rolls. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and four hits, while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is four hits and four criticals. 

An Auxillary is a commercial ship designed with military tech and refits in mind. It is not a war vessel, but has some defenses. It is hit on a score of 1 or 2. A critical will be scored on two 1's, sequentially. Two criticals will be score on sequential rolls 1 and a 2. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and three hits, while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is four hits and four criticals. 

A warship or military ship is designed specifically for combat. A critical will be scored on a sequential rolls of 1 and 1. Military ships do not take double criticals. For example a roll of 1, 1, 2, 3, is just one critical and two hits while a roll of 1, 2, 1, 2 is only two hits and no criticals.

A ship can take a number of hits depending on type not size. A commercial ship can take 10 hits, a Auxiliary can take 15 and a warship can take 20. Warships are designed to shed fire. 

Critical hits score a point of damage and damage a specific part of the ship. Critical hits are scored against certain parts of the ship: Life Support, Communications, Engines, Warp Drives, Shields and specific compartments. While each of the first 5 can be damaged only once, specific compartments can be hit multiple times. Think of it as trying to destroy a garbage can with a sledgehammer. It just keeps taking ugly hit after hit. Enough hits and it stops being a garbage can or in this case, a ship.  

Next post, compartments, shuttles and fighters plus roll modifiers. 

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Stargate Universe Review


"What if you took Stargate and made it darker, sexier and edgier?", said no fan ever. This show swiped the best of BGS and mashed it up with some great music, in front of a gate. It probably wasn't very good material for Stargate fans. 

But it was a really good show. I'd give it 4 of 5 stars. 

The actors were top-notch, the pacing slower, the sense of discovery was put at the forefront. Probably too much at the forefront. They wiped their butts with whatever Stargate had established. 

But it was good TV and science fiction. They stole a couple of key concepts from the series that came before it and ran like hell with them. The communication stones from the original show were placed front and center in the plot. These devices popped up in Season 8 of Stargate. "Citizen Joe" was probably meant to be a "cheap, one-off " episode to save on cast and film costs, but it was frakking brilliant.  SGU took that simple idea and made the speculative science fiction and flipped it towards contemplative. What does it mean to be "someone" if you can trade places? 

Like that one episode of Stargate, SGU tries to get into the head of the watcher by leaning on the contemplative. Some of the time, it worked. There were a lot of misses, but you could see the direction the show was taking. 

The show has many callbacks to some hard sci-fi, stuff so hard that it often isn't recognized as sci-fi at all. My personal favorite episode was "Trial and Error" which is a close crib of The Defence of Duffer's Drift. Capt Young experiences a series of dreams where the ship comes under attack. These dreams are the Destiny's attempts to communicate with the crew directly to determine their capabilities. It doesn't work well because as a program, the ship was expecting a commander to have all the answers, not to be the head of a team that creates answers on the fly. Young was exposed to his own failings and it became personal. Very personal. 

Another episode zig-zagged from high action romps back to the speculative. In Season One the episode "Time", the crew finds a Keno camera that recorded their deaths in an alternative universe which provides some answers to their current situation, again ask "who are you, if it's not really you?" 

Much of this show asks the question, "What does it mean to be x?". While Stargate was probably not the best vehicle for this contemplative study, it was very engrossing. This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy the item. #Ad


Friday, June 18, 2021

D&D Starter Set Review

Title: 
D&D Starter Set
Design: Wizards of the Coast
Year: July 14th, 2014
Pages: 64-page adventure booklet, 32-page rule book, and character sheets.
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars

You have to hand it to Wizards of the Coast; they know how to make a boxed set. As of yesterday, this set is 6 years old. And it's perfect to get started playing D&D. It contains a 64-page adventure booklet, a 32 rule book, pregenerated characters, a blank character sheet, and dice. 

As a condensed game, it has some lacks. However, with introductory sets presentation is everything. It's very nice for the retail price of $20.00. The rules are streamlined for quick play, the pregenerated sheets are good models for new characters if you wish and the 64-page adventure book is extremely nice. 

At 64 pages, The Lost Mine of Phandelver is someplace between a guidebook and double size module. It is faced towards the DM with multiple maps and sidebars to keep the game moving. 

The maps are on par with Dyson Maps, which is to say, they are very good. Unfortunately, they are printed on the pages of the book which means you need a scan and print out stuff that didn't come in the set. The artist, Mike Schley has them available for purchase on his website. It wasn't that hard to find and it is only ten bucks for perfect, ready-to-go "custom" maps. This is a far cry from the borrow and Xerox format of AD&D. 

I very much like Mike Schley's maps and the fact that Wizards of the Coast is deliberately asking you to make a purchase from a content creator rather than themselves. Mr. Schley's maps are wonderful. Besides the set of maps for this game set, new maps retail for $2-3. That's a great price for having stylish maps that all have the same design principles.  

The Lost Mines book is not only a module but a campaign setting. When combined with the driver sidebars and the second hints and suggestion on the back of the character sheets, it really is everything you need to become engrossed with this game. 

Unfortunately, it's an expansive one-shot. The DM will have to get to work making this campaign come alive from their own work or "reset" to enter the main world of D&D with new characters and settings. At 64 pages, the Adventure booklet is a little overwhelming for a 13-year-old to emulate, but for older players, it really does provide a model for creating a campaign. Those sidebars and hints are pure gold when it comes to asking probing questions and how they fit into this set of rules. 

After a while, I am sure that the players and DM will want more which is exactly the reason for this set. To sell other products. As a primer and gateway to the game system, it is remarkably well done and suitable for all kinds of players. 

I am going to post my typical Amazon ads, but want to remind you to check out your local game shop and discount stores. Apparently, this is out of print but not all that hard to find for less than retail price. My son found his at Ollie's discount for $8.00. 

This is the portion of the post where you click the link which goes to Amazon and I get compensated if you buy. #Ad


Right Name, Wrong Game

I've written hundreds of posts about Star Smuggler. One thing I glossed over is the combat system for spaceships. I was hoping that you, the reader would download it and try it for yourself. It really is an ingenious system. 

And not entirely appropriate for this game. As the title of the posts says, right name, wrong game. There is a flaw in this system which could be a typo or perhaps something intentional. 

I have mentioned several times that this game seems to have some aspects of Traveller, a very simplified version of Traveller. In some respects that is true. The plots, the technology types, even the Antelope starship itself. But that is where the similarities end. 

In studying this game, I have come to the conclusion that it might have been a stand alone game used by the author for a science fiction setting. Some sort of super campaign. 

One of the hints at this possibility is the combat system. It is really designed well for ship to ship combat where smuggling and piracy are critical.   

The game system has tech levels, from 1 to 6. For spaceship combat, you are able to roll one die for each tech level of the ship's guns. For tech level 6, you can roll a maximum of six dice. 

Roll a 1 or 2 and you have hit. 
Simple, eh? 

Well, yes. There there are the other modifiers and statistics that come into play. If you are shooting at a stationary target, you can roll up to 7 dice. Theoretically, that should allow you to hit at least twice, maybe three times. 

The vast majority of ships in the game absorb 10 hits of damage. With the stock Antelope with the tech level 1 guns, you need to go through 10 lucky combat rounds to destroy another ship. 

However with upgraded guns the modifiers come into play. If you roll two 1's or two 2's, you do a critical plus one hit for each pair 1's or 2's. A critical will damage the radios, the engines, shields, life support, ECM or breech a compartment killing everyone inside. There are six compartment areas. 

On a roll of a 1 and 2, you do two criticals plus hits. 
This random roll of seven dice from Random.org shows the problem. 

This is three hits tech level 6 guns against a stationary ship. But how many criticals? I don't know, which is why I suspect there is a flaw in the rules. 

My personal interpretation is that it is 3 hits plus 2 criticals. The first one and two are combined for the first two hits and the first two criticals. Then the second two is the next hit. If the order had been different, this would have been one critical and three hits. 

There is a third possibility. Perhaps the author intended the player to roll one die at a time so they get a sequence of numbers that can be evaluated in order. 

The upshot of this is, if you rolled a just the first 3 dice, that would be two hits and two criticals. Now when combined with the critical table, a ship can experience hull breaches which kill the crew and disable that area. 

This particular sequence of rolls, 3, 2, 1, 6, 6, 2 would result in 2 criticals, two hits and breach of the cargo hold and destroy the ECM system, if any. 

Repeat that a couple of times and you are on your way to disabling a ship. In the next sequence, I rolled 1, 3, 1, which is another two hits and critical. The critical took out the engines, which gives my next roll an extra die. 
Two more criticals. One took out life support and the other took out the crew quarters. The enemy can still shoot back, but they can't move and can only take two more hits. Anyone not in a suit is dead. 

It sounds like boarding time to me.

The problem with this is scenario is, this can give the player the opportunity to board and take a ship by wiping out the whole crew. That cannot be intentional, at least for Star Smuggler. Having two ships is very game breaking as I have proved a couple of times. 

The author seemed to realize this. Anytime there is a programed space combat event, the enemy ship will surrender at 8 hits and two to go. They rig the ship to explode if you try to take it. So you can plunder but not capture. However, there are random combat events that don't have this rule in play.  

As a homebrewed game about pirates and smugglers, it rocks!