Somebody had to do it
Many of you know that, like most small companies in the game bid'ness, our illustrious crew here at ArmourSoft does this game thing part-time. We all have families and real jobs and have to squeeze in designing games and running the business side of things in whatever spare time we can manage. Due to the nature of the work involved, some "slots" of spare time are more suitable to certain game projects than others. F'rinstance, the research on Tankbase, our upcoming rules system that covers land warfare for pretty much this entire century, requires access to our voluminous libraries and very large piles of notes sent in to us from various places (special thanks here go to Jim O'Neil, whose help in this project has been indispensible!) and lots of intense concentration. On the other hand, scribbling down game design notes on a scratchpad can be done just about anywhere during a free moment. In practical terms, our collectively bizarre scheduling gives us time to work on "light" projects without taking away resources from our current main project, Tankbase.
A few weeks ago when we finished work on Slargeball we started to think about what to do for our next "light" project. At the same time we were pondering which "major" topic to tackle after Tankbase. A quick look at our list of potential projects produced the obvious choice, a project we had been thinking about for many years yet one that would not require months of research or lots of complicated programming.
We first came up with the idea of doing Generic Legions (formerly known by the working title Tankbase Sci Fi) for one simple reason: we had a huge collection of assorted science fiction miniatures, probably on the order of six thousand vehicles and infantry, but we didn't have a really good set of game rules for using them. Then, as now, there were some very good science fiction wargame rules and some that were, well, not quite as good. None of the rules available were really suitable for mixing units from one line of miniatures with those of another. We wanted a set of science fiction wargame rules that would work well, be fun, and allow us to use all our sci fi miniatures with a minimum of hassle.
(Continued - see MARILYN on Page 2)
Marilyn's ghost is having our baby
continued from Page 1
The original Tankbase Sci Fi idea was intended to be much like it sounds: a variation of the Tankbase system designed for a sci fi setting. It was to utilize a specially-designed "generic" combat system that would allow the gamer to tailor the game to any other existing tactical science fiction ground combat game. (A possible future project would cover tactical spaceship combat and include a strategic galaxy-wide campaign system to tie it all together.)
We knew we would have to include a detailed background for the generic combat game engine along with some original unit types so that the game could be played "out of the box". This would be tough, there were already so many good sci fi game backgrounds in existence at the time that coming up with something creative and original would require a good bit of effort.
Meanwhile, the obvious DIPCo boardgame follow-up to Slargeball was a project we called Generic Legions/Irvanian Robots, described in the last issue of this newsletter. GL/IR was envisioned as a small two-player humourous sci fi game. It only took us a few months to figure out that the unique, creative background we were looking for to use in the Tankbase Sci Fi project was right before our noses.
Using a humourous background for the big project has a number of important advantages: it's original, it's interesting, it's fun, and it's different. It allows us to put material dating back to the 1977 Encyclopedia Irvania to good use (the chicken logos on Page 1, for instance) as well as giving us the opportunity to give the Irvania Saga some well-deserved development. It's true that producing a humour sci fi game is a bit of a gamble these days, but it's probably a better risk than producing yet another standard run-of-the-mill space opera system in a badly overcrowded market.
Introducing the Irvanians to the world of tactical sci fi wargaming has one more big advantage: practically every other science fiction game on the market these days is dark, brooding, depressing, foreboding, morbid, post-holocaustic, and generally an all-around downer. Generic Legions, by its very nature, is upbeat, optimistic, light-hearted, and a real hoot. The Irvanians do a pretty good job of running the galaxy, even though they don't appear to be aware of the fact that they're in charge of anything, and even the deadly alien invaders from mysterious parts unknown will occasionally admit that they're having a pretty good time. Generic Legions will probably stand out simply because it's not dark and pessimistic.
Illustration of Irvanian Commando Paratrooper from the 1978 edition of the Official Irvanian Technical manual and Military Yearbook
At this point, this is what we're trying to accomplish with the Generic Legions project:
- The game system must be suitable for small, medium-sized, and large games using miniatures of any scale from any manufacturer
- The game system must be original yet capable of being tailored by the gamer to "feel" like other popular sci fi game systems: approximation, not duplication!
- The gamer will be able to use GL to play a "serious" game, using the background from any other game and converting the units from the other game into GL format; or a "silly" game, using the background and units included in GL
- The gamer must be able to create, modify, and convert units back and forth without going insane
- The game system can be played without the computer if desired, using charts and percentage dice, with a minimum of paperwork required
Our hottest seller in December:
Thousands flee in panic
Nearly 18 months after the game's release, Chart Wars has finally been reviewed. Fire & Movement (issue #89) and Paper Wars (issue #12) have both recently run reviews of Chart Wars, ArmourSoft's very first game release. We haven't seen the review in PW #12 yet but John Kisner's write-up in F&M #89 was very favourable. The reviews were so positive that as soon as those issues hit the streets, we started to get requests for CW from gamers who cited the two magazine reviews.
Shipbase III has gotten some brief but favourable write-ups in Historical Gamer and a few other places but hasn't been reviewed in depth yet. We sent copies of Slargeball to several magazines for review a few months ago, no telling when any of that will see print.
We were most curious to see how our games would be reviewed; SB3 mixes in fairly well with the content of the historical miniatures magazines, but games like Chart Wars and Slargeball are just different enough that the magazines aren't quite sure what to do with them yet. Humour games have always been a bit of an in-between category, further confusing the issue. Regardless, the gamers seem to like them. We're just happy to see the word finally starting to get around.
Speaking of being whapped upside the head...
We've been tinkering with ideas on how to play Slargeball using miniatures. So far it looks like the game can be played with the rules as written in the boardgame version. You'll have to make a big hex board for the playing field. We recommend using two-inch hexes if you're going to use the modified 1/35th scale plastic figures. That means you'll be able to fit a 30 x 15 hex grid on a standard 60" x 30" table. We're making our slargefield from large sheets of styrofoam, painting the surface green and covering with green shredded foam "flocking" (available in hobby shops). The white lines and text will be painted on over all the green stuff.
The Airfix 1/35th scale British 8th Army figure set is a great source of potential Slargeball figures because the arms, heads, weapons, and equipment are all molded separately. The Tamiya 8th Army set is cheaper but requires a little more work because the chin straps and some of the equipment have to be carefully carved off the heads and torsos. The Tamiya figures all have flat heads where the helmets are supposed to be glued on, so you have to either mold the tops of the heads out of putty or glue on some sort of appropriate hats. We modified some German WWII field caps, glommed from some other 1/35th scale plastic infantry kits, to look like sport caps.
Unless you perform a lot of conversion surgery on the figures, as assembled out of the kit they will look as if they're still trying to grasp their rifles and machineguns. To fix this simply make some slargebats out of round toothpicks using a small lathe or Dremel tool and glue them in the slargenards' hands.
Glue or paint the two-digit player numbers to the back of each guy's shirt. Print up and cut out the player stats on little bits of paper and glue these to the figures' baseplates, so that the game stats can be easily seen during play. When a guy gets whapped, simply lay the figure down. Most of the prone figure will fit in a two-inch hex but will stick out a bit. The visual effect of a dozen or so unconscious figures entangled across the field is quite amusing.
We haven't quite settled on how to represent the ball itself. Currently we're using a 1/76th plastic 55 gallon drum from some model tank kit.
The first print run of Slargeball is completely sold out. The second printing is now in the works and will probably be done by the time you read this. Our experiment with the "econo" game kit format seems to be a big success so we're going to keep it for the second print run. There will be some slight improvements to the map pieces to help them go together a bit better, but the price will remain at a very reasonable $5.00.
We've been getting a few letters and calls from people across the country asking how come they can't find ArmourSoft games in their local game stores. The answer is because we're slowly starting to work our way through the game distribution networks. You can help speed up this process by asking your local game store owner to ask his or her distributors to start carrying ArmourSoft products. The game distributors are a bit leary about dealing with small new game companies like ArmourSoft (started in late 1991), so the more requests they hear from customers, the more likely they are to start carrying our stuff. Pass along our address to anyone who might be interested.
Our legal department tells us we need to prominently display our copyright and trademark notices from time to time. Irvania, the Irvanian Commandos, Slargeball, Irvanian Robots, Generic Legions, and the Encyclopedia Irvania are all trademarks of ArmourSoft Inc.
Hmmmm, another view of the P51D Mustang we saw last issue.
Tankbase Project Update
Not to worry, we haven't forgotten about the big historical miniatures project. We're working on some new programming techniques and otherwise adding some new features that require a bit more time, but will ultimately produce a much better game. We realize that there are lots of people out there anxiously awaiting Tankbase (heck, there are lots of people right here anxiously waiting for it!) but we ask for your patience. It's for a good cause.
At the moment, the tank-to-tank combat portion is coming along quite nicely. This section of the project is based on computer-assisted tank game designs we've been developing since 1982, so it's built on quite a bit of experience. We've got the system tweaked to the point where we can include every armoured vehicle type in the books, including all the experimental vehicles and those produced by the less-well-advertised nations and during the obscure inter-war periods. So far we've got well over 350 vehicles in the database, with dozens more to go. Of course, there aren't any miniatures available for a lot of these vehicles yet and many of them never saw combat anywhere; some of them were never actually built. We're going to include them anyway in case miniatures are eventually available for them, and so gamers can use their modified models. This allows greater flexibility in designing scenarios set anywhere in the world, at any time during this century. Mainly, we're including all the vehicles we can get data on simply because we can.
We don't want the infantry and artillery to feel left out, so we're going to be giving those two areas the treatment as well. The program will deal with a huge amount of data, down to the health of each individual soldier with a few battalions on the tabletop, but the user interface is designed to keep the actual gameplay simple and quick. Gamers who want to micromanage their troops down to the small unit level can do so to their hearts' content, and gamers who want to just have a fun quick whapfest can do so too. The command and control rules will be designed to accomodate the various schools of thought bouncing around in game discussions these days. Those who insist that the player represents a single field commander (battalion, division, corps, or whatever) and therefore does not have access to information on and does not care about the actions of individual soldiers and squads, can play Tankbase in that mode. The rest of us, who enjoy a good shoot-em-up and really do like to know what happens when a 90mm round hits the side of a Panther, can play it that way too.
A set of parameters selected at the beginning of a scenario determines the level of detail the game will have for that scenario. A given battle can be played at the battalion level, for instance, then done again at the corps level and later the gamers can zoom in and see what the situation is like at the squad and individual soldier level. There are essentially different sets of rules inside Tankbase for the skirmish level, battalion level, and so forth, but it's all crammed into the computer and looks like one big system to the user.
The big question we've been getting is: when will it be ready? Can't give any reliable time when the game will be available for sale, but we do know that we will have something to demonstrate in time for Historicon '94 in July.
Uniform of the Royal Irvanian Navy. Illustration from the 1978 edition of the Official Irvanian Technical Manual and Military Yearbook
The DIPCo Section
With the success of Slargeball and Generic Legions showing up at conventions here and there, more and more people are asking about Irvania. In the way of explanation, here is an except from the Encyclopedia Irvania, chronicling the beliefs of the Irvanians concerning their own origins:
In the beginning, there was God. He felt alone, so he created the universe. He made the Earth and the skies and the sun. He created all the beasts of the land and of the sea, and the birds of the air. Then He created all the fossils to confuse the archaelogists that He knew would eventually come along. And He was amused. Then He created man in his own image, and woman to accompany man. Man formed the many nations of the Earth. But God said it was not good that all the nations of the Earth should remain in one place, so He formed a new land that would not stay in one place for any length of time, and He named this new land Irvania. And He was really amused. God set aside one man to be king of Irvania, and this man was to be called The King of Irvania. The people of this new land were dismayed, for their land kept moving about, and the lands of their mothers-in-law did not move at all. The peoples of the lands that did not move were angry at the Irvanians, and tried to smite them. But the land of the Irvanians moved out of the way just in time to avoid being smitten, and The King of the Irvanians said that this was good. He proclaimed that his nation should run away from their enemies as long as the mustard seed should hold out, and in this manner the Irvanians escaped the hands of their many enemies, and all the Irvanians thanked their king for leading them out of a tight spot.
With all the excitement about Generic Legions, the DIPCo crew hasn't had a lot of time to work on Napoleon at Chattanooga. The playtesters are all out of the hospital now, and we've talked them out of suing. The player who had commanded Marlborough's phalanx units during the flank attack around Nashville, who was injured by a falling stack of Dutch hussar counters, was so happy that his attack worked that he didn't mind his shattered collar bone. In fact, the manoeuvre was so successful that we decided to incorporate it into the Combat Results Table. Nevertheless, we reduced the stacking limit to four feet high for the sake of safety. More on this project next issue.
We're really sorry about that!
Click here to return to