Been Away – Back Now

Just to say that I’ve not been ignoring you guys deliberately. I was away from my desk for a few days, and as soon as I left I started having trouble getting onto my email remotely. Seems to be all sorted now I’ve got more than a tablet to work with :)

There’s a bunch of comments that need replies from my time away, so I’ll get to them over the next couple of days.


Posted in Random Thoughts | 33 Comments

GoA Unboxing Vid

I try not to post all the promo stuff various companies push out, but this amused me so I thought I’d share. The chap doing the unboxing is so excited that he doesn’t seem to breathe…

Certainly looks like a full box of stuff.

Posted in Gates of Antares | Tagged | 10 Comments


Just wondering.

This comes out on the 7th Nov.

GOA contentsAnd now you can pre-order this the same day : )

Conspiracies? Oh yes…

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Game Design Theory: When Is A Skirmish Not A Skirmish?

When it’s too big.

In my head I have a pretty clear definition of a skirmish game. It’s the same one I’ve been using ever since I started gaming, more than 30 years ago. It’s not a term that I made up myself, but a term I learned from the gamers I played with when I was small. As I grew older, it seemed that this was the norm, but in recent years the term is increasingly used to describe games I don’t recognise as such.

Part of this is, I think, a combination of a desire by companies to both sell “skirmish” games, and also to sell more miniatures. In this way the definition of what constitutes a specific type of game is stretched, just like the size of the miniatures that are used in them. In both cases the change is understandable as well as unhelpful.

So I thought that I’d talk a bit about what I mean when I say something is a skirmish game. This doesn’t mean that I’m right, just that this is a view that’s been consistent for a long time, and which I can’t see a good reason to change. Feel free to disagree :)

To start with, I think we can all agree that a skirmish is a small game rather than a large one. The real question is how small is small? The answer here is related to an article I keep forgetting to write for this blog, but is basically about how many different things you want to control in a game. For the sake of argument, I’d say 6-12 models is optimal. Much less than that and you risk losing to a single lucky dice roll; much more and you start having too much to worry about. Of course, the turn structure and other rules of the game you’re playing impact the accuracy of these numbers, but overall, in most games, they hold true.

However, size isn’t really my key defining point. For me, the essential defining difference of a skirmish game is that the models act individually. In my head, if a game uses squads of models that invariably act as a group, then it’s not a skirmish game. The only occasional exceptions to this would be weapon teams and vehicle crews which are really individuals, but are forced to act as a pair because of their job.

As an aside, it’s important to note here that skirmish games and historical skirmishes aren’t the same thing. Skirmish in military history terms is both poorly defined and variable in size.

The confusion in what a skirmish game might be comes when we have games that aren’t big, but use groups of miniatures. These might represent skirmishes in a historical sense, and be too small for (mass) battle games. This size of game allows the manufacturer to sell more models to someone by upping the size of game they can play, and also allows a gamer to take part in bigger games even if he can’t find space for a whole battle game. It’s not that this is a bad idea for a game per se, merely that the term used to describe it is confusing.

When I was small this confusion never seemed to arise. You either played small skirmish games or big battles. The in-between size was an oddity I don’t recall seeing much. And, as we’ve collectively carried on using the two terms that existed back then, this new middle ground has had to be crowbarred into one of them, even though it no longer really fits either end well.

Where I’ve got to in my head is that we simply need a new term for this middle ground. Skirmish games are, for me, individual model games, and as a designer that’s a very useful and clear distinction so I’m going to keep it. Mass battles are played on larger tables, typically 6×4 or larger. They use armies that are numerically large because they are arranged in units and need to fill that larger space. That too seems relatively clear, especially if you use the size of table as a defining point (possibly proportionate to the miniature scale).

So, if skirmish is very small, and mass battles are large, what word fits the centre ground?

Well large skirmish is a bit lame, and not distinctive enough for my taste. A surf of the thesaurus brings up nothing useful. I pondered the idea of something like grand tactical as it sounds good even if the definition is off, but discarded it in the end. Currently, I’m undecided. My best suggestion is to use qualifiers of battle. As this middle ground is really a small battle rather than a big skirmish (as it has squads), it makes sense to be related to that. And, if the big games on the bigger tables are mass battles, then maybe the middle ground was a different type of battle. Perhaps close battle would work. Close as in zoomed into a smaller area, and also because this area means you get to conflict quickly so you’re physically close.

So, in order of increasing size: skirmish > close battle > mass battle? I might try this for a while. What do you guys think?

Posted in Game Design Theory | Tagged | 30 Comments

Poll Ponderings

Well I think that worked rather well :)

I’ve been wanting to include a poll or two here for some time. When I looked previously, the process was something of a faff. Luckily, things seem to have caught up with my degree of laziness, and my poll about SF battle games was pretty straightforward to integrate into the page. I still made some mistakes, but that’s how you learn…

So what did the poll tell us?

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 13.41.18Firstly, that I can do polls. Expect more of them in the future.

Looking at the results themselves, Warpath was the clear winner. Personally I suspect that these numbers aren’t what we’ll see in the real world (back to the pro-Mantic bias suggested by several comments). My expectation was something closer in share. That is a guess though. What was more interesting was the tiny number of people who said they only played in 15mm. I expected more than that. Still, we could be talking bias again as I generally don’t talk about that scale, so why would they be here?

What was probably most interesting is the list of other games people mentioned. This was a broad mix, including various games that could have been in other categories or didn’t really belong (Dreadball Xtreme, Gruntz 15mm, etc). Someone said they’d be playing 40K using GoA rules, and a couple of folk have other home-brew rules, which I thought was great. Nice to see that sort of invention bubbling along as that’s where some of our next generation of designers will come from :)

The 3 most frequently mentioned games in the other category were Deadzone, Infinity and most frequently: Maelstrom’s Edge.

Deadzone I’m going to ignore. Partly because it’s not really what I was thinking about in terms of scale. While you can play larger games with it, the game’s really designed as a skirmish rather than battle. Plus, its relative frequency is probably only because it’s my blog ;)

Infinity doesn’t seem to be a battle game either. Good, bad or indifferent as it may be, it’s not really in the right category, so I’m going to ignore that too. Which leaves us with Maelstrom’s Edge. That turned up on Kickstarter earlier this year, and has its retail launch soon. I’m told they’re currently up to their ears in busy at the moment, trying to get it in the KS backer’s hands before the end of the year.

FullMaelstromsEdgeLogo_640wMaelstrom’s Edge is something I’ve read rather than played, so I’m not sure how it feels in practice, though it’s plain that they have some fans already. It does look like it’s worth keeping an eye on, if only to see what they produce in the way of models. Their plan is to only use hard plastic for their whole range, which is bold of them. Even if you don’t play their game there may be something for you to borrow for something else. I have a feeling I’ll be coming back to Maelstrom’s Edge when there’s something more tangible to look at.

So all in all it’s been a worthwhile experiment for me and encourages me to use polls as a means of dialogue in the future.


PS: having already posted this, I was looking again at my list of other suggestions, and was slightly surprised to see only one vote for Warzone. Seems to have slipped through the cracks.

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What’s Your Opinion?

It’s an interesting time for SF gaming.

For many years there’s been 40K and not a great deal else in the way of large scale 28mm SF battle games. Yes, there have been others, and some have done OK for a while, but none have really stuck. 15mm has been a popular scale for SF battles, and the 28mm games have mostly moved to smaller fights and skirmish games – apart from 40K, which GW have pushed into bigger and bigger battles.

40K Apoc28mm SF skirmish gaming offers a much wider set of options with many active games kicking about. So why is it that there’s so little in the way of mass battle SF gaming outside 40K? And, is that about to change?

Warlord have Gates of Antares on pre-order (it’s out on the 7th of November this year).

GOA contentsIt’s got good quality plastic miniatures and is based on their popular Bolt Action game, so you’d expect it to do fairly well. Warlord is a reasonable size and growing steadily. Can they grab some of 40K’s market, or perhaps tempt new blood into the SF battle game space? Or disaffected gamers back?

Then there’s a re-re-launched Warpath from Mantic.

Warpath battleThey’ve just finished a Kickstarter campaign for this. It’s looking like another interesting entry into the field, though their estimated delivery date of September 2016 is going to hurt if GoA takes off in the intervening year. Warpath might struggle to find a space between 40K and an established GoA. Then again, gamers are mostly magpies and buy way more games than they have time to play, so who knows? Well, maybe you do.

The following poll is partly an experiment for me to see if I can make polls work, and partly a curiosity about these games.

The question is what you think you’ll be playing a year from now, at the end of next year, when all 3 of these games are available.

Posted in Gates of Antares, Random Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 70 Comments

Gates of Antares Concord Plastics Review

The opponent for the Ghar battle squad in the Gates of Antares starter box are the Concord infantry. I can’t find a good close up of the painted plastic squad on its own, so here’s the whole set’s contents shot. The Concord are in cream and green on the left.

GOA contentsAs before, here’s the front of the sprue…

Concord front…and the back.

Concord backAs before, click on the pics for bigger versions.

Having seen some of these assembled when I was at the Derby show, I know that they look pretty good when they’re put together. At least, I thought so. There were others who thought that their legs looked a bit off. I couldn’t see that myself, and I rather like their non-“heroic” scaling too. Certainly it’s a point of difference from 40K.

The sprue itself has enough bits to make 5 Concord troopers with or without some sort of special weapon (on the right, below). I’ve no idea what it’s called, it’s just something a bit bigger as squad support. The standard rifle is on the left.

Concord weaponsThe sprue also has a support drone (where I suspect the real firepower lies) which played as a separate unit in the demo I had. It also includes two spotter drones (one for the squad of 5 men and another to accompany the drone): so 2 whole units per sprue, apart from bases. The support drone has a choice of 2 weapons, though one of them doesn’t seem to do anything much against the Ghar.

So here we have another sprue of armoured humans in space. I think it’s pretty nicely done, and it’s worth recognising that it’s a hard thing to make really striking. These look like being the reference point for humans in space in the game, and so are fairly vanilla in appearance. And in any case, how much can you do with humans in space? I’ll answer that another time.

Personally, I think the styling is interesting. The armoured suits are a mix of both soft shapes that blend into each other, and hard edges. You can see what I mean on the legs, below. This is a deliberate part of the design rather than anything to do with the models being “soft”. This much is clear from looking at the rest of the sprue.

Concord legsI also like the helmet design, though here we come to what might be a bit tricky when it comes to cleaning up the models. The mould line’s got to go somewhere, and here it goes down the middle of the face. I understand why they’ve done this, I just wish they’d tweaked the design so it could have been avoided. The face is the focal point of the model, and any small misalignment will be a real pain to tidy up.

Concord headsOverall, the mould lines are very subtle, and the small sink holes on a couple of arms may well have gone by the time we see production sprues. In any case, I don’t think they’d show on the final model, so it’s all fine anyway.

Everything on the sprue is nice and sharp where it needs to be, and overall I think it’s another good showing from Warlord. I assume that there will also be a sprue of bases in the style of the Ghar battle squad’s shallow, lipped base, plus possible flying bases for the drones.

Posted in Gates of Antares, Review | Tagged , , | 4 Comments