More on Old Skool Skirmish today.
Diehard miniatures join the ranks I’ll be using for my personal games. Some great models in their growing range. I particularly like the Eru-kin (above), though there are plenty of other gems lurking in the mix. The Eru-kin will do nicely as models for my Toad Lords retinue. Speaking of the Toad Lords, I’ve been working on the background for the SF version of OSS, and it’s broadly done now. That means I can work out which models I can use in each retinue – always a help when sorting out what needs to go on eBay 🙂
In fact, you can use whatever models you want in OSS. It’s not married to any specific manufacturer. Just pick whatever miniatures take your fancy, define some appropriate stats and equipment based on what the model looks like and is carrying, and off you go. At least, that’s the idea. And it almost works…
As I’m still sorting out some working space to actually do any practical modelling, I’ve been limited to planning what to make for OSS. Mostly I’ve been thinking about scenery.
For a while now, I’ve been pondering about the slightly unsatisfactory nature of most gaming battlefields. By “unsatisfactory”, I mean that they look like games rather than real environments. What I want, I think, is a battlefield that looks like people actually live and work there. It’s a place in a real/fictional world in which there happens to be a fight, rather than a battlefield that’s been set up for this battle. This fits the sort of scenario common in OSS, where fights break out between different retinues in an ad hoc fashion rather than along any sort of front line trench equivalent: dastardly assassinations, outrages at the marketplace, duels of honour, protection rackets gone wrong, interplanetary incidents, and so on. All sorts.
Add to this the fact that I’ve decided to start from scratch with OSS, and build everything afresh. That’s much more exciting than simply reusing the same stuff I’ve fought all sorts of games over. Let’s have a new environment for a new game.
Having scribbled a bunch of notes while I was travelling about, I realised that I needed to organise myself properly. I came up with way too many ideas I liked to fit into a single battlefield, and decided to break them down into themes. That worked out really well, and allowed me to find a thematically appropriate slot for each of my ideas. Some bits turn up more than once, and it may be that some bits of scenery can be used in a number of different themes. To start with though, I’m assuming each themed set of scenery will be discrete and separate.
What makes this a vaguely plausible project is that an OSS board is tiny – only 2 foot square. This suits the small retinues and the intimate (and decisive) nature of the fights. It also means you need to make fewer bits of scenery to fill the table. All good 🙂
So what’s my first theme? Tricky choice. After some deliberation, I’ve decide to start with a Plaza. This should be a relatively simple build, though even here I can hide a lot of visual interest. Hopefully, being simple, I can get it done faster than some of the other options.
What do I mean by Plaza? Here, Im thinking of the sort of urban space between buildings, where town planners have created a sort of concrete park – a space for the megacorporation’s salarymen to sit and decompress for 10 minutes between meetings, while they eat their pre-packed sashimi, Soma, or Soylent Green. Somewhere that adds a bit of greenery to a concrete and glass environment, though in a very controlled way. In other words, a broadly flat area with interesting stuff in it to fight around – but with a reason for it to be like that.
These pics are a few of the best ones I’ve found online and should give you the general idea of what I’m after. None of them are exactly right, so I’ll be picking bits from here and there and stirring them in a pot to come up with something new.
OSS is sounding cooler with each post. Also, those Plaza pictures don’t really define with what I’d call “simple”. 😉
You’re right that a full-on copy of some of these pictures would be a crazy build. However, the basic idea is generally a flat surface with things that sit on it. In that sense, it’s simple.
Plus, a lot simpler than the other things I had in mind 🙂
Firstly I’m stoked you like the Diehard Miniatures idea. 🙂
And secondly on the battle field space concept. I’m not really grokking how such a random group of protagonists would come to meet up in a Piazza, beyond it being a sleazy space rangers bar. And it really feels like the same conceit behind Frostgrave.
However if you look at the spaces you have linked they could always be micro dimensions that exist in some between space that each faction uses to travel. It would be possible to build a battle board from 3mm and dowel – kinda like the Star Trek 3D chess board – and run a combat that is both simple enough to be quick and at the same time complex enough to be interesting.
I haven’t read Frostgrave. What bit of their conceit are you thinking of?
The micro dimension thing doesn’t sit right with me for this project, though I can see how you could work it as a sort of platformer.
The scenes here are simply the environments in which the action occurs. Perhaps they re near a bank and are the way out, where the gunfight happens (Heat), or they are the site chosen for the assassination of the ambassador, or where two rival groups happen to bump into each other. A Plaza is a place in which and through which many of the retinues might pass, so it’s also a place that a random fight could break out.
Frostgrave is a ruined city with treasure in it and the various bands bump into each other while pillaging.
Maybe your Plaza is part of a brutal future time reality TV show 🙂
OK, I see what you mean. Not really how I think of OSS because the environment isn’t abandoned, it’s just where they live. Think of it this way: if someone tries to capture the industrialist you’re guarding today, and you are paid to stop that happening, does it matter where you are in Mexico when that happens? There’s no special place it will go down, you just have to prepare for anything. That’s the sort of thing OSS scenarios represent, and the environments I want to play on are just slices of future worlds rather than current ones.
I’ve played Traveller scenarios where it’s a game show, and there’s no reason that wouldn’t work for a game or two. It’s not central to OSS though because I think it’s too limiting.
The longer I play with miniatures, the less interested I’ve become in realistic terrain. Precisely because it always ends up so unsatisfactory. I find myself more & more thinking in the direction of (semi-)abstract terrain. Stylised environments with iteresting shapes, colours & textures rather than attempts to model this or that landscape. Same thing with bases, for the batch of miniatures I’m currently painting, I think I’ll initially do the bases glossy black instead of the usual patch of earth. Let’s see what that gives, if i don’t like it, I can always redo them 🙂
I disagree, though that’s not without having gone through exactly the same thought process. Partly because I had a phase of playing Kriegspiel and got used to a somewhat abstract table, I did try using abstract blocks for scenery. However, it always felt disappointing in comparison to the miniatures. Kriegspiel uses blocks for units so it all looks of a piece.
Making realistic and convincing terrain is hard, not impossible. Whether I’m good enough to do so remains to be seen. Not had a serious go at terrain building for years. But I can try. As I said above, I am not impressed by most wargames tables, and I think it’s very easy to see why: lack of effort. Most gamers spend their time on the miniatures, and do terrain only begrudgingly. I understand this, and have had many conversations with people about it over the years. As far as my experience goes, it’s always been like this. That doesn’t mean I have to like it for my own tables.
In terms of bases, I’m going to be using 1mm clear acrylic bases. This follows on from the logic of doing nice tabletops and scenery. Every other approach, however expertly rendered, looks unavoidably wrong on most terrains because it clashes rather than matches. Clear always fits in 🙂
You disagree… that sounds weird in what is after all a matter of taste 🙂 Abstract doesn’t have to be bland, you can work with nice patterns & textures and cool weathered paintjobs. I like the idea of the clear acrylic bases, might have to look into that…
Disagree? Perhaps the wrong word. You know what I mean though.
Do you have any pictures of what you mean? I think our ideas of abstract are rather different.
Have a look at this old post: https://quirkworthy.com/2013/02/26/clea-base-technology/
I have found in WW2 games that it’s the small details that brings terrain to life. If you model a Normandy landscape with bocage, farms and a couple of roads it looks lifeless. Most gamers then add telephone poles along the road, which improves it a bit.
But put a stack of firewood in the yard of one of the farms, a pig sty with and a dung heap in another, some water troughs in the fields, an outhouse here, perhaps a roadside shrine there, and the place will start to look lived in.
Same goes for plazas. To avoid the Architect’s concept model-type terrain, add small details. A park bench. Some graffitti or a propaganda poster. Waste bins, especially in parks or where city planners envision will be places for lots of people. A kids’ playground can break up line of site/provide hazardous terrain (just try and run through those swings in combat gear) while not obstructing LOS, etc.
But yes, I think you are on to something 🙂
Absolutely – details. To follow on from what I replied to Thomas, above, I think realistic terrain is difficult to do well, but possible. Getting the right balance of practicality and realism is the challenge. Mostly though, I suspect that it is simply a case of putting the effort in.
Photographs of real situations and scenes are invaluable for this sort of thing, as it’s often the non-obvious incidental stuff which works best. “Lived-in” is exactly what I’m after.
I’ve heard it said that “looks pretty” is what sells games, and “plays well” is what creates retention and builds a community. I don’t know whether this is the case globally but it matches my experience.
As such, a pretty table with pretty models will draw people in and give them a flavourful first game, which is always worth doing because nobody ever plays a second game unles they enjoyed the first. However, as Thomas Cato says, one needs to examine the abstract game which lurks behind the prettiness. If you play any game for long enough you start to see the maths which lies behind it, and if this maths isn’t fun then the game isn’t fun – as you have memorably pointed out with Warhammer and mental geometry.
In this case, with small model counts and large open spaces, my intuition is that this abstract gameplay will be mostly about first-move advantage and firepower, rather than about morale or maneuver. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but needs to be deliberate on your part rather than an emergent property of the assumptions you made.
I’m interested in seeing what your thoughts are about system – you’re a vastly better designer than I’ll ever be, so I’m interested to learn from you.
EJ – I’ve replied to your comment in a post: https://quirkworthy.com/2016/06/30/a-point-about-game-design/
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Terrain is interesting, and God of Battles is an interesting case in point as your deviation from a massive list of terrain is reworked into you only need a selection suitable for the army you collect. That small change really showed a way of looking at it that is obvious when you think about it.