Penny Wargaming

Penny Wargaming

My gaming path has generally veered away from tabletop wargames. It always seemed like a lot of time, effort and money just to get to the point where you could have your first game. But I’ve tried a few.

My main foray into the wargame genre has been Joseph McCullough‘s Frostgrave, a fantasy skirmish game where you assemble a warband lead by a wizard, and delve deep into a frozen city to extract lost relics. The catch is: There are other wizards (your opponents) who also want those relics.

The thing that got me interested in Frostgrave was the low barrier to entry. You didn’t need any special miniatures, you didn’t need any fancy terrain, and the rule set was not overly complicated. There was also a sense of progression from game to game as your wizard leveled up, so it had some RPG elements as well. Good stuff.

Further back was a mid-2000s game called Pirates of the Spanish Main (later renamed to Pirates of the Cursed Seas?). It was basically a collectible card game, except instead of your usual cardboard cards, it featured plastic ships that you’d punch out of thick styrene and assemble into three-dimensional vessels. Pretty nerve wracking to put together, as you often had to bend and force the pieces into place, but otherwise pretty novel. The game itself isn’t all that deep, but there was a lot going on in single pack. I still have a small fleet sitting on my shelf.

One thing I really liked was that you used the punched card carcass to measure “long” and “short” distances, to move your ships around and establish weapon ranges. This was way before I knew about the staple of wargaming where you’d use a tape measure. I thought it was pretty sweet that this “tool” was included along with everything else. It really stuck with me.

And now, the point of this post: A rambling entry about my latest game, Last Eclipse.

Turn Based Tactics Jam popped up on itch.io recently and it got me thinking about some of my favorite elements of tabletop wargames (see above) and how I might combine them.

In addition, having taken part in Business Card Jam last year, I liked the limitations of trying to cram as much of a “game” as possible into a small rule set. This wasn’t a requirement of Turn Based Tactics Jam, but doing so helps me limit my scope so that I actually finish making the game! So, I set some personal guidelines and started to put everything together.

I still wanted the game to be small, but wanted to give myself a little more room to work with this time around. For starters, two A4 sized pages that I could fill to the brim.

Liking smaller scale battles, I kept things at a skirmish size with 3 to 5 units per player and then settled on a sci-fi setting, since I had “fleets” on the brain.

I also wanted to include a “measurement card“, paying homage to (aka: totally lifting) my favorite gimmick from the pocket sized Pirates game.

Since this was going to be a “print it yourself” type of game, I wanted to use found objects to represent player ships. I settled on coins as it fit the idea of “carrying the game around in your pocket”, but really, you could use any small objects.

Let’s look at action order. A mechanic I keep re-visiting is a “rock-paper-scissors” method of action selection. In this case, Guard (defend), Warp (move), Strike (attack). At the beginning of each round, players simultaneously choose what action they are going to take, then each action plays out in order.

Guard, Warp, Strike!

First, Guard is used to defend your position from enemy ships that Warp within range of your weapons. Then, Warp is used to move your fleet to a new location. And last, Strike is used to perform an all-out attack. In most cases Guard beats Warp, Warp beats Strike, Strike beats Guard. Because players only get to choose one of these actions each round, and no one knows what their opponent is going to pick, it makes for some interesting situations.

“Guard versus Warp” is probably one of the more complex concepts in the game which I re-worded dozens of times in the final draft. It also lead me to cram in an example of play, just to be sure.

A sci-fi space game needs space ships! Not to go too overboard with ship types, I stuck with four distinct classes. Two large classes (a Carrier and a Cruiser) that you could upgrade to a Flagship, a medium class (Frigate), and a small class (Scout).

Ships are represented with coins during play, so these “sizes” ended up being translated to “values”. High, medium and low. High value vessels tend to be slower, but with better defence and firepower. Low value vessels are fast, but have less defence and weaponry. Medium is somewhere in between.

I had a few more ship types in mind, like the “Lancer” that could ram other ships, but only had so much room to work with. In the end, I was pretty happy with the ones that made the cut.

Speaking of coins, all combat resolution is handled with coin tosses.

For additional variety, I introduced Admirals. Choose one of five unique Admirals to take command of your Flagship, giving it a special ability such as increased HP (Hull Points), additional movement options, better shields, etc. I figured this would be the best way to add some variation without adding too many layers of fleet customization.

If I was to expand on the game at all, I’d likely include a few more Admirals and maybe a short write-up for each, beyond just rules. I think they give the game some character. I also allude to battles taking place in “sectors”, so maybe missions or a hex map might be interesting to incorporate, so that players can link several battles together and try to seize various locations.

If any of that sounds interesting, you can download Last Eclipse on itch.io, like, right now.

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