This is a brief description of various gaming systems I
have played. They fall under the following categories:
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These can represent a wide variety of times and places, real or imaginary,
realistic or silly. The goal here is to play the role of a character living in
the particular setting. The list below is not exhaustive by any means.
- Dungeons and Dragons - The original Roleplaying
Game, this medieval fantasy game is where many gamers started (I did in the
summer of 1974, shortly after it was published and before many of you surfers
were born). While a (comparatively) simple game to learn, it has its
limitations, and many players move on to other games more suited to their
tastes after a while. Some never bother.
- Traveller - Now in its fourth version, (Mark
Miller's Traveller by Imperium
Games), this is the original science fiction roleplaying game originally
produced by GDW. It included a variety of classic space opera elements
(interstellar travel, large empires, futuristic equipment) borrowed from the
better elements of science fiction and space opera. It developed what is
certainly one of the largest bodies of background material for what became its
game universe. I especially liked that characters were (originally) portrayed
as experienced adults (age 34-46) who weren't larger than life supermen just
because they were player-characters.
In its last GDW iteration,
Traveller:TNE includes two space combat games: Brilliant
Lances and BattleRider.
There are many Traveller Home Pages. Many are listed on
Traveller on the
Internet (a list of Traveller web pages)
- Bushido - A roleplaying game set in samurai Japan
(or more likely an idealized version seen only seen in Kurasawa movies).
Interesting selection of character classes, a fun selection of weapons, a
different blend of monsters, and an interesting sequencing system - basically a
counting down; high initiatives go first possibly more than once. A similar
mechanic is used in Shadowrun.
- Privateers and Gentlemen - A roleplaying game by
FGU in the Age of Sail (1755-1820), in which the players are officers in the
British Royal Navy, fighting all comers (usually the French :-). Wonderfully
detailed for character development for the time period. A bit sparse on
adventures. There is a related miniatures game that runs on the same scale as
character combat (about 10 seconds a turn) called Heart of
- SPACE:1889 - A "steampunk"
retro-science fantasy game set in the 1890s, in a world where there is ether
between the planets. Thomas Edison invented a propeller that can cut through
the ether beyond our atmosphere (remember your "history of physics"
in 7th grade science class?) for interplanetary travel. Mars and Venus are
inhabited by (technologically) inferior races, and the European powers are
expanding their empires across the stars. Mars has a unique product called
liftwood - a wood with gravity-defying properties! There is a related
air combat game I am particularly fond of called Sky
Galleons of Mars. There is a Space:1889 web page called
A log of my Space:1889 campaign is available online.
- Call of Cthulu - Choasium's classic horror
roleplaying game based on HP Lovecraft's tales. The players represent people
caught up with creatures and happenings so peculiar that it drives them crazy!
(No kidding; you roll to save your sanity when you meet or see horrifying
things). Mechanics are similar to Runequest. Available in
three flavors of settings: Cthulu by Gaslight (1890s), classic Cthulu
(1920-30s), Cthulu Now (modern settings 1980s+).
- Twilight:2000 - A modern, post-apocalypse game,
set in the chaos after a conventional war in Europe that ends with a limited
nuclear exchange used to ensure that anyone involved in the war (or not
involved) would not have the industrial plant left to cause problems have an
advantage after the war. Action occurs in 2000. Produced by GDW. Game of the
Year in 1985. The game is supported by a good collection of modern equipment.
It has an advantage that modern real-world sources can be used as background
material. The background serves as history for 2300AD (aka
For those who find this background a bit too depressing,
there is a parallel version called Merc:2000, where (using the same
equipment base) the players represent private mercenaries called upon to
perform jobs for various parties, both governmental and private. An economic
collapse (and general malaise) has shrunk the reach and grasp of the world's
major militaries. A lack of higher authority (big stick) and looser
international organization allows ex-military professionals a variety of
employment. This version of the background seems to serve as history for
BTW, I wrote a fewTwilight-andMerc:2000
adventures available on the web.
- Dark Conspiracy - A dark near-future game using the
same mechanics as Twilight:2000 (v2). The setting is after a
general world economic collapse and an increasing number of encounters with
wierd, unearthly, supernatural forces bent on taking over our world. The
players represent a group of individuals who have brushes with the peculiar,
which they try to combat with weaponry available in the looser standards of the
world. Rather like Call of Cthulu meets Merc:2000.
- 2300 AD (aka Traveller:2300) - A game set 300
years into the future, as man is expanding into near space (within 50
lightyears of Earth). They changed the original name to try to avoid confusion
with Traveller. A well-crafted, realistic background with interesting planets
and well-done aliens, but I found the mechanics somewhat confusing. It jumped
on the "Cyberpunk" band wagon, protraying the seamier of life on
Earth and added Cyberpunk-style body enhancement for characters and a
net-running module to its mechanics. Its "history" included
Twilight:2000 as the Twilight War that rearranged the
economic and political order of Earth. There is a related space combat game,
Star Cruiser. There are a few2300 AD home
pages. in a web ring.
- GURPS - Generic Universal Role Playing System
(GURPS) is an interesting design - it includes one rule set for any possible
setting - past or future. Supported by a wide collection of supplements with
additional or specialized rules for a given period, from pre-historic (Ice
Age) to the far future (Space). It was the first game to feature
designing a character from scratch, trading off abilities, liabilities, and
skills (each costing or crediting a number number of building points), rather
than the use of dice to randomly create character abilities (Such as DnD or
Traveller). The building concept was borrowed by many other game systems in
various guises. There is a GURPS
- Mechwarrior - Roleplaying for mechwarriors, who
pilot the massive war machines in the BattleTech universe,
as well as other inhabitants. It is a bit weak as a roleplaying game (IMHO),
but does serve to make our pilots into real characters who from time to time
act different than as robotic pilots of robotic machines.
- Cyberpunk - Roleplaying early in the next century, this gaming world
is taken out of the pages of the fiction of William Gibson (Neuromancer,
Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive), Bruce Sterling
(Mirrorshades, Schismatrix), and William Gibson (Hard
Wired), and that ilk. Characters are built as one of a few character
classes then determine the mix of skills available. Life tends to be nasty,
brutish, and short if you aren't careful. But the toys are good. Thoroughly
supported with a wide variety of sourcebooks and adventures.
- Shadowrun - Roleplaying in the 2050s, after magic
has returned as part of the "Sixth World." Kind of a dark DnD meets
Cyberpunk. Has some very interesting concepts, but IMHO, it has problems with
game balance, inconsistency, and a rather clunky set of mechanics. It does have
one of the better "net-running" simulation systems and a neat concept
of "skill webbing," which relates all skills used in the game:
don't know how to fix a gun, chummer? Well, at least you know how to use one.
That's one point removed, so you can try rolling for that missing skill with
the following minuses...
- Runequest - Originally developed by Chaosium and later bought by
Avalon Hill. The gaming system was more flexible and realistic than DnD. They
produced for it a wonderfully imaginative fantasy background world called
Genertala, complete with one of the most thorough mytholoies I have seen
Runequest included the first sport (Trollball) I
saw as part of a game background (only one until GW released Blood Bowl
as part of its Warhammer 40K stable). Trollball was a rough
rugby played in armor, with weapons, and a live ball (who wanted to get away
rather than being thrown, kicked, and caught).
RQ Adventures, a
fanzine devoted to Runequest, has a home page.
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What is a "strategic simulation game"?
A good question. It is often answered differently by different folks.
Here's my concept:
Strategy games tend to dilute the handling of combat units to abstraction.
Some games split strategic and tactical decisions into two separate phases:
- For example, in Battlefleet Mars, the decisions of
what units to build and when to send how large a fleet to a given asteroid is a
strategic decision. Fighting the battle is a tactical issue. (Many games that
split "strategic" and "tactical" levels often have an
abstracted die roll to figure tactical results so that armchair generals, as
opposed to armchair captains, can fight the war without having to mess with the
- In Third Reich, what front to attack and what forces
to commit to a given front (as well as the decision to buy units or save build
points so you can raise your production level) is a strategic level decision.
Way the you maneuver the units in a given attack (or set of attacks) are
tactical decisions, even though these are large units.
Other games are more easily defined as strategic.
Diplomacy - A strategic game of influence and
maneuvering set in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The major
powers of Europe (England, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and
Turkey) vie for control of supply centers. Units represent armies and fleets,
all of equal ability. You can ally or lie to the opther players to your heart's
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"Land combat" includes everything from individuals with hand
weapons to moving conglomerated armies around in countries. This includes a lot
of ground! Obviously, as the scale gets smaller, the action gets more detailed
- and the effect of combat on the individual becomes more pronounced. At
smaller levels of detail, units can (and do) decide to bug-out from the heat of
combat - an effect which can cascade as more troops see some of their fellows
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I like naval simulations for a a couple very good reasons:
- The units are usually easy to understand: a ship; an aircraft; a gun - nice
- Ships function more as instruments under the control of their captains than
land units do. The crew cannot effectively run away; ships seldom break and run
on the roll of a die (as seems to happen to me all too often with land combat).
A selection of naval simulation games that I like include:
- Wooden Ships and Iron Men - Age of Sail (1770 - 1820) simulation by
Avalon Hill. As the first of its kind, it is not a bad game, and was quite
popular around the time of the bicentennial.
- Close Action - Age of Sail simulation more detailed
and more realistic but as playable as WSIM. Currently published by Clash of
Arms Games. There is also a miniatures variant of the game that does not use a
hex map. There is a Close
Action home page.
- Clear For Action - Age of Sail computer-aided miniatures game. The
computer tracks a wealth of detail that would be impossible to track on paper:
EXACT sail state for the particular ship against the precise angle of the wind,
exactly how many guns are reloaded, and exactly how many bear at this point in
time, exactly how is the crew deployed, boat
handling/towing/anchoring/launching. It also hides details from players they
would not know, like exact damage to opposing vessels. Basically, the computer
(realistically) handles a great wealth of detail; the players order their boats
around. Miniatures are used for reference. There is a
Clear For Action home page.
- Heart of Oak - Age of Sail miniatures rules by FGU
designed to work with Privateers and Gentlemen. Works on a
very small time scale. I have read, but not played this set of rules. Seems
very realistic, but quite slow moving - the games scale is 10 seconds/turn.
- Ironclads - US Civil War period naval game showing the effect of
armor, turrets, and steam-power on naval combat. The expansion kit expands the
selection of vessels and scenarios to show other conflicts during the same
period, including European and South American Ironclad fleets. Easily adapted
- Jutland - The great WWI sea battle between the British and German
big gun battlefleets duking it out in the North Sea. A classic by Avalon Hill
using cardboard counters running about on the floor. Best played on green,
gray, or blue carpet.
- Submarine - Avalon Hill's simulation of the submarine/ASW cat and
mouse game during WWII. Units represent individual escort vessels or
submarines. While most of the scenarios depict US/British escorts vs German
subs and US subs vs Japanese escorts, there is formation for Italian, French,
and Russian submarines and escort vessels.
- Command at Sea - WWII miniatures rules by Larry Bond.
Harpoon for WWII. A very detailed simulation of naval
combat including air combat and amphibious landings. Current modules cover the
early Pacific war (1941-1943) and the Mediterranean (1939-43). There is a
Command at Sea home
- Harpoon - Modern (1980s forward) naval
miniatures rules by Larry Bond. A very detailed simulation of most aspects
naval combat including air combat and ASW warfare. It was used to "game
out" Hunt for the Red October and the naval sections of Red
Phoenix, and a version was used for tactical training by the US Navy. There
is a Harpoon home page.
- Fleet Series - Modern naval combat at one level of abstraction above
Harpoon (operational). The units represent task forces instead of individual
ships (the task forces are made of selected ships, but move as a force).
Various things like fleet formation, air combat, and inter-taskforce combat are
abstracted. The exact differences between weapons systems blur a bit. The
series of games by Victory Games represents combat in various parts of the
globe: Med (6th Fleet), the North Atlantic (2nd Fleet), Pacific
(7th Fleet), Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf (5th Fleet), and the
Carribbean (3rd Fleet). While all the games use the same basic rule set,
the rules have evolved over the ten years or so it took to publish the series.
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Like naval games, air combat games tend toward the tactical (unit=1
aircraft; game represents short combat meeting.) Due to historical reasons,
games only represent actions in this century (more or less)...
- Sky Galleons of Mars - Set in GDW's
SPACE:1889 universe, this game pits sky ships made of
liftwood armed with late 19th century naval cannon against each other. Vessels
are driven by hand-cranks, sail, or steam engines. I find this one easy to
learn and lots of fun to play. There is a
Sky Galleons home
- Richtoven's War - Avalon Hill's WWI air combat game designed about
1972. Easy to learn, if riddled with inaccuracies. Still probably the most
popular game for the period.
- Blue Max - GDW's WWI air combat game designed in the mid-70s and
reissued in the early 90s. (The latest version contains an embarassing number
of editing errors.) Uses an interesting system of each aircraft being able to
execute only a certain set of maneuvers from a given speed and turn selection,
with additional limits placed based on what the aircraft did last.
- Luftwaffe - An Avalon Hill operational level game of the early
1970s. It pitted US bomber groups against various defending fighter units over
Germany. Units were groups and squadrons. Not exactly a favorite, but did
introduce the idea of an operational level air game.
- Air Force - Battleline's (later Avalon Hill's) WWII air combat game
series. It included expansion kits for the Pacific (Dauntless) and other
European air forces (French, Soviet, and Italian aircraft). It uses plotted
movement, and was the first WWII tactical air combat game I know about. The AH
version features these need data cards with these swirly rainbows on them,
showing stall, maneuver, level, and dive speeds for accelleration,
deceleration, climbs, dives, and turns. Only recently did I learn how to read
the damn cards. Makes life much easier - if only to make some sense of the
- Fighting Wings - A series of games put out by Clash
of Arms games designed by JD Webster (who designed the Air Power series), this
is a more accurate WWII air combat simulation than Air Force. The system
includes both tactical (plane vs plane) level combat and an operational level
module (bombers on a mission with escort vs interceptors and flak to a target).
The series currently covers: Europe 1943-45 (Over the Reich), the Battle
of Britain (Achtung! Spitfire), and soon to include the Pacific
(Whistling Death). Fighting Wings games are discussed on the Air Power
mail list at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a
web page (I support it rather heavily, too).
- Foxbat & Phantom - Jet combat game created in 1975 by SPI. The
only one of its kind available when it first appeared, it leaves a lot to be
desired as serious air simulation. However, it was easy to learn and fun to
play - and for a long while, the only (jet air combat) game in town.
- Air Power - A series of games designed by JD
Webster, who was an A-7 pilot for the US Navy, this an accurate simulation of
modern jet combat. The rules set has gone through an amount of evolution. The
series includes: Air Superiority, Air Strike, Middle east supplement
Desert Falcons, and The Speed of Heat (upgraded rule set; Korean
& Vietnam era aircraft). There is a mail list for Air Power in all its
forms at email@example.com. There is an
Air Power web
Space combat simulation games tend to be some collection of physics and
fantasy. Some handle like air combat games; some handle like naval combat
games; and some are... different. Due to historical reasons, space combat games
only represent actions after this century (more or less)...
- Star Cuiser - Set in GDW's 2300
AD universe, this game makes sensors very important. Spacecraft move at a
notable fraction of C over very large distances. Finding the enemy and
classifying the most promising targets (using either your own sensors or
sensors from a drone) is half the battle. Due to the size of hexes, laser
weapons are used against targets in your hex; the main weapons are missiles
that you send to catch up to an enemy and then fire nuke-detonation-powered
lasers in a circle within a few thousand kilometers of the target.
- Battlefleet: Mars - Battlefleet: Mars (by SPI)
simulates a rebellion by workers for a rather tyrranic company at various
installations off earth with the Solar System in the late 2100s. The space
craft are modified commerical craft - miners, boosting/catching ships, and
transports. The part I like best about the game is the map includes planets
that move around month by month. In fact, the turn track is the orbital track
of Jupiter. This is nearly a strategic simulation on its higher level - the
players select what new weapons and ships to build, move them about the solar
system on multi-month (multi-turn) trips, and try to exert political influence
at various points of interest. (Political influence can cause either side to
collapse; it is influenced by military victories or losses, the application of
political agents, and a die-roll (ah, fickle humanity).
When they arrive at
a location with an enemy base or vessels, there is a tactical battle. Vessels
move based on vectors. There are two tactical displays to show all three
directions (unfortunately). Vessels can change only so many vectors at a time.
At close range, they fire. I found it neat.
- Aerotech - This was Battletech's attempt at an aerospace game. It is... poor.
Like, they never heard of "vectors." Like the ability of vessels to
turn is based solely on speed. Like some very peculiar things happen with
critical hits: we played a game where a dropship out-paced a set of fighters
chasing it due to critical hits that caused it to get extra accelleration. From
damage. The escapee did not have the option of flipping in place to a)
decelerate using its main engines or b) to bring better weapons to bear.
Admittedly, the game is also an aerospace game - but it makes no
differentiation about the physics of atmosphere and non-atmosphere operations.
Our gang played this once and only once.
I understand that FASA has
introduced another space combat game (BattleSpace) to support their 3050 stuff,
but I have not played it.
- Brilliant Lances - GDW came out with a new
space combat game to match their Traveller:TNE set. It
features 2D movement and ships that match those built using Fire, Fusion,
& Steel, GDW's Design Rules supplement. Apparently, this gets quite
detailed, and is best suited to combat for PCs in a ship (lots of color that
has only small game effects: like detailing which cabins get damaged, minor
damage to various subsystems, etc.) that's not too big, as BL seems to
take a long time to hurt large vessels. BL also extends
FF&S's ship design rules, much to the annoyance of T:TNE's
ship-design gearhead gurus.
- BattleRider - GDW came out with another space
combat game more suited to the large vessels (10K- 1Megaton sized spacecraft)
that lurk in Traveller's background but feature prominently in its ship combat
(Fifth Frontier War, Invasion: Earth, and Supplement 5:
Trillion Credit Squadron). BattleRider provides higher level of damage
and movement than BL does; a lot of the detail
from BL disappears, as the types of damage dealt would hardly be noticed by
these giant behemoths, and the granularity of the damage the deal is far less
concerned with the differences provided by a few MW of powerplant output more
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