Tuesday, September 20, 2022

New English Rule Book for Tsukuda Hobby's Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro Simulation Game

 Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

My translated Jabro rule book, reference sheets, and custom game counters.

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Tsukuda Hobby's Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro (1981) game, covering both the 1st and 2nd editions of the rule book.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one: 

Gundam Squad Leader?

Can you tell which game is which?

Hobby Japan started importing American hex-and-counter wargames for the American market back in the mid-1970s (source). These "simulation games" proved to be popular, but the strengthening value of the American dollar vs. the Japanese yen at the time made imports expensive. By 1981, three Japanese companies started making their own lines of domestic simulation board games: Bandai, Epoch Co., and Tsukuda Hobby (source).

Both Bandai and Tsukuda started developing games based on the hit TV anime, Mobile Suit Gundam (1979). While Bandai's own Mobile Suit Gundam (1982) game would feature scale plastic models like an "actual" game (Japanese term for a scale miniatures wargame), Tsukuda Hobby wanted to create "Squad Leader (Avalon Hill, 1977) for Gundam." They began work with one designer, but instead decided to contact Atsutoshi Okada for the job. At the time, Okada was hobby "actual" game designer (again, miniature wargamer) whose convention games had been featured in Popeye and Hobby Japan magazines (source). He and his doujin circle, THQ, set to work to create what would be Tsukuda's flagship release in their new series of hobby games.

I'd often heard that Jabro was based on Squad Leader, but how close are the two games? I analyzed Jabro and found the following similarities:

Player Turn Sequence – This is nearly identical between the two games. The only differences being that Jabro collapses the Close Combat Phase into the Advancing Fire Phase and that Jabro does not feature the Rout and Advance Phases.

Movement Costs – Jabro’s movement costs are essentially double what Squad Leader’s infantry movement costs are.

Support Weapons – The concept of carried equipment as “support weapons” is nearly identical to Squad Leader, but with set weapon loadouts rather than the concept of portage costs.

Line of Sight – Rules for elevation levels of terrain, height levels of obstacles, and blocking line of sight follow very similar rules in both games.

Morale – Morale in Jabro represents a pilot’s ability to remain conscious. Contrast this to Squad Leader’s typical morale rules for keeping troops in good fighting order. However, the mechanical results are similar. Units often make morale checks to avoid damage (which gives the unusual situation where a pilot must check morale to avoid getting their mobile suit’s legs blasted off with a beam rifle). Jabro does not have the concept of routing.

Defensive Fire During Movement- This is nearly identical in both games.

Breakdown – In Squad Leader, a support weapon breaks if its attack roll equals or exceeds its Breakdown number and broken weapons can later be repaired. In Jabro, a separate breakdown dice roll is needed in addition to the attack roll and once broken, a weapon is destroyed and lost.

Armor Modifiers – Squad Leader’s AFV Armor Modifier to resist damage is very similar to Jabro’s Armor Thickness.

Overall, Jabro is like a somewhat simplified version of Squad Leader with 30-foot tall robots instead of WWII infantry squads.

Upgrading the Game Components

My custom-made counters and carrier

I was fortunate enough to get an unpunched, mint condition copy of this 41-year-old game and decided not to punch out the counters for a number of reasons. For one, I can keep the game in pristine condition. For another, the pilot counters all have the Japanese names of the characters and it would be easier for me if I printed them in English. For another, the original counters are somewhat plain (mostly black-and-white) and I wanted to add some color.
Three different Zakus, weapons, and pilots

I scanned in all the counter art and added some color to the main units (mobile suits, vehicles, and artillery guns) in Photoshop. I also added the English translations of all the pilot names. I then printed everything out on cardstock and mounted the units to thick pressboard.

Edition Wars

Tsukuda originally released a 1st edition rule book (printed in green ink) for the game, but later upgraded the rule book to 2nd edition (printed in blue ink). In my translation, I analyzed both editions and all text that is only found in the 2nd edition is in blue type.

The biggest difference is that 2nd edition has many, many more examples and illustrations of the rules (especially movement and line of sight). The game is very complex, especially for a target audience that may not be accustomed to playing complex board games (like Squad Leader). I imagine that they received a lot of questions and complaints and felt they needed to amend the rule book.

Getting into the game


Denim's Zaku, with shield and heat hawk axe, gets its arms blasted off with a missile.

Almost every mobile suit can be customized by equipping them with different "support weapons" (ranged weapons, like Beam Rifle or Hyper Bazooka) or "melee weapons" (such as the Beam Saber or Gundam Shield). Unfortunately, this means that each unit is represented by a teetering stack of 1/2" counters - you can imagine the leading tower of cardboard that is created if 3 Earth Federation mobile suits (each with two weapon counters and one pilot counter) stack in the same hex as 3 Zaku mobile suits!

The game comes with three reversible, fold-out, two-panel map boards. All three map boards can be put together to create the map for the underground Jabro base hidden in the jungle (see top image). The back sides of the map boards can be put together to create woodland, desert, and urban environments.

The game includes nine different scenarios that closely follow some of the battles seen in the TV series. Some of the main Earth Federation pilots (especially Amuro) grow and develop their abilities in combat as the scenarios progress, and this is reflected in different pilot unit counters for different scenarios.

Results

Much like the Armored Trooper Votoms game I translated before, shooting a target and determining a hit can take a while and have room for error.

First, the shooting player looks up their chance to hit based on range and terrain the target is in (for example at range of 5 hexes, the chance to hit a target in the woods is 9).

Then, there are so many possible combat modifiers affecting your chance to hit:
  • The shooting pilot's shooting skill
  • The weapon's hit adjustment
  • If the shooting unit is moving
  • If the shooting unit is jumping
  • If the shooting unit is taking a defensive action
  • If shooting at the previous target from last turn
  • The target pilot's evasion skill
  • The target unit's evasion value
  • If the target unit is moving
  • If the target unit is jumping
After accounting for all modifiers, the shooting player rolls two dice and, if less than or equal to the hit chance, a hit is scored.

But, even if the weapon misses (unless it is a beam weapon), it can still affect the target at 1/2 firepower (a "grazing hit")!

Once a hit is scored (or not, in the case of a grazing hit), the damage outcome must be calculated. The shooting player looks up the weapon's firepower at range (for example, a Beam Rifle at 5 hex range has a firepower of 13).

The shooting player cross-references their firepower and rolls two dice on the Damage Resolution Chart, modifying the dice roll by the following:
  • Target with shield gets to attempt a shield block to add to their unit's armor
  • Target in forest modifier
  • Target in partial cover modifier
  • Target unit's armor thickness
  • Target pilot's piloting ability
The result may have no effect, destroy a target's weapon, stun the pilot, immobilize the target, make the target unable to fight, or destroy the target.

Also, for every attack, the attacking player must make a breakdown roll to see if their weapon suddenly jams, runs out of ammo, or otherwise becomes unusuable. If the total on two dice is greater than or equal to the weapon's Breakdown number (usually 10, 11, or 12), the current attack is unaffected but the weapon becomes unusable in future rounds (this is almost exactly like the rules in Squad Leader).

In itself, none of these rules are that complex, but it would be quite a lot to learn in aggregate for a player that is new to simulation games.

I think that Tsukuda Hobby realized they needed a more intuitive game, first with the printing of the 2nd edition rule books and then what is essentially a 3rd edition rule book later. In Tsukuda's game magazine Operation (issue 1, 20 June 1983) featured yet another version of the rules for Jabro. This one had few rule changes, but instead the rules were broken up into basic, medium, and expert level rules. A beginner could play the early scenarios with only the basic rules until they had enough experience for a greater challenge.

Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of that magazine and wasn't able to add the changes to my translation. Something to do in the future!

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

New English Rule Book for Takara's Votoms Simulation Game Manual from Dual Magazine

 Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

Armored Trooper Votoms Simulation Game Manual
My translated rules and several games in the Votoms Simulation Game Manual series

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Takara's Votoms Simulation Game Manual, covering the complete rules set to allow one to play games no. 1 through 5. These games were originally published in Japanese as articles in Dual Magazine issues no. 6 through 10.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one:
https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/245358/votoms-simulation-game-manual-english-rule-book

Armored Trooper Votoms wargame in a magazine

Takara's Dual Magazine published issues quarterly in the early 1980s with a "dual" focus on Takara's 2D (board games) and 3D (model kits) anime products. Many of Takara's products were licensed from Sunrise animation studio, such as Crusher JoePanzer World GalientIdeonArmored Trooper Votoms, and Fang of the Sun Dougram.

Starting with issue no. 2 in 1982, Dual Magazine began publishing hex-and-counter wargames, often called "simulation games" in Japan, in each issue. Each game could be played standalone, but would also add more rules, units, and game mechanics to the overall game system with each issue. The Votoms series of five games were published from 1983 to 1984. Different games covered different terrain, from urban fighting in the city of Uoodo (sometimes spelled Woodo) to the marshy wetlands of Kummen to outer space battles in orbit around the deadworld Sunsa.

Upgrading the Game Components

Select game counters

Since the games were published in magazines nearly thirty years ago, the main components are printed on thin cardstock. I'd rather not watch all the game components blow away if I sneezed too hard, so I decided that the game needed an upgrade.

Metal figures from Plotters City Woodo (not a magazine game!)

I opted to use some old Battletech game boards and miniatures figures from Takara's other Votoms board game: Plotters City Woodo. This game in development while the Dual Magazine game series was published and uses completely different rules, but the miniatures work perfectly.

If you've read my blog for a while, this post may sound familiar to you. That's because I did the exact same thing when I translated the earlier Dougram Simulation Game Manual series and posted about it here!

Testing the game

Setting the battlefield.
I started with a simple test scenario, based on the recommended scenario in the first game. Two Armored Trooper (AT) units face off against each other in combat. I chose two Scopedogs and gave one a shoulder-mounted rocket pod and the other a machine gun. Both units had pistols as secondary weapons (and it is not a bad weapon in this game!).

This game is fairly complex - much more complex than the earlier Dougram games in this series. While it was easy to manage a handful of "Combat Armor" mecha in Dougram, these Votoms rules presumed that each player would usually manage only "Armored Trooper" at a time.

The player starts by choosing an "Action Pattern" for the unit in secret. This is a clever design, first developed by designer Atsutoshi Okada for use in the Tsukuda Hobby game Macross: City Fight (1983). The action pattern defines a certain "behavior" for the unit to take during the turn, such as running, walking, zooming around on roller wheels (think mecha on roller skates), or concentrating on shooting a weapon or engaging in hand-to-hand combat. This chosen action pattern defines how the unit may move, shoot, fight, and dodge incoming weapons for this turn. Like, running doesn't stop a unit from firing a machine gun in the same turn, but your accuracy is going to suffer.

Next the player secretly plots the exact movement the unit will make, what type of camera lens the mecha is using (lenses are a whole thing in Votoms - you must choose between standard, telephoto, or wide angle), and how many shots you plan to fire from a weapon (if any).

During the movement phase, all units are moved simultaneously, based on their secret movement plots. This can be a real surprise as the enemy can and will move wherever you least expect it to. Trying to outguess the opponent's moves adds a level of tension and unpredictability not seen in simpler games, at the cost of added complexity.

Last is combat, including shooting and hand-to-hand "battling." Even if you didn't plan to have a valid target this turn, your unit can always shoot one snap shot off if you have line of sight on an enemy.


In my first test game, both units cautiously maneuvered around the dense patches of forestland between them for two turns. On the third turn, both were ready to approach within weapon range. The machine gunner ran at full tilt, attempting to outflank the opponent and blast them in their blind side. However, the rocket pod AT didn't advance very far and had readied a volley from their short-range pistol.

The units were only one hex distant, and both were in each other's front arcs. The machine gunner unleashed a burst of 5 shots, but only 1 hit its target. The rocket pod AT fired 4 shots with its pistol, which is less powerful than the machine gun but highly accurate at this range. 3 shots ripped through the machine gunners armor, destroying the mech. The pilot did not escape the wreckage.

Results

This is a surprisingly complex game, especially for the anime fans reading this magazine and maybe starting out with their first board wargame ("simulation game," as they are called in Japan). Designer K. Otomo bemoans this problem in some of his designer's notes in the series, all of which I have translated and included in the rule book.

Much of the complexity comes from plotting one's moves in secret and having a rich choice of actions and equipment that closely resemble battles in the Armored Trooper Votoms anime. If the players are patient and experienced gamers, this pays off with an exciting game that is true to its source material.

However, just shooting a target can make my head spin. It is simple enough on paper, but breaks every intuitive notion when I try to figure out what number I need to roll to hit. First, each weapon has a certain hit chance at short, medium, or long range. This is the number you attempt to roll less than or equal to on two dice in order to hit the target (for example, at range 5, a machine gun has a base hit chance of 8).

Then, there are so many possible combat modifiers affecting your chance to hit:
  • The shooting pilot's shooting skill
  • The shooter's AP for this turn
  • Any damage previously suffered by the shooter's AT
  • The target pilot's dodge skill
  • The target's AP for this turn
  • Any damage previously suffered by the target's AT
  • The number of shots fired
  • The relative velocity between shooter and target (if in outer space)
But what doesn't makes sense is that these are modifiers to the dice roll not the hit chance! That means that negative numbers are bonuses and positive numbers are maluses, which is never intuitive. Also, if you want to figure out your hit chance, then you must subtract your modifier total from the hit chance to figure out what you must roll on two dice.

It just seems like it would all be more logical if all negative modifiers were positive and vice versa, then you added the modifier total to the hit chance and immediately know what number to roll. It may not seem like much, but it would help streamline something you do a lot of in this game.


Saturday, August 20, 2022

New English Rule Book for Yanoman's Mobile Suit Z Gundam Tactical Card Game

 Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com


I've completed my unofficial English translation of the rules for Yanoman's Mobile Suit Z Gundam Tactical Card Game.

First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one:
https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/245041/

Here is the link to the main game page on BoardGameGeek: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/368787/

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam Card Game

Yanoman is a Japanese company mostly known for publishing jigsaw puzzles, but they also publish tabletop games from time to time. This card game is licensed from the second Gundam TV series, Mobile Suit Z Gundam, which aired in Japan from 1985-86. There is no publication date on the game, but I presume it was published while the show was still on the air.

The game was designed by Atsutoshi Okada, one of the most prolific Japanese simulation game designers of the 1980s (I've translated some of his other games and written about him before). This card game is much simpler and plays faster than his innovative hex-and-counter wargames, as expected. There is still some variety, like how Ship combat and MS combat uses the same general die-rolling mechanic, yet work differently. Also, not knowing what cards your opponent may be holding adds unpredictability missing in perfect information games, like most wargames (though Okada adds hidden information into some of his other games, such as Endor).

Starting play with a 2-player game.

Each player is dealt a starting hand of 4 Ship Cards (3 Ship Cards in a 5-6 player game) and 8 Special Cards (a random assortment of MS Cards, Pilot Cards, and Event Cards) to assemble their starting fleet.
  • Ship Cards are the backbone of each player's fleet and are kept in a separate deck apart from the Special Cards. A Ship may be used to attack an opponent's Ship, but not and opponent MS. Ships are rated for the Combat Strengths (both vs. MS units and vs. other Ships), Durability (maximum damage before the Ship is destroyed), and Hit Number (accuracy in combat vs. other Ships). A ship's damage taken is tracked by the yellow numbered damage chits included in the game. The game may end when one player loses all of the Ships in their fleet*.
  • MS Cards are the Mobile Suit mecha of the Gundam universe. Each MS is rated by its Combat Strength and may be used to attack other MS or Ships in an opponent's fleet. An MS Card may only be brought into play if it is paired with a Pilot Card.
  • Pilot Cards are the heroes and villains of the Gundam universe. Each Pilot is rated by Ability, which represents both their skill as a pilot and any Newtype powers (if any).
  • Event Cards may be played for various one-shot effects in the game. An Event Card is discarded after use.
    • Repair is used to repair Ship damage.
    • Dummy Meteorite may be played during an opponent’s turn to cancel a Ship vs. Ship combat.
    • Cease Fire Signal may be played during an opponent’s turn to cancel an MS vs. MS combat.
    • Betrayal will steal an opponent's piloted MS if you roll 1-3 on one die.
    • Blow Up is played along with a Pilot card to attempt to sabotage an opponent Ship.
    • Supply lets a player draw a Ship from the Ship Card deck.
    • Colony Lazar (yes, it is spelled "LAZAR" in the game) is a devastating attack on each MS and Ship in the defender’s fleet.
On their turn, a player draws a Special Card and then may make an attack with an MS or Ship in their fleet, they may put an MS and Pilot Card pair from their hand into their fleet, play an Event Card, or discard a card from their hand.

* Game end conditions may vary and are decided upon by the player before the game starts. Any of the following are valid game end conditions depending on the number of players, the time frame available, or just the preferences of the players:

  1.        When the last card is drawn from the Special Card Deck.
  2.        When one player has no Ship Cards in play.
  3.        When only one player has any Ship Cards in play.
Players then tally up their victory points based on the enemy MS, Pilot, and Ship Cards they destroyed in combat.

Results

End of game in a 2-player game.

In the test game shown here, the right player destroyed all of the left player's Ships, triggering the end of the game. The left player's forces had been whittled down after several turns of attacks before the right player played a Colony Lazar, wiping out the last of the left player's Ship fleet.

Unfortunately, luck played an extremely strong factor in determining who wins or loses. In the sample game photographed above, the right player wound up with several of the most powerful MS and Pilots in the game, just by the luck of the draw. The left player simply couldn't compete, drawing several low to mid-tier MS and Pilots.

One unusual aspect to the game is that each Ship, MS, and Pilot card has a faction affiliation (Titans, AEUG, Zeon, etc.) but they aren't used in the game at all. Players are free to mix and match units from opposing factions. I can see a scenario-based battle, maybe where each player has their own faction deck to draw from, might be designed to make for a better balanced game or one that better replicates one of the battles seen in the TV series.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Tim Kask's Adventure Gaming Magazine Available in PDF

 Adventure Gaming magazine is available on DriveThruRPG!

Adventure Gaming, vol. 1, no. 5, November 1981

I've written in the past about Adventure Gaming magazine, especially about issue no. 5 and some rarely-seen art by Dave Trampier that appears in that issue (along with articles about Titan by creators Trampier and Jason B. McAllister).


Tim Kask was editor of the first 33 issues of Dragon magazine (a.k.a. The Dragon. He also edited Little Wars and the last issue of The Strategic Review). He left TSR in 1980 and soon founded Manzakk Publishing to publish his own independent gaming magazine, Adventure Gaming. It was a quality periodical with informative content, but the magazine business is a tough business, and the magazine folded after 13 issues.

But now, at long last, the first five issues are back "in print" thanks to Mudpuppy Games. They are available on Mudpuppy's site or at DriveThruRPG. They are currently being sold for only $1.99 each - that's less than the original cover price 40 years ago!

Mudpuppy Games Adventure Gaming ad (source)

Some Issue Highlights

Adventure Gaming, no. 1

  • Royal Pains in Traveller!
  • Civilization
  • Knights of Camelot
  • Divine Right variant by Glenn Rahman
  • Ace of Aces
  • Titan, both a review/analysis by Tim Kask and article by Jason B. McAllister
  • Thoughts on Diplomacy variations by Lewis Pulsipher
  • Magical kisses for D&D?
  • Gambling in Traveller
I got to meet Adventure Gaming interviewee Al Leonardi at Too Many Games in 2015

Adventure Gaming, no. 4

  • Part 1 of an interview with Al Leonardi, designer of Ace of Aces, Lost Worlds, etc.
  • SFB scenarios covering the First Romulan War
  • Feudal Diplomacy by Lewis Pulsipher
  • TITAN
  • TITAN
  • AND MORE TITAN
  • Part 2 of the Al Leonardi interview
  • TFT character backgound variant rules
  • Mini-campaign for SFB
  • Strategies for playing Space Invaders on an Atari VCS console!
  • Rules for Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica ships for use in Traveller!

    Monday, March 29, 2021

    New English Rule Book for Takara's Dougram Simulation Game Manual from Dual Magazine

    Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

    I've completed my English translation of the rules for Takara's Dougram Simulation Game Manual No. 4: Omnibus Edition, originally published in Dual Magazine issue no. 5.

    First and foremost, here is the link to the download page hosted on BoardGameGeek.com. You need an account on the site in order to download the file, but if you are reading my blog, you probably already have one:
    https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/219911/dougram-simulation-game-manual-no-4-english-rule-b

    Fang of the Sun Dougram wargame in a magazine

    Takara's Dual Magazine published issues quarterly in the early 1980s with a "dual" focus on Takara's 2D (board games) and 3D (model kits) anime products. Many of Takara's products were licensed from Sunrise animation studio, such as Crusher JoePanzer World Galient, Ideon, Armored Trooper Votoms, and Fang of the Sun Dougram.

    Starting with issue no. 2 in 1982, Dual Magazine began publishing hex-and-counter wargames, often called "simulation games" in Japan, in each issue. Each game could be played standalone, but would also add more rules, units, and game mechanics to the overall game system with each issue. The Dougram series of four games were published from 1982 to 1983. The first game introduced the basics of the system and a few units. The second game introduced desert combat, infantry, and transport units. The third game introduced combat in the snow and the fourth game is an omnibus edition that combines the rules of the previous three games. This fourth game is the one that I've translated and can be used as a rule book for any of the four games.

    Upgrading the Game Components

    Instead of playing the game with the thin game boards and flimsy cardboard counters included with these near-thirty-year-old magazines, I opted to use some old Battletech game boards and miniatures figures from Takara's other Dougram board games: Battle of Stanrey (1984) and Battle of Kalnock (1985). These games were published a few years after the Dual Magazine series and use completely different rules, but the miniatures work perfectly.
    Close-up on a Kolchima Special Soltic Roundfacer
    Battletech fans will recognize many Dougram mechs (or, "Combat Armors") as being the "unseen" mechs from the game's earliest editions:
    • Shadow Hawk - Dougram
    • Griffin - Soltic H8 Roundfacer
    • Scorpion - F35C Blizzard Gunner
    • Wolverine - Abitate T-10B/T-10C Blockhead
    • Thunderbolt - Hasty F4X Ironfoot
    • Goliath - Abitate F44A Crab Gunner
    • Battlemaster - Soltic HT-128 Bigfoot

    Down, Periscope!

    The two newer Dougram games use tree models and periscopes for determining line-of-sight checks. Place the periscope in the shooting unit's hex, then look through to see if the target is obscured by cover or not. It's a neat gimmick that can be applied to other miniatures games. Also, my kids thought it was really cool.

    Periscope view of an Iron Foot unit partially hidden behind a tree. Note the "control panel" sticker at the base of the mirror to help simulate being in a mech's cockpit.

    Test Scenarios

    I enlisted my daughters to help me playtest the game rules that I translated before I published the new rule book. First, we used an open game board. My oldest daughter, as the heroic Deloyeran rebel forces, took the unique Dougram combat armor unit. I played the role of the corrupt Earth Federation with two Soltic Roundfacer units. I didn't stand a chance, as the Dougram's linear gun tore my armored units to shreds.

    We chose a new board with light woods so that we could add some tree miniatures to the board.
    Two Roundfacers spring forth from the woods with two quad-leg Crab Gunners (the miniatures are actually Blizzard Gunners) covering their right flank to face down Dougram and two Iron Foot units at close range.

    The final game was a Deloyeran ambush on a convoy of Kolchima Special Roundfacers and two Crab Gunners in a thick forest. Mostly, this was so we could place ALL of our little trees on the game board (much to my daughters' delights).
    How it started: Earth forces in lower left, Deloyer forces hiding in upper right.
    This ended up being a disaster for the Deloyerans. It became clear that woods help the Earth Federation with their relatively short range weapons, compared to the longer range Deloyeran Dougram (with added Turbo-Zack system) and Iron Foot units. Even after I removed a Roundfacer when I realized our forces were unbalanced, it ended up being an unfair fight. Oops.
    How it ended: five fallen combat armors in the river with only the two Earth Crab Gunners left standing.

    Results

    This is not a very complex game. Each combat unit is rated for Attack Strength, Armor Thickness, and Movement. Moving through difficult terrain, such as up hillsides or through woods, slows a unit down. To attack a unit, the target must be within the shooter's fire arc and there must be a clear line of sight between them. Count the range in hexes, then consult the unit type's hit chart to find the chance to hit on one six-sided die (-1 to hit chance if shooting unit is moving). If the shot hits, subtract the shot range and target Armor from the shooter's Attack Strength. Use this final, adjusted Attack Strength and roll on one of the two damage charts to see if the target is undamaged, loses its ability to move or attack, or is completely destroyed.

    As mentioned earlier, there are additional rules for infantry units, transport units (to transport infantry or combat armors into battle), different terrain types, and rules for expert pilots. It is easy to come up with new variant rules and scenarios while watching episodes of the Fang of the Sun Dougram, TV show, where most of the action is skirmish-level mech combat. The rules are simple enough to easily handle a handful of units on each side but rich enough for tactical planning and decision making. 

    The Dougram Simulation Game Manual was designed by K. Otomo and Atsutoshi Okada, one of the most prolific Japanese simulation game designers of the 1980s (I've translated some of his other games and written about him before).

    [CORRECTION posted 8/22/22: I had been under the impression that Atsutoshi Okada had a hand in designing this game, but that is incorrect. Otomo and Okada both designed games at the THQ dojin circle and Otomo was heavily influenced by Okada's designs (as Otomo freely admits in his design notes, but Okada did not work on this game directly. Okada has stated in an interview that he worked on "putting together" this and the similar Votoms game together for Dual Magazine, but he is not credited as a designer on them anywhere.]

    Like many of Okada's other games, each side gets to attack twice per round, making for fast and frenetic battles and is an interesting variation on the "I go, you go" turn order concept:

    Turn Order

    • Side A Moves
    • Side B Attacks
    • Side A Counterattacks
    • Side B Moves
    • Side A Attacks
    • Side B Counterattacks
    All in all, it is a fun game that I will certainly continue to play. As a bonus, I now got my oldest daughter hooked on the Dougram anime and is insisting on watching the entire series. What could be better?

    Sunday, December 27, 2020

    In Memory of Terence Peter Donnelly

    I recently learned1 that Canadian game designer Terence Peter Donnelly passed away on September 23, 2020. "Skookum Pete" is best known for his fantasy adventure tabletop games, The Sorcerer's Cave and The Mystic Wood (lists of Donnelly's games and other works are at the bottom of this post). Philmar/Ariel Games published both titles in the UK, with Fantasy Games Unlimited (FGU) handling distribution to the United States.2 The games were also published by Gibson and Avalon Hill published a new edition of Mystic Wood in 1983. They were released in an era of many other fantasy adventure boardgames, such as Dave Megarry's Dungeon! (1975), SPI's DeathMaze (1979) and Citadel of Blood (1980), Yaquinto's Hero (1980), and Mayfair's The Castle (1981). 

    My Ariel Games editions are illustrated by Polly Wilson, an artist who also contributed illustrations to early issues of White Dwarf magazine, the 1st ed. AD&D Fiend Folio sourcebook and the UK 1st ed. of Tunnels & Trolls. Strangely, the dragons and other creatures featured on the box covers all appear to tears in their eyes, as if they are all saddened by the adventurers invading their lairs.

    The Sorcerer's Cave (1978)

    Ariel edition of The Sorcerer's Cave with the cover to the Extension Kit
    A huge cave of many levels is built by placing large cards one at a time. As players explore the cave, another set of cards indicates hazards, treasures, and creatures that can be hostile or friendly. One to 4 players.3

    The Sorcerer's Cave began as a way to translate the "dungeon adventure" experience he'd played learning the then-new role-playing game of Dungeons & Dragons into a game that could quickly be played with "no laborious set-up and no referee - a game that could be taken out of the box and be played instantly, yet be different every time."4

    Donnelly spent about two and one half years developing the game before it was published4 and it remains an early and influential example of the adventure game genre.2 Each player assembles a party of adventurers with differing Fighting Strength, Magic Power, and other special abilities. The cave system is randomly generated by drawing large terrain cards with the random denizens and hazards drawn from a smaller deck of cards. Staircases may lead down to lower levels and new sections of the cave. The winner is the player who manages to escape the cave alive with the most treasure, with bonuses for slaying the dragon or the titular sorcerer.

    Games & Puzzles magazine #74 (Autumn 1979) with a Sorcerer's Cave cover story and a detail of two weeping monsters from the box cover

    The game was well received as "fast, fun, and thoroughly worth buying,"5 and "works well... as a family game... but real Fantasy buffs will be disappointed by its simplicity when compared to D&D,"6 which sounds like exactly what Donnelly was aiming to create.

    The Digital Sorcerer

    Sorcerer's Cave (Windows) screen shot from https://www.old-games.com/download/3220/sorcerer-s-cave

    Sorcerer's Cave (Windows) screen shot from https://www.old-games.com/download/3220/sorcerer-s-cave

    In 1995, Donnelly created a shareware computer game version of Sorcerer's Cave under his company name of Skookum Software. This game aptly replicated the experience of the board game and I played quite a bit in around the year 2000, before I had acquired a physical version of the game. I sent a check to Skookum Software in order to purchase the full version of the game, but it was returned to me with address unknown. Donnelly later released it and all of his software as freeware (see links at bottom of this blog entry).

    The Mystic Wood (1980)

    Ariel edition of The Mystic Wood

    A hidden wood is set up with two gates, a tower, and forty-two face-down cards. Knights explore by turning up an adjacent card. They discover objects and denizens, who can be helpful or hostile. Two to 4 players.7
    This spiritual sequel to The Sorcerer's Cave feels more like a fairy tale than a dungeon delve. Each player portrays a different knight errant searching the wood to complete their personal quest first and win the game. Most of these heroic knights are inspired by characters in the 16th century epics: Ariostro's Orlando Furioso and Spenser's The Fairie Queene.8 Each knight is rated in their Strength and Prowess (similar to Strength and Craft in the game Talisman) and some have special abilities. Items, companions, and titles (such as "Giant-Killer") acquired during the game enhance the player's abilities and help them complete their quest. There is no player elimination as a knight who loses in an encounter is typically only banished to the tall tower at the center of the wood until they can escape.

    Unlike the sprawling Sorcerer's Cave, the Mystic Wood is restricted to a grid of 5 columns by 9 rows of cards (unless the Extension Kit is added to the game), and is a "much cleaner, tighter design."9 Each knight has a specific quest they must complete, giving each player a specific goal and alleviating "the aimlessness that characterizes most of these adventure games."9 There are better rules for player character interactions, jousting to lay claim to a companion or piece of equipment or to banish the other knight to the tower. It is "a good beer-and-pretzels game... if you enjoy Dungeon! or The Castle, buy this one: it is the best of the three."10

    Avalon Hill licensed Mystic Wood for publication in 1983, which is unusual as they already had their own geomorphic fantasy wilderness adventure game, Magic Realm (1979) by Richard Hamblin. Magic Realm is a masterful, detailed simulation of adventuring as different characters in a fantastic realm. It is also even more complex than most of Avalon Hill's wargames. I've had Magic Realm for many years but never succeeded in completing a game once I brought it to the table (I did play in one play-by-e-mail game around 2004). With Mystic Wood, you can also set it up, play a game, and pack it up within 60 to 90 minutes. Magic Realm is a much bigger time commitment, so Avalon Hill must've been looking for a simpler title.

    Mystic Wood Playthrough

    The Mystic Wood, end game

    I played Mystic Wood with my 7-year-old daughter on Christmas Day this year. She took the role of Britomart (from The Fairie Queene), the only female knight in the base game. Her quest was to rescue the Prince and escort him safely out of the woods. I was Sir George who needed to slay the dragon, of course.

    We entered the wood through the Earth Gate at the "south" end of the map. At the game start, only the Earth Gate, Tower (center), and Enchanted Gate (north end) cards were face up. All other areas would only be exposed as we explored them with our knights.

    My daughter ran afoul of an angry wizard in a castle and was banished to the dreaded Tower. I discovered the dragon's lair, but needed some arms and armament before I could defeat the wyrm. My daughter was betrayed by a dastardly rogue and sent to the tower. I ran into a grumpy magician who summoned a magic storm to stop my movement, then I ran into him again and he cast another storm on me. Meanwhile, my daughter held aloft the Holy Grail (if she played as Perceval, her quest would be at an end).

    After more adventuring, we were in a final race to the end of the game. With a mighty lance and a magic ring of strength, I plodded my way to the dragon's lair. At the same time, my daughter befriended the Prince and began leading him out of the wood. My dice failed me, I lost to the dragon and watched my daughter leave the wood in victory from my cell in the tall tower. She's already declared Mystic Wood as her "favorite game" (any game where she can beat Dad is a good one in her eyes).

    We will certainly be playing this game again. The occasional random swings of fortune give younger players a fighting chance against experienced grognards. The events of the game unfolded like a story and it was easy to construct a narrative from the unrelated, random card draws. I'm already planning how we can make custom LEGO minifigures for each of the knights to replace the pawns. I hope I can get a copy of the Mystic Wood Extension Kit with its second female knight (Marfisa from Orlando Furioso) before my youngest daughter is old enough to play with us.

    Donnelly's Works

    Ludography

    1974    Hsiang Ch’i: The Chinese Game of Chess (early English-language book about Chinese chess, published by Wargames Research Group)
    1979    Middle Sea: Empires of the Feudal Age (with Wilf Backhaus)
    1980    The Mystic Wood


    Shareware/Freeware Games and Editors (as Skookum Software)

    Originally developed as shareware games for DOS and Windows-based computer systems, later released as freeware.

    1995    PGView (DOS Panzer General Editor)
    1995    Brass Polish 3 (Windows Allied General and Panzer General Editor)
    1995    Sorcerer's Cave
    1996    Gem Polish (DOS Fantasy General Editor)
    1996    The Animal Game
    1996    Jotto (also for Palm devices)
    2004    Turncoat
    2006    Play the Horses (only for Palm devices)


    Some Other Writings


    Footnotes

    1. I learned the news of Donnelly's passing from a Sorcerer's Cave news forum post on BoardGameGeek.com: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2565315/passing-peter-donnelly-skookumpete
    2. Shannon Appelcline, Designers & Dragons: The '70s (Silver Spring, MD: Evil Hat Productions, 2014), 235.
    3. Sid Sackson, A Gamut of Games (New York: Pantheon, 1982), 195.
    4. Donnelly wrote about the origins of The Sorcerer's Cave and The Mystic Wood in the Autumn 1980 issue of Games & Puzzles magazine, modified and republished here: https://web.archive.org/web/20201005235651/http://skookumpete.com/CaveAndWood.htm
    5. Phil Willis, "Gamesview," Games & Puzzles, no. 74, Autumn 1979, 13.
    6. Ian Livingstone, "Open Box," White Dwarf, no. 7, June/July 1978, 18.
    7. Sid Sackson, A Gamut of Games (New York: Pantheon, 1982), 194.
    8. Donnelly wrote an appendix in the Mystic Wood instructions that detailed the game's literary influences, reproduced here:  https://web.archive.org/web/20201005235651/http://skookumpete.com/CaveAndWood.htm
    9. Andy Davidson, "Open Box," White Dwarf, no. 20, August/September 1980, 17.
    10. Steve Condit, "Capsule Reviews," Space Gamer, no. 73, March/April 1985, 33.

    Sunday, December 6, 2020

    Rare Dave Trampier Art - Addendum to Part 1

    Adventure Gaming magazine vol. 1 no. 5 cover art, addendum

    Back in early 2014, I wrote a series of blog posts about little-seen art by Dave Trampier, the enigmatic artist from TSR's early days, creator of the comic strip Wormy, and co-designer of the board game Titan. As I was in the middle of my series, Dave Trampier emerged from hiding after decades of nobody knowing where he was, agreeing to sell artwork and come to a convention in Carbondale, IL. Unfortunately, he passed away soon before the convention. I had to post the solemn news on this blog.

    In my first blog post in this series, I discussed one of Tramp's impressive color works for Titan, a painting was used on the cover of Adventure Gaming magazine #5 for a special issue with several Titan articles.
    Adventure Gaming vol. 1, no. 5

    I speculated that the image was probably intended as cover art for the new edition of Titan, which was published by Avalon Hill with cover art by Kenn Nishiuye instead of Trampier. I created a mock-up image of what the Avalon Hill game might've looked like with Tramp's art (see Rare Dave Trampier Art - Part 1). Earlier this month (December 2020), I had a Zoom meeting with Tim Kask, publisher/editor of Adventure Gaming and close friend of Trampier's. I asked if he remembered what the image was originally intended for, but he did not. Tramp had given Kask the original artwork long enough to make color separations for printing the cover, then required that the original be returned.

    Since that time, Jason McAllister, Titan's other co-creator, also passed away. I assisted the McAllister family in identifying and helping find an auction agent for a number of Jason's personal effects, including several art pieces created by Dave Trampier. One item was a sketch of a store display for Titan games.
    Titan display sketch, detail
     by David A. Trampier

    The display is sketched in perspective, as if it is sitting on a store counter. The Gorgonstar logo at the base tells us this is not meant as a concept for Avalon Hill's Titan, but for a new self-published edition under McAllister and Trampier's Gorgonstar name. This looks like a new "bookcase" style game box, made popular by Avalon Hill and 3M, and very different from the flat and wide 1st edition Titan game box. The black, white, and red coloring of the display case closely matches the 1st edition game box, so they may have intended to screen print these cases using the same method, with broad swathes of flat colors. The game boxes sketched here would require color separation and CMYK printing, more difficult but not impossible for the Gorgonstar "basement" print shop.

    Also, that is clearly the dragon-on-a-volcano art on the cover, the same art seen on Adventure Gaming #5! This looks like definitive evidence that a new edition of the game was intended, without Avalon Hill, and with this stunning artwork to serve as the cover image.

    My speculative interpretation of a Trampier Titan box lid, take two

    In light of this information, I've updated my interpretation of what this unpublished Titan might've looked like with a black border and TITAN in bold, white lettering.