Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Book update: Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons

I am happy to announce the upcoming publication of the book chapter "'Dr. Holmes, I Presume?' How a California Neurology Professor Penned the First Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set," co-authored with Zach "Zenopus" of Zenopus Archives. It will be published in Fifty Years of Dungeons & Dragons, scheduled for release on May 14, 2024.

This 392 page tome features 20 chapters by a variety of authors about the history, influence, and the future of Dungeons & Dragons, complete with black and white illustrations by C. Liersch. I am happy to be sharing contributor credits with the likes of Jon PetersonGary Alan FineAaron Trammell, and Amanda Cote. The retail price of $35.00 is downright reasonable for an peer-reviewed work of this size. See the book now at the MIT Press website: https://mitpress.mit.edu/9780262547604/fifty-years-of-idungeons-and-dragonsi/

Our chapter revolves around the life of Dr. J. Eric Holmes and the strange set of circumstances that led this unlikely medical professor from California who had never played a wargame to be the first to author a revision to the original D&D rules for TSR. This is also a history of role-playing games in California, especially the Los Angeles and San Francisco communities, which spawned many varied ways to play in the "California gaming" scene. These are the waters of creation from which rose Runequest, Arduin, Alarums & Excursions, The Manual of Aurania, Warlock, and more, not to mention terms like "dungeon master" and the dice notation system (d8, 2d6, d100, etc.) that we all take for granted.

Early California gaming is a subject that I've written about here on this blog:

California Gaming Part I - Steve Perrin

California Gaming Part II - Erol Otus

I am currently teaching a History of Role-Playing Games course at Drexel University and presented a special lecture based on our chapter.

Don't miss my co-author Zenopus and his take on our chapter at the Zenopus Archives blog:


Monday, December 25, 2023

New English Scenario collection for Tsukuda Hobby's Jabro

 Get the Scenarios on BoardGameGeek.com

Shown above is Tactics magazine #1, Japanese source for the original article

I've completed my English translation of three scenarios for Tsukuda Hobby's Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro (1981) game. These scenarios were first published in Tactics magazine, vol. 1, no. 1, Jan-Feb 1982, pg. 53.

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: 

TV Episode Scenarios

I originally wrote about Jabro when I translated the game's rules into English in 2022. The game is based on the original Mobile Suit Gundam TV series that premiered in 1979. The nine scenarios in the game are based on the events of specific episodes from the TV show. This small collection of three scenarios continue that tradition.

Episode 6: Garma Strikes

A two-unit (MB and MT) "Magella Attack" tank with a couple of Zaku suits

The Gundam and Guntank must face off against 3 Zaku mobile suits and 4 Magella Attack tank units. Each Magella Attack can temporarily separate into two different units: the "Magella Top" turret with its 175mm cannon may fly separately from the "Magella Base" tank hull, which is armed with a triple machine gun.

This is a tough battle for the outnumbered Federation pilots in the Gundam and Guntank (Amuro, Kai, and Ryu). Since this is only episode 6, the young pilots are still inexperienced and their piloting and combat skills in this scenario reflect this.

Episode 15: Cucuruz Doan's Island

A rare Zaku vs. Zaku battle

This scenario is an interesting one-on-one battle between two Zaku mobile suits. Cucuruz Doan is a skilled veteran pilot, but his Zaku suit is only armed with a shield. He faces off against a Zaku armed with a Zaku machine gun and an average pilot. Doan's best bet is to use the hills and trees as cover while closing in on the enemy to engage in melee combat. The inexperienced pilot must try to keep Doan's Zaku at range for as long as possible.

Cucuruz Doan's long-snouted Zaku

In one moment, Doan's Zaku (in background) has a shield on its right arm...

... then it magically moves to the left arm!

Episode 15 has been little-known in the US as the episode was not included in American MS Gundam releases. It is presumed that this is because of the quality problems with the animation in this episode. There are a number of off-model images of the mobile suits, which may have resulted from hiring Anime Friend (a Tatsunoko spin-off studio, I believe) to work on this episode. You can see some of the errors in my screen shots here.

Doan's Zaku with long, skinny legs

A Gundam face that only a mother could love

Episode 27: A Spy on Board

Federation and Zeon forces in the city of Belfast in Northern Ireland

In this scenario, powerful aquatic Z'gok and Gogg mobile suits approach White Base while it is docked in Belfast. In this battle, much of the right edge of the map is ocean (see the striped area in the inset illustration, above). The Gundam and Guncannon are the first lines of defense, with the Guntank joining them in round 4. The Federation pilots are much more experienced by this point in the story and their piloting and combat skills are much better than they were in episode 6.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

New English Rule Book for Urusei Yatsura: Tomobiki-cho Kaigui Wars

Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

The cover art has nothing to do with the game and would be better-suited as a city pop album cover

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Urusei Yatsura: Tomobiki-cho Kaigui Wars (Tsukuda Hobby, 1985) (うる星やつら 友引町買い食いウォーズ) and posted the rule book on BoardGameGeek.com.

Get it here (may require site registration): https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/265130/urusei-yatsura-tomobiki-cho-kaigui-wars-english-ru

What is Urusei Yatsura?

This game is based on the Japanese Urusei Yatsura (often translated as "Those Obnoxious Aliens") sci-fi high school slapstick romantic comedy manga series created by Rumiko Takahashi in 1978. It was also made into a successful anime TV series in 1981, with motion pictures, OVAs, and video games that followed. The TV series was recently rebooted in 2022.

Urusei Yatsura anime character line-up

The protagonist of the story (he's no "hero") is Ataru Moroboshi, a lazy, lecherous, unlucky teenage boy who finds himself at the center of many unusual events that happen in his hometown of Tomobiki (mythical creatures, evil spirits, a terrifying potato curse, etc.).

At the start of the series, Oni aliens threaten to invade the planet unless their champion, the beautiful superpowered alien Lum Invader, is defeated in a game of tag by one randomly-chosen Earth champion: Ataru. Ataru wins (by cheating), Earth is saved (for now), and Lum ends up falling in love with Ataru and enrolling in his same high school. Ataru and his friends, family, and teachers make up the main cast of characters.

What are the Kaigui Wars?

Kaigui Wars translated as "The Great Off-Campus Snack Battle" by Viz Comics

The Kaigui Wars refers to a week in which the Tomibiki High School faculty and staff work to "crack down" on the school rule that states students are not allowed to eat lunch off-campus. "Kaigui" translates to "buying and eating" and usually refers to when small children are allowed to buy snacks or treats with their own money. The students refuse to eat their packed lunches and revolt by sneaking through town to eat at various restaurants and food stalls. The school staff are in hiding throughout the town, waiting to catch a student in the act of eating forbidden food while in school uniform.

The school principal directs his units in the field by radio, tracking student and faculty movement in the town on a strategic map that looks a lot like this game's map board

The cat-and-mouse spy game of sneaking past disguised teachers eventually devolves into an all-out war as the lunch break come to an end. The students unite and strike back against their oppressors. The school staff mobilize by car and motorcycle to pursue delinquents. Fighting breaks out in the streets and everyone misses their afternoon classes.

This story happens to be one of my favorite UY stories. It is told in manga form in 買い食い大戦争 ("The Great Kaigui War" or "The Great Off-Campus Snack Battle," Viz Comics, vol. 6, ch. 4) and TV anime form in 買い食いするものよっといで! ("Let's Go Buy and Eat!" or "Lunch is a Battlefield!," 1982, season 1, ep. 46). It was brought back again in the new TV series as 買い食い大戦争 ("The Great Kaigui War," 2022, ep. 13).

What is this game?

The game is a detailed "simulation game" (like a hex-and-counter wargame) that reproduces the chaotic, ridiculous events of the first afternoon of the Kaigui Wars. Players break up into a Student team and a Teacher team (including school faculty, staff, and the students in the "Student Behavior Task Force" who are helping to enforce the rules). Each Student team player controls 3 characters and each Teacher team character controls 4 characters. The game is ideally played by 4 players, 2 on each team.

Game board map of the town of Tomobiki. The large orange square is the school grounds of Tomobiki High School.

The Student team earns victory points by buying and eating food from food vendor spaces (red squares). The Teacher team pursues and captures students (by intimidating them into compliance or by force), escorting them back to school grounds. The students can't buy food in the presence of a teacher and teachers may start the game disguised, hiding at food vendors anywhere on the map.

Sample character card A: Ataru Moroboshi

Each character has detailed characteristics of Stamina (ST), Reflexes (REF), Fighting Strength, Money, and Friendship Levels. This information is tracked on a detailed log sheets that must be used for each character in the game.

Stamina (ST) is vital to this game and characters must spend Stamina to walk, run, drive, ride a bicycle or motorcycle, fight, capture, or escape. Stamina can also be lost in a fight, due to random events, or if one's alien girlfriend jealously zaps one with electricity after being caught ogling another girl. The Student team replenishes their Stamina by eating. The Teacher team automatically recovers Stamina each round. At zero Stamina, a character faints and can do nothing until they recover after spending three rounds unconscious. A fainted student can automatically be captured.

Reflexes (REF) is used when dodging out of the way of hazards, capturing or avoiding being captured, or when trying to escape after having been captured. The acting character subtracts the REF value of the challenge (hazard, other character, school walls they are climbing over) from their own REF, then rolls one die on a chart and cross-references their die roll with the REF difference to determine success.

A fight may break out while a teacher is trying to capture a student or if a student decides to pick a fight with a teacher. The two characters compare their Fighting Strength values and roll one die on the Fighting Table to determine the outcome. Either the Attacker or Defender may lose Stamina points or the Defender may faint outright. Each character in a fight has the option to draw a random Fighting Card for a chance at a ±1-3 bonus or penalty to their Fighting Strength by focusing their willpower or grabbing a nearby hammer or frying pan.

Money is spent to buy food or pay to ride a bus. Ataru starts with 60 money, just enough for a tempura donburi.

Friendship Levels are rated from 1 to 10 and show a character's feelings toward other characters. Friendship Levels are used when students ask favors of each other to borrow money or food or convince members of the Student Behavior Task Force to release captured students. Friendship Level is also used when a teacher is trying to coerce/intimidate a student into complying and returning to school. Ataru's Friendship Level with D: Lum is 10, he is devoted to her (though he would never admit it). His Friendship Level with his homeroom teacher H: Onsen-Mark and rival B: Mendō is 1, he thoroughly dislikes them. Note that he would also do anything for a pretty girl, as shown by an inflated Friendship Level of 9 with C: Sakura (the school nurse), E: Ran (Lum's childhood friend), F: Shinobu (ex-girlfriend), and N: Ryūnosuke (schoolgirl fighting to express her feminine identity after she was raised as a boy by her father). Those characters do not feel the same way about Ataru.

Sample event card Umeboshi (Dried Plum) IM

Event cards really bring the sense of chaos and random, unpredictable events from UY into the game. Each round, players secretly draw one event card for each character. Normal event cards may be equipment teachers can use when capturing (like a net or a lasso), a large temple bell that may fall on Mendō and incapacitate him, a pretty girl who passes by and distracts any male students, or may do nothing at all. These cards may be held by the character and used later as needed. When an Immediate Effect (IM) card is drawn, it is shown to all players and takes effect immediately. The above example is Umeboshi (Dried Plum), which affects Lum's alien physiology by making her drunk when she eats them. She is incapacitated for 2 rounds and any other character who happens to be in the same area as her during that time runs the risk of being zapped with her electric shock power and losing a devastating 8 points of Stamina.

Order of Operations

Each of the game's 30 game rounds is divided into a daunting and complex 14 different phases:

  Stamina Recovery Phase

  Bus Movement Phase

  Teacher Movement Phase

  Teacher Event Phase

  Spotting Phase

  Intimidation Phase

  Capture Phase

  Teacher Fighting Phase

  Student Movement Phase

  Student Event Phase

  Escape Phase

  Friendship Phase

  Student Fighting Phase

  Buying and Eating Phase

Note that this is supposed to be a fun and silly game about teachers chasing students around town as they try to eat snacks. This is far more detailed than other simulation games by Tsukuda Hobby that I've translated, including their Star Wars: Death Star, Hoth, and Endor games (6-8 phases each), Mobile Suit Gundam: Jabro (5 phases and based heavily on Squad Leader), and the Macross games City Fight (3 phases) and Dogfight (6 phases).

The game starts to bog down in the tedium of details. First, every Teacher team character must roll to determine how many Stamina points they recover. Then, each  bus vehicle must move along on of three different bus routes. The Teacher team moves their units and draws one event card for each character. Then, teachers must spot students in the same area before they can attempt to intimidate them into following the rules. If that doesn't work, they can physically try to capture the students, which may cause a fight to break out. Then, the Student team moves, draws event cards, tries to escape, asks favors from friends, and may opt to attack any Teacher team characters. Finally, the Student team may go shopping at food vendors, choosing options from a detailed menu for each different food vendor.


The game does a very good job of simulating the Kaigui Wars events, as seen in both the manga and TV series. Unfortunately, the game drags on with bookkeeping, card drawing, vehicles, capturing and escaping, and stacking game effects. The randomness and overabundance of options make it difficult to determine a winning strategy. The map board is large and most characters typically move 2 areas per round, so it takes multiple rounds to move from one important location to another.

I like the events in general but many of the effects are too limited. For example, when the deranged monk Cherry shows up (a fairly important character in the TV series), everyone in the same area loses 8 points of Stamina. That's it. However, in the TV anime, Ataru was able to bribe him with food and he helped the kids escape from Sakura (the school nurse and Cherry's niece). That interaction is much more interesting than, "everybody in the same area gets hosed."

There are too many dull events that simply cause damage, incapacitate characters, or can only be used to counter other event cards. There are no events that cause a character to increase character movement, affect Friendship Levels directly, gain money, or as a bonus/penalty to Fighting Strength. This part of the game is ripe for expansion without adding further complexity.

The Japanese blog Their Finest Hour has a good review of the game that I agree with. One big problem is if there are too few characters in the game, then characters rarely interact with one another. If there are too many characters in the game, the game bogs down in detail and takes too long to play.

Final Thoughts

This is a game I've wanted to translate for a while and I'm glad I've had the opportunity to do so. Unfortunately, it is every bit as overdesigned as I hoped it wouldn't be. Tsukuda Hobby's own system ranks it complexity level III (3) on Tsukuda's 1-6 scale, comparable to some of their simulation games based on military anime. This game would've played a lot better with a lower complexity level (and I'd argue that it is closer to games with complexity level IV (4)).

The game rules include a "beginner" scenario designed to be played by 2 players. This removes many extraneous details (including the bus movement, spotting, intimidation, friendship, and student fighting phases). Instead of choosing food items from an extensive menu, Student team characters automatically restore all Stamina points and earn 3 VP for visiting a food vendor. This is a good step toward making this a playable game without losing too much of the game's flavor.

Ideally, I'd like to see this game redesigned from a modern point of view. Characters should move more than 2 spaces at a time. A fight should involve both players rolling lots of dice against each other, not looking up the outcome on a bland CRT. The nameless teachers should be replaced with recognizable characters. Vehicles should not be required to follow detailed traffic rules (that section of the rule book is like reading a DMV handbook). The game should play like a frantic and humorous episode of UY, not a detailed war simulation.

Saturday, July 8, 2023

New English Rule Book for Indiana Jones and the Hidden Treasure of Pyramid

Get the Rule Book on BoardGameGeek.com

Indiana Jones and the Hidden Treasure of Pyramid contents and my rules translation

I've completed my English translation of the rules for Indiana Jones and the Hidden Treasure of Pyramid (Central Hobby, 1989) (インディ ジョーンズ ピラミッドの秘宝) and posted the rule book on BoardGameGeek.com.

Get it here (may require site registration): https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/261565/indiana-jones-and-hidden-treasure-pyramid-english

There was no record of this game on BoardGameGeek, so I also populated a new entry for it: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/393878/indiana-jones-and-hidden-treasure-pyramid

Team Up

The game is played by 2-4 players playing against each other, or 4-8 players playing in 2-person teams. Each team member takes a different role, either Indy or his female companion Heroine. Cards are dealt to the players (Power cards to track Indy's power level (health) to Indy players, Heroine cards to Heroine players) and the Indy and Heroine players of matching colors team up together.

The Heroines all look alike, but they are mechanically different. The top two affect movement and the bottom two affect combat.

Two of the Heroine characters (as noted on the Heroine cards) give a big +2 bonus to either movement or combat. That's great! The problem is that the other two Heroine cards give a big -2 penalty to either movement or combat, with nothing to counteract that penalty. That's not great! When playing an 8-player game, two of the players become pariahs that nobody wants to team up with. That is not fun. The only explanation I can think of is that some are adept, active partners (like Marion Ravenwood) and some are enemy agents trying to undermine Indy (like Elsa Schneider). Still, it is a poor design choice.

It gets weirder on the second floor of the pyramid, where "Heroine Contests" are permitted. When one player pawn lands on another, the moving player may choose to fight in order to force the other team to swap Heroines. If they win, the Heroine cards and players are traded between the two teams. The game story makes it clear that Indy and the Heroine are lovers, so this trading just seems wrong (Indy, you cad!).

How to Play

The team members take turns moving their team player pawn on the map board (first, the Indy players take their turns, then the Heroine players). A player selects and plays an Explore card from their team's hand of 2 cards to move. Their pawn may be moved in the directions shown on that card, a number of spaces (corridors and rooms) up to the Indy player's current power level.

Players use cards to track Indy's current power level

If the player pawn enters a room space, movement for the turn ends and the player follows the instructions for the type of room entered. Stairs lead up to the next level in the pyramid. Medicine rooms (which only the Heroine may enter) can heal Indy's power level or allow the player to harm another team's Indy. When entering an unlocked room, a card is drawn to determine the trap or monster (bat, mummy, snake, or spider) that is encountered. Monsters are fought by rolling one six-sided die and adding the result to Indy's power level (Indy always fights, even on the Heroine's turn) and adding any bonus or penalty. If the total exceeds the monster's power, the enemy is defeated and the player team gets to keep the equipment (medicine or a key) listed on the monster's card. If the total is equal to or less than the monster's power, Indy loses one power level in damage and the monster is discarded. Keys are used to enter locked rooms, where tougher monsters and stronger equipment (whip and gun to give bonuses in combat, mine cart to give bonus movement) await.

The end goal is the locked treasure room on the third level of the pyramid. A player team must be the first to defeat a power level 11 monster and seize the magic jewel in order to escape the pyramid as victors.

A Card Game? An RPG? A Board Game?

Indiana Jones and the Hidden Treasure of Pyramid bills itself as an "R.P.G. card game" (RPG カードゲーム), but this is a misnomer.

When a player enters an unlocked or locked room on the map board, the player to the right draws a card (from either the Unlocked Room or Locked Room deck) and describes the encounter to the active player (instead of saying "It is a bat with power level 6," say, "A creature pounces on you with a high-pitched cry!"). From this description, the active player decides whether they want to use a weapon or not, then rolls one die for combat, and presumably describes the actions taken. This is where the role playing comes in, but as a board game, it is unnecessary. Each player has a role to play (Indy or Heroine), but there is little of the standard traits we might identify from a role-playing game. RPGs were very popular in Japan in the mid to late 1980s, and this was likely a marketing move to capitalize on their popularity (much like how the board game Cloak & Dagger (Ideal, 1984) is touted as a "role-playing game" during the USA RPG boom of the early 1980s).

Three decks of Explore, Unlocked Room, and Locked Room cards. Which deck is which?

It does use cards, but that doesn't necessarily make it a card game, either. There are three different types of cards drawn from different decks during the game: Explore, Unlocked Room, and Locked Room cards. Additionally, there are Heroine cards and different Indy Power cards that the players hold onto throughout the game. The problem is, all of the cards in the game have the same card backs! It is easy enough to organize the cards into different decks by looking at their card fronts, but it is easy to confuse them when they are flipped over.

Upgrading the Game Components

Original IJ: Treasure of Pyramid game pawns on the left, my Game of Life: IJ pawns on the right

Each player team is noted by a standard board game pawn GRYB color: green, red, yellow, or blue. However, the game includes colored metal pawns of gunmetal, bronze, silver, and gold (the pawns look like djed pillars 𓊽 to me, matching the Egyptian theme). This disconnect between the color on a player's cards and the color of the game pawn makes no sense to me. I replaced them with the Indy pawns (in standard GRYB colors) from my The Game of Life: Indiana Jones board game.

The game's map board is printed on a thin sheet of paper that has been kept folded in the game box for decades. The creases in the folds are hard to smooth out, so I placed a sheet of plexiglass over the map to help keep it flat and protect it while playing.

The Play's the Thing

I tested the game out to see how it plays. The Explore cards have a certain number of compass directions printed on them (from 1 to 4 different directions), and the player pawn can only be moved in those directions on your turn. This limits the player's choices, but only rarely did I find I could not move at all. You always have a choice from a hand of 2 different Explore cards, so there is usually at least one interesting destination that your pawn can move to.

Indy's power level is vital to both movement and combat, so it makes sense to keep him at 6 power whenever possible. Medicine can be found in medicine rooms and unlocked rooms, so it isn't hard to find enough healing to keep you topped off. You may lose precious time by healing, but a power 6 Indy can move twice as far and his 50% more effective in combat than a power 3 Indy.

Final battle with the treasure chamber monster, guns blazing and at full power. I still lost.

The treasure chamber fight is not easy, since you need to score an attack power total of 12 or more. If you are stuck with the -2 combat Heroine, this battle is impossible without using a pistol (even then, you only have a 1-in-6 chance of succeeding). In the example above, I used a key to enter the locked treasure chamber at full power (6) and used my pistol (+2), rolling a 3. My attack power of (6 + 2 + 3 = 11) tied with the monster's power, which means I was defeated. I had used up my key and pistol, lost 1 power level (down to 5), and had to return to the staircase at the start of the floor. Chances are, you will lose the treasure chamber combat unless you are the lucky player teamed up with the +2 combat Heroine and are wielding a weapon, too.


I already stated that the Heroine game mechanic is problematic but I'm not the only one. I've read a recent play report from a Japanese game club that played this game and complained about how the penalties are not fun (I lost the link to their post, though). An easy fix would be to make all Heroines give bonuses, either to combat or movement (though, I still think the combat bonus is more powerful since it is so important at the end of the game).

Now, if the game had some sort of hidden role mechanic where one Heroine is secretly working for Belloq and trying to win by betraying all the Indy players, that could be interesting. As this game is designed, there is just a 50% chance that any Heroine is an albatross around Indy's neck and nobody will want to play with them.

The end game can drag on too long, with several teams attempting to clear the treasure chamber but failing at the final combat. I suggest a variant where the final monster's power decreases by one level each time it is in combat. That way, the fight gets a little easier over time, guaranteeing that SOMEBODY will eventually win and bring the game to a conclusion.

I do like the map design and the overall concept of the game. It reminds me of Dungeon! (1975) and Curse of the Mummy's Tomb (1988). The choices of monsters on the cards are strange. Bats, snakes, and spiders all make perfect sense in and IJ game. Mummy and ghost enemies make some sense, as both are hinted at in Raiders of the Lost Ark (mummies in the Well of Souls, ghosts emerging from the Ark of the Covenant). But the zombie, treasure keeper (axe-wielding hunchback), and haunted chest (an undead monster inside of a treasure chest) look like they are more appropriate in a Castlevania or Wizardry video game.

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.


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:

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.


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.