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.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

New English Rule Book for Dark Force

What is Dark Force?

Dark Force cards and Master Pack (starter deck) boxes

Dark Force was a German collectible card game (CCG) based on the popular fantasy role-playing game, Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye). Players are rulers in the land of Aventuria, commanding heroes to lead armies and beasts to conquer their opponent's lands to win (or defeat enough of your opponent's forces or let your opponent run out of cards to win). Heroes include warriors, fantastic beings (elves and dwarves), spellcasters (casting magic spells and summoning elemental spirits, demons, or the undead), and "Blessed Ones" (priests) of the Twelve Gods working miracles.

Players could by Master Packs (starter decks) and Power Packs (booster packs) when the game launched in 1994. They also printed an "edition" boxed set of every card with gold borders to differentiate them from the random pack cards. The game had a few expansions in the years that followed. Attack Pack (1995) added more cards. Captain's Pack (1996) added all new rules for ships, fleets, ocean travel, and naval combat. Unfortunately, publisher Schmidt Spiele went out of business in 1997, bringing Dark Force to an end.

This Sounds Kinda Like Magic: The Gathering

Mountain, Plain, Swamp, and Forest "land" cards (I don't have an Island, but it is in the game)

Well, every CCG owes something to Richard Garfield and M:TG, and this one is no exception. The first edition of Dark Force launched in 1994, just one year after Magic. Whereas the locations of lands are abstracted in Magic (planeswalkers "tap" into distant lands to draw mana from them), the terrain cards in Dark Force are laid out to form a map, much like a board game. When two opposing stacks of units meet in one terrain, the cards are picked up and the players lay them out in a tactical "battlefield." Combat is its own sub-game where positioning matters, allowing for ranged attacks, flanking attacks, and heroes supporting armies.

In fact, Dark Force really reminds me of Tom Wham's Kings & Things. I am not sure if the Dark Force creators ever played K&T (the first German version wasn't printed until 1997), but there are also similarities to Tom Wham's earlier game King of the Tabletop.

Which reminds me of another story...

That time I accused Richard Garfield of Plagiarism to His Face

King of the Tabletop is a fantasy game about controlling five different land types in order to summon specific creatures to use to battle your opponent(s). Control swamps to summon a ghost or black knight, plains to summon a lion or white knight, mountains to summon dwarves or a roc, Forests to summon elves or a walking tree. Sound like the original edition of Magic? Well, Tom Wham's KotT was printed in Dragon magazine #77 back in 1983, 10 years before Magic saw print.

I ran into Magic creator Richard Garfield while walking around at an E3 convention around 2000 or 2001. I had been playing Magic since Arabian Nights and the Unlimited edition were new, so I struck up a conversation with him. I brought up the similarities between King of the Tabletop and, though I didn't specifically use the word "plagiarize," I certainly implied it.

He stated that he didn't remember KotT at the time he designed Magic. He later saw KotT after Magic had exploded in popularity and the similarities between the two games was obvious. He surmised that he probably played the game when it came out in Dragon and then forgot about it, but perhaps some elements subconsciously influenced his design when he created Magic.

Now, I see the similarities as more coincidental and thematic than anything like an intentional attempt to steal a design. I am sorry that I confronted him in the manner that I did. Richard, if you are reading this, I apologize. Game designers are often influenced by works that came before. This is how we learn and understand games and is a way that our games evolve, mature, and improve over the years. We all stand on the shoulders of many giants.

Rule Book Download

My translated rule booklet with the original German version

You can download the new English rule book from BoardGameGeek (BGG) at the following link. A BGG account is required for download. Feel free to contact me if you are unable to create an account but still want the rule book.

I translated the original Master Book rules for the game and incorporated errata from Aventurian Messenger (Aventurische Bote) magazine and the tournament rules for the Essen Open '96 tournament. This also adds the naval movement and combat rules from the Captain's Pack game expansion.

https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/208311/dark-force-rule-book-english-translation-v-10


Sunday, September 6, 2020

Three New English Rule Translations for Tsukuda Hobby's Star Wars Simulation Games

History

The history of official Star Wars strategy games typically begins with works by West End Games, starting with Star Warriors in 1987. This starfighter combat game features a hex grid poster map of outer space, a familiar piece of game equipment to science fiction board wargamer fans of Star Fleet Battles and Starfire. West End Games followed Star Warriors with two more "hex-and-counter" Star Wars games: Assault on Hoth (1988) and Battle for Endor (1989).

Tsukuda Hobby's Original Trilogy in hex-and-counter format
Photo by the author

It turns out that board wargame ("simulation game" in Japan) fans in Japan played their first official Star Wars game in 1982 with the release of Death Star (a.k.a. "The Game of Death Star Combat in Star Wars"). As you can surmise, this starfighter combat game recreates the Battle of Yavin as a ragtag bunch of Rebel Alliance snubfighters dared to strike against the Galactic Empire's dreaded battlestation, the Death Star. The somewhat complex rules rival Star Warriors in complexity, though the two games are quite different.

In 1983, Tsukuda released Hoth (a.k.a. "The Game of Battle on Hoth"), my personal favorite of the three. The Imperial walkers are huge in this game, each one has six different counters for the locations of the torso, head, and feet. The walker feet smash any other units they step on. A Snowspeeders may fire its harpoon at a walker's foot, circling its cable ("wire" in the original Japanese) around the vehicle and trip it up. If Luke Skywalker's speeder is shot down, he can become a terror on the battlefield, attacking Imperial units with his lightsaber.

Tsukuda also released Endor (a.k.a. "The Game of the Combat on Moon Endor") in 1983. The game starts with the players constructing a new game board by using terrain tiles of bushes and forest surrounding the underground bunker entrance that leads to the Empire's shield generator. The Rebel units are all hidden on the map with decoy counters and traps to spring on the Imperial forces. The Empire units are powerful, but must hunt down and find the Rebels and ewoks camouflaged in the surrounding forests. Speeder bikes have a 1-in-6 chance of smashing into a tree for every forest hex they travel through.

Who Made These Games?

Tsukuda's games were designed by the prolific game designer Atsutoshi Okada. He was a fan of Avalon Hill wargames (published by Hobby Japan) and anime (he refers to himself as an otaku) so he designed a Mobile Suit Gundam miniatures game for play at conventions. This led to getting hired by Tsukuda Hobby and designing "Squad Leader for Gundam," which became Jabro. This first game led to a wave of science fiction and anime "simulation games" in Japan from Tsukuda and others, popular enough to have their own television commercials. Okada had a six year career with Tsukuda, designing countless games for them. He also created new Dougram and Votoms games for Takara's terrific Dual Magazine. By my count, Okada-san designed and published more than 40 games in the 1980s. He took a break from game design during the 1990s, then created Panzertales: World Tank Division in 2003.

Translated Rule Book Downloads

Okada-san's Star Wars games have never been translated into English, until now! You can download my new translations of the Tsukuda Hobby trilogy at these links (Note, a Board Game Geek account is required for downloading as that site is hosting the files. If you cannot sign onto BGG, send me a message):

Death Star: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/207946/tsukuda-star-wars-death-star-english-rule-book

Hoth: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/175579/tsukuda-star-wars-hoth-english-rule-book

Endor: https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/207945/tsukuda-star-wars-endor-english-rule-book

And More in Print!

Also, I recently wrote "Destroy the Death Star," an article for Star Wars Insider magazine #195. This piece is a historical record of all the different ways players have been able to blow up the Death Star (and Death Star II) in electronic games, board games, card games, and video games over the years, including Okada-san's Death Star game. You can order a copy here: https://titan-comics.com/m/33-star-wars-insider-195/