Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dungeon Delves Update

A while back I played in a couple sessions of the local Dungeon Delves group at the FLGS. Since then I've often been playing miniatures games on the nights the Dungeon Delve group meets, but even when I haven't been I've skipped the Dungeon Delve. The reason is simple: pre-gens. A couple of weeks ago the people running the group decided to switch to pre-gens for the games. It's understandable why. They were seeing increasing amounts of time being wasted in pre-game prep as people came unprepared to play, and this was only going to increase as the levels that the adventures were designed for increased.

The problem is that character design was pretty much the last vestige of actual roleplaying that existed in what was essentially a scenario based miniatures game. Now that even that element is gone, I see little reason to participate, despite the fact that the people running it seem like a great bunch of guys.

The thing is, if I wanted to just play a scenario based miniatures game, there are better options out there. Descent is a big one, and one I happen to own. In fact, from what I've heard, Descent with the Descent: The Road To Legend expansion sounds like it has more roleplaying elements than the dungeon delves, with more player choice.

This isn't meant to be a rant on the game, or the people running it, just an expression on my part that it's not currently what I'm looking for, and an explanation as to why I haven't mentioned it recently.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hammer's Slammers

This time last year I was reading The Complete Hammer's Slammers collection of stories. Apparently someone at Mongoose Publishing was doing the same thing, because they just released the Hammer's Slammers supplement for Traveller.

Physically, this is one of the best products I've ever seen from Mongoose, which isn't saying much given their track record, but in this case the work is adequate. It's a 208 page book, full color, and hardbound. The bindery and printing are of good quality. The artwork is acceptable, if not exceptional. I believe a good portion of it has been recycled from supplements for the Hammer's Slammers miniatures game, but I could easily be mistaken since I've only seen excerpts of those books. There are cut-away views of both a tank and combat car, which should be a nice treat for most Slammers fans. The only really bad art in the book comes from the tactical maps used in the sample adventures and history sections. They are cheap looking cut & paste jobs.

The layout is generally good, and so far I haven't noticed any glaring typos. This is apparently due to the work of Will Chapman, a professional layout and graphic design artist who was recently hired by Mongoose. This is one of his first projects with the company to reach print. Hiring him was a long overdue move by Mongoose, and one that can only lead to good things for their product lines.

The book itself is a supplement to the Traveller core rules, and requires those rules to be used. It starts with short overviews of the Hammer's Slammers Universe (HSU), and the way the mercenary business works in it. Both of these are of interest to both the gamer and Slammers fan, but are limited in the amount of information presented.

Next up is Character Generation. It looks like they did a good job with the new character careers covering the different specialties within Hammer's Slammers, but I think there could have been a little bit more effort put into harmonizing the careers from the core Traveller rules with the HSU. For example, there's no evidence of an equivalent to the scout career in the Hammer's Slammers universe (HSU). There's also not much evidence of a Traveller style navy or marine force. It's questionable whether any of these three careers should be allowed in Hammer's Slammers character generation. Another example is in the mustering out benefits for the core book careers. There's no TAS in the HSU, and ship shares are going to be pretty useless in the average HSRPG campaign. There probably should have been a discussion about replacing these with something more appropriate to the setting.

After the Character Generation rules is a History of the Slammers. This is one of the more interesting sections from a fan's perspective as it organizes all the different campaigns from the stories into a coherent timeline. In the books themselves there's a definite beginning and end, but it's unclear where a lot of the stories in the middle occur. The narrative of the history makes it appear that there's no room for additions, but the year by year timeline shows that there are plenty of gaps where the GM could create his own missions for the Slammers to participate in, if he doesn't want to accept the default situation of setting the game after the Slammers have once again become a part of the Nieuw Friesland Army.

After the general history is a Character Roster of many of the main characters from the books. As an interesting point going back to the character generation, write-ups of these characters make use of the nobility, rogue, army, and citizen careers, in addition to the new careers presented in the Hammer's Slammers book. There's also a chart of stats for generic Slammers personnel, but no equivalent chart for any opponents they might face.

The Equipment chapter comes next, and this is another of the sections that fans will find most interesting, with descriptions of small arms technology in the HSU, including cut-away illustrations of a powergun, coilgun, and flechette gun. There's new rules for dealing with how powerguns deal with cover, and how coilguns use energy and penetrate armor. There's also a description of armor available and a short section of other equipment and technology that appears in the HSU.

After Equipment comes the real Equipment, the Super Tanks and Other Vehicles. The Slammers are all about the tanks, and they get lots of good coverage here. Fans will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the vehicles, including cut-away views of a tank and combat car. Another section of high interest to the fan.

The Table of Organization of Hammer's Slammers is next, which also includes a few pages of camo patterns used by the Slammers in different environments. I suspect this was recycled from the miniatures game, but don't know for sure.

If you're only interested in this book as a fan of the stories, then you're pretty much done here. Next is new vehicle combat rules that introduce a new scale between personal and ship to resolve battles between military vehicles in the HSU. I haven't looked at these very closely, so I can't say how well designed they are. Generating missions and running the game are the topics of the next chapter, and there look to be some interesting ideas there that could be mixed in with the stuff from Mercenary or adapted to other games, but I haven't spent a lot of time going over them. A pair of adventures and an index round out the book.

There is one issue that makes this book slightly less useful to fans of the books. The RPG obviously draws its information from the books and the miniatures game, but it ignores three novels that weren't Hammer's Slammers novels, but were set in the same universe. This may have been a conscious decision as ignoring those books allowed them to slide the HSU more easily into the core Traveller rules. Since the Hammer's Slammers stories don't go into how space travel works, borrowing the core starship rules from Traveller works fine, but these other stories do go more into FTL travel and communications, and the details don't mesh very well with the way it works in Traveller.

Adopting the information from these books would have required creating a whole new rules system for starships for inclusion in a game which really doesn't deal with starships, so it's understandable if they chose to leave them out, but it does make the book a bit less useful as a sourcebook for the stories as certain assumptions in the book directly contradict the way things work in the established canon.

Even taking this into account, I think this book is worth getting for most Hammer's Slammers fans; however, as a game book I'm not sure how valuable it is. There's already Mercenary for Traveller, if you just want a military based sci-fi campaign using the Traveller rules. The assumptions of the HSU do create some different possibilities given the relative impotence of air power, so that might make it worthwhile for some groups. If you have a group that likes playing military style RPGs, then it's probably a good purchase, but for the general roleplayer it's probably not going to have much use.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Most reviews I've seen so far seem to go off on the film for nothing more than being a Michael Bay film, as if none of us have ever seen one before. You've seen Michael Bay films before, so you know what to expect. If you liked the first film, you're probably going to like this one. If you didn't, then you won't.

There are lots of things that can be criticized about the film, but few reviews seem to actually go into any of that, instead going off on tangents about how much plastic surgery Megan Fox must have had, how Hummer has been sold to the Chinese, and how Obama is portrayed in the film (here's a hint to the clueless reviewers, he isn't in it!)

So with that in mind I felt it was time for me to do my own review. I'm limiting this to things that aren't really spoilers (although if you can't stand anything at all being revealed, then just stop reading here, and particularly stay away from #4 in things I don't like). There are certain specific things about the plot that I both liked and disliked, but I won't get into that here.

Here's what I didn't like about it:

1) Frenetic editing in action scenes is one thing, but circling the camera around Megan Fox and Shia LeBeuf a half dozen times as they stare into each other's eyes just made me dizzy.
2) Coeds can be hot, but they don't all look like they're getting ready to go on stage at MBOT. The college scenes are ridiculous. I guess the idea is to make it plausible that Shia might be tempted to wander from a hottie like Fox, but it just looks ridiculous.
3) Was Lucas involved in this? Why do we have "ghetto" speaking autobots? It's the return of Jar Jar, but with a thankfully smaller amount of screen time. Also, unlike Jar Jar, they do actually get a couple lines worth a chuckle, but it's not a fair exchange for all the others that induce winces.
4) Obligatory government bureaucrat. It seems we always have to have one of these guys around to keep the good guys from doing their jobs, only he's not really needed here. He doesn't prevent the good guys from doing anything. He's a cliche that the plot doesn't even need (and is why we get all the pointless meanderings from reviewers about Obama).
5) Megan Fox's boobies. OK, like #2, I realize this could go in the plus column, but not when it's done in such a ridiculous manner with shot after shot of slow motion jiggle as she runs from Decepticons. If the director is that obsessed with her chest he should just go for the R rating and show her topless in a sex scene.

Here's what I did like about it:

1) Autobots kick ass. In the first movie they were pretty weak. It usually took multiple Autobots to hold their own against single Decepticons. Apparently they've been doing some intensive training since then, because in this movie the situation is often reversed. When they do end up on the losing end it's only because of being massively outnumbered.
2) The human military kicks ass, and gets its ass kicked. NEST shows why the Autobots think it's worthwhile to work with the humans instead of on their own, but at the same time shows what happens when soft and squishy humans and their primitive tech fight giant metal robots. It's good old fashioned John Wayne style heroism. No blood or gore, just lots of explosions and broken toys.
3) The fight scenes are long. This is a criticism from many reviewers, but it's a plus for me. It's why I go see these movies. It's just fun to watch all the special effects.

My conclusion is that it was a fun movie despite its flaws. If you liked the first one, then go see it. If you didn't like the first one, then go see something else.

Edit: it turns out Obama is in the film, very briefly. It turns out that Michael Bay briefly met the man before he was President, was impressed with him as a person, and chose to include him in the film more as a tribute than anything else. Any discussions as to the presence of a political message in the film still misses the point of the film, which is pure entertainment.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Small World

Last month I mentioned the board game Small World, and how I liked the game but probably wasn't going to buy it because there was an open copy at the FLGS and I was unlikely to play it anywhere else. Since then I bought a copy at the FLGS.

I bought it from the FLGS because I was able to play it there, but my decision to buy it wasn't based on that play. My decision to buy it was made due to the podcast the D6 Generation. They've been raving about the game and how it was the first game in some time that all three hosts owned. More importantly, the wives at the D6 Generation were enthusiastic about it to the point that I thought I just might be able to get my wife to try it, despite not really getting that impression from my one play at the FLGS.

Fortunately, I took the risk, because I was able to get my wife to play it. The first board game she's played in several months. We've only played one game so far, but she's indicated that she's willing to play again some time when she's in the mood, which is about as much as I can hope for when getting her to game.

I mention this both to mark the relatively rare event of getting my wife to game, and in the interest of full disclosure given my earlier rant about how I wasn't going to buy the game. I still think that the point of that rant stands as this purchase was made in spite of, rather than because of, the FLGS having an open copy to play at the store.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Imperial Guard vs. Space Marines

I had my first game of 5th Edition 40K this past Tuesday, taking 500 points of my Imperial Guard vs. Chris' 500 points of Space Marines.

The lists were necessarily pretty basic. I had Yarrick as my HQ, three squads of Penal Legionnaires, and one Armored Sentinel with a lascannon. Chris took a Captain as his HQ, a Rhino, and two squads of Tac marines, both with a flamer and missile launcher. For my Penal Legion abilities I rolled one squad of Knife Figters and two of Psychopaths. This meant that I had an assaulty IG force going against a fairly shooty Marine force.

We rolled up a Capture and Control mission with a Spearhead deployment, and things did not go well for my IG at the beginning. I left my Knife Fighters on my objective and moved my other two squds forward with Yarrick in charge of one of them while my Sentinel stayed back to snipe the Rhino while trying to avoid taking fire from any missile launchers. Chris moved one of his squads forward in the Rhino while keeping his other squad and Captain back as a fire base protecting his objective.

First blood was to me in the second turn when I destroyed the Rhino with my Sentinel. I had hit the Rhino in the first turn, but then had an "anything but a one" moment and naturally rolled a one for penetration. The destruction of the Rhino was the last bit of luck I had for a while as the Marines bailed out and proceeded to shoot up the entire squad that Yarrick was leading, leaving only Yarrick and the squad sergeant. Yarrick fell back to join the other squad of Psychopaths and was able to charge them into the Marines which went a bit better for me.

I still lost a couple men to shooting before I got the charge, but once in assault Yarrick and his men were able to win the combat and then run down the survivors, wiping out the Marines. Then the Marine Captain, who hadn't been involved in the first assault, charged me and wiped out everyone that was left, including Yarrick. I figured the best I could hope for at this point was a draw, even if Yarrick got up again due to Iron Will. Then I noticed something.

Chris had strung out his squad through the woods in front of his objective, leaving only a couple of Marines on the end actually controlling the objective. I realized that if I charged that unit on the end away from the objective that he'd have to pull his troops off the objective in order to react to my assault. Even if I was wiped out he wouldn't be able to consolidate back onto the objective that turn. Given that it was Turn 5 and that I went second, this gave me a chance to actually pull out a win if the game ended that turn.

Yarrick did get up thanks to Iron Will and I was able to charge him and that lone sergeant from the first squad into the Marines, pulling them off the objective. Through incredibly bad rolling on Chris' part, both of them actually survived the assault, which was nice since that would probably let me keep them off the objective for another turn if the game went to turn 6. That brought us to the end of turn 5 and the roll for the end of the game. Chris told me to make the roll, and I rolled a 1... game over, IG wins!