Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Wild West Gaming

Wild West games have been a fringe interest throughout my wargaming past. The attraction is obvious: A huge range of Hollywood Western movies; from the classic John Wayne style, through the Clint Eastwood Spaghetti period, and now the Quentin Tarentino releases. It is impossible to resist the classic shoot-out between goodies and baddies on a dusty Western street at high noon, even though everyone knows this rarely happened historically. The range of archetypal characters is so wide; the silent killer, the town drunk, the gambler, the Mexican bandito, the soiled dove, the bounty hunter etc. Surely the gaming possibilities are enormous, it just requires a good set of rules to unleash the potential...

I first played back in the mid-1970’s at my local club using 54mm figures supplied by other club members. The rules we used were by Skirmish Wargames (M&P Blake, I&L Colwill & G&B Rose, 1977) and these worked OK. They reflect their time in the sense that they used percentile dice and had extensive tables with numerous modifiers for calculating results of shooting, close combat, wounds etc. Every weapon was detailed; a pistol was not just a pistol, instead it was a particular model of Colt, which in turn differed from a Remington model. Players could opt for more obscure weaponry e.g. Le Mat revolvers, ‘Bluntline’ specials, Derringers etc. Each model had assigned characteristics, and you had to keep track of rounds fired, wounds received etc. The result was a slow paced gaming experience. An afternoon of play could see your model(s) moving 20 yards, firing a couple of ineffective shots, receiving a light left leg wound, before ducking back behind some barrels. Even worse was being taken out by a lucky long range shot early in the game and then sitting out the rest of the session! I did explore a second set of rules, Boot Hill, by Brian Blume & Gary Gygax (TSR, 1975) which were slightly simpler but still revolved around percentile dice rolls. They were better for stand-up shoot outs because they used an initiative system that allowed a fast draw gunslinger to gun down multiple opponents before they could get their guns out of their holsters!

The main inhibitor to developing a Western gaming set-up was the scale (54mm) and availability of scenery. I am not a great builder when it comes to making my own buildings or scenery. Over the intervening years I did buy some 25/28mm figures, all from B&B stalls, and I did put together some paper buildings, which were for a smaller scale (20mm) and were solid (no interior access). These figures and buildings (pictured above) did see some gaming, but this was rare mainly because the rules played too slow. I wanted a fast paced, Hollywood style of game.

About 10-15 years ago I discovered an online set of rules, Rules With No Name (RWNN) by Bryan Ansell, which seemed to fulfil my wish. These rules were subsequently published as a hard copy, and were quickly followed by other ‘fast’ play Western rules which included Legends of the Old West by Mark Latham (Warhammer, 2004), Gutshot by Mike Mitchell & Mike Murphy (Hawgleg, 2005) and Dead Man’s Hand (Great Escape Games, 2013). So, I now had some potential rule sets but Western scenery remained a problem. The release of the excellent 4Ground range of buildings and scenery quickly plugged this hole. I recently bought my first few buildings, so I am finally ready to jump into the Wild West and give it a go!

Monday, 25 July 2016

Boardgame session: 24th July 2016

We visited Val and Chris for an afternoon of gaming. We started by playing ‘Settlers of Catan’ (SoC), which on reflection, neither Elaine nor I had played for 3 or 4 years! Val plays regularly online so was most familiar with the game, but we soon recalled the rules, and the game played quickly. The final result was a convincing win for Val, followed by Chris, with me trailing in last place. Both Elaine and I came away thinking that we must play SoC more often. It is an excellent game and deserves to be considered a gaming ‘classic’.  I think one of the reasons we have neglected SoC is the components, particularly the assembled board; the hexagonal tiles never sit perfectly within the sea border sections, tiles lift and shift, road counters get knocked about etc. Val and Chris have invested in wooden board specifically designed for SoC, with recesses cut to hold all the tiles and components in place. Brilliant! They also have various expansions, so we look forward to many more SoC games in the future.
Next we played ‘Quilt Show’, a new game to us. The theme of quilting appealed to both Elaine and Val (who have an interest in the area of fabrics, quilting, sewing etc.), but essentially the game has a set building dynamic. Players collect fabrics (in a mechanic similar to that used in Ticket to Ride), which are used to buy quilt panels (different colour and style sets), and these make rectangular quilts which score points, which earns prizes/money in turn end competitions. The game is played over 3 turns, and players can keep unused fabrics and panels for use in latter turns; the player with the most money at the end, wins. The mechanics are nice and simple; the theme works but is not crucial to the game; the components are OK; and the game experience is enjoyable. Val won, followed by Chris, myself and then Elaine. We all enjoyed the game. It is a fairly light game, although some thought needs to go into planning your quilts and hoping that other players don’t buy the key panels you need before you can get to them!
We finished by playing a card game called ‘Parade’. The cards are beautiful and depict the classic drawings of the characters from the Alice in Wonderland Mad Hatters tea party. I truly don’t know how to describe the mechanics of this game; basically the cards form a ‘parade’ and each player adds a card to the ‘parade’, hoping not to acquire previous cards in the parade of the same suite or equal/lower value. The game ends when a player has acquired cards from each of the 6 suites, or if the deck of cards is exhausted. Players count up the values of the cards acquired (with some modifications), and the lowest player wins. The rules are actually quite simple and easy, but the strategy can be quite complex and sometimes you cannot avoid making a play which forces you to collect undesirable cards. I really enjoyed this game (I also won) and I’m sorely tempted to buy it myself. There are other games on the market which utilise a similar mechanic (e.g. Circus Flohcati) which I might get as an alternative.