License to Roll: James Bond Games for Children

Let's Be James Bond!
I found this four page gem of an advertisement tucked in a recently acquired copy of James Bond 007: Assault! (Victory Games, 1985). The game itself is a modestly complex game reenacting the assault on the volcano fortress from You Only Live Twice, with rules for adapting the game (and the underlying tactical combat system) for use with VG’s James Bond 007 RPG.

These roll-to-move “Action Episode Games” are hardly challenging for anyone who received the flyer in the Assault! game—as the flyer notes, they’re “For Children 8 and Up.” While possibly the games could be used in conjunction with the RPG, the intended demographic seems to be the children of wargamers/RPGers.

The gamer parents I’ve spoken with seem united in the hope that their children to also take up gaming. Hang around gamers of any stripe long enough and you hear the lament about the “greying” of the hobby. This old VG advertisement taps into the desire to grow a new generation of gamers, with games that provide a stepping stone into more complex simulations, taking kids who were skipping around Candyland into the Funhouse Maze from The Man with the Golden Gun, dodging Scaramanga while pursuing the Solex Agitator.

The games do appear to have some heft to them—fifty cards in one, an ammunition record pad in another, and at least a modicum of strategy required. These games had to be fun right out of the box and be simple enough for the stated audience to play, a very different design requirement than the usual VG fare.

Of note, the very happy children in the very 1980’s living room are actually using a playtest version of the You Only Live Twice action episode game map with pieces from the James Bond 007 RPG Gamemaster Pack.

Interior pages and back cover of the flyer after the jump.

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Game Preview: Birds of Prey

You know, some mornings, you just wake up and say, “Gee, the world needs another jet era air combat game that fits somewhere on the difficulty scale between Air Superiority and Speed of Heat.”

If that was you this morning, then you’re in luck:

Birds of Prey playtest set, taken from https://www.airbattle.com

Birds of Prey (Ad Astra Games), which just entered its pre-order stage, is a tactical air combat game focusing on jet dogfights, notable for its use of pitch and altitude markers under “box minis” that actually tilt the plane in its proper attitude—sort of a counter-miniature hybrid game.

Sadly, there’s not much information available on the Birds of Prey website beyond some basic marketing text. Not enough, at least, to justify a pre-order from me as yet—particularly given the strange self-e-mailing PDF pre-order system they’re using that is incompatible with the default Mac OS .pdf reader—but I’m hopeful that they’ll get a proper site with more details online soon.

In particular, I wonder about the “box minis”—will the registration on the die cuts be tight enough, and the construction simple enough, to produce aesthetically pleasing results? The “box minis” look pretty good in the playtest image above, but what about average results? I’m not renowned for my arts and crafts acumen. Board wargamers want to punch and play (or at the very most, punch, trim, and play). Don’t make us glue and fold stuff.

Worth following, though, and they’re shooting for a Summer release at Origins.

Update (March 14, 2008): Phil Markgraf has been in touch with me regarding the pre-order difficulties noted above. He’s put information on how to pre-order via e-mail on the Birds of Prey website. [Link outdated as of 2023, somewhat understandably.]

Movement Points: Standard Combat System

How one moves a unit in a wargame is, to my thinking, integral to how that game plays and, perhaps more importantly, how to understand the game. Game designers give us clues about the best use of units and potential strategies via the movement rules.

Movement allows you to bring your units to (or away from) combat in a manner of your own choosing. You can maneuver to assault the weakest point of your opponent’s line, make spoiling attacks to prevent his or her strongest units from operating at peak efficiency, or waste your forces in ill-advised sallies against well-fortified positions. Conversely, movement allows you to withdraw to better terrain, cut off enemy supply, and occupy vital territory, furthering your aims without attacking.

Combat is only part of a wargame. One of the hobby’s most venerable publications is called Fire & Movement, after all. Without movement, you’re simply rolling dice to see who wins. At that rate, just play Yahtzee.

One of the most succinct expressions of “how to move” can be found in the Standard Combat System (.pdf) (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers).

The SCS movement rules are a distillation of years of “best wargaming practice”—someone who has only played Avalon Hill or SPI games from the 1960’s or 1970’s wouldn’t have much trouble picking up an SCS game.

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Idiot Rules: The Mighty Endeavor

The tactical situation is dire and the course of action clear—pull back your forces to defensible terrain, shortening your supply lines and providing mutual support for your thinly-stretched units. But you can’t, because there’s an idiot rule in your way.

Wargames use idiot rules to prevent players from taking actions that are otherwise tactically sound and allowed in the rules, justifying the restrictions for historical reasons or to provide some form of play balance. After all, unless forced by the rules, very few sane gamers would throw division after division into Stalingrad or try to hold all of France in the face of a massive Allied invasion. Idiot rules attempt to enforce dictates from above the gamer’s pay grade.

Idiot rules can be subtle, offering rewards for following a particular course of action; games that use Victory Points as a means of determining the outcome of a game, for instance, can allocate a certain number of VP for control of locations that would otherwise be abandoned posthaste. Idiot rules can also be explicit, making certain sections of the map simply off-limits until a certain game turn or until certain criteria have been met.

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D-Day by e-Mail

I’m preparing to begin play of The Mighty Endeavor (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers, 2005), an operational level treatment of the Allied invasion of France in 1944 featuring mostly Divisional units. I’ll be playing against my opponent via e-mail, sending turn logs back and forth using VASSAL, a free Java program designed to facilitate online play of paper-based wargames.

The Mighty Endeavor is a series game, one of the more recent in the long-standing Standard Combat Series (SCS) designed by Dean Essig. According to the Designer’s Notes from the v1.7 rules (.pdf), SCS

was designed to be a basic—read FUN—game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the ‘break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go’ type of evening.

And indeed, I find myself gravitating towards SCS games less because of subject matter and more because I already know how to play the game.

Series games play an important role in contemporary wargaming, because they allow the time-pressed gamer to simulate different conflicts using the same basic rules structure. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to the series rules in SCS, which cover all the basics of wargaming in seven pages, you just familiarize yourself with the specific game rules and dive in. Learn once, play often.

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Liveblogging Winter Offensive

Keith Dalton of Multi-Man Publishing is liveblogging Winter Offensive [link dead], MMP’s annual game convention currently underway in Bowie, Maryland.

Focusing mostly on Advanced Squad Leader, which MMP publishes, WO has expanded in recent years to include gamers playing games from the Gamers’ various series as well (say that five times fast). And there are always late-night sessions of Euros and multi-player games that in recent years I came to enjoy more than the ASL itself.

WO is always a great convention, and they’re getting the traditional WO snow, so I wish them luck up there. Looking forward to live updates from the spacious Comfort Inn!