HoP Idol II: Games Anatomy: A less impressive beard is still a beard, right?

Guys… OMG, guess what!!!!! It’s time for today’s HoP Idol II challenge!!!!!!!!!!!!OMG.  Today we’ll all be hearing from Doc Brian, father extraordinaire and keeper of the “The Family that Slays together” blog.  Today he’ll be following in Von’s footsteps and bringing us his version of the “Games Anatomy” articles he is now officially Internet famous for (official because I just said it, damn it).

Games Anatomy: A Less Impressive Beard Is Still A Beard, Right?

In my introductory article, I mentioned that I like to find games that both I and my kids enjoy playing.
 

I’ve had some success stories with games like Blood Bowl and the Killzone skirmish rules for 40K. I’ve also had some not-so-successful experiences with some old favorites like Axis and Allies. So it seems like a pretty natural fit for me to do a Games Anatomy style article. Except with tabletop war games instead of RPGs. And with the caveat that I’ll be playing with youngsters and would rather not tear my hair out in the process. And with a significantly less impressive beard. And no hat. So not really much like Games Anatomy, I suppose.

But before I can get on with this review, I think a little back story is needed.

Way back when I was a sophomore in college, I tried to build a robot dog for my roommate. Unlike
everyone else’s robot dog, this one would bring you the TV remote when you clapped your hands. You see, my roommate had this annoying habit of searching our entire dorm room for the remote when he wanted to change the channel when all he had to do was stand up and push a button on the box.

Unfortunately, I never finished that project. Oh, who am I kidding. I didn’t get past the initial design
phase. I got bogged down in trying to figure out how to make the little guy climb over all the crap in our room, much less grab the remote and bring it to the sound of clapping.

Now, I’m a university professor specializing in artificial intelligence, so I’d like to think I could make that robot dog work after all these years. But along the way, I got sidetracked by a new potential source of labor.

Kids.

This paradigm shift changed everything! All my friends with kids had to say was “Fetch me the remote”and bam! There it was. No specialized circuitry needed!

“I need a pillow.”

“Would you like two pillows, Dad?”

“Why yes, thank you. I believe I would.”

My wife and I decided that the best way to gather enough minions to take over the world and/or find the remote would be to follow our friends’ lead and grow our own. At least that’s the way I remember the conversation.

Unfortunately, my logic was flawed. By the time we had our fifth child, I had come to the conclusion that kids were not particularly well-suited to following orders, particularly of the remote-finding type. This must have been some sort of trickery on the part of my friends with kids to set us years back in the race for world domination. I can imagine them cackling with glee.

We did discover that the kids were very well suited to some tasks. Making messes for one. If I could just figure out how to include trashing a bedroom and dirtying twice as much laundry as necessary into my plans, I’d be light years ahead of my world-domination peers. Turning lemons into lemonade and all that.

On a positive note, I did find that my kids have a tendency toward playing games, much like I do. As
they have gotten older, I’ve tried to steer them away from crap like Chutes and Ladders, the Game
of Life (Can we make a game with absolutely no decision-making? Yes, we can!), or Happy Puppy
Friends Fluffy Bunny Rescue (Dear God, no!). We’ve successfully begun the transition to games like
Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and other family-friendly games I don’t mind playing. But, as I stated in my introduction article, I’m trying to get my kids into war gaming. You know, you have to train those future minions properly.

I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Jackson Games, having played a lot of Car Wars as a teen and some GURPS role-playing in college. When I learned that Steve Jackson Games was re-releasing their classic Ogre through Kickstarter (or would that be re-re-releasing? Re-re-re-releasing? I’ve lost track of how many times that game has come out), I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see if this game was worth getting by giving a test run with my kids. In other words, I wanted to gather up some empirical evidence for when I had to beg my wife to stop giving me the evil eye when I tell her how much money I’ve spent.


“But Honey, it’s worth the $100 price because we can all play it as a family!”

So, with quick start rules to refresh my aging memory and some paper cutouts for pieces, I set out to get my three oldest minions (er, kids) to practice world domination via cybernetic tank. First up, explaining the game concept. You’ve got to get them excited if you want them to drop their normal minion duties (watching TV and texting other parents’ minions, apparently).

The world of Ogre is actually pretty well fleshed out, more so than I remember in the early versions of the game. The basic concept has stayed the same, though. One player has tanks, power-armored jump infantry with tactical nuclear weapons, howitzers, hover vehicles, and other futuristic goodies. The other player has a single piece, a massive tank called an Ogre. And it’s a pretty even match.

When getting into Ogre, there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, the basic rules for the game
haven’t really changed much (if any) from when it was first introduced back in 1977. This means any
version you happen to find in a yard sale is compatible with accessories and expansions from other
editions. The major change over the years (as far as I can tell) has been in production quality.

Second, Ogre is completely compatible with its sister-game, GEV. In fact, the new Kickstarter version is supposed to completely integrate the two games. Makes sense since GEV is basically a study in what war would be like when an Ogre isn’t trying to knock on your door. The moral of this point is that most of my review of Ogre is valid for GEV as well. If you happen to see GEV in the yard sale, you can pick that up too without problem.

Plus, if you happen to actually find this yard sale, let me know. Stop hogging all these cool finds and let some of us in on the action too. Jerk.

Mechanically, the game is reasonably simple. The game is played on a hex map, but rules exist for
playing directly on the table (i.e., miniatures rules). Unit such as tanks, infantry squads, and so forth,
are represented by counters, and each has an attack strength, a defense strength, an attack range, and
a movement value. Different units types such as infantry, tanks, hovercraft, and howitzers have a few
special rules that make them play differently. All of the basic stats are shown directly on the counters,
and the special rules are fairly simple to remember. I rate this aspect of the game as an B+ for playing
with kids. I’d rate it as an A if there was some way of reducing the special rules or including them on the counters. For teens, the special rules are just fine.

When shooting, compare the ratio of the attack strength of the attacker to the defense strength of the
defender (1-to-2, 1-to-1, 2-to-1, etcetera). Attacking units can combine attacks to make the ratio better. Then, roll a single six-sided die. Look up the result on the Combat Results Table. The result is always one of No Effect, Disabled, or Destroyed. A 5-to-1 ratio or a six on the die roll always results in a Destroyed effect. Not too difficult, but you’ll probably have to look up the results of each attack.

This aspect gets a B+ from me. Maybe an A- if I’m feeling particularly generous. Combat is very simple, but looking at the chart for each roll can be a little tedious. Teens and adults may eventually learn the pattern in the table and not need to consult it, but kids probably won’t. Fortunately, damage results do not require you to keep track of any information. Working units are face-up. Disabled units are turned upside down. Destroyed units are removed from the board.

The Ogre essentially plays like a large group of units that always moves together. It has several weapons that shoot independently and can be targeted and destroyed. It also has treads that can be damaged, slowing it down. The Ogre is a great way for kids to get started since they don’t have to wrap their heads around controlling so many different pieces. They also don’t have to worry as much about executing diversions and flanking maneuvers. (They do, however, have to worry about being on the receiving end of these maneuvers.) On the flip side, the Ogre does have to maintain a record sheet to keep track of its damaged systems. Overall, the Ogre adds an asymmetrical aspect to the game while remaining reasonably balanced in mechanics. I rate this aspect of the game an A when playing with kids. I’d definitely have kids use an Ogre until they get the hang of the game.

The rules contain several premade scenarios as well as ways to handicap the game to account for different skill levels. Several different Ogre versions are provided, from the obsolete, difficult to play Mark III to the very advanced Mark V. Other rules expand on different Ogre models. Also, guidelines are provided regarding how many units to give the other player to make the game balanced or to tip it in favor of one player or another. If used discretely, you can handicap the game in favor of your kids without them realizing what you have done. It’s a win-win situation for both of you. You get to pull out all the stops and don’t have to hold back for fear of stomping your kids’ fragile egos. Your kids get to feel like they aren’t being pandered to. Whichever side wins, both will see it as a hard-fought victory. This aspect of the game gets an A from me. The only way to make it better would be to make the scenarios more creative and fleshed out, but that’s something that the kids enjoy doing, so no real problems there.

As far as replay value goes, the game does a pretty good job. Like other war games, the biggest limitation is your imagination. The game will get stale if you do the same scenario again and again. Mix things up a little and let your kids make up the scenarios once they get the hang of the game. They can surprise you with how wacky or inventive they can be. Compared to conventional board games like Risk and Monopoly, this aspect rates an A+, but when compared to other similar war games, it falls to a B-. It offers nothing particularly unique such as scenario generators or the like, but it doesn’t actively hinder you from scenario play. In addition, there is still an active mod community that puts out new maps, scenarios, and unit types. Check them out if you start running out of ideas.

Overall, I think this is a great game for getting kids involved in war gaming. I’m also looking forward
to craft night when we build little futuristic tanks for when I whip out the miniatures rules. I may not
get the newest Kickstarter “Designer’s Edition” version since all it really adds to the game is new pieces and maps (gonna play with homemade miniatures, remember?) but the level of support of that endeavor means that you can get a plethora of goodies if you just want a premade war game. New or used, I think this is a good, simple game.

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