Monday, 19 May 2014

The Goldilocks Zone

Over the years, I have become (in case you had not noticed) a very hard gamer to please. I guess that it got worse when I ran Dungeons & Starships, where a poor product was money down the drain and thereby not in my bank account.

There is a tale of a well known company rep, who tried to tempt me, time and time again, even offering 3 times the value in his company's stock in place of those of other companies. He just couldn't understand that I would rather have £1 of stock that I could sell, rather than £3 that would stay on the racks for years. Well, in the end, he was physically escorted from the store.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes...

It's therefore, a rare game that meets my standards in every way, but as you will have read in previous posts, I was taken somewhat by the figures and rules produced by 'Crooked Dice' at Triples over the weekend.

Firstly, Karl, one of the evil genius overlords behind CD engages with the customer without coming across like a hard up Persian rug salesman. He is enthusiastic about his products and confident as to the quality without hard selling. And believe me, the products sell themselves. I had a good long chat with Karl at the weekend, which is something I rarely do and without ONCE giving me a sales pitch, I walked away having spent £125.00. What he did do, was listen to my questions and meet my requirements. By doing this I was more than happy to spend more than I planned. 

(As an aside, an adjacent trader decided that I was a possible shoplifter and 'signed' to one of his colleagues to watch me - damn my shifty features. Having seen this in my peripheral vision, I decided that this would mean that £47 of my planned spend with this trader would not see his money belt, and I parted somewhat grudgingly under the circumstances with £3.00. I believe that the same trader also lost other potential sales as a result)

Getting back to CD, the figures are wonderfully cast by Griffin and thereby are clean, crisp and coupled with the top class sculpting such things make for the perfect model. The fact that the range portrays characters who happen to resemble favourite film and television stars of the 60s and 70s is just the icing on the bun for me. Add to this that there are sprues of alternate heads, allowing a great deal of customisation and I'm sure you'd agree that a gamer could not ask for more.

But more, there is.

CD have also produced a VERY slick set of rules in A4 hardback format and priced at a very reasonable £20 with which you can recreate epic confrontations between the forces of good and evil in all of the genres presented in the aforementioned shows.

It's a rare day that sees me buy a modern set of rules, but a flick through the '7TV' book convinced me that what I had in my hand was a high production value product, created with a passion that I have rarely seen since the mid-80s. It's slick, oozes with genre atmosphere, and is written with wit - something sadly missing in the majority of rules these days.

All in all this adds up to 'The Crooked Dice Experience' being very enjoyable. True, I would like slightly cheaper miniatures (who wouldn't?) but quality costs money and I am a very happy camper.

And so that leads me to call this  a 'Goldilocks Game' because everything about CD is 'just right'.

You can check out Crooked Dice at


Thursday, 8 May 2014

When Fantasy Tries To Get Serious (and other musings on how it used to be better in the old days)

Back in the days of yore, there was certain 'feel' to fantasy and science fiction. Starships were sleek, floating cities glistened over the plains and there was a sense of awe and wonder; a suspension of disbelief created in which we all wanted to participate.

When somebody questioned why a city floated in the air, it was sufficient to be told 'It just does.' This was because it was unimportant and those of us who engaged in these kinds of collective storytelling were actively escaping from reality.

In the mid 90s when I managed and then owned a games store, those of us of a certain vintage started to see a change in the feel of the worlds offered by games companies.

There was an increasing dark feel to the worlds. Even classic games such as D&D started to feel 'dirty' and grim. What was worse; they set out to explain everything with pseudo-scientific description of how those flaying cities managed to do so. And by doing this they made the magical, mundane. I confess that at times I wondered what the whole point of trying to escape the real world was. In point of fact it was approaching the point where the old cartoon strip depicting assorted fantasy types engaging in a game in which they each play accountants and office workers, was becoming a reality.

And this has continued, with a few exceptions for around 20 years.

Even worse, company after company imitate each other rather than trying to come up with something that feels unique. For example, picking a couple of old school (I hate that term) titles at random; Runequest and Jorune were both fantasy games, but had very different backgrounds and you came away from both with a unique experience.

Sadly, this is not the case these days, but I suspect that retailers have to expend a lot of money just stocking many items 'for show' without really getting the return they might like.

Similarly, artwork in many cases is frankly awful, and whilst I accept that something like this is subjective, the skill of an artist is not.

Now, I hear some of you yelling that I should look at some of the old stuff, and I have, but I will counter that much of that art was done way before there were big budgets, dedicated design studios and the king of glossy page filling that seems to be essential these days. Much of that artwork was done with love, by talented amateurs. Again, I concede that there are exceptions, but if there is one thing that will turn me off, it's scrappy, ugly artwork. Moreover, if that artwork is just filling space to make an inferior game look more than it is, then my hand stays firmly away from my wallet.

Historical wargaming seems to be going through a phase where every game has to have 'official' products that you simply cannot do without - or at least which you are led to believe are essential - and without which you will seem somewhat unsophisticated by your fellow players. The idea of paying £30 for a rule book, and then being encouraged to pay another £15 each for several 15 page 'supplements', £10 for a set of dice, £10 for some counters etc, feels plain wrong to me. We are confusing elegant design with ostentatious presentation as a metaphorical over-egging of the pudding takes place to keep those profits high.

Remember what happened to companies like TSR when output began to become more important than the quality and practical usefulness of the product.

Is there any wonder that amongst the 'golden age of gaming' generation, there is an increasing move back to those to the games where they got their first hobby 'hit'?

I gave my son-in-law some old rules and magazines to read, he having been only exposed to Games Workshop post 1990s products, and I think that it amazed him that the hobby was so rich in material and so broad in subject matter back then. My daughter was raised playing a mix of older games and one or two newer ones and was possibly better informed. In fact to this day one of her favourite games is TSR's 'Fantasy Forest', but equally she has a love of SJG's 'Dino Hunt' and in recent years 'Carcassonne'. I think this is because for her games were not an image enhancer or a fashion statement, but rather simply 'games', to be played and enjoyed.

None of these games have excessive add-ons when compared to many. I concede that there are a few for Carcasonne, but from what I have seen they do actually add to the enjoyment of the game.

A couple of years ago, I delved back into that spawn of Satan 'Magic: The Gathering' but it had become so cumbersome that to this day, boxes of cards are sitting collecting dust, just like so many sets of 'Starfleet Battles'.

I will say however, that there are some companies who are turning out some really nice stuff. Rapier Miniatures always manage to tickle my fancy with their fantasy stuff, Crooked Dice are definitely surfing on the high wave with their miniatures which tap into retro T.V and film and the 'Labyrinth Lord' D&D retro-clone is great fun and a hell of a lot cheaper than having to scour auction sites for battered original stuff, so there is, I think, a light at the end of the tunnel...


PS: For a list of trader at Triples next week along with link buttons to the various manufacturers sites go here:

It's not the official SWS site but it's up to date and less clumsy if you want to see what each company has on offer.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Are We Really Looking After Our Hobby?

I was sat, the other day, looking at old convention reports, programmes, and the like in one of my fits of nostalgia and it struck me just how poor modern shows are becoming.

It's almost as if we have a collective apathy when it comes to promoting what we do, we are entertaining ourselves and not thinking about expanding in a fit of wargames navel gazing of sorts.

I myself am guilty of this to a great degree, because there was a time when I would have knocked up a damn fine display game and done the rounds because I was full of vim and mustard and wanted to show the world what I could do, but alas these days I really can't be arsed.

Now, there are some mighty fine display, as my previous post made abundantly clear, but here we are in the cradle of wargaming and a it takes a dedicated chap from America to show us the way, the American Way which seeks to show the masses what is great about this hobby. Something ain't quite right.

With the exception of perhaps Salute, you can see some dire examples of the hobby which make me cringe now, indeed they would have made me cringe 35 years ago. A display which is nothing more than a board game? Half finished terrain boards? Oh come on people, is this the best we can do?

Look back at the days of yore... We may have only had by modern standards, crude models and enamel paints, but by god, there were some pretty impressive games be it historical or fantasy. I recall a game in the early 80s, put on by - I think - Warlords, where large fleets of starships were made from funnels and ballcocks, painted in bright colours and on tall flight stands. It looked awesome and was done with skill and enthusiasm, which are increasingly looking like dirty words, these days.

Next time you go to a show, take a slow look around... Not at the traders who are peddling vast amounts of the same stuff ( I refuse to be drawn into that topic as there lies madness - all I will say is think of the boast of Henry Ford regarding the colours available for the Model T) but at the displays. True, there are some really impressive ones, but there are some which are simply bloody awful.

Perhaps it's time for a Wargames Spring, where we collectively and metaphorically march on the capital and demand change, actively shun the tatty and pointless, the staid and stagnant and go for less bulk but better quality at our shows.