Thursday, May 21, 2015

This is Not a Test: Pest Control Part II

My name is Hugh Jass and I am a businessman...I run the most profitable construction company in the Tri-State Wasteland. and jus' so you know, that ain't no mean feat! Specially considering that me an my whole crew are muties. 

It's hard out here for a mutant. 

Now, I didn't ask to be a mutant, but I sure as hell ain't gonna wallow in self-pity jus' cause I am one. I don't like to blow my own horns...but who else would have seen the potential for profit in being a mutant? Really, I am a genius... cause rebuilding out here is not like it was in the olden days. You got to deal with rad sickness, rad zombies, rad roaches, and all manner of nasty critters. Then you got the raiders who are out to rob you blind and the tribals who are protectin' their "sacred ruins." Hell, the peacekeepers shoot first and ask questions later if you are not in a "safe" zone. So I asked myself, "who better to rebuild out here than us?" I mean, radiation? No problem! And we can damn sure take care of ourselves in a fight! Then when the time comes nobody can weild a hammer or four like a mutie! 

It has taken 10 long years but I am on top of the heap...everybody calls the Hugh Jass Construction Company, mutant and norm alike. 

And now? Here we are, in the middle of BFE, and some pissant raider band, too stupid to know who they are dealing with, thinks they are going to take my hard earned Barter Script...well they are damn sure in for a wake up call today! Nobody fraks with Hugh Jass!

The board setup and scenario where outlined in part I, I summarized and reviewed the rules in the last entry, so...the following is how the game itself played out.

Assault rifle wielding mutant, Seymour Butts, takes cover behind a building as the rad zombies start pouring out of the ruins

Mongo (a big, dumb melee mutant) Mike Rotch charges straight into the zombie horde

Spanky XXVIII and his grenadier, Stymie,  advance towards a rad zombie nest while..

...His second in command, Alf Alfa Omega, holds the left against a zombie wave

Alf Alfa gets some backup from Butch

Mike Rotch fells two zombies but is quickly surrounded by more

Alf Alfa lays the zombies low but has his gun jam in the process, and more zombies are on the way!

The Mutant right is in trouble as both Ben Dover and Seymour Butts' weapons jam and the zombies just keep coming

Spanky has out distanced his troops in his enthusiasm to close with the enemy

While Alf Alfa has his hands full on the left

Seymour goes down, leaving the mutant right wide open

Ben Dover is quickly overwhelmed

Mike lays the zombies low and heads for Spanky

even more zombie hordes attack Alf Afla so Dorothy moves up in support

Ben Dover goes down while Al Coholic's sniper rifle is out of ammo. Hopefully Oliver Klousoff and his minigun can hold back the horde!

Hugh Jass sneaks around the corner and mows down Spanky in a hail of bullets!

While Spanky is bleeding out, Alf Alfa is fighting for his life!

As more zombies come down the street

Spanky's backup show up too late!

Oliver Klousoff falls to the zombies, things look bleak for the mutants

Mike Crotch is wounded but still on a rampage

Hugh comes to try and save Al...

Al is down but not out!

Mike takes out the zombie nest as Buckwheat charges him

Butch is taken down at the last minute...time reached, game over

A combination of zombie kills, the destruction of the nest, and taking out Spanky gives the mutants a costly win...

Stay tuned for my thoughts on how the game played out and an explanation of the post-game and campaign phase in Part III of the AAR

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

This is Not a Test - Rules Review

While I organize the pictures from my last game and write the "color" parts I thought I would pause and give my review of the rules for This is Not A Test. Keep in mind that I have only played two full games so far, I have not done any of the campaign stuff, and I have only played solo (as I do most of my gaming). So with those caveats in place, here you go...

I have never really gamed post-apocalyptic before except Steve Jackson's original CAR WARS, a buhjillion years ago. I do game a great deal of fantasy (using Brent Spivey's Mayhem and Ganesha games Song of... series) so I am not adverse to non-historical stuff. I played the original Fallout computer game series as well as the newer FPS version (Much like my thoughts on U2, I prefer the older stuff) and I have seen the Mad Max trilogy umpteen guhjillion times (WHO RUN BARTERTOWN?)...the point being that when I saw these rules come up over at TMP I was intrigued. I have been NOT gaming for the last 6 months between coaching my high school soccer and debate teams and trying to paint up my Baccus Napoleonics in anticipation of getting to play a game next month with real actual human beings! Again, the point is that I needed a gaming break so I took the plunge with TiNaT. Did I make the right decision investing in these rules? Let's talk...

Ok, starting with the "fluff." I do a great deal of historical gaming and I teach history and government so I generally eschew background stuff. I am generally far more interested in the core rules than any backstory or eye candy. Having said that, I don't have a problem with devoting pages to those things if they don't detract from the product itself. TiNaT does a great job with presentation and background while not making it a prerequisite for playing the game. I purposely stay away from rules that are "tournament" oriented because I game many periods and genres, I game solo, and I game on a budget (which you can tell if you have seen any of my games!). I am happy to say that World's End Publishing encourages players to play with what minis they may have on hand and using whatever setting "chrome" you choose. However, they do manage to do a good job of creating a compelling world to play your games in and they seem to draw inspiration from many sources including Fallout, Mad Max, the Troma Toxic Avenger series etc. The rulebook itself is very well done with very, very nice pictures of (I assume) the author's collection of minis and terrain. The only problem I have with these pictures are that they make me jealous of his stuff! The original non-miniature art in the book (at the beginning of each rule section) won't be hanging in the Louvre any time soon, but it does a good job of evoking the spirit of the game. 

I do have a couple of issues with the presentation...the first is the lack of book marks in the PDF (which is all that is available at this time). I keep the vast majority of my rules electronically so even though it is actually rare to have them pre-marked it is still something I find desirable, particularly in this day and age when it is relatively simple to do. To make it more of an issue the PDF is locked down so I can't make my own bookmarks (somebody please correct me if I am mistaken). By no means is this a deal breaker and obviously won't be an issue with the hard copy when it comes out, but I hope it is something that World's End will address. The second issue is a lack of Quick Reference resources. A QRC is included in the PDF but I find it lacks a few important charts etc. that I would have liked to have seen on it. That said, there are not too many modifiers to remember and by the time I did the AAR game I didn't need to refer to the rules much. Nonetheless, having a comprehensive QRC helps with the learning curve and would be nice. I would have also liked to have the various skils and equipment lists on a reference sheet so that I don't have to browse the (not bookmarked) PDF to find them. I actually created my own excel files to use in game for this purpose. By and large, these are minor issues in an otherwise nicely presented rules set, but since this is a review, there you have it. 

Now for the rules themselves. I am not going to go into every facet of the game mechanics but I do want to give a good overview so you all can decide if they fit your gaming preferences. First of all, the sequence of play. On first glance it is a pretty typical, initiative, activation, and clean-up phase sequence of events, however there are a few bits that make the turns more unpredictable and brings "friction" to the game, Most die rolls are a single d10, I like this approach, it is simple and gives a respectable odds curve. Activation, as with most in the game events, is made with a skill test, that is a d10 roll added to the appropriate skill (in the case of activation, "mettle") with the total trying to beat a target number. Friction is introduced by the fact that if a model fails its activation it only gets one action and the warband loses the rest of its turn. Each warband has usually 6-10 models (could be more or less) so you have to prioritize your actions every turn...this is something I like. The mechanism is kind of similar to the Song of... activation system used by the majority of Ganesha Games rules and I think it works well here.

If a model activates successfully it usually receives 2 actions. This actions can be used to move, fire a weapon, take an action, melee etc. Generally a model can only fire in ranged combat once, but most other actions can be done as many times as the figure has action points available. This brings me to the next aspect of gameplay - skill use. There are a number of different skills and mutations that a model may have that affect the actions of the model in combat and otherwise. Equipment can also impart "skills" to a model, the example that comes to mind is "burst" which allows a model to fire more than once a turn. The skills are broken up into categories such a ranged combat, smarts, etc. while mutations are hidden or physical (as well as detriments that reduce model cost). The rules include a comprehensive skill/mutation list that allows you to create unique warbands. I haven't tried any min/maxing with the warbands so I don't know if that is an issue and I don't play that way anyway (why would I? I would only be cheating myself!). However, if that is a concern/problem for you it appears to me that the skills/warbands are well balanced to prevent any really lopsided contests. While the rules certainly could be used "competitively" I don't think they were designed for the tournament players' market per se.

Ranged combat is straigh forward with one very clever twist. You make a skill roll against a target number, if you are successful you hit. The twist is that when you score a hit the target is marked as such but the effect is not rolled for until the clean-up phase. This creates a nice friction for the player who must decide whether to use precious actions to "stack" hits on a model or hope that the hit will strike home and take another action instead. Weapons have ranges, typically from 12" to 36" - I am usually not a fan of ranges in skirmish gaming but where I might take issue with it in a modern/historical skirmish game, in sci-fi/fantasy it is no biggie; I see weapon ranges as a game balancing thing. Melee combat is an opposed die roll and, unlike ranged combat, hits are resolved immediately.

Models which are hit in combat roll an opposed die roll based on their defense. A "save" results in no damage but with the model taking a "graze" test, failure of the graze test results in the model moving to cover. Combat sounds like a great deal of die rolling but it doesn't play that way in-game and it does allow all players to stay involved in the game. Keeping all rolls to a single d10 means that you don't have the "bucket o' dice" efffect.

Most models start with only 1 hit so combat can be deadly, however the campaign rules have you roll to see the severity of the wounds post-game so your model isn't necessarily dead. Models that survive a skirmish gain experience which can be used to upgrade your models so they become more resiliant and more skillful (or mutated!).

Their are 5 or 6 scenarios included in the rulebook and they are clearly outlined and varied in their objectives. One of the cool things about the rules is that you seldom have just another warband to deal with. Before each scenario you rolls to see if there are any other battlefield characteristics. These may be radioactivity, storms, or a variety of nasty critters. This brings variety and color to the skirmish that I think will go a long way towards stopping the games from being "samey' from one skirmish to the next.

Warband creation is pretty straighforward and includes most of the tropes of the post-apocalyptic genre. You have raiders, mutants, caravanners, peacekeepers etc. Combined with the skills and mutations you can create 40kish power armored soldiers with plasma rifles or Mad Max like berserkers. Each warband type has a number of templates with some limitations on the numbers of each type you can have (one leader, X number of elites etc.). It is not as open ended as the troop creation system used in Brent Spivey's games like Mayhem and Rogue Planet (which are awesome btw), but I don't see this as a major issue because there are so many different lists, skills, and lots of equipment to create variety in your warband. The game plays like it has been very carefully balanced to be fun and competitive while still allowing for a great deal of warband customization. One thing that is not included in the rules are vehicles...I personally have zero problem with that considering the scale/subject and I do think I read somewhere that they are coming later if that is something you want or need...

As I said earlier, I haven't tried the campaign rules yet, but a read through seems to show a balanced and solid mechanism for taking your warbands past a single skirmish. I like rules with good campaign mechanics since I solo most of my games and the narrative part of gaming adds to the experience. Speaking of solo play, these rules are clearly designed for head to head play and actively encourage multi-player games with 3 or 4 sides. Obviously that isn't meant to imply that they can't be played solo since that what I do, but they are not marketed or written to be necessarily "solo friendly."

So what is the short version? This is Not a Test is a well written and beautifully presented ruleset with solid mechanics that utilized several clever mechanisms to create a fun skirmish game. Each turn the players have many decisions to make which creates friction and tactical problems for the player to solve. To me, those elements are the heart of any miniatures game. The rules cost more than some of the other rulesets I play but I wouldn't say they are priced high, In fact, they are probably on the less expensive side of things compared with some rulesets in the same genre, I just don't tend to play many "mainstream" rules. For the price there is an extremely large amount of content in the book which clocks in at 172 pages. I do feel as if I have gotten my money's worth. The only real problems I have is with the aforementioned PDF issues, but it seems to me that the developer is conscientious about his product - having already corrected some minor errors in the PDF since its release. Being primarily a historical gamer I probably won't play TiNaT every week, but so far they have been a very good alternative to my usual stuff and I can see getting some of my casual gaming friends  interested in playing a game or two. Good job World's End...wait, no scratch that...Good game World's End!

Monday, May 11, 2015

This is Not a Test: Pest Control - A Paper-pocalypse AAR

Spanky XXVIII surveyed the ground in front of him, 
"This here be good huntin" he said to his second in command, Alf Alfa Omega. 
"Aye, that it is Boss...we are sure to bag a dozen shinies here, I dunna think none but ourselves have found this hidey-hole." 
Spanky looked over at Darla, his most merciless soldier, "Cock that there crossbow girly,  workin' time is nigh!" 
Darla flashed an evil grin and spit out "Wut ta be waitin' fer then, let's at em." 
But Spanky had been around long enough not to get careless, rad zombies could be dangerous if you took them lightly and as much as this ruined town glowed there were bound to be irradiators in the ruins. 
"Hold yer bullets girly, I be waitin' on Stymie to give us the low-low... idn't tha' tru Uh-huh?" Spanky said looking at his top blade man, 
"uh-huh" Uh-huh replied using the only two words he ever said.
 It was then that Stymie came from out of the ruins, 
"Didja be eyeballin dem shinies didja?" said Spanky loud and cocky for his raiders to hear. Despite his cocksure attitude the old chieften could tell by the look on Stymie's face that there was trouble, 
"Aye boss, plenty of shinies but something else too..." and then the last thing Stymie's said sent chills through the raider company as they checked their weapons for battle, 
"yea, plenty o' shinies outta there boss... but there be others a'well. On that there farside of the ruins there be.. MUTIES!"

This is Not a Test  is a new set of rules for post-apocalyptic skirmish combat from Worlds End Publishing. I have only played a game or two but I am diggin' the vibe so far. I will give a gameplay review in part II of this AAR but the short of it is TiNaT is a fun game with lotsa flavor, solid mechanics, and a nifty campaign system built right in, I look forward to many more games.

For this AAR I am using almost all paper miniatures and terrain, (that which is not paper I think is readily apparent). Some of the companies represented are Mayhem in Paper for the miniatures, Dave Graffam Models and Finger and Toe Models for the buildings, junk cars and debris. The toxic pool is scratch built except for the barrels. The trees are World Works.

This is the setup for the first scenario in the rule book - Pest Control. The object is to take out as many Rad Zombies as possible while fighting off or eliminating the opposing warband - which in this case is Raiders vs. Mutants. There are 4 zombie "nests" each with 4 zombies and the chance to spawn more zombies after the 2nd turn.

Here is a view of the whole 4X4 table looking towards the raider side

The raider warband "Our Gang.". Spanky is the fellow with the large sword in the middle of the formation.

This is the mutant warband "the Hugh Jass Construction Company" - We will meet them in the next AAR

The first Rad Zombie nest - nasty fellows them!

The 2nd and 3rd nests...each nest must be at least 8" from the table edge

And the final nest - I didn't get all of my zombies edged out, so they still show white borders.

Spanky XXVIII knew that this "milk run" just got much harder, damn did he hate muties! 
Well, he thought, "I didn't murder my way to tha head o' this motley band to show my arse end to no group of muties!" 
Spanky turned to his raider band and hollered in his best hard arse growl,
"Arright, ear holes open youse pikers and bloody hands, those muties be inna our roadways so if youse wanna a hand o barter script for whorin' an a guzzle you best begin a scrappin'! What say youse? Charge an letta ol' Scratch ave his pound!"

To be continued...