Conquest of the Empire 30 years later

Over the past few weeks I've been doing some housecleaning and that's involved reviewing my game collection.

This in turn has caused me to pull out a few venerable designs and re-examine them.

Those of a certain age will recall that during the 1980s, Milton Bradley made a concerted push into the burgeoning wargaming market with their Game Master series, which combined high production values and plastic army men with a design philosophy that was closer to Risk or Stratego than Advanced Squad Leader.

The most prolific offspring of this project was Axis and Allies, which has spawned endless variants, both official and player-driven.   However, that was not the first offering, and earlier this week I dug into a battered copy of it's predecessor: Conquest of the Empire.

This was a multi-player strategy game of the Roman Empire at its height.  The players are rival claimants for the imperial purple, and they fight out their contest on an excellent map of the Empire.

I bought my copy from a classmate, and it was already well-used and missing all the money tokens.  That didn't bother me because I had no interest in the game as written, but instead used it as a test bed for various alternative mechanics.

Thus my first actual playing of the game was only a few days ago.  It kind of sucks.

I was warned about this from my classmate, and I now see that it was true.  I won't go into detail, but if you are expecting the classical design excellence of the peerless Shogun (since renamed Samurai Swords and maybe renamed again), you're in for a huge disappointment.  Combat consists of single die rolls to eliminate individual units, which is a grossly inefficient way of fighting battles.  Apparently this was before MB figured out that hurling fist-fulls of dice is not only faster, but much more satisfying.

There's also an inexplicable rule for inflation that I won't go into, but essentially it punishes players for capturing too much territory.

All that being said, the game still looks beautiful, and a single page of updates should suffice to make this the high-quality social experience it was meant to be.  I'll post it once I get a chance to try them out.

Another COVID project: a World War I card game

Around the time I was in college the great 90s card game fad started.  Perhaps the two biggest names to come out of it were Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering, but the fascination with custom/collectible card games quickly spilled over into wargaming circles.

The game that got my attention was Dixie by Columbia Games (which is still around).  Dixie was a fun little game of the American Civil War that allowed one to do run a small-scale in half an hour or so.  It was essentially the same combat system as the one used in their 'block games' for tactical combat.

It wasn't in the same class as other card games because while one could 'create' a deck, it had to conform to historical realities (one couldn't create a division made up of Iron Brigades, for example).

There were other card games, whose names I've long since forgotten, but Dixie inspired me to make my own game set in World War I.  I called it "Hymn of Hate" after a German war-song the British appropriated to describe the morning and evening barrages that fell daily.

The game went nowhere, though I did commission some artist friends of mine to make cards for it.  They went on to bigger and better things, and even used the card art, so at least it wasn't wasted.

All of this is the back story to a project that helped me keep Election Madness at bay, which was resurrecting that card game.

Between Hymn of Hate's original development and that last few weeks, I've played a lot more card games.  I got pretty addicted to Decipher's Star Wars card game (before George Lucas nuked it) and still have a good-sized collection of cards.  I've also used cards for some of my military operational wargames.

The result is that I've got a first-run version put together that pits two corps/army level commanders against each other for the mastery of the front lines.  I've been using normal playing cards to work with, but modifying deck composition to suit my order of battle needs.  At present, each side has a 60 card deck which includes the standard 52 cards plus the Jokers, two additional Aces, two additional Jacks and two more Jokers (total of 4 Jokers).

The number cards represent infantry battalions while the face cards represent barrages, trench artillery and recon elements.  I treat Aces as 'wild cards' that can do many different things to give the game more elements of strategy.

My goal is to get this to around 1/2 hour playing time, and it's getting close.  The trick is to balance victory requirements with decision making and also ensure that pure card draw doesn't determine the outcome.

I have a draft set of rules and when I get it cleaned up, I'll post it here.

Next up: Conqueror: Fields of Victory version 2.0

I've been rather quiet here of late and for that I apologize.  I started the year with grand ambitions of a new trilogy but I've gotten sidetracked in a much-needed revision of my fantasy/historical miniatures rules, Conqueror:  Fields of Victory.

This project has languished for years.  In fact, getting Conqueror into a publishable state took a decade.  In that context, the revision isn't that far behind schedule.

This isn't so much a new edition as it is a revision.  Naturally I'm fixing typos and cleaning up the language where it needs it, but that's not enough to justify the extra effort.

The changes fall into four areas:

Spells and Magic items -  These got a full review and as a result there are a lot of new spells and magic items.  The Magic School of Death got the biggest change and is now as scary as it should have been from the beginning.  Magic items also got a major workover, particularly in weapons.  The end result is more potent, meaningful options for your troops.

Special Rules:  Some big changes here, largely a result of feedback from players.  The list is still short but is comprehensive.  New additions include "horde" troops that gain an extra morale bonus for outranking as well as "rebellious" troops that get sidetracked into infighting during the battle.

Army Lists:  A glaring weakness of the original was that I didn't give you any ready-made options for armies.  This has now been corrected.  Players can still make up their own custom units, but I've provided pre-generated stats for a variety of iconic units like orcs, elves, dwarves, undead, and of course various flavors of human.

Point Values:  The "how-to" section has also been extensively rewritten based on player feedback over the years.  The process for making your own units is now easier and more consistent.

Oh, and the cover art is going to be much better.

I've promised myself that I can't do any fiction writing until this gets done, so I'm hoping to have this wrapped up very soon. 

Until then, Happy Easter!

Warhammer 40,000 2nd. edition

If you aren't a miniatures gamer, you probably have no idea what this post is even about, but if you are vaguely aware of a company called "Games Workshop," odds are you've heard of their flagship product:  Warhammer 40,000.

The game system has changed quite a bit over the years, and I'm one of those geezers who think it's been getting worse for 20 years.

The edition I prefer is the one that went out of print back in the 20th Century:  the second edition.

This post is dedicated to my thoughts, optional rules and is a resource for late-comers to what I consider to be the definitive version of the game.

Even fans like me acknowledge the game has some issues.  Long ago, there was a web site called and together with like-minded people, I generated a list of fixes and rules clarifications.  One of the interesting aspects was how widespread these patches were - a lot of people saw the same issues and came to the same conclusions about how to fix them

Download Warhammer 40k summary

One of the main problems with the game that I didn't address is that hand-to-hand combat tends to bog down in larger games.  Here is my solution.

Instead of rolling dice equal to the number of attacks, roll a single die and add a +1 to the model that has the higher attack characteristic (if it is a tie, neither side benefits).

When additional models attack, retain the +1 but omit the additional die.

For each parry, add +1 to the model's combat score.  Use all the other modifiers (charging, cover) as normal.

The purpose of this is to speed up combat resolution while retaining the stats and feel of the old system.  The odds are the same, but you spend less time on adjudication.

Get your free download of Conqueror this weekend

At the start of the month, wargaming web site came back online after a devastating hack. 

Conqueror was actually designed and tested with people from Warseer, so I decided that although I should be promoting A Man of Destiny, we needed to celebrate this great event.

So from December 9th through the 13th, you can download Conquer for FREE from Amazon.  Take a test drive, see how the rules work and send me feedback.  Over at the Conqueror page, I have a number of lists and articles about its development.  You can also comment on the Conqueror thread on Warseer if you like (and see how it was developed as it developed).

New Warhammer 40k Combat Resolution System

I alluded to this in an older post, but it really deserves to be highlighted on its own.

One of the problems with Warhammer 40,000 2nd edition is that the close combat system required a lot of dice rolling.  It was one of the areas of the otherwise excellent system that needed revision.

As we all know, GW decided to throw the baby out with the bathwater and trashed the whole thing.

Still, the definitive edition of the game lives on.   It is fascinating to see how valued that edition remains on ebay and elsewhere, despite its publisher's efforts to kill it.

Anyhow, here is my method to resolve close combat with only two dice - one for the attacker, one for the defender.

The key to the concept is understanding that rolling multiple dice, forcing re-rolls, etc. are really only tools to change probability.

40k (in all its editions) is a game of probability.  You roll lots of dice, not matter which version you use.  If you understand the odds, it is a simple thing to reduce the number of dice you need to roll.

In 2nd ed., a higher Attacks rating gives you more dice to choose from.  However, the odds of rolling a 6 and a 1 are the same.  In fact, as you continue to add attack dice, the fact that 1s hurt more than 6s help becomes apparent.

In addition, the bonus of the parry ability to force a re-roll loses some of its utility.

Instead of piling dice on the tabletop, an easier method is to just roll a single die and use modifiers.

Thus, instead of rolling dice equal to the Attacks stat, give the player with higher number a +1 on their die roll.  If it's a tie, it's a tie and no bonus is awarded.

A parry is also equal to a +1 bonus.  If both sides have them, they cancel, just like in the rules.

In the case of additional combatants, you add the usual +1 bonus for each additional model engaged, but the +1 attack is instead added to their stat.  This may or may not result in the outnumbering player getting a +1 depending on the models engaged.

Here's how it would work in practice.

Imagine a space marine with chainsword and boltgun fighting a genestealer.  The genestealer is charging.

Under the old rules, the marine would roll two dice, add its WS (4) and force a re-roll.  The genestealer would roll 4 dice, add its WS (7) and +1 for charging. 

So you'd have to roll two dice for the marine while the genestealer has to roll 4, re-roll one and then add the numbers.  The highest dice for each player are going to modified by +4 for the marine and +8 for the genestealer.

With the new system, each player rolls a single die.  The marine would add his WS (4) plus 1 for the parry while the genestealer add his WS (7), +1 for attacking plus +1 for having a higher Attacks rating.

The end result is similar (+5 for the marine and +9 for the genestealer), but less dice are rolled.

Now here's the important part:  The modifiers are really what decides the combat.

It isn't the 4 dice the genestealers roll that make them scary, its their WS 7.  Same with the other combat monsters.  The extra dice and re-rolls are a distraction.

Now having the luxury of choosing the best result from multiple dice is an advantage, but it's a limited one because of the fumble rule.  With this system, the fumble rule has to go away because rolling a 1 is it's own punishment.

The end result is similar odds with less rules and die rolling.  I've tried it out and combat goes much faster.

Against evenly-matched characters it holds up just as well, and the advantage of piling in is still significant - the extra +1 A will first eliminate a character's +1 bonus for having more attack and (if the numbers are there) flip it to the other side.  That's what happens with the dice-rolling version, but it takes more time to resolve.

I will note that this is the kind of system analysis I performed in Conqueror:  Fields of Victory to eliminate useless stats and dice rolling.  Too many game designers focus on aesthetics and ignore the numbers. 

Give this a try and let me know how it works for you!