Archive for the ‘50/50 Games’ Category

[50/50] Game #13: “Junta”

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Tabletop Game #13: “Junta” — West End Games (1985)

juntaDo you hate your friends? Do they hate you? No? Well that will all change after you play Junta, the tongue-in-cheek board game of corruption and revolution. Each of you plays a member of the ruling cabal in a banana republic, vying for the favor of el presidente and the plum posts he hands out. If you don’t like the way he’s distributing aid money from los Americanos, you are of course free to attempt a coup d’etat. Cheating, lying, bribing and assassinations are all fair game — though don’t take it personally: the only thing that matters is how much money you manage to sock away in your Swiss bank account by the end of the game.

Our sessions were particularly brutal, especially after a friend introduced a new rule — “a little something I like to call the Shakedown,” Matt was fond of saying — and participants had to be carefully vetted after one belligerent player in a pickup game at a convention nearly became violent. In fact, my old gaming group has, for all practical purposes, retired Junta due to the strain it put on our friendship

Ahhh, good times.

[50/50] Game #14: Wings of War

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Tabletop Game #14: Wings of War (2004) and Richthofen’s War (1972)

As today is 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, this is a timely entry. So to speak.

Unlike WWII, which still fuels the wargame industry like a perpetual motion machine, WWI was never a particularly popular era with gamers — with one grand exception. Anything that recreates the aerial dogfights of The Great War sells well — and are invariably fun to play. As deadly as the first use of the aeroplane was in combat (usually to their pilots), the high-flying romance of the period continues to enthrall game designers a century later. Plus, you get to shoot down your buddies, over and over!

There have been dozens of board, video and computer games published over the decades, such as the exceptionally clever Ace of Aces, an elaborately designed pair of books that allows two players to simulate a dog fight, though Avalon Hill’s Richthofen’s War is a sentimental favorite — if for no other reason than it was the first wargame I ever played. It blew me away, and I was hooked after one game. Not just on Richthofen’s War, but wargames in general. Like so many of AH’s titles, it also was slyly educational; soon my brother and I could tell you why a Spad 13 was better than a Sopwith Camel, and pick out the silhouette’s of planes that hadn’t graced the skies in 50 years.

wings of warThe winner though, goes to Wings of War, a game that is simply ingenious in its simplicity. The design is brilliant because you can teach anyone how to play in less than a minute. Turns are lightning fast, and dozens of people can fly at the same time, making it a perfect convention game. With large matches, players also get a true sense of the chaos and capriciousness of a dogfight in the skies over the trenches of WWI, and why a pilot’s career rarely lasted long.

wings of rusty


[50/50] Game #15: Twixt (1962)

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Tabletop Game #15: Twixt (1962)

twixt_2_lgFor board games, the 1960s were a golden age — literally. While commercial games had been popular since the late 19th century, and Monopoly a runaway best seller since the Depression, America’s burgeoning middle-class had card tables and suburban rec rooms to fill coming out of the ’50s. Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Ideal all saw explosive growth thanks to TV show tie-ins and national ad campaigns. Less than a decade old, Avalon Hill found nothing but success with its line of complex, elaborate wargames. Everybody was making money publishing games — or so it seemed — so it made sort of sense when 3M decided to get into the game.

Yes, that 3M: the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company, home to, among other things, sandpaper, Scotch tape and Post-it Notes. In 1962, 3M released the first of what would become three dozen titles in its Bookshelf Games series. Aimed at adults, they had an air of sophistication about them: each came in a faux-leather slip case (with gold lettering!), the better to sit next to all those leather bound classics on the bookshelves of one’s den, and bold illustrated covers that wouldn’t have been out of place in the pages of Playboy or Esquire. The result, says blogger Codex99, “was a rather elegant and sophisticated house style that has really not been seen since.”

twixt_lgM took advantage of its expertise in manufacturing and design, delivering products with plastic boards and metal playing pieces. They put out financial sims (Stocks & Bonds, Acquire), party and trivia games, and a slew of sports titles, but 3M is best remembered for their efforts to try and create “the new chess” and invent an original abstract strategy game for modern times. They came closest with Twixt, a connect the dots title that still has a following today. Twixt is a deceptively simple game, with two players taking turns placing pegs on a grid. If the pegs are close enough, they can be connected with links; the first player to build a bridge across the board wins. As with chess, patterns quickly emerge. Specific tactics have been developed for every situation, but simply reacting to your opponent will get you crushed; this is a game that rewards thinking ahead.

[50/50] Computer Game #1: “Robosport”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

268009-robosport-amiga-screenshot-movie-player-screensComputer Game #1: Robosport (1991)

RoboSport--1I contend that Robosport is the greatest computer game ever, because it can only be played on a computer. Equal parts chess and S.W.A.T. tactics, players control a squad of programmable robots armed with machine guns, grenades, missile launchers and time bombs. Each turn, you and your opponents plot out all your moves ahead of time, ordering your robots to take actions in advance without knowing for sure what they’ll run into. This guarantees that a) you are forced to think carefully about your strategy each turn, and b) your best laid plans will usually, hilariously, go awry. Robots cackle gleefully as opponents are blasted from ambush, only to be vaporized seconds later while shouting “Ow!” ‘Bots with attack orders bound around corners and instantly annihilate one another, while those with move orders bounce straight past enemy units. Turns play out as mini-movies, and at the end of the game you can watch the fight unfold in one big exploding replay.

Cheeky and eminently replayable, Robosport is the thinking man’s Battlebots. In fact, I keep nursing along an old Mac with System 7 just so I have a machine on which to play it when my brother comes to visit.

[50/50] Computer Game #2: “Warcraft II”

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Computer Game #2: “Warcraft II” (1996)

warcraft-ii-tides-of-darkness-pc-016Long before World of Warcraft borgified the internet, Warcraft was a clever and humorous real-time strategy game where you chopped down trees, built castles, raised troops and raided your buddies’ kingdoms. While you could take on the missions laid out like chapters in a sprawling narrative, the real fun of the game — as always — was playing against your friends, no matter where they were. Warcraft II’s helped coordinate team play in the early days of the web, and enabled you to join forces with a co-worker and beat up your brother in Baltimore. Good times.

Computer Game #3: “Caesar III”

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

813638-caesar_3Computer Game #3: Caesar III (1998)

My brother sent me an article last week about the highest paid athlete in history — a charioteer in ancient Rome. Turns out he earned the modern equivalent of $15 billion over his career and lived a lavish lifestyle. Yes, if you were a citizen of the Roman Empire, life was usually pretty good. Of course, if you clicked on the virtual citizens of your Roman city in Caesar III, you’ll most likely get an earful of complaints.

This was one of the more charming elements of the city building computer game Caesar III, a clever combination of SimCity and a real-time strategy game, which let you build Rome in a day. While historically inaccurate — if you laid out your digital version using an actual Roman street plan, your city would fail — Caesar III was nonetheless a challenge to play and a great deal of fun. Clicking on your citizens as they went about their daily tasks would tell you what they needed, as you planned what to construct next. Aquaducts, markets and colosseums were important, but so were gardens, walls and temples: you really did not want to anger the gods in this game.

Sadly, the only thing Caesar III was lacking was a multiplayer element, one where you could trade with — or invade — your friend’s cities.

[50/50] Computer Game #4: “Full Metal Planet”

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Computer Game #4: Full Metal Planet (1990)

fullmetalplanetThanks to a confluence of unfortunate events and an epic clash of personalities, Full Metal Planet has become the holy grail for many game collectors, myself included. Originally released in 1988 as an elaborate boardgame, “Full Métal Planète,” as it is known in France, quickly went out of print. Due to the cost of producing quality metal playing pieces (among other things), it also drove its publisher out of business — but not before they cut a deal with a software company to do a version of the game for the Atari, PC, and Mac. Shortly thereafter, a major falling out among the three people who created the original — and whom shared equally in the rights — ensured that the game would never be released again.

Normally this would spell the end of a title, but FMP is such a great game it developed a fervent cult following that is still, 25 years later, trying to bring it back. The original European boardgame now goes for hundreds of dollars — if you can find a copy for sale — and the computer game is a popular download on abandonware sites.

AA5I only played it once on the computer with friends, but it was such an absolute blast I spent years tracking down a copy for the Mac. The game is a perfect balance of strategy and tactics, careful planning and gambling. Turns are under a strict 3-minute timer, ensuring decisions are made quickly and under pressure. Four players are dropped on a mineral rich planet and have a limited amount of time to grab as much metal as they can, either collecting it themselves or stealing it from the others. Sudden shifts in tides can complicate the best laid plans. Playing it safe won’t win it for you, but neither will being too aggressive. Like I said, a perfect balance.

[50/50] Computer Games: Cute Overload

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

Computer Game #6: “Lemmings” (1991)
Computer Game #7: “Glider” (1990)

lemmingLittle known fact, but in the late ’80s I worked on developing a comic strip called “Lemmings.” It was based loosely on the squirrels in my college paper strip “Potatohead U” and followed the adventures of a biology major who, while on a field trip, had saved a herd of lemmings from throwing themselves off a cliff and brought them back home to live with him on campus. Hilarity, the plan was, ensued. Or not — the strip got to the pitch phase. The lemmings I drew, however, were pretty damn cute, with big floppy hair that bounced when they walked. You can image my shock (and delight) then when, a few years later, a computer game came out for the Amiga staring lemmings with big floppy hair that bounced when they walked. I at least got the satisfaction that I might have been on the right path.

Lemmings was a huge smash, and quickly ported to PCs, Macs, and every platform available. In it, you guided your lemmings through vast underground caverns, using a limited number of tools to help them find the one way out of each level. If time ran out, your lemmings went nuclear — literally — blowing up the cave in a spectacularly cute explosion.

+ + +

I’ll keep harping on Steve Jobs’ failure to embrace games as a major selling point for the Machintosh, mostly because his lack of support ensured that Mac users rarely got to play the great computer games of the day (or, if they did, the ports came years later, long after interest and support in the titles had waned.) I’ll settle for the fact that so many people proved him wrong by designing brilliant games for the Mac in spite of Jobs’ attitude. One of these hits was Glider, a game where you played … a paper airplane. Gliding from room to room, trying to find an open window to escape, you could catch lifts on errant drafts from air ducts, fans, or heat from candles (don’t get too close or you’ll burst into flames!). It was simple, fun and highly addictive.

Glider was a big hit, with a huge fan base, and after its designer got the rights back some years later, he decided to release it to the public for free. So you too can play Glider right now, online, here.

[50/50] Computer Game #8: “Death Sword”

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

Computer Game #8: “Death Sword” — aka “Barbarian” (1988)

853335-death_sword_1.gifLifting its entire motif from Arnold Schwarznegger’s Conan movie, “Barbarian” — or as it was known in America, “Death Sword” — was an incredibly shallow and silly game, where the object was to cut off your opponent’s head. That was it.

It was incredibly popular, incredibly stupid, and incredibly fun.

[50/50] Computer Game #9: “Starcraft”

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Computer Game #9: “Starcraft” (1998)

Blizzard didn’t invent the Real Time Strategy (RTS) game, but they perfected it with Starcraft. Set in the far future, humans and two very different alien races battled for control of the galaxy. You could run any of the three races (each with their own unique strategies) and play against up to 8 other gamers, in teams or individually, over LANs or on the Internet. Find resources, build factories, create armies and launch attacks against your opponent, while they tried to do the same to you.


With Starcraft you could build and control hundreds of units, all with different abilities, sending them in battle or ordering them to lie in wait to ambush your buddies. Like every other game, ever, it was best when played against friends, talking trash in text or in person (although the Koreans apparently took it to a whole nuther level with professional teams.)