Sunday, June 23, 2013

Origins Game Fair 2013 - Thursday, We Play and Review Leviathans

Last week Big Mike, California Dave and I attended the Origins Game Fair which I wrote about here, in Origins Game Fair 2013. There's good news and bad news about the next day, which we spent playing miniature and board games, including one game that was upgraded to pseudo V.I.P. status.  Keep reading to learn more than you'd ever want to know about a popular airship miniatures game and the further fumbling of the Origins staff.

Many years ago, and we're talking years here, one of the young men I used to game with earned himself an unenviable moniker - The Weasel.  This label was bestowed on him because of his weaselly, parasitical behavior.  It got to the point where my phone would ring and I'd get a weasel report.
Warning!  The Weasel has been spotted heading in your direction at a high rate of speed.  Suggest you take evasive action.  
Up until last Thursday, I'd successfully banished The Weasel from my memory.  He never crossed my mind at all, until...

I wanted to attend an introduction to Leviathans by Catalyst Game Labs.  This is a miniatures game of airship combat played on a hex grid, and the blurb in the program made it sound promising.  In truth, the game has a few inherent flaws but it isn't bad.  The combat airships are from the John Carter of Mars milieu, but the cannon are 19th century.  The system is easy to learn; if you've ever played Star Fleet Battles you'll be right at home.  In essence, you move your airship around the hex grid and pound your enemy into submission.  There were four of us at the table, two to a side, and we cut the game master's long winded explanation short and dived right in.

The game was originally designed using the standard set of polyhedral dice.  That would be a four sided die, six sided die, eight sided die, ten sided die and a 12 sided die, as abbreviated 1d4 for the four sided die, 1d6 for the six sided, and so forth.  This is the last time I'm going to bore anyone with this kind of an explanation.  From now on you can either keep up or not, and if not then by all means skip ahead to the description of Arkham Horror.  Now then.

The first problem is that the game designers decided to transfer the standard set of polyhedrals into d12s, which doesn't work out too well (do the math) and does nothing but add a new frustration factor to the game.  The new dice are color coded, so instead of rolling a 2d8, you end up rolling 2d-green.

Players keep track of their airship's damage on a small 5"x7" plastic card with incredibly tiny print.  I had to use a magnifying glass to read the thrice damned thing, and ship damage is tracked with an erasable marker.  It's only a matter of time before someone picks up a permanent marker by mistake and the whole business becomes ridiculous as the game slams to a halt while the owner of the game bemoans his loss.  The reality is that the card should be on a standard 8½ x 11 sheet that can be copied, and that would provide room for a typeset that is something more than microscopic.

The third flaw we discovered is that there are no ramming rules.  Try as you might, you will never be able to ram another airship with your airship, and this is a serious design flaw that should have been repaired before the game was marketed.  Likewise, you can't hide behind another airship.  I think it's very likely that these flaws exist because the designers opened a can of worms when they decided to try and cope with altitude.  The game is played on a two dimensional grid.  Everyone is at the same altitude, which simplifies movement considerably.  Still, I should have been able to ram Big Mike's dreadnought with my cruiser and go out in a nice bright flash of glory, but according to the game designers at Catalyst, I can't.

The deal breaker for this game is the cost.  The vendor wanted $100 ($99.95) for the boxed set, which included a hex grid, 8 plastic miniature ships that you can paint yourself, 10 exclusively designed d12 dice that are color coded and that you're certain to either lose or get mixed up with the other dice in your dice bag, and two rules books.  California Dave looked the game up on Amazon and found it was selling at $72.60, which is still too expensive considering that there isn't anything new or exciting about the game system.  I would be willing to spend $25 for the game if I were half in the bag and feeling impulsive, as it's something simple enough to play during a beer and pretzels session and has an added attraction of blowing each other up.

And The Weasel?  Well, during our session of Leviathan, our game master was The Weasel's evil twin. Or something.  The man pounced on us when we sat down and offered his services as a GM to the quiet, unassuming fellow who was originally going to teach us the game.  We got thrown to the wolves, and endured an hour with this nervous, disorganized young man who disparately wanted to tell us stories about his pivotal role in game testing and his invaluable contributions to the core rules of the game.  I kept cutting him short.  Afterword I asked Big Mike who our GM reminded him of, and he confirmed my own observation.  Truly the resemblance was startling.

If the developer of Leviathans would fix a few of the problems I think the game would sell, in spite of the fact that the system doesn't bring anything new or exciting to the miniature war games arena.  Include rules for ramming and taking cover behind another ship.  Change back to the standard set of polyhedral dice, which are easily available.  Sell the miniatures separately.  Ditch the tiny card with its microscopic print for a standard size that can actually be used by the players.  Cut the cost from $100 to something like $15, and the game will sell.  Oh, and ditch The Weasel before someone has a nervous break up and has to be hospitalized.

1 comment:

Chris Negelein said...

Just a heads up, the game does have rule for Ramming and hiding behind ships (different styles actually, offensive and defensive screening.)

I assume that your Weasel GM was playing the Intro rules. The full on rules, included in the box, cover a bit morel.