Friday, November 4, 2016

Strange Aeons Overview

Teri 
It does not take that long to play, like an average game takes what ... ? 
Uncle Mike 
I'd say fifteen to forty five minutes. And that was totally intentional because a lot of my friends have really, really short attention spans and a lot of games just take way too long to play. 
see full interview 
How 'much' attention span can a designer assume that players have? This isn't really a matter of how long a game takes but rather of how much play we get out of time spent on a game. In other words, a player with a short attention span probably has unconsciously high standards. So "Uncle Mike" Atkinson was forced to design a game that meets the high standards we don't know we have.

The result is a d6-based skirmish game with an extremely low model count called Strange Aeons (hereinafter SA). It is for miniatures gaming what Call of Cthulhu is for roleplaying games, and not just in terms of genre. That RPG upended the power fantasy of Dungeons & Dragons by focusing on characters breaking down rather than "leveling up." Similarly, SA disregards the usual 'plot' conceit of skirmish campaigns, that warbands exist to dominate one another, and instead charts the rise and likely fall of mere mortals who dare gaze into the abyss.

WARNING - may cause SAN loss

In a given game of SA, one player controls the protagonists - agents of the "Threshold" organization (think pre-WW2 Delta Green) - while the other controls the antagonists, or "Lurkers." Generally speaking, only Threshold characters develop over the course of a campaign. A new Lurker list is written up for each session, representing fresh horrors. SA envisions the players switching roles after the first game and playing a second, but this is not required. If someone only wants to play Lurkers, that is fine. But the default assumption is that the players will essentially be running two campaigns simultaneously.

This is possible because the mechanics are clear and efficient. Six stats define any given figure: Movement, Dexterity, Constitution, Attacks, Wounds, and Resolve. These interact economically to produce quick results. Just to pick the obvious example: Close combat is an opposed d6 roll, with each combatant adding the Close Combat Bonus of the weapon used. The difference is the number of hits the winner landed. The winner then rolls that many dice to wound, adds a weapon-based damage bonus to the highest result, and the difference between that and the target's Con stat equals how many wounds the target suffers. I won't go into further detail; suffice it to say that all the resolution mechanics are this direct.

The final game mechanic I'll note is activation. Each player may only activate ("nominate" in SA) a single figure per turn. Certain figures have the Command skill, which allows them to nominate allied figures within a certain range. A wealth of tactical possibilities arise from this simple limitation - and that is my definition of design elegance. SA is one of those games that makes others seem unfocused and wasteful. But the true beauty of SA is how the stark efficiency of the game mechanics contrasts with the truly luxurious campaign support.

Permanent Injury, Advances, Equipment Lists, Spells, Monsters, Scenarios - these elements are not merely present and it's not just that there are a ton of options and outcomes, but everything included is also of good or better quality. I could go on and on with "there are even ..." type statements. I'll limit myself to mentioning that there are six basic scenarios (not counting variants), nine advanced scenarios, and sixteen (!) quest scenarios that can be unlocked by collecting "map pieces" during the basic and advanced scenarios. Oh and there are 50+ pages of Lurkers, not including a further raft of options the Lurker player can use to make things even worse for the Threshold agents.

I simply cannot do justice to the content of the SA 2nd ed. rulebook in a few paragraphs. It is easily the gold standard for miniatures skirmish games in terms of campaign support. Considering the simplicity of the rules and the low entry requirements as far as models and terrain go, this could be almost anyone's first miniatures game. But at the same time, I think it will exceed the expectations of veteran campaigners. I should note that I intend to use SA as a toolbox to run several limited RPG-style campaigns for my friends:

- local police stumble across a strange cult in rural Virginia
- intrepid Mounties encounter the horrific truth behind First Nations legends
- marooned ne'er-do-wells confront South Seas cannibals - and far worse ...

I already collected about 40 or so miniatures to cover all three campaigns!

You can obtain your own copy here.

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