Games Talks: November 2015

 This month Games Talk will be about Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack is a squad-level wargame. It puts players in command of a group of mech vehicles, called Frames, which are fast and hard-hitting, but physically vulnerable and reliant on skillful manoeuvring. The game is designed to be nail bitingly tense. Battles are asymmetrical and inherently fought over objectives during the course of an unknown number of turns. Scores, which are inversely proportionate to the mechanical effectiveness of your company, go down when you lose a Frame or station and go up when you capture another player’s station.
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Frames only take damage to their systems, with the target player choosing which systems are lost. This means careful system management from the players, as well as tactical skills, as even dumb luck pot-shots can change a team’s fortune.
The game also integrates the military principle of ‘friction’ in its spotting system. A Frame fighting by itself is unlikely to do any serious damage. But if they stay in communication, as well as moving and firing their weapons at the enemy, with either their own company or their temporarily allied opponents their effectiveness jumps dramatically !
Beginning of Mobile Frame Zero

Mobile Frame Zero began life back in 2002. Rather than being developed from a core concept, the game grew organically from a need for a rule set. “It actually came out of Vincent and his brother wishing there was a way to represent giant robot fights.” Joshua Newman explained, “They spontaneously adapted Vincent’s Otherkind dice to the purpose.

One of Vincent’s kids called the town that the robots were fighting in ‘Mechaton’ — the town of mecha — and it carried that name for years.” This basic game, Mechaton, was gradually built on.

Vincent introduced the game to Joshua Newman, who was working on another game system at the time. Many of the mechanics of this game were absorbed into Mechaton, and introduced elements such as the Doomsday Clock, objectives and the point system. Mechaton was made available to the public and in short time had gained a small but dedicated following.

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By 2010 Vincent and Joshua had started to consider a new edition of the game that integrated some rule refinements. It was all systems go, but then, a spanner in the works.

Out of the blue, Vincent got a politely but forcefully worded request from R. Talsorian Games asking him to stop selling under the Mechaton name, since it was close to the name of one of their older products.” Said Joshua “When that happened, we were kind of miffed. There were several dozen fans from around the world who had been playing for years, and we liked the game a lot. We didn’t want to lose those guys. Some of them had contributed hugely, like Sydney Freedberg, who writes for the Pentagon about military theory.” As Joshua saw it, this was an opportunity to take the game to another level. He told Vincent “If we’re going to change this, we’ll have to go big. We don’t want to abandon these folks who have helped us make this good.”

Vincent was working on his role play game Apocalypse World by this point, so Joshua was given the publishing rights to the Mechaton game rules. Soren Roberts was brought in to design the mobile frames, and also contributed to writing the new setting with Joshua.

mobile-frame-zero3The updated rules and new game world, now under the name Mobile Frame Zero, were trailed at the Metatopia Game Design Convention in Morristown, New Jersey USA. This helped to reintroduce the game, as well as build confidence in Joshua and Soren that the changes and additions they had made worked. Joshua elaborated on this process “we’d tried out our newer rules a bunch of times, so we were confident with our changes — both those of the last 10 years and of the six months since taking over from Vincent.

Mobile Frame Zero hit Kickstarter shortly after. Initially the goal was to raise US$9000, with a projected 500 backers. When the Kickstarter closed, the project had netted nine times the initial requirement, as well as five times the number of backers expected. This meant that 3000 rule books would be produced, with much of the additional money going into printing more copies.

How to start playing ?

There are a number of ways to start playing Mobile Frame Zero. A PDF that contains the rules, background, instructions for six frames and a whole lot more is available on the Mobile Frame Zero website. Joshua provided some more details: “I’m asking players to give me ten bucks to get the full book, but as it is Creative Commons, you can download a new copy, copy your rules for your friends, or even make your own houseruled edition to share with your gaming club.” Everything that is available for download can also be bought in hard copy as a printed book.

“As a book designer, this is how I design first,” explained Joshua “it’s what will be the most beautiful way to play with it.” These two options are perfect if you already have a collection of LEGO pieces, or intent to utilize something else as your play pieces. What if you are starting from scratch, though? “Some players might need to get LEGO bricks to play, too.” Said Joshua “To help players, Soren’s carefully designed the Mobile Frame Garage: a list of 120 of LEGO’s tiniest pieces that work really well for building a mobile frame. Paul Janssen’s Bricklink shop,

The Missing Brick, is setting up to sell 5-Frame company kits based on the Mobile Frame Garage and is already fulfilling many of Kickstarter’s 600- piece Garages.” However, creating a kit from another company’s product has proven to be quite a challenge. “I can’t even express in words how hard it’s been.” explained Joshua “Without Paul’s help, it just wouldn’t be possible.

Bricklink is an amazing power to have, but it requires a level of mastery I lack. I bought a couple of Garage Kits myself just so I didn’t have to go hunting for a lot of the pieces. “Paul, however, has a mastery of the international LEGO market that borders on the supernatural. He knows who has what for how much and is doing all players a great service by collecting them in one place.

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Games Talks: The Builders: Middle-Ages

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Whenever I need to fill up a gaming slot of 30-45 minutes, I try to play The Builders: Middle Ages, a city building game where players collect workers and build buildings for money and victory points. It won a well-deserved “As d’Or” in the 2014 Festival de Cannes.

Players each receive an Apprentice builder and 10 coins. The Builders deck and Buildings deck are shuffled and placed out onto the table. Five of each type of card are dealt out to the table and the game begins.

On their turn, a player is able to take three actions. These can consist of several different types of actions.

1. Pick up a building. When a building is picked up, it is replaced by the top card on the building deck
2. Pick up a worker. When a worker is picked up, it is replaced by the top card on the worker deck.
3. Assign a worker. Players can pay the cost of a worker and then put him to work on a selected building.
4. Take gold. Using up one action, a player collects one gold. Two actions for three and three actions for six.

Players can take the same action twice, however when doing so, it counts as multiple actions. For instance, a player can assign a worker as their first action and then assign another worker on the same building, this is two additional actions. If they assign a third worker, it would take three additional actions. Players may purchase additional actions (beyond their starting three) at 5 gold a piece to extend their turn.

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Players are attempting to build buildings. To do this, they must match workers up to the building using the materials on the worker. When a building is completed (by using all the materials needed), it is flipped onto its completed side and the player takes the total coins shown (if any) as well as victory points. Some buildings act as tools and can be used as materials for the rest of the game.

The game will end once a player has reached at least 17 victory points. Players receive one last turn if each player has not received equal turns. Once the game ends, players count up their total scores (players get 1 point for every 10 coins they have), and the player with the most points wins.

The Builders: Middle Ages is a great card game that lasts just long enough and has enough strategy in it to stay interesting. I like that players are able to purchase multiple actions in order to continue their turn. I also like how the game always seems just out of reach for those who lost it. It makes me want to start right over and keep playing to try and win the next one.

If you want to go further, you can also acquire The Builders: Antiquity — a standalone card game based on The Builders: Middle Ages — offers a whole range of challenges to its builders. To face these challenges, you must put on your foreman clothes. Between hiring workers, managing their organization, purchasing slaves or tools, and taking out loans, you’ll have to make the right decisions to fulfill your dream: Becoming the greatest builder the age has ever known.