Friday, 22 November 2013

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice-

Years ago I saw Starship Troopers in the cinema. It struck me as a very funny film, and it retains a lot of that comic gold today. Some time afterwards Mongoose got the rights to produce a game based sort of in that universe. I think it was to do with an animated TV show, but whatever the reason, there were now "Bugs" available for comic refights. I never did get round to playing the game itself, as folks at uni were generally a bit too into their 40K, and I never did get round to finishing painting them. But I still have the boxed set with its 20 Warrior Bugs, plus a Flame Bug I picked up as well. Some day I'll finish them all off, add a few grey Cadians, and have a laugh. So arguably I'm partly to blame for the fact that Mongoose dropped the game.

However, at the time I was less sympathetic to their position, and decided not to trust them in the future. They subsequently produced a game set 20 minutes into the future, with a variety of Modern factions, called Battlefield Evolution. I remember hearing it had died, but you can still buy four units from Mongoose, so it's still staggering on, half-dead, and without the models to produce even one faction's units. Two things put me off investing in that. First, Mongoose's history with Starship Troopers. Second, contemporary warfare is a bit too close to the bone for my tastes. We've all got our red lines when it comes to gaming, and that's one of mine.

So two games dead, and possibly more I hadn't heard about. Then the other year I discovered that Mongoose had allied with some American company (Amarillo Design Bureau - whom I'd never heard of in my life) to produce some Star Trek models. That turned out not to be quite the case, as the Star Fleet Universe isn't really in line with Star Trek as we know it. There are some serious divergences which I won't go into here. Suffice it to say that fans of TNG shouldn't expect to see Ferengi or Cardassians turn up. For me, however, the important thing was seeing the Enterprise in model form. A friend of mine got me a pair of squadron boxes (Klingon and Federation) and the rulebook as a present, and soon Phasers were firing, Disruptors lancing and Photon Torpedoes impacting. This time I didn't stop at the introductory set, and bought more and more. It's an addiction familiar to all of my 'gaming readers! So far I have ended up with slightly north of ninety hulls, in addition to those Star Destroyers I knocked up the other month.

The rules were pretty good, being a new iteration of a system in use for some time. Mongoose had once had the rights to a Babylon 5 game. There were a few problems and unclear elements in the rules, but nothing one couldn't work around in a friendly way. Since every game thus far has been with my brother we've been able to do that, and introduce the odd house rule to make things more to our liking. I noticed early on that the best tactic against the Klingons is to charge straight down their throats, while their best tactic is to maintain a distance and whittle their enemies' shields down from a distance. The wider gaming community, consisting of a lot of folk who have played games produced by ADB in the past, and who were fielding distinct empires which used different weapons, started reporting problems. The initial resin models - which were simplicity itself to trim and assemble - had too many flaws, and were replaced by metal ones.

There's a certain amount of book-keeping, and ship cards are very useful for this. Mongoose said they'd produce some for all the ships, never did, despite putting them on "pre-order", and eventually started releasing some for individual factions. That went down well. Some models were released without rules, but a promise that rules would appear in a little while: a month, next month, by Christmas. Deadlines fell by the wayside. Then there were problems with production, and the metal models started to dry up. The "Fleet" packs, which let one make a considerable saving on buying individual models, started to disappear. I wandered over to another supplier, Wayland Games, and ordered one through them back in September. They have very handsomely said that if they can't get the whole "Fleet" pack they will acquire the individual models from Mongoose, and send them on to me. That's good customer service.

Recently, there was a much-heralded announcement. The upshot can be summarised as follows. ADB are taking back control of the line of models, which will now only be available through them. The rules will remain broadly the same, but will be revised after much playtesting so as to eliminate some perceived problems. There will be a new rulebook, probably in PDF or black and white paper. The ships that should have been released in the first book, but weren't, should be with us soon. The relaunch is in six months or so.

Generally speaking, I'd say this is a good idea. I'm looking forward to a relaunch, albeit with a little trepidation about Drones. In the source games these were launched in such volleys as to slow things to a crawl, I understand, as they tracked targets over multiple turns. In the Mongoose variant they became direct-fire weapons. If one failed to shoot them down, one could be in serious danger. There's talk of making them more like the original. Alarming. That said, everything else looks promising. The chap revising the rules is making use of lots of play-testing. The American company seems more helpfully communicative than Mongoose. To be fair to Mongoose, joint ventures such as this can have serious problems: the time-zones aren't in sync, so conversations are troublesome; if something needs to be checked at one end, but that particular company is focused on another project, it can delay things a lot; and so on.

I'm not prone to making grandiose declarations, so I'm not going to angrily denounce Mongoose, damning them to fire and brimstone. They have had problems with materials, with the supply of models, with getting work done when they said it would be done, and with keeping both private customers and other businesses in the know. They have been disappointing, even before this recent mess. The only reason I decided to start buying stuff from them now was because I wanted an Enterprise. I was wary of engaging with them before. I am yet warier now. They'll probably have to acquire a Disney licence to sell a Star Wars game before I'd be sucked back into their orbit by insuperable desire. The sad thing is that these are some lovely models, and the rules haven't majorly disappointed me in any sense. I just cannot trust the company to see a product range through to the end. That is a shame.

Once upon a time a friend of mine was having some romantic troubles, and having observed them, I told him that the problems were largely rooted in his desire for a "Happy Ending". We don't get those, I said, because they are a storytelling convention. We have to find joy in what is, because if we reject everything that isn't perfect we just end up doing ourselves out of any joy at all. He's a lot happier now than he was then. In that vein, I am distinctly looking forward to whatever Amarillo Design Bureau do with A Call To Arms: Star Fleet. I'm also hungry for new models! Of course, the fly in that ointment is that I am flat broke!

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