As some of you will be aware, I’ve been pootling about doing a bit of games design work in my free time, mostly for the fun of it because who doesn’t like inventing games, right? None of those projects are quite ready for the light of day, either commercially or just to share, but for the past three years I have also been helping out my friend Carl Brown* on a new skirmish wargame called Open Combat.
*Real old-timer Games Workshop fans may remember Carl as our top Greenskins Blood Bowl player in the Studio league back in the day. He even beat Jervis Johnson** in a battle report and had a tactics article published in White Dwarf.
**Okay, so who hasn’t? But that isn’t my point. I can’t start casting aspersions with my record, can I?
We’ve been having a great time devising a set of universal historical/ fantasy skirmish rules. The premise is, like the best ideas, simple. Open Combat is a scenario-based system that allows you to play pre-gunpowder historical or fantasy skirmishes with any of the models you own. Carl has been busy talking to various miniatures manufacturers to use their lovely models in the book, but Open Combat is not tied to one specific range.
This is made possible with a flexible force creation system, so that with just five simple stats, a choice of weapons and some skills you can put together the rules for any miniatures you have. Want to recreate a Germanic warband trying to capture the eagle of a Roman Legion? Vikings pillaging a Saxon settlement? A cadre of elves protecting their forest home from a horde of goblins? What about that time a hill troll wandered into the heroes’ camp? All of this is possible, and it only takes a few minutes to get started.
For both Carl and me it was important to get back to the ideas that brought us into gaming in the first place. Fast, narrative, imaginative play was our aim. When we were both nippers we didn’t bother with army lists – I remember barely bothering with rules at first. We wanted to get out our favourite miniatures and play. That is the essence of Open Combat. There are three key ingredients to recreating that approach in a proper set of rules.
The first of these is accessibility. We are both keen that anybody who has some miniatures lying around can get started with the minimum of effort. You can conduct a game on your kitchen table if needed (most of the playtesting was done on my dining table, in an area no bigger than 24″x 24″) with a few pieces of terrain and a handful of models each.
Good for All-comers
The second is scope. We don’t want players depending upon us as developers to release rules for the miniatures in their collection. While we have a whole bunch of extra modules and articles we’d like to work on, the warband creation system included in the main rules contains lots of options to personalise your gang, crew, warband, etc. How you choose to represent something in the game is entirely up to you – there are no ‘official’ stats at all. IN the same vein, it’s entirely up to you what size of game you want to play. Most of our games have ended up between about 5 and twenty models, but that’s just the way we approach the warband creation.
The third was fun. I know this may sound a bit odd, but let me explain. Some wargames rules attempt to recreate a situation faithfully to every degree – the simulation wargames. Some are more about the gameplay. Good games should feel right but not get bogged down in detail, and we deliberately veered towards solutions that added to the fun and narrative of the games rather than realistic simulation. We wanted the players’ imaginations to be as an important component of the game as the miniatures and dice. All you need to play are the rules, some toy soldiers and three six-sided dice.
We’re really happy with the result, but try out Open Combat yourself. For a launch price of just £7.50, less than most blister packs these days, it’s worth a punt, surely?
You can follow what’s happening on Twitter – @second_thunder – or on the Second Thunder Facebook page and of course there will be regular updates on the Second Thunder website once that is fully up-and-running.
We are already planning a series of micro-expansions that add rules like extra skills and weapons for specific genres, different campaign settings and systems, new scenarios and so on. However, Open Combat isn’t about Second Thunder telling gamers how to play their games. The system for creating warbands is universal, and we’re really interested to see what players do with it, and what narratives they weave with the scenarios. Whether you’ve created a halfling horde or warherd of minotaurs, or you’ve used the system to represent your ravening Huns as they raid the fringes of the Roman Empire, we want players to get involved and share their ideas with each other. If you have something you think would be a great example to other players, from an entire warband list you’ve worked out to maybe just a few lines about the way you interpreted a scenario for a game, send your article ideas to info (at) secondthunder (dot) com
I’m off to twiddle with some rules I’ve been working on for Undead warbands, but my Normans and Saxons stand ready for battle at any time.