While planning for RetroSmack, I came up with a number of different criteria in an attempt to make sure I didn’t miss any important milestones for each year. When it came to board games, the result of said criteria for 1977 included three games called Ogre, Melee and WarpWar. I’d not heard of any of them, but planned to do a post on each. When the time came to start researching for Ogre, I quickly realised that these three games were very much connected. Two might be science fiction and the other fantasy, but they’re all part of the same MicroGame series that was created by Steve Jackson and published by Metagaming Concepts. Ogre was MicroGame #1, Melee was MicroGame #3, and WarpWar was MicroGame #4. This of course begged the question…what was MicroGame #2? My Google-Fu revealed that it was a science fiction game called Chitin: I, which doesn’t appear to have been very popular. My CCCD wasn’t thrilled with the idea of covering the first, third and fourth games in the series, so I made the decision to focus on the two most popular MicroGames (Ogre and Melee) while including something on Chitin: I and WarpWar as bonuses. Before I do any of that, let’s talk about the company behind it all; Metagaming Concepts.
There were eventually 22 MicroGames released, with various MicroSpin-offs too.
Image Credit: A 1978 ad from Analog magazine via Black Gate
Metagaming Concepts was formed by game designer Howard Thompson in 1975. He created the company to release his own wargame, Stellar Conquest, after it was rejected by Avalon Hill. The game was a success, leading Thompson to hire more designers, and also to publish a quarterly science fiction gaming magazine called The Space Gamer. One of the earliest designers that joined Metagaming was Steve Jackson. It’s worth clarifying that this was not the English Steve Jackson that co-founded Games Workshop, yet both men would go on to hold legendary status in the industry. Two major game designers having the same name has caused much confusion over the years, and this certainly wasn’t helped when Steve Jackson (US) wrote three books in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series, which just so happened to be co-created by Steve Jackson (UK). Anyway, after assisting with a couple of games in 1976 (Monsters! Monsters! and Godsfire), Jackson decided to design his own wargame. Noting how cumbersome and expensive other games of the time were, he made a conscious effort to keep things relatively small and low cost. The result was Ogre, released in a plastic bag as Metagaming’s first MicroGame in 1977 for the very affordable price of $2.95.
This Steve Jackson
Image Credit: Dice Bucket Challenge (get it?) via YouTube
MicroGame #1: Ogre
The Ogre wargame is set in 2085 A.D.. One player controls a single giant cybernetic tank called an Ogre while the other player tries to defend their command post with standard sized tanks, infantry and artillery. These defending units have varied attack, defense, speed and range statistics, making them useful in different ways.
Heavy tanks – High attack and defence, moderate speed, low range.
Missile tanks – Moderate attack and defence, low speed, moderate range.
G.E.V.s – Low attack, moderate defence, high speed, low range.
Howitzers – Very high attack, very low defence, immobile, very high range.
Jackson tinkered with the above to get the balance right for the second edition of the game (also released in 1977), increasing the speed of the heavy tanks and slowing down the G.E.V.s (which are like hovercrafts). The game is played on a hex map, with various craters and ridgelines acting as obstacles. Ogre was an immediate success, with critics praising its speed and simplicity while still offering decent tactical strategy (they did criticise the flimsiness of the game’s parts though). Casual players loved it too, and the game has received numerous new editions over the years, including a Deluxe Edition in 2006 containing miniatures rather than counters, and a Kickstarter funded sixth edition in 2012. A sequel, G.E.V. was released in 1978.
Ogre: Tactical gaming at micro-cost in micro-packaging
Image Credit: The 2014 replicated Pocket Edition via Consim World
Image Credit: DakkaDakka
MicroGame #2: Chitin: I
The oddly named Chitin: I was the second of Metagaming’s MicroGame series. It was designed by Howard Thompson himself, and took a very different path to Jackson’s Ogre. Instead of controlling an army of tanks or infantry, in Chitin: I the players control armies of insects, tasked with collecting food for their respective hives. There are six different insects available to choose from, with each player spending points to select from the various types during setup (including workers, renders, hackers, thrusters, smashers and flyers). Within the rules are six different scenarios, with the amount of points available to spend dependent on which one is selected. As with Ogre, Chitin: is played out on a hex map, with food spread out across it. Combat is pretty standard for this type of game, with attack and defence stats combining with die rolls to decide outcomes. These outcomes include elimination, forced retreat and disruption; the latter resulting in reduced movement and strength. Importantly, only workers can actually carry food back to the hive, and eliminated adversaries automatically transition into food to be harvested. Chitin: I doesn’t appear to have a large following, but those that have played it have praised the intensity of the gameplay. There are often numerous insect counters surrounding each chit (food), meaning mini battles break out all over the place. It can be difficult to keep track of everything going on, but that seems consistent with the swarm nature of proceedings.
Chitin: I: Perhaps the odd setting was enough to put people off?
Image Credit: Black Gate
I’ll cover MicroGames #3 and #4 in a post later in the year.