September 22, 2014 by crew
We gamers are born tinkerers. We want to paint our own miniatures, re-paint our pre-paints, add house rules for simple games or simplify complex games for smoother play. If we’re really ambitious, we just build our own games practically from the ground up, especially if there’s no game out there for what we really want to play. How about a miniatures-based, battlefield ground combat game in the Star Wars universe? In this article series, I hope to share how we “built” just such a game, along with some fun battle reports from our early playtesting.
A Semi-Operational Wargame!
“Not so long ago, in a gaming club not too far away . . .” we came into a small treasure trove of card packs (quite by accident) for WizKid’s “Star Wars: PocketModel” trading card game. The packs were from their Ground Assault series, but I honestly wasn’t sure what I was going to do with them since I’m not usually a fan of card games. But as I opened the card packs and saw what was inside, the wheels started turning; never a good thing in the mind of a gamer.
For anyone not familiar, the Star Wars PocketModel TCG was originally designed by Mike Elliott and Ethan Pasternack, manufactured by WizKids in 2007, and combined elements of both a card game and a table top miniatures game. Each random-buy card pack came with five playing cards and two pre-cut styrene sheets which could be punched and assembled into a 3D model of the unit. Anywhere from one to six models were on a card, depending on the size of the unit. Each model came with its own stand which (a) helped it stand on the playing surface and (b) listed its attributes: To Hit, Damage, Defence, and Shields. Each pack also came with two of the smallest six-sided dice I’ve ever seen.
The manufacturing quality of the styrene pieces is great, after being punched from the sheet they fit together easily yet sturdily. The colouring of the pieces is rich in detail, which helps make up for the understandable lack of detail in the “miniatures” themselves. And unlike most games where you have to punch counters, chits, or markers from a sheet, the pieces came out very clean with practically no cleaning required.
In the original game, the players assemble an army out of a pre-determined budget of “build points.” These are deployed in the player’s “home zone,” with a few more units in his “reserve” zone. Players also build a deck of battle cards from which to draw random bonuses, events, and special abilities to be combined with combat units of certain types. A second deck of cards provides “objectives.” On each turn, players can move a certain number of units between “table zones,” engage enemy units in “battling,” or mount “strikes” against enemy objective cards. You win by eliminating all your opponent’s objectives or units.
Our group, however, doesn’t typically play abstract card-based games, so these “Pocket Models” seemed destined for the display shelf. But the more I looked at the combat values on these “miniatures,” the combat cards, and the mechanics for combining units and cards together into effective attacks, the more I realized that we could build an tactical, miniatures-based table top game out of this.
Now of course, we tried this only for the “Ground Assault” series of the Star Wars: PocketModels system. True, there is a space-based game for PocketModels, but Fantasy Flight’s X-Wing probably offers a better solution for the serious miniatures gamer. Yet there are no AT-ATs in X-Wing, or speeder bikes or storm troopers or Tauntauns or legions of Republic clones. With enough of these game pieces and a little experimentation, we realized we could easily make the leap into epic Star Wars ground battles like Hoth, Endor, or Geonosis. However, we had a little work to do first.
Tweaking It Like A Jawa!
Step One: Movement, Range, and Initiative
Needless to say, we had to replace the card table “zone” system with actual measurements for tactical miniatures. We kept this extremely simple for our early playtests, with ground units moving at six inches, and any flier or speeder units moving at twelve inches. Range for all weapons was set at twelve inches, with a +1 bonus to hit and to damage if the range was three inches or less. Finally, for initiative we used Warren’s idea presented on a recent Weekender, where poker chips are used in a bag for a “Bolt Action” type alternate initiative system. On each pull of a chip, that side got to move and fire five “build stars” worth of units. This was the same limit in the original card game, which we retained so as to keep the intended balance of their combat effectiveness.
Step Two: Changes to the Cards
Simply put, we ditched the original TCG’s objective cards. Furthermore, we also dispensed with any combat cards that had to do with attacking or defending objective cards. Objectives would be handled on the table top, with opposing armies attacking or defending key ships, buildings, or pieces of ground.
Step Three: New Units
Although the PocketModel “Ground Assault” system has a huge range of units from four factions (Empire, Rebellion, Republic, and Separatist), there were a few units they didn’t have. For example, the were none of the heavy Rebel gun turrets featured in Episode V’s Battle of Hoth. We manufactured our own bases with selected combat values, and built simple “miniatures” to represent them visually.
Step Four: Build Terrain
Since we were playing on a map table now instead of card game “zones,” we needed to build some quick terrain. We already had woodland and jungle tables for European and Pacific World War Two 15mm battles, but wanted to also put together a quick snow board for Hoth, as well as desert boards for planets like Geonosis and Tatooine.
Step Five: Playtest
Finally, it was time to have some fun. In laying out a table, setting up some minis, and tossing some dice around, we got to see our new game in action and worked out solutions to any rough spots. Our first series of games focused on the Imperial attack on Hoth in Episode V, which we’ll be reviewing in detail in a future article.
Now sadly, in 2008 Star Wars PocketModels was shut down by Topps (parent company of Wizkids at the time). But there are still lots of PocketModel game packs out there. In our own experience, about $60 USD and a weekend of assembly put us in command of a pretty sizable force of about 175 Star Wars combat units. The third “work day” saw us building terrain, and on the fourth day we had dice hitting the table. That’s not a bad level of investment in the world of miniatures wargaming, and already we have enjoyed some truly epic games. What can I say? It seems “the Force is with us.” But please, this is an experimental system we’re still building, so any suggestions, observations, or comments are more than welcome!
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"...as I opened the card packs and saw what was inside, the wheels started turning; never a good thing in the mind of a gamer."
"Our first series of games focused on the Imperial attack on Hoth in Episode V, which we’ll be reviewing in detail in a future article."