Archive for May, 2013

UK Games Expo 2013, Mission Command and Carrier Strike

First a massive ‘thank you’ to all those excellent people who stopped by to play the Mission Command and / or Carrier Strike prototypes at UK Games Expo on 25-26 May 2013. It’s an invaluable experience for me as a designer to hear what players think of the games, albeit within the confines of a noisy hall and often a constrained time scale. I was gratified that so many were able to devote a significant part of their Expo visit to my latest wargames design attempts! I will try to give out information on this blog as both games develop in the coming months.

For readers who know not of what I write, there’s a brief introduction to each game on the Surprised Stare website at and UK Games Expo is the premier ‘all-about-games’ convention in the UK, an annual event on the last weekend of May, now relocated geographically to the Hilton Metropole by the NEC, Birmingham. For more on this event, have a look at It covers the whole gamut of gaming (except video/computer games), and I’m usually there with my Surprised Stare Games hat on with my wife, Charlie, and fellow SSGer Tony Boydell. This year Vicki Paull, my eldest daughter and excellent games illustrator, also had a stand, presenting her brilliant artwork.

For the first time SSG had some wargaming goodies on display as well as our more regular fare of card and board games. We always try to bring out something surprising (it’s our own version of branding!), and a line of wargames may be our biggest surprise to date. I guess it’s especially surprising since we’ve been highly successful with our most recent board game, my colleague Tony Boydell’s very excellent Snowdonia, now the subject of a Kickstarter campaign for the 2nd edition. Additional thanks to honorary SSGer Richard Dewsbury for his massive help this year with demoing Snowdonia.

Owing to a stand size limitation and of one table for Mission Command and Carrier Strike, and there being only one of me, I decided basically to demo the former on Saturday and the latter on Sunday, while of course being able to talk about and show a bit of the non-demoing product willy-nilly.

I’d developed a simple Mission Command introductory scenario for the Expo. Set in post-D-Day Normandy this consisted of a player-run British reinforced paratroop battalion (thanks, Pete Connew, for loan of troops and terrain) versus, according to intelligence and recce reports, ‘a limited company of Panzergrenadiers from 21 Panzer Division’, the latter preprogrammed and run by myself. The idea was that visitors could turn up and play just a bit of the game to get a flavour, continuing on from where the previous player had left off. It worked pretty well, even though Mission Command is a complex simulation at tactical / operational level – largely because it’s designed as an umpire-driven game, so only the umpire (me) needs to have a good handle on the detailed mechanics. I had somewhere around half-a-dozen actual players during the day, and in addition a much larger number of interested visitors who stopped by for a chat and an investigation of this curiosity. It seems that a small wargaming table in the midst of Euro board games and such like is quite striking and attractive to many gamers. Fortunately there were no rules problems unearthed, and the players performed well, teasing out the German’s forward outpost position, and forcing them back onto the main defence on the final ridge. There wasn’t enough time to make the push onto the final ridge, but almost a dozen turns were played (that’s about 2 hours of game time), and players seemed to enjoy it.

My current plan with Mission Command is to complete the text for a Normandy ’44 version within about 3 months. This will involve the rules, a scenario booklet (3 to 5 scenarios) and supplements for late war British and late war Germans (and possibly late war Americans). Mind you, 3 months is an aspirational target more than a firm commitment, and we’ve not decided how to publish yet either. Watch this space for more info!

Carrier Strike (aka 16 card Carrier Strike) is very different. It’s a honed down model of WW2 carrier battles, focusing on finding the enemy’s carrier group and sinking it before they do the same to you. It has bluffing, recce, manoeuvre, mostly dice-less combat and little complex detail. I want to make sure I get the basic game mechanisms right before adding in more flavourful details. For example it only has two combat roles: Fighter and Strike, with no differentiation between torpedo, level or dive bombers, and all combat aircraft are assumed to be multi-role planes. Cards are used to represent the carrier groups and squadrons, supplemented with a fair few dice; primarily for squadron strength and location on the ocean (reducing the number on the dice representing using fuel). My original minimalist approach has been corrupted by incremental addition of various markers for ease of tracking the game state, player screens for hiding the squadron cards (in earlier versions we just kept them out of sight from each other on a couple of chairs!), and finally for demo purposes I now use 1/3,000 scale miniatures, including aircraft.

I had 20 prototype sets of rules and cards printed, so that I could give them away to folk who were interested enough to provide comments and maybe even play it separately – a bit of blind playtesting can’t hurt, and at least I am available for email queries, or even on the end of a phone; not a luxury that players have with a full production run. Over the weekend I handed out two thirds of the  sets; so either people thought it was potentially a good game or were attracted by the £0 price tag. As with Mission Command I was pleased with the good reception from the audience, and I’m hoping to get back some useful and critical comments. There was plenty of aggressive flying and no holds barred attacks in the introductory scenario. The other scenarios perhaps require a little more subtlety – we shall see over time.

The current plan with Carrier Strike is to have something definitive in a few months time. I have a major play test session at the Conference of Wargamers in July, so it’s not yet certain that SSG will have this particular game ready for Essen 2013; it’s possible we may have a limited run (100 or 200 copies) at that point, or for UK Games Expo next year. Watch this space!