Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Games I Love: Ogre/GEV (Steve Jackson Games)

This is actually a post I've been meaning to make for a while now, but James' post today at Grognardia on the same subject spurred me to action. Ogre/GEV is one of my all-time favorite games, and I spent untold hours playing both solo and with others.

The original Ogre was one of the Steve Jackson micro-games, and was designed with a very specific philosophy in mind:
"The original idea was to 'think small.' Something that could be played on a legal-sized map, with a total supply of 50-100 counters, that could be learned in an hour or so and would take about the same time to play. ... The limitations of the small format provided that wrinkle. Thinking about writing a scenario using maybe 30 counters and just a few hexes, it hit me: give one side one counter. One big counter. After that, it started to fall into place."
- Steve Jackson, The Ogre Book, p. 5 (emphasis in the original)
The rest, as they say, is history. For those not "in the know", an Ogre is a cybernetic tank (and has its literary roots in Keith Laumer's Bolos) of vast size and firepower, able to take on several companies of "ordinary" armor and mobile infantry in a fair fight. Armed with tactical nuclear weapons, anti-personnel weapons, and armor plating meters thick, the Ogre is one tough mother.

The game itself is simple; one player, the Ogre, is attempting to reach the command post of the other player, who has a variety of tanks, hovercraft, howitzers, and infantry at his disposal. It is remarkably well-balanced for such a seemingly imbalanced game, which I regard as one of the hallmarks of a "keeper" in the wargame annals. Tactics really matter, as do choice of units for the non-Ogre player. Will the Ogre make a bee-line for the command post, ignoring the units just out of range? Or will he divert from his primary objective to "just take out a few of those hovercraft?" Will the non-Ogre units attack the treads or weapons? Placement of units is crucial as well; you can spend a zillion points on howitzers, but if the Ogre skirts just outside of their range, you might as well have bought rocks.

Soon enough, a companion game was released; GEV, which, although it contained new types of Ogres and was explicitly in the "Ogreverse" placed a lot more emphasis on the non-Ogres; it was now very possible (and quite enjoyable) to play scenarios where heavy tanks and hovercraft squared off against one another, with nary a cybernetic Continental Siege Machine to be found. Other expansions followed, adding various tweaks to units (light tanks, personnel carriers, etc.) and new types of weapons (cruise missiles, and the laser towers to shoot them down). The new expansions contained new maps, too, which fit together, making it possible to play an enormous multi-person scenario with a half-dozen Ogres on each side, plus supporting units, all engaged in an enormous slug fest. While such things did stray from the original simplicity of Ogre, that didn't make them any less of a hoot to play.

The Ogre book should also be mentioned; it was a book of essays on the design of the game, new scenarios and units, commentary on strategy, and fiction. The best part was that about half of it was written by just regular players, culled I believe from the pages of The Space Gamer magazine (about which I really need to write a post all by itself sometime).

Miniatures followed as well, first produced by Martian Miniatures back in the 1980's (which had those terrifically oddball advertisements in Dragon magazine that were upside-down-- they did come from Mars, after all!), then Ral Partha (another company that deserves a post unto itself), and later (and through today, I believe) by Steve Jackson Games itself. Miniatures rules, as an adaptation of the hex-and-counter rules, were written, and they are just as fun to play. I have a boatload of the Ogre/GEV miniatures myself, and I regret that I don't play it as often as I would like, even if it's just a solo game.

It's not a perfect game, of course. Some people feel that the cut-apart-yourself counters are too flimsy (a complaint I do not happen to share). There was the clunker pair of "Deluxe" games, with blown-up maps and die-cut counters, that added nothing to the original, but were in turn not compatible with all the stuff that had gone before, as the counters and maps were the wrong size. But aside from a couple of flubs, I found the steady stream of expansions; the Ogre Reinforcement Pack (more counters and maps, allowing for larger scenarios), Ogre Battlefields, Shockwave, 2 scenario books, and even a crossover GURPS Ogre book, all well worth the money (which, at the time, was not much, although the miniatures could get into money, as all miniatures games tend to do!). There's even a sub-line of Ogrethulhu miniatures; Ogres that rolled through R'leyh and fared the worse for the experience. There was also a computer game, which I hear is good, although I never played it myself.

Steve Jackson is coming out with a new edition of the classic game, rumored to have three-dimensional cardboard Ogres. No word on a release date as far as I'm aware, but Ogre/GEV is so versatile, so easy to pick up (even with the expansions), and so fun that it easily counts as one of the Games I Love.