Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Featured game: Ogre

It may be hard to drum up sympathy for a souless behemoth of destruction, but consider the fate of MicroGame No. 1. Like a mega-movie star's long-forgotten first spouse, it seems an afterthought in the train of more glamorous hotties that followed. But long before there was GURPS, Illuminati, Car Wars or Munchkin -- there was Ogre.
It's fair to say there'd never be a Steve Jackson Games if it hadn't been for Ogre, the first of the Microgames published by Metagaming back in 1977. Still a highly regarded classic wargame, Ogre launched Metagaming's successful several-year run and when that publisher ceased putting out titles, Jackson used Ogre to be the initial flagship offering for his own game company.
Yet there hasn't been a new boardgame edition of Ogre since the 1987 Ogre Deluxe edition. I guess that being essentially a one-man show means that Jackson's corporate attention span tends to move from one main project to another. Between the million GURPs books, dozens of Car Wars supplements, Illuminati expansions and the never-ending Munchkin mass there hasn't been time for Ogre.
Still, there still seem to be plenty of copies of Ogre around, and many of the real hard-core fans have gotten the Deluxe Ogre miniatures rules. (Why there's both an Ogre Deluxe and a Deluxe Ogre only the Illuminati can answer. Fnord.)
The game, as befits a classic, is disarmingly simple in concept and straightforward in execution. The basic conceit is that futuristic warfare will be dominated by giant sentient cyborg tanks called Ogres. These monstrous unmanned robotic fighting machines are so powerful that only a much larger number of more conventional forces can take them on.
The game in many ways is a typical 1970s-ear wargame. It has hexes. It has alternating movement and combat phases. Combat is resolved via a D6 roll on a CRT.
The Ogre is comprised of various weapons systems (main and secondary guns, missiles and anti-personal guns) and "tread units." Speed is lost as tread units are destroyed, while the various guns are lost through direct attack. Missiles can also be lost if successfully attacked, but are also expended if used. Ogres come in two sizes, a nasty Mark III and the very nasty Mark V.
In the basic game the non-Ogre played selects conventional forces from a menu comprised of powersuited infantry and various heavy weapon/vehicle units.
The basic armored unit available is a heavy tank, somewhat similar to a modern main battle tank although more powerful. Heavy tanks have enough firepower (4) to have a decent chance of destroying any Ogre weapon and some chance -- with a defense of 3 -- of surviving the return fire. They have the speed to keep up with a healthy Ogre (3), but not enough range (2) to stay a safe distance away.
Missile tanks trade off firepower (3), defense (2) and speed (2) for some extra range (4). They have their fans, but I've never found the extra range enough to make up for the rest.
Probably the most popular vehicle is the G.E.V. (ground effect vehicle or hovercraft). While not especially powerful (attack 2, defense 2, range 2) the G.E.V. is speedy, able to move 4 hexes, fire and then move another 3. This makes it a fun tool to use because it can dance around the Ogre, darting in and out to strike and retire. Getting the most out a G.E.V. takes skill and players like the challenge.
The most powerful unit is the Howitzer. It has an attack of 6 and a range of 8 and counts as two units for force-selection purposes. On the other hand the Howitzer only has a defense of 1 and can't move, making it a sitting duck for the Ogre if it gets close enough.
The poor bloody infantry has a tough life in Ogre. It's reasonably mobile, moving 2 hexes and being the only units, aside from Ogres, that can cross the one type of difficult terrain hexside (rubble) in the game. The firepower and defense of the infantry depends upon how many squads (each representing about six soldiers, the rules tell us) are in the hex. Up to three squads can be in a hex, so the firepower and defense ranges from 1-3. Unfortunately the infantry only has a range of 1, so they have to get up close and personal with the Ogre. A lot of infantry generally dies.
The objective is called a Command Post in the game, although it doesn't exercise any command and control game function. It's defenseless and immobile, so it could easily represent any kind of soft strategic objective. Still, Ogres are obviously rare and expensive war machines, probably comparable to battleships or aircraft carriers in 21st century terms, so they wouldn't be risked on routine operations or minor objectives. When an Ogre appears it's a major battle by definition.
The Ogre itself is very dangerous. The lesser, Mark III version has a main gun with an attack of 4, a range 3 and a defense of 4 and four secondary guns with vales of 3, 2 and 3, respectively. (Note very important errata. In the Ogre Deluxe boardgame both the mapboard display and the rules booklet list incorrect -- and different from each other -- values for the Ogre's guns. The correct values are listed in May 21, 1993 errata.)
The Mark III carries two missiles that have a range of 5, attack of 6 and defense of 3. It also has 8 antipersonnel guns that have a range and defense of 1 and an attack value of 1 against infantry and CPs only.
Finally the Mark III has a total of 45 tread units to support its starting movement factor of 3. For every 15 it loses it's speed is reduced by 1.
In the basic scenario a force of 20 infantry and 12 armor units make an even match for the Mark III Ogre.
The Mark V Ogre sports two main guns, six secondaries, six missiles, 12 antipersonnel guns and 60 tread units, so it has relatively more firepower than a Mark III but is somewhat less robust in the treads department in proportion.
The conventional force fields 30 infantry and 20 armor against a Mark V in the basic setup.
This involves the Ogre entering the map, endeavoring to destroy the CP and then escape. The rules include obvious variations such as a defending Ogre, two attacking Ogres, etc. There's also a Scenario Book 1 (no book 2 as yet) with seven more scenarios.
The classic scenario is, however, a single Ogre against the world, and that's the game's signature. There are many approaches to both the attack and defense and Ogre is one of those rare wargames that's actually developed a body of theory. There are named defenses such as the "Three howitzer" defense, for example.
The game is simple enough that it can be used an an introduction to wargaming. Often a new player can be given the Ogre, which seem less overwhelming to handle because it's a single unit, while the more experienced player can take the conventional forces, perhaps spotting the Ogre a unit or two.
While Steve Jackson hasn't paid much attention to Ogre in years, it would seem like a perfect candidate for a new edition, taking advantage of plastic bits from Chinese factories to create a super duper Deleuxe Ogre. That would be a fitting tribute to the game that got him started 30-odd years ago.

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