Wednesday, January 03, 2007

micro-review: Armistice

Armsitice by John Hay Wirth, copyright 1995 Renaissance Ink, 22 digest-sized pages.Each year the Friendly Local Game Store has a year-end "Dear God Don't Make Me Inventory This Crap" sale. Everything in the used section is fifty or seventy percent off the marked prices, so I usually drop twenty or thirty bucks on all kinds of crazy crap. This year I got a couple AD&D modules, a water-damaged 2nd edition MERP, new copies of Rifts and the Rifts Atlantis book, Monte Cook's Dark Space, and an issue each of the magazines Different Worlds and Pegasus. All for twenty-one dollars American.

Oh yeah. I also got Armistice. Other than the cover info, I didn't know anything about this game. So I says to the owner of the shop "Hey, man. I'm exactly one dollar worth of curious about this booklet. Whaddya say?" He took my dollar.

I'm not going to waste your time telling you a lot about Armistice's rules. This is bog standard tin soldier stuff: you push figures around the table, check some distances with a measuring tape, and roll some dice to ruin the other guy's shit. No big whup. The interesting bit of this game isn't in the workmanlike system, it's in the effed-up near future setting. My admittedly brief read-through couldn't find what year the game is set in, but the text references past events in 2050.

Whatever the year, the setting is a future where both the political and physical world have been seriously altered. Earthquakes and global warming and junk like that have changed the globe. The south half of Central America is underwater, cutting the new world in twain. The Arabian peninsula and Japan are simply gone. Scandinavia is now a couple of islands. Spain is free-floating too. The world map is recognizable but also radically weirded up. There's a cool skull and crossbones where Russia used to be and I have no idea what that is meant to indicate. Radiation? Pirates?

Politically there are four major powers. The Romanoff Empire controls much of North and Central America. South America is the domain of the Vulgariad. I love that name, BTW. Western Europe, Iceland, and Greenland comprise the Triskellion Island Alliance, another great name for a faction. A broad swath of the world stretching from Western Africa through India and central China now belongs to Ti-Zing Confederacy. That last one's just a little too Yellow Peril for my tastes.

Also on the board are four minor/mercenary factions. The minions of Warlord Haung Chu control northern China. Colonel Sterling's Black Widows* are based out of northeast America (Maine & Quebec & places like that), which is yet another new island. In the future you can sail an ocean-going vessel from Hudson Bay and plot a southerly course to get to the U.S. eastern seaboard. The African Resistance is led by Commander Horatio Collins, no doubt a Great White Hunter. And Princess Magdalen commands the "Aborigines terrorist" faction down under. Don't ask me, I'm just the messenger here.

These various factions go at it with infantry, armored personnel carriers, four sizes of tank, and choppers (including tank busters). They're armed with sci-fi sounding weapons like the 'Plazma Cannon' and the 'Vulcan Mega Cannon'. And there's also the WASPs. No, I'm not talking about Blackie Lawless's band or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, scary though they both may be. In Armistice WASP stands for Walking Artillery Special project. Yeah, we're talking about giant battle robots, but it's pretty low key. They're basically tanks with slightly better guns and the ability to walk through thicker terrain.

Still, it's kinda cool because this world is just on the verge of the BattleMech revolution. In the sample campaign game only the Romanoffs and Triskellions get to start with WASPs on the board. And the WASPs aren't fetishized to nearly the same extent as they are in many other giant robo games. All in all it almost looks like a legitimate attempt at speculative gaming, with WASPs treated as the slick new technology that everyone needs to adapt to in order to win the next war. I don't think Armistice is that deep, though. I think this is mainly a game about playing with little metal tanks and robots and making explodey noises when the dice go your way.

The sample campaign is ludicrous but playable. Australia, it turns out, is chock full of uranium, which in the future powers everything. So two or more powers fight each other and Princess Magdalen's Aboriginal Terrorists** for control of the island continent. Aussie-land is divied-up into a bunch of random-looking blobby areas, each with a point value from one to four. The number rates how much uranium is in the region and how many troops the Princess will muster for defense. It's all rather silly but a good minis campaign is nothing more than a framework for building individual tabletop encounters, so I can't get too worked up over the situation.

Despite the flaws, I find Armistice rather charming. I'm not rushing out to play it or anything, but I'm glad I spent that buck. Since the mechanics are nothing to write home about, I could see using the setting info for an alternate universe BattleTech set-up. Another intriguing possibility would be to keep the world of Armistice around for RPG purposes. In a game where the PCs occasionally find themselves hopping dimensions I could see some fun in dropping the party into the middle of the Great Australian Uranium War.

Finally, I gotta show you this picture. The rest of the art in the book is acceptable, but this fullpage piece by Paul Roosa is simply fabulous.

What the hell is a WASP beacon?

*BattleTech called. They want their mercenary company back.
**Someboady really ought to use that as a band name.