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Another ^@**&?!! Ogre Article

by Steve Jackson

There are two reasons for that title. The first is that, to the best of my knowledge, there are 3 other Ogre pieces in this issue of TSG. The second is that I'm trying to cover four different subjects. So I gave up looking for an appropriate title and just started writing.

The subjects I'm going to cover are:

  1. Responses to Ogre . . . some of the better mail we got.
  2. The GEV problem – a lesson in game design.
  3. An upcoming game in the "Ogre universe," and notes on the Mark I, II, IV, and VI Ogres.
  4. Possible rule revisions for the original Ogre game.

The Mailbox

One of the most pleasing things about Ogre, to me, was the volume and quality of the mail it generated. Letters, questions, and variants, and stories for TSG . . . it's been interesting to see what others have done with the Ogre concepts. About the only thing that hasn't come in is new art. Winch Chung's stuff is great . . . but it would be interesting to see other artists' interpretations.

Most of the mail shows a good deal of thought. I plan to steal the best comments and suggestions for future Ogre games . . . crediting the originators. Fair is fair. A sampling of the better mail to date:

Mark Ratner (who designed Space Marines, and says he'll be judging a large Ogre tournament at GenCon) sent in 3 pages of economic calculations on Ogres (he doubts they'll be cost-effective) and some excellent, if complicated, advanced movement rules. He also suggests (as have several others) that there should be provision for mobile howitzers. (Wait for the new game.)

Tracy B. Harms sent in a suggestion for a Mark IV with a starting MA of 4. We'd been playtesting something similar . . . but his way was more logical, and when you see the proposed Mark IV specs later in this article, the movement's done the way he suggested.

Greg Costikyan reviewed Ogre in his magazine Urf Durfal . . . called it "the ideal game to play whilst stoned." Okay, Greg.

Several people have sent in "perfect" defenses relying heavily on howitzers. I hate to say this, but my own Ogres go through those like a knife through butter. What strategy do you use to make six or seven howitzers work?

And a lot of people – too many to list – have pointed out that a defense composed of all GEVs wins the Basic Scenario most of the time and the Advanced Scenario too often. They're right. Which leads to . . .

The GEV Problem

In a nutshell: If a GEV fires on an Ogre and moves 4 away, the Ogre cannot kill it next turn, no matter what, if it has lost its missiles and either its main battery or its 3 movement. Therefore, a mob of GEVs can harry an Ogre to death, unless the GEV player gets over-confident and lets the Ogre cat-and-mouse his force to death. This is not good.

This had two causes. The first was the counter mix. The first edition was originally planned to provide 56 counters, in three distinct shades . . . light gray, dark gray, and white. But, at the last minute, we found we could afford to put in twice as many. And the printer fouled up . . . on the counter sets, light and dark gray look the same once cut out. So, instead of having 8 GEVs available, a defense commander has 22 . . . making some new strategies possible.

People still seem to enjoy Ogre. I like it myself. At this point, I can't rate it better than fair as a wargame. But it seems to be pretty good science fiction. It gives people a chance to exercise their imagination (and blood lust), and the mechanics are adequate to support the illusion.

But we still have the SuperGEV – and, worse, the Useless Heavy. In spite of the counter mix glitch, the GEV is, value for value, the best unit, and the heavy tank the worst. Under certain circumstances a couple of heavies can chew up an Ogre . . . but four GEVs can do it better. You don't really notice how good a GEV really is, though, until you take it in against a force of regular armor units. If six GEVs attack six heavies on clear ground, they kill the heavies and take no losses in the process.

The fact that the armor units weren't balanced against each other doesn't distress me much; they were (originally) intended only to balance against an Ogre. (But see below!) They are almost balanced, except for the Heavy. What happened? I made a mistake. (Yes, folks. Steve Jackson just admitted to a mistake. Hell will freeze over any second.) I'm owning up to it, not because I like looking dumb, but because I see a lot of game designs with similar errors. I doubt I'll ever do it again . . . and, if I point it out here, maybe you won't, either.

It's a question of cost and balance. Each of the armor units was given a balance of speed, defense, and firepower, roughly analogous to those of present-day units (except for the GEV, and we'll have those within a decade.) Then, having carefully balanced the units on a one-for-one basis, what did I do? I turned around and wrote the rules so that a Heavy "cost" twice as much as a GEV. Therefore, it's about half as effective.

Why didn't it show up in playtesting? Two reasons. (1) The game is, as I said, good science fiction. We were all aving so much fun that, if the Ogre won about half the time, we were happy. (2) Through one of those annoying glitches, all of the playtesters liked heavy tanks. Seldom, if ever, was a defense tried without some heavies. And they do work very well to clobber a weakened Ogre.

So why didn't the over-strength of the GEV show up in playtesting? We playtested a lot – literally hundreds of games – and we didn't always limit ourselves to the counter mix we planned to supply. It didn't show up because using all GEVs "seemed" like a dumb strategy. "Everybody knows" that a balanced force is more flexible. I remember trying an all-GEV defense just once, just as we tried an all-howitzer defense just once. It didn't work – at the time.

The moral here is: if you want to get all the bugs out of a game, playtest the dumb strategies. If you are doing a Civil War game, and your rules give the battle to the side that charges uphill against entrenched positions, you don't have much of a game . . . but if you playtest with Civil War experts, you'll never find out about it, because they'll never be stupid enough to try. Playtest the dumb strategies. That was the second lesson I got from Ogre. Make sure that the things you don't think should work, don't work. Or you've got some redesign to do.

Okay, enough preaching. Suffice it to say that the new Ogre game will have these bugs debugged. Yes, you heard me right. A new Ogre game.

[For those of you who wonder what the "bugs" in the first edition were: try playing with a GEV that moves 4/4, a Heavy Tank that moves 2, and a setup that values each armor unit solely on the basis of attack strength – 35 points of armor attack strength for the basic scenario, 65 for the advanced. – SJ]

GEV

The working title for the second game in the Ogre series is GEV. It'll be a game simulating combat between the powered infantry and small armor units of circa 2085.

GEV will introduce a number of new rules, including terrain effects and stacking. It will also introduce at least one more "regular" unit type, and give the specifications (if there's room) for the Ogre Mark IV.

The way we will fit all this in is by not repeating the "Ogre" rules from Ogre . . . just the armor and infantry rules. In other words, if you have Ogre and buy GEV, you will be able to play Ogres on the GEV map . . . and we will supply terrain rules and scenarios for Ogres. But if you don't have Ogre, you can buy GEV and get a tactical armor game that stands by itself . . . with a number of optional references to things called Ogres and a few Ogre Mark IV counters.

That way, we have our cake and eat it too. GEV will stand by itself, and play well. (Incidentally, the GEV map will be bigger than the Ogre map.) GEV will also tie in 100% with Ogre. And each game will have stuff that the other lacks . . . so the total amount of material is greater.

There's a possible third Ogre game in the works, as well as a bigger game pulling all the rules together and supplying a large tactical map.

The Other Ogres, etc.

We're also playtesting other cybertanks for use in later games. Therefore, below are our present "models" for five other computer-guided monsters. Again, we invite you to playtest these, and see what you think – suggestions, art, new scenarios, ways to balance these with existing scenarios, etc.

Ogre Mark I

The Combine's first cybertank experiment. Simply a beefed-up heavy with computer guidance.

1 Main Battery  (Attack 4, Range 3, Defense 4): O
4 Antipersonnel (Attack 1, Range 1, Defense 1): O O O O
15 Tread Units: (Starting MA 3)
 O  O  O  O  O  (M2)
 O  O  O  O  O  (M1)
 O  O  O  O  O  (M0)

Ogre Mark II

The Mark I worked, but it wasn't really cost-effective. Since it was now clear that the "brain" could handle several weapons at once, the Mark II was designed with a larger chassis and more guns.

1 Main Battery        (Attack 4, Range 3, Defense 4): O
2 Secondary Batteries (Attack 3, Range 2, Defense 3): O O
6 Antipersonnel       (Attack 1, Range 1, Defense 1): O O O O O O
30 Tread Units:       (Starting MA 3)
 O O O O O  O O O O O (M2)
 O O O O O  O O O O O (M1)
 O O O O O  O O O O O (M0)

Then came the Mark III – the first really fearsome Ogre, and the first one to be useful as a battle-line unit. You know about the Mark III. The Mark III's success inspired enemy copies... like the III-B in Iron Mountain. It also inspired a more-than-copy. The first wholly Paneuropean cybertank was called "Fencer" by the Combine. It lacked the characteristic Ogre "tower," and carried a new type of weapon: the missile rack.

[A note: The reference to the III-B being a Paneuropean design is a lie perpetrated by insidious Paneuropean infiltrators. The III-B was in fact designed by Combine engineers, and was never manufactured by the Paneuropeans.]

Paneuropean "Fencer" Cybertank

4 Missile Racks       (Defense 4):                    O O O O
20 Missiles           (Attack 6, Range 5):            O O O O O  O O O O O
                                                      O O O O O  O O O O O
2 Secondary Batteries (Attack 3, Range 2, Defense 3): O O
8 Antipersonnel       (Attack 1, Range 1, Defense 1): O O O O  O O O O
45 Tread Units:       (Starting MA 3)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M2)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M1)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M0)

The Fencer has no main batteries, and only two secondaries. Its main weapons are the missile racks. Each missile rack has a defensive strength of 4 and can fire one regular missile (6/5) per turn. That is, an undamaged Fencer can fire four missiles per turn. The Fencer carries 20 missiles; check each one off as it is fired. When all missile racks are dead or all 20 missiles are fired or dead, the Fencer cannot use missiles. Destruction of a missile rack destroys one missile. This is the only way to kill a Fencer missile; they are stored inside.

Ogre Mark IV

The Combine turned around and copied the Paneuropean missile racks for the Ogre Mk. IV, adapting them to the Ogre design and their own desire for a light "raider" unit . . .

3 Missile Racks       (Defense 4):                    O O O
15 Missiles           (Attack 6, Range 5):            O O O O O
                                                      O O O O O
                                                      O O O O O
1 Main Battery        (Attack 4, Range 3, Defense 4): O
2 Secondary Batteries (Attack 3, Range 2, Defense 3): O O
8 Antipersonnel       (Attack 1, Range 1, Defense 1): O O O O  O O O O
60 Tread Units:       (Starting MA 4)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M3)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M2)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M1)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M0)

Ogre Mark VI

The biggest Ogre ever built – although later cybertanks of other designs massed more.

2 Missile Racks       (Defense 4):                    O O
20 Missiles           (Attack 6, Range 5):            O O O O O  O O O O O
                                                      O O O O O  O O O O O
3 Main Battery        (Attack 4, Range 3, Defense 4): O O O
6 Secondary Batteries (Attack 3, Range 2, Defense 3): O O O O O O
16 Antipersonnel      (Attack 1, Range 1, Defense 1): O O O O  O O O O
                                                      O O O O  O O O O
75 Tread Units:       (Starting MA 3)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M2)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M1)
 O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O  O O O O O (M0)

For ramming, assume that the Mark IV and Fencer are the same size, and that each succeeding Mark of Ogre is bigger than the preceding ones. A Mark I Ogre is treated as an ordinary heavy tank for ramming; a Mark IV or Fencer does 4 dice damage when it rams, and a Mark VI does 6 dice damage.

Have fun with these – let us know how they perform for you. A Mk IV and a Fencer should be about equal – Fencer a little better in slugging matches. Either one should kill a Mk III. A Mk V should be able to take either a IV or a Fencer – but it gets badly hurt. A VI can smash anything.

If you find good ways of putting these into scenarios, let us know.

Have fun, and may a Mark V not walk through your house.

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