by Moritz Eggert
One of the trends of the 70's/80's was a diffusion of cheap Ziploc games. At that time the average gamer was considered to be rather poor moneywise - which is funny as today's gaming companies like Wizards of the Coast seem to consider the average gamer guy a millionaire super nerd who can effortlessly handle collecting endless super-expensive collectable miniatures and card games!
The companies of note where most certainly "Metagaming" and "Task Force Games", also "Dwarfstar games", who managed to keep up a pretty high standard of interesting small games, mostly of the Fantasy and SF genre. The impact of the first two companies can still be felt today - Metagaming produced the Fantasy role-playing games "Melee" and "Wizard" which later became what is known as GURPS today, now by Steve Jackson Games, and Task Force Games produced the hyper complex Star Fleet Battles and Starfire spaceship combat games, both of them going pretty strong and having a considerable fan base even today.
All these games didn't come in cardboard boxes but had very rudimentary paper maps and counters packed in the eponymous Ziploc bags. What I liked about these games is the fact that they had to produce content instead of razzle dazzle. When the actual game components where so flimsy you had to produce good ideas to keep the games interesting. Some of these games actually produced endless hours of fun once you got into them, and probably had a fantastic value for money if you considered their usually small price tags.
Today I'm going to talk about one of my favourite fantasy titles of Task Force Games, the little known Fantasy Dungeon Exploration Skirmish Game called "Valkenburg Castle".
"Valkenburg" used the still popular idea of pitting a kind of player-powered dungeon master or evil overlord against groups of intrepid adventurers. The former populated a series of extremely abstract dungeon maps with hordes of monsters and evil wizards, whereas the other player or even players created groups of adventurers ready to take on the challenge.
So far nothing new under the sun, but somehow Valkenburg castle always fascinated me by packing a lot of content into it's tiny rulebook and by not going over the top in the dungeon design but instead delivering a very competent attempt at a small scale skirmish wargame perhaps akin to Squad Leader in a Fantasy World.
Valkenburg Castle very much was written with the wargamer in mind, and it's elegant and simple rules to simulate a conquest of a series of tunnels and pitting squads of Orcs against Squads of Elves still fascinate today. It also involved rules for FOW, which enabled the Dungeon player to move his forces without the other player knowing what would expect him behind the next door. The counters differentiated between individuals and squad like units and also enabled missile combat and the use of magic spells. Usually the adventurers would delve deeper and deeper while the forces of evil slowly grinded away at their manpower. And often it would come to some kind of climax when confronting the evil overlord at the lowest level of the dungeon. All this was achieved with a really simple set of rules that still allowed for crazy heroic storytelling. I used to play this game a lot when I was young, and I can still remember some of the more crazy sessions, where one single mage somehow held off a squad of orcs that hunted him down a corridor while the main part of the adventuring group was busy finishing off a Balrog. And still all this was very tactical to play, not only a random dice fest like many fantasy games.
But where the game really shone was in the campaign rules. Here the dungeon exploration was broken down into several forays into the deep, after each of which both sides would rest and replenish their forces - the dungeon master buying new monsters to populate his halls of evil and the adventurers buying new equipment, but each of them in secret. A full campaign could be easily played in an evening and had a truly epic feel, although it was well possible that your adventuring group fell victim to an ambush in the first foray and was never able to recover fully.
There was even a crazy variant that enabled you to take a real World War II squad - I'm not kidding - into the dungeon, and get rid of monsters using Browning Automatic Rifles and M1 Carbines. Nothing could beat throwing a grenade down a corridor and see a squad of orcs blasted to smithereens.
Anyway, this game can still be found on Ebay, and I can only recommend it heartily to the fantasy fan, it really delivers a lot of gaming fun into a tiny bit of space. Even 25 years after I bought this game I still remember every single session of it. Just writing about it makes me want to play it again!
Valkenburg Castle, by......, published by
Recommended by Point-to-Point games and it's intrepid fantasy correspondent Moritz, who dares to go into the dungeons of doom for you to seek out new games, new civilizations, eh... you know the drill....
Ah, and one final thing - solitaire wargames:
I have to mention the following solitaire wargames I've enjoyed over the years. This is just a short selection. There are many, many more.
There were also many, many solitaire games published by Strategy and Tactics magazine, just recently there was Catherine the Great. But there are many, many more.
One should also mention the recent "Silent War" which is a faithful simulation of the Allied submarine campaign in the Pacific.
By far the best: Ambush! Battle Hymn!
So, dear wargamers, you don't have to try to play card-driven wargames pitifully by yourself, do yourself a favour and buy games that are particularly designed for solitaire play - they are so much more fun, believe me.
©2007, Westpark Gamers