Friday, September 4, 2009

Lords of War: The Ogre Universe

The Ogre Mark V hard at work with the killin'! (Artwork by Winchell Chung)
Ogre (1977) was one of the first war games I'd ever been exposed to, if not the first... and you know what they say about your first love. (Yeah, me neither.)

Anyhow my middle school friend and I played a few other "capsule games" like Chitin (1977), Rivets (1977) and some sort of moon buggy war game I don't even remember. Then he introduced me to Ogre. None of those could hold a candle to Ogre. I was hooked.

I eventually bought my own copy, so I could read the rules at home without having to borrow. I would eventually buy the supplements, which were inexpensive even then. G.E.V. (1978) was the first of those (new map!) and, while it made the game just a tad more complex, it fueled my desire for ever more radioactive carbide-armored death on a colorful paper battlefield with card stock tanks represented by tiny silhouettes.

I subscribed to Space Gamer (1975-1985) so I'd be sure to catch any Ogre-related articles, counters or maps... and fiction! This may even have been my first game-related magazine subscription. I can't recall whether my Dragon Magazine subscription came first or not? I do know we were playing AD&D at the same time. We also enjoyed a game of Dungeon (1975) now and again too. But those badass, inhuman cybertanks grabbed my attention time and again.

(By the way, The Terminator (1984) was probably not even a twinkle in the directors eye yet and WarGames (1983) was a year earlier than that but still postdates Ogre. Tron (1982) was also a little earlier than that. These are of course all "cautionary entertainments" about computers "taking over the world.")

The Ogre Book (1982) would be the first supplementary material since G.E.V. I readily picked that up, devouring the new rules, scenarios and fiction. I drew the "Iron Mountain" maps on crappy newsprint hex paper which I still have today. I'd drawn the "Icepick" map too (from Space Gamer) and a map from another game I don't recall (Necromancer?) which introduced "ramps" and height: the "Badlands." We even played with the goofy aircraft and submarine rules a time or two. (The aircraft were too fast for the tiny maps, so strafing wasn't much fun and the submarines were of limited use.)

(1984) added nuclear missiles and nuke-hauling/launching crawlers (new map!) and the Reinforcement Pack (1987) gave me more cool counters... and new units! So six, seven years later, I was still interested in the game enough to buy the next inexpensive supplements.

"The Ogre Universe" gave living under fear of nuclear war such a glow (sorry, couldn't resist...). (Also keep in mind that living in the '80s meant living with the possibility of a real nuclear war.) The game had (and still has) a simple, ingenious design based on simple move-and-fire, ratios (odds) and a handful of terrain, all driven by a single 1d6. It wasn't just the game design though. It was the mysteriously oddball vision of a possible future, one where the world is basically split between the Combine (Northern Hemisphere/American) and Paneuropeans ("them!"). This was a world where massively frightening cybertanks treaded a scorched earth, dominating the battle field. Soldiers were afraid of the cold battle calculations of Ogres on their own side!

Ogre and it's supplements is one of the games I never got rid of when I thinned out my shelves in 2000, even though I thought I'd never play again. But to my surprise my son loves the game too. We've actually played about a dozen times now. It's similarly addictive to him as it was to me and he still occasionally asks to play. This is a kid born in the age of rapid-fire video and computer game releases. I think that's a remarkable comment on both him and the game. (No one seems to play anything for very long anymore.)

I love this game and we'll be playing it for a long time to come. Sure, I've waited for the games to be combined and updated, but odds are it probably wouldn't fly off the shelves today if it were. I avoided buying more than just a single Ogre miniature because they were too expensive and there were other issues I had with the product line later on, but I don't care about those things anymore. Ogre is still one of my very own Lords of War.

Official Sites
Steve Jackson Games
Steve Jackson Games: Ogre
Steve Jackson Games: Ogre Forum

Fan Sites
Tristan's Ogre GEV Page
Datapulse Firestorm
Ogre Recognition Manual 2nd Edition

Play By Mail

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