Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Gang Rumble in Downtown Lancaster, PA

    A terrified pedestrian backs against a wall as the Flippos arrive in downtown Lancaster
For the first time in years, the First Command Wargames crew was heading to a big convention to run our games. Five of us had scheduled events at Historicon 2022 in downtown Lancaster, PA. I would be running Mean Streets on Thursday night and Friday morning. Jenny would be helping me run Wars of Insurgency on Friday night and Saturday morning. I had created a terrain setup that would be usable for both games, which minimized the amount we had to haul east and pack and unpack out of the convention. Meanwhile, Mike S and his son Jason would be running Battles on the American Frontier using Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules. Steve V would be running his Battle of Mollwitz, 1741, using his War of Austrian Succession supplement for his For King or Empress rules.

    Two gangs of bitter rivals battle it out on the Mean Streets - the Flippos and the Mohawks
Kicking it all off was my Gang Rumble in Lancaster Mean Streets scenario. I have to admit, I did nothing to make my terrain resemble downtown Lancaster, PA. Until this point, I had never even been to the downtown portion. I was pleasantly surprised at all the historic buildings and the many restaurants, markets, and brewpubs there were within walking distance of the convention center. Jenny and I arrived Wednesday night and met up with Jason M, who had reserved the rooms and been very helpful reminding us when event registration opened and so on. One of our regular Sunday night gamers, Andy, also arrived Wednesday night. We met him and his roommates Tim and Don for beers on a rooftop bar that evening. It was an enjoyable way to begin a weekend convention.

    Our Thursday night group of players start to rumble on my downtown battleground
The convention actually began on Wednesday, but its first main day was Thursday. After breakfast, Jenny and I grabbed a hotel cart and took the terrain, miniatures, and First Command rule books up to our table. The Historicon staff was very gracious and placed all three of our event tables adjacent to each other. We hoisted our First Command Wargames banner and (I think) made a nice presence in the Commonwealth room. It took less than an hour to set up the terrain for Mean Streets. I was given an 8'x5' table, which gave elbow room for the players with my 5'x4' setup. I was really pleased with how the table looked. In the last couple months, I have made some tweaks to my urban terrain. I've added cork squares as the asphalt streets to place between the acrylic floor tiles which resemble gray concrete. The latest addition were my street medians, which I had scratch-built using wooden molding decorated with Woodland Scenics street lamps and small shrubs and flowers. The scratch built guardrails on each end with their yellow and black pattern really set them off. I find it is the little things like the medians that often make a table "pop" and draw attention.

    The martial arts gang, the Daos, stand their ground as the Santanas approach in their leather jackets
Once we were finished setting up the terrain, we wandered through the rest of the convention center to check out the early games that were under way. One that stuck out to me in particular was the Have Gun Will Travel Old West game. His game spread across several tables popping with eye candy, including a mine lit with electric lights and a native American cliff dwelling. When the Exhibit Hall opened at noon, I was able to take my time and get my shopping fix in right away. I didn't want to buy a lot on the first day, though, because Jason would be trying to sell my last three 15mm DBA armies in the flea market. If they all sold, I'd get an influx of more than $300, so I was going to buy only the things I really needed Thursday. Or, at least that's what I told myself! I'll cover my purchases in the next post covering my Wars of Insurgency game.

    The Kings, in their black and green gang colors stalk towards the gas station to join the rumble
I had a very relaxing start to the day, and was ready to go when 7pm and rolled around and the first session of Gang Rumble in Lancaster was set to begin. The table was completely full - as were all four of my sessions of both games. I find that if you can set up your game early, place a sign telling potential players which event it is, then your terrain can sometimes recruit those last spots to fill up. That was my #1 reason for getting set up first thing that morning. Most gamers at Historicon don't know me or my games like folks back home in HMGS Great Lakes country. I'm lucky back home that enough people have had fun in one of my previous games that my events tend to fill up.

    A Flippo tries to convince a market stall owner to pay protection money (their gang mission)
The scenario is my standard one for Mean Streets. There were six players, each controlling their own gang. I chose my most eye-catching gangs, which for this game would be the Flippos in their clown masks, the punk rock Mohawks, the leather jacketed Santanas, the black and green Kings, the Highlanders in their checkered pants, and the Daos in their purple and yellow martial arts attire. Each gang would have a Primary mission, which might be stealing a car from the service station garage, shoplifting at the general store, or shaking down merchants for "protection money."

    Meanwhile, Ramona of the Santanas sneaks into the service station bay to steal a car
Each gang also had a secondary mission, which was to get some payback on a rival gang that had put a "beat down" on them last week. I selected the target gang so that every gang had one other going after them. Finally, all gangs had the additional way of earning victory points by "tagging" buildings with their gang logo. Players received a stack of foam circles emblazoned with each gang's logo. Players also lost victory points for each of their gang members knocked out of action.

    A late-arriving police officer puts knocks down a Flippo with one blow from his billy club
After one of my CincyCon games, I have a special mechanism I've installed in my gang warfare games. If a player is essentially knocked out of the game with all (or nearly all) of his gang members down for the count, I have that player control a police car which arrives on the scene. The player is given complete control over where to bring it on and what he wants the two policemen to do. They can get payback on the player who beat them up, try to take out the one that appears in the lead, or just have fun with it. I tell the other players that they hear sirens. This also has the effect of encouraging players to wrap up their missions and heading for the board edge. I don't tell them the game is moving towards a conclusion, but by this time, they are getting into their role of a street thug and they begin to think it might be a good idea to take their winnings and skedaddle!

    Julio, gang boss of the Santanas, and his warchief Cruz catch Kira in the act of tagging their turf
I thought about writing separate battle reports for Thursday evening's and Friday morning's games. However, I figured that might get a bit redundant. I liked how the balance worked out, though. The gang that scored the most victory points on Thursday, the Flippos with 21, actually scored the least on Friday. Similarly, the winner on Friday, the Mohawks, were in the bottom half of scores on Thursday. Some players were laser-focused on their primary missions. For example, the Kings on Friday barely engaged in any scuffles with other gangs until they had completed their mission. Once they each had a six-pack of beer under their arm, they returned to the street ready to rumble. Other gangs ignored their mission for most of the game and concentrated on attacking or evading other gangs. The Daos did that on Thursday, and it ended up causing them to fail to complete their mission of convincing the owner of Finn's Factory to pay protection money. In fact, Manager Keith bloodied the nose of the punk who tried to rough him up!

    The other Mohawks come to avenge Kira's knockout, while the Kings decide to join the fray
One thing that was common in both games was much of the mayhem centered on the gas station near the center of the board. The wide open space and clear path to rival gang members was too much for most players to resist. At one point, nearly every gang was involved in a huge scrum in the center of the board. Mohawks traded punches with Santanas, while Kings and Daos duked it out in front of the alarmed patrons of the Shell station. When I am setting up scenario, I make it a point for each gang to have to traverse the board to a far side to complete their missions. So, a player who starts in the middle of one of the long edges of the board will likely have to go to an opposite corner to reach their objective.  If you were to draw arrows from where gangs deployed to where they ended up, you'd see the arrows intersecting many times in the middle of the board.

    The Santanas don't look happy that other gangs have muscled in on their turf - the gas station!
Adding in the secondary mission of wanting payback against a certain gang, and making knocking their figures out of action worth double points, usually tempts them away from focusing only on their primary mission. The player may have planned to stay on target, but when they see a punk from a rival gang by himself, they can't help but dash in and beat him up! Honestly, I feel that if players just moved around the board and tagged buildings and then beat up shopkeepers, it would be a fairly boring game. That's why I structure my victory points and starting positions/objectives to encourage them to mix it up. I am always reminded of my old friend Eric's frustration in a game when no casualties were being removed and it was mostly maneuver. He pounded the table with his fist in mock anger saying, "I just want to kill something!"

    The Flippos and their creepy clown masks are always a scary sight on the streets
Keeping Eric's adage in mind means my games and scenarios are designed to allow players to inflict casualties. Mean Streets' combat system reinforces this. When a gang member wins a combat, he either inflicts a wound on an opponent (permanently giving that street punk a -1 to further rolls...and wounds ARE cumulative), doubles them and inflicts twice as many wounds plus a special effect for the weapon the figure is armed with, or triples them knocking that figure out of action. No matter how mild mannerd a player may be in real life, there is a visceral thrill to beating up the rival players' street punks. This is YOUR turf and you're the baddest street gang out there!

    What's this? A truce between the Santanas and Highlanders to go beat up other gangs??

And speaking of casualties, both games saw the police car arrive on board late game. This time, I told the player the cops are armed with billy clubs but also have their pistol. They could choose whether to shoot the gang member or just try to beat up the punk. Surprisingly, no shots were fired this time around, but the officers did knock out a punk or two! The arrival of the police car always seems to light up the table. Players smile and pull out their cell phones to take pictures. Maybe I should find on that has actual flashing LED lights? Or maybe I should get a police siren sound effect on my phone and play it when the cops arrive? The thing a GM wants is for his or her players to have fun. Anything that adds to the thrill is worth looking into!

    The colorful Mohawks are one of my favorite gangs - most figs are modified from The Assault Group
Speaking of which, all the players said they had a great time. It is always satisfying to hear your players say that, and even more when they are excitedly recapping events in the game. As a rules designer, I love to hear players say, "Hey, I could use these rules for ____!" Mean Streets seems to get those comments more than any other system. It is a "toolkit" kind of system which can be accessorized and added to so that it fits a different period. I have run this same engine for French & Indian War frontier raids and even Pulp adventures in the South Seas. 

    In both runnings of the game, a swirling melee broke out in the back alley near the gas station
This was our first time coming to a convention and having several vendors already stocking our rules. So, although we had a small holder with a copy of the rules we were using on the table for our games, we did not have the whole line displayed like we have done at other conventions. We told players where they could buy the rules in the Exhibit Hall and encouraged them to to get it from them (even though we make less on wholesale to vendors than retail to players). As a company, we realize we can't be at every convention running games and then selling them off of our table. We need those vendors out there taking our rules to shows, putting them on their websites, and so on.

    The back alley rumble gets bloody as more gang members wade in with chains, clubs, and knives
One of our vendors told me that people must have had fun with Mean Streets because there was a "run" on the rules he had. That was satisfying to hear. Only a dozen people total participated in the two sessions of Gang Rumble in Lancaster, but you hope your game creates a "buzz" as they tell their friends and others how much fun they had. Based on vendor feedback, First Command Wargames' trip to Historicon was a success. Based on my players' comments, it was a knockout success!

    Mean Streets cover was drawn by one of my students - pick up a copy if you don't have one already!

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