Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Retrospective: Ogre

Initially released in 1977 as the first of Metagaming's micro-games, Ogre followed its creator, Steve Jackson, when he founded his own game company in the early 80s. The cover to the left is therefore not the original one but that of the 1982 SJG edition, which first introduced me to this fun, fast little wargame of high-tech armored warfare. The game takes place in the late 21st century when super-states such as the North American Combine and the Pan-European Federation vie for world supremacy through the use of gigantic, artificially intelligent tanks nicknamed "ogres" and powerful enough to take on many other "ordinary" units and emerge victorious.

Ogre is a fairly simple game in principle, with short, straightforward rules. Its simplicity is deceiving, though, and clever players will find plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their tactical creativity. In most battles, one side is composed of a single ogre -- they really are that powerful -- and the other side is composed of a mix of conventional vehicles, artillery, and troops, each of which has strengths and weaknesses compared to other units. The player with multiple units has, in my experience anyway, the more difficult job, as he has to determine the right mix to take down the ogre. And there's no perfect mix of units, since a number of factors, some specific to individual scenarios and others specific to individual players, alter the complexion of the game. The result is a game that has a lot of replay value, especially if you have a good pool of players to square off against.

Like Car Wars, Ogre was a favorite of my friends and myself. A single game can be played in a short period of time (around 30 minutes or so, though some scenarios could last longer), which made it perfect for those times when we were waiting for someone to arrive before one of our RPG sessions. It was fun to watch too and everyone had their own opinions regarding the "best" tactics to use. I think that's what made the game so much fun: there was no sure-fire way to win, but that didn't stop everyone I've ever known declaring that they'd figured out the "secret" to Ogre. For example, I know several gamers who claim that there's no way the ogre player can win, while several others claim just the opposite. I'm no great tactician myself, so I can't say with certainty whose claims are right and whose are wrong. I can only say that Ogre is one of those rare games that really is different every time you play it, depending on the scenario and the person against whom you play.

I still have a copy of the game somewhere, along with a couple of its supplements. Though I liked the supplements at the time, I found, like a lot of supplements to games, that they had the tendency to undermine certain aspects of the original game's elegance. That's why, if I were ever to play Ogre again, I'd play it using only the initial pocket box and forget the supplements. The original game remains a classic in my opinion and it's well worth playing, if you ever get the chance to do so. There are rumors of a new edition in the works at Steve Jackson Games and I hope that's true. Assuming it's not produced as a ridiculously overpriced "deluxe" edition, I know I'll be grabbing a copy.

20 comments:

  1. I loved that game. We played it, Car Wars, and WarpWar a ton in High School.

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  2. Nice coverage of a wargame I never got around to, sadly. And here's hoping that no one is desperate enough to produce a $90 version of a game that came in a ziplock bag for $3 or whatever it was.

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  3. Ogre's a game I also wish I played and never did. I'm intrigued by highly asymmetric wargames (such as Bismarck, to which I compared it.)

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  4. I always found the human's choice of units to be the telling part of the game. Generally the human tactics can spread on an axis from "wear the Ogre down" to "break the Ogre as soon as possible" (with the first option tending to favour GEVs). If the Ogre decides to play the human's game then the humans can generally win, but if it plays the opposite strategy it can always win (all dice rolls being equal). Of course, it's not actually a black or white problem, but rather a continuum.

    Then again, my favourite piece of Ogre canon (?) is The Lone GEV from Space Gamer #52. I believe the author was Mike Stackpole. This story resulted a fun post-apocalyptic RPG (using the 1st edition Twilight 2000 rules IIRC).

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  5. Ogre is, was, and always will be awesome. It was my first ever wargame, adventure game, whatever you want to call it -- that's where it started for me. Even before I ever played D&D, there was Ogre.

    I snapped up the supplements when they were re-released back in the late 90s or so (was it really that long ago?) But you're right - they do take away from the classic game. (I do like GEV, though, but that's a game in its own right and not just a supplement.)

    One problem though is the fiddly little counters. I got around that by scanning one of the sheets from the Reinforcements supplement and cleaning it up a bit on the computer. Then I printed it out at 150% on a full-page sticker and stuck it to heavy cardboard, making a large, heavy-duty version of the countermix. It'll go great with the large mapsheet from the version with the miniatures (if I can ever find that back).

    I also had the computer game for the Apple. It was a good adaptation. I enjoyed it a lot.

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  6. That's one of those games I always meant to try but never got around to. I think I still have a copy somewhere.

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  7. My first exposure to OGRE was the old computer game on my Commodore 64. It was a pretty rad game and I logged many hours playing it.

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  8. Looking at the Steve Jackson Games page, it looks like most of their old stuff is out for sale in $30 boxes. I suspect they find that anything cheaper for slow-selling reprints isn't cost-effective. I suspect, given all the Ogre miniatures they have still available, that they're burnt out on Ogre.

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  9. My first wargame too. I still have the Ogre and GEV books and even had Battlesuit at one time. Another really great set of microgames was Helltank and Helltank Destroyer.

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  10. There already was a $90 version at the turn of the millennium which included miniatures. I don't think they will repeat that release strategy in this market. My favorite version of the game was the non-miniatures Deluxe Ogre that cost $14.95 when it came out as a box.

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  11. I love Ogre as well a GEV, played them a ton in my younger days. I am pleased to hear the the former is slated for a re-release. Great review.

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  12. Perhaps this spate of OGRE-love will herald in a new golden age of retro-wargaming, pushing the OSR aside for an even older school.

    If so, then I was ahead of the curve - I used have a (pre-blog) OGRE website:

    http://members.shaw.ca/k-slacker/OGRE.htm

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  13. I love Ogre. But I enjoy the supplements as well. More maps units, and even Ogre class machines? Brilliant. Its just such a well designed and FUN hex n chit wargame.

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  14. This is one game I regret never having...

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  15. OGRE was so much fun back in the day. GEV was fun, too. The Apple version was fun in the fact that you could set the options for it, to make your own scenarios. I miss the microgames...

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  16. I played Ogre quite a bit. In my experience, the game almost always ended with the Ogre limping its way toward the command post with a few tread points and maybe one gun left, while a couple of surviving tanks and a handful of infantry desperately tried to stop it. At which point either the defenders picked off the last couple treads and brought the Ogre to a halt, or the Ogre just barely managed to get close enough to blast the CP (often the Ogre would have no guns at all left by this point, and would have to actually roll over the CP to destroy it). Good fun.

    The third major Steve Jackson pocket box game (along with Car Wars and Ogre) was the equally awesome Illuminati. Put them all together and you had a lot of misspent afternoons.

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  17. Happy memories of past games with Ogre and GEV. A new edition has been promised for sometime now, but I wouldn't hold your breath or anything.

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  18. OGRE (the computer game) is available for free from Abandonia. You have to run it through DosBox (which is also free and available from Abandonia).

    I tried running it without DosBox, and my computer didn't like that at all... but it does work through DosBox!

    http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/27663/Ogre.html

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  19. Owned this and several other microgames. This was a lot of fun, but I want to see Ogrethulhu!

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  20. Another awesome science fiction tank game is "Grav Armor" from Dwarfstar/Heritage Games available for download at

    http://dwarfstar.brainiac.com/ds_gravarmor.html

    and a nice review of the terrain chart here

    http://www.projectrho.com/game/gravarmor.html

    Oh and back on thread is the recent announcement form SJG that they are planning on a limited print run, $100 dollar reprint later this year, including GEV and Shockwave and 1.5 inch hex maps.

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