Gaming with miniatures has a long, and proud tradition.
People have been re-playing the great battle of history with small lead soldiers for decades and enjoying every minute of it.
As a gaming option miniatures offer more than just game play as many find equal enjoyment in the painting of the pieces often going for minute historical detail in the paint scheme.
Today there are a wide variety of miniature gaming options, some, over time leading to massive armies of miniatures and requiring large tables on which to battle. Those battles can takes hours.
There are however options which require fewer miniatures, reducing costs, and lessening the time and space to play.
A newcomer to what is often referred to as 'skirmish' gaming is MERCS, a game played in a future earth setting where corporations control large areas of the world.
The game is designed to be played with a small number of miniatures per player and that is to start, its greatest strength.
Brian Shotton with MERCS said while there are many miniature game options their new offerings is one players can get into easily without a huge cash outlay.
"MERCS is a small model count game that is easy on the wallet. There is no escalation of participation; those MERCS you buy today will be viable members of your team for the duration of the game," he said via email.
“As to timing, there has never been a better time to get into MERCS. The starter kits make it extremely easy. Our website has been redesigned to better support players and stores. We have articles in magazines; videos on major miniature gaming sites; eight factions are out now; the seventh models for all the factions will be out before the end of the year; the list goes on and on."
While low cost might attract some to try MERCS it needs to offer something beyond price point.
Shotton said he feels it does.
"The game is very balanced. It is tactical in a way that makes sense in a 'real world' sort of way. A game of MERCS is fast and fun. The models are amazing, as is our fledgling community," he said.
Shotton is right the miniatures are finely detailed, and have a look not so different from today's soldiers.
Yes there is a sci-fi aspect to MERCS, but it is not exactly the focus of things. That may not appeal as much to diehard sci-fi-gamers, but it does allow a closer tie to realism others will like.
There is also a lot of attention to detail with MERCS, likely because it is very much an effort of love for its creators.
"There are only two of us, Keith and myself, and we have day jobs. This has its disadvantages certainly, but it also has advantages. We aren't releasing 10 models a month to support a staff. We release about 20 minis a year to support a game. We have a fantastic game," offered Shotton.
The smaller scale is by design to keep the game accessible for anyone.
"When I first started in mini-gaming I was okay with spending money," said Shotton. "My thinking on that has changed over the years. I created MERCS to play a game that was tactical and as different as my next opponent. I don't want people to have to spend a bunch of money every year just to be competitive, nor do I want to make anyone's MERCS obsolete and need replaced."
The neatest thing about MERCS is that you are fielding very small units, which heightens the need to good tactics. With a five-man squad the base of a game if you lose one man, that is 20 per cent of your force.
Being reliant on tactics means skilled players will win more often than not and skills can be learned and improved. That is highly compelling in terms of re-playability.
Shotton noted the game is not designed to evolve to mass-army play.
"Each MERCS faction will cap at 10 minis," he said. "There will be options to play the game with two squads of five, but the core game will stay five-versus-five. No giant vehicles. No big army game. The depth of MERCS is gameplay and squad selection. Each squad will get their seventh member this year (the eighth and ninth in 2013)."
More good news about MERCS is that there is a plan for steady, but affordable for players, growth.
"We'll have every faction out by 2014," said Shotton.
At GENCON they were releasing the Texico and ISS factions. In early 2013 plans call for the release of House 4 of the FCC, and later next year they'll release EU, Inc and EIC factions, explained Shotton, adding "2014 brings the GCC (the 12th faction) and a surprise (13th) faction.
"That is the extent of the MegaCons for the most part. Any expansion will come in the form of addition members for each faction and campaigns that alter the world over time."
More good news comes from the likelihood of MERCS coming up with campaign rules where characters can grow in skills over a series of games.
"Short answer, yes," said Shotton. "This is something I have been toying with for over a year. When all of the factions are out (2014), we have planned on revising the ruleset and providing an all-inclusive book that same year. I think it will be in that book."
That may be a while to wait, but by getting into MERCS now players are in on the ground floor of a great game.
As it stands the hardcover rule book is detailed and well-laid out.
The rules are pretty straight forward, and movement using a unique card as the measure is quick and simple.
The game is one a few of us locally have already taken the plunge into, and it would be great to see others hop on the MERCS wagon and start a local community here in Yorkton.
It really is a game with far too many good things going for it not to get involved.
For more information check out www.mercsminis.com
If anyone is interested in this game, or other boardgames feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Appeared in Yorkton This Week newspaper Sept 19, 2012