Play Easily Now (PEN) Wargame – lots of fun with your (mini) figures

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CROWDFUNDING NEWS – Last year I reviewed Bag End, a building block set from Webrick. While I liked the set, it didn’t come with any mini figures. I already had a few from some LEGO sets, but not enough to fill out this hobbit home. I went to AliExpress to buy a few more, and it’s possible that while I was there, I bought a few too many.  And that gives me an idea…

It’s entirely possible that while Frodo and Sam were hosting the dwarves for dinner one night, a small horde of Uruk-hai (and a cave troll) came out of nowhere and attempted to burn them out. The hobbits and their dwarves would be forced to defend themselves. How would I resolve this conflict?

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I need some rules for a wargame that could cover my encounter. What’s a wargame? Wikipedia defines it as “a strategy game in which two or more players command opposing armed forces in a simulation of an armed conflict.” There are many good wargame systems available today, like Warhammer 40k, Star Wars Legion, and Heroscape, but they come with high entry barriers, like cost, complexity, and time. I need something simpler and quicker to play out my little combat scenario.

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There’s where Josiah Mork and his new game step in. Over a year ago, this business major turned game designer released an RPG on Kickstarter and raised $17k. Now he’s back with a new Kickstarter, the PEN Wargame. It’s a set of simpler wargame rules for people who have their own miniatures and want to play out some combat event, like the one I described above. It’s easy to learn yet can be strategically complex, because the players, not the game, define the profile of their miniatures.

PEN is for any kind of miniatures, be they from Heroscape, D&D, LEGO, or even 3D-printed ones. PEN gives me a reason to take these miniatures off my shelves, put them on the kitchen table, and have a blast playing with them! It’s a more casual game — it certainly doesn’t have the complexity of a Warhammer — that’s intended to be a lot of fun.

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So how does it work?

First, I pick the miniatures that I want to play with. Second, I designate their type. They can be unique characters (think Anakin Skywalker), a small squad (think Clone Troopers), a group of minions (think B-series battle droids), or contraptions (a blaster cannon). Third, I select a value for the metric known as Army Size to constrain the scope of the conflict; the higher the number, the more units I’ll have and more powerful they will be. The smallest Army Size value would allow me to simulate Anakin fighting Grievous; the largest would let me recreate a full battle with as many as 150 units on each side. PEN provides recommended Army Sizes, but as with everything in this game, I can tweak the values to be whatever I want.

Fourth, I create a map with the terrain. At it simplest, this can be a couple sheets of paper taped with hand-drawn terrain on it. In my case, it might involve LEGO baseplates and my hobbit hole. This flexibility in PEN is cool, because it can anything that I already own, like Heroscape hexes or D&D maps or whatever. Fifth, I place the units on my map, and sixth, I select a game objective, such as Secure a Position or Total War. Finally, I resolve using the combat rules in the game. While the complete PEN manual is over 60 pages, only 8 of them are the combat system. They are simplified rules that are not intended to be super realistic but easy and fun instead.

The base rules measure all the distances between units, which are used for movement and melee versus ranged combat, and so on, using a tape measure. Josiah recently announced an addition to his game, where I could also use a D&D grid map, a set of Heroscape hexes, or the studs from a LEGO baseplate. I am so excited to see these new rules and give them a try with my hobbits and dwarves.

I recently hopped on a Discord call with Josiah to ask him a few questions about his new game, and here’s part of what we talked about.

Why did you create this game? I have two reasons. One, I wanted to provide a game for people who have an interest in wargaming but have been intimidated by costs of getting involved. PEN is easier, faster, and cheaper. It allows them to reuse their existing miniatures and jump right in. Two, I really want to pull people out of their isolation and into communities. A game like this allows anyone to join a community of gamers who want to play together. I use Kickstarter because it really opens the doors and allows anyone to join.

In creating this game, have you simply recreated existing games, like Unmatched or Heroscape? No, though there are similarities in the experience. Unmatched is a card game where the characters never change; in PEN, the character system is flexible and thus the resulting game is more tactical. While the hexes in Heroscape are super cool, the game itself is much more complicated.

Starset, your role-playing game, has a cool character generation system. Does PEN use the same system? No, it’s much simpler, because you simply pick the characteristics that you want for your characters instead of rolling for them.

How do I keep track of values that depreciate over time, like mana, armor, and hit points? Each type of unit will have its own character sheet that keeps track of all values. For squads and minions, depreciating numbers are tied to the number of miniatures, just to keep things simple.

Do the rules cover medieval swords, modern-day guns, sci-fi weapons, and everything in between? Absolutely! Often they use the same abilities, but they are reskinned for the genre. In other words, a magical great sword is effectively not that different from a light saber.

I have LEGO minis for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Can I mix and match them in combat? Heck yeah!

Do you provide example profiles for classic characters, like Ben Kenobi (Star Wars), Gandalf the Gray (Lord of the Rings), Iron Man (Marvel), Drizzt Do’Urden (Forgotten Realms), Grog Strongjaw (Critical Role), and Master Chief (Halo). That’s a good idea, but no. It’s just a matter of having enough time. Perhaps this could be a stretch goal.

Anything else you want to add? People might be wondering if this game is for them. Maybe they thinking wargames are too complicated or too nerdy. I think they should be fun, so give PEN a try. It allows us adults to play with our toys again.

I, James, think this is a fabulous idea. I would encourage parents to play with their kids and grandparents to play with their grandkids. I can’t wait until my grandson is older; we’re going to have a blast. I personally backed it at the “Pack” level, so I could reserve a copy for myself and give the others away.

If you have any sort of miniature figures laying around, and if you can imagine them involved in a combat scenario, I urge you to head over to Kickstarter and take a good look at the Play Easily Now Wargame by Josiah Mork.

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