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What Ho! And Away We Go

The latest in our series of downloadable skirmish games is What Ho! Its also the first to not have a free option, costing a minimum of 50 whole English pence so while I always post a blog when these games go up I thought this one would be extra important. The game comes in three formats, the full set which costs £1, the Farce only option for 50p or the Murder Mystery version for 50p. What Ho! is a skirmish game which is mostly non-violent, its set primarily in the roaring 20s of P. G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, but really could be used to create any farce or crime based story from Raymond Chandler to Dumb and Dumber.

The initial inspiration for What Ho! was pretty much the fact that while the vast majority of life, art and literature contain conflicts that are non-violent, by far the vast majority of conflicts in skirmish games contain conflicts that are not only violent but also fatal. I feel that tabletop miniature skirmish games have been stuck in time for a while now and the main reason is that they only ever tell one sort of story in one sort of way, so What Ho! began life as an attempt to tell a new sort of story with an old sort of game.

Secondarily, I’m a huge P. G. Wodehouse fan, and everything about his books should be translatable into a game, there are clearly defined characters in characterful locations each needing to achieve a series of well delineated actions while everything is matched against them. Conversely Lovecraft, who I’m also a huge fan of, has books where nothing should be translatable into a game, with threats both undefined and invincible and failure essentially both inevitable and painful. Despite this there are a huge number of Lovecraft based games and a total lack of Wodehouse based ones, though I’ve long felt this is because Lovecraft has been simply translated into a range of things to kill. Either way, I’ve been tinkering with a Wodehouse game in few iterations for a while now, What Ho! went back and forth between being a skirmish game and a boardgame, but boardgames are a lot more expensive to produce and play while skirmish games cost only some hosting, my time and a few minis to create and so can be extremely cheap to gamers. As such the move from skirmish game to boardgame has to really justify itself, and it really wasn’t. So once an iteration of What Ho! didn’t need a single pre-set board to work and could be played with a set of generic components easily printed off, a skirmish game it became.

One of my other motivations was to create a game that felt like a farce. Every game can be funny at times, or tense or dramatic, but creating one that’s meant to be one or another is a real challenge. Funny games often write jokes on their cards, which tends to make them funny once, when you first play them, and then run thin very swiftly. A good farce, however, creates funny situations, silly, off kilter moments, which will remain an amusing lightweight version of funny again and again. Also, the manner of a farce is very specific, though transferable, and offering that whirlwind of activity and cross movement of characters seemed worth attempting and imminently skirmish game appropriate. In the end every farce boils down to a moment when one person has to be in a given room while another person is not and both people remain not only unaware of the fact but are also in the wrong place. Most good skirmish games come down to a moment when you need to have one model in a set location and one very much not in that location while trying to conceal that fact from your opponent.

What Ho! has very simple movement rules and a line of sight system that’s extremely specific and simple at the same time. This is because once the game rules out combat movement rules can be simple and loose, millimeter engagements don’t matter and freedom of movement is less vital than its constriction. Without combat line of sight doesn’t need to offer multiple tactical options either, meaning it can be clear and stripped down, a manner of clear planning and simple tight rules.

The meat of the game revolves around the generation and completion of plots, with characters having specific jobs to complete in the vein of all great farce, jobs often foisted on them by their so-called friends. Once this system was simplified into a dice-based table and hidden objective dice the game fell very quickly and clearly into place.

Originally What Ho! was three separate games, What Ho, Kingpin and Models and Modulation. Kingpin was an attempt to create a crime story skirmish game, specifically based around a high ranked crime boss handing off orders to their underlings while a detective attempted to catch them red-handed. It was a nice idea but required a lot of cards and with symmetrical sides didn’t offer enough variety. The idea of each side having both a criminal and detective remained though and while the order system was discarded the rest of the elements, particularly the line of sight system, made its way into What Ho! While imagined for a '50s gangster system with the reduction in direct violence and introduction into the What Ho! world, Agatha Christie with her bloody but genteel investigations was the obvious fit. At one of the later iterations Kingpin (Now the What Ho! Murder Mystery Module) had become little more than the farce module but with a different set of plots, and it didn’t feel like a murder mystery, it felt like a farce with a dead body in it. While I love the movie Clue this wasn’t what I was going for. A murder mystery needs investigation, deduction, bluff and deceit. At which point the plot dice system was altered to place player characters as heroes or villains, totally altering their victory point scoring either way. Since opponents never know if a particular model is scoring as a hero or villain, and actions which stop one from scoring cause the other to score, investigation, deduction, bluff and deceit were all instantly present.

Models and Modulation was something of a disappointment. Romance stories involve one or more individuals trying to engineer a connection between two individuals. I had a system which easily allowed hidden information to be attached to a given model. It seemed immensely obvious that one model finding that information out (in the form of a proposal) while others helped them, and the same being re-created on the opposing side, would create a game that was interesting tactically and re-creative of a romance story. It did not. I’m still convinced that there is a version that will work, but after trying out about twenty different permutations that absolutely did not the Romance module of What Ho! had to be put on the back shelf. For those curious about such things, it is seeming impossible to allow the information to be discovered non-randomly and allowing both active discovery and protection without shutting the game down in one way or another. Time will tell though and if the basic version proves popular I’ll figure out a way to re-work it. There’s also a Lovecraft module possible, as I mentioned at the beginning, I’m a huge Lovecraft fan but I take exception to the idea that only two-fisted pulp versions offer a Lovecraftian world where total loss is not the only reasonable result. Investigation with a risk-reward element, delving into that which man was not meant to know is both possible and a more closely realized version of the mythos.

Check out What Ho!, its pretty low cost and hopefully good fun. It needs a handful of dice, three models and three cups per player, a tape measure and a few tokens. We recommend using a large piece of paper with the internal structure of a stately home drawn on it for the playing surface, so you don’t need to go mad with terrain. With that I say to you, Tinkety Tonk.

What Ho! is the latest of our free to download series of skirmish games. It is a game of narrative skirmishing, farce and investigation.

It comes in three possible editions, the farce module, the murder mystery module or the complete edition. All contain all necessary rules for play. Games consist of moving through a stately home, tracking down opponents while completing your own aims.

Each version is available to purchase in our shop here.

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