Big Ogre, Little Ogre
Back in December, I got my hands on a copy of the Designer’s Edition of Ogre. It weighed over twenty-five pounds, took hours to punch out and assemble all the hundreds of pieces, and took up more width on the couch than I do (Lies. I have a Dan the Hutt photo I’ll post here one day. —Somerset). Like pretty much everyone else who obtained a copy, I couldn’t help but post a bunch of very original pictures highlighting just how unimaginably bulky the thing was. You can find them here.
Well, since December, I’ve had a child. Taught her how to fly a kite. Nurtured her into adulthood. Got a pair of degrees from my friendly local university. Written about sixty articles. And still no word on whether or not I liked Ogre. It sat there for seven long months, taking up the entire laundry room, beckoning in the night like a green light flashing at the end of a pier.
Why didn’t I play it? It really comes down to intimidation, or maybe the fact that I can hardly lift the thing without pulling my back, groin, biceps, and hamstrings. All the hamstrings. But now, wonder of wonders, I’ve played it a few times, and I’m ready to tell you what I think.
If you haven’t seen the Ogre: Designer’s Edition firsthand, in the cardboardy flesh, up close enough to see the whites of its eyes, then you just won’t get it. You won’t understand that it really weighs that much, that its box is deep in addition to thick around the edges. And it needs that space, because it comes with loads of counters — and not only regular flat pieces like infantry and tanks and howitzers and hover-trucks and trains and hex overlays that let you burn forests or raze towns or drop cruise missiles onto the terrain, but also 3D ogre units that you piece together until they’re towering over the normal units like… well, like ogres. Like titans, perhaps, though I think “ogre” fits better. It gets the point across.
The point being, of course, that these cybernetic monster-tanks are a game-changer. The starting scenario, replicated from the 1977 original that cost $2.95 and set Steve Jackson on the road that would eventually lead to Munchkin’s three hundred expansions, is the very definition of asymmetrical. Unlike most games claiming asymmetry, where each side gets a few differentiated bonuses like better rifles or longer-range artillery, this scenario pits two completely different forces against each other. On the one side, tanks and hovercraft GEVs and infantry take up defensive positions around their command post; and on the other—
The Ogre. Massive, nearly indestructible, bristling with weapons, and angry. Maybe. If it can be angry. Mostly, I think of it as hungry.
It’s one against over a dozen, and still the odds are in the one’s favor.
It was the recent re-release of the original pocket edition that finally pushed me over the edge. Ogre had sat in the laundry room for so many months that it had a fine film of dust over the top and had long served as a makeshift ironing board. I’d nearly forgotten its presence other than the times I sprawled over it in the dark.
It wasn’t that the rules themselves were particularly difficult — on the contrary, Ogre is a remarkably simple game. Rather, it was just the enormity of the thing, the fear of breaking the box’s seal and having to sort through over a thousand counters just to play the introductory scenario. But the arrival of the Pocket Edition, still priced at the original three bucks, made Ogre doable. All the units were right there, tiny and fragile, and the map unfolded so easily that I almost forgot the intimidation of the laundry room behemoth.
And then, of course, it was so easy. So simple. So light. Units have an attack number and range, a defense number, and a movement value. Some act in unique ways — the hovercraft GEVs dart in and out of combat, while the Heavy Tanks are big enough that they damage the Ogre’s treads when it crawls over them. The Howitzer fires at long range. Infantry are good at scrambling across ridges and getting chewed up by the Ogre’s antipersonnel batteries. And the Ogre, by contrast, basically rolls over everything and shoots everything it missed with its treads, occasionally expending one of its missiles to obliterate a more distant target.
Combat will be unfamiliar to newer gamers, resolved through a simple combat results table that compares attack to defense and then uses a die roll to add spice to the proceedings. It’s a throwback to an older way of resolving combat, but it’s so streamlined that it’s hardly difficult to use. What’s more, Steve Jackson Games has provided a free app that handles every aspect of it, which means I don’t even have to really understand how the numbers are rounded. And in fact I don’t, because that app is amazing.
This is just the first step into the world of Ogre, and it’s replicated exactly in the Designer’s Edition, right down to the exact same map and streamlined set of rules to get you started. The terrain is simple, limited to completely impassable craters and ridges that are only traversable by the Ogre and squads of infantry. The bigger game includes forests and towns, both of which can be burnt to cinders by your weapons, as well as roads, tracks, swamps, streams, and bodies of water, all with their own movement rules and defensive bonuses. And this scenario doesn’t give you so much as a glimpse of many of the available unit types, the crazier Superheavy Tanks and light one-man GEVs and transport vehicles and cruise-missile crawlers and marine squads, nor the bunkers and laser towers, not to mention the bigger, more intimidating ogres.
Which is to say, there’s a whole lot here, and I’ve hardly begun to experience it all. It’s a box full to the brim with toys, all waiting to be combined and abused and exploded to your heart’s content, and bearing staggering production values. I’m itching to put together eight of the boards and try my hand at a plus-plus-XXXL-fatman-sized game, though there’s one problem: I’m still intimidated.
The issue at play, of course, is that there isn’t a comfortable medium here. Either you buy the nostalgic Pocket Edition for three bucks and play that one scenario over and over again — though to be fair, there are plenty of ways to customize your defensive force, and you can play either the regular Ogre Mk. III battle or try out the larger Mk. V against a better army; it was well-received upon its 1977 release despite its postcard profile for a reason — or you buy the closet-filling Designer’s Edition (possibly for over a hundred dollars, plus monstrous shipping) and wonder what in the hell you’re going to do with all the stuff that’s crammed in there. If you want the beautiful 3D ogres and custom-cut unit hexes on gorgeously-drawn hex maps, you’re out of luck unless you get the whole big thing.
I’d love to own something in the middle. A version of Ogre with the maps, the ogres, and two of the armies, but without quite so many of the overlay tokens and surplus mercenary forces that I’ll never use. And while I’ll probably end up just figuring out a new storage solution and making my own custom-sized Ogre, that’s a luxury most people won’t have. Either you go too big, or you go pocket. The market is limited to Ogre fans or the pathologically curious.
On the other hand, maybe it’s appropriate that the best way to play Ogre is by sacrificing your free time and living space to an actual physical beast of a board game — even if the game itself is surprisingly light, quick to play, and a wonderful introduction to the universe of hex-based wargames. For all its overpacked bulk, I’m still thrilled at the prospect of uncovering even more of its potential.