Mobile Frame Zero came to my attention earlier this week, thanks to a post on Penny Arcade. It’s a tabletop wargame, a la Warhammer 40,000 or Heavy Gear or Warmachine. The difference here is that MFZ’s rules are distributed under a Creative Commons license, and the game uses “Lego or other building toys” for its models and terrain.
Which is to say: if you already have some Lego, you could play this game for free.
Me and Wargames
I don’t have a lot of background with wargames. I’ve been playing WH40K for about a year and a half, and I’ve played a few rounds of Warhammer Fantasy.
I haven’t played MFZ yet. I read the rulebook over the weekend, and I’ve dug out the box of Lego at the bottom of my closet. We’ll see how this goes.
The Mobile Frame Zero Setting
There’s a setting for the game. It has a strong “real robot” mecha feel, along the lines of “Mobile Suit Gundam” and “Patlabor“, though it’s interstellar in scope. It doesn’t have the rich texture of the WH40K setting, but few games do, tabletop or otherwise, and WH40K has been around for 25 years.
Its other disadvantage versus WH40K, though, is it doesn’t provide the same easy, automatic justification for forces who’re nominally on the same side to face each other. In WH40K, you have 20-odd mechanically defined factions, but within that division you’ve got room for countless subdivisions, each with their own agendae, each ready to go to war with each other at the drop of a hat.
That said, there’s infinite room for invention. It’s set in the future, but deliberately vague on how far in the future – the people of the future measure time by the Solar Calendar, and the game’s “present day” is SC 0245. The factions aren’t mechanically defined, so you can concoct whatever fluff you want for your force – I might create a pirate or rebel force, who do have excuses to attack anyone. Likewise, because the factions aren’t mechanically defined, you can simply ignore the fluff outright if so inclined.
Each player fields a force (called a “company”) of 3 to 8 “frames” – the game’s term for mecha – with each frame carrying up to four combat systems of various kinds (weapons, surveillance, defense, etc.). If my math’s not off, there are 672 possible combinations of upgrades – 672 mechanically distinct frames.
Every battle size sets a range of company sizes; within that range, you get to decide how many frames to deploy – the largest force starts with a significant point disadvantage, and the smallest with a significant point advantage.
And, of course, you build your company out of Lego.
These rules look damned elegant, and, in sharp contrast to WH40K, they’re completely memorizable. No shelf full of codices full of stats to memorize – just a simple upgrade system. Frames can carry up to four systems – chosen from defense, weapons, surveillance, and movement – each of which provides dice that can be allocated to various actions.
When frames take damage, you remove systems from them, reducing their abilities – until you ultimately blow them to smithereens.
The mechanics call for a fairly large number of dice – potentially forty-ish, in five different colours.
Conclusions So Far
This game looks like a lot of fun. I’m deeply enamoured of what looks to be a flexible and elegant unit-construction system, and it’s a chance to wargame without breaking the bank.
The next step is to build some frames and try this thing out.