Sunday, May 29, 2016

Tribal games

A bad omen as two jokers are played!
Adrian, fg and I got together to play Tribal today. Adrian and I played the Revenge scenario, with him fielding his dwarves against my Night Goblins. He fielded his Slayer champion as a Berserker hero, while I took a unit of archers for a total of four warrior units.

With more terrain and units this time the game was more tactical. My gobbos were doing very well until the Blue Shield units moved in to defend their wounded Chieftain (one wound from death!), whereupon they were attacked and wiped out. It turns out that they were the target of the dwarves' vengeance, and Adrian won the game by a single Honour Point!

After the game we cleared the terrain and turned the tabletop into an arena.

I made stat cards for some of the gladiator figures I already have the evening before: printed an arena backdrop, posed the figures in front of it, then made the cards with an online Magic card maker.

The point costs didn't allow an even split, so I invented a system of drafting where we took turns to buy from the stable of gladiators, with any leftover Honour (or should it be Fame?) points kept for victory purposes. There were no rules for multi-players in the rules as written, but it was a simple matter of each player drawing a card for initiative.

As predicted, the game played very differently from a standard battle. The presence of armour made things more unpredictable and exciting. We each had three gladiators, and it was a free-for-all. In the end it came down to two of fg's gladiators against one of Adrian's, and against the odds the lone survivor of his ludus defeated both opponents to emerge overall champion.

The game was a lot of fun, and would have been even better had there been more specific rules for say the net or kicking sand into an opponent's eyes (Dirty Tricks?). Perhaps the rules can be expanded for gladiatorial combat with rules for running a ludus, including recruiting for gladiators, advancement, and accounting for winnings and fame?

We ended the afternoon's gaming with another game of Small World, which Adrian too won. So all in all it was a great day out for Adrian.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Le Fantome de l'Opera and Small World

With lots of time left even after two games of Chain of Command on Sunday, fg and I decided to play Le Fantome de l'Opera, one of the boardgames my brother passed to me. I didn't care for the theme, but I liked the rules enough to want to try them.

The game components are lavish, which added the play experience. The game itself was a bit like Cluedo, where the perpetrator of a crime is identified by a process of elimination.

I found the game to be a little unforgiving, as a poor hand in the first turn can easily eliminate half of the suspects, making things very difficult for the Phantom player. It was a fun game nonetheless, and worth a try if not actually owning the set.

The next game we played was Small World, which is based on the game Vinci, which I loved.

Small Worlds is a fantasy and more thematic iteration of Vinci, and the fluff lends the whole game a less serious but no less challenging feel.

Again, the game components are superb, right down to the counter tray. One major difference between Vinci and Small World is that the latter uses a hidden victory point track instead of an open one. This on the one hand eliminates the problem of boredom for the trailing players when they know they have no hope of winning the game, and on the other hand prevents the ganging up of players against the obvious leader.

We played two games, and enjoyed both enough to want to play the game again. We are now talking about getting some expansion sets and playing the computer version of the game. If you like a strategic game with a fantasy theme, I recommend you check this game out.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Chain of Command: Old Hickory Games 1 and 2

fg's GIs make their debut
I currently playing two of TFL's Normandy campaigns concurrently: Kampfgruppe von Luck versus Martin's British Paras, and Old Hickory versus fg's US.

For the first scenario I decided to attack along the rail line, hoping to use my superiority in support points to quickly roll over the US defences. Fg set up a minefield before his Jump-Off Point on the ridge, and a wire obstacle in front of the fence guarding the approach from the north.

To develop the enemy, I sent one section moving tactically along the road towards the railway station, while another was sent on my right flank to try to put pressure on the gun position on the high ground overlooking my approach.

The opening moves
Fg's MMG defending the fence line of the station quickly decimated my squad. I decided  to risk it and sent my Panther in before he could deploy more units.

My Panther also debuts!
The 3" gun on the ridge took aim at my Panther's side armour, and rolled a stunning 8 hits on 10 dice! By contrast, my 11 points of armour only managed to save against 2 of those hits - the tank explodes, causing the squad beside it to flee the battlefield.

Game 1 was a crushing defeat for the Germans.

With still a lot of time left, we decided to proceed to Game 2. FG did some redeployment, but I decided to come down the same road again, hoping that he had shifted some of his forces away.

This time round I decided to go the anti-infantry approach and took an FO, an MMG, *plus* an infantry gun - surely this time I will triumph?

My FO called down a barrage on the station, and my infantry gun put down effective fire on the American gun position on the ridge, but was unable to cause any significant casualty due to their prepared position.

A glorious start to the battle as the mortar barrage lands on target!
After a seemingly auspicious start, the German attack petered out as the dice god abandoned them and favoured the Americans. The FO was sent fleeing with some good shooting, the barrage lifted, and the Americans fought back with a vengeance. I was unable to roll well enough to bring more troops onto the table, nor did I wish to now that the volume of fire was becoming deadlier. I finally decided to abandon the attack when all three of my support units were destroyed. I have not brought in any of my organic platoon other than the Senior Leader.

The open approach proved to be difficult. For the next game I will have to considered a more concealed approach, which will no doubt be slower.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Arcadia Quest and The Builders: Middle Ages

Fg and my brother are both downsizing their boardgame collections, and it devolved on me to hold their unwanted games until I can find a home for them. I took the opportunity to look through some of the games to see if I wanted any.

Anyway, when fg came over to drop his game off, we played a couple of them.

The first was Arcadia Quest, a chibi dungeon crawl game, which fg brought. As with the more well-known Super Dungeon Explore, which it resembles, the gameplay is inspired by console games.

Now boardgames based on computer or console games are always difficult to design and sometimes play: the mechanics of the game such as combat, finding and using treasure, and leveling up as all part of the experience, but can be labourious when performed "by hand" - which is why we employed computers for them in the first place. But while Super Dungeon Explore struck me as being repetitive and labourious, Arcadia Quest seems to hit just the sweet spot, with combat that offers some choices, is challenging (the monsters level up as your party progresses in the campaign), and a skills system that is easy to understand and track. The scenarios are also short, which means we managed to play three of them in an evening, taking us halfway through the campaign. We liked it enough to keep a record of our parties' progress, and plan to complete the campaign another day. 

The next game we tried was The Builders: Middle Ages. The game looks really nice, with a custom tin box, cute artwork, and nice plastic silver and gold coins. Unfortunately, it belongs to that category of games which I hate: one where there is little or no interaction between players.

The game is a resource-allocation game where you have a limited number of actions to take on building contract/s, recruit, and deploy workers. For every contract you complete, you gain victory points based on the size of the project. The game ends when one player reaches 17 victory points, so in theory the players are competing against each other. However, as there is no real way you can affect the other players' actions, in reality you are just playing solo, against a time limit.

Perhaps it will appeal to people who like to compete but not in a confrontational way, like maybe doing the same jigsaw puzzle as your friend and seeing who can complete it first.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Horizon Wars

I received my copy of Horizon Wars last week.

The book itself is of a high production quality, like Frostgrave, and contains a lot of original artwork which are evocative.

The rules themselves are not easy to learn - this is certainly not one of those sets of rules where you can just read through once and play straight away.

The core rules about movement, terrain and combat are rather straightforward, and you can read about them on the author's blog. What makes the rules a little complex are the "army list" and the scenarios.

At first glance the mustering of a battlegroup looks simple: units cost either 1, 2, or 3 Presence points. But here's the tricky part: a company HQ element is free, unless it is a mecha, in which case it costs as it normally does. And if your HQ unit is not a mecha, then for every full 5 points in your force, you need to include one element of the same type as your HQ unit (which counts as one of these elements). Unless you choose not to have a HQ element. Also, when determining the cost of a battlegroup, some elements may cost less or more than the usual cost depending on the type of element the HQ unit is. For example, a Light Cavalry HQ pays 3 points instead of 1 to buy a Light Infantry element, but 2 points instead of 3 to buy a Heavy Cavalry element. The rationale behind this is that battlegroups tend to favour certain types of units depending on the parent unit the commander belongs to.

Fortunately, the calculations do not involve fractions or square roots, and can actually be quite fun in a geeky way, and once the force composition is out of the way, it doesn't come up during the actual playing (I think).

The other complex part of the rules are those involving Momentum in the Adventure scenarios. The rules require a commander to actively "manage" a battle. In an Adventure scenario, each force starts with a Momentum rating based on the size of the forces and their respective "attitudes". The Momentum will change during the course of the battle, rising if the force is causing damage to the enemy, and falling if it's enemy is preventing it from achieving its mission. When one side has lost all its Momentum, the battle ends. This reminds me in some way of the running victory point system seen in some boardgames, and is a more dynamic way of tracking success compared to the usual way of counting victory points only at the conclusion of a game. As in a boardgame, this system requires the players to do some tracking at the end of each turn, but it looks like it will add to the tension of the game.

I bought the rules chiefly because I wanted a set of rules to use for the Heavy Gear kickstarter we are backing, so I guess I should say something about how mechas are modeled in these rules. Now instead of giving the players a number of "frames" which they can customise by buying engines, heat sinks, armour and weapons and so forth. Horizon Wars lets the players customise their mechas by giving them a number of points to spend buying stats, similar to say a role-playing game. As one point of Firepower is one point of Firepower, weapons are abstracted and so a F3 mecha will shoot as well as a F3 vehicle or infantry unit. This may seem too generic for some people, but I think for a game where you want to field a dozen or so mechas alongside or against convention forces, you do have to sacrifice the granularity for playability. I am not sure how the rest of the gang (who are getting all- or almost all-mecha forces) will take to the rules, but already I have drawn up a list for my Mad Max style battlegroup with its improvised fighting vehicles and cheap infantry.

Now all I need is for Brigade Models to release their Desert Domes in 10mm...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Chain of Command: Kampfgruppe von Luck Game 1

After a long hiatus (almost five months), we got back into Chain of Command by playing the first game of the Kampfgruppe von Luck campaign.

The first scenario is pretty straightforward, and features a German advance along a road to probe at the British perimeter. Martin rolled well for his "dispersal" and turned up with almost his entire platoon, and the patrol phase went well enough for him so the British managed to set themselves up behind a hedge.

Fg, commanding the Germans, deployed his leading section close to the British position, and then promptly called down a mortar barrage... that deviated and caught both the British and Germans under the impact area. If you look at the boundary of the impact area as indicated by the white smoke tokens in the photo below, you can see that the platoon commander and the Forward Observer team (on the top right corner) are just outside it.

After two phases the British have had enough and decided to pull out; fortunately for them they were close to their Jump Off point and could do so without excessive penalty. The Paras are now understandably upset but not yet demoralised, while the Germans are feeling quite optimistic. However, the next scenario will see the Paras fighting from better defensive positions...

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Tribal test game and This Town Ain't Big Enough for the 2 to 4 of Us

The elves seek revenge against the dwarves, who have cut down one of their precious trees!
Fg, Martin and I got together for games, and I wanted to try out the Tribal rules. As we don't have any historical figures from the army lists covered in the rules, we decided to proxy using our LOTR figures.

We played the simple Revenge scenario: fg drew the card for attacker, and secretly picked one of my units to kill. He picked two heroes and two warriors units and upgraded his chief and heroes, while I picked a hero and two warrior units, and upgraded all my units.

With no missile unit on either side, we made a beeline for each other, with me aiming to let my upgraded warriors do some damage against fg's regular warriors early.

Two bands of warriors clash!
My unit with throwing weapons charged in and wiped the elven warriors out with their good hand of cards - fg did not draw any card higher than a 4! - but they were charged by the elven chief in the next activation and in turn destroyed. As it turned out this was the unit they have sworn revenge against - the elves are up in Honour points.

At this point fg should probably have pulled back, their honour satisfied. But we played on and my other unit of warriors similarly destroyed the other elven unit, and the characters were becoming outnumbered. Fg then decided to retreat, and the final tally saw the dwarves up by just a few points.

At the scale of the game and with a straightforward objective, the strategy was not complex. I did enjoy the combat mini-game and the decision-making involved. Luck can be a major factor in combat though, but presumably the use of cards instead of dice means that on the whole, your luck will average out in a more predictable fashion than with dice.

In future games I will try to use more warrior units and also missile units and see how that will play out.

While we were playing Tribal, Martin learned how to play a tile game my brother passed to me and we ended the session with three rounds of it.

This Town Ain't Big Enough for the 2 to 4 of Us is a fencing game where players take turn placing tiles with the aim of fencing up areas where they have the most number of "brands" within. The catch is you score a number of victory points equal to the number of the next most numerous brand, so if you had four brands in the area but only one of another brand or brands, you only score one point!

There must be some mathematical reasoning behind the way the tiles were designed, probably some topology stuff, and each game was close but fg won all three games, suggesting that there is a knack to this.

It's a fun game that's quick to learn and has good replayability, and is inexpensive to boot, so if fencing game is your cup of tea, do get yourself a copy of this game.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Hector and friend

Two more figures done. These represent Hector and (I suppose) his companion/charioteer - the mounted version of them were painted over a year ago. The scale armour is a treat to wash, but I am less enthusiastic about their mini-skirts and comically small swords. Next up will be Redoubt's Aeneas and Glaucus, who are depicted as Lukka - they will be used to depict the dismounted versions of the Sarpedon figure and his charioteer.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Redoubt Sarpedon

My Trojan War project is something that has stalled for a long time - I bought the figures two and a half years ago, and this is only my second completed chariot.

I have wanted to do heroic warfare with chariots for a long time, and I have been agonising over the rules for years in discussions on my club forum. I have looked at Gang Warfare in the Age of Bronze, two other sets from old issues of Wargames Illustrated, and Osprey's Of Gods and Mortal - all of them had something I liked, but none of them ticked all the boxes. So, without a set of rules that got me really keen to play, the figures languished in a plastic tub in my cupboard. One of the MDF bases became moldy.

Having bought and read Tribal, I am sufficiently hopeful that I pulled the tub out, primed a few more figures, and started painting again. I still have close to thirty figures to go, and they won't be easy due to the amount of deflashing and cleaning required, but at least the two chariots are out of the way.

Until they are done, perhaps fg and I will play a few test games using the Vikings list with our LOTR figures.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

May Giveaway

This month, I am giving away my copy of Reaper's Warlord rulebook. The rules are now in their second edition, so this copy is probably only good for historical interest, fluff, eye candy, and the painting guide.

Let me know if you want the above by leaving a comment, and I will draw a winner on the 15th of the month. This is not a first-come, first-serve offer,

This offer is free; once I let you know you have been drawn, do let me have your email and mailing address, and I will mail it to you. You don't even have to pay for postage. I am doing this not to get some money back, but to give these toys a good home. If you want to pay back somehow, I ask that you make a small donation to a local charity, or consider doing the same thing I am doing and give some gaming stuff that you no longer need/use a new lease of gaming life.

Thank you.

Tribal - skirmish combat game

I may not always judge a set of wargame rules by its cover, but sometimes a good cover makes me want to have a closer look.

After seeing the cover of Tribal on TMP, I followed the link to Wargames Vault, where you can watch a video of how the combat system works. The system looked good, and I thought it would work for a Homeric warfare skirmish game (something which I have been trying to find a set of rules for).

The rules have lists for Maori (well, duh!), Aztec, Viking, and Gladiatorial combat in detail, and also Iroquois, Japanese Heian, and cavemen warfare in less detail. I posted a question on the TMP thread asking if the rules would work for Homeric warfare, and the author replied that it would, so I bought a copy. True story.

So what do you get for your US$10?

The pdf file is 32 pages long, and fully coloured throughout, which may tax your printer. There are photos of figures in action and "black-and-white" line drawings and pictures of tribal "totems" for atmosphere throughout the pages. The cover, period fluff, acknowledgements and contents take up six pages, and then we are into the rules themselves, which are only nine pages. Scenarios take up four pages, optional rules two, and then the army lists are covered in nine pages. A page for photos helps to round the document to an even number, and the Quick-Reference Sheet makes up the last page.

Now off the bat I like the rules because it seems to fit exactly what I have been looking for: heroic warfare with different tiers of combatants, where heroes are moved as individuals and rank-and-file warriors in units, an interesting and tactical combat system, and the tracking of honour or fame for the heroes. The size is also what I thought was optimal for such a game: up to three heroes and four warbands (of five figures each). So if those are also things you are looking for, read on...

Tribal is a skirmish game, which means one figure = one person. The playing area is 3' x 3', with 1" on the tabletop representing 2 yards or so. Time scale is not mentioned, but a game lasts typically 6 to 8 turns.

Now if you have seen the video I mentioned above, then you will know that the game is played with (at least) two standard decks of playing cards instead of dice. The cards determine initiative, resolve combat, and are even used for measuring movement (like in the game Pirates of the Spanish Main).

Combat is clever and presents a game-within-a-game in itself. When a hero or unit enters combat, it draws a 'combat hand' of several cards depending on his/its status, number of wounds taken/number of warriors in the unit, as well as any modifiers. The heroes/units then fight up to five rounds of combat by playing a card each round from the combat hand to determine the winner, with the player having the advantage playing his card after the opponent has revealed his card for the round. The higher card wins, but winning doesn't always cause a wound as red cards are Feint cards which do not do damage but allows the player to change the suit of a card played in the next turn; black cards deal damage, and depending on the type of weapon a hero/unit is armed with the suit also confer a bonus. Winning by a large margin can cause more than one wound. At the end of the combat rounds the number of rounds won by each side is tallied and the side with more wins wins the whole combat and forces the enemy to retreat, and gains Honour. One rule I really like is the Panic! rule, which makes a hero/unit with fewer cards than his/its opponent draw cards sight unseen to play against the opponent, representing a frantic attempt to fend off attacks - a panicked unit cannot cause damage.

As you can see, the choice of which card to play is key. Higher cards are of course more powerful, but they can be neutralised by the opponent's use of a red card, so you may want to play them only when you have the advantage, or if you are pretty sure that the opponent is out of high cards which may beat your high cards...

The other distinctive feature of Tribal is Honour, which is the currency for the game. Each player starts out with a set number of Honour points based on the scenario, and may/must spend a fraction of these on buying his warband. Honour is also used to purchase skills and upgrades for the heroes/units. The remainder is then used as currency during the game and in determining the winner. You may use Honour to perform dirty tricks to help you win a combat, but doing so of course brings dishonour and lowers your Honour total. Other than winning combats and achieving scenario objectives, some armies can also gain Honour by performing deeds like making the first kill of the battle or capturing enemy warriors. Maori warbands can also spend Honour to do the Haka, which grants them extra cards. The game ends after a number of turns specified by the scenario rule, when the player with more Honour is the winner, or if one side runs out of honour before that happens.

So overall the game looks like three games in one: you need to manoeuvre your forces as in a wargame, you need to fight the combats in mini-hands of a card game, and you need to play a resource management game by making sure that you spend your Honour wisely, from creating your warband to gambling with them during the actual battle itself. Now usually I do not like games with such "meta" aspects, but for Tribal they all seem to fit the theme, so I am keen to give it a try.

The army lists are fun to read, and cover a brief introduction to the army and the types of warriors/priests found in each army, a list of references, links to companies that make the figures for that army, and special rules for it. The gladiators game represent a rather different game from the standard game, as it has only heroes and no units, and there are additional rules for armour.

Having read through the rules, I am impressed enough by them to "unshelve" my Trojan War figures on my painting list. The rules unfortunately do not cover chariots and stripping of a fallen enemy's armour, but those are not deal-breakers for me.

Hopefully I can get the figures painted soon and play a test game.