Daily Archives: November 23, 2013

Song of Bones and Heroes

Rob Dean

I had an opportunity today to have Chris Palmer over for some gaming. We have both been painting Reaper Bones since the first Kickstarter was delivered. In the interest of providing some inspiration, we decided we would have a go at Song of Blades and Heroes. As games go, it has several advantages. It’s intended for small groups of figures, amenable to including all manner of figures, and fairly simple in mechanics.

This was only the second time I’ve actually played these rules. Norman and I did a test run of these over a year ago.

In anticipation of the game, I finished the bases of the paper model building groups I was working on the other week. As expected, warping of the inn base is an issue. I’m going to need to google around and see if anyone has posted solutions for keeping large pieces of foam core board flat…

Working on the scenery and some social requirements left me short on time to review the rules. That meant that the first game was a little slow as we worked through rules lookups. The second game was better, and I’m sure I’d have the key provisions memorized by the third or fourth game.

As an aid to learning, we kept the scenarios down to simple encounter battles. The first game involved a band of 4 very expensive elves against a band of nine ordinary orcs supported by a hill troll.

I thought things were off to a good start when Chris send an elf sneaker around to attempt to eliminate my troll. Any plan can look good with die rolls like the 1 vs. 6 shown above.

However, I read a recent review of the game which pointed out some issues when one side has an all-elite band because of the activation die roll mechanic. Chris’s elves all had a quality of 2, which meant they seldom failed at activation, where my standard orcs frequently failed, passing the initiative back to Chris. This is where some additional experience with the rules would have helped; adding a figure with the “leader” special ability would have helped my orcs considerably.

In any case, Chris’s elven hero was invincible, and gradually hacked his way through most of my orcs. After being reduced below half strength, a morale roll caused my wounded troll and one other orc to flee, so the other two decided to call it a day.

We reset the board and tried again with two different warbands. Mine was non-compliant (too many points in special figures), but we decided to go with it anyway. I had six mixed humans supported by an iron golem, and Chris had a medusa supported by a half dozen skeletons. I only got one picture from the second game, being distracted by the need to finish quickly.

I almost thought it was going to finish too quickly, as Chris’s first volley took out two of my figures. However, his skeletons were more fragile in melee than he expected. So, despite dropping my wizard with another arrow, my fighters and golem made short work of his skeletons. Bereft of her minions, the medusa apparently remembered an appointment elsewhere.

These were fun little games, and I look forward to an opportunity to read the rules more closely, and try another session soon.

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Fall In! 2013

Norman Dean

Last Saturday I went up to Lancaster, PA, for a quick visit to the HMGS fall convention, Fall In! Dad had originally planned to come along, but was drawn away by other concerns, so it was just my brother and I. After a fortuitous stop at a gas station which provided us with an opportunity to supply ourselves with Thin Mints and Tagalongs from a local Girl Scout troop, we arrived at the site around noon. We made a brief survey of the flea market and dealer’s hall (no purchases of note), then sat down to assess the Saturday afternoon gaming options.

William was of a mind to play something medieval, and after some searching we both ended up with tickets for a Wars of the Roses game using the “A Coat of Steel” rules. The game was short a player, so William and I ended up taking command of the Lancastrian army (seemed appropriate given the venue) against a trio of Yorkists. (In retrospect, this was probably a mistake—the Wars of the Roses are an obscure enough conflict that anyone interested enough in it to run a game is probably has Yorkist sympathies…)

The scenario was fairly straightforward, but the game had a couple of interesting mechanics. First was the orders: each command had a limited pool of orders to start with. Once an order expired or was replaced, it was gone for good. (With the exception of a default move/attack.) While I do like the concept of orders being a finite resource (and my own rules, N.U.R.D, have a vaguely similar mechanic), I had a couple of issues with this in practice. For one thing, this particular scenario gave everyone basically the same selection of orders to choose from, which made things somewhat predictable. For another, I kept wishing I could give different orders to the various units under my command, rather than one for the whole force—so that my archers could keep firing while my Irish kerns moved up, for example.

As it was, our army basically advanced while the enemy stood in place and shot at us. After a few turns of this (occasionally pausing in our advance to return fire) we got to within melee range. This was where the other interesting mechanic came into play—when two units met in combat, each player would select one of about six “strategy” cards. The combination of the two players’ strategies would determine how much of each force engaged, what the stakes would be, and would possibly provide some bonuses to one side or the other before the dice were rolled. After a couple of rounds of this, I started to get a feel for the rock-paper-scissors aspect of this, and started to gain the upper hand in the card selection. Unfortunately for us, there was still dice-rolling involved, which didn’t go so well, and our lower starting morale combined with the effects of their archery meant that all our units broke first. (Not to mention a couple of our leaders managed to get themselves killed at inopportune moments.) So much for the Lancastrian cause.

My commander. What a guy!

We begin our advance.

These things were basically useless.

My units on the left were confused (see: my commander) and couldn’t advance.

William’s Welsh go in.

Scuffling in the center.

After that, we took another look through the flea market and dealers’ (William picked up some HaT El Cid figures for one of his projects) and took a look at some other games that were running. I had other plans for Sunday and did not want to stick around too late, so rather than looking for an evening game, we found spots in a workshop on 3-D printing for wargaming. While I’m not a convert yet, I’ll be interested to see what things will look like as this technology continues to improve, and I may look into the possibility of having some accessories commercially printed—20mm shields and spare weapons seem like they’d be within the realm of possibility, and could come in handy when doing conversions like my Byzantine cavalry earlier this year…

Civil War riverboats

Roman “Archimedes-punk”

…including some sort of flying galley. (Sky-reme?)

da Vinci’s war machines in action.

All in all, an interesting trip, though a brief one. Haven’t been doing much painting lately, and what with the holidays and other factors my time may be limited, but a NQSYW campaign remains on the near horizon…

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Premature Review of Battle Troll


     I mentioned in my Fall In post that I had played Battle Troll with Howard Whitehouse on Saturday evening.  At a friend’s urging, I wrote a short review.  I call it a premature review, because I haven’t played it enough yet to have a valid opinion.

Bottom line:
     I liked it.  There are a number of interesting ideas for games involving small numbers of figures.  I’m not sure how it would scale.  I’ve only played it once, so I can’t provide a valid review, but here are my initial thoughts.  I’ve provided a little more detail in case you wanted to include any of it in your blog.  If you don’t want to use it, let me know, because I might use it on my blog then.
     First, it was fun to play with Howard.  He’s a funny guy, and we probably would have had fun reading insurance forms.  The book, like all Howard’s books, is fun to read because of the humorous quips he throws in from time to time.
     We played with four figures on each side, two heroes and two huskarls.  Mark Ryan and Howard were the bad guys.  Lee Howard from Blue Moon and I were the good guys.
     Activation is card based.  Some folks have applied interesting twists to the original TSAF method.  A pitfall of card-based activation is that sometimes a lot of folks are standing around watching one person do stuff.  In Battles by GASLIGHT we use double random activation to address this.  Muskets and Tomahawks has modified the card system so that regulars go less frequently, but do more when they activate, while irregulars go more often, but do less when they activate.  In Battle Troll, there are two types of activation.  One lets everyone on a side act.  The other lets the player pick a hero, then that hero and anyone within two inches of him moves.  In a larger game, I can imagine that the “everyone goes” card might take a long time to resolve and so would make the other side feel disconnected.  In our first run through the deck, our side got a string of cards, so we approached, threw javelins, and then closed into melee while Howard and Mark stood there drooling on themselves.  Most of the rest of the game, the card draws were pretty even, but this first turn really favored our side.
     I didn’t really understand how the missile combat was working when I threw some javelins.  Howard told us what to roll, and we did it.  The results seemed reasonable.
     Melee is where I think these rules really came into their own and had some nice features.  I really liked the paper-scissors-rock feel of melee.  I’ve seen this done for jousting games, but never general melee.  The attacker chooses one of five attack cards, while the defender chooses one of five defense cards.  Some attacks provide bonuses if you are using the correct weapon (e.g., axes get a bonus on “slice” attacks).  The attack card and the defense card are then flipped over and cross referenced on a small table.  This cross referencing tells you how many dice the attacker rolls and how many the defender rolls.  The other interesting aspect of the melee is that these are sort of opposed die rolls.  You compare the highest die rolled on each side.  That means that someone with five dice who rolls all low numbers, can be defeated by someone who rolls a six on the one die he gets to roll.  The probability is low, but it’s still possible.  I liked that.  I also liked the way that the difference between the high die and the low die was a modifier in computing damage.
     The other nuance of this card-based melee system is that figures other than heroes don’t get to choose an attack or defense card.  Instead, they draw one randomly from the deck.  One of the five cards is an accident card, which you would never intentionally draw, but huskarls and karls may draw them randomly.  These can cause the figure to drop his weapon, cutting off his own toe, fall on his dagger, or other humorous events.
     Finally the impact of minor wounds was really interesting.  Depending on how wounded you are, you “offer” your opponent the opportunity to make you perform some number of re-rolls.  This could be anything from 1 re-roll for a slight wound to more re-rolls for more serious wounds.   These re-rolls are cumulative.  At one point, I was able to make Mark re-roll five times, which was great, because he kept rolling fives and sixes.  This is a nice way to handle the impact of wounds.  It also make you think a little about whether you wanted to have the player re-roll a die, because he might roll better!
From reading the book, it appears that karls can suffer morale failure from being pushed back several times or other things.  As we had no karls, our game had no morale effects, so I can’t speak to how well that worked.
     I think for a one- to two-hour game in a pub or on the kitchen table, these are really nice rules.  We only had eight figures on the table, but I’d bet it would be fine with as many as a couple dozen on a side if most of them were karls.  From limited use of both these and Songs of Blades and Heroes, I think I like Battle Troll a little better.  I haven’t played enough Saga to form an opinion.  I can see myself playing more Battle Troll in the future, but I’ll need to get a handful more figures to supplement the Vikings from a Tallahassee club project from eons ago.

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