Thursday, December 25, 2014

Prussians at Jena

I gave Josh the Prussians expansion for Command & Colors: Napoleonic, and we played the Jena scenario for our first game. And he crushed me, 8 to 0.  I moved a unit into a town on the French left and never really had the opportunity or the cards to protect it, and Josh slowly whittled it away. In the center, I wanted to prepare an assault on the town with an artillery bombardment, but didn't really do enough; I should have either spent more turns bombarding, or have thrown another regiment into the assault instead of using that order to fire the guns again. And on the right....sigh. I attacked his artillery battery with light horse, and of course he had, as always, a First Strike ready. My unit survived that and actually did a good attack on the guns, but not enough to kill it. And then his heavy horse and lancers polished off the survivors of the light horse, sauntered across the map to annihilate my horse artillery, and continued the attack to destroy my other unit of lights. I got three of his units down to one block each, but never managed to finish any of them off.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Space Empires

Josh and I had a straightforward two-player game of GMT's Space Empires, using the Merchant Pipeline optional rule. The game went twelve turns, and while Josh hadn't crushed my empire by that point, it was obvious that he was going to win: he had cut my supply lines, had almost double my production, and more than double my shipyard capacity.
Lessons learned and topics for further thought:

  • In going back over the economic sheets afterward, I found that he poured more of his early game production into colonies and terraforming, while I put more into tech (ship size) and supply pipeline. 
  • He thinks that colonies are a better early buy than  pipeline factors; I think it depends on your planet layout, since you may be able to colonize your outer planets sooner by pushing colony ships along the pipelines, and it may help your miner shift faster as well.
  • Josh said that I needed to establish a forward arsenal, with a set of shipyards and a base. I had been thinking that MSP meant I could keep my shipyards back at home and quickly transfer squadrons forward; however, a dinky little scout can cut your MSP and that can mess up your transfer plans.
  • I need to work out whether the extra attacks from having more battlecruisers is better than the extra quality of battleships. Josh thinks it's Scounts, Cruisers, Battleships, and Dreadnoughts; he doesn't think Destroyers and Battlecruisers are efficient. (This is assuming the Basic Game).
One nice point is that I remembered the rules pretty well despite it having been several months since last I played--I had to look up Nebula effects but that's something you can do when you need it. The only thing that I needed to remember and didn't was the build capacity limits for shipyards It's really, really nice to have a game that doesn't require studying the rules again every time you break it out.

Looking forward to the next game.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Close Action: Cape de Gata

Mark Campbell hosted a scenario from the upcoming "War of Jenkin's Ear and the Austrian Succession" book, a hypothetical action between Spanish and British at Cape de Gata on 16 December 1741. Twelve British ships in three squadrons, ranging from 50 to 80 guns and B to D quality, face fifteen Spanish ships--which include five really weak 50 gun vessels, but also the 108 gun Real Felipe--in two squadrons. of D and E quality. Two of the larger ships on each side are Poor Maneuvering. Both fleets start at Broad Reach (which is unusual) with the wind to port, with the British to windward and the lead ships of both sides about even with each other. I was the admiral for the British van, Stan Sunderwirth was the overall flag, and Albert Parker commanded our rear; Brian Hernandez was in charge of the Spanish van, subordinate to Jim Fleury.

The British commanders anticipated that the Spanish might immediately turn port and come upwind at us, which was the most threatening possibility; we also thought they might all wear, but that would leave them too far away to interfere with out maneuvering. We discussed turning starboard and running down on them (which would let their rear catch up and possibly envelope our rear), wearing close (which the Poor Maneuvering ships can't do), wearing deep (which takes us too close to the Spanish, if they chose the aggressive option; they could easily charge in through gaping holes in our formation and break our line), and even a fleet tack (seriously--but again, the Poor Maneuverability ships made that too risky).  What we decided to do was sail ahead, close up our line, and then cut across the Spanish van and defeat them before the Spanish rear could join in. I wasn't convinced this was the best plan--the Spanish rear would already be broad reaching, and could easily catch up to the fray--but it was simple enough that we didn't have to worry about being caught in disarray if the Spanish did something aggressive, and it gave us the option of responding to whatever the Spanish did.

As it turned out, the Spanish rear maintained course, while the Spanish van wore, and then wore again. This had the effect of refusing the van and closing up their fleet somewhat, with five of their van ships leeward of and protected by the first part of their rear squadron ; however, it also made it easy for my squadron to cut across and get ahead of them. By turn 10, my squadron had gotten ahead of the Spanish leading ships, which were forced to turn downwind to avoid us. On turn 11, I collided with and fouled San Fernando, the lead Spanish ship; this was not what I intended, but it had the advantage that San Fernando was locked in place. The rest of the British fleet was able to pass her, firing as they went; on one turn, she took fire from five ships and my marines.

I finally cut loose at the end of turn 16; San Fernando was dismasted and rather the worse for wear by that point, although she survived to the end of the game. Six ships of the Spanish rear were coming down on us, finally about to join the battle; the Brits had a corresponding clump around San Fernando; and downwind, six Brit and seven Spanish were hotly engaged. Somerset, the British flag, collided and fouled with Paloma in position to rake;  then Real Felipe, the Spanish flag, did the same with Panther.  By turn 21, Somerset got loose and Paloma struck; Gloucester duelled Poder, Dragon
traded shots with Santa Isabel, Guernsey hammered Fama, and Warwick took a shot at the unwounded Javier.

Which blew up.

Warwick, being adjacent to the explosion, was severely damaged; and when the flaming debris settled, Warwick, Dragon, Santa Isabela, Fama and Guernsey were all on fire, but this worked out to a net advantage for the higher quality Brits. The Spanish marines had been ready for firefighting, but apparently not trained well enough, as none of them succeeding in quenching the flames;  Fama struck as a consequence. This brought up to 6pm and the game was declared a British victory.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Game Design Panel, SLC Comic Con

The panel members were mostly publishers, and this was partly from the perspective "how to make it something a publisher will want" rather than "how to make it fun" or "a good simulation" or such.

The most difficult lesson is to learn when your pet mechanic doesn't work. If thirty playtesters don't like the mechanic, you need to let it go.

Or possibly the most difficult part is getting the game from "head" to "journal" to "prototype". You have to stay with it though the iterations and redesigns until you get someting that works.

Playtesters are essential, but they are bad at analyzing and expressing the problems with play. If they tell you that there's something wrong with a game, they're always right; but when they tell you how to fix it, they're usually wrong.

Reward, but don't over-reward, getting ahead. For example, getting ahead on one track to victory may close off other tracks; if you're a victorious conquerer, that may mean other nations are less likely to ally with you,

Think about the visuals, If you do cards, people are going to fan them, and there are a couple different ways they might do that. Pay attention to the layout on the card so the information they need is visible when they have the cards in their hand and can't see the whole card.

Use icons instead of text, to make localization easier. (However, if you need a separate QRS to tell what the icons are, you've gone overboard).

Key factors when submitting to a publisher are:
--make sure it fits our line, theme, and box size.
--make sure the component cost matches the play value. We can't sell a fifteen-minute party game that costs sixty bucks. And we'll also have a hard time with a single pack of cards that turns into a 3 hour epic--because the gameplay does not match the customer's expectations.
--does it have meaningful decisions for the players?
--what makes it stand out? This can be a thematic hook or an interesting mechanic.
--make your submission as complete as you can, without spending a lot on the art.

Whittle down the components to reduce the manufacturing cost.

How to get noticed: win (or place) in a design competition, or create a popular print & play game.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Gaming Quote

Someone made a remark to the effect that the half orc barbarian probably smelled bad. The barbarian said "You never smell yourself when you're covered in someone else's blood."

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Boardgame Design

Notes from a panel by Bill Fawcett at LibertyCon 2014

Number one question is to ask, "why will someone want to play the game I am designing?"
One day of market research will save you six months of anguish. Go to a hobby shop and ask the people there what they want to play. And recruit them as playtesters.

Create a game which is accessable. You need to be able to pick up the basics on ten minutes, and get all the minutiate by playing it a few times.
"Simple level planning" so you can plan your next move while someone else is acting.

Learn the value of constant positive reinforcement. Give a goal which is achievable within minutes, and opens another goal. You may want to have several goal tracks operating at once--for instance, in Steampunk Paladins, you might complete a quest which gives you one more step towards Airship Cruiser, then the next quest might be a step toward increasing your Fame, or maxing out your Valor, or creating Professor Gould's Patent Photonic Death Ray.

The game should reward your players often. Rewards are things like the ability to take an extra or special type of move; make an extra attack;  find valuable information; taunt another player (but not screw him too badly); or gather items. Contrariwise, penalizing players for success will kill your game.

The ideal game does not knock players out of the game early. They should be able to affect the game, even if they're behind. Example: in Carnage con Queso, even if your squad was demolished or you hadn't collected any cheese, you still had cards that you could use to harass the leader (or whoever else you felt deserved a random mortar barrage). A player who is behind should be able to surge, although a strong player should still be able to win. Anything harassing plays should set back the leader, not knock them out.

Start with an existing game that you like, and fix it.

Steampunk Paladins

Game Concept based on a LibertyCon 2014 workshop with Bill Fawcett

Players represent paladins who must gain reputation by defeating the Looming Menace. Players can strengthen themselves by completing quests, which will allow them to gain equipment, learn powers, and recruit retainers; the Menace will be strengthened when the paladin declines or fails a quest--or sometimes when he succeeds!  

Paladins have a few chatacteristics, such as Valor, Honor, Charm and Wit. Quests may be a test of one or more qualities. Deal three cards face down for each Quest (one Test, one Twist, and one Treasure)  and four Quests per year.
Once the Quests are dealt, a player may Investigate the quests to gather intelligence. The number of Investigation successes is the number of cards he may examine, but there will never be enough investigation to uncover all the details of the quests.  Once you've gathered information, commit your resources to each quest and see if you succeed.
Twists cards may be Villain Reinforcements, Volcano Base Explodes (which will reduce retainers for hero and villain), Victorian Super Science (which the hero may not have enough Wit to use), Traps, and so forth. A Friendly Villain might give you a bonus to this quest but act as negative to future quests--for instance, Femme Fatale might give you +3 Wit for this quest but count as a -1 Honor for as long as you keep her.

You may be able to poach other players' retainers. But the more powerful you personally are, or the more retainers you have, the harder it will be for you to recruit more retainers. (Doc Savage has several men working for him; Superman does not).

Villains always have a Five Year Plan, so after five Quest Years (20 quests), you must face the Looming Menace in a climactic battle, and not only defeat him, but win honor and glory in the process.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

D&D 5e: First test

I played a solo episode of D&D 5th Edition, using the Lost Mine of Phandelver module included with the Basic set and creating four characters instead of using the premades.
The characters were all dwarves:
  • Thorgrim Dark: fighter with noble background and defensive fighter style
  • Audhild Chanter: bard with acolyte background
  • Fargrim Veiled: rogue with soldier background
  • Ulfgar Bog-iron: barbarian with outlander background
Each character took about half an hour to make, including selecting the background, powers, and equipment, and typing it into the (downloadable, form fillable) PDF character sheet. I'd spent a fair amount of time reading through the Player's Handbook before making the character's, so if you're just picking up the book for the first time, it'll probably take longer to make a first character, but you get someone with some personality rather than just a cookie cutter Fighter Mk 1. 
For instance, I wanted Audhild to be a "Cleric", but I don't see dwarves as having a priesthood and church; I thought Bard (and particularly Valorous Bard) would be a better fit. So I picked the Bard class, but for her background I picked Acolyte instead of Entertainer. She has a personality quirk "sees omens everywhere"; her ideal is "uphold our traditions"; her bond is to her clan hold and its ways; and her flaw is "inflexible". Her skills are Religion, History, Medicine, Persuasion, and Insight, and she speaks the Giant and Primordial languages (which both use the Dwarven runes) in addition to Dwarven and Common. She's got scale mail and warhammer instead of the usual bardic leather and rapier. And this is at level 1, just following the book, with no unusual creativity required. She did take longer to make than the others, but that was due to picking out her list of known spells and cantrips. She has two pages, the others just a page each--a great improvement as compared to my 4th Edition characters who are all five or six pages, although as the 5th Edition characters level up I expect they'll need more paper.

The first encounter in Lost Mine is with four goblins who ambush the party. I set it up on a gridded map;  that's not necessary according to the rules, but I find it preferable to be able to see where everything is.

Turn 1 is a surprise round; two goblins charge downslope and attack Ulfgar, who is carrying a shield but unarmored; however, his fast reflexes mean the goblins miss. The other two stay back and shoot arrows at Fargrim, who is seriously wounded. 
Turn 2: Thorgrim rushes forward and hammers one of the melee goblins. The surviving one cuts Ulfgar, but not seriously; one goblin archer nicks Thurgrim, the other fires on Fargrim but misses due to Thorgrim's shield block. Ulfgar's battleaxe chops his goblin in half. Audhild runs up to Fargrim, gives him an encouraging punch on the shoulder and a Cure Wounds spell, and continues up the slope toward the goblin archers. Fargrim draws his bow and kills a goblin.
Turn 3: Thorgrim charges into contact with the goblin but misses. The goblin disengages and runs, but not far enough to escape. Audhild pursues and casts Dissonant Whispers, which finishes the fourth goblin.

Granted, it's a simple combat, and I did have to look up a couple of things, but running it was quick and easy. We'll see how the next encounter goes.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Close Action: De Ternay vs Graves

Second game at Guns of August was Close Action, the De Ternay vs Graves scenario. I was admiral of the French side.

In this scenario, the French start in line ahead, close hauled, with the wind on their port; the English are also in line ahead, broad reaching with the wind to their starboard, and with their first ship about 30 hexes windward of the first French ship. My plan was to go ahead for one game turn, then turn right in succession and let the English come to us (That's not the ideal plan for this situation; however, the game started late, I wasn't familiar with the other players' experience and expertise, and I didn't have much time for the briefing. I figured it was better to go for "simple and get people into a fight" rather than "theoretical optimum, complex, and bored players").

The English almost immediately took the "fireworks" formation, with six ships going in three directions and no discernable plan to it. And my lead ship never turned to starboard; he just kept going straight ahead, and we kept following, beautifully in line. Unfortunately that meant our two lead ships got doubled; this was exacerbated when the leader tried to tack while he was too close to the enemy, and made himself a stationary target. Meanwhile, a rogue Englishman sailed down my line and cut in front of me. I had to turn into the wind to avoid a collision, but managed to grapple him, and my greater weight of metal (plus rakes from my cohorts as they sailed past) was more than he could deal with; he was 3 crew boxes from striking when the game ended. When time was called, we had 49 points (and would certainly take one of their ships); they had 64 (and would take one of ours, and quite possibly a second). Not the best game I've ever had, from an admiral's perspective, but given the starting position and our scratch team of captains, we did pretty well.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

IHMN: The Good, the Bad, the Weird

My first event at the Guns of August game con was IHMN: the Good, the Bad, the Weird, which was based off the movie plus a few twists. The time is the mid 1930's; the setting, Japanese-controlled Manchuria.

The table had a square walled courtyard in the middle and a scattering of buildings and hillocks around it. The courtyard had gateways opening east and west; inside the courtyard was a coterie of cultists, surrounding the McGuffin.

Four forces started at the table corners and set out to capture the McGuffin. In the southwest, my Red Sash Gang of bandits, plus Park Chang-yi (the Bad). To the northwest, a squad of the Japanese Army, plus Yoon Tae-goo (the Weird). Northeast, Faction A of a Chinese warlord's army, plus the bounty hunter Park Do-won (the Good). And southeast, Faction B of the warlord's army, assault troops with submachineguns. The three heroes could have been used separately from the forces they started with, but none of the players took that route. Each of the players had about a dozen figures.

In early turns, the Japanese and Faction A advanced towards their corners of the courtyard, my forces moved onto a rise to get a line on the Japanese, and Faction B advanced towards me. I pointed out to the Faction B commander that my rifles outranged his SMGs, and mentioned that he could speed up his promotion by arranging a vacancy in the captaincy of Faction A. Prodded by a sprinkling of rifle fire that he couldn't effectively return, he took the message to heart and withdrew to the east.

I advanced carefully, getting into position where I could cover the western courtyard entrance. Meanwhile Faction A deployed half its men against the Japanese and sent the other half, led by the fearless Park Do-won, into the cultists' lair. On the west, the Japanese mirrored their deployment, although they were marginally distracted by bandit bullets. Only "marginally", though, as my bandits evidently went to the Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship. I rolled 3s so often that we concluded that my forces must be a Triad gang.

The game master announced that, now that outsiders had violated the sanctuary, on every cultist turn he would roll d%; on a 01 result, Something Bad would happen. ("Something Bad" could have been a Yeti, or Cthulhu, or a dozen giant spiders, but the GM never rolled a 01). The Japanese and Faction A forces assaulted the cultists. Faction B dithered for a couple of turns, but eventually started taking potshots at the backs of Faction A. And I continued shooting the air, the ground, the walls, passing birds, everything except the Japanese troops I was aiming at.

The Japanese finished their melee opponents first. While Faction A was still entangled with the cultists on their side, the Japanese formed a line and fired indiscriminately into the melee. In the ensuing havoc, they took possession of the McGuffin, and victory.

Due to taking careful cover and not being much of a threat, I only lost one bandit. For all my shooting, firing in volleys with military rifles, my tally was one soldier killed (literally, my last shot in the game) and one knocked down. The latter lay helpless in the open for a couple of turns, exposed to my massed rifle fire--and therefore absolutely safe--before getting up and rejoining his unit in the assault on the cultists.

Game Prep Lessons: put all the unit info (weapon and armor characteristics, effects of Talents) on the unit cards so people don't have to flip back and forth through the books during play. Distill the Quick Reference Sheet down to one page (or less) of what's relevant to that session--no need for Vehicle and Beast stats if they're not going to be in the game. Make copies of the QRS for everyone. Twelve figures is too many for new players with a three hour time slot; start with six or eight and keep reserves at the table edge to replace casualties.

Tactical Lessions: roll better dice.

Friday, August 22, 2014

DnD 5th Edition

I preordered the DnD 5th Edition Player's Handbook and it arrived this week. The general consensus is "less complicated than 3.5"--which is seen as a great improvement--"and less Video-Game-On-A-Tabletop than 4th", which is also an improvement, with more emphasis on roleplaying and less on "combat, then another combat, then another combat, and we're done."
I've also gotten the Starter Set and will be running a party of four dwarves through the module, as a solo game, to get familiar with it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In Her Majesty's Name: Scramble for a Wreck

As a refresher before Guns of August, I put another solo scenario on the table. A Martian sky sailer has crashed at a village in the Khingan Mountains in northern China. Who knows what secrets it might hold? Goovernment forces are on their way to secure the site--but so is a force from the Black Dragon Tong!

The map is 22 x 36 with a dozen huts scattered around a central firepit, with conifers along the southern edge. Smaller firepits trail smoke, north-to-south; firing into smoke is -1, firing through smoke is -2. The wreck of the Martian vessel is in the northeast corner. There are five markers scattered among the huts, plus two more are on the Martian vessel, each covering a d6 with a random score; carrying off that marker earns that score. In addition, each enemy Leader is worth 5 VP, as is a captured Walker; other combatants are worth 1VP each.

The Black Dragon Tong (246 points):

  • Wu Jen (Clouding Men's Minds, Levitate, Venom)
  • Tong Lieutenant
  • 2 x Dragon Warrior
  • 3 x Tong Member
  • 6 x Boxer (3 muzzle loader, 3 club)
The Chinese Army (adapted from the USMC list) (248 points):
  • Captain (Leader +2, Tough, Duellist)
  • Sergeant
  • 6 x Soldier (Bayonet Drill)
  • Scout Walker (operator one of the 6 soldiers)
The Army enters from the eastern half of the south edge, the Tong from the northern half of the west edge.

On turn 1 the Tong warriors rush in--several of them have extra speed, and most of them don't have firearms so they have no reason not to Run. The soldiers, moving more sedately, march up the east side, except for Private Shen (who rushes for the southwestern hut) and Sergeant Wang (who yells "I'll cover you!" and settles in with his rifle). The soldiers fire a few shots, and miss; their adversaries, all having moved and only a few having firearms, don't bother to reply. The Tong make contact with two markers--both 3's.

Turn 2: Private Shen steps into the southwestern hut with three Boxers hot on his heals. Privates Chu and Lu go into two eastern huts, while the Captain and the Walker stay outside to defend them; Wu Jen charges Captain Lee, and a Dragon heads for the Sergeant. Two more soldiers run to the crashed Martian vessel.
Privates Lu and Chu appear to have been issued blanks instead of live ammo, and  Wu Jen dodges the Captain's revolver bullet. The Scout Walker fires on one of the Tong warriors, but the man is devoted to the Dragon Lady and the bullet merely causes him to stumble.
Two Boxers and Private Shen trade blows, to no effect. Captain Lee slashes Wu Jen, but the Black Dragon master ignores the wound. He leaps into a Thousand Crane Strike and smashes the Captain to the mud. Things are looking grim for the Army, although they do have possession--at the moment--of four VP tokens worth 14 VP.

Turn 3: Private Shen is still stuck in a hut, facing two Boxers. The other privates grab their loot and withdraw; the Walker and the Sergeant stay in place to cover them. Wu Jen intercepts one of he Army men; the Tong Leader and two of his henchmen attack the Walker, while one of the Dragon Warriors attacks the Sergeant. Two Boxers carry their loot off the table; the score now stands at Tong 11, Army 0.
No shooting, as everyone who has Line of Fire is already in melee. The Tong in contact with the Walker could shoot, but between its high armor and their "Moved" penalty, they couldn't hit.
As the Dragon Warrior runs up to him, the grizzled Sergeant takes two quick steps and lunges with the bayonet, skewering his target--but the power of the Dragon is stong in this one, and he staggers but does not fall. His counterstroke lays the Sergeant low. Private Shen puts down one of his assailants. Wu Jen, perhaps a little overconfident after his easy triumph over Captain Lee, swings at Private Quan but misses. The Walker and three Tong members trade blows to no effect.

Turn 4: The Army wins the initiative yet again. Two soldiers race to safety, and the Walker withdraws with Tong members trailing behind. One of them catches up to the fighting machine, and narrowly dodges its Steam Fist. Private Shen disposes of his remaining foe in the southwest hut. Just south of the Martian wreck, Wu Jen smiles evilly at Private Quan, gathering his chi...and then the ghost of Captain Lee possesses the soldier, and the Black Dragon Master suddenly finds himself on his knees, run through by the bayonet! He looks down in shocked disbelief, clutches the blade, climbs heavily to his feet...and then falls dead!

Turn 5:  Private Shen grabs his Martian artifact, races out of the hut and away to safety. Private Quan runs to the Walker, which is still at bay facing two Tong fighters. And the wily Sergeant rises to his feet again!
The Sergeant's "Rifle butt to the knee, barrel to the chin" puts down the wounded Dragon; however, the second Dragon brings his halbard down hard, and this time the Sergeant won't be getting up again. A few yards east, the Walker's steam fist smashes one of the Tong.

Turn 6: Private Quan leaves the field, leaving the Walker to face two Tong members and the remaining Dragon Warrior, while the Tong Lieutenant and two Boxers mill around on the west side. The Dragon Warrior takes a might swing at the iron man, and watches his halbard head snap in two. The Steam Fist punches back, but the Warriuor is still under the effects of opium and the blow does not phase him.

At this point the Army has all five Privates off the board, with 19 points of Martian loot; Wu Jen, a Dragon Warrior, a Tong Fighter, and two Boxers have fallen, for 9, bringing the Army total to 28. The Black Dragon Tong has 6 points of loot, plus the Captain and the Sergeant for another 6, bringing the total to 12. Even if they manage to down the Walker, that will only bring them to 17. A glorious victory for the Army!

For any of the Victory Point dice, if the score showing had been a 6, I'd have rolled another die: 1-3, nothing unusual; 4-5, it's Explosive; on a 6, it's a Thark survivor of the sky sailer...armed and irritable. But they were all 5 and below.

Lessons learned:
Melee ability is important. Martial artists are fast, and even if they don't make it into contact, a -3 for Running Target and another -2 or -3 for their Speed makes it hard to hit them in the Shooting phase.

Armored Walkers are tough.

And if the dice have it in for you, there's nothing you can do. Private Quan rolled an Attack roll 10, Wu Jen got a Pluck roll of 1, and then his Fanatic's reroll was also 1 Clearly Private Quan had supernatural aid....

Thursday, August 14, 2014


Victory Point Games' Moundbuilders is a solo States of Siege game in which you play a Moundbuilder civilization in the Mississippi Valley through three eras. The first (Hopewell) is purely explore-and-expand, with no conflct; the second (Mississippian) is where you push and are pushed by five neighboring nations such as Shawnee and Natchez; and the final era is when you face the invading Spanish conquistadors. It's rated a 4 of 9 on Complexity, 9 of 9 for Solo Suitability (since that's what it was designed for--there's no 2 player option), and supposed to take 40 minutes to play.

What you get: a paper map; a mounted map which is lasercut into five jigsaw pieces so they stay together; a single counter sheet with six enemy army markers, 25 chiefdom markers, and a few special markers; a Quick Refence sheet; a card deck; a d6; and the rule book. I had a bit of trouble getting the army stand pieces into their bases--they may have swelled a bit due to the humidity--but once I squeezed the tabs a bit with needlenose pliers, they slid right into place. The rule book could have used a bit better design; it's a bit too colorful (with gray boxes, blue text, red text, etc) with the overall effect being that it's not as easy to read as if it werre just black on white. It also takes an extra moment to tell what section you're in--when you open the book it's not "ah, I'm in 9.0", it's more like "I'm in...where is it...oh, 9.0". Not a major issue; if I were motivated, I could just write in the section numbers at the bottom of each page. An index could gave gone on th back of the Quick Refence page. All the other components look good, and the cards are especially nice, with historical fluff text as well as the game mechanics text. This is a low-unit-count game, and should take only a few minutes--mostly separating the cards--to set up and get playing.

For my first game, during the Hopewell era I ended up with Peace Pipes in Dickson, Serpent Mound, Etowah and Poverty Point--the first chiefdom on the Natchez warpath was a 4 and my dice didn't want me expanding down that line or toward the Ho-Chunks. I built mounds at Toltec on the Caddo line, Pinson on the Cherokee line, and Angel, Fort Ancient and Portsmouth on the Shawnee line; resources in my empire include obsidian, chalcedony, mica, copper and pipestone.

During the Mississipian era, I was going to write up a turn-by-turn report, but "moving to the computer and typing up what I did" took longer than each turn did, so I stopped.writing and just played. By judicious use of the Great Sun and attacking where I had advantage, I managed to keep the hostile tribes at bay pretty well.

And then the Spanish arrived, and things went downhill in a hurry. Under Coronado's leadership, they marched up the Mississippi, brushing past the Natchez and only being halted two spaces away from Cahokia. The Cherokee advanced, the Shawnee advanced, the Natchez advanced, eventually even the Ho-Chunks advanced. The Natchez battered the palisades, the Ho-Chunks breached the walls, and the Spanish poured through the breach and wiped out the Moundbuilders. I ended with a score of -3, which is a "Minor Defeat".

Quick play, fairly simple, and tough decisions. Will play again.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Command and Colors: Ancients

Ryan, Joe C, Dan and I got in several rounds of C&C Ancients today, switching off sides and opponents.

Key differences between Ancients and Napoleonics: in Ancients, a unit fights just as effectively whether it's at full strength or reduced down to one block, and leaders modify results in adjacent spaces as well as the one they're in.

The first scenario was the Battle of Akragas, pitting Syracusan Greeks vs Carthaginians. On the Carthaginian side, Mago has a mixed force of six units on the right, Himilco has auxilia in the center, and two horse units (one light cavalry, one chariot) hold the left flank. The Greeks have Daphnareus with heavy infantry in the center, Dionysius with auxilia and medium cavalry on their right, and a mixed force on the left. Five victory points needed to win.

In the first game, Joe brought his medium cavalry up on my left flank; I attacked it with light cavalry and heavy chariots, and lost both units. He then pushed back my right, and brought up two heavy infantry to press the attack in the center; however, with a combination of a First Strike card and excellent dice, my one heavy unit destroyed both of his. My left advanced, pushing his forces back to the edge of the map, but his left did equally well; he finished my fifth unit and a general and won. I would have destroyed his fifth on the next turn, so it was a very close game. Score 6:4, Greeks. On the other board, Ryan and Dan also fought to a 5:4 Greek victory.

Second game had me facing Ryan. In a mirror image of the first game, the Syracusan left was pushed back. Meanwhile, their right swept their opponents from the field, then turned and took the Carthaginian center in the flank for a 5:3 Greek win. On the other board, Joe and Dan saw a 5:4 Carthaginian win.

After lunch we set up the Battle of Bagradas, featuring Carthaginian elephants.The Romans under Regulus only get 4 maneuver cards, while the Carthaginians under Xanthippus get 6--a significant advantage. As the Romans, I tried to put together a screen of light infantry to protect my main battle line, but Dan ran his pachyderms right in and did a fair amount of damage before my javelins finished them off. After that, we both were conservative about pulling back damaged units; Ryan and Joe had come to a 7:4 Carthaginian win well before our battle was halfway finished. My left and his right pushed back and forth, while my center stood around waiting for a Center Sector card to come up. The score stood at 5:2 (with 7 needed for a win, in this scenario) when I had to leave, and handed it over to Ryan to finish.

Joe said, and I agreed, that the C&C system works better for Ancients than for Napoleonics; due to the importance of firepower and the effects of firing ranges not being to scale, Napoleonics feels more abstracted, and you're not sure whether your unit is supposed to be a battalion, a regiment, a brigade, or what. Since teh ranges are a lot shorter in Ancients, the abreaction works better. I'm still not entirely happy with it--if you don't have an order card, you have no way to react to anything, and there are no zones of control to keep an enemy unit from waltzing between two of yours and on through--but it's easy to learn,  plays quickly, and definitely gives the feel of having more going on than you can control, and having to decide where to focus your efforts.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Napoleonics 20: Waterloo, Take 2

The Fading Glory content description says "four battles" but there are some alternatives:
  • Waterloo Main Scenario 
    • Waterloo & Wavre (June 18)
  • Borodino Main Scenario
    • Davout's Flanking Maneuver
  • Smolensk Main Scenario
    • Lubino
    • Smolensk Flanking Maneuver
  • Salamanca Main Scenario
    • Salamanca (July 22)
    • King Joseph Marches
So what you get is ten "scenarios and variants".

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Napoleonics 20: Waterloo

I just got a copy of Fading Glory, which is GMT's reissue of four Napoleonics 20 games from Victory Point Games: Waterloo, Salamanca, Smolensk, Borodino. Waterloo is first in the scenario book, so I started with that one. The rules are pretty simple, and any old-school wargamer who grew up with SPI and Avalon Hill will already know the basics: hex based, zones of control, CRT.
No optional rules in effect for this play through, which mosts importantly mean "no leaders".

Turn 1: The French center/right assaults Ligny, committing the Guard and launching diversionary attacks on the Prussian units outside the fortress. Victory comes at a heavy cost--II Cavalry and IV Corp--but the Prussian III Corps breaks and the Guard takes Ligny. On the west, the battle with the British is indecisive. The British reserve moves forward to Quatre Bras.

Turn 2: The French win a Pyrrhic victory, losing two infantry corps in exchange for the British I Corps. They fare better in the east, breaking a second Prussian unit. The Allies have only two units on the map now; the British Reserves pull back west of Genappes to prevent a flanking maneuver by a French cavalry unit in the woods, and the surviving Prussian corps marches into Quatre Bras. At this point the Allies have three Broken units, but the French have 4 and spent one Morale to commit the Guard (the second commit was free thanks to a card draw); Allied morale is 8, French is 6.

Turn 3: The French march toward Quatre Bras. The Allies use a card to attempt to rally the British I corps, but blow the roll and the unit is eliminated. In retrospect, the Allies should have spent a Morale Point to provide a +1 DRM; that, plus the Elite status of that unit, would have kept it in Limbo instead of being destroyed.

Turn 4 (Night): The French maneuver against Quatre Bras; the British bring on Uxbridge at Nivelles; the Prussians bring in their reinforcements plus their rallied vanguard unit at Hamme.

Turn 5: The French force march to attack the Prussian corps in Quatre Bras and the British reserves in Genappe, throwing the Guard and two cavalry divisions against the latter. The Prussians receive a "Withdraw" result which is nullified by being in a fortress; the British unit is broken, and French cavalry occupies Genappe. The Allies bring on the British II at Nivelles; the corps joins Uxbridge in an attack on the French III Cavalry. The French dragoons countercharge, driving back Uxbridge and spoiling the British attack.

Turn 6: The French cavalry in Genappe ignores its orders (due to the Michel Ney card effects) and charges the British infantry, to no effect. It holds the two British units in play while massed French infantry assaults Quatre Bras and destroys the Prussian unit there. Northeast, French cavalry moves between Chapelle St Lambert and Wavre, harrying the advancing Prussian reinforcements. Repeated British attacks break Ney's cavalry, but the handwriting is on the wall--there are two British units facing seven French, and the Prussians are too far away.

Turn 7: Napoleon Humbugs Allies, and the fast-marching French surround and destroy the two remaining British units. Oddly, while the English have no units on the board, their moral hasn't really suffered; they have lost six units (including two permanently) but have broken four French in return, so their morale is still at 6 (from the original 8). The Prussian cavalry vanguard races toward the crossroad at Waterloo, but they won't make it in time.

Turn 8: The French advance north. The two cavalry divisions end the turn just outside Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte, followed by the Imperial Guard and the rest of the army.

Turn 9: The French cavary move into the Waterloo area, blocking Allied lines of advance. The Allies could in theory pull it out--they've still got Morale points left--but the French are concentrated, the Allies dispersed, and barring awful dice, the French should be able to keep their advantage intact. Vive l'Empereur!

Rules which tripped me up: Crossing a minor river costs +1 move; Rout markers come off at the end of the next turn unless the enemy is in contact, in which case they don't; and Artillery attacks (but does not defend) at twice its printed strength--they really should have changed the counter design to reflect that one. And you have to pay careful attention to the Morale Points, both in terms of"keep track of them" and "spend them when you need to--but only when you really need to."

All in all, a good design. I particularly like the quick set up--only 26 counters, total for both sides, on the board, and that includes generals (which I didn't use) and reinforcements on the turn track.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The South Shall Rise Again

Victory Point Games produced The South Shall Rise Again as a solo or cooperative skirmish game pitting one to four Union soldiers against Confederate zombies ("Zebs").
What you get in the ziplock bag edition:

  • 12 x 13 hex map in muted tones, depicting a field bordered by a road, two fences, a fieldstone wall, and trees. 
  • player aid card, with Union info on one side, Undead on the other.
  • Union soldiers, Zebs, Revenants, and Glorious Dead, depicted as vertical counters with bases; they're not miniatures but they give something of the same feel. 
  • status markers, such as Rifle/Unloaded, Pistol Ammo, Stunned, Wounded, and Grappled.
  • Skill markers, such as "Bushwacker" (-1 to Ranged combat, +1 Melee) or "Slippery" (ignore the first Grapple result from an Undead attack), to personalize your soldiers
  • Heroic Action cards and Event cards
  • Five Scenario cards, including one "Make your own"
  • Rule booklet
  • A ziplock bag, which is a little too small to comfortably stuff everything back in--but it's not like you can't find a larger ziplock in your kitchen.
Your Union private can move, shoot, reload, melee, or move-and-shoot.  Zebs and Revenants simply close for melee; Glorious Dead can also load and fire. Each unit takes two Wounds to kill; there's a small chance of inflicting two Wounds with a single attack but you can't count on moving up to a Zed and destroying it with one attack. That's a key point...

For my first play through, I played the On The Road scenario with one soldier facing two Zeds and two Revenants. I fired at a Revenant, stunning it. I reloaded my rifle, then backed away from the undead shambling toward me. I took another shot, which Wounded a Revenant. By this point the Undead were closing in, so I ran off to one side, thinking I could quickly deal with the Zed there and then have room to maneuver. The Zed moved into contact with me and Grappled; my counter attack Wounded it and broke the grapple, but I didn't have a chance to move away before the two Revenants moved in and attacked. That was the end of poor Private Picket....unless he comes back as a Revenant himself! 

Playing time is listed as 30 minutes, which seems about right. Quick and easy, but requires some thought to win.

edit: took me two more games before I won. The key seems to be, never let them close to melee range. One you take out the Revenants (move 2), dealing with the Zeds (move 1) is easy.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Party Kill

Tonight was the first time, as far as I can recall, that I've ever killed a fellow party member.

I'm playing Gok, a half-orc barbarian charger. Jesse's usual character was killed two weeks ago; his replacement character, named Nit Bitsim, was a psychic--and, unbeknown to us, a changeling pretending to be a human.

We had finished a tough fight in a cave at the bottom of a sea cliff, and the party was divided over whether to keep exploring the cave, or go back to town. Nit wanted us to leave, so he told Gok, "Let's go climb back up the cliff--your mother is waiting !" Gok's INT score is significantly below average, so he bought Nit's claim and rushed back up the cliff, only to find that his mother was not, in fact, anywhere around. Gok's mother is the human half of his ancestry, and he is quite devoted to her. When Gok realized that Nit was lying about Gok's mother, he was Not Amused. As Nit started climbing the rope up the 25ft cliff, Gok grabbed the line and started banging it--and Nit-- against the rocks.

Nit, somewhat battered, kept climbing--unaccountably, trying to get closer to the angry barbarian. He tried to scramble away, but Gok bull rushed him and knocked him back off the edge of the cliff. Nit barely managed to catch hold of the edge, and found himself dangling with twenty five feet of air below him and a barbarian above. Meanwhile, the rest of the party watched, but no one tried to stop Gok. Ooga eventually roused himself to persuade Nit to apologize to Gok, whereupon the barbarian hauled him up the cliff and growled "Don't lie to Gok again. Make Gok mad".

As Gok stalks off, Boraheen confronts the "human" and demands that he not lie to party members.Nit promises to comply, but his insincerity is transparent. So Boraheen throws him off the cliff. Moments later, Nit is dangling over the edge, Boraheen gripping him by one wrist. And then Nit starts turning pasty white. Boraheen doesn't know what Nit is, but recognizes a transformation; he slams Nit to the ground and demands "What are you?" Gok turns around, sees that Nit shapechanging, and remembers that Malicia, who lied to him, was a shape shifting demon. Gok yells "Demon!" and charges. Mirra recognizes a changling and yells "Gok, stop!"; the barbarian skids to a halt with his blade inches from Nit's face. At that point Nit made one final mistake. Instead of surrendering and mending his ways, he tried a psychic attack against Gok. Gok associates psychic powers with demons, and Gok has lightning reflexes; he jams his spear him, and in a single stroke, Nit is dead.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Trireme: Battle of Actium

Replay of a portion of the Battle of Actium, using Trireme to pit Mark Anthony's fleet against Octavian. This is one section of the much larger battle, with 500+ ships engaged. 

Anthony's fleet had fewer ships (15 vs 20 Octavians), but with large marine contingents; Octavian's forces had smaller vessels, but better crews and firepots which automatically set fires with a successful ram. If an Antonian managed to board an Octavian, they almost always won; meanwhile, the Octavians tried to concentrate fire with their catapults to set the enemy ablaze. Of course, each side felt the other's specialty was overpowered...

The Antonian plan appears to have been to spread their four large ships across their formation, to lead with them, and to pull in their wings when those were threatened. The Octavian plan was to divide the fleet into squadrons of three; to attack the flanks, leaving little in the center; and to focus on ranged fire to avoid risk of being boarded. 

Ranged fire (2 hexes distant) turned out not to work too well unless you had a mass of ships dogpiling one enemy. From range 2, you had a 1/3 chance of setting one fire, which might inconvenience the enemy but cannot destroy him; the target rolls 2d6 plus the number of fires, and is destroyed in a 14 or higher. Lower rolls mean all or half the fires are extinguished, or the fires are carried over till the next turn and their crew is busy fighting fires and not available for boarding. 

From range 1, a catapult rolls 2 dice (needing 5 or 6) and an archer shooting from a tower rolls 1 die (needing 4-6), so there's a possibility of setting 2-3 fires and that in turn has a chance of killing a ship. But range 1 also means the enemy archers can shoot back; several of our ships lost all their marines that way. And you're also at some risk of being boarded. Given the Antonian marine contingents usually outnumbered ours by 2:1 or more, this was fatal; I think we had only one ship win a boarding battle, and that was against an enemy who was being attacked from two sides.

What turned out to be most effective was ramming with firepots. If you ram, your archers and catapults might set a couple of fires, and then your firepots add 1d6 fires. With good dice, you might set as many as 9 fires, and that will either sink him or leave him without anyone to defend against boarding. If the latter, you can board him and destroy him (assuming, of course, that his archers and catapults hadn't already killed all your marines).
Ramming by itself was ineffective; I believe our entire fleet put a total of one hole in one ship, which didn't sink it but did slow it down a bit. 

The Antonian fleet failed to maintain their formation, or use their large ships well; the quicker Octavians were able to take advantage in the confused melee that followed the formations breaking. The Octavian efforts against the flanks were successful; the Antonians destroyed a few ships in the center, but then they didn't have any vulnerable targets left, and it had cost them.

Post game discussion was on "toning down effects of fire". I suspect that isn't necessary--Octavian fire is more dramatic than Antonian boarding battles, but both sides lost 40% of their ships--but one suggestion was to give larger ships a negative DRM to the Fire Effects roll. Another possibility would be for ram firepots to roll 2d3 or 1d6-1 instead of 1d6, or something like that. 

Final count: 
9 surviving Antonians (including one with a serious fire, one de-crewed) out of 15 
12 Octavians (including at least two de-crewed) out of 20
The GM ruled it as an Octavian victory. although given the parity in losses, one might make a case for it being inconclusive, with the Octavians having an advantage.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Star Empires

I've previously played GMT's Space Empires as a solo game against Doomsday Machines; with Chris Rees and Josh visiting, we decided to try the three-player set up.  Josh and Chris quickly declared an alliance, with the dividing line between their territories going right through my homeworld...
They both pulled ahead in the economics race, which I think was partly due to them making better investment choices and partly due to the luck of the random planet setup. I discovered a warp point just outside my border; not much later, Chris discovered the other end of the warp point between his border and Josh's. Feeling secure against any attack from his ally, Chris sent a raiding force into my space, blockading a couple of planets (although not destroying them) and killing a few ships. Instead of confronting his fleet directly, I sent a few cruisers through the warp point (which turned out to be garrisoned only by a decoy) to blockade his planets.
Meanwhile, Josh sent a fleet down through my territory. I avoided contact, hoping that Chris and Josh's fleet would slug it out and the survivor would be too weak to take my capitol. In fact, Chris withdrew back through the warp point to lift the blockades I'd put in place. Josh ignored my homeworld and followed Chris, and I followed Josh. There was a little parade of fleets, each about two hexes from the next...
Josh mauled Chris's fleet, which retreated back to his homeworld; Josh attacked again and did some damage to the planet, but withdrew before finishing him off. Chris decided he'd rather be destroyed by me than by his treacherous "ally"; he said that if I moved a fleet into his homeworld, he'd retreat his fleet out. I did and he did and I successfully bombarded his homeworld, taking the victory.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tiny Epic Roleplaying

At LibertyCon, I was in a game of the Tiny Epic RPG, run by its creator Todd Lyles. It's designed for fast character generation while still giving some flavor. You draw three Avatar cards, such as Steam Dwarf, High Elf, or Half Giant, and select one. Then draw three cards and keep one for your Profession, such as Spy, or Gladiator. Finally, choose one of three Legends, which set you apart from ordinary folk; for instance, your Half Giant Gladiator might choose "I'm Not Left-handed", which lets you add your Strength and Agility together (instead of using just one) for your attack modifer. Put these three cards together and you have your character, including his stats (Strength, Agility, Intellect, Charisma), special abilities, and even suggestions on what gear he's carrying and how he knows the other party members.

The mechanics are pretty straightforward. Roll a number of d6s based on the appropriate stat for the task, with 4, 5, and 6's being successes. If you're fighting someone, a 6 also lowers his Defense, so even if you can't hurt him at first, you can still wear him down if you can survive and keep attacking long enough. This wasn't a problem in my case, though; my Gnome Sorceror Prince of Thieves had a Psychic Blast based on his 10 INT, which meant I was killing my targets even when I wasn't really trying.

What you buy is the deck of cards for character generation. The Player's Guide, GM's Guide and some scenarios are available for free from the website. Note that the game is intended for one-shot convention scenarios, where you teach people the rules, play for four hours, and you're done. There's no guide on loot or character advancement, and there aren't complex tactical rules. Just deal the cards, grabs some d6s, and you're on the way.

The scenario we played was an attack on a pirate base, where our team of four had go ashore and eliminate the pirate gun batteries around the island before the fleet arrived. For one battery, we got the pirates to brawl each other. For the next, our Chronomancer and I zapped half of them; then our Kitsune (legend: "Fairest of Them All") stripped naked and beguiled the rest of the men. We used the beguiled pirates as cannon fodder to attack the tower; once inside, I located the powder magazine, our tinker put together a fuse, and we pulled back and watched the tower go boom. A quick, successful scenario and we got it done in about two hours of play.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

OGRE Breakthrough

Had an OGRE game with Josh and Kelson, using the Breakthrough (expanded) scenario. I got an Ogre IV and six GEVs; the defenders selected 40 strength Infantry and 30 Armor, including a couple of superheavy tanks and one howitzer. 
My GEVs followed the river, with some maneuvering to make sure that I was just out of range for him to move and shoot; my Ogre came in at the center, then cut east toward the water. My GEVs, of course, mostly went poof, but I gathered them in the center near the OGRE, then scampered back to the water and pushed two into the swamp at the far east. Neither of them was disabled, and they exited on turn 7. 
My Ogre lost its missile racks early, and about half its treads by the end game, but then it crossed the last stream, nothing could follow fast enough, and I got off the map on turn 8. 
Final score was Defenders 47 points of damage to the Ogre plus four GEVs at six victory points apiece = 71; the Ogre side killed 84 armor VP (12 tanks plus the howitzer), 18 infantry (which, as I recall, was three platoons), and got 46 points for exiting the board on turn 7 (two GEVs) and 8 (Ogre) = 148. Victory for the OGRE side. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

New Games

Yaquinto's Ironclads and Victory Point's The South Will Rise Again just arrived.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Space Empires Replay

When I finish a game and put it back in the box, I usually don't have an urge to get it out again right away. With Space Empires, however, I kept thinking "Let's try it again...", so I gave the Doomsday Machine scenario (Easy, Small) another go. This time I didn't lose scouts quite as quickly (one each in turns 3, 4 and 5). Better yet, the location of newly discovered planets was more in my favor, so I got seven colonies up to full producton by turn seven. For technology, by the end of Turn 6 I had Size 3, Attack 2, Defense 1, Move 3, and Shipyards 3.  Turn 7 saw the first battle, barely 45 minutes after I started the game. Four cruisers come off the ways and go out to meet the first Machine at a colony adjacent to the Homeworld; two came back. On Turn 10, six cruisers attacked the enemy and defeated it without loss. Three more were in transit from the shipwards to the fleet, but didn't reach the battle space in time to participate. On turn 12, three squadrons of four cruisers converged on the last Machine, and defeated it while losing a third of their number. The improved Attack technology proved its worth. 

I still have to remember that Maintenance goes by hull size, not number of ships. Oops. Fortunately I waited till late in the game to build ships, so it wouldn't have made much difference.

Here's the key point about this game: it took about fifteen minutes to set up, an hour to play, and a bit more than five minutes to sort the pieces, bag them, and get everything back in the box. That's a big factor in "Let's play it again."

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Space Empires

Space Empires is a 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) game by GMT, with a couple of solo scenarios, plus options for two, three, four or more players. I read through the rules last night and put the smaller of the two Doomsday Machine solos on the table this morning. Total time was a bit  more than two hours from punching counters to end of game.

Components:  Mounted mapboard, plain black numbered hexes, no "starfield" background. Not exciting to look at the board by itself, but a starfield might make things look cluttered. The map has areas outlined for each player's home space.
The counters are diecut, about what you'd expect--they don't come out as cleanly  and easily as the ones in Conflict of Heroes, but they do come out. If you're obsessive, you might trim take nail clippers to the corners. although I probably won't bother. Each player has Home Area counters, designated by an outline color--red, green, yellow, pale blue--and there are Deep Space counters which have a white outline. Might be hard to distinguish "white" from "pale blue" if you have glare or poor light. Note that most of the Home counters are in one area of one counter sheet, but there are a few more on another sheet. I spent a few minutes thinking "I should have 26, I'm only seeing 24..."
The game requires some bookkeeping but the record sheet is intuitive, and the items listed on the chart are in the correct order by turn sequence. I don't have any compulsion to do my own Improved Version, which is rare.
Four d10, two orange, two black. Given that squadrons can have up to six ships, perhaps they should have included two more dice--but I have thirty d10 of my own within arm's length, so it's hardly a problem.

Game: in the "Small / Easy" version Doomsday Machine scenario, you start off with your home planet against one edge of the map--think of it as being the center of a clock dial, where your territory is the lower half of the dial and the upper half is off the board. Staring forces are three scouts, three colony ships, a mining ship and four shipyards. There are three Movement phases, followed by an Economic phase; the rules call each phase a Turn, but I'll use Turn for the four phases together. You know in advance that Machines will show up during the Economic phase of Turns 7, 9 and 11; the first one is weak, the second tougher, and the third tougher still.

Turn 1: I discovered two Mineral deposits and two Planets. I realize now that I sent my Miner out discovering when it shouldn't have been able to--only warships can explore strange new worlds. I sent two Colony ships out to the new planets and paid the Technology cost to increase Move to 2 for new ships.

Turn2: Lost two of my three scouts, built two replacements (which get the Move 2 tech) plus a colony ship and a miner. Planted a third colonies.

Turn 3: Lost another scout, bought upgrades for Shipyard Capacity and Hull Size tech and another Colony ship. Established a fourth colony.

Turn 4: Lost my remaining two scouts but I have explored almost all my home space and I don't know whether it's worth exploring Deep Space.  I invest in technology for Ship Attack Rating and Hull Size.

Turn 5:  Mining ships still hauling minerals back to colonies. Put down the fifth and final colony--there are more planets but they're far enough from the homeworld that I don't think it's worthwhile building more colonizers. Technology upgrades to increase Move to 3.

Turn 6: The first Doomsday machine is due at the end of next turn, so it's time to make the final Tech developments and start building warships. My warships can now be Attack 1, Move 4, Size 2 cruisers. I build two of them.

Turn 7:  I build four more cruisers. There are five spawn points around the perimeter of the Deep Space area and the first Machine appears at one in the lower left (using the clock dial analogy, it's at the 7:30 position). My colonies happen to be mostly to the right, so the Machine will be aiming at my homeworld.

Turn 8: My fleet intercepts the Machine and engages. This one is pretty weak; it only kills one of the six cruisers. I lose another two exploring. During the exploration I find some minerals which my Miners can collect, so it's not a complete loss, but it certainly wasn't worth losing the cruiser. I vow to stop exploring, and I build four more cruisers.

Turn 9: My squadrons move to central positions. During the Economic Phase, a second Machine appears, at the far left (9:00 position). There's one uninhabited planet between the Machine and my homeworld, but no colonies. Four more cruisers come out of the yards/

Turn 10: My miner tows that last mineral deposit to a colony, while my navy intercepts the second Machine. This one is tougher and kills four of my cruisers. Fleet mainteance costs are rising and my mineral resources are dwinding; I can only build three replacements, not four.

Turn 11: I build another three cruisers, bringing me up to thirteen. The final, and toughest, Machine appears at the far right. There are two colonies between it and my homeworld.

Turn 12: My fleet intercepts the Machine just before it reaches the first colony. Our first round of fire lands several hits...and then apparently our targeting software decides to go on strike. Cruiser after cruiser explodes, while our return fire only rarely manages to connect. Finally the gunners fix the problem and resume effective fire. After five rounds of combat,  with five cruisers left, and one of them damaged, they finish off the last Doomsday Machine. Victory!

Debriefing: I think I should have built one more colony ship, and maybe another scout (it which case I'd have lost the scout rather than a cruiser).
I realized after game-end that I was moving my ships too fast. Your starting Move 1 means you get to move 1 in each phase, but Move 2 doesn't mean you get to move 2 in each phase--instead, you move  1 in the first movement phase, 1 in the second, and 2 in the third. Move 3 means 1, 2, 2.  The same mechanism used in some of Jack Greene's naval games, so I've seen the mechanism before; I just didn't keep in mind that "Move 2 doesn't mean moving two". Intercepting the Machines in time would have been somewhat harder but I don't think it would have made a difference to this game.
A few times I lost track of which pieces I'd moved. I suppose I could start with the leftmost hexrow and keep working across to the right, but I like to move my warships first and then come back for the civilians. The hexes are big enough, though, that I could easily put the counters at the top ("north") of the hex on the first phase, at the bottom of the hex for the second phase, and keep alternating.

Rating: More elegant than I expected; particularly, the bookkeeping is a lot less painful than I expected. I'll happily give the scenario another go. Josh had to talk me into buying this one, but I'm glad he did.

Friday, May 23, 2014

New Arrivals

Rebel Raiders on the High Seas and Space Empires, both from GMT, arrived today. En route: Yaquinto's Ironclads.

Monday, May 12, 2014

OGREs coming and going

I hauled OGRE up to Blacksburg, and Josh arranged for his friends Will and Kelson to come get an introduction to it. Both of them were impressed and amused by the sheer size of the game--over twenty five square feet of boards! Over 1000 counters! We played one scenario, with a pair of Mark Vs attacking a command post defended by 40 infantry, 30 armor, and two Mark IIIs, with Josh and I handling the defenders. Our strategy was to knock off the Mark Vs' primary batteries and then focus on the treads, using our Mark IIIs to ram as well as shoot. The Mark Vs came on separated, and I think that was their undoing; they couldn't protect each other and we had room to get our entire force engaged.  Getting them down from speed 3 to speed 2 was tough, but once we managed that, we could pile on and drag them down. We lost 3/4 of our infantry and more than half our armor, but we managed to immobilize the Mark Vs at 8 hexes from the Command Post. Quite a creditable effort for our two new players and I'd have to replay it a couple of times to see if I could do any better. And at the end of the game, Kelson fiddled with his phone for a few minutes and announced "I have a Great Big Box coming to my house on Wednesday!" -- he'd found a copy for $120 and snapped it up. And a good time was had by all.

Sunday, May 11, 2014


We unwrapped the Austrian expansion for C&C Napoleonics and gave a go to the Mariazell scenario, with Josh taking the Austrians while I took the French. On the left, the French had a couple of infantry units; in the center, a couple of light infantry; on the right, two light cavalry. The Austrians had two or three infantry units in each location, no cavalry, and some of their infantry were grenadiers.

I think this game was dictated by the cards, which said "the French will attack left and be unable to respond meaningfully to the center and right." On the left, I easily pushed back one Austrian infantry, and destroyed a grenadier unit with a single bayonet charge. And then I stalled. I did manage to drive home a light cavalry charge against the Austrian guns--and for a wonder, Josh didn't have the First Strike card waiting in his hand--but I was unable to finish them before the Austrian infantry to either side chased my horsemen away. A few rounds of unanswered musketry, and their center had destroyed mine; a couple more rounds finished off one of my cavalry and a wounded infantry regiment. Four banners, and victory went to the Austrians.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

In Her Majesty's Name: Cornwall Black Guards vs Zombies

I got In Her Majesty's Name and the expansion Heroes, Villains and Fiends a few months ago, and finally have a table clear to set up a game. For the first game, I'm pitting a five man British Rifle squad against creatures from the Red Sect voodoo list in HVF..

The Duke of Cornwall's Own Black Guards (200 points):
  • Captain Carnelian Woolsey (Inspirational, Erudite Wit), 72pts
  • Sergeant Jones (Bayonet drill, "Royal Welsh"), 33
  • Lewes (Bayonet drill, "Royal Welsh", 1 explosive grenade) 30
  • Awbrey (Bayonet drill, "Royal Welsh", 1 explosive grenade) 30
  • Atkins (Bayonet drill, "Royal Welsh", Marksman, 1 explosive grenade) 35
The monsters (202 points)
  • tonton macoute with machete (46pts)
  • 12 zombies (13 each)
The monsters don't have a Leader character but a) this is a solo effort, so I'm not worried about it being competitive, and b) the Red Cult leader would be a voodoo bokor with mystic talents, and I didn't want to fool with that for the first game. I could have taken another, non-mystical Company but I had all these zombies here, ready to go...Given that the monsters outnumber the humans 13:5, I'll have three zombies move (but not fight) for each initiative tick.
The map is 24 x 26" with a street running east-west, three buildings and a couple of trees south of the street and three buildings north of it. The redcoats start in the southeast corner, in an alley between the edge of the map and a building; the monsters are scattered randomly. There is one civilian marker in each building; four are dummies, but two are real and the Brits want to find them before the zombies do. Monsters move towards non-monsters if they can see them, otherwise roll 1d6 for direction of movement and 1d6 for distance.

Turn 1: One zombie starts in line of sight of the Brits, so the Captain elects to keep his squad where it is and let that zombie come to them. Awbrey bayonets it and Woolsey sabers it, but the zombies doesn't fall; it scrabbles futilely at them. No other zombies are in line of sight. The rules have Movement Phase, then Shooting Phase, then Fighting Phase, so I'm carrying out all Movement before any Shooting--there's an example on page 13 which mentions shooting at figures who haven't moved yet, but that's deleted in the errata.

Turn 2: The three soldiers who aren't already in a fight move forward with bayonets ready. (I'd thought Atkins' Marksman talent would let him Shoot into a Fight without penalty but it turns out that effect comes from the Hunter talent--which is why Atkins advances with bayonet instead of hanging back to shoot). Three zombies come around the corner, two going for Lewes and one headed for Jones and Atkins. Across the street, a zombie tears into a Civilian--but it's dressmaker's dummy! The zed growls in frustration; the Brits sigh in relief. Atkins and Jones hit their zombie but it doesn't go down. Lewes sticks one of the two attacking him. Awbrey bayonets a brick wall and narrowly escapes breaking off his bayonet; Woolsey calmly slashes the zombie but it doesn't go down. (The zombies are mostly rolling 2's for their attacks and 8's for the Pluck rolls). It's helpful to have markers, either on the table or the roster sheet, to indicate which figures have already acted in each phase.

Turn 3: Woolsey wins initiative but all the soldiers are already in Fights. Atkins, planning to step back and then lob a grenade, attempts to disengage but fails. At the west end of the street, three zombies randomly move into line of sight to Lewes, so next turn they'll start moving toward him. There's a zombie in the building adjacent to the troops; its random movement brings it to a window beside Awbrey, and it reaches through to attack. In the Fighting phase, Lewes continues battling his two zombies. Jones finally lands a killing stroke on the one he and Atkins are facing, and the first zed falls. (Atkins started the Fight phase engaged but his only opponent expired before Atkins acted. He cannot throw a grenade or shoot because those are Shooting phase actions and this is the Fighting phase; consequently, Atkins doesn't get an action). The zombie in the window claws at Awbrey and knocks him down. Woolsey mutters "Buck up man, they're only ravenous undead who want to eat brains, you're in no real danger" and that's enough to get Awbrey back in the fight (he would have failed the Pluck roll if not for Woolsey's Inspirational talent). Wooley rolls a 10 to saber his zombie, who rolls a 10 Pluck roll to take it with a smile.

Turn 4: The three zeds at the end of the street lurch toward the soldiers. One of the zombies inside a house, moving randomly, gets close to a civilian--the suspense builds. The soldiers have their own problems, though. Atkins tosses a grenade behind the two zombies attacking Lewis but both shrug off the blast, and they pull down Lewis, who rolls a 1 for Pluck. First blood for the zeds. Woolsey sabers his zombie again, and it finally falls. Awbrey and his zombie flail ineffectually at each other through the window.

Turn 5: Most of the zombies, attracted by the noise, begin to shamble toward the soldiers. Awbrey disengages, leaving the zombie in the window mindlessly clawing at nothing (the zombie took his movement before Awbrey did). The Captain moved to avenge Lewis. In the Shooting phase, Awbrey lobbed his grenade behind the Fighting zombies, killing one. Atkins leveled his rifle at a zed in the street, a dozen yards away; the creature staggered under the heavy round but kept coming. In melee, Woolsey knocked down the the zed which had bitten Lewis, and Jones followed up with the bayonet, but the zombie refused to die.

Turn 6: Only two zombies are moving randomly now; the remainder are fixed on the soldiers, although only one closes to melee range. The tonton macoute finally comes into line of sight, and Atkins draws a bead on it, but the bullet misfires. Woolsey dispatches the zed he'd knocked down last turn, while Awbrey's lunge finishes the one Atkins shot.

Turn 7: The soldiers are in a three man line, with the left flank protected by a wall and the right anchored by their Captain; they stay in place. Atkins retrieves the last squad's grenade from Lewis' body. Only two zombies make it into contact, but three more and the tonton macoute are right behind them. There's a scream in the distance as a zombie stumbles across Miss Heather Hansen and devours her, but the squad's after action report will omit that detail. In the Shooting phase, Atkins lights the grenade and tosses it; the blast shakes three zombies (nullifying their Numb "disregard the first hit" protection) but the tonton macoute easily ignores it. In the melee, Jones finishes off one zombie, bringing the squad's total to six.

Turn 8: Captain Woolsey decides to engage the ogre, but then has second thoughts and stays where he is. They seem fated to meet, however, so when  the tonton macoute advances on him, he stands firm (Pluck roll 10). Atkins (another Pluck roll 10) moves up to his officer's side and growls a challenge to the ogre "Come and have a go, then, if you think you're hard enough!" Two more zombies move to attack, with another unable to shuffle into line because of the building protecting the soldiers' left. The melee resolves as four one-on-one duels. Woolsey's flashing saber finishes one zombie (thanks to the -1 Pluck penalty that a saber inflicts); beside him, Jones trips and falls on his face (would have failed his Pluck roll except for being Royal Welsh and having an Inspirational leader).

Turn 9: Jones can't find his feet and remains Knocked Down; the zombie who couldn't get into contact last turn moves into the line and faces Woolsey. All the Brits are engaged so there's no Shooting. Awbrey finishes his zombie, and Woolsey's stroke staggers his (removing the Numb protection). The ogre nearly breaks its machete but Atkins' counter merely angers it. Jones's zombie barely manages to land a blow, and it does no harm.

Turn 10:  Jones stands as Awbrey moves to assist him--Awbrey would have done better to help Atkins with the ogre, but there was no route to get there unless Atkins disengaged, which would bring another chance for the tonton macoute's Terrifying talent to affect him. Captain Woolsey and Sergeant Jones dispatch their zombies; the ogre and Atkins trade heavy blows but both remain on their feet.

Turn 11: Jones and Woolsey turn to assist Atkins. Awbrey hangs back, unwilling to get within reach of the monster. He raises his rifle, then decides that it would be inadvisable to shoot into a scrum that includes his commanding officer and his sergeant. Atkins is distracted by the arrival of his reinforcements and the tonton macoute hammers him flat. As the beast throws back its head to roar in triumph, the captain lunges and slits it from guggle to zatch!

Turn 12 and following: With all immediate foes dispatched and a moment to breathe, the soldiers check their fallen. Atkins and Lewes are hors de combat, but both should recover; Awbrey guards them while Woolsey and Jones explore the buildings. Only two zombies remain on the board, one of them in the building with the late Miss Hansen and the other trotting up and down an alley, and they are easily dispatched. The sergeant discovers Miss Harriet Tynsley hiding in a wardrobe and the troops escort her to safety.

A very successful operation. The riflemen had the advantages of a good position with one flank protected, and an enemy who came at them in uncoordinated waves. On the other hand, that position meant they had no line of fire; the only zombie to fall to gunfire, without getting into melee, was the very last one. And I'm thinking that I need to add a Field Surgeon to the TO next time the Black Guards deploy.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Ironclads: Breaking Through to Vickburg

Yazoo River, Mississippi, 15 JULY 1862
The is a daylight action set on a river which is mostly 3-5 hexes wide. The ironclad CSS Arkansas starts at the north end of the map; she must break through a Union squadron and exit the south edge. Opposing her are the Union ironclad Carondelet, the ram Queen of the West, and wooden vessel Tyler, which enter from the south edge. Queen has an armored ram bow, but only a 32 pounder gun; Tyler has 8-inch guns and good speed, but no armor. The scenario calls for a speed 2 current but with all the curves of the river, it would have been complicated, so we didn't use that.

Historically, Carondelet ran aground due to a steering hit, and Arkansas chased the other two ships down the river, then sailed through the Federal flotilla to arrive safely at Vicksburg.

In our first game, Tyler pressed ahead of the other Yankee ships. She tried to slip past the Confederate, but her hopes were dashed as Arkansas turned unexpectedly. Tyler ended up delivering the gentlest ram on record, doing no damage at all to either ship; the only effect was to drop both ships' speeds to zero. Arkansas chugged forward and delivered a counter-ram; Tyler, constrained by the riverbank and the requirement to back away after delivering her own ram, couldn't evade it. Arkansas broke her in half and sailed on through the wreckage; however, she didn't have time to build up her speed before Carondelet and Queen of the West came sailing around the river bend. She rammed Carondelet, but this Union ship was much tougher than Tyler, and survived. The Queen slammed into the Confederate, then backed frantically out of the way with Rebel shot bouncing off her armored bows. As Queen maneuvered to get upriver and try for a second ram, Arkansas and Carondelet slugged it out. The Southern vessel finally went under due to a hit from Carondelet, who herself only had 1 flotation remaining.

In the second game, the Northerners stuck together instead of getting separated. Arkansas cut in close to a river bend and got past Carondelet and Queen, in a bid to break through and get downriver.  The faster Tyler brought that to a halt, with a ram that did little damage but brought the Confederate to a standstill. The Rebel guns quickly chewed through Tyler's hull and sank her, but her sacrifice had bought time for the other two ships to maneuver into position. Carondelet blocked Arkansas' advance, and Queen of the West's prow stove in the Confederate's hull. Left with only speed 2 and a single flotation point, the Confederate player conceded.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ironclads: Action at Palmyra Island

Palmyra Island Mississippi, 25 FEB 1863. 
This is a night action, set on a river roughly six hexes wide, winding across three maps. The ironclad USS Indianola begins halfway across map 1 and needs to make it to map 3 without losing more than 50% hull or flotation. She is pursued by CSS (formerly USS) Queen of the West and Webb, wooden vessels built as rams. They come on at the edge of map 1 on the first turn. Both are faster than Indianola--Webb is capable of a blazing 18 hexes per turn!--and perhaps more importantly, both have guns with good fields of fire, and heavily armored bows. The Confederates also get two dummy counters to simulate the Indianola's lack of tactical information.
Historically, Indianola suffered seven rams before she limped to the riverbank, ran aground and surrendered.
In this game, both sides moved downriver, with the Confederates keeping all four ships (two real, two bogus) together and moving at speed 8 or so. On turn 3, rolls for stack flares dispelled one dummy counter; on turn 4, the two sides were at range 9, just within targeting range and also within the narrow arc of Indianola's stern guns. One shot nicked the paint of QotW's armored prow, the other removed the second dummy; that was about all the success the Union had. Indianola swerved back and forth across the river, trying to avoid rams; as she headed toward a riverbank at full speed, I ordered "Stand by to portage!", which would have been a good move if I could have managed it. Webb missed the ram but raced past and boxed her in.  The Union ship was raked fore and aft, taking serious hull damage from the Confederate heavy guns, while her own shells couldn't get past the Confederate bow armor. A critical hit jammed her rudder, which made her course fatally predictable; Queen of the West plowed into her, stove in her stern and sank her. Decisive victory, Confederates. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Red Hand of Mars: Zombie Attack

It was past midnight when they were awakened by the sound of a gunshot. Salisbury, Sobson and Faustmann grabbed their weapons and made their way from their rooms in the guest hall onto the wall of the inner bailey. They discovered a group of men swarming up the stairs from the outer bailey--not peasants with pitchforks, but tough men with military training. Salisbury traded pistol fire with them, but the enemy advanced unchecked until Faustmann rashly and heroically charged the point man and dealt him a knockout blow. The rest of the enemy squad came up the stairs, pistols and shotguns at the ready. Salisbury, realizing they were outnumbered and outgunned, grabbed Faustmann's collar and retreated to the footbridge which spanned the gap between the bailey wall and the second story of the  keep. Sobson, the mechanic, was already removing the pegs which held the bridge in place. The three men retreated into the keep before a hail of gunfire, and threw the bridge down moments before the attackers reached it. Salisbury held them back with his pistol for a few seconds before his luck finally ran out; a slug tore through his left arm, spinning him to the ground. One of the attackers leapt across from the wall to the keep, but Salisbury's defense had bought enough time for Faustmann to seize a table from the Baron's study; the boxer lunged forward with the table as a ram, and the attacker was shoved out the door to fall sixteen feet to the cobbles below.
Inside the keep, Lady Stella and her maid went to the third floor to see to Margaret Heathmoor, who was still working in her lab. Mr. Sator followed, armed with a swept-hilt saber. Heathmoor continued to compound her healing serum; after a few seconds, Lady Stella dredged up memories of her chemistry classes and began mixing a few of her own concoctions.
Meanwhile, Father Albertus Neihus saw the attackers chase Salisbury and Faustmann into the keep. The padre had brought a hunting rifle with him, in the hopes of  boar or roe buck; now he stepped to the window, shouldered the weapon, and fired on a different type of prey.  One of the attackers stumbled, seriously wounded. As the others looked up to find the source of the fire, the priest saw their faces in the moonlight; two of them were the Thule Society men who had argued with the baron that afternoon! The return fire barely missed--one round even tore his collar--and Albertus hastily retreated from the window.
The attackers, stymied at the crossing to the second floor, found their way to the keep's main door on the ground level. The journalist Rathstein raced inside just ahead of them and bounded up the stairs. At the landing, Rathstein turned and fired at point blank range. The leading Thule man fell--but seconds later he rose again, his undead flesh already collapsing and his skin withering, and attacked.
Faustmann remained on the second floor to defend the baron. Sobson scampered upstairs to bar the door to the lab, while Salisbury, Rathstein and  Neihus fought a desperate gun battle. The Thule todtruppen forced them to retreat to the third floor. Lady Stella unbarred the lab door, intending to use her home made smoke flask. And then Sator acted. One quick lunge with the sword, and he ran Heathmoor through. As the woman fell dying, Sator flung an improvised firebomb at Stella. The mechanic Sobson, unarmed and trapped at the end of the lab, tossed a rope out the window and slid down to the ground to escape. Moments later, Sator followed.
Lady Stella quickly put out the flames on her skirt; with the room filling with smoke, she opened the lab door. Unfortunately, just as she did so, the attackers reached the top of the stairs. Rathstein and Salisbury were unconscious; Neihus still stood but was badly wounded. The Thule man saw Lady Stella and demanded "You are the Englanderin scientist?" Stella, startled, said "Yes" and the man instantly aimed his arc pistol at her and took her hostage.
The Thule Society men withdrew. They had paid a heavy price--of the eight men who attacked, four were dead, another was a zombie, and one was seriously wounded--but they had not lost the arc generator or arc pistol and they succeeded in capturing "the Englishwoman scientist". Little did they realize they had the wrong one! Sator had disappeared into the night. Margaret Heathmoor lay dead and her notes were either burnt or missing, but one last vial of regeneration serum was beside her....


Friday, March 21, 2014

Red Hand of Mars: Inquiries and Theories

From the Strelsau Bullenspiel:
Streets Covered In Blood
Martian Influence Suspected
Dateline: Sternberg (Wilhelm Rathstein)
Rumors have reached as far as Strelsau of the horrible happenings at Sternberg. Normal working men have suddenly gone on crazed killing sprees, turning on loved ones and strangers alike. Over a score of innocent men, women and children have fallen victim to these mindless murderers—the latest being newly engaged Freda Adenaur, age 16, of Jungwirth. Why did young Freda die? For the answer, your intrepid correspondent traveled to Sternberg to investigate.
Fraulein Adenaur was slain by Karl Schmidt, a local Sternberg millworker, at the Okoberfest celebration in Sternberg Castle. No connection between the two is known; from all accounts, Schmidt simply went mad, and Adenaur was unfortunate enough to be nearby. Driven by madness to superhuman strength, Schmidt slew the young woman with one brutal punch. He then seriously injured Augustus Klein (41, Sternberg) and attacked others before being dispatched by Mr Jimothy Sobson of Strelsau, with the able assistance of noted Strelsau boxer Mr. Charles Faustmann, Mr. Luther Hart (Sternberg), and Captain R. von Hentzau of the King’s Own Hussars.

Foreign Scientist Distributes Secret Serum

What was the cause of Schmidt’s madness? No one knows, but investigators have reason to suspect an elixir created by English scientist Margaret Heathmoor. Miss Heathmoor, who left England for reasons unknown, claims the nostrum is intended to aid the recovery of injured soldiers. Baron Sternberg approved the research, but he must now be rethinking that decision, in light of its cost. The English scientist claims the formula is harmless, but her Ruritanian guinea pigs would tell a different story, if they were alive. Half a dozen men are known to have taken the so-called regenerative serum; all six went mad and attacked bystanders until they were slain. Heathmoor and Sternberg’s Burgomeister H. Schultz have no record that Schmidt had taken this serum. Did he receive a stolen dose, perhaps with the connivance of Heathmoor’s “American” research assistant? Did Schmidt contract this plague of madness from a previous victim? Martian aerial craft were spotted in the vicinity—but why? Are Heathmoor or her “friend”, the mysterious Stella Vanderbolt, agents of the English government—or of Mars? For the answers to these and other hard-hitting questions, read tomorrow’s Strelsau Bullenspiel !

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Red Hand of Mars: New Blood

On the morning of the boxing match, two persons of interest arrived in Sternberg on the morning train from Strelsau. One was Jimothy Sobson, native Ruritanian of English parents, a talented greasemonkey who'd come to enjoy the beer and watch Faustmann fight. The other was Nigel Salisbury, an aristocratic Englishman of military age and bearing, although he traveled in civilian attire. Both made their way to the castle  in time for the boxing match. Sobson quaffed the local brew, mingled with the peasants, an dheard tales of the recent spate of madmen; Salisbury went to the viewing platform and met the Baron, Captain von Hentzau, Lady Stella and Mr. Sator.
They all watched the bout--or more accurately, they all attended, as Lady Stella tried not to watch. And all went well, until, half an hour after the match finished, a man--a local working man  named Schmidt, nothing remarkable by the look of him--turned on another member of the crowd and struck him savagely, felling him in a single blow. The man spun and, without any visible provocation, struck a willowy young woman in the throat, mortally injuring her.  The crowd scattered away from the madman--except for Sobson, Faustmann and Salisbury, each of whom, impelled by his own motives, rushed toward the attacker.
Sobson and Faustmann tried to take Scmidt away from the crowd, only to find that the man was enraged and not to be calmed. Further, he was remarkably strong, his punches clumsy but brutally powerful.
Meanwhile, as Salisbury pushed through the crowd, another man--later found to be a local clerk named Kohler--howled with fury and swung wildly at him. Salisbury easily evaded the blows and pressed on to the castle stables, where he seized a shovel for use as an improvised weapon. Kohler, distracted, turned on another man and broke his jaw, then headed for the viewing platform. Lady Stella fled but Harriett was not as quick, and Kohler knocked the servant girl down. Salisbury returned to engage Kohler, but they had barely exchanged blows with the Ruritanian cavalry officer, von Hentzau, casually shot the madman in the back of the head. Harriett, who lay stunned at Kohler's feet, was covered in splattered gore.
Salisbury, appalled at the sudden death and von Hentzau's sang froid, turned back to help Sobson and Faustmann, who were trading blows with Schmidt and coming off the worse. Sobson fell. Faustmann gambled on a risky flurry of blows which staggered Schmidt but failed to take him down. Schmidt's counterattack struck home and Faustmann found himself on the ground, dazed. Luther Hartmann, the local fighter, rushed and with a mighty blow knocked Schmidt to the ground; Hartmann turned to gloat over the fallen Faustmann, but had barely opened his mouth when Schmidt sprang to his feet and continued the fight. Schmidt belted Salisbury with a blow that rocked him back on his heels, then turned and hammered Hartmann with a body blow that knocked him cold.
Meanwhile Lady Stella ran towards the castle keep, looking for help. She found Mr Sator standing at the gate between the inner bailey and outer bailey, watching the crowd scatter. She implored Sator for assistance, but he demurred, calmly pointing out that Harriett--who had come stumbling toward the gate--didn't appear to be seriously injured and that the blood that covered her didn't seem to be her own, and therefore aid was not necessary. Stella, disgusted, went into the keep and upstairs to find Margaret Heathmoor, who she knew to have medical training.
Near the stables, the battle with Schmidt continued. Salisbury and Faustmann had given up on knocking him out, and were trying to restrain him. Sobson, with a natural mechanic's instinct for broken things, had seen Schmidt's broken jaw knitting together before his horrified eyes. He snatched the shovel away from Salisbury and brought it down, axelike, onto Schmidt's head. The blade sank in and blood splashed, but Schmidt fought on. As von Hentzau sauntered over, pistol in hand, the three men finally managed to drag the madman down, The cavalryman holstered his weapon with visible reluctance, and began binding Schmidt's arms. All concerned heaved a sigh of relief...until Schmidt, with a Herculean effort, managed to snap the rope!  That broke through von Hentzau's sunny demeanor; he cursed, yanked out his pistol, and fired. The heavy slug plowed a furrow across Schmidt's forehead but didn't knock him out. The madman twisted and struck Salisbury unconscious, dislodging the Englishman from his back. This proved his undoing, as Sobson brought the shovel blade down hard, severing the spine. Schmidt's feet drummed, his hand clutched at the cobblestones, and then, at last, he fell still.

_Unknown to all, a Martian agent watched the final scene of the drama with quiet amusement. He noted that Salisbury, Faustmann, Sobson, and the servant Harriett had all been exposed to the blood of one or the other of the madmen..._

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Red Hand of Mars

As a break from D&D, I'm running a Victorian Science Fiction mini-campaign using the Ubiquity rules from Leagues of Adventure.

Chapter the First

During the last week of Ruritanian Oktoberfest, an English lady, Stella Vanderbolt, and her maid arrive at Sternberg station with the intent of visiting a college friend who is staying at the Sternberg castle. A dashing Ruritanian cavalry captain, Hauptman Rupert von Hentzau, sees the women struggling with their luggage; he introduces himself and retains a laborer to carry the valises. The man turns out to be Charles Faustmann, a boxer of some minor notoriety, who had just arrived from Strelsau for a bout scheduled the next day. Von Hentzau, who is a cousin of Baron von Sternberg, invites Charles to come along to the castle; he says that the Baron was something of a boxer himself, before the injury that crippled him, and would be glad to meet Charles.Also, there has been some trouble in the area--rioting, murders, something of that sort, he's heard--and while visitors would probably be safe in the village, they would definitely be safe in the castle. They all travel together, the cavalryman flirting gallantly  with both the lady and her maid while the boxer ridges alongside the diver.

The schloss covers the top of the hill overlooking Sternberg village. It's surrounded by a moat; the grey stone walls encircle an area about 120ft wide by 200 feet long, and the keep rises 60 feet high or more. It was built in he 1400s, when the Turks and Hungarians were serious threats, but has since been renovated to be more of a residence and less a fortress. The gatehouse is in the northeast corner; the carriage enters there, travels up the slope to the west end of the castle, makes the turn and comes to the keep.

Von Hentzau takes them into the keep and introduces them to Erik von Sternberg. He is lying on a couch, and apologizes for being unable to rise. He explains that he was in Vienna during the Martian attack and was injured while fighting the raiders. He is pleased to meet the visitors, particularly Faustmann, and they talk boxing for a few minutes. Charles commits a social blunder by asking whether the Baron ever made money at boxing, but von Sternberg gently points out than a gentleman fights for honor. The cavalryman suggests that Charles's bout tomorrow be held in the castle bailey, so the baron and his servants can watch; the baron takes enthusiastically to the idea. He invites everyone to dinner, including Charles-which is rather stretching the boxer's "minor celebrity" status, but the baron can't get out and is hungry for new people to talk to.

While waiting for dinner, Faustmann gets a servant's tour of the castle. While in the kitchen, he hears a little more about the troubles von Hentzau mentioned. In the neighboring village of Tausendorf, four men apparently went mad and attacked their families and anyone else they ran across. Details are not clear, but it appears it took a great deal of effort to stop the madmen: "Old Fritz said he shot one right in the chest and it didn't even slow him least, that's what Old Fritz said.." Several people were killed.

Meanwhile, Lady Stella goes to the third floor of the keep to visit her friend, Margaret Heathmoor, who is hard at work in her laboratory. Margaret had studied medicine at Oxford at the same time Lady Stella was there and, as two of the few female students, they became friends. Margaret then moved to Vienna to pursue her studies, and met the Baron there. Now Margaret is working on behalf of the baron, trying to devise a serum to induce regeneration of his back and legs. She tries to explain the theory to Lady Stella but did not specialize in medicine or biology, and gets lost about fifteen seconds into the explanation. Margaret is upset and distracted; she explains that her formula should be perfect but in fact, when tested, it has serious problems, and she can't understand the disparity between her predictions and the results. She needs to get results within a short time; the baron has an understanding with a young countess, but the countess can't be expected to marry a cripple, and there are plenty of eligible bachelors who are quite willing to replace him. Lady Stella is curious as to exactly what the problems are, but  Margaret becomes distraught. It might have been an unfortunate scene, but a distraction arises in the form of someone entering the laboratory--a Mr. Sator, from Vienna, who is assisting Margaret. Lady Stella resolves to investigate through other avenues.

At dinner, the Baron is entertaining, telling the story of his fight with the Martians, talking about Ruritania's right to have a colony on Mars as Britain and other major powers do, and asking about unrest in the capital. It becomes clear that, while von Sternberg is courteous and friendly, he is not intellectually gifted and has a narrow point of view. By contrast, young von Hentzau takes a keen interest in everyone and is clever, witty, and charming--so charming, in fact, that he leaves dinner early to go off with one of the servant girls. Margaret Heathmoor also leaves early, to go back to work in her lab. Mr Sator is also at dinner, but he asks few questions, and his own replies are terse and unencouraging. He perks up when Charles speaks about his ambitions as a fighter, and asks whether Charles is also a swordsman, but on learning that the answer is no, he immediately loses interest and goes back to picking at his dinner. Lady Stella is faintly horrified at the thought of watching boxing, more so in light of Charles' slightly manic, and mercenary, enthusiasm.The dessert arrives and everyone's attention is occupied by an excellent baumkuchen, coffee and brandy.

After dinner, Lady Stella retires to her rooms on the third floor of the keep; some time during the evening, she sees a carriage leave the castle. Charles stays up late, worrying about the next day's fight; from his window in the servant's quarters, he sees that the lights are still on in the laboratory.

The next morning dawns crisp and clear, a beautiful October day. The festival crowd begins to stream up from the village. Charles spends his time working the crowd, making sure people know his name--a plan which could backfire, if he loses the match. He hears news of more murders last night. In the village of Denewald, only three miles away, two more men went on a crazed killing spree. The cook's assistant relates that her brother talked to their cousin whose girlfriend's best friend was from Denewald, and she said that he said that he said that she said the madmen were amazingly strong and tough; one took a mattock blow straight to the forehead that should have killed anyone, but he got up and kept fighting until, finally, enough men with clubs and axes piled on to put him down. Three men, five women and three children were killed, and several other men seriously injured. No one has an explanation for why the men would have gone mad. There is talk of demon possession; the parish priest discounts this, but has already sent a message to the bishop anyway.

Noon arrives, and with it, the boxing match. The baron donates several barrels of beer to the proceedings, which the crowd appreciates. The time comes, and Charles faces his opponent. Neither Margaret nor Stella attend; Mr Sator is present but spends most of his time gazing over the crowd rather than the fight. In contrast, the baron watches every detail of the fight keenly.The local champion, it turns out, is Luther Hartmann, a brawny man perhaps a year or two younger than Charles and just as big. Charles swallows nervously but bets on himself to win. In the first round, Charles feints and then lands one good blow, which gathers him a point but doesn't really stagger his foe. In round two, Luther adjusts his defense, and Charles fails to get in a good hit; Luther doesn't get one past Charles' defenses either, but his eyes promise that it's just a matter of time. In the third round, it's much the same; the air is thinner here than in Strelsau and Charles is starting to feel it. Both men are covered in sweat. Most of the crowd is chanting for Luther. During the break, Charles goes back and increases his bet. He's ahead, a little, on points, and if he can survive the final round, at least he'll make money. No, he decides, that's not good enough. No one is going to remember a fighter who just barely beat his opponent. He needs a big win--something that will have people talking about him, something they'll hear about back in Strelsau. His brows go down, his jaw tightens. He strides back into the ring. They fight, circling, throwing a quick jab, both men looking for an opening. Finally, with thirty seconds left, Luther wades in. He's fast, two quick lefts and then a brutal right that comes out of nowhere...but somehow, Charles guesses what's coming. he ducks and turns and takes the blow on the shoulder, and Luther is off balance for just that instant that Charles needs. He steps across and hammers a left into the ribs, a right into the gut, a left jab, and another right heavy into the solar plexus. As the bell  rings, Luther is still on his feet but doubled up, trying to breathe, clearly out of the fight. Ten seconds before, the crowd was chanting Luther's name, but now it's "Charles! Charles! Charles!"...