Monday, November 16, 2015

Close Action: Haddock vs Allies

This was a hypothetical action in 1741, pitting 16 Royal Navy ships against 10 Spanish and 8 French. The Brits begin closehauled on the port tack at medium sail; the Spanish start parallel to leeward, at fighting sail; the French start broadreaching, in line with and facing the Spanish but far enough away that they can cut upwind to engage the Brits. That's what we expected to happen, in fact--the Spanish command conference decided the Brits would stay upwind, engage the French and ignore us. We would be too far away to shoot effectively and unable to close the range in any reasonable time.

The British, however, didn't know that. They immediately drove straight at us. Their plan, as it turned out, was to pass through our line and defeat us, and hope the French wouldn't be able to pass through our line to attack them.

Unfortunately, the 50 gun Brit who was trying to pass astern of me didn't quite judge it right, and rammed into my 108 gun Real Felipe. And he fouled, so I was stuck in place. And with an invitation like that, of course a Brit 74 sauntered over to park at my bow and rake me repeatedly. Fortunately Real Felipe is a monster and can withstand quite a bit of punishment. I fired half-broadside rakes at the 50 who had immobilized me, then...formed boarding parties! Both Brits hastily formed defensive boarding parties. I assaulted the 74, which barely repulsed me. The 50, knowing she couldn't withstand a boarding action, cut away the grappling lines and edged away.

Meanwhile, the French line had swept down on the British van and gotten embroiled in a furball there. The French admiral signaled me that he was going to keep his ships together at the van, which meant that my ship and the rest of the Spanish rear were not going to be rescued. That was probably the right decision overall, but that was cold comfort with my ship and her consort Brilliante fighting five Brits, and the rest of the Spanish rear equally outnumbered.

It was about this point that my consort exploded.

The Brits had sent four strong ships to attack the three weaker ships of the Spanish rear, but hadn't been effective as I would have expected--in fact, one of the three managed to escape, and another was  battered but still attacking at game end. The third, however--Brillante--had been reduced to floating scrap wood when she caught fire and blew up. Surrounding her were a knot of five ships--my Real Felipe and four Brits. The burning debris from the wreck caught all five of us on fire, but Real Felipe managed to extinguish hers quickly. Not all the Brits were as fortunate. I finally managed to turn (having been immobile since game turn 3) and put enough shot into that 50 to finish her off.

The game was called at that point with an Allied victory; the Brits hadn't managed to defeat our rear fast enough to prevent our winning at the van. I think the Brit plan was clever but flawed--it relied on their being able to get through a hostile line, and the French not being able to get through a friendly line. I am thankful not to have been selected for British admiral, since I don't know what would have been a winning strategy--there were several comments, from all three sides, to the effect the Brits were doomed from the start as they were facing a strength point disparity of about 20% .

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Xia: Legends of a Drift System

Just finished a game of Xia with Joshua and Kelson. I took a ship with a good balance of offense, defense and movement; in retrospect, I should have been really good at one thing and then exploited that. I was firmly in last place when Josh blew up my ship for his last two points to win. It seems like an interesting game with several possible paths to win. Josh has it at the top of his "Must Buy" list.

Then we had a game of Yardmaster--which we call Soviet Trains, because whatever you need is what won't be available. The usual turn's activity was "Draw a card and say Argh". Kelson finally threw down enough bonus actions to complete his train and win. Soviet Trains is best played with three or more, so you can spend more time laughing at other players' misfortune than suffering your own.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Battle of Smolensk

We played the Battle of Smolensk, from the Napoleonic 20 series by Victory Point Games.

My French defeated Joshua's Russians, but it was a close run thing.

At game start, the city is protected only by one regular infantry corps and one militia unit, with the rest of Russian forces trickling in from the north as Napoleon's troops march from the south. My French veterans quickly took the southern suburbs and assaulted the bastion; I confidently expected to break the defenders and pour across the bridges to meet Barclay de Tolly's main body north of the city. Little did I realize that the paltry militia unit was actually--judging by its performance--the First Guards Shock Militia Hero Division! Despite repeated heavy French assaults, they simply would... not... budge. (Our theory is that they thought the Dneiper was vodka and they wouldn't retreat until they'd drunk all of it--Josh said that sounded enough like a Russian fairy tale to be likely).
By the time I finally destroyed them, Barclay de Tolly's troops were lining the northern bank. He forced a bridgehead, I pushed him back; I crossed the river, he pushed me back. The city burned and we were stalemated.

Meanwhile, I sent Joachim Murat east across the pontoon bridge to take Lubino by coup de main. However, Cossacks swept in just in time, delaying the French long enough for Bagration to block the attack. There was a sharp cavalry battle, but it proved indecisive.

For three days, the armies ground each other down. As dusk fell on the third day, Napoleon ordered a last attack, throwing the Imperial Guard against a Russian corps that had fought its way to the south bank. The Russians fled across the bridges, precipitating a collapse of the army's morale; Barclay withdrew during the night.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Problems with Conflict of Heroes

Josh and I had a game of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel, using the State Farm 158 scenario that I played with Marco in January.  Josh took the Germans, and didn't lose any to the pre-battle attrition rolls; my Russians lost a couple of hilltop units.
I tried the same ploy I did last time, of sending an SMG over the hilltop into the German mortars, using a Free Action card to make it out of the balka and up onto the hill; however, Josh had a flamethrower card, so things didn't work out well for me. I also made the mistake of moving into close combat; the unit I was attacking had spent all its action points, but Josh pulled out a Free Action card of his own in order to have his unit take a shot, and his panzergrenadiers trounced my rifle squad. As I recall, he needed an 11 to hit their flank, and he had 2d6 +5 for his firepower and +4 for close combat.  Not hard to roll 11 or above when you have a +9 modifier. After that, I merely moved adjacent and fired from there, rather than get into close combat. And his artillery obliterated mine. I did get one turn of fire off, but between his direct fire and his 105mm mission, only one 81mm mortar survived to turn 2.
But despite all this, the Russians won. Partly this was because I got 2VP for each of his units, and he only got 1 for mine. Partly it was because he moved adjacent to the balka instead of using smoke and recon-by-fire; I could send a few squads to adjacent positions and overwhelm one of his units. Partly it was just because I had more units than he did, and could afford to stall until he'd used all his actions, after which I could attack and he couldn't respond.

There are a few things that bug me about this series.

  • No leaders. Leadership functions are abstracted into command points, and those command points don't have any specific location. You can apply those command points to a mortar in the rear, and an infantry squad on the far right, and an SMG squad on the far left, with none of those being in communication or having Line of Sight to each other.
  • Telepathic units. If your mortar squad is threatened in the rear, your troops on the right can turn, move, and take the threat under fire, with no communication and no time delay. They don't have a specific mission, or lane, or target they have to stick with, just instant response to whatever the commander's whim is.
  • No differentiation of unit quality. One a unit is Unnerved, for instance, it doesn't matter whether it's veteran troops or raw conscripts, they still have the same roll to rally. In some scenarios, a unit may not be affected by a particular damage result at all, which partly mitigates this problem; however, it would be straightforward to say "this veteran unit is +1 to rally, these militia are -2". There are also no differences in training and doctrine--for example, when ambushed, a conscript might stand bewildered, a trained soldier might dive for cover, and an elite might assault through the ambush. CoH doesn't distinguish.
  • Wound markers instantly make a unit a priority target, since a second wound will eliminate it. There may be times when you turn your attention to another, unwounded target because it's more of a threat, but in general, you want to finish off a wounded unit. That's how you reduce the enemy CAPs and you gain victory points.
  • If you have more units than the enemy, you may be able to stall until the enemy has no action points left, then you move when he can't respond. You can always send one unit at a time to recon; there's no time pressure. That one's easy to fix, though. You get, say, five activations and have to get all your moves done with that, using group activations as needed. 

New Titles

Well, new to me. One of the local gamers was cleaning out his shelves, so I picked up some Avalon Hill titles:

  • D Day (1977 edition)
  • Afrika Korps
  • Stalingrad
  • France 1940
  • Waterloo
  • Napoleon at Bay (the 1814 campaign)
I also recently got the Lost Legion expansion for Mage Knight.

Monday, July 13, 2015


Josh and I played the Maloyaroslavets scenario from the Russian expansion for Command and Colors: Napoleonics. Many of the scenarios in this expansion are more "historical" than "balanced", but this one seemed pretty balanced, according to the ratings at 
The French have sixteen units and five leaders; they set up occupying the village of Maloyaroslavets, with their backs to the impassible Luzha River--in fact, the two Heavy Cavalry units start behind the river and have to cross a bridge to join the battle. The Russians have nineteen units and four leaders.Victory conditions are ten flags; possession of three of the five village hexes counts as two flags. Josh took the Russians, I took the French.
This was one of those cases where my maneuver cards had a totally different plan than I did. 
The French right only has three units, and a defensible line; I wanted to move my infantry up the hill, ease my cavalry forward to support, and then leave that flank alone. I did get my troops up on a hill and managed to wipe out a Russian unit that trespassed too far. As the game progressed, though, I ended up with a hand that was purely "probe right, attack right, assault right", while I was desperate to shore up my center.
On the left, I advanced when I had cards. The cossacks occupied the woods on my far left; we drove them out with the bayonet, but didn't get any farther. The Russians occupied the woods and hills beyond the church, and I never got the cards to do anything about it.
In the center, I advanced a line unit forward to occupy the farthest town hex. In retrospect, that may not have been the best move, since Josh played "Every Russian From Here To St Petersburg Shoots At You", to the undoing of my infantry. That advance did vacate a town hex for my artillery to advance into, but the Russians had two batteries in position, and cards to fire them, and quickly reduced my battery to one gun and forced it to retreat. I brought up the Old Guard and a heavy cavalry unit and charged, whereupon Josh played BOTH First Strike cards and disrupted my attack; he followed with a Leadership card which wiped out three units and a leader from my center. The heavy cav on his left drove in and crushed my light cav for the last flag. Final score, ten to four, or 11:4 if you count the fact that the Russians had occupied the Church and I couldn't push them out.
I had just drawn my very first "attack center" card of the entire game. I'd had cards which me do things in the center--Grand Maneuver, Fire and Hold, Cavalry Charge--but never more than one at a time and never a specific "center" card.
Despite the way this ended in a debacle for the French, I think the scenario is probably pretty balanced. Josh is a bit better general in this game than I am, and the cards conspired against me and that did me in. 
One annoying thing about the scenarios is that units are set up out of the way. The heavy cavalry, for instance, often starts as they did here, in the rear behind obstacles; you have to use several cards just to get them to the battlefield, much less into action. This scenario started with the Russian guns in good positions but only one of the three French batteries in line, Perhaps other people spend more time slowly developing their position and bringing pieces foward? As for us, we usually have a fight going on and something more pressing to do with our cards,


Monday, July 6, 2015


In honor of the bicentennial of the battle, Joshua and I played Waterloo, from Victory Point Games. It's a classic style wargame, with a low unit count and just a few pages of rules, and covers the crucial days of the campaign rather than just the last battle. 

Josh's French broke the English at Quatre Bras and forced the Prussians out of Ligny. One British corps held the road to Waterloo but the French steamroller kept pressing it back. Meanwhile, Josh kept the Prussians from linking up with the British, and eventually the Imperial Guard took Wavre. Blucher was essentially out of the fight. The English situation was grim--but then Uxbridge's heavy cavalry entered. They charged the French artillery, countercharged the French horse, attacking left and right, and drove halfway to Ligny before finally being overwhelmed by the French tide.

The British managed to rally a few reinforcements, but by then the French had taken Hougoumont and La Haye. The British morale collapsed and the Corsican rode triumphantly into Waterloo.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Ryan, Dan K, Bob S and I got in two Ironclads scenarios.

First was Wassaw Sound, Georgia, 1863. CSS Atlanta and Savannah, casemate ironclads, are trying to fight their way past Union monitors Nahant and Weehawken. Atlanta hugged the left bank of the river and sound, while my Savannah started out on the right. We quickly realized that the casemate's guns have limited fields of fire, and have to fire on "nearest ship"; furthermore, the Confederate crews are inexperienced and the Union monitors are small targets. In short, our guns missed a lot. Dan solved that problem by getting in close; I solved it by rigging my spar torpedo and charging full speed ahead, which didn't cause any damage to the Union ships but did motivate them to get out of the way. I passed them and had an opening to run for open water, which was part of our victory conditions. I should have done that...except...just as I was considering it, Atlanta managed to ram Nahant. That damaged the Union ship and more importantly brought her to a dead stop. As Nahant backed away from the collision, I swooped in for a stern rake at point blank range, then turned and rammed her stern.
Nahant had already lost 8 of her 11 floatation points before this; the spar torpedo and ram did another 17. That rather thoroughly achieved the "cripple one Union vessel" part of our victory conditions; however, on our side, Atlanta was crippled and nearly dead in the water, so we couldn't manage the "get both ironclads upriver or out to sea" part of things. Consequently, it's marked as a tie; however, from my point of view, though, "successful spar torpedo ram" is made of Win.

Second scenario was a night battle in a river, the Battle of Plymouth (NC) in 1864. The ironclad CSS Albemarle came downriver, intending to get into position to bombard Plymouth. USS Southfield and Miami, wooden sidewheel gunboats, moved to intercept. Ryan acted as gamemaster, and ruled that the limit of vision was three hexes. Beyond that, you might see gun flashes but you wouldn't be sure exactly where your target was--or who! We each gave him our plots and went into another room, and then he would call us in, one at a time, to show us what limited amount we could see. And for damage resolution, we knew when we scored a critical on the enemy, but we weren't told what the effects were.
Dan and I drew the Union gunboats, and Dan's Miami moved upriver quickly while my Southfield struggled against the current. Albemarle hove into sight and I could see a fire blazing behind her, which had to be Miami. I managed to dent Albemarle's pilothouse, while his return fire jammed my rudder and knocked out my engine. As I started drifting away, Miami limped back into view and engaged. Unbeknownst to us, Albemarle had also taken an engine hit, and couldn't maneuver well enough to isolate and finish either of us. At the end, I was nearly dead in the water, Miami was battered and burning, and we'd chewed through all Albemarle's Hull points. Usually an ironclad sinks because she loses Flotation points; Bob said this was the first time he could recall having an ironclad lose its entire Hull. Ryan was the only one who saw all the maneuvers; he said that we all played less boldly that we would have if we could see farther. I think all three players felt like they were losing, and the end was not so much a rousing "glorious victory!" as a bemused "well, look at that, he died first; I wasn't expecting that." A very interesting game and kudos to Ryan for running it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Close Action: l’Étenduère’s Opportunity

This was a scenario set in 1747, between a French convoy escort, commanded by the Marquis de l’Étenduère, and British attackers under Rear Admiral Edward Hawke. The British have nine ships, mostly 50s and 60s and one 70, with mostly B and C crews and the weather gauge; the French have seven ships, ranging from 64s to an 80, with C and D crews. There is limited searoom to the sides of the map, on the grounds that the Brits are trying to get past the French without going so far around that they can't attack the convoy. Josh was admiral for the Brits, Chris Williams commanded the French.
The British ships were individually weaker than the French ships, so the plan was to concentrate our rear three on their rear two (a D 64 and D 68), and refuse our van. That plan lasted about one turn before the British captains threw it to the winds and followed their own fancies. Our rear three engaged their rear three, rather than two, which meant we gave the French the opportunity to add a C quality 74 into the mix; further, our ships got in each other's way, and didn't close aggressively. In the van, I swept down as a threat to cross their leader's bow, staying carefully out of the enemy gunnery arcs. Unfortunately, the rest of our van followed me, although the plan had been to turn away from the enemy and refuse action. Here, too, the Brits were clumsy, blocking each other's shots.
Seeing that we were committed, I cut through the enemy's line in hopes of causing some collisions that might give us an advantage; however, the French deftly avoided me and I was isolated. Worse, they got off a critical hit that did waterline damage, and sending men to the pumps cost me another crew section. After that, my gunnery was essentially ineffective. Perhaps I should have continued parallel to the enemy, instead of cutting through--but that would have pitted my 60 against a French 74, which meant having a 21 gunnery factor + 27 hull +16 crew against 27 gunnery + 36 hull + 25 crew.
In contrast with the British, the French stuck together reasonably well. Their rear three ships handled our three, and the rest joined the action at the van. I think the French admiral felt he made some mistakes, but I didn't notice anything glaring.
The end result was that the British lost 23 sections (11 R, 5 H, 7 C) vs. 9 French (4 R, 3 H, 2 C); the British failed 5 morale checks vs. 2 for the French. Part of it can be ascribed to poor Brit tactics, but not all. The French started with a stronger force, at 532 vs 473; further, the British ships are individually more fragile, and easier to diable. Post game suggestions included adding a couple of British ships and spreading the French out more, so the Brits have a chance to attack before the French can tighten their line; lowering the French crew quality; and doing away with the hard map edges which limit maneuver opportunity.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Two Tier Campaign

I've been reading Last Guardian of Everness lately, in which some of the characters take action not only in the real world, but also in the Dreaming. It occurred to me that having a two-tier campaign would be one way to give players some variety while maintaining campaign continuity. So, to give a D&D 4e example,  in the real world, you're playing low level characters, perhaps L3 to get started; in the Dreaming, you're significantly higher, perhaps L15, and possibly a different class and perhaps even a different race. In the real world, you're a L4 halfling rogue; in the Dreaming, you're a L16 warforged juggernaut, or eladrin warlord, or pixie sorcerer. And perhaps your Dream character changes from time to time, if you want--sorcerer for a few weeks, then paladin, but it's still you inside. You can get some variety, and there's no continuity problem of "We were in this dungeon, and Fred the Fabulous decided to walk off, and then around the next corner, behold, Phred the Pious  appears and we immediately trust him implicitly."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Mage Knight

Josh and Gwen came for wedding planning, but we squeezed in two games of Mage Knight. In the first game, he pretty much went his way and I went mine, although we teamed up for a city assault or two. In the second game, I was rather poor in mana crystals, so after a while he went ahead of me and cleared out dragons and such so I could get to each city with enough resources to participate in the assaults. That meant he did get more Fame than I did, but by the end of the game I also hit the top of the Fame chart, so it's not like his getting the extra Fame cost me anything.
To play efficiently, you definitely need a feel for what balance of resources you will require and how you're going to get them. Since "resources" includes movement ability, combat ability, healing ability, mana generation, recruiting ability, units, spells, relics, and extra actions, there's a bit of a learning curve. But I can be less than totally efficient and still capture the cities and win the game--I just won't be keeping up with Josh.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Avec Infini Regret

Marco came over and we tried Avec Infini Regret, by Vae Victis, available through GMT. It's a somewhat simplified version of Ben Hull's Musket and Pike system, as seen in GMT's Under the Lily Banners, Sweden Fights On, etc, The GMT series are all Thirty Years War or English Civil War, whereas Avec Infini Regret is set a little earlier, during the French wars of religion. The particular scenario we played tonight was the Battle of Coutras of 1587.

In the game, the Protestants under Henry of Navarre have cavalry in the center, with infantry on the wings; the Royalists have a single lengthy line of infantry and cavalry, plus a forward body of cavalry. I took the Protestant side.

Each formation gets an order (Charge, March or Rally) at the beginning of the game; when that formation activates, it can either stick to its current order or try to change them. It's relatively easy for cavalry to change to Charge, for instance, or for a badly cut up formation to change to Rally--but the change is not guaranteed. If your formation has Charge orders, you must move closer to the enemy (a point which would get me in trouble); March orders allow you to move closer but not make contact; Rally orders are for repairing your units. Gunfire doesn't always cause casualties, but even the most successful melee always means you take some casualties, and may destroy a unit. If you move close to a cavalry unit, it can try to countercharge; if you close on an infantry unit, it may be able to fire defensively.

I initially sent my left wing infantry into a Charge against the enemy's right, which occupied a treeline; I held steady in the center and right. I pushed back some of his line but took heavy losses myself. Unfortunately, once committed to a Charge, I had a hard time changing my orders, and only managed it after half my units were destroyed and the other half shaken. I did manage to convert to Rally, eventually.

The Royalist commander, de Joyeuse, led his heavy horse into a charge against the right edge of my center. One of his units broke through my line, but was quickly surrounded and destroyed; two others were broken and fled, although my own cavalry was rather spread out and disorganized. Due to being unable to change from Charge to March, I had to commit some of my units to attacking his second line, which I would really rather not have done--but the troops were eager to press forward, at least until the enemy horse countercharged them. My enfants perdus were destroyed, but they helped break up the enemy charge, and that's what they were there for.

My right wing infantry, under March orders, advanced a couple hundred yards before halting, and  didn't make contact.

We called it during the third turn, due to time. Each side had four units destroyed,

Two key points:

  • In melee, you always take casualties. Your charismatic leader, charging with an elite unit, hitting a hapless enemy in the flank, with enough DRM to max out the result even before you roll? Still takes a hit. That happened in this game. And if you roll badly and you can be wiped out.
  • You may not be able to change your formation's orders whenever you want, so make sure that you think about what you want them to do, and not do.
Good game, and I expect to order a copy soon.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mage Knight

I received Mage Knight for my birthday, which is probably good; if I'd realized how many different components were involved, I would have been intimidated. Map tiles, character pieces, tactics cards, basic action cards, advanced action cards, spell cards, artifact cards, unit cards, wound cards, contol tokens, level/command tokens, skill tokens, several types of monster tokens, mana tokens, mana dice...and I suspect I'm forgetting something.
And yet it works. Yes, it's complicated, and I think I'd be happier with a little lighter version, but I could cope with it. That's not to say that I'm likely to be playing it without the rulebook close at hand, but after a play-through with Josh last week, I ran the introductory scenario solo and managed to survive, find the objective, and feel reasonably confident that I followed the rules. I found the city at the very end of the second day, having recruited a band of Peasants, and defeated five Orc tribes and two Mage Towers (okay, maybe one of them was really a monastery, but how was I to know? It had mages defending it, am I right? And maybe I shouldn't have torched it, but can't we let bygones by bygones?), and accrued 31 Fame and a neutral Reputation.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Three Reports

We visited Josh in Blacksburg and consequently I had a busy gaming weekend.

Mage Knight: if I'd seen the component list, I might not have bought it, but after the play-through with Josh, I have a reasonably good handle on the basics.
I took Tovak and Josh took the expansion character Krang, and we each made our way up the map, exploring, fighting and recruiting. We both avoided dragons, and I backed out of one fight that involved two monsters at the same time, but otherwise we tried everything, including a successful assault on a city.
It may be more than I want to set up on a regular basis, but I can see playing it solo every now and again.

Maria: this is a three player game is set in the War of the Austrian Succession, with a split map board. In the East, Austria faces Prussia and French-backed Bavaria; in the west, France faces the Austrians in the Netherlands and Prussia's alter ego, the Pragmatic Army. I made the decisive move to victory, by deciding to play France; Kelson got Austria and Josh tookk Prussia/Pragmatic.
Each player has a pool of victory tokens, and the objective is to use all of your pool. You can do that by conquering cities, winning battles decisively, winning the Imperial election, and probably a couple of other methods that didn't come up. In my case, France advanced conservatively into the Netherlands and aggressively with the Franco-Bavarian forces. Meanwhile, Prussia also pushed into Austria, while the Pragmatics raced south to block the French from the Electors. Austria responded, perhaps too aggressively, to Prussia, but couldn't stop the Franco-Bavarian bulldozer. The game ended with Prussia in control of Silesia, Saxony neutral, the Pragmatics in northeastern France, and the Franco-Bavarians controlling everything from Prague to Vienna.
My understanding is that if you play Maria with continuous negotiation, it's reasonably balanced; but if you play it as a straight wargame, it favors the French fairly heavily. That was our experience. Austria and Prussia did negotiate towards the end, and Prussia subsidized Austria in an attempt to stave off a French victory, but it was too little, too late. I think with more experience, it would be more balanced.
One mechanism that I particularly liked is that supply trains are separate units from the armies, and are slower than the armies. Being disconnected from your train means you can't capture fortresses (no siege guns) and you suffer attrition. It was a simple and elegant way to handle the logistics concerns.

YardMaster: this is a simple card game, in which each player has an engine and a caboose and is trying to connect the two with enough cars in between. Each car has a color (red blue green yellow purple) and a value (one to four). In order to join the train, each car has to match the color or value of the preceeding car, and the last one also has to match the color or value of the caboose. Of course, you have to buy those cars with cards, and it seems you never quite have the cards to buy what you want before someone else snaps it up. Josh and Kelson call it "Soviet Trains", and the theme song is "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might just find, you can't get what you need either." Despite that, it's fun--with three or more players, you get to laugh at their frustrations more often than they're laughing at yours. Easy to learn, quick, and amusing, and what more could you want?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Campaign Ideas

Three concepts for role playing game campaigns:

  • Red Hand of Mars: Mars is inhabited by the HG Wells Martians--squidlike builders of fighting machines. It's also inhabited by Barsoomian Red Martians and four armed Green Martians. And the Great Powers of Earth are setting up colonies, as in Space: 1889. Deep in the past, people from Earth (perhaps Atlantis?) found or made the teleport gates to Mars, such as the one John Carter discovered; those people became the Red Martians. The Green Martians are related to the Wells Martians--possibly genetically manipulated, or just a different species. Now some Red Martians are allied with or clients of the Earth powers, some are opposed, and some even raid Earth; Green Martian tribes raid everyone who doesn't bribe them; and the Wells Martians factions fight among themselves and everyone else.
  • Ragnarok 1632 : The Thirty Years War unleashed death and destruction across Northern Europe. When Gustavus Adolphus, the Lion of the North, is killed at Lutzen, so fell the final bar holding back Ragnarok. Now, as Imperial and AntiImperial forces jockey for position and pillage the countryside, dwarf armies and jotun march from the North, and great monsters prowl the world. You are an einherjar, a valkyrie, an alchemist, a musketeer--and you must hold the world together.
  • Burning Gold: the sun has gone out, and no one knows why. Creatures of darkness are coming down from the mountains, and the dead are walking. The only light comes from dwarf magic: burning gold. There's no time to wait for the High King to gather his knights and wise men. You must find the ruins of a dwarf city and retrieve the secret of making light. You must gather up what gold you can carry and march East to the edge of the World, and find the place of Dawn. And then you must, somehow, make sure the Sun rises again. (Inspiration: Blog of Holding, the "star mining" ideas from the GitP forum, and the Navajo worlds myth).

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Encounter Design: Battlefields

"You're fighting on an endless, featureless grey plain..."

Sounds like a pretty boring place to fight. What that encounter needs is some terrain. 

Possible properties of terrain features:
  • Impedes Line of Sight
  • Impedes Line of Fire
  • Impedes Movement
  • Hazardous
  • Moving
  • Altitude / Distance
Note that a feature can have multiple properties: a stone wall impedes LoS, LoF and Movement; poisonous bushes are hazardous and impede movement; tear gas might impede LoS and be hazardous and moving. 

I was going to differentiate between "active hazard" (as in something that aims and shoots at you when you're in the room) and "passive hazard" (such as a barrel of gasoline, or a pillar covered in sharp spikes). However, something that's actively hazardous is probably better thought of as a monster even if it's not alive or mobile. "Okay", you ask, "so what about Moving terrain"? That could be something like a railcar, an escalator, or an elevator. 

Hat tip to The Angry DM's Guide To Battlefields and Battlefeels and well as the scenario generation rules of In Her Majesty's Name.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Royal Navy

Ryan came over and we played four WWI scenarios of Jack Greene's The Royal Navy. These were hypothetical situations; they didn't happen in history, but could have if an admiral or two had made different decisions. The first three featured British ships attacking the SMS Goeben; the fourth was Scharnhorst and Geisenau vs HMAS Australia.

Scenario 1: This situation supposes that when Britain declares war on Germany, Indefatigable and Indomitable have maintained contact with Goeben and Breslau. The Brits quickly sank Breslau and did serious damage to Goeben, but not enough to keep her from escaping to the East. This counted as a draw.

Scenario 2: A night action, with a British flotilla trying to stop Goeben and Breslau. The Brits need to make a successful torpedo attack to have any real chance of stopping Goeben. I sacrificed one detroyer in a (successful) attempt to collide with Goeben and slow it down; however, my other destroyer lost its torpedo mount before I could get in position to fire, which left only my light cruiser able to fire, and Ryan cleverly maneuvered outside the torpedo's threatened arc. The German ships easily escaped off the map. Technically, though, they only sank one of my destroyers--I sank the other one myself. Something about "You shouldn't have been in my line of fire" and "You were ramming a battlecruiser, you were going to die anyway." German win.

Scenario 3: Four RN armored cruisers, with Goeben and Breslau trying to escape again. The Brits quickly sank Breslau but Goeben's faster speed and longer range guns meant she was able to hover outside the Brit's range and still shoot. Assuming optimum German play, I'm not sure the Brits can win this unless they get lucky with hit and damage dice on the first turn or two. German win.

Scenario 4: This sitiation posits that armored cruisers Gneisenau and Scharnhorst (not the WW2 battlecruisers) ambush the Indefatigable class battlecruiser Australia as she comes out of harbor; the Australia can't shoot in the first turn and fires at a penalty in the second and third turns, as she clears for action. When the action started, the two Germans closed in, trying to get to a range where their guns could penetrate, with Scharnhorst cutting ahead of their victim and Gneisenau circling behind. The German guns couldn't penetrate Australia's heavy armor but did a lot of damage to her unarmored sections and started two fires. On turn 2, with all the ships at close range, Australia focused on Scharnhorst; she shot off three of the Scharnhorst's four turrets, then blew her up for good measure, Geisenau's return fire resulted in a critical hit that would have blown up Australia, had it managed to penetrate her armor belt. On the third turn, Australia's unarmored sectons proved to be her undoing, and she slipped beneath the waves. The crippled Gneisenau's damage control crews put out fires and the ship limped away at half speed. That counted as a draw.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Monster Characteristics, System Agnostic

RPG monsters tend to have a sameness about them, at least with the GMs that I've had. The monsters see you as you see them, the monsters attack, they fight to the death. If any of them flee, they cease to exist as soon as they step off stage; they don't run to bring reinforcements, set up ambushes, go tell the women and children to hide, or trail the party and try to snipe them.

Michael Prescott, on I'll See It When I Believe It, had an interesting post about what he describes as "Non-Mechanical Difficulty Levels for Monstrous Threats". If you know you're going to face a hundred orcs in an area, would you rather the orcs were all lone wolves, or trained like a Roman century?

Prescott lists several categories, although I've changed a description or two:
  • Speed: immobile, slow, medium, fast
  • Cohesion: hostile, rivals, neutral, fragmented, factional, cohesive, unit, gestalt
  • Aggression: evasive, defensive, aggressive, predatory, ambusher
  • Perceptiveness: oblivious, inattentive, alert, vigilant
  • Territoriality: immobile, site-bound, territorial, regional, relentless
  • Numbers: single, few, many, horde
  • Lore: fully understood, familiar, unfamiliar, unknown
  • Camouflage: invisible, stealthy, obvious, blatant
  • Morale: panicky, fragile, firm, heroic, fanatic
If there are two dragons in an area, they might be Fast (they can fly), Hostile (they're more likely to fight each other), Aggressive, Terrritorial (if you don't poke your nose into the lair, you're reasonably safe), Alert, Single (you won't encounter more than one at a time), Fully Understood (everyone knows all about dragons, their strengths and weaknesses and motivation), Blatant (no one is in any doubt that there's a dragon around), and Panicky (once a dragon feels threatened, he's going to try to flee or negotiate).  Your orc warband (drilled as a unit, aggressive, firm morale) will feel different from your goblin tribe (factional, ambusher, vigilant, territorial, panicky).

Some of these (speed, for example) should already be built into your monster stats; adding the rest should make your monsters stand out from each other.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Character Died And I Am Happy

In our DnD4e campaign, my character Berenger has been the coach / hard-bitten sergeant for our party. I was ready for someone else to take the leadership role for a while, and to develop a character with a happier outlook on life, so I told our DM that I was ready for Berenger to die gloriously. He obliged, in a big way.

Our party--level 5 characters--is on a quest to stem an invasion of Lolth's minions, and as party of that, we needed to destroy a large stone which acted as an anchor for Lolth's power on this plane. The stone could be destroyed by sunlight, but it was in a high room in a tower called the Pillar of Night. The Pillar had been built by chitines (a spider/humanoid race created by the drow), which meant the tower was made of hardened webbing, and succeptible to fire if we could get inside it. The tower was guarded by hundreds of chitines plus 250 cult soldiers, mostly dragonborn, bugbears, and humans--no elves, because the chitines hate drow and kill them immediately, and all elves and eladrin are just another type of drow to them. It didn't seem feasible to sneak in the gate, climb over the walls, launch hang gliders from nearby hilltops, etc., so we consulted with local scholars and came up with a plan: our leader would challenge the chitine general to a duel.  That would get us into the throne room, and while the duel was going on, our pyromancy-capable characters would burn through the east wall, letting sunlight in to destroy the Lolthstone.

The chitine general was a fallen paladin who had given himself to Lolth; our leader was, well, me--an eladrin with a hybrid lazylord/control wizard build. We're only level 5 characters, so not very powerful--my best attack was the warlord's ability "Tell our rogue to stab something again", not exactly useful in a mano-a-mano duel. I wasn't expecting to last very long. Before we went into the enemy stronghold, I told the party that keeping me alive was secondary; they needed to put the main effort into protecting the ones who were burning through the wall.

So we marched up to the fortress. A cultist death squad came running to meet us; I announced my challenge and they stumbled to a halt, dumbfounded, before they pulled themselves together and led us to the throneroom. We took our places, the duel began, the general raised his sword and charged me--and missed. I maneuvered away, waited for him to charge again, and sidestepped. Eventually he got frustrated and hit one of my allies instead....which made it a free for all. No one was threatening our pyromancer, so he kept burning a hole in the wall and the rest of the party piled on and took the general down. I had hit him exactly twice, once for 6 damage (of his 160) and once with a spell that slowed him down for a few seconds; on the other hand, he hadn't hit me at all.

And then black opaque smoke started pouring from his body and filling up the space around him, making a column 15 feet wide. We stepped back and got ready. And what appeared in the smoke was a Level Twenty Five monster, a manifestation of Lolth. Yes, L25 compared to our L5.

He still couldn't hit me. He took out our rogue with one hit; another hit nearly took out our defender. When he attacked me, he rolled a critical miss.

I stepped adjacent to him to swat him with my staff--a necessary part of a mass healing spell I was casting to keep our rogue and defender alive. The monster grabbed me--finally--and nearly killed me in one bite.

And then our barbarian finished chopping a hole through the burning web wall, and sunlight poured in and struck the Lolthstone. The Stone exploded. With Lolth's power removed, all of the cult soldiers dropped dead, and the monster holding me exploded, killing me. Our defender grabbed my body, the rogue scooped up the loot, and the party raced down the stairs as the burning tower collapsed, setting the whole fortress and the nearby trees ablaze. Epic Win.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


This is what I actually have on the shelf.  Some I haven't played and never intend to


  • 1805 Sea of Glory
  • Attack Vector: Tactical
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel
  • Fading Glory
  • Field Commander: Napoleon
  • Gustav Adolf the Great: With God and Victorious Arms
  • Infidel
  • Ironclads
  • Lion of the North
  • Manoeuvre
  • Mound Builders
  • Navajo Wars
  • Ogre/GEV
  • Soldier Raj
  • The South Shall Rise Again
  • Under the Lily Banners
  • Wellington
  • Won by the Sword

Miniatures Rules
  • Dirtside, StarGrunt, Full Thrust
  • Fields of Glory
  • In Her Majesty's Name
  • John Company
  • Larger Than Life, Colonial Lemuria, other Two Hour Wargame titles
  • Of Gods and Mortals
  • Power Projection and PP:Fleet
  • Striker, Snapshot

  • DnD 4e and 5e
  • Fate Core and Accelerated
  • Savage Worlds, Deadlands, Space 1889: Red Sands
  • Epic Roleplaying
  • Tiny Epic Roleplaying (no relation to the one above)
  • This Favored Land (Civil War)
  • Leagues of Adventure
  • Soldier's Companion, Ironclads & Ether Flyers, Cloudships of Mars
  • Little Black Book Traveller and MegaTraveller
  • HERO System 2e, 3e, 5e and 6e
  • Heirs of the Lost World (Caribbean Spanish, Aztecs, buccaneers)
  • PDFs
    • 13th Age
    • A Time of War
    • All Flesh Must Be Eaten
    • Cinmatic Unisystem
    • Don't Rest Your Head
    • GODLIKE, Wild Talents
    • Iron Kingdoms
    • Microscope
    • Monsters and Other Childish Things
    • Numenera
    • PDQ Sharp / Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies
    • Reign Enchiridion

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Wounded Tiger

I did a solo game of the "Wounded Tiger" scenario in Conflict of Heroes. A veteran Tiger is immobilized in the middle of a field; the Soviets have sent four T34s and four T70s to finish it off, and the Germans have sent a rescue force consisting of a tank recovery vehicle escorted by a PzIV and a pair of PzIIIs.

In Game 1, both sides drew "Command Action" as their card. The T34s moved as a group, closing on the Tiger with the intent of ducking north behind the barn for cover, then moving behind the Tiger's flank. The Tiger's 88mm gun--and the dice manning it--proved deadly, though, and all four T34s brewed up before they got a shot off. The first one drew a "Kill" damage result; the other three took hits that were far enough over their Armor value to be instant kills. The T70s hadn't activated but had no chance of winning on their own, so I declared that a decisive German victory.

In Game 2, the Tiger still hit, but not hard enough to instant kill, and the Soviets drew Light Damage chits. The T34s headed around the barn, with three surviving to gain a flanking ability within their optimum range. Meanwhile the PzIV rushed through the village to aid the Tiger, while the Pz IIIs headed east to catch the T70s and the Opel puttered along the road and stopped once it was safely hidden in the village.
On Turn 2, the Germans won initiative, and the Tiger--feeling rather nervous--polished off one of the T34s and damaged a second. The two T34s took shots at the Tiger's flank, but one missed outright and the other was forced to reroll one of his hit dice (via the Tiger's Combat Hardened card) and his hit turned into a miss. Two of the T70s charged the PzIV, one dying on the way in. The second one realized he couldnt't expect to hurt the panzer (needed a 12 on 2d6 to hit), so he raced for the village in hopes of at least killing the Opel. This meant he had to expose his flank to the PzIV, so he plowed through a stone house in hopes that it would shelter him. He avoided being immobilized by the terrain; he didn't avoid the 75mm AP round from the PzIV, and that was the end of him.
On Turn 3, the Germans invested CAPs into Initiative and then rolled a 12 for it. The Tiger went first and missed; the last T34 took a shot, which the German neutralized with the Combat Hardened card; the Tiger took a second shot and polished off the T34. That left the Red forces with two T70s which couldn't beat the PzIIIs, much less the heavier tanks. Win for the Germans.

I don't think the scenario is as wildly unbalanced as the first playthrough made it look, but the Russians have a tough situation. The T34s start at range 15 and have to get to 10 not to have a penalty for long range fire. Their guns are Firepower 9 against the Tiger's 21 front armor, so they need to roll 2d6 and get a 12 to hit, even without the penalty.  So a straightforward charge by the T34s will look like this:
Segment 1, the T34s move 2 hexes to range 13; the Tiger fires with 1 CAP for accuracy, hitting on a 6+, and a 10+ is an instant kill.
Segment 2: the T34s advance again, to range 11; the Tiger fires again, using another CAP.
Segment 3: the T34s advance to within range, but they've used 3 Action Points to get here; the Tiger uses his remaining one Action Point plus two Command Points to shoot, adding one more CAP for accuracy. Again, he hits on 6+.
Segment 4: The (surviving) T34s can finally shoot. They need to use one CAP just to have enough action points to fire; using two more for accuracy means they are firing with FP 11 vs the Tiger's 21 armor.
Unless the Soviets do something clever (dive into the balka, exit the east end, and move north fast enough to get the barn between them and the Tiger?), this scenario looks to boil down to "how lucky is the Tiger on its hit rolls and damage draws" rather than "is the commander clever".

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Conflict of Heroes: Pursuit from State Farm 158

Yesterday Marco and I played two rounds of Scenario 5 from Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel. This was something of a learning experience, getting used to rules for elevation, line of sight, and special terrain. The map has a large balka (ravine) down the middle, with two hills (3 and 6) to the west and two (4 and 5) east. A panzergrenadier platoon sets up behind the western ridge; for the Russians, infantry elements of the 67th Guards start in the balka ,and mortars and machineguns lurk on the hills to the east.  German objective is to destroy the Red Army units, clear the balka and take Hills 4 and 5. We used the Two Player option without the additional armor units.

Starting forces: Germans have 6 PzGren squads, two 8cm mortars and a HMG. Russians have 6 rifle squads and two submachinegun squads hidden in the ravine; each hilltop has a 5cm mortar, a Maxim machine gun, and one or two 8cm mortars. Germans roll 1d6 for each unit and lose it on a 1, simulating casualties from the previous battle; Russians roll 1d6 for each mortar and machinegun (but not infantry), losing them on a 1-2.

Game 1:
No losses from the pre-game attrition rolls; this puts the Germans at a significant disadvantage.
The Red Army rifle platoons started at the north end of the balka; the two SMG squads started at the south end, in hopes of coming over or around hill 6 onto the two German mortars.
Early fire from the Russian hilltops destroyed the German HMG and suppressed one of the mortars; the crew got it back into action and both mortars dropped smoke across the front of Hill 3. The panzergrens advanced across the hill, but found no prey in the gulley below them. One squad swung out to the balka north of the hill; it discovered two Russian rifle squads at point blank range, and couldn't get back to cover fast enough to survive. By this point, the German units had used up all their activations and command points, and couldn't respond to Soviet actions; taking advantage of this, a Red Army assault squad scrambled over Hill 6 and waded into the two mortar teams, destroying them in close combat. This brought us to the end of Turn 1, and the Germans resigned.

Game 2:
In pre-game rolls, the Russians lost three of their seven hilltop units, which pared down their artillery considerably; however, two of the survivors were their 8cm mortars hidden safely on the reverse slopes. Their infantry set up spaced all along the balka.
The German HMG destroyed one of the units on Hill 5; counterfire suppressed the HMG and an advancing PzGren but couldn't manage to destroy them. A second infantry squad slipped through the gap in the hills during a lull in the firing, and discovered a couple of Soviet squads in the balka; they destroyed one before falling to the second. That second squad, however, had given away its position; the Germans advanced over the hilltop and poured fire down into the trapped Reds, who were unable to shoot effectively up the steep slope. With the southern half of the balka cleared, two German squads rushed Hill 5 to assault the mortar and take control of the heights; a third squad worked their way up the slopes of Hill 4, as 105mm rounds polished off the Russian mortar there. The remaining two German squads cautiously advanced up the balka, more to put pressure on the surviving Russians than to actually engage them.
At the end of Turn 3, the Russians had lost 4 infantry squads and three of their hilltop teams, and were about to lose their last mortar. The Germans controlled Hill 5 and had a unit on Hill 4, and had only lost a couple of units. The Russian resigned.

Controlling the tempo is crucial. Specifically:

  • Using group activations can help you attack faster than the enemy can reply, or can help you get out of the way of an enemy attack; but you have to be careful or you'll be left at the end of a turn with all your activations expended and your enemy free to maneuver as he likes. The Soviets have an incentive to pass, to run out the clock, so as the Germans, you have to be careful to get the most out of your units without leaving them vulnerable.
  • The Germans have "only" six turns to clear take the board; however, six turns is actually a fairly long time (note that the first game ended at the end of Turn 1, the second game at the end of Turn 3). You can prepare an attack instead of going all in on turn 1. However, you also can't be too leisurely. The Russians score points every turn from round 3-6 for control of their two hilltops; if you don't get over there and take them, point-wise it's the same as losing half your force. 
  • It's extremely tempting to spend your Command points early in a turn. And then you don't have any at the end of the turn, when you desperately need them.
Lessons for this scenario in particular: 
  • Use your artillery to good effect, and protect it as best you can.
  • As the Russians, don't set up in the balka at the foot of Hill3, unless you like being a fish in a barrel.
  • The Russians have incentive to pass....but if the Germans have plenty of victims in the beaten zone of their 105mm fire mission, they also have incentive to pass, so their rounds can land before the enemy gets out of the way. The Russians need to think hard about dispersing early. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Space Empires

Josh and I played a non-standard scenario in Space Empires, with our regular systems set up in opposite corners and about 75 "deep space" systems in between, with "merchant ship pipeline" and "aliens" rules in play. I forgot that exploration cruisers can reveal and remove "Danger" markers, so I wasted some time in skating around them instead of giong through, and I also mistakenly counted on them to act as a bit of a defense for my own systems. Further, by the luck of the draw, Josh ended up with a few more accessible deep space planets on his side, and consequently more production; I got more warp points but they weren't really helpful. Despite this, I did pretty well.

Phase 1 was "explore and colonize"--for the first few turns I devoted my production to building colony ships, plus Exploration and Terraforming tech. I ended up with 11 planets plus Home.
Phase 2, once I'd mostly run out of available planets, was building Shipyards, Pipelines and Tech Developments. I ended up with 11 maxed Shipyards.
Phase 3 was building warships. I left that a little late and re-discovered that a pack of ten cruisers can still hurt 2-3 battleships; the pair of BBs just don't have enough shots per turn to whittle down the cruisers fast enough.

Around Turn 15, I realized that I was in trouble; so I launched a spoiling attack to try to occupy his attention, destroy a  planet or two and even get past his ships and raid his interior. I didn't achieve as much as I'd hoped, but I did keep him busy on his side of the map rather than mine. I'm pretty sure I would have lost eventually, but I'd done enough damage that it would have been a fight, and he certainly wouldn't have been able to finish me off by Turn 20--which is an improvement over my previous attempts. An overall defeat, but a moral victory.