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.