Sunday, August 17, 2014

Black Powder: Rebellion!

This week I received my pre-ordered copy of Black Powder: Rebellion! It has been a long wait but it was worth it! Ever since Black Powder came out I have used it to play the American Revolution. At the time no one was very enthusiastic about the period so I decided to collect and paint all sides myself and do it in nostalgic 20mm plastic. So now I have over 800 20mm figures and the rest of the world has in the meantime started collecting 28mm Perry and Warlord.... But that is another story; on with the review!

"Rebellion!" is a supplement for the Black Powder wargaming rules, aimed at playing the American War of Independence or American Revolutionary War, depending on which side of the pond you're from . It is a book like we have come to expect from Warlord Games: a hefty 149-page full colour softcover folio filled with (excusez le mot) "wargames porn". Every page spread shows illustrations and lovely photographs of someone's expertly painted (yes...28mm) collection. The editor of this book is apparently a follower of the "blurred bases" philosophy as almost all bases have been photoshopped away, but that is about the only gripe I have about the illustrations.

The book is meant both for players who are knowledgeable about the period and for the debutantes. It starts with a 16-page concise history of the American Revolutionary War. As one would suspect reading the title, the British authors have foregone the term War of Independence. While 16 pages cannot possibly deal with all the intricacies of this complicated conflict the book does succeed in presenting a consistent and comprehensive summary. If you know nothing about the American Revolution and want to learn the wider scope of the military side of it, you could do worse than reading this.

The book then describes in detail the British, Loyalist, German, Continental (American) and French armies. Lists of all participating regiments are given and the organisation is explained, which is no sinecure when it comes to the Continental troops as their organisation varied with the colonies from where the troops originated as well as in time, as Congress adopted different rulings on drafting and recruiting as the war progressed. The lists mention uniform colours, periods of service and the battles the units took part in. Very useful for writing scenarios!

Then weapons and tactics are briefly discussed, followed by portraits of the famous (or notorious) commanders of the conflict. Dashing Tarleton, treacherous Arnold and pompous Gates are all there, together with their opponents and compatriots.

Then, on page 62, the book arrives at its true treasure: the scenarios!

As you may or may not know, Black Powder is a generic ruleset aimed at playing the battles of a 200-year period starting around 1700 AD. With such a scope, the characteristics of any specific conflict are not likely to emerge and the rules risk being a rather bland mix of everything. The designers have cleverly countered that by designing a few dozen Special Rules which you can add to units. This way, for example, American Frontiersmen with rifled muskets may be Sharpshooters that reroll misses, making them deadlier shots than their smoothbore musket-armed opponents. One can even vary this Special Rules depending on the scenario. Regiments that are Unreliable in early battles, gain experience and exchange this Special Rule in time for Steady, as they become drilled veterans.

The authors describe all Special Rules in relation to their vision on the Revolution. Some, like Heavy Cavalry and Form Square, are permanently discarded . For the rest it is described what their function can be and how they can be used to influence the specific scenario, when one wants to get a particular balance between the opposing forces. While you may not agree with the authors' ideas, it does give a particular Revolutionary flavour to the rules.

The book then gives you a whopping 19 scenarios ranging from the massive battles of Monmouth and Brandywine to small skirmishes like Gloucester Point, the latter deftly defeating the prejudice that you need a million figures to play Black Powder with opposing forces of 12-14 figures in strength!

Not surprisingly the book also gives valuable suggestions for playing with smaller units, as battles of the period were often fought between small groups of soldiers. Using Company stands instead of Regimental lines will enable you to play the smaller scenarios a lot sooner than you will have painted the large forces that you will need for something like Guilford Courthouse. The book ends with a recommendation for further reading on the period.

This is all that the first read of the book allows me to write as a review. As you may gather from it, my first impression is very favorable. Whether you are already invested or merely interested in the period, Black Powder Rebellion! is a fine purchase.

As I am in the luxurious position to play most scenarios with the figures I already have, now is the time to go finish my winter table and play Princeton!

Rebellion!, a Black Powder supplement
by Stephen Jones
Published by Warlord Games 2014
Price 20 GBP

Thursday, August 14, 2014

No more Pijlie on TMP

After a public discussion on The Miniatures Page about moderating between the TMP Editor and myself he felt compelled to lock my account. That means I can no longer post on TMP and am no longer able to contribute to the forum and post links there myself. It is unfortunate, but I can't change it.

All readers from TMP remain welcome here of course. I wish TMP all the best and will read up on the development on occasion. I did not, after all, leave.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In memoriam: Aart and Hans

The past 15 months of my life have brought some particular highs and lows. Among the latter were, alas,  the deaths of two old and dear friends. 

Such events point things out to you. When you don't give them their due attention because you are busy with your  job and all kinds of practical and urgent matters these things tend to catch up on you eventually. And when they do this, you should make some room for them and take some time and space to do what you should have done in the first place: put it in perspective and give it a place.

On June 2nd 2013 my friend Aart died of heart failure. We had been friends for over 25 years. Peculiarly enough we met around 1986 over a wargame, a big Wooden Ships & Iron Men game representing the Raid on Chatham in 1667. He was a driven reporter and historian but only a lackluster gamer. His enthusiasm for the game stemmed from the history, not the other way around. For some reason, for we were very different, we stayed in contact for a few other games and  then, when his interest in games waned, just because of our mutual personal interest in each other.

This contact was not always very frequent. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for a year. He was passionate to a fault about his profession and sacrificed a lot for it, including a regular lifestyle. But we always kept running into each other one way or another. For example, sometime in the early 90ies I bought a few second hand books, only to discover at home that two of them had his Ex Libris in them. Too many pictures, not enough substance, so he sold them off for something better. Me, I like pictures.

Our mutual interest in history led to a trip along the West Front of the Great War in 2000. We travelled from Verdun to Ypres, visiting cities, graveyards, memorials and musea along the way. I wil never forget how he got us into an excellent hotel in Ypres (after our booked hotel had given our room to a group of British tourists) and managed to get the curator of Flanders Fields Museum to drive us around in the countryside for an impressive afternoon. At the graveyard at Warlencourt we read the visitors book and both got something in our eye at about the same time. The cold wind, you know…

Despite his often tumultuous lifestyle we never lost contact over the years. Our differences in outlook just seemed to reinforce our mutual interest. Eventually his life calmed down somewhat and somewhere in 2010 I managed to get him and his sons to play a war game at my home. His sons probably thought it an OK, if somewhat nerdy pastime but he must have been struck with a yearning for a hobby I never would have thought him capable of. In 2011 he invited me and a couple of friends to a game at his place (did he even have armies?) and completely flabbergasted all of us by presenting a fantastic Kursk table, completely, up to and including the tanks and vehicles, built with a talent for scratch building I never knew he had!

From then on we shared our hobby as well. He seemed to have arrived in a phase of his life where he was happy in his new marriage and nevertheless had room for trivial passtimes like wargaming. We made big plans, tried out rulesets, painted armies and, despite his declining health, played some great games together. Knowing his health was bad, his passing away still came as a shock. For some time after his death packages kept arriving, containing figures he had ordered. He had obviously hoped for more time. One of the last was, ironically enough, a pack of 17th century warships. Apparently he was contemplating Chatham again. Life had come full circle indeed.

The aftermath of his death took up much of my energy and attention but when I was doing something related to his death, it was usually to arrange something or dispensing some advice to someone. The emotional side somehow got parked somewhere in the back.  

Then, May 22nd of this year my friend Hans unexpectedly died from complicated pneumonia. We had known each other since 1992 and met to play Battletech, a new game then! In the 22 years that followed we became friends and, unlike Aart, we met very regularly. For years he would visit on a weekly basis, usually on a Tuesday, to have dinner at our place and play games afterwards. So regularly in fact, that even now, when I put out the trash bin on Tuesday night, which I usually did on game nights after he left, it still reminds me of the games we played.
We too, were very different. He, a long-time bachelor and freelance contractor living in the City and me, married with children and a steady job living in Suburbia still found plenty to amiably disagree about. 

He watched our children grow up and became a member of our family in a fashion. It was not always an easy friendship, for he was not always an easy man, either for himself or for others. He always had to be at least as good as anyone else, while competitiveness for me is a professional trait, not a personal one. But there was enough to unite us, as we played our games, discussed movies and books, got drunk together and stepped in the wrong train together because we were distracted by that beautiful blonde that just got out…

Having always considered him a quite conventional man, he completely surprised us by meeting and marrying his wife and completely surprised us again by becoming a father. Especially the latter brought up new sides of him I never suspected were there. He might not have found it easy to be a father, but he evidently found love and joy in it. We had vague plans to restart a Necromunda campaign when he was admitted into hospital with a rather bad flue. We simply decided to postpone our date. As it turned out, he never left the hospital and we never got to play again.

I wasn’t able to attend his funeral. But despite this he left me a very special gift. By making me mourn  him, he made me realize I never really mourned that other friend. Mourning is a genuinely selfish thing to do and it does take up time. I am no altruist, but I do tend to get action-oriented when the need arises and this tends in turn to neglect the emotional side of things, always more complex then just doing stuff.

I will have to find my way around it, I learned. Writing this piece is one way to do that. Telling you, reader, that you should cherish your friends is also a way to do that. The things you share with your friends are too common to really appreciate while everybody is still around, but they are precious nonetheless and for the most part irreplaceable once either one of you is gone.

“Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.” Mary Schmich wrote this and it is very, very true.

Guys, it was great to know you. I miss you. I thank the both of you for the times, joys and wisdoms we shared and wish friends like you on everyone. 

I am in no hurry to join you but save me a spot, wherever you are.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Reinforcements for Chain of Command: Black Gold Campaign

Shortly we will start the Chain of Command Black Gold Campaign from the Too Fat Lardies summer special and I am looking forward to it! Of course some stuff still needs to be painted for it and I am working hard t o get it all finished in time. This blog will get added to in time as more stuff becomes finished.

First of course are the Home Guard and their Elite opponents, the German Fallschirmjaeger. Home Guard are mostly Foundry figures with some Crusader thrown in for the support weapons. Lovely figures all around. 

The FSJ are from Black Tree Design and Warlord Games. While the BTD will not win any sculpting prizes, they are crisp and clean. The same cannot be said of Warlord Games. There was flash all over the place and I had to hack, cut and file for ages to get it all reasonably clean. Some displaced mold lines were beyond saving, but I hope the painting will mask it enough to pass for tabletop quality. 

The rolling materiel.  All vehicles are by Warlord Games except the British "APC" that is made by Lledo.

 The Warlord SdKfz 251. It is a plastic kit that buildis easily and fits perfectly/ Detail is a bit shallow in places (the rivets in the armor for example) but it comnes with a lot of extras like a MG42 firing crew member (that will do handily as a "Crewed" counter, jerrycans and blanket rolls.

Warlords Panzer IV was a bit of a disappointment. It came with Schurzen that were rather fiddly to assemble and didn't fit very well. There was a diminutive and very ugly tank commander with a loose and ill-fitting head that I simply ditched out of despair and the gun barrel was slightly bent. It's very rigid metal and I did not dare try and bend it so I chose not to attempt it.

If there was one tank that I had to have for my Home Guard it was the Matilda II. It's lovely archaic looking, endearingly badly equipped with its puny gun and it can survive for a while nonetheless because of its armour. Here too the fit was dodgy in places and I had to conjecture the assembly from historical photos and use a lot of green stuff to get it reasonably in shape. The fit between side armour and tracks is still off, but it was either that or destroy the rivet detail. Still I am happy with the end result .

The next is a British Churchill infantry tank. No regrets there. A nice model with crisp detail and good fit.

 I chose the Lledo butcher van for a British "APC". It was a must really. These trucks can be had for varying prices on Ebay. Mine was 6 GBP, so not too bad. At 1/48 it is a bit too big but not disturbingly so. I chose not to paint it as it looks just fine, straight from the box.

I had to scratch -built some of the more exotic Home Guard support weapons. Below are some historical photos of a Blacker Bombard (left) , a kind of anti-tank grenade lobber, and its smaller cousing the Northover Projector (right)

Added are pictures of the scratch-built Blacker Bombard (figures were a Boys ATR team by Crusader miniatures) and a Northover projector below.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The War Game by Charles Grant: A review

A while ago I received a venerable copy of “The War Game” by Charles S. Grant as a present. Mine was a good-looking hardback, still accompanied with its dust jacket and printed in 1971 (I was six years old at that time), which likely makes it a first edition. Always something to be enjoyed by us analog bibliophiles, although the magic of first editions will fade from our lives with the advent of the E-book, but that is another story. It also has one of those other fascinating elements of vintage books: a dedication. It was at one time given to “Robert, with love and best wishes from Mummy, Daddy and Sarah”. One wonders if Robert is still among us and whether he is still playing? We will probably never know.

I started the book under a wrong impression, which was that The War Game was a book about wargaming (or war gaming as it was then and perhaps still is correctly spelled). While this is not entirely untrue, it is actually more of a ruleset than a compendium. It can however be read as such when you take mr Grant’s 18th century rules as a metaphor for war gaming in general and a pleasant read it is.

It is a well looking 190-page book with black and white illustrations, many of which feature the author’s prettily painted own 30mm plastic troops. He laments their disappearing from the market but does not disclose their manufacturer, but my best guess is they are Spencer Smith figures which fortunately are available again these days, cast in metal instead of plastic. The tabletop photos especially have a very Classic look about them and not just because they are in black-and-white. Stark wooden surfaces (presumably painted green) carry blocky Styrofoam hills, paper trees and scratch-built cardboard houses, all populated with huge 48-men units marching about. It’s Nostalgia with an Imperial “N”.

The book starts with a preface by Brigadier Peter Young, then a brief history of war gaming by the author himself. It quickly gets to the core of the matter and addresses the author’s rules for playing war games in the “Horse & Musket” period; the 18th up to the middle of the 19th century. All the different elements of the game are dealt with in a clear and systematic manner. Indeed, one might wish to see such accessibility in modern day rulesets! Infantry, cavalry, musketry, Melee and Artillery and its effects are dealt with. Morale is then addressed, as are terrain and buildings.

The rules are clearly from a time when hurry and stress had a lot less impact than nowadays. Players of the 60ies and 70ies took their time and who can blame them! Imagine playing with regiments consisting of 48, single-based, figures a piece! Moving the units around alone must have taken hours. The author also does not eschew little details, like the extra 1-and-a-half inch infantry move when in column! Musketry involves some serious number crunching: numbering your soldiers and your sub-units, counting number of firing sub units, rolling dice for hits, subtracting distance modifier, rolling for casualties, removing said casualties, all this with different modifiers for range, firing troop formation, target formation et cetera. The author then illustrates his rules with a battle, starting with the history, the translation to the tabletop and a narrative of how it played.

The book then gets to grips with the basics of terrain construction, its effects on the game, the use of maps in creating games and special rules like pioneers, river transports and campaigns. It ends with a final game scenario, Bunker Hill 1775, where all the elements from the book are brought together to create a fine battle scenario I really should play one day.

I encountered some surprisingly creative ideas in this ancient tome. Roundshot guns actually had a minimum range in reality (something I have never seen modelled in rule sets these days) as the cannonball was shot at an upward angle to land just in front of the target and then bounce horrendously through them. The author uses a measuring stick showing the parts where the ball is airborne and where it moves low enough above the ground to do damage. For canister he uses a metal-wire soldered Canister Cone, displaying the areas where canister had the most, less and least effect. Similar wire templates are used for grenade effects.

Houses were apparently built by him as a loose outer box, representing the intact building and placed over a slightly smaller ruined version of the same house. Just by lifting off the outer box, you created an instant ruin! Brilliant in its simplicity!

The book ends with the traditional index, but preceded by an endearing summary of manufacturers of figures and equipment of the late 1960ies. 

Mythical names like Les Higgins Miniatures and Hinton Hunt Figures are given, complete with address. 

Last but certainly not least a heart-warming mention is given to Airfix Ltd. (Haldane Place, Garratt Lane, London SW 18) “whose inexpensive plastic war game figures (20mm to 25mm – they do vary) have started the career of many a junior and not a few senior war gamers.” 

Anyone knowing my preference for 20mm plastic figures will understand why THAT brought a smile to my face.

Even though it may not become your ruleset of choice for Horse & Musket, “The War Game” is an enjoyable and valuable addition to any war gamer’s library.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Castlefest 2014

Castlefest  is a annual festival combining music, fantasy, cosplay, LARP, games, pagan and Wiccan elements, good foods and drinks and general recreational activities all wrapped up in a big festival in the Keukenhof in Lisse. If you have ever heard of or seen the famous Dutch tulip fields: it’s at that place. The “Castle” part is played by the small castle situated at the center of the Keukenhof park.  

At the invitation of my LFGS Subcultures  I attended Castlefest to host demo and participation games for two days.

We were housed in a massive circus tent big enough to house the Subcultures store twice over. But since Tijn obviously lacked the means and/or the will to transfer his entire store there for the three days of the festival a large chunk of the tent was taken with the demo games, most of which were sold by the store. My games were the odd one out, as they were participation games not sold anywhere, since I largely made them myself. I must have heard the question “Where can I buy this? “ at least a dozen times… Some were disappointed by my answer, some were inspired and the latter category of people most made it worth my while! Quite a few people have visited my blog the last few days to seek more inspiration and ideas.

On Saturday I hosted the Indiana Jones demo, a large 6-player shoot-and-blow-them-up game based on the airplane scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. For four games the very young and the somewhat older and all ages in between had a great, chaotic and violent time trying to make off with the Ark of the Covenant. In one game they battled each other so ferociously, that the game eventually came down to a last Battle To The Death between Dr Wu Manchu and Major Helga of the Thule Kommandos in which they slew each other, leaving no one standing to claim the Ark!

Sundays, which I expected to be a quieter day, I hosted the Ninja Raid game  which as essentially a 1-on-1 game I thought more suitable for the smaller audience. The game especially proved a hit with the local kids running around and one kid must have played it three times at least! I actually lost count of how many times we played, but it must have been at least seven games in which Ninja and samurai fanatically tried to slaughter each other in the attempt to either save or kill the Daimyo. 

One of the more creative Ninja attempts was to simply knock on the garden door and ask for entrance. To my astonishment the samurai guard actually opened the door only to be attacked by two Ninja. While the samurai wasn’t the brightest bulb in the tree, he was a dead hand with a katana and managed to kill one Ninja and raise the alarm before getting himself killed. A bitter and bloody fight ensued in the garden where most Ninja eventually died without having a chance to kill the Daimyo!

It was the first time I hosted participation games at a large festival. While the audience is obviously much more generic than at a games convention there was plenty of interest for my games and I did not want for players. It was hot and there were stinging flies (not usually encountered at a convention) and unfortunately there was a music stage 50 meters away. Despite being called “The Meadows” and “The field of folk” a lot of the performers fell firmly and loudly in the metal category which proved a strain on my ears as well as my voice, since you had to explain the game over the sound of roaring guitars and screaming vocalists. It nearly cost me my voice, but it didn’t spoil the fun though!

I have seen dozens of beautiful people all weekend, many of them in even more beautiful costumes, but the costume that really impressed me was this Armoured Bear straight from the Golden Compass stories! Two people were brave enough to operate it. And with a very humid 28 degrees Celcius this was no picknick!

Below three stalwart Subcrew members on their way to a well deserved lunch break. 

So with tired feet and vocal cords but thoroughly satisfied I returned home on Sunday evening having hosted nearly a dozen games. My sincere thanks to Subcultures and the Sub crew for having and supporting me and  providing me with food and liters of water, to Erin for the delicious fudge, to Madelief for bringing me cold and alcoholic beverages just as I needed them the most and to all the players who made the weekend a success! 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bocage hedgerows the easy way

Battlefields through the ages have always been criss-crossed with all kinds of obstacles. No matter how well the commander chose his battlefield, it rarely was as flat and empty as many of our tables. 

Since centuries many rural sites have been crossed by hedgerows to mark terrain borders or herd cattle. Hedges are therefore one of the most generic terrain types possible. I made some many years ago but they were too few (and too ugly, to be honest) so I decided to take a second stab at it. Quick and dirty was again the motto. I have seen some real works of modelling art used as bocage, but I had little time and limited resources, so what I had, had to do and be finished in a day. 

I based my design on the French bocages of Normandy fame. But they can be found all over Europe.  A low earthen wall, topped with sturdy hedge plants left relatively uncut forms the basis. The hedge plants are often woven back into the foliage, producing over the years a nearly impregnable organic wall, ideal for keeping cattle in its place. As Normandy proved, it worked relatively well for tanks too! 

I started with simple materials: Sorbo cleaning pads, glue, sand and grit and flocking materials.

I cut the bases from plastic sheet (some sign I had lying around) and made crude earthen walls from cut styrofoam. On top of those I places the cut cleaning pads, cut with an irregular top to represent the wild growth of the average rural hedgerow. I used a hot-glue gun for this part of the assembly.

As you can see below I made most of them the same length, which makes it easy to build up the table. I made some corners and shorter pieces to fit the odd ends. I equipped some of them with trees to break the monotony and one piece showing a gap to pass through.

For the next step I mixed several grains of sand and grit for the covering of the earthen base. Birdsand, playpen sand and aquarium bottom covering are perfect for this and can be had cheaply in large quantities. 

I covered the base thickly with glue (Heki flocking glue in this case) so the sand would stick well and would protect the styrofoam from the spray paint I planned to paint them with. Just drag the piece through the sand a few times and leave to dry. Left on the picture a finished example.

This step is essentially repeated with the flocking material. I dabbed big splotches of glue onto the cleaning pad hedges and just pushed them into the flocking stuff. This resulted in irregular sides that reinforced the wildly growing image of the tops. Once dry, I spray-painted the hedges olive camo green to get a uniform green color.  

The I painted the earthen base drab brown (cheap acrylic hobby stuff) and added highlight and some grass flock to blend the hedge parts in with the Battlemat I usually use for a playing surface. A acrylic matt varnish spray to finish and fixate everything and it was done!

Below some pictures of the final result, shown next to some Foundry Home Guard and a Warlord Matilda II.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Design a wargame in an afternoon!

Over the last years I made quite a few demo games based in some way on a thrilling scene from a movie or a book. These make great participation games because they are very recognizable and even players without any wargaming experience easily connect to them. 

Urged by some friends I finally decided to try my hands on a workshop aimed at designing such a game. So on a scorching hot Saturday we gathered in my FLGS Subcultures (whose subterranean abodes were pleasantly cool!) to see if we could create a playable wargame in just one afternoon. 

I had decided on a scene from the -much maligned but nevertheless quite entertaining- movie King Arthur. The movie had a lot of "historical" pretensions most of which are quite silly but does have a few memorable scenes , the best of which is arguable the battle on the frozen lake below. 

I picked the scene primarily because I liked it and always wanted to play it on a tabletop, but also because I owned suitable figures and the terrain was extremely simple. Just a frozen lake hemmed in between shorelines and cliffs. That way we could concentrate on designing the game without having to spend much time on building an elaborate table. 

So we started out at 12:00 with some cardboard and other odds and ends to build the table and no idea whether or not this would work.

We started with watching the scene on a laptop and recording all the things that made the scene thrilling and exiting. Was it the suspense of the cracking ice, or the shooting? Or actually the great horde of Saxons so clearly outnumbering Arthur and Guinevere and his knights? Whatever the case, the things that struck us most would have to be incorporated in the rules.

Finally we agreed on a number of aspects that the game would have to have. The ice would have to be untrustworthy. The more people were on it, the more likely it would be that it collapsed. Arthur and his crew would have to be deadly shots just like in the movie. Saxons hit by arrows would cause their neighboring figures to cringe away from them, thus making it possible for the Arthur player to bunch them together on the ice. Saxons would have archers too. Ice could be damaged with axes and weakened in this way. Movement, shooting, fighting and command were all very straightforward. Knights hit on a 3+, Saxons on a 5+. Moves were 6+d6 and you had to move all the way because of the slippery ice. We decided on d6s for everything just to keep things simple. Limited command range would oblige the Saxon to keep his force together somewhat.

We divided the ice first in 20x20 (too big!) then in 15x15cm squares and gave them values. The more to the middle you moved, the weaker the ice became. The weakest ice square was 25. When figures stood on it, you had to roll below the difference of Ice value minus number of troops with 3d6. So 20 Saxons standing on a 30 point ice square would require a 9 or less to keep standing.

At this point, around 13:30, we built a first prototype of the table and played the first test. It was time to kill our darlings, as this is the time when you discover which of your fancy ideas actually work! If it doesn't, it will have to go! Here we changed the playing sequence to:

- Saxons check for command (15cm command range gives a 3+, outside required a 5+)
- Saxons move (or not)
- Arthur moves
- Arthur shoots or fights
- Saxons shoot or fight
- test for breaking ice

Other minor adaptations were made. For example, we originally used different weights for heavily and less heavily armed troops, but it was too cumbersome and required too much counting and calculating. Out it went!

There was much pondering and discussion and we quickly started a second test to try out the innovations. Now the game ran much better, more fluent and with great suspense. We discovered that hacking on the ice to weaken it was a viable, but dangerous tactic for Arthur.

There was discussion whether the ice was too strong or not, but with Arthur going at it with axes, the chance to break it was still quite real.

Playing time was about an hour, so that was good.
So after the second test we decided to Beta-test it! We built a new table that looked a bit better and invited two people from the shop to play. So at 16:00 hours we had our first real game! 

The players went at it with a vengeance. The Saxon player decided to split her force to reduce pressure on the ice and trusted on the dice to get her troops forward.

The Arthurian player adopted the tactic of shooting the Saxon archers as much as possible with her two long-range bows and using her other knights to weaken the ice.

It turned out to be a surprising and still exiting game! The Saxon player rolled incredible command rolls so her troops managed to cross the ice even while split up. Arthur severely weakened the ice en-route but lost most of his men to Saxon arrows. Mid-game 10 Saxons went through the ice and died, but the rest managed to get through.

In the end even Guinevere succumbed to Saxon arrows and Arthur decided on a final gamble. He threw himself forward and attacked the ice square on which the Saxon leader was standing. With a mighty blow from Excalibur the ice cracked and Arthur, the Saxon leader and all Saxons on the square went into the deep!

Just one, leaderless group of Saxons remained. Would they -hesitant and unsure as they were- be able to overtake the refugees? Who knows? Maybe this was the time to invent a rule about a draw?

It was great to do this. Producing a playable game in an afternoon was a great ambition and it was marvelous to see it succeeding!

Of course this isn't a full wargame and was only made possible by the limited scope we adopted but  it was a fine achievement nonetheless! Even the final game yielded suggestions for improvement: less sturdy ice, random ice strengths and ice strengths hidden below overturned counters that only reveal the true strength of the ice when you have to test it for breaking.

We could also really go on a roll in making the table. Plastic ice squares that can be lifted off the table, revealing black water below, cliffs and shoreline lining the lake, winter style basing for the figures et cetera all make this table much better looking and would actually make a great participation game! Who knows? One of us might still build it one day....

Many, many thanks to Tim, Niels, and Edwin without whose enthusiastic and open-minded involvement this would never have been possible, to Edwin's Lady and Nicky for playtesting and of course to Subcultures for hosting us in the first place!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

GW: guilty as charged?

No  wargaming blog would be complete without referring to Games Workshop.

The company has as many fans as detractors, but it can hardly be denied that GW has had an enormous influence on the wargaming hobby. Many current wargamers started with GW games, even if they no longer play them. And a large part of the "new batch" still enters the hobby through GW's products. Still any topic dealing with GW in general terms, their products or their policies risks erupting into bitter disputes very soon.

There are as many reasons why this is so as there are people discussing GW, so I will not attempt summaries and analyses. Instead, I will just examine my own opinion. It's a blogger's privilege. 

My first real wargame (as in playing with figures on a tabletop) was a GW product. If I skip Spacehulk, which was a boardgame after all, the game Necromunda was the first tabletop wargame I played. And I played it with all the gusto of a GW noob, buying White Dwarfs, rulebooks, Citadel miniatures and rulerstm  where I could find them (and if I had the money for them) and painting and building away on my "gangs" and terrain. It was a lovely game, full of athmosphere and supported by great background fluff which I did not even connect with Warhammer 40K all that consciously. We played campaigns against each other for years, or so it seems. I had never played Rogue Trader or 40K so it all looked pretty original to me. 

And before that I enjoyed games like Talisman, Spacehulk, Dungeonquest and Mighty Empires. In later years, when historical wargaming drew my attention, I had uncountable hours of fun with GW Warhammer Ancient Battles and later historical offspring from that game.

So what drove me away?

It was not the periodical re-styling of army lists for Warhammer Fantasy Battles or 40K, always a rather thinly veiled way to get people to buy new rulebooks and miniatures. I never played either WHFB or WH40K because the rulesystem did not really appeal to me. I always considered it a rather simple min-max game that drew a lot of very competitive players, who were not my preferred company. So I never stepped into those but still enjoyed the rest. Price increases are connected to any hobby and when the price becomes unacceptable to me, I just stop and start looking for alternatives. I don't like the sculpting style that much anyway, so it was an easy choice.

Neither was it the "We are The Hobby" approach that attempted to exclude all non-GW influence from any GW game ("kill the mutants!" is not just 40K fluff, apparently) since, well, in the age of Internet it is really very hard not to find other sources for the hobby and even before that I never paid much attention to people who told me how to experience my hobbies. I am in it for the fun, so it is only logical to do as I like playing with the people that I like who also like to do what they like.

Rather, it is a case of murder, committed by GW. Murder, you say? Yes. Murder.

GW was founded in 1975 and I encountered them around 1984 when I joined a RPG group that regularly read White Dwarf and used Citadel miniatures in their games. Around 1986 a game store opened shop in my hometown and I stepped on the Yellow Brick Road and have been on it ever since. It was a halcyon time, where everything was new and fresh and a new and totally innovative game seemed to be published every two months or so. GW appeared an everlasting source of fertile creativeness that just kept on producing great gaming stuff! But over the years that source slowly began to dry up as management gradually took over from game design.

GW started to turn inward. Cost cutbacks started to exercise their influence on the design process. The board games and RPGs disappeared near the end of the 20th century. White Dwarf turned from a more or less general hobby magazine into a GW commercial ad collection. Still the range of tabletop wargames was impressive. But then these too, started to dwindle. More cutbacks slowly pushed them into limbo through the status of "Specialist Games" which increasingly turned out to be a euphemism for "nearly out of print". More and more resources were poured into the WHFB/WH40K lines, reinforced with the Lord of the Rings franchise, which was essentially a simple WHFB-variant with different miniatures. All at the expense of the "non-core lines" as it turned out.

During the first decade of the 21st century GW killed off the Specialist games one by one. Profit maximizing "transferred" them to Forge World where they were very sparsely supported and eventually just disappeared. Gone were Necromunda, Warmaster, Mordheim, Bloodbowl and many others. The entire Historical branch was scrapped in 2012 when GW simply tossed away WAB, one of the most successful historical tabletop rulesets ever produced without even attempting to license it, because it did not make enough profit. It took all the historical games with it into oblivion.

From then on GW completely focused on the WHFB/WH40K/LOTR lines, which were essentially branches of the same game engine-tree and served to sell ever more rulebooks and figures. Or, in other words, GW made a business policy out of endlessly re-hashing variants of the WH engine and the miniatures associated with it and has been doing so ever since. Something not immediately apparent to new players, but painfully clear to all of us who have been around a while.

Remembering their beautiful origins and the many, many remarkable games and game accessories that sprang from the original GW-source, the gradual and total decline of this growth and realizing that nothing really new has been produced by GW for over a decade, leads to the conclusion that GW has murdered Creativity sometime around 2005.

So yes, I proclaim GW guilty as charged. Not for taking our money, not for making a profit, not for attempting to monopolize the wargaming hobby and not for developing devious (well, what's in a name?) marketing strategies.

But guilty nonetheless for developing that vast potential for creating for us so many lovely games and then murdering that potential for the benefit of the shareholder, robbing all of us, old and new gamer alike, of what could have been.