Saturday, January 21, 2017

Raid on Isla de los Muertes

Once in a while my pals and I play a blast from the past: Legends of the High Seas by GW. Not the most fluid or innovative ruleset (it's Necromunda 5th or something edition) but very athmospheric nonetheless.

Here are some pictures of Matthijs great scenario and the beautiful island he built for it.

Isla de los Muertes

Capitaine LePouffe overseeing the operation

No less than 5 pirate crews attacked the island to relive the local cannibals of their hard-earned riches. 




The local congregation of the Dinosaur God




Crocodile River








Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sir Winston & The Amazons: Weekend painting results

Spent the weekend -amongst other things- painting Bronze Age's magnificent not-Barsoomian ladies. Oh and Sir Winston, who clearly enjoyed the company 😊


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Happy New Year and a Little Scenario

I wish all you faithful and incidental readers of my blog a happy and fruitful 2017. May you all become annoyingly happy and filthy rich!

And for your perusal a little scenario for En Garde!


Forces:
D’Artagnan has challenged all three Musketeers (in succession) to a duel and has met with them on a square with this intention. En Garde stats are as in the rulebook. All are armed with swords. The four are grouped together near the well.

Some Cardinal’s Guards enter the square to interrupt this and a fight quickly ensues.

Option 1: En Garde stats are Rocheford (General), one Q4 Officer and six Q3 guards. All are armed with swords.
Option 2: En Garde stats are one Q4 officer and five Q3 Guards. Are all armed with swords and pistols

Terrain
The fight takes place on a square. In the middle stands a well. Two laundry lines holding up large sheets cross the square. Several tables-and-stools, barrels and crates are littering the square. One or two carts might provide some additional cover or terrain. Perhaps the odd tree?

Victory Conditions
The Musketeers must kill, dispatch or drive off all the Guards to win.
The Guards must kill, dispatch or drive off all the Musketeers to win.  Musketeers will cease being Fearless as soon as they suffer 50% Critical casualties or at least three Musketeers are Grievously Wounded. .

Brawling
A figure may kick-and-roll a barrel or throw a stool or another piece of small furniture when it is in base contact with the object at the start of the Action.

Throwing stools and other small furniture barrels counts as a Ranged Throwing Attack at -1 to Hit and +1 to Wound.

A figure may kick a barrel towards an enemy. This is also a Ranged attack (pistol Range, -1 To Hit, +1 to Wound). A barrel hit will knock down a figure as well, even if no Stun/Wound is suffered.

Missing barrel attacks are performed with an Artillery and scatter die. The scatter die result is “mirrored” in that the barrel will always roll away from the attacker within his frontal 180 degrees. Any (unintentional) hit will knock down its victim as well.

Laundry
Laundry may be used as interactive terrain with some form of cover. Laundry will of course offer no protective cover, but may obstruct line of sight. Close Combat may take place through a piece of laundry.

Making a Ranged Attack on a figure obscured by laundry suffers a -1 To Hit.

Any Parry performed behind a piece of laundry gains a +1 chance on success.


Any Close Combat Attack through a piece of laundry that fails to hit and yields double scores gets the attacking weapon tangled in the laundry. The Attacker must sacrifice an Attack or Defense chit to disentangle it or –when no chits are left available- use an Action to do so.  If the figure Moves before he can disentangle his weapon, the weapon is lost on that spot.

The winner will, of course, be bedecked with Eternal Glory!


As it turned out we used Option 3: Rocheford, an officer and 4 Guards all armed with swords and pistols, resulting in a narrow win for the Musketeers with Rocheford slipping away at the last moment and all Musketeers wounded but victorious!




Monday, January 2, 2017

Frostgrave Review EDITED

Recently I sank a lot of money in the Kickstarters for Monolith Games Conan and CMON Zombicide: Black Plague. The two games combined will give me an instant collection of fantasy figures (some 400 in fact) so one can imagine me, pondering the consequences of these decisions, getting slightly worried what to do with them all...



And then Osprey released Frostgrave; a 65-page ruleset for Fantasy skirmish wargaming and I knew the Stars Had Been Right. I read numerous good reviews and gaming reports about it and eventually ordered the booklet.

What’s this then? 
While appearances may be deceiving, this book’s are very pleasant. It is the standard Osprey format (a large A5) but hardcover and full color. It also follows the standard format for Osprey rulesets being 64 pages long and all-inclusive. Everything you’ll need to play is in the book or can be downloaded from the Osprey site or the numerous fan sites and Facebook pages that have sprung up. Lead Adventure Forum has adopted the game in an official Child Board and has a permanently updated errata stuck on top of it.



Frostgrave is a skirmish game with some interesting fluff. The game gets its name from the mythical frozen city of Felstad, former capital of a magical Empire and known as Frostgrave to the inhabitants of the area since it was frozen in permanent winter a thousand years ago. Becoming gradually warmer (although no one knows why) fortune seekers are drawn to its material an magical treasures that are supposedly up for grabs. As the city’s nickname should suggest, this is hardly the case. Frostgrave is far from uninhabited. Apart from competing bands of treasure seekers wild animals, undead, ghosts and other monsters roam the ruins and are out for your blood. Or your brains. Or your soul. This forms the background of the game.

Join the Frostgrave Treasure Hunters, travel all over Frostgrave and meet all kinds of strange shit! 

You will play a small band of treasure hunters. The center of this band is always a wizard. He will usually have an apprentice (a slightly less competent version of your wizard) with him alongside a number of mundane mercenaries. Apart from the monsters, you will usually need about 10 figures to play. Although there is an “official” miniatures line made by Northstar you can enlist all kinds of fantasy or historical figures in this game. Almost all my figures came out of my hoard of old lead and plastic and I only had to buy a handful, mostly some extra monsters.

Frostgrave enables you to enlist just about any kind of miniatures

Turns are based on alternative sequences, started with the winner of the Initiative roll. As befits the center of the band, the wizard takes action first in the turn. He may activate for two Actions (one of which must be a Move) along with any mercenaries near him. As soon as all wizards in the game (it supports multi-player games) have had their actions, it is the Apprentice’s turn along with “his” or “her” mercenaries. Then the remaining mercenaries take their turns before the Creatures take Action.

The Magic wielders in your band are the big guns. They have a wide array of magic at their disposal. 
The magic in Frostgrave is divided into 10 “schools” each supporting a different outlook. There are the familiar Elementalism and Necromancy but also the more exotic ones like Chronomancy (time magic) and Sigilism (rune magic). Each wizard has his own school, can master spells from most schools, but uses those of his own school easiest. This gives you the opportunity to learn spells to suit your playing style, be it offensive, defensive, illusive et cetera.

The Magic wielders form the firebase around which your band operates. Although the mercenaries wield powerful combat skills, these usually are non-magical and none of them will last long against a wizard. Mercenaries are for grabbing and carrying treasure first and for fighting second.
There are several classes of mercenaries to choose from, paid for from a point pool at the start of the game or your gold stash during the campaigns that the game also supports. Simple thugs, fast thieves, archers for ranged combat and hulking barbarians or armored knights for close combat. More opportunity to plunder your lead pile!

The system uses 20-sided dice (D20s) for all rolls. Fighting and magic and a few other actions require a D20 roll making at least a minimum score or overcoming opponent’s rolls and/or stats. This makes for a quick and bloody mechanism.

Frostgrave’ s terrain deserves special attention. As a lot of spells as well as bows and crossbows offer ranged effects, cover is crucial. You will need a lot of ruined buildings. Treasure is placed on the table by all players before the game starts and is the objective for the game.

A typical Frostgrave table: lots and lots of terrain. 

The book contains a large Bestiary which sums up lots of animals and monsters in the Random Encounter table, to be used each time treasure is found or when the scenario dictates so.

Feeling blue? In Frostgrave this is how you keep your cool.

The cherry on the icecream are 10 scenarios in the back of the book for anyone who looks for more than a pitched battle. The scenarios really reinforce the narrative and offer inspiration for writing your own or inventing background. There is one for example with a temple and six reanimated statues that attack your band. How nice would it be to play a prequel to that one explaining how the situation came to be?

So how does it play?
Frostgrave is a strongly narrative game. Especially when played in Campaign mode. The individual characters, even the rather generic mercenaries, add real flavor to the game and their development, misfortune and occasional deaths really matter in the course of the game.

The combined opposed die rolls make for a quick and bloody game. Your wizard may be a big gun, but an arrow kills him just as quickly. So tactics are paramount. Maneuver. Time well. Use cover and outflank and isolate your opponents before you kill them. Keep your wizards alive, because without them you not only lose firepower, but Initiative as well. 

The wide array of spells create enormous possibilities and depth in gaming style options. The game really shines in that respect. The monsters add flavour to the game, but do not dominate it. They're more like moving and extremely dangerous terrain. The most effective spells are also the hardest to cast (and the riskiest, due to the backfire effect) so you have to choose wisely before using them. Or enhancing them in exchange for your health. 2 Health points don't seem much in turn 2, but when you're down to 3 points in turn 5 and that werewolf is coming for you....

The game will easily accommodate 2-4 players. Just upsize the table a little for more than 4 players. And maybe add a turn or two. Playing time for a normal game is about an hour, maybe an hour and a half. 

More weird shit trying to eat my adventurers. 

What’s wrong with it?
Well, not much. This is a really good game. There are the usual typos and vaguaries tackled by the errata. The only really structural failures I was able to find only occur in campaigns, are twofold and are easily fixed.

"Let's get outta here! This place is dangerous!"

First, the game has no time limit. Since the last man standing on the table gets all the remaining treasure this tends to encourage people to kill all their opponents instead of going for the treasure. This is not so bad in stand-alone games but especially disastrous in campaigns and can quickly derail one completely. It is far too easy for one player to get the upper hand much too quickly and there is no balancing mechanism to favor underdogs. The simple solution is to limit the number of game turns. 

My take is to limit them to 5, then roll an increasing number from 4+ upwards at the start of each subsequent turn. When failed, the turn is NOT played, the game ends and all treasure remaining on the table is lost. This should encourage players to get their loot off the table a.s.a.p.

"A four-armed gorilla! Are you kidding?
What kind of a shitty game is this anyway?"
Second, killing opponents gets you Experience points. As does casting spells. It is easy to see how this is advantageous to wizards who cast killing spells: double points! Because of this, these wizards tend to advance much faster than their more humane brethren, will quickly outgun them and just as quickly derail the campaign. This problem is compounded by the fact that obtaining killing spells is easier for some schools than it is for others.

Not awarding EXP for killing to wizards is the easiest way to fix this. Let’s face it: it is all about the magic and the fact that it kills is vulgar anyway!

"Let's back away slowly... They get aggressive when you run."
"Do you smell something weird too?"

What’s in store?
We already have a fluff expansion (Tales from the Frozen City) containing Frostgrave fiction and an “official” Campaign (Hunt for the Golem). Osprey offers several online forms of support like a Quick Reference Sheet, an Errata list and Stat sheets.
In November the “Thaw of the Lich Lord” campaign expansion will be released. Dungeon expansion “Into the pits” has already been announced for next year so I am hopeful that this game will spawn add-ons for some years to come!


Celebrating the victory. Or our survival. Or just beer.




Conclusion
Frostgrave is a splendid little game. It takes me back to precious RPG experiences from long ago and seems to be just as immersing. The fact that it can be played with a few handfuls of figures combined with the book’s pleasant price lowers the threshold. Games are quick, bloody but captivating without becoming complex. The wide array of spells gives a lot of room for individual playing styles. The few structural faults are easily fixed (or left alone, if you do not find them disturbing).

It does require some investment in terrain, although this gives the opportunity for interesting projects with friends and/or club mates.

Recommended!


EDIT January 2nd 2017

Having played a number of games now I stand by my review of Frostgrave as a very enjoyable game. However, I must add a caveat. There's plenty of room for rules disputes in this game as the wording of the rules is not so much unclear, but neither does it always yield logical or expected results in every situation. This is in itself not a problem, as long as you accept that some interpretation is usually called for.

IMO the rules would be best employed as a recreational game where rules disputes should be decided by consensus and/or a diceroll.

This of course is not for everybody.

And the fact that it isn't is solidly proven by the fact that the explanatory rules thread on Lead Adventure  Forum is by now an staggering 93 (!) pages long.

The author has stated that Frostgrave is a game that should be played Read As Written (RAW) This literal approach unfortunately lends itself rather well to maximizing some rules effects for the more competitive players and encourages an endless quest for the maximum effect of any given rule and an equally endless min-maxing of your wizard's party. This tendecy is proven rather convincingly by those 93 pages of rules discussion.....

So some consensus beforehand might be recommendable before embarking on a Frostgrave quest to avoid either unsatisfying games or unpleasant opponents.

For those wanting to explore the best combinations, the rules thread can be found here



Friday, December 30, 2016

Triple Osprey Review: Broken Legions, Rogue Stars and MWWBK

Recently I acquired a few new rulesets by prolific publisher Osprey Publishing and this trio offered such interesting contrasts I couldn’t help myself but write the last review of 2016.  All three sets are the standard Osprey format: a softcover full colour quarto format, 64 page complete ruleset.

So without further ado let’s start about:

Broken Legions by Mark Latham



As soon as I saw the announcements of BL I knew I had to have it. And that is not because BL offers a lot of interesting stuff in the games mechanics department. On the contrary: BL’s mechanics are nothing if not very recognizable. But let’s not get ahead of myself.

BL is a skirmish game made for 28mm figures. Players play with teams of 7 to 12 figures. This allows for detailed stats per figure and each figures has a stat line with seven stats like Melee, Accuracy and Fate. Each stat has a numerical value and succeeding in using a stat is a matter of rolling a D10, adding the stat and getting a result of 10 or more (give or take some modifiers). Some dice rolls are opposed, like rolling for damage (Physique vs Armour) after a successful hit in the sense that both players roll and the best result wins. Sounds familiar? It should. Several rulesets of several ruleset producers use the same mechanics, but with small differences in names, die types and such.

A novelty is found in the Fate stat, which is a kind of pool of Luck. When you get down to your last wound, you may roll for Fate in order to survive. The Fate stat gets lower each time you do so, so your Luck runs out at one point…. 

Also, the turn sequence is alternate, so you get to do a lot of fancy tactical manoeuvring in this game, which is a big improvement over the usual straightforward IGO-UGO.

There is magic in BL, called Miracles. Performing Miracles is based on rolls on your Presence stat. And there are lots of Miracles to perform. So nothing new here. This does not mean this is a bad ruleset. Far from it! The system is tried and tested and makes for a good game. But it is nothing new. So why would I have fallen so fast for BL?

The answer is, dear reader, the fluff. 

BL has an absolutely BRILLIANT premise in that during the Roman Empire it was well known by the Emperor and his advisors that there was a lot of supernatural Evil in the world. To combat this, a secret order was founded to fight this hidden war against the forces of Evil. The Soldiers of the Eagle, a kind of commando/legionnaire Ancient Delta Force with magical support troops and sometimes supernatural auxiliaries, battled monsters all over the Ancient world, raided temples, torched dangerous tomes and thwarted sorcerers. They, in turn, were of course assaulted by other secret orders like the Order of Set et cetera. Want to play Ancient Cthulhu? Want to raid the Cursed Black Pyramid of Rama-Tep and brave hordes of undead mummies? This is your ruleset!

The rules offer army lists for Romans and other orders, supernatural auxiliaries like werewolves and centaurs and lists of Miracles and skills to flesh out your figures. You only play with about a dozen of them, so individualizing is no problem and adds to the experience. 

Having participated in the Kickstarts of Zombicide Black Plague, Conan and Mythic Battles, lots of monsters are available to me in addition to the humans that can easily be found in the ranks of figures normally used in Ancient wargaming. There is a lot of fun to be had!

From this very cinematographic rulesets to one that has been directly inspired by movies:

The Men who would be King by Daniel Mersey




MWWBK cites as research about a dozen movies that I not only have seen, but own all of them but one. And on top of that the game is about colonial skirmishing, so I couldn’t skip this one. 

MWWBK is intentionally and deliberately written to play and enjoy fast games with some handfuls of figures (units are about a dozen figures strong) that remind you of the movies they were inspired by. Based in part on Lion Rampant the rules are simple and quick and armies are built out of standard units that perform more or less uniformly but may be fleshed out by giving their leaders (and thus their behaviour in combat) specific traits. Also, they may receive some additional skill by adding points to the standard unit cost. An average unit may cost 6 point, and an average army about 24 points. So army creation is fast and easy as well.

Figures roll a D6 per figure whether shooting or in Melee and hits are kills. Nice and quick. Units may get Pinned by casualties or mayhem in the vicinity and then you Rally them or the run away. Turn sequence is classic and straight IGO-UGO. Fights tend to be bloody and quick affairs.

There are scenarios, solo rules (or rules to enable you to get all players to battle a non-player opponent) and a wink here and there to notorious movie scenes. I tell you, I never realised how terrifying Highlanders could be until I saw Carry on up the Khyber!

The book offers army lists for all the well known colonial forces, be they European or Native and the United States’ colonial wars aren’t skipped either. Even Danny and Peachy’s Kafiristan’s “army” is included. This means nothing to you? Shame on you sir!  Go see “The Man Who Would Be King” on the double!

For quick and fun skirmish games with that typical cinematographic colonial flavour this is a pleasant set, written with love and humour, and completely geared to fast and easy play at the expense of detail.

Regarding detail and complexity, the next game is placed on the utterly opposite end of the spectrum 

Rogue Stars by Andrea Sfiligoi



As you might or might not know, Dungeons & Dragons evolved from a miniature wargames ruleset called Chainmail so  –despite all efforts of purist wargamers and RPGers to keep the twain separated- the dividing line between wargaming and roleplaying can be quite vague at times. In Rogue Stars this dividing line might have disappeared altogether!

RS is basically a miniature Sci-Fi skirmish game. But that is definitely selling it short. For example, the base rules are covered in about 25 pages. The rest of the book is filled with Traits, Equipment, Environmental rules, Missions, Character and Squad creation and Campaign rules. Creating your Squad alone covers a whopping 20 pages!

For a game with such a level of detailing, the base rules are brilliantly simple. Figures essentially have one Stat, called Target Numbers (TN) and may roll 1 to 3 D20s to Activate. The TN for an Activation is 8 but may be modified. Each success means the figure gets an Action. So figures may get quite a few Actions in one turn. However, a Failure means your opponent gets the chance to react! If a Reaction is successful, it precedes your Action or may even take the Initiative from you altogether!  So calculate your risks carefully…

This also means that, apart from determining starting Initiative, the turn sequence may ebb and flow depending on (bad) luck. No IGO-UGO here.

But after the Activiation or Reaction the details start. You can choose from about 20 possible Actions (amongst which are very SciFi things like Quantum Leap or Psi Attacks) and those are just the simple actions you may complete in one go!

The Actions themselves are equally detailed. Combat may target specific locations on an opponent’s body and you may choose various weapons with various effects that may vary even more sometimes depending on atmosphere and environment. There are dozens of Character Traits, different weapons and other equipment to use in one of 20 missions in one of 20 locations, all described and randomly determinable.

It is no wonder that RS games only deal with a handful of figures per side and terrain is very important. Tables are small, about 100x100 cm. These figures are highly individualized and creating your team is a real and rewarding investment in that regard. It would perhaps not be saying too much when I think that the border between RPG and Wargame has disappeared in this game. And why not? Why should that be important, when one can enjoy a challenging and intricate game on a lovely table with great figures?

I am also very curious how the game works out, combining so much intricate detail with such a simple game mechanism. It might play a lot faster than I might expect. An intriguing and definitely recommended ruleset for some new gaming experiences!  I promise a AAR at the first opportunity. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Conan by Monolith - a review

Faithful readers of this blog will have seen some of the superb miniatures from Monolith's boardgame "Conan". The least I could do for the Holidays was write a review!

Conan came to be in a Kickstarter campaign and became one of the most successful campaigns ever to do so. Over 16.000 backers provided more than 3 million dollars to create a boardgame based on the barbarian hero from Robert E. Howard's stories. So what has become of it?

Conan is an example of a genre that has become very popular in the last years: the miniature boardgame. The Kickstarter campaign has of course spawned a sprawl of stretch goal extensions and extras so for clearity's sake I will limit myself to the basic game: still an impressive set in it's own right and one that should be available for retail by now.



The first thing that grabs the attention is the excellent visual appeal this game offers. I am not ashamed to admit that I entered the Kickstarter campaign solely for the miniatures, before I even knew what kind of game it was. The board and card materials all are first rate prints based on exquisite artwork by several very skilled artists.




The game is a semi-cooperative boardgame. Hero players play against one opponent: the player that plays the Evil Overlord. Hero players play one or more heroes, the EOL plays all opponents. The game has several very clever innovations that will be described below.

The basic game offers four playing boards, printed back-to-back on heavy cardboard. These allow you to play scenarios on two pirate ships, a Pict village, a tavern (of course!) and a ruined fortress. The boards are dived in board areas that allow movement across the board. Movement is hampered by terrain features printed on the board (good lighting is recommended during a game!) . Line of sight is simplified by white dots printed in a board area. If you can draw a line between two white dots without crossing a terrain feature, you have line of sight.


The piece de resistance of the game really are the miniatures. They are SUPERB. Made of tough plastic they (with one or two exceptions) are beautiful sculpts with great detail. They paint up beautifully, but some will take some skill to get right, as the detail on especially the female figures is very small and finely sculpted. The figures would be an asset to any wargaming collection, even if you never play the game itself.
















I was pleasantly surprised that Conan was not just a pretty game, but a good game as well! So how does it play?

The Hero players use Character cards that hold all information, weapons and skills of the Heroes. Skills and equipment enable you to do special things or roll extra dice. Nothing special here.

However, each Hero has an amount of Energy (blue plastic gems) that enable the hero to take actions. A Hero may take any action he wants in any sequence and as often as he wants. However, each action costs Energy and when Energy is exhausted, no more actions are possible. Reclaiming Energy takes time and you will get the point, dear reader: spending Energy is a lot faster then reclaiming it! This makes for interesting dilemmas. While a Hero can take a breather instead of a turn full of action, this will still not give him back all his Energy, so energy management is a crucial element of this game.



The EOL has about the same amount of Energy at his disposal as a Hero, but reclaims it faster. No luxury, since his Energy must power ALL adversaries. He does this using a clever gaming ad called The Book Of Skelos. The main feature is "The River" where he keeps his character cards. The more to the left a card is placed, the cheaper it is to activate. Once activated. the card moves to the right and can only be activated against a bigger Energy cost. The entire "River"then flows to the left. So the EOL can activate every card he wants (twice per turn) but the Energy costs may vary enormously. Here, too, energy management is the key.



The skill and combat system has cleverly and completely done away with modifiers by using special coloured dice. The yellow ones are the least effective, the red ones the most. No math is required, just pick the right number of dice of the right colour and roll them!

All this makes for a game full of well-pondered decisions while still flowing fast enough to get that action-packed feel that is essential for the world of Conan.

The game provides several scenarios to play, which may also serve as inspiration for writing your own.

There are some point of criticism of course. Some miniatures are not very good. Different sculptors worked on the game and a few of the earlier sculpts (Conan's lion being a sad example) are definitely of lesser quality. But they really are the exceptions, as the pictures will testify.

The orginal rulebook (separated in a player's book and an EOL book) provided in the Kickstarter simply sucked.

Parts of the rules were missing or badly translated from French. Inventory lists are missing  and determining what you would need for a scenario is a puzzle solved only by reading the scenario and looking at the graphics VERY closely. However, Monolith is correcting this as I write to provide a better rulebook that will be downloadable free of charge.

There is a plethora of marvellous expansions dealing with Khitai, Stygia and the North, making the longevity of this game even better.

Containing all this treasures, Conan does not come cheap. It is definitely a high-end miniature boardgame and has hit retail at prices around 120 dollars/euros. Still, I recommend it heartily! You will paint and play for ages with this game.