Monday, December 23, 2013

Why we all should know about War and Conquest: a review.

A few weeks ago I played my first game of War and Conquest. A ruleset that was published during the last death throes of Warhammes Ancient Battles (WAB). I used to play a lot of WAB. I always thought WAB a magnificent, if in some places clunky game that gave me hundreds of hours of fun. I even played a WAB tournament once which says something because I hate tournaments. But I enjoyed this one.

WAB however was destined for a long and slow death bed. An overhaul for the main rules was postponed and delayed for years. Supplements were always promised and sometimes published, but always late. GW really put some effort into the slow strangulation of what must have been one of the most succesful Ancients wargaming rules ever and finally delivered the neck shot in 2010 with the monstrous WAB 2.0: expensive, fault-ridden, badly edited and even clunkier than WAB 1.5. Everybody who had until then be willing to have sympathy and hope for WAB effectively lost this after paying 45 Euros for this pile of glossy toilet paper. And after the closure of Warhammer Historical in 2012 WAB was finally and truly dead.

Several successors presented themselves. War and Conquest, Clash of Empires and Hail Caesar appeared in a relatively short amount of time around WAB's demise. In terms of marketing success HC was the absolute winner. My club adopted it in the wake of the Black Powder successes, I bought it and played it a number of times. But au contraire to BP this game felt a bit bland, the troop types too generic and the game pace too slow to really peak my interest. COE en WAC were anonymous wallflowers. My Ancient armies started to gather dust in favour of other periods and rulesets.

And then some friends of mine convinced me of the virtues of WAC. I bought a copy at Crisis 2013 in November and read it. It did look at least as good as WAB 2.0, but still I was weary. Then, two weeks ago, I played my first game of WAC with my dusted-off Saxo invaders and Romano British "Arthurians". I was very, very pleasantly surprised!

WAC is, in short, WAB as WAB 2.0 should have been. It bears many, many similarities with this game. That should be no surprise given the fact that the editor of WAB, Rob Broom, is the writer of WAC. Describing WAC is therefore best accomplished with a comparison with WAB.

Like WAB, WAC builds up an army in units made up from individual figures that fight and die individually. This does not make it a skirmish game, since the unit/warband is the smallest building block of the game (generals aside). Like WAB, units in WAC fight as the sum of individual stats and although the d6 rolls are calculated differently the needed rolls itself are the familair basic 4+ and 3+. Individual figures are removed from play when they "die" and function as casualty counters in this way, just like in WAB.

But a lot of WAB´s problems have been solved in WAC. The combat-winning super Characters have disappeared. WAC Personalities give you the standard upped Morale check when nearby, a limited strategic option to increase Initiative and Morale checks and an extra hit in combat here and there and that´s it.

The snail-pace cavalry (haha, my skirmishers are within 8"! You can't gallop anymore!) have disappeared and changed into the brittle and fast units that cavalry was in Ancient times. Guard your flank or you will rue your recklessness. And guarding your flanks has become a lot harder. While a flank attack in WAB was next to impossible due to the enormous frontal zones of the units (180 degrees) these have been halved in WAC. Break up your battle line and you are doomed. No more loose units running around on the battle field; now your line is needed to secure your flank, like it was supposed to be and without any need for additional rules.

The annoying skirmishers that could block attacking enemy or friendly infantry have disappeared. Skirmishers can no longer engage formed infantry in combat and due to the changed sequence of charge declaration and movement no longer block charges but can move aside like they are supposed to, to harass the enemy from the flanks. Likewise, several superskills from WAB have been mellowed to playable advantages without "breaking" the rules. Early Imperial Romans are still a strong army, but no longer the hyper-disciplined robots from WAB.

War and Conquest is in many ways a better, more streamlined and more natural playing game than WAB and accomplishes this with less complexity. Mr Broom has made some very elegant choices here.

One of the more lethal faults of WAB was its lack of support. Supplements were long underway and always long overdue. In its 14 years WAB spawned 14 supplements of varying quality, most not very intercompatible, some mediocre, some brilliant. So how is WAC in that department?

WAC was published in 2011, two years ago. So far it has been followed up by eight (yes, 8!) army books containing hundreds of army lists beside a few dozen separate ones. Aha! I hear you say. It is the old let-us-pay-through-the-nose-for-army-lists ploy! Well, no. Those are all free. You can download them from Scarab Miniatures. And they are not simple word documents either. The army books are well written, well researched and well layed out and number 100+ pages each. A few other army books are in the works.

So here we basically have a much improved version of WAB, supported by hundreds of free army lists compiled into 8 free full colour (if digital) supplements. You can use your WAB armies for this game without any adaptation to speak off. You can even use the WAB supplements next to the WAC ones, if you own them and feel so inclined.

Why then, I ask thee, is not everybody playing this game? Why do people pay 30 Euros for Warlords Ancients Army Lists supplement when they can download the WAC Ancients Armybook for free and play a better game wih it? Why did I?

Because, dear reader, I had never heard of WAC. Something this review attempts to rectify.

Please mr Broom. Hire some marketing advice. You have a golden product here with immense customer value. Find a better way to let the world know about this than this lonely blogger.

As I recently (July 2014) discovered two more period books have been published inb PDF format. The ACW and the Thirty Years War are now represented!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Another night at the slaughtered lamb

This week we played another go at my Night at the Slaughtered Lamb game. Below you see the inn looming in the twilight. A Witchfinder and his men have chased an evil witch here, but she has charmed herself into looking like one of the inhabitants of the inn. The witchfinder will need to flush her out without hurting the real inhabitants, in the meantime fending off the witch's ferocious allies.

While the witchfinder and his men enter the inn, fierce hellhounds approach the building.

The witchfinder and his men barricade themselves into the inn, driving the guests to the first floor for their protection and to prevent the witch from escaping.

Attacked from all sides, the kitchen door is ripped to shreds by hellhounds. Fortunately both fall to deadly musket fire. Nocterlinger ghouls try to break through the windows and get fired on by the witchfinder himself.

Here the Noctelinger skulk below the window, dodging the bullets with devilish cunning....

Finally they break through into the kitchen, killing two musketeers before themselves being gunned down.

The witch, disguised as a blind beggar, uses the confusion to jump from the first floor room she had hidden in. Getting wounded by the jump, just seconds before she can reach the edge of the woods she is shot down by a vigilant musketeer who guarded the main door.

Good has triumphed once more! But at what price? 5 Musketeers lie dead, hacked and ripped to pieces. And still Evil stalks the land....

Monday, November 11, 2013

Spellenspektakel 2013 (Games Spectacle)

This entire weekend was dedicated to my attendance of the Spellenspektakel (the Games Spectacle) in Eindhoven. A (for us Dutch people at least) huge games convention completely dedicated to analog board- and cardgames. Unplugged! 

I was invited by the good people of Ducosim to host a participation wargame at their Games Square and I decided to bring the Indiana Jones Game. 

Housed in a well-lit and roomy hall in de Beursgebouw in Eindhoven the Con had all the essentials: room, gaming tables, traders with thousands of reasons to spend money, Star Wars cosplayers and a giant T-Rex. Being very busy with the six games I hosted this weekend I never got to find out why the T-Rex was there, but he (or she?) looked impressive nonetheless.

 Storm troopers terrorizing the crowds. When explaining the essence of extras in my game, I compared them to Star Wars stormtroopers: destined to keep shooting, not having any lines and die without a name on the payroll. One of them just passed by and overheard me. He looked quite apologetic. Poor guy. He looked great but the suit must have been positively sweltering....

The con is very much geared towards playing. There were dozens of games you could try out, either organized by the publishers or by volunteers like the Ducosim people on the Games Square. King of Tokyo got a lot of attention (such a shame there are no miniatures in THAT game!) and a price if I am not mistaken.

Here are two of the six parties that played my demo this weekend. As you can see by the smoke, flames and general mayhem on the table the players got the attitude and athmosphere perfectly right!

Especially the cute little girl in the middle of the top picture proved to be a deadly shot, especially when she managed to get into the twin-machinegun turret of the flying wing and eventually even succeeded in blowing up the fuel barrels!

Most memorable winner was 8-year old Annabel who played Major Helga and her Thule commandos and invented the innovative tactic of cooperating with her brother who played general Stahlhelm! The first time any two players ever cooperated in this game!

Sunday late afternoon my feet hurt, my voice croaked and I had played six loud, chaotic and intensely enjoyable games. The weekend was as far as I am concerned a complete success!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

I've seen the light! Bigger is better!

Last week I finally succumbed to the demands of old age; I bought a magnifying light!

I should have done that years ago. Not only does my regular painting spot (the dinner table and a slab of MDF) have crappy light but well, the eyes don't get any better after 40....

Not having a fixed spot to paint and having to clean everything up after painting I looked for a small light I could place before me. This one has a circular neon lamp that throws near-perfect white light which is better than anything I have ever painted by.

It takes some getting used to. The depth perspective is completely different. It took me some time to be able to control the brush under the big lens and working with the little lens still gives me trouble. But I'll get there.

And I am finding out that while my eyesight is not getting any better, the hands are still steady. Below is a Zvezda 1/72 figure painted under the mag-light. You can see it standing on the slab on the lower left as well as below, photographed in close-up.

Not bad, huh?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Crisis 2013

Yesterday, saturday November 2nd, I was once more privileged to visit the Walhalla of mainland European wargaming, Crisis in Antwerp. For the second time in Hangar 29 this proved to be a huge and roomy gathering of a LOT of wargamers and all things wargaming. Dozens of traders, games-to-look-at (not my favorite things) and games-to-play (that's more my COT!) and a million things to spend your meager cash on awaited me.

After parking our car on a parking lot looking suspicously like the 2nd Battle of Ypres after a vivid German bombardment (so better parking arrangements than last year, which were crap, but still somewhat improvised) we were greeted by the Tin Soldiers of Antwerp crews and the smell of hamburgers. As a matter of fact the entire Hangar 29 smelled of hamburgers. I like hamburgers, but it would have been a bit of a bane for vegetarians, I suspect.

The hall is big. Really BIG. And the second hall as well. This makes for pleasant walking around without having to elbow your way through the throng all the time. In fact, the only real busy area was the Bring-and-Buy and its many temptations and this was the only area I avoided after my first attempt to pass through it. The lights were fine in most places allthough there were some dark patches in the second hall.

My first stop (after picking up some books at Caliver Books) was the Chain of Command demo by the great and outspoken Richard Clark of Too Fat Lardies fame. Being a great admirer of his rulesets as well as his demo style I as anxious to try out his new WW2 rules set. No pun in the title this time (until you abbreviate it, but who would want to do that, right? Right.)

Chain (note the absence of abbreviations) is a fast playing and interesting game with a lot of attention for Command and Control that makes for challenging play and hard choices. Our British desert rats tried to dislodge some platoons of Evil Nazis from their position. Unfortunately the Evil Nazis had a lot of Evil firepower and even managed to blow up our Rolls Royce armoured car with their second antitank rifle shot (quote by mr Clarke: "THIS NEVER HAPPENS!!"). One can tell Rolls Royce has fallen into Arab clutches and is not what it used to be....

So we had to abandon our misson eventually due to a lot of dead and disgruntled Britons. Still, we will win the war in the end.

Below mr Clarke at work explaining the Nazis how the rules work (a little too well, I'm afraid).

Below we see Jur chatting with Sidney Roundwood of Roundwood's world who I would have loved to have spoken but unfortunately we missed each other for the rest of the busy and crowded day.

My next stop, after picking up some Warlord Games German paratroopers (for some WW2 ruleset someone managed to sell to me along the way) was the Samurai demogame by Karwanseray. I was really looking forward to it, having seen the terrain and the rules in WSS 67.

Regular readers know me as a great admirer and lover of good demos and this one was as near to perfection as I haver ever seen and played. The terrain -made by Christy Beall, who I must have continually embarassed by my praise for her work- was top class, modular and with interiors included. The figures were extremely well painted and the rules were, after not even a 3-minutes explanation, simple, fast and straightforward.

The concept -written by Guy Bowers as I understand- was as simple as it was creative. Each player plays a ninja on a mission of stealth and murder. Missions are divided at random. Mine was to retrieve an ancestral sword from the castle tower. A tower crawling with ashigaru and samurai, to be exact. Owww....

As a ninja you had to sneak across the table because villagers and soldiers would sound the alarm as soon as they saw you. One of my fellow ninjas got cornered by a Blind Swordmaster like this but luckily managed to kill him, proving that swordfighting is an impractical form of self defence for blind people and preventing at least one cheesy Rutger Hauer film from being made in that universe...

Above and below Guy and Arvid explain the rules while players and audience gather round.

Some wargamers-to-be awed by the impressive table and lovely figures.

Below Joop and yours truly are evaluating the game to determine who really deserved to be called the winner. Was it Joop, who merely walked into the castle gates, killed an unsuspecting messenger and snuck off or was it this stalwart blogger who had to sneak into a castle climbing over the castle walls, kill two ashigaru, evade a raging samurai, climb to the top floor of the tower and climb down on a rope, pursued by said raging samurai only to escape at the last moment one turn after Joop had strolled off the table. You tell me, dear reader... ;)

The referee team stretching their creative ..... things....

I spent most of the day playing and talking to people so I did not see half of what there was to be seen. Some quick snapshots of the 3-dimensional Warmachine Table and the BRILLIANT WW1 dogfight game are a few of the impressions I have taken with me. Doubtlessly dozens of other people will supplement my pathetically imcomplete report of this lovely day.

Before returning home we reclined in the bar to fondle the loot and enjoy the Belgian beer and hamburgers (I already smelled like one, so I gathered I might as well eat one).

Here's the loot I took home with me. Tomorrow's War Alien rulest, War and Conquest because Arvid has told me so many good things about this rather undeservedly obscured ruleset and some WW2 Germans for this WW2 ruleset someone managed to flog me. Oh and of course some Ninjas and Japanese villagers that were my only real impulse buy (honest!) about 25 seconds after completing the Karwansaray demo.


Many, many thanks to all the people of the Tin Soldiers, who apparently enlist their entire families to make this day possible, and of course to the people of Too Fat Lardies, Karwansaray and all the other traders and players that made this day possible. 

See you all next year! 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Don Featherstone Memorial Battle

Yesterday, saturday October 12th, 11 members of the Dutch Miniature Wargaming Facebook page got together in Zutphen and staged a spectacular battle. 

Two traditions of recent origin got together on this day. First, this was to be an evolution of the Wargame Beer Fests the members had staged on a smaller scale the previous year. Expanding from beer to wargaming would surely be a great improvement? The number of attendees proved us right! 

Secondly, we felt that honouring the recently deceased Donald Featherstone with a dedicated memorial  game would be a fitting way to pay homage to this grand- and godfather of tabletop wargaming, as have done many other wargamers all over the world in the past months. To add some formalities we played a Horse & Musket game, with 1/72 plastic figures while the players dressed in (at least) shirts-and-ties (All wore more clothes as well, fortunately....) 

Here the group assembles for a full dress group photograph overlooking the battlefield of 1st Saratoga: the battle of Freeman's Farm. Many thanks to Christy for taking the picture!

British (left) and Americans (right) ponder plans and gauge eachother's readiness....

General Arvid makes a forceful argument for the British battleplan.

The Americans look a little sceptical. What can they expect? Their historical counterparts dealt the British a heavy blow, so the bar is placed high in this game. The world is watching....

Doubt seems to haunt the British....

Dismissing any doubts, British columns march unto the field. On the opposite side, Continentals and militia scramble to take their positions. Light infantry and marksmen occupy the ground between the armies.

Frantic actvity on the American side.

General Jasper explains to General Hans Burgoyne why the Americans have just sealed their fate...

We played the game using the Black Powder rules and used the Freeman's Farm scenario as written, only with different rules for the British reinforcements in the person of Von Riedesel's column. Von Riedesel would be marching alongside Burgoyne in the distance and would only start marching towards the sound of the guns as soon as he heard them. Unbeknowst to both parties, it would take Von Riedesel (a Generalship 8 officer) at least 10 actions to reach the uper table edge. He might reach the table in as little as 4 turns, or many more....

Here British units on the right wing advance towards the American line, executing the hammer part of the British hammer-and-anvil battleplan. Swinging their right wing and center full force against the Americans and pinning the American right against the Farm, they hope to overwhelm the strongest American Brigade of general Poor.

"Oh my god..." thinks General Peter Arnold on the right: "Gates just might have been right after all...."

General Joop explains to Reinout that all options are nevertheless still open. 

An impressive Continental battle line faces some remarkably tenacious Indians and marksmen who held on to their ground despite being completely exposed and in the open. Shaken, but never stirred!

The British center comes to grips with their American counterparts. The British gun in the middle does its bloody work. The militia melts away...

It makes you proud to be British! 

The American side starts exchanging increasingly worried looks. Poor's Brigade starts looking poorer by the minute...

Heated debating. General Arvid has even lost his tie, most likely carried away by a stray bullet....

Here the British grenadiers, having brushed away the first American units with cold steel and some hot charging prepare to deal the final blow to the American center. Poor's brigade crumbles completely, leaving Morgan's handful to defend the farm with the help of Learned's wandering Brigade. 

And then came The End....

Just as General Rene Learned's troops have finally rallied (after about 8 missed command rolls and at least one blunder) and advance on the British left Von Riedesel arrives in his rear and shatters his brigade with deadly Hessian musketry! This seals the fate of the American army. Liberty may yet be a little further away than anticipated. Who likes tea that much anyway....?

General Burgoyne ponders his latest victory with soothing thoughts of brandy and that fox hunt he has promised himself.

The afternoon was suitably concluded with dinner and Christy's incomparable chili and bread pudding; more than enough for everyone! 

Many many thanks to Jasper who made the location possible, Christy for photos, inviting us all for dinner and your charming company and everyone for their impeccable sportsmanlike behaviour and good spirit, all of which made this a completely succesful day! And to Jack the Labrador for not eating one single soldier!