Saturday, March 14, 2015

Triple Osprey Review

In the past year I bought three of Osprey's new rulesets. Osprey rulesets have a lot going for them: a good professional publisher backs hem, they are nicely priced and presented even nicer. Eye candy abounds within as the artwork is of a high standard, photographs are professionally made (or at least definitely look that way) and tables and reference sheets are clean and crisp and usually can be downloaded together with a lot of bonus content from the Osprey site. So it's a "Yummie!" so far. But how do they stand up to the test of playing them? By now I have played all three of them and wish to share my opinion about them with you.

A general observation beforehand. Perhaps because of the similarities in presentation people often assume these rulesets are variations on the same engine, themed by the period they are set in. This is not the case. The three sets reviewed here are written by different people and the game mechanics are quite dissimilar. They really are very separate games, only sharing the fact that they are all skirmish rulesets that aim for a specific period.

Another sidenote is that I could have included Tomorrow's War in this review but chose not to. This is because TW is a ruleset with a much wider scope than the three reviewed here and isn't a skirmish ruleset either. So those hoping for a TW review must turn elsewhere for now, I am afraid.

So here we go.

Ronin by Craig Woodfield    +/+

With 65 pages, like the others, Ronin is the only purely historical set of the three. Set in Japan's Sengoku Jidai period: the Time Of The Warring States it enables you to play small-scale fights set in the golden age of the Samurai.

Ronin is like the others a 1-figure-1-person game. The basic unit is the Buntai ("team") which consists of about 8 figures and upwards. There is a choice from a number of Buntai: Bushi (professional samurai warriors) and Warrior Monks but also the more exotic ones like bandits, ronin (masterless samurai), peasants and Koryu (wandering students of Ken-Do: the way of the sword). There are also lists for Koreans and Ming Chinese and even for early Kamakura period as well as the modern 19th-century Japanese army of the Late Edo period. You can add to your list by hiring sellswords, usually ninja, bandits or ronin. The lists are point-driven, points being paid for character quality, skills and equipment.

A Ronin turn has a Priority (Initiative + Morale) , Movement, Combat, Action and End (Combat results) phase.

Ronin has an alternate turn sequence. This means that players move their figures alternately: the player with highest Priority moves one first, then the other player moves one et cetera until all figures have been moved. This simple mechanism brings some tactical depth into the game, as figures strive to get the best positions one by one. Also, you cannot charge someone by running, so manoeuvring gets even more important. Alternatively, a figure may choose to fire a missile weapon instead of moving. Missile weapons really come into their own in Ronin, as they can be quite effective against unarmored targets and may fire twice per turn (just wait..). 

The game really shines in the combat phase. Combat demands base-to-base contact. Both combatants have a number of combat chits equal to their Rank: the Combat Pool. They may secretly allocate these chits to either or both attack or defence, which enables them to attack at all or strengthens their defence. This gives some interesting tactical choices in combat: should I gamble on my armour and attack full force? Or should I be cautious and strengthen my defence in case my opponent counterattacks? This really lifts Ronin above the roll-higher-than-your-opponent standard!

In the Action phase figures may do other things, like load an arquebus, pick up things or shoot. Bows do not need to be reloaded and now can shoot (for the second time in the turn), so in general there are a lot of arrows flying around! Unarmoured figures should be aware and usually die quickly if they don't!

The book includes seven standard scenarios and Osprey offers additional army lists for downloading, scenarios and even a list of supernatural beings from Japanese mythology.

So in general Ronin is an impressively interesting, quick playing game with lots of opportunities for beautiful tables and figures. Recommended!

In Her Majesty's Name by Craig Cartnell and Charles Murton +/-

Here we meet the same number of 65 pages which in this case houses a set of rules for Victorian Science Fiction games. VSF is a very popular period the last few years so this set does not stand on its own and competes with others like G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.

IHMN plays teams of 6 figures and upwards against each other. There is much opportunity for variation, as the basis rulebook alone sports half a dozen pre-generated ones and much information to make your own. The individualization of the teams has gotten a  lot of attention in this game, as there are lots of different weapons, historical as well as weird equipment and rules for steam driven walkers and such. So you can play Prussian scientist with Zombie Tod-truppen, British gentlemen with lightning guns or Chinese Tong warriors with martial art skills and magic! The lists are point-driven, points being paid for character quality, skills and equipment. 

Perhaps due to its small format, the game misses (in my opinion) the opportunity to add a number of typical Victorian archetypes, like Dracula, Springheeled Jack, Jeckyll & Hyde, Martians, The Invisible Man and the like. But the game definitely succeeds in capturing the VSF flavour and you can go full throttle at painting and collecting figures and stuff for this game.

There are some scenario ideas in the book, somewhat sketchy for my taste but still nice and there are a surprising large number of terrain suggestions, some of which are quite original, like a table made of rooftops!

IHMN starts off each turn with determining Initiative and follows up with alternate movement. This way teams move into position without having to wait for the other one to completely finish and this makes manoeuvring interesting. Movement is a saldo of quite a number of values and modifiers (standard value + speed bonus + sometimes a running bonus - armour encumbrance penalty - terrain penalties). This should have gotten me worried.

The same alternate sequence is used in shooting, so Initiative will get you the first shot, but not all first shots. Shooting demands even more values and modifiers. A hit is determined by adding a D10 roll to the Shooting value and the Weapon Bonus and subtracting the target's armour and cover values. Lots of tables. There are dozens of weapons and six (!) basis armour values (plus six more against lightning weapons) so there is some calculus required. More tables. When all this results in a hit, the target rolls against Pluck (plus Talent bonus, minus Weapon Pluck modifier) and survives, drops down or dies. After some 30-45 minutes of play all the adding and subtracting became grating and quite distracting. It seemed a very complex way to simply determine whether or not you move or hit someone with a gun. All this is not improved by all the different weapon ranges, which you are not allowed to measure beforehand by the way.

We did not get to use robots, walkers or vehicles but I fear that, since even walking and shooting is quite complex, strolling about in steam vehicles is even more complicated. The game mechanics feel slow and clunky like a 19th century steam engine. My main gripe being that this distracted terribly from the gameplay and narrative of the game.

Can I recommend this set? Well, not yet. Maybe it's just me. Perhaps IHMN is an acquired taste. It is definitely a must to work your entire team into a QRS where at least all the movement and weapon modifiers are at hand. That should save a lot of time looking things up in tables. I will play it some more and we'll see.

A Fistful of Kung Fu by Andrea Sfiligoi ++/++

We dove into FFOKF with a casual read and a taste for cheesy chopsocky movies. FFOKF does not attempt to portray a period as such, but aims at playing in the world of the 70ies and 80ies action movies, mainly those made by the Hong Kong producers that made the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan stars. It is said that the set is written to play the movie Big Trouble in Little China and that you will manage to play the entire movie, action scene for action scene, effortlessly. So my expectations were high.

Like in Ronin and IHMN you play a small team of about 6-10 figures, pulled right out off the cinematographic heritage that birthed this game: Kung Fu heroes, tough cops, vicious Chinese sorcerers or cool Yakuza gangsters. The rules allow for even more variety: zombies, cyborgs, Chinese demons or vampires, ninjas and what not. If you ever needed an excuse to buy exotic miniatures, this game supplies it! Teams are headed by a Protagonist, a star actor, supported by a cast of a sidekick and a number of Extras. The lists are point-driven, points being paid for character quality, skills and equipment.

Contrary to the former two rules sets FFOKF is a IGO-UGO system. One player activates all his figures before his opponent may do something. Or is it? Activation goes by throwing 1 to 3 dice against the figure's Quality. Every success gives you an Action: walking, shooting, charging and fighting et cetera. However, every failure grants a free Action to your opponent's Protagonist. Before you can do anything! And two or more failures end your turn, even before all your figures have been Activated! That doesn't sound very predictable and it isn't. It makes for dynamic play and calculating risks before throwing more than one die. Your Protagonist, with his high Quality, will end up doing the most, just like in the movies!

Shooting and fighting use the same Statistic: Combat. Roll and add Combat (and modifiers) to shoot or hit someone. The target rolls and adds as well and the highest score wins. In case of the attacker that is a hit, in case of the target it can be something bad for the attacker, like a jamming gun, depending on how great the difference between the rolls is. A table provides you with alternative consequences and the winner may choose the result that can apply. So a shot may kill your opponent, may shoot his gun from his hand or may result in your gun clicking on an empty chamber or a free Action for the target. Fights go similarly. Interactions with prop items and terrain are called for, so if you have always wanted to throw someone through a fish tank, here is your chance, provided you have one on the table!

It struck me that consulting the tables in this game was never a bore, contrary to IHMN. Why? I think it is because consulting tables in IHMN will only ever result in a simple result, like a move or hit/miss, while a table result in FFOKF might result in something that makes the game more interesting and easily fits into the narrative and makes it more exciting. 

Last but not least your Protagonist has a limited number of Chi points he can use to reroll dice or cause group actions of his Extras. Chi can be recovered during the game, but mainly through lucky dice rolls, so you have to use them wisely.

All this made for a quick, narrative and excitingly unpredictable game that felt EXACTLY like a Hong Kong action movie! Even in our first game the rules played fast and intuitively and we had immense fun.

FFOKF is definitely recommended. For fans of Big Trouble in Little China it really is a mandatory purchase!

Sunday, March 8, 2015


Last Saturday I enjoyed a demo of Batman The Miniatures Game hosted by Henrik in my FLGS Subcultures in Utrecht.

Batman TMG is produced by Knight Models from Spain, known for their earlier superhero licences. Now they have produced a ruleset, free to download on the Interweb, for their line of stunning superhero miniatures.

BTMG is a tactical skirmish game featuring a handful of models per side. Villains and their goons usually make up the more numerous gangs, while heroes and their sidekicks will be fewer (but STRONGER!). So I played the Penguin accompanied by three Goons (amongst them the giant Killer Croc) and as opposed by Batman and Nightwing. Mission objective was getting the Penguins illegal weapon crates to your table edge.

The most interesting aspect of the game (besides playing with superheroes!) is that it is an IGO-UGO game where the players plan their actions more or less beforehand by allocating counters/dice (every figure has a given number of them) to several activities like moving, attacking, defending etc. These dice give you extra actions on top of movement and the option to attack another player or defend against his attacks. So you get to boost some actions while being incapable to perform others.

So while some of my Goons made a run for the crates, the Penguin and Killer Croc attacked, the latter by sneaking through the sewers and emerging in turn 2 right behind Nightwing!

The rest of the game is straightforward and plays fast, just like the action movies it is supposed to represent. Table size can be small, despite the fact that firing ranges for firearms are unlimited. Gotham is dark and Gothic, so visibility is no more than 30cm (yep, the game is metric). So the action is close and personal. The Penguin got battered by the Bat, Nightwing got beaten up by Killer Croc.

The players alternately draw dice from a box, the colour of which determines who may start. Once all the dice are drawn, the game is over. SO we played six turns and in turn 6 one Goon dragged a crate to my table edge, winning the game!

The figures are stunning pieces of sculpting art and are priced accordingly. However, since an "army" in Batman will only be about 2-6 figures, starting a Batman team will still cost you significantly less than a standard wargaming army.

Until, I must warn you, greed sets in. I predict many of you, once hooked on these magnificent miniatures, will want to collect them all!

Many thanks to Henrik for providing me with a good game and an enjoyable afternoon and to Subcultures for hosting us!