Tuesday 26 June 2012

Hind Commander: 1:600 Helo Minis (Oddzial Osmy)

Another wet day confined me to the shed (no mowing, yay!) and I got some of the Hind Commander minis finished.  

US forces (Kiowas, Apaches and Blackhawks) fly over a hill, supported by two F16s.

The rotors supplied were a tad sticky and attracted fingerprints which made them more 'reflective' than I would like. However they attached easily and were a worthwhile addition.

 Tail rotors were also supplied but I didn't bother with them as they were so tiny; I felt they added nothing to the model from tabletop distance. 

Russian forces move through a near-future town (Brigade buildings, reviewed here); Mi2s, Mi8s and Mi24 Hinds. I found a toothpick handy for painting the portholes on the Mi8/Mi17s. 

1:600 - To Small?
My plans for using the sand table were ruined when I realised how easily the tiny 1cm-long tanks would vanish into the sands.  I should be safe with 1:300 but the helos have turned out OK and I am now not sure: to go 1:300 or stay with the 1:600?  I've made a start in 1:600 and terrain is very cheap; but the tiny 1:600 "rice grain" infantry turn me off and the scout helos don't do much for me as I mentioned here.

The 1:600 helos paint up OK, rotors are good; but still not sure if should switch to 1:300...

Check back soon for a AAR/retrospective review of Hind Commander

Cheap Quick Terrain: Brigade Models 6mm Sci Fi Buildings

I am always on the lookout for cheap terrain, and this is my latest find - from Brigade:

The larger buildings looked quite impressive

 Most of the buildings are in this shot
Quick to Paint
It took only 5 minutes to coat them with my trusty Bunnings spraypaint; a undercoat of Mocha and  Warm Ocre lightly sprayed over the top. Then to pick out a few details - easy as the designs are simple - total painting time 40 minutes.  I can't find my invoice, but from memory the total buildings cost around $40 delivered. The resin was rather rough and did soak up the paint.

The buildings are simple and have only modest detail
The buildings are around $1.50 each - a "town" pack costs around $20. The postage (often a killer) is very decent compared to other terrain suppliers - in fact if you are outside the UK, when the VAT tax is removed, it pretty much covers the postage.

The helipad seems more suited to my 1:600 (3mm) helos than the advertised 1:300 (6mm)

What's New
They have a new outbuildings pack, medium house, science lab and workshop which have just been released - and I will definitely be going back to get more.

 I need a science lab for the alien experiments to escape from...

Simple and affordable. Some might not like the minimalist detail, but they are easy to paint and have no prep required. The resin is a little grainy. They are on the small side - photographed with my 3mm (1:600) helos they seem more in scale with them than the 6mm (1:300) they are designed for.

Recommended: Yes. They'll be handy for mech games and it is pleasant not to have a terrain manufacturer rip you off for postage. Near future/sci fi middle eastern terrain is a versatile choice and can encompass a range of genres. I'm ordering more soon.

Wargame: European Escalation Revew (PC Strategy Game)

Despite being a wargamer, I'm not a huge fan of PC strategy games. Too often games focus on building bases and "teching up" your forces. It is almost like competitive LEGO as is more about the units you build then how you actually use them.  Units tend to have a simplistic paper-scissors-stone synergy; and superior numbers "spam" tends to win as there is no bonuses to clever use of cover.

A impulse purchase from a 50% off Steam discount, Wargame: EE has won me over, with its emphasis on tactics over an ability to click your mouse fast on a build menu.

 You can zoom in for a tank-commander's eye view of the action...

Simple to Play
Click to move or attack.  That's about all the controls you need to play. On occasion I summon information on a unit; debark troops or order a "fast move" via road; and sometimes artillery need a "force fire" command to blanket a forest. That's it. No special key combos, no macros needed.  Just your mouse and the arrow/WASD keys to scroll the map. You can zoom in and out from strategic mode (with unit icons) to over-the-shoulder range with a spin of the mousewheel.  Units move slowly over the vast battlefield, making advance planning superior to fast clicky-clicky skills.

 Any of the white-bordered "territories" earns you resource points; but units may only enter the map if you control one of the arrow-marked territories...

No Bases
There are no bases.  You may build a "base" which refuels your forces but it has no offensive or defensive value and is basically a bunch of tents and fuel drums sitting on the ground.

You need to control map zones to gain "points" or resources.  The middle ones earn the most points, but you also need to control side map zones (with reinforcement arrows) to be reinforced. 

You "control" a map zone by placing a fragile command vehicle somewhere in it.  Like a "King" in chess this unit needs to be hidden well, and defended against deep penetration raids by choppers, fast scouts and airborne special forces.

Resource Management
You don't build refineries to collect unobtanium crystals or neoprene gas; but what your forces DO need is fuel and ammunition.  Supply trucks and transport helicopters are needed to supply your tank battalions with fuel, or rockets to your mighty MLRS batteries.  Taking out or capturing enemy supply vehicles is an important way to weaken a foe.

 Command vehicles are invaluable for controlling sectors. They need to be hidden and guarded well.

Units are not simplistically balanced to be vulnerable to one and not to another. Expensive units CAN push through any foe - if properly directed on the battlefield. It's more about cost effectiveness than Achilles heel.  And cost effectiveness is situational (and therefore tactical). 

Obviously, some weapons are more useful than others against certain foes: a AA battery is a dangerous for to an Apache but far less so to a Leopard tank.  However many units are multi-dimensional.  Many modern IFVs can carry infantry with SAMs or bazookas, and are equipped with solid armour, heavy 30mm chainguns and ATGWs. Properly deployed, they can repel almost any foe.

A single 100-point Abrams heavy tank CAN take out 5 20-point T55s in a front-on long range gun duel.  However if they split up, a single 20-point T55 could take out the Abrams with a shot to the flank armour.  More expensive units should win - but screwups are more costly, and "ideal conditions" are rare.

 A combined arms approach works well in W:EE; just like in real life....
Level Up
Troops which take part in combat level up; gaining accuracy and defensive bonuses as they progress from rookies to veterans. You can get attached to your troops; like the T90 that killed the 8 Centurions who ran out of fuel near the village at Delta Sector.

Scouts Matter
The map is overlaid by a persistent fog of war - if your units can't see it, neither can you. This is where scouts - with their stealth and huge vision range - are vital.  Managing your scouts (which come in air and ground varieties) is almost a meta-game in itelf; using these small, stealthy units to kill enemy scouts (thus denying enemy their eyes-and-ears), to spot for artillery, to find safe pathways through enemy lines - and perhaps opportunistically raid enemy supply trucks and command vehicles. 

Against a backdrop of dozens of super-powerful tanks, it is amazingly how fun it is  to micromanage a small, speedy, machine-gun equipped jeep. And it is a testament to the game design how powerful these weak vehicles are when well managed.

 Weakly armed scout vehicles play a vital role

Location Location Location
Infantry in forests or built up areas are incredibly hard to wrinkle out, save with flamethrowers or artillery fire.  A gunship that will chaingun hapless infantry in the open will die to troops as it overflies their forest.

Older tanks without stabilisers suffer massive accuracy loss on the move. Flank or rear armour is usually easily penetrated - you need to carefully manage your expensive supertanks to avoid a costly ambush.

It's not Sci Fi or WW2
Not a Tiger tank or a plasma rifle in sight. Modern RTS combat is one of the few areas which has NOT been done to death. In fact the only similar game is the older World in Conflict; which W:EE surpasses in every way.  

It's epic
Zoom down to the level of your tanks and you realise how vast the ranges actually are; your tanks engage pinprick-sized targets at 2000m - almost beyond sight. A rocket salvo obliterating a forest or a swarm of gunships tearing up a convoy in a hailstorm of fire - these are powerful game moments.

Single or Multiplayer
It is designed to be played co op or competitively with your mates. In fact the single player campaign is punishingly hard; unlike most games multiplayer is easier in comparison!  It is easy to find and play with friends.

Also, games are balanced in an interesting way. Resources are important to build your army and replace losses, but it is the first to LOSE x amount of points who loses. So you can lose 10 100-point Abrams and lose the game by miles, despite killing 40 of your foes 15-point T55s at a 4:1 ratio. 

This gives even the losing side a fighting chance, even if one side controls most of the battlefield; and tends to encourage caution rather than a headlong tank-rush; scouts are important to avoid a costly ambush. 

The trailer typically looks cool but gives you no idea of the gameplay....

Unlocks = Replayability
The gaming industry has learnt well from the pokie industry - people like to be regularly rewarded.  You start with a "deck" of 25 units of various types - command vehicles, scouts, tanks, infantry, artillery, helos and supply vehicles.  Any of these units can be "swapped" for units you "unlock" by competing in online play or completing single-player missions.

Unlockable units tend to be more powerful, but due to the win conditions, they tend to offer flexibility rather than a win-button. I.e. a 100-point Abrams is equalled by five 20-point stock-standard Leopard tanks; and costs a heck of a lot more to lose. As a rookie, cheap, lower quality forces are more forgiving of mistakes anyway.

Choosing your "deck" of 25 units involves some forethought as you optimise your army to best meet your strategy. 

Want a simple to play game with lots of depth? Where your tactics and use of terrain and the forces at hand matter, not building new super-units the fastest? Sick of WW2 or sci fi strategy? Wargame:EE is tactics > build queues.  It is a simple game to play but difficult to master due to the naunces between units and the lack of clearcut paper-scissors-stone synergy between units like many RTS games.

Scouting and recon is essential to victory - you can avoid costly ambushes or mismatched fights, and lay traps of your own.  You can call in artillery to rain death on your foes, or cripple his economy by raiding supply trucks and command vehicles.

The "first to lose x points" is an interesting victory condition. Resources allow you to build expensive, mega-powerful units - but but lose more than a few and you lose, regardless of resources. Command units and supply trucks can be raided and makes flanking maneuvers worthwhile.

Choosing the right 25 units for your "army" adds a layer of strategy before the battle, and the game was clearly designed with multiplayer in mind.

Recommended? Yes. Definitely one of the best RTS games out there.  Simple but deep.

Hind Commander: Oddzial Osmy Minis 1:600 WIP

Thanks to my new shed heater I quickly based up the Hind Commander minis despite the 13 degree Queensland chill (yes, yes, I know....)

 You can see my basing method; 2 3mm rare earth magnets allow the bases to be detached. That way, you only need a limited amount of bases, and the models themselves can be stored easily in a small sewing box.

I am a bit conflicted about them. They are finer and more proportionate than the Tumbling Dice 1:600 jets I own, but I have found with smaller minis a bit of exaggeration is good to bring out detail.

One of the offending scout helos in the foregound; for scale a undercoated 1:300 F4U Corsair in the background

I also, frankly, think the scout helos are ridiculously tiny. There is a point where a miniature becomes simply a "playing piece" and and it is so small to the naked eye that it could, no matter the detail, could be replaced by a bit of bent wire with some solder attached, and the Mi2s and Kiowas, for me, pass this point. 

I have a huge horde of undercoated WW1 and WW2 aircraft in 1:600 which I have dismissed for this reason. The larger modern 1:600 jets are fine but for me there is a point where they are no longer enjoyable to paint; the base, not the miniature, dominates. You can see the Mi2 in the picture below, from "tabletop range", looks a bit like a tadpole-shaped blob of metal compared to the other minis. 

 You can see the painted Tumbling Dice jets in the background; they are chunkier and their more distinct exaggerated detail lend themselves well to dark washes and drybrushing
More pics to follow when the paintbrushes come out tomorrow...

Monday 25 June 2012

Hind Commander: 1/600 Gunship Combat - Rulebook First Look

It's not often something comes along to tickle my jaded palette. Another boutique skirmish game, with lots of unit cards and special rules? Puh-leese!

 PicoArmour 1:600 gunships on patrol

However ever so often there is a breath of fresh air. In this case, the air is provided by the downdraft of spinning rotors.  Hind Commander is, as one might surmise, a game about modern helicopters. I ordered from Pico Armour, who somehow got the rules and 2 starter boxes from Illinois to Australia in 4 working days, eclipsing the old 5-day record set by GZG from UK, as well as impressing me with their communication. Free shipping to boot.  I bet if you lived in the same town as them you'd get the parcel before you actually thought of ordering it! I will definitely be a repeat customer. 

Note: This review of the rules is done without my usual playtesting. A follow-up post with info on minis and actually gameplay will occur in a few days, as unlike most games I have nothing that will proxy for a 3mm helicopter.  My sand table will provide a good desert landscape methinks.  (I'm building a new double-size one this holidays - I'll post up my progress).
The Shiny
The Hind Commander rulebook is reasonably shiny. It is a 100-page softback but has a nice embossed title.  Colour photos of actual minis are used to provide gameplay example, which is always helpful. On the downside, the text is rather small and in a non-standard font, making reading a little tough on aging eyes. There are quite a few typos but not bad if you consider it is probably translated from Polish. There is a very very thorough table of contents, which is hampered by being in tiny size 8 font. Separate quick-reference sheets (made of stiff card) were provided, meaning you don't need to risk damage to your rulebook. I also like how cut-out card counters were provided, minimizing your prep time. Overall - plenty of thought went into this rulebook but a bigger font would be good.

A well-thought-out book: but I wasn't a fan of the font or font size

Stats n Stuff
For its small size (the actual rules themselves are 37 pages) Hind Commander is quite dense.  I mean this both literally (the small font & layout crams lots of content in); and figuratively - it is a fairly complex game about a complex topic, though you can see the author has striven for playability.

Helos have quite detailed stat cards:  type, tech level, speed, ceiling, sensor effectiveness, sensor tracking, ECM, armour. There is a range of weapon options and ammunition is tracked. Aircrew skill ranges in 5 levels from basic to elite and modifies most dice rolls significantly.

Players roll for initiative; then use alternate activation in detection, moving and firing stages. Contested rolls (d10+modifiers/stats/pilot skill) are the primary mechanic.  Players with reserve forces can roll to deploy them at the start of each turn, then both players write generalised orders. (I am never a fan of written orders in wargames).

 Gunships can fly low and take cover behind terrain features
 Orders include "turn" which simply means a chopper can turn 45d somewhere in its movement; to "relocation" where a chopper can turn 90d at the start or end of its move; to "evasive action" which allows for sharp turns and forces opponents to re-roll for lock-ons.  Helos are either hovering, moving under half speed or over half speed; they can change altitude by 1 level per turn.Restricting altitude levels to 6 means they can be tracked with a microdice. 

Locking On/Tracking (Detection)
Helos are represented by contact markers until they are successfully detected.  A helo can attempt to lock targets, until it either fails a lock roll, or reaches its "sensor tracking value".  Multiple lock markers may be placed against a single target. Helos may also track hidden contacts to reveal them. This is an important aspect of gameplay.

Targets can be engaged with gunfire (which do not need a lock) or missiles. Each lock-on against a target allows a missile to be fired against it.  Both sides roll a d10 and add modifiers. Each point the attacker exceeds the defender by allows one roll on the damage table.

Now the damage system is very good. There are 6 damage locations (weapon, sensors, controls, cockpit, engine, rotor); in most cases a second hit destroys the helo. This means a few d6 microdice (like the ones from EM4) can be used to track damage to each chopper. Simple, elegant, and offers a lot of 'variety' without resorting to hitpoints or overly involved critical hit tables.

 Jets do not linger on the tabletop but make "attack runs" on specific targets

Extra Stuff
Command points are used to call in support (UAVs, artillery etc) or change orders and Intelligence points used to reveal information (reveal foes, enemy mission data etc) about the enemies - adding an extra layer of tactics and resource management.  There are rules for forests, buildings, and hills which units (including helos) can use as effective cover.   There are also some special rules for choppers and weapons such as "agile"  "door mounted gun"  "data share" etc.

Jets can be called in, but they cannot track or lock on and may only attack pre-designated targets in their "attack run" making them functionally similar to UAVs and artillery. 

It is obvious helicopter gunships are the star of the show - ground units are usually more mission objectives. For example, infantry do not usually move at all in the scope of the game and simply offer static defence to objectives. Naturally flak units are a threat to your gunships and need to be neutralised swiftly. 

There is a lot of hidden movement and thus opportunity for cheating - unless GM'd, this is not a tournament ruleset by any means and falls into the  "play with good mates" category like Two Fat Lardie games.

Overall - A rather dense 37 pages of core rules. I'm never a fan of "written orders" but the mechanics seem solid (d10+stats opposed rolls) and the damage system is rather clever. A reasonable mix between complexity and playability.  

Not bad for 3mm - a Oddzial Osmy Tunguska.  

Army and Vehicle Lists
Each army or "strike group" has a doctrine which impacts the selection of helos and ground units it can choose.  They are not based on true army TO&Es/order of battle but are a gameplay-balanced army list. Similar to 40k "army lists" but not specific to a particular nation i.e. the "special forces" list can be used by Soviets or Americans.  There is a wide range of stats for vehicles, both ground and air - equipment is mostly modern and is good from the 70s onwards.  Both sides have ground AND air forces. The all-round stars of the show are gunships like the Hind, Cobra and Apache (most strike groups have about 4 of these); but they are supported by transports like Mi-8/17s and UH-1s, and scout helos like Kiowas and Gazelles. A dozen or so tanks, light armour (including AA and artillery), lots of softskin jeeps and trucks, and about 24 infantry sections make up the average "strike group." I would probably halve the strike group size in order to make the game quicker to play through as that is still a decent assortment of units. 

Organising Battles
What I particularly like is that missions are randomly drawn - like Malifaux, each side is unaware of the opponent's mission. A mission could be to destroy 70% of enemy tanks, or to move half your friendly infantry across the board.  Missions are only revealed at turn 10.

 In addition the player draws "Strategem" cards (similar to "Fog of War" cards in Ambush Alley games) before the game  which confer small advantages to the user and can be used strategically to tip the tide of battle.  "Strategems" could be a +1 bonus to lock on rolls or +2 to Intelligence rolls.

It seems a good stab at making a complex topic playable without losing the flavour of gunship combat.  Quite involved rules. Pilot skill, "hide and seek" electronic warfare, and gunship weapons and performance seem strongly underlined.  The basic d10+stats opposed roll is a solid system, and is increasing in popularity. The damage system is clever.  However the written orders and tracking of ammunition complicate things a bit more than I would like.  I'll be interested to see how long a full-size game will last.  I like how players keep their missions secret from each other and strategems add flavour.  Intelligence and Command points add a layer of tactics and resource management.

Overall - looks a little dense, but with good concepts. And 1:600 gunship combat has the benefit of being cheap and interesting - a definite breath of fresh air compared to my usual projects.A niche game - gunship focussed modern combat - but there is room for variety  within this - gunships can perform so many more missions compared to the more glamorous jets; I'd be curious to see how Apache missions, kills and sorties compared to, say, F-15s. 

Recommended?  To early to say. Keep your eyes out for a battle report and miniatures over the next week. Definitely the 1:600 stuff is well priced - at $1 a house means a decent sized village would cost $20-30 - cheaper than a single 28mm building!  PicoArmour do $20 battlepacks which include everything you need to get started; but I recommend looking at the plastic rotors which for a few dollars to your order add a lot of realism to the tiny minis.This is a project I am very interested in.

Sunday 24 June 2012

Song of Our Ancestors (Quar) Skirimish Rules Review

A packet of Quar arrived in the mail today. You may ask: What is a Quar?

The alternate-WW1 universe of Quar is unique and full of character

They are goose-necked aliens in various hues, fighting a Royalist v Crusader civil war with alternate-WW1 weapons and tactics.  The world of Quar is supported possibly some of the most characterful minis and rulebooks I have ever come across, produced by Zombiesmith.

The Quar, along with my Secrets of the Third Reich mecha, are unique in that even non-gamers pause with interest to examine them; my long suffering wife (who usually ignores wargame parcels) always recognises them and breaks open the parcel for a look.  In fact the Quar now even have their own short film!

They come in 28mm and 15mm versions, but it is the rules I am focussing upon today. I'm using photos from the official Zombiesmith website so visit there for more eye candy.

 What other game has rules for messenger squirrels?

The Shiny
This rulebook is very, very shiny. And I do not mean this in the traditional hardbacked-glossy-embossed-cover sense.  This is, quite simply, my favourite rulebook.  An obvious labour of love, the simple rules are accompanied by gorgeous, characterful sketches, maps, full colour artwork and pseudo black-and-white images.  It is a 109-page softcover, but I would have no hesitation in using it as a coffee table book. A rulebook to read for enjoyment. The rules are simply laid out with a solid table of contents, complete with a quick-reference page at the back.

The Fluff
Now I often regard "fluff" as a waste of space, distracting you from the main rules (*cough* Malifaux *cough*), an excuse for enthusiastic but unskilled writers to inflict their meagre talents upon us, and a crutch to those wargamers with little imagination.

The Quar fluff is matter of fact, almost historical in nature, with a tongue-in-cheek nature that is warm and amusing.  There are poems and songs - I would normally dismiss these ruthlessly as "over indulgent" but for the world of the Quar, they "fit."

A Crusader gun-tractor showcases the alt-WW1 vibe

The rules follow the "Song of Blades" mechanics;  each side has "rhyflers" who have two primary stats; Combat and Quality.

Rhyflers roll one, two or three dice against their Quality. If the dice rolls equal or exceed the Quality rating, it succeeds and gains an Action (which can be used to move, shoot or melee or take a special action). Choosing to roll more than one dice can lead to several successes; which means a model can take several actions.  However there is a clever risk-v-reward element in play; two failures in a single roll means the turn passes instantly to the opponent; any un-activated models on your side simply miss their go.

Movement differs from normal wargames in that movement must be in a straight line.  The only way to go round a corner is to use a 2nd action. This adds an interesting tactical choice. There are the usual rules for climbing, rough terrain, falling and bashing inanimate objects like doors.

Melee is resolved by adding a d6 roll to the mini's Combat rating.  The combatant's score is compared in a simple method somewhat similar to DBA games. (I.e. winner rolled odds/evens, winner doubled loser, winner tripled loser etc).

Results can range from outright dead, to incapacitated, pushed back or knocked to the ground; depending on the margin of success.  Injured and out of action figures are shown by tipping them on their side. No "special counters" needed. The range of results is satisfying - knocked down figures are at a disadvantage; recoiling figures are pushed back, and "out of action" figures can be revived by a medic.

Ranged combat is similar, only instead of being "Knocked down" or "Recoiling" minis "Go to Ground" and may crawl toward cover; or are "Shaken" which takes longer to recover from.  Smoke and poor visibility can reduce engagement ranges.

There are rules for weapon jams, thrown weapons, automatic fire, and crew-served weapons like belt-fed machine guns. Area effect weapons are quick to resolve than usual - the opponent chooses the scatter direction if a shot misses.

Morale is resolved by rolling 3 d6 against the Quality of the rhyfler.  Failures means a rhyfler will withdraw from opponents; the more failures the further he flees. You don't need to test to often - when a friendly suffers a "gory death" or for each casualty once the squad is below 50% strength.

Units may concentrate their fire, go on overwatch, regroup or attempt to heal incapacitated comrades.

The core rules are about 30 pages long.

 A Royalist HMG team

Units and Organisation
The remainder of the book deals with units - the forces of the Commonwealth, Royalists, and the Partisans.

Stats are simple - two stats, a few "traits" and weapon info. Here is one of the most complicated ones:
Militia Officer  C2  Q3;  Leader, Green; pistol, bolt action rifle

There are about 30-40 traits which, given each soldier seldom has more than one, are not difficult to keep track of. You don't need to look up a special unit card to understand them, either.

There are 10 missions/scenarios; some general, some specific.

A beautifully presented gateway into the quirky world of Quar, the book is a fun read as well as being a simple but solid skirmish ruleset, based on the Song of Blades game engine. Interesting risk vs reward activation, varied combat results, and no record keeping - games can be played in 30-60 minutes allowing a series of linked games to be played in an evening. True, the rules are somewhat Quar-specific; but each side only needs 5-15 minis, making the game affordable to try out. 

Recommended? Definitely. The rulebook is very "collectible"  -  as well as being a good set of rules - and the Quar minis are addictive, with bucketloads of character.  The 15mm Quar also fit well into any 15mm sci fi universe. All Quar gear is 15% off in June, so now would be a good time to buy.

The Kryst Sandstalkers are a new faction and have a "desert tribesman" feel.

Note: The Quar are supported by a slow but steady trickle of releases; but this month two new factions have appeared.  The Zombiesmith crew werelargely part-timers so don't expect the lightspeed delivery times of Khurasan or GZG, but this is being addressed by adding a full time staffer.

The Toulmore Veterans are the 2nd new faction.  The Quar world is expanded in supplements "OF Spats and Pedrails" and the new "Tales of the Breach" which has 30 new missions.

EDIT: The platoon/company level game "This Quar's War" (which I suspect is aimed at the 15mm Quar) is free on the wargame vault and will give you an idea of the art and world of the Quar

Monday 18 June 2012

Strange Aeons - Horror Skirmish Rulebook Review

Strange Aeons is a niche game in a niche genre, with a distinct 1920s Cthulhu vibe. Using only a 2' x 3' playing area and a maximum of about 10 models a side it certainly is not going to break the bank or gobble up too much storage space, and I reckon my Terraclips will provide decent boards.

The rulebook's notebook-binding is very practical

The Shiny
The rulebook is unusual in that it is spiral bound, notebook style. This is invaluable when gaming as it totally avoids damage to the book spine (like the sort that wrecked my AE:WWII book). The front even has a hinged plastic cover which would deflect Coke spills.  An easy to read rulebook, designed for gamers, by a gamer. Definitely a labour of love. In fact my only criticism is that the full-color rulebook is reasonable at $30 but the $18 postage pushed it into the boutique range, where the 80 page notebook would compare unfavourably to glossy productions like Anima Tactics or Infinity.  In fact I put off buying the rules for 6 months for that due to the cost. A cheap pdf option would be good. (I notice some of the OOP expansions now have this pdf option.)

The Game
After a somewhat self-indulgent introduction,  the game quickly gets into the nitty gritty.

Stats are pretty standard and include:
Dexterity (used for climbing and ranged combat)
Constitution (toughness, resistance to damage)
Attacks (# of dice rolled in melee)
Wounds (hits before incapacitation)
Resolve (willpower, courage, ability to stay sane)

Models are lumped into categories such as undead, demon, human, beast etc. Most characters have 2-3 skills.  There are about 40 skills to choose from and I found them quite manageable, unlike games like Malifaux and Warmachine where "skill creep" means he who remembers the most special rules wins. 

Players take turns alternately moving a single figure. Each figure gets 2 actions per activation.
Actions can include the usual moving, charging, shooting etc as well as "changing state".

Changing state is recovering from shock effects caused by injury or terror.  Models are placed "face down" - unconscious or catatonic; or "face up" - stunned or stupefied with -1 modifiers. It costs 1 action to recover 1 level.  Finally a ruleset which simply tips models over to denote their status rather than using a plethora of special markers or cards!  How... ...simple and sensible.  It'll never catch on.

Models in close combat roll their number of attack dice and add modifiers for their weapon type.  The highest d6 rolled (including any bonuses)  is the winner. Movement is likewise simple and straightforward. Shooting means weapon dice are compared to the firer's dexterity - if the rolls are equal or above the dexterity stat the shots hit. W40k "cover saves" (4+, 5+ and 6+ rolls on a d6) are used to negate hits on targets in cover.

Damage is assessed by rolling a d6 each hit and adding the highest to the weapon strength. If the total exceeds the target constitution a wound is inflicted. 

Players take morale tests if friendlies within 5" die; if confronted with a terrifying foe, or it needs to cast a spell. A failure can result in catatonia, stupefaction, revulsion or frenzy.

Wounds can stun a model, render them unconscious or inflict minor or severe injury.  There is a Mordhiem-esque after-game roll to check injuries which can result in a drop in player attributes such as -1 movement for a leg wound.

As usual, I tend to like a "reactive fire" mechanic but Strange Aeons does not miss it as much as many games.

The basic rules include 21 pages and are, indeed, pretty basic.  Whilst far from "cutting edge" they are simple and straightforward, with no niggling flaws.  The "advanced rules" - jumping, destroying objects, critical hits - are so simple as to be regarded as standard rules in most rulesets.  Definitely a ruleset that "makes sense."

 There are some great pulp minis out there. This one is from Artizan Designs.

The Crunchie Stuff
The remaining 60 or so pages are devoted to Threshold (good guy) and Lurker (bad guy) lists.
There are baseline character and normal Threshold agents, and 8 special characters such as kung fu experts, medics, snipers, demolitionists etc.  Your list of agents can be recorded simply and easily in a log which you can photocopy.

The Lurkers include cultists, priests and cleaver-wielding maniacs in addition to ghouls. Cthulhu fishmen, demon hounds, nightgaunts, werewolves and undead such as zombies and mummies, demons. There are 21 different monsters and evil humans to fight.

The list is reasonable but not terribly comprehensive and does not have the ability to "create your own" monsters.  This tends to restrict Strange Aeons a bit. For example, though there are plenty of Cthulhu beasts, there is no provision for vampires - a horror staple.It is definitely more Mythos than straight horror.

There is 12 weapons including various handguns, shotguns, rifles and Tommy guns, as well as pitchfolks and bowie knives.  Gear includes dynamite, whips, armour, holy books, and armour.

There are 10 normal and 6 evil spells.  Spells are one-use only.  A failed spell usually results in a test on the insanity table.  There are also 6 magical artifacts which have various effects.

Overall, the lists and bestiary is a bit more limiting than I would like. 

The post-game sequence includes rolling for injuries, and winning Threshold agents can gain a skill at the cost of 1 Base Point.  Each surviving model may also roll a d6 - a '6' means they have found a Map Piece. Lost agents can be replaced with new ones.  However agents can never be retired - players are stuck with them until they die.

Map Pieces can be spent to activate special quest scenarios or hire special agents.

There are 6 scenarios which can be rolled randomly, and 6 quest scenarios that ca be activated by spending map pieces.  There are good gameplay examples following this, which reinforces my belief the rules author is a gamer himself.   Lurkers can spend BP on "plot points" which change the scenario and give them advantages (like re-rolls, and various bonuses to demons, undead and cultists).

Finally there are photocopyable sheets for player "warband" logs and a quick reference sheet.

Overall, the campaign is sensible and easy to manage. 

Indirectly Competitive
Well not exactly co-operative, but player warbands do not play directly against each other.  Instead each player takes turns to operate the enemy "Lurkers".  Not only does this eliminate any bad feeling about "powergaming" (in games like Mordhiem, some skilled-up characters with certain gear were well-nigh unbeatable making some campaign battles mercilessly one sided); but since the points value of the Threshold warband is always matched by the Lurker player, games are always reasonably balanced. I go into more detail here.

  If you can pronounce it, then you probably should be buying Strange Aeons, which has a strong Cthulhu vibe

The rulebook is well designed but pricey for what you get; the basic mechanics are pretty simple and old school but don't have any major flaws.   The game has a reasonable but not super-comprehensive monster list; something addressed by numerous expansions.  Personally, I'd rather have a points-builder to stat out my own monsters.  As it stands the game is a little more narrowly focussed than some other competitors such as the Savage Worlds series.  Playing only 1920s Cthulhu-flavoured Threshold vs Lurkers will may get old for some after repeated playing.  The idea of "indirect competition" where player warbands never fight directly keeps this game friendly and eliminates "balance" concerns prevalent in competitive campaign games like Mordhiem. There are enough scenarios and gear to keep you going for a while and there are expansion books being steadily churned out. The rules are simple but good and would be very amenable to house rules.

Recommended?  If you like Cthulhu horror you probably have this game already; if you do, and don't have Strange Aeons, then you should race out and buy it. However if you're a fence-sitter then I'd recommend a cheap $10 Savage Worlds RPG book (hard copy or pdf) which is great value and allows a range of pulp skirmish options to be played. (If Strange Aeons was a cheap $10 pdf like Chaos in Carpathia/Cairo I would wholeheartedly recommend it, but $48 is a bit much to test-try a 80 page spiral bound rulebook which is rather specifically focussed)  If you "get into" it then you can expand into the more specific Strange Aeons series down the track, and meanwhile you can spend the $38 you saved to buy some minis from Artizan, Pulp Figures, Copplestone, or similar and get playing.

Note: Anatoli's Game Room has a lot of Strange Aeons AARs - well worth checking out.

Sunday 17 June 2012

AE: Bounty Rules Review (Sci Fi Campaign Skirmish)

I was digging through my rules cupboard and I came across AE: Bounty.

A game I evangelized amongst my gaming buddies when it was released back in 2010, for a month it had us frantically repainting random sci fi models into "crews" or warbands.  It seems to have all the components for a great skirmish game - customizable space warbands allowing you to use any models you fancy, campaigns with experience and gear...   ...so why has it been languishing in the cupboard after only a dozen games?

A small rulebook crammed full of content.  Good bang for the buck, very portable -  but tiny size is hard on the eyes.
The Shiny
It is a small full-colour 100-page A5 rulebook.  Rather small text will test the eyesight.  A thorough index and quick reference sections are appreciated as always, with clearly labelled headings.  Despite these efforts it is a bit dense and I found it tough to find what I needed quickly. A quality production overall though and well worth the $25.  A starter box of  5 figures costs around $15 (or you can simply proxy any sci fi models you wish) so it is very affordable to try. 

I'm not a huge fan of the reto-sci fi look of their minis - their 1970s style aliens are a nice change from grimdark skullz-n-scrolls 40k but I simply don't enjoy the sculpts.

Over the Wire
This is a free online e-zine supporting Darkson games with scenarios, optional rules and characters.  They are up to #20 or so now so there is a wealth of information to draw on.  This is not a glossy sales catalogue like White Dwarf but a short, meaty selection of actual practical gaming content. If only all gaming companies supported their products with such impressive after-sales effort.

Making a Crew
AE: Bounty advertises it is for "crews" of as few as 2 and up to 15 miniatures. The templates are "2-man"  "veteran"  "standard" and "large". These are good in that they are 'point-less' and have a modicum of flexibility but are somewhat more rigid than I had hoped and have a vague 40k "army list" feel about them - i.e. a standard crew can include 1 veteran, 3 regular and 1 green unit; one unit can be upgraded and one "dirty trick" (special ability) can be chosen. You can customise this by dropping a unit 1 level and upgrading another; or having another hero or dirty trick.

Whilst this is streets ahead of say 40k, this system is actually less flexible than it seems.  Whereas some games allow you to completely stat up models from scratch, Bounty uses a series of templates.  The pirate crew, for example, has a captain, space dog squad, quartermaster, cannoneer, corsair squad, first mate, lookout squad, and a crewman squad.  The other 2 factions (bounty hunter and mercenary) have similar options. So really you get about 24 humanoid "archetypes" with set stats, rather than the complete design freedom inherent in a game like "Song of Blades and Heroes."
There are hero archetypes such as assassins, brutes, duellists and mentalists.

Whilst I like the "point-less" build system idea, I was disappointed that I could not easily adapt many of my more interesting 40k models.

There are 14 races from AE: Bounty's own universe with slight stat differences and inbuilt special abilities but that is not a substitute for an ability to stat up your own models.

The quirky retro-sci fi aliens are a nice change. If they are anything like AE:WWII models, multi-part minis will be frustratingly fiddly to put together.

Each character has a series of action points (APs) which depend on the level of the model i.e. elite have 4AP, veteran have 3, regular have 2 and green troops have only 1.

Stats include
"Movement" - how many inches/move per AP spent;
"RC" - ranged combat
"CC" - used for melee
 "A" - armour
"S" - strength (usually used for melee damage)
"DR" - drive - willpower or morale
"W" - number of wounds

The "wounds" reminds me - I am not a fan of squads of multi-wound figures as seen in AE:Bounty. If the the hero and leader of your warband can take more than 1 hit, fair enough, but having one squad of grunts with 1 wound each model and another squad with 2 wounds each model was jarring.

There are about 30 special abilities - from "crack shot" to "hidden deployment".  Since they are universal to all factions, they are quite manageable, compared to, say, Warmachine. 
In fact, bookkeeping is quite simple, besides creating the crew at the start. 

Units activate alternately - the unit spends all their AP then the other side activates a unit. 

AP are used for movement, melee and ranged combat. Some special abilities also use AP, such as the "aim" action which can increase an attack's accuracy or power. Units can sprint, or charge.

Ranged combat is done by rolling a d6 and comparing it to the firer's RC stat.  If the roll equals or exceeds the RC stat then the shot hits.

Close combat is resolved by adding CC+d6 for each of the combatant - the highest wins.

Damage is somewhat complicated and involves several steps. 
#1. Get the weapon strength + 1 or more d6.  This is the weapon power.
#2. Deduct the target's armour from the weapon power.
#3. The remainder is the number needed "save number" to resist the attack. Roll a d6. If the d6 result is equal or higher than the modified number then the target shrugs off the damage.
If the number was 7+ then a save is not possible - the attack was too strong.

Formula: weapon strength +d6 - armour = save number

I find this a bit clunky and unintuitive. 

Suppressive fire can be chosen - it does no damage but causes morale tests to be made. 
In melee, focussed attacks can be used (like an "aim" action) to give a bonus to strength and melee ability.  If it is not facing the model it is fighting the model's CC score is halved.

I feel that a "reactive fire" should have been included  -  not only it is a good gameplay mechanic used by many modern games, but some AE: Bounty close combat heroes can whizz into combat and carve up their foes a bit too easily and this would balance them out a bit. High level melee characters see OP - able to charge down a corridor, kill a foe, then duck round a corner without any retaliation from the gun-armed foes facing them.  I'm sure you could make house rules but it seems a bit "broken" to me and the ability to add a teleporter or flight to your models exacerbates matters.

There is also no vehicle rules in the rulebook; I know AE: Bounty is about skirmish (usually in the corridors of spaceships or habitats or spaceports) but a landspeeder wouldn't have gone amiss. However I suspect ensuing episodes of "Over the Wire" will have remedied that deficiency.

This is actually an important part of the game. "Drive" can be temporarily or permanently reduced.  Temporary drive reductions are caused by terrifying weapons or foes; or friendly units being routed.   Permanent drive losses are caused by casualties or wounds.  Once drive is reduced to zero the unit surrenders or flees. Despite having to track the drive of each unit this is an interesting mechanic and means morale has to be managed and fights are seldom "to the death" but rather when one crew breaks.

There are about 30 weapons which cover most generic sci fi types. Slugthrowers, particle beams, lasers come in pistol, carbine and rifle versions.  Flamethrowers, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and pyschic cannons are also choices. Swords, shock gloves, pikes and heavy melee weapons are available.  There is plenty of wargear choices, such as adrenal boosters, weapon harnesses, various armour and suits, energy shields, and shock grenades amongst about 30 others. 

There are 12 scenarios which can be rolled randomly. There are also 10 special battlefield conditions like toxic rain or high gravity.

There are rules for casualties after battles, and buying replacement crew.  Crew can gain experience and level up (i.e. regular to veteran etc); or increase attributes (movement, close combat etc). 

The campaign system is simple, and there is a good range of scenarios and effects to give good variety. There is a good selection of generic wargear and equipment; and a Mordheim-style "after battle" resolution.

I'm not a fan of multi-wound squads, I think the damage mechanic is a bit clunky and tracking each unit's "drive" might not be to everyone's taste, but AE: Bounty is a solid game.  It could have been much improved by adding a reaction system, but it is simple enough to play and allows a range of scenarios including space hulk style games.

It had some great reviews when it came out, but it never caught on locally and seems to have disappeared with a whimper rather than a bang.  

Recommended?   It's a good, solid little game and has a surprising amount of content packed into its 100 pages. The range of gear and scenarios is great.  However it does not allow you to use any sci fi mini in your collection like is advertises - the 'crews' are more like super-flexible army lists, for three humanoid-only armies. Of course, within that is quite a lot of scope for conversion or proxying.

Perhaps the main issue is that gameplay-wise AE: Bounty cannot compete with the superior tactics, models and innovation of the higher-profile Infinity in the sci fi skirmish arena. Much as I like campaign play, the current level of customisation, while good, just isn't enough to push AE:Bounty over the line.   For $25 AE: Bounty is cheap to try - but I'd suggest the free Infinity rules if you are interested in humanoid-based sci fi skirmish; or the customisable and 1-page customisable FUBAR free set (which includes 40k-specific spin-off "In the Emperor's Name") and adding your own homebrew campaign rules.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Day Z - (ARMA2 Mod) Sandbox Zombie Survival Game

The "sleeper" PC hit of 2012 so far has been Day Z. A simple modification to ARMA 2; this 150mb download has put ARMA2 sales up 500% - it has outsold Skyrim, CoD and BF on Steam since its release. 

So what is all the fuss about?

A 225 sq.km island of forests, lakes, cities and rivers; endless swarms of fast, hungry zombies, and 50 humans - based on a hardcore military simulator.  With only one rule - survive!

A Day Z shot I lazily loaded off google images. I'll hunt up some of my personal Day Z pics when I am on my home computer.

The Good
"Rocket" the mod designer, has not babied the players.  He presents players with hard choices. 

You have limited equipment space and you need to choose what you carry with you carefully (you can create caches of supplies in tents but they can be found and looted by others unless artfully hidden).  Falls create broken bones that need painkillers.  Bleeding can lead to fatal blood loss unless bandaged. Prolonged sprinting can increase hunger and thirst. You never have enough food, water or ammo.

Towns have supplies but are frequented by zombies. Fast, sprinting zombies; not the shambling slow ones. Human players with high-powered weapons can be anywhere - and they would usually rather take their supplies off your still-warm corpse rather than scavenge themselves.  Wise players stay away from the populated coastal areas; and from wide open spaces that can be covered by a sniper rifle.

It rains - you can get chilled and need to take shelter or light a fire to warm yourself.  Eat old meat in your pack - you get sick and need antibiotics.  Want to live off the wild? You would need a hunting knife to skin your prey; a hatchet to chop wood and matches to cook the meat.  It is based on a very hardcore military sim so ballistics and weapons are accurately modelled.

Everything makes sense.  There is no 'contrived' PvP arenas - the towns provided action hotspots but it can occur anywhere. You don't PvP to be top of some leaderboard - you do it to grab their baked beans and water bottles - the precious elixir of survival. All travel is tense.  You are rewarded not by "unlocks", meaningless"skins" and flashing reward messages - but by giving you the bare essentials in life... and the chance of stumbling across that super sniper rifle of your dreams....

There are no levels. The more equipment you have, the more powerful you are - and the more you have to lose. A single pistol round can kill. There are no insta-heal healthpacks. Healing takes time - and food - regaining only a small % of health per meal. 

Want a map? A watch? Or compass?  You can have one - if you find it. You start with a blank slate.  This game is hardcore. A single shot can kill. But it is a breath of fresh air from the paint-by-the-numbers shooters (*cough* CoD *cough*) that are spoonfed to the Xbox generation.

Your equipment, status and location is "persistent" - log off on one server, then log on in another; you will spawn in at the same location with all equipment you gathered intact.  There is no grinding. No leveling up.  PvP is always involuntary - to one of the combatants.

Firing your weapon attracts zombies; with limited ammo capacity, sneaking in to loot buildings is usually more effective than engaging twenty sprinting undead in a gun battle. Knowing when to run away is a very useful survival skill.

This is a survival game, not a zombie shooting gallery like Left for Dead. Zombies are not target dummies to shoot apart in scores in humorous ways. They are fast, they are genuinely scary, and if you wish to live, you spend most of your time avoiding them in your quest for supplies. 

The Bad
It is very difficult to meet up with friends. Due to random spawns, it might sometimes necessitate a 30 minute hike across the map to meet a buddy.

The learning curve is almost vertical - you start with no map or compass, and unless you cheat by orientating yourself with an online map, expect a lot of aimless wandering around.  In afternoon or morning you can use shadows to guide you but weather is often raining or overcast.

The 24hr cycle means far too much painful night time play blundering around in the dark, banging into trees. Some people report good results by turning their monitor gamma settings up as a sort of quasi night vision but I have had little success.  Flares and torches tend to advertise your presence to human hunters, making night time so frustrating I tend to simply find another server when darkness falls. Reducing the night cycle would encourage me to remain on the server and tough it out.

The lack of rules also tends to cause play to link to the lowest denominator - co operative gameplay is unusual (as betrayal is easy) and most servers have a large proportion of players who want to play "deathmatch" simply hunting other players.   These players tend to live near the coast where newly-spawned, poorly armed victims are plentiful - you can largely avoid them by heading inland.

Installing Day Z is not terribly simple either; but this video is the best explanation I've seen.

The controls for getting out inventory gear and switching out equipment is clunky and complicated; fumbling for a new weapon when a zombie is monging on your arm usually means death.  The UI (user interface) is not terribly intuitive.  Vehicles are not fully implemented in the game and there is more walking than in the Lord of the Rings movies. There is no melee combat, which is a little disappointing, as bludgeoning zombies is always fun.

Remember it IS alpha. A debug screen and console messages kinda hurt the immersion.

The Ugly
Whilst there are some impressive graphic effects,  the game is a little glitchy and the controls are not as smooth as in AAA titles such as the Battlefield or CoD series.  Fighting in buildings is always problematic. The netcode is a bit dodgy and is not designed to handle the sheer numbers flocking to Day Z. However the nature of Day Z means a low fps is acceptable though. Definitely a rough diamond.

A breath of fresh air after the on-rails scripted singleplayer of games like CoD; where you simply follow the path and kill bad guys.  With so many games now "dumbed down" for ADHD teens, it is refreshing to see a game where cunning and patience rule over mindless 'fragging.'

The most innovative game I've seen in a long time.  It generates experiences and stories (check the net for the massive amount of Day Z videos, journals and AARs out there already) rather than shiny "unlocks"  "powerups" and stats. The only "stat" that matters is how long you have survived and the stories of narrow escapes you have to tell. To quote rockscissorsshtogun "A large portion of the internet is now devoted to telling Day Z stories."

It defies genre - a "massively multiplayer rpg/shooter/sim" that can be played with or without as much human contact as you choose. And remember this is only the "alpha" build - it hasn't even been polished to beta level yet.

Recommended? The most interesting gaming experience you can buy for $30; this unique game creates memorable gaming moments effortlessly. Become part of the story.

You need:
ARMA 2: Combined Operations (available as either electronic or DVD; I use the Steam version)
The Day Z mod files

Saturday 9 June 2012

F.U.D.G.E. RPG and Wargames (Rules Review)

No, this is not a debate on the best confectionary and snacks when wargaming.  Rather, the open-source RPG created by Steffan O'Sullivan (Grey Ghost Games.) It is the only RPG I have liked for its own sake (a few I have borrowed source material from; others - like Savage Worlds - I use for miniatures combat due to their simple mechanics.)

The Shiny: It's not very shiny at all. In fact my version is all text.  It's free, so I can't complain.

FUDGE dice are cheaply available - or make your own with permanent marker

The game revolves around "FUDGE Dice" - d6 cubes; with two sides marked with a "+", two sides marked with a "-" and two blank sides.  Each roll involves using 4 FUDGE dice.

Each "+" moves the result up a level; each "-" moves the result down a level.

The FUDGE dice are easy to make - I made mine in 5 minutes with a permanent marker and some clear matte spraypaint - but you can buy + or - dice cheaply from EM4 or Grey Ghost themselves.

Skills & Stats
Player skills and stats can be whatever they decide.  Most stats come in 7 levels (although you could expand them - i.e. levels above superb, like "legendary" are quite common):

Fair  <-----------human average

The good feature about this is that stats can be about whatever you choose - and the same mechanics are used for attributes and skills.  In a typical wargame you might choose "Missile"  "Melee" "Defence"  "Willpower"  "Strength" and "Agility" as base stats, for example - but you can customise your stat-line as you choose.

The beauty of this system is it is word based (i.e. you can describe things, and your description gives the stat i.e. "Legolas is a superb archer" - giving him a missile skill of "Superb"  whilst "Gimli is good at throwing his axes" - giving him a missile skill of "good". It is quite intuitive.

Unopposed Roll:  Tasks are assigned a difficulty level (i.e. "Great" difficulty).  You then roll the 4 FUDGE dice (hereafter called 4DF), add any + results and deduct any - results to your relevant attribute or skill.

I.e. a wall might be "great difficulty" to climb.  A elf with "good" agility would need to increase 1 level to "great" to succeed.  He rolls 4DF, and gets [+] [ - ] [   ]  [+].  The [+] and [ - ] cancel each other out, leaving one [ + ] which increases his agility result from "good" to "great" - he succeeds in climbing the wall.  If he had rolled [ - ]  [ - ]  [   ]  [   ] he would have been -2 levels ("mediocre") resulting in a failure or a fall.  

Opposed Rolls: These are usually used for combat and the like.  Both sides roll 4DF and increase or decrease their relevant stat according to the + and - results thrown.  I.e. a elf and a orc are in melee.  
The elf has "Fair" combat skills - he rolls a [ + ]  [ - ] [ - ] [   ] decreasing him 1 level to "mediocore".
The Orc is also a "Fair" fighter. He rolls [ + ]  [ + ]  [   ]  [   ] increasing 2 levels to "great".

The orc wins comfortably (by a difference of 3 levels).  The difference is called the "relative degree" of victory (or failure) and may have further implications.

For example, the orc might then roll to damage using its strength stat, plus 4DF, then add its relative degree of success (+3).  The elf would roll is toughness stat plus 4DF.

The relative degree of that roll might determine damage i.e. 1-2 difference = scratch, 3-4 = hurt, 5-6 very hurt; 7-8 incapacitated; 9+ dead.

The beauty of this system is it is word based (i.e. you can describe things, and your description gives the stat i.e. "Legolas is a superb archer" - giving him a missile skill of "Superb"  whilst "Gimli is good at throwing his axes" - giving him a missile skill of "good". It is quite intuitive.

The second thing I like is results are predictable due to the "bell curve" of the 4DF. i.e. the chance of rolling +4 or -4 levels is quite low - both have only a 1.2% chance of occurring i.e.
+4 or -4 = 1.2%
+3 or -3 = 4.9%
+2 or -2 = 12.3%
+1or -1  = 19.8%
no change = 23.5%
This means characters tend to behave how they are expected with a "fair" skilled character commonly capable of mediocre to good results but seldom being truly superb or genuinely terrible; most of the time the mini will perform as advertised.

The game also uses "Fudge points" - heroic characters usually have 1 to 5 of these.  "Fudge points" can be used to increase or decrease rolls by 1 level (or wounds by 1 level) per point spent. These recharge after each adventure or mission and are thus a resource to be managed during battle.

There is a simple points build system where skills and attributes can be raised or lowered. Skills above "Fair" cost points whilst stats below "Fair" reimburse build points.

The free FUDGE rules include a basic magic (including psychic powers) and a basic combat system.  There are a zillion homebrew rules and mods for FUDGE - some quite 'complete' and professional. A quick google will reveal a zillion systems for combat and magic. Alternately you can buy sourcebooks from Grey Ghost themselves.

Obi Wan says this is not the fudge you were looking for....

"FUDGE" can be bolted into almost any ruleset by virtue of its description-based nature. It can be used as a simple solution to replace part of a game you are unhappy with. Don't like the magic system in a game? Replace it with a FUDGE based system.

It is also easy to "stat up" random models as the stats are descriptive rather than numbers.  Eyeball the model.  I.e. if a benchmark human warrior is "fair" - would that ogre have "good" or "great" strength in comparison?

The FUDGE dice give a bell-curve of results making results more predictable than usual, which may benefit those cursed by the dice gods (my wife knows what I am talking about - she only likes games where '1's are a good result). The fact the same "engine" is used for all skills and actions makes his game easy to learn - I taught the basics to my wife in 5 minutes waiting for a train...

Recommended?  A solid RPG system in its own right (Origins award nominated), it is highly customisable and very welcoming to home-brew add-ons.  You can also use the basic mechanics in the system to "fix" bits of other games that annoy you without adding lots of complication. And did I mention it is free?

Thursday 7 June 2012

GASLIGHT Rules Review - VSF Rules

These games seem something of a cult set, and seem to be fiercely loved by their fans.

 GASLIGHT girl Victoria Hawkes from the official website.

The Shiny
The pdf is short and eminently printable (40 pages) and B&W. Old woodcut pictures add authenticity. Typesetting is very Microsoft Word and I was left with an early 90s vibe.   (The rules were actually published in 2000). Workmanlike but uninteresting in design.

A general observation: the game is more a 'toolbox' than a tight competition ruleset - most players will enjoy the freedom, others, used to tighter competition rulesets, might regard them "beta" or "incomplete".

There are 3 main stats.  "Shoot" <--obvious  "Scuffle" <--melee and "Save" <--avoiding Bad Things.
Certainly very manageable.  Troops are designated as main characters or extras.  Extras do not even have the "Save" attribute and thus tend to perish a lot faster than the heroic main characters.

There are random attribute charts for random character creation.  There is also random weapon stat generation though I am dubious as to when you would ever need to roll for a totally random weapon with random stats.

Weapons have range, a save modifier (negative number that modifies target saves); number of shots, and a note if it needs to be stationary to be reloaded. 

Vehicles have five stats - "save" <--for armoured vehicles, "speed," "start" <----roll needed to start engine, Sustain <--pass this roll or the engine conks  and "spin" <---amount a vehicle can pivot in a turn

 Heroes may have 2 random skill rolls and main characters have one.  Extras may be assigned appropriate skills i.e a unit of cavalrymen might get "horsemanship."  Using only a few skills per character from a generic list of 20 is eminently reasonable; giving flavour without extreme complication; compared to the ridiculous special rules lists in games like Warmachine, Malifaux, etc.

You can also generate random creatures though, like random weapons, it seems a bit pointless - you'd tend to design a creature's stats to fit the mini, going off the example animal lists. Animals can get multiple Scuffle attacks (e.g. teeth + claws) but are similar to humans with their stats.

Each hero or unit gets a card.  When the card of that unit is drawn, it must make a morale check if needed; and then can perform an action, like shoot or move or reload.  Formation coherency is pretty relaxed - they must simply stay within 12" of a leader or they cannot move. Figures may only attack into their front 180d - formations fire the way individuals in it are facing.  Formations tend to contain 10 individual models.

 To hit, a figure must roll under its Shoot or Scuffle on a d20 (halved at long range).  Extras must fire at whole units while main characters can target individuals.  Casualties on units are allocated randomly. Main characters can roll to "save" against each and every hit but if they fail a roll they are killed. No hitpoints - yay!  There is a d20 hit location roll for vehicles but since they are fairly rare I can handle the amount of possible critical hit types.

An average rifle is effective to 18" and ranges to 36"; compare it to infantry movement of 6" to get an idea of effectiveness of missiles vs movement. There are only cover modifiers for firing so things are pretty simple. There are rules for artillery and grenades.

Units can only charge enemies in the leader's front 180d; if they pass a morale check.  Units that are successfully contacted must also make a morale check.

When a unit takes losses (or a vehicle takes hits) make a note next to it - before it can activate next move it must make a morale check (only a single roll per turn - morale checks do not 'stack')

Main characters that are not part of units do not have to test for morale. A d20 (modified according to circumstance) is compared against the figures remaining in the unit; if the number is equal or less than the number of survivors the unit passes. A failure could see the figures within a unit get several different results - running away, freezing, firing randomly, or even blindly charging the nearest foe!

At 33 pages the basic rules are pretty straightforward.

 I'm not a huge anime fan but I did enjoy the aesthetic and battles from The Last Exile

Battles by GASLIGHT (rules supplement)
As the rules are so easy to use, people used them for increasingly large forces. I didn't try these rules with large numbers but due to the straightforward rules and use of "units/formations" I'd say 30-40 figures (3-4 formations/units) would be fine.

Anyway the authors responded by streamlining the rules further.  Fire is done by unit, not by individual soldiers. 10-man units still exist, but a leader might command several of them in a "group".   

Turn sequence is different to - each group commander mini rolls a d6 which is placed beside it. Six cards numbered #1 to #6 are then drawn randomly - if the dice matches the cards then all the group commander's units move - though movement of each unit in the group is NOT simultaneous. Ties between opposing players can be determined by a die roll.

A figure nominated the army commander can, if within 3" of a group commander, roll a d6 and swap it with the group commanders, allowing him some control over initiative sequence.

 Weapons and firing is done not individually, but by unit on a table to speed things up. There are a few extra rules like vehicle ramming and running over infantry, repairing said vehicles, and infantry close assaulting vehicles. The morale rules are modified - failing a morale roll means the whole unit misses a turn rather than individually testing for each model.

There is also extra rules for randomising group orders, sniping leaders, bonuses for army commanders when attached to a unit; ammunition shortages (thankfully not using record-keeping)

There is a simple build point system included, and fairly detailed rules for giant vehicles such as landships; with boarding, fire control, piloting, morale and damage areas.

These rules are practical rather than revolutionary - random card activation of units, mixed with simple movement and shooting rules. The "Battles" supplement further streamlines this simplicity for larger battles. The use of d20 allows for a range of skill levels, and there are few modifiers to track.

 I do like the way they handle their hero characters - a "save" that makes them tougher instead of extra wounds, and various bonuses and freedoms in the rules. Toss in a small amount of special skills and you have a flavourful character without any more record keeping or complication.
A very open-ended ruleset - I am not surprised there is a  role-playing supplement "Adventures and Expeditions" and "To be Continued" (I think all GASLIGHT works are collected in the Compendium which at $30 is pricey for a pdf but does include rpg, mass battle and skirmish games).  Most will enjoy this freedom of GASLIGHT, though some gamers might regard them as incomplete.  I don't know if they are "The Standard by Which all Victorian Sci Fi Rules are Measured" (not that grandiose a claim, considering the niche market) but , whilst nothing revolutionary, they are a simple, sensible, flexible ruleset and games toolbox.      Recommended

EDIT: I have recently reviewed another similar VSF ruleset Valor & Steel & Flesh which comes preloaded with its own Martian setting