Tuesday 31 December 2013

"MacDonalds" Wargames Rules

Bolt Action's close adherence to the Games Workshop/Flames of War formula means it will be an easy crossover - appealing to the legions of fans of both franchises.  Without delving to deeply into the exact mechanics, I was thinking about what makes rules successful. I'd call Bolt Action a "MacDonalds" set of rules, but no one denies the money McDonalds makes.

So what makes a rules set a commercial success?

These are rules which dominate their period/genre:  
Without concrete data I'm only guessing, but there are some obvious names:
Warhammer Fantasy, Flames of War, Warhammer 40K, Warmahordes, DBx, Field of Glory.
Bolt Action is a rising star.  I'm tempted to add Infinity as it always seems to feature heavily in any online stores. 

Bolt Action, aka Warhammer 1939 aka Flames of War Skirmish. Generic, bland, unimaginatively copies tried-and-tested Flames of War/40K mechanics.  Bound to be successful.

Out of Game Experience
I don't know about you, but I spend far more time collecting, painting and assembling armies than I do playing. I'll break this down into a few subsections. 


Are the miniatures interesting and flavourful? Is there more than one faction?  (Not many people stop with just one army). Are the miniatures easily available?

Collecting & Army Building
A "points system" and/or "army list" is invaluable for collecting as it allows you to build acceptable armies for pick-up games or tournaments. I'm not going to go into the "scenario vs points" argument here but there is simply no reason NOT to include a points system. If you don't like 'em, ignore em. 
Scenarios rely on organization and planning - which may vary between clubs, and from week to week.  Games like Tomorrow's War who refused to do a points system for "philosophical reasons" simply hurt the long-term viability of the game - and ironically can frustrate scenario-builders who want a rough "rule of thumb" to balance scenarios. In fact, with scenario-only books like Tomorrow's War, there is little point in getting more than one rulebook for the entire gaming group.

In Game Experience
 Easy to find opponents
I have two Warmachine armies (even though I dislike the game on principle) as I know locally I can always get opponents (if I am that desparate). Again, points systems and army lists are important as it allows me to turn up and quickly get playing. These games are popular for tournaments which allow you to get in some solid gaming.

No fancy equipment  or terrain requirements
Nearly every game listed above uses the humble d6 and does not use any elaborate markers or templates. This includes things like terrain - the prime barrier to Infinity is the terrain requirements - not everyone wants to spend 3 weekends making "enough" terrain to make the game playable.

Simple, consistent mechanics, little record keeping
Not too many charts, math or modifiers, and no written orders thanks!  The game needs to be simple to learn. However some complexity is required or the game will come across as bland or shallow.  Rules are usually concrete (i.e. true line of sight, WYSIWYG).  Familiar mechanics are a bonus.  Many of the ex-GW writers continue to re-make the same game - heck Empire of the Dead is LOTR with d10s.

"Special" Rules
Sigh.  This is a personal bugbear, as games usually go overboard in this area (Malifaux, Warmachine, Infinity to name a few) which can result in players winning though having a better memory of the 157 sub-rules.  Nonetheless, "Special Rules" are important to add flavour between factions and makes your troop units unique.

Player control
One of the reasons IGOUGO is popular is it allows a high level of player control, allowing you to control your forces relatively unhindered during your turn.  All the more popular systems have very simple command and control - usually "stay within 4" of the other models in the unit" - and very basic morale systems (units test when take 50% casualties, and either pull back or flee the field).

Games should fit in the 1-3 hour range. This allows you to play multiple opponents, so you do not just have to play Fred with the terrible body odor the whole evening, and prevents games from "dragging" too much.
Chain of Command. Interesting, inventive, a little chaotic. Will be popular with groups or individuals, but will never achieve mass market appeal.  Basically, is the subtitled French comedy against the latest Adam Sandler movie.

A case study:
Bolt Action vs Chain of Command
Both have many interesting factions and readily available miniatures - you can use any WW2 manufacturer. However Bolt Action is closely supported by Warlord's own miniatures line. 

Though Chain of Command has suggested platoons and strives for historical accuracy, Bolt Action has both a points system and an army builder and seems geared for competitive or tournament play. 

Bolt Action is gaining momentum so it will be easy to get opponents familiar with the rules - or to convert them over from 40K/FoW, given the familiar mechanics.  Chain of Command is a different "style" of game which may not instantly appeal - and has the usual chaotic mix of mechanics typical to a Lardies game.   Bolt Action is going with the established audience. There's a commercial reason so many movies are sequels.

Both games have a sensible amount of special rules, but Chain of Command has a much more complex activation system which is a mini-game in itself.  The focus on "friction" means units may or may not be able to activate. In Bolt Action, you are guaranteed of moving each and every unit. Bolt Action, with its familiar mechanics and streamlined feel, plays faster. 

Is Bolt Action a better game?  I'd argue that Chain of Command offers far superior gameplay.  But it would take a braver man than I to bet against the superior commercial success of Bolt Action.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Bulldogs Away! Naval Rules Review (Modern Fast Attack Craft)

Modern naval wargames bore me.  Not that they are all overcomplicated - for example "Shipwreck" is a pretty good game that covers all the key areas without tedious rivet counting.

But it's the scale and speeds involved that turns me off.  The vast ranges involved make maneuver almost redundant. I could pretty much play a modern naval game without miniatures at all.  When your 30-knot destroyer is pretty much motionless relative to a 450-knot missile, which can accurately range beyond 60 miles, it's evident that "maneuver" very much takes a back seat to spotting and shooting. Most of the time a player's most exciting decision is "do I turn on my active radar or not."

However fast attack craft are a different story.  They tend to be employed in coastal waters where over-the-horizon attacks are uncommon.  They also tend to be often in action - small patrol boats and fast attack craft are involved in the majority of post-WW2 surface actions - numerous North/South Korean gunboat clashes (1st Battle of Yeonpyeong, 2nd Battle of Yeonpyeong, )
the Iran-Iraq war, the Indo-Pakistan Wars (Operation Trident, and Operation Python) and the Middle Easy (Latakia and Baltim) as well as China vs North Korea's corvette gun battle in the 1974 Battle of Hoang Sa)

I noticed that very few involved aircraft, and all FAC battles were in visual range (The 1st Battle of Yeonpyeong started with gunboats "bumping" each other!) with maximum ranges of 15-20 miles for missile fire. In most cases,  close range automatic gunfire was the main weapon. Very few post-WW2 surface battles involved more than one or two small corvettes or frigates - in fact the majority of combatants were usually - you guessed it - fast attack craft under 250 tons.  And interestingly enough, there is a set of rules aimed specifically at these modern fast attack craft.

 The "Osa" class and its variants have probably seen more action than any other post-war vessel.  The Indian variants sank most of the Pakistani navy...  ..and the Israelis sank a bunch of them in the Middle East...

Bulldogs Away 

...is a 38-page black and white pdf. The rules themselves are only 21 pages. The other 17 is a rather thorough list of various missiles, bombs, guns, helicopters, aircraft and ships. There is a thorough index but no "quick reference" sheet. The pdf is plain text throughout - no "bells and whistles" here.

Stats & Ship Data Cards
Ships can have different crew quality - and each side has an overall command quality - which modifies dice rolls.  Ship "data" is not too complicated...

Size - Damage Modifier (hull toughness) - Speed - Maneuverability

Fire Control - Electro Optics - ESM - ECM - Decoys - Weapons (usually only 3-4 systems)

...and can be recorded rather easily compared to most naval games.  

Initiative/Play Sequence
Ships roll a d6 (adjusted for command quality) and leave it beside the model. This determines the order for moving and firing.   The sequence of play goes:

Aircraft (2nd move)
Launch flares/chaff
Launch SAMS
Snap fire missiles and torpedoes
Fire guns
Resolve missiles and guns fired the previous turn
Launch missiles and torpedoes (normal)
Damage Control

A "Sa'ar" missile boat firing a Gabriel 
(source: Zahal.org)
Vessels can travel at speeds from creep (5cm) to very fast (30cm) - which is 40kts+. Speeds can only be changed by 2 levels per turn so you'll need someway to record this. Turning is similar to many aircraft games - you must move x amount of distance before you can perform a 60d turn.  There are rules for collisions, drifting, running aground and towing.

Undetected ships can be replaced with two counters ("blips") - one can be a dummy.  Blips can only make spotting attempts if they are revealed to be a real ship, at which point they are replaced with a different marker and become a "contact."  One other dummy counter must be removed. Contacts may make spotting attempts, but may not fire.  In order to fire, the contact must be replaced by a model on the table (thus becoming a target itself.)  Blips and contacts can move like the ships they represent.

Extreme radar detection range is about 110cm for a "Osa" in normal circumstances.  This can increase or decrease significantly based on circumstances.  At up to half range, detection is automatic - beyond that, a dice roll must be made.   Ships using passive ESM can detect ships using active radar at greater distances, but may not attack unless they have very advanced radar.  Visual spotting is much closer - about 60cm but can be drastically modified by weather or darkness.

Countermeasures & Decoys
These offer a d6 "saving throw" against missile types they are designed to defeat.  

Weapons Fire
These must exceed a "target number" on a d20. There is quite a lot of modifiers for both guns and missiles - you'd need the chart to remember them all. "Snap fire" allows missiles to be fired earlier in the turn sequence but they have a significant negative modifier.

Torpedoes and missile fire are resolved in the following turn (torpedoes can "run" for several turns) which necessitates recording their targets in some way. Usually ships can only fire one at a time which means the board should not get too cluttered.

With an average 40-57mm automatic gun reaching to 30cm,  and missiles having a minimum range (30-75cm for a Styx SS-N-2, for example) maneuver is quite important, and with most boats having a 25cm+ top speed it is quite easy to close or open the range. Yay!

Sea Tiger insurgents - fought against the Sri Lankan navy in armed speedboats.
"Bulldogs Away" allows even small armed whalers and jetskis to be included

Hits roll 2 d10 - one for the "damage level" (or structural integrity) which ranges from intact, to damaged-heavily damaged-wrecked-sunk. Each level impacts on speed and maneuverability.
Damaging hits cause a roll to be made for each ship system to see if it is knocked out.  The other d10 shows "special hits" or "criticals" such as power loss or fires.

This is a pretty restrained system compared to the usual naval wargames rivet-counting and works fine given the small number of ships (no more than a dozen) involved in the "average" fight.

Aircraft & Helicopters
These get two "movement phases" although aircraft maneuver is pretty limited on the battlefield and there are rules for air to surface and surface to air combat. 

Miscellaneous Rules
There are rules for more unconventional craft such as hovercraft, hydrofoils and "ground effect" craft.  Others include mines and minesweeping as well as landing forces and shore bombardment - both of which would come in handy for scenarios. Since FAC doctrine emphasizes combat amongst islands and cluttered terrain, there is a random "terrain generator" for those who need inspiration in setting up a table.

 The Italian "Sparviero" hydrofoils seem ridiculously heavily armed for their size. Can't help imagining what would happen if they took a hit and "crashed" off their foils at high speed. Well, Bulldogs Away covers that eventuality....

+ Has all important details, but avoids the heavy rivet-counting that plagues many naval games
+ Maneuver, firing and spotting is "balanced" and fun compared to "normal" modern naval games
+ Focus on ships that actually fought numerous post-War battles as opposed to Cold War "what ifs"
+ Extensive ship and equipment lists
+ Straightforward detection rules allow for a bit of "hide and seek"

- quite a few modifiers, no QRS (perhaps one is available on a yahoo group?)
- need to track speed, missiles & torpedoes fired, and each ship's initiative either clutters the board or is annoying to have to record

Bear in mind this is a largely "unplaytested" review (except for pushing a bunch of WW2 E-boat "proxies" around briefly to experiment with some rules mechanisms)

Recommended?: Well, the rules themselves, yes.
My main issue personally, is that modern naval FAC miniatures are a niche within a niche, so you have limited choice within scales. At 1:700 you have PT Dockyard and Skytrex but I object to paying $8+ for single small model, for a game where I know I'll have to buy both forces.   At smaller scales you have  1:1200 North Head (Shapeways, and as expensive as 1:700), 1:3000 Denian (there is no website but you can see the catalogue via yahoo groups) and 1:2400 Viking Forge (no option for online payment - send a cheque? Really?) There are various Shapeways options if you hunt around, but none are reasonably priced. All the ranges are rather sketchy and incomplete - and the one range that is likely to expand - PT Dockyard - lacks modern support ships (merchants, etc) in 1:700.

In short - good rules, cool battles - but limited model choices are a major drawback. 

Tuesday 17 December 2013

Moving on from IGOUGO - Activation, initiative and movement in wargames

I was thinking about this yesterday when I was looking through my Bolt Action rulebook I think my opinion of Bolt Action is "perfect for its intended role to attract 40K/Flames of War players into 28mm WW2 market."  It pretty much reuses a simple mix of FoW and 40K mechanics (unsurprising since FoW mechanics seem pretty much a straight rip off from 40K) - the only vaguely interesting thing about it was it did not use IGOUGO. 

I find it interesting while most games (that aren't trying to suckle the GW teat) tend to tout new and interesting mechanics - such as cards instead of dice (Malifaux), these games often still use IGOUGO or some very slight variation thereof.

No, this isn't a "people who like IGOUGO are dumb" rant

I think whilst IGOUGO works fine for some games, its lazy overuse means often rules designers miss out on a vital aspect of gameplay - i.e. deciding when units activate and move adds another layer of "tactics" where player can influence the battle.

From a gameplay point of view, limiting a player's actions to only their turn - typically 3-6 times a game  - significantly cuts down on their interest and involvement.  As a sports teacher, I tend to be very careful of games where players "sit out" for long periods. 

Infinity, with its resource-pool of "orders" and infinite reactions, is a radically different game from a "straight" IGOUGO like Necromunda
Since all games involve an element of turn taking, when I say "IGOUGO" I mean Warhammer-style games where one player activates and moves all his miniatures, resolving all firing and actions, whilst his opponent goes off and has a cup of tea.  i.e.

SIDE A moves, fires, melees, checks morale, etc etc
SIDE B moves, fires, melees, checks morale, etc etc

-IGOUGO is simple. It is very clear as to who can do what, when.
-IGOUGO is somewhat predictable - i.e. it will take them x turns to get into close combat, in which time you can do y damage with your units.  There are less "decisions" and you can chain events together without an opponents' interference. This is very appealing to some people.
-You can get food/drink/toilet breaks while it is "their go" and socialize more easily

Someone once told me IGOUGO makes a game more like chess. Technically, no. Chess has alternate unit movement - you don't get to move all your pieces before the opponent responds!

Von Clausewitz was at pains to point out war is unpredictable - he uses the words "interaction"  "friction" and "chance". A battle does not produce a single reaction, but dynamic reactions and interactions.

IGOUGO limits those "reactions" and "interactions" to perhaps 3-6 major incidences - the "turns" for each player. In IGOUGO games, units usually have a fixed, known movement distances and firing ranges, which take a lot of the uncertainty out of a battle. Since reactions and interactions are so limited, and movement is predictable, the starting position of the miniatures is more important.

In IGOUGO one player knows exactly what the other can do while he maneuvers, fires etc - precisely nothing. He knows he can carry out his "plan" for the turn without interference, and perfectly co-ordinate his forces. Not only does this mean the non-active player cannot do anything, but the active player does not need to worry about a response - which further simplifies decision-making.

Take chess as an example. Each time a piece is moved, it creates a completely new dynamic for the opponent to respond to. In IGOUGO, a player only has to "respond" to the dynamic created in his opponent's turn (which occurs only a few times per game), and his own die rolling.

In short:
1. It's less "realistic"in that it has few reactions and interactions; players can act without interference
2. It offers less opportunity for player decision-making and involvement

It's about increasing decision opportunities
This has nothing to do with "taking away" player decisions. There are some systems (such as those by Two Hour Wargames) where you have to roll a dice which dictates your response i.e. if you are fired upon you roll a dice to see if you return fire, take cover, retreat etc.)  To me, whilst this is a valid "flavour" of wargame, this also is limiting as it also removes "decision making" opportunities.   IGOUGO also limits decision-making opportunities, as well - to an average of 3-6 "turns" per game.

Using a more random method (such as cards) for units does limit a player's ability to flawlessly execute plans, by making things less predictable (and arguably, more "lifelike") but does present players with a continually changing array of choices.

Realism vs Gameplay
I'm not super-focused on "realism."  Though it annoys me when people trot out platitudes like "it's only a game"  "it's impossible to be real, it's only toy soldiers." I bet they'd object if I said "then, OK, let's change the game so rifles shoot 6" and pistols shoot 48." We are striving for realism, or at least plausibility.  But for me, realism is balanced against the complexity it requires. Take Harpoon for example. Realistic? I'm told it is.  Fun? For a select few.

IGOUGO is a little less "realistic" than many other methods. It also, more importantly, has less player decision-making opportunities and involvement. And those decisions are artificially free from an opponent's interference. Is it so much simpler and faster than the alternatives, that this tradeoff is worthwhile? Does it improve gameplay so much as to be worth the tradeoff?  I'd argue most times, it isn't.

Decisions, good. Complexity, bad.
I maintain that a good wargame gives you lots of opportunities to make decisions.  Of course you don't always get to carry these out due to opponents, unlucky dice rolls, etc - von Clausewitz would call this "friction" - but the opportunity should be there.  Players should be involved as much as possible.  When I review a wargame, here are a few gameplay points I consider:

1. Does this game have me agonising over decisions every time I act with a unit (and when an opponent acts with his)...
2. Does this game have me agonising over charts, unit profiles, hitpoints and chugging bucket loads of dice and considering 17 modifiers and laboriously recording results as I try to resolve the combat...
3. Does this game have me agonising over my inability to remember the 257 "special rules" - one of which my opponent just blindsided me with (Warmachine and Infinity, I'm looking at you)

Warmachine, with its reliance on synergies between friendly units (i.e. caster and jacks), needs IGOUGO and the guaranteed, unopposed co-ordination of friendly units

So where are you going with this?
Games are about having fun.  They are also need to be "realistic."
Realism tends to be at the expense of complexity, which can reduce fun.

Traditional IGOUGO tends to trade off a lot: realism, decision-making opportunities and player involvement - in return for simplicity.  However it is not that much simpler than the alternatives.

Here's a few common examples:
IGOUGO with limited reactions "a.k.a. overwatch" (40k 1st ed) Orders can be "saved" for later.
Phased IGOUGO (LOTR). A moves, B moves, A fires, B fires, both melee

Alternate Movement - (Chess) a player acts with a single unit, then opponent responds
Alternate Movement v.2 - players take turns choosing a unit to activate, can be theirs or opponents'
IGOUGO - roll to maintain momentum - if you fail you lose your turn (Warmaster, SoBH)
Card Based (Bolt Action) - random draw for side A or B; players can choose the unit to act with
Card Based (Two Fat Lardies) - random draw tells the exact unit that can be activated
IGOUGO with infinite reactions (Infinity, Tomorrow's War) - non-active player has unlimited reactions to active player

This is just a quick example, but all of these have a higher level of player involvement, more decision-making opportunities, and less predictablity (a.k.a. more realism) than straight IGOUGO.

IGOUGO is not bad in itself. In fact, many players may prefer it due to its higher predictability, fewer decisions and more "down-time." Some games that rely on coordinated actions between friendly units (such as Warmachine) might not work as well with another method. But I'd appreciate it if more game designers please considered the opportunities for more player decision-making ("tactics") in the activation stage.  "Initiative" and "activation" is the section usually on the first page of the rulebook. But usually it's really just an afterthought.

Sunday 15 December 2013

The Accursed Kings - Medieval Books & TV Series

I thought I'd share a series which has inspired an interest in 100 Years War (I've got 28mm Perries sitting on my workbench as we speak...)

The author Maurice Druon (1918-2009) was himself an interesting character. He served in the cavalry and French Resistance, and co-wrote the Chants de Partisans anthem of the French Resistance in WW2 (to whistle the opening bars was often used to identify oneself) which is now an official anthem of France along with Chant du Depart and Marseillaise. He wrote the Accursed Kings from 1955-1977 and thus the books are a comfortably readable size, not the bloated 700+ page monstrosities which seems to be the current staple of historical fiction and fantasy. 

The TV mini-series (or more specifically, the 2005 remake I am watching) consists of 7 episodes, which follow the books faithfully (for once!). Gerard Depardieu was the ill-fated Templar Grand Master.  In Australia it was on SBS, but if you live elsewhere you may be hard pressed finding a copy (legally, anyway). Subtitles may annoy some people. Considering the subject matter it is quite restrained - I could only imagine the sex and gore if HBO got hold of it.

The books are a good read, without being monstrous 700+ page tomes.

A Overview
The seven books follow the reign of the last Capetian kings and the first two Valois ones - from Philip the Fair to John II. The scheming of Robert of Artois and his aunt Mahaut of Burgundy are a strong part of the plot. 

George R.R. Martin credits it as a major influence on his dark, gritty fantasy blockbuster A Game of Thrones.  We have adulterous, scheming, backstabbing characters, and The Iron Kings launches with Robert of Artois scheming with his cousin Queen Isabella of England to expose the adultery of the three Princesses of France (the Tour de Nesle Affair.)  The Princesses are daughters-in-law to the King but the reason Robert targets them is that they are the daughters of Mahaut of Burgundy, Robert's aunt and a conniving old bimbo who managed to disinherit Robert and seize Burgundy years before. King Philip (a bit of a cold fish) is less than pleased, flaying their lovers alive and imprisoning the Princesses in a fortress.

The "curse" is placed on the King's family by the wealthy Templar Grandmaster who is burnt at the stake as a heretic by King Philip when he is less than forthcoming with a loan.  The king then puts the squeeze on the Lombard bankers (he's already drained the Jews.) There is plot and counterplot.  The king's chancellors, Nogaret and de Marigny, his sons, Louis, Philip and Charles, Philip's brother Charles of Valois, and the Lombard bankers - all manipulate others (or are manipulated), although the feud with Robert and his aunt Mahaut seems to be the overarching plot line.

The books consist of The Iron King, The Strangled Queen, The Poisoned Crown, The Royal Succession, the She Wolf of France, The Lily and the Lion, and When a King Loses France. The first three have been recently reprinted in paperback and they are the ones I currently have read.

The (albeit subtitled) TV series is quite well made - here the principal protagonists Mahaut of Burgundy and Robert of Artois are shown. It's pretty restrained i.e. "wife friendly" with no overt sex or gore.

An eventful series which detail the lead-up to the 100 Years War. Plenty of intrigue, plots and double-dealing. A PG "Game of Thrones."  Books are a reasonable size and the TV series (whilst hard to obtain) is decent quality.  Plenty of wargaming inspiration.  Recommended.

Ronin - Skirmish Wargames in the Age of Samurai (Rules Review)

These rules have been sitting on my bench due to my enforced absence from gaming, and I am very keen on cracking them out and giving them a go.  I've got Perry samurai undercoated and ready to go, and a whole town full of chinese puzzles-cum-Japanese buildings in various states of assembly. (I'll do an article on both of the above shortly).  The small 2x2ft or 3x3ft boards recommended also appeal - both easy to make and store.

The game aims for "4 to 20 models" which is a pretty good sweet spot for 1:1 skirmish gaming and it also uses a "dice pool" which got me very interested. I am interested in dice pools which add an aspect of "resource management" and decision-making to your combat - you don't simply push models together and roll dice, but you get to decide HOW they fight. Even better, unlike the similarly-themed Bushido, Ronin allows you to make random lists from generic samurai miniatures instead of having to use special named miniatures made only for their game.

The rulebook is good value with enjoyable pictures and art

The Shiny
This is another of the new Osprey rulebooks. Like In Her Majesty's Name, it impresses in the "value for money" stakes.  63 softcover glossy pages (most of them rules) with rather small font - so pack your reading glasses.  At about $15, the full-colour (dare I say Osprey-like?) pictures and inspiring pictures of models in action break up the text, without dominating the pages. A clear table of contents and a quick reference sheet (also available as a pdf) are as useful as always. Good production values and great value, considering I often pay $25 to $30 for rules that look like they've been put together with a home inkjet printer, and $15 barely gets you a pdf at the Wargames Vault.
Good quality, great price. Two thumbs up.

The Stats
Models rank from Rank 5 (heroes), 4-3 (elite soldiers), 1-2 (regulars) all the way to Rank 0 (peasants). Their combat pool of dice varies depending on their rank - with heroes having 5 and peasants having only 1.  Furthermore stats include initiative (who hits first), fight (melee skill), and shoot, armour, and weapons do what they say on the tin. Some models have special attributes and all troop types are assigned an overall points cost. 

Northstar make the "official" miniatures but you could use any - Perry and Kingsford have some nice sculpts

Game Sequence
Priority:  Players roll a d6 to determine priority then test for morale.

Movement: Starting at the choice of the player with priority, players alternate movement between individual models.  In an interesting twist, players may opt to shoot instead.  As there is a later opportunity to shoot, player with bows may be able to fire two quick shots in a turn.

Combat: Players resolve any melee combats.

Actions: Players can perform a range of actions, such as shooting (possibly for the second time), perhaps reload a musket, pick up an object or a range of other activities.

Kingsford Miniatures' "Samurai Heroes" pack has a Yojimbo, Lone Wold & Cub and Zatoichi. Check out their gallery.

Priority & Morale
Players dice off to decide who has priority. They then test for morale depending on circumstances - if they have lost a leader, or a significant amount of their troops. Troops that are wavering must individually test to move into combat. Troops that are routing must individually test or attempt to escape off the table. As a player's "rank" is added to a d6 in tests, it follows that higher rank players have better morale.

Movement is pretty standard 6" - players who are out of contact can "run" up to 9" and wounds or difficult terrain can halve movement.  A few interesting (but sensible rules): as Japanese internal walls are flimsy, players can move "through" them counting as difficult terrain, long weapons like naginata are at a penalty when used indoors, and players who are fighting in water and are "stunned" have a chance of drowning. I also liked the ability to forgo movement to take a hurried "snap shot" with a missile weapon. 

Basically a player rolls 2d6 + Shoot skill vs a target number (usually 6, modified for cover, armour etc).  Pretty commonsense. My only issues are modifiers which require you to remember if models have already moved or shot this turn (if you have only 10 or so models you should remember.)
There is also quite a few modifiers (11) for range, target/firer status, but they are all on a quick reference sheet.
I was looking forward to this, as I said, I am very interested in the idea of a "Combat Pool" of dice you can "spend" or manipulate.  I was a little concerned tracking dice "spent" would be a pain, but since all combat occurs at once, and you can do one at a time, this is not an issue.

The players alternate to choose a combat to resolve.
 Players secretly choose attack or defence counters before the fight, up to their maximum (i.e. a player with a Combat Pool of 4 could choose 2 attack, 2 defence - or 1 attack, 3 defence... or any combination thereof).  They then reveal the pool and place it in front of them.

Players roll a d6 and add their Initiative to see who attacks first. They can "enhance" their initiative by spending a counter from the dice pool. Striking first is good - injured opponents may not be able to strike back and dead opponents certainly don't!

 The attacker removes an attack counter from his pool. He can "enhance" his attack and add an extra d6 if he spends an extra counter. The defender gets a free d6 roll but can "enhance" it and spend an extra counter to get an extra d6 to increase his defense score.

If the attacker wins, he can stun, wound or kill his opponent - depending on how much he "won" by.  Winning by 1 simply stuns an opponent - winning by 6+ kills him outright.

As you can see, melee is more interesting than the usual "shove models together and chug dice" as the ability to spend counters to "enhance" moves adds an additional layer of decision making and tactics to the actual resolution of the fight (which are usually "out of your hands" and totally reliant on dice rolls in other wargames.)
You can choose to subdue or disarm an opponent, but if, like me, you prefer your opponents to be dead, here's how it works.  If the attacker beats the defensive score, check the "margin of success". If the attacker wins by 1, he temporarily stuns the defender.  If he wins by 2-3, the defender has a light wound, 4-5 a grievous wound, and 6+ is a critical wound which takes the target out of the fight.  Each level of wound increasingly hampers the injured model, with penalties to initiative, shooting, fighting ability and combat pool.

I'm never keen at tracking wounds on models, and tokens tend to "clutter" the board.  I'm lazily using "tiddlywinks" coloured white-yellow-red to represent stun-light-grievous wounds but a more artistic person could probably decorate markers so they blend in (maybe "blood spatters" of increasingly gory-ness).
Action Phase
This is where models have a second chance to shoot, or could reload a musket or carry out miscellaneous tasks (like looting bodies and collecting heads for their daimyo) or simply rest and have a better chance of removing a stunned counter.

Perry Miniatures have a  good range and always have nice sculpts.

Other Stuff
 There are rules for mounted troops, and lists of "Attributes" (fast, tough, fearless, bodyguard etc) and "Abilities" (usually giving re-rolls to a favoured weapon - i..e Kentjutsu for swords, Jujutsu for barehanded and Bojutsu for monks' staffs).

There are also optional rules for Fatigue which can see models in close combat accumulate fatigue counters which hamper its initiative and shooting ability. A nice idea, but personally, I'm avoiding the extra counters and dice roll checks.

Factions & Army Lists
Each faction has rules for its composition (to prevent min-maxing) such as "you must have three Rank 1 troops for every Rank 2 model" as well as faction-specific special rules.  The factions are the Bushi (normal samurai), Ikko-Ikki (a religious sect of mostly peasants), Sohei (warrior monks), Koryu (a martial arts school), bandits, Koreans, and Ming Chinese. You then additionally hire mercenaries, warrior monks, ninja and shugyosha to add to your faction.

The lists are pretty "historical" with no fantasy elements.  There is a handy "points calculator" on the Osprey website which would allow you to stat up your own models or adapt it to other periods (i.e. medieval, for example.)   Personally, I wouldn't mind a few generic  templates for the common types such as human-animal shapeshifters, ghosts and demons as it could make for fun scenarios. Speaking of which...

Missions & Campaigns
There are weather rules (rain, mist, night etc) and also rules for randomly placing terrain. You have a half dozen missions. Besides the generic "skirmish" you could capture an objective, duel, assassinate a target, fight in a tournament, or defend a village (*cough* Seven Samurai).

A suggest method is that players create small warbands (or "buntai") from a master roster i.e. player play 150 point games, but players start the campaign with 400 point "roster" overall, with grievously wounded models being "rested" for a game, and deaths slowly whittling down your overall roster.

A concern: the author himself says certain factions are weak, or at a disadvantage against x faction, which sounds like poor balancing of the factions. 

There are simple progression rules, allowing lowly Ashigaru to rank up to a Samurai hero.

Wargames Factory hard plastic make cheap bulk troops (25 for $20). One pack would give you enough Ashigaru for several warbands. However I find the multi-part models a pain to assemble.

For those who couldn't be bothered with the wall of text:

+ Pleasant, practical rulebook, good price
+ Generic rules allow you to use any Japanese miniatures (unlike Bushido)
+ Combat rules and "dice pool" mechanic adds tactics to the melee (instead of just chugging dice)
+ Straightforward mechanics
+ Simple campaign and character progression
+ points calculator allows you to "stat up" your own models

- I'm not a fan of "markers" cluttering the tabletop
- small print - bring your reading glasses!
- quite a few modifiers for shooting
- a little slow playing
- faction balance?
- keeping track of who moved
- I'd like to have seen rules for oni, kitsune, tengu etc as they are pretty common in Japanese literature; it's pretty "straight historical" compared to some samurai movies

Recommended:  Yes. A decent game, allowing you to use any miniatures, and an interesting melee mechanic, with the ability to play campaigns. And $15 for a full colour rulebook is cheaper than most pdfs nowadays...

.....Or you could try... If you have a copy of GW's LOTR, you can try Legends of the Rising Sun for free. It is less "tactical" but plays faster and can handle more troops.

I'm not a fan of Bushido as you may have guessed - as you have to buy their special "named" models complete with stat cards - which cost $12+ each (opposed to $3 for Perry/Kingsford metals). I call this a "Malifaux" style game. 

Besides the cost, I find it irritating when three identical heroes (usually identically painted) show up at a gaming day: "Oh, my Lady Justice will fight your Lady Justice."  "Didn't she die last game?" "Oh this is a different Lady Justice." Bushido does have some nice monsters and mythical beings, though, and I like the minis.  

Instead of 28mm - Zvezda do a rather complete range of 1:72 Samurai - this was a pic I linked from aller @ CoolMiniOrNot

Friday 13 December 2013

Does 1:76 Terrain work with 28mm minis? (Pegasus Hobbies Farmhouse) + MDF Buildings - Worth their Weight in Gold?

1:76 Terrain for 28mm
Pegasus Hobbies have some cheap $10 snap-together farmhouses - a miracle in a time where everything with the word "terrain" in it doubles the price (and postage.)

I was actually pretty impressed by this kit and will be ordering more.  It snaps together really easily and holds together so well I wouldn't bother to glue it, in order to have the option to store it flat if needed. Though the roof was a little loose until I figured out how to clip it in snugly. 

It says "1:76" on the box (i.e. 20mm for us gamers) but does it work for 28mm?

This Infinity Mormaer does the "doors and windows" test.  A little small, but close enough for government work.

From a "gamers angle" any scale issues are even less noticeable. 

From the inside, the windows are actually at a good height.

This 1:48 Cromwell, whilst big, isn't too outsized.  However it does grate on me slightly more than the infantry model. A  1:56 scale vehicle would doubtless "fit" better.

Verdict: Success!

Whilst I'd be hesitant to use small 1:76 buildings (such as woodsheds or even smaller cottages), and they would be best in a vehicle-free game (I'm thinking my upcoming French & Indian Wars project), these farmhouses definitely support 28mm.  I'll be buying more.

A flatter base like a washer or those flat Renedra ones would "fit" even better than the slotta ones shown which artificially "raise" the model about 20cm or so in "scale" terms. 

MDF a.k.a. "Cardboard Crack"
What is with the price of laser-cut MDF terrain these days? It's more expensive than resin terrain now.  A huge sheet of MDF is only a few dollars at the local hardware store, so raw materials can't be the issue. Perhaps the laser-cutter machines are powered by pure unobtainium? 

Sarissa Precision is one of the more reasonable companies.  But I bet I could make this $35 building from a $2.50 MDF sheet. That's a hell of a markup.

Heaven forbid they spray paint it first.  Yes, it may look completely artificial and they only use the most basic of colours, but the paint they use apparently contains gold leaf. Or perhaps cocaine.  
This 4Ground building has been spraypainted lovingly covered in pure unobtainium.  That's right - $155 for what is effectively glorified cardboard.  I need to get a Kickstarter going to buy me a laser cutter.  It seems like a licence to print money!

So despite the recent popularity of MDF terrain (and as someone who owns a complete Old West town worth of it), I''d like to "bust" a few myths...
Myth #1: MDF is cheap
Myth #2: MDF terrain is easy to store flat (it is surprisingly annoying to assemble and disassemble)

Thursday 12 December 2013

Rant: PlastCraft Foam Terrain - Infinity Miniatures

Well I'm on holidays and back gaming at last after months with nose to grindstone!

But after yesterday, it feels like the gaming IS the grindstone. Allow me to elaborate....

Well, I got a big box of Infinity goodies in the mail, and I must say, Corvus Belli are starting to irritate me with how they are producing their "newer" miniatures.

Lazy Mold Design
The "new" miniatures have a ridiculous amount of flash - chunks from the molding process.  No wonder prices have gone up - I almost get enough leftover metal scraps to make another 28mm figure! 

Sometimes the leftover mold chunks are actually thicker than the arm, leg or weapon they are attached to, making removal tricky AND removal is never 100% "clean" even when filed/trimmed - which stands out even more starkly on such a finely-detailed mini

Here's a Nomad Sin-Eater as an typical example. I count 13 pieces of flash:
Gun/gun arm: 6 - yes, the big one near the shoulder is flash
Other arm: 1 (plus a small amount on the end of the hand I didn't count)
Legs/Base: 1 - this is fine, as most models have mold chunks on the base
Torso: 5 - the chunks on the base of the cloak are hard to remove as they are much thicker than the cloak itself

C'mon, Corvus Belli - that's just shabby.

Multi-Part Mania
The more recent mania for multi-part Infinity minis is irritating. Some have 7 or 8 pieces. That's a single 28mm figure!  I know Tamiya model kits that are less complicated. Some might argue it helps people "personalise their models" but does not hold water - many pieces are separate heads  - and in particular legs - that can only be attached one way anyway.

Furthermore, since in Infinity it is extremely unlikely ever to be more than one of a particular model on a table anyway, people can simply "customise" their models by not slavishly copying the official paint scheme for once! Unimaginative drones. Sheesh. I call this "Games Workshop" syndrome.

In addition, the "box sets" have parts for 4-6 troops just randomly thrown together in a bag.  This is a problem as only one particular arm/weapon combo will work on one particular torso, and since some torsos and weapon poses are VERY similar, it's not unusual to realise the arm you just painstakingly glued to model X actually belongs to model Y, and is in fact the only arm that fits model Y. 

Lastly - "three point" attachments (where you must glue 3 separate items simultaneously) are very annoying if you only have the default two hands.  

I must have spent 4 hours prepping a dozen Infinity models yesterday. I estimate my time spent as:

2 hours - trimming chunks of flash off models
1 hour - attaching parts that could only be fitted one way anyway
1 hours - swearing whilst calling for the wife to help me simultaneously attach two arms and a gun

Boutique Quality?
$10 for a single metal 28mm model puts the model in the "boutique" category.  I expect better worksmanship for that kind of money.

Yes, they are nicely posed and beautifully detailed.  But I just got some modern minis from Red Star/Empress Miniatures which are just as detailed, and cost $2.50 each.  And they were only 1 or 2 part models.  And they had no flash. In fact, for the $7.50 price difference Corvus Belli could hire someone to file the flash off each model individually...

Due to the size of my order, The Combat Company sent me some free PlastCraft foam terrain. 
And I'm sure glad it was free, because if I had paid $18 RRP for it, I would have been really cheesed off.

This is what you get for $18 - two sheets of foam and some corrugated card.

Infinity-style crates, you say? Pre-cut terrain, you say?  Sounds good. I've had good experiences with both Terraclips and Dropzone Commander card terrain.

But wait, PlastCraft's definition of pre-cut differs from mine (and everyone else's).  I thought pre-cut meant the pieces were already cut out (or at least, perforated so as to snap off by hand). You know, so I don't have to cut it myself.

At first glance, I assumed you could "snap" the model out of the sheet. But no, you still have to physically cut out every bit of it with a knife.

But no, Plastcraft means "pre dented" - they've simply scored lightly intented lines to show you where to cut. And there's quite a lot of cutting. Quite detailed cutting, the sort you buy "pre-cut" terrain just so you don't have to do it.  So effectively, you are paying $18 for two small sheets of foams with some tracing on it. 

If you still think the PlastCraft stuff is a good deal, then allow me to sell you some of my "pre-cut" MDF terrain. Simply cut out the house where indicated.* (*saw required)

The Chinese have been managing to pre-cut things out of foam for years.  They'll even paint the foam, and chuck in a plastic propellor and rubber band - and only charge you $2 for it. 

OK, that's off my chest. Coming up:

Rules Tests/AARs:

Sci-Fi Fighter Submarine Rules and playtest AARs
Spaceship rules and playtest AARs
Aeronef battles using modified GQ3 rules and playtest AARs
15mm Sci fi ground troops

Oriental Infinity terrain
Foamboard DIY quck-and-nasty Infinity terrain (not pre-cut!)

Bolt Action vs Chain of Command
Ronin Oriental skirmish