Sunday 19 February 2023

Painting Progress + Tank Game

 This is the latest painting progress - a bit of a diverse haul.

I now have a decent force of ~12 each French Indian Dino War 'faction' - enough for a Middleheim warband to test homebrew rules. (Although I am going to use the LoTR pirate spinoff, Legends of the High Seas, when playing with my kids - to keep them using a familiar system). 

 Speaking of LoTR, also did another 6 Rohirrim, making my 2023 LoTR total 37. I continue to chip away at a huge job lot of LoTR I bought probably a decade ago. I'm kinda proud of myself; as for years it sat as a task that was 'too big' to begin. I reckon I have ~500-600 painted over the last two years. 

Put with the 2022 models, they can do a semi-decent cavalry charge... lead by one of my 3 Eomers of whom I got extras randomly. (I presume he was a popular model back in 2010...)

French Indian Dinosaur War seems to be a new steady project. I have about 48 regular troops to go and some villagers (Perry/Warlord). Besides Indians,

Rogers Rangers and French Marines make up the other factions.

I've also found some frontiersmen who will be generic heroes, with their dino-slaying prowess.

Once I have painted the remaining 48 regular troops, I may treat myself to a box of plastic Colonial Militia to round off my last faction... although Warlord does have some rather sweet zombie indians...

I've also started making my 15mm tank collection table-ready. At the moment, just a bit of an undercoat and dry-brush/stipple. I'm not sure how far down the realism/detail rabbit hole I'm going to go - a set of decals can cost as much as 3 tanks! so at the moment I am going to leave them as is, until I make up my mind, and then add details and highlights. My aim is to do 8-10 a week, getting them to the 'kinda Ok but awaiting details' standard. I maaaay have ordered 12 Soviet tanks so I might be under a bit of pressure to get these 'squared away' first...

I kinda want to play "Mordhiem with tanks" and I know there is What a Panzer but I'm kinda not interested in it as while I like the ideas and intent in TFL rules, I always feel like I paid for a jumble of random house rules and seldom play them. For that matter the pdf is overpriced - 18 pounds is ~$32 'dollarbucks*' for a frickin digital download**! Also, while I appreciate 'friction,' the command dice seem a bit 'lucky.'

(*Australian money, thanks Bluey)

(**But not the craziest one; I recently realised my $45AUD pdf(!!!) KillWager rules did not come with any weapon or troop profiles - you needed to purchase another 'DLC' pdf to actually play the game)

I usually base tanky stuff off Fistful of Tows (basically more streamlined, elegant FoW for microarmour) but this time I am working on my own rules: basically a SoBH-ish roll a handful of activation dice to beat a crew level (2-3 dice, +1 if commander has no extra jobs) and each pass allows the commander to issue commands (acquire target/slew turret, fire, change speeds, turn, back up, etc).

Tanks have 3 speeds; 'adjusting/low gear' aka going hull down, backing up/sidescraping, 'normal' usual low speed, and 'top gear' - can't fire but can move quickly. 

Tanks have front and side+rear armour, and hit can either knock out or have a damage effect; crew (injuries/death; reduce action dice), gun (jam mantle etc; impact shooting), or mobility (tracks/engine, impact speed).

I'm going to have it where damage has a temporary 'serious' effect - i.e. immobilising the tank; and then if it passes a crew check it may revert to minor effect (i.e. can move again, but half speed). A failed roll or a second damage to the same spot means the serious effect is permanent. This will be denoted by placing a token on top of/under the tank.

I'm trying to think of other tank games I could look at for ideas. I own and reject FoW/Bolt Action, the Battlegroup games are too pricey to test (and, I suspect, aimed at infantry). I recall, but don't own, games called Jadgpanzer, Meine Panzer and Schwere Kompanie but I suspect they will be pricey or 1990s design...  I think I recall some free game called Panzer War... (yup, just checked it's still a thing, but also quite 1990s) and I may have some WRG rules (which are probably a collector's item nowdays) which are probably all-but unplayable unless you have 5 hours to spare.

My daughter happened to see Girls Und Panzer last week. I've gritted my teeth and watched a few episodes with her (the tank battles can be cool; it's just the rest is very cringey; hopefully inspiring an interest in tanks is worth it) so I suspect an order for a pink M3 Lee paint job or a Stug with flags is pending...

Saturday 4 February 2023

Game Design: #91 - Victory Conditions (Devaluing Death)

 I've decided to do some game design posts with a series of shorter sections with different topics, labelled "Discussions", rather than one big, in-depth article. This is because sometimes I change my ideas or adjust slightly over time, and it isn't worth a major update or post in itself. Or, it's just a simple concept that isn't worth the effort of a major post.

The following is a bunch of concepts that have been prompted by playing Mechwarrior:Online. A PC game, sure, but the concepts definitely apply to tabletop wargames.

Victory Conditions - how to avoid "Kill Em All" (MWO examples)

Often we have many varied scenarios, but in the end the best way to resolve them is to kill the enemy faster than they can kill you. They can't complete their objectives while they are dead, right?

Most of MWO game modes are just deathmatch. First side to lose all its mechs, loses. This results in "deathballs" where sticking in a big blob and overwhelming the other side = victory 99% of the time. The side that stays together inevitably beats the side that trickles in one by one. Simply sticking together isn't very deep tactics.

There is a very complex mode where you have to conquer the enemy base. You collect battery cells, return them to your base, and you can choose to power-up base defences or give your side buffs like radar boosts. This sounds cool except... one ever bothers to.

It's far easier just to blob up, kill all the enemies while they are scattered doing busywork, then you just have to roll up to their base unopposed with your remaining mechs, and do a single point of damage to the base. Playing the mode the way it is intended to be played is a recipe to fail. Deathmatch blob tactics win again.

The only mode which avoids this is conquest mode; you capture 'bases' by standing in a designated area. Once you have 'captured' a base it accrues points for your team; once a set amount of points are accrued, your side wins.  While the deathblob can roll from base to base, it's possible to defeat it by delaying/avoiding it and capturing bases instead. The battle usually devolves into 2-3 smaller fights with far more maneuver and decision making involved.

Implications for Wargames

So.... implications for wargames are - there has to be a victory condition independent of killing enemy troops. There has to be a sort of time limit (or mechanism that works similarly) - to stop enemies from focussing on killing then accomplishing the objectives at their leisure.  Objectives need to be spread over the map to prevent focussing firepower to always be the best tactic. It has to be a trade off - focus firepower (local success) or gain more map control (strategic success).

Time limit should variable and unpredictable, to avoid players 'gaming the system.' It a battle always ends on Turn 5, then you can do a silly, risky move on Turn 4 to gain that lead in victory points, knowing the game ends next turn and you don't suffer for it. If the turn is variable, you don't know if you'll have to stick around on Turn 5-6 and be annihilated. 

Here's an example scenario:

(A) There are 3 'capture zones' in the middle, left and right of the map. Each is blocked off from the other by either LoS blocking or impassable/rough terrain to force players to choose to split their forces. If one capture zone can easily fire into/access another one, then there is no reason not to 'blob' the dominant position. The zone could be a building or simply anywhere 6" from a nominated area like a hilltop.

(B) You 'capture' a zone by being the only one with troops within it, or the last person with troops inside of it. (We want to avoid having troops glued to a specific spot). For example, if you have troops between enemy troops and the objective you also control it; so you can capture a base and move on to a better position. If both have troops within the zone it is 'contested' and neither benefit from it.

(C) Once a zone is captured it accrues points. This could be wildly random - say d6 every turn, or more predictable - perhaps roll d6 and 1=0pts, 2-3-4-5 = 1pt, 6 = 2pts.  Once a set amount of points are gained, the game ends. The amount could vary - a "recon" scenario might only need 15 points while a "take and hold" might need 40...  You could base this on the average points/turn to give an idea of how many turns you'd expect to have.

Devaluing Death: Respawn aka Reinforcements

In short, killing enemies needs to be devalued vs accomplishing an objective. A real battle (from almost nay period of history) averages 2-5% casualties. Amounts higher than this tend to occur during the 'mop up' stage - after one side has lost/routed. Many wargames, however, don't even bother morale check until they take 50%+ casualties!

Another idea to help devalue killing is to allow respawning. OK, that's a videogame term that may make old farts twitch a bit - let's call them reinforcements instead. Losing a unit is not the end; you may get more units later. It may even be worth sacrificing a unit for an objective.

Actually, reinforcements/respawning could lend itself well to a resource-management mini-game (perhaps even tied into victory points - i.e. reinforcements are triggered every 5 VP gained by conquering objectives, or maybe can even be sacrificed directly to get a unit of your choice or seed up the process).

Devaluing Death: Pushback vs Removal

I'm not going to go too far into morale, as this is another can of worms entirely, but morale rules tend to be very loose and flimsy in most wargames. I mean - 50% casualties is a bloodbath but sometimes we don't test until then...  

Also, the majority of 'casualties' IRL are not dead, but merely out of action/nonfuctional. Victory tends to be couched in terms of movement and location: pinning enemies in place (modern suppressive fire or heck even longbows) or pushing them back (shieldwall Greeks, Vikings etc) and ultimately driving them off/breaking them (fleeing for their lives, pulling back and leaving the vicinity). Generally, battles are in terms of 'seized the objective' or 'pushed back the enemy from x'.  I.e. movement or position orientated. The casualties taken/inflicted tend to be a afterthought or addition to this.

"A squad tests once it has taken 50% casualties, then every casualty thereafter. If it ever fails a roll it counts as routed and the remainder of the squad is removed." <- this is a bad rule - well, the opposite of everything we have just discussed! It's pretty common though!

In short, morale rules may need to trigger much sooner for most wargames, and result in movement - involuntary pushbacks/fallbacks - much more readily.   

"Any hits (even non-wounding) on a squad triggers a test. If it fails they are Stressed; they cannot move towards the target, are harder to hit (better defence) but also output less damage (worse attack). A second failure while Stressed results in the unit falling back towards the closest cover." <- this is a better rule; it is more about movement options and may occur without a unit even taking any casualties!

Hmmm. This section probably can be a standalone article as there is enough here. I'll put the other ideas together elsewhere. As usual, others' thoughts appreciated:

What game do you think does a good job of promoting maneuver and tactics vs deathblob 'kill em all?'

Last of the Mohic... ...Tyrannosaurus?

This is a spin-off of my homebrew medieval Middleheim rules. The British and French clash alongside Indian allies, in battle to control the lucrative dinosaur hide and ivory trade.

The Ohio Valley has caves that lead deep into the hollow earth (Middlehiem) and British and French trappers and colonists race to stake their claim in the terrifying but lucrative forests of the underworld.

Warlord (Perry sculpts I presume) humans and dollar-store dinosaurs share the world. 

The native tribes, spurred by the wealth offered by British and French, battle alongside their allies and penetrate even farther into the depths. Their traditional hunting methods are supplemented by the firepower of .75 cal Brown Bess - capable of blowing through two human targets, it troubles even large dinosaurs.

 The Compagnies de Marine are the spearhead French unit, adapting native stealth and guerilla ambush techniques to become the finest fighters in the underworld. 

The dinos are from kids-toy packs and cost less than $1 each. They are made from gummy plastic so... just don't undercoat them with spraypaint like I did... I used mostly cheap craft paint as these were to be 'cheap and quick'. The buildings are, I think, Zvezda Russian log cabins, slightly out of scale.

After initially taking heavy losses, including the battle of Monogahela Caves, the British increasingly rely on light infantry and locally raised Ranger companies. Roger's Rangers are one of the most famous, ranging deep into the middle-earth on scouting and raiding expeditions.

I initially intended to use my homebrew Middlehiem rules - intended for psychic War of the Roses knights mounted on dinos they easily adapt to slow firing muskets. However I may simply adapt LoTR:SBG to keep it accessible to my kids (and we all know it is an adaptable set of rules - a la Legends of the High Seas/Old West).

Besides serving as steeds for medieval knights, the dinos may come in handy for another projects - the kids and I have discussed a game world where dino herders in mech suits (thanks Avatar) battle pirates and poachers (also in mechs) while collecting eggs and raising young dinos... but I think that may be more suited to 15mm.... hmm, time to raid the kids toy box for smaller scale dinos....

Friday 3 February 2023

Ragnarok: Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age (Rules Review)

A campaign skirmish game. With vikings. Using epic god powers and pulling off awesome moves. Viking Mordhiem?  Sounds epic. I've actually struggled to find reviews or much online on this (a bit from a few years back, then it seems to vanish off the radar, despite sequels), so I thought I'd share my thoughts.

The Shiny

The book is a very nice, glossy hardcover. 205 pages, of which about 20 pages are the actual rules. It has a decent mix of artwork and mini photos and the text is easy to read. There is a nice index and I found it pretty easy to navigate. The lore was interesting but not intrusive. I feel it was good production value/cost. Thumbs up.

Overhead "What you need to have/know"

One criticism is the use of "stats" named HP, SP, MA, RA, DF, RS, DR, MN - mentioned through the book. There is an explanation on p.24, but I often had to flip back as it wasn't instantly intuitive what stat "RS" referred to, for example, or why "DR" or "MN" should be effected by x. "DF" is ability to avoid hits, not toughness to resist once hit - that's "DR." I'd prefer they were labelled Health, Speed, Melee, etc throughout the rules - it's only using a few more letters in a 205 page rulebook, and would make things much easier to use.  

It uses the somewhat pretentiously-named "Morpheus System" - basically rolling a 7+ on a 2d6, but modifying it based on stats of both sides i.e. a Attack 5 vs a Defence 7 would modify the usual 7+ success roll to be a 9+ as the negative -2 between the respective stats raises the target number to make success harder. I've used 'stat difference changes target roll' for years (only with 5+ on a d10 or 4+ on d6) but never thought to call it the "Monkeigh Engine." That aside, using the same resolution consistently through a ruleset is a good thing. You only need 2d6, and a d8 for random scatter stuff.

The game is miniatures agnostic, so my Gripping Beast and PSC vikings will be supplemented by some Frostgrave barbarian boxes, I predict, along with LoTR trolls, dwarves and goblins filling in various norse mythology roles. There is actually dozens of unit and creature profiles so finding random models to match may be fun or stressful depending on how you view it.

Activation & Initiative, Movement

The now industry-standard alternate activation, taking turns moving individual models, with the side with superior numbers continuing to move once the smaller side runs out of minis to move (I'm not a huge fan of this as it can make big horde armies tactically superior). Fine, I guess, but a bit dull. Minis get "action points" which gives me a real 1990s-early 2000s vibe. Actions are very detailed. There are detailed rules for falling, climbing etc as you'd expect.

For example: Going prone may -3 SP, -1MA, -1 size, -1RA vs them to hit, and +1MA vs them to hit  

^^ It gives a bit of an old-school RPG feel and feels a bit obtuse and overly detailed. Kinda fiddly - a lot of little things to keep track of that may not be that vital.

There is a fair bit on terrain - from thin ice to thorn forests - the intent is to allow you to throw enemies off cliffs or into spikes and stuff like that.  


Melee and ranged works similarly, which is good. You compare relevant stats (MA/RA vs DF) and modify the target score from 7+. The level of success may inflict extra hits or have extra effects. Then, compare attack ST vs target RS. Despite the "HP" stat this is only 2-3 "HP" for most models so is no different from "wounds" in other games - you could track it with red paint blood spatters on some clear tokens on the tabletop. Models have 360d LoS; restricting this to 180d would allow more tactical possibilities for flanking/surprise etc. 

Melee has some variety (good) - before you just shove minis together and chug dice you have some choices, such as "clash" - counter-attacking possibly getting in a first blow but opening yourself up to be more easily hit. There is also a "MR" - a 2" kinda zone of control which adds some depth. Ranged attack has blast, line(beam) and spray attacks (covering magic and beasts).

Mechanics can be a bit over-detailed and fiddly but are consistent.  I didn't notice much in the way of morale rules but perhaps heroic vikings kinda ignore that.

Campaigns Godspark (Magic) & Special Rules (aka the majority 150+ pages of the book)

From page 47 on, the remaining 150+ pages is devoted to campaign rules, scenarios, weapon and gear lists, special traits/attacks/abilities and god powers (magic) and a bestiary. It really has strong RPG overtones. 

There are rules for creating your own war clan with jarl, bondi, huskarls, skalds, beserkers, speider and gothi. As they are all human vikings they are all kinda samey. They can be equipped with the usual viking-y axes, spears, shields, leather, chainmail etc but the real difference is Godspark - as different warbands get access to different powers (either by choice or random roll).

Godspark is the "god powers" or magic system, and is generated when any roll exceeds the target number i.e. if you need a 7+ and roll a 10, you get 3 Godspark. it seems cool but I'm wondering if (a) this will incentivize a big "pile in" fight in the middle to maximise generation of Godspark and (b) it makes lucky dice rolling even stronger and making it harder to recover from early game bad rolls i.e. you are punished twice - your opponent got a good roll to hurt you and melee AND now has extra magic to beat you with further...

That said it does add an element of resource management - another 'layer' to the game, which is good. However tracking/adding Godspark pretty much every roll could become a bit tiresome.

There are about 40 God Powers which sounds quite a lot as they all trigger further special rules/effects/traits, however each warband has access to only 3 which makes it more manageable in practice.

These God Powers link to specific norse gods - so Balder's powers allow you to heal wounds, while Thor's powers allow channelling electrical shock attacks. Having a read through I'm not confident they are well balanced; some seem much stronger than others. So I'd suggest they are randomly assigned as there'd be a temptation to min-max.

There is a very thorough campaign section where you can level up warriors, gain glory, check injuries, roll for loot, purchase new gear, weapons and God powers etc. Many modern skirmish rules skimp on this section with barebones campaigns but Ragnarok is the real deal. There is equipment, magic items to buy, a detailed injury table, legendary weapons and detailed rules on levelling up warriors and God Powers. (Basically, the God Powers get cheaper to cast, until the cost reaches 0 and it is imprinted on a particular warrior - i.e. is free but cannot be used by everyone else in the warband any more)

You can recruit new warriors, but interestingly, only recruit special heroes and beasts if you have defeated them in battle (i.e. as random encounter). There is only 6 scenarios (I say "only" but that is probably because the rest of this section is so thorough) but there are 12 secondary objectives that modify them for more variety. There are also random "encounter models" which randomly deploy from a pool of models they players determine before the game - once defeated, you can recruit them. There is also a mechanic for helping warbands 'catch up' if they are behind.

There is a large bestiary (80~) of monsters and races, from dwarves, and swartelves, to dragons, hags, draugr, demons, direwolves - basically a roll-call of norse mythological critters.

Finally there are 70+ special abilities or traits, from attacks like toxin, drain, blind - to 'absent minded' healer, delusional, regeneration.  This whole huge section gives real RPG vibes and I found myself mentally comparing it to "Savage Worlds" - my usual go-to "RPG-cum-skirmish-game." Based on the contents of this rulebook, I'm confident the author is an avid RPG-er.


A very nice rulebook which was easy to access, but obscure stats (MN, DR, RA) and key words were not always obvious so I had to spend time backtracking/checking. Rules were somewhat fiddly and had an old-school 1990s feel (which may appeal to some). Not as accessible as I'd hoped. 

Very detailed Mordheim-esque campaign with injuries, gear and tables; and big bestiary and magic list. The last 150 pages could have come from a RPG book like Savage Worlds. Plenty of chrome, "Godspark" adds an interesting (if potentially unbalanced) layer and the book has a cool theme and world-building. 

Ragnarok has happened - but not the way we thought. Vikings fighting for "essence" of dead gods in the ruins of the world? It's got a good theme for sure.

Recommended? Yes. Not a resounding yes, but yes.

I could probably replicate everything in it using Savage Worlds at about the same speed, for half the price...  ....but it does what it says on the tin, and has (for once) a proper skirmish campaign and trimmings. It's decent value for a quality book. It's not amazing or revolutionary, but I have no regrets of my purchase - and while I suspect I won't play it much, I'll certainly be making some viking warbands. It's worth a spot on your gaming shelf.