Friday, 24 March 2017

Dark Waters - the denouement

I played the second chapter of the 4AD programmed adventure Dark Waters.  Following on from the first chapter, the brave party of adventurers had now to descend into the depths of the flooded caves under the pirates' hideout looking for the gold statue of Tezany of which they had had a tantalising glimpse before it had been whisked away.  Unlike Chapter 1, this was actually a standard 4AD roll-the-dungeon adventure but with appropriately themed aquatic monster and special features tables.

The underwater caverns of Dark Waters


I will not dwell too much on the details of the adventure.  Suffice to say, the party explored the largest cavern system of their careers to date.  A high spot was meeting and defeating a Sea Hydra (a tricky Level 5 weird monster which grew attacks as it lost lives) before progressing through several rooms, hitting a dead end, doubling back to the Sea Hydra room before meeting a wandering monster.  This was, you've guessed it, another Sea Hydra.  The party then progressed north through a series of interlocking corridors before coming across the Final Boss, being the Avatar of Tezany, the Shark God, with 8 cultist minions.  The fight was hard but bloody to begin with, until Zandemar remembered he had discovered a sleep wand early in the adventure, which he promptly used to on the Avatar.  Having defeated the Avatar and recovered the gold statue, the party worked its way out of the complex with little trouble. All the characters had levelled up to Level 3 apart from the cleric Flandrian who had got luckier and made it to Level 4.

I am afraid I got a little bored with this one, although this was partly down to the roll of the dice which meant I met quite a lot of monsters and not very many special features and no special events.  It's really these elements that add to the story of the game as there is a chance of a clue or being sent on a quest and these seemed lacking in Dark Waters.  I am going to explore whether I could use a solo roleplaying game engine to add something to 4AD for the last two games in the 6 by 6 Challenge but I think this may be a bit of a gaming dead end.  Having said that, you may need to be in the right mood to play this game in order to be prepared to fill in the story telling gaps which makes this more interesting.  I will have to see!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Dark Waters Chapter 1

Cover art for the Dark Waters adventure
I've gone back to Four Against Darkness for the next instalment in the 6 by 6 Challenge.  This time I have played one of the pre-designed 4AD adventures published by Ganesha Games.  I downloaded it from Wargames Vault in pdf format.

Dark Waters has two chapters.  Chapter 1 sets the scene for the overall adventure and takes the form of a pre-programmed, follow the map type of adventure.  It reminded me of the Tunnels and Trolls solo adventures of my dim and distant youth, or the slightly more recent Fighting Fantasy books, albeit rather shorter.  I haven't looked at Chapter 2 yet, but this is rather more faithful to the original 4AD random dungeon generator but with different tables more aligned to the marine theme of the adventure.

I will not give a blow by blow account of my Chapter 1 adventure as it would be a bit of spoiler.  Suffice to say the adventuring party of Albanac the Warrior, Flandrian the Cleric, the Dwarf Uthacar and Zandemar the Wizard joined forces once more in search of the leader of the corsairs who was hiding in his underground lair. There were some tense moments either in combat with some of the boss level monsters or dodging traps.  Zandemar finally levelled up to Level 2 having managed fail all his previous levelling up rolls in the previous adventures. Flandrian too levelled up while the real "star" was Alabanac who became a Level 3 Warrior and would be known as the "Iron Wind" due to the way he sliced through the opposition.  Uthacar on the other hand would be known as the "Unready" due to the almost unbroken run of ones in combat.

I quite enjoyed the programmed adventure but I think I prefer the random generator approach as you really never know what is going to come next.  Having a theme to the game does help though.  Where I think 4AD is interesting is in the way the characters start building a rather rudimentary backstory which could be used to spur the imagination if ever a wider RPG or wargame campaign were ever to be generated.

I hope my next instalment of Dark Waters will not be too long delayed.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Battle of Warchester - the Scots March On

The commander of the Scottish Army, Sir Vernon Cottar, fresh from his epic victory at Louthburn, re-gathered his forces and continued his march south by way of the west midlands.  Thomas, the Lord Lieutenant of the Northern Marches had been recalled to London to answer for his failings to the Lord Protector and had been replaced by Anthony Smythe, the Lord Lieutenant of the Welsh Marches, despite calls to recall Fairfax from his self-imposed retirement. 

Despite being offered few units of the New Model Army by way of reinforcement, Smythe was charged with blocking the Scots' march south at Warchester, either at the main road through the town or by holding the high ground to the west.  If he could hold Cottar there long enough (ie to the end of the 15th turn) then much of the New Model Army itself would be able to march north and block the way south. (This is Scenario 14 - Static Defence).
View of the battlefield from the west during turn 1 - the key hill is in the left lower corner, Warchester is top centre.  The battlefield is divided by the central woodland. The scenery is somewhat rudimentary!
Cottar himself had been reinforced by the first of some Royalist sympathisers. Rumour had it that he had been joined the Royal heir but this was not confirmed.  The wily old soldier, veteran of Marston Moor and the continental wars knew that Smythe would have to cover both key landmarks (ie would have to keep at least two units within 12 inches of the town and the hill) and therefore concentrated his forces on the town, looking to cover his left flank with a unit of reiters and a unit of Highlanders (swordsmen).

The position after Turn 2
The Scots advanced on Warchester, looking to wear down the defenders with their firepower while the powder lasted.  Supplies were clearly being disrupted to both armies as very quickly most units ran out of firepower (rolling 1 or 2).  Although taking damage, the English unit in Warchester would prove a tough nut to crack being under cover.  The Highlanders were pushed forward into the wood with the aim of attacking an open flank if they could find one.  On the English right, the cavalry was sent forward to see if they could encircle the Scots flank.  They quickly thought better of it when faced off by a further Scottish infantry regiment.
The Scots close in on Warchester
 With the English cavalry retiring on the right to await a better opportunity to attack, the Scots were able to concentrate all their forces onto Warchester, although the Highlanders were still pushed forward under cover of the wood.  The second English infantry regiment moved forward from behind the town to blast the advancing Scots, only to find their matches were damp and the powder kegs empty.

The battle proceeded to its inevitable conclusion.  With the English having to leave two units to hold the hill, they could only look on as the Scots slowly encircled Warchester's plucky defenders and moved into the town.  But could the English hold on just long enough to be relieved by the New Model Army?  The answer was not quite.  By the end of the 13th turn, the Scottish infantry were just able to surround the last English regiment and winkle them out.

For his victory, Cottar was ennobled and became Lord Cottar of Hawburgh.  But his work was not yet done and he pressed on south looking for fresh victories.

This was another finely balanced scenario from One Hour Wargames, although this one was as much a battle against the clock (the 15 turn limit) as it was against the English.

Next up: Scenario 20 - Fighting Retreat

Sunday, 26 February 2017

The Scots March South - the Battle of Louthburn

Astonishingly I have been able to play a second game in my OHW campaign (very) loosely set in the late 1640s in the Scottish and English Borders.

Sir Vernon Cottar, flushed with victory at the Battle of Dundoon and reinforced by more regular forces, has pressed south beyond Hadrian's Wall to reinforce Scotland's petitions that Charles is King of Scotland as well as England and to remind those po-faced Puritans that a glass or two of whisky never did anyone any harm.

Scenario 7 - Flank Attack (2)

The initial set up for the battle is shown below.  I decided that the Scots, as the victors in the previous battle, should have the choice of which side to take.  The wily Cottar chose Blue (what else?) and set up a force to the front of the Parliamentarians while moving his main force onto the English left flank.  The Parliamentarian Lord Lieutenant of the Northern Marches, Lord Thomas, had placed his strengthened forces on the large central hill, confident of blocking the Scottish advance south but unaware of the army massing on his left flank.

The Parliamentarian Army ensconced on the hill, facing the smaller Scottish force to its front, unaware of the Scottish threat on the left
The Scots began by pressing home their advantage on the English left flank, their cavalry crashing into the Parliamentarian reiters on the hill, while their own reiters manoeuvred into the rear of the English position looking to wear them down with firepower.  The Scottish infantry also advanced on all fronts, again with the aim of shooting down the Parliamentarian forces.  And the firing was particularly effective with the added bonus of none of the Scots running out of shot or powder in this first turn (ie none rolled a 1 or 2). 

The English react, trying to manoeuvre to engage the enemy while maintaining their advantage on the hill
Lord Thomas was nothing if not a trier.  He quickly spun his reiters and cavalry to face the threat to his rear while trying to disentangle his infantry on the hill to face their Scottish counterparts.  His troops started to return fire while also facing off the Scottish cavalry charge.

As the game progressed the Scots continued to wear down the English through their firepower until the ammunition began to run out (clearly supply chain issues back to Edinburgh!).  The English cavalry on the right wing charged off the hill to engage the Scottish reiters in the rear, beating them off over a couple of turns.
The Scots close in on the Parliamentarian position
Some sharp shooting by the remaining English infantry regiment followed by an equally sharp push of pike saw off the flanking Scottish infantry, as the remaining Scottish infantry closed in from the front.  Eventually sheer weight of numbers told and the Parliamentary foot soldiers quit the field.  But was it all over for Lord Thomas? No!  He rallied his remaining troops, one of which was a unit of reiters on the hill top who clearly had had a good thing going with the quartermaster as they never ran out of the ammunition and continued to blow holes in the Scots.

In the end it came down to the last Scottish infantry regiment squaring up to the last English regiment of reiters, facing down the inevitable barrage of carbine and pistol fire and knocking the English horse off the hill.

This is another OHW scenario which went right down to the wire.  In this case I thought the Scots had it won but the better English position on the hill meant it was finely balanced.  If the Scots had run out of shot and powder earlier things would have been much tougher before they had closed on the hill.  I'm not entirely convinced these rules are particularly historically accurate but they do result in a quick, close and enjoyable game.

Next time: Static Defence

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Casualty Marking in One Hour Wargames

Everyone who is familiar with Neil Thomas's One Hour Wargames will know that, whatever the period of the rules, a unit can take 15 hits before it is rendered hors de combat.  I usually play solo and therefore I have keep track of the status of all the units on the table, which is a bit dull. So what to do?

The d4 casualty counters in action. You can see the combination of lost bases with the dice hits allowing the units to be visually worn down

My OHW units are formed of 6 DBx bases set in two rows of three.  As a game progresses, whenever a unit takes 5 hits or more it loses a base from the rear rank.  By taking from the rear rank the frontage is maintained (this is pretty key to the rules) but by keeping at least one base in the rear rank, the unit's depth can also be maintained.  And to keep track of the hits taken by units before losing a base I use d4 dice sitting behind the damaged unit.  I was pleased to find a dozen d4 for £2.99 on Amazon, helpful as most OHW scenarios feature 6 units per side.

Not the most revolutionary change to OHW but it works for me!

The Battle of Dundoon

I have managed to fight the first battle of my OHW campaign.  As I mentioned in my previous post I have randomly selected 6 scenarios from the book and pre-selected the forces for a Pike and Shot campaign, in particular the English Civil War.  And due to the proliferation of Swordsmen infantry units in the Neil Thomas rules, it had to be Scots (complete with Highlanders) against Parliamentarians.

Scenario 4  - Take the High Ground

Sir Vernon Cottar, Scottish General in the Borders was aware of the threat from the south. Cromwell had been installed as the Lord Protector and Lord Thomas, Lord Lieutenant of the Northern Marches saw an opportunity to deal a blow against the recalcitrant Scots. And so he moved North quickly to take Cottar by surprise, only to find the wily Scot had placed a holding force on the hill not far from the Border town of Dundoon.

The battlefield after the first English move


The aim of this scenario is to hold the hill at the end of the 15th turn, being the hill on which the Scots have placed two infantry regiments.

The two Scottish regiments on the key objective
The English advanced rapidly with the aim of sweeping the Scots advanced guard away and then holding the hill against the rest of Scottish army.  The single English cavalry unit was sent up the road to delay the Scottish advance.

For much of the battle things seemed to go well for the English, although the Scottish advanced guard put up a stiffer resistance than expected, not helped by many of the English units running out of shot (too many low rolls for the ammo check).

A panoramic view of the battlefield as the English sweep across the hill while on the right flank the English cavalry is about to be flanked by some Highlanders
But gradually the main Scottish army arrived at the front and began to turn the tide.  The English cavalry on the right flank were attacked to front and flank and were eventually routed.  On the left flank the greater hand to hand fighting prowess of the second Highlander unit took down an infantry regiment.  And while it in turn was swept away by the English firepower cavalry (reiter) that had swept across the hill, this just gave time for the remaining Scottish infantry regiment to close on the hill and  blow away the two English regiments.
The English reiters are about to strike the Highlanders in the flank.  While they win in the end, the Scottish reiters manage to pull away and shoot down the English horse
The last  act was the final Scottish infantry regiment on the hill holding off the last of the English horse, routing it from the field.

Next, Cottar will move into England to exact his revenge.

This was a scenario which hung in the balance right to the end.  I thought the Parliamentarians were going to win but they were just worn down enough to fail at the end.  Firepower is king in this game and the Parliamentary forces ran out of shot pretty early in the game, while the Scots kept some firepower to the end (luck of the dice).  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Once more unto the Challenge dear friends!

Well, I knew the 6 by 6 Challenge was going to be hard to find the time to do it, but I hadn't quite realised how hard it was going to be! The opportunity to play something over the New Year period and slightly after was clearly designed to give me false hope!  A combination of my son's 18th birthday celebrations (a small marquee and all the trimmings) followed immediately by a trip to the US (business not pleasure) and various other comings and goings put paid to any more than the two rather interesting games of Four Against Darkness played so far.

But enough of that back sliding I hear you cry!  Rather than give in now (far too early for that sort of thing) I need to plan out some games so that when the opportunity arises I can take full advantage.  I have pre-determined the six scenarios and forces from Neil Thomas's seminal "One Hour Wargames" (OHW) which I will play following the simple campaign rules that appear in the book - these are less campaign, more a way of linking scenarios together and encouraging some sort of connecting narrative but they suit my purpose.

So here's the plan, with exception of the period, all choices were made with the assistance of dice throws.

Period: Pike and Shot.  Thomas's liking of swordsmen in these rules seems to point more towards sword and buckler men of the 16th Century than my more preferred English Civil War.  However, if I were to go more for Cromwell's campaigns in Scotland I am sure I would be allowed some creative licence to bring in some Highlanders who would fit the bill.

1. Scenario 4 - Take the High Ground

Red   3 Infantry    1 Reiter    2 Swordsmen
Blue  3 Infantry    2 Reiter    1 Cavalry

2.  Scenario 7 - Flank Attack (2)

Red   3 Infantry    2 Reiter    1 Cavalry
Blue  4 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Cavalry

3.   Scenario 14 - Static Defence

Red   3 Infantry    2 Reiter    1 Cavalry
Blue  4 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Swordsmen

4.   Scenario 20 - Fighting Retreat

Red   3 Infantry    1 Reiter
Blue  4 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Cavalry

5.   Scenario 24 - Bottleneck

Red   2 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Swordsmen
Blue  4 Infantry    1 Swordsmen   1 Cavalry

6.   Scenario 26 - Triple Line

Red   2 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Cavalry
Blue  4 Infantry    1 Reiter    1 Swordsmen

That's about it for now.  Let's see if I make a bit progress on this in due course!