Thursday, 31 August 2017

Memoir 44 - Pointe-du-Hoc

I played my third game of Memoir 44 for the Six-by-Six Challenge, this one being a simulation of the assault by the US Rangers on the cliff top positions at Pointe-du-Hoc.  The deployment map below shows the cliffs overlooking the beach up which the elite Rangers would attack the various German emplacements and positions.

In this one either side had to gain 4 medals for victory, for which the Allies had the additional opportunities of capturing the wood hexes at the top of the board. 

I played this one solo (both my possible opponents were at work while ironically I was on holiday - you can tell they are getting older and now both have university studies to fund) and therefore for once I could not lose.  As with the previous games this did seem to be all about playing against the cards.  The Allies had a whole series of right flank cards when everything they had was on the left or in the centre.  Eventually this told when for a turn or two the Allies could do little but exchange cards while the Germans were able to rush up to them and shoot them to pieces, although even here the German battle dice were remarkably poor.  In the end it was a clear German victory although it had hung in the balance for a few turns.

I remain to be convinced by Memoir 44.  It may be quick and have a sumptuous looking board but there seems to be little opportunity to come up with a strategy for each scenario that cannot fall foul of the capriciousness of the cards.  I get the fact that the gamer should not have "god-like powers" of control but there really ought to be a bit more reward for more carefully thought out play.  I think I will play out my 6 games and then think seriously about returning Memoir 44 to eBay.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Memoir 44 - Sword Beach

I played my second game of Memoir 44 for the Six by Six Challenge.  This time it was the Sword Beach scenario, which saw the British trying to storm up and off the beach in the face of stiff German defences of "hedgehogs", barbed wire and concrete bunkers.  The starting positons are shown below:

Sword Beach  - starting positions taken from the rulebook
Once again I faced my oldest across the battlefield, taking charge of the plucky (or Imperialist?) British forces complete with elite commandos in an effort to displace my determined (or tyrannical?) German forces.

It was, like the last game, pretty quick, pretty bloody and pretty balanced.  If the British had not taken down my fifth unit, thereby earning the required 5 medals, I would have taken down theirs.  It was very much a game of the flanks, with the vagaries of the command cards meaning that much of the effort took place away from the centre - which was a bit of shame as I had a very powerful artillery unit ensconced in the central bunker that only got the chance to shoot twice!

I'm still not sure what to make of Memoir 44. It plays quickly and is finely balanced and the map boards look great but there does not seem to be much in the way of tactical or strategic thought due to the chance cards.  Armour seems particularly brittle although I suspect engaging infantry at point blank range is not the best tactic.  I will give it to the end of 6 plays and then I will see whether it stays or not.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Plastic Modelling & Wargaming Show

I went to the Plastic Modelling and Wargaming Show organised by the IPMS Avon Group with the Lincombe Barn Wargames Society (of Alien Squad Leader fame) at the Thornbury Leisure Centre on Sunday. It has been run for a few years now but this was the first time I had had the chance to visit.

It was huge, with two of the sports halls and the indoor bowls green all packed with a combination IPMS display stands put on by the many modelling clubs in the region (and from further afield) as well as around a dozen wargames put on by various groups.  There was a large number of traders mainly of modelling supplies but with a leavening of wargames traders, in particular Great Escape Games (who nearly persuaded me to by the latest version of Death on a Dark Continent), the Dice Bag Lady  (aka Bad Squidoo Games) and Helion the military publishers (from whom I bought their Spanish Armada paper ships book).

Overall I think I was a little non-plussed by the event.  Secondhand plastic kits are clearly a big thing, judging by the vast numbers of over-stuffed and rather tatty cardboard boxes that adorned many of the stalls.  The models on show were of an excellent quality (and fully justified the many signs advising "do not touch"!) but there didn't seem much opportunity for interactivity - there didn't seem to be many demonstrations, for example, and the competition displays seemed tucked away and unadvertised.  The wargames provided some much needed movement to the proceedings (plastic models are rather static) but even here the gamers seemed rather absorbed by the games, which is fine if they had been able to provide some sort of printed explanation as to what was going on.

I am probably judging the event a little unfairly.  I got to it rather late in the day when the energy was starting to drain away and I am also comparing it with the Bristol Model Railway Exhibition that takes place at the same venue which benefits from having more action on the rail exhibits and probably more money to invest in the hobby  both through the paying public and the supporting traders.  It has also been run for nearly 50 years.  I will probably go again some time in the future but I am more likely to go to the Lincombe Barn wargames show Reveille II at the end of November.  

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Bring on the Adventurers

For a second go at AD&D 1e I got my players to roll up their characters.  As I had posted previously  I had rolled a character of my own to test the system and remind me of the mechanics.  However, I had forgotten how spread out character generation was between the two main books and all the other extraneous facts the players would need to know (eg weapons stats, character class and race limitations) which I found I had not committed to memory.  Referring to the OSRIC rule book helped sort out some of my confusion, not least the simplification of some of the over-complicated weapons rules in the original.

However, with a bit perseverance we ended up with a half-orc fighter, an elven magic user and a human druid who had purchased a pair of guard dogs as back up,  Where the characters are going to go, they will probably need that and more!

Memoir 44 - Ste Mere-Eglise

You can tell I am on holiday as I am playing games! I managed to play the Ste Mere-Eglise scenario from Memoir 44 against my oldest.  Without giving a blow-by-blow account of the game itself, suffice to say it was a close run thing with both sides having a chance of victory but in the end my Germans were defeated by the US paratroopers.

I quite enjoyed the game it played pretty quickly and the use of the Command cards certainly gave pause for thought in both sides.  I can't say it is a military simulation but it is a diverting strategy game with a military theme. 

This was also my first game of Memoir 44 for the 6 by 6 Challenge.

Back to the Dungeon

So I have been away for rather longer than I had expected.  A combination of my mother-in-law's extended stay in hospital, an upsurge at work and, frankly, losing the habit of game-playing has meant I am a long way behind the curve.

However, every cloud has a silver lining.  My oldest returned from university enthused by role playing games in general and D&D 5e in particular. This has been something of a surprise as she had studiously ignored them - the virtues of education I suppose.  This has rekindled my own interest in dungeon-delving that has lain dormant for more years than I can count (any more!) and has led to a lot of trips down memory lane in the name of research and some modest investment in historical tomes. 5e was no good for me, I need to go all the way back to AD&D 1e.

I had originally planned to use one of the retro-clones as it appeared to be a free and easy way to re-visit my youth - my AD&D books had long since been consigned to the charity shops.  OSRIC looks to be an excellent re-birth of AD&D 1e and very much a labour of love.  However, in the end I decided I "needed" the originals and so a quick foray onto eBay resulted in a quick and reasonably priced purchase of the Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide - a pleasant surprise as some of the prices appeared ridiculously high especially as you can purchase PDF or even hard copies of the originals at Dungeon Masters Guild.  I picked up a PDF version of the Monster Manual in this way as well as one of the "classic" adventure modules, the "Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh".  Delving into the two books reminded me of the excitement of the early days, coupled with the inevitable confusion resulting from the rather disorganised approach of the originals.  Also, thanks to a Google search I was able to pick up some of the classic White Dwarf adventures from the 80s which will provide a simple introduction to my players aka as my children (two of whom are decidedly adult).

In preparation for the game I felt I had to create one of my own characters to remind myself of the rules.  To this I decided I would add some characterisation using one of the role playing aids I have downloaded from the excellent RPGNow.  BOLD or the Book of Legends and Deeds from Conjecture Games provided a really helpful framework for setting out a believable history for my trial character, a cleric who had temporarily joined an heretical sect who later found it to be a cover for an evil power and had returned to the faith, albeit still an outcast.  It was not a background I would  necessarily have made up, at least not so quickly, and it might provide further hooks in the future.

I also took a look at the adventure I intend to run, "The Lichway" from way back when White Dwarf was a gaming magazine.  It was very much a product of its time and I am sure I would not have batted an eye-lid at its idiosyncrasies of monster placement and background.  Now I felt I had to add a little characterisation to some of the NPC to make it a little more interesting.  It was also an excuse to use UNE, Conjecture Games Universal NPC Emulator.  This again proved to be a pretty quick and easy way to add some depth to the NPC, which hopefully the players will leave alive long enough to interact with.

So that brings me to the end of this report.  I think I will make AD&D one of my Six-by-Six Challenge games and I will update my choices accordingly.  And because of the gaming effort expended so far, I think this will count as my first session.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Hedghog of Piepsk

I did actually manage to get a game in during May although only just.  My mother-in-law has been very poorly and has been in hospital for the past 3 or 4 weeks, necessitating daily visits to keep up her spirits and also those of my father-in-law too.  Fingers crossed she is on the mend now although I suspect there will be more twists and turns before she gets home.

The game I did manage on the penultimate day of May was my third game of Squad Leader.  This time I chose Scenario 4, entitled "The Hedgehog of Piepsk", which was all about a weak company of German infantry holding onto an isolated village strongpoint in 1941 Central Russia against a Russian force four times their size.  I could have chosen Scenario 3 which was a combination of the first two scenarios but I could not face it. There was going to be rather too many counters on the table for it to be solo-playable and I had found the original scenarios to be rather claustrophobic.  I am sure the original combatants in Stalingrad might have agreed although for rather more personal reasons!

Scenario 4 used boards 2 to 4, which I had never used before.  And in the way in which Squad Leader builds up the rules used a scenario at a time, this one brought in the use of off table artillery for the first time.

Squad Leader with wide open spaces - I quite like the mapboards
It also brought in the rules for hidden placement which could have been rather challenging for solo play.  Instead of following the rules of noting down the grid references of the hidden German forces, I simply allowed the Russians to move first and then place the Germans on the table, reasoning that my lack of experience of the rules would be unlikely to unbalance the scenario too much.  I also decided that once I had placed a unit I would not move it again, thereby limiting my ability to continually fiddle with the deployment.

The game seemed to progress pretty well.  It demonstrated (again!) that moving infantry in the open would quickly lead to heavy losses.  It also showed for the first time how potent machine guns could be in their ability to engage several hexes at once in their line of sight - the crowded streets of Stalingrad had result in engagements at close range and there had been little opportunity to see the "penetration" of machine gun fire.  This scenario also showed how important leadership is in Squad Leader, in particular to get broken infantry back up and moving or at least under cover.  In the game, the Russians quickly lost two of their three leaders which meant their assault on the village in the middle of the right hand board (see the photo) quickly ground to a halt as units were broken and could not be rallied.

The game ended in a clear German victory, although if some of the Russian dice rolls had been a little kinder things would have been a bit closer.  I quite enjoyed the game and I am looking forward to getting to the rules for armour in the near future.  Using more of the mapboards was a welcome change of Squad Leader scenery.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The Tractor Works

I played my second game of Squad Leader on Monday. It was the scenario of The Tractor Works in which a crack unit of German assault engineers had to capture and hold the said works amidst the ruin of Stalingrad before the Russian counterattack could sweep them away. This scenario introduced explosive charges and flamethrowers. It also added concealment, which was a bit tricky to play solo.

The game was a bit of a slugfest which saw the German assault defeated thanks to a series of quite awful dice rolls. I finished it early when it was pretty clear the Russians were going to win. The game was OK but it would be nice to get to the armoured rules where things may become more expansive than claustrophobic street fighting.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Squad Leader Revisited

I had said that I would look again at original Squad Leader as one of my 6 by 6 Challenge games.  This is very much a classic game of World War II infantry combat, according to Boardgame Geek it was first published in 1977.  I have the final 4th edition of 1980.

It is very much a tactical combat game that I am sure traces back to miniatures games rather than a more conventional boardgame reliant on rolling odds on a combat results table (CRT) or at least as I remember from the early to mid 1980s.  Indeed a quick search on the internet shows that there are Squad Leader in Miniature to enable the game to be taken from the board to the table using miniatures. As the blurb on the box says, this is a board wargame system rather than a set game and this makes it quite attractive from a replayability standpoint.

I had decided to play the first 6 scenarios from Squad Leader but then I came across a fan site which referred to a "Tactical Training Series" (TTS) which is a series of 6 scenarios to help newcomers learn how to manoeuvre and fight - apparently the game as written does not quite do this.  This looked attractive but then I decided to stick to my original plan.  I had played the first scenario "The Guards Counterattack" about three times over the years, played the second scenario about once and had managed to go no further.  This time I had to get to at least scenario 3!

The game set up for the first scenario - I was surprised at how small it was
I will not give a blow by blow account of the battle.  Suffice to say it was a bit of an infantry slog in the ruins of Stalingrad.  The Russians had the better of it overall and scored a narrow victory.  It certainly showed the benefit of hard cover and the dangers of running in the open across lines of fire.  I quite enjoyed it even though there was an inevitably large amount of rules referrals and some mistakes - I did not quite use the leadership modifiers right in firing for example. And here's to playing the second scenario!

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Scots Campaign in England - the last battle

So what was happening to the north while Lord Cottar was successfully extricating his army from the grip of the Parliamentary forces?  As mentioned before, in a dastardly English trick the Commonwealth Navy had transported the New Model Army for a direct attack north of the border.  All that could face them was a scratch Scottish force that was deployed in three lines in blocking positions at the river, between the impenetrable forests and finally on top of the hill.  If the Scots could hold the English here long enough, Cottar's army could return in time to throw the English back.

That was the narrative behind the 6th and final scenario in this leg of the 6 by 6 Challenge.  Scenario 26 - Triple Line had been previously randomly selected from One Hour Wargames and the game was again set up on the chessboard with minimum paper terrain.  In this scenario, the winner was whoever held the hill on the northern edge of the battlefield on the 15th and final turn of the game.  The twist here was that the Scots could not move (but they could fire) unless an English unit came within 2 inches (half an infantry move) of a Scottish unit.
The battlefield at the start of the 1st turn. The English to the south are deployed just off the playing surface which is the 6 by 6 grid.
With the Scots handicapped by an inability to move it looked like a foregone conclusion for the English to win.  The English set up to maximise their firepower from the infantry in order to clear the bridge without letting the Scots move.  To begin with things worked well, especially as the English appeared to have been practicing hard at their firing.  However, the effect of the bridge and the lack of manoeuvring space between the river and the 2nd Scottish line without triggering a move caused a hold up in the English crossing the river in force.  And the Scots themselves were also well equipped with shot and powder to the extent they threatened to put a serious dent in the English progress, further hampered by the charge of the Scots lancers.

However, numbers told, especially in the numbers of 5s and 6s thrown by the English to eventually destroy their opponents.  And so it was the English occupied the hill on the 14th turn to win the game.

The good thing about OHW are the finely balanced scenarios and the approach to quickly and randomly setting up forces to give a different tactical challenge each time.   The rules themselves are "crude but effective" and calling them crude is rather unfair - simple might be a better word.

I have enjoyed the narrative story-telling side of the linked scenarios and will no doubt return to this again in the future.  But now I must turn my attention to the 3rd leg of my 6 by 6 Challenge - will it be the venerable Squad Leader or the rather more recent Memoir 44?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Holding the Gap

As I mentioned in my last post, the "miniaturised" version of OHW had proved to be quite successful to the extent that I turned round and played another game straight away.  This time it was scenario 24 - Bottleneck.

With the loss at Connor's Bluff, Cottar's Scottish army was chased back to the Scottish borders before they could find a place to turn in an effort to hold the rampaging Parliamentary army.  Cottar had found the ideal battlefield whereby his outnumbered force could defeat the English.

The battlefield at turn 1 - The Scots are based just to the north of the wood and lake, except for the Highlanders in the forest.  The English are just off the playing area looking to force their way up the road as well as sweep around the lake. 
The Scots had 4 units to the English 6. To win they had  to have at least one unit within 4 inches (2 squares) of the road by the end of turn 15.  The swordsmen (Highlanders) are hidden in the forest which is impassable to the English.

The battle unfolded in two parts.  The English charge up the road was blocked by some exceptional firing by the Scottish regiment that was based on the road.  The English had led with their own swordsmen who, while good at hand to hand, had no firepower and, worse, blocked the firing of the supporting three infantry regiments.  The swordsmen were quickly despatched and the following infantry regiment was also sent reeling back before the next regiment could finally see off the resilient Scots.

The English worked their way around the lake on the east flank, where the cavalry charged the Scottish reiters. In a close run fight, the reiters were just victorious thanks to the damage inflicted by firing before contact.  This success was short-lived as the English eastern infantry regiment closed the range and sent them routing through firepower.

The crisis point
The crisis point of the battle was reached with the English threatening the last Scottish unit in the open.  However, the Scots were clearly experienced and well provisioned with shot as they continued to shoot down the English regiments who were clearly  worn from the long pursuit north (ie they threw too many ones which either resulted in little damage or the loss of firepower).

The game ended with the Scots still holding the road and the Highlanders emerging from the forest to confirm the victory.

This miniaturised OHW game also ran quickly with seemingly no loss of fidelity from the original rules.  I know this seems to reduce OHW almost to the level of a boardgame but it worked pretty well for me.

Monday, 17 April 2017

The Scots Make a Stand at Connor's Bluff

When I last left the Scottish forces under the command of the newly ennobled Lord Cottar they had had an unbroken string of successes against the Parliamentary forces of the north and west midlands.  However, thanks to a typically underhanded English trick, instead of facing the victorious Scots in a straight fight, the Lord Protector had instead embarked the New Model Army onto the Commonwealth fleet and had headed north into Scotland on a punitive expedition.  Cottar's army needed to head north and quickly!

This is the back story to the fourth engagement in my loosely connected campaign of 6 battles taken from the book "One Hour Wargames" set in the time of the English Civil Wars.  This time around I had selected scenario 20 - Fighting Retreat which had the Scots retreating north before an on-rushing Parliamentarian army.  The Scots had only 4 units while the English had the more standard 6.  The aim of the game was to be in possession of the hill on the northern edge at the end of the 15th turn.

In a further twist I decided to do this game in miniature.  Normally a game of OHW takes place on a 3 foot square table and the units I use are 3 DBx bases wide by 2 deep.  However, both the kitchen and dining tables were otherwise engaged and I didn't fancy the floor, so instead I decided to adopt an idea I had read on Shaun Travers's blog in which he had played a OHW game on a 30cm square tile.  In my case I used a chessboard on which the squares are 2 inches per side.  Therefore, using a 6 by 6 grid (quite apt for the 6 by 6 Challenge!) from the board and only one base per unit I could scale everything down by two thirds.  With some terrain swiftly cut from paper and glued to the board with Bluetac the set up looked like this:

The position at the start of turn 1 - the Scots are on the board at the bridges across the river.  The key hill - Connor's Bluff - is to the north.  The English are massed just off the 6x6 playing area
The play progressed pretty quickly, the chess grid helping speed up the game as not everything needed measuring (eg infantry can move 2 inches per turn = 1 square) although care needed to be taken not to guess too much over the diagonals.  In short, the Scots decided to hold the river line on the west flank, while sending an infantry regiment to hold the hill.  on the east flank an infantry regiment took up a blocking position between the central marsh and the eastern wood, while the reiters acted as a mobile firepower reserve.  The Parliamentarians pressed quickly up to and across the river, hoping to use their reiters to soften up the Scots with their firepower.  Thanks to some superlative shooting on the Scots western flank (some good dice rolls!) one of the English regiments was destroyed while the other was allowed across to allow the Scots reiters to have their turn (and try to eat up the turn counter).  This proved to be a critical error as the English east flank, despite having been held up for a time, managed to break through.
The Scots are victorious in the west but lose out in the east
The English cavalry finally got across the river and into contact, successfully defeating the Scots reiters but falling foul of the supporting infantry.  But this had enabled the two remaining English infantry regiments to close on the Scots on Connor's Bluff and by the end of turn 13 out of 15, had carried the day.

This was yet another finely balanced scenario which had within in it some interesting challenges in terms of choice of strategy.  Using the smaller board and units also worked well and I was able play another game directly afterwards.  I quite liked the basic looking terrain - it reminded me of the pictures in Featherstone's "Battles with Model Soldiers" - although may be next time I would try some printed terrain from or similar.  I suspect I will be returning to this sort of format again in the future!

Friday, 14 April 2017

Four Against Darkness - The Final Chapter?

The band of brave adventurers had escaped from the lair of the fire demon having rescued the High Priestess but had then been ambushed by more demons of the Darkness.  Although they had been beaten off, a Parthian shot had left the High Priestess mortally wounded.  With her dying breath she gave the party a clue as to where to find a powerful relic but had further charged them that only through peaceful means could the relic be recovered.

For this adventure I decided to up-gun all the minions and bosses by a level to make them a bit tougher for the party.  I also decided to make the party follow the "Let peace be your way" quest to make it more challenging, reasoning that the High Priestess was from a peaceful religion.  Completing a quest would result in am Epic Reward, ideal for a powerful relic.

I decided to use a smaller map size to force a shorter game
The party dived into the darkness and quickly confronted an animated statue which was quickly despatched.  It was the first Boss of the game.  Despite giving the goblins in the next room the opportunity to parley, they decided to fight and were quickly put to the sword.

Doubling back the adventurers came across a shambling Mummy.  It became clear that this was the master of the dungeon complex (ie I rolled 6 to which I added 1 for the statue which meant it was the Final Boss - already!).  Another short sharp fight followed but ended when Zandemar fried the Mummy with a lightning bolt, gaining a level as the result.  A couple of corridors later they came across a couple of orcs who were happy to be bribed (it was either that or a very quick death), resulting in the first peaceful event of the game.  A couple of rooms later, having despatched some aggressive fungi folk, the party was then able to bribe some goblins to look the other way.  A tough fight with half a dozen vampire frogs left Albanac bloody and bruised but otherwise victorious. Th party then came across an Iron Eater which quickly lived up to its name by devouring the heavy armour of both Albanac and Uthacar before being defeated.

The adventurers had now reached a dead end and doubled-back.  They returned to the room where they had bribed the two orcs who had been joined by a solitary troll (I rolled a wandering monster) who was itching for a fight.  However, Zandemar, now a level 5 wizard, stepped forward and sent all three minions to sleep, completing the quest.  The relic was magically revealed to the party as a Shield of Warning, which Albanac took (he had no armour following the encounter with the iron eater).  They then worked their way out of the dungeon without further mishap.

By the end of the series of adventures, all the characters were at Level 4 except for Zandemar who was Level 5.  I have enjoyed playing 4AD and the addition of The 9Qs did add a little to the end.  The game is a good way to while away an hour or two and will benefit also from "the deeper levels addendum" when it comes out.  However, I don't think I will be exploring it further.  This completes my first set of 6 games for the 6 by 6 Challenge.  Only another 27 to go!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Exploring Four Against Darkness

In my last post I relayed the tale of the second chapter of the pre-programmed adventure Dark Waters, at the end of which I expressed a degree of boredom with 4AD.  The game is, after all, a randomly rolled up dungeon crawler into which the player has next to no strategic input.  In hindsight, what had made it interesting for the first couple of games was the novelty of the system and the possibility for me to tell the story around the dice rolls.  Perhaps the last time I had played it I wasn't quite in the mood to fill in the gaps.   The upside of the 6 by 6 Challenge is that it is making me play games but the downside is that it may be making me play games whether I want to or not in order to hit the target.  But the upside outweighs the downside!

To help build a little creativity and provide some sort of narrative background to the dungeon crawl I thought I would turn to one of the solo RPG game engines I have been toying with for the past year or so.  I went for John Fiore's The 9Qs as it looked simpler than, say, Mythic and therefore more in keeping with 4AD's simplicity.  For those unfamiliar with solo or GM-less RPG game systems (and I am hardly an expert!) the aim is to provide suitable prompts to the players' imaginations to push and pull the story in unexpected directions driven by random, largely dice-driven, elements.  In the case of The 9Qs  there are three sets of three questions (hence 9 questions) which broadly align to the beginning middle and end of a story/adventure.  As it explains at the outset, the system works better if the player has a ready-made context in which to set the action to help guide what happens next - starting from a completely blank sheet of paper would make this very difficult.

For the context I went to the Realm of Taakae from the venerable book Fantasy Wargaming by Martin Hackett.  You can find this book for pennies on Amazon and Abebooks and it is a nostalgic look at fantasy gaming in the late 80s and early 90s.  It is hardly cutting edge but did contain a fairly simple but well described world which would provide useful enough backdrop to any fantasy gaming I might ever get up to.

Not the last word in fantasy wargaming, but I have a soft spot for the book and the Realm of Taakae is useful, if basic, but best of all, free.

I might one day write up my modifications to Taakae but we will see how far I let my "inner nerd" off the leash!.

And so to begin!

The 1st point is to determine why the group is actually together in the first place.  That was easy enough: they were a group of would-be heroes determined to find objects of power in order to defeat the looming evil known as the Darkness.  Then to answer the 1st question: what was happening that would get in the way of their motivation.  A random idea generator was empowered (I rolled one of Rory's Story Cubes), the result of which triggered the thought that a King's Herald (I had rolled a mobile phone!) had arrived in the town to declare that a group of demons had violently kidnapped the High Priestess and taken her to who knew where.  Rescue the Priestess and the heroes may be given clues as to where to find the objects of power.  The 2nd question concerned what else was going on that may affect the heroes' plans.  Another Story Cube was rolled to reveal that a black glistening arch had appeared in the sky (having rolled a rainbow) over the nearby mountains to show that the Darkness was stirring and that the heroes needed to act quickly to avoid disaster (further dice rolls gave this "guidance").

I decided that I had enough for the background to a 4AD adventure.  The party was on a quest to rescue the High Priestess from the demons.  The resultant dungeon crawl is shown below.

The party penetrated into the dungeon complex.  It had clearly been a place of good power in the past and a residue of power was to be found in the remains of a blessed temple that gave power to Flandrian the Cleric.  But it had long since fallen to the Darkness and was infested with giant spiders, zombies and fungi folk.  But these were no match for the heroes especially now they were all at least level 3 and by the end would all be level 4.  Having penetrated into the depths of the complex they came across the Arch Fire Demon holding the High Priestess captive.  (I had rolled a small dragon but thought the fire demon was more authentic, especially as it was the Final Boss).  A short but brutal fight followed which resulted in the destruction of the Demon and the escape of the party through the secret exit they had discovered earlier.

I then returned to the 3rd question of The 9Qs to see what would happen next.  The party was attacked by a demonic raiding party.  While the heroes fought them off, a stray demonic arrow (the Cube picture) mortally wounded the Priestess who, as she died, gave them a clue as to where to find a powerful object.

Using The 9Qs did help a little to provide some context for the 4AD game although the game engine does require some time and thought to be paid to it: it's not a "shake the box" type of game and you do need to be in the mood for it.  4AD itself needs a power up for higher level characters - level 4 characters are tough and I found myself scything through minions and ignoring vermin.  I will play one more adventure to finish this part of the Challenge but I think that, for me, 4AD is a bit of a dead end, clever as it is.

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!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Four Against Darkness - The Challenge Continues

Well, after a week or so of getting back to normal after the Christmas celebrations (and going back to work) I have managed to get a second game of 4AD (and the second game of the 6 x 6 Challenge).  This time my trusted band of Albanac the Warrior, Uthacar the Dwarf and Zandemar the Wizard were joined by Flandrian the Cleric on another journey of exploration into the darkness under the Skeldigaw Mountains.

And this is what happened:

This time the game lasted longer and took a slightly different course.  First there were many more corridors than rooms, which had a slight effect on the number of encounters (there is a greater chance of meeting something in a room than in a corridor).  The party came across fewer monsters at first but more features.  First a blessed temple gave Albanac a limited extra power over undead creatures (used subsequently in an encounter with 2 zombies).  Then the party came across a statue, which, when touched, animated into a Boss monster which was surprisingly hard to defeat.  After a couple more encounters with some wandering parties of goblins, the party came across a small dragon in its lair. 

After close run battle the dragon was defeated and its treasure gathered the party opened to door - to find another dragon and this one was the Final Boss with added combat power.  After an even more epic battle this second dragon was also defeated.  All that was left was for the treasure to be gathered and the party to retrace its steps.  This they did, bumping into a number of wandering monsters en route, the worst of which was the medusa which turned Zandemar to stone - fortunately Flandrian Blessed him to remove the curse of petirifcation. 

And that was that.  Albanac and Uthacar both levelled up during the adventure (they made their rolls) Zandemar did not (rolling 1 twice).  Flandrian did not get the chance this time around.  Next time I plan to use one of the adventures produced by Ganesha Games to see how this might vary the game play.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Let the Challenge Begin!

A Happy New Year to one and all!

Well here is my report of my very first game in the Six by Six Challenge!  I had had a sneaking suspicion this was never going to happen but the opportunity suddenly presented itself for a first go at the Ganesha Games solo dungeon-crawl, Four Against Darkness (4AD).

I downloaded it a couple of days ago from together with one of the scenario booklets that builds on the core game engine. I had been intrigued by some of the reports I had come across on the web and I had been looking for some sort of a dungeon-bashing game as a way of getting some of the old Citadel miniatures into play.  4AD does not need miniatures, except for a bit of gloss, but it does need graph paper for mapping, other paper to record how the adventure is going and a couple of d6.  The map of my first game is shown below.

The game is built around a party of four characters of pretty standard fantasy RPG character types working through a randomly generated dungeon until the party comes across the Boss Monster.  Defeat the Boss Monster and then work the party back out of the dungeon and they get to keep the spoils of their endeavours.  But it is rather more sophisticated than that.  There are a series of tables that manage the size and shape of the rooms or corridors encountered; whether the room is occupied or contains a feature (traps, artefacts etc); and how the occupants might react.  The player has choices to make about whether to dive into a room to attack the monsters that might be found there or decide to wait and see how the monster might react.  There are even rules about marching order of the group and, not that I saw this in my play through, how the player may be set side quests by certain monsters.

When I started playing the game it did feel exactly like what it was: a dice-driven randomised dungeon generator based on basic D&D dungeon crawling stereotypes.  There was quite a lot of flicking between pages and puzzling out some of the imprecision in the rules.  But then my party met the small dragon in the fourth room, attacked it while it slept and just survived its fiery breath to finish it off and suddenly it clicked.  The next room was empty but on a search the rogue found a clue (find two more in future encounters and you "learn something significant" which could benefit the character).  The seventh room contained a spear trap guarding a miserly 5GP and I had to decide how the trap might work.  I pictured the opening scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark and decided the trap was in the corridor and thus as the rogue was not at the front in the marching order he could not try to disarm the trap.  And then in the final room the party came across the Boss Monster - there is an increasing chance of this occurring dependent on what the party has come across before.  This was a chaos lord complete with energy draining powers.  The party was just strong enough to survive and defeat the chaos lord despite the loss of the rogue and some of the most consistent rolling of 1's I have seen in a long time.  And then the remaining three traced their route back to the beginning, thankfully not meeting anything in the interim.

So what did I think of it?  It was a good bit of splendid nonsense and I can see it can grow as the characters develop from dungeon to dungeon, particularly as they pick up clues and go on quests and so on.  I think the additional adventures from Ganesha Games will add in the context as to why the party is dungeon crawling in the first place.  So the intrepid adventurers Albanac the Warrior, Uthacar the Dwarf and Zandemar the Wizard will be back, mourning the loss of Baltro the Rogue.