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.