My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Here Comes the Red Dragon

A friend and I have been playing a lot of BattleLore over Vassal (as he is in Ohio and I am in Arizona) and the one thing he wanted to try out were the dragons. We've played two scenarios so far - the one with the single Green Dragon and the other with the single Red Dragon - and both times I beat them. In fact, I did it by largely ignoring the dragons and just concentrating on destroying the accompanying forces. So, I thought to myself, are these really any good? So, we had a re-match, playing scenario 65 - The Fires above France, 1362 - only this time I got the red dragon.

Click to enlarge the map.

The scenario, shown above, consists of a strong flank and a weak one for each player. The Pennant player (top), who also has the dragon, has a strong right flank, but it faces a line of hills, which if the Standard player (bottom) can get his blue infantry on, will have a strong position, hard to breach. (Trust me, my opponent tried that in his last game and it is largely why he lost.)

On the opposite flank the Pennant forces have four Goblinoid units facing off against two red infantry. They may hold with support, but if they run, the flank will crumble, given the Goblin Run rule.

The center is a key, as it is where the dragon is, and the Standard player has some powerful cavalry to oppose it, along with the red infantry straddling the center and right flank sections. It was here that I focused for my battle plan.

The first step in setting up this game is to select your War Council. For the Pennant player, you automatically spend three of your six points on the red dragon. That means if you have any Lore Masters you will weaken your Commander and thus have fewer Command Cards. I did a little research and found that the average cost of Lore cards is around 4 1/2 lore. So, if you bought an equivalent level three Lore Master, you would get to fire, on average, one lore card for every 4 1/2 lore points. Looking at the red dragon, you can breathe for 3 lore points and move out-of-section for 3 lore points, so a dragon is actually pretty efficient in lore usage compared to a Lore Master.But, here is the problem: when my opponent played the red dragon he also chose a level 1 Lore Master and ended up splitting his lore usage between the two. In fact, he probably used the Lore Master more.

So, the first part of my strategy was to forego a Lore Master. I did not want any distractions to using lore for anything other than the dragon. He was going to be burning the enemy as much as possible.
It is important to understand just what the red dragon's breathe does, in order to understand the strategy. When you fly over an enemy unit, you roll 4 dice and for each Lore rolled, you place a Fire token on the unit. That unit's move is limited to one hex and only battles with 2 dice for as long as it is on fire. Further, it takes one hit a turn until the fire is put out, or the unit is destroyed. In order to put out the fire, you must order the unit and spend two Lore per Fire token. As a dragon can fly up to four hexes, it can flame up to three enemy units, all for the cost of three lore!
To make this work, as Fire does not in and of itself cause a lot of damage, I would have to bring up my troops in support of the dragon, and they would bash away at the flaming enemy. If the enemy battled back, it would only be for two dice.

So, not only would I focus using lore on creating fire, I would force my opponent to use lore in order to put out the fires, draining away his chances at using some fancy lore card to kill the dragon.

With the first part settled, I chose a War Council of a Level 3 Commander, granting me six Command Cards, and a Red Dragon. The extra Command Cards would increase my opportunities to move the right units while increasing the number of units that could move certain cards.

The second part of the strategy was in how to conduct the attacks, and where.

As shown in the map above, there is a woods right in the heart of the Standard player's center command. From that point the dragon could launch an attack and flame down the battle line, landing in the woods just inside the left section, then return back to the original woods. Making this circuit, even once, would set a number of units alight, forcing my opponent to focus orders and lore on keeping his units alive; essentially reacting to me, not the other way around. By grabbing two lore per turn I would be ready to start flaming by the start of turn three, so I would need to make my move to the woods by turn two. That would mean that I would only get one turn to prepare, which would be to move infantry units towards the battle line in the center, so they could exploit the burning enemy. All this presumed getting the right cards in the first place, of course. If I did not get the right cards at the start the basic plan was to fly from terrain to terrain, flaming units as I went.
So, why hop from terrain to terrain, especially woods? Mostly it was to limit the damage my opponent could inflict on me in counter-attack. With only two dice to attack into woods, both would have to hit (11%), which would translate into only one chance for a critical hit (17%) or a total chance for a kill of about 2%. My battle back of two dice would then have about a 56% chance of getting one or more hits. It was critical that I keep the dragon in defensive terrain as much as possible, as losing the dragon meant losing the equivalent of a Level 3 Lore Master.
Game Setup

My opponent setup his War Council and chose a Level 3 Cleric, a Level 1 Wizard, a Level 1 Rogue, and a Level 1 Commander (4 Command Cards). Personally, I would have dropped a level of Lore Master to add a level to the Commander in order to get 5 Command Cards. But as will be seen later, this was a prescient choice.
My opponent's choice of a Cleric for his highest level Lore Master is an interesting one. Generally speaking, the Cleric is probably one of the more powerful Lore Masters, given his ability to hit hard. But most of those effects come from lore cards centered around terrain, and in this scenario the terrain was mostly on his side of the board. Myself, I would have gone for the Wizard being Level 3 and dropped the Cleric to get a Level 2 Commander.
After drawing my Command Cards, I had the following starting hand: 2 x Blue Banners; Mounted Charge; Patrol Left (2); Patrol Center (2); and Advance Right (6). My opponent confided after the game that he had drawn: 2 x Darken the Skies; Mounted Charge; and Red Banners. That Mounted Charge card will be significant, as he held that card until the last turn of the game...

The Game

Rather than give a turn-by-turn description, I will show the highlights.

On my opponent's first turn he darkened the sky with arrows, making my goblin archer unit a pin cushion. That forced me to consider pulling that unit out and moving that flank earlier than I had hoped. With only one card for that flank, I was not quite eager to use it as yet.

So, I responded with a bad counter.

Why was it a bad move? Well, I now had a blue infantry facing a hill. If my opponent moved forward on the hill, he would strike with three dice while I battled back with two. I should have only moved the one blue infantry forward one hex, creating a hole for the goblin archers to escape through (while simultaneously creating a supported formation). Oh well, maybe he won't...

I got off easy. (I subsequently battled back and forced him to retreat.)

I began to notice something; every card I was drawing was coming up Center. I now had three in my hand. So my chance to strike with the dragon was here.

The red dragon flew to the woods, roasting the enemy red infantry with two Fire tokens! So, for a cost of three lore, I was going to cause (at least) one hit and four lore to put out the fire. Now that is what I call a nice exchange! Although I did not have units ready to attack the flaming enemy (my archers fired, but had no effect with their one die), my red cavalry was poised for a charge next turn, and the archers could pour in supporting fire, while the fire dragon hopped to the next woods and flamed the three enemy infantry in the battle line, as I had another Attack Center (3) card. This would be sweet! Except...

Wouldn't you know it, he rolled two flags against me, forcing me to leave my comfortable spot! (By the way, this was the third battle so far in which he had rolled two flags against me.) Meanwhile, to reinforce that I had previously made a bad move...

My blue infantry unit was getting slaughtered, so I now had two potential victory points against me. It was time to burn my card and retreat the units away from the hill. It was probably too late, however.

To be continued...

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").