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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Here Comes the Red Dragon (Part 2)

When I left off, my left flank was being pounded. My poor move with the blue infantry resulted in it being reduced to 1, trying to cover the green goblin archers, which were also at 1. It was time to call for a retreat, and hope my opponent did not have any more cards to follow up.
But, he did have the cards. It was too late. My opponent had scored the first victory and was poised to get another victory banner, if he continued to have cards on that flank. It was now 0-1.
I like games that are learning experiences. For my opponent, this was one. He had forgotten that dragons (and creatures in general) can move out-of-section. What's better is that when you get an Advance card and have a high Command value (six, in my case) you often throw away orders as you don't have enough units in that particular section. Creatures also help in using up excess orders. So, I played Advance Right and moved forward my battle line. I also moved the dragon forward, chomped on the enemy's green swordsman, but wouldn't you know it, he rolled two Flags and again my red dragon was forced to retreat!
As I kept drawing center cards I realized that meant that he had to have the flank cards. The green goblin archer I had been trying to protect all along finally went down. It was now 0-2.
Even worse, his blue infantry attack scores heavily on my green goblin lizard riders. They exact revenge in battle back, however, but it looks like a third victory banner is in the making unless I stop this attack.
Using my Mounted Charge card, I attacked with both Lizard Rider units against the weakened blue infantry, and destroyed it. The score was now 1-2.
On the opposite flank my Red Cavalry had charged in an destroyed the weakened green archer unit, then in follow-up has weakened the blue swords on the end of the line. The score was now tied at 2-2, and things started looking less anxious again. But, I knew that the Lizard Riders on my left flank were easy pickings, if my opponent had another right flank card...
Which of course, he did. The score was now 2-3.
My opponent played a Foot Onslaught card and pressed forward with this battle line. Darn! My whole plan of using the red dragon to flame that line just disappeared. I had waited too long, doing too many other things, so the opportunity had passed.

It was at this point that a critical error occurred. The enemy blue swords attack the green archers and get two Flags (of course!). The green archer can ignore one flag, but it has to take the other. I mistakenly take a hit and battle back, but as you can see, a retreat path is actually open for him. In fact, he should have simply taken both flags, getting him out of that death trap. Ah well, the heat of the battle prevails...
In the end, that error cost me dearly, probably the game. Although it fought fiercely and killed two blue and 1 red in battle backs, it went down to the third attack and making the game a precarious 2-4.
I bring my red dragon back into play, set the red infantry alight (again with two tokens!) and land in the sweet spot. From there I can either breathe on the two cavalry and land back in the woods, or breathe on two infantry (red and blue) and land back in the woods.
Meanwhile, my two attacking blue infantry finish off the weakened enemy blue infantry at the end of the line. But not before he battles back hard, weakening my first attacking unit.

The score is now 3-4, and his weakened red infantry is alight with two Fire tokens.
My opponent is close to victory - two victory banners away - and clearly he can taste it. He launches his weakened blue unit against mine, killing it with help from the Leadership card. He Takes Ground, putting the unit out of reach of my red dragon and a breath attack!

The score is now 3-5 and the tension is palpable. (You know I just had to say that!)
I drew a brilliant card - Forward, my opponent's favorite - and I turtle up with my units on my left. This will force my opponent to play two cards (on average) to get his red infantry back into play.
Next, I set the cavalry on fire. I only got one Fire token on each, but that is four lore to put them out. As you can see in the picture, the red infantry is at 1 figure remaining, so he will be destroyed next turn, bringing the score up to 4-5. That means if I can destroy two weakened units this turn, that is game, and a victory to me. Considering I have been behind the entire game, that would be sweet.
And here are the two I need to kill, the blue swords and the green swords, both at two figures remaining.

Two dice from my green infantry against his green infantry is 11% to destroy the unit and 44% chance to get only one hit. If I get a retreat (31% chance) it would mean I won't win this turn.

Three dice from my blue infantry gives a 26% chance of wiping the unit out and a 44% chance of getting only a single hit.

I decide to risk it and attack with the green and the blue first, then let the red cavalry mop up the weakened units. As long as no one retreats, I could get them both right here.

That hurt. The green attack failed to score any damage, but brought my own unit down badly in battle back.

The blue attack weakened the enemy further, but in battle back I was forced to retreat, leaving my red cavalry out of support.

My red cavalry did finish off the blue swords, making the game 4-5, but in the Bonus Melee Attack the green swords held out. I was not going to win at the beginning of next turn. And with that green sword of mine at a very weakened state, he would be vulnerable, and likely to be destroyed, losing me the game.

At the start of the next turn the hapless red infantry goes up in smoke, bringing the game to 5-5.

Clearly my opponent had been saving up for this one. He later confided that he had been holding the Enchanted Mass Might since the beginning of the game. Combined with the Mounted Charge card, his units would be +2 battle dice in combat. Further, now that the cavalry were ordered, he could put out their fires. With the lore card and the removal of the Fire tokens it cost his 11 lore; exactly what he had. If only I had gotten two Fire tokens on at least one of them...

This was a great play and now he was going to be able to make a power move against me, with cavalry, much as I had done to him many times before. Payback is a pain...

He administers the coup de grĂ¢ce, ending the game 5-6. So close...
Summary

This was a good game although for me it never really felt close until the end. I always felt behind and on the defensive, which is something I try not to do. I prefer to act rather than react, and make my opponent address my game, rather than address his.

Sometimes, of course, you have to address when you are taking it on the chin, but it should be the minimum necessary if the section being played is not your strong one. The best example is when my green Goblin archers were unexpectedly reduced to 1 figure from a single salve from the enemy archers. I needed to shield them, but I only had one card on that flank, and it was for two orders. Rather than play as I did, I should have done what is shown in the picture.

When I played Blue Banners, I should have opened the line with the single unit moving one hex. This would have placed it away from the hill and outside of the one-move reach of the enemy red swords unit. I should have immediately followed up, as I did in the game, with the play of the Patrol Left card, allowing the green Goblin archers to duck into the rear, and the blue swords seal the line. From this position the green Goblin archers still serve a very useful purpose - they provide support for the green Goblin Lizard Riders.

Considering that my original plan was to essentially refuse that flank, my move aggressively forward was indefensible. It broke the line of support and allowed my opponent to use fewer cards to get his attacks. Granted, he had more than enough cards to attack with, but in the end it cost me three victory banners. It was this early action where the battle was lost. No matter what the subsequent rolls at the end, I cannot blame luck.

All in all it was a great game and my opponent played well. It was tense at the end and came down to who would make their die rolls. It made for a fun night.

If you want to try BattleLore on Vassal, or any other in the Command and Colors series, drop me an email.

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...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 2)

Continuing on with the battle from the last blog entry, I probably should have counted the casualties on each side first, as I was only one unit away from the Human-Elven (HE) side breaking...

The picture below shows where the crack appeared: the Human-Dwarven (HD) Knights charged into the HE battle line, each side lost a Knightly unit, and the game was over, 10-6 in favor of the Human-Dwarven side. (I seem to have lost the picture where I lost the ninth HE casualty...)


Here was the battlefield at the end of the game (click to enlarge).


Summary

I really liked using this method. So you have a few stacks of colored tokens around; it is not really messy and it makes for a happy medium between full control over every unit every turn, and the more random nature card draws.

So, what would I change? For starters, I was using a single leader with a Leadership Rating equal to the Command Rating. I did that for simplicity for the initial test; I think a Leadership Rating of 6 is way too high. Rather, I envision:
  • Using more leaders per side, each with a lower rating (2 or 3 is right; a 4 would be an exceptional leader).
  • Close proximity to a leader takes fewer orders than if the unit is far away.
  • Possibly special tactical abilities for leaders. (Something to explore as the system gets refined.)
An example of this would have been to provide two leaders per side, one Human and one allied (either Elven or Dwarven, depending upon the side). Each side would have a Command Rating of 6, but each leader would have a Leadership Rating of, say, 3.

The first question would be how to differentiate between "in close proximity of the leader" and not. The Battle of Westeros rules indicate that within two hexes of the leader unit another unit can be ordered as part of the leader's tactical card. As I am not (yet) using tactical cards, something similar might be that you can use a token to order the leader, and additional units can be ordered without using additional tokens.

For example, if the Elven leader - a Blue Cavalry unit - has a Leadership Rating of three, then for one Blue (or Purple) token, the leader and two other units (of any color) could be ordered. This would certainly encourage the use of leaders, for starters, and would amply show the price to be paid for ordering units scattered all over the board.

So, in the end, does all of this add to the game? I think so. I get to use my hexes (or hex mats), which I love because they regulate all measurements and don't reduce free-form games to micro-measurements (and the attendant arguments). I get to have larger board with more varied terrain (multiple elevation levels, for example). I can use much larger armies, and they allow my DBA miniatures to pull double duty. I still have resource management choices to make, although it is questionable that moving from cards to dice have made my games more or less dependent on chance. I feel like I have more control, but not too much. Pretty much just what I was looking for.

I look forward to trying this out again, especially against another player.

Monday, October 10, 2011

BattleLore on the Tabletop (Part 1)

In a previous blog entry I pondered how to bring the Command and Colors series of games to the tabletop. It is relatively easy, if you design a hex board of the appropriate size and divide it into three sections, per the standard rules. However, I wanted more of a free-form game system, similar to Battles of Westeros.

The basic system is to assign a certain number to each side, indicating the number of dice to roll, which in turn would indicate the number and type of units that could move that turn. (These number was called the Command Rating.) Unused dice could be saved and used in a future turn. This would allow you much greater freedom in which units could move, and in what part of the board, but there would still be a luck element representing the chaos of the battlefield.

That blog entry had some ideas about making groups of orders and changing the color of the dice, etc. and that was all well and good, but when I started to test it, I pitched it all out as it adding complexity (bookkeeping) while giving little advantage at all.

The second idea I had was to allow the player to either play the dice rolled or use tokens from the pool, but mechanically that failed miserably as I tried to sort out which token was this turn's and which was in the pool.

So, here are the basic rules:
  1. Roll the number of dice indicated by the Command Rating.
  2. For every Red banner rolled, take a Red token. Likewise Blue banners are exchanged for blue tokens, Green banners for green tokens, and Lore for purple tokens.
  3. Place all of your tokens into your Token Pool.
  4. You may then play up to your Leadership Rating in tokens, using red tokens to order a Red unit, blue tokens to order a Blue unit, a green token for a Green unit, and a purple token for any unit of your choice. (Note that in the Basic Game, your army's Command Rating and Leadership Rating are the same.)
  5. Now play out the turn just as you would had you played the appropriate card(s) to order the units.
So, the basic idea is roll dice to get colors, play colors as you see fit (and have tokens for) and have jolly good fun. So, let's test it out.

Humans and Elves versus Humans and Dwarves

Nothing like a good battle with Elves and Dwarves at each others' throats, except BattleLore does not really have Elves. Here are my rules for them:


UnitColorMoveBattleWeaponSpecial
SwordsBlueAs BlueAs BlueLong SwordAs weapon
SpearsBlueAs BlueAs BlueSpearAs weapon
BowsGreenAs Green2 if moved, 3 if stood 1Elven BowHits on Bonus if Ranged; range of 4
RidersGreenAs mounted GreenAs GreenJavelinRange 2, does not hit on Bonus
KnightsBlueAs mounted BlueAs BlueLong SwordAs weapon

1 During the test game I made them 2 dice, whether they moved or not. I decided later that they should be better when standing.

Click on the picture to the right to enlarge. The Humans/Dwarves (HD) are on the right (the Dwarves on the right flank, or the top of the picture) while the Humans/Elves (HE) are on the left of the picture (with the Elves on the left flank, opposite the Dwarves). There are about 25 units per side.

So, to start off the game, the HD commander rolls 6 dice, representing his Command Rating. The picture below shows the roll: Blue, Green, two Lore, and two Shield.

This converts to the four tokens shown below: 1 green, 1 blue, and 2 purple, allowing the HD side to move up to one Green unit, one Blue unit, and two units of any color.

I decided to play only a single blue token, and stored away the remainder for a future turn.

The HE commander rolls six dice (also with a Command Rating of 6), and gets a much better roll!

After a few turns of play, you see that a commander's piles of tokens start stacking up for a future turn. Here the HD player has three purple, 1 red, 1 blue, and 1 green saved. In a given turn the player can only play tokens equal to the Leadership Rating of their leaders. In this scenario, both sides have a single leader with a Leadership Rating of 6. (There will be further discussion on Leaders later.)

Finally, the first attack comes in. The Elven archers (on the left) take a shot at the left-most Dwarven unit, but misses. (The Dwarven unit is Blue.)

The Elves are the first to reach the summit, and they arrive in force, with two formations (each consisting of a Green Archers unit, a Blue Swords unit, and a Blue Spears unit), and an additional Archer unit. Facing them are two Dwarven Blue Sword units, and one Dwarven Red Sword unit (in the rear with the banner).

The Dwarves charge up the hill and score the first kill, taking out the Elven Swords. HD 1-0.

The second Elvish formation crashes into the Dwarves, and a Dwarven (Blue) Sword unit is defeated. HD tied at 1-1.

More Dwarves arrive on the hill to contest the summit and two Elven units go down. HD leading 3-1.

More Elven units arrive, including the Riders, which drive the Dwarven crossbows back across the hilltop. With the Dwarven Red Swords in play, things are looking grim for the Elves. (Of course, fighting from hill to hill is not generally the work of Red units, given that they only get three dice maximum.)

With the Riders attacking from the flanks, while the Elven Swords and Spears press from the front, the Dwarven units are starting to wear down.

But the Elven Swords are the first to fall! HD leading 4-1.

A lucky shot from the Elven Archers take out the Dwarven Blue Swords. HD still leading at 4-2.

The Elves drop back into a proper supported formation and pour fire into the Dwarves. The Dwarven Red Swords finally fall and it is 4-3, with the HD still leading.

The Dwarves keep throwing troops up the hill and enlist the aid of a Human Green Lancer unit to attack the rear of the Elven formation.

The Elven formation starts to crack and the last of the hand-to-hand fighters fall. The HD leads with 5-3.

The Elvish Riders flank the Human Green Lancers, but it is too late; an Elvish Archer unit falls while the other retreats down the hill. The HD leads 6-3.

The weakened Dwarven Sword unit is shot down by the Elven Archers, after the Elven Knights failed to run down the Dwarven Crossbows. HD still leading at 6-4.

Finally moving away from the struggle on the hill, the HE Knights sweep around the hill and crash into the HD Knights, supported by the Green Lancers. Very little in the way of casualties resulted.

The HD Knightly counter-charge, however, absolutely wrecks the HE Knightly formation. Not pictured is the HD crossbowmen firing into the flank of the HE Knights, which definitely helped matters along. HD now leads 8-4.

Surrounding the small remaining force of Dwarves on the hill with missiles, the Dwarven Crossbows finally go down in a hail of arrows and javelins. HD leads 8-5.

Intermission

I needed to stop, as I had a (face-to-face) game to go to and I needed a bit of a stretch, as I had been sitting down all morning. So, here is where the game was left off at.


As shown in the picture above (click to enlarge), the Human/Dwarves are on the right and the Human/Elves on the left. The Elves have largely been wiped out by the Dwarves, but those Dwarves on the hill are slowly falling to the superior missiles of the Elves.

In the center, the HE Knights were crushed by the HD Knights, but the HE forces have mustered swordsmen and archers to back up the remaining Knight while Knightly reinforcements are brought to the left.


The picture above shows a close-up of the Knightly clash in the center. KD forces are on the right. The picture below shows a close-up of the Dwarven-Elven clash on the hill. Only the two units in the center  are Dwarven.


So far it has been a very interesting game. Slow to develop, to be sure, but fun nonetheless. I think these rules lose nothing by allowing the player to pick and choose units from here and there all over the field, however there needs to be some incentive to having leaders, and to using orders to apply to groups. I'll explore that next time.

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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").