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.
Monday, December 24, 2012
I have not finished the battleboards for the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans yet, so we treated the Aztecs as Anglo-Danish and the Tlaxcalans as Welsh. I played the Aztecs and I found it very frustrating trying to close with the missile-heavy Tlaxcalans. Even when I got into melee, I often did not have enough "oomph!" to finish them off, so I felt very much the underdog. And the die rolling did not help. I could not get a rare symbol to save my life, early on. They Don was hitting like crazy (4 out of 4, 7 out of 8). Luckily, my Defence dice were working.
So, here is the game in comic panels. You can click any for a larger view.
This was a very interesting game in that it brought the special abilities of the factions much more into play than the first game. Don made frequent use of his ability to move through terrain at full speed, slow my movement, and to interrupt my activation and move during my turn (usually by peppering me with javelins). I started making use of the ability to cancel his activation, and to a lesser extent, putting up a shield wall against his fire.
The biggest play of the game, however, was when Don pushed a Warrior unit to pursue one of mine and took on two fatigue. I got a great Saga dice roll – the best I had all game – and I was able to play Trapped, which allowed me to add a fatigue to his unit, pushing it to Exhausted state, followed by Exhaustion, which eliminates two figures from an Exhausted unit. Don put on his grumpy face and said "I don't like that ability!". Took two rares and an uncommon dice to pull it off, however, and he had never had a unit within 1 Fatigue of exhaustion either, so it is going to be a rare event. But when you pull it off, it is sweet. Compare that to the Welsh abilities, which are basically firing every turn, wearing you down.
One thing I noticed is that Don did not use The Rising Out (activate all Levy and Warriors) or The Deadly Strike (lower the enemy Armour when shooting, and re-roll failed hits at the cost of one Fatigue and two common dice) as often as he could. I think that will change as he becomes more familiar with the abilities on the battleboard.
That said, I think the next game of Saga will be using his Bretonnians as Hundred Years War English and French. He has plenty of mounted Knights, medium infantry, and archers; I have a dismounted Knight unit or two to throw in. I am waiting for my plastic Fireforge Foot Sergeants to come in from On Military Matters. I will make at least 24 of them into crossbowmen.
Let me know if this format was a bit much, or did not display well. I tend to skip pictures of simple moves and only focus on those where shooting or melee occurs. I am also thinking of putting the red beads beside the figure before taking the photo and removing the figures and beads.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
What is it About?
The game introduction from the publisher is:
In the not so distant future, mankind will make a mysterious, giant technological leap forward, propelling the expanse of the human dominion into the far reaches of space, to a place dubbed Abaddon.
- an area of Hell.
- a place of chaos and destruction.
The air on Abaddon is thick, and physical laws are broken by frequent gravitational surges and other odd happenings. The landscape is a barren wasteland with traces of an earlier, much more advanced culture who, it is believed, has left behind crystalline objects, called Feronium; each containing a gargantuan source of energy. The discovery of Feronium by the first explorers spawned a mad rush to Abaddon, similar to the 49er's Gold Rush of Earth's early history. It was not long, however, before the demand for Feronium by Earth's Pure Energy Corporation became so great that collecting these power crystals became the number-one priority at a major corporation called the Commonwealth Alliance. The Alliance's exploration practices, however, often ignored the rights and claims of the original settlers and their governing council, called the Satellite City-States, which up to a point in time, was the sole exporter of crystals to Earth.
Utilizing bio-mech suits cobbled together from military material of the planet's former occupants, old exploratory and construction vehicles, and technological support from the home world, both sides engage in constant territorial feuds, all the while under the surveillance of a mysterious satellite system that both sides utilize and have come to refer to as "SkyEye". For almost a generation now, battles have raged on and for the men women of Abaddon: life is war ... war is hell ... and hell is Abaddon.From Board Game Geek, the following has been added:
At your disposal in Abaddon is a 28" x 19" battlefield game board with 32 highly-detailed mech figurines, 18 free-standing landscape terrain features, over 100 game-changing Wild Fire and Weapon System cards, dozens of tokens, battle dice and a Battle Manual containing over 15 mission scenarios. Choose your allegiance and lead your army in non-stop excitement as you forge through unforgiving terrain, fight to overcome random and bizarre technological glitches, and battle your enemies in never-ending war.
Abaddon is a furious, two-to-four-player game of futuristic combat. Each scenario is laid out on the customizable battlefield game board with each side using a varying number of units. The game is played in turns during which a player rolls his Activation Dice, allowing him to "activate" certain units and move them. These mechanical units – Links – are powered by Feronium power crystals, and as they take damage these crystals are depleted. A unit that runs out of crystals is unable to continue functioning and is considered destroyed.Combat is card- and dice-based. The attacker lays out his Weapon System cards, targeting defending enemy units. Once the attacker has laid out all of his planned attacks, the defender may defend with his own Weapon System cards. These cards can modify the dice rolls that are used to determine the results of the combat. Additionally, due to the experimental nature of the Links and the mysterious happenings in the Abaddon region, things can, and often will, go wrong. These malfunctions and odd happenings are represented by Wild Fire cards, the drawing of which can result in anything from possible shutdowns to anti-gravity surges.
Victory is determined based on stipulations presented by the chosen mission scenarios. Typically, victory is achieved by damaging and destroying your opponent's units by way of their power crystals. Each destroyed enemy crystal is worth one victory point, which players must collect in order to win.First, despite Board Game Geek listing it as such, Abaddon is not part of the Command and Colors family of games. (I put in a correction for that, so it may be in place by the time you read this.) It does not divide the board into sections, cards to not determine command and control, and the iconic dice with symbols are not used for combat resolution. (Okay, there is one exception in there.)
Like Battles of Westeros and my tabletop variant for Command and Colors that I tried some time back, Abaddon uses the iconic dice with symbols to determine which units are ordered. Every turn each player rolls five activation dice – each of which have one face each for Heavy Link, Medium Link, Recon Link, Infantry, Command, and Weapon Systems – to determine what types of units can be ordered and how many. You always roll five dice (a scenario may alter that), regardless of the number of units you have, or how many casualties you have taken. The Heavy Link, Medium Link, Recon Link, and Infantry faces indicate the four unit types (they are also color-coded). The Weapon Systems face indicates you draw a Weapon Systems card, which is used for combat resolution. The Command face allows you the choice of: activating a single unit of any type; drawing a Weapon Systems card; attack with a Doomsday Bolt card; or remove a Wild Fire Marker (i.e. a critical hit).
By the way, this game is played on a square grid, not hex. Movement and fire is orthogonal or diagonal. I don't know why people don't use a square grid more, but in Abaddon it plays a role in combat.
There are three basic types of combat: close combat, indirect ranged combat, and direct ranged combat. The last two types require the play of Weapon Systems cards. You get Weapon Sysems cards at the start of a scenario, by rolling the Weapon Systems face on activation dice, and as a special effect from other Weapon Systems and Wild Fire cards.
Close combat occurs whenever you are in an adjacent square to an enemy. Like Memoir '44 and BattleLore if you are in close combat range you cannot conduct ranged combat. Like most games, close combat can affect either side (i.e. either can lose). Close combat does not use a Weapon Systems card for combat resolution.
Indirect ranged combat occurs by playing special Weapon Systems cards. (It requires such a card.) Indirect ranged combat means you do not require line of sight to the enemy and the best result your target can expect is to block your attack; the target cannot harm the firer.
Direct ranged combat occurs when you play certain Weapon Systems cards and can draw line of sight to your enemy. (Again, it requires such a card.) Now the term "line of sight" does not have the same meaning in Abaddon that it does in most other games. The easiest way to imagine it is the same attack as a Queen in Chess: across left and right, straight up and down, and diagonally. Those attack lines may be blocked by friendly or enemy units, or terrain (hence the "line of sight" moniker). This is a critical concept; if you do not have your mech "lined up" with the target, you cannot fire directly, only indirectly. Like close combat, direct fire can result in either side losing, not just the defender.
Combat resolution is pretty simple. Each unit type is color-coded to not only its activation die face, but to the battle die it uses in combat. A Heavy Link (Mech) uses a D10, a Medium Link uses a D8, a Recon Link a D6, and Infantry a D6 (or 2D6, select the highest die, when in close combat). Each side rolls their battle die, adds a value indicated on the Weapon Systems card played, if any, and the highest score wins. The loser removes one power crystal (hit token) if beaten, two if their score was doubled.
One trump to the above is if either side rolls a natural '1'; it indicates that they have inflicted a Wild Fire (critical hit) on their opponent. In that case no winner or loser is determined and normal combat results are not applied. Instead, the one who rolled a '1' draws a Wild Fire card and plays it on the opposing unit. There are varying effects in the Wild Fire cards, some positive but most negative, and some on-going effects, but most a one-time effect. Examples are "throttle stuck" (can move one more square than normal), power drain (lose two crystals), power surge (add two crystals), anti-gravity surge (get pushed back to own baseline), etc.
Although game play is very easy – the core rules are only 10 pages of large print – the tactics are subtle. Most combat, direct ranged combat, requires you line up on a unit. That means that maneuvering into position is actually required, especially when you want to put fire on one unit from more than one of yours. Terrain's only function is to block movement and line of sight, so it is common to play hide and seek around terrain to limit the number of units that can get a bead on you.
Using my new method for reviewing rules, here are the ten aspects of the rules I rate. (I have now added Solo Suitability.)
Drama - do the rules create tension during play?
Abaddon has several chance elements and resources to manage, so it creates drama as pretty much all games do. However, even well-planned and -executed attacks fail due to the luck element. This tends to drag drama down to an average rating.
Abaddon rates 3 out of 5 in Drama.
Uncertainty - are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty in the game?
There are three primary mechanics that introduce uncertainty: the activation dice roll (what can I order?), the Weapon Systems card draw (what kind of combat can I perform and how favorable will they be?), and the battle die roll (do I win in combat?). The good thing is that the first two of those elements represent tactical decisions for the player, so the game is not wildly uncertain.
Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.
Engaging - do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?
The game is full of decisions for the player; it is very tactical. As indicated in the Uncertainty rating section two of the chance elements present the player with decisions on how to use the luck that has been rolled up. Do you use Weapon System cards for attack or defense or both? Do you stack activation dice on a unit to get multiple moves or do you spread them out amongst units? The biggest decision is the use of an activation die that rolls up Command; the most common decision is do you attempt to get a Weapon Systems card to increase your odds in combat or do you order another unit, which will cause you to burn Weapon Systems cards faster? Everyone will develop their own play style and it will come out in how much of a gambler you want to be.
Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Engaging.
Unobtrusiveness - do the rules get in the way?
Like most Richard Borg games, the rules are largely on the die faces and written on the cards. Terrain rules are non-existent. Much of the information on the Wild Fire cards is not contained anywhere but on the card itself, however. This has lead to three questions on the forums to verify whether our interpretations were correct. (They were.)
One slightly negative comment is that the three examples of play (diagrams) in the rules were all in error and had to be covered by an errata sheet, which was included in my game. Questions on the forum indicate that the errata was still not considered crystal clear.
Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness. This may go up or down by one point depending on what else crops up as I play more and apply all of the Wild Fire effects.
Heads Up - are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?
As indicated above, the rules are largely in the dice and cards, so really the challenge in the game is about remembering the turn and combat sequences (which must be strictly followed or the nuances of the game's design will be lost) and what choices you have when you roll Command on an activation die. Both of those will become second-nature with repeated play. Note that Abaddon does not include a quick reference sheet.
Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Heads Up.
Appropriately Flavored - do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?
Each unit has three basic ratings: move (in squares) per activation die; power (number of hits it can take before being destroyed); and battle (the type of die – D10, D8, or D6 – to roll in combat). Heavy Links move slow, can take a lot of hits, and hit harder. The lighter the unit, the faster it moves, but the less damage it can take and the less it inflicts. Infantry is the unit that breaks that model; it moves slow like a heavy, can take damage like a medium, and dishes damage like a light (except in close combat, where it is better).
The aspects of close combat and indirect combat (labeled Smart Bombs, Long Range Bombardment, and Doomsday Bolt) feel right. Hiding behind terrain and launching missiles at an unseen opponent has a good feel. The Target Lock – a square each player designates each turn as being "hot", and thus enjoys a bonus when combatting an enemy in that square – represents electronic support from SkyEye, and thus adds to the flavor. But, players may question two elements as being gamey, and thus dilutes the flavor: direct fire line of sight and terrain.
As indicated in the game overview, units attack directly the same as a Queen moves in Chess (only limited to five squares). Units and terrain can block that line or shorten it, but if you unit is not lined up on the target, it must fire indirectly (and thus with a less powerful and less commonly available Weapon Systems card). This gives it a very gamey feel, but I think most people who have commented on the forums have indicated that, once they understand how it works, they are okay with it. It makes the game more tactical and forces you to maneuver. So this is a mechanic that trades Appropriately Flavored for Engaging, and I am good with that trade-off.
Terrain simply makes a square impassable and blocks line of sight. For giant fighting robots, I do not have a problem with that. But not allowing infantry to occupy forests, villages, or cities? To me, that should be one more differentiator between infantry and mechs. Sounds like a house rule coming up...
Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored. It intentionally trades off flavor to make Abaddon a better and simpler game.
Scalable - can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or units used or in the number of players – from the 'standard game'?
As it stands the game is designed for two to four players, with scenarios included for all variations (but most scenarios are aimed at two players). The problem largely lies with the activation dice mechanic; you always roll five dice, regardless of the number of units in play. You could change this, but the game only comes with 10 activation dice, so you might need more than one set.
Abaddon rates 3 out of 5 for Scalable. It is designed for two players but can accommodate two more without trouble.
Lacks Fiddly Geometry - do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?
The game uses squares to regulate all measurements and units shoot 360°. There are rules to see if you can shoot between gaps when firing on the diagonal, but it is pretty straight-forward.
Abaddon rates 5 out of 5 in Lacks Fiddly Geometry. (Only grid-based games get a 5 from me!)
Tournament Tight™ Rules - are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the leave the player to 'fill in the blanks'?
The rules are designed, like most board games, to be clear and not requiring interpretation. I suspect that an FAQ will come about about how to interpret Wild Fire cards that have no corresponding rule in the rule book.
Abaddon rates 4 out of 5 in Tournament Tight Rules.
Solo Suitability - do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?
One key element in play is selecting a Weapon Systems card during direct fire combat. Both the active and inactive players get to play a card. The sequence is that the active player places all of his cards face down, indicating the target of the attack. The inactive player may then place a card on each target attacked directly. These cards have a target number, from one to eight, indicating the amount to be added to the battle die roll. In addition, there is a special Anti-Missile Missile card that completely negates the combat. Knowing whether to use that card is something the player must calculate with imperfect information.
In combats where more than one active unit is directly attacking the same enemy unit, that unit can only defend against one direct attack. So knowing which to defend against is also something the player must guess at.
These factors make playing Abaddon solo, without any modification to the rules, difficult.
Abaddon rates 2 out of 5 in Solo Suitability. It is not impossible, but because it has hidden elements important to game play, you lose some of that richness when playing solo.
Test Game of Abaddon
In order to learn the rules I played two games first. From that I could tell that I needed an opponent to experience the game fully. Being on vacation, I did not have many choices for an opponent.
|I bribe my wife with bread pudding|
|The Basic Game setup (minus the bread pudding!)|
It took about 10 minutes to explain the rules and go over the finer points with examples. I played the first few turns showing my cards to make explanations easier. My wife has played De Bellis Antiquitatus (DBA) and Ticket to Ride, but she is not a gaming aficionado by any stretch of the imagination. For her, this is "bonding".
The photo shows a turn where I have placed my Weapon Systems cards face down, showing who is attacking, with the arrows pointing at their targets (you must also verbally declare the targets). My wife is placing her Weapon Systems cards in defense.
|The Obligatory Action Shot|
|Rita tries a different strategy|
All in all I like Richard Borg designs and although this does not follow the same pattern as Command and Colors or Memoir '44, it is still a fun and challenging game. I bought it at a 60% discount, but had I played the game first, say a friend's copy or at a convention, I would have definitely purchased this game at full retail.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
I bought the Dux Bellorum rules and had read of them used for the Biblical period and thought about using the Aztecs for those rules, but I am not quite committed to them, at least in terms of basing. Of course there is also De Bellis Antiquitatus 3.0 (otherwise known as DBA), but who knows what Phil Barker is doing with the army lists. Maybe in another year I will be able to play the published version of those rules and army lists.
Finally, Saga came along, and me with no Dark Ages figures. I have enough figures for two armies (plus two DBA-sized armies) and it seems like the pre-Conquistador period lends itself nicely to these rules and game design. So I decide to mount up a few on single bases and give Saga a try (which I reported on in the last entry). I use the Aztecs as Vikings (a melee-oriented army) and the Tlaxcalan enemy as Welsh (a missile-oriented army). I am currently playing another game – finding all sorts of errors Don and I made in our first effort – but using the Aztecs as Anglo-Danish instead (the Tlaxcalans still as Welsh).
atlatl, is a Noble's weapon, largely because of the skill and extensive training that an atlatl requires.
I considered making an atlatl-fire javelin better than a Western javelin, as it had a longer range and more penetrating power. In the end, limiting it to the Hearthguard and the Warlord has the necessary effect; its shooting is more effective because of the thrower.
It is definitely my intention to make both Aztec and Tlaxcalan battle boards. The Tlaxcalans, being missile-oriented and with a large percentage of bows, will have a number of the abilities oriented towards their use. I started off by listing all of the current factions' (including the Byzantines and Arabs from Wargames Illustrated) abilities in a spreadsheet. This helps me understand what abilities exist, and what the 'price' (in terms of Saga dice) of each should be. So far I have come up with the following:
|Activation Pool||Orders||Roll two additional SAGA dice.||R|
|Attack Pool||Shooting||Gain one Attack die (or two Attack dice if the die discarded was R).||C or UC or R|
|Harassing Fire||Activation/Reaction||If an enemy unit is activated for movement and can be shot by one of your units, reduce its movement (from L to M, M to S, S to VS). You cannot reduce movement below VS.||C|
|Loose Arrows!||Activation||Activate all of your units for Shooting. No unit gains FATIGUE with this activation.||UC + R|
|Massed Volley||Orders||Until the end of your turn, the range of your missile weapons is doubled (i.e. bows to 2 x L, javelins to 2 x M, etc.).||UC|
|Aimed Volley||Shooting||Re-roll any Attack dice that failed to hit the target.||C + UC|
|Eye of the Eagle||Shooting||Gain three Attack dice (four Attack dice if a R die was discarded)||UC or R|
|Deadly Arrows||Shooting||Discard half the Attack dice your unit generates. Decrease the Armour value of the target by 2.||C or UC or R|
The Dice column uses C for the Common symbol (3 out of 6 faces on the die), UC for the Uncommon symbol (2 out of 6 faces on the die), and R for the Rare symbol (1 out of 6 faces on the die). "or" indicates that any one of the die list can be used while "+" indicates all of the dice listed must be used.
I still have four more abilities to come up with, so they probably be more melee-oriented, mostly so they won't simply be overrun in melee.
The Attack Pool ability, unlike so many others, is for Shooting only. This makes it weaker than other factions', but it still remains to be playtested. If I keep it restricted to Shooting only, I may elevate the number of Attack dice gained per Saga dice discarded.
The Harassing Fire ability specifically represents canceling an enemy unit's movement by peppering it with missile fire (or the threat of it being fired upon), hence the requirement that the unit be within range of a missile unit. Because of this latter requirement, the Saga die used for the ability is Common.
The Massed Volley ability is like several others, allowing long range for missile weapons, but extending to the javelin also. This might make javelin-armed Hearthguard too tough, so requires some playtesting.
The Aimed Volley ability, allowing the re-roll of Attack dice, is similar to others, but is limited to Shooting only.
The Eye of the Eagle ability is similar to many melee abilities, adding three or four attack dice, but is applied to shooting. Given the generally lower number of Attack dice generated by shooting, this may be too powerful. However, we always need to keep in mind that Defence dice (saving throws) are better against shooting than against melee.
Finally, the Deadly Arrows ability allows a unit to trade Attack dice for lowering the enemy's Armour value. Great in conjunction with the Eye of the Eagle and Attack Pool abilities.
As a note, the use of the word Arrow in an ability's name does not imply it works only with units armed with a bow. They work with all missile weapons unless specifically restricted in the ability's description.
Still have a way to go before I have some proper Mesoamerican factions to test, but I am making progress while I base up the figures I purchased. The pictures in this entry are of the Eagle Knights that I have touched up and put on 1" wooden discs (with magnets on the bottom). The javelins are made by Northstar (although I think they are supposed to be 15mm scale).
Sunday, December 09, 2012
What led me to Saga, after having ignored numerous articles in Battlegames and Wargames Illustrated, was a series of interviews on the The Historical Wargames Podcast. First let me say that this podcast is excellent, except for his musical interludes. Generally his sound quality is good, and the audio levels consistent. Something that cannot be said of a lot of podcasts out there, as I have been listening to a few of late.
In the two episodes on Saga, one with the game designer, they went into depth on what makes Saga unusual (and possibly unique amongst miniatures rules) with respect to the game mechanics. It largely boils down to one aspect that I really like: the game is full of player choices, and which choices you make has consequences.
Now, that is a pretty simplistic statement on face value. If I am playing Hail Caesar, for example, which unit I roll to activate first is a choice, and that choice has consequences, right? Yes, but Hail Caesar does not offer a choice that allows you to exchange risk for reward. This is why I like Ganesha Games' rules engine so well. The heart of the system is that you roll dice to allow a model to take action, but you (the player) determine whether you will roll one, two, or three dice. The more dice you roll, the more actions you might be able to take (if you are successful), but if you fail on two of those dice, your turn is over. So the player has the basic choice of how much risk they are willing to accept for each and every model's activation. Only need one action, but it is not critical if you get it? Roll one die; you will never fail twice (turn over). Need two successes where one will not do (such as when reloading a musket)? Roll two dice if you have good odds, but three dice to be "sure". Of course, you have now increased your chances of failure too. Saga provides these risk-to-reward choices throughout the game.
So, let's walk the rules, section-by-section.
Saga is a traditional IGO-UGO game where each players takes their actions in turn, with limited ability to react in your opponent's turn. I usually do not like IGO-UGO, but two factors alter the dynamics enough that it does not feel like a traditional IGO-UGO: reactions and weakened 'Alpha Strike'. We will discuss reactions (taking actions in your opponent's turn) later. By 'Alpha Strike', I mean the ability for a player to move up into range, fire on an opponent, then move into close combat range, all before the opponent normally has a chance to do anything. I say this is weakened in Saga because it is possible to do all of that; it just takes a lot of planning and luck and is not the norm. It pulls this off largely by changing one simple thing: there is no traditional Move-Fire-Melee turn sequence. When you take an action you essentially move or fire (there are exceptions, but few) and actions are executed unit-by-unit, not one side all at one time. Let's walk through how that happens.
This is actually a key concept: you can activate a unit more than once, thus allowing it to move, shoot, melee, etc. more than once per turn. Doing this comes at a price (a unit starts to get fatigued), but this is the way that you can make those powerful plays. Like rolling and getting three orders in Hail Caesar, all the sudden the unit can do a lot more actions all at once, which leads to surprises. The difference, however, is that it is not a simple, single die roll that you happened to get lucky at (like ordering in Hail Caesar), but is something you have to plan for. Also, as you are limited to the number of Saga dice that can be used in a single turn (eight), if you are using a lot of dice for one unit, you are taking away options from another unit. It is this management of limited resources that sets it apart from, say, Hail Caesar. With those rules it is possible that all of your units get a lucky roll and all get three orders; with Saga this is not possible as there is a limit for each turn.
The remaining boxes on the battle board are abilities allowed to your faction (which are Vikings, Anglo-Danish, Norman, and Welsh in the basic rules; supplements add even more). The Vikings have abilities to create powerful attacks and shake off fatigue, while the Welsh, for example, have abilities reflecting the 'hit-and-run' nature of their warfare. During the Orders Phase the player places dice on the battle board, allowing them to use those abilities either in their own turn, or in reaction to their opponent's actions during their turn. All of the dice are placed in this phase, and constitutes the battle plan that the player will have for that turn and their opponent's turn. This resource management and planning aspect definitely makes this a thinking man's game, and not just "let's push some lead and roll some dice".
Once you are finished allocating the dice, you execute the battle plan by spending the dice activating units and abilities. Generally it takes the form of spending one of the dice in the three main boxes (upper-left) and then activating an ability during a Shooting or Melee action. Some special abilities, however, allow you to activate one or more units and get some advantage in combat.
In the past I have played Warmachine and I can say that Saga is similar, as a set of miniatures rules. Warmachine combined miniatures with card playing (powering abilities and playing combinations) and Saga is the same in that respect. Saga is simpler in its management mechanics, however. You roll some number of Saga dice which provide resources in the form of symbols. You match the symbol rolled on the die to the symbol(s) on the battle board. When you have the correct number and type for an ability you can play it as indicated in the ability's description. In fact, the rules for the ability are printed right there on the battle board. No flipping through the rule book looking for the special abilities description (as with Flames of War, Warhammer 40K, and even my favorite Song of Drums and Shakos), or having them print out on your army sheet list.
Another innovative game mechanic is fatigue. Basically, fatigue represents physical exertion, stress, and anxiety. Get too many fatigue tokens and your unit becomes Exhausted, which basically means the only action you can take is to Rest (you to remove a single fatigue token for each Rest action). Fatigue are gained in a number of ways, but the basic ones are:
- Too much strenuous activity. If, in a single turn you Move twice, Shoot twice, Move and Shoot, or Shoot and Move, you will gain one fatigue for the second and each subsequent Move or Shoot action.
- Melee. Both sides gain a fatigue token at the end of melee.
- Scary stuff. If a friendly unit is wiped out within 4" of a unit, it gets a fatigue token.
Now, you might be thinking that this is just some dreary bookkeeping you have to do with the game to see when a unit is forced to rest. If the game designer had left the fatigue rules at that, you would be right. But, in Saga your unit's fatigue is used by your opponent, sort of like an ability. For each fatigue token used, your opponent can choose one of the following effects:
- Slow your unit's movement.
- Make your unit easier to hit in melee.
- Make the unit your unit is fighting in melee harder to hit.
- Make the unit your unit is shooting at harder to hit.
Now some of this may sound a little strange, but remember that fatigue represents physical exertion and combat stress.
- Your unit would be slowed in movement because it is tired, or it is reluctant to approach the enemy.
- Your unit is easier to be hit in melee because it is tired.
- Your unit has a harder time hitting mine in melee because it is tired, or it is holding back.
- Your unit has a harder time shooting mine because it is tired.
To me, this is one of the most innovative uses of bookkeeping I have seen in a while. All of these penalties make sense as it applies to fatigue and stress, but rather than simply making them always apply – e.g. if you have 1 FATIGUE you are -1 in combat, -2 at 2 or 3 FATIGUE, etc. – your opponent spends them as a limited resource. That choice of when to spend is yet one more decision that has consequences and tactical implications. I remember reading Brent Nosworthy and others about Napoleonic infantry combat and how the commander would judge when the opposing infantry was about to crack and thus it was time to lower bayonets and charge. The term often used was that the commander saw that the enemy line was 'wavering'. That might be noticed as a slackening of fire from the enemy or a loss of fire control, but something told the commander in his gut "now is the time to strike". This fatigue mechanic can create that same effect. You the player look at your Saga dice roll, the options on your battle board, and the fatigue level of your opponents as resources to be managed in order to develop a plan of battle.
These three areas: Saga dice, the battle boards, and the fatigue tokens, comprise the major game mechanics that distinguish Saga as a set of miniatures rules. I could go into the nitty gritty of movement, distances, how melee and shooting are handled, and how warbands are built, but these really aren't all that innovative (but the rules for them are clean, clear, and comprehensive). I can go into it if there is enough demand, but I think it is simpler to go onto The Miniatures Page and search on "saga" to find a review that will go into that level of detail.
Using the method for reviewing rules that I once talked about, here are the nine aspects of the rules I rate.
Drama - do the rules create tension during play?
The tension starts with the Saga dice roll at the start of every turn. Will you get the roll to get the resources you need? Will your opponent find some way to thwart your plan in a way you did not expect (by using fatigue in an unexpected way, for example, or triggering a special ability that can be used in reaction)? Saga rates 5 out of 5 in Drama.
Uncertainty - are there enough, or too many, elements that introduce uncertainty in the game?
The Saga dice provide the major element of uncertainty, but it is not overpowering. The player has ample choices and can typically move every unit every turn, if he so wishes. However, you are likely to be doing that at the expense of not using your special abilities.
Combat is very uncertain, however. Luck plays a strong roll in both melee and shooting. Lots of dice are rolled and units can, and will, be wiped out in a single combat. It does not always happen that way, but it happens often enough to mention it. Saga has a lot of thinking and maneuvering trying to get into position and get all of the abilities powered up and then can lead to one side committing to the attack and the game being over in a few turns.
I would rate the Uncertainty factor as 3 out of 5. It would be a 4 if combat were not quite so quick and deadly. (I understand why they made it that way, however).
Engaging - do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?
Absolutely. This is what Saga excels at. See all of the reasons above. 5 out of 5.
Unobtrusiveness - do the rules get in the way?
What follows is a battle report of the game Don and I played. I went over the rules with Don (who had not read, nor really heard of the game of than passing references on the WWPD podcast) in about 15 minutes and that was pretty comprehensive. Each section – orders, activation, movement, shooting, fatigue, and Warlord abilities – has a summary and it does a pretty good job of distilling the rules down to simple, explainable bullet points.
Mechanically, the steps to shooting and melee and listed out on the Quick Reference Card, and they are logical, meaning once you understand it, you will easily remember it without reference to the rules. The rules really are simple. They abstract a lot of details away that they just don't consider worthy of consideration.
For example, unit coherency. Rather than coming up with rules that specify what unit coherency is, when you can break it, and how you have to maintain it, Saga simply defines coherency and states you must maintain it always. You cannot take an action, such as removing a casualty or moving a figure too far, that will break it. You must always take a legal action that maintains coherency. Period. I like that.
I rate Saga 5 out of 5 on Unobtrusiveness.
Heads Up - are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?
Yes, the core mechanics and numbers (to hit, to save, etc.) are memorable. Although Don and I did refer to the QRS more than once a turn, once the action got hot and heavy, this was our first game. I will conservatively rate it as 4 out of 5 until I get more games under my belt. I think it will be referencing the battle board that will ensure Saga does not get a 5 rating.
Appropriately Flavored - do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?
Saga injects appropriate flavor in two ways: faction rules and battle board abilities.
Each faction has rules that largely affect how a warband is built (i.e. what it is armed with and whether it has mounted troops or not), but sometimes has special rules. An example would be that the Vikings can purchase a unit type, Berserkers, that are unlike other units in other faction. Another example is that the Welsh Warlord is armed with javelins, can be mounted or on foot, and wears less armor than other Warlords.
The battle boards define what special abilities can be played during the game. If you click on the Norman battle board image above (to see an enlarged view), you can easily get an idea of the 'flavor' of the Normans. The abilities Charge!, Terrified, Crush, Gallop, Stamping, and Pursuit all give bonuses to your charging Knights, which will form an important part of your warband. Abilities like Aimed Volley, Massed Volley, and Storm of Arrows indicate that Normans also have a significant ranged weapon component, which these abilities will boost. You can quickly get a sense of how to build a force, what play style would best be suited to a faction, by reading the battle board abilities. Want to play a brute force, melee-oriented infantry force? Don't pick the Normans then.
These two components define the very flavor in Saga. A number of people, being incurable 'rules tweakers' like me, have already started developing other faction rules and battle board not just for other Dark Ages forces, but for other periods like Napoleonics. Saga rates 5 out of 5 in the Appropriately Flavored rating.
Scalable - can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or units used or in the number of players – from the 'standard game'?
Saga starts you with a '4 point' game, runs through a '6 point' standard game, and goes up to an '8 point' game. There have been rules published for multi-player Saga, but I have neither read nor tried them, but I suspect that they will work "okay". The Rules As Written (RAW) limit you to a maximum of eight Saga dice to be used, per turn. You can change that number, of course, but the RAW do not suggest that. It intentionally sets an upper limit.
Largely this is due to the major component of the game: the battle board. As you can see in the Normans battle board, the boxes in the left column may be used any number of times per turn, but the boxes in the right two columns may only be used once per turn. Adding more dice will only cause you to hit that upper limit quicker. You could of course change that rule too, but now you are straying into uncharted territory where you are tweaking core elements of the game.
The game is intended to be played with between 25 and 75 figures per side. Reports from other say that the factions play differently at four, six, and eight points and thus you need to change your strategy a bit. But the reality is that the four point game is intended as a quick way to get started, until you can paint up your warband fully. Otherwise you play the standard six point game, or eight points when you have a larger board and more time.
So I rate it 3 out of 5 for Scalability. It does provide some variation, but like De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA), if you really want variation, but more armies, not more figures for your one army.
Fiddly Geometry - do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?
No. Movement is 6" for infantry and 12" for cavalry and can be in any direction. Figures fight and shoot in any direction. Figures in a unit have to stay within 2" of one another and have to stay further than 2" from the enemy, unless they are charging into melee. Every figure in contact, or within 2" of contact can fight in a melee and every figure within range (6", 12", and sometimes 24") and line of sight of at least one enemy figure can shoot.
Speaking of line of sight, that was an interesting rule. In our test game we had a woods and so the inevitable question of "can I shoot into the woods?" came up. So, do the figures have to be straddling the area terrain edge (a la Flames of War), within 2" of the edge (like many other rules), or can you only see through 6" of woods, but not in and out? Nope. You can see into area terrain, but not through it. Put another way, you can see infinitely throughout the woods, your vision just does not penetrate past the back edge of the area. I like it!
So, no small measurements and no angles whatsoever to consider, Saga rates 4 out of 5. (Only grid-based games get a 5 from me!)
Tournament Tight - are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the leave the player to 'fill in the blanks'?
If I am playing a set of rules solo, I can deal with games that require you to fill in those holes in the rules that the author intentionally left. The story is always the same: "we can't think of every possible situation you might get yourself into, so roll a die if you cannot agree amongst your mates." To me, that is a cop-out. It is not that I have to be told, that I cannot think for myself; I want to know what your intent was. If the rules are too "loosey-goosey" there really is no way to figure that out.
That is what led me to the attribution Tournament Tight™. Rules that are tournament tight do spell it out. Largely this is possible because they are not written on an exception basis, but it is sometimes that they simply spell it all out. DBA is a good example of rules that spell it all out (or at least try to). Phil Barker does that by using his words carefully and precisely. (Some people may not agree with the precision or definition of some of some of his terms, but for the most part most questions are answered if you simply read his rules carefully and deliberately. Most people do not want to do that, however.) The rules Drums and Shakos Large Battles takes the route of creating a game mechanic – the reaction – that eliminates the need to write large numbers of exceptions to the rules. Saga does it by abstracting away the detail that they (and I) feel does not really matter. Very basic, but effective rules with very few exceptions. Those exceptions they do have tend to be rather simple. Some of the interactions between abilities have had to be FAQ'ed, but so far it is all pretty clean. If they keep grinding out supplements and new rules, however, it could be a problem in the future because the interaction permutations quickly get out of hand.
Until I have more experience with the rules I will reserve 4 out of 5 for Saga. I think the rules are clean, concise, and basic and as long as they do not get into an escalation war of abilities as new supplements come out, they should stay out of trouble.
Test Game of Saga
Sorry, no pictures of the game, or even a map. That is not this kind of a battle report. First off, I don't have any miniatures of Dark Ages troops, much less singly based. So I was using my 25mm Aztecs and Tlaxcalans as Vikings and Welsh, respectively. (Yes, even before I played my first game of Saga, I was trying to make a variant for Aztecs! I just ran out of time and decided to use standard factions.) As I was basing them this weekend, and had not finished painting and flocking the bases, I was not inclined to photograph the game. On top of that the FLGS was running a Warmachine tournament today, so the only remaining table had a bright, white, dry-erase surface (must have been snowing in Mexico!), so I had even less incentive to photograph it. That is okay though. The goal was to learn the game and see where the reality of game play diverged from my impressions from reading the rules. I feel it is important to play the rules, at least once, before giving the final review on a set of rules. Sometimes something that seems insignificant in the rules becomes subtly important, and what seems like a big thing rarely comes into play or works differently than you thought.
Don and I started with starter four point armies. I was surprised when he chose the Welsh (Tlaxcalans), as they are more shooting oriented, over the Vikings (Aztecs), who are oriented towards getting stuck in and breaking some heads. His tendency to charge into close range combat in Memoir '44 apparently does not apply here!
Force selection in Saga is extremely simple. It is not like Flames of War where you agonize over whether to spend your last 10 points on upgrading your German Grenadier platoon commander to an SMG Panzerfaust team, or buying halftracks for your howitzer battery. For one point you get either 4 Hearthguard (elites), 8 Warriors (standard), or 12 Levies (poor). Your faction notes will tell you if you have any options, such as Levy troops can be armed with slings or javelins, or your Hearthguard can be mounted or on foot. You really have very few options here.
I chose 4 Hearthguard (Eagle Knights), 16 Warriors, and 12 Levy (with slings), along with my Warlord (which is free). Don chose 4 Hearthguard (Coyote Knights), 24 Warriors (16 with javelins), and the Warlord. I gave Don the choice equipping his Warriors with melee weapons or javelins, even though the Welsh do not have that option, largely because of the mix of figures I had based, but also because I thought an all-javelin army would get wiped. (Again, playing a game does wonders for checking those assumptions!)
The board was simple, basically hills on each flank on the centerline and a woods offset from the center. This had the effect of creating a nasty choke point in the center of the table. Terrain is classed as either open ground, uneven ground, or impassable. Open ground has no effect on movement while uneven ground slows movement from 6" to 4" (12" to 4" for mounted troops). In addition, terrain could be rated as low or high, with high terrain blocking line of sight for ranged weapons. The woods and hills were rated as uneven ground, and the woods and second contours of the hills were rated as high.
When you setup your forces you create units of 4 to 12 figures each. Each unit must all be of the same type – Hearthguard, Warriors, or Levy – and must be armed with the same weapon. The Warlord is a unit unto itself; it does not 'attach' to other units. So, even though you get 12 Levy for a point, you can still divide them up into more than one unit. Same with Warriors and Hearthguard; you can divide or merge points purchased as long as the units are between 4 and 12 figures each, and each unit has only one type and one weapon.
The number of units you have is pretty important. Each non-Levy unit generates one Saga die to roll each turn, with the Warlord generating two dice. As I had one Hearthguard and two Warrior units, I started with a total of five Saga dice. (Remember, my Levy units do not generate Saga dice.) Don had one Hearthguard and three Warrior units, thus he started with six Saga dice to roll each turn. I intentionally created this disparity in dice rolled, as I wanted to see how great the effect would be on the game. In addition, I split my Levy into two units of six figures, so I had six maneuver units but only five dice per turn, while Don had six dice for five units. I wanted to see what impact this also had. Would quantity have a quality all of its own?
The game started off rather placidly. We really weren't sure what abilities to 'power up', so we both wasted a few dice in the opening moves. As I was dice hungry, I tended to simply allocate dice towards activating units, to try and keep everyone moving forward. Don, on the other hand, could afford to apply dice to abilities and still keep everyone moving.
The interesting dilemma my army faced is that javelin-armed troops can move and shoot in a single activation. As a basic infantry move is 6" and the range of a javelin is 6" I really wanted to keep my troops out of javelin range until I was ready to charge in. But to charge in from outside of javelin range meant that I would have to move twice, taking two precious activations and incurring fatigue. Don's troops would move into 6" range and fire and if I did not have the ability to charge in next turn, or worse, I was moving through uneven ground (which slows your movement to 4"), he could stand off at 6" and keep peppering me with javelins every turn. So ultimately Don was controlling the pace and place of the battles. When he moved in I had to respond, either by backing away or charging in. I could not simply not respond.
The Welsh have some special abilities with regards to uneven ground. One is there ability to (cheaply, in terms of Saga dice costs) ignore its movement deductions. Another is that it can fight better if the battle takes place in uneven ground. Because of this my gut reaction was to avoid uneven ground, especially the woods. Ironically, the woods afforded more protection to me, in terms of restricting missiles coming at me and providing me cover, that I finally realized that I wanted to be in the woods, not out. Unfortunately, I realized that just a bit too late.
Don moved a Warrior unit forward, forcing me to charge the unit up into melee. It then proceeded to get whacked. (My saving throws really were bad though!) He would send up another and it would all repeat. The Welsh have some really good combinations in their favor and, to be honest, I thought I was going to be playing them as I thought Don would want the Vikings, so I had thought more about how to play the Welsh than the Vikings. I suppose, in the end it was more fair this way. Don had not studied either, so for me to get the one I had not studied put us more on a level playing field.
As you may have guessed by now, I got spanked hard. I sent unit after unit and simply got crushed in melee. After losing two units (down to one figure each, actually) things started to go my way, primarily because I got into the woods and had my Warlord lead a Warrior unit in a well-planned and executed charge against his Warrior unit. I wiped the entire unit (8 figures) out in a single round. I was able to activate three abilities and rolled 15 dice in attack, 10 of which could re-roll misses.
I the end I lost because Don's Warlord attacked mine and got the two hits necessary that I could not save. All in all it was an enjoyable game and Don said we needed to try it again so we could make a better assessment of the rules. As usual, I think I liked the rules better than Don, but who knows. There was a little interest from others in the FLGS, but it is hard to grab attention from people who are playing in a tournament. By definition, they are pretty committed to their rules. Saga hits all of the sweet spots for me, so I already went and bought the two supplements that are out, along with some of the special, expensive, completely unnecessary, but cool-looking dice.
Wally Simon's Books
Reader Shaun Travers, of Shaun's Wargaming with Miniatures blog, asked about Wally Simon's books, Secrets of Wargame Design (Vols 1 and 2), which I mentioned in my last blog post. He asks: "What do you think of the Wally Simon's books? I have been tempted numerous times over the last few months to get the first, and then the second when it came out. Just a hint will do – do they look interesting?"
I wondered the same thing too. I used to subscribe to MagWeb (or rather I was a member until it folded) and I read many of Wally's articles from the old The Courier, PW Review, and MWAN magazines. I loved them. Wally was a guy after my own heart. He loved game mechanics are analyzed them. Rather opinionated and vocal about what worked and what didn't too. If you have read my mention of "Gotcha' Gaming" that was a term Wally Simon coined; they call it "Alpha Strike" now and it is epitomized by the rules Warhammer 40K and Flames of War.
Wally was an experimenter and, like me, his writing was more like tapping into his thought process. He wrote as he thought things through. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't. The book is full of his articles just like that. Given that you analyze game mechanics and write your own rules Shaun, I really think you will like it. If you want to stick a toe in the water, get the December 2012 issue of Miniature Wargames, which you can buy as a digital edition at Exact Editions, or the paper version from Atlantic Publishers. There is an article in there, straight out of Volume 1 called "Revolutionary Morale", that will give you a really good idea of what is in there. In fact, I think that is one of the better pieces in Volume 1, but not the only one, by far.
My one caveat is that I know shipping to Australia is a bit expensive, so the price per page may be a bit much for what is essentially recycled material. But my understanding is that this these volumes contain material only from PW Review, which Russ Lockhart owns the rights to. So Wally's articles in MWAN and The Courier can still be obtained, in PDF form, from Wargame Vault.
Saturday, December 08, 2012
So what have I been churning over the last month or so?
- Bolt Action
- Square Bashing
- DBA 3.0
- My company-level WW II rules
- One More Volley (a Sixty-One Sixty-Five derivative for the AWI)
- In the Emperor's Name
- Richard Borg's new Abaddon
- Napoleon's Triumph
- And even a little Flames of War
- With Musket and Tomahawk (Vols I and II)
- The Great Chevauchee
- Aztec Warrior (I bought a large collection of 450+ 25mm Aztecs and now I have to do something with them)
- Hardwired (I was thinking about making a cyberpunk-style game)
- Wally Simon's Secrets of Game Design (Vols 1 and 2)
I needed to get the Wooden Warriors out and play a game – I took a lot of pictures – and I started a "comic" of the game and the rules that go with the narrative, but the rules did not quite work out (I kept changing them from turn to turn as I thought of new ideas and rejected others). I may still post the pictures without any narrative about the rules themselves as the battle was rather humorous and putting out all of those wooden 40mm soldiers does look impressive (at least to me).
I hope to knock out a mini-review of both Bolt Action and Saga here soon. My main emphasis will not be to describe every aspect of the rules – you can find a lot of reviews out there on both – but to zoom in on several specific game mechanics and discuss them.
I have also been painting quite a bit. I knocked out six 28mm WW II US paratroopers (I was trying to see if I wanted to do it or send them out to be painted), 6mm Franco-Prussian War units, 40mm wooden Napoleonics, and 6mm Space Marines, Orks, and Chaos Space Marines. I might have done an odd Dark Ages and Modern Africa figure or too in there also...
Right now my wife is eye-balling my Aztec purchase, and as I am currently enamored with Saga, I am definitely looking to make Aztec and Chichimec factions, base the figures for the two forces, and then really exercise the game. My first thought was to use them with Dux Bellorum (did I forget to mention those rules too?), but I am still holding off until DBA 3.0 ships. Once they do, I can take my remaining figures (after building the Saga forces), build to the official DBA army lists, and then use them for both rule sets.
So why some of these rules? Well Bolt Action and Saga are pretty easy to explain. Both have been hyped tremendously and have received a fair amount of praise in reviews (Bolt Action less so, however) and both are aimed at letting the gamer get involved for about 25 to 75 figures per side. I am increasingly finding myself enamored with that size of "commitment" for larger scale figures. (I allow for a lot more figures when it is 6mm, although most games end up at about 12 to 24 bases per side, unless I am using very few figures per base.)
For Bolt Action it helps that I have been collecting painted 28mm WW II figures for years – no, more than a decade – and have yet to really find a set of rules that I like. (Both NUTS! and Flying Lead are okay, but I cannot get many others to play either of them.) Of course, my WW II collection is a bit "random", as I bought well-painted troops here and there as I spotted them on TMP or eBay. I do have some unpainted figures to try and fill in some holes, but at this point I can easily field a German Grenadier list and make a dent in providing a US Airborne list (with no goodies).
I still want to blow off the dust from my AWI and game with them. I pulled them out a week or so ago, but ended up putting them back in the box as I still had not solidified my ideas with One More Volley. I am getting closer now.
Well that is the news from Rancho Spazzo. I hope to start posting the mini-reviews and battle reports soon.
Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Thanks to Black Smoke of The Colour of War blog for nominating me. His comments about the blog were "Lots of Flames of War and Commands and Colors thoughts and analysis. Definitely worth a read if you're into either of these systems." I have to smile because the notification was posted in a comment on an entry about using my Flames of War figures for another game. Maybe I will get back to Flames of War someday. I keep buying the books ...
So, on with the ceremony!
- Copy and paste the award on your blog, linking it to the blogger who has given it to you.
- Pass the award to your top five favorite blogs with fewer than 200 followers by leaving a comment on one of their blog posts to notify them that they have won the award and list them on your own blog.
- Sit back and bask in that warm fuzzy feeling that comes with knowing that you have just made someone's day.
- There is no obligation to pass this onto anyone else but it is nice if you do.
- Chicago Skirmish Wargames - Skirmish gaming, par excellence! Great photos of people having fun without masses of figures. I snap some scenario ideas from there every so often.
- Drums and Shakos - Game designer Sergio Laliscia's blog has information on some of my favorite rules. I am also waiting for more sneak peeks on his new games.
- Grand Scale Wargaming - Lots of lovely pictures of medieval armies and using the mass of smaller scale to get, well, wargaming in a grand scale!
- Sean's Wargames Corner - I find a good bit of humor and a few ideas on tools to use and things to try on his blog.
- Shaun's Wargaming with Miniatures - The King of Ancients Wargaming, and Chief Reviewer of Ancients rules. I like his analysis and map drawers.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
All I have worked on so far is infantry (small arms) fire, light anti-tank weapons, direct fire for mortars, and halftracks. With that started, I decided to throw the miniatures on the table and give the rules a try, to see where the problems are.
I decided to choose a small area – 9 squares wide by 7 squares deep (36" x 28") – with a simple objective: attack an enemy platoon dug in defense. Mind you, this game is not intended to be fair (it is one platoon attacking another platoon dug in, with no points advantage), nor is this an example of how to properly attack or defend in this situation. The goal was to get as much engaged as possible, looking at the interactions, and seeing if they "felt" right. With the excuses for my poor play out of the way, I present "Defense of Hill 327". (You can click on any image to see a larger, 800x600 pixel version.)
Some changes from Flames of War that I allowed (or at least, some changes from the way I remember how they played):
- Infantry units on hills can fire over infantry units as long as the target unit is farther from the intervening unit than the firer is from the intervening unit.
- Anti-tank guns can fire over intervening infantry units that are dug-in or gone to ground.
- Infantry count vehicles as concealment if either are moving, but as cover and concealment if both are stationary or if the vehicle is destroyed and in the same square.
- MGs on halftracks (actually any open-topped vehicle's hull MG or co-axial MG, or any vehicle's AA MG) are subject to the effects of pinning, lowering their dice from 3 to 2 if pinned (while a .50 caliber MG would be lowered from 4 dice to 2).
- A vehicle being destroyed in the same square as an infantry unit adds a (single) pin marker to it. The same applies to gun teams. (By default, unless a weapon indicates a separate ROF value when pinned, a weapon has an ROF of 1 when pinned. If it has a base ROF of 1, it cannot fire when pinned.)
- A weapon with an ROF of 1 cannot fire on the move or when pinned. An exception would be if the weapon had stabilizers.
- All infantry units in a square are hit by enemy units firing on that square. These hits are rolled separately, however. For example, if an LMG fires on a square with two infantry units in it, it would roll five dice separately against each unit. If the square is mixed – infantry and armored vehicles – the firer must state whether they are firing anti-personnel or anti-tank rounds. In that case the opposite unit type is not affected (i.e. anti-tank rounds do not affect infantry, etc.).
One thing I like about these rules are that it is easier to see historical tactics in use. You can provide covering fire from some elements in an attempt to lay pin markers on enemy that might be able to sight your moving elements. It will not stop the enemy's fire, but it will generally restrict it.
I also liked ignoring the marginal cases, such as whether an MG or rifle could affect a halftrack. In Flames of War the infantry has an anti-tank value of '2', while a halftrack's armor rating is a '1'. So on a hit, if the halftrack rolled a '1' and the infantry rolled a '6' (1 chance in 36), the halftrack would have to bail out. In my rules I simply rate a rifle and an MG as unable to affect the halftrack at all. By the same token, a 37mm anti-tank gun has an anti-tank value of '7', meaning if it hits the halftrack must roll a '6' followed by the anti-tank gun rolling a '3' or less for the hit to not penetrate the halftrack; all other hits result in it being destroyed 50% or bailed out 50% of the time. I simplify this by giving the halftrack a simple save of 16%, per hit taken. (In addition, it takes a pin marker for each hit, if not destroyed.)
I have a lot of work remaining, however. Artillery bombardments are next and armored combat will be the big hurdle. I will keep reporting here as I make changes and progress.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
A bit of things have gone on since the last blog entry, but not much to report. I have been gaming a bit, but it has all been solo, and even that has not produced any material for my Solo Battles blog.
I have been on purchasing overload – much to the "chagrin" of my wife, considering that I am currently still living on the pay-out from my last employer – and to be honest, it has not been possible to absorb them all. I liked the sound of Bolt Action, but before the book made it to my mail box several at the gang of The Miniatures Page seemed to have panned it. I started to listen to the WWPD podcast where they interviewed Rick Priestly, but to be honest, I could not get through it, it was so boring. Then I started listening to the Bolt Action (WWPD) podcast, and it was also boring. So, the book sat unread; I only looked at the pictures.
Now, that may all sound bad, but I got to a point where I was backed up in listening to podcasts, so I started rolling them while painting (some French Napoleonic Carabiniers, which has not hit the Wooden Warriors blog yet) and I accidentally hit the WWPD podcast with the Rick Priestly interview again (I had listened to the original on the new WWPD iPad application) and as I was on a roll with painting I simply let it run on. Turns out that the interview had a good nugget of information about Bolt Action at the end of it. I then hit the second episode of the Bolt Action podcast and it was much better. So much so that I decided it might be better to ignore the detractors and try it myself. Maybe that will come along soon.
Other purchases include Saga (impulse buy), Napoleon's Triumph (I have wanted that board game for awhile), and Volume One and Volume Two of Wally Simon's Secrets of Wargame Design. I have mentioned Wally Simon's game design ideas before in this blog because philosophically we agree on what makes a fun game. Here is an excerpt from the first volume – the opening paragraph in fact – that gives you an idea of what I mean:
I am an admittedly unadulterated, pure-bred gamer – as opposed to a war-gaming simulationist (one who stands at table-side and actually imagines he's re-creating what went on the battlefield a hundred or thousand years ago). My interests lie in the gaming procedures and trying to furnish the participants with a number of decision points throughout the battle … at least enough to keep them awake.What really sold me on purchasing these books was an article in Miniature Wargames magazine, Issue 356, called Revolutionary Morale, which is an "article" within the first book. Great ideas are in there, so I figured why not get the whole package from On Military Matters? I have a few of the articles listed in those books – I used to subscribe to MagWeb, which had old copies of the PW Review and MWAN magazines where most of these articles first appeared – but many I read at all. Expect to see some ideas of Wally's come out here in my own designs.
Speaking of which …
More on the Company-level WW II Rules
I decided to start incorporating Wally's ideas in the turn sequence. I dislike those IGO-UGO games where the turn sequence has A move and fire everything before B can do anything. Wally called this "Gotcha' Gaming" and the new name is "the Alpha Strike". Games like Warhammer 40,000 and Flames of War are clear examples of this (despite WH40K adding overwatch and FOW having defensive fire at the start of assaults). So, the draft turn sequence will be:
- Attacker's Phase
- Attacker rallies off Pin markers.
- Attacker determines who obeys orders.
- Attacker conducts bombardment.
- Attacker conducts covering fire.
- Attacker moves.
- Defender conducts fire.
- Attacker conducts moving fire.
- Attacker conducts assaults.
- Defender's Phase
- … reverse of Attacker's Phase …
I actually did play a test game – no pictures of the game in progress, sorry – and found out that it was off mathematically. I expected that of course, but fortunately do not have to change my dice (maybe just add some icons). By the way, the dice I made are shown below.
And my board. I just added some "+" marks to the game mat I use (a micro fleece blanket).
The game went way too fast, which is what convinced me that the math is off. I want a faster game, but not 2-3 turns!
One concept from Bolt Action that I am stealing is the concept of multiple pin markers (i.e. tracking hits) and having that as a modifier to the unit being able to act. (By the way, they are not the first rules to use that concept, just the most recent.) So each hit adds a pin marker and each pin marker requires the roll of a morale die, all of which must be passed in order to act. (In the case of defensive fire, the unit failing the morale die roll uses its pinned firing rate of fire.) The draft morale die is shown below (three stripes equals a veteran, two for trained, and one for a conscript unit).
So, as an example of how this might all work is as follows. An HMG team conducts covering fire on an infantry team, rolling six "anti-personnel" firing dice. This results in three hits, so three pin markers are placed on the infantry team. The infantry is allowed three "anti-personnel" saving dice and obtains an amazing three saves! When the chance comes for the defender to conduct fire the infantry team has to roll three morale dice – one for each pin marker – and all have to be passed in order for the unit to fire. As the unit is veteran it basically has 67% to pass on any single die. Passing on all three dice means they have about a 30% chance to pass on all three. (Please note that this is rather an exceptional example, as the unit passed three saves in the first place, where only one would be the norm, unless the unit were in cover in which case each die would have about an 83% chance for a save.)
If this sounds pretty deadly, it should. We are talking about an HMG firing at an infantry unit in the open. A rifle team firing at a rifle team has about a 50% chance of getting a single hit, and there being a 16% chance for a save (33% for a veteran). Yes, this casualty rate is higher than Flames of War, but I am okay with that for now. This will force people to use more cover, concealment (hiding behind vehicles or in smoke), and covering fire.
I am hoping to get in a test game that is publishable soon. Now that I have the basic firing and saving dice made, all I need left are the morale and skill dice.
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- Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
- I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. 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").