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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Updated Tlaxcaltec Battleboard for Saga

Tlaxcaltec Battleboard
I have updated the Tlaxcaltec battleboard and created a faction rule page for Saga. I dropped the concept of modeling the warrior units as two separate units, one melee and one bow-armed. Now they are a sort of "super Warrior" unit that fights as well as any Warrior unit in melee, but can also fire bows. In order to keep in line with the Saga design philosophy – where each advantage has to be countered by an equal disadvantage – the bows cannot be fired on the move. (I admit that it is not much of a disadvantage, as no moving fire is still better than no fire, but this is a draft.)

To replace the Saga ability that supported the old warrior model, the Welsh Taunting ability was added. Seems like a dangerous sort of ability for the Tlaxcaltecs, but Ralph suggested that they use it to draw units into bow range, rather than onto Uneven Ground, which is the Welsh tactic.

The Tlaxcaltecs now have their version of the Cuachiqueh, so Berserkers for everyone!

The other difference from the Aztecs is the lack of atlatl. As that weapon is tied to a Saga ability, giving them the weapon meant giving up an ability. Overall, I think it is easier just to forego the atlatl for the Tlaxcaltecs as the Warriors and Levy are all missile-armed.

I think the Tlaxcaltecs will do pretty well. Although the Aztec battleboard is pretty focused (its theme is that it inflicts FATIGUE), the Tlaxcaltec board is designed to inflict casualties at range. So like the classic battles Don and I used to play with Welsh versus Anglo-Danes, one side strives to stay at range while the other side strives to get stuck in. If the former can inflict enough damage before the latter inevitably close the gap, they will probably win.

I am looking forward to trying out these new boards. First, however, I have a "normal" Dark Ages Norman versus Vikings game to umpire first.

Tlaxcaltec Faction Rules
If you have any questions regarding the battleboards or faction rules, feel free to comment or join the Mesoamerican Saga forum and post.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Updated Aztec Battleboard for Saga

Aztec Battleboard
 I have updated the battleboard for the Aztec faction, including a separate rules page, so you can print it double-sided. I decided to remove the Tomahawk Studios background, as someone suggested that people might find it confusing when this is an unofficial, fan-made variant, but also because this is less ink intensive for printing out. I may come up with a true ink-saving version once everything has been shaken out.

There are no changes to the Saga abilities; I think they worked out well in my test games, although they can always use more testing. The real addition to this version are the Cuachiqueh rules. These are a new unit type, basically an upgraded version of the Hearthguard. like the Irish Curaidh. The difference is that I made the Cuachiqueh two figures for 1 point, rather than buying 4 Hearthguard, designating two as this special unit type, then trying to balance advantages and disadvantages to justify the point cost. Personally, I think they did it wrong for the Irish, and if I were playing them, I would definitely buy the Curaidh as I believe they are under-costed.

After long discussions on the Mesoamerican Saga forum, I decided to keep the atlatl weapon as a "super javelin" rather than try to model it as a pilum (a pre-melee weapon), or as both. I have been reading more about the period, including Hassig's Aztec Warfare: Imperial Expansion and Political Control and Castillo's The Memoirs of the Conquistador Bernal Diaz del Castillo, Vol 1 (of 2) Written by Himself Containing a True and Full Account of the Discovery and Conquest of Mexico and New Spain. (The latter book is free on Kindle. There are free Kindle readers for the Mac, PC, iOS, and Android.) So far neither has given a really good impression about how the weapon was used, just that it had good penetrative powers. So "super javelin" it is, despite this You Tube video on atlatl versus steel armor.

My biggest problem, at the moment, is coming up with a new Saga ability for the Tlaxcaltec faction. I took out the Shielded Volley ability, which emulated the way Tomahawk Studios modeled shielded archer units for the Byzantines. Personally, I don't think that the model works, at least not for the combination of abilities I gave the Tlaxcaltec. So I scrapped that ability and am in search for a new replacement. Unfortunately, I have not really hit upon anything in Hassig's book about them, so it looks like it will just be something from the pool of abilities already out there that "fits". If you have any ideas, let me know.

Aztec Faction Rules
So that battleboard is already changed to the new style, including a rules page, but I am not going to publish it until I figure out what the new ability will be.

Ralph sent me some clarifications on his Bolas ability for the Inca faction, so I will update that and may re-publish soon, assuming all of the kinks are ironed out. I think there are more.

It turns out that there are some players in Mexico that are trying out these battleboards, or some variation of them. The more feedback, the better. Unfortunately no pictures or battle report, but it sounded like it was a game between the Aztecs and the Anglo-Saxons. (Who knew?) The good thing it that it did not seem that the Aztecs were over-powered compared to the Old World factions. Although I never expect these factions will be allowed in a tournament – they are starting to ban the use of banners, and those are official rules from an expansion – it is still good to hear that they play well with others.

Historical Gaming Night

The local gaming club wants to get something going for historical gaming – the idea is for one person to host a game, providing (or arranging for) the figures, terrain, etc. and doing the setup so that the other players can just roll in and start rolling dice – so we are going to give Saga a whirl as the first hosted game. I just bought a painted collection of "Vikings" (120 foot and 10 mounted) and started re-basing them on Saturday. I intend to take before and after pictures as I touch up the figures. (They are what you would call "wargaming standard" paint jobs for most of the figures, although some are pretty nice, especially the mounted.) Don has been collecting Normans, so the game will probably be those against a band of Vikings. As this is the first game for another local player (I will be refereeing, looking up rules, and generally keeping things moving) we will be keeping the forces to four points and I figured the Vikings are pretty straight forward to play.

As Don has never played the Normans, I think it will be an interesting challenge for him, despite the fact that he has more Saga games under his belt than his opponent. Normans have the inherent conflict of being half shooting army, half mounted melee. The goal will be to commit the mounted troops early enough to make an impact, but not so early that the missile troops have not softened up the enemy sufficiently. I cannot think of any worse result than throwing in the Knights and getting beaten up so badly that you feel compelled to retreat the unit for fear of losing a Saga die. Although the Knights may utterly crush their opponents, if the result is an exchange of your unit versus his, you have probably gotten the worst of the exchange.

I'll have to read the Norman battleboard, but I think it is as "conflicted" as the army composition is. If I recall correctly, it has both shooting abilities and mounted charging abilities. Personally I prefer abilities that can be applied to as many units as possible. So a board full of abilities that apply only to specific units is, in my mind, hard to play. The Vikings are relatively straight-forward. Their theme is to shed fatigue, so that is useful for most any unit they would have.

New 6mm Science Fiction Miniatures

Unfortunately, I was scheduled to paint the new Abominations from Onslaught Miniatures this weekend, but the preparation for the Saga game (which was originally scheduled for tonight) and Round 1 of the BattleLore tournament Finals took up all my time. I did get one figure completely painted (waiting for basing), and one of each of the others started. (I usually paint one figure completely in order to get an idea of what something will look like, and to help me decide what order to lay the colors down onto a figure.) The figures are very easy to paint, as the details are sufficiently raised or etched, and clearly visible once primed. Running a brush along a detail is usually sufficient to pick it out neatly.

Basically the Abominations are similar to the old Genestealer Cult Hybrids. Some figures have two arms, some three, and some four. Some of the arms have fingers on the hands while others have claws similar to their Prowler figures. I hope to get pictures up later this week, along with size comparisons.

In the meantime I "discovered" another line of 6mm science fiction figures: PFC/CinC. Their Solar Empire Marines line looks pretty good. In the past I have found CinC miniatures to be softer metal, and less well defined than GHQ. This line looks about the same, in that the figure looks more rounded or "softer" than Onslaught Miniatures or Microworld. Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, just different. Despite the name, it is not just Space Marines, however. They have a Felid race, intelligent, weapon-using Raptors, and another humanoid race. CinC also has a second line of 6mm science fiction vehicles. Most are of the GEV design, but the tracked tank hunter is a particularly interesting design, sort of like a shorter Merkava.

BattleLore Tournament

Round 1 (or two) of the Finals in the BattleLore tournament has been completed, and I won 8-2. Chris wanted to play the side with the Goblins first – as he sees it as the weaker side he wanted to get them out of the way – but our random draw of forces made for a pretty even affair with mostly human forces on both sides.

Chris came out of the gate swinging and drew first blood, taking out a critical unit of mine (the Dwarf Heavy Swords), on the flank I had planned to win on. We exchanged losses and were at 2-2 when "The Event" occurred: Chris drew, as a replacement to the card hand we both shared, the BattleLore card. Now the ironic part of all this is that Chris dreaded the event, figuring I would hose him with the card. I, on the other hand, did not want to play it, as you can only move three units on average (albeit, with large combat bonuses) and I had cards that would allow me to move more units. But by the time The Event occurred, Chris was pressing very hard on the flank I was trying to withdraw, so I played the card not because it was a good play for me, but because I could not risk him rolling a lot of Blue banners or Lore and completely crushing that flank. So I played it in order to deny him the card.

Well, that play was The Event because I used two units to attack and was lucky enough to break his attacking formation. I ended up reversing the situation on that flank, using my cavalry to chase down his fleeing troops who were desperately trying to reform. I intentionally pushed my one heavy cavalry unit in order to chase down a unit, knowing that it would be vulnerable to a counterattack. When the counterattack came, I had a First Strike card that allowed me to ambush the attacking unit and I rolled so well I destroyed the unit outright. (That was "The Second Event".) That put me at 5-2 and had resulted in the last formed resistance on that flank broken. With three units scattered on the flank and only three victory banners to go, I had my plan. Further, the cards had been cooperating and giving me access to card after card on that flank. Chris was well and thoroughly demoralized.

It took quite some time for me to whittle down the enemy units to a point that the time was ripe for "The Final Event". It came in the form of a Mounted Charge card, allowing me to pick off two strength 1 Goblin units hiding in the rear, and a strength 3 Sword unit. Chris had been prepared for this, and attempted to stave off the killing blow by holding onto an Evade card (allowing a unit to escape from combat), but I attacked all of the units in such a way that there was no retreat.

It was an exciting game (for me) and Chris is swearing vengeance, but honestly I think the forces were more evenly balanced than the games he and I both played in the Semi-Finals, which were heavily stilted against the Goblins. I have prepared the game and tonight Chris and I will do our deployment (and maybe a few turns), probably finishing the game either over the course of several week nights or next weekend.

Although I have had great fun in this tournament, and proud to have made it to the Finals, I am getting weary of the "pressure" of scheduling games and trying to notify people so they can watch (and then seeing almost no one show up). Now I have a few more email addresses, and a sense of how fun some of the guys might be to play, so I can probably get a few more games in the future. Not that playing Chris is a problem! He has obviously gotten better, and like me, likes to analyze the games afterwards; what worked and what did not.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

C4ISR – Test Game 2

Another C4ISR Test Game

Today, gaming buddy Don agreed to test C4ISR (my science fiction version of Command and Colors rules). I really liked the game, but more importantly, I think we both came up with what we did and did not like.

What we tried:

  • Battle dice were 10-sided, with the faces: Infantry-Infantry-Armor-Artillery-Air-Grenade-Medic-Flag-Miss-Miss. Note that the odds are reduced compared to the Memoir '44 six-sided battle dice. Also note that artillery is hit on its own symbol now.
  • Grenades only hit in close combat.
  • Infantry attacking Anti-Personnel (AP) Targets: dice rolled are 3-3-2-2-1-1. (That is the number of dice at each hex range, so 3 dice at 1 and 2 hexes, 2 dice at 3 and 4 hexes, etc.)
  • Infantry attacking Anti-Armor (AT) Targets: 4-2-2-1.
  • Mech Infantry attacking AP Targets: 3-3-2-2-1-1.
  • Mech Infantry attacking AT Targets: 4-2-2-1.
  • Armor attacking AP Targets: 2-3-3-2-1-1.
  • Armor attacking AT Targets: 4-4-3-3-2-2-1-1
  • Artillery attack AP or AT Targets: 3-2-1. Note that for artillery this is not hex count, but board section count. In other words, 3 dice for the same board section, 2 dice for an adjacent board section, and 1 die for a board section two away. (On a normal gameboard there are six board sections: Left, Center, and Right for each half of the battlefield. For a Breakthrough-sized board there are nine board sections. For Overlord-sized boards it is 12 board sections and Overlord-Breakthrough-sized it is a whopping 18 board sections!)
  • All units use 1 less die if the unit has taken any number of casualties.
  • Terrain was more like BattleLore than Memoir '44. Rather than subtracting dice to attack in or out, the maximum number of dice were indicated instead. Buildings were 1 die shooting in and 2 dice shooting out (1 die for Armor shooting out). Woods were 2 dice in and no restrictions out. Hills were 2 dice up, 3 dice across (hill-to-hill) or down. We did not use any other terrain types. Artillery was unaffected by the battle dice restrictions of terrain, either in or out.
  • Artillery count as AP targets.
  • Mech Infantry and Self-Propelled Artillery count as AT targets.
  • Light Infantry move 2 hexes and Battle or 3 hexes.
  • Elite Light Infantry move 3 hexes and Battle.
  • Mech Infantry move 4 hexes and Battle or 6 hexes.
  • Armor move 6 hexes and Battle.
  • Artillery move 1 hex or Battle.
  • Self-Propelled Artillery move 2 hexes and Battle or 4 hexes.
  • Units must stop when they enter the first hex adjacent to an enemy unit; they cannot move through.
  • Units with support ignore 1 Flag.
  • Units with support can Battle Back in close assault.
  • Units are supported if two friendly units can provide them support.
  • A unit can provide support to a unit it is adjacent to.
  • An artillery unit can provide support to a unit within two hexes of it.
  • A command unit can provide support to a unit within two hexes of it.
So, although the game is based heavily on Memoir '44, it really takes elements from all of the Richard Borg games. The idea is that C4ISR is at a much lower scale; each unit is a squad or platoon, at most. Each Town hex is more like a Building hex. Using boards from Squad Leader would be more appropriate, in terms of scale.

Units move and fire much farther. The Armor units being able to move 6 and fire 8 hexes means it has a large threat zone. Of course, at this scale, sufficient cover and line-of-sight-blocking terrain is a must.

There were a few other rules that we added, but they did not come into play. For example, the ability of a unit to move through a friendly unit. I also had a few ideas, but Don was not keen on them, so we set them aside.

So, how did it play? Very interesting, I think. The ability to ignore Flags due to support meant that units often stayed in formation. This in turn meant they could battle back in close assault, making them more likely to keep their positions without burning cards.

The long ranges often came into play, then we switched to everything being close assaults, and finally we went back to firing at 2-3 hex range, in order to avoid the battle backs.

The terrain had a great impact on the game. As most infantry was holed up in buildings, most battles were with 1 die, unless it was artillery. In fact, artillery is how we dug infantry out of buildings. We may have to change Armor to getting 2 dice in close assault against buildings to represent the effect of HE in enclosed spaces, but we will see. Using 1 die for infantry fighting house-to-house was a slow, slogging process, and I was fine with it.

Another interesting effect was the penalty of a die to a unit that lost one or more figures. This has a contrary effect to how you play Command and Colors normally, which is to focus fire on a unit until it is dead, and producing a victory point. This gives you an incentive to spread the fire around, pinning units here and there (my explanation of what the -1 die represented). Don focused on that tactic, and as a result a lot of my fire was reduced (but not all – firing into a building with a full unit or reduced still only gives you 1 die). I, on the other hand, kept trying to eliminate units and get to victory.

So, what did we want to change? Most things, actually. Although the game was fun, I could see the complexity in remembering how many dice to roll based on the range was going to be a problem. I mean, in Memoir '44 it is 3-2-1 for infantry, 3-3-3 for armor, and 3-3-2-2-1-1 for artillery. Pretty easy to remember. Infantry in Battle Cry is 4-3-2-1, artillery is 5-4-3-2-1, and cavalry 3, so it is also easy to remember. This model is not (although I did get the hang of it about 75% of the time, by the end of the game). Next experiment will be with a fixed number of dice, like BattleLore, with the same terrain effects (restricting the maximum number of dice, rather than subtracting dice). Also, we will probably extend the range of weapons even farther.

I think support should be a unit within two hexes. Aesthetically it looks much better. Units are not in solid phalanxes and supporting units can be in buildings across the road (i.e. one hex between). Artillery should provide support to any unit in its board section.

Our scenario was not really representative. I am not sure which scenario we played, but it was a Memoir '44 Breakthrough board scenario. The Allies were spread out and the Axis were concentrated, so the latter just started rolling over units eventually. But the low number of dice rolled, along with changing the probabilities of getting hits, meant that it took a long time. Our game last much longer than the normal Memoir game, about twice as long, and about 50% longer than a Breakthrough-board Memoir game.

Sorry no pictures, but it would have just looked like a Memoir game as I was using those figues as proxies. Not enough 6mm science fiction troops painted up yet.

New Figures from Onslaught Miniatures

Speaking of 6mm science fiction miniatures, expect some more comparison photos of the new figures from Onslaught Miniatures. When I made my purchase, Don (of Onslaught Miniatures) only had the Prowlers, Mantis Beasts, and Overseers at the time. I knew I wanted to get the Gashers, Stalkers, and Winged Stalkers, but when the newsletter came out saying that the Abominations were now out, I knew it was time to order.

Perfect for a Genestealer Cult army in 6mm.

Although I like these, and think they will be a blast to paint, I have to be honest and say I was looking forward more to his OTC (not-Tau). But I understand his position. If you start a miniatures line you need to finish it, otherwise people will complain about starting too many lines and finishing none. Damned if you do and damned if you don't. So I will have to wait patiently for the OTC and buy and paint the Abominations in the meantime. I am sure Don won't mind. At this price, neither will my wallet.

BattleLore over Vassal Tournament Update

Well, I am proud to say that I made it by the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin into the Semi-Finals for the BattleLore over Vassal tournament. I only had one bad loss (but it was bad) in the main rounds and I thought it had knocked me out as a contender, but it turns out only one player did not have at least one bad game. Of course, that one player was the guy I had to play in the Semi-Finals!

But, we played our match on Saturday and I lost 5-6 in the first game but won 6-2 in the second, for an 11-8 win in the match, moving me to the Finals.

Today, I watched the other two semi-finalists play and the winner of the match also lost 5-6 on the first game and won the second 6-2. (Weird. Not only that, but we both lost as the Goblin player and won as the Dwarf player.) Ironically, the winner was Chris, the guy I play BattleLore all the time over Vassal. I think I taught him too well! Worse still, he knows all my tricks!

So we will start the Finals this week. Wish me luck!

As for the Samurai Battles over Vassal tournament, I think that is dying a slow death. I did complete another round (there are six, plus semi-finals and finals), but have not gotten any response from the other players. As it turns out, Samurai Battles looked much better on rice paper than it plays. Very disappointing.

The Impact of the Turn Sequence on the Solo Gamer

Over on my Solo Battles blog I wrote an article about the impact that the turn sequence of a game's rules has on the solo gamer. I only mention it because it has gotten a number of very interesting and thought-provoking comments. If you are into game design, you might want to check it out.

Other Gaming News

I finally finished making a simple gameboard with a 2" square grid so I can start playing a gridded version of De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) 3.0. I have given up that the author is going to refine the rules enough to get out the geometric tricks, so as John Acar suggested on a thread on TMP, simply go to the grid; that always gets out tricks like kinked lines and such. I know I won't be able to play in tournaments using these rules, but I think I can get the guys locally to play it. Expect to start seeing some write-ups on my Dale's DBA blog.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Taking Better Pictures with the iPhone

To be honest, many times the pictures in my blog are with my iPhone. Not only does my iPhone have a better camera than my (admittedly) 10 year-old digital camera, but it has a better camera than my iPad. Also, the iPhone is easier to handle and maneuver than either my digital camera or my iPad. What is does not have is a good interface for editing photos and then posting them to a blog; the screen is simply too small.

When I got my iPad I paid for some photo-editing and blog posting software for the iOS so do it all on one platform. If all I needed to do was crop a photo, especially where high detail was not necessary, the iPad was fine. The problem was that I usually did do more to the photos than crop them. I would edit out the backgrounds, add text or arrows, and change brightness and contrast. So in the end, despite the dream of doing it all on the iPad, I abandoned the software packages I bought and did all of the photo editing and blogging on the Mac.

This left me back at square one, which was which device to use for my photos. As I said, I phone has better quality, but the two areas where my digital camera beat it were: wide angle shots (say, a 8' wide table); and very close-up photos (a macro feature). So, whenever I wanted to do shots of painted figures, especially 6mm ones, I tended to pull out the digital camera. Now, I will probably pull out my iPhone.

One of the things I do with my iPhone camera is take pictures of drawings on white boards, and snaps of pages of documents. The problem with the latter has usually been that I am not perfectly parallel with the document and I wobble a little while trying to take the picture, so the writing is skewed or slightly out of focus, making it hard to read and harder to successfully use optical character recognition (OCR) software with. One day I ran across an ad for the StandScan, a stand that allows you to use your iPhone to scan documents. The stand is designed to keep the iPhone parallel and at the right distance for pictures of document pages. I decided to buy it and give it a try.

The StandScan comes in a small package. As you can see by the graphic in the photo, the document goes in a tray at the bottom and the iPhone is place on top, lining up the lens with a hole in the top of the box. The box is made of plastic-coated cardboard, and thus has some "give", meaning the top will not be perfectly parallel to the bottom. I was thinking about stiffening the stand with wires so that it would be, but that is for later.

Through a slick method of folding the product, it forms a box. It stays together because their are about a dozen rare earth magnets embedded into the cardboard at key points so it 'snaps' together.

This shows the hole in the top where you place your iPhone's lens.

I bought the 'Pro' model, which has LED lights on the inside, allowing the document strong lighting for a clear picture. You can see how bright the LEDs are by comparing the darkness on top of the box to the inside.

The picture below shows the LED lights on the inside. The StandScan comes with a battery pack, but you can buy an AC adapter for $4.45.

The StandScan Pro is $29.95, so it is not too expensive, although you might think so as it is basically a cardboard box! (The version without the LED lights is $19.95.)

In another post I will report on how well it does. I can already see some gaming uses. I once wanted to use photos of my miniatures for a digital game, but as it was necessary to take perfect top-down shot of the miniatures, I needed something like this to make all of the angles consistent.

While I was trolling around the StandScan web site, however, I noticed that they had a 3-in-1 lens for the iPhone that provided a wide-angle, macro, and fisheye capability for $24.95. (I have no use for fisheye shots, but they had no cheaper lens that was only 2-in-1.) Here is the package.

Basically the lens clips onto the corner of the iPhone over the camera lens. I was mostly interested in the macro lens. Below is a shot of a 15mm elephant painted by DJD Miniatures in Thailand. That mythical beast on the side of the apron is hand-painted. (I have two such elephants from them, all with the same design, one on each side, and due to the variations in size and strokes you can tell they are hand-painted and not transfers.) This photo is the best the iPhone could do, which is pretty good if you ask me. But I could not move the camera closer without losing focus. And because the camera was far enough away, the iPhone 'flash' did not provide a lot of lighting. (In fact, I had to tweak the brightness and contrast of that photo to get it brighter.)

Putting on the lens at first I thought it was broken or dirty. Nothing would come into focus. Finally I put the camera about 1" away from the elephant and it all came into focus. Because the iPhone is so close its flash is much brighter. This photo has not been manipulated at all, save for cropping it to a smaller size.

Not only is the painting pretty darn impressive, but so is the photo. I will definitely be using these lenses in the future.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Special Abilities (Part 2)

The original post on Special Abilities versus Standard Rules got some good responses, and I thank everyone for that. The sad part is that I clicked the Publish button before I was done with my rant. The wife called me away for a "Honey-Do", which was quickly followed by a scheduled online game, so I forgot to go back and add more. But here it is.

Rules that use special abilities are not in and of itself bad, I think, it is how some approach it that seems to rub me the wrong way. Take four examples of rules that use special abilities: Warhammer 40,000, Flames of War, Saga, and Munchkin. (I know, you are probably getting tired of me mentioning the last two.)

Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) is the epitome of what some have termed "The Codex Creep". Essentially, in order to play any force you are required to buy at least one "codex", or a book of units stats, force composition rules, special abilities, and special items that can be purchased. Some "factions" get codices more frequently than others, leading to more options and special abilities, all more finely tuned for competition, and thus desired by gamers wanting that "tactical edge". In Episode 23 of The Second Founding podcast the guys talk about GW's "creeping imbalance" and intentionally maintaining a "perfect imbalance". Now some may call these guys cynics, but their theory is that GW's figure and codex designers are beholden to their Corporate Lords and thus they generate new, cool figures that people will want to buy while the codex designers make them the Next Big Thing so that they have to buy them (and not just one) in order to remain competitive.

The "creeping" part of the imbalance is that the latest codex produced tends to be the strongest. This generally pushes people to at least purchase the codex, to see what they are going to face in games. I remember the second time I got back into WH40K I bought the Tau codex, a battle box, and a couple of extra blisters to flesh out the forces. It was an escalation league, so forces were small. But it quickly became obvious that I needed to buy more stuff if I wanted to be competitive. The Chaos Space Marines pulled out some gizmo with a special rule and caught me unawares. The Space Wolf Space Marines attacked with surprise from the rear because they had a special rule I was not aware of. The Orks … well let's just say this sort of thing went on and on we every opponent; they each had their tricks and special rules, and the only way to really be aware of what they were capable of was to buy and study their codex. So, as I said, even if you did not buy an army for whatever new codex came out, you really needed to buy the codex itself, at the very least, so you would know how to fight it.

So as time wore on, and people came to realize that The New Badness could not be countered by your army with its five year old codex, they started collecting new armies. However, this is where the "perfect" part of the imbalance starts to come in. The example the podcast gives is that once upon a time Chaos Space Marines were the things to have in the Chaos codex, but then a new version came out and it was the Obliterators. So you loaded up on Obliterators (or whatever) and the next codex comes out and Obliterators are now nerfed, with no real explanation. However, the army is still strong (it has a new codex, after all) but it is this new Chaos Heldrake – which is a $75 model, by the way – that is The New Badness, and you can buy two of them in a standard point army!

The net result of all this is that it produces codex sales, then army sales, then unit sales for the players in it for the long run. Of course, if you read The Miniatures Page, or about any other forum, including WH40K fanboy forums, you will have already read all of this. GW has their model, and to be honest, they draw new people into the hobby. As their business model eventually puts off most of their gamers, and some of those who quit join the ranks of historical gamers, we should probably be grateful. My point, however, is not the grinding aspect of their business model, but how that model is supported by adopting a fairly thin set of core rules and adding layers of special rules and exceptions through specially purchased expansions. I will give GW props for one thing, however: unit special abilities are now codified as names ("Infiltrator", "Rending", "Fearless", etc.) and the rules for those special abilities are in the main rules. You still need to codices to know who gets these special abilities, but if your opponent tells you in the game that he has a Fearless character with Infiltrator and a Rending weapon, at least you have access to the rules ahead of time. There is still a little problem of special weapons and wargear, but hey, they can't fix everything in a single edition. They still need you to have a reason to buy the codices.

Of course, there is nothing to stop you and your buddies from buying one army and one codex apiece and then playing the heck out of that and having fun, not getting caught up in the spiral of the creeping, perfect imbalance. But honestly, it is hard finding two balanced armies at any point in time, and a new codex will upset that balance, so players would need to agree to freeze their codexes to a point in time. Not likely to happen.

Now we move to Flames of War (FoW). One could say that their army books are codices. They contain force compositions, unit stats, special rules, and exceptions to the normal rules. A big difference between FoW and WH40K, however, is that there are generic army lists with the main FoW rules set (not the mini-rulebook, however) and they generally are competitive. The books are really only required if you wish to start a new period (Early-, Mid-, or Late-War), theater, or campaign. As the older books contained force compositions for both sides, it was an automatic buy if you were interested in that period, theater, or campaign. However, when they went the way of separate Axis and Allied books, some people did not buy both books. It will be interesting to see if they go back to books that contain something for both sides, to induce everyone to buy it.

Generally speaking, FoW is much more forgiving than WH40K, in that there are fewer surprises in the book, it is generally easier to get unit stats without buying every book, and the unit special abilities are in the main rules (e.g. "Awkward Layout", "Semi-Indirect Fire", etc.). Like WH40K the codices primarily give you access to the highly competitive lists. Again, you and your gaming buddies could agree to play generic lists, or find balanced lists and freeze them, but that is not likely to happen for very long. Variety is the spice of life and both WH40K and FoW promise a lot of variety over time.

Saga is an interesting study, because each new faction that comes out is unique in some way, sometimes creating completely new rules (Irish champions, for example). However, the exceptions to the core rules are usually very short and have to be gone over before a game. For example, when a player with Irish Champions runs three single figures around, the opponent is going to know something is up. As you almost always have to run through your forces at the beginning of every game, pointing out who is Hearthguard, Warrior and Levy, and discussing armaments (not everyone has duplicates of their Hearthguard with and without Danish Axes), that is a good time to go over the few special rules a faction may have. There are some, but they are generally very few.

Where the main difference lies is with the battleboards. What I have started doing is making a photocopy of each battleboard (for personal use only!) so that each player can play on their own battleboard and use the copy of their opponent's battleboard as a reference sheet. That way they can see every trick their opponent can pull and can ensure that they are pulling it legally! (We are still learning, so sometimes we try and play an ability in the wrong phase. Purely unintentional!)

So, if a new expansion comes out, not everyone has to buy it. At the start of the first game playing against a new faction the owning player would go over the troops used, as normal, and cover any special rules, if any. They could then hand them a copy of their battleboard (for use during the game only – I am not suggesting they let their opponent keep that copy) for reference during the game. Although your opponent might be a bit surprised by something the new faction possesses, you probably don't know how to properly play them either, so it quickly comes out in the wash.

The difference is that only those who are interested in the new period, theater, or campaign has to buy the expansion. Even if you don't share a copy of the battleboard as a reference during the game, the battleboard's composition itself is not kept secret, so your opponent can always read up on the abilities; everything is out in the open and available to your opponent without having to have everyone buy the expansion in order to remain competitive.

Finally, we get to Munchkin. Each card contains the special rules. When the card is played, the special rule kicks in and everyone sees the rule. Yes, you might play better if you knew all of the cards of a given expansion and thus knew what was possible, but given the highly random nature of the game (random card draws, etc.) there is really no way to plan or take advantage of that knowledge. Essentially this is a game full of special rules and exceptions, but essentially near-complete transparency for the players.

Special rules, in and of itself, is not the problem. It really is about the dissemination of that information to all players. Does it require the player to invest a lot of time and money in order to get "perfect" information about what is possible for your opponent? Does that information change at a rate that seems excessive (in terms of time or money invested to keep up)? Does the lack of information lead to outright game losses or merely momentary disadvantages? Do these special rules act as "tricks" that allow the player to win despite bad or poor gameplay? All of these factors lead to one's enjoyment of the game.

I see games that have core rules and nothing else as "pure", but not necessarily a better gaming experience. For me, these sort of pure games require some form of scenario (which in turn has scenario special rules) in order to ensure the game does not quickly get stale. Whether it is giving one side more points, better force composition, a terrain advantage, or a task to complete, something has to give. DBA is a good example. All core rules with all of the army lists in a single book. The army lists themselves give force composition advantages (or disadvantages), but also give a potential terrain advantage (in the form of an Aggression rating, used to determine who sets up terrain). But let's face it, some army match-ups in DBA will result in one side winning the majority of the time, because it is designed to be historical. DBA is a fun game, but instead of buying multiple books and expansions for the same figures (as with WH40K and FoW) you buy multiple armies to get the variety. (I probably have more than a dozen armies and I think Don said he had more than 60. The Schmidt's, who introduced our club to DBA had more than 160, if I recall correctly.)

Maybe this is where my American Revolutionary and Napoleonic gaming has been falling flat. When I was a kid our Napoleonic gaming was fun because we played a big battle scenario every month. The club had upwards of 20 members and had a collection numbered in the tens of thousands of 25mm figures. There was a points system that ensured variety in the force composition (although the French Cuirassiers seemed to make a lot of appearances) and the terrain always varied (and yet was always the same; to understand that riddle I refer you to my Tactical Exercises and Micro-Games post), plus there were almost always some kind of scenario special rule, like when the reinforcements came on or what turn an objective had to be taken by in order to gain extra victory points. In that kind of setting it is not hard to get variety. Now, however, the only collection is mine, and I provide both sides. I usually provide the terrain also, so all the options are fewer. I think that gaming FoW and Saga, and others like it, have led to gamers expecting equal-point scenarios. This makes it hard to replicate the gaming successes of the past, which were never equal point games. (They weren't always balanced affairs either, but we tried to make them that way.)

It is ironic that we can play an unbalanced scenario in Memoir '44 – play it twice in fact – but cannot do so with Flames of War. I know that the primary reason we can do that with Memoir '44 is because we can play once on each side in a single gaming session, but that was impossible with Flames of War. We could have played it once for each side in two gaming sessions however, but that never seemed … right.

The board gaming industry does not seem to have a problem putting out game with unbalanced scenarios, but so much of the miniatures rules industry does have a problem with playing games where the perception is that the sides are not balanced. Sure, there are players that don't use points systems and there are people that play unbalanced scenarios (I do not mean "missions", a la FoW and WH40K when I say "scenarios"), but they really are few and far between. In fact, I cannot think of a single set of miniatures rules that I play, or do not play but is played locally, that do not use equal points as a means of producing a "fair" game.

Ah well, let's leave points systems to a rant for another day. Sound off! Let me hear you thoughts on how points systems have changed gaming, for better or worse.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Barks' Gameboard - Wow!

Every so often I go through the list of people following this blog and see what blogs they have and follow. There are some really good blogs out there. In fact, most of the blogs I follow come from that list of readers' blogs or blogs they follow.

I looked at Barks profile and found his Wargaming with Barks blog and was immediately struck by the appearance of his gameboard. (By the way, Barks has an interesting series of articles on painting the Battlefront river terrain pieces, making them look even better. You should check them out, especially if you have those terrain pieces.)

Back to the gameboard. It really has a good look to it. So I started searching for an article to see how he made it. I was shocked to learn that it was a Citadel (GW) Realm of Battle Gameboard, which I had never heard of. Barks' article on how he did his gameboard is really interesting. Even though Citadel's gameboard is $300, for what essentially looks like a 6' by 4' injection molded plastic model, it looks very tempting, especially when you see the results Barks obtained.

Which brings me to my point. We tend to spend quite a bit of money and time on our figures, and even to some extent on basing those figures, but it is the rare person that spends that time and money on really good terrain. In the end, is $300 really that expensive for the 'ground covering' of a 6' x 4' table? (You can extend the table size by getting two 2' x 2' squares for an additional $100.) Granted, you still need to get woods, buildings, rivers, and roads, plus some extra hills might be nice.

This also hearkens me back to an old What Would Patton Do (WWPD) podcast with Shawn Morris (The Terrain Guy) where they discussed the idea of gaming on static gameboards. (By the way, the Realm of Battle Gameboard is not exactly static. As shown on the web page, it can be rearranged a number of ways to add some variety.) Although Shawn made a compelling argument about using static gameboards, other than Jon Baber's Arnhem gameboard, it does not sound like the WWPD really took to the idea, in the long run.

I've seen a number of your blogs, and battle reports for those that do them, and I see most people do it like I do. Lay down a game cloth or mat (I have an old US Army blanket, some grass green micro-fleeces from Wal-Mart, and a Citadel Game Mat that I switch between), plop some terrain down, and then game. The conclusion is that terrain variety seems to be more important than, say, a cohesive set of terrain pieces that actually look like they go together. (That is more a comment on my terrain, dear readers, and not on yours! In my AWI games you can unfortunately see tank tread marks in the muddy roads!)

So, is that true? Do you favor terrain configurations and variety over a cohesive, but static or semi-static vision? Has anyone every played a fair number of games over the same terrain, but with different scenarios, goals, and objectives? Can you shed any light on what it is really like?

Friday, April 05, 2013

Special Abilities versus Standard Rules

News from the Rear

As my gaming buddy has been traveling, and Easter forced us to take a break, I have been mostly learning new rules, thinking about my own game designs, and playing some solo games. Playing board games online over Vassal has kind of cooled off. I think everyone had such a system shock from concentrated BattleLore gaming that it has affected the other online tournaments. Of the players in the BattleLore tournament with me some are in a Command and Colors: Napoleonics tournament (I think there were two running at the same time), a Samurai Battles tournament, and possibly a Battle Cry tournament. We are trying to get a second BattleLore tournament going, but it has not made yet. I have so many things on my plate that I may just drop my name from the list.

So what have I been doing? Reading a lot of forums and Yahoo groups, and generally wasting time. Oh, and trying to figure out what makes Munchkin such a wildly successful game. It is not the puns and inside humor. It is … well, that is what this blog post is about. Not all about Munchkin, but about a trend in game designs.

In the Beginning …

If you look at 'Old School' rules – and I am talking Featherstone, Grant, Bath, and Lawson here – you will find very generic mechanics. Both sides basically fight the same, or rather the units types on each side fight the same. Grenadiers fight like 'Grenadiers', whether Austrian or Prussian. The rules were more about unit types and morale than about who they were fighting for. The difference between two sides were in the composition of the armies … well unless one of those sides were British of course. Then the British would have a +1 (in everything).

… and Then There Were …

Next came 'National Characteristics'. This is what happens when you start adding those "+1 because they are British" rules. It was also how game designers started adding 'period flavor'. I really got started with a set of rules from this era. It was called Column, Line, and Square and it was a tome on Napoleonics wargaming that still had Old School elements – artillery bounce sticks, canister patterns, and burst templates – but included loads of rules on National Characteristics (which, if I recall correctly, was what the rules section was called). Militia Light Cavalry with lances were poor troops, but Cossacks, well that is a different story.

In the end, what all of these National Characteristics did was to add more exceptions to the rules, and almost always in the form of a die roll modifier that you had to remember. I hesitate to use the word complexity – a term which is over-used on the forums – as there is really nothing hard to understand about the resulting rules. It just gets harder to memorize all of the exceptions and all those modifiers tend to make combat resolution take longer.

Don't get me wrong, I revelled in the detail when I was young. Something about the way young boy's mind work, I suppose, but now that I am older, I find that those details are annoying and bothersome – probably because I cannot always remember them.

Today, you see the same sort of rules, only now they are called 'faction rules' or 'special unit abilities'. I think this is one of the reasons I gave up on Flames of War; you had to remember which units had the special traits, find the rules for it, and remember how to apply it correctly. You could not simply play the rules. Contrast that to Memoir '44 – at least the base game1 – where infantry is infantry. You roll 3, 2, or 1 battle die based on the range to the target. Your chance of hitting is built into the die itself. Simple and clear.

So, if you have been following for a while you might be thinking "but what about Saga?" I think Don said it best after our first game: the great thing about Saga is that the special rules are all written right there on the battle board. Once you memorize the basics, all the special stuff is easily accessible.

Which Brings us to Munchkin

So, how does my playing Munchkin bring all of this on. Well Munchkin has few basic rules. Basically five small pages in large type, and that is including the puns and jokes. (Yes, even the rules have puns and jokes in them.) Once you learn those rules, you are set. If you buy another base set – Munchkin Fu for martial arts action, Star Munchkin for science fiction action, etc. – you might learn an additional rule or two, but the core rules are exactly the same. Where the differences lie, and why you buy the expansions, are in the special rules embedded in the cards.

But, just as with Saga, it is finding a set of abilities, in combination with a move or an attack, that sets the players apart. The ability to envision a combination three moves ahead, and plan for pulling it off, or recognizing when the stars align and the time is ripe, is how you tend to play. In a way it reminds me a little of chess, when I was a kid. You read books about chess moves, openings, gambits; really about patterns to recognize. When the pattern emerged, there was a series of moves to make to exploit that pattern. Of course, it is a little more complex than that (and it shows you why I was never a great chess player), but that was the basic idea behind being a better chess player when you were starting out. But it was really about memorization of patterns.

As I get older, and my memory goes, I cannot hold as many rules in my head and I cannot remember as manner patterns to exploit. But, I definitely like it when my core rules are simple, and my special rules are spelled out on little cards in front of me. How about you?

1 Even Memoir '44 has started going this route. The Japanese have their special rules, as do the British, and then there are Elites, Ski troops, snipers, etc. Of course, you don't have to add all of that at once and there are loads of scenario to play that just use the basics.

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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").