Monday, September 13, 2021

Saga Club (Return to)

I have not played Saga in almost four years, but given good reports about the second edition, and being aware of an active play group, I decided I would rather play frequent, short, small miniature games, than not play at all.  Plus, good way to meet new players, try different venues, etc.

Black Tree Design Saxons, prepped and glued to squares of cereal box cardboard for painting.

I've owned the above Black Tree Design figures for over four years and never got around to painting them.  I had not sold them because I always though they were nice sculpts and you never know.  In the intervening four years I did, however, sell quite a few painted Saga warband figures (all my Welsh), and others I used for Saga were rebased on multibases for use in Late Roman/Arthurian games (early Saxons and Irish).  This cleared the runway for the Black Tree figures to finally be painted. I remembered to take progress photos this time...

Figure primed with thin coat of gesso. I really like this pose.

Figures block painted but prior to a wash with a matte medium/water/black paint mixture.

Some figures after applying the wash.

More figures after applying the wash.

Still more figures after applying the wash. The draco figure originally had a cast banner pole. I trimmed that off, drilled out his hand, added a steel wire pole, and topped it with a plastic draco from an old Wargames Factory sprue.

Completed figures out on parade on my gaming table.

Figures in the rear are the Eureka Miniatures' "Beowulf Retinue" set. I painted those years ago but touched them up (as well as 8 Crusader Miniatures' Saxon axemen) to get this warband to over 50 figures.

With the new Saxon warband painted up, I set a game with Pete and we met on Friday after work. I used the Viking battleboard and ran six points of all warriors in five units. Pete ran Pagan Rus, with three warrior groups and a eight-figure hearthguard. 

Pete spent the first two or three turns backpedaling or keeping his distance while I crawled across the board.

Finally there was some action in the center which his Rus got the better of.

To be honest, up to turn 4 out of 5 I was starting to feel that the game was a bit rubbish and maybe I had made a mistake in trying to get back in. We'd been playing for almost an hour and the majority of figures had not been in combat yet. But then on the last turn I rolled two rare symbols and got to play the Ragnarok ability, which gave all my units a free charge activation, so there was melees all around. I was already losing at this point (somewhat badly, at that), but some decent attacks made it respectable.

I need to remember to take more of these low-angle shots as they look much better. The "table overview" shots in these skirmish games look rather bland...

We'll see where this all leads but I have low expectations. It was simply nice to meet someone for a quick in-person game after work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Portable Ancient Wargame in 20mm

Having fallen for larger 24-figure heavy infantry units, I painted up an additional box of HAT Roman Hastati/Velites and a box of Princepes/Triarii, which let me field a Roman Republic army of 2 units each Hastati/Principes/Triarii, plus 2 Velites and 2 heavy cavalry. This a paper strength of 36 strength points the ancient rules in Developing the Portable Wargame

Initial Carthage positions.

To face them Carthage brought 37 points consisting of 3 Libyan heavies, an Iberian heavy, Gallic heavy tribesmen, 1 Libryan heavy cavalry, 3 Numidian light horse, an Iberian light infantry unit and a unit of Balearic slingers.  The table was set using the blind tile draw from my Italian Wars battle generator and deployments determined using a randomizer I drafted for use in Late Roman games. 

Draft ancients deployment table.

Carthage rolled a "1" and Rome a "5".  I need to add a subset for deployment of elephants, although for this game I just counted them as the heavy infantry.  With the table set, Carthage was attacker so went first.

After second turn.

After one round of moves, both sides shifted sideways so as to be across from each other in the open, flat ground.  Carthage sent the 3 units of Numidian light horse forward to harass the outnumbered Roman cavalry on the opposite flank.  The Romans moves velites, hastati, and a cavalry unit forward on its right in a demonstration to scare off any Carthagenian flank moves.

Roman heavy infantry line.

Carthagenian heavy infantry line.

With just one Numidian horse doing quite well at keeping the Roman left cavalry at bay, the other two Numidian units scurried across the field and made javelin attacks against principes and triarii by the woods. Unlike some previous games, I read (and remembered!) the rule that a light infantry, light cavalry, or elephant unit may make a double move if testing and passing on a 5+. Light cavalry and especially the light infantry became much more dynamic as a result. 

Both sides positioning their lines, while Numidian horse harasses the Roman right.

Numidian horse engaging Roman cavalry on Roman left.

Numidian horse skirmishing with Roman infantry on Roman right.

With the opposing lines of infantry now fully lined up with each other, the Numidian horse passed through their friend lines and guarded against a possibly flank attack by Roman cavalry. The Roman heavy infantry line had the option of being the first to charge into close combat, but opted to move one square forward and throw pila instead (pushing back one Libyan heavy infantry and dropping a SP on another).

Pre-contact. Roman pila have driven some Carthagenian infantry back.  Numidian horse has moved to extreme Carthagenian left to fend off potential flanking move by Roman cavalry and velites.

Roman infantry arrayed with hastati on flanks, principes in middle, and triarii in reserve.

Carthage elected to throw the punch, however.  They caused some lost SPs and took some lost SPs, but overall the lines remained "locked in."  The critical action was that the Iberians on the Carthagenian right were able to sweep Roman velites aside and flanked the adjacent hastati.

And the clash - the Iberian infantry in the foreground dispatched the velites securing this flank and were then able to turn and flank the Roman hastati, who were also attack to their front by Libyan heavy infantry...

This hastati unit promptly fell from 3 SP remaining to 1 SP...

Hastati with three of four SPs lost...

...and then to zero. Coupled with a lost cavalry unit and lost velites, along with lost SP up and down teh line, the Romans had lost 12 of 36 points so were over their exhaustion point (with Carthage still at 9 or 10 lost).  This meant that Rome could not move towards enemy units anymore, although it could shoot at units in range and could engage in close combat with enemy still adjacent. The game would end when one side or the other lost a full 50% of starting SPs (taken from The Portable Pike & Shot Wargame).

Hastati destroyed. This pushed Romans past exhaustion point.

The Romans succeeded in destroying the Gallic infantry and pushing back the elephants, and pushing Carthage past its exhaustion point, but in the process the Romans also slipped past the 50% mark and victory went to Carthage.

End game. The Gallic heavy infantry on the Carthagenian left has been routed.

The defeated Roman general.

The victorious Carthagenian general.

When I first purchased Developing the Portable Wargame, it was so I could use the ancients rules for my Italian War collection and my Late Roman collections.  I had increased the size of my 20mm plastics ancients armies pre-pandemic, resulting a few Hail Caesar games, but between the somewhat absurdly long-to-play battle of Dertosa game, and the swingy combat results in the Scarponna game, I was considerbly less impressed with  Hail Caesar and wanting to try DtPW instead.  Like many of the previous Portable Wargame outings, I am again impressed with how a defeat seems to be related to a wrong decision rather than "a lot of 1s."  In this case, the Romans had an opportunity to have their heavy infantry attack en masse first, but did not pay attention to how close they really were to their exhaustion point, and opted for a round of throwing pila instead (to little effect).  This allowed the Carthagenians to make the en masse attack first, resulting in the turning of the Roman left flank and a victory for Carthage. 

These 20mm games are somewhat emotive for me.  When I became interested in wargaming again 10 years ago, I was initially drawn in by 54mm gaming (today manifest in my shiny Britains toy soldier games), but I also acquired the first four or six boxes of HAT 1/72 figures used in this very game (at a measely $5/box - they now cost $8-$9).  The eagle-eyed reader may notice that some figures are painted using a different technique and have a lot of chipping on spears and such (the chipping is because many of these little guys were relegated to being stored loosely in a cardboard shoebox for several years!).  So to have doubled the size of these armies, usually by painting more of the same sets I previously painted 10 years ago (to an arguably better standard!), its like an old friend from out of town coming to visit again.

The larger 24-figure units and resulting long lines of dense blocks are a big improvement visually, of course, and I look forward to some sort of campaign series, to be set either in Spain or Sicily.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Long March

Round 1 underway, with me being dumb and threading my Brutes too far out by themselves where they could get shot to pieces.

I was able to meet Pete for our first in-person game since September of last year.  Because he had converted a figure or two in the Turnip28 style, we agreed to give the Version15a rules of Turnip28 a go.

The big aquarium stumps work very nicely with the 54mm scale figures.

Unlike the previous game, I had a better basic understanding of the rules, and we were also able to use suitable 'grimdark' terrain like the plastic Citadel woods and some aquarium decor, which really helped make the whole visual effect come together!

My Chaff (skirmishers) are trying to flank on the right.

I had also put together five objective markers in the form of little sacks of turnips, so we played the 'The Long March' scenario as written (actually, its the only scenario in the book at the moment). 

Pete's Chaff by contrast is right in the middle of it.

I took far more casualties but by turn 4 (of 4) each of us still controlled 2 objectives and the central objective was still up for grabs. My last two activations of the last round very nearly did succeed in (re)capturing that last objective, so the game was fun (and funny) and also challenging, which is always good.

My Brutes (elites) having been pushed back, my two Fodder units (in the backgrond) have attempted to press into the center.

Unlike my previous game, I did better making sure the special rules were actually used for Fodder and Brutes.  We also had "two scenario blunders," wherein each of us had a "Lost" unit blunder an activation and eat 1d3 of their own compatriots as a result!

My Brutes (with yellow kite shields), who have fallen back with two Panic markers. The Fodder up ahead however has taken three Panic markers.

There was quite a few laugh out loud moments at the absurdity of the game, with units losing figures at a constant clip.

My root-infected Toady (a subcommander) tries to direct my attempts to hold out in the middle.

As before, the four terrain pieces on a 4'x'4 board really clogs up available open spaces, and makes the resultant battle the sloppy mess which the game's aiming for anyways.

Pete's Toff (warlord).

A great way to dive back into in-person games! Not sure where I'm going with this Turnip28 stuff, really, but it a nice small game that's easy to transport and fun to look at.

Final melee of the game.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Trying Out Turnip28

Last summer, my attention was drawn to the Turnip28 project, which primarily involves hacking together and modifying Napoleonic miniatures to be wearing high medieval period helmets, plus a hearty helping of a mutated turnips which have over grown everything and lend everything a dark sci-fi fantasy tone. Because I had dozens of 54mm plastic Napoleonic figures in the basement, which I knew I would never use in a game and also knew had little resale value, I set about converting a few, then a lot, of those figures to helm-wearing, gaiter-sporting post-apocalyptic Napoleonic soldiers.  At the time there were also some very beta-version rules available (just a page or two, as I recall), but they were a little two rough around the edges for me to use at the time, so the Turnip54 army proceeded to sit on top my miniatures cabinet for about a year.

First try-out game, midway into first round.

Fast forward to a month or two ago, and Version 15a of the drafted rules comes out (further revisions are certain to follow, so I'll try to avoid getting into details too much), and in the intervening year they had evolved into a ruleset quite unlike anything else I have ever read or played.  The Version 15a rules has just one scenario, with both sides trying to capture the majority of 5 objective markers.  For this first try-out game, I did not have objective markers yet, and had to quickly make some terrain, but just  happy to get the figures on the table and slug away at each other for 4 turns to get a feel for things.

The figure with the red token is a Toady (a subordinate officer) who has taken a wound. Snobs can take two wounds instead of of one.

The length of the game is only 4 turns, and four "deadly terrain" (if a figure ends up in a deadly terrain piece, roll a die: on a 1 the figure is "brutally murdered" by the terrain and removed) pieces do a lot to clog up the available open space.

Lots of musketry and counter-musketry fire. You have to be careful in your target selection, as fire is simultaneous and a careless pot-shot by one unit can end up replied to with a mighty volley!

The rules follow a basic underlying premise: all of these troops are pathetic.  These are scavengers not soldiers, so they are lousy shots, lousy in a hand-to-hand fight, and huge cowards. Needing a six to do anything is the norm, and occasionally you even need a "7+" (you need to roll a 6, then roll again and score a 4 5 or 6).

My Toff (a warlord) on his sickly steed ordering his Brutes (elite ('elite') troops) to advance, probably.

To this pathetic-ness, add the following interesting and clever mechanics: 
  • Every order (march, move-and-shoot, volley fire, or charge) can be blundered, where the action can still be carried out but at lesser effect.
  • You have three Snobs (the collective name for Warlord and his two subordinates) to each give one order per round, but have four units, so one unit must give itself an order, and if it blunders, it carries out the lesser action but also loses 1d3 figures as it "gives into its ravenous hunger" (snicker).
  • Units retreating through other units (be friend or foe) take a dangerous terrain test (loss a figure on a 1).
  • When you fire at a unit, they must shoot back (if they have not shot yet this turn) and this is considered simultaneous - however, in hand-to-hand, the attacker attacks first and defenders casualties are removed, then defender generates dice and counter-attacks.
  • Units acquire a panic token every time they take a casualty in shooting or participate in a melee, and panic tokens cause you to be more likely to turn tail when charged.

Powder markers are essential since you can only shot once per turn and being fired at will cause you to return fire.

All of this adds up to a game with remarkable thematic consistency - troops are pathetic, but you also lose models at a brutal pace.  There are many opportunities to lose figures to circumstances beyond your control (falling victim to the environment, being eaten by your fellows) but none of them feel unfair, and I never had that dreaded "roll dice, stuff happens" lack-of-control feeling during the game.  

So, somehow, you still feel remarkably in control of the game despite all the thematic stuff going on and removing your figures randomly.  

Turnip28 is a good excuse to make banners.

There's still good tactical opacity, I guess - Chaff are hard to target, so have them shoot at a unit and force them to counter-fire, and then charge that unit with your Brutes, because the target unit can't offer closing fire because they already discharged their weapons at the Chaff (there's that pathetic-ness again).

In our try-out game, figures died in great numbers. We forgot to use certain special rules for Fodder and Brutes.  The rules are short and quite succinct, so you don't have flip through pages and pages of photos and long paragraphs to find what you are looking for.

The rules are fun (and funny), and well worth the effort of converting figures (in whatever scale).