Thursday, 24 July 2014

A Quick Game of Armati

This week's game was a bit of a fill-in. I've got an all-dayer next week so I've been working on that and there's some other bits & pieces I've been working on (replacing window beading in the summer house & re-painting it) so I needed something quick.

I don't think I've ever done an Armati game with classical Indians & Alexandrian Macedonians so I thought that might be fun. I worked out the standard 75 point armies but they looked a bit small, so I upped the points to a 100 aside. That gave the Indians lots of elephants and chariots and the Macedonians lots of phalangites.

Will turned up first and promptly took the Macedonians ("Because I'm in this side of the table" so he claimed). I rigged up the deployment curtain, - so much easier than drawing maps - and we shuffled figures around.

The Indians have a number of problems. The Macedonians are a more flexible army with a higher initiative. The Indians have mostly heavy units, so they're tight on divisions. In the end I put my archers in the middle of the table out of command. I guessed, correctly, that Will would put his phalanx in the middle of the table so I could stand and shoot at them whilst having more divisions on the flanks would mean I could win there then turn on the slow moving heavy foot.

The other problem for the Indians is they have no killer units. I mean, even their Heavy Cavalry only has a frontal FV of 3. The Heavy Chariots are quite useful, but they're not that quick.

When the curtain was pulled back Will had got his deployment about right. He'd got light troops opposite the big elephant unit on our left, and his phalanx was extended sufficiently far to impede the mobile units on our right. Anyway, enough moaning and on with the game. We both headed towards each other as fast as possible.

Now this is where I got it seriously wrong. I've trapped my skirmishers between my elephant and the phalanx. What's more I should have wheeled all my right wing out to the flank to avoid the phalanx. However I mis-estimated the distance and caught Will's problem from last week, - thinking in 2/3rds inches when we were using full ones. At this point Chris W turned up, and offered to help me out. I gave him the left wing.

My elephants therefore clipped the end of the phalanx whilst my chariots roared onwards, clearing some light troops and heading towards the non-Companion heavy cavalry, which was refusing Will's left flank. This turned out to be really clever as it meant my most effective units (those chariots have bows as well) were fighting a long way from the main action. The elephant unit hitting the phalanx was a bust. Although it has impetus and will break the infantry if it outscores it alas it is at -2 on the dice versus the phalangites and duly lost the dice roll (it's odds are about 1 in 6 of winning this fight).

Chris on the left had pushed his cavalry up and was able to catch a single light infantry unit whilst Will was trying to get a 2:1 advantage. Chris, of course, has the impetus advantage here, but he's on a -1 against the peltasts and lost the die roll. See what I mean about lack of killer units? Even missed with the javelins.

Talking of missing our massed archery was singularly ineffective as well.

Our left hand elephants had a light infantry screen to soften up the peltasts so that the elephants could finish them off, before turning on the flank of the phalanx. Alas, although fighting on equal terms they were rubbish in this game.

I did manage to get both elephants and General-lead chariots into Will's left flank cavalry, however, and gave them a good seeing to.

In the distance you can see that our light infantry has been eliminated and the peltasts are now mashing up our elephants. Our cavalry has now been hit by Alexander and the Companions. I'm sure it'll be fine. On my flank I've broken one cavalry unit and I'm in the process of swinging the elephant/chariot unit round to help out in the middle. My other chariots are finishing off another Greek heavy cavalry unit. My elephant has been killed by the phalangites, who have now about faced to become a flank guard for the main phalanx.

As you can see, 5 rounds of shooting with 4 units inflicted 2 hits. The odds say a minimum of 4 should be expected. Still, maybe the melee will go our way?

Or maybe not?

And then the cavalry on our right are eliminated, together with the elephants and we're through our breakpoint in about 2 hours of game play. Final score 5 : 2 to the Macedonians.

I will admit to making a few mistakes, and the dice didn't go our way. After all, I've seen armies with fewer missile units than this one destroy an opponent. Still, no point in complaining about a random element in a game. It's put there to make things more...random.

If I haven't mentioned it before I was part of the playtesters/army list writing crew for Armati 2. It was quite a fraught time and I didn't play all the armies. Those I could play, I did, and commented back. I never tried the Indians, for example, and I think the list has issues. The Armati points system formula is published and is transparent. My main criticism of it is that the points cost to an army of extra divisions and more initiative is not in proportion to its effect.

Some armies suffer because their historical counterpart had problems. The Ancient Brits, for example, were notoriously useless, having lots of lightweight warbands that got in each other's way. The fix, - allowing core units to deploy in flank zones - was my idea and helps a lot whilst not putting in ahistorical units.

I love Armati as a rule set, but sometimes it is a little bit infuriating.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Raphia Revised

...or not so Rapid Raphia.

After its successful try out at CoW I put Rapid Raphia on for the Monday Night Group this Wednesday. Chris W & Phil, who had missed the session at Knuston, played Ptolemy & Antiochus respectively. Even making allowance that it was the first game for both of them it didn't play as quickly as I would have liked. We had a nail biting finish but it took an hour and a half. The system has a lot of decision making in it as the players have to allocate cards each turn, althoguh I think that after playing the game once the initial turns will pass much more quickly.

For this game I put the big cloth out and upped the unit size to four bases each. This is unnecessary but improves the look of it and allows for the use of bigger playing cards.

Opening turn. The Ptolemaic phalanx moves forward. Phil has decided to go for a quick win on the flanks as he has a slight superiority in these areas.

Phil has pushed forward on both flanks, holding his phalanx back

Chris' light cavalry initialled evaded and then got trapped with no where to go and so got destroyed. On the other flank Phil has done very will, removing an elephant and  the opposing cavalry. Ptolemy has got himself killed as well.

The Seleucid cavalry have now looped round the back of the phalanx and charged it in the rear, breaking another unit. Ptolemy's men are now down about 5 units, so on the verge of defeat. However, Antiochus is running out of cards. If Chris can hold on he can get a draw by forcing Phil to withdraw.

However he went all out to inflict some pain and blew his remaining cards so both players ran out at the same time. With another unit going down, Chris lost.

As no game survives contact with the players, these changes/clarifications were made:

1) Players get one shuffle and re-deal at the start of the game if they don't like their first hand.
2) Both players now move before combat is resolved.
3) Heavy infantry may not move and change face.
4) Heavy cavalry playing black cards to move must go straight forward with no change of face.
5) Elephants do not have flanks unless they are pinned fighting to their front
6) General cannot be attached to elephant units
7) If forced to retire into friends they can only retire if they have the same facing. If they can't retire they are destroyed.
8) Heavy infantry with only one card and it is black still add half of the value, rounded up v cavalry & elephants.
9) Evading units must move directly away from the line of attack without turning.
10) The General counts as a unit for victory conditions.
11) After a General is killed the other player turns over the top card of his deck. If it is higher than the number of units left (counting J=11, Q=12, K=13, Joker = 0) the army breaks.

Any comments and any feedback on other try-outs of the system welcome.

(We discussed increasing the applicability of the rules, - perhaps a "Hasty Hydaspes" may emerge, for example)

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Rapid Raphia

As previously promised, here are the rules for the "Rapid Raphia" session I ran at CoW. They have been slightly modified in the light of the game play at CoW.

We are playing the game this evening, so expect more changes. I'd also remark that the game was written in a hurry, having woken up with the system pretty much fully formed in my head. It is a coincidence that there are about 12 units a side, - when I sat down with accounts of the battle I had to hand and simplified the deployment that's where I ended up, almost by chance.

This certainly sits at the "game" end of my designs, as opposed to a "simulation". I think it has the flavour of Successor warfare without bothering too much about being realistic. Whether it can be adapted for other armies and battles I don't know. The biggest limitation is the absence of any archery rules, and possibly the distinguishing of troop types by quality (we know some Ptolemaic phalangites weren't really up to it on the day). Elephants are probably too powerful, but who has a problem with that?

Rapid Raphia

Each side has a deck of playing cards including two jokers. Jokers count as court cards and are both red and black as desired. The deck is played through only once, and is not reshuffled.
Played on a board of 8cm squares, 7 x 10. One unit per square, plus general if required.








Turn Sequence
Players start the game with 13 cards as their hand, taken from their deck.
  1. Bid for turn: Each players places a card face down & then reveals them simultaneously. Highest card determines who says who goes first or second (ie the winner can tell his opponent to lay cards out first). Highest card is discarded. Lowest is returned to hand. If tie then determine by suit seniority H, C, D, S.
  2. Players place initial cards on units face down in order determined above. Must play at least four cards, and can only play one per unit.
  3. Players may play second card on any unit already with a card.
  4. Player 1 moves units. Resolve combat
  5. Player 2 moves units. Resolve combat
  6. Discard all cards, including those not used (ie cards cannot be carried over to the next turn)
  7. Check to see if either side has won.
  8. Refill hand to 13 cards

Units move orthogonally. Movement is compulsory if it is possible with the cards dealt, although if two cards are dealt only one has to be used for movement. When it is a player’s turn to move, cards to be used for movement are revealed. Cards not used for movement can be kept face down.
Heavy Infantry: May only move one square per turn
                May move with a red card or change facing
                                Second red card enables a change of facing in addition to moving
Light Infantry:   May only move one square per turn
                                May move on any colour card
                                No card required to change facing
                                May interpenetrate one rank of own side if have second card

Heavy Cavalry:  May move two squares, one per card
                                May only move with red cards, or two squares if both cards are black
                                Movement cards enable a square of movement and a change of facing

Light Cavalry:     May move two squares
                                May move with any colour card
                                No card required to change facing

Elephants            May only move one square
                                May only move or change face with black cards
                                A second black card enables a change of face in addition to moving

Commanders: Can move up to 3 squares if given a card, or moves with unit he is attached to. NB General’s movement card is discarded after moving and is NOT used in combat.

When a unit can advance into an opponent’s square combat takes place, using the cards allocated in 2) & 3) in turn sequence. An extra card can be played from the player’s hand if:
  • ·         It is attacking a flank or rear
  • ·         A general is attached
  • ·         Following up from previous combat

Reveal the cards and total the amount. Court cards & jokers count as 10. The highest score pushes the other side back one square, if possible. If opponent blocking retire path unit is destroyed. If friends are blocking retreat path, they fall back as well. If the higher total includes a court card opponent is eliminated. If both sides have played an equal number of court cards then the loser is not destroyed. The winning unit advances into the square vacated by the losing unit.

Where a unit is attacked by two or more units one unit is nominated as the lead unit. Other units then contribute a maximum of a single card, without modifiers. The lead unit determines the direction of pushback, if required, and will occupy the opponents square.

Units pushed off the board are lost. For the sake of clarity any unit without a card that is attacked is destroyed.

Elephants: Add half value of highest card (rounded up) against all, except light infantry
Heavy Cavalry: Add half value of lowest card (rounded up) v cavalry, light infantry
Heavy Infantry: If both cards black, add half of highest card (rounded up) v cavalry and elephants
Light Cavalry: Add half value of lowest card (rounded up) v light infantry
Light Infantry: Count only highest card against all except elephants

Light cavalry and light infantry can discard any cards to retire 2 or 1 square away from combat if desired.

Death of General
If a player wants to try to kill opposing general if in combat or contacted in the open, turn over top card of deck. Kill if card is a court card (not a joker)

End of game
Once a side has lost 6 units, turn over top card of deck. Army breaks if card is less than the number of units lost. Do this each turn. If no cards left, army is broken.  Otherwise the first army to be unable to play the minimum of four cards in 2) in the turn sequence must retire from the field. 

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Conference of Wargamers 2014 - Sunday

The weekend passes so quickly, but you cram so much in. The last three sessions proved to be just as enjoyable as those that preceded them. Not as many pictures this time, but here we go:

Challenges and Adventures
So Tom, who runs the best RPG sessions ever, was going to do a 40th anniversary D&D game. He got out his original white box etc to prepare and realised it was incomprehensible rubbish, so he wrote his own rules, and did some great graphics:
Oh look! I'm an archer & this is my stuff.
There were eight of us in the scenario which Tom outlined with his customary dash. We got off the boat and wandered up a path way and got attacked. Just to learn the rules, you understand.

Jon, Judith & John look like they are taking this way too seriously.
The mechanisms were quite ingenious and the graphics and stuff are great, as I said, but ultimately it's all about the story and how the players bounce off one another. This story had just the right mix of cliché and originality to bring back memories of the long, hot summer when we just played RPGs all day long as teenagers. In the end we found the evil temple, massacred the worshippers and freed the princess. Or whatever. Much fun had by all.

The final confrontation in the temple. How could I miss at that range?
Rapid Raphia 
This was my second session, organised at short notice. There were some gaps in the programme and I thought it would be fun to refight Raphia, - one of the largest ancient battles - in about 30 minutes with no dice. Couldn't work out how to do it. Then when I woke up Thursday morning I found I had dreamt the whole play system. I nipped down to Shedquartes, typed up the rules on the netbook, drew up two playing grids and sorted out the figures. I didn't ruin the idea with any play testing.

Over the weekend I got a bit worried as a few people remarked they were really looking forward to the session. I was expecting it to tank after 15 minutes.

As it was we played it four times on the two boards in just over an hour and got a mix of outcomes. Everyone who took part claimed to enjoy it and asked for the revised version once the changes were written in that were found in the play tests. I was astonished that the core system worked really well and only a few adjustments were needed. I'll write a more complete blog on the system in the next week or so, but the core of the game is a card management and deployment mechanism.

Jim Roche & Chris Ager clash across the Rapid Raphia board

Russell King takes me on for the first two moves before Tony Hawkins arrives.

The Drury brothers clash. A classic  CoW grudge match.

The Drurys end their game with Antiochus & Ptolemy killing each other at the head of their Companions
I thought of the game as a high speed knock about bit of fun. After a short while it was being referred to as "Carefully Considered Raphia" as much brain work was put into what cards needed to go where. Not every unit gets a card each go, and woe betide you if a cardless unit is attacked.

Lies, Damned Lies & Statistics
This was a discussion lead by Jim Wallman and John Bassett on the use of sources, how they influence game design and how you fill in the gaps. I can't really say more, but it was very thought provoking to say the least. It's the sort of well informed discussion that CoW excels in.

And then it's time for home, with many promises to meet up and play games before next year. CoW is unique. It's a group of old friends who meet once a year to eat and drink well and play games in a civilized environment. Even those who are attending their first one easily fall into the category of old friends after the first 5 minutes.

Next year will be the 35th CoW at Knuston. I've missed two, I think, over that time and I hope I never have to miss any more. Each year I learn new things and enjoy new games. Yes the toy soldiers are important and there are some nice looking games but it's about ideas, imagination and design. It's unique. I love it.

Conference of Wargamers 2014 - Saturday Sessions

The day dawned bright & sunny etc, etc. Up and blogged Friday & now ready for some serious gaming on a packed Saturday schedule.

Boots on the Ground

My first session of the day was John Armatys' game of counter insurgency in modern Afghanistan. The rules are fairly simple but with an ingenious firing mechanism that reduces the flow of fire from a unit as it has to deal with the consequences of being shot at. Casualties are determined a move after fire is inflicted, and the hit result table has a chance of hits doubling up and being re-rolled. This cleverly genuinely means you cannot estimate either the likely best or worst result of fire on a unit until it is resolved.

The table with Coalition forces laid out prior to deployment.

Fire support group and no 3 platoon choppered in to provide covering fire

Covering fire being provided

Look! The insurgents have taken some hits.

The Taliban leader flees under the watchful eye of a drone.
We had a good plan, and were well lead by Tom M who seemed to know what he was doing. The scenario was kind to us, - we had lots of kit and used it well, I think. An interesting discussion was had on using a Javelin missile to provide an extra doorway into the compound, mainly based on the actual cost of the weapon.

The game is challenging partly because of the rules of engagement. You can't start shooting until a potential hostile points his gun at you, so they in theory get "first strike".

An interesting and nice looking game.

Warriors for the Working Day

No photos for this one as it was a design session for a megagame in Normandy using model tanks. It was run by Jim Wallman and he used the numbers present to run a series of sub-groups to look at the combat mechanisms and the campaign structure. In our sessions a number of interesting ideas got floated, with one team (not us) actually producing a reasonable working version that had tactical movement, decision making and combat resolution all in a 15 minute playing segment. We had a card based system that was doing a good job of simulating the different ways that experienced and green tank teams operated that may surface again elsewhere.

Nimy Bridge
Wayne Thomas is well known at CoW for his neat and beautifully presented 15mm games set from the late 19th century onwards. This game was a re-run of two BEF battalions holding off a German attack in Divisional strength in 1914. I partnered Matt Hartley as the left hand British battalion.

The game has a simple dice command activation system and a random card mechanism that provides sappers, reserves, heroic actions and so on.

Nimy & British positions on the left. Germans approaching from the top

They had a lot of infantry and guns. We didn't.

A BEF company concealed in the woods holds off an entire Regiment.

The sappers blow a bridge

The Teutonic hordes try to assault across the canal

The Huns find a gap in our line. Have they broken through?

The flanking Germans from above are repulsed by our reserves.

The final German attacks are beaten off
As with any dice activated games frustrations can occur. Through a series of "1s" the BEF was unable to move of fire its guns, and had a lot of its line pinned. Then it leapt into action all of a sudden and gave the Boche a bloody nose.

Having played these rules a few times ("Far Away Wars") I think they work better for less well organised armies and wars. That said this provided a tense and exciting game where honours ended up about even. Lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

To Ur is Human

As this has been well and truly covered on this blog not much to say here (and not many pictures). I had six keen and active players  who seemed to enjoy themselves, with the defenders pulling off a victory for the first time in this scenario. New players approach things in new ways and I got one small rule change out of the game.

The titanic struggle across the canal.
The post game de-brief had a lively discussion on the simulation and on the general use on towed wagons in combat. Hopefully the participants will share their thoughts through the Nugget.

Cabinet Office Briefing Room A
This was a Jim Wallman discussion game where the players dealt with a completely unanticipated crisis. I played the Head of ACPO.

Home Secretary, Prime Minister & Defence Secretary

The Ambassadors of German, Netherlands, France & the USA
 The scenario was  a science fiction based one but the game forced us to deal with it in a real world context.. Without giving too much away it looked like we were going to have to refight WW2 on our own. Another interesting game and scenario with potential spin offs.

Hemlock & Democracy
The last game of the day, running for an hour and a half up to midnight.John Bassett gave us a game set in the aftermath of the fall of Athens to Sparta as the democrats tried to retake their home city from the Thirty Oligarchs.

The Thirty arguing again before going off to get drunk. Again.
I was the leading democrat in exile with a long Greek name I can't spell. At the start of the game I was isolated in Thebes but as the Thirty squabbled and the Spartans looked on in despair I was able to gather followers and march on Athens under the pretence of celebrating religious mysteries and sacrificing at the Parthenon. I knew I was doing this right and was close to winning when Rob Cooper tried to assassinate me.

We captured the Spartan governor, turned out the Thirty and I gathered to my side those loyal Athenians who could see which way the wind was blowing then defeated Lysander at an epiuc battle fought in the plains before Athens.

Never before have I got all four of my objectives in a John Bassett game and got away without someone slipping a knife blade under my breast plate.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

COW 2014 - Friday

Another July, another Conference of Wargamers. The sun is up, the sky is blue, what more could you want?

The weekend started with the traditional battlefield visit organised by John Curry. This year nine of us made the journey to Cropredy to visit its bridge and the environs where was played out William Waller's last action. We met at the Brasenose Arms (very nice, - doesn't open until 12) and enjoyed a lovely lunch and some excellent beer before heading off to view the site.

The Memorial on Cropredy Bridge. Wreaths from the Battlefields Trust

Phil does the briefing on the bridge. He'd walked the field before.

The view from the bridge towards the Royalist line on the ridge

About halfway across. View from 17th century barn towards bridge

View from Royalist position across valley to Bourton

There's no real substitute for walking the land. The Cropredy area has been changed by the addition of hedges and the building of a canal but the site of the battle is mostly unchanged. The area round the bridge is water meadow, and the hills are open and shallow. The horse riders amongst us declared it would be fine countryside for a gallop.

The battlefield is spread out as Waller was attacking the King's Army whilst on the march, so you need time or a car to see it. Best of all, probably, is to get on a Battlefield Trust walk.

Phil had kindly done the driving from Northampton so we had to go back to Trebian Towers for me to pick up my car and equipment for the weekend, then off to Knuston!

A Mighty Wind

The Plenary Game was short and silly. Players were divided into teams of two, - ground crew and pilot. They had to produce head bands, haikus & paper planes to crash into the oncoming American Fleet. Yes, its a game about kamikaze flyers. All over very quickly, a bit like.....

The Fleet approaches across the croquet lawn.

The first wave prepares to launch its attack.

Toni-San poses for his farewell picture before his mission

The Imperial Sun rises over Knuston.

We then swapped rolls and the ground crew got to write haikus and attack the fleet:

My plane has a bomb
But on the whole I'd
Rather be in Philadelphia

WW2 Special Forces Operations
In previous year's Tom M has run "Footfall" games, where teams of daring specialists take on eldritch horrors and blow them up. This year he took the core mechanisms of that role playing game and used them to run a commando raid on a German Secret Base in Holland. There were eight of us, ably commanded by Jim Roche, with me as his deputy. I really should have paid more attention to the briefing.

Tom briefs us over a facsimile of a wartime map.
We were one section of a company landing in nine gliders. We had to land in this secret base, dismantle all the secret equipment and then spirit it away on a jeep provided by one of the other sections. We were to be delivered by glider under cover of a 500 bomber raid. Other sections were to seal off the area, provide cover and so on.

Things went badly from the start. The flak was very heavy. There were night fighters. Our towing plane was hit and we crash landed. Captain Jim was thrown through the window and killed, putting me in charge. I really, really should have listened to the briefing. Luckily for Jim the glider co-pilot survived and he got to join the section as him. Alas he had no idea where we'd crashed.

Tom laid out the terrain and it looked like we were on the target. As we crept towards the buildings you got the feeling something wasn't right. Then a convoy of German trucks drove past, ignoring our crashed glider. Perhaps we were in the wrong place. We promptly re-checked the map, stole a German truck and followed the German column on the grounds they were probably off to protect the high value target in the area.

Soon explosions were going off in the distance. The German column had been ambushed. After some discussion we deployed our Bren Gun and snipers (good quick thinking by Corporal Alex) whilst we got on the radio to the Dutch resistance.

The German convoy is ambushed

It turned out the Germans had been ambushed by the Dutch.With our help they were wiped out and through the radio we managed to avoid getting killed by our allies. Alas the road was too badly blocked to get the stolen truck through. Any how we finally found the proper location having received the news from the Dutch that no other gliders had made it down safely. We were on our own.

The Secret Base (NB Antenna in wrong position)
We stealthily approached up the road. We improvised a plan. Chris & Rob would go off to the launch pad and blow it up and steal things. Alex & Charlie would go and steal a truck and the rest of us would follow the Germans down into the bunker to steal more things.

Searching the bunker
Most of this went smoothly. We were able to unmask a Nazi spy in our midst (someone posing as a Geramn speaking Jew to get into the Commandos), and get out of the bunker with lots of paper work, only taking one leg wound (well done Russell).

We rush towards the truck in a hail of bullets
Chris & Rob killed some guards, stole a control panel thingy and blew loads of stuff up. Alex had rigged up the Bren gun in the truck to provide covering fire as we fled the scene with lots of special effects happening in the background. He also remembered the route to the rendezvous with the MTB. As I said, really should listen to the briefing next time.

A rip-roaring success all round.

I managed to squeeze in a final game of Ian Drury's night bombing raids over Germany, but I have neither a name nor a photograph for that session. I'm pleased to rpeort we landed home safely with slight damage having dropped our bombs somewhere in the region of Hanover. Probably.

An excellent start to the weekend.