Friday, 3 July 2015

Blind Playtest

Sir Padraig of Norfolk agreed to try out "Hurried Hydaspes" with one of his local opponents. He was good enough to photograph the game nearly turn by turn and send me comments. This is how it went.

After we'd had to speak on the phone so I could explain a few things of course.

Sir Padraig was the Indians. Esquire Hoops the Macedonians.

Now I don't have captions for all of these pictures and I didn't see the game so this account is e
wven more incoherent that usual.

This is a view of Alexander's wing. He's out there on the extreme left of the picture. The Indian left flank cavalry are being held back, out of shot at the bottom of the picture.  Sir P is being devious, surrendering the initiative to give himself a card advantage at the end of the game.

Lots of resources being thrown in on this flank to get a Macedonian breakthrough. Looks like a dead chariot to me on the right, although later pictures indicate this isn't the case. Wonder what happened?

Nothing much going on over on the other wing. Those light infantry are keeping that elephant in check.

That looks like a dead elephant in this picture as the light infantry get stuck in.

Right. That certainly should be a dead chariot, even with the elephant joining in. The Indian cavalry are certainly gone.

Macedonian cavalry sweeping along the battle line at the bottom. Can't work out who is doing what to who on the right hand edge.

I have a note that goes with this picture. It says "3 Indian Units gone, 1 Greek unit gone" (sic)

Those pikes have got it sorted against that elephant. Bonuses for two black cards, plus a support card from the rear rank.

This picture is the wrong way round, but I can't rotate it. The caption reads: "Archers killed two cavalry cards with archery. But 2 for 2 stand off no movement no deaths. " It refers to the two units on the left. The archers have held off the Macedonian cavalry with some steady shooting.

The end of the game, -

Alexander stayed out of action the whole game. Curious.

Final note from Sir Padraig:

"We ended early as I lost 7 units but missed the card turn. As you can see I had a very strong backhand (I have a picture of the remaining cards, but it's a bit dull for a blog). Alexander still not involved and Hoops pointed out that the next turn was definitely his last. 

I had been successful losing the initiative to burn his deck and holding back to force him to burn cards. 

We really enjoyed it. Thanks."

Looks like it was a close game, and it is good to get some positive feedback from people enjoying the game.

I have a few items to sort out and write up, but a reassuring playtest before CoW.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A Playtesting Evening

Having finished the work I needed to do for one of my CoW games I was in need of a playtest. There were some tweaks to the rules required and I wasn’t completely happy with them, so I needed a willing opponent.

What with all the commuting and other stuff going on it has been difficult to squeeze a game in of an evening. Luckily as the project I’m on ramps up its numbers at the same time as the company is selling off real estate the requirement to work from home has become a necessity about one day a week. That means I can finish work later than normal and still get home an hour or so early, freeing up time for a game.

Phil agreed to come over and help out, although I had a suspicion that the “Rapid….”  ruleset does not hit his sweet spot for games.

The game is the Hydaspes refight I referred to in my last post. Phil took the Indians, and I got Alexander. My feelings were that Alex would be up against it to manufacture a win, as the central block of elephants is quite formidable.

As it turned out I wasn’t quite right. However, I think that was mainly down to me not explaining the rules fully, and then rolling out tactics that I knew would work.

I should also say that Phil hasn’t played the system that much (he thinks “at all”) and it is certainly a game where knowing the rules is key. The skill in the game is in managing your cards and deploying them at key points. There are very few places you can create an absolute advantage, and you have to throw everything in to them. There are also times when you have a complete lost cause, and trying to defend it is just a waste of resources. What this means is that if you know how it works you have a huge advantage that no amount of tactical skill will offset.

It’s a bit like playing Martin Wallace at one of his games for the first time. He has no qualms about kicking you around the park if he can.

 The game was a little formulaic. I went for a big right hook lead by Alexander, and mostly got away with it. I won two out of three combats, but that left Phil with a cavalry unit on the inner flank that would prove to be a nuisance.

Phil tried to free up his archers, whilst smashing off the right hand end of my phalanx. The archers aren’t that effective. Partly it is hard to use them as they are masked, which is historical. Also the rules for using them effectively are not completely intuitive. A single unit on its own isn’t that great, but you can make headway if you use them in groups, or if you combine them with a hand to hand attack. The bald mechanisms as written don’t make this completely clear. However, I will admit that I am a bit harsh in this area, and a re-write has been done. 

As Alex had won on my right flank I was able to turn on the line of archers and start to roll them up. You can see them causing havoc quite clearly.

Phil made decent inroads into my phalanx, but I was well ahead on damage done. I'd finally decided to push my left flank up, as Phil advanced his remaining elephants. We're getting into the final phases of the game here, and card management is becoming absolutely key.

This is where it ended. I've wiped out the infantry, and done in both flanks mostly. The game is over as we've both run out of cards. The dead piles give the victory to Alexander.

I got a few rule changes out of the game, but otherwise I'm good to go to CoW with it. I need to do a really good QRS and work on how I explain the game so that players are in with a chance of playing the game how I want it to be played.

I am toying with the idea of allowing the players one recycling of their deck so that they are able to get more units involved. In most games of the system so far half of the armies sit there as punching bags.

It certainly works well as a game, but I'm not so sure it is a great wargame. Maybe my WD friends will let me know if a few weeks time if they agree with me.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Getting ready for CoW.

WDs Conference of Wargamers is less than a month away now. Where has the year gone?

This year I'm putting on a couple of sessions,  both of which are based on things I've done before.
The first is a development of the "Rapid Raphia" game from last year. As the title seemed to work I'm offering "Hurried Hydaspes". As I have remarked before I know the battle now and I have the figures.

Last year I did it all in a bit of a hurry so the game was played on a sheet of card divided into squares. With a bit more time this year I have done one proper board and have another one under construction.

This shows the expected set up. The board is divided into squares using discrete brown dots, so hopefully preserving the look of a wargame over a board game. This board is built on the back of a pinboard one of my regular opponents kindly donated to put up in Shedquarters. I never really had the wall space or the need for it, so it serves a good purpose here.

Unlike "Rapid Raphia" the armies for this one are not even in terms of units. Furthermore the Indians don't get a general figure. This is partly because there isn't enough room in the squares for a unit AND my Porus figure (he's in a chariot) but mainly because he doesn't seem to have done much in the battle.

The rules have been re-written and gone off for blind playtesting. There's been a few changes. "Rapid Raphia" is essentially a battle between two evenly matched sides using the same weapons systems. "Hurried Hydaspes" is a bit more asymmetric. The heavy cavalry on opposite sides isn't really comparable, and neither is the heavy infantry. It'll be a good test for the original concept.

Post Script: The other board was left to dry in Shedquarters today and it has been a bit warm. Consequently it has warped a bit. Curses. Need to attach a frame to the back to pull it back into shape. What a nuisance.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Some Peruvian Pictures

Through a fortunate combination of circumstances I found myself with enough time on Saturday to sit down with Serif DrawPlus and do some flags for my Peruvian units.

The flags are quite involved, as they have the Peruvian coat of arms in the middle. Luckily for me it always fits exactly on the white central band of the flag, so I had to do little to easily available internet images to give me the basics I needed. This is less true of the Bolivian flag, where some serious time with PhotoPlus is going to be required.

So, come Sunday morning all my completed units had their flags attached and varnished and ready for a photo shoot.

Here we have a couple of line battalions, screened by some Cazadores, flanked by my cavalry. The buildings are from my AK47 collection, and are the closest I've got to what I saw on the Altiplano.  I thought I could use my Spanish buildings as they're adobe with those Mediterranean roof tiles. Alas they're all multi-storied and most Peruvian architecture is lower, on account of the earthquakes and stuff they get. Plus outside of the cities the buildings usually aren't white.

Same shot from behind the lines. Pleased with how bright the colours came up on the standards as they were printed on my ink jet using generic cartridges. The clear varnish has really brought them up nicely. You'll see I've painted the back of the bases with identifying marks by regiment.

More of a close up, with the units in classic Neil Thomas formations.

Each unit so far is slightly different. The Peruvian forces had two campaign uniforms, white & blue, for summer & winter respectively. They often wore both together as it gets cold at altitude regardless of the time of year. Furthermore the dress uniform had red trousers and white gaiters, so there's variety to be had.

Better shot showing the flags. I'm really getting to like these guys. Artillery piece on the desk will hopefully get finished this evening.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

More bank holiday fun (part 2)

A bit late on the write up of the second game. Had to do pesky things like go to work. Then we were up in the North helping young Master T and his girlfriend move into their very first own house, which was lovely. Then I had to catch up and watch all of the Cup Final to see the might Gooners triumph once more.

Anyhow, back to the story....

Suitably refreshed after lunch at the Coach & Horses we were back for round two of our matrix game day.

As previously trailed this was Alexander’s last major battle, Hydaspes. I chose this partly because I’ve been doing it a lot over the last year or so, which means I’m fairly comfortable with what I think happened and so felt okay about adjudicating arguments about the battle, And partly because it has lots of elephants. Who doesn’t like elephants?

Phil was Alexander with Tony as his loyal lieutenant Coenus. Chris got King Porus with Tom as a unnamed side kick.

As you can see Tom loves to get behind lots of toy soldiers when he has the chance. Or was it because there loads of elephants. Did I mention that there were loads of elephants?

For this game I was using a version of “De Matricae Bellae” (which is still available from the Society of Ancients’ website or from the stand at all good wargames shows in the UK). I say “a version” as shortly after it was published I transposed the system onto squares. I did this not just to resolve the usual issues with measuring but also to deal with some issues around the number of elements involved in combat. The initial motivation had been from updating the system to the renaissance period as I wanted a more formal style of game, with units moving in a more regimented fashion. It worked very well so I retro fitted the changes back into the ancients version.

As usual the deployment was based on Sabin, but I went with his unit sizes as well, effectively doubling the size of average units or halving the size of the elite, depending upon your point of view. This can universally be regarded as a mistake in this game.

There are a lot of similarities in the basic mechanisms between the two games we played, but there’s more emphasis on players using their matrix arguments to modify unit effectiveness in the ancients game compared with the modern Africa version where they system leans more towards developing the narrative.

Now before I start the account of what happened I must say in my defence that it is a long time since I last ran one of these and I was a bit rusty and hadn’t got the set up quite right.

Alexander started  because, well, he’s Alexander.  In this system having the initiative is really important. You only fight in your turn and anything you do or say can only be contradicted through the emergence of new facts or events. You can’t just contradict your opponent and say something hasn’t happened once an argument has determined it has.

So Phil stormed forwards and made a convincing argument for why his Companions would be very effective in combat (see example in previous blog…..). He then rolled a double 1 and failed. This was the start of a succession of five 1s if memory serves. He had also (and I should have warned him) moved within charge range of his opponents so he would be on the receiving end of melee combat before he could hit back (this was the error in the set up I referred to earlier).

The consequence of this was that Chris piled in with everything he could and inflicted a lot of casualties. Phil was unable to get a saving roll in due to the run of 1s referred to above. That left one single base of Companions, accompanied by a rather exposed looking Alexander.

Luckily for the Macedonians Tony took the orders to refuse his flank as meaning “charge into your opponents and kill everything”, which he duly did. There's a rule in DMB about swapping a hit you inflict for a matrix card. If you can use this to argue for the outcome of the combat it counts double. Tony pulled this trick off twice, and the Indian cavalry was soon fleeing towards the edge of the table. This opened up a huge gap that Tony was able to exploit in a rather Alexandrian fashion. Tom was reeling by this point, although still smiling. Did he have a clever trick up his sleeve?*

Back on the other flank Phil threw in his light horse to hold up the Indian cavalry, and quickly redeployed his hypaspists to fill the gap. This just about stabilised everything.

Tony meanwhile had completely ploughed in Tom's wing, forcing the infantry to form a flank to prevent being rolled up. Tom in his chariot is just about to turn and flee, if he can make a good enough argument.

It all got a bit hectic after this and photos are few. The Indians stabilised their position a bit, and Alexander managed to break through on his wing at last.

This enabled him to evade the Indian defensive line and attack Porus in hand to hand combat. He was eventually beaten off, but gave the Indian leader a nasty scare.

The Indian army was now close to being double enveloped and the elephant attack on the Macedonian infantry had failed. The phalangites were just about to take the battle to the Indians, when the home team retired and the game was over.

In the final "who won" arguments round Coenus came out top. The troops were already tired after a long campaign and it was quite clear that Alexander had been pulled out of the mire by his colleague. Porus lived to fight another day with his reputation mostly unscathed. His side kick, however, had put up a less than epic showing.

And so ended a most enjoyable day. It was great to get out some old toys and dust down a system that has given me so much fun over the years. The games are vibrant, lively, with a real strong narrative. Players are constantly engaged and even those having a rough time of it can usually salvage something out of the game.

Wargaming is brilliant, isn't it?

* No.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

More Bank Holiday Fun (part 1)

I have been writing this blog for over 5 years now and it came to me recently that I’ve never really written much about Matrix Games. In fact close to nothing.

Matrix games, - those games with the structured argument process that enables the players to modify the rules – were a major part of my wargaming life a few years ago. I even wrote a booklet about them for the Society of Ancients. I also used to set up a large refight of a battle at CoW each year until interest essentially died out.

(Parenthesis: A note on matrix games for those unfamiliar with them.

Matrix games in the UK utilise a structured argument process supported by a set of cards with key words on them to modify the rules or the events in the game. The cards contain words like “Terrain”, “Betrayal”, “Missiles”, “Surprise”, “Equipment” and so on. Each argument consists of an Action/Outcome supported by three reasons. A “matrix” card is played to support the argument with a numerical value and an umpire assigns a probability to the outcome and dice are rolled. So, a typical argument might be:

Action: Alexander leads his Companions into contact with the opposing cavalry
Result: All Companion bases hit with a 4-6 instead of a 6
Reason 1: The Companions are the elite unit of the Macedonian army (play “Elite” card worth 2)
Reason 2: The Companions are further inspired by being lead personally by Alexander
Reason 3: The battlefield is flat and open, perfect terrain for hard charging cavalry.

This is adjudged a very strong argument, requiring a 5+ on 2d6, with +2 from the Elite card. If the player rolls a 1,1 he fails and it is clear that the Companions are having an off day.

End of parenthesis)

Every so often I used to organise a matrix gaming day in Trebian Towers. The last one was a bit of a disaster as I tried to do it in late April in my garage and everyone nearly got hypothermia. With the advent of Shedquarters it was clearly time to resurrect the practice.

Only I never got quite round to it until Mrs T poked me and said “When are you going to do one of those games you invite all those people to then?”

So, I sat down and worked some stuff out and e-mailed the normal crew. Out of a potential 9 or 10 players I ended up with four, - you have to have an even number for matrix games mostly or they don’t work quite so well if you’re doing a two sided refight.

The main set piece was to be a Matrix Game refight of Hydaspes (well, I’ve got the figures and done the research). It was to be preceded in the morning with one of my periodic modern African games set in the country of Zambola. This is a linked series of games featuring some of the same characters and an evolving political narrative. They started quite by chance at a CoW when Bob Cordery and Tony Hawkins introduced me to “Politics by other means”, a Chris Engle quick fire table top game. I had all my AK47 kit with me and we soon broke out into another game where the President Jog(a)-Jog(a) – the spelling has never been completely agreed – emerged as the central character.

Each game often has elements of the real world usually that I want to explore or is inspired by other events. This game’s central theme was inspired by Durritti’s plan during the SCW to hi-jack the Republican government’s gold reserves and run off with them on an armoured train. It didn’t quite work out like that, but it was fun anyway.

So, some more background. Zambola has been ruled since independence by the FAZED, which is an acronym from the Portuguese and means the Freedom Party of Zambola. Power has fragmented between three elements of the FAZED, - the youth wing(Y-FAZED), the ruling council (The RC) and a social democratic faction who want more party democracy (WO-FAZED).

FAZED is opposed by the ZIPPO/KLF alliance. ZIPPO is the Zambolan Independent People’s Organisation and draws its power from the Zambolan region. The KLF is the Kalima Liberation Force who fight for the independence of the Kalima region which is ethnically different to the rest of Zambola but was included within the boundaries in some Colonial carve up during the scramble for Africa in the nineteenth century.

The player's scratch their collective heads over the briefings
To the south of Zambola is Swamibia which has had a difficult post-colonial history but is the regional powerhouse. It usually has the best trained troops and actual working equipment. The Swamibians might not feature in this game, but they’re always a threat lurking in the background.
Finally you often seen UN trucks and peace keepers scattered around.

At the start of the game Y-FAZED were in control of the City centre, including all of the main government buildings, - the Police HQ, the Central Reserve Bank and the Government Offices. As you can see I use a mixture of 2D templates and 3D props to create the game environment.

Y-FAZED's main task was to empty the bank and run off with everything. WD stalwart Tony Hawkins was in charge as the ex-president’s son (Luke Jogi-Jogi) and he set to the attendant looting with a will. Being short of wheeled vehicles they quickly commandeered the mobile broadcasting unit of the World's Press to help shift their ill-gotten gains

The other FAZED factions were heading into town in their vehicles, likewise variously aiming to seize control or at least some diamonds. Or Art. Or Gold. Or incriminating documents. Tom had control of the RC as the slightly unstable psychopath Field Marshal Condimenti and commander of the feared 1st Parachute brigade. Because Tom through his long wargaming career and for as long as I have known him has never had any proper wargaming toy soldiers I let him use his newly acquired AK47 police force, otherwise all the kit is mine.

WO-FAZED was led by MNG regular Chris A as Chairman Elliott Smith, and Phil took over the role of General “Fat Boy” Wheer-awi of ZIPPO in the absence of JB, their regular commander. JB has, alas, been very unwell  and we all hope he will have recovered in time for CoW.

Of course this is a wargame so you'd expect some fighting. But it is also a matrix game and the briefings all had a political element to them as well, and the players will often come up with some thing unexpected.

So Chris' WO-FAZED forces drove into town with improvised banners on their vehicles proclaiming a new era and peace and love and calling the towns' people to a rally in Independence Square.

The singing and dancing crowds milled about, preventing the Y-FAZED forces with their loot in the TV van getting to the train. In the confusion some of the crates of looted artefacts fell off the back of the truck, and were spirited away.

The game had been going for half an hour and no firing had broken out. Then one of the players (Phil, I think) argued that the Y-FAZED gunners outside the Government Offices panicked and opened fire. They did, and hit one of the WO-FAZED trucks.

Then everyone started firing. The RC had occupied the Police HQ, and were merrily firing at the fleeing previous occupants. It all got a bit excited and I stopped taking pictures in order to keep up with what was going on. Tony was scrambling madly to load his loot on to the train and then trying to get it to start up (Chris had argued that the train crew had run off to join the peace rally). The train had received a hit in the gun carriage and was starting to smoulder a bit.

In order to stop the train fleeing Field Marshal Condimenti sent his trusted lieutenant with the pride of the Zambolan armoured corps to block the train. Many shots were fired, but few, if any, hit the target as the metal monster got up steam.

Meanwhile the rest of Condimeti's men were making themselves at home in the police HQ, whilst the Field Marshal did a power (and loot) sharing deal with Elliott Smith of the WO.

More shots exchanged but the train starts to creep forwards.

Finally the train explodes as the fire in the gun carriage reaches the ammunition store. As this happens the RC & the WO retire, leaving the City to the Fat Boy and ZIPPO/KLF. You see whilst FAZED had been busy fighting each other the Fat Boy had taken control of the Government Offices and using the in-built TV studio had broadcast messages to ZIPPO/KLF forces to rise up as he announced his seizure of power.

So who won? Well, mostly the Fat Boy. However it was revealed in the final arguments round that Elliott Smith was a Swamibian spy who was tasked with keeping Zambola unstable so they could control the diamond fields of the south, whilst concealing his identity by laying his hands on incriminating documents held in the Government Offices. Condimenti kept his forces together and will surely be back for another shot at power. Young Luke, alas, managed to escape in a jeep with only one box of goodies, but if it's all diamonds it may be enough for a comfortable retirement.

All of the narrative of the game, pretty much, came from the players through the matrix mechanism. Everyone announced themselves happy with the proceedings and regretted that it had been so long since the last such outing (2006, if my records are correct...)

That concluded the morning's entertainment, so we all went off down the pub for lunch.

Part 2 will follow at a later date.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

More on my Andean Journey

As I said in my report on Campaign I picked up a contemporary account of some of the Peruvian/Chilean conflict. This was written by Rudolf de Lisle,a Royal Naval officer on HMS Shannon, who kept a diary and illustrated it with watercolours. It was re-printed by Pen & Sword books in 2008 and I got my copy from Dave Lanchester*.

The book has a historical introduction which is okay, and suffers from some idiosyncratic foot-noting, but otherwise it’s a gem. The chap who wrote it was a talented water-colourist. He’s clearly an amateur but he’s a military educated amateur so he knows what he is painting when he’s doing the military stuff. He served on land from time-to-time, which ultimately cost him his life at Abu Klea**.

Most of the military illustrations are of naval combat between the Peruvian and Chilean ironclads. He saw most if not all of the ships concerned, although I don’t know that he actually saw them in ship-to-ship action. If you want to model the ships the pictures are excellent.

There are some pictures of the land based forces, including of the fortifications built round Miraflores all of which are useful. Even more useful for me, already having the Caliver book on the uniforms, are the illustrations of the terrain, showing the colours, types of buildings and so on. One of the pictures at least is of a place I have visited that is now completely built over.

The diary text is of variable usage but all interesting as to what was important to a Naval office in the last quarter of the 19th century. Playing cricket against other ships and the locals features highly.
It’s a lovely book and thoroughly recommended to anyone with an interest in that period and not just in that part of the world. After all many of the ironclads that fought were built in Britain and most of ours never saw any action.

Don't take my word for this being an excellent book; Bob Cordery over at Wargames Miscellany got there first about 4 years ago, before I'd even heard of the conflict, let alone the book - Link

I have also managed to finish my first unit of Peruvian cavalry. These are the “Caballeros de Rimac”. They were so named because the unit was fitted out from the contents of a captured Chilean troopship called the Rimac.

Caballeros de Rimac
In practice it doesn’t matter what I call them. The Peruvian army mostly equipped its cavalry in a uniform manner so they can pass for anything. They also shared similarities in uniform colours with the Chileans, so keeping them apart will be a challenge (the Bolivians had a different uniform colour for each regiment, pretty much, so no issues there).

Colonel and Bugler
The figures are crisp and well detailed and proportioned. The horses are slightly smaller than usual which is correct. The horses in the campaign were noted for being small (and it must be admitted also sometimes completely absent). The detail on the firearms is very good too.

Two troopers
If I was to have a criticism it would be that the arm out to the side with a sword is a really awkward pose to get on a base without the sword sticking into a colleague. If I’d known I’d have asked not to have had any of those poses in my order. What I may do for some of them is substitute a lance for the sword to reduce the footprint of the figure.

My next batch on the painting desk includes some more infantry and some artillery. It’s slow progress, but I’ll get there.

Now, off to think about how I make some South American buildings…

* Whenever possible you should always get your books from Dave ‘cos he’s a nice bloke who looks after wargamers.
** He is clearly going to be a character in my next SvP game.