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.