I mentioned in my Fall In post that I had played Battle Troll with Howard Whitehouse on Saturday evening. At a friend’s urging, I wrote a short review. I call it a premature review, because I haven’t played it enough yet to have a valid opinion.
I liked it. There are a number of interesting ideas for games involving small numbers of figures. I’m not sure how it would scale. I’ve only played it once, so I can’t provide a valid review, but here are my initial thoughts. I’ve provided a little more detail in case you wanted to include any of it in your blog. If you don’t want to use it, let me know, because I might use it on my blog then.
First, it was fun to play with Howard. He’s a funny guy, and we probably would have had fun reading insurance forms. The book, like all Howard’s books, is fun to read because of the humorous quips he throws in from time to time.
We played with four figures on each side, two heroes and two huskarls. Mark Ryan and Howard were the bad guys. Lee Howard from Blue Moon and I were the good guys.
Activation is card based. Some folks have applied interesting twists to the original TSAF method. A pitfall of card-based activation is that sometimes a lot of folks are standing around watching one person do stuff. In Battles by GASLIGHT we use double random activation to address this. Muskets and Tomahawks has modified the card system so that regulars go less frequently, but do more when they activate, while irregulars go more often, but do less when they activate. In Battle Troll, there are two types of activation. One lets everyone on a side act. The other lets the player pick a hero, then that hero and anyone within two inches of him moves. In a larger game, I can imagine that the “everyone goes” card might take a long time to resolve and so would make the other side feel disconnected. In our first run through the deck, our side got a string of cards, so we approached, threw javelins, and then closed into melee while Howard and Mark stood there drooling on themselves. Most of the rest of the game, the card draws were pretty even, but this first turn really favored our side.
I didn’t really understand how the missile combat was working when I threw some javelins. Howard told us what to roll, and we did it. The results seemed reasonable.
Melee is where I think these rules really came into their own and had some nice features. I really liked the paper-scissors-rock feel of melee. I’ve seen this done for jousting games, but never general melee. The attacker chooses one of five attack cards, while the defender chooses one of five defense cards. Some attacks provide bonuses if you are using the correct weapon (e.g., axes get a bonus on “slice” attacks). The attack card and the defense card are then flipped over and cross referenced on a small table. This cross referencing tells you how many dice the attacker rolls and how many the defender rolls. The other interesting aspect of the melee is that these are sort of opposed die rolls. You compare the highest die rolled on each side. That means that someone with five dice who rolls all low numbers, can be defeated by someone who rolls a six on the one die he gets to roll. The probability is low, but it’s still possible. I liked that. I also liked the way that the difference between the high die and the low die was a modifier in computing damage.
The other nuance of this card-based melee system is that figures other than heroes don’t get to choose an attack or defense card. Instead, they draw one randomly from the deck. One of the five cards is an accident card, which you would never intentionally draw, but huskarls and karls may draw them randomly. These can cause the figure to drop his weapon, cutting off his own toe, fall on his dagger, or other humorous events.
Finally the impact of minor wounds was really interesting. Depending on how wounded you are, you “offer” your opponent the opportunity to make you perform some number of re-rolls. This could be anything from 1 re-roll for a slight wound to more re-rolls for more serious wounds. These re-rolls are cumulative. At one point, I was able to make Mark re-roll five times, which was great, because he kept rolling fives and sixes. This is a nice way to handle the impact of wounds. It also make you think a little about whether you wanted to have the player re-roll a die, because he might roll better!
From reading the book, it appears that karls can suffer morale failure from being pushed back several times or other things. As we had no karls, our game had no morale effects, so I can’t speak to how well that worked.
I think for a one- to two-hour game in a pub or on the kitchen table, these are really nice rules. We only had eight figures on the table, but I’d bet it would be fine with as many as a couple dozen on a side if most of them were karls. From limited use of both these and Songs of Blades and Heroes, I think I like Battle Troll a little better. I haven’t played enough Saga to form an opinion. I can see myself playing more Battle Troll in the future, but I’ll need to get a handful more figures to supplement the Vikings from a Tallahassee club project from eons ago.
While running on Friday and again today, I have been thinking about revising the record sheets for the WWII skirmish rules I’ve been chatting about on this blog. The level of complexity is easily scaled, depending on the number of squads a player wants to control and how closely the players want the game to resemble a role-playing game. Additionally, the resolution need not be consistent throughout the game. The “heroes” might be at the highest resolution and complexity, with a player controlling just half a squad, while many of the other soldiers might be represented at the lowest level of complexity. This is not the same as Main Characters and Extras in GASLIGHT. It is merely the level of personalization and complexity desired by the players. In that vein, I have developed the following three record sheets, which will fit on 3″x5″ cards.
The highest complexity unit takes both sides of a 3″x5″ card, as shown below.
I’ve also been thinking about how best to represent leaders in the game. I want to test this in a game before modifying the action cards, but I think I will add a modifier to the shooting portion of the card. This modifier will indicate a right shift if the leader is not present. For purposes of this rule, the leader is not present if he is firing his weapon, stunned, severely wounded (not sure what that means yet), or otherwise unable to influence his squad or team.
Having started a new job, I don’t have a lot of vacation saved up yet, so I worked most of Friday and didn’t get to Fall In until dinnertime, so I missed a whole day of gaming. When I got there, Kurt was running his battle of Chickamauga game, using A Union So Tested. After saying hello to everyone, I went to the hotel room to do some work for my consulting job. I tried to hit the sack early to get ready of a day of gaming on Saturday.
Steve also ran the battle of Marengo, using Shako II. Everyone seemed to be having a good time in this game, and the table looked quite good.
While I was doing some shopping for toys in the vendor area, Noah and Greg ran another of their Dr. Who extravaganzas for 20 or so players on two tables. The game went long, because everyone was having fun and didn’t want to quit.
Eric ran his Saipan counterattack game. We played this last week at HAWKs night, and I was the Japanese tanks. It’s a fun scenario.
Saturday afternoon I ran what was supposed to be a six-player Napoleonic game: the Battle of La Rothiere, 1814. Nine people showed up for the game, and by subdividing a couple of commands, I was able to accommodate all of them! This is from the scenario book that Dave Wood and I have been writing. The French are trying to hold three towns until nightfall, when they will execute an orderly withdraw in the face of superior allied forces. The allies (Russians and Austrians) are trying to take all three towns to disrupt the French withdrawal.
The battle was a narrow allied victory. Neither side had uncontested possession of all three towns, so the allies won more victory points based on destroyed French battalions.
We had several folks in the game who had never played the rules before, yet they picked them up quickly and seemed to have a good time.
Duncan ran a very nice War of 1812 game. One of the folks who showed up at the table was the author of an book on this battle.
Saturday night I sat in the hotel bar with Mark Ryan and a couple of other folks in the business. Howard Whitehouse gave us demonstration of his Battle Troll rules, for Norse saga type games, which I enjoyed a great deal. Plus we spanked Mark and Howard! By the time I got to bed, it was after 0100, and I was beat. Sunday morning, I wasn’t in the mood for deep thought, so I wandered around the vendor room and the flea market in a daze.
I did play in Duncan’s Charted Seas WWII naval game against Dave Sunday morning. Charted Seas is Duncan’s mashup of Uncharted Seas, Axis and Allies miniatures, and X Wing Fighter. It really works well. The X Wing (and other airplane game) activation mechanism addresses the biggest drawback of Uncharted Seas. This was quite fun. I sunk half of Dave’s convoy, which made the game a draw.
While I was playing Charted Seas, Eric has run his traditional Sunday morning Blood and Swash fantasy game. Eric takes all comers and runs a battle that spans the table you see above and also an underground labyrinth with bits from Dwarven Forge. Eric’s layout gets better looking each year.
It was a thin convention for HAWKs. Fall In is usually lighter for us, but this year it seemed like life really got in the way of the hobby. A lot of folks who would stay all weekend just came up for Saturday and the HAWKs room was half empty.
I found many of the things I wanted at the convention vendor hall and had time to try a set of rules that I’ve been wanting to try. For me it was a good, although fast, convention. I’m looking forward to Cold Wars.
On federal holidays, Dave usually comes down from Aberdeen and we run around BWI airport (12.5 miles). It gives us a chance to talk politics and gaming while getting a workout. For me it’s a long run, but for Dave it’s a short run. Today, being Veteran’s Day, Dave and I ran the airport.
Along the way we talked about our Napoleonic 1814 scenario book and the WWII skirmish rules. Dave hit on a great idea for squad and team leaders. I was saying that I thought the ranges were too short for weapons in the WWII skirmish game. I cut the max effective ranges in half once because you can’t usually see to max effective range on the battlefield and then cut them in half again because people tend to be excited on a battlefield and don’t shoot as well as they do on a rifle range. Dave suggested that a good role for the team and squad leaders might be that they reduce the range modifier for shooting by one band if the squad leader is not shooting but is instead directing fire. (In BAPS I did something similar. If the squad leader wasn’t shooting, he could add is leader rating to the squad’s firepower.)
This idea led down a path of what other things the squad leaders could do. For instance, if the squad leader is firing his weapon, he probably can’t swap activation dice. The idea is that the squad should be rewarded when the squad leader is leading his squad instead of firing his weapon. This perception goes back to my platoon leader days, when I realized that if I was firing my weapon, something had gone wrong. The platoon leader’s job is to control his squads, his machine-guns, and his radio. The same is true of squad leaders.
So far, I’ve been able to represent the fact that you don’t get to snipe at the person you want to hit (card flip to determine which figure gets hit) and that a squad fires into an area. I’ve also represented that better units are more likely to inflict damage. I think I’ve also represented well enough the difference between a bolt-action rifle and a semi-automatic rifle. I’ve even — finally — got a decent representation of morale. Now I’m beginning to address the role of leaders.
I have a lot to think about during tomorrow’s run, but I am excited about this.
On Sunday we had what we refer to as a PJD (pajama day). We went to church Saturday night and then didn’t leave the house all day Sunday. I used the opportunity to paint five regiments of Russian Cuirassiers. Recall from previous posts that Sam Fuson has built a number of label sheets for different corps of the Napoleonic Wars. I have been building into two Russian corps from 1812. I am currently working on the cavalry. Then I’ll knock out two dozen battalions of grenadiers and a bunch of leaders to complete them.
Neither of these pictures are very good, because you can’t tell that Russian Cuirassiers wore mostly white uniforms. You can see the units in one of my new storage boxes (see a previous post). I only needed four regiments, so I’m not sure what I’ll do with the fifth one. (Note that I didn’t flock the base in case I want to use the figures to flesh out some leader bases.
Tonight I ran a WWII skirmish game at the HAWKs night. Don Hogge brought the figures and set up the terrain for a scenario he has previously run with Battleground. I was curious to compare the outcome from a Battleground game to the outcome with these rules.
The scenario involved two American squads with a Sherman tank and two German squads and a Pz. IV H vying for control of a farmhouse.
I had revised the Action cards to reflect the new morale rules. I also let players use grenades pretty freely to make sure that was working okay. Finally, this was the first time I allowed for any vehicle vs. vehicle action.
The game began with a bang as the Pz. IV scored a hit on the Sherman, resulting in a track hit.
The Germans got to the house first and put half a squad on the second floor with a couple of folks remaining on the ground floor. At the same time, the German tank moved around the house and ran over a couple of Americans taking cover next to the wall. Many of the Americans got over the wall and assaulted the German-held building.
The Sherman fired at the German tank as it was smashing the American squad. The first hit bounced off the front. The second hit struck the front glacis, penetrated, and caused the ammunition to explode. The immobile Sherman then turned its attention to pumping 75mm HE into the upper-story windows. (I’ve never liked WWII games in which tanks were placed hub to hub across the table. In this picture, it looks like one of those games. This is because a non-penetrating hit on the Pz. IV by the Sherman caused the driver to flinch and lurch forward. That’s when the Sherman knocked it out.)
I was generally happy with the infantry combat, but I need to work on the vehicle combat a bit. We had a couple of new guys tonight who had never played this game before, but they caught on very quickly, which was good. We have to work out a few fiddly things, but it mostly worked.
I haven’t had much painting time this week, but I did manage to finish up five Pulp Figures that have been in my project box. Fall In is just a week a way, and I’m sure new figures will be tempting me. I’m happy to say that except for the new batch of 10mm Napoleonic figures that recently arrived in the mail, my unpainted lead collection has become quite small.
It may be difficult to see, but I tried to paint an argyle sweater on the figure on the left.
These two characters couldn’t be more different. One is a rough and ready adventurer enjoying a cup of coffee before engaging with head hunters or something, and the other is a “gentleman adventurer.”
This last figure was in the project box near these other fellows. I think he might have been a free figure when you subscribed to Wargames Illustrated. I let my subscription lapse when I was deployed and haven’t renewed, but I still had this figure waiting for paint. There wasn’t much to this figure really, but it’s out of the unpainted pile.
Tonight we’ll be play testing the WWII skirmish game again with the HAWKs. I’ll try to post some pictures tomorrow.
I unexpectedly had part of a day free and invited a few guys over for a WWII skirmish game with the rules I’ve been developing. Several of the folks I invited were unable to attend, but Dave and Chris got passes from their respective CINC’s Domicile and came down. We probably should have spent the day taking photos for Bear Yourselves Valiantly; however, this was more fun.
The scenario involved a meeting of allied generals protected by some Home Guardsman and a Stuart light tank. The Germans have somehow learned of the meeting and dispatched a platoon of Fallschirmjaegers to kill them. The scenario began with the Home Guard deployed around the building. The Germans (led by Dave), decided to attack with all their forces from one side.
Chris quickly redeployed his Stuart and began pumping HE into two groups of Germans. Dave failed his morale check with the platoon HQ. The result was that a random figure decided to run away, being removed from the game. The random figure was the platoon leader, who fled on turn two! (Dave is known for poor morale rolls in all my games, and he did not disappoint us yesterday. At one point, three of Dave’s six teams (half squads) were pinned.
Because Dave had chosen to attack from just one side of the table, half of the Home Guard had no enemy to engage and were forced to redeploy. In this picture you can see that Chris moved one of his two machine-gun teams into the building (placed on the roof during transit for convenience — they were really on the porch) and redeployed a squad of infantry.
In the early part of the game, this was the main engagement area. Chris’ single squad of Home Guardsman was faced by two squads of Germans. HE from the Stuart slowed the Germans down a bit and ran off half of a squad, but Dave kept advancing.
One of the new rules I wanted to test was HE. In this picture you can see a “medium” HE template. In many skirmish games, when it’s time to resolve HE effects, everyone else can go have a snack and do their taxes. I wanted something simpler and faster.
On some of the cards there are some explosion markers (see above). There are more cards with the “larger” makers, fewer with “medium” markers, and even fewer with “small” markers. Once the location of the burst is determined, one card is drawn for each figure in the burst template. If the figure is in a small burst radius and the “small” burst marker is shown on the card, the figure is hit. The player then draws the next card for the effect of the hit. Neither side threw any grenades, but I got to test this out with the HE from the Stuart, and it worked well.
Half of a squad managed to move up to and through the hedge surrounding the house. Dave hadn’t had time to prep for an assault by suppressing the defenders, so this was a gamble.
One of Chris’ redeploying teams of Home Guardsmen, which hadn’t made it into the building, ran around the corner of the house and into desperate hand-to-hand combat. At the top left you can see another team of Germans coming to their assistance. The Germans had better attributes, but Chris bested them.
Despite valiant resistance, the Germans were closing in on the house. The poor machine-gun team that had redeployed to the second story of the house was shot up by the Germans. The allied generals moved to the windows to engage the Germans with their sidearms. In one burst of gunfire, Dave’s Germans killed both Patton and Bradley. The remaining three generals moved to the porch roof as the Stuart crashed through the checkpoint and prepared to pick them up.
As the tank was moving to rescue the generals, two more teams of Germans prepared to assault the house.
Despite getting temporarily bogged down trying to smash through the hedge and German gunfire that wounded Monty, the tank got away with three of the five generals. Since the Germans had killed two of five, the score was three points for Chris (the allies) and two points for Dave (the Germans). I called it a marginal allied victory.
The main thing I hoped to test during this game was morale. (I am running a game at HAWKs night on Friday in which I hope to test tank-on-tank rules.) As discussed in an earlier post, I haven’t been happy with the previous three morale mechanisms I had tried. They weren’t either dramatic or fun enough. Rather than print another set of cards, for yesterday’s game I put the 52 results into a spreadsheet and used the RANDOM function to select one. I figured if it worked, I could then make another set of cards for this week’s club game. I think the results worked quite well. Chris and Dave were concerned about morale checks, units and individuals were affected, and it went fast enough. I think it’s just about there.
Another change I’ll make has to do with the computation of scatter distance. I had envisioned the distance on the cards to indicate scatter distance by octagon “radius,” but we realized that that meant that larger direct-fire HE became less accurate than hand grenades. We used the distance on the card as inches instead of radii, and it worked fine.
The final rule I was testing was having each of the figures have different attributes. Since I haven’t reorganized my 28mm WWII figures and labelled them with identifying numbers, Chris and Dave had some trouble keeping track of which figure was which on the table. I’ve been designing this game to scale, depending on the players’ desires. You can play the game with the entire team having the same attributes, in which case you don’t need the record sheet at all and can merely mark wounds on the table. You can play the game with the entire team having the same attributes but track wound location and effects. Finally, you can play the game with each figure having different attributes. As you ratchet up the complexity, you ratchet down the number of squads a player can manage while keeping the game running smoothly. Except for trouble keeping track of which figure had which attributes, this worked fine as well.
I had set up a scenario for up to six players and only had two. As a result, both Chris and Dave had too many figures to control. Despite that, the game moved along pretty quickly. I think if each player had just one squad, and if there were more decks of cards around the table, the game would really zip along.
I am really encouraged by the way the rules are working out; although, I don’t intend to try to publish them. First, the game would be pretty expensive because you need a deck of 52 effects cards and a deck of 26 activation cards. Second, I don’t want to go through the painful, error-prone, open to criticism process of researching the armor values of all the tanks I’d have to include. Third, I’m tired of going through the arduous process of writing, laying out, and photographing a book only to be bashed by a reviewer and overlooked by folks because they are not one of the “cool sets.” This will be something I may begin to run at conventions, but mostly I’m doing this as a side project for myself. I need to start putting less time into this and get down to the task of writing the rules for Bear Yourselves Valiantly.