The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Part 1: Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Battle Report

On Gaming and Rules
It is with a lot of excitement that I finally set myself down to give NT rules a try.  I have to admit that as a complex thinker I generally have liked fairly nuanced wargames, with medium to high complexity and lots of variables taken into account.  This is despite a lot of affection for the classic The Sword and the Flame system by Larry Brom.  

My ancient game interests have included WRG 7th Ancients and Shock of Impact from way back, Medieval Warfare by Terry Gore, Warhammer Ancient Battles [aka WAB] and some Warmaster Ancients from a decade ago, and the Hail Caesar / Pike and Shotte types now.  Read a number of others along the way, including some classics like Universal Soldier, which I still own and is supposedly the inspiration for WAB.  Actual play time was mostly spent on Medieval Warfare and DBA2.0 & 2.2.

But over the last few years, I have found myself more and more stuck with regards to available energy, time and scheduling with the guys.  I paint, plan and prepare, reading some quite complex rules for hours and hours, and then when it finally comes to the game it's quite disappointing.  Mostly poring over the rules trying to figure them out.  

Warhammer Fantasy 6 & 7 were extremely bad, with lots of us getting motivated to spend a lot of cash and get crazy preparing, then not having much fun gaming as most battles went to whoever knew the rules best - a clash of legalities rather than arms.  WAB in the original rulebook was just fine, but quickly succumbed to the "more special rules is more realistic" way of thinking, and in no time at all cheesy armies were all over the tournament scene and friendly games at people's homes.  I still think the basic set can be used successfully for an historical battle, but it's been supplanted by a far superior system [see below].  Warhammer Fantasy 8 was supposed to solve this, but it still didn't.  The special rules and their interactions kept confusing everything.

Now, I've gotten a lot more clarity and focus to my gaming, and a good grip on the reality of what I can and want to do.  I love tactical problems, I love painting and creatively basing figs and the end result, and I love the story element first and the competitive element second.  So a strong narrative is better than a "win regardless" mentality, with lots and lots of rules.  I want to enjoy the entire hobby from start to finish, from planning a project to playing it out on the table.

The Kings of War approach
Enter Mantic's Kings of War rules, which are a free download here:
They significantly shifted my gaming paradigm.  

I discovered that someone could not only write an excellent set of rules that covered everything in a "typical fantasy world", but also made them playable and in this case - FREE!  Plus the fact that they are really the set of rules that Warhammer Fantasy _should_ be [written by Alessio Cavatore] just made it sweeter.  It didn't take much to not only translate the human units to historical units, but many of the non-human units also work just as they are - Shadow Elves are basically fast-moving and ferocious barbarians, Goblins are basically forest barbarians, etc.  Enough point system particulars and nuance to keep any reasonable gamer happy.  I've even figured lists for Renaissance armies out of it, again only using the RAW army units!  

The KoW rules make sense in the reading and are obvious after a little playtime.  All the special rules take up two pages and are easy to reference.  Since none are overbearing, they nuance but do not dominate the game, nor does one have to buy lots of other books to know them or the armies - all the armies are free downloads also!

I used the rules on several occasions to throw some Feudal English battles, Stephen and Matilda era, and they were well received.  The gaming group is very experienced and likes detailed rules, so I also threw in a Fat Lardies Game, Dux Britannica.  We found it tedious with clunky mechanics.  They did work but were very intrusive on play, one got the feeling that you were playing the mechanics not the battle.  The campaign system looks good.  I've also thrown SAGA games with them, as many as eight people at once.  They really enjoyed it, but it took them a while to get the hang of the battle boards and again the game system is very intrusive on play.  Altho they give great "feel" the mechanics are a bit clunky.  The group preferred KoW by a long shot.  

All of this time and energy spent on various rules systems left me recognizing that I wasn't really playing much, and that I found most of the rules - interesting as they were - too much of a drain on available resources of time and energy.  The figures and terrain I had in plenty, but the way to play was lacking.  So I was ready and open-minded for a change to the situation.

Neil Thomas, One-Hour Wargames [1HW]
NT could easily have just presented the short rules to us in his book with a brief historical explanation.  But as his desire is to share perspective as well as play games, he has chosen to explain the design concepts behind the rules  This means that they are more easily understood and appreciated for their own merits, as well as making them easier to adjust more effectively for those who want a scenario-specific or a little more differentiation.  This puts the gamer in the Game Designer's seat, and better prepared to do it, as well!  For those who do not do much in the way of game design and find it a bit intimidating, this is a real blessing.  For a review and links to more reviews of the book, go here:

Also, for a nice batrep with pics go here:

The rules work around bare-bones parameters, with mechanics representing the fat part of the bell curve, not the exceptional, of a military period.  So in the Dark Age rules, only Skirmish Units can enter woods.  In the Medieval rules, NO Unit can enter woods.  Explanations are presented for all the mechanics and decisions, and NT encourages players to think of ways to best represent troop types and historical events, so you aren't "locked in" to the designer's decisions.

Turn sequence is IGO-UGO and uses an accrued "fatigue/casualty" mechanic where a game "Unit" is destroyed at 15 casualty points.  There's no way to rally them off.  There are always four Unit types in each set of rules, with an explanation of what they are and what they represent historically.  Terrain uses a simple can/can't enter, with most troop types only permitted in open terrain.  Both Shooting and Hand to Hand have each Unit rolling 1d6 with superior Units getting +2 to the die roll, and poor Units -2.  So in DA warfare, Warband melee at d6+2, Infantry at the d6 roll, and Skirmishers at d6-2 [which is also how Skirmishers shoot].  This puts only Warband able to knock out a Unit in two turns, but averaging out at 3-4 and Infantry at 4-5.  Skirmish can melee, but they take 6-8 turns to knock out a fresh Unit.  But on a flank they're as good as a Warband, and with their ability to enter rough terrain - it can happen with good tactical play.

All the rules are on only three pages - that's three SMALL pages!  
 Yes, these are ALL the rules, friends!  Couldn't leave off p.3, it's 33% of the rules!
The question is, how do they play out?  My 33 years of miniatures gaming want to know!

I resisted the temptation of changing anything before playing it RAW [Rules As Written].  A few of my bright ideas brought on secondary problems upon deeper analysis.  In any event, it's clear from his explanations that NT knows what he's written better than I do, and I should at least try them RAW.  So that I set out to do!  I picked the Dark Ages b/c I've plenty of stands ready to go, all based on 60mm frontages for the DBA / WRG standard.  I've played many of the figures in DBA and KoW, and basically they're based to the "wargame standard".

Thirty Scenarios!
In addition to providing nine sets of rules from Ancients to WWII, NT provides variable troop lists for each period, based upon armies of 3, 4 and 6 Units, providing six army variants each for d6 randomization. The max Units needed for each army in any given period are ten, and of course you are encouraged to "use what you have" also.  NT also provides information on campaigns and solo gaming.

The thirty scenarios represent classic scenarios and variations.  While some may have less "feel" for a given period than others, and scale becomes an issue with some of them also, they are generally speaking completely usable in every one of the periods and their rules with perhaps a little tweaking here and there.  For my game, I picked a Dark Age Britain classic, "Bridgehead" since most DA battles I'm told occurred at a bridge or a ford, and the "Sub-Roman Brits" made their defense a top priority.  Having picked what I felt was a classic tactical situation, I put it onto the table.

Here, I go with the spirit of the rules and present all of it for someone who is a new or aspiring gamer, and I hope that some of the explanations help you out!

Scenario #3 "Bridgehead", total description on left, diagram on right.  

I feel like the below battlefield I set up is very faithful to it.
Wargaming for beginners.  Both armies parading on the 3' x 3' board.  A detailed list of approximate expense for such a setup follows:
  • Big tan furry felt - about $5 from somewhere
  • Fish tank bridge - about $5 from pet shop
  • Roads - photocopied from paper castle book - about $10, color copy $1
  • "Field of grain" is a door mat, cut up from Home Depot, about $10
  • Pegasus River - bought on sale for $17, one box suits this layout, but get two!
  • Spanish moss bag thereof - couple bucks?  dirt cheap and looks great for wild scrub brush
  • Three hemlock trees at $4 ea by Lemax [annoyingly, their business model of a "collectible" company means they periodically stop making something...if you like it, buy as many as you want now!] , total $12 [and they come with storage plastic!]
  • Green felt piece - comes in bag of many different color sheets, most colors usable for gaming, say $2
  • Styrafoam hill - unknown when / where got it, say $10 to be safe
  • Total thus far = About $70
The field and brush are just for looks.  The Roman road gives purpose to the scenario.  The black dice show the 3 x 3 foot squares, nine in all, that make up the battlefield.

More stuff that's handy or essential for this game:
  • Neil Thomas book - $20 with postage, about.
  • Chessex dice [used to mark fatigue/casualties] - about $5
  • Little tape measure, and some wood rulers, too - nearly free!
  • Total for "stuff" is under $100

Strathclyde Welsh Defenders.  Three units of 12 "Infantry" with Shieldwall ability, two units of 5 "Cavalry" and a unit of 6 "Skirmishers".

All infantry are actually Gothic spearmen and archers, cavalry are all Picts except the armored fellow, but all are Old Glory of Calumet, PA, USA.  Special prize to whoever guesses where the head on the staff [banner] comes from!  Six archer figs are mixed in with the spearmen to bring them up to the 36 needed.  Basically we're talking about:

  • Bag of ten Pict cavalry,
  • Bag of 30 Gothic infantry,
  • Bag of 30 Gothic archers,
  • Total figs about $100 [$60 with OG Army Membership]
  • Total stuff  = $200 thus far

Encroaching Northern Welsh hillmen - five units of 12 Warband, one unit of 6 Skirmishers [bow].  All Old Glory Welsh from Medieval range.  They have long spears and longbows, technically.  But not today!  I have to admit that there is an element of "a warband is a warband is a warband" to my way of thinking.  I've a bunch of Dark Ages specific stuff, but this is what I used today.  Old Glory figures were:

  • Two bags of 30 Welsh Spearmen [60 figs] @ $70
  • One bag of Welsh Archers [30 figs] @ $35.
  • Grand total of STUFF - $300
  • Number of figs to paint = 66 Welsh and 42 [Gothic] foot, ten cavalry.
I actually thought this was a cheaper hobby than that!  I have to say that altho I'm not a master painter, I really do like the way these Old Glory came out, and with the Old Glory Army Membership Discount, the figure price would be only $120 U.S., which is a great price for 150 foot and 10 cavalry.  They do need some cleaning and prep, but paint up easily, have lots of varied poses, and with a little painting experience easily look good on the table. 

My fast painting method is to white prime, block paint in paint light tones, then use the 'miracle dip' to shade and darken them down a bit.  If I'm really loving the figs, I'll paint up a light tone for highlights, then dip.  If there's a lot of white in the figs then I may spray with glossy enamel to lessen the dip's darkening effect.  

So for perhaps as low as $200 you can have a pretty nice table and some small-ish armies that look good.  If you used a painting service like Fernando in Sri Lanka, add about $200 to the total price for shipping and painting costs.

OK, now to the deployment and battle - stay tuned for P.2

Friday, November 21, 2014

Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Reviews

Neil Thomas has done the modern wargamer a real service - he's put enjoyable, historical wargaming back into the "practical" from the "ideal and theoretical".  So the most important part of the books title is the sub-title:

"Practical Tabletop Battles for Those with Limited Time and Space".

And he isn't kidding.  He not only brings forward nine periods for a wargamer's consideration, but provides nine complete sets of rules all under three pages long on 8"x6" pages, AND then provides 30 scenarios within which those armies can have an interesting game on a 3'x3' table, in about an hour.

Take a long, hard look at your gaming activity.  How many times have you started out a project lured into it by ADD, shiny things in a magazine or at the gaming shop, or by your ADD gaming buddies?  And they don't get anywhere.  You get the newest rules craze, only to find that it requires nearly all your spare time just to read it and get a grasp of it.  Then you are nearly always victimized on the table by the people who have lots more free time and who read and master the rules so you've little chance of winning, or even being very competitive!  You lose interest.  The first regiment or two of troops sit forlorn on your hobby desk, partially cleaned and primed, a monument to discouragement.  Then the next craze happens, and you wash, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, the desk and closet are full of half-finished projects that you thought would be loads of fun and great, only to realize that it wasn't the case.  The games are more like reading legal contracts than being a general, and victory goes to the best rules lawyer.

This book is basically the cure for this cold hard reality.

You can teach the rules to children and adults, you only need a max of ten 1-base units per side, and you can play at lunch or any 1-hour break on any table that is about three feet square.  If your regular gaming pals aren't available, or refuse to play simple games b/c they "aren't realistic enough", you can play with nearly anyone, even your wife may like it.

No, these rules do not reflect every detail of every conflict.  So elephants, scythed chariots and flaming pigs are not found in the ancient - medieval rules, nor is air support and 1000 equipment variations provided in the WWI-WWII rules.  These things so beloved of certain gamers, are left to the discretion of the players.

But what he has done is provide the most minimal starting point that is completely playable and quite "realistic".  Note that realism here has the sense of putting the player in the commander's position with those concerns and observations and little else.  This is more "realistic" than tons of charts and rules b/c real commanders didn't sit at desks with tons of charts and rules - they had staff for such of that as they needed.  So you are free to consider the essential aspects of warfare, like troop capabilities, terrain, and the situation at hand [the scenario].

Overall, I find it very liberating, and a game-changer for me.  Pun intended!

A detailed review that is very well done is here:

and here is the Amazon UK page with a number of reviews and more:

and here is a 6mm Napoleonic project for the horse and musket rules in 1HW:
Cambronne's Reply

Here is only a brief review but the comments are worth perusing:
Bob Cordery Review
You can tell from the comments that many either don't read it carefully or bother to try and understand it.  They simply decide that the artillery rules for such and such period don't reflect historical reality [as they see it], and then want to modify them without play or pass them by completely.  This then results in artillery being used by the gamer in an unhistorical way.  This bothers them not at all b/c at least the rules are "realistic", or at least as they see reality.  It's quite fascinating, really.

When I got my copy from On Military Matters, I meant to peruse it a bit before bed.  Big mistake!  It was so good I read most of the 150+ pages until I couldn't keep my eyes open.  It gave me new hope for both solo and opposed wargaming at home.  I immediately thought of a few little variations that would add a bit more color to the specifics of my army periods.  And the explanations of design concepts are great!  The only thing one needs to do is obey the first commandment of game design:  THOU SHALT PLAY THE RULES AS WRITTEN [RAW] A COUPLE TIMES BEFORE RUINING IT WITH HALF-BAKED CHANGES!  I will admit that a couple of my bright ideas resulted in much more complexity and change than I originally wanted.  It did give me both greater understanding and appreciation for the IGO-UGO turn sequence.

Disagreement.  Mr. Thomas says Warhammer Ancient Battles is "an absolutely outstanding ruleset" [p.134].  This may be my only serious disagreement with him in his book.  Personally, I'd say that as a rules design WAB has several serious flaws in the original design.  The most critical is that it fails the test of design focus.  It has the complexity and sub-rules for a skirmish game, but it is expected to be played as a unit game.  So instead of playing like a unit-based game, it gets bogged down in what is essentially a huge skirmish game where figures mostly move in blocks called units.  Also, it's basic design is always tampered with for the sake of either historical detail [WAB] or more variety [WHF8].  The end product is an abject failure, IMHO.  

When WHF8 came out, I tried it several times with two friends, one a lawyer, one a retired chemist, and me with history degree and professional legal experience as well.  We were constantly getting bogged down trying to interpret core and special rules.  After several attempts, all we could say was that 8th Edition was a big improvement, but still a failure as a playable game that rewards good tactics over rules lawyering and purchase / knowledge of an obscene amount of rule books.  Ah well.

If I had to say the best rules design out there I know of today for Fantasy, Ancient and Medieval wargaming, it'd probably be Mantica's "Kings of War".  The design is pretty much perfect, and hey, the rules are free for you to read, play and dispute as you will:
Think "what Warhammer would be like if it wasn't run by a figures company intent on forcing you to buy new figures to compete with your buds" and you're on the right track.  In fact, it is written by former GW staff who moved on to brighter things.

Anyway, if you master the rules in 1HW, then Mantic's free rules will provide you with lots of ideas to tweak your units since it has a very similar design.  Happy gaming!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

REVIEW: "The Long Ships" by F. G. Bengtsson [GET IT!]

The title says it all.  This book might be found in your library, but if not just go ahead and buy it.  It's a near-perfect blend of modern style with period feel.  So it reads like a modern novel, but the characters have nearly no anachronistic problems, nor does the plot.  It got such favorable commentary I bought mine straight away and have no regrets, having read it a few times at this point!  My re-issue was from nyrb classics around 2010:

In 10th C. Denmark, Orm is being held a bit tightly by his mother on the homestead.  The plot races along quickly when a ship pulls in at night to steal some food, including some of his family sheep.  Orm ends up having two big adventures, one West and the other East.  He meets famous people, and many interesting not-so-famous people.  It has everything a gamer could want and presents the wonderful complexity of the time without degrading any of the characters or religions present - not even Christianity - !!! 

Plus, his characters have a real sense of humor that is also NOT anachronistic, but we still enjoy it today.

Lots more here at Amazon, where it has 223 reviews and nearly 5 stars, an amazing feat: 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

DBA 3.0 - A Completely Unbiased Review!

OK, well, it's not completely unbiased...

I've been playing DBA on and off since 1.0 [which I still own].  At various times I've: been completely exasperated by the game, been beaten by children, won championships and plaques, played historical battles, taught it to non-gamers, taught it to gamers [not as fun as non-gamers], tried a campaign, quit playing, started again, been on a long hiatus.  In short, it's been sort of a love-hate relationship [reminds me of a girl I used to know...]

Anyway, this is the dawn of a new era for DBA, even as Phil Barker's health seems to indicate the dusk of an era.  I think he's the only gamer whose name is commonly used as both a verb [to barker] and a language [barkerese].  He has also contributed widely and deeply to gaming in the hobby with a common-sense approach to history, archaeology and literary works that provides a "more likely than not" situation for many gaming interpretations.  So first of all, "Hats off to you, Phil!"

DBA 3.0 is not a cheap folded paperback at $15.  It cost me about triple that to buy it from Amazon UK and ship it over the pond.  On Military Matters has it about the same price, the Black Hat seemed a tad less.  Anyway, here's the scoop in bullet points:

  1. Price.  Triple the old game to get in the USA.  Much more offered than in the old booklets, so read on!
  2. Physical Presentation.  Very solid hardback, opens well and will stay open on the flat table.  APPEARS to be ready to last with tight stitching and quality paper.  It's a little shiny / glossy which makes it hard to read in direct light at times.  The same puzzled Roman is on the cover trying to [we assume] figure out a much more complex set of rules [as in nearly all the other sets of rules...].  Grade = A [spiral would've been A+].
  3. Organization.  a 500% improvement over past editions.  There is an alphabetical list of armies, an INDEX [yes, I'm serious, an INDEX] and...a GEOGRAPHICAL index for the 85 "header" armies, each of which has several sub-army lists.  This is for the few people who don't know where when the Ilkhanid, Cuman, Hsi-Hsia and Urartian armies fought.  Oh, wait, that's 95% of us...and did I mention there's not one but THREE indexes?  Grade = A+
  4. Rules.  There seems to be considerable thought put into adding diversity and variety with a minimum of complexity and additional rules.  The rules still clock in at about 12 pages.  But for those people who HAVE to differentiate between Burgundian  Ordonnance bow/pike use and that of say French or even Achaean, it's in there.  The greatest beneficiaries seem to me the irregular armies, which gain some character with the Fast / Solid characteristic, and changes to movement.  Aux Welsh spearmen now seem a lot more historical and dangerous to engage than before, and aren't as vulnerable to Cav in the open.  Overall, the Dark Ages will benefit from the rule changes and even well-worn favorites like Gauls and Marian Romans have new subtleties.    Finally, the rules strongly resemble English in many ways, and are much more intelligible to anyone who didn't study symbology or hebrew.  A huge improvement!  Grade = B+ [fully in English = 'A']
  5. Diagrams!!!  yes, I mean that there are actually pics to explain the rules in detail.  Most impressively, there are 16 pages of diagrams !!!!  Really!  A pic is worth 1,000 words, and never more so than now.  While there was 1 page with 3 diagrams in the past, now there's loads.  A big win for new players and nearly anyone who doesn't have an experienced player to show them the rules. Grade = A+
  6. Army Lists.  
    • There are four sections to the lists: Chariot, Classical, Early Medieval, and High Medieval periods.  These now take up 102 pages, with 313 main army entries [about 60-80 in each section], each having several sub lists.  So the total is pushing 1000 army lists!  
    • So far, every single list I play or have read has additions, new variety, and further qualifications that make them more interesting, sometimes with additional sub-lists or troop types.  
    • Also helpful, they all have a paragraph description that is informative and often amusing.  Well known or contentious histories can be quite long, i.e. Sub-Roman British.  Even better, there are reference book lists including NOVELS which I think are very inspiring for the gamer as well is sometimes superbly researched - better than many history books.  
    • Overall, I see a more realism, flexibility and playability, with sensible rules [haven't played yet] to accompany them. Grade = A+
  7. Additional Ways to Play.  The Big Battle DBA rules have been returned, with the new "Giant DBA" added but the old campaign rules have been deleted with a lengthy paragraph that I don't think is as good.  It was short and simple but useful - especially new gamers - and it took up SOOO little space.  The present offering is quite incomplete.  Grade = B-
In short, I believe it is worth the added expense, and will provide it's original intent of a fast-play set of rules quite well, again with some friendly guidance from an experienced friend or the Fanaticus Forum, perhaps TMP [which has a designated DBx forum].  There is additional detail for the experienced player and gamer, but you could still throw down two simple armies and teach a newbie very easily.  The old campaign rules will no doubt be available on line and also Sue Barker is working on an intro book that will probably make an excellent gift to someone young or just new to the hobby.

So don't let the nay-sayers guide your actions!  1.0, 2.0 and 2.2 will soon be quite dead, so let them go and move along to a bright future with the DBA community!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Re-focus of this blog

While I've enjoyed blogging my gaming, there's definitely a limit to how many blogs I can adequately monitor, post to, and keep up with generally.  So I'm expanding the focus of two of them.  This one will now also cover my entire ancients and medieval interests, which have been re-awakened with the issue of DBA3.0 and my copy being on the way from UK.

I plan to explore 3.0 with my 15mm [18mm, really] Testudo and Xyston figures.  Highly recommend both these lines of figs, btw!  The Testudo I got over ten years ago, and painted up 24 elements of Romans for the Civil War.   
I've almost finished a 12-element army of Gauls, which seem the perfect match-up.  
This is not surprising as the original game Phil designed was for a Roman-Gallic battle, and it got so popular he expanded the system into all ancient armies.

The Xyston figs are ancient Greeks for the Peloponnesian War.  A quick review of storage closets reveals that I've about 48 stands of hoplites, plus numerous Ax, Ps and mounted.  I'd completely forgotten how much I had that was "almost done".  
I regard the Peloponnesian war as a classic DBA matchup, up there with Rome v. Gaul.  I am hoping that 3.0 continues the excellent working matchups it had while improving others, especially in the Dark Ages.

And I've loads of Dark Age figs!  All in 25mm, mostly Old Glory: Welsh, Anglo-Saxons, Feudal English, and some War of the Roses, as well as battered old armies of Scots and 100YW French & English.  Where this will all lead to - Lord knows!

I have to sell off more of the gaming junk as the situation is still "too many projects that are going nowhere in the foreseeable future, thus breaking my vows to get rid of dead projects.  Also, as I trim down excess projects, I have money for other projects like 40mm ECW.  My goal until I'm at minimum projects is to spend only hobby money on the hobby, or donate hobby money into the "bills payable" account.