Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 in Review

What a year 2013 has been. While the last 2 months have been a bit disappointing in the nerdery department, it's been a pretty great year.

While it's tempting to run through my successes and (greater) failures on the resolutions, it's actually more interesting to talk about the year without the lists.

January/February started off solidly with a bunch of napoleonics painting. I eventually got led off in other directions, but I have a large block of 15mm french troops, and no officers, or cavalry. Hmmmmm.....still highly unfieldable, but a step in the right direction. It didn't help that the great online campaign I was playing died as a result of the GM's new job and lengthy commute......a big loss of motivation there.

Later into the year I made some good progress painting up some 28mm terrain pieces. A broken down wizards tower, a bunch of fencing (stone and otherwise), and a half finished graveyard are now ready to rock. I realize I have a lot of 28mm fantasy terrain now (including a bunch of foamcore buildings). The major gap in my terrain would be hills. I have trees, rivers, roads, but no hills. A serious deficiency. A big failure was not painting a 'skirmish force'. My god that is open ended and still ended up a failure. *sigh*. Always next year I suppose.

Board games and Wargames I managed to get a fair number in. Mostly spread through the year as well. Battletech, Napoleonics, and Warhammer Fantasy were tops this year. Board games were sprinkled around evenly.

Roleplaying games remained a top event. It was pointed out this year that our Space 1889 campaign has been going for well over a year. We are closing in to a break off point which I think is probably a good thing. It's nice to swap between systems and campaigns to keep things fresh. The OSRIC campaign I was playing in has died off a bit as a result of my friend in Halifax getting a large gaming group organized. The writeups he sends me are howlers, I do miss playing with him. Luckily for me, he is moving again in the fall (to Saskatoon), so I will no doubt get in more skype gaming with him for a while.

My scooter was stolen in the spring, so I was forced to bicycle to work more often (i.e. almost every day). It's actually been pretty good, even in the winter (which has been abnormally dry), so I decided not to buy a new scooter. Yay me.

The 'fab ab' challenge was a failure this year though. Every time I made it up to around 80 situps a day, I'd end up getting too tired from work, or on vacation, or sick, or whatever, and stop doing the situps. I'm currently back up to 50, but it's the progress at the top that is very, very slow.

I didn't manage to play a game with my brother this year. He recently went through a big breakup, so I think that helps contribute to the failure. I did play some of a game with my dad, but he wasn't really into it and we ended early. Need to find something more accessible than a GMT game (Labyrinth).

My personal savings target was hit, but I failed to save at all for retirement. Not getting a roommate this year was a factor, but I was holding out for a specific roommate.....which will be happening in January. My 'art deco' project was crafting an engagement ring in the art deco style while knowing nothing about it. It was a lovely, and successful operation, and now I'm having to downsize my stuff to make room for my fiance to join me in my place. The wedding is in may. Lots on the plate these days.

This one is hit and miss. As part of the downsizing I did eliminate a bunch of stuff. I certainly did not manage to half my nerd costs this year. I think I am probably up 10%. However......this includes duty paid on packages, as well as ebay shipping fees (getting rid of stuff). If I look at the amount of money I made on what I sold, I'm probably a lot closer to half. So maybe half the net costs? Maybe I'll give myself that one.

I've even downsized to a single, smaller, bookcase for my nerd books. This doesn't include history books that non nerds might look at. I'm trying to maintain a one in, one out book rule, but not sure that will be acheived. There has been some big pulses of RPG buying, and I realize I need to use this stuff dammit!

I did manage to GM a game down in portland for my fiance's sister and friends. Almost no one at the table had played before and they had a good time. My fiance was mortified. There wasn't enough time, otherwise it was a success.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Curse you XCOM!

The fall grind has worn me out so I haven't posted for almost a month and half (!). I'd like to blame a specific video game up front which was the beginning of the fateful fall. XCOM, enemy within. This is actually an expansion to the excellent XCOM enemy unknown, which itself harkens back, many years, to an earlier game: XCOM UFO Defense.

The blue square is a base. Radar ranges stretch to spain...maybe

I originally blamed this game back in early highschool. Got the demo on a high density 3.5 inch and needed to have it. Pre internet, and the BBS's of any use where long distance calls away (at blistering speeds of 4800baud...maybe).  This was a great game, and TOUGH. My gawd did your men die quickly.

You needed to build bases to launch your jets and troop carriers to splash UFOs, fight terror missions (prevent aliens from slaughtering civilians in major cities), and research and manufacture the tech and items you needed to turn back the incursion. Funding was provided by countries around the world and based on your performance. Aliens would attempt to sign treaties with countries to starve you of funds. Secret alien bases would start cropping up like mushrooms as well.

Your bases would occasionally get attacked and aliens would spill through the lift, as well as hangars. The base to your right would be doomed....DOOMED!
Especially bases that were research or manufacturing oriented, and lacked well trained soldiers. DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMED!

Also, if too many countries signed treaties or you went bankrupt humanity would be destroyed. Not an infrequent occurrence.

XCOM: Enemy unknown. 
The new iteration has kept all the fun stuff, and managed to remove the vast majority of the tedious irritating crap. A huge step in updating a classic game. The main complaints where about limited maps (not procedurally generated, instead they are set), and the ability to camp your soldiers and eventually win each mission without much risk.

Nicer graphics. Still turn based though.
Tons of the tropes of the series were maintained. The skyranger is your troop ship (now only carrying up to 6, rather than about 10 guys), you can build robot gun carrier bots (mini tanks sorta), there are advance power armour suits that allow flight, you work through crappy conventional weapons up to laser and then plasma, the mind raping telepathic ethereals make a late game appearance, and so forth.

The base looks nicer. But tile based building still.
In a nod to new gamers and old hands, the difficulty level was revised to make it more friendly....BUT, they kept a harder level called 'classic'. I still get rocked on classic. Impossible is the next level up. 

Enter XCOM: Enemy within.

The updated is easily the beset expansion I've ever played. It added a heap of new maps, new aliens (to both give new problems to deal with, as well as keep the early alien types more competitive into the late game), and a reason to race through maps (to harvest a time declining resource needed for certain research).

A host of extra missions with strange objectives and stories was cool as well. A covert transhumanist conspiracy that is competing with you and needs to be crushed. Human cyborgs strapped into huge battle frames and organic mods (reptile eyes, extra hearts, bio-electric discharges). I haven't managed to get through all the new material.
Exalt. Transhumanist terrorist.

One of the creepier missions involves a hideous life form called a chrsalis that acts a bit like the lifeform in ALIEN. It moves fast, and rips you up in close combat. And then your corpse births a new one. While slightly less lethal than in the original game, it's a good nod to the fear/hassle of dealing with them.

A mission to a sea side town ends up finding a bunch of these bastards, which is bad enough until you find the source of the outbreak. A whaling ship filled with infested whale corpses. They start spawning every turn in a definite to overwhelm you sort of way. It basically takes a sacrificial trooper to plant a homing device on the boat to mark the cooridinates of a massive air strike to win the map. Also your own troops are both running to escape the bombardment and from the nasty lifeforms. A gripping mission. It'd make a good roleplaying session (assuming your PC's are somewhat expendable, like in a one off adventure).

I somehow feel that xcom would give a great scope for some small scale gaming.  Small tables with 4-6 agents and a dozen plus aliens. Various terrains (country, rural, urban). You could even come up with covert operations with 'plain clothes' agents which are hinted at in the various iterations of the game.

With low model counts and a small board, it'd be great for focusing efforts on achievable bite sized blocks. Then you can go off and do other projects. When interested again, you can introduce the next wave of aliens, or tech upgrade, or terrain features.

I'd imagine a 2x2 or 3x3 board. There would even be scope for running a solo game. The aliens would be fairly simple to program. The hardest part would be having an element of surprise in what you were facing. 2 hour wargames deals with this well with PEF's (potential enemy forces)....the counter moves according to roles, and when in site there is a check to see if it's a false alarm, so something more....lethal.

Certainly something to consider.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dungeon Plungin: Dwarven Forge airing

Bryan received his kickstarter rewards for Dwarven forge recently. He managed to get a lick of paint on a large chunk of the pieces and has been hunting for a fun dungeon crawl game. It needs to be relatively simple so that he could play it with his kids and he also wants to be able to play an adventurer (i.e. players vs system). We ended having an extra evening of nerdery due to the long weekend, so we tried a system called Dungeon Plungin.

 Our first play through was a bit hit and miss as Brian had wanted to introduce some extra features, but eventually we decided to just try for the basic rule set. We did get a decent sense of the current version of the rules (although there is a more advanced version undergoing playtest).

Here we see our adventurers, a fairly random group. A sleepy dwarf, a drinking crossbow dwarf (sounds like a safe companion), and well dressed halfling, and a scantily clad half orc with a big axe. 

Play started in the entrance room/stair case at the bottom of the picture. You roll on flow charts to generate what lies beyond each door (a room, a hallway, a turn). You also need to check the door for traps, attempt to deactivate, attempt to open. Once the door is opened you dice up what the room contains (nothing, chests, monsters or a combo of the above). The many dice throws seemed a bit repetitive and slow at times, but I expect as you get more familiar with the rules and results it would go faster.

The tables are also devised around each adventure, so you can flavour the likelihood and types of traps, which monsters occur, what type of chest loot you get, etc.

In our particular adventure, we were seeking a healing pool to try and heal a wounded warrior who had impressed everyone with his exploits. He will expire if we don't find the pool soon (although there is no actual time limit really).

It was also amusing, as a roleplayer, to consider what we did with the fellow. Just dump him at the entrance and tell him to wait for us? Guard our backs mister nearly dead, we'll be back for you soon. Hope there's no monsters coming and going from the dungeon.

As the rooms are generated with monsters, you dice off the location of the monster. The basic rules call for 6x6 rooms (all of them), we varied things a bit for fun. Also I kept forgetting to take pictures each time a room was set up with monster. Too busy hackin' and slashin'. The extra bits in the room where placed by us to make things look more interesting. Most of the rooms seemed to have monsters in them, but this was mostly our weird luck.

To the right you can see the first "corner" has been generated.

A room is generated with chests. Similar to doors you need (well....technically should) check them for traps, then try and deactivate as needed and then open.

We couldn't figure out if you could just endlessly try and open the chests if you failed. The chart suggested maybe you could, but we thought that would be pretty dumb. Only one chest opened to our attempts, it contained an antidote. It also had a poisoned needle trap. Bit amusing really, a net gain of nothing as the trap hit the poor searcher.

Detecting traps, and opening doors are based on wits and dex. You score represents the number of dice you through, looking for a 5+ as a success. In the latest play test version certain tests need a certain number of successes to actually work.

Hmmmm, 3 chests. I think maybe the other one had a healing potion which was consumed almost immediately. Despite the monsters seeming to be pretty much chaff to slow us down, they would wound occasionally. Also the traps on doors were successful from time to time.

Like the regular tests, you roll a number of dice as your attack value (with bonus dice from weapons). The number of successes are soaked by a roll of defense value (with bonus dice from armour). The difference of the successes on attack vs defense is the amount of life you lose. Reminded me a lot of heroquest actually.

The dungeon grows.......

To the left are entrance +4 rooms, 2 corners, and 1 hall.

You are looking for the 'great door' which hides the objective and a horrible monster. The great door can't be opened without a special key, which is found randomly in a chest (so you can get it before the door).

There are a certain number of rooms/hallways/corners that can be explored, and then you start getting a bonus on certain rolls for each additional one explored. This bonus increases the likelyhood of generating the great door. Once the great door is found, you will automatically find the key in the next chest.

Our problem was we weren't encountering many chests.

A tough fight in the throne room. We found that sometimes space constraints meant that one character was facing one monster for multiple rounds. Not only was it boring, it was also pretty safe, heros are much better than monsters. It's the swamp attack that is most dangerous, as you can't place your toughest hero at the front to soak damage.

The second room with chests. Once again healing potions that were consumed quickly.

Monsters act according to 'laws'. Goblins for instance will only attack a hero who is in base to base with another monster. Orcs charge in towards the closest. The final boss frenzied and attempted to attack a new hero each round. While fairly cool, some of the laws seemed open to abuse unless amended slightly. As written it would appear goblins won't charge you at all if unengaged, and you are guaranteed a ranged shot against them [which will trigger one of their attacks] which can often kill. You could therefore one shot a lot of goblins with zero risk.

Many of our doors choices were guided by how to fit the board on the table. Having not read the rules myself I may be incorrect but during the 'building phase' (basically exploring/generating the next room/hall/corner) you don't move one at a time counting off spaces. You just pick up figs, move them to the door and arrange them and start dicing.

 This was a pretty cool feature actually. It took us a bit of time to experience the 'wing darts' which are a wall of darts that attack the entire party in a given room/hall/corner. Late game we had 2 members at 1 life, so they would wait a whole room back. This meant that for most of the fight it was 2 vs the monsters in the room.

 A rumble in the alchemy lab....
 The door on the left actually ended up being the 'great door'. Cleverly due to placement, it made sense that another door which would lead into the same room was also a great door. We went off to hunt for some chests to find the key.

 As can be seen, the dungeon has expanded quite a bit. We are now working our way down the lower left hand part of the table. The grand door room will be placed on the top right.
 A crypt!. Only 2 orcs against 2 adventurers....easy pickin's. Note the other 2 adventurers way back up the hall? This is during the phase of the game where they were down to 1 life. Drunky crossbow dwarf was getting flack from his friends for avoiding close combat and only shooting stuff. It didn't matter that he was way better at shooting, only that he wasn't soaking up his share of hits.

How could he be better at shooting? There is a trait called 'weapon master' that allows you to be successful on a roll of 4+ (rather then 5+) with a given weapon. Great skill on the attack. There are numerous skills.....but we didn't get to use them. First game is for basics.
 After clearing out the crypt, we headed up and to the right (The crypt room is a bit funny as there are 3 doors on the same wall. Technically illegal by the rules.......but the rules assume all 6x6 rooms).
 At long last we encounter a chest room and score the key and some healing potion, and some gold. A measly 2 gp. This is about 1/3 of what a single goblin gives. Totally lame.

Incidentally, monsters also give xp. After every 120xp accumulates, you divvy it up to the group. Once you get a certain amount of xp, you can burn it to level up, or you can buy a skill with it. Leveling gives you build points which can boost attributes (you spend what the new attribute will be i.e. it costs 2 to go to 2). The newer rules seem to change skills costs to build points, which in my mind makes more sense as it could be abuseably over the long term to have it be cheaper to buy skills than level.

The adventurers bust into the final room. It's all laid out what will be in there based on the scenario, although actual placement is random. A massive troll is our final enemy. The final enemy doesn't have life points/wounds. Instead once you land a hit of X wounds, you roll on a table (1d6+X). You need a 7+ to kill the beast. A 6 will give you a permanent +1 on the kill roll, while a 1-5 are ignored. We got the rule wrong for a few rounds so the fight seemed really tough for a bit. 

 The chaff orc and goblins were cleared first. Given that we still had one adventurer with 1 life, and the troll would cycle through adventurers to attack, there was a good chance we might lose a player.
 We started to play with the pushback rules which should have been used the whole time. A successful hit (regardless of whether the defense successes outnumber or not) pushes a model back a square.

It was sorta annoying, because you have 2 actions a turn, which means if you stand still you can attack twice (as far as we, the cursory rule readers, know). I think the pushback rule probably helps break up static battle lines and makes it less formulaic for the adventurers to manage combats. But we'd have to play longer with them to know. Certainly clearing out the larger maze was not a problem once we all leveled up once. It might be more of a function of a 'low level' adventure though.

Drunky manages to spit the troll as I recall (although I played drunky). The ranged combat rules definitely need some changes. You can only fire on the straight, and we didn't think there was a problem firing through allies. We may, of course, have missed some rules though.

Overall I'd give Dungeon Plungin a "play it again sam". Although with revisions. Given that there are updated (although being play tested) rules, I'd probably try those. Bryan is keen on bringing in some sort of critical hit chart. We thought that carrying wound penalties might be a fun addition as well. Since these are totally negative additions for the players, it might suggest this game is a bit easy for us. Might be well balanced for younger players though.

Dungeon Plungin can be found HERE, along with printouts of boards and monsters if you lack the necessary gear to play.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Battle of 'Not Bautzen': The resolution

The final part of the fictional battle between a late returning Napoleon, and the Bourbon royalist army (semi historically based on the battle of Bautzen). Previous entries are the setup, the left flank, the engagement of the pinning forces.

All along the battle lines the Bonapartists have crossed the river and engaged the Royal army. The royal left flank has sputtered out to no further action, but on the right flank (to the north) Napoleon is expected any turn now, and the reserves have already started moving forward to attempt to contain the Bonapartist surge across the river.

Left is Napoleons force, the Right the Royalists. North is at top were Napoleon should be showing up anytime now.....

Looking down the board the opposite direction. The Bonapartists have a fairly easy go on the Royalist right (bottom of the pick). There's not a lot of strength left in the units facing them.

Unfortunately, the Royalist reserve is now moving forward to reinforce this flank.
Brunswichs hussars are at 1 strength. As is the infantry beside them. The second infantry unit by the stream has been a victim of it's own success. They destroyed a unit and now face cavalry to their front. They will go into square, but they will easily be flanked and destroyed.

The Royalist artillery in the gabions is attempting to reduce the enemy artillery to 1 pip. At this point it will be largely toothless against most enemies.......most effective at cleaning up almost depleted units.
Back in the centre of the table the Cuirassier of Napoleon go in to make some headway. A full strength horse battery on the left has been giving them grief for some time, and the lead royalist cavalry has already been damaged a bit (at 2 vs a 4 for the veteran attackers).
Here I've learned that artillery at lose a battle end up going poof. I had decent chances of bouncing the cuirassier (grapeshot bonus!), but failed miserably. Actually, it's more accurate to say that Doug rolled very well. Eek. Now there is a lot more space for advancement in the centre. In the background you can see the Attackers reserve trying to move by the village and starting to set up a 2 vs 1 attack on it.

At this point there was some talk about whether anything should happen should enemy contact a leader marker. I suggested that perhaps like warmaster, a leader would retreat to a specific unit nearby.

Doug thought perhaps this would nullify the command radius for a turn to represent the wild flight from the enemy. Orders are still possible outside of command distance.....just cost double.

On the left flank things are still relatively quiet. The last infantry unit is pulling back across the stream under desultory cannon fire.

The cuirrasier between the buildings/villages are stuck as they need to cover this approach, and are now out of command range (on the cav corp in the middle). The pips of the cav corp have been miserable for a few turns, and are needed to face the big push from Napoleon's crack cavalry troops.

Napoleon's reserve is composed of mostly green militia (2 strength) and 2 units of naval marines (4 strength). Doug has decided this village must be cleared.....which is always a tough proposition.

In most games I've seen the villages often get attacked for no good reason. It's in my way is not super true at this scale. In this particular case it was certainly worth a go. 2 vs 1 can quickly make a unit disappear.....but if the defenders roll well it can be bloody for the attacker.

Back on the right flank we can see the Royalist reserve is rapidly approaching the conflict. Very large commands gain pip bonuses and this was useful for marching into position.

The horse battery on the downhill slope has been well positioned all game (and mostly only useful for a breakthrough of flank attack on this side).

Also of note is the black cube on the infantry facing the hussars in the top right quadrant. This is the token that shows the unit gone to square. Those poor bastards are actually in cannon arc (just), and won't be flanked by infantry and destroyed.....they'll be grapeshotted.

A blurry, but rarely seen perspective. This is the far right royalist flank. The Brunswick command has occupied a village, and set up to slow Napoleon's flank attack. A horse battery sits in the gabion. They spent their hussars early in the battle to contest the river crossing, but it was a good use of their pips which otherwise would have gone to waste.

The reserve command can be seen marching between the two gabions, and pivoting towards the stream. Some veteran units have held back to create a second line of defence, should Napoleon present strongly and roll up the flank of the reserve now engaging the troops across the stream. The fear was that now their flank was presented they'd be cat food, or that Napoleon would show up East (below) the village and march right through Brunswick without pausing.
A brief pause from our sponsor Doug. These are his kickass eye candy figures. Perry plastics largely.

The village assault goes in. Unfortunately the defenders roll max on their die. The defenders in a multi-element assault keep their result, while attackers each roll. This gives a better chance for defenders to go poof (as 50% of the rolls are 0), but also gives the opportunity for variable numbers of the attackers to win or lose. It's not a binary result.

The veteran naval marine attackers bounce off the tenacious village defense.

Top and side, the cavalry corp have ground themselves down quite heavily. While the royalists might edge out Napoleon's horse in numbers, they are of worse quality, and have less strength at this point.

The gap that has opened is allowing infantry to pour forward in the centre. Could it be the breakthrough that is much needed?

Alas no. A huge command of infantry is surging forward over the hill in the fore ground. 6 infantry units, plus the foot battery that has caused so much grief to the bridge crossing are entering action.

The Royalist second reserve is at least committed and should easily stabilize the line. No reserves are left however, which is when Napoleon historically made this biggest Victories. Where is he?

Right flank we see the first wave of the Royal reserve fighting recently crossed infantry. It's a straight up 2 vs 2 battle.

It doesn't go well, and I learn again (to my detriment) that on a 2 vs 2 battle, as soon as it turns to a 2vs1 there will be a flank.

Good thing there are another 2 waves from the reserve left.
Brunswicks line, bolstered by the veterans in the Reserve.

A thin blue/black line to hold back the guard.....when they show. Geez. What did you actually end up rolling for arrival time Doug?

Answer: 10 on 2d6. 5 hours into the battle (plus a few initial turns) Napoleon arrives on the flank.
He immediately eyes the situation and sees it will not be the great victory he needs to defeat the Royalist army.

Given that I had my own bridge and stream battle to fight (I needed to face against commuter traffic to get home.....and I ended up faced a bit of a blood bath myself in construction terms) and the relatively strong position of the Royalist position we called the game.

I'm really enjoying this rule set. It's fun to see it change over time to improve the flow and experiment with adding flavour without costing too much time. All 3 big battles I've played in (and it seems like they are all big with this system) are fought to an obvious conclusion.

Each of the games I've played I've been a defender, which I recognize is a huge advantage. I'm glad to see extra pips getting generated, which I think will go a long way to helping even the attacker/defender mismatch to something more reasonable, and also it will speed the game. As long as periodically (when you roll low) there are hard choices to make about what to order.

With respect to this particular game I have to give Doug huge props. He gave me all the advantages. I was the defender, I had equal forces, I had battery emplacements and a stream to defend. I also knew that a flank force would show up (and which side!). I think the largest single advantage was setting up second and seeing how he deployed. A blinded deployment (either with a drawing or a curtain set up) would have made my job MUCH more challenging.

Doug fought the good fight, and he had terrible luck with his flankers arriving. It might be better to tighten the range of arrival to 2d4 or something.

To follow are some pics of the final battle field.

Above: Looking to the North. Royalists on the Right. The left/lower flank is denuded of troops. The villages are strongly held.

Above and Below: The center shows the remnants of the cavalry readying themselves for final charges. Royalists are definitely disadvantaged here with hussars (power of 3 vs cuirrasier power of 6). The Royalists reserve is arriving to the left and behind the hussars. Napoleon's artillery is in position to unleash on the Royalists (it was largely under utilized during the game......but using artillery on the offensive is very challenging).

Above and Below: The Right flank last line of defense. The Bonapartists are likely to clear out the 'loose change' ahead of this anchored line, but the guard flanking force still faces a lot of infantry and a few cannons. Tough sledding ahead.