Friday, February 28, 2014

Labyrinth Lord Red Tides: A rude welcome (2)

Two of our four PC's are from a small town:


Elrond Hubbard (elf) is an indentured servant to the village head who discovers correspondence that the village has not met it's tithe quota. The shortfall will be made up for by sacrificing members of the village to the Hell Kings to illustrate the consequences of failure.

Zander the Hermit (human mage), a shaman who resides near the village and a friend of Elrond help organize an escape of many of the villagers.

A lawful itinerant cleric of the Maker, Wendyberg and her companion Bruno the Hunter (human fighter) are part of an organization set of freeing slaves. They hail from Hohnberg and are culturally opposed to slavery and generally hostile to the Hell King worshipping Shogunate.

The group has escaped onto the ship the Free Gull, and is heading south to the Mandarinate of Xian when a storm storm brews up driving them away from the land. The captain is challenged by the risk of being driven back to the Shogunate, or being driven far enough to sea that the Red Tides will engulf the ship. At last they espie an island of about 20 miles wide, and a beacon of light welcoming them in. Believing it to be a light house of some sort the ship closes in the driving rain, and the dying light of the day.

Shy 200 metres from the shore there is a horrific grinding sound and the boat lurches to a stop. They have hit an undersea object. The crew reports the ship is taking on water and beginning to sink. As the crew prepares the one longboat (insufficient for the entire passenger contingent) the villagers begin to panic.

Zantar, with help from Wendyberg, attempts to light a lantern and signal the shore. Shortly after cries of 'swing to shore' float across the expanse of water.
Elrond attempts to board the first boat, but the crew insist that woman and children go first. They pointedly suggest that if he helps organize the panicking villagers, then perhaps he will get off the boat faster. Zantar, while helping Elrond, botches his diplomacy and ends up enraging the ladies, who accuse him of picking favorites to get off the boat so he can woo them. A quick charm spell on the village elder helps defuse the situation. The village eldar now looks to the PC's often for suggestions and direction.

Meanwhile Bruno goes below to find the holds filling rapidly, and no way to staunch the leaks. He pulls out a rope and barrels and begins to fashion a barrel/sausage link/pool noodle. The crew drop off one load of woman and children and take a second one. After they land the sharp ears of Wendyberg pickup the sounds of battle, quickly ended, and then screaming and crying of woman and children. The men still on the sinking ship all look at each other and jump on Bruno's flotation device and swim for the shore, 200 metres away.

As they approach the shore a gang of 6 men spread out with swords, but Elrond sleeps the lot. A single man escapes as his friends collapse. The woman report that the children where tied together and marched off inland. Bruno the hunter and Zantar take off after the children while Wendyberg and Elrond secure the captives.

Bruno is able to track the brigands to a small relatively hidden gorge. A spikey palisade with 2 guards stands in their way. Once Elrond and Wendyberg catch up the party rushes the pair. One surrenders after the other is slain. He reports that the master Lo Pan and his men take captives into the cave and they are never seen again. He is fearful and repentant and begs to be tied up and spared. There are only eight men plus the master in the cave. He is tied up and smashed in the head to knock him out.

The gorge is sheer on 3 sides and filled with shacks and tents created from ship materials obviously scavenged from wrecked ships. On the far cliff wall, a na
tural cave opening resides. The party bursts into the first room, filled with 4 beds and foot lockers, and an empty weapon rack. Zantar guards this room as Elrond and Bruno hasten forward. They surprise and slaughter one of the two men carrying the rigid restraint device. The other begs for mercy and reports there are 4 men in the next room praying, if the group is quick and quiet they'll be able to surprise them. Elrond gets the man to lead the way, and his scouting is rewarded with a surprise sword thrust taking him in the neck.

The room has a wooden cage filled with the children, as well as a strange pillar growing from the wall. There are carved symbols on it that cause the eyes to hurt and turn away. A battle develops between the group and the 2 fighters and 2 scum with knives. The group is sorely wounded. During the fight Zantar tries to douse an enemy with oil and starts the wooden cage that holds the children on fire. He manages to open the gate and evactuate the children, including using his bedroll to shield a particularly fearful pair.

After the battle Elrond pours oil on the remaining door and floor, raises a rucus and then retreats while firing the room. The party escapes back to the beach with the villagers in tow. The brigand guard at the front gate has disappeared by the time they leave.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Battle of Kore Una (pt 1)

Doug came up with a clever scenario based on a historical battle in Spain. Rather than Soult chasing Moore off the peninsula during an evacuation gone bad, it's Soult chasing Mohr into the North sea. With prussians, this would obviously need to be a different spelling from Coruna......hence Kore Una.

The battle was much smaller than previous, about a corp a side, with 12 elements vs 9 elements. It was actually played fast enough that we got to switch sides and do it again  (The mirror world Kore Una post to be posted later).

The French and Prussians start arrayed across form each other on hills. The French seize the initiative and start their drive on the enemy. Prussians are fighting a delaying action, and score VP's based on the number of surviving elements minus the number destroyed. They gain bonus VP for each french element destroyed.

Other angle. The North sea to the West (stream).
As previously reported in the Doug writeups, the rules are undergoing development. Artillery seems to be a bit of a buggaboo, as it changes the most. The new rules will probably be contentious to some, but actually plays rather nicely. Given that a stand represents a few thousand men in various formations, and the artillery is around 40 guns in multiple batteries, it makes sense that the artillery can fire through units. Now the artillery will bombard all enemy within a certain range with no bonuses (straight opposing rolls, unless within canister range). If they do manage to hurt a unit, they need to make an attrition roll for themselves, on a 1 (on a d6) they lose a strength point. This represents ammo shortage, guns jumping their carriage, tired men, etc. It actually worked quite well, the more successful the guns, the more likely they are to disappear.

Artillery can also choose to focus fire, and gains a +2 to hit, but only against one target. This is a huge bonus, and almost guarantees a point loss, and give a good chance of doubling for 2 points loss. As a base is usually 3, and rarely 4 strength points, that is huge. The focus fire cannot fire through units, and can't gain a canister bonus at short range. It's made the artillery much more interesting, and useful on the attack (it also helps that artillery moves on 1 pip now, and can be moved and fired). Artillery MIGHT be a bit too good now, that that's what play testing is for. Certainly the relative benefit of artillery on defense and offense has been evened out.

The french possessed a unit of hussar and cuirasseur. The historically were deployed in very heavy terrain that precluded them from doing much. In our game they were pretty far from the action, and also out of command. Neither of use ended up spending the points necessary to push them forward.

 The small village represents the disembarkation point for the Prussians. Legitimately the Prussians should keep an open line for their fleeing troops to get there. Time really was the biggest deciding factor in what could be achieved.

The Prussian reserve is out of command range, but certainly represents a bit of extra strength (although it's mostly 2 point lehrwehr) but more importantly a speed bump for a french advance around the flank.
You can see the cavalry in the thickets in the distance
  The main strength of the two forces at the beginning of the game. Villages are a huge temptation in this game. It's EXTREMELY hard to evict enemy troops. On the other hand, it's perfectly feasible in most cases to bypass villages, yet no one ever seems willing to do so.

I decided given the first turn, the village should be seized immediately. I won the roll off and the French, as perhaps should be expected, took the initiative and lurked forward.
 I led off with the slightly weaker (3 point) units, as I felt they could soften up the enemy before a 4 point unit would crush the survivors. Doug and I had a brief discussion about the pro/cons about leading with strong vs weak units.

The important thing to remember is that if you can kill your opponent, you won't take attrition damage. So in my mind, it pays to have those extra points of bonus to ensure a win. Honestly, you probably rarely have the choice and must use what is available though.

First turn my gunnery was very effective and I peeled off 3 or 4 points of prussians for 1 point loss of artillery. The new rules meant I could cannonade anyone on the ridgeline. It felt ahistorical to have the prussians deploy behind the ridge a la the British.
 The prussians had nothing to reply with, and chose to bring up their reserve in the back to counter the french advancing past the village.

French turn two (LEFT), engaged across the front, and a cannon was brought forward. I felt it important to advance the cannon as much as possible to get it on the hill early. Early and proper placement of artillery seems to be very useful in this system (which is probably historical as well).
 The assaults didn't go all that well, not surprising considering the Prussians received a defended terrain bonus. After losing a combat you must withdraw at least a base depth. The losers bounced behind their stronger counterparts, ready to sweep in the next turn.
 In the back we see the Prussian turn two has resulted in a reserve unit engaging the french column.

The prussians also choose to try and kill the artillery that has moved up. A wise decision should it work out. Artillery that loses a combat are instantly destroyed.

Unfortunately the artillery receive a cannister bonus (for the frontal attack) and defeat their attackers....badly. The prussians disappear in a shower of gore. The combat in the background is a tie and the troops remain locked in combat. Probably the worst result for the Prussians.

Turn 3 for the French see the cannons advance, the strong french units engage on the hills, and the unit in the village redeploy on the far side.

The Prussians kill their first french unit, breaking the  deadlock. They do, however, lose both fights on the hills, eliminating one unit and retreating another.

A quick glance at the fight from the other angle. We see that should the French push hard on this flank they could very well cut off the Prussians. Considering how closely engaged everything is, it seems just as easy to attempt to destroy them in battle.

Prussian Turn 3 (half the game gone now) sees the Prussians hampered by a terrible command roll. 1 pip I believe.

As a result of one of our games a rule has been imposed giving the attackers a +2 pips to use each turn. This helps press the attack, and the defender is definitely suffering from it this turn. This rule applies to commands, and (in my in my mind at least) reflects operational tempo.
The prussian local counterattack off the hills does manage a win and drives the french back. French turn 4 sees 4 pips used to advance a cannon almost to the top of the hill, and engage both french units in the back of the photo into Prussian units. Certainly the pressure has been kept up steadily every turn.

The cannons punish the counterattacking unit on the hill by focusing the fire. Around this time we decided that artillery bonuses should cap at +2. Getting a high bonus when the dice max out at 3 is a bit too predicatable and over kill. The odds are with the French and another unit disappears in small caliber grapeshot.

Bottom of turn 4 (Prussian) sees the end closing in rapidly. Doug begins to withdraw his forces and set up some road blocks.

French turn 5 sees the cannon reach the crest of the hills. Their range will almost carry to the Gabions in the background, well within the remaining forces. Although you can't cannon engaged units, it's still a target rich environment.

Two french units manage to jointly charge another Prussian unit. The battle has been decided, and the slaughter will continue for another hour or two until Night ends the battle.

Not where you want to have the enemies cannons: commanding the retreat path of your sorely pressed remnants.

Thanks again to Doug for hosting a great game. It's always a pleasure to play a game on a fine looking table with great company. I'll try and post up the mirror world battle where we switched teams.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Labyrinth Lord Red Tides: Preamble (1)

After an overly long hiatus, I managed to get some gaming in with my east coast friend. Previously he had run an awesome OSRIC campaign set in allansia and culminating with the ddefeat of the ice queen. Although we didn't really FINISH the campaign, it was obviously a mop up operation, and the characters were getting to such a level that we were highly resilient and deadly (levels around 7 with a few decent magic items). At this point Jason usually tires of running these characters in a game.

It's been far too long since I had a chance to GM myself (my local gaming group has rotated GMs through 2 other people, and the current campaign is long running (almost 2 years). Jason is running 2 weekly games out in Halifax, so I offered to GM the next campaign. I'd been interested in running some fantasy, and the Red Tides campaign setting was intriguing to me. I've mentioned it before (HERE) and was hoping to run it locally at some point. Our local campaign has been on a long tear though, so no dice there. Luckily my turns has come via telepresence.

Deciding I wanted to introduce concepts of the setting slowly, and create my own sandbox area first, I decided starting on an island or coast in a village would be a good start. With hours running out till the game started, I had a stroke of inspiration while looking at the map. The characters would be fleeing the Shogunate, a Japanese type kingdom that turned to the worship of Demons to save itself decades ago, and now thoroughly corrupted. While escaping they would be ship wrecked on the Isle of White Teeth (so named for the reefs that surround much of it). This would give some time to introduce them to new concepts before getting to the single port to escape the island..........or it could be the campaign will strictly be on the island. Time will tell.

Also fortunate in my choice is the island is only 50 miles by ~30 miles, so shouldn't be too onerous to chart into a hex map. Once I get a start on working up my sandbox I'll post up some entries on the process with the tag 'sandbox gaming'.

The small island with the beak at the top around 1o'clock is my maybe. Happily further game expansion can occur with nearby islands and the main land.

Isle of White Teeth has a single major port, and is suspected to harbour rebels of the Shogunate who yearn for the days before the Hell Kings were the official relegion. Lots of scope for strife.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

First Game of Heavy Gear

Through a fortuitous ebay auction, I met some local gamers. One of the things they are playing is heavy gear, which I've had an interest in for a bit, but haven't been able to locate any local players. Stephen and his crew have a few house rules including the fact they use a hex map, rather than measuring off distances. Conveniently, the hexes are 1inch in size, so I think this actually makes a lot of sense. It also makes movement through forests and hills much, much easier. Another rule they use, which I rather like in general, is they activate groups based on flipping cards. This helps eliminate a decision step for players (which can slow down some), but also introduces more friction and uncertainty to the battle; you can't me entirely certain that your forces are going to complete the job they've been sent to do in time.

It had been a long time since the group had played, so I think there was a bit of rustiness. I was also definitely a bit of a delay on the game as I needed to get some explanation on what was happening. So we had only really got stuck into combat when a number of us had to leave for the evening. There seems to be a plethora of reaction shots available to the player, which does keep one invested in the opposing players turn, but it also seems to slow things down a bit. Similarly, the dicing off of attacker and defender (when shooting, etc) is great from the point of view of staying invested when not your turn, and creating those chances for unlikely shots to be hugely successful, but once again, it can slow things down a bit.

I understand that dream pod 9 is now looking at their next edition and going an open alpha development. It would appear that things may change quite a bit. Hardly a great time to be getting in on a rule set for me. The new rules do appear to be WAY MORE streamlined for army creation. I have to say the current army creation rules are a bit overwhelming with options.

This is a couple of turns from the start. We moved in off the edge. The dice on the edge are a helpful guide to which gear belongs to which group. We were running about a dozen per side, divided up into 6 groups of 2. Southern close, Northern on the far edge. 

Pipe cleaner in various colour are common markers at this game den. The blues show that the gear has made it's shot that turn....thereby reminding us it can't try for overwatch/reaction fire.

 The northern forces is keeping it's grizzlies back, ready to fire guided mortars. The hunters/jaguras are the pickets, and the ferrets are for forward observation.
 The southern gears need to rush forward and kill the grizzlies as best they can. My forces on the left flank swung wide, as the remaining forces seemed to condense into the forest on the right side of the central hill.
 On the left side of the hill I have a couple gear to distract/pin the enemy as my 3 flankers speed wide. The gear in the bottom right has a rapid fire bazooka, which has good damage, but miserable range. The ferret (top right) is fantastically hard to hit, and also easily spots for the guided mortars. Super annoying little beast.

 Here we get a good sense of the battle field. Towards the top 1/3 we see a short range scrum developing in the woods. The northern gear are doing their best to assasinate the faster mamba's. The large cobras are slowly plodding forward and not really in the game yet.

There are two grizzlies on the left hand backfield. One is just 1/2 off screen about midway up the picture. This is the target of my flanking move. They are also totally jerks dropping mortar fire all over the board.

Towards the bottom we can see my 3 gear flanking force (mamba, jager, jager). They have a fairly open advance, screened by a hill near a lake. The main opposing force is a white primed jaguar which is a fairly solid opponent.

A close up of the scrum in the woods. The northerns managed to kill off one gear, and debilitate another, but lost 2 in return. They began to pull back.

The ferret on the top right managed to finally kill the flank guard mamba (fore ground right). Which would bode ill for further advances by the forest team.

I failed to take more pictures after this, but the wide flankers on my left managed to get through and started to threaten the grizzly, who had to pull back. The remaining forces on the left side of the hill were getting into knife fight range, but with some whiffed rolls, it looked like the southern forces were going to take a beating.

Unfortunately the game had to end there, but I suspect the south was going to come out worse in this battle. It was an interesting first exposure to heavy gear. I like the models, and playing with hexes seems pretty solid. I remember trying battletech without hexes and it seemed to play much slower, so I can appreciate the speed and certainty of terrain hexes provide. I'm looking forward to having an excuse to paint some of the figs I picked up in the past, but have pined away in my storage boxes for too long.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Jan/Feb Boardgames: High Frontier and Zombicide

Despite the relative silence on the blog, I have been managing to get in some nerdery related activities. Intrigued by the writeups present on Martin at Fire Broadside! blog, I decided to jump in and try the game High Frontier. Martin does an excellent job reviewing, as well as describing a play-through, so I'm not going to try and repeat his great work. I would add some of my own thoughts after the first game.

High frontier takes place in our own solar system in a not too far advanced future. The real appeal to this game for me is that it's been written by a real rocket scientist (or at least a hardcore physicist). The bad quarter of the rulebook is filled with brief writeups on the technology present in the game, and it really makes you realize just how smart and clever some of the people are out there. Also, advanced math is hard.

Anyway, the point of the game is to get to various sites in the solar system and set up factories to take advantage of the 4 types of comet/mineral resources out there (such as nickel or carbonaceous). Low/Now gravity processes should allow for some amazing technologies to be realized. The Victory points are scored by the number of sites you create, but also by the relative number of each factory type. A monopoly on a given factory is worth far more than if multiple players have built one. 

The real trick is that, like real life, it's dead slow to move a massive spaceship and you need reaction mass. The space ships end up being attempts at optimizing thrust, water tanks (for reaction mass), the type of robonaut/factory you need to survey an area, and planning on what site you could actually get to. My friend Robert (a big space buff, and a physics major) and I spent some brain sweat playing our first game. As the perfidous chinese threat, he was able to claim jump and stop supporting his astronauts in space when the mission was 'done'. I never really had a chance, also his dice rolls were way better than mine. It's definitely a game that will not make much sense for first time or three (I'm suspecting the second time will start revealing more depths to certain cards and strategies).

Given a recent long weekend, Bryan managed to host another game of zombicide (previous game writeup here). There was an all time high of players (6) and we had some experienced salts at the table. We successfully finished the game without too much challenge. I think a combo of good card luck, and diligence in the midgame at moving towards our objectives helped immensely. There is a tendency to be a bit slow and kill zombies in the 'yellow' phase (of experience). This phase you are way better than most of the zombies showing up, you've usually found your equipment, and it's a bit of a breeze. It's actually the time when you are busy losing the game. The zombie numbers ramp up quickly, you gain xp fast, and suddenly you enter orange and then red. If you aren't close to finishing the map, you are probably toast.

Speaking with Bryan a few days after, he offered that having lots of players is a huge help, as you can spread the experience from killing zombies more thinly. Certainly it is already a tactic to try and ensure that all the players enter the next experience level on the same turn. As soon as one person gets to a new level, the zombie spawns get tougher.

 In our game we went south/down first and cleared the first building to the left. We managed to open both buildings in the bottom during the first experience level (blue). Buildings get populated completely as soon as they are opened.

 We managed to pop the door on all three of the buildings during the second, yellow level, while we all moved to a good location in the streets. Given our early luck equipping ourselves with extra ammo and various shotguns, we were able to clear out the masses of zombies quite quickly.
 It was actually the black 'X' objective markers that ended up sending us over to the next experience level into orange. By this point we only had 1 X to grab, and all the food water and rice cards we needed had been located. We were moving quickly to keep ahead of a mass of zombies, while clearing out the last group from the top left house.
 By this point the game is basically ours. Even with a terrible spawn in the top most spawn location, we had enough people and weapons in the local area to clear it.
 The dash down the alley and for freedom was trivial. The game was fairly fun, especially for the newer folks, but I think the few of us who had played numerous times were a bit surprised with how easy it had gone.

It's quite tough to say if card luck was the largest contributor, or if number of people made the difference.