Sunday, September 25, 2011

Malvern Hill?

I had a fun evening yesterday. I was invited to play a Civil War battle using Piquet - Field of Battle II! First of all, the invitation was awesome because these are good guys and good gamers - second of all, I have never played FoB and was excited to do so.

I like original Piquet - yeah, I can think abstractly and non-linear, I am a software engineer after all. Unlike many, I had no issues with the impetus system. Yeah, it can lead to inactivity for some players if the game is too big. But for me that just made it a less effective "club game". It was more about an evening at home with a good friend a good scotch.

Last night, Field of Battle did a great job in the balance between restricting my control and letting me play the game...and...involving all of the players. Plus, I really like the opposed die rolls stuff that FoB (and that family of games) uses.

Brent has an innovative manner of "deploying" for the tabletop battle that is included in the rules. In this battle we had some additional deployment options (allowing for a terrific flank attack) and we had a tardy brigade and a couple of other neat things. Basically, we simply decided what forces would be involved and let this process help us set up the circumstances of the battle. It was cool.

Onto the battle. John and I played the Confederates and Brent and Greg played the Union. Given the ability to deploy some troops in a very forward position, John and I decided to mass troops in this are and try to slam into the flank of the Yankees on the hill. We'd of course place a holding force along the center to demonstrate but not really to attack with.

Due to the conditions and deployment process, the Yankees were able to deploy a brigade to delay our attack and sap its strength. Indeed this brigade would be successful in this endeavor.

In the end, the Rebels would fail in their attempt. So, the war continues on, another retreat and another battle. Onto the pictures. Brent, thanks for the hospitality and thank you and Greg and John for the terrific gamesmanhip!

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Battle with Bull Run to Gettysburg

We fought one this past Friday night. Just a small group of us, in order to learn the new rules. Before that; a word on the book itself. Beautiful. It is a really super nice book – certainly in the category of the Black Powder rule book. It has several “Showcase” sections containing awesome images of the incredible miniatures produced by Wargames Foundry.

On to the battle data. There were 2 Confederate brigades and 3 Union brigades on the field. The rebs were basically setup with only 1 brigade to maneuver and 1 that would maneuver little due to the proximity of one of the Yankee brigades. We set these up to engage in a fire fight to see how those rules worked out. In the area there was a stream, a patch of light woods and open terrain. We assumed that there may be a charge or two in this area as well.

The remaining rebs and yanks marched onto the field in a race to secure positions. There was a roadway to allow the road bonus to show itself and a building next to the road to test that. As the these troops converged there was plenty of formation changing and shooting and charging.

So we feel like we set stuff up to really test several aspects of the rules. We included no optional rules, wanting to go “straight” and see how it plays.

I am not going to give details of the action – and I was so busy working the rule book that I failed to take more than 2 or 3 pictures. This report is about how we felt the rules played to our tastes.

Overall I thought the rules were fine. Not spectacular, but certainly worth playing. There was plenty to like and some things that we disliked. If I stated that for our group that Black Powder got a grade of “A” then I’d give these rules a “B”.

Let’s get into the things we felt were not to our tastes. The main issue was that there seemed like a lot of modifiers for things, especially morale. We certainly did a lot of scanning the charts. OK, that’s not the end of the world; most likely a few more plays and some of those things would come naturally.

We felt that 10% losses in a turn caused too many morale checks, causing us to seek that chart. Given the unit sizes possible, this means that some units would check morale every time they lost a model or two. Most of the regiments we put out there were 4 stands (16 miniatures) although we did have some 3 and 5 stand regiments. Also, we did not use any rosters, so sometimes after a unit had lost a stand or two we could not remember how many models it originally had. We finally decided to check morale after each stand loss instead (sort of a tip of the hat to good ole Johnny Reb).

There were no rules for “broken commands”. Well that is easy enough to address with a house rule or scenario rules.

There were no rules for a reduction in firepower when deployed into a building. Well, we’re creative folks, we just decided that the unit can only shoot the stands that are in a particular facing of the building. Solved for us.

There were not any real rules for adding another unit to an ongoing close combat. In the “Charging” section there was a rule that a unit cannot charge a unit already engaged. The “Close Combat” section had no rules on the subject. On the close combat modifiers there is a modifier for “any unit reinforced in an ongoing close combat”. So we invented on the fly and allowed a friendly unit to charge anyway (if they passed morale of course). By this means we allowed reinforcements to enter the fray. I am sure there would other ways to manage that too.

What did we like? Several things. First of all. We like systems that restrict the ability to move all your units anytime you want – these rules have no restrictions. So, they could be a nice convention game where players can easily get involved with the units under their command.

Snipers. We liked this. Each side had 1 sniper in our battle. There were officer casualties as a result. Not too many and it did not feel weird. It made players think about the risk to their commanders – as they should. It made us thing of poor General Reynolds a Gettysburg! We’ll “port” the sniper rules over to Black Powder!

Unit sizes. The rules represented the variation of unit size very well. And is friendlier on the budget regarding needing really large units. We felt like we could put more units on the table than in Black Powder.

Simultaneous shooting. Both sides’ shooting is worked out as if simultaneous. That felt fair. The modifiers for shooting included penalties for movement and if the unit was shooting while itself under fire.

Degrading effect for frequent shooting. If you shoot a lot, your firepower degrades a little to show the effect of smoke on the field, fouling of guns, etc.

Fatigue in close combat. Close combat does not last forever. After three rounds, something is gonna give.

Seeing friends rout causes a morale check. I liked this one. Reminded me of the Johnny Reb days – and is a nice touch for the Civil War period. This may find its way into some Black Powder scenarios too.

Again, a “B”. They certainly worked. In one game play, nothing jumped out as broken. They are not as polished as Black Powder, but they certainly offer a few different things too. I don’t know when we’ll play them again – we’re still pretty taken with Black Powder.

If you’ve played these rules, leave a note and let me know how you liked them! Rule sets are like exotic foods, everyone’s tastes vary. I like to try different systems. I like to experience the creativity of writers out there in the world!

Friday, September 2, 2011

New Arrivals - Rules (Part 2)

OK, so before I share what arrived today - let me tell you a short story. Matt Grippin and I have long wanted to play ancient China war games. More than DBA. Matt has a couple of Han Dynasty DBA armies in 15mm. I have always enjoyed Sun Tzu and Matt is a flat out ancient China fanatic - he's very knowledgeable on the subject.

You know? Matt once gave me a copy of the book Three Kingdoms. If you know Matt something like that means he really likes you! The stories within got me excited about this period. 

Well, Matt also told me about the Warhammer Ancient Battles supplement for this period, called The Art of War...and that if we ever saw it we should get it. It just so happened that I was in Colorado Springs last weekend and inside a game shop that had a copy on the shelf! I flipped through it and bought it!

Now, I do not want to play Warhammer Ancient Battles - the subject matter in this book is however incredible and invaluable. And - it includes rules for heroic duels and "Military Strategists" (think Sun Tzu)!

What I want to play is Hail Caesar! So, I ordered a copy of that. It came today! Yay! The Art of War book will help me build armies for various periods in ancient China - but our attention will be in the Three Kingdoms period. Uh, yeah, we'll use some Military Strategist goodness too!

So, I'll build some army lists that work with the HC rules and pass them to Matt for adjustments and then, order up some Chinese soldiers! 28mm to boot!

New Arrivals - Rules (Part 1)

Well this week proved to be a boon when it comes to new rules - but proved to be a bust when it came to health! I have been "something" all week. I think it was allergies because I didn't feel "ill" just miserable with the throat and sinuses. The wife says I was sick, she's probably right.


My copy of the new Foundry rules "Bull Run to Gettysburg" arrived on Thursday. I got it on Amazon from one of their resellers. Foundry has it marked for like $55 and the Amazon reseller now says $41. But, when I ordered it it was only $23.98! What a steal! What intrigued me is that the rules description mentioned "simultaneous" actions - which sorta reminded me of those good ole days of Johnny Reb. So, I took a shot and ordered them.

As I was home in bed yesterday instead of at work, I did have a chance to read through them...and...whatever. They look fine. The turn sequence sorta is like Legends of the Old West: I move then you move. I shoot then you shoot. Then we melee. Then the next turn begins. However, unlike those rules (and, again, reminding me of JR) charges by both sides are handled first in the movement step - and - all shooting is considered to be simultaneous. So, essentially IGOUGO, but a better. Those that know me know I like to have less than total control over my "command ability". But, hey, I not a zealot on that point. These are games we play, not simulations! Show me some fun and let me make some cool decisions on the battlefield that matter.

Before I get off of the JR similarities, let me mention that this is a "casualty counting" game. When a unit loses a figure, you mark it off. When a stand loses all of the figures, take it off.

Some of the things that popped out at me as things to like are (1) the basing matches my army exactly! 40mm squares with 4 figures per stand. (2) the effects of long term shooting is to degrade the shooting of a unit. (3) artillery is represented in sections - 1 to 3 per battery. (4) The account for "green", "experienced" and "veteran" morale levels. (5) the main maneuver element is a regiment, and for infantry they are 3 to 6 stands.

There are lots of other neat ideas in the rules, some presented as "optional rules". At first glance, I like the shooting/melee and morale tables - but I will say that first of all, I must try them out in a game and secondly that the list of morale modifiers is quite lengthy - not that this is bad - just lengthy.

Of course, as seems the trend today, there are lots of awesome images of beautiful Foundry miniatures with professional paint jobs and sections devoted to painting and modelling and all that jazz. It is a very, very nice hard-cover book very much on par with the production values found in Black Powder.

Before I make any other comparisons to Black Powder, I'll have to play a game or three. Black Powder's combat system works - and it works well. Like Black Powder, the author of Bull Run to Gettysburg has developed these rules over the last 25 or so years from games played - so that bodes well. I'll post on this topic again after having played.