Monday, March 28, 2011

Die Franco Prussian Fighting

Sunday afternoon, a few us arrived at Bob Jones’ house to play a large Franco-Prussian War battle.

When I say large, I mean large. We used Bob’s 10mm FPA troops (which are spectacular, by the way), so, with the “little fellas” out there we had 33 French units and 41 Prussian units involved (72!). Yes, the units were of all types – infantry, cavalry and artillery. This resulted in 472 French dice and 559 Prussian dice.
We have not yet played a Die Fighting game with this many troops, or dice for that matter. So, we really didn’t know what to expect.

It took us about an hour to rate both armies and talk about the terrain and point values. We were not “business-like” as we did this as we talked about numerous things (even non-game things) during this time. The battlefield was arranged as shown in the below image. The blue icons show the terrain class (I, II, etc.) and the points value of the terrain – paid in dice should it change hands.

The scenario began with the French deploying in the area indicated on the map image. More on this in a moment. The Prussians marched onto the board with their infantry and artillery on the roadway. They were allowed to come on deployed and up to 12” on either side of the roadway. The Prussian cavalry, 6 heavies and 4 lights, could enter the board anywhere along the Prussian side of the table.

Back to the French deployment, because of the unknown entrance of the Prussian horse, the French deployed one long thin line of infantry along the entire length of the board. Their horse (6 heavies and 4 lights) was deployed to either flank of the Chateau area but with no infantry to their front screening them from fire.
Now, I think that this is a poor deployment – and this game makes you pay for that, as it should. In a game were resources (time, speed, energy, etc.) are infinite, the French simply could have moved out, captured terrain or reinforced their primary position – opposite of the Prussian entrance.

At this point, I should apologize for the calling deployment of my good friends “poor” – but they know I mean no harm to them. We’ve all made tabletop errors, but we’ve always had a good time regardless of outcomes!

A better deployment may have been to concentrate on defending the area opposite the entrance of the main Prussian army. Defending it in depth, having a reserve and having units that can threaten our flanks. Sure, this would have left portions of the battlefield undefended to the Prussian cavalry, but who cares. Part of a general’s job is to identify where the battle will be. Besides, the French cavalry could be placed in a position to counter the movements of the Prussian cavalry.

Another point on the French deployment: Suppose that the French had simply conceded the woods to the Prussians by not defending it at all. If the Prussians were to capture it, they would gain 15 resource dice. That’s not that many dice, let them have it. There is no guarantee that they would have captured it, or even would have tried to capture it (after all, Prussians make mistakes too). If you defend too much, you defend nothing.

Anyway, along with the battle, images and more thoughts.

I forgot to bring my camera along with me this day, bummer, but I did bring along my iPad2 – which has a built-in camera. As you will see, these images suck. The quality of the iPad2 camera is just below conscript militia armed with pikes being sent to defeat a Panzer company. OK, maybe that is extreme, but it does, sorry about image quality.

We battled each other for about 3 and one-half hours – and – completed 1 and one-third turns. Yet we reached a decision in the battle. The French had 56 dice remaining and the Prussians 280. We were astounded by reaching decision in such a short number of actions (the French conceded, but too late to salvage a “win”). On the surface, I am thinking “gee, this is odd – not even two turns. But there were a couple of factors that played a part.
  1. The Prussians moved up as aggressively as possible (and began shelling the French in the Chateau areas). This gave the Prussian army depth and mass at the point of decision. We simply could overwhelm the thin, local resistance with artillery and infantry.
  2. The French, having blown their deployment quickly got desperate and threw in the cavalry without any support whatsoever. Recall that the woods were 15 dice value if taken by the Prussians. That would have been a bargain to the French considering that the heavy horse losses gave the Prussians 16 dice each. This was the chief cause for the depletion of French dice and the drastically higher number of remaining Prussian dice.

To be sure, the French heavy cavalry charge in the center did drive a hole into the Prussian lines and did cause a delay in that segment of the line’s advance. A couple of Prussian artillery and infantry units were driven back and 1 artillery and 1 infantry unit were destroyed. The depth of the Prussian lines would be their undoing. It was – in the end – without any tactical gain and the chief cause of the strategic defeat.

So, given the circumstances, I don’t have an issue that we reached resolution so quickly in terms of actual turns. Interviewed years later, a Sioux participant at Little Big Horn said that Custer’s men were wiped out in the time it takes “a hungry man to eat his dinner”. I think that a better French deployment could have placed the game in a more “typical” number of turns. But, the Prussians did use half of their dice pool in 8 action segments (and this is after getting many, many dice from the French), so we did think that some scenarios may benefit from some additional dice allocated to the armies.

With regards to the size of the battle, like any rule set, the length of a turn is most often equal to the size of the army involved (more units to move, more to shoot, more to rally, etc.). But the core mechanics of the game were fine – they did not buckle under the weight.

No matter how many charts or protractors you have, our little battles can never really simulate actual battles. But, I enjoy the fun of looking at a tabletop battle sort of “archaeologically” afterwards. In Die Fighting, there are enough dice being rolled over the course of the game to mitigate the extremes of luck. So, I don’t believe that a player can say “hey, I really rolled a lot of ones.” If that truly is the case, then it comes down to player decision making – deployments, maneuvers, battlefield awareness. I love making decisions in games, even bad decisions!

When digging archaeologically into a tabletop game, I think that if you can discover player mistakes and possible remedies and identify player heroics and their causes – and relate them to actual game mechanics and the flavor of the period’s history – then you have a game worth playing.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

15MM MG Bunkers

Since I am going to be into Vietnam - I need some bunkers. I had produced some last year for my brother and liked them well enough...but...recently I saw a post on Lee Hadley's excellent blog Big Lee's Mini Painting Blog where he made some really effective looking models. Here is Lee's post:

So, I decided to give this a go, and I rather like the result. I think I'll make a few more for my brother and I. Thanks Lee!!!

28MM Old West House

My brother, his wife and several friends have been on my butt lately because I have not updated this blog in like three weeks or so...and I apologize for that. I have been busy winding down some work - but yeah, excuses, whatever. But, I have been doing one or two fun things too.

This past September, I gave all of my "Cowtown" buildings to my brother for his gun-fighting enjoyment. So, inspired by the awesome work of a British blogger named Colin Rush, I have begun to build a few replacement buildings. You can see Colin's incredible work on his blog: Wargaming Buildings. Please give him a visit and leave a note behind regarding his excellent work!

I decided to start with something easy, to get the flow going. So, I chose his "homestead" building as my pattern. You can see his homestead here: Homestead. I decided that I'd depart from his model in a way that I'd build the roof separately so that it can be removed. Here is the building I produced...

There are a few things that I don't like. My windows are too large and my doors are a little too wide. And I hate the steps. These things need improvement. I have not yet built the roof, and am wondering if I should. I am thinking of scraping this building to do it again with the lessons learned.

The interior floor is raised to the height of the front porch (note the steps at the rear door). I am going to print interior floors and walls and apply them to the inside of the building so that when we take the roof off, it doesn't have a poop-colored interior.

Anyway, pass number one at this type of building is a "marginal victory" in wargaming terms...should I start this one over again?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Best Pirate Game

Two of my buddies have a copy of the board game "Merchants & Marauders"...and we have played it a lot over the past couple of months. I think it is the best "pirate themed" game out there - because I really enjoy playing it! This is not a review, pop over to boardgamegeek to read reviews, there are many. This is just a "yeah, buy this and play this" note (and some variant information).

The Box Cover
In the game, you can play as a pirate or a merchant - both are avenues to fun and victory - in fact, over the course of a game, you are likely to be both! Yes, captains do get killed in this game, when they do, you come  back as a different captain and are free to follow whichever path you wish. When your captain is killed, the only thing you retain is the number of Glory Points you have earned and the Gold Coins previously "buried" (which count as more victory points.

There are dice in the game that run combat and other "tests". So there is luck involved, but if you have been successful, you may have things/crew/tools that help you manipulate the dice. In spite of the dice, there is planning in the game and if you sail around haphazardly then you count only on luck and good fortune to accumulate victory points. So, you must plan things out. Also, you must make decisions each turn - after all, you're a merchant, privateer or pirate on the high seas - the choices of action are numerous.

I love the market mechanism for buying and selling goods (of course, you don't have to buy goods, you can take them from merchant ships you plunder). My friends and I play our own variant where when you buy goods, the local market does not offer the type of good that is currently in demand in that market. This means that sometimes you will experience a limited marketplace.

I also appreciate the mechanism for conducting merchant raids. First you have to "scout" to find a potential victim. Then you combat that victim using the cards provided. Your captain's "seamanship" is an important factor here. Of course, raiding merchants earns you bounties and limits your access to certain ports - and draws the attention of naval vessels of the offended nationalities.

Speaking of the naval vessels, the mechanism for introducing and moving the naval vessels (and non-player pirates) is really cool. Sometimes, the seas can be downright dangerous for an enterprising pirate!

If you read posts on various sites, there is a school of thought that it can be harder to begin the game as a pirate and that a good merchant player may be able to get a good start. I don't always agree, it really depends upon the circumstances of the game and how things develop. One thing is certain, that the pirate sloop can be defeated in a merchant raid due to a rating of "1" in a key area. My friends and I came up with a new starting ship type, the "Brig". It does not have a "1" so the initial survivability is increased. However, it is not as maneuverable as a sloop and we have have cases where prey has escaped! Ah, but these are the trade-offs of the decisions we make when playing!

Our Variant Ship
In addition, we have introduced a new pirate captain, none other than Jack Sparrow. This is why you don't drink rum, slip Pirates of the Caribbean into the DVD player and play a pirate board game all at the same time. Jack has some great advantages in certain skill areas, but he is disadvantaged in that he will always have an English bounty on his head - which can cause him some headaches. What Jack is pretty good for in the game is seeking out missions and rumors and earning Glory Points in this manner.

Jack Sparrow
Lastly, one of the two pals I mentioned that has the game helped to design a home-made pirate game that is strikingly similar to this board game. I guess that is another reason this one is so awesome to us, they produced everything we always wanted in a pirate game! Except for one thing: Carousing & Wenching.

Yes, carousing and wenching - the activities of seamen when they hit port after a long voyage and with a pocket of gold. We converted several of our cards from our old game to use in this game - but we wanted to be careful not to upset this game's mechanics. So we built a deck of about 100 cards, the vast majority of which are not too influential on the game. But, there are some cards that are good for you and some that are harmful to you. So, you do take a small risk vs. reward chance when drawing from this deck. Usually, it is not a good strategy to employ too regularly - but is helpful if you're stuck in port because of weather or nearby naval vessels and are looking for a way to spend an action. Below are the two most common cards.

The most common Carousing & Wenching Cards
That's it. A little under the weather today and needed a break from working...