Tournament Report: Stoogecon 2012

Stoogecon was last month, but I haven’t found time to post a report until now.  I didn’t bring my camera this year, so I only have results and no pictures.

The first event was a DBA 2.2 Open tournament, with 8 players.  I brought my Italian Condotta, IV/61.  I plan to use it at the NICT at Historicon, but I had never used it in straight 2.2, so I thought I’d give it a try.  Overall, I really enjoy playing this army a lot more than I think I ought to.

In the first round, I faced Mike Naughton, who fielded the only other Medieval knight army in the tournament: Teutonic Orders (IV/30).  I beat him 2G-1.

The second game was a tight contest against Jim Naughton’s Middle Imperial Romans (East).  I ended up losing 3-4 after we each had several opportunities to break the 3-3 stalemate with a good combat roll.  This was the first loss for my previously undefeated Condotta.

In the last round, I faced Rob Torres and his Later Pre-Islamic Arabs.  I beat him 4-2.

Jim Naughton won the tournament with no losses.

The second event was Matched Pairs, using the February 14th DBA 2.2+ Beta rules.  We hoped to play 4 rounds, but unfortunately some players dropped out to play DBM, so we only ended up with 6 players and 3 rounds.

Just like last year, I brought Later Achaemenid Persians with the Auxilia and Psiloi options, and Early Bedouin.  After last year’s experience with these armies, I decided the pair wasn’t actually very well matched.  However, I think DBA 2.2+ has improved the matchup in several ways.

In 2.2, the Bedouin camels suffered against the Persian foot, but was a bit better against its cavalry.  Their ability to play in the dunes was minimized by their high aggression, and not very useful because of the camel’s deficit against enemy foot.

In 2.2+, Camels are now 3/2 and don’t recoil against Cavalry (but quick-flee them).  This gives them at least even odds against Persian Auxilia, and works fairly well against enemy Cavalry.  Also, the Bedouin’s greater number of Psiloi benefit from 2.2+’s Psiloi group move through bad going.

Overall, I expected the matchup to be much closer than it was in 2.2.  In practice, I only really played one game with this army, and it didn’t provide any corroborating evidence.

In the first round, I faced Mike Naughton again, using a Matched Pair I’ve seen him play before: Scots Irish versus Picts.  I chose the Picts with their new Light Spears, and lost 3-4.  Mike went on to win the tournament.

Next, Frank Popecki chose to use my Persians against my Bedouins.  He beat me 1G-0 in the first few turns of combat, so we decided to play it out for fun.  In the rest of the play through, he beat me 4-1.  So, score one more for Persians against my Bedouins.  I won’t believe the Persians are truly better in this matchup for several more games.  With this many low-factor troops, a few winning combats early on can cascade into a quick win.

In the final round, I fought Rob Torres again.  I chose his Palmyrians, with lots of Cataphracts, against his Later Pre-Islamic Arabs.  I beat him 4-0.  I remember really liking the look of the Palmyrians and enjoying playing with Cataphracts.  Since I don’t have a Cataphract army yet, I may have to look into picking up the figures for these guys.

Over the course of the day I won as many games as I lost, which is pretty good for me across multiple events.  More importantly, I enjoyed playing DBA.  I still prefer 2.2+ over 2.2, which is good since it’s the future. 

Review: A Game of Thrones: The Card Game

In anticipation of four players for game night tonight, I set up Civilization ahead of time… guaranteeing that only three players would show up (thanks, Murphy).

Instead of Civ, which we prefer with four players, the three of us played A Game of Thrones: The Card Game for the first time.  Here’s a short review of how I liked the game, without getting too far into how to play it.

A Game of Thrones is a “Living Card Game” that was once a collectible card game.  That basically means that it’s still best to buy a lot of cards and build custom decks, but the additional cards are available in fixed packs instead of a random selection.

Also fairly obvious: it’s themed after George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, though it was created long before the television show and uses original art instead of screen shots.

We played with three out of the four starter decks from the core set, without any modifications.  Two of us have extensive experience with CCGs prior to playing, and the third has moderate experience.  Because none of us had seen any of the cards before, it took us over 3 hours to figure out the rules and play a 3-player game, which is a lot longer than the recommended time frame.  We acknowledge that we’re typically a slow group compared to published time limits.  I’m confident that subsequent plays would be much faster, probably within the 1-2 hour time frame they suggest.

My one line summary is: I really like this game!  I’m really afraid of buying more cards.

The cards and rules do a great job of implementing the feel of the politics of Westeros.  House Lannister has and uses money, House Stark has a bunch of kids with dire wolves, and House Targaryen has dragons and not much else to speak of.  There seemed to be a few bugs with individual characters: Eddard Stark’s ability clearly should not be to constantly avoid death. And maybe I haven’t read enough of the books yet, but some of these houses didn’t come into direct conflict as much as they did in the game.  But the overall feel of the complicated political interactions between the noble houses of Westeros is implemented very well by these rules.

The multiplayer conflicts and variable player order combine to require very difficult decisions between spending resources to initiate challenges versus saving them to defend yourself; and between choosing titles first versus having the last opportunity to attack.  The game definitely encourages success through good strategy, and I never felt randomness played an overwhelming role in the outcomes.

My biggest concern with the rules is analysis paralysis.  It’s easy to overthink things (“So clearly, I cannot choose the wine in front of you”).  There is also a lot of direct conflict that is veiled in a theme of indirect conflict, so it’s important to put on your “thematic game” and “wargame” hats before starting.

I’m a long time fan of the Middle Earth: The Wizards CCG.  It has a long play time with a lot of high quality thematic content, and it comes directly from the books instead of relying on cinematic interpretations.  My overall feeling of A Game Of Thrones: The Card Game is very similar.  It doesn’t follow the plot of the books exactly; but it does retain the setting and characters in a lot of detail, and it encourages exploration of the world and themes created by the original literary source.

If I compare this experience to the general case of “CCG with vanilla starter decks,” only Middle Earth: The Wizards comes close to providing a comparably high quality experience.  If I compare it to other CCGs that handle more than 2 players gracefully… the only other game that comes to mind is Shadowrun, and even if you could find an opponent, where would you get the cards?

To be fair, we have no experience with the additional cards available for the game, or with deck building, so this review is necessarily limited. There will certainly not be any problem with a lack of depth in the card selection, but it’s not clear whether the huge number of cards that have been released so far are well balanced or not.  It’s hard to find time to build decks anymore with 2 kids around, but I’m sure we’ll get sufficient value from the core set’s $40 price tag.

If I had to come up with a complaint about this game, it would be the packaging.  The core set has the worst box insert I’ve ever seen.  The only way to justify the huge square box at all is to suggest that you can store all of the expansions in it along with the core game, but it begs to be stored as you’d store any CCG: in long card boxes.  Unfortunately, in their attempt to make this into a board game instead of a CCG, Fantasy Flight added pawns and a board that don’t store well along with cards.  The Title Reference Cards are more than adequate to convey all necessary information; I’m sure the board and pawns are only there to make board game players more comfortable.

I would definitely recommend this game for anyone looking for a CCG (or LCG) with a lot of player interaction that supports more than 2 players.  If you also know and love the works of G.R.R. Martin, you can’t go wrong here.

Cold Wars 2012: Saturday

Matched pairs, 15mm games

JM and I volunteered to run a DBA Matched Pairs event on Saturday morning.  Neither of us got a lot of sleep the night before, so when I woke up I just let JM sleep in and started the event without him.

I posted details on Fanaticus, but here’s a summary of the results.   We had 16 players in two brackets.  4 players used “hybrid” basing, which uses 15mm figures with the 25mm base sizes for more visual appeal.  One player had 6mm figures on 15mm bases, and the rest brought straight 15mm figures.

Since each player provides two armies that will play against each other, any scale can be used as long as they’re compatible.

Jason Bostwick won group A with 71 points (3 wins, 1 loss), and Ted Furey went undefeated in group B with 89 points.

May the Beer be With You: Rick Wynn, HOTT matched pairs.

Next was Hordes of the Things matched pairs.  I brought my Battle of Endor “matched” pair built from Star Wars collectible miniatures.  This was not an even match, but it produced historical results.  I need to work on the army composition before bringing it out again.

In the first round, I faced Alex Bostwick using my army.  He chose the Rebels and Ewoks, and I played the Imperial side.  He crushed me quickly, I believe it was 6g-0.  Shooter generals are feeble, but it was too late to change my mind.

Next I played against Jeff Franz using his Perseus vs. Medusa Greek armies in 15mm scale.  I  had Perseus fly behind his line with a harpy to strike his harpy in the rear and kill it.  Unfortunately, in response Medusa turned around and shot Perseus down, recoiling him into his own harpy and killing him. I lost 6g-2 after 2 rounds of combat.

In the third round, Rick Wynn also chose to play the role of the Ewoks.  This game lasted a bit longer, but ended the same way: my shooter general was crushed and the Empire fell.  It was approximately 8g-0 at the end.  Hmm, I have a problem losing generals, apparently.

Finally, I faced Greek Alex who was borrowing a pair of “Arabian Nights” armies from Rick.  They were identical: a Magician general, flyer, dragon, behemoth, and warbands.  These are PIP intense forces, but it evens out when they face each other.  Alex whittled me away, got his dragon on the board, and finally ended up winning 14-0.

Once again, I felt a need to learn how to play HOTT effectively.  The troop interactions are fun, but also new and different, and not what I’m used to.  I ended up picking up prepainted Mechwarrior figures for another HOTT matched pair of armies, so I’ll have more armies to choose from if I ever find the time to play.

Finally, the event we’ve all been waiting for: Condotta Chaos!  As usual, the Two Davids campaign event was the highlight of the convention.

Jeff Franz, looking down.

By the time this event started, I had been running on too little sleep for a long time.  I was basically on autopilot by now.  Luckily the event was run using the DBA 2.2+ rules, which I seem to be more familiar with these days.

I originally intended to take Pike and Artillery as my army options, but then I learned none of the Condotta armies were allowed to take pike.  Since I needed to take spears, I took psiloi to provide support for them. My other options were an additional Light Horse, and of course the pavisiers.

In this event, all knights were allowed to dismount as blades at deployment.  I painted blades for this, so I hoped to get a chance to use them.

In the first round, I drew a high numbered chit, and defended against Jeff Franz’s Condotta.  I placed terrain, and used a road curved around a hill and a wood.  I deployed with two Knights dismounted as Blades near the bad going to act as bad going troops.  He very helpfully placed his Artillery on the same flank, and I sensed an opportunity.

This was the only game when I took advantage of a 2.2+ rule that I remembered but the enemy forgot.  He kinked his line, so I contacted his ungrouped Artillery and caused it to conform to my column of blades so I could fight it without an overlap.  It wasn’t without risk: I had to survive one round of combat against a knight before I could get back into bad going.  With the threat from his artillery neutralized, our lines clashed and I eventually crushed him and killed his general: 4g-2.

In this campaign, losing a general meant rolling on a table to see whether the general escaped (no effect), was captured (the only way for a winning defender to gain a vassal), or killed (causing the army to lose their vassals).  Jeff’s general escaped alive but embarrassed.  Fooey, I could use a good vassal!

Jan Spoor, looking down.

In the next round, I got to choose between two high numbered tiles and so I was attacked again.  This time I faced Jan Spoor and his… wait for it…  Condotta!  He used the same composition that I had.

I rolled as the defender and placed similar terrain: minimal bad going with enough room between them to play, and a bent road.  I deployed all my knights mounted, and left two elements of bait to the left of the woods.  He deployed three elements on that flank and took the bait!  Oh wait, he also brought his General with him so he wouldn’t be out of command.  That wasn’t part of my plan…

In the end, it was a very close, hard fought battle.  He had superiority on the left flank, but I managed to kill enough in the center that I pulled off a 4-3 victory before I died.  Once again, since I was defending, I didn’t gain any vassals.

Rick Wynn, looking down.

In round 3, I drew two tiles again since I won, and once again my numbers were too high to attack with.  Rick Wynn attacked me with his Medieval Germans.

I defended, placed very similar terrain again, and once again placed two elements of bait on the left flank. This time they were on a road, making them look extra fancy in their steel stirrups and poofy sleeves.  I deployed one knight dismounted, since Rick had more heavy foot than I did.  He also took the bait, but he took an entire spear quad to counter it.  This was great news.  As long as I could threaten them enough not to move back to the center, I was confident I’d never need to face them.

It was either this game or the previous one when I finally figured out how to wheel my army into advantageous matchups effectively. In this game it really clicked and worked well.  I swapped my elements into place so that it was in Rick’s benefit to walk forward, and in my interest to wheel into a better position, and it just worked really well.

But Rick is a good player, and he did a very good job of protecting his flank with the woods on his side.  I managed to hit his line hard enough to do some damage, but after my initial combat advantage I started taking casualties.  Pretty soon I was only one element from dying, but I managed to kill his general and win 4g-3.  In the end, two of my elements and one of his had done a 180 in the middle of the board, it was a real mess.

This game demonstrated the difference it makes when you don’t lose rear support when a front rank dies in 2.2+.  My psiloi support survived at least 2 rounds of combat against his knight, but eventually lost a 2-2 mutual quick kill roll. A Knight killing spears and following up into a Psiloi with double overlaps is not necessarily a good deal for the Knight… it’s certainly dangerous, possibly too dangerous.

Since Rick lost his General, he had to roll on the CMAT table as well, and I captured him.  A vassal at last!

Mark Pozniak, looking down.

In the final round, I drew the 1 and 2 tiles.  Finally I got to attack, and so did Rick.  I had a tiny vassal tree compared to other players, but they did look like juicy targets.  I hadn’t played against Poz yet, and he had a big vassal tree that I could reach easily, so I attacked him.

Mark had Condotta, and I think he took Artillery.  He defended and placed terrain.  It looked similar to mine, but with the bad going farther apart and larger.  He also placed two elements of light horse on a flank, and I mirrored his deployment there.

Again this game, I was able to wheel into good matchups with the main line.  I struck his light horse with mine at just about the time our lines met, but it was a minor mistake: I should’ve waited for him to come to me so he’d be out of command radius.

I killed one of his light horse immediately, and this time I didn’t lose my early combat advantage. I won combats all down the line and fairly quickly killed him 4-0.  It was a much faster game, but much less tense than the previous ones.

This win netted me a large vassal tree, and Rick added to it with his attack as well.  In the end, first place was a three way tie between me, Mark, and Rich Baier.  We had a roll-off to break the tie before Dave Schlanger had a chance to tell us who was actually eligible, but everyone else had so many plaques they just let me take it anyway.

So finally, I started winning!  I guess it was better that it was all in one event; now I’m qualified for the NICT and have a measurable reason to try to get to Historicon in July.  We’ll see if my schedule allows it.

Saturday night, we stayed up until 4:30am after the Daylight Savings clock change, playing Red Dragon Inn.  This was quite a fun little Take That! game, with a good theme.  But as with most of these games, it is nothing without its theme and the right players to make the most of it.  It’s not a good choice for our gaming group in Pittsburgh, but it was a lot of fun to play with the rowdier convention crowd.

Those games produced my favorite quote of the convention, courtesy of Alex Bostwick: “Hey guys! Alan is secretly 40!”  Well, just because you don’t tell anyone something, that doesn’t necessarily make it a secret, but I’m old enough to appreciate it when someone thinks I’m in my 20’s.

Thanks to everyone for running these excellent events!  I had fun, as always, and look forward to seeing everyone again.

Cold Wars 2012: Thursday, Friday

Another Cold Wars has come and gone.  It was a lot of fun, as usual, and it has renewed my enthusiasm for going to conventions.  My friendships with friends I rarely see grow stronger, and I look forward to seeing everyone in person again soon.

I did a lot of losing this past weekend, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time dwelling on it.  There are other newer, more interesting things to talk about instead.

Thursday

JM and I rode out with Larry and Rich and set up camp in a second room the hotel accidentally reserved in Larry’s name.  Thanks for the mistake, no other rooms were available!

On Thursday night was Larry’s element-based theme game: Horde Wars.  Armies were required to contain at least one horde, so I took Post-Mongol Samurai with four hordes.  As usual, despite being a “Horde Wars” event, the metagame turned it into “Horde Killers Wars.”  I usually take advantage of the opportunity to try to learn how to use the themed element type, instead of trying to learn how to kill it.  This time, I’m not sure it worked, because I don’t think Hordes are as useful in large numbers as in smaller numbers.

My losses were against Ron Giampapa’s Feudal English, 2-4; Mark Bumala’s medieval army (I forget which one, but it had more Knights), 6-0; and Jason Bostwick’s Sarmations, maybe 4g-0.  Basically I was crushed, and the only elements I killed in the event were Ron’s psiloi rush.

Friday

I actually got sleep Thursday night.. no wait… no, I didn’t.  I had Thai iced tea and a Kahlua drink and couldn’t get to sleep at all, but JM confirmed I was snoring so I must’ve slept a little bit.

Friday morning was the first Big Event: BBDBA Doubles.  JM and I took Hittite Empire (I/24a) with a Mitanni ally (I/19).  This is hopefully the last time this army will be a straight spear line.  Starting with Historicon, we’ll be using the DBA 2.2+ rules for BBDBA, which will convert all the Hittite 3Sp into Light Spears.  This will make them weaker, but more maneuverable.  I’m not sure if I’d be as willing to take Hittites to BBDBA, but I’d be more willing to play a Hittite/Mitanni matched pair.

vs. Two Davids: New Kingdom Egyptians

In the first round, we faced Two Davids with their New Kingdom Egyptians. They placed a mandatory waterway on one edge, and marshes mucking up the deployment zone on the other edge. After protracted discussion, we chose the board edge behind the marshes, and they deployed half their army.  They reserved not only their last command, but a landing party from their CinC command, giving them maximum flexibility in deploying their final forces.  This won’t be legal in 2.2+.

We deployed defensively behind the marshes, with our mounted almost entirely on the right flank.  This gave us a good size bad going force to fight in the marsh while our spears sat behind to prevent breakthroughs.  JM refused their slowed left flank while we attacked aggressively on the right.

We won the bad going, and eventually broke one of their commands, but it wasn’t their CinC.  Unfortunately, it went more slowly than we preferred, and Dave Schlanger was strictly enforcing 2.5 hour rounds this time. We couldn’t seal the deal in time, so we ended up with an unfinished game, 29-10 in our favor.  This is as well as we’ve done against the Davids in person, which is good, but it is no fun to leave a game unfinished.

vs. Greek’s Greeks: Syracusan with Carthaginian ally

In fact, we disliked it so much that we decided to do it again in the next round.  We faced “Greek” Alex and Mark Pozniak playing Syracusans with a Carthaginian ally.  They defended again, but placed their mandatory waterway on the flank instead.  Heavy bad going bogged up the other flank, so we were destined to stick to the coast on our right flank again.

This game went very similarly to the first one, at the start.  We deployed on the right flank with the intent to attack heavily with chariots and support in adjacent bad going, while refusing the left.  The two games were similar enough that they get mixed up in my head.  In this game, we both broke one of the enemy’s commands before time was called, and the game ended 25-22 in their favor.

vs. Hans and Franz: Alex and the Classics

These two unfinished games pretty much spoiled the bracket and meant that someone could advance to the finals with only two wins.  That turned out to be Hans and Franz, who we faced in our final round: Rich Gause and Jeff Franz playing Alexandrian Imperial with Classical Indian ally.

Oh boy, did we end up sucking this game. But at least we finished it.  We placed terrain and deployed centrally and symmetrically.  I deployed Mitanni on the right flank.

I really don’t like blaming the dice, and it felt like we made a lot of mistakes this game; but in some cases we really didn’t have the PIPs required to do what we knew we should have done.  The first turn started with a PIP roll of 1, 1, 1, which just wasn’t enough; and it didn’t get better until it was too late.  Rich was able to push his attack down the road on our left flank unopposed, and I wasn’t able to mount any coordinated attack on the right.

Jeff and Rich both played very well and definitely deserved their 100-0 victory.  But that doesn’t mean I have to like it!  They went on to the finals and won their final game, taking victory in BBDBA doubles.  Congratulations!

In the end, we failed our goal of getting at least 100 points.  Next time we’ll have to take a faster army… hopefully one that we can win with.

After BBDBA Doubles was the Pyramid Pyramid.  This was a Two Davids pyramid format event using biblical era armies and the DBA 2.2+ modifications.

Dave Schlanger ran the pyramid format a bit differently than it’s done out in Ohio.  Instead of carrying our losses each round, the losing players all lose 2 elements and the winners lose nothing.  This provides some strategic attrition to reduce the size of the armies in play, while maintaining the same size army on both sides and rewarding winning instead of playing conservatively.  It worked very well, I’d like to see this form of attrition used more widely.

I had Early Libyans, which looked quite fun in this era: Warband, Bow, Psiloi.  I lost my first game to Jan Spoor’s Sea Peoples, 5-2.  Playing together in the second round, Jan and I crushed Jeff Franz’s Hebrews and Larry Chaban’s New Kingdom Egyptians.  In the third round, the four of us lost to Alex Bostwick, Mark Pozniak, Rich Gause, and JM Seman.  The highlight of that game was my demoralized bow shooting Alex’s general (the CinC) and recoiling it to its death… but we only demoralized one of their commands before they crushed us under their unrelenting boot of progress.

Instead of playing the Midnight Madness event, which would have provided some chance of going to bed at a reasonable hour, 7 of us stayed up until 2:30am playing Arkham Horror.  We had more devoured investigators than I’ve ever seen before, let alone all in the same game.  In Soviet Russia, you don’t finish the game, the game finishes you.  We quit while we were ahead and got some sleep… not enough, just “some.”

Stay tuned for Saturday…

DBA 2.2+: Playtest Animations

JM and I have been playing some play-by-email games using the DBA 2.2+ rules modifications found on the WADBAG site.  The play by e-mail board is available on the Fanaticus forums and JM’s blog.  It’s intended for use with Inkscape, a free, open-source vector drawing application.

Since each game results in a series of .svg files representing each turn, it’s easy to automatically turn them into an animation.  I know that some people don’t prefer to see the turns go by so quickly without being able to pause the animation to look at the details, but I just think they look cool.  They also give an overall feel of the pace and flow of a battle, without diving down into the individual combats.

Here are the two animations I’ve done so far.  Click on the thumbnails to view the animated full scale versions.

Georgians (bottom) vs Konstantinian Byzantines (top).
Tibetans (bottom) vs. Hindu Indian c, other (top).

DBA v2.2+ Movement Gauges

Here are the movement gauges I had made in support of the DBA 2.2+ rules effort.  They were custom laser cut by Laser Lab Studio in Pittsburgh for a very reasonable rate.

In the upper left is transparent acrylic, 1/16″ thick.  The engraving on the surface is much more visible in real life, but it can be emphasized by applying a very thin wash of acrylic paint and then wiping off the excess.  This is what I did for the tool in the lower left, which is black 1/16″ acrylic.

On the right is a 1/8″ plywood tool.  The engraving is much more visible, and this tool has the improved cutout shape to fit around some figures more easily.

DBA v2.2+ movement gauges

Fall-In 2011: Part 2

Before we went to bed on Friday, we made sure we knew what time Saturday’s events started.

Embattled Isles

The first event on Saturday was an excellent set of themed games arranged by the Davids.  They built 7 scenarios that all took place in England over a long span of time.  The battles chronicled successive waves of invaders taking control of England and then defending against the next invading army.  Each battle had preset terrain and army deployments, and some had special rules.  Unfortunately, we only had enough players to play 5 of the 7 scenarios.

I enjoyed this format immensely, but it must have taken a lot of work to arrange.   The huge win here is that all metagame concerns are completely gone, so players are evaluated based on their ability to command in a variety of situations they don’t have complete control over.  Defenders and invaders had separate winners, ensuring that any scenario unbalance was compensated for in the results.

In the end, the top three on our (defending) side went 3-2, and I ended up in the middle of the pack (worst of the best) based on points.

The shortened event left us with too much time to spend money in the flea market and dealer’s hall as the snow piled up outside.  At some point during the weekend, possibly between these two events, I got in a few pickup games with Jeff Franz and Jan Spoor.

Viking Fury

In recent years, the highlight of every HMGS-E convention has been the themed campaign event run by (you guessed it) the Davids on Saturday night.  This year’s theme was Viking Fury: the Viking invasion of England and Ireland.  I played one of the Viking players: Ivar the Boneless. Unfortunately JM, aka “Ragnar Shaggybreeches,” wasn’t around for me to blame him for my name (Ragnar was Ivar’s father, but he’s still not sure who the mother is).

Chris’s Picts are taken from behind.

In the first round, I yelled “Waagh!” and ran forward, as all good Vikings should.  “You guys approach his position from the woods, and we’ll sail up from behind and surprise him.

Chris surrounds me, but not fast enough.

In the campaign turn, I landed on a space on the map that must be defended by either Chris Brantley or Jan Spoor, and took my chances.  Chris defended with his Picts, placed a mandatory waterway, and ended up with it at his rear.  Fortunately for me, he didn’t anticipate my littoral landing.  I boldly deployed my general with 3 supporting units behind his lines, and took his camp on the first turn.  Luckily I had enough PIPs to run forward with the remainder of my force.  The 3″ move for 3Bd (Raiders special rules for this campaign) definitely helped get my guys back into command.

After that, it was a matter of me killing two more of his units before he surrounded and destroyed me.  I plowed forward in the center, while he spent PIPs to go around me on both flanks.  In the end he completely surrounded me, but I was back in command and he had gotten out of command.  He was almost within striking distance of my camp when I killed a second element and convinced these reasonable men to join my cause.  Bitches!

Pushing David Kuijt back into the sea.

In the second round, I attacked David Kuijt, also a Viking who had claimed a landing spot on the campaign map.

He did anticipate the possibility of a littoral landing at his rear, and protected against it.  However,  through a combination of not making very many horribly bad mistakes, and rolling really well, I finally beat David, 4-2.

He ended up being my first vassal, since in the first round my victory only gained me a place to park my boats and set up camp.

Nick Swales rolls me up.

In the third round, I had yet another chance to invade on the campaign map, and I attacked Nick Swales with a long line of spears.  This was a fairly straightforward “line ’em up and roll high” sort of affair.  Unfortunatly only one of us gets to roll high enough to win, and this time it was him.  He poked a hole in my line where my warband had hoped to poke a hole in his, and beat me down with attrition in a 4-1 victory.

In the final round, Rich Baier attacked me to steal my growing vassal tree.  Again we were both Vikings, so it should’ve been a fairly even match.  And again, it was a straight line without much complicated maneuver involved.  But this time, Diceman was on a winning streak.  He didn’t win with a few 6-1 splits, but instead he kept pushing me back with die rolls just good enough to beat me, consistantly over a long period.  Eventually I had to die, and I did.

Diceman has a lucky streak

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed playing against Rich, because I had so many recoils that my combat factors were never horrible. I consistently felt like a good die roll was just around the corner; it just never came.  I don’t have notes regarding how badly he beat me, but I suspect it was 4-0. He went on to win the entire event, and I ended up in a multiway tie with the third most points.

I definitely have fun at these conventions, especially given how few opportunities I end up with to play DBA and HOTT outside the conventions.  I know I’d play better if I played more often, but I’ll take what I can get.

And now, to plan for Cold Wars.  I need to get 48 points of “something HOTT” ready for a grudge match, and it’s looking like it’ll most likely be my Fire army. We’ll see what other events pop up that will require more painting…

A hearty thanks to all of the game masters and the event coordinators!

Fall-In 2011: Part 1

JM and I rode out to Lancaster with Larry early on Thursday, to get to Fall-In with time for dinner before Larry’s Glue Factory event.  I wanted to write this up before I finished reading JM’s account of what happened during BBDBA on Friday. I expect he may find my post-game analysis a bit tedious, but I find it helpful to go back over images to learn from our experiences.

Mike Guth’s Tuaregs approach the dunes.

Thursday: The Glue Factory

The Glue Factory was a DBA theme requiring all participating armies to contain at least 8 mounted elements out of 12 (not including elephants).  I brought Mongol Conquest, because it was one of my two eligible armies (along with Skythians). Mongols have many light horse, with low combat factors, no room to maneuver on a 24″ board, and high aggression “guaranteeing” I’d never place terrain. I didn’t think this was a strong army compared to what I expected from the competition.

I expected to see mostly Knight armies, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by Mike Guth’s Tuaregs in the first round. He won terrain and placed massive dunes in the center.  These are bad going to me but not to his camels.  The only thing in my favor was that they didn’t block shooting, though they did constrict his command radius.

An anachronistic civil war vs. Dave’s Golden Horde

I didn’t expect to win with this setup, and I felt successful for killing 2 elements before I lost 2-4.  This was too much terrain even for Mike, who had command radius issues once he sent his general into the center.

In the second round I had a much better chance of success if you just compared army composition.  I faced Dave, whose last name I didn’t learn, with his Golden Horde.  Surprisingly, I won the terrain roll, and had to figure out what a Steppe is supposed to look like.  Unfortunately I lost my fourth element to his bow shots before I killed four of his, and he won 4-3.

I found it interesting that when you have two light horse armies, you no longer need to play as a flanking force to gain an advantage.  My success was through flanking him around my right side… but so was my demise.

Mike Bumala’s Normans

 In the final round, I faced Mark Bumala’s Normans.  Once again, I placed terrain.  This game was a horrible massacre: I lost 1-5g.  I was really perturbed by how uncooperative my dice were being; it’s the only time I remember recently when I got very angry at bad die rolls.

Friday: Big Battle Doubles

Friday morning, JM and I got up nice and early, with plenty of time before the BBDBA doubles tournament at 9am.  Except, it didn’t start until 10am.  When did that happen?

We had time to get in a bit of a Viking civil war between our recently finished Baueda Viking armies. This Fall-In was notable for being the first HMGS-E convention I’ve been to when I’ve played a substantial number of pickup games between events.

This time, the Grey Wardens (JM and I) took Leidang (III/40d) with a Medieval German ally (IV/13a).  We chose 6 blades and the psiloi from each Leidang, and 2 auxilia in the German ally.  This left the Leidang with 2x3Kn, 12x4Bd, 4x3Ax, 4x2Ps, 2x4Sp, and the Germans with 5x3Kn, 2x4Sp, 2x3Ax, 1x4Cb, 2x2Ps.

Two Davids: Leidang on Leidang action

In the first round we faced Two Davids (Kuijt and Schlanger) with a nearly mirror image of our army.  They also had Leidang with a German ally, but they included 5 blades and 1 bow from each Leidang army, and used all of the German spears.  We won terrain and placed the terrain we planned for, with the waterway on a short edge so we wouldn’t see any landings.

The crux: our right flank bad going

We initially placed both Leidang commands, and then we were faced with the typical defender’s dilemma in BBDBA.  After placing 2 commands centrally so they’re hard to ignore, the enemy places 3 commands so they overlap your two and extend out each flank.  The defender now must choose which flank to attack and which to hold back.

Their Germans were on our left flank, but their knights were deployed inside a marsh, and didn’t look like they had room to maneuver.  On our right flank, we were a bit cramped by terrain, but our Germans are better in bad going than theirs.  We deployed the Germans on our right.  After a few turns we learned a few reasons not to have done what we did, but I think if we had deployed on the other side we simply would’ve learned a different lesson.

Our allies see their brothers working for the enemy, and flee.

We were slightly outmatched in the bad going on our right flank, but it could have gone either way due to the low combat factors.  When we first entered combat, it did go either way, and we ended up getting crushed in the bad going, and soon the German command broke before it could make contact. 

On the left flank, JM did an admirable job of holding off the Germans for as long as possible, but unless you’re winning somewhere else, living as long as possible just isn’t good enough.  He broke the enemy’s German command by killing its general, but that was too little too late, and we couldn’t catch up in elements before losing by attrition, 13-87.

In retrospect, in the best case scenario our knights on the right flank would still have been waiting for that combat to end before they could attack very strongly.  The fact that we didn’t want to advance on our left flank gave the enemy Germans the time they needed to maneuver to our flank unhindered.  It feels like we might have been better off deploying our Germans on the left, but then we would’ve had our knights facing their bad going, and we still wouldn’t have been able to flank them as easily as they could with bad going troops on the other side.  In short: it’s better to have terrain to anchor both of your flanks, than only one of them.

Stooge stand-in Mark Pozniak, with stooge Larry.

In round 2, we faced Larry Chaban and Mark Pozniak, using Larry’s “Jagoff” army: Medieval German IV/13d.  With 6 war wagons and 6 artillery, this is a formidable beast.

They defended and Larry placed pool table terrain. They deployed “everything except the mounted” first, with supported pike protecting the war wagons and artillery.  The Pike are too strong for our blades to beat consistently, and the war wagons don’t let us get any overlaps because they don’t recoil.   Our only hope was running fast, killing some artillery, and taking advantage of gaps in the line.

We were left with the standard BBDBA attacker’s dilemma: when faced with a narrower force, which side do we deploy heavier on? Which flank do we want to attack, where do we want them to deploy their third command, and how do we deploy to encourage them to comply with our preferences?  In this case we didn’t ask all of these questions, so we didn’t answer them.

For the Leidang, we used an interwoven command deployment: part of command A, then part of B, then the rest of A, then the rest of B.  The theory was to be able to get localized 2-on-1 command advantage, but the downside is that it always costs more PIPs to maneuver the groups, and it lets them get 2-on-1 command advantage at different locations.  We won’t be trying that again

In this game, we were basicaly trying to attack with our blades and knights while they attacked with their knights.  The problem with this plan is that all else being equal, their knights are faster than our blades, so we have to hold them off longer than they’d have to hold us off.

We also learned a lesson about allied commands: they are unreliable.  They can get high PIPs, but they can also get low PIPs.  This makes them more well suited for less PIP-intense missions than “primary attacking force.”

This time, the force JM was using to hold off the enemy also happened to be our CinC.  We did kill a few elements, but not many: we lost 8-92.

Rob and Matt Torres place their center command.

In our final round, we faced Robert and Matt Torres with their Low Countries army.  They had lots of pike, with some artillery and knights in support.

Just before initial contact

They won terrain and placed a river to narrow the board, with terrain on one flank.  They deployed a pike block on each side with an empty space in the center for their artillery and blades.  Our counterdeployment was simple: a straight line of blades against most of their pikes, with a flanking force of mounted and bad going troops on the one open flank.  Our hope was to break the center and then hit both of their internal flanks from their center to break another command and destroy them.

Overall, our plan worked, but there was a flaw: neither of their weak commands we attacked was their CinC.  Since we rarely have occasion to need to know how to win, we (or at least I) didn’t realize that demoralizing two commands isn’t enough, only attrition or demoralizing the CinC lets you win.

The Aftermath

In the end, we did kill their center and envelop and destroy them on our right flank; but we still needed to frantically kill elements while their strong CinC command hammered our low PIP command.  We ended up losing one command, and almost lost our camp, but we survived long enough to win a 74-26 Pyrrhic victory. 

Looking at these pictures, it becomes more clear to me that with heavy foot lines, you really don’t need to extend very far past the enemy’s flank to gain a significant advantage.  We could’ve shifted our entire line left two elements and we’d have been better off on both flanks.

Finally, the Grey Wardens won a game!  I think our next goal should be to end with more than 100 points.  I feel that we made mistakes, but they were a bit more strategic in nature than in past events, and that we agreed on what we’d try, even though it didn’t work.  At least I didn’t run my forces towards inevitable crushing defeat, like last time.

In the end, the Stooges and the Davids didn’t finish in time but still ended up first and second in our bracket, so they diced off to enter the finals.  Larry and Mark went to the finals and won the event.  Congratulations!

A Game of Ice and Fire

Because we knew we wouldn’t be participating in any other events during the time slot after Big Battle Doubles, JM and I arranged for a pickup game of Hordes of the Things against the Two Davids.  This turned into 72 points of 3-on-3 mayhem.

The Ice Elementals, commanded by David Kuijt, David Schlanger, and Mark Pozniak, defended their barren icy wasteland from liberation by the forces of Fire and Earth commanded by me, JM, and Chris Brantley.

I didn’t get a good sense of the battle on the other end of this large table, but the general flow seemed to be: we melt them with our fire, and the resulting water puts out our fire.  The earth elementals broke first through the loss of their general, followed by my complete annhiliation.

This was my first experience using the “large warband” variant rules, and I liked them a lot.  The figures were pretty, and the terrain was also quite nice.  Overall it increased my inspiration to play HOTT, and to complete some of my existing HOTT armies.  I’ve started basing my own fire elemental army, using many of the same D&D figures seen here.

Oh yeah! JM and I also played a pickup game of Hordes of the Things, Ewoks vs. Undead.  I was not at all put off by the weird combination of troops, it really didn’t seem any worse than fighting ahistorical matches in DBA once you got the figures on the table.

Congress of Gamers 2011: DBA

This past Saturday was Congress of Gamers in Rockville, MD (just outside DC). I was afraid I might not make it to the De Bellis Vasingtonium (DBA open) event, because we were going on a long family weekend… to DC.  I’m glad Marla argreed to let me leave them at the zoo for most of Saturday.  Thanks!

The events I didn’t participate in included a lot of open board gaming along with some organized board gaming events such as a racing series.  There weren’t many miniatures games other than the ones organized by “the DBA crowd.” Unfortunately I wasn’t able to participate in the Wings of War Balloon Busting event either, due to time constraints.

I really enjoyed the format of the “Bring-and-Buy,” where you drop off your old board games and hope someone buys them.  I didn’t bring any games due to timing, and didn’t end up buying anything because the prices were high compared to the size of my wallet and my desire to own the games.  But I think in future years I could sell off some of my games fairly easily since I wouldn’t expect to get as much as they were asking for theirs.  I also missed participating in the no-ship math trade.

Hordes of the Things

I arrived too late to play in the Hour of Wolves and Shattered Shields event, a Hordes of the Things giant battle scenario set up by David Kuijt and Dave Schlanger.  I did get a few pictures: here’s an overview of the whole battle.

This scenario was based on the Battle of Dale.  This battle was left out of the movies, and the main characters weren’t there so it was chronicled in less detail in the books as well.  Around Dale in the North of Middle Earth, Dwarves, Elves, and Men faced the forces of Sauron: mostly Easterlings (evil men).

In HOTT terms, each side had 108 points split into 4 commands, good guys vs. bad guys (aren’t they always?)  As in the Giant Battle rules, all players on a side played simultaneously.  Although this can slow things down given enough players, I think I prefer the “long line” battles over the more free-for-all format used in the Two Davids Monsterpocalypse themed HOTT games.  I should probably actually play a normal Giant Battle before I settle on that decision…

All the figures were Games Workshop, mostly Lord of the Rings figures (with a few pigeons from the Warhammer elf line.)

De Bellis Vasingtonium

As it turned out, only an “hour” of wolves and shattered shields was a bit optimistic. When everyone finaly cleaned up the Battle of Dale, we started De Bellis Vasingtonium: a 4 round DBA tournament open to all armies.

I couldn’t decide whether to take Feudal Spanish (III/35b) or Later Achemenid Persians (II/7), so I brought Hittite Empire instead: I/24b.  I chose the psiloi option, giving me a final composition of: 3xHCh (gen), 1xLCh, 6x3Sp, 2x2Ps.  Except for its lack of bad going troops, this is a fairly solid composition, especially for 1200BC. 

JM’s right hand blocks his view of his Greco-Indian general.

I thought I might face another early army, but JM’s Greco-Indians were the earliest possibility, so we played each other in the first round.  “I came all this way to play against you?”

I attacked and JM set up basically a pool table, which suited us both just fine.  Early on I denied his elephant flank and concentrated on his other side.  I didn’t win this battle, JM lost it 2g-0.  Our battle lines seemed fairly well matched, but after the first few bounds of combat, JM misused a 1-PIP roll and left his General open to being outflanked, so I killed him.

Apparently JM stopped making mistakes early, because this was the only game he lost.  Congratulations on the 3-1 placing, that’s excellent!

Before: Doug Austin’s Bosporans vs. my Hittites.

In the second round, I faced Doug Austin’s Bosporins.  I’ve faced these guys twice before in BBDBA but never in single DBA.  I was the attacker, and Doug set up symmetrical terrain with two roads and a central wood.  He set up in a tight block with his bad going troops poised to run down the road and take my camp.  My plan was to run as fast as possible towards his knights while expending the minimum force necessary to distract and delay his light troops… who were running twice as fast towards my camp.

After: A big mess of Bosporans and Hittites

In the end, my expectations were met and my plan ended up working, but the timing and some luck went in my favor this time.  His plan was complicated somewhat by a greater need to consider his general’s command radius due to the woods, but mine was limited by the speed of my heavy foot.

He moved to within striking range of my camp before pulling back his bowmen to try to kill my general.  In the mean time, my spears and mounted troops finally reached his knights and I started gaining an advantage there.  He was even able to shoot several times with his artillery, which he deployed on his base line.  In the end I took his camp with my LCh, and won 3c-1. 

I decided to use “before” and “after” pictures here, because the contrast is so striking.  After Doug ran down the road and I ran up the open ground, we ended up almost perpendicular to our starting deployments, and Doug had turned my “flank” (my original rear).  Apparently his bowmen thought my wall was too high, because he didn’t end up attempting to take my camp.

I won two games in a row? Weird!  Unforutnately things started going down hill from here.

Mike’s Medieval Portugese took my camp.

In the third round, I faced Mike Guth and his Medieval Portugese time travellers. This seemed like such an ahistorical matchup that even a bystander asked something like “what are you… why…. what?” In reality, they were just using their time machine to get some practice in before sailing to North America.

I don’t have any pictures of the start of this game, but I defended and set up terrain with a small wood on either side of a road.  I deployed with my spears in depth in the center (double ranked with psiloi support) and mounted on the flanks, to defend against a central Knight assault.  In retrospect I think a thinner line would’ve been more flexible and less intimidating to him.

The Portuguese and Bostporin army compositions are similar, but with more heavy foot in the Portugese.  I don’t remember Mike’s setup.

He pulled a psiloi rush on the first turn.  He didn’t kill my LCh, but did really annoy me for the entire game.  That psiloi required a huge PIP expenditure for me to defend against, and the best I got was a stalemate. Finally, he took my camp with his auxilia and won 2c-1, with about 1 minute before time was called.

It was definitely a good move for him to do the psiloi rush even if he didn’t kill me, because I was definitely set up incorrectly to handle it. I put two mounted on that flank, because as soon as I was free of the woods they could move out to their flank and be more useful… the problem being that they were never able to move past the woods.  I may have been able to deal with it better if I had spear and psiloi over there.

I don’t have any pictures at all of the final game, which is probably just as well.  I faced David Kuijt’s Hussites, and basically beat myself with a bunch of mistakes to go along with my lack of experience with or thought about Hussites (or war wagons in general).  My only consolation is that I learned more than DK did 🙂

First of all… a gentle hill is not bad going, and you should ask what kind of hill it is before you decide which board edge you prefer.  After deploying incorrectly because the hill was not actually protecting my flank, I failed to correct my mistake and wasted PIPs maneuvering around the hill even though it wasn’t bad going.

Hussites have war wagons that are superior to my mounted but inferior to my spears, and blades that are superior to my spears but lose to my knights.  His initial set up let him swap his elements to ensure he had a few hot spots that he could take advantage of and poke holes in my line.  I’m not a very good element dancer, so I didn’t see much advantage to trying to swap elements into good matchups as I advanced… but I hadn’t considered that the PIP sink of the war wagons would’ve prevented him from swapping back as easily.

But that wasn’t the last of my mistakes.  Without much enemy mounted, my psiloi were wasted in the spear support role I put them in: this is a mental block I need to get over.  They don’t die to anything in his army except his light horse, so I should’ve had them out in front, extending my line or at least preventing flank maneuvers.

I hadn’t even considered the effects of massed War Wagon and Artillery firing on my lines.  That’s pretty brutal.

In the end, he outflanked my short line with his light horse and general… but his 4-0 victory came from slaughtering my line in head-to-head combat while making me spend all my pips on my flank.

In general, I have a problem with beating myself when playing DK by paying more attention to what he’s doing than to what I’m doing… but this time I made some big mistakes that I should not have, and that made it even worse.  Larry wouldn’t have admitted to knowing me after seeing that game.

In the end, I finished in the middle of the pack with a 2-2 record, which surpassed my expectations but not my hopes. 

Summary

I had fun at Congress of Gamers, and if there are enough events I’ll try to make it down again in future years… but the hotel cost may be too high to make it worth it if we aren’t planning a trip down there already.

Terraclips: Almost Awesome

Just like everyone else interested in the Wyrd Miniatures/Worldworks Terraclips terrain building sets probably has, I read and heard lots of good reviews about the kits… and then I bought them: one each of the Streets, Sewers, and Buildings kits, and three boxes of clips.  This is definitely a high quality, well designed product.  However, instead of repeating all the glowing praise I read before I bought them, I’ll list all my picky problems.  Hopefully this will help someone to decide whether this is the right toy for them.

My overall summary is: I think these would work great for D&D 4E dungeon crawls, but I don’t think they’ll be very good forMalifaux.

Here’s a 3 foot square of Malifaux terrain built using parts of all three kits.  The build took Frank and I 2 hours to complete.  We started with a half-assembled build, and spent some time disassembling it but saved some time reusing a few of the buildings and roofs I built earlier.

And here’s the first problem: Terraclips are slow to assemble.  I rarely spend this much time setting up terrain, and that’s when I am planning a historical scenario.  I’d rather spend my time crafting individual terrain pieces that can be reused quickly, or playing a game.

Because of the long setup time, you need either a lot of free time, or a place where the completed terrain can sit until you use it.  Unlike large purpose-built terrain boards and smaller area/element terrain pieces, Terraclips can’t easily be stored assembled.

Many reviews I’ve seen gawk at the huge amount of stuff you get in each box.  It’s true: you get a lot of stuff.  However, having a lot of stuff doesn’t necessarily mean building a large area of terrain. The kits come with the parts needed to do anything, but not to do everything at the same time.  For example, there are enough roof pieces to handle any L-shaped or T-shaped building, but you can build more square one-story buildings than you can add roofs to.  If you build taller buildings, they take up less area on the map, so you require more streets and sewers to take up the slack.

We found that we had a huge number of balcony and railing parts left unused (unpunched, even), but we ran out of roofs and walls without doors.  Another challenge is using the right ratio of 6″ and 3″ pieces, to ensure that you don’t run out of one before the other.

These parts are also quite fiddly to assemble.  Experience would definitely help building things faster and more cleanly, but I don’t expect I’d ever be fast enough to roll up a Malifaux scenario and then build terrain for it as the rules recommend. 

The clips all have a bump on one side but not the other (look in the clip’s slot, which tends to put a slight angle in the connection, especially when using I clips.  The T and L clips don’t join up the cards in the same orientation at the corner, depending on which direction the clip is used, which can leave you with some less than square buildings if you don’t align all the clips the same way. All these little errors add up over the course of a large build.  The few instructions available implore you to make sure everything is lined up properly and fully assembled, but it’s still fiddly.

The remaining issues I have with Terraclips are related to how they will work with Malifaux.

Malifaux didn’t have any comprehensive rules for working with buildings, the last I checked.  All terrain pieces were “area” or “element/item” and had an overall effect; they didn’t contain discrete walls, doors, windows, and so on.  In previous games using our scratch built buildings and Mordheim buildings, we adopted the Mordheim rules: any obstruction gives you cover, and line of site is WYSIWYG.

WYSIWYG line of site works great… as long as you are able to use terrain to disrupt and limit that line of site without being able to completely hide.  In this regard, the terraclips don’t perform well.  None of the wall sections have open windows, they only have doorways and arches.  These highly enclosed buildings have the effect of breaking the board into small, isolated, easily protected sections. We have yet to see how this plays out in practice.

We also found it difficult to add enough buildings to a flat city street grid, to block the line of site across the board adequately. We were limited by roofs.  We might have been able to build a few more buildings taller, but we couldn’t really add more of them.  Actually, this is great for my Perdita crew, so I’ll just stop complaining now.

For what they are, the Terraclips do a very good job.  These will be great for doing D&D dungeon crawls and encounters inside buildings, and I could even see building a dungeon crawl on the fly if it’s straightforward enough.  They even have 1″ squares subtly printed on all surfaces.  But I don’t have high hopes for building a wide variety of different terrain boards for a series of Malifaux games.

In the future I’ll be sticking to building more individual terrain elements to place on my Terrainguy mat, but I’ll save these kits to build dungeon crawls, assuming I can ever fit them back in their boxes.