Thursday, 31 July 2014

Bitten by the ECW bug?

It may surprise you to know I am not the type to spuriously start a new project. (Aside from Wild West, FIW, B-Movie Aliens, Starship Troopers, and 15mm Rogue Trader, all of which are at various stages of limited progression.)

I forget what I was browsing for at the time, but I came across some very nice ECW paper figures on the Billy Bones website. Now, I've experimented with paper figures before, and enjoyed them, but it is true that they can't beat 'proper' figures. 

So what would make a difference? Thinking about this, I have felt that paper figures should offer something, stylistically, that metal figures don't. From my forays into the world of paper, I'm left feeling that there are two broad categories of figure. The first attempts to produce some reasonably realistic figures that look quite accurate on the table. The second goes down more cartoony lines, but still satisfies the same aesthetic principle of trying to recreate the visual effect of painted figures. 

From my perspective, both these offer a decent quick fix, but afterward leave me wanting to play with metal or plastic. Enter Billy Bones Workshop. 

Currently, they offer two ranges: ACW and ECW. Both offer stylised paper figures which invoke recognisable imagery from the period. In the case of the ACW figures they look like they are photos taken during the period and for the ECW figures a style is employed reminiscent of woodcut art common in that era. Even better, the ECW set includes common terrain features such as hedges, roads, rivers and buildings, all drawn in the same way. So the overall effect is something which is not so easy to replicate with miniatures and highlights one of the strengths of paper figures.

I have only assembled a few stands, but here are a couple of pictures from each range, taken from the Billy Bones site:


So that's the figures sorted for my games, but I need rules as well! Perfect Captain came to the rescue here with what looks to be an excellent set of wargame and campaign rules. And they are all free (with the option to donate to charity)! I set up the start of my campaign last night and hope to post on how it develops. First impressions of the campaign rules are good. There seem to be a couple of holes, but nothing which can't be fixed and certainly nothing worth complaining about given the price!

Here's a picture of the campaign map, followed by the starting garrisons. 

Royalist forces

Parliamentarian garrisons

In this close up you can see the markets making up one of the garrisons:

On the top left is the commander, the codes show his attributes, in this case that he is Disciplined and Bookish. Disciplined is useful in battle and in taking some campaign actions. Bookish can be positive when taking certain campaign actions. It comes in handy when developing fortifications or organising more forces for your army.

Most of the unit counters have a number, showing how many bases (squadrons) currently make up the company. 6 is full strength. Gun markers represent one base of artillery. So this garrison is quite mixed. Two units of Seasoned Pike, two of Seasoned Musketeers, one of Harquebusiers and a light gun. Worth noting is that, while you might start with some Seasoned troops, the time scale of the campaign (usually about half a year) means you don't get a chance to replace these and any forces you recruit will be Trained Band, consequently not as good in battle.

I've just calculated income for the first turn and determined the weather (which has turned out to be bad). I am now about to issue orders. More on that later!

Star Wars Game (5150)

 I took advantage of the fact that I still had the table ready from my recent Slaughterloo game and decided to have a Star Wars game using the 5150 Star Army rules by Two Hour Wargames. I ended taking a few more pictures than I expected, so this is something of a pictoral summary, with my comments and observations dotted between. Click on the pictures if you want to see larger ones.

The set up: an alien jungle planet. Three possible enemy contacts were set up, two toward the top left of the picture and one by the stone column.

I decided to semi-generate some reinforcements by organising the squads I would use and assigning each one a card. When required, I drew from a card deck to see what turned up. I made up stats as I went and have them filed in a box for future use.

Due to an odd die roll on the first turn, I ended up getting reinforcements before my platoon arrived on the table! 4 Phase 1 Dark Troopers. As it happened they were not so useful...

The Dark Troopers make first contact: A Rebel squad in a defensive position. Might be tough to shift them.

Rebel fire takes out two of the Dark Troopers.

My main force arrives. On the left flank I deploy two squads and the platoon command squad. All are troops of average quality (Rep 4)

On the right flank I deploy my weaker squad. Unfortunately all Rep 3. This would mean they would be less likely to activate efficiently, but I figured all I wanted them to do at this stage was take and hold the jungle in front of them.

The final Dark Trooper attempts to charge and falls to Rebel fire. Useless robots!

On the right, my Stormtroopers advance and survey the carnage!

Contact with the other PEFs. One is a Rebel Squad of average quality but with a poor leader. The other is a poor squad of Klatoonians.

The view from the jungle edge. Fortunately, the enemy were mostly armed with blaster pistols and not in a position to take any shots.

I start to suffer from Rebel fire. Aside from being generally better, the Light Repeating Blaster would lay down heavy enough fire to force the Stormtroopers back into the jungle, meaning that Imperial return fire would be less effective even if it didn't cause casualties.
The exchange of fire between the two squads continues, while the Klatoonians advance on the left.

On the right flank, my Rep 3 Troopers start to suffer from the higher quality Rebel fire, although due to their armour, a lot of the Troopers lying down did not take severe wounds.

Here is an example of what happens when poorly skilled and badly armoured forces advance into the open

Zap! Over half the squad goes down.

Zap! Zap! My follow up fire wipes out the rest. The reaction system used in THW games mean that your forces can react to fire targeted at them, and then follow up with their own fire when active, so a well positioned and trained force can have a brutal effect.

Happy days! I take out the pesky Rebel heavy weapon. This should make things easier for me.

On the right, Rebel fire keeps on forcing my Troopers to fall back to cover. Of course, ones which have been stunned are less able to do so, which meant that the 'good guys' could mercilessly shoot them while they lay on the floor! Rebel scum!

I decide to start a flanking maneuver. I had a squad to the left of the one in the jungle hiding in some ruins. I felt it was time to move them round at attack the Rebels from two angles.

Sorry, blurry picture! Ewww. Gives me a headache just looking at it. But this is a squad which came to reinforce my efforts

Still not managing to shift the rebels on the right....

Despite my best efforts there seems to be a bit of a stalemate on the left flank...

Well, why not just shove everything at them and see what stick?

Yet more Imperial casualties on the right. I was basically using this squad to keep the Rebels in place while I sorted out the left flank.

A bloody conflict ensues in the jungle as I recklessly throw in my jungle scouts.

Annoyingly, this was the only time I partially failed a Man Down test in the game, resulting in two troopers deserting when one was taken out.

On the right flank I finally only have one trooper left, so the Rebels opt to charge into the jungle and finish the job. So the right side of the table is now secured by the Rebels with minimal casualties.

It takes two squads to shift the Rebels out of the jungle. Unfortunately this puts them out of sight of my forces.

The Rebels on what used to be my right flank start to advance towards the river.

Boom! What's this? Another blurry photo? It can only mean one thing: Imperial reinforcements? Did I get so excited by getting more troops that my hands started shaking?! I felt the battle could really turn in my favour now, as I got a good squad of Sith Troopers, all armed with light repeating blasters. In short, quite a devastating squad to have!

"Jungle secured, Sir!"

Rebel Troopers take up position in cover in response to the appearance of the Sith Trooper reinforcements.

The view from behind the Rebels

What's this?! Rebel reinforcements. Uh oh. The Mon Calamari are not exceptional in terms of armour or weaponry, but they do get a bonus to hit in moist environments (and a penalty in dry ones), so the fact that they turned up on a jungle planet was good for the Rebels.

Distracted by finishing off the Rebels, none of my force is positioned to respond to enemy reinforcements.
Sith Troopers advance to the edge of cover. Not only are they excellent warriors, but they have great weapons. The result...?

... The brutal destruction of the Rebels across the river.

The changing situation on the left flank. The Mon Calamari suffer from Imperial fire.

Having taken care of the first squad of Rebels, the Sith Troopers move towards the Mon Calamari. The result was a nasty exchange of fire, which saw extensive Rebel casualties.

The scouts advance across the river just to make sure the remaining Rebels were no threat.

At this point I decided to end the game. I rolled the activation dice a couple of times in case the Rebels got reinforcements, but nothing turned up. I had definitely succeeded in my goal of defeating the enemy force.

Luck was on my side, I think. Although the game might seem a little one sided in retrospect, I was never entirely sure what might have happened from turn to turn. Sure, the Sith Troopers were great to get, but they came in relatively late. It was unfortunate for the Rebels that they had the Klatoonians as they never had a chance to do anything and were an easy target for my higher quality soldiers. But in any case, it was a fun game. I did limit myself to infantry, something I won't do next game. One other thing I forgot to mention was that I rolled a result of Bad Intel before the game. I could quite easily have found myself facing a force twice the size, or being outflanked at the beginning, which would obviously have changed things. I was lucky there.

A final point is that, although I won this game, if I had been playing a campaign it would have been less impressive. I managed to lose a whole squad and there was a good chance I would have had to go without replacements in the next game (you don't keep reinforcements rolled during the battle). So I could have faced a similar enemy force with only two thirds of my force, making future missions much harder. Star Army certainly produces a good one-off game, but I am certainly eager to play a proper campaign against the Rebels!

Monday, 21 July 2014

Slaughterloo, First Game Report

Those of you who frequently read my blog, may be aware that, for the past couple of months, a friend and I have been painting and preparing for our first game of Slaughterloo, the game of massed fantasy-Napoleonic battles. Well, on Saturday the battle took place, and what a game it was!

I was pipped to the post in terms of writing things up and you can check out his report here . He has opted for a more narrative approach, whereas I have been more 'practical', so hopefully between the two of us there is something to cater for all tastes!

We mostly stuck to the 'basic' rules, which I generally dislike as games which typically use a basic/advanced rule format patronise intelligent adults everywhere and offer a sub-par gaming experience if you don't use everything from the off. Slaughterloo seems to be something of an exception to this rule. Although it uses an i-go-u-go turn structure, there is actually a considerable amount of decision making to be done thanks in part to the requirement of 'Form' rolls to carry out complex maneuvers and the issuing of command cards which give your units bonuses in certain situations. But this isn't supposed to be a review at this point, suffice it to say our first game has revealed Slaughterloo to be of considerable depth compared to many fantasy wargames (or indeed historical ones) which I have played before. Even with the basic rules, there is a lot to think about and get to grips with. So our first game was a roaring success and I look forward to playing more and exploring the additional details the rules have to offer. But for now, on with the battle report.

The view from the Ferach side of the battlefield
The forces of Albion deployed in line. I was quite keen to get to grips with the implications of other formations, so I deployed one unit of Line Infantry in a march column and the other two in attack columns. The Todoroni Militia deployed to the rear. Looking back I would probably have gained by just shoving them at the front. With a Regard value of only 1, they would have only lost me one Divisional Morale Point when they were at 75% casualties. So there was nothing to lose by pushing them forward. My two artillery pieces are off camera. A medium cannon crewed by Elves was positioned on the hill just beyond the river and a light cannon with Todoroni crew was just below the rough ground in the lower left of the picture.

The above picture shows my advance on the left flank. The Orc artillery claimed first blood against my lancers, but they were keen to close with the Orcs. The two attack columns advanced. Note the two First Fire markers, which provide a bonus and are then removed when the unit takes its first shot of the game or if they become disordered before then.

Here is the right flank on the same turn. The Elf Line unit had taken advantage of a road move to advance at speed. They also formed a line after completing their advance. This caused a slight problem for my cavalry, who, finding their path forward blocked, opted to reform into a column and change facing before galloping off between the rough terrain and the river. All units in Slaughterloo can take an action for free, but if you want to do anything else, you are required to make a Form Roll. With a high Form Rating (5), Elves usually have no problem with such antics as advancing, forming line and firing all in the same move. Todoroni Militia on the other hand, struggle to do anything too taxing without becoming disordered.

The face down cards you see are ordered my general had issued to the units. They need to be within 45cm to get orders, so I had to think ahead about what I was likely wanting them to do, so they would get the best bonus. In this case I issued +3 to Melee cards to both. The cavalry were hoping to outflank and close with the orcs, while the infantry needed to fight hard against the Orc cavalry in front of them. Maybe I could have given them a bonus to firing if I had the right cards, but a) I didn't and b), the Elves are pretty good at shooting, so I wanted to give them a boost to their weak point. As My Todorni General was graded as inept, I had a limited choice of orders to give. This doesn't prevent units from doing anything, but certainly makes getting them to behave well more difficult.

So the Form and Order cards have echos of mechanics from other rule sets. Form rolls make me think of needing to make command rolls in games like Warmaster or Black Powder. The Order cards make me think of Command and Colours. But neither are the focus of the rules, per se. They add to your options as a commander, but you don't need to use either to 'activate' your troops. In a way this makes the decisions more complex as you need to think hard about the best time to try and pull off a risky move, or plan ahead so units have the right orders and the right time.

Heavy Cavalry hits home
We found out a little late that we made an error in resolving melee. In some of the early turns we accidentally used the defence value of the receiving side as a modifier against the melee value of the attacker. In reality melee required the comparison of the melee values of both sides and the difference is applied as a die roll modifier to both, so one will have it as a positive and the other as a negative modifier. I think that, if we had spotted this sooner, some things such as the cavalry charge against a line of infantry, pictured above, would have been a bit more decisive.

The above was the situation at the end of the 2nd turn (I think, it might be the beginning of the 3rd...). On the left, my cavalry seem to be in a bit of a stalemate against the Orcs (perhaps a result of the melee rules misunderstanding?). On the right, a poorly judged angle of fire only caused one casualty to the Orc cavalry (the rules for Inferior fire were not used, otherwise it may have been a bit more effective as the Elves who had the Orcs in 45 degrees of them would have been able to fire at half effect). Meanwhile, my heavy cavalry are waiting for an opportunity to strike. Light Elves have advanced through the woods and are picking at the Orcs in front of them. Todoroni militia slowly bring up the rear.

Firing at the Orc Cavalry

Not much change above. The melee continues at the top left. A 'Command Indecision' card has caused my Line Elves on the right to advance 5cm closer to the Orcs. This card could have had a much worse effect depending on how the roll for its effect turned out. But I could live with that result!

Same as the last pic, just a different angle.

Run Orcs, Run!
Interestingly, the Orc cavalry didn't seem to 'like it up 'em' and retreated from my Elves. Hurrah!

 It took a while, for it was only a small cannon firing at long range, but my Todoroni artillery managed to kill an artillery-orc on the hill opposite them... More than I expected to be honest!

A lesson in why you should a) Form a proper line, and b) get as close as possible, before firing your initial volley...

On the right flank, the Orc Cavalry had reformed. Mine had moved forward to threaten them further, but unfortunately the Orc Heavy Cavalry had started to move up to support them. In the woods, my Light Infantry withdrew (under my orders) as they had taken to casualties and the reduced effect of their fire was not worth the loss in Morale Points if more died.

The Elves mocked the Orc's inability to sidestep
An example of how a small difference in Form rating can impact on your soldiers was when the Orcs tried to move sideways to get round the wood. They had been ordered to do so and fire at the Elves, but the failed Form roll meant they because disordered and their fire received a hefty negative modifier because of it.

Each army's cavalry clashed on the right flank.
On the left flank, my infantry formed a line and fired at the Light Orcs, but the range and their dispersed formation had no great effect.

Unfortunately, the skill of the Light Infantry (perhaps aided by a good die roll!) saw 5 Elf casualties. If their Form rating has been any lower they would have been forced to make a check to remain in good order following such withering fire!

Run away! After a long and bloody battle, my cavalry retreat from the remains of the Orc line.
The Orc Heavy Cavalry join the fray on the right flank.
But too late, the other unit retreats once more.
The end!
Above is the situation at the end of the game. We called time after about 6 turns. It had been a long game, especially getting to grips with the rules for the first time, but we both thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it!

We added up Morale points to see how things stood. The Elves had 12 left and the Orcs had 15, so the result was a marginal Orc victory. I like to think that my having three Line Infantry units in pretty good condition might have swung things my way if the game had continued!

I would have liked to get the Militia in there, even just to see how quickly they fell apart compared to their better trained allies, but perhaps next time!

Was the project a success? Absolutely! I am a bit weary of painting 28mm for a while (although we have tentatively arranged a date for a rematch and I need to paint 6 more Light Infantry for that!), but I would have grown bored of painting other ranges before the end. The game itself easily lived up to expectations. We joked how it would be a shame if it hadn't, but I think we were both a little concerned as we had invested a good deal of time and money into it before the first try!

It felt very different from any other fantasy game I have played. True, the Slaughterloo setting is a unique one, but the rules were highly satisfying to get to grips with and the first game really showed that there was much more to learn. I think I have read elsewhere that people could easily play 'normal' Napoleonics with them, and I think I can see why!

I will wait and have a few more games before writing a proper review, as I have clearly just begun to scratch the surface, but Slaughterloo was brilliant fun and had bags of old-school charm to boot. We came across a couple of ambiguities during play, but nothing that two gentlemen couldn't resolve between themselves! It has been a while since I have finished a game and very much wanted to play again as soon as possible (especially massed battle 28mm), so that is high praise from me.

Thanks for reading!