Monday, 30 January 2012

What's on the painting table then?

It's gone a bit quiet on the gaming front recently. Despite finishing my book on FX trading (all that's left are the funky charts to do), work has inevitably picked up in the mad rush towards Easter and my departure to Argentina. Just as the weather is starting to get colder here in Sussex, I can begin swotting up on my Spanish and dreaming of hotter weather. The regular RPG sessions have also become disrupted by diary clashes, but I'm hoping that will resume before I disappear!

In the meantime I've been busy painting miniatures in an effort to get some war games in before I go to South America. I've got a fair bit on the painting table at the moment.

First up, a big batch of Germans is nearing completion. I've been experimenting with camouflage this time around (my first couple of German squads were less successful, as my efforts to recreate feldgrau tunics were an abject failure - abject and embarrassing). Again, WW2 era Wehrmacht camo smocks are not easily attempted, and I fear my new squad is looking more like it is clad in 1980s era British Army of the Rhine standard fatigues than anything that was issued pre-1945.

I've been perusing Mongoose Publishing's Battlefield Evolution: World At War rules with a view to giving these a run through, and totting up the points value of my Soviet platoon, the idea being that I get my Germans up to the same value. In our last WW2 game, where we used Disposable Heroes, I felt the Soviets really trashed the Germans, although they failed to come up with a good way to stop the Panther tank. Right now, with a little bit of artillery support and the addition of two M3 half tracks on lend-lease, the Soviets are close to 1250 points in Mongoose parlance, which seems like a respectable size. There's scope there for adding another squad (I like the idea of some Russian pioneers with a flame thrower) and a T-26 light tank, but this seems like a decent sized force to begin with.

In the blue corner, so to speak, we have the Heer. I'm not sure yet what their points value is, but it looks like they will get three full squads plus one or two sniper teams and a Panther tank in support. Hopefully we'll get them into battle in the next couple of weeks. I will try and publish my full army list for both sides on the blog once I've finalised it.

Also on the table are my Zulus. It has been taking me a long, long time to get these guys finished. I've set myself the goal of painting up all the Zulus currently on my desk which are primed and based. I've got some generals and a nice unit of 12 elite married Zulus with white shields who really do look amazing, albeit wearing ceremonial garb which they apparently never took the field in. I've also painted up 10 Wargames Factory plastic Zulus. I have to say I'm less than bowled over by the quality of the WF sculpts, but painted up they are beginning to look reasonable.

Added to this we've got about 10 Foundry and Black Tree Zulus, a unit of 10 musket-armed Zulus to give them a bit of extra firepower, 18 Natal Native Contingent for the British (Foundry), and 12 Boers (Black Tree). It all amounts to a fairly solid expansion to both sides' capabilities, and I'm keen to get them onto the table as soon as I can. I'm look to try out both Triumph & Tragedy and Colonial Adventures if I can get the time in before I head off to the southern hemisphere. With these regiments added to my existing colonial forces, they will start to look a bit respectable!

Finally, I've got some Uruk Hai Scouts for Lord of the Rings, and a collection of assorted figures for my upcoming Linden Way battle scenario (the next episode in my Bloodbath At Orc's Drift epic). In the main, the latter are peasants, with the odd character figure thrown in, part of the human settlement at Linden Way. They're coming along nicely. I always like to have some figures on the side to act as a break in pace from painting Zulus (!) and to let me experiment with. You can also use them to try out new colours and combinations. The downside is that it can take AGES to get them finished, as I have the bad habit of tinkering with paint schemes well beyond the point at which the miniature really should have been completed. However, in this case it will really delay the presentation of Linden Way, which would be a pity...

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Working on some wargames scenarios

No gaming this week as I'm far too busy getting a work project finished, including working over the weekend. Plus there's my forex trading book to finish. However, I'm also planning to get some wargaming activity in during the next couple of months, and while on the train am working up four scenarios from different areas of interest. These are as follows:

Battle of Linden Way (Bloodbath at Orc's Drift campaign, part iii, using Lord of the Rings): The third part of the Orc's Drift campaign is almost ready, and I'm hoping to have this up and running in time for the February half term here in the UK. There are a few minor painting tasks to still complete, plus some scenario notes and special rules. As before, it will use Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings rules, and results will impact the size of the final orc horde that appears at Orc's Drift. I'll probably only play this the once, unlike Ashak Rise, which I managed to run three times! There is scope for making this a multi-player battle, and I can envisage roles for four players with a minor role for a fifth.

Contracting Trouble (Ambush Alley): We had some great fun playing an Ambush Alley scenario last year. I'm keen to give it some more welly, using one of the other starter scenarios in the original rule book (wargamers will know Ambush Alley has now evolved into a more comprehensive rules volume called Force on Force). This is really a two or one player scenario, featuring Marines trying to rescue a couple of 'security contractors' pinned down in a hostile suburb of Baghdad. Those who have seen The Hurt Locker may recall a similar situation in that film.

Tempelhof Bahn Station 1945 (Disposable Heroes): We've also played some Disposable Heroes before, but last time I felt the Germans were a bit light in numbers compared to my Soviet platoon. I've since been expanding my Wehrmacht forces, including armour and some more infantry. This scenario features a Soviet assault on the German defenders of Berlin - it's the last days of the Reich really. It is an urban battle focused on the Tempelhof railway and subway stations, which were part of the German defence line protecting Tempelhof airport, a key Soviet objective in the early stages of the battle for Berlin. I see this as a two player battle with an umpire, as there is a degree of hidden movement involved.

Attack on the Camp/Myer's Drift 1879 (The Sword and The Flame): Finally, last year we also got in our first real game of  The Sword and the Flame. I thought it played well, but looking back on it, I thought entire units got wiped out rather too quickly, with the Zulus in particular suffering massive slaughter. It could be argued that this is historically correct. I'm planning on giving this another go, as I've since added to both sides, with more Zulus, some Boers and some Natal Native Contingent. Units will be a little bit more random in size. Using a scenario from the excellent Scenarios for Wargames book by Charles Grant, I'm hoping to get most of my currently painted colonial armies on the table. This scenario features a dawn attack by a Zulu impi on a British/Colonial encampment on the north side of a strategic ford/drift. It is loosely based on the successful Zulu surprise attack at Intombe against elements of the 80th Foot in March 1879.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Tatters of the King: Fried Bacon

More Call of Cthulhu this Friday. As with all posts related to Tatters of the King, this post contains spoilers. We last left our heroes plotting the downfall of Bacon, a North London antiques dealer living in self-imposed isolation in Islington, who we had been reliably told (via a mysterious informant who had written to Ben's PC Thaddeus Price) was still an active member of the Hastur cabal we were seeking to crack. Last time, we had used magic to plot Bacon's exact route to his victim on the 27th of November. This allowed the team to lie in wait for him with a view to kidnapping him (Hemingway counselled something more serious, but was ignored - AGAIN!)

Jonathan Crust (Seb) and Harold Fisher (Manoj) lay in wait for Bacon with shotguns loaded with rock salt. Ernest Hemingway (yes, THAT Hemingway) trailed the antiques dealer at a distance, armed with Fisher's cosh. Bacon was duly blasted with rock salt before he could do anything, then handcuffed, and was in the process of being bundled into a car when the group was surprised by a patrolling London bobby (constable).

Price tried to bluff his way out of the situation, claiming Bacon was a drunk friend, but the policeman noticed he was hand cuffed, and wanted to take a closer look. Hemingway, sitting at the wheel of the car with the engine running, was shouting "Get in the car!" As it became apparent Price and Fisher were thinking of escaping without Bacon, a scenario which would have freed up the occultist to hunt us down at his leisure, Hemingway leaped out of the car and struck the bobby down. The plod fell to the ground unconscious, and Price poured whiskey over him in the hopes that he would be too ashamed to report the incident.

The investigators drove to Bacon's abode where they entered his house and searched it. Bacon himself had another of the strange bone whistles used to summon horrors out of the sky, and was wearing an Elder Sign amulet carved from strange stone. He owned a large number of occult books in his extensive upstairs library, which was duly looted. Hemingway took a copy of the Turner Codex to read.

A weird chime, obviously magical, was found in Bacon's bed room. We believe he used this to protect himself from some of the creatures he summoned. We took it.

"Professor Price will see you now...mwa hahaha!"
Eventually, Price suggested exploring the basement, and here we discovered a concealed entrance to what looks like a network of tunnels. We began exploring it, but eventually each of the investigators - apart from Crust - chickened out and withdrew. Crust came with us as he didn't want to continue exploring on his own.

Price now hypnotised Bacon and managed to extract a fair amount of information from him. We now know that:

  1. Bacon and his cabal are planning to summon Hastur using the obelisks we found in Suffolk, BUT, they need Alexander Robey or whatever lives in Robey to complete the ritual;
  2. Edwardes, the mysterious leader of the cabal, is keeping tabs on Robey at the asylum in Herefordshire;
  3. The Hastur cult in Britain may be much bigger than we thought;
  4. The tunnels under Bacon's house are used by his underground 'helpers';
  5. Coombes was meant to be with Bacon, or at least at his house, when we attacked him, but for some reason was absent (we suspect Gresty may have had a hand in this)
Price now came up with a stroke of genius: rather than murder Bacon in cold blood, he used his contacts and status as a leading psychiatric authority to have Bacon committed to an asylum. This removes him from the scene, his collaborators won't know where he is, and it is highly unlikely he will be released until Price says so.

We now proceeded to Herefordshire, stopping briefly at our respective homes/hotels for a wash and sleep after a lively night in North London. Price found he had a second letter from the mysterious Gresty, in which Gresty confirmed our suspicions that Edwardes is lurking somewhere up in the West Midlands, but the epistle also warbled on about some kind of odd inheritance and mentioned Quarrie, another member of the cabal who seems to have disappeared a couple of years ago. I'm sure our paths will cross Gresty's in the not too distant future.

Asylums: far too many of these in Call of Cthulhu...

We have started to speculate that Highsmith, the doctor in charge of the asylum, may actually be Edwardes himself. Travelling to Hereford, we met him at the asylum itself less than 24 hours before the hearing in which Robey's case will be reviewed. Price tried to persuade him to keep Robey incarcerated, but it seems that Highsmith has determined to release him, further reinforcing our suspicion that he is in fact Edwardes in disguise. Fisher used the Yellow Sign to see whether Highsmith would react adversely to it, which he certainly seemed to do, running out into the snow to throw up. A stand up row between Price and Highsmith finally led to the investigators repairing to a nearby village to consider their next move.

"No more Mr Nice Hemingway..."
Fisher and Price decided to go on a pub crawl in the village. While they were sampling the local beer and chatting up the local talent, Hemingway and Crust tooled up with their .30-06 rifles and headed out into the snow, trekking back to the asylum in the blizzard and staking out the place. At 02h00 they espied a car leaving the grounds of the asylum at high speed. Hemingway made a called shot to one of the front tyres, in the dark, in the snow. The driver, however, masterfully kept his vehicle on the icy road and sped off into the blizzard. Hemingway's efforts to shoot again at another tyre were foiled when his rifle jammed...Whoever was driving the car seems to have escaped.


Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Touch of Evil

Following our game of Rippers last Friday, we moved on to play some Touch of Evil. This is an excellent boardgame from Flying Frog Productions that has obviously been inspired by Sleepy Hollow. Players take on the roles of investigators in the New England town of Shadowbrook, seeking to hunt down the menace that threatens the settlement.

There a just so many things I love about this game, it is hard to really know where to begin. It CAN be played as a co-op, but in its original form, players are competing against each other to be the first to slay the monster. As in Arkham Horror, players face off against one of a number of foes, each of which brings with it a series of additional menaces with which to plague the town. In our case, we were hunting the Werewolf.

A typical villain card for Touch of Evil
Four of us played: I was an Inspector, Manoj played the School Teacher, Sebastian was a Drifter, and Kelvin got the The currency of the game is investigation points, which you can earn in a series of ways, but one is investigating four brooding locales on the edge of town, namely the Manor, the Ruined Keep, the Old Woods, and the Windmill. Each has its own encounter deck with possible benefits - like the hunting rifle Sebastian found in the Windmill - and problems - like the cave in my Inspector suffered in the Keep (he got robbed by bandits on his second trip there!)

The town also has six Elders, leading citizens who may/may not be in league with the Big Bad. Players need to find out who is working for the cause of Evil, and who just has dirty little secrets to protect. You can spend investigation points to do this, and you need to know this because not only do you require trustworthy Elders to help you hunt down the Werewolf, but also need to be able to set Evil Elders on other characters if they are closer to finding the enemy.

Town Elders with their Evil sides up.

We were only playing the basic version of the game, but managed to complete it inside three hours on our first sitting, which makes it ideal for an evening's play. At some point the Big Bad gets revealed when someone buys and plays a Lair card - a town location where the Werewolf was hiding out. In this case I tracked it down to the Covered Bridge. At this stage the player selects up to two Elders to accompany him on the hunt, and initiates a show down with the beast. Other players may then designate other Elders as Evil Elders (if they're wrong, they forfeit all their investigation points). These immediately join the Big Bad as allies.

My mistake was to trust one of the two Elders I brought with me: I could have sworn I had checked her out in advance but no, she was in league with the Werewolf, and attacked me. The Werewolf ended up with two Evil Elders fighting with it: I killed both, and took the Werewolf for 80% of its wounds pool, only to be finally knocked out when Manoj played a nasty Event card on me!

The village of Shadowbrook

This allowed Sebastian to attack and kill the weakened Werewolf in his turn, before it had a chance to heal. Here we made one of our few mistakes: the Werewolf should have been allowed to relocate to a new lair, forcing any other player who wanted to hunt it to spend points to activate their own Lair card. This is not mentioned in the rules, but the designer says this is the case on the Boardgamegeek boards. It would have allowed Manoj to then successfully track down and kill the Werewolf in his turn as Seb was out of investigation, and Manoj would then have won. I gambled that I'd be able to take the creature down, but did not allow for an Event card to be played on me.

Secondly, DEAD Elders - and the Werewolf had killed two of these before the showdown - CAN come back as Evil Elders by faking their deaths. Whether you can investigate Elders once dead, I'm not sure. But apparently players can nominate dead Elders as Evil just as they can living ones. I'm in two minds about this, but can see the sense in it, as it increases the supply of traitors. Tactically, you may want to leave an Elder's secret hidden for a second showdown, if you think the first player to initiate one may not succeed. It also makes it that little bit harder for the first player to declare a showdown.

Why covered bridges? Living as we do in the UK, we were somewhat at a loss as to why there are covered bridges in the US. We decided to do some investigation of our own, speculating that it is perhaps to prevent the weight of snow from bringing the bridge down - the peaked roof acting to displace the weight more effectively. Apparently, the roof is there to protect the bridge from ongoing weather damage, including snow and frost, which makes the bridge last longer and have less need for repairs. It leaves me to wonder why Britain's uncovered medieval bridges are still in use in so many places - maybe medieval bridge builders had all that serf labour, so less worry about costs...?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Rippers battle at StuCon 2

Right up against the back end of 2011, an opportunity emerged to do a half day's gaming which I shall designate StuCon 2 by default (largely because I got to choose what to play!) We had from about 2pm through to midnight, about 10 hours all told, although some time would be taken up with eating dinner! We spent some of that time playing Rippers - the Horror Wars, some of it playing Touch of Evil, and finished off with a game of Guillotine.


For our first game of the day, we had six players, and it occurred to me that it would be an opportunity to use my new European village terrain (bought off Duncan earlier in the year) to play a multi-player Rippers scenario, using the Savage Worlds Showdown rules as before. In this case, I decided that, following my loose Rippers campaign narrative, the Rippers were staying in a Bohemian village, en route to Prague, when they are attacked by a Cabal posse sent by the vampire lord Baron Konig to stop them.

Readers of the previous Rippers entry will remember that Professor Pruzt had hypnotised a captured Inmate to discover the whereabouts of the Baron's lair in Prague. Now, the players chose sides, with Kelvin, Dave and Jed taking the role of the Rippers, and Manoj, Ben and Sebastian playing the Cabal. I provided each player with a Wild Card/Hero and a single unit. The forces worked out as follows:

The Rippers:

Kelvin - Father Veneticus (Priest) with four Wolfen Jaeger
Dave - Professor Pruzt (Scholar) with four Police (one armed with a slightly a-historical Tommy Gun, using the Gatling Pistol stats from the rule book)
Jed - Count Von Hemming (Monster Hunter) with four Austrian Marines

The Cabal:

Ben - a Bad Nun (Witch) with a whip, and four Inmates
Sebastian - a Saucy Jack with four Wolf Men
Manoj - a Vampire with six Wolves

The Cabal had to search the village and eliminate the Rippers, while the Rippers, who began the game hidden in buildings in the village, simply had to survive. Each party of evil creatures had to enter the board from a different edge. We were using a fairly large board for Savage Worlds, namely 7.5ft x 5.5ft, as I usually use 4x4 for this game. The Rippers had an advanced planning session and hid most of their party in the church, with two Wolfen Jaeger in the church tower. The posse of Police took up position in a house next to the church.

The game began slowly, although two Wolf Men became early casualties of the Jaegers in the tower. The Wolf Men spent most of the rest of the game pinned down in the inn yard while the Saucy Jack looked for Rippers in the inn and was eventually taken out with a lucky rifle shot (29 damage) by a Jaeger!

Two Wolf Men hide from sniper fire behind the inn wall.

The game heated up once the Inmates stumbled upon the Police. Prior to that it was more a case of searching houses and staying out of sight of the Jaegers. The Inmates stormed the house the cops were defending but were all slain in the battle for the loss of one constable. The Bad Nun then entered the fray, using her Bolt spell to eliminated one of the Jaeger snipers and then casting Blast to wipe out all the remaining Police.

There was some discussion about whether these spells were too powerful, but upon perusing the current iteration of the Savage Showdown rules it seems as if we were playing the impact of the area effect attack correctly. One way of possibly dialling down the power of the Witch is by reducing her Power Points - once she exhausted her reserve of PPs she posed a far smaller threat to the Rippers.

Meanwhile the Vampire and the Wolves charged the church compound through a side gate, defended by Jed's soldiers. A scuffle followed, with the Vampire vaulting over the church wall only to find out the hard way the effect of holy ground in this scenario (loss of 1 Wound if a Spirit roll is failed). Father Veneticus used his own brand of holy magic to kill three Wolves in short order before a Freak Event deprived him of his remaining magic and forced him to spend the rest of the game cowering in the choir stalls.

The Vampire advances with her wolf pack...

At one point I had to leave the game table and during my absence two more Wolves were killed, although I wasn't sure how that occurred. One of the players may be able to shed light on this.

Meanwhile, Professor Pruzt had correctly identified the nearby ruins as a Strange Locale, and hopping over the church wall, had bumped into five villagers hiding there. Before the Rippers could press them into service they were nuked by the Bad Nun and died to a man. The Witch was using up precious PPs in the process, which would make it harder for her to attack the church.

With the Vampire wary of attacking the church head on, the Witch stepped in to unleash another evil blast into the church when Count Hemming opened the door, killing the remaining Wolfen Jaegers and wounding the Count.

We finally ended the game on somewhat of a stalemate, with the Witch and the Vampire retreating, and Professor Pruzt playing hide-and-seek with the surviving Wolf. Hemming, Veneticus and the Soldiers stayed to defend the church while the other two Wolf Men went looking for the Prof. I'd call it a draw myself, although technically there was nothing stopping the Rippers from now going on the offensive and chasing down the two evil Wild Cards. However, they would have had to use the Soldiers to do this, and their other Wild Cards - Veneticus and Hemming - were in poor shape, with Hemming Shaken and nursing three Wounds giving him -3 on his Spirit rolls (and all bennies spent).

Pruzt was still in good shape, but had a Wolf and two Wolf Men to contend with...

In terms of post-game analysis:

1. The scenario, while devised at very short notice, suffered when the Rippers concentrated their forces, sensibly, in the church. This mean much time was wasted while the Cabal searched the village. I should have restricted the Rippers to one unit and/or Wild Card per building.

2. The two Strange Locales, some Ruins and a Haunted House, had little impact on the mission. The Vampire explored the Haunted House but encountered nothing.

3. The Witch's magic was indeed powerful, and in a way did help to speed the game up. The dominance of the Rippers in terms of ranged weapons inflicted losses on the Wolf Men and removed a Wild Card before the Cabal got to grips. The Police also used their guns to good effect on the Inmates. The Cabal would have been in poor shape had the Witch not entered the fray and helped to equalise the situation. When you consider, however, that she accounted for 13 Rippers (including five Villagers) on her own, plus severely wounded the Monster Hunter (to the extent that he was almost useless, if still breathing), one could question whether she was slightly too powerful...

These observations all come with the benefit of hindsight, of course, and no scenario survives contact with the players. Who was to know that the Saucy Jack, in himself a very powerful melee fighter, was going to get picked off so early and seemingly so easily? Or that Father Veneticus was going to be emasculated by a Freak Event, thereby taking a powerful defensive tool away from the Rippers? There was bad luck for both sides in the end. Early on I thought the Rippers would dominate the game, but then I began to wonder whether the Witch would win it for the Cabal, only to see the Rippers come back into it as the Witch exhausted her powers.

Sniper LOS on inmates in cottage garden.
The game took us about four hours to play to a semi-resolution. I continue to ponder whether Savage Worlds can manage a six player, multi-player skirmish of this type. Sebastian feels Fear & Faith, by Ganesha Games, might work better, perhaps if each player had about 200 points of troops.

One Wild Card and one unit for each player seemed to strike a balance - you don't want more than this for a multi-player game of this kind, as it would certainly start to drag. Given more time I might have added personalised objectives for each player, so that there was a possibility of an individual victory as well as team victory - e.g. Saucy Jack might have to kill Father Veneticus personally.

Next time, when the Rippers reach Prague, I'll need to come up with an urban scenario, possibly featuring the crypt of Baron Konig!

Meanwhile, on the immediate wargaming horizon, I'll be painting the few miniatures that still need to be finished before the third chapter in the Orc's Drift campaign is ready to rumble. I'm hoping this will be ready to play by half term in February. I'm also pondering a Middle Earth skirmish for Savage Showdown, with the Nazgul attacking Bree to seize the One Ring. There will also hopefully be some WW2 in 2012, either conventional or Weird War Two!