Friday, April 28, 2017

Review: Frostgrave Supplements- Osprey Games

Frostgrave is a fantasy warband skirmish game with a strong campaign element.  I reviewedit early in this year for the blog.  This game has generated the most supplements of all of the games that Osprey has produced on their own.  Force-on-Force and Bolt Action have generated more, but they were a joint effort with other gaming companies; Ambush Alley and Warlord respectively.  I have no idea about sales but based on publications Frostgrave might be their most successful game yet.

This review will look at the following supplements for Frostgrave; The Thaw of the Liche Lord, Into the Breeding Pits, Forgotten Pacts, and Frostgrave Folio.  Since these are all supplements to the main book the review structure here is going to be a little different.  I will not be going over what I like or do not like about each book as I normally do.  Instead, I will just touch on a few highlights of each one.  There is not really enough content in each book to cover it in-depth individually without giving it all away. 

The Thaw of the Liche Lord
This was the first supplement and it deals heavily with undead and undead encounters in the Frozen City.  It is actually a campaign book and as such focuses rightly on adding new scenarios linked by a storyline.  I will leave it up to your discretion on how successful it is, but considering that the theme of Frostgrave is RIVAL wizards trying gain loot; it has a tall challenge ahead of it.  I would say the constraints of the main game are what let the campaign down.  More importantly, it adds new scenarios for you to play to avoid falling into a rut with the game so there is that! 

The book adds some new treasures, new bestiary, and a couple of new spells.  There is also a new path that your wizard can take to become a Liche themselves.  I think some of the most exciting elements are the new soldiers such as bard, Crow Master, and Javelineer.  However, the most interesting might be the Pack Mule that can carry multiple items for your wizard.  The new Homunculus spell gives you a way to avoid wizard permanent death, and the revenant spell does the same for henchman.  Both of these are useful for a warband skirmish game.     

Overall, I am not convinced that this is a must buy.

Into the Breeding Pits
This book takes us beneath the Frozen City.  That means there are new rules for setting up your board, doorways, ceilings, lighting etc.  One of the most exciting additions is traps.  This is something I felt was missing from the core rules (and were probably originally cut for space) that make a lot of sense in the setting.  I also loved the idea of trapped treasures as well.  There are suitable bestiary, scenarios, and treasures to go with the new location.  To me these rules add the most to potentially change up your games of Frostgrave and keep them fresh.  These allow you to use boards and adventure tiles from other games and really expand what you can do with this game system.

There is also a new magic form called Beastcrafting.  There are three levels and as you progress you gain more animal-like traits and bonuses.  However, it also becomes harder to recruit to soldiers to your warband.  Again, it was a new added and interesting path that your wizard can take.

There are new soldiers to go with the tunnel theme.  This time they added a Trap Expert and a Tunnel Fighter.  Both seem like worthy additions to a warband.    

The biggest change to the game is the introduction of Reaction Spells.  These allow a spell-caster to act out of sequence and “interrupt” with a spell of their own.  There are a few for some schools and they generally are weaker than normal spells.  However, their introduction gives the first glimpse of adding a core mechanic outside of the main rulebooks.  The rest of the stuff is just chrome and logical extensions of what is there in the core rules.    

I think this book is a worthy buy to add onto your Frostgrave experience. 

Forgotten Pacts
This book delves into a new path for your wizard to follow.  It allows your wizard to forge pacts with extradimensional beings.  There are some trade-offs when dealing with such creatures so in exchange for power in one area, you are going to have to mitigate some challenge for your warband.  Now, your wizard can choose a few different paths to go down from pacts, the beastcrafting, to Lichedom; all are interesting and valid choices. 

Like the other supplements this one adds more treasures, soldiers, scenarios, and spells.  This one also allows you to add summoned creatures permanently into your warband and make them a bit more unique than the standard ones in the rules.  Summoning is one of my favorite schools of magic so these additions were welcomed by me. 

The soldier add-ons were Assassins (everyone’s favorite?), demonic servants, Monks, Mystical warriors, and Demon Hunters.  These are useful in some situations and for a specific purpose in your warband.  Plus, it will help you theme a warband based on your wizards preference. 

The bestiary also introduces Barbarians to the bestiary, where Into the Breeding Pits adds gnolls, and Thaw of the Liche Lord adds Death Cultists.  However, these Barbarians are somewhat unique as they also can have semi-magical brands called Burning Marks.  These give them some additional perks during the game, and are something you can add to your warbands too. 

This one I am a bit torn on.  I love the added summoning details, but overall I think it is a book you can pass on if you choose.  If you run a Summoner’s Warband the book maybe of more interest to you.    

Frostgrave Folio
This is a compilation of all of the smaller DLC stuff that Osprey has put out over the last few years of publishing FrostgraveThat means if you got the DLC you do not need the Folio.  I however, passed on the DLC so picked it up here in one handy book instead.  It also added one new mini-campaign. 

There are three mini-campaigns in this book; Hunt for the Golem, Dark Alchemy, Arcane Locations, and The Ravages of Time.  Dark Alchemy is good as it is designed for starting warbands and solo-play so the challenges are scaled back and the treasures smaller.  It is a good way to level up a lagging or new warband to a campaign. The Ravages of Time campaign is also interesting as it is set-up to force cooperation between warbands.  This is an interesting direction as almost all Frostgrave scenarios are competitive loot grabbing exercises.  Hunt for the Golem and Arcane Locations are more traditional scenarios. 

This book has two big draws.  The first is the expanded Potions rules found in Dark Alchemy.  You now have a way to brew up Elixirs of Life to help avoid Wizard death.  In addition, there are now greater and lesser potions to be discovered. 

The second big draw is the Sellsword rules.  These are all about adding a non-wizard model who can level up and gain experience too.  I am all about adding more leveling opportunities in a campaign game like this.  They are a bit expensive in Gold, but make up for it with gaining skills and giving you another model that can use Group activate, even if it is more limited.  This is a very cool addition to your games. 

I think this is a good book to add for Dark Alchemy and Sellswords alone.  The rest is just icing. 

Final Thoughts:
At this time I will simply remind you of this nugget from my initial review of Frostgrave:

There is no depth to the mechanics and the games will get samey and stale.  You or your group will have to work to keep building fresh and interesting takes on the same “Loot” scenario again and again.  Plus, the core mechanics are so streamlined and simple that there is no real strategy or tactics; just parlor tricks.

After reading through the supplements, I feel vindicated in this analysis.  Essentially, all of these supplements are an attempt to get over this initial problem in the core mechanics of trying to make the same scenario interesting over and over again.  For the most part, they have succeeded in adding some needed depth to the scenarios, warbands, and magic.  However, they are still more parlor tricks. 

The biggest add-on to actually improving the core mechanics are the Reaction Spells.  These allow a caster to actually react to actions other than using the alternate activation mechanics in the core game.  The other big change is the Sellswords material as it also strays away from what has come before. 

In summary, if I could only get one new supplement it would be Into the Breeding Pits.  If I could get a second I would add the Frostgrave Folio.  The other two are nice supplements, but they are just nice to haves.  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Rampant Stars: Battle Report- Star Wars Lost and Found

An Imperial Tie Striker was lost on routine air patrol on the forest planet of Tabletooine.  The Imperial pilot escaped and is evading rebel troopers in a nearby outbuilding.  Imperial Stormtroopers from a nearby garrison have been sent in to locate and rescue him and recover the Tie’s recorder device. 

Hmmm, does that set-up sound familiar?  It should, it was the exact same set-up I used for my last game of Tomorrow’s War.  It is based on the first scenario in the main rulebook.  You can see the results of that battle report here.   The Stormtroopers proved why they are one of the most feared shock troops in the galaxy in that battle. 

Today, I thought it would be fun to play the exact same battle, but this time use the rules for Rampant Stars instead.  Let’s see what happens. 


Imperial Stormtroopers of the Galactic Empire
3 units of Stormtroopers of the Galactic Empire
Alpha- Command

Regular Infantry- 3 pts
Armored- +2 pts
Disciplined- +2 Pts

Force= 21 Points

Rebel Scum
4 Units of Rebel Scum
Team 1- Command
Team 2,3, 4

Irregular Infantry- 2 Pts.
Rapid Fire- +2 Pts
Rapid Movement- +1 pt

1 unit has the Commanding Leader- +2 Pts.

Force= 22 Pts

Today’s miniatures are old Micro Machine toys from Galoob. 

Normally, Missions in Rampant Stars are determined randomly.  However, I want to play the same mission as Tomorrow’s War Lost and Found.  The mission is for the Imperial Stormtroopers to get to the Imperial Navy Pilot and escort him off the board back to base.  They can do this by moving him into coherency and “picking him up”.  If the unit is destroyed or wiped out the pilot remains where the unit was until another unit “picks him up” by moving into coherency.  Only the Imperials may pick-up the pilot and the pilot can not be killed by shooting or assault. 

The game lasts 1 hour, 8 turns, or until one side is destroyed/routing. 

Now, Rampant Stars also typically has Complications and Locations as well.  This location is Outdoors, Jungle.  We will not be using a complication for this battle. 

In the center of the board is my trusty electrical box barn surrounded by a fence.  There are two bridges over the center stream.  The outskirts of the board are all jungle with some jungle in the center.  The pilot is in the barn.  The Rebels start in the edges of the Jungle while the Imperials are in the south edge near some ruins. 

Turn 1:
Rampant Stars uses a relatively simple I-Go-U-Go system with the Attackers usually going first.  In this scenario, that means the Stormtroopers are going to be giving orders first. 

All the Stormtrooper squads move forward with successful command rolls.  Two even double time it forward.  All Rebel Units managed to fail their orders and start the game shaken!  That was a poor bit of rolling to get us going.  Even the Inspiring Leadership failed to do anything.  

Turn 2:
Stormtrooper units rush towards the first bridge. 

Rebel team 2 and the command squad rally.  The others are still confused. 

Turn 3:
Stormtrooper squad Alpha (The command squad) begins moving across the bridge using a Move and Shoot order.  They target the Rebel Squad two in cover.  They manage to reduce them three effectiveness points.  Stormtrooper squad Charlie rushes towards the second bridge, while Bravo is momentarily confused by the shooting. 

Rebel team 4 stays shaken.  In the meantime, team 3 rallies.  The command squad double times it to the edge of the barnyard. 

Team 2 returns fire on Stormtrooper squad Alpha on the bridge.  There shots are true and the Stormtroopers lose 2 Effectiveness. 

Turn 4:
Alpha squad doesn’t both shooting and instead hoofs it across the bridge towards the pilot.  Charlie moves forward and shoots at the shaken Team 4 and reduces them 3 effectiveness at long range.  Bravo rallies. 

Rebel team 4 is shaken from the Stormtrooper shots and can not rally.  Team 3 rushes towards the second bridge. 

Meanwhile the command squad opens up on the Alpha team approaching the pilot.  Their shooting is accurate and reduces them 2 Effectiveness rating and causes them to retreat to the bridge shaken. 
Rebel team 2 also fires on the retreating Alpha, but their shooting is ineffective.

Turn 5:
Charlie moves to the stream edge and fires across the barnyard at the command squad and reducing them 1 effectiveness.   Alpha rallies while Bravo pours fire into Rebel Team 2.  They are down to 4 effectiveness and just barely keep from retreating. 

Team 4 stays shaken.  Team 3 moves up and fires on Charlie but fails to find the mark.  The command team’s accurate fire again causes Alpha to retreat, the Imperial Navy Officer appears unwilling to risk his own skin in this battle.  Team 2 tries some long range potshots at the retreating unit reducing them an additional 1 effectiveness. 

Turn 6:
Charlie and Bravo concentrate fire on the Rebel Command squad and reduce it to 4 Effectiveness.  However, they refuse to retreat from their position!  Meanwhile, Alpha rallies.   

Rebel Team 4 rallies!  However Team 2 and 3 are confused and shaken momentarily.  The Command Squad moves to a position out of fire behind the barn. 

Turn 7:
Alpha fires on Team 2 and causes them to retreat back.  They are at Effectiveness 3 only.  Charlie gets confused and shaken.  Meanwhile, Bravo double times it across the bridge desperate to get to the Pilot. 

Team 4 finally does something and shoots into Charlie squad reducing them 1 effectiveness!  Team 3 fails to rally.  Team 2 fails to rally.  The Command Squad moves into the Barnyard to contest the Pilot from squad Bravo. 

Turn 8- Final Turn
Bravo team opens fire on the Command squad and shoots them down to 0 Effectiveness.  Alpha team tries to rout Team 2, but fails to cause anymore damage.  Charlie rallies.

Team 4 shoots up Charlie squad and reduces them another Effectiveness rating.  Team 2 and 3 fail to rally and end the game shaken.              

The game ends after 8 turns and 45 minutes of game play with photos and documenting.  Stormtroopers were reduced 8 Combat Effectiveness and the Rebels lost 20 Combat Effectiveness.  However, despite the lopsided Combat Effectiveness totals, the rebels won the scenario by holding off the Stormtroopers long enough! 

The battle took a sudden with familiar whip-crack of X-wing blaster cannons.  The ground around the barn was ripped apart as the rebel X-wing zoomed in from overhead.  The Imperial officer was forced to sound a withdrawal as his troopers had nothing that could put that X-wing down.  The remaining rebels looked around confused for a moment before a ragged cheer went up.  The X-wing circled for a few moments and waggled his wings in victory before peeling away to a new challenge.  Rebel troopers had soon rousted out the Imperial pilot and took him prisoner. 

Final Thoughts:
The scenario ended much differently for the Imperials in Rampant Stars than it did in Tomorrow’s War.  In this battle, the Rebels were out classed but were able to stall the Stormtroopers long enough for the win.  The Disciplined Trait of the Stormtroopers helped them push forward consistently, while the rebels Rapid Fire skill allowed them to still make long range shooting deadly.  A well matched game that went down to a few key decisions and dice rolls. 

If you are interested in reading more Rampant Stars battle reports look here and here.  You can pick-up the rules for yourself here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Tomorrow's War: Battle Report- Star Wars Lost and Found

This is the first scenario in the Tomorrow’sWar rulebook called Lost and Found.  Hopefully after this battle report you can see for yourself how accurate my review was.  Some people feel that this scenario is unbalanced.  We will have to see what happens.    

An Imperial Tie Striker was lost on routine air patrol on the forest planet of Tabletooine.  The Imperial pilot escaped and is evading rebel troopers in a nearby outbuilding.  Imperial Stormtroopers from a nearby garrison have been sent in to locate and rescue him and recover the Tie’s recorder device. 

The miniatures are old Star Wars Micro Machine toys that are probably 10mm scale or so?  The terrain is my trusty green mat, lichen, and electrician’s box that have served me well for so many games.    


The Galactic Empire
1 Squad of Garrison Stormtroopers
Troop Quality/Morale: d8/d10
Tech Level 3
Armor: 2D

1 Imperial Navy Leader- Blaster Rifle

Fireteam Alpha
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Fireteam Bravo
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Fireteam Charlie
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Rebel Scum
Rebel infantry
Troop Quality/Morale: d6/d10
Tech Level: 2
Body Armor: Blast Vests 2D

Team 1
1 Leader with Blaster rifle
1 Medic with Blaster rifle
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion launcher
3 Rebels with Blaster Rifle

Team 2
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Team 3
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Team 4
1 Repeating Blaster
1 Concussion Grenade Launcher
3 Blaster rifles

Imperial forces are attempting to rescue their downed pilot and retreat with them off board.  A Stormtrooper team needs to come within cohesion distance of the pilot to add them to the squad and get them off board.  The Rebel Scum are trying to stop the Imperials form succeeding. 

The pilot adds no firepower, defense, or morale to a squad they are with.  If the squad they are with is wiped out, then they move to the nearest cover.    

Terrain is 1D defensive terrain. Woods and building block LOS.

The Rebel Scum are in ambush so they will fire first.  In addition, they can not be targeted unless they are in optimal range and a TQ check is passed.   
Turn 1:
The Stormtroopers survey the scene and push forward.  Alpha and Beta move up and take position in the ruins.  Charlie rushes ahead and takes cover by a woodline.  Their officer surveys the scene.  According to his intel, the pilot should be near the barn in the courtyard.  Everything seems quiet.

In the far barn, the rebel officer watches the Stormtroopers begin to deploy in his magnoculars.  Her is confident that he has set-up a kill-zone around the barn.  Team 3 moves secretly in the woodline to approach the barn out of Line-of-sight.  Squad 4 moves up in the cover of the stream bed, and out of view of the Imperials.

No one takes a shot, instead they are waiting for the optimum time to fire. 

Turn 2:
The Stormtroopers maintain the Initiative. 

Alpha squad moves forward to secure the stream bed by the nearest bridge while Bravo covers them.  Charlie repositions to cover the bridge crossing as well, but hugs the tree line.  With no enemy sighted, the Officer and Alpha squad breaks cover and dash to the streambed by the bridge for cover.  Still no sign of the enemy, this could be a cake walk after all.     

The rebels continue to creep into position for an ambush.  Team 3 rushes from the jungle and to the edge of the barn out of sight of the advancing Imperials.  Team 1 leaves the barn and moves through the jungle into a better firing position on the approach to the barn.  Team 4 hugs the stream bed and moves forward.  Team 2 readies to fire next turn. 

Tension is mounting as the Stormtroopers approach their objective. 

Turn 3:
Charlie and Bravo take positions to cover Alpha as they move across the first bridge.  As they approach the opposite side, the point Trooper calls out a warning.  Rebels have been spotted in the tree line.  Since the unit was all ready declared active and action taken before spotting the rebels, the Stormtroopers are caught out in the open!

Team 2 decides to open fire at the Imperials, but the Stormtroopers try to react with movement.  They succeed by 1!  The Imperials scramble to cover in the barnyard for cover.  The rebels can still fire at them, but the Stormtroopers will have improved Defense dice. 

Team 2 is 5 rebels with 2 light support weapons for 7 Firepower Dice.  The Stormtroopers are 6 troopers with +2 dice from armor, and +1 dice for cover for 9 dice.  The rebels score 4 successes and the troopers score 7.  No damage. 

Rebel team 3 comes around the barn, and captures the Stormtroopers in the open in optimal range.  Since the Rebels were in Ambush, the Stormies can not try to fire back.  The Rebels have Firepower of 5 figures +2 for light support and +1 for optimal range.  8 dice vs Stormtroopers with a defense of 6 +2 for armor, but no cover this time for 8 Defense dice.  The Imperials get one success more than the rebels so no hits are taken!

Rebel Team 1 also fires on Alpha squad, but the Imperials can not fire back as it is an ambush!  9 figures with +2 for light weapons vs. 6 figures with +2 armor and +1 cover.  11 firepower vs. 9 defense.  They both score 6 successes and no casualties! 

Finally, Rebel Team 4 in the stream bed moves up and fires on Charlie.  Firepower 5, +2 for light support, and +1 for optimal range.  Charlie has Defense 5, +2 for armor but no cover.  3 hits vs. 4 defense.  No injuries are taken by the Imps. 

There was a lot of shooting, but not much hitting by the rebels. 

Turn 4:
The Stormtrooper keep the initiative. 

Bravo rushes the bridge with a move and fire on Team 2 of the rebels.  The Rebels try to react by going deeper into cover to block Line-of-sight.  However, the Rebels fail to react.  Stormies shoot with firepower 5, +2 for light vs. Defense 5 and +2 for armor and +1 for cover.  6 firepower vs. 5 defense dice.  Two rebels go down! 

Charlie decides to shoot at Rebel Team 4 in the stream bed.  The rebels try to react with fire.  The Stormtroopers win and shoot first.  One rebel goes down in the round of fire. 

Alpha decides to move up to rescue the pilot and shoot at the Rebels in the barnyard, and the rebels opt to react by trying to move out of Line-of-sight. 

The Imperials win the reaction test again.  10 firepower vs. Defense of 7 dice.  The close range firefight leaves all the rebels down and injured.

Team 2 activates and checks its casualties.  1 gets back up, but the other is seriously injured.  They decide to return fire on the Stormtroopers who try to react with fire of their own.  The Stormies win and open up first.  3 rebels go down, and they last fires back hopelessly and ineffectively. 

Team 1 opens fire and the stormies try to react with movement this time to take cover.  The rebel shots from Team 1 rip up the streambed, but leave the Stormtroopers unscathed. 

Team 4’s causalty is lightly wounded.  They decide to fire on Alpha in the barnyard.  The Stormies of Charlie and Alpha try to react with fire of their own.  The Imperials win the reaction tests again and light up the rebels by the stream.  Two more rebels go down.  Their own shooting is ineffective. 

Turn 4:
Imperials maintain the initiative.

Alpha moves behind the barn to secure the downed rebels of Team 3 as prisoners.  However, Team 1 tries to react with fire.  They fail and Alpha secures the downed rebels and has the pilot. 

Bravo aggressively moves towards Team 2 who try to react with movement.  The Rebels succeed and flee back into the jungle and away from the oncoming troopers. 

Charlie opens fire on Team 4 who react with fire of their own.  Impies win and shoot away.  Charlie takes out the Rebels in team 4. 

Team 2 checks for injuries.  1 dead and the a mix of serious and light wounds.  They choose to fallback off the board and disengage from the battle.  Team 1 surveys the battlefield and decides to fallback as well.   Their best chance at securing the Imperial pilot has now passed and there is little point in losing more men in a futile gesture. 

The Imperials are left in control of the field with the pilot.


Imperial Victory!

Fireteam Charlie quickly secured the rebels in Team 4 as additional prisoners.  The Imperial troops marched the rebels back to their garrison along with the Imperial Pilot safely in tow.  10 Rebels captures, 5 dead or injured, mission accomplished, and no casualties.  The boys in white showed why they are the most feared troops in the galaxy today!

Final Thoughts:
I had read that this scenario was one-sided at I can’t help but agree.  It is intended to teach you the basics of the game, and it does.  It also serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of building a solid foundational scenario to work with.  The Troop Quality d6 vs. d8 was decisive as the Stormtroopers were pretty much doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it.  The rebels only won a single reaction test all game, so by the time they got to shoot they didn’t have enough firepower to even scratch the Imperials white armored Defense. 

Perhaps if the rebels had more troops in each Team they could have weathered the firepower and then used it to return fire effectively against smaller fireteams of Stormtroopers.  However, I am not sure since the Stormtroopers were winning most dice offs (Reactions, Firepower, Defense) handily.

Next, I plan on replaying this scenario using Rampant Stars rules to see what happens! It should play very differently.          

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wargame Design: The Futility of "Realistic" Weapon Ranges

A common complaint I read or hear is that a weapon’s range is not “realistic” in a game.  I myself have felt the same way about some games.  For example, I find the ranges in Bolt Action to be most off putting.  If you read my reviews of A World Aflame or On The Seven Seas I call out weapon ranges as a big dissatisfier as well.  When a man can run almost as far as a pistol can shoot with a single action, it makes me wonder why I would ever stop to shoot with my pistol.  On the other hand, a gun that can fire all the way across the board with no limit can be equally unappealing.  

Melee weapons are easy.  For them to work, you have to be very close, typically base-to-base or some other very close proximity.  That is relatively easy to design for.  Ranged weapons are not as easy.  As a designer, ranged weapons can be a real thorn.  The closer you get to modern weapons the harder it is to get the ranges to be “realistic”. 

What is a “realistic” weapon range anyway?
Great question. 

We have all seen example in wargames that are not “realistic”.  Let’s use an infamous Bolt Action example.  A standard rifle can fire 24 inches in the game.  It is the standard weapon for most infantry units.  Warlord Games makes an awesome Pegasus Bridge kit for Operation: Market Garden.  The problem is that the standard rifle can not fire the span of the bridge which is decidedly not true in real life.  I have seen A Bridge Too Far! Plus, most of us are familiar with the range of a rifle and the width of a river, even a big one and find this unsatisfying.  Clearly, the range of a rifle in Bolt Action is not “realistic”.

Now, let’s go to the other extreme.  I have played some micro-armor games with weapons that have a range measured in thousands of yards.  The only real limitation on the range is if the target can be identified and targeted.  No matter where the enemy goes on the table, they will be in range.  This can be “realistic” but it is also not very fun when all you can do is pray you are not detected.  It makes maneuver on the tabletop useless and the best path forward is always the quickest route.         
Many players will tell you that a realistic weapon range is one that matches the ground scale of the game to that of the weapons.  So, if a millimeter equals 1 yard then a weapon that can fire 300 yards accurately (maybe a musket) should be able to fire 300 millimeters.  That is then a “realistic” weapon  range.  Now, imagine trying to apply this standard to a Micro-armor game.  You would need a baseball field to play with 6mm models for Desert Storm/Team Yankee type games.     

It’s A Trap!        
For a game designer, “Realistic” weapon ranges are a trap.  They can not be achieved within the following constraints:

1.       Time Scale
2.       Ground Scale
3.       Fun Scale

Time Scale: Units would need to move unnaturally or unrealisticall fast in order to close distances in modern games.  In essence, they would simply be shooting duels where the main challenge would be creating firing formulas and detection mechanics.  This can sometimes be a dig on modern Naval Wargaming. 

Ground Scale: Most people simply do not have big enough tables or able to manipulate small enough models to make a “realistic” weapon range work.  Of course, the old U.S. Naval War College can make an exception when they are gaming on gymnasium floors.  The rest of us can not typically make that space commitment. 

Fun Scale: “Realistic” weapon ranges for modern weapons simply are not that much fun!  It limits the possibility of maneuver UNLESS the game has strong stealth mechanics.  I once toyed with a game that had unlimited ranges, future tech detection gear, and weapons that were powerful enough to punch through most cover.  The game sucked as it devolved into a simple game of dice throwing because there were not enough variables to make tactical and compelling game play.  “Realistic” ranges limit tactical flexibility unless the game design compensates for it somehow.

What Is The Answer Then Smart Guy?
Sadly, there is no one answer to “realistic” weapon ranges.  The true question is:

“What are you trying to achieve with your game?” 

In my mind there are two things to consider:

1.       Firepower vs. Maneuver

In my mind, range and movement work closely together.  Weapon ranges are a way to limit the maneuver possibilities of the opponent.  As a designer, you need to decide at what point you want enemy firepower to be a consideration in a players movement.  Firepower, and thereby weapon ranges; are simply a factor to limit free maneuver of troops.  If units can not be fired upon they can move freely.  Once they can be fired upon they are subject to additional considerations that limit their movement options.  How soon do you want this to occur in your war game? 

2.       Range vs. Movement

The other key consideration is how far something can move in relation to how far weapons shoot.  If a man can run the range of a machine gun burst in a turn, then what is the point have setting up a machine gun fire arc.  You will never be able to use the machine gun as the enemy will just time their run to move through it immediately.  This means your Range to Movement Ratio is not in sync.  It gives too much benefit to movement.    

The Range to Movement ratio must be in balance to achieve “realism”.  However, some Fantasy and Sci-fi style games can bypass even this ratio through magic and technology.  Other games have to be grounded a bit more. 

What Should I Do?
Keep this rule of thumb in mind while designing.  The longer the weapon ranges, the more static the game will become as movement will be limited by firepower.  The shorter the weapon ranges the more maneuver will play a role in the game. 

There is a reason why 24 inch ranges on 6 foot by 4 foot boards is so popular.  It provides initial movement options without limitation by firepower.  However, as the two enemies close firepower becomes increasingly important.  Essentially, the main theatre of action will be the center two feet of a 4 foot wide board across a three foot frontage. 

In addition, 24 to 6 inches applies a “reasonable Range to Movement ratio of 4:1.  It would take 4 movement actions to reach a man standing still and shooting.  This makes crossing that ground feel suitably deadly unless you do something to stop them from shooting at you in the first place.  This desire to stop the enemy from standing still and shooting you is what leads to tactics and decisions.  Decisions equal fun. 

As we can see, Bolt Action is attempting to create an artificial balance between firepower and Maneuver.  Meanwhile, a game like On the Seven Seas has simply violated Range to Movement Ratios. 

Final Thoughts
Chasing “realistic” weapon ranges in most games is a unicorn.  The more “modern” the game, the harder it is.  Therefore, instead of trying to make “realistic” weapon ranges, focus on what you are trying to emphasize with your rules. 

To give your game the right feel, you need to balance two areas:
1.       Firepower vs. Manuever
2.       Range to Movement Ratio

If you want more maneuvers in your games than shorter ranges will help you achieve that.  If you want to emphasize firepower than longer ranges are better.  If you want more decision making you need to have a good Range to Movement Ratio.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Pulp Alley- Pulp Alley Publishing

Pulp Alley is a skirmish game designed to recreate the adventure of serials and cheap paperbacks.  This is commonly referred to as Pulp Gamin, and often takes place in the inter-war years between WWI and WWII.  In addition, Pulp Gaming often takes place in exotic locales, have two-fisted men-of-action, villainous scientists, gangsters, and femme fatales.  It is the stuff of Sam Spade, Indiana Jones, Sky Captain, and Doc Savage.  With that you have an idea of what the game is trying to recreate. 

I was first exposed to Pulp Alley after playing some games of Super System 4thEdition.  I briefly toyed with the idea of picking up Chaos in Carpathia or Chaos in Cairo.  While researching these two titles I stumbled across the Pulp Alley game.  I heard people mention some interesting mechanics in the game system, and I became very interested in learning more.  It seemed like it had some of the mechanics that I enjoyed.     

Each [layer creates a League of characters for the game.  These can have some generic archetypes that give League wide bonus, and then there are a few character types of different skill levels.  Each League is typically run by a Hero.  The Hero then has a collection of followers and sidekicks.  Think of Indiana Jones, Short Round, Professor Brody, and Henry Jones all working together as a League. 

This sounds like fun to me, so let’s dig in and see it if delivers.

Things I Like
This game has an interesting Initiative system.  The player with initiative can choose if he will activate a model or the opponent.  The player maintains it as long as the opponent does not complete an objective (plot Point) or outright win in a fight.  If one of those things happens then initiative passes to the other player.  If you want the other player to activate they can choose any model in their league so there is an element of risk.  Go first and do what you need to do, or let your opponent and possibly lose the initiative.  Decisions are good!

Models use a dice poll with a dice shifting mechanic.  This is similar to Force-on-Force.  A 4+ on any dice size is a success, but some things will require more successes than others.  For example, to solve a peril or Plot Point you might need to roll more than one success.  In addition, a model’s Health is also a Dice size, as you are injured the dice size is reduced and no dice pool can be used with a dice larger than your injury dice.  If you dice shift below a d6, you are unconscious or out-of-the-fight.  This is a clever mechanic to give models more than one injury but reduce effectiveness due to injury. 

Finally, the game uses an opposed dice roll called Dice Matching.  Both players role the Model’s opposed dice pools and compare the number of successes.  However, if you roll a success with a result equal or better than an opponent you can cancel the result.  Typically the attacker can match, and that allows him to decide how many wounds he wants to try to inflict at a cost of receiving how many back.  Therefore, you are forced to make decisions about how much punishment you are willing to take vs. receive.  Decisions are good.  Dice matching is also used in other opposed tests as well. 

Things I Do Not Like
Each player draws cards from a Fortune Deck.  These are used when an opponent activates a model.  You can use it to force them to make challenge rolls.  If succeeded, the model may continue but if failed they make take damage.  This could be anything that fits the narrative.  It can also be used to make terrain features perilous to cross without a test, securing an objective (Plot Point), or complicating an action. 

This is a good way to force decisions on both players and keep them engaged in the game.  So, why do I not like it?  There are three reasons. 

1.       The game uses a number of different dice sizes to resolve actions.  A deck is just another form of resolving or forcing actions and clutter up the mechanics away from the core mechanic.
2.       I didn’t buy the deck when I bought the rules as I did not know I needed it.
3.       The challenges are rather abstract and boring.  The detail needs to be added by the players. 

This game is designed to be played player vs. player and the Fortune Deck is the mechanic that allows it.  However, this game would play best with a GM.  That way the abstract perils and challenges could be defined by the GM.  This would ideal, but most gamers are lucky to find a single likeminded individual much less a GM too.  I can see why they tried to bypass needing a GM.  Personally, I think this game would be really cool as a League vs. the GM type game too. 

Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game comes with a number of scenarios in the book.  This includes plot point placement, special events, deployment, terrain, etc.  Everything you need to get playing.  There are 6 scenarios and give you a good idea of where to start.  However, I think this game would shine with custom scenarios instead.  The scenarios recommend 5 plot points, but this seems like too many on such a small boards.  However, season to taste.

The scenarios also allow for some basic campaign enhancements.  I am sure the supplements go into this in much greater detail, but the main books gives you a basic system to get you started.    

The rules themselves are bound like a comic book.  This is a neat little gimmick to bring home the pulp nature of the work.  The art is stylized and peppered with photos of models in black-and-white.  I enjoyed the design touches to keep with the Pulp feel of the rules. 

Final Thoughts
This is a very clever game, perhaps too clever!  It combines dice pools, dice shifts, matching, opposed rolls, deck building, card playing, and an innovative initiative mechanic all in one game.  I will be honest it is a bit overwhelming and feels like it may actually get in the way of the game play.  The dice mechanics alone would make me want to play the game but the deck aspect feels like too much goodness layered on top.  I tend to prefer games that choose a core mechanic and stick with it.

This game would be ideal for a small group of dedicated players who were rotating GMs to make a sort of wargame/RPG hybrid.  That being said, I look forward to trying these rules out using some of my Inquisitor 28 guys.  The system seems like it would be a great system for Oldhammer as well as Pulp Action.  The small model count and board size seem to make it ideal.  Plus it covers investigation on and light RPG on the tabletop too.

If that is the type of game that interests you, then I recommend picking up the rules.  Be sure you also get the Fortune Deck as well.  The rules come with some in the book, but I am sure the deck from Pulp Alley would be worth it. 

I am very glad to have read these rules.  There was a variety of great mechanics to look at and think about.  As a designer, it is a good toolbox for game mechanic ideas.    

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Total CARnage: Battle Report- Kill'em All for a MacGuffin

My daughter and I had some time and decided to play TotalCARnage!  We grabbed a few of her old Hot Wheels cars straight from the box, some of my badlands terrain, and quickly decided on our forces.  We played on a relatively small table at 4 feet long by 2 feet wide.   Therefore, we decided to just play a standard Kill’em All style scenario to get started.

The Forces

Purple People Eaters
They are a fierce cannibal warband driving purple cars.

Standard Vehicle (Flames)
Machine Gun
Hits: 5
45 Points

Standard Vehicle (Classic Car)
Hits: 5
35 Points

Total= 80 Points

Truk Police
A band of wasteland do-gooders in trucks

Standard Vehicle (Green)
Hits: 5
35 Points

Heavy Vehicle (Black)
Hits: 6
45 Points

Set-up and Mission- Kill’em All!
The Truk Police took up position closer to the rock spire, but they were ready to move to the center of the board.  The Purple People Eaters were on the opposite side of the wastelands flanking a dune.  They also looked like they were heading to the center of the board. 

This is a simple Kill’em All scenario.  The side that ends the game with operational vehicles is the winner.  

Turn 1:
The two sides move cautiously towards the middle.  However, the Purple People Eater (PPE) with the flames decides to pivot and skirts dangerously near the edge of the board.  No one bothered with any shooting yet as the jockey for position. 

Turn 2:
The Flames PPE moves forward and decides to fire a burst of machine guns at the Green Truck.  However, the shots fall short. 

The Green Truck rushes forward and has a head-to-head collision with the other PPE car!  Both cars are reduced by 3 hits down to 2 each.  Plus, the PPE car bounced back from the collision.  The Truck also blasts the PPE with his cannon at close range, reducing it to 1 hit!

The old PPE car fires back at close range, but misses!  He then pivots and scoots away from the green truck. 

The other truck cruises safely across the center of the table with no shooting, ramming, or colliding. 

Turn 3:
The Flaming PPE pivots and moves up close to the Black Truck and machine guns it at close range, hitting it twice!  It now has 4 hits left. 

The Black truck pivots to go after the nearly destroyed old PPE and rushes in.  However, he accidentally rear rams his friend.  Woops!  This takes the green truck to less than 5 hits and immobilized him, and reduces the Black Truck to 2 Hits!  All is not lost as a cannon shot takes out the last hit from the Old PPE car too. 

Only the Black Truck and the Flames Purple People Eater are left in the game now!

 Turn 4:
The two remaining vehicles simply maneuver this turn.  The black Truck tries to slowly extricate himself from the mass of immobilized vehicles while the Flames PPE turns away from the combat to get some distance. 

Turn 5:
Both vehicles look to be moving to go around the far sand dune, but neither has the right angle for shooting or ramming yet. 

Turn 6:
More driving around.  This time the Flames PPE actually goes backwards!  The Black Truck tries to make a sharp turn, but is too slow.   

Turn 7:
The Flames PPE manages to finally get a long distance shooting angle and opens fire with his machine gun.  He manages to snag the Black Truck twice, and even cause him to shift a bit.  The Black Truck is now down to 1 Hit left!

 The Black Truck tries to drive away, and comes perilously close to the table edge. 

Turn 8:
The Flames PPE moves to get the sand dune between him and the Black Truck.  The Black Truck decides to try some fancy driving and aggressively hits reverse to get a firing angle  However, his aggressive driving is too much as he accidentally backs into a rock outcropping and immobilizes himself!    

The Purple People Eaters win this round!  The Truck Police manage to stay in their immobilized vehicles and fend off the cannibals while they tow their other car away.  It is a long walk for the Truck Police as they head back to their home settlement.   


Set-up and Mission- Get the MacGuffin!
The Forces for this mission are the same as the Kill’em All!

A package of rations was set-up in the center of the board between two sand dunes.  The Purple People Eaters set-up with the Old Car ready to race forward to get the rations and the Flames car ready to provide covering fire with the machine gun.  The Truck Police were set-up similarly on the opposite side with the heavy going for the rations.  Truck Police are the attackers.   

In this scenario, a car must stop next to it for an activation, and then get it off the board.   Should be fun!  

Turn 1:
The two sides move towards the rations. 

Turn 2:
The two sides race forward and the lead starts flying!  The Green Truck misses the Old Car.  Meanwhile, the Flames PPE moves up and spray lead at the Black Truck and misses.  The Black Truck rushes up and starts collecting the rations. 

Turn 3:
The Old Car blasts the Green Truck with a powerful cannon shot that sends the truck bouncing back.  However, it comes hurtling back into the fight and returns the favor on the Old PPE.  Both cars are down to 4 hits. 

The Flames PPE moves backwards and unloads its machine-gun at the Black Truck, and manages to ping it twice.  It is now down to 4 hits.  However, it also has the MacGuffin now! 

Turn 4:
The Old Car reverses to try and defend the board edge and set-up for a potential side ram on a fleeing Black Truck.  Instead, the Black Truck turns towards the Old Car and tries to muscle past but ends up ramming them head-to-head.  Woops!  Both vehicles are reduced to 1 hit and are bounced around form the impact. 

Turn 5:
The Old Car for the PPE backs up and unloads a cannon shell into the Black Truck and immobilizes them.  So much for having the MacGuffin. 

The Green Truck backs-up to try and get to the MacGuffin itself and help his comrade.  In his crazy reverse driving he manages to put a shell into the Flames PPE. 

As the flames car moves to the objective, he lets rip with his machine-gun on the Green Truck but only hits him once. 

Turn 6:
The Cannibals in the Old Car roll-up and swarm over the Black Truck.  They hoot and holler as they try to steal the MacGuffin. 

The Green Truck backs-up recklessly and collides with a dune, but a cannon shot again manages to hit the Flames Purple People Eater car.  Both cars are now at 3 Hits with the Old Car at 1.  

 Turn 7:
The Green Truck races forward to contest the MacGuffin from the PPE.  However, the Flames car drives up and machine guns the Green Truck into scrap at close range.

The Purple People Eaters rip the rations from the back of the Black Truck in triumph.  They hoot, holler, and threaten the Truck Police in their immobilized vehicles before loading back up into their damaged cars and cruising away for a feast!

Final Thoughts
This game was good fun!  It was dead simple to set-up, play, and take down.  The entire process took less than 60 minutes for two games.  The longest part was choosing the forces and setting up terrain. 

The Machine Gun was the star of the show in these games, as it managed to chew through the Heavy vehicles armor pretty well.  Long range shots were not easy to pull off, often missing.  Crazy, aggressive driving was often rewarded with crashes and collisions as well. 

It will take some time getting used to the way the game plays as you have to be cautious about when to fully commit your forces versus when they need to skulk around and maneuver for shots.  It was also surprisingly hard to set-up a ram that was not head-to-head!

Overall, a fun time was had by all.  If you are interested in trying it yourself, you can pick-up these rules for yourself here: