Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Beaver Wars, Turn 3 Report

After turn 3, everyone was joking I would not be allowed to host any more Beaver Wars playtests until spring. Once again the weekend saw a major winter storm batter Columbus. Sunday cleared a bit, so I had most of my players there. We also had more battles this turn than in any previous turn. The one player who was not present (Ottawa), sent in his choice of card play and action for his tribe.

The system calls for tribes to play a card, one at a time, in reverse order from the previous turn. One of my players is questioning whether that actually has any effect. He is suggesting that since we are only using one deck and that there is a tie breaker, there is no need for that step. Everyone should secretly choose their card and reveal all at once. We'll be checking to see if the extra step I have written in actually would make a difference in a turn.

So, after playing cards, the turn order was established, and actions chosen in that order:
  1. Miami chose to Invade an Illinois town
  2. Seneca chose to Invade a Miami town
  3. Ojibwe chose to Invade a Potawatomi town
  4. Ottawa chose to Trap & Hunt
  5. Wyandot chose to Trap & Hunt
  6. Potawatomi action received no choice of action because they were invaded
An important note in turn order is that actions are NOT simultaneous. They represent which tribe seized initiative and acted earlier. So, if a tribe like the Potawatomi is invaded or raided, they would cancel any plans to deal with the immediate threat. The result is they receive no action that turn. Their resources are being marshaled to deal with the enemy. However, if a tribe had already acted earlier and launches an invasion or raid -- and then is subsequently invaded or raided themselves -- they will have two battles to resolve. This is exactly what happened to the Miami player this turn. They played a Ace of Clubs (highest card in the game) to act first, wanting to seize another Illinois town. The Seneca watched them do that and then launched their own invasion of Miami territory.
The Beaver Wars map after the third turn of the campaign
 In fact, with the Ojibwe invasion of the Potawatomi, this meant we had three battles this turn -- the most, so far in the campaign. There were six of us present, so we divvied up the commands. Keith (Miami) chose to fight out the battle against Mike S (Seneca). This left Allen and I to play the role of the defending Illinois and attacking Miami, respectively. Steve (Ojibwe) fought his own invasion against the Potawatomi (Joel), who was also present. Each invader, raider, or ambusher rolls on a chart to produce the scenario that will be fought out. We ended up with two identical rolls, which made me make a further playtest only rule that we'd cross out the type of battles we'd already gamed on the tabletop and reroll duplicates. That way, we can adequately playtest all of the encounter types.

Both the Ottawa and Wyandot chose the Trap & Hunt option, and each selected a card from the deck that they preferred over one from their hand. Since Tom (Ottawa) was not present, as GM I chose the most logical card he would take to give him the best advantage. Meanwhile, all six players chose their troop lists and selected figures from our collections to represent them. My players are actively debating on whether the Youth troop type is a worthwhile choice or not. Youths cost 1 army point, while warriors cost 2. The Youths are much less effective, but often having a couple extra figures in your force makes you eligible to select another musket-armed figure instead of one armed with a Bow. This depends on your Firearms Ratio, currently at 2:1 for the Miami, Seneca, Wyandot, and Ojibwe, and 3:1 for the Ottawa and Potawatomi. The way this works is that if you have a 2:1 ratio, you select 2 bow-armed figures, then 1 musket, then 2 bow, then 1 musket, and so on. Having greater numbers can mean an extra musket in your warband that is fighting out the battle.
The Ojibwe invasion force is deployed on a wooded hill in the center of the board, while the Potawatomi defenders are split in between two clumps of woods and brush
Since I was playing the role of the Miami invasion force, I did not get to see much of the other two games. The Potawatomi took a larger percentage of Youths than the invading Ojibwe. The had one Chieftain, 5 Warriors, and 6 Youths. Their opponents had 1 Chieftain, 7 Warriors, and 2 Youths. The Potawatomi suffered numerous casualties in the exchange of musket and bow fire, and soon fled the table. The Ojibwe claimed five enemy scalps and lost no casualties themselves. The other two games were much closer affairs. Keith admitted he tried to be gamey with the deployment rules and attempted to force the Mike to deploy in the open while he was in cover in the woods. However, it did not work, and the entire battle was fought in one small quarter of the 3'x3' table. Both forces had identical compositions -- 1 Chieftain and 8 Warriors (no Youths). Both figured out the numbers game the same way. Being allowed one musket out of every three warriors (Bow, Bow, Musket), nine figures in your force is an efficient composition.
Miami force marshaling in the center of an Illinois town, getting ready to fight off a counterattack by the defenders
The Miami-Seneca battle see-sawed for awhile, but Keith's leader, Many Feathers, had difficulty controlling his troops and he rolled turnovers too many times. In the Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules, this occurs when a player rolls two or more failures to activate a single figure. The Seneca did not have the same misfortune and slowly wore down their opponents in melee. Keith ended up losing his leader and six warriors. Only two of his veterans that he had so lovingly named -- Slow Turtle and Blue Face -- survived to make it off the table. For a much more detailed battle report of the encounter, read Keith's blog on the playtest.
Some of the Miami have made it to the walls, where they face off against the counterattacking Illinois. The rest are getting ready to move around the longhouse and join the fray.
My own game with Allen was an even closer affair than the Miami-Seneca clash. Interestingly, we had also selected identical forces -- 1 Chieftain, 7 Warriors, and 2 Youths. Under the scenario rolled, the Miami had just taken the town with a surprise assault. Our forces were reorganizing in the center of town when scouts brought word that a relieving Illinois warband was nearing the walls to counterattack and retake the village. Both of us rushed for the palisades, hoping to be the first one there and set up a firing line. The battle soon flowed into the channel between two lines of palisades that is the entrance to an Indian village. After a few turns of shooting from behind the cover of the upright logs, we charged each other in melee. At the climax of the battle, both of us were at five casualties. The next one to lose a figure would have to take morale checks and see a number of their forces begin to bolt for the rear. Those that remained would likely be outnumbered and overwhelmed. Allen got the next kill on one of my men and the inevitable began. The Miami chieftain tried to knock the Illinois below half by engaging in battle himself, but was unable to score a killing blow. In a tense, hard-fought game, the Illinois retook their town and drove off the Miami invaders. My apologies for the lack of photos. I was so into the game that I neglected to take many!
Once Allen and my forces reached our respective palisades, the battle devolved for a few turns into a shooting duel. Soon, warriors left the safety of the wooden uprights and charged into the entrance way and settled the issue with hand-to-hand fighting.
I have been happy with the mechanics of the campaign, so far. Nevertheless, I am making tweaks as we go -- particularly to the scenarios. The players seem to be having fun and I look forward to the next evening of the Beaver Wars.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Snow, Song of Drums and Tomahawks, & Success at Cold Wars 2015

    We ran 6 events of Song of Drums and Tomahawks to demo the rules at Cold Wars 2015
A massive snowstorm plowed across the eastern part of the United States on the weekend of Cold Wars in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. More than one gamer looked at the weather ruefully, and turned around and went home or did not set out at all. Four members of First Command Wargames persevered, though, altering either their route or time of departure to miss the bulk of the snowfall. The convention was noticeably lighter in attendance on Friday, but steadily picked up as the weekend went on and the roads were cleared by snowplows.

    "Treachery at Fort Michilimackinac" -- one of our new 4-player events

I arrived Thursday evening. After checking in and unloading the figures and terrain into the room, my friends and I went off to grab a bite to eat. We returned and I began to set up my 5-foot by 12-foot board in the Ohio Frontier Aflame setup. This features four 3-foot square scenarios, side by side using my Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules. On one end is an Indian village for the “Interrupted Raid” scenario that pits Rogers Rangers against a returning Huron hunting party. Next is the “Clifftop Rescue,” where a Huron rescue party has cut off the Stockbridge Indians who have taken captives from the raided village on the first board. Third in line is “Hurry, to the Blockhouse!” This game has frontiersmen hoping to see a family in a wagon safely through to a blockhouse, with the woods alive with Indians on the warparth. The final scenario, “The Fatal Lacrosse Game,” is inspired by the Ojibwa seizure of Fort Michilimackinac through a ruse that allows them access to the fort.

    "An Interrupted Raid" -- Rogers Rangers are caught in a Huron village by a returning hunting party
My partner and I were running six events over Friday and Saturday. It was a tiring schedule, but my friend Mike did the 2 pm slot, while I did the 10 am and 7 pm ones. This gave me some time to rest between games. The eight-player Ohio Frontier Aflame was actually scheduled to run twice, with my partner running a similar “First Blood” event that tested out the rules for the early period, featuring Conquistadors, Jamestown, and other scenarios. Also new this time were three four-player games on expanded 3-foot by 6-foot boards. This meant I had to reconfigure the terrain set up four times over the course of the weekend, but gave a nice variety in the size and look of events we staged. The four player scenarios were, “Treachery at Michilimackinac” (a four player version of the lacrosse game), “Will Magua Kill Gray Hair?”, and “The Clifftop Rescue.” The last two featured characters and adaptions from the Last of the Mohicans movie. I’d finished the 28mm Conquest Miniatures “Mohicans” pack earlier that week, so these games would feature the first time on the table for these figures.

    The clifftops are always a spectacle in Ohio Frontier Aflame events
Our 10 am Friday offering was a sign of the reception we would receive at Cold Wars. The game was slotted for four players, but I ended up accommodating eight. The extra four were set up on two of the other boards, and everyone was happy. Ten-year-old Garrett was exceptionally enthusiastic, and caught on to the rules quicker than quite a few adults. He played the part of Capt. Etherington, taking an active hand in driving out the treacherous Ojibwa and Sac invaders in his fort. The players all seemed to have fun and I sold quite a few copies of the rules from the rack I had on display atop the table. The convention staff was equally enthusiastic and came by and gave my event an award for that slot — a trophy featuring a painted 54mm miniature mounted atop a wooden base. I displayed that next to the rack of rules throughout the convention. It never hurts to be able to claim your rules are “award winning”…!

    Players and spectators crowded around the table throughout the convention
My partner Mike ran his “First Blood” scenarios during the 2 pm slot. He filled six of his eight slots, one player urging one of my coauthors to join in him in a follow up game immediately after he finished his first. I took a break to have a leisurely lunch, visit the Dealer Area, and relax. I returned to set up the table again for the Ohio Frontier Aflame set up. That was run in both the 7 pm Friday and 10 am Saturday slots. I filled all eight slots on Friday night, and had six of eight for Saturday morning. Once again, all players seemed to enjoy the rules — even when plagued by bad die rolls. One player returned and played in three sessions, while others played in two. Sales of the rules were brisk enough that I decided not to make the rounds of the Dealer Area and try to sell copies of the rules there. In fact, we brought 30 copies of the rules to the convention and sold 29 of them! I had a feeling we’d do well in sales there, but never dreamed we’d essentially sell out of them purely through sales from the gaming table!

    Interspersed with the 8-player events using the full 12-foot table were three 4-player ones, including "Treachery at Fort Michilimackinac"
Saturday afternoon and evening featured two four-player scenarios. Mike ran “Will Magua Kill Gray Hair?” while I ran the finale of “The Clifftop Rescue.” Both games had extra players show up and wanting to get in. I did not get to see much of the “Magua” game, but the rescue game featured an interesting twist. I’d left a side path down from the mid-section of the cliffs, thinking that the Uncas player might want to use it for a shortcut and head up and face Magua’s Hurons like in the movie. Instead, the Huron players used the side path to detour off the cliffs and make their way through the forest. This meant Magua had to fight a rearguard action against Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and three Mohawks. On the other hand, it forced the Joseph Brant/Uncas player to guard both the end of the clifftop section and the woods, thus splitting his forces. This clever gambit gave them an initial advantage, which was compounded by the Uncas player rolling terribly on his combat rolls. The Magua player was also having a miserable time with his dice, but survived the run of luck in time to see the momentum shift his way. Chingachgook was gunned down shortly after Uncas was, meaning there were NO Mohicans after this encounter. Hawkeye was left to pursue Magua on his own. As the Hurons slipped out of sight and off table, he shouted in desperation to the ladies, “You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you…!” Although the ending wasn’t Hollywood, it was cinematic. I’d made some extra low cliff sections for the game and this allowed me to expand the setup so that it was quite the eye catcher on the table.

    Players picked up the rules easily, including 10-year-old Garrett, playing the part of Capt. Etherington at Fort Michilimackinac
I received lots of compliments on the look of the games — especially the fort, Indian village, and the cliffs. The setup takes up a lot of room in the car and is a lot to haul around, but it is all worthwhile when you see convention goers flocking to the table. Of course, the 28mm Conquest Miniatures do a lot to set off the terrain, too. I even had a player beg me to sell him one of the Indians (of course I didn’t…ha, ha!). All in all, it was a successful second venture by our new game company to a convention to promote our games. My friend Tom ran his Colonial/Victorian Science Fiction game, For Queen and Planet, four times during the show, as well. Although his game did not pull in the sheer number of players that my Song of Drums and Tomahawks games did, it provided us some ideas on how to better promote his game at ensuing shows. If you want to attract players to your table, you need more than just a fun system. You have to have eye candy! A visually scenic tabletop gets the players in the seats. Then it is up to your game’s enjoyment factor to sell the rules. I feel fortunate that my French & Indian War event seems to have both. Players have fun, and spectators love to come look at the setup.

    Rogers Rangers are caught scattered and flat-footed by the Huron hunting party returning to their village
Luckily, the weather had abated by the time we were ready to drive back home. Bright sunshine followed us all the way back to Ohio. The storm had not kept us from having a successful outing at Cold Wars. The sunshine — not the storm — had been the omen for a great weekend at Cold Wars, and for Song of Drums and Tomahawks.

    Hurons attempt to rescue captives taken from their village by Stockbridge Indians

    This ain't your static, Seven Years War gentlemanly warfare...this is in-your-face close combat in the French & Indian War!

    This ain't your static, Seven Years War gentlemanly warfare...this is in-your-face close combat in the French & Indian War!

    The grand finale of our events was a restaging of the clifftop rescue scene from the Last of the Mohicans movie. Here, Magua's Hurons fight a rearguard action against Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and 3 Mohawks

    Wily as ever, Magua's Hurons divert off of the cliffs and take the captives -- including Alice and Cora Munro -- through the woods to try to escape off table

    As Magua disappears through the woods with Alice, Cora, and the other captives, Hawkeye shouts out, “You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you…!”