Monday, September 25, 2017

Rerun, but with Hail Caesar rules

Allen then Mike S on the left, opposed by the Moorish commanders, Joel, Brett, Andy, and GM Steve V
 After Steve V read my blog entry about not being particularly thrilled with Art de la Guerre, he suggested we run the same scenario using Hail Caesar. Once again, I was a Spanish flank command taking the battle to the Moors (or "Moops," if you're a Seinfeld fan...). My opponent was Andy, who also had a mostly mounted command like me. In the center, or two infantry blocks were faced off against one another (Allen commanding for our side). On the opposite flank, Mike S commanded our left against Joel, while Brett was the Moorish center commander.
It seemed like a good idea at the time -- Allen commits his Spanish infantry into a clash with Brett's Moors
The command and control for Hail Caesar is highly variable -- much like the morale rules, which tend to make games go very quickly. Depending on what your roll vs. your commander's rating, you could end up not moving at all, moving one movement distance, all the way up to 3x distance. Andy and I galloped into battle with one another quickly. He had an unfortunate command failure, which allowed me to choose the matchups. This was counter-balanced by Andy's good rolling for armor saves against my abysmal ones.
Allen's center begins to splinter - why all my pics are of the infantry fight and not my command I don't know!
However, all was not lost. Andy's rolling began to spiral downward. More command failures meant he could not reinforce his units in battle while I was able to keep up the pressure. I started rolling better for saves vs. the hits his units scored against me, and I begin to win the melees, instead. In Hail Caesar, you roll lots of dice for melee. One after another of his light cavalry units began to flee the battlefield, as Andy proved just as bad at rolling morale checks as he was with command rolls. I've found in Hail Caesar, this is a make or break aspect of the game. If one wing folds under a series of poor morale checks, it will not be long for the battlefield.
Joel maneuvers to hold off Mike S (with ubiquitous McDonalds cup), managing to avert defeat, buying time for the Moorish center to steamroll
This was the case with Andy, but he did inflict casualties and disrupt my command. Following up into their infantry's flank was going to take a couple turns of reorganization and rallying off some hits. Or so I thought! Steve V decided to create his own Impetuous rule which stated that any unit which fails a command roll will go the full 3x distance and hurl themselves onto the nearest enemy. One of my knight units went bonkers, screamed 1/4 of the way across the table, and slammed into the front of a Moorish foot unit that had turned to face us against this eventual possibility. They must have been as surprised as we were, because the knights actually won the combat, forcing them to give ground. I had wildly outrolled Brett. My guess is that it would not happen again. My exhausted knights declined to follow up.
The bitter end as Allen's troops are forced back. You can see my impetuous (but exhausted) knights in the upper right
At this point, we took stock of the game. After two hours, Andy's command was completely wiped out. Joel had suffered one or two losses, but it would take several turns before Mike S felt he could turn that flank, too. However, our center had completely collapsed. Last game in Art de la Guerre, the Spanish foot bested the Moors. In this game, they got their solid revenge and sent one after another of Allen's units reeling from the field. Although honors were about even, we decided that the Spanish would withdraw the field with its center broken.

Hail Caesar is a game that is best for one-off scenario games with a group of players. It is not intended to be a tournament game at all (which endears it to me, though puts off tourney players like Andy). There are wild swings in melee and especially morale, so if you don't like a dash of randomness to your Ancient games (provided by the dice), then you may be disappointed with these rules. For me, though, they're my favorite Ancients set, now. My friends all shake their head every time we play and my dice begin to fail me. They give me that knowing, "You asked for it!" look, as I have a reputation as being a subpar roller of dice. Not this evening, though! I would say Andy wore my mantle, allowing my Spanish right flank to score our side's biggest successes. A fun, quick game -- exactly what the rules were designed for!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Another Try of Art De La "DBA"

The Spanish army after deployment, facing off against their Andalusian foes as the Reconquista rages
 Years ago, I was about as avid of a player of 15mm Ancients using De Bellis Antiquitatis rules as you could find. I ran and played in tournaments a good half dozen times a year. I was constantly painting new armies. I did my best to promote the game and teach new players.
Two of our three opponents -- Andy (enthusiast of the rules) and easy-going Allen, who will play anything
And then, after more than two decades of enthusiasm, it abruptly died in me. I simply lost all enthusiasm for the game. What before seemed elegant and simple seemed vanilla and stale. The idea of rolling for movement pips and then out-rolling my opponent in combat was just tired to me. DBA had a good run with me. I pretty much played it from the beginning. But all good things must come to an end, they say, right?
Things are getting a little iffy on my flank, as Keith's light horse maneuver all around me with their speed
Ever since then, Ancients has kind of languished in our Sunday night gaming group. There was a brief period of reinterest when Steve V ran games of Hail Caesar for us. Several of us went out and bought the rules. I made it a point to say I enjoyed them -- even though they were possibly even more die-rolling intensive than DBA was (by the way, rolling dice is not a particular strength of mine...ha, ha!). But Steve lost interest, and veered to Might of Arms, which excited zero interest in me. He later tried a game of "To the Strongest" (or something like that), but that was one of the worst Ancients systems I'd ever played.
With poor Joel crushed on our right, and Keith making me nervous on the left, Mike S and I order in the spearwall
Lately, a few of the people in our area started buying, playing, and talking about a French set of rules, Art De La Guerre. Andy was a fan of it, in particular. We heard others liked it -- Mike S bought the rules at Historicon last year, and Steve V once again had a new Ancient rules set he wanted to try! One night, they did a small playtest, but we had a late family dinner and I showed up only to kibbitz at the end. As they talked their way through combat, it sounded a LOT like DBA. On another evening, I was there for the playtest. I was not impressed. WAY too vanilla, in my book. And way too much like DBA. That was when I coined my own name for it: Art De La DBA.
But surprise, surprise! I manage to run off some of Keith's lights, and then hammer with my knights
Steve and Andy were enthused, though, and Mike S was intrigued. So, we tried it again -- this time with Steve V's El Cid era medieval troops. The figures are gorgeous, but it was a little confusing differentiating the "Light Horse" from the "Heavy Cavalry," as they all had the same number of figures on the base. This caused a blunder on my part as I gave my right wing commander a force of mostly Light Horse, thinking he didn't have a strong enemy opposite him. He was outclassed and quickly crushed.
The right wing was looking very shaky when the Spanish managed to pull out victory over the Andalusians
It ended up being a close-fought game, with the Spanish winning by one point. So, what do I think after a third exposure, second time playing? Honestly, I feel it is simply a DBA variant. It has troops based by elements, like DBA. You roll dice for your movement pips, like DBA. Each troop type has a combat factor to which you add a roll of 1d6, like DBA. When you are beaten badly in combat, your element is destroyed -- like in DBA. The "variant" part comes in with each type of troop being able to take a limited number of "fatigue" or "hit markers" (or whatever they call them) before their element is destroyed. You receive those when you are beaten by an enemy in combat (or shooting), but not badly enough to be destroyed. And, like DBA, the game is over when you lose a certain number of elements, with some small variation on counting "disordered" units for half-points, as well.
The rules...popular with some in our group and not-so-much with Keith and I!
For all intents in purposes, I see Art De La Guerre as simply a variant of DBA. I would much rather play Saga or Hail Caesar. Maybe it is me -- maybe my jaded-ness from DBA prevents me from seeing this as a new and interesting set of rules like some of my friends do. However, I can't help the way I feel, and am not particularly looking forward to more games of Art De La DBA.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Giving Saga Dark Ages skirmish a try

Andy's borrowed Viking army
One of our friends, Andy, offered to run a big, learner game of Saga -- a Dark Ages skirmish set of rules -- for us this past Sunday night. It must have struck a nerve as 8 of us showed up to game. I brought along my own 28mm Dark Ages figs, which had not seen the tabletop in a long time. Typically, I've used Song of Blades and Heroes for them. But I was not averse to trying a new rules set.

I was a bit worried how it would work, as the rules are set up for a one-on-one game. However, with four players per side, and each of us having our own "battle board," it worked just fine. I had actually played it once before at least a year or more ago at the home of one of Andy's friends. So, I was familiar with the basic concepts. Andy did a great job giving us a primer, and for the most part, the players understood how to use the game's dice allocation system. That's the trickiest part, actually. Most experienced Saga players say it takes a while to "learn" your chosen army's board. You roll a handful of special dice (although you can use normal 6-siders) and allocate them to certain spots on your battle board. This becomes your command and control and dictates what you army can do. You don't simply move or shoot a unit. You must spend the dice to do so. The only "automatic" is if you are engaged by an enemy unit in melee, you fight back.
My troops (bottom) and Joel's mix it up in the field of crops
Andy's scenario was four Viking armies (one of which was mine) are caught after a raid by 3 Norman and 1 Anglo-Danish one. I was matched up against the very similar Anglo-Danish one and we fought in a field of crops on our army's left flank. There was a minimum of shooting and mostly charging. I was getting the better of Joel, my Anglo-Danish opponent -- but we were wearing each other down. The other sides of the field saw us getting crushed in the center and winning on the right flank. The crushing was outnumbering the winning, and after a couple hours of play, it was obvious the Vikings had lost.

I think a lot of the players were interested in Saga, and I would not be surprised if some of the eight players pick up the rules. I've been looking for a set at the flea markets at conventions for some time. I just haven't felt like parting with $40 for a rules set I may not use much. However, if it is going to be a regular feature of our games, I'll probably shell out the money. I have quite a few 28mm Dark Age miniatures already from the Viking period in Britain. So, who knows? Andy may have made a sale in our group...!