Monday, March 18, 2019

Bitter Tribal Warfare in the North of Britain

Steapa, at bottom right, encourages his Saxon warriors to exact revenge on their Viking foes across the field
I have always been fascinated by the history of Britain during the Dark Ages. Long ago, I painted up 28mm Vikings, Picts, Saxons, Britons, and Irish for use in skirmish games. I've used them with Song of Blades and Heroes rules, Saga, and most recently with Tribal rules from Mana Press. Enough of our Sunday evening gaming group enjoyed them to say they were interested in playing them more often.
In the center, Keith (left) and Joel count up their winning card exchanges to determine which unit won that clash
I pitched the idea to them of a series of games, with players controlling the same faction in a series of battles. We would keep track of Honor Points -- Tribal's ways of judging victory -- over the course of the games. Our forces (and leaders) would get more skilled, and hopefully a storyline would develop. I didn't want to necessarily call it a campaign, because there would be no map and no control of territory, or anything like that. Neither would it be a League, in which players are free to play multiple factions for the sole purpose of one-on-one competition. Ostensibly, the player's forces would remain the same faction.
The Townsfolk of Camelon rally to defend their fields from a horde of inebriated Norse-Irish
Since nearly all of my 28mm Ancient/Medieval stuff is for Dark Ages Britain, I encouraged the others who own figures for it (Keith and Mike S) to also field armies from the north of Britain. That accomplished, I've decided to give it a bit more of a framework. The factions would be from an area known as Gryme's Dyke, formerly the Antonine Wall -- an earth barrier constructed by the Romans before they pulled back to the location of Hadrian's Wall. Thus, in the Dark Ages, this could be the haunt of Picts, Dal Riatan Irish, Britons, as well as invading Saxons and Vikings. Our six players involved in the games so far represented the following factions:
  • Caithill's Norse-Irish (Keith)
  • Steapa's Saxons (Me)
  • Picts (Allen)
  • Vikings (Mike W)
  • Vikings (Mike S)
  • Local Townsfolk (Joel)
A band of Franciscan friars rally to the defense of the townsfolk, ready to use their staffs on the godless heathens!
 For our second set of games, we decided to use three of the four scenarios from the Tribal rulebook (#1 Revenge, #2 Raid, #4 Destruction). I used the order of Honor Points earned from the first game to let players choose their spot on the battlefields (attacker or defender on which designated battlefield). I skipped over myself and took the remaining spot.
The drunken Irish approach the stalwart monks, none too steady on their feet (judging by the cards they'd draw!)
Destruction featured five of my 28mm Acheson Creations Dark Ages buildings that Allen's Picts would be attempting to defend from an invading force of Vikings (Mike W). The attacker's goal would be to have a unit or figure spend an activation card adjacent to a building, which would represent setting them alight. Allen's placed his Pictish defenders in a forward defense, forcing the Vikings to go through them to get there. The drawback of his strategy was that, with half his forces not arriving till he end of turn 3, he would be outnumbered by the Norsemen. As it turned out, the Vikings did win the battle 13-7 in Honor, but managed to fire only one of the buildings.
The ending stages of the game sees the Irish force scattered and being mopped up by the Townsfolk
Since the games were being held on St. Patrick's Day, Caithill's Norse-Irish were full of enthusiasm to go out and raid the outskirts of the town of Camelon, near Gryme's Dyke. The battlefield represented one Dark Age hut and three fenced pastures with horses and pigs. The Irish goal would be to spend an activation card either in, or adjacent to, each of the structures to represent stealing animals or supplies. Led by a local group of monks, the townsfolk of Camelon were ready when the raucous (inebriated from celebrating St. Patrick's Day?) Irish arrived. The Irish would have to attack and drive them away from their herds to attain any loot. Keith was certainly missing the luck of the Irish that night and was soundly thrashed by the stalwart countryfolk and well-fed monks who guarded the pastures, 15-3. The Norse-Irish fled in disgrace.
In the far game, Jarl Mike W (left) grinds down Allen's Picts, while in the middle Keith (left) and Joel count their dead. At bottom right, Jarl Mike S patiently shuffles his deck and waits for me to finish taking pictures!
The final game pitted my Saxons (named after the Last Kingdom's character Steapa) seeking to avenge a wrong done to use by the Vikings of Mike S. Perhaps a band of Viking young men had stolen into our territory and perpetrated an atrocity on our Saxon womenfolk. I was to secretly designate one of Mike's units as the ones marked out for our revenge. I chose his one unit of hand weapons (figuring he would think I would pick one of his leaders). I deployed my three units of Saxon warriors across my front, each of them backed by a character -- my chieftain in the middle, and heroes on either end.
At top, Jarl Mike S's Vikings (including the Ravers just to the left of the monastery beehive huts) charge into my Saxons
I noted that Mike deployed the ravers we wanted vengeance against opposite my right. I then began to refuse my left flank with my unit of spears, and crept the other units over to the right so they would all be able to gang up on hand weapon unit. The characters also stalked forward to be within movement range. As it turned out, Mike attacked first, driving off one of my units with those very same ravers. They then followed up their success against my hero with the fearsome skill. Mike's early luck with cards ran dry, and my hero pulled a number of high black cards. With each wound dealing an extra, my hero cut down the over-confident (dare I say "cocky"?) ravers in one turn of combat.
Another look at the Raid battlefield with its pastures
Each of us had our successes and failures elsewhere on the battlefield. However, I had the upper hand in numbers and a clear lead in Honor. I could have attacked and possibly destroyed another damaged unit or two, but decided that honor had been satisfied. I offered Mike a chance to withdraw, and he took it. Steapa was successful in his second battle, as we revenged ourselves upon the Vikings, 16-7.

After weeks of games, here are the "campaign" Honor Point (renamed Legend Points) won by each faction:
  1. 27 Steapa's Saxons (Mike D, 2-0)
  2. 23 Townsfolk of Camelon (Joel, 1-1)
  3. 22 Vikings (Jarl Mike W, 2-0)
  4. 15 Picts (Allen, 0-2)
  5. 15 Vikings (Jarl Mike S, 0-2)
  6. 14 Caithill's Norse Irish (Keith, 1-1)
 With the next set of games, we're going to introduce a new feature to the games: Card pools. These are drawn at the start of each game and can be substituted for a card that has been played by the player or his opponent. I am planning on each player beginning with one card in the pool, earning an additional one with each victory. So, for next time, here's the card pools:
  • 3 - Steapa's Saxons
  • 3 - Jarl Mike W's Vikings
  • 2 - Townsfolk of Camelon
  • 2 - Caithill's Norse-Irish 
  • 1 - Allen's Picts
  • 1 - Jarl Mike S's Vikings
And finally, the Honor Points in each player's pool are also accumulated as Experience Points. Unlike the Legend Points, which simply accumulate and "rank" players, Experience Points are meant to be spent. Players can spend 15 points to purchase a permanent skill for one of his units or characters. Alternately, the can save them up to purchase a two point skill for 60 points. Purchased Skills will be "free" in future games -- over and above the normal Honor Pool which they can spend on Skills. However, this free skill cannot be changed from game to game, but is a permanent feature of the faction's armed forces.

Obviously, the current Experience Point pool is equal to the Legend Points: 27 (Mike D), 23 (Joel), 22 (Mike W), 15 (Allen), 15 (Mike S), 14 (Keith). After two games, five of the six players can purchase a permanent, 1-point Skill if they desire. Or they can wait and save it up for a 2-pointer! We will see how all these campaign additions affect the game as we progress. I, for one, certainly enjoy the scenarios better than a straight up battle. Tactical objectives always make a game more interesting! I am looking forward to the next time that bloody warfare resumes far to the north of the old Roman wall in the land of Gryme's Dyke!


Friday, March 8, 2019

Playground Equipment for my 28mm urban battlefield

3-D printed 28mm playground equipment for my urban battlegrounds
When I decided to begin collecting, building, and modeling for my 28mm urban gang warfare project, I started brainstorming what kind of scenery I could include besides buildings. Block after block full of buildings may look cool, but wouldn't be as visually exciting as mixing some other things. I thought of things like a basketball court, park, outdoor market, parking lots, and a playground.
28mm Slide and climbing bars from my friend Joe Merz's 3-D printer
My friend Joe Merz has a 3-D printer and had offered to print up terrain for me, if I could find the file on Thingiverse. I wasn't having much luck searching, so asked him, and he found quite a few things. He sent me some pics and I ordered swingsets, slides, teeter-totter, spinning wheel, and park benches from him. There was enough equipment to make two small playgrounds or one big one.
Members of the Bexley Block Watch keep an eye on their turf -- an urban playground
The first thing I noticed was that 3-D printed terrain has some serious flash in areas. I worked at it with an X-acto knife and made it more presentable. The fiddliest of bits to assemble were the swings. The seats did not attach easily to the ropes or chains hanging from the overhead bar. Otherwise, it all assembled relatively easily (or required no assembly at all). I based everything up on styrene plastic -- mainly because I wanted to model the effect of the grass being worn away to bare dirt in high traffic sections (like underneath each swing seat).
A rival gang - the Sons of Thor, German Village chapter - move in on the Bexley playground
I did a Google image search for pictures of playground equipment, and came to the conclusion that bright, primary colors was the usual look. I thought about doing some serious weathering and rust on the pieces, but didn't want post-Apocalyptic stuf -- just a little dirty. A dry brush of the lighter shade of the base color and a black wash would suffice for that, I felt.
Close up of one of the swingsets, including the difficult to attach seats
I really like how everything turned out -- especially the metal on the slides. I think it will make a good addition to my downtown. Now, I just have to find some modern 28mm kids to be clambering around the equipment. So, if anyone knows where I can find some, feel free to let me know!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Rhodesian Bush Wars at Cincycon

Rhodesian G-car flies over a ZANLA encampment in a Fire Force scenario at Cincycon 2019
It is interesting that one of the more interesting conflicts of the 20th century "Bush Wars" -- that of Rhodesia fighting to maintain its minority rule -- is also one of the most challenging to game on the tabletop. In particular, the Rhodesian Fire Force missions of helicopter-borne and paratroop dropped assaults on insurgent camps can be a thorny scenario. The casualty ratio between the Rhodesians and the insurgents is so lopsided that for a long time I considered them not worth trying to stage on the tabletop. I mean who wants to play a side that loses casualties at an 80-to-1 rate vs. their opponent?
ZANLA encampment prior to the Fire Force assault, with troops milling about in the village grounds
However, as I continue playtesting the air support rules for my modern skirmish rules set, Wars of Insurgency, my mind kept trying to solve the riddle of putting on a fun, playable Fire Force assault game, yet keeping casualty rates vaguely historical. One day it came to me: why not have the insurgents played by the GM? The players would take on the role of the helicopter-borne and paratrooper infantry attempting to corral the ZANLA insurgents and prevent them from escaping. Another player would take on the role of an Alouette K-Car (armed with a 20mm autocannon) and an Alouette G-Car armed with a machine gun as fire support. The players would be challenged, as the Fire Force historically was, to prevent the maximum number of enemy from escaping the board. I wouldn't have any ego issues watching large numbers of my troops become casualties, while inflicting few on the elite Rhodesian infantry.
Rhodesian K-car opens the engagement banking left to allow its 20mm autocannon to engage the enemy below
I intend to do another post on obtaining and getting the Alouette III helicopters ready. I ended up going with two different sources, a Heller 1/72 scale plastic model kit (which would end up being the K-Car), and 1/72 die-cast from Amercom (G-Car). The plastic kit would be the K-car because I would be chopping it up to have the door open and insert a gun to represent the 20mm autocannon. I wouldn't bother with sticking a gun in the metal die-cast helicopter. The die-cast rotor assembly was EXTREMELY flimsy, and broke while I was just sizing it up to see how the blades would fit. After consulting with folks on various Facebook modern military history groups, I replaced the blades with a clear plastic sheet to represent the spinning main rotors. I was extremely happy with the look.
On the ground, sticks of Rhodesian Light Infantry advance through the bush, determined to cut off the escape of ZANLA
One unfortunate aspect of running a cooperative, players vs. GM game is that it limits the number of player commands. This would be my smallest Wars of Insurgency game, yet, with only four slots for Rhodesian players. Both slots filled up at Cincycon 2019, though -- I was running Friday evening and Saturday morning. That's my usual trick to allow me to have to set up and tear down only once each. My first group of players were fellow HMGS Great Lakes members and a fun and laid-back group. It included fellow board member Randy Miller and his high school senior daughter, Emma. She has gamed with Randy through the years and has the reputation of being a deadly opponent. 
Due to the large numbers of insurgents, a G-car is pressed into gunship mode and prepares to engage
We had a blast in the first game. I particularly enjoyed the players reacting with alarm as insurgent groups neared the edge of the board as they called over Randy for fire support from his chopper command. In the end, 18 insurgents out of 120 made it off the table. The Rhodesians lost five casualties. Honestly, considering the wounded-to-killed ratio of modern warfare, that would mean only one or two KIA, the others being wounded and out of action. So, the ratio proved very historical, in my opinion. I asked for suggestions from my players and they said it was perfect -- not to change a thing!
The players picked up my Wars of Insurgency rules quickly, and were a great help in keeping the game moving smoothly
The next morning I promptly disregarded their advice and made a couple changes. Number one was allowing two friends to play the insurgents for me, letting me sit back and GM (and causing the game to move faster with two players moving and firing 120 figures!). The best side effect was that both Jenny and Mike S who played the ZANLA force said they had fun. They said other players would likely feel the same way -- as long as they're not hyper-competitive and aren't the type that need to "win" to feel validated. I think at DayCon 2019 next month I will offer those two slots to walkup players, briefing them on what they're getting themselves into!
Rhodesian Light Infantry advance through a village to clear it of insurgents in Rhodesian Bush Wars
The other change I made was rearranging how the ZANLA troops were organized. Friday night, they began with groups of 12 or so, while Saturday morning I chose 20-figure groups. The reason they were so large was because I was replicating the "bombshell" tactic of ZANLA troops when under assault by Fire Forces. The insurgents would scatter in multiple directions (bombshell). So, I made a rule that when a group of insurgents took casualties, they would split into two separate units next turn. Thus, a 20-man group would bombshell into two 8-9 man units. Then, they would further bombshell once more, into 4-5 man groups. From my research, this would be the typical size of small units fleeing through the bush to escape. It wasn't until a unit got down to the smallest size and lost further troops that they would check morale.
A squad of lucky ZANLA troopers make it to the cover of the wooded hills near the board edge
For both games, I used a random aggression die roll when a ZANLA unit activated. I rolled 1d6 per squad. The higher the roll, the more aggressive they would be. So, if under fire from a Rhodesian squad and taking casualties, on a "5" or "6" they would move into cover and return fire. If not actively under fire, they would move to cover and advance towards the sound of Rhodesian fire. On low numbers, they would break off and scatter away from visible enemies. For rolls in the middle, I had them act in what I thought they would consider the most intelligent fashion. This type of simple AI for the insurgents works well in a game with a GM, and I was able to make most of my decisions without any questioning or complaints from players.
Rhodesians closes in on the village center,  firing from the cover of the trees
I was very happy with the outcome of both games. Number one, the players had fun and said how much they enjoyed the game. Number two, it felt like a historic action and had a realistic outcome, in my opinion. And finally, my air support rules worked very well, I thought. Although very little fire was directed at the helicopters, one G-car had to withdraw when it took accurate, damaging fire from the ZANLA on the ground. That also seemed to ring true with the players.
A shot I took before the game with the K-car above the native village, before placing troops
Fire Force will spring into action April 5th and 6th at DayCon 2019. I'll be repeating my times, with a Friday evening game and a Saturday morning games. DayCon is a fun, small convention that is growing rapidly -- come check it out!
ZANLA insurgents begin to scatter in the early stages of the Fire Force attack as a Alouette III G-car moves in