Monday, September 16, 2019

Lord of the Isles Wages Battles Worthy of a Saga

A 2-on-2 Saga battle, with John (Normans) & Dave (Viking), top, against Jenny and Mike S (Last Romans)
We had 10 players waging war at once across Dark Age and Medieval battlefields during our monthly Saga game days at Guardtower East. As always, Steve P and Andy S hosted, but this time I was able to convince both of them to play, as well. We had one brand new player, a second time player, and a handful of gamers who had used the rules several times among our 10 warlords. Armies included Vikings, Anglo-Saxons, Irish, Normans, Romans, Last Romans (Byzantines), Crusaders, and my own first time playing the Norse-Gaels. Although most people think of the Vikings in Ireland when they think of this list, it is also for Scotland's Kingdom of the Isles (essentially the Hebrides Islands in the Viking Age).
My Norse-Gael armys at bottom (with Vikings, Scotsmen, & levies) closes in for the kill against Dave E's Viking list
I decided not to play my normal Welsh list this time because, frankly, I wanted to try something different. I enjoy playing my Kingdom of Gododdin with Lord Gwendawg as its defender, but I think I have the hang of using this army in Saga, by now. Not to brag, but I have won every game I've played using this list, so I thought it was high time I tried my hand at commanding a new army. The Norse-Gaels immediately caught my eye when I saw they could be used for the Kingdom of the Isles. I've always felt that this mix of native Vikings, Scots and Picts was a really interesting period, and have long wanted an army to represent their best-known king, Somerled.
Our first battle against Jeff F's Crusaders, at top, did not go so well - not the numerous levies advancing in support
I certainly had the figures already, using my Viking miniatures as the army's hearthguard (elite warriors), my Picts in their tartans and checkered cloaks as the warriors, and various Dark Age and Medieval peasants or tribesmen as the levy. In fact, the Norse-Gael list played into the strength of my collection, so to speak. When I began painting up 28mm Dark Ages miniatures years back it was not for Saga, but for Song of Drums and Tomahawks, which requires far fewer figures for battles. So, I don't technically have enough miniatures to field a Saga army for each of the nations I have in my collection. I have enough Britons to use as Saga Welsh, of course, but am still short of enough for a good list of the Picts (which I will use as Saga Scots -- the Pictish list is for the earlier period, which fought the Romans). Neither do I have enough for Saxons or Irish, but I have a growing force of each. 
A bad omen -- six javelin armed, Combat Bonus aided Scotsmen charge to their death against Crusader crossbow
Perusing the Saga battle board (command and control) for the Norse-Gaels, I was struck by how one-dimensional they are. Their abilities essentially allow them to amass great amounts of combat bonus dice to deal death upon their enemies. There is none of the tactical subtleties you find in the Welsh list -- no Evade or abilities that allow you to take an action during opponent's turns. Instead, there is a very clever list of cascading abilities that allow you to continually roll available (already used) Saga dice and place them in your combat pool. I thought it would be fun learning how to use them all in the proper order to maximize my army's attacks.
The die rolls went Jeff's way again and again -- perhaps God was on his side, after all? Deus Volt!
There is also a component that allows you put fatigue onto your levies, sparing your main combat troops, or to amass more combat dice for other units in battle. As such, in my first game I spent two of my six points of troops on levy, breaking them into three units of 8 foot armed with javelins. Their job would be to hang back behind the main battle line, close enough to be used to "soak" up fatigue intended for my hearthguard or warriors. In my second battle, I dropped that back to one point of levy, splitting the dozen into two units of six. I liked this much better because it gave me the extra point of troops to spend a third on hearthguard. This meant I could have two units of six figures in my second game, more survivable than the two units of four I had in the first.
"Big Mistake, Indy!" My warlord is Exhausted (3 fatigue), a sitting duck for Jeff's divinely-inspired crossbowmen
The remaining two points went into warriors, which were armed with javelins. I have a choice for all my foot troops to use either javelins or heavy weapons (think Viking long axe or Scottish claymore). I ended up choosing heavy weapons for my warlord and hearthguard, but javelins for the warriors and levy.
At bottom, John's Normans advance while Dave's Vikings move up in support against Mike and Jenny's Last Romans
My first game did not go too well. I faced Jeff F's Crusaders army -- a very potent list. He had some very nasty abilities on his battle board, including Blessing of the Righteous, which when played means a unit can only lose as many casualties as its armor class. The Norse-Gaels are built on dealing maximum, overwhelming attacks against enemy -- quite likely eliminating enemy in a single charge. There was no more devastating ability than Blessing to counter our strength. Chinks in the Armor is an incredibly nasty attack, too -- giving the Crusaders either four or six bonus attack dice in an attack. I found out quickly that things were not going to go well when a unit of my warriors charged his warrior crossbowmen (missile armed troops should have been easy prey for my souped-up charge), and Blessing meant we killed only three of their eight figures. Meanwhile, aided by Chinks in the Armor, they eliminated my unit completely. The same thing happened when I charged with a unit of hearthguard -- I caused three hits and he eliminated my unit.
Two buildings occupied by Norman archers proved too tough a fortress to assault for Jenny's Last Romans
I made a rookie mistake, too, forgetting to save Expendable for the charge of my Warlord. Instead of being able to give all or most of the fatigue he accumulated onto the nearby unit of levy, he ended up the battle Exhausted -- right in front of Jeff's crossbowmen! "Big mistake, Indy!" We called the game when I was down to my two units of levy, while he still had half of his double-size knights unit and his warlord, plus levy Pilgrims.
Jason's Romans march through a valley to confront Steve's Norman battleline (bolstered by his son's dice rolling)
My second game went MUCH better. I faced Vikings commanded by Dave E -- who had called me that week after disappearing from the gaming scene here in Columbus for a couple decades. He siad his kids were grown, now, and he was looking to get back into gaming. I talked him into coming to the Guardtower and he said he had a great time playing two games of Saga. Both Steve P (who had finished his game) and I tried to help him out as much as possible, giving tactical advice and pointing out advantages and disadvantages of various moves (and battle board abilities). We couldn't save him from his below-average dice rolling, though. Nor from the cascading bonus combat dice of the Norse-Gael battle board. Everything I wanted to do against Jeff, but was frustrated by his excellent rolls and frustrating Crusader abilities, worked to perfection against Dave.
My Warlord, bottom center, watches his Viking hearthguard, left, and Scots warriors, right, close in on the Viking enemy
I was getting the hang of which abilities to use to amass a handful of bonus combat dice. For example, you can stock your pool with Clenched Fists (which allows you to roll 3 or 4 available Saga dice -- such as ones you've already used for movement), and place them on your Combat Bonus. Roll ALL of them in your next attack, then use Spill Blood to restock it. This ability allows you to roll as many dice as there were casualties in that melee -- combined, from both sides! Bingo!! Full Combat Bonus pool for another devastating charge!
Closing stages of first game -- only 2 units of levy left to face Jeff's knights, warlord, surviving crossbow, and pilgrims
Needless to say, I really enjoyed playing the Norse-Gaels. Their in-your-face style was certainly a change from the more finesse Welsh list. I think the Welsh are a more powerful army, and I think there are many things that could frustrate the one-track Norse-Gaels in a game. However, when the blood starts flying on the battlefield, you are in their wheelhouse, so to speak. They certainly must be a potentially frightening army to face!

Here are the results of Sunday's games, near as I can figure:

Jason S (Romans), defeated Steve B (Normans) and Mike S (Last Romans)

Andy S (Anglo-Saxons), defeated Steve P (Irish)
John P (Norman), defeated Jenny T (Last Romans)

Dave E (Viking), defeated Mike S (Last Romans), lost to Mike D (Norse-Gaels)
Jeff F (Crusaders), defeated Mike D (Norse-Gaels), lost to Jenny T (Last Romans)
Jenny T (Last Romans), lost to John P (Normans), defeated Jeff F (Crusaders)
Mike D (Norse-Gaels), lost to Jeff F (Crusaders), defeated Dave E (Vikings)

Steve P (Irish), lost to Andy S (Anglo-Saxon)
Steve B (Norman), lost to Jason S (Romans)

Mike S (Last Romans), lost to Dave E (Viking), lost to Jason S (Last Romans)

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Labor Day (and night!) of Board Games

From left, Mike S, Jason, and Brian were my opponents in the venerable Avalon Hill board game, Britannia
Since Mike S drives over from Springfield nearly every Sunday, we thought it would be nice to return the favor and have the Sunday night gaming group visit him. We picked Labor Day afternoon for the occasion, with most of us arriving around 2pm. Most of the group made it, plus a nice handful of additions -- Mike's nephews Thomas and Daniel, his son Jason, and Jenny. We had planned on a cookout, but decided to do pizza instead, since it was supposed to storm.
Britannia was always one of my favorites, but needing exactly four players and a LONG time limited its playing
One of the main goals of the day was to "dust off" some of the old classic boardgames that take a long time to play. We figured we could start in the afternoon and finish at a reasonable time. As we had 10 of us total, I suggested a six-player History of the World and four-player Britannia. As it was, we decided to break out Secret Hitler, as it can play up to (exactly) 10 players. As usual, the Fascists won. I think every time I have played this game the Liberals have lost. Must be an accurate simulation!
This game is always a winner, and Jenny capitalized on her Sunday game night presence by winning it
Next, I polled everyone to see what they wanted to play. A number wanted to play Power Grid, so we did the six-player group as that, instead. Myself, Mike S, Brian, and Jason opted for Britannia. It took a good 20 minutes to go over the rules, as players were sorting their kingdom's pieces. For those that haven't played this Avalon Hill classic, it covers the history of Britain from the Roman invasions to the Norman attack. Players are given a series of nations or kingdoms to control. I drew Green, which meant I had the Welsh, Caledonians, Jutes, and Danes. Jason drew Purple, unfortunately for him, as it meant a newbie had to learn quickly playing the Roman invasions. Mike S was Red, and Brian -- the other new player -- was Blue.
Jason and Brian roll off as they struggle for control of Britain
It was great to play the game, again. I tried to give as many tactical hints as I could to the new players, but it takes awhile to get the flow of the game and understand ways to achieve your objectives. My goal with the Welsh was to survive the Roman onslaught, and Jason tried to make that VERY difficult for me, assaulting into my heartland. I had an incredible series of die rolls, though, and repulsed his attack. As a new player, he did not make a hard push north, which meant the Brigantes were barely touched, and the Picts were completely unmolested. The Picts, in turn, could then concentrate on the Caledones and the Scots when they arrived, pushing them back and marginalizing them.

It was a fun game - as Britannia always is, I feel. I had a comfortable lead the couple times we checked the scores. However, Brian made a surge at the end and overtook my by 2 points -- 119 to 117!
Night had fallen out on the screened-in porch where Daniel, Jenny, Keith, Thomas, and Joel gamed on
About halfway through our game, the Power Grid game ended with a Jenny win. They decided to set up Fortune and Glory, which surprised us, as we knew it was a long game. And so it proved, as they continued on for at least another hour after we had packed up Britannia. Fortune and Glory is fun, but there is just so much STUFF in the game. It takes forever to set up, and you constantly need to refer to the rules to see how to handle all the different situations that crop up.
We simply don't play Fortune and Glory often enough to be familiar with the rules to make it go quickly
As it was, we had a much longer day than we anticipated, and didn't finish till after 11pm (later than our normal Sunday evening gaming when we start at 7pm!). It was fun, though. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and it was a great way to wrap up summer.

Monday, September 2, 2019

SAAF Buccaneer Joins My Air Force

South African Air Force Blackburn Buccaneer in 20mm, 3D-printed by my friend Joe
Here's the second addition to my 20mm air force for my Wars of Insurgency games. The biggest of the four 3D prints that my friend Joe did for me was this Blackburn Buccaneer. It was used by the South African Air Force in their border wars as a fighter bomber, primarily. It is also the star of one of my favorite stories about jets used in a ground attack role, occurring during the Battle of Cassinga. So, I definitely wanted one of them for my upcoming game at Advance the Colors 2019.
Close up of the canopy and nose of the aircraft
This aircraft was also way too big for the current flight stands I use, so made me rethink what I was going to use for them. I have ended up buying a couple small camera tripods, which though perhaps a bit more obtrusive on the tabletop, will be way more steady than the ones I've been using. My helicopters have already tipped over on those flight stands a half dozen times, incurring damage to the model.
Yes, the landing gear are down on this 3D-printed model - but beggars can't be choosers!
Every picture I could find online of the SAAF Buccaneer showed it painted mostly in a dull, gray color, unlike the camo pattern of the Mirage III that I painted up earlier. I made the best of it, though, using a medium gray with lighter gray highlights, and a final black wash to blend it all together. I know that a scale modeler would be aghast at my amateurish paint job on this aircraft, and wonder why I didn't use commercially available decals for the markings. I honestly was worried how the decals might show the texture of the 3D printed model (it is not uniformly smooth). Also, I wanted to do these relatively inexpensively, and they ARE gaming pieces, after all. Not scale models for display. That may be a cop-out, but I tend to err on the side of frugality in most of my approach to the hobby, so is par for my course.
My amateurish hand-painting of the insignia and markings on the model

I liked the new way that I did the cockpit canopy, trying to show the blue sky reflecting onto the glass. I think I will do it this way for the remainder of the aircraft models I paint up. Astute observers will have noticed this model has the landing gear down. I contemplated breaking them off, but the pylons were pretty strong. Plus, they attach in a recessed area between the fuel tanks and fuselage that would be very hard to sand smooth. So, I went with it, and painted it up with the gear down. Had I wanted to pay $30 (after shipping) instead of $5 for a die-cast Buccaneer, I could have gotten a more streamlined model.
Top-down view of the Blackburn Buccaneer screaming in for a ground level attack
Next up, I am painting a small batch of 28mm Saga miniatures. After that, I will begin on the six BTR-152 armored cars that my friend Mike 3D printed for me. They will also be used in my Battle of Cassinga scenario at ATC 2019.