Monday, October 14, 2019

Sigurd Skullsplitter's First Foray to the Guardtower Saga Day

A fierce Roman counter-attack drives my Jarl Sigurd Skullsplitter's Danes back to the river's edge
I have decided to use our monthly Saga game days at the Guardtower East in Columbus, OH, to try out different armies, rather than use the same one over and over. Last meeting, I brought Norse-Gaels and had a lot of fun with them. This time, I thought I would try out the Anglo-Danish list, which includes the Viking kingdom of Jorvik (York). I created a fictional jarl - Sigurd Skullsplitter - and looked over the "battle board" a bit beforehand to try to figure it out.
Dave E and my deployment - my Anglo-Danes are to the bottom of the river, while his Romans await our attack opposite
Each army has a unique command and control battle board that is definitely the "learning curve" part of the game. It seemed to me that the Anglo-Danish specialty was to put fatigue on their enemy's units. They had a couple melee abilities that could take advantage of enemy fatigue fairly effectively, so I decided to try my hand at this list. I even wrote up some notes for myself beforehand. Many of the Saga abilities on an army's battle board are set up to be most effective to use them in 1-2-3-etc. order.
Dave E decided to await my attack on the far side of the river - here his warriors begin to march towards the middle
In particular, I saw that you can use the "Noble Lineage" ability with any die to try to ensure you get to "6's" (helmet), which enable you to use "Exhaustion." This puts a fatigue marker on three enemy units. You put these on likely charge targets. You then use "Determination" to give you a combat bonus, which is even more effective against units with fatigue. Then, you use their fatigue to take their armor class down to 3 or less, which is when you hit them with "Crush the Week," which gives bonus attack dice against units with an armor of 3 or less.
Jarl Sigurd's right gains a toehold on the opposite bank, while Dave E's Romans begin to mass to try to drive us off
To me, that is the key of Saga. Figuring out how to maximize the inter-relationships between the various Saga abilities on your battle board. This is partially why I stopped running my Welsh army (which was undefeated). I figured that I would become a better player by trying my hand at various armies so that I know what they can do.
At game's end, the Roman warlord forded the river to try to slay Sigurd, but failed, while forces from my left finally arrive
Thus, Sigurd Skullsplitter's foray this Sunday. I was matched against Dave Eblin, who was playing only his third game of Saga. He was using the Roman list, which of course meant I was once again facing a ballista when I had large units. I had decided to make my six army points into two units of 6 hearthguard, two units of 12 warriors, and my Warlord. The bigger the size of enemy units, the more attack dice the ballista (which counts as only 1/2 point of Levy troops) rolls. Sigh.
On the next battle board, Jenny also played Anglo-Danes against Jason's Romans
We were playing "The Crossing," which places a river in the middle of the board and heavily rewards a player who gets all his army across to the other side. The deployment rules force you to split your army into two halves. The half of my army that was facing his ballista (one hearthguard unit, one warrior unit) immediately pulled back and marched towards the other side of the board. Meanwhile, my other hearthguard and warrior unit, supported by the warlord advanced towards the river.
Jenny and Jason were playing "Guard the Loot" - here Jenny's Anglo-Danes at bottom advance upon the treasure
Dave had deployed a small unit of four hearthgaurd and a unit of 8 warriors flanking the ballista, along with his warlord. The other flank, opposite my advancing force, was guarded by another small unit of 4 hearthguard, 8 warriors, 6 levy spear, and a unit of warrior archers in the woods. He seemed content to have this force await my attack, while shifting his troops from his right over to support his threatened left.
Lowell, top left, and Mike got in two games, as did Thomas, bottom left, and Daniel
The river ended up being impassable on the side opposite the ballista, while we rolled "chaotic" for the other side. This meant each turn a player rolled to see if it counted as uneven terrain, dangerous terrain, or was impassable. Luckily for me, it was uneven often enough (50% chance), that my right could advance across to confront Dave's blocking force. It took two turns to cross it because the terrain piece we were using was fairly wide. We stayed as far to the right as we could to avoid ballista shots, and definitely did not set foot on the bridge.
Dave W points out where his Normans will advance, while Jeff as his opponent coaches him in his first game
In hindsight, I should not have been as afraid of his ballista as I was. I let him use this 1/2 point of levy essentially take my left flank hearthguard and warrior unit out of the battle. They did nothing the entire game as they made a wide loop towards the crossible part of the river. I should have marched them straight at the bridge and crossed so that they could have supported my assault on the right wing.
The Norman battleline prepares to fight the Saracens to a bloody draw
Things looked good at first for my assault on the right. I was using "Exhaustion" to place fatigue on his units, making him reluctant to charge as my troops stepped out of the water. He sent in his levy spear against my hearthguard, followed up by an attack of his unit of hearthguard. The levy were sent back reeling with only two figures left, but the hearthguard hurled my unit back into the river. Sigurd charged them and sent the retreating, as well.
Meanwhile, Jeff's Saracens prepare to wage war for Allah in a close, hard-fought game
Then, came what was supposed to be the crushing of Dave's left. My large, 12-man warrior unit smashed into his 8 warrior bow, completely destroying them. We followed up a turn later into his 8-man warrior unit. We had 13 attack dice, hitting on 3+ against his 8 attack dice, hitting on 5+. We lost. Badly. This was the cracking of the assault. Dave began pouring in fresh units -- his other hearthguard and warlord -- against my battered warriors and warlord.
Lowell's Anglo-Saxons advance quickly upon Mike S's Vikings, and the battlelines prepare to clash
This is when I needed my reinforcements to appear, but they were stuck in a long, looping march. Both my warlord and warriors were pushed back into the river. However, we had savaged them with casualties, and were probably winning on survival points. I redeployed my troops to maximize the points I could gain from the victory conditions.
The brothers clash as Daniel and Thomas wage a historical war -- Vikings against the Last Romans (Byzantines)
I re-read the victory points to Dave, and he mentally calculated the I would win, unless he struck a major blow. So, he decided to charge his warlord across the river at mine. Sigurd had just survived back-to-back assaults by hearthguard and the Roman warlord by one hit. The final, climactic clash on the banks of the river resulted in three fatigues on each warlord, with both surviving. Dave conceded my win on points, due to the slaughter we'd inflicted.
Andy and Steve were excited to finally get a chance to play Sage: Age of Magic at this meeting
Meanwhile, battles were raging all around us. We had 12 players show up this time, which was a great turnout. Once again, we had another brand-new player, Dave W, as well as many of our other semi-new players. I am really happy with how our monthly Saga game days are growing. It is a great sign that we keep having new people show up.
Lowell, left, and Mike S closed quickly and were the first of our six matchups to finish their game
Saga veterans Andy S and Steve P decided to finally play a game of Sage: Age of Magic. Meanwhile, the other 10 of us player regular, historical Saga. All armies were from the Age of Vikings book, except for Jeff F's Saracens. Jeff was teaching Dave W, our new player, the game.

Here are the results of the battles, with four players getting in two games, while the rest of us each played one:

Mike S's Vikings defeated both Lowell's Anglo-Saxons and Daniel's Anglo-Saxons

Jenny T's Anglo-Danes defeated Jason M's Romans
Mike D's Anglo-Dane defeated Dave E's Romans

Daniel M's Vikings defeated Thomas M's Last Romans, but lost to Mike S's Vikings
Thomas M's Last Romans defeated Lowell's Vikings, but lost with to Daniel M's Vikings

Jeff F's Saracens tied Dave W's Normans
Dave W's Normans tied Jeff F's Saracens

Dave E's Romans lost to Mike D's Anglo-Danes
Jason M's Romans lost to Jenny T's Anglo-Danes

Lowell's Anglo-Saxons lost to Mike S's Vikings and to Thomas M's Last Romans

I forgot to ask Andy and Steve what happened in their Age of Magic game. Hopefully, I will update that soon.

We are having a lot of fun with our monthly Saga games. We'd love to have more people come out. Join the Saga Ohio Facebook group to find out when we're meeting. Hope to see more people showing up, and our monthly clashes continue to grow!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Rearguard at Cassinga: Wars of Insurgency at Advance the Colors 2019

A 3-D printed South African Blackburn Buccaneer launches a rocket attack on a column of Cuban/Angolan armor
 When I released Wars of Insurgency modern skirmish rules a few years back, I purposely did not include air power rules. I wanted it to be "low-intensity" insurgency warfare. The rules have received a good reception and players at conventions have enjoyed my games. There's even a group in Australia, the Nunawading Wargames Association, who are playing an "Imagi-nations" campaign using my rules. As more played them, I've received questions how to handle various things that were not included in the original rules.
Cuban and Angolan tanks & APCs race to rescue the SWAPO base at Cassinga under attack by SADF paratroopers
I have worked on helicopter rules first, and am pretty satisfied with how they perform in games. This summer, I decided I would add in fixed-wing air support - "fast-movers," as some folks like to call jet aircraft. As mentioned in previous posts, I had a friend use 3-D printing to create a handful of aircraft for me. Although they don't have the detail of die-cast metal or plastic kits, they look fine on the table as gaming models, and are considerably cheaper.
Waiting for them, concealed in the bush, are RPG teams of the South African rearguard
I kept procrastinating actually writing down the ideas that were bouncing around in my head until a couple weeks before my game at Advance the Colors 2019, Oct. 4-5. I had decided I would run the rearguard action of the anti-tank platoon against a Cuban/Angolan armored column that came to the rescue of the SWAPO camp the South African paratroopers were raiding at Cassinga. A pair of Mirage IIIs and a Blackburn Buccaneer had helped the raiders fight off the column, so I had a historical engagement I could model it after.
A pair of Mirage IIIs were also available to strafe the encroaching armor with their 30mm autocannons
The skirmish was a near-run thing with the Cubans and Angolans coming very close to breaking through and being able to attack the landing zone where the South African raiding force was trying to evacuate from. So, I chose my forces off of the historical Order of Battle, figuring it would give me an idea of prospective point costs for aircraft. As it turned out, I probably should have given the Cubans and Angolans more armor than I did (each of the players controlled one T-34/85 tank, 2 BTR-152 armored cars with mobile infantry, and one civilian truck loaded up with infantry).
Each Angolan player also had a truck with 10 infantry to dismount and drive off the South Africans
Each South African player controlled three teams of three Professional infantry (one armed with an RPG, one a LMG, and one hand weapon). They also each had control of either a Mirage III or Buccaneer, each of which had limited ammunition or passes it could make. The Mirage were historical armed with air-to-air missiles and their 30mm autocannon. The Buccaneer was armed with 68 SNEB rockets. The South African pilot had insisted his armorer load alternating rockets of HE and HEAT (anti-tank rockets). Thus, the Buccaneer would be their main platform against the tanks, while the Mirage IIIs could affect the armored cars.
My Friday night table was full with six players, so the full force for each side was used
I advertised the game as a playtest of the aerial support rules, which in my mind was supposed to justify the fact I had NOT play-tested these rules. Then again, I did the same last year and the year before with my helicopter rules and they worked out fine. I ran the game only on Friday afternoon and evening. My Friday players were ecstatic about how the scenario worked out, and said they had a blast. Still, I scaled back the attack ability of the Buccaneer for the second game, essentially cutting its ammo in half. For game effect, I let the Buccaneer player decide how many rockets he was firing each turn at which targets. I allowed jet aircraft to designate a strafing line or flight path and roll attacks against any target on that path.
A Buccaneer and Mirage III sweep over the battlefield looking for targets of opportunity
The Mirage IIIs were given a limited number of attacks. After that, they were "bingo" on fuel and had to return to base. The Buccaneer had actual ammunition boxes to check off as he fired rockets. In the first game, each box equaled one rocket fire and one dice rolled to place it on target. In the second game, the player checked off two boxes for each attack dice rolled to hit. Strafing hits scored on 4-6 on 1d6. Each rocket hit then rolled a further attack with 3 damage dice (doubling hits against armor, just like an RPG).
A firefight on the ground between a SADF RPG team and troops dismounted from an Angolan truck
The Buccaneer was Hell on Wheels, er...wings! It blasted tanks, APCs, and trucks with wild abandon. The Mirage IIIs had a more limited attack, that nevertheless could be deadly -- especially if they strafed an open vehicle carrying mobile infantry (like the open compartment of the BTR-152). The South African RPG gunners were fairly effective, too. Like historically, they blew up a number of armored vehicles. They got chewed up way worse than in the actual Battle of Cassinga, though, where the platoon took zero casualties. The raiding force itself did take casualties, but most of those were in the assault on the camp from AA guns.
A Mirage III dives to strafe the roadside being used by the Cuban/Angolan armor
I liked how the hidden deployment of the RPG teams went. The players put dummy markers and real markers on the table to mark potential locations for their infantry. They could be placed in any patch of trees on the table, which gave them a lot of tough decisions to make. Aircraft could not make attacks on consecutive turns to represent them vectoring around for another pass.
Each Cubans & Angolan player force was given four choices on arrival points
How did the games go? In each game, all of the tanks and APCs were eventually knocked out, including some of the reinforcement APCs I gave to the Cuban/Angolan players when they were down to few troops left. It was a much closer battle in the first game when I had only two aircraft in the sky (due to two of my six players mysteriously not showing up after registering for the game). In the night game, all three aircraft were hammering the Cuban and Angolan armor. Unlike in the first game, the players got a little glum and felt they had no chance of winning the game. What was VERY interesting was that one of the South African players in that game also felt they had basically lost and that the armor was about to fulfill its objectives by exiting on the far side of the table. So, both sides felt that they were losing!
Smoke marks the strafing runs and rocket attacks on the armored vehicles
Either way, I think I would limit jet aircraft to just one per scenario in future games. I was being historical, and wanted all three aircraft that appeared over the battlefield the be represented. I am not 100% sure I like the mechanism for the flight path, though. It seems too easy for the jets to line up multiple targets on the ground. Perhaps, I will add an element of randomness to the game and either have the controlling players roll to be "on target" with their hits, with a chance of deviating to the left or right, short or long. Players still needed to roll for their attacks, and targets still got to roll saves, though. So, perhaps not. Maybe I will simply limit how many targets they can strike on the ground, or allow them to hit multiple targets only when they are close together.
The South African pilots quickly pounced on the enemy armor as it arrived on the table
It was fun to see the jets on the tabletop, though. I think my camera tripod flight stands worked fine. I will probably paint them entirely matte black, though, just to make them less obtrusive on the tabletop (and in pictures). I think most players enjoyed the scenario, though. I think I am "go" for planning my next playtest using the Chad air war. Stay tuned for more!