Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Battered and bloody, Sigurd's Anglo-Danes survive

The hardest-fought and bloodiest battle Sigurd Skullsplitter's Anglo-Danes had faced was against Thomas' Crusaders
One of the things I am enjoying most about getting our Saga group together here is the interest we're getting from the next generation. My friend Mike's son Jason, along with his twin cousins Daniel and Thomas, have been enthusiastic about playing the game since we first coaxed them into trying it out. All three have bought figures and are painting armies (or getting them painted). My second matchup in our November Saga Day at the Guardtower East was against Thomas and his newly-painted Crusader army.
The deadliest of troops in Thomas' Crusader list, I felt, were its Fanatical pilgrims
Since this was a second game, we agreed to do Clash of the Warlords so we could get started right away. Our first round of games had taken close to two hours and learning a new scenario would take extra time, we felt. In the first round, Thomas had defeated his brother (who was running Romans) 6-5 in The Crossing scenario. Daniel was saying how tough Thomas' army was, and I had heard that the Crusader army -- especially one with fanatical pilgrims -- could be nasty, indeed. Never one to back down from a challenge, when some suggested me being the next one to take it on the chin from the buzzsaw of an army list, I agreed.
Thomas' mounted warriors prepare to charge my hearthguard as my whittled down units of warriors have fallen back from the crusader onslaught

I put more terrain on the table than Thomas did, expecting him to have crusader knights, who would struggle with that part of the board. However, there was an open middle, with a pond on one side and groves of palm trees on the other. I deployed with both of my large, 12-man warrior units guarding the center. The smaller, 6-man hearthguard units were deployed on my right. The left was safely blocked by the impassable pond. My warlord stayed near the joint between the warrior line and the hearthguard column. Sigurd would be the linchpin between the warriors in the center and the hearthguard racing through the palm grove on my right.
My hearthguard have stood like rocks, driving off both warrior knights and his double-size foot knights, while Sigurd stands ready to back them up
Although I'd read about the crusader list (and played it once), and even listened to a podcast which extolled its deadliness, I was NOT prepared for the avalanche about to descend upon me! The Crusader battleboard is viscious. It has a perfect balance of potent attack capabilities that boost their attacks, along with maneuver abilities which allow it to launch attack after attack, and even defensive abilities which ward off a major strike by the opponent. With my large units, I love to stack up the abilities on my battleboard to launch a major attack on my opponent which is capable of wiping out his unit.
Meanwhile, on Andy's gorgeous desert town board two pairs of opponents were fighting the Urban Uprising scenario
Thomas advanced quickly, and hurled both of his pilgrim units (one of which was fanatical) against my warriors. Thanks to his abilities, I could do little damage in return. Both of my warriors were recoiled. Meanwhile, my hearthguard units were hurrying through the palm grove to launch our counterattack. The lead unit was attacked at the same time by a unit of foot warriors, which we drove off. When it was my turn, I launched my own assaults. It was a dizzying affair of charge after charge. No fancy maneuvering - just load up on the battle board abilities and close to contact and unleash them upon your opponent.
Andy's Anglo-Saxons prepare to face Jason's Anglo-Danes in the narrow streets of the town
When it came to number of dice rolling, I thought I was setting up fairly favorable matchups. However, Thomas' die-rolling was phenomenal. Time and again, I would use the fatigue I had placed on his units with my abilities to raise my armor class to "6". He would still manage to get 50% hits (rolls of "6" on a six-sided die). I would also unleash upon him and do half a dozen or more hits, only to see him save three quarters of them. It was the first game where I honestly felt my army was going to get out pounded. It seemed there was no way I could stand up to his battering, especially while he was saving so well against my own lethal counter-attacks.
Vikings rampage through the dusty streets of the town, fighting both city guard and Anglo-Saxon foes alike
In the end, I figured out how to face the Crusaders. You must hit them hard when their battle board is empty of Saga dice. When they have nothing left to save themselves, throw everything you have at them. Also, I learned to avoid the fanatics. Do not charge them. Withdraw. Make them spend activations to close. In future games, I will close ranks against them (I didn't think of doing that). The main reason you don't necessarily want to kill their fanatics is because they get a Saga dice for each casualty, which they can immediately place and play. Another thing, on a technical side, is to keep track of which advanced abilities they have played to help make sure they don't accidentally use it on their turn, and then put dice on it again and use it again on YOUR turn. The rules state you can use advanced abilities only once per turn.
Thomas' first round opponent was his brother Daniel's Romans, who he triumphed over in a close-fought river crossing

When it came to the bitter end, both of my hearthguard units had been eliminated. Each warrior unit was whittled down to half of their figures or less. Only they and Sigurd stood to contest the field. But we had inflicted heavy casualties on them, as well. On the final turn, Thomas had his warlord charge mine, with each of his going into the clash with two fatigue. Neither used the opponent's fatigue to affect armor clas. We rolled our eight dice and counted them up. Each inflicted three hits. Thomas -- for once (I felt) -- muffed all three of his saves. His warlord was dead. I had to save two of my three to survive. I had been rolling terrible on saves all game. I tossed the dice after seeing his failure, and watch two saves come up. Sigurd had survived!
Another first round game was Dave's Romans against Mike's Vikings in Feasting & Pillaging, which Dave won
With few troops remaining, we called the game. It was the narrowest and bloodiest of victories for my troops from Jorvik. Bloody and battered, our survivors withdrew - full of respect for our Crusader foes...

In The Crossing, Thomas' knights prepare to cross the river to face his brother Daniel's Romans
As for the other games among our 12 players, I did not do as good of a job as last time in keeping track. Here are the results I am sure of:

1st Round
  • Urban Uprising: Jason M's Anglo-Danes and Andy S's Anglo-Saxons tied at 8-8 
  • Feasting & Pillaging: Dave E's Romans defeated Mike S's Vikings 20-8
  • The Crossing: Thomas M's Crusaders defeated Daniel's Romans 6-5
  • Pillage: Mike D's Anglo-Danes defeated Jenny T's Vikings, 15-4
  • Urban Uprising: (Score and player names not verified: Vikings vs. Anglo-Saxons

2nd Round
  • Clash of Warlords: Dave E's Romans defeated Jenny T's Vikings 20-16
  • Clash of Warlords: Mike D's Anglo-Danes defeated Thomas M's Crusaders (score not tabulated)
  • -- Not sure if there were other second-round games...my apologies! Nor did I get the score in Steve P and Jeff F's Age of Magic game. I guess my second round game wore me out...!!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Sigurd Skullsplitter drives off Viking raiders near Jorvik

Vikings get ready to attack two village buildings not far from York during our monthly Saga Game Day
We met for our November Saga Game Day at the Guardtower East in Columbus, this past Sunday. I took my Anglo-Dane army again -- the Viking Lord Sigurd Skullsplitter of Jorvik (York). We had 12 players again -- a good handful of those from Dayton, Springfield, and other area locations. We have made it a goal to start playing more of the scenarios from Book of Battles. We gamed Urban Uprising, Pillage, The Crossing, and Feasting & Pillaging, in addition to the standard Clash of Warlords. Steve and Jeff also played a game of Saga: Age of Magic.
After three turns, the Vikings at right are well into the village, while the Anglo-Danes at left are arriving
My first matchup was against Jenny's Vikings in the Pillage scenario. Her Vikings were raiding an Anglo-Danish village not far from York, and we would be hurrying to protect the hapless peasants from their deprivations. Her army marches on from one short side of the board, while mine has to roll dice using the Reinforcements rule to arrive. In the meantime, four units of four civilians huddle in fear inside the buildings.
Viking warriors charge into the village, looking forward to a day of slaughter and pillaging
One of the Anglo-Dane's biggest strengths is their ability to throw fatigue on the enemy. I started loading Jenny's units up with fatigue markers from the very first turn. Meanwhile, my troops started showing up on Turn 2, with my Warlord, one unit of 12 warriors and another of 6 hearthguard arriving from the opposite short edge and hurrying towards the village. I knew I'd be able to use my units with the free Maneuver rule, so kept my Saga dice from loading up my Battle Board and continue to beleaguer Jenny with more fatigue. The Vikings successfully stormed the first two buildings, slaughtering all peasants (or so they thought) easily.
The spitting-mad Crone surprises Vikings inside her home, killing three hearthguard before being taken out
The most humorous point of the battle (for me - not Jenny) came when she searched the houses for loot (which counts as victory points). In one building she did very well, discovering two treasures. For the other, though, she pulled "The Crone" marker. This infuriated Saxon matron attacks the unit with 3d6, scoring kills (no save) on sixes. Guess what Jenny rolled? Three sixes! What's more, it was three hearthguard that the Crone killed - almost an entire point of her six point army!
A unit of Anglo-Danish warriors catches an exhausted Viking warrior unit trying to break into a building
Two turns later, my last two units arrived (another 12-man warrior unit, and 6-man hearthguard). I was getting closer to intercepting the raiders, but couldn't prevent a unit of Viking warriors from attacking the center building, where four monks were praying for God's to rescue them. I decided not to use the fatigue I'd loaded the Vikings up with, and surprise of surprises, one monk survived, leaving an exhausted warrior unit outside - still trying to get in.  On the same turn, my hearthguard charged a unit of Viking warriors in another building, but was repulsed, suffering five of six casualties. Yikes!
The Vikings set fire to the two closest buildings while carrying two loot tokens
On the next turn, my warlord took matters into his own hands and routed the remaining Viking warriors from the building. Meanwhile, Jenny brought a fresher unit to take out the last monk. My warlord then charged that Viking unit, sending it fleeing from the structure. At the same time, my unit of warriors charged the exhausted Viking warrior unit that had failed against the monks, sending them reeling backwards with heavy casualties.
Anglo-Danish warriors prepare to receive the charge of a much smaller unit of Viking hearthguard
The Crone-ravaged Viking hearthguard bravely charged the much larger unit of warriors and died to a man. The handwriting was certainly on the wall, and we agreed to call the game. We said Jenny would get away with her two tokens of loot, as well as burning the two original buildings she took. It was a rout on points, though, as my "massacre points" more than quadrupled her victory points from the loot and burnings.

I will follow up this post with another detailing my much deadlier and close second game against Thomas's Crusaders. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 7, 2019

First flight with Star Eagles

A star fighter moves (being placed beyond the template) and measures range against the closer of two targets
I think my buddy Keith is Ganesha Games' best customer. I honestly don't know if there is a title that they have put out that he hasn't bought. So, it was no surprise that shortly after Star Eagles -- there is Star Fighter space combat game came out -- that Keith suggested he run it for us on a Sunday evening. Apparently, there were enough budding Luke Skywalkers among us and we agreed.
Although we don't look like the cast of a Star Wars movie, we were ready to become star fighter pilots
It was an interesting "wrapping our heads around the rules" time prior to the start of the first turn. We realized that we weren't really sure how to move the ships. In this case, our extensive experience with Ganesha Games products (makers of the Song of Blades and Heroes -- and incidentally, co-publisher of my own Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules) actually worked against us understanding the rules! A staple feature of this engine is different size of movement sticks (Large, Medium, Small). As it turns out, these sticks are only for the weapon ranges. There is a hexagonal template that is the movement template for all the star fighters.
You move by placing the template in front of your fighter, then moving the base to the opposite site (paying extra for tight turns)
Another interesting variant is that rolling for activations -- another staple mechanic of Ganesha -- has almost zero effect on the distance you move. It simply provides you with actions you can use to shoot, do evasive maneuvers, or take tighter turns. Otherwise, if you get no activations, you still move the designated number of movement templates for your ship class. You just don't get a chance to do anything other than move straight ahead or make a gentle turn.
Keith bought into a kickstarter and received all kinds of ships and flight stands, and even dice which didn't quite fit!
Once we figured that out, we were off and running...er, flying! Keith started us off each with a fighter (smallest ship) and divided us into two teams of three. He warned us that ships were fragile and we discovered that quickly as the game lasted less than an hour. We decided to play another game with medium ships, and let Keith play for a seven-player, free-for-all. The medium ships were a little more survivable, but not much. Most of the time, one good hit blew up a ship.
A couple medium-sized ships from Keith's collection close to extreme close range
I really liked the way you roll to shoot another ship with your weapons. Essentially, you get a certain number of d6 depending on your weapons or defensive situation (evasive maneuvers, etc.). Your score that you need to hit is your pilot's quality. Keith had given us all Veterans, which meant we needed 3's or higher. A better shot (lining up on the tail of an enemy ship or closer range) gives you more dice. Once hits are scored, you need to roll armor saves -- if your ship has any. Some ships have the"Rugged Construction" trait. which gives them an additional 1/3 chance of saving vs. the hit.
In our first game, my blue fighter takes evasive maneuvers just in time as the fighter piloted by Mike S cruises in
We all saw possibilities with the rules. There are four sizes of ships (I believe), and four different qualities of pilots. There are a wealth of weapon types and special traits for weapons, so there is a lot of granularity going on with the rules. After the free-for-all ended with Brian blowing up the last two ships, we declared it would be worth playing again.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Pulp Alley: Shootout at the Docks

The Rebel players in Joel's Junta & Pulp Alley mashup - Keith, Bruce, and Brian
We hadn't played Pulp Alley in what seemed like forever. So, when Joel volunteered to run it last Sunday, I knew we would need a refresher. I read through the "Quick Start" guide to get the basics down in my head, again. I passed along these to the other players -- especially the two brand new ones -- and felt like I was semi-ready to play. The Pulp Alley rules use some very clever mechanisms that go beyond the basic move/shoot/melee types of rules.
Brian's Rebel Peasants came charging in from the jungle countryside to enter the fray
Years ago, I had run our group's initial campaign following the adventures of Dakota Smith in SE Asia in the interwar years. It was a lot of fun, so I was happy to get a chance to play when Joel picked it up, albeit with different characters. Joel's Pulp Alley world was a very clever combination of the old Junta boardgame and Pulp Alley. Each player was one of the factions from the boardgame - I was the University Faculty, Allen was the Black Marketeers, Keith was the 3rd Brigade, and so on. He had also given us our alliances, Rebel vs. Loyalist.

Allen's Black Marketeers leader (in black, of course!) and Sidekick race to engage the 3rd Brigade
Unfortunately, with five players and Joel GMing that meant only Allen and I were present from the Loyalist faction. Add in the fact that both Keith's faction, and the Peasants that Brian would be playing had a "league ability" that gave them extra troops, we knew we'd be outnumbered. The rebel faction that Bruce would be playing (the Church), was a "normal" league for our games, consisting of a Leader, Sidekick, and Ally. I didn't realize till the end we were outnumbered 18 to 6, but hey, who said life in a Banana Republic was fair?

One of the features of Pulp Alley is the use of "plot points" (one major, four minor in our game), which act as the victory points for theses games. Most of the minor plot points were spread throughout the warehouses in the docks district. As a real twist, Joel made the Leader of the Church faction the major plot point. He also placed him in our midst, far away from his own league and those of his Peasant and 3rd Brigade allies.
The Church and 3rd Brigade tack refuge among the shipping containers as they close in on an objective
Allen and I planned to jump on his quickly, hopefully knock him out, and meanwhile send the rest of our forces to spread out and snag the minor plot points. Fortunately for Bruce, he won the Initiative and his leader (who had a special ability that made him faster) quickly skedaddled and disappeared among the shipping containers. I took that as a change of plans, and spread out to seize three of the four minor objectives (each worth one VP, while the major was 3 VP). If I could get those, and Allen snagged the remaining one on his side of the board, we'd eke out a victory.

That's about when the shooting started. My Sidekick, Professor Emilia, is a handy shot with a gun - as is my leader, Professor Duarte. Our graduate assistant doesn't believe in guns, so has no shooting ability. I gave him the device our "Bastion of Science" league ability grants us that allows him to automatically solve a plot point when adjacent. Within two turns, both the grad assistant and Duarte had seized minor plot points. Emilia decided to be overwatch instead, and gunned down the first unlucky rebel of 3rd Brigade who came within her line of sight.
Allen's Black Marketeers & Keith's Rebel 3rd Brigade mixed it up in the center of the table with grenades, guns, and fists
Allen sent his Ally to the corner of the table furthest from our enemies to snag the third plot point. His leader and sidekick dashed towards the center and began to mix it up with Keith's 3rd Brigade, and an occasional minion of the Church who popped up. It was a back and forth battle that had the effect of stymieing each from accomplishing anything else. Meanwhile, Bruce concentrated most of his league into picking up the fourth minor plot point. There was nothing I could do that didn't seem suicidal, so I began to move back towards the waterfront, taking cover behind crates, containers, and a fountain along the way.

My University Faculty moved towards the water with our plot points, taking cover and firing on the rebels all the while
A surprising development occurred when the entire Peasant force made a beeline for the corner where Allen's Ally had thought to easily snatch up the plot point there. One feature of Pulp Alley that is unique, and takes some getting used to using effectively, are the Fortune Cards. These allow you to spring traps on other players, cause them to move less, be out of ammo, etc. With three players on the Rebel side, and only two on the Loyalist side, we were at a disadvantage in these. Still, things looked pretty much in hand until Brian's peasant gunned down Allen's ally, giving them a clear road to the the fourth plot point. We got a bonus when Bruce's minor plot point he'd snatched up turned out to be a Red Herring (0 VP).

Brian's Rebel Peasants begin to make a run for the crucial final plot point
I saw the danger developing, and all three of my characters began rushing for that side of the board. On the final turn, both my Duarte and Emilia got in good shots at Brian's sidekick, who was looking to give them the clear win by securing the third minor plot point. He was wounded, and when he activated, we played the nastiest trap we could on him. Brian needed to roll three six-sided dice, all with 4's or higher for them to win. Otherwise, we would secure a tie. Luck was not with the University Faculty and Black Marketeers that night as Brian succeeded (12.5% chance?).
The climactic final scene as Professors Emilia (yellow) and Duarte (green jacket with gray hat) try to prevent the Peasants from seizing the final minor plot point
It was fun to play Pulp Alley again, though. I thought the Loyalists (particularly the University Faculty) did a good job, despite being outnumbered. We almost held them off and secured a tie -- despite the fact after the first turn we had very little chance of wresting the major plot point from them. It just goes to show you...there is never a "dole" time in the Banana Republic!