Sunday, December 29, 2019

Dozen Games at Guardtower, Dozen Sagas to Tell

Jenny's Viking berserkers lead the charge against Lowell's Anglo-Saxon battleline
We continue to attract new players to our monthly Saga game days at the Guardtower East game store on the east side of Columbus. With a handful of players out sick with the crud that has been going around, we still managed to have 13 players fight out a dozen battles over the course of a Sunday morning and afternoon between Christmas and New Year's. Once again, I took Sigurd Skullsplitter's Anglo-Danish army of Jorvik.
Close up of the brave (& usually doomed, in the games I've played) berserkers taking on the entire Anglo-Saxon warband
My first game was one of the scenarios from Book of Battles called "Prized Possessions." I would be trying to escort three baggage wagons across the table from my base edge to that of my opponent -- Anthony, also playing Anglo-Danes. I had skimmed the scenario rules this morning to make sure I had the proper terrain, but should have read the victory conditions more closely. I knew that I would get the most victory points if the wagons exited the table on Anthony's board edge, and would lose the most if they were destroyed. However, I incorrectly recalled that if they were still alive at the end of the game I would receive victory points, but a smaller amount. Actually, I would be penalized in this case.
Sigurd Skullsplitter's attempt to punch through on the right, led by a large warrior unit and hearthguard in the woods
What's more, I should have pre-measured the distance from baseline to baseline (two of my wagons would march onto the board on my first turn). As it turns out, the wagons must move a full Medium move distance every turn to have a chance of exiting the table edge. If they're held up for even one turn (such as by the presence of enemy troops), the odds become longer at achieving your victory. I am beginning to become less enchanted with the scenarios from Book of Battles. I simply don't think they are balanced. On the table behind me, Mike S and Dave W were playing Pillage -- which I had played at the last meeting and found very unbalanced against the raider. Their game produced similar feelings - there seems no way for the attacker to win. I would be curious to see how others feel about the scenarios in the book. Honestly, I haven't been impressed, thinking perhaps they weren't adequately play tested?
Sigurd's warrior unit drives off Anthony's warrior unit to try to clear a path for the wagons
Anyway, Sigurd Skullsplitter's force was identical to previous games, with two large units of 12 warriors and two units of 6 hearthguard each. Although this gives me only five units when you include the Warlord himself, I like the survivability of larger units. Each of the three baggage wagons had Determination, so their movement would not be a drain on my Saga dice. I set up my army to punch through on my right, screening the wagons with one of my large warrior units, whose flank was guarded by a hearthguard unit advancing through a forest on my right. Not having played the scenario before (nor counted out the distances), I was WAY too methodical in my advance. I was more concerned with protecting the wagons than a pell-mell charge across the table.
The left half of my force followed along slowly -- our two centers essentially ended up just countering each other
One of the Anglo-Danes' main abilities on their battle board is to put fatigue on enemy units. Both Anthony and I did this regularly, which further slowed down our attempts to close with each other. A unit of Levy archers stood in the way of my advance, shooting at us as we closed. My warriors did drive off his smaller warrior unit which guarded their flank. Anthony countered with a charge by a unit of hearthguard, who shattered my large unit and drove it back into the wagons. I riposted with a charge by my own larger hearthguard unit, which sent his reeling back, down to one survivor. I set it up to use Sigurd himself to drive off the archers, but Anthony astutely launched a spoiling attack on my warlord with his warlord, pushing him back.
Mike S's Last Romans on left attempt to pillage an aggressively-defended Welsh village
Sigurd's attempt to take advantage of his fatigued warlord ended in disaster and the loss of my hearthguard unit. I brought Sigurd back up to try to force the issue, again, driving back his archers. It was simply too little, too late, though. There would be no way we could clear out his units guarding his table edge. Honors in kills were close, with Anthony having a slight edge. Victory points for the wagons took him over the top, though, and Anthony won, 11-3.
Jim's Byzantine army marshals its battle line in one of its two battles
My second game was against a new player, Adam. Steve P had sat him down to play his father, Christian, in the first game. Dad's Normans triumphed over Adam's Vikings, but both were spoiling for a second game. Adam and I set up a Clash of Warlords game, with several forests dominating the flanks and center of the board. I coached Adam on how he could rearrange his points and units, and he chose to combine his two hearthguard Viking units into one big, 8-man unit, leaving the rest at minimum sized units. He placed his double hearthguard unit and his Warlord on the extreme left of his line. I promptly marched my Warrior unit facing them towards the center, and the Hearthguard on that side into one of the woods to delay the clash with these two powerful units.
Close up of Jim's Byzantine infantry and their draco standard
In the meantime, I marched my other large warrior unit forward and hurled back one of his 8-man warrior units. My warrior's left was guarded by the advance of a hearthguard unit, which was hurrying to close the distance with a unit of levy archers shooting at us from a wooded hill. I felt bad for Adam when he brought up a fresh 8-man warrior unit, loaded up with abilities from his Viking board, and charged into my bigger unit. He sacrificed two figures with Valhalla and used another ability to roll 17 dice to my 10. Uh-oh, I thought. He's beating me at MY game. However, Adam's dice completely failed him. He caused only two casualties, while I savaged his unit. Bad luck for the new player!
Anthony's Anglo-Danes advance against Jim's Byzantines in a second round matchup
I followed up and destroyed the depleted unit on the next turn. His first Warrior unit charged in, again, driving my unit back, but whittling us both down to three figures. These two remnant units spent the rest of the game resting and eyeing each other warily. My hearthguard crashed into his levies, but Adam's luck returned, and he lost only two of them to one of my figures. I would spend the rest of the game charging into his levies with the hearthguard, eventually destroying them on the last turn of the game.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Jenny's berserkers lead the charge...this time against Jon's Irish
Meanwhile, the showdown on the center-right was looming. I slowed his advance enough with fatigue enough to be able to concentrate three units against his two -- one large warrior unit, a hearthguard unit, and Sigurd himself. What followed was a knock-down, drag-them-out slugfest. Both of our hearthguard units were slowly whittled down, as were my warriors. Although both warlords were brought to exhaustion, neither of us could strike the killing blow. There were tense moments for each of us, but all five units were still facing off against each other when the sixth turn ended.
The climax of game two - Sigurd Skullsplitter trades blows with the Viking warlord
It was VERY close on points. I ended up squeaking out a victory, 20-16. Adam played a great game, and showed he was picking up the tactics and use of the Viking battle board well. I was impressed. With a couple breaks, he could easily have won this game. His awful start on dice rolling handicapped him, but his luck returned at the end when I could have killed his warlord. Fun game!
Dave W borrowed my Welsh (being of Welsh ancestry) and went 2-0 for the day, defeating Steve's Romans
Only one of the 13 players had to leave after round one (Steve P had not played the first round, shepherding Christian and Adam through the rules). Here are the results of a great day of Saga gaming:

Round One
  • Anthony's Anglo-Danes defeated Mike D's Anglo-Danes in Prized Possessions, 11-3.
  • Jenny's Vikings tied Jon's Irish, 20-19 in Clash of Warlords. 
  • Dave W's Welsh defeated Mike S's Last Romans in Pillage, 19-7.
  • Lowell's Anglo-Saxons tied Daniel's Norse-Gaels in Desecration, 16-16.
  • Andy's Anglo-Saxons defeated Jim's Byzantines in Desecration (no score tabulated).
  • Christian's Normans defeated Adam's Vikings in Clash of Warlords, (no score tabulated).

Round Two
  • Mike D's Anglo-Danes defeated Adam's Vikings in Clash of Warlords, 20-16.
  • Jenny's Vikings defeated Lowell's Anglo-Saxons in Clash of Warlords, 29-20.
  • Christian's Normans defeated Mike S's Last Romans in Clash of Warlords, (no score tabulated).
  • Dave W's Welsh defeated Steve P's Romans in Clash of Warlords, (no score tabulated).
  • Jim's Byzantines defeated Anthony's Anglo-Danes in Clash of Warlords, (no score tabulated).
  • Andy's Anglo-Saxons defeated Daniel's Norse-Gaels in Clash of Warlords, 33-20.

For those counting, we had two players each using Anglo-Danes, Vikings, and Anglo-Saxons. We had all varieties of Rome, with one player each using Romans, Last Romans, and Byzantines. Representing the Celts, we had Welsh, Norse-Gaels, and Irish. And finally, one player used Normans. The bulk of the armies continue to come from the Age of Vikings book, with only the Byzantines being from the Crusades book. The Romans are from the Aetius & Arthur book, of course.

Another great day of Dark Ages wargaming -- worthy of the sagas! We look forward to welcoming back our friends who were under the weather, today, and growing even more!

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Evening board games with Zeke

We eventually ended up with 10 players for Sunday night board games
We had a pleasant surprise and our old friend Zeke was able to make it again for Sunday Night gaming. He had a board game, Wingspan, that he wanted to introduce to use. I brought along some extra games, knowing we'd likely have more than its five-player maximum. With eight of us in attendance, we split into two groups of four. Zeke, Keith, Joel, and Mike W played Wingspan, while I trotted out Pandemic for Allen, Brian, and Mike S.
Looking at the thinking going on, it is tempting to make a "bird brains" comment, as Zeke teaches the Sunday evening crew how to play Wingspan...
Everyone seemed to be having a good time learning Wingspan, so much so that Keith planned to pick up the game soon. I told Zeke that made him 2-for-2 on introducing new games on our Sunday nights, as the last time he brought Imperial, two of the players ended up going out and buying it!
In our Pandemic game, we b-a-r-e-l-y squeaked out a win. Mike S found the fourth cure and we did not have enough cards to complete his two-card draw. So, we won by one card! I think having the Dispatcher, Researcher, and Scientist is a great combination. The Dispatcher regularly moved the Researcher to the Scientist so that he could give him cards, enabling us to find the cures with four cards rather than five. My role was the Medic, so I could bounce around the board tamping down the worst disease outbreaks. It was a tense ending to the game, because we did not have enough cards to win the original way we planned it, so we had to come up with an alternate idea.
The other group ended up playing three different games - Pandemic, Splendor, and finally Tsuro
As the birders were still birding with Wingspan, we broke out Splendor - an awesome four-player game. I am used to playing it on my ipad, though I hadn't in quite some time. As such, played my worst game of it in awhile, ending up vying for last place with Allen. Mike S stomped us on points, though it really looked like Brian was going to win the game for most of the later part of it. I feel Splendor is a completely different game head-to-head, as live players are so much better at spotting what cards you're gathering chips for than the A.I. can be.
My diabolical plan in the second game of Tsuro works out as four of my opponents crowd together, facing elimination!
Since the Wingspan game wasn't quite finished, we broke out Mike W's copy of Tsuro -- my all-time favorite "Introductory" game. Jenny and Mike's wife Tammy had been going for a walk while we were gaming earlier, so joined us on two quick games of Tsuro. Jenny and I ended up tying the first game, and I won the second outright.

All in all, a fun Sunday evening of board games. It was good to connect with Zeke, again. I hope to see him again, soon!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Second Gladiator Playtest Proves Small Arena

A general melee breaks out in our "Heavies vs. Lights" gladiator game using my 28mm Crusader Miniatures figures
 I have 33 gladiators painted now, more than enough for my very large History classes that I plan to run it for the week before winter break. But what to use for arenas? I figured that I needed at least three (which would be 10 students per arena in my largest class), so I wanted to do something inexpensive -- a scratch-build, of course. I scoured Hobby Lobby for ideas, and found a circular wooden sign that was about 15.5" across. I bought it, marked its surface up with 1.25" hexes (my gladiator bases are 1" hexes), and we gathered for a playtest Sunday evening.
Donal the Gaul, right, a Provocator, mixes it up with a heavier Dimachaerus, Jugula the Numidian
We were seeing if a much smaller arena meant matches would go too quickly. We had six players and played two games using the small arena. All of us felt that it was a good length of game -- especially considering my classes are only an hour long. In the first game we had three teams of two each. Each team had a heavily armored gladiator paired with a lightly armored gladiator taking on the other teams.
3 heavier armored gladiators at top face off against 3 faster, lighter-armored ones at bottom in my small arena playtest
I played Massinissa, a heavily armored Provocator from Numidia. I was teamed up with Syphax, a Carthaginian Retiarius. I don't seem to have a lot of luck at this game, for some reason. In my first exposure to it at Advance the Colors 2019 when Randy Miller an a pickup game, my die rolls were abysmal and my opponents' were on fire. It was similar with Massinissa. Jenny's Laquearius, Gilgamesh, lassoed my Numidian and he was nearly helpless as the other two teams took turns hacking away at him. In the end, Bruce and Brian's team of Simba the Retiarius and Brennus the Gaul were declared the winners, as only one gladiator remained standing to fight them.

Syphax, left, and Simba, two Retiarii, square off while Brennus the Gaul trades blows with a Cruepllarius
In our second game, Keith suggested we do two teams -- one heavy vs. one light. I took Donal the Gaul, a Secutor who was a more truly a medium gladiator (Armor of 7 instead of the Retiarii armor of 9 -- higher numbers are worse in the rules). I figured my two allies, Brian's Simba the Retiarius and Keith's Mikipsa the Velite, needed someone who could trade blows with our heavier foes. It was an interesting matchup, with our lighter gladiators dashing in to strike a few blows, then withdrawing to force the slower, heavier gladiators to use up their action points closing with us.
Mikipsa the Velite, left, is the epitome of a light gladitaor, moving around the arena and tossing his 3 javelins
Jenny's gladiator, Lucius the Scissores, was heavily wounded in the leg early on and was only able to hop one hex per phase. Mikipsa ran around hurling javelins, while Brian and I tried to remain elusive. I had battle royale with Jugula the Dimachaerus. In one turn I scored about 7 blows against him, all turned away by his armor. Simba took advantage of his distraction and struck him from the side, though, and eventually, Bruce's gladiator went down. With one heavy out, another severely wounded, we called it a victory for the lights.

So far, three of my friends (Jenny, Keith, and Bruce) have volunteered to come in to the school that day and help me run the games. That will allow me to run four arenas, which will mean we will have 6-8 gladiators per arena, instead. That should make the game go faster, I think, and hopefully finish within an hour's period.

Keith and Jenny also had another suggestion for what to use for my circular walls of the arena -- quilting hoops. That means another trip to the craft store and hopefully I can find something even more suitable for an arena. Either way, with my gladiators all painted, it's time to begin working on arenas!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

"Those About to Die, Salute You!"

My Lead Painters League #11 photo of my first batch of 28mm Crusader Miniatures gladiators
Earlier this year, I made the decision that I wanted to bring a gladiator game to my 7th grade students when we study the Colosseum during our Ancient Rome unit. Since my classes are around 30 students each, that meant I'd need a lot more gladiators. So, I have been painting a lot more up, lately.
So, this round of the league needed a "large figure," so I went out and bought a 54mm gladiator to use in "Who's Got the Big Guy...?"
My first batch were from Crusader Miniatures 28mm line. I really like the look of these figs, and I painted 16 of them up awhile back as part of the last time I entered the Lead Painters league. Since it was part of the league, I took even more time on details - especially the shields, which are all hand painted and came out nicely, I thought. I had two more packs left -- pack ANG003 - Retiarii & Laqueaius and ANG009 - Sagittarius & Velites -- which would still leave me short of the minimum 30 I'd need. Luckily, my friend Keith had a number of unpainted 28mm gladiators, so I picked up 10 more off of him (which are on my painting table right at this moment).

One of my retiarius gladiators from Crusader Miniatures -- Hephaistos
I decided NOT to paint the archer (Sagittarius) because I didn't want to deal with bows, so had seven gladiators in that batch, which I finished just in time for last Sunday's playtest. It was quite the rush getting not only the figs done, but marking out a hex mat using a Litko template. I also wanted to make individualized character sheets for the gladiators with a picture of the miniature on it. I decided to go all out (of course!), and gave them names, as well.
Another lightly-armed gladiator -- Gilgamesh the Laquearius

Of course, after our playtest, I came up with a couple changes I needed to make on the character sheets, which meant going back and adjusting 23 sheets. However, I think I have them down well, now.
Tiberius the Velite was one of the gladiators I ran in our playtest, though he survived he did not do so well
I also am pretty happy with the Arena Games rules, which can be downloaded on Wargames Vault for only $10.  These are the same rules that my friend Randy has run successfully at area conventions for a couple years, now. I did modify them a bit to make them even more simple for my 12-13 year old students. I also wanted them to move fast since we'll have only a one hour class period to play the game.
Mikipsa the Velite was MUCH more successful, Brian causing a lot of damage with him
So, it's been a lot of gladiators on my painting table, of late. When I am finished, I'll have 33 to choose from. There is no "point system" in the Arena Games rules. I like the balance of how the more lightly armed gladiators tend to move fast and get more action points (APs) then the heavier armed ones. However, they take less damage, of course, so there is a balance. Is it 100% equal and fair? Of course, not. However, there is a fair amount of die rolling in this game, so it should even out.
I painted my gladiators in a variety of nationalities, from Africans to North African/Arab to European
I've included some pictures of my first batch of 16 gladiators from the Lead Painters league photos, as well as the more recent batch of seven. Once I finish my last 10, I hope some people can help me identify the manufacturer(s), because Keith had them glued onto bottle caps and primed already when I purchased them.
Donal the Gaul here looks like he was plucked straight from a line of Ancient Gauls (not gladiators) -- I like how his shield game out, though!
Perhaps we will do one more playtest because -- shocker, I know -- we made a couple key mistakes when playing the game the first time. If so, it'll be in the next couple weeks because I want to do this before winter break. So, to paraphrase from the movie Airplane: "Billy, do you like gladiator figures...?"