Thursday, September 16, 2021

Going Back to Hell for a Battle or Three

Wendigo Demon Leader eyes Andy's Venom Queen and Torture Master in our Reign in Hell game
We were intrigued enough after the first evening of trying out Reign in Hell skirmish miniatures game to take a return trip to Hell. This time, Keith and Mike S decided we'd do three 1-on-1 games rather than a big, six-player scrum. What's more, I would even get to play this time...woo-hoo (or insert some suitably demonic chuckle)!

    My Native American themed cabal with a Wendigo, Witch-shaman, Horned Serpent & Skinwalkers
I had actually come up with my own force. I downloaded the PDF of the rules from Wargame Vault for $10, and then sorted through the various painted and unpainted miniatures I had. I wanted to do a Native American demon and monster theme. I figured I could substitute in my Splintered Light Miniatures anthropomorphic animals as "Skin Walkers." My bears and wolverines are pretty hefty figures, and will match up well against standard 28mm figures. I also found a Jabberwocky figure among my unpainted lead that I could paint up as Uktena, the Horned Serpent of Native American Legend. 

    Andy's borrowed cabal (Lords of Hell faction) with a little of every demon type thrown in!
Probably one of my oldest unpainted castings I had in my lead drawer was a 28mm Djinni materializing in a swirl of smoke. The Void Demon -- the Devout, or second in command, of my "Empty" faction -- can teleport around the battlefield. In addition, I decided to FINALLY try out modifying a miniature with Green Stuff. With it, I made a flowing, deer skin cape and headdress. Atop it, I planted the head of a deer that I had cut off of a 25mm Iron Wind Metals deer. And finally, for my leader, I found a really creepy looking Wendigo figure on Thingiverse and had my friend Joe print it up for me. That would be my leader. 

    Hurriedly painted this week, my Wendigo 3D-printed leader and modified Djinni Witch-shaman
There was a slight panic when Keith and Mike suddenly decided to raise the point levels for our armies to 150 instead of 100, but I was able to simply add in more Splintered Light minis I already had painted. My force was from the "Empty" faction, which wants to destroy Hell. The leader would a "Zealot" class with Regenerating Soul as an Essence and Soul Drinker as a Relic. The essence I chose would allow him to regenerate damage when he activates, and the Soul Drinker did double damage on natural 6's rolled (plus healed a Life if I killed an enemy demon). The Shaman was my Void Demon Devout second in command. I would take one Greater Demon (another last-minute surprise to the force construction rules for the night), a Serpent Knight for Uktena. This demon would be a fearsome force in the game because it also caused two hits instead of one when I rolled a natural "6." The rest of my force would be six lesser demons. Four were the Splintered Light Miniatures bears as Armored Demons, while two were SLM Wolverines, who would be Corpulent Demons. I chose that not because they were obese looking figures, but because Wolverines are such bitter fighters and never give up.

    Andy's hit & run with a Mephit (flying demon) doesn't withdraw far enough to avoid counterattack
I would be playing against Andy S, and he was using a list that Keith had created. Keith LOVES to throw in the kitchen sink when designing a force. So, of Andy's nine figures, I think there was only one duplicate. I honestly think this handicapped Andy as it made it easier to forget some of the special abilities of the various Superior ("What?? We're using Superior Demons, too?"), Greater, and Lesser Demons -- not to mention his Leader and Devout. For example, Andy's leader was a Schemer type (you can choose Warrior, Zealot, or Schemer), but he completely forgot to use those special abilities for the first three turns or so. A schemer essentially lets you play around with the activation order and get in more activations or interrupt a player's turn, in essence. If I remember correctly, his Lords of Hell force included (besides his leader and devout) a Venom Queen (Superior demon), Torture Master (Greater), Slaughter Fiend, Armored Demon, Mephit, and Corpulent Demons.  

    In front, Allen ponders his first Reign in Hell game against Mike S, while Keith and Joel battle it out
We deployed our armies in opposite corners on my new battle board Jenny and I had created this week from really cool fabric we found at JoAnne's. My plan was to lead with my two Corpulent Demons (Skinwalker Wolverines), with a second line of my four Armored Demons (Skinwalker Bears). My three "big boys" would be in the third line as a strike force, swooping in for the coup de grace on injured demons, hopefully. The Serpent Knight ended up seeing the most fighting, followed by my Void Demon Shaman, and finally the Wendigo. Both Corpulent Demons and Armored Demons have excellent defense (or can take a lot of hits). So, I would absorb Andy's attacks with those six lesser demons and counterattack with my big boys. I didn't ask Andy what his strategy was, but honestly I think it was to simply to figure out his bewildering force! It is much simpler to figure out a strategy when you design your own cabal (as a warband is called). Unfortunately for Andy, his unfamiliarity with the troop types in his cabal meant the best he could manage was, "Go get 'em, boys!"

   Andy's Witch Hunter and Lord of the Pit are swarmed by a half dozen of my demons
Andy struck the first blow, having his fast-moving, winged demon (called a Mephit) do a hit and run attack. He retreated it back just inside a rocky area, hoping the terrain would prevent my troops from closing with it. Andy forgot that in Reign in Hell melee occurs when enemy figures are within 1/2" of each other. So, one of my Skinwalker Wolverines charged forward and wounded the Mephit. A Skinwalker Bear followed up and dispatched the Mephit, winning my cabal its first "soul dice." This is an interesting mechanic in Reign in Hell. Each time you destroy an enemy demon, you roll 1d6 and keep it to substitute for one of your (or your opponent's) later rolls. I rolled a "6", which I could then use later to substitute either for a failed saving roll, or for my Serpent Knight or Wendigo to cause x2 damage.

    The grand melee in the center between the ruins and rocky ground pulled in most of our demons
Andy moved his next demon up to attack, a Lesser Demon called a Slaughter Fiend. The Witch Hunter figure he was using for the fiend attacked my Wolverine (which is exactly who I wanted him to be attacking). Corpulent demons take 15 hits -- more than any other demon in the game, except for Warrior class Leaders (who also take 15). He also moved up his Devout, called a Lord of the Pit. On my turn, a half dozen of my demons swarmed the outnumbered pair, including my Witch Shaman, who teleported into the rocky area, Serpent Knight, Skinwalker Bears (Armored Demons), and two Wolverines. I was really happy with the Skadegamutc the Void Demon's Oblivion special ability, and used it to teleport into combat or out of combat when in danger. He finished off the Witch Hunter, and I rolled a "2" on the soul dice. I would use that later to reduce one of Andy's roll of a "6" to a "2". Knowing when to play the soul dice is an interesting tactical dimension I enjoyed in my first game of Reign in Hell.

    My greater demon and two lesser demons begin to wear down Andy's Lord of Hell leader
The enemy cabal kept coming, though. His leader, a Schemer Lord of Hell entered the Rocky area to attack my Shaman, who weathered the attack well, and promptly teleported away on my turn. A Skinwalker Bear and Uktena, the Serpent Knight showed no fear and rushed forward to attack the leader of the enemy cabal. On the opposite end of the battleground, Andy moved forward the two demons I feared the most in his cabal -- his Torture Master Greater Demon and Venom Queen Superior Demon. Each of them have very nasty special abilities. The Torture Demon can reduce your maximum Move, Combat, or Life stat by one for each hit that gets through. The Venom Queen has Burning Touch, which repeats the amount of successful attacks rolled when the enemy demon who suffered them activates next. Yikes! I immediately moved my Wendigo to that flank to assist the Skinwalker Bears that were holding that flank. The Witch Shaman teleported over to add his assistance, too.

Slowly, my three demons that were facing his leader gained the upper hand. When his leader was down to one hit remaining, he used his "Schemer" ability and withdrew from combat before I could finish him off. Andy's Torture Master and Venom Queen killed one of my bears. However, the score was soon four of Andy's demons slain to two of my cabal's gone. At this point, Andy conceded the game. Two of his lesser demons were still a way away from joining the melee, while all nine of mine were pouring hits into his. It wasn't all tactics, though. I think I was very fortunate on the initiative rolls, too. I would often get a string of three or more activations in a row, allowing me to move in with several figures and attack and finish off an enemy before he could react.

    The cover of Reign in Hell
I also think my tactic of blunting his attacks with my demons that could take the most damage worked, as well. There is definitely a lot of possibilities for tactical cooperation between the various types of demons in your cabal. My focused cabal -- four Armored Demons and two Corpulent Demons -- allowed me to manage the battle in my favor over the "kitchen sink" list that Andy was given. I also think I did well on my use of the soul dice. I noticed a couple of times Andy could have used them to his advantage, but did not. I think each die substitution I did paid solid dividends in either additional hits inflicted on him or in hits rolled by him reduced to misses.

I look forward to the next time we play Reign in Hell. Hopefully, we will drop back down to 100 points and try the campaign progression. This sees demons improve or get worse (possibly, if they are "killed" in the battle) as the campaign progresses. Your demons can increase their statistics, receive new relics or essences (special abilities), or gain new powers. It looks like we'll try one or two of the scenarios that are included in the book, too. Winning those can also give your cabal additional rewards. Should be fun and interesting, I think!

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Count Drogo Holds Off Crafty Welsh Warlord

    Lee's sharp-looking Hospitallers saw their unveiling, using the Milites Christi battle board
Count Drogo sighed as Lord Merovus, High Counselor to the Frankish Emperor, lectured him about what to expect from the Welsh warband blocking their path to the coast, and home to Frankia. Even the count's dog Griffo seemed to have a downcast look about him as the Frankish noble droned on about his experience. Only Drogo's standard bearer Ranulf seemed to be paying close attention, nodding frequently and murmuring "Yes, my lord." Merovus was close to the emperor, though, and Drogo had to keep him safe in the upcoming battle. Excusing himself, he made his dispositions of his archers, spearmen, and cavalry. His wily Welsh foe would require all of his attention. 

    Joe studies his Anglo-Dane battleboard to figure out how to deal with Jason's Carthaginian elephant
We had 10 players for our September Saga game day at the Guardtower East in Columbus, OH. Two were either fairly new or brand new to Saga, so we set up a couple "mirrored matchups" (two of the same armies playing each other). I've found that it provides a good teaching game as the novice sees how the more veteran player is using his same battle board and gets ideas from it. It was also the unveiling of Lee P's newly-painted Milites Christi army from Age of Crusades. He's painted them up in the black robes of the Hospitallers, or Knights of St. John. They looked fantastic -- and it was interesting contrast seeing them arrayed against Bob B's mostly white-robed Baltic Crusaders in a civil war.

   Climactic confrontation: Baltic Crusader warlord vs. Hospitaller grand master
Other matchups included Andy S teaching Saga Version 1 player Lowell L how to use the Anglo-Saxon battleboard. Merica vs. Wessex? Either way, there were a LOT of Saxon foot on that table! Our #1 teacher, Jenny T, was introducing Jason V to the game, giving him a taste of Viking vs. Viking Dark Age warfare. Our one out-of-period matchup featured Jason S giving his Dad's Carthaginians a try against Joe M's Anglo-Danes. 

    Carthaginian advance, led by their elephant into the Anglo-Danish battle line
My opponent was Dave W, using my borrowed Welsh army. I know how tough that warband is, so I was anticipating a difficult match. I had been contemplating shelving my Carolingians, as I am not finding them as exciting to run as I'd hoped. To be at their most effective, the best tactics seem to be shooting, shooting, and more shooting. It is just a matter of maximizing my shooting and keeping the archers as safe as possible. At least that has been my impression over the last several games. I'd been contemplating a switch, but really don't know what else to play. I'd love to try the Age of Invasion Britions, Picts, or Franks from the soon-to-be-released book. Alas, I am not one of the ones gifted with an advanced look at the battle boards from Studio Tomahawk...! So, I decided to give the Carolingians another go.

    Jenny uses a Viking vs. Viking matchup to explain the basics of Saga to Jason V
We decided to play Old Feud, since it is one of the scenarios scheduled for the Advance the Colors Saga tournament. I let Dave have first pick of characters (going out of the strict setup sequence), and he chose the Princess. I picked the Counselor, though in hindsight I never would need his extra Saga die. With three of my eight dice tied up in the Proelium, I was always able to roll all of my available dice. The Counselor's "We Obey" did come in handy, though!

    Count Drogo's Carolingian warband deployed to face a wily, Welsh adversary
Dave started the terrain placement with a small woods on his side opposite my right flank, overlooking the center. I placed a Ruins in the center of the board, a little close to my edge in case he moved it towards his lines. Next, he placed a small gentle hill opposite my left. I countered with Rocky Ground facing his Woods. That ended the terrain placement, and then we began deploying troops, alternating units after placing our "Challenger" characters. Count Drogo directed Counselor Merovus into the back of the Ruins to keep him safe. After that, we had to deploy each unit within Very Short of previously deployed troops. As he probably expected, both of my large, 12-man Warrior Bow units were deployed in cover -- one in the Ruins and the other in Rocky Ground. The warrior spear were in the center, next to the ruins, and the two small units of mounted hearthguard nobles were stepped back obliquely towards the Rocky Ground.

    The Carolingian warband after turn 1 -- a formation Dave cried foul with and called "Turtle-ing!"
I showed Dave the shooting battle board abilities of the Carolingians, to give him a fair chance. He had never faced this army before (most people haven't, I think -- for some reason, very few people run Carolingians, I've found). He was a bit flabbergasted with the shooting firepower and I could tell he was struggling to think of a counter. That said, he had the perfect army to counter an opponent's battle plans. The Welsh have three Activation/Reaction abilities. These allow them to move in the opponent's turn and mess with the other player's plans. Dave would do that regularly throughout the game, and proved a very crafty opponent.

    The Welsh mounted nobles gallop forward and "Taunt" my archers into charging them
He took his first turn using Maneuver actions to move up his troops slightly, remaining outside of Long bow distance from the edge of the Ruins and Rocky Ground. On my half of the opening turn, I crept my archers to the edge of those terrain pieces, and redeployed one unit of mounted nobles to watch the right flank while the other kept an eye on the center. Ever the busybody, Counselor Merovus followed the archers in the Ruins, pointing out likely targets to the unit commander. At this point, Dave grumbled about me "turtle-ing," or sitting in my defensive positions and waiting for him to come to me. I told him it was only the first turn and to be patient. 

    A brutal melee ensued and the archers killed 7 of 8 of the mounted nobles, losing 8 of their own
Dave looked over his battleboard and had what he believed to be an "Ah-HA!" moment. On his second turn, his 8-man mounted hearthguard unit of Welsh nobles galloped up to the archers in the Rocky Ground. Dave then employed his favorite advanced Saga ability, "Taunt." This forces an enemy unit to charge a designated enemy unit. My archers came streaming out of the rocky ground, horribly offended by being called a bunch of terrapins! I wasn't that worried, though. I had loaded my battle board up the previous turn and used almost no abilities. So, I introduced him to Vinco (two automatic hits) and Potentia (rerolling up to 6 misses - as my Proelium was fully stocked on turn 1). I think Dave had a good idea, but what he should have done is Taunted my bowmen out with his warrior foot, then after we had fought and were fatigued, charged me with his mounted hearthguard. That way, he'd get the +1 bonus for javelin and would be hitting us on anything but 1's. A bloodbath ensued, and we lost 8 of 12 figures, but more importantly, the archers killed 7 of 8 of his hearthguard. Warrior bow may shoot only half of their figures, but they fight one-for-one in melee!

    Mounted nobles charge forward and chase off a unit of Welsh javelinmen, who retreat to the woods
Dave's goal, he admitted later, was simply to kill all of my archers -- no matter the cost! He moved up a unit of warriors twice, who threw javelins at the remaining four archers. Despite the heavy cover, they killed one. However, I noticed they were now fatigued. After losing to the Irish with my Moors awhile back, I've decided the thing you do to javelin-armed warriors is charge them. So, one of my units of mounted nobles hurtled forward on my turn. We used Potentia for the rerolls and our lucky Rare die for Fortis, which gave us three more attack dice, while taking three away from him. He rolled four 6's for saves, though, and lost only three figures - VERY fortunate outcome for him. We lost one rider, even though we had used his fatigue to raise our armor to 6. I pulled the nobles back to my rear, so they wouldn't get shot by his javelins. The remaining three archers shot down his last mounted hearthguard using Vinco for the two automatic hits.

    Dave continues his unwavering pursuit of his goal: Kill all the Carolingian archers!
On his turn 3, Dave kept his distance from my remaining full-strength archer unit in the ruins. Another unit of warriors came forward to relieve those who had been cut up by my mounted nobles. The damaged unit fell back to protect the Princess. In Old Feud, if one player's character is killed while his opponent's survives, they automatically lose. It doesn't matter what the score is on Massacre Points. That is used only if both characters survive or if both die.

    Meanwhile, Dave keeps his own Challenger, the Princess, safe amidst lots of potential bodyguards
On my turn 3, Count Drogo ordered the archers out of the Ruins, with the spearmen going along to protect them. Counselor Merovus was admonished to stay inside the ruins, though! Griffo growled his low-throated rumble to reinforce the count's orders, while Ranulf strained on the leash to keep the massive dog in check. The archers advanced to shoot Dave's own archers, but Dave cleverly played Evade to stay out of range. In fact, his Evade moves would frustrate not only my shooting, but also my charges in the second half of the game. The Welsh are a very fun and tactically interesting board to play. It is NOT line up and charge and roll dice. You can easily foil your opponent's plans and launch unexpected counter-attacks with their advanced Saga abilities.

    Count Drogo kept Counselor Merovus (in green cloak) hemmed in by troops to protect him
Once my archers were out of the woods, Dave's own warriors found their nerve and made a beeline for them. Two successive charges with the excellent melee abilities of the Welsh whittled down the archers to a single man. It didn't matter to Dave that his unit of warriors paid for their charges when charged by my warriors on my turn. He had succeeded in his goal. The vaunted Carolingian shooting of 24 archers was reduced to just four archers in two scattered units. I hammered his warrior javelinmen in revenge, and felt that I was comfortably ahead of points. Dave must have felts so, too, as he had one more gambit to launch. And yes, it involved "Taunt" again!

    The battlefield at game's end - both Challengers safe, but the Carolingians slightly ahead on points
Despite Count Drogo's best efforts, Counselor Merovus was not 100% safe. Dave double moved his last full-strength warrior unit to within short of my Challenger and played Taunt. I had expected something of that nature, and had kept "Defensor" active on my board (four bonus defense dice). Luckily, the position the Welsh javelinmen had to take so that Merovus could charge them put them close to one of my mounted nobles units. I would be able to use the Bodyguards rule if he would end up in Short, which luckily I could. The battle was fought, and Merovus took three hits. I used his Resilience rather than the Bodyguards rule. The javelinmen fell back. Dave tried to back them off with another move, but I used his fatigue to keep him close at hand. On my turn, the Carolingian nobles rode that unit down, punishing their impunity.

    Andy, left, and Lowell both fielded Anglo-Saxons armies in a Dark Ages civil war
It was a great back and forth game. Dave used his Activation/Reactions masterfully, and kept me from shooting and charging him throughout most of the game. His only mistake, in my opinion, was the Taunt which allowed me to take out his toughest unit, the double-strength mounted hearthguards. I ended up winning 23-17. Great game! Dave keeps getting better and better with the Welsh, which are a very deadly weapon in the hand of a clever general.

    An Anglo-Saxon civil war - Wessex vs. Merica?
We ended up having only one round of games. So, here were the full results of our game day:

  • Vikings (Jenny V) defeat Vikings (Jason V) 24-16 in Clash of Warlords.
  • Carthaginians (Jason S) defeat Anglo-Danes (Joe M) 13-10 in Clash of Warlords.
  • Anglo-Saxons (Andy S) defeat Anglo-Saxons (Lowell L) 15-12 in Clash of Warlords.
  • Baltic Crusaders (Bob B) defeat Milites Christi (Lee P) in Old Feud.
  • Carolingians (Mike D) defeat Welsh (Dave W) in Old Feud, 23-17.

    Crusader crossbowmen defended an area of ruins from attacking Hospitaller sergeants
We have one more tuneup week of Saga game days (Sept. 19) at Dragons Guildhall before the first of our Saga Ohio tournaments. Hopefully, we'll get a great turnout as players get one last chance to try out the scenarios before Advance the Colors 2021.