Thursday, October 27, 2022

Big Stompy Robots playtest (or BattleSuit Alpha)

    Attacking Mechs (aka Big Stompy Robots) advance towards the moonbase that is our objective
I have to admit, I never played Battletech - that game with giant robots blasting away at each other in the distant future. Robots? Yes, I know that some versions of it envision a man inside the suit, ala the Matrix and "Knuckle up!" Either way, it was never something I bought figures for nor remember playing. So, when Keith and Andy in our Sunday night gamers group expressed a desire to try the Wiley Games version of Big Stompy Robots, aka BattleSuit Alpha, a try, I wasn't jumping up and down in joy, but nor was I saying "Not for me!"

    Wiley Games now makes custom decks for their various rules sets with special rules printed on each
So far, we have given a number of the Wiley Games rules a try. It began when Andy ran their Western game, Fistful of Lead. Then, I ran my post-Apocalyptic game with the Core Rules - their generic rules for any period. Next, Keith ran their Starfighters game with X-wings and TIE fighters (and various other space ships from the Star Wars universe). I was worried that we would end up doing so many games with Wiley Games rules that it wouldn't feel like we were playing the PERIOD, but were instead just playing Wiley Games. I remember many years ago when we were playing Hordes of The Things (HOTT) a decent amount, we began experimenting using those rules for all kinds of periods. One of our Sunday night gamers at the time, Zeke, exploded one evening and said, "Not EVERY GAME is a version of HOTT!" He had a point, and after that we cooled off on the ancient galley wars version of HOTT, the spaceship version of HOTT, and so on.

    Andy, right, was one of the organizers of the game - here he watches to ensure Allen doesn't cheat :)
Now, in our playing of Starfighters, we found it DID have a completely different feel than either Andy's Western or my post-Apocalyptic game. Basic mechanics were similar (which isn't bad), but the feel of the game was different. There were enough different special or extra rules mechanics that made it feel sufficiently different. Would Big Stompy Robots be a bridge too far, though? No, as we discovered, it did not. There was enough of a different feel that it felt like we were gaming a period. Granted, it is not a period that I am overly familiar with, so I am not a good judge of it. However, both Keith and Andy are fans of stompy robots and pronounced themselves pleased with it. 

    In Wiley Games, figures like this patriotic mech, can take damage (orange cubes) or shock (counter)
What's more, I had fun with it. I felt like tactics made sense. I felt the weapons differences led you to moving your troops a certain way on the tabletop. We each commanded three mechs each, and felt perhaps we should have started with two. It did take awhile to set up the game, though, so perhaps that was the reason we were slow out of the gate. The scenario Keith set up made sense but there was no way we could game it to conclusion in the time we had. No fault of his. I like that he came up with a scenario rather than just say it was a standard clash with two groups fighting each other.

    My Light Mech grabs some cover, hoping combined with its 'Nimble' trait would make it hard to hit
We plan on playing another game of BattleSuit Alpha soon. Originally, it was going to be the very next Sunday. However, noticing that it was the day before Halloween, I suggested we resurrect Reign in Hell for a Halloween themed game. So, demons and cabals are on the table next time! It has been a LONG time since we did this. It'll be a one-off game, not another chapter of our aborted attempt at a campaign. So, keep an eye on this space for another descent into some Hellish miniature gaming!

    An overview of the battlefield as the Attackers (bottom) advance on the Defending Mechs

    A force of three Mechs heads towards the cover in hopes of getting shots at the enemy

    I really like the idea of custom decks for this game -- special rules for types of cards printed on them make for a great reminder (especially for newer players)

Monday, October 24, 2022

Colombian Leftists & Paramilitaries Squeeze Narco Gang in Medellin

    Leftist guerrillas close in on the Mini-Mart where most of the Narcos are holed up in my ATC game
Ever since my visit this summer to Medellin, Colombia, I'd been fascinated by wargaming a conflict in that violence-plagued city with my Wars of Insurgency rules. Although things are peaceful there now, for decades there was war raging in the streets and hills above this densely-populated, South American city in the highlands. Left-wing guerrillas controlled the barrios -- or communas as they are called there -- that sprawl up the slopes above downtown Medellin. Right-wing paramilitaries, often sent by the government or on their own behest to attempt to drive them from the ramshackle (and illegal) settlements. When the drug trade put its stamp on Colombia's civil war, this added another violent twist to the conflict.

    Bob & Heidi, center, being squeezed by the Leftists (on the left) and paramilitaries (on the right)
My idea for a scenario for a wargame set in Medellin would be a push by the paramilitaries to clear out the guerrillas from one of the communas. The catch was they happen to choose a day when a strong narco gang was present in that barrio, guarding a drug shipment. It was supposed to be a chaotic, three-way clash with the left and right fighting over territory on the board while the narcos fired on whoever got too close to their shipment. The narcos advantage is they have heavier cover with the market building and stone huts, while their disadvantage is they are in the middle of the board. Leftists guerrillas start at one of the short sides of the 6'x4' table and the right-wing paramilitaries at the opposite. How would it play out? Would it truly play out as three-sided clash, or would two gang up on one?

    Heidi's Narco gang members jump out of cover to take a tempting shot at paramilitaries in the open
We all know how gamers can find a way to throw a curve ball in any scenario -- especially at conventions with people you may not be as familiar with. In our playtest with our Sunday evening crew, Jenny and I played the Narcos. We both agreed that we opened up on the guerrillas and paramilitaries too early. We should have let them get closer to each other. As it was, with only our narcos in effective range, they fired back on us and almost never let up. I rearranged the terrain a bit for the convention game, which I hoped would beef up the Narcos chances because Jenny and I got decimated.

    One squad of paramilitaries advances through the creek, taking advantage of better cover

It turned out that my changes to the deployment, mission briefings, and victory points for Advance the Colors 2022 didn't make much of a difference. Heidi, who was playing one of the two Narco positions, jumped out of hidden status and opened up on the paramilitaries right away. Her partner in crime, Bob, was a bit more circumspect. He waited a turn or two longer before shooting at the guerrillas as they crossed a bit of open ground. Almost the same thing happened at the convention that had happened at our Sunday night game. The paramilitaries and guerrillas blazed away at the hapless Narcos, slowly whittling them down. The Narcos had their successes and gunned down many leftists and paramilitaries. However, the attrition coming back on them was too much in the long run.

    Leftist guerrillas (using my 20mm Cuban figures from Liberation Minis) advance through the jungle
Next time I run this, I will likely tweak the terrain and even the starting forces a bit more. I think the scenario still has potential for a fun day or evening of gaming. Plus, the period is a fascinating one and a change of pace from my usual sub-Saharan Africa games. Luckily, I could field this game with the figures I have painted up, already. My Rhodesian/South Africans stood in as the paramilitaries. My Cubans made good leftist guerrillas, and for the Narcos, I used my African militia in civilian clothing. Unfortunately, the 20mm figures I used for my modern warfare games, have become hard to find. Anyone who's had luck in ordering from RH Models (Liberation Miniatures), I'd be eager to hear from you!

    The Narcos hunker down on the roof of the Mini-Mart, keeping an eye on their drug shipments
As always, it was a cinch to explain the rules and the players picked it up quickly. In fact, I find that as GM I often need to be LESS helpful when the players are doing their early shooting attacks. Let them walk their way through the modifiers on their own (while paying attention, of course). Once they have calculated their own shooting attack and saving roll, they have the rules down. Wars of Insurgency is meant to be a fast-play, easy-to-learn set of rules. Players are taking care of their own turns and I need only to focus on reminding folks who's up next. 

    The paramilitaries close in on the market area while taking advantage of the cover of a stand of trees
Speaking of which, for this six-player game, I experimented with running it as three teams of two players each, rather than six individual factions to move. When the Leftists were up, both John and Michael would each activate their next unit simultaneously. This cut down dramatically on the wait time for your next turn and the game seemed to flow quickly. That's encouraging and may allow me to try an 8-player, four team game one of these days. My games seem to fill up quickly, and I always feel bad for the folks who get closed out, but wanted to play. Plus, if I have an odd number, then either I can help out one faction or one more experienced player can run both player positions of his or her faction. I'm interested to see how that goes!

Center market area of the communa, with Narcos & Leftists scrambling for cover as gunfire breaks out

   Leftist guerrillas near one of the shacks they had to defend from the paramilitaries

    One squad advances past an area of dense brush while another clears one of the communa's shacks

    Leftists John & Michael advance towards the center as their opponents keep an eye on them

    Narcos pause as they file past the 'Morning Crower' - do the papers talk about their exploits??

    'That's close enough!' a Narco squad declares as they defend their shipment in the red pickup

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Two Dozen Warlords Wage Battle at ATC 2022 Saga Tourney

    Joe M's Gallic chariots ride towards the enemy at the ATC 2022 Saga tournament
At one point it looked like we had 30 players confirmed for the Saga Ohio Advance the Colors 2022 Tournament. However, a Covid outbreak in the Fort Wayne group lost us a batch of players, and a couple others here and there had something pop up and couldn't attend. Still, 24 players was a nice turnout, and shows that Saga is thriving in this area. There was a great batch of prizes from sponsors including Gripping Beast, Jarl's Workshop, Father and Son Gaming, Game Table Adventures, and Saga Ohio. So, all players went home with a prizes, and the top finishers nabbed two.

    We had 24 players with a variety of armies for the ATC 2022 Saga tourney - up from 16 last year
After three rounds of battle, the field was narrowed to just two undefeated players -- the Anglo-Danish army commanded by D. J. Andrews from the Indianapolis area, and Daniel Broaddus from northwest Ohio, who fielded Vandals. The tie breakers after won-loss record was scenario points scored, and wouldn't you know it? Daniel and D.J. ended up with an identical 76 points, so were declared tournament co-champions! Although players traveled from Ohio, Indiana, California, and Canada to attend, they were a gracious and fun group to the man. I think I had fewer than a dozen rules questions to field as GM, which gave me plenty of time to roam around, take pictures, and join in on the camaraderie. Saga players are not your typical wargame tournament players, by most peoples' opinion. They are much more sporting, much more helpful, and willing to laugh off bad die rolls. 

    Adrian J and his Anglo-Saxons clash with Randy W's Vikings in Round 2 of the tournament
A good half of the players who attended were from our base "Saga Ohio" group. This enabled me to unofficially pool the players into two sets, which I called Home and Visitors. For the first round, I arranged both the Home and Visitor group from first to last in time period, beginning with the Age of Hannibal armies and going through Age of Crusades. I then cross-paired them, so Age of Hannibal armies were fighting other early period armies and Crusader armies were likewise fighting period enemies. Not only did this provide historical matchups regularly, it also ensure that players got to meet and game against new opponents. I continued this into the second round, too, with Home Winners vs. Visitor Winners, and Home Loser vs. Visitor Losers. Obviously, things did not work out evenly in wins and losses all three rounds. But in the final round at the "top tables" saw Daniel Broaddus (NW Ohio "visitor") against last year's defending champion Adrian John (Dayton). At the next table were D.J. Andrews (Indianapolis "Visitor") against Saga Ohio regular Joe Dihrkop, who had won one game and tied one. In the end, the visitors won both of those games, so the Saga Ohio crowd did not repeat last year's victory. Great competition and lots of close games all the way through all three rounds, though!

    Rusty Parker's Scots fared well in the tournament, carrying their Pictish banner into battle
I think the players enjoyed facing new opponents and meeting new people. I know I would be disappointed to drive several hours and end up facing my regular group from back home two to three times! It seemed like everyone was getting along well, which is honestly what most of us have come to expect from Saga. Another thing players likely enjoyed was the variety of armies players brought to the tournament. All four books were represented, though roughly half were from Age of Vikings. Here is a list of the armies that competed this year:

  • Gauls
  • Republican Roman
  • Sassanid Persian
  • Romans
  • Vandals
  • Irish
  • Last Romans (2)
  • Scots
  • Anglo-Saxon (3)
  • Anglo-Danes
  • Viking (3)
  • Jomsviking (3)
  • Normans (2)
  • Polish
  • Ordenstaat
  • Byzantine


    I did my best to arrange matchups so players were matched against people from a different area
The first round was A Tale of Challenges from Book of Battles. I announced it early in the tournament packet, hoping players would get a chance to try out the scenario. There are a lot of subtleties with some challenges working better for some types of armies and others not being as good of choices for them. I was worried that someone would succeed on all four of their challenges and build a relatively insurmountable lead (assuming they won all three of their games). That didn't happen, though, which scores being very low and very close, for the most part. There were plenty of failed challenges, and some games where the player who was edged out on Massacre Points actually won the game once the challenges were factored in. 

    Joe M, left, lines up his Gallic army to face Tourney co-champion Daniel B and his Anglo-Danes
I did go with preset terrain again this year. I felt the 10-15 minutes lost setting up terrain in each round would come back to bite me with unfinished games. As it was, even with preset terrain, every round there were games that did not finish in the allotted two hours. I think most people realize that in the gaming world there are some people who play faster and some who play a bit slower. That's fine. That's one of the main reasons I do preset terrain. Plus, I think it is a good tactical challenge to not always play on terrain that is at least partially of your own choice. I tried to be fair to both foot and mounted armies, though. One round featured relatively "heavy" terrain with five pieces (Tale of Challenges). The second round was "light" with three pieces (Wrath of the Gods). The final round (Clash of Warlords) was medium, with four pieces. I sent my tentative terrain maps off to a number of very experienced Saga players from across the world, who I knew would not be attending, to get their input. So, thanks to Rodge, Monty, Joe, and Mark for your feedback!

    Bob B's Last Romans take possession of a pagan idol during the Wrath of the Gods scenario, round 2
For those unfamiliar with the Wrath of the Gods scenario, it was developed by Joe of Northern Tempest Saga Podcast fame. It features a diagonal array of objective markers across the center of the table. Control of a marker at the start of your turn allows you to force the enemy player to remove one of their figures of their choice. The enemy loses one figure per objective marker you control, so it encourages players to advance and contest them. Like A Tale of Challenges, it uses Massacre Points for scoring scenario victory. In fact, all three games used Massacre Points. I did that on purpose because I wanted players to have their primary objective be to destroy the enemy's army. I even warned players in the pre-tourney briefing that skirmishing and getting slightly ahead then withdrawing the reset of the game would be counter-productive. This type of tactic would almost certainly ensure you ended up ranked below other players of a similar record. This was also intentional. I can think of no type of Saga game less satisfying than one against a player who scores an early success and then spends the rest of the game falling back from the enemy and evading any attempts to come to grips. 

    Steve P, left, one of the original founders of Saga Ohio, flew in from California & faces Bob B
The third and final round was Clash of Warlords. I know some veteran players don't like it as they feel it encourages defensive play. I have yet to notice that in our games here in Saga Ohio territory. What's more, players knew there would likely be others with the exact same record as them (even if they went 3-0), so they would need to score more Massacre Points to win. I also feel it is the scenario that Saga players are most familiar with, so it levels the playing field a bit in the final round. With no special scenario rules, it is your army against your opponent's. No advantage is given to mounted, armies good in terrain, or whatever.

    Norman cavalry charges into Viking infantry - we had 2 Norman armies & 3 Viking ones this year
 So, how did the two dozen warlords and their armies finish? Here are the final standings:

  • (Co-champion) D.J. Andrews, Anglo-Danes, 3-0, 76 points
  • (Co-champion) Daniel Broaddus, Vandals, 3-0, 76 points
  • #3 Adrian John, Anglo-Saxon, 2-1, 67 points
  • #4 Dave Eblin, Romans, 2-1, 64 points
  • #5 Bob Boggs, Byzantine, 2-1, 62 points
  • #6 Anthony Adams, Norman, 2-1, 57 points
  • #7 Doug Dunn, Irish, 2-1, 48 points
  • #8 Rusty Parker, Scots, 2-1, 46 points
  • #9 Steve Phallen, Jomsviking, 1-0-2, 68 points
  • #10 Dan Neal, Polish, 1-0-2, 54 points
  • #11 Jim Randall, Last Romans, 1-1-1, 75 points
  • #12 (tie) Joe Dihrkop, Ordenstaat, 1-1-1, 72 points
  • #12 (tie) Joe Merz, Gauls, 1-1-1, 72 points
  • #14 Benjamin Barber, Jomsviking, 1-1-1, 65 points
  • #15 Jason Stelzer, Last Romans, 1-1-1, 64 points
  • #16 James Tolbert, Vikings, 0-1-2, 68 points
  • #17 Jim Beegan, Jomsviking, 0-1-2, 54 points
  • #18 Philip Knapke, Sassanid Persian, 1-2, 48 points
  • #19 Andy Swingle, Republican Roman, 1-2, 46 points
  • #20 Randy Wapperom, Viking, 1-2, 36 points
  • #21 Scott McPheeters, Anglo-Saxons, 1-2, 34 points
  • #22 Bob French, 0-2-1, Norman, 55 points
  • #23 Lowell Lufkin, 0-3, Anglo-Saxon, 39 points
  • #24 Jason Viner, 0-3, Vikings, 20 points

    Jason V, left, squares off against Philip K and his Sassanid Persians in round 2
I was very pleased at how smoothly the tournament ran. Each round, there were one or two battles that went to cut-off time. The majority seemed to finish within the allotted two hours, though. Still, I may look into adding 15 minutes to each of the rounds next time I run a tournament. I think that would be enough to ensure most games finish. 

    A closeup of Philip K's Sassanid Persian cavalry and elephant
Here are the results of each round.


  • Joe Dihrkop's Ordenstaat defeated Bob French's Normans, 38-18
  • Jim Randall's Last Romans defeated James Tolbert's Vikings, 31-20
  • Adrian John's Anglo-Saxons defeated Scott McPheeters' Anglo-Saxons, 26-(-6)
  • Rusty Parker's Scots defeated Philip Knapke's Sassanid Persians, 26-8
  • Daniel Broaddus' Vandals defeated Joe Merz's Gauls 26-19
  • Dave Eblin's Romans defeated Jason Viner's Vikings, 22-3
  • Dan Neal's Polish defeated Benjamin Barber's Jomsvikings, 21-18
  • D.J. Andrews' Anglo-Danes defeated Lowell Lufkin, Anglo-Saxons, 20-2
  • Bob Boggs's Byzantines defeated Anthony Adams' Normans, 19-11
  • Randy Wapperom's Vikings defeated Jason Stelzer's Last Romans, 17-15
  • Andy Swingle's Republican Romans defeated Doug Dunn's Irish, 13-7
  • Steve Phallen's Jomsvikings tied Jim Beegan's Jomsvikings, 22-22

- Notice the relatively low scores. Most winners were in the 20s, with only two of 12 games seeing someone score in the 30s. I think that was because of the high number of failed challenges. My "historical" ordering of the armies in the Home and Visitor slots meant we had two "civil wars," with Anglo-Saxons fighting each other and Jomsvikings doing the same. 

    The spacious Clark County Fairgrounds were a comfortable venue for the ATC 2022 tourney


  • D.J. Andrews' Anglo-Danes defeated Jim Randall's Last Romans, 31-16
  • Philip Knapke's Sassanid Persians defeated Jason Viner's Vikings, 30-8
  • Steve Phallen's Jomsvikings defeated Bob Boggs Byzantines, 30-23
  • Adrian John's Anglo-Saxons defeated Randy Wapperom's Vikings, 27-7
  • Daniel Broaddus' Vandals defeated Andy Swingle's Republican Romans, 26-12
  • Doug Dunn's Irish defeated Lowell Lufkin's Anglo-Saxons, 25-14
  • Jason Stelzer's Last Romans defeated Scott McPheeters' Anglo-Saxons, 21-17 
  • Anthony Adams' Normans defeated Jim Beegan's Jomsvikings, 17-10
  • Rusty Parker's Scots defeated Dave Eblin's Romans, 14-8
  • Joe Merz's Gauls tied Benjamin Barber's Jomsvikings, 20-19
  • James Tolbert's Vikings tied Bob French's Normans, 26-25
  • Joe Dihrkop's Ordenstaat tied Dan Neal's Polish, 17-16

- Three ties in round 2! Like Clash of Warlords, Wrath of the Gods requires you to beat the enemy by three points or more. Also, the Yin-Yang map dynamic of this game perhaps encouraged more static play with each player holding the objective closer to their deployment and contesting only the center one. I would be interested hearing from those who tied and seeing if that is the case, or whether they were just close, hard-fought battles.

    A Norman civil war! Bob F, left, contests the right to rule in Normandy against Anthony A


  • Dave Eblin's Romans defeated Randy Wapperom's Vikings, 34-12
  • Joe Merz's Gauls defeated Lowell Lufkin's Anglo-Saxons, 33-23
  • Anthony Adams' Normans defeated Bob French's Normans, 29-12
  • Benjamin Barber's Jomsvikings defeated Andy Swingle's Republican Romans, 28-21
  • D.J. Andrews' Vandals defeated Joe Dihrkop's Ordenstaat, 25-17
  • Daniel Broaddus' Anglo-Danes defeated Adrian John's Anglo-Saxons, 24-14
  • Scott McPheeters' Anglo-Saxons defeated Jason Viner's Vikings, 23-9
  • Bob Boggs' Byzantines defeated Rusty Parkers's Scots, 20-6
  • Doug Dunn's Irish defeated Philip Knapke's Sassanid Persians, 16-10
  • Jim Randall's Last Romans tied Jason Stelzer's Last Romans, 28-28
  • James Tolbert's Vikings tied Jim Beegan's Jomsvikings, 22-22
  • Steve Phallen's Jomsvikings tied Dan Neal's Polish, 16-17

 - Hmmm, three more ties this round! Obviously, I would rather have wins and losses for tournament purposes. I'm not so sure it is all that unusual in Saga, though. Two of the three ties appear to have been absolute slugfests. Jason and Jim were charging and fought melee after melee. Ending in a tie seems more the result of a closely-matched game rather than a flawed scenario. In Saga Ohio, we have a lot of players who chose to play Clash of Warlords because they are either teaching a new player or learning a new army or simply wanting a relatively simple game. We have nowhere near 25% ties, so I don't think Clash of Warlords or Wrath of the Gods are flawed because of the having to win by three rule. I think it was simply a result of close contests and great play by both warlords.

    Age of Viking armies continued to be the most popular, though all 4 books were represented
 All in all, the Saga tournament was a great success. My goal this year was to grow the tourney from its 16 players in 2021 to at least 24 in 2022. Flirting with 30 for a few weeks certainly got my hopes up for a record-breaking turnout. However, I am happy with the results and this gives me the chance to shoot for thirty next year! Feel free to comment with any questions, or contact me directly.

   Doug D, left, drove from Canada & brought his son along to learn the game - this one against Andy S

    A closeup of Doug's Irish and their gorgeous banner - the Irish fared well, going 2-1

    All the players were friendly and sportsmanlike, and to a man said they had a good time

    James T, left, and his Vikings face off against Jim B and his Jomsvikings in Clash of Warlords

   Dan N's Polish army forms their battle lines in Round 3 of the tournament

    Lowell L, left, deploys against Tourney co-champion D.J. Andrews from Indiana

    Foot knights from Joe D's Ordenstaat (Teutonic knights) enter a woods to close with the enemy