Sunday, September 06, 2015

Fantasy Warriors

Around the Labor Day holiday I had some extra days off from work, so on a lark I decided to break out my old Fantasy Warriors miniatures and have a go at a solitaire game.  It is close to 20 years since I last played this game (most likely against my brother, Mark, in the commons room in New Hall at Missouri State University).  Anyway, over the years I have had the orcs and dwarves that came in the base game box painted, and I picked up a few other minis as well, so I was able to put a fully painted set of miniatures on the table.  This also gave me a chance to break out the old Geo-Hex game mat that I picked up about 15 years ago when I was in Arlington, VA.  I haven't used that thing since I moved away, but it is still in good shape.

I went with 800 point armies for both sides.  The orcs had one warchief and one battle leader, each commanding two units.  The orcs also had a hero and a courier.  The dwarves had a warchief and two battle leaders.  One of the battle leaders had two units under him, and the other only one.  The dwarves also had a hero.

Unlike many other fantasy miniatures wargames, Fantasy Warriors has a pretty busy pre-battle phase where you can try to outscout your opponent, read omens of the upcoming battle, etc.  In this battle, both armies sent one command out scouting, and both read the omens.  The orcs won (barely) the scouting contest, so the orc side set up the terrain and picked what side they wanted to enter from.  However, because they didn't outmaneuver the dwarves, the dwarf player could roll dice to see if he could move terrain pieces, and 3 of the five terrain pieces got moved to block out the orcs.  This became quite important later.  As far as the omens went, the orcs had favorable omens, and the dwarves had unfavorable omens.  The orc warchief also boasted that he needed no bodyguard, so as long as he never joined a unit the orcs would have a morale advantage.  Also, the game started in stage 4 of the night.  This matters to the orcs, because they don't do well during the day.  With that settled, the initial placement was done, and the game started.

View of the starting battlefield from the dwarven side.

On the first turn not much happened.  Any commands that are sent scouting start the battle with HOLD orders, so they can't move.  The orc warchief sent his courier with attack orders to the scouting orcs, while the Dwarven warchief had to hoof it over to his scouting command all by himself.  Do you know that dwarves in heavy armor are slow?  They are slow.  This warchief should have picked up a courier, as well.

The scouting orcs watching the dwarves while they await new orders.

On turn two the scouting orcs received their attack orders, but there was some miscommunication and they were delayed.  This is another cool thing about the Fantasy Warriors game (though also a potentially frustrating thing).  To mimic the incomplete command control that would occur in a medieval setting, your commands don't automatically receive your orders.  You roll a die and check the leadership rating of the battle leader to see what they do.  Sometimes they accept new orders, and sometimes they don't.  So skimping on points by getting a leader with a low rating can sometimes ruin your game for you.

After turn two.

Turn three saw the dwarven elite axemen advance under OPPOSE orders towards the central woods.  In retrospect, this was pretty stupid.  They should have waited however long it took for the other dwarves to get their new orders, but I was thinking that they could use the trees for cover.  That kind of worked, but not really.

On turn four, the dwarven warchief finally got to this battle leader and he tried to give new orders, but the dwarven battle leader was confused so no new orders were received.  See, when you only have level 2 leaders (out of a range of 1 - 5), sometimes they are dumb.  The orcs have finally gotten going with their ATTACK order for the scouting party, so things are moving.

The dwarven axemen have reached the woods, and now realize that they are going to get surrounded.

On turn five the dwarven battle leader finally figures out what his boss has been trying to tell him, and the main dwarven force chugs into motion.  The dwarven axes realize that they are in trouble and start backing away from the approaching orcs, but the orcs are faster than they are so they are in in a spot of bother.  It is now daylight, so the orcs are at a disadvantage for shooting and morale checks.

On turn six the orc archer units get into position to shoot some dwarven axemen, but the dwarven crossbow unit has finally found its range, as well.
The dwarves are not retreating fast enough!

On turn seven, stuff started to happen, just not the way that I thought it would.  Things started out looking rough for our dwarves...

That's a lot of incoming arrows...

...but, as it turns, dwarven heavy armor is pretty tough, and after rolling a total of 26 attacks against the doughty dwarves, not one of them fell.  I can't say the same for our orc archers.  See these guys?  They aren't gonna stick around very long.

Note the lack of heavy armor on the orc archers.

While the dwarves were shrugging off 26 arrow shots, a barrage of seven crossbow shots managed to kill three of the eight orc archers in this unit, including the unit leader.  So what did the rest of the orc archers do?  They ran away.  Yes, the routed immediately!

End of turn seven.  The orc bodyguard are now looking quite exposed to dwarven crossbow fire, while the orc spearmen are moving towards the woods, because why should they move around and get shot, too?

On turn eight, things went a bit more evenly.  The orc archers rounding the far side of the woods were able to kill two of the axemen, but two of the orc bodyguard, including the unit leader, fell to crossbow bolts.  When rolling to see what the reaction of the dwarves was to losing some soldiers, I rolled that they went into bloodlust!  This almost never happens with dwarves (which are quite disciplined, normally).  This status overrides their OPPOSE orders, and means that they are going to charge right into the nearest foes.  Which are these lightly armored archers that just shot their mates.

So, just maybe, upsetting the angry dwarves was a bad idea.

I later realized that I messed up when I rolled a reaction for the dwarves.  The axemen had 12 miniatures in the unit, and you only roll for a reaction when missile fire kills at least 25% of the fugures.  That is 3, for those of you doing the math at home, not 2.  Oops.

Things are about to get sticky.  On turn nine the orc bodyguards got tired of getting killed at range, so they headed towards the woods, as well.  The bloodlusting dwarves headed right towards the orc archers, which had ATTACK orders, so they weren't going to run away or anything smart like that.  The orc spears got nice and cozy in the woods, but that also slowed them down, so they were never going to be able to save their archer friends in time.

So close, yet so far away.

The dwarven axemen then moved in and murdered the archers.  They lost two more soldiers to melee combat, but they killed seven of the 10 orc archers outright, and the rest routed right off the field.  This caused the orc army to make a command check, and they developed problems.  The bodyguard became shaken, while the orc spears became disorganized, which means they have to give up movement for a turn while they get themselves sorted out.  This really screw up the orcs' ability to try to salvage this battle, since they can't even maneuver themselves while they get shot up.

End of turn 9.  Not looking good for the greenskins.

On turn 10, the dwarven axes left bloodlust (thanks to their battle leader having good leadership, and not rolling a "1"), the dwarven spears moved up while the orcs could only organize themselves, and the dwarven crossbows shot and killed the orc hero!  On the positive side for the orcs, it is night again.

On turn 11 everyone got themselves into position for the big scrum, and the dwarven crossbows kept killing orc bodyguards.  The orc warchief had to negate his boast to get the bodyguards out of shaken status, so now instead of having +1 morale for his successful boast, his army is at -1 because everyone knows he is a liar.

Here it comes...

Turn twelve saw me make another mistake.  The orcs spears managed a grand total of one kill on the dwarven spears, but it was on a special!  They chose the dwarven warchief, hoping to kill him and make the dwarves run away.  Unfortunately for them, the warchief made his saving throw, so the orcs killed nobody.  The dwarves stabbed two of the orcs.  My mistake here is that I didn't have orc spears make a morale check.  In missile fire you only check for morale if you lose 25% or more of the unit.  In melee, you should check after every turn, whether you win or lose the battle.  That probably would have made the orcs flee right away.  As it went, they stuck around for two more turns, enough time for the surviving bodyguard to close with the dwarven crossbows.

A fine scrum.


By turn 14, the dwarven axemen had rounded the flank of the orc spears, which lost seven soldiers in that turn.  They lost their nerve and routed, and the remaining two bodyguards and the orc warchief routed when they saw that all the rest of the orcs had run away.

The orcs suffered a crushing defeat, as all of their units routed off the field of battle, and all of the dwarven units and individuals were still standing.

In retrospect, there is no way that this battle should have taken 14 turns, that is crazy.  I had some bad initial unit placements, and then everyone had troubles with receiving new orders (because the battle leaders had bad leadership), which just delayed things further.  If the orcs had rolled better for their initial arrow volleys they might have been able to knock out the axemen, but overall they were pretty lame.  But, I had fun.  It was enjoyable to revisit this old game and to get some use out of all of these figures I've hauled halfway across the country and back in various moves.  Maybe I can get some use out of all those old Warhammer plastic human troops I've had for 12 years and see how they handle an orc horde...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

10 x 10 Boardgame Challenge at BGG

I have created my new blog at Board Game Geek and have started recording play results.  So, if you care about that kind of thing, kindly head over here to follow along.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Hold the Line

Hold the Line is a two player war game simulating battles from the American Revolutionary War.  The game uses a 13x9 hex board.  The base hexes reflect open terrain, but the game comes with dozens of terrain tiles that can be placed on the board to change the terrain.  Each scenario describes how to set up the board to reflect the terrain for the battle you will fight.  The scenarios also describe how to set up the starting forces for each side.

There are a few different units in the game: line infantry, light infantry, militia, cavalry, artillery, elite infantry, and leaders.  Units are differentiated by their morale, range, and movement ability.  Line infantry are the toughest units in the game, but don't move fast.  Light infantry can move twice as fast but aren't as tough.  Artillery can get eliminated with only two hits, but have longer range.  And so on.  Each unit has its uses, and knowing when to move what type of unit into position is important.

Combat is simple.  Whenever a unit fires, it rolls three six-sided dice.  At maximum range (two hexes for all units except artillery, which has a three hex range) you inflict a hit with a "6."  At short range (one hex for all units except artillery, which is shart at two hexes away) you inflict a hit with a "5" or a "6."  Artillery at range one hits on a "4," "5," or "6" on a die.  A unit can also fight in close combat, but that takes two actions instead of one.  This gives the attacker a greater chance to hit, and may retreat the defending unit from their space.

Let's talk about those actions.  Each turn a player gets a number of actions as dictated by the scenario, plus a random number of actions (between 1 and 3) from the roll of a special die.  You can spend actions to move units, have units fire at enemies, and have leaders rally units (removing hits suffered from combat).  You can only take one action with a unit per turn, so you sometimes have to decide if it makes more sense to fire with a unit, or move it into a better position, or have a leader rally it to improve its staying power.

The scenario that you are playing will tell you what you need to do in order to win.  Usually, one side is trying to earn a specific number of victory points.  You score victory points by eliminating enemy units and capturing victory point markers on the board within a specified number of turns.  The scenario instructions will also describe any special rules used in the scenario.

Overall the game plays pretty well, and you can play most scenarios in 60 to 90 minutes.  I do have two quibbles with the game, though.  First, the game only comes with four victory point counters.  These serve double duty, indicating victory point locations on the board and marking total victory points earned for each side on the victory point track.  If you have to have three or more victory point markers on the map, then you don't have enough to mark earned points on the victory point track.  A minor problem, to be sure, but it was annoying.  A potentially larger problem is that the rules do not describe how to capture victory point markers on the map.  Do you have to close combat them?  Can you just use a standard move to move right over them?  Do you have to end your movement on that hex, or can a light infantry or cavalry unit capture multiple victory point markers in one turn?  It turns out that you just move over them to capture them, but that should have been in the rules.

Overall, this is an entertaining little game that fills a niche in my collection.  While not perfect, the variety of scenarios gives it a lot of replay-ability, and the length means that I don't have to blow an entire weekend to play it.  There is also an expansion that adds scenarios from the French and Indian War.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Kaiser's Pirates

The next game from my collection is one that I am pretty conflicted about.  I had high hopes for The Kaiser's Pirates when I got it, as I thought that a game about World War I commerce raiding had a lot of potential for fun.  However, the game isn't really what I originally thought that it would be.  Instead of one player playing the German raiders and another playing the shipping and associated escort ships, all players play both sides.

At the start of the game you create a deck of Action Cards, including 20 cards for each player (the game handles up to 4 players).  The action cards restrict what the players can do (as you have to play a card with that action on it to take a specific action), and the action deck acts as the game timer, as the game ends when someone pulls the last card from the deck.  Each player is dealt six action cards to start.  Each player also gets three German raider and/or warship cards, and three Merchant cards.  These ship cards are placed face up on the table in front of the player.  During the game, each player tries to sink the other player's ships using their own ships.  Each ship is worth a set amount of points (printed on the card), and sinking that ship gets you those points.  You can also sometimes capture a ship instead, which then is worth double points if you can have it survive until the end of the game.

Each action card can be played as an "Intercept!" action (which lets you attack other ships), or for its stated action, which might aid an attack, provide for additional defensive actions when one of your ships is attacked, or provide some other effect (taking cards or ships from another player, for example).  You can play as many cards as you want on your turn, but you only get to draw one card per turn, so some turns it can make sense to take no actions and just draw a card.

Combat is handled by rolling a number of dice and taking the highest number.  For example, a raider attacking a merchant might roll a green D8 and a red D4 to attack.  Both dice are rolled, and the highest individual number is taken.  The ship being attacked will then roll their defense dice.  The numbers are compared.  If the attacker number is higher than the defender number, but does not double the defense number, then the defending ship is damaged, and gets a red cube on it.  If the attacker doubles the defender's number, then the ship is sunk and the attacker takes that card for scoring purposes.  If a merchant ship is attacked but takes not damage at all, it can then try to make it safely to its destination by rolling dice as shown on the card.  The player with the merchant ship rolls the "Challenge" dice, and another player rolls the "Response" dice.  If the highest Challenge result is higher than the highest Response result, then the defending player scores that merchant ship instead.  Otherwise, the ship stays in play.

In certain situations you can also attack another player's raiders or warships by playing an "Intercept!" card for that purpose.  Each card has a set of attack dice listed on it to represent a generic British navy vessel, so the attacker rolls those dice and the defender rolls the defense dice for the targeted warship or raider and it works just like attacking a merchant vessel, except that the warship won't ever try to make it to a friendly port; if it isn't damaged, it just stays out there ready for action.  At the end of each player's turn everyone always draws enough new merchant cards to get them back to three.

Play proceeds around the table until the last card is drawn, and then points for sunken vessels and successfully escaped merchants are scored, and the highest player wins.  You can play just one round, but the game recommends that you play three rounds to determine the winner.

The game also includes a solitaire variant that uses a separate deck of cards to emulate the actions of another player.  This system involves a lot of dice rolling and card flipping, but it works fairly well.  Due to the random nature of the actions that the "programmed player" can take, you can get a massive flurry of actions like you would never get in a game against another physical player, but that shouldn't happen too many times.  I have used it and it works OK, though I prefer play against actual people.

So I really want to like this game, but I have a hard time doing so.  None of the people that I have played this game with liked it.  The fact that every player plays both sides at the same time just doesn't work for the people I game with.  So, this game hardly ever hits the table.  I will probably trade it away for something at some point; I just wish it was more fun than it is.  The theme has a lot of potential, but this doesn't quite get there for me.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Great War at Sea: Mediterranean

Great War at Sea: Mediterranean is the first game in a series of wargames published by Avalanche Press covering naval combat during, and around, the first world war.  This particular game focuses on historical actions in and around the Mediterranean (including Turks vs. Russians on the Black Sea), as well as encounters that could have happened, but didn't for a variety of reasons.

The game consists of two parts: strategic movement on maps covering the seas, and tactical combat on the Naval Tactical Map.  If you are playing a specific combat scenario then you only use the Tactical map.  Otherwise, you assign ships to fleets, put those fleet markers on the large map of the seas, and just move the fleet counters around.  Once ships come into contact and combat is initiated, then you move ships onto the Tactical map to fight it out.  There are basic and advanced combat rules, but the basic rules are boring, so I don't recommend using those.

Each scenario tells you what you are trying to accomplish.  You generally win by scoring more victory points than your opponent.  Victory points are obtained by sinking enemy ships and performing other actions (successfully laying mines in certain areas, bombarding an enemy port, delivering cargo to its destination safely, etc.).  You assign your ships provided by the scenario you are playing to one or more fleets, and then each fleet is given a specific order.  The trick is that most orders require you to pre-plan your movement.  This is done to simulate the lack of knowledge that admirals and captains had at the time.  Just because you can see the enemy fleet counter around Malta on the strategic map doesn't mean that your fleet captains would know those ships were there.  Thus, you can have two large fleets pass right by each other, though if they pass through the same space on the same turn there is a chance of contact.  Granted, some missions (e.g., the Intercept mission) gives you a much better chance of spotting enemy fleets, and you only have to plot movement two turns in advance, so you have a chance of catching your foe, especially if you can move faster and they are in restricted space.

The actual combat, even with the advanced rules, isn't complicated.  Ships have four weapons: primary guns, secondary guns, tertiary guns, and torpedoes.  Ship components have varying ranges of armor, such that maybe a battleships's hull can only be penetrated by primary guns, and everything smaller bounces off.  When you have an enemy ship in range, you roll a D6 and get a hit on a 6 with each gun you fire.  There are some modifiers that can increase your chance to hit.  If you get a hit, roll 2D6 on the gunnery table and see what you hit.  You can eliminate enemy guns, or do hull damage, or slow them down (engine damage), or you can score a critical hit.  With a critical hit you usually do multiple boxes of damage, up to 6(!!) hull points in one shot, which is enough to sink many ships in the game.  You keep moving around the map and slugging at each other until one side is able to flee or is eliminated.  Then the survivors go back to the strategic map to continue the scenario.

I am conflicted about this game.  While the basic mechanics work fine, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the pre-plotting for many of the fleet orders, and the combat system can really bog down with the rolling of dozens of dice.  Still, not a bad game, and you get a feeling for the naval tactics at the time.  Since this is the only game on its subject that I own, it stays in the collection.