Saturday 24 December 2011

Gladiators Ready! Awoogaaa!!!

Thursday also saw me in the arena trying out the Rvdis rules for Gladiator fights. There were five of us playing and three of us were new to the rules. I was controlling a heavily armoured Myrmillo gladiator, Kelly and JP were both running net and trident wielding Retiarii, Trev had a lightly armoured and fast moving Secutor, and Matt was using the walking tank Hoplomachus.

The game itself is thirty years old and kind of shows it. Big reference tables with lots of codes can be really off-putting for the newbie. The game is organised in four round sequences with each character having a different movement in each round depending on their level of movement; for example, my Myrmillo only had 2 movment in the first round and one in the rest, whilst the Retarius had 2 movement in the first and third rounds and so was more mobile.

Combat is where the game shines with players having to nominate where they are feinting at and then secretly writing down where they will really attack (you choice is limited by where you feint at). The defender, if they are allowed to defend, must secretly write down where they will defend. If the blow isn't blocked then the attacker has a percentage change of hitting and then damage is determined by a further dice roll and the defender's armour.

Overall, I personally think that the game is good, if clunky. There are too many different tables and charts and stages for the game to flow freely unless you know it really well, and so the game is rather slow. I don't think that a gladiator ruleset is something I'll ever 'study', so I can't see this being remedied. However, the brinksmanship of the feint and block sequence is really good and prevents the game simply being a dice rolling contest as you weigh up the best place to attack or defend (always going for the weakest spot in your opponent's armour will usually find their shield in the way). With a little bit of streamlining and speeding up, this game could be quite addictive.

As for the game we played, JP's Retarius and Trev's Secutor made a beeline for each other, and Matt's Hoplomachus and Kelly's Retarius did the same and initially my poor Myrmillo was left to amble over to them slowly. Kelly found that although he could entangle Matt, he couldn't break through his armour, and JP and Trev sparred.

The deadlock was broken finally when half an hour later I made it into combat, and although I failed to stab JP's gladiator in the bottom, when Trev later turn his back on me I took his head off in one blow. What followed then was JP trying to dodge out of the way and entangle me, whilst I trudged wearily towards him (a bit like that scene in The Life of Brian). There was a bit of a hairy moment when my gladiator fell over and had to defend desperately for three rounds, however I got back off and the little Retard...sorry...Retarius ran away again.
However, our very slow chase sequence had brought us over to where Kelly and Matt were still dancing. Matt did actually manage to stab Kelly with his spear at one point, but not for a massive amount of damage. Whilst he was doing this I managed to sneakily lumber up behind him to get some free shots in, however, I failed to roll 80% three times!

As time was getting on we all bundled into one big fight to finish off. I once again failed to hurt JP, he failed to entangle Matt and Matt failed to hurt me. However, Kelly finally managed to stab Matt in his left shoulder (the Hoplomachus' only weak point) and kill him.

At that point we called it a day.

All in all an engrossing game, if a touch slow.

Friday 23 December 2011

Opening Salvo in the Struggle for Sheffield

Last night saw Matt and myself play the first game set in 'A Very British Civil War' using our adapted Necromunda rules. We played a variation of the Rescue scenario from the Necromunda rulebook; basically we mucked about with the deployment arrangements, deciding to use our entire forces and having Matt's table edge be replace with the cottage.

As a side note, before I begin, it was really nice to fill a table with scenery for once and make a really good looking table. As it happened, we only actually ended up using a quarter of the table, but it was really satisfying (is that weird?) to have a fantastic backdrop the the action.

1938 - Handsworth, Sheffield

Even before the Red Brigade's formation in Sheffield, the B.U.F. had never really enjoyed large scale support in South Yorkshire. When Mosely spoke at the City Hall in 1934, several thousand protesters voiced their dissatisfaction at his presence, and the party had less than a hundred uniformed members in the city.

Therefore, rather than launch a direct assault on this vitally important industrial city, the B.U.F. leadership in the north set about a recruitment and propaganda campaign around the outskirts of the city in an attempt to address the lack of manpower issue. It was as part of this drive that Recruitment Officer Heather Brown found herself knocking on a cottage door on the outskirts of Handsworth.

Little did the fascist femme fatale know that inside the cottage was the initial meeting of the Handsworth Volunteers, a local militia formed of war veterans who were determined to keep all armed factions, whatever their political leanings, out of their community.

Miss Brown was immediately 'arrested' for the crime of 'war-mongering' and placed in custody in the living room. Mrs Bean, the owner of the cottage provided the accused with tea and biscuits whilst the militiamen discussed how to proceed, completely unaware that their actions had been witnessed by Private Milligan (Miss Brown's escort) who now ran off to inform his superiors of the situation.

Realising that Miss Brown was unlikely to be alone, and that there were probably other fascists in the area, the Handsworth Volunteers placed sentries on the road and sent two men back to the village to fetch a car to move their prisoner to a more secure location.

Sure enough, Private Milligan returned with help in the form of Sergeant Jack Boot's squad of the South Yorkshire Cohort. One section moved up towards the cottage through some trees, whilst the section with the Lewis Gun set up on the hill. Sergeant Boot and a couple of men waited in a car with the engine running ready to dash in and race Miss Brown away from the scene should the opportunity arise.

The first that the less-than-alert sentries knew of presence of the B.U.F. was when a hail of gunfire wounded a couple and forced the rest to run for cover. The Handsworth men were only able to muster sporadic return fire.

However, the noise from outside brought the rest of the Handsworth men tumbling out of Mrs Bean's cottage with their stolen Lewis Guns and soon the shooting had escalated into a full scale fire fight.

With his men in the woods pinned down, Sergeant Boot realised that his initial daring plan would not come to fruition, so his section got out of the car and began to edge up the road using the vehicle as cover.

However, the local militia were able to counter this move with some well entrenched men returning fire from beyond the pig sty.

Soon the superior discipline of the Handsworth veterans began to tell and their accurate fire drove the fascists back through the trees and swept them from the hill.

Realising that his men were taking casualties without making much headway, Sergeant Boot regretfully gave the order to withdraw for the time being. However, he swore that he would find a way to free Miss Brown from the vile clutches of the socialist swine.

Despite the crushing defeat for the forces of fascism, the rules worked really well. The general lack of accuracy and relatively low casualty rate really captured the feeling of amateurs at war. The rather naturalistic terrain presented some real tactical dilemmas. Another success was the use of event cards (inspired by those on 6milphil's Adventures in Wargaming) which added a dash of humour as the opposing sides were helped and hindered by sudden downpours, impromptu cups of tea, crafty fags and a rogue nudie postcard.

In fact the only down side was that I've probably been a bit too restrictive with the faction 'gang' lists and Matt couldn't make his squad from the LDF list using the models he had and so he used the Regular Army list instead. At Matt's suggestion, I'm going to return to the faction lists and essentially make them more open but add flavour with a few special rules per faction.

Overall this was a really enjoyable game and something I'm sure we'll return to. I've already got plans to ambush the local yokels as they transport the fair Miss Brown back into Handsworth 'proper'.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Fascist Pigs!

I'm back. I've not been anywhere, I'm just conscious that the blog has been conspicuously quiet for a few weeks. The reasons for this are twofold, the Christmas Season and its inevitable work parties (which ALWAYS fall on a gaming night; have you noticed that?) have meant that I haven't played any games, and the general de-motivation I've been experiencing have meant that I ahven't done any painting either. Essentially, I've had nothing to write about.

So I decided to remedy both of those problems. Firstly, I've arranged a game of 'something' with Matt for Thursday and our first choice of game was one for which we neither had rules nor painted miniatures. If that's not motivation, then I don't know what is.

The game we're playing is 'A Very British Civil War,' an alternate history setting in which Edward VII did not abdicate and was forced by circumstance to ask Oswald Mosely, of the British Union of Fascists, to form a government, an act which propels Britain into civil war as the Church, the Communists and numerous other factions object to the 'new order'.

In terms of rules, we'll be using a variation of Necromunda I've been working on over the past couple of weeks. We decided to use these rules because a) we already know them, b) we wanted to keep the number of models required to a minimum and c) I've got a couple of articles from Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy which outline a variation of Legends of the Old West for the setting and it was easy to convert to Necromunda.

So with out further ado; here are my Fascists. Sergeant Jack Boot's company of the South Yorkshire Cohort and their best pamphleteer and recruiting officer, Heather Brown:

Why Fascists? Well, whilst out shopping I was perusing Wargames Emporium and spotted a little gem in the form of a second hand box of Plastic Soldier Company Russians for a tenner. A couple of them had been started but a price of less than 20p a model was a deal I couldn't pass up. I was originally intending to use them as Communists, but I'd want a more rag-tag feeling if I do them so another look at at the models in caps told me that they'd do a fair impression of the B.U.F. (to be honest, I'm also rather tickled by the irony of using Russians for Fascists...I need to get out more).

The models aren't completely finished (there's detail work and bases to be done) and I'm not entirely happy with them, but they're certainly usable. To be honest, I've found that the PSC models lack the definition that I kind of rely on for my painting style to work as I tend to use washes to hide my sins. I'd be disappointed if I'd paid full price for them. As it stands I can probably squeeze out another company of 10 and a couple of staff models and I'll still have enough figures left should I give in to my urge to do some Weird War II stuff.

To go with the B.U.F. I've dug out two vehicles for them, a Packard Victoria and a Hispano-Suiza. These were my Grandad's, each of the grandkids got two of his collection when he passed on, and so I won't be converting these at all. However, they will serve until I can get my sticky paws on something a little less flash and a little more British for the Fascists to drive about in.

Finally for now, the title mentioned fascist pigs...and here they are:

Secret Santa at work proved that since starting my new job in September, there's at least one of my colleagues who didn't have a clue what to get me, and so I smiled politely when I unwrapped a travel version of Pass the Pigs. However, it would be a shame to leave a gift unused and so the pigs have been quickly repainted as scenery (or objectives) for skirmish games. Yes the ears are a bit big and they are weirdly proportioned (and have freaky smiles), but they were free, are roughly the right scale and I can pretend that they're a rare breed.

Details from the game later in the week.

Monday 5 December 2011

Hey McCloud, get off of my ewe!

(I apologise for shamelessly stealing my title this week from Warlord Games' website)

This week saw me trying a new game out, and a new period. My dad's been playing around with some free rules he got for small skirmishes of Border Reivers to make it applicable for Highland Clan raids during the Civil War period and we gave the rules a first test drive. I would be leading the raiding party of about twenty strapping Jocks, and my dad would try to repel them with a slightly larger, but less skilled mob of tartan clad nutters.

We decided that the aim of the game was to contest three objectives: the croft, the sheep herd and the cattle herd. I would have to burn the croft and steal the herds, my Dad would have to stop me.

The Croft:
The Sheep:
The Cows:
As this was a test game, we changed and adapted the rules throughout the game, including adding rules for burning buildings, changing the panic rules and so forth. However, the game played much like most skirmish games with an IGO/UGO system of alternating by unit - an activated unit does all its actions, then an opposing unit is activated.

I deployed with the bulk of my raiding party going after the two herds whilst a small party were tasked with a 'commando' raid on the Croft. Here you can see my brave chaps menacing an old lady:
As it happened, my dad put most of his forces within reach of the Croft and left the defence of the herds to a small band of untrained and ill-equipped levy. As such my raiders advanced relatively unopposed:
And after a brief exchange (the other guys had only a single musket), were able to scurry off with a fine herd of cattle with no danger of being caught. The only thing that the opposing clan were able to do was fire their single musket with the hope that it might panic and scatter the herd.

It didn't:
Meanwhile, a smaller group of my bandits, who had been busy driving off the enemy warriors with their ace musketry were also able to sneak up and grab some sheep and begin the long drive for home:
"Where are the enemy warriors?" I hear you ask. Well, it was like this...

At the start of each turn both side roll a D10 and the highest gets to choose who goes first. I managed to win about five turns on the bounce and so was always able to get my unit attacking the Croft to go first. This allowed me to scurry forwards, take up defensive positions and take pot-shots at the incoming Clansmen; which I did with unerring accuracy.

The way that the panic rules work is that any casualty has the potential to cause panic in a unit and throw them into disarray, preventing them from doing anything in their following turn, and possibly even driving them back. To match my crack-shot marksmanship, my dad's command rolls were consistently awful which meant that a single unit of six of my raiders were able to not only hold up somewhere in the region of 18 enemy clansmen, but also manage to set fire to the Croft:
We came up with the rule that the fire in the Croft could be extinguished if my dad could get a clansman into it within d6 turns. We rolled a three and so my brave men hunkered down behind a hay bale and set to selling their lives dearly whilst the Croft burned. Despite facing half a dozen archers and a couple of muskets, I was still more than holding my own and the enemy Chieftain arrived too late to do anything useful and so was forced to stand by and watch the Croft burn:
At this my remaining two clansmen decided (or were forced by the death of their leader) to make a break for it. However, once they were running the enemy found their aim and both were shot as they ran:
Nevertheless, I had suffered only six casualties (and had inflicted roughly similar) and had achieved all three objectives. As the Croft burned in the distance, a large herd of livestock was guided back to our farms to feed our kith and kinfolk. Ay, there'll be a fine party in glens tonight! Och-ay!
All in all a fun game with a few glitches that need ironing out, but I'll definitely be playing 'Clan Wars' again soon.

Whilst I'm on here I'll take the chance to talk targets. I did manage to achieve my targets last month by the middle of the month and then I experienced a bit of a wargaming fatigue and did nothing else for the month. I suspect that working to the deadline of the Saga tournament got me feeling like painting was a chore again and that's never good for someone who doesn't enjoy painting that much at the best of times.

So, to combat this feeling of being motivationally challenged I'm going to set a small initial target this month and see if I want to add to it later. I suspect that getting bits and pieces done as and when I feel like it will be more stimulating than setting a massive target that I'll not want to complete and I know I'll fail to achieve.

Therefore, with our inaugural Blood Bowl seas due to kick off in January, I thought I'd take the opportunity to get my team finished. I actually have enough painted models to field a starting team but it would be nice to have everything done for the start of the season. My target will be these beauties:
The models are from Roll-Jordan and are part of my Slann team, the Slann Frogcisco 49ers (geddit?). Two blitzers, two catchers and a coach. I've also got a few WFB Lizardmen bits lying around that I'm tempted to use to liven the team up but we'll see, as I never get as much time around Christmas as I think I will.

Monday 28 November 2011

Normal Service Is Resumed

It's been a while since I last posted. There's been no particular reason for the lack of updates other than I've not got around to it. Only a couple of games have taken place in the interim; yet another game of Saga and for a complete change a game of didn't know I played that did you?

Two weeks ago I introduced my Dad to Saga. I fielded my usual Vikings and he fielded a Welsh warband masquerading as a Hiberno-Norse/Irish warband (not sure if this was the best match but it made for a fun game). It was a Clash of Warlords and the long and the short of it was that our Warlords did not clash!

The game was characterised with me pelting across the table intent on ripping the Welsh/Irish to shreds and my Dad learning all about how he could use Holy Ground and Hit and Run to prevent me from achieving this. To add injury to insult, he would then pepper my units with javelins before reteating. Then to add more insult to injury and insult when I finally made contact my elite hard-hitting-hirdmen three separate combats!

It wasn't pretty. The Welsh are really nasty when the dice fall kindly. My Dad likes the game though.

Then last week I dusted off my Blood Angels for their first game in at least six months to play 40k against Kelly's Necrons. He'd even bought the new book for the occasion and so my battle plan of shooting the dross to push for a phase out was screwed from the off.

We were playing annihilation and so it was kill-kill-kill all the way. My Death Company leapt in to hack at the Necron Lord's unit of Immortals and went down swinging taking several 'Crons with them. I then splatted a unit of Scarabs with my Terminators and poured withering firepower into the remains of the Immortals, shooting them to pieces. I even managed to sneak up on a Monolith with my multi-melta wielding Attack Bikes. Things were looking good.

Then things changed.

The Immortals got back up, and continued to do so for the rest of the game. The Attack Bikes fluffed their damage rolls and the Monolith was able to summon help. I had forgotten quite how nasty monstrous creatures can be to Terminators and allowed myself to be charged, and I also Deep Struck my Assault Squad deep behind enemy lines where they could be shot and hacked to pieces.

I started taking big casualties and irritated by the Immortals I foolishly threw a Tactical Squad into harm's way to get to them. The Immortals got back up again and with the aid of some Necron Warriors blew the Tactical Squad away.

The Attack Bikes finally found their range and blew up one of the Monoliths, but the C'Tan was busy slicing through my army, accounting for 5 Terminators and a Baal Predator. My Librarian succeeded only in hurting himself with his Blood Lance and when Kelly began removing his damaged units to the rear to deny me kill points, I knew the game was up.

I'd been well beaten.

On the up side, I always find 40k fun when I'm playing it against someone who, like me doesn't take it seriously. They times I've play against tournament-honed lists have been some of the most unfun experiences of my gaming career. 40k is a game which really rewards lack of knowledge as you try to do the best with what you've got - possibly why it sells so well to the kids. It seems to be a game in which knowledge and experience hold a direct correlation with how predictable a game is - this is probably why I play it so infreqently.

I don't know what I'm playing this week. I'm feeling a bit demotivated but will probably get a game in on Thursday...WAB? Maybe.

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Winter Has Gone

Sunday saw me taking part in my first ever Saga tournament (possibly the first Saga tournament ever) and my first tournament for well over two years. It took place in our club in Attercliffe, Sheffield and was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. It was fairly well attended (12 players) although many of them were from our club - you've probably notice how much Sagaing has been going on in my reports recently - however we did have a few people who'd travelled, including Carl who'd come all the way from Peterborough.

My warband was configured the same way throughout the competition, even though your I've found a set up I'm happy with, and as I was playing Vikings I had: a Warlord, 1 unit of 4 Berserkers, 2 units of 6 Hirdmen and 2 units of 8 Bondi.

Once again, as there were multiple games involved, I'll keep the reports fairly brief with a few comments about what I'd learned from each one. Also, as the games were timed it didn't seem fair to stop the take loads of pictures so I'm somewhat limited in quality and scope.

GAME 1 - You Cnut be serious!
Opponent: Paul
Warband: Anglo-Danes (Cnut the Great, 4 Huscarls, 8 Huscarls with Dane-Axes, 8 Ceorls, 12 Fyrd)
Scenario: Clash of Warlords

Paul got to deploy first and immediately positioned his Fyrd in the big church (clearly a 12 model building) and massed the rest of his warband around the cornfield on his left. Seeing an opportunity I positioned a unit of Bondi opposite the church, which extended quite far forward, and screened my vulnerable Berserkers with the other unit of Bondi. Either side of this I deployed the two Hirdmen units.

Taking first turn, the Anglo-Danes advanced steadily and predictably the Fyrd poured arrows at me before I could get Odin or Asgard loaded for defence. In response (noting that Paul had neglected to set up Intimidation) I poured the Bondi opposite the church across the table with three activation and attacked the Fyrd with Frigg (to lessen the impact of fatigue) and Valahalla (which became my trademark skill for the day) to gain an extra 4 dice and Thor to fight again immediately. In a particularly poor show of defending themselves, the Fyrd were cut down to three and mopped up by the Bondi in my following turn.

Meanwhile, I tried to do something clever on the other side of the table. Making sure that I kept my better troops more than S away from the fight, I rushed Paul's Ceorls with mine and again used Frigg and Valhalla (this time killing two for 6 dice) to decimate the Anglo-Danish unit and reduce them to three men. There were only four Bondi left and they were in charge range of both units of Huscarls - but this was what I wanted...mwahahahaaaa!

The big unit of eight Huscarls with Dane-Axes took the bait and charged at the Bondi. Due to the positioning of the other Huscarl unit, Axe-Men were forced to string out their line. They still cut down the Bondi, but they lost a man and were now in range.

I launched my Berserkers at the Huscarls, I didn't need to use Frigg as the bait had drawn them close enough and I backed the Berserkers up with Heimdall and Valhalla. The trick here is to accept that due to their poor armour, the Berserkers are going to die and inflict as much carnage on the largest enemy unit that you can. I sent three Berserkers to Valhalla and hit the fatigued Huscarls with a whopping 28 attack dice! Needless to say, Paul hadn't encountered this tactic before and was somewhat taken aback as he removed the entire unit.

It was clear now that Paul was in trouble. However, realising that there were points up for grabs he launched the battered remnants of his line at my fresh Hirdmen. There was a moment where I hung my Warlord out to dry a bit, but defensive play and the proximity of the Hird saved the day. At the end Cnut the Great died in a heroic solo charge against my Hirdmen.

So, what did I learn?
  1. Don't be afraid to attack levies in buildings, the extra pip on their save rolls don't really make a difference to the fight as long as you stack the attack dice in your favour.
  2. Vikings excel when you are aggressive.
  3. The Frigg, Heimdall, Valhalla combo on Berserkers to launch a long range attack is utter filth if your opponent isn't expecting it.
GAME 2 - Saxon Drugs and Rock n' Roll
Opponent: Mal
Warband: Anglo-Danes (Warlord, 4 Huscarls with Dane-Axes, 2 units of 6 Huscarls, 2 units of 8 Ceorls)
Scenario: The Challenge

I've played Mal before and know how difficult it is to beak his Anglo-Danes down, and in the Challenge a lot would depend on who chose deployment side and who went first. As it happened, I lost both rolls and so Mal took the table edge which allowed him to mass his warband behind his warlord and forced me to separate my force to find routes through a village and a cornfield.

To cut a long story short Mal was able to get his warband up to his Warlord quickly enough to dissuade me from suicidal charges to cause wounds (at one point I would have need to inflict about 8 wounding hits to even scratch the Anglo-Danish leader. Combined with this I wasted my Berserkers in a charge on a Ceorl screen and the game looked increasingly like I couldn't win it as I was sending single units against the entire warband.

With a human shield move with one of my Hirdmen units I was able to negate Warlord's pride and withdraw. Outnumbered, I hunkered down between the cornfield and a building and dared Mal to come at me. We both knew that with the amount of turns remaining we couldn't get to each other's Warlord, but we both made valiant attempts on the last turn.

As we'd both failed to inflict any wounds on each other's Warlord, the game was a draw, although Mal took the moral victory as I was running away from him...I made the surviving Vikings swear an oath to never mention that battle again...

So, what did I learn?
  1. I'm not a fan of the Challenge scenario as too much depends on the dice rolls at the beginning. Going first is a BIG bonus as it puts your opponent on the back foot immediately.
  2. When playing Anglo-Danes, don't assume that they have Intimidation loaded just because they usually do. I wasted several Saga dice by not glancing over at Mal's board.
  3. Don't waste Berserkers on Ceorls! Listen to your own advice!
GAME 3 - Crossing Norman's Land
Opponent: Tom
Warband: Normans (Warlord, 2 units of 6 Knights, 8 Mounted Serjeants, 8 Crossbowmen, 12 Peasants)
Scenario: Escort

I made a fatal miscalculation at the beginning of this game and elected to attack the baggage rather than escort it. This gave Tom choice of table sides and so he castled up with his Peasants occupying the big building to my left and his Crossbows taking up a position in the woods on my right. With his Knights lined up in the centre in front of of his baggage and staring at me across a great big empty kill-zone. At least I got to respond to his deployment, putting myself just far enough away to cause problems for his missile troops so he'd have to use dice to be able to shoot me - I wasn't giving away free shots.

Turn one and as I guessed, the Knights and Serjeants stood still whilst the light troops rained missiles on me. Tom was forced to use Massed Volley and move his Crossbows closer, but I lost three Bondi and one Hirdman to the opening salvo. It was clear that he wasn't coming to me unless he had to.

Remembering game one, and fortunate to have several sixes to roll for extra dice, I launched a unit of Bondi at the Peasants and a unit of Hirdmen at the Crossbows. I took a couple of casualties but both units were significantly reduced and across the next to turns I used Loki to wipe them both out - much to Tom's consternation. This left both units open to counter attack from the mounted troops and sure enough the Hirdmen were charged by some Knights and the Bondi were hit by some Mounted Serjeants.

Although both units were destroyed, I used Frigg, Heimdall and Valhalla defensively to negate Tom's inevitable use of Terrified and maul his units as they attacked. The Knights were reduced by two and left fatigued although the Mounted Serjeants faired better, but were left severely fatigued (they'd charged something like 30 inches and fought a combat). I had a unit of Berserkers, a unit of Hirdmen and half a unit of Bindi left, things were looking iffy.

However, by attacking the flanks so hard, I'd not only wiped his missile troops out, but I'd also drawn two units out wide meaning that if I attacked the centre in force, I'd briefly have superiority of numbers. The Berserkers now launched my trademark kamikaze attack at the undamaged Knights and wiped them out. Tom countered by attacking the Hirdmen with the fatigued Knights and lost the unit, although only two of the Hirdmen remained.

I could see my chance, although I only had 5 Bondi, 2 Hirdmen and my Warlord left, I could use fatigue to keep the Serjeants out of the fight for a turn and focus on his Warlord. Realising what I was doing, Tom rested the Serjeants but didn't have enough dice to attack. Warlord's Pride forced the Baron to charge my Jarl and again, by fighting defensively I withstood his attack and lost a Bondi. I countered by leading the Bondi in an attack on the Norman Warlord and smote the arrogant Knight in two. There was a ragged cheer as the last 5 Vikings closed in on their prize.

Sadly, in a twist of irony, the last time I played this scenario has resulted in clarification of whether the Baggage generate Saga dice on the Saga forum. They do. The Mounted Serjeants, despite my best efforts to slow them, thundered down on my exhausted Warlord and killed both him and the Bondi as my Hirdmen led a desperate charge on the Baggage.

They mananged to kill one piece and with the game coming to a close I thought I'd missed my chance. However, it was not to be, inexplicably Tom charged my Hirdmen with another piece of Baggage and gave me the opportunity to win the game when all he had to do was move them away. Sadly, with only one Saga dice and no fatigue on the Baggage, my Hirdmen failed to kill the baggage and were killed in return.

A very close game.

So what did I learn?
  1. Some typically aggressive Viking abilities work well in defence against Normans. You know that they can pick their fights, so it's a good idea to be able to give them a kicking when they arrive.
  2. Kill the bloody archers! Quickly! Otherwise you be leaking Saga dice defending against them.
  3. As I did with the Welsh, try to draw them apart from each other. Their long movement means that Normans can quickly find themselves unsupported.
Opponents: (Clockwise from me) Carl, Mal and Andrew
Warband: Normans (Warlord, 2 units of 6 Knights, 8 Mounted Serjeants, 8 Crossbowmen, 12 Peasants); Anglo-Danes (Warlord, 4 Huscarls with Dane-Axes, 2 units of 6 Huscarls, 2 units of 8 Ceorls); Vikings (Harald Hardrada, 8 Varangian Guard, 4 Berserkers, 2 units of 8 Bondi)
Scenario: Feast for Crows

The last game was a big free-for-all and a desperate rush for points. When we deployed, Mal and I suggested that we sit opposite each other as we'd already played and utterly frustrated each other earlier in the day. The others agreed and I turned my thoughts to tactics.

Bearing in mind what I've been learning about this game, and feast for Crows in particular, I decided to focus my assault on only one enemy; Carl's Normans. My reasoning was that: if I didn't I'd get shot to death; I could move away from Andrew's Vikings but not avoid the Norman's bearing down on me and sandwiching me between two opponents; he was to my left and there's a little bot of an advantage in that; and having just played the exact same warband, I reckoned I knew how to take them, whereas Harald Hardrada and the Varangian Guard were an unknown quantity.

In short, once I started moving hell for leather towards the Normans, Carl obliged by coming back at me and Andrew realised that trekking across to get me would leave him very little time to amass points (he was tying for the lead at that point) and so he went after Mal.

Mal's Anglo-Danes took continuous fire from the Massed Volleys of Carl's Peasants and was initially bowled over by the ferocity of Andrew's elite troops. However, Harald found himself and his best troops cut off from the support of the Bondi and so over time, continued use of Trapped and coordinated attacks saw Mal kill off Harald, the Varangian Guard and the Berserkers for heavy losses and then edge ahead of Andrew at the end of the game by assaulting the leaderless Bondi.

Meanwhile, Carl and I got up close and personal. To protect himself early on, Mal had used Trapped on Carl and I took the opportunity to launch the Berserker nuke at a fatigued unit of Knights; everyone died. I then moved a unit of Bondi to 13 inches away from the next unit of Knights and loaded Valhalla. The Knights charged, gained fatigue and then the Bondi sold their lives dearly killing this unit as well.

This left Carl's Baron just out of support range from his Mounted Serjeants and so a unit of Hirdmen jumped on him and killed him. They in turn got smashed into by the Serjeants, who were then assaulted by my remaining Hirdmen. We were trading blow for blow and I was coming off slightly better. Realising I needed more points the Bondi who'd been screening the Crossbows all game launched repeated charges on the Normans, reducing them to two.

In the final turn, I triple activated my four remaining Hirdmen to cross the cornfield the Crossbows were hiding behind and kill the blighters. Finally, much to Andrew's annoyance I used Loki (his username!) to kill three Bondi from across the table, and win the 1 and a half points!

So what did I learn?
  1. My thoughts about Normans from game 3 were correct. They can be stretched and fatigued by forcing them to charge 13 inches.
  2. Viking need to get stuck in!
  3. Saga is an absolute blast as a tournament game and all future Saga tournaments should finish with a Feast for Crows.
Overall, it was a great day. The tables were attractive, the participants were all really nice (even the Norman ones!) and the food was suitably atmospheric (half a roast chicken each with no cutlery!). At the end of the day with two wins and a draw, I came fourth from 12 (very respectable), but was unable to overhaul the three leaders who all had three wins by the end of the third game.

The tournament was won by JP on victory points (who won a unit of GB Saxons), and Matt was pleasantly surprised to find that he'd been awarded best painted (and gained 12 GB Norman Milites). Tom won the charity dice roll off and walked away with a drinking horn as his prize - it's worth noting that Tom lost his warlord in all four games so also wins the award of Captain Reckless!

All in all a great day and I look forward the next event with relish.

Saturday 12 November 2011

History Repeating Itself?

At the Battle of Chaeronea in 333 BC, the last major Hoplite army of the ancient world was defeated by the Macedonian army of Phillip II. At the core of Phillip's success was the tactical versatility and greater reach of the sarissa-armed Macedonian phalanx and the powerful effect of the hard-hitting Macedonian cavalry led by a certain Alexander. Their Athenian and Theban opponents were out-manoeuvred and had the strategic vulnerability of the traditional Hoplite phalanx horribly exposed and exploited by Alexander's cavalry.

Therefore, it was with a certain trepidation that I agreed to lead my Hoplite army out onto the field against Trev's Macedonians in a 2000 point game of WAB. I knew that his phalangites would be more than a match for my Hoplites and whilst I was locked in combat with him, his Companion cavalry (which massively outclasses my own paltry Greek Cavalry) would likely come screaming round one of my flanks and smash my line to smithereens. What's more, as I didn't have the Armies of Antiquity book to hand, I was fielding a Greek Mercenary army so that meant no elite Spartans, unbreakable Sacred Band or utterly filthy Spartan Sacred Band. The best unit I had available was Veteran Hoplites; these fellas have higher initiative (useless against pikes), higher leadership and are drilled.

All this meant that I would have to employ...TACTICS!!!

I deployed in traditional style with my Veterans taking the position of honour on the right and three other blocks of Hoplites arrayed to the left. I angled the line to anchor one flank against a steep hill to my right and the other flank against that common feature of the ancient battlefield: the table edge. Also securing my flanks were the slightly more tactically flexible Peltasts. My skirmish screen was two units of Psiloi and I placed a unit of Cretan Archers on my right ready to seize the hill and rain death on the enemy. Finally, I had a unit of Greek Horse led by a Taxiarch far out on the left; their job was to run interference on the inevitable Companion Cavalry.

Trev deployed in a similar fashion. From left to right he had Slingers, Thracian Peltasts, elite Hypaspists, Phalangites, elite Phalangites, light cavalry and his Companion Cavalry. He also had some archers and javelinmen arrayed in front of his lines. In short our deployment was eerily similar. I had more line troops, but he had better quality soldiers...and that cavalry-hammer.

One of the beauties of of ancient wargaming is that when writing battle reports there's often not much to 'report' as most units tend to wend their way steadily towards each other. And so it was for the first turn; Trev advanced and I matched him, our cavalry danced about at extreme charge range from each other. There was an exchange of desultory missile fire which I got the best of with my combined fire panicking the Thracian Peltasts.

On the second turn the Thracians rallied (on a 6, damn!) and the Macedonians continued to advance, and Trev made a push against my skirmish line. One of my units of Psiloi fled from the Hypaspists whilst the other stood against his Javelins. The Macedonian light cavalry moved out of the way to allow to the Companions to move into charge range of my cavalry. Again Trev's Archers and Slingers failed to make any impact and in the combat phase my Psiloi tussled with their similarly armed opponents, drawing the combat but winning momentum.

My turn came and my line again advanced. The fleeing Psiloi failed to rally and fled off the table, in the process they panicked the Cretan Archers (Leadership 7!). The Greek Cavalry edged backwards to irritate the Companions. In combat the Macedonian Javelins were beaten and force to flee by my Psiloi, although they escaped, the Psiloi stopped right in front of the elite Phalangites preventing them advancing with the rest of his line.

With his advance halted, Trev had no option to charge my Psiloi with his archers to clear the road as a charge with the Phalangites would have left them free to be counter charged by my phalanx. Trev still brought forward his other blocks and ran the remains of the Thracians up to join his line. Again the Companions moved to threaten the Greek Cavalry and again the slingers peppered my Peltasts on the hill. Being charged in the flank by greater numbers seemed to disagree with my Psiloi who fled and were run down, handily taking Trev's archers behind his lines.

If an ancient battle is staring contest, the third turn was where I blinked. My Cretans failed to rally and ran off the table and I think I had a crisis of confidence. Aware that I was too far to charge I stopped the advance. Had I thought about it, I'd have realised that I would be attacking last against the Phalangites whether I charged or not and delaying was only allowing more time for the Companions to come round my flank. On the subject of which, the Greek Cavalry again edged backwards.

Trev also halted on his next turn, however he was trying to be sneaky. He also edged his Hypaspists, who were in charge range, backwards to tempt my Veterans to come forward and expose their flank. He also had clearly tired of my cavalry leading the Companions a merry dance and advanced to a point where I couldn't avoid being charged the following turn. The Archers and Slingers now concentrated their fire on the Peltasts on the hill.

I didn't take the bait; the Veterans didn't charge. I did however realise my error from the previous turn and push the rest of the line closer to the Macedonian line, although I had the Veterans hang back an inch to protect their flank. Trev would have to charge or be charged, it was crunch time. D-Day had also arrived for the Greek Cavalry, with nowhere to run they girded their loins and charged the Macedonian General and his Companions. Unfortunately the Companions were able to counter-charge and so would gain all the benefits of their xystons and the wedge formation. To my amazement the Companions failed to do much damage and I sensed an opportunity for a heroic victory. Sadly, the dice let me down (I was asking a lot) and only a single Companion was killed and I lost the combat, but passed the break test and held the Companions in place for another turn.

Before we get to the main event, a word on the fate of the cavalry. My luck didn't hold and this time three of the Greeks fell from their saddles. With so few attacks back I had no hope of winning and and so poured my remaining attacks at the Macedonian General. He was wounded, but not killed and my brave cavalry were run down and killed.

There was an audible thunk as two lines of troops clashed. I realised that I'd made an error by holding the Veterans back as I'd squandered the chance to outnumber the enemy and the lines were now equal. This fight had the potential to end the game.

Right, on to the big fight. It was divided into two fights. One unit of Hoplites, led by a Taxiarch face the elite Phalangites, whilst two units of Hoplites led by my Polemarch faced off against another unit of Phalangites and the Hypaspists. The Macedonians would be attacking first were more disciplined; the Greeks were better armoured and were led by characters. This would be a dice rolling contest.

The first fight went well. The Macedonian attacks bounced off the Greeks' hoplon shields and judicious use of oracles saw the Macedonians beaten. However, being elite Phalangites, they were stubborn and so despite the failed leadership test, they held...bugger!

The mass combat was equally tight. Macedonian pikes and spears hit first, and the Greek armour was a little less effective. In return, not enough spears found their mark and the Macedonians won.

Here's where I get annoyed. Break test for the General's unit...failed. Reroll from an oracle point...failed. Break test for the other Hoplite unit...failed. Reroll from an oracle point...failed. Panic test for the Veterans...failed. Reroll from my last oracle point...failed. Panic test for the Peltasts...failed. Panic test for the last Hoplite unit...passed!

With most of my army running, we called the game there. Even if I had rallied every unit, the line was disorganised so I'd be taken out piecemeal.

Although I actually failed to destroy any of Trev's units, this game was extremely close. I think I'd pulled the Companions out of the game very well and they would only have got to charge on turn 6 if the game had gone that far. The big fight in the centre could have gone either way, if I'd won, the Hypsapists would have stood due to being stubborn, but the Phalangites could have spread a similar panic as had effected me. If the combat had lasted another round then the Veterans would have come in and tipped the odds in my favour.

In terms of errors, I think that I made three:
  1. I should have fled with the Psiloi when they were charged by the Archers. This could have left the elite Phalangites stranded for a turn and allowed me to launch three units against two in the rest of Trev's line.
  2. I should have been more aggressive on turn three. Admittedly it made little difference in the end, but I surrendered the initiative and game the Companions more time to get into the game.
  3. I should never have broken the line by holding the Veterans back. Those extra attacks could have made all the difference, or even intimidated Trev into not charging. I left him an opening to keep the odds even and he took it.
All in all an extremely enjoyable game which played out in what felt to me to be a suitably historical outcome. In my defence, the Macedonian army was designed with beating the Greeks in mind - in games terms it is the perfect can opener for the Greek Hoplite army - it does everything that they do...better. However, Trev is a wily old fox and I left him one too many gaps to exploit.

Sunday 6 November 2011

A Feast For Craig

Thursday saw my second attempt at the Feast For Crows scenario from the Saga rulebook. This was also the first time my newly painted Viking warband would see action (I'd finally got them all done bar a few shields, eyes and the basing of the entire warband). My force consisted of my Warlord, 1 unit of 12 Hirdmen, 1 unit of 4 Berserkers, and 2 units of 8 Bondi. Small, elite and packing some punch.

Given that last time I'd got stuck in early, taken a beating and then been mopped up by some late arriving Vikings, I had promised myself that I wouldn't be too eager to get stuck in, but would let the others knock chunks out of each other and then go for a late rush to win...we'll see how well that went...

As for the 'others', they were, in clockwise order from me:

Kelly's Normans. Warlord, 2 units of 4 Knights, 2 units of 8 Mounted Sergeants, 1 unit of 8 Crossbows and 1 unit of 8 Foot Sergeants. These models were borrowed from Tom, but Kelly is building a Warband of this composition in time for the tournament and this was his first outing with them. I thoroughly expected these to come thundering down the flank towards me as I was the nearest target and a large building 'blocked' the route to Andrew's force. Which leads me to...

Andrew's Vikings. Andrew was trying something different to his usual set up and fielded an elite heavy force of a Warlord, 2 units of 8 Hirdmen, and 2 units of 8 Bondi. As I mentioned, his flank was protected from Kelly's cavalry by the big feast hall, and so I (and probably the others) expected him to focus on...

Craig's Vikings. With Vikings on either side of him Craig knew that he would have to present a defence on both flanks and hope that we didn't both come for him as the same time. However, he had subconsciously taken steps to even the odds and fielded a warband of: a Warlord, 1 unit of 10 Hirdmen, 1 unit of 6 Hirdmen, 1 unit of 4 Berserkers, 1 unit of 10 Bondi and 1 unit of 6 Bondi. Yes, you are reading that correctly, it's 7 points! To be fair even Craig didn't notice this until the end of the game, however, I'd be lying if I claimed it had no effect on the outcome...

The game began with opening move as everyone jockeyed for position. Aware of the mobile hitting power of the Norman Cavalry, all the Viking players leaped towards the buildings. I managed to get my Bondi into a thatched hut to my left and position my Berserkers behind it. This way, if Kelly sent cavalry at me he'd either have to attack my Bondi in the building and get jumped on by the Berserkers or charge the Berserkers, get mauled and then clobbered by a sally from the Bondi. The prospect of this, and a dice roll that exposed some of the same deployment issues I had faced the previous week, served to hold the Normans back.

In fact the Normans were so caught up with repositioning themselves that a unit of Mounted Sergeants were caught completely unaware by some of Andrew's Hirdmen leaping out of the Feast Hall to give them a good kicking. I'd seen this coming and, as part of my 'plan', I had played Ragnarok which lowered everybody else's armour by one. I sat back and prepared to watch them kick seven shades of sheep out of each other.

The Vikings won but we immediately set upon and mauled by a combination of Crossbows and Cavalry (wasn't that an MB Game back in the day?). "This is good," I thought (have you spotted my tactical error yet?), in fact I thought it so good that when I rolled another double six the next turn I decided the Ragnarok again! Just in time for Craig to decide to get in on the action and exploit Andrew splitting his forces by charging his Berserkers into 8 Hirdmen. Somewhat suicidal use of Frigg and Valhalla saw a lone Berserker model delivering 26 attacks and wiping out two points of Hirdmen for the loss of one point of Berserkers. Meanwhile Andrew's other Hirdmen were finally killed by the Normans after mauling another unit of Mounted Sergeants.

You've spotted it haven't you? To be honest, it was dawning on me at about this time. I'd been so defensively minded, expecting an assault by either Craig or Kelly that I was now stranded out of the game. Feast for Crows is decided by body count and I had yet to score a single kill whilst not only were the others upping their tallies, I'd used bloody Ragnarok to help them to do it!


Something had to be done, and fortunately, Craig decided to do my thinking for me and assaulted my Bondi with his. He had a numbers advantage and Saga dice loaded and won the fight for little loss, however he did leave himself exposed to a counter attack by my Hird-Horde (I'm copyrighting that name - I was considering 'Hordemen' too). I won but in an exchange that was somewhat reminiscent of chess, he then launched his 6 man Hird unit at me. I eventually won that exchange too but the body count was pretty even. However, the destruction of Craig's left flank units left me with nothing nearby to assault.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, Andrew decided to repeat the trick he'd pulled earlier and launched his Warlord and a unit of Bondi out of the Feast Hall and into the Normans. After much charging, galloping, intimidating and shooting, the Normans were further mauled but the Viking Warlord stood alone...for a bit...and then was dead.

Seeing that Andrew only had a single unit of Bondi left, Craig decided to send his big (cheating) unit of 10 Hirdmen over to console them. Group hugs and calming cups of tea were followed by sharp axes and the Bondi were cut to pieces, although they did take a few Hirdmen with them. Andrew's Warband was dead; however, on the up side, he did get to go home early and win brownie points at home. It's an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

The game was entering the end phase and I was behind on kills and somewhat distant from the action. Kelly launched long range cavalry assaults on Craig's Warlord who, never one to look a gift horse in mouth elected to hack the gift horse's head off and add to his ever growing points tally. I was forced to go for broke and had the dice to launch either my Berserkers or my Hirdmen at Craig's remaining Bondi. I mistakenly chose the Berserkers and despite killing all six Bondi were all killed in exchange. I'd once again given Craig more VP's than I'd gained.

My final act was to attack Kelly's Crossbowmen with the Bondi who'd been the house all game. I killed the Crossbowmen, but this wasn't enough to raise me out of last place, despite having the most models left. Craig had most VP's at the end having hacked his way through everybody, but as he cheated I think the laurels should go to Kelly in his first game with the Normans. He withstood an absolute battering from Andrew's Vikings and then countered effectively.

So, what have I learned?
  1. In Feast for Crows, you need to get stuck in.
  2. Don't use Ragnarok to benefit others.
  3. Don't send Berserkers at units worth less than they are.
  4. Don't play like a pansy, you're a Viking goddammit!
My next game of Saga is next Sunday at the Winter is Coming tournament. With any luck I can handle myself better. This week features a lot of rushing to complete the warband and constructing three baggage markers.

I've also got a game of WAB against Trev. Busy, busy, busy...