Thursday, June 26, 2008

Scenario Ideas II: DBA Before Columbus

I hate miniatures tournaments. First of all, I have no desire to spend the better part of a weekend playing only one rules set, leading to exasperation and long rules debates on all sides. Secondly, every tournament devolves into everyone trying to identify the best possible competitive army, making many interesting armies completely unplayable.

This is why the only miniatures tournaments I'll consider entering is DBA. The rules are short. However convoluted they might be, nobody gets terribly upset worrying about interpretations, since it's hardly worth taking too seriously. This doesn't entirely address the problem of killer armies, though. True, people are more likely to bring along what they have, rather than refining the best possible army, but I suspect that most people will leave their Early Lybian armies at home.

Marty Schmidt regularly runs DBA tournaments at Siege of Augusta which try to get around the killer army problem in innovative ways. (Unfortunately, I've never attended these, but know Marty from when he lived out here in California.)

One idea I've been considering is to put together a precolumbian American-themed tournament. I would provide a half-dozen or so pairs of armies for people to try. In addition, players could bring their own armies from the theme. Failing in that, I'd allow Western Hemisphere armies with the following restrictions:
  • No elephants, chariots, or artillery. Elephants and artillery are to be replaced by psiloi, and chariots by psiloi, bow, or auxilia.
  • No more than one mounted element in the entire army. Light horse dismount as psiloi, cavalry as bow or auxilia, knights as spear or blade, unless the elements are already specified as dismounting as something else.
  • An American army fighting a Western Hemisphere army always fights as defenders.
  • Each player must provide a suitable crackpot theory as to how the army arrived in the Americas.
Finally some hope for that Amazonian army I painted up ages ago and never used since. Still not much hope, though.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

More FoG and general update

I hosted a late Medieval FoG game at GameKastle last Friday, 13 June. It was a French Ordonnance against late German match. I'll have to remember in such introductory games not to give the army with the larger number of high-quality troops to the more experienced players. I had a lot of fun pushing the Swiss across the map, but it was frustrating for the beginning player facing me. (In the image above, you can see them about to outflank some lesser German pike, while the hapless Imperial forces try to keep up.)
Just yesterday, Mike K. organized a game of Alexandrian Imperial against Classical Indians at the South Bay Gaming Club's latest meeting place -- the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Saratoga. I keep on threatening to organize something involving Landsknechts, but just haven't got around to it yet. It would obviously need more Reiters -- and then I have to figure out which rule set to use -- DBR? Nobody wants to play it any more. Maximilian? Nobody here has heard of it. Piquet? I don't know the rules well enough. Warmaster Ancients? I'm really not all that into them myself. And ... well I can keep on coming up with more excuses for not doing it eventually.

In painting, I'm still slogging through the Hellenistic figures I've accumulated, having finally finished the Kappadokians, one stand of Persian scythed chariot I had lying around, and now working on an Aitolian Greek army. (Several stands of hoplite spear surrounded by a cloud of light psiloi and a few light horse.)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

FoG Battle Report from KublaCon

After a quick resetting of the figures and a hasty lunch, I reran the exact same battle using the Field of Glory rules.

Many of the same players showed up for this game, with a few new ones. The army was roughly the same size, and since I kept the same terrain and setup, the troops started quite close to each other for a standard FoG game.

As a result, the two sides were able to exchange some bowfire on the first turn. The Warwick forces again tried to push on the flanks, while holding back the center. The Irish closed with the longbow on their flank, and fought for quite a while, but couldn't do much damage. Things were not helped by unfortunate variable charge rolls by the billmen supporting the Irish, which left them open to an additional turn of fire from the longbow. After four hours of play, and seven turns, the Warwick forces broke, having failed to break through on either flank.

It was interesting to compare the two battles. This saw much more melee than the DBMM game, but there were some similarities. The Irish made a serious attempt to engage the king's forces on their flank, but ended up only holding them in place for a while. The king's bodyguard once again proved decisive, leading the final charge through the enemy flank that ended the game.

On the pure measure of fun, I have to say that FoG seems to have been enjoyed by more people. This may not be entirely fair. While the armies were roughly the same size in number of stands, the DBMM game was moderately large for a three-hour game, while the FoG game was just about the right size. Also, because the FoG game started with the forces closer together than they would normally be, the game came to a resolution more quickly.

There are definitely aspects of FoG that make it easier for beginners to pick up, though. Since the main unit is the Battle Group, and not the element, there are far fewer details for a player to mull over each turn while considering what to move where. Unlike DBMM, FoG definitely does encourage forces to close with each other quickly, particularly when facing bowfire. Whether or not this is entirely historical (and in this particular scenario, I think it was), it certainly makes the game move more quickly.

If I were only concerned with putting together a decent game, and one in which many of the players are not all that experienced with the rules, I think I would tend to favor Field of Glory.

DBMM Battle Report from KublaCon

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I ran two versions of the same scenario at KublaCon on 25 May. I set aside only three hours for each game, so I had to start with everything already set up and set people going right away. Even experienced players would have trouble finishing a DBMM or FoG game in only three hours. However, I was scheduled to be setting up, running, and tearing down games for eight hours that day as it was.

The scenario was loosely based on Losecoat Field, in which Edward IV defeated the Earl of Warwick's initial revolt in 1470, thereby forcing him to flee into exile to join the Lancastrians. When I say loosely I mean that I put together one Wars of the Roses list with all elite troops and a fortification, and another with low-quality troops, all limited to my own available figures. This meant that I gave Warwick's side one command of Irish, who never were at the historical battle, but I needed something to bulk out the army.

The players were Mike K., Dave Kush, John Kelly, Alan Staton, and Jay Vicara. (I hope I have Jay's last name right -- my notes are difficult to read.) Everyone had at least some experience with one of the DB* systems. Dave, John, and Mike had all played DBMM at least once before.

The Warwick forces advanced slowly, emphasizing the flanks, and avoiding a direct assault on the center fortifications held by the king's army. The king's forces extended their flanks to intercept the attacks, but were generally outnumbered by the rebels on both sides. The games saw the two sides coming to blows early on. The Irish flank started receiving bowfire on the third turn, with the rebel mobile command getting into bow range by the sixth turn.

The Irish found progress difficult, trying to manage multiple groups of light foot moving through a marsh, while attempting to waylay the enemy knights. Eventually, after some general skirmishing, both sides withdrew just out of bow range.

Command rules made it difficult for the rebels to manage the mobile command, which found itself on either side of a woods. The king's troops facing them did better than those facing the Irish, relying chiefly on the king's bodyguard (two stands of superior knights, with the Kn(S) CinC) to keep the advancing mobile command off-balance.

At this point, thirteen turns into the game, we had to call things on time, after three and a half hours of play. The king's troops had a slight advantage, mostly due to the performance of the superior knights.

The game played well, but definitely required a good deal of rules analysis from the less experienced DBMM players. The standoff on the Irish flank was reasonable under the circumstances. DBMM certainly seems to encourage periods of regrouping and waiting for the appropriate moment to attack. This is realistic, but was frustrating when playing under a time constraint.

Alan Staton, playing the rebel mobile command, felt that his currour Cv(O) were horribly outclassed by the king's bodyguard Kn(S). And so they were, but even after being warned beforehand that cavalry are now much weaker against knights, Alan was understandably surprised to see three lone stands with only a little longbow support slowly take apart his command.

Personally, I felt that DBMM has fixed a number of problems with older systems. It is no longer as easy to send lone elements running off in odd directions. Games of geometry are not as useful as they once were. Troops move faster, and you spend less time maneuvering into a battle line early in the game. However, the battle can still take a while, and an experienced player can still use a few elements effectively where another is thinking only in terms of large-scale maneuvers.

When comparing DBMM to Field of Glory, I still think that DBMM is richer in detail, and can simulate more varied situations. The cost of that is that the game takes longer to play and requires more attention to detail by the players to be played well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Xyston Kappadokians

Xyston makes lovely, if rather oversized figures for 15mm. Sometimes it gets difficult just to squeeze enough onto a stand.

Despite that, I've managed to accumulate quite a few due to the efforts of the Friday Knights, a group of miniatures enthusiasts who meet (on Friday nights, of course) at Game Kastle in Santa Clara, not far from the San Jose Airport. Most of the members have some amount of Successor-era figures. The store started stocking Xyston, and has done surprisingly well at selling them, given that I'm not used to seeing 15mm historical figures sell at all most of the time.

For this week, 6 June, I'm hoping to show up with the figures for a Field of Glory game, featuring some late Medieval armies. So far, I've come up with something vaguely based on Guinegate. Which is to say, I've picked two evenly matched French Ordonnance and Late Medieval German armies from the army lists.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Scenario Ideas : "You were a bloodthirsty foe, but your chicken is delectable!"

I have occasionally run Taiping-era games at conventions, using a modified version of the Brother Against Brother rules (which I've titled Elder Brother Against Younger Brother). It's an intriguing period, colorful, and allows me to play out Colonial-era games without the annoying colonists who grossly outclass everyone else.

Among the many intriguing people from this era is the Imperial Chinese general Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠), better known as Tso Tsung-'tang. He's the General Tso of General Tso's Chicken fame, the name being used only to mark the meal as a Hunan-style dish. In fact, the dish is entirely American in origin. One of my favorite variants of the recipe is here, which I originally found from this article. As a vegetarian, I use either cubed tofu or chicken-style textured vegetable protein. (It's not as vile as it sounds, particularly after you cover it in batter and deep-fry it.)

All that aside, the thing that caught my attention was reference to Zuo hauling Krupp siege guns all the way into central Asia to put down the Muslim Rebellion in the 1870's. While I have no clear historical scenario to work from, I immediately saw the opportunity for a skirmish scenario involving Chinese troops seizing a position from which they could bombard the Muslim Hui fortress. Of course, it meant buying some Old Glory Krupp siege guns, and painting up a bunch of Afghan troops to look vaguely like Bokhara mercenaries. And perhaps I really should be using some Foundry figures for the Hui rebels. And by the time I had all the lead I wanted, there wasn't time to paint it all for KublaCon.

Perhaps I'll run it at the next ConQuest.

One last, food-related note. Kudos are in order to the KublaCon staff for convincing the food vendors to stock a decent selection of healthy foods this year! As a vegetarian, I can say that there is nothing worse than finishing running a game at 3:00 in the afternoon to find that the only edible food available is an extra-greasy cheese pizza and a bag of chips. The fruit bowls and vegetable platters were lifesavers. Overpriced, as always, but for once I was able to forgive that.

Monday, May 26, 2008

New Beginning: KublaCon Report

OK, I'm trying to start again. This weekend was KublaCon at the San Francisco Airport. The only game I participated in without running it was Nick Stern's excellent Kris and the Flame Pirates of the South Seas game. As usual for the period and region, it was colorful.

The next day, I ran two games, running the same Wars of the Roses battle using first DBMM and then Field of Glory.

DBMM has been out for a few years, and is the latest offering by Phil Barker. Field of Glory was just released at the beginning of this year. The most prominent name on it is Richard Bodley-Scott. Together, Barker and Bodley-Scott are the Truffaut and Godard of the British gaming world. Or if that's too obscure, they're the Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige. No, wait. That went from a really obscure analogy to even more obscure, didn't it?

Anyhow, the two worked together on earlier rules sets, but have fallen out, each to pursue their own unique, but clearly similar concepts of their oeuvre. People on the DBMM forum spend a lot of time finding reasons to dislike FoG. I haven't been following the FoG forums, but I assume they're spending at least some time complaining about DBMM.

Personally, I find most of the carping fairly silly. I don't generally play tournaments, so I hate to specialize in one rules set or another. Even putting aside the argument over whether games-playing is a serious attempt to simulate military history or an excuse to show off painted figures, every rules set will emphasize and abstract different aspects of history. To insist that one, and only one, set has captured the Truth is to commit the sin of having read only one book.