Second Sci-Fi Playtest

We’ve now played a second game with the new rules. Incidentally, I decided to call them Wandering Star – this captures the whimsical and space-operatic feeling I want to achieve quite well, I think. So, paint your starship and join us on a new adventure!

As it was time to test the vehicle rules, each of us got a support vehicle. The Quar had a walker while the TCO fielded a converted dune buggy, both light crafts. However, both were armoured, which meant that they could only be damaged by Heavy Support Weapons – in this situation only by each other.

Continuing from our last adventure, the teams had to find out whom the vanished miner called last. They had to break into the comm station (primary objective), which, however, was only possible if they first either sabotaged the power lines or stole the key card from a habitation (both secondary objectives).

Who will break into the comm station?
Who will break into the comm station?

We also tested the pre-game phase and rolled for troop composition as well as for special events. I was a bit unlucky with both, having to take two of the weaker Quar units and only one of the more powerful AAA ones and additionally having one of those units arrive a turn later.

This seems to have thrown me off track, as I never really formulated a clear plan. I had the vague idea that I would go for the objective on my right flank, the power plant, and try to keep K. from breaking into the house at my left flank. K. was determined to have a go at both secondary objectives, even if one would be enough to be able to attempt the primary one, the comm station in the middle of the table.

The game started with everyone rushing forward and the vehicles taking a few pot shots at each other. Unfortunately, my walker got a critical hit and lost its propulsion, which meant it was unable to move.

Quar walker taking hits.
Quar walker taking hits.
AAA and Brunt eyeing each other cautiously.
AAA and Brunt eyeing each other cautiously.

My AAA fireteam managed to get to the power conduits before the Brunt but decided to set up a firing position instead of attempting the objective. As I feared, the Brunt charged into close combat next turn, and despite overwatch fire from my panicking Auxies the Brunt cut them to pieces – none of them was left standing after melee was over. Those Brunt are brutal in close combat!

Brunt in action.
Brunt in action.

In the meantime, my walker took another critical hit and lost its primary weapon. Things were looking bleak on the right flank.

High noon on the dusty road.
High noon on the dusty road.
The Quar decided to take a detour while the Sharkmen achieve the objective.
The Quar decided to take a detour while the Sharkmen achieve the objective.

Alas, things weren’t looking better on my left flank. The Sharkmen had entered the building and were looking for the key card while my Quar were sulking around, not able to decide whether to advance or retreat into cover. My stragglers had advanced in the middle and set up a firing position to cover the primary objective while K. moved her vehicle over and took them under fire.

Quar setting up a perimeter.
Quar setting up a perimeter.

For the moment, they were holding. However, I lost my left Quar fireteam when they got into a crossfire from Sharkmen and Pasiphaeans. At least my walker crew had managed to repair the engine and got their vehicle moving, also intending to intercept anyone who would head for the comm station. To no avail! Despite my overwatch fire, K. got her Pasiphaeans into the building. There was nothing left I could do, so, after only six turns, I surrendered.

Endgame.
Endgame.

Well, this was a clear defeat. Not content with taking out two of my units and badly damaging the walker, K. had even managed to achieve both secondary objectives, her Brunt passing their intelligence test against all odds and managing to sabotage the power line without electrocuting themselves!

Apart from the minor inconvenience of my defeat, I was again very happy with the rules. The vehicles worked fine, neither slowing down the game nor dominating the battlefield. As in the last game, we especially liked the objectives, which provided a real narrative. The game was more brutal than last time, me losing half of my units. However, most of this was down to bad tactics – as I’ve already said, I never made a real plan and was very undecided with the Quar on my left flank, milling about and getting shot at without achieving anything. In the end, my defensive tactics stood no chance against K., who had a clear and aggressive plan, which she saw through.

Next time, we’ll test another scenario and also continue testing the pre-game phase – there are some combinations of troops that could be problematic. Let’s see.

A Sci-Fi Experiment

A couple of days ago, I had a sudden struck of inspiration. Maybe I should just write my own sci-fi wargaming rules… No sooner said than done! I sat down and scribbled a set of simple rules that hopefully would depict sci-fi combat as I envisioned it. I’ve already written about my difficulties with Tomorrow’s War, which basically stem from me not being at all interested in modern weapons and tactics. Some concepts are just not intuitive for me and I can’t be bothered to research them. This, of course, is because my knowledge of how future combat works comes from movies like Star Wars or Serenity. So why not make up my own rules that depict the simplistic and cinematic action I want to see on the tabletop?

The rules are aimed at fast play, that is a game featuring four to five units per side should take about an hour. The core mechanics is an order system I took from a game I played as a teenager, namely Games Workshop’s Space Marine, the first edition of their Epic system. An order chit is placed face down besides each unit and the units are activated according to which order they have. The other important feature are rules for interacting with objectives. I was inspired by Pulp Alley to make the game about achieving objectives and to have units test against their stats to see if they succeed in their interaction.

A possibly provocative thing I did is to deliberately shorten weapons distances. Now I have followed the discussions about this and for historical games I would agree with Richard Clarke and others that modern fire weapons have ranges that, even if reduced in scale, should easily cover the whole of the table. However, I don’t like to envision my sci-fi heroes huddling behind a wall, knowing that one small mistake will cost their lives. I want them to run and do things while the enemy’s blaster shots buzz around them!

That’s it, basically. The rules take up four pages and can be explained in as many minutes. There are some special rules for heavy weapons and vehicles, but most of it is very generic – e.g. there is only one type of heavy support weapon. I just wanted to capture what I feel is the essence of such a thing: It is cumbersome and should be set up to fire and that it has anti-tank capabilities. That’s all I need to know.

With the rules written I was of course keen to play a test game. K. indulged me and we had a short fight between my Quar Expeditionary Force and her TCO. The background story was that both teams were sent to investigate the disappearance of a lone miner somewhere on the fringes of a colony planet.

Looks like someone left in a hurry...
Looks like someone left in a hurry…

There were three objectives and whoever first achieved any two of them had won. I decided to go for the left ones and hope that my sniper team would cover the other objective and hinder any interaction on K.’s side. K. rushed forward with her guys, her Sharkmen heading towards the mine, the Brunt approaching the pile of scrap and the Pasiphaeans covering the advance with their heavy weapon. Climbing into the mine, the Sharkmen soon discovered an important clue: It seems the missing miner found some ancient artefact!

Sharks investigating the mine.
Sharks investigating the mine.

The Brunt, however, couldn’t for the life of them figure out what all the scrap meant. It didn’t help that my snipers harassed them from their position on the hill.

Quar snipers.
Quar snipers.

My first AAA team meanwhile advanced towards the radio equipment and, prying open the case, got hold of a data disc with the miner’s last messages.

Another useful clue!
Another useful clue!

Now it was down to the last objective: Who would be the first? Our forces were beginning to get decimated: With some lucky shots the angry Brunt had dispatched the snipers, while I had managed to take out the Sharkmen. K. decided that her Brunt, who don’t know an isotopic relay from a gyrocoupling, where better suited to fight than to figure out clues and retreated them while she sent some Pasiphaeans over to the scrapheap.

Heading over to solve the riddle of the pile of scrap.
Heading over to solve the riddle of the pile of scrap.

However, my second AAA team, which had been lurking around the mine for a while, finally entered it – after the sharks had been dealt with, of course: who want’s to meet a shark in a dark mine? At first, they couldn’t figure out what had happened, but at the second attempt, they found out what K.’s guys already knew. Having this clue as well as the other from the radio, my teams were ready to pull out. Victory for the Quar!

We found it!
We found it!

This game was a very pleasant surprise. Everything worked very smooth. At first, we were a bit slow as we had to get accustomed to the sequence of the different phases, but we quickly got the hang of it. We felt that the firefights were neither too brutal nor too hurtless. The special weapon teams could deal serious damage but were quite brittle, which means that it will be important to figure out how to best use them. We both liked the whole objective mechanics, as it generates a real story – something we missed with Tomorrow’s War.

We are both looking forward to playing more games with those rules. We will try out vehicles next and will also have a go at other scenarios. It already looks as if this may rekindle our love for sci-fi gaming! Our only regret is that we never solved the riddle of the scrapheap…

Skirmish at Merrybridge

After having repaired the old wooden bridge at Merrybridge, the Yorkist commander ordered his man to put up camp. His scouts told him that there were no enemies nearby, so he didn’t take any special precautions apart from positioning one lonely sentry at the other side of the river. Alas, his scouts were wrong! The Lancastarians had, in fact, already dispatched a small force to attack the Yorkist camp at dawn.

This scenario was inspired by the skirmish at Ferrybridge in 1461, which was a prelude to the Battle of Towton. The Lancastarians had surprised a Yorkist detachment that had repaired the bridge and even managed to kill its commander, Lord FitzWalter. Only the quick response of Warwick and King Edward IV (then still allies), who mobilized reinforcements and sent a flanking force to cross a ford and attack the Lancastarians on the other side of the river, made it possible to retake the bridge.

For our scenario, I had the whole Yorkist force sleeping. As soon as the alarm was sounded, they could, on the Tiffin card, roll for each Big Man and unit to test if they would wake up (for most units, this was 5+). The alarm would be sounded as soon as the sentry had reached the camp – but before he could move, the sentry had to identify (uncover) at least one of the Lancastarian blinds. The Yorkists had one unit more (five against the Lancastarian four), but I was certain that it would be difficult enough to mobilise all their troops in time.

So, at the beginning of the game, the board looked quite peaceful. The lone sentry was watching the horizon while, in the camp, the eager cook already had started to prepare breakfast.

Do I see some movement over there?
Do I spot movement over there?
Gonna make a nice crispy bacon for the Lord!
Gonna make some nice crispy bacon for the Lord!

It wasn’t to stay that quiet. Due to some good dice rolling, the sentry uncovered the blinds pretty fast and hurried back to the camp. The Lancastarians rushed in column formation along the road to cross the bridge before the Yorkists would wake up. To their shock, one group of Lancastarian archers realised that they had forgot to pack their arrows in the excitement! (K. drew the ‘Out of Ammo’ card, which was only the start of a deplorable series of bad luck).

Hurry up men!
Step lively men!
Hey, someone forgot to pack the arrows!
Hey, someone forgot to pack the arrows!

Also, as soon as the sentry reached the camp and sounded the alarm, most of the Yorkist Big Men and groups came rushing out of their tents – another surprisingly good set of dice rolls by me. Only the men-at-arms and the second-in-command, Sir Percival Pillbeam, didn’t hear the trumpets and snored on.

I rushed my archers to the barricades to shoot at the approaching troops while leading the handgonners and the billmen out of the camp to confront the Lancastarians at the bridge.

Let's beat them back!
Let’s beat them back!

Unfortunately, my handgonners were a bit too eager and rushed headlong into the enemy’s billmen, who threw them back without difficulties. Meanwhile, the Lancastarian archers started to pick off my troops. They even hit and wounded poor James Merridew, my Big Man 3; fortunately he was able to continue fighting.

It's only a flesh wound!
It’s only a flesh wound!

The fighting around the bridge was very fierce. My archery took its toll, but finally the Lancastarian men-at-arms managed to break through and attack my bowmen at the barricades. However, my men-at-arms had also finally finished putting on their armour and were preparing to counterattack. Still no sign of Percy Pillbeam, however! A dreadful suspicion started to grow in my commander’s mind… Could it be treachery?

Well, I drew the ‘Treachery’ card, which meant that I had to retreat with the commander’s group for one turn. So a very angry Sir Nicholas Bradwardyn lead his men-at-arms to the tent of Percy Pillbeam only to discover that the treacherous son of a sloth had slunk off! However, this impulsive move allowed the Lancastarian men-at-arms to enter the camp, where they started to destroy the tents.

The end.
The end.

At this point, we decided to call it a day. With most of the Yorkist troops taking to their heals, Sir Bradwardyn on a personal vendetta against his second-in-command and Lancastarians in the camp, it looked like a Lancastarian victory. However, the Yorkist men-at-arms were still fresh and as soon as Sir Bradwardyn’s head would get a bit clearer he could cause havoc among the battered Lancastarians. So in the end, we agreed to declare it a draw.

This was another great game. As always, Sharp Practice delivered a cracking narrative – the whole story of the sleeping Percy Pillbeam, who turned out not be sleeping at all, provided a lot of colour to the carnage that went on at the bridge and at the barricades. However, when I designed the scenario, I didn’t think that the Yorkists would come out of their tents that fast – it would have been interesting if the Lancastarians had advanced further before I could organise my defence. But at the moment, I really seem to have a lucky streak when rolling the dice!

Painting Update

The El Cid project is coming along nicely. I’ve now sorted through the ordered figures and put together the units. It’s going to be 2 DBA bases for a cavalry unit, 4 DBA bases for an infantry unit and 2 for a skirmisher unit.

I only paint in small batches of maximum 16 figures. My scratch built painting rack doesn’t take more, but more importantly, I need the feeling of getting things finished. Mass-producing hundreds of figures at the same time would be a nightmare and I’d never finish!

So, what have I painted so far?

1

Here we have two units of Spanish heavy cavalry and one of peones, which I will probably count as medium infantry for Hail Caesar. Incidentally, I didn’t buy the army lists and will base the unit stats on my own research. Also, I like the idea put forward by the rules writers that the stats should be adapted to the scenarios at hand, so if a small elite band fights against huge masses of ambushers you might give them some characteristics you wouldn’t give them if you fight a large battle. This is one of those ideas that immediately makes sense and one asks oneself why one didn’t think of this!

The cavalry are all Khurasan Norman Milites, very nicely sculpted figures with dynamic poses. At first I wanted to mix them with Splintered Light Normans to add some variety, but when I had them in my hands I realised that Khurasan horses are large – they are, in fact, considerably larger than those of any other manufacturer. So I will make separate units of Splintered Light cavalry and hope they will at least look ok beside their larger brethren.

2

The spears are a motley crew of Splintered Light, Essex and Donnington. They go together quite well! I am also happy with the decision to go for four DBA bases for the infantry. If I had made IMPETUS bases of 8x4cm, I wouldn’t have stuck that many figures on it. But, as K. remarked, the mass of figures really makes them look dynamic.

3

This is what was called a ‘phalanx’ formation and was used by the Almoravids. It consisted of a kneeling front rank of long spears and behind them ranks of javelin throwers. It was very hard to break and accounted for the many victories of the Almoravid forces. For Hail Caesar, I thought of giving them the Long Spears as well as the Pilum special rules, but this might be too powerful, so we’ll see. I’m going to do a couple of those, as they will form the bulk of the Almoravid army.

The front rank consists of Museum Miniatures figures. The second rank is a mix of Museum, Essex (second from left) and Lurkio (third from left). I made a litham, the traditional cloth worn by Berbers that covers the mouth area, out of green stuff for the Essex figures. This is an easy method of converting generic Arab figures to Almoravids.

4

Here you can see some of the light troops. In the front we have light Berber cavalry. Those are from Lurkio and I like their poses – I’ve also got some Berber cavalry from Minifigs, but not only do they have only one pose, it is a very static one.

Behind them are tribal skirmishers from Essex and behind those Spanish skirmishers, a mix of Essex and Minifigs. I’m a bit divided about Essex: Some of their figures are quite bland, but some I find very charming. There was a mix-up with the order, but their customer service was excellent and they sorted it out without any fuss.

Well, that’s my progress so far. Next I will paint up more of the Almoravid spears and a unit of Black Guard, the Almoravid elite infantry. My aim is to have about five or six units per side so we can get in a first game. However, before that I will have to make some new terrain – English pastures won’t really do it for Al-Andalus!