Gaming with Zombies and Rebels

Last week, we had a kind of board game frenzy. It all started with my mates Sigur and Virago coming over to try out Zombicide, which I bought as a second-hand copy some time ago. Sigur brought his impressive collection of survivors and zombies, a mix of figures from different manufacturers, painted as always with the hand of a master.

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We first played the training mission, which was a bit boring and didn’t convince me. We then proceeded to the first proper scenario. The objective was to find foodstuff and escape. Our survivors fought heroically and we didn’t do too badly, but Zombie numbers started to add up and in the end, we succumbed to the undead horde. This time, I really enjoyed the game. The rules are quite simple, but there are lots of decision points. Zombicide is a cooperative game and you really have to work together to achieve your goals. One interesting mechanic is that the more experience points you have, the more Zombies appear each turn. The level of danger is dependent on the character with the most experience, so if one player just wants to max out his guy, all are in deep trouble. Each character has unique features and you can collect and swap equipment. It all makes for a very cinematic game!

The next day, my nephew was over, so we had another go at Zombicide. We played another mission and, proceeding carefully and methodically, managed to win the scenario. The kid was very pleased and voiced his enthusiasm by declaring it to be “the best game ever!”. He even proposed that we should paint up the figures together…

On Saturday, I met the kid’s dad and one of his friends and we had another game. This time, it was a close call and my and the nephew’s characters died, but the other players managed to win the scenario in the end. It again shows how close you have to collaborate: We split up the group early on and me and the kid got isolated and eaten by the Zombies. However, I like to think that our sacrifice provided enough distraction so the others could complete their mission…

Zombicide is a great game and highly recommended if you look for an action-oriented cooperative experience.

To get a change and top off the weekend, K. and I played our first game of Battle Cry. We played the first scenario, the Battle of Bull Run. I’m very pleased with how the 2mm figures look on the board as they convey the feeling of playing a big battle very well. Despite initial scepticism, K. liked the game, especially the card activation mechanics. While my Confederate cavalry swept away K.’s flank, her center advanced steadily and drove off the Rebels. There was a moment when it looked as if I might turn the tables, but in the end the Union won the close fought action. A great game which gave me enough motivation to finish the rest of the figures so we can play other scenarios.

Small Fry for BattleCry

I might already have mentioned that I bought a copy of the American Civil War variant of the C&C series of board games, BattleCry. However, I pretty soon decided that I did not like the figures that come with the game. They are rather large – namely 1/72 – for the level of action depicted in the game. While there is no fixed scale, as far as I understand it a unit represents something between a regiment and a brigade (depending on the scenario). And, to quote an old adage, four guys taking a flag for a walk don’t look like a regiment to me.

I toyed with the idea of making my own wooden blocks but then thought of something that has interested me for some time: Irregular Miniature’s 2mm range. I recently came across pictures where these figures looked really good: Sidney Roundwood did a very interesting Thirty Years’ War game and the current issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy has an intriguing article about a siege game done in 2mm.

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They really are tiny!

I ordered enough figures to substitute all the plastic miniatures of BattleCry. Or so I thought – I actually made a stupid calculation error and had to place another order. Fortunately, the service of Irregular is top-notch! Those are not single figures, but they come in blocks, infantry being in 20 figure blocks with a flag, perfect to represent a regiment. For 30p, you get three of those blocks – a very good price, even if you need the large amount I did.

Now of course those are not detailed models of individuals, but the blocks give a good impression of a mass of men. You can make out the muskets, but all the other detail has to be painted in. An impressionistic approach to painting is really the only option: Dots with flesh colour for the faces, thin lines for the muskets, another series of dots with a steel colour for the bayonets. It’s easy and quick, but it does get rather tedious after a while. I’ve now painted 64 infantry blocks and feel like I need a break. Fortunately, as soon as I’ve finished some cavalry and artillery, this should be enough for a first scenario from the BattleCry rulebook.

2mm is an interesting scale. I kind of like small stuff and the figure blocks give a reasonable well impression of a large mass of men. They open up the possibility of playing really huge battles with very little expense. And now that the Perrys’ Travel Battle is all the rage, I already thought about making my own travel set – with 2mm, it would be possible to make a set for those who travel without a car and don’t want to shell out £50.

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

After my very enthusiastic reaction to Commands & Colors: Ancients, Virago and Sigur decided to expose me to another variant of Richard Borg’s ingenious series of games. This time, it was to be Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. As another mate was also present, we played two parallel games. Virago and Nik had a Peninsular battle while Sigur and I played a scenario from the Austrian Army expansion. Our version of the 1805 Battle of Wertingen pitted me as the French commander against Sigur’s Austrian corps.

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The rules are basically the same and many of the command cards were familiar. Shooting is, of course, more dominant. Terrain is now important, mainly because there is some (in contrast to the empty expanse of the ancient battlefields). Infantry can form squares, which is linked to an interesting mechanic reducing the command cards available for the player – this is supposed to model the loss of flexibility. The change that felt most significant was that attack dice are reduced in proportion to unit losses. While in the ancients version units with only one block left still attack at full strength, in the napoleonics version each block lost also means one die less.

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In our game, the French decided to concentrate on their right flank. This was partly prompted by my deployment and the terrain and partly by the cards I had in my hand. With a combination of heavy cavalry, light infantry and grenadiers, I pretty much rolled up Sigur’s left flank. However, a sharp counter attack by his cavalry forced my infantry into squares, severely limiting my command abilities.

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In the end, three of my infantry units were standing in square. Fortunately, a couple of reckless attacks by my reserve cavalry managed to drive the Austrians out of the town of Wertingen and secured the French victory.

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Having finished our game and Virago and Nik having finished theirs, Nik and I were pitted against each other in a short game of C&C: Ancients. This one I lost rather quickly to the Carthaginians’ nimble and canny light cavalry.

Again I was very impressed by Richard Borg’s design. C&C: Napoleonics was exciting and although a bit slower than the ancients version, it was quick enough to still have time for something else. Working out how to best combine my troops and how to best use my cards was great fun. I did notice that I play those kind of games quite differently than miniature wargames: I play them much more ‘mechanically’ or ‘gamey’, meaning I tend to make quick calculations in my head and weight my chances in a more analytical way than I would in a game of, say, Sharp Practice. This is of course due to the variables being much more transparent – with hexes and fixed movement distances, you know exactly how far you will advance, how far the enemy will be able to advance etc. It feels a bit more like a game of chess in my head, which is something I don’t usually like. However, with the cards and the dice, there is enough friction to render too much planning futile, and the scenarios provide enough of a narrative to keep the game from becoming an empty exercise in abstract problem solving.

And in a rare show of spontaneous spending, I’ve just ordered a second-hand copy of Battle Crythe American Civil War version of C&C. It will hopefully provide me with an easy and simple way to fight some of the larger Civil War actions…

Commands & Colors: Ancients

After my somewhat disparaging comments about hex wargames, Virago and Sigur decided to teach me wrong and invited me for a game of Commands & Colors: Ancients. This game has been a recurring topic on the Meeples & Miniatures podcast, and as Neil Shuck and his mates seldom err, I decided to give it a chance.

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I have to admit that I was highly sceptical. I had once tried the online version of the WW2 variant, Memoir ’44, but I was bored very quickly. However, I wasn’t sure if the boredom was due to the fact that I generally get bored by computer games or because of the game itself.

Virago set up the scenario for the Battle of Dertosa, fought in 215 BC by the Scipio brothers against Hasdrubal Barca, brother of Hannibal. For the first game, I got the Romans, which have quite an advantage in this scenario. Sigur played the Carthaginians.

The rules were quickly explained. They are simple and make sense, something I like. At first I had some trouble sorting out which units could do what, but thanks to Sigur and Virago, everything became clear soon enough. Learning a game from mates is always the best and easiest way!

My Romans won the first game due to brute force and extraordinary luck with the cards and dice. We changed sides and now Virago took the Romans. Playing the Carthaginians, I realised that cunning was called for. Although I could hold off an attack on my right flank for a time, I soon got steamrolled by the might of the Roman infantry.

I have to admit that I’m very impressed by the game. As I’ve said, the rules were easy to learn and never got into the way of playing the game. The games were quick – also something I like – but it still felt as if tactical decisions mattered.

My main scepticism had concerned the card system: I feared that it might be too ‘gamey’ and that decisions were too much dependant on the cards instead of the situation on the battle field. However, it was the other way round: The cards are a great way of modelling command and control, but it always felt as if they were tools for achieving certain battlefield objectives.

I also like the look of the game. I know that some people play it with miniatures, but the wooden blocks actually look really nice. I guess I can live with hexes as long as there are no counters!

Joking apart, C&C:A might actually be the way to make big battles interesting for me. I’ve never been captivated by big battle games and all my efforts in this direction were aborted sooner than later. C&C:A is easy to learn, quick to set up and play and it’s scenario based – it might just be the game I was looking for to fulfill that particular niche.