On the Painting Table

I’ve been pretty industrious painting-wise during the last weeks. After finishing the Confederate cavalry, I’ve decided that I also want a force of white Union troops. I got figures in marching pose for a change and have now finished three groups of those. I’ve got a couple more coming up, this time in shooting and loading poses so they can also be used as skirmishers.

The last issue of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy contains a fun looking mini campaign for Sharp Practice featuring the Louisiana Tigers, the most famous (and one of the few) Southern Zouave regiments. I wanted to paint Zouaves for a while and this seemed as good an excuse as any. Fortunately, the scenario specifies only one group of skirmishers as the Tiger Rifles, the company that wore the characteristic uniform with striped trousers. I was a bit apprehensive about doing the stripes, but I think they worked out ok.

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And now for something completely different: rats! My recent game of Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes gave me the spontaneous idea to make a small fantasy warband. I like rats and I’ve always wanted to have Skaven, so I got a couple of figures very cheaply second-hand. Virago has promised me to give me some more.

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This is actually my first attempt at 28mm Games Workshop figures. I’m not totally convinced, as they contain too many frills and furbelows for my taste. Still, second-hand GW figures are arguably the cheapest option of getting 28mm fantasy figures and they will work fine enough. I hope that I can wangle some plainer rats off Virago.

Finally, I’m making more sabot bases for the 15mm ACW figures. They are made of magnetic foil on thin sheets of brass – looks ok, is very handy for moving groups in formation and allows easy removal of casualties.

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Daunenfein’s Downfall – An ASOBH AAR

Last week I was down at the club again. While Virago and Annatar continued their Sharp Practice saga, Sigur and I had a game of Advanced Songs of Blades and Heroes. I was familiar with the basic concepts, as I’ve played Flashing Steel, which is based on the Songs of Blades and Heroes engine, quite often. However, I haven’t had a game in a while and never played the new version.

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There are a couple of small changes in the new version and one big innovation, namely reactions. If you fail one activation roll, your opponent may now react by trying to activate one of his or her figures for one action. If you fail two rolls, the opponent may either make two reactions or take over and start a new turn. I was curious how that would play out – I feared that it might drag out the game a bit or might make it a bit convoluted, distracting from the simple elegance of the rules.

We played on a 6’x4′ table using Sigur’s game mat, which he got from DeepCut Studios. He also brought along his splendidly painted buildings, most of them from Ziterdes, and his stunning figures. The whole set up look extremely nice!

I took the human faction, led by noble Count Daunenfein on his fine steed. His brave companions were Smirre, another mounted guy with a bald pate and a humongous hammer, as well as a slightly crazed inventor with an arquebus. They also had some lackeys, two guys with greatswords and three with spears. The sinister Dark Elves confronting them were led by a Sorceress. Their party consisted of a witch, an assassin, a harpy, two elves with crossbows and three Raiders with hand weapons.

We played with the secret mission generator and each of us drew a paper slip with an objective. My aim was to get at least half of my people across the table.

While Sigur concentrated his guys in the middle, I had a more extended line, with Smirre on my left flank, my leader and the harquebusier in the middle and some foot soldiers on the right.

The sorceress charged into the town square and threw over a table to get cover. My harquebusier also ran forward, ducking from cover to cover to get into a position to shoot. As my right flank lackeys were showing little interest in confronting a horde of shrieking Dark Elves, my leader rode over and made them get a move on.

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Move, you lazy bastards!

I realised that a mounted leader is a very useful thing to have, what with him giving a +1 on activations within long range!

The harquebusier finally stepped out and shot. He was as surprised as anyone when one of the crossbow Elves fell down dead. Excited, he fumbled to reload while I rushed forward a lackey to cover him. In vain – before he could get off another shot, he was cut down by the ghastly Witch Elf and an Elf waving a flag. A melee started to develop in the town square, with two of my lackeys pitted against the assassin, the witch and a Raider.

Meanwhile, the Sorceress had hidden behind a stone wall. A wild charge by one of my spearmen was thwarted by the harpy, who faithfully defended her mistress.

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The harpy deals with the spearman.

Now Smirre decided to even the odds and attack the Sorceress from behind. However, the wily wizard did see him in time and sent a sleeping spell. Smirre promptly started to snore!

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Smirre sleeps.

This was bad and thwarted my carefully laid out plans. I had moved two of my lackeys around the house to my right and brought them into position to slip around Sigur’s flank.

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Lackeys sneaking through backyards.

Having drawn most of Sigur’s guys into a melee in the town square, I wanted to rush my two mounted men over to the other side of the table. And now one of them was sleeping!

The only way to wake someone up is to move into contact. As Smirre was quite isolated on my left, I had to move my leader over. Grudgingly, he trotted in Smirre’s direction, hacking at the harpy on the way.

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Rise and shine, I brought coffee!

However, another shock was to follow: Suddenly, the assassin grabbed a chest lying around in the town square and started to head back. Count Daunenfein didn’t know what was in there, but he was going to make damned certain the dirty Elves didn’t get their grubby fingers on it!

The cards were now on the table: I knew Sigur’s objective and he had guessed mine. The whole battle started to move to the Northern table edge. The Elves had two stragglers, which rushed over to stop my sneaky flank lackeys.

While my guys in the town square tried to stop the assassin carrying away the chest, the Count had managed to wake up Smirre. Both heroes spurred their horses and rode around the melee to help out the lackeys trying to cross the table.

Their charge shocked the Elf rearguard. One Raider was cut down, but then the Sorceress rushed forward and tried to send Smirre back to the land of dreams. This time the bleary-eyed warrior resisted – no one makes better coffee than Count Daunenfein! Angrily, the Sorceress resorted to throwing a fireball, which knocked Daunenfein from his horse. Fortunately, he fell lightly, so he could remount. Meanwhile, Smirre cut down the second Raider. But now a new danger lurked: The assassin had managed to break free from the melee and was getting close to the table edge. Recklessly, the remounted Count charged him.

The assassin, however, quickly sidestepped and tripped the horse, causing Daunenfein to fall down again. Smelling coffee, from the sky above the harpy shot down and gave the poor Count a good kick. The noble heroe was out cold. When his lackeys saw this scene, horror struck them and they ran away. Even brave Smirre took to his heels! One single lackey stood with grim resolution, prepared to sell his life dearly. The game, however, was over…

Victory for Sigur and his Dark Elves!

What a fantastic game! It was dramatic and exciting, with some unexpected twists and really dynamic action which moved from the town square to the table edge. The reaction mechanics is great, it doesn’t slow down the game too much and makes the other player constantly involved.

The only thing that surprised me was the length of the game: We played for more than three hours, which is much longer than what I am used to with Flashing Steel (and longer than the Sharp Practice game on the other table!). The reason for this might have been that we had larger forces – with FS, we normally play with six figures per side and this time, we had eight respectively nine per player. But the main reason, I think, was the size of the table: SOBH is geared towards a 3’x3′ table and using a larger table means a lot more maneuvering. Don’t get me wrong, there was not a minute I was bored during this game and I really liked how the action moved from one part of the table to another. However, for a quick game, it may be better to use a smaller table or at least to designate an area of the large table as the playing field.

This game reminded me again of how great a system SOBH is! I really hope we’ll have another game soon.

Sigur has also written a great AAR, which gives a bit more background information on the warring heroes and which can be found at Skirmish Wargaming. He also kindly let me use some of his photos.

More Board Gaming Fun

We are really busy with board games at the moment. Two days ago, friends invited us to play Talisman. The host is a real fan of the game – in fact, he told us that it’s his favourite board game! I’ve never played before and therefore was very curious, especially since it’s a classic and I was interested in how it would put up in relation to modern board games.

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Each of us drew three characters and we could choose one of them. I took the Prophetess, who has some fun abilities. K. was the Grave Robber, while the others were Sorceress and Doomsayer. The game itself is quite fun: You walk around the board, trying to improve your abilities and get equipment so you can enter the dangerous inner regions and finally grab the Crown of Command. The rules are not complicated and the adventure cards provide fun and dramatic encounters. I liked the narrative developing around my character, who was not very powerful but managed to get into the inner regions rather soon. I was the first to have a talisman, but when I decided to tackle the area where the crown was (with the help of a daemon I had befriended with a spell) I was thrown out immediately. Better luck next time!

As the game can go for a while, we decided to split it over two sessions. We took photos of the board and collected all our cards in envelopes, so we can continue as soon as we meet again.

Talisman shows its age in some aspects: It’s quite dependent on luck and dice-rolling, it’s a rather long game and player interaction is not very high. However, it nevertheless is great fun. Drawing an adventure card is always thrilling and the upside of the luck dependency is that the game is rich in variety. I’m certainly looking forward to finishing our session – and I’m still confident that I can get my hands on this crown!

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Another board game we played last week was Mice & Mystics. I bought it some time ago specifically for my nieces and the older one finally wanted to give it a go. She just turned seven and never played anything other than kids games, so I was curious how she would do. At first, it seemed that she was a bit over challenged and I wasn’t sure how much she liked the experience. However, her parents told me that she talked about nothing else than how cool this game was for the rest of the day and she keeps pestering me to have another game, so I guess she did like it. We were also joined by our nephew, who is now 13 and an old hand at geeky board games. He was a real gentleman and contributed a lot to make the game a great experience for his younger cousin.

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Mice & Mystics is a cooperative dungeon crawler mainly aimed at kids. The rules are simple but interesting enough to demand sound tactical decisions. The story is exciting, but it never gets brutal – characters can’t die, they get captured if they have a certain amount of wounds, meaning they can be freed by the others and continue playing. This makes it easier for younger kids, as you are not out of the game if you make a mistake (like in Zombicide). Also, I really like the miniatures and being a fan of anthropomorphic animals I had them painted up a while a go.

Virago told me that his girls also love Mice & Mystics, so it’s highly recommended if you want to introduce your offspring to geeky board games.

Dungeons & Dragons

Role-playing has now become a regular thing for us. Apart from running the occasional game for the nephew, the group that started out almost exactly a year ago still meets. However, we recently changed from Dungeonslayers to the latest edition of Dungeons & Dragons.

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This move was motivated mainly by watching Critical Role. For those of you who never heard of it, Critical Role is a series broadcast by Geek&Sundry where you basically watch a bunch of voice actors play D&D. This is surprisingly fun and after listening to a couple of episodes, K. and I got completely sucked into the story. Highly recommended if you want some background to your painting!

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Critical Role is also a great advertisement for D&D, as it shows the system at its best: engaging characters with clear profiles, dramatic stories and exciting battles. Fortunately, my mate Alex also liked what he saw and had already started to buy the books. After a quick deliberation, the group decided to take the plunge and we converted our Dungeonslayers characters into D&D characters.

Now the first thing I realised is that RPG books don’t come cheap! The next time someone complains about the price of wargames rules, I’ll point out how much one of the D&D books costs. Mind you, I don’t think RPG books or wargames rules are overpriced. Considering the amount of work that goes into them and, more importantly, the amount of gaming you get out of them, I actually think the price is fair.

And the production value of the D&D books is very high. They’re nice hardcover volumes with a clear layout and lots of inspiring illustrations. The rules are presented in a well structured and concise fashion and they even have an index.

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There are several things I especially like: For one, I like how they incorporate diversity without making a fuss about it. The illustrations show male and female characters, the latter clad in sensible clothing, and they also show characters with different skin colour. Second, the rules stress the importance of the narrative and of story-telling. Take the Dungeon Master’s Guide’s advice on running a campaign, for example: Instead of presenting a semi-educated treatise on how to model the economy of the country your campaign is set in (something that was abundant in my roleplaying youth), it gives clear and concise hints about how to structure and develop the narrative of the campaign. In a word: it gives you the information that matters for playing the game, not for inventing a world for its own sake. I also like character creation. The addition of a background is a great thing to give your character profile and it really encourages role-playing.

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We’ve now had a couple of games and while we are still a bit shaky with some of the rules, it’s been great fun for all. We’ve even been joined by two new gamers. I’m looking forward to having many more games of D&D!