Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sellswords and Spellcasters in Mordheim

I recently tried out Sellswords and Spellcasters from Ganesh Games using the setting from Mordheim - a city destroyed by a comet centuries ago that is newly opened to exploration.  My players were: an 11 year old boy who wanted to play "that game from Stranger Things (ie, Dungeons and Dragons)", his mom with little gaming experience but great imagination, my 14 yo daughter with some gaming experience but not really a gaming enthusiast and my wife and I.

It went splendidly and everyone had a great time and wants to play again!

My wife and I did a moderate amount of prep work by just asking what kinds of fantasy characters they might like and then showing them a few of my painted models.  I then took that and created the characters.  I tried to also include an option for each one.  For instance, for the mom's character I offered the choice of taking the "Impulsive" disadvantage along with the "Fast" advantage.

Characters were:
Me: A con-artist witch hunter with the Leader, Cleric and Heavy Drinker traits (scarred by all the terrors he has seen in Mordheim)
Wife: A dual-sword wielding fighter with Whirlwind of Steel
Daughter: A thief type with the Greedy disadvantage
Boy: A wizard
Mom: Essentially a Ranger type with Archery, Impulsive, Fast, Forester
(Also 2 three year olds, one from each family, who entertained and interrupted constantly as we played)

Since we had 5 players, I built each type on 30 points each and each player only had one character.  This seemed to work pretty well.  It's not really possible to build a good Wizard with only 30 points so I fudged it a little and gave him two spells: Teleport Other and Magic Dart.  I chose Teleport Other specifically to get him into the idea that this is cooperative and and encourage him to think about how to help everyone else.

First scenario was the Wine in the Brambles -- it was easy to substitute a ruined building for a bramble patch.  We started off really rough as several of us failed 2 or 3 activations in a row.  This kind of spooked us and we started rolling only 1 or 2 dice, but that didn't help much either. Basically, we just had bad luck with reinforcements and ambushes popping off around us.  We didn't manage to get further than 12" into the battlefield, but we still managed to find 2 jugs of wine and get everyone off the board for a technical win.

Then it was a break for King Cake (it's Mardi gras, y'all!) and we went back for a second scenario to try again.  Everyone upgraded their characters (just adding 1 point to either Ranged or Melee was pretty quick) -- that might have been a violation of the campaign rules, but  wanted to keep the game going without bogging down in the campaign.

This time I chose the first scenario (the run through the wasteland) -- the story was that we had fled the city proper but still had to get through the ruins to find the merchant (so that I didn't have to set up all new terrain).  And I ruled that there could be casks of wine here, too, so if we searched the houses we might find some.  This game went MUCH better and we racked up quite a kill count. Nearly everyone was trying for 3 activations per turn and for the most part we were getting 2 activations and an event instead of the other way around like we got in the first game. We even had a great plan -- we would open a path and the wizard would run up the battlefield, then teleport us all up to him and we would start again.  It was a great plan until the wizard rolled a 1 and couldn't cast the spell!

Highlights of the second game were the Ranger using her healing skill to keep everyone healthy as we fought off hordes of goblins, the fighter with Whirlwind of Steel cutting her way through 9 goblins and 3 Orks over the course of the game, and the thief looting every dead goblin in sight.  Oh, and right at the end we managed to surround and kill the troll with archery and crossbow shots without ever having to face it in melee combat!

Everyone is excited to do the campaign turn and go shopping the next time!  It's a great little game.  I love how the characters are the only ones to roll dice and the risk-reward system of the activation and how it interacts with the event deck is just genius.

BTW, while I have several other Ganesha Games products, I haven't really played them.  This one is different.  It's elegant.  I'll be playing this one a lot.  And I knew I had a winner when, the night before, I set up a simple solo game and had so much fun that I couldn't wait to play with my friends the next day.

PS -- I would buy a science-fiction version of this in an instant!  This is the game I wanted Rogue Stars to be.

Some house rules we implemented:
I discarded arbalast and made the crossbow deal 2 damage.  Otherwise I can't see any reason to take a crossbow instead of a bow, and besides crossbows LOOK like they should do more damage.  That's my justification and I'm sticking to it. :-)

My daughter's thief character is holding a little hand-crossbow thing -- totally not a realistic weapon.  I gave it a 12" range, 1 damage and does NOT take a turn to reload.  And I told her that being a thief she can coat it in poison next game.  She was happy.  (Should I be alarmed that my daughter enjoys playing assassins?)

The Mana Fluctuation card -- I like this one -- the Boy was so disappointed after he rolled a 1 and couldn't do spells (without doing blood magic) that I ruled that if the Mana fluctuation came up as +2 afterward we could instead choose to let him cast spells again.  In other words, it would recharge his magical energy instead of giving the +2 to casting.

On a natural 20 to hit, you do +1 damage.  It just seems right.  :-)

Any questions, just ask.  Pictures to come!


Edit: Great discussion of using this game with kids over at Lead Adventure Forum:

What happened to 2017?

You would think I did no gaming in 2017, but the reverse is true.  We actually played a lot of Rebellion, one game of Sails of Glory, and a few X-wing games.  But I've been so busy with a 2-year-old, moving house, getting laid off and trying to find a job (one is found, now, thankfully) that I just haven't had time for the blog.

That's changing for 2018.  We're playing games but I'm also really pushing to get Invasion:UFO published and getting sculpts made for the miniatures.  Yep, if I can possibly afford it I'm going to get my own miniatures line going for the various aliens and human factions in Invasion:UFO.  I've already got some great artwork thanks to some great artists from Fiverr.  I may make a mess of it, but I'll try to publish as much here as possible.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Pulp Alley Trial Game

Pulp Alley definitely wins the award for least time between receiving the rules and actually getting figures on the tabletop and playing the game!  

This was partly because I was able to download the free rules ahead of time but mostly becuase the rules are elegantly simple and make sense.  Oh, we had the usual questions (actions aren't well defined in the rules so for a bit we thought you couldn't run and shoot) and I made some major mistakes (totally forgot for the first few fire-fights that the attacker has the option to take damage instead of just blocking return fire) but the first game was a blast and we can't wait to play again!

We played the "Hidalgo Fire" scenario from the free rules with one major change -- we set it on a Mars-like planet so that we could use our sci-fi figures.  And we threw in a bit of Rogue One inspired backstory:  Far off in another corner of the galaxy, a weapons researcher working for the Empire has gone missing.  Our leagues (Pulp Alley's name for your army list) have independently tracked down the researcher's estranged daughter at an archaeology site on a red planet and hope that we can convince her to help look for her father. 
(By the way, the reason we threw in the Empire from Star Wars is that we built an Imperial stormtrooper Pulp Alley league as a way of teaching ourselves the league creation rules.   The stormies will show up in future scenarios.)

Since this was our first game, I left out a few things.  I placed the minor plot-points equidistant from the Major plot point (instead of us each taking turns placing plot points) and we skipped rolling for scenario random events because I figured we had enough to do with just learning the game.  

But because I like chaos in narrative games, I added 4 mobile "extremely perilous areas" in the form of various beasts that randomly moved about at the end of the turn.  There were 4 of these, one placed between each plot point.

Some highlights (since this was a learning game we didn't take detailed notes) from my side of the battle:

  • "Speedy" the Dalek (a Follower from my league) racing forward on the first turn to reach the Ancient Artifact plot point, only to be immediately knocked out by the Brain Worm swarm (a mobile Extremely Perilous Area).  (Since they were brain worms, the Dalek  wasn't actually hurt -- they just knocked him over and he couldn't get up!)

  • Our most "pulpy" moment when my leader had to spend a turn convincing the archeologist (the Major plot point, the weapon engineer's daughter) to come with him while nearly the entirety of Xan's league shot at him.  (He failed his initial Challenge roll so had to spend another turn convincing her, then finally started moving off the table).
    • This was visualized as:
      • Leader: "Come with me if you want to live"
      • Archeolgist: "No"
      • Leader: "This way! Wait...what?"

  • And Gorgo the Gigant making a pet of one of the other mobile extremely perilous areas -- a giant lizard-like beast.  He was hit twice  by the random movement of this beast but easily passed each challenge -- mostly because both challenges were against his strength!  ("Gorgo not smart but Gorgo strong.")

Final Thoughts - I love this ruleset!  The fun started when we began designing our characters and it kept going throughout the game.  Pulp Alley is going to be getting a lot of play in our house.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Star Wars Armada: First impressions and first game report

Horribly phone pix because the good camera is already packed!

Last weekend my wife and I managed to play a game of Star Wars: Armada amidst the chaos of packing and moving.  It was a blast!

Now let me state that I had no intention of getting into this game.  Oh, I wanted to - the models are beautiful! But the price tag - US$99 - for the core set was just way out of reach.  And then each ship beyond that in the base was another $30-$40.   And I thought GW had cornered the market on games priced out of my reach!

The problem of course is that you aren't buying just the model. You're buying the model, and the cards, and the unique base (why don't the sell the base separately?  Right, because then you could use your own miniatures) and the cards - did I mention the cards?.  I hate the "collectible" aspect of both X-Wing and Armada and I largely ignore it.  (I do like how the Arturi Campaign game starts with basic ships and adds cards as the campaign progresses; I don't like flying a ship well and having it one-shotted by some card combination that I haven't heard of).  My research did lead me to read some re-caps of games that showed that the CCG aspect of Armada was similarly tainted.  However - from what I read it wasn't nearly as bad as X-Wing.

Nebulon B and Victory collide while the corvette
heads around the flank
So two strikes right off the bat kept me from ever seriously considering buying the game.  Maybe if I won the lottery.  Which I don't play.

But then Cool Stuff ran a special right before Christmas.  And what a special it was -- all of the Armada ships were on sale, which was nice, but the kicker was the core set was $39.99.  Whoa.  You could only buy one, but then I found a seller on Amazon who was offering it for $45. 2 for 1 deal?  Plus other ships at 40% off?  How was I to resist?

So I succumbed. :-)  And I'm so glad I did because this is a GREAT game. I love Full Thrust and it will always be my go-to game for fleet actions.  But Armada is definitely in a close second at this point. The unique turning ruler and the order chips, while fiddly, obviates the need for written orders.  Firing before moving adds a really nice strategy element to it.  And fighters are easy, fun to use and not overpowered.

Best of all - you can get a really great game with just the core box set.  Which is exactly what we did.  I took the Imperials with 6 Tie Fighter squadrons and a Victory class Star Destroyer.  She took the Neubulon B and Corvette with 4 X-Wing squadrons.

Rebels flanking the Victory
I was quickly introduced to the Rebel "conga line of death"  as the Rebel ships, with their faster speed and better maneuverability, quickly flanked my Star Destroyer.

In the meantime, my overwhelming fighter superiority (ha!) was dwindling rapidly and I foolishly allowed one X-Wing squadron to lock up 4 TF squadrons.  The X-Wing was lost, but it tied up my fighters for a full turn.  It was about here that I realized that while I had 6 squadrons I only had 18 Ties -- compared to 20 X-Wings!  And my Ties died in droves (as they should).

While I got in some good shots with my Destroyer, damaging both ships, they quickly worked around the flanks to my rear and I was in trouble (6 damage out of 8) by turn 4.  In fact, if I hadn't gotten a lucky critical hit on the Corvette which prevented it from firing through an asteroid field, that would have probably ended the game.  But in my one moment of inspired Admiral-ship, I slammed on the brakes, hid behind an asteroid and tried desperately to repair.   This led the corvette to overshoot my position on turn 5 and park itself directly in front of the Destroyer's overwhelming forward firepower.  Boom! went the corvette.

But it was too little, too late.  The Nebulon B's turn was up but with 3 X-wing squads behind me (one still at full strength) I had Xan roll for their hits first.  Sure enough - 2 hits were enough to end the Victory - and end any chance I had at victory.
X-wings about to put proton torpedoes right up the tail of the Victory

The mark of a good game is how you feel when you lose and what you talk about afterward.  If you feel like you lost capriciously due to vague rules or insane powerups/combinations, then you feel a bit betrayed and you talk about the problem with the game.  But if you lose and still enjoyed yourself and want to play again right away -- that's a well-balanced game.  I was quite proud of my maneuver with my damaged Victory hiding behind the asteroids -- and can't you just see that as a scene from a Star Wars movie?  (or given the quality of recent movies -- a scene in Clone Wars?)  And Alexandra really liked that all the data about a ship was right on the bases so that you didn't have to look anywhere else.  We both liked the turning gauge and how it allowed you to figure out the best maneuver for your ship to take at any given moment.

I'm glad I have the second core set because I really want to try running the Imperials with a second ship.  As it was with the single Destroyer I felt a bit like a tank in a city with no infantry support - easy prey!  And I picked up a few more ships (a Corvette for $5 as an add-on item on Amazon!) during the sale so I'm looking forward to trying those out.  But I'm in no hurry as the core set gives a great game.  Which is good -- because at the astronomical pricepoint of adding new ships, it's probably not going to happen until the next sale.  (I really want an Imperial Star Destroyer but $40...yikes).

And I do wish they sold the bases separately -- how great would it be to run Battlestar Galactica / Star Trek / Babylon 5 crossover battles?  It took them a while to do it with X-Wing so I'm hoping that they will do it for Armada eventually (my fear, though, is that for Armada you also need the shield tokens to attach AND more importantly they come in 3 different sizes.  Even with X-Wing they only offer the basic fighter size bases)

So a big thanks to whoever at Cool Stuff or FFG was able to offer such a great deal on the core set, if only for a limited time.  If your goal was to get new players into the game, you succeeded!  We can't wait to play this one again -- once we get unpacked from our move. :-/

Monday, January 30, 2017

Christmas and January Gaming

Warlord Games Greek Hoplites painted as shades; bases for the warriors created with washer, green stuff and Basisus molds.

There's big moves afoot as I am preparing for a move to a new house which will have...gasp...a gaming room!  With a DOOR!   Which means that I can leave a game set up overnight and not have the pieces become cat toys during the middle of the night.  I'm really hoping this will get me the impetus to finish alpha development and playtesting on Invasion:UFO and get it out to more people to playtest.  My last change completely revamped experience gain and spending and the tactical AI for the aliens, so there's a lot of testing that needs to be done.

A report on the 2016 Christmas Game is coming -- it's written up but I need to get the pictures off the camera (I've realized that a big detriment to the blog is the current friction in getting pictures off the camera, processed, and ready to go up.  I'm looking to see if there are any more efficient processes I could put in place there and I've got a couple I'm experimenting with).

Finally, just before Christmas three events combined to produce the Greek shades at the top of the post:

  1. Sekret Project M was set in motion (to borrow Mike Whittaker's naming convention) -- part of which was an ongoing desire to collect and paint the classical creatures of Greek mythology and a kickstarter which fed that desire (which I am going to surprise my wife with when it arrives - thus the sekret part)
  2. Our Basius kickstarter arrived -- I love these!  I'll be writing some more about these, but I'm very happy we got in the kickstarter and I know we will be buying more of these soon.  The bases pictured came from the "Tundra" base which is great for anything rocky -- sandy beach, meadow with rocks, or...Tundra, I guess :)  It's a great generic base.
  3. And Warlord Games had a 50% off sale for their plastic sprues of Greek Hoplites
The result?  1 set of Greek warriors to paint up for Crooked Dice's 7th Voyage game and 1 set to create the ghosts/shades to oppose those warriors.  Or maybe replace them in a game!  I was thinking it would be neat to have a battle which has a corresponding battle going on in the Underworld.  

I'd also be remiss if I didn't point out that the paint scheme for the shades was inspired by Matakashi whose site always serves to inspire me.  (Search on "shades by Foundry" on the page to see the inspiration - there was no way to direct link)

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Relatively Simple System for Relatively Complex Solo AI

While playtesting my Invasion:UFO (working title, and yes I know about the British TV series) rules, a comment from  a playtester got me thinking -- could my simple AI with semi-random movement be adapted to actually consider Objectives like a human would?  After a bit of thought I came up with a relatively simple way based on the pathfinding that units do in computer games.  It still leaves a lot to the player, of course, but it does achieve the goal of making the AI appear as if it is considering objectives.

I'm putting this out here for others to use if they would like while playtesting continues.  No frills here - the is the rough draft of the rules.

Following the rules is a playtest in action.


A Relatively Simple System for Relatively Complex Solo AI

ARSSRCSAI -- not a very good acronym!

Right now this is aimed at land operations as they usually have one thing in common -- objectives to take.  This is usually less so with aerial, space, navy, etc. although I think it would be interesting to try it with the Aeronef games being kicked around on other threads.

I've tested this half a dozen times now and I think it works, but I worry that my own biases of knowing how it is supposed to work might be influencing it, so...opening it up.  This grew out of skirmish gaming for my Invasion:UFO project but it also worked beautifully with a Victorian Sci-fi game that I ran.  Anyway...the rules!

Components required:
2 six-sided dice
Objective markers - I'm using slips of paper for now - marked
  1 - marked with 30
  2 - marked with 20
  3 - marked with 30
 Enemy force markers aka "blips" or "blinds"
    So far, I've only tested this with 3 markers.  But it should work ok with more -- and including "dummy" markers would make the game more interesting.
    How you divide the forces is really up to you -- but try dividing them into a primary and secondary group at least and maybe a tertiary.  Or the tertiary could be the dummy blind. 
        For skirmish gaming I had 2 groups of 2 figures and 1 group of 3. 
        For the VSF game I had 2 squads with 1 marker, the commander and a command squad with another, and a skirmish cavalry group with a third.
Optional:  Stance cards -- stolen temporarily from Invasion - UFO. 
    NOTE: This is _entirely optional_ but it does give the enemy a little more random movement while _tending_ to move directly toward the objectives.  But if you like, skip this and just move the enemy toward the objective when you get to that part.
    Decide what the enemy commander's temperament is or just roll d6
        1,2: Aggressive
        3,4: Confrontational (this will be renamed - it's really "normal")
        5,6: Cautious

3 foot by 3 foot game board -- I think it will work for larger areas but haven't tested it.  What's important is that you can divide it into roughly equal "squares" and having squares of 1 foot on a side is convenient.  For the AI, the board is divided into 9 numbered squares but the numbering is different for setup and objectives.

For Setup the board is numbered:
        1    2    3
        4    5    6
        X    X    X
    (where X is the human deployment zone -- no enemy units will be placed there)

For objectives the board is numbered:
        X    X    X
        1    2    3
        4    5    6
    (where X is the AI deployment zone -- no objectives will be placed there)

    Up for discussion but what I do: 
    1.  Pick the side for your forces to come in on.  Place your forces - either randomly as per the AI below or however you like.

    2.    Place the AI units using the Setup numbering. 
    3.  Place the AI objectives.  You will place one 30, one 20, and one 10 marker.  Roll a d6 and place the marker in the square indicated -- place it in cover, on top of hills, in buildings -- this is a case where the more terrain the better, probably.  If you roll the same square -- well, this is a case that needs testing.  I think it works best to just roll again so that there is only one onjectice per square but I could be wrong.
    4.  Finally, roll the Enemy Mission.  This is to determine what happens when the AI hits an objective.  So far I just have:
        1-3: Take and Hold.  The enemy will stop when it achieves an objective
        4-6: Patrol.  The enemy will continue to move when it hits an objective.  I'm not sure how well this would work, actually.  Each blip would need to track which objective it had already hit, which would be messy.  Alternately maybe each objective would simply be removed instead of reduced by 10?  More thought needed here.
    The enemy remains as blips until the player's units identify the blip.  I've just been using LOS but it depends on what kind of game you are playing.  I think it would be very interesting to play a naval surface fleet versus an AI submarine fleet, for instance, and use sensor rules to determine when the blip converts to models. 
    Converting - the provess of exchanging blips to models.  For my skirmish game I don't place the models right on the blip when it converts; I roll an offset with a d6 and a direction die just to add more uncertainty.
        Movement rate prior  to converting is abstracted.  I use 6" for my blips.  They ignore terrain and can end up on impassable terrain since I then roll an offset when I convert them (see above)
        Here's the heart of it!
        1.  Starting from left to right, select a blip.
        2.  Measure the distance to the 30 objective. 
        3.  Subtract the distance from 30 to get a score.
                    If the 30 blip is 24" away the score is 6.
                    If the 30 blip is 31" away the score is -1.
                    If the 30 blip is 9" away the score is 21.
        4.  Repeat step 2 and 3 for the 20 objective and the 10 objective.
        5.    From this you should have 1 high score -- if a score is tied the higher numbered objective wins
        6.  Take the stance card and place it against the blip.  Aim the "This side toward enemy" arrow at the winning objective.
        7.  Roll 2d6 and move the blip in accordance with the roll  (or move it toward the objective if not using the stance cards)
        8.  IF THE BLIP CONTACTS AN OBJECTIVE (or I usually give a little lee-way like within 1" or 2"):
            A) The objective is immediately demoted to the next lower level.  A 30 objective becomes a 20.  A 20 becomes a 10.  A 10 objective has been achieved and is removed from the board.
                a) the blip contacting the objective makes no further movement this game.


In this example, I did not use the Stance cards for clarity.  So the blips always move in a straight line toward the highest scoring objectives.  I used Battle Chronicler for the maps -- it's my first time using it but I think it will work pretty well for future examples.  I'm really grateful to the author for providing his work for free.

In this example, I am resolving the objective calculations from left to right (ie A then B then C).

I used random deployment in the top 3 squares.  A and B happened to end up in the same quadrant.
Objective 30 is the biggest draw on the board.  All 3 blips start moving toward it.

Nothing's changed in this relatively simple example, so all blips continue towards the Primary Objective (30).  Notice though that C is close to Objective 20.

Objective achieved!  A makes the first move and moves onto Objective 30.  Objective 30 now becomes a "20" objective.  B moves next.  Both objective 20s are a draw, but the former Objective 30 is stronger since it is closer.  B moves onto the farm house and further reduces the objective value to 10.   Finally, C resolves its move.  There are two "10" objectives quite a distance away, so C changes its path and heads toward Objective 20, the secondary objective.

Both A and B are on an objective and this is a "Take and Hold" mission.  They will no longer move (unless forced off the objective - which would up the objective by 10 - need to add that in the rules above).  C takes the hill and that ends the game as far as the AI is concerned.

Of course, this is a simple example but even this simple example has a neat flow to it that goes beyond just using semi-random movement.

Please let me know in the comments if you try this out!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Update with photos!

Yes, I actually managed to create some terrain today for Too Fat Lardies' Sharp Practice Deployment Point Contest (whew)!

Here is my accompanying letter with the photos:

Most esteemed gentlemen (and Rich),
I realize that I may technically be too late as I am submitting from across the pond where there is 1 hour and 15 minutes until July 1.  But no matter -- it was worthwhile getting these done.  And I would have had it done sooner if not for those weedy coves at
You see, my plan for this vignette was to use only items which I had built myself -- including, if needed, building models in a 3d program and having them 3d printed.  The ammunition boxes and barrels were done by this method and they arrived at my home today -- in fact only 6 hours ago -- rather than on June 27 as the aforementioned weedy coves had promised.  Alas, the Martini-Henry rifles which I created seemed a bit anemic when placed in the vignette and I fell back to using some spare Wargames Factory bits.  (I will have another go at the rifles -- it's not uncommon to have to print a couple times to get the dimensions exactly right, especially for miniature items)

I plan on using these for my own Imagi-Nations colonial gaming and Victorian Science Fiction gaming.  Without further ado, let me present the deployment points of Victoria's Own Barsoomian Rifles, featuring ammunition boxes based on images from Ian Knight's website, the ubiquitous Martini-Henry rifle and a water barrel for those dry nights on Mars or wherever on Earth they are called to serve.
Just for interest I am also including a picture  of the 3d printed ammo box fresh out of the box at 4pm this afternoon.
Enjoy and thank you so  much for running this contest and for producing Sharp Practice!

Small update - I found my original sketch.  So now this post has the full path from concept to design to print to finished product!