Friday, August 31, 2018

Napoleonic Bridges -- A World without C-4

Long time, no write, I guess.  Work and extracurricular activities have directed me elsewhere.

But tonight I was playing through a few rousing sessions of "Holdfast:Nations at War" with my son.  For the unfamiliar, it's a 75-on-a-side Napoleonic skirmish game.  Lovely models and terrain wrapped around a combat system I cannot seem to get any better at.  Still, there aren't enough Napoleonic shooters to let me complain overmuch.

In the midst of one fight, I wound up a British line infantryman trying to fight my way over a bridge "somewhere in Spain".  After a lot of shooting -- and a lot of dying -- it hit me really hard.  Hard enough that I stopped fighting and took a picture.

You see, over at, I'm one of two umpires running an 1809 Kriegsspiel using the Flight of the Eagle rules.  Much in the early going in the scenario involves the Austrians crashing across either the Isar or the Danube and the French -- significantly outnumbered -- trying to stop them.  As the game has unfolded over the past month, there have been numerous attempts to build bridges, destroy bridges, build pontoon boats, damage bridges, &c.  My fellow umpire and I have agreed that folks don't quite seem to understand how difficult it was to either build paths across rivers or to significantly damage bridges.  This was, after all, the era before the Army Corps of Engineers and C-4.  I'm inclined to think most of the tasks imagined by the players were nigh impossible and the "nigh" got dropped if your opponent happened to have forces on the other bank to stop you.

The rules do an excellent job, I think, of getting at this, but the players are certainly kicking against the restrictions.  I shall have to tell them a Holdfast story or two.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dearest M:TG: RULE. BOOK.

I will stipulate that, if I am not yet old in a traditional sense, I am of an age.  I am of an age to remember M:TG emerging from Mr. Garfield's mind and sweeping a fair portion of traditional gaming from the field.  I was out of graduate school when GenCon became a field of cards and clix.  I remember walking through a local convention's Magic hall -- held in a gym as I recall -- and seeing its unslept and unwashed practitioners begging for cards like lepers in an antique slum.

I must also grant, for only a great fool would not, Magic's immense success.  It created a genre, an industry really, and boasts millions of players over several generations, billions of cards, a world-spanning tournament, and, of course, sales upon sales.

Perhaps this is why its creators have lost the deep magic of creating rule books.  Those are still fondly thought of, are they not?  Documents that describe the proper play of a game, who does what when, what constitutes victory, and tries as best as is possible to navigate foreseeable game circumstance are still an expected part of gaming, no?

I tend to be of like mind with Tom Vasel when it comes to CCGs and have been since Magic was first released, i.e., do not worry too much about collecting.  Buy enough cards to play against a friend, play said friend, and decide if the game is any good.  Then, if you like the game, perhaps collect a few booster packs and let that be that.  It is only the path of madness to imagine you will ever do more and watching competitive games on YouTube as I have of late has only confirmed me in this belief.  Besides, I buy far too many games to ever be able to afford an obsession with one.  Courses for horses, of course...

So when I first played Magic, I learned to do so from the little book of rules that came with it.  Perfect it was likely not but it served its purpose.  I played the game, found it not particularly to my interests, and moved on.

Fast forward nigh 20 years -- as I say, I'm of an age -- and my son is now 10.  Pokemon is losing its grip on his impatient mind and I suggested we give Magic a go.  He was up for it.  We hit the FLGS and came home with the two boxes depicted above.  As can be seen, these are pre-built decks from the most recent series and are sold as introductions to the game.  I very much liked the suggestion on one of the "Quick Reference" sheets that the boosters remain unopened until the game and then the deck is learned.

Eager to start, I looked for the rule book.

In his box and mine.

Let me give away the ending:  there is not one included.

Oh, there's the reference card that touches lightly the flow of the game, but provides none of the details.  There is no simple statement that tapped creatures may not block.  Conversely, there is no indication that creatures suffering from "summoning sickness" can.  And, of course, there's no suggestion as to how to keep track on a busy table of which characters are tapped and which are sick.  I leave to the side the question of what in the nine realms one is supposed to do with these Planeswalkers.

There's also a suggestion that one visit the "start here"  website which is well done in its own way, but which contains videos -- hosted by a very enthusiastic young fellow -- which are in no way a proper substitute for a rule book and, I observe, answer none of the questions given above -- save the Planeswalker bit.

There is, of course a meta on-line tome of rules.  I will not here raise my objection that no rule set for a card game should ever be solely on line.  I will, however, observe that even this website is obtuse, inquiring which format for the game you want to play before you've even learned to play it.  I would have thought such things would be considered last.  It is also a bit unnerving to realize that the last deck you owned would only be playable as something approaching an antique.

And do not attempt to learn this game using videos. on YouTube.  The official videos are sufficiently incomplete as to be frustrating.  That which is unofficial runs along a spectrum.  On one end are would-be YouTube plutocrats struggling to form sentences and keep the GoPros they got for Christmas on their heads.  On the other end is coverage of the national tournaments where 733+ (is that still a thing?) slang-talking uber-players commentate as two of their peers play the game the way we played Sheepshead in high school, i,e,, far too quickly to make sense of it if you are not intimately familiar with the game.  My son and I watched nearly an hour of these videos and began playing a meta game where we raised our hands when we either understood what was going on or grokked what the commentators were saying to one another.

M:TG, I understand you have been around for longer than many of your players have been alive.  I know card sets have come and gone, rules have grown, and you have even had to ban cards because, clever beasts that we are, we found ways to break your game that you could never have anticipated.

I still want a rule book.  No, I need a rule book and think a game should come with one.


Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hey, um, "Sanctus Reach"? Yeah, I'm Sorry.

Look, this is going to be one of those weird apologies that sounds like it really isn't an apology.

But it is.

I mean, ever since I heard about you:,000.Sanctus.Reach

I have absolutely had my doubts.  Your models aren't a fraction as pretty as those in the Warhammer 40k RTS games, your weapon effects are average, your square-based movement system feels straight out of the first Clinton administration, and for the love of all that is just, you made the Space Wolves the centerpiece of the whole affair.  I know there are lovers of the Void Vikings, but their arcane codex, weird troop classifications, and general inferiority to just about every other chapter save the wildly-overdone Ultras, helped me to bounce and bounce hard over your less-than-burnished carapace.

One does get Titan class units.
You came to the door bearing the aforementioned bearded freaks and Orks.  The latter has been done, but is not a bad thing.  Since launch, you've been gilded with a thin Ork expansion and a far nicer Imperial Guard addition.  Still, there's little word on whether the other chapters, much less the other races, will ever make an appearance.  The devotees tell me the Sanctus Reach story involves the chaos dwarves at some point -- I honestly should have known that -- but if they show 'round before the Tyrannids, we will have words in private.

It also cannot go without mention that you shipped with PBEM++ and not connected multi-player.   This despite the fact that, post setup, your turns play in minutes.

And yet.

For the past several weeks you and I have had immense fun.  You can keep the campaign game, involving Space Wolves as it does, but my son and I have been having a fine time generating skirmish after skirmish and trying out the different units, maps, and skirmish game types. Your maps feel bigger than they did at first and they play out quite a bit like I remember 40k working on the tabletop.

My Blood Angels have Corvus I beaks.  This matters to me.

Cover matters.  Weapons feel different from each other.  And you offer all manner of choices re: "do I move in and take fire or try to strike from a distance?"  "Do I dance around and try to plink him from afar or just get stuck in?"  These are 40k choices and I like them.

And while your animations are still a bit stilted and sound limited, there's life in your characters and many of them look, sound, and act as I once imagined the little plastic fellows doing.

You've let us tell stories.  Like the brave Warboss who rushed his many foes rather than run away.

Or, on the flip side, the Thunder Hammer (tm) Terminator squad that took on all comers only to perish in a hail of fire from his own Whirlwind (tm).  Friendly fire, indeed, isn't.

You've even helped me, a life-long devotee of the Space Marines, appreciate the IG a bit more.  Even as they die in their hundreds and their AFVs are reduced to ash.

You have been so much fun, in fact, that my son and I have taken to playing two MP games simultaneously just so we don't have have such a horrible case of ludus interruptus from PBEM++.

In short, you've been a wonderful surprise.  A surprise in need of more content and connected MP to be sure, but a surprise nonetheless.

And I'm sorry.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Another Door

How much do I like "Gloomhaven" so far?  Enough to write this:


Morth pulled his blood-stained fist away from the prostrate bandit's face and smiled.  The weedy little bastard had stopped breathing.  All to the good.

Barrows were no place for Inox.  Low ceilings and a stink that stays with you.  But this run came with a promise of money and he needed all of that.

So, for that matter, did the little tinkerer Merkusa and the Cragheart whose name Morth couldn't pronounce.  They were picking through the belongings of the six bandits they'd just killed.  Based his companions' expressions, they weren't finding much.  The Cragheart seemed to be cursing to himself in the weird collection of grating sounds and grunts his people call a language.

"Why hole up here," Morth asked, almost to himself.

"No idea," Merkusa replied.  Morth was always surprised at how well she could hear.  And that her voice was deeper and gentler than you'd expect from someone short of four feet tall.

"Any of them the guy we're looking for," she asked.

"No," the Cragheart said, not looking up from his looting.  "All little men."

Their patroness had set them after the "big" man only a few days before.  All three of them must have set the tavern reeking with the sweet smell of failure; or at least that's why Morth figured she approached them.

She had a common story:  thief steals from thief and aggrieved thief hires the destitute to do her bidding.  She had money up front and gave good directions, so it was all fair enough, but Morth still couldn't figure out why bandits would hide out in a tomb.

"Traps by the door," Merkusa said evenly.  She was down on her hands and knees gently feeling around the edges of the traps.

"What now," the Cragheart asked.

Merkusa didn't respond, but produced a gimmick from her pocket.  They are best described as little balls of wire, metal, and witchcraft.  Tinkerers use them for all kinds of purposes. She pressed a button hidden somewhere inside this one and it began to glow an off shade of green.  She stood up, took a step back from the trap, and tossed the gimmick onto the floor.  It scuttled a few feet forward, straight as an arrow.  Before long the trap triggered and the gimmick was shattered into metal fragments.

"Poor business," Merkusa said, collecting a few of the bits of the gimmick that were scattered about.  "No great genius at work here."

She took a step towards the closed door in the middle of the wall just past the traps.

"And what's your plan," Morth asked.

"Opening the door," the Tinkerer responded, still facing forward.

"How do you know there aren't half a hundred of these buggers waiting on the other side?"

"Why didn't they come crashing through the door when we were carving up their friends," Merkusa said, finally turning to look at the Inox.

"They're cowards," Morth said.

"I'll see them," the Cragheart said, taking a step toward the door.

Merkusa didn't wait.  Seeing the door had no handle, she pushed at its center and it swung easily into the next room.   It swung so easily, in fact, that the tinkerer tottered forward a bit.

And that's when the arrows came.

The trio later figured out that there had been three bandit archers hiding behind overturned tables in the middle of the room.  Merkusa never saw them or their arrows.  One fired well wide of her to the right but the other two struck home, burying one arrow in each of her shoulders.  Since she was much younger she had learned never to let an enemy hear her pain and so she kept silent, but the wounds forced her to the ground.

As took a knee, Morth and the Cragheart could see more clearly into the room beyond.  Morth understood immediately why the bandits had chosen to stay in the barrow.

At the back wall, standing beneath a guttering torch, was a pair of re-animated skeletons.  Morth had heard rumors of humans consorting with the dead, but the sensibilities of the Inox are such that he never thought it possible.  Watching the skeletons advance towards Merkusa, trapped as she was in the doorway, was almost too much for the him to process.


Whatever the unreality of it, if Morth had an instinct it was to combat and it carried him into the next room.  He leapt over Merkusa, crouching as she was in the door way, and then waded into the small pool of bandits and bones, screaming horrible curses.  Two of the archers fell at a blow and he rushed further into the room and towards the skeletons who had joined the remaining bandits at the tables.  Both tables were turned on their sides and the two had been placed just far enough apart to block most of the room but permit the passage of a single person between them.

As he prepared to jump over the tables, he heard the Cragheart shout, "what now?"

"Heal her and kill them," he replied over his shoulder.

"I'll be fine," Merkusa said.  "Just get me out of this doorway."

Morth heard an arrow whistle past his ear and he wheeled to see the last of the archers notching another.  She fired  and hit him just below his left shoulder.   He covered the last few feet between himself and the tables in two strides and jumped to the other side.  He landed no more than two feet from the archer who by now was having a difficult time preparing another arrow for all her trembling.

Morth laughed.  Inox young are taught that fear is the first and the last enemy.

He and his friends would live.  Hopefully the thief they were looking for would be among the dead.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Happy New Year -- A Plan to March with Bonaparte

Well it has been a while, hasn't it?  I've published a fair amount of stuff over at, but, honestly, I feel like I've fallen behind a bit in thinking and writing about games.  That said, I've done well in keeping to my New Year's resolution which is to play all of the Commands and Colors: Napoleonics scenarios -- standard, epic, and LGB -- as they fall throughout the year.  I intend to play the French against my son's allies and we'll see how things go.  He's a pretty good at evaluating games. if he likes losing no better than the next fellow.

Game the first was Corunna, 16th January 1809.  A well known battle to those that love the Peninsular War, it was the bitter end of the long retreat of the British army in the Peninsula that began months before when Napoleon crossed the Pyrenees and shattered the Allied armies raising insurrection against him.  Turning his attention back East, the Emperor left Marshal Soult to mop matters up and he drove Sir John Moore and his army mercilessly back to the port town of Corunna.

The map lays out well in C&C:N.  The principle pieces are all there -- notably the small town of Elvina which was the center of much bloody fighting.

In our game, my son, as is his wont, had no notion of waiting for my advance and instead descended on my right.  He made good progress, but some lucky card play -- I came up with not one but two "Assault Right" cards -- blunted that business.  Matters then turned to the center where he did everything in his power to push his Guards forward.  For those unfamiliar, British Guard Grenadiers not only have five blocks to the usual four, but, depending on the cards played to activate them, they can roll as many as seven dice.  I knew I had to do everything I could to blunt them and burned through tactical cards to hold him at bay.

In the end, his aggression got the better of him and I would up with a 6-3 victory.  I am curious as to why the scenario allocated five tactics cards to the French and only four to the British.  Each side receives the same number of command cards and I can see no reason for conferring this advantage on the French.

Still, a fine scenario and, for your enjoyment, here it is in 42 seconds:

Vive L'Empereur!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A New Review and Saying Words About Games

Back now from not merely Jena-Auerstedt but Leipzig, Saalfeld, Schleitz, Lutzen, and Breitenfeld.  The latter two were a late addition, but I couldn't say no to my guy Gustavus Adolphus II.

Since coming home a bit over a week ago I've had this published:

And said some words about gaming here:

Both worth checking out, but I'm hardly unbiased.