Monday, August 3, 2020

Virtual Conventions -- Animadversions

My buddy Vance is given to accusing me of being that old guy that yells at clouds (cf. The Simpsons).  I'd probably agree on most days.  I truly have, though, been preaching the virtues of virtual gaming for many months.  Ever since I got over the modest learning curve of Tabletop Simulator, I've been addicted to playing all kinds of games, but particularly miniatures, against friends spread out all over the world.  And, yes, this has informed my dislike of solitaire gaming and, by indirection, my incomprehension of those who prefer VASSAL to TTS, but those stories are both for another time.

I do feel like the world has come home to me, if only because this terrible COVID-19 business has driven so many indoors.  GenCon, Origins, Historicon, Adepticon, Little Wars, and a host of others made the eminently prudent decision to shutter this year.  Some bid us see them next year.  Some tried to go virtual only to have the venture crash and burn for other reasons (Origins).  Two weekends ago, though, Historicon offered up Cyber Wars and, last weekend, the Armchair Dragoons offered up its Virtual Assembly.  I ran games in both -- spent right around 20 hours between the two conventions on-line -- and now offer these thoughts.

Here Are the Games We Played!

Likely my biggest regret is not having more time for Austerlitz.  It was just starting to get spicy and that was a really good group.

The best game?  Hard to call, but I'd give the nod to Epic Eggmuhl which was really, really close.

Technologically Speaking, We Are Not One World

It would be easy to blame technological misapprehensions on age, e.g., that advertisement where the one old lady tells the other one that "Facebook doesn't work that way", but it's more complex than that.  I think tabletop gamers of all descriptions have so long shunned virtual games that they can't function in a world that, for them, is profoundly other.  Of particular note is communication protocols.  I was amazed how many folks struggled with their sound setups.  Note, I'm not talking about folks needing to get acclimated to TTS; that was always going to be a necessity.  I"m talking about how to find a session on-line, how to manage a chatroom, how to prevent audio echo, how to manage push-to-talk, and the like.

Logistically, It's Mostly Plus's, But There Are Minus's

I have set up more than my share of games at conventions, from RPGs, to simple TTGs, to full-blown spectacle type stuff.  I liked being able to wander into my computer room, fire up the PC, slap on the headset, and play.  I liked even more being able to clean up by shutting TTS off.  And it's all cheaper in the bargain.  That said, player wrangling gave me a very bad case of the nerves.  Pre-planning is vital and opening up an early channel of communication saved my day.  The worst of it is that we've developed an awful habit of proliferating on-line names for ourselves.  I try to be either Jim or Cyrano wherever I am.  This is not a universal practice and some of you -- you know who you are -- are far too inventive for the sanity of kindly on-line game hosts.

The Audience Was There, But Not Massive

Let me be clear, I didn't expect over-much and was not disappointed.  My games had a pleasant mix of new-comers and familiar names.  The experience of a traditional convention -- buffets, bars, conversation, argument, high-fives, sleep deprivation, &c. -- is hard to replicate, though.  Events like these can have success, particularly if they are aided and abetted by dread diseases, but I see them as having no chance of really even denting live conventions.  Perhaps that was obvious to everybody long before, but it really sunk in to me as I watched the response to these and other similar events over recent weeks.

Historical Wargaming Is Doing Just Fine In Its Cul-de-sac

Not everyone in these games was my age or older.  In fact, while I didn't pass out a survey, I'd have to say I was more or less middle of the pack.  Players came from all over -- two from England -- and several both during and after expressed their pleasure in knowing something like what was on offer was available.  What's more, YouTube viewership was up and on-line comments have been uniformly positive, with the notable exception of the two spammers who proffered links to pornography.

Two folks who have watched previous videos have gone on to build their own TTS mods and offer them to others.  As Doug Miller has often said, there'll be more than enough gaming to see me off this planet and some left behind for others.

Seeing People Enjoy Each Other's Company Is Rewarding

From the comfort of their homes, folks who had never met one another spent hours learning systems and learning games and a whole bunch of them had never encountered either the games or TTS before.  Before too terribly long, they were moving troops about and even trash-talking one another a bit.  That's something to be encouraged.

Very glad I did it and I sincerely hope those who participated or watched enjoyed it.

See you all for Wednesday Night Warfare.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Mad About "Men Against Fire"

It's not every day that you try something you'd wanted to try for a long time and actually have it work.  Usually, whatever motivated you to want to do the thing in the first place fades into memory and your left with bits and pieces of hope and lost promise.

I bought my first copy of Dr. Paddy Griffith's Book of Sandhurst Wargames a long while ago at a Half Price Books.  The reason I did so is that I had heard so much about the "Men Against Fire" game he had created which was billed as a hybrid RPG wargame set in the South Pacific in World War II.  As was so often the case with this book, though, it was missing the inserts meaning the pieces and, most critically, the ruler and character character cards were missing.  It took years to finally lay hands on one that had both in them.  It was more years still until, last night, I finally got the game to a virtual tabletop.

I'm grateful to the crew from the Armchair Dragoons who were willing to give it a try.  I moved the setting to the ETO -- I've never been one much for the PTO -- but otherwise played the rules largely as given.


*There's nothing "new" here.  It's a bit of RPG, a bit of tabletop miniature wargame, and a fair amount of Kriegsspiel, although, as I've often argued, there are no RPGs without the KS.  It also takes from a variety of places the idea of hidden objectives.  Interesting to see this latter bit, now quite common in mainstream boardgames, come up so early in a wargame.

*The premise is that the players are a squad of soldiers -- sergeant, corporal, and a bunch of privates -- sent out to do a very small mission.  Each player is given a card -- those cards I was initially missing -- identifying them by name and then indicating whether the player is a "fighter" or a "non-fighter".  This simple binary is at the heart of the game.  It derives from S.L.A. Marshall's premise in his seminal Men Against Fire that most combat is done by the minority of men.  Most fellows, whatever their reputation, either muddle along or engage in outright acts of cowardice in the interest of self-preservation.  This notion is further evolved by each player having separate, secret victory conditions.  Some win by killing the enemy.  Some win by never firing a shot. And some win just by surviving and giving aid to their comrades.

*The game is played entirely blindly from the players' perspective.  Their surroundings and all actions are described to them in simple terms -- again an RPG -- and they have a limited lexicon of responses.  Movement, combat, weapon systems, &c., are all greatly simplified to keep things moving.

*It's a tremendous amount of fun.  It played very quickly -- well less than an hour -- and everyone indicated they enjoyed it and would try it again.  The one call we've had is for a "full squad" mission involving 12 men.  That would be a bit mad.

The video of the event, where you get to see what the players could not, is below.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Week That Was

Here again so terribly soon?

Much gaming was had which is entirely the point, so I judge it a success, especially over a relaxing holiday weekend.

Last Wednesday, on a bit of a whim, Velker and I had at Cannae for Field of Glory 2.  I knew we'd be playing it in the big game on Saturday night, but it remains one of my favorite battles of all time and don't miss many opportunities to play it if I can.

I tried a strategy to thwart Hannibal's flanking moves that involved pulling a solid group of Hastati out from my center to deal with his advancing horse, but wound up getting tent-staked by his Carthaginians in a game that turned into something of a rout.

The Armchair Dragoons' Blood Bowl tournament continues with a fair amount of, well, blood shed including this tournament's first death.  Interestingly, these are not well-watched videos and I'll likely not be streaming quite as many, perhaps limiting myself to a "game of the round".  Still, as I say, there's a death in this one:

Our friend in Newcastle, Bob, was feeling poorly so was unable to make it for part two of the re-fight of the Napoleon's Last Battles  campaign game.  Doug stood in ably as both Blucher and Wellington, but Ron's French are pushing.  The Emperor has left Grouchy to pursue the fleeing Prussians from Ligny -- the record there is not the best -- but Wellington has chosen to hold his line a good deal forward of Mt. St. Jean.

"Saturday Night Fights" was the best of what we do as no fewer than six fellows took a hard run at Cannae for Commands and Colours: Ancients.  It will be remembered (?) that the Carthaginians had a nice lead coming out of last week, but the Romans definitely got back into it with a strong win and now lead the overall banner total 21-20.  Or should that be XXI-XX?  Round III will be next week Saturday at Dertosa.

Current projects?  Yeesh.

1:  Re-doing Leipzig for Blucher.  Yes, that Leipzig.
2:  Getting the Blucher mini-campaigns using Scharnhorst started.
3:  Building ahead as there are a lot of Commands and Colours: Napoleonics scenarios coming up in later July.
4:  Running at least a couple games of Paddy Griffith's Men Against Fire.  This is an unusual admixture of tabletop miniatures, role-playing, and Kriegsspiel.  It will likely be an unmitigated disaster, but I must at least try.
5.  Keeping the 1809 Flight of the Eagle KS rolling.  We've made it to April 22, 1809!
6.  I have promised two games each to the Armchair Dragoons' virtual convention and the virtual Historicon scheduled the next week.

I am terribly grateful that TTS does not charge by the hour.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Week That Was

One of the memes going about these days has the narrator saying he's learned just how anti-social he is because the pandemic hasn't changed his social calendar over-much.  I feel that way about gaming.  Since discovering Tabletop Simulator over a year ago, it's been far to easy to gather whenever my friends and I care to to play just about any game we want.  This week was no exception.

Wednesday was for Velker and I to have at the Vimiero scenario for Blucher.  Our play prompted a lot of questions about whether the British can ever have a corps structure and the reduced-rate activation it brings with it.  The fellow who designed the scenario posted that he hadn't quite thought it through when he designed it, but, in retrospect, would want the Allies to be able to activate as a corps.

The result of the game was a very narrow win for my French.  A fun, tiny scenario that could easily have gone either way.  Also, almost unsettling to have a scenario with only two momentum dice per side.

Saturday Noon was a make-up game for the Battle of Vitoria for Commands and Colours: Napoleonics Velker and I missed the previous weekend.

Saturday evening was a full-house (six player) game of Commands and Colours: Ancients featuring the first round of our five-round Second Punic War tournament -- the Battle of Lake Trasimenus.  It was a terrific battle with the Carthaginians down 2-9 going into the last few rounds only to pull out a remarkable 11-9 victory, most of the points coming in a single turn.

And we even managed to get the second round of "The Emperor's OTHER Hat" Blood Bowl tournament off the ground.  My humans -- the Verdant Bay Immortals -- managed a tie with an ably-lead team of Skaven.  The tie has left me, in the early going, at the top of our standings.

Best of the new week.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Do I Pretend I Don't Notice How Long It's Been...or Not...

I'll imagine it's like I never left.  Probably for the best.

When last I wrote here, the world hadn't been swept by this wretched disease and we had just come back from visiting the battlefields of the 1809 Bavarian campaign.  I had, however, been hosting "Saturday Night Fights" for the folks at the Armchair Dragoons and others.  Since then, the YouTube channel has climbed to nearly 450 subscribers and we regularly get busy crowds kibitzing our games.

Here are just a few recent ones:

This was the first of three epic games of Wagram using my now-preferred Blucher system:

It wound up a fairly decisive French win after a great 12-hour punch-up.

This is the first of our two-part Friedland game using the same system.  You'll notice that it uses my larger 30mm figures in big blocks.  Wagram proved just to big for the system to handle it.

And this was our run at the classic Memoir '44 scenario "Tigers in the Snow".  Rare as a hen's tooth and terribly expensive on the after-market, I think it's actually the lesser of the two scenarios in that pack, the other being "Market Garden" which we're convinced the Allies cannot win, but is a good time nonetheless.

More recently, I've continued to build scenarios for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics as my son and I try to play every published scenario on the anniversary date of the battle.  Last week was ridiculous from that perspective as the week started off with Heilsberg and went -- without missing a day -- through to Wavre, which is here:

Mid-June is certainly campaign season if nothing else.

Finally, these were, of course, the #WaterlooDays which are special to all Napoleonic gamers.  In honor, we finally got our good friend and fellow Dragoon Bob -- he of the mighty 'stache -- to play a game with the group.  We fired up and recorded the first several turns of likely my favorite boardgame, Napoleon's Last Battles.  Despite a freak Summer storm taking out our power and setting matters back an hour or so, it was a really good time and I was reminded how much these simpler games can capture truths about these battles.

Oh, and yes, we've started our second Armchair Dragoons Blood Bowl tournament.  I took second in the last one -- a six-team round-robin.  My Verdant Bay Immortals did not shame themselves in their first outing in the new tournament, earning a 2-1 win against a team of stunties.

A lot there, then, and much more to come.

Thanks for stopping by for the ride.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Words on the Danube Campaign

Lest anyone who drifts by these parts miss out, I finally wrapped up the first of what will likely prove to be four installments of a travelogue covering my recent trip to the battlefields of 1809.