Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Missive to His Supreme Highness, Emperor Herroll Golden Helm

To the attention of his worshipful eminence in state in his fastness at Pennol on the Lake. 

It is my great honor to write to you of the recent battle between the forces of Zorn and the Black Hand, fought only yesterday. Local informants had told me that the Black Hand might attempt an incursion to test the willingness of the orcs of Zorn to defend their borders. Given the event, I am inclined to lend credence to this assessment of their motives.  It is difficult otherwise to explain their decision to come down from the valleys of the Shards of Lor to engage Sirdar Draschgig's forces.


As Your Grace is aware, the lands in the region between your own kingdom, Zorn, and the Black Hand have been desolate for many generations.  As a consequence, I was able to locate the advancing forces of the latter without difficulty and establish their numbers as follows:

Of skeletal knights: 70

Of skeletons: 320

Of zombies: 180

Of ghouls: 60

All of these were lead by a necromancer whose name I have heard variously reported, but I believe he is best known as Flavin the Perplexed.

I still have not been able to identify their intention, save to drive into the rocky wastes of the Zorn kingdom, but their ruler thought the threat sufficient to dispatch his well-known warlord,Tûrn the Belligerent and the force recorded below to meet them:

Of  goblins: 480

Of goblin riders: 80

Of wargs without riders: 100

There could be no doubt as to the plans of either side, My Lord.  Flavin's men dashed forward as best they might, though I know you are well aware that zombies are not fleet of foot.  Thûrn, however, proved true to his nature and was only too willing to sacrifice the smaller goblins, even as his wargs and riders made a swift dash for the safety of the nearby hills.  The orc chieftain miss-apprised the situation, however, and found himself surrounded by a horde of slavering deathless.  He killed many of their number, notably a great many skeletons, but was lost under their forward press and is believed now in the hands, if you will forgive my unworthy witticism, of the Black Hand.

By My Life, Your Grace, I cannot say who it is that won this battle and lost, with many orcs making good their escape, but many left dead and wounded on the field.  What is certain, and what I most fear, is that neither the orcs nor we have seen the last of the wicked machinations of the Hand.

I will presently return to see Your Grace in person, but wanted to send this missive by courier as quickly as I might so that you might be aware of all it contains.  Until I have the great pleasure of your presence,

I remain,

Yours Most Unworthily,

Galen of Basimar, Outrider 

Post Script:  If I might suggest to Your Grace that you relay to your own practitioners of the arcane that this Flavin did not appear to be a master of his arts.  He seemed to possess no great power.

(For those wondering what in the blue heck this is about, it's my first contribution to the cool "Campaign Carnival" idea.  It's the first of what promises to be several battles that are intended to be resolved by multiple gamers using whichever rule sets they choose.  In our case, the battle was resolved using Battlesystem (2e), the TSR classic played in the world of Divine Right, the board game from the same company.  My video of the festivities is below.) 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Usually) Love to Proxy

I was one of a number of folks asked on Twitter about whether or not I proxy units in my games and, if I do, if it occasionally bothers me.  My answer was far too complicated for the 180 characters allowed and I hate Twitter threads -- they seem to me to defeat the purpose of the form -- so I thought to write something in this space.

For the unfamiliar, to proxy in miniatures is to declare that a figure, let us say a 28mm fellow shaped into the proper uniform of the famed 57th and painted with equal precision, is for the purposes of a particular battle subbed in to represent a fellow from a different unit.  There can, of course, be degrees here.  When I was first starting in miniatures and lacked the money to purchase the Minifigs I so desperately wanted, I played Napoleonic battles with Green Army Men.  Yes, I think this should be capitalized.  My ever-indulgent father nailed two-by-fours to an 8' x 4' sheet of paneling, painted it green for me, and away I went, chalking roads and fields onto it in different colors and trying to wrap my head around how to stage Waterloo with Donald Featherstone's very first set of rules.  I determined that some of the GAM (those holding their rifles aloft, if I recall) were cavalry, some were infantry, and the mine-sweeper guy was an officer.  This dates to no later than 1982 and my love of the form has never really waned.  

In the decades since I have painted thousands of miniatures covering many scales and periods.  I learned how to interpret an Order of Battle, how to research uniforms (this usually involving buying something Osprey or other), and how to turn wee hunks of lead into proper toy soldiers.  I even briefly toyed with Price August and all that hand-crafted alchemy.  Time and eyesight are both far more rarefied commodities for me now, though, which is why Tabletop Simulator came as something of miracle.  Now, through the shared modelling work of others, my table top has no limits, my armies can be of any size I desire, and I can join with my friends in playing just about any rule set I want.

With this as prologue, then, why, and how much, do I proxy?:

I Now Play with What Tabletop Simulator Provides

Never is far too long a time, but I find it very unlikely I will ever return to painting soldiers.  As a result, I am left with the charity of others -- and they are most charitable.  There are hundreds of different soldiers from different eras available for free in the Workshop and most are of a high quality.  Just about all of them, as I have noted many times in the past, are far better painted than I ever did in the "real" world.  That said, the collection is not infinite.  There is a notable lack of Viet Nam figures, for example, which is a shame, but, even within well-supplied eras like WWII and Napoleonics, the deeper you go the more you lack.  Not everyone is so fortunate as to have his very own Giogio who can be entreated to fashion a purpose-built Joachim Murat.  So I proxy. 

I Am A Gamer, Not A Modeller,

Even when I was peering through a magnifying lens and trying to get pupils onto my 25mm figures, the painting bit was always a means to an end.  I painted when I started because you had to if you wanted to play those sorts of games.  I know many others do -- and bless them for it -- but the craft side of the hobby never had any appeal to me.  I was here to play games with toy soldiers.  Speaking of which...

I Like Far Too Many Periods...Even Within Periods.

Bless always those who can research, build for, and play a single period.  Or even a single period within a period like, say, the 1809 campaign (early rather than late) for Napoleonics.  Of course the Wee Corporal is my first and greatest love, but I like a lot of other periods as well and that requires a certain flexibility vis-a-vis accepting proxies.

Along this same line, I now love testing new, unfamiliar rule sets which, before Tabletop Simulator always threatened the dreaded extended period of re-basing one's army.  These days even "real world" tabletop generals have grown weary of that and have begun preferring rules that either do not require re-basing or, well, allowing one to proxy bases

1809 Hungarians are pretty cool, though...

 Some Games Lend Themselves to Proxies. 

Best example I can think of for this is Commands and Colors.  In the end, all the games in the system are tool boxes.  It is "Light Cavalry" not Hussars and "Light Infantry" not the infinite variations thereof.  It encourages a certain amount of proxy-ish behavior.

Spot the proxies.  I defy you.

 I Love Some Periods More Than Others.

The more I love a period, the more I will want to not proxy.  Why this is so is a matter best left to one of Dr. Freud's descendants.  I just know that it is with me.  Besides, some periods, notably colonials in my mind, feel more "toy soldier-y" and I am far more open to running proxies.  My Sudan battles are rife with them; as is my Isandlwana.

I Love Big Battles.

It is almost an in-joke.  We do epic.  When one does epic, even, again, in the "real world", odds are he will have to proxy.  I am amazed, honestly, at how little I have to do in the Napoleonic space, but, occasionally, we must.

Leipzig in 15mm for "Blucher".  Spot the proxies.

And yet.

If the figures are there, or if I can wheedle one or two from a friend, I will always prefer to get my units as right as I can from that famous "three-foot standard".  When Giorgio created bicorne 1805 French, of course I had to swap out all the shako'd fellows.  I love learning about these eras and assuredly the aesthetic must always be a part of the calculus.  For me, though, it is ever a balance and I will never let anything peripheral get in the way of playing the game.  Now wherever did I put that bucket of GAM?



Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Idiosyncrasies of Black Powder 2


As part of Project: Quatre Bras, we've been making our way through various rule sets covering this battle; largely miniatures.  Last night we played the first four turns of the Black Powder 2 Quatre Bras scenario, and though we struggled a bit over a couple edge cases, found the rules to be what they have always been, viz., relatively simple, straight-forward, free-form, and a fair amount of fun.  That said, I was once again struck by some of its idiosyncrasies and, when I mentioned this on-line, got asked what they might be.  With that in mind, my list.

1.  It is a bloated book.  I doubt there is a lovelier book of Napoleonic rules anywhere, but that has come with some nasty, complicating bloat.  Page after page of figures, anecdotes, inset quotations, &c., mean that needed rules wind up many pages apart.  Flipping through Black Powder 2 to find just that rule you are looking for can be frustrating.  As a side note, the fact that the Blunder table is not on the Q.R.S. is a remarkable omission.

2.  Do not ever tell me to use my common sense.  I will stipulate that a rule writer cannot imagine every odd scenario that can come up on a table crammed with miniatures, but I worry that the authors used that cheap blanket to cover up a number of sins.  Taking only the most recent example:  find me a rule to tell me whether or not units must have room sufficient to change formation, say from column into line or column into square.  I will warrant it makes the most sense to say that you must have sufficient room to make a formation change; very many rule sets so state.  However, when your rules say black letter that a unit with the "Must Form Square" ability must form square when charged by cavalry, what am I to think when my columns are attacked by horse, do not have sufficient room, and yet must form square?

3.  I have never liked its toolbox approach.  For Napoleonics, there is the original rule set and now, I believe, four supplements.  Each of the latter brought a tweak to the rules here and a special ability for a nation there.  If you have none of the supplements -- I have all of them -- there are quite a few abilities that will make no sense to you.  There is a cleanness to Black Powder 2 that I think risks getting bollixed up with all the supplemental lit.  Worse, though, is that all that lit requires a great deal of tracking to keep straight and a fair amount of conversation with those with whom one is playing just to make sure everyone is playing the same game.

4.  I am ambivalent about the crazy swinginess of the command system.  In yesterday's Quatre Bras battle, the French looked ready to steamroll the Allies when, suddenly, they could not get a command roll to save their lives -- despite having a number of divisional commanders present.  One brigade rolled no fewer than three blunders.  Some like that, and I take their point.  Others playing, though, thought it deprived them of agency.  Here, I think, is one of those points where one will decide whether they want to play Black Powder 2.  Can you bear it if the dice turn hard against you?  In fairness, similar concerns were shared regarding Bloody Big Battles.

 We will be back come next Saturday night, but these, and a few others, are those things that I think will ever keep Black Powder 2, from making it into my list of top ten rule sets.

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.