Thursday, 31 March 2016

Commanders in our ACW rules

Over the years, we have developed our own house rules for ACW games (current rules and design philosophy can be found here).

One of the key mechanics in our rules are the command rolls. During a turn, a player has to activate units one by one, by rolling vs the command rating of a commander. This system is the same as is used in e.g. Black Powder. Modifiers exist for unit distance from the commander, the further away a unit is, the difficult it is to successfully activate the unit. Once all commanders have failed a roll, the turn switches to the other player.

Such a system works ok, but has a number of drawbacks. E.g. units tend to become clustered around commander figures, which limits scenarios in which troops are far apart. Thus we introduced a rule that once per turn, you could order a unit outside any command range. That works as well, but still feels a bit clunky.

One aspect that I would like to introduce is to have commanders which are better in some situations, e.g. movement, or attack. Currently, our orders for which a command roll is necessary include movement, fire, and charge, without any distinction in the success rate. It would be nice to have commanders that e.g. give a bonus on movement.  Recently, I played a few games of Lion Rampant, in which each unit is activated on an activation roll, based on the type of order. No commanders are needed (each unit can activate by itself), but it loses the flavour of having commanders as the central focal point, which might be more suitable some periods.

One solution would be to simply give commanders a bonus for a specific type of order. But then I feel our current system, based on distance to a commander, becomes a bit too complicated. I am a big fan of nice coherent rules without too much clutter and exceptions. I already feel our rule that one unit can be given an order, irrespective of distance, is stretching it. Some might say there is no problem, since you only have 2 or 3 modifiers to the die roll. But the problem is that our current rules require a commander to give the order, and once he fails, the next commander is activated (as in Black Powder). This sometimes created confusion in games. Players used commanders at will (also because we use no fixed OOB), and sometimes could not remember which commander already had failed his command rolls etc. This are minor issues compared to more complicated rulesets, but such little mishaps need to be ironed out. I am a strong proponent of the idea that rules should do what players feel is natural, rather than force players in a logical or mathematical harness that feels counterintuitive.

Anyway, a lot of conflicting thoughts and design issues, and since I firmly believe rules should be streamlined as well as possible, I came up with the following design for our command rolls:

  • A unit can always activate on the roll of a 8+ (2D6), irrespective of distance to a commander.
  • Once an activation is failed, turn switches to the other player.
  • If a commander is present within 4 hexes, the unit could receive a bonus on the activation roll. This bonus is commander-specific, and can be a +0, +1, or +2. E.g. a commander could grant a bonus  of +1 for movement orders only, or a +2 for a charge order, etc.
  • That's it!
I feel this is an elegant mechanism, which  minimizes the number of the rules, but still gives enough flavour. It would allow variety in commanders. E.g. a commander might offer +1 for movement, +0 for firing, +2 for charge, which is a general intended to resolve matters by close combat. On the other hand, a commander which has +0 for movement, +2 for firing, +0 for charging, is a rather defensive type.

It might feel a bit strange that commanders do not have negative modifiers to express their charcater, but that would not fit into the rules. After all, this would require that units must use a commander for initiating an order, which is something I wanted to get rid of. Thus, commanders provide bonuses, and it is up to the player to decide whether he wants to use the bonus and how.

In our ACW games so far, I used the rule of thumb that an army should have 1 commander per 4 units. That still seems ok. However, I would now make players draw a random card for each of their commanders, specifying the characteristics. It is then up to the player to make a plan based on the abilities of his commanders, and where he wants to use them on the table. Alternatively, once could use some dice to roll out characteristics, but then these need to be written down anyway.

Perhaps I can re-use some of my cards from the Dixie:Bull Run Columbia game that was published several years ago (and from which I did borrow cards int he past when our activation for ACW games was still card driven). Slide the cards into card protectors, and attach a little post-it. Once everything has been playtested, the cards can be nicefied.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

"What's your focus in wargaming?"

Last weekend I was at a small local convention, and found myself talking to a fellow wargamer I never met before. Suddenly he asked me "So, what's your focus in wargaming?"

This question made me speechless. My focus? Wargamers have a focus? I should have a focus? Wow, I thought, here's a wargamer who has a focus and is able to limit himself on a single period!

A mutual friend standing by started laughing. "Phil focuses on everything". I guess that's true. I never exclusively focused on anything in wargaming. Lacking a clear focus probably makes you focus on everything and nothing at the same time.

I started miniature wargaming in the late eighties, and for the first 10 years or so, my focus was Games Workshop and Warhammer. This was not out of choice, it was because I didn't know anything else existed. There was a gaming shop in town, but in the 80s and 90s, this meant roleplaying games, fantasy and scifi wargaming. I have still quite a lot of miniatures from this period, which are still being used.
My focus in the 80s and 90s: big fantasy battles
(staging a big battle in The Lonely Mountain shop in Leuven, ~1994)
It only gradually dawned on me that "historicals" was not something one vaguely heard or read about, but actually did exist as a product. First by seeing some games at cons, later by trying to acquire some rulesets. I guess it was somewhere around 96 or 97 that we tried a historical ruleset for fighting a Napoleonic battle. Figures? Unpainted plastic Airfix, Esci, Revell, etc. So I guess my focus shifted a little bit.

Slowly over the years my interests (and collection of toy soldiers) expanded, and in my gaming group, we have played many different periods over the years, literally spanning the entire spectrum from Ancients to Moderns. As a result, I have figures for a wide array of periods, although I did cull the collection a little bit lately. But still, I think I have figures for at least 5 or so distinctly different periods that would allow me to stage a decent game with at least 200 figures per side.

I never deliberately made a choice to pursue any particular period. I am interested in military history in general. I also do not consider my wargaming as a tool to study history, but I treat it as a game to play with toy soldiers. I guess that makes a difference in defining a focus.

Next time anyone asks me about my focus, I know what I'll answer.

"My focus? Toy soldiers!"

Monday, 14 March 2016

More old fantasy figures

I am always on the lookout for old fantasy miniatures. This weekend, I came in the possession of some old figures through wargaming friend Wim VdB.

The figures are a mix of Minifigs and Ral Partha, and all date from the 70s or early 80s.

The first figure, shown above, is still in the original bag. The label says it's  Land Dragon with Mounted Captain 9ES34, or 01-34), from the Personalities and Things that Go Bump in the Night range. However, the dragon looks more like the dragon (with wings!) from 01-083, War Dragon with Knight. The cardboard label was folded over and has a stamp on the inside that mentions "83". More details on the Lost Minis Wiki site.

 Top row:
  • Minifigs, Valley of the Four Winds, Forest Orc with Double headed Axe (VFW11)
  • Minifigs, Valley of the Four Winds, Forest Orc with Cat O'Nine Tails (VFW13)
  • Minifigs, Valley of the Four Winds, Forest Orc with Spiked Club (VFW12)
  • Asgard, FM92 Mounted Knight of Chaos
  • Two Drunken Gnolls - Citadel - FTG10
Bottom Row:
  • Minifigs, Mythical Earth Range, Man Orc w Axe (ME9)
  • Heritage - Der Kriegspielers Fantastiques - Lesser Goblin
  • Trill (Ral Partha Things that go Bump in the Night, 01-062)
  • Ral Partha, E232 Sea Elf, attacking in full length chainmail and cloak
  • Ral Partha, E551 Southron Heavy Spearman, advancing Wizards, Warriors and Warlocks
  • Unknown Ral Partha, but couldn't identify yet.
  • Minfigs, Valley of the Four Winds, Small Winged Fairy Standing on Tree, VFW14

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Beyond the Gates of Antares visual look

Last week I received my copy of the Beyond the Gates of Antares rulebook. As most of you probably know, this is the new scifi game developed by Rick Priestly, and published by Warlord Games.

The rulebook is a pleasant surprise. A lot of the scenery used in the photographs is stunning, the miniatures are superbly painted, and the whole atmosphere just blew me away. Mind you, I haven't read all of the rules yet, but the whole lay-out, the imagery, the spirit the book embodies is something that woke up into me the same excitement I felt when I first read the WH40K Rogue Trader book back in the late eighties.

One of the images of the original WH40K book that appealed to me tremendously, was one in which a modern looking cityscape with brightly coloured skyscrapers served as the scenery for a game. It wasa photograph in the back of the book, in the "Modeling and Painting" section, but it was exactly the visual look of a scifi universe I wanted to play games in.

Later on, the WH40K look-and-feel became more and more gothic and dark, and that didn't appeal to me at all. I guess I am more a hard scifi fan rather than a gothic scifi fan. More Traveller and StarGrunt than WH40K.

Anyway, I see the same visuals for scenery and setting in the photographs in the Antares rulebook. Bright figures, in brightly coloured settings. For some reason, such a setting is much more inviting to play a game in.

Now for the crucial question ... will I ever play Gates of Antares? Probably not. We have developed our own scifi skirmish tactical rules over the years (also called Antares - pure coincidence - and using a lot of original WH40K miniatures - probably also no coincidence), but I might steal a lot of clever ideas!