Friday, 28 December 2018

Frostgrave setup

I am planning of running a Frostgrave game in the near future. I started with the fun bit and tried to create a proper snowy and icy setting with lots of cover.

The hard part I still have to do - creating some warbands. Does anyone know of a good site with pregenerated warbands?

Saturday, 22 December 2018

An old boardgame ... Armada.

The local 2nd hand shop is right across the local bakery, so every time I stop to buy fresh bread or pastries, I always pop in to check if there's anything useful for my wargaming habits.

So this is the latest acquisition (price: 2.5 Euro). A naval boardgame published in the late sixties called Armada. This is the Dutch version, hence the reference to the Zilvervloot (aka the Spanish Treasure Fleet).

The game itself is rather simple: each player has a number of ships, and you have to move them along the grid (the grid looks triangular, but since you move on vertices, it really is a hexagonal grid) to reach a destination port as soon as possible. Since players move ships in opposing directions across the board, you can also shoot at each other, taking out the enemy ships. As can be expected, the game has nothing to do with the actual history of the Spanish treasure fleet ... the theme is simply pasted on. Nothing new there, as we see this in many modern boardgames as well :-)

I doubt that I will ever the play game (the plastic model ships are nice though ... I can repaint them and use them in a proper naval game), but I was surprised to see a very nice mechanic for determining speeds of the ships relative to the wind direction.

In the middle of the game board there is a large plastic island containing a "compass" marker. There are 6 wind directions (determined by a die roll each turn). The nice bit is that the movement distances are indicated on the rotating compass marker, such that you can immediately read off the movement distances relative to the wind direction. When the wind direction changes and the compass is rotated, these indicated movement distance rotate along as well, and so you never have to "compute" your relative bearing to the wind direction.

The picture below illustrates the idea. The wind direction is direction 3, and you can immediately see that when your ship moves on the grid in direction 5, you get to move a distance of 3 or 1 (2 distances, since merchants and warships move at different rates). Direction 6 does not allow movement at all (0 and 0).

There is a blue and a yellow compass as well, for different wind strengths. The numbers are slightly different, but I didn't check them out whether they all make "sense".

The entire mechanic looks very nice. You can of course do all this using tables and modifiers as well (as you would expect in a proper naval wargame), but having 3 different dials for wind strength, and having movement speeds on the dials such that they are always relative to the wind, struck me as a very clever idea.

I painted something!

It has been a while since I painted some figures, but painting a building is always an easy way to get the painting juices flowing again.

This plastic tower has been on my unpainted pile for too long ... 26 years. It's the plastic tower from the iconic game Battle Masters, which I did buy when it was published in 1992.

It's not a very sophisticated model (nor a very sophisticated paint job :-)), but it is a nice "generic" model that can be used in many medieval/fantasy games - if not as an objective in the game - simply as a quick scenery backdrop to embellish the table. The tower was simply spray-painted black, then grey drybrush was applied, and subsequently some details painted in. The 2 decals finish the job. Total painting time (excluding drying time after the initial black basecoat - probably less than 20 minutes).

The two knights are plastic Bretonnian figures, Warhammer 5th edition.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

First Fantasy wargaming figures ever?

Over the years, I have become more and more interested in the history of our hobby. Part of that is an interest in old figures, whether proper wargaming figures or toy soldiers.

A recent post on the Playing at the World blog led me to buy the "first fantasy wargaming figures ever" from Historifigs. They have the old Jack Scruby moulds, and the figures are still for sale. So I ordered a set of each one of this old set fantasy figures. As you can see, the figures are rather crude by today's standards, but for me, they have a lot of character.

Jack Scruby fantasy figures.
There is of course a philosophical question here. These figures are newly cast, but based on old moulds. So are these new figures or old figures? Does it matter for the collector? Or is a vintage figure only vintage when it was actually produced back in the day? Etc.

I was curious whether these figures really are the first fantasy figures. They probably are, being produced during the early seventies, along with the fantasy range from Minifigs. But was there anything earlier in the range of toy soldiers - i.e. in toy ranges not marketed as "wargaming figures"?

I started looking in one of my reference books on toy soldiers, Norman Joplin's "The Great Book of Hollow-Cast Figures", always a good source for tracking down old ranges of toy soldiers. Since (classic) toy soldiers and wargaming were very connected hobbies till the sixties, it seemed to me that if there was an interest in fantasy gaming before the seventies, it should be visible in toy soldier ranges.

Browsing through the pages, there weren't that many "fantasy" figures to be found in ranges that were available up to the fifties. There were however, many medieval and antiquity types of all sorts (and which could be used for fantasy gaming -- see also Tony Bath's Hyboria campaign), but not real fantasy as we know it today. The closest were figures based on fairy tales, children's books (Alice in Wonderland, Winnie the Pooh), Disney characters, or figures based on pulp stories (e.g. Tarzan). There is however a significant range of space figures, e.g. Flash Gordon. A few examples are shown below.

In hindsight, this is perhaps not surprising. The "fantasy genre" as we know it today really only gained popularity after the publication of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, especially "high fantasy" set in complete imaginative worlds (see history of fantasy literature). And since toys tend to follow popular trends (and for wargaming, we need a setting with empires, battles and so on), it is perhaps not surprising that proper high fantasy figures only saw the light of day during the early seventies.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Shootist at BGG

In our gaming group, we have been playing Wild West games since the mid-90s. Sometimes in 25/28mm, sometimes in 54mm. See our page on Wild West games for a full overview.

Our rules were originally based on a little ruleset called Shootist. We have adapted the rules over the years, but the core is still recognizable.

Some time ago, I noticed that the game was also listed on But apart from a general description, there were no files, no images, no review. I felt a little sad about this, since Shootist has served us so well over the years, and didn't deserve to be orphaned in this way.

So I uploaded some of our photo's, some our materials, and worte a short review. So you should all go to the relevant BGG page and give all that uploaded stuff some thumbs-up!!!

Chain of Command, 1st game

Last night we played our first Chain of Command game. I know the ruleset has been around for a few years, and has built up a loyal following, but our gaming group has always been slow to catch up with the hypes and trends. These days, rulesets (and the corresponding hypes) come and disappear so fast it's hard to keep up. But anyway, we had Chain of Command lying around for some time, so ot was time to try it.

Bart set up a game with his 20mm Arnhem figures. In hindsight, the troop density on the table was probably a bit on the low side (table too large), but it's only through playing games that you learn this.

What was our impression of the rules?
  • The pre-game deployment (patrol markers, drop-off points) was fun, but we kept wondering why we should go through all these motions simply to get our troops into action? Shouldn't a good scenario setup be able to do same?
  • Combat resolution was rather convoluted to our taste. Over they years, we have come to favour "lean and mean" rules. Keep the number of procedures and mechanics as simple, but as elegant as possible, while focusing on the important decisions a player has to make. We felt that the resolution mechanics of Chain of Command were a bit too "fiddly": too many dice, too many statuses to keep track of, a bit too confusing.
To be fair, we didn;t manage to completely read the rules beforehand, so that also might explain some of our impressions. Since this was our first game, so we should give it another try or two before coming to a final conclusion.

Initial table setup using Bart's excellent Market Garden 1944 collection.
Bart and Koen consulting the rules. "Your rulebook says something different from my rulebook?"
British paras taking position behind a wall. Blue marker = overwatch.
German squad taking up position behind a wooded area.
General overview of the table
British paras retreating. Red marker = shocked.
German troops hiding in ruins.
End phase.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Dungeons and Dragons: Art and Arcana

I recently bought Dungeons and Dragons, Art and Arcana, a huge book full of images of D&D paraphenalia and a concise history of the publishing history of D&D in its various incarnations over time.

I've never been a (A)D&D player. When I started playing roleplaying games in the mid-eighties, I was totally addicted to Warhammer, and hence Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was my preferred system. I gamesmastered every single adventure that was published, and The Enemy Within campaign still is the pinnacle of my GM career. The only other game I played regularly was Call of Cthulhu. All other game systems were limited to a single adventure lasting only a few sessions, and that also included some (A)D&D adventures. The original Ravenloft module is still fondly remembered.

That doesn't mean I didn't own any D&D material. I used to buy a ton of roleplay related stuff in the 80s and 90s as inspiration for my WFRP campaigns, and that included a fair amount of D&D books and adventures. I sold most of them again after a few years, but still have some of the basic rulebooks, spread over different editions.

It's hard to say why we never really got into (A)D&D. I guess we felt too sophisticated as roleplayers. preferring the Lovecraftian setting of Call of Cthulhu, or the dark medieval setting of Warhammer, rather than the somewhat fancy, high-fantasy settings of (A)D&D. Personally, I always felt that the settings of (A)D&D reflected an American view on what a medieval fantasy world should look like, as compared to a more grim and realistic view favoured by Europeans, whose history it all is based on. There is a certain dose of down-to-earth realism that you get when a real medieval castle is literally around the corner, instead of only having heard about it or having seen it in romanticized movies.

But anyway, the Art and Arcana book is an excellent book for anyone interested in the origins and development of roleplaying games. It shows a host of products, books, modules, spin-off products, along with many of the adverts and covers of gaming magazines that are very recognizable and bring back strong memories.

It is also enlightening to read about how business decisions were made by TSR (does anyone remember when using T$R was in vogue on Usenet?) or Wizards of the Coast to gain marketshare in the broader gaming market. Indeed, the popularity of Magic the Gathering during the nineties, or computer games, or Warhammer and Warhammer 40K, and the response to those, are all nicely explained.

(A)D&D has never been, and probably will never be my primary choice for fantasy roleplaying, but this book is a must-have for anyone who wants to take a trip down memory lane. Highly recommended!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

"Piggy Bank" scenery

A nice find in the local 2nd hand shop ("Kringwinkel"), 3 buildings that are really piggy banks, for 1 euro each. When I find the time, I might repaint them and give them a somewhat less brown/gray/dark appearance.

28mm figures, and 54mm figures are shown for size comparisons.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

CRISIS 2018: Impressions

I already posted about CRISIS 2018 before (our own game, and da loot), but here I will give some general impressions about the show. I have attended all CRISIS show since 2001 (and one in 1997, I missed 3 years because I was living in the US at the time), and our gaming group has run demo- and participation games every year since 1997. So, my views are mostly through the eyes of a participating club member, and not a trader, a visitor, or a member of the organization.

As we have come to expect from the organizing club TSA, the organization was very professional and flawless. From the time I entered the parking lot around 8.00 till the time I left around 17.30, all members of TSA were friendly and helpful. This is often visible in small things: pointing out where you can park the car to unload, a small friendly chat during the day, the staff manning the bar, or the people running the food stand. Especially the food stand is something many other conventions should be jealous about: pies, sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs, bratwurst, ... and this year even a classic Belgian dish, vol-au-vent with fries! So a big thank you to all people involved in the organization.

As for the show itself, there was a good mix between traders and games. There was a good atmosphere, and overall a very friendly setting, as it should be. However, there were a few things I noticed (and these are personal impressions, so other people might feel differently):
  • A big show such as CRISIS tends to become a shopping mall rather than a meeting point for wargamers. As someone told me: "It seems more and more people are here to pick up their pre-ordered stuff, and then they're gone." And someone else: "People were already leaving around noon - I never saw that before." I also noticed this in my small circle of wargaming friends. It used to be many of them would come and hang out for the day (sometimes even helping out with the game we're running), now most of them come by for an hour of two, do some shopping, say hello, and that's it. Perhaps this is an unavoidable trend, but it makes you wonder what the real purpose of a wargaming convention is. Don't get me wrong, it's still fun to talk to many old friends, but somehow, the intensity of it has changed. I also felt there was less of a "buzz". Attendance seemed lower compared to previous years (especially Hall 1 felt less crowded), but that's perhaps due to a better lay-out plan?
  • As a side-effect of the above, it becomes more difficult to talk to other visitors. We always try to engage with "strangers" taking a look at our gaming table, but over the years, I have noticed that people are not really interested in chatting anymore. They simply want to take pictures (which is ok) without interacting (which is less ok), and then they're quickly gone. Of course, there are still people who want to chat, but again, the focus and intensity has shifted somewhat.
  • It's very interesting to see how gaming interests shift over the years. This year, I barely saw any GW games, as opposed to let's say a few years ago, where you could still see Warhammer or 40K games. It seems people have moved on from GW, although many traders till have piles of GW stuff for sale.
  • The demo and participation games have reached such high levels, that it is almost becoming ridiculous. We have run games for many years (and have won a few prizes), but what some gaming groups are showing, well, that's something we can never accomplish given our time budget. On the other hand, it's also clear that some demo games have so much money invested in them, that they cease to become a wargame "you can play at home". I always felt a wargame at a show should be something you have designed and built yourself, not something you simply bought off-the-shelf by throwing a lot of money at it. There is a grey zone, of course, but it's obvious some gaming groups are putting huge amounts of time and money in their games. Now, such games are a joy to look at - so much detail, so many figures, so much work - but they really are dioramas, moving dioramas at best. It's hard to imagine such games are something you can try at home.
    There's of course a philosophical issue here - what's the purpose of a show game? Showing the best hobby as to offer visually? That certainly makes games gravitate towards the visually spectacular. Demonstrating lesser known game systems? Or showing novel and original gaming mechanics? The latter becomes very difficult at a show were people only want to spend a few minutes at your table (however, see our CRISIS 2013 Red-vs-Blue game which was designed around the idea of micro-participation!). I guess only the future will tell.
Personally, this CRISIS did not feel like a top year to me. Overall, it was a still a positive experience, but somehow, I didn't have the same positive vibes I had in previous years. Bart and I (our 2-man gaming group) were pondering whether we should still run a game next year - maybe doing it 22 years in a row has been too long, and we are experiencing CRISIS-fatigue? - and I want to experience the convention from the point-of-view of a visitor one day: spending enough time at each of the booths, spending time at the other game tables, doing everything at your own pace rather than having the pressure of manning your table all the time ... something to think about!

I took some pictures of the games (but certainly not all, and sorry, I didn;t write down the club names), but for a very extensive photo report, see Tomsche's blogpost.

Crisis 2018: Da Loot!

A show such as CRISIS is always a good opportunity to get the wargaming juices flowing again, and buying new things is definitely part of that.

So, here's my pile of loot I hauled back home:

In no particular order of importance:
  • Black Powder, version 2. We have played a lot of Black Powder games over the years, so it was sort of a given I would buy the new rulebook. However, as I explained to many people I chatted with when we ran our game, we don't really care about an 100% correct interpretation of the rules. We modify all our rules according to our own uninformed opinions anyway, so I have no clue how "true" we still are to the BP rules as written. But anyway, nice book!
  • Refighting History, vols 4, 5, 6. Once you start a collection of books, it's hard to stop. I really like these books, they are a tremendous source of inspiration for the gentlemen-wargamer. In due time, they will be added to the Magazine Index.
  • Strontium Dog, starter set. I posted about this before.
  • Wargamer's Annual: same remarks as Refighting History ...
  • Naval Secrets of Wargaming Design: the 8th volume in a series that reprints the artcles written by Wally Simon. Very inspirational, especially if you're more of a wargamer-tinkerer rather than a wargamer-consumer.
  • War Games through the Ages, Don Featherstone: picked it up for 13 Euro, and a nice addition to my library of classic wargaming books.
  • 2nd hand scifi minis: great for our Antares campaign - which reminds me that we should get this fired up again.
  • Some minis from Brother Vinni ...
  • And a bunch of blisters with old fantasy miniatures. I'm a sucker for the classic fantasy lines, and if one can pick up a bunch of blisters for 2 euro a piece, I'm always there to scoop them up.
I also sold some things:
  • An unpunched version of Avalon's Hill Afrika Korps.
  • A bunch of old roleplaying materials, mainly Runequest,  ICE, and Pendragon stuff.
Selling such old and classic gaming materials always results in fun conversations filled with nostalgia and stories from the good old days.

Battle of Landshut at CRISIS 2018

Yesterday we ran a demo-game at CRISIS 2018. The game was based on the battle of Landshut between Austria and Bavaria, 1809. This was our 22nd consecutive game we staged at the CRISIS show.

I'll write up my show impressions in a future post, but here are some pictures of our own game. The theoretical pan was to run the game using Black Powder rules, but in practice we kriegs-spieled the game, suggesting developments and then jointly attributing a probability to it tod ecide the subsequent flow of events. This is usually a better format for a non-participation game at a con, since the game is meant as a starting point for discussions and conversations about wargaming, and not a classic game as you would play at home.

The figures and scenery are all from Bart's collection, apart from a few small scenery items and animal figures which came out of my "farm scenery" drawer.

Initial setup
Austrians trying to cross the bridge - defended by Bavarians.
An overview of the Isar river.
Another overview of the initial setup.
A view from the Bavarian lines.
Bavarian columns marching towards the battlefield.
Bart explaining the game.
The game is proceeding at a leisurely pace.
The windmill was a central piece of scenery on the gaming table.
Austrian reiniforcements marching across a pontoon bridge across the Isar.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Crisis 2018 coming up

Coming weekend will be CRISIS 2018 - the highlight of our wargaming year. Our little gaming group will stage a game for the 22nd consecutive year. This year our game will feature 25mm Napoleonics in the battle of Landshut.

There's a funny thing about convention games. They never really turn out the way you imagine them. Perhaps it's because we like to talk other attendees and friends too much, such that the game never really progresses. Perhaps it's because sometimes our participation games are too successful and end up with a bunch of fanatics around the table. Sometimes it's because the game is only so-so and we also lose interest ourselves in the game after the first 30 minutes. But let's be realistic. The purpose of a convention game is not the game itself. The game is only there to serve as a starting point to talk to fellow wargamers and have an enjoyable day. And yes, I know this is different from the American convention scene, but at most European conventions, games are there as focal points to have lively conversation, not necessarily to play all day long (although that sometimes happens as well).

I've been attending gaming conventions since the late eighties and I have seen some changes over those 30 years.
  1. There is a trend that conventions become more about shopping, and less about socializing. This has been pointed out by many people on various forums before, so it's not a new observation. Whether this is a good or bad thing I don't know, but I do miss a bit of the camaraderie that was more prevalent during my early gaming days. But perhaps I am wearing rose-tinted glasses.
  2. There is more diversification in games than ever before. I don't think that at a large con such as CRISIS, with over 50 games, you will find 2 games that feature exactly the same period with exactly the same rules and exactly the same line of miniatures. That used to be different. I still remember cons in which half the games were Warhammer (has almost disappeared completely from the general cons), or DBx, just to mention a few household names.
  3. The standard of games goes up every year. We had our fair share of awards for our games over the years, but the games we displayed 20 years ago (some won a "Best of Show"), would not even receive a minute of attention these days. On the one hand, that's a good thing, but on the other hand, it's putting the bar very high for any new blood in the hobby. Also, I feel many of the excellent showgames are more about visual spectacle, and less about the game itself. I always felt that wargaming should be a blend of visuals and mechanics, but mechanics are much harder to show off when people walk by your table and don't take the effort to look more closely, because they have to spend their time shopping :-)
  4. Many years ago, conventions were still covering many aspects of the "gaming hobby", along with some peripheral activities. I really enjoyed conventions were you had roleplaying games, classic hex-and-counter wargames, miniature games, along with a few LARPers, some re-enactors, and the local Tolkien fan club thrown in for good measure. Perhaps this was because gaming was still a small niche back then, and most gamers were interested in many things, but it seems gaming has balkanized in many different subniches, which each have their own conventions, and don't mingle anymore. Again, this might be good or bad. I certainly was not interested in all of these things (I still think LARPing is silly, don't get me started ;-) ), but it provided an eclectic mélange of related interests.
Now, don't get me wrong! I still enjoy conventions very much, and I'm certainly looking forward to this weekend.

And here's an unrelated picture, me in front of the famous mosaic of Alexander the Great in the Archeological Museum in Napoli, which I visited a few weeks ago:

Thursday, 4 October 2018

ACW game: A fickle flanking force

It had been a long time since we played our last ACW game, but we managed to play one this week. We used our house rules, but with the modification of trying out a new mechanism for activating units, as decribed in this blogpost.

The new command mechanism worked quite well, and both players (Eddy and Graham, I was umpire) seemed to like it, so I will include it in the rules sheet in due time.

As for the scenario, we used the "A fickle flanking force" scenario published in WSS 95.

Without much further ado, here are the pictures. All pictures were taken by Eddy using a smartphone, and are unedited.

Initial deployment. Confederates are defending the ridge (bottom), the Union (top) has to attack the ridge. Reinforcements on the left side of the river will try to outflank the Union, but are ambushed. Graham obviously is not paying attention :-)
Reinforcements on the Confederate left flank, ambushed by Union units.
Overview of the right flank.
Reinforcement column slowly crawling forwards.
Defensive line.
Action on the left flank.
Action on the right flank.

The first Union units have reached the ridgeline.

Final action of the game.

And some more photos, covering the same game of course, taken by me: