Monday, June 30, 2014

The Opening Shot of the Great War Centennial

I wanted to post this on Saturday, 28 June, but I wasn't feeling well and ended up staying off line.

Three days ago marked the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie.

Even commemorating the event is still a divisive topic. 

I've noticed an increase interest in The First World War among wargamers over the years.  Games like:  Wings of Glory and the Great War at Sea have become popular, along with classics like Richthofen's War and Jutland, which can still be found second hand and played.

One friend has committed himself to reading The Great War

Fourteen years ago, while I was still on active duty, I had the pleasure of being stationed in Sarajevo for three months.  One day, I managed to drive by Latin Bridge.  Unfortunately, due to my work schedule and the movement restrictions that were in-place, I never got a chance to du a proper historical site walkabout.

At least I was in the vicinity, and I have a vivid memory of the bridge and surrounding neighborhood, which I can recognize in a stock photo such as this:


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Enfilade 2014: 6mm Napoleonic Wargaming


After the SAGA tournament, I left the Dark Ages behind and tried my hand at a some horse & musket action.  I was one of six players to sign-up for 6mm Napoleonic Wargaming, hosted by Bill Hughes and Josh Transen.  (There was a third gamemaster, but I didn't catch his name).

A Note About Scale:

6mm; also known as 1/285th, 1/300th, or micro-scale, is one of the smallest gauges played by gamers.  (Yes, there's one even smaller:  Pico-scale, or 3mm).  Micro armor burst on to the gaming scene in 1967, and is still a popular venue for playing World War II, Modern and Science-Fiction tank battles.  Since then, 6mm has branched out into every other historical era--like Napoleonics--along with heroic fantasy.

The benefits of 6mm are:

You can fight bigger battles in the same amount of space used for larger scales (10-25mm+).
Less detailing is required in painting.  That is, often just a few colors are needed to make your figures presentable, especially when massed together, like this...

On the flip-side, one of the main issues with 6mm is: 

That "less detailing" is often hard for those of us with aging eyes to see--let alone paint.

Now, on to the game:

The scenario was an Austrian vs. French fight, somewhere in central Europe.  Both sides had an equal number of infantry battalions.  As for the other arms:  The French had three cavalry regiments, matched only by a single Austrian regiment; while the Austrian's had three artillery batteries (two foot and one horse) against a single French foot battery.

I ended up playing one of the Austrian commanders, leading the forces, one foot battery and three infantry battalions, on our left flank.

Here, two of the three French commanders making their plans and conducting their opening moves:

Within the first turn, the French cavalry began toying with our infantry on the right flank.  The horsemen would simply parade around the field, always within striking distance, forcing some of our infantry into squares as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, in my neck of the woods on the left, the French deployed in columns and line and "came on in the same old style."

Back on the right, more of our infantry formed square when a French cavalry regiment crested the nearby hill.  The right flank commander's gun battery went into action firing canister shot (note the triangular template).

As the French on our left drew nearer, my fellow commanders and I felt it was prudent to anchor our flank onto the Hougoumont-style chateau. 

During this time, and throughout most of the game, our other two gun batteries became embroiled in an artillery duel with the solitary French battery--and more often than not, got out-shot by the French gunners.

Despite being outnumbered 3:1 in sabers and horseflesh, our cavalry went to work and charged a French infantry battalion, previously pounded by some of our guns.

While our horsemen were harrying one French unit, the other two battalions swung around and readied themselves for assault action.

Our cavalry finally managed to cut down the fleeing French battalion.

In the center, our horse battery limbered-up and bugged-out of the cannonade, while another infantry battalion formed into a precautionary square.  By this time our center foot battery was down to two serviceable guns, out of six.

Once our horse battery galloped out of the way, one of the center battalions re-formed into column and advanced up the hill, while another battalion formed square. 

As the French assault columns on the left advanced, our horse battery unlimbered across the river and unleashed several salvos of canister shot into the packed ranks of Frenchmen.

Meanwhile, the packed ranks of French cavalry trotted around our right flank.

Despite suffering 30% casualties from shot & shell, the French columns assaulted "Chateau Point d'Ancrage" (Chateau Anchor Point). 

After a couple rounds of combat on both flanks, the situation still hung on a saber's edge. 

Unfortunately, the game was halted at this point due to time. 

Final Thoughts:

Despite the dire threat to my chateau bastion, this was an enjoyable event to participate in.  Bill, Josh and "the Gamemaster with No Name," were a congenial bunch to game with.  The figures and terrain pieces were well-crafted, providing a mass-battle spectacle with minuscule space restrictions.  The scenario was well-balanced and presented numerous challenges to both sides.

My only room-for-improvement comment would be directed at the rules used during the game.  It's a home-brewed set called, The Conflict, which I believe was written by Bill. 

And from what I could see, The Conflict weighed-in at 60+ pages.  Which is actually rather good, compared to a lot of the published tomes out there.  I liked the unit cards, seen here in a pile on the lower right portion of this picture:

These were handy playing aids encased in heavy laminate, that contained most of the information a player needed regarding a unit's combat effectiveness and movement orders.  Speaking of which, since orders were easy to jot down, The Conflict utilized simultaneous movement, which I happen to favor over the usual IGO-UGO method.

However, none of us players knew the rules, so Bill was barraged with questions and even validity challenges.  This slowed the game down at various times throughout the entire period.

Maybe one of the following suggestions might help improve a session's play tempo:

--Post the rules as a PDF prior to the event, so would-be players can do some homework before the game.  Or--

--Write "The Conflict Lite" version for conventions.  Players then, can  read through the few pages as they sit down and admire the miniatures, while the gamemasters make their final preparations.

Hopefully these, or other constructive recommendations players may have, will help minimize the downtime needed to research rules questions and answer challenges.

Post-Enfilade! Reflection:

Because of my work schedule, I was only able to participate in two games:  Bill's 6mm Napoleonics, and Sven's SAGA Tournament.  

Deciding what to play, among so many options with a limited amount of time, was nerve-wracking and difficult for me...

(Image from: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade)
...but this year, I think I "...have chosen wisely."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Enfilade 2014's Saga Tournament

Despite my table-top fight-for-survival, I managed to take a few pictures outside my arena during this year's SAGA Tournament.  The Tournament was hosted by Sven Lugar and a dozen players took part in it. The grand prize, shown above, was a drinking horn hand-crafted by Sven himself.

While everyone who participated in the tournament received a runestone also crafted by Sven.  

The tournament was held during the first two Saturday periods of this year's Enfilade! convention (Game Periods C and D).  Each player was encouraged to bring his, or her, own warband, but Sven brought all the terrain.

The games were based on various scenarios found in the SAGA rulebook:  

Round 1:  The Escort (Scenario 6, page 67 of the SAGA core rulebook).
Round 2:  Homeland (Scenario 5, page 66 of the SAGA core rulebook).
Round 3:  "Escalade" (attack/defend an incomplete fort)

Each round was about an hour long, which gave everyone time to help Sven set up terrain for the next bout. 

Everybody played the same scenario during each round, but often with different armies. 

Sven has a firm grasp of the SAGA rules, was always on-hand to answer questions from pesky players, and kept things moving at a good clip.  

So if you hear of a SAGA Tournament, or any other game for that matter, hosted by Sven, be sure to sign up!

Tournament Results:

Points were awarded for inflicting casualties upon your opponent and achieving certain objectives within each scenario.

And this year's tournament/drinking horn winner was:  Stephen Radny-McFarland 59 points (pts), with his Anglo-Saxons

Followed by:

2) Daryl Nichols, 52 pts, Anglo-Saxons
3) Tom Wanerstrand, 51 pts, Viking
4) Marky, 49 pts, Viking
4) Gary Greiss, 49 pts, Welsh
5) Darcy Town, 45 pts, Vikings
5) Denise Mauldin, 45 pts, Vikings
6) Scott Abbot, 39 pts, Norman
7) Ted Henkle, 21 pts, Welsh
7) Ambrelle Coy, 21 pts, Anglo-Saxons

Plus two additional players that didn't, or forgot to, turn in their tournament tally sheets.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Welsh Warband in the Saga Tournament

Okay, now that I had my fun concocting the Chronicles of Culhwch webcomic, here's an "tabletop account" of my slice of the SAGA action.  

Each tournament session was divided into three rounds of gaming.  The first worthy opponent was my friend Scott, pictured above.  While here in the image below he is mustering his Norman warband:

From my brief experience with Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB)--and even briefer experience with SAGA--the Normans can be very tough to beat.  A Norman army/warband packs a lethal combination of heavy cavalry and missile troops (bows and crossbows).  Their typical tactic is to pepper the enemy with arrows and bolts; then when the enemy has been properly pin-cushioned, unleash a devastating cavalry charge to sweep all before them.  Their main drawback is that mounted troops don't get the benefits of cover, such as moving through the woods.

In our game, we never engaged close combat.  By the time our round of the tournament was over, about the time the above picture was taken, Scott was still doing a bang-up job against my Welshmen with the "...pepper the enemy with arrows and bolts..." part.

Round Two's worthy opponent turned out to be my friend Daryl and his warband of Anglo-Saxons.

Unlike the horse & missile-heavy Normans, the foot-bound Anglo-Saxons presented another challenge:  When clumped together in large units, they become stodgy defenders that are tough to break.

In the picture below, my javelin-wielding Welsh, have been driven back by one such Anglo-Saxon clump:

Prior to our game, Daryl and I had a discussion with other some other gamers on what makes SAGA so unique.  I liked his profoundly, succinct assessment of the system:  "Unlike other games, with SAGA you try to create epic moments."

Games like WAB have a basic combat formula, which goes something like this:  # of Attacks -- # of Saves = # of Casualties/Figures Removed from Play.

This is all fine & good, especially when dealing with large battles, because the formula's easy to remember and the game can move along smoothly.

But SAGA uses faction-specific battleboards (often referred to as "national characteristics" in other games) and "SAGA Dice" to provide players with temporary modifiers, called activations, you can dump on to your opponent--especially at a crucial point in the battle.

Here was one crucial moment in my game with Daryl:

While lightly armored, the Welsh can advance and throw their javelins at the end of their move.  A "free throw" so to speak.  Well I managed to get a couple of activations, like "Deadly Strike," which would have skewered most of the warriors in the nearest cluster of Anglo-Saxons.  However, Daryl responded with his "Shieldwall" activation to shelter his men from the rain o' javelins.

Even though I would have loved a different outcome (nothing personal Daryl!), it was a neat moment that illustrated the workings of the SAGA dice and battleboards. 

I also managed to pull off a few other Welsh tricks to slow down the Anglo-Saxon advance on the village I was suppose to defend.

Then I was able to get my warlord's hearthguard (body guards/elite troops) into action. Unlike my battle with Scott, this round saw plenty of up-close & personal combat.  

Despite my hearthguard's threat to the Anglo-Saxon flank, the clock had run out on us, and I lost too many troops to effectively hold the village.

Worthy Opponent #3 was Denise; who, by the way, was the winner of last year's tournament.

She was leading her Vikings on the usual seaborne rampage...

...while my Welshmen were to defend an unfinished fort against said rampage.  

The "unfinished" part proved to be my undoing. 

"Save us, oh Lord, from the fury of the Northmen," was a common prayer during the Dark Ages--and for a good reason.  The Vikings were firm believers in the "fast & furious" form of warfare.  That is:  They put everything into attacking.  Defense is for lesser breeds of men.

Oddly enough this makes Viking units somewhat fragile.  The trick for us lesser-breeds then, is to ensure enough of our warriors survive the initial onslaught.  In fact, I managed such a trick during this game.  Here, Denise's 4-pack of berserkers tangled with my hearthguard just outside the palisade: 

True, I only had one hearthguard guy left standing, but I did manage to put all of her berserkers on board the Valkyrie Express.

But despite the berserker departure to the hereafter, the non-berserkers remaining here on Midgard poured into the fort.

My Welsh warriors actually put up a good fight, but were driven back, leaving my warlord exposed to face his Norse nemesis. 

 In SAGA it's required, with few exceptions, for warlords to go mano-a-mano if they're within a turn's move from each other. I thought I had help from some of my surviving warriors.  However...

...Denise played her "Loki" activation--which she'd been saving the whole game--to mysteriously remove my three remaining warriors.  They either fled, succumbed to wounds, or came to whatever creative end one could dream up.

That certainly was a well-played epic moment.

The final curtain came crashing down when Denise's nearby warriors, to include a shield maiden or two,  dog-piled on to my warlord.

Notice how my bow-armed levies remained perched on the ramparts throughout the game?  Yeah, levies are cheap and plentiful, but can be hard to activate when there's more battle-hardened troops on the field.

Despite my short-lived saga, I had a blast playing SAGA.  There were enough epic--and even not-so epic moments to provide a tone and story arc for my SAGA-themed webcomic.

But win, lose or draw; I look forward to my next batch of SAGA games--and adding more Culhwch's Chronicles.

Friday, June 13, 2014

New Webcomic: The Chronicles of Culhwch y Drewllyd

A couple weeks ago I was preparing my Welsh warband for Enfilade!.  Since then, I've been in the throes of post-convention projects.  And so far, I've managed to complete only one:

This is a 19-page webcomic I conjured-up and loosely based on my participation in the convention's SAGA tournament. (The comic can also be viewed under the Studio Pages tab). 

To round-out the story, I included some photos from other sites.  So the last page of the comic is something of a bibliography, identifying which images I hijacked imported and where I stole acquired them from.  

I've been reading Angus Konstam's Edinburgh-Orkney Wargames Journal for a few years now.  I stumbled across his photo of a SAGA game at the Claymore Wargames Show, which I was awesome looking.  I colored in some smoke and flames, and then used an "ink sketch" program to make it look like I actually drew the picture.

I also found a fairly new wargame blog, specializing in medieval warfare:  Sea Kings and Horse Warriors. The author, A. Hughes is an excellent painter and assembles some nice little dioramas.  The picture of King Gruffud ap Cynan came in real handy for the Welsh king in my story.

When I'm not stealing other people's work, I have more than enough projects of my own to keep me busy. This year's Enfilade Aftermath To-Do List consists of:

--An actual SAGA battle report about the tournament, along with a tournament overview.

--A battle report on a 6mm Napoleonic wargame I took part in.

--An Enfilade 2014 YouTube Video.

Because of my work schedule, I only attended a portion of this year's Enfilade.  I did a "fly by" on Friday afternoon, played in two games, and finally I did my walkabout before I left on Saturday afternoon.  So for Enfilade 2014: The Movie, nearly all my photos will be of the events held on that day.

Once I clear the decks of these projects, then it's on to my big on-going project:

My Star Wars webcomic, Breakout from Bongolaan.

It's been nearly four months since I posted Chapter 8, and I've been anxious to resume my work on it.  This past week, I managed to do a major photo shoot, which should give me the material I need for Chapter 9 and maybe even Chapter 10.

In the meantime, enjoy mis-adventures of Culhwch!