Friday, March 30, 2012

Post-apocalyptic outpost

Here's a terrain piece I've built with Finger and Toe Models' Slagtown: Eden set. It's built at 50% scale so the entire piece is about 3"x4". The miniatures are a mix of OneMonk and Slick's Minis.

Slagtown: Eden is like a construction set with a lot of basic components (girders, floors, walls, ladders) that you can combine to make all sorts of structures. In this case I opened the component sheets in Gimp, resized everything to 50% scale and picked up the pieces I would need.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My first Into The Fray units

Yesterday I finished reading the Into The Fray rulebook and today I made a couple of units. I still have to make a few more to properly playtest the game. Into The Fray (ITF for short) by Moss Games is a skirmish game based on a dedicated line of paper miniatures. There are four factions, each with pre-defined units that can be used to build a player's army. A unit might be a single hero or other strong troops or a squad of 3, 5 or 7 soldiers. In the picture there are two units of different factions, consisting of five and three soldiers. So, for instance, adding a squad of three Seedborn Brawlers to my forces costs 435 points. Each unit has a card with all of its stats and damage tracks for each miniature that is part of the unit.

For those interested, the rulebook, along with some sample units and other previews, are available as a free download. Here are my first impressions. The game uses an alternate activation scheme, where players activate two units at a time. Both units from the current player must first move, then perform actions (attacking, casting spells etc.) Actions are resolved by rolling a number of dice equal to a certain stat of the unit, looking for successes. Modifiers are applied to the number of dice, not to the target number to be rolled. Players also have four pools of dice that can be spent to give bonuses to certain tests. Each unit contributes to some dice pools, adding another level of strategy to unit selection.

Simply from reading the rulebook, ITF seems an uncomplicated game, with enough factors to require strategy in army building and during play. The action rolls follow the "bucket of dice" style of play that some people like more than others. One thing that has me worried is the number of possible status markers required by units affected by spell effects and morale effects. There are some clever multifaceted markers provided with the game but only after playing I'll know how easy they are to use.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wargaming Podcasts?

I cannot explain it even to myself but only recently I've started to listen to gaming podcasts (as well as some audio lectures) on my way to work or back home. I mean, I spend over an hour in traffic on each way, and I never took the time to download this stuff and listen to it instead of random radio songs etc.

Anyways, I've been scavenging the Audio Noise posts from the Sin City Dispatch and there are some great RPG podcasts there, so now I'm wondering if anyone has recommendations on podcasts focused on miniature games or boardgames...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Massacre in the Wasteland

This weekend I took some time to play a battle using USE ME Post-Apocalyptic. In this scenario, the humans must defend their base from mutants and robots. There are four humans: Kandi - elan 4, move 6, side arms, improvised grenade. Vince - elan 4, move 4, heavy weapon, armoured. Jenna - elan 3, move 6, side arms, close combat specialist. Mack - elan 3, move 6, standard rifle.

The mutants are all elan 3, move 6, and have submachine guns. The mutant leader (the big one, with a pickaxe) has psionic abilities. The robots are all elan 4, move 4, have side arms, are armoured and have the close combat specialist ability.

This is the board setup, about 3'x2'. The humans start on the right and the mutants and robots start on the left. I controlled the humans and rolled a neutral behavior for the enemies (with the USE ME solo rules.) I grouped the figures into three squads (humans, mutants and robots.)

In the first turns, both forces moved to the ruins, with the enemies keeping in cover to reach optimal firing range. At this point the mutants fired against Mack but missed.

Vince and Mack took down one mutant, while the robots closed in to fire or melee. I thought it would be a good idea to move in range of both groups and attack both at once -- Kandi and Jenna firing at the robots, which were closer, and the guys attacking the mutants, taking advantage of Vince's heavy weapon.

This turned out to be a very bad move. While Vince did manage to take down the mutant leader (who didn't ever use his psi powers due to limited range) the girls didn't cause a scratch on the robots, who in turn charged into melee. Not long after that, I had two characters down and one struck.

The robots finished their job as they activated first (higher elan rating) and ended the game. Close combat is brutal as the attacker just makes a damage roll (no to-hit test) and only if the target survives, he may counter attack. Having the robots use the armoured and close combat specialist abilities made them even more dangerous.

Total playing time was around 15-20 minutes, including taking notes and pictures. As expected, USE ME Post Apocalyptic runs real fast and units also die real fast -- pretty much like in USE ME Sci Fi.

Friday, March 16, 2012


Recently I bought two "oldies" from Skirmisher Publishing: Skirmish! and Quactica. I thought I'd write about Skirmish! since I found no reviews while searching for information before buying. As an aside, searching for reviews of a game called Skirmish! is far from pleasant (try searching "skirmish!," "skirmish game," "skirmish game skirmisher" and you'll get results from pretty much all skirmish games to be found.)

Skirmish! falls into the category of "beer and pretzels" games; the author clearly states he created the rules to play with his collection of toy soldiers. Still, it is pretty versatile (if simple) and might work as a first system to new players, or for quick games.

It uses the IGO-UGO turn structure with one very important twist (that I hadn't seen before in other games.) Each player's turn is split into three phases. On the first phase, the active player's (called the aggressor on that turn) units may either attack or move. On the third phase, the active player's units that didn't attack get a chance to do so. The magic happens in the second phase, where the inactive player's (the defender on that turn) units may attack (without moving.) This rule, which maintains an overall simple turn sequence with no interruptions, reactions or anything else, allows for the implementation of things like overwatch or standing against a charge. This insight alone was worth buying the game. In this small test battle, the green forces (at the bottom) win initiative, so they are the agressors in the first turn.
The green forces move out of cover carefully, trying to set up some good firing lanes against the enemy.
[On the first phase of the turn, the aggressors move from behind cover. As none of them are in sight of the defenders, they don't get to shoot in the second phase. Likewise, the attackers have no targets and thus nothing to do on the third phase.]
In the second turn, two blue soldiers rush from the ruins to the rocks, firing as they move; the green soldiers shoot back and one soldier from each force is hit. Meanwhile the other blue soldiers move out of cover and exchange fire with the other green soldiers, with no casualties.
[Now, for a detailed view of the turn: the blue forces are now the aggressors. On the first phase, two of them move from the ruins to the rocks on the right. The other two move to have a line of sight of the topmost two green soldiers.]
[On the second phase of the turn, the defenders (green soldiers) may attack any targets in sight or those who passed through their line of sight during the first phase. Thus, the two green soldiers at the bottom fire at the two blue soldiers at the top and one of them is killed (marked by the green arrow.) The two green soldiers near the right edge fire at the blue soldiers near the left edge but miss. On the third phase, the blue soldiers shoot back (suffering a penalty for having moved.) They also may target anyone in sight at the moment, or which were visible while they moved. Only one green soldier is hit by a shot fired while the blue soldier moved.]
In the third turn, the green soldiers shoot down the two remaining blue soldiers, finishing the game. The basic rules are really straightforward but the book also presents several optional rules for things like wounds, firing beyond nominal range of weapons, explosives, vehicles and troop quality, among others. If all of them are used, you get a rather comprehensive skirmish game system. It might be possible to incorporate one (or a few) at a time as players learn the game, which is also nice. For instance, in this small test I only used the rule that allows firing at extended ranges (at a penalty.)

I liked this little system and I think it's most useful for quick pick-up games between two people. The rule about shooting at a target that was in sight during movement makes me put it strictly in the realm of "fun" matches. Otherwise I can imagine all kinds of arguments about trajectories or even keeping track of the exact movement of each figure. On the other hand, this rule and turn structure enable quick play and varied tactics.

Playing Skirmish! solo effectively might require adding some unpredictability to the standard turn sequence. Maybe some kind of activation check for units, or an awareness check to enable a defender to shoot at a moving target. The PEF and NP movement rules from Chain Reaction might also work well.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tale of Blades and Heroes

Tale of Blades and Heroes (ToBH), the RPG based on Ganesha Games' Song of Blades and Heroes miniatures game, was finally released last week. Having read its 50 pages (but not yet tried even a quick session) here are my first impressions:

ToBH is a sort of "rules light" RPG with an emphasis on fun rather than crunch -- but it doesn't ignore crunch altogether, and at its core it has a solid set of mechanics. I can see the game being played without miniatures but  I also think a lot of the experience will be lost by doing so.

It's possible to see two main sources of influence throughout the book. One is the "old school" of gaming, noticeable from the "rulings, not rules" principle (mentioned with different phrasing at the beginning of the book), to constant advice for the game master to interpret and adapt, to the use of few "character stats." The other is, obviously, the Song of Blades engine, craftily adapted for RPG use. Seriously, looking at the size of the list of playtesters and considering the time the game has been in development, it must have taken a lot of work to get it right. In my opinion it worked well, as the rules seem effective and ellegant (for the most part.)

Two really nice touches to the game are the exploding dice mechanic and the magic system. Usually (in my experience) "exploding dice" systems give a random smallish chance of exceptionally good results. In ToBH, it's more of a gamble: on a very good result, you may opt to roll more dice again, replacing that result. So you may actually improve a lot (and statistically, chances are you'll improve at least a little) but there is risk of it backfiring, too. I can only imagine the tension of choosing between an OK outcome or risking it all during play.

The magic system is an open ended affair that reminds me of Ars Magica (but simpler) and Donjon (but with additional provisions to avoid abuse.) As such, it steps away from spell lists, spells per day etc. so common in fantasy RPGs. It also naturally embraces utilitary uses of magic, instead of focusing mostly on combat.

The one point that makes me a little uneasy is the use of "damage tables" (four of them) to determine the result of a successful attack. I can understand how their use moves the game away from bland "hit points" but the fact is that players might have to reference them repeatedly during the game, differently from most other rules in this system.

That's it for now. The fact that the system has simple rules (and combat is similar to Song of Blades and Heroes, which I'm used to) makes it a good candidate to use in solo sessions with Mythic, so I might try that some time (another project on my list...)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Little Girls: Defending the Outpost

This is the second battle in the War in the Planet of the Amazons campaign. After being surprised by a large group of Chalactan soldiers in their first mission, Aleta and companions must defend an outpost from incoming forces. Soldiers Fernánda (rep 4, assault rifle and grenade) and Guadalupe (rep 4, B.A. pistol and sword) have joined the group in place of those who were lost.

This is the initial setup of the game. The defending forces start in front of the building while the PEFs start at the opposing edge.

Friday, March 9, 2012

More 15mm minis and buildings

I've been thinking about picking up Dave Graffam's recently released street map and building a 15mm version of it. However, it would be no good without buildings to put on it. This was the necessary excuse to go back to some papercraft... in this case, I built Dave's longhouse and a couple of Sanity Studios militia in 15mm (i.e. printing 4 pages to a page) to see if the results (considering my ability) would be worth the effort.

Overall, I'm pleased with both the proportions between building and figures and their appearance. The figures could be lighter but for this test I printed everything directly from the PDF viewer, therefore I had no options to adjust the brightness of the images.

These test prints were done in 90gsm paper, causing them to be a little more fragile. However, it also makes building the model or cutting the miniatures a lot more comfortable in this small scale (scoring and folding small flaps in cardstock can be very annoying.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

USE ME Post-Apocalyptic

Last week I picked up the PDF version of USE ME Post-Apocalyptic (UM:PA for short), which prints nicely in booklet format. It can be seen as a revised version of USE ME Sci-Fi, as most of the rules are the same. The optional rule for suppression fire has been added to the book. The main changes come in the form of a much larger list of special abilities for units and a set of force rosters that are good inspiration to make your own units (and illustrate the use of the point system.) On the other hand, USE ME Sci-Fi has the Auto-repair special rule and the option of using an "orbital dart" as off-table support, which are missing from UM:PA. For these reasons, I'd advise anyone interested in the USE ME system for near future, sci-fi or post-apocalyptic games to get UM:PA rather than the sci-fi version. Those who already have the sci-fi version might find enough new material to justify the purchase, especially as it is rather cheap.

How does it compare to Mutants and Death Ray Guns?
A possibly more interesting question (at least for people obsessed with collecting and comparing rules sets, like me) is how does this fast-play skirmish post-apocalyptic game compare to Mutants and Death Ray Guns (MDRG), which has a similar proposal?

The most obvious and possibly most important difference is that while MDRG strikes a balance between close and ranged combat, whereas UM:PA is more of a "shooty" game. While close combat is quite lethal in both games, MDRG ranged weapons have short ranges, aren't particularly powerful, are prone to malfunction and in campaigns require maintenance. MDRG units might end with no ranged weapons at all when using random generation, whereas having no ranged attacks is an exceptional case in UM:PA.

Another important distinction is that UM:PA has more rules to deal with squad movement and actions, while in MDRG the standard "Song of Blades" engine rules for group actions are used. So in UM:PA one can more easily model an organized force while in MDRG it's usually a small band of individuals who occasionally listen to their leader. I believe this is in line with the fact that MDRG is geared towards smaller numbers of figures per side, too.

Lastly, MDRG has more options for movement and actions, and a broader (and crazier) list of special abilities. In conclusion, if your post-apocalyptic world is one of random bands of survivors scavenging few technological relics and fighting small skirmishes with a little "RPG-like" feel, MDRG seems like a better fit. UM:PA can do that too, but it won't feel as detailed; I would say that it fits better a post-global war world where the remnants of organized forces fight for the leftovers.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Combat Cards

I recently picked up Combat Cards after reading Spacejacker's solo report. This weekend I took the time to build a deck of Combat Cards and play their "Bug Hole" solo scenario (available from the site.) I printed them in 180gsm cardstock, glued to another sheet of dark colored cardstock using spray mount and put the cards in plastic sleeves.

For the scenario I used some pieces from the Hulk Skulkin' Patrol: Lost board game by Oversoul Games that I built last year. The picture is awful as it was taken at night with my cellphone. My forces consisted of three infantry units, one command and one long range support. The enemies are all swarms.

This is the battlefield at the start of the game. I used adhesive tape to mark the different height levels from the bug hole. I chose to split my forces in two teams, which proved to be a very bad idea.

The problem is that the team with the command and two grunts was a couple centimeters closer to the bug hole. Using the scenario rules, all bugs went towards them. To make things worse, I think that I didn't shuffle the cards well and didn't draw almost any movement actions. So my fire support and another soldier stood idle for most of the game. The three soldiers actually managed to kill two swarms...

... but eventually, the steady flow of aliens proved too much. One of the soldiers was eliminated in close combat...

... while the commander attempted to escape. By this point I had passed the 30 minutes time limit (as I was using 12-point forces) and while technically it was a draw with two unit points eliminated for each side, it was clear to me that the bugs had won.

Note: afterwards I played a second time, placing all my forces together. It went a little better and when the time limit arrived I was "winning" with 5 eliminated unit points vs. 4 points for the bugs. However, continuing to play resulted in my forces being wiped out while five aliens still remained.

I really liked my first game of Combat Cards. It moves fast and the card system bring some welcome unpredictability to the battle. The flexible scale is also a bonus: a 2'x2' board was more than enough for this 12-point match and it felt like I could squeeze twice the forces in that space.

I want to try and play against a human opponent, but for now I'm thinking about how to extend the solo scenarios to include card drawing (from a single deck) for the automated opponent.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Patrol Mission with CRFV

Here's the battle report for my first patrol mission of the War in the Planet of the Amazons campaign. I'm playing with 15mm miniatures in a 2'x2' board, with all distances and ranges halved. All the terrain features count as impassible terrain and block line of sight. All my forces (a rep 5 star and four rep 4 soldiers, as presented here) started on sector 7. The individual miniatures on sectors 2 and 5 represent the possible enemy forces (PEFs.) The enemy activity level is 3.

On the first turn, I rolled a 5 and the opposing forces got a 4, so I went first. I decided to stay on sector 7 to complete the patrol of that sector. I then started moving the PEFs. The first one to move advanced towards my group and resolved as two groups of five soldiers. I placed them in the map, rolled for their reps and started an In Sight test. Delfina (the unit in the lower left in the picture) had her line of sight blocked by friend units and the same happened to one of the enemy soldiers. The second group that was spawned from the PEF was hidden behind cover and didn't take part on the In Sight test, either.

My star rolled zero successes, freezing in place. Bibiana and Ercilia, two of my soldiers, rolled 1 success and everybody else rolled two succeses, so I had to resolve five "simultaneous" actions. The way I played was to roll for all actions and effects but apply all damage only after all units with 2 successes had acted. After the In Sight and reaction tests were resolved, Bibiana was out of the fight, Constanza was obviously dead and Ercilia was stunned. One of the enemy soldiers was out of the fight and one had charged and captured Bibiana.

I continued to roll for PEF movement. The other PEF on sector 5 entered line of sight but resolved as nothing but nerves. The last PEF rolled a result of "split into two PEFs" and stood in cover.

On the following turn, I rolled a 1 and the enemy rolled a 5, so the enemy forces would act first. I started with the single soldier that had charged into melee. Using the NP movement table, I resolved her action as moving to cover and attacking my star. She managed to cause an out of the fight result that was reduced back to "carry on" with a good roll of star power. The star then returned fire and took the enemy out of action. The second enemy group (in the middle of the map) activated and fired at Aleta (the star) and Ercilia, taking her out of the fight. Aleta returned fire and scored an obviously dead result.

The enemy group that was in cover split into two. Part of them would move and fire while the other would try to move around my group. This triggered a new In Sight test, during which my star was taken out of the fight (yes, even after rolling star power) and Delfina, my only remaining soldier, ducked back when it was her time to act.

At this point I decided the game was lost. Constanza was killed and Bibiana was captured as a prisoner of war. Next mission will be defending from a raid, with the enemy activity level increased to 4...