Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The year in review

At the end of last year I had a post reviewing 2014 and making plans. Now that 2015 is almost done, how did I fare?
This is just a recycled image that for some reason I thought would fit with this post.
One post per week: if we say it is one post per week on average, or 52 posts a year, then this goal was reached, much because I focused on posting more on the blog during October-December, after an inactive period.

Moving to virtual tabletops: this did not really happen. I did not make a real effort to convert to virtual tabletops and most of my battle reports for this year were still on a real table. That said, with the added possibility of having to move to a smaller house, I will keep this goal for 2016.

Thorough, solo play-focused reviews: a partially completed goal. Over the year I only wrote a few more involved reviews (No End in Sight, Fernewelt, War Story) but I guess I could have covered a few more games.

More solo RPG sessions: other than Fernewelt, I did not really try any RPG systems during the year, so this goal was not reached. This is another goal I intend to keep for 2016.

So this is it for now. I intend to take a break from all things computer-related, especially blogs and social networking during the holidays, so expect new updates in January.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Thoughts on playing miniature games solo

Back in the first year of this blog, I wrote a little about how miniature skirmish games could be played solo. It was mostly a way to organize my thoughts on the subject, as I learned about new games and discovered other blogs discussing this.

These days I started thinking about it again -- maybe because the year is drawing to a close and thus my mind is sorting all the messy ideas floating around. So here is a slightly different take on that discussion: not limited to skirmish games and not trying to outline all possibilities. Instead, what follows is a presentation of how I have been playing solo miniature games.

Procedural narrative or "roll the dice and interpret the result"
Many of my solo games (most of them?) consist in a scenario with set objectives for the forces and rules to generate unexpected events (for instance 5150 Urban Renewal.) The fun lies in having this randomness add elements to the initial situation, and the narrative takes precedence over tactics. This category also includes games with limited tactical choices but strong narrative generators (for instance, Red Sun Black Moon.)

Scenario exploration or "play both sides of a weird setup"
Some of my games involve uneven or strange forces, or an atypical board setup. In these situations, I play both sides to the best of my ability, possibly with some random generator to add uncertainty. This is the case for most of my games of Song of Blades and Heroes, because it allows the creation of varied warbands. My recent Battle for Zorpel campaign using Five Core also falls in this category.

Automated opposition or "look up table X for the answer"
Some of my games are actually played against an artificial opponent, trying to use tactics to win the battle, usually with odds stacked against my forces. These mainly include the military-themed games from Two Hour Wargames, although the A.I. for X-Wing also works well.

What about force disposition systems (as found in USE ME and Five Core, for instance)? I have found in my games that they are useful to keep the enemy force's decisions consistent, However, I still have to make enough decisions for both sides that the games end up in either of the first two categories.

The same goes for card-driven activation, random activation rolls, random event tables and other similar mechanics: they add welcome uncertainty but in the end, decisions still must be made for both sides, such that the fun must (in my experience) lie in narrative or "what if" scenarios.

That is not to say there is anything wrong with playing with a focus on narrative, and I think this works well for the battle reports. However, it is something to keep in mind when I am planning my future campaigns.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Psycho mutant vs. killer robot

Desert Domain is a large city in post-apocalyptic earth. It attracts merchants, refugees, mercenaries and other survivors. It also houses the Arena of the Sun, a large and deep pit where gladiators fight for glory. On occasion, dangerous criminals are also placed on the arena for the entertainment of the survivors. This is the case for this fight.

The two criminals-turned-gladiators, Glorbh and KV-104.
On the left side of the arena is Glorbh, the psycho mutant. Given the opportunity, Glorbh would enslave all humans and establish a mutant kingdom on earth. On the right side is KV-104, the killer robot. KV has an elaborate plan to allocate all humans to work on robot factories and power plants. Luckily, both of them have been captured and now will fight to the death.

Savvy 5, Strength 5, Speed 4, 14 Bonus Dice
Brawler, Multiple arms, Rage
Light armor (AC 1), Hammer (1-hand, no reach bonus, +1d6 damage), Chain knife (1-hand, no reach bonus, +2d6 damage), Two pistols (damage 1d6, target 2)

Savvy 4, Strength 5, Speed 5, 14 Bonus Dice
Stout, Resolute, Wary
Heavy metal armor (AC 3), Energy ripper (1-hand, +1 reach bonus, +2d6 damage), Heavy blaster (damage 3d6, target 1)

I played both gladiators using the non-player gladiator tables. To find out when a gladiator would use a ranged attack instead of moving, I would roll 1d6 against savvy (after rolling on the NPG movement table.)

The two gladiators started moving towards the center of the arena. Glorbh fired one of his pistols but KV-104 spun around its waist and the shot just scratched its armor. The robot then responded by firing its blaster; its unbalanced position spoiled the shot, missing the mutant.
Starting the fight.
KV-104 reached the center of the arena and Glorbh jumped at him with both weapons ready. The robot stepped back and counter-attacked; its energy ripper cut the mutant's cloak but missed his body. The two fighters exchanged attacks for long seconds. Green-tinted sweat rolled off Glorbh's body.

Glorbh finally managed to stab KV-104 in the chest using his chain knife. The robot pulled back and two exhaust ports opened in its back, venting steam from its cooling systems. Glorbh fired his other pistol but missed. The robot charged at the mutant but he parried with his chain knife, damaging its arm. Glorbh kept on the offensive, slashing the robot's left leg and pushing it against the wall.
A moment during the fight. Many attack phases swinged back and forth, ending in a tie as the fighters were balanced.

The two fighters paused for a moment. Glorbh was panting, while sparks fizzled from the wounds in KV-104's arm and leg. Glorbh resumed the fight, trying to pin the robot against the wall, but was pushed back. KV-104 tried to counter-attack but was hit again in the chest.

This time, Glorbh pinned the robot against the wall and drove his chain knife deep into its chest. Overloading its servo-motors, KV-104 spun free, stumbled a few yards and fell to the ground.

Glorbh raised his four arms and screamed. His mad eyes scanned the audience: worthless humans that cheered over the spectacle. A strong net was cast over him, then the tranquilizer darts hit. Defeat or victory, which was worse?

Both fighters burned lots of bonus dice in their initial, ineffective ranged attacks. After that, the battle became very balanced: Glorbh had better attacks but KV-104 had much better armor. Due to a bit more luck in the maneuver rolls, Glorbh slowly chipped at the killer robot until the end.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Turning the Tide

This is the fourth report on the Battle for Zorpel.

This time I used MapTool instead of setting up a physical board. I made a couple of very simple tokens to represent units of the humans and skelebots in Inkscape.
A long way to go in learning vector drawing. Still, at least I can tell them apart :)
A couple of days after the previous mission, Don, Erick and Harry are sent to scout a nearby area and collect skelebot bodies (blue objective markers.) The plan is to analyze their communication systems in order to try to disrupt them. Meanwhile, a skelebot team is in the same area, tasked with securing a temporary base (red objective marker.)

Mission setup. Brown segments are ruined walls that block line of sight.
The skelebots split in two groups: one of them would secure their objective while the other would prevent the humans from completing theirs. The humans gained the initiative and started with a scurry, reaching their first objective. Then the skelebots advanced. One of them reached their objective, while two others guarded the second human objective.

Harry activated and fire at the visible skelebot, destroying it. Then Erick and Don advanced towards their second objective. The skelebots rolled a scurry and took the opportunity to position themselves around their objective.

Both sides on their way to completing their objectives.
On the following human turn, Don activated and entered the woods. The skelebot snap fired, missing. Don fired and knocked it down, then Erick moved in and disabled it. With this, the humans completed their objectives and prepared to leave. One of the remaining robots kept guarding their objective, while the other moved to engage the humans. They exchange fire, but no one got hurt.

The humans rolled a scurry and moved away, with one robot following. The robots then rolled a firefight and Erick was killed before they could get away. At this point, the robots completed their objective.
Never underestimate a berserk robot.
In the next turn, the humans also rolled a firefight. Don missed and was knocked down by the chasing skelebot. Then the robot reached the unconscious soldier and defeated him. Only Harry escaped the mission.

This resulted in a tie using the mission victory points system: both sides completed their assigned objectives and both sides defeated two enemy units. Harry gains another level (now level 2) and the Dodge skill.

When victory seemed certain, the robots nearly turned the tides. Lesson learned: never turn your back to the enemy.

As this was an opportunity mission, there is no change to the campaign progress. The next mission will be a personal mission, featuring Ford alone.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some top-down tokens for sci-fi games

I have created some top-down tokens for sci-fi miniature games. They were made using basing conventions for Alien Squad Leader (thus 50mm square bases for infantry, 50mm x 100mm bases for the AFVs) but should be usable with other games.
Preview of the tokens: for now, just infantry and AFVs
A 300-dpi file in PDF format, with tokens in red and blue, can be downloaded from this link. This file is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, e.g. you can share and remix but please give credit when doing so.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Defense systems

This is the third report on the Battle for Zorpel.

This battle happened during a larger conflict in one of the colonial settlements. Don, Erick, Ford, Harry were sent to activate the defensive systems (by contacting the building with the pillar and the blue structure in the ruins). The robots wanted to destroy the building with the pillar to disable defense systems. The robots had 1 commander, 1 scout and 1 rifleman.
Initial setup. Sorry for the awful lighting...
I started the game with a scurry turn. Erick moved and contacted the first objective, while Don ran towards the second and Harry took cover. The robot commander also moved forward and the robot rifleman advanced to the center of the board.

The robots rolled a scurry turn. The robot commander and scout moved to their objective. Don reached the building, thus completing the human objectives. However, the robots were still active and must be disrupted.

I rolled a scurry turn and moved Don to a better position. The robot scout reacted and moved in contact with the building he must destroy. The robots then rolled a firefight turn. Ford was knocked down and Don took the robot commander out of action.
Robot commander defeated.
I rolled another scurry turn. Ford recovered and took cover behind a building. The other robots also took better positions -- the robot scout took cover behind the building he must destroy. The robots rolled a normal turn. The robot scout failed to set the demolition charges, so the rifleman robot moved to help. However, Erick fired in reaction causing the robot to run back to cover.

I rolled a normal turn. Don advanced and shot the robot scout, for no effect. Harry moved and disabled the knocked down rifleman robot. Ford moved back towards the ruin. The robots rolled a scurry turn. The robot in the ruins ran to cover, in order to help with the demolition charges. Harry and Ford moved in response, getting to better positions.

I rolled a scurry turn but did not move. The robots rolled a normal turn. The scout robot blasted Don, taking him out of action. Harry snap fired at the other robot when he left cover, but missed.

I rolled a normal turn and Harry fired at the robot scout, knocking him down. Ford moved to a position to ambush the last robot. The robots rolled a normal turn. The scout remained knocked down. The other robot reached him and set the demolition charge (Ford snap fired but missed.)
Demolition charge planted!
I rolled a normal turn. Harry took the standing robot out of action and Ford disabled the scout robot. On the next human turn, Harry disabled the demolition charge. Victory for the humans (19 victory points against 0).

After the battle
Harry gained a level, becoming a character of the Heavy class.

The battle at the settlement was a major victory, and the robots had heavy losses. On the other hand, Ford got injured as the battle continued, and must rest for 7 days to recover. [I rolled the campaign events: Milestone reached and Injury].

The battle could have been won by the third turn, but this would not have prevented the robots from achieving their goal. Still, there were no changes in campaign progress.

The next battle will happen two days later, so Ford will not be available. It will be an opportunity mission (something not directly related to the war effort.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

A solo review of War Story

War Story is the most recent title from Nordic Weasel Games (NWG). It is a mix of story generator and light, story-oriented rules for miniature games. Due to its nature, it is presented as more adequate for cooperative or solo play. For these reasons, I could not resist the urge to pick it up and give it a try.

When I got the PDF book, I was mostly curious about the narrative rules system. Other titles from NWG have campaign generators that work well, and I assumed that some of that expertise would be applied in this title, too (spoiler: the book does contain a scenario generator.)

The text starts in a very general tone, discussing possibilities and play styles for the game. It sounds like a "meta description" of miniature games, and I suppose the decision to write it this way was to have a core set of rules that may be further expanded. This also means that newcomers to miniature games will probably end up reading through the book more than once or looking for tips elsewhere to figure out what options to use.

The action resolution system reminded me of the task system from Five Core, extended to deal with different situations during the game. Combat is similarly resolved with a single roll, as the level of detail here is that of narrative events, not recreating each moment of a firefight. There is also a system to answer general questions about the scenario, which is like a simplified Enquiry Table.

But how does it play?
Having read through the 27 pages of the book, the next step was to play a game to find out how it feels. There is no set scale for the game; instead, it is one of the things that players must define. I liked the insight that ground scale and time scale are tied together by the standard movement rate of units; while not stated, this is what is going on.

In this scenario, an invading force (on the left) must attack and destroy the defenders' outpost. The invaders have two regular squads, an infiltration team and an assault squad who are in charge of destroying the target. The defenders have three regular squads. One is guarding the outpost, and the other two are on patrol. Each figure represents two soldiers.
Setup for the test game.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Communications breakdown

This is the second report of the Battle for Zorpel.

This time, the forces met in the ruins of a robot base. The humans must destroy a robot communication core, while the robots needed to retrieve a safe box containing important information.

The robots had one commander, one assault bot and a regular infantry bot. Their plan was to have one robot retrieve the safe box while the others would attack the humans. The human team was Don, Erick and Ford. Don was carrying the demolition charges.
Setup for the battle.
The human team went first [and opted to have a scurry turn, in order to approach their objective.] Don approached the communication core and the robot commander moved in response.

The robots got a normal turn. The commander shot Don, for no effect. The assault bot closed in and attacked Ford, but lost the brawl and was taken out of action. The last robot dashed towards the safe box.

The human team got a normal turn. Don failed setting the demolition charge. Ford moved and fired at the robot commander, taking him out of action. Erick moved and set the demolition charge.
Ford shot the robot commander in the back...
The robots got a firefight turn but nobody was in sight. The humans then got a normal turn; Don moved from the ruins and shot the last robot, taking it out of action. Victory for the humans (14 victory points against 0 for the robots).

After the battle
The human team got a new recruit, Harry. Ford gained a level, becoming a rifleman [note: in this campaign, given the small field of battle, a rifleman adds a single grenade to the group.] The soldiers gain 2 days of rest [adding +1 point of high spirits for the next battles].

With this decisive victory, the campaign progress score goes back to zero. Next mission is another random military mission.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Friends in High Places - solo card game

Last week I sketched a solo card game. After some play testing and converting the rules to English, here it is.


This is a solo deck-building game that can be played with a regular 52-card deck. The goal of the game is to gain influence over the King of Diamonds. To reach that goal, you will need to influence other nobles higher and higher in the court.

Remove these cards: jokers, 2 of hearts, spades and diamonds, and kings of clubs, spades and hearts. Prepare your starting deck with the four aces, and the cards 2, 3 and 4 of clubs. Shuffle them well. Prepare the court deck by shuffling the remaining cards.

Playing the game
Follow these steps for each game turn:
1) Your nobles arrive at the court: deal four cards from your deck to make up your hand for the turn. If there are not enough cards on your deck, shuffle your discards to make a new deck. If at any time your whole deck (including discards) has less than 4 cards, you lose the game.
2) Other nobles arrive at the court: deal four cards from the court deck on the table, to make up the court. If there are not enough cards on the court deck, shuffle the court discards to make a new court deck. If at any time the whole court deck (including discards) has less than 4 cards, you lose the game.
3) Court intrigue: you must remove from the game either two cards from the court or one card from your hand. These cards will not be used for the rest of the game, so choose carefully!
4) Influence: now you can use cards from your hand to acquire one card from the court, respecting the following rules:
  • The suits represent spheres of influence, in order: clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds.
  • You can add the values of cards of a suit to acquire a card of the same suit with the same or lower value. Jacks are worth 11, Queens are worth 12, the King of Diamonds is worth 13. Example: you can use a 2 and a 3 of clubs to acquire a 5 of clubs that is on the court this turn.
  • You can also add cards of a suit and use half of the total (rounded down) to acquire a card of the next sphere of influence. For instance, you can combine a 2 and a 5 of hearts (total 7, divided by two = 3) to acquire a 3 of spades. It is not possible to skip spheres (e.g. acquire a card of spades with a combination of cards of clubs).
  • Aces can be used to reduce the value of a card of the same suit on the court. For instance, you can acquire a 5 of spades with the ace of spades and a 4 of spades. Likewise, you can acquire the 3 of hearts with the ace of hearts and the 2 and 4 of clubs.
  • Cards of different suits cannot be added together. For instance, if your hand consists of 2 and 4 of clubs and 3 and 4 of hearts, you may acquire up to a 6 of clubs, a 7 of hearts or a 3 of spades.
5) An acquired card is placed on your discard pile. You immediately win the game when you acquire the King of Diamonds.
6) As the last step of the game turn, discard the remaining cards on the court to the court discard pile, and any cards you used or still on your hand to your discard pile. Go back to step 1 and keep playing more turns until you win or lose.

If the game seems too easy, try one or both of these optional rules:
a) Lost opportunities: After the court discard pile is shuffled (on step 2), turn open the first card. If it is the King of Diamonds, place it at the bottom of the court deck. Otherwise, remove it from the game.
b) Royal family: The King of Diamonds may only be acquired with other cards of the diamonds suit.