Monday, 30 September 2013

Dropzone Commander Starter Set

Mr Visa has kindly provided another new shiny wargame project, the Dropzone Commander Starter set. Now I already have two of the starter faction boxes, so this was a bit of an extravagance, but as it's such a great deal, it was hard to refuse.  Besides, I might try and rope someone from the club to help paint these up.  Btw, Mr Visa is great for this kind of purchase, coming just before payday, but he does have an annoying habit of demanding to be paid on time!  Come on, lighten up...

Dropzone Commander has been out for about a year now and, judging from various forums and the blogosphere, has gained a fair player base.  Despite a lot of positive reviews, DZC initially drew attention to itself by simply being very expensive, in terms of cash, to get into. The resin starter sets were a touch on the pricey side, but the big issue was the range of resin buildings (no need to go over old ground, but they were phenomenally expensive.)

One of three identical UCM Sprues.  Lots of small, plastic parts!

Hawk Wargames, the publishers, have obviously taken this to heart and, over the course of the last few months, taken steps to mitigate these criticisms.  Firstly, they reduced the price of the resin buildings; still expensive but a welcome decision.  Secondly, they released templates for gamers to print out their own card buildings and table at home, for free, great stuff.  Thirdly, they released a card building and terrain box for those who couldn't or wouldn't print their own.  This new starter box caps this off this process by producing two of the four starter factions in plastic.

To illustrate the saving, the RRP of this starter set and any of the original faction boxes are the same, but this new box gives you double the number of miniatures as well as all the extras.  As I understand it, Hawk Wargames are, or were, originally something of a one man band, so I can only commend them on producing a fantastic game.

An excellent rulebook; concise, clear, filled with great pics and background material.

So, what do you get in the box?  Well, first off there are the two sets of miniatures, the United Colonies of Mankind (UCM) and the Scourge.  Each force consists of three dropships, six tanks, two APCs and six bases of infantry.  The miniatures are identical in design to the original resin models, but the detail to my eyes is slightly shallower on the plastic.  In particular, the infantry seem to suffer from this more than the vehicles. Bear in mind that DZC is a 10mm scale game, so on the tabletop, you won't see any different between the two materials.

In addition to the figures is the rulebook.  It's an updated 1.1 rulebook, so those of you who own the original rulebook will notice some changes.  Just so you know, all the rule and unit stat changes in the new rulebook are and have been available on the DZC website, so you're not missing any crucial information here.  The rulebook itself is pretty lush (do the kids still say lush?)  156 pages long, 53 of those being introduction, rules and scenarios.  The remainder covers the game background, the individual factions and their army lists. Plenty of gamer porn is on display; some of the displays are gorgeous.  Topping things off, the rulebook has a brief contents and a comprehensive index.  Nice.

The Scourge sprue, only the dropship needs any real assembly.

The two paper maps are placed next to each other to create a 4x3' urban table, on which the ten card buildings can be arranged to suit. The buildings are all from a fairly hard cardstock and, although they stand up on their own, will need glued together for an actual game.  DZC has a distinctive, almost art-deco style for the buildings; I personally think they look great, but I can see how they wouldn't be to everyone's taste. The buildings are a fair old size too, not like the old card Epic 40K buildings, the skyscraper is a good 9" tall. As this size of a building has an impact in game with the different flying units, it's good to see this this in the starter box.

In addition to the rulebook and terrain, are there three reference sheets, an assembly guide and a sheet of cardboard tokens and templates.  The reference sheets haven't appeared as is before and are very clear and well laid out.  The reference sheets cover the turn sequence, the main combat tables and all profiles and rules for the forces in the box.  Although there are several scenarios in the main rulebook, the reverse of the main reference sheet has a scenario specifically balanced for the starter armies, again, great attention to detail.

The UCM Bear APC.  Although it's in six parts, I put this together in a couple minutes.

The tokens are a handy addition.  Although many gamers will have a fair collection of tokens and blast markers (GW?) their inclusion here makes that a moot point.  I'd have preferred a thicker cardstock here, but that really is splitting hairs.  There are plenty of tokens, more than you'd likely need for even a large game.

Rounding off the box is a bag of ten D6s and, charmingly, a miniature Hawk-branded tape measure.  A lovely touch.

10mm scale.  Small, but an impressive level of detail.

In my opinion, this is easily the single best starter box available for any wargame, ever.  The Warmachine/Hordes are pretty close, but the fact that everything you need to start playing is here, terrain included, coupled with the price, means this is a real winner.  Actually, not only does the box have everything you need to play a small game, but there has been enough attention to detail for you to easily play a small game; tokens, reference sheets, scenario, even a tape measure.  Great stuff.

Obviously I haven't yet touched on the background or the rules mechanics; I'll have another post at some point covering these.  Until next time...

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Blood Bowl Team Manager

We didn't have anything definite arranged at the club this week, so I took along Blood Bowl Team Manager for a trial run.  This is one of Fantasy Flight's Games Workshop licensed games, based on the classic fantasy American football tabletop game.
Each player takes control of one of six teams for the course of a season, draws players, drafts star players, recruits coaching and backroom staff and participates in each game week.  It's quite an odd affair, especially considering the original game; players don't complete individual matches.  Instead, each turn consists of the players drawing a highlights reel - a row of cards with different combinations of rewards - representing something like a a sports summary television show like Match of the Day or NFL Gameday.  Individual player cards are placed next to a highlight in an effort to collect the reward on that card.

Essentially, you're getting a snapshot of what happened over a course of series of games, not winning and losing specific matches.  The aim of the game is also a little left of centre; instead of accruing the most points or "winning" most game weeks, the aim is to accumulate the most fans.  Not a problem in the game (in fact, the fan mechanic is handled very well,) but these two factors make Blood Bowl Team Manager a little counter-intuitive.
Still, once you've got your head around the unorthodox set up and premise, quite an entertaining little game unfolds. BBTM plays pretty quickly and, as every player regularly acquires new cards to use, there is very little down time in the game.  There are a nice mix of mechanics in the game; most cards have optional abilities to use, tackling uses dice, cheating needs a risk/reward decision, star players are (unsurprisingly) powerful.  Even the scoring system gives you some interesting choices to make; do you take the fans to get an early lead, or do you forgo fans to try and recruit better players or coaching staff.

Six teams are available to choose from in the base game, all from the Warhamer world; humans, dwarves, wood elves, orcs, skaven and chaos.  FFG have done a great job in differentiating between the different teams, the Skaven for instance, sneaky and underhand, make heavy use the cheating mechanic, the Orcs favour bludgeoning their opponents while the humans, who can do a bit of everything, are simultaneously great at nothing!
FFG say this game is for 2-4 players, but we realised very quickly that the two player experience is very disappointing.  Simply put, there's only one real tactic for both players in a two player game and once one player gets ahead, it's nigh on impossible for the other player to catch up.  However, I've no doubt that in a three or four player game, neither of these issues would be a problem.

Overall, Blood Bowl Team Manager is a decent enough game, one I really want to like, but would need to play a larger game to make sure.  The game itself is full of Blood Bowl humour and flavour; two commentators appear and have witty banter printed on many of the cards and the artwork overall is excellent.
I picked up the base game and the expansion well below the RRP.  I can't say I would pay full price for them, but if you get a cheap enough copy and enjoy multi-player board or card games, Blood Bowl Team Manager is a pretty good deal.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Dark Age Church

One thing that is noticeably lacking from my collection is decent amount of scenery.  To correct that, I've been gradually picking up some pre-painted bits and pieces, primarily dark age buildings.
The latest and potentially final building is this Church or Manor building.

I picked it up on eBay buy a company called PMC Games for a very reasonable price.  It's a fairly hefty chunk of resin with a decent enough paint job   Actually, as the first model was damaged in the mail, so I should point out the excellent service from PMC, who provided an immediate replacement.  Thanks. 
I might do some work on it, as the walls and ground are a bit too similar to my eyes, but it's usable enough as is.  The roof is separate, which is handy for any games that involve entering buildings.
With this, I've now got enough buildings for a reasonable sized game of Saga or Dux Bel/Brit. Still on the shopping list are some linear obstacles (Renedra do a wattle fence sprue which might do) and some areas of rough terrain (which I think I'll try and do myself.)  I'd also like a well for the small village, anyone know of a suitable 28mm scale model? 

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

This week's posts have been rescheduled due to. . . pain.

I've put on a wee bit of beef that last couple months, culminating in topping 14 stone (only briefly though!) in July. Well, "that's enough of that" I said, so I've been cycling and doing some weights recently, but the other day I started back running.

The only plausible explanation I can think of is that I suddenly gained twenty or so years, because I'm an absolute wreck!  Cricket is my sport of choice, so running more than 22 yards in one go is a bit unusual for me.  Still, I ran for the university athletics club and that wasn't that long ago, was it?  In fact, I feel pretty good during the runs, it's when everything seizes up afterwards that's the problem; legs (obviously,) arse, abs, shoulders, neck, everything.  I even slept on the couch last night, instead of facing the torture of the staircase! Ugh.

So, I do have a couple posts to put up, but every time I've sat down to write this week, I've fallen asleep (to be fair, work is unexpectedly hectic, so that's not helping.)  Some pics should hopefully appear here soon then as well as some thoughts on a new card game I've picked up. Until then, zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Anyone After a Flames of War related bargain?

Not something I like to post on the blog very often, but I'm offloading the last of my Flames of War figures on eBay.  Almost all US Airborne figures, but a couple other bits and pieces, have a look here. Drop me an email if anyone's interested in any of these outside eBay...

It isn't the case that I dislike FoW in particular or gaming WW2 in general; I just collected quite a lot of scenery and figures as I planned to have a permanent table set up in our new house.  Now that didn't work out (I'm back home living with my old man,)  I've no desire to look at these any more as they remind me too much of the unpleasant time I've had this year.

My gaming mojo is still in full swing however.  I've roped a friend into collecting 10mm Carthaginians (gave him my Pendraken figs to paint,) so really in the mood for painting the opposing Romans.  I've picked up yet another miniature game - I know I was moaning about being skint earlier this month, but my Grandparents wanted to get me something as a wee present, so more figures it was!  Actually, I can't get enough gaming in lately; a different game at the club each week, but still need more Android: Netrunner and Dreadball regularly.  Bloody real life getting in the way!

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

The Battle of Flodden 1513

A couple days late, I know, but in light of the 500 year anniversary of Flodden, I picked up this new book at the weekend.  I haven't read much British history in a wee while, so this has been a refreshing change of pace for me.

The two author's seem to be stressing three themes with this book; repair the reputation of James IV, highlight the roles women played in the build up to the battle and how far Flodden has impacted on, for want of a better phrase, the Scottish mentality.

So far (I haven't finished reading yet) they've made a pretty good job of the first two points.  There's a nice discussion on the different theories of what exactly James IV was planning, as well as highlighting his hitherto successful reign.  I'm not knowledgeable enough on the period to say if they reach the correct conclusion, but their points are well argued and logical.  Margret Tudor and Catherine of Aragon get a reasonable amount of page time and there's a fanciful notion of  how Catherine upstaging her husband in the Flodden campaign contributed to her fate.

I'm not too happy about the extrapolation to the battle to the modern constitutional situation in Scotland "as the independence debate gathers increasing momentum."  Has it?  It's equally valid to say there's a lot of cynicism and even boredom up here about the debate.

Still, Flodden 1513 is an enjoyable enough read if you can ignore a few of the faults (it REALLY needs a good edit before a second print run.)  The ultimate test of any history book for wargamers is, of course, "do you now want to wargame the ??? period?"  With this book, the answer is sadly no.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Wargames Illustrated 311 - A Pleasant Surprise

As a wee treat to myself, I picked up this months Wargames Illustrated.  The primary reason was the Steppe Tribes battle board and faction rules for Saga that are in this issue.  Actually a bit of a sore point, I lost the Byzantine rules during one of this years frequent house moves, now I'll have to actually buy another book to get them.  Not this time.  Don't envisage collecting a Nomad warband, but you never know.

AWI? Ugg, no thanks.

I lost interest in WI when I gave up playing Flames of War and that, coupled with a few themes I didn't enjoy, means I haven't bought WI in months.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the content this issue.

In Saga terms, these guys look really annoying to play against.
The theme of the issue, the Philadelphia campaign, really doesn't do anything for me, but the coverage isn't as exhaustive as it has been in the past.  I really enjoyed the Longstreet designer notes, articles on the English Civil and First Chechen War and found the modelling article useful.  I even found the Flames of War battle report relatively engaging.

Although I don't see myself picking it up every month (I get every issue of the excellent Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy,)  I'll make sure and have a closer look at future issues.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Ronin - First Game and Impressions

Last week Adam, Sholto and I managed to try out the new rules release from Osprey, Ronin.  I say managed, but I mean "barely managed" due to a notable lack of terrain and a tape measure!  Luckily the rest of the guys at Aberdeen Wargaming Club were obliging enough and we scrambled together everything we needed (thanks for the trees John!)

As he was the only one with the rules and also provided all the figures, Adam guided us through our first game. Despite this handicap, everyone was impressed by what looks a solid set of rules.  We tried a three player game, each of us with identical forces:

1 x Samurai with katana
2 x Ashigaru with yari
1 x Ashigaru with yumi
1 x Ashigaru with teppo

Sholto, last to arrive, is forced to deploy in the middle.
Everyone then heads straight toward him!
It was a typical trial game; we generally made moves and attacks to "see what happened" reading the appropriate rules as we went along.  Although we missed a fair few smaller rules, the core rules were very easy to grasp.  We managed two big, multiple combats without any difficulty, something I'm very impressed with.  Just for the record, my Samurai drew the first kill of the game, beheading Sholto's Samurai after honourably defeating him in single combat (my two Ashigaru were just there to cheer him on, honest!)

My Samurai honourably leads from the rear.

The turn starts simply enough with a Priority roll, the player with the highest roll gets to activate a model first and subsequent players then activate one model.  With each activation, a figure can move or run and has the choice to make a ranged attack.  That's it, pretty logical.  There are some restrictions for wounded models (actually, there's a great sliding scale for light to grievous wounds in the game) and a nice mechanic for trying to evade close combat.

As I mentioned, players have the choice to shoot in the movement phase, albeit with a couple of negative modifiers on the dice roll.  There are two main ranged weapons in Ronin; the Yumi and the Teppo (Ninjas have access to Shuriken, but I haven't tried them yet.)  The Yumi is the Japanese bow and, in Ronin, is the rapid fire weapon, able to fire twice each turn. It isn't particularly powerful however, and is really unlikely to kill someone with one shot.  The Teppo is, of course, the Japanese Arquebus.  You'll be lucky to get more than a couple shots in a game with the Teppo, it needs reloaded after each shot and is wildly inaccurate at long range.  It does however reduce the effectiveness of all types of armour, ignoring most, and so is the well capable of killing the most powerful figure with one shot.
The first combat of the game sees two Ashigaru poke each other with long sticks.

Shooting is handled very well in Ronin.  I dislike games where it is too easy to do something, and killing someone with the Teppo or Yumi is suitably difficult.  When you do take someone out, usually at short range, it is appropriately satisfying.

After moving and shooting, we come naturally enough to combat.  Now I'll say straight up that I love the combat mechanic in Ronin, it's a wonderful blend of decision making and rolling dice, not the typical run up and attack.  The first step in any combat is to determine a combat pool; each combatant contributes a specific number of tokens to the combat pool for their faction.  A Samuri will contribute three or more tokens, an Ashigaru two tokens, while a peasant or bandit only one token.  The player will use these tokens in the ensuing combat.

Now we're talking.  My Samurai puts down his counterpart, then proceeds to behead him!
You don't get that in the UFC!

Both players involved in the combat then simultaneously split their combat pool into two piles, attack and defence.  The next step is to determine the initiative order for that specific combat; both players roll one D6 and add any modifiers (the heavy Nodachi sword penalises initiative, but the Yari spear gives a bonus.)  This will result in an initiative order BY MODEL, not by player, which I think is genius.  In initiative order, models can then spend one attack token to attack, with the option of spending another token to enhance the roll (essentially, adding a dice to the roll.)  Defending models always get a defence dice roll, but can also enhance it by spending a defence token.  Dice are rolled, modifiers and armour bonus' applied and injury is handled in much the same way from ranged combat.

There's a nice balance to the combat mechanic and it gives the player plenty of choices to make.  You may, for instance, really want to attack first, so you could spend any token to enhance the initiative roll. Alternatively, you may have a Samurai with the Tetsubo heavy club who could probably kill everyone he's facing, so you spend all your tokens to attack multiple enemies.  Some things we learned in this game; Samurai are really hard to kill in combat, almost impossible if they enhance their defence.  They still don't like a Teppo shot to the face though.

The rest of the battlefield. The other warband close in on the combat.
We're using dice as wound markers, Ronin only uses the traditional D6.

Following combat, each figure is then able to perform an action.  This includes reloading the Teppo if you are able, shooting with the Yumi, Resting and other objective/victory point actions like beheading someone (nice) or looting a corpse.  A word on the injury progression in Ronin, each step of which impacts a figure's ability to fight.  Starting at stunned, which is easy enough to recover from, the first injury is a light wound, not only can you not heal this in game, it puts you at a disadvantage in combat.  Suffer a bad enough injury and you'll move to grievous wound, where you'll suffer penalties in every phase.  Anything worse than a grievous wound results in death, but there is a nice alternate progression, where even the strongest model can be killed by enough light wounds.  Very elegant and a refreshing change from seeing a wound characteristic on every model profile.

Ronin has specific lists for eight factions; notably the Bushi (traditional Samurai and Ashigaru,) two types of warrior monks, Koreans and Ming Chinese and my personal favourite, the peasants with their hired Ronin warriors (seven of them?)  In addition to their own model list, most of the factions can hire other models including (obviously) Ronin, ninjas and wandering warrior monks.

Beyond the basics, Ronin just puts layers of flavour into the game.  There are rules for Bujutsu (martial arts) which give your models specific abilities; my favourite is Yadome-Jutsu, which lets your warrior swat incoming arrows out of the air with his sword!  Quality.  There are rules for mounted combat, different abilities for experienced warriors, rules for unarmed or submission attacks (fancy playing a campaign where you capture an enemy's leader?) Many of the different factions have specific rules for different models or victory conditions.  Some factions can carry a banner that boosts your morale; Koreans gain bonus victory points for killing Samurai, bandits for looting corpses.  The Bushi faction, who lose victory points for dishonourably hiring a ninja, can have their Samurai commit seppuku if they lose the game to try and salvage a draw!

Finishing off the book are some scenarios, terrain and weather rules, quick campaign and experience rules, optional rules for adding a fatigue mechanic and, lastly, rules for adapting Ronin to other time periods.

Any criticisms?  Well, it is a little token heavy; in theory you need four types of injury markers, as well as other sundry tokens.  At this level, keeping track of who ran or shot earlier in the turn wasn't too bad, but adding more figures will probably make some method for tracking these necessary.  To be fair, this probably seemed like a problem simply because none of the three of us has an appropriate set of generic tokens.  I'm also not a fan of authors saying "[this faction] will be at a disadvantage against [another faction]"  That smacks a bit of improper balancing the faction lists. Still, I can put up with that in one off games and in a campaign, balancing should be easy enough to adjust.

Overall, Ronin ticks most of the boxes it needs to; straightforward and logical turn order and set-up, well scaled difficulty, wonderful combat system and the ability to make important choices about how you fight.  In my opinion, Ronin is easily the best written and explained set in the Osprey Wargames series.  Well worth the £8.19 I paid for it.  Now to find some Samurai figures.