Wednesday, August 3, 2016

And the long goodbye begins...

My world suddenly went turvy last week when my beloved cow-cat Grendel was diagnosed with cancer.

He caught a sudden, severe cold on Sunday afternoon and by Monday he was listless, withdrawn, and had lost all interest in eating.

A few vet trips later, the results of an ultrasound last Thursday confirmed that he had cancer. It's inoperable and untreatable with chemo. The vet said he had maybe a few weeks or few months to live.

I've been devastated since then. I can't imagine losing him. His outsized personality and beguiling charm simply can't disappear forever. I'm not prepared for this and I've had more than a few good cries over it.

Since the diagnosis, he's rallied back. The cold affected him badly; as he recovers from it, he seems as much himself as ever. If I didn't know otherwise, I'd swear he was the vision of health. The old behaviors that vanished last week have slowly come back: He's back on my bed before dawn tormenting me to get up and feed him, he's back to snuggling with me on the couch, he was down at the door greeting the pizza man with me this afternoon, he's pestering Rhiannon, mewling loudly to be let into the garage, etc.

But a lot of anxiety remains. I notice things that aren't quite the same, or maybe just seem not quite the same. I wonder if he always slept so much or that I never considered it before. Is he less playful? Is he less troublesome and insufferable? I don't know, but every perceived change worries me that he's winding down. I expect more of these observations and worries as time goes on.

The vet put him on prednisolone, which is basically a steroid. I have friends who swear it's a miracle drug. One friend's cat was at the vet to be put down because it showed no signs of quality of life. They put her on prednisolone and six months later she's going strong. My vet told me that her childhood dog was diagnosed with cancer and given just a few weeks to live. The dog lived another five years on prednisolone. There's hope.

I took him to the vet this morning for a follow up. She was amazed to see how much he'd recovered from his sorry state last week. We talked about supplements and what I can do to keep up his quality of life. I'll have a plan in place soon.

With Grendel back to normal, more or less, I'm optimistic that he can go on for a long time despite the cancer. I want him to live on with the same quality of life he's always had. But I know the clock is ticking now. I've had to face losing him, which is something I never wanted to face before.

And Grendel isn't my only cat. He's 12 now. Maebh is almost 13. Rhiannon is 15. They're all getting on in years. The girls seem to be in great shape, but so did Grendel. My world can unexpectedly go turvy all over again for them. It seems like only yesterday that I brought the cats into my life, but it's been 10 years. I hope that they'll all live to be 20 or older. I can't imagine my home being home without them. But I know that I have to start preparing myself for losing them.

I don't know if it's possible to love my cats more than I already do. But in the years to come, I will take them less for granted. I'll savor every moment with them and store them in my heart for the years after they're gone. It's a long goodbye that will outlast them and never end until I do.

The days that will never end

Monday, July 18, 2016

Two-dimensional Banzai

I got around a bit on Saturday. I meant to start earlier and be even more adventurous, but this Saturday I needed a little more easing into the day than usual. I'd arranged with Dave Schueler to play Guadalcanal at Meeples Games in West Seattle, starting at 10:00, just when they open. Plan A was to go to 8:00 Mass at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, then a bagel and coffee at Eltana Bagels. However, I was too lazy to get moving this morning, so I went with Plan B, which involved rushing out the door with barely enough time to get from Lynnwood to West Seattle.

Col. Ichiki was not entirely successful

The Guadalcanal scenario we played was the Battle of Alligator Creek. This was the first Japanese counterattack on land in the battle. Japanese destroyers landed an advanced detachment of about 900 men 21 miles east of the Marine perimeter. The intent was to pierce the Marine defenses and overrun Henderson Field, the Marine airfield (completed on what had been an unfinished Japanese airfield) that was the central point of the fighting on Guadalcanal. It had to have been conceived as a suicide mission. There was the whole 1st Marine division ("The Old Breed") landed on Guadalcanal. Even though its 11,000 men were spread out in a perimeter, there were 3000 Marines of the 1st Regiment on point at the Tenaru River. (The Marines names it "Alligator creek" even though it wasn't a creek and there were no alligators in it.)

The 900 men landed by the Japanese navy were supposed to be followed up by another 1200, but the commander of the Japanese troops, Col. Kiyonao Ichiki, was impatient to sweep away the Marines, whose numbers he greatly underestimated. Ichiki was a bit of a fire-eater. As a company commander in Manchuria Manchukuo, he was involved in the "Marco Polo Bridge Incident," which started the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-45.

The Japanese attack started at about 2:00 AM with a rush of about 100 men over the sandbar at the mouth of the river. The Marines were dug in on the west side of the river with a 37mm anti-tank gun, well-supplied with cannister rounds for anti-personnel shooting, and a platoon of machine guns. This attack was wiped out by intense Marine fire. A second wave of about 200 men met the same fate.

Attack across the sandbar
At this point the Japanese stayed on the east side of the river and engaged in a firefight with the Marines until daybreak, when the Marine 1st battalion counterattacked in an envelopment that brought them south and east of the Japanese positions. Five M3 Stuart tanks trundled across the sandbar to join the fray and the Japanese troops were pretty much annihilated. In all the Japanese lost more than 700 men to the Marines' loss of 43 men. Col. Ichiki died in the battle, but it's not clear if he died in action or committed suicide because of his failure.

The Tenaru today. No sandbar and the runway of  the Honiara International Airport
 (formerly Henderson Field) extends right up to where the Marines were deployed on August 21.
The attack at the Tenaru was the ground offensive for Operation Ka, which was the Japanese riposte to American seizure of Guadalcanal. It was a complete failure. In his report to higher command, Col. Ichiki's superior admitted only that the attack was "not entirely successful."

The refight

Dave opted to play the Japanese, so I played the Marines. Initial set-up locations were determined by the scenario. The Japanese first wave was massed just east of the sandbar; my Marines were spread out covering the length of the river.

The scenario was 6 rounds with the first three rounds being night. Initial visibility for round 1 was 2 hexes. For rounds 2 and 3, we rolled a D6 with the result being the visibility for that round. I rolled a "1" on both turns. I was frustrated that my visibility was hampered, but the low visibility probably hurt Dave more than me. He had no recourse but to move up close, which gave me an advantage in close-range shooting.

The course of the game pretty much followed the historical fight, except Dave managed to overrun the 37mm gun position that covered the sandbar. I managed to take the position back in the next round, so it was a short-lived triumph. That was with the first wave. The subsequent waves that came on board rounds 3 and 4, did not make massed close assaults. My round 4 reinforcements came on the south edge of the board and by round 5, I had two Stuarts rampaging across the sandbar into Japanese territory.

It was touch and go for a while. Dave made good use of his little grenade launcher units. They don't have much pop, but they negate covering terrain. Combined with other units in a group fire, they can be very effective against units you thought were safe hunkered down in deep jungle. But Marine firepower won in the end. I lost 5 counters (both my 37mm guns plus three rifle squads), while Dave lost all but two of his units. I was lucky in my die rolls; Dave was lucky, initially, in pulling "no hit" counters for hit results, but his die rolls were pure poo.

It turns out, too, that we counted points wrong. The scenario gives 2 points. to the Japanese for each Marine unit eliminated and 3 points for possession of each of the control hexes. That meant only five fewer points for me, which wouldn't have changed the outcome

Dave hadn't played the Conflict of Heroes system before. I hadn't played in a few years. Even then, there were some new rules for this expansion that took getting used to. Unlike previous games, the hit counters for the Japanese and Marines are different. The Japanese can have up to five "no hit" counters that do no damage (there were four in this scenario). The Marines have none.

Bushidō points didn't factor too much in the game. Positive points were gained for getting units across the Tenaru river and negative were incurred whenever a Japanese infantry unit started its activation not as part of a group action. Dave gained a few in the initial rounds, but then lost them again after his losses chopped up cohesion. He never fell below his initial CAP allowance because the Japanese don't lose CAP for unit losses, only the Marines do. (Too bad they don't have gung-ho points for the Marines...)

Closing thoughts

I like the nuances to the system for Guadalcanal. It's not a paradigm shift, but there's some adjustment to make if you've been playing previous Conflict of Heroes games.

The scenarios do a good job at making the Japanese behave historically. Had Dave been able to just sit back and engage in a firefight, he might have out-gunned me. But his need to get units across the Tenaru, perform group actions, and take (and/or hold) the control points forces him to move en masse and get in close. The limited visibility of three night rounds also inhibits his ability to sit back and shoot until he's lost enough units to give the Marine's a big advantage after their reinforcements come in. (Also, if he sits in place too long, the Marine artillery barrages can hurt.)

I didn't use my artillery well in the game. The first rounds I either forgot to plot a barrage or the barrage I plotted missed because the Japanese didn't wind up being where I'd plotted the barrage to land. The single success came on round 6 when Dave's remaining units were clustered around the control point in the palm grove on is side of the river.

The 37mm guns were pretty crappy. The game has a cannister card that gives the guns a little bit more effectiveness (but not much). However, the scenario doesn't give them. So the 37mm gun, which is the only unit holding the key bunker/control point has its wee +2 pop. In the hitorical accounts of the fighting, the 37mm guns shooting cannister did a huge amount of damage to the waves of attacking Japanese.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Well, finally

Last week, to my wee, humble doorstep came Academy Games' latest (last?) extension of their Conflict of Heroes series: Guadalcanal 1942 - The Pacific.

I was honestly on the verge of giving up ever seeing this. I'd pre-ordered it years ago, then pre-ordered it again (also years ago), then was contacted that my credit card info was out of date (the card had expired in the interim), then finally heard that it was shipping. Now it's finally in my hot little hands. Whew!

Was it worth the wait? Well, yes, but maybe not worth the anxiety (is anything?).

The game looks very nice. The artwork on the game components is beautiful, especially the map boards, of which there are four: a coastal board, a river board, a jungle board and a hilly board. There is also a sheet of double-sided overlays for two different river mouths (the Tenaru and the Matanikau), village buildings, jungle patches, and smaller hills.

The hex side markings blend in very subtly with the artwork on the boards. They're easy enough to see if you're looking for them, but disappear enough to give the impression of a free-form kriegspiel.

The counters are the standard big size, die-cut and double sided. The mix is mostly infantry and infantry support weapons. Each side has a few tanks: US M3A1 Stuarts and Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go and Type 97 Ch-Ha tanks. There are also US landing craft and an M3 GMC. Because I pre-ordered (twice), I got an extra set of counters that have the Marine 2nd Raider counters, US Army regulars and National Guard counters, another GMC, and two M2 .50 cal. counters. There are also some Melanesian police counters. The extra counters can be used in scenarios that are downloadable from the Academy Games website.

There was one hiccup in the box. The die-cut counters are easily removed from the frames, perhaps too easily. There were a lot of loose counters in the box. One counter, used to count victory points, got smushed on one side.

A bit worse for wear
Just a touch of diluted Mod Podge with a small brush, press the counter under some weight for a while, et voilá!

All better
The box also comes with an expansive counter tray that keeps everything in nice and snug.

The game is standalone. No previous CoH games are needed. The rules are the same as for the entire series except for the Bushidō rules. In addition to tracking victory points, the Japanese player tracks Bushidō points. The Bushidō rules are intended to encourage the Japanese player to employ historically aggressive Japanese tactics. Each scenario awards Bushidō points differently. For example, in some scenarios the Japanese player gains +1 Bushidō points for every unit he loses in hand to hand combat or to point blank fire. In another scenario, the Japanese player loses -1 Bushidō points for every counter that doesn't start its activation as part of a group move.

The effect of gaining/losing Bushidō points is to increase or decrease the the number of command activation points (CAP) that the Japanese player has available. There may be other scenario-specific affects of having positive or negative Bushidō points. It looks like an interesting rule.

With the amount of time (years!) that it took to get Guadalcanal released, I fear that Acadamy Games has moved on from this series. At one time, there seemed to be many extensions in the works: Normandy 1944, Blitzkrieg 1940, Crete 1941... None of that appears to be on the horizon any more. I'd love to see more extensions to the series, but given the time it took to release Guadalcanal, I'm starting to think I won't live long enough to see them (and I'm only 55).

As a pipe dream, it would be interesting to see Academy Games strike while the Pacific War iron is hot and do a Tarawa 1943 extension. I've long been fascinated by that battle and I think that CoH is a great system for creating some good scenarios for it.

I have yet to play a game of Guadalcanal, but I'm looking for the soonest opportunity (Dave Schueler are you reading this?).

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Battle Beyond the Gates

More than a year now after I started painting figures for Beyond the Gates of Antares (and nearly a year after I completed them all), I managed to play a game. Mike Lombardi and I talked it up some time ago and finally scheduled a game for the end of April.

We managed to get four 500 points forces on the table:
  • Mike ran his Concord, which consisted of two C3 strike squads, a C3 command squad, and a unit of two light support drones. 
  • I ran my Algoryns, which consisted of two AI squads, one AI command squad, one AI assault squad, an x-launcher, and a mag light support weapon. 
  • Troy Wold ran his Isorians, which consisted of two senatex phase squads, a senatex command squad, an x-launcher, and a nhamak light support drone. 
  • Pat Clifford ran John's Boromites, which consisted of two gang fighter squads, an overseer squad, an x-launcher, and a batch of lavamites and their handler.
We just lined up on opposite sides of the table, reusing the terrain from an earlier game of something else. The point of the game was to get a first play of the rules in. Mike and I have played a lot of Bolt Action (which probably hampered us more than it helped) while Troy and Pat were entirely new to the Bolt Action/BTGOA system.

Algoryns ready for battle
Much of the game revolved around control of the hilltop ruins that dominated the center of the table. We each ran our squads right to the hill to get the best position possible.

Running for the hill—Troy's Isorians are apparently drunk
The game was a learning process. Warlord Games took the basic Bolt Action mechanics and supercharged them. Everything seemed to work just slightly different, which made for a lot of confusion. Overall, though, the rules seemed more polished than Bolt Action. There is also a lot more variety and subtle aspects of the weaponry. Beyond far beyond lead bullets and explosive charges, the weapons of the BTGOA system will take some time to learn: mag guns, plasma carbines, x-slings, micro x-launchers, weapons drones, etc.

One interesting aspect of BTGOA are the "buddy drones" that can be used. Buddy drones are attached to a unit and provide a kind of support for it. We only used spotter drones in our game. These drones allow a re-roll of a missed shot and can be used to patch drone-to-drone indirect shooting: basically a drone in line of sight to a target can patch to another drone for a unit that doesn't have line of sight. The chain of patching can go on and on.

Algoryn AI assault squad with its buddy spotter drone
The rules also provide other small drones that provide shielding, electronic camouflage, medic services, etc. There are also probes, that are like drones, which can be used for targeting, scouting, etc. Probes are "sharded" into groups that act independently of a unit.

The game mostly saw Troy and Pat duke it out on one side and Mike and I on the other, though there was some crossover. My initial die rolling was classic. BTGOA uses D10s for its system (rather the D6s in Bolt Action). These allow for a lot more modification of the die rolls and seem to work better—even though I'm still a sucker for the classic D6 in gaming. The thing about D10s is that in nearly every game I play rolling a "10" ("0" on the die) is something bad for me, and I have a strong tendency to roll "10"s.

Troy's rolling was near perfect. I think we were well into the game before he lost a single figure (or maybe he never lost one at all). His shooting was pretty effective as well. He pretty much beat up Pat, who could never seem to do Troy any harm. The Boromite x-launcher (think "hi-tech mortar") either drifted off target or rolled a "10" (which is a dud shot).

The remnants of Mike's Concord; worse for wear, but still deadly
My rolling improved a bit, but I took a beating from Mike's Concord. The Concord have the best technology in the game. The drones were wiping me out at one point, or forcing me to go down (and thereby forfeit an activation for the turn). It wasn't until the last turn of the game that I managed to get enough pins on the drones to render them potentially ineffective. These were only light drones. Some drones are much heavier and would take more firepower than I had to hurt.

Pat ran his lavamites into one of the buildings, but they got no farther. Troy spent most of the game pouring plasma fire into them, which whittled them down, but kept the Isorians in place shooting at the same time. The lavamites hung on 'til the end, even though they were pinned beyond any hope of recovery. Lavamites are rock-eating critters that can spit lava and are mostly effective in close assault.

The Isorians advance (finally)
I managed to run my AI assault squad into the big building/ruin and held off fire and one assault by Pat's Boromites. Lucky for me the AI assault squad is tailor made for close combat, so I managed to hold on. They had earlier won a shoot-out with another of Pat's Boromite gangs and had survived a lot of shooting from Mike's C3 squads and the nasty weapon drones.

Holding the ruins
I also managed to do some damage with my support weapons. The x-launcher is effective when it hits, though you need to roll "2" or less on a D10 for a direct hit. Unlike, Bolt Action, however, misses drift and can still do damage if their shots fail to drift far enough or drift onto another unit.

We called the game after about five turns. It looked like the Algoryn-Isorian pact would win the day—though maybe just barely. I was pretty shot up, but Troy was looking pretty with no (or almost no) losses. Pat had just his lavamite handler in the ruins and an x-launcher that had so far managed to miss or flub every shot it took.

We all agreed that we liked the game, so my time and money spent painting Algoryns wasn't a waste. I even bought more after the game. Look for a unit of intruder scout skimmers soon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Je Suis Gobsmacked

I received yesterday an email I had despaired of ever receiving. Years of waiting are nearly over. Fulfillment is at hand. Academy Games is finally—finally—shipping the Guadalcanal expansion of the Conflict of Heroes series.

Although it makes me sound faint of heart, I wondered if the game would ever see production—and please note, it is not yet shipping, only going into printing at this point (and even then, not yet being printed) anything can happen. Shipping is supposed to happen in June...

The first games in the series came out pretty regularly. Each game was an improvement, and at one point, Academy Games provided a whole new counter set for Awakening the Bear, the first game in the series, as part of the third game, The Price of Honor.

I truly do love this series of tactical WW2 games. The games play well and are very engaging. The first two games in the series focus on the German-Russian conflict. Awakening the Bear draws its scenarios from the German invasion of Russia in 1941. The second game, Storms of Steel, focuses on the Kursk offensive of 1943. The Price of Honor is set in Poland in 1939. There have also been some minor releases such as a pack with wreck counters and rules for wrecks, and a set with a lot of heavy tanks for do-it-yourself scenario making.

Guadalcanal was the fourth game in the series and was expected to follow the same regular release pattern. And then...

I don't—nor will I ever, I think—know what happened. Delay this, delay that, etc. Months of delay turned into years. At one point, after years of delay, I pre-ordered Guadalcanal based on the rumor that it was due to ship imminently. That was three years ago.

So I was pretty gobsmacked to get an email yesterday with an invoice for my pre-order. I'll exhale when I have the game in my hands, but it looks promising. Academy has already posted PDFs of the game rules and scenario booklet on their site. They've had images available of the game boards and counters for many, many years.

Counters and map art—beautifully done
I'm glad that Guadalcanal will finally be shipping. I haven't heard anything about whether Academy plans any more releases for Conflict of Heroes. I think a great part of the delay in getting Guadalcanal out was due to expanding their games into other areas as well as an obsession with redoing old games. Awakening the Bear has a 2nd edition release and Storms of Steel is expecting a 2nd edition. Academy also released a solo game system for Conflict of Heroes that—apparently—sucked up years of development work and play testing.

Boardgame Geek has an item for a France 1940 expansion, but the date goes back to 2011. The Academy website has no information about it, so I'm inclined to think it's a dead issue. Ditto for an expansion for Crete 1941. Apart from Guadalcanal and the 2nd edition of Storms of Steel, I think the company is putting Clash of Heroes out to pasture...

Academy once had a Civil War game in the works for Gettysburg. It looked very promising and I pre-ordered that also (YEARS ago). There is no mention of that game at all on the website, although some of the art can be seen as background on the pages. It looked to be the first of a new series of tactical Civil War games. My fear is that the series been abandoned as the company expands into games with broader appeal.

Sunday, April 17, 2016


Back in the day, I used to roam broadly over the landscape of Western Washington. Lately, the idea of getting in my car and driving 100+ miles over the course of a morning and into early afternoon is no longer as feasible as it used to be. I've become something of a homebody, rarely going more than 20 miles distant.

However, on Saturday morning I awoke with wanderlust. I had a desire to revisit some of the old haunts down south, so I got up early (actually, I always get up early because of my ravenous cats who  get increasingly frantic for food as the wee hours get less wee), and headed out to adventure.

Soul Fuel

First stop was 8:00 AM mass at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle. It's not my home parish, but I love this church. Blessed Sacrament (B-Sac, to the in crowd), is an old Gothic revival brick-pile that was founded by the Dominican order in 1908. It looks like a Catholic church ought to look. Alas for the iconoclasm of the 1970s that spurred a wave of architectural nullities that are still with us. I'm not sure what the interior of B-Sac looked like 30 years ago, but they completed a renovation in 2003 after incurring damage in the Nisqually earthquake of 2001. My understanding is that the renovation undid most of the desecrations of the 70s. Although the high altar is gone for good, the sanctuary has been tastefully redone and the statues of the saints are all back in their niches. Daily mass there is less intimate than at my home parish of St. Brendan, but it's a nice getaway every now and then.

Road Fuel

Why isn't there one of these in Lynnwood?
After mass I stopped for a nosh at Eltana Bagels. I love this place. It's inconveniently located down in Seattle in the Fremont district where I used to work, so I don't have a lot of opportunity to get there. However, it's just a short drive across the freeway from Blessed Sacrament, so it was the perfect plan. Eltana makes wood-fired bagels that are like nothing else. When I have the chance, I get a poppy-seed bagel with schmear and lox and a cup of coffee. I also buy a bag of bagels to bring home. I'm toying with the idea of a paleo diet, so I've convinced myself that cave-men ate bagels. Otherwise, what's the use?

Brain Fuel

I lived in Tacoma when I first came to Washington (well, I was born here, so that was the first time, but I'd been away for 27 years). Tacoma Book Center is a magnificent used book dealer nestled right next to the Tacoma Dome. 25 years ago, Tacoma Book Center had a large, large collection of books. Now they have even more. They've built out (and up) more shelf space and filled in a lot of the former pathways that got you around the stacks. I was there last year for the first time in many years as was astounded by the growth in collection and all the new dead-ends.

Just one of many aisles—you could get lost in here
TBC is the kind of place you can spend a day at, but I wasn't planning on being there too long. I managed to amass a pile of books in a short while and decided to get out before my pile got bigger. I was looking for books about the Aztecs, since that's my current hot gaming project. I only bought one, but I got a few serendipitous finds as well. I found a nice hardback edition of the Collins and Lapierre book O Jerusalem! about the battle for the city in 1948. I first read this book in the 70s and have re-read it at some point since. When I went to Jerusalem in '81, it was like the book came alive as I saw all the places mentioned as significant in the fighting; even with a lot of post-1967 renovation, they're all still there. I'm looking forward to reading it again. It's also got me wanting to play the John Hill designed SDC game Jerusalem! again. It's a nice game with an interesting combat/movement system. I have the original zip-lock version of the game. It's been years since I played it, but it remains a favorite in my much-neglected boardgame collection.

What I came to find...
I also found a nifty book which is a horizontal mapping of the Synoptic Gospels. I have a couple books that use a columnar mapping, notably Kurt Aland's classic Synopsis Quattor Evangelium. This book, The Horizontal Line Synopsis of the Gospels, came out in 1975. The author, Reuben Swanson, wanted a better way to see the similarities and differences in the synoptics. Sorting it out in columns is a bit tough on the reader. Swanson spent 10 years mapping the synoptic pericopes with separate sections that use a specific gospel as the main line, rather than basing the comparisons on just one gospel (like Mark). The passages are all in English from the RSV, but in reading the introduction, I discovered that he planned a Greek version of it as well. He only managed to complete one volume, which uses Matthew as the main line of narrative. I went on Amazon immediately and managed to order a used copy for just $8.00.

I passed on a small book on Q, even though I was somewhat intrigued by it. On reflection, I wish I'd picked it up, even though I'm pretty dismissive of the theory and tend toward answers to the synoptic problem that don't use Q as a literary deus ex machina. The biggest problem with the Q theory is that there is zero manuscript evidence for it and zero references to it in early Christian writing. Yet, scholars that write about Q have theorized whole communities based on it and spun off theologies of Q. This book attempts to recreate the Q source by synthesizing and harmonizing the synoptics, along with the obligatory hypothesizing about the role of Q in the early church.

I also found a paperback copy of Hugh Thomas' Conquest: Montezuma, Cortes, and the Fall of Old Mexico. I tend to eschew paperbacks, especially if they're thick tomes: the perfect binding method does not lend itself well to thick books. I passed on it, but it got me wanting to find a hardback copy.

Toy Fuel

After Tacoma Book Center, I went down South Tacoma Way through Historic South Tacoma™ to the Game Matrix. En route, I passed the location of the old Tacoma American Eagles. The location is still vacant after all these years—or at least appears to be. The store name on the awning is painted out and the windows are shuttered. It's sad to see a place that was once a major hub of the Seattle-Tacoma area gaming activity become a wasteland.

I got to the Game Matrix just after it opened for the day. I ran into Dale Mickel and Al Rivers who were waiting for Gary Greiss to show up so they could play some Lion Rampant. We chatted for a while about various things, including our cats (and Dale's dogs). I was tempted to stay and play, but I wanted to complete my wanderings and get home before too late in the day. I picked up some Vallejo Model Color paints and headed back north.

More Brain Fuel

At this point I waffled a bit about what to do. At Eltana bagels that morning, my though was to come back for lunch at the Pacific Inn, which is just down the street from Eltana. I used to go to the PI when I worked in Fremont first at Adobe. It was a favorite after work haunt later when I was a consultant at Sakson and Taylor just around the corner from it. The PI is, to put the best possible face on it, a dive. Everything about it is aged and dodgy. They do, however, pull a mean tap and the fish and chips are the best in the world. Truly. Also, across the street from the PI is Seattle Book Center. This is another old haunt of mine, though it's minuscule compared to the Tacoma Book Center. Sea Ocean Book Berth, a used book store specializing in nautical books, is also there, although, Chris, the owner, now an ancient mariner himself, is not often around much. SOBB had a nice collection of naval military history books, which has been moved to SBC.

However, to make that trip would route me back home the same way I came and I had stops east of Lake Washington to make. So, I forewent my fish and chips and pint of Manny's at PI and headed to Auburn for a stop at Comstock's Bindery and Bookshop. Comstock's is a great place for used military history books. The owner, David Comstock, is a devotee and has a massive collection of books, mostly WW2 and later, but has special sections for aviation and naval that are terrific. I bet on finding my hardback copy of Conquest there and I was not disappointed. Comstock's is much smaller than TBC, which boasts 500,000 volumes on site, but it has developed into the same crowded space. Passageways between stacks are now blocked up by more shelves and books are stacked behind other stacks. It's a place that rewards patient searching and I've never failed to leave without a stack of books in my arms. But, having found what I came for, I browsed around just briefly and made my single purchase. David Comstock is getting on in years and shows it. He was never young in my experience, having a shock of white hair drawn back in a ponytail 25 years ago, but he looked the eyes of age on Saturday.

On my way out of Auburn, I got off the beaten track after making a wrong turn. I went by Emerald Downs race track and got stuck at a rail crossing while a BNSF train a mile long slowly crawled by. I didn't really mind. It's nice to get onto the off roads once in a while. Most of the valley is a place I drive through on 167, but it has a rural charm that you miss while blasting through at 70 mph on the highway.

A lovely day for trainspotting
I get apprehensive about places like Comstock's, Tacoma Book Center, Seattle Book Center, Sea Ocean Book Berth, etc. The proprietors are all old and aging. I wonder what will become of their bookstores once they've retired or passed away (likely the later, since, unlike old soldiers, old used book dealers never fade away, they just die.) Comstock's ex-wife Anita, who appears to be younger than him, might carry on (she's the co-owner), but she's never had an affinity for the military books. In fact, the store is roughly divided between David's military books (70%)  and Anita's literature and poetry (30%).

Comstock's also once had a feline population. There was always a cat or two lounging about. Anita told me they're all dead now, even though the cat furniture is still there.

Gut Fuel
Having completed my book purchases for the day, I headed north on 167 to I-405, to 520, to Redmond where I stopped in at BJs Brew Pub for a burger, fries, and a black and tan. BJs is a nice chain-style brew pub. The food is good and they have an amazing variety. The beer is also good. I'd had a hankering for a BJs house burger, so it was no loss to go that route rather than the fish and chips at PI.

BJs is in the Redmond Town Center mall, so after lunch I stopped at Uncle's Games to get some deck boxes for my Sun of York cards. I've kept the cards for this game in plastic bags up to now, but Uncles sells a lot of deck boxes for CCGs. I picked up a red box (for the Lancastrians) and a white one (for the Yorkists). I haven't boxed the decks yet, so I'm not sure if they'll fit. There's a lot of cards for that game and they're all sleeved.

Postscript: No, they don't fit. I have twice as many cards as I have box to put them in. I'll have to check out getting either two boxes for each deck or a bigger deck box (which they have).

More Toy Fuel
My final stop of the day was at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland. I've been slowly clearing out the remains of John's stock of The Assualt Group Aztecs and Tlaxcalans. I picked up three packs of Tlaxcalans: a crane banner group, a vine banner group, and some warriors with macahuitals. I chatted with John for a while and then back home around 3:00 to confront the cats, who couldn't get fed fast enough.

I didn't track the mileage, but I must have put on 130 miles round trip as I circumnavigated Lake Washington for the day. It was a nice trip and I'll have to do it again soon. It's been too long since I let the day take me where it will.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Quetzalcoatl Rampant

Kevin Smyth has talked about adapting Daniel Mersey's Lion Rampant skirmish rules to an Aztecs v. Conquistadors setting. This is my stab at that adaptation. Similar to my take on adapting Lion Rampant to 3rd c. Rome, it's basically seeing how the historical types fit into Daniel's existing types in Lion Rampant, adding a few new types, and then concocting a few special rules to cover the unique situation.

It's been a long time since I spent any time studying the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Back in the 1970s(!), I read several books on the subject. My friend Ron Towler and I were keen to game it using Minifigs' old Aztecs range, though nothing came of the project, we did have a lot of the figures. Most of that range, by the way, is still technically available. I ordered one of each figure last year, but they never came and I gave up trying to get them to send them to me. It's nearly impossible to get Minifigs any more...

The impression one gets from reading on the subject of the conquest of Mexico is that the Spanish were supermen who could whip many times their own numbers of Mesoamericans. They certainly had some material advantages: steel weapons and armor, gunpowder, and horses. They also seem to have had a huge advantage in the intangibles like leadership and training. The Spanish also had the advantage of being a mystery to the Aztecs, who initially thought that Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl, whose coming had been foretold.

There is also the indomitable will of Hernán Cortés to consider. A man of lesser drive or ruthlessness would have failed at any of the crisis points Cortés seemed to have taken in stride: He hijacked the expedition after he was removed from its command, ignored a recall from the governor of Cuba, burned his boats at Veracruz, fought two battles against a huge number of Tlaxcalans and won—eventually making them allies—survived a crushing defeat at Tenochtitlan, defeated and then recruited into his army a Spanish force sent to arrest him, hijacked/seduced into joining him other Spanish forces that strayed into the area, then with his reinforced forces and Tlaxcalan allies, re-took Tenochtitlan and razed it.

Setting out from Veracruz - Tenochtitlan ho!
My ideas behind the adaptation can be summed up as follows:

Comparative values - The Spanish soldiers simply outclassed their Aztec opponents. I've reflected that by pumping up the values for Spanish types that would be much less formidable in a European context. For example, the Spanish caballeros that came with Cortés were not mounted men-at-arms, but when the best the Aztecs could field against them were men dressed in feathers with obsidian-edged clubs, their effect was as much, if not more, than the best chivalry of the old world.

One advantage for the Aztecs in this lopsidedness is that their points are generally lower than typical for units in Lion Rampant and the Spanish are higher.

Holy Huitzilopochtli! What is that!? - The Aztecs had no prior knowledge of horses, steel, or gunpowder. It's as if the Spanish came from outer space, like in Mars Attacks!, but there was no Slim Whitman music to make their heads explode (and in 1520 they would have found it hard to get batteries for their boom-boxes anyway). I've added some special rules to reflect the shock and awe value of Spanish technology.

We few, we happy few - This is one of Kevin's ideas, actually (hence the Henry V reference). In consequence of pumping up Spanish troop values, I've made their unit sizes smaller. All Spanish units are 6 figures.

Los Españoles

Rodeleros were the famous Spanish sword and buckler men, who made up the majority of Cortés' force. Armed with a fearsome Toledo blade and protected by an assortment of steel plate armor, mail, leather, heavy quilting, and a stout shield, rodeleros were more than a match for many Aztecs. By comparison, they are much like foot men at arms compared to even the best Aztec warriors. The Spanish forces also included men armed with halberds. These should be treated as rodeleros and units can contain a mix of both.

Unit Name: RodelerosPoints: 6
Attack5+Attack Value3+
Move5+Defence Value4+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement6"
Armor4Special RulesFerocious,
close order
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Ferocious: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Close order: Similar to the schiltron rule in LR. but is formed by placing two or more figures in side-by-side contact. Units in close order get a +1 to their armor for fighting but not against shooting. Close order can be formed even if the unit is reduced to two figures. The rule represents the advantage the Spanish had in fighting in formation versus the Aztec practice of fighting as individuals in open order.
¡Andele, rodeleros!
The horse was unkown in the Americas before the Spanish came. In addition to the natural advantages a horse had over opponents unequipped to face it, the Aztecs were simply frightened by stomping, snorting, charging war-horses. Even though the mounted men Cortés brought to Mexico weren't the gendarmes of the battlefields in Italy, their effect was as great, or greater, on the native warriors.

Unit Name: CaballerosPoints: 6
Attack4+Attack Value3+
Move5+Defence Value4+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement12"
Armor4Special RulesCounter-charge, Fearsome
  • Models per unit: 6; limit one unit per retinue
Special rules:
  • Counter-charge: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Fearsome: Native units charged by caballeros must test for courage at -2.
Oh crap. Horses.
Most of the Spanish missile troops with Cortés were crossbowmen. Still a potent weapon even by European warfare standards, the steel-tipped bolts shot at high velocity would have had a much greater impact against native warriors who had no protection against it.

Unit Name: CrossbowmenPoints: 4
Attack6+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value4+
Shoot6+Shoot Value4+ / 18"
Courage4+Max. Movement6"
Armor3Special Rules-
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • None
There were only about 30 arquebusiers with Cortés when he landed at Vera Cruz. Narváez brought 80 more with him in 1520, which were incorporated into Cortés' force for the final attack on Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs had never seen gunpowder and were rather disconcerted by the smoke, noise, and whirring pellets of death.

Unit Name: ArquebusiersPoints: 4
Attack6+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value4+
Shoot7+Shoot Value4+ / 18"
Courage4+Max. Movement6"
Armor3Special RulesHoly smoke!
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Holy smoke!: Aztec and Tlaxcalan units fired at by gunpowder weapons must take a courage test even if there are no casualties. If testing for casualties from gunpowder weapons, they incur an additional -2 modifier.

War dogs
Cortés brought a pack of war dogs with him to Mexico. Although dogs were already known in the new world, the Aztecs had the Xoloitzcuintle (or Mexican hairless), they weren't bread for war. The Spanish mastiffs weighed up to 150 pounds and wore spiked collars and quilted armor.

Unit Name: War dogsPoints: 4
Attack5+Attack Value4+
Move6+Defence Value4+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage4+Max. Movement8"
Armor3Special RulesFearsome
  • Models per unit: 4-6 (handlers plus three/four dogs); tkes 6 hits: limit one unit per retinue
Special rules:
  • Fearsome: Native units charged by war dogs must test for courage at -2.
No es un perro de la guerra

If the arquebus was unsettling to the Mexicans, the cannon was much more so. Cortés brought several cannon with him and Narvaez brought even more in 1520.

Unit Name: CannonPoints: 4
Attack7+Attack Value6
Move7+Defence Value6
Shoot6+Shoot Value4+ / 36"
Courage5+Max. Movement4"
Armor2Special RulesHoly Smoke!
  • Models per unit: 1 cannon plus crew (2-4 figures); takes 6 hits; limit one unit per retinue
Special rules:
  • Holy smoke!: Aztec and Tlaxcalan units fired at by gunpowder weapons must take a courage test even if there are no casualties. If testing for casualties from gunpowder weapons, they incur an additional -2 modifier.
Here's some BOOM for ya
Jinetes were the traditional light cavalry of Spain, which developed during the long wars with the Moors. Cortés had no jinetes with him when he invaded Mexico, but later Spanish conquistadors used them in the continuing conquest.

Unit Name: JinetesPoints: 4
Attack7+Attack Value5+
Move5+Defence Value5+
Shoot6+Shoot Value5+ / 12"
Courage4+Max. Movement12"
Armor3Special RulesSkirmish, Evade 
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Skirmish: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Evade: Same as in the LR rules.

Los Aztecas

Warfare was a primary responsibility for men of the upper classes. Although there was no standing army per se, most Aztec men were trained from their youth to fight. A warrior would serve in battle only after he turned 20 years old. 

Aztec warriors were classified by experience, which was measured in how many captives a warrior took in battle. Capturing enemies was preferred to killing them (see your beating heart below) and it was expected of every warrior. The rank and military attire a warrior was allowed to wear depended on how many captives they had taken. As their count increased, so did their prestige and distinctions in dress. Warriors who failed to take a captive after three or four campaigns were increasingly shamed until they did what was expected. The classifications are:

Telpochcalli - Youths training for war.  They had yet to take a captive in war.

Tlamanih - Warriors who had taken one captive.

Cuextecatl - Warriors who had taken two captives. They wore a distinctive conical cap.

Papalotl - Warriors who had taken three captives. They were entitled to wear a distinctive banner.

Quachicqueh - Warriors who had taken four or five captives.

Otomitl  - The highest rank were those who had taken more than six captives. Otomitl wore a distinctive hair style.

Fight on the Tenochtitlan causeway
It's a bit murky how warriors of varying experience were deployed in battle. My working hypothesis is that they were mixed together except for the eagle and jaguar warrior societies and the Quachicqueh and Otomitl - although, there is evidence that even these were mixed in with less experienced warriors as a kind of "stiffening."

Eagle and Jaguar warriors
This type represents the elite warrior societies like eagle and jaguar knights. They were a religious elite who lived in a society within the court of the Aztec ruler. Eagle and jaguar knights were from the nobility and dedicated to this service, but there is some evidence that commoners could rise to membership in the society.

Unit Name: Eagle/Jaguar KnightsPoints: 4
Attack6+Attack Value4+
Move7+Defence Value5+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement6"
Armor2Special RulesFerocious, Your beating heart
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Ferocious: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Your beating heart: An important aspect of Aztec warfare was the capture of enemies for sacrifice. However satisfying it may be to dispatch one's enemy in the field, it was deemed even more satisfying to offer his still-beating heart to Huitzilopochtli. Whenever the unit scores casualties against an enemy unit by fighting, they can instead attempt to capture those casualties. For each casualty scored make a courage test. If the test is passed, the casualty becomes a captive instead. If the test is failed, the casualty is returned to its unit. Figures lost as captives count as -2 in courage tests for the losing unit. In addition, a unit that takes captives adds +1 to its courage tests for each captive it's taken.
  • Atlatl @ +1 per unit: Add shoot at 7+, 6/6" range to represent the dart throwers that were common among all Aztec warriors.
Where the wild things are

Veteran Warriors
These represent the quachicqueh and otomitl, who were the most experienced and distinguished Aztec warriors. They had shown their valor by taking many captives and by other acts of bravery.

Unit Name: Veteran WarriorsPoints: 4
Attack5+Attack Value4+
Move5+Defence Value5+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement6"
Armor2Special RulesFerocious, wild charge, Your beating heart
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Ferocious: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Wild charge: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Your beating heart: An important aspect of Aztec warfare was the capture of enemies for sacrifice. However satisfying it may be to dispatch one's enemy in the field, it was deemed even more satisfying to offer his still-beating heart to Huitzilopochtli. Whenever the unit scores casualties against an enemy unit by fighting, they can instead attempt to capture those casualties. For each casualty scored make a courage test. If the test is passed, the casualty becomes a captive instead. If the test is failed, the casualty is returned to its unit. Figures lost as captives count as -2 in courage tests for the losing unit. In addition, a unit that takes captives adds +1 to its courage tests for each captive it's taken.
  • Atlatl @ +1 per unit: Add shoot at 7+, 6/6" range to represent the dart throwers that were common among all Aztec warriors.

These are the normal Aztec warriors who had not yet distinguished themselves as much as veteran warriors, though many would have served in multiple campaigns and taken captives.

Unit Name: WarriorsPoints: 3
Attack6+Attack Value5+
Move7+Defence Value6
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage5+Max. Movement6"
Armor2Special RulesYour beating heart
  • Models per unit: 12
Special rules:
  • Your beating heart: An important aspect of Aztec warfare was the capture of enemies for sacrifice. However satisfying it may be to dispatch one's enemy in the field, it was deemed even more satisfying to offer his still-beating heart to Huitzilopochtli. Whenever the unit scores casualties against an enemy unit by fighting, they can instead attempt to capture those casualties. For each casualty scored make a courage test. If the test is passed, the casualty becomes a captive instead. If the test is failed, the casualty is returned to its unit. Figures lost as captives count as -2 in courage tests for the losing unit. In addition, a unit that takes captives adds +1 to its courage tests for each captive it's taken.
  • Atlatl @ +1 per unit: Add shoot at 7+, 6/6" range to represent the dart throwers that were common among all Aztec warriors.

These warriors attacked with sling, arrow, and darts thrown from atlatls. These units are best represented like bidowers in LR. No differentiation is made between slingers, archers, and dart throwers, so a unit can contain a mix.

Unit Name: NovicesPoints: 2
Attack7+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value6
Shoot7+Shoot Value5+ / 12"
Courage5+Max. Movement8"
Armor1Special RulesHard to target, Skirmish, Evade, Fleet footed
  • Models per unit: 6
Special rules:
  • Hard to target: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Skirmish: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Evade: Same as in the LR rules.
  • Fleet footed: Same as in the LR rules.

Figures 'n' stuff
I started out buying some of the Eureka eagle knights. There's a lot to like about the Eureka figures. The detail is very good. The feathered texture of the eagle knights' suits is very well defined. Eureka makes figures for Conquistadors that goes beyond the conquest of Mexico.

However, I also had some of The Assault Group's Spanish and had available to me a lot of their Aztecs and Tlaxcalans. (John at The Panzer Depot used to be a distributor for them and has a lot of stock that he's been clearing out at discount prices.)

I picked up as much as I could and made an order to TAG in the UK.Ordering from TAG is much easier than ordering from Eureka, plus TAG offers free shipping if you buy a certain amount (which isn't much). Eureka always charges shipping, though the figures are cheaper.

At this point, I'm committed to building my retinues with TAG figures. I'm kind of a stickler for uniformity. But there are other ranges that have promise. Gringo 40s makes a 28mm range of Aztecs, conquistadors, and Mayans. The figures look beautiful, although there is little variety in the poses; basically they have just one pose per type.

Outpost Wargame Service has figure ranges for Aztecs, conquistadors, Tlaxcalans, Mayans, and Incas. They also have Huaxtecs and Tarascans. Outpost figures look a bit chunky and there is a variety of poses for each type.

I'm starting to think about terrain for a fight into Tenochtitlan: causeways, islands, built-up areas, and big towering temples. Cortés also has several barques for the final battle at Tenochtitlan in order to control the lake. (The Spanish had suffered terrible losses in their earlier retreat from the city, La Noche Triste, due to the canoes filled with warriors who assaulted them continuously while they withdrew across the causways.)