Sunday, November 20, 2016

We like pike!

After a long hiatus since our last Pike & Shotte game, we played some 30 Years War on Saturday at the Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Mike Lombardi and Troy Wold provided all the figures. Mike provided the brains, too. The rest of us pushed lead (and plastic) and rolled dice.

Mike wanted to try the Mercenary Captains campaign in The Devil's Playground supplement for Pike & Shotte. The campaign pits coalitions of players in a mini-campaign of four scenarios. At the start of the campaign, the players roll dice to determine the character of their commander and the forces he commands. The commanders start as average, the troops start as a bit below average. As the campaign progresses, the quality of both may rise.

I rolled up a force whose commander was rated as "popular," which modified my die rolls for my troops but also gives my opponents an advantage in their command rolls in the games (although we forgot to do this...). My units came out to 4 x musketeers, 2 x pike blocks, 1 x reiters, 1 x dragoons. At eight units, I had the biggest force on the board—not that it counted for much.

One of my battalia deployed with musketeers forward supported by pikes
There were four forces in the game. Troy and I played one side, Brett and Paul played another, while Mike adjudicated and kibitzed. The object was to hold a small town in the center of the board. The scenario in The Devil's Playground calls for a 4' x 4' playing area. We were on a 6' x 8' area. We started just 12" in from the edge, so we actually had more ground to cover to get at each other. Instead of being just 24" apart at the start, we were 48" apart. The medium guns that Troy and Paul had were out of range on turn 1.

Troy's Bavarian horde on my left
Troy had one battalia of 2 musketeers and a pike block, another battalia of just one musketeer unit and a pike block, a medium gun, and a unit of militia scum. He deployed opposite the town with the intention of rushing in and occupying it first.

Brett countered by charging his cuirassier unit against one of Troy's musketeer units, but just failed to contact. The next turn Troy managed to shoot it up with muskets and close range artillery, which sent it packing when Brett rolled snake-eyes on his courage test.

Bavarians in the village defending against Brett's Proddies
Troy got a musketeer unit into each of the village areas and managed to hold them against attacks by Brett's pikes on one side and Paul's pikes on the other. Troy was helped against Paul by the intervention of his commander who was rated as 'bloodthirsty', a characteristic that gave him extra combat dice.

Troy's 'bloodthirsty' commander inspires his troops to hold the farm
I slowly advanced on the right against Paul's forces. For both Paul and I our command rolls didn't let us make huge sweeping movements. It wasn't until turn 3 that I got into musket range of any enemy, though Paul's gun was popping away (without effect) on my musketeers from turn 2.

The highwater mark of my advance
My musketeers managed to pepper Paul's pike block that had been repulsed by Troy's hedgehog. I pushed him into shaken status, which left him in a delicate state. Shaken, he couldn't do much except sit and take fire or attempt to rally, but that option had its own peril. All our units are rated 'mercenary', which means that a failed attempt to rally from being shaken will cause the unit to retire ("They don't pay me for this!").

While onr village area was secure, Troy and Brett remained locked in combat for the second. Brett lost a musketeer unit in the fight, but his pikes remained stuck in against Troy's musketeers in the buildings.

Brett's pike assail the village
On the other side, my other battalia was advancing towards Paul's gun and militia. My dragoons were on the far left (mounted) with the reiters behind them. There was one point where I hoped to fling the dragoons against Paul's militia, but I failed the command roll (they were at -2 because they were out of range of my commander).

My second battalia and commander stride confidently forward
By now we'd completed six turns: end of game. Starting so far apart kept us from getting at each other sooner. There was also a lot of blocking terrain that obscured fields of fire and hindered movement. On the plus side, I didn't lose any units, which is beneficial to the campaign.

After the game we rolled dice to see how we improved. Because we held the town, we were the winners, which could factor into the results. The three things we checked for were 1) commander upgrades, 2) unit skill upgrades, 3) reinforcements.

I managed to get a commander upgrade that give a +1 in combat to any of my troops within 12" of my commander. All my units got plusses to either their shooting (musketeers) or combat (pikes). My dragoons got increased stamina (I'd rather they shot better). I had a chance at getting up to two more units, but flubbed it on a die roll of "1" and got no reinforcements.

Troy managed to get another gun and milita unit, Brett recovered his lost cuirassiers, but got no reinforcements leaving him minus one musketeer for the campaign. I don't recall how Paul fared. I think at least one player got a command boost to "8" (we all started at "7").

We decided we liked the campaign and we'll stick with it. It's a good encouragement to finish painting my 30 Years War figures that I started nearly a year ago. (Longer, actually, because December is when I completed painting my first batch of figures. I'd started them much earlier than that.)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Of all the shelters in all the towns in all the world...

I've pondered the question over the years whether I would adopt other cats after my trio (or any of the trio) died. With Grendel's cancer and death, the question became more acute.

My trio, Grendel, Rhiannon, and Maebh, have been such an intimate part of my daily existence for 10 years (or 9½ considering that Maebh came six months after I adopted Rhiannon) that I could never imagine any other pet situation than them. I figured at first that I would wait until all had died before I reconsidered a new cat (or cats). Then, after Grendel died, I figured I would wait a few months at least.

But like the serendipity of adopting Grendel, it seems that destiny took a hand.

I adopted Grendel from PAWS Cat City in Seattle in 2006. I went to their website to look for information about sponsoring a cat kennel in Grendel's honor. While there, I looked at the adoptable cats (as one must). There I saw a familiar-ish face. One of the cats was a 2 year old cow cat name Onyx, Jr. The face was vaguely Grendeloid, as if he were a son or younger brother. I was intrigued, even if I wasn't ready.

I wanted to stick with my idea of waiting at least a few months (or not adopting at all). I thought the girls might bond better if there were just the two. I wondered too if my career as a standard-issue bipedal humanoid cat-minder unit was on the wane and I should just let it run out. (But then I'd have to rename my blog I Lived with Cats.)

I halfheartedly decided to go down to Seattle on Saturday and take a look at Onyx, Jr. He sounded nice from the description on the website and I wanted to see him, even though I figured he may not even be there when I came.

After mass on Saturday, I stopped by for a bite of breakfast at Alexa's Cafe in Bothell, WA. The shelter didn't open until 11:00 and I had time to kill. While there, a friend of mine from the parish showed up unexpectedly and we ate breakfast together. She commented on Grendel's death and mentioned  her own cats. I didn't know she was a cat person until then. I told her about my intentions and misgivings about adopting again so soon. She provided just enough encouragement to get me to the shelter.

I was not disappointed. Onyx, Jr. was there, but before I could visit with any cat, I had to fill out a form and be interviewed by a shelter volunteer. I told the volunteer about Grendel (and cried), and about my remaining two. Apparently, they found me worthy.

Onyx, Jr. turned out to be a sweet cat. I found him lounging comfortably with a few of his fellow felines in one of the small cat rooms. It was hard. I found myself wanting to take him home, but still conflicted. I wasn't sure how the girls would react to a newcomer, I wasn't sure if I was ready for a new cat, I felt that adopting so soon after Grendel's death might be either a betrayal of him or an impetuous action resulting from my grief (Onyx, Jr. looked so much like Grendel).

I asked if they would put a 24-hour hold on him while I made up my mind. They would and I arranged to return early Sunday afternoon.

I went home and started sort-of preparing my den to be where he'd be isolated from gen-pop while he acclimated to the new home. I was still just 80% sure about this. I also spent a lot of time thinking it through. I was afraid that Rhiannon would go ballistic, but I was also confident that Maebh would love a new pal. She'd been such good friends with Grendel.

After mass on Sunday, I headed back down to Seattle still in my Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes. I went in to visit with Onyx, Jr. a bit more and all doubts were dispelled. He was a sweetheart and I figured that everything had come together so well that it was kismet. Just a short while later and I was headed home with a cat in a box.

I'd been sussing out a name for the new cat. I thought about sticking with a name from medieval literature. I thought about branching out to other sources and considered "Bonaparte" or "Charlemagne," but they sounded a bit hifalutin'. Finally, I decided on "Bogart." It took a few days to settle with me, but it fits him now, even if he still doesn't respond to it.

My fears about Rhiannon proved to be unfounded. While she didn't exactly welcome him, her reaction was more of cool indifference, i.e., no drama. My expectations about Maebh proved to be equally fallacious. She took one sniff of Bogart and deemed him unfit for feline companionship.

I kept him isolated for most of the first few days. Whenever he was out, Maebh would dog him growling and hissing. Her hostility made me wonder if I shouldn't have named him Cú Chulainn. She's come down a bit and Bogart's out in gen-pop now whenever I'm home, but it can still be dodgy.

Otherwise, he's settling in. He's found some favorite places, but he has yet to get cuddly with me, even though he's very affectionate. When I work at my desk upstairs, he loves to sprawl right in front of me in classic Grendel fashion.

He took to the high ground right off and I've fixed him a bed up there.

He's made a pretty thorough inspection of the house. He approves the library.

He loves the big glass door (one of Grendel's favorite places).

His full personality has yet to appear. So far, he's sweet and gentle, but Maebh's hostility has him a bit apprehensive. He loves to play. He tries to make nice with the girls, but so far without luck. He has a quiet little squeak for a meow. Once Maebh has settled down and accepted him, things will move forward. I'm looking forward to how things turn out.

And then there were two...

Grendel died on September 6.

In the six weeks from when his sickness started to his death, my life was in turmoil. Multiple vet visits and attempts at cancer-fighting supplements didn't slow anything down. It was hard to get him to take anything other than his prednisolone, which he eagerly downed in a pill pocket. He wouldn't touch food that had anything added to it and the capsules were too big to make him swallow. In the last days, he wouldn't even take the prednisolone. I had to crush it, liquefy it, and fight to give it to him orally with a syringe.

Grendel was a fighter. The cancer was already terminal before it was discovered. He'd suffered with it for a while without ever giving on that he was sick. Even in his final days, he seemed so determined to carry on as if nothing was wrong. He so wanted to be back to normal, but his body wouldn't cooperate. I thought he'd fade away until nothing remained but a shell, but it was the opposite. Indomitable to the end, Grendel remained strongly present; it was the shell that faded away.

He was terribly bloated from the cancer. He could walk only in short spurts. He lost nearly all of his prodigious appetite; by the end he would only lap a bit of milk from a saucer.

I'd resolved to let him die naturally at home, but by the afternoon of Labor Day, he was hunkered down just under my bed, where he'd been all day. I knew he was in pain. I lay there next to him weeping and praying and found myself crying out to God, "I don't want him to suffer any more." Later that evening I found someone who could come to my home in the morning and put him to sleep. I couldn't bear the idea of taking him away to die on a cold table at the vet's. It was the first time I admitted to myself that he could die.

I awoke Tuesday morning with foreboding. Grendel had gone downstairs during the night. I'd been unsure that he would even live through it. The morning was a bit rainy - weeping like me - and cold. I made a fire and to my surprise Grendel lay down by it for a bit. Maebh came and sat with him for a while. I'm glad they had a chance to say goodbye. She loved him and they often snuggled by the fire.

When the vet, Sarah, came, Grendel had gone down to sit in the foyer. I wept as I carried him upstairs. Sarah asked where I wanted us to be; I wasn't sure. I brought him to the couch where we used to sit together so often, but Grendel crawled back to the fire. I think he chose the place. He loved being by the fire. I have so many pictures of him there.

I wept and held him when Sarah gave him the sedative. I told him how much I loved him. I thanked him for choosing me. I thanked him for all the joy (and trouble) he'd given me for 10 years. When he was out, Sarah gave him the drugs and I held him until his heart stopped.

I can't begin to describe all that he meant to me or the desolation his death has been. I never realized how much he filled the house until he was gone from it. There are memories of him in every room, every nook and cranny. It's no consolation that I can now eat unmolested.

Grendel loved me as much as I loved him. My ex-GF Lorrin told me how he would watch me as I moved around the house and how he'd sit and stare at me while I wasn't looking. When I sat on the couch with my left elbow propped up on some cushions, he would come and curl up in my left arm and purr unceasingly. Those were moments of bliss I'll never forget.

We'd play hide 'n' seek. I'd see him peering at me from around a corner and I'd slowly move towards him until I got close when he'd run off to another corner to hide and peer. I'd do the same with him. When he saw me peering around a corner at him, he'd come running at me.

He gave me presents. I have two cat toys that are long, snaky fabric thingies on a wand. They were the first cat toys I got for him. He'd lost interest in actually playing with them years ago, but he used to carry them around and place them near where I was or where I would be. I could hear him coming to me through the house meowing with one in his mouth. It was a strange, muffled wa-AUUUGH sound that he'd make. All through the years I would come home to find them left at the top of the stairs or I'd get up to find them at the bedroom door or they'd appear outside my den while I was there working.

There was never a cat like Grendel. There never will be again. My world is diminished by his loss.

Goodbye Grendel. Goodbye old friend. You were gone too soon from my life, but you will always be in my heart even as the memories of you grow more distant.


We are again three. Much to my own surprise, I adopted a new cat a week after Grendel died. But that's a story for another blog post.

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.