Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Morituri Te Salutant

I'm sort of wandering back into to gladiator gaming. Phil Bardsley and I started a project years ago using the excellent Foundry line of figures. We bought the lot together and divvied them up between us. The packaging for the Foundry line is awkward—any given pack contains figures you want and figures you don't. For example, in a pack with a nice thracian figure, you get stuck with a dwarf dimachaerus and a female samnite. It's not that I'm anti-dwarf or anti-woman, I just want to build a familia of gladiators without having to pick up a bunch of novelty acts (at $3.00 a figure!) just to get the other figures I want.

That situation is better with the excellent Crusader Miniatures range. Figures come four in a pack and are complementary, i.e., you don't get a pack with a thracian, a samnite, a secutor, and Bibulus the spectator making rude gestures.

West Wind also offers a line of 25mm gladiators for its Gladiator Wars rules (which, apparently, suck). It's a good line, though not as nice as Foundry or Crusader, but it does offer more types like charioteers and mounted gladiators. (Crusader has a pack of mounted, but no chariots.)

Many years ago, I sold my painted Foundry figures. I have a few unpainted and partially-painted figures, but they're mostly those novelty types: dwarves and women. That might make for an interesting match-up, but I need some of the more standard types: murmilliones, thraeces, secutores, retiarii, etc. So I started the hunt for new figures.

All the figure lines mentioned above are 25/28mm. After my 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids project, I'm quite taken with using larger figures for games that require only a few figures on the table. Enter Jugula. This is a new game system from Gripping Beast that comes with a new—and growing—line of 35mm figures. Nominally 35mm, that is. Comparing them to my 40mm Sash and Saber ACW and my 40mm Monolith/Graven Images Prehistoric Europe figures, they're every bit as big—in fact, they're bigger than the Sash and Saber figures.

At this point, there are just four figures and an "extras" pack with more weapons, helmets/heads, shields, etc. The figures are cast as a torso with arms 'n' legs. The left hand is a fist meant to attach a shield to; the right hand is a socket so you can attach a variety of hands grasping weapons: various swords, spears, axes, maces, tridents, daggers. The head is a post on which you can place one of several helmet types or bare heads (only one, for two-headed gladiators you'll have to wait for the figure from Foundry; two-headed female dwarf gladiators could follow soon after that).

This arrangement gives you some means of getting some variety from the same figure, but it's limited. The armor and weaponry of a specific historical gladiator type is pretty well known. Each torso's arm and leg protection conforms, more or less, to a type. For example, there is a torso that is intended as a retiarius, so converting it to something else would be a bit of a fudge. The main thing that identifies it as a retiarius is the manica (arm guard), but it's only just a shoulder protector of the left arm while the right arm is fully protected and the right leg has a greave. He's a little over-armored for an actual retiarius.

Retiarius (on the left) vs. a secutor
Retiarii typically wore only a leather or metal arm guard on their left arm, with a large metal shoulder guard. Otherwise, they were unarmored: no helmet, no shield, no greaves.

Retiarius shoulder guard
Their weapons were a trident and a net. They used the latter to ensnare an opponent and then stabbed him with the trident. Their usual opponent was a secutor, whose helmet was streamlined to minimize getting entangled in the retiarius' net.

Because I can, I fiddled a bit with the extra bits and made the following gladiators from pack 1: A secutor (the figure in the individual pack was meant to be a murmillo), a thracian with a wickedly curving sword, a velite with a tight metal helmet and a spiked mace, and a retiarius (pretty much as intended).

Pack 2 extends the gladiator types available to include a scissor, a sagittarius, a provocator, and a dimachaerus. I have it, but haven't started it yet. Soon. The first batch is near completion. I'll post pics when they're done.

Rules: Habet, Hoc Habet!

The rules I'll use are Habet, Hoc Habet! from Flagship Games. I played them some years ago with my 28mm Foundry figures and found them to be a nice balance of detail and playability.

I once had a copy of the rules, but it disappeared, or I sold it, or I lost it, or it's on my bookshelf and I've missed it the last umpteen times I looked, or it's in a box in the garage waiting to surprise me. This is a familiar scenario, which leads in many cases to multiple copies of rules and books. Flagship Games has gone away, but you can still get copies of Habet, Hoc habet! from Scale Creep Miniatures for a mere $25.00. That's a steal in these days of expensive over-produced rules sets and the ever-enticing buy-the-basic-rules-for-a-lot-of-money-and-then-buy-lots-of-supplements-and-specialty-cards-dice-etc-for-much-much-more approach.

There are a few others out there that were in the running. I have a copy of FGU's Gladiators. They offer some nice detail, but perhaps too much. They're also needlessly complex in some ways. I like old-school miniatures rules for the most part, but I think that too many have Rube Goldberg mechanics, i.e., over-complication of a simple process. I think I once had a copy of Rudis by Tabletop Games. I know that Habet, Hoc Habet! was the last rules set we used, but Rudis may have been what we started with. I likely sold them with my painted figures in days past.

There's also Jugula, the game for which the nice 35/40mm figures are produced. These rules are from the same designer as Saga. Like Saga, it has the potential to be a buy-the-basic-rules-etc. kind of thing. You need a grid map to play it on, special counters, and special cards in addition to the rules, which are about $30.00. You need a deck of cards per player, which limits hosting a multiplayer game to however many card decks you want to buy at $11.00 a deck. The deluxe game mat is about $40.00, the counters are $11.00—and you'll need more than one set for multiplayer games. That's about $125.00 for enough rules 'n' stuff to play a four-player game, which doesn't take in the cost for the figures, which are $8.00 a piece for the Gripping Beast 35/40mm figures. I already spent a lot on Saga stuff without yet buying the figures for an army. I'm not getting sucked in Jugula. Also, from what I've seen the rules don't really provide much detail.

 HHH is pretty straightforward. One of the things I like best about it is that it doesn't require a hex or square grid to play on, which seems to be a feature of most other gladiator rules.

The play is move/counter-move. A single deck of standard playing cards is used to determine the player's actions and play order. There are four classes of fighter, from novice (gladius fodder) to champion. The better the fighter, the more cards are dealt: 1 for novice, 2 for fighter, 3 for warrior, 4 for champion. Aces and Jokers are special cards. If dealt to a player, an additional card is dealt, so the player always has the correct number of action cards. The order of action is by card rank and suite, e.g. king of spades/hearts/clubs/diamonds on down.

Each card lets a player perform an action like move, fight, rest, etc. Aces let you interrupt another player's action and can be played anytime. Jokers let you call for the re-roll of any die result.

Fighting is a match up between an attack strength based on the gladiator's physiology and weapon skill vs. the opponent's physiology and defensive skill. If a hit is made, the weapon effectiveness strikes against the defensive armor and hit points assigned to a particular area (legs, arms, torso, head). As soon as hits add up to the critical amount, the gladiator is gone.

Fights can be 1:1 or in groups, so it's a fair bet that it can work as a multiplayer convention game—if I have enough figures painted.

Filthy lucre!

Back when our first gladiator project was alive, I kept looking for ways to incorporate betting into the game-play. The only Roman coins I found were from, I think, RAFM, but they were simple cast lead and would need to be cleaned up and painted and then would wind up chipping when used.

One of the inspirations for getting back into gladiator gaming is a Kickstarter campaign I joined last year for The Best Damn Metal Gaming Coins Ever! I kicked in $100.00 for several sets of the Roman coins and several of the smaller single Roman coins.

I should have 500+ coins coming, which is enough to be getting on with. The finished coins have been delivered from the manufacturer in China. They're still pending delivery to us. The last update from the campaign indicates that fulfilling orders will complete by February sometime.

1 comment:

  1. David: Not sure how I missed this post earlier?! Nice review and it seems you had in fact overlooked Arena Games' Gladiatorial Combat (as I had too). I agree about the Foundry packs - seems almost like afterthought packaging. I will likely add a Retarius or two to my collection. Initially I was prejudiced by their lack of cool helmet wear, but now I want their varied look.