Monday, March 27, 2017

Bogart and the Great Wall of UR


Bogey is back. He came home from the vet on Friday afternoon after being monitored since his catheter was removed Thursday morning.

I spent an anxious weekend looking for any signs of a recurrance of his blockage. I followed him around like a parent potty-training a child urging him to pee—even if it's on the carpet, just go. Pleeeese. I'm happy to say that he went, and not on the carpet either (though the bathroom sink got tagged). His flow seems to be back to normal.

He's now on prescription veterinary diet food forever. He used to go crazy for kibble. Twice a day I'd feed him half a 3 oz. can of wet food, then a 1/8 cup of kibble. After that he'd rush to the kitchen going "MEEEEEEEEEP!" anytime I got near to it, with the expectation that I'd give him more kibble. I found it hard to say no and that may have been a factor in his blockage: too much dry food, even if it was premium grade stuff. Giving your insistent cat food just because they want it is bad cat-parenting.

Now it's just Purina prescription food, which he's kind of "meh" about. He eats it eventually, but he seems a bit disappointed in his daily repast. I give him two 5.5 oz cans a day, though he probably leaves maybe and ounce or so uneaten; you know, just to protest.


I bought two cases of urinary formula prescription diet food (48 cans!) from the vet. My cupboard is now home to the Great Wall of UR. So named for the symbol on the cans, which looks like an element in the periodic table.


On the plus side, the two girls (Maebh and Rhiannon) love the prescription food—at least for now. I expect a day will come when Maebh eagerly comes to the dish, sniffs a few times, looks up at me in disbelief, and then struts away fully prepared to starve herself to death on principle.

My plan is to wean them off kibble as well. It's better for them to eat canned only and it's difficult to try to maintain Bogart's kibble-free diet if the girls are noshing as much as they want and he goes without.

Bogey's still on some meds while he recovers. Last week was traumatic (for me as well as him, but I'm not on meds). He's a better pill-popper than Grendel. In Grendel's last days, I had to liquefy his pills and then wrestle him down to squirt the liquified pill(s) into his mouth with a syringe. The process usually involved reloading one or twice since I'd miss my shot when he'd twist suddenly just when I thought I had him. It left us both exhausted and Grendel stained with missed syringe loads. Then he'd sit an glare at me for an hour. With Bogart, it's still a bit of a wrestle, but I can pop the pill right in (covered with a bit of Pill Pocket) and he gulps it down.

I think the crisis is passed and we have a plan in place to mitigate the possibility of recurrence.

Now if I could only get Maebh to chill out and stop hating him.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Perchance to pee


Bogart seems to be recovering very well from his bout with a urinary tract blockage.

In my call with the vet yesterday I learned that the very elevated creatinine level (19+) was back down to normal (2.0). His electrolytes are also back in balance. It's really an amazing recovery.

He's due to have his catheter removed on Thursday. If he can pee on his own, he's good to come home. I'm very hopeful and all the indications are good.

Until then, he's in the hospital wearing a cone with tubes sticking out of him.

When I visited him on Tuesday, he was much livelier than after his bladder flush and catheterization on Monday. He got so excited to see me that I was afraid he'd pull all his tubes out and I had to restrain him from leaping out of the little wall cubicle he was in.

His appetite is back with a vengeance. He hadn't eaten anything since Saturday and was only just licking a bit of gravy by Tuesday morning. He had a mostly full dish of food when I visited him Tuesday afternoon, which he attacked vigorously and finished when I was there. Later in the day, the vet told me he was eating voraciously.

Assuming all things go well on Thursday and he's got through this ordeal, there are a lot of things to mind going forward. He'll be on a urinary health formulated diet in perpetuity (yes, it's expensive). I'll also look into other supplements for urinary health. I'm also looking at pet insurance. I'm hard-pressed to cover the costs of this unexpected emergency ($2000.00+) and fear the possibility of recurrence (see below).

I've read several heartbreaking accounts of people who've lost cats due to urinary tract blockage. Basically, after 24 hours of blockage, the toxins build up and become deadly. Untreated, the cat can die—painfully—within six days.

I got Bogart in after maybe 48 hours blockage. He seemed fine Saturday morning, though I recall that we was licking himself a lot and seemed to be trying to pee on the carpet. Saturday night he was clearly uncomfortable, but I assumed it was constipation. I honestly had no idea about the likelihood of a urinary tract blockage. It's a risk for male cats (small wee-wees = small urethrae that block easily). I was giving him a tincture to help soften his stool and expecting any time he'd push out a massive dookie and be OK.

Recurrence is a big concern. Most of the accounts I read, which are likely the worst scenarios, mention that the blockage came back and back. There is actually a procedure (perineal urethrostomy) to remove the male cat's penis and suture in a wider urethra. That's pretty radical. My hope is that diet, supplements, and close monitoring of his water intake will keep him healthy for years to come.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Here's looking at you, kid.


Bogart's in the hospital.

I came home Saturday evening to find him irritated and in some discomfort. I assumed it might be constipation, so I got some over the counter stuff and hoped it would help him.

By Sunday morning, he was worse, so I resolved to bring him to the vet on Monday, which turned out to be just in time. He had a urinary tract blockage, which might have killed him. I have to admit that I was unfamiliar with how common that can be in male cats and how deadly it can be.

They catheterized him and flushed out his bladder. His urine was quite bloody, though the bleeding subsided after some time on the catheter. The bleeding was likely due to the distention of his bladder.

He'll be an inpatient for the next few days as they continue an I.V. treatment to flush the toxins he built up.

I'm not sure what caused the blockage. X-rays revealed no stones or mineral build up in his bladder. In what reading I've done today about the condition, vets don't really seem to know exactly why it happens—which means it's hard to do reliable prevention, though diet can help. The urethra of a male cat is significantly smaller than a female cat's (male cats have very small penises, thus narrow urethras), which makes them more susceptible to blockage.

It's a very expensive treatment, but I'm glad to have saved my little boy.

Friday, March 17, 2017

It's freakin' huge


Just a postscript to my last post...

The iPhone 7 Plus is taking some getting used to. I love the larger screenI can easily read ebooks and websites on itbut that sucker has a big footprint. It's bigger and heavier than my 5S, so schlepping it about is awkward. It doesn't really fit into my pockets the same way. The whole man purse thing is a non-starter.


It's also a bit unwieldy to use in one hand. I'm using muscles now that weren't needed to manipulate the 5S.

Phabulousness comes with some tradeoffs, but no buyer's remorse. Not yet.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Redeviced


I haven't upgraded my phone in more than three years. Since I recently bid adieu to my landline and gone totes mobile, I figured I needed an upgrade. Being an applephiliac, I naturally went for an iPhone.

A few years back, I was ribbing Phil Bardsley on the immensity of his iPhone 6 Plus. Compared to the iPhone 5 he upgraded from, it was like a small tablet more than a phone. Indeed, it is a phablet. Nevertheless, I got an iPhone 7 Plus; later model, same size, more phab.

After dinner yesterday at D-Thai (a tasty, but sorta greasy spoon Thai restaurant in Bothell, WA) with a friend from the parish, I went straight to the mall. The Verizon store wasn't packed, but there was a wait, so I browsed, played with the toys, and confirmed to myself that I wanted the BIG 7 Plus.

Buying the Phone took no time, but transferring data from the old phone had some complications. I never went beyond the standard 5GB storage for iCloud. I kinda don't do backups, even though it was annoying to have the pop-up asking me if I wanted to upgrade my iCloud storage every time I started my iPhone or iPad. My best option for getting all my data from old to new phone was a) backup the old phone to iCloud, then b) restore to new phone from backup et voilà! But I needed to buy more storage and had to fiddle with resetting my iTunes password to do it (I can never remember).

Verizon activated the new phone, and off I went to the Apple Store at the mall to get the nifty leather case for it (Verizon had none in stock) and that weird Belkin splitter that lets you recharge and plug in earphones at the same time. This is necessary because Apple controversially decided to forego a dedicated jack for the earphones. There's just one port and it's used to power and to listen. Apparently this was a design issue because there just wasn't enough internal room to have a dedicated jack and, also, everyone is supposed to be going to wireless earphones. (I actually have a pair, but I don't really like 'em.)

At home by about 8:30, I got the password reset, and started backing up my old phone around 9:30 or so. I figured 20 minutes. An hour later, I'm finally all backed up and need to restore the backup to the new phone. That's another half hour or so. It's after 11:00 and I'm just ready to start playing with the new toy. It's no shocker that it's basically the same as the old toy (only more so), but I still had to play. This usually means listening to iTunes music and fiddling with all the apps. I went from near exhaustion while waiting for the backup/restore to a second wind that didn't get me into bed until after 2:00 AM—and then I sat in bed reading Paul Johnson's Intellectuals 'til nearly 3:00.

Then I had a 6:30 AM conference call.

Two cups of coffee (third cup awaits) and some Cheerios later, I'm running on all cylinders, I think, but expecting to crash later today.

One nice advantage of the iPhone 7 Plus is the 12 megapixel camera, which is apparently THE BEST PHONE CAMERA EVAR! (Until the next one, of course.) I've been using my iPhone more lately to take photos of my games. It's just a lot easier than lugging about the digital SLR and tripod. The only kicker has been that while the 8 megapixel camera on the iPhone 5S is pretty good, it couldn't match the quality of a digital SLR shot taken in RAW format using a long exposure time. I don't assume that the 7 Plus' camera will either, but it's an improvement that will likely lead me to be satisfied that phone camera photos are good enough for blog work. (Whither, then, the digital SLR?)


My tendency towards gigantism didn't stop with the iPhone 7 Plus, however. With all the waiting I did before a salesman could help me, I played with the HUGE 12.9 inch iPad Pro. I first saw one of these at Costco. There was something dizzyingly overwhelming about it. Its screen is bigger than the monitor on my first computer (Mac Plus ca. 1988). Its resolution is as wide as the 9.7 inch iPad Pro (a.k.a. the Baby Pro) is tall (2732 x 2048 vs. 2048 x 1536). It was shiny.

So I bought one. Black (like all my devices) with 256GB storage. The kicker is that they're out of stock and it may be April before I get it. I'm in no hurry. I'll have time to get used to my HUGE phone before I have to start getting used to my HUGE iPad.

It's odd that as I watched my current iPad advance into senility (I love it, but it's four years old, which is like Methuselah in device years), I was thinking I wouldn't get another iPad. Then here I go.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

To the last man: The Pikeman's Lament AAR


We played The Pikeman's Lament on Saturday at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland.

We were planning on a game later this month, but that date fell through and we moved it up. That brought about a flurry of painting in the last week or so to get some units done in time for the game. Even then, it wound up being a bit ersatz.

We played the river crossing scenario from the rule book with two 24-point companies per side. Each of us brought our own figures. It was a pseudo-quasi-30 Years War-ish mix. I used my Renegade/Bicorne English Civil War units, Troy Wold used a mix of units he'd purchased recently (included some Empress Miniatures ECW that were re-flagged as Saxe-Weimar troops), Mike Lombardy made a fearsome company from Polish cavalry figures leftover from another army, Pat Clifford made up a company of 30 Years War Swedes, which he dropped off before the game for us to use, though he couldn't stay himself. We talked John Kennedy into playing in Pat's stead.

Mike and I faced off on one side; John and Troy faced off on the other. The companies arrayed were:

Mike
2 x Aggressive Elite Gallopers (very nasty)
3 x Aggressive Gallopers (slight less nasty)

Me
1 x Forlorn Hope
1 x Aggressive Forlorn Hope
2 x Dragoons
1 x Regimental Gun

John
1 x Gallopers
1 x Field Gun (death from afar)
2 x Shot
1 x Pike

Troy
4 x Shot
2 x Pike

We also rolled up officer backgrounds and traits. The cats and I got Lion of the North (re-roll up to two attacks in combat), and Fencing Master (hit opponent in a duel on 4+). Mike, opposing me, got the trait that his officer can only be hit in a duel on a 6—I'm not sure if that cancels my ability or my ability cancels his. In any case, we didn't duel.

We all deployed no closer than 12" from the river that ran through the center of the table. I had a small farmstead with seemingly defensible low stone walls. and I set my units up to go into position on the walls and stuck my officer in with the Forlorn Hope unit. On post-game reflection, I should have stuck him in with the Aggressive Forlorn Hope and used it as a reserve in my position. His Lion of the North trait is useful only in attack and the Aggressive Forlorn Hope was my only unit with a decent attack value (3+).

Me, the cats, and  forlorn hope deployed
I put my Forlorn Hope and one of my Dragoons in one section. Outside the farmstead walls I put the Aggressive Forlorn Hope opposite the river ford. On the other side, I put the other Dragoon and my Regimental Gun.

Contesting the ford, sort of
Ready to man the walls
Mike's Poles were up on a hill just above the river, ready to swoop down.

The Polish menace
John deployed his field gun well back with a good field of fire against Troy's units.

Ready to lob death
The field gun was to prove deadly. John estimated that 80% of Troy's casualties came from the Field Gun. My Regimental Gun, by comparison, proved to be a disappointment. I flubbed my first activation for shooting after which Mike's pancerni were upon me. Sitting way back 30+ inches away, John could fire at Troy with impunity with a 3+ shot (or 4+ over 12", but that's still better than any shot unit).

Shot ready to move forward
John and Mike got the first activation and set off coming at us. John got the blessed 6-6-6 activation sequence on his first roll. That's rolling double 6 for activation and then 6 again on the effect chart to get an additional 4 points of units coming on board. John added another Pike unit to his company.

Mike ran his Gallopers right up to the river in preparation for crossing. By this time, my Regimental Gun and Dragoons had taken position on the wall, which I assumed would be a suitable bulwark.

In our sights
At this point, as I related, I failed my activation for the shooting the gun. Next turn, I was beset by angry Poles.

Ramrods and gun-swabs against lances
The fight didn't last long. My bulwark was less redoubtable than I hoped. I lost three figures (half my unit) in the first round and got pushed back, but not wavering. I managed, however, to take one Galloper with me. Because all Mike's cavalry were Aggressive Gallopers, they followed up for a second round, which finished me off. I managed to get another Galloper in the second round, so I was able to reduce him a wee bit.

My Dragoon unit on the other side of the building got shellacked in the same 1-2 punch kind of way. I evaded him at first, but my shot (hitting only on 6s) was  pretty desultory. I tried another shot at 5+, but did no harm. He charged me and got me. After two rounds I was reduced down to a single figure wavering behind the far wall. I did no damage to him. At this point, it looked as if Mike was going to sweep through my position like I wasn't there.

Sweeping through
On my activation, I managed to rally my lone Dragoon so he could run away the next time Mike charged him (which he must—such is the fate of Aggressive Gallopers). I also took a very ineffective shot at Mike's cavalry with my Forlorn Hope. The men must have been distracted by mewling cats.

My shooting was pretty much a disappointment all game. I used my vintage 5/8" bakelite dice, which have proven to be disastrous for their users in the last several Quetzalcoatl Rampant games. I should have used my irregular, non-cubical faux-antique bone dice.

Mike next came for the Forlorn Hope. It looked like I'd have another fleeing or destroyed unit—taking my officer and cats with it—but I managed to take cover in a wee wood which suddenly evened the odds against the nasty cavalry. Reduced though I was, I managed to hold on and whittle down Mike's cavalry just a bit.

Hanging on
I got pushed out of the woods, but stall managed to pass morale even though I was now down to two figures in the units (but still four cats). The outlook was pretty grim.

Facing certain death
At this point, I counterattacked with my Aggressive Forlorn Hope. Mike failed his countercharge roll and I managed to finally get some revenge on the rampaging Poles.

Pike you very much
I didn't managed to break the Poles, but I took out a couple with no loss to myself. Those Poles are hard to kill.

Unbowed, but much reduced
With more cavalry pouring in, I pulled my Forlorn Hope back out of harm's way and interposed my other (full strength) Dragoon unit in the woods.

Protecting the officer (and cats)
As he must, Mike's cavalry rolled for wild charge and went in. With exactly even odds against each other in the woods, I managed to chew up the Gallopers, which bounced and then disastrously failed morale. It was the first of Mike's units to be lost.

At this point, I made my own blessed 6-6-6 activation roll. Since I had no other ECW figures painted, I pulled out my late 16th c. Irish pikemen and brought them on board against the pancerni who were bedeviling my lone Dragoon figure. I'd managed to successfully evade and even took out a figure, but he was sure to be a goner soon, so the miraculous intervention of the Irish Pike was well timed.

Irish!
Even then, the Irish took a beating while slowly whittling down the pancerni (did I mention that the Poles were hard to kill). I got pushed back twice and became wavering once before prevailing. It took killing every pancerni to do it.

The fight between my Aggressive Forlorn Hope and Mike's Elite Aggressive Gallopers went on. I got pushed back over the wall and attacked again. Even then, with my stamina at 5 for defending the wall, Mike's below-half-strength hussars were dishing out death. On six D6, he rolled exactly five hits and whittled me down some more. I eventually killed the last hussar.

Still at it tooth and claw
Mike's last pancerni (Aggressive Gallopers) unit had been having a rough go. Troy managed to get some good shots at him early on with his leftmost Shot unit. The pancerni took losses, wavered, failed morale while wavering and found themselves at half strength without ever coming to blows.  They eventually managed to get an attack on my beat-up Aggressive Forlorn Hope unit, but they destroyed themselves doing it.

At this point, Mike's last unit, fresh and with his officer attached, came into the fray.

The final menace
All I had left were some very battered units. The last man in my wavering Aggressive Forlorn Hope failed the morale test and went away. I had one Dragoon at half strength, one Dragoon reduced to a single figure, my Forlorn Hope reduced to two figures (plus cats), and my Irish pikes were down to 9 figures—the only unit left above half strength.

Survivors
Mike had lost four of the five units he started with. I can't imagine how that happened. I seemed to be hanging on for dear life every turn. However, I can't see that I could have prevailed against the last hussar unit (Aggressive Elite Gallopers). They outclassed every unit I had and would have swept me away if the game continued.

John eventually got the last of his units across the river; we never managed to get anyone across.

John and Troy had been bashing each other, though most of the casualties came from John's Field Gun. He seemed to be tearing chunks out of Troy's units every turn. In two shots he eliminated one of Troy's Shot units.

In hand to hand, Troy seemed to be holding his own. I don't recall how John's Swedish Gallopers fared. They were still on the board by game end, but I was so fixed on the battle between Mike and me that I paid little attention to what John and Troy were doing (and took fewer pics).

Swedish Gallopers
Post Mortem

I liked the game despite its early frustrations. My initial die rolls were painful, but I was actually rolling well had I been up against something less than superatomic troops. Aggressive Gallopers are fearsome enough, but Aggressive Elite Gallopers are like the Terminator.

In The Pikeman's Lament, the upgrade to Aggressive Elite Galloper makes them like Mounted Men at Arms in Lion Rampant—only more so. The Pikeman's Lament has a compulsory follow-up for certain troop types that Lion Rampant doesn't have. The one-two punch of Gallopers makes them much more devastating them their equivalents in Lion Rampant. As the punchee, you can't just retreat and lick your wounds after getting hit; you're gonna get hit again in your weakened state without a chance to react.

I'm painting Gallopers now.

I failed to use the terrain effectively, which might have much mitigated the shock and awe of the rampaging Gallopers. I had that bit of woods, but I also had two buildings, which I completed disregarded. They were cover and rough terrain. I could have retreated to them and fought the hussars of doom at even odds as they crashed against me with their wild charges.

My company was a hodge-podge made up of the only units I had painted and based—witness my reinforcements of Irish rebel pike ca. 1590. It was them or some gallowglass. I have many more units in some state of being painted, but I have a lot of competition for my painting time. I'm shifting focus to Mexico ca. 1520 now. I want to complete the figures I have in the works. There's probably 100 figures to paint for Enfilade! in May.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dixon Grand Alliance!

My Dixon figures has arrove! A few weeks back I sent out a small order for some of the venerable Dixon Grand Alliance range and the ding-dong at my door this afternoon was the mailman dropping them off. I say 'venerable' because the range is more than 35 years old—that's dead in dog years and nearly so in figure range years. But these figures have stood the test of time and are as good or better than many newer figure ranges.

But I wasn't sure what to expect from such a hoary range when I ordered. In too many cases, ordering figures from a range that's a few decades old (or older) can be a disappointment. The molds might not be maintained well and what you get requires a lot of filing and trimming just to distinguish them from fishing weights. (I recall an order to Minifigs USA many years ago that made me think I'd purchased from the Carve-Your-Own-from-a-Block-of-Lead range.)

This is not the case with Dixon! The figures are as clean and well cast as if they were a brand new range. Not only that, but the packaging has all the elegance of old school English figure manufacturers. No bubble-packs or baggies full o' lead. My order contained two small 3" x 3" x 2" white boxes personalized with my initials on the top.

Monogramed box
Inside, the figures were wrapped in royal blue tissue paper as carefully as if they were fine porcelain.

All snug in their box
This is a nice touch.

These figures bring back fond memories. I painted a lot of them in the '80s. When they first came out ca. 1980 they were absolutely the best figures on the market. In a world that was still dominated by Minifigs and Hinchliffe (both cutting edge in their day), their fine detail, animated poses, and head variants put them way ahead of everyone else. They were also in an historical niche that I just loved and no one else was making late 17th c. figures.

I was living in San Jose, CA at the time and several of us got the bug to game the late 17th c. using the old WRG Renaissance rules by George Gush. I painted my minis as Brandenburg-Prussians ca. Nine Years War. I sold them when I went off to seminary in 1986 and briefly resumed painting some about three years later while I was still in Chicago. I never did much with the new batch and sold them in the early 90s after I moved to Seattle. Since then, I've wanted to do another project using these figures. The North Star 1672 range fulfilled some of that desire—Mark Copplestone is the sculptor for both ranges and I'm a big fan of Mark's work.

Among the felicities of The Pikeman's Lament, is that the small scale of a company means that I can do projects for those rules that I would eschew if they required hundreds of figure to complete. So I decided that I could use Dixon Grand Alliance figures to build a company for James II and William III's Irish campaign. I'm already doing late 16th c. Irish Wars using the excellent Timeline Miniatures Border Reivers, so this is a fast-forward by 100 years from that period--no kern or gallowglass.

I'm starting with James' Irish forces first. Years ago, I picked up a nice booklet on the conflict: William III at War: Scotland and Ireland 1689-1691 by Alan Sapherson.



It's chock full of information about Irish, English, Dutch, and Danish units for the campaign in Ireland. I picked it up for $8.95 30 years ago, now it's going for $45.00 on Amazon! I've already got the uniform colors in mind and Flags of War makes the flags for both sides. (Gotta have flags, even in a skirmish game.)

In my Dixon order, I got 12 musketeers for a shot unit, 6 grenadiers (with plug bayonets) for a forlorn hope unit, 2 each of the officers and drummer, and a mounted general.

All unboxed now
This is a good start for now. My plan for the company is to add another unit of shot, a unit of 6 pikes taken as aggressive forlorn hope (no shooting, just piking), a 6-figure unit of dragoons, two 6-figure cavalry units. I'll get the lot in my next order to Dixon.

Musketeers and grenadiers
For now, I have a lot of figures to paint: for other projects ECW, Aztecs, conquistadors, Thirty Years War, Medieval Spanish, Irish 16th c., etc.

Officers mostly
But I'm pretty excited about the Dixon figures, so I'll likely clean and prime these figures soon and get then on deck.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Drumbeat X


On Saturday we held our annual Drumbeat game day at the Lake City Community Center in Seattle. It was a good turnout and we had a good time, but poignant with Dick Larsen being in the hospital due to his recent stroke. Drumbeat is Dick's brainchild. He founded it ten years ago as a game event to get us through the grim Seattle winter and it's been going strong ever since.

Game 1: Quetzalcoatl Rampant

Kevin Smyth and I put on our game of Quetzalcoatl Rampant. We tweaked things just a bit after the last playtest and assumed that we were in good shape.

The Aztecs deploy
In our early playtests, the Spanish consistently wiped the floor with the Aztecs. We tweaked things a bit to make the Spanish less formidable and the Aztecs less horrible. I'm not sure if we went a tweak too far or what, but the last two games have been disasters for the Spanish. 

Aztecs defenders of the village
Part of this problem has been the inexplicable inability of the Spanish commanders to make their activation rolls. In the Drumbeat game, the Spanish never managed to get more than a handful of activations for their troops. The Aztecs did better than average.

Taking corn
Unlike the last play of this scenario, the Spanish/Tlaxcalans managed to capture corn. However, they didn't manage to get it off the board. The Aztec counterattack landed in the Spanish/Tlaxcalan right rear and just started tearing things up. The Spanish troops were on the opposite side and couldn't manage to get an activation anyway. 

The Aztec counterattack: kicking butt and breaking taking hearts
The "Your beating heart" rule proved to be too much for the players. We hadn't used it much in our earlier games because it was moot. The Spanish v. Aztecs melées left the Aztecs too beat up to pass a simple courage test, they didn't bother with trying to take captives. In our last games, the Tlaxcalans—whose regular warriors are no match for Aztec knights—bore the brunt of the fighting and easily lost heart, so to speak. I'll have to tweak things to make it less easy for the Aztecs to convert casualties to captives and lessen the effect. I'm a bit hesitant, though, to make too many tweaks due to what may just be anomalous events. 

Sitting out the battle
The next task is getting our figures ready for the two scenarios we're running at Enfilade! in May.

Game 2: The Pikeman's Lament

After fine dining at Seattle's own Chez Richard, we got ready for the second game of the day.

Doug Hamm was set to come down from Vancouver BC for the day to put on a game of The Pikeman's Lament with Bill Stewart, but he got snowed in instead. Bill had just rebased a whole pile of his 28mm ECW for the rules I had two dragoon units completed, so we managed to pull it off as understudies. There was no particular scenario, we just put terrain out and set up two opposing forces divided between six players. One side was in red, the other in blue—except for my turncoat dragoons, who were in red.

I had my two dragoon units, plus two units of Bill's cavalry taken as trotters.

Part of my forces deployed
Opposite me was Wes Rogers with a similar force, except that his cavalry were taken as gallopers.

Facing off across a wee brook
The object of the game was to take and hold the bridge that sat in the midst of a small village (whose beautiful building were scratch-built by Bill Stewart).

Commanded Shot taking position by the dung pile
The red forces took position early in the game and managed to get a unit of pikemen on the bridge. However, it was not to hold it long. Shot at by blue musketeers in the surrounding houses, it finally wavered (and kept wavering) after a whiff of grapeshot from Russ Bowder's regimental gun.

Enemy pikemen on the bridge, alas
Russ' gun fared poorly after that. He became the target of a lot of fire until the crew was all shot away or had been removed from failed morale tests while already wavering. We had no guns painted for the game, so we pressed into service a couple light guns I'd painted for my dormant 1672 project.

Commanding my forces, was my personal figure, surrounded by his four cats, painted to look like Grendel, Bogart, Rhiannon, and Maebh.

I ride with cats
On my flank, Wes and I sparred a bit. He had the upper hand for a short while, and then I managed to come back briefly. At one point Wes' officer challenged mine. I lost the duel and was severely wounded and left writhing on the field with my cats indifferent to my pain and wanting food. A crueler fate could befall no man.

Dragoons slugging it out

Eventually, Wes took me out. I managed to kill his officer in the course of wiping out his galloper unit. Both of us battered and officerless, Wes had the last man standing—he also managed to get one of those lucky activations where he rolled boxcars, then got reinforcements. He was able to replace his lost galloper unit and soon had command of the flank.

On the rest of the field, things slowly went for red. Russ was unable to hold the buildings he'd occupied, Tyler (on Russ' right) got most of his troops shot away from Gary Greiss' musketeers. In the end blue ceded the field to red, the day was theirs.

Postscript

Drumbeat X went very well. There were several other games being played, including a morning game Wes ran of Loose Files and American Scramble, a venerable set of American War of Independence rules by Andy Callan.  Kevin ran a Lion Rampant game in the afternoon with his Hundred Years War English against Darren Howard's French.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Pikmean's Lament, A Review


On Monday, I enthusiastically picked up my early release copy of The Pikeman's Lament at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland (maybe the store should be called The Pike and Panzer Depot). I've been waiting a while for this title from Osprey. It's the result of an international collaboration between Brit Dan Mersey, author of Lion Rampant et al. and Swede Michael Leck. It's their adaptation of Dan's Lion Rampant rules to 17th c. pike and shot warfare, which is Michael's specialty.

The basic game engine

The rules don't betray their lineage. With a few exceptions, players familiar with Lion Rampant can play The Pikeman's Lament with no trouble at all. The basic game engine is the same:
  • Units are 6 or 12 figures and cost from 1 to 8 points.
  • Players organize their units into a company (née retinue) of 24 points.
  • Players roll 2D6 to activate units for moving, attacking, or shooting. A failed activation cedes the initiative to their opponent etc.
  • For shooting and combat, players roll 12 D6 for a unit that is above half strength (4+ or 7+ figures), and 6 D6 for a unit at half strength or below (3- or 6- figures).
  • Dice results are compared to the target unit's stamina (née armor) to determine how many figures are removed, if any.
  • Morale (née courage) tests are made for lost figures and units may stand, become wavering (née battered), or just bugger off altogether (rout).
It's a simple, easy-playing, elegant system and rewards adaptations, as I've made with Crepusculum Imperii and Quetzalcoatl Rampant (a collaboration with Kevin Smyth). Doug Hamm (he of Dots of Paint) created his own pike & shot variant for Lion Rampant, which he used to play his fictional ECW Tersey River campaign.

The key to the game engine's versatility is that the basic characteristics of a unit are addressed in its profile, which include,
  • The rolls needed to activate for a move, to attack, or to shoot.
  • The attack, defend, and shooting values.
  • The armor/stamina value (how many hits it takes to remove a figure as a casualty).
  • The courage/morale value.
The idiosyncratic bits are addressed in special rules that provide the flavor. Special rules can account for a lot of things. They are specific to unit types and you can make them up for any given period as far as your imagination goes. For example, the Your beating heart rule from our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant, captures the flavor of Aztec warfare where the goal was less to kill an enemy in battle than to capture him and sacrifice him to the Aztecs' bloody gods.

Upgrades (and downgrades) also give some versatility to a unit's performance and make each unit type a bit more Neapolitan than vanilla.

The tricky part in the rules, and in any adaptation of them, is ensuring that unit types are balanced against each other and that no unit type becomes invincible or useless (though the serfs/clubman unit type is really just an excuse to paint oiks and momentarily display them on the game table). We went through a few playtests of Quetzalcoatl Rampant to get to the point that the Spanish weren't too strong and the Aztecs too weak.

So how does The Pikeman's Lament fare?

The Pikeman's Lament

At first glance, the unit types for The Pikeman's Lament seem a lot like variations of the troop types for Lion Rampant. On closer inspection, the subtleties become more apparent as does the balance between unit types.

The horse

The horse are represented by three unit types: Gallopers, Trotters, and Dragoons.
  • Gallopers (@4 pts basic): Imagine Royalist cavaliers of the ECW or Gustavus Alophus' Finnish Hakkapeliitta. They move fast, charge at the drop of a hat, and strike hard. They seem at first to be The Pikeman's Lament version of mounted men at arms, but they're not. They're a bit more brittle (stamina 3), but they can be upgraded to Elite (stamina 4 for 2 pts.) or downgraded to Raw to be even brittler (stamina 2 for -1 pt.). For no points cost at all, you can make them aggressive, which increases their attack value to 3+, but adds in the wild charge special rule that makes them less manageable.
  • Trotters (@4 pts. basic): Imagine 30 Years War reiters and that ilk or the more stolid Roundhead troopers in the ECW. These are the mounted troops who use the firepower of their pistols and carbines more than a wild rush and cold steel. They're not best used for attacking, are ponderously slow, and they have a short pistol range (6"), but they can stand up in an even fight when defending against Gallopers. They also have a nifty special rule in the caracole. This rule allows them to move and shoot and, if the shooting results in their target wavering, they can charge home. This does a good job modelling the tactics used. They can also be upgraded/downgraded for better or worse stamina.
  • Dragoons (@4 pts. basic): In The Pikeman's Lament, these units are a hybrid. They're treated as mounted units for movement, but operate as foot units (in fact, it's typical to model them on foot, which is how they actually fought). They have a shorter range than shot (12"), but they can skirmish and evade. Used right they can be a proper annoyance while you maneuver your strike units into place. I wouldn't rely on them to hold ground.
The foot

Foot are represented by seven unit types: Forlorn Hope, Pike, Shot, Commanded Shot, Clubmen, Clansmen, and Regimental Guns.
  • Forlorn Hope (@6 pts. basic): This is a pretty versatile unit type. It's a bit like foot men-at-arms in Lion Rampant, but they shoot (or not). Imagine a determined assault force, grenadiers, a small band desperately holding an advanced position. They can be upgraded for a better shooting value or made aggressive, which ups their attack value and stamina, but takes away their shooting. Aggressive Forlorn Hope units represent troops relying on close combat, like a band of picked men with their plug bayonets fixed or resolute men armed only with hand to hand weapons. (I'll make the gallowglass for my 16th c. Irishmen Aggressive Forlorn Hope).
  • Pike (@4 pts. basic): Imagine pikes. These units are best for defense (having only a 5+ attack value) and if positioned well can protect your shot from unwanted encounters. They can upgraded to a better defense value (3+) or downgraded to worse (5+). Pikes have a close order special rule that allows them to form up for better fighting. The rule gives them +1 to their attack and defend dice rolls. Unlike schiltron in Lion Rampant, pikes in close order can move and attack, but at a slightly worse 6+ activation. Most players regard pike units in a 17th c. skirmish game like taking a knife to a gunfight. I like pike, myself, and am glad to see them treated here as more than the red-headed stepchild of the family.
  • Shot (@4 pts. basic): Imagine men with muskets in larger, formed groups (as formed as skirmish units can be). These units are the basic shooters of the game with an 18" range. If managed right (and activated well), they can get one to two shots off at anyone advancing against them. They can be upgraded to shoot better (4+) or worse (6). They also have a first salvo special rule that gives +1 to their dice in their first combat, whether shooting, attacking, or defending. Shot units representing troops from 1678 onward can use the close order rule like Pike. This use represents the more widespread adoption of bayonets, which enabled musketeers to stand up against attackers. It makes them even when defending against attacking Gallopers.
  • Commanded Shot (@2 pts. basic): These units are the skirmishers of The Pikeman's Lament. They represent any kind of skirmishing shooty foot. Low stamina (1) and six-figure units size makes them very brittle, but they can be an annoyance with their 5+ shooting at 12" range. They can use all the special rules that bidowers have in Lion Rampant. They can be upgraded to veteran that takes away the -1 for shooting when using the skirmish rule.They're good for games that have a lot of rough terrain, but won't stand well on a open field. Thank goodness they're cheap.
  • Clubmen (@ 1 pt.): These are the peasant rabble, townsmen, local farmers who band together to chase away the soldiers. They're not too effective at that. They can fill out a unit roster that needs an extra point to make 24, but they won't be a game winner. I think they're best used in scenario-based games as a wild card., e.g., on turn 6 clubmen enter on a randomly chosen table edge and proceed to attack the nearest unit of either side. There are no upgrades or, mercifully, downgrades for clubmen. They are what they are, however, in The Pikeman's Lament, they can shoot, albeit poorly and only at short range.
  • Clansmen (@3 pts.): Think highlanders or other pantless native types who have one good charge in them before they destroy or are destroyed. These match the Fierce Foot of Lion Rampant. I could imagine a Killiecrankie game with a bucket of these units charging downhill at raw government troops. (But I can't imagine painting all those tartans!) No upgrades or downgrades.
  • Regimental Guns (@4 pts. basic): Guns are a new edition to the Lion Rampant family, however, regimental guns are more like a shot unit. The unit represents small-caliber cannon that support infantry by firing grapeshot, hailshot, and/or very small cannonballs. They have a range of 18", like shot, a shooting value of 4+, but their shooting activation is 8+ making them less likely to be the first unit you attempt to activate, i.e., you wouldn't use them to soften up a target before you attack it with another unit. Too risky. Regimental guns can move like infantry at 6", but they have no attack ability. Regimental Guns can be upgraded to Field Guns, which gives them a 3+ shot at a whopping 48" range, but takes away any mobility other than pivoting in place on a move order.
Other bits

The nuances in the unit types aren't the only thing new in The Pikeman's Lament:
  • The officer (née  leader) role is much expanded. Each company has one officer who adds +1 to activation rolls to all unit's within 12" of his unit. But officers also have other traits that a player rolls for to build the character. You start out with an ensign with background story and basic trait (e.g., Blessed, which makes the officer invulnerable to lucky blows, or Lion of the North, which lets him re-roll up to 2 dice when his unit attacks--note that traits may be negative, too) and as you accrue honour points, you rise in rank and add more traits. This aspect of the rules is ideal for creating mini-campaigns that string together several missions.
  • Missions (née  scenarios) are ideas for games. There are 10 missions defined in the rules that run from straight up 1:1 face-offs to more complex tactical problems.
  • Activations have a different flavor, too. When you roll snake-eyes (double 1) or boxcars (double 6) for activation, you roll a D6 to see what happens and consult the appropriate chart. For double 1, the second roll is fraught with danger. For example, a "1" result for that test will see one or more of your units leaving the field. This new feature of the activation roll makes for more unpredictability in the game.
  • For one point, you can add an agitator, priest, or hero to any unit not lead by the officer. These characters represent individuals in a unit who inspire their fellows or spin them up into a frenzy. The character replaces one of the unit's normal figures and provides +1 to moral test dice rolls, which is in addition to the +1 they get for being within 12" of the officer. They're subject to lucky blows like an officer and give the opponent +1 honour if he kills 'em. This rule gives me a use for brothers Conall and Donall in my 16th c. Irish company.
Final impressions

The Pikeman's Lament is much more than a simple re-branding of Lion Rampant. The game stands in its own right as a very playable and colorful set of rules for pike & shot warfare. Dan and Michael have done a great job. It's certainly revamped interest in the period 'round these parts. Bill Stewart has rebased his ECW for the rules, as has Doug Hamm up in the frozen north of Vancouver, BC. I've got several units for the ECW in the works (some even finished!) and have made a lot of progress painting my Irish 16th c. company; look for a hated English oppressor company to follow. I'm looking forward to many enjoyable games.

Adaptability outside the 17th c.

One last point is about further adaptability. The rules are specified for the 17th c., or more specifically, from the 30 Years War to the Great Northern War (Michael being a Swede, the rules unsurprisingly cover the period of Sweden's military dominance. His blog Dalauppror has many AARs about Swedes v. Poles, Swedes v. Danes, Swedes v. the Empire, etc. Maybe Lion of the North Rampant would have been a better name). That being said, you could easily adapt them backwards to the 16th c. The unit types are just convenient names that cover tactical roles. For example, I'll be fielding my javelin-armed Irish kern as Commanded Shot (or even Veteran Commanded Shot) because despite not being armed with a gunpowder weapon, the tactical use is the same: annoying skirmishers with little staying power, but a lot of advantage in rough terrain. My gallowglass will be Aggressive Forlorn Hope. English border horse might be Raw Gallopers, etc.

I could imagine gaming the early Renaissance with them, too. Gendarmes could be Aggressive Gallopers, Arquebuses (or crossbows) could be Shot, clutches of halbardiers or sword and buckler men could be Aggressive Forlorn Hope, etc. In a pinch where no Pikeman's Lament unit type fits well enough, you could just retrofit in a Lion Rampant unit type, though that's likely to be unnecessary. For example, if you wanted to represent stradiots from the Italian Wars, you could make them Dragoons and model the figures mounted: they have a rapid move, can skirmish, shoot 'n' scoot, etc. (They are, in fact, identical to Mounted Yeomen in Lion Rampant). Mounted arquebusiers? Make 'em Trotters. I have a pile of unpainted Old Glory Wars of Religion that I've been wondering what to do with (I tried to sell them without success; they've truly been orphans). Armed with my copy of Blaise de Monluc's memoirs, I can get a lot of inspiration, eventually.

Postscript: Quick Reference sheets

I made a two-sided quick reference sheet (QRS) for The Pikeman's Lament. The first side is based on the QRS that's available from Osprey. I just made a few tweaks. The second side is a table with all the stats for unit types and their various upgrades.




If you want a PDF (sans the nifty parchment paper), click here.