Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Xenos Rampant: Shrove Tuesday Tussle in Tacoma

We played our first group game of Xenos Rampant on Shrove Tuesday at Silver King Games & Hobby in Tacoma. Silver King is a newer store and Tuesday was the first time most of us have played there. Kevin Smyth has been playing Saga and other games there since not long after they opened. The neighborhood is familiar, however, since Silver King is across the street and down from where American Eagles in Tacoma used to be. American Eagles (which began life as the Tacoma branch of the American Eagles in Seattle) had a large upper room for gaming and was the locus of our group gaming in the 90s and early 2000s. Silver King is a nice place to game with a large separate gaming room.

I look forward to their continued success. I think the only thing missing is a 6' x 8' table (or two). Silver King, like a lot of recently-opened games stores, is directed at new school games that are meant to be played on a 3' x 3' or 3' x 4' space. That's a challenge to old school gamers who want at least 6' x 8' for big games. Mark Waddington and I tried to join two of the 4' x 8' tables they have in the back, but an 8' x 8' game table is impracticable—especially for older, fatter men who can't come close to reaching the center of the table. However, the 4' x 6' mat was sufficient for five of us to play a game. I look forward to more games at Silver King.

Eric Donaldson and I have been working away at forces for Xenos Rampant. I realize in writing this that I never blogged about building my XR force, but shall amend that omission. I've also been busy building terrain for the game. I've spent a lot of moolah on Etsy buying 3D-printed terrain bits from all over—I'm expecting some to arrive this month from Greece. My figures are mostly Blue Moon minis that are sold by Old Glory. Eric's are mostly from the Scavs of Planet K line from Khurasan. We created 49-point forces that we could divvy up amongst whoever showed up to play.

I set out the terrain I worked on until almost 2:00 am that day on one the the TableWar "Desert Planet" mats that I inherited from Dave Schueler. (Dave loved the TableWar mats and had several of them.) I was still at work Tuesday morning, after about 3 hours of sleep, doing final touches on some of the terrain to get it to blend better with the orange-yellow mat.

The inspiration for the reddish-desert scheme came from Eric, who mentioned that he was going to base his figures using a red color scheme to give them an "alien" feel. I got on board with that and worked out a basing/flocking/tufts scheme. I followed through with that scheme on the 3D-printed terrain pieces I bought on Etsy.

Players for the game were Eric and Bill Stewart—playing his first Sci-Fi game in 45 years—who ran Eric's force of Scavs and "Federal advisors." Mark, Michael Koznarsky, and I used my figures. We played Scenario Bravo: Secret Mission from the rulebook. We were the attackers. Our main mission was to kill the best of the opposing forces, which was Eric's unit of tricked-out Light Infantry (7 points). There were also three of six objective markers, which were randomly chosen.

Eric's forces were mostly lighter types. His only Heavies were two "Federal advisor" units and one unit of mechanoids. All of them were 5 SP units, but tricked out with the Heavy Weapon and Armor-Piercing options, which made them pretty deadly, as I learned to my sorrow.

My forces were heavier types including Elite Infantry, two 10 SP units of Heavy Infantry, a 10 SP unit of Heavy Infantry mechanoids, and a Fighting Vehicle with the Walker option. 

Although we were equal in points, my forces had an advantage in basic armor, but Eric's lighter-armored troops made up for it by being deadlier.

We attacked on a fairly broad front with Mark and the mean machine on one flank, I on the other, and Michael in between.

I ran my Heavy Infantry up next to Michael's command to support him in the center. I ran my Light Infantry up into some alien-looking trees. I advanced my Elite Infantry in the open on the flank. I assumed too much about the impenetrability their 4 armor.

My first taste of being disillusioned on that point came when I exchanged fire with Eric's mechanoids. Eric made his Firefight roll and in the simultaneous exchange, I lost three SPs. His mechanoids were only a 5 SP unit, but had the Heavy Weapon and Armor-Piercing options. Thus they could only hit on 6s, but every 6 counted as two hits. Eric rolled five sixes. My 4 armor went down to 3 and the 10 hits reduced me immediately to below half-strength. The Elites were pretty much spent for the rest of the game.

On the other flank, Mark ran the walker and the mechanoids. 

My mechs were less deadly than Eric's, even though they were a bigger unit (10 SP).

For Bill, who faced Mark on that flank, the biggest worry was the walker.

Bill's "technical," the only vehicle they had, got the short end of an exchange of fire with the walker. Fortunately for Bill, the vehicle's passengers had hopped off the turn before their taxi went up in a ball of fire. Sadly, Eric forgot that the buggy had the Anti-Tank option. That might have hurt the walker a bit.

Eric had two Recon Infantry units that remained mostly out of the fight because they couldn't shoot or be shot at outside 12" range. However, they were an element of threat as my flank crumbled. 

My 5 SP Light Infantry unit, got into a firefight with Eric's 10 SP Light Infantry. I suffered worse.

Mark's mechanoids started taking losses from Bill's Light Infantry, the twin of Eric's unit. All the light infantry in the game had the Guerilla option, which further improved their armor when in light cover. Skulking in the bushes, Eric's Lights were a 4 armor (5 over effective range) and powerfully armed. However, supported by the walker, the bots stayed in the fight even after being reduced below half their strength.

Michael, meanwhile, was moving up but not taking much fire. At one point his command was the only one without losses.

Michael engaged Eric's Lights, the same unit that made mincemeat out of my Lights, and started making an effect. Our fire tended to be OK with a steady attrition effect. Eric showed a latent talent for rolling 6s, which caused us a lot of grief because of the Heavy Weapon effect.

At on point, Eric targeted Michael's 5 SP Light Infantry unit in the open. Because of the Firefight option, their armor went down to 1. Eric rolled 5 6s again and the Lights just evaporated. That turned out to be the only unit we lost, even though others, like my Elites and Lights, were decimated.

After a few more turns of shooting, Eric's Lights finally went to half strength and he rolled a 1 on his courage test, which routed it away. That was pretty much game. Eric's Recon Infantry continued to skulk and menace my flank. When my Elite and Light Infantry units were reduced to half strength (well below, actually), they were ripe for plucking by some plucky Recon.

That was game. A Pyrrhic victory for us. Eric's Lights was the only unit we actually destroyed, though it's destruction was our primary mission. We took one of our three other objectives, but may have taken the others—though with further loss.

Xenos Rampant is a fun game and a great new variant for the "Rampant" family. Eric has more figures to paint. I just bought another force of Blue Moon minis to oppose my initial force. I also have a few other units, like a mechanoid sniper, two mechanoid Support Infantry units, and two of Khurasan's new walker mechs. 

Kevin and Mark are painting minis for XR and Bill inquired about the source of my walker (it's the Rampart Mammoth Walker sold by Archon Studio). 

I think Eric needs to supplement his "Federal advisors" with a unit or two of these bad boys from Khurasan:

Finally, I look forward to using Silver King as a new gaming venue. Tacoma is a long drive, but I did it all the time back in the day. We still have Zulu's up here and I'm hosting a 1914 game this weekend at stately Chez Dave in beautiful, formerly-bucolic, and less-than-formerly-sylvan Lynnwood.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Dice fetish update!

My devoted reader(s?) will have noted that I have a dice fetish. Not only do I own a whole lotta dice, but I'm drawn to unique or even downright weird dice. My latest find to feed the fetish is some solid brass bullet dice that are a hexagonal cylinder with the sides numbered 1 through 6.

They're wider and squatter than a 9mm round. Maybe about the diameter of a .45 ACP, but shorter. Being solid brass, they weigh about as much as a real bullet and more than the average 28mm metal mini, even if mounted on a 1 1/4" fender washer.

I got 'em because I was looking for D6 dice that would harmonize well with Xenos Rampant. The bullet dice will do nicely really for an 19th - 21st c. games where shooting is involved. I don't know what dice What a Cowboy! use, but of it's D6 (WaT! uses D6) I'm ready.

They ain't cheap, but I picked up two sets because they come six to a box and I need 10 for Xenos Rampant and 12 for other "Rampant" games where they might be suitable.

I think I'll use my leather and felt dice tray with them lest they do damage to my other dice trays. It'll also muffle the thunk.

They aren't my first metal dice. About a decade ago (maybe longer—I'm old, time becomes more fuzzy) I bought some at the local Dragonflight convention in Bellevue, WA. They were for a game that never went anywhere, but produced an initial, albeit short lived, enthusiasm. It was a sort of tactical dice game where the style and color mattered in ranking dice value in opposing rolls—or so I dimly recall. The game wasn't much, but they made D6s and D10s for it. 

They had other styles of D6, which were cool and spacey looking, but hard to read—not a good thing when your opponent wants to see what you rolled, but only you can decipher it. ("All sixes, I swear, just trust me.")

I have 12 of one type (the easier to read ones) that I could use, but I discovered that after sitting in a dice bag in my garage for many years, they acquired some metal corruption. I'll try soaking them in white vinegar, which mat restore them. We'll see. They are actually pretty cool dice, but I'm not sure if they're available anymore. Also, the coloring wears off with use.

My new bullet dice, being brass, may be less susceptible to corrosion. They also won't be sitting in a dice bag in my garage.

I used the older metal dice in a few games of I-forget-what (maybe Bolt Action?). They made a loud clunk on the table. I eventually decided after the novelty wore off, that plastic dice were a better option. That's before I discovered bone dice and acquired several vintage sets of bakelite dice. I love the bakelite.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Requiescat in Pace, Mi Amice

Dave Schueler, my friend of nearly 30 years, died in the late afternoon on New Year's Day. I've been struggling to process his death in the days since and I'm not reconciled to it. Although his death wasn't unexpected, it still came as a shock. He'd been diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer two years ago. For the first year of treatment, it felt like he might have many years remaining with ongoing treatment. The 10-year survivability rate for stage 4 prostate cancer is about 80%. There was reason to hope. This last year, things seemed to become more complicated and the cancer developed more aggressively. He went into the hospital on December 7 and remained there until the end. I only managed to visit him once, earlier on the day he died. By that time, he was on a morphine drip and not responsive. I stayed for about two hours to say my goodbye and tell him how much his friendship meant to me. I hope that somehow he was able to hear me. That evening I got the notice that he was gone.

In the days since, I've been brooding and revisiting all the things that marked his life and my friendship with him. I've been fortunate to have enjoyed a lifelong hobby with a tight group of excellent people. Among us Dave stood out.

He was gifted at scenario making and rules revising. He inspired my own attempts at revising rules and I owe much to his example. He was also a fully-fledged, published game designer. His credits at BoardgameGeek show 13 items. Two of those are for the games U-Boat Leader (2011) and Gato Leader (2016), which he designed for Dan Verssen Games. Both game designs were inspired by his US Navy service as a submariner. Dave also edited and contributed to the Harpoon Naval Review over several years.

Dave had a special love for naval and air games. Although he wound up serving below the seas, he wanted to be a military pilot, but his poor eyesight kept him from serving in that capacity. He did have some satisfaction that his younger brother became a helicopter pilot in the US Marine Corps. In addition to the two sub games, Dave modified the Avalon Hill WW2 air game Mustangs for use in the early jet era (MIG Alley Ace) and the later jet era (Phantoms). Among our group, we had a respectable collection of 1/300th scale jets and enjoyed many hours of playing games set in the post-war world from Korea to the Falklands. In later years, he and Kevin Smyth devoted their air-gaming time to David Manley's AirWar: C21 rules, which progressed towards a lot of playtesting for Manley's at-that-time unpublished Airwar 1940 rules. Dave introduced us to David Manley's rules systems with the early version of Action Stations! and we've been Manley Men ever since.

Starting in 2002, Dave hosted DANG—Dave's Annual Naval Game—over the Christmas break. It went on with only two exceptions: 2020, when COVID ravaged the land, and 2022. 2021 was actually two mini-DANGs to keep the numbers smaller, but also accommodate all the people who wanted to attend. I didn't make all the games, but they were the highlight of every year. Dave would craft out a mini-campaign that we'd play in a day. He brought us to several eras and locales for naval warfare where we might not otherwise venture. He'd start planning after the middle of the year and send out options for us to vote on. When the day came, he and his wife Lynn would host us all with food and drink. We'd spend the day with Dave herding us cats into getting through each phase of the campaign and the naval actions that resulted.

DANGs were memorable events and the attendees always had a great time, win or lose. Our 2019 DANG photo shows a familiar cast of characters, many of whom have been DANGers from the start.

During the COVID pandemic, Dave provided an essential glue for our group. We lost the opportunity to meet indoors and game, so Dave came up with the solution to game under an awning on his front lawn.

We mostly played naval games—masked and (somewhat) socially distant—since they were the easiest to set up and least likely to blow away in the wind. Afterwards, we'd sitting around drinking beer and talking shop. As restricted as the pandemic made things, our afternoons on Dave's lawn made things feel as close to normal as possible. I think gaming on Dave's lawn drew us closer overall. It was perhaps the one good thing we can attribute to the pandemic.

I haven't counted how many games we played there. They weren't all naval. Dave hosted a What a Tanker! game that let him use his 15mm collection of British tanks for North Africa and Bill Stewart's Afrika Korps, as well as some Crusaders that I had.

That inspired me to finally complete some long-long-neglected British and Italian tanks I had for North Africa and I was able to run a game later myself. Memorably, it included a game of cat and mouse between Dave's A-9 and my CV33. I think we got our only land-based ram attack out of that encounter.

The tanks in question had been started for another collaboration project between Dave, Kevin, and me. We did a game of the Battle of Mechili in 1940 that used an adaptation to miniatures of the Advanced Tobruk board game rules. I played the board game with Dave several times when it first came out, as well as some of its variants. We playtested it ourselves and then ran it at our Enfilade! convention.

We also ran Kevin's Philippines game using The Men Who Would Be Kings rules.

Dave was an avid board gamer and we played several games over the years, though few in the last several. Along with Kevin and Dave Demick, we had a few "3DK days" where Kevin and we three Daves would get together and play board games or miniatures. 

Our last 3DK day was when we played my ancient naval rules on Dave's lawn in August, 2020.

We didn't return to lawn gaming in 2022. Dave planned on it, but as the pandemic waned, it was possible to move back inside. On what was to have been our first lawn game of the season, Dave, Kevin, and I played a Mexican War scenario in Dave's living room using the Rebels and Patriots rules. Dave played the Mexicans defending a redoubt while Kevin and I played the attacking Americans. Dave blogged about it on his Naval Gazing blog.

A few months later we played our last game. It was a refight of the 1866 Battle of Lissa. Dave, Kevin, and John Gee spent a great deal of time working on it, building and painting the 1/1200th scale ship models for it. Dave worked out a quicker-playing version of the rules that made it easier to adjudicate firing and ramming. The game turned out to be the last gathering with Dave of several D.A.N.G. stalwarts.

It was a glorious game and a battle I know Dave was eager to do for a long time—as I was. The day also saw a lot of sharing on new projects, show and tell of finished or almost-finished projects, etc. There was food, there was drink. It was much like DANG events have been.

The smoothness of the Lissa game highlights one of those huge contributions that Dave made. He was an excellent host of events. I'd rather play than run things, but Dave seemed to find his m├ętier in designing a scenario, streamlining rules to make them work for multiplayer games, and then putting it all on. All our collaborations in the past have been fruitful and enjoyable. I'll greatly miss his creativity and insight—not to mention, above all, his fellowship.

All our gaming wasn't done on Dave's lawn, however. Throughout 2021, Dave was able to get around and game at other places, such as Eric Donaldson's rec room where we played an ACW game and Dave got his command shot to pieces attacking Michael Koznarsky's impregnable position.

Since sometime in 2020, several of us have been meeting regularly every Saturday at 7:00 for a virtual get-together over Zoom where we paint and chat about projects and other things. Dave enjoyed those meetings and attended as many as he could until the progression of his cancer made it too difficult. It was in one of these meetings in November, 2021 that he put me onto the Boot Hill minis for the Texas Revolution. That's a project I was hoping he'd be able to participate in. Dave and I played a couple board games about the Texas revolution. I hoped he'd be around when we played it in miniature.

Despite his sickness, Dave had a lot of hope for the future. He was quite pleased to have finished two projects in 2022: A Norman Saga army and a Belgian brigade for 1914. The Belgians were minis I'd given him when we got involved in our 1914 craze. The Minerva armored car was given to him by John Gee. I'm really touched that he was able to paint them this year.

Sadly, he was never able to game with them, but he hoped to. Some of the deepest melancholy I feel with his passing is that we won't have those opportunities to play. Among my activities for processing his death, I've been looking through old blog posts and email threads. It's poignant to see that he was planning for the Enfilade! 2024 convention. His last Enfilade! convention was in 2019, where he, Kevin, and I ran our Retreat from Concord game. We spent a lot of time collaborating on the scenario with playtests and additions to the Rebels and Patriots rules. I think it was one of the best games we ever put on. Even though he wasn't able to attend, Dave did contribute to developing and playtesting in Kevin's garage our Battle for Hue game scenario that Kevin and I ran at a game day event in Chehalis, WA and at our ersatz Enfilade! in September, 2021. He had a guiding hand in things even where he wasn't fully involved.

I realize that I can go on and on about a friendship that has touched four decades. Funnily, I don't recall the first time we met. He became part of our group in the early/mid-90s and it felt like he had always been there. I will miss him deeply, but I think he'll always still be there when we get together. In our games, our Zoom 'n' Paint meetings, and in every interaction among us, his friends, his memory will infuse the moment. I am grateful to have been his friend. I think that's the best way to honor him. Not in sorrow and regret, however powerful those emotions are, but in gratitude for all that his friendship brought.

Another friend mentioned in a Facebook post that Dave had the best laugh. He did. I've been hearing that laugh ring pleasantly in my mind these past days. It helps to lift me out of my melancholy.

Rest in peace, Dave.

Monday, December 12, 2022

2022: A Space Rampancy

Kind of like the Lion Rampant v2 release, the Xenos Rampant release took me by surprise. That's a good thing. I recall lamenting for a year that The Pikeman's Lament wasn't released yet. I hate waiting. I think I might have had some inkling about the XR rules being forthcoming a while back, but I didn't pay much attention. Then just last week I saw a post on FB by a friend of mine saying he'd received his copy of the rules. I immediately reached out to a well-known, somewhat large-ish online retailer of books (and many, many other things) and in two days, I had my copy too.

So the Rampant world has spaced out and gone to infinity and beyond! That's one  small step for rules, one giant leap for rampancy. When we last went rampant, black powder was still all the rage (itself a move up from javelins, arrows, and slingstones). Now we're looking at sci-fi high-tech weaponry and all that. The monolith has appeared, a new evolution is triggered.

Xenos Rampant is a nice hardback book coming in at 192 pages, most of which is intro, unit profiles, scenarios, and appendices (which are actually more of a QRS). The core rules run from page 44 to page 72. 

Rules overview

As expected from any Rampant product, the base mechanics are quickly grasped due to their similarity to other Rampant rules. However, there are exceptions that stand out with Xenos Rampant that makes it come into its own.

Unit sizes

The basic unit size is 5 strength points for all but Militia Rabble, which is 10. Strength points (SPs) essentially equate to number of figures, but single- and reduced-model units are possible. A vehicle, for example, is a single model with 5 SPs. Elite Infantry are 5 SPs, but the  unit can be two or three figures because it represents some pretty serious power-armored troopers. This is a big departure from previous rampancy where most units are 12 figures and some 6. Rebels and Patriots introduced the ability to increase a unit's size from 6 to 12 or 12 to 18 figures, or decrease it from 12 to 6. 

XR units can only increase, although some unit types can't be more than 5 SPs. At +2 points, the Increased Squad Size option not only gives you more figures/targets, but also increases your unit's performance. For example, the Light Infantry unit type with 5 SPs has an Attack Value of 6, Defence Value of 5+, and a Shooting Value of 6/18". If you pay the points to increase it to 10 SPs, the values become 5+, 4+, and 5+/18". The points cost isn't too dear when you consider that a base Light Infantry unit cost only 1 point, the options (and xeno rules) that start driving up the cost.

Options galore

In earlier Rampant rules, the base cost of a unit was typically 6, 4, or 2 points. Any options for the unit added to that, but there were usually only a few options. Units in XR can be more customized, which is in fact what you're doing with any unit you build. For example, Heavy Infantry has a base cost of only 2 points, but has a wide variety of options to alter the base profile.

Xeno rules (pages 74-93) provide even more customizations that can apply to any unit type. They're similar to the fantastical rules in Dragon Rampant. In fact, they're very similar; mostly the names have changed and instead of magic, the effects are made by technology (or alien wizardry).

Free actions

Taking a note from The Men Who Would Be Kings, Xenos Rampant allows some units to take certain actions for free, i.e., no activation roll required. In most cases, these actions are either move or shoot; however, Elite Infantry have both free attack and shoot actions. Kevin Smyth and I have discussed adding free actions to Rebels and Patriots, so it's encouraging to see it here. There are other nuances to XR that can be retrofitted to earlier Rampant rules.


The Firefight special rule (intrinsic to most units, so no cost to add) allows certain unit types to attempt simultaneous shooting at the first opposing unit to target them (i.e., once per turn at most). The rule means that you don't just have to grimace and take it when being shot at—unless you're being shot at by a lot of units. This rule, too, is something that could be retrofitted to Rebels and Patriots or even The Pikeman's Lament.

To maximum effective range and beyond!

In keeping with the big techno-shift in XR, most unit types can fire to infinity (or to the edge of the table, whichever is encountered first). A unit's Shooting Value is for a given range, typically 12", 18", or 24". Any unit types with a given range greater than 12" can target units beyond their range, but with a penalty of +1 to the target unit's armor value. This is similar to the long range effect in other Rampant rules. However, in the earlier rules you could never target a unit beyond your max range. In XR, there's effectively no max range. It's just effective range and beyond.

Environment agnosticism

I can't say that I'm an expert on sci-fi game rules, but all of them that I know of are written for a fictional environment and all unit types conform to that world. It often felt to me that the environment got in the way of the rules. I'd rather create my own fictional narrative rather than conform to another. I want rules that just let my sci-fi dudes shoot each other and the game is won or lost by tactics, guile, or dumb luck. Also, the environments often gave particular skills or technology to one faction/race/species to the chagrin or detriment of others. Playing in some games, I was often reminded of the chase in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where they couldn't believe the Pinkerton's ability to keep on their track.

It does begin to get on your nerves when someone you seem to shoot to bits just shakes it all (or most of it) off because, well, technology—technology that your faction lacks (dammit).

The unit capabilities, special rules, options, and xeno rules in Xenos Rampant rules apply to everyone. That doesn't mean every game is a fair fight—or the forces well matched—but you get to select the abilities you want as long as you pay for them. There's no scenario where some uber-tech faction can take more hits than you, or shoot farther, or unleash more truly hellish hell on you because they're just better than you according to the game environment.

You saw me standing alone

Xenos Rampant is my return to a gaming genre I've only ever dipped my feet into, but have always had a fascination for. I played Silent Death in the 90s and after selling off all my stuff, returned to it again (with a much smaller footprint) in 2013, but haven't played in nearly a decade since—though I still have all my round 2 toys. In 2015 I started playing Beyond the Gates of Antares and buying the hideously expensive minis for it. I enjoyed that for a while, but later sold it all at our regional gaming convention for I'm pretty sure less than I paid for it.

Ever since I first saw them, I've been crushing on the Blue Moon 28mm Aliens and Spacemen figures that are available through Old Glory Miniatures, despite never knowing what I would do with the minis if I bought them. They're not cheap, running $44.00 for a pack of 10 figures—though still much less expensive than BTGOA minis. However, because I'm a member in good standing of the Old Glory Army, I can buy the packs for $26.40. I must note, however, that historical minis from Old Glory come 30 figures in a bag for the same price. Why are sci-fi minis more expensive? I guess, because they can be and gamers will still buy them. 

Anyway, I ordered enough Blue Moon minis to make 2 x 5 SP Elite Infantry units, 2 x 10 SP Heavy Infantry units, and 2 x 5 SP Recon Infantry units. I'm pretty sure that after building out the units with options and xeno rules, I will have too many minis.

Final thoughts

I'm pretty excited by Xenos Rampant. Richard Cowen has done a great job adapting a game engine intended for Medieval warfare to a futuristic, hi-tech warfare scene. I finally have reason to buy the Blue Moon spacemen I've been wanting. I think they're a great evolution of the Rampant system. They can also be used for WW2 or really any 20th c. gaming. It's yet another project on my overfilled plate, but I think they'll paint quickly. It's kind of the attitude I had that launched me into 1914.