Sunday, March 3, 2024

One-hour Skirmish Wargames: Papa's got a brand new bag

Encased within my freakishly thick skull is a monkey brain sans pareil. It's inevitable that however well focused I may be on anything, everything else seems to crowd in as the monkey brain dances and plays until it latches onto something solid. Enter One Hour Skirmish Wargameset voilĂ , papa's got a brand new bag.

The rules were written by John Lambshead back in 2018, but I only encountered them on Saturday, Feb 24 at our Drumbeat game day in Tacoma. Phil Williams ran a four-player game at the event using his French and Indian War minis. (That's Scott Appleby in the pic. For some reason, Phil's image does not reproduce on any media.)

Eric Donaldson played in a few games and was taken by the rules and sung their praises fulsomely. In the following week, there was much email exchanged about the rules and the potential for them. I bought a copy of the rules for Kindle (as well as a yet-to-arrive hard copy) and read them through. They're simple, elegant, and fun. There's a lot of room for homebrew modifications, plus a good fan group on Facebook. They are, according to the categorization I outlined some time ago, true(ish) skirmish rules. The slight exception is that the force checks morale as a whole and there is almost never a situation where less than the whole force checks. (The exception is armored vehicles, which check every time they suffer a penetrating hit to see if the crew bails out.)

Like Tribal, they're totally diceless. Everything is driven by a standard deck of playing cards.

My mind turned and turned, as it will through no effort of my own, and I imagined a lot of dead or moribund projects that I could restore to vibrant life for these rules. The investment in figures for a single force is roughly 12-15.

I prevailed on Eric for a game and he eagerly obliged by setting up a Napoleonic skirmish using figures that he'd had hidden in darkness for more than 20 years. Our latent skirmish enthusiasms with Saga, Tribal, and now One Hour Skirmish Wargames have brought a lot of forgotten figures into the light.

The game was a simple learning experience set up where Eric ran a British force and I ran a French force. We set up on opposite sides of a 3x3 board and had at it.

The game flows smoothly. Our only glitch was with the turn-end mechanism. The rules stipulate that a turn ends immediately when either player draws a joker during game play. We played it that, in a ddition to other turn-end activities, we reshuffle the decks whenever that happens. We kept getting jokers pop up just a few cards into play. Finally, we pulled one joker out of each deck and things went more smoothly. I've since learned that the author's intention is that decks are only reshuffled when all the cards have been drawn. That's consistent with Tribal and Pig Wars, which use standard card decks.

In general, it drives me crazy to plop figures on their sides to indicate hits/losses. 1HSW does this whenever a figure is hit by shooting. When a turn ends, players check morale for their force and then go through checking every downed figure. On a black card, they're back in the fight; on red, they're gone ("red is dead!"). In the end, it wasn't a big thing to drop the figured on their side and felt sort of natural. The rules do note, however, that a suitable marler is also an option.

The rules are consciously uncomplicated. There's area terrain like trees, scrub, rocky places, etc. and linear terrain, like walls, hedges, ditches, streams, etc. Terrain gives cover for shooting, but not for hand-to-hand combat. Simple shooting is just a comparison of drawn cards; if the shooter's card is higher, the figure is down, but not dead—yet. If the target is in cover, the targeted player draws extra cards depending on the type of cover and uses the highest card in his defense. Similarly, if the shooter has extra skill or a weapon that can shoot promiscuously (think automatic weapon), he may draw multiple cards for his shot, keeping just the highest. Eric's two riflemen were the only skilled shooters.

Being in the open was generally not a good idea. Shooting can be nasty. Drawing extra cards for combat is an interesting dynamic. It's very different from a simpler +1, +2, etc. to the value of the card drawn. It's adds a whole different level of calculation. In out first game, I had several figures behind a stone wall, which provided heavy cover (+2 cards). Eric's skilled riflemen drew two cards, so my ability to draw three cards and keep the highest made shooting at them, even with skilled rifles, a bit more difficult.

If I shoot at something several times and it doesn't go down, I'm likely to fix bayonet and go in for close combat. It was kind of that way in our games. I had three grenadiers with the Brawler (1) ability, that gives me an extra card in hand-to-hand combat. When you attack someone hand-to-hand, you already draw two cards to the defender's one. The third card made the grenadiers pretty formidable close in. In the first game, I kept them together and managed to cut a swathe with them.

Now, we kind of maybe did things wrong with hand-to-hand. Let me backtrack a bit. At the beginning of his phase, a player draws a card and its value is the number of actions he can can do. Most actions cost 1 point and figures can combine actions like move and shoot (1 point to move, 1 point to shoot). A figure pays extra points for multiple moves. For example, it can make a second move for 3 points and a third move for 5. Whatever you do with the figure, the rules clearly stipulate that when a figure shoots, all actions for it end. It doesn't say the same for hand-to-hand, so we figured that if a player had the points, he could keep going after a successful combat: Charge in for 1 point, fight hand-to-hand (no cost), if he wins, go on to another figure within move distance and fight for 3 points (second move), then on to another figure for 5 points (third move). For an expenditure of 9 points, a single figure could rampage through another player's troops taking out three times its number. Being a grenadier helps with that and I had a couple fun moments of rampage.

In subsequent chats on the Facebook group, we learned that the author's intention was that hand-to-hand also ends a figure's actions. Valde erat Rambo, sed non licitum. However, it's a nice thing to keep in mind for a special skill, like Rampager (x), where (x) is the number of hand-to-hand combats the figure can extend past the first.

We managed to play two games in under three hours, which time takes in a lot of pre-game, inter-game, and post-game chatting. While not timed precisely, each game took about an hour. The title is not a lie.

I'm considering projects now for this as well as looking at what I have on hand. For the latter, what comes most to mind is sci-fi. All my Xenos Rampant figures are on single bases and would make for a cracker-jack 1HSW game. I can also count among my painted figures the 40mm ACW that I inherited from Phil Bardsley. We played a few games of Smooth & Rifled with them (12 years ago!). There aren't a lot, but more than enough to make opposing sides for 1HSW.

I have a lot of ECW, especially the excellent Bloody Miniatures range, that can be made into 1HSW armies. ECW is one of those periods I deeply love, but there's not a huge enthusiasm for it in Western WA. I have enough painted for a The Pikeman's Lament army, several in some stage of being painted or painted but not yet based, then the great mass of figures that are still raw lead. I just keep acquiring them. Making 1HSW armies from my vast pool of figures won't put a dent in the number of available figures I have for a project. ECW is likely my next move with 1HSW. I just ordered some 3D printed buildings that would be perfect for an ECW skirmish battlefield.

I inherited a lot of painted Wild West cavalry and Indians from Dave Schueler, which would make for a good game. I could probably build two opposing forces for my Flint and Feather Indians and Dutchmen. I have many more that I can paint—or finish, since there's a lot more that I started a few years ago.

There's my warlord Chinese from Copplestone Castings and the two FT-17s that I bought from a company that's been out of business for decades. As I contemplate the contents of my Garage of Wonder, the possibilities are endless.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Taking flight: 1,000,000 years B.T. (before the Tribaling)

On November 18th, we held our annual game day at the Boeing Museum of Flight. I don't recall how long we've been doing this, but Kevin Smyth has been running it for years. I think the initial contact with museum staff was done by Dave Schueler. We gather in the Great Gallery around the Lockheed M-21 (which we always incorrectly call an SR-71). For the past several years, we've been sharing the space with a plastic modeling group.

I ran a Tribal game using my just fully completed BoJack cavemen. I got the figures from North Star in the UK on Sept 2 and a small number of Lucid Eye figures in a couple orders to Badger Games. I just finished 90 figures (75 North Star, 16 Lucid Eye), 3 mammoths, 2 cave lions, and 1 cave bear. I've also painted a lot of terrain pieces and a handful of loot markers. I still have 5 cave women to paint and I need to get three more loot tokens done, but the caveman project pretty much a wrap—unless I decide to buy/paint more figures so I can do a six-player game.

The cavemen got into their first combat in early October in a Tribal game between Eric Donaldson and me. 

I only had enough minis painted to create two warbands and we used skills, which I avoid in multiplayer games involving people who are new to the game. Skills add a great dimension to the games and gives players the ability to customize their warbands a bit.

It was nice to host a four-player game the day after I finished the last of the new terrain pieces and the same day that I put the tufts on the bases for the last 11 minis. I don't imagine that I'll ever really have a game that doesn't wind up with me making or painting something for it the same morning that I play it.

I used one of my 6x4 Tablewar mats and made a more open space than in previous Tribal games.

I modified the standard Tribal shooting rules to limit the range of missile fire to 3 long card lengths (10 1/2 inches). It seems like a needed change for multiplayer games on a larger table. I want to eliminate the ability of players to make a long diagonal shot from one end of the table to the other because they just happen to get the right line-up of a clear line of sight. The idea of unlimited shooting makes sense if you're playing a 1:1 game on a 3x3 mat with a lot of blocking terrain. Otherwise you get the long, long javelin throw or you have to cram the table with too much terrain just to ensure that you've limited every possible line of sight.

I was pretty happy with what I laid out and shooting didn't dominate the game.

The scenario was that two tribal groups, each divided into two bands, are competing for mammoth meat. There were three mammoth models on the table and the tribes had to either herd the animals off a part of their table edge or kill the mammoth on table and stand guard over its carcass until the end of the game to get 5 points. There were also some "goodies" tokens spread around that could yield points or a prehistoric predator in the form of a cave lion or cave bear. All other honor points were awarded per standard Tribal rules.

The players were Bruce Meyer, Gary Griess, Chris Bauermeister, and someone we all called Devon (likely because that was his name), all new players. It's fun explaining the card interactions for combat to new players. At first, it sounds like the rules for Fizzbin.

However, people pick it up quickly and in no time they know the ins and outs better than I do.

The trick with herding the mammoths is that they move away as you approach them. To herd them back to your side, you need to get around them—or hope that the other side obliges by chasing them your way.

The latter is how the game started, with Chris and Devon moving two of the mammoths towards Bruce and Gary's side. All they had to do was step aside and let the mammoths go towards their board edge.

The "goodies" tokens yielded mostly goodies. I made the scenario so that when a player's unit came within 2 long card lengths of a token, they'd draw a card from their deck. If it was a black card, they got goodies. If it was a red card, it was a cave bear for face cards and cave lions for the others. Once revealed, the predator attacked the triggering unit. Ultimately, only one cave lion made an appearance.

The two sides didn't clash much until a few turns into the game.

Gary, whom the mammoths passed by, expended his energies attacking Chris' cavemen. Chris was still fending off the cave tiger he'd found (or who's found him).

There was only one man v. mammoth battle. Bruce, with some help from Gary, managed to heard two mammoths towards their table edge. The third mammoth seems to be running for its life towards one of the table edges—which wouldn't provide points for either side. Devon ran a lone hero to it from behind and managed to get into a fight with the behemoth.

Nothing much came of it. Mammoths can take eight wounds before they succumb to being a cave man's dinner. Devon inflicted a few wounds, but his hero suffered a few as well.

After Bruce and Gary herded their two mammoths off the table, we counted up points. Gary and Bruce won, but not by a lot. Getting 10 points for the mammoths helped, but Chris managed to score a number of points from winning near-bloodless combats with Gary that repeated over and over. The honor points from those wins boosted his team's honor points to a respectable level.

Tribal has become my go-to game. Eric Donaldson has also become an enthusiast and has bought figures for 16th c. Portuguese in the Amazon as well as some Tupi for them to fight. While no one else is painting troops specifically for Tribal, there are plenty of ready-made warbands using existing Saga armies as well as various other bits. Kevin Smyth and I have our early Native Americans—which been we've been using with the Song of Drums and Tomahawks rules— that we can make respectable Tribal warbands from. We also have our collections (mine, modest; his, expansive) of Aztecs, Conquistadors, and Tlaxcalans that we painted for our Lion Rampant variant Queztalcoatl Rampant.


I wanted to play in another game for the second period, but after schlepping everything out to my car and back again, I was sweaty and wanted to get in my car with the AC on full blast. I also wanted to get to the vigil Mass at 5:00 pm, so I could sit around the house and do stuff all day on Sunday. I decided to give the second period a miss and scampered for home just after 1:00 pm.

I wound up ignoring GPS's recommendation to go via the east side (I-405) and took the straight route through Seattle. It was slower going, but it gave me the chance to stop off at the Pacific Inn for the planet's best fish and chips and a cold Manny's Pale Ale.

The PI is a treasure, but every time I go there my heart sinks as I see the gentrification going on all around it. It used to blend in perfectly with a section of the Fremont district in Seattle that was an old light industrial / working class neighborhood that had grown just delightfully shy of urban blight. I used to work around the corner from it in a consulting firm in what used to be a bookstore in what used to be a warehouse. My coworkers and I would go to the PI for fries and beer after work or I'd stop in for lunch a few days a month.

Just across Stone Way and up half a block is where three great used bookstores used to be: Sea Ocean Book Berth, B. Brown and Associates, and Seattle Book Center. I have several treasured volumes purchased from them and fond memories of leisurely browsing their stacks. Seattle Book Center was my favorite. They had a great stock that included a lot of rare books.

All gone now. As of 2019, the stores were boarded up and defaced by graffiti.

Now there's some kind of soulless, multi-storey, mixed-use abomination rising in their place. Buildings of that ilk are taking over most of Stone Way now.

And they just had to cut down all the trees that were on the street in front. Why are trees always sacrificed in the pursuit of urban renewal? I've been referring to my hometown as "formerly-bucolic" Lynnwood for a while now. I'm starting to think "Lynnphalt" will be more appropriate as they continue to cut down trees and pave the place over.

A part of me wants the PI to last forever and another part wants it to go quickly and painlessly, put to sleep like a beloved pet to spare it further agony. Its place knows it no more and it will soon be considered an eyesore. I imagine that in no time at all, its graffiti-covered ruin will sit abandoned waiting for the wrecking ball. It breaks my heart. 

After lunch, I drove up Stone Way a few blocks to Eltana Bagels. It's the only place to get bagels in the Puget Sound area. Being full from lunch, I didn't nosh one there, but I ordered a dozen—poppy seed, the only kind to eat—and took them home. I froze 2/3 of them and put the rest in a plastic bag for the fridge. Toasted in the morning with butter, schmeer, and lox is the best.

There's not much else in Seattle that draws me down—other than the occasional take out from Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon—but I enjoy these exceptional excursions, melancholy and all.

Projects ho!

With the cavemen project effectively done, I'm going to pivot to getting my Japanese and Korean navies painted for the Imjin War. I started cleaning a few models earlier and have some bases cut out for them. I expect they'll go very quickly once I start in earnest. I'm already well begun.

After that (or maybe in conjunction with it), I'll get to my Copplestone Castings Botocudo for Tribal. Eric recently completed his 16th c. Portuguese and was contemplating getting some Tupi from Eureka Miniatures in Australia. The Botocudo will be my contribution to that project.

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Goings on

Apart from playing Tribal, I've been busy with some other gaming activities that I didn't have to contribute anything to other than my dice rolling. We've managed to play a couple games in the last two weeks that I'd like to highlight:

Game 1: We men, we Manley men

Eric Donaldson was eager to get some pre-dreadnought gaming in using David Manley's Broadside and Salvo quick-play naval rules. He built two fleets in 1:2400 scale and we arranged a four-player game with them at Wizard's Keep in Kent, WA. (Actually, he has more than two fleets, we just used two in the game.)

John Gee came down all the way from Bellingham and Mark Waddington came up all the way from wherever he comes up from (somewhere east of Olympia, I think). Not too much a trek for me, but closer for Kevin Smyth and Eric.

John and I played the French, Kevin and Mark were the Germans. Eric ran the game. The scenario was a attempted German breakthrough to get to a French landing zone in Morocco. They got points for getting ships off the opposite side of the table from them. We got points for preventing them. The ships started on opposite ends and swirled around each other in the middle a bit before the Germans made a run to the table edge—and victory.

We're Manley men here in Western WA, and have been since Dave Schueler first introduced us to, I think, Narrow Seas back in the 90s. David Manley's rules have much to recommend them and always provide a fun time. The Broadside and Salvo rules are no exception. They dispense with a lot of detail in order to get a fast-moving game with larger fleets. We played a slightly more simplified version than the rules. We didn't need to use ship cards, etc. Damage is at four levels: Hit, damaged, wrecked, sunk. We marked all of those states with little markers that Eric made—well, the first three; the last state was simply marked by removing the ship model. Shooting is a simple opposed die roll (D10) using the shooter's fire factor and the target's armor. One ship can assist in a shooting action, but after that no other ship can target a ship that's already been targeted.

The Germans won big according to the scenario victory conditions, but I must note that we sank two of their battleships and damaged another two, with only two of our battleships being damaged.

If I didn't have so many project irons in the fire, I'd be inclined to paint some 1:2400 ships for this era. As it is, I look forward to others like Eric and Kevin putting on games.

This is the second game day I've been to at Wizard's Keep. It's a really nice venue and Ralph Holloway does a great job running things. The next game day is December 9. I might have to plan something...

Game 2: In the Zona

Since shortly after the start of The Great Plague™, our group has been meeting on Saturday nights over Zoom. We sit and paint and chat for an hour or more so we can catch up on what everyone is doing, propose future projects and games. Those "Paint 'n' Zoom" sessions were the genesis of much mischief and have contributed to my growing pile of unpainted yet to be painted minis.

Michael Koznarsky was always working on figures and terrain for Zona Alfa, a set of rules from Osprey that are based on the old Soviet-era novel Roadside Picnic by Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The premise of the book and rules is that there is a zone where aliens, called "Visitors," have stopped and discarded their trash, which amounts to rare artifacts that can be sold for high prices outside the Zone. "Stalkers" are the people adventurous (or foolish) enough to attempt collecting all that good alien swag.

After he talked up the rules (I bought a copy) long enough, I suggested that he host a game for us, which he did at Dworek Koznarsky in charming Steilacoom, WA on Saturday.

The game plays like a cross between a standard skirmish game and D&D. It's cooperative in that all the players are on the same side and tasked with the same mission. Michael was the GM, Kevin, Eric, and I were the stalkers, with each of us running two characters.

Michael's game room has a beautiful view of the South Sound, featuring Ketron Island, where a hijacked Horizon Air propjet crashed in 2018. Although beautiful, the semi-cloudy day made for a bit of glare that affects the pics below.

The actual rules are simple. The challenge of the game comes from emerging threats that are introduced by the GM as well as those triggered by getting too near to hot spots where danger lurks, but necessary because that's where the swag resides.

We managed to get the main objective, rescuing "The Professor" (alas no Mary Ann), as well as getting a lot of alien goodies and running up our kill rate against zombies, bandits, mutants, swarms, and other loathsome creatures that came at us. It was a fun time. I look forward to future adventures in the zone.


I have a few things coming up worth noting. 


This coming Saturday is our annual game day at the Boeing Museum of Flight in Seattle. I'll be running a four-player game of Tribal using my (at this point) almost completed horde of Bobby Jackson and Lucid Eye cavemen. I'll also bring out my newly painted paleolithic predators and prey: three mammoths, two cave lions, and a cave bear.

At the Height of Battle

With the caveman project soon to be done, I'll pivot over to painting 1:1200 scale ships for the Imjin War. I'm using the models from MT Miniatures. Dean Motoyama ran a game of this a few years back at one of the game days at the Veterans Museum in Chehalis. It's been a project on my radar ever since. I ordered the started kit with rules and ships along with several packs of ships to expand the fleets. My goal is to have two forces with three squadrons each. 

The rules for the project are At the Height of Battle by the aforementioned Mr. Manley. Simple and elegant, they were fun to play an promise more fun to come. I expect the models to paint up quickly using speed paints as much as possible. I've already cleaned a few ships and cut out bases for them. I'm using uncharacteristic constraint to keep from doing more with them while I'm trying to finish the last of the cave men by Saturday.


I'm planning on playing hooky on the 29th of this month in order to play in Kevin Smyth's game of Camerone down in Tacoma. Kevin has been a fan of playing the battle for as long as I've known him (30+ years).  He's played games of it before and is doing it again after painting more figures. 


My current work contract goes only to the end of this month. My manager wants to extend me, but she doesn't hold the purse strings. Still waiting to hear how that goes. If there's no extension, I'll be a free agent again, i.e., unemployed and looking for a job. That will also give me the opportunity to game on weekdays—but during December, that's iffy with everybody's holiday activities.