Friday, April 24, 2015

Pike and Shot: The Video Game

While breakfasting with my friend Rick at BJ's Brewhouse in Redmond, WA a Saturday or so back, he alerted me to a new video game for IOS (and PC) called Pike and Shot produced by Slitherine Ltd. in the UK, the same people who brought us the miniatures rules Field of Glory: Renaissance, as well as the Field of Glory ancients miniatures rules (and the video game also for IOS, PC, Android, and Mac). What could I do? I went to the App Store and bought it for $19.95.

I'm instantly hooked. I've mentioned before, I think, that the pike and shot era was one of my first loves as a wargamer. Even though I've always been an indifferent video gamer, Pike and Shot is fun and beautiful. The game is turn-based/alternate move, you playing against the AI. There is also a PBEM server you can use to play against friends. There are five difficulty levels. The default is level 2, but even at that, the AI is kicking my hiney.

The graphics are fairly nice, though not stunning. On the iPad, you can use the standard IOS pinch/spread finger resize to zoom in and out of detail. You can also maneuver around to get different perspectives, so you can see your troops from every angle. Getting around the action is pretty easy after a bit of practice (or with no practice at all if you were born after 1990 and video gaming is like breathing).

The tercios advance
The options for play cover most the pike & shot era from the Italian Wars at the end of the 15th c. to the English Civil War. There are historical scenarios and skirmish games. The skirmish games typically provide options for buying variable troop types.

Swedes vs. the Empire 30 Years War
There are a few tutorial games to get you into the play. These are heavy on providing tips about play and explaining everything going on. For later play, there is an option to minimize the amount of messaging on screen.

ECW Royalists
The skirmish games give you a lot of variety for play. You can choose the type of action (defense, attack, open battle, waiting reinforcements, flank attack), the terrain type, size of action, width of battlefield, etc.

30 Years War
You can also alternate to map view, which give you an overhead perspective. It's a lot easier to keep track of the whole scope of the battle in map view (IMO).

Dutch vs. Imperialists Map View
You can alter the speed of the play. So far, my games last about 30 minutes to an hour. The bigger historical scenarios can be quite involved. Each unit has to be moved separately. There's a unit roster that you can toggle to view so you can more easily keep track of which units have moved or fired.

Let's see, I think I'll move my gend'armes...
Dutch vs. Imperialists Battle View
One of the things that irks me is that the AI always chooses the superior force or better position. For some reason, I always seem to be outnumbered, outgunned, and attacking an entrenched enemy. My armies seem to lose heart too easily (or I just stink at this).

Well, darn.
I think, however, that I can choose either side, so I might revisit some of my past defeats to see if the odds really are stacked one way or the other, or to see if it's me. Some scenarios you expect to be losing causes. I played the Biccoca scenario. I recall the battle narrative well from Oman's The Art of War in the Sixteenth Century. The Swiss mercenaries, "inspired by blind pugnacity and self-confidence" (in Oman's words), charge an impregnable position and get their butts handed to them.

Biccoca: The Swiss Attack
Only in the game, you're able as the French player to bring up your reserves to support the Swiss, something the French commanders failed to do historically. In the game the Swiss are on autopilot; you can only command the non-Swiss forces. I managed to cause some trouble on the Imperial flank with my gend'armes and stradiots, but not much—and certainly not enough to offset the slaughter of the Swiss at the entrenchments.

The system includes one add-on (so far) called Tercio to Salvo, which covers the period from the end of the Italian Wars to the start of the Thirty Years War. It costs $9.95. I've played the Battle of Dreux scenario from it. It's another one of those where my side (the Huguenots) were man-for-man a bit better than their opponents (but just a bit); however, they were outnumbered considerably.

The French Catholics had a lot of raw pike and shot, but a couple ringers in blocks of elite Swiss pikemen. My average pike and shot could deal pretty well with their raw opponents, but I had to gang up 3:1 on the Swiss to no avail. I'm looking forward to (a) getting better so I don't constantly lose, or (b) finding scenarios where the numbers and entrenchments are on my side.

Overall, Pike and Shot is a good game. I'm looking forward to more modules, such as late 17th century (Dutch War, Scanian War, Nine Years War).

Saturday, April 18, 2015

To Infinity and Beyond (the Gates of Antares)!

I have a soft spot for Sci-Fi gaming, though I don't know why. I've never played Warhammer 40K, nor had an interest in doing so (although I kind of like the figures and the flame-throwing gattling gun fully-automatic self-propelled chainsaw of doom kind of weapons they use). I have been a big fan of Silent Death and painted a huge amount of models, sold them off, and then restarted painting another collection after a hiatus of several years.

When Warlord Games came out with Beyond the Gates of Antares (BTGA) last year, I wasn't sure what to think of it. I saw a lot of hoopla about the system, but for the longest time there was no product of any kind. Eventually, you could start buying a few blister packs here and there. Last October, they released a beta copy of the rules as a PDF download.

John Kennedy has played a few games of BTGA at The Panzer Depot and gives it rave reviews. He thinks that it has a lot of features that Bolt Action should have. As a dealer, John got a few sample packs of the figures. I was happy to see that they're quite nice.

Typically, I haven't really liked the figures that come from Warlord. Their resin and metal AFVs for Bolt Action are great, but the 28mm minis have never gotten me excited. They seem small compared to other 28mm ranges. I admit I like a chunkier figure (perhaps being well-fed myself, I have a natural affinity) and Warlord lack chunk. I'm also strongly averse to plastic figures (just say NO, people!) and Warlord seems to be moving plasticwards.

The sample figures that John had grabbed me right off. They have chunk (or heft, they're often the same) and they're metal—glorious, glorious metal.

In the last few months, retail figures have been available and John carries them at the shop. I browsed them a few weeks ago, but balked at buying because of the price tag. A box set containing a squad of five figures runs $32.00 USD—that $6.40 a figure!

Just today, however, I stopped by the store and bit. I picked up a box of the Algoryn Armored Infantry (AI). The box contains a single blister and five round plastic bases. You also get a command die for the squad. (The command dice are the same used for Bolt Action.)

A whole lotta package
I wonder whether less packaging, no dice, and no plastic bases would lower the price a bit. I have buckets of command dice from playing Bolt Action and I won't use the plastic bases. Probably not. Some items, like command packs, come as three figures in a blister only with no dice or bases. The price point per figure is the same.

The good news is that squads are five figures and an army is only about three or four squads. In fact, you can get starter sets with two squads, a command group, and two heavy weapons groups for just over $100.00. In short, you don't need a lot of figures at $6.40 to make a game.

I'm sitting down this afternoon to clean and prep the figures. They come with separate heads, but are otherwise easy on assembly. I'll likely mount them on metal washers 1" round. I'm not sure yet what color scheme I'll use for them. Maybe something metallic...