Monday, March 21, 2016

Goin' Old School

I had a chance over the last few weekends to get back to my roots and do some old-school gaming. I generally enjoy some of the rules that have come out in the last decade or so, but there's a feel to the old-school games that stirs something within me that a lot of the current crop just doesn't. Although, to be fair, some of the more recent rules rely heavily on mechanisms from the venerable days of wargaming's infancy. Pioneers like Don Featherstone laid a foundation that keeps being built upon.

The memorable aspect of wargaming from my early years in the hobby, an aspect I still admire, is that there was a subtlety that came from complexity. No one who's lived through doing a reaction test in WRG ancients will forget the painstaking list of modifiers. Some recall them with dread and horror, but I always liked that the rules tried to take into account all the circumstances that might affect a reaction. In current rules, checking reaction (or morale) is often a fairly straight-up die roll. It's a sad event to have a unit rout off the board because you happened to roll a "6" and your morale is a 7+ even though you appear to be on the cusp of victory, are surrounded by friendly units in good order, and the enemy is routing before you.

So, here's to a couple old-school games that still have the magic.

Game 1: Ironclads

The first old-school game was Yaquinto's The Ironclads, which we've adapted for 1/600th scale miniatures. Back in the day, we used to play a lot of Ironclads. Kevin Smyth got me into it nearly 25 years ago, which even back then was almost 20 years after the boardgame was published.

We started back then with an adaptation to the 1/1200th scale Lyzard's Grin ships and briefly tried to keep things on a hex grid. When Toby Barrett's 1/600th line of Thoroughbred Figures ships came out in the early 90s, we went after them with abandon and forsook (eventually selling off) our 1/1200th ships.

Ironclads was still the rules we used, we just converted movement and range from hexes to inches and I made up some turning circles using dear, old Aldus FreeHand (R.I.P.). We played Ironclads in 1/600th for years. It was a popular event at conventions and there was a point where Kevin and I probably knew the whole complex chart of hit determination, allocation, and effect by heart (not surprising, since we ran the charts for all the players).

A few other temptations came along, like Smoke on the Water and Iron and Fire, but we always came back to Ironclads. More recently, we got all excited about Sail & Steam Navies from Bay Area Yards. Sail & Steam Navies has a lot going for it, with a few glitches. I printed and laminated many, many full color ship cards at great expense and we played several games, but after a while the itch for Ironclads comes back.

Kevin had the great idea to host an Ironclads game at our upcoming Enfilade! convention in May. The scenario Kevin came up with is a hypothetical Confederate attack on Pensacola, a kind of reverse Mobile Bay. The Confederates have a handful of later ironclads, including the British- and French-built ships that never made it into Confederate hands, as well as some wooden gunboats.

Kevin worked out an ingenious method for handling all the many, many guns of the fort. Using Ironclads' standard shooting, the time spent working out the fire of each single gun would be an enormous time-suck. Instead, with a few die rolls, we got a reasonable result that well simulated the effect of "racking," the slow, steady loosening of armor due to repeated hits with large-bore solid shot.

We played a trial game at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA to test Kevin's theories. The game had Dave Schueler and I running the Confederates and Kevin running the fort. Because it was a trial of the fort rules, we left out the possible Union naval units that would help the fort. I ran the CSS North Carolina, the CSS Nashville, and the CSS Stonewall, all ironclads. Dave ran the ironclads CSS Tuscaloosa and CSS Tennessee II along with three wooden gunboats.

We managed to tear great chunks out of the fort and even took out several guns (with only left them with lots and lots more). Our ironclads fared well getting a lot of armor damage ("racking") from the fort, and occasionally a critical hit, but nothing serious. The wooden boats got knocked silly and Dave withdrew them from the fight before they became flotsam.

In addition to streamlining the fort's gunfire, we did away with pre-plotting movement. There always seems to be players piling their ships into each other (unintentionally). It's always fun, of course, but a bit awkward and slows down play as you have to adjudicate the mayhem.

For a better description and a few pics, go to Kevin's write-up on his blog: A good Day to Travel to Pensacola.

Game 2: WRG Renaissance

There was a time when these were the hot, cool rules on the block. I had a copy, circa 1976, of George Gush's first edition Renaissance rules (the "yellow" rules, if you recall them, though they were also published in a green cover similar to the 2nd edition), which I quite liked at a time when I was very invested in wargaming the Renaissance. In 1979, I went to the UK and managed to snag a copy of the just-released 2nd edition "green book," formally know as War Games Rules For Fifteenth to Seventeenth Centuries (1420-1700). I also got a copy of the newly reprinted edition of C.W. Oman's A History of the Art of War in the Sixteen Century. I had an imperialist army made up of Ral Partha figures and played as often as I could, until I went off to school in Canada...

After that, there was a brief revival when I was back in San Jose before more school in Chicago. Rick Martinez and I were involved in playing late 17th. c. with these rules, though I think that they sort of fell flat with regard to pike and shot combos, especially for that period when the pikes were just 20% of the unit. Since then, I managed to get in one game with Kevin Smyth, Wes Rogers, and Chris Craft, using Kevin's 100 Years War figures and my dining table.

Playing a game of Deus Vult with Mike Lombardi, Troy Wold, and Wes a few weeks back, Wes and I reminisced about WRG Renaissance rules and we decided to try a game. So this last Saturday, we met at The Panzer Depot and had a small, simple game using Wes' English Civil War figures.

I played the Parlimentary foote with another player (visiting from Austin, TX) playing the Parlimentary horse. Wes played a combined force of Royalist foote and horse, while Rick Ferens played another command of Royalist horse.

We deployed all our horse, three units, against Rick while I took on the Royalist center with my foote and held another foote regiment back to hold against Wes' horse.

Our horse wound up victorious against Rick and started the process of rolling up the Royalist foote from the flank. My foote in the center was pressing hard and with Wes' foote starting to get rolled up, would soon take the center. My lone foote unit managed to hold off Wes' cavalry after bouncing a determined attack lead by Prince Rupert himself. By then, the Royalists threw in the towel.

It felt pretty good to get back into the rhythms of WRG Renaissance. I have a lot of Old Glory Wars of Religion figures that I've been wondering what to do with. I may have an answer...

Other goings on
After our Ironclads game, Kevin, Dave, and I went to visit Mox Boarding House in Bellevue. This is an expansion of Cafe Mox in Ballard (i.e., Seattle, but Ballardites still resist the incorporation that happened 100 years ago). It's much, much bigger space for gaming and dining.

We looked around a bit, every chair and table seemed to be occupied. Parking was tricky; we had to park in the "customers only" spaces at an auto repair business that was fortunately closed for the day. We had lunch, which was nice, but a different menu and beer list than Cafe Mox. Between the two, I like the menu and beer at Cafe Mox better. (You can compare menus at the Mox link above.) We played Timeline: Historical Events, which Kevin picked up at the store, while we played. Fun game, but among the three of us, history geeks par excellence, the events were too easy to line up in chronological order.

While still at The Panzer Depot, Kevin and I rumaged through the discounted remains of John's Aztecs and Tlaxcalans from The Assault Group. Kevin put the idea in my head last year about adopting the Lion Rampant skirmish rules for Mexico ca. 1520. I started a blog post with some proposed unit profiles and a few special rules, which I will post eventually. In the meantime, I've been painting Spanish conquistadors, some Tlaxcalan allies of the Spanish, and just starting some Aztecs. I've also put in an order to The Assault Group for more Spanish; I need some caballeros, war-dogs, gunners, and more rodeleros.

We're also looking at doing Aztecs and conquistadors for the recently released En Garde rules from Osprey. These rules are an adaptation of the earlier Ronin rules that sets the games in Europe ca. 16th-18th centuries, with some expansion in non-Europeans like Aztecs.

Currently we're set for a go at them in late April at Meeples Games in West Seattle. We'll try out En Garde using whatever figures I manage to paint as well as having a go with Kevin's 40mm scale Three Musketeers figures.