Friday, December 29, 2017

D.A.N.G. XVI (Struck at Sea)

Dave Schuler hosted the 16th running of Dave's Annual Naval Game on Thursday. Most of the usual suspects showed up and we had nine players.

The game for D.A.N.G. XVI was Seastrike, a 70s era "ultra modern" naval warfare game. The mechanics are much, much simpler than a game like Harpoon and we had a fast and furious game.

We divided into sides: Big Red and Great Blue. Red was Arthur Brooking, Dale Mikel, Scott Murphy, and Mark Waddington. Blue was Kevin Smyth, David Demick, Charlie Berlemann, George Kettler, and me.

Our forces were equal. Dave painted two fleets using 1/1800 scale ships from Shapeways. We spend a bit of time right off sorting out our squadrons and determining our missions. There was a potential of playing three scenarios. However, we wound up with just one battle royale.

Each side wound up dicing randomly to (1) clear the enemy from the central sector and (2) protect our home base. We put all of our major surface units into two squadrons, with our submarines and missile boats guarding the home base. Red pretty much split their forces into two even groups of two surface squadrons and one squadron of two subs. One group was in each of their home base sector and one went into the central sector to sweep us out.

At first, it looked like they were outnumbered and outgunned. Charlie had a squadron built around our one cruiser, while our second squadron was frigates of varying size and armament. We kinda felt the way the Spanish Armada did that summer day in 1588 when they appeared off Plymouth. Our orders were aggressive: seek the enemy, engage him, destroy him—in theory, at least.

Having never played Seastrike before, I wasn't sure what to expect. Combat is driven by a card deck and things get bloody very quickly.

Instruments of misfortune

The cards determine whether weapons systems work (for example, if SSM missiles lock onto a target ship) and what damage is done. Each card is divided into four quadrants with a central circle. Each quadrant contains damage for a specific type of weapon: guns, SSM, torpedoes, and ASW.  It's a bit more deterministic than dice rolling and as the deck decreases, the odds of what will come up keep changing.

We both deployed 1 foot onto the table, which gave about 6 feet separating us. Ranges go up to 16" for SSMs, so we had a bit of sailing to do before contact, although there wasn't much maneuvering. Shooting SSMs at each other is a far cry from gun captains aiming shots over iron sights or directing salvoes from high atop fire control towers.

Charlie's squadron sailing to death or glory

Neither side had much luck with its airstrikes.  Red crashed or aborted all of their take-offs on turn 1. We got four in the air, but lost two to CAP (the ones with Exocets), had another shot down by PD, and the fourth got through the defenses only to miss with its bomb.

Red managed to get a couple in the air on a subsequent turn, but this time our CAP took them down.

The surprise killer weapon of the game was submarines. We left ours guarding home base, but Red took two (and two decoys) into the central sector with them. They were able to deploy these well ahead of their squadrons. They were opposite where Charlie's squadron was advancing. We put up ASW helos to detect them, but they took the "quiet sub" option for them, so we failed to know they were there until we saw fish in the water.

Normally, resolving torpedo fire in a naval game is a complex affair involving calculations that take into account the distance between ships, the sea conditions, angle of deflection, speed of the target and firing ships, aspect, depth of hull for the target, time of day, curvature of the earth, time elapsed since the last grog ration, etc.

Okay, the first torpedo in the spread has missed. Let's calculate for the second...

Not in Seastrike. Mark, commanding the subs, managed to get off four torpedoes with his first salvoes and sunk (i.e., blowed up) two of Charlie's ships. A salvo of four torps intended for the cruiser was momentarily delayed by drawing a system failure card. But only for a turn.

Next turn, the other sub fired its torpedoes along with the first sub getting off its delayed salvo. By the end of turn three, Charlie's squadron was a wreck of burning debris on the water.

The sorrow and the pity

This now left our righthand squadron. Not shirking from duty and unafraid to put our ships in danger, we went ahead full speed at Red's lefthand squadron. I think I figured that (a) we'd only lose by turning about and cutting our losses and (b) We had more and bigger ships in our righthand squadron that Red had in their left. So, obviously we forge ahead. Of course, Red still had their untouched righthand squadron, but we thought it would take a few turns for them to get into the action and by then we might have wiped out the other squadron.

That's what we thought.

We did put a lot of hurt on Red's lefthand squadron, but they gave back nearly as good as they took. That squadron failed morale and had to withdraw, but at the same time so did we. I rolled a "10", which I've always had a talent to do in games where "10" is a very bad thing.

Carnage on the high seas

So ended the game. Neither side had sent ship's to attack the other's home base, so there wasn't another scenario to play.

As in most D.A.N.G. games, both sides play the mini campaign to get all of their forces against all of the enemy's forces. It winds up often being a big battle. It would have been interesting to see what would happen if, as Dave mused afterwards, we'd have been required to put squadron's in all three sectors. We would have played out three smaller battles and learned from all the mistakes we made playing out the first.

And there were mistakes—mostly made by Blue. If we knew what super-killers subs were, we'd have brought a couple, too. I think our squadrons were too big. We put everything into two big buckets and the ships just got in each other's way. We were each given four squadron commanders with quality/morale ratings of 8, 7, 7, and 6. We could make generic squadrons which would be quality/morale 6, but we pretty much opted to benefit from the higher rated commanders. More squadrons would have been more flexible and also would have given each player more to do. With five people in Blue and four in Red, we had nine players and five squadrons in play.

Seastrike was fun to play and we'll definitely need to get a non-D.A.N.G. game in some time in the coming year. It's a vintage game that's very hard to find now and very expensive if you do. Boardgame Geek has an interesting nostalgic review of it from 2007.

Thanks agains to Dave and Lynn for hosting. D.A.N.G. is always one of the significant events of the Christmas season.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

You say BO-coat, I say bo-CO-tay

'Tis the night before Christmas and my Christmas shopping is done. Whenever I'm spending money, I can't help spending a bit on myself. One of my presents to Dave this year was a new Wyrmwood Gaming dice vault made of bocote wood. I took advantage of one of their flash sales to get it much reduced from it's normal price. Bocote is normally a custom wood for any Wyrmwood product, so it was a great bargain at $60.00.

The dice vault arrived just a few days ago and it's splendid. But I am left with a bit of, not buyer's remorse, but buyer's perplexity. I think I was seduced by a good deal to buy something I don't really need. I'm sure that feeling will pass.

The dice vault isn't my first Wyrmwood product. Wyrmwood dice vaults came on the scene in 2013 as a kickstarter project. I didn't get one then, but I did get a dice tray made from beautiful bubinga wood. I blogged about it in October 2013.

It was $35.00 in 2013. The same item now is only available as a custom wood. You have to ask for a price quote. When you have to ask the price, it's never cheap. The dice tray in standard woods, the core 16, run from $75.00 to $285.00.

Subsequently, I did buy a dice vault in splendid spalted tamarind wood. I use it to store my beloved Viking bone dice, all 30 of 'em.

Don't let that capacity fool you. The bone dice are small and irregular. Their shape ranges from vaguely cuboid to roughly six-sided. I wouldn't rule out that some have five sides or seven. I love them all the more for their misshapeness. However, if playing in competitive games, some players may not appreciate crudely hand-carved instruments of fortune.

For normal dice, the capacity is less commodious.

In addition to being much less expensive back then, the dice vaults came in two sizes. I got the larger one, which is now the only size available. The upper and lower parts of the vault are held together by perfectly matched rare earth magnets.

So, being seduced by a good deal, I bought a new dice vault in Bocote. I have yet, however, to find a good purpose for it. I know, the obvious thing would be to store dice—but there's the rub. I play a lot of bucket o' dice game, like Lion Rampant. You need 12 dice in hand to fight or shoot in LR. Rolling fewer means you're in trouble. 12 normal dice won't fit in the vault.

This one does not go to 11—never mind 12
The dice vaults were designed to be used by troll-rollers who typically want a classic seven-piece Dungeons & Dragons set that runs D4, D6, D8, 2xD10, D12, D20. Pulling out a custom dice set from a hand-crafted exotic hardwood vault is about as gangsta as RPG gaming gets.

If we historical minis gamers want to get gangsta, we have to be a little more ersatz.

The dice tray and dice vault that I bought previously came unadorned, apart from the beautiful wood grains. For the last several years, Wyrmwood brands their products with their shield logo and company name.

I don't begrudge a company its right to brand its products, but I think it takes something away from the beauty of the piece. It interrupts the sensual pattern of the wood grain and makes the object less striking. I'm quite glad my first products are unbranded. The branding has set me back a bit when I've contemplated buying other Wyrmwood products like another dice tray.

Being branded isn't all fun.

Nevertheless, I'm contemplating a spalted tamarind dice tray sometime next year. They're not cheap at $175.00 (!), but I'm keeping my eye out for it to appear as a flash sale for much less.

Oh, and I can fit 24 smaller normal (i.e., truly cuboid) dice in the vault. I can get up to 26 of the 12mm Chessex dice in the vault.

On the other hand, the larger of my vintage bakelite dice (also truly cuboid), barely fit eight.

And it's a job trying to get the vault to close. It looks like a dice sandwich.

So, there it is. Look for a bocote dice vault to appear in my forthcoming adventures.

Or is it bo-co-TAY?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Centaur Rampant

Two years ago, when Dragon Rampant was released, I bought my copy of the rules with little intent to follow through with building a warband. I'd heard good things about them and wanted a copy just to have it. But then fate took a hand, sort of.

When I was growing up, I used to read a syndicated columnist in the San Jose Mercury News who would sometimes write a column that was just about interesting things he found while looking up something else. That kind of serendipity is always welcome. I think I know more as a result of the secondary results of research (i.e., discovering things I wasn't looking for) than I ever learned from the primary results—but that may just mean that I'm pathetic at actual research. With the Interwebs now an integral part of our lives, I'm finding all kinds of things that I didn't intend. Sometimes I find bad things—I'd use some clever word for the experience here, but Horace Walpole, who coined the word "serendipity," never provided its antonym (contraserendipity?)—but mostly not. One truly serendipitous thing I found was Shadowforge minis.

I was looking up something (I forget what) and found an image of sythyr (i.e., female satyr) figures from Shadowforge's 28mm fantasy range. I don't think I ever thought about satyrs having a distaff side. I thought satyrs went with nymphs, but I suppose baby satyrs have to come from somewhere.

Mother of satyrs

The minis looked interesting, so  I went to their site (Eureka, actually) and started browsing. The Shadowforge fantasy range is very cool and extensive. Part of the range included centaurs, and not merely centaurs, but lady centaurs. (All of the Shadowforge ranges comprise only female figures.) The lady centaurs are very nice figures. They remind me a bit of the centaurettes from Fantasia only, ya know, way deadlier.

Sure they're cute, buy give 'em bows, arrows, and swords then look out!

I was hooked and ordered three packs of three figures: Dionysian Centaur Archers #1Dionysian Centaur Archers #2, and Dionysian Centaur Archer Command. They arrove from Australia (whence Eureka/Shadowforge hail) after several weeks. Oz is a long way away and upside down to boot. But I wasn't disappointed. The figures are very nicely detailed and beautifully cast. There are six distict figures for the archers and three for the command, which includes a musician with a big curvy, horn-like thingummy reminiscent of something in a Dr. Seuss book, a standard bearer with an elaborate standard, and a leader who is rearing up brandishing her bow.

I started them right away, but then they got set aside for other projects (or just because I'm lazy like that). And so they sat glaring at me from a shelf over my painting table, censuring me for my infidelity at every brush-stroke given to their rivals.

They might have sat there longer. I even considered selling them or giving them away partially done to anyone who wanted them—not because I didn't want them myself; I just couldn't endure their unremitting obloquy and didn't have a reason to finish painting them other than that I thought the minis were cool.

And then this summer I got the Dragon Rampant bug. After our successful Lion Rampant game day in September, the cry went 'round to do it again with Dragon Rampant. So, we have an upcoming Dragon Rampant game day in January, which will allow 30-point warbands. That gives us a bit more points to work with for adding magicky stuff without reducing the number of units in the warband.

I started figuring a list for a warband built around my sadly neglected centaurs and I made a new order to Eureka/Shadowforge, which arrived sooner than I expected. Oz is still a long way away and upside down, but it's the jet age after all.

I mostly set aside other projects and knuckled down to get these figures painted. I played around with a few warband lists and finally came up with the following. It's 30 points for our upcoming game day. I'd have to make some hard decisions to get it down to 24.

Centauress swords - Gorgeous Ladies of Doom (G.L.O.D.)

Unit Name: Elite RidersPoints: 6
Attack5+Attack Value3+
Move7+Defence Value4+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement10"
Armor4Strength points6
Special rulesWild charge, counter charge

This unit provides the oomph in the strike ability of the warband. They're basically Lion Rampant mounted men at arms. I thought about spending points for some of the upgrades or magicky things that make them deadlier, harder to kill, or tamer, but decided to use the points for other units.

They're Shadowforge Dark Temple Swords figures. The Dionysian range has centaurs with spears, but they're a bit under-armored to pass as Elite Riders. They're not as frilly as the centaur archers, but I came to really like these figures as I painted them. They're festooned with skulls. If I had better painting skills I might have given them some wicked tattoos so they'd look like bad biker chicks, only with four legs and no bike. Even without the tats, they look pretty intimidating.

Centauress archers - Galloping firepower

Unit Name: Light RidersPoints: 4
Attack7+Attack Value5+
Move5+Defence Value6
Shoot6+Shoot Value5+/12"
Courage5+Max. Movement12"
Armor3Strength points6
Special rulesSkirmish, evade

I have two of these units in the warband. They provide mobile firepower and hopefully won't get caught on a failed evade and destroyed. Horse archers are pretty dicey. The unit type did well for me when I used Mike Garcia's borrowed Mongols in our Lion Rampant game day, so I have high hopes.

These minis are the original Shadowforge order, plus another three to give me 12 figures overall. I'm seriously tempted to add a third unit, but we'll see how these do. I'd have to redefine or remove something else to add a third unit.

Feminotaurs - Killer butterface on the hoof

Unit Name: Bellicose Foot Points: 6 (4 + 2)
Attack5+Attack Value3+
Move6+Defence Value6
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage4+Max. Movement8"
Armor3Strength points12
Special rulesRanger, wild charge, counter charge vs. foot, fleet-footed
  • Plus Terrifically shiny armour @ 2 pts. (ups the armor value from 2 to 3)

I'm a little wary of the wild foot kind of unit. They're pretty much fire-and-forget and, therefore, expendable. I like that their Ranger special rule allows them to pretty much ignore rough terrain. I don't like that their defence value is 6. They're all bad when on a rampage, but someone rampages on them and they go all wimpy. At least with the Terrifically Shiny Armour upgrade—even though the figures have, in fact, no armor at all—they'll be a bit more resilient in combat. 

I'm taking these as a reduced figure unit of six, but they're 12 strength points.

The figures are Dionysian lady minotaurs. They look pretty buff and have clubs, nasty sharp cutty-thrusty things, and scalloped shields. They also have bulls heads, so no matter how femacious the body, the butterface is a real downer.

Worst blind date ever

Spellcaster - Wibbly wobbly magicky wagicky stuff

Unit Name: Heavy Foot + SpellcasterPoints: 8 (4 + 4)
Attack6+Attack Value5+
Move5+Defence Value4+
Shoot-Shoot Value-
Courage3+Max. Movement6"
Armor3Strength points12
Special rulesFantastical rules (Spellcaster)

  • Plus Spellcaster @ 4 pts.

I had to have some kind of magic user in the warband because it makes no sense to me to play a fantasy game without something on the fantastical side—apart from centauresses, feminotaurs, and sythyrs, that is. Spellcasters have a bag o' tricks that makes them a pretty powerful unit, though pricey.

I took this as a single-figure unit of Heavy Foot. If I had another 2 points to spend, I'd have made it Elite Foot. However, to do that I'd have to give up something else, which I don't want to do. Also, I think 3 armour for 12 strength points and 4 armour for 6 strength points are kind of a wash. The only benefit for being Elite Foot, then, is the Ranger special rule, which requires rough terrain (preferably woods) to fight in.

The Dionysians in the Shadowforge fantasy range don't have any suitable figure to use as a Spellcaster, so I went from four legs to two and used a shaman figure from the Tribals in the fantasy range. It's clearly magic that gives her the 3 armour protection.

I had some other ideas for a figure as well. One option would be a character whom some call ...Tim?

This figure is from the Studio Miniatures Medieval Mayhem range, which comprises 28mm figures from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It was a Kickstarter some years back and the whole range is now available on their site (including the Trojan Rabbit, but, sadly, no Zoot/Dingo). You could actually make a pretty nice Dragon Rampant warband using just them. I'll add that to the idea file...

Adding Tim the Enchanter as my Spellcaster, however, puts a bit of uncharacteristic testosterone in the mix. So I have a third figure option which keeps out the Y chromosomes but still adds the Monty Python factor. She doesn't look like much; others dressed her up to look the part and the nose is false (even if she does have a wart). But appearances can be deceiving. She turned John Cleese into a newt (he got better) and, more importantly, she weighs the same as a duck and therefore... A WITCH!

Even if I don't use this figure, she's good to have. If I'm facing a river crossing, I can build a bridge out of her.

Sythyr Archers - Prancing, dancing firepower (sort of)

Unit Name: ScoutsPoints: 2
Attack7+Attack Value6
Move5+Defence Value6
Shoot7+Shoot Value5+/12"
Courage5+Max. Movement8"
Armor1Strength points6
Special rulesEvade, fleet-footed, skirmish, hard-to-kill

I could easily rationalize using these points instead to upgrade my Spellcaster to Elite Foot, but I kind of like the idea of a skirmish unit that can annoy and harass and run away into the woods. It pads the number of units in the warband and, if used well, can have an asymmetrical effect against better, costlier, opposing units. Also, if my Spellcaster is in situations that require brute strength, I'm using her wrong. It's just nice to have the 4 armour and Ranger special rule.

The figures for this unit are the Shadowforge Sythyr archers that I first found on the Interwebs two years ago. I actually got 12 figures in case I want to change the warband a bit and give myself a unit of Light Missiles in a different incarnation of the warband.

Tactics 'n' stuff

The warband is, hopefully, balanced between skirmishy/shooty types and a solid strike force, albeit a wild, undisciplined strike force.

The centauress archers are mounted yeomen with bows in Lion Rampant terms, i.e., horse archers. I like horse archers almost as much as I like slingers (or Lithuanian bat-dung hurlers). They have a nasty sting, even though they can only shoot 12", and their 12" move and skirmish ability make them hard to pin down and kill. But the fact that their 3 armour goes down to 1 if they fail an evade or get contacted while evading means that they can be very brittle. I imagine using these as fire support for the centauress swords, the Gorgeous Ladies of Doom.

The G.L.O.D. are basically mounted men/ladies at arms. I didn't want to spend the points to make them Level-headed and lose the Wild Charge special rule. That means that they may sally forth against my desires, especially problematic when their target is inopportune or in terrain that will mess me up. Just stay away from rough terrain.

The feminotaurs are another wild and powerful charging unit and the upgrade to Terrifically Shiny Armour gives me fewer qualms about crying havoc and letting slip the cow-headed ladies of war. I imagine either using these in conjunction with the centauress swords or separately, being supported by the prancing, dancing, arrow-shooting sythyrs. The latter combo would be great in rough terrain since both have Ranger and Fleet-footed special rules, and both are fast at 8".

The sythyrs themselves can be used as noted above supporting the feminotaurs or on their own harassing the enemy from rough terrain.

The spellcaster is a unique tactical problem. Do I keep it back to support my forward units with its magic? Do I keep it forward to use its magic to mess up the enemy? The Heavy Foot armor value makes it more suitable in the latter case. It's Powerbolt! spell is as a good a shot (4+/18") as Heavy Missiles (a.k.a. crossbows in Lion Rampant terms).

I've always favored aggressive tactics, sometimes (or often) to my own destruction. As a defensive force, the warband is pretty useless. The spellcaster is the slowest unit at 6", but with an 18" magic range, I don't expect to be moving her/him/her to any extent.

The test of battle will determine whether I made the right warband. Our game day is just 3 weeks away at this writing. I hope to get a game in before then, just to get the feel of it. But even if it turns out I made a huge mistake and the warband will never win (of course, that could be just me), I don't have time to paint new units.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Heavy metal in space and other thoughts

Heavy metal in space

We played another Beyond the Gates of Antares game at the Panzer Depot on Saturday. It was kind of ersatz. We played a straight-up Algoryns v. Concord fight for control of some buildings on a central hill. The game was a chance for me to use my new Algoryn hazard armor troops that I've had in the works since the summer (August maybe) but only just finished in time for the game (you could still smell the dullcote, which I applied at 10:00 a.m. that morning).

Troy Wold got called into work late Friday and worked through the night, so he begged off playing, which left just Mike Lombardi and I to play. Chris Craft came by and I drafted him into the Algoryn forces and entrusted to him the new hazard armor squads. Other potential players just stayed to kibbitz or observe.

I had an AI assault squad and an AI squad in the center with "General Zod" (i.e., Algoryn General Tar Es Janar) and two command squaddies in reserve and exerting his "10" command value to all networked squads. On the right I had some support weapons: a fearsome plasma cannon, mag light support, and X-launcher. All with three crew and spotter drones. My apparently unbrilliant idea was to use the AI assault squad to take and hold the buildings with an AI squad in reserve and them hold the flanks with the support weapons and hazard armor troops.

Kneel before Zod!
I had high hopes for the hazard armor troops to be a formidable force de frappe, but they were kinda "meh" in the game. The blame lies with my deployment. I thought that their "10" armor would make then near impervious in a firefight, but I confused myself into thinking that their low agility (a "3") would make them a liability if used in dense terrain, which is only true if I wanted them to run through the woods. I left them with Chris out in the open and he spent the game trading shots at long range with some of Mike's Concord drop squads hunkered down in the trees.

The respective armament of the opposing squads was the same (plasma carbines) except for the one plasma lance-armed figure in each Concord squad ("4" strike value). Chris got the worst of the exchange. His "10" resist was reduced to "8" after factoring the "2" strike value for the plasma carbines (or to "6" if hit by the plasma lance). Technically, he still had an advantage against the "7" resist of the Concord even with its +2 for being in the trees (net "7" resist).

Field of battle
Chris' first blast was using scatter fire with a "0" strike value. Lotsa hits, but no kills against a "9" resist value. Mike countered by killing two of the five figures in Chris' squad. By the end of the game, Chris was down to 2 figures in one unit and 3 in the other (which was also bedeviled by several pins, being the target of multiple Concord squads every turn).

Had I used the hazard squads in the buildings, the +2 resist to their already impressive "10" (net 12 resist) would have made them almost impossible to shoot out of the position and their distort-spinners make them really hard to beat in close combat—plus the Concord phase armor goes all wobbly within 10" range.

That's what I should've done. Instead, I decided to take/hold the buildings with the other squads.

Mike occupied the first building and I went right at him in close combat with my AI assault squad after not softening him up with the supporting AI squad. I barely managed to take the position after two rounds of combat and suffered more casualties than Mike, despite his net "4" resist after being in combat with troops armed with distort-spinners. My two figures that survived the fight wound up failing morale and adios-ing after occupying the building.

Concord interlopers about to be ejected
I move the AI squad into the building next turn and moved General Zod up into another building giving the me the 2 out of 3 building s occupied victory condition—if I could hold them. Mike took the third building, but couldn't budge me from the two I occupied by game's end. So, technically a victory, but we got really shot up and the Algoryn dead pile was 3x the Concord one.

Zod gloriously leading from behind
My fearsome plasma cannon was a dud. Despite drawing a series of several command cubes first in the first turn of the game, I held off shooting Mike's annoyingly deadly light support drones thinking that he would move in closer and I'd get a better shot. No. He shot me on the first command cube he drew, killing two of my crew (leaving one). My return shot at him was a miss. I had a net -3 on my accuracy (pinned, less than two crew, long range). I had to get a "2" to hit and, of course, missed and missed again on my re-roll (spotter drone). Next turn, he wiped it out.

Last gunner standing—for now...
My X-launcher, which I thought would help against targets in cover, really didn't do much. I hit on target just once. Once, the drift was close enough to do casualties. The other shots just went wild.

My mag light support was another disappointment. I moved into the trees, thinking I'd be safer there, but got blasted by the evil Concord light support drones. I suffered two hits. I thought I'd soak off one onto the weapon, losing it only on a roll of "10" and got a "10". My other saving roll passed, so I was left with three pistol-armed crew and no weapon. I ran 'em into a building, but got shot up then destroyed in close combat by a Concord squad. (That was the one building that Mike took.)

We don't play BTGOA regularly enough to get good at it. There's a group that plays pretty regularly on Thursday night, which generally doesn't work for me. I'm already committed to activities on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday evenings—sometimes Wednesday—so a night to hang out at home with the cats is too much to give up—even for a chance to play BTGOA.

Other thoughts: iMac iN distress

Through a frustrating concatenation of events, I need a new drive for my iMac. My wireless keyboard died on Friday. It's a few years old, so maybe its time had come, but maybe the water that Bogart spilled on the desk had something to do with it. There was a puddle under the left edge of the keyboard. (Note to self: Don't leave unattended glasses of water on the desk—or anywhere!) In any case, I went to the Apple Store Friday eve to buy a new wireless keyboard ($99.00) and wireless magic mouse ($79.00). These are both second gen and use a rechargeable battery that's recharged through a USB-C cable (Thunderbolt 3).

The only glitch was that I needed to upgrade to OSX 10.12.6 (Sierra) to use the new wireless devices. Actually, I just needed OSX 10.11 and I had 10.10.5 installed. (Really, Apple, why couldn't they be backward compatible to 10.10.x?). So for a 0.0.5 difference in OS versions, I ran the installer for Sierra. But. I got an error saying that the hard drive had S.M.A.R.T. errors that were irreparable and that I (a) couldn't install the OS on the drive and (b) should make haste to replace the drive.


So I can't use the new wireless devices. The old keyboard is ganz kaput, the old wireless mouse is limping along (it keeps disconnecting and I have to blow on it—really—to get it connected again), but I can use the new keyboard if it's connected by the Thunderbolt 3 cable. That's something.

I figure it will take $300.00 to $400.00 to replace the drive, which isn't in the budget this month. But I bought a year of Carbonite so I could back up in the cloud. After 48+ hours, I'm only 58% backed up, so it could be days before I have a complete backup. However, I think that having my drive set up to sleep after 1 hour of inactivity has affected the backup speed. It's now set to never sleep and I think it's going faster.

Where the disk errors came from is anyone's guess. The Mac sits on a desk in my den, i.e., Bogart's lair. He jumps up and down to/from a high shelf unit in stages floor to desk to bookcase to top of shelf unit and reverse to get down.

King of the high ground
The jump down from bookcase to desk is 3' and he lands with a whump! I keep the Mac running most of the time, so it's possible that every whump! is a potential shaking of the drive arm. But maybe not. Irreparable errors on a hard drive that prevent installation of an OS upgrade seems pretty hairy. I'm also aware that warning lights often appear when there is nothing to be warned about—except in this case, I can't ignore it because I can't upgrade my OS.

The plan is to replace the internal hard drive with a solid state drive. I'll also get a solid state 1TB external drive to use as a quicker backup. Apple has one for $90.00 that is Time Machine compatible. I've had physical back-up devices before, but they just failed after a while. Hopefully solid state device will prove more reliable.

However, I was surprised to note that my iMac is 5+ years old now. I blogged about getting it in July 2012. Time flies. My previous iMac was 5 years old when I replaced it with this one. Maybe I should just trust on limping along with the current quasi-functioning situation for a few more months and buying a new iMac in the spring. Or not. With a new solid state drive, I can probably get a few more years out of it.

More other thoughts: Getting more bronzer

After our Bronze Age skirmish game in November, I contacted Steve Mussared of Graven Images about getting more of the 40mm minis, which only he provides, though it's backstock; I don't think he's casting anything. I got another 30 figures from him, including 2 mounted (which have never been available in retail) and nine slingers (joy!). I was hoping for more bowmen, though...

I learned from Mike on Saturday that Troy had also contacted Steve and bought a pile of his stock—probably before I got to it. I think I just got the leavings.

Troy did say that he didn't get any standard bearers, though. He may have stolen a march on me this time, but I had him beat by 4 years on the standard bearers. Hopefully, this will mean more Bronze Age games in the coming year. I hadn't played with these guys for quite a while before November. I'll have to get at the unpainted lead ASAP.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Year of Living Rampantly

The year isn't over yet, but looking back at this point, it's clearly been the Year of Living Rampantly. I tend to be pretty eclectic in my gaming, but 2017 (and going back into 2016) has been predominantly devoted to playing—and painting minis for—the various flavors and variants of Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant rules.

That this should be so is a testament to the enjoyability and versatility of the system. Lion Rampant offers players tactical choices and challenges that don't require arcane rules, but instead focus on the excitement of the game. That may be a complimentary way to say that they abstract a lot of detail, but abstraction is crucial to any playable system. Many miniatures rules forget this and we soon forget them. (Who plays Empire anymore? Or, sadly, WRG Ancients.)

With Lion Rampant, you're free to focus on building retinues, terrain, and scenarios. The system is simple enough to accommodate tweaks and additions without breaking anything—though some regression testing is required (I, for example, can break anything). The retinue lists are pretty free-form, allowing you to try multiple combinations of unit types to build the retinue that best matches your style of play. In Lion Rampant and Dragon Rampant, you can't have more that 12 points or four units of the same type (whichever is less). On the other hand, The Pikeman's Lament doesn't have that restriction. You could, for example, create a 24-point company that consisted of three units of veteran Forlorn Hope at 8 points each. You're only limited to one regimental gun per company and you have to have between 3 and 10 units. Within those rather broad confines, you're free to create whatever force your research or imagination takes you.

Because units require few figures (all units are 6 or 12 figures), you can easily build well beyond a 24-point retinue and provide many more options. My eventually-to-be-completed El Cid Spanish have a pretty full compliment of units, really enough for 2+ retinues, so I can have a lot of variety.

It's rare that a set of rules comes along that strikes a chord with so many players. It's rare, too, that a system opens itself to so many variants that keep the simplicity of the rules and yet express the character of the variant period covered.

The "Rampant" family of rules fall into what I've described elsewhere as "false skirmish" rules. That's not a pejorative, but a means of comparison with what I call "true skirmish" rules in which each figure moves, shoots, fights, runs away, etc. as a single entity. Even though the "Rampant" rules use a 1:1 figure scale, the way they work doesn't really require that scale. The basic maneuver element (that thing that moves, shoots, fights, runs away, etc.) is a multi-figure unit.

It's pretty easy to "bathtub" larger battles with the "Rampant" rules. A unit that ostensibly represents 6 or 12 men, could stand in for a troop, squadron, company, or regiment.

Lion Rampant (LR)

I first played Lion Rampant right after it was released in 2014. Kevin Smyth was eager to get right to it and give 'em a try with his massive collection of 100 Years War figures. Kevin, Dave Schueler, and I played a game at Meeples Games in West Seattle. We played subsequent games at other venues and I was pretty much hooked, but I didn't have painted figures for a retinue.

First game and I'm already facing death by arrows

Back in 2000, Kevin and I were hot to trot about the 100 Years War using a Late Medieval variant I wrote for Todd Kershner's Pig Wars, which which Todd has added into the Pig Wars 4th edition that's available as a PDF from Wargame Vault. The precursor to that project was buying a lot of Old Glory 28mm Medieval minis. I had a lot of them still unpainted when Lion Rampant came on the scene 14 years later (who could've predicted that?). They're still unpainted three years later.

I almost nearly triumphed in a Lion Rampant tournament last year—except that I didn't attend because I didn't finish painting my retinue (the aforementioned Spanish) because of Grendel's sickness and death. I'd blame him out of habit, but de mortuis nihil nisi bonum and all that. The retinue had been going along pretty well with the handy Miracle Dip method. It never got started again, however, and I played in a Lion Rampant game day this summer with a borrowed retinue.

Chasing away the oiks

Note to self: Finish the freaking' Spanish!

Postscript to note to self: Then get on with the 100 Years War figures!

The Pikeman's Lament (TPL)

These rules came out in January this year. They're a collaboration with Michael Leck of the excellent Dalauppror blog. I'd been waiting eagerly—OK, impatiently—for them since their publication was announced a year earlier. Reading several posts on Michael's blog about them, kept whetting my desire. I think I'd rather be surprised by the serendipitous release of a rules set than to endure a year of anticipation, but once they were in my hot little hands, I wasn't disappointed.

I wrote my review of them earlier this year. I include a link to a nifty Quick Reference Sheet in PDF (8.5 x 11").

I played my first game of TPL at our Drumbeat game day in February. I even had figures painted for it! (Although most of the figures in the game were Bill Stewart's, freshly rebased to the 3-2-1 system.)

Pikemen cross the bridge of doom (Bills minis)

I've been a sucker for pike 'n' shot gaming since the 1970s when I played SPI's Musket & Pike, WRG's War Games Rules Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Century (1490-1660), and Bill Protz' Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War.

My first project for these rules was to be English Civil War and I have a pile of Renegade (who appear to be on haitus again until 2018) and Bicorne minis for the era--enough to make multiple companies for Roundheads, Royalists, and Scots. However, the ECW got sidetracked by The Irish Project, which is going so well that I may run out of minis to paint for it. It's interesting that the only two projects for which I've painted (or will potentially paint) every single figure involve Jim Bowen figures. The other project is my prehistoricalistic Europeanoids (more of these are en route to me as I type this, so I'll have unpainted minis soon).

Irish pike ca. 1600
English pikes (better commissary)

Dragon Rampant (DR)

I bought my copy of Dragon Rampant as soon as it came out in 2015. I'm not really a fantasy gamer, but I couldn't resist. I have more to say about these (and my project with them) in an upcoming blog post. It's coming soon-ish, but don't hold your breath. I can be suddenly and unexpectedly lackadaisical about posting.

This variant primarily adds magical/fantastical options that change the complexion of the game without being overwhelming. Basically, you can add dragons, were-beasts, unicorns, leprechauns—whatever—to your game. This makes for gaming scenarios that come from the vast realm of fantasy fiction, like Robert E. Howard's world of Conan the Barbarian, etc. I have FGU's venerable rules Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (another blast from the 70s, but still available as a PDF.). Dragon Rampant addresses the battles of that world better, I think, than RAOTHA—at least they play faster and require fewer minis and Thugra Khotan can still do nasty magic things to hapless Khorajan noble cavalry.

I haven't played Dragon Rampant yet, but I have started a warband for it...

WIP: Centauress archers (NSFW)
WIP: Heavy centauresses

The fact that I'm painting a warband is really a testament to the system because in 40+ years of miniature gaming, this is the first time I've ever painted fantasy minis. No orcs, goblins, mages, elves, etc. at any point before this. It's kind of an earth-shattering event. My only other foray outside of historical minis has been sci-fi (Silent Death and Beyond the Gates of Antares), which also shattered the earth at the time.

I'm working on a post for this and the warband has come along pretty well so far. I have hopes of completing it by the end of Thanksgiving weekend—but I just picked up a Reaper hydra to use as a Great Warbeast, so my timetable may be extended.

We've got a Dragon Rampant game day scheduled for January. I'll be a bit gobsmacked if I actually have minis to play a game completed well before the event rather than setting them up on the table still reeking of dullcote.


The Rampant year actually started last year when Kevin Smyth and I collaborated on a variant of Lion Rampant for Cortes' conquest of Mexico (Quetzalcoatl Rampant). We played several playtests leading up to hosting two games of it at our local Enfilade! convention in May.

Rodeleros emerge from the corn
Men in feathers are no match for us!
Dog & pony show - Mexico 1518

Chariots Rampant is a variant for the Bronze Age. I'd given some thought to making a variant for this, but Pat Lowinger (from 'round these parts) published a version in Issue 80 of Wargames, Soldiers & Strategy (WSS).

The (for now) silver spearmen

Soon to be one of Pharaoh's mighty chariots

Also appearing in an issue of WSS (Issue 82) is a variant created by Nathan Ward for the Punic Wars called Eagle Rampant in Sicily. It's focused on the First Punic War in Sicily, but could be adapted to the second or third wars also. This is a promising variant and will give me something to do with the piles of Crusader Carthaginians and Spanish that I collected in an abortive attempt to do Fields of Glory in 28mm scale.

I also have to mention my first variant to these rules, Crepusculum Imperii, covering the Late Roman period. I have, alas, sold my 3rd c. Romans rather than rebase them (I hate rebasing). However, I've got an eye for revisiting the period. I don't know if anyone is actually playing them, but they get a lot of hits on my blog. Also, Nathan Ward gave them a shout-out in his WSS article:

Honorable mention: The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK)
I give these rules honorable mention because they're not strictly a variant of Lion Rampant, but they are written by Dan Mersey and have many "Rampant" tendencies to them. I've played TMWWBK only once at our game day at Ft. Steilacoom. Kevin Smyth ran a game of "America Rampant" that was a what-if of Spanish and American forces clashing along the Mississippi ca. 1800-ish.

About to be overrun

These rules may be perfect for rescuing my pile of still-unpainted-after-all-these-years Dixon American Civil War figures from undeserved neglect. I bought a lot of these minis back in the 90s with the intention to play I don't recall what. (Truly I don't. I blame age or feline-induced feeble-mindedness.) I think maybe I just liked the figures and thought that something would come together once they were finished. As if.

I talked up using TMWWBK for ACW with Kevin at the game day and the idea met with approbation. Though much more focused than I, Kevin's interest in this project may get sidetracked for something shinier. (Note the comparative adjective "shinier." In my case, I can get sidetracked by anything of equal, or even lesser, lustre. Such is the working of my lizard brain: "Oh look! A shinier  shiny  thing.") In any case, even if I manage some discipline, ACW will be a project I won't start until after our Enfilade! convention is over in May. I'm making admirable progress on The Irish Project and have some smaller "Rampant" projects in the works that consist only of 24-point forces. Points-wise, The Irish Project will require about 4 to 5 24-point TPL companies' worth of minis.


Lion Rampant and its spawn have had a revolutionary impact on the hobby, IMO. They've opened up niche periods of gaming that a lot of people eschewed before that. For example, Medieval gaming never had much popularity in my neck of the woods (Kevin notwithstanding) until Lion Rampant. I would never have imagined doing Cortes in Mexico if I didn't have Lion Rampant as a system to create a variant from.

I've done a lot of painting for "Rampant" projects so far and I have a lot of painting yet to do. So many possibilities for new retinues...

I expect that my rampant living will continue throughout 2018. I don't see myself starting any new projects (stop laughing) in the near future—other than the possibilities aforementioned.

I wonder if I can get Sigourney Weaver to play?