Sunday, July 7, 2019

Mortal Gods - First Blood (πρώτο αίμα)

I played my first game of Mortal Gods on Saturday. I watched/kibitzed one game and then played in a second. The figures used were Bill Stewart's Gorgon Studios Spartans and Mike Lombardy's plastic Warlord Games Greeks. The first game went slowly as we were learning the rules, the second game went quicker. In both games we did stuff wrong, which we only realized later. By the 20th game or so, we'll have it mastered—except for the stuff we forget.

The game game engine for Mortal Gods is the same one used for the earlier Samurai-themed game Test of Honour. I haven't played Test of Honour, so the system is new to me. It's very straightforward and has a nice amount of nuance to distinguish various types of warriors without adding a lot of fiddlyness.

The basing is unique. Mortal Gods is a skirmish game, but relies on multi-figure trays that differentiate between hoplites and other warrior types (like peltasts and various flavors of psiloi). Hoplites can form three 3-figure bases to form a phalanx, which has benefits (and weaknesses) for combat.

The hoplite was the standard warrior type in Ancient Greece; every man who could afford the panoply was required to equip himself and muster when the city went to war. The po' folk also mustered, but may be equipped with nothing more than a rock and a smile (or grimace, this being war and all). A balanced force—called a lochos (λόχος) in the game—will contain a core of hoplites and a smattering of light missile troops with slings, bows, and javelins.

The majority of a lochos's points will be spent buying hoplites of varying quality. Hoplites vary mostly in how they're armored, but the degree of armor affects movement and defense. Some types of hoplites have better morale (Spartans) and experienced hoplites have advantages in combat, defense, and morale. You pay in points for what you get. A 3-figure stand of veteran hoplites cost 45 points, compared to a 3-figure stand of unarmored hoplites (called peripoloi, which literally means "around (peri) the city (polis)" but in context something like "patrol" or "watchmen," they being less experienced—and less armored—hoplites in training), which cost a mere 27 points. The latter move fast (8") and are cheap, but have very little to go with when defending.

The biggest single expenditure of points will be for your lochigos (λοχαγός), or commander of the small force. The title is pretty much equal to a centurion in Roman terms. Lochagoi are also differentiated by armor—which affect movement and defense—but otherwise share the same abilities. I learned from positive and negative experience in our games that a lochagos is a good thing to have.

The values for the warriors are shown on roster cards along with any special rules for the type.

When you build your lochos, you have one roster card for each stand or individual figure. You'll mark damage and activation on the card using the damage dice and activation tokens. Keeping track of which card belongs to which stand can be tricky when everything gets moved about in the scrum.

Other chrome to the game are omen, gift, and injury cards that can apply to warriors. Omen cards are are drawn whenever a red activation token is drawn. (There are three red tokens, a turn ends when the third token is drawn.) Omens can be good or bad. They can apply to one's own lochos, a single warrior or group, or all warriors, or specific types of warriors, on both sides. Omens typically apply only to the turn when they're drawn. Gift cards can be bought for points when building your lochos. The confer some advantage to a specific warrior or hero in your lochos. Injury cards are used when, by rights, your lochogos should be dead, but is only mostly dead and manages to survive with an injury instead. Although, not every injury card lets you live.

Not only dead, but ongoingly so—and for the rest of the game
I almost nearly killed Eric Donaldson's lochagos, but he survived with a non-head injury instead.

I'm pretty impressed with Mortal Gods. It's an enjoyable game system that also gives a good feel for the historical nature of the fighting. Phalanxes are a good defensive formation, but are vulnerable to their flanks and rear. Light troops are annoying, but can be chased off by light hoplites/peripoloi.

The game also gives me something to do—finally—with all the Wargames Foundry Greeks that I've had sitting around for nearly 20 years. I bought piles of them around 2000 or so when Kevin Smyth and I were working on a project for gaming the Peloponnesian War. I started some, but most of them have been sitting in a box in my garage gathering a heavy layer of dust.

I have more than enough to build two or even three lochoi. I just got in the mail a supply of Little Big Men Studios shield transfers. I have a lot of AWI to work on in the next few weeks (game coming up and I gotta have units completed for it), but I'll start working on these soon.

I'm getting inspired to re-read Victor Davis Hanson's The Western Way of War and go browsing through the five volumes of W. Kendrick Prichett's The Greek State at War, among other books I have on Greek warfare. At one time, I was digging pretty deeply into the subject. Gaming Mortal Gods will inspire me to get back to it.

Postscript: Errata et corrigenda (σφάλματα και διορθώσεις)

Per Bill's comment, I've corrected my statements above about which figures were used. We spoke during the game of which figure makers' figure were used. It all went over (or through) my head, apparently. To quote Casca from Julius Caesar, "those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me."

Among the other things we muffed during our first play, the ability of a leader to give their actions to another unit is more limited than how we played it. My attack-attack-attack-attack against Eric's lochagos was impossible. It turns out he would have been less nearly almost dead than I'd hoped.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Another one bites the dust

I stopped by the Safeway store at 196th and 99 in Lynnwood last week. On my way out, I noticed that something about nearby Galaxy Hobby looked odd. On closer inspection, my fears were confirmed: They had gone out of business. I've posted before about the demise of the hobby shop. Galaxy's end is just another sad chapter in that ongoing story.

Galaxy opened for business back in 1995 as a local hobby shop. For quite a while it was a going concern. They never carried miniatures, but they were a go-to place for me for other types of supplies: glue, paint, scenic material, and hobby tools. There was also a lot of nostalgia to it as I looked over the model selection and saw all the old Tamiya, Airfix, Italeri, Monogram, etc. kits that I knew so well as a boy. I haven't built a 1/35th scale plastic model since the 1970s, but I built many growing up and treasure the memories.

As I've opined previously, the newer generations of kids have many more distractions to keep them away from the hobby of building plastic models or cars, tanks, planes, and rockets or building model railroads. The customer base for hobby shops just isn't there like it was in the heydays of the '60s through the '80s. There's also the ongoing factor of the erosion of mom 'n' pop stores in the age of the Internet and competition from larger stores. Part of Galaxy's descent can be traced to the fact that a huge Hobby Lobby store opened next door to it about 5 years ago.

My contribution to Galaxy's livelihood wasn't significant, but I tried to keep my business regular. I think I took for granted that they would always be around, even though at the same time I worried about how long they would be. But I should make a few mea culpas here and admit that I found it increasingly easier to get my supplies online than make the trip to the local shop and find that they don't have what I want.

Now that option is gone and I can't help feeling that I'm a part of the reason why.

The only kind of hobby shop around anymore is Hobby Town, which is a kind of vanilla chain in my opinion. It lacks the charm of the family-owned business, even if they are franchises.

I mentioned D&J Hobbies & Crafts in that older post. My first job was working there in the late 70s. The shop grew up a lot and relocated to a larger space after I left. It remained big for a long time until the owners retired. Their son, whom I remember as a baby when I worked there, tried to make a go of a scaled-down version of the original store. Sadly, that venture crashed. The allure is gone.

In the death of Galaxy Hobby I see the reflection of all the hobby shops I've known and loved since my youth: Houston's Hobbies, D&J Hobbies & Crafts, San Antonio Hobbies, American Eagles. They added something to the wonder and enjoyment of life. They brought out a creative impulse that has made me a better person. I grieve that the newer generations will forego the pleasure.

Adieu, Galaxy Hobby. I can still buy all I need online (for now?), but it will be a less personal experience.