Monday, December 30, 2013

WW2 Eastern Front Card Game - on Kickstarter

Collins Epic Wargames has revised the latest offering from their excellent Spearpoint: 1943 series of WW2 tactical card games. The new title (on Kickstarter from Dec 6 for 45 days, until Jan 20) is Spearpoint 1943 Eastern Front

Image from the Kickstarter Page.

The original is a favorite here at Gaming with Chuck - it plays fast and well, is easy to teach, and rewards good decision making.  The original pits US and German forces against each other.  This new offering - now being funded (and, as of this writing, very close to success) through Kickstarter!  Project page here.

The new title is Eastern Front and faces off the favorite foes of WW2 wargamers everywhere - Russia vs. Germany.  The cards, units, and play all look great from what has been released so far (including a print and play combat preview - very nicely done CEW).

A nice video, from the Kickstarter Project page, gives an overview of how the game is played.  This is a really nicely done video, something of a standard these days with new games. And Collins Epic Wargames has done well here. Check it out at the Kickstarter page.

In addition, there is already a nice entry at Boardgame Geek with lots of images of components, etc.

An older video, from earlier in 2013, shows a great example of game play for the system.

If you are looking for a good, solid combat card game, that rewards good thinking and decision making, and still has enough luck in it to make it dramatically exciting to play - consider backing Spearpoint 1943 Eastern Front.  You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas from GWC headquarters

We had a very nice Christmas with all the very best parts. Gifts, family time, a nice walk in the park, and a great turkey feast.

Lots of new board games and some miniature rules, so look for reviews in the next few weeks.  A new RPG acquisition is the Fantasy Flight title, Edge of the Empire - the boxed set introduction to the Star Wars rules.  Looks good, with gorgeous production, good setting info, and great characters.  It uses a set of special symbol dice, and I am not sure how well I will warm to those.  A review will help me sort it all out.

New miniature projects, as well as existing ongoing work planned for the new year.  Maybe some solo battles, for photo ops.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

War of the Roses Army - project planning and analysis

So, if one were going to build a 28mm army for wargaming the War of the Roses, a couple of things should be done to begin the project.  First is to decide on the scope (size, scale, etc) of the project.  Second, is to decide on a side, or army nationality.  Third is to decide on the size and composition of the miniatures army.  Fourth, is to decide on the typical figure type/sculpt type.  Fifth is to choose miniatures, order them, and begin the prep/paint/finish process.

Step one has been done - this will be a 28mm project, and I would like to aim for enough miniatures for a medium to large army good for a single player in a several hour wargame.

Step two is MOSTLY done - I have been looking at both the Lancaster and also some of the Yorkist Pretender armies.  The reason for this is because Chris, my intended opponent, is looking strongly at a Yorkist Army.

Step three is a tricky one.  More on that later.

Step four is down to two choices, I believe.  The first choice is to use the Old Glory War of the Roses range.  These are good figures, and I have had great luck with the Old Glory figures in the past.

Old Glory War of the Roses Longbowmen - from the Old Glory UK website
The second choice would be using as many as possible the Perry figures for the War of the Roses.  These would be plastic, and I have always loved the Perry brother's sculpts and look of their toy soldiers. An older range of Perry War of the Roses figures exist - the figures from Wargames Foundry (or The Foundry).  These, while quite excellent, are not as animated as the new figures from the brothers, but they would mix well.
Perry plastic set that allows the building of Billmen and Bows.  From the Perry website.

Step five is in progress - in fact, trying to decide which is what led me to write this article.

Okay, so back to the unfinished step - Step Three.  I want to, if I stick with Lancaster, model the army of Somerset from the Battle of Towton (March 29, 1461).  This is a pretty standard late medieval army, both in command structure (three battles, each under the command of a separate Noble) and in composition (predominantly foot, with some heavy infantry knights and men-at-arms, as well as mixed ranks of billmen and longbowmen).  For reference, there are several well known books on the subject, as well as a great website on the Battlefield. Some of the books, of use for wargamers, are Boardman's book on The Battle of Towton, the Osprey Campaign guide to Towton, and more recently, the title Fatal Colors: Towton 1461 - England's most Brutal Battle, by George Goodwin.

Map from the Towton Battlefield website (link above)

From a wargaming perspective, there are some fantastic pictures at the Grimsby Wargaming Society (gallery 1 and gallery 2).  There is also a great compilation of War of the Roses battle descriptions (Albans, Towton, Wakefield and Barnet), using DBM, from Wargames Illustrated, the collection of articles exists as a PDF file here.  The details on the battle of Towton were by (as they all were) Eric J. Cruttendon.  Towton appeared in issue 137.  Using that article as a reference, the three battles of the Lancaster army are composed of these DBM elements -

Somerset's Battle
Kn(S)1Duke of Somerset C-in-C
Kn(S)2Royal Bodyguard Men-at-arms
Bd(O)8Retinue Billmen
Bw(S)16Retinue Bowmen
Bd(I)4Shire Levy Billmen
Bw(O)18Shire Levy Bowmen
Bd(I)6Northern Border Foot
Sp(I)12Northern Border Foot
Bg(O)6King's Baggage

Northumberland's Battle
Kn(O)1Duke of Northumberland
LH(O)2Northern Border Staves
Bd(O)4Retinue Billmen
Bw(S)8Retinue Bowmen
Bd(I)4Shire Levy Billmen
Bw(O)18Shire Levy Bowmen

Exeter's Battle
Kn(O)1Duke of Exeter
Bd(O)4Retinue Billmen
Bw(S)8Retinue Bowmen
Bd(O)4Shire Levy Billmen
Bw(O)16Shire Levy Bowmen

These descriptions are all well and good, and serve (as a wargaming reference) as an excellent guide to the composition and ratio of the three battles involved on the Lancaster (Royal, Red Rose) side during the battle of Towton.  However, I am currently thinking of two other sets of possible rules to represent the battle.

The first set of rules would be Warhammer Ancient Battles 2 (sadly, out of print as Warhammer Historicals was, for some reason not to be gone into here, shut down), following the War of the Roses army list from the fan supported publication Armies of Antiquity 2.  For this set of rules, for the infantry units, I would go with 12 figure Retinue units (with 1 unit of 12 billmen, organized with two units of 12 each bowmen, giving a total of 36 figures for a bill/bow block), and maybe 6-8 figures for the mounted units.

The second would be using a fan supported modification of the Dux Bellorum rules, modified for War of the Roses battles.  That modification can be found here - at the Shire and Everything After gaming blog.  As a mounting/organization size, I would use two stands of 60mm x 40mm bases for a unit in this set of rules.  For foot, that would be 12 figures, and for mounted that would be 6 figures.

The nice thing about the 60mm x 40mm mounting is that it works for either ruleset, as well as a bunch of other rulesets that could be used - the WRG Renaissance rules could be used, as well as Impetus, Armati, HOTT, or even the Neil Thomas rules for Ancient and Medieval games (as well as his more general Introduction to Wargaming rules).

So, looking at the DBM lists above from Cruttenden's article, we can surmise the following, choosing to analyze the basic ratios, and looking at blocks of bow/bill troops that were 33% bill.

Somerset had two bow/bill blocks of Retinue soldiers, the other battles had only one each.
All three battles had maybe 2 blocks of Shire/Levy (Militia) bow/bill blocks, with additional bodies of archers.
All three had bodyguard elements (knights) for the C-in-C
Some (scant) other knights (maybe 1 unit) were in each, as well as a few other lighter units (Northern spear and sword units, currours, staves).

In Warhammer, doing a Retinue bow/bill block as I described (12 billmen, 24 bowmen) would cost the following:
12 Billmen - @12 points each, with +1 for heavy armour, so a total of 156 points
2x12 Bowmen - @13 points each (as per the errata), so a total of 312 points
Giving each body a leader, musician, and standard bearer gives each a cost of +15 points
Total, for all three bodies of troops making up the bow/bill block would be 513 points.

On the other hand, using the Dux Bellorum rules variant, a Retinue bow/bill block (again, with 1/3 of the troops being the bill unit, and two associated bow units), has the following
Retinue Bill - 12 billmen (two stands of six each) 3 army points
Retinue Bow - 2 units of 12 bowmen each (two stands of six each unit) 2x 3 army points each
Each such bow/bill block would be 9 army points.

To build two such blocks (the number of figures are the same, and I would even do the basing the same, either way), requires the following:
Total (two blocks): 24x billmen, and 48x bowmen.

Using the Perry Plastics, you would need two boxes, and then you would have a couple of figures left over (for command, no doubt).  Going with the pricing from The War Store this would come to a total of $64 (plus shipping, if any).

Using Old Glory 25s, you would need 1 bag of Billmen, and 2 bags of Bowmen.  Assuming an Old Glory Army membership (40% discount), and ordering 1 bag of WOR-08 (Billmen in Livery Coats) and 2 bags of WOR-09 (Longbowmen in Livery Coats), the price would come out to 3x$21 = $63 (plus shipping, if any).

So, the price is about the same either way.  Now I have to decide....

Friday, December 13, 2013

Secret Santa - wonderful gifts!!

Each year, we participate in the Secret Santa list at Boardgamegeek, which is a great way to exchange board games with the community.

It works like most Secret Santa lists - you submit your name, and there is a randomizer that spreads them all around - so you get another name in return.  Then you purchase some gifts ($50 minimum is suggested for this one), and send them to your target.  The person who got your name does the same in return.

By looking at people's wishlist on BGG, you get to see what they want, and it encourages people to keep their wish list up to date.

This year, my Secret Santa really did a great job.  I got three really fantastic, and different, gifts.

Image from Z-Man Games website.

First, I got the board game Troyes.  From the publisher (Z-Man Games), the following blurb appears:
Built by the Romans during the first century in Belgian Gaul, Tournay experienced most of its growth along the Scheldt river.

Unfortunately, the river also contributed to its troubles, because in 881, the Normans traversed its watery path, and thereby easily captured the city. That act of aggression stunted Tournay’s prosperity. This game invites you to participate in the reconstruction of the city, in order to establish a glorious era that will last for more than seven centuries. Help your district flourish by cleverly coordinating the work of the city’s three domains: military, religious, and civil. Certainly the prestige of your buildings will brighten the entire city!
 On the Boardgamegeek website, a different blurb appears, that is more about the actual game play.  I haven't played yet, but it involves rolling dice to generate possible actions where you place markers to control areas/actions, and improve your situation that way.

In Troyes, recreate four centuries of history of this famous city of the Champagne region of France. Each player manages their segment of the population (represented by a horde of dice) and their hand of cards, which represent the three primary domains of the city: religious, military, and civil. Players can also offer cash to their opponents' populace in order to get a little moonlighting out of them—anything for more fame!
Make your underlings:

  • work on the cathedral
  • combat misfortune
  • bustle about the city
  • and other such tasks that are below your family's stature
I am really excited about this one - it looks like it has tons of theme, and lots of medieval history and medieval inspired (and actual) art in the game.  Just from looking through the cards, I am sure Anita and I will love this one.

The next game in the gift package is Unexploded Cow - the Deluxe edition from Cheapass Games.  This game, from the fertile mind of James Earnest, involves using Cows with mad cow disease to wander across fields of unexploded ordnance in France, trying (or not) to blow it (and the cow) up.  Wonderful theme for a game, I can't wait to play this one with friends over Christmas travels!!

Here is an image from the Paizo blog, although I suspect it might be a Cheapass Games image...

Nice full color components, including money chits, cards, box, and even a dice.  Color rules folio?  Cheapass games has come a long way from their beginnings (with everything printed on cheap white paper, and stuffed in a plain white envelope, with dice and money, etc coming from your own collection).

Here is a video of James, and friends, explaining the game.  Very nicely done.

And finally the third game that came in the package is not a game at all, but the latest "big" expansion for Carcassonne.  This one is called (in English) "The Count, the King and the Robber".  It wasn't availabe in English for a number of years, although the component expansions (it includes several smaller add ons that were published, separately in other places, previously) were part of some of the Big Box releases.  It comes with River II, the Count of Carcassonne, the King, and the Cult.

image from the publisher - Z-Man Games
 The last one (the Cult) was the one I was most keen on getting, as well as another copy of River II (we like using a big sprawling river to play our games, gives everyone lots of room to spread out, so another dozen or so of river tiles and branches are very welcome.  Curiously, rather than being published in English by Rio Grande Games, this one was published by Z-Man games.  Strange.  But, Rio Grande had given this material out in small expansions, and part of Big Box 2 previously, so maybe not so strange.

So, some wonderful new stuff to try and play, over our Christmas holidays.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wargames structures - Initiative

So, one of the things that is germaine to just about every wargame is the way it handles the passage of time.  This occurs on a couple of different levels, depending on the wargame.  First, there is the passage of time for the simulated inhabitants in the wargame - how much do they get to do during the passage of simulated time?  But, more importantly, is the passage of time (real world) for the game it self.  By that, I mean to ask, how are the actions that the players are taking - moving the pieces, engaging in simulated combat, and so forth?  This is usually divided up into some mechanism where either both sides (or all sides) do their actions more or less simultaneously, or they take turns doing their actions.  In both cases, regulating who goes when is done by a number of different mechanisms that we can look at, and call Initiative.

First, the treatment of a wargame as a classic two player game of conflict, where the players take turns, and during a player's turn does all the allowable actions, is often referred to as "you go, I go" type initiative.  This is the way it is done in many board based wargames, and has a long history going back to the abstract wargames of antiquity (such as Chess, Chatauranga, and Hnefetafl).  I have heard it commented that this is a natural way to view elements in a battle, even if it is implemented a little artificially in a game.  The idea, within a battle, is that there are a series of actions that then get reacted to, forming a sort of rhythm.

Determine who gets their turn involves initiative.  The simplest manner is to determine the order (which is player A going first, and which is player B going second) during the first turn (which may be by a dice toss, or agreement, or set by a scenario) and then following that throughout the game. We can call this a "regular, alternating initiative".  The turn sequence (with two sides in the scenario, Red and Blue, taking turns in the sub-turn role of Player A and Player B) would look like this

Regular Alternating Initiative
Turn 1
 Player A - Red
 Player B - Blue
Turn 2
 Player A - Red
 Player B - Blue
Turn 3
 Player A - Red
 Player B - Blue

 A variant would be to, at the beginning of each turn (which consists of two sub-turns - one for each player), randomize (dice or cards) to see which is player A for that turn, and which player B. We can call this a "random, alternating initiative".  A feature of this is that there is a chance that the same side does not go first every time.  However, one of the side effects of this is that it is possible for a side to get to go twice in a row (in fact, it is guaranteed that this will happen, if the order does change).  See this example:

Random Alternating Initiative
Turn 1 - dice toss, Red wins

 Player A - Red
 Player B - Blue
Turn 2 - dice toss, Blue wins
 Player A - Blue
 Player B - Red
Turn 3 - dice toss, Blue wins
 Player A - Blue
 Player B - Red

 Now, for the "feature" of this method, you can see that between the end of Turn 1, and the beginning of Turn 2, the Blue side goes twice in a row.  In a game with a large number of turns, the rules of probability would tend to balance out this effect, however in a game with only a short number of turns (say, 3,4,5 or 6 turns) it might provide a very large benefit to one side or another, depending on how the randomizing turns out.

Each turn in a "you go, I go" type game itself typically has several phases, that allow for the ordering of the activities to get done.  These might include - issuing orders, movement, shooting, melee combat, morale tests, artillery - and so forth, depending on the type of combat that is being simulated.  A very common variant of the "you go, I go" type game is one where those phases get mixed up. 

The turn (and phases) of a game with "regular phases" might look like this.

Regular Phase Turn Structure
 Player A
  1. Shooting
  2. Movement
  3. Combat
  4. Morale Tests
 Player B
  1. Shooting
  2. Movement
  3. Combat
  4. Morale Tests

When some of the phases during a Player Turn actually belong to the side that is taking the role of the Non-Phase Player, we see an intermixed phase structure.  A good name for this sort of turn ordering is Intermixed Phase Turn Structure.

Intermixed Phase Turn Structure
 Player A
 1. Player A moves units
 2. Player B shoots
 3. Combat
 4. Morale Tests
Player B
 1. Player B moves units
 2. Player A shoots
 3. Combat
 4.  Morale Tests

Typically the point of having a Intermixed Phase structure is to introduce some elements that allow for each side to react to some of the actions of the other side.  In the above example, what is being replicated is the reaction of units to shoot at the enemy as they see them getting closer.  Depending on the simulation intent of the rules writer, this sort of structure will help them bring out what they think is important for the aspects of combat that their rules represent. One of the most common ways that this is done (perhaps inadvertently) is that during Combat, most wargames allow both sides to score casualties - so that both sides are operating more or less simultaneously during a combat phase).

An alternative to "You go, I go" is something that we can name "We go" - this means that there is a turn, divided up into Phases, but during each phase there is a structure for determining who goes first.  This can be either Regular within the turn (meaning that the same side goes first for each Phase), Regular across turns (meanign that the same side goes first each Phase, and this is the same every turn), or some combination.  As the two players are alternating within a phase, but that the phases are being executed more or less concurrently, this can be named Alternating Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative (either regular or random, intermixed or not).  A turn structure here might look something like this:

Alternating Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative
Phase 1 - Movement
 Player A moves
 Player B moves
Phase 2 - Shooting
 Player A shoots
 Player B shoots
Phase 3 - Combat
 All contacting units combat
Phase 4 - Morale
 All units requiring tests take them

An alternative to this scheme is to have regular Phases, but to have randomized activity order within the Phase - perhaps by dice or unit quality or by the turn of a card.  A common version of this are rulesets based on the structure of The Sword and the Flame - there is a Movement Phase, a Shooting Phase, a Combat Phase, and a Morale Phase.  But within the Movement Phase, cards are used to determine which units move before other units.  The same is done during the Shooting Phase. Combat (hand-to-hand) and Morale are done in preset orders (either by the order in which they arose during the movement phase, in the case of Combat, or all simultaneously in the case of Morale).  Such a turn scheme might be accurately labeled Randomized Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative.

Randomized Order, Phase Concurrent Iniatiative
Phase 1 - Movement
 All eligible units may move, randomized order based on flipping cards
Phase 2 - Shooting
 All eligible units may shoot, randomized order based on flipping cards
Phase 3 - Combat
 All contacting units resolve hand-to-hand combat in the order in which they contacted during Movement.
Phase 4 - Morale
 All units test morale simultaneously

The most common alternative to the Alternating Order, Phase Concurrent Iniative scheme (which is really quite popular in a lot of rulesets, especially those representing time periods where the interplay of space and time are important, such as when movement and shooting combine to have a big effect on the combat) is to have the Phases actually structured so that they are as close to Concurrent themselves as possible.  This would be a Simultaneous Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative.  What this structure seeks  to do is to remove any advantage for going first.  It is not perfect, especially in the area of movement, without the use of some blind method for plotting movement ahead of time (such as writing turn by turn movement orders, and having them interpreted by a referee.  Many players, especially modern players, find this unsatisfying, because they want control over where their units move. 

A typically scheme employed here is to use a "test" - usually a dice test - to see how the individual troops will react to situations that arise out of the simultaneous activities of the players.  This replicates the effects of command and reaction by the troops, at a level of command lower than what the player is exerting. For instance, a player may tell a unit (a battalion? perhaps) to move ahead.  In this situation the player may be taking on the role of a Brigadier or Division Commander.  But as the battalion moves ahead, it finds itself the target of a charge.  The Battalion commander in real life would rely on personal initiative and training in order to decide what to do next.  This might be to fire on the chargers, form square, withdraw, adopt skirmish formation, or whatever.  The rules would try to anticipate these types of situations, and enable a dice test for a unit to try in order to see if they can do these things.  This structure is often included in all of the different initiative types presented here, but it is especially important in the simultaneous phase execution type game.

A Simultaneous Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative turn example might look something like this:  (Note, to illustrate the dice test mechanism, I have separated out Charging from normal Movement)

Simultaneous Order, Phase Concurrent Initiative
Phase 1 - Charges
 Both players declare charges simultaneous
 Both players move charging units
 Units targeted by charge may roll reaction to countercharge
Phase 2 - Movement
 Both players move units that did not charge, and were not contacted
Phase 3 - Shooting
 Units that did not move or charge may shoot (even if contacted)
Phase 4 - Fighting
 All units in contact resolve hand-to-hand combat
Phase 5 - Morale
 All units requiring test for fail or recovery

Another theme popular in rule sets is to have the phases occur, in order, for a part of a side (either an individual unit, or perhaps a group of units such as a battle group or a brigade), but to have those parts be either randomized or alternate.  Once such a "part" is activated (whether a unit or a group of units), it will do it's allowable phases - movement, shooting, combat, etc.  Then the next "part is activated.  The ordering here is done either on a regular bases, where alternation between sides is common, or it is randomized perhaps by dice toss to determine regular order at the beginning of a turn (such as in Shako II, where you roll an "initiative dice" to determine the order of divisions at the beginning of each turn), or by the flip of a card (such as in rulesets where you have a card for every brigade in the game, and those are shuffled at the beginning of a turn, and then revealed to see which brigade does its actions first).  These two different initiative schemes can be called, respectively, "Regular Order, Phase by Command" and "Randomized Order, Phase by Command" - where the 'parts' are referred to as the "Command".  Here is an example of the second scheme.

Randomized Order, Phase by Command
Reveal a Card, identifying a Brigade
Brigade performs all of the following Phases
 Phase 1 - Movement
 Phase 2 - Shooting
 Phase 3 - Combat
 Phase 4 - Morale
Next Card

This scheme can vary by allowing for the intermix of other phases, for enemy units encountered on the table top (such as reaction moves, reaction fires, counter charges, etc).

When there is a basic "You Go, I Go" structure (even with their variations, these are the simplest to implement, and the simplest to explain in written rules), sometimes the unnatural regular alternation of moves is controlled by a dice roll (or some other method, such as commander's value or army effectiveness, etc).  In this case, the dice roll will determine how many actions may be done in one or several of the phases of the turn.  For instance, in the DBA family of games, a dice for command points will determine how many "commands" (consisting of one base, or a group of connected bases) may move during a turn.  They move, and then shoot, and then all in contact fight, and the turn is over.  Not every unit gets to move (or shoot) each turn.  This scheme is applied, in different rule sets, to almost all of the various initiative schemes presented here so far.

The Piquet family of miniatures rules mixes up this ordering one more way.  In those rules, it is common to have a Turn consist of a number of different Actions (regulated by some counter, called Initiative Points among other things).  Once those actions are all used up, the turn is over.  In Piquet, there is a mechanism to see how many of those actions a Player gets to use at one time, based on opposed dice rolls by the different sides.  The higher of the dice tossed gets to go, and he gets the difference in initiative points.  How the player gets to expend those initiative points is based on a randomized presentation of options.  In Piquet, it is a card, showing a single type of action (move, shoot, reload, etc).  The player may expend as many actions as desired on that single type of action, and then flips the next card to see what else may be done.  Eventually the player runs out of points, and the next opposed dice roll is made.

Another variation to the many different schemes related to "You Go, I Go" is one where a player may decide to "steal the initiative" from his opponent.  In this case, one of the two players is determined to have the Initiative - in other words, it is that player's turn to execute phases for his forces.  The other player (through a number of different possible mechanics - expending command points, rolling dice, flipping cards) may try to "steal the initiative" - meaning that they get to execute phases for their own forces instead, trumping the actions of the first player.  In order to be fare, such a scheme is often structured around some penalty for the player attempting to steal the initiative.   In addition to the "You Go, I Go" type turns, this variation is also common in the Phase by Command type schemes - where it becomes the turn for one Command (brigade, squadron, wing, etc) to do their actions - another player may decide instead to attempt to steal that order for one of their own Commands.  If successful, then the turn changes to the new Command, but if not successful, then there is often a penalty for that other Command (such as, it may not go this turn, or the player loses one of a finite group of command points, or something similar).

A recent, but popular variation of "You Go, I Go" is one where within the turn structure of a Side, that side gets to make leadership tests to see which of his units (or Commands) gets to act, and how much they get to act.  Penalties arise from failing the leadership tests required to get units to act (for instance, after so many failures, the turn may pass to the other player, or again, finite command points may need to be expended in order to 'try again').  This scheme is in the recently family of miniature rules sets coming from the Rick Priestley school of design, starting with Warmaster, and also seen in the Warlord Games family of titles (Black Powder, Hail Caesar, etc) and the Blitzkrieg Command series of rules.  It works very well, and puts the emphasis of command decision on the player, but with the uncertainty of a dice roll involved in order to carry out the desired orders.  Very effective design.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

OGRE scenario - Withdraw from Greywater

Working on some linked scenarios for a mini-campaign ("Withdraw from Greywater"). These will revolve around the GEV map. Before I talk about the scenarios, take a look at this - the manilla paper map that was in the first of the Metagaming releases of GEV (this was the version I owned).

Very different feel (even thought it is technically the same map) from the later full color offering that Steve Jackson Games put out.

The first scenario in "Decision at Greywater" represents a heavy Combine formation moving from east to west, trying to get off the map, while wreaking havoc on the built up areas in their path. The story is this - a very heavy Combine column has made a raid on a Paneuropean industrial area, smashing the Greywater Cybertank maintenance yard,  On returning back to Combine lines, some resistance is encountered, but it is not very strong (at first).  Arriving reinforcements make the fight more interesting, very quickly.  Providing a high guard (and orbital overwatch) of the Combine column is a trio of recently launched Laser Satellites.  But with a life expectancy that is measured in hours and minutes, these are not expected to have a long lasting effect on the war, or even on this one encounter.

Winchell Chung image of a Light Tank and Heavy Tank (from

Combine Forces:
The Combine commander starts with a company of heavy tanks (10 HVY), supported by a pair of  superheavy tanks (2 SHVY), enter the eastern map edge.  These enter on turn one, and can enter anywhere on or with 2 hexes (north or south) of either of the two roads that enter the eastern edge of the maps (hexes numbered 1403 and 2514). 

Combine Goal:
The goal is for as many of those 12 units to escape off the western edge of the map.  Victory points are also scored for reducing any Target hexes to rubble.

Paneuropean Forces:
The Paneuropean commander stars with two platoons of ground effect vehicle tanks (6 GEV), supported by two companies of Infantry (18sp).  At least one strength point of infantry must begin in each of the following hexes (0412, 0413, 0513, 1411, 1412, 1018, 1118, 1119).

Paneuropean Goal:
The goal is to stop as many Combine HVY and SHVY tanks before they can either exit the map, or rubble Target hexes.

Turning Town hexes into Rubble.

Map Rules:
For this scenario, the long bridge at hex 2214 is not destroyable.
There is an additional long bridge that stretches from hex 2518 through 2418 and into 2318.  It is also not destroyable.
The eight town hexes that the Paneuropean Infantry start in are all "Target" hexes for Combine victory points.

Possible HVY Tank, by Wootten (

Special Rules:
1. Laser Satellites - The Combine player has access to three Orbital Laser Satellites (recently launched, and not expected to last long).  At the beginning of each turn, the Combine player may target any hex on the map with each surviving Satellite.  He makes a note of the hex number(s) he is targeting (each satellite targets a separate hex), and then during combat he will make a STR 6 attack against a unit in that hex, and then spill over attacks to any other units in the hex.
For each HVY or SHVY unit that is destroyed, the Paneuropean player rolls 2d6.  If the result is 11+, then one of the Satellites is knocked out.

2. Reinforcements - The Paneuropean Player receives reinforcements at the end of every Odd numbered turn (beginning with the first).  Roll on the following chart (first to see what the reinforcing unit is, and second to determine starting location). Roll separately for the first column (Unit) and the second column (Start)

12xGEVhex 2331
22xGEVhex 2331
32xHVYhex 2331
42xHVYhex 0210
52xMSLhex 0210
61xMHWZhex 0414

Victory Conditions:
The Combine player gets 1VP for each HVY he exits off the western edge of the map, and 2VP for each SHVY.  In addition the Combine player gets 1VP for every Target hex that gets reduced to rubble.
The Paneuropean player gets 2VP for every HVY destroyed, and 4VP for each SHVY destroyed.  For each Satellite destroyed, 2VP are awarded to the Paneuropean player.

Possible SHVY tank by Vitaliy (

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

OGRE Designer's Edition - Big

So, the Designer Edition of OGRE - from being backed on Kickstarter by me and hundreds of other gamers, to a tune of almost $1million - has finally shipped and reached the new owners. I received mine last week, just before going to a conference.  I finished opening it this week (and fawning on it, and constructing the hundreds of 3d models that come in it).  Lovely, and huge.  Over 30 years old, and still a wonderful game.

This is a big fricking deal (to come close to misquoting Vice President Biden).  The box and the contents therein weigh 28 pounds.  There is, as one of the main components, the large two piece OGRE map, reminiscent of the full color treatment of the original game, as was done by SJG once they got the title on Steve's departure from Metagaming.  Here is an image of the second Metagaming printing (an image of what the first printing appears lower down in this article), which was black and white (the second printing is the edition I originally owned), and that is followed by the first SJG (color) version.

B and W Version from Metagaming's Second Edition

Color Version from SJG's First (black plastic box) version

The game then, as it is now, is the tale of an OGRE - a large unmanned cybernetic tank, reminiscent of Keith Laumer's BOLO creations - that is driving towards a CP (Command Post), and the defenders must try to stop it.  The hitch?  The OGRE is indestructible - it can only have various components shot off of it (like guns, missile launchers, and tread units).  A very, very compelling game, and always well balanced almost every time.  Ignore those who whimper about the four howitzer defense - it is manageable by an experienced cyber-commander.  If you haven't heard of the four howitzer defense, you have to read this article - it isn't a sure fire way to keep that monstrosity from overrunning the CP, but it does help.

Okay, so what about that first printing of the black and white map?  The very first printing of OGRE, back in 1977 (same year Star Wars came out, same year Traveller came out - a pretty good year for Science Fiction, I think) had a rather plain (even plainer than the one above with the black and white craters) map, and simple counters.  The counters were printed on a single piece of card stock, and you had to cut them out.  Glorious (I loved it then, and I still love it).  The original looked like this (except this version has actual die cut counters) -

Reprinting of the Original Edition - out in 2013
Yep, the original map had solid black hexes for craters, and the ridge lines looked like thick black lines.  But it STILL worked.

As mentioned, the Designer Edition comes with a version that looks a lot like the color version above, but it is extremely large.  Extremely.  The original map was 8.5" by 14" (or close to that).  The new map is 

The sister game to OGRE (which is also well represented in the new Designer Edition) was GEV (which stands for Ground Effect Vehicle - the name given to the fast and nimble hover tanks of the OGRE universe - somewhat reminiscent of the blower tanks of Hammer's Slammers universe of David Drake, but maybe not as tough).  GEV had a much more interesting full color map (with forests, roads, cities, swamp, rivers, streams, train tracks, and even ocean), and had scenarios for armies from the OGRE universe (2085AD) fighting with each other, sometimes without an OGRE making an appearance.  Also included in the Designer Edition are terrain overlays, so that you can modify any of the maps included - by adding or extending or reducing elements such as cities, forests, water, roads, bridges or railroads.  Almost anything is possible with what comes in the kit.  And if that ain't enough, there are planned expansion terrain elements coming out (which I plan to get).

The map for GEV is included in the new designer's edition.  Along with a handful of other expansion maps to go along with it.
Color version of GEV map, from SJG - the original Metagaming version was white, with colored ink used for terrain.
In my own personal gaming history, I owned GEV before I owned OGRE.  And I loved it.  The four basic scenarios that came in the game were awesome, and I still love them (breakthrough, ceasefire collapse, raid, and so forth).  What an absolute great game.  And the map (above) and a handful of other GEV compatible maps (geomorphic, so they can be combined with any edge of the above map, to create larger battlefields) are in the designer edition.  Along with plenty (PLENTY) of units from GEV.

So what about units?  The Designer Edition comes with many, many units.  More OGREs than I have ever thought of using in a scenario.  These included 3d model versions of everything from MK IIs up through MK VIs - and variants along the way.  The variants are the MkIIIb, the Fencer (and Fencer-B), the Doppelsoldner, the Vulcan, and others.  In both Paneuropean and Combine version.  And the Paneuropean MKIIIs and MKVs have their alternate names on the bottom (Legionnaire and Huscarl).  Also, OGREs in the colors of other factions - generic grey/white, green (Kickstarter only?), etc.

Units from the Designer Edition - MkV OGRE on the left, MkIII OGRE on the right, and ground units in between.  3d model of a Laser Tower (to protect against cruise missiles, natch)
The smaller units (conventional units) are available for both main armies (North American Combine, and Paneuropean Alliance), as well as other armies.  Including the Black Rose Mercenaries, and others.  Lots of troops.

In fact, with all the maps provided, and all the figures provided, you could play several games simultaneously.  Provided you have room for the massive maps.  Makes it a great game for club night, or a convention - as one game can keep 6 or 8 gamers going for a while, easily.  And the battles (if kept reasonable) fight quick enough that round robin swapping of opponents could make for a very satisfying evening. To make all this possible, the Designer Edition came with a handy-dandy bag, to make carrying this behemoth (OGRE) of a game, possible.

Picture of the game, in the bag, from BGG, with the owner's punched out countersheets up top.  This game is almost 7" thick, and over two feet across...

I plan to take this baby to a game night in Columbus sometime soon, at the new location of Moxie Games.  I will report back on progress, with pictures, when I do.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dice games - push your luck

So, the idea with a push your luck style dice game is that with every dice roll (that you survive) you potentially reap some rewards.  As your pile of rewards gets bigger and bigger, the possibility of NOT surviving a dice roll (and losing all those goodies) becomes the intangible decision point for the player to decide about every turn.

This is true in lots of dice games - Zombie Dice from Steve Jackson Games is one of the more popular.  You get to keep brains (which score points), up until you roll three shotgun blasts - they you are out for the turn and lose all those juicy brains.  If, however, you choose to stop rolling - you get to keep whatever brains you have scored so far that turn - but you give up the possibility of rolling yet further brains (and further shotgun blasts).

Now, in comparison, take a look at Rollin' Bones - the Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides dice game.  This is an attractive enough game.  Comes in a cloth bag, with a nice color rules folio, and with bones shaped like finger bones.
From Board Game Geek - 
The "bones" have four sides - 1 skull, 1 bone, 1 shovel, 1 sword.  On your turn you roll any "bones" you have accumulated (but not yet buried), including one more from the pool (the bone yard).

If you get 1 skull symbol, your turn is over, and you lose any "bones" you have accumulated, as well as those you picked this turn.  That is a 25%  chance - per dice.  So the more dice you roll, the more chance you have of losing EVERYTHING.  Why would you ever choose to roll more dice than the minimum?

I haven't figured this game out yet - the components are neat enough that a simple rules fix might make it a better game.  Still working on it....

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Furstenberg Units - Pictures of Seebataillon

Here we have pictures of Furstenberg Seebataillon (naval infantry).  This is the 3rd Company.  The distinction from regular infantry is the light color of the sky blue Seebataillon trousers, and also the fouled anchor collar tab pins (not seen on the miniatures).  A proud distinction that the units themselves make is the use of bright yellow bedrolls, in distinction from the red bedrolls that the regular infantry use.

Seebataillon are expected to take the brunt of the fighting in either landing actions, or in actions that are fought in defense of Naval coastal assets (bases, weapon stations, etc).  Because of that, the companies are formed up like battalions, with four stands of three figures each.

Here we see the back-of-stand distinctions for the Seebataillon Companies (battalions).  They are sky blue, with colored tabs of red, trimmed in yellow.  This is the third Company, so it has three such red/yellow tabs on the sky blue background.

Furstenberg Units - Pictures of Regular Infantry

Here are some pictures of a unit of regular Line Infantry in Furstenberg service.  The medium blue trousers, with dark blue tunic, topped with a dark blue kepi.  One of the distinctions of the regular infantry are the red bedrolls, seen at the top of their campaign packs.  Once a unit is in the field for some time, it is not as typical to see so many of the red bedrolls, but one a battalion first leaves for the field, it is almost uniform throughout.

The next picture is of a different unit, but is included here to illustrate something.  The unit is actually a Mountaineer unit, as you can see by the Mountaineer hat that the units are famous for.  The bedrolls are a mix of different drab colors, notable for not being red throughout.

The interesting thing to notice is the color bands at the base of the unit - the back of each base is colored a different series to match the unit itself.  All of the Furstenberg infantry units are so marked.  This marking (dark green with a brown central band) belongs to the Mountaineers - which are all dark green, with a colored band of distinction.

Furstenberg Units - Pictures of Waldjaegers

Here are a few pictures of two battalions of Furstenberger light infantry.  These are forest rangers, which have the name of Waldjaegers in the Margravate army.  The unit in the foreground (in skirmish formation) is 2nd Battalion, 48th Waldjaeger.  The battalion behind is from the 51st.

Standard for the basing that I am doing, all companies (stands) are 40mm x 40mm square.

Since these are light infantry, and not regular infantry, they have only two figures per base. 

The Waldjaeger uniform is dark green throughout, with a grey goose feather on the side of the dark green kepi.

Additional possible armies/units for 19th century Balkania

So, with the Kingdom of Elsinore sorted out, and beginning the rebasing process, I started thinking about possible limits on other units and armies based on figures I already own.

One of my rules for this project is "no new figures".  I am only making use of figures I already own, and preferably those already painted.

One such possible army (although it would be small) would be a phalanx of Wagon People of the Karzstan mountains. These are wandering communities, in and around the Fribourg Canton of Rumpwhistle, and he travel in town sized populations with many wagons and horses.  The fighting style is not unlike South African Boers, fighting from behind a wagon laager.  I have about 8-10 units of infantry intended for this role, only needing rebasing.  I also have half a dozen wagons that could serve this "phalanx" (the name they use for an armed camp fighting together.  They were first mentioned here:

Beyond that, all other possible painted figures that would be suitable are individually based for The Sword and the Flame.  I don't want to rebase them.  However...

If I stick to my rule of no new figures, but relax the rule on painting, then I could conceivably come up with not only several foreign units (Vulgarians, Trans-Turkylvanians), but also a sizable force of Urbs.  In fact, I am planning on it. Details to follow...however, so that I can use them for other  gaming projects, I may make changes to the standard Baalkanian basing scheme ( which is currently 12 figures on 4 bases for standard Infantry units).

Finally, another modeling project related to 19th Century Balkania will be some terrain modeling. Again, details to follow.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beginnings of third army - Kingdom of Elsinore

I have yet more painted figures that will make it into the Balkanian 28mm 19th century project...

This next batch, which is entirely painted, just needs to be rebased, will be the Kingdom of Elsinore.

These are based loosely (more like shaken, not stirred) on the Danish kingdom of the period from about 1848 until about 1864.  This covers the First (1849-1851) and Second (1864) Schleswig Wars.

The figures were sorted out and organized into units, and there is something like this. . .

14 units of Royal Infantry (the core of the army)
5 units of Huscarls (elite household infantry)
2 units of Deetlanders (irregulars, from a mostly empty region of unwelcoming moors)
3 units of Foresters (elite rangers)

The little kingdom is pugnacious and annoying, yet the high quality of her infantry and the inhospitable nature of the country make it tough to conquer.  It got involved in the 23 weeks war over imagined sleights to Elsinore sovereignty and threats to trade and shipping.  Elsinore units were not actively engaged in coordinating with either side, and yet in both the Maduro Valley and the Plains of Arthur campaigns they were fighting "together" with the two sides in the conflict - in Maduro they sided (briefly) with Furstenberg.  During the maneuvers prior to the Plains of Arthur, they sided with Rumpwhistle.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Panted and Based - Furstenberg Infantry, 1870s

In addition to the Rumpwhistle army, there is also the Furstenberg army, that has been worked on recently.  This army has a somewhat different flavor than the Rumpwhistle army - slightly smaller, slighter higher quality troops.  The types of units, and how many, that have been completed are listed here.

NumberTypeFigs per
Stands per
2Drovian Highlanders34
8Regular Infantry34
3Dismounted Cavalry22

  • The Mountaineers are tough alpine troops, detailed here.
  • The Seebataillon (Naval Infantry) are troops from Naval units (ships and installations), detailed here.
  • The Drovian Highlanders are recruits from the highland clans of Drovia, detailed here.
  • The Regular Infantry are the mainstay of the Margravate army, detailed here.
  • The WaldJaegers are scouts, used to hunting and tracking in the forests of Furstenberg.
  • The Dismounted Cavalry, are basically elite mounted infantry, fighting dismounted as skirmishers.
  • The Sharpshooters are an elite corps of handpicked marksman, also operating as skirmishers.

Total, 20 battalions, 5 demi battalions, 252 miniatures.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Painted and based - Rumpwhistle Infantry, 1870s

Recent efforts to start up on painting 18th century infantry came to a quick halt, as certain painting supplies were found missing.  So, after firing the chiefs of the logistics operation, attention turned to finishing up the rebasing of the remaining 19th century figures.  First up, the rest of the Rumpwhistle infantry.

Here is a list, now, of everything done for Rumpwhistle, so far.  The average infantry battalion is 12 figures, mounted on four bases of three figures each. Light infantry (skirmishes and scouts) have only two figures per stand.

NumberTypeFigs per
per unit
6 Confederacy Infantry 3 4
4 Sharpshooter Companies 2 2
2 Red Guard 3 4
2 Drovian Rebels 3 4
5 Border Scouts 2 4
9 Canton Infantry 3 4
2 Skylarks 3 4

  • Confederacy infantry are the under resourced units of the Confederacy Government.
  • Sharpshooter "Companies" are actually Demi battalions of mounted infantry, armed with rifled repeaters.
  • Red Guard are two battalions of volunteers from Mac Baren, romanticized remnants from the civil war.
  • Drovian Rebels are Highlanders from Furstenberg that defected because of inter clan feuds.
  • Border Scouts (or Grenzers) are battalion strength light infantry units that patrol the Karzstan Mountains.
  • Canton Infantry are the foot units provided by the individual Cantons involved in the 23 Weeks War.
  • Skylarks are units of foreign mercenaries under the command of Rumpwhistle officers.

Total: 26 battalions, 4 demi battalions, 308 miniatures.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Enlightened Imaginations - Army Building

Having cleared my schedule and my painting table (updates coming soon of recently finished projects, which include Russian Civil War Tschankas, 19th century imaginations naval forces, and some shore fortifications), I am now returning to a project started three years ago, prior to finishing my PhD and starting life as a professor.

I have begun the process of assembling and painting the Armies of the Principality of Bombastia, and the Duchy of Poppenheim.  These are to be based (loosely) on the armies of Peter the Great, and Charles XII. I am using the Wargames Factory "War of the Spanish Succession" figures for the infantry, which is the first part of the project.

I have, from a purchase made under the original ownership of Wargames Factory, but delivered after the company changed hands, a dozen boxes of infantry, each capable of modeling 36 figures.  As I am planning on building 24 figure units, that will give me 8 full size units, and 2 half size units for each side.

The two warring powers represent (in my fictional Imagi-Nations history) separate states, based on older medieval fiefdoms, that would eventually be absorbed into the more modern state of Furstenberg.  Because of the historical ties, and due to a restriction imposed on the Furstenberg states by the church, during the 17th century wars of religion that wracked Balkania (see the War of St. Helga's Baptismal, in the general history of Furstenberg, the armies of any of the Furstenberg powers were not permitted to employ grenadiers in field battles.  Because of this, there are no units in either army that bear the classification of Grenadier.

However, Poppenheim could employed converged regiments of elite infantry (pulling companies from line battalions), and Bombastia would frequently converge the elite flank companies of the regular infantry battalions, as well as having formed standing regiments of elite infantry.  It is important to know that although these units may have appeared in the Furstenberg "Grand Tally of Arms" (the best surviving record of battalions and regiments under arms, during the 17ths and 18th century in the seven provinces of Furstenberg) as alternatively "Heavy Infantry" and "Guard Infantry" they were routinely referred to as Grenadiers by the officers - many of which had trained in the arms service of other nations..

Here are the first photos of the first battalion under construction, a Poppenheim unit.

That picture shows four stands, each 60mm x 40mm and with six figures. The command stand features three musketeers and a drummer, standard bearer and an officer.
 A different angle, showing the figures face on.

An image showing a ruler for reference, and a fine Balkanian tobacco pipe, used to assist in the painting process.

Assembling the 21 musketeers took about 40 minutes.  And I wasn't rushed (ref: Balkanian smoking pipe).  The three officers took a little longer, maybe 20-30 minutes for all three.  In all, less time than it would have taken to clean metal figures.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Star Wars X-Wing - simple campaign rules

I have played this a few times now, and really like it.  The models are great, and the game system is a nice modification of the Wings of War (Wings of Glory) system.

Picture of an X-Wing game in progress, from Boardgame Geek

One of the things, especially given the great stories about the conflicts between different units of Imperial and Rebel units in the Expanded Universe (books, comics, games, etc), is the idea of an ongoing campaign within a sector of space.

I have been thinking of how to do this, especially given a map, and some unit logistics, and access to different units (ships, fighters, etc), but it is still in the works.

However, for some simple "pilot focused" games, where a player is rewarded for good performance with the same pilot, I offer up these rules.  This is based on the situation where either a Club or Game Store is the location for regular, weekly (or whenever), play.  With players able to play games with other players in the campaign.

We're all in it together.

 1. Once a player chooses a unit (ship, fighter, etc - including all upgrades), that player will play that unit until they either (1) are *killed* in a game, or (2) gain enough experience points to purchase a new confuration.

2. Once a new player enters the campaign, they are allowed to purchase a fighter, with a pilot and upgrades, for a set amount of points (suggested - start with 15 or 20 pts for Imperial players, and maybe 25 points for Rebel players). See alternative below, for all players being in the same squadron.

3. For each game that a player "survives" they receive 1 new point ("increase points").

4. For each point of damage (regular or critical) that they inflict on an enemy ship, they receive 1 new point.

5. For each enemy ship that they inflict the killing shot (this could be shared, by ships firing simultaneously), they receive 1 additional new increase point.

6. Anytime a player wants to use their points (added to their starting value) they may replace their unit with a different unit.

Trophy in the Ready Room.
Option 1: "Part of the Rebel Alliance" All players are (either) Rebel or Imperial.  In any game, some of the players (or bystanders) will have to play units of the other side.  If campaign players are playing the "bad guys" then after the game is over (regardless of how they do), they will receive points "on account".  These points will be awarded to their total, after the next game that they play, as a regular player (piloting their regular ship).  The amount of points that they receive varies based on how well that they do.  If the "bad guy" pilot survives the encounter and their side wins, then they receive 1 point for every ship (or fighter) on the "good guy" side.  If the bad guys lose, then they receive half (round down) of this amount.

Option 2: "The Force is Strong in this One" When a player finally dies, they get to come into the game with a new pilot at the starting level.  If that pilot survives their first battle, then they immediately receive Half of the increase points that their prior pilot had.  This represents the training that a pilot could have received from their (now dead) mentor.

Note that a campaign referee should "ok" any games, in terms of scenario, balance of forces, etc.  In the case of players being on both sides (Imperial and Rebel) this is less important, but in the case where all the players are on one side, it will quickly get out of hand, if a Referee is not part of the solution.

This system would work much better if there are multiple games each week (or each club get-together), with smaller faster encounters making for a better campaign.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Wargaming project update

So, things at Gaming with Chuck HQ have settled into the typical Autumn pattern - school, work, trips, looking ahead to holidays, etc.

The weather is nice enough that I can use my painting area (which is in the garage) again, without suffering from the summer heat.

We have had some very nice (and successful) game nights at our house lately, mostly board and card games.

I have been working on a couple of wargaming projects, and have some progress to report.

1. I have completed the painting on the vessels (for both navies) for my 1870s imagi-nations naval project.  I now have fleets for both the Margravate of Furstenberg, and the Confederated Cantons of Rumpwhistle.  Games coming soon.

2. I have built some shore facilities to use with the new navies - some towns, and some fortification/gun batteries.  Yet to be painted.  Nice to have, but not needed for games.

3. I have constructed the first 6 figures (plastic, multipart) for my 1700 imagi-nations project (Poppenheim vs. Bombastia).  These went together very easily, and I think I will stick wth the plastics.  I already have a bunch purchased (Wargames Factory - owned when the company was under the original leadership, but this left me with 332 infantry figures, enough for both armies). The 6 figures took seconds to put together.  The basic figure in the Wargames Factory box sets go together really easily - 2/3 of the figures only need a head attached.  The other figures are a little bit more complex (heads, and arms).  Looking forward to doing some whole (24 figure) units

4. The 1870 infantry (repurposed ACW figures, now used for Furstenberg and Rumpwhistle) has been MOSTLY rebased and ready to go.  There is still a box of infantry left to work up, and some more cavalry, and guns.  This is pretty much ready to go for a small battle, which I hope to get played this autumn.  Still thinking about rules.

5. Really thinking about dark ages stuff (vikings, danes, scotts, etc).  Have lots of lead, just deciding if I want to do this before or after the 1700 stuff.

Pictures and ship details on the navies; posed pictures, maybe a game, for the 1870 stuff.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Western Music and Western Gaming

[NOTE: This is the 400th post at Gaming with Chuck.  Huzzah!]

The mythological old west of the United States is a fantastic place, to tell stories, to set songs, and even to base gaming themes on.  First a couple of pieces of classic Western music.

In the fantastic song Ghost Riders in the Sky a story is told about a herd of demonic cattle (red eyes, steel hooves, flaming brands) being chased forever by cursed cowboys.  It is reminiscent of tales like the Flying Dutchman, or the Wild Hunt.  The song was first recorded by none other than the fantastic singer, Burl Ives in February of 1949.  It was then recorded by Vaughn Monroe in March of 1949.  Monroe's version is fantastic, partially because of his incredible basso voice, but also the music is very well done.  In contrast, many other versions that feature (mostly) a single instrument - like Burl Ives', or Johnny Cash's versions - are pretty nice to hear as well.  There is a nice Youtube recording of the Burl Ives version.

This song has been recorded so many times, by so many great artists, it is hard to know which to include.  However, in the (mostly terrible) movie Ghost Rider (based on the much better comic book character), Nicholas Cage gets a modern remake of the skull-and-hellfire cowboy.  The song got a remake as well, with a version by Spiderbait.  Dare I say it - the brief bit with Sam Elliott as the traditional horse riding version of Ghost Rider is 187x more classy than Nick Cage's motorcycle riding version.  But then again, Sam Elliott is a real cowboy.

Famous cowboy singer Marty Robbins did a version as well.  But, if I'm going to include a western song by Marty Robbins, it HAS to be El Paso.  Nothing more to say on that one.  I think verses of it even were reprinted inside the rulebook "Hey You in the Jail" (great range war miniatures game by Peter Pig).

American Cowboy (the website of the cowboy lifestyle) has a great list of the top 100 western songs.  Lots of great songs there.  But if I think of some of my favorite western movies, and some of the songs from them, I have to include the rendition of "My Rifle, my Pony, and Me" by Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson, from the fantastic John Wayne piece, "Rio Bravo" (1959).

Okay, moving from what is a HUGE topic of music, to an equally large topic of gaming, I would like to start with a relatively recent (2002) offering - the card game Bang!.  This has been a great hit for Emiliano Sciarra, spinning of a bunch of expansions and variations.  There is even, now, a dice game.

The game is about gun fighting in a classic Hollywood, or Spaghetti Western, style town.  There are different roles for the players - Sheriff, Deputy, Outlaw and Renegade - and classic actions (shooting, hiding, etc).  Here is the text from Board Game Geek, which is mostly from the original game's box back...
"The Outlaws hunt the Sheriff. The Sheriff hunts the Outlaws. The Renegade plots secretly, ready to take one side or the other. Bullets fly. Who among the gunmen is a Deputy, ready to sacrifice himself for the Sheriff? And who is a merciless Outlaw, willing to kill him? If you want to find out, just draw (your cards)!" (From back of box)

This card game recreates an old-fashioned spaghetti western shoot-out, with each player randomly receiving a Character card to determine special abilities, and a secret Role card to determine their goal.

Four different Roles are available, each with a unique victory condition:
  • Sheriff - Kill all Outlaws and the Renegade
  • Deputy - Protect the Sheriff and kill any Outlaws
  • Outlaw - Kill the Sheriff
  • Renegade - Be the last person standing
A player's Role is kept secret, except for the Sheriff. Character cards are placed face-up on table, and also track strength (hand limit) in addition to special ability.
There are 22 different types of cards in the draw deck. Most common are the BANG! cards, which let you shoot at another player, assuming the target is within "range" of your current gun. The target player can play a "MISSED!" card to dodge the shot. Other cards can provide temporary boosts while in play (for example, different guns to improve your firing range) and special one-time effects to help you or hinder your opponents (such as Beer to restore health, or Barrels to hide behind during a shootout). A horse is useful for keeping your distance from unruly neighbors, while the Winchester can hit a target at range 5.
The Gatling is a deadly exception where range doesn't matter - it can only be used once, but targets all other players at the table!
Information on the cards is displayed using language-independent symbols, and 7 summary/reference cards are included.
A great game.  Another western themed card game that has loads of period flavor is the fantastic Mystery Rummy spinoff Wyatt Earp, based on the original series design by Mike Fitzgerald.  The game also has Richard Borg listed as a designer, so perhaps he added the unique elements to this title. The game has the players in the role of Sheriff's attempting to bring in dangerous (and famous) criminals of the old west.  It involves collecting and playing sets of cards.  Lots of fun, and a ton of theme.

Another card game, that is quite popular, but not one of my favorites, is Munchkin.  There is (yes, of course there is) an Old West themed version, called The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin! It, itself, even has expansions.

 On the boardgame front, there is a lot to choose from, including the classic man-to-man shooting boardgame from Avalon Hill, Gunslinger (1982). It is a great hex based man-to-man cowboy combat game, with a number of cool scenarios you can play out of the book, and is easy enough to create any situation you want, from novels, movies, or your own imagination.

A nice modern re-doing of the man-to-man cowboy game (and there have been a number over the years) is the 2007 release of "Cowboys: Way of the Gun" from Worthington Games.  Other than different mechanics, one of the big differences is the reliance on square grid vs. hex grid for the map structure and movement, etc.

Another nice theme for board games is Western Expansion.  Two that I can immediately think of, other than the many, many different railroad games set in the old west, are Oregon, and Settlers of America: Trails to Rails.  There are many, many titles in this category as well, but those two come to mind immediately.

Oregon is all about building up buildings, mines, and other features to help construct a territory in the west. It is a lot of fun, pretty well balanced (typical Euro in that regard), and great art/theme. It is a settling game, and appropriately, it is based on Area Control and placing Tiles.  Great game, however.

Settlers of America: Trails to Rails is a Settlers of Catan based game, with a fixed map of the United States during the Manifest Destiny period, and it is a great economic game about western expansion. And it features typically high quality components and quality control from Mayfair Games.

There are also a lot of western themed RPGs that I could mention (Boot Hill, Deadlands, Western Hero), as well as some western themed Miniatures Rules (The Rules With No Name, Hey You in the Jail, Pony Wars).  After all of this, however, I am again faced with the thought that the Old West (in myth, if not in reality) is a fantastic theme for music, games, and movies.  And I didn't even mention too much about the movies...