Thursday, March 24, 2016

Solo Campaign Idea

In thinking about a solo campaign, I am of a mind that many of the actions that one would want to do in a wargaming (military) campaign should be adjudicated through some stochastic method - a dice chance, or probability chance - of success.  This keeps too much mono-thought and knowledge of what the other side (i.e. - the same player - me) is thinking, from creeping into the calculus of what a turn consists of.  If every action has to be diced for, then there is necessarily a layer of artificial constraint introduced that will keep actions from always being successful.

Okay, enough philosophy of solo game design.  Here is my idea.  Have a map, based on point-to-point movement, which is marked up with a number of key pieces of information. Initially, I am thinking that the information would be numbers reflecting the chances of completing a military move, and also of recovering casualties and recruiting new figures.  Here is an example of what I am thinking of.

On this map, the hexagons represent campaign locations.  The castle symbols represent either cities or fortified areas (the actual symbols used would be based on what time period, and what sorts of locations are important to know about for that time period).  The black numbers are the difficult of completing a move along that route.  If you decide to try and move an army from location G to location H, for instance, you see that the route has a "9" marked on it.  That means, in this simple example, that if you roll 2d6, and score 9 or less, then the move is successful.  Sea routes are also marked - notice the score along the river between B and E, and the score along the coast between E and J.  The Anchor symbol represents that the location has access to water based movement along the waterway that the anchor is connected to.

So much for movement.  But the locations on the map are also marked with pairs of red numbers under each.  Those represent two things - the first is the chance to recover troops.  This could be a chance to recover lost stands from a unit, after a battle.  Again, this is based on a roll of 2d6 or less.  The numbers used are purely for example and discussion in this article, but the numbers I used are 8 in regular locations, 10 in population centers (cities), and 6 in ports (or economic centers, but none were marked on this map), where I reasoned that there are more demands for work would mean it is harder to recruit men to serve in a unit.  The second number is the chance to recruit a whole unit if it is available to an army to recruit such a unit.  Limits could arise from the tactical rules used (i.e. - in some games, and army only consists of a maximum number of units), or could be introduced as part of the campaign (each leader is given an Operations rating, which represents the maximum number of units he may have under his control).

This system could easily be expanded by introducing resources (gold, food, ore, magic, etc) to represent the particular time period.  Different types of routes could be introduced (rail lines, which would also have a number representing how difficult it would be to plan a military move over a stretch of rail).  By having different routes, different rules on how many different types of moves a unit could make, could be introduced.

That brings me to the last point - action points.  I was originally thinking something like 3 action points.  It would cost 1 point to move one segment by land, and 1 point to try to recover a lost stand to a unit, but all 3 points to try and recruit a new unit, and maybe 1/2 point to move by a sea route.  In this way, if using a 2d6 system to adjudicate actions, then if rolling a 2, one would have a critical success, and would be able to recover an additional action point to use this turn.  If rolling a 12, it would mean abysmal failure in planning, and no additional action points may be spent that turn.

Finally, the added element might be characters, or rulers.  I always liked the idea, based on the original Tony Bath concept, of having all the major characters in a campaign nation to be developed.  This was done in very nice way in the board game Blood Royale, many years ago, and also in many miniatures campaign systems.  One of the things by having a dice based campaign system, is that some characters might be better at some actions vs others, not to mention skills at tactical combat (either command bonuses, or combat bonuses).  For instance, Lord Whistlebird is a harsh tyrant, but a bit of a coward. He gains a +1 bonus to target numbers when trying to organize a march (he pushes the men into a forced march), but gets no bonus from being in combat with a unit.

Many possibilities are here with even such a simple system.  I think I might put together a map, and try it out with the Renaissance troops.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Italian Wars wargame (pt 2)

In part 1 I talked about the game I set up, along with the army lists.  This was a game, set in the 1490s, between a rather generic French force, and a rather generic Italian force.  In looking at the history a little closer, and also looking at the units in the armies (from the lists by Neil Thomas, in Wargaming: An Introduction) I think it is fair to say that a good inspiration for the army lists that I settled on could have been representative of the Battle of Fornovo (July 6 1495, near the city of Parma).
Battle of Fornovo

The Battle of Fornovo was fought between the forces of Charles VIII (of France) and the Republic of Venice, with help from the Duchy of Milan and the Margravate of Mantua.

In my case, rather than having a river extend between the two armies, I had it run down the table, from the Italian side of the battle field to the French.  The battlefield looked something like this:
The battlefield, using new Terrainguy tiles, purchased from Hal
With a couple of hills, and a cross roads.  There are some small patches of woodlands, and the villa to the right side of the table.  In the image, the Italian army is set up at top, and the French army at the bottom of the picture.

The battle opened up, with a turn of maneuver, and then the two battle lines were within artillery range of each other.  The French army had two modern (for 1495) pieces of artillery, and the Italians had an older, mid 15th century, bombard.  The French artillery was used, to good effect, against one of the units of Italian Gendarmes.  The Italian Bombard blew up.  Yes, the first time it was attempted to be fired, the Italian bombard exploded.

The Neil Thomas rules play very fast, and since there is no order writing, or maneuver planning, it is pretty well suited for solo play.  With the very simple army list and troop type structure, and no points values, I don't think it would make for a great basis for a solo campaign.
The Swiss Pike - 2 units, 6 stands each
The Swiss, in this period, are fierce - they have to advance towards the enemy each turn, but do not have to take morale checks while in melee combat (which means they fight to the slow, terrifying death). In these rules, morale checks for losing a base reflect the dwindling resolve of the unit - for each failed morale check, another base goes away.  Since infantry units have only 6 bases, taking a loss of one base to Melee casualties, and then failing a morale check to lose another, means you've lost 1/3 of your combat effectiveness.  It is worse if you take more than one stand loss in a turn.

The Italian Shot, armed with crossbow, inbetween the swordsmen and the Italian pike
The French cavalry in this army are divided up between two types - Gendarmes (typical, high morale, and extremely well armored in plate mail and metal barding for the warhorses), and also a cavalry type known as Mounted Bow.  Evidently, following the Hobilars of the earlier (100 Years War) period, the French still experimented with mounted archers. But by the time of the Italian Wars, the units still existed within the army, but they no longer carried their bows into combat, preferring instead to fight as second rate Gendarmes (something akin to a medieval Sergent).  The French Army, according to Mr Thomas' rules, can also include some mounted crossbow, but I did not include them in this battle.

French cavalry, to left, encounter Italian Gendarmes. Swiss Pike, at bottom, still approaching
The battle saw the French Gendarmes split up.  One unit went in to the Italian line, avoiding the pike, and attempted to engage the Swordsmen and the Crossbow.  They were partially successful against the Swordsmen (mauling them), but were eventually swarmed by the Italian Crossbow, and the Italian Pike.
Mercenary Italian Crossbowman, in French Service
As mentioned in Part 1, I have a wide variety of renaissance figures, although I recently acquired a good many of the Late 15th/Early 16th century variety from a friend - thanks Mark.  Where I needed to, however, I filled in for this fight.  The Mercenary Italian Crossbow, for instance, are actually about 50-100 years out of period (they are early figures, I believe originally sold by Mikes Models as Early Swiss?).

French Gendarmes encounter Italian Swordsmen
One thing about the Neil Thomas rules for this period - they were written in reaction to his own Medieval (and Ancient) rules.  Those rules featured all units (except artillery - which have only 1 stand) to be comprised of four stands - in a 2x2 formation.  That holds true of the renaissance rules with regards to cavalry, but infantry is typically a 6 stand unit.  To make the rules work without a lot of fuss about multi-unit combats, lanes of advance, flank definitions, etc - he kept the units to a simple 2 stand frontage, but now infantry is three ranks deep.  When the unit has to engage, it rolls combat dice for all stands, making the Renaissance infantry twice as tough as the earlier infantry.

Used as French Mounted Archers, without their bows
The cavalry in these rules, hit pretty hard, against everyone except fellow cavalry of the same grade (i.e. Gendarmes v Gendarmes, or Stradiots v Stradiots), and against Pike (to be understood).  However, against everyone else they hit pretty hard.  For instance, Gendarmes roll 2d6 per stand vs. Swordsmen, and 3d6 vs Shot (either arquebus or crossbow).  But only 1d6 vs other Gendarmes, or vs Pikemen.

Mercenary Crossbow preparing to cross the river
The terrain tiles I recently acquired from Hal are very nice to put under a game.  Other than the persistent pattern of the surface of the foam rubber tile, the paint and grass coating are very nice, and the color is great.  The tiles are thick enough to provide a nice surface on top of the table, and they lock together well.  If there is a complaint I have it is that the pattern of the rubber DOES show through (not a big deal), and also that the seam where the jigsaw edges lock together is apparent.  But that isn't too big a deal for a nice, portable surface.

In the picture above, you can see some of the terrain elements I used.  Of course, I used felt for the road, which is always serviceable.  I used my commercial river, which looked good on the tile surface.  I also used a painted bridge and villa, both in resin originally.  And woodland scenics trees, mounted on fender washers.  The hills are beadboard, with paint and grass applied.  I did not make the hills, but I do have a series in the works - they are awaiting final finishing, and I hope to feature them in a game later on this spring or summer.

Mounted Crossbow in the Italian army
I am not sure of all the newly acquired figures, but many of the figures I had that I merged together for this battle were Table Top Games (TTG), Minifigs, and Mike's Models.  They all look great on the tabletop, but the Minifigs and TTG look really good together.  Mike's Models always look a bit squatty, although I love the look.  It is like merging together the squatty Essex figures together with the old series 1 Minifigs.  Yeah, they are both ~15mm, but they might be of a different species - even though they both look great separately.

During the game, I only had painted one unit of mounted crossbow available, and the Italian army called for two.  The army also had a unit of foot crossbow, so I made the decision to dismount one of the mounted crossbow units, and field it (for the battle) as a foot unit.  I actually have (recently dug out, and based for priming) enough Minifigs mounted crossbow (in the 15mm Renaissance line) to complete a unit.  Pictures to follow, as they get completed.

I use nylon upholstery rings for casualty markers
The ruleset from Mr Thomas has a variety of different figures per base, and used basing sizes to make it fully compliant with the typical WRG style basing (used in everything from WRG, DBA, Might of Arms, to more modern things, not to mention Armati, Impetus, etc etc etc).  So that means that a stand will have anywhere between 2 figures (for light infantry, and light cavalry) to 3 or 4 figures (for denser, heavier formations of troops).  An artillery piece has a gun and the crew.  In the rules, each stand (regardless of type) takes four hits.  So your 2 figure light infantry stand takes four hits, and my 3 figure arquebus, and my 4 figure halberdiers all take four hits.  I mark the casualties with plastic upholstery rings, and there is no paperwork.  Casualties carry over - if I have three hits on my unit, and I take two more hits (total of five), that is one removed stand, and one hit carried over.

Stands come right off the unit.  The rules allow for mixed units (halberd/bow, and pike/shot, for instance).  The rules are, when a unit loses a stand in melee combat it is always either a pike or halberd stand.  When it loses a stand from fire combat, it is always either a bow or shot stand.  When you lose a stand to shooting, that is all. But when you lose a stand to Melee combat, then you have to pass a morale test (the only morale tests in the game) - for instance, Levy troops require a 5 or 6 on a D6 roll.  No such rolls are required for losing a stand to Fire combat.

French Gendarmes ride past an Italian Villa
One thing I don't have, that I would like to, for further Italian Wars wargaming, or campaigning, and that is additional suitable Italian wargames terrain.  Most of what I have works just fine, but I feel like to get that Italian countryside feel, I need some stone/brick buildings with roundtile roofs (like the white building above, but that might be more Mediterranean or Iberian (or Mexican).  I have a few more like that, and they'll do, but more is better.  Oh, and poplar trees.  All the paintings I have ever seen of the Italian countryside, always feature Poplar trees - either manicured groups of them in farm country, or growing along roads, around farm buildings, etc.

The Italian Condottieri leading the Gendarmes
One of the things I really like about this time period, is the preponderance of really, heavy hitting cavalry.  There were certainly a LOT of different types of light cavalry during the period (mounted crossbows proliferate through the Italian Wars, as well as Stradiot, Genitors, and others).  The introduction of gunpowder is the peeling of the death knell of the bells of history, as far as formed cavalry is concerned, but it will take military science four more centuries to lose its love affair with the deadly effective massive cavalry charge.

Charles VIII Enter
For the purposes of developing scenarios, the fact that the Imperialists, the French, and to a certain extent the Spanish all viewed the wealthy Italian cities as plump ripe prizes for the taking, it is a great time and a great place to set wargames.  There have been many folks who observed and commented, over the years, that pike and shot wargaming is rather rare, considering it is a colorful period, and has a unique (identifiable) combat style with strong, distinctive combat arms in each army.  One of the reasons I think it is rare is this - many people view Renaissance warfare (tactically) as one of Rock-Paper-Scissors (I even had a dealer at a convention remark that to me, many many years ago, as I was buying some figures from him).  If you have Pike, they automatically defeat Shot and Horse.  If you have Horse, they beat lesser Horse, and Shot.  If you have Shot, they can defend your Pike from flank attacks. Etc etc etc.  But I think it is more subtle of a period than that.
The Situation in Italy
The game was immensely satisfying, and I have been looking for a historical situation to base a solo campaign on.  Ideally it would be based on a situation where there were multiple independent political units, with armies of roughly the same technology,  in a confined geographic space.  Italy at the end of the 15th century is almost perfect.  Time to consult with my Machiavelli map.

Great images of soldiery from the time, in this set of German prints showing city flags and heraldry.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Italian Wars miniature wargame

(Note: Part 2 of this article is posted here).

Recently I have been organizing and working with my 15mm Renaissance collection.  I had a decent sized collection - split about evenly between early 16th century figures for an Italian War type army (pike, arquebus, bombard, swordsmen, gendarmes), and a mid 17th century conflict (later Thirty Years War, or English Civil War - with soldiers in buff coats and breastplate, or unarmored, with pikes, early muskets, reiters with plate mail and pistol, and buffcoat cavalry with sword and pistol).  I have played games, and even written rules and campaigns, for both periods in the past (in the years before Gaming with Chuck existed, mostly).  A fantastic time period, full of all sorts of military pageantry and great history. Gaming With Chuck published an earlier article on Renaissance Wargaming, with links to great reference material.

In addition to the collection I already owned, I recently came into a large collection of 16th century types that really buff out my collection.  Hundreds of infantry (mostly pikemen, but also some with polearms and swords, as well as a generous amount of arquebus/musket troops).  Also many, many cavalrymen - mostly of the gendarme variety but also a solid number of reiters.  This really fills out my collection nicely, in the late 15th and early 16th century.

So I thought it prudent to set up and play a game, since I have spent so much time lately oohing and aahing over the figures.  Especially the new figures, but also how many different armies I can form, from the period, given the troops that I now own.

I set up a 4x6 table, with a river, a crossroads, and a small villa/farm - with a few gentle hills and some scattered, but small (probably sheared back) forest areas.  It  could be Northern Italy.  I find myself wishing for more poplars, and more houses with an Italian architecture (possible modeling projects for the future).  See Part 2 of this article, for pictures of the wargaming table, and the game in action.

This is the look I was going for - must get more poplars...
 Then I set out two armies.  At first I was considering the Terry Gore rules for Renaissance, and then I opted for the smaller, but very fun to play, Neil Thomas rules for Renaissance in his Wargaming: An Introduction (discussed and reviewed many times here at GwC).  What I did not have with me was a phone or camera, but I will be playing out the game over the next week or so, and I will post pictures of the game in progress.

The French army has the following units:
2x Units of Swiss Pike
1x Unit of Crossbow
2x Units of Gendarmes
1x Unit of Mounted Bow
2x Cannon

The third mounted unit (the Mounted Bow) is interesting.  It is named mounted bow, but by the late 15th/early 16th century they did not use their bows from horseback.  Instead they are lighter, less elite version of the knights (the gendarmes) - nobility mounted on armored horses, and carrying a military grade lance.

The Italian (Condottieri) army has the following units:
2x units of Gendarms
1x unit of Mounted Crossbow (should be two units, but I converted one to a foot unit)
2x units of Foot Crossbow
1x unit of Italian Pike
1x unit of Swordsmen
1x Medieval Bombard (primitive compared to the cannon)

The pikemen and swordsmen will not be a match for the Swiss in French service.  The Gendarmes are of a higher grade than the French Gendarmes, so that might be the key to winning.
THE Condottiero - from Da Vinci

Monday, March 14, 2016

Casual Game Day - March 12

We had some good friends visit this weekend, and decided to have a board game day.  Mostly we played casual games, and had some good conversations.

Started out with "the cow game" - that is, our nickname for the German card game 6 Nimmt!  If this game has a theme (and it really doesn't) it is the great cartoony art of the cow's heads on the cards.  It is the one time when at our house, multiple people will be talking about hornochsen and trying not to curse their bad luck!
This was followed up by another lightweight, the dice game that we always reach for as filler, whether with gamers or non gamers alike.  Zombie Dice!  This brilliant, but again simple, little dice game from Steve Jackson Games is much more fun than it should be.  And it always allows us to compare various levels of luckiness, and decry the ever-present factor of "kid dice" - that strange luck that accrues to the youngest gamer at the table in a dice game.
If there is a game that is less in need of expansion, or of dressing up with accessories, it is Zombie Dice.  And yet . . . we have both expansions (ZD:2 and ZD:3), but never play with them (well, we did when they first came out, but gentle readers - they are not favorites here at Gaming with Chuck HQ).  And the game does not need to be dressed up.  But I have been thinking of getting some brains for scoring.  Typically we will use a score pad, but the plastic Bag O'Brains option is pretty nice, as are some of the rubber brain pencil erasers.  Perhaps.

We followed up Zombie Dice with The Resistance.  A good game, pairing logic and deduction, with suspicion and hidden roles.  Fun, and of course, the Spy players were quite secretive and kept their cool until the end, when they finally persevered.  One of the few times I've seen the Spy players win, without taking the first round.  But we had a lot of new players on both sides.

Okay, so with a house full of experienced gamers (and two new comers), and a game collection with hundreds and hundreds of titles in it, why did we pick these three?  Simple - we had 7 players, and wanted to do something lightweight.  They were perfect for the mood and the number of players.  Sure, we like 7 Wonders, and have been wanting to try Between Two Cities, with a full table - but that wasn't the mood.  There was brief mention of Caverna, and also Formula D, but we decided to stick with the light stuff.

After The Resistance, we lost two players, and then with five there was a request for Ticket to Ride.  So we got out our 10th anniversary board, set it up, and proceeded to teach two new players how to play.  They left the game convinced that they had to get TtR and also check out some of these other games that we play.  Success.

We broke for dinner, and after dinner, a different subset of the group played Apples to Apples.  A much better, and much less offensive version of the game than that other one (which I won't name, but which actively engages players to lose their humanity).  They had a ton of fun (I did not partake in AtA).

 Were there other games we wanted to play?  Yes, definitely.  Some of the people who visited have been part of various D&D games we have played over the past few years (and one of them, I have played RPGs with since the late 1980s).  But not this time.  We have planned to play next time we get together.
The other thing we talked about playing was a miniatures game.  Several of us have been quite taken in by Frostgrave (from Osprey Games).  A very fun game.  But again, while we compared our recently painted figures (wizards and hirelings) we did not play this time.  Clearly another game day is needed, real soon.