Thursday, 12 December 2019

Impressions of Lasalle Napoleonic rules by Sam Mustafa

A few posts ago I mentioned that I had completed an inventory of my figures/armies, and that it was my intention to get some of the lesser used figures on the table. In the run up to Christmas my diary, and that of opponents, tends to get full and as a consequence the opportunities for competitive games dries up. I therefore turn to solo gaming and trials of different rule sets.

My large collection of 25mm Minifig Napoleonic armies are some of the oldest I possessing dating back to the mid-1970’s! The sculpts are poor by modern standards, but I find the old school style attractive. I have never considered the need to update any of the armies and the larger 28mm figures do not mix well. These armies have seen considerable action over their lifetime but have not come out of their boxes in recent years. I decided to rectify this and re-visit a set of rules I enjoyed when they were first released; ‘Lasalle’ by Sam Mustafa.

I have played four games covering all four theatres of operations (Conquest, Empire, Liberation and Peninsular) using French versus Austrian, Russian, Prussian and British forces. Each game revolved around the basic ‘Line’ Division, plus one additional brigade as outlined in the force selection part of the rules. I was pleasantly surprised how smoothly the games flowed, and appreciated how the game end victory conditions worked. The key rules design feature is a simple re-ordering of the standard player turn; instead of the normal move/fire/melee sequence, Lasalle changes this to fire(react)/melee/move. This basic change, at a stroke, removes all those ‘what if’ situations and out of sequence reactions found in almost all other rules. It introduces clarity and order, makes players choices clear, and allows greatly improved structure and order in the rule writing. The QRS is sufficient for most of the game, but when a point needs to be looked up, it can be quickly found in the relevant section of the rule book. Sam Mustafa’s writing is concise and thoughtfully illustrated with examples where needed, and the rules are beautifully produced. I used the advanced/optional rules because they are not complex and do add to the experience.

I think Lasalle represents one of the best sets of rules (of any period) that I own. They give a great game experience, and are an exemplar of how a set of rules should be written and published. They are not perfect, no rules are! I feel the terrain selection rules do not work well, the set up choices are limited and too often the defender will place a long stone wall across his frontline. This problem is easily rectified by substituting whatever terrain method a player prefers. I also feel it is too easy to charge artillery head on; the gunners really have no choice but to retire out of harms’ way rather than delivering a devastating blast of canister and stopping the attack in its tracks. I have a few minor ‘house’ rules I will introduce to my games, none of which drastically alter the nature of the game. I can see more Napoleonic games using Lasalle in the near future.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Boardgame Session 1Dec2019

‘Brass’ is a boardgame that I have been interested in playing for a while due to its reputation. This Sunday we finally got to play ‘Brass – Birmingham’ with Val and Chris. There is a lot going on in the game and many possible paths to riches and victory. The range of actions open to a player is both limited and straight forward, but the options available is much wider and frequently depends on what others have done and the positions on the map. Which of the three manufacturing industries do you wish to invest in? Will you concentrate on building a good network? Do you put your money into coal or steel, or beer? When do you get a loan so you can invest in your empire? Do you trash lower status factories to enable you to invest in possible better facilities later? Do you build early before another player snatches towns away from you? Decision making in this game is tough, and players who suffer from analysis paralysis will struggle and slow the game down! The game also splits nicely into to two, with the canal era being followed by the rail era. The board is partially re-set, and the parameters for establishing a network change so that coal is a more important resource. In our game beer was the limiting factor in the canal era, and for me, the beer mechanism seemed a bit strange thematically although I can see that it is necessary for game play. The card play is good and provides a time/clock mechanism for the game, and you only have a few turns to accomplish what you want to do.
Brass: Birmingham Cover Artwork

Our game took ~3 hours to complete, which seems like a long time but game play is reasonably fast and you become so absorbed that time passes un-noticed. I had a healthy lead in terms of victory points at the end on the canal era, but my income was low and I had ignored building potteries (which can yield large victory points). I therefore entered the rail era with some trepidation! In the second half of the game Chris came storming forward, upgrading his potteries and utilising his coal production to good effect to construct a good rail network. Val and Elaine both had good income streams, and I felt I was struggling financially. Elaine and I had to leave before the final scores were calculated, and I was sure I had come last. It turned out that Chris won with 123 points, I was only just behind on 120 points, Elaine was third with 100 points and Val came in last.

On reflection, I can see why Chris won but am not sure why/how I managed second place. I felt both Elaine and Val had played better than me in the second era, and I don’t think my success early on would result in a high score at the end.
Both Elaine and I really enjoyed the game. It makes you think and you are constantly interested in the actions of the other players. As a result I am thinking of buying my own copy of Brass. I think I might buy the ‘Lancashire’ version, which has some differences in rules and geography, but still has the same core mechanics. The ‘Birmingham’ version appears to be rated by gamers as the better of the two, but I would prefer not to duplicate Chris’s game collection. My only negative criticisms of the game are (i) the dark artwork, but I suppose this is to convey the black, satanic mills of the industrial revolution Black Country, and (ii) the ‘night’ board on the reverse of the ‘day’ board. I can’t see the point of this, surely the publishers would have been better advised to use a different area of the country, or maybe, simply combine the two games (‘Birmingham’ and ‘Lancashire’).

Monday, 25 November 2019

AAR: Pirates (blood & Plunder) 24Nov19

I had not played an opposed game in the last couple of months, but on Sunday I met with Ian to give my pirates an outing using Blood & Plunder (Firelock Games). We used a 4’x4’ table with a cluster of houses (barricaded) in the middle, surrounded by a scattering of woods and miscellaneous crates to provide cover. Not the most inspiring of terrain set ups but I wanted to keep this game simple as it was a first outing for the rules. We randomly selected forces; Ian got a French militia force and I got Spanish militia (not a pirate is sight!), and deployed 12” in from opposite corners.

It was a bit disappointing that both sides consisted primarily of ‘regular’ musket-armed militias, so there was a tendency for both to move into cover and simply blast away at each other. I did have a small group of ‘Lanceros’ who did try to get into close quarters, but they were beaten back by French defensive fire and then destroyed by subsequent volleys. I grossly mishandled my group of bow-armed ‘Indios’ by letting them get caught in the open and be blown away. I should have kept them in cover, popping out each turn to deliver rapid volleys of arrows! I did manage to occupy the village square and destroy a unit of Frenchies, but this was only temporary and a French counter-attack threw me back. I finally conceded when I was left with only 1 viable unit left and no obvious means to get at Ian’s more numerous militia ensconced behind a barricade of crates.

The rules worked well. We both liked the decisions concerning the activation cards; do you want to go first with fewer actions, or latter with more actions? When the forces are in close proximity these choices are key. The use of the leaders command points can also be important. The core mechanics of firing/saves/resolve are all simple and quick to calculate, as are the basic actions available. We did not get many close combat situations but I think these would work equally easily. The main difficulty, at least for me, was remembering the unit/leader specific rules. As a result I totally failed to perceive the strengths of my ‘Indios’ unit, which resulted in their premature and unnecessary demise. I also had ‘poorly equiped’ militia, so firing using a club card gained an extra reload marker (I think I forgot this in the early turns). Also, Ian’s leader had a ‘high profile’ characteristic which we forgot negated some rules (e.g. ‘elusive’) of the unit he was attached to. The fatigue points worked well, limiting the actions of shaken units and routing those annoying small (1-2 figure) remnant units. The game played at a fast and intense pace, so much so that I forgot to take any photos! I therefore have posted a photo of some of my pirate figures below.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Show Report: Warfare 2019

The local Reading show, Warfare, was held over the weekend. For me this is the last show of the year and I generally top up on figures to keep my painting table filled over the long winter months.

I find Warfare to be an excellent ‘retail’ show with a good range of traders and a busy B&B. The demo games are OK but not eye-candy, and there is a large competitive gaming hall. I have pretty much finished my lead pile, so I was looking for inspiration and had a pocketful of money to burn. I therefore was disappointed to find nothing ‘new’ to inspire me! Maybe I’m just jaded, or I have reached the point when I have all the figures I could possibly need, but normally this does not prevent me from making spur-of-the-moment purchases. The main ‘new’ items seemed to be the Warlord Games Black Seas offerings, but I already have some 1/1200th ships so I don’t want/need to switch scales. A brief look at the rules did not impress; too simplistic. Simulating the sailing of square-rigged ships does necessitate a more detailed approach, and the tactical handling of a squadron of such ships in a time of signalling flags etc. must have been a difficult process. Reducing the experience to a few simple dice rolls and wind angles does little to bring the period to life. I must concede the plastic models do look good, especially when fully rigged, and if I was starting from scratch I would happily invest in a few ships. The B&B at Warfare is usually good, but this year the range of merchandise seemed less and bargains rarer. I normally find at least a boardgame or two, but those on offer were over-priced and not particularly interesting.

After a couple of hours browsing, I came away from the show with a Warbase mdf Western Saloon as my only significant purchase! It took a morning to construct and I’m pretty pleased with the result. It is not the same quality as the 4Ground saloon, but only cost £15. It will require some painting and tarting up, and the interior space is empty. I will have to construct a bar, stairs, interior walls etc. but this should be fairly easy, and I’m quite looking forward to doing this.

A disappointing show for me from a purchasing perspective. I did not return on the Sunday (for the first time in years).

Monday, 4 November 2019

Boardgame Session; 3Nov2019

It has been a while since I last reported a boardgame session. Elaine and I have been playing weekly at a local games group, but I have decided not to write any posts on these evenings. Elaine also plays Mah-Jong at another group each week.

Val and Chris have not been around for a couple of months so it was good to get together again. We played a couple of ‘old’ Reiner Knizia games that were ‘new’ to us. We started with High Society, a simple bidding game that is a short (10-15 minute) filler. The rules are simple and easy to teach, but the beauty of the game lies in the twist at the end, where the player(s) with the least remaining money are automatically eliminated. Therefore as a player you are trying to get the most status points by out-bidding opponents, whilst ensuring you do not spend the most in doing so. The presence of negative cards also works by introducing the occasional rounds of ‘reverse’ bidding, and triggering a variable game end-point. This is not game that should be the focus of a game session, but it does provide an excellent filler for those spare moments that can arise and it can accommodate 4-5 players easily. I don’t think it would work with fewer than 4 players.

Next we tried Palazzo, a game I bought about a year ago from a charity shop and have not got round to playing. Players are trying to construct palaces of 3 or more floors, with as many windows as possible, and in a single building material if possible. Each turn a player can either get more money, obtain a new floor tile, or remodel one of their existing palaces. Each floor can either be bought from a central pool, or acquired by auction from one of 4 quarries. I am personally not keen on auction games (maybe why this game had not made it to the table), but Palazzo works well because the auction option is not dominant and other choices are available. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this game, and can see it appearing fairly regularly from now on. Val won both games we played; the margins were tight and I did not spot any clear tactical reasons that ensured her victory.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Off the Painting Table (Oct 2019), part 2

I have pretty much reached the bottom of my painting pile, and so I have painted a few ships.

I am not especially interested in naval wargaming, but I had a couple of plastic sprues collected from magazines. The Napoleonic ships (for the newly released Black Seas rules) are 1/700th scale and are slightly larger than my existing ships of the period i.e. 1/1200th. They may prove useful in single ship combats.

The other sprue was a pair of Vosper MBT’s for Cruel Seas, but WW2 narrow seas gaming is not my ‘cup of tea’, so these models are likely to be sold on in a B&B sale. I also painted a ~15mm coast guard vessel (I cannot remember where I acquired this), which may be used as a feature in future AK-47 games.

So, now my painting gear will be cleared up for a while, at least until after Warfare in mid-November.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Off the Painting Table (Oct 2019)

As a stop-gap between projects, I decided to paint a few more figures for my Pirate collection. All were from Wargames Foundry. I really like and enjoy painting their Swashbucklers range.

Firstly I needed a few ex-slave figures, and these will nicely fill in as Spanish Lanceros for the Blood and Plunder rules.

I also bought some Royal Navy figures from a slightly later date (Napoleonic) which will add to my existing British naval forces.

On the gaming front I have focussed on solo games using Sword and Spear rules with my Greek & Persian Wars armies. This rules work really well for solo play and bring to life these armies, who are normally rather bland under other rules systems. I plan to use my Punic Wars armies next, because I’ve never tried them with S&S, so it should be interesting.

My gaming activity is basically on hold until the Warfare show in November, when I hopefully will be inspired again.