Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Review of Blood and Plunder

Readers of this blog will know that I have searched for a set of pirate rules to suit my tastes. The closest I’ve found so far have been Donnybrook, although even they fail in some regards. I have started writing my own rule set (still at a very early stage) but I heard about another possible recent candidate, Blood and Plunder (Firelock Games, 2016) (B&P). I duly bought a copy and have been trialling them for the past couple of months.

So, what do you get for your money? A hardback A4 book with 157 pages that is well written and produced, that contains many excellent diagrams, illustrations and photos throughout. I am no expert on pirate history, but the authors include a good amount of historical background and detail. The period covered is that of ‘early’ piracy (late C17th), when forces used matchlock muskets, with some firelock muskets and pistols. My interests (and figures) are from a latter period (early C18th) when flintlocks had taken over, but the rules are easily adapted to cover this change in technology so this does not present a problem. There are four potential factions available: English, French, Spanish and Unaligned ‘Pirates’. Each faction has two ‘core’ unit types and two ‘support’ unit types, and these vary between the factions due to differing stats and special rules. The force leaders come in three levels (untested, experienced, and seasoned), additionally there are named historical characters available. The rules suggest a ‘standard’ force of 200 points, which generally comprises roughly half a dozen units each with 6-12 men. All the games I have played so far have used this ‘standard’ force size, which matches the size of game I wish to play, and I have no experience of how the game scales up or down. The rules do come with a range of scenarios and can be fought as a simple land-based game, an amphibious game or a ship versus ship game. I have only played land-based games, but have used some printed ship gaming boards to play out boarding actions (the photos are from such a game). I have not used the sailing and ship gunnery rules, so cannot comment about these aspects of the rules.

Command and control uses playing cards to determine unit initiative with higher suites going first, but the lower suites tend to give more actions. Better quality units generally have more actions. Players have a hand size equal to the number of units, therefore choosing the order to play cards is important. Firelock Games do produce themed B&P card decks but I cannot see why players would go to the unnecessary expense to buying them. Commanders can give extra actions to units within their command range which is a powerful mechanism. The range of actions available are straight forward, some are single ‘dedicated’ actions whilst others are ‘standard’ actions (e.g. move) which can be used multiple times in an activation. Movement is in blocks of 4” increments and poor terrain reduces the amount by 1”, which I found rather too little.

Shooting and melee use similar mechanisms with D10 dice: Roll to hit followed by a saving roll to determine casualties. Hits, even if saved, cause a ‘Resolve’ test to be made by the target unit, which may result in accumulation of ‘Fatigue’. Fatigue can result in less actions in future turns and finally result in the unit leaving the table, but Fatigue can be rallied off. I thought this simple morale mechanism worked well in the games played and differentiated units in terms of quality. Again Firelock Games produce special dice to record Fatigue but other markers work just as well. I also thought the reloading mechanism worked well; two smoke puffs when unloaded, which are removed by using actions. If a unit has a single puff, it can fire with half number of figures. Pistols are usually single use weapons, often fired only before melee combat. Both shooting and melee tend to be bloody affairs with units losing figures at an alarming rate, therefore games are short and quick! All units have ‘special’ rules which modify their behaviour in combat, and these ‘special’ rules are the primary source of theme or flavour within this rule set, and need to be constantly borne in mind by the players. Finally another mechanism I liked was the use of ‘Fortune’. Each player starts with 3 Fortune markers which are essentially ‘Mulligans’ that can be used to re-roll a particular set of dice whose results you as a player did not like. When and where to utilise this Fortune is important; use them too early and you can find yourself stuck with a bad roll at a bad time latter in the game!

To conclude, I think these are a well produced set of rules that give a fast paced, simple, easy to understand game that has a reasonable amount of theme. I need to qualify my statement by saying that I have not played with any of the naval sailing rules (which comprise a significant part of the rules), and I have not played with the Spanish factions that include lancers and indigenous natives. I think the peripheral items Firelock Games produce are not required by most gamers. My interests lie in a slightly latter period of history and I hope the publishers produce additional material to cover this in the future. If the late C17th period is your thing, then the factional packs of figures associated with B&P will clearly be of interest, and the unusual natives etc. would be good to get and play with. At the moment I think I rate these rules slightly higher than Donnybrook because the game play is faster and the theme is more focussed, but I would still like more pirate flavour to the rules. I am still encouraged to attempt to write my own rules.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Off the Painting Table (Nov 2017) part 2

Continuing on from my last post, the second and final batch of Battlelore figures have been completed. The speed of painting was again aided by the use of washes, which I find work well on barbarians, beasts and skeletal models. The biggest hurdle was painting the armour areas on the knights in particular. Unfortunately the clear plastic rod keeping the dragon model airborne snapped during assembly! I considered drilling out the recesses and using a spare rod, but after some reflection decided to instead mount the model grounded on the base. This is a more sturdy solution because I find flying models of all kinds tend to be those dropped and broken during play.

So, my painting pile is again reduced. Luckily I plan to attend the Warfare show next weekend where I can stock up for the winter months.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Off the Painting Table (Nov 2017)

I occasionally play a game or two of Battlelore 2nd Edition. Back in early 2016 I painted the plastic figures for both core armies; they look very good. I had also bought the undead (Waiqar) expansion packs but did not paint the figures immediately; I was suffering from overload after painting the core armies! Anyway, when I decided to give the game another outing recently, it became apparent that you cannot play a painted army against a purple plastic army; it just doesn’t look right! So I had to get these figures painted.

Normally I start with the ‘grunts’ of the army but this time I got the more exotic units out of the way first. The Banshee and Wraiths were simple paint jobs using some green ink wash over a light grey base; I cannot recall why I had this wash in my paint tray but this seemed a good use for it! I think the effect is very nice. The Bone Horrors were also simple, just a grey/brown ink wash over an ivory base, which really picks out the detail. The Barghests (Dire Wolves) and Necromancers were also really easy paint jobs. So, I managed to complete half the total army in less than 10 days!

I am now left with the skeleton core units, plus a rotting dragon, before the undead army is finished. I hope get these figures out of the way by mid-November, when the Warfare show in Reading is scheduled. Then I can buy some more interesting historic figures to build up my lead mountain for the long winter months ahead!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Boardgame session: 22Oct17


Visited Val and Chris on Sunday and decided to play some ‘old’ games rather than anything ‘new’. There are great games sitting on the shelves than don’t get enough outings because there is always some new eye-candy waiting to get to the table!

Started with Ticket to Ride – Europe. Of all the TtR variants this remains my favourite, and I like the base game rather than adding depots etc. from the expansion. The game deserves its reputation as a modern classic, the rules are simple and the play fast, but there is enough tactical depth to keep it interesting and fresh. Val won convincingly, and interestingly the rest of us were evenly spaced behind her, separated by 10 points between each player with no bunching up (I came last).

Next to the table was Quadropolis. There are so many ‘town planning’ games out there, and many have too many options for scoring etc., the beauty of Quad is its clean mechanics. Only 4 rounds with 4 choices per round, but the range of options decreases as play progresses. Both Val and I went for the ‘port’ option and tied for first place. We also tied on the first breaker condition (number of meeples), and I just won on the second breaker condition (fewest unfilled spaces). So the game could not have been closer.

We finished by playing 4 (!) games of Splendour, a favourite of Elaine’s. I think the weak theme stops this coming out more often, because the game play and mechanics work very well. Also, I can never seem to get the aristo’s to visit my ‘shop’, so end up scoring poorly. The poker chips are so tactile and I cannot simply leave them on the table, they have to be held and fiddled with!
At the end of the day everyone had had at least one win and all were happy. We must have more old school game sessions, rather just chasing the latest releases. The fact these games are considered classics, shows they have stood the test of time and deserve their place on the table.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Off the Painting Table (Oct 2017), part 2

At the Colours show I saw that Black Tree Studios were having a sale of their figures. They were offering packs of 24 28mm figures for only £10; unbelievable value! Unfortunately most of their ranges were not of interest to me, but they did have some Gladiator figures that I bought.

I have hoped for some while to indulge in a light-weight Gladiatorial campaign using the ‘Jugula’ rules (Studio Tomahawk), but did not have the necessary figures. I had looked at the figures produced for the rules but felt that, although attractive, they were very over priced. The figures sold by Black Tree would fit the bill, even though not all armatures were present, and some figures do not fit the armatures listed in the rules.

I really enjoyed painting these figures; you can let your imagination run riot with colour combinations. The metallic colours were particularly challenging, so I was able to use my full range of shades; bronze, light and dark gold, gunmetal, steel and silver. The final step will be to ‘name’ each figure to enable easy identification. I plan to use the humorous and ingenious names from the Asterix series of books.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Off the Painting Table (Oct 2017)

At the Colours show I bought a naval boarding party from Newline Design as another potential opposition for my numerous pirate figures.

The figures are fairly bland in terms of pose and dress, but seem well cast and do represent good value for money (24 figures for £20). I added to the basic pack by adding some additional single figure options.

The figures painted up easily; I wanted some variation with an underlying ‘uniform’ appearance. The figures are more Napoleonic in dress rather than the earlier period I wanted to depict, but I don’t think the basic clothing for an ordinary rating changed much over time. The officer and mate dress is probably incorrect for the period I’m aiming at, but I’m not too concerned about this anomaly. The Royal Navy has always been a multi-ethnic body and wanted my force to reflect this. Forces based in the Caribbean would almost certainly have had a high proportion of different ethnicities; they could not pop back to home waters to ‘recruit’ replacement men from the slums of Britain. Actually my European figures in the force look a bit ‘pasty’, they should in fact be heavily sun-tanned. I also attempted some tattooing on the figures to help give a seafaring feel.

On the bases, I opted for a decking look rather than standard flocking. I’m not totally happy about the effect I have achieved; it looks a bit block-like. Interestingly, this block effect means the figures actually look OK on cobbled terrain areas. So rather than re-paint the bases, I will stick with it for a while.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Off the Painting Table (Sept 2017)

I have not done any painting since June! Last weekend I visited the Colours show in Newbury and bought a few figures to augment some of my armies. From Pendraken I pre-ordered some 10mm figures, mainly infantry, to add to my existing WW2 desert forces, which were particularly low on foot sloggers.

There is nothing special about these figures; they paint up very quickly and look fine on the table. I did buy 3 Matilda tanks and tried my hand at the early camo pattern. They look OK but I’m not convinced that I have achieved the look I was hoping for.

Anyway, my British and German forces are now pretty much complete. I may add more Italian tanks at a future date. As an aside, I did buy a copy of Sam Mustafa’s new ‘Rommel’ rules. I did not intend to but I stayed at the show too long and gave in. I find I know when I have been at a show long enough when I make a purchase that I did not intend. When this happens I know it is time to leave.