Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Off the Painting Table (May 2018); part 2

A very short post this time. At Salute I bought some Japanese civilian models from Col. Bills to add interest to my Samurai games. The six figures are nicely sculpted and painted well. The noble and his wife were painted with patterned silk kimono’s, whilst the other peasant figures had plainer dress. I could do with a few more items to really give my tabletop a more Japanese feel; a statue or shrine, a gateway, a bamboo grove, some paddy fields etc.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Review of For King & Parliament ECW rules

I bought a copy of the new ECW rules “For King and Parliament (FK&P)” (Simon Miller & Andrew Brentnall, 2018) at Salute this year. I had heard good reports of their sister rules covering Ancient conflict, “To the Strongest”, and was further encouraged by an excellent demo game put on at the show. In addition, the rules were reported to be good for solo play and, due to diary constraints, my opposed gaming opportunities are restricted at the moment. After reading through the rules, I decided to try the game as a solo experience using the Battle of Montgomery, 1644 scenario provided at the back of the rule book.

Before discussing the rules, I will briefly outline the outcome of the game I played. The battlefield is fairly open and splits into a clash of foot on one flank and cavalry on the other. The infantry fight was fairly even. The dragoons and forlorn hope units were cleared fairly quickly due to their single hit strengths. The clash of the main units of foot was more prolonged with neither side dominating. The cavalry fight was more fluid. Initially Parliament was ahead, routing units of Col Trevor’s brigade, but the impact of pursuit became apparent, which opened up a gap in the Parliament formation. The remaining un-brigaded Royalist horse moved around the open Parliament flank looking for a decisive blow. At this point the returning Parliament foraging horse returned arriving in a compact block directly behind the now exposed rear of the untried Royalist horse. Fairfax’s veteran regiment charged Vaughn’s regiment in the rear; they had a large number of to-hit chances and missed them all! In contrast the Royalist regiment passed its untried test and promptly scored 2 return hits, killing the Parliament commander (Col. Brereton), and routing the shocked veterans! This action had bottled up the Parliament re-enforcements and allowed the other Royalist cavalry to attack and destroy the exposed Myddleton’s regiment and kill/capture the attached Parliament C-in-C (Sir John Meldrum). This ended the battle and gave the Royalists victory.

Regarding the rules themselves:
1. The authors use adjusted decks of playing cards to resolve all actions and combat, although they do suggest alternatives such as chits and dice. In my game I used D10 dice instead of cards and this worked OK, but they are not ideal when working out activations. There is a slight impact on the distribution of probability by using dice but this is minimal. I think in future I will move to a hybrid system of chits and dice. I think chits would simply ‘feel’ better for activations, and dice ‘feel’ more satisfying when resolving combat. I think playing cards would just clutter the table un-necessarily, and I dislike having to shuffle repeatedly, so I would avoid using cards.
2. The tabletop is gridded. Personally I’m fine with this (I play and like many games from RFCM, which often use a grid system), but other gamers may not enjoy such a mechanism. On the plus side, the grids allow rule mechanisms to be clear and simple and, significantly, allow players to use any basing conventions they are happy with. On the negative side, gridded games severely limit the movement and manoeuvre options, and can feel a bit like a boardgame rather than a conventional wargame. The appeal of a gridded wargame is purely down to a player’s personal preference, but I have noticed a marked increase in the number of gridded games produced recently.
3. The activation mechanism is the defining feature of these rules. The first activation of a unit will usually be successful, but there is always a chance of failure. The beauty is in the ‘Push Your Luck’ element of deciding further actions, where failure becomes more likely, and which can prematurely end brigade activations. Prioritising activations becomes a key decision, and placement of commanders can be vital to mitigate against failure. Essentially, this ‘Push Your Luck’ element is at the core of these rules, and if the card/chit/dice Gods are against you, then your plans can quickly disintegrate. This mechanism creates the fun and tension within the game, but players have to accept a high degree of luck and swing within the outcomes. I like the uncertainty and change of fortune produced, particularly in a solo experience. I know many gamers, especially those who like to plan meticulously, who would hate the system. So again, it comes down to personal preference.
4. Combat resolution is very simple to calculate and there is little need to refer to the rule book. I like the differentiation between firing tactics (single/double/salve), and the ammo rules work well. I would like to try artillery and see how these perform on the tabletop. The game I played lacked ‘Dutch’ horse, so again I would be interested to see how these work on the table. The use of ‘dash’ to reflect the freshness of horse units is a nice mechanism and fills an omission in other rule systems. Cavalry pursuit is important and can really muck-up your plans (as Parliament found out in my game). Rallying was not used as much as I expected because, once forces are locked in combat, they don’t have opportunities to recover.
5. The ancillary rules covering battlefield set up (terrain choices and placement, scouting, points etc.) all appear fine. I liked the ‘untried’ status of units in my game, and I particularly like the variable personality rules for generals, and the variable strategy options. One criticism of the rules is the lack of a QRS. Most of the rules are very simple and easy to remember, but a QRS would help to reinforce turn structure and remind players of modifiers to things like activations.
Overall, I like For King and Parliament. They give a quick, fast paced game with many important decisions to be made. There is a high level of luck which can engender significant swings of fortune, which could put some players off. I think they are eminently suitable for solo play. I don’t think FK&P will replace my favourite rules for ECW i.e. Regiment of Foote v1 (RFCM, 2002). Interestingly I rejected the second version of Regiment of Foote (RFCM, 2016) because it was gridded and was too much like Square Bashing (see an earlier blog post). With FK&P, the gridded mechanism worked well, but the core of the rules lies in the activation mechanism.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Boardgame session: 6May18

In the UK we are enjoying a beautiful, warm, sunny May bank holiday. We visited Val and Chris for a leisurely al fresco lunch in their garden, and managed to play a game of Concordia in the afternoon. I’m slightly surprised that this acclaimed game had not made it to our table before, so was keen to try it out. It did not disappoint. Essentially it is a trading game set in the Roman world with players generating trade networks, acquiring and utilising goods to expand their commercial empires. There are numerous potential routes to victory. Each player starts with the same hand of action cards, which they can work through in any order they wish, and to which they can add to by purchasing further cards from the common bank available to all. The twist which makes the mechanism really work lies in two key card actions; the Senator (which allows a player to duplicate another players card), and the Tribune (which recalls all your played cards back to your hand). Cards also have a secondary function (the God to which they are dedicated) which can impact the end-game scoring procedure, and therefore the strategy you may aim for during the game.

The game play flows nicely once you have got your head around the different card actions. At the start it feels that only having one card that allows you to move and build (the Architect) is a bit limiting, but you soon appreciate the importance of judicious play of the Senator card, which can overcome such shortcomings. I was surprised at the game length (over 2 hours) considering the speed of card play we achieved, but at no point did the game feel slow paced or cumbersome. Players face tough decisions during the game; at points you lack certain key resources, your money supply fluctuates, you are keen to get access to new regions etc. There is no direct conflict between players apart from making areas of the board more expensive to get into, and some of your actions can actually benefit others by providing them with resources.

When we tallied the points at the end, Val (who had a cloth monopoly) was the clear winner, whilst I surprisingly was second placed. Concordia is definitely a game we will happily return to. In fact it has convinced me to purchase a new game, Transatlantic, by the same designer (Mac Gerdts) when we visit UKGE in a few weeks. This game uses very similar mechanics but is set in the Victorian era of steam ships and world trade.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Off the painting table (May 2018)

Whilst at Salute I bought some more models for my latest project, ACW Riverine, from Peter Pig. Four more Union vessels including a monitor ironclad (USS Passaic), a tinclad (USS Tyler) and couple of common wooden vessels (USS Fuschia and USS Unadilla).

For the Rebels I got the casement ironclad, CSS Albemarle, a large tinclad (CSS Gen Bragg), plus a couple of small wooden vessels (CSS Sumter and CSS Drewry).

Finally I painted up a medium fort and some army artillery pieces. I now have plenty of ships and all the accessory pieces I need to play Hammerin’ Iron. I must admit it is tempting to buy all available Peter Pig models, but I will hold off for the moment.