Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Warband Tournament

At the tail end of last year I learned that Berkeley Vale Wargames club were planning to send down a large contingent to the Plymouth Association of Wargamers' annual show to put on a Warband tournament.

It gave me great pleasure this weekend to learn that the tournament went ahead and seems to have been a great success!

You can read all about it on Steve Price's blog here.

While I designed Warband with Pendraken's 10mm figures in mind, I always had an eye on figures of different scales.  It's great to see some lovely 28mm armies take to the field.

I'd have loved to attend the tournament myself but I couldn't make the 350 mile journey this weekend.

Hopefully we'll see similar events in other parts of the country.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Mahdist War 1888, or Battle of the River Bank

So 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, at your 'ome in the Soudan;
You're a pore benighted 'eathen but a first-class fightin' man;
An' 'ere's to you, Fuzzy-Wuzzy, with your 'ayrick 'ead of 'air;
You big black boundin' beggar, for you broke a British square!

- Rudyard Kipling "Fuzzy-Wuzzy"

So far 2016 has been a bit of a mixed gaming bag and I’ve been mainly playing board games, and X-Wing.

This week however, we’ve kicked off a long-planned bit of large scale colonial gaming with some action in the Sudan. We’re using 28mm miniatures from a mix of companies, including Perry Miniatures, Black Tree Design, etc.

For this extravaganza, we decided to go for some light rules and dug out our old copies of Black Powder.

Plans were made, emails exchanged, which resulted in the general murmur along the lines of, ‘I’ll give them a read-through this week’. We got the boards down, dragged the toys out of the box and one thing became immediately and abundantly clear. None of us had made good on that promise. So, we started at page one under the, as it turns out somewhat accurate, assumption that ‘the rules will all come flooding back once we get underway’. The basics did at least, and with minimal effort the game trotted along quite swiftly and with only a few ‘glasses on foreheads breaks’ to find a particular rule. Black Powder is a good set of rules that suffers from two notable issues: rules buried under mounds of ‘flavour text’, and no index. To be fair, these are ‘issues’ that really only come to the fore when you don’t bother to put the prep work in and actually read them. Ahem.

Still, we managed to set up and kick off fair enough and no evident fouls were seen, so...

OK, the scenario was fairly simple, and in any case immediately abandoned by both sides as the battle developed into a mass scrum. The objective has something to do with the boat, but frankly it ceased to matter pretty early on. The British (fielding mostly subject troops like Highlanders and Egyptians) didn’t really care, and the Mahdists never really wanted the boat anyway, so instead a bloody set-to ensued.

By Jove! But it's a barren featureless desert out there. 

Ansar 'uniform during the Mahdist uprising.
Hadendoa tribesmen.  Greatly feared and respected by the British for their fighting prowess, the British soldiers called them 'Fuzzy wuzzys' on account of their afro hairstyle.

The Mahdists deployed to the south of the boat, placing skirmishers up front to distract the Imperial guns. A good mix of Ansar and Hadendoa tribesmen were itching to cover the open ground before the Imperial rifles and cannons could set up in a firing line. They may be brave, but they’d rather not have that bravery tested by a wall of .577/450 Martini–Henry lead thank you very much.

The British deployed to the north, just beyond the only significant feature on the narrow battlefield, a small sandy hill. The Devils in skirts played their bagpipes (much to the annoyance of the English), and the Egyptians eyed the dusty clouds approaching from the south with a suspicious and somewhat wavering eye.

The British line draws up to the west of the hill. Englishmen and Scotsmen march side by side in the spirit of friendly banter and a shared dislike of the heat.

The Mahdists 'down by the river'...

And further inland to the west, the skirmishing horsemen are eager to get going.

Aye but those black men swatch fierce dornt they?

The Egyptians seem decidedly uncertain about this whole affair.

Hadendoa scouts peer through the dust across the sand at the Imperial devils...

Fight hard my brave warriors, and we shall drive these white dogs from our land.

I say chaps, dashed warm what?! These fellows look like they've come to fight I say. Let's give them a taste of good British steel!

Early moves
So the scene was set, and the battle opened with a fierce advance by the Mahdists. The warriors closest to the river found good ground and sprinted forwards double-time. Further inland, some rocks and soft sand slowed the advance somewhat, although the cavalry made good time in the eagerness to pincushion the redcoats. For their part, the Imperial forces made a steady advance, which was hampered by language problems, some Anglo-Scottish banter, and the cannons getting bogged down.

The Mahdist line staggers...

Soon, the Highlanders occupied the hill with their flank guarded by Egyptian troops that looked decided un-keen about the whole affair. On came the Mahdists, storming up the hill in the face of some withering closing fire. Scottish belligerence, and a nifty bit of bayonet work met the Fuzzy-Wuzzy spears and some frankly outrageously vicious fighting proceeded on the hilltop. The Scots held firm, despite hard pressure and the immediate collapse of the Egyptians on their flank, who took flight to the rear in a cunningly tactical withdrawal.

The thin red, er, and blue and khaki line stands firm...

The Hadendoa got the worst of it and seeing the determination in the flinty Scottish eyes, and flapping tartan skirts, they sought urgent appointments elsewhere, leaving the Ansar behind them to finish the job.

Meanwhile, the Egyptians, so far subjected to insult and derision at their slovenly failure to stand and fight looked unduly smug as their cannon finally got their act together and managed to deploy. Vicious enfilades into the Fuzzy’s flanks did the job from that point on. Herr Krupp’s steel marvels saved the day, and the Egyptian infantry’s honour, bacon, and chips.

A great deal of 'up 'em' type behaviour that they definitely do not like...

The Ansar wonder where all those Beja tribesmen went...

But get stuck in anyway...

The dirty, hot fighting on the hill sees the Hadendoa, Ansar, and Highlanders all give up their positions, leave their collective dead on the rise, and head back to their respective rears to rethink their lives, lick wounds, slake thirsts and generally find as many reasons as possible not to return to the battle.  Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, neither side  had the foresight (our resources) to keep reserves.  So the scene of the main fighting in the early battle becomes a deserted gap in the line.  The British send a surveyor up to see what's what...

Mid game

By now, the British inland had managed to stumble forwards as the Mahdist west flank made its way into range. With skirmishing cavalry bearing down on the sun-burned British, the rough ground slowed the supporting infantry. This may well have done for the Ansar, as the British managed to deploy into a firing line. Messer’s Heath and Robinson overtook the command here though and despite being ordered to move up in support, the British reserves decided it would be far better simply to push on through and give these tribal chaps a taste of the old cold steel. Corporal Jones had been insisting for weeks that, apparently they don’t like it up ‘em. They DO NOT like it up them, he insisted.

The Mahdists obliged by very much proving that it was the British who didn’t like it, or indeed anything up ‘em.

The British command blunder tells dearly among the unprepared reserves who are caught out in front of the firing line.

And so, there we left the battle to be concluded next week.

It’s looking pretty solid for the British by the Mahdists have enough left on the field to turn the tide and push the Imperial devils (who want to take away the Egyptians’ slaves) back into the Mediterranean.

Overall, a jolly fun evening’s gaming with a good set of rules, some splendid toy soldiers, and damned fine company.

Well done boys! Keep those upper lips stiff now...
Uh, we'd rather have some replacement ammo and a good drink of water sir...or rum if there's some going?

Here's a perspective on the game from a spectator's point of view.  Darrell, one of the other jolly good chaps at the club took a great interest in what we were up to.  Check out his blog here.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Guildball: Engineers

I've recently started playing Guildball and I've chosen (for no particular reason) the Engineers team.

I'm no expert (yet?) but I thought I'd show you my team and have a bit of a chat about my early impressions of the various Engineers players. 

The crew

Ballista (Captain)
As captain, Ballista is a mandatory inclusion in the team.  Even if he weren't he'd make my cut.  this player is awesome!  OK, so his core stats won't win prizes, but hes tough, well armoured and can kick the ball fairly well, but that's not where he shines.  Ballista is the heart of the team in every sense.  His ability to generate Momentum (a key resource during the game turn that allows you to do cool stuff) from the actions of his fellow team mates nearby is crucial to your gameplan.  that's why he's the team heart, and also because those friends need to be close by, it also means on the battlefield you'll be fielding a tightknit center.  The ranged attacks with his crossbow also allow you to dominate the center ground, dealing out a flurry of damage and crucial knockdowns.  Ballista can also throw out a minefiled once per game, and if timed right, this can REALLY kick out some damage to the opposing players.

She's a robot.  She's nimble, fast, hard (if not impossible) to hit and can kick a ball like Pele!  She is, however, useless at fighting, lacking any real combat skills and not being able to take much damage.  As a result, Velocity really is your top goal scorer option.  Her special ability can buff her to make her all but impossible to hit, but it does mean that when she's in the thick of it, you REALLY need to win initiative and activate her first.  Without these buffs she's a target for your opponent's combat monsters.  So far, I haven't manged to figure out how to use her correctly, that is to get her to the opponent's goal without having her isolated and exposed.  Oce I figure that out, I think she'll be a goal-scoring machine!

So far I consider Ratchet to be my star player.  He is essential!  Ratchet has so many cool things he can do, and so many options.  They only thing you'll regret is that you can only give him 4 Influence each turn.  I've found most turns he needs twice that!  Ratchet can heal your automatons (Velocity, Colossus, and Mainspring.  He can turn Mainspring into a once-per-turn suicide bomber.  He can 'long bomb' the ball twice the distance (plus scatter) of almost any other player, and he can lob grenades about to gouge craters in the pitch to injure and then slow down the opponents, or block off whole parts of the pitch with rough ground.  Ratchet is without doubt my favourite player so far.

Our mascot!  Awww...isn't he cute!  A little wooden insect hopping about.  No.  no, he's not cute, he's AWESOME.  OK, so, he's weedy, can't kick worth a damn, and doesn't really do much.  But...and here's the rub...when he dies he explodes in a ball of fire!  That's right.  You can bash him all you want, but it'll just end hurting you more than him.  Hehe...
This actually makes Mainspring a great blocker as its a risk to hit him.  Mainspring also works well with Ratchet, especially if your opponent is wise enough to ignore the little fellow as Ratchet can wind him up and make him explode...and then next turn bring him back to life to do it again.

Colossus is our heavy hitter cyborg.  In fact I see him more as an allrounder.  He's highly mobile (able to walk through all those craters Ratchet makes without being slowed down), can make a path through opposing players by pushing them out of the way, is good at keeping the ball once he's got it, and can kick pretty well too.  I'm still trying to figure out how to fit him into the team's dynamic, but it think he and Velocity will evolve into my two flankers and goal scorers.  Time will tell.

The last, and for me so far, the least.  Don't get me wrong, Salvo's a great player and essential with his various ranged attacks, but so far he's impressed me the least.  He's not much good at anything in particular, except kicking out crossbow bolts.  That's good enough for now.  If I decide to bring in a Union mercenary, or perhaps a new Season II player like Compound, Salvo's first on the cut list.  Sorry mate...

Team Colours
I chose the Engineers team colours based on the Steampunk palette.

I wanted a bare wood and brass sort of look, but that would be fairly dull without an accent colour.  Blue always sets off well with brown, but to be honest, I hate blue.  I considered red, but I'm not sure it goes well with brown particularly, and in any case, its not very 'Steampunk', so I pitched in with a dark green.  So basically; bare wood, dark green, brass.  Turned out pretty good I think; I'm happy with the result at least.

Yeah, so Guildball.  Well worth checking out.


Wargaming is an odd hobby at the best of times.  Its certainly a niche gaming pastime, and it can sometimes be frustrating to be involved in.  It can take months to get from an idea to a fully realised game being played on the tabletop.  Then sometimes, something comes along that goes from 'let's give it a go', to tabletop play in a very short time.  This happened for me over the last week or two. 

One of my regular gaming friends, Bob, suggested we give this new game a go - Guildball.  We're always up for trying out new things so with some trepidation we printed some paper players from the Steamforged Games website, and cracked on.  We were hooked!

I went from zero to fully painted team, token set, lovely pitch and ready to play set up in five days.  Very satisfying!

OK, so firstly, what is Guildball?  Rather than me warbling on, i'll simply point you at Steamforged Games.  They'll give you the introduction far better than me.  

Mob football is a game generally played between neighbouring towns and villages on feast days (hence the popularity). Players on opposing teams clash to control a leather-wrapped inflated pig's bladder and attempt to kick it into the opponent’s goal. Over the years, rudimentary leagues and tournaments have sprung up; there have even been some national level games between some city states.

The powerful Guilds of the land have taken advantage of the huge popularity of the sport as another means to control the masses. They invested vast sums of money; creating professional Guild sponsored teams and structured leagues. The public went crazy as the game was elevated to new heights of spectacle. Guild Ball was born amidst a blaze of interest and publicity and with it, a whole new business and revenue stream for the Guilds. Games are now played out in front of vast crowds of fans, whilst behind the scenes the results can mean fortunes are won or lost on the kick of a ball.

I think its worth noting that Steamforged have made their rules etc. available as free downloads.  Awesome!

What I will say in addition to this introduction is that this is a fantasy football game I'm actually interested in playing.  

Guildball is bonkers fantasy version of football, not American 'Football' as we've previously seen from games like Games Workshop's Bloodbowl.  Given the violence involved, i'd say English football during the English Disease era of the 1970's would be a good analogy.

So basically this is a game played to a time limit between two players, each of whom controls a team of 6 rather bizarre team members.  In game play terms it reminds me of a cross between Malifaux and WarmaHordes.

Each player in each team is unique, with a specific set of attributes, traits, plays and abilities.  The skill in the game appears to be understanding how these various players work together to generate effects that are 'greater than the sum of their parts'.

I believe the business bullshit term is 'synergy'.

My experience so far confirms the game hype that Guildball is indeed simple to learn but with extremely deep tactical play.  Our early experiences have been joyfully exciting, and I've found finishing games with desire to immediately play again.  Good signs...

OK, so enough preamble, lets get to the toys!  I've chosen, based on no evidence, and with a decision made on 'I like the look of those models' to go with a team faction called The Engineers.  These appear to have a Steampunk aesthetic which attracted me.

I've concluded from my initial experiences of playing the team that they have two main strengths: ranged attacks, and a decent kicking game.  I'm slowly developing tactics and experience to try to maximise and exploit these strengths with a mind that i'll be facing the following teams; Butchers, Brewers, and either Fishermen or Morticians.  

This week I played against Bob's Butchers team.  As I understand, this team is very much a 'kill everything and score afterwards' sort of team so I was expecting a brutal beating.  Here's what happened...

The Engineers (yay!) take on The Butchers (boo!)

We set up, and the Butchers kicked off.  (Apologies for the low quality of the photos, I'm sure the Brewers got to the cameraman before kick off...)

The Butchers set up with two flanking forces and Ox, their captain put the kick in to start proceedings.

I set up the Engineers in a tight center group.  My ranged players were grouped to kick out damage and generate Momentum from the hits (using my captain Ballista's special ability).  Colossus took the east flank, and Velocity the west flank so I'd have a decent goal scorer option wherever the ball went.

Ballista and Ratchet loaded up on Influence to give me a lot of options with crossbow and grenade shots.

Early game I pushed up the gun line to support Velocity as she clanked forwards to take the ball under her feet.  Mainspring, our little wooden cricket mascot hopped forwards innocently.  I'm pretty sure the Butchers don't know what Mainspring can do...
I kept Colossus back as goal defense, ready to react as needed.

Turn two.
I lost initiative.
They do that that no plan survives contact with the enemy and what happened next pretty much proves that rule!  With the initiative gone, Velocity finds herself out on the wing without her Influence being sent and gets mobbed by the Butcher's dog (Princess), and her handler Brisket.

Luckily Velocity survives, Influences up and becomes almost impossible to hit.  But, my goal rush is stymied.  curses!

So, the gun line comes to the fore and I lay down a barrage of grenades to chew up the ground and a flurry of ranges attacks from Ballista, Ratchet, and Salvo.  The groundsmen are losing their minds as I chew up their pitch and blast craters (rough ground) into their turf.  Hehe.

Over on the east flank, Mainspring finds himself surrounded and ganged up on.  Poor little thing!  Ox, Meathook, and Shank kick the crap out of my mascot, knocking him down and busting open his hydraulics.  As the little fellow bleeds out, he dies and explodes!!  Three butchers players take a hit and catch fire.  Awesome.

The game progresses and Velocity, nimble minx that she is, although severely damaged and stripped of the ball, manages to get back out of trouble and into range of Ratchet, who breaks out the spanners and fixes her up a bit.

More grenades and crossbow bolts fly, as the Butchers, now in possession of the ball, make their play for my goal.  Ox sticks it to Salvo to try to open a hole for Brisket to exploit.

It doesn't go well though and my Engineers barrages begin to tell, knocking down and taking out the Butchers.  Brisket kicks the ball to Shank down the west flank, but the pass goes awry, and Velocity picks it up and retreats into the Engineers' pocket.

Colossus steams forwards to try to make a hole, and mostly to keep the Butchers' vicious, thuggish 'big lad' Boar occupied.

However, a passage never really opens and as the time runs out losses are counted and the Engineers win 8-4.

An excellent game, although I was disappointed there were no goals scored.  I managed to secure the win by busting Butchers heads.  

For my view of the Engineers, see here.

I suspect there will be many more games of Guildball on our table in the near future!