Monday, April 30, 2012

A Happy, Happy Dux

Carlsberg don't run wargames shops, but if they did, they would look like The Hall of Heroes (HOH). On Saturday I trekked out to HOH at Campbelltown (on the fringe of the urban sprawl that is Sydney) for a Saga tournament. It was my first time at the shop, and later in the week I want to write a separate post about why I think it is such a brilliant place. Today I'll confine myself to a quick rundown on the competition. We played 3 games, using 4 point warbands that couldn't be altered. We were originally supposed to play 4 games each, but didn't quite have enough time. The scenarios were Clash of Warlords, Sacred Ground and the Escort. I actually hadn't played the last two before, and doing so just made me love Saga more. I used my Welsh, fielding two units of Warriors, one unit of Hearthguard on foot, and one unit of mounted hearthguard. There seemed to be a lot of Welsh there on the day, actually. Could hardly move for goldy-looking chains. Surprisingly, nobody brought any Normans along.
I played Kim in the first game of Clash of Warlords. Kim also fielded Welsh, but with a unit of Levies and all on foot. Very interesting match up fighting Welsh with Welsh. I was lucky to pull off a win, killing Kim's warlord in the final turn of the game. I think his decision to bring Levies along had a fair bit to do with the result. I was pretty much able to ignore them and bring everything in on his warlord, although I suffered cruelly from a unit of his warriors over on the right flank that hammered me with javelins.
Homing in on Kim's warlord
In game two, I fought Dickie in the Sacred Ground Scenario. Again - Welsh vs Welsh, although Dickie's warband was very interesting - everything mounted except for a unit of Flemish mercenaries. I was able to use Taunting on the Welsh battleboard effectively to get his cavalry into range of my javelins several times, and although his Flemish would have been incredibly hard to budge from any piece of Sacred Ground they occupied, they moved so slowly (especially when I slowed them down - heheh), that I had effectively broken the rest of Dickie's warband, including his warlord, before they could get into action. Another win to me, and an unlucky match up for Dickie, where his mobility actually turned into a liability against taunting Welsh with javelins.
A depressingly common sight for Dickie as my warriors taunt his cavalry into range of their javelins.
The third game was the Escort scenario, fighting Barks' Anglo Danes. God I hate the Anglo Danes. I also must have offended the Dice Gods by this point in the day, because in 6 turns, rolling 6 Saga dice each turn, I rolled a grand total of one dragon. This really stuffed up my plan to use Taunting and Hit and Run a lot to get his troops out of the way of my baggage. If you aren't familiar with the scenario, my goal was to get at least two of my three baggage units off the opposite board edge in order to win. Barks' Levies were definitely the Men of the Match, steadily slaughtering my warriors while I waited fruitlessly for some good dice rolls. Eventually I tried a dramatic, Schlieffen Plan-esque outflanking move with the baggage, preparing to sacrifice all my surviving troops to get them off the board. We had to call this game a draw, with two of my baggage possibly going to make it off the board, but certainly my entire warband doomed. I loved this scenario though, and would play it totally differently next time. The baggage elements in particular are actually very tough, and it is a mark of how badly Barks had mauled my men that I was thinking of using the baggage offensively by the end.
Trying to take advantage of my men getting hammered in the centre, the baggage head try to put a wood between them and the Anglo-Danes So, two wins and a draw, which meant that Barks and I drew overall in the tournament. We resolved this epically with a final confrontation between our warlords, with one retainer each. The Dice Gods smiled at last, and I won this comprehensively. Result - I won a tournament! Hall of Heroes presented the first three places with a very spiffy trophy, and from the very generous prize pool I scored a Breton starter warband! I think everyone involved in the day had a brilliant time. The atmosphere was incredibly friendly and generous-spirited. I thoroughly enjoyed playing against my three opponents, none of whom I had met previously. All in all, a golden day, and the feasting of the Welsh homunculi went on all night. A huge thank you is due to the guys at Hall of Heroes for hosting the event and running it so well, and also to Ian at War and Peace Games who together with HOH provided the fantastic prizes. Thanks and congratulations to the other Warlords, and special thanks to Barks for giving me a lift home!
Damian's Jomsvikings get stuck into Dickie's Welsh

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Huns for Late Roman Saga

Here's another battleboard for SAGA in the late Roman period - the Huns! Huge thanks to damianlz from the SAGA forum for helping put this together.
This warband represents the Huns of the late fourth and fifth centuries, and particularly from the time of their incursions into western Europe under Attila. The only literary sources for the Huns in this period were written by their enemies; Roman (Ammianus Marcellinus) or Romano-Gothic (Jordanes) authors who didn’t really understand Hunnic social structure and who described their customs with a mixture of horror and disgust. The Hearthguard of the warband are Nobles, who may be armed with javelins or bows and who are always mounted. According to Ammianus, there was no rigid social hierarchy in Hunnic society, and the ‘leading men’ influenced others largely through persuasion. It is likely that prolonged contact with the Roman empire helped to create a noble class. The Warlord is also armed with bow or javelins. I have simply called the Warriors of the warband Hunni, representing the great mass of Huns. They may be armed with bows or javelins, and are always mounted. The army of Attila that was defeated at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in AD 451 contained many defeated Germanic peoples (Goths, Heruli, Sciri etc). The Levies of the Hunnic warband represent these, and are called Vassals. They are all on foot, and may be armed with bows or javelins. They may also be armed as spearmen without missile weapons, in which case they roll an Attack Die for each two figures in Melee. Their categorization as Levies reflects their lack of enthusiasm for serving the Huns rather than innate lack of military ability. All Hearthguard and Warriors are governed by the usual SAGA rules for mounted figures. In addition, mounted units armed with bows fire as Levies at ranges between M and L, but fire as normal at ranges up to M.

Revell Viking Ship Finished

I just finished a project I started at Christmas - making the Revell Viking ship as a piece of terrain for SAGA. I changed my mind a couple of times about whether I wanted it beached or at sea, but in either case I started by hacking it off at the waterline. I made a bit of a mess of this. Ultimately I decided to have it beached, so it looks like it is sunk into the beach too deeply, but hey. I mounted it on some mdf and added a beach texture with sand and some breaking surf from DAS modelling clay. The furled sail was made from material soaked in PVA.
I started painting the base with some acrylic craft paint I had lying around. Then I simply painted the ship with some craft paint, before painting it over with Cabots woodstain and spraying it with Tamiya matt varnish. I am very pleased with the effect - the Revell kit has beautifully modelled woodgrain that the varnish picks up nicely. The surf was finished with shades of duck egg green, blue-grey and white before having a couple of layers of gloss varnish brushed over it. I will probably do another couple of layers when I buy some more. I finished it off with some simplified rigging, extra simplified because I managed to throw away the blocks needed to secure the rigging forward of the mast. Duh.
I'm pretty pleased with the final result, and it will do the job as an objective marker in SAGA. The beach is too dark, and I will try to lighten it with some shades of grey and light brown. Also, in retrospect, I would model the base so that it fits over the corner of a terrain board, like this fantastic example that puts mine in the shade. I will have to give some thought to making a section of coastline that the ship can fit into. In summary, I recommend the Revell kit - it's a cracker! Just have to keep it away from those pesky mermaids...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mermaids 1 - Vikings 0

I recently got hold of an awesome Playmobil Viking Ship off ebay for the five year old mini-Duchess. While I was doing some work I became aware of a hilarious game she was playing - here are the highlights.

In search of plunder, a group of savage Vikings landed on an island. Unfortunately for them they were outsmarted by some mermaids, who stole all their weapons and armour and sailed away on their ship.

This left the marooned Vikings with no option but to play 'Duck, Duck, Goose'.

The mermaids seem to have been a vindictive bunch, and returned to the island tooled up with the stolen weapons... which point they 'killed the Vikings' heads off'.

How proud she makes me!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Late Roman Saga

I have been giving some thought to modifying Saga for the late Roman period (4th-5th centuries) and have come up with a draft battle board for western Roman troops. I have copied some abilities from existing boards, but added new ones to try to capture the greater command and control and interaction between units we might expect from drilled troops. Here's the draft battle board, with a huge thank you to damianlz from the Saga forum, who reformatted and improved the graphics of my original version:

This warband represents an ad hoc force of Roman troops in one of the western provinces during the later fourth or fifth centuries AD. They may be engaged in raiding barbarian territory, but are more likely to be responding to a barbarian raid or an uprising of disaffected peasants or regional separatists.
Palatini are the Hearthguard of the Late Romans. These are troops belonging to one of the elite units of the comitatus (Imperial field army). Palatini may be mounted, governed by the usual rules for mounted troops.

Comitatenses are drawn from one of the more typical units of the comitatus, and form the Warriors of the warband. Comitatenses may be armed with bows, and may be mounted. Mounted Comitatenses may be armed with javelins or bows. If armed with bows, they generate one Attack Die for each three figures at ranges between M and L, and one Attack Die for each two figures as normal up to M range.

The Levies of the warband are Foederati. These are Germanic troops (eg Franks, Burgundians or Goths) who were settled on Roman land from the fourth century and obliged to pay taxes and give military service. This they increasingly did without being assimilated into the Roman army, so should be represented as barbarian auxiliaries. They may be armed with bows or javelins.

Some explanations:
This was a war cry, mentioned by Ammianus Marcellinus, Germanic in origin but used by Roman units. The effect represents its intimidating effect on the enemy.
Plumbatae were lead-weighted darts carried by late Roman troops. When this SAGA ability is used, the attacking unit suffers a javelin attack by the defending Roman unit as they move into contact with them. The effect of this is resolved before Step 1 of the Melee. This is not an Activation or a Shooting ability, so cannot be effected by any Shooting Reaction abilities.
Extend the Line
This is one of the Late Roman abilities that reflects the superior drill and training of the Roman troops. It may only be used by Palatini or Comitatenses. Up to half the figures in one of your units can be moved, so long as their final position conforms to the usual rules for unit cohesion.

I haven’t play tested these yet, but would be very interested in people’s reactions, especially if anyone wants to try them out.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Passing the 100,000 Mark

This humble blog has now been visited 100,000 times! I would like to thank all those who visit, and particularly for the comments, suggestions and helpful ideas that people post. I really enjoy feeling connected to a worldwide network of similarly sad characters, and being inspired by seeing the great work that other people do. Thank you, and happy gaming.

Oh, and the image above is of a bank note from Aachen for 100,000 marks, printed during the German hyper-inflation of 1923. 100,000 mark - geddit?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

First Taste of Northern Fury

Had a game of Saga yesterday with my friend Conan the Librarian to try out one of the new Northern Fury factions. I used my Welsh, including a unit of four mounted hearthguard, while Conan tried out the new Jomsvikings faction using my Vikings.

Here's the initial deployment, with the Jomsvikings on the left. We each fielded four-point warbands, Conan using two of hearthguard and two units of warriors, as did I although with one of the hearthguard units mounted. Our objective was simply to kill the enemy warlord.

Two turns in, the Welsh have started moving into the woods, but Conan is happy. The reason he is happy is that his Jomsvikings are already starting to build up their level of Wrath. If you are unfamiliar with the Jomsvikings in Northern Fury, basically they have a track at the top of their battle board that keeps a record of their Wrath. Wrath accrues from various Saga abilities, and with several abilities the opponent can choose whether the Jomsvikings gain Wrath or use some other Activation Ability. For example, by spending a Saga die the Jomski can either increase his Wrath by one or activate two units - the choice being up to his opponent. The wisdom over on the Saga forum seems to be to minimise Wrath as much as possible when fighting the Jomskis, but I found this very difficult, as otherwise they were just too mobile. On the other hand, once they built up their Wrath, Conan's warband was able to do some pretty horrid things to my troops.

Over on the left flank I had some early success with my mounted hearthguard, reducing a unit of warriors to five figures.

Unfortunately, the Jomski Wrath had now built up so that they were able to use the vile 'We are Legends' ability - basically cancelling the activation of any of my units. Losing my mobility, Conan's warlord and some surviving hearthguard charged my cavalry, loaded up with other abilities, and wiped them out. I should note though that even after this, and despite the problems I was having with the Wrath, I was still causing more casualties than I was suffering.

One partial solution I did find to 'We are Legends' with the Welsh was to use 'Taunting'. Over on the right flank a couple of turns later I could see that Conan had 'We are Legends' ready to go on his battle board. So basically I didn't spend any of my dice at all on activating my units, as I knew they would be cancelled. Instead, I put a die on 'Taunting' and boosted up the melee strength of one of my units of warriors, then forced a unit of Jomski hearthguard to charge them. I killed 3 and lost 1, so that worked pretty well.

Over on the left flank again, the Jomski warlord was rampaging around, but I was able to use javelins to kill off the hearthguard with him, leaving him isolated. A chance for victory! I charged in with seven warriors, using Strength in Numbers and the Combat Pool to boost my attack dice. Conan boosted the armour of his warlord to 6, but still, I had 13 dice to roll.

And here they are. Not a single hit. Instead, I lost three warriors.

To move to the depressing denouement, I charged in my warlord with a unit of hearthguard. They couldn't quite reach to contribute to the combat, but could take any hits. I can't rember everything the Jomskis did, but the combat ended with most of the hearthguard dead and the Jomski still very much alive.

It was now Conan's turn - he charged my warlord pumped up with Saga abilities and it was all over.

The verdict? Well, it was a great game and I had a blast. The Jomsvikings are a very hard nut to crack, and I'm baffled about the best way to deal with them with the Welsh. For most of the game I was inflicting more losses that I suffered, particularly when I could use javelins and rough ground. However, this was at the expense of allowing Conan to build up the Wrath of his warband, which was devastating when he could use it to effectively make me miss a turn. I'm keen for a rematch.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

West Wind Arthurian Cavalry Completed

I've just finished these boyos - two points worth of mounted hearthguard for my Welsh Saga warband. I just love these figures from West Wind - great detail, loads of character and the separate head system allows lots of variety. Looking forward to trying them out in a game and seeing if their mobility and ability to annoy the enemy with javelins compensates for their extreme vulnerability to missile weapons.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Painting Celtic Shields the Dux Homunculorum Way

There are lots of great decals available for 28mm dark ages figures, and fair play to you if you use them. For me though, much of the pleasure I get from the hobby is painting my figures, and I enjoy the challenge of trying to paint tricky shield designs. Last time I put some images of Welsh figures up on the blog Sean suggested I do a tutorial explaining how I go about it, so I hope this might be useful to someone.

First up, you need inspiration and ideas. There are lots of good cheap books available on Norse and Celtic designs that will give you ideas. Probably the classic is 'Celtic Art: The Methods of Construction' by George Bain. If you are feeling cheap, a quick google image search for things like 'Celtic Spirals' or 'Celtic Crosses' will turn up lots of designs.

When I find a design I like, I often have to think about how I can make it work on a circular shield with a boss in the middle of it. It is useful to do a rough sketch at this point. For this tutorial I have drawn some sketches showing the steps I take when painting different designs, but usually I just do most of this in my head.

First up, here is a knotwork pattern. I use paint thinned with a little water and a size 0 or 1 brush to put dots on the shield to help me construct the shape. Then it is just a matter of following the design steps to draw up the design, before using the background colour and a size 0 brush to create the over/under interlacing effect.

Below - completed apart from the interlacing.

The drawing below shows how to create a simple but effective triangular knot that looks great on the arms of crosses, for example.

The figure on the right has the triangular knots without the final interlacing, while the interlacing on the left figure is complete.

Here is a drawing for a more complex circular design. It is actually easier than it looks - the key is to set up some faint construction lines before you begin.

Spirals are probably the type of design I find the hardest. Below is a drawing of a spiral terminating in animal heads, inspired by a design from Bain's book. I struggled a little with the proportions of this, and had to abandon my first attempt.With beasts generally the final outline is added with slightly thinned black or white paint and a 0 or 00 brush.

When the figure is finished, I add shade and varnish using the acrylic alternative to dip I discovered. After matt varnishing the figure I add some highlights to the shields. Oh, and generally I tone down colours, adding a little buff to colours like red and green, or a touch of grey to white.

Hope you find this useful, or at least feel inspired to continue using the decals!

Dark Ages Figure Comparisons

I've been buying various little groups of 28mm Dark Ages figures for Saga, and thought it might be useful to show a size comparison.

The line behind the figures is 31mm from the ground, as the figures are on 3mm thick bases.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

These are a few of my favourite things...

Well it has been a truly dismal few weeks. I managed to catch the flu, which turned into bronchitis and then laryngitis, capped off with a hilarious allergic reaction to some antibiotics. The high point was when the Duchess saw me delirious in bed waving my arms about. When she asked if I was ok I apparently started raving about fighting zombies, so at least my delirium is consistent with my regular psyche.

Needless to say the figure production lines at Homunculorum Towers have slowed down somewhat during this period, although I did find myself reflecting on my favourite games of all time. Here they are (not in any particular order).

1. Saga – Gripping Beast

I’ve said it elsewhere on the blog, but Saga is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. Easy to get into, loads of period flavour and tactical depth. Also the most successful game I’ve ever tried running in a high school club, which has to tell you something.

2. Basic Impetus – Dadi e Piombo
If Saga is my favourite warband game, Basic Impetus is my favourite game for big battles. I own the full Impetus rules but still haven’t had a chance to play them. Basic Impetus though delivers pretty much what I want in a game. It’s fast, fun, unpredictable and rewards historical tactics.

3. Basic Baroque – Dadi e Piombo
Basic Impetus with caracole tactics, pike and musket and good cavalry rules.

4. DBA – Wargames Research Group
Ok, I don’t love DBA. The rules are about as transparent and accessible as the Delphic Oracle and I find some aspects of the level of abstraction irritating. However, for a quick game where you are likely to find an opponent at a club it can be lots of fun.

5. Song of Blades and Heroes – Ganesha Games
For big battles – Impetus, for large warbands – Saga, but for small skirmishes the Ganesha games system is terrific. As well as Song of Blades I include the other related games in the system, particularly Fear and Faith, as the ‘chrome’ from one game can usually be used in another. I plan to play lots more games of this, trying out various ideas for pulp adventures, zombie encounters and such. Another one that catches on well at school

6. Kiss Me, Hardy – Too Fat Lardies
I am a fairly recent convert to Too Fat Lardies games, particularly as a result of hearing Richard Clarke interviewed on Meeples and Miniatures and really liking his approach to gaming. I’ve done a review of Kiss Me, Hardy elsewhere on the blog, but it is my favourite age of sail game. Very simple elegant mechanics that give a fun game allowing you to think you’re Jack Aubrey. Well, that’s how I play, anyway.

7. Canvas Eagles
WWI dogfights using 1/72 aircraft on stands made from converted car aerials. And the rules are free! Totally brilliant game.

8. Knights Cross
Canvas Eagles for WWII. I play Battle of Britain scenarios of this in 1/144 scale.

9. Fortress Europa – Avalon Hill
This makes it onto my list for nostalgia reasons. I haven’t played this in over 20 years, but it was my favourite game from the period of my life when it was possible to spend whole days playing strategic wargames, meticulously planning major counterattacks on the west front in WWII. Maybe one for my retirement.

10. Irregular Wars
I've been honoured to be involved with playtesting some aspects of this game from Harry Hotspur, and thoroughly enjoyed every game. The second edition will be out shortly with a whole new set of scenarios. I still have some Aztecs needing paint for this one...

11. Zombies!! - Twilight Creations
A no brainer. Fun game of betraying your friends and family while escaping from zombies. Even better with beer, although that could be said for any game, I suppose.

12. Wings of War
Like a simpler version of Canvas Eagles. Not as good, but fun and fast to play.

13. Chess
Well duh. I’m not very good at chess, and I don’t get great pleasure from playing games against people who start telling me that I’m trying to play the Latvian variation of the Sicilian defence and then slaughter me, but chess…. It’s art, it’s poetry, it’s war, it’s architecture. I used to enjoy playing against my dad after he had spent a long day at work, staring intensely at the board and waiting for him to make a move until I realised he was snoring.

14. Magic the Gathering
Best played with a friend, and probably using pre-made tournament decks. To my mind less fun when you spend lots of time and money customising an uber deck, or when playing against someone who has done so. Still, a very clever game.

15. The Advancing Game
This is probably the game that started it all for me. My father, brother and I would clear the dining room floor, and line up our collections of 1/32 Airfix Napoleonic figures on one end. Each turn they would all advance one hand span, then your opponent fired a number of nails at them using those old spring-loaded cannon from Britains. Whoever moved the most figures across the gun line won. My brother and I experimented making chain shot by linking nails with paperclips etc. Totally brilliant fun that I would happily play again.

16. Heads Up, By God! – Dux Homunculorum
These are a set of Napoleonic Rules I wrote. Very far from being brilliant, but they allowed me to get some Napoleonic games happening in a reasonable time at a high school club, and we had fun playing them.

17. Diplomacy – Avalon Hill
Another game that is much easier to play when you are 20 than when you are 40. The chances of gathering together six friends to play a day long game now are zero. Still, one of the many good things about being a history teacher is that Diplomacy can often be justified within the syllabus, or at least played in occasional lunchtimes over the course of a year.

So there we are – the Dux Homunculorum round up of my favourite games of the moment. No doubt these will change! Now here are the top ten games I’d like to play, but never have:

1. Duel in the Dark
2. Black Powder
3. Lasalle
4. I Ain’t Been Shot mum
5. Dux Britanniarum
6. Blood Bowl
7. Tinker Fox
8. Hail Caesar
9. Incursion
10. A Very British Civil War

Happy gaming everyone!