Sunday, 24 April 2016

Game 41 - Black Powder Red Earth (playtest)

The BPRE boardgame is currently in development, and is a logical and natural extension of the graphic novel 'Black Powder Red Earth' series by Echelon Software.

The premise is one that echoes real world issues, and something which we've looked at with various rulesets previously: that of Private Military Contractors in hotspots around the world - albeit a little further into a rapidly decaying, quasi fictional, future.

We've used 20mm minis with printouts of some of the playtest materials, but fully laminated cards, gaming boards and cool minis are likely to be available in the final game.

The turn sequence is designed to have a boardgame feel - so we see the PMC turn followed by the local forces, and there is a great escalation mechanic which puts more and more stress upon the PMC team to get to the target building, and find the High Value Target (HVT) with each passing turn.

Highlights included:
  • That escalation mechanic drives the game. There is a real sense of time running out, as more and more escalation levels drive heightened violence. Despite our best attempts to control the situation and 'stealth in' without being seen; damned roving NPCs kept spotting us. Each time the PMCs are spotted, or fail to take out an insurgent in one round - the level goes up, until 'suspicious' (NPCs can see further) then 'compromised' (heightened activity from enemy) escalation situations occur. 
  • There are nice resource management issues related to whether you can afford to split your team up and cover more ground, and/or lose the ability to pour fire on moving targets because of said force division.
  • The buildings each feature a random location card - you can get Intel or 'contact' trouble and spawning points.
  • Separate turn driven Intel cards can throw in random benefits or problems during a game - just to add to the pressure :)
  • Combat and movement is relatively straightforward, but the escalation and 'swarming' of the enemy around you is the real meat of the game.
  • Once you determine the HVT's target building - a different board is used - stack up, flashbang in, and go for some CQB.

Initial setup with random elements (hidden) in buildings.

Alpha enter the urban area. There is great scope here for linked scenarios in a campaign, as the surrounding country degenerates into civil war for instance (I'm thinking '13 Hours' as example). Also great basis for wider rural scenarios, close protection, convoy protection - even sabotage, observation etc.

Local units start to become revealed - initially, the team remains undiscoverd, but these guys will start to move to engage when the escalation level gets high enough...saving the trouble for later here.

 Alpha uses 2 by 2 and fire and movement to ambush two fighters in the street.

 Some buildings can prove useful for Intel - though make the wrong roll and they turn into a Hornet's Nest of angry locals with AKs.

And then it all kicked off - too many instances of being seen and not enough of staying out of the way. The team was compromised on the same turn it found the target building with the HVT.

Time to get in. The breach is a 'hard knock' since the whole area knows what is going on now, and there are only two turns to hit the target before the place blows.

 Some good rolls and movement forcing the target's bodyguards to react - the flashbang lost them a critical turn as the mission is completed...

...sort of, a compromised team gets followed by a lot of angry locals...and they don't want to talk, but that's the second turn of insertion. Will they get out in time?

A really nice game, and the escalation mechanic and feeling of stealthing through quiet streets is actually quite palpable. Cards, figures and art will all heighten the feel of the game by the time it comes out. Great stuff here.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Le Duc on the Road - Part deux - Athlone Castle

So this one came about a few weeks ago as I had to take my eldest daughter to an athletics meet in Athlone.

Remembering my late 1600s history of Ireland (and in between events), I of course remembered a certain siege. The castle is still there (alright, there has been a bit of rebuilding since the heavy bombardment during the second siege!) and a fantastic Nine Years War section with videos, uniforms and interactives. It was refurbished in 2012 with the new museum part added.

Originally a wooden structure, and existing through the medieval period, the castle gained notoriety during the sieges that occurred during the Williamite wars in 1690 and 1691.

Colonel Grace's refusal to surrender to General Douglas, a desperate bridge battle (Donnybrook - I'm looking at you for re-enactment rules) and a massive bombardment during the second siege are all notable events. There is plenty of fodder here for suitable scenarios.

View from the west, before crossing the bridge.

Proceeding up the entry-way - reputedly built well after the siege with sections of rubble to provide the foundations.

Some great full size art pieces - great period flavour. Grace's refusal to surrender...

Williamite artillery train.

Video interactives showing the history of the second siege (I had the place to myself).

 Great maps and artwork - showing the progression of the fight.

 The fight at the bridge - Ginkel's engineers and the defenders. Crying out for a Donnybrook scenario.

 Period uniforms for the senior officers - stylised in artsy fashion.

Col. Richard Grace

Gustavus Hamilton


 View back into town across the bridge - looking east.

 View toward the ford of the river - very approximately where Ginkel's troops would have crossed to end the second siege (there would not have been an Indian Restaurant there at that time ...ahem).

There was a lightning strike in 1697 which blew up the (then) magazine and further destroyed the walls. They've taken precautions now - clearly - the heaviest lightning conductor I've ever seen !

 The 'keep' and museum area.
View from the outside walls.

Would certainly recommend a visit if you're in Ireland. A great slice of late C17th history too.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Game 40 - One Hour Wargames - AWI Clash - 'Late Arrivals' Scenario

So finally, we've tried The 'One Hour Wargames' rules/scenarios by Neil Thomas. A lot of attention and discussion with Steve over at Sound Officers' Call on this one.

So the main thrust of the rules is small playing space, six or so units, and minimal rules are the order of the day - and you are dicing for damage when in range, each unit has 15 'hit points' etc.

That said, there are some real subtleties and of course the nature of the rules lend themselves to being hacked:

  • With the C18th version, only cavalry can charge. We amended that to state that British infantry could charge, and that militia would flee, but continentals would not etc. The tendency then is to wear down those 15 HPs with musketry and go in with the bayonet. That said, go too early, you bounce off and face a hail of musketballs. There's a delicate balance between knowing when to charge, and gambling what you will get with d6+2 damage. (We changed the rules a bit for AWI cavalry - and will probably change more).

  • There were elements where we found ourselves saying - 'this is really simple', though then discussing whether that meant a lesser game. The answer is a definite 'no' here.We agreed on various questions and moved on. It was like 1974 or something!! Would we have obtained a more enjoyable result with Black Powder or similar, and a better narrative? I don't think so.

  • A key feature is that moving units don't fire in the turn. This developed into a realistic alternate 'grind and exploit' game as units traded volleys while other units moved up. I haven't seen this 'period' flavour in many other rules 'designed in' so succinctly. There are some subtleties here.

  • We allowed some cover bonuses for fences etc. stating that militia would only endure more than one round if 'parked' behind a fence.

  • The benefit here is speed. Battles take an hour or so (duhh!) but the benefit of that is campaign play. If you had a campaign on hexes with multiple units, the battles could be fought out as units/task forces engage, then onto the next encounter and mop up the mess  - with the strategic situation developing very quickly.
  • The d6 damage mechanic gives a lot of variability (we killed a guards unit with musket and cannon), though whether accidentally or not, that adds a little chaos to the battlefield. Still thinking about this one, but the d6 has never been so powerful! 
  •  Just by chance, we used a yellow / red / black dice combo to outline the hits taken by unit (red at 7 points +, black at 13 points+ etc.) - which gave us the idea of generating certain issues for units when they hit the black dice (after 12 points of damage) - perhaps preventing further charges, or stopping units moving forward etc.

The other BIG benefit I could see was the hit point system:
(1) They aren't just hits. In a campaign or operational game, they could represent supply and logistics.
(2) As Steve does on Sound Officers' Call, there is probably a need for officers/leaders being able to rally once per game to restore hit points. We also allowed the guards unit to self rally once per game - denoting it from the regulars in this manner.

Actually - perhaps leaders can move units in their radius - but if attached to a particular unit, then the others in their 'brigade' can't move unless elite...

Other changes could be +/-1 for really poor or elite units, but these are minor amendments.

We didn't exactly use the 3'x3' suggested either, though did allow American reinforcements to enter on turns 5 and 10 as per scenario, which actually helped their victory considerably...oops

'Hold the line boys!" Militia in their most useful position; placing muskets on the fence line.

British light infantry moves through the woods. The only units that can here.

As British infantry moves to secure the right flank.

 'Wait 'til you see the whites of their eyes boys!' (oops, wrong battle)

 First American reinforcements. Get that damned cannon in position quickly!

 Pressure mounts on the militia... British cavalry threatens the flank. There just aren't enough American units to hold...yet.


 A fresh British unit positions itself to charge the fence line.

The centre sees British pressure too, but this unit takes very heavy damage from the artillery and musketry (lost count of how many sixes were rolled here :)) )

 Bye guys...time to go.

About time. American reinforcements enter at the road...

 ...with a second unit appearing on the flank, just in time.

Withering fire from American muskets and cannon on the guards.

By game end, units were hitting their hit point totals and disappearing rapidly.

A great game in about 60 minutes. Really good stuff, and lots to think about here.