Getting all nostalgic

21 June, 2010

Our visit to Germany is coming to an end, and we’re on trains travelling back to Britain. A question from my daughter got me thinking about other trips, and I ended up thinking of my first overseas trip, to North America in 1979. The highlights for me consisted of games, no doubt to the frustration of my parents, a frustration I can sympathize with now that I’m travelling with kids of my own! These were games not available in New Zealand then.  My brother got the then.new SPI game Swords and Sorcery. It was our first board wargame and held an enduring fascination for me, despite its rather quirky names. I played quite a number of solo games with a more powerful New Oc Empire (Chairman Naskhund and his lackey were too lame, so I generated some new leaders).

 The games that I got were some of the Metagaming Microgames: GEV and Ogre, Chitin and a few others whose names I forget. It’s a reflexion of a different age when foreign exchange was hard to get and mail orders were more complicated that I was haunted for quite a long time by the desire to get some of the games advertised in the back of these. Steve got a number of them later; and Sticks and Stones, stone age skirmishing, in particular, didn’t live up to expectations, though The Fantasy Trip (TFT), the advanced version of Melee and Wizard, was a lot of fun.

 A number of these games were really enjoyable to play. One, from memory, involved Boppers, which were post-apocalyptic robotic weapons factories that churned out rather thick and cheap robot tanks to fight each other.

 Another was Ice War, a futuristic Russian attack on the US’s Alaskan oil fields. It had a fun hidden movement system for the Russians.

 Chitin, harvest wars of the Hymenoptera, was a game that had some very neat giant insects. It came with a promise of an expansion that was sadly never fulfilled. The insect types were given stats for TFT, but I doubt any figures were made of them, a pity as they’d make a great HOTT army.

 For a long time board games seemed more attractive to me, as they held the potential to fight larger scale actions, and I couldn’t afford many figures. I had some Airfix figures, but not enough to satisfy my grandious schemes for refighting Napoleonic battles. I also lost interest in these after painting them without any undercoat nor knowing about protective varnishes, only to see the paint all peel off.

 Eventually I found some boardgame rules by SPI in an issue of their magazine for refighting Quatre Bras. However, back then I didn’t have the technology for making new counters, so plans to use these rules to refight Napoleonic battles.eventually got shelved, not, however, before I got Avalon Hill’s War and Peace second-hand. I never really played it, though a friend, Chris, played it solo a lot. He commented that Napoleon’s army ablated in action, which seemed a fairly accurate reflection of attrition.

 In that period, I played quite a lot of role-playing. Gamma World and The Fantasy Trip were the systems that got the most actual use. Gamma World was heavily modified, with a colourful critical hit system and encounters drawn from the Sci-Fi films of the time, particularly Terminator. However, the system I looked at a lot without ever getting a campaign going was Chivalry and Sorcery. It had a marvellous amount of detail for generating feudal holding: the number of knights, sergeants, yeomen and peasants in a barony, as well as land area and the size of the castle! It also had a really interesting character generation system and combat system, but they were a little too involved to play easily. As for the magic system, it took this complexity to another level again.

 Board games that actually got played were generally multiplayer Avalon Hill ones. We played Dune quite a few times. Steve remembers a memorable win in which as the Bene Gesserit he successfully predicted that I would win and on what turn. I don’t think I saw the funny side at the time! We also played Civilisation fairly regularly, despite the results being a bit predictable for anyone held back a turn by missing a civilisation advance.

 Kingmaker was less fun, as it tended to degenerate into people sitting in power bases, North Wales, the North of England or around London and battles only occurring if a random event took someone away from these places.

 Down with the King was a game I remember fondly. There was something nice about having the Minister of Justice and both judges in your faction, concocting a rival’s execution, and then swearing vengeance at his funeral (on a random table)! However, when I bought a copy some years back I found it much  more complex than I had remembered. I think Chris had done all the thinking for us, or computer games had made us soft!

 To bring this all back closer to the present, computers have changed the nature of boardgames hugely. The ones that still have appeal are ones that are playable. Avalon Hill ones were generally better in this than SPI ones. Similarly the rational for figure gaming has probably shifted a little too; computers, in theory, can create more detailed simulations. In practice, I think they tend to emphasize flashy graphics for kids. Again, playability, for the same reasons, ought to be a priority, and it certainly is for me. However, the visual appeal of figure games give them an appeal that boardgames to a fair degree lack. Having said that, the construction quality of boardgames, perhaps in response to this situation, has improved.

 Anyway, hopefully today I’ll get to see Decline and Fall. How much I’ll ever play it is another matter, Similarly I don’t know if I’ll act on nostalgia to get Swords and Sorcery. I got Britannia and Medieval last year and have not had a chance to play either of them other than solo.

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Using the leisure of a holiday to think about a medieval army for the IWC DBA competition next year I keep changing my mind. However, the latest thought has some promise in that I’m now thinking I should use an army from the figures I already have, painted or not, rather than get yet another army to paint. With this in mind I had another look at the various feudal armies of the period around AD 1050, and am now tending to go for the Early Crusader army (IV/7). It’s not as flexible as the Eastern or Western Frankish armies, or the Anglo-Normans, but it has a lot of character, with the likes of Bohemond as leaders.

It has a solid base of five 4Sp, which can be supported by up to three 2Ps. It has a 3Kn general and up to three more 3Kn, but these can be exchanged for dismounted 4Bd knights. These are not 3Kn//4Bd, so it’s a decision for before each battle. The 2Ps can be exchanged for a 3Bw, a 3Cb and a 5Wb. The 5Wb seems a must, as it’s what makes this army different from any other feudal one, as these are crazed pilgrims; but the 2Ps seem more useful to provide rear support for the 4Sp (and the 4Bd, if taken).

This is an insanely aggressive army (Agg. 4!), so I’m likely to have the advantage of choice of table edge and deploying second. The knights are good for keeping blades scared, and the option to use them dismounted as blades would give me something to face elephants. Overall, it seems to be a reasonable army, and one that doesn’t involve buying more figures (unless I look for some better pilgrims).

I’ve already got a stack of armies waiting to be painted, so the thought of buying more just yet doesn’t excite me. I’d like to get back to my feudals, as they’re yet to be finished, and this would be a good excuse to do that.

I’ve made use of my visit to Britain to get some figures without paying for postage. So far I’ve been pretty modest, and only got some Goblins (though quite a few!). These are from Magister Militum and will allow me to use my Goblins as just about any DBA army.

Inspired by Craig’s comment that he liked my ‘Classical Goblins’, I decided to get them some real chariots. The ‘Platform Carts’ of  the Chariot range aren’t that good, but I’ve managed to get them to provide solid wheels from their Sumerian range, which will make them look cruder.

I’ve also got some rhinosauruses that should be able to be used as knights, and more goblins that can be based as 4Sp/4Pk. To make the ‘elephants’ (behemoths in HOTT) more regular, I got some more of their ogres (armoured ones for variety). I’ll mix these in and make one of them a command element with a goblin standard bearer and drummer. Then I’ll have three ‘elephants’ with a clear commander for them. I can also create pike armies with the spearmen (stand-in successor armies until I paint one!). In time, I should have some endlessly morphable Goblins for practice fights.

I’ve also bought a second-hand boardgame for nostalgia value. It’s WRG’s Decline and Fall. I had a lot of fun playing this years ago, not that it’s terribly well balanced, but it was going cheaply enough and again I could save on postage.

Otherwise, I’m considering making my post AD 450 Early Muslim North Africa and Sicily (III/33). It occurred to me that these were a loose form of Carthaginians: same geographical place and some similarities in the army; they don’t have elephants or warbands, but they have similar amounts of cavalry (one more 2LH than the Carthos), spear and psiloi. they have the option of ditching the spear and going for lots of auxilia, which would make them very mobile, and potentially a headache for elephant armies.

I’ll need to research the history of this army a little more. Are there any colourful personalities that led it? But it has the potential to satisfy my requirements for an army. It has an interesting mix of troops and they’d fight in a similar fashion to the Carthaginians (not that I’ve mastered them with the Carthaginians). It has potential to hold my interest, especially as I’m thinking of getting some of their enemies for a campaign: Andalusians (III/34b), Fanatic Berbers (III/74), Feudal Spanish (III35b) and Sicilians (IV/5a). The figures for these have a degree of internal morphability, so wouldn’t need to be done all at once. They’ve also got a lot of psiloi, which would make them cheaper and quicker to paint.

Joel got around tonight for the last game before I leave for a holiday in Korea and Europe. I’ll be gone for 5 weeks and the week after I’ll get down to Christchurch for the CWC DBA Competition. This was my chance for the Carthaginians to break their 6 game losing streak (if I don’t count their one win in a solo game last week).

Joel chose his Marians and I chose elephants (I figure I need practice with them, though I’m tending towards the idea that two 3Cv and two 2LH might be better). I also took two 3Wb (the naked fanatics were left out for some clothed ones—I’m looking for ways to change my luck!).

Hasdrubal, after his loss to Duncan of Galloway, set to sea anxious to get out of this place, but things only got stranger; he met Romans, an army that shouldn’t be around! They had been decisively defeated by Hannibal, and when with their characteristic perfidy they had not abided by the terms of the peace treaty, with great reluctance Hannibal’s son had had to destroy their city. So where had these Romans come from? One can wonder what the Romans were thinking at the sight of the Carthaginians!

I had done some work on my terrain: Selley’s No More Gaps over the felt terrain, and then the paint and flock I use for bases. I was pleased with the road and the waterway; I’m less sure about the hills and other bases.

I was the attacker, so Joel placed a steep hill and a small wood along with a road. He deployed in his characteristic tight formation with the cavalry in reserve. I decided to put the elephants in the centre, the Gauls next to them and the spear on the left in case the cavalry came around that way. The Spanish were in the woods to hold the right flank.

Initial Deployment: Carthaginians on the right; Romans on the left. The waterway on the edge is for display.

Opening manoeuvres were helped by good PIPs to Hasdrubal and poor ones to the Romans. When the two battle lines were very close Joel repeatedly rolled 2 PIPs and was unable to advance. Eventually the Romans opted for a cautious flank attack, hoping to drive off the cavalry to the right of the elephants, but instead he was recoiled and the Numidians only gave ground slowly.

The first contact; the Roman left flank advances. On the right the German cavalry can be seen attempting a flank move.

At this point Hasdrubal threw everything in and everything went wrong; or more accurately, Joel rolled two 6s for combat. Despite the Libyan skirmishers driving back the Roman auxilia, both the Gallic warbands were destroyed. The elephants both got sticks.

Ouch! the Gauls didn't sign up for this sort of fighting and scarper!

Joel then gets one PIP, enough to close the door on the elephant, which is destroyed (this was his third 6 for combat), though the other is only recoiled.

Three down and not much of a centre left.

Hasdrubal hoped to get some traction on the right flank where the Romans lacked psiloi support, but everywhere he was thrown back. Due to the earlier Roman attack on this flank, which had moved a little to align, there was a small gap at this point.

No luck for Hasdrubal on the right flank.

At this point, PIPs did not desert Hasdrubal; in fact they heavily favoured him, and he was able to block the German cavalry with his spear while retire in the centre. This manoeuvring lasted for quite a while. Eventually, Hasdrubal, being faster, was able to create some gaps in the Roman line and attacked, supported by the Numidians. He recoiled the Romans opposite him (needing only to roll one higher to double), but with characteristically mediocre dice, at even odds the Numidians got a stick. If they’d won, they’d have recoiled the Romans into the psiloi behind.

Not quite good enough; the Numidians need more grunt!

The Romans then attacked the Numidians, outflanked on each side and with psiloi support, but now the Numidians rolled the 6!

The Numidians show some gumption.

On the next turn Hasdrubal retires, and when the Romans are again bogged down by low PIPs, he decides to risk attacking the cavalry with his spear and to send the Numidians through a gap after the camp. The odds favoured the Spear 4-2 on the first one, which they win, but on the second, again 4-2, which they needed to win to avoid recoiling off the edge of the world, the dice continued to mock them and the game was over!

Things briefly looked like the Carthaginians would make an improbable comeback, but the dice continued to be cruel.

With the loss of the spear, his army had had enough and Hasdrubal was forced to retreat again!

  • Review:

I’ve now lost seven times straight with the Carthaginians; and although I made some unwise decisions, I reckon with the Gauls I would  have won (they’re just luckier and have won both their battles). I’m beginning to suspect that the Spanish princess in the camp is not blessing my dice. She might have reason to be annoyed this game, as she got caught in my jumper, inverted, and had the dagger of her priestess broken! Perhaps it is time the Carthaginians went for a more vanilla camp!

The spear on the left flank eventually got their favourable match-up, but I wonder if they might have been better in the centre, refused a little, along with the elephants, while the Gauls and the Spanish went for the hill and tried to turn the flank there. I figured the spear would never win against blade, but they wouldn’t fold too quickly either and moving into the gap between the hill and the wood might not seem too attractive to Joel, so they would serve as bait.

I was in too much of a hurry to attack, and my plan relied on something quick happening, as the right flank was skirmishers who would probably flee at some stage. More learning! And meanwhile, I’ll have to go in search of better dice while on holiday!