Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Finally, a day out - 

It's been an awful long time since I did anything constructive, gaming-wise, so it was with much relief I went to Aaron's yesterday for some gaming.  I had to skip a day off work to do it, but after the weekend last month when I was still at work at 1 am a couple of nights looking after student experiments, I deserved a break.

First up was a new game to me (and Aaron for that matter) - Dux Bellorum, whose raison d'etre is "Dark Age" gaming.  I've got a bunch of 15mm Dark Age stuff still based for WRG-style games, so took them along - I won the NZ Nationals once with a DBM Armorican force back in 1997 - that's the "Sub-Roman British" list with a Saxon ally, with the "British" part being French Britain - Bretagne - rather than "Great" Britain.  The Saxons caused as much mayhem  - and intrigue - in "Little Britain" as they did on the mainland, including establishing bases on some islands off the coast for a while from which to raid from.

We used the vanilla starter army lists from the author's website to represent an Armorican force versus a Saxon force.  The British one is very cavalry-heavy, although that isn't actually too bad for an Armorican force, whose infantry seem to have been almost non-existant, at least as far as source materials go.  This gave 8 units each side.  The Saxons are all foot warband - half standard quality, half high quality.  The Armoricans are half "Noble Riders", one unit of (non skirmishing) archers, and 3 of standard shieldwall.   Aaron took the Saxons while I took the Armoricans.  I parked my shieldwall on a ridge on my baseline while I sent out my horse to do the actual fighting, not too different to how it usually played out in DBM for that matter.

15mm TableTop Games figures; these are 25 years old now. 
Dux Bellorum in an activation-points style game, although the activation points are mostly used in practice to save your units from taking "hits" during combat.  You can also use them to try and deal out more hits, and to increase the chance of successfully carrying out a move, but this is usually not as useful.  It played out quite well, and gave quite an exciting game, as you can see from Aaron's account.  The main design crux of the game is clearly the balance between number of units and number of activation points (and what can be done with them of course).  It seems the authors has achieved quite a good balance here - there is a high enough number that you can have quite a big influence of the course of things, which adds to the "Heroic" feel of the period, with its focus on leaders' comitatus units to most of the heavy work - and of course, the mostly small scale of the actual battles in this period.  As can be seen from the picture, units accumulate "hits" during combat (the markers are Aaron's, are a much better alternative than having an unsightly dice tagging behind each unit showing how many hits have been taken); however, a unit fights just as effectively whether it has taken no hits at all, or has taken 5, so it's very binary. All in all, it's definitely worth a look; I feel we will be giving it another go some time.  Sorry about the lack of pictures - we didn't exactly go overboard in preparing any scenery for the day!

Next up was Shipwreck, another new system to us.  Neither Aaron nor myself own any moderns naval models (yet!  They are cheap enough...), so we just put down a couple of counters each on a blue cloth to represent the ships from the rulebook's play-along scenario.  I've heard some good things about the system from a couple of blogs, but in practice, we simply couldn't understand it!  The play test scenario was riddled with self-contradictory passages, some even in the very same paragraph, like when stating a certain ship had better radar when it actually had worse; the data cards had loads of mistakes, etc.  All in all, very frustrating.  In fact, we gave up after 90 minutes, and searched on-line for some clarifications. we found an amendment sheet, which didn't actually pick up all that many of the mistakes, let alone clarify things.  If we want to pursue this one, it looks like we will need a walk-through from someone who is familiar with the system. It's relatively complex - you have to keep track of every SSM fired individually, for example - including who has spotted it, etc.

My Armorican general's comitatus.  Scourge of Saxons!
So then we moved onto the latest iteration of DBA - version 3.0, which has some tweaks to make Dark Age gaming more interesting.  We played Armoricans versus Saxons twice, with Aaron taken the Saxons twice more.  The masochist - for warband have been really handicapped in this edition.  They no longer get rear support versus mounted, so die horribly against cavalry; I can't imagine what you would do against knights with them, which not only have the same higher factor against warband as cavalry do, but quick-kill them to boot!  They desperately need a rear support factor...  Franks wouldn't try and form up deep aganst Narses' Byzantines in a DBA world! 

One of the problems with vanilla DBA is the lack of "heft"- it doesn't feel like much of a battle with just 12 elements a side.  One way around this is doing a "Big DBA" - tripling the number of elements a side and doubling the table width to make it more DBM-ish in scope.  The other is simply doubling all the dimensions involved - including element width and depth so you just play with four times as many figures, with everything else , such as time to play, unchanged.  For our fifth game of the day, we we went this root, using some of Aaron's freshly painted 15 mm Gauls and late Republican Romans.   I took the Romans, and managed to drive my central legions deep into Aaron's warband block, only to see them all evaporate in a single bound of carnage.  Fortuna was not with Rome this day...   "Blades" (ahem: legionaries) in version 3.0 have been weakened since they now have to follow up when they win.  That's probably not too wrong, but they still look a bit silly in DBA - Romans basically should deploy in a single wide line, with maybe one or two elements in reserve.  Definitely NOT with an entire line in reserve, let alone two such lines!  I'll need more playing under my belt before I feel I can evaluate this iteration of the rules.