Monday, June 24, 2019

Battle Report: Rampant Stars- Mecha Battle on Mundos

On the wooded planet of Mundos, the mercenary company of Polanski’s Lancers had been contracted by Lacstar Incorporated to disrupt the operations of their rival firm.  The Lancers had limited success in their efforts.  However, incomplete intel provided by Lacstar made operations difficult.  The CEO of the Lancers decided to perform a recon in force to try to explore and more completely map Mundos to help plan appropriate operations to meet their contractual obligations. 
Of course, Volsaab Incorporated did not want their operations disrupted.  They contracted out with the Rose Guard as general site protection.  Once the activity by Lacstar surfaced, they contracted out with Thor’s Hammers to provide additional punch on Mundos.  The two CEOs would have preferred the contracts for their respective merc companies, but a shared contract was better than no contract. 
Electronic snooping and surveillance tipped the two allied Merc groups to the 14th Uhlans of Polanski’s Lancers activity.  They managed to deploy to counter their reconnaissance efforts.  The Rose Guard and Thor’s Hammers objectives were to deny the vital information to their enemies and destroy as many of them in the field as possible.   
It was InternationalTabletop Game Day, and my family decided to celebrate with some tabletop gaming!  I was as surprised as the next reader of the blog was.  To that end, I had to come up with a game for us to play and right quick!  With that, I pulled out some old sheets I had made to use Battletech models for games of Rampant Stars.  I fluffed out a few additional units, and in a few short minutes we were ready to play with my wife and daughter teamed up against me.  I think we all know how this is going to turn out all ready!

I am not going to go over them completely, but on Team: Family they had 8 Mecha.  For the most part, they were classed as Irregular Infantry with their Command mechs as Regulars.  They all were up armored to armor 2, with the Dragon and Cyclops up armored to armor 3.  Two had the either Rapid Fire or Armor Piercing Upgrades.  Then, the Hunchback had a Heavy Weapons upgrade to make it the most powerful weapon system on the board.

On my side, I had about 10 mechs.  They were all Regular Infantry.  I had three light mechs that were not up-armored, but had rapid movement.  I had 3 mechs with rapid-fire or Armor Piercing upgrades.  The rest were line mechs with armor upgrades to 2, and I had 1 mecha that was up armored to 3 armor points.

We randomly rolled up the “explore” mission.  This means there were 6 tokens scattered across the board.  You could collect a token by getting a model within 1 inch of it.  Once collected, it was removed and placed on the players’ side of the board.  The team with the most tokens would win. 

We played on a 4x4 board.  The edge of the board was a river with brush on the shoreline.  The opposite side of the board had a large forest with jagged rocks projecting out into the board’s center.  This made a bit of a clear valley between the river and the forest.  The markers were placed at various random points along the center line. 

I placed a couple of light mechs near the edge of the forest to rush in and try to grab the objectives there.  The center was my heavier mechs, led by my assault mech with the best armor.  He was going to take the hits while a light mech got ready to dodge beyond and grab objectives.

My opponent set up with one of their command mecha to go into the woods supported by the Hunchback.  The rest were going to storm across the center and shoot me to pieces. 

The Game:
Sadly, I was to busy playing and did not have the best notes from this game.  I do not have turn by turn specifics.  However, I have enough of an overview. 

My light mech heavy force was advantaged by the scenario, and I expected to grab objectives early.  However, this early advantage was off set a bit by poor Command Checks that left some of my faster mechs at the start line.  The same happened to my wife’s light mech as well, so the heavier units took the lead on the advance early. 

Like I suspected, I was able to get my lighter mechs going and grab an early lead, going up 3 objectives to two.  The main formations closed in the valley and traded shots.  Most of it was a side show holding action while my commander, and two light mechs dashed for the last objective in the woods.  In the meantime, my families’ had a Dragon and Hunchback trundling into the area and closing fast. 

The Hunchback hunkered in and provided devastating cover fire despite the cover and speed of my lighter mechs.  One of my light mechs was blown to pieces without firing a shot.  In addition, my Command mech took a beating.  I was further hampered when my remaining light mech failed a critical command check. 

Despite taking a beating of its own, the more resilient Dragon mech managed to grab the last objective.  The Dragon command mech was then torn to pieces and destroyed by fire from my Commander and a light mech.  Too little, too late.  We finished off the shooting, a couple mechs were severely damaged in the valley as well. 

The battle was technically a draw, however my lighter forces took a beating in the process.  I lost 1 light mech and took twice as much damage on the rest of my force.  I had to withdraw two other light mechs to avoid destruction.  However, it was a bit of a moral victory to take out one of the enemy joint Commanders in the battle, take that Thor’s Hammers!  

In an odd twist, two of my opponents mechs only left the baseline in the final turn due to Command failures.  1 of their lights and a line mech never got into combat….. and I still took the worst of the fighting! 

Overall, RampantStars makes for a quick, brutal, and fun mecha game too.  The entire game with set-up and takedown was about 90 minutes.  The longest part was setting the board up and statting up the mecha.  The game itself went very quickly with a mad scrambled followed by an intense firefight. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Battle Report: Operation: Hemlock- Strange Aeons

With their cover likely blown, the Throne Agents of Inquisitor Xanatos had a difficult decision.

  1. Trigger the recall signal and retreat back to the pick-up point. Doing this would probably be the safest course of action, but they would be no closer to unraveling the mystery of the smuggled Adaconite.
  2. They could delve to the source of the mining operation and try to discover what all these rounded-up mutants are actually mining. They had been working under the assumption that the mutants were mining Adaconite, but that assumption may have been a false flag operation to cover something even more sinister.
  3. Finally, the team captured several members of the smuggling gang in the last encounter. They can interrogate them and discover the location of the gang's hide-out and drop in for a little discussion with the leader of the Smuggling gang and who he works for.

Led by Sgt, Major Bathory; they decide to use the direct approach and raid the gang's hide-out. At the safe house, Father Robertus and Twist lead a long and successful interrogation. Ultimately, they find out what they needed to know and administer the Emperor's Justice to the perpetrators. The Inquisition is not know for their mercy.

Soon, the trio of Throne Agents finds themselves making their way through the cramped, ill-kept, and dark zones of the lower mine works deep in North Ammoriss. They locate the back entrance to the gang's hide-out. Normally, it is used as an alternate escape route for raids and attacks by rival gangs.

Immediately, the team realizes something is wrong. There are no guards stationed at the doorway as a show of force. The group quickly and silently accessed the entrance and made their way down the spirally, rock carved stairs and into the den of the beast. Again, nothing was right as the group closed in on the lair.. A determined silence hung over them. As they approached the main chamber, a far to familiar smell greeted them. The smell of carnage.

Someone, or something had gotten their first. The room bore the marks of a fierce battle, The scent of ozone and bloodshed was strong. Corpses were strewn across the compound where they fell. As they searched the team quickly realized everyone was dead. However, there was no sign of theft and looting like normal gang warfare. It was obvious that someone was tying off loose ends.

The team quickly realized this was a dead end and withdrew the way they had come. Their nerves were not settled by what they had uncovered. As the throne agents emerged, they realized their fears were not misplaced. Around them in the mine works were shadows, shadows that moved unnaturally. Red eyes glared at them. Tattered red robes hung around glittering silver webbed bones.

Murder servitors were closing in on them.


The Throne Agents

  • Father Robertus- Agent
    Wrecking Hammer, Holy Book, .22 Handgun*
      * .22 Handgun= Stub gun
    • +1 Constitution
  • Sgt Mjr Danyg Bathory- Agent
    Rifle, Knife, Light armored vest, Tight Boots, Firearm cleaning kit*
      * Rifle, Vest Tight Boots, Kit= Las-gun, Flak, Veteran Guardsman
  • Sebastian Twist- Civilian
    Cleaver, Lucky Charm,
    • +1 Attack

Murder Servitors

  • 6 Murder-Servitors
    * Ancient Warriors

The Agents need to escape the board on the opposite side as the Murder Servitors close in. The Throne Agents are positioned within 2 inches of the entrance to the Gang's Lair. The Murder-Servitors are positioned anywhere between their board edge and the center of the board. This uses the “Escape Into Danger” scenario from the main book.

The Throne Agents have one of the board edges that is sealed by an Ad-Mech support wall. In the center is the entrance to the gang's lair. This is where the Throne Agents will be deployed. The board is 3x3 and scattered with rocks outcroppings, a slag heap, and a few refuse pits for cover.

The Murder-Servitors are coming in a loose circle. 2 are coming from each board edge.

Turn 1:

The Sgt Major sprung into action on years of combat training in warzones across the sector. Survival instincts began to dictate his movements, as he called Twist to move forward. He quickly pulled his las-rifle into his combat stance and fired on the nearest …. “thing”. His shot was true and sizzled into its chest. However, the abomination just stumbled onward. In fact, they all closed in with their glowing red eyes remorselessly cutting through the darkness.

Turn 2:

Sgt. Major Bathory continued to lay covering fire with his las-rifle. He breathed a sigh of relief as his aim was true and shattered the skull of the thing he shot. It stumbled forward and fell over, it's limbs twitching obscenely.

Father Josephus and Twist moved up under the Sgt Major's covering fire, but it was clear he would not be able to kill them all at range. Father Robertius readied his iron clad staff, his symbol of office as a Drill Abbot at the Schola Progenium. Twist drew out his large knife and got behind the Father.

Turn 3:

The Deptartmento Munitorium issued las-gun flared to life once more, and another of the beasts was seared. However, it pressed on wards and crowded in on Father Robertus and Twist. His fellow creature joined him, with his clawed razor, skeleton hands swiping at the Throne Agents.

Turn 4:

With battle joined, Father Robertus chants a litany of Hatred and weighs into his opponent. The flashing skeletal blades fail to find their mrk, and the good Priest lays the abomination low with a mighty blow that shatters its skull. Twist is less fortunate, and the murderous claws send him to the ground with multiple slash wounds.

The Imperial Guard veteran burst fires his Las-gun at one of the oncoming skeletal machines, but fails to do anything more than scratch it. The wade into Father Robertus and try to bring him down with numbers.

Turn 5:

This close, it is obvious to Father Robertus that these abominations are simple Machine-God puppets. They are nothing more than murder machines built off the rotting corpses of fellow humans. They are affront to the God-Emperor given form of Man. A righteous hatred fills him as he smashed another of the foul things into the dirt, its body smashed asunder.

Sheltered by the whirling maul of the preacher, Twist manages to regain his feet. The Sgt Major moves to evade, and fires into one of the Murder-Servitors. Again, a true shot fails to stop the creature.

The last two mechanical assassins shamble into combat. The Sgt. Major draws his bayonet in the nick of time. Meanwhile, Twist prepares for combat again.

Turn 6:

Combat is swirling and furious. The God-Emperor guides the strikes of Father Robertus as he flattens a third murder-servitor in combat. Twist manages to sweep the legs out from under one and causes it to fall to the ground. The Veteran guardsman is not so lucky, and the murder-servitor knocks away his guard and clubs him along side the head, causing him to fall unconscious.

Turn 7:

Father Robertus knockls downs the last Servitor he and Twist fighting with. Twist leaps upon it and stabs it repeatedly until it stops moving. His own blood dripping down his face.

Leaving the fallen body of Sgt. Major Bathory, the last murder-servitor rushes in to engage with Twist and Father Robertus.

Turn 8:

Father Robertus smashes the last skeletal machine to the ground. Again, Twist finishes the job with a flurry of blows tot he servitors vitals. The light slowly goes out of the machines eyes. The entire cavern is plunged into a cold, silent, after battle stupor. It is then that Father Robertus and Twist realize that their comrade has fallen.


Twist and Father Robertus rush to tend to the wounds of their friend. They are relieved to find him unconscious but relatively unharmed. He wakes up a few moments later with a splitting head ache, and some choice words for the God-Emperor, the Machine God, and the forsaken planet of Ammoriss.

Meanwhile, Father Robertus investigates the Murder-servitors closer. He is dismayed to find that they bear the mark of the Red Tower of Ammoriss. In addition, they bear the marks of a fresh, recent combat before this one. The only logical conclusion is that they were involved with destroying the Gang hide-out and those within. Father Robertus gave thanks to the Emperor for surviving.

The Throne Agents manage to sneak back through the tunnels and back to their safe house. The connection between the smuggling Adaconite gangs and the Red Tower of Ammoriss leave them wondering who they can trust.

After the Game, Father Robertus gained 1 Clue (Map Piece) and 1 new skill. I chose Surly (Word of the Emperor) that can be used to cause fear. Since the Throne Agents won, I selected Sgt. Major Bathory to get the upgrade for free and I pick the skill Firearms Enthusiast for him.

I didn't manage to get any agents off the board, but I did manage to kill all the Lurkers. Father Robertus was a man possessed today! His wrecking hammer was owning these Ancient Warriors, and they are tough SoBs. He is a murder machine worthy of the Drill Abbotts from Inqusitor.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Battle Report: Men of Bronze- Battle at the Black Sea

After Phillip II's reforms, the Macedonian army was a fearsome fighting machine. However, this fearsome fighting force did not immediately displace the tried and true Hoplite model of combat. Many Greek mercenaries still used and adopted the Hoplite Phalanx as their main fighting style.

After the Macedonian victory at Charonea, Macedonian dominance of Greece was a given. However, the Greeks were always a fractious and quarrelsome country. The independence of Greek City-States was always a hallmark of Greek society. Therefore, Macedonian forces had to “mop-up” various resistance groups.

Eventually, contingents of Macedonian soldiers reached the edges of the Greek world, especially around the Black Sea. Here, they met independently minded Greek colonists who were not so eager to bend to Phillip II's yoke. With the help of hired Spartan mercenaries, they were ready to test Phillip's resolve in the region.

A group of Greek Mercenaries sponsored by the Milesian (Ionian) colony of Panticapauem were there to challenge the oncoming Macedonians. Panticapauem tended to align themselves with the Ionian rather than the Doric Greeks, and had a loose association with nearby Black Sea cities in the Bosporus region. They intended to use plausibly deniable Mercenaries to test Phillip's resolve in the region before determining if they needed to bend their knee to him. The Macedonians had marched a small force into the region to act as standard-bearers and pacify it. The hostilities of the Greek Mercenaries hired by the natives was unexpected.

Clearly, this is another “ahistoric” battle or possibly an encounter lost to history. It is based on only the thinnest of pretexts and historical background. I have some generic Greeks painted, a unit of Macedonian Pikeman, and some assorted light units. Therefore, I had to make armies that fit what I had painted.  Of course, you can get your set of rules from Osprey


Greek Mercenaries
1 Elite Phalanx- Spartans
1 Militia Phalanx- Eager Panticapauems
1 Psiloi- Mercenary Greeks
-22 points

1 Macedonian Phalanx
1 Light Phalanx- Thessalian allies
1 Peltasts- Thracian Mercenaries
-22 points

This will be a standard pitched battle scenario.

The Greek Mercenaries choose their ground carefully at a pass between craggy, forested rocks and a river. The Macedonians will not be able to bypass them easily, and the area is just wide enough for a battlefield. The battlefield is a 48x48 base widths table, with 1 base width equally 1 inch.

The Greek Mercenaries place their elite Phalanx of Spartans on the shore near the river. Their flank I anchored by the river. They stay in open order for rapid deployment or re-deployment as needed. Next to them is the Militia Phalanx from Panticapauem, who are also in loose formation. Finally, their line is ended with a group of mercenary Psiloi near the woods.

The Macedonians also anchor their flank on the river, with the main Macedonian phalanx stationed there in phalanx formation. To their left is the Thessalian light hoplites in open order. Finally, next to them is the Thracian Peltasts.

Turn 1:
Both forces collect their 3 Arete Points. Neither side bids to go first. The Spartans win the roll off. They move forward unopposed and stay in loose formation. The Psiloi take a position in the woods and use a Arete Point to skirmish in.

The Macedonians slowly move forward. The Peltasts dart across the front and start to form a skirmish line in front.

Turn 2:
Again, no one bids to go first. Instead, the Greek Mercenaries win the roll-off. The Psiloi skirmish again and move tot eh edge of the woods in a position to provide flanking fire to a Macedonian advance. The Militia and Spartans move forward. They stay in open order.

The Peltasts finish their skirmish line as the Macedonians and Thessalians follow them slowly and cautiously.

Turn 3:
The Macedonians bid 1 to go first. The Macedonians want to get their main Phalanx in combat with the Spartans, but the Peltasts are in the way. The Peltast drop back between the two, ready to support. The Spartans try to interrupt, but fail. The Thessalian light Hoplites move up to support the Macedonians and form Phalanx.

The Militia from Panticapauem move forward and form phalanx. They are at a slight angle and ready to support the main Spartan push. The Spartans move up as well, but stay in Open Order to taunt the Macedonians into a charge. The Psiloi hold their position in the woods, ready to hurl javelins from the protection of the woods edge.

Turn 4:
Neither side bids for initiative and the Greek Mercenaries win. The Spartans and Militia Phalanxes move forward. The Spartans finally form up. The Psiloi move from the woods and behind the battle line looking to support as needed.

The Macedonians also rejigger their lines. The Macedonians themselves advance slowly, trying to judge the distance. Meanwhile the Peltasts hold the center, with the Light Hoplites on opposite flank.

Both sides begin to chant the Paean expecting a clash to be imminent.

Turn 5:
The Greek Mercenaries win the initiative by bidding 1.

They use an Arete Point and charge into the Macedonians, who also use one Arete Point to counter-charge. The two phalanxes crash together with the bang of spear on shields. Both sides lose 1 Courage in the initial pushing match.

The Macedonians try to use an Arete Point to steal the initiative but fail. This allows the Ionian Miltia Phalanx to charge in the side of the Macedonians as they struggle with the Spartans to their front. The This causes them to lose additional Courage. The Psiloi hang back in the back field.

Seeing the battle going against their Macedonian allies, the Thracian Peltasts hurl themselves into support their fellows. The Thessaliens break into open order and move to set-up for a flank charge into the main melee next turn.

The Macedonians are pushed back in the main melee.

Turn 6:
No one bids for Initiative and instead save their Arete Points for re-rolls and charges. The Spartans win the roll-off. The Spartans push in the main melee with the help of the militia. They reduce the Macedonians with their Thracian allies to 1 Courage, and they start to waver. However, the Spartans took casualties in the process, and they are also reduced to 1 Courage.

The Psiloi use an Arete point and make an unlikely charge into the Open Order light hoplites moving to attack the flank of the big melee. They manage to hit the flank harder than Psiloi should, and reduce the Thessalians in open order two courage! The Thessalians are pushed back and start wavering!

Turn 7:
Again both sides hold onto their Arete Points since everyone is involved in Melee.

The Macedonians win the roll off and decide to start with the big melee between the Spartans and Militia allies and the Macedonians and Thracian Peltasts. In the battle, Arete points are used for re-rolls and both sides are reduce to 0 Courage.

Onthe flank, the Light Hoplites manage to push back the Psiloi and reduce them two Courage, despite wavering. However, they are reduced to 1 Courage themselves.

In the end phase, the bulk of both forces flee. However, the Psiloi and Light Hoplites both manage to pass their collapse tests!

Turn 8:
Each side only has a single Arete point, and they both hold on to it for re-rolls.

The Light Hoplites can not form as they are wavering. Instead, the two sides viciously hack and slash at each other in open order. The Psiloi loose 2 Courage and the Thessalian Light Hopites both are reduced to 0 Courage.

Both units flee the field, leaving it for the crows. No trophies will be erected this day.

They say that in war, there are no winners; only losers. That was true today as both sides fled the field as they lost their courage to keep fighting. That means the battle was a bloody draw.

The elders in Panticapauem were uneasy. They had made their point to Phillip II but at great cost to themselves. They sent word to the Greek cities in Ionia as fast as they could to recruit more mercenaries to bolster their defenses. They also sent emissaries to Phillip II to offer terms. They were willing to bend the knee, but only on favorable conditions.

Perhaps fortunately for the Elders, Phillip II was soon assassinated. His son Alexander was the new leader of Macedonia. He had his sights set elsewhere and on a greater purpose than Greeks city-states around the Black Sea.

Monday, June 3, 2019

On The Painting Desk- Gladiators, Gangsters and Greeks.... Oh My!

If you recall my ambitious plans for 2019, I had a lot of painting goals on the list.  I have not been completely idle on that front.  I started the year very strong with a number of Blood Bowl teams and a few old Inquisitor models painted.  Since then, my painting has been a little bit more…. Eclectic.  There was even a point where I thought I had painted all the models in my collection! Thankfully, that did not last long and more came in the mail.  That was close!  You know the old saying about wargamers that paint everything in their “To do” pile….. they die!  I narrowly escaped death!

My first order of business was to finish off painting some old miniatures that were leftover from the Gladiator range.  These were from Crusader and I painted all the other Gladiators in my collection.  Only two were left.  They were modeled off the movie Gladiator and I think they were supposed to be Emperor Commodus and Tigris of Gaul from the movie. 

I plan on using these guys for The Games: Blood and Spectacle of course, but I also will be using them for Broken Legions as an Argonauts warband.  Commodus will be the leader, and Tigris will be the Herculean Champion.  In a pinch, I can use Commodus as a leader for Men of Bronze too. 

Here they are finished.... not great shakes but again I used all cheap acrylics from my local big box retailer.  I really need to get a new set of actual miniature paints, but they are just so darn expensive!  

Also on my goal list for 2019 was to paint some gangs for use in Turf War.  I plan on updating all the artwork with pictures of these models and other Wikimedia Commons stuff.  That way I can get it up for sale on my Wargame Vault page.  To do this, I ordered some of the Copplestone Gangster range from Brigade Games.  They arrived very promptly and I am very happy with their quality. 

I had previously written up some previous gangs and I soon selected the models to make up one of them.  While traveling for work I managed to get them painted up.  1 gang down, and 1 more to go for full games of Turf War.  Plus, I can paint up some extras for expansion, replacements, NPCs, etc.  The craft paints worked okay on these guys with a helping of dark wash. 

Then, I put together a bunch of Victrix minis for Men of Bronze and Heirs to EmpireThese gentleman are here to fill out my Macedonian and Successor Pikeman blocks and a unit of Hypaspists. If you squint closely, you can see a Corinthian Hoplite unit in there too.    

I went to town painting the Corinthians so I can get some new Men of Bronze battle reports up.  Again, I used the local craft paints.  This time I was very displeased with how they turned out.  The white did a terrible job, and I was not happy with the metallic paints either.  These guys are going to be in the background of the shots.  On the bright side, I only broke one spear while painting them!  Can you spot it? 

After painting these guys, I am going to wait to paint up my Pikeman and Hypaspists until I get some better paint.  I want them to look much nicer than these guys turned out.  I gave the rest of my Spartans and Corinthians back to my friend to finish painting since he does a much better job.  Just look in the Men of Bronze book to see the difference.  

Next, I got a ton of 6mm miniatures for the successor period from Baccus.  I also got some 60 x 60mm bases.  I have never painted 6mm before so if you have any recommendations I am glad to hear them!  I am going to wait to paint these until I get some decent basing materials and actual mini paints.  I don't think the craft paints are up for the challenge.  Plus, I need these guys to do some more playtesting and pictures for Heirs to Empire     

Finally, I have 1 MKV All Quiet on the Martian Front Tank that I found hiding in a cabinet.  That is probably the miniature that kept me alive!  It was undercoated but not painted.

As you can see, there is a lot on the go now.  Hopefully, I can knock some of these out before the  season goal review.  Right now, things are looking a bit sparse on the number of goals completed!  I mean, that post is right around the corner! 


Monday, May 27, 2019

Wargame Design: Playtesting- Only the Strong Survive

Congratulations, you have moved your rules from a Concept, the 4Ms, your Initiative mechanics, and put together some profiles and chrome. You have come a long way and are ready to play your game! Now comes the hard part, seeing if your game actually works at all the way you intended it to work! To find out there is only one way to figure it out.... you have to play.

Typically, there are a few phases of playtesting. Each stage of playtesting builds off the previous level. Through playtesting you are looking to find out the following things:

  1. Do your core mechanics actually work?
  2. Are the rules clear?
  3. Do your rules have blindspots?
  4. What is unnecessary bloat?
  5. Does the game play like you wanted?

As you playtest, you need to be ready to be ruthless. Now is the time where you MUST be ready to “kill your babies”. What does this mean? You must be willing to discard the mechanics you have built so far and go back and start again. This is very, very hard. However, to fail here is to fail your game.

Keep your Design Goals handy. It will be tempting to go into every detail or do something completely unique for each scenario. The Design Goals will keep you grounded and avoid going off the rails. It does you no good if during this stage, you “Kill you babies” but go so far outside of your design goals that the game is no longer what you wanted to accomplish.

Level 1- Just and some Paper
You will probably be doing this as you go, but I wanted to make it explicit. Here you sit down, and just walk through the game in the abstract. You make sure you covered all the 4Ms, that you know how to and when to activate, that you know how to get a result, that you know when the game ends. At this stage, you may grab some dice, calculator or a probability chart and work through each stage looking for gaps you missed or things that are not clear or covered in the rules. This will make sure you covered most of your gaps and nothing glaring is missing.

Some people design Use Cases to test, build programs to run probabilities, or other elaborate steps. It is up to you how rigorous you want or need to be. I will caution you. Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. A game that never gets finished and played is no good to anyone. An imperfect game is better than the game that is never played. Let your creation eventually hit the table.

Level 2- Just You and the Table
You should begin your playtesting very simply. No one knows the rules of the game better than you. So put some templates on the table and start playing. Run through a very basic game with no complications. Take copious notes as you do this. The whole point is to find places where the rules do not work.

As you hammer out the details keep playing. If you want keep adding a few complications or modify the scenario. You want to make sure you hammer out all the obvious things you can find on your own play-through.

At this stage, you need to be willing to go back to the drawing board are start all over again. It isn't easy, but if something doesn't work, it doesn't work. Once you are done with this stage, all the obvious problems should be hammered out and the game should play smoothly.

Level 3- You and your Buddy
You have hammered out all the obvious issues in playtesting with yourself, at least the issues obvious to you. Now, you need to give your rules to some of your preferred opponents. Set-up a evening of gaming or two and let them read the rules on their own before the day of the game. Ideally, they will help you find editing issues but you are really looking for what questions they bring about the rules before the game. These are areas that need to be tweaked and explained better.

Once you get together you can play. Try to not give a tutorial or major explanations of the rules. You gave them a copy, so start playing. Again, as you play take careful note of where you find gaps, your opponent asks questions, and what strategies your opponent used. These insights allow you to see not only if the game works, but does it work AS INTENDED. i.e. do the rules lead to the conclusions you wanted?

If possible, go back and make tweaks; and come back to your buddies with the updates. Let them read the updates and ask questions. Take note of what they are asking and what conclusions they come to from reading the rules as written. This will guide you to streamline and clarify.

If you game does not play the way you intended it you need to go back and re-balance incentives your game puts on actions to naturally apply to the way you want the game played. Again, be ready to “kill your babies” because the game is not doing what you wanted it to do. Refer to your Design Goals to stay on track.
From Wikimedia Commons

Level 4- Gamer vs. Gamer
At this stage, the rules are ready to be given to a group of players without your guidance. Instead, you give them the rules, they read the rules, and then they play games. You make this as structured as you like. Some designers provide briefings and test cases for what scenarios need to be tested, some gather detailed data through observation or after action reports, some use 5 point scale surveys, while others just solicit ad-hoc feedback. The process is up to you, but typically the more rigorous the testing the more rigorous and specific the output from your testers.

Your testers will have plenty of ideas and thoughts about what you should or should not do with the game. Keep in mind they do not have the perspective on the Design Goals and what the game is intended to do. Only you do. At this point, the hardest part is balancing the feedback with the Design Goals. Therefore, not everything a playtester says should immediately become the truth.

It is very easy for a designer to fixate on a single pain point from one player and overlook the positive feedback on the exact same topic from other players. You will need to separate the “wheat from the chafe” and decide what needs updates and what does not. Frequently, you will find things that need to be clarified or made cleaned in the rules.

This is also the most likely stage where “imbalance” will be discovered as players try to “break the system” for advantage. Players can see what the designer and his buddies will miss. They are not wedded to the game and have the right amount of distance to break it. At this stage, you will need to re-balance and re-calculate any balancing mechanics that are in your game. This will require multiple attempts to get to feel right as no game has perfect balance.

From Wikimedia Commons

Level 5- The Big Wide World
You are now ready to release your baby into the big wide world. Be assured, it will be savaged. Every game has detractors and critics. Guaranteed. However, that doesn't mean what they are saying is unwarranted. Despite the best playtesting process, things will be missed. No playtesting group is as good as dozens or even hundreds of people playing your game looking to find the loopholes and exploitable points. They will be found and they will be criticized.

Again, remember that no one has a clear vision of the Design Goals like you do. It is ultimately up to you to determine what to do with the information you are given. Some games do FAQs, updates, or other tricks. Depending on how your game went to the public you might be able to make updates as go. Others will require separate and posted changes.

The thing to remember is, if you get to this level of playtesting; your game is out in the wild! You have made a game. Congratulations!

Via Wikimedia Commons
Only the Strong Survive- Where is it at?
So, we have been following the process for Only the Strong Survive. Where is it at with play testing? Good question. I have completed Level 1, and am ready to move onto Level 2.

Through using level 1, I discovered a couple of issues:

- There was not a great mechanic for dinosaurs to lose without dying. Don't they run away ever? That is probably the most common way for a wild animal fight to end; with one running for it. Just like human battles, this is a dangerous time as they must turn away from the enemy. Therefore, I updated the rules for some factors and tests for when a Dinosaur may decide to leg it no matter what the player wants them to do.

- I made some modifications to the reaction process. Instead, it took Instinct Dice to be allocated for a Reaction test to even be made. Therefore, a player would be forced to decide if they wanted the chance to react or if it was better to put it all into an Attack or Defense instead. Again, another decision point.

- I also made some tweaks to how and when you allocate Instinct dice.

- The method of determining who starts the turn was streamlined and provided for. Before it was unclear.

These were all tweaks or gaps that I found while just working through the game on paper and typing out the rules into a document for playtesting. This found the obvious gaps or clunky bits. Now, it is time to test if the game actually works on the table. Onward to Phase 2!

If you want to help out with the playtesting you can check out the draft rules here.  Feel free to comment on them on the Messageboard.  Thanks for your help! 

S.S. Onward from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 20, 2019

Battle Report: Combat! Starring Vic Morrow- Co-op Play

It is surprising the number of times I play and lose games against my wife and against my daughter. I have been playing and designing wargames much longer than they have. Yet somehow, they still consistently beat me. I would say the ratio is 60:40 in their favor. Therefore, I finally figured out a way to not lose. I decided to play a Co-op game with them!

The game we decided to give a go was Combat! Starring Vic Morrow. This is a game I designed in homage to the old (mostly) black-and-white television show of the same name. Therefore, it is set in World War II; but with a twist. It is not designed to be super realistic, but to adhere to the tropes of TV war shows. The game has player-vs-player, Player-vs- AI, and Co-op game modes. In Co-op the player can take control of a number of cast members form the show and play against Decision tree opponents and randomized enemies.

Somewhere west of Paris, the American forces were pushing the Germans closer to the French capital. However, the fighting was fierce and the American troops had to bleed for every mile. 2nd Lt. Hanley was tasked with escorting an Army Air Corp observer into German territory to determine the effect and extent of the night time bombing raid carried out by the British RAF.

This was a mission that would require speed to succeed. However, Lt. Hanley knew he would also need to back-up his speed with firepower to bust through enemy lines. He surveyed the squad and called Sgt. Saunders and Private Kirby to his side.

We decided to pick cast members from the show. In this case, I played Lt. Hanley, my daughter was Sgt. Saunders, and my wife was Kirby.


2nd Lt. Hanley- Star
Rifle, Pistol, Knife, Grenades

Sgt. Saunders- Star
Tommy Gun, Knife

Pvt. Kirby- Cast
Browning Automatic Rifle, Knife

1 Army Air Corp Observer- Co-star
Pistol, Knife


Randomized German Stooges!
-Based on the Ratings of the Combat! Cast members we choose, we would face off against about 7 Combat Markers of unknown enemies.

For this game, we used some of my (in)famous green army men to take the game for a spin.

The mission was randomly generated, and it was to escort the Army Air Corp Observer across the board. He had to leave the opposite table edge. Lt. Hanley decided to escort the Observer himself.

The board will be a 4 by 4 board for today's battle. There was a road across the board, a hill, and several fields. A stream cut across the corner of the far side. The Combat! Markers were scattered in cover all over the board. Kirby was on the right flank, Sgt. Saunders in the center, and Lt. Hanley and the Observer on the left.

Normally, I have pretty detailed batreps for the games I play, but this one did not work that way. I was busy trying to help my family through the game. Therefore, I only have the general idea of what happened.

The Game
Kirby cut across the field in front of him and found a German soldier with a rifle on the other side. He took a shot at Lt. Hanley and forced him to take cover. However, Saunders moved up and Tommy Gunned him down.

As Hanley and the Observer went up over the hill, they revealed a German with a sub-machine gun. He opened fire on Saunders, but missed. Lt. Hanley tried to get the drop on him, but missed. The German was pinned from the shooting. Eventually, Saunders scuttled over and traded shots with the German while Hanley and the Observer hurried past. Eventually, Saunders managed to gun the plucky German down.

As Kirby approached the road, he was jumped by three German soldiers. They fired wildly and missed him, and Kirby kept his cool and fired back. 1 went down. Things looked bad for Kirby until Lt. Hanley tossed a grenade into the German position and took them all out.

The group scurried across the road, but a group of German soldiers appeared from a nearby field. Saunders drew his knife and charge into their ranks to keep them from attacking Lt. Hanley and the Observer. This kept them distracted as the wildly defended themselves against the Sergeant.

Lt. Hanley and the Observer rushed ahead to bypass the German's in the field but turned the corner and came face-to-face with a German NCO. He fired a quick burst from his sub-machine gun and rushed Lt. Hanley. The Lt. Dropped his rifle and tried to pull his pistol but was too slow. The German NCO bowled him over with his momentum and proceeded to stomp Lt. Hanley into unconsciousness.

Lt. Hanley was lucky that Kirby was covering the flank because he turned and fired, taking the German NCO out. Kirby rushed forward and took control of the Observer who had hunkered down into cover.

Saunders was battered but he eventually took out the three Germans he was tussling with. That's why he was the star of the show! He moved up to support Kirby and the Observer. Kirby grabbed Lt. Hanley and slung up over his shoulder. The small group then managed to bypass the last German patrols and make it into German held territory.

Mission a success.

Eventually, the small group made it to the target area. 2nd Lt. Hanley had recovered enough to take care of himself, but he was nursing a swell goose egg on his forehead. After getting past the frontlines, German activity thinned out and they had made good time.

The four of them huddled in the bushes, as the Observer pulled out his camera and started snapping pictures. Then, he eagerly jotted notes with a grease pencil into a small pad. After about 60 minutes of traversing around the demolished rail yard, the team took cover in a small french bard for the night.

We'll wait here until dawn, and then head back to our own lines.” 2nd Lt. Hanley ordered, “Did you get what you needed?”

The observer tapped his notepad, “All right here. Are you feeling okay Lt.?”

He's had worse,” Kirby chirped in.

Nothing a relaxing walk in the French coutnryside tomorrow won't cure,” grinned Sgt. Saunders.

Music swells and roll credits.

The mission was successful, but not without some tight spots and daring do! My wife immediately noticed that the “Stars” of the show had more opportunity to act and complete objectives than the Extras and Cast Members. Through the adventure we used all the little things that make this ruleset somewhat unique such as extending Screentime for more actions, suppression fire, aimed fire, pinning, Star Power to re-roll a dice, and Plot armor to take more than one hit. I wish we would have thought of using the First Aid action on Lt. Hanley.... Oh well!

Overall, the AI decision tree worked even if it did feel a bit roll heavy on occasion. Also, the activation process using multiple, collaborating players as opposed to Axis vs. Allies was a little bit more challenging. It required us to decide as a group who was going to use Screentime next. Finally, I may have deployed the Combat! Markers incorrectly as I placed them in cover randomly around the board instead of by the letter of the rules. This allowed us to bypass a couple. Despite these minor quibbles, the game worked just fine as a cooperative battle.

My family said they would play again as they prefer co-op games instead of versus games all the time. That means, some of my future design work may try to cater to this preference. Can anyone point out other fun co-operative miniature rules?