Monday, February 24, 2020

Wargaming on a Budget- Making a Board Look Good


For many years, my wargaming had a very strict budget.  In many ways this was a blessing as it forced me to focus on what I needed and wanted to accomplish in the hobby.  I couldn't do it all.  heck, I could barely do it at all.  Therefore, I had to focus on what I needed to do to make a game playable.  Often times, that included making rules, using paper templates, and figuring out how to make my own models.  Heck, even toys were often pressed into service.

 Of course, something that sets wargaming apart from board gaming, card gaming, role-playing games, and video gaming is the table itself.  A big draw is the visuals and the "spectacle" of a good battlefield.  This aspect could really make or break a good battle.  Today, I want to break down how to make decent terrain cheaply and easily.  Thankfully, it doesn't even require much effort!

A good gaming set-up is based around the following segments.  You need a table.  From there you need a gaming mat to cover it.  Then you need terrain pieces.  That's it.  You have a decent table.  We will be looking at this issue from various levels. 

The Gaming Table
Depending on the game you play, the typical play area is anywhere from 3'x3' to 8' by 6'.  That can be a lot of space that many people just do not have.  The cheapest solution I have found for creating a good baseline gaming table is to go to a big-box retailer and purchase two card tables and put a piece of plywood over it, go to a big box retailer and get three 2'x4' folding tables, or to just gut it out and build the table yourself out of plywood and lumber.  I have done all three.

Now, if you have an existing table, the easiest method is to buy a piece of lumber and throw is on top of the table when you need it.  Most places will cut a piece of plywood down to size, but larger boards maybe subject to a bit of warping in the center, so I prefer MDF.  MDF is heavier though so that maybe an issue.  A board like this can run you $10 US to $25 depending on the quality.  When not in use, you flip the board off and slide it behind the couch, entertainment center, or other suitable out of the way place. 
Two tables pushed together

You can use a variety of item to build makeshift boards.  I use some NSF wire racks and a pair of old closet doors for my table.   It provides storage underneath and a flat surface on top. Virtually anyway you can get four "legs" or supports and a flat surface will work.  Found materials or cheap items from a Thrift store work great for this method.

For a long time, I used 4 folding plastic tables that were roughly 2' x 4" and set them up together.  These were very portable and easy to carry, pack away, or travel with.  They are a bit more expensive as new ones from a Big Box retailer will probably run you over $100.  However, I was able to scout out my first set at a local Thrift shop for about $20 total to make a 8' x 4' board.  Another source can be local churches, libraries, halls hat are upgrading their inventory or garage sales.                   

In a real pinch, I just skip the table and go straight to the floor.  Typically, this is completely free!  As I get older, this option keeps getting tougher.

The floor

Gaming Mats
A Gaming Mat is simply a cover you put over a table to make it look like something other than a table.  There are many nice neoprene or foam ones with fancy designs printed on them.  Very nice, but pricey!  There are much easier and cheaper ways to get a gaming mat.

I find the easiest way to make a gaming mat is to go to the local Big Box store and get the following items:

1. A plastic table cloth of a suitable color
2. A sponge roller from the hardware department
3. A Quart of paint that is a contrast color to the table cloth
4. A place you can pour some paint for the roller

This will run you about $15-20 US.

Snow Mat
You then spread out the tablecloth on a flat surface.  Typically, these table clothes cover about 8' x 4" pretty easy.  You pour the paint, and then you use the sponge roller.  Just roll the alternate color across the surface of the table cloth.  You normally have left over paint that you can store to paint up terrain later.  You then leave it to dry over night.

General purpose Green Mat
I have made deserts, water, snow, "urban", and other exotic terrain types using this method.  They store very easily by folding them up and putting them on a shelf or in a plastic container.  They are also very light and easy to move from place to place.  You can even use multiple layers to help create simple terrain effects such as islands, rivers, swamps, etc.
Using various Mats and cutting to create a ocean, beach, and land

Of course, this is not the only way to make a good play surface to go on top of your table.  Another easy, and relatively cheap method is to go to your local Big Box retailer and take a stroll down their fabric section.  There, you can find pre-printed, light fabrics that can be cut to size for your table.  These range from various forms a camouflage, to black, to other patterns.  They can be more expensive then a cheap, plastic table cloth but they tend to be slightly more durable. 

Fabric
There is a third and final method.  This is the most expensive, but allows for the most "modular" of the gaming surfaces.  It is also the heaviest and hardest to store.  Go to your local hardware store and get a box of Vinyl tiles that are 1' x 1' in size.  You then apply a base coat f paint, and sponge a couple of similar yet contrasting colors and you are all set.

Vinyl tiles

Terrain 
On top of your nice game mat goes the terrain.  This is what your little armies of toy soldiers will be maneuvering around to achieve their objectives.  It is always nice to have an assortment of basic terrain to make use of to act as objectives and obstacles.  Some of the basics include a river, ponds, trees, shrubs, and hills.  With a good selection of these natural terrain items you can have a good looking table.  Thankfully, each of these can be cheap to make.  

Hills
If you are using a fabric or tablecloth game mat, hills are relatively easy to make.  You simply put a stack of books underneath the mat.  Boom!  Instant hills with semi-sloping sides for a more realistic look.  They are not always easy to balance minis on, but they look very naturalistic. 

Books under a cloth

Another easy way to make hills is to get some card board, cut it to a group of identical sizes, stack them up, masking tape the sides of them to seal the open edges, and then paint them up.  This can be cumbersome as it can take several layers of cardboard to get a suitable depth.

Layered Cardboard Hill

A second easy method is to gets pieces of styrofoam from the floral section of your Big Box retailer.  You can often cut them to size with a bread knife heated on a burner.  Be careful, it is hot!  You can then paint it up with left over latex paint from your game mat.  

Styrofoam Hills
Stack them for height

Rivers and Ponds
If you happen to make a water board table cloth mat, you can cut the extra 2 feet or so off and into lake and pond strips for use on your table.  That makes it really quick and easy!  However, if you do not have that option, I also recommend taking a look at the fabric section of your Big Box retailer for suitable gauze or light fabric.  I recommend making strips of about 8 inches long that can overlap to connect.  
Lake front property
To really make a river stick, line the edges with loose moss.  It really makes it pop and represents the shrubs and woods at the edge of any water feature.    
A fabric body of water

Shrubs and Fields
Most Big Box retailers have a craft section that sell fake flowers.  In that aisle, you will frequently be able to find a bag of loose clump moss for centerpieces and floral decorations.  They run between $3 to $5 US.  Buy 1 to 3 bags of this in various colors.  This moss makes amazing shrubs and scatter terrain.  They also do a great job "outlining" larger terrain pieces such as woods, rivers, or fields to act as a board.  it allows you to make "area terrain" very easily.  If you buy nothing else on this list, BUY THIS! 

Often, in the Fabric section of the same Big Box store you can find Faux Fur.   This makes great fields.  It often comes in square patches, that you can use as is or cut into smaller patches or strips.  When combined with the moss, it can make an excellent looking field.   

Faux Fur field with moss border
For hedges, I also recommend you go to the cleaning solution aisle.  There you will find packs of multi-colored sponges.  Often, there are a number of green sponges in the pack.  They cost about $3 to $8 US.  Buy a pack or two.  Once home, take out the green ones, and then use a scissors or knife to cut them into long thin strips.  You now have some hedges or hedge rows.


Trees
In the arts and crafts aisle of your local Big Box retailer, you will find packages of pipe cleaners.  If you can find black ones, that is great; but any color will do.  If you take 3 to 5 pipe cleaners you can twist them around each other to make a solid trunk, and then use the off shoots at the bottom to create a branch system at the top, and a root system at the bottom.  Then paint them brown.  The easiest way is to dip them into a can of latex house paint, but spray paint or brush paint works too.  Once dry, you can use white glue to attach clumps of moss for foliage.  These make great trees.


In addition, you can often find toy tubes of plastic toys int he Toy section of the Big Box retailer.  These are about $8-$12 depending.  They have a variety of small trees of various types.  I recommend two tubes, but you can make due with a single tube in a pinch.  Set them out on the table, and then outline the grove of trees with moss.  You now have a area terrain forest with 0 work on your part. 

Toy trees and moss for a grove
     
Dirt Roads
We again take a trip to the floral aisle.  Down this aisle, you will find a roll of burlap.  It will be far to long if you roll out the whole roll.  However, you have more than enough to make a couple of cross roads.  You can cut it to any desired length, and even cross it with ease.  If you also line the road with moss and rocks it will help it stand out even further.  This roll of burlap costs between $5-$8 US.

Burlap road with moss shrubs 

Buildings
These are by far the most challenging piece of terrain to make.  The easiest method is to get cardboard boxes of a size you like, spray paint them a base color, dry brush a contrast with a big ugly brush, and then print color images of windows and doors to glue on them.  Not a method I have used, but I have seen some amazing Super-hero and Mecha tables using this method. 

Typically, I actually build them out of cardboard.  Cut them to the shapes I want and templates I want and then glue them together.  I use masking tape to seal the edges and then you can hit them with spray paint for a quick finish.  Some spray paint even comes with texture now to make it even better.

Sadly, I never did finish painting this
The final method to create quick buildings is to find ready made interesting shapes and just put them on the table.  These can be electrical boxes, packaging, containers, what ever you come across!  The novel shape will often be good enough to make it work.

Novel shapes = Futuristic! 

Cardboard packing walls
Random Bits
Scatter terrain is also a very important part of wargame tables.  Things like barrels, boxes, crates, dumpsters, pillars, bushes, etc.  Crates and boxes can easily be made by stacking card board strips together and sealing the edges with masking tape, or cardstock off-shoots.  You can also make paper templates that you fold up and glue together as well.
PVC and cardboard crates in the background

Another great source is the local pet shop, toy store, or post-Christmas clearance bin.  You can find all sorts of goodies such as ruins, sand bag pits, walls, trees, etc.  These cost a bit more but can often serve to add a bit of spice to the table.   
Post- Christmas walls for a snow battle

Columns from a pet store for aquariums

Final Thoughts
Your local Big Box retailer is an easy way to make a nice selection of terrain for your wargames on the cheap.  Most of it is also relatively easy to construct or requires no special skills on your part.  You can make very nice, effective, portable tables for less than $50 US and about 2-10 hours of work (not including dry time).  To me that is a great way to make your money and time budgets last!

If you do nothing else from this article, go to the local Big Box retailer, go to the craft section with the fake flowers, and buy at least 1 bag of clump Moss and Lichen!  It will raise your terrain game 100%!

Give it a try and let me know some of your best finds in the comments.

 

 


  

Monday, February 17, 2020

On the Painting Desk- Greeks, Gangsters, and Lizard Men?


2020 has been moving quick and I have not been able to play nearly as many games as I would have liked so far.  It is cold in my gaming area!  Therefore, I have been doing a lot more painting.  You may have noticed that I have started a tracker for the number of models I have painted, and the number of games I have played.  The difference is pretty telling.

This year so far, I have manage to paint abut 30 or so models.  That is a pretty good rate for me.  Last year, I think I painted more models than any other year!  I think it was driven by two main projects.  The first was completing all of my Blood Bowl teams up to that point.  The second was managing to finish my Macedonians Army.

This year, the big project is painting two 6mm Successor armies, but I have not even bothered to start that process yet.  To be honest, the 6mm scares me.  I have a feeling that once I start it will go all too quickly, but I am still a bit intimidated by it.  It is the basing more than the painting that is scaring me.


So, like the good procrastinator that I am I have decided to try to polish off some other projects:

1. Corinthian Army for Men of Bronze
2. Spartan Army for Men of Bronze
3. Lizard Man Blood Bowl team
4. Loose Fantasy models and Gangsters

So, I started off strong on my Corinthian army by painting up some Greek Peltasts.  I was a bit nervous about getting the transfers right on their shields due to the strange shape.  However, they seemed to turn out just fine!  You decide.  They still need basing, but I will do all the bases at once.


All my Greeks are Victrix.  They are great value.  After these guys, I still have enough models for probably 1 more unit of slingers and two hoplite units.  That means each box could provide 4 to 6 ten man units.  Amazing. 

Next, I prepared a unit of 10 Hoplites for each army.  I managed to get one nice day with good weather and high temps and I took it to get these guys primed.  It has been pretty awful weather ever since.

Then, for the Super Bowl, I pivoted my attention to the Blood Bowl Lizard Men.  I managed to pick these guys up on a work trip, and quickly turned them around in under a month.  Not too shabby.

Then, as I was waiting for stuff to dry, I started painting some one-off figures.  It was a nice change of pace.  One off figures paint up so much faster than units, but are also less efficient on the paint.  Many of these models were Reaper Bones.  I was less than impressed with the material and it was not very friendly for painting.  However, the Bones Black I had were far superior, and well worth the extra dollar.  Metal Reaper are still the best for painting, but Bones pricing is soooooo much more affordable.  The Bones Black is a good compromise.


Left is Bones, and the right is Metal
Back three are Bones, while the pink haired one is Bones Black


Of course, the gangsters are Copplestone Casting.  They are a joy to paint.  Quick, simple, yet flavorful.  I have been eyeing the purchase of some terrain to go with them and to populate the pictures for Turf War, but I need to save up some cash first.



So, that's what I have been working on instead of playing games.  Despite that, I have three Wargames projects in the pipeline.  These have also been taking up my time.  I will tease them by saying the following:

1. Those Fantasy models may get a chance to hit the table for more than just D&D.  Keep an eye on my Wargames Vault page
2. Gangsters may have another new game to be played in soon.... with my Tripods?  Keep an eye on the Work In Progress section of the Blog.
3. I am working on my 2nd draft of the Wars of the Roman Republic Rules for Osprey Games

That is a snapshot of my Hobby January results.  Not too shabby for the 1st month of the year!




   

Monday, February 10, 2020

Review: Ragnarok- Osprey Games


Ragnarok.  I love the description of this game.  It is the most metal wargame description I can think of.  Here it is for those that have not read it…..

The end of the Aesir has come, but not as the prophecies foretold. The dread dragon Niddhoggr has devoured the roots of the World Ash, Yggdrasil, and the great tree has toppled onto its side, crashing the realms of mortal and supernatural together. With the gods dead and the fires of ruin consuming the world, your war clan of Viking warriors know what they must do to survive the destruction of the Nine Realms and restore order: they must become the new gods!

The subtitle for this book is….

Heavy Metal Combat in the Viking Age

Wow!  How can a game possible live up to this level of hype?  I don’t know.  Should we dive in and find out? 

Things I Like About This Game
This game has a great hook that leads to some interesting, potential in game play.  Essentially, the gods have been shattered and their power has been scattered across the planet.  Your warriors can harness this essence by doing amazing deeds and then release it with spell like effects.  This is a great premise!

Plus, it can be used to increase the tactical play of the game.  First, it involves resource management as you “earn” Godspark it is a pool that you can divide up.  You can use it anytime to trigger a spell like effect, and it can be done by any warrior in your warband.  This means you have to think what you want to use and when you want to use it for maximum effect.  The effects are movement, combat, and psychology related depending on the power.  Starting warbands get three powers that you can randomly roll or pick?  Random roll all the way!   Now, I have some quibbles with tracking the Godspark pool and how you generate it, but for the most part this is a cool mechanic and hook for the game. 

There is a good list of Powers in the book.  In addition, you can spend extra points to boost the effects of a Power to some amazing levels.  Again, decisions need to be made.  Hoard the power for a big Ka-pow or dribble it out to boost a few key actions here and there? 

The core of the game is a 2d6 roll, using opposed stat lines to determine a target numbers.  The bigger the difference in the stat, the harder the target number.  I love that the game uses 2d6, with even stats being a 7.  This creates a nice bell shape dice rolling mechanics.  The author calls this the Morpheus System.  Also, using stat comparison means that Stats matter a lot and the game can cover a lot of ground with one simple mechanic.  Double plus good!        

There is a large bestiary of Norse critters that you can and will face in various scenarios.  If your warband defeats these critters, they can become available for hire by your warband.  This is a cool way to add some fantasy elements to the game and make Warbands unique.  Starting warbands only have a few human types to add, so this is a cool way to add a lot of variety.  Like I said, the bestiary in this book is pretty impressive.    

Things I Do Not Like
Action points….. grrrr.  I am not a fan.  Just more tracking when you all ready get to track Godspark.   I have an irrational hatred of Action Points.  You can move twice, move and attack, attack then move, move and use a power, attack twice, etc.  For some reason, I always feel like this is micromanagement and tracking that slows down the flow of a game.  I prefer you get to do one thing so choose what is most important and do it all ready! 

The game has a variety of special rules to make terrain more interesting.  In theory, this is a great idea.  In practice, it just leads to more looking at the rulebook, tracking, and figuring out what all the “key words” means.  This game reminds me a bit of A Fistful of Kung Fu.  This is a cool idea that adds to the “Metal” of the game, but in practice it seems fiddly.  I prefer less key words in my games because I am not smart enough to follow what it all means in the moment.

Related to that, there seems to be a lot of small bonuses and abilities that could add up to something big but just feels a bit like needless complexity.  It feels a bit fiddly as Stats have names that were not Intuitive to me, a lot of keywords, and keywords with numbers.  There are also a lot of fiddly rules. Things like, throwing a torch as a weapon, burning down a forest t change the scenery type, stacking abilities, etc.  In order for an ability to stack it can’t be that impressive by itself.  Therefore, cool abilities have to be watered down a bit so they can stack.  This helps layer on more choice for the player, but I am not sure it really adds THAT much to the experience.    

Finally, I am not a fan of how you gather Godspark.  It is not an objective or scenario related item.  Instead, anytime you make a stat test and beat it by three you gain a Godspark based on how much you succeed.  Therefore, if you need a 7 but roll a 2d6 and get a 11, you earn 2 Godspark for the whole band to draw from.  Then, various powers are constantly using Godspark, so you are moving the needle up and down on this reserve a lot in game.  Better use a d20.  J


Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game uses Alternate Activation with a HQ start Phase and an End Phase where some special powers and compulsory moves can occur.  Pretty standard for a modern skirmish game. 

Starting Warbands are pretty basic with a Jarl, and a few human choices.  Pretty typical weapon and armor selection as well.  In campaign mode, there is a pretty good selection of magical artifacts, usable items, and other bits a pieces to make each warrior a bit more unique.  The treasures tables are pretty nice.

The campaign is pretty standard for this type of game, and follows the famous skirmish game pattern.  The game has a bit more lethality to it than Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse but models can not get as unique as they can in Outremer: Faith and Blood.  Of course, there is also an underdog mechanic to help get late comers up to speed.     

There are six basic scenarios but also a list of secondary objectives.  This helps create a more re-playable game.  Nothing to earth shattering here…. See what I did there!  It is a joke about the game setting!  I am sooooo funny!

Final Thoughts
Many of the recent skirmish games I have reviewed have had a big issue.  They have lacked tactical play.  They were mostly an exercise in pointing your little guys at the enemy and choosing the best target to attack and not much else.  Chrome around the edges was designed to hide the fact, but tactical gameplay was lacking and without it the re-playability of the game was diminished.  I think the addition of the Godspark and how it is harnessed, used, and what it can do helps overcome some of this.  In addition, using Stat comparison for TN then rolling 2d6 seems like a very nice core mechanic.  I think the biggest drawbacks are the somewhat boring activation system, lack of engaging psychology/morale rules, and some fiddly-ness around the modifiers and powers. 

There is a lot of great chrome in this game such as the powers themselves, magical weapons, adding monsters to your warband, and the campaign elements that would make this game replayable, however more scenarios with more fantastical elements thrown in would be awesome.  I think the various Frostgrave or Dragon Rampant scenarios would work really well with this game, so you can easily bulk the scenario list quickly. 

I bought this game on a whim, but I am happy with the purchase.  I can see myself playing this game at some point in the future.        




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Monday, February 3, 2020

Men of Bronze: Thracian Army List



Thrace was a large section of territory to the Northeast of Greece.  It controlled an area  that was bordered by the Balkan mountains on the North side, the Aegean Sea to the South, and the Black Sea on the Eastern side.  This territory was only semi-organized under a variety of tribal groups and loosely aligned politically. 



During the Persian Invasion, the Thracians joined with the Persians and the territory was put under a Persian Satrapy.  They were also part of the Invasion force the Persians sent against Greece in 480 BC.  They also contributed to Darius’ forces in the Persian-Greco Wars. 

It is interesting to note that the term Thrace is a Greek invention and was not used to self-identify in the region.  Instead, there were a number of kingdoms and tribes that populated the area.  At some points in history it was more unified than other points.  Political disunity was a common theme for the tribes in Thrace.  The mountainous regions tended to maintain a stable war-like tradition, while lowlanders could be considered a bit more peaceable.  Thracians were not well know as city-builders and tended to be a rural culture.   

Herodotus and Thucydides did write of a more aligned Thracian kingdom called the Odrysian Kingdom around the end of the 5th Century.  This was a semi-unified group of 40 tribes and 22 kingdoms.  Coins and inscriptions seem to have this political unit last until the 1st Century AD, although how centralized it was is unclear.  Many theorize that its political power and identity declined as it was often broken up or not recorded.  However, this kingdom seems to have existed with Persian control, Athenian alliances, Macedonia control, and eventually Roman control. 

Thracian Army
Of Course, Thrace was famous for the peltast unit, and was the considered the originator of this combat arm of Greek warfare.  In addition, Thucydides reports that one of the Odrysian Kings, Sitalces; was able to field a large army of up to 150,000 troopers.  This army was allied to the Athenians against Macedonia.  However, logistics failed the army and they were forced to withdraw.  The Thracian army was supplied wholly on loot and plunder. 
  
Thracian armies were mostly made up of light armed infantry men armed in the Peltast fashion.  This was the bulk of their troops.  Missile weapons were favored.  However, they used a wide variety of close combat weapons such as clubs, axes, knives, spears, and curved swords.  The most famous weapon was the dreaded Rhompaia.  The Rhompaia was a two-handed weapon that had a long curved blade attached to a short wooden haft.  It was often considered the national weapon of Thrace. 
Infantry forces preferred to fight in loose formation.  They rarely had armor, and were known for their speed and dexterity in combat.  They did not use organized spear blocks like the Greeks and fighting was individual in nature.  There are also references to non-peltast infantry such as Thracian swordsmen being hired as mercenaries.     

In addition to Infantry, the Thracians made use of Cavalry.  These were typically lighter armed and fought in a loose formation.  They lacked armor for the most part.  Only Noble cavalry could have leather or metal armor, and they had a reputation for fighting fiercely. However, metal armor was a later adaption. 


Thracian Army List
The Thracian Army list differs a bit from the normal Barbarian Tribe list as it has access to Heavy Cavalry, but this availability is for later period Thracian lists.  Earlier Thracian lists would have Nobles on Foot.  Therefore, you can either have Heavy Cavalry or Elite Infantry but not both in an army. It also limits access to archers and slingers as the Javelin was the preferred Thracian weapon. 
  
0-1   Heavy Cavalry*
0-1   Elite Infantry*
0-2 Cavalry
1+ Peltasts
0-2 Drilled Infantry
0+ Warband Infantry
0-2   Psiloi
*- Limited to either 1 Heavy Cavalry OR 1 Elite Infantry.  The same army cannot have both units. 

The first army represents the Thracians as faced by the Persians in the 6th Century BC.  Ultimately, the Thracians were defeated and integrated into the Persian Empire. 
Early Thracians- 38 Points
·         Elite Infantry      
·         4 Peltasts             
·         2 Warband Infantry

The next list represents a later Thracian army as might fight have been fielded by Sitalces, who was allied with the Athenians in the Peloponnesian War 

Later Thracians- 38 Points
·         Heavy Cavalry
·         Cavalry
·         Drilled Infantry
·         3 Peltasts



Historical Scenario- Clearchus Defeats the Thracians- 411 BCE

The Thracians were composed of various tribes and political forces.  They were seldom unified, and they were not above raiding and other war like pursuits.  Greek colonists had settled into colonies on the Thracian coast, and would often become the targets of such local raids.  Naturally, they would appeal to their fellow Greek city-states for help.    

This brought the Thracians into conflict with Clearchus of Sparta.  Clearchus is the famous Mercenary commander from Xenophon’s Anabasis.  Prior to becoming a mercenary, he was the Tyrant of Byzantium.  He was given command of a force to help relieve the area of Thracian attacks.  However, when the Spartan ephors learned of Clearchus’ tyrannical impulses, they moved to recall his command.  Clearchus ignored the messages to return to Sparta and continued on to face the Thracians.  He was hoping victory would bring him mercy form the Spartan leaders.  However, it is unclear if he achieved that victory.      

Clearchus did not regain favor with the Spartan elders.  Eventually, Clearchus and his army operating in Thrace came to the attention of Cyrus of Persia who then hired him to join his expedition into Persia.  The rest was made famous by Xenophon.       

Since we know very little about the actions Clearchus undertook in Thrace to help restore order around Byzantium, we will be forced to speculate heavily on the forces involved, and the scenario.  All we know about the conflict is that it occurred.  The details are left to us to imagine. 

Forces
Most armies of the period were composed less of citizen soldiers and more of mercenary forces.  Therefore, the Elite Spartan phalanxes may not have been part of Clearchus’ force.  The fact that his army later was a mercenary force for a Persian satrap would indicate his army was more mercenary than citizen soldier.  Therefore, we can use the Mercenary list in Men of Bronze as the basis for the army.

Clearchus’ Mercenaries
Drilled Hoplite- Clearchus
Drilled Hoplite
Light Hoplite
Peltast
Peltast
Psiloi

The Thracian raiders are given no details.  However, we can assume that they are more of the Later Thracian variety since this occurred after the Peloponnesian War and before Xenophon’s Anabasis.  Therefore, if we want, we could use the Heavy Cavalry option here, but I get the feeling that the Thracian menace was more common marauding than noble led invasion.  Therefore, we will list the Thracians as follows:

Thracian Raiders
Drilled Infantry- Thracian Chieftain
Drilled Infantry
Peltast
Peltast   
Peltast
Warband Infantry
Psiloi



Scenario
For the battle between these two forces, we can use the standard terrain placement and deployment process found in the Men of Bronze rule book.  I also recommend using the Ambush scenario to represent the Thracians raiding style of warfare.  The Thracians should be the attackers with Clearchus’ forces as the defenders.  In addition, this battle should use the Dusk Approaches complication to again represent the raiding nature of the Thracians. 

Complications
If you wish, since Clearchus is a “famous” Greek mercenary commander you could choose to allow Clearchus to provide 1 additional Arete Point beyond the normal Commanders’ bonus.  Alternatively, you could also make him immune to being killed like a normal unit leader.  I recommend using one but not both of these options. 

Victory
Use the normal victory conditions for an Ambush scenario. 

The history is not 100% clear about what happened to Clearchus and his engagement with the Thracian raiders.  However, Clearchus lives to fight another day and earns the respect and goodwill of the nearby Greek cities.  Therefore, it seems likely that he was successful in his attempt to pacify the area and reduce the risk of Thracian attacks. 

Final Thoughts
Thracians have a very different fighting style than their Greek counter-parts.  This can lead to an interesting game beyond the regular clash of Phalanxes.  The Thracians will be forced to rely on their speed, numbers, and firepower to keep their opponents from gaining the upper hand.  Terrain will also play a role in breaking up Greek phalanx formations, and allowing the Thracian infantry to get stuck-in on a more equal footing.  A Thracian commander must fight like a Thracian, where speed and ranged combat is the key to victory and not the strength of their armor. 

Thracians were also a common raider and foe for Greek city-states.  Therefore, a Thracian army always makes a thematically appropriate battle.  The asymmetrical nature of Thracian combat compared to the Greeks will provide a good change of pace and a different way to approach the game.  I hope you enjoy this additional army to Men of Bronze.   





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Monday, January 27, 2020

Review: Ghost Archipelago- Osprey Games



Before we get started on this review, I want to be 100% upfront.  I have no intention of ever playing Ghost Archipelago.  You maybe asking yourself, “Then why did you spend money on this book?” 

I had three reasons:

1.       I wanted to support the local game store I picked it up at.  Most only have the big two to buy; Warmachine and GW games.  This store had FoW, Opsrey, and other niche stuff.  I wanted to support that concept in a store so I bought some of that niche content from them.

2.       I wanted to see how they handled Heritor’s and their powers and what separated them from Wizards in Frostgrave.  I wanted to add this information into my toolbox of wargame design ideas and concepts. 

3.       I wanted to see how they did warband creation, experience, and treasure placement as it seemed like an improvement and development from Frostgrave.  As I was trying to get a Frostgrave campaign going locally I figured these enhancements might benefit my efforts.  In the end, that attempt to get a new Frostgrave campaign going failed. 

Why would I want to play Frostgrave but not this version of it?  To be honest, as a person who lives in the Great White North, the setting of Frostgrave appeals to me more.  I already had a good stock of winter terrain from other projects, and I had just donated my jungle terrain away for space reasons.  Plus, I just wasn’t sold on the idea of Heritors.  They seemed to much like Super-Heroes and if I wanted to play Super-Heroes I had other games for that.   



So, now you know the context as I head into this review.  I have modified my normal review format going forward.  Since many of my general thoughts on the game can be found in my Frostgrave reviews I will instead try to focus on what is different about this game. 

Time to head into uncharted territory. 

Things I Like
Warband creation and management seems to be streamlined in this version of the game.  You are always assumed to be able to have 8 followers with you that are just basic mooks.  From there, you can upgrade up to 4 specialists IF you wish.  They have special abilities and skills to make them stand out.  However, they are still expendable mooks for the most part. 

The Warband is led by a Heritor who can tap into the magic inherent in his bloodline to performs spectacular feats.  This can be active, passive, or reactive.  Nominally, you can activate as many as you want but the more you have active at any one time the more likely you are to take damage from your blood literally boiling.  There are also still traditional wizards in this game, much like Frostgrave wizard’s.  However they are called Wardens and have different spells and disciplines.  These two are the main guys to earn experience and grow in your warband. 

With Frostgrave, Ghost Archipelago, and Heritor powers you have a wide selection of spells, powers, equipment, and magical items to fuel your own dungeon crawl or similar adventures for a long time. 

This game also uses the Treasure placement system promoted in Ulterior Motives and Maze of Malcor.  This is an improved system for treasure placement. 


Things I Do Not Like
The base system is pretty much the same as Frostgrave therefore many of the issues I found in that game are also found here.  I think the biggest is the swingy nature of the d20 combat and the lack of strongtactical options. In addition, my comments on the need for scenarios to keep the game engaging also applies.

Meh and Other Uncertainties
This game adds rules for unique terrain such as water, small boats, swimming, and other swampy/jungly items.  The addition of these features can add a new “depth” to the battles and make for some interesting challenges and tactical situations. 

There is a new Bestiary including tribal forces, snakemen, and other “jungle” beasts.    

 The game has 8 starting scenarios.  A good selection of scatter terrain is recommended, as are water based items.  That helps add to the flavor of the game but also provides ways to block LOS, set ambushes, and provide scenario specific detail. 

The campaign process post-game is also very similar between the two games, but with themed items for the Ghost Archipelago.

Final Thoughts
If you are a big fan of Frostgrave, but what to change up the theme; then this is a great product for you!  It reminds me a bit of the old alternate setting for Mordheim that were unofficial or homebrewed, except this one is official!  Other than a few tweaks to the warband creation, Heritors, and theme specific spells/treasure/specialist this game will deliver pretty much the same experience as Frostgrave proper.    

If you are just looking to change up your games of Frostgrave, then Into the Breeding Pits maybe a better option.  If you have a group that liked the original but are just looking to change up the setting, miniatures, etc, then Ghost Archipelago is a better path.  Alternatively I see no reason why a warband from Felstad could not travel to the Ghost Archipelago or Vice Versa.

I think the core critiques for Frostgrave apply just as much to this game.  To summarize:

·         Few tactical options
·         Swingy d20 combat
·         Replayability may be limited without new scenarios
  
That being said, it delivers on what Frostgrave also does well, just with a few hiccups along the way.

·         Campaign play and linked scenarios
·         Multi-player capable
·         Great flavor and setting
·         Lots of options for your warband

I would not be surprised if some of the small rules tweaks here make it into Frostgrave 2.0 that the author is working on. 

Overall, I am not disappointed I purchased it.  With all the content I have it will provide a good base and fuel for upgrades, options, etc for my own projects.  A good ad to my toolbox of wargame mechanics and ideas. 





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