Monday, September 18, 2023

Wargame Design: Adding Logistics to Miniature Wargames


They say that amateurs talk tactics, while professionals talk Logistics.  However, when you look at most tabletop miniature games logistics is rarely mentioned.  In a basic sense, the logistics is making sure your units have ammo, food, fuel, etc. that keeps them in fighting trim.  Forces with poor logistics tend to have a tougher time fighting against a better logistical prepared foe.  Many times, strategy is about creating those logistical mis-matches.  

Why Skip Logistics
I can think of several reasons why Logistics is rarely a component of tabletop miniature games.  

1. The focus is on the tip of the spear.  Players want things that go boom.  Logistics do not make things go boom.  Maybe, it makes your foe's tummy grumble.  That is not exciting.  

2. Cognitive load is limited.  Players can only track so much from a rules level, they want to focus on things that go boom!  Logistics is seen as secondary. 

3. Players want to focus on tactical challenges and not strategic challenges on the table.  Strategic challenges are for pre-and post battle sequences, not on the table itself.  

4. Imbalanced logistics can lead to lop-sided battles.  Lop-sided battles are not perceived as fun. 

5. These are games and not simulations.  Real life is only tangential to the reality of the game.  

A Freighter in Aeronautica Imperialis V1

Why Include Logistics

Perhaps, the better question is; why include logistics in the first place?  They seem like a pain to try and implement rather than fun!  Of course, this depends on your tolerance for friction.  

1. It is a great way to add Friction to a game! 

2. Mirrors real-world scenarios 

3. Logistics wins wars

4. Adds a novel bit of Chrome or a unique niche for your wargame

Let's face it.  Logistics is the key to real-world warfare.  It is not tactics and strategy, it is which ever side can get the fuel, ammo, and food to their troops that tends to win the wars.  Therefore, adding logistics seems like a critical element that many wargames "gloss over".  

Of course, when considering logistics you also want to consider the "scale" of your wargame.  Skirmish games will represent this differently from Mass Battle games, that will reflect Logistics differently than a Grand Strategy game.  In skirmish games, it is getting ammo or similar key resources to the troops in a timely way.  In Grand Strategy it will focus on the procurement and resource development needed.    

Aeronautica Imperialis V1 Convoy Raid

How I Have Seen It Used
Here are a few sample games that I have seen use Logistics to varying degrees: 

  • Last Days: Zombie Apocalypse - Skirmish
  • Battlegroup: Kursk - Unit vs. Unit Battle Game
  • A Billion Suns  - Unit vs Unit Game
There are other games where I have seen Logistics play a part, but these are three that I wanted to highlight to demonstrate just a few different approaches available and how Logistics can make a great hook for a wargame.  

The supplement Seasons adds a whole new level of detail for Logistics to the game of Zombie Survival.  After a game, individual models are assigned tasks to complete.  Each of these lead to a post-session mini-game with pros and cons.  One of the key functions is to scavenge.  If models do not gather enough food, water, or materials then some of the individual models may face penalties in the following game.  Often time, the objective of any given scenario is to recover resources to make it easier to support the group in the post-game session.  

In this example, Logistics is immediate and visceral.  It is a primarily a component of the post-game campaign sequence of events.  However, the impacts apply to individual models.  This is a great way to add Chrome to a game.   

Battlegroup: Kursk
In this game, as players take "casualties" they draw chits that erode the force morale.  Some of these Chits also force breakdowns, running out of ammo, and other additional effects.  In force creation, players can choose to spend resources on specific units that can off-set these "Fog-of-War" effects, and can often also give on field benefits when other units interact with them.  

In this example, the Logistics take place immediately on the table and require the player to make pre-game choices in their force composition to avoid potential logistical problems later.  Every point spent on a ammo truck is points you can not spend on other units.  The player has to decide how much they want to invest in Logistics, but failure to do so will lead to in-game drawbacks.  This is an interesting way to create meaningful strategic decisions that impact gameplay.  

Logistics make good Objectives

This is a game of space contractors trying to fulfill corporate contracts with the minimum amount of resources in order to maximize their profits. Resources are used to deploy units, and fulfilling objectives provides resources.  Therefore, the win conditions are based on the logistics of the game.  

In this example, Logistics are the Victory Conditions of the game.  You need to consider how much to spend in relation to how much you will earn from completing the objective.  Logistics are the KEY feature of the game.  This acts as a hook to the game.   

Final Thoughts
Logistics is a key part of warfare, and often it is not represented in Miniature Wargames.  There are a number of reasons for this omission.  However, as a tool or mechanic they can be a great way to add friction to a game, and friction often forces a player to make Meaningful Decisions.  Logistics can be a great way to add Chrome or a Hook to your game.  They are also a great way to create strategic decision making in your games.  Used correctly, Logistical elements can add a lot of depth and re-playability to your wargame.  

Don't overlook this key aspect of miniature wargaming.  

Bonus Content
Kill Team has really helped us grow the community in our local, rural area.  It seems to attract eye-balls and players.  This time, I took my Eldar Corsairs against a Craftworld list.  I provided the Craftworld list to help a new player learn the rules, as they had just picked up the Ork vs Guard basic set.  Therefore, I arranged a time to show them how to play.  In addition, we had one onlooker who was eager to learn what it was all about.  

Since this was a beginning game, we skipped some of the ploys and such.  We also used only a handful of special rules.  It was mostly Shuriken Catapults vs. Shuriken Catapults and one heavy weapon a piece.  Most of the Tactical and Strategic ploys we skipped for now.  Afterall, they guy just wanted to grasp the basics of moving, shooting, melee, and morale.  We managed to do it all in this game thanks to there being a lot of terrain!  

I ended up losing by 1 VP again.  However, it was a good game and the new player and observer seemed to have a lot of fun!  They both quickly grasped the basic rules easily and quickly.  I look forward to playing with them again as they were a good opponent and fun to play against.  

Until next time......

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Monday, September 11, 2023

RPG Review: Avatar Legends- Magpie Games


Greetings all.  Some of you maybe wondering "why so many RPG Reviews?"  I know, I know, this is a wargame design blog!  However, I have been dabbling a lot in RPG design, writing adventures, and playing RPGs! As part of this, I have been playing a lot of RPG sessions, and reading a lot of different rules sets.  Therefore, that has led to a lot of RPG reviews. 

Avatar: Legends is a Powered by the Apocalypse system RPG based on the Avatar: The Last Airbender and Avatar: The Legend of Korra cartoon series seen originally on Nickelodeon.  So, to many of us that sentence might not make any sense!  What does it all mean?  

Well, let's start with the setting.  The book is about half setting details and half-rules for game play.  The setting focuses on a mystical world of various elemental powers, a spirit world, and nations built around affinity to these elements.  The elements are Fire, Earth, Water, and Air.  In addition, there is a martial arts tradition of "bending" these elements by channeling chi.  So, basically it is another Fantasy Asian culture leaning much more towards Chinese and Southeast Asian influences as opposed to Legend of the 5 Rings that leans heavily into Japan.  

If you want more setting stuff, try here:

The players are a group of young heroes who have banded together to complete a great quest or adventure.  They all have chosen to participate, are all familiar with martial arts, and are all generally good people.  For the most part, they are also mostly tweens, teens, and young adults.  

Great, now you know a bit about the premise.  So, what the devil is Powered by the Apocalypse?  This is a very loose philosophy for running an RPG that has a few similar traits.  It is not a "mechanics system" per se as many of the rules that use the PbtA "system" have very different mechanics.  However, it is more of a philosophy of how to play RPGs using these general ideas: 

  • All dice rolls are determined on a 2d6
  • 7-9 is a success with complication, and 10+ is a success with some benefits
  • The Game master does not roll any dice, only interprets results
  • The focus is on Narrative and leaning into the story
  • The game is designed to exploit genre conventions and tropes 
  • There is no Class/Level system, instead using genre archetypes in the form of Playbooks
  • There is no Health/Hit points, instead causing conditions to apply to the character
  • Players and the Gamemaster use a variety of pre-defined actions known as moves to broadly determine the action, these are designed to highlight the genre of the game.      
If you want to know more, you can look here:

So, now maybe that opening sentence makes more sense.  It does?  Great!  With that being said, let's mount up on our Air Bison and "Yip, Yip" on our way! 

Things I Like

The focus of the game is on creating the "Fiction" of the world.  That means, the focus in on telling stories with the characters as the basis of the conflicts.  It is a character driven game and therefore the mechanics are designed to lean into telling these stories.  Therefore, the details of how exactly a player fire bends, where a player is standing in relation to a threat, etc. are secondary.  This game is story first.  I like that form of game BUT if you are not into that than this game is NOT for you. 

The game uses 4 attributes: Creativity, Focus, Harmony, and Passion.  You will note that none of these are "physical" attributes but are related to a character's spirit and personality. In addition, this game has a cool mechanic where each playbook is torn between two values, a black Koi and a white Koi.  You move between these two points, and as you go closer to one you get a bonus, and a disadvantage on the opposite side.  

Each playbook (archetype or character) has their own unique values and bonuses in stats.  They also have a few "special rules" you can choose between.  It makes creating the mechanics of creating a character very quick.  These also point to a general "attitude" of the player.  You see, each playbook is designed to invoke a certain narrative space in the game and reflect the themes of the show.  Therefore, mechanically it is easy to build a character.  The hard part is the "soft questions" that are used to tie your character into your party and the larger quest. 

Normally, players spend time narrating what they are doing, how they are interacting with the world, and respond and bounce off each other.  Once a GM feels a check is needed or a move is being used, they will ask for a Move.  The GM also has a list of potential moves they can do as the world reacts to the players.    

Players or the GMs can choose to end a scene.  No more boring "shopping scenes" unless it is a vehicle for character growth and narrative.  Thank goodness!  This allows the game to keep a good pace, and not get bogged down in "non-value added" game scenes.     

My man Iroh! 

Things I Do Not Like    

 I do not like that this game actually has three ways to track your status that all interact and overlap.  The 2 Kois, a Conditions system that impacts your stats with modifiers, or/and a fatigue system.  All three of these states overlap to create a variety of mechanical effects.  I think that is probably too many.

Players fail or get complications easily, especially if they are trying to act outside of their area of expertise.  A GM that calls for a lot of checks will have to come up with a lot of complications on the fly.  In fact, the GM for a such a game should be relatively good at thinking-on-their-feet as much of the game is just "making stuff up" that fits the moment and challenges the character's on a spiritual, physical, and emotional level.  This can be challenging with the rules mostly giving general guidelines that the GM is left figuring out.  

Character's in this game have certain assumptions about them, that lock players in.  All players are good guys who generally get along.  They are all essentially friends and people who want to help.  The game is not modular at all, and characters are actually a bit restrictive.  You do not freely go about picking skills, abilities, or even deciding that you are this way or that way.  The playbooks direct you to the type of character you are.  Some people will go along with this better than others, and very experienced role-players may chafe at these restrictions. 

The game has a relatively simple Growth system that is a series of narrative questions that you ask at the end of a session.  Honestly, it seems pretty easy to Grow.  However, this normally only leads to players learning new fighting Techniques or other playbook techniques. The game has about a dozen generic styles and a dozen or so bending styles, so a character can theoretically choose from a couple dozen choices as they grow.  

Meh and Other Uncertainties

This game requires a Session 0 to play.  You see the group of players work together to create the story they want to participate in BEFORE a single player is made.  Yes, you read that right the Players create the story NOT the gamemaster.  This game the players lead the story and the GM reacts.  Therefore as the game unfolds the GM needs to be ready to improvise and stay on his toes.  However, much of the action, conflict, and tension of the game comes from the players themselves.  

Most of the book is really designed to help players and GMs to embrace the "Fiction" and how to lean into the fiction.  If you have played a PbtA system before, this concept is not new to you.  However, if you are coming from a different style of play like the traditional D20 style system with class/level and hard limits than this system is very different for you.  All of this ink spilled on how to lean into "the Fiction" is good.  

The system is very easy to learn because it leans into a relatively universal mechanic that I outlined at the opening of the review.  Much of the book is really leaning into the background material so you can understand the world and the likely conflicts within it.  Some could argue about the value of all that background detail that may or may not be used in the game at all.  

The game is also fairly straight forward that fail states do not equal death.  In fact, death is not a common event in this game.  It is very clear that only the evilest of villains kills people.  Instead, failed states are often giving up in the face of adversity, exhaustion, etc.  Conditions can also be cleared, but each Playbook has specific ways on how to clear a condition, like if you have the Afraid condition, you clear it by running away!    

The game has a simple adventure to get you started set in the Hundred Years War.  That is basically the period covered in the show, so the most familiar entry point for many players.  

There are three chapters to help out the GM about running the game, managing fight scenes, Bending, creating adventures, etc.  Basic stuff really.   

Final Thoughts

This is a really fun game IF you like the following: 

1. Narrative first games
2. Rules-lite systems
3. Kid's cartoon levels of violence
4. Focus on character interactions
5. Improvisational games

If you are NOT into those styles of games than steer clear.  

Notice you do not even need to be a fan of the show, or even have seen much of the show to get into the game.  However, some knowledge helps as it will allow you to lean into the Playbooks and the tropes of the series for a more rewarding experience.  It will also help you set-up the game easier in the Session 0.  However, when we played many of the players had 0 knowledge of the series and it was not a detriment at all. 

The mechanics of the system naturally lean you towards playing the game "the right way" and capture the "fiction" of the game.  That is the key purpose of the rules, to capture the feel of the series.  Overall, I think it is very successful at what it sets out to do.  If you can lean into the conceits of the game, you will have fun.  If you try to fight against the conceits and style of the game, you will struggle with it. 

If you've played the game, let me know your thoughts in the comments.      

Monday, September 4, 2023

Wargame Design: RPG Lite and Wargaming


Long time readers of the blog will know that I have an interest in RPG or Role-Playing Games.  Therefore, I also have an interest in the overlap between wargaming and RPG games.  In RPG games, a player often only controls a single player in the game, while in a Wargame the player controls multiple characters.  Therefore, there is a big difference between the play experiences.  Wargames came first, and RPGs grew out of the wargaming scene by changing the "scale" of the games.  The closely linked nature of the two types of games is interesting to me.  

What is RPG-Lite

Typically, a wargame is interested in resolving the 4Ms within the game.  Those 4Ms are Movement, Missiles, Melee, and Morale.  When you add RPG-Lite elements you are adding a few more pillars into game play, and adding more options a player can follow to resolve the game.  

Typically, RPGs have a different set of criteria beyond the 4Ms.  Those are commonly referred to as the Pillars of Gameplay.  In this case, RPGs use the following as the basic forms of the game; Exploration, Social, Combat, and Intrigues. 

When a wargame includes elements of RPG-lite it is allowing players to resolve conflicts within the game outside of just the 4M process and instead dip into the RPG Pillars of Gameplay as a form of resolution.  

So, typically in a wargame you resolve a challenge by either shooting it or hitting it with a stick.  If you are adding elements of RPG-Lite a player could resolve a challenge with a social ability, Intrigue, or even exploration.  

Here is an example in gameplay.  Player A has a unit standing on the objective.  Player B moves his unit up, and the commander of that unit tries to "bribe" the unit holding the objective to move.  The game has a mechanism to resolve the bribe attempt, and the result is Player A's unit leaves the objective, and Player B's unit occupies it.  The challenge of moving Player A's unit off the objective was not resolved by shooting or melee. It was resolved by an intrigue.  This is RPG-Lite in a wargame.  

What are the RPGs Pillars of Gameplay

Typically I break-up the Pillars of Gameplay into the following four categories when thinking about RPGs: 

1. Social - This Pillar focuses on interpersonal interactions and power dynamics based on these interpersonal relationships.  For example, in Turf War there is a mechanic using a Brains check to talk your way past a guard to get to an objective. 
2. Combat- Most Wargames cover this in detail.  However, in an RPG sense this covers 1-on-1 duels, skirmishes between small groups of individuals, and Mass Battles which involves units fighting each other.  

3. Exploration- Exploration is focused on using the environment in a new and interesting way to resolve a challenge or conflict.  This may involve finding secret passages, discovering a new path through the mountains, uncovering a lost temple, revealing a mine field, etc.  The player can use the environment in a way to resolve or complicate a situation.  For Example, in Ragnarok a player can "burn a forest" to change the keywords associated with the terrain.      

4. Intrigue- An intrigue is where a player is trying to use subterfuge, espionage, criminal, or covert means to drive a result or resolve a challenge.  For example, in a game like Mad Dogs with Guns you can find blackmail material that you can use to influence NPCs in game and in the post-game.   

Integrating Pillars into Wargames

To create RPG-Lite a wargame needs to integrate the Pillars of Gameplay into their core mechanics.  This typically involves a few key factors: 

1. Attributes
The game will need to have an attribute that goes beyond the 4Ms.  You may want to consider a general attribute that can be applied to each Pillar or that can cover a few.  I often use a generic "Brains" mechanic to cover the Social and Intrigue Pillars.  This attribute is used for tests that involve these Pillars.  

2. Rules Mechanics
The game needs space and mechanics to resolve these alternate Pillars.  How does a player try to talk their way past another player's models?  What happens if they succeed?  What happens if they fail?  These questions need to be covered by the rules via mechanics.  Thankfully, if you apply the Unifying Theory of Mechanics this is easy to cover. 

3. Special Rules 
The last method of integrating these Pillars is via Special Rules.  Obviously, special rules are semi-unique methods of resolving a situation that may or may not fall within the normal scope of the rules.  They may or may not need an attribute to resolve.  Many Exploration Pillars can be handled with special rules such as scenario complications or terrain rules.  Scenario design is also a place that can highlight RPG-lite elements.  However, Special Rules can also be used for any of the pillars.  

For example, in Heirs of Empire there is a campaign special rule can be used to "bribe" an enemy unit to switch sides during the next battle by spending campaign points.  This thematically fits with the period, as bribing units to change sides was common.  In addition, it is an "in-character" method for a commander to remove a threat without shooting or clubbing it.  

Why Add RPG-Lite Elements to a Wargame?
Ultimately, the best reason to add RPG-lite elements is to make your game fun!  The question is, why do they help make a game fun?  

1. Meaningful Decisions- RPG-Lite elements add more decision points that a player may need to make outside of the normal shoot/fight matrix.  The calculus of any given decision is made more complicated as now you have shoot/fight/talk/dirty trick/explore.  The more meaningful options there are to decide, the more interesting the game play.  

2. Hooks- RPG-Lite elements are a great Hook for gameplay.  A unique Hook can make a player decide to try a game and put it on the table, rather than play the 100th version of the game they always play. 

3. Re-playability- If there are more potential solutions to a game problem, there are more reasons to play and try the different combinations out.  The game can not be "solved" and new approaches can be consistently applied to it.  This quality makes players interested in trying and playing a game, as it is not the same experience every time. 

Final Thoughts
Role-Playing Games are an off-shoot of Wargames, therefore if makes sense that the two should influence each other.  Wargames tend to focus on the 4Ms for game structure, challenge and resolution while Role-Playing Games tend to focus on the Pillars of Gameplay.  Once you understand these RPG Pillars of Gameplay it is not hard to integrate these into the mechanics and rules of your wargames.  The addition of RPG-lite elements can add to a games re-playability and work as an excellent set of Hooks for the game.      

Bonus Content
Kill Team continues to be the favorite game at my FLGS.  Not a shock really.  To that end, you may recall I painted up my old late 80's Harlequins to play a few games.  They hit the table in a 3-way battle against some Marines and Grey Knights.  

We tried to grab an objective in the stone circle.  I completely misused the Saedeth/Performance rules early and never really got better with them.  However, the Strategic Ploys and Invulnerable saves were nice.  However, my opponents mostly didn't bother shooting at me, as with 3 AP all around we were up in each others grills pretty fast.  

We had a good run!  We completely wiped out the Ultramarines, and the Grey Knights were down to 1 model left.  However, I ended up losing by 1 VP to said Grey Knights.  On the plus side, some of my Void-Dancers actually survived the battle!  That is a bit unusual for me! 

Until next time..... 


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Monday, August 28, 2023

RPG Review: Legend of the 5 Rings: 5th Edition - Edge Studios


I am a relative newcomer to Legend of the 5 Rings.  I have been familiar with it as an Intellectual Property for a long, long time but never really spent much time with it.  However, I listened to an actual play of one edition or another on the Happy Jacks Podcast, and was intrigue by what I had heard.  I listened to a few more podcasts and was even more interested.  Then, one day I was at the Half-Price Bookstore and saw a copy of the Third Edition rulebook.  I bought it.  

Since then, I have managed to design a short campaign called "One Year in Rokugan" that was edition and stat block agnostic but based on my 3rd Edition knowledge.  After all, there are 5 editions of the game!  If you are part of my Patreon, you can find this campaign available there for free as a PDF.  I have managed to play through the campaign using 3rd edition rules, and we all had a lot of fun.  It was  a huge difference from our normal D&D 5E games, and I enjoyed introducing the world of Rokugan to my players.  

After that enjoyable campaign, there was an interest in updating from 3rd edition to 5th edition.  I myself was curious about the differences, but had put off buying it.  I all ready had 3rd edition, and figured there was no great need to update to the "newest".  However, as I learned more about the new edition the core mechanics seemed markedly different than the AEG versions of the game I owned.  

Therefore, with some hesitation; I acquired a copy for myself.  Keep in mind Legend of the 5 Rings: 5th edition is NOT the same as Adventures in Rokugan; also by Edge Studios.  Adventures is a skin for using Rokugan in D&D 5E.  Legend of the 5 Rings: 5th Edition using its own system based on the Fantast Flight Games Genesys system.   Genesys is used with games like Edge of Empire.  It will be interesting to see where this game maintains and differs from the L5R I am familiar with.    

So, let us don our Daisho and prepare to serve our Daimyo.....

The core of L5R..... the dinner party! 

Things I Liked

Rokugan is a very cool place, and it offers RPG opportunities that other games do not emphasize in the same way.  I find it very hard to imagine having a "Murder Hobo" campaign in Rokugan.  Can it be done?  Probably someone has, but it seems very rooted in a fantastical feudal Japanese/Asian culture infused world with a strict culture of law, order, and society; that doing "Murder-Hobo" seems challenging and completely missing the point of it all.  There is so much possibility for story-telling and interacting in the world outside of what one normally sees in a D&D 5e game. 

The game does a good job trying to introduce the player to this world.  The background and the mechanics do a better job creating this in game than the 3rd Edition rules.  They also explain the "structure" of society, Bushido, and the Major/Minor clans very quickly and easily in the opening of the book.  It is a good primer for players new to the setting and ideas of Legend of the 5 Rings.  A point of order is that in these rules the Mantis Clan is still a minor clan.  In addition, the Yazuki family is not split between the Crane and Crab clans. 

The Strife System that can then force a player to react emotionally to remove Strife is an innovation that fits nicely into the world of Legend of the 5 Rings.  Various families, clans, and roles can than unmask, gain, or utilize strife in different ways.  This added mechanical factors that before were more "role-playing" elements of previous editions.  This edition really helps create mechanics for Honor, Glory, and emotion versus duty that previous editions had; but struggled to mimic mechanically.  

The game has dispensed with the ability scores that make up a ring.  Instead, the ring and skill score is what matters.  The player gets to choose which Ring they wish to approach any skill check with, and each skill has a potentially different result/advantages/disadvantages when using that ring.  Therefore, the character has to decide which approach they are using Narratively before determining the results of checks.  This is a cool approach that leads to a lot of narrative nuance, but the downside is that there are a lot of interactions the GM may have to keep in mind. There is a helpful table breaking down skill groups and potential approaches on page 144.      

All the Katas, Monk abilities, and magic is grouped together into a single category called techniques.  Certain schools only have access to certain techniques.  However, mechanically almost all techniques work the same.  This is a wise way to streamline a lot of the nuances from the previous editions.  

The "fail state" in the game is not always death.  There are a number of conditions that can be inflicted, including social/psychological ones.    

In the GM section, there is a nice break down of potential obstacles based on whether they are martial, intrigue, investigative, explorative, etc.  This gives GMs solid guide lines for creating obstacles within each pillar.  There is also a good discussion about raising the stakes, duty, and conflict with Bushido for the players to have to navigate.  These are very helpful in helping a GM create the right "feel" for the game.  

Things I Did Not Like

The FFG Genesys system uses proprietary dice, and these dice are not easy to source at the FLGS.  That is a major downside to this game.  There are online dice rollers that you can use instead.... for now.  I really do not like when a game uses proprietary dice for this exact reason, as it is an additional barrier to entry, makes the system seem "hard to learn", and can limit the life expectancy of the product's shelf life.  The game can only be played when you have the right dice, and there will be a time when you can not get them.  Plus, it just smacks of Game as Product design and marketing, which I am adverse to.  All that said, there is a chart that allows you to convert standard d6 and d12 into use..... which makes me question the reason for custom dice even further!     

In addition, this game seems to streamline the Family --> School approach.  It looks like each family also has their own school to go with them.  I like that there are more, varied schools BUT I do not like that they seem so closely aligned with the Family.  There is nothing stopping you from changing up Family and separating it from School but it does not seem like there is much incentive to do so.  That makes me feel like this is a Class/Level system stripped down and hidden in a different wrapping.  I am not a fan of that.  

There is a lot of "If This, Then That" approaches to the game.  In fact, it is one of the central decisions a player needs to make about their character.  How do they approach problems and what Rings do they emphasize in order to handle them.  This is great for Players, but there is a heavy burden on the GM to know what the various approaches lead to, and when to use different skills for different scene types.  The game has a simple Roll and Keep unifying mechanic but the potential outcomes look cumbersome.  I imagine this game would require a very skilled and knowledgeable GM, making decisions on the fly, or lots of consulting the rulebook to know what to use when. 

A petty concern, but in the equipment section there are a lot of unfamiliar weapons to the average reader.  Therefore, pictures of all of them would have been really helpful.  I don't really know the difference between a Dao and a Gao.  

Meh and Other Uncertainties

The game has taken a much more Narrative bend than previous editions.  The focus is on creating and telling the stories of the character's and imitating samurai dramas.  The rules are pretty open that Narrative comes first, and the game has been structured to lean in that direction.  This is a change from previous editions, where the narrative was important but was more "mechanically" driven.  This edition leans the other way and is a change for those coming from previous versions of the game. 

The game has a well-developed section abut Scenes.  Here it lays out the differences between narrative, downtime, and conflict scenes.  It further goes into detail about how to handle Conflict scenes such as combat, intrigues, Duels, and Mass Battle.  This is basically a "How to play the game" section and is the heart of the rules.  It is nice that the intrigue rules cover Social interactions, which is often missing in other games.  The Scene approach gives a lot of structure of "what can be done when" for the game and helps players and GMs focus on what is appropriate and when it is useful. 

The rules cover a wide variety of situations that an RPG group can utilize.  However, the game does not have a strong exploration element built into the rules in the traditional sense.  One could argue that the exploration is more social in this game than in the geographic realm.  The exploration is learning how the society works and how to operate effectively in it.

In addition, the key ideas about how to play the game are not introduced until Chapter 6.  Therefore, it can be challenging to get a good feel for how all the Character Creation stuff goes together to actually play the game.     

The game still uses the 20 Questions model for building a character.  This is a tried and true model, and this book goes into even more detail than the 3rd Edition one does.  However, keep in mind this is still mostly background and gives structure to your character.  It touches somewhat on mechanics, but is mostly for role-playing support.  It helps you know how to role-play your character.  Therefore, it is more art than science.    

Final Thoughts

This is a well-fleshed out world and society to game in, and that in itself can bring its own challenges and a very different experience.  You are not some quasi-legal adventurer out on the fringe of civilization, you are a member of the hierarchy, a noble, and bound by a strict code of conduct to yourself, your clan, and your family.  This game is not about freedom of action, it is about constriction and playing and working within those confines.  That alone makes it a novel RPG experience and one that is not for everyone.

In addition, this is a dense set of rules.  I recommend playing this game with experienced role-players.  This is not a beginner RPG by any stretch.  It is challenging and nuanced, with a relatively high degree of mastery needed to play to its full advantage.  That said, I look forward to giving it a shot with my group at some point in the future.  


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Monday, August 21, 2023

Castles in the Sky: Indo-China Campaign VII - French vs British


Welcome back to the Castles in the Sky Indo-China campaign between the British and the French.  When we last left off, the campaign was tied 5 to 5.  The campaign ends when one player gets to 7, and is ahead by at least 2.  That triggers a "final battle" scenario.  This could be the decisive battle to get to 7, but it would require a decisive victory.  Last time, the two forces met in a Patrol mission with the French Fabian strategy getting the best of the aggressive British commander.  However, no lasting damage was done and both fleets are coming into this battle at full strength! With that in mind, British Commodore Duckworth of the Royal Navy of Siam is taking an Offensive strategy, while Commodore Aubre is staying on the Defensive.  

Commodore Duckworth wanted those French ships removed from the vicinity of Siam.  They had all ready caused issues as the French backed rebels had briefly taken over the Kra Isthmus.  Thankfully, aggressive action of his own had allowed the rightful government to regain control.  However, if the French were a force  in being, they would continue to hamper his efforts to bring Siam under permanent British rule.  

Therefore, he sent out a strong force of picket ships to locate the enemy.  He was keeping the rest of his forces in reserve.  Once the French were sighted, he would bring in the rest of his fleet.  However, to avoid suspicion, he scattered them on routine patrol, waiting for the signal once the enemy force had been fixed.  They would then all converge on and overwhelm the opponent.  

Despite Commodore Duckworth's attempts at subterfuge, the French officer Commodore Aubre was wise to the British plan.  He was under increasing pressure from Paris to neutralize the threat of the British fleet in the region.  They endangered the French supply routes through the South China Sea, and access to the critical rubber plantations in Indo-china.  They were pressing him for a decisive engagement and to go on the attack.  As a result, Aubre sent out his own picket ships as the rest of his force took off from their bases around Indo-china.

Both the British and the French are mobilizing their full fleets today for an outright battle. 

L'Aire National

Camot- Commodore Aubre- Command 4
Charles Martel Class Heavy Cruiser (Battleship)   

Cuchinchina - Captain Gourdon- Command 2
Gloire Armored Cruiser

Tourane- Captain de Genouilily- Command 2
Descartes Class Cruiser

Tonkin- Captain de Vence- Command 2
D'Iberville Class Cruiser

Hue- Captain Senez- Command 2
D'Iberville Class Cruiser

Fantassin- Captain Valjean  - Command 4
Chasseur Class Destroyer- Torpedo  

Tromblom- Commander Morice- Command 2 
Chasseur Class Destroyer - Sky Mines     

Their picket force will be the Fantassin, Tonkin, and Hue led by Captain de Vence of the Tonkin

The Royal Navy (of Siam) 

HMS Malaya- Commodore Duckworth- Command 2
Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship

HMS Archeron- Captain Manby- Command 3
Duke of Edinburgh Class Cruiser

HMS Achilles- Captain Durham- Command 4
Warrior Class Cruiser

HMS Arrogant- Captain Knowles- Command 2
Arethusa Class Light Cruiser

HMS Medusa- Captain Butler- Command 2
Active Class Light Cruiser

HMS Corsair- Commander Montgomery- Command 4
Bull Finch Class Destroyer- Torpedo

HMS Hasty- Commander Rawley- Command 2
Bull Finch Class Destroyer- Sky Mines 

The British picket force will be the HMS Corsair, HMS Arrogant, and the HMS Hasty led by Captain Knowles of the Arrogant. 

Today is an Escalation battle with the French as the attackers!  Each force has a small 15 Operational Value picket force that will start on the table up to 12 MU in.  Follow-on forces will need to make a command roll after turn 2 on a ship by ship basis to enter the table.

In addition, cloud cover is impacting the board at altitude 4.  

This is a full fledged battle, so it will take place  on a 72MU by 48MU board.   The British are coming on above the cloud cover, and spaced out to try and track down and engage the French fleet.  

HMS Hasty at top, Arrogant center, and Corsair at bottom

The French are coming in on the corner, and clumped together in the cloud bank, but at high speed.  

The Fantassin, Hue, and Tonkin steam through the clouds

For this battle, we are using a standing white board to track the key details of the battle like ship speed, altitude, Command, damage, and special effects.  

In addition, I am not going to be detailing every move and shot like previous game reports. Instead, I am going to give some high level details.  The battle will be broken down by stage.  These will be the Maneuver Phase, Battle Phase, and the End Phase.   

Maneuver Phase

The British picket ships are spread across the board just above the cloud banks.  They start to move towards the opposite board corner, where they suspect the French are located.  The French stay in the cloud bank and vector in on the lead British ship.  The British HMS Corsair seems to be going out wide.  

The rest of the French fleet receives the wireless communication from their pickets and converge on the scene.  The Camot arrives supported by the Tromblom, while the Tourane follows the vanguard.  The French stay in the clouds.  

For their part, the British pickets move in with the HMS Hasty taking the lead, perhaps to unload their mines in the path of the enemy ships?  The Corsair goes out wider, trying to turn back in for a torpedo attack run later in the battle.  

The Archeron and the Achilles enter the battle and are on course to cross the path of the French fleet and catch them between the passing Pickets and the oncoming cruisers. Notably, the British flagship is not on the table. 

The Fantassin manages to cause some Friction on the HMS Hasty with a torp, her plan to disrupt the oncoming French with Sky Mines is thwarted.        

Battle Phase

The battle begins in earnest as Commodore Duckworth arrives with the HMS Malayan.  The Hue and Tonkin pepper the approaching British cruisers and the flanking HMS Hasty with Air Torpedoes.  The Cruisers shrug it off and return fire gamely.  The Hue getting pounded but avoiding damage.  However, the HMS Hasty takes two torpedoes and takes significant damage to the Rudder. The Fantassin manages to pop a Torp into the HMS Arrogant as well, causing damage.  The opening salvo goes to the French! 

Finally, the Gloire arrives at the scene of the battle. The British Cruisers move in as the French Torpedo Cruisers try to break away.  The French ships blow smoke to cover their movement and try to protect themselves from the British Salvoes.  

The British lights take a beating from the French fleet.  The HMS Corsair flew into a deftly launched swarm of mines and took a hit and a lot of friction. The HMS Arrogant got caught in the open in front of the French flagship, got rocked and started on fire!  The HMS Hasty deployed her mines, but the Tourane was there and deft gunnery blasted the British ship into bits and cripples her, forcing it to strike her colors.  The Smoke on the D'Ibervilles paid off as the British cruisers pounded on them, but they escaped with only one hit on the Hue.  

However, that hit proved true as Hue exploded!  The cargo of Air Torpedoes goes up in a spectacular blast that catches the Tonkin and the HMS Achilles in the blast.  The Tonkin manages to ride it out, while the Achilles loses more armor, and the Port Light Battery.     

The French regain intiative, and use the Camot's escort to fake the British into thinking the French Battleship is going one way, but then it veers the other to engage the British Cruiser line.  The HMS Archeron tries to make a Fire for Effect order on the Camot, but fails.  A shot from the rear of the HMS Achilles on the Tonkin adds Friction and keeps its Torpedoes in their tubes. However, the HMS Corsair is not so lucky as the Fantassin manages to get a bead and pepper the Destroyer with Torpedoes.  The HMS Corsair strikes her colors thanks to a damaged rudder. 

The HMS Medusa finally joins the battle!  The Tromblom failed to re-load her mines.  The HMS Corsair leaves the board.  The French Fleet managed to isolate the HMS Achilles and pound it with close range firepower, reducing her to 1 armor left.  However, the Tromblom was caught out as well, and pummeled by the British in return, for three hits.  The Tonkin and the HMS Arrogant traded shots, causing another hit on the damaged Arrogant. 

The Tromblom blows up, a heavy shell finding her mine bay.  However, the explosion is not enough to catch the trailing HMS Archeron.  The HMS Arrogant is also crippled from the last shot from the Tonkin and the British ship strikes her colors. The HMS Achilles keeps fighting even at 1 armor left. 

End Phase
The French maintain the Initiative and that allows them to keep the HMS Achilles in danger, while avoiding the British guns while in the clouds.  The Cuchinchina can barely make out the damaged British cruiser, and the Captain orders the gunners to fire for effect.  The barrage is devastating and the British cruiser explodes from the Overkill. The explosion causes 1 friction on the HMS Malayan, and hits the HMS Archeron for 3 friction and 2 hits.  

The Malayan can barely see the Cuchinchina when she opens up, and Commodore Duckworth has his gunners fire for effect in return. The French cruiser takes three hits in return.  The HMS Archeron also explodes from the damage caused by the HMS Achilles explosion!  This causes friction on the HMS Malayan.  

The two fleets begin to part ways as dusk settles in.  Parting shots from the Cuchinchina and the HMS Malayan amount to nothing thanks to a Brace! save by the Cuchinchina.  

It feels like a French victory with 2 British ships striking their colors, 1 crippled, and two exploding.  However, the French also lost two ships to explosions.  Going to the big board we have:

French lost  17 Armor points
British lost 26 Armor points

That puts the French at 7 to 5 in the Campaign and triggers the Final Battle.  As they got their first, they can choose the scenario for the fight. 

The French strategy in this battle, and the campaign; has been to duck and weave!  The cloud cover at altitude 4 across the board helped me a great deal keep the British guns at a distance.  They had to get close, and I just needed to keep them isolated at 8+ MU away minimize their shooting.  I managed to do that in this battle.  Once again my significantly weaker battleship survived unscathed against the very impressive British battleship.  When that thing fired it always caused havoc!  

Campaign Stuff
The key point now is repairs to the damaged ships.  The HMS Corsair managed to repair her 3 damage, the Arrogant failed to fix any, and the Hasty fixed 1.  The British use their Strategic assets to repair the Corsairs rudder.  The Hasty and the Arrogant are put in dry dock for repairs, essentially removing them from the Final battle roster.  That leaves them without their cruisers, a light cruiser, and a Destroyer.  Yikes! 

The French also make repairs.  The Fantassin is returned to full health by the crew.  The French Strategic assets are used to fully repair the Cuchinchina.  The French will be down a Destroyer and a Torpedo Cruiser.  

Since we are going into the Final Battle, we decided to skip ship Experience.  We keep forgetting to use the bonuses anyway! 

Admiral Aubre was satisfied that the Navy of Siam was on the ropes.  The French diplomatic efforts were beginning to bear fruit in Siam, supported by their successes in the air.  Thanks to this progress, the British Foreign Office decide to replace the ambassador for Siam with a fresh hand.  Commodore Duckworth was to meet the incoming ambassador and escort him safely to port.  However, the French government had other plans.  Commodore Aubre was to intercept the ambassador and make sure he never arrived on station in Siam.       

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