Monday, July 26, 2021

Wargame Design: Strategic Choice in Wargames


On this blog in the past, I have spoken about adding Tactical Depth and about creating meaningful choices in your games.  To do so, I intentionally created a definition of what Tactical game play meant that focused on the events that happen on the tabletop.  This left space for commentary on the alternative type of Depth in a game, that I will refer to as Strategic Depth.    

As I observe and interact with more players, I am slowly learning the value of this Strategic Depth for players.  They crave these options in their games.  If you watch internet interactions, engage in conversations at your FLGS, or talk with your fellow game club members almost all the discussions they are having revolve around Strategic Depth and NOT tactical depth.  Therefore, your games ability to drive Strategic Depth is a key ingredient to enhancing its "Fun Factor" and replay-ability for a large number of players.  In fact, I am starting to believe that Strategic Depth is more important to players than Tactical Depth. 

Strategic Depth is decisions that a player can make for your game that are not actually taking place ON the tabletop.  In wargames, this can take many forms but the most common examples include list building, resource management, and campaign choices.  Normally, Strategic Depth plays a larger role in campaign games, but can play a role in one-off games as well.  Strategic Depth is just another layer of choice you can provide for a player.  Essentially, it is details of your game that players can talk about and discuss outside of actually playing the game!  

So, how do you add Strategic Depth to your games?  The high level answer is simple enough.  You must add choice.  After all, if we learned nothing else from this blog it is that:

Choice = Fun

As we all know, there are some fundamental elements to adding choice:

  1. Choices must have consequences
  2. Meaningful choices are a trade-offs
  3. They must have an impact on the game
The criteria for meaningful Strategic Choices are no different than criteria for meaningful Tactical Choices.  The same ideas apply.  

Then, where is the space in your game to add Strategic Choices into your games?  Here are some ways I have seen it done, and I will try to list games where I have seen it in play.  

1. Unit Choices/Army Lists
The most fundamental and basic Strategic Choice a player can make is what units do they bring to the table.  This will dictate what they can then actually accomplish on the table.  If you do not have the right units for the mission or game play, then that was a Strategic error, not a tactical one.  By not provided set forces for a scenario, and asking the player to choose you are introducing a Strategic choice.  

Clearly, many game use this approach.  It is very common in most sci-fi or Fantasy games. It is also increasingly popular in Historical or Historical-esque game systems.  Players like to pick what units they are going to field rather than being told what they will field.  Some common examples include Warhammer 40K, Warhammer Fantasy Battle, War Machine, Legion, Battletech and Flames of War. 

This one is so common, that most Wargames allow this level of Strategic choice at a minimum.  However, some Historical games use other methods to determine which units to use such as Land of the Free or even Blucher's Scharnhorst campaign system.  In this case, either the scenario or the campaign somewhat dictates who is available to fight.   

2. Synergies/Combos
This is when the design intentionally creates units in the Army List that are intended to work together in various combinations while on  the battlefield.  The game systems encourage the units to work together in this way in order to maximize the potential of the units.  Alone, they are less effective than when they work together.  

The simplest example I can provide is Napoleonic warfare.  Artillery works best on clumped up infantry, so you threaten infantry with cavalry so the infantry will form square, then you bombard them with artillery fire until they break, and then sweep the remnants up with the cavalry again.  Individually, the Artillery or the Cavalry would struggle with the infantry, but together they can clean them up.  This is a simple example of synergy while on the table.  

These synergies are a strategic choice as a player may or may not take the right units to create these synergies.  If they fail to take units that synergize together, than they are making a Strategic error, not a Tactical one in a Wargame.  

These types of strategic decisions can be found in all types of wargames.  Perhaps the game most famous for them is War Machine

3. Resource Management
In this situation, the player can choose a number of extra "resources" they can bring to the table.  The use of these resources then allow players to perform extra or boosted abilities on the table.  However, the number that a player can bring to the table may be based on other factors.  Trying to manage or maximize the number of resources you can bring to the table is a Strategic Choice. 

For example, in Dux Bellorum you can assign Leadership Tokens to help units get better saves or have more attack dice.  The number of Leadership Tokens you can bring depends on the number of units you have.  In addition, you can choose to "purchase" more tokens instead of more troops as well.  Deciding the right combination of troops to Leadership tokens then becomes a Strategic Decision.  

I have also seen this technique used in All Quiet on the Martian Front and Men of Bronze.    

4. Objective and Scenario
For this situation, the player is paying points or some other price in order to dictate the scenario or place the objective.  This provides them an advantage as the Player can then prepare for the scenario or Objective by choosing units, deploying properly, etc.  

For example, in the Batman Miniature Game many models allow the player to place or choose special objectives.  Therefore, if the player uses the right group or members they can gain some special rules advantage during the actual game play.  This is more common in skirmish based games than big battle games.  

5. Buffs/De-Buffs
Frequently a Buff/De-buff comes into play during campaigns.  However, they might also come into play as a points buy or as part of list building.  In this situation, the player is purchasing a bonus to their force or a limitation to the opponents forces before the game even begins.  This may take the form of re-rolls, stats mods, situational, equipment, etc.  

For example, in Blood Bowl you could purchase Dirty Tricks or Random Event cards that the player could use during the game play.  The opponent would frequently have no real counter and could improve a team's chances, or reduce their opponent's chances.  However, the number of cards a player had was limited based on their team rating or treasury purchases.

6. Off Board Choices
This is a catch all for various other off-table decisions either pre or post game such as deployment, board side, terrain set-up, etc.  These are decisions that will impact the game play on the table, but are made prior to any units being moved.  However, the decisions here will impact how the game plays out.  

For example, in Monsterpocalypse building placement is done before any models hit the table.  However, the placement of the buildings provide cover and other benefits latter in the game place.  These choices are Strategic choices as they occur before any models can take actions on the tabletop. 

7. Campaign Choices
This represents choices made that will impact a model or forces ability to perform in future games as part of a series of linked games.  This often takes the form of Buffs/De-buffs but can also take other forms such as Off Board choices.  

For example, Last Days: Seasons is a good example of Campaign Choices adding Strategic Depth.  In the campaign phase of the game, the player needs to make a number of choices such as who gets food, water, and who does what tasks post battle.  Models who are not fed are less effective, and different tasks allow players to take different campaign actions.  These actions act as buffs and de-buffs to survivors in future games.  

Another example is in Turf War you need to bid a territory on the game.  The choice of territory will impact how much cash you can generate in the end phase.  In addition, the turf with the most value allows you to be the attacker/defender and choose the scenario.  Therefore, a careful choice here is required or you could hamper your gang in the game, and also the campaign.  

Final Thoughts
Strategic Depth is choices that players make either just before or just after the actual game has taken place.  They often have longer term impacts on how you can play future games.  They can also impact the resources and tactics you can use in the game you will be playing.  Therefore, these "out-of-game" decisions can play a big part of the game itself. 

Players really enjoy talking about these pre and post-game decisions.  It gives them the ability to "play" a game when they are not even playing.  This builds player engagement as they can discuss what units are best, what resources to use, and how to utilize your buffs/de-buffs.  These are the conversations players engage in with their fellow players.  As a result, you MUST put good strategic depth into your game play in order to foster player interest and replayability. 

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Monday, July 19, 2021

Men of Bronze- Late Period Egyptians


The Egyptians have a long and vibrant history as an Empire.  It is crazy to think that Cleopatra is closer in time to the moon landing, then she is to the foundation of Egypt as a civilization in the Nile Delta!  That is a long span of time!  It honestly boggles the mind.  

The Egyptians were still active in the Mediterranean when the Greeks were expanding outward from Greece.  Indeed, the Egyptians had a long history of hiring Greek mercenaries to help fight their wars all the way back to the Mycenaes and the Greek Dark Age.  However, during the hey-day of Greek Hoplite battles, the Greco-Persian Wars, and all the way to the conquests of Alexander the Egyptians remained a player in the Mediterranean region.  

In 525 BCE, the Persian King Cambyses came to Egypt and tried to conquer them.  The war culminated in a battle called the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE.  This is a rather colorful battle, but no real details are know.  Herodotus claims to have visited the battlefield and seen the skulls of the fallen, but gives no real detail about the troops, deployments, or the final victory.  

Another source, Polyaenus attributes a strange stratagem to the Persians in this battle that allowed them to beat their foes.  He claims that the Persians either strapped cats to their shields ( or alternatively, herded cats before his army) so that the Egyptian troops would not shoot them.  The Egyptians favored cats as a sacred animal.  So protected, the Persians managed to storm the city and defeat the Pharaoh.  Despite this colorful account, it seems less than likely to have occurred as written.    

This began a long period where Egypt was a vassal kingdom of the Persian Empire.  We have conflicting accounts of King Cambyses' rule of the new territory.  Herodotus claims that he was cruel to the Egyptians and was blasphemous against their gods.  Others claim that King Cambyses had an affinity to Egyptian culture?  Who knows for sure.  We do know that the region was allowed great autonomy as many Persian territories were often given.  The Pharaoh was given free reign to rules, raise monuments, command armies, and trade as he wished. 

However, it was still a Persian province.  legend has it that Cambyses raised an army to invade Libya from Egypt.  The Army marched out but never returned.  Today, scholars believe this to be another myth.  However, Cambyses also raised an army and marched it to Nubia as well.  However, he seemed content to simple show his power and return home before entering too deeply into Nubian lands.  These armies were not led by the Pharaoh but by Persian commanders.       

However, despite this light hand the Egyptians had a tendency to revolt and try to free themselves from Persian rule.  This occurred many times, and the Persians were forces to comeback and re-assert their authority over the region.  Even the Athenian and other Delian League Greeks would become involved in these revolts.  This led to battle such as the Battle of Papremis (460 BCE), the Siege of the White Castle, Prosopitis, and the Battle of Mendesium.  

The light hand of  the Persians was an ineffective method of rule in Egypt, the Egyptians continued to revolt.  It is thought that many of these revolts were instigated by "native" Egyptians with power and influence being excluded from the Persian hierarchy.  Therefore, the native Egyptians, Libyans, and Nubians were cat's paws for agitators to the west, and the Greeks as well.   

Each time, the Persians came back to re-claim the land.  The Nile basin was too great a source of wealth, trade, grain and more.  The Persians could not let it slip away.  The Persians re-took Egypt for the final time in 343 BCE, putting down more rebel Pharaohs along the way.  Egypt remained under Persian rule until the Persians themselves were defeated by Alexander the Great.  In 332 BCE, they joined the Macedonian Empire.  The long, independent rulership of Egypt was over.  

The Late Egyptian Military

Despite an active military record, we know almost nothing about the Late Period Egyptian army.  Despite that, there are a few clues and ideas we can gather from the sources.  In addition, we also know that historically Egypt was not a military innovator or an early adopter of new technologies and methods.  Therefore, there military in the Later Period may not have been substantially different from previous Dynasties or periods.  

An Egyptian Soldier per Wikipedia

Herodotus claims to have visited the battlefield of Papremis and seen the skulls of the dead.  In his writings, he claims that you could tell the Egyptians from the Persians due to the thickness of their skulls.  Egyptians tended to shave their heads, while Persians wore linens and caps.  Therefore, Egyptian skulls were thicker.  Of course, to modern ears this sounds like incredibly racist psuedo-science and it is.  However, it may suggest that many Egyptian soldiers were not well-equipped with helmets at the time, instead earing other, more traditional head gear or none at all.  

The Persians are also suppose to have inflicted more deaths on the losing Egyptians than the Persians received by a 10 to 1 margin.  This is not uncommon as the losing side flees, and the Persians possessed a strong cavalry component to maximize these numbers.  In addition, we can assume exageration by the sources.  We can make two potential assumptions from this information.  First, that the Egyptians themselves may not have had much of a cavalry presence to help hold back the Persian Cavalry during the rout.  

Second, we could assume that Egyptian armor and personal protection was not widespread in the ranks.  This is also supported by the Bas-relief on the Persian King Artaxerxes I tomb of a supposed Egyptian soldier with a helmet, long robe, and a sheathed short sword.  There is no great shield, cuirass, greaves, etc to act as protection.      

In addition, Polyaenus colorful story about the Persian use of Cats to protect themselves also gives us a useful clue.  If the Egyptians did not have a formidable archer corps, you would not need the cats to protect from their arrow volleys.  The Persians themselves were no slouches when it came to archery units, so if the Persian Archers were not numerous enough to thwart or neutralize the Egyptian Archers, we can only assume archer was the bulk of their army.  In addition, archery was a core component of the traditional Egyptian way of war.

The soldiers themselves were probably a mix of professionals, conscripts, and mercenaries.  The New Kingdom and transformed much of the military into "professional" soldiers not tied to the land.  however, at this point much of the fighting was actually rebellions.  Therefore, conscripted soldiers and mercenaries were probably much more common.  In earlier periods, troops seemed to be armed as either spearmen, archers, or infantry with personal or hand weapons.  Officers were men of standing or status in Egyptian society often with some sort of formal education behind them.  I see no reason to think this would change into this Late Period.     

The sources also seem to indicate that the Egyptians made extensive use of Greek mercenaries.  Indeed, there is Greek "graffiti" found carved on the Sphinx!  Later, the Athenians came to support the Egyptian Revolt of 486 BCE with troops that had previously been active on Cypress.  However, we have little indication what role these Greek troops had in the army?  It is unclear if they used Hoplites as Heavy Infantry, or Peltasts and light troops as skirmishers and in the line.  The sources are unclear on what and how these Mercenaries were equipped and deployed.  

Ramses II in his war chariot.  Much earlier than the period we are looking at now

Finally, we also know that historically the main fighting arm of the Egyptian army was the Chariot.  This was used primarily as a mobile archery platform.  However, fighting men in chariots also used the spear as a back-up weapon.  There was never a strong emphasis on infantry beyond the archery forces.  At this date, it is difficult to determine if the Chariot was still an instrument of war.  The Persians, their overlords; and moved largely to cavalry at this point.  In addition, most of the battles of the period were revolts against the Persians and therefore probably more infantry oriented affairs.  I find it "unlikely" that the Chariot was still a large factor in Egyptian warfare during the Late Period, except as a "command" car for officers and leaders of status.

Weapons were typically Bronze by this point, with a mixture of iron for officers and men of wealth.  However, shields and other protective equipment did not appear to be a common feature.  Arrow heads could still be stone, bone, or wood.  However, the bronze still seems the most common.  Line archer units may not have used the Composite Bow by this period either; giving them a distinct disadvantage against the Persians.    

From the MET's collection of the Late Period

Late Period Egyptian Line of Battle

Now, as a designer I must take all the relevant information into consideration and try to figure out how the Late Period Egyptians can be represented in the Men of Bronze unit types.  It seems clear to me that we need a few different lists; one for the Battle of Pelusium (26th Dynasty or Saite Dynasty) period, one for the later Egyptian Revolts (27th Dynasty) and then then possibly the last days of the Egyptian independence in the 28th- 0th Dynasty using the capital of Mendes prior to the Persians re-taking direct control of the region.

Saite Dynasty

The bulk of the troops in the Saite Dynasty will have a core of Drilled Infantry and Archers.  These will be backed by Mercenary Peltasts and Warband infantry of conscripts.  Finally, I think the Saite Dynasty list will probably still contain a Light Chariot force. 

Saite Dynasty Line of Battle

0-1 Light Chariots*

0-2 Drilled Infantry

1+ Archers

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0+ Warband Infantry

0-2 Psiloi


The Saite Dynasty Light Chariot will use the same profile as the Light Cavalry with the following special rules.  They must have the Bow upgrade in the Saite Dynasty list  

Later Egyptian Revolt

This list is intended to represent the Egyptian forces versus the Persian troops during the revolt of 460 BCE.  In this list, there is a stronger Greek component to it as the Athenians came to support the Egyptians in an attempt to weaken the Persians power around the Mediterranean Sea.  The Athenians engaged in this "empire- building" just prior to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War.  

There intervention in the area proved to be ineffective as the Persians crushed the revolt and send the Athenians packing.  Two different sources cover the results, with one saying few Athenians survived and the other claiming they left relatively intact.  Most historians believe that Thucydides version with heavy Athenian losses is much more accurate.  

The Athenian intervention in the Egyptian Revolt could be the basis for a great short campaign as there were a few notable battles, sieges, and even naval battles involved.  Plus, there is great scope for "fleshing out" some of the smaller skirmishes or unrecorded battles as well.  

Troops wise, the Egyptians will mostly be Drilled Infantry, Warband Infantry, and Archers.  This list will have no chariots or cavalry.  However, it will have a stronger component of Greek mercenaries, including some Hoplites to represent an Athenian contingent.    

This list does have an interesting modelling opportunity depending on the "commander" you wish to use.  The command element could be an Athenian commander.  However, if you choose an Egyptian commander, this would be a great chance to model an officer in a chariot to integrate into a unit as the "leader" of an infantry or other unit.    

Egyptian Revolt Line of Battle

0-1 Drilled Hoplite OR Light Hoplites

0-2 Drilled Infantry

0+ Warband Infantry

1+ Archers

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0-2 Psiloi

Mendes Dynasties

The final Dynasty's of an independent Egypt used the city of Mendes as their capital.  Therefore, I refer to this last few Dynasties as the Mendes Dynasties.  "Free" Egypt was contained to a relatively small area in the Nile Delta.  However, despite this smaller footprint, it still contained many of the most important sites in Egypt.  The Persians continued to control the rest of the Nile valley down to Nubia.  

The armies of the Mendes Dynasties had a two fold purpose; defend the homeland and to claw back the rest of Egypt.  They were predominantly an infantry and archery force.  Much of their time was spent garrisoning cities and defending from Persian attempt to re-occupy the area.  

However, these later Pharaohs still had designs abroad as well.  Nectanebo I and II both cast their gaze on launching campaigns into Palestine and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.  This was a traditional "sphere of influence" for Egypt and the Dynasties wished to rest control of the regions trade from the region.  However, these plans never really were able to get off the ground.  

These later Dynasty armies were mostly garrison forces and therefore relied heavily on Infantry and Archers.  The Greek mercenaries were less prominent and probably had a lesser heavy infantry role again.  The role of chariotry and cavalry is much less clear during this time, and I tend to think they were a non-entity during this period.  However, the Leaders probably still used chariots as their status symbol/command platforms.  

Mendes Egyptian Dynasty

0-4 Drilled Infantry

1+ Archers                              

0+ Warband

0-2 Mercenary Peltasts

0-2 Psiloi

Sample Lines of Battle

Below you can see some sample armies built from the Lines of Battle provided.  These give you an idea about what your force could look like.  They are built to a 38 point force.  They range from 5-8 Units per army.  

Saite Dynasty

  • 1 Light Chariot-  Commander
    • Bows
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 3 Archers
  • 1 Warband Infantry
  • 1 Psiloi      
Egyptian Revolt
  • 1 Drilled Hoplites- Commander
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 2 Mercenary Peltasts
  • 3 Archers
Mendes Dynasty
  • 3 Archers
  • 2 Drilled Infantry- 1 w/Commander
  • 1 Warband Infantry 
  • 2 Psiloi
Battle of Papremis (460 BCE)
During the Egyptian revolt, the Athenians re-routed a force near Cyprus to the region.  It was commanded by an Athenian admiral named Charitimides.  It is unclear if the Athenian assistance in Egypt was his full force, or just a detachment.  Initially, this force was intended to harass and reduce Persian influence in the Med.  The re-route to Egypt seems like pure opportunism by the Athenians to cause a head ache to the Persians.  

Diodorus, Herodotus, and Thucydides all reference this battle.  However, despite the three sources there is very little detail about the battle itself.  We know next to nothing about the force composition.  All we know is that the Persians outnumbered the Athenians and their Egyptian allies when it comes to the two forces.  

Papremis was one of many cities in the Nile Delta.  The Persians were camped near the city along the Niles banks.  Once the Athenian forces arrived, they accepted battle with the Persians.  The Persians had an initial advantage as they had the greater numbers.  However, the tables were turned when the Athenian forces broke through the Persian line.  This caused the Persians to fall back to the "White Castle" which was a citadel in Memphis.  The Athenians won the battle, but the Persians were able to successfully withdraw and remained a threat in being. 

As usual, we know little of the forces involved.  These are some "best guess" lists based on the army lists provided above and the Men of Bronze rules.       

Egyptian Revolt
  • 1 Drilled Hoplites- Commander
  • 1 Drilled Infantry
  • 2 Mercenary Peltasts
  • 3 Archers
  • 3 Archers
  • 3 Drilled Infantry
  • 1 Psiloi
This Scenario could be either the Decisive Battle scenario from the Men of Bronze rulebook.  However, I could also see using the any o the scenarios if you wished.  We know little of the actual battle so any scenario can work.  Persians could be trying to ravage the countryside around Papremis or the Persians could be fleeing back to the gates of Memphis to represent the end of the battle as well.  

This battle is played on a 48mu x 48mu board at a minimum.  This battle takes place near the banks of the Nile.  Therefore, I recommend placing a bit of river terrain on one of the flanks of the battlefield.  This should be impassable terrain as the Nile was pretty tough to cross.  The rest of the board you can deploy terrain per the normal rules found in the Men of Bronze rules.  

Special Rules
You can choose to play this scenario with no complications, or choose them as you and your opponent wish.  This scenario does not use any special complications.  

Use the normal victory conditions for the scenario as found in the Men of Bronze rules.  

We now have another interesting corner of the Greek world that we can use and highlight with Men of Bronze.  Interestingly the main antagonist for this list if probably NOT a Greek foe, but the Persian list in the rules.  The Greeks are more of the "Special Guest Stars" in this theatre and the Persians are more of the stars! 

There are a surprising number of primary sources, but they have scant detail.  Secondary sources are also very light for this timeframe.  That can be a blessing for wargamers as it gives us space to fill in what we need/want from our games.  This period has great fodder for linked battles, campaigns, and unique scenarios.  

In comments, please let me know of any model ranges in 28mm that would be good for these rules.    

You can get all of the updated materials including a FAQ, Campaign rules, and Lines-of-Battle in the Men of Bronze Supplement: Hercules Abroad.

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Monday, July 12, 2021

Review: Stargrave- Osprey Games


I got my copy of Stargrave in the mailbox the other day.  It took a bit longer as I insist on getting hard copy books rather than PDFs.  Why?  I do not know?  It is a personal preference.  However, sometimes that slows down my reviews as I wait for a dead plant version to show up at my location.  

Anyway, this game is the highly anticipated Science Fiction skirmish game by the prolific wargame designer Joseph McCullough.  Many people have been looking for the "Next big thing" in sci-fi skirmish gaming and the buzz was that this was it!  Obviously, it is a variation of the popular Frostgrave line, only this time set... IN..... SPACE!  

The game is set in the Ravaged Galaxy.  The great galactic civilizations have been brought low after the carnage of the Last War.  Where once civilization flourished, now it was nothing but decay and ruin.  Planets were left to fend for themselves, as were the people on them.  To make matters worse, after the Last War; pirate fleets sprung up to replace the nation-states.  These pirate fleets roam the Ravaged Galaxy smashing anything that could be a threat to them and looting, pillaging, and destroying as they go.  Now, the Galaxy is more like a huge version of Tortuga from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. 

You represent a small starship and their crew trying to make their way in this tough galaxy.  You can put any backstory you want to it, but you are essentially Mal and the crew from Firefly/Serenity.  The crew is trying to get by and keep on flying.  This is accomplished by hiring yourself out for various small time jobs like smuggling, raiding, trading, etc.  You know, the dirty work.  By staying small time and in the shadows, they avoid the Pirate Fleets.   

Honestly, I do not know how much I will really have to say in this review that you can not understand from my Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago reviews.  These are practically the same game systems with only a few minor variations.  However, there is some genre gloss to bring it into the new setting.  Therefore, I think this review will be a bit different than some of my others as I focus on what makes this game different from the others.  

Things I Liked

The game focuses around the Captain and First Mate of the Starship.  There are several backgrounds which give you access to various abilities that are similar in nature to Spells or Heritor abilities from those other 'Grave games.  Unlike the Fantasy version, your Captain and First Mate are distinctive characters with their own backgrounds and abilities.  From what I can tell, the powers appear to be distinctive with only some overlap with Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago, which is a good thing. 

One of the best parts of Ghost Archipelago is that it always allowed for 10 crew men in your group.  Some you could upgrade for a cost, but you always had access to 10.  Stargrave incorporates this into the crew creation process here as well.  

The game also continues with the improved Loot placement from Frostgrave 2.0 and Ghost Archipelago.  However, there is a twist.   In addition to just one type of loot, there are two.  One is physical loot sealed in storage, and the other is digital loot.  Before you can run off with the Loot, you need to crack it open first.  This is a basic test, but it is not easy to do.  Some specialist models help with this process.  This means it is harder to just scamper up and grab loot and book it.  Plus, you need to put the right model for the task to increase your chance of cracking the loot open.  

Finally, of course the game has a lot more "pew-pew" in it than the others.  There the focus was magic and hitting people with sticks real hard.  This time, you can shoot them with "pew-pew" from much farther away.  Everyone has a gun.  In addition, folks who take 4 or more points of damage from a shooting attack can be stunned, which is like getting pinned or going prone.   

Things I Do Not Like

The elephant in the room is that this is essentially the same game.... again with a genre veneer placed over it.  The key mechanics are essentially the same, so the criticisms I have of the system itself about being swingy, individual modifiers are almost meaningless, and the game will get stale without new scenarios all the time still apply.  There is actually very little tactical depth in this game because miniatures see 360, can face anyway they wish, and everyone gets two actions.  If you have played any of the authors other games, you will know exactly what this game is like.  To some, that is a benefit.  To me it was disappointment.  I was prepared for it, but it was a disappointment none-the-less. 

The Ravaged Stars are so under-developed that there is no "There, there"  By that I mean that the setting has no sense of place beyond generic sci-fi setting #263.  In Frostgrave, you get a strong sense of place based on the little fluff blurbs from and "In-Universe" perspective.  This book desperately needs that!  The bits of fluff on the Last War and Pirate Fleets is not nearly enough as they probably total about 2 pages of text scattered through out the book.  

This game has no real hook to it other than, "Hey you liked Frostgrave right?  imagine if it was .... IN.... SPACE!  Cool huh!"  As a result, it feels a bit weak sauce and lazy.  I know Joseph McCullough can do so much better than this!  Ghost Archipelago was basically a knock-off Frostgrave too, BUT it still had a strong connection to place, setting, and mechanics that built onto that hook.  I do not feel the same level of thought was put into the Ravaged Stars in an attempt to be all things to all people. 

Finally, I am not convinced using escalating random encounters with Pirates is a good way to force "end game" situations.  As I saw it in action, it did create friction for the players, but at the same time it felt like it robbed them of the rewards of some of their earlier game decision making.  I think a "Doom Clock" mechanic like The Walking Dead or Gamma Wolves would have been a better choice.  That way player choices would have impacted the end game scenario further than the escalating encounters with pirates.  

Meh and Other Uncertainties

Most of the mechanics such as activation, wounding, using a power, etc. follows the familiar processes laid out in the other 'Grave series of games.  If you are familiar with those, you will be familiar with these.  You will be able to pick-up and play pretty fast.    

The focus of these rules is linking games together into a Campaign.  Therefore, it has all the elements of a campaign game such as injuries, acquiring experience, getting gear, upgrading your ship, etc.  However, the focus of the upgrades is really your Captain and First Mate.  Most soldiers are expendable meat.  The author even makes a crack about not bothering to give them names.   I should paint them all in Red Shirts. 

The game also has 6 scenarios in the book.  Scenario writing is one of the areas I think Mr. McCullough is better at than most.  He typically takes a basic wargame scenario and adds a unique spin or set of frictions within it.  These are no exceptions, and the friction typically takes the form of various random encounters with Non-Player Creatures (NPC?  That doesn't seem right?), some target number you need to roll for, or some other wackiness.  That means the game has a pretty decent sized bestiary and foe list for scenarios and for the Random Encounters/Unwanted Attention.  Of course, you could also just have the basic game of "Place loot, get loot!" style of game too.  

There is a list of generic weapons.  Surprisingly, there is not many support or heavy weapon options.  The only I recall seeing were Grenade Launchers, Repeaters, and Flame Throwers.  Mostly just light weapons like pistols, carbines, shotguns, etc.  There is a "power armor" equivalent, but unlike most equipment you need to pay a cost every game you use it in.  The specialists are also few in number to start with.  However, there are all ready 2 expansions slated to be released so I am sure equipment, specialists, and weapons will get kicked up a notch. 

The book does not have solo/co-op rules built in.  However, there is a packet of solo rules available online.      

The game has a line of plastic, multi-kit figures from Northstar Miniatures.  You do not need these minis to play.  Amusingly, they also did the miniatures for Rogue Stars, a previous Osprey sci-fi game in their Wargaming Series.  Many of these miniatures make an appearance in this book too.  In fact, I believe that the Rogue Stars miniatures have been re-branded as Stargrave models now.  

Final Thoughts

I was expecting a generic setting that was model and scale agnostic, and that is what we got.  I was also expecting Frostgrave in Space, and that is also what we got.  Therefore, everything I said about Frostgrave and Ghost Archipelago applies to Stargrave too.  That was a bit of a disappointment to me.  The adjustments to Captains and First Mates was simply not enough of a hook for me.  

 Ultimately, I got exactly what I expect from this game.  That made me sad.  I was hoping for more.  The Ravaged Galaxy is really in desperate need of a bit of fleshing out to make it seem alive.  I know the maker wanted me to be able to bring my 40K minis, my Infinity minis, my Star Wars Legion minis, and more to the party..... but right now it is far TOO generic to give me anything to sink my teeth into.  There are literally hundreds of games that do this all ready on the Wargame Vault all ready.  The entire pitch for this game feels tired, just a guy excitedly shouting, "You liked Frostgrave right?  Then you will like this!"   

As a result, the game feels a bit "perfunctory" and "by the Joseph A. McCullough numbers".  I honestly do not blame him for it.  If the formula works, use it!  However, this makes me re-double my hopes that the Silver Bayonet changes up the author's usual formula considerably.   

All that being said, I am sure it will be great fun!  This is a game that demands to be played in a campaign with 4+ players!  That way, each group can build their own backstories, characters, and backstab other players wily-nily.  This game creates a great space for this in your wargame club.       

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Monday, July 5, 2021

Random: Mid-Year Progress Update


Well, look at that calendar.  We are half way through the year all ready.  Time flies by when you are having fun.  Since we are half-way through, it is time for a mid-year goal check.  Am I on track, am I off track, have I destroyed the track and are now making a freeway?  Let's find out..... together! 

Like previous years I plan to create a few goals for the year.  These are not binding, but it keeps me from going off the rails and spending like crazy on the new shiny.  It also keeps me from jumping from project to project without finishing stuff first.  Like I say, to be a Game Designer, you need to have games for people to play! 

Like most years, I am breaking this down into the following categories:  
  • Purchases- Things I spend my money on
  • Painting and Modeling- Things I paint and build to play games with
  • Playing Games- The name says it all.  The games I will play and report on
  • Rules Writing- New projects and games I am working on
  • Miscellany- Other things related to Blood and Spectacles but not the other 4 categories. 

So, with no further ado, let's look at how we are doing for the year so far.....


First off, thanks!  None of this would be possible without your generous support.  When you purchase a Blood and Spectacles product from Osprey, the Wargame Vault, etc. you are helping to grow the existing projects I am working on.  One of the most challenging parts of being a Wargame Designer has nothing to do with writing rules.  The challenge is getting together the miniatures, photos, artwork, and other elements needed to create a fully fleshed out product.  I can't release a new booklet unless I have the other elements gamers demand such as battle reports, pictures of minis on the table, artwork, charts and graphs, and high production values.  Those all take money (and time) and your purchases help make this possible. 

Thank you! 

This year, I have been putting my "hobby money" into purchasing the building blocks I need to build robust products and build strong support for the games I have created and am creating.  So, here is where I am at in Purchases.  

Purchased Models:
  • Victrix Viking Army for my Fury of the Northman rules project
  • More Victrix Romans for Wars of the Republic from Osprey 
  • Kikko "Not Gundam" Plastic Mecha for Glittering Void rules project

Purchased Rules: 
  • Gangs of Rome PDF - Footsore
  • Gamma Wolves - Osprey
  • A Billion Suns - Osprey
  • Absolute Emperor- Osprey
  • Stargrave- Osprey
I also purchased a couple RPG books, as I am dabbling with some designs for those and wanted to get a better feel for what was expected from those types of rule books from publishers and players. 

Still on the list to purchase is the following: 
  • Tumbling Dice Korean War Aircraft for White Star/Red Star rules project
  • Oathsworn Burrows and Badgers Bundle A & B 
Several of the purchases here are to support the roll-out of future rules projects from Blood and Spectacles games.  Others, are to keep me up-to-date and engaged in what is happening in the world of wargames and wargame designs.   Once again, thank you for your support in this category by purchasing products from Blood and Spectacles publishing!  

Painting and Modelling

This year has been dominated by Victrix Romans.  I do not think I have really painted anything else for the year yet.  However, I have painted a lot of Romans!  I have enough Romans for three different, Wars of the Republic armies.  I can field an Early Roman Republican army, a Mid-Republic army, and a Late-Republic army.  So far, that means I have painted 150+ Roman models!  

160 Romans on a shelf

I have also started some modelling on the Kikko/Amazon Mecha.  However, I am not far enough to actually share them yet on the blog.  They are for Glittering Void games and testing.   

Plus, I painted two British Battleships for Castles in the Sky from Brigade. 


I have been surprised at the number of games I have gotten to play this year.  Again, I have mostly focused on testing and playing my own games for Osprey and Blood and Spectacles publishing.  I want them ready for primetime.  In this bucket, I have played the following: 

  • Castles in the Sky- Future Osprey release- 4 games
  • Only the Strong Survive- Blood and Spectacles release- 1 game
  • Men of Bronze- Osprey Games- 1 game
  • Glittering Void- Blood and Spectacles WIP- 2 games
  • White Star/Red Star- Blood and Spectacles WIP- 1 game

From other Publishers, I have played the following: 
  • Blood Bowl- 2 games
  • Battletech- 2 games  
  • Blucher- 2 games

Wow!  15 games!  That is more than I expected all year.  It helped that my Skumgrod and I got our vaccines pretty early in the year.  We were able to get together and re-unite with our group too.  Plus, my family also got vaccinated pretty early too.  That gave us space to play more than I expected.  

Rules Writing

This front has been a bit quieter than I expected.  I have been able to get some rules to draft stages, but I have not been able to get them across the finish line.  Or at least that is my impression as I go into this section of the mid-year round-up.  Maybe once I look at the goals, I will feel better about this one?  

  1. Complete Castles in the Sky for Osprey- Complete
  2. Update The Games: Blood and Spectacles- Not Started   
  3. Try to get a new work published- Made a few pitches, but no new progress
  4. Move a WIP Game to the Vault- I did get the supplement to Men of Bronze to the Wargame Vault.  It is called Hercules Abroad.  Otherwise, not started.
  5. Add WIP games to the Blog- I moved  Aquanautica Imperialis: Force of Arms into the WIP section.  However, I cheated as I made this last year.  Not completed. 

Despite what it looks like, I do have a couple projects in the hopper, but I am held back a bit by how fast I can get the components purchased, made, and painted to make ready.  

  1. In Strife and Conflict- Assyrian Warfare Rules
  2. Revolt! The Third Servile War- A Wars of the Republic Supplement 
  3. White Star/Red Star- Korean Air War Rules
  4. Fury of the Northman- Viking Age Warfare Rules
  5. Barbarians at the Gates- Late Roman Warfare Rules
  6. Under the Martian Yoke- War of the Worlds Survival Horror
  7. Darkest Knight- Modern Horror rules with Co-op/solo play/Vs/Campaign
  8. Flower Wars- Wars of Pre-Colombian South America 
  9. Mageloque- Gunpowder Fantasy Game
As you can see, I have a lot of rules on the fly in various stages of development and progress.  Some are in a playable state, while others are a bit slower going.  In comments or the Message Board, tell me which ones interest you the most, and which ones I should prioritize to get finished first.  


These are random goals related to "running the business" that are not very exciting, but are still hobby/business goals to get done.  

  1. Get a new Blog post up every two weeks, if not every week- So far, so good. 
  2. Update the Painting and Gaming tracker for 2021- Yup, okay so far. 
  3. Tie my Social MediaWebsite, Blog, and Messageboard together for a more unified marketing message- Yup, I am doing okay so far.  Still debating if I need to expand my Social Media presence to other platforms and videos.  Ugh, sounds like a huge job though. 
  4. Try to increase my network with other Game Designers- Ha, ha, ha, NO! 
  5. Update my Products on my Website- A new website is in the design phase, we will see if it ever launches. 

Final Thoughts

In some areas, I have been pretty successful.  In others, it has been a bit of a slog.  Normally, I am really productive at Rules Writing, but this year has been a bit of a slog.  I can write rules plenty quick but I have not been able to get them to the standards I want to publish and supported in a timely way- outside of my commitments to Osprey that is.

Painting and actual gaming has gone pretty well so far! We will see if that continues. This fall, I will need to ramp up my support and gaming of Wars of the Republic to support the launch from Osprey. 

Let's see where this thing goes!