Monday, July 25, 2022

Battle Report: Under the Martian Yoke - Scavenge


You may have noticed a new game on my Wargame Vault Page.  After about 4 years of development work, it has finely gotten through post-production and playtesting.  I designed this game based on a dream that I had of a Martian invasion.  After waking up, I looked at my collection of All Quiet on the Martian Front minis, and the Survival Horror games I had reviewed and set to work making a survival horror game set after the Martian Invasion of Orson Welles famous broadcast in 1938.  Under the Martian Yoke is the result of that effort.  

I spent a lot of time trying to develop a game that focused on the survival and the horror elements.  Horror is tough in miniature games since some of the things that make horror horrifying, are things gamers do not like.  Aspects like powerlessness, helplessness, and foes you can not harm.  Plus, instead of characters getting better, they tend to get worse and degrade, with no hope of winning! 

I tried to capture these elements in the game, but still keep it fun.  As part of the helplessness of the game, I decided to make the creation of your survivor band semi-random.  You do not get to pick your own starting equipment, or the backgrounds of your survivors.  However, you can still allocate dice so you have some control.  

"We need to find something to eat.  I have a few days worth of rations to share, but that won't last long," Luke pulled some canned food from his pockets and showed the group.  "Anyone got any ideas?" 

Annie had met the teenaged Tommy Wilkins late in the day yesterday.  They had both been hiding in a ditch from a roving Martian.  At first, Tommy tried to flee, but Annie re-assured him with a soothing voice and they had stuck together since.  Then, they made their way to a nearby farmhouse looking for food.  Instead they ran into John and Luke all ready there.  John had shifty, piercing eyes and a dazzling smile; but she could sense a cruel streak in the man.  Luke on the other hand seemed a genuine sort soft-spoken, with a slow-motion, easy-going style.  Neither one felt like talking about how they got to the Farmhouse, but everyone seemed to agree that sticking together made sense..... at least for now. 

Annie glanced around, her stomach growled at the sight of the rations.  It had only been a day or two since her military escort had been attacked.  She managed to escape, but not with any food.  She pulled a map of the area out of her bag and unrolled it.

"We are somewhere around here," she pointed at the map, "but I am not sure exactly."

"Looks like there is a a one-horse town close by," John smiled his easy smile.  

"Probably food there.  Maybe Martians too?" 

Annie's stomach growled again and John smiled at her, "Sounds like someone's stomach has made the decision for us." 

Luke nodded, "I guess we are on the way to..... Shyville."  

Survivor Band
In today's battle we have the following 4 survivors.  All survivor bands start with only 4 members.  Most humans were killed or horribly injured in the initial Martian assault, so small bands of survivors are all that is left.  

On the left is Handsome John.  He is a criminal archetype and survived by running for the hills when things went south.   

Activation    Aimed    Suppression    Fight    Brawn    Brains    Nerve
5+/2                6+        3+                    4+        8+            9+        7+
Cool Customer
- Pistol, Knife, Rations, Canteen of Water

Next is Tommy Wilkins.  He is just a kid, and survived when a building collapsed on his family.  He managed to dig his way out, but no one else did.  

Activation    Aimed    Suppression    Fight    Brawn    Brains    Nerve
3+/2             9+                8+               6+          4+        7+          5+
Pitter Patter of little feet, Fear of Enclosed Spaces
- Improvised Fight weapon, Satchel, Good Shoes

The lady is Annie.  Annie McCall is a devout believer, trying to process what exactly is going on.  She was part of an ambushed evacuation, and forced to flee.  

Activation    Aimed    Suppression    Fight    Brawn    Brains    Nerve
6+/2              7+            5+                   9+        8+          4+         3+
Pray, +3 Experience
- Pistol, Map, Bandages, and Knife

Last up is Luke Goodson, the leader of this little band of survivors.  He survived when he was suddenly knocked unconscious.  

Activation    Aimed    Suppression    Fight    Brawn    Brains    Nerve
5+/2              7+           6+                    4+       8+           9+        3+      
Do As I Say, Do Not Be Afraid
- Knife, Revolver, Rations, Canteen of water 

Annie used her map to find this small sleepy, out of the way town for her fellows.  Luke is hoping this is a good place to scavenge up some supplies to keep pushing west.  Being out of the way, perhaps other looters have missed the place, and better yet the Martians may not be around either.  

This scenario has 5 loot markers randomly placed in the town.  There is also a randomly determined danger, which in this case is a pack of 5 wild dogs.  

The objective is to gather as much loot as you can before you are forced to scatter, all go unconscious and possibly dead, or the danger level gets too high.  

The town is a small, dirt T-intersection with 3 businesses on one side of the road and three houses on the other.  A smoking ruins indicates that the Martians did not leave this place completely alone after all.  The loot seems to be centered around the old snuff shop and mechanics shop.  The dogs are roving around the street by the mechanics.    

Handome John and Annie stick to the ruins by the roadside.  Tommy is on the other side of the ruins.  Meanwhile, Luke is on the other side of the road, eyeing the loot outside the snuff shop.  

Turn 1- Danger 0
Luke immediately runs for the loot outside the snuff shop, and tries to activate again to grab it.  He fails to do so and the danger level immediately goes up to 2.  Failing the second activation would turn play over to other players in a Versus or Co-op game.  However, as this is solo, the Dangers wait until the danger phase to go.  

Handsome John moves up and passes a second activation to fire on the nearest dog.  He gets two pins, and it is suppressed, cowering in fear from the attacks.  However, this also raises the Danger 1 point.  

Annie aims at a second dog, and kills it with a precise shot.  However, the shots raise the danger to 4.  

Tommy gets out of the ruins, finds a good line and runs for it across and behind the houses.  Since he is a kid, his running does not raise the danger level.  

There is only 4 danger at the moment, so no new dangers arrive.  

The remaining dogs rush towards Handsome John howling and barking, but can not get there this turn.

The scared dog stays pinned.  

Turn 2- Danger 4
This time, Luke uses his activation and grabs the loot.  He has 3 of four equipment spaces filled now.  He passes a second activation test, and fires on a dog after Handsome John.  However, the gun misfires from bad ammo and his Revolver is useless now.  Bad luck Luke! 

 Handsome John takes careful aim, and fires twice, but only wings the closest wild dog.  It is still up and going to attack him! Annie also takes aim and shoots. She manages to put one of the dogs unconscious and possibly dead.  However, all this shooting has raised the Danger another 2.  

Timmy skulks forward, and then uses a Dynamic movement test to hurdle a railing to move towards a loot marker amongst the houses.  This raises the Danger up 1 again. 

No new dangers appear yet, but the Danger level is at 8.  The last remaining wild dogs circle and bark at Handsome John, but can not attack until next turn.  

The last dog becomes unpinned.  

Turn 3- Danger: 8
Handsome John grapples with the wild dogs, and kills one with a close range shot.  However, his attempt to activate a second time to fight again fails.  His failure to activate and his fight increases the Danger to 10.  

Luke moves to the back of the store to avoid any further dogs.  There is a closed door there he can use to get into the loot in the shop.  However, Luke also fails his attempt at a second activation!  One more Danger point, taking them out of Green to Yellow.  That means second activations and Fear/Nerve tests are going to be harder now.  

Annie takes aim at the last dog in the center of town.  She takes careful aim and squeezes off a shot that kills the dog there.  Only one dog left, and it is fighting with Handsome John.    

Tommy double activates and walks up to some loot between the houses.  Next turn he can scoop it up.  

With all the shooting and failed activations the Danger level is 12.  The Danger roll has no new Martians arrive yet.  

However, the last dog attacks Handsome John.  It lunges at John, but misses his arm by mere inches.  This raises the Danger Level to 13.  

One of the dogs that the survivors thought was dead, stumbles back to its feet; merely scratched and momentarily stunned and not killed after all! 

Turn 4 - Danger 13
Handsome John continues fighting with the last dog on him.  He knocks it unconscious and possible dead! He takes a moment to catch his breath and does not try to activate further.  

Annie has had good luck shooting, so aims at the last dog.  However, she fails to activate a second time and does not take the shot.  

Timmy scoops up the Loot, and takes a moment to catch his breath without trying to activate again.  

Luke Goodson walks up to the door at the back of the shop, and finds it is locked.  Luke activates again to try and open the door.  He decides to try to make a Brawn test to open it up, but he is not that strong.  He bounces off the door uselessly.  

It is now at 16 due to 1 fight action, 1 failed activation check, and 1 failed Brawn roll.  

Oh no, all the commotion has attracted a new Danger!  3 more wild dogs enter the table!  They immediately move towards the center of the board, looking for someone to eat! 

The wild dog that was stunned moves to attack Handsome John.  

Another dog ends up just being stunned and not killed!  That makes 5 active dogs still!      

Turn 5- Danger 16
Handsome John takes some quick shots at the closing wild dog, and causes the closest one to cower from suppression fire.  He activates a second time, and moves back away into the ruins.  

Luke decides to leave the locked door, and head towards some loot he saw behind the Mechanics shed.  He fails a Dynamic action test as he tries to struggle over the bushes.  He gets caught up but manages to thrash and curse his way past on a second activation and get to the loot.

Annie fires wildly at the furthest away dog, and causes that one to cower with suppression as well.  For her second activation, she starts falling back, and parallel to Handsome John.  

Timmy sees the wild dogs in the street in front of him and decides to get out of there.  He falls back to the railing, but fails to activate again to try and cross it.  

The Danger is now up to 20 now, at the edge of going to Orange! The three fresh dogs see Tommy and start racing after him, easily able to get over the bushes with Dynamic action tests and running straight for him.  The two suppressed dogs get back to their feet.  

The Danger roll is 21, and just safe enough to keep more dangers from appearing.  

No more dogs get back up.  
Turn 6- Danger 20
Luke grabs the loot behind the mechanics shop, and manages to activate again and starts heading out of town.  He doesn't have room to carry anymore stuff. 

Handsome John skulks back to the edge of the ruins, and decides not to try to activate again.  Things are starting to heat up, and shooting may attract worse than wild dogs.  

Annie decides to retreat from the battle and off the table, waiting to catch up with her friends after things die down a bit.  She makes her way to their farmhouse hide-out.   

This time, Tommy easily makes it across the porch, and then runs for it.  

With Tommy out of sight, two of the dogs stop and sniff the air.  The third runs up to where he was and tries to see him.  The dog chasing Handsome John catches up with him, and pins him in a fight.  Meanwhile, the one closer to the center of town, dashes off between two houses towards Tommy. 

The danger roll is a 10, and well below the Danger level of 20.  That attracts more foes!  This time, a Martian Gunner stumbles to the town square.  Its metal helmet, encasing a once human head searching for targets with its weapon.  There are none in sight. 

All downed dogs stay down.  

Turn 7- Danger 20
Luke stumbles to the edge of town, and gets hung up on the bushes as he tries to flee the town.  He failed a second activation check.  That puts the Danger Level to Orange! 

Tommy sprints for the edge of town, with the howl of dogs behind him.  However, he also fails a second activation check! 

Handsome John is locked in combat with a dog, and must fight!  He manages to down the beast,  Then, he activates again and makes for the board edge.   

Annie has all ready fallen back.  

The dog chasing Tommy fails to get past the railing.  Meanwhile, two other heads back to the center of town.  The last one gets the scent and goes after Tommy again.  Meanwhile, the Gunner sees the dogs and opens fire at them, missing.  

The Danger level is 23, and the roll is lower than that, so more foes enter the board.  

Oh no!  A Black Dust launcher armed Tripod enters the board.  Those survivors better scatter! 

One of the downed dogs simply dies.  

Turn 8- Danger 23
Handsome John tries to scramble out of the ruins, but can't seem to find a good path.  He fails two Dynamic action tests!

Luke manages to curse and swear his way past the bushes and run off out of town.  He and his two loot are safe.  

Tommy gets to the bushes at the board edge, activates again but also fails to find his way through.  

The wild dogs scatter around the board, looking for targets.  The Gunner fires on a dog, and sends it whelping away.  The Tripod stalks forward towards the center of the board, then turns and looks to where Luke just fled. 

In addition, two more wild dogs appear on the right hand side, top corner of the board.  

Another dog dies, and one gets up again.  

Turn 9 - Danger 26
Handsome John fails his first try, activates again and manages to scramble out of the ruins to safety.  

Tommy also has a tough time, but eventually breaks out of the shrubs and gets to safety as well. 

The humans flee, leaving the Martian tripod and the swarming dogs behind them! 

Luke and his survivor band managed to escape from the Martians!  They fall back to their Farmhouse hide-out.  

I take a look at the loot the band collected and find I have, 1 Scrap, 8 food, and 4 water.  Not bad!  Nothing unique but that will help us all live to see another day and avoid debilitating effects! I need to probably find more scrap via scavenging though.   

Post-Game Sequence
All my survivors managed to get out of there before they were downed or suppressed.  No Serious injuries or psychological trauma this time! 

For Experience our survivor's got the following: 
Handsome John = 13 Experience
Annie McCall = 7 Experience
Tommy Wilkins = 4 Experience
Luke Goodson = 7 Experience

If I wanted, Handsome John could try for a skill...... which I think I will try and get for him.  He is a criminal, so decides to choose one from the agility table, after all he had tough time trying to get out of the ruins.  Maybe a skill can help.  He rolls on the table and earns:
  • Duck and Weave- Shooting attacks have a -1 TN when he has moved.  
This lowers him back down to 3 Experience,

Luke decides to scout for Martians, Timmy, Annie,  and Handsome John all go to scavenge.  They need to find some scrap or they may become deprived.   

Luke sees the Tripod leave the town, but it doesn't seem to have found the survivor's hide-out this time.  Timmy stumbles across a farmer's old scrap yard and snags 4 Scrap and 1 Flare.  Handsome John finds an old and abandoned cave someone use to hide-out in before.  Inside there is enough stuff for 4 Scrap.  Finally, Annie finds a basement speak-easy that was partially destroyed.  Looting it nets her 1 food, 9 water, and 1 scrap; plus a bottle of alcohol.

Before calculating Deprivation, they have:    
9 Food
13 Water
10 Scrap
- Flares
- Alcohol

This is before going into Luke or John's Rations and canteens.  That is 7 food and 2 water.  

To avoid deprivation, they need a total of 8 food, 8 water, and 4 scrap.  That leaves them 8 food, 12 water, and 6 scrap in their stash.  Handsome John grabs the bottle of Alcohol, while Luke takes the Flares.  The group avoids any deprivation this time, but Luke is still down a Revolver until the group can replace it. 

Annie gleefully cracked the top of the salted pork can.  It popped with a satisfying crack, and she dove in and fished out the meat.  She was sure it wasn't a pretty sight, but she unceremoniously fished the pork out and hungrily bit into it, holding the meat with her bare hands.  Tommy was just as eagerly chomping down on a carrot, with a half loaf of bread sticking out of his satchel.

"Heh, what's the deal Pops?" John smacked Luke's hands away from his pile of food.

"We need to sit on some of this food for later.  There is no guarantee we will find more food and water."  

John ground his teeth, then quickly flashed his smile, "Good thinking Pops.  Tommy, Annie.... slow down a bit there.  This has to last us a bit."  

Annie reluctantly handed Luke a can of Pork and Beans and a bucket of water she had managed to fill up while out scavenging.  Tommy handed his food over even more slowly.  Luke nodded and put it into a cabinet in the Farmhouse.  

Luke, still smiling said what was on everyone's minds, "So..... now what?"  

Check out the Blood and Spectacles Wargame Vault page for your copy of Under the Martian Yoke

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Monday, July 18, 2022

Review: A Billion Suns- Osprey Games


This game took a while for me to get.  I actually ordered it about the day it came out.  However, it got hung-up in Brexit and took a couple months to get to me.  By the time I had gotten it, all the hype had died away.  Even for me!  Chances are, if you are interested in this game, you have all ready read plenty of reviews, watched battle reports for this game, painted your own fleets, and even played it by now.  I am sure you all ready have an opinion on it, may even have a copy in your library of games, or even played a campaign of it.  Oh well, better late than never! 

A Billion Suns is a game of Corporate shenanigans.... IN SPACE!  Unlike most spaceship games, you are not an admiral in control of a fleet.  You are a space Consultant.  You get contracts that equal money.  One of the big challenges in this game is making sure you use the right tools for the job and do not break the bank.  You need to operate in the Black.  This is a big change to the usual genre conventions.  

Mike Hutchinson is also the author of Gaslands.  That was a big hit for the Osprey Wargaming Series.  I am sure they are hoping he has put lightning in a bottle a second time.  After all, Gaslands ended up getting re-booted and expanded into a hard back book.     

Let's go into the interstellar board room and see what the R&D coats think of this.....

Things That I Liked

Right off the bat on page 9, you can start to realize that this is not any ordinary fleet game.  It encourages you to play across more than one "table" or flat area.  Each contract/mission uses a different number but the key thing is that the game uses more than one at a time.  Therefore, what happens on one table impacts what is happening on another table.

The game is model and scale agnostic.  This is always a plus for me in any game, but I can see that the potential investment in ships could be high.  You may need to bring a battle group of 5 battleships in one game, and never use them in others.  Therefore, you will need a diverse collection.  However, the game would be full playable with paper cut-outs, proxies, or other things besides miniatures.  I do love me some paper templates!       

The game uses simple mechanics so that big ships can be hit easier, but can shrug more damage than other ships.   The "Silhouette" mechanic is very elegant. 

The actual managing and moving your fleet is pretty conventional.  You use the center of mass for measurements, and closest ship to closest ship in your battlegroups.  All very sensible for a scale agnostic game.  Plus, you do not need any turning templates!  The orders and mechanics are pretty straight forward for combat as well with nothing that really stands out.  The coolest thing is the ability to move between tables using Jump Points, and how bigger ships can damage smaller ships when jumping.  It is like a hi-tech ram.  The mechanics for smaller ships sheltering under bigger ships is nifty as well.

I think we all know that this game has no pre-made list building.  You choose and deploy forces based on the needs of the table.  Deploying forces costs credits, and securing objectives earns credits.  Credits form a simple way to track who is winning and losing.  The Victory conditions and Contracts then naturally put limits on what you use in the game.  Sure, you can deploy 5 battleships in a battlegroup for 25 credits but if you only earn back 2 credits from the contracts on the table, you will lose no matter how many enemy ships you scrap.  Pretty elegant design for what the game was trying to do. 

Things I Did Not Like

The game uses a roll-under mechanic, so low numbers are good.  This is a personal preference, but I have a really hard time with roll-under systems.  I have been so conditioned that high numbers = good that I have a hard time breaking that thought process.  The method in the book makes it a lot simpler and easier mechanically than using a chart or a subtraction method..... but I still do not like roll under systems.  Huge personal preference there.  

The heart of the game is resource management.  You have to manage jump points, control helms, battle groups, contracts, profit vs loss, giving orders, etc.  The game is focused on doing more with less.  This is a great concept that leads to good decision making, so why am I putting this in the Do Not Like section of the rules?  This blog espouses decision-making for good gameplay?  

Yes, this is true.  However, this level of decision making crosses a line for the games I like to play.  The resource management here gets into micro-management levels.  The game honestly feels more like a board game, or a "Dudes on a Board" style game than a wargame.  "Dudes on a Board" is basically a board game with miniatures, and that is the vibe I get from this.  There are a lot of great mechanics, but the feel is all wrong to me.  The focus is not on the tactical action, but on the strategic action; but there is a blur since the strategic choices are an integral part of the game in action.  Again, this is a strong personal opinion and you may feel differently, but ultimately the focus here is doing more with less; and I want something a bit more "conventional" in my space navy games.          


Meh and Other Uncertainties

This game is designed for multi-player from the outset, 2-4 players.  However, it is not explicitly designed for Solo or Co-op play.

The game allows pre-measuring.  This makes sense for a sci-fi setting.  Sensors sense stuff like distance after all.  That said, the game is scale and model agnostic but the standard measurement is the inch.   

I thought the book had some great images of space ships and space terrain BUT there was so much content that the photos ended up being relatively small.  Instead, they had full page photos of spaceships with no context or background.  The spaceships were nice enough, but really looked out of place and one-off.  I would have preferred if the photos were larger and the art smaller.  I know, a small nit pick.   

The end of the book has rules for creating you own custom corporations for your games.  This allows you to tailor your choices to preference and give each faction some uniqueness.  I am always a fan of this type of customization.  In addition, there are rules for running campaigns in addition to one-off games.  

In addition, I am way behind the curve on this book.  I am pretty sure new contracts, solo-rules and other  rules have been released.  I have not tried them, but they are out there.  This might be in a Blaster issue on the Wargame Vault, or elsewhere on the web.  Sadly, I am really not 100% sure.  

Final Thoughts

So yeah, there you go.  When I first heard that Osprey was coming out with a space combat game, I was pretty excited.  Then, I heard it was from Mike and I was doubly excited!  There is a lot of interesting and novel stuff here.  The idea of playing on more than one board, the lack of fleet lists, the victory settings are all very cool ideas.  Plus, no templates for movement!   

However, in this case I feel like this did not deliver the experience I wanted at all.  This is a case of "Innovation being over-rated".  These ideas and concepts are great, but ultimately it is NOT the space combat game I was hoping for.  I wanted something a bit more..... conventional?  I know, I know; what a curmudgeon!  I think the release of the Military Contracts will help but it might be too little too late.  

So overall, a pretty cool game with a big "BUT" attached to it.  

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Monday, July 11, 2022

Wargame Design: Under the Martian Yoke

 The keen eyed observer may have noticed that I have snuck a new game onto my Wargame Vault page during the spring.  It was a little game called Under the Martian Yoke.  This is a survival horror skirmish game set in the days after the Martian Invasion of Orson Welles famous broadcast of The War of the Worlds.  In this game, that broadcast was no radio play..... it was real!  

You play as a group of 4 survivors of the Martian invasion.  The world has been devastated and the Martians roam what is left of the cities of humanity looking for human prey.  It is up to your band of survivors to escape the blasted Martian territories and flee to Free Human territory.  Of course, other survivors, Martian war machines, and simple starvation stand in your way.  

This game initially came to me in a dream.  It started as a nightmare, as Martian tripods destroyed a freeway my family and hundreds and others were using to escape.  Their terrifying red eyes searching for victims as their heat rays swept across and destroyed the cars around us.  It was terrifying stuff, but then my crazy brain thought, "Wouldn't this make a fun wargames?"  The terror ended, and soon my subconscious was showing me how to make such a game a reality.  Dreams are strange!  

When I was approaching this game, I wanted to lean into the horror and the survival.  However, making a horror wargame is tough, because elements of horror are things that wargamers hate in their games.  Some key elements of horror are: 

  1. Helplessness
  2. Degradation
  3. Escalating tension
  4. Race against Time
These are not all elements that gamers like in their games.  So how does one make a game that leans into the horror and the survival aspects for a wargame?  

There were a couple of key design decisions I made early on. First, this had to be a scale and model agnostic game.  Thankfully, I all ready had a nice selection of Copplestone Casting gangster models for my survivors.  Their clothing, equipment, and gear met the period and they were 28mm.  I also had a nice collection of Alien Dungeon models from All Quiet on the Martian Front.  These are technically 15mm, but would do just fine for the game.  Of course, other people would have very different model collections than me.  

Therefore, the game had to be scale and model agnostic.  To do this, I used my usual tricks.  All measurement units are in a generic MU scale, that can be adapted to be used with 6mm, 15mm, 20mm, 28mm, or whatever.  After all, I leave it up to players to match the size of an MU to their existing collections.  I also abstract measurements, LOS, and other factors to work no matter what model is involved.  

I also used a Bestiary of generic Martian foes that can be easily proxied, modified, or built from existing lines.  For example, I have the Martians use modified humans as mindless foot troops to hunt, flush out, and kill human survivors.  These can easily be made out of any Zombie models or even existing "faceless" soldier style models.  Tripods and drones are left relatively undetailed so you can easily kit-bash, proxy, etc to get the foes you want access to.  

Martian Baddies

 After being scale and model agnostic, I had to decide how I was going to lean into the survival and horror aspects of the game.  The game went through many iterations, with the first few drafts being a versus game, where the Martians were essentially Friction and Game-End conditions.  This is a method similar to Last Days or Stargrave.  However, as I tested I found players wanting to team up against the Martians rather than face each other.  From there, I modified the game to be Solo, Co-op, or Versus depending on how the players want to play.  This felt more like a survival horror, the players against the world and trying to survive! 

Second, I decided to tightly structure initial Survivor Band design, and take much of the design out of the hands of the player.  In many games, you can design the survivors that you want in your group.  However, I made this a semi-random process.... you always get 4, your equipment and backgrounds were randomly generated, and then the player was allowed to allocate some profile data around to customize a bit.  However, players could theoretically start with a survivor band that had no weapons!  By taking the mini-maxing capabilities away from the player, it forced them to face the game with what they had, rather than what they wanted.  

I knew this game needed a sense of escalating danger.  Therefore, many of the scenarios would start with Martian foes present.  However, as various actions occur it raises the danger level.  As the danger level goes up, it does two things.  First, it makes activation and Fear tests harder to pass, which can lead to more danger.  Second, it can attract new dangers and foes to the table, making it harder to complete scenarios.  Therefore, as the game continues it becomes harder and more dangerous for the survivors to continue, until they either are taken out of the game, run away in fear, or scatter to the safety of their hide-out.  

To add to the survival horror, the enemies are tough to kill.  Most of your survivors have fists, improvised weapons, and small arms.  These can be effective against some low-level foes but many Martian War Machines are practically immune to such weapons.  Therefore, players will have to decide how to approach the problems of the game, as brute force will not be an option.  Maneuver and focusing on objectives will be the key to success.  

In addition, not all problems can be solved with firepower, players can also use Brawn or Brains to resolve a challenge too.  Run across a locked door?  You can try to bash it down with Brawn or pick the lock with Brains.  However, failing will raise the Danger Level further.  Choose wisely as the wrong choice could slow you up, make accomplishing your objectives impossible, or lead to your death. 

To add to the survival horror aspect of the game, Fear and Nerve tests play a big part of the game.  Running Away is a common response to being faced by the Martian foe.  Most enemies cause fear,  Suppression is also a key element of the game that can cause survivors to be unable to act when it matters.  Survivors are not fearless automata that do what ever suicidal thing the player wants them to do, and they are even harder to control as the Danger Level rises.  

Finally, the campaign part of the game strongly focuses on the survival horror.  Weapons are lost, equipment expended, basic supplies consumed, injuries wrack up, and psychological damage piles up.  Characters tend to get worse faster than they get better as the Martian take their toll on the survivors by injuring them, traumatizing them, or just killing them off.  Players need to balance these resources to keep their survivor band functioning and operational.  

There are a lot of mechanics in this game designed to keep the survival horror front and center.  Some are simple, such as unreliable weapons, limits to carrying capacity, losing your hide-out/stash, and more.  Others are more complicated, such as Degradation from starvations, dehydration, psychological trauma from running away, and lack of supplies.  Unlike many skirmish games, the action is about reducing the Friction, working with what you have as you proceed and gathering resources to stay stable.  Growth and development is short lived with hide-out upgrades, loot pick-ups, and experience gains, but often leads to worse outcomes in the long run.  Most things in this game are a terrible trade-off.  

I hope this gives you a flavor of what you are in for when you pick up Under the Martian Yoke.  When it says Survival Horror on the cover know that it is designed to be challenging.  Survival is not easy, and your survivors will face the Martian horrors largely alone, ill-equipped, and scared out of their minds.  I hope that sounds like fun to you, because I had a good time putting it together over the last 4 years or so.  

Like I said, you can find this game on the Blood and Spectacles Wargame Vault page here

Become a Patron and get access to all the cool stuff, a peak behind the curtain of Blood and Spectacles, and early-access to playtest games!  

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Or purchase all out games at the Blood and Spectacles Publishing Wargames Vault Page!


Thursday, July 7, 2022

Castles in the Sky- Launch Party- July 23rd, Gestalt Studio in Powell WY

 For those of you in Northwest Wyoming area, be sure to mark your calendars for this! 

Of course, I will be there to talk about wargame design, getting published, and demoing the game. 

 Marc Harrison from the Painted Dwarf will also be there to talking about painting miniatures along with some examples of his work too. 

If you have your own fleets, feel free to bring them by!  Otherwise, we should have enough for everyone to take command of a ship or two! 

I look forward to meeting as many of you as can make it!   


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Check out the latest publications and contact me at our Blood and Spectacles website

Or purchase all out games at the Blood and Spectacles Publishing Wargames Vault Page!

Monday, July 4, 2022

On The Painting Desk- Sands for the Arena!

 One of the projects I wanted to complete and update for 2022 was The Games: Blood and Spectacles - 2nd Edition.  The first edition was one of the first games I ever built and..... well you can tell.  It is a fun game, but the mechanics are very inconsistent across the game, the lay-out is questionable, and many of the images are not public domain.  Therefore, I have been wanting to bring it up to a higher standard and re-release it.  After all, it has been a staple of my gaming stable, and the namesake of my publishing company!  

Long ago, I purchased the full set of Crusader Miniatures Gladiator line.  In addition, I also purchased some chariots from the Old Glory Gladiator Wars line.  These were the basics of my gladiator ludus (school) and allowed me to run many of The Games over the years.  I finally had them all painted about 3 years ago.  However, I never got around to properly basing 75% of the gladiators or the chariots.  I needed model shots for post-production on The Games: Blood and Spectacles - 2nd Edition so now was the time to change all of that!  

Basing was very simple.  First, I had a cup full of beach sand that I got from the local beach.  In a pinch play sand or really any sand will do.  I then got some white PVA glue.  Next I found a crappy big-box retailer painting brush with a wide set-up.  I simply globbed the white PVA onto the bases with the brush, and then sunk them into the cup of sand until the base was covered.  I then tapped the excess off the side of the cup.  This is the results.....

A fully based ludus of gladiators ready to serve their lanista.  That is a gaggle of gladiators!  

Those look a lot better than the white bases they use to have.    

For my arena, I used a large round, wooden cake board from my old days owning a bakery.  I simply painted it brown, and sponged two alternate brown colors over the top with a sponge roller.  For walls, I use brown packing containers accented with aquarium pillars I found at the local pet store.  I don't base it with sand to avoid sand getting all over my play space.    

However, not all gladiator bouts were in an arena.  Gladiator fights also took place in other venues such as at the cemetery, people's homes, farms, and smaller local venues.  Therefore, you can use other structures rather than a full sized arena.  For a greener look I use my Cigar Box Battles mat.  For rural locals I might use green sponge hedges and agricultural fencing.  In Villas, I might use a cobblestone base surrounded by speckled walls with columns instead.  Finally, I can also "flood" my arena with a water matt to add extra challenge for my gladiators.  

Of course, I made these arenas, painted the models, and based them all so I could use them in the post-production of The Games: Blood and Spectacles - 2nd EditionThe original game revolves around using Combat Pool to score successes during the various events.  However, these dice pool mechanics did not carry over into other aspects of the rules, and instead used a hodge-podge of rules.  This new version streamlines this into a more unified set of mechanics to make it easier to recall the core rules during play.  Now all stats are essentially depleting dice pools.    

Of course, with depleting dice pools, players would need an easy way to track what their gladiators had used during the game.  Therefore, I also added some easy to use gladiator cards to help players track their gladiators status during play.  In addition, campaign play has always been a core part of the game, so I added a Troupe tracking sheet as well.  Finally, I added some QRS documents to the PDF to help players recall key things like Striking Success options during play.  

Finally, I modified the game to be scale and model agnostic.  There are a lot of great gladiator models out there.  From 15mm to 54mm, they can now all be incorporated into the rules.  I used my standard tricks of converting all distances into generic Measurement Units that can fit any scale the player wishes.  This also allows it to fit on any table size the player wishes as well.  

It still has the ludus building and management aspects of the original game.  Players can still create their own unique gladiator troupes featuring the archetype gladiators of their choice, gladiators earn experience, gain injuries, and are often killed in the arena.  In addition, there is a dynamic set of events that make up each Games using historical examples as the baseline.  Therefore, no two Games need ever be the same; from battling beasts, dealing with convicts, fighting gladiator duels, to chariot racing.  

Of course, the last and biggest change is that all the artwork and images from the old book has been replaced with new pictures.  These will be a combination of model shots, historical finds, and public domain artwork.  Unsurprisingly, the subject of the gladiator has been a fascinating topic for people of all ages since the end of the practice of gladiator bouts.  There are countless sculptures, paintings, mosaics, reliefs, and other artwork to draw from.   Plus, add in the fact that I have various models to take photos of now! 

So, this gives you a taste of  The Games: Blood and Spectacles - 2nd EditionIt took me a few years, but I am happy that I have finally gotten all these awesome Crusader and Old Glory models based and ready for action.  They turned out nice and I look forward to using them as I start demoing the game locally, online, and for the blog.  


Become a Patron and get access to all the cool stuff, a peak behind the curtain of Blood and Spectacles, and early-access to playtest games!  

You can follow Blood and Spectacles Facebook page or Instagram for more fun! 

Check out the latest publications and contact me at our Blood and Spectacles website

Or purchase all out games at the Blood and Spectacles Publishing Wargames Vault Page!