Monday, March 27, 2023

RPG Review: Hard City - Osprey Games


You, my loyal reader, know that I like to dabble in all sorts of game design.  My primary focus has been in wargames, but that is not the only type of games I have worked on.  I have built card games, board games, and other simple games for my own amusement as well.  One area I have commented on previously and actively play is Role-playing Games (RPGs).

I actually started my RPG journey before my wargame journey.  I learned how to play "Red Box" D&D from a friend's dad; a Lutheran pastor.  I picked up all the boxed sets from a little bookstore in the local strip mall, the only strip mall within a day's bike ride!  From there, I managed to scrap and scrape together the basic AD&D books, the Buck Rogers RPG, and the TSR Marvel Super Heroes game.  As a teen, I played a lot of West End Games D6 Star Wars and Shadowrun.  Many of the books have been lost to time, and I still lament the loss of my Masters edition boxed set.  Shortly there after, an ad in Dragon magazine sucked me into the world of Warhammer and I have managed to juggle my two RPG and Wargame hobbies every since.  

Now that I am older, having regular RPG nights and/or Wargame nights is much easier.  I was able to get into a local RPG session much easier than I was able to get into the wargaming community!  The wargaming scene had a number of starts and stops.  Meanwhile, I have had a long running RPG group with a dedicated weekly game night, that was only interrupted by COVID, but has since re-grouped after vaccines became widely available.  

The re-engagement with this group has rekindled my interest in RPGs.  Thanks to this group I have been able to play and run a few more modern games such as Dune, Lasers and Feelings, Monster of the Week, Legend of the 5 Rings, Those Dark Places, and more.  The group is primarily a Dungeons and Dragons 5e group, but we are not averse to spreading our wings a bit!  Thankfully, we have several people who are capable of being game masters as well as players too!    

However, this is going to be my first actual RPG review.  It will follow the normal format my reviews take: 

- Things I liked
- Things I did not like
- Meh and other uncertainties
- Final thoughts

Let's get into this with two-fists swingin' and snub-nose .38's blazing! 

Things I Liked
I am a sucker for rules-lite games, and that was this game in spades.  Character design is dead simple, with you picking a number of Tags to flesh out where your character has been, what they are now, and who they want to be.  I expect you could design a character in about 5 minutes, and still have a pretty strong feel for who they are and what they represented in the game.  Easy to role play.  

Even better, the mechanics for this game are dead simple.  You make a dice pool of d6.  In situations where you can apply those Tags from your character, you get an Action Die.  For any complications in the scene, you get a Danger Die.  You roll this pool together.  Any number on a Danger Die, cancels out a die on an Action Dice.  You then take the highest dice left on the Action dice as your result.  6 is a success, 4-5 is a Partial success.  1 or no Action Dice left is a Botch.  Dead simple.
There are Soft and Hard consequences that a GM can throw at the player for partial success and botches.  These can lead to conditions, and not all of them are physical; some are psychological as well.  

You have a special reserve that you can use to manipulate a scene or dice rolls called Moxie.  The mechanic itself is fine, but the part I like is that you can only replenish this pool, but having one of your Flaws cause chaos and challenge to you in the game.  

When they detail how an investigation happens, the book recommends that no checks need to be made most of the time.  You just find what needs to be found.  In cases where it is not that easy, the check is more to determine the complications involved by searching for what you are looking for, not whether you find clues or not.  This avoids an "investigation" being de-railed because of bad dice rolling.  The narrative can always move forward. 

Things I Do Not Like

Injury is relatively abstract, and characters can not take much damage.  Damage adds Danger Die to your dice pools.  However, as the GM never rolls dice the tests are made by the player only.  Light injuries can result from a partial success, moderate injuries from a failure, and a Serious injuries typically come from Botches or stacked from other injuries.  When injured you can choose to stack them or to create a whole new injury.  Most characters can only have up to three active injuries at a time, so you have to decide how to make things worse.  Too many injuries and you start dying.  This system is good for narration but not that easy to keep track of as a Harm bar, or hit boxes that get filled in.   
The background materials about the Hard City are sparse, and intentionally so.  There is plenty of scope for a player to build and play in the setting.  The places mentioned are more as templates or generic backdrops of action that you can then use to create your own later.  

There is a quick list of Belongings and costs, but it is more of a place to start and to give you ideas.  Belongings and the like are more a narrative prop than a goal in and of themselves.  Most basic stuff, if you need it, you can get it.  Unless of course, there is a narrative reason to make it harder to get. 

This is a bit petty, but I wanted MORE artwork in the game.  There are occasional little space fillers that are not "true" artwork on half-pages here and there.  Things like a scrawled combination, or a list of names with some crossed-off.  However, I wanted more of the full/half page pieces in the style of the covers. 

Meh and Other Uncertainties

The game uses "Fictional Positioning" so toss those grid boards aside for this game.  There are some broad categories for distances, just so characters do not teleport across a block; but distance and combat is much more abstract than a game like Dungeons and Dragons, Lancer, or Mech Warrior.    

Scenes and Turns have a relatively loose structure.  Generally characters lead the action.  However, what they want to do, dictates who does them.  For example, a guy who wants to talk gets to take actions before shooting, or fighting.  This means you always have a chance to bargain before you fight, if you plan your actions right.    

The game has a relatively simple experience system that is serviceable for short campaigns.  However, do not look for long, sprawling campaigns and rules to go with them in this book.  Things are much more "cinematic" than that.  

 Like all games now, there is a short blurb about "safety tools" as some of the topics that can come up in the Hard City are seedy or worse.  There is also a short section about how to run the game, that is old hat for most of us.  This does include some basic profiles, and quick "reaction table" that you can use for NPCs in a pinch.  

The most useful part of the GM discussion is the "Web of Clues" and the example adventure that goes with it.  This is really helpful for GMs as it lays out a strong method for structuring an investigation game.  Instead of rooms in a dungeon, it links scenes and clues together in a way where players can easily move from pre-planned point to pre-planned point in a natural way.  

Final Thoughts

This is a nice, straight forward rules-light game.  The focus is on narrative action and less on the mechanics of doing stuff.  It leans into the episodic nature of many of the sources and this game would be best for a one-shot or a short campaign.  If you are familiar with more narrative based games, and that is your jam and you like the genre; then this game will be a good buy.  This is often the style of game I am attracted too, as I want to explore a few themes and characters quickly, and then move onto new challenges.  That is not for everyone.   

If you prefer a more structured and crunch based experience, than steer clear.  I would not expect this game to endure a long campaign very well either.  Things would just start to get redundant or stale.  This game is more Those Dark Places or Monster of the Week, and much less Mutants and Masterminds or Pathfinder.  You probably know the types of games you like, and now know whether this is a game for you or not.  


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!    

Monday, March 20, 2023

Battle Report: Battle of Ephesus- Ionian Revolt


This is the first scenario in the Ionian Revolt booklet.  Therefore, I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the scenario.  For that, you will want to get the book!  

It is commonly considered that this battle followed the Greek attack on the Satrapy capital at Sardis.  There, the Greek forces were successful at sacking and burning the lower city, but were unable to take the citadel.  The Greeks retreated with their loot and the Persians gave chase.  The Persian troops were able to catch up to the Ionians.  The result was this battle.  

The Forces

The troops here are from the lists found in the Ionian Revolt booklet.  The rules for these units are found in the Men of Bronze book from the Osprey Wargaming Series.  

Ionian Greeks- General Eualcides
1 Drilled Hoplite
2 Militia Hoplite
1 Peltast
1 Psiloi

Persians- Satrap Artaphernes
2 Cavalry
1 Drilled Infantry
2 Archers


The river Cayster is on the Greek Left/Persian right.  The rest of the board is barren, arid terrain and will be good for maneuver.  A few rocky outcroppings dot the plain to break it up. This battle will be on a 6x4 board with both forces deployed on the long table edges. 

This battle has other complications in the Ionian Revolt booklet. 

The Greeks deploy thusly....

The Drilled Infantry and Psiloi are hungry and thirsty so their target numbers are 5+ instead of 4+. 

...and the Pursuing Persians deploy like this.....

Turn 1: 
Both sides collect their 5 Arete Points to begin the turn.  The Persians bid 3, to the Greek 2.  Persians go first. 

The Persian infantry moves up, and then the Greeks try to steal initiative, but fail.  The Persian cavalry move out searching for the Greek flank.  

The Greeks move forward, with the Militia hoplites forming phalanx across the road.  The Drilled Athenians move up on their flank, using the river to anchor their flank.  A gap forms in the line, as the Peltasts curve in and the Psiloi take up a position on a rock formation using their Skirmish ability.  

Turn 2:
Both sides collect their 2 Arete points.  The Persians again bid 3, and the Greeks bid 2.  Persians will go first. 

The Persians move forward, careful to keep their Drilled infantry tot he fore.  However, the far left Cavalry rushes forward and throws their javelins at the Psiloi in the rocks, but fails to get any to stick.  

The Greek Drilled infantry forms phalanx and pushes forward.  They form a solid line with the Militia Hoplites in the road.  Meanwhile, the last Militia Hoplite moves up in loose formation, and the Peltasts move to form a new flank by a rocky outcropping.  

The Psiloi on the hill decide to charge at the oncoming Persians, and despite the extra charge bonus, they fail to cause any damage.  Their hungry and thirsty status took a toll on their attack. 

Turn 3:
Both sides still have 5 Arete Points.  This time, the Persians bid 1 to go first while the Greeks bid 3.  Greeks go first. 

The Greek Peltasts rush forward to help their Psiloi brothers in combat, and a Melee ensues.  Even with the additional dice, they come up with no hits!  The Persians fight back fiercely and reduce the Greeks 1 and cause them to Waver!  The Greeks are pushed back 1 MU. 

The Greek Militia on the road charges ahead using the last Greek Arete Point, and they are met at the roadside by a counter-charge of Persian Drilled Infantry.  There is a bitter battle, where the Persians lose 2 to the Greek 1 in Courage and are pushed back 1 MU. 

The Greeks are out of Arete Points, so the Drilled Hoplites make for the exposed Persian archers behind the Persian Drilled Infantry fight.  The Archers use a Persian Re-roll and cause 1 Courage loss and force the Hungry and Thirsty Drilled Hoplites to start to Waver.

The second Persian Cavalry units charges into the Flank of the melee on the left flank, and they scatter the Greek troops there with minimal loses in return.  They pushed them back 2 MU before scattering the light infantry.  

The Militia Hoplites see the Light infantry flee, but they hold their line and do not waver.  The Greek Light Infantry does trigger a Collapse test for the Greeks.  The Greek commander looks nervous as his Drilled Hoplites need to roll 3 dice and get at least 1 six, or they will flee the battle!  He rolls, and luckily gets a single six.  The other Militia units also stay in the fight. 

Turn 4:
The Persians have struck first and struck hard, tearing away the Greek battle lines right flank protection.  The Greeks collect 3 Arete compared to the Persian 5.  The Greeks bid 0, and the Persians bid 1.  Persians go first.  

The Persian archers again rain arrows down on the Drilled Hoplites, and with them out of formation they lose 1 more Courage.  The second Persian archer units rushes in to support the Drilled Infantry fighting the Militia Hoplites by the road.  Both sides fight hard, and both lose 2 Courage.  The vicious fighting causes the Greeks to start to Waver, and lose formation.  The Persian Cavalry begins to wheel around into the Greek rear to cut-off their escape.  

The Greeks are in desperation mode now, they have to defeat the Persian infantry and force a Collapse.  The unhurt Militia infantry breaks formation, wheels, reforms and charges into the Persian Flank to support their battered foe.  The Persians only have 2 Courage left and might break from a charge in phalanx on the flank in support.  They roll 8 dice with only a single success, not even enough to dent the Persian formation! 

In extreme desperation now, the Greek commander uses his last Arete Point to charge in his wavering Drilled Infantry into the melee.  Their wavering, and hungry and thirsty state makes their additional push inconsequential as well.  

Turn 5: 
The Greeks are barely hanging on.  They collect 3 to the Persian 5 Arete points.  This time, the Persians bid 4 to the Greek 0 to guarantee they go first.  

The Persians use their last Arete point to charge their last Persian Archer unit into support their Drilled infantry to resolve the battle there. The two sides clash ferociously, and both sides are pushed over the breaking point, reducing them to 0 Courage.  

The Persians need to make a Collapse test to win the filed for their two cavalry units.  The first injured units fails and flees!  However, the second stays to claim the field and fore the straggling Greeks back to their Triremes and leaving them to flee back to their home-cities. 

Persian Victory, but it came down to the last dice roll.  The result matches the historical outcome.  This is the second time I have recorded the outcome of this battle on the blog.  Both ended in a Persian victory.  In retrospective, I should have kept my last Archer unit out of that big melee and I would have had a more respectable win... maybe.    

After the battle, the Greek player agreed it was a mistake for his Psiloi who were Hungry and Thirsty to charge, and he threw good money after bad when the Peltasts got involved too.  They were a bigger threat and deterrent as a force in being.  In addition, the Greeks had some awful dice rolls when they needed better.  However, that's the way it goes sometimes.  

First game of the Ionian Revolt down, and four more to go!  

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!           



Monday, March 13, 2023

Wargame Design: Grand Unifying Mechanic of Everything


I seem to recall something called the Grand Unified Theory in particle physics.  I am not a particle physicist, or much of a science lay-person for that matter.  I seem to recall it was a theory to bring Quantum physics and General Relativity together into one framework for understanding the universe.  Binding weak forces like electricity and magnetism together with the strange and unknown powers that bind the smallest atomic structures together.  This is referred to in physics as the Theory of Everything.  

So, what does this have to do with Wargaming? A strong set of wargaming rules should also run under a Theory of Everything or Grand Unifying Theory model.  Simply put, if rolling over a Target Number on a d6 is how you resolve the main mechanic of your game, then all game mechanics should use this same model.  

This is a surprisingly controversial contention!  There is a large number of successful games that do not use a Grand Unified Theory of Everything in their game design.  Instead, their mechanics may run on a number of mini-games or alternate methods for resolving gameplay interactions.  Again, put simply a game without a Grand Unified Theory of Everything may have you roll to beat a Target Number on a d6 for shooting, but then have you add up Mods with the highest winning when it is time to hit something with a stick.  Two different mechanics used to solved different game interactions.  

Lets look at a few examples to help illustrate the point: 

1. In Warhammer 40K 2nd Edition, you used a chart when shooting to determine the target number to hit a foe.  The opponents Ballistic skill played no part in the process.  However, when fighting in hand-to-hand, you compared the attacker and targets Weapon Skill to determine the target number.  The greater the mis-match between the two stats the easier/harder it was to connect.  

This is a Non-Grand Unified Theory of Everything approach. 

2. In Outremer: Faith and Blood from Osprey, the Target Number to succeed on a roll was 4+.  However, modifiers applied to the size of dice you rolled, but a 4+ was always a success.  This applied to shooting, hand-to-hand, psychology, etc.  Modifiers always changed the size of dice you were using.   
This is an example of Grand Unified Theory of Everything mechanics.  

Why a Grand Unified Theory of Everything Mechanic
Developing this type of mechanical approach to a game, is the hardest level of game design.  However, the benefits are great.

1. Improves ease of learning 
Once a player grasps the core concepts of the game, they never change.  This greatly reduces the ease of play and the learning curve for new games. 

2. Less cognitive load on the players
The player does not have to remember a bunch of If This/Then That mechanics, as they same core resolution methods exist.  

3. Streamlined play
The game itself can be expressed and executed in a quick, concise and streamlined manner.  The rules can then be summarized and expressed quickly and cleanly in a few pages.  The rules interactions are less complex. 

4. Fewer misunderstandings
The players know the Grand Unified Theory of Everything, and will easily be able to apply it to edge cases and avoid arguments.  

Why Wouldn't You Want a Grand Unifying Mechanic of Everything? 
Of course, there have many successful system that do not use the Grand Unified Mechanic of Everything.  There are a few reasons why designers may opt NOT to try and generate one for their games. 

1. They are HARD
It is not easy to come up with a Grand Unifying Mechanic of Everything!  Wargames are trying to cover a wide range of time frames, genres, and interactions and sometimes you just can't get them all to fit.  

2. It Doesn't DO What the Designer Wants
The rule of thumb for designing wargames is that the mechanics want to reflect the outcomes the designer wants to happen.  Sometimes, a Grand Unified Mechanic of Everything can not make it all come together the way the designer intends.  

3. Samey- Samey
Sometimes, a Grand Unified Mechanic of Everything does not allow the designer to express the uniqueness of the different elements of the game the designer wishes.  For example, your super-soldiers seem less super, or your aliens seem less alien. 

Final Thoughts
I strongly encourage any aspiring game designers to strive to create a Grand Unifying Mechanic of Everything for all of their games.  For me, the benefits outweigh the costs.  As you gain experience and expose yourselves to a variety of games, I have found that this process gets easier.  However, it is not a "deal breaker" for a game to not feature a Grand Unifying Mechanic of Everything.  Many successful games and systems do not have this as a feature.  

As always, the best choice of mechanics is the one that creates what the design is intending to create with their game.  

Good luck! 

Bonus Content
In honor of the Super Bowl, we pulled out the Blood Bowl boxed set.  We randomly rolled for the teams that I had and came up with Dwarfs vs. Lizard Men.  I took control of the Dwarf team and we got playing.  

The Lustria's Revenge took an early lead when a Skink managed to scoot around the edge of the line and managed to get to the end zone.  However, it cost the Revenge as a Lizard Man was taken out of the game.  

Then, the Dwarf Rock-n-Rollaz got the ball and went to work.  There wasn't enough time for them to score, but they did manage to take out a skink and another Lizard!

The Revenge kicked it back to the Dwarf team, and a nice reliable Dwarf cage managed to smash their way to the end zone.  However, they left about half of the half for the Revenge to retaliate.  

The kick-off went out to Revenge, and thanks to a touch back they gave it to a skink.  Some amazing hits early on knocked-out three dwarves in a handful of turns.  That really helped open up the field.  The Revenge managed to rush back in and score putting them up 2-1.  

The Rock-N-Rollaz got the ball back, and their three Dwarfs back to the field.  However, there just is not enough time for them to get back down the field.  Game over, and the Revenge wins 2-1. 

I hope you enjoyed these extra Blood Bowl content.  Later all. 

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!             

Monday, March 6, 2023

Wargame Design: Homer's Heroes: Bronze Age Bad Boys


Homer's Heroes: Bronze Age Bad Boys has been a glimmer in my eye for the past 4 years or so.  I am glad to report that it is finally done.  You can find it on the Wargames Vault here.  I have been interested in doing a Iliad or Homeric themed game for a very long time, but always faced one major hurdle.  That hurdle was the problem of overcoming Melee Yahtzee.  However, I spent a great deal of time thinking on this topic, as well as reading a lot of other wargames; before I finally came up with the answers I was satisfied with.  Thanks to that, I felt comfortable putting this game out into the wild.  

Going into this game, I had a few major design goals that I wanted to accomplish: 

1. Scale and Model agnostic (Of course!) 
2. Avoid Melee Yahtzee so combat has decision making
3. Model versus Model skirmish gaming
4. Chariots!  
5. Many Modes of Play
6. A veneer of Iliad inspired combat with a Campaign

Scale and Model Agnostic

I am pretty sure I have this one solved at this point!  Since there are so many great model ranges out there for the Argonauts, Trojan Wars, and historical Greeks I wanted to make sure people could use what they all ready have.  Since this is a Model vs. Model skirmish it became even easier to make scale and model agnostic.  

All measurements use a generic method called an MU or Measurement Unit.  I typically used 28mm models that were single based using 1 MU = 1 inch.  However, they is no reason you have to use that size of model or MU distance.  You can use whatever works with your collection.  In a pinch, you could even replace a single model with a base of models instead.  The rules will still work fine either way.  

The distance of an MU is left to the player based on model, basing, and size of table you wish to use.

 Avoid Melee Yahtzee

This was the most important aspect of the rules that I needed to get right!  Too many model vs. model games remove the decision making once two models get into Hand-to-Hand combat.  That would not work for a game like this, as then it would get boring really fast!  Here is how I went about trying to keep melee interesting: 

1.  Facings - It makes a difference where you are being engaged by, and a tactic can be engaging someone outside of their combat arc for advantage. 

2. Zone of Control- Models can control within 2MU of them, with some exceptions.  That means, you can disengage from combat by leaving this ZoC such as pushing an opponent back or choosing to disengage. 

3. Different Weapons and Armor - Each weapon or armor type has advantages and weaknesses.  For example, a spear gives an increased Zone of Control, or do more damage, or negate armor, or can be thrown, etc. 

4. Choose the Results Combat - Players can choose the results of combat, including dealing damage if they wish.  However, lesser fighters may want to slip out of the enemies combat arc, disengage, push them back, pin them down, etc.  That means, heroes have an advantage in combat, but can be countered. 

5. Damage- This is not always causing death, but can also cause enemies to run away, degrade, or route.  

6. Outnumbering- Their are big advantages to teaming up on a foe, so soldiers can bring down more skilled adversaries. 


This is not my first game with chariots, but I knew this would be an essential part of the game.  They feature strongly in The Iliad.  Therefore, I spent time making sure they had benefits for the charioteers, such as better armor, improved speed, and a better fighting platform.  However, their are also drawbacks as they can not turn on a dime.  They also allow some great cinematic moments such as leaping onto them.  Tossing riders out of  the back and commandeering them from their crew.      

Many Modes of Play

The default setting for the game is Versus play.  Two heroic retinues face each other in combat in one of the 6 or so scenarios in the book.  However, that is not the only mode of play.  The core rulebook sets up for solo, co-op, and campaign play.  

In campaign play, hitting certain milestones in game allows you to "Grow your Legend".  Growing your legend allows you to recruit lost soldiers, increase your connection with your patron god, modify the campaign going forward, or modify the upcoming scenario.  

There are also rules for Solo and Co-op rules.  This includes rules for Mythological Monsters to act as foes instead of other Greeks.  They include rules for a simple AI and special rules to customize your bestiary with monsters like Harpies, Men of the Dragon's Teeth, Amazons, Minotaurs, Hydras, and more.  In addition, once you defeat such a beast there are rules for adding it to your warband with Legends.  There are three special solo scenarios as well.  

Iliad and Greek Myth Veneer

To be one of Homer's Heroes, you need a little special something; and that usually takes the form of a connection with the gods!  Each Hero has a patron deity, and each patron provides your Hero with that little special something that makes them stand out above and beyond the normal soldier.  

In addition, there are three basic unit types in the game; Heroes, Seconds, and Soldiers.  Soldiers can perform all their actions with 1 dice, Seconds 2, and Heroes 3.  In addition, Heroes and Seconds have the opportunity to chain their actions with multiple activations.  This allows them to stand out from the common soldiers!  

Finally, their are simple rules for Myth Magic to recreate famous Greek characters like Circe, Orpheus, or Medea.  These simple magic rules can be used to add even more mythic madness to your games.  


This should give you a solid feel for what Homer's Heroes: Bronze Age Bad Boys has to offer.  If you all ready have a force of Greek miniatures you can easily get a game.  Each Hero and his troupe of followers is only 10 models at most.  If you are looking for a semi-historical, fantastical, model-vs-model skirmish campaign game with solo and co-op modes, then these should be of interest to you.

You can pick up Homer's Heroes: Bronze Age Bad Boys from the Wargames Vault 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!  

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!