Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The year in review

At the end of last year I had a post reviewing 2014 and making plans. Now that 2015 is almost done, how did I fare?
This is just a recycled image that for some reason I thought would fit with this post.
One post per week: if we say it is one post per week on average, or 52 posts a year, then this goal was reached, much because I focused on posting more on the blog during October-December, after an inactive period.

Moving to virtual tabletops: this did not really happen. I did not make a real effort to convert to virtual tabletops and most of my battle reports for this year were still on a real table. That said, with the added possibility of having to move to a smaller house, I will keep this goal for 2016.

Thorough, solo play-focused reviews: a partially completed goal. Over the year I only wrote a few more involved reviews (No End in Sight, Fernewelt, War Story) but I guess I could have covered a few more games.

More solo RPG sessions: other than Fernewelt, I did not really try any RPG systems during the year, so this goal was not reached. This is another goal I intend to keep for 2016.

So this is it for now. I intend to take a break from all things computer-related, especially blogs and social networking during the holidays, so expect new updates in January.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Thoughts on playing miniature games solo

Back in the first year of this blog, I wrote a little about how miniature skirmish games could be played solo. It was mostly a way to organize my thoughts on the subject, as I learned about new games and discovered other blogs discussing this.

These days I started thinking about it again -- maybe because the year is drawing to a close and thus my mind is sorting all the messy ideas floating around. So here is a slightly different take on that discussion: not limited to skirmish games and not trying to outline all possibilities. Instead, what follows is a presentation of how I have been playing solo miniature games.

Procedural narrative or "roll the dice and interpret the result"
Many of my solo games (most of them?) consist in a scenario with set objectives for the forces and rules to generate unexpected events (for instance 5150 Urban Renewal.) The fun lies in having this randomness add elements to the initial situation, and the narrative takes precedence over tactics. This category also includes games with limited tactical choices but strong narrative generators (for instance, Red Sun Black Moon.)

Scenario exploration or "play both sides of a weird setup"
Some of my games involve uneven or strange forces, or an atypical board setup. In these situations, I play both sides to the best of my ability, possibly with some random generator to add uncertainty. This is the case for most of my games of Song of Blades and Heroes, because it allows the creation of varied warbands. My recent Battle for Zorpel campaign using Five Core also falls in this category.

Automated opposition or "look up table X for the answer"
Some of my games are actually played against an artificial opponent, trying to use tactics to win the battle, usually with odds stacked against my forces. These mainly include the military-themed games from Two Hour Wargames, although the A.I. for X-Wing also works well.

What about force disposition systems (as found in USE ME and Five Core, for instance)? I have found in my games that they are useful to keep the enemy force's decisions consistent, However, I still have to make enough decisions for both sides that the games end up in either of the first two categories.

The same goes for card-driven activation, random activation rolls, random event tables and other similar mechanics: they add welcome uncertainty but in the end, decisions still must be made for both sides, such that the fun must (in my experience) lie in narrative or "what if" scenarios.

That is not to say there is anything wrong with playing with a focus on narrative, and I think this works well for the battle reports. However, it is something to keep in mind when I am planning my future campaigns.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Psycho mutant vs. killer robot

Desert Domain is a large city in post-apocalyptic earth. It attracts merchants, refugees, mercenaries and other survivors. It also houses the Arena of the Sun, a large and deep pit where gladiators fight for glory. On occasion, dangerous criminals are also placed on the arena for the entertainment of the survivors. This is the case for this fight.

The two criminals-turned-gladiators, Glorbh and KV-104.
On the left side of the arena is Glorbh, the psycho mutant. Given the opportunity, Glorbh would enslave all humans and establish a mutant kingdom on earth. On the right side is KV-104, the killer robot. KV has an elaborate plan to allocate all humans to work on robot factories and power plants. Luckily, both of them have been captured and now will fight to the death.

Savvy 5, Strength 5, Speed 4, 14 Bonus Dice
Brawler, Multiple arms, Rage
Light armor (AC 1), Hammer (1-hand, no reach bonus, +1d6 damage), Chain knife (1-hand, no reach bonus, +2d6 damage), Two pistols (damage 1d6, target 2)

Savvy 4, Strength 5, Speed 5, 14 Bonus Dice
Stout, Resolute, Wary
Heavy metal armor (AC 3), Energy ripper (1-hand, +1 reach bonus, +2d6 damage), Heavy blaster (damage 3d6, target 1)

I played both gladiators using the non-player gladiator tables. To find out when a gladiator would use a ranged attack instead of moving, I would roll 1d6 against savvy (after rolling on the NPG movement table.)

The two gladiators started moving towards the center of the arena. Glorbh fired one of his pistols but KV-104 spun around its waist and the shot just scratched its armor. The robot then responded by firing its blaster; its unbalanced position spoiled the shot, missing the mutant.
Starting the fight.
KV-104 reached the center of the arena and Glorbh jumped at him with both weapons ready. The robot stepped back and counter-attacked; its energy ripper cut the mutant's cloak but missed his body. The two fighters exchanged attacks for long seconds. Green-tinted sweat rolled off Glorbh's body.

Glorbh finally managed to stab KV-104 in the chest using his chain knife. The robot pulled back and two exhaust ports opened in its back, venting steam from its cooling systems. Glorbh fired his other pistol but missed. The robot charged at the mutant but he parried with his chain knife, damaging its arm. Glorbh kept on the offensive, slashing the robot's left leg and pushing it against the wall.
A moment during the fight. Many attack phases swinged back and forth, ending in a tie as the fighters were balanced.

The two fighters paused for a moment. Glorbh was panting, while sparks fizzled from the wounds in KV-104's arm and leg. Glorbh resumed the fight, trying to pin the robot against the wall, but was pushed back. KV-104 tried to counter-attack but was hit again in the chest.

This time, Glorbh pinned the robot against the wall and drove his chain knife deep into its chest. Overloading its servo-motors, KV-104 spun free, stumbled a few yards and fell to the ground.

Glorbh raised his four arms and screamed. His mad eyes scanned the audience: worthless humans that cheered over the spectacle. A strong net was cast over him, then the tranquilizer darts hit. Defeat or victory, which was worse?

Both fighters burned lots of bonus dice in their initial, ineffective ranged attacks. After that, the battle became very balanced: Glorbh had better attacks but KV-104 had much better armor. Due to a bit more luck in the maneuver rolls, Glorbh slowly chipped at the killer robot until the end.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Turning the Tide

This is the fourth report on the Battle for Zorpel.

This time I used MapTool instead of setting up a physical board. I made a couple of very simple tokens to represent units of the humans and skelebots in Inkscape.
A long way to go in learning vector drawing. Still, at least I can tell them apart :)
A couple of days after the previous mission, Don, Erick and Harry are sent to scout a nearby area and collect skelebot bodies (blue objective markers.) The plan is to analyze their communication systems in order to try to disrupt them. Meanwhile, a skelebot team is in the same area, tasked with securing a temporary base (red objective marker.)

Mission setup. Brown segments are ruined walls that block line of sight.
The skelebots split in two groups: one of them would secure their objective while the other would prevent the humans from completing theirs. The humans gained the initiative and started with a scurry, reaching their first objective. Then the skelebots advanced. One of them reached their objective, while two others guarded the second human objective.

Harry activated and fire at the visible skelebot, destroying it. Then Erick and Don advanced towards their second objective. The skelebots rolled a scurry and took the opportunity to position themselves around their objective.

Both sides on their way to completing their objectives.
On the following human turn, Don activated and entered the woods. The skelebot snap fired, missing. Don fired and knocked it down, then Erick moved in and disabled it. With this, the humans completed their objectives and prepared to leave. One of the remaining robots kept guarding their objective, while the other moved to engage the humans. They exchange fire, but no one got hurt.

The humans rolled a scurry and moved away, with one robot following. The robots then rolled a firefight and Erick was killed before they could get away. At this point, the robots completed their objective.
Never underestimate a berserk robot.
In the next turn, the humans also rolled a firefight. Don missed and was knocked down by the chasing skelebot. Then the robot reached the unconscious soldier and defeated him. Only Harry escaped the mission.

This resulted in a tie using the mission victory points system: both sides completed their assigned objectives and both sides defeated two enemy units. Harry gains another level (now level 2) and the Dodge skill.

When victory seemed certain, the robots nearly turned the tides. Lesson learned: never turn your back to the enemy.

As this was an opportunity mission, there is no change to the campaign progress. The next mission will be a personal mission, featuring Ford alone.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some top-down tokens for sci-fi games

I have created some top-down tokens for sci-fi miniature games. They were made using basing conventions for Alien Squad Leader (thus 50mm square bases for infantry, 50mm x 100mm bases for the AFVs) but should be usable with other games.
Preview of the tokens: for now, just infantry and AFVs
A 300-dpi file in PDF format, with tokens in red and blue, can be downloaded from this link. This file is available under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, e.g. you can share and remix but please give credit when doing so.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Defense systems

This is the third report on the Battle for Zorpel.

This battle happened during a larger conflict in one of the colonial settlements. Don, Erick, Ford, Harry were sent to activate the defensive systems (by contacting the building with the pillar and the blue structure in the ruins). The robots wanted to destroy the building with the pillar to disable defense systems. The robots had 1 commander, 1 scout and 1 rifleman.
Initial setup. Sorry for the awful lighting...
I started the game with a scurry turn. Erick moved and contacted the first objective, while Don ran towards the second and Harry took cover. The robot commander also moved forward and the robot rifleman advanced to the center of the board.

The robots rolled a scurry turn. The robot commander and scout moved to their objective. Don reached the building, thus completing the human objectives. However, the robots were still active and must be disrupted.

I rolled a scurry turn and moved Don to a better position. The robot scout reacted and moved in contact with the building he must destroy. The robots then rolled a firefight turn. Ford was knocked down and Don took the robot commander out of action.
Robot commander defeated.
I rolled another scurry turn. Ford recovered and took cover behind a building. The other robots also took better positions -- the robot scout took cover behind the building he must destroy. The robots rolled a normal turn. The robot scout failed to set the demolition charges, so the rifleman robot moved to help. However, Erick fired in reaction causing the robot to run back to cover.

I rolled a normal turn. Don advanced and shot the robot scout, for no effect. Harry moved and disabled the knocked down rifleman robot. Ford moved back towards the ruin. The robots rolled a scurry turn. The robot in the ruins ran to cover, in order to help with the demolition charges. Harry and Ford moved in response, getting to better positions.

I rolled a scurry turn but did not move. The robots rolled a normal turn. The scout robot blasted Don, taking him out of action. Harry snap fired at the other robot when he left cover, but missed.

I rolled a normal turn and Harry fired at the robot scout, knocking him down. Ford moved to a position to ambush the last robot. The robots rolled a normal turn. The scout remained knocked down. The other robot reached him and set the demolition charge (Ford snap fired but missed.)
Demolition charge planted!
I rolled a normal turn. Harry took the standing robot out of action and Ford disabled the scout robot. On the next human turn, Harry disabled the demolition charge. Victory for the humans (19 victory points against 0).

After the battle
Harry gained a level, becoming a character of the Heavy class.

The battle at the settlement was a major victory, and the robots had heavy losses. On the other hand, Ford got injured as the battle continued, and must rest for 7 days to recover. [I rolled the campaign events: Milestone reached and Injury].

The battle could have been won by the third turn, but this would not have prevented the robots from achieving their goal. Still, there were no changes in campaign progress.

The next battle will happen two days later, so Ford will not be available. It will be an opportunity mission (something not directly related to the war effort.)

Monday, December 7, 2015

A solo review of War Story

War Story is the most recent title from Nordic Weasel Games (NWG). It is a mix of story generator and light, story-oriented rules for miniature games. Due to its nature, it is presented as more adequate for cooperative or solo play. For these reasons, I could not resist the urge to pick it up and give it a try.

When I got the PDF book, I was mostly curious about the narrative rules system. Other titles from NWG have campaign generators that work well, and I assumed that some of that expertise would be applied in this title, too (spoiler: the book does contain a scenario generator.)

The text starts in a very general tone, discussing possibilities and play styles for the game. It sounds like a "meta description" of miniature games, and I suppose the decision to write it this way was to have a core set of rules that may be further expanded. This also means that newcomers to miniature games will probably end up reading through the book more than once or looking for tips elsewhere to figure out what options to use.

The action resolution system reminded me of the task system from Five Core, extended to deal with different situations during the game. Combat is similarly resolved with a single roll, as the level of detail here is that of narrative events, not recreating each moment of a firefight. There is also a system to answer general questions about the scenario, which is like a simplified Enquiry Table.

But how does it play?
Having read through the 27 pages of the book, the next step was to play a game to find out how it feels. There is no set scale for the game; instead, it is one of the things that players must define. I liked the insight that ground scale and time scale are tied together by the standard movement rate of units; while not stated, this is what is going on.

In this scenario, an invading force (on the left) must attack and destroy the defenders' outpost. The invaders have two regular squads, an infiltration team and an assault squad who are in charge of destroying the target. The defenders have three regular squads. One is guarding the outpost, and the other two are on patrol. Each figure represents two soldiers.
Setup for the test game.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Communications breakdown

This is the second report of the Battle for Zorpel.

This time, the forces met in the ruins of a robot base. The humans must destroy a robot communication core, while the robots needed to retrieve a safe box containing important information.

The robots had one commander, one assault bot and a regular infantry bot. Their plan was to have one robot retrieve the safe box while the others would attack the humans. The human team was Don, Erick and Ford. Don was carrying the demolition charges.
Setup for the battle.
The human team went first [and opted to have a scurry turn, in order to approach their objective.] Don approached the communication core and the robot commander moved in response.

The robots got a normal turn. The commander shot Don, for no effect. The assault bot closed in and attacked Ford, but lost the brawl and was taken out of action. The last robot dashed towards the safe box.

The human team got a normal turn. Don failed setting the demolition charge. Ford moved and fired at the robot commander, taking him out of action. Erick moved and set the demolition charge.
Ford shot the robot commander in the back...
The robots got a firefight turn but nobody was in sight. The humans then got a normal turn; Don moved from the ruins and shot the last robot, taking it out of action. Victory for the humans (14 victory points against 0 for the robots).

After the battle
The human team got a new recruit, Harry. Ford gained a level, becoming a rifleman [note: in this campaign, given the small field of battle, a rifleman adds a single grenade to the group.] The soldiers gain 2 days of rest [adding +1 point of high spirits for the next battles].

With this decisive victory, the campaign progress score goes back to zero. Next mission is another random military mission.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Friends in High Places - solo card game

Last week I sketched a solo card game. After some play testing and converting the rules to English, here it is.


This is a solo deck-building game that can be played with a regular 52-card deck. The goal of the game is to gain influence over the King of Diamonds. To reach that goal, you will need to influence other nobles higher and higher in the court.

Remove these cards: jokers, 2 of hearts, spades and diamonds, and kings of clubs, spades and hearts. Prepare your starting deck with the four aces, and the cards 2, 3 and 4 of clubs. Shuffle them well. Prepare the court deck by shuffling the remaining cards.

Playing the game
Follow these steps for each game turn:
1) Your nobles arrive at the court: deal four cards from your deck to make up your hand for the turn. If there are not enough cards on your deck, shuffle your discards to make a new deck. If at any time your whole deck (including discards) has less than 4 cards, you lose the game.
2) Other nobles arrive at the court: deal four cards from the court deck on the table, to make up the court. If there are not enough cards on the court deck, shuffle the court discards to make a new court deck. If at any time the whole court deck (including discards) has less than 4 cards, you lose the game.
3) Court intrigue: you must remove from the game either two cards from the court or one card from your hand. These cards will not be used for the rest of the game, so choose carefully!
4) Influence: now you can use cards from your hand to acquire one card from the court, respecting the following rules:
  • The suits represent spheres of influence, in order: clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds.
  • You can add the values of cards of a suit to acquire a card of the same suit with the same or lower value. Jacks are worth 11, Queens are worth 12, the King of Diamonds is worth 13. Example: you can use a 2 and a 3 of clubs to acquire a 5 of clubs that is on the court this turn.
  • You can also add cards of a suit and use half of the total (rounded down) to acquire a card of the next sphere of influence. For instance, you can combine a 2 and a 5 of hearts (total 7, divided by two = 3) to acquire a 3 of spades. It is not possible to skip spheres (e.g. acquire a card of spades with a combination of cards of clubs).
  • Aces can be used to reduce the value of a card of the same suit on the court. For instance, you can acquire a 5 of spades with the ace of spades and a 4 of spades. Likewise, you can acquire the 3 of hearts with the ace of hearts and the 2 and 4 of clubs.
  • Cards of different suits cannot be added together. For instance, if your hand consists of 2 and 4 of clubs and 3 and 4 of hearts, you may acquire up to a 6 of clubs, a 7 of hearts or a 3 of spades.
5) An acquired card is placed on your discard pile. You immediately win the game when you acquire the King of Diamonds.
6) As the last step of the game turn, discard the remaining cards on the court to the court discard pile, and any cards you used or still on your hand to your discard pile. Go back to step 1 and keep playing more turns until you win or lose.

If the game seems too easy, try one or both of these optional rules:
a) Lost opportunities: After the court discard pile is shuffled (on step 2), turn open the first card. If it is the King of Diamonds, place it at the bottom of the court deck. Otherwise, remove it from the game.
b) Royal family: The King of Diamonds may only be acquired with other cards of the diamonds suit.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Battle for Zorpel: Extermination service

This is the first battle report for Battle for Zorpel campaign.

In this mission, the human group was called to clean an infestation of forest jellies from an outpost. What they did not know was that a group of skelebots was on their way to recover a probe nearby. [I rolled the outpost terrain. Each building corresponded to two Ikubes.]
Board setup created with the mission generator.
As the robots had one level, I gave them a commander figure. All robots were armed with blast rifles and cyber claws or saws [winning a brawl on a draw.] All soldiers were armed with infantry rifles.

I had the first turn of the game, rolling a normal turn. Don fired at the red jelly with no effect. Alex fired at the robot commander, and he flinched, moving into the woods. Brent entered the wooded area, firing again at the commander. He bailed, and then fled the battle.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

First impressions: Savage Worlds Showdown for solo play

Recently I read and played a bit with Savage Worlds Showdown, the free set of miniature rules based on Savage Worlds RPG. It is available as a PDF book 44 pages long and very well produced.

Miniatures are grouped into units, and the game assumes most of a player's force will be organized this way, although it is also possible to have single miniatures acting independently -- usually heroic figures, or "Wild Cards." Each unit or figure has a number of traits and skills, adapted from the role-playing game, which are rated in terms of dice size, e.g. Agility d8. Action resolution involves rolling one or more dice against a target number, and on a few occasions players roll against each other.

There is also a handy unit builder spreadsheet to calculate point values for different figures and groups. Even those not inclined to use point systems may use it to get a feeling of how to build new profiles, based on the samples included. The upside is that units can be varied and detailed; the downside is that setting up a force takes some time.

Although the game does not provide any rules for solo play, it does have a number of features that make it suitable for that purpose. Specifically, I would highlight the following:

  1. The rules for "rogues", figures that act independently of the players and may attack anyone, may also be used as a basis for a simple "artificial intelligence" for automated enemies.
  2. The card-based activation system provides an order of activation of units, thus removing the need for a solo player to select which enemy to activate.
  3. The "fortune and calamity" system adds random events that are welcome in solo play, as they provide another source of uncertainty.
On the other hand, there are a few problem points in adopting these rules to play alone. Here are the ones that drew my attention and some proposals to handle them:
  1. The choice of when to use "bennies" can be problematic. Removing them altogether is probably not the best option, unless playing a "gritty" scenario. My approach is to roll a six-sided die to decide if a "benny" should be spent. If the roll is equal to or lower than the current number of available "bennies", then it is spent. Subtract 1 from the roll if the "benny" would be used for a soak roll of a Wild Card.
  2. The choice of when to hold an action can also be problematic. One option is to simply remove this action from the game. An alternative is to judge the option to hold an action as one would consider the option to set a unit on overwatch in other games, e.g. if it would benefit from guarding an area.
In my test games, combat with modern weapons was very lethal: a single pistol shot is quite likely to take down a figure, and smaller units soon start suffering morale effects. Therefore, a large table with lots of terrain is recommended.

My initial impressions of Savage Worlds Showdown are positive. It may take some time to build the unit cards but the game flows quickly, with a simple turn sequence and combat resolution. The trait and skill rolls are very flexible and might be used for battles with role-play and stunt elements. It is worth a try for those interested in an alternative for large skirmish games (say, up to platoon size). It might also work with a handful of Wild Cards fighting each other, but I have not tried that. Although the system does not include support for solo play, it is not hard to adapt it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Battle for Zorpel

During the Skeletron Incursion on our galaxy, several human colonies were attacked. The invaders would send a factory ship to land on the planet, and then start producing hordes of robotic soldiers to dominate or destroy the colonists.

A recently-installed orbital defense cannon at the Zorpel colony damaged the invader ship as it entered the planet's atmosphere. The colonial troops then gathered to repel the robot invaders. A large force was mobilized to attack and destroy the factory ship. Meanwhile, multiple teams would run disruption missions against robot targets.

This is the beginning of my new campaign, the Battle for Zorpel. I intend to use the various campaign and mission generators that are part of Five Core 2nd Edition, including the victory point system for missions and the campaign progress system. Therefore, Progress starts at 0; the campaign will be won if it reaches +10, and it will be lost if it reaches -10.
Skelebot invaders (including leader) and colonial troops.
In addition to the mission and terrain generation rules present in the book, I will use the following system to generate the board: Roll one die to determine if the battle will be fought on a settlement (1-2), ruins (3-4) or an outpost (5-6).

The board will always have six terrain pieces spread around. Each area has different odds of generating terrain pieces:

  • Settlement: buildings (1-4) or ruins (5-6)
  • Ruins: woods (1-3) or ruins (4-6)
  • Outpost: woods (1-3), buildings (4-5) or ruins (6)
 The campaign will follow the adventures of one disruption team. I will start with four "goons": Alex, Brent, Charles and Don, who might level up and become characters along the campaign. The enemy will always have one more level than my forces.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Breaking through!

While I was looking at my collection of rules, I found out that I had never tried the Gunstorm solo skirmish rules by Spacejacker. So I picked up some miniatures and set out to do that. Instead of chits for phases and wounds, I used cards from a common deck. Not as simple to manipulate as I had to keep shuffling the wound deck, but usable.

In my trial games I just used two squads of regular soldiers with light armor, assault blasters and no stunts [other stats were Shoot +2, Fight +2, Sprint 0]. The enemy squad must break through my defenses and escape through my board edge.
Enemy on the left, my squad on the right.

In the first game, I forgot to roll the guts saves when a model was hit. This, combined with drawing only "dead" counters, resulted in a very lethal game. The enemy crossed the bridges but was defeated before escaping. The game played in 15 minutes or so, and this made me want to play a bit more.

In the second game, the guts save rolls made the enemy survive longer, and they even killed more of my troops, but in the end, did not complete their objective.

For the third game, I decided to use Aleksandar's alternate wound resolution, presented at the end of his battle report for Gunstorm. This completely removed the need for a wound deck. The result was a faster game as I did not have to reshuffle the wound deck. If using chits, I suppose the speedup would have been minimal. As I was using a small number of figures, the game played a bit longer as one-hit kills were less likely.
I used dice to mark bleeding wounds.

I liked Gunstorm, even playing with basic troops. The game plays quickly and the solo mechanisms work well. I liked the movement table, which makes the enemy more cautious as they lose units. The variable turn sequence is another favorite mechanic. My only doubt is about the use of the "power" stat for ranged weapons, as I did not see it mentioned anywhere in the rules.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pseudo-Tactical Simulation

I picked up "Professor Badger's Quasi-whimsical Pseudo-Tactical Simulation of Military Encounters of a Science Fiction Persuasion at the Company Level" by impulse, as it was offered at a deep discount from the already low regular price. Besides, who could resist such an intriguing title?

The rules are set in 10 pages plus cover, in what one might call a "no-nonsense" style: The first paragraph gets straight to starting the game, of which you know nothing about in your first read. After that come turn structure, unit actions, unit definitions and their stats, unit creation rules and three scenarios.

The forces created to test the game.
Visually, the book could have been improved in layout and would gain a lot from the inclusion of some diagrams or pictures, for instance, in the scenario descriptions. The writing is too concise (and there are also a number of typos and mistakes around), and some examples of the rules and unit creation would be helpful.

It took me three reads to get the rules, due to the problems above (and I am not sure if someone new to miniature games would understand the game enough to play it.) Still, once I was done, the important question became: "how does it play?"

The first step was to create some units. The rules allow the creation of infantry squads and vehicles. These are then combined into infantry platoons and vehicle platoons. I made a regular squad of soldiers and a medium attack vehicle, considering the limits to unit stats.

Infantry squad (Trained, armed with assault rifles)
AIM 4 / STR 2 / ARM 3 / MLE 7 - 14 points per squad

Battle tank (Trained, with a light gun and HMG, movement type: tracked)
AIM 6 / STR 4 / ARM 5 / MLE 8 - 28 points per tank

Then I created two opposing forces using these units, each one adding to 336 points:

2 infantry platoons, 4 squads per platoon (including command)
2 tank platoons, 4 tanks per platoon (including command)

2 infantry platoons, 3 squads per platoon (including command)
3 tank platoons, 3 tanks per platoon (including command)

And finally I put them to fight each other in a board with some rough terrain, using the basic victory condition (80% casualties). I played with reduced scale counters (equivalent to 6mm miniatures), measuring distances in centimeters on a 60cm x 90cm board. With assault rifle fire reaching 50cm (or 50" in the rules), the board still felt a bit small.

Setup for my test battle.
A few remarks about the rules: activation is per squad or single vehicle, and based on card draws. It is therefore possible that one side activates three squads in a row before play passes to the enemy. Combat is resolved with each side rolling a die and adding modifiers given by the units and context. Morale checks are performed on specific circumstances.

While playing, I assumed that suppression and fatigue only affected infantry units, and that the "fire and maneuver" option was only available to infantry squads, too. There were a few other questions raised:

  • What are the arcs of fire of units? I adopted the usual 45 degrees to either side but I am not sure if this is the case. 
  • When do the forced moves caused by failed morale tests happen? Some of them explicitly state that they happen immediately, others do not.
  • How does line of sight interact with broken terrain, cover and elevations? This is a point in which different rule sets tend to disagree, so I am not sure about the approach here. 

"Professor Badger's..." is a light game that delivers what it promises in its long title. Do not expect detailed modeling of unit profiles for various alien races or special equipment: this is mostly sci-fi human (or human-like alien) grunts and tanks, with some options to add variety. However, it did work well, fast and did not feel overly simplistic. It also does not require many counters on the table (only to mark hunkered down and damaged units.)

I really wish the author creates a revised version of the game, including more examples and adding a little more detail in all areas.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Maquis app for android

Maquis is a free solo print and play board game that uses the "worker placement" mechanic. It was on my "to-build" list for a while but recently I found that there is an app version of it.
My first game did not last more than three turns.
My first attempts at playing were laughably bad. When placing your characters, you must take care to keep an escape route back to the safe house. Otherwise, they get arrested. By lack of attention and planning, my three maquisards were arrested in few turns, thus ending the game. I still have to win a game in the Normal difficulty.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Compact FUBAR

It had been a while since I played a battle using FUBAR 4.0, so I decided to refresh my memory about this great rules system. Initially, I set up a scenario in a board a bit less than 2'x2', with various wood patches and some clear paths around them. The invading squads (on the bottom of the picture) must reach the objective, represented by the red 20-sided die, and spend one turn in contact with it to win.
In hindsight, given greater numbers to the defenders was unfair.
I played both sides in this battle. At the beginning of the game, the forces took positions in cover of the wooded areas. It took me some turns of firing back and forth, suppressing figures and recovering, to realize that I needed other tactics.
The squad at the bottom advanced to the smaller match of wood, and the one at the top-right also moved to cover.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Xenomorph is a simple dice-rolling game available for 50 cents at DrivethruRPG. You create a character by allocating points to four stats and then play up to 20 turns trying to escape an alien-infested station.

My "control panel" for Xenomorph: health, skills and turn counter.
On my first game, I spent three hours trying to bypass a jammed door, only to then face an alien and die in combat.

I started fighting a small xenomorph on my second game. It was easily killed. Then I found a shield that improved my defense. Then I found an alien scout and died again.

On the third game, I found a shield right away, then met a brute alien -- game over.

This is a very simple game, with very low odds for the player. Still, it works well to kill a few minutes. Although there are similar offerings for free, like Dice of the Living Dead, I think it is worth the price. The publisher also has a number of other mini-games at similar prices, and some free downloads.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Machines vs. Raiders

This is the first battle report using my scratch-built starships and Full Thrust Lite. I just played both sides in this game. The scale was 1 m.u (measurement unit) = 1/2 inch.

Here is the scenario: Patrol ships (in suspiciously matching numbers and types) from the Empire of Machines (in blue) and Space Raiders (in red) meet in deep space and engage in combat [each side had a frigate, a destroyer and a light cruiser, all armed only with beam weapons].

Turn 2: the ships get within firing range. The machines win the initiative and their light cruiser damages the raider's cruiser and destroyer. However, the raiders' light cruiser strikes back, crippling two of the beam cannons from the machine light cruiser.

Turn 3: as the ships move closer, the frigate from the machines heavily damages the raiders' destroyer. The machine cruiser causes some more damage but loses its two fire control systems in another attack from the raiders' cruiser.

Turn 4: while the machine cruiser and raider destroyer move away from the battle, having lost all guns or control systems, the raiders' cruiser fires all of its remaining beams at the machine frigate, destroying it.

Turn 5: the raiders' light cruiser attacks the Machine Empire destroyer, which is their last ship in fighting condition. Their light cruiser flees, heavily damaged.

After the battle, the Space Raiders' frigate had one gun, one thruster and one hull box remaining. Their destroyer was in similar condition but also missing its fire control system. Their light cruiser was mostly operational, having lost a single cannon and three hull boxes.

The playing field for this game was even a bit smaller than the one I previously used, but the smaller measurement unit allowed some more maneuvering. Playing with stands instead of counters was also more fun.

I think it is possible to develop an "artificial intelligence" to play this game solo, similarly to the very nice one for X-Wing. I still have to finish reading Full Thrust Cross Dimensions and play more games before I try doing something like this.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A couple of painted miniatures

Finishing my miniature painting reports from last weekend, I painted my first two figures from Fields of Gore, a skirmish miniatures game made in Brazil. Here is the finished work. The guy on the left is "Kharlazan, the Magnificent" and the other one is a demon called "Yrktu".

I would dare say these reach "tabletop quality".
After taking these pictures I added some flock to the bases, but the result was not really great.
It is fun to think that I delayed painting these for quite a while. In the end, the result was somewhat messy, but more than enough to play (and some wounds and scabs on Yrktu ended up looking good.)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Painted paper starships

Previously I wrote about the paper starships I was building to play space games. Last weekend I finally painted and mounted them on stands.
The ships, made of thick cardstock, and stands made of toothpicks and foamcore.
I picked up two simple and contrasting color schemes, mostly for visibility on the table.
However, placing blue starships over a blue cutting mat was not the greatest idea.
And here are the results. The ships were glued to the stands with a mix of superglue and white glue.
The two small fleets ready to fight.
Now I am almost ready to play Full Thrust and other games. I just have to get a sheet or two of black cardstock to use as a playing area. I still need to flash, prime and then paint my metal starships too. However I am thinking of using blue-gray and green-gray color schemes on them.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween and zombies

Today I played a zombies game for Halloween. The rules are based on All Things Zombie, with some ideas from the "I, Zombie" supplement and also from the "Trick or T(h)reat" mission from Zombicide.

Two survivors, Jack (rep 5 star) and Stan (rep 4), both carrying shotguns, are looking for supplies an abandoned neighborhood. What they do not know is that a mutated zombie is also lurking around. There are six buildings in the map and upon entering them a card is drawn: a number means the building is empty; a face card means supplies have been found; the ace means the mutant zombie appears.
From left to right: Jack, the Muant Zombie and Stan. Shotguns are a blessing and a curse in All Things Zombie, as they can draw a lot of undead after each shot.
The mutant zombie has Rep 4, can move 8" (but cannot fast move) and activates after all normal zombies. When active, it moves towards the closest target. It automatically defeats zombies in melee, and rolls 4 dice when fighting survivors. It cannot be defeated; when an "out of the fight" or "obviously dead" result is rolled, it is stunned and must pass 2d6 when next active to recover.

To win, the survivors have to find at least two supply cards and get away from the board. Here is the initial setup, already with the first zombies placed.
Surrounded by zombies!
Initially, Jack and Stan fired their weapons at the zombies to their left and right, destroying four of them. This attracted more zombies and they had to fight some in melee but after a couple of turns, they managed to enter the first building, only to find it empty. The second building revealed the Mutant Zombie, but luckily they activated first and moved away from it.

The two survivors reached the third building but the mutant also reached them. Stan was taken out of the fight and Jack entered the building. Inside, he fought the mutant and stunned it, then escaped with the supplies and also carried Stan.

Jack won the melee by a single success...
Since the mutant failed its recovery rolls, Jack entered another building, finding more supplies. Later, the mutant zombie resumed chasing him, but he was already close to the exit.

This was a quick and simple game. To make the scenario more challenging, I would require the survivors to leave the board by the same edge they entered.

Today I also managed to paint and build some miniatures but that will be the subject of other posts.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

300 posts!

With the post from tuesday, this blog reached the mark of 300 published posts, in a little less than five years! I will leave a summary of post contents and frequency to the end of the year (or maybe the next anniversary of the blog.)

For the curious, post #100 was Trick or Treat, a halloween scenario for Song of Blades and Heroes, published in October 2011. Post #200 was a short first-impressions review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey board game by Reiner Knizia, in July 2013. The longer intervals between each hundred posts are a consequence of the decreasing post frequency... hopefully, post #400 will not take so long!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


I recently picked up Fernewelt ("distant world" according to Google Translate), a free, 9-page story-oriented RPG system. It is a very compact and simple set of rules to describe characters and resolve actions. The rules nicely tie greater risks to greater rewards, which makes me think it is best fit for fantasy or epic stories.

There are also some tools intended to help playing without a game master: first, a creativity tool in which you generate three random letters and interpret them in the context of your game. This is a welcome addition to the solo RPG toolbox, along with Mythic tables, Universal NPC generator etc. Then there are random lists for motivation, crime, plot twists, behavior and a number of other things.

The text is generally clear and to the point. The only doubt I had was how to judge a character's competence in order to determine their chance of success. I have assumed it is evaluated based on the character's profession and nature (and thus, depends on the players and narrative, rather than stats.) That said, I can imagine players could write down important skill ratings, e.g. "average strength" or "bad driving skills", for their characters. As with other story-driven RPGs, it seems that the author assumes all players are interested in taking part in a story and use common sense, so there are no concerns about "exploits" or players trying to create an invincible character.

To try the system, I played a very quick game, in which a goblin attempts to steal a relic from the church of a village.

The story of Speedy
"Speedy" is a goblin that left his tribe to join a band of greenskin bandits. To prove his worth, he must steal a golden relic from the human settlement of Discipline. It is a small village with a temple at its center and a small garrison of empire troops. Speedy's profession is "trickster": he is undisciplined, sometimes even careless, but also very adept at hiding and misplacing things. He has a mental nature, being very quick to notice and react. His usual equipment is a dirty cloak and a knife.

Speedy reaches the outskirts of the village as the sun is setting. Keeping behind bushes, he observes the villagers and guards. He decides to wait until later to start his mission. [I rolled for a small chance for him to be detected while waiting. It did not happen.]

Carefully, Speedy sneaks through the village, avoiding the attention of the guards. At one point, a dog starts barking but he manages to hide behind a wall, undetected. Finally, he reaches the temple. [In my judgement, sneaking across the village at night was a "normal move" for the goblin, as he was alone and unencumbered. I also judged his sneaking ability at a "trained" level. These corresponded to a "possible" chance of success, corresponding to a difficulty rating of 4 (on a six-sided die.) I decided that the consequence of failure would be a wound, not to end his adventure right away. Since I rolled a 4, I decided to add the barking dog -- although the rules do not discuss degrees of success.]

Speedy peeks into the temple and sees nobody. On a table by the far wall rests the relic that he must steal [I rolled to see if there would be anyone inside, with a 50/50 chance.] He sneaks in, then crawls up to the table. The goblin unties his cloak and uses it to wrap the relic, and crawls back to the entrance. At this moment, a dog starts barking again -- but it is on a leash held by a guard on patrol. He releases the dog and shouts, calling for other guards. Speedy starts to run, grabbing the relic. He gets out of sight of the guard but the dog catches up with him and a gruesome fight happens. When Speedy's knife stabs finally kill the creature, his face and arms are torn and his leg is deeply wounded. [Given Speedy's story, I decided he would also have a 50/50 chance of taking the artifact and sneaking out of the temple unnoticed. Since this was his main goal, I decided he would need a reward of "find an artifact". This implied a risk of being disabled. Unfortunately I failed.]

Weak from the fight and the wounds, Speedy tries to crawl out of the village but guards find his trail, and then his twitching body. They recover the relic, and in the following weeks, increase their patrols in and around the village. [Due to the circumstance, I decided that escaping the village was a special move at average ability (thus reflecting the goblin's wounds.) The consequence of failure would be death. I needed to roll a 1, and instead rolled a 2.]

I found that the action resolution system worked well when used to resolve the outcome of a scene in a story. It is interesting to note that the consequence of an action (wounded, disabled) can be physical, mental or social. So, for instance, I might have opted to make Speedy socially disabled when he failed to sneak out of the temple: he might drop the relic and flee, and then be kicked out of the bandit gang and mocked so much that he gets a local reputation of being a coward. It is a matter of choosing what works better in the story.

I think that interpreting degrees of success and failure may be helpful to add details to the action resolution rolls. It may also reduce the problem with using only a six-sided die, which causes large steps in the chance of success between difficulty ratings. For instance, since I failed the last roll by 1, maybe Speedy could have escaped but become permanently scarred, rather than die.

In any case, Fernewelt was a welcome surprise and should be checked out by anyone interested in solo RPGs. The various generators may also come handy for miniature gamers playing campaigns or other story-driven games.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Laser (printed) Mechs

After a while, I came back to building 6mm Armor Grid miniatures. Following the suggestion from Wouter on the comments of my previous post on this subject, this time I colored them using color pencils. These are also scaled to 40% of the original size, but I printed both the uncolored and gray versions -- the gray ones give a nice, not too dark shading on a laser printer.
Left: uncolored (line art) painted green, right: gray (shaded) painted blue
The process of cutting, painting the edges black and building them was not hard, and the new models from the Mech Factory set are even easier to cut as the legs and torso come in separate parts.
Another view. These models stand about 3/4" tall
Up close, the shaded version looks better. From a distance, the line art-only version is brighter and thus, more readable. Even then, though, I would probably use the shaded version to build an army.

Hand-coloring paper miniatures takes away (at least part of) one of their advantages, but I was curious about how good or bad they would look. I am satisfied with these results, so I will probably keep trying this with other models and miniatures -- especially in 2mm, 6mm and 15mm scales.