Monday, March 18, 2024

Fantastic Battles — A Review

 This winter has been a quiet season for my wargaming hobby, but I am hoping that spring inspires me to some fresh activity.

I thought I would get back in the game with a review of Fantastic Battles by Nic Wright. Fantastic Battles (copyright 2020) is a generic fantasy mass battle game.  It is available as a PDF from Wargame Vault for about $11, and as a POD hardcopy from Amazon for about $20.

In considering whether I am going to purchase a new set of rules the basing conventions are the first thing that concerns me. I have vowed to avoid rebasing my miniatures collections at all costs, so I became interested in Fantastic Battles when I learned (from discussions on the Lead Adventure Forum) that it was intended for troops based on squares with a small number of individually based characters to act as commanders.  60mm bases are recommended for 25mm figures, and 40mm for smaller figures. Conveniently, this is how most of my 25mm fantasy collection is based, so it would have seemed like looking a gift horse in the mouth to reject the opportunity to purchase and try these rules.  I should note here that there are also some minor suggested rules changes to account for the use of troops on rectangular bases.

6mm Fantastic Battles with rectangular bases

The actual rules are about 40 pages long, including the lists of spells and unit attributes (“traits”) described below.  There are also four pages devoted to a short campaign system (to be played on a node-and-link map of areas and communications routes), a selection of twelve fantasy armies with points precalculated for suggested units types which cover the usual fantasy trops (humans, halflins, dwarves, elves, goblins, ratmen, lizard men, and undead) plus a set of twelve mostly historical army lists in six matched pairs ranging from Greeks and Trojans to Conquistadors and Aztecs. The book concludes with a two page quick reference sheet.

The rules describe themselves as “setting agnostic”, which is to say that there is no specific background given, and the army construction rules should allow you the flexibility or build whatever sort of fantasy army you like.  Each “company” (a single one of the square bases mentioned previously) is built from a basic type (elite, formed, irregular, fantastic beast, dragon, artillery, or vehicle) customized by adding some of the forty traits to it.  An army can have one overall defining trait (say “Drilled”  for Romans or Gondorians) and each unit can have up to three additional traits. For example, a company of knights might be an elite company with “mounted” and “furious charge”. Each company has five basic statistic: resolution (number of hits it can sustain), move (in base widths or “BWs”), melee (number of dice thrown in combat), shooting (number of dice thrown at short and long range), and defense (target number for an enemy’s attack rolls), plus a base point cost for purchase. The various traits will alter those numbers.  Mounted, for example, increases resolution, move, and melee, as well as increasing the cost.  There are negative traits as well. “Militia”, for example, reduces melee (and cost). Each company’s final statistics and cost are the sum of the base type values plus all of the selected trait values. Costs range from about 25 for an irregular company of goblin warriors to 50 or more for a company of elite knights.

The rules recommend playing with an army cost of about 750 points, and some points will need to be allocated to the command characters.  These come in four basic types, warlord, magician, captain, and rogue. They cost between 25 points for a captain or rogue and 75 points for a combined warlord/magician. So, a 750 point army might consist of three or four characters and perhaps 15 companies (with an average cost of 40).  The game recommends playing a battle this size on a table 30 BW by 20 BW.  For 60mm bases that would work out to be 4x6 feet.  For 40mm bases, a dining room table is probably sufficient.

Before the battle each player organizes his companies into units of one to four identical companies.  These units will be permanent for the duration of the battle. Units of more than one company may adopt one of three formations, line, column, and tortoise, and may change between them as needed during the game. These units pool the resolution points of all the component companies, so that a unit of four companies of irregular goblins at 3 resolution points each would have a total resolution of 12, and will be removed entirely when it takes 12 hits, with no intermediate removals of companies.  So you can organize your army into bulky units with good staying power, or smaller flexible units which are more brittle.

Each turn during the game will consist of three phases: shooting, actions (i.e. maneuvers), and melee. In the shooting phase, all companies with a shooting ability and within range of an enemy may shoot.  Shooting and melee both use the same dice system; a number of dice per shooting company is rolled, and any that equal or exceed the target’s defense value reduce the unit’s resolution.  Markers of some sort, or a roster system, will be needed to track hits during a game. At the end of the shooting phase any units which have taken more hits than their resolution rating are removed, so units always have a chance to shoot back before elimination.

In the “actions” phase, each player has a number of tokens in a cup (or cards in a deck). These are drawn one at a time.  The first draw for each player will activate all of their “impetuous” units, which is defined as those beyond the command radius of a character.  Impetuous units roll a six-sided die, and have a 50% chance of moving as the player wishes; otherwise they will be compelled to retreat, charge, or hold. After the impetuous units are dealt with, each draw will allow the player to activate one character and the units within their command radius. Units may perform various maneuvers; characters have additional possibilities such as spell casting or rallying troops. Enemy units about to be contacted by a unit of the active player may (depending on traits) be able to perform a response, such as evasion or countercharge.

Romans flanking the elves; note cards for initiative and dials to mark hits

When all tokens have been drawn and all actions completed, there is a melee phase.  All units in contact roll melee dice against the defender’s target number as with shooting.  Bonus dice are available for the usual sorts of situations, such as charging and flanking.  Successes reduce the target’s resolution, and, like shooting, destroyed units are removed at the end of the melee phase and therefore still fight back.

The mechanics are fairly simple and straighforward. Players with any background in wargames with miniatures should be able to oick them up quickly. Based on our trial games so far, players should be able to finish a 750 point recommended size game in under two hours, even allowing some time to look up a few rules as you go. The electronic version of the rules also includes an Excel spreadsheet which will calculate unit costs and allow you to print a basic army list.  I would recommend that you add a short description of the effect of any trait in your army with special rules (i.e., that involves more than a simple modification of the five statistics).  That would have saved us most of the lookup time in our trial games.

Despite my having purchased these rules to use with my 25mm collection, we have been playing the trial games so far with 6mm figures from Irregular (mostly) on 40mm WRG bases of varying depths, using the suggest rectangular base modifications.

Overall, the games we have played have been fun. I would recommend these rules if you need a rank-and-flank set of mass fantasy battle rules which provide a good two-player experience in a game lasting less than two hours and playable on a 4x6 table (in 25mm; your dining room table in smaller scales). We have not tried a multi-player game. I don’t expect that I will be using this for a six to eight player convention game to fill a four hour time slot. I note that my opponent thought our first game was enough fun that he immediately ordered a 6mm elf army from Baccus and has been painting it…

Saturday, November 4, 2023

October Wrap-Up


In keeping with the now-traditional hobby theme of “Orctober”, one of my projects this month was a plastic 54mm orc from the Toys R Us “Mythical Warriors” bucket.  

There is only the one pose available, and I have a dozen or more of them available to work with.  I don’t intend to do too many of these fantasy figures, but my goal is to try to make each one unique. The easiest quick change seemed to me to be re-arming them.

We had one late warm day a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would try a very abbreviated casting session.  In my collection of molds, I have a weapons sprue for the Britains knight molds originally sold by Castings, and now back in production from Dunken.  To my surprise, the first pour into the mold came out nearly perfect, minus a shorted haft on the spear-thing.  

So it was not difficult to choose three more orcs and give them different weapons.  I intend to play around a little with shields and an arm repositioning, but haven’t gotten there yet.  While I was digging around in the molds and castings boxes, I came across a reasonably complete example of the knight on the left from this vintage metal mold. 

The upper left corner of the shield didn’t fully cast, so needed a little greenstuff repair.  However, I was glad to be able to put one of these into a (potential) game and therefore have an excuse to justify owning this mold.  (For the future, I note that the knight on the right, shaking his fist at the enemy, could be given a weapon from the replacement weaposn sprue as well…something for the spring.)

Earlier this week I was able to base the figures from the Italeri tournament set (i.e. the budget challenge project), the home cast knight, and another figure from the “Mythical Warriors” bucket.  I looked over my storage situation recently, and concluded that the 54mm fantasy will probably go beyond the approximately ten spaces currently empy in my 54mm Medieval Boxes.  The upper limit would be to add one more 11-liter Really Useful Box, which would have space for 56 40mm square bases.  So, we’ll see …

Monday, October 23, 2023

Gaming Weekend and Some Painting

I have had a couple of busy weeks since I last posted anything.  I flew out to visit my brother for a few days the week before last, and we did quite a bit of gaming.  We ended up playing six games of Dragon Rampant, trying all of the scenarios in the rulebook, and also found time for a couple of games of Burrows and Badgers.

 I was flying on Southwest.  They have been adding more Boeing 737-800s to their fleet.  If you wonder why I would pay attention to a detail like that, the 800s have a new configuration of the overhead luggage racks, one that tilts your bag at a 45 degree angle in flight.  My magnetic storage box configuration calculated to fit in the overhead rack is not guaranteed to hold the troops steady if the attendant slams the bin shut at an angle. For this trip I decided I would be safe and limit my troops to a package of 2 4-liter Really Useful Boxes, which will fit under the seat. I could do this because I knew that my brother had plenty of terrain, so I didn’t need to bring any.  One box had the Burrows and Badgers collection, and the other had the selection of vintage fantasy figures shown above.  Without using too many reduced or single model units, I was able to deploy three different warbands over the weekend, without too much overlap.  I figured later that I could have done an opposing pair as well, but my brother has plenty of his own figures he wanted to see on the table.  As it worked out, I was glad that I did this. While the trip out to Indianapolis was on a 737-700 with the older style overhead bins, the trip back was on an 800.  For the future I would like to play around with fitting scenery into a 4-liter box, so that I could safely fly with one troop box and one scenery box and have a pickup game for a convention, or even a multi-player skirmish.

We played the Dragon Rampant games on his 4x6 Alpha Gaming Table, using a lot of Monster Fight Club scenery.

Here my Broadsword Miniatures rangers (ca. 1980) defend a Monster Fight Club rocky hill…

Here a pair of old Adina giants (not very big ones!) attack my brother’s early Ral Partha sea elves…

And some anthropomorphic animals scuffle amid the ruins in Burrows and Badgers…

It was a good visit overall, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to do it again sometime relatively soon.

Since the last update, I have picked up the brush again after unintentionally taking a couple of months off. As I previously noted, I started down the path of building a 1/72 medieval skirmish on a budget as a challenge. (It’s also compatible with the existing 1/72 fantasy figures, so doesn’t need to stand completely on its own).  My sons and I got together for a painting day this weekend, and I made some additional progress on the budget project:

Painting with a limited color selection and some cheap Chinese brushes has turned out to be a bit of a challenge, so I will have more to say about that in some future post.  In the meantime, I am compromising a bit; for budget purposes, you could mount these figures on pennies and use sand and paint for basing, but I am going to base mine on composite Litko wood/flexisteel bases so that I can use my magnetic boxes for transport.  More to follow on that …

Monday, September 25, 2023

Barrage XXVII (2023) After Action Report

 Barrage XXVII (27!!?) is now in the books.  Held in Havre de Grace, Maryland on 22 and 23 September, and hosted by the HAWKs (of which club I am fortunate to be a member), Barrage was attended by something over 200 people, and was originally scheduled to host about 60 miniatures games and events.

Last year I was required to be traveling for work on the Friday of Barrage, but this year I made it to both days.  What I didn’t do was to get organized enough to run a game, so I was there ready to fill in and make sure that other peoples’ games ran.  I also had a secondary objective of getting some space back in my basement by moving some things that did seems likely ever to be painted or played with to new homes.

After setting up my flea market sales Friday morning, I ended up in a Second Punic War game using 10mm figures and Simon Miller’s To the Strongest rules, run by veteran HAWKs gamemmaster Kurt Schlegel.

This was only my second game of To the Strongest, but I recently acquired a 6mm English Civil War project and have bought the related rules For King and Parliament. Unfortunately for the Romans under my command, the wily Carthaginians had outflanked us, so I spent my time attempting to hold off a swarm of Numidian and other Carthaginian allied cavalry, with no great success.

Later in the afternoon, I joined a 25mm 1904 German-Herero War game (Southwest Africa), using a lightly modified version of The Sword and the Flame run by veteran gamemmaster (and author of a book on wargaming the Herero wars) Roy Jones.

Despite being ambushed by the Herero, the Germans were able to push forward and capture the hill in time to win the game on points. (This was a scenario balanced by victory conditions; the Herero were not going to rout the Germans.) This turned out to be the only victory I was involved in for the weekend. TSATF remains a reliably good rules set, and is capable of absorbing all sorts of tweaks and customizations, so I wasn’t surprised that this was a good game.

Our region was hit with a tropical storm on Saturday, which may have depressed the turnout somewhat, but both of my sons were able to make it up from the Washington, DC area.

We all ended up in a 15mm game pitting a 6th century Byzantine army against the Sassanid Persians, run by Jesse Scarborough and using a set of home rules.  The rules worked well enough, but the Byzantines (whom I immediately espoused, of course) found the persian cataphracts hard to deal with, and being outflanked atthe beginning by the scenario wasn’t helping.  We had a good time before Norman and I went down to a sad defeat at the hands of William and his colleagues.  

Later in the afternoon, William and I were in a 25mm medeival skirmish game run by HAWKs gamemaster Greg Priebe and using the Feudal Patrol card-driven rules.  Unfortunately for me and William, skirmish games can sometimes enter a death spiral due to the (not unrealistic) level of randomization, and it was our turn to be on the wrong end of that.   

We ended up fleeing (those of us who hadn’t already) about two hours into the game. While we were playing this, Norman had been in a reprise of the To the Strongest game I’d played on Friday.

There were still a couple of games going on; I think the last start was around 5:00PM.  

William wanted a picture before we split and went our separate ways.

So, that was barrage from my foxhole.  In addition to playing the four games (#42-#45 in this year’s log), I must have priced my flea market stuff appropriately to sell, since I went with a project in three boxes (60mm medievals, fare well in your new home) and four document boxes of stuff, and brought home nothing of that except one bag of old Ral Partha Renaissance troops, a set of rules, and an unbuilt card model of a castle.  I picked up some terrain, a few 1/72 plastics for a future DBA early Byzantines and opponents set, and a couple of used board games.  Even with that, the balance went to “less stuff than I started with”, so it was a success.  Overall, it was a great convention, and I am looking forward to our Cold Wars replacement, “Cold Barrage”, now scheduled at the same location for 2 March 2024.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Not Quite Seven Years War with One Hour Wargames

 I am not making much progress with my resolution to blog more this year…perhaps I can alter my habits by January, a more traditional time for resolutions.

At any rate, I have a list of rules and periods I have been wanting to try, and I had some time this past Sunday to check another one off the list.  At some point during the pandemic, I bought some magnetic movement stands from Litko, sized for units in One Hour Wargames. My intention was to use them to temporarily mount stands or figures from other projects; I should be able to do some sort of ancients, Dark Ages, Pike and Shot, and Horse and Musket.  First up (finally!) was Horse and Musket.  I randomly selected a scenario from the book, which turned out to be Scenario 1, Pitched Battle, based on Ceresole in 1544.  I used figures from my NQSYW collection to field a Red (League) army of 3 infantry, 1 skirmisher, and 2 cavalry aganst a Blue (Coalition) army of 3 infantry, 2 artillery and 1 cavalry.

While not the best idea, I looked at that and decided that the League either had to withdraw or attack, since they would otherwise be worn down by artillery fire without being able to respond.  The 3x3 table doesn’t allow a lot of maneuver, and the horse and musket rules give infantry a 12” range, so it was a die rolling contest for the most part.  The game ended on turn 11 with a charge by the Coalition dragoons scattering the last League infantry.

I followed the suggestions in the short chapter on campaigns, and did a follow-on game by allowing the winning side to choose which position they would take in randomly determined Scenario 12, where an army defending a town is about to be outflanked by an attacking force which discovers a usable ford.

I elected to have the Coalition play blue, the attacker, and thereby relegated the League to the role of Red, the defenders.  The dice gave the same force composition for Blue (obviously they just continued the advance after the first battle), and Red now had 4 infantry, one artillery, and one cavalry.

The attacking army is prohibited from shooting on turn 1, and must set up within range of the defenders, so things got off to a bad start for the Coalition; three League units concentrated fire on one Coaltion infantry unit and broke it immediately.  The Coalition cavalry rode for the objective hill and were met by the League cavalry. By the rules (as I understood them) this resulted in an indecisive melee on the hill for several turns.  The Coalition artillery was generally ineffective, and the final situation saw all units broken except for the League cavalry and one Coalition artillery surviving on Turn 15.  Without the hill in their possession, victory went to the League.

This was only my second experience actually laying with this rules, and the previous time we played the 19th century version.  They seem reasonable for a first introduction, but I do have an urge to complicate them a bit … perhaps next time.  It wasn’t a bad way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon, though, and, as is usually the case, I was glad to get some figures on the table.

Monday, September 4, 2023

An old favorite on the table

I had the French and Indian War collection on the table yesterday, for the first time since Ross and I hosted a couple of games at Fall In in 2016.

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Gen Con 2023 After Action Report

 My wife and I did all the necessary Gen Con planning (badges, hotel reservations, flight arrangements, and event sign-ups) at the appropirate intermediate milestones this year, so we were able to pack up calmly on Monday, July 31st, to be ready to head to the airport on Tuesday morning, 1 August 2023.  Since we were flying, I had to keep the miniatures down to what I could easily carry on.

My brother and I were signed up to run three sessions of Burrows & Badgers, so I didn’t need more than two dozen miniatures and a single 3x3 foot terrain set-up. That all went into two Really Useful Boxes, a 9-liter and a 4-liter, which I banded together with a transverse strap and a “Strap-a-handle”. This configuration fits in the overhead compartment without difficulty. We had an uneventful flight, and checked into our hotel with enough time to spare to meet my brother for dinner.  Since only a few of the con-goers are arriving on Tuesday, we figured that we could have anything that we liked, and ended up at The Social Cantina, not far from the convention center.  It’s new since last year, and I wonder how the rest of their weekend went. 

We enjoy being at Gen Con on Wednesday for the unofficial Day 0. This year my younger son, William, made it in on Wednesday morning, so we started the day with a brunch at the Cafe Patachou, anticipating that Wednesday was probably the last day where we could find seats at that hour. After that, we headed off to our first ticketed event.  It has been our custom for the past several trips to sign up for some board game, usually something still in pre-production.  This year we tried Eureka Science Academy, a card game themed around recruiting historical scientists and developing and defending scientific theories.  It has some potential, and I enjoyed the idea of trying to defend the phlogiston theory, so I will keep an eye out for the final version. We finished the day with a visit to the Block Party.  While we were able to get the special Gen Con pizza from the folks at Hot Box Pizza, the line to try the Sun King special Gen Con beer was longer than I could stand in.  One of William’s grad school gaming friends attending this year arrived while we were eating.  We left them to explore the convention on their own, as my brother and I needed a good night’s sleep before our early start on Thursday.

As noted above, we were running three sessions of Burrows & Badgers, for six players each.  The first of these was scheduled for Thursday at 0900.  This year our games were out in Lucas Oil Stadium.  As can be seen from the shot below of our setting up, there was still extra space on Thursday morning.  We have

not GMed out there previously, and we have agreed that it’s not a bad place to run games.  (For the historical miniatures gamer, I might note here that we were setting up just beyond a large group of tables where an event organizing group called Able Company was running a large Flames of War event.) With the dome ceiling, sound does not bounce around as badly as it does in the event halls, so my voice was not as damaged as it has been some years.  With a game at 0900, we know that we are not trying to get into

the Exhibition Hall for the 1000 opening, and all of the players have presumably made that decision as well.  We were pleased to find that all six of our preregistered players showed up.  The session went well, and we had an hour to reset things for the afternoon session. In between, I ran down to the Exhibition Hall to get a copy of Free League’s Dragonbane, an English translation of the latest edition of the earliest roleplaying game in Swedish, Drakkar och Demoner, itself originally derived from Chaosium’s Basic Role-playing and Magic World as presented in Worlds of Wonder in 1982.  The crowd was very heavy, and that was as much as I could do in the limited time available.  Like the morning session, the 

afternoon session was also full, with all six players appearing.  Another fun set of games was played.  We set these events up, by the way, as three parallel one-on-one tables, all playing the same scenario, “Seize the paychest”, though on different terrain and with different war bands.  We do this so that we are flexible.  If an even number of players shows up, we pair them off and both of us advise and adjudicate.  If we have an odd number, one of us can jump in and play, so we are ready for anything from just one up to the six players planned.  My wife found us just as we were finishing and packing things up, so we headed back to the hotel.  We met up with our favorite dance instructors, Whitney and Reesa from The Revel Alliance.  We had some supper with them, and then I headed off to my evening game, a Pendragon (6th edition) adventure that William was also playing.  We managed to save some part of England from being ravaged by a dragon by putting it to sleep with a well-fed magical panther, so I guess we’ll call that a success.

On Friday morning, I met by brother for breakfast at the Lincoln Square Pancake House.  It is far enough from the Convention Center that it wasn’t too crowded.  After breakfast we took a quick look at the Auction’s consignment shop.  This year, it seemed to be mostly recent Euro-style board games, so the only thing I came away with was a copy of a vintage GDW Series 120 game, 1940, which turned out later to be short the rules.  (I expect I can find them online somewhere, but haven’t had time to search yet.). Then it was time for my main foray into the Exhibition Hall.  As with Thursday, it was quite crowded and two hours was as much as I could stand.  I ended up with some pins, some Games and Gears paintbrushes, some Dryad Tea, some Campaign Coins to use as fate tokens in Burrows & Badgers, a few little games from Indie Press Revolution, and a few more coins from the Shire Post Mint. 

Friday afternoon was scheduled for dancing.  Irene and I were signed up for four sessions of dance run by the Revel Alliance.  We have been doing their events since they started in 2017, and they are always fun.

After four hours of dance, I was a bit worn, and didn’t make it to the fantasy miniatures game I had scheduled. (My apologies to the event organizer … )

My brother and I ran our third Burrows & Badgers session on Saturday morning.  We had five of the six

registered players, so we were 17 for 18 for the weekend.  I believe this was our best show-up rate ever for Gen Con.  After that game I had no choice but to carry my miniatures boxes to my next events, the Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff live podcast, and another dance session.  At that point things caught up with me, and I carried my boxes back to the hotel room, stretched out on the couch, and fell asleep.  I woke up just in time to make it to the pre-scheduled family dinner.  Our previous customary location for Gen Con family dinners had closed during the pandemic years, so we made reservations after the event sign up weekend for the Weber Grill, conveniently across the street from our hotel. We try to schedule one dinner, usually Friday or Saturday depending on how the gaming schedules work out, to allow us to catch up on what everyone has been doing for the con.  After dinner, William and I took a walk to the other end of the convention world, the JW Marriott, to see how the open gaming looked this year. One ballroom is

dedicated to open gaming, and it takes a wide-angle lens to capture it.  I was too tired to actually play anything, but there was a wide variety of board games as well as a few pick-up roleplaying games on offer.  Perhaps next year I will actually schedule some time to try this out.

By Sunday morning, I was dragging a bit, but I still managed to get up before my alarm went off so that I could go play my final scheduled game.  My son William has been playing a great deal of Crusader Kings 3, from Paradox, and decided that he was interested in playing Kingmaker.  I had played quite a bit of Kingmaker, in the original British edition and the Avalon Hill version, back in the ‘70s and ‘80s, so it wasn’t hard to convince me to join as well.  The only issue was that signing up for an 0800 Sunday game made sense back in May, but was a little daunting in August on the fifth day of the convention. We both made it, though, and it was a good game, pleasantly more dynamic than I remembered it being. 

There is a new edition about to be released, and I have a copy on order.  In the meantime, we can play the Avalon Hill version. There was time for one more dance session after that, and a final quick peek (with no purchases) at the Exhibition Hall.  We all had lunch together after that, and then headed to the airport, where the traditional departure game tables were set up:

The official Gen Con press release says that over 70,000 unique individuals attended, a new record.  The crowds in the high traffic areas bear this out, and they sold out their limit of 4-Day and Saturday passes.

So that was Gen Con; this was my tenth consecutive year including the two virtual pandemic years.  With the crowds and the general uptick in Covid, I was not surprised to hear quite a few con crud/Covid 

stories.  I’ve had some serious con crud this week, but have tested negative for Covid. Next year I may need to reconsider my masking decision and mask more consistently.  But who knows what the viral environment will look like by then … 

I’ll throw in one random background fun shot.  Among the other Gen Con traditions, a large balloon sculpture is built, starting on Wednesday.  This year the balloon sculpting team built a life-sized model of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module, which was amazing.

Hope to see you in Indianapolis next year!