Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lion Couchant

Couchant : Sitting Up, or Awakened
When it came to choosing a faction to collect for our Tale4Nerds project, my first reaction was to collect Normans, which I could use in games of Saga as well as Lion Rampant. However, this idea was so good that it was stolen from me by another of the 4Nerds! Curses. My next idea was to collect Mongols, but again I was copied by an admirer. Finally I decided on a War of the Roses retinue, as I remembered I had a box of Perry Miniatures infantry stashed away somewhere. It felt like a zero start up cost, as I had bought them some years back with a view to using them in a Warhammer human army, which never really got very far.

Brougham Castle, who lives in a house like this?
Having decided on the War of the Roses, I did a little bit of reading to get some ideas for a palette for my retinue. I want to base my force in the north of England (that's where I live) and wanted it to be a Lancastrian force (I am a Lancashire lad by birth). I came across the Red Wyverns website, a historical re-enactment site with a brief history of the Clifford family. They supported the Lancastrian cause and held much of the territory of Westmoreland, Cumberland, and Yorkshire (boooo), including a handful of the castles that are local to me. When I read that one of the family became known as "the Butcher", that sealed it for me.

Perry Miniatures infantry
The Clifford livery is a red wyvern on a white field, so I want most of my troops to have pale or cream garments, though not too regimented. I will add the wyverns at a later stage. I have also made a start on blocking in the colours on the billmen, so things are ticking along nicely. Historical minis never seem to hold my attention in the same way that fantasy figures can, so I hope I can keep focussed. For the bases I have taken inspiration from the wilds around me, trying to capture the drabness of the winter, without actually using snow. It's surprising that even in winter there is still green around. I'm not sure my grasses are that convincing, I might pick up a few of the tufts that everybody and his dog seem to use these days.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Ivar Sveinson Goes to War

In the year 809 AD, Ivar Sveinson the Coward was crowned warlord by his loyal followers, no doubt encouraged by the coin rattling in their purses. He vowed to give his warriors a real home, a land of their own, which would be taken from the weakling and cowardly Saxons. Singing songs of war and glory, his men followed him into battle.

At the end of the first year of campaigning, Ivar had  amassed eight chests of coin, enough to buy himself the title of Warlord, which meant he could now march into battle rather than just raid. Victory in battle would win him and his followers lands of their own, the first step on the road to the conquest of Rheged. With barrels of ale to encourage his troops, the vikings trudged inland to a likely looking settlement. It seemed relatively unmanned and would make a good base from which to begin the conquest.

Vikings dash toward the thin Saxon line
The vikings dashed across the open terrain, they had double the number of the Saxons and were confident they could scatter the few defenders to the winds. The Saxons formed up a thin defensive line but it seemed a meagre gesture. Suddenly, over on Ivar's left flank, there was a commotion. A line of Saxon levy appeared as if from nowhere - the cowardly dogs had been concealed in the long grasses just below the brow of a small dip in the ground (the position in the photo is a little above the fate card). They leapt up and charged into the vikings. Ivar's confidence faltered as he felt the steely jaws of the trap closing around him.

This was our first attempt at a battle game. I decided to ply my troops with drink, to give them courage, and it seemed to do the trick as morale rose. The Saxons decided to pray for a miracle and could hide troops in a dip in the ground. I figured I could ignore the ambushers and just rush into the main body of the army, hopefully making a decisive strike while I held numerical advantage, with roughly half of the Saxons nowhere to be seen. But when they appeared on my left flank, I was suddenly faced with two battle fronts. Worse still, the initial charge by the Saxons sent a unit of vikings reeling. My left flank collapsed, to the front a Saxon shieldwall closed in. I was caught in a textbook pincer movement, surely this hadn't been invented yet!

Viking meat in a shieldwall sandwich!
I had kept a unit to the rear of my army, as a reserve force to plug any gaps. So quickly they charged to shore up the left flank. They managed to disrupt the Saxon advance, but not halt it, and again suffered large casualties. Faced by a shield wall to the front and a seemingly invincible line of levy to the flank, the vikings were slaughtered. Ivar just about made it from the field, but most of the army was routed. It was a grim day. The northmen suffered heavy losses, while the Saxon Lord gloried in a victory so great it earned him a title - the Good. We did think that the Blessed was more appropriate, after the miracle of the levy intervention, but the bold blue text of the Good promises some kind of benefit - though as usual it's not really explained very clearly and I will have to delve into the rules to find out exactly what the benefit turns out to be.

What a crushing blow to Ivar's ambitions. It's hard to imagine the battle going so badly, from a levy charge! The dice certainly did not favour me this game, but I was too rash in advancing forward so quickly without first working out how to deal with the ambush. Still, it was a very entertaining chapter in our saga, certainly the most decisive game to date and a real eye opener for Ivar, I doubt he will be so lax in future encounters with Saxon levy. For some filthy Saxon propaganda on the battle, take a look at Matt's blog - wargames in the dungeon.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Lion Dormant

Dormant : Asleep, or Dreaming
Earlier in the month I mentioned that I would be starting a new project for this year. The idea originated as a group project, something along the lines of the old Tale of 4 Gamers fantasy army project. In our case, a Tale4Nerds, we are each collecting and painting a different medieval retinue to use in the game Lion Rampant. This is the set of medieval skirmish rules that has become very much the zeitgeist on many a forum. We have set ourselves a target of one unit per month. As most retinues contain just 5 or 6 units, we should all be finished by summer.

As soon as we had decided on our system, I ordered a copy of the rulebook and it finally arrived last week. It's typical of the recent releases by Osprey Wargames - a slim paperback, 64 pages long with plenty of colour photos of minis and some lovely Osprey historical artwork. There's a couple of page spreads below to illustrate this.

I have skimmed through the rules. They are fairly abstracted, skirmish style gaming with a command friction overlay. My first impression is that the mechanics are elegant and simple, so games should roll along quickly with barely a glance at the rulebook, after a couple of practise sessions. I do have mixed feelings about command friction rules, there is a chance that a player can end up missing out on the fun if he rolls poorly for his activations. But overall I am optimistic about the game and I am especially looking forward to trying out the twelve scenarios. The Lion is not yet rampant, but he's certainly rousing from his winter slumber.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

More adventures with Ivar Sveinson

The vanguard hold up the Saxon patrol, while
Ivar rushes to join the action
The second half of the year AD 808 was filled with adventure for Ivar Sveinson the Coward. Kidnap, ransom, looting and revenge.....

In the month of July, AD 808, Ivar Sveinson was facing a dilemma. He had now amassed enough coin to be declared a warlord and could lead his men into battle, to win and claim territory. But if he lost, he would be penniless and at the mercy of his liege lord, who was unlikely to show leniency. Pondering these choices, his scouts reported they had sighted a small Saxon patrol heading south to the safety of the border tower, but still some distance away and within easy striking distance. Sometimes, fate makes the decisions......

The scenario we rolled was Border Tower - a Saxon noble and two units had to march from the north edge down the length of the table to the safety of the tower garrison at the southern end. On from the west came the vikings, a lone unit in the vanguard, followed by the rest of the force. The objective for the vikings was to overwhelm a noble in combat, capture and ransom him. Could the Saxons evade the northmen and reach safety?

I thought I had lost the scenario when I rolled a 1 for the number of units in my vanguard, and another 1 for their advance move! But I dashed across anyway, eager to slow the Saxons before they could mass together at the garrison. The Saxons split their force, perhaps hoping to confuse the vikings, but this just made it easier for the northmen as they swung their axes and felled half the lone unit. Realising his error, the Saxon noble sent in his other unit to stiffen their resolve, while he slyly ran away to get help. And they call Ivar a coward! It was no use. The bulk of the vikings had rushed across and intercepted the patrol while the main garrison force practised shieldwall drill, obviously unaware of the unfolding kidnap. A very quick victory for the vikings, a reward of just 2 coin for the ransom (well, would you pay any more for such a pathetic specimen?) and the chance for a second game in the session.

What do the fates hold in store?
The next scenario rolled was a raid on a village, the vikings had to make two successful looting rolls and abscond before the Saxons could stop them. Ivar's men quickly established that one of the hovels was empty (a roll of a 1 signifies no loot to be found), and soon afterwards struck lucky in a nearby hut (a roll of a 6). So there was just one house left to search, Ivar was attempting to hold off the incoming Saxons in the village, while one unit trudged back to the ship with sacks of loot. This would be a close call.

The last house was searched with no effect, while the Saxons sent men in to protect the village. The Saxon Lord himself strode into the village centre to repel the vikings, while some of his men peeled off to hopefully prevent any further looting. Fighting was fierce in the village, but the Saxon Lord's sword shone brightly that day and he vanquished many a northman. Time was running out for the vikings, they were pushed out of the house and fought to a standstill. With one last effort they charged and scattered their Saxon tormentors, poised to resume the search, but then the horn sounded the retreat and they limped back to the ship. One sack of loot had been secured, but with a high cost in blood.

My force morale took a real beating in this scenario. I had started low and then suffered as two units were routed from the centre of the village. The final search was interrupted and even though the vikings eventually fought off the Saxon rescue and could have resumed the search, I decided to sound the retreat as casualties were mounting at an alarming rate. Looting scenarios often rely on luck - trying to get that 6 - and the best way to do it is to keep the enemy at bay. Once the searchers are interrupted, well it's difficult to pillage with a sword in your gut.

With the higher level of losses in this raid, Ivar would need two months to recover his strength, bringing the first campaign year to an end. I would have liked to have ended the year with a battle then settled down to a winter seige, but it was not to be. As he sailed back to his homeland, his ship laden with loot, he was already planning his next year's campaign. Those Saxons would learn to fear the Coward.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Win £150 worth of minis!

Not £50, not £100, but £150 of minis, courtesy of Tor Gaming and their lovely looking Relics game. All the details are here, so why not go take a look and enter the draw. There are lots of ways to boost your number of entries by spreading the word on facebook, twitter, blog, etc.

For those of you who have never heard of Relics, it's a skirmish game requiring just a few figures per side. There are four unique factions, and I seem to remember a hint of a fifth at some stage, or maybe they were allies to one of the existing armies? Anyway, lots to choose from and a pretty unique take in the wargaming miniature world. It's well worth taking a look at the site, plenty of background and mini porn, there's even a stripped down version of the rulebook to download and peruse. Here's a few pictures to give you an idea of what you could win, if you enter the draw.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Resolve and Temptation part 2

So many new flavours to try!
How many hobbyists decide on a project, buy the requisite components, build and paint them, then move on to the next project? Do you know any? I certainly don't. There always seems to be something new to try, something that catches your eye at a show, or pops up on a blog, or is previewed in some forum. All those "must have" buys get put to one side, just for the time being of course, you will come back to it. You just have to have the new stuff. Then another new thing comes along, and it's even better than the previous new thing. The previous new thing that was the best thing since sliced bread, it's suddenly been bettered by something else. There's a new sliced bread in town, for a few months at any rate, until the next show, or the next kickstarter reveals even better sliced bread. And so it goes on, your hobby cupboard is full of sliced bread, in lots of different sizes and flavours. Will you ever get through it all, or have all your dreams just become toast? Ta da, I knew the sliced bread analogy would lead to a punch line in the end. Probably not the best punchline since sliced....erm....let's stop talking wheat-based nonsense and move on to hobby talk. Here's a trio of kickstarter projects that have caught my eye recently.

Now that's what I call a troll
Blood Rage. I am a huge fan of Norse mythology, viking history, all things Scandanavian...well, maybe not the pickled herrings. This picture of a troll sums it all up for me, it says more about the genre than I could possibly put into words, but you could also look at the Blood Rage facebook page. I have been pondering a skirmish game set in a northern clime for a while, these minis could well be a part of it. The kickstarter is actually for a board game, so it remains to be seen if the minis will be available separately, but even so this is top of my drooling list at the moment.
Chance of backing: 70%

Conan. Another board game, with a very strong background, based on the Robert E Howard pulp novels. I really like the vibe of these sculpts and having seen the gameplay video, it looks to be solid all round. On the minus side is the duplication of the poses, something that may well change as the kickstarter develops. Conan is not a big deal to me, I'm more rooted in Norse/British/Tolkien mythology. If I really wanted a barbarian experience I would probably look to the rather wonderful Copplestone 15mm range. But if the variety of sculpts increases I could well be persuaded to change my mind. This project is very close to launch, if you want more details then check out the Conan facebook page.
Chance of backing: 40%

Stake firing cannon, oh yeah!
Vampire hunter. This was a very recent find, it does not seem to have had much publicity in the usual places. I cannot find out much about the team behind this, their facebook page has a few pictures of yet another board game with fine looking digital renders. Russian vampire hunters, what's not to like? I am really on the fence on this one, the concepts are right up my street, but I would like to see actual sculpts, have more detail on the gameplay, just more information all round. But still, those sculpts.....
Chance of backing: 50%

I have to add a rather large footnote to this post. If you have backed on Kickstarter, this will not be news to you. But if you are new to the crowdfunding thing, let me tell you of my experiences. I have backed six projects over the past couple of years, on both kickstarter and indiegogo. All but one have been late (Mierce Miniatures came in on time with a cracking product too). Some have been a few months late, some a year, some longer. This is the thing that reins in my frothing, the fact that I will almost certainly be here this time next year, still waiting for the goods to arrive. Two years ago, before my very first pledge, you could have added 30% on to each of my scores above. I guess I have finally come to understand the phrase, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

There is also the problem that you cannot know for certain how the product will look when it is finished. While the art concepts are mind blowing, and the pictures of the renders look great, and even pictures of the sculpts look good, you cannot tell for sure what you are buying until you hold it in your hand. And of course you cannot do that with a crowdfunding project, you have to pledge your money upfront, see the physical product many, many months later. It's a conundrum, but most kickstarters are heavily scrutinised on various forums these days, so do your homework before pledging. Another proverb comes to mind, look before you leap. Having sounded the warning, you can bet my scores will go up when these things are launched.