Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dux Britanniarum first impressions

Dux Britanniarum is a dark ages skirmish game/campaign system that has been around for a couple of years. It's been on my radar for a while, so recently Matt and I set up for a raid scenario. We had previously tried a test game to get familiar with the mechanics, but that was a few months back so had forgotten most of them, but as we got into the game it slowly came back to us.

The rules are relatively simple. Combat troops make up the bulk of the two opposing forces and are classed as elite, warrior or levy. These are generally fielded in groups of six, which can join together into larger formations. Each group/formation is activated by a noble or lord. These command figures have varying levels of command, which determines how many activations they can perform and how far their command reaches. When a group/formation is activated, it moves and/or fights. In combat, troops can be killed, or shocked. Kills are self explanatory. Shock has a cumulative effect on the unit, that gradually erodes their combat capability, forcing them to withdraw or even turn and flee the battle.

Shieldwall on a hill, a DuxB deathstar!
There are no unit stats! Movement is by dice roll so no need for a move stat. Better troops roll more dice in combat and are harder to kill, so no weapon/melee/armour stat. The shock mechanic determines how long troops stick around to fight, so no need for a morale/leadership stat. It's pretty clever stuff for such a simple mechanism.

Having sung those praises, I did find the rules a little bit vague at times. Combat is an easy mechanic but it does take a bit of careful reading to understand how the units interact. There are several diagrams, but our first combat was not covered by any of them. There is a table of contents but no index, so I did spend a fair few minutes flicking around trying to find some information. There's a useful reference sheet on the back cover which I suspect will be all that's needed after a couple more games, but it does not include the force morale table which is central to the game. As units flee from combat, nobles take wounds, and maybe other circumstance, the morale of the force is affected. When a force morale reaches zero, it has lost all resolve and withdraws from the battle. It's probably the biggest table in the book, so should really be in the reference section.

White dice as shock markers, a temporary measure.
That minor gripe aside, it feels like a very solid ruleset. The basic mechanics are really rather impressive and give a good feel to the game. Troops move and act in a way that feels "right" - this is always going to be a personal thing for gamers of course, but it ticks a lot of boxes for me. And that's before we get to the scenarios and campaign system. A very promising system, I am looking forward to playing more games and will be covering more detail in future posts. Time for me to go and research some suitable names for my characters.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Anglo Danes

These are not strictly Anglo-Danes, they are Gripping Beast Saxons with a few Wargames Factory bits to convert them to use great weapons. They are basically to remind me to use great weapons on the Anglo-Dane lord and his bodyguard. I made and painted them very quickly, I only rarely play this faction so didn't want to spend too much time on them.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

More thoughts on War of the Ring

I have posted recently on my impressions of the War of the Ring battle game. In my first post I talked about the overall flow and ease of the game, in the second post I pondered the addition of characters and magic. In summary, the game is quick and easy to play - the rules are simple and there's just one chart in the whole book. Crucially, the game interleaves all phases, so players are involved far more, there's very little downtime. The rules scale up to big battles too - this photo is a game we played at the weekend, pooling all our figures into one mighty conflict. There are around 50 companies on each side in this game, a company is either 8 infantry or 2 cavalry models. It's probably the biggest game I have ever played in, not a bad achievement for four nerds in a basement!

Of course, not everything is perfect. The game does have a few flaws, at least in my eyes. Combat resolution is an example. When combat is completed, the winner is determined purely by number of casualties. There are no other modifiers to this result. The loser rolls a single die - a 1 can lead to the unit being removed, a 2-5 can result in extra casualties and the unit is disordered, while a 6 means the unit fights on with no ill effects. There is no account taken of the margin of victory in this roll either, whether you lose by 1 casualty or 21 casualties, the roll is always the same. The net result is that invariably the loser sticks around for another round of combat, until he is wiped out. Opposing forces tend to meet in combat, fight for two or three rounds, until one grinds the other into the dirt. There's no fleeing and pursuing as per Warhammer. While this solves many rules problems (fleeing units seem to cause so many rules problems), it does feel a bit static and in need of some modification.

The other area of concern I have is morale. There are no rules for morale in the game. There's no panic tests, no psychology, the only concession is that when the final company of a formation falls to half strength, it is removed from the board. In a big game like the one we played, with formations of 6 or 9 companies, this can seem a bit unrealistic. There are terror causing beasts in the game (trolls, ents, etc) but a failed terror test merely results in the unit losing fighting capacity. Psychology/battle fatigue are not really represented in the game as it stands.

Overall, I like the game. The phases order and movement rules are particularly good, combat is easy to understand and resolve, while magic and heroes can subtly alter the dynamic. With a few tweaks to combat resolution and some kind of psychology rules, it would be an even better game.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Iron Scorpion: a little progress

The French Legionnaires are underway proper now. I have painted up a test figure. He's stood at the back checking his (unpainted!) rifle. With my recipe scribbled down I have started to base coat his comrades. It's not much to show really, but it does illustrate the direction I am headed.

The weapons and metals still have to be finalised, but these should not cause too many problems. I might tweak the red of the shoulder pads. And I have still to decide on a base - desert as per the starter box, or my more usual grassland. I am hopeful of a more substantial update in the next few days.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Iron Scorpion under way at last

Progress has been slow on the Iron Scorpion painting and assembly, not helped by a week's holiday. But now that I am back at home I am raring to get underway. A squad of French Legionnaires is my first painting project. As usual, I started with a white primer, then washed so I could see the details. In this case, the palette will be predominantly blue so I have washed with a blue/grey colour, but wiped it off the trousers and flesh with a damp brush. This really shows the level of detail on the figures, better than the renders on the back of the box. I love them even more now.

For the palette I have narrowed it down to two sources. The first is a purely historical picture, from the Putty and Paint website. This is a French Foreign Legionnaire and you can clearly see the influence it has on the sculpts, and the reason I removed the blue wash from the trousers. This pretty much nails it for me - blue coat, white trousers, grey boots, with small flashes of red trim.

However, just to muddy the water a little, I have also been looking at some concept art for the upcoming PS4 game The Order 1886. There are plenty of trailers on youtube, it looks visually quite stunning and I have been looking at this image, wondering if I should go along this route. The female on the right is of most interest, again blue coat, white trousers but with a darker red as a lining of the jacket. Maybe flashes of gold trim, the epaulettes of the shoulder pad and other brocade could be painted this way.

For the weapons I want a steampunk feel rather than historical, and this fits the bill perfectly. The soft gold and copper trim should contrast very nicely with the blue of the uniforms. More updates soon, I am really fired up for these figures. It would be nice if I could get the majority of the French and Antarctica troops finished for xmas, but at the same time I want to take my time and paint them to a high tabletop level. The first test squad will give me a better idea of how long it will take.

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Making cheap wargames trees part 3

In this post I am not really making trees, but the magnetic bases on which the trees will stand. If you remember from part 1, the trees are based on 2p pieces, so I needed something with this size holes. My first port of call was the excellent warbases and I found that they did indeed make terrain bases. There are a number of sizes of base and hole to choose, though a 2p sized hole was not on their list. This is not a problem, if you ask them they will happily make the holes this size for you at no extra cost. You can also buy integrated "bottoms" too, but I don't need them.

My tray "bottoms" are simply strips of magnetic sheet superglued on to the mdf bases. I took the opportunity to use some of the offcuts I had accumulated from making movement trays. As you can see I did not attempt to cover the whole underside of the base, just enough to ensure each hole has a magnetic piece beneath it. When the glue was fully dried I simply trimmed off any excess. And that's it! I then flipped them right side up and added a little texture using small stones and sand in the usual way. I set them aside to dry overnight.

The next stage was to seal the texture. I mixed up some water and pva, to which I added a drop of detergent. Then I coloured this mix slightly with some earth colour. I applied this all over the bases with a big nylon brush - these can be picked up cheaply from art and discount book stores and are very useful for terrain work. Note that I have plugged the holes with (non-magnetic) 2p coins here, to prevent too much paint getting on to the magnetic sheet. After a quick blast with a hairdryer I applied a few more splodges of thinned brown craft paints, again picked up from bargain bins along the way to use in terrain projects. I kept this a bit random, though darker in the centre and around rocks was a general principle.

After another blast with the hairdryer it was time for the moment of truth. I knocked out all the non-magnetic coins, a couple had to be prised out as a little paint/glue had managed to seep in. This was easily removed with a bit of tissue. Then the magnetic based trees were popped in for the test. Two of these three trees actually stayed in with the base held fully upside down, the bigger (and thus heavier) tree survived at a 90 degree angle. Not bad at all, perfectly adequate for gaming. There's still a little work to do on the bases with regard to flocking and such like, but hopefully you get the general idea on how it all works.
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