Thursday, April 28, 2011

Isildur's Bane

As I promised a few posts back, I wanted to test the Isildur's Bane rules set.  This is an adaptation of the Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game rules to allow for solo play.  I wanted to try solo play to test out new armies or new units before playing a real game.  While I could just line up two armies and roll dice as usual, it's better when there's some randomness involved.

I won't get too involved with the rules.  The link I provided will take you to these.  I'll just give the key differences.  The move and shoot phases are combined.  Priority is replaced with an activation phase that is determined by randomly drawn cards.  There's no heroic actions and the use of might is determined by making a might roll.  Otherwise, all other LotR rules apply.  There's a lot to cover; so let's get started.

I picked two forces I own but have never played and used 175 pts for the size.  I rolled up a Legions of Middle Earth game.  Seize the Artifact was the scenario.  I set up a 2'x2' board and gave myself a 3" deployment rather than the standard 6" zone.  The evil side was a Barad-dur force of Morranon and garden variety Orcs, a horrifying visage of unpainted plastic.  The good side was Rivendell Elves, fully painted and wearing freshly starched capes.  The artifact went to the middle of the board: a pot of Tin Bitz paint.  The Orcs coveted its pigment, and the Elves could not abide color falling into the clutches of evil.  It was going to be a tough fight.

The rules don't say anything about how to select table sides.  I just rolled for the elves and gave the orcs the other side.  I set up, divided into groups, and dealt activation cards.  Groups with a hero get red cards, which mean these groups go first.  Other groups get black cards and go after the red.  Suits determine order and so does Ace thru King.  Groups can be single models up to ten models.  They just have to be within 4" of each other to start.  I split my groups up into archer versus non archer units.  Here's what my magnificent game board looked like at the start.
Whichever side moves first gets what is called "the edge."  This means that during combat you make the best tactical decisions for whichever side has the edge.  However, since movement means a lot in this game, I gave the edge throughout the whole turn.  This made a difference later on, which I'll explain when I get there.

Turn One
You can see from the cards in the picture above that the Elf Captain and his swordsman go first, followed by the Orc Captain and his wild bunch.  Finally Elves shoot and Orcs shoot.  On turn one, the Elves pick off one of the two orcs on the hill.  The remaining Orc archer misses his return fire.  The other forces simply move forward to the artifact.  The orcs realize it's a metallic paint and simply go nuts for it.

Turn Two

The Orcs are going first (hearts go before diamonds) and get the edge.  So they swarm the artifact,with a defensive line going before it and a 2hd weapon grunt getting into base with the artifact.  The Elf Captain
2 Handed weapons are great for removing stubborn paint caps.
and Tennille engage the Orc line.  The orcs have set up with spear support and wide enough to prevent an end run around them.  Next comes the Elf archers, they shift out 3" and shoot at the Orc on the artifact, killing him, and shoot out another orc spear supporting.   (This is the combined move and shoot phase, remember?)  The lone orc bowman reaffirms his uselessness.  The fight phase goes as expected with Elves winning but not wounding.  The Elf Captain uses his Elven blade to wound the Orc Captain. If a model has Fate points, a fate roll is required whenever a wound is suffered.  The orc fails it and is wounded.  Interestingly enough, the orcs are pushed back onto the artifact and now get to dig for it.  They succeed and are the proud owners of 10ml of Tin Bitz, artifact grade!

Turn Three
The orcs go first and the Orc Captain and his warriors lock down all the Elven swordsmen and Captain.  The lone orc with his artifact starts to run.  Since the orcs had the edge, I should've had two orcs escort the artifact.  But I wasn't thinking about that.  The Elf warriors go next but are locked down, so now the archers come up and shoot.  The Orc artifact bearer dies and drops the artifact about 7" from the table edge.    The archers shoot out another spear support.  The close combats are a repeat from before, but at least they kill one orc.  I used Elven blades to crack the D6.  The orc archer again achieves nothing.  Now the orcs are one away from 50% break point and the Elves are untouched.

Turn Four
 The orcs go first and therefore have "the edge."  So I make moves that tactically benefit them most.  You can see from the picture above there's an elf able to reach the artifact.  (I switched to an artifact token, since the paint pot was getting in the way.)  While I was "routing for" the elves, I had to pick up that open elf to keep him away from the artifact.  The Elf warriors are again tied up.  But the elf archers go next and shoot out a spear supporting orc.  This breaks the orcs.  Now when the archer is activated, he takes a courage check and fails.  The hand to hand fights get a little more deadly this turn, with one elf and one orc dying.  I used Elven blades again on any D6 model.

Turn Five
 The elves are now on the attack and go first.  They engage all the remaining orcs and one elf moves to pick up the artifact.  The archers have nothing to do but move up.  The Orc and Elf captains are fighting.  The Elf captain wins but rolls box cars on his wound rolls.  It's starting to get silly.  Another orc falls to an Elven blade.

Turns Six & Seven
The Elves have the edge, so I make the best decisions for them.  The orcs could still reach the artifact bearer if they pass courage checks.  It only takes the captain to pass and everyone else will stand fast.  So I re-engage all the orcs while the lone elf picks up the artifact.  The Elf archers join the fight and trap the Orc captain.  During that fight, the Orc captain shields and the wins the fight, rolling a six to the elves' five.  I make a might check for the Elf Captain.  He passes and bumps his roll to a six, and now wins base on his fight value.  At last the orc captain is vanquished.  All but one orc is killed.  On the following turn, the Elves move to 1" of the table edge with the artifact.  The last orc actually rolls a 12 for his courage check!  It's useless at this point and just runs from the Elves. I call it here, since there's nothing left to do.

Major Victory to the Elves!  Here they are with their prize.

Overall I thought it was a fun game.  The concept of the edge made sure I wasn't always favoring one side.  I also got to learn some things about my force.  I didn't think three bows would be "all that" but for this points level they were very good.  I was surprised how tough the Elves were to crack, but very unimpressed with their ability to kill.  Elves won almost every fight, but were pressed to hurt anything.  I was surprised to see that for Elf bows being S3 it didn't make any difference for rolling to wound.  The bows may as well have been S2.  For Orcs, I realized regular Orc bows are pitiful in range and accuracy.  They are only useful for creating a nuisance, but probably shouldn't be given important objectives.

So will I play Isildur's Bane again?  I'm certain I will.  This 175 pt match on a small table only took one hour from busting out the figures to cleaning up when done.  It took me longer to write this post!  I guess I wished there was more unpredictability in the game.  But the "edge" concept did compensate for knowing both sides' strategies.  Overall, I think this is a great rules set and would recommend it to anyone wanting to brush up on rules, scenarios, or just try something different.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Gamble of Champions

Last Friday night I got to play a game of LotR, and I took my Far Harad force.  This is only my second game with an all Far Harad force, and I'm learning a lot about them.  For years they were an allied contingent for my Corsairs.  They play a lot differently in that role than they do as a stand-alone force.  One important difference I noticed is that it's really, really not OK if one of them dies.  So let's talk about my game.

I'm going to actually provide my list this time.  I didn't take notes on the exact composition of my opponent's list.  I'll take some guesses.

700 points
Mahud King, camel
Tribemaster, camel
Mahud Warriors, blow pipes x 4
Mahud Warriors, hw/shield x 8
Mahud Warriors, spears / shld x 13
Half Trolls x 4
Half Trolls, 2 hd wpn x 4
Mahud Raiders, war spear x 3

I faced Tim's Uruk Hai.  At 700 pts he had big blocks of Uruk-hai with pikes.  A bunch of crossbows were parked on the a hilltop, maybe 6-8 of them.  A shaman was running around the back ranks.  But imposing beyond belief was the Isengard Troll that stomped ahead of the force.

We rolled up a scenario, and got Contest of Champions.  In this scenario the leaders of each side try to kill more than the opposing leader, all the while attempting to destroy the enemy army.  Probably sounds like something that happened at the office today, doesn't it?  I digress.

One of the areas that I struggle to get correct in any game system I play is the deployment phase.  I don't know why I tend to treat this phase like I'm sleep-walking.  Whenever I lose, half the time I can trace it back to poor deployment.  Now having said that, I don't think I deployed badly in this scenario; but throughout the game I had a nagging feeling like I was going the wrong way.  I'll come back to this point later.  Here's how the proud Mahud looked after I finished dropping them on the table.
There's that damn woods I always find right in front of me.  After years of seeing it there, why don't I learn to plan for it?  It's only six inches from my line, but yet I set up like it's a total and utter shock that those trees should appear before me.  So priority falls to me and the Mahud move out.  At the end of that move, I realize that I will have to divide my force to avoid the trees.  Splitting a small force in the face of a numerically superior foe is not a good idea.

My only reprieve from my short-sightedness is that the Uruk-hai are to my far right.  Later I would discover I am being led by the nose into a tight position where my already small numbers will be restricted.  Since I am thoroughly fascinated with the woods in front of me, I spend all my time dealing with them.  I decide to filter through the trees and keep my line together.  Here's a shot of me plodding through the terrain while trying to keep everyone together.  You can see the Uruk-hai getting into position.
So the next several turns will be a lot of movement and positioning of both sides.  I did manage to stay away from crossbow fire for most of this movement.  I got to take a few blow pipe shots, too.  The move or shoot rule is really too bad, given they're such short range.  I suppose the shoot 3+ and the poisoned darts make up for that.  But in reality, they don't; it's still a strength 2 dart with a re-roll on a 1.  Eventually we are all in position and I realize immediately that I'm am not going to be bisected, but instead trisected.  This is why I had that nagging feeling of going the wrong way I mentioned before.

The main Uruk-hai park in the center of the wide field between two trees.  Small harassment forces are coming around the flanks, which force me to send something to deal with these.  I end up getting pulled three ways, and the traffic jam in the middle means my Mahud warriors are spear supporting.

A Mahud left to spear support his buddy is only half a man.  He's just been castrated by one attack, which you dearly paid for in his expensive points.  It's a sad day when this happens, because you are throwing three dice where you should've been throwing four.  This is the downfall of an all Mahud force, I suppose.  But it just riles me whenever I have to do this. 

Here's a shot of where the rest of the game would play out.  Check out this awesome picture of the Isengard Troll roaring at me across the expanse.
The Uruk-hai come forward and two brave (insane) orcs break away to block the approaches.  However, this allows my King to charge the orc.  So the objective is for him to kill more than the Uruk-hai captain.  So he makes the charge.  His impaler rule does not kill anything and I rejoice.  I now have a Muhud leader in combat, which activates the warrior's pride rule for a 12" radius around him.  This means all my Mahud will pass their courage checks automatically.  So I send the two raiders charging into the troll.

The combat with the troll goes unfavorably.  First, none of the impaler strikes go off.  Next, the darn troll has a shield and he decides to use it.  So he rolls six dice to my six dice, and he wins.  Too bad, because the troll was trapped!  The king also loses his combat and has to blow a point of might to win.  At least he killed the orc, and I'm now leading the death toll 1-0.

All around the fights are joined and it is a very bad day for the Mahud.  One half troll is killed after losing the fight, and five other Mahud die in that combat phase.  During the shoot phase, the crossbows sniped a raider off his camel.  Rather flustered at this bad luck, I also see my Tribemaster is uselessly milling about on his camel, adding nothing to the fight.  The Uruk-hai captain gets a kill this round, too.

The Mahud win the next priority.  I decide to take a gamble.  I move some models around to break control zones.  Then I plow my Mahud King right into the Uruk-hai captain and his two columns of pikes.  This is crazy, but at least my impaler rule kills one of the orcs.  Now it's 2-1 for kill ratios.  The Raiders charge the Isengard troll again.  The spear of one of my models touches the troll's chest.  Will this be the good omen I hope it is?
Well, it was a good omen for the raiders.  The troll decides to "troll-up" and fight.  I win this time and throw six, strength 5 dice to wound.  I roll a lot of sixes and the Isengard troll is no more!  Yeah!

It was a Pyrrhic victory.  My King throws four dice and the best he gets is a three.  So pikes and swords get jammed into his face and he dies.  The kill score is 2-2, but the game is lost.  I ask to call the game, but we decided to play through one more round.  The Uruk-hai captain easily gets his kill and we end it.  Major victory to the Uruk-hai.

It was a good game and I had several realizations as I played.  The biggest one hit me like a ton of bricks.  I realized my Raiders are not for charging rank-and-file troops.  They are for hitting multi wound models.  To do otherwise means the Impaler rule could leave them exposed to counter attacks.  But on a multi-wound model, like the Isengard troll, it would help soften up the enemy.  So any game where I can learn something is not a loss!  I look forward to taking out the Far Harad again.  I might just start learning how to play them!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Tale of Four Lord of the Rings Gamers

So I will be participating in the "Tale of Four Lord of the Rings Gamers."  You can read about it on the Cursed Treasures blog.  It sounds like a nice challenge and an interesting way to get an army together.  I remember the articles from 2008.  So it will be fun to do the same in my own corner of the gaming universe.

As Tim pointed out, I will be working on an Elf army.  I've already previewed it here and started test paints.  Since I did buy the army from Tim it was already primed.  I just had to assemble most of the spearmen and glue the other models to their bases.  So I'll slow down my pace to match the competition schedule.  I'll just finish what's in progress now and pick up again on May 1st.

Playing games in increments of 175 points will be an interesting challenge for Elves.  Of course, if I'm going to play Elves I better get used to being outnumbered.  At 175 pts I can take a Captain and nine warriors.  Yikes!  I think I'll test out the Isildur's Bane rules I mentioned last post using this points level.  Everyone else will be doing a horde army (yes, I will bet even Dwarfs).  So I expect a lot of trapped Elves meeting horrible deaths.

Painting in increments of 175 pts will be a lot easier for me.  But I'm still a massive slow poke with the paint brush.  When I get to Elrond, though, I'll just have to paint him and a warrior to make the cut!

Well, that's about all I have to say for now.  Check out the link at Cursed Treasures for more details.  My first 175 pts is due on June 1st.  Until then, back to the regularly scheduled program.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Merits of Practice

Whenever I get a new army together, it usually takes three or four games for me to understand how the force plays and how its special rules work.  Sometimes things that I think I "get" don't actually work as I thought.  A case in point is my understanding of the "impaler" rule for my Far Harad raiders.  Another thing that happens a lot is forgetting special rules.  I had to play my Corsairs at least ten times before I stopped forgetting about their throwing weapons.

For most people, the antidote to these problems is to get in a lot of games with the army.  As you go, you learn how the force plays and the nuances of its special rules.  However, there are some cons to this approach.  You might have purchased models that you no longer want in your force, (I'm looking at you, Corsair Arbalesters) or not enough models to make the unit useful.  Since you will be stumbling along, you might enjoy your games less and become frustrated with your army.  Finally, you might have limited gaming time, therefore prolonging the time to get accustomed to your new army. Trying to solve for all these issues at once seems impossible.  But there might be a solution.

Solo play would allow you to address each of these issues.  For starters, the entire issue of limited time is solved as your gaming partner is available when you are.  Since you will be playing a solo game, you can proxy models to try out different units.  You don't even have to use models.  You can use paper chits or spare bases with labels.  After all, you are just testing out options or checking to see if you like a certain army.  If you make stupid mistakes, you can keep that to yourself.  Even if not trying to solve for anything specific, the repetition of "the basics" will improve your game.

When I first learned WHFB years ago, I walked through the rules using the Orcs versus Empire models that came with the starter box.  I've done this for FoW and other games as well.  These sessions helped get the rules into my head.  But the solo play rules walk-thru is different from a game where you are trying to meet scenario objectives while dealing with the unpredictable movements of an opponent.  You need to be able to surprise yourself.  That usually only happens to me when bouncing checks. 

This has been a long way around the barn to get to what I want to say.  I was thinking of how I might be able to play LotR as a solitaire game.  I mainly wanted to do this as a way to learn how some of my newer armies play.  But I'd also like to be able to check out other forces before I invest in them.  A quick web search revealed that I am not alone in the endeavor.

I found Isildur's Bane, which is a "hack" of the LotR game to allow for solo play. I read through the rules and think that this will fit the bill.  I actually set up five models for each side and tested it out.  It works!  It's not exactly the same game.  Move and shoot phases are combined and there are no heroic actions.   A test with five models a side was just a way to see if things made sense.  I will now have to test out the game with a larger force.

So I'll be hosting a "Battle of the Unpainted Armies" some time this week.  I've got about 250pts of Orcs and easily that much of Elves.  I've never played either side, so this will be a great test.  I don't have much in terms of terrain to make things more interesting.  I plan on using just a 2' x 2' board to keep things moving fast.  I haven't decided on a scenario either.  Maybe I'll make up my own.  At any rate, I will post up the results of my test game.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Next Big Thing

"Vig used to call me 'Elf boy', and I'd call him 'filthy human'. As an Elf, I never got a scratch on me, never got dirty. And Vig would come out with blood and sweat all over him. And he'd say to me, 'Oh, go manicure your nails.'"
Orlando Bloom

After that subtle introduction, you probably guessed that my next army is Elves. Congratulations, you are correct! Based on who I quoted, you probably guessed Legolas will be part of the force. So sorry, you lose. I'm going with 700pts of High Elf goodness. I'm leaning toward Rivendell, with Elrond in the lead. But I also bought a few other Elf heroes to swap out. It seems the only modification you can make to a pure Elf force is the hero. Everything else is a warrior. A bit dull.

Here's what the force looks like in its current state.

 That's a bit underwhelming. You may have noticed a few models are actually painted. Despite thinking "Rivendell" I'm actually painting a "Grey Havens" color scheme. Check out my test paints.

Once again I am defeated by crappy photography skills and an overwhelming laziness to improve my photography. But you get the idea. They aren't this washed out in real life. While individually the color scheme might look somewhat "blah," when you group up a bunch they look far more impressive.

This is what I'll be working on for probably the next month. Despite an easy to paint color scheme, I'll find a way to make it take far longer than necessary.

"Love is a perky elf dancing a merry little jig and then suddenly he turns on you with a miniature machine gun. "
Matt Groening

Monday, April 11, 2011

Annual Bonus Bonanza

So bonus time has arrived and unlike years past I don't have to apply it all to paying down debt!  Hooray for discretionary funds!  As I considered how to make the most irresponsible choice for spending extra money, miniatures came to the top of the list.

As the dearth of posts for the last two years demonstrate, miniature gaming has been off my radar for one reason or another.  But times have changed and I'm experiencing a renewed excitement for all thing "mini."  So I've decided to build out that Tau force I started a few years back.  I've always liked the models and wanted to expand my collection.  This will make my third 40K army, Ultramarines and Tyranids being the other two.  I hear Tau suck in 5th ed.  But this doesn't matter much, because I have personally sucked in every edition.

I also picked up some miscellaneous Lord of the Rings blisters.  These are just filling holes in existing armies, as well as additions for a planned army (ah-ha, a teaser for another post).  It was a lot of fun to get out and tour the different stores and spend my money.  Thanks to Drunken Samurai for driving and Tim from Cursed Treasures for coming along.  It was a great time, and probably something I won't get to do again for a long time.

Here's a shot of what I picked up.  I've got a lot of work ahead!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Little Wars

My new iPhone has somehow breathed life into my blogging.  Here is my second post that has come via using my new electronic gadget.  In this case I was surfing the internet on war gaming topics while at lunch.  I came across an interesting tidbit about the birth of modern war games.   Apparently H.G. Wells was the first person to codify table top war game rules using tin soldiers.

He published a book, Little Wars, that gave all sorts of rules for infantry, cavalry, and hand to hand combat.  The book is available for download at Project Gutenberg in a variety of formats.  It's worth a peek just to see the creative use of building blocks for terrain.

The rules covered things we modern gamers would recognize: deployment (behind a curtain!) phases, special rules, "move or shoot" guns, even scenarios.  From what I saw, there was no dice rolling.  Assaults were settled by determining which side had more models in contact. I didn't see how shooting was resolved.

While the rules are musty and old news now, it is an interesting look at the roots of our modern games.  No matter how we jazz up things today, they tend to harken back to the basics laid out a century ago in this book.  I've only surfed through it, but at some point will probably read it all for the historical value.  It's more of a paper than a "book."  I think a lot of this book could be used today with some modifications.