Archive for June, 2008

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That Samurai Game–Play Test Summary

June 15, 2008

Aim: To evaluate some of the essential mechanics of the game.

Situation: A RED force comprised of three contingents, with limited cavalry and ashigaru. A BLUE force, with three contingents, with a stronger cavalry emphasis but also with teppo armed ashigaru. The field was an 8 x 8 square grid, with a river cutting across approximately centrally and ahill to one side.

Events: As a test game, the main purpose here was not to simulate an historical event, but to provide a forum for testing some of the main game mechanisms. including but not limited to:

  • the movement rules: Were the movement point values roughly right? Did the mechanism for dealing with obstacles and terrain make sense? was it easy to implement?
  • the combat rules: Are the attack values currently used on the blocks reasonable? Did the CRT produce reasonable results? Was the general mechanic easy and smooth to implement? Did the break and cohesion mechanics work well? 
  • the use of the action cards: Was it fairly straightforward to select action cards from the draw deck each turn? Was a draw deck size of approximately 50 points suitable? Were there enough of each card type available when building the draw deck? 
  • the process of countering: Was it straightforward? Did it encourage weighing the benefits of countering versus the cost of sacrificing an order card?
Summary of Results: The BLUE force took an early advantage when the cavalry contingent on the right flank moved swiftly to engage a smaller and less well-trained RED force ashigaru contingent. The only hiccup was an ‘Unexpected Terrain’ stratagem played by RED to disrupt the cavalry movement. BLUE also began to advance the cavalry contingent on its left flank, but this was very quickly stalled when RED played one of his two Gambits, ‘Treacherous General’. Given the significance of this gambit, both sides played high value cards in the ensuing Counter, with RED wining and taking control of the treacherous BLUE contingent. This forced BLUE to commit his centre contingent to engaging the traitors and gave RED time to counter BLUE’s initial cavalry charge and to begin an advance of his own. Interestingly, the battle swung back towards BLUE because of tighter card management. RED, suffering from a bit of hand planning disarray, ended up with very few useful orders and cards of low value, and BLUE was able to support some of his units more effectively in melee. So, all in all, it ended with BLUE once more in the ascendency.                                                                                    
   
Evaluation:
  • Movement worked quite well. No real changes necessary at this stage. Obstacles have the effect of disrupting units, which reflects disturbing their formation and coherence. It feels about right–only a small amount of damage–and is very easy to implement. 
  • Combat was, in the main, fine, with a few exceptions. The range of attack values is probably too large. The numbers reflect quality, but a range of 1 to 10 is probably a bit of a stretch and it had the effect of making shifts for unit type on the CRT less significant. Quality should produce about the same magnitude as the most significant difference in units types, which means a range of 1 to 5 at the most. The CRT itself worked reasonably well, but units were reduced and broke very quickly, which indicates that the cohesion rating on the units are a little small. They could probably be doubled. Breaking was simple without being too simplistic. The effect of a breaking unit on other adjacent units wasn’t really tested, but this will need to be tweaked to reflect any change in the cohesion rating. Otherwise, combat was very straightforward, requiring reference to only three tables in total.
  • The action cards need some cleaning up. They don’t reflect the evolution of the rules since they were produced, and they are too wordy. In addition, several of the stratagems don’t really work, including “A Leader’s Prayer”, which is too powerful and should probably just cause a shift on the CRT. Several stratagems are now gambits. Choosing cards at the end of each turn wasn’t hard at all once the game got into swing. However, selecting cards for both their orders and stratagems wasn’t as easy as just selecting for orders, and I found myself purely selecting orders and maybe one targetted stratagem. Consolidation of orders should be done. For example, HALT is unnecessary: It simply costs an action to remove a MOVE from a unit, signified by discarding one card held in the hand; ENGAGE and FIRE could be combined; If a unit is moved into an enemy unit’s square, the player moving the unit should probably be allowed to immediately halt the unit; I also haven’t really considered what happens when a contingent under a standing order has another order given to a unit within that contingent. One issue with the cards is what to do when a player reaches the end of his deck. Do both player’s reshuffle, or only one? Maybe it depends on the particular goal of a player.
  • I really like countering. It is simple, it introduces a degree of uncertainty and guesswork, and it forces a player to make choices about whether or not to preserve his hand. More trials are needed, but at the moment countering seems like a very elegant way to introduce dynamics into a game that has no randomness.
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The Alamo at Little Wars 2008

June 7, 2008

Greg Blake tells us about his beautifully presented game at Little Wars 2008 in Melbourne. Contact Greg at gregoryblake@bigpond.com if you would like more information on the figures, the terrain, or the rules. Or even more on the history, I expect. Thanks, Greg for putting on a great game.

The Alamo is one of the iconic and legendary to the last man last stand battles of history. In the actual event, a force of about 200-armed Texian defenders inside the Alamo resisted a siege by several thousand soldiers of the Mexican army under the command of General and President of Mexico Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna for thirteen days. Eventually tiring of the whole affair Santa Anna launched his men against the Alamo. In an overwhelming pre-dawn assault the Alamo was stormed. The Texians fought to the last wreaking a terrible toll on the attackers, but the Alamo fell and the garrison died to the last man. Thus was born an event that has long since become the stuff legend and myth.

What better battle to play as a game at Little Wars 2008. Players had a choice to either join the numberless and ever oncoming ranks of the Mexican army or be one of the Alamo’s defenders fighting side by side with such legendary figures as Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis. It did not seem to matter to those who played Texian that there was very little hope of them winning this contest – although it has been done twice in the Alamo games I have run. My line to those who considered playing Texian was that by so doing they could “die gloriously and become a legend”. This seemed to work as everyone who played Texian did just that with gusto.

The setting for the game is my 25mm Hudson and Allen scale model of the Alamo. More than 300 painted 25mm figures. All the figures are provided by Cannon Fodder miniatures, which is my company, and painted to an excellent standard by the members of the Western Suburbs Wargames Association. The game is set to last for two and half hours, but it is a rare event if it lasts this long. On turn one slightly more than 240 figures of the Mexican army are deployed just within Texian rifle range in their historic attack positions. The 60 Texian figures may placed anywhere within the walls of the Alamo. The Texians also have 14 artillery guns which are in fixed positions including one big 18pdr in the south west corner. Texian firepower is formidable having twice the range and three times the chance to hit when compared to the Mexicans. This is compensated for though by Mexican numbers as all Mexican losses are automatically replaced until the last half hour of the game. These losses, which mount quickly, can be brought on at any point on the table’s edge. How these replacements arrive, either as individuals or en masse is left to the Mexican players discretion. Ordinary D6 dice are used and lots of them are rolled. Each rifleman or musketeers rolls one dice and the artillery roll six dice, with the exception of the 18pdr, which rolls eight dice. Turns are alternate with the Mexicans moving first. Figures can either move or fire. Hand to hand combat is simple with the highest dice winning and it is during hand-to-hand that the Mexican numbers tell. Amongst the Mexican army there are twenty-four figures representing their elite Zapadores, these get firing and hand-to-hand bonuses; they however cannot be replaced once lost. On the Texian side there are four special figures, the legendary heroes of the Alamo. These are Davy Crockett who never misses when he shoots – just point and remove a figure and fights at +1 in hand to hand. There is Jim Bowie, who although in reality was on his death bed with typhoid during the battle, we allow to be up and fighting, Jim gets a +1 in hand to hand combat. Then there is William Travis the firebrand commander of the Alamo, Travis gets a +1 for shooting. Then there is a fictitious hero named Baddawg. Baddawg is a very big, ugly and armed to the teeth mountain man. He gets a +2 in all hand to hand combat. The balance of the game works out well with Mexican numbers compensating for Texian lethality.  

As in all wargames there were moments during the Little Wars Alamo games which stood out as moments to remember. One of the most notable involved Baddawg. Finding himself in the closing moments of the second game to be one of the last of the defenders alive Baddawg withdrew into the Chapel and held the door against repeated rushes by Mexican Soldados. No matter what was thrown against him Baddawg brushed it aside and continued to do so killing at least six Soldados in hand to hand combat. With the clock ticking and realising that they needed a quick solution to the problem posed by Baddawg the Mexican players pulled back from directly assaulting the Chapel’s doorway and fired volleys into it. The third of these killed old Baddawg and the Mexicans stormed over his body and into the Chapel.

Then there was Manuel, the sole survivor of the Mexcian assault on the south wall during the first game. Manuel had begun the day accompanied by about 90 other figures when he had set out to attack the south wall on turn one. Such was the storm of lead thrown out the Alamo defenders of that wall that by the time the assault got to the wall barely a dozen Soldados remained on their feet. Try as they might those few remaining brave Soldados could not effect an escalation of the south wall and eventually only Manuel was left. Realising his best option was to remain unnoticed Manuel spent a great deal of time very sensibly sheltering out of sight beneath the archway of the gate house where he remained until very close to the end of the game.

In contrast, during the first game the defenders of the north wall seemed to be immune to throwing any dice higher than a ‘3’. As they needed a 4, 5 or 6 to hit this resulted in far too many Mexicans arriving at the north wall very early in the game. Thus, given their numbers, the north wall was stormed by the Mexicans with relative ease and its defenders either retreated post haste or fell beneath the tidal wave of thrusting Soldados bayonets.

Then there was the story from the second game of the brave defenders of the Chapel, who along with Baddawg were the last four defenders of the Alamo. With the rest of the Alamo overrun and its defenders eliminated, these stalwarts manned two 6pdrs on the artillery ramp inside the chapel. This was while Baddawg held the Chapel door. Blasting at point blank range these heroes cut down swathes of Soldados attempting to clamber over roof tops to get at them. We gave up counting how many roof top climbing Soldados fell to those guns, at least 40 figures, probably more. Eventually though with Baddawg fallen Mexican musketry began to play on the gunners until there was only one left, the sole surviving defender of the Alamo. Firing one last blast from his gun this hero also fell and the game was over.

The Alamo game is all about playing a wargame on a great looking table, shifting about vast numbers of nicely painted and good-looking figures, rolling lots of dice while all the time indulging in boisterous spirited banter. It is also about reliving a legend, and challenging the impossible. For the Texian player it is about trying to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat and by so doing earn legendary status, and if failing to do so at least taking as many of the attackers with you as you can. For the Mexican it is about destroying the garrison as quickly as possible, which at first glance appears to be an easy thing to do but which one realises very quickly is not so.

I enjoy running the Alamo as a game and everyone who plays in it has a great time. If you see my game at future wargames shows and open days come on over, pick up a fist full of dice and join in!