Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Battle Report: Open Combat by Second Thunder

Last week the club came together to try out Open Combat, the new medieval/fantasy ruleset by Second Thunder. The game was written by Carl Brown, a former Games Workshop creative type, with additional development from Gav Thorpe, a current Games Workshop creative type.

Open Combat is designed to give a simple, concise skirmish game with just a handful of figures. That's right up our alley here at CSW, so we were pretty excited to try out this game when Mattias proposed it a couple months back.

We had six players at last week's game in my small basement game room. The ideal battlefield size for Open Combat is just 24 inches square -- another bonus for us, since space is often at a premium on our game nights.

The first game was a dungeon delve featuring my grim dwarves versus Tim's slippery fishmen and goblins. I set up a medium-sized dungeon using my Dwarven Forge game tiles (from last year's Kickstarter) and we used the "Confrontation" deployment rules, which meant that we took turns deploying our figures one at a time, with each figure at least 8 inches away from the enemies. That resulted in a lot of little groups lurking in hallways and antechambers, ready to pounce.

Here are some pics from our initial deployment. In this pic, Tim's fishman is joined by two goblins near a treasure hoard.

And here, a mouthy beast lurks at the end of a zigzag hallway, waiting for dinner.

My dwarves were split into two groups due to deployment restrictions. One group, headed by Dwylla the dwarven sorceress (front and center) mustered near a heap of loot.

In Open Combat, there aren't any stock character profiles -- you create each warrior using a points system at the start of each game. And despite not having a magic system per se, Open Combat had enough special rules and "abilities" that I was able to create a fairly potent mage for our intro game. Dwylla proved to be a lynchpin for my entire warband.

As the game got underway, Ketni the bear-rider smashed open a mouldering door and pounded through the deserted hallways, seeking his allies in the mazelike dungeon.

The two factions quickly came to blows in the twisting passageways of the dungeon. Here two dwarves found themselves in a desperate battle with a slimy fishman.

All figures have facing in Open Combat, which presents lots of tactical options when closing in for melee. Do you attack the toughest enemy figure and leave your flank open to counterattack? Do you engage two figures at once to prevent one from sneaking around for a rear attack?

The game also makes use of a fun little recoil system. Typically a hit in close combat will inflict 1 point of damage and will sometimes cause a 1 or 2 inch recoil. But if you recoil into a solid piece of terrain (say, a dungeon wall!) you take an additional point of damage. With our best figures having just 5 or 6 hit points, you can see how this fight got bloody very quickly!

Back in the main dungeon chamber, Dwylla sent her dwarven bodyguard into combat with the surging goblins and fishmen. Senseless butchery ensued, with Dwylla using her magical "abilities" to drain the stats of the fishmen and goblins.

In Open Combat, most attacks reduce the enemy's Fortitude statistic (think of this like hit points). If your Fortitude reaches zero, you die. A few specialized attacks reduce the enemy's Mind stat, which causes various debilitating penalties if it ever reaches zero. But luckily, any figure can forfeit his or her activation to regain 1 point of lost Fortitude or Mind.

Back in the game, the fishmen struck back, slapping the dwarves with their flippers and attempting to drag them back into the fetid stinking pools from whence they came.

After some more mindless slaughter, Tim and I had the bright idea of checking the victory conditions for our scenario. Turns out I had just pushed his warband past its break point, so his fishmen fled the field and slithered back down the dim hallways toward their spawning pools. Here's our battlefield at the end of the game. The gibbering mouth demon was still on the loose!

While Tim and I were slugging it out in the hallways of the deep dark dungeon, two other games were taking place. Josh snapped some photos of those battles.

In this game, Karl's knights and retainers squared off against Jon's simian archers in the fungal forests.

I don't know what role, if any, these pigs played in their game.

This melee taught both Karl and Jon the importance of outnumbering in Open Combat!

Elsewhere Josh's fearsome werewolves battled Mattias's tainted riders from the Wyrdwold.

The rules for mounted and monstrous figures were identical, and in practice it meant that both of these factions had trouble activating due to either 1) a skittish mount or 2) a raging monster.

After our games wrapped up, the six of us spent a bit of time discussing the pros and cons of Open Combat, and comparing it to our go-to fantasy ruleset, Song of Blades & Heroes.

Open Combat definitely has more granularity and tactical depth. Unit placement matters, and terrain seems to matter more. The game has a weapon list, although it's pretty short at this point. We didn't have a whole lot of shooting in our games, but Open Combat handles this in an innovative way: shooters have infinite range and are hindered only by terrain features. This rule makes a single shooter way more useful on the Open Combat battlefield, compared to the SBH battlefield.

Another observation is that leaders feel like leaders in Open Combat. You can dump lots of points into their stats and not have to worry about them dying and triggering the collapse of your entire warband -- something that happens regularly in SBH. (Note that this is a feature of SBH, not necessarily a drawback, since it often pushes games toward completion. Still, it has always felt odd that leaders must lead from the back in SBH.)

The game requires a pen and paper to track stat changes, which occur regularly due to casualties or effects. Some stats wear off after one turn; others are permanent. It's possible to have several overlapping temporary stat modifiers on a single figure during his activation. Playing at a higher level (say, 12 to 20 figures) might prove problematic because of all the record keeping required.

We agreed, however, that the rules seemed somewhat incomplete. Every other section seemed to be waiting for some new element or detail to be bolted on to complete the author's idea. Most rules seem to work with figures that are roughly human-sized ... two arms, two legs, carrying weapons, etc ... but it was more difficult to work in the bizarre monsters and beasts that typically populate our fantasy games. The current game is certainly playable, but there is ample opportunity for the publisher to expand upon the current offering in a subsequent edition. We look forward to seeing what Carl comes up with!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Sunday, November 23, 2014

More Reinforcements: Knights and Pavises

Here's a look at yet another batch of figures that I didn't paint. Don't worry, I have some of my own creations on display at the bottom of this post!

A year or so ago I purchased a massive load of Essex 25mm medieval miniatures from a local gamer here in the Chicago area.  My intent was to build a "Good Guy" army to counter my "Bad Guy" Kings of War army. The Bad Guy chaos army is still slowly growing, but the idea of building an entirely new army, especially one as miniatures-intensive as this one would be, has become much less appealing.

I finally sold most of it off this this month, but I kept the eight miniatures you see in this post. These had come painted to a standard quite above my own. I added a few missing weapons, touched up a few places that had chipped, and the results are quite pleasing.

The classic blackline and shading work is not a ground-breaking technique anymore, but it's very well done and far beyond my own abilities. The freehand work on these figures is truly impressive.

Check out the scabbards!

This got me thinking about some of the other work I had seen while visiting the painter, a local chap named Jon Stachura. I contacted him and asked more about his work and he was kind enough to offer up a wealth of photos and information about his long career as a miniatures painter. Look for that in a subsequent blog post.

Regarding the miniatures themselves, the Essex miniatures are a bit bigger than some other classic 25mm lines and are chunky, even by the standards of their day. Still, the details are quite good, and they are a step up in quality from most of the Old Glory 25mm figures that I've seen.

They are shorter than many current 28mm figure lines (such as the ubiquitous Games Workshop), but the chunky dimensions means that they would probably look good on the same tabletop if kept in their own units. And it will work perfectly for any of the warband-style skirmish games that the club plays regularly. All in all, this is a set of minis that I am thrilled to be able to add to my collection. I saved a small batch of the unpainted Essex to add to this group for my Of Gods & Mortals warband.

After our most recent Kings of War game, I decided to upgrade my chaos army to make the archers a little more powerful. Here is a fast and cheap way to build an "extra rank" of pavises to bulk out such units!

I've currently got 30 chaos archers (old Battlemasters figures) painted up, but 40 will get me to horde-sized unit in Kings of War, which is much more potent. I have exactly zero interest in painting more of them, and I'm not even sure I even have any more. So instead I decided to individually base and paint 10 pavises I had lying around from the aforementioned lot of Essex medieval miniatures.

The pavieses are supported by sections of toothpicks, both of which are just pressed into premixed concrete patch and cement, which readers of this blog will recall is one of my favorite products for figure bases.

The painting is just black gesso undercoat, base colors, drybrushed base, a few indecipherable red chaos runes and dip, followed by the matt varnish and done!

I would recommend only that anyone doing this project do one thing differently than I did. Put the pavise in the middle of the base rather than the front edge. Some of mine ended up a bit tippy, and I had to add some weight (old metal sprue) under the opposite side. Also, the pavises already hide most of the basing on your front rank of miniatures, so if you put the pavise at the front, you loose some valuable space in which to put your basing scheme in clear view.

Look for these pavises in our next game of Kings of War!

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Thursday, November 20, 2014

More Reinforcements: Knights and Warjacks for Kings of War

Recently I added two new units to my Kings of War chaos army: a unit of warjacks and a block of chaos knights. Now, I know what you're thinking: "Wait, what? Warjacks in Kings of War? I thought you could only use them in that other game?"

Well, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that Chicago Skirmish Wargames generally scoffs at games that limit the models you can use in your army. If something looks cool, we'll find a way to get it onto the battlefield! In this case, I'm using the warjacks as "Lesser Obsidian Golems" in Kings of War. I've always wanted to paint a warjack, and when this opportunity arose, I figured "Why not paint six of them!"

Thanks to fellow club members Tim and Mattias, who helped me source these figures at the bargain basement prices, which in turn made this project possible. There's no way I'd be able to do a unit of warjacks at anything near MSRP.

My chaos army is mostly drawn from the Kingdoms of Man army list, with allies from Undead and Abyssal Dwarves lists. Golems are a hard-hitting (if slow-moving) unit of soulless automatons. The official Mantic miniatures are fine figures, but the Khador warjacks are a better visual fit with my army's style. With their axes and large armored shoulders, they look a lot like mechanical versions of the chaos warriors and knights that make up the core of my force.

The pic below shows the difference in height between shorter original metal models and the taller current plastic models.

The two plastic jacks below are the leader models for the group. The jack on the left is stock. On the right, I modified the legs for a more dynamic pose and converted a left arm to arm it with two axes.

Except for a plastic head on the right, the two metal jacks below are built from stock metal parts. However, I think in Warmachine one of them would have a gun arm. Kings of War golems don't have ranged weapons, so I did a lot of mixing and matching in order to make them all armed with different variations of hand weapons.

The two metal warjacks below benefited from a bag of Khador warjack spare parts that Tim found, which yielded some alternate heads to give a bit more variation to the unit. The one on the right I call "The Boxer." He has two plastic fists and a face with a jaw that juts out. The one on the left has a plastic fist and I converted a double-bladed axe for his right hand.

These guys were painted quickly with base colors and a dip. I matte varnished the red areas, but left most of the metalic areas a bit glossy. They've only got about four colors anyway, so it was an easy job. The bases are just bits of pine bark with sand and gravel.

It's lucky that Lesser Obsidian Golems are the only infantry unit in KoW that are on 50mm bases, because these guys are just barely able to rank up on the tabletop with the 50mm round bases that they come with. The 40mm bases used by most large infantry in the game would have been unworkable.

Also, I recently took possession of these six chaos knights, straight from Mattias's workbench.

You might recognize them -- they are actually just the plastic chaos knights from Battlemasters, the 1990s board game from Games Workshop and Milton Bradley. The figures don't have much fine details, but they're workable. I think you'll agree that Mattias has taken them to a whole new level with his painting. All I did was clean them up and glue some skully-bits to their shields and then give them the rocky basing style to match the rest of the army.

For our Song of Blades and Heroes games, I created a bit of background, calling them the "Night Herons of the Black Crown." Mattias took that literally and gave them a starscape motif on their armor, bringing real visual interest to figures that don't possess an abundance of detail.

I chose one knight and overbrushed various decorative elements and rivets in bronze, though I probably should have been a bit more thorough. He may serve as a mounted general for the army.

Thanks Mattias! The addition of these two units brings my Kings of War army close to a solid 2,000 points. I've got a few more units on the way, but for now I can slow down a bit knowing that the army is almost big enough for most any game that we would play. In case you missed it, both units took part in a huge Kings of War battle earlier this month, though I didn't finish basing them until afterwards.

-- Karl, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reinforcements on the way: Dwarf Bear Cavalry

When I first decided last year that I wanted to build a dwarf army for Kings of War, Song of Blades & Heroes and other similar fantasy rulesets, I didn't drool over photos of cannons, flamethrowers or organ guns. No, my tastes tended toward the more wild and primeval parts of dwarven mythology. I wanted a bear rider.

After a year of working on my dwarf army (and consistently forgetting about my cavalry needs when shopping at the game store), I've been able to achieve that dream. Last weekend I painted up Thorvald, Dwarf Bear Rider (14136) from Reaper's Warlord line.

It's a fairly simple paintjob -- lots of dark, smoky armor, with the whiteness of the polar bear fur to provide contrast. I'm planning to get this guy on the table later this month as we try out Open Combat, the generic medieval/fantasy ruleset developed by Second Thunder.

Here's a peek at my dwarf army as it appeared before Thorvald arrived to claim his rightful place at the head of the vanguard. I think I can muster about 1500 points for Kings of War by this point. Not a huge force, but a good start toward some truly epic dwarven shenanigans.

Check back in a week or two for a closer look at Open Combat!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, November 7, 2014

Kings of War: The Killing Fields of the Agamin Desert

Last week the club gathered at Games Plus for another game of Kings of War. At 4,000 points per side, this 5-player battle was our largest game yet of KOW, and I'm pleased to report that the fast-playing ruleset once again gave a satisfying game replete with epic charges, heroic stands, brutal artillery barrages and deadly magical attacks.

A note about our armies: If you're a regular Chicago Skirmish Wargames reader, you'll know that we love games that don't put any limits on the models that we use. King of War embraces that ethos, which is why our armies are composed of miniatures from a dozen or more manufacturers, everything from Citadel to Reaper to RAFM to Mantic to old school Battlemasters to D&D prepaints and everything in between. If you're curious about the origin of a particular miniature, just ask in the comments section.

The game took place in the Agamin Boneyard, a vast windswept desert in the southern reaches of Qaarra. Mike and Alex commanded two detachments of stout dwarves, which allied with Tim's heroic defenders of the wilderness (hobbits, fairies and elementals). Here is their immense battle line, starting with Mike's dwarves, then on to Tim's nature warriors, then finally (barely glimpsed) are the dwarves commanded by Alex.

Here's the same battle line, looking from the opposite direction. Dwarves riding pigs!

On the other side of the battlefield, Karl and I mustered our forces: 2,000 points of undead for me, and 2,000 points of chaos warriors for Karl. Here is our battle line, starting with the undead army (dominated by Nethyrmaul the zombie dragon) and continuing on to Karl's red-armored chaos hordes (and the master tactician himself consulting a rulebook in the background).

Here's a closer look at Karl's battle line, which stretched off our felt battle mat and onto another makeshift battfield extension we had put together. We had immense 6 by 10 foot playing area at our disposal, which really allowed for an epic battle (as you'll see in the photos).

We played a variation on the "Kill and Pillage" scenario and placed 8 objective markers on the battlefield to fight over. At the end of six turns, victory points would be tallied based on objective markers held and casualties inflicted.

With that, we were off! Karl and I got the first turn. With creaking bones and clanking armor, the undead and chaos legions advanced ... slowly. Most of my undead guys had the "shambling" special rule, which meant they couldn't move very quickly. Karl's advance was a little better. A few of our units were quite fast, which enabled them to quickly outpace the bulk of our infantry. As we'd learn later in the game, this was both a blessing and a curse...

I don't know who the guy is in the background of this pic...

The turn passed to Mike, Tim and Alex, who surged forward toward the objectives scattered across the battlefield. Here's a closer look at Tim's hobbit horde -- literally 40 hobbits on a movement tray, backed up by an assortment of earth, water and fire elementals.

Mike's beautifully painted dwarves advanced in lockstep, hauling their artillery weapons as they came.

Nethyrmaul and his lesser bone dragon minion seized the small farm in the center of the table, from whence they would spew frightful magic attacks for the rest of the game. In the background, Karl looks on approvingly.

On the flank, Karl's fast-moving chaos cavalry crashed into a troop of dwarf boar riders commanded by Alex. This initial fight was just a harbinger of the slaughter to come as the armies moved ever closer.

Finally the vanguards of each army clashed near the center of the table. This big scrum included Tim's elementals, fairies and hobbits, as well as my wraiths and undead cavalry, plus Karl's red dragon, werewolves and chaos warriors, all gleefully smashing each other.

First blood came when Tim's fire elementals succeeding in routing Karl's unit of beastmen berzerkers. The cloven-hoofed fighters fled in terror and were removed from the battlefield.

On the flank, a troop of dwarf warriors commanded by Alex found themselves in a desperate predicament, as they received a charge by a horde of chaos warriors. Yes, that is a block of 40 old Battlemasters chaos warriors, all ranked up and ready to kill. Woe to the 10 dwarves standing in their path!

Even as this butchery unfolded, Alex kept up a steady stream of marginally accurate fire from his cannon. This is a rebased siege cannon from a prepainted MageKnight kit.

As quickly as he could, Karl rallied and charged in with his remaining chaos regiments. More slaughter ensued on both sides.

Back in the center of the battle, Tim's fairies and elementals had cut a swathe through Karl's elite units and were threatening his flank. Luckily he had a few more units in reserve to plug the gap. Tim's flying fairies are actually Epic 40k Eldar with butterfly wings!

On the far left flank, a grudge match was developing between Mike's dwarves and my skeleton regiments, which were both inching closer to each other under a barrage of crossbow and catapult fire.

Here's a more expansive look at the center of the battlefield, where Nethyrmaul held court with his ghastly breath attack and Tim's elementals rampaged through the smoke and flames.

By this point, many of Karl's chaos units were in full rout, having collapsed under the onslaught of Alex's dwarves and Tim's elementals and fairies.

The brutal frost giant himself joined the battle, helping to defeat Karl's cavalry.

Around this point, we reached our time limit and called the game. We had played five very satisfying turns (the scenario ends at 6 turns, so we basically played it to completion).

After tallying the results and quibbling over my questionable mental math, we concluded that the forces of good had prevailed over the armies of woe. Tim, Mike and Alex shared the victory while Karl and I cheered ourselves up in the knowledge that my undead army would be twice as big next time, once I raised all his slain chaos warriors from the grave.

Once again Kings of War gave us a great, visually stunning game. The glorious spectacle of 8,000 points of 28mm fantasy figures clashing across a 10-foot-long battlefield was truly something to behold. I hope my photos did the game justice.

Even though this was the first game for Alex and Mike (and only the second for me) we quickly got into the flow of the game and needed only minimal rulebook flipping to resolve most situations. I was using an army builder on my iPad, which presented all my stats and rules in a single screen.

I'd like to play the game again soon, though perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, since we don't regularly have access to a 6 by 10 foot table!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member