Friday, April 18, 2014

Blood-Soaked Back Alleys: A Song of Blades & Heroes Game Report

This week a few of us got together to play a much-delayed game of Song of Blades & Heroes. I have been canceling and rescheduling this game just about every month since Christmas, due to a variety of factors beyond my control (including Chicago's brutal winter).

But this week the stars aligned, allowing Karl and Mattias to join me in my basement for our game. I created a scenario set in Vildeburg, the main city in our recent fantasy campaign. The game took place in the marketplace, an area of town frequented by merchants and dominated by Vildeburg's guild hall (the three-story building near the docks in the picture below).

In our scenario, four prominent traders and merchants have just concluded a deal outside the hall when they are set upon by two powerful chaos warbands. In the ensuing mayhem, each personality attempted to escape the carnage by fleeing to a particular point on the tabletop. Here are the traders assembled in the guild hall's courtyard.

(From left)
  • Trudebaran the master mage made for his stone tower, trusting in its arcane enchantments to repel the invaders.
  • Prince Akim Lorespeaker, merchant of the southern desert, pledged to defend the guild hall.
  • Brak Morn, barbarian fur trapper, attempted to sneak out of the city and seek refuge in the nearby woods.
  • Torrhigan Elfbane, dwarf metalsmith and trader, sought to meet up with his escort at the docks.

The chaos raiders would win if they could neutralize 3 or more personalities as they raced through the marketplace. The Vildeburg guild would win if three or more personalities made it to their destinations unharmed. In addition to the fellows pictured above, a handful of Vildeburg militia were roaming the streets and would aid the traders if needed.

With those rules in place, we were off!

Karl and Mattias both deployed a portion of their warband inside the church atop the rocky plateau. They had infiltrated the crypts beneath the church (which linked into the sewers of Vildeburg), which allowed them to come boiling out of the holy site on the first turn. Here are some of Mattias's ghastly dudes doing just that.

Just around the corner, though, were four dwarf boar-riders. These fellows were meant to escort Torrhigan to the docks, but they were pressed into service early in the game to counter the demons in the church!

Closer to the docks, Karl deployed his heavy cavalry, the Beast Blood Riders, along with Horg the ogre and Valspan the half-giant, to meet the dwarves and perhaps thwart their advance.

Remember those militia I said were patrolling around town? Well, they drew the ire of the Lord of the Lichens and the Shivering King, two fearsome mounted warriors in Mattias's army. Here's a look at the scene right before the two plucky soldiers were ridden down on the cobblestone streets of Vildeburg.

Actually they weren't killed instantly. Song of Blades & Heroes has a pretty generic combat system -- there are no weapon stats and minimal armor, so combat rarely yields a full-on "dead" result. More often, figures are driven back or knocked down, which of course puts them in a more dangerous position for the inevitable follow-up attack. In this case, the two militiamen survived the initial charge and then sprinted down the alley to rejoin a larger group of militia that was congregating around Trudebaran the wizard.

Here's a look at the battlefield as the game approached its midpoint. Karl's red-armored chaos warriors at engaging the dwarves around the dock, while Mattias's demons have thoroughly defiled the church and are threatening a small knot of militia on the left side of the battlefield. (And all alone, ignored for the moment, Prince Akim Lorespeaker stands alone in the courtyard outside the guild hall.)

Back at the church, the dwarven boar-riders rallied for a charge. With swords a-wavin' and blunderbusses a-spewin', they raced up a walkway and crashed into the demons. This combat turned into a real grindfest! Both demons and dwarf cavalry were stuck in combat right here for most of the game.

Here's a closer look at the epic scrum that was developing around the docks. Torrhigan is the short, out-of-focus dwarf on the left side of the pic, watching the fight development from his perch on the guild hall steps. Karl's chaos warriors, the Servants of the Black Crown, were formidable, but my dwarves were able to defeat three horse-mounted warriors -- greatly evening the odds!

Across the table, Brak Morn the barbarian was making his way out of the village and was pretty much unnoticed -- until Karl's chaos warriors spotted the hulking fighter sneaking under a bridge. Drawing their weapons, they leapt down and engaged him in a swirling melee. The huge barbarian gave as good as he got but eventually went down in a flurry of blows.

Thus my first personality figure bit the dust. Alas, it would not be the last -- a short distance away from his tower, Trudebaran the mage (in the purple robe below) found himself in a heap of trouble. He had joined up with a pair of militiamen, but the Lord of Lichens and the Shivering King had circled around to cut off his escape route.

The rest of the brigands swarmed to his location and overwhelmed the gallant fighters protecting him. Trudebaran fled but was caught and skinned alive a short distance away by the gruesome Flayer of Shins (Mattias's awesome standard bearer). Here is his final stand.

At this point, two of my four personality figures had been killed. Thanks to some lucky dice rolls by the docks, Torrhigan the dwarf had secured the dock. Karl had once last chance to engage Prince Akim Lorespeaker, paladin of the southern desert, with his remaining chaos warriors. Grimly hefting his sword and shield, Prince Akim met his attackers in single combat -- and survived!

We called the game a tie at that point.

In our post-game discussion, we agreed that this was a fun scenario and we could definitely play it again with a few tweaks. The best part was the mobility -- each personality was essentially a "victory point with legs," so we got to use the entire battlefield for our game as the warbands moved through the streets and back alleys.

Also, this was a fairly big game -- 500 points for both Mattias and Karl, and 1,000 points for me as the defender. We had about good number of figures per side (9 each for Karl and Mattias, and 19 for me). Gaming at this level is rapidly becoming our favorite way to play, since we're all quite adept at SBH after several years of playing it regularly.

This session was a good warm-up for our upcoming summer fantasy campaign. In a couple short months we will return to Qaarra and see what devastation has been wrought there. Stay tuned!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Laird and the Druid: A Song of Blades & Heroes Game Report

Mattias and I played a fantastic, fluff-driven Song of Blades and Heroes scenario last night. I supplied some terrain, and Mattias wrote an amazing scenario around it. Here's a shot of the table.

And here's a bit of background, courtesy of Mattias. The game is set in the Wyrdwold, a darkly enchanting fantasy setting that Mattias has been developing lately.

The Fell Glendywr carries in his lungs the wisp of a Fay-o’-the-Swale. His intention, and that of Laird Bilebroke, is to feed the spirit to the Stone All-Knowing in exchange for powers of blight and ruin. Bilebroke plans to use that power to re-enter the Fulgent Desmesnes, reclaim his seat, and wage war upon the Magnifex. 

However, in capturing the wisp, Bilebroke the Dread intruded upon sacred and unspoiled tracts of the Weald Aboriginal. He captured the guardians. He had them slain. But worst of all, he commanded the Fell Glendywr to defile the heart of the woods with his Vile Majicks. He had the magician capture the fay spirit that was the life of the place, and he put the heart of the woods to the torch. 

For this crime, Florifera the Wild has sworn vengeance and now lies in wait for Bilebroke to return to his hidden stronghold. She plans to make Glendywr kneel and spill his blood, releasing the Fay-o’-the wisp to wreak its vengeance upon Bilebroke and his minions. 

In the scenario, Mattias's nasty raiders were tasked with defending their magician -- the Fell Glendywr -- while he attempted to complete the ritual on the Stone All-Knowing (itself located atop the highest tower of the crumbling fortress. The attackers -- the wrathful druid Florifera and her cadre -- were seeking to capture the Glendywr and prevent the foul ceremony from reaching its apex.

Here are the defenders: Laird Bilebroke and his Banditry

And the attackers: Florifera the Wild and her Coven of Weald-Dwellers

We actually played this scenario two times, because the first was an utter failure. I did an awful job of deploying my druid warband at the start, and was quickly overcome by Mattias's bandits. For the second game, we adjusted the terrain and starting points a bit, and it worked out much better.

Florifera and her tree constructs deployed in the woods near the Spinney Shrine. The wolves and the avian bird-man waited off board, ready to ambush.

Across the table, the castle was well defended by Bilebroke's grim crew.

On the first turn, Florifera and the constructs moved forward. Laird Bilbroke and his followers moved forward along the road, unaware of what was in store. The avian materialized on the path, ready to attack -- but he failed his activation rolls, ending my turn and giving Mattias the initiative.

Bilbroke's followers destroyed the avian on their next activation. It was so gruesome that we can't show the pictures. Summer and Winter, the druid's two huge wolves, bounded out of the woods to avenge their fallen comrade. They surrounded the Fell Glendywr, hoping to end the battle quickly:

This quickly escalated into a huge brawl!

Winter fell in combat, but one of the tree constructs entangled Laird Bilbroke in vines, giving Summer a chance to exact her revenge. This triggered a number of unsuccessful morale rolls, sending Bilbroke's forces fleeing in every direction. Many of them were cut down while running. Some of them ran off the table!

The Fell Glendywr fled toward the castle, a construct hot on his heels.

At last the Shivering King recovered, and spurred his mount to speed him into combat with Florifera. He cut her down in single combat -- or did he just make her angry?

The Fell Glendwyr watched nervously from the castle walls, hoping to find time to complete the ritual.

He ascended the tower and cast himself before the Stone All-Knowing, but Florifera in her wolf form scaled the tower to meet him in single combat.

The druid Florifera knocked unconscious, slung his body under her arm and carried him back to the Spinney Stone.

Their wroth thus sated, the Druid and her companions sacrificed the Fell Glendwyr, restoring the Fey Spirit, and returning order to this small part of the Wyrdwold.

We had a great game, made all the better by the setting and flavorful scenario from Mattias. Look for more games in the Wyrdwold in the future!

-- Josh, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, February 28, 2014

Dark Days of Qaarra, Session 8: Torchlight Raids

The club got together again this week for our regular game night. We set up a couple games of Song of Blades & Heroes, and although we weren't running our experienced campaign warbands, it still pleased me to set these games in Qaarra, our campaign world from last summer. So this is session 8, albeit less official than most of our campaign games since we skipped the post-game steps like determining casualties, calculating income and the like. Still, we're building the mythology of Qaarra and that is a good thing.

We set up two side-by-side tables: a windswept wasteland of shattered rocks and stunted trees, part of the Sunderstone Badlands, and the eerie, abandoned village of Windspiel, high on the northwestern coast of Qaarra.

In the Sunderstone Badlands, Terrence's orcs were tasked with retrieving the bodies of two fallen comrades before Tim's nightmarish monstrosities could consume them in a tidal wave of fire, blood and space jelly. Here are Terrence's orcs advancing inexorably across the badlands.

Tim's monsters were freshly painted figures from the Descent board game, and it was really cool to see them on the table. So often these cool sculpts stagnate in board game boxes without ever feeling the soft caress of a paintbrush.

Since their first game ended pretty quickly, Tim and Terrence set up another game, where his orcs were tasked with escorting their rescued buddies across the badlands in a borrowed cart. Alas, they ran smack into Tim's monstrosities and were reduced to a fine red mist.

Across the table, my evil warband (led by Gracklemar the gnoll and featuring more gnolls, ratmen and a nasty troll) encountered Mattias's rowdy band of knaves from the Wyrdwold crowded around a smoky campfire. Here they are, apparently drunk on mead and riding horses around the camp.

Those barrels contained gems and loot from a recent raid, and that was exactly what Gracklemar and his minions were seeking. It was night, so the raid began with stealthy maneuvering. Here the ratman close in on the sentries while the rest of Mattias's guys sit around the fire, oblivious to the coming chaos.

When the alarm went up, the Wyrdwold marauders leapt into action, rallying around their banner to beat back Gracklemar's invaders.

Yep, that standard bearer proved to be a key part of Mattias's victory. Not just another pretty face! In the end, I was able to recover a couple barrels of loot, not nearly enough to win the scenario. My guys looked pretty cool, even in defeat! You be the judge. Here my ratman sneak lurks in a ruined cottage.

And here's a glowering look from my troll as he retreated with the remains of my warband. Don't worry, they'll all live to fight another day.

After that, we switched chairs, shuffled up the terrain and started another game. I was paired with Tim, so we set up a scenario where my ratmen were defending an entrance to their sewer hideout, represented by this low tower. It was surrounded by copses of parched trees.

Terrence and Mattias set up another variation on their "rescue the wounded orcs" scenario, with Mattias's Wyrdwolders trying to haul off the unconscious orcs before their comrades could rescue them. Here's the initial clash.

This scenario ended (as many do in Song of Blades & Heroes) with a gruesome kill by one of Terrence's orc champions. Luckily my camera was there to capture the moment it happened.

Looks like the Lord of Lichens will have to find himself a new horse before the next game!

And here's how my game with Tim finally shook out. This photo, showing my troll beset by fire elementals and star vampires, should give you some idea of my fate.

Yep, pretty grim! My troll scored a lucky hit and prompted Tim's entire warband to rout and run off the table, though. I literally snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

All in all it was another fun, flavorful evening of gaming with our favorite skirmish ruleset. The village of Windspiel was soaked through with blood from the recent conflicts, and the Sunderstone Badlands will no doubt be haunted by the ghosts of those who died in its dusty reaches. Just another day in the chaos-wracked lands of Qaarra.

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member

Friday, February 21, 2014

Tomorrow's War: Operation Snakepit

Once again, Josh and I had the day off, and so with snow in the forecast, we decided to sneak in a quick game of Tomorrow's War. We used our previous scenario as the jumping-off point for this battle.

Operation Snakepit
Colony World: Fornacis III 
Area: New Tupelov 

Following their decisive victory in New Tupelov’s urban core, the Subathi empire has begun redeploying its heavy weapons in preparation for a long-expected seige of the city by Terran armored divisions. Sensing an opportunity, the Thunderbolts mercenary army, operating under its own agenda, has prepared an ambush along one of these resupply corridors, hoping to catch the Subathi off-balance and inflict a devastating defeat. A setback here would give the Terrans an opening for their massed assault -- and it would serve the Thunderbolts’ own strategic purposes.

In game terms, the Subathi empire (represented by Josh's shiny Tau figures) had to escort a deactivated heavy weapon battle suit across a long table into a designated resupply zone on the other end of the table. My mercenary army, Colonel Markham's Thunderbolts, would attempt to ambush the escort and destroy the heavy weapon suit. Here's the battlefield (the bunker on the far end of the table represents Josh's destination):

The big rocky bluff in the center of the table proved to be an interesting terrain piece. It was large enough that it completely blocked line of sight across the table, effectively turning the battlefield into two smaller avenues and forcing Josh to choose a route through the broken ruins of New Tupelov.

(The awesome latex mat is from Zuzzy and I just finished painting it for Josh. Hopefully we'll see it again soon in games to come!)

We added a few new tweaks to this game. Josh kept the initiative the entire game, which meant that my Thunderbolts could only react to his actions as per the Tomorrow's War rules. Also, his Subathi had shield drones that generated a forcefield around his heavy weapon suit. I could target and destroy the shield drones, but that proved difficult and costly as the game wore on.

Josh's opening moves sent his guys around the right flank, seizing some ruins and laying down covering fire with some of his Subathi warriors. These initial maneuvers proved very effective, as it hampered my ability to move across the battlefield and respond to his flanking move. Here are two photos of a typical engagement from the opening turns of the game: my guys moving from cover and getting caught out in the open!

Oh crap! Run guys!

Eventually I slogged my way through Josh's firepower and deployed a couple fireteams on the rocky bluff in the center of the table. These guys spent the rest of the game lurking in the wooded hills, firing on Josh's shield drones as they tried to move across the table with their heavy weapon suit.

Josh's reinforcements arrived on turn 2, and he sent them up the left flank, which I had been busily evacuating so I could focus on the right flank. Oops! I had a couple fire teams on the left side of the board, so I put them into cover in the ruins of New Tupelov and prepared to return fire.

These figures are from Pig Iron's Heavy Infantry range and they're absolutely fantastic -- chunky, mid-tech near future warriors with appropriately sized weapons and a lot of character.

Shortly after I took this photo, a squad of Subathi warriors shot this fireteam to pieces, leaving only wounded, moaning troops lying in the dust. While the battle raged on the other side of the table, Josh sent a squad to capture my wounded mercenaries -- no doubt to give us a reason for a follow-up game! Here's the capture:

Across the table, I was doing a pretty good job of throwing roadblocks into Josh's path. In one notable engagement, he sent a squad of Subathi warriors charging into a mercenary squad that was already weakened by casualties. In a miraculous turn of events, the mercenaries rallied, fought off the Subathi, and proceeded to annihilate the opposing squad to a man.

As the game entered its final turns, I was finally able to shoot down a few of those pesky shield drones, thus exposing Josh's heavy weapon suit.

But my fireteams were out of position and I was only able to get off a few rounds of fire before we reached out turn limit. We actually played 1 turn beyond our limit because it was clear that Josh was on the verge of victory. And indeed, with his Subathi warriors providing covering fire, the heavy weapon suit marched into the resupply zone and secured the win.

Look, here's weapon suit. He's the one with missiles for hands. He's dancin'!

Once again we had a very enjoyable game of Tomorrow's War. With both players now pretty experienced, our games have begun to hum along quite smoothly. Josh and I agreed that the next game would be an all-out assault to free the captive mercs, so stay tuned for that one in the near future!

-- Patrick, Chicago Skirmish Wargames club member, with photos by Josh