Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sci-fi settlements

I created a few, simple sci-fi settlement buildings in 15mm scale to use in miniature games. Here is a link to the PDF file with uncolored and colored versions.
Low-resolution preview of the colored version
The buildings can be assembled as fold-flat or permanent structures. Not as simple as Toposolitario's Ikubes but still very handy. Each building is 75mm x 75mm x 30mm.

Here is a picture of a test build, along with some miniatures (15mm at eye level.)

"On the count of three..."

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Battle for Zorpel: Liberation?

This is report #6 on the Battle for Zorpel.

This was part of an offensive action to take back a settlement invaded by the skelebots. As they were losing ground, the robots started destroying equipment and infrastructure. The colonist team must shut down the power generators [by contacting the green and blue buildings] before the skelebots could damage them [by suppressing the blue and yellow buildings.]
Board setup, with randomly generated terrain, objectives and starting edges.
The human team consists of: Ford - level 1 rifleman (1 Grenade), Harry - level 2 heavy (Ammo pack, Dodge), Igor - level 0 grunt, James - level 0 grunt.

The skelebots include a leader - level 2 commander (+1 Morale, Counter move), 2 advanced skelebots - level 1 Assault (+1 Brawl) and 2 skelebot grunts.

[Note: I was reading the class advancement tables in Five Core like the ones in D&D, e.g. level and benefit, and only now I figured they were probably meant to be used with random rolls. Still, I will keep using them the wrong way on this campaign.]

The skelebots started shooting at the nearest building. Ford ran to the blue building while Harry covered him from the ruins. The new recruits rushed to the green building. They managed to shut down both generators before they could be damaged.

One of the advanced skelebots charged Ford but was suppressed by Harry. He, in turn, was taken down by the skelebot leader. The other skelebots moved around the buildings and shot Ford and the recruits down.
A couple of turns and the game was nearly over!
Igor and James recovered and ran away, dodging the enemy fire. Ford and and Harry were captured by the skelebots.

A victory for the skelebots, 9 points vs. 5 points. This was a priority mission, and failing at it caused a greater impact on the war effort. Current campaign progress is at -2. The next mission will be a standard military mission. James gained experience, becoming a scout.

In hindsight, it was a bad idea to put the more experienced soldiers in risk. Originally, the plan was to use their grenade and ammo pack to suppress or even destroy some of the robots. However, I rolled a scurry turn and decided to try and run for the objectives instead.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Fifth year anniversary

Today this blog has been online for five years! For this occasion, I decided to bring a highlight from each year. These are personal choices, not necessarily the posts with most views.

The highlight from 2011 is the Grey City campaign. It was played with custom miniatures and terrain, using the Fear and Faith rules. The battle reports are written from the point of view of the survivors.

From 2012, the highlight is the Circle of Death championship, played with Red Sun Black Moon rules. This was an opportunity to use some really good-looking paper miniatures in their original scale, as I usually do not play in 28mm.

The review of Resistance is Futile (RiF) is my highlight from 2013. This is probably the most detailed game review I have written in this blog, including a good number of playtest games to be able to better discuss the rules.

My highlight from 2014 is the City Patrol battle report. It is a patrol mission played with Chain Reaction 3.1 with a bit of narrative in the report. The reason to pick it up, however, is that it is one of my best-looking reports on the blog.

Lastly, my highlight from 2015 is the solo review of No End In Sight. In this one I was able to discuss the rules and present some test scenarios with a focus on solo play (although it is not a particularly solo-oriented game.)

While looking back at all the posts to select these five, I found other interesting reports, unfinished stories, crazy (or at least vague) rants, and some nice pictures of paper models. Good times :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Computer-assisted tabletop games

I have been thinking about computer-assisted games. It started with reading some reviews, and then buying the XCOM board game. To play, it is necessary to use an app that manages the alien invaders. At some points, one of the players must input some information about the current board, and at others they must update the board based on the app.
Setting up the team at the beginning of a Breach and Clear mission.
I also have been playing a bit of Breach and Clear on my tablet. This is a "simultaneous turn-based" game. During your turn you plot the movement of a four-man team, and then execute it, while the computer does the same for the opposition. When units enter line of sight, they resolve fire and reaction automatically. It made me wonder how it would feel to have a computer A.I. to direct the opposition in a solo miniatures game. One problem would be how to allow the computer to keep track of the board. Ideally, you might be able to point your phone's camera at the board and just label the relevant elements for it to track, but that involves some hard image processing.

An easier solution would be to play on a grid, with some means to inform the computer about the initial table setup and movements. Still, I am not sure if the work involved (e.g. updating the position of each of your units) would be worth to get a more effective solo opponent.

On the other hand, there are at least two solo A.I.s for X-Wing Minature Game with computer implementations (this one, which I found on BoardgameGeek, and this app, which implements the Tyneside Wargames Club solo rules.) As players must choose the maneuver for their ships before they are resolved, the end result is a bit similar to the experience in Breach and Clear. However, in both of these A.I.s each ship is controlled separately, with no squadron tactics.

There is another question on this topic, about the usefulness of apps in board games, not for solo play (e.g. XCOM, Alchemists.) However, at this point I am more interested in the cost vs. benefit of adding an app to solo miniature games.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Fringe Space: a short playtest review

This is my first adventure using Fringe Space, a "lite RPG" from Two Hour Wargames. Essentially, you control a small band of characters going from planet to planet in the 5150 universe, doing legal and illegal jobs.

As in 5150 Urban Renewal, your goal is to gain enough during your career to be able to have good life once you retire. Indeed, Fringe Space is like a toolbox with bits from Urban Renewal, New Hope City: PI, and Larger than Life. There are nice ideas to move the campaign forward and combat, when it happens, is a lot more abstract than in other miniature games.

Using the character creation system I rolled my main character and added two companions. Winston is an investigative reporter selling holo-vids about corporations (projects, conflicts etc.) to Gaea Prime networks. He also performs smuggling and information theft jobs for select customers. Pingh is his assistant, operating the holo-vid equipment and Axor plays bodyguard for both of them. Actually, he is somehow indebted with Pingh... good luck prying into a Grath's personal matters. All of the three carry big-*** pistols and wear body armor.

Winston (center), Pingh and Axor
Winston - Rep 5 star (25 years old Basic male)
Investigative reporter (Mercenary / social standing 3)
Charismatic, Coward, Resilient
Home world: 3rd ring, 5th sector, class 1 planet, law level 4
Family ties: 24 year old female sister
BAP, Body armor

Pingh - Rep 3 grunt (32 years old Hishen male)
Initiative, Brawler, Slight
BAP, Body armor

Axor - Rep 4 grunt (33 years old Grath)
Brawler, Brick wall, Initiative
BAP, Body armor

Information Brokering

Winston was on a settlement on the Groff planet, on the 5th sector of the 4th ring -- the outskirts of Gaea Prime domain. He arranged a lunch meeting with an information dealer at a restaurant in a mid-level neighborhood -- alone. On his way, using the public transportation system, he met Alys [basic female, 25 year-old, rep 4, resilient, brawler, poser], a medical tech operator. He got her comlink ID in case he might need to hire someone with medical knowledge.
[I rolled for the two possible enemy forces (PEFs) on the way to the encounter; the first was this NPC, and Winston succeeded at a Talk the Talk test. The second one was nothing.]

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Battle for Zorpel: Ford's Mission

This is report #5 on the Battle for Zorpel.

Ford marched out of the hospital, a forced smile on his face as he grasped his side. He still had a couple of days before returning to his team, but the beds were needed by arriving soldiers. The days laying down had given him a lot of time to think about his fate. That's why he went to recover his cache of smuggled liquor outside the base.

[In this scenario, Ford must search three spots for his hidden cache, in the woods. There might be someone stalking the area, represented by the three question marks. On visual contact, they are resolved rolling one die: 1 = bandits, 6 = skelebots. The bandits may be reasoned with. Only one of them may turn into baddies.]

The board setup, with static markers for possible enemies. A little bit of rules mixing between Chain Reaction and Five Core.
Ford moved cautiously in the woods, rifle in his hands. It had been a while since he hid the ammo box with the bottles and now the trees looked all alike. As he made a turn around a group of tangled trees, something made a noise in a nearby large bush. [I rolled a 1 for the first question mark, then used the displacement rules to place the bandits.]

Surprise! I might as well adopt displacement in Chain Reaction games.
The soldier leveled his rifle, advancing cautiously, and then spotted two humans. They seemed as surprised by Ford as much as he was. One of them carried a hunting rifle. Ford asked them what they were doing outside of the settlements, suspecting something foul. Still, he wasn't about to go shooting other colonists, so he just confiscated their rifle and let them go. [I used the system for persuasion to have Ford intimidate the bandits, successfully.]

A few minutes later, Ford found the spot where he buried his treasure. As he passed a ruined warehouse on his way back to the base, he dropped the hunting rifle.

This was a quick and easy personal mission, thanks to some lucky rolls. The next mission in the campaign will be a priority mission. Two new grunts have been recruited, Igor and James.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Five Core Company Commander

I picked up Five Core Company Commander and its supplement Company Commander in Spaaace during the "winter offensive" sale at WargameVault. As explained in the product description, this is Five Core adapted to a larger scale: each unit is a squad, and each player is expected to field 2-4 platoons of 2-4 squads each.
We must destroy that machine gun!
Instead of attributes, squads have a type (e.g. rifle squad, assault squad, heavy weapon team etc.) and may have up to two specialist attachments -- single figures that abilities to the squad, like an extra machine gun or a medic.

The main rules are the same from Five Core but there are changes to reflect the fact that now each unit is a number of soldiers instead of a single person. There are also rules for vehicles but as the author states, this is a game focused on infantry. Therefore, tanks, helicopters and transports are there to provide some support to the soldiers. As a result, vehicles are not highly detailed, with different transportation modes and weapon types. Instead, they fall into broad categories relative to each other an to infantry.

The "...Spaaace" supplement includes rules for many things found in sci-fi games like: bugs, grav tanks, power armor, walkers, giant mecha and monsters, orbital bombardment, and psionics. There is also a more general discussion on how to model aliens in the system by giving them modifiers to different actions, but there are no example templates.

Assaulting the outpost
I played a few test battles on a small board (around 2'x2'). As in Five Core, providing cover and avoiding long corridors is necessary to make an interesting battle. In the first one, the blue army was defending an outpost, while the yellow army must destroy it. Blue had two rifle squads (one of them with a medic), and a machine gun team. Yellow had four rifle squads, two of them with demolitions experts, one with additional light machine guns and one with a scout.
Mission setup: Blue guarding the outpost, Yellow with two groups trying to explode it.
The Yellow forces advanced in two groups. The scouts crossed a hill to probe Blue's left flank but were surprised by the enemy hiding in the ruins; they scattered after suffering heavy losses. Blue's heavy machine gun team then fired at Yellow's approaching squad, also taking them out of action. The hail of fire was so intense that even the nearby demolitions squad was pinned down.
Yes, that is an "out of action" result from snap fire!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A solo review of Black Ops

Following a tip from Aleksandar, I picked up Black Ops: Tactical Espionage Wargaming, by Guy Bowers, published by Osprey. I completely agree with Aleksandar: this is a game with a lot of solo potential.

About the book: I purchased the 68-page PDF which, like other Osprey books, has a very professional and clear layout. There are also some nice and fitting illustrations, as well as inspiring pictures of miniatures and terrain. There are no quick reference sheets but those can be found at the Osprey website.
My test board to try the Black Ops rules.
The rules make the distinction between two types of scenario: the standard mission and the stealth mission. The standard mission is a confrontation where opposing forces know of each others' presence (but blinds may be used; more on that later.) The stealth mission has an asymmetric structure until the alarm is raised, after which it becomes the same as the standard mission. This is great for solo play because enemy movement and reaction is mostly automated while in stealth.

Units are individually based and belong to a class (leaders, heavies, specialists and soldiers.) They also have a stat line describing fighting ability (ranged fire and close combat), morale, defensive ability and equipment.

Activation is card-based by unit type, e.g. all soldiers, or all specialists of one force. Obviously this can turn into IGO-UGO if both forces are made of all grunts, but this game was really meant to be played with small groups of mixed character types. Reaction is possible by having a unit reserve one of its actions, to be triggered by another figure's movement.

Ranged attacks are resolved by rolling a die against the character's ability, with modifiers due to distance, smoke etc. while close combat involves an opposed roll. In both cases, a character who is hit makes a saving roll based on defensive ability and modified by circumstances (e.g. cover, armor.)
Hoping that an ace card comes up before the guard is activated... and that my leader succeeds in close combat.
Besides the stealth mission rules, there are three things that make this game interesting for solo play: activation, blinds (and hidden movement), and neutrals. Card-based activation is usually helpful for solo play, as it makes the sequence of actions unpredictable.

Blinds are cards placed on the table representing units that have not been contacted yet (as suggested in Featherstone's books.) The game also adds an "observation test" to verify if the enemy can spot blinds and hidden units.

Neutrals are other parties that may be on the board during the mission (e.g. police) along with civilians, and the book includes rules to determine their actions. It is a good starting point to create other behavior tables for the enemy and thus a handy resource for solo play.

After playing a few test games to get the rules (especially observation and the structure of stealth missions), I can state the following:

  1. The stealth rules are very nice for solo play. To me, they feel more like stealth in movies than video games. An operative may fail a "stealth kill," keeping engaged in combat for a while but that does not cause all enemies to instantly go full alert. On the other hand, if you start running and shooting, you will be discovered soon.
  2. That said, the rules for guard reactions require a bit of interpretation and I am still trying to find the "sweet spot." The book does give examples on how to adapt a nonsensical result (e.g. a guard walking into a wall) but I think the rules are a bit strict to avoid abuse by players. When playing solo, I think that they could be allowed to move more freely. For instance, considering the location of noise tokens, instead of just the direction they are facing.
  3. Saving rolls in melee combat can be frustrating, especially when trying to perform silent kills. I am thinking of house-ruling that armor does not improve the save of an unaware opponent in close combat.
This is all for now. I still have to try the mission generator included in the book, so expect more detailed battle reports later.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Lots of tiny paper miniatures!

Here we go into 2016, wishing a happy year for all the visitors of this blog!

I picked up a number of miniature games during the holidays and I intend to post some battle reports and reviews soon. For now, here are some pictures of the miniatures I built to play Alien Squad Leader (at a reduced scale), Five Core Company Command and possibly other games.
Two full companies with three platoons each and a swarm of alien slashers.