Monday, 22 April 2013

Necromunda - down and dirty gang warfare in the 41st Millenium

A long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away?), before having children, before my wife and a long, long time before I became a Finely DiCED Gamer I used to like playing Warhammer 40K... Ok who am I trying to kid, I collected Warhammer 40K (and played sporadically) – Spacemarines, Imperial Guard & Squats – I'll admit it I wanted to be the first to host the best all-in-one army fielded by a Rogue Trader. I know the chances that Gene-seeded Space Marines would tolerate standing shoulder to shoulder with the ab-human Squats would be slim but this was going to be MY perfect army.

Time goes by and my vast collection (my wife's words) of Out Of Production (OOP) metal & plastic miniatures have been sold to allow me to buy PC's, a XBOX 360, and my latest passion - board games. However, before I sold everything I once cherished off, I made a decision as to where I would draw the line.  I decided to hold onto my 1st Ed. Copy of Space Hulk (inc. all expansions), Bloodbowl (3rd Ed.), my war-gangs for Mordheim and finally my hardback copy rule book for Necromunda – essentially my GW skirmish systems – systems where you don't need tonnes of figures to have a game (or a table the size of my current living room).

I eventually became a member of the Finely DiCED Gamers - from our inaugural meeting (and all those since) we have discussed the games that we all want to play. Some games are suggested for when we have a our full contingent of five, some get brought out because they're shiny and new and others because they're just damn fine games.  Well, last Sunday I got to play a damn fine game of Necromunda, the tabletop miniatures battle system which has elements of a role playing game.  You create your gang - it gains experience and hopefully becomes UBER.

But before uber you have to get in a fight and to get in a fight you need a gang - so to begin with we had to sit down with the miniatures we owned and create our new gangs on paper. When I say we - let me introduce Matt & Rebecca – you haven't met Matt or Rebecca yet but hopefully you'll read something from them shortly. Moving on - Matt, Rebecca and myself created our gangs – all three of us create gangs that include a gang leader (there can be only one), gangers (the back bone of any gang) and juves (cannon fodder) – we all had gangs containing roughly 10 miniatures with pretty much the same stats – just access to slightly different weapon sets.

Rebecca went with a house Goliath gang "The Takkers" with the highest gang rating of 1158, big brutish fellows who you wouldn't want to meet on a dark night - certainly not in the underhive.  Matt went with his house Cawdor "Kommissars" - having a gang rating of 927 (the lowest of the three of us), these guys had a distinct uniform look and paintjob - the look said "we mean business". I brought a Van Saar gang to the party - "Serene's Soldiers" with a middling gang rating of 1013, I had no heavy weapons in my crew but I did have access to some more specialised weaponry for both gangers and juves.

Gangs created, we decided that we would like to have all three of us play against each other, to that end we chose a mission where we had to collect an item for the guilders - get said item and get it off the board (the guilders giving the returnee 50 creds).  Getting the said item would mean all three gangs squaring off - looked like an easy opportunity for Serene's Soldiers - leave the others to duke it out.  The board was custom made by Matt & Rebecca as were all the scenics - even without being fully finished it just oozed coolness - have a look.

Board Ready, Gangs Ready, so who goes first?

Player setup was worked out using highest to lowest gang rating - order of play seemed to be Matt first, then Rebecca and finally me - we each had to choose a table edge and then place our gang members within 8 inch of said table edge - the unused table edge would become the exit route - where the guilders "item" would be carried from the board.

Once all three of us had placed our gangs a few loose ends were tied up - which obstacles could be jumped over and which would provide movement penalties.  If gang members entered a building it would take one turn (one complete movement allowance - MA) to exit onto the roof to snipe.  Finally, the guilders "item" would require a skill test to pick-up - on a roll of 5 or 6 it would be picked up otherwise another gang member would have to try (or wait til next turn) - equally if the gang member carrying the "item" were hit / knocked down then they would drop the "item".

Turn One :

First Matt rushed three of his gangers and the leader straight into the open heading towards the centre of the map where the guilder item was located - unfortunately he hadn't paid attention to the fact that Rebecca's heavy stubber (in a legitimate setup position) then had direct line of sight to at least one of these gang members.  Matt also had three gang members run around the board edge towards my position whilst at least two gang members entered a building to assume a sniping position.

Rebecca moved up as many of her gang as she could, some running (preventing shooting) whilst others simply took a basic MA so that they would be able to fire at the Kommissars making a direct line to the guilder "item".  After Movement Rebecca chose to shoot her heavy stubber which had the option of sustained fire - with some good rolls she managed to get 4 shots off - one missed, three hit - two gangers and the leader went down.  One ganger was killed, another was critically injured and could only crawl, the team leader realised he only had a flesh wound & got up.  Rebecca's remaining gang member's shooting didn't really do much!

I simply moved my gang towards the centre of the map - making use of as much cover as I could.  Realising that Matt had three gangers heading towards my position I managed to get at least two of my guys into a good firing position.  When it came to shooting I manged to knock down and injure a juve - another of Matt's gang that was crawling.

Turn Two :

Matt essentially had his leader and ganger holding ground in the open - the third crawling back to his starting position, his two gang members who had entered the building took up firing solutions on the roof, finally of the three coming towards my position one simply crawled out of the way to allow the two behind to attempt rushing my position.  Matt's shooting phase was quite constructive, injuring the Goliath with the heavy stubber - giving him some breathing space.

Rebecca continued to move her gang members towards the guilder item - both Matt and myself were a little concerned at this point since Rebecca was the closest to the goal (and closest to the exit zone). Rebecca's shooting didn't cause any real problems for Matt (or me) this turn, possibly getting the sniping duet to duck and cover?

I was still sending my leader and juves towards the centre of the map (whilst attempting to hide them behind cover) to snatch the "item".  Trying to plan ahead I also sent a ganger with a bolt gun towards the exit area to try and get a modicum of control (shoot anyone leaving kind of control). Seeing as everyone else was trying their luck with sniping. I decided to move one of my lasgun gangers into a building. Since I still had two of Matt's Kommissars coming at me I also bolstered my two man position with a lasgun carrying ganger.
When I came to shooting it was that Lasgun wielding ganger who hit, knocked down and critically injured one of Matt's two - which unfortunately led to the 2nd (still standing) ganger (with a rather big flamer gun) failing a leadership test and running away from combat for 2D6 inches - oh dear *snigger*.

The Kommissar Flamer ganger, top right - he's fleeing!

Turn Three:

Matt had one dead, three gangers crawling around and another running for cover (the Cawdor flamer guy did not stop running), however on the bottle test he passed and continued with his... plan?

Not a lot  of movement  but Matt decided to take a shot at Rebecca's leader - he shot, he scored and the Goliath Leader went out of the game.

Rebecca continued closing on the central point - she was moving in force and she wants those guilder credits.  Troops that were present were essentially juves and gangers (around four in number) in or around the barricades surrounding the central point from her starting edge.  The ganger with the heavy stubber managed to get up and enter a building, whether to get out of harm's way or to snipe is not clear but it would give her a distinct advantage with it's 20" short range / 40" long range ability.
When the shooting from Rebecca started - Matt's Leader fell to the pavement only this time he was not taking a flesh wound, this time he was down for the count - payback perhaps for the loss of Rebecca's leadership?

The first charge of the game is a little underwhelming since one of my gangers runs past the barricade to close assault the closest downed kawdor ganger - dice aren't even rolled - it's automatic.  Since my edge is clear of Cawdor I now start moving those remaining gangers to the centre - Matt's facing another bottle test and Rebecca has taken a couple of hits - a few more and she'll be bottling it - I still haven't lost a man.
When I start firing my leader uses a full charge on a plasma pistol - this should incinerate whoever it hits - amazingly it hits but does no damage? Unfortunately by rolling a six means that although I hit I have to take an ammo roll, which I lose (no more plasma pistol).  What's more frustrating is that this happens again and again for me.  I lose a bolt gun and a lasgun to ammo rolls - the good news being that another of Rebecca's juve's is flat out behind a barricade.

Turn four:

Matt rolls for his remaining crawling gangers - they're not getting up! He then decides to not even bother rolling to see if he succeeds his bottle test - he leaves the battlefield... quickly!

Rebecca moves in to pickup the guilder "item" (we really should have asked what it was), the first juve fumbles (not rolling a 5 or 6), fortunately a ganger behind the juve tried again and picked it up - is it all over?
Rebecca starts firing with her stubber from its superior firing position which gives Serene's Soldiers it's first dire casualty.  Another Juve goes down but is not out for the count (phew).

We've got the guilder "item", what do we do with it again?
 Knowing that Rebecca has the guilder item and that I could potentially force her into a bottle test - I'm trying to get every gun into a firing solution.  The idea of moving towards a house Goliath ganger does not appeal or make sense but this is something that has to be done.
My first kill this turn is from a shot gun using a scatter shot shell - I'm fairly sure there is nothing left of the goliath - the amusing thing is that its the ganger (holding the "item") that dies and not the juve who was actually fired at - go figure (the "item" is now back on the floor), unfortunately nothing else hits (dammit).

Turn Five:

At this point it's 9pm and we've been playing since 3pm (creating gangs, setting up the board, setting up the gangs and ultimately learning the rules as we go).  Rebecca is essentially going to be taking a bottle test because she has lost 25% of her gang (much like Matt). We decide to stop there - however Serene's Soldiers claim a moral victory (and the 50 cred victory) since he would love to continue shooting until Rebecca's gang takes further losses resulting in a failed bottle test.

Since the game ended we all sat down to work out experience and credits earned by each gangs participating juves, gangers and leader.  We also worked out if anyone was maimed, didn't make it or if there were any grudges etc.  One interesting point - Matt's leader made it (more or less), Rebecca's leader unfortunately was found and kept close to death as a hostage by Matt's Kommissars.  Rebecca got her leader back after paying a considerable amount of credits - the good thing is that Matt and Rebecca got their leadership back ;-)

For a Sunday afternoon game, I can't think of a better game to play - brought back a load of old memories and when we get to play again will undoubtedly create some new ones.  My plan is to get my gang painted so that it actually looks the part - that will be done in time.  Until then Necromunda will allow us to go into mortal combat in the far flung future - a galaxy far, far away - not so much - just where we get time and opportunity to setup the boards again!

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Infidel! - My Somewhat Rambling Fascination with Historical Wargames (Part 1)

So we find ourselves looking over the crusader camp at the Battle of Dorylaeum, with the massive Seljuk Turk army just visible in the distance. At least this is a quick photo I snapped of the Dorylaeum scenario from GMT's Infidel boardgame. It's the second in their Men of Iron series, this one focusing clearly on the huge cavalry battles of the early Crusades. Whilst I have the pikemen on display here, they tend to be a little..squishy in battle, this is really all about the mounted units and their movement.

It's currently set up on the desk in our bedroom much to my wife's dismay, but I'm taking my time playing it solitaire and trying to absorb the rules, and it really does work for me as something to dip into now and again when I have the time. It's also quite brilliant, and as a good example of why I enjoy historical wargames I thought it would serve as a nice little introductory post about my fascination with this area of gaming.

So why do I play these games? It's certainly not for the shiny components, the one above is a pretty good example of the genre but even this one consists mostly of small cardboard counters and a paper map. You can't really see it in the picture, but the perspex from a poster frame is covering the map, just to make it playable. Things are definitely improving all the time, but for gamers into massive heavy boxes full of intricate plastic miniatures, then these board wargames really don't compare.

It isn't for the cost either. It's not like they are hugely less expensive for not having those mountains of plastic or wood. Actually thinking about it, almost all of my most expensive games are wargames. I think that's largely down to it being a niche within a niche, small print runs, and the added cost of all the shipping given there aren't many companies producing them in the UK.

So why then? Well it all started, for me at least, with...

Solitaire play - When I first got back into boardgames this was almost a necessity, I hadn't yet found a local group, and I lived a fair way from any of the people I had gamed with before. More than that though I enjoy it, always have done, sometimes I read a book, sometimes watch a film or some TV, sometimes it's a game on the  PC or console, but if I'm in the mood I really enjoy sitting down with a board or card game. So in my hunt for good solo boardgames, a lot of the recommendations were for wargames. Whilst there are many great "designed for solitaire" wargames, I also discovered that many wargamers will solo games not designed for one player, playing each side to the best of their ability just to enjoy the process and see how it all played out. I'd found my people. :)

One of the big draws for me when playing solitaire, is the ability to take time, and really study the...

Complexity - Now this doesn't necessarily mean the rules have to be complex, though that is something I enjoy, and it is something you would need to get used to if you were to explore the world of historical boardgames. Sure, many of the rulesets are more complex than your average boardgame, they are after all modelling complex situations, and even when abstracted there can still be a lot going on. It's also the emergent complexity I'm interested in though, the idea of a relatively small set of rules producing a complex simulation. This ties back to some of the academic work that interested me most, and I find the whole "cardboard machine" idea fascinating to peer at. Then there is the simple satisfaction of learning a new set of rules, I enjoy the process which seems bizarre given how much I avoided it during my academic years.

Another side of the learning that goes hand in hand with these games is the...

History - I've always been fairly science focussed when it came to education, hence my fascination with the mechanics and modelling aspects, but my interest in these games has opened up an interest in the history that they portray. I've read so many more books, and articles on history since getting into wargames than I ever have before. There is something very satisfying for me about playing a game, and also reading around that subject, though that tends to lead me off in different directions reading more history. The end result however is that I know far more about the world, and some of the conflicts that have shaped it than I ever did, and that's all from playing some games.

It's partly the rich history that creates a great....

Narrative - I do like a good story, and I particularly enjoy a solitaire game if it creates an interesting story. Wargames are very good for this, there is so much going on you can't help but get caught up in the story. This ties in with the above part about history, where you read about these great battles, and then watch them played out before you with the ability to try different approaches. Infidel is a great example with this constantly moving battlefield with charges and counter charges and reaction fire turning these beautiful lines and formations into chaos before they regroup for the next clash. Some of my favourite though are the squad based tactical games, which often play out like scenes from a great war movie.

...and at that point I think I'm going to break. Lets call this part one, as I'm in danger of rambling for far too long and I still have more ideas milling around. I'll pick up where I left off in part two.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

KEMET - A fantastic game of beating up your friends, and riding around on mythical beasts. Can you think of a better way to spend your time?

I was first introduced to this game by a Tom Vassel video review on and knew immediately that I wanted it. The ancient Egypt theme, the light war game mechanics and the gorgeous mythical creature miniatures…its love. 

Unfortunately it has taken nearly 3 months for this game to arrive in the UK; during which time I more than once considered getting it delivered from Europe or America. I held off and finally the game arrived last Friday morning, just in time for our next game night. Was the game worth the wait? and the £45 price tag?

I’ll say this now to save time, if you do not like combative and aggressive games, you probably won’t like this. This game not only encourages attacking, it’s necessary and key to the game. You will take on the roll of Egyptian gods battling each other for supremacy of the ancient land of Kemet (name for Egypt at the time, kinda). Your goal will be to gain 8 Victory Points, and keep them until the end of a game round. I say ‘keep’, as some of these Victory Points will only be temporary, which can, and probably will, be stolen by another player.

Throughout the game you will be able to gain permanent Victory Points, mainly through combat, and temporary Victory Point, mainly from controlling one of the multiple temples around the board. If another player seizes control of these temples from you, you have to hand over that Victory Point.

Each game round will start with the night phase (which is in effect an upkeep stage) in which you will gain 2 prayer points, the sole resource of the game. Players will take it in turns to perform an action (such as move a troop, buy an upgrade, or recruit new units) until everyone has taken 5. Unlike many similar games, such as Game of Thrones, everyone starts the game on an equal footing, with the same amount of resources and units. The board is designed in such a way that everyone is the same amount of spaces from each other, and you can teleport from you cities to important locations around the map for a minimal cost. All this comes together to make a very balanced and strategic game.

While you may all start the game on an equal footing, you won’t stay that way for long. The element that will make your forces play different from everyone else’s, and what will make the game different every time you play, is the 48 upgrade tiles. When you buy one of these tiles you will get a permanent ability/upgrade/mythical creature that once bought, is yours for the rest of the game. Other than a few low level tiles, once you have a tile no one else will be able to acquire it. In this way you will be able to tailor your army and play style, making your forces completely different to other players.

Seeing as it’s a key part of the game, I really should take about the battle system. I won’t go into too much detail, it’s a simple system, the main thing to know is that it’s not luck based. For each battle you select two of your 6 battle cards (1 to use, 1 to discard), adding the combat value of the card to the number of your units in the battle, plus any modifiers on your upgrade tiles. The winner stays where they are, the loser retreats and a victory point is awarded if the attack won. As well as a combat value, these cards might also kill enemy units, or protect your unit’s form being killed. Once all 6 cards are in your discard pile, you pick them all back up again; meaning that you have to plan for what battle card you’ll need in a future round.

Everyone has the same cards as you, so you can go into a battle fairly confident of a result, and can plan accordingly. Know your going to loose? play a battle card that will kill off lots of their units after the battle. Have an easy win? play a card that will protect your units from being killed. Or like me, have a tile that gives you resources for killing units, so always go in trying to do the most carnage.

There are a number of other elements to the game that I’ve not covered in this review, such as:
·        The lovely marble effect 4 sided dice, used to show what level your pyramids are at, and in conjunction, what level of upgrade tiles you can buy.
·        The number of other less common ways to gain Victory Points, such as upgrade tiles, and upgrading your pyramid to the highest level.
·        The “Divine Intervention” cards which can be used as extra help in battle, or in a number of other ways.
·        You can only have 5 units together in 1 space, as a Troop. There are only 12 units available to each player, so you can build up massive forces.

The heart of this game is a light war game, layered on top of that is a clever action selection mechanic, and a deep upgrade system. It shouldn’t take long to teach to new players, and after your first play you should be merrily slaughtering each other without having to consult the rules at all.

As you will have already noticed, I am very enamoured with this game. I do tend to get very enthusiastic about a game, and can overlook any issues it has. So before I get onto more praise, these are only three negatives I can think of:
·        You do need a group where people don’t mind aggressive games, and won’t take it to heart as you stop on them mercilessly.
·        All players need to play well, it’s not something to play if you want to relax and not think too hard. If a player makes a few bad moves, it could lead to another player scoring 2 or 3 easy points and winning the game. This shouldn’t be an issue after the first few plays, as you’ll soon get to understand how to avoid giving players easy points.
·        The rules, while not terrible, aren’t prefect. I would recommend watching a video (either a review or walkthrough) to get everything straight in your head and consult the BGG forums if you need any further clarification.

I would recommend watching the Dice Tower review for a bit more info, and have a look at some more pictures of the game being played. My words alone don’t do this game justice, its as much fun as any game I’ve played in the last few years and combines very balanced and strategic gameplay with a great theme and gorgeous presentation. The first play went over very well with my game group; though our group does tend to like the more aggressive and competitive games (read: games where you can screw each other over), so it was always going to be a hit. This is a game I can see being in my collection for a long time to come and a staple of our game group.

**** One small note, when you buy this (and yes I did mean to write ‘when’), print off some reference sheets from BoardGameGeek for the upgrade tiles, it will save a lot of time if everyone has a copy to browse through. Like having your own little Argos catalogue of death and destruction.****

Below is a brief summary of our first game:

David (me): I was dogged by pre-emptive buying by Jay throughout this game, every time I planned to get an upgrade, Jay got their first. My first move was to send a troop to secure the Sanctuary of All Gods (where you can sacrifice 2 units at the end of a round for a VP). I only managed to hold this for 1 round, before attacks by both Matt and Jay forced me out. I spent the next few rounds upgrading (the best of these was an upgrade that game me lots of Prayer Points every time I killed another unit) and rebuilding my forces before going on an all out offensive against Karl & Rebecca, grabbing multiple temples, and upgrading my pyramids to reach 10 VP. No one was going to be able to steal enough temporary VP to deny me the win, so the game was called at that point.

Karl: Took an early VP lead, grabbing the two central temples, and started gaining a lot of prayer points every round. He accelerated ahead of everyone else, buying lots of upgrades (giant scorpion anyone?) and consolidating his position in the temples. Unfortunately for Karl, this did make him a target for the rest of the game, and due to a lot of attacks on his forces, he stalled at around the 5 or 6 VP mark.

Matt: Had an aggressive start, initiating the first attack of the game, against myself. Making a move on the Sanctuary of All Gods, but soon left the fighting there to myself and Jay, and moved into the Delta temple (where you can sacrifice 1 unit at the end of a round for 5 prayer points). He controlled this point for the rest of the game. After a few rounds of upgrading and beard scratching, Matt launched his main force (led by a giant scarab beetle) at Karl and then Jay. While he had some success against Karl, by this time Jay had become quite strong, and was able to swat away Matts attack with a Mummy Priest backhand to the face. Matt ended the game on 4 VP (I think).

Rebecca: Flew under the radar for a while, grabbed one temple and spent the first few rounds building up. Then with a twinkle in her eye, spend the rest of the game continuingly attacking Karl and myself. I think, even more so than me and Karl, Rebecca was the most aggressive player. She grabbed one of the central temples from Karl, and despite multiple unsuccessful attacks, she kept rebuilding and attacking some more. However, as quite a few of these attacks ended in defeat, she didn’t build up enough VP to win. She ended on 6 VP.

Jay: Took a slow approach, building up a strong resource generating base, and upgrading his armies. Other than a few small attacks, Jay wasn’t very aggressive until the last few rounds where his forces stormed out of his city, attacking Karl & Matt. However strong Jay was at this point, he has left his move too late, and ended on 5 VP. If we had played a longer game (10 or 12 VP) I think Jay probably would have won.

Game Time: about 100 minutes, including setup and rules explanation.

Judging from the threats and calculating looks I suspect that I’ll be a target next game. Bring it on! my giant snake army will take you all…..whimper….