Thursday, 24 May 2018

Unboxing: Halfling Shirt from Games Sesh

An unboxing of the Halfing t-shirt I designed for Games Sesh's range of Fantasy RPG Shirts

Myserious Green Package (address label removed)
It seems standard practice to send soft materials like clothing in tough plastic bags these days, and although the parcel looked like it might have been carried by rabid winged monkeys to Zhu Towers the parcel was still intact with no rips or tears. Opening cutting through a folded over bag end, with a pair of kitchen scissors. Inside...

Another layer of wrapping and a funky flyer
...was another layer of packaging. Thinner transparent that keeps the shirt clean and protects it a bit more. Also a flyer advertising the other Fantasy RPG T-shirts I've designed for Games Sesh (I didn't do the flyer, but yay 35 degrees!) the internal bag had a weakly glued flap so easy to open.
t-shirt unfolded
The t-shirt - Gildan brand 100% cotton, black, nice quality. The silkscreen print is smooth, not overly thick and holds the detail of my drawing really well, I think the print guys did a top job on that. Apologies to the Kender girl on the left as her face is a bit folded up in the photo. It's a definite non-iron wash inside-out, dry on a hanger job like most printed shirts.

Black D20
And there's a handy black D20 dice included ready to roll up yet another Halfling character and send them off on an adventure!

Halfing drawing [ZHU] 2018

The Halfling shirt along with Elves, Half-Elves, Fighters, Barbarians and rest of the Fantasy RPG T-shirts can be seen at Games Sesh

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Salammbo: The First Wargame


Gustave Flaubert's Salammbô is an 1862 work of historical fiction, set in Carthage between the Punic Wars.  There are scenes of a temple raid that reads a little like something out of Howards Conan the Barbarian saga, or a Dungeons & Dragons game, scenes of strange exotic ritual centred on the titular priestess of Tanit and vicereal bloodletting, battlefield carnage and baroque siege tactics.  It's very nearly only the use of familiar place-names from Old Earth and lack of overt supernatural special effects that prevent it from being, perhaps, the first fantasy novel.

Also of interest is a brief paragraph that seems to describe a wargame being played in preparation for battle:


"The four chiefs met together every evening in Matho’s tent, and squatting round a shield, attentively moved backwards and forwards the little wooden figures invented by Pyrrhus for the representation of manouvres. Spendius would demonstrate Hamilcar’s resources, and with oaths by all the gods entreat that the opportunity should not be wasted. Matho would walk about angry and gesticulating. The war against Carthage was his own personal affair; he was indignant that the others should interfere in it without being willing to obey him. Autaritus would divine his speech from his countenance and applaud. Narr’ Havas would elevate his chin to mark his disdain; there was not a measure he did not consider fatal; and he had ceased to smile. Sighs would escape him as though he were thrusting back sorrow for an impossible dream, despair for an abortive enterprise."
Gustave Flaubert, Salammbô 1862


DruiletteSalammbô 


While the origins of Chess go back to 6th Century India, Georg Leopold von Reisswitz's Representation of Tactical Maneuvers under the Guise of a Wargame formulated in 1812 for King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia, is recognised as the first modern wargame, insofar as it attempts to reasonably simulate warfare, including practical manoeuvres rather than rely on abstract grid-based tactics as Chess.

The passage in Flaubert's Salammbô appears to be an account of Kriegspiel by a Frenchman some 8 years prior to the Franco-Prussian War and the subsequent popularising of von Reisswits Kriegspiel on the international stage. There is some irony in this, as Flauberts house in was occupied by the Prussians during the conflict, which presumably had been suggested by military simulation, but I can find no particular evidence of Flaubert's interest in Prussian military matters before this unfortunate turn of events in his letters or biographies to explain the appearance of such a wargame in his novel.

Flauberts imaginary Kriegspiel was not intended to be contemporary, but is rather projected back to The Mercenary War in Carthage, between 240 BC – 238 BC.  Flauberts main historical source for Salammbô was Polybius' Histories (circa 150 BC) specifically Book I, ch. 65–88. It makes no mention of a game being played. Any archeological evidence Flaubert may have drawn upon in order to have Matho, Spendius, Narr'Havas and Autaritus studying strategy and practicing tactical manoeuvres also seems elusive, perhaps the figurines overlooked by archeologists as toys or religious fetishes, or were non-representational, beads or other such items, or simply all destroyed by the Romans when Carthage fell. Certainly Flauberts evocative image of men hunched around a shield suggests a certain level of improvised tabletop action.

Druilette | Salammbô 

Flauberts text plainly attributes the invention of the game to a certain Pyrrhus of Epirus (318–272 BC) the Greek King and General from who we derive the idiom Phyrric victory - that is a victory in which the losses for the victor are greater than the losses of the vanquished. This allusion might certainly explain the despondency of Flauberts game-playing mercenary generals. Unfortunately Pyrrhus writings - treatises on military matters, presumably including his wargaming rules and memoirs are lost to history. However Aelius Donatus (circa. 400AD - 600 years after Carthage fell) observes in his fragmentary, partially reconstructed and incomplete Commentary on the Roman playwright Terence, that Pyrrhus "invented a sort of game, like that of Chess, to represent the different ways of making attacks, and drawing up armies in battles" (according to Symons, Universal History,  1738 - I cannot find a translation of Donatus Commentaries, perhaps a passing Classics scholar might shine a light here), and it may be that Flaubert is following Donatus himself, or other later sources that draw on him in his description of The Pyrrhus Game being played out in Matho’s tent, predating the emergence of Chess in India by some 800 years.

But unless there is a full set of rules buried in Donatus Commentaries, what The Pyrrhus Game was actually like, how Chess-like (abstract) or Kriegspiel-like (simulationist) it was, and if it even existed at all, is anyones guess.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Battle Masters 2: Battle of the River Tengin


Welcome back to Chapter Two of the continuing play through of the second battle in the Games Workshop / Milton Bradley Battle Masters Campaign.



Music this time comes courtesy of the VHS vaults. If you really like Stu Phillips soundtrack to the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica TV series you'll really like Lee Holdridges soundtrack to the 1982 Swords & Sorcery adventure movie The Beastmaster, starring Marc Singer of V fame and very loosely based on an Andre Norton novel I've never read.




The Battle of the River Tengin


Apologies for the blurry photographs - the final one in this sequence isn't so bad.

The Empire army positions are dictated by the scenario, while the Chaos player can position her army wherever she likes within the first two hexes at the north of the River Tengin, or is that Kwell?


Initial Depositions
As the crimson orb rose from behind the hillsides, the first watchman of the west fell - the breying hordes of chaos drawing first blood, breaking the hastily defenses of the lands of Men. The great lumbering war ogre clambered through the central pass gnawing at the feeble manflesh and ignored the volleys of arrows and crossbow bolts like gnats on a aged donkeys fetid hind.

the battle rages on
The infernal mechanical deity jerked and shuddered forward vomitting forth its hideous alchemical metorite into the iron cased flesh of the Mistress of Darkness. Errupting in flame and despair, her eldritch soul blasted back into the eddying dust from which it had spawned. Yet still the great hordes of Darkness held strong, slaughtering the Knights at the Eastern Ford, their rusted iron turning the river Tengin red with the blood of Men.

EVIL VICTORIOUS!
slightly less blurry photo

Slowly the denizens of darkness wore down the weary manflesh with axe and sword and spear, until finally only the great iron demigod, bringer of thunder and devourer of the Daughter of Hel remained. Yet the gods of war  smiled not upon that idol, and despite it's lurching and roaring, not one of its sulpherous projectiles reached the remaining emissaries of darkness. In disarray and despondency the cult of iron surrendered, abandoning their infernal engine. The forces of reason once again vanquished before the gibbering hordes of Chaos.

---

Commentary


The game took 1 hour 20 minutes, and after an initial fun start was somewhat of a grind, not helped by the fact the Beastmaster soundtrack is quite short, and extremely repetitive.

Again luck dominated the game with the Canon making only one hit - albeit in a narratively satisfying one, utterly destroying Gorefist.

The terrain bottlenecking  combat, while perfectly reasonable, especially at river fords, when combined with infrequently activated units (looking at you, Orcs) in the strategic spaces really made this game drag. As a sidenote, I have a feeling that many players responding to this phenomenon would decide the game was broken  and should be rewritten to fix this problem - perhaps friendly units could pass through each other, or Orcs could activate more often.  Of course, it isn't the game systems fault, it's not broken at all, it's just a tactical error by the player that would have been lessened by placing a more mobile unit in that critical space. The difficulties of manoeuvring large bodies of troops through terrain is a large part of what ancient/medieval historical and fantasy wargaming is really about, and I'm really happy that Battle Masters, despite all its simplicity retains some aspect of that.

So it is definitely worth taking note of which units get to move most frequently and ensuring they don't get in the way of other  units, so by counting cards we can get an idea of how mobile the forces are...

ArmyNameActivationsFrequency
EmpireCannon49%
EmpireCrossbowmen511%
EmpireMen-at-Arms613%
EmpireArchers817%
EmpireLord Knights1124%
EmpireKnights1226%
ChaosBowmen57%
ChaosOgre57%
ChaosBeastmen 69%
ChaosWarriors69%
ChaosOrcs 710%
ChaosGoblins1116%
ChaosWolf Riders 1421%
ChaosChampions1421%

Activations is the number of times the unit appears on the Battle Cards that are drawn for troop activation, and Frequency is that number as a percentage of all that armies moves - so each turn has that percentage chance of that unit moving. As an update to Battle Masters: Pocket Edition I might put the frequency stat on the Unit token as a reminder of how often the unit gets to move and/or attack.

Also found that the Empire Man-at-Arms unit icon and the Empire Crossbowman unit icon are too visually similar at small sizes and after a few ales and battle casualties which icon represents the Chaos Lord and which are the Chaos Champions are not particularly memorable. It doesn't make the game impossible, just creates a bit of dithering and narrative uncertainty that could be ironed out with some more expressive graphics - "feather hat guy facing left" and "feather hat guy facing front" don't really communicate "archer" or "crossbowman" very well either.

Keep thinking the Ogre is a War Elephant in Middle-earth Drag, and the Chaos Archers are effectively slingers and the whole thing is like something out of the Punic Wars. But that's probably just some external reading bleeding in rather than the designers inspiration or intent, but an interesting direction nontheless.

Salammbo - Druillet (1981)

Strategically, positioning cavalry, supported by ranged troops positioned behind then at the fords would have created a much more effective meat-grinder. Notably this is very similar to the only real strategy involved in Battle Masters predecessor Heroquest, where doorways are used to bottleneck the onslaught of dungeon dwellers.

Thinking a little about developing Battle Masters Pocket Advanced into a richer Fantasy Battle Game, adding magic such as healing or an additional attack dice within range of a spellcaster could be interesting, as could some kind of Morale mechanic, as otherwise the loss of the Lords isn't as dramatic as it could be - this could be a frenzy, perhaps a Full Army move with +1 attack dice for the Chaos side,  followed by a -1 attack dice to represent them subsequently falling into disarray. Perhaps the Empire would have to roll before activating to reflect the lack of command, or if we go with the hand of cards idea mooted earlier, perhaps drawing a limited number of cards.

Another note for Battle Masters Pocket Advanced would be implementing a saving throw differential, so perhaps troops that don't have shield icons don't have a saving throw, and perhaps there's a 5+ save as well for heavily armoured troops.


Useful links:

Battle Masters: Rulebook
Battle Masters: Pocket Edition Prototype PDF
Jay Digitals guide to Making Battle Masters