Saturday, September 24, 2011


Last night we played a session of Maria, a wargame covering the Austrian war of succession. The game is played with three players, one controlling Austria, one Prussia and one France. The Prussian player also controls the "pragmatic army", giving him an interesting role in the game. Prussia and France are allied against Austria but Austria and the pragmatic army are allied against the French! One player has the role of playing both sides, but since there is only one winner in Maria, the mechanic works quite well.

Austria ponders his predicament as France prepares to deal punishment in spades. (in spades, get it? Ha Ha.)

The game features the politics, movements and battles of the period on a very abstract level. Fuelling every phase of the game is the nation's hand of ordinary playing cards, which he must learn to use sparingly and effectively in order to win. Spend all your cards to win that one battle and you won't have cards left to buy reinforcements or have an effect on the political phase. Spending too much in any one area of the game leads to the other parts suffering.

In our session, the game was decided on the Silesian front. While on the Flanders front Austria was busy taking the undefended towns of northern France and the pragmatics fighting it out with France over the control of the Holy Roman Empire, the Austrians were neck deep in trouble with the Prussians. In Maria, the map is divided into squares, each of which is marked with a suite of a playing card. This signifies the suite of cards which can be played in battle by troops fighting in this area. A boardgamey mechanic, but it forces the players to try and choose areas in which they  meet their enemies based on which suite their hand is strong in. As it happens, Austria's opening hand was weak in hearts, which was the suite on the area where the Prussian attack came through. Austria managed to slip with small casualties in the opening skirmishes, but lost two whole armies towards the end of the first year due to not being able to match Prussia in either forces or cards, and not being able to retreat to a more suitable area either. A large army under Neipperg was destroyed because Frederick the Great swung around his flank and cut off his line of retreat. In the end of the first year, the Austrian line versus Prussia was all but gone. This coupled with the effect that Austria fought a bitter battle against the French, burning a whole lot of cards in the process and thus not being able to buy much troops in the winter turn, meant that Austria didn't have much chances to block the Prussian advance in the next year. Two more turns and a couple of Austrian defeats later, Prussia won the game.

Austria and France deal more and more cards into the battle, burning through their hand.

The third session of Maria for me, and the third victory for Prussia. I'd say that the game is unbalanced but the talk on the Internets is that France has the advantage in the game. This leads me to think that Austria plays a crucial role in the game. If they are unlucky or too bold in the opening turns, they will give Prussia the advantage. In our games we have not yet learned to be cautious with Austria even though I think the best strategy for them is to accept small defeats in the first year and try to conserve their cards for a proper army. We'll just have to see about that in our next game.

As a boardgame, Maria is pretty unforgiving against reckless or inexperienced play. The game can easily be decided in one bad move or costly battle. As such, it isn't easy to get into, but the rules are simple enough. 
The end. The Prussian armies push the Austrians back, leaving the vital victory locations to Frederick.

This game was powered by Balvenie 14 yr. "Golden Cask" and Vat69. And beer.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Battle of Port Republic and Warcon 2011

Last weekend I was at a wargames convention in Helsinki. Boardgaming is a popular hobby in Finland and wargaming has so far been a small part of the conventions held by the finnish boardgames association SLS. The first convention for wargames specifically was held last year, so Warcon is still in the process of establishing itself as a yearly event. There still wasn't much of a crowd but I'm sure once the event cements itself into the calendar of the gamers around Finland it will become popular. SLS managed to secure support from GMT games and they were most kind to send some copies of Manoeuvre and Command & Colors games to help promote the genre here.

I took part by arranging a small demo table to promote historical miniatures wargaming. I made a small table for the Battle of Port Republic, fought during the American Civil War. The rules used were the original Fire & Fury rules and the miniatures were 6mm figures from Baccus. I was quite pleased with the table and although I did only one demo game during the weekend, there was a lot of interest in the spectacle. Here's some pics:

The table is 100 cm * 120 cm. Small, but in 6mm, it encompasses the same area a large 28mm game would.
A union division holds the northern half of the field.
Jackson sends the Stonewall Brigade against a force which outnumbers them. Will Ewell arrive in time to reinforce?

The detailed resin buildings by total battle miniatures really add to the visuals.
The battle heats up as the confederate reinforcements arrive. The union division found itself outnumbered and was routed. Note how different the colours look like in the picture with a different white balance setting in the camera. I think I prefer the previous pictures. This one's too yellow.

Apart from miniatures gaming I also got a good dose of wargames which fit in a small box. I started off with Attack Sub, and Avalon Hill oldie, which was a light card game set in the not-so-distant future when the cold war erupts into open naval conflict between USA and the Soviet Union. It was a fun filler game, although not a very deep simulation.

In Attack Sub, players try and get a better contact to enemy vessels while reducing their contact to his. Then it's torpedo time!
Then I played a game of the new Sid Meier's Civilization game. Not a wargame really, but I like Civ games so I was interested. It does capture the essence of the computer games but it's too optimization heavy for me, and I don't think the victory conditions are balanced.
Next up was Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, my second play of this C&C game. I kind of like what it adds to the series but in the end it's still the same old C&C. I was in a losing position tactically but I managed to win the game with a couple of lucky rolls. Like Memoir '44, it is a game of chance in the end.
My saturday ended with a game of War of 1812, which I keep around to teach new players how to play block games. My opponent was no newbie though and I ended up losing with the british.

Nothing Gained But Glory
On sunday, I was in for a treat. I have been trying to get a game of the Musket & Pike series on the table for years, but I've had trouble finding the opportunity or the opponent. Now I had both, and I had recently bought Nothing Gained But Glory for its smaller scenarios to teach myself the system with. The scenario was the Battle of Warksow, fought between the swedes and a coalition led by the danish sometime in the 1600's. I couldn't find anything on the battle from the Internet with a quick google, so I suppose the designers have been spending time doing their homework in the svensk krigsarkivet.

Musket & Pike didn't disappoint. Once we got the game flowing, the rules were quick to learn and we didn't do that many mistakes with them. Learning how to use the forces available properly is a different matter altogether. I think the game was mostly about both players doing magnificent yet poorly planned cavalry charges and having our cavalry wings scattered in the four winds. This time the swedish lost, but it was partially due to forgetting to use a paralyzing rule on the danish after their general was wiped out in an aforementioned cavalry charge. Still, it was good fun and I'm happy I own two boxes of the series now.

The battle of Warksow took up my sunday and after that it was time to pack up and come back home. A fun weekend and it was nice to meet people who aren't afraid to play wargames (it feels like many boardgamers have an allergy for hexes and counters). Here's a few pictures I took from the games.

Normandy '44
C&C: Ancients tournament in progress.

Crusader Rex

Race for the Galaxy. Guys, that is a multiplayer solitaire game, it's definitely not a wargame!

A prototype of.. something.

Hannibal is at it again.

Some game I've never heard of before.

A Game of Thrones
Twilight Struggle was popular.

Alone in a crowd: Steel Wolves, the solitaire naval wargame

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Free print and play 6mm ACW buildings

For my Bull Run game, I made some print and play ACW buildings I thought I would share. You can get them as a PDF file here. EDIT: Seems like google docs' built in viewer thing messes up the file somehow, be sure to download the original PDF, then it'll show up ok!

Print them out (remember to turn off page scaling) on a colour printer, cut out and glue together. You might want to use cardboard or something to make them more sturdy, I used a frame of matches I built inside the paper structure. You can see the buildings I made in some of the pictures in the earlier Bull Run report.

These paper buildings will do nicely if you need a lot of buildings or have little money, but I have already invested in some resin buildings, as they look so much better and cost about 3-5 british pounds apiece. You will see them in action once I get my port republic table ready. Let me know what you think of the buildings if you try them out!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

T-minus 6 days

Less than a week to go, but I think I'll finish the table in time. Here's some work in progress shots before I grab the paintbrush:
This is the table after I cut the elevation levels and glued them into place with a hot glue gun. The streams ended up bigger than I intended but I think they won't look as dominating in the end result. The elevations are lower now than in my practice piece, and I think it's ok now for 6mm.
And here it is after two layers of acrylic caulk (the stuff you can paint on) and added sand. The caulking process took about 4 tubes of the stuff and cost 15 euros or so, but if you have the money, I think the caulk gives a good, flexible base to do your terrain on.
I added sand here and there, especially on the banks of the streams and other places, where there will be breaks in the green flock, like roads.
As you can see, the caulk smooths out the step effect of the elevation levels quite nicely, and adding the sand breaks the pattern even more. There's about 4-5 layers of cardboard to the top of this knoll. 

There you go. I'll try to paint the thing today and maybe flock it tomorrow. I ordered some 6mm americana buildings from Total Battle Miniatures and they arrived yesterday. They look great!