Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mount and Blade: Napoleonic Wars. A tabletop wargamers' first impressions

Without much fanfare, a new official expansion to Mount and Blade: Warband was released. The new expansion, Mount and Blade: Napoleonic Wars, allows you to have some excellent Napoleonic multiplayer action with you playing as a single soldier in the battles. Have you ever played Total War games and thought it would be cool to play a game where you controlled only one man in the middle of all that? Well, this game comes very close. By looking at the official launch trailer you get the idea on what to expect:

I bought this expansion yesterday and was quite happy that I did. I played a session of the commander mode, where each player commands a company of about 20-30 AI soldiers. I took control of a German line infantry unit fighting for the British. How it worked was that I played a sergeant/officer armed with a telescope, sabre and a pistol, and was followed around by 25 AI line infantry soldiers armed with muskets. The server had about 15 players on each side, all commanding similar forces, so the battle would have looked something like a 28mm wargame from a birds eye view. Of course, I don't get a birds eye view because I'm down there, which is part of the charm. If that dragoon unit is sneaking around my flank in the cover of terrain, I won't see it until it's too late. It gives the tabletop wargamer a whole new perspective into the action. The graphics look good (not great) and the game should run on older rigs as well, even though your framerate may vary when there's a lot going on.

Commanding the AI teammates takes a bit of getting used to, but you can drill yourself to learning the correct key combos for commands quickly. You can order your men to hold a certain position, follow you, charge the enemy, change formation, hold fire etc. The best thing, which wasn't possible in mount and blade until the recent Fire & Sword expansion is that you can order your men to hold fire and then give orders for volley fire. Your men will load their muskets and then aim at the enemy, front rank kneeling. It looks great and when a long line opens fire at the same time... whoah. The smoke linger is better than ever and it can really obscure your vision now. At times I found myself firing into the white smoke without any idea on whether I was pointing anywhere near an enemy.

The weapons are nice and inaccurate, I found I can't hit pretty much anything at a distance. Infantry, cavalry and artillery are all modeled within the game, and I was suprised to see limbers pulling artillery pieces in the field, as artillery in the previous Napoleonic mods for M&B had been static. Artillery pieces take several stages and a while to load, but a grapeshot at close range is absolutely devastating to tightly packed infantry. There are rocket troops too, although I hope these don't become a common sight alongside artillery. Cavalry seems quite powerful, but then again, when they try and charge a prepared infantry unit to the front.. I ordered my line to fire at the last moment against a charging unit of cuirassiers and they fell down like flies.

The commander mode doesn't have respawning, and is played until one side loses their last soldier. This took about 10-15 minutes per match in my session. When the player inevitably loses the sergeant they start out with, they take control over one of the AI soldiers in his group, retaining control until the last man in the group dies. After that, he spectates the game until a new match begins. 

The commander mode enforces composition on the opposing sides so that you cannot take more than one unit of cavalry until your side has so and so many units of infantry. I don't know what the exact arithmetic behind this is, but it's a wise move from the developers.

What I've seen so far is very promising. I did see some glitches during the game, but I'm confident we won't be seeing cavalrymen riding high up in the air for long. I'm sure there will also be some balancing/realism issues to tackle until the end of the world, but playing the commander mode was just excellent. A friend of mine was playing in a 200 player game on a siege map without bots and said he enjoyed it a lot.

The obvious question many M&B veterans will ask is that is this just another mod you have to pay for like was in the case of Fire & Sword? After all, there are several free Napoleonic mods for Warband. I'll have to say I'm not qualified to answer that as I haven't played the free mods online, only as bot matches. The vets on the servers last night seemed to approve of it though, and I think there's a lot of polish in the game (including the nationality, heheh) which might be lacking in the mods. I'll have to play a couple more nights and try out the other gamemodes, but at the moment, I highly recommend this.

For those of you who don't know, you need Mount & Blade Warband to play this expansion. Warband is an excellent game in it's own right, focusing on medieval combat in a fictional no-fantasy world. It has a single player mode too.

Stay tuned, this was a "first impressions", not a review, and I need a couple more sessions under my best to see if there's something fatally flawed with the game. I The pictures in this post are taken here and there from the net, I claim no ownership. Look out for some holiday snapshots from me in the near future!

EDIT: Here's a couple of shots from today:

The frenchmen fire a volley
A view over the field

This commander match had about 60 players with 12 bots each. This one started to lag badly, which is unsuprising.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

New Baccus Greeks arrive

I finally got around to ordering those sweet new Baccus 6mm ancient Greeks I've been wanting. I bought 53 british pounds worth of figures, a sheet of shield transfers (barely enough for front rankers) and a bag of MDF bases. I got some hoplites, archers, peltasts, cavalry, generals and casualty figures.

The set was missing two strips of hoplite infantry and one general was broken. I sent e-mail to Baccus about it and got a reply not 10 minutes later from Peter Berry stating he'll send me replacements. Now that's customer service! It's just a pity to post mail from Britain to Finland just to deliver less than ten 6mm figures.

The figures look really nice, some of Baccus' best yet. The "attacking hoplites" with their dynamic looking formation are my favourite. As a downside, the spears look dreadfully thin and seem like they will break easily, but if I can keep them intact until painted and based, I think it'll be fine.

My plan was to use the figures with the Hail Caesar rules. I plan to just convert the inches of Hail Caesar to centimeters 1:1, so that a large 28mm game becomes a 6mm game on a small table. My plan initially was to make 6cm * 3cm blocks the size of the standard unit, but after heeding the advice of fellow gamers, I decided I would make the basing compatible with Warmaster Ancients also. This means the default block of 6*3 centimeters will give way to 2*4 centimeters. Here's what a phalanx formation will look like based with Warmaster standards:

I think it looks good and by making the standard unit 8 centimeters wide instead of 6, it looks much bigger. The bases are used with their short edge to the front by only a couple of units in Warmaster, including phalanxes. By using two stands side by side you get something like this with two or three ranks of figures: 

I think it will look quite nice. I'll have to do some more testing and deliberation, but I'm pretty sure this is the way to go.

By the way, my last post on ancient greek warfare spawned some interesting visit hits on this blog. To be precise, keywords such as "naked greek guys" have now been used to visit. Truly, my blog caters to all, even though I'm not sure the person tapping in those keywords was looking for wargaming stuff.

EDIT: Oh, nuts. Greek hoplites are not rated as Phalanxes in Warmaster, and as such, should be based with the normal sideways base. I'm pretty sure the "attacking" hoplite strips will not fit on the stands as such. More deliberation is needed (and hints appreciated).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

More Battletech Quick-Strike

Another game of Quick-Strike on the planet strangely reminiscent of 19th century America. We picked 50 points worth of mechs from my mech deck and played a simple meet-em greet-em blast-em-to-bits game on my Port Republic board. My opponent picked four medium and heavy mechs: Archer, Wolverine, Rifleman and Warhammer. I picked two lights, Javelin and Wasp, one medium Phoenix Hawk, one heavy Crusader and one assault mech, Battlemaster.

A selection of mech cards you use to keep track of your mechs in Quick-Strike
We advanced our mechs in pretty much a straight line towards each other. Simo left his Archer into a forest near his deployment zone to provide LRM support, I sent my Javelin to threathen his left flank.
Simo's Warhammer deals out hot PPC shots with frightening accuracy, tearing the Battlemaster's and the Phoenix Hawk's armor to bits but not managing to score internal damage. I manage to take the woods in the center and use the cover to my advantage. The Crusader and the Rifleman sit in water features to be able to cool off excess heat generated by shooting.
My Battlemaster retreats into the cover of the woods and together with the wounded Phoenix Hawk take down the rifleman. The Wolverine dances with the quick Wasp and is forced to block access to his rear by facing the table edge (most realistic). The Javelin gets a rear shot on the Warhammer with his SRM's.
The extra cover of the woods proves to be a game decider as I score more hits than my opponent and take down the Warhammer too, even though my Battlemaster is just barely on it's feet.
The Archer and the Wolverine retreat to their deployment zone and are taken down by superior firepower. The Battlemaster is destroyed by the Archer.

A straightforward game, but I found myself wanting for a couple of modifiers. Straight vanilla, Quick-Strike doesn't impose penalties for moving and shooting, and uses the maximum movement of a mech to decide how hard it is to hit. This means, that a stationary mech is just as hard to hit as one that moved full speed, and light mechs are able to use jump packs to jump behind the enemy every turn and score easy hits. So, I think I'll try these alterations taken from Battletech 3rd ed. for our next game:

Mechs' own movement makes it more difficult to score hits:

Stationary  +0
Walking     +1
Running     +2
Jump Jets  +3

The total distance (not expended MP) moved by a mech during the turn makes it more difficult to hit:

0-4”        +0
5”-8”       +1
9”-12”     +2
13”-18”   +3
19”-34”   +4
35”+        +5
Used jump jets +1 in addition to distance

So now the speed at which the mech moves affects both the shooter and the target. I think it will not bog the gameplay down after I make some counters you can toss next to the mech or on the mech card to remind you of the speed.

EDIT: Here's a PDF of the markers I made, in case someone else finds them useful: link

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Battletech Quick-Strike

When I first saw the intro movie for Mechwarrior 2 I was sold on mech-on-mech action:

There's a lot to like in Battletech. Too bad I don't like the rules of the boardgame all that much. I have a set for the third edition of the game with a pile of battlemechs, but I've only played Battletech once. The game takes a long time to play and is heavy with bookkeeping true to 80's game design. I've been looking for a good set of rules for fighting mechs and surprisingly found some under the umbrella of the Battletech rules themeselves.

Battletech Quick-Strike is a lite-version of the Battletech rules meant to be used in large battles and campaigns where the players do not wish to bog down gameplay with the cumbersome rules of the full set. As it happens, the rules offer a chance to play a fast-paced, light game of mech warfare.

The rules are included in the Strategic Operations expansion of Battletech. You can obtain a digital copy pretty cheap from here. Quick-Strike contains all the basic elements you would expect from a battlemech game. The players dice for initiative, with the initiative loser moving the first mech. The players (or sides) alternate in moving mechs until each one has moved. After this, fire attacks are handled simultaneously. Players roll to hit after applying a few modifiers. Shots that hit score a default amount of damage depending on the range of the attack and the type of the mech. Mechs have a single armor score and an internal structure score. After the armor has been depleted and mechs suffer damage to internal structure, they take critical damage and suffer penalties to movement, shooting etc. Once the internal structure runs out, the mech is destroyed.

Mechs can shoot indirect fire with the help of a spotter, deal extra damage with heat penalties, use jump jets to fly through the air, beat each other senseless in melee and all the usual stuff you're used to. Everything has just been simplified and abstracted to about ten pages or so. Each mech has a roster card with all the info required. The system also supports infantry, armor and aircraft.

I plan on using these rules to lure people who normally don't play miniatures games to have a go. I played a couple of matches last night. One with a friend and another with my wife. The rules are easy enough for casual players to learn and is a fun and fast beer and pretzels type of game. Recommended.

The battle was fought on a planet strangely reminiscent of 19th century America. Battletech uses the same terrain scale as 6mm figures do, so I can use my regular 6mm stuff with the game.