The Franco-Angevin Wars Continue! (More Richard I the Lion Heart)

The first three games of our series of Richard I the Lion Heart went “Surrender for Richard” (Dad wins), “Philip captured, French Army routed, Richard dies in battle” (draw), and “Philip stalls Richard, deploying troops everywhere, refusing to fight in pitched battles, conquers Touraine and Maine, endlessly subverts vassals, and wears Richard down to a state of recklessness, at which point he falls in battle” (I win).

We played another game to break the 1-1-1 set, and my dad wanted a second go as Richard. I enacted a similar strategy as in the previous game, using Philip and the Count of Au to move troops to French border castles where Richard would hopefully be bogged down. My dad spent next to nothing on diplomacy in the first turn, which mean on one hand, he had a lot of troops, but on the other hand, almost of his provinces were in rebellion.

Rather than get stuck in sieges or get wiped out early on, I sacrificed my siege trains and would send Philip and the Count out of Normandy to meet up with the rebelling barons. By the second year, I had a massive surplus of funds to replenish lost troops. So, even though I hadn’t won any battles (nor even stood to fight), I was never in too bad a shape, and Philip could always escape. Despite having a field army considerably damaged and bruised, I maintained several strongholds in Normandy with very large (in some cases unassailable) garrisons. The game ended rather early with Richard dying in a siege.

While this broke the tied set in my favor, it meant that Richard was 0-4. I wanted to give it one last go as Richard myself before we put this one to bed.

We’re only into the second year of this one, but I think I may have this one in the bag as Richard. I’ll admit that while I was lucky in that, while the diplomacy phase was a wash for vassals mostly, Baldwin of Flanders joined my cause for 1194. My dad had sent Philip down with most of the troops and the French siege train to subjugate Touraine, which meant the only real opposition in Normandy was the Count of Au with a small force along the border trying to harangue loyal English border castles.

I put everything I had on Caen to take it early, and a lucky first turn roll meant no siege. Rather than having Richard lead a mighty charge, I used him to move and reposition some troops to hold the fort on the road to Maine and reinforce the loyal border castles. Meanwhile, I sent Mercadier with the siege train and some of the troops north towards Dieppe, where he would meet Baldwin and take the city. The Marshal took most of the rest of Richard’s forces and went about overawing French border castles and burning them to the ground. Richard, meanwhile, stayed behind with John in an administrative capacity, only jumping in once to raise the bonus on a siege attack that I desperately wanted to win before the winter turn of 1194/1195.

All that’s left right now for Richard to win are two border castles, Gisors, and Les Andelys. Plus, Gisors has only one SP of garrison left. Best of all, I’ve used Richard so sparingly that there’s a 0% chance of his death! [Death # starts at 15, goes down by one each turn Richard is in battle, and goes up by one each winter—having only made two attacks with Richard in 1194, going into 1195, his # is 14; needless to say, it is impossible to roll over 14 on 2d6.]

I didn’t spend any money on knights, because I’m hoping I can wrap this up without any pitched battles. Though Philip seized Maine at the end of 1194, I have 15 SP + 5 garrison SP (worth 40 total should Philip try to storm) in the castle blocking the road. My goal in the next two turns is to have Marshal and Mercadier take most of the troops between them to overawe the two remaining border forts. All I need is kill a single SP of garrison in Gisors, so I’ll leave just enough SP with Richard to see that it’s a sure thing. This should all be accomplished in the March turn.

If either of the two border forts don’t fall in the initial assault, I’ll send in John to move some extra troops to knock it out in the April turn. If neither falls, it could be a problem, but Mercadier and Marshal both have attack bonuses that should guarantee I take AT LEAST one with the odds I have. Regardless of the fort situation, as soon as Gisors falls, the siege train will move on Les Andelys with Richard. It would be a coup if I took it in the first round of battle in April. If things go into May, it may be a bit dicey.

Where Philip is right now, he can’t do anything that would reverse my fortunes in March. He could harry my fort on the road to Maine, but almost certainly could not take it in a single turn. He could take the road from Maine back into France and try to confront Richard’s rampaging troops. Unfortunately for him, it would take until the bottom half of the April turn to get there. So, I have two turns to knock out 4 strongholds. I am very confident I can take 3 of them.

If it comes to a pitched battle, Philip DOES have knights with him, but Richard’s generals are good enough that in a meeting battle, if one does happen between all of the English and all of the French troops outside of Les Andelys, they should be able to hold their own. The problem will be that this is the likely outcome: the English knaves slaughter the French knaves; the French knights slaughter the English knaves; one side retreats; even if the English come out with an army intact, they will not be able to challenge the French knights on the battlefield; the French knights alone will not be enough to trap an English army taking respite in a fortress; the war drags on for another year.

If it comes down to that, I do have a few things going in my favor: each stronghold in Normandy gives me 12k ducats, and I have 5 out of 6; Normandy pledged its loyalty to me for the 1195 year; Les Andelys is neutral, so even if I can’t take it, there’s a very good chance Philip can’t either, and he will be unable to garrison it with his own troops against me over the winter 1195/1196 turn. The troops I would be able to muster for 1196 ought to be enough to take out whatever’s left that needs to be taken in a single blow.

I’ll be honest: we’ve probably be playing the game wrong the whole time. In fact, I know in one spot we’re doing wrong out of convenience [a single roll for combat with results multiplied by the total troop number, rather than rolling an individual attack for every ten SP and a “partial” attack for numbers under 10]. The rules could stand to be a little clearer in places… But overall, this has been one of our favorite beer & pretzels wargames.

I’ll let you know how things turned out next week.

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More King Richard!

This week, we wrapped up our second game of Richard I the Lion Heart; though the English forces utterly routed the French and captured Philip Augustus, Richard fell on the field of battle a few miles north of Maine’s border with Normandy. We called it a draw, though in retrospect it would be a long-term strategic victory for France; Philip would eventually be ransomed. The biggie would be that he would be substantially weakened in his dealing with John, and John, without perpetual holy wars with France, might avoid having to sign the Magna Carta.

It’s a game that you have to slow-play to win. I got over-eager, in part, because my dad wanted to call it, and I wanted things to go out in one last big battle, at least. I’d have likely won before the game-year was out, because there were only a couple places left in Normandy I had to take, and with Philip and the Count of Au left with maybe a 1/5th of my total forces, there wasn’t a lot they could do to seriously interfere with the ongoing sieges.

I’m trying this time as the French, and adopting a long-game stalling strategy. I used Philip to deploy garrisons in the towns and forts along the French and Norman borders, then bugged out with siege train to create trouble in Touraine. The Count of Au did similarly in the northern area of the border, but being slow, got himself caught and captured in a siege. I’m still debating whether or not it would be worth trying to ransom him back. I certainly wouldn’t want to overpay for him; he’s really not that good. But on the other hand, just having a guy around in the same province makes other strongholds more difficult to besiege. Plus, he’s the only thing besides rebelling vassal barons that Philip can use to keep from being out-maneuvered.

So, the goal and strategy:

  • create delays in Normandy, but don’t actively fight for it.
  • fight for and besiege the unguarded western Angevin holdings
    • Deny money and troops from Richard’s vassals
    • Line the French coffers with Angevin wealth
    • Build an unbeatable army of French knights while Richard’s forces dwindle
  • return to Normandy with troops to not confront, but to further delay Richard
  • wait for fate to take its course and for Richard to take an arrow through the neck

Richard I the Lion Heart

pic54653Even though I don’t really post at Wargame Wednesdays anymore [just haven’t had the time with everything going on], my Dad and I have never stopped our wargaming series. After a lengthy set of several games of Fortress Europa, where we concluded that the Germans have to drive the Allies back into the sea and essentially win or lose the game based on the turn-one set-up and how well the first two weeks of the Allied invasion plays out, we opted for something less modern.

Last week, we started playing Mayfair Games’ Richard I the Lion Heart. I completely screwed up my first go as Richard–I didn’t really understand the game at first and therefore failed to take an appropriate early-game strategy, and so took a mulligan. Things are playing out better this time.

Richard I the Lion Heart is a slightly-crunchier-than-beer-and-pretzels strategic-level game of Richard’s campaigns against Philip Augustus in France. It’s kind of an “asymmetrical warfare” game, though the imbalances are more subtle, I think, than in your typical asymmetric.

Richard has more and better leaders than Philip, meaning he can have more armies and theoretically accomplish more in a month. He also has smaller armies and less money than Philip, and must devote substantial chunks of his funds against Philip’s to prevent the nobles from various provinces rebelling against their rightful Plantagenet lord.

Each year, the amount of revenues and troop support can swing wildly, with nobles joining up or going home, refusing to remit revenues to their overlords, etc. Richard has to overcome an imbalance that generally puts things in Philip’s favor.

On the other hand, despite his superior numbers, Philip can’t easily beat Richard and his commanders in a pitched battle. Philip and the Count of Au aren’t particularly great generals. Richard can easily deliver significantly more casualties and come out ahead in a battle where he’s outnumbered 3:2 [provided Philip doesn’t have any knights]. Of course, this comes with a risk. Richard’s +2 modifier is HUGE, but it represents his leadership style, which was to command from the front and to wade into battle at the head of his troops. So, there is an every-increasing chance that after each battle he’s in that Richard will get an arrow in the neck. The Richard Death Chance starts at 15 and decreases by one to a minimum of 8 for each battle or siege Richard is present at; it goes back up by one each winter. While he starts out safe with a couple gimmes, the Richard Player must either hold back or risk an instant loss on an unlucky roll.

The goal of the game is to a)control Normandy, b)capture the opponent’s king, or c)Philip holds out until Richard dies on the battlefield.

For the Philip player, I’m thinking that the best strategy is to a)create more fires than Richard can put out with his vassals, b)avoid pitched battles except when you have knights, and most importantly c)force the Richard player to use Richard to keep and expand on strategic gains wherever possible.

As Richard, where possible, I’ve had Richard interpose between Philip’s army and a lucrative target—with a smaller force and the siege train, Mercadier or Marshel[Pembroke] can start a siege while Philip would have to fight through Richard’s troops, possibly taking massive losses, to relieve it. Richard buys his commanders time and earns a strategic win without taking the field. Of course, without Richard present, fortresses can potentially hold out for several months without giving in. But Richard can still come in, lend his bonus to the siege after a few months and only risk one death roll instead of several during the early stages of a siege where the fortress has almost no chance of falling.

Then there are knights… one of the interesting aspects of Richard is that combat is two-tiered and borrows certain tropes from miniatures gaming. Results are multiplied against the total number of troops to determine casualties. Except in the case of knights, who are worth three knaves a piece on the open field, nine knaves a piece when running down fleeing foes, and roll on a significantly advantageous combat chart against knives while they themselves are nigh untouchable against knaves. Knights, of course, are substantially more expensive than your bulk troop of knaves, but just a few of them can make a force unassailable. And having more money than Richard, Philip can easily gain the upper hand on the battlefield with just a few of these.

Our current situation stands with Richard in control of most of Normandy but fewer of his vassals loyal to him in the second and third year than the first. The second year saw some gains, mostly ruining some of the border lords’ castles, and even the destruction of most of Philip’s armies. But without knights to run down his fleeing knaves, the Count of Au was able to escape, and even without any knaves, Philips remaining cadre of knights would’ve been far too tough for Richard to take the field against. So, much of the fall of the second year of fighting was spent with some feints and continuation of sieges, but no real progress while both sides waited to buy new troops. Going into the third year of the war, I opted to supplement my knaves with 20 knights. While knaves might have been more useful in breaking sieges, I can’t afford to have an inferior number of knights against Philip and Count of Au’s replenished forces.

Fingers crossed that Mercadier can make headway on his own at the siege of Dieppe while now, with a superior force, Richard can take Philip down a peg before he captures Les Andelys. Or better yet, if Marshel can get there in time, he could take the field while Richard is off on some administrative task that keeps him from dying.

So, I said I’d screwed up the first time… Originally, I’d tried to play it like Imperium Romanum; there, you typically have two large armies with a couple leaders commanding them–there’s a bit of cat and mouse to maybe justify the stupidly complex economic and diplomatic rules, but each scenario generally boils down to one big meeting battle that one side can’t recover from. My first go as Richard, I bought a few knights, bought a few knaves, didn’t counter Philip’s political investments, allowed my French holdings to go into rebellion, and chased after Philip… who ran away. This isn’t a war that the players can win with one quick blow. It’s got much more ebb and flow to it; in this, it’s somewhat akin to Victory Games’ The Civil War, though on a smaller scale.

Cirsova #9 is out now!

Mass Combat System Play Analysis

So, Friday before last, I got to test run my mass combat system. Essentially, I tricked my players into playing a hex & chit wargame with my by disguising it as Dungeons & Dragons, but it actually went really well! Much better than I expected, in fact.

The sides were comprised of about 40k humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings and just over 100k (mostly low-level) undead. The PC factions were led by 20th level Humans and max-level demihumans, while the undead were led by 9HD vampires and a level 30 MU lich.

Most undead units were 5k in size, each taking up 2 hexes. Smaller units (1000 or less) took up 1 hex and ignored facing rules, and a pair of 10k strong human infantry took up 3 hexes.

The undead’s objectives were to a)Cross the map with one of a various combination of units or b)kill a certain number of the PC heroes. The PC’s objectives were to either a)eliminate 6 units, b) destroy the lich’s siege engines, or c) force the lich to use half of his spells.

While I gave my players a few options of how they could set-up (envelopment, one-sided flanks, meeting engagement, or a prepared defense), they opted to run a prepared line defense in the middle, with cavalry on the flanks.

In about 11 turns over the course of 5 hours, the PC’s pulled off a stunning upset victory against the Lich.

Here’s why:

  • I forgot to put Permanent Fly on the Lich; I wasn’t going to pull a fast one after I’d already showed everyone the ins and outs of what I’d be running. This deprived him of his ability to do ranged spell damage as often as he should’ve been able to.
  • I allowed some of the smaller “special” units of undead to count towards the 6 unit count; I also forgot that I shouldn’t have allowed wights to take casualties from normal units.
  • The lich had no missile troops. My players did pretty well with their archers and skirmishers. While I did manage to collapse their left flank, many of my troops did so right into clerics who could blow up the weaker skellies.
  • Vampires are too weak to go up against the PC party I’d created pre-gens for; I should’ve used much more powerful undead, but I wanted to keep things simple.
  • Magic Missile was broken; I’ll fix it when I rewrite the rules; it should’ve been a fixed amount of damage based on the unit size (perhaps in relation to the target unit’s average HD) rather than multiplied by the die-roll. The elves were doing maybe 1/3 to half a brigade worth of damage per round.
  • Because I did not want to deal with 3 full levels of spells I didn’t have physical books for, the Lich didn’t have a number of abilities and additional reality-shaping spells that would’ve made this a cakewalk. As such, while he did death-touch a 20th level fighter at one point and began to rout PC units just by wading into the fray himself, he couldn’t have held his own if the PCs ganged up on him, in large part because of an absence of “contingencies”.

Here’s what worked:

  • The combat damage system. Once everyone wrapped their head around how easy it was to figure 10% of the highest two digits, calculating damage was a breeze. The rolls to hit and against armor class were simple enough that the players figured out how the system worked pretty quickly.
  • Leader Combat. Well, okay, it kind of worked. It needs to be improved maybe, or maybe implementing it on a smaller scale would work better. Really, the PCs cleaved through the Vampire colonels like butter; the unit regulars could only hit PCs on 20 and even the Vampires had a tough job of landing a blow on the heavily armored PCs.
  • Cavalry are weak in numbers but can do massive damage. They do the most damage with charges. It made me smile when the players came to the realization on their own that they were using their cavalry wrong; they realized what they SHOULD have been doing was, instead of leaving their cavalry in melee, withdrawing after a charge, regrouping far enough away that they couldn’t be attacked by a charging unit, then charge again from a flank to get the charge damage bonus.
  • Turning worked almost just as planned. 2d6 x 10% of a cleric unit divided by the defending unit’s hit dice. I required that the unit the clerics were attempting to turn must have line of sight on the cleric unit. This meant that cleric units staying behind other units, performing first aid, couldn’t turn; they had to come out where the undead could see them.
  • Giving the cleric units a 3 shot ability to prevent ½ damage to an adjacent unit, up to the total number of clerics in the unit, worked pretty well.

Here’s what was a little iffy:

  • The Combat Order in general worked just fine, and I’m still sold on doing initiative per melee, though the players did say that it slowed things down a bit. BUT if you weren’t using initiative per melee, I’d probably go with the following order within the combat phase:
    • Declare unit combat pairings and splits
    • Unpaired attackers do their damage first
    • Paired/split attackers do damage simultaneously (i.e. use the unit sizes of all units at the beginning of combat to calculate damage, rather initiative-loser potentially takes losses and inflicts fewer casualties)Now what’s with split attacks? When units were being attacked by more than one unit, I allowed the defending unit to make attacks against all attackers, splitting damage proportionally.
  • Magic. Some of the spells worked out, others didn’t. The biggest problem was that I used 1d6+1 x 10% of the casting unit calculate damage for Magic Missile. While it was fine for the 500 strong MU unit, it made the 3500 strong elf unit a murder machine. Additionally, there are just some spells that either don’t really work for mass combat or would require some additional development

Here’s what could stand some further development:

  • Accounting for hit die differences. This isn’t something I did, in part because a) I didn’t have time and b) it would’ve bogged down an initial test more than I wanted. I DID have one unit of 100 bone golems where I had their HP as the true unit strength, and, because they were a small unit, each individual could inflict a kill. So, with 4 attacks, the unit could theoretically kill 400 per round while they had an effective HP of 2400 instead of 100.I treated the PC units as “elites”, using the 2nd column of the to-hit and saves, and the ability to cast spells as a 5th level MU x3. This didn’t mean that everyone in the unit was 5th level, just that the average quality of the troop was such that it had a to hit bonus and a save bonus. This wasn’t reflected in unit strength/hit dice.

    The starkest difference was between skeletons and zombies, 1 hit die monsters vs. 2 hit die monsters; in theory, the zombies should be twice as hard to kill. I didn’t treat it that way (except for Turn results). You could do some tweaks to kills, where there’s a base 10% damage then reduce it proportionally by the number of hit dice. For monsters with more than 3 hit die, I think it makes sense to treat them like I did the Bone Golems (a large group of individuals attacking and simultaneously, while tracking the collective HP, but not treating them truly as a regular unit per the system). Because really, when the bone golems attacked, I was rolling 4 attacks for each one once rather than 100 times, and therefore assumed that those attacks all succeeded against individuals in the defending units rather than an attack against the unit itself using unit to unit resolution. This may actually be the best fix, as it can account for smaller numbers of large monsters (ogres, owl bears, whatever) fighting against mass combat scale units. The entire unit may not be attacking monsters, but all of the monsters are attacking someone in the unit.

  • Morale. The morale mechanics ended up not being used or tested, in part because I didn’t really write them down, so meh. Also, being undead, the Lich’s units weren’t subject to morale per-se. The players didn’t quite figure out just HOW killing the Vampire colonels affected the undead units. Being undead, they didn’t break and flee; they kept fighting, though they didn’t pull back or move further. I noted each time a vampire colonel was defeated that they dropped a sword that glowed black. These were +1 swords of control undead; if any PC had picked one up, they could either command or dispel the brigade the Vampire had been leading, but no players bothered.
  • Fleshing out the system for purposes of accounting, to better tie it to your B/X game. There are book prices for mercenaries but I think it would be worth crunching the numbers for custom equipping units, as well as figuring what “elite” means for both cost and ability (especially for casters).

I really think that there’s some potential to this system. It would absolutely work great with fewer units and at lower levels, I think, but hey, we wanted a stupid-high level battle against a lich.

Mass Combat Rules Alpha

Given a week and a bad idea, this is what I came up with and will be testing out later tonight. There may still be some things that will get handled on the fly as they come up, but I feel comfortable handing this off to my players who are asking “what the heck are we doing?”

The scenario involves 11 Lvl 20 (or demi-human max) PCs leading “Elite” units (second column Saves & Thaco). 40k “good guys” vs. an army of just shy of 100k undead. Undead army is led by 30th level Lich, and his forces are broken into 16 brigades of vampire-led skeletons & zombies, plus a few regiments of wights, ghouls and thouls, plus a battalion of bone golems acting as his elite guard.

Note that these rules don’t constitute the “system”, are scenario specific, and leave out a lot of details that are included on the “character” and “unit” sheets which I won’t be posting.

Turn Order:

  1. Roll Initiative: Side with higher initiative goes first.
  2. Declare Casting
  3. Winning side’s Archers
    1. Archer may not move and fire
    2. Halfling skirmishers may move and fire, fire then move, or move, fire, then move again
  4. Winning side Movement
  5. Charge Combats are resolved
  6. Losing side Archers
  7. Losing side movement
  8. Non-Charge Melees are resolved individually, with individual initiative rolls per encounter.
    1. Damage is calculated simultaneously if initiative is tied.
  9. Winning side’s spells are resolved
  10. Losing side’s spells are resolved

(AOE damage spells in melee affect 50/50, unless casters have LOS on flank or rear of a Division/Brigade)

Movement is written on bottom of pieces; it’s based on unit’s equipment.

  • Regular movement costs 1 per hex
  • Rotating/pivoting a large unit costs 1 per 15 minutes (any point of axis)
    • “Facing” only matters for Brigades/Divisions (2-3 hex units)
    • A unit may do an “about face” for 1 movement point
    • Units may rotate/pivot or about face on the same turn they charge, but must use the charge movement to move in a straight line.
  • Leaders may double move, though this may mean they leave their units. Units without their leaders do not get the CHA bonus to hit.
  • Charge: units may move double their normal movement – this constitutes a charge
    • The additional movement from the charge MUST be in a straight line.
    • Unit with long weapons win first initiative over short, regardless of who charges
      • Unless defending unit is flanked or engaged in melee with another unit
    • If a unit charges and does not engage in melee, it misses its next movement
      • Missile/magic troops that miss their movement in this manner MAY fire on their next turn.
    • Leaving Melee – a unit may voluntarily leave melee in either of the following methods, or must in the 2nd method if a leader flees/is killed
      • On unit’s melee init; may not attack; costs 2 movement; retreating player chooses facing; does not provoke an attack

OR

  • On unit’s melee init; may not attack; costs 1 movement; unit faces direction it moved; provokes an attack.

 

Normal units do 10% of their strength in damage/kills. +10% per bonus for special.

Cavalry units do 50% of their strength on their initial charge, plus an additional attack. (This is noted on the cavalry character sheets, for a total of 4 attacks)

Magic units

  • Targeted/multi-target spells – 1 damage = 1 kill x10% unit str
  • AOE spells – 1 damage = 1 kill x 10% unit str

Magic User (individual)

  • Targeted spell – 1 kill
  • Multi-target spell – 1 kill per die
  • AOE spells – 1 damage = 1 kill

Turning – 2d6 x 10% of a cleric’s unit strength, adjusted by undead type.

Split Melee – if a unit is in melee with 2 units, it may make 2 attacks, halving any damage dealt.

Leaders – Leaders may fight with their troops. This provokes 3 individual monster attacks per round. Doing so, they will have a 1-6 chance per round of confronting an enemy unit leader. Both leaders may seek one another out, rolling on their initiative.

  • +1 leader is mounted with a foot unit.
  • -1 leader is hiding

Leaders may also leave their units and fight alone. Attacking alone provokes 1d4+4 monster attacks on an individual per round. Unmounted leader may not leave combat when attacked by a unit, unless a friendly unit engages the enemy unit in melee, allowing them to “escape”.

Lich Rule – Human/demihuman units may not voluntarily move within 6 hexes of the Lich. Units MUST attempt to maintain this distance, moving away from the Lich during their movement phase, even if it means breaking melee (see leaving melee). Heroes must fight the Lich alone; soldiers’ weapons cannot harm him.

(Scenario) Siege Engines – it takes a unit 1 round to destroy one point of siege engine. Certain damage spells such as fireballs may also destroy them.

  • XX – Division
  • X – Brigade
  • III – Regiment
  • II – Battalion

Errata (Halfling sling range 40/80/160); all Human and Elf PCs may have Standard War Mounts (15 HP AC15 (1d6/1d6; AB: 3)); Cleric units adjacent to units in melee may reduce that unit’s losses by 50%. They may use this ability up to 3 times, including on themselves.

 

New Wargame Wednesday Series: Battle of the Bulge

It’s been awhile since I’ve had time to document my wargaming here or at Castalia House, so I thought it would be worth highlighting that I’ve got a new one going that will carry us through into the new year.

Recently, I finished a series of Avalon Hill’s The Battle of the Bulge, which I’ll be going over in-depth at Castalia House.

Spoilers, the Nazis went 1-3, with two crushing defeats, a razor thin game-loss and one Strategic Victory (Two mechanized corps across the Meuse, in supply, on their way to Antwerp). But stay tuned each week to find out just how it went down!

This has been one of my favorite games in ages.

Been playing a beer & pretzels Russian Front game the last couple weeks, and may give a run down on those, but it’s been awhile since I’ve gone all out reviewing a game like Battle of the Bulge.

Part 1

Part 2

Also, playing BotB led to an impulse-buy of a biography of Skorzeny (there are special rules for his operation griffon commandos and the 150th Panzer); I don’t know that I’ll be getting many posts out of that (though I may yell at people on twitter about stuff). Still, if I ever run a “Nazis in Pellucidar” game again, I’ll probably make Skorzeny the big-bad.

Power Dolls

I think the wargamer in me has been subconsciously prepping for WWIII for the last couple of months. Not only did I start playing Fallout 3, I was, until last week, embroiled with a double header of NATO: the Next War in Europe, and over the weekend, I devoted several hours to one of my favorite childhood video games, Red Storm Rising. I’ll tell you what: RSR is the best Tom Clancy based game there is, was or ever will be.

But today, I want to spotlight Power Dolls, a game that I’ve been playing the past couple days and did some live tweeting of last night.

There are two things I love that I am always in the look-out for in combination – hexbased wargames and the real-robot genre. There are a handful of examples out there, but many have a very steep language barrier, such as the Gihren’s Greed series or the line of Mobile Suit Gundam hex & chit board games, and for whatever reason, many Japanese tactical wargames go for squares, rather than hexes, which are nigh intolerable (especially in cases where there’s no unit stacking).

First thing I’d note about Power Dolls, it has a lot more stuff going for it than you would expect of a game whose primary hook is “everything is piloted by women”.

There’s something about a war between earth(maybe) and colonists on this planet, and you’re playing as the colonists’ defense force in a bid for maintaining independence. Or something. I should really probably go back and go over the settings stuff again. But for whatever reason, the entirety of the defense force is composed of women who pilot mechs and air-planes or drive self-propelled rocket artillery.

army_mlrs_1982_02

Pew, Pew!

There are apparently only 10 missions, but given how long one of them takes to play through, that’s probably plenty.

Each mission starts with a large operational view of a theater, showing the situation, the mission, and the disposition of both your troops and the enemy’s. You have the option of selecting different pre-defined plans for the operations, which determine things like when forces get dropped, when air support is available, etc.

You have up to three drop-teams of mechs (depending on the operation; the first missions so far have only used two), a drop-team of off-board rocket artillery and a couple squadrons of air support.

Before each mission, you assign mechs, planes and artillery to your pilots, hopefully giving them some sort of configuration of gear and weaponry that compliments their skills. You then have to assign pilots to each landing group; the number of mechs in each group will determine how much air-lift it takes to bring them in; I’m sure that will matter more in later missions, since there are both heavy carriers and light carriers with some air-to-air capability. Any pilots not tied up in air-lift can be assigned fighter-bombers to offer ground support in one of the fighter wings.

So, what goes down, and gets depicted in the operational map, is your long-range artillery gets airlifted into position, then your first drop-team flies in and gets deployed on the tactical map, and as the mission progresses in 5 minute 1-turn increments, your troops are flown in according to the selected plan for the operation.

While the gameplay isn’t as crunchy as Battletech (there aren’t individual components that are tracked), it has a pretty robust selection of actions you can take during a turn. Each mech has three different rates of movement to choose from, which vary in per-hex movement cost, passive spotting radius, and defense against opportunity fire. Attacks are based on the equipment a mech has, but include everything from sub-machine guns and rifles to grenades and smoke screens. Units can drop weapons that are out of ammo to increase the number of realized action points. They can also call in air-strikes and indirect fire anywhere on the map.

I screwed up in a lot of places in the assignment of gear and deployment of forces in the second mission, partly because I didn’t pay enough attention to the mission briefing. I’d landed my troops around the bridge-head I thought I needed to defend, when really I should’ve air-dropped a handful of recon mechs to act as spotters and call in air strikes and off-board indirect artillery strikes while the enemy armored column moved south along the road. Instead, I had a massive tank division more or less punch through my scattered lines. By the time I’d started calling in indirect fire, most of my units who could spot were dead, cut-off or just trying to run away.

I may have to restart this mission so that I can go back at it with both better equipped units (fat lot of good my air-to-air missiles have done in this mission with no enemy aircraft) and better unit placement.

So, the good:

-Fairly nuanced tactical game; you have a lot of customization available to you in terms of how you can outfit your pilots. There are also a lot of different things each pilot can spend their action points on during your turn.

-The operational overview map is really cool. Even though you don’t do much on it, and so far only one mission has allowed for employing different “plans”, it’s a cool part that gives the game a wider feeling of scope than otherwise; for instance, you can SEE where your off-board artillery are located in relation to your front-line troops.

-The character art is pretty good; it finds a decent spot between ‘cute girls in mechs’ and the rougher look of more serious mil-sf animes. There is a character, though, who’s clearly an homage to Emma Sheen from Zeta Gundam.

-Hexes. They use hexes, man, HEXES!

The bad:

-The music is incredibly repetitive. For how long you’ll be playing this, you’re not going to be thrilled hearing the same bad midi-theme playing constantly.

-Speed of play. Not only are the turns incredibly long, this is exacerbated by the fact that the AI turn processes fairly slowly. Enemy turns take too long by most wargame standards. One mission of Power Dolls could easily eat up an entire evening, which is a double whammy when you realize you’re in a losing position after having sunk several hours in. I am probably going to have to go back to a save from nearly 4 hours of gameplay back to take another stab at the second mission (and hopefully this time silver haired yellow cat-eyes, cocky green-eyed brunette, and blue-bandana blonde won’t get blown up).

-The Fog of War doesn’t make sense when you’ve got air superiority and one or more fighter wings overhead. I get why spotting works the way it does, but it would be nice if there was a multi-step fog of war so that planes could spot units out in the open if they’ve bombed a target – even if they’re actually “gone”, you’d have an idea of the troop disposition from the previous turn as your pilots saw it on the way to and from their attack run.

There are also some complaints about the game’s AI; I can’t really judge yet, because if it’s bad, my strategy is probably worse than it is, at least until I figure out what I’m doing. We’ll have to see.

They’ve apparently made several sequels, but I’m not sure if any of them were ever translated into English. There’s also, apparently, a mediocre OVA based on it.

I’ll say that, for now, despite its flaws, I’m really digging Power Dolls. It’s definitely niche-within-a-niche, and the only other game that springs to mind along the lines of this is Cyberstorm (and that game was a very special kind of ugly). I’d love to find something that is mid-way between this and SSI’s Panzer General game, or even in a completely different direction, mid-way between this and Atomic Games/Avalon Hill’s V for Victory series. But as it is, if you’re desperately thirsty for hex-wars and giant robots, Power Dolls will definitely tide you over for a bit. You can find it at most abandonware sites.

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