Saturday, October 28, 2006

Short Update


It's been a while.

Miniatures have been on the back-burner, it's true. This is due to a variety of factors.

First, having to wait two months (plus) on my order from Mirliton. I mean, good for them that they took a month off, but to not leave a provision for shipping during that time? And then to send the package surface mail?

In the intervening time, RPGs have taken up the slack. But now I'm getting ready to get back to the miniatures in a hobby and professional sense...and that's got me thinking about Fantasy Warriors.

You see, I ordered some minis from Games Workshop to paint and sell. And just looking at them reminded me of how amazing current miniatures production is. The "old school" sculpts have a distinctive charm (I loved the Orc command minis I--eventually--received from Mirliton) and the patina of nostalgia...but damn, the idea of doing Fantasy Warriors with a mixture of GW, Reaper and whoever else just has alot of appeal.

For one thing, convenience. No need to order from Italy when a quick trip to the FLGS (in my case GameScape on Divisadero) will tend to most of my miniatures-buying needs.

Also, scale is a factor. Desiree ordered some female dwarves from Reaper to act as her Warchief and Battle Leaders. They look great, of course, but even though they skew small they still tower over the older Grenadier male dwarves. Using all contemporary sculpts would solve this problem...although there's still the scale creep of Rackham and imitators. It never ends! :)

Finally, if I want to sell this idea to friends or newbies, making miniatures acquisition as simple as possible is a major plus.

This is all just theory at this point anyway. I don't have any money to be pursuing an army from scratch at this time--and at any rate, I've got some Orcs to paint up so Des and I can go at it with our 1200 point armies!

P.S. What about the samurai? Oh, they'll have their day. I want to do a bit more research viz. banner density, and a couple conversions, but then the painting will begin in earnest. Once I'm done with my current job (in about a week!) I'll have a fair bit of free time--we'll see how much gets done then!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fantasy Warriors Update/Primer

This last weekend saw another game of Fantasy Warriors.
No battle report this time, since it was kinda a "dry run" for our new 1200 point armies (details below), plus Desiree's brother Mark was in town and was interested in what these miniatures games were all about, so the game was also a demo of sorts.

Desiree handed over her Dwarf army into Mark's capable hands and provided tactical advice and "psy-op" type psychological warfare against yours truly. Blood really is thicker than water I guess... ;)

Mark did very well indeed, not even counting that this was his first game. His standout moment was probably when he concentrated his Dwarven crossbows against my beloved Trolls, eventually bringing them down...which was a good thing, because his initial volley had driven them into Bloodlust and they were charging across the field towards his stunty ranks! I'm not too upset about losing my Trolls like that. Crossbows are murderous; they have range and penetration, even if they lack the rapid fire of bows. If my Trolls attract most of the crossbow fire across the course of a game, thus causing the Dwarves to use up their ammo to take out the Trolls, then that means the rest of my army is spared the withering fire. If the crossbows are employed elsewhere, that leaves my Trolls fresh and ready to crack skulls. They're a bit like tanks in modern combat, I suppose. At any rate, I lost--again--but thanks in part to facing a different opponent I was able to start coming up with some real insights aimed at making my Orcs more of a lean, mean greenskin machine. Basically, the lesson learned is that Orcs need all the help they can get. Standards, champions, musicians, "the quality of quantity", the works. This was especially highlighted when my unit of 8 Orcs went up against a unit of 8 Dwarves over a bridge. Both units lost a single figure. The Dwarves held steady, the Orcs routed right off the board! Hopefully this game will mark the last time I'll regularly be rolling morale tests that have my units routing on a 1-2, or even a 1-3!

Another thing I took away from this game was an increasing respect for the FW rules. They are more subtle than they first appear. Small things, like how the orders a unit is under affect it under the stress of combat--Attack allows you to roll more dice to hit, Hold makes it more likely you'll stick around--are a mark of excellent game design.

Back to talking about adding to armies, here are the details on our "new" armies (our 1200 point armies are essentially the same as the 1000 point versions with some unit additions, so not all that new, but you get the idea).

My Orcs have added a unit of 4 Wolfriders and a mounted Battle Leader, creating a new command. I intend to use this unit to scout. The fact that they'll have to start the game on Hold is OK, because they form a handy reserve unit that way. I used them in this capacity their first time out and it almost tipped the balance back in my favor towards the end of the game. Each of my infantry units now has a champion, standard and musician and each has grown by four models. I also boosted my Wizard's Power Points so that he'll be able to summon a Fiend if he needs to, and he'll be more effective in general. Oh yeah, I replaced the technically illeagal Amazon wizard with a proper Orc. These changes put me a bit over budget, so I had to downgrade my Elite War Trolls to "stupid" War Trolls. The next time we bump up our points totals, I'll be sure to boost my Trolls back to Elite first thing.

(Here I'd like to take a moment for a mini-rant--no pun intended--and talk about why I won't be fielding my new army for at least a couple more weeks. Seems that our friends at Mirliton in Italy are taking a whole month off of work. The whole company. So orders placed before the end of August--like, say, for some Orc standards, musicians and champions--will not go out until they return from their vacation. Damn those Europeans and their commitment to "the good life"!)

The Dwarves saw far fewer changes--the Human Hero became a Battle Leader in charge of an allied command of foot knights. It was this little gem that turned back my wolfriders, despite my best efforts. Elite troops + extra-heavy armor + two-handed weapons? Not nice. Not nice at all.

I did some quick calculations and determined that if Des wanted to add standards and champions to her units, thus boosting unit sizes in the bargain (and if she added a Priest as well, which is only common sense as an antidote to my Wizard), she'll be looking at a 1500 point army right off the bat! So at some point we'll be movin' on up to 1500 point army. Oh, Elite War Trolls...I'll have you back one day!

At any rate, I thought I'd take this opportunity to post some thoughts on the other armies one can field in Fantasy Warriors, along with links with where to find properly "old school" miniatures (I've made reference in previous blogs to my preference for "true 25mm" miniatures--a full-blown rant deserves a proper blog post of its own).

Your first step is to download the Fantasy Warriors Companion. This was an expansion set put out by Grenadier shortly before they folded and has been out of print for about 12 or 13 years. This is a shame, because it contained lots of cool new rules, a FAQ, and--most crucially--recalculated army lists. The lists in the original rulebook had some balance issues and typos. The Companion corrected these. And now, thanks to our Italian friends at Mirliton, the Companion is once again available as a PDF! Huzzah indeed. Any army built for FW should be built using the army lists in the Companion. Oh, and if you don't have the Fantasy Warriors Rulebook already you should download that too. The section at the beginning of the army lists (page 47, to be precise) explains how to put together an army in FW and has "universal" costs that are the same for all armies, like Leadership, Power Points and "unit specials".

(As an aside to those of you who'd know what I'm talking about, the Companion also features some of the earliest illustration work of one Mark Gibbons, later to make a name for himself with an extended tenure at Games Workshop.)

Here are my thoughts on the various armies you can field in FW (excepting Dwarves and Orcs, which get plenty of coverage elsewhere in this post and this blog):

Right off the bat, we have an army that is in a bit of limbo. Most of the original Grenadier FW miniatures, long out-of-production, have been re-cast by Mirliton. The Amazons are not one of those armies as of this post. However, the other late, great minis manufacturer, Ral Partha--having been resurrected by Iron Wind Metals--made a line of Amazons that should scale well with Grenadier. If scale is not an issue for you, there are several other manufacturers that make Amazon-like armies. The main problem is that the Companion lists have the Amazon "cavalry" mounted on Sabre-tooth cats. You can pick up sabre-tooth cats via the Barbarian army, which also boasts tiger riders. But nevertheless, you'll have some conversion work ahead of you if you want to field sabre-tooth-cat-mounted troops in your army.

Iron-Wind Amazons

This is a fun army. Basically, you're fielding a whole legion of strapping, muscle-bound, furry loin-cloth sporting uber-menschen. These are stereotypical fantasy barbarians all the way: a strange cross between Conan, Celtic warriors of myth and cavemen. Some of the minis available are a real hoot, like the Barbarian War Rhino, with its wild, screaming crew literally hanging off the Rhino's furry hide. If you had a twisted worldview like Desiree, you'd probably say this army is extremely homo-erotic. I won't go there, but there you have it...

Homo-Eroticism Ahoy!

One of the reasons I prefer Fantasy Warriors over Warhammer is that each army list is distinct without being gimmicky. Orcs are more like something out of Lord of the Rings than Cockney Brits with green skin, for example. And Goblins are a distinct race from Orcs, with their own flavor. Perhaps the most salient feature of the Goblin army is the fact that they, of all the armies, are most affected by "bad light". Most armies that suffer from bad light just take a penalty to shooting and morale when they're caught out outside when they shouldn't be (generally day for the evil races, night for the good guys). Goblins take it one step further. They are rated as Fanatic at night and Poor by day. Talk about seasonal affective disorder. Another thing I like about the Goblins is their cavalry--giant spiders! How cool would it be to field a unit of five or six giant spiders with plucky goblin mahauts clinging to their backs? Add to this the Hobgoblins, who can add a bit of weight to your lines, and you've got a pretty darn versatile army. Oh yeah, then there's the matter of a little thing called the Goblin War Giant. Ahem.

They only come out at night...

Trolls, Ogres & Mercenaries
These are "army lists" that aren't. You can't field an army made up entirely of Trolls or Ogres, as much as you may want to. If you really want to, take up Warhammer and be prepared to pay $50 for a single boxed regiment. At any rate, most armies can field units of Trolls and Ogres, and as an enthusiastic employer of Trolls I can tell you that it's well worth the investment. These monstrosities really add punch to your lines (almost literally in the case of the Ogre "Linebreaker" unit--is that a great name or what?) and look great on the table. The Companion introduced the concept of Mercenaries. Basically a blanket term, you can buy any unit from any army as a "mercenary" unit. Yes, that means I could field Dwarves in my Orc army if I wanted to. They'd be mercenary dwarves, of course, and that means they wouldn't be entirely reliable...still, it's an idea... What's worse (or better, depending on how you look at it) is that you can choose to put your mercenaries on "half pay" or, worse, "quarter pay", allowing you to purchase the units for less points but drastically affecting their already suspect loyalty. Specific "mercenary only" units are also available in the form of Horse Archers, Half-Orcs, Dragons and Giants. I'm seriously thinking of picking up a unit of Half-Orcs when we bump up to 1500 points, since I already have a pack of minis that would work for this purpose. Incidentally, Grenadier did release Horse Archer minis but they have yet to be re-released by Mirliton. Lastly, you may notice the link for the Giant went to Reaper Miniatures, one of the contemporary "30mm+" manufacturers. This is one of the pleasures of using "true 25s"--anytime you require a large creature (like a troll, or a giant or a demonic fiend), go ahead and buy one of the larger minis of today. The miniature, already cast to look large next to his 30mm cousins, will tower over your true 25s! As detailed in a previous post, I used the "Bull Orc" minis from Reaper for my Trolls and you'd never guess they were anything but!

Wood Elves & High Elves
There is a long-standing tradition in fantasy to divide Elves into two castes. One side epitomizes the benefits of the Elves otherworldliness and immortatility--they are masters of everything they study, but they are also haughty and few in number. In Lord of the Rings these were the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien; in FW (and Warhammer...and D&D...) they are called the High Elves. The other side of the Elvish coin emphasizes their connection to nature. LotR has these sorts of Elves hailing from Mirkwood (like Elvish super-hunk Legolas); FW (and Warhammer...and D&D...) calls them Wood Elves. Here we have a "good guy" version of the split between Orcs and Goblins--two closely related races that nonetheless each get their own army list, distinct in flavor as well as strengths and weaknesses. Wood Elves are rated as Tribal, High Elves are Disciplined. Nevertheless, both armies are counted as Veteran, with optional upgrades to Elite. Both armies boast excellent archers and cavalry. It is the special units that the differences really shine. Wood Elves can field Giant Eagle Riders, druids, shapechangers and tree spirits. High Elves, to be honest, kinda get the shaft--they can't match the Wood Elves for specials. They can, however, upgrade any of their missile-armed troops to Marksmen, deadly snipers able to pick off heros and leaders. Further complicating matters for the would-be High Elf general is the fact that Grenadier's High Elf minis have yet to be reissued. Fortunately Ral-Partha comes to the rescue again. I guess the idea is that if you want to field an army of the absolute best in pure infantry and cavalry, go with High Elves. If you want lots of crazy magic and shit, go with the Wood Elves.

Cream of the Crop

Magic & Crazy Shit

Last but not least we have the forces of humanity, or "Men" as the Army List is properly called. I really like the look of the Grenadier minis for this list, and the content of the list is pretty solid as well. Basically we have an army based on late medieval technology. Knights are wearing full plate-mail, archers wield longbows alongside other units with primitive handguns. There's a definite "fairy tale" feel to this army, with wizards in pointy hats and whatnot. Clearly, like any human army worth its salt, there's great variety. Juggernaut units of heavily armored knights lead the vanguard, while peasant infantry holds the line with pitchforks and sharpened spades. The whole army exudes an aura of civilization that puts them in wonderful contrast to that other human army, the barbarians. What an interesting matchup that would make! And I think it's high time someone come up with some houserules to allow the inclusion of "half men" (aka. Hobbits) in the Human army, eh? Damn right!

Are we so vain?

Also, check out Thunderbolt Mountain's exquisite 25mm Arthurian line to supplement the Grenadier selection!

OK, so the humans weren't quite last...but to be fair, the Undead were not originally included in the FW rulebook. An addition of the Companion, this is the first choice for all you Harryhausen fans out there. Who wouldn't want to field a legion of skele-bones, marching forward in eerie silence. Of course, if you play against an opponent who has seen Army of Darkness one too many times, you'll never hear the end of it. I haven't read over the rules for fielding an undead army, but to be sure it's an army like no other! The special rules in the Companion take up about a quarter of the book. On a practical note, we're once again faced with a lack of "official" Grenadier re-casts. And once again, Iron Wind comes to our aid.

You'll have to scroll down a bit.

UPDATE! On November 1, 2006, Mirliton began re-releasing the Fantasy Warriors line of Undead.

Now where's that Undead War Mammoth...?

So there you have it. A more or less complete evaluation of armies in Fantasy Warriors. On a final note in regards to gaps in Mirliton's line of re-casts, here's a case where eBay can be your friend. Even in the case of minis that are available via Mirliton, you can still find the originals on eBay. That's how I got my wolf riders, still in their original box no less! Shop around, it's part of the fun of army construction. Although I do miss the days when I could just walk into my (not so) friendly local game store and pick up a few blister packs off the shelf. Waiting for shipping sucks (see above).

That's all for now!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Future is Now!

So after going all over town yesterday in a vain quest for Future Floor Polish (see previous update), it occurred to me I should maybe check out the market right around the corner from my apartment. And of course they had a bottle! Sheesh. Sometimes it's just too obvious, y'know?

I had time this morning before work to do some test painting with the new "Magic Wash". I did a test-paint on three Pendraken ashigaru. They were primered three different ways: white, black, and black with a white drybrush. I mixed my paints to a thin, almost wash-like consistency with the Magic Wash and applied brush to miniature.

The best result came from the black undercoat with white drybrush. The thin glaze of paint allows the white to show through on the the raised areas, creating a natural highlight. The black undercoat fills in the cracks and crevasses that the glaze can't reach.

I'm not sure when I'll start mass-painting in earnest--there are a couple work-related projects I need to work on...but once those are out of the way, I get to play. ;)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More on Taiko! and our armies

As I mentioned in my previous post, for Taiko! I decided to treat figure basing a little differently. I also tweaked the army lists a bit to fit my own peculiar prejudices:

  • I eliminated the requirement that 1/3 of the ashigaru in an army be armed with regular hand weapons. Although the percentage is accurate, that third usually stayed "in the rear with the gear" and only joined the battle in truly desperate circumstances. The fighting ashigaru were inevitably armed with yari of some sort or missile weapons.
  • Similarly, I negated the "1/3" weapon requirement for the sohei.
  • I intend to use the Weather Table from Daimyo, especially since the Taiko! rules for setting fires specifically mention modifiers for rain and high winds.
  • I'm thinking of writing up point costs for pavises and palisades, but I want to try out the basic rules first before I start coming up with points values out of thin air. Might send an email to the folks at Flagship and see how they've handled defensive works in past games.
I think that's about it. The rules themselves are really solid and I can't wait to give 'em a test spin. To that end, I've come up with a neat scenario. But first, let's look at the armies...

Our armies are based around a fairly specific time frame, namely late 1563 into early 1564. This was when a young Tokugawa Ieyasu (still at this time known as Matsudaira Motoyasu) came head to head with local Ikko Ikki contingents in his home province of Mikawa. Several skirmishes and a large battle were fought in which the young Tokugawa impetuously led from the front, famously returning from a charge with his armor full of enemy musket balls! One of his future trusted generals, Ishikawa Ienari, started out on the side of the Ikko Ikki but later switched sides.

With all this in mind when designing my army, I decided that I wanted to have a mounted Army Commander (the impetuous Motoyasu himself!) along with his "right hand man" Honda Tadakatsu and the general, Sakai Masachika, who started the whole conflict when he was sent to collect rice from a temple without its consent. I also took Hattori Hanzo as a sub-commander, because how could I not? The content of the army is fairly conventional--a mix of Veteran and Young Samurai, most armed with pole arms (which in Taiko! include weapons like the no-dachi), ashigaru wielding short and long yari, and missile troops. Since it's still relatively early in the firearms era, I have slightly more bows than teppo. Thank you Arsenal for making that possible! ;)

The Ikko Ikki are an eclectic mix, as they should be. Peasants form the backbone of the army, but we can also find sohei, both on foot and mounted, samurai, under the leadership of that shifty fellow Ienari (it'll be interesting to see if he defects like he did in real life--another reason I love Taiko!), and even some shifty ronin armed with, of all things, muskets! There are actually more firearms in this army than in mine, which is as it should be. The Ikko Ikki were early proponents of the teppo.

Oh, and there are rumors the fanatics have contracted with the mysterious ninja. Wish I had points in my army for a yojimbo body guard...oh dear...

At any rate, the scenario I referred to above will be a fun way to teach ourselves the rules and kick off the campaign. Basically I want to represent the sparking point of the whole conflict, when Sakai arrives to collect rice from the Joguji temple and the peasants and monks therein beg to differ. Each army will have one cavalry, one infantry and one missile unit, as follows:

Sakai's Forces
  • Army Commander, Mounted (Sakai)
  • 2x Mounted Samurai, with Pole Arms
  • 6x Ashigaru, with Pole Arms
  • 4x Ashigaru, with Bows
The Ikko Ikki
  • Army Commander, Mounted (Outraged Sohei)
  • 2x Mounted Sohei, with Pole Arms
  • 6x Peasants, with Pole Arms (hoes and pitchforks)
  • 4x Ashigaru, with Teppo
All the Ikki are rated Fanatic, and the Peasants have been upgraded and the Ashigaru downgraded so they have comparable Class and Armor values.

A small complex (two buildings, a watch tower and a tree-stump wall) represents the temple's granary. The objective for Sakai is to raid the granary, or burn it down. The Ikki must prevent this. Simple, fun, guaranteed mayhem! Can't wait to play! :D

10mm Samurai Update

The last two weeks have seen things finally start to accelerate.

First off, all my orders finally came in. The bases I ordered from Litko Aerosystems arrived first, followed shortly by the last of my miniatures, namely the Pendraken from Arsenal. Here's where I must take an aside and offer my thoughts on my experience with Arsenal:

I ordered all my miniatures on the same day. I ordered my Irregular from Eureka, a company in Australia (and if you're wondering why it's because they have an excellent online shopping system and the shipping is quick and cheap), the GFI from the manufacturer and the Pendraken from Arsenal.

Of those three, I half expected the Arsenal to arrive first. The GFI minis had to be paid for via a check in the mail (they're not taking PayPal or credit cards online and I didn't feel comfortable phoning in my card number over a cordless phone, which is the only kind of phone I have) and the Irregular were coming from Australia, which takes about a week.

As it turned out, I received the Irregular first, followed by the GFI about ten days later. And I waited and waited on the Arsenal shipment. And waited...

So yes, I finally received the Pendraken from Arsenal about a month after I placed the order. Furthermore, my order was...well...not completely what I was expecting. Since for part of my order I had essentially tallied up 80% of the "Samurai Army Pack", they just sent me the whole pack as a bonus. Unfortunately, I got stiffed on a pack of peasants in the bargain.

But I'm not complaining, because the "Army Pack" contained peasant longbows and ashigaru longbows--two packs that I was greatful to have as it turned out!

The reason I found myself in need in bow-armed troops is because I finally found "my" set of rules. If you'll recall from my last update, at that time I hadn't found a ruleset that really struck my fancy. I was planning on using Chrysanthemum Throne, as it was the closest to what I was looking for, although it still left much to be desired. For one thing, it was quite oversimplified, not even including rules for archers. This is the reason I hadn't ordered any.

But two weeks ago, I opened up my copy of Army Builder, looking to see if there any data files for Fantasy Warriors. There aren't, but I discovered that there are data files for Taiko!, a set of rules from Flagship Games. I had totally forgotten about these rules. When I was initially researching rules, it had basically come down to Taiko! vs. Killer Katanas in the "which game am I willing to shell out $25 for?" category. I went for KK2--and I'm glad I did, because KK2 does include quite a bit of very helpful background info and army composition notes, as well as a nifty scenario generator. If I'd bought Taiko! first, I seriously doubt I would've opted for KK2 down the line.

That being said, Taiko! is the system I've been looking for. A perfect balance of CT's "gamey" approach and KK2/Bushi's historicity. It even has a workable points system, which is why someone saw fit to put 2/3 of it into Army Builder format. (I ended up having to script the other third, since that happened to be the Ikko-Ikki list, which happens to be Desiree's army.)

Oh, and Taiko! also passes the presentation test. It isn't fancy, but some thought was obviously put into the layout, which is a simple yet elegant watermark of a different mon on each page. Sprinkled throughout the book we also find rather nicely executed full-page, somewhat cartooney illustrations, each with a humorous caption. My top favorite shows a trio of rather hard looking samurai, perhaps ronin, indignant over the fact that the battle's getting under way before they can finish their lunch.

My only hitch with the rules is that they're written for individually based figures, ala Warhammer. I find this a bit strange, especially since the rules were written specifically for 15mm. And I'll be damned if I'm going to individually base my 10mm figures! So after some thought, I decided that it wouldn't affect the game if I simply treated a base of 10mm figures as one "figure" for rules purposes. Furthermore, since I haven't totally given up on CT as an alternative set of rules, I decided to base the figures according to the standards given there. Ironically, this results in a rather high figure density, something I was trying to avoid. We're playing with 1,000 point armies, which are a bit on the small side for Taiko!, but even then it took nearly all my freshly-bought lead. But oh well, the armies'll look cool and it's preferable to individual basing so I'm happy.

Des and I put our armies together using Army Builder and I spent this afternoon sorting miniatures into units. We're finally ready to start painting.

And speaking of painting, we went on a wild goose chase today looking for Future Floor Polish. We tried two Walgreens, a Home Depot and a Target and no one had it. It seems the cursed Swiffer has replaced floor polish for the most part. Ah well, I guess it's regular water mixed with rubbing alcohol for us.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Fantasy Warriors Battle Report

Well it's been awhile, but last week we found ourselves squaring off over the Fantasy Warriors battlefield again! What brought this on? Glad you asked...

First off, we took a trip back down to L.A. to visit friends and family. Knowing that I'd have full access to my dad's studio, I packed up my six half-finished terrain boards and brought them along. Working on large-scale terrain projects in a small one-bedroom apartment with no balcony puts a significant strain on living space, so I was glad to have the opportunity to make full use of a dedicated work space. (Growing up the son of an artist does have certain advantages.)

So in between a whirlwind of lunches, dinners, BBQs and shooting the breeze I snagged a few hours in the sweltering garage (figures we'd visit in the middle of a SoCal heat wave!) and did the bulk of the rest of the work on the tiles. When we got back it took another week or two of work in my off hours to put the finishing touches on, but in the end I now have a set of 12 two foot square modular terrain tiles! A long-time goal finally realized. ::dusts hands::

So I was naturally excited to "test out" some of the new tiles and Mirliton making the Fantasy Warriors Compendium available online as a PDF cinched the deal. The Compendium came out in the early 90s and contained a brand new army list (Undead), fun new rules (mercenaries, poisoned arrows, field defences, "firewater") and (most importantly) completely revised army lists from the main rulebook. You see, the army lists contained in the original rulebook had some serious balance issues and typos and the Compendium corrected all that. Unfortunately, the Compendium has been out-of-print nearly since it was published! So having it available as a PDF was a major boon indeed.

Poring over all the new niftiness in the Compendium got me really jazzed to play FW...and not just as a one-off exercise like last time. I started to realize that although I'm trying to "standardize" my miniatures gaming (using 10mm as much as possible), playing FW with old school 25mm (as oppossed to the "28mm", more like 32mm minis of today) is the only right way to play it. And that the pure fun of the game coupled with the nostalgia rush I get off playing it justified further investment and future games. After talking it over with Desiree, she agreed it would be fun to build up our existing armies as a sort of "back burner" project. To that end, we each committed to one of the armies. We went with the armies we played last the Orcs are now "my" army.

The Battle
For those of you just joining us, the last encounter between the Orcs and Dwarves ended in a complete greenskin rout. This battle, quite accidentally, would form a sort of sequel to that battle, as the Orcs took up defensive positions and Dwarves pressed their advantage.

I recalculated the army lists using the new point values in the Compendium and found the Dwarves were essentially unchanged:
  • 1x 16 Veteran Spears
  • 2x 8 Elite Axes
  • 3x 5 Veteran Crossbows
  • 1x Warchief (in charge of the infantry)
  • 1x Battle Leader (in charge of the crossbows)
  • 1x Human Hero
My Orc army benefitted a bit from the points adjustments--I was able to make the presence of Trolls in my army "legal" by adding a Battle Leader (who are technically allies). I also dropped the Hero in favor of a volley of poison arrows for each of the missile units.
  • 1x 14 Veteran Spears
  • 2x 8 Average Swords
  • 3x 5 Average Bows
  • 1x 3 Elite War Trolls
  • 1x Warchief (in charge of the infantry)
  • 2x Battle Leaders (one in charge of the archers, the other in charge of the trolls)
  • 1x Amazon Wizard (with a mere 20 power points)
I laid out a simple table with a river zig-zagging across the length of the board. I decided that with a little modification the detailed FW terrain setup rules could be adapted to modular terrain. Basically, I decided instead of placing a terrain feature a player could instead swap out one board for another.

As it turned out, neither of us elected to scout again so terrain layout was pretty simple. The reason we've stayed away from scouting is because our armies are too small to really allow for it! In FW, scouting is done by "commands" rather than units...and the warchief's command can't scout. Since that meant in both our cases that only our missile units could scout, and since we didn't want our missile units to suffer from the rather heavy deployment restrictions placed on scouting units (start game no more than 6" from base edge, Disorganized, and on Hold orders), well...there you go...

Unfortunately for me, Dwarves can afford the luxury of not scouting, since they don't suffer from Bad Light. For me, one of the first new purchases I'm going to make for my Orcs is a scouting command (maybe some wolf riders or somesuch) because I really need to make sure my greenskins fight at night! And wouldn't you know it--the random roll came up not just Daytime, but friggin' noon! Talk about Bad Light!

As I said, the terrain setup was pretty simple. The board stayed "as is" and some dice roll jockeying back and forth resulted in two woods on my side of the board. We randomly determined the strength of the river and it came up "4". We designated two fords, one on my side near the woods on my left and one on Desiree's side, at the foot the hill.

Another dice roll decided I'd be setting up first (if one or both of us had scouted, things like terrain setup and deployment would be determined by who outscouted--or even outmaneuvered--whom). I'd just finished a book on Henry V and the Battle of Agincourt and kind of took a page from the English deployment in that battle. Using the bend of the river as a line of defense, I set up a staggered first line of archers, swords, archers, swords, archers. I then put my spearmen (which included my warchief and banner) and my trolls in reserve.

My plan was to just sit tight under Hold orders and let the Dwarves come to me, forcing them to wade across the river under the hail of black-feathered arrows and then get cut to pieces by my trusty blademen (or failing that, my trusty pointy-stick lads). The trolls would be used to plug gaps or as a counter-attacking force. Lastly, since I was suffering Bad Light I could only benefit by waiting for the slow-poke Dwarves to close--the longer they took, the closer I got to night!

Seeing my deployment, Desiree set up with most of her force weighted on my left flank--running from my left to right she set up her spearmen, then both two-handed axe units. In front she deployed her crossbows as a screening force.

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There was one last step before the battle could commence: boasts and omens! We both elected to read the the omens. They came up good for Desiree and bad for me. However, I had my wizard cast "Fudge the Omens" and got a re-roll, and this time they came up good! How could we both have the gods on our side? Stay tuned...

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Desiree elected not to boast. Keeping in mind my defensive strategy, I went with "I will stay on this spot, immovable like a rock" for my warchief. Figured that if he was having to move, the battle would probably already be lost anyways... ;)

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The battle got under way with all my troops under Hold orders. Desiree had her infantry on Oppose, but, like last battle, gave her missile troops Attack orders. Missile troops with these orders must close to short range as quickly as possible, firing as they go, then hose down the enemy with the remainder of their ammo. A very aggressive stance for Dwarven Crossbows, especially since they enjoy a superior range to my bows and could easily have stood off at long range and pelted me to their hearts' content. As it turned out, the initial volley from the stunties opened up a huge gap in my line!

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(History lesson: one thing Henry V didn't have to worry about at Agincourt was missile units--the French deployed their Genoese crossbowmen behind and to the side of their infantry, rendering them ineffectual in the battle. And a good thing for the English! Those crossbows can be nasty...)

In the future I think I'll invest in some pavises and mantlets for my front line infantry if I'm planning holding a defensive line against Dwarves. As it was, the Dwarven archery caused so many casualties, two of units routed right off the field--a unit of archers and a unit of blades!

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So things were off to a very bad start indeed. But I knew that with their Attack orders the Dwarves would eventually close to within bowshot. And if I could just outlast the Dwarves' ammunition supplies relatively intact, their infantry would still be forced to try and close with me.

As predicted, the Dwarves kept closing. As they got within range, my Wizard let go with all she had, targeting a Blast spell at one of the crossbow units. I knew from previous experience that Blast is not a major killer, but its advantage lies in the fact that any unit taking casualties from the spell must check morale, even if there's only one kill. The risk I was running was that my Wizard was very low on power and Blast is a spell that can easily suck points up...and if a wizard can't pay the Power Points, they die on the spot! And a dead wizard is not a good thing, since it requires the whole army to take a Command Test to see if they still want to stick around.

As it turns out, things kind of evened out. The Blast spell went off and killed a dwarf or two, but amazingly the subsequent morale test found them routing off the field! Unfortunately, my Wizard overdrew her power and also died. But the Command Test was passed easily and the rest of my army stayed put. Good thing too. Man, what an ignominous defeat that would've been...

(After the game I read that when a wizard overdraws their power, their spell fails to go off. So that was an error in my favor...ah well, live and learn, eh?)

The crossbows were finally within short range and expended the rest of their ammo in an archery duel with my bowmen. The Dwarves definitely came out the better for it, wiping out my right-flank unit and nearly destroying my left-flankers. I unloaded in turn with what I had left of my archers, even taking a shot at the Dwarven battle leader with a volley of poisoned arrows, but with very little result. I think unless I'm planning on facing a large monster or similar terror, I'll leave the poisoned arrows at home.

It was time for the Dwarven infantry to move out...

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On my right flank the axes and hero on the hilltop marched down and across the ford, attempting to flank me. The rest of the Dwarves started moving toward my main line (such as it was). The time had come for both of us to start switching orders. In the last battle we hadn't dealt with this, as it was an all-out brawl with no subtlety, just Attack orders across the board.

I'm really quite fond of the order system in Fantasy Warriors. It's simple yet sophisticated and reflects command and control problems well. Having a plan that requires switching orders in mid-battle, especially if you have to time that switch just so, is really difficult. Which is as it should be.

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So as Desiree moved out, she started shifting her warchief. He was too far over to have all his units within his command radius, and needed to get more centered. This was vital, because the Dwarves were currently under Oppose orders and if they expected to get into combat they needed to be under Attack orders. Meanwhile, I needed to switch my Trolls "on" and give them Attack orders. I also wanted to give my archers Oppose orders so they could retire away from the thick of the battle and not become a total loss.

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Since both concerns were under the command of Battle Leaders--and my Warchief couldn't personally deliver the new orders thanks to his "Stonewall" boast--I had to dispatch runners with the new orders. At their current move rate, it would take two turns for the new orders to reach their destinations...and then my Battle Leaders would have to roll to see if they even understood the new orders!

And so, as the Dwarves closed in the messengers moved out. The Attack order was communicated to the trolls' Battle Leader without difficulty and the Trolls roared forward towards the Dwarven flanking force. The handoff of new orders to the archers' Battle Leader did not go smoothly, however. Instead of new orders, the messenger was dismissed, the current orders held, and my archers picked up a Disorganized counter for their trouble. So be it--my archers would stay put and hopefully not get picked off.

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The game clock had now advanced well into the nighttime hours and the time was ripe for a little payback. (Not to mention that the real clock had advanced well into the evening as well, and my gurgling stomach was starting to affect my judgment...)

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As my Trolls charged up my right flank, the Human Hero rode forth to meet them. One round of combat later, the Hero was no more, but she had taken down a troll in exchange.

(This combat brought up another rules question I'm still not enitrely sure about, but I'll discuss that below.)

At this point, Desiree was still trying to get her Warchief shifted in order to issue the new Attack orders. We both realized during this battle that FW rewards deploying your commands' units centrally around their respective battle leader, like the "5" pips on a d6 (yeah, I went there and made a dice analogy). Spread out your units and you can live to regret it...

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What followed more than made up for having to suffer through the destruction wrought by the Dwarven Crossbows. My Trolls moved in to engage the Dwarven Axes, but first they Threatened the unit. The ability to issue Threats can be a powerful tool when used at critical moments. My Trolls' bellowing and feces-hurling managed to earn the Dwarves a Shaken counter. Then the Trolls closed in. Between the Shaken counter, the Oppose orders and the fact they were fighting Elite War Trolls, the Dwarves were literally mown down. They were there, then they weren't...

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I did lose another Troll, but my lone "buzzsaw" was free to rampage into the Dwarven flank...if he could just get over his fear of water...

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As it turned out that pesky river would prove the end of the battle. I tried over the next couple turns to get my troll to cross the water, but he just couldn't battle through the current. Rivers in FW are obstacles indeed! I'm thinking of creating a weighted table to generate river strengths, one that comes up with strengths of 1, 2, or 3 more often. Also, building a bridge or two is probably in order. The strength of the river doesn't matter as much if there are ample crossing places.

At any rate, while my troll was trying to force the river (to meet the other Axe unit waiting across the bank), the rest of the Dwarves moved up to face the Orc battle line, with only a river seperating the two armies.

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And it was here that we left it. Neither side was willing to face the bloodbath of trying to force a swift-flowing river right under the nose of the opposition. In-game, dawn was fast approaching and with it the return of Bad Light. Things could only get worse for me.

We tallied up victory points and it came out a minor victory for the Dwarves. This made sense. The Dwarves had failed to dislodge the Orcs, but were in posession of most of the field. Furthermore, the Orcs had suffered horrendous casualties and although they had bloodied the Dwarves, they were now in an untenable position. They'd have to retire before the dawn came and the Dwarves could regroup and flank them from the two fords. At the same time, they could at least retire in good order and fight another day. And fight they will, oh yes...

(And there you see how the omens were able to be "good" for both sides!)

Other Thoughts
I referred to a fuzzy point of the rules above and here it is: when you have an individual fighting a unit and that individual inflicts "x" number of kills, are those kills distributed to whole unit or only to the model(s) the individual is in base-to-base contact with? I couldn't find a definitive answer in the rulebook. In this game, the hero inflicted 4 kills on the trolls, two of which weren't saved. That would've been enough to wipe out the unit. But I argued that the kills should only be counted against the model in b2b contact, since that's the standard you use to determine how many dice to roll ("throw 1D for each point of worth in base to base contact..."). But I could be wrong. I know Heros in FW are supposed to be pretty powerful.

I'm really looking forward to building up my Orc army. As I mentioned, I'm going to add wolf-riders. Also, I'm going to replace my (technically illegal) Amazon Wizard with a proper greenskin spell-caster, possibly on a wolf as well. I'll probably add a unit of Bodyguards for my Warchief, along with some Big Orcs. I think I'll pick up a saucy-looking Goblin to act as Battle Leader for my Trolls and I was also considering also adding a mercenary unit of Half-Orcs at some point. And of course there's always beefing up my existing units. And at some point down the line it might be fun to see about maybe having a dragon make an appearance in a battle or two...

As for Desiree's army, she's probably going to add an allied Human contingent, using the (technically illegal) Human Hero as the Battle Leader. Also, now that the old Grenadier Dwarven War Cannon is once again available, that's pretty much a must-buy.

Speaking of which, we've decided we're only going to use old "true 25mm" minis. Both Grenadier and Ral Partha are once again available through Mirliton and Iron Wind, respectively.

And even further down the line, if Mirliton starts putting out the old Undead lead (and the Imperial Undead War Mammoth in particular!) an Undead army is as good as mine. And Desiree has expressed interest in maybe putting together an Amazon army at some point. So, much FW fun is in our future.

The funniest thing to me is that I'm finally pursuing this game some 15 years after first receiving it as a birthday present. Life can be pretty wacky sometimes...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

10mm Samurai

A couple months ago Desiree and I decided to embark on a "ground up" miniatures project. Deciding on a genre and scale, we'd build our armies up from scratch. After much discussion and speculation we settled on 10mm Samurai. Here's why:

  • I've been wanting to get into 10mm for a long time, so this was definitely my scale of choice. I showed Desiree Arnstein Orten's fantastic site and she agreed the scale worked.
  • We went with samurai because we're both Japan-o-philes and love Kurosawa films and all the cool imagery from the Sengoku period.
The next step was figuring out what rules to use. I ordered "Killer Katanas 2" and "Chrysanthemum Throne" and also downloaded "Bushi" and "Daimyo".

Here's the part where I do a little rant about historical miniatures games. About 10 years ago, when I was sick of Games Workshop and first starting to try and get into historicals I ran up against the "grognard effect". What I mean by that is that most rules sets for historical minis are very cheaply produced and aimed at people who already know a lot about the period. Call me superficial and lazy, but I like my miniatures rules to have lots of inpsiring photos and/or illustrations and a modicum of background information to ground me in the period. I hav never purchased a set of historical rules because I already knew a lot about the period and wanted to game it, but rather because I was interested in the period and wanted to find out more about it. Including historical background in the game, rather than forcing me to do tons of outside research, just makes life easier and makes me look upon the ruleset much more favorably.

I realize that historical miniatures are a niche market of an already niche market, but there are plenty of games out there (like "Blitzkrieg Commander" and the 2nd edition of "Baptism of Fire") that look great, have lots of historical background to help out the novice, and are essentially desktop publishing ventures.

I'm solidly in the camp that sees rulesets like "Flames of War", "Blitzkrieg Commander" and the "Warhammer Ancients" books as a blessing to the historical miniatures community. If those books had been around when I was a young lad with gobs of disposable income I would've become an enthusiastic historical miniatures hobbyist. What happened instead was a lot of frustration and dead ends. But that's a story for another day...

So how do the above-mentioned rules sets stack up against the "grognard effect"? Pretty well. Although all of them suffer from poor layout and bland presentation, the newcomer to the world of samurai warfare would find good to excellent introductions to the period in any of the the rules I looked at. Perhaps it's due to the fact that 16th-century samurai warfare is not a big part of Westren conciousness, and so the authors assumed the prospective buyer would know little about the period. (And in case I haven't made it totally obvious, I feel this is an assumption that all historical miniatures rulebooks should make.) The standout in this regard is Killer Katanas, which has tons of useful information.

No rules system turned out to be exactly what I was looking it stands I think we'll use "CT" as the base system with elements from Bushi and Daimyo.

I chose "CT" as my primary rules system because of its simplicity. Like all Chipco games, it's designed to be fast-playing, requiring only a modest amount of figures and playing space. It's not for nothing that I've seen "CT" referred to as the DBA of samurai rules. Killer Katanas is just a bit too figure intensive for my tastes. Daimyo is a solid set of rules, but it lacks flavor. Bushi, on the other hand, is a bit too heavy on the flavor: the rules forgo using simple and intuitive terms like "Move" and "Combat Skill" in favor of Japanese terms ("Yagake" and "Bujutsu" in this case, respectively). "CT" (with my additions) has just enough flavor to make it feel different from "Western" style battles, and that's what I'm looking for.

The elements I'm bringing in from Bushi and Daimyo relate to pre-game setup (Bushi has some interesting treatments of this, including the historical 27 formations) and deploying the General's base ("CT" only provides for stationary generals; Daimyo covers both stationary and mobile generals).

As I pondered what ruleset to use, I was also doing research. Killer Katanas gave me a nice jumping-off point, and provided Desiree with an army concept straight out of the box as it were--she decided on doing an army of Ikko-Ikki, fanatical peasants led by belligerent warrior-monks.

I went through various concepts before running across a choice nugget of information--it seems a young Tokugawa Ieyasu, future unifier of Japan, won his spurs fighting Ikko-Ikki in his home province. Perfect!

With army concepts firmed up, the time came to order the minis proper. After eBaying some painted GW minis, I used the funds to order a shitload of new lead. Ahh, the sweet smell of new minis...

When the little guys started arriving, Desiree was taken aback by how diminutive they were. She's skeptical about painting them, but I don't think it'll be a problem. Sometimes you gotta just jump in and start slapping on the paint!

I'm currently waiting on a final shipment of Pendraken minis (including the bulk of Desiree's army) via Arsenal miniatures, which is taking quite a while--presumably because they had to order the minis from England? Ah well. They'll be arriving sometime next week, then it's time to paint.

Pictures comng sooner or later... ;)

Friday, January 20, 2006

Fantasy Warriors Battle Report

(Warning: What follows is a bunch of potentially boring personal stuff--if you're more interested in the actual battle report, please skip down to "Technical Notes".)

For those of you unfamiliar with the game Fantasy Warriors, or miniatures games in general, a bit of backstory by way of personal nostalgia is in order.

In the late 80s I was rapidly developing an interest in gaming as a hobby. I had been given a copy of the D&D Expert Set on my 10th birthday. It sat on my shelf for several months before I finally started flipping through it. Although it made little sense to me (as the name of the set implied, it was not for novices), I found the illustrations strangely evocative (damn you Larry Elmore!). Within the year I had purchased the Basic Set and was slowly unravelling the mysteries of the gaming hobby. See kids, in the days before "the Internet", if you didn't have someone to show you the ropes you had to figure things out on your own based on whatever observations and ersatz information you were able to piece together. Thanks to gaming magazines, there was a fair amount of info available, but I was still in need of a Friendly Local Gaming Store.

I was living in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time, which did not have a proper game store (still doesn't, as far as I know). The closest dedicated store was in Albuquerque, an hour away. Fortunately, it also happened to be one of the juggernaut game stores of the age, the vaunted Wargames West. My first visit there still stands in my mind as a treasured childhood memory.

And it was on that first visit that I saw a copy of Fantasy Warriors on the shelf.

Fantasy Warriors was a miniatures game put out by Grenadier, one of the "big three" miniatures companies at that time, the other two being Ral Partha and Games Workshop. (Interesting aside: of the "Big Three", only GW remains in business and is the clear industry giant.) Fantasy Warriors was Grenadier's attempt to package an entry-level miniatures game to attract fresh blood to the hobby. And I must say that their marketing department deserves a posthumous pat on the back, as the game has gone on, just in my own personal experience, to introduce no fewer than five people to the hobby of miniatures gaming. If every set of FW sold has enjoyed a similar success rate, then I'd call that a winner of a product!

This battle report will chronicle the game played between myself and my associate Desiree. For me it was the first time playing FW in over 10 years. For Desiree, well, it was her first miniatures game PERIOD!


The FW box set that caught my eye those many years ago consisted of a rulebook, some cardboard counters, a couple Quick Reference Sheets...and 102 plastic miniatures! Fifty one Dwarves and fifty one Orcs. Each army had three poses, and the casting wasn't that great (certainly not up to snuff with today's plastics), but for the money it was an amazing pile o' minis.

Painting those suckers was my miniatures baptism of fire. I think it took me a whole summer and the results, although pleasing at the time, were painfully amateurish in retrospect. Once I was done with all that "paint-staking" (thanks Alex's mom!) work, it was time to find someone to play against. Unfortunately I had just moved and hadn't started school yet, so I found myself friendless. My dear old Dad, old sport that he is, gamely volunteered to serve as an opponent. The details are a bit fuzzy, but I do remember he played the Dwarves, we set up on the carpet in front of the fireplace, and there was one piece of terrain: a townhome made of foamcore and cardboard, assembled using templates in an old issue of White Dwarf. I don't remember who won, but fun was had by all and I was satisfied that miniatures gaming was indeed all it was cracked up to be.

Soon after starting 8th grade at a new school I met Alex, who would go on to become one of my bestest pals and a steady nemesis on the opposite side of the felt battlefield. Although his first miniatures game experience was almost Adeptus Titanicus, fate intervened and instead we ended up playing FW, which impressed Alex sufficiently that he asked his mom to get him a copy of the game for Christmas. Instead, he received the box set of Warhammer, 5th edition (the one with the Goblin and Elf armies), and our love-hate relationship with Games Workshop was born. But that's another story.

After Warhammer came along, poor old FW was more or less forgotten. Grenadier was nearly out of business and not supporting the game, whereas Warhammer had the full might of Games Workshop backing it up--with cooler miniatures to boot! (Or so we thought at the time. I somewhat prefer the old Grenadier models nowadays.)

And so Fantasy Warriors sat in my closet for many years. I held on to it purely out of sentimentality. But at the same time I knew it was a solid system of rules, with several innovations (like the "Time of Day" wheel and pre-battle scouting) that were lacking in Warhammer.

A couple years ago I began to think about dusting to box off and playing a game, "for old time's sake". Unfortunately, when I suggested this to my group I was shouted down. Skirmish games were the order of the day (Mordheim and WW2 skirmish, to be exact) and besides, FW to my friends didn't have the same patina of nostalgia that it held for me. Even Alex was uninterested. So I nursed my dreams for a while longer...

A couple months ago I decided on a lark to start repainting my FW minis. In essence, the original paint jobs constituted base coats. Really all the minis needed was a wash and some judicious highlighting to bring them up to snuff. So, after a couple false starts, I commenced with the repainting. After a couple days of work, the mins looked about ten times better and were ready to fight.

As it so happened my girlfriend Desiree had been asking about miniatures games ("What do you do exactly? How can you tell who won?", etc.) so I figured this would be a perfect time to utilize FW once again as an ambassador for miniatures games and see if I couldn't get another convert. As you'll see, FW did not disappoint.

Technical Notes
The battle was fought using primarily figures from the original box set. Over the years, several minis have been lost, so there is no longer a perfect balance of 51 figures to each army. I retabulated the army lists and made up the difference with substitutions. Also, the original army lists called for severeal special characters on both sides, so bringing in some metal was obviously in order. I rooted through my unpainted lead and found suitable figures. In the process I observed "scale creep" in all its amazing glory. I used a Ral Partha figure from 1979 as the Human Hero, and she was clearly the smallest figure, more petite even than the Dwarves! Good thing she was on horseback... The plastics from the box set were pretty much "true 25s". I was fortunate to find several contemporary minis that were close to "true" and were usable as leader figures (these were mostly from Black Tree Design, along with some old Grenadier models). The most outrageous example of scale creep can be seen in the figures I used for the War Trolls. Although they look properly trollish and tower over the orcs, the figures were in fact cast as ORCS! Thus we see a difference of some 5mm in the "same scale". Creep indeed!

Dwarf Briefing

Lady Una shifted in her saddle as her mount pawed the ground impatiently. Giving the horse a reassuring pat on the neck, she simultaneously surveyed the thin ranks of stout Dwarven warriors arrayed about her and turned several nagging questions over in head.

Could this thin bearded line hold out against the coming menace?

By this time tomorrow would a horde of savage Orcs be sweeping down on the peaceful valley below, Una’s dead body heaped in a pile of her Dwarven allies?

Or would this small force stand resolute in the face of the oncoming terror?

But the question that pressed Una most of all was whether a certain giant-blooded sorceress would be among the ranks of greenskins, as the rumors held. And if that turned out to be the case, would the two enemies once again find themselves locked in mortal combat?

Only time would tell…

I had Desiree play the Dwarves, due to the fact that they're "easier" to play (better quality troops, defensive-minded) and their army had fewer "Specials", as they're called in the game (Heros, Wizards, etc.). Best to keep options to a minimum for one's first game so as not to be overwhelmed.

The Dwarf army consisted of three small units of Crossbows (basically screening units), two medium-sized units of Dwarves armed with double-handed axes (nasty!) and a large unit of spearmen, plus a Warchief and a Battle Leader. All the infantry were Elite quality, the missile units Veteran. Joining the Dwarf army was a Human Hero, mounted--a formidable force to be sure!

One of the things I prefer about FW over Warhammer is the fact that heros and wizards don't totally dominate the game. They can make all the difference at a crucial moment, certainly, but they can't take on whole units themselves and expect to walk away with nary a scratch, or even expect to to come out at all! I would be reminded of these facts as the game unfolded...

The Orc army fielded a rather formidable opposition. Leading the greenskins was the half-giant Barbarian wizardess, Shanna (named in honor of one of Desiree's friends). Why half-giant? Scale creep of course!

The Orc army proper was a close mirror of the Dwarves, with a couple important additions. The core of the army was a large unit of Veteran spearmen. An equally large group of Orcs armed with swords comprised the other infantry unit. There were two mid-sized units of archers (in FW, archers can't match the range or hitting power of crossbows, but make up for it with the sheer volume of arrows they can put in the air at once--the so-called "blackening the sky" mechanic). Last, but certainly not least, a unit of three Elite War Trolls was the Orcs' hard-hitter unit.

FW has detailed rules for pre-game setup centered around sending units out to scout the battlefield and trying to jockey against enemy scouts to secure a prime deployment. It also has fun rules for reading the omens and making boasts. I was feeling cheeky and decided to attempt to read the omens, but they turned out to be Bad. D'oh!

As it turned out, neither of us elected to scout, so deployment came down to random rolls. Terrain was placed randomly and consisted of a few woods on both sides of the "center" section of the battlefield. The stream on my right flank had its Strength determined randomly (streams in FW are rated on a scale of 1-10) and came up a 5. We determined that the bend nearest the Dwarves was a ford. The dice further decreed that it was daytime (bad for the greenskins!), late afternoon and that the Orcs would set up first.

I decided that the only way to beat the Dwarves would be to concentrate all of my hitting power on one flank in a sort of single-sided double envelopment. My War Trolls, being the fast movers they were, would strike the extreme left flank of the Dwarven host while my sword-wielding Orcs would strike more towards the center, with my spear Orcs acting as a reserve force.

My archers, bolstered by the wizard, would attempt to hold the center and left flank. I was relying on my wizard to sew fear and panic amongst the Dwarves with the deadly "Blast" spell, which, in addition to having pretty decent killing power, forced any unit targeted to make a morale check. Visions of Dwarven units turned back by eldritch bolts and massed arrow volleys filled my head...

Desiree set up accordingly in response to my rather wacky deployment. She set her spearmen to guard the ford while her axemen and crossbows were stretched out across her center and right to attack my weakly defended center and left. Sharp as a whip, that one is...

Early Phases

Another nifty feature of FW is the use of orders. Units are assigned to "commands" before the game and each command is given one of three orders: Attack, Hold, or Oppose. As expected, I set all my Orcs on Attack and the army moved out at once. Somewhat surprisingly, Desiree demonstrated her bloodthirsty nature and set all her stunty Dwarves on Attack orders as well. The armies quickly moved towards confrontation.

The War Trolls raced ahead of the rest of the army, as expected, as my spearmen negotiated their way across the swift-flowing mountain stream. Out on the flanks my archers moved up and began to nock their black-feathered arrows. But it was the Dwarves who drew first blood with some long-range crossbow marksmanship.

In retaliation my Wizard unleashed a powerful Blast against the nearest unit of Dwarven axes that was moving up on my left flank. The Blast dropped several Dwarves, but not enough to cause panic. And now my Wizard was out of Power Points! One of my most powerful assets was already pretty much out of the game. Great. I see that in FW careful management of your wizards' Power reserves is essential.

As you can see in the picture below (taken from the perspective of the Dwarf lines), the units of both sides have moved up and are coming close to contact. The War Trolls have nearly reached the ford, as the spearmen lag behind back at the crossing nearest my baseline. Both sides' missile troops have moved up to short range and are engaging in a good old-fashioned archery duel. Both sides are attempting to flank the others' right. Who will succeed?

The Dwarven right. Note the Wizard lurking in the woods, shortly before retiring from the battle for good...

The Battle for the Ford is shaping up...

Middle Phases, or "The Battle for the Ford"

It was time for battle to be joined and blood to be shed!

On my right flank the War Trolls slammed into the Dwarven spears, who were right in the middle of a formation change at the ford. Potential disaster loomed for the Dwarves as the War Trolls dropped nearly half their number in a scant two turns of fighting. It's likely any other army's troops would've quit at that point, but those damn Dwarves held fast, not giving an inch of that crimson-stained stream.

The stout spearmen even managed to strike back, felling one of the Trolls. Meanwhile, the Human Hero, who had been deployed on the opposite flank, was being rushed to bolster this critical battle. Would the Dwarves hold the ford until she arrived?

In the center, both sides' missile units had expended their ammo (another nifty feature of FW: each missile unit has a certain number of counters, with each counter representing a "turn" of firing--blackening the sky simply involves expending more than one counter in a turn, thus burning through your ammo for the chance of causing huge casualties). With their last arrows fired, the Orc archers charged the Dwarf crossbows. One turn of brutal hand-to-hand combat saw the Dwarves standing victorious, the archers routed off the field. But a new threat was approaching: a massive horde of sword-swinging Orcs, led by the Orc hero, was crashing down on the thin bearded line of the Dwarven center.

My left flank had developed into a mere sideshow compared to the high drama of the rest of the battlefield. A unit of Dwarven axes was slowly approaching my other archer unit in the woods, but owing to its slow movement and the fact it had slightly overextended itself, it wasn't making a lot of headway. Another missile-troop melee briefly flared up, but this time the Orcs were victorious. Some rare good news for the greenskins.

The Final Phases

On the right flank the Battle for the Ford continued, with the Hero joining in, charging into the flank of the War Trolls, who by this point were "Shaken" by the tenacity of their foes (FW has a fairly sophisticated morale system that represents troops being Disordered, Shaken, or even in Bloodlust!).

Meanwhile, a massive brew-up was forming in the center as a thin line of Dwarven axes and crossbows, joined by their Battle Leader, faced off against the Orc swords, Hero and Battle Leader...

Dice flew back and forth, casualties mounted. At the Ford, the Hero's presence proved decisive and the Trolls were cut down, leaving a severely depleted unit of spearmen to guard the bloody crossing.

In the center, after a turn of combat both sides were still holding.

What would this turn bring? Who's cuisine would reign supreme? Er, I mean, who would triumph in the great clash of metal on metal, brawn against brawn? The dice rolled and...

The Orcs were finished, and the unit routed off the field, carrying the Hero along. At this point the "death" of my Hero nessecitated a Command Test. In FW, whenever a major personage is killed or routs, each command in the army makes a Command Test to see if it wants to stick around. It's here that Bad Omens make their presence felt.

Not surpisingly, both of my commands (what was left of them) fled, leaving the reduced Dwarven army triumphant as the moon rose over the charnel fields...


Much fun was had by all. Fantasy Warriors proved itself to be an excellent system, simple enough for beginners but sophisticated enough to provide a great game. This was also the first non-skirmish miniatures game I'd played in a LONG time and I really enjoyed pushing units around the table again.

I think next time I play the Orcs I'll eschew any fancy tactics and just charge right up the middle, screaming bloody murder all the way. That's not to say my tactics were necessarily flawed--the Battle for the Ford was VERY closely run, and if I hadn't been suffering Bad Light conditions for the first half of the battle, my missile shooting would've probably been more effective (those archers can really lay the smackdown with their sky-blackening!).

More games of FW are no doubt in the future and I will post updates of those games as they occur. Perhaps next time we'll switch sides and I'll try my luck as the Dwarves.

Until next time...
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