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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