Monday, June 27, 2011

Armies of Arcana Battle Report #3

Over the last couple weeks we played host to my in-laws, who we finally managed to lure out for a visit to our ancient capital. As usual, this meant a showdown over the flocked battlefield with Des's dad Frank (clearly she got her gamer genes from his side of the family).

Although Frank's more of a computer gamer (insofar as he games at all), I've played a couple minis games with him in the past (a Fantasy Warriors game and a Blitzkrieg Commander game, specifically). This was the first time we'd have the opportunity to have at it on my new terrain and with our new armies. After due consideration Frank chose to play Des's Amazons, leaving me with my trusty Undead.

The game was a lot of fun, but in the final analysis I was somewhat bothered by a couple-three things. Of most immediate concern to seekers of eye candy on this here blog is the fact that due to the bright light flooding in through our dining room window most of the pictures I snapped ended up a bit on the washed-out, poorly-focused side. That's what I get for using my phone instead of a proper camera. (Lesson learned for battle reports: use the right equipment and draw the effing blinds during the summer!) I'll get to the other two items in the post-game analysis below. But first, on with the show (such as it is - as always, clicken to embiggen):

Frank's a canny tactician - he initially deployed almost all of his units in skirmish formation in order to mitigate my catapults' power.

I went for a more conventional deployment. I was mainly interested in the idea of letting my melee units interpenetrate my skirmished archers so that my archers could continue firing even after melee was joined (as my Undead are mostly immune to missiles, there was little to fear about hitting my own troops).

I do wish this shot had come out a little better. I love my necromancer and her wraith boyfriend facing down the avatar of Athena across the gully, as well as the composition of the units drawing closer, preparing for contact.

My left flank turned into a wonderfully roiling melee. Again, I was very favorably impressed with AoA's ability to handle large, complex combats with aplomb.

The wraith and the Amazon queen are about to face off in the center of this pic. The queen owned the wraith, but he managed to get in some good hits before he went down. I really want to either upgrade him to a Lich (still hurting from only having a single spellcaster) or give him a body guard of lesser wraiths (to make him a more formidable force on the field). Either way, we'll have to up point totals...

As the great melee on my left flank was unfolding, Frank got the drop on my catapult with infiltrating peltasts and a reckless chariot charge. Meanwhile, having disposed of the wraith, the Amazon queen had single-handedly charged my archer unit, preventing them from lending missile support. This not being "HeroHammer," the queen was eventually killed, but she took out about half the unit first, which had grave implications for the end-game (see below).

The aforementioned grand melee. Skeleton knights versus a chariot, axewomen, and centaurs. A thing of beauty.

I finally got to get my undead mammoth to grips with the hated phalangites! This is after the mammoth had completely obliterated an unbloodied unit of axewomen in a single turn. It's always great when your centerpiece model also turns out to be your best unit in the army.

The situation near the end of battle...
Yes, you read that right. The battle ended rather abruptly on, I think, turn five or six. And so was born my undying antipathy for the "Attrition" scenario in the AoA rulebook.

Basically, there are two scenarios laid out in the rules. Our previous games had used the other scenario, one I rather liked, in which each player names Victory Conditions that the other player must meet in order to win: "destroy this unit" or "take this hill," for example. The Attrition scenario, however, simply used a break point system in which once an army reaches a certain threshold, you have to dice every turn to see if you quit the field. Fantasy Warriors uses a similar mechanic, but the FW system is much more intuitive and easier to keep track of - not to mention it tends to produce more realistic results. One thing I particularly disliked about the Attrition scenario at play here was that a unit counted against you not only if it was destroyed or routed, but if it was "depleted" - reduced to a quarter of its value. My archers, being both Undead and missile troops, are worth a huge passel of points. So the Amazon queen's attack on the unit, which "depleted" it, counted against me even though she was killed and my unit was still in fine shape on the field.

As it turned out for this game, it was determined (after a lots of bothersome arithmetic - another tiresome element of the scenario) that both armies had reached their break points on the same turn. The Amazons had a higher chance of success though - for reasons I won't get into here because, frankly, I'm tired of complaining about the details of a scenario I'll never play again - and two dice rolls later the Undead were quitting the field, yielding a Major Victory(???) to the Amazons.

Yeah, not a fan of this scenario at all. Can you tell? An abrupt ending and a wildly inappropriate victory level just left us both with a bad feeling in our dice hands.

I'd feel the same way even if I'd won, for the record. I don't generally play miniatures games to win, but rather for the visceral experience. Part of that includes playing a system and/or scenario that I feel gives "realistic" (or at least satisfying) results. The core of the AoA experience is still brilliant, and the rules remain my go-to fantasy set. But I realized after this game I've got enough RAW games under my belt that it's time to start a-tinkerin'. I'll post my house rules (primarily just an amalgamation of some of my favorite pre- and post-battle elements from Fantasy Warriors - the core AoA system is to remain largely intact) in the next day or so, but suffice to say that from now on the real games will begin. Going hand in hand with that, I'm hoping to start up a little campaign to put our Undead versus Amazon showdowns in a larger context. I'll post about that as well if we get around to it.

The other thing that bugged me about the game had nothing to do with the mechanics. As you can see in the above photos, I got a little experimental with the field, creating a sort of inlet of water (due to the fact I didn't have enough edging tiles to make a full river). Even if I'd pulled off the full river effect I was going for initially, the hexagonal banks were just driving me crazy. I've had plans in the offing since I first picked up the Hexon II tiles back in '07 for creating much more naturalistic river tiles, and I think the time has finally come to jump on that project. I always love a good river on a battlefield, and battles for fords or bridges have formed some of the most epic moments in games past. Hopefully next time we play, I'll have the new tiles ready so the waters can flow read with Amazon blood. Muahahaha!


  1. Great article on a great blog. PLease tell me where you got the terrain or how you made it. The most appealing format I've seen to date. Thanks.

  2. Thanks!

    The terrain is Kallistra's Hexon II system. It's by far my favorite terrain system, combining the best elements of modular and non-modular terrain. Plus it stores really well and is super durable.

    Only downside? If you're outside the UK, shipping costs are exorbitant.

    Here are some links with more info:

  3. Great stuff - an AoA battle report.

    Completely agree about the Attrition victory condition - it is possible for two evenly matched armies to run away from each other simultaneously if the Dice Gods arent smiling...

  4. I hope to post a fair few more before the year's out. :)

    Glad to see I'm not alone in my antipathy for Attrition. Honestly, part of me was wondering if I'd somehow misread the victory conditions, they made such little sense.


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