Nat-Li, priestess of Athena, stood by the banks of the flowing river, staring down at the ripples that washed near her sandaled feet. It was cold up here in the mountains, the more so for it being just before dawn. The sky overhead was pale gray and she could hear the sounds of the army forming up for battle behind her. Scouts had returned bearing news that the undead host of the feared necromancer Germanotta was trudging its way through this riverine pass and the decision had been made to spring an ambush.
Germanotta. She wasn't always known by that name. Not back when they were little, when they had played together as sisters in the hall of their parents... But that was a long time ago, Nat-Li thought. Now the sorceress commanding an army of abominations was her sister in name only. Today she would see this stain on the family's honor expunged!It's been nearly two years since I've had the opportunity to play a full-fledged miniatures game. It's been my intention to start playing more in the latter half of this year, and as I was reading through old battle reports on this blog a couple weeks ago, feeling nostalgic for good times past, I realized the time had come at last. So the wife and I sat down for a good old-fashioned epic fantasy slugfest this afternoon, with the always-capable Atomic Banana operating the camera and providing color commentary. Let's look at some pictures, shall we?
Although I didn't play any Armies of Arcana last year, I did paint up some new units for both our armies. As they only constituted a couple hundred extra points per army, and not an equal amount at that, I suggested we keep our nominal points value at 3,000 and simply pick and choose units and numbers of troops to fill the budget. I quite like this approach, as it means we can have slightly different armies each time we fight, adding some variety and unpredictability.
As it turned out, it took a little bit longer to tot up army lists than I'd have liked and I've already thrown together spreadsheets for each of our armies so that we can build them in mere seconds and then print out a custom army list with stats. Technology!
At any rate, both our armies featured the new units, but the Amazons had to give up far less to afford them than my Undead. Them's the breaks, I suppose. We used our Fantasy Warriors-inspired house rules for scouting which resulted in the Amazons once again completely Outmaneuvering the Undead. This makes sense, as the Amazons are a highly mobile army and the Undead are, well, dead. But still, I think I need to get some fast-movers or maybe even fliers (giant bats perhaps?) to even up the odds a bit. Because getting Outmaneuvered sucks. I have no say in picking table edge, terrain set-up...nothin'.
As it was, I think Des got a little carried away with setting up terrain obstacles in my path - as I said, the Amazons are highly maneuverable, and she ended up creating a couple bottlenecks that worked more in my favor than hers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We named victory objectives: I needed to defeat her phalangite unit and her avatar of Athena, she needed to take out my necromancer and my war mammoth. And we were off!
A couple views of the set-up. A river with a ford ran across my right flank, with hills and rocky terrain to my front. I set up my heavy hitters, the skeletal knights and undead mammoth, in the middle, intending to force the gaps between the outcrops.
I love this shot of my Undead army. Just sayin'.
Action shot! One of the things I really like about AoA is how quickly the game moves even in the opening turns. We had units getting stuck-in with melee on Turn One!
Unfortunately, one of those units was my skeleton catapult! I honestly wondered if I was going to lose the game in the first turn - I had left one of my best units unprotected on the flank, forgetting about those damn infiltrating peltasts. They got the drop on me and charged in. Fortunately (according to my reading of the rules), artillery can "Stand and Shoot" just like any missile unit, and I managed to hit with a load of naptha-infused skulls, wiping out nearly half the peltast unit as it closed for combat. (Note the use of the nifty Litko counter to indicate need for a morale check later in the turn.)
Amazingly, my catapult weathered the assault and the peltasts broke and fled, never to be heard from again. If they had overrun my catapult, not only would I have lost a mighty war machine but my entire flank and rear would have been threatened! This was just the first of a series of hot dice-rolling I enjoyed through most of the game.
As usual, the Amazons' chariots led the attack, quickly charging in against my knights and my necromancer. Neither chariot fared very well. The one facing my knights broke on the first turn of combat and fled, my knights in hot pursuit. Although they failed to catch the chariot, they did charge into one of the Amazons' new units, a group of bloodthirsty, wine-crazed Bacchanalian berserkers.
Meanwhile, Germanotta the necromancer and her harem of ghouls poured through the stony gap and engaged the other chariot, prompting many "oohs" and "aahs" of appreciation over just how damn creepy those Mantic ghouls look in action.
The Amazon chariot was reduced to tinder, its crew and horses quickly consumed by the ravening ghouls. In an effort to slow down the Undead assault, Des had her priestess, a sorceress of Water magic, bring a fresh pool of water burbling up to the surface near the babbling river - right in front of my advancing hoplites!
Meanwhile, a serious melee was brewing up in the center thanks to my knights, mammoth, and ghouls all converging in the area. In response, the Amazons moved up the phalangites, centaurs, infantry, and mounted hero to support the berserkers, who had quickly crumbled under the onslaught of my cavalry.
There was a lot of counter-spelling going on during the Magic Phases of this game, but that blasted priestess managed to summon up another pond, this time in front of Germanotta and her ghouls!
This proved a real thorn in my side, slowing down my attacks on both flanks and allowing the Amazons to deal with threats one at a time. Had I been able to bring all my units to bear simultaneously, I probably could have had the game in the bag by Turn Five or so. I had my revenge, though. At one point, as the priestess moved across the rear area of the battlefield, I realized I had line-of-sight on her with my catapult. In a stunning bit of artillery marksmanship, the skeletal crew placed a 10-pound stone right on top of her head and Nat-Li the priestess was no more.
Here we see the situation as we entered the endgame. I had purchased some reapers to escort my normally-ineffectual great reaper, and they proved most useful, turning back an attempted flanking maneuver by the Amazonian mounted peltasts (the remnants of whom are fleeing in the upper portion of the photo above). You can also see the tatters of the former melee in the center: of all those Amazon units that charged in, only the phalangites and mounted hero remain.
As late in the game as it was, neither of us had managed to achieve a victory condition. Nonetheless, momentum seemed to be swinging in my direction still, as it had the whole game. This all changed when the mounted Amazon hero charged my war mammoth. With a mighty First Strike, she felled my great beast as the phalangites looked on, cheering.
The stage was set for a show-down between two victory objectives: the necromancer versus the avatar. In previous games, Athena has played, at best, a supporting role, but here she acquitted herself like the goddess she is, going head-to-head with a troll-riding necromancer and her ghoul host. The combat played out over three turns and was evenly-matched.
Freed of the mammoth, the phalangites had wheeled about and, after being delayed for a turn by a trio of skeletons raised in their path by the necromancer, joined the melee. This tipped the balance of the battle in the Amazons' favor, and Germanotta was pulled down from her undead troll, skewered on the tip of a pike. Unbelievably, the Amazons had salvaged victory from near-defeat, but their army had been savaged in the process. The Undead had been stopped for now, but everyone knew they would return in time...
Once again, AoA proved itself a wonderfully solid, quick-playing system. Or should I say "quick-playing" by the standards of epic fantasy wargames. This is no Two Hour Wargame, as it were. As I mentioned above, set-up took longer than usual due to our working out army lists the old-fashioned way, but the game itself only needed a little over three hours to play to completion. Like any good miniatures game, things remained tense and uncertain right up to the end. Indeed, if I hadn't blown Germanotta's final three saving throws (my hot dice finally cooling off at the worst possible time), the fight would have carried on; I still had an unbloodied unit of skeletal hoplites to throw into the cauldron. The summoning of the ponds proved my undoing - those hoplites were prevented from joining the fray by the first pond, and the second pond, as I pointed out, prevented me from bringing all my heavy-hitting units to bear simultaneously.
Our house rules continue to be a great success. Boasts were made and omens were read. Curiously, the Amazons got Bad Omens and the Undead got Good. Just goes to show, you can't always place your faith in superstition. More Amazons than usual ended up fleeing off the table rather than rallying thanks to those Bad Omens and the General's boast ("Look for me in the thick of battle.") rarely holding good when it counted - she was a victim of her own success, as she almost always killed her opponents in one turn, meaning she was never in combat during the Rally phase!
We both agreed, though, that the new units are great additions to both sides and the Undead are a much more capable army for what they've gained. Hopefully we won't go another two years before our next game!
The battle which had begun at sunrise had lasted past sundown. Now, the darkness was lit by great bonfires in which the bones of the accursed and the bodies of the recently-slain were piled. And in the center of the cluster of fires was lit a pyre upon which rested only two bodies: two sisters, long separated in life, now reunited in death.