French and Indian Dinosaur Wars 1754

We all know how the French and British colonists in the New World clashed over the lucrative dinosaur trade. Dinosaur skins, teeth and other products provided an irresistible lure to those in search of wealth. Dino trappers and hunters roam the wilds, hunting dinosaurs which emerge from the cavern entrances to Middlehiem in the depths of the deep woods of the Ohio Valley. 

French and British troops, supported by allied Indian war parties, clash both in the deep woods and in the lost underworld of Middlehiem.

Here some French Compagnies de Marine explore the depths of Middlehiem, staking a French claim on the new lands of the underworld.

They are countered by Rangers who patrol to protect British interests.  Primitive grenades are effective in deterring larger predators like the Tyrannosaurus rex.

Indians are allied to both sides. They trade enthusiastically for muskets, whose .75 cal stopping power is very useful against larger dinosaurs. I’ll need to touch the models up and base them properly, but I aim for “tableworthy-and-painted” as my #1 goal.

I love the French-Indian Wars as they have a very skirmish-centric focus with very different forces (militia, Indians, line infantry, etc). Plus, canoes! What could improve this? Dinosaurs of course!

I actually feel dinosaurs fit well with the hunting-trapping-exploring-the-deep-woods vibe of this era.  What would be more natural than to hunt and trap rare dinosaurs for their skins?

Toys dinosaurs are very cheap. This is two $10 packs of dinos from K-Mart, painted with cheap craft paints. The terrain came with it, and I think it’s quite servicable, given the price point…

Again, this is another spin-off of the “lost world/jouney-to-the-centre-of-the-earth” setting of my Middleheim homebrew rules, which one may suspect merely serve as a vehicle for playing with cool toys (dinos ftw!).  I’ve been forced to make my own rules as the newer campaign skirmish games (SoBH etc) have “missed the mark” for me by adding 101 special rules and dumbing down the campaign aspect; whereas the Necromunda reboots and similar seem mired in 1990s mechanics with few changes.

I’m eyeing off “Aztecs vs Conquistadors vs Dinos” next but sadly my gaming budget is crippled nowdays (two young kids will do that!) so I may have to settle for “Vikings vs Indians vs Dinos” instead, repurposing some of my bow-armed FIW Indians and paint my Gripping Beast vikings (untouched since playtesting SAGA years ago) for earlier battles in the New World.  Or maybe Dinosaurs: The Vietnam War where Vietcong train dinos to ambush US patrols, and then their tunnel system extends into Middlehiem.  Hmmm, is a common theme emerging? Well, at least it isn’t zombies….Deltavector

Psychic Knights Riding Dinosaurs: A Lost World

This is my current “default” Middlehiem setting for my homebrew skirmish campaign rules.  I thought I’d share some WIP shots and a bit of background on Middlehiem.

I suppose Middlehiem could be described as a underground “lost-world”(think Journey to the Centre of the Earth) where dinosaurs can be telepathically controlled by dino-knights – wearing plate armour. It has War of the Roses/late-Middle-Ages tech where gunpowder is in its infancy.  Middleheim’s core setting may or may not be expanded to include not-African-tribesman, not-Incas, and not-Japanese samurai as my budget permits.

I think the genre I am aiming for is “medieval pulp” – high middle ages swashbucking rather than the usual Iron/Bronze Age Conanesque sort…

Underpinning this is my magic system. This is just typical psychic abilities from modern and sci fi, transplanted back to the Middle Ages. I’m not a huge fan of wizards in pointy hats – borrowing psychic powers means I have a “established” magical framework that works in a consistent, coherent manner.  Knights with psychic powers feels “new” but enables me to steal from established systems (cough Savage Worlds cough).

The ruling class are all psychics – the telepaths are the “dino knights”- they alone can control the giant beasts and tend to be the upper nobility of Middleheim.  They have an array of mind-focussed psychic powers – focussed on mind control and illusion. Typical abilities would include confusing foes, creating illusionary doppelgangers, mind control and mental attacks, and buffing/debuffing morale, and obscuring (invisibility) as well as limited precognition. They can also shield themselves and nearby allies against mental attacks.

Perry medieval plastics have been wonderful for making random minis; they have a myriad combos and extra arms/legs/heads make them awesome for scratchbuilding/body swaps

The second, lesser noble class are telekinetics.  Typically fighting on foot, they tend toward physical powers – pushing, pulling, deflecting and directing projectiles, augmented blows, spraying fire, with some healing and limited levitation.  Deadlier in direct combat, they are less effective at commanding both men, and the mighty dinos that decide most battles.

The rank and file are equipped with long pikes and powerful polearms; well-suited to taking down large reptiles as well as armoured knights. Half of most forces are equipped with either powerful crossbows and longbows. Lately primitive muskets have come onto the scene, capable of propelling a lead ball through even the toughest dino hide.

The smallest military unit is the “lance” – usually a telepathic dino-knight and his apprentice squire, both riding raptor-sized dinos.  They are supported by several telekinetic men-at-arms, and up to half a dozen each of both bowmen and pike/halberdiers – usually over a dozen men total.

The models need a lot of polish but my aim was to give them a basic coat so I can playtest the rules…
I’m quite happy with the $1 dinos and I think they will paint up well with a bit of drybrushing and simple detailing… 

 Middleheim is made up of small duchies and city-states.  Battles are fought on a small scale – with hundreds per side being common, and large battles being rare.  The underworld is lit by luminescent plants and lava pools; the terrain can range from rocky desert to lush jungle.  Dinosaurs and giant creatures roam the wilds, with spiders the size of horses amongst the horrors of the wilds.

In Middleheim, the gamer controls a lance of mercenary dino-knights. They can hire out to fight battles for local lords, escort caravans through dino-infested terrain, and hunt down rogue T-rexes. They can defend settlements against Aztec raids.  The troopers in the lance can then “level up” in both psychic and physical abilities in a campaign. 

Anyway, that might give those who are interested a background on my homebrew skirmish rules’ setting. It started as I felt dinosaurs were vastly under-represented in wargaming (compared to say, zombies/undead: which I am heartily sick of) and I wondered how I could include them. I noticed some of my 2-year-old’s cheap $1 plastic dino toys fit with some 28mm Perry knights… and the rest is history….Deltavector

Domina – Gladiator Management (PC)

This is an awesome game. 

It’s also a good game if you’re more wargamer than PC gamer. 

You manage your own ludus, with a stable of gladiators who rank up with training and successful fights.  Besides choosing their training regime (modifying their stats) and equipment through your doctore, and allocating gladiators to fights, there’s a lot to do between fights; keeping nice with the town magistrate and military commander, organizing exhibition matches and pit fights, as well as organising an array of specialists (doctors, augurs, architects, spies etc).  It’s a simple game with a lot to do. There are constant random events (usually with funny stories) that crop up in a RPG fashion.  I like how you can turn your gladiators into specialists, so you have a tool for every fight.

You can upgrade your ludus significantly with baths to assist healing, practice dummies, etc.

Unlike football management games where no one watches the boring actual games, the “games” in Domina contain hilarious and unexpected pixel violence.

If you want to control a gladiator in fights you can; I personally let the AI control the hilariously bloody pixel violence.  The bouts are varied; gladiators chained to the ground, lions, uneven numbers or gear. I haven’t even explored the chariot racing yet.

Domina has a vaguely roguelike vibe (keep characters alive/fed/happy/permadeath) and I found myself trying to keep a few better gladiators alive while heartlessly feeding others to the meatgrinder. Everyone, though, is ultimately disposable, though (like X-COM) ending up with only rookies left late on would be punishing.

It’s meant to be played in short bursts – there’s no full-featured save; so you can’t go back to an older save undo your mistakes – and wipe outs do occur (everyone starved to death in an early playthrough when I ran out of money…).

Why chariot race when you can fight instead?

Buy this game. You need no “gaming” skills. You don’t need a good computer. You could download it on dial-up (it’s 500MB). It’s fun.

Do you like campaign or narrative wargames (Mordhiem etc)
Do you like gladiators?
Do you have a dark sense of humour?

If you answered yes to any of these, buy this game.  The downsides are: I suspect it could get repetitive/would be easy to “cheese”/min-max. It’s also more a casual game than mainstay of my gaming time.

Recommended? Yes. A blood-spattered thumbs up! Deltavector

Cards and Cannon

To resolve cannon fire (or other types of fire), most wargaming rules use a ruler to measure distance, followed by a die roll to determine casualties. Many variations are possible, but the basic structure of measuring the range to the target and rolling for damage is a constant in dozens of wargames rulesets.

However, other approaches are possible as well.  It is well-known that H.G.Wells used toy cannon, shooting matchsticks. Although most wargamers do not like the idea of damaging their figures this way, there is something to say for more tactile mechanisms such as the one used by Wells.

This article describes a procedure for resolving cannon fire, by using cards to lay out the firing path.

A Path of Cards

I encountered this mechanic in Miniature Wargames issue 264, April 2005 (I often look up old articles, and then happen to come across something more interesting 😉), in an article titled “A Deck of Cards”, written by Andy Philippson. The article describes playing mechanics using ordinary playing cards. It is mostly about drawing cards to activate units, but one particular mechanic about shooting cannon drew my attention.

In order to determine whether a cannon hits its target, take the cards 2-10 from one suit, plus the Joker (10 cards total). Now, shuffle the cards, and lay out the cards in a straight line lengthwise, starting from the gun towards the target:

  • If the card that reaches the target has an even number, the target is hit. If the card is odd, the target is not hit.
  • If the Joker shows up before the row of cards have reached the target, this means the shell has “exploded” prematurely, and the shot stops right there (and yes, I know that a cannonball does not really explode in mid-air 🙂 , but as with many mechanics, invent your own favourite explanation for this effect …).
  • If the Joker shows up as the first card, the cannon explodes and the crew takes damage.
  • If the “2” or “10” shows up, this means the shot deviates, and you place the next card 1 card-width to the left (if the 2 is first encountered), or to the right (if the 10 is first encountered).

That’s the idea. Of course, you still need to fill out some more details regarding damage etc.

I quickly set up some ACW figures to show the mechanic in action (images taken with an iPad, they could have been of better quality …):

The path of fire is laid out, with the “2” indicating a deviation to the right. Since the last card hitting the target is odd, the shot does zero damage.
The Joker shows up, ending the shot. No damage to the target.
The “10” deviates the shot to the right, with the “2” a further deviation. The shot passes next to the target.

Discussion

The use of the Joker stopping the shot might seem a bit harsh, but actually makes this mechanic a fine-grained distance modifier. We have 10 cards, so the joker could turn up with 10% probability in any of the card positions along the firing line. You could see this as a variable range (the shot can be 1 card length long, 2 card lengths long, … each with 10% probability of occurring), but as we have shown in a previous post, random ranges are (sometimes) equivalent to distance modifiers. So, this mechanic has a more fine-grained distance modifier compared to a single die modifier for “over half range”, as is often seen in rulesets.

It might seem a bit strange not to measure the distance between the gun and the target. But actually, we do. We measure the distance in units of card length instead of inches or centimeters. That’s a perfect valid measure, although perhaps a coarse one. But that doesn’t really matter, since the measured distance is usually only compared to the maximum or half range of the gun. If the maximum range is, let’s say 24″, it isn’t that important whether you measure that distance in inches, centimeters, or card lengths.

The additional feature of deviation is another (geometric) probability built in to determine whether damage is inflicted or not.

Thus, this mechanic is perfectly capable of capturing the results of a more traditional ruler-and-dice approach. It comes down to whether you like this particular mechanic better. Laying out cards like this creates a unique tension … when you turn over the next card in the sequence, there’s always the possibility that the Joker turns up and that your shot will fall short. As the sequence of cards is laid down, you know the Joker can stop your shot with increasing probability … this suspense during the resolution is more difficult to replicate with a simple die roll.

Moreover, laying out the cards creates a nice visual mechanic, comparable to using a cone-shaped firing template. Fantasy wargaming uses this mechanic fairly often for all sorts of (magical) effects; in historical wargaming it is considered somewhat old-school, but firing templates are often described in the books by Featherstone or Grant.

Variations

The mechanic as described above uses 10 cards (including the Joker), but you could easily increase or decrease the number of cards for making the effective firing range longer or shorter. Perhaps the number of cards could depend on weapon type, or other tactical modifiers.

The number on the card that hits the target (odd or even) determines whether damage is inflicted or not. But you could also use the number itself as an indicator of damage inflicted. That would open a new set of possibilities with damage ranging from 2-10, or any other range depending on the selection of cards. Obviously, this needs to be tuned with the rules in use.

Just as the “2” and “10” indicate deviations, you could add more cards that do exactly that, or less cards … again variations can be introduced, perhaps even by printing out custom cards specifically tuned to various weapon types.

Battlemasters

When reading the article, I remembered I had seen this mechanic before. And suddenly I remembered! The classic Games Workshop/MB game Battlemasters (1992), still fondly remembered by GW afficionados of the late eighties/early nineties.

Battlemasters is played on a hexgrid, and also includes a cannon for the Imperial army. When the cannon shoots, a path of cards is laid out, hex by hex, till the cards reach the target. Again, an explosion stops the shot early, and there is the same rule that if the explosion is the first card, the cannon takes damage. There is no deviation left or right, but there are cards that make the ball “bounce”, inflicting reduced damage if any troops would be present in that location.

I still have the components of Battlemasters lying around (the figures have long been drafted for other uses), so here they are, illustrating the principle in action.

My original Battlemasters cannon, aiming at some Treemen. Put the target card at the Treemen’s hex.
The path of the projectile is laid out using cards. Sometimes the ball bounces, sometimes the shot falls short.
When the shot reaches the target, turn over the aiming card, and damage is done!

The similarities between Battlemasters and the mechanics described in the Miniatures Wargames article are very obvious, even more so because the article has activation mechanics almost identical to Battlemasters. Thus, I assume that the author has drawn his inspiration from Battlemasters – 13 years later – to develop his own card-driven wargame.

Conclusion

I think this mechanic is a nice visual representation of a cannon shot, especially if you would use custom-printed cards to add to the drama. The card deck can be tuned such that in terms of to-hit probablity and amount of damage, the same effects can achieved as with a more traditional ruler-and-dice mechanic.

I wonder if any other rulesets have used something similar? Let me know!

Addenda

  • Discussion on The Wargames Website.
  • An interesting suggestion was made on TWW: you could use a suit of cards, or even a full deck, but define the effectiveness of a gun in terms of which cards would “stop the shot”, just as the Joker does. So, you could have a “Queen-gun”, meaning that whenever a Q, K or Joker shows up, the shot fails. Similarly, you could have a “10-gun” etc. Maximum firing ranges would not be necessary, since the shot will statistically fail sooner or later depending on its type.

Wargaming Mechanics Blog

Square Grids (2)

In a previous post (“Square Grids“) we outlined several methods how to measure distances on a square grid, with the aim of approaching the Euclidean distance as closely as possible.

One of the possible solutions is to count a diagonal move as 1.5 movement points. Such a procedure allows for a more accurate movement compared to not allowing diagonals, or counting diagonals as 1 movement point.

However, one could take this a step further and also define movement points for other types of movement. E.g., we can define a number of movement points when executing a Knight’s move (as in chess, 2 squares horizontally, 1 square vertically, or vice versa). Using Pythagoras’ Theorem, one can easily compute that such a distance equals the square root of 2*2 + 1*1 = square root of 5 = 2.236, or approximotely 2.25.

Hence, let us define movement on a square grid as follows:

  • 1 movement point for a horizontel or vertical move;
  • 1.5 movement points for a diagonal move;
  • 2.25 movement points for a Knight’s move.

The resulting movement ranges, for 3, 5 and 7 movement points, are illustrated in the diagram below. The dark shaded squares are the ones we can reach when rounding our movement allowance down, i.e. we can spend up to 3.5, 5.5 or 7.5 movement points.

Diagonal movememtn counts as 1 movement point; a Knight’s move counts as 2.25 movement points.
Dark shaded squares indicate an expenditure 0.5 movement points above the nominal number.

The overal picture, especially when compared to the diagrams in the previous blogpost, is that we can approach the circle (the ideal Euclidean distance) even better.

And why stop here? We could define custom movement points for a move that would take us 3 squares forwards and 2 squares sideways ( a so-called Zebra move in chess), or a move that would take us 3 forwards, and 1 sideways (a Camel move in chess — both Zebras and Camels are called “leapers” in the context of fairy chess pieces), etc. The more we include these special “moves”, the closer we can get to approaching the ideal Euclidean distance. In the limit, every possible movement between a starting square and end square can be given its own customized movement point cost.

“But such a system would become totally unworkable!”, I hear you say. Quite right, it would become unworkable, working with fractions, and remembering all those special moves with their own movement points expenditures.

That’s why – in a wargame that uses a gridded playing field – we don’t really want a measurement procedure, we want a counting procedure. There’s a subtle difference between both. A measurement procedure would express the movement cost between two gridcells on the playing field. But a counting procedure is what we need when playing. We want to to go from gridcell to gridcell, physically moving the figures (or using our finger to point out the movement path), while counting and accumulating the spent movement points as we proceed along the movement path. Thus, complicated counts such as the Knight’s move, the Camel move or the Zebra move, do not fit that pattern.

It is tempting to play around with more complicated counting procedures, but I think the game will suffer. And, the more complicated counts we include and the closer we approximate Euclidean distances, the more we should think about removing the grid and use a ruler in the first place!Wargaming Mechanics Blog

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