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

Shadow War: Armageddon – The New Old Necromunda

“the more things change, the more they stay the same,” (Alphonse Karr, 1849)
The “new Games Workshop” has returned with lots of new Specialist Games-style offerings.  Too many for me to afford or test, that’s for sure.  Whilst the company policy apparently has changed,their pricing certainly hasn’t – $70AUD ($55 USD/40 pounds) – for a softcover rulebook when Privateer is moving to free pdfs – I could buy a Malifaux or Warmachine starter box (with rules) for that price.

Since Shadespire is looking more like a CCG/boardgame hybrid than a miniatures game, my hopes of a “New Mordhiem” seem dashed. But what about the new Necromunda

Well, it’s out. But paying  $250AUD for the box set…  …THEN having to folk over another $50 book to play the campaign (wtf?!)… that’s the old mercenary GW at it’s best.  It’s the equivalent of removing a faction in a PC game (like, say, Warhammer: Total War) so you can sell it later as a DLC.
The old Games Workshop style gouging at it’s finest.  About to walk away, I paused when I came across a copy of Shadow Wars.

Campaign skirmish in a hive world? ….sounds familiar. 

That’s because it is. Shadow War IS the old Necromunda, with standard 40K factions replacing the gangs, and a lot of interesting campaign options trimmed out/dumbed down.  In fact, you can pretty much stop reading now, as that sentence pretty much summed up these rules.

Shadow War is simply the Necromunda rules (now feeling clunky and outdated) rebadged as an expensive softcover.  They kept the worst bit (the rules themselves) whilst removing/simplifying much of the best bit (the campaign system.)  There’s probably some subtle differences (I’m sure there’s detailed blow by blow details on some 40K fansite somewhere) but from what I can recall, it’s the same game. 

For those pining for Necromunda, Shadow Wars allows you to use your 40K models. Sadly, the rules are dated, and the campaign is simple and bland.

The Shiny
It’s comparable to a $40 Warmachine softcover, but just $30 more expensive. It’s pretty, but somewhat unintuitive to use.  Unlike the New 2017 Necromunda, it has 15 kill teams AND the campaign rules included (like you’d expect) – so there’s that, I suppose.

Activation & Stats
Remember this is Necromunda (aka modified 2nd ed), pretty much word for word. So typical IGOUGO (ignoring any advances in the last 20-odd years) – you do everything with all your dudes, before the opponent can respond. And my goodness, the nostalgia – I haven’t seen a stat line as long as  this:  M  WS   BS   S   T   W   I    A   Ldr – outside of a RPG, for years.

Movement
Remember when charging was a double move, rather than a random dice amount added on?  And – yay – not everyone moves 6″- some factions are faster or slower. Like the old Necromunda, there are rules for climbing, hiding, falling etc – and like the old Necromunda I’ll still have to houserule what you can do if halfway up a ladder.

Combat
Yup, old-school tables which you need to consult before you can make rolls. And modifiers – lots of modifiers. I’d forgotten just how many. Shooting is very much old-school 40K – but models if hit are automatically pinned. Then there’s the roll against toughness. Then a saving throw.  It seems clunky – there’s too many steps and modifiers.  Tracking ammo is a pest, as is “flesh wounds”- that is a -1 to BS/WS for the rest of the game. There’s good old-school overwatch. Models can usually fire 360d (wasn’t the old Necromunda 180? not sure – if so it’s the fist change I’ve noticed). Melee is a different mechanic – roll 1d6 per attack and add the best to the WS. Difference in score is the # of hits scored by the winner. 

Morale
Again, a new mechanic (well, the same as the old one, but this is the third or fourth dice rolling mechanic so far – very inconsistent design) – 2d6 and must roll = or under Ldr to maintain nerve.  If a friendly goes down close by, allies test morale to see if they break. Once 25% of the warband is downed or fled, a bottle test is made for the whole gang – if they fail the game ends.

The art and graphics are nice, but the rules are a bit unintuitive – nice to look at, not particularly handy for actually searching for rules…



Warbands & Campaign
You get up to 10 guys, (more if Orks) including a leader and 2-3 specialists.   Different factions get access to different skill trees.  You can use pretty much all the 40K factions – great! This is why I bought the rules – to reinvigorate many 40K dusty 40K models lying dormant since… 5th ed? 

But Shadow Wars is disappointingly streamlined – as there’s no XP, territories, or sending guys out to do odd jobs. You can choose between recruitment or new gear; and you can choose exactly what you want – no need to roll for availability etc.  Even serious injuries are simplified to a d6 – I can see a lot of models will end up with Frenzy. You choose exactly which one character to get a new skill/advance each game. Sounds totally not open to being abused…..  Even on the skill rolls, you choose the type of skill and then roll twice on the table, choosing your favourite – so you have a great chance of getting exactly what you want…  No min-maxing opportunities here, no sir. 

So basically, the best part of Necromunda got dumbed down and ever easier to min-max; though it is much less likely you’d get the “snowball” effect where a winning gang becomes an unstoppable juggernaut after a few games. 

Finally, promethium replaces cash (it’s kinda a mix of cash+VP) which you can use to win (once you accrue 15) or hire “free agents” to bolster your force. It feels odd.  Also, when replacing losses you can spend up to 100 points on a new recruit; but many troops cost over 100…   …so you can’t replace elite troops when you lose them?  Again, feels a bit “off.”  The scenarios seem the same as the old Necromunda ones.

While I can finally get some use out of my dusty 40K models again, Shadow War leaves me feeling vaguely cheated. 

TL:DR
Well, you could have stopped when I said “exactly the same as old Necromunda, with 40K instead of gangs, with the campaign dumbed down.” The new GW hasn’t got better at writing rules, that’s for sure – and why would they, when they can lazily rehash the older ones?  Worse yet, they streamlined the wrong thing – keeping old clunky game rules, whilst gutting many characterful campaign mechanics.

+ Does allow you to use 40K models to play a campaign game
– You could probably find fan-made 40K gangs on the net for old Necromunda and have the same experience (example links) if GW hasn’t shut them down
– Same chaotic rule writing from original Necromunda; dated rules design
– Overpriced for what it is.
– Campaign overly dumbed down; easier to min-max… (seems more league rules than narrative campaign)
+ …..BUT less likely to get overpowered teams after a few wins
– I have to go looking for funky dice like scatter dice, artillery dice etc
– Quite a lot of token clutter for such a simple/old game
 – It feels like it needs house rules (and after spending $70, I’m resentful) 

Recommended: a guarded and resentful Yes merely as it allows you to re-purpose 40K models in an acceptable skirmish campaign; the small numbers needed to play make it affordable; even if the rulebook is a ripoff. But if you have old Necromunda you could probably find house rules on the net that do the same thing, for free. Worse: instead streamlining and modernizing the games rules themselves, GW mistakenly kept the old ones verbatim, but opted to trim the once characterful campaign system to be rather generic, McDonalds and bland.

Deltavector

Fighting Sail: Rules Review

Not sure what it is. Maybe it is the subject matter.  Naval wargamers are notorious rivet counters.  Napoleonics players are so anal retentive they can argue for hours about uniform buttons.  Mix them together in “age of sail” and perhaps it shouldn’t surprise that the age of sail rulesets tend to be more chore than game. In the past, I’ve found the most playable ones tend to have more boardgame than wargame in their DNA.

A typical Osprey, Fighting Sail has a good mix of colour photos and pictures. 

Fighting Sail tries to capture the “feel” of age of sail without the book keeping.  It aims to allow squadrons and fleets rather than 1v1 ship duels.  It has a hint of old-school Warhammer about it; if you hated Trafalgar and Man O War, you are unlikely to approve of Fighting Sail, which is a streamlined descendent; where the odd damage counter is the most book-work you will need.

It is interesting as the victory conditions is to reduce the morale of the entire enemy fleet.

Templates and counters are in the back of the book. Old school!

The Shiny
Fighting Sail is an Osprey book – and all it entails.  Decent pictures, photos and illustrations, standard softcover 64 pages.  A quick reference and photocopy-able templates are at the back. The index isn’t great but the book is so small you barely need it. Not a lot to add.  As usual, the price point ($15) is good and makes it hard to criticise.  The author is evidently enthusiastic and includes background info to “set the scene” at the start of each chapter.

Barrier to Entry
A handful of d6, some turn/wind templates (found in the back of the book), and 4-5 colours of tokens for damage, cannon, anchor which is all you need.  As for ships: I regard them as playing pieces, not elaborate models (rigging them with thread etc = sadomasochism) so I recommend Tumbling Dice’s 1:2400; they are sturdy and cheap at ~$4ea.

Even in Langton’s “Fast Play” rules, you can subtract literally hundreds of hit points in different locations…
 

…and consult charts.  If you love this sort of game, then Fighting Sail – with its odd token to record damage and minimal bookwork – will not appeal to you. Games can occur in an hour, rather than a day. 

Activation/Sequence of Play
Roll d6 to see who goes first.  It is not quite IGO-UGO (or “20 minute dick punches” –thanks for the quote MagicJuggler) – as it is broken into movement and shooting sub-phases;  Player A moves, then Player B moves, then Player A shoots, then Player B shoots.  

Movement
You have wind template to check the ship’s angle to the wind. This matters, as each ship has “Sailing Points” – the amount of dice you throw, or “potential” speed.  The success chance depends on the wind angle: a agile frigate might have 5 Sailing Points. It rolls 5d6.  If it is reaching, it gets 2″ movement every 4+ rolled.  If it is close hauled to the wind, it might only get a 2″ each 5+; if in irons a ‘6′ might be needed to move…    Ships can tack or wear; using a template provided in the back of the book.  There are rules for collisions, entangling, grounding etc as you’d expect.

Ship stats from GW’s now-OOP Trafalgar.  Fighting Sail strips back and streamlines this still further – you don’t need to record damage anywhere. 

Shooting
It’s pretty simple; a 3+, 4+ or 5+ to hit on a d6 (at short, medium and long ranges) as long as the target is not within 30d of your bow (a template is available if needed).

A high roll can cause an “explosion” or critical hit – short range fire causes explosions on 5,6 and medium range on a 6. An “explosion” causes a hit and you get a re-roll.  Normally you only get one re-roll, unless it is raking fire, in which case you can keep rolling as long as you get explosions.

Squadrons of 2-3 ships can combine their fire under the right conditions.

Boarding combat is pretty quick and simple; both sides roll 4+ each boarding dice, and if the attacker wins he captures the ship; if he loses he is beaten off.

Damage
Ships get to roll d6 “saves” – as many d6s as they have “hull” points (so a 3-hull frigate would get 3 rolls) with a 4+ “saving” the damage.

Check the combined hits and consult a list; a single hit might just “disrupt” a ship’s sailing ability; all the way to five hits that can cause catastrophic sinking damage.

Hits also cause damage to fleet morale; even if the ship itself is not sunk. This makes sense, as in this era ships were more likely to flee or be captured rather than decisively sunk. I like the focus on morale as a victory condition.

Ships can attempt to repair damage (remove a token). Accumulated damage can also cause a ship to strike as well as halving gunnery and sailing points etc.

A criticism: I think the damage section is the only area I had to re-read to understand; I think key info was spread over too many pages.

It’s nicely laid out, but I’d have preferred less illustrations and some campaign rules added...


Morale
This is very important – morale is 10% of the fleet’s total VP value. It can be lost through damage, sinking ships, boarding, collisions or capture – the latter is the most vital as captured ships ADD morale to the capturing fleet. Once morale reaches 0 the player loses.

Weather & Special Rules
There are “advanced” rules for weather, grounding, fog, squalls etc which are so straightforward they might as well have been part of the main game. There are rules for shore batteries, fireships, bomb ketches and multi-player games.

Fleets & Scenarios
This has a vibe of “40K army list” – you must have a commander, and you may have x amount of points to spend (Ships cost points: ~100 for a 1st rate, down to ~20 for a frigate.) Admirals and captains may have special abilities; a “Disciplinarian” or “Gunner” admiral can automatically pass a Morale roll or get an extra broadside once per game for his whole fleet.  There are also captain skills for individual ships:  a; a Navigator can re-roll ‘1’s on sailing dice, and a Marksman can do the same when firing cannon.  There are also “legendary” captains and admirals with unique traits, and even some legendary ships such as the Bellerophon, Constitution or Victory with their own special rules.
Even fleets like Russia and Portugal are included.  There are six missions or scenarios ranging from protecting convoys to blockades to pursuits.

Tumbling Dice are my go-to brand for small scales; they are designed as gaming pieces first and foremost; they are very sturdy, practical, and have exaggerated features that “pop” well at tabletop distances. 

No campaign rules….
I really feel these rules would work great as a campaign, and I really felt their absence. The 64-page limit of Osprey probably is an issue here, but there was plenty of stories and background info included; surely even a simple campaign could have been squeezed in. I really feel this was an opportunity missed – my first reaction after reading the rules were “this would work great as a campaign…  …oh, phooey.”

The rules are simple, but there’s still plenty of examples to show what is intended…

TL:DR
It has a definite “old school GW/Man O War” vibe and I’m sure age of sail pedants purists will find something to nit-pick, but it’s a very playable set of rules for this era, without the book-keeping and fussiness that plagues most non-boardgames rules from this genre.  I found myself comparing it to GW’s Historical’s OOP Trafalgar – but Fighting Sail is much more streamlined than its forebear.  I’d say it’s two biggest flaws are that the streamlining would make 1v1 duels a bit dull (the focus is squarely on fleet/squadron actions of say 6+ per side) and the lack of a campaign.

Recommended: Yes.  I’m actually painting my 1:2400 sailing ships at the moment. The other rules I’ve played I was content to try once with bare metal ships, and then quietly shelve. Deltavector

War Thunder: A PC Game Review for Middle Age Gamers (Air Arcade)

War Thunder is free.  It is about WW2 tanks, planes and (soon) coastal forces like MTBs and S-boats – sometimes mixed together on the same map.  It runs on a laptop or a complete potato PC.  It is undemanding on the reflexes, and favours tactics and cunning.  It comes in a range of difficulty from arcade (5 minutes of pew pew with a keyboard and mouse; minimum controls) to full sim (spend 5 minutes starting the plane’s engines using joysticks etc).  It can be played single player, co-op or multiplayer. Perfect for the middle age gamer.  Actually, there’s something for everyone.  It’s even relatively kid-friendly (my 4-year-old spectates and offers advice like “shoot that one, daddy!”)

I signed up back in early beta. Back then, I was a bit of a sim snob, and disliked the keyboard and mouse setup of arcade. I preferred IL-2: 1946 (which still is better if you want to just try 400+ WW2 warbirds).  Fast forward to November last year.  I now have kids – and my ability to play games is measured in minutes not hours.  Faced with the choice of a 5 minute game with human players, or no game at all (as long games are out of the question) I tried it again.  And was pleasantly surprised.

I am going to focus this review on Air Battles, Arcade Mode as that is the one I have the most experience in, though there is tank battles and (soon) coastal forces.

Fellow Aussies seem active in War Thunder. Quite a few Youtubers come from down under. 

What is it about
In teams of a dozen or so, players contest territory (occupying “hotspots” or capturing airbases) or try to destroy ground targets or similar.  There is arcade, realistic and sim modes – each with increasing complexity (and game length).  In arcade (which I play); I can fly with a mouse, spacebar (bombs), mouse click (shoot); right click (look around) and extra controls (WASD – elevators and rudder) with throttle bound to mouse wheel.  Super easy to pick up and play.  Tanks are even easier and more intuitive.

Graphics
Good without being amazing.  You can import custom skins if you have a favourite pilot’s paint job you want to imitate.  I’d rate them as satisfying rather than mind blowing, although there is something that just feels “right” as sparkling tracers pour into a 109 which suddenly belches white smoke, or your plane glinting in the sun as it rolls, contrails feathering behind at 6000m….

Gameplay
I’ve found this to be pretty fun. In arcade you can mix up planes of all nations (i.e. 109s and Zeroes flying alongside and against Spitfires, Yaks, Mustangs etc), while realistic and sim stick to historical line-ups. My focus will be primarily on arcade, as I think it is friendliest to the time-strapped dad gamer with 5-10 minute games. Realistic and sim games can exceed 45min.+

Real air combat maneuvers work – yo-yos, Immelman/Split S, scissors all seem to come intuitively, and I am working on spiral climbs and hammerheads.  Energy management matters; a player with a height advantage has a speed and manoeuvre advantage; I tend to climb energetically whenever it is safe to do so.

Having a friend on voice comms is a huge advantage – such as dragging up pursuing enemies to drain their energy for your wingman to finish with an easy shot.  Aircraft are balanced by “battle rating” (BR) which is an average of your best three aircraft. If you die (in arcade) you can respawn up to half a dozen times if you have suitable vehicles.

In short, gameplay is good, fun, and you can play the mode that suits your taste.  Tactics and commonsense are more important in War Thunder than teenage twitch skills and fast reactions.

Italian and French forces are recently added, but vehicle choices are limited. 

Tiers & Balance
Sometimes you can face higher battle rated vehicles. This is more an issue in tanks where a high tier heavy can bounce your tank to easily (think Sherman 75mm vs Tiger); BR is less an issue in aircraft, piloting is the major factor as all planes tend to fly apart with a burst of gunfire, regardless of tier.

You “unlock” aircraft by playing games and earning XP (by destroying enemies, capturing zones etc); starting with biplanes and ending with Korean-era jets.  For example the British begin with the Gladiator and end with the Meteor, Hunter, Vampire and Venom; the Americans going from the P-26 Peashooter to F-86 Sabre.

Each tier has a different gameplay “meta” – early tiers tend to be swirling low-level dogfights pecking away with ineffective machineguns; higher tiers tend toward energy fighting and high altitude, fast boom-and-zoom with deadly quad cannons.  I enjoy the mid-war era of Spitfire IXs, early F4Us, 109Fs, P-38Ls and the P-39 Aircobra – which has a mix of aircraft types and combat styles.

If you only want to fly jets straight away; I recommend you spend $5 and buy IL:1946 instead; it will take months of regular gaming in War Thunder to “unlock” them.  However, most people will progress through a nation’s “unlock” tree to enjoy all the aircraft and flying styles from all eras. Most of the players in multiplayer tend to hang around the middle tiers anyway, playing the iconic prop fighters like Mustangs and 109s.

The Tier system can be annoying; you have to own six aircraft from an era before you can progress to the next era; for example I might want to progress to a late-war Griffon Spitfire, but have to unlock a Beaufighter and Firefly first, even though I am not interested in them.

There are quite a few Youtubers dedicated to reviewing aircraft or teaching gameplay.

Damage Model
Planes don’t have health bar; each bullet is modelled and impacts things like controls, pilot, wings, radiators, oil coolers, fuel tanks etc.  It can be annoying to spray an aircraft with bullets only to have it fly away as you didn’t hit anything vital; and annoying to have your pilot sniped through the head by the lucky single 7.62mm round at 800m – but it’s awesome to see a wing torn off by your P-39s 37mm as well….

Bomber Spam
A few complaints – in arcade most games are won by bombers (aka spacebar warriors) who just charge the target, dump bombs – and die. Bombers are easy to fly – just head level for the target and press spacebar.  The problem is, they can do this half a dozen times.  It’s like a cockroach plague – and they can make the game end too quickly if they destroy all the targets fast enough. If you want to win games – fly a bomber. If you actually want to learn to fly and fight – fly a fighter.  It’s a bit annoying that learning to be a good pilot and winning seem mutually exclusive.

I’m going to spam a lot of “how to” videos here in case anyone ends up trying War Thunder.  Most Youtubers have guides/channels dedicated on “how to fly” etc.

Killstealers/Accidental Team Kills
I don’t mind someone swooping down to secure a kill. I DO mind when I have friendly cannon shells tearing into my plane from oblivious team-mates shooting “through” or past me to a target I am tailing.  This is mostly arcade; less common in more serious game modes.

Uptiering/OP Aircraft
Sometimes veteran players “game” the system and use, for example, under-tiered P47s to get into games against beginner planes such as CR.42s.  The tier system is far from perfect as it takes into account player results across the server as well as raw stats. Apparently, American players in general have eggplant level IQ as US planes tend to be very under-tiered given their performance, and Japanese players must be geniuses as their planes seem be rated much higher than their capabilities.

Lag/Ping
I live in Australia and play on US and Asian servers.  The game is very playable at high ping. About once every 10 games I have a game with packet loss; bullets disappear, or require way more lead than usual, but I can play around it. I’ve found the game very tolerant of bad ping/bad computer.

Air combat maneuvers work as they do in real life…

Hidden Costs
The game is free, but you can speed your unlock progress by paying for “premium” getting bonus XP, and buy “premium planes” usually captured or lend-lease aircraft (Soviets have P-39 and P-63; British have F4U and F6F, etc) but sometimes unique aircraft (not so good, as if they are unavailable except for money, they can be called “pay to win” if they are any good).  So you can pay, and progress faster to late-war planes, but it’s perfectly playable without paying a cent.  I’ve bought a few premium planes including the P-38K (I love Lightnings) and some experimental planes like the XP-55 (because I love cool and weird planes; things like pusher prop designs are my “thing”).

Remember, all the comments above apply primarily to War Thunder Arcade (Air) – I’ve played tank mode a bit but have far less experience (and have only played at lower tiers).

You can even get guides on control layouts… 

Why you’d play it
It’s free
It’s WW2 – aircraft, tanks AND coastal forces (sometimes in the same battle)
Play it co-op, solo or multiplayer
Choose your level of complexity/realism/time commitment (arcade/realistic/sim)
Huge range of planes from biplanes to jets.
Child friendly (no blood/guts/swearing if a young one wants to watch)
Real tactics work
Works on poor computers and laptops; pretty good netcode
You don’t need expensive joysticks and gear to have fun

Why you’d avoid it
Sometimes frustrating matchups with people gaming the system
Annoying team mates
Unlock system/grind to get to a favourite plane
Bomber spam ending the game too soon
Russian company (i.e. never admits mistakes, censors forums)

Recommended?  Very much yes.  Try this game.  It’s a free, flexible game that can be played how you want. It has all sorts of awesome and iconic WW2 aircraft and tanks.  If you want to manage every cowling flap and manually trim things, you can. If you want to mindlessly pew-pew with guns that magically reload in mid-air, you can.  Like Silent Hunter and IL:1946, it’s hard to criticise, as if you don’t like something; just change the setting or mode.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.

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