Tuesday 24 March 2015

Ambulatory Terrain

I was using an army based on that of Ancient Egypt, so it seems appropriate that the ambulatory terrain against which Steve's skirmishers were crushed was my cat Victor.

Saturday 21 March 2015

Ronin Campaign 3 - Defence

The third scenario in the Ronin mini-campaign was the Defence scenario. One side defends an objective, while the other side tries to take it. The rules state that the attacker gets twice as many points as the defender for the standard scenario, but it was not clear from the rules how this translates into the campaign game. In the campaign you start with 300 points of troops and divide them how you wish between the three scenarios before knowing what your opponent is allocating to each scenario, so points can be quite equal. As it happened, we decided to make the side with the higher points allocation the attacker. That was me. I had 100 points while Steve had 97 allocated to this scenario.
The terrain for the battle consisted of two impassable carst formations, a small wood and a grain storehouse in the middle. The storehouse was the monk's winter supply and was guarded by four of their best. As you will remember, the monks have been getting uppity and my samurai must enforce the law of the land by insisting that the monks pay their taxes. As part of that, our lord has decided that we must raid the monks' grain storage to recover back taxes.

As the attacker, I started with half my force on the table, and the rest would arrive in subsequent turns. This meant that I had two figures on the table, one would arrive on turn 2 and the last on turn 3. Ronin games are not large. I deployed two ashigaru in the open but around the back of the storehouse from the monks. My guys had a yumi (bow) and a teppo (arquebus). I thought that I would try to force the monks to move into the open and shoot at them before my melee troops tried storming the place. The game was 1d6+6 turns long and Steve rolled a 6, so I knew I had plenty of time (12 turns) to build up my forces and advance. I was a little worried by the fact that Steve suddenly had troops with missile weapons. He had not fielded missile weapons in any previous battle. Still, I would do what I could do.

My missile troops advanced closer to make the shooting easier and Steve's monks moved around the corner. In the exchange of fire that resulted over the next couple of turns, my guys suffered a couple of light wounds and Steve remained whole. His monks had clearly trained more with their weapons and my armour was not proof against his high dice rolls.
As the ashigaru closed the range, my melee troops arrived on the opposite corner of my starting edge. An ashigaru with a yari arrived first, using the carst formation as cover to close the range. He was closely followed by the best samurai in our lord's force (a rank 5 dude with loads of skillz). He demonstrated those skillz by using the ashigaru as cover to advance towards the enemy monks. This stopped the monks with yumi and teppo from shooting at him. The teppo in particular was a worry because it ignores armour and is quite deadly at close range.

The ashigaru did his job and fell riddled with arrows and musket balls, but the samurai was now close enough to charge and did so to good effect. By closing with the enemy he prevented further missile fire at him, but the monks quickly surround him and he was soon fending off three of the dastardly orange-clad devils. The fight was quite short and hard fought. Over the course of a couple of turns he fended off many attacks by the monks and cut down all three of them in turn. His kenjutsu skill came in particularly handy because it meant that he got a free re-roll of one die on all attack and defence rolls. Many of the re-rolls were as bad or worse than the original roll because my dice hate me, but it worked out right in the end. A couple of good re-rolls raised the numbers high enough to be useful. With the re-roll from the skill, it also meant that I could attack more often rather than spending dice from his combat pool to enhance his attacks. This meant he could badly hurt or kill enemy figures in a single turn, thus shortening the odds against him.
In the end, my samurai killed all the enemy monks, aided only a little by the largely ineffective missile fire from my ashigaru. Heads were taken, grain was transported back to the castle and the monks were put in their place.

The campaign is supposed to finish with a final climactic battle but we called it a samurai victory at this point because Steve only had one monk left alive for the final battle, while I had three samurai and three ashigaru.

Thoughts on Ronin
So, my thoughts? I enjoyed this mini-campaign. The rules are simple enough to get into and are well written with few areas of confusion. The game plays quickly, if you don't spend too much time in and between turns chatting. Our games always take longer because they are social events too.

The combat pool mechanic is good. Each figure has a combat pool and you choose a total of attack and defence dice equal to that pool. You need attack dice to actually attack and can spend an extra one to enhance your attack. You automatically get one die on all defence rolls, but you can spend a defence die to enhance your defence. Choosing the right mix for the circumstances and deciding when to use them is a great mechanic that takes you away from just standard rolling. I like mechanisms like this because it gives you interesting tactical choices to make. In the fight against the samurai above, Steve chose all attack dice for his mob. He wanted to make all-out attacks against the samurai because the samurai's heavy armour and high fight skill meant it was difficult to hurt him. This choice left the monks vulnerable to the samurai's attacks though, because they were only rolling basic defence rolls. I chose a balanced combat pool so that I could enhance the early defence rolls against Steve's best troops while still making attacks. I also relied on the kenjutsu re-reroll rather than enhancing my attacks.

Combat is made more interesting by an initiative roll too. All figures in a melee roll for initiative and attack in descending order of their roll. You have to choose your combat pool before you make the initiative roll, so there is an element of calculation and risk in choosing your combat pool. Do you rely on attacking first and killing your opponent before he can respond, or do you assume you will have to defend and give yourself a die or two for enhancing your defence? I like these sorts of decisions. They make games more interesting.

Overall, I think these are a sound set of rules and we shall return to them again in the future. The decision making is interesting and this makes the game play exciting. But first we have a Talomir Tales battle to fight and then we are going to play Impetus for a bit. It has been far too long since my Vikings hit the table.

Thursday 5 March 2015

Ronin Campaign 2 - Capture

This is the second game in our Ronin mini-campaign. You can read about the first here.

The abbot's body had been crucified and left in a wasteland for the birds to peck at as a warning to the monastery. Naturally the monks wanted to recover the body and give it the appropriate funeral rites. The samurai boss was determined to make sure this did not happen.

Both forces entered from opposite edges of the battlefield. The objective was in the centre: a newly painted vignette of the crucifixion of Torii Suneemon which I declared was actually the abbot from the previous battle.

I had a force led by a rank 3 samurai, supported by a rank 2 ashigaru-gashira and three rank 1 ashigaru. Steve had a rank 4 monk, a rank 3 monk and two rank 1 temple attendants, I think. I never actually checked or read his roster and am basing this on what I remember of the game.
Both sides charged towards the crucified body. Part-way there the ashigaru with teppo and ashigaru with bow paused to shoot but with little effect. The ashigaru-gashira and the ashigaru with yari engaged a monk as quickly as they could but neither side could gain an advantage. In the meantime, my samurai cut down a temple attendant.
My ashigaru were split up by the arrival of another monk to aid the first one. The two monks were able to kill both ashigaru in short order while the samurai cut down the other temple attendant. My archer was performing very poorly, but the ashigaru with the teppo fired and was able to cut down the junior monk right after the monk had killed the ashigaru-gashira.

This works because of the turn sequence and is something to exploit. It appears to be intentional in the rules. Steve had used this and the line of sight rules to prevent me from shooting everything at his boss monk. I repaid him by rolling well with my shooting. It all evens out in the end!
With one monk and two temple attendants dead, Steve's senior monk sought the shelter of his dead abbot's gaze and the samurai with two of his ashigaru ganged up on him. The end result was hardly in doubt and the monk died on the final turn of the game. Victory was mine once more, and the monk's force was severely reduced for the final battle, although I seem to be going through ashigaru like nobody's business.

Steve told me that he had thought he might be able to defend enough in the final melee to outlast the turn countdown. Sadly that did not work for him. He also hoped that by being in contact with the objective he might gain the victory if I forgot to contest it by placing one of my own warriors in contact with it. This too did not work for him because I realised what he was up to. Still, it was another good fun game. These rules are simple to play but with sufficient decision-making to keep things interesting. I particularly like the combat pool where you have to decide how many dice to allocate to attacking and defending for each melee.

Tuesday 3 March 2015

Ronin Campaign 1 - The Skirmish

We began a Ronin mini-campaign last week. The campaign involves building a buntai (warband) and dividing it into three groups. Each group is assigned to one of three scenarios: skirmish (= encounter), capture and defence. After all three scenarios have been played, the surviving figures mix it up in a big skirmish battle. Figures can gain experience through the campaign, but it would take several such mini-campaigns for a figure to gain enough experience to rise in rank, if I read the rules aright.

The first scenario was the initial skirmish scenario. I had one rank 4 samurai and three rank 1 ashigaru. Rank 1 is the worst and Rank 5 is the best grade. Steve had 3 high ranking monks from his monastery. Clearly the monks were refusing to pay their taxes to the big samurai boss and we had to sort them out. As frequently happens in our games, there was little tactical subtlety.
There was a small building in the centre of the battlefield. I initially thought that I would seize this and then defend it from the monks. We both charged for it. My samurai chappie entered the building while the ashigaru armed with missile weapons let rip. The teppo made much noise but had little effect. The ashigaru with yari lurked near the door of the building as I realised that my plan was not workable.
 As the monks approached, my samurai left the building and sliced and diced the weakest of the monks (a rank 3 monk). The other two monks made short work of two of my ashigaru. It turns out that Steve had fielded an elite force in this scenario with the abbot of his monastery (a rank 5 model), an abbot in the making (rank 4) and a senior monk (rank 3 but now dead). When I realised this, I fully expected to get creamed, so my samurai made a break for it.
He raced towards the ashigaru with the teppo, but so did the monks. The abbot pursued the samurai while the junior abbot pursued my ashigaru. I lost the initiative and my ashiguar was toast. At this point neither of us had achieved our individual victory conditions, and the score was even in terms of points for dead bodies, because my three ashigaru were worth the same as the dead monk. My samurai had been running and had drawn the abbot away from the junior abbot. Seeing his chance, he turned and confronted the monk.
The two leaders faced each other over drawn swords as the junior abbot raced to support his master. He was too late to do anything. Both leaders screamed a battle cry and leapt at each other. When the dust cleared, the samurai was standing and the monk lay in the dust. The battle was over and the last monk withdrew from the battlefield. The monastery had been taught a lesson.

This game was characterised by very good dice rolling on Steve's part in the first half of the game. My dice only came into their own when my samurai turned and confronted the abbot. At this point I convincingly slaughtered him and won the scenario. I got lucky because the abbot was a better warrior on paper. Nevertheless, it was good fun. I really like how the special abilities for the leaders lend something to the narrative of the battle too.