Sunday 31 July 2022

3 Klarmont - Hot trod

 As the young warrior leapt to his feet, he looked around. The orator was not in the one-room house which looked like no one actually lived there. A trapdoor in one corner of the room suggested to Broneslav that this was a secret entrance for the Veiled Society. They already had form for liking digging tunnels so it would not surprise him.

The trapdoor swung open easily. He took a quick look and then dropped through it, landing easily ten feet below. No one faced him or sought to stop him. Far down the passage below, a light bobbed, obviously carried by the troublemaker. Broneslav sprinted in pursuit, stumbling a little in the dark. However, he reached the end of the tunnel without incident. A ladder led upwards to another trapdoor that was just closing.

He launched himself up the ladder. At the top, the trapdoor resisted his initial attempt to open it. He took a deep breath, braced himself and then shoved harder. It flew open with a huge thud as it hit the ground. Broneslav agilely rolled up and through the trapdoor to face the rabblerouser he was chasing. The man froze in the act of trying to drag a chest towards the trapdoor.

The orator's hovel

Breathing hard from his sprint, Broneslav launched himself at the man. His iron-hard muscles pounded the slippery character to the ground and pinned him there. The man looked terrified, but there was nothing he could do. Broneslav was just too strong for him.

With space to think, the young hero looked around. He was in another one-room house like the one he had just been in. Clearly a way for the Veiled Society to cross the city without encountering the watch. There was no one else there, so the youthful warrior fixed his captive with a steely gaze that had seen more death in just a few months than most saw in a lifetime. The man recognised the danger he was in and started babbling his confession even before Broneslav could do anything.

"It was the Veiled Society! They paid me to do it," he blurted out, "Here, take the money, It's in my pouch. Just don't kill me, please!"

Broneslav ignored the offer of cash. He had enough of his own not to worry about a bit more just yet.

"Tell me more!" he growled.

"I don't know a lot. I just went to the meetings and was told to stir up some trouble. I don't know who anyone else is. Everyone wears robes and hoods. I couldn't even tell you how many are human. Look, if you want to find out more, the meetings are at the Blue Water Mead Hall on the waterfront. We are due to meet tomorrow night. There's a secret entrance just round the corner. You can find the others there. Might even catch Zachariah Boestes and Akarios the Shipwright there. They're the ones that killed Lucia Vorloi. I had nothing to do with that."

Broneslav grunted. Yes, he would go there on the morrow. He did not mention that one of these men was already in captivity. But first, he needed to deliver this man to the Tribune. This was a threat against his city and he would not permit this Veiled Society to destroy things.

Saturday 30 July 2022

Sicario 1: Border Patrol (A Warfighter campaign)

 This is the first game in a Warfighter campaign set in the jungle in or near Mexico. The enemy is a drug cartel.

Our hero is a tough Mexican soldier called Torres. She represents me in the game. If she dies or is medically discharged, the campaign is over. I plan to include her faithful sidekick Diaz throughout the campaign. I've played a few one-offs with this pair and they are starting to develop characters in my head. Other soldiers will be added as needed to fill out the roster and provide more firepower.

Cards depicting player soldier Torres with an M4 carbine and non-player soldier Diaz with an M4 carbine.

 At the start of the campaign, I selected 6 missions from those available for the current location (jungle).  I arrange these in order from lowest resource point allocation to highest. This is the order the missions will be played in. Each campaign game will consist of one of the selected missions paired with a randomly chosen objective. For this campaign, I have deliberately chosen the lowest resource point missions to keep the games short and in the hope that I can motor through this thing. Let's see if my hero survives a full tour of duty.

The mission is to destroy a drug cartel convoy but we have to get there first. The mission is three locations and 7 turns long. We start on the mission card and have 2 turns to destroy 4 vehicles once we activate the objective card. Getting to the contact point will be easy, because it is only 1 move away if we want to stand off and shoot, or 2 moves if we choose to get up close and personal in the objective card. The only problem is that they will be shooting back. This is a mission where I could wish I had extra soldiers along to provide more firepower. With 2 soldiers, I get a maximum of two shots off each turn unless I have cards that give me free shots.

I draw Torres' action cards and get 1 location card. Lucky. I've become used to getting none on the first draw. Torres finds it hard to leave the cantina, but once she is moving, woe betide those that get in her way. I play the location card High Ground and draw for hostiles. There's hired muscle up here, but we blundered into him because Torres got lost (event card) and we lost time (one turn). The hired muscle pops up in our jump-off point but the gameboard makes it hard to set him up there.

Diaz opens fire and downs the guy. The team moves into the High Ground. Luckily, the hired muscle was alone and no reinforcements turn up. Taking a punt on remaining undisturbed while we prepare to hit the convoy, the team rests up quickly on the next turn and Torres draws action cards with a view to getting the right ones in hand for the assault.

Ok, let's go. Torres gives the command to close in so that chances of hitting the objective are increased. Using action cards that give the team free moves, they close quickly and open fire. The convoy is led by hired muscle and a technical. Torres lobs a grenade in there and the technical just becomes another hunk of junk. She then shoots up one of the cars. Diaz focuses on the cars and soon there are two burning wrecks. Unfortunately, Diaz blew an entire magazine on it and has to pause to reload.

This gives the cartel leader (a reinforcement) a chance to leap out of his car and join the fray. He and the hired muscle open up and wound both Torres and Diaz. The pair respond by blasting the remaining vehicles with everything they have. With all four targets now smoking wrecks, Torres and Diaz beat a hasty retreat. Score one for the good guys.

Soldier cards showing that Torres has taken 3 wounds and Diaz has taken 1

The objective was in location 3 so Torres scored 3 victory points. That is still no effect on the cartel, but it is early days yet. A few more like this and she could have a huge effect on the cartel's operation in this area.

Torres also earns 3 mission points for the objective being in location 3. These can only be used to buy skill cards. She already comes with two skills: Fallen and Marksman. It will be very useful to have more. I opt to buy the Good to Go card which gives Torres experience points at start. These will come in handy in my experience. Good to Go costs 2 points, so I have 1 point to save for later.

Finally, I need to roll for a mission adjustment. Each success results in the cartel tightening up its security and will make the next mission a bit more difficult. I score a 10 meaning that I need to add 3 to the next objective's hostile value. This is quite a lot of extra firepower for it to have and I'm going to need to take that into account when equipping my team next mission.

Saturday 23 July 2022

Warfighter (Dan Verssen Games)

 I really need to get back to the D&D campaign, but I've been distracted by my lack of desire to sit in front of a computer making new maps for it. I'll get back to it soon enough. Honest.

In the meantime, I have been messing around with Warfighter from Dan Verssen Games. It's a solitaire or cooperative special forces game where you lead a fire team on various missions. I've been hearing about this game for a while and it sounded interesting, but I also had my doubts based on the AARs I was reading and the fact it was described as a card game. I just wasn't sure if the game was for me. So, I got my tax rebate recently and decided to try it. The core game is not too expensive, which helps, but it's US forces in the Middle East, which has little attraction for me. There are supplements that offer forces that are more interesting, but that means more expense.

After much deliberation and talking myself into it, I bought the VASSAL module for Warfighter Modern because you get the core game and pretty much all the expansions in one set for a decent price.  It would be an easy way to try it and see what I thought. I dived straight into a game ... and lost ... and then lost again. But, it was fun. I was playing the French in Africa and picked a patrol mission with the objective of protecting elephants from poachers. The first game saw the poachers turning up with machine guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers. My poor team stood no chance. But I had fun.

Soldier cards for the game Warfighter. Depicted are two soldiers with their equipment
Bianchi and Greco are all kitted out for a patrol in Africa. Bianchi is a player soldier and so has equipment. Greco is a squad soldier, and so is represented by the stats on the card. The image depicts two of the locations that could be played in the game, currently in Bianchi's hand

I clearly needed to read the rules properly, from cover to cover! I know that is cheating, but needs must where the devil drives. Reading the rules showed me that I had been playing the game wrong and making things much harder for myself than I needed to. Reading the BGG forum also showed me that I needed to think a bit differently about how I played. I played again after reading the rules and I won a game! I lost a couple more then I won another couple more. I was hooked.

I bought the WWII VASSAL set. Now I could try to fight the Germans in Norway in 1940. I lost a lot more. The Narvik expansion is hard with lots of elite Germans involved and blooming parachutists appearing behind your heroic Norwegian fighters. I opted for some easier games with the French fighting back against the Germans in France in 1940. I was still having fun. I have a dozen or so games under my belt now, and will be playing more.

The Game

There are plenty of reviews on BGG and in the wider internet about Warfighter that will tell you more about the game, so I won't labour the point here and just provide a broad overview. When setting up, you pick a mission, which will tell you how many points you have to spend on soldiers, how many turns you have to complete the objective, and how far along the movement track the objective is. You then pick an objective, which can be the Protect the Elephants one, or Kill the Drug Cartel Boss, or any number of military objectives. Some of these objectives are raids where you need to eliminate the baddies. Some are escape missions where you have to get to the objective and then back to your starting base.

Your team comprises Player Soldiers, Non-player Soldiers and Squad Soldiers. Player Soldiers are key to doing anything. They draw a hand of cards that you use for special effects or as discards to help you move from location to location. The locations you move to have to be drawn in this hand of cards too. Non-player Soldiers and Squad Soldiers are the supporting cast in your Player Soldier's drama. They provide additional firepower and soak up bullets that might otherwise be targeted at you.

Each mission involves moving along a location track. At the start of the game, you place the Mission card in the first spot on the track and the Objective card at a place specified by the Mission card. If the Mission card tells you to place the Objective in space 5, then that is where you place it. In this case, you would have three empty spaces between the Mission card and the Objective card. To move through these spaces, you need to play a location card, deal with any hostiles that are placed in it, and occupy it. Once you have troops on the location card, you can play the next one. Rinse and repeat until you reach the objective and complete whatever the objective says you have to do to, and then you will have won. Easy. Maybe. The locations can have their own special conditions that affect your progress, Many have reinforcements arriving every turn that can cause you problems. Some of them can be difficult to move into because they are bad terrain, so they slow you down. And so on.

Bianchi and Greco have been dropped into the patrol area by helicopter and have cleared the hostiles from the first location. They must now advance to the watering hole to save the elephants

By judicious play of the cards your Player Soldiers draw, hopefully you win more often than you lose, but sometimes you just draw all the wrong hostile cards, or you make a misstep that costs you badly, or the dice just roll 1s all the time. The randomness of the card draws mean that this game has a lot of replayability. You could play the same mission several times and move through completely different locations every time. Add to that all the gear and skills you can buy for your Player Soldiers, and the sheer number of options is hugely increased. It makes for quite a heady mix. The key thing is that good tactics in the game can get you through despite a run of bad luck. Having meaningful decisions to make is a nice change from a lot of solo games I have played, where you are basically a dice.rolling engine.

Another advantage of the game is the range of mission lengths, from 3 locations upwards. It's easy to pick a mission to suit your available time, be it half an hour or a whole day. You can also string missions together into a basic campaign format. I've not been following the campaign format in the rules, but have played several games with the same Mexican army team against drug cartels, and it is starting to feel like an informal campaign where the two main soldiers are developing their own characters and traits in my mind. Poor Diaz though. He gets wounded every single game. And I did have to retcon one game as a dream because the drug cartels turned up with two RPG teams that swiftly made mincemeat of my hero and her sidekick! Torres is clearly starting to crack after too much time in the jungle.

One other point worth mentioning is that the modern and the WWII versions feel different from each other so it is not a case of picking just one or the other game. There is value in both. The modern set also has the advantage of feeling like an action movie, with each location being a scene in that movie. Sending my Mexican kill team into the jungle to take out a drug cartel boss really did give me a Sicario vibe, and in the end, most solo games are about the stories we tell ourselves as we play.

The VASSAL Module

I'v never really been a huge fan of VASSAL. I love the concept of being able to play against players all over the world. I love the idea that you can play large games by email, and I have played VASL, the Advanced Squad Leader version, by email several times. But ... it always feels like something is missing when I set up a VASSAL game. So, how does Warfighter on VASSAL stack up?

You get almost all the expansions for a fraction of the price of the physical game. This means you can try all the parts of the game and then buy those you most want, if you decide to get the physical game at all. The Warfighter module is set up well and it is generally easy to find your way around it. It's easy to set up a game and leave it set up, and you never need to clear your game up from the dining table so you can eat. If space is an issue for you, then the VASSAL module should be a definite option, because the basic footprint of the game is about 3' x 2' or so, and possibly more with all the soldier cards and their kit laid out in front of you. That said, people have designed space-saving versions that you can read about and download on BGG, so the footprint of the game does not have to be a huge issue. One other good thing is that the VASSAL module includes the rules. You can click on the Rules button and read through them on the screen. Essentially, it is a complete game.

On the less good side, you lose the physicality of the game, which is an important factor for me. I get around it in part by rolling my own dice rather than using the VASSAL dice roller. Looking through the card decks can be a bit fiddly in VASSAL. There is a search function for finding specific cards in a deck, but you cannot easily spread the whole deck out in front of you when you have the option to pick any card from it. This also applies to choosing your force. Sometimes you just want to lay all the options out and compare them side by side. You can do this but it involves a lot of dragging and dropping followed by deleting those you do not want afterwards. That can be a lot of clicking. The biggest negative issue for me is screen size. Being able to see the whole gameboard at once in a readable format rather than having to zoom in and out can be problematic: I have a 27" main monitor, which is too small for larger games set at a readable zoom level.

Overall, the VASSAL module does well at providing a way to play the game and I am very pleased with my purchase. I find it useful to have multiple monitors, so that I can have the display with my soldiers on one screen and the main gameboard on the other, and I wish I had a larger main monitor, but it works and I look forward to playing this game a lot more.