Wednesday 23 December 2015

First games of Zombicide: Black Plague

I had my first try at the new Zombicide: Black Plague game last night. I had played the original Zombicide a couple of times and didn't enjoy it at all. I felt it was too hard and unforgiving of mistakes. I agreed to play this new version because I didn't have a game arranged for last night and thought it would be better than nothing. I wasn't expecting much but I really enjoyed it.

The new version has been tweaked to improve certain things apparently (although I have no real idea what these are). I did like the trays you got to organise things and the fact that you got to choose your starting weapons.
I played as Nelly, the tavern wench, which I liked as I got a free movement action straight away. Sadly I never got enough experience in either of the games we played to try out the orange and red abilities.
I think we had three other fighters a ranged character and a mage (who worryingly is called Baldric!). The first game we had to rescue six villagers from various locations around the board. There were also two crypts we could enter which held a powerful spell and a powerful crossbow. Much to my surprise we won and did so without anyone dying. Although there were a few close calls.
The second game was more complicated. We had to examine some markers until we found a blue one and a green one which would allow us to open specific doors that would grant us access to the two crypts which in turn allowed us to access an area with a book we needed to retrieve (I think). Sadly by the time we got there we were on orange and the four rooms spawned a host of runners walkers and fatties. Luckily judicious use of spells and abilities allowed us to clear it out. All we had to do now to win was get one character to red. We did manage that but lost one character in the process.
All in all a good nights fun with a good group of people playing cooperatively. I'm looking forward to the next game when hopefully the rest of Steve's Kickstarter pledge will have arrived. Then we might not get swamped because we've run out of walkers!

Tuesday 15 December 2015

New Iron Cross army list PDFs

Great Escape Games have released additional force lists for Iron Cross. These cover NW Europe 1944-45, including British Airborne, US Airborne, Waffen SS, Volksgrenadiers and Soviet Assault Battalions. The pdf can be found here.

They also have a couple of other PDFs that may be of interest which can be found here.

Sunday 13 December 2015

Iron Cross WW2 rules first playthrough

As promised here's my thoughts on the rules after my first solo play through. I set up a 4'x4' table as shown below, the hedges I used as bocage. (Sorry about the poor quality of the pictures I couldn't find the lead to charge my camera.)

A crossroads somewhere in Normandy

I grabbed what 15mm figures I could find and made two 500pt forces. The Americans (shown below) had 3 Sherman 76mm, 2 M10 tank destroyers, an M20 scout car, a mortar, an MMG and 6 infantry units 3 of which had bazookas.

The U.S. forces

The Germans (below) had 2 Panthers, a Pz IV, a Stug IV, 2 Pak 40s, a nebelwerfer used as a mortar and 4 infantry squads.

The German force

I'm not going to do a full AAR as that wasn't the point of the exercise. My aim was to try out the rules and see what happened.

I didn't use any of the supplied scenarios but set up was straightforward. The game uses activation tokens as its main resource, activating a unit to move or react to an enemy move costs you one token. You start the game with one token for each unit plus one extra from your command unit. In this game the US had 15 tokens while the Germans had 12 tokens. I was a bit worried that this activating and reactivating wouldn't work too well solo but I was wrong. The US won the initiative and after I'd activated a few units I was starting to look at how many tokens I had left and how many the Germans still had and decided to pass the initiative over to the Germans while I had enough tokens left to react if needed. Also this allowed the US to see what the Germans were going to do and maybe adjust their plan accordingly when they got the initiative back. This planning your tactics and deciding when to react and when to pass the initiative over is the main part of the game and is great fun even solo.

In the Meeples & Miniatures podcast the authors commented that taking a force just comprised of a few Tigers or Panthers although it seems powerful is a bad idea. I wasn't so sure about this and nearly took five Panthers (100pts each) as the German force. However after a few activations I understood what they meant. Obviously as you activate and reactivate models you have fewer & fewer tokens left. The US with 15 tokens could do a lot of things but if I'd taken all Panthers I'd only have had 6 tokens to start with and would soon run out meaning the US could activate without fear as the Germans would be unable to react allowing the tank destroyers or Shermans to push forward and go for shots on the flank/rear unopposed. But that's not the only reason. If you have enemy infantry within 12" you're penalised when firing (maybe because your commander is buttoned up reducing visibility), unless you have your own infantry within 12" as well. So you need infantry support for your tanks which I thought was a nice touch.

I'd didn't find the lack of artillery a problem as I had mortars for indirect fire. Also one of the scenarios allows a preliminary bombardment which inflicts morale markers to weaken the enemy before your attack. I didn't miss air support either, obviously the airfields were shrouded in fog or the planes were tasked elsewhere. I didn't use smoke as I never really felt the need for it as I had plenty of cover on the table.

(What follows is mainly what I felt was wrong with the rules. This doesn't mean I don't like the rules or that they're bad. Quite the opposite I think they're excellent but with some problems that should have come up in play testing and been fixed. It looks like when they were streamlining the rules they went a little too far in places. None of the problems I encountered were game breaking or even difficult to fix. But may cause problems for inexperienced gamers.)

I did start to hit problems as the game progressed. The first was with line of sight. There is no mention of how you deal with LoS anywhere in the rules. Now in most cases this isn't a problem as you can reasonably say that units behind buildings or bocage are obviously out of sight. But then we get to woods, do they allow clear LoS as you can see through them on the table or do they block LoS completely. If you have a unit in a wood can it shoot out and be shot at in return? None of these things are that difficult for a pair of friends who are experienced gamers to agree on before the game. But these rules with their simplified approach while still having good tactical depth would be an excellent starter set for new players and I think they would struggle to know what to do. This isn't a big fix, a few lines could quickly clear this up and I'm surprised it hasn't been included.

My next problem follows on from this and relates to buildings. There are no rules for buildings in the game. A few activations in I wanted a few units of infantry to enter the church but I couldn't find how you do this. After a bit of thought I decided that taking an action to enter a building (units have two actions they can use each activation) would be reasonable. After the game as I was checking a few things in the rulebook I noticed that buildings were mentioned in the movement section as being counted as rough going, that is the same as a hedge or area of rubble.
Looking at how rough ground affects movement I saw that it has no effect on infantry. Fair enough the game is a bit abstracted in certain areas and I can live with that. Except looking at how rough ground affects vehicles the rule doesn't work. For example scout cars can pass through rough ground if they roll a 2 or better on a D6. I'm sorry there's no way a little scout car can enter one side of a terraced house and easily pass out the other side. An intact house is very different from a hedge or area of rubble. Again this is a reasonably easy fix and one wonders why it wasn't picked up in playtesting.

But that's not the only problem with buildings and here we go back to the lack of LoS rules. Lets say my US infantry enter the rear of the church and I have a Pz IV in the field on the other side of the church. Can the Pz IV react to the infantry moving into the church and shoot them, does it see them? Yet again this is an easy fix and I can't see how this didn't come up in playtesting.

The last problem I have with the rules is how certain things are explained. I'll give you a couple of examples.

One of the rules for mortars says that you get a +1 bonus to hit as long as some part of the target hasn't moved more than 4" from where it was first targeted. This seems straightforward, it's 8+ to hit the first time and as long as part of the target is within 4" of it's original position the next time that turn you shoot at it it's a 7+ and then a 6+ etc. Except the rule goes on to explain this by saying "This means that a player cannot activate the target unit, shuffle sideways 5" and then claim its not in the target area." Now I'm not very good at maths but I think that 5" is more than 4" so it is outside the target area. This could be a typo but it might not be, it might mean something else that I'm missing.

Another example is with Reactivation. The rule says the reacting player has to say what his reaction is and pay the token cost 'before any dice have been rolled'. So what happens if the first player then fails his activation, does the reacting player still lose his token for reacting even though he has nothing now to react to. I decided that if the player fails his roll the activation didn't happen so there is nothing to react too. This maybe what was intended I have no idea.

There's other areas where things aren't as clear as they could be but these rules aren't alone in that respect.

The only other thing I would say is that these are not 'fast play' rules. Both of you will spend ages each turn deciding on what to activate and whether to react or not. Especially with games where you may have 30 or 40 tokens each like at 1000pts. You could get round this by setting a time limit for each turn and using a chess clock app on your mobile.

Overall I like the rules despite the problems I mentioned. I spent most of my time during the game working out which units to activate and whether it was worth spending a token to react to a move or not. Should I risk it and try push forward multiple times with a unit and hope I made the activation rolls and not waste limited tokens or not. In other words I was thinking about tactics not rules which is the overriding strong point for these rules. I'll be using them again now I've got my 'house rules' sorted for the things I mentioned and I expect to have lots of fun doing so.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Quick Review: Iron Cross WW2 Rules

Time for another quick review. This one features the new WW2 wargame rules 'Iron Cross' from Great Escape Games which cost £12 inc p&p. So onto the rules (here I should say that I just received my copy today so haven't had time to play an actual game.) I have now had a play through of the rules and the post can be found here.

I'd seen mention of these rules on TMP but didn't know anything about them until I listened to the Meeples & Miniatures podcast 156 which featured an in-depth interview with the rules creators.I had no real interest in a new set of WW2 rules as I felt I was pretty well catered for with Chain of Command and Battlegroup: Fall of the Reich. However listening to the podcast got me interested in them and I ended up buying a copy. What got my interest was a combination of the 'simple' mechanics/approach and the tactical depth to the gameplay.

The rules fast play approach is something that I've found more appealing lately. I've been playing a lot of Kings of War Napoleonics (a home brewed variant) and a set of rules that you can quickly explain to a new player that has them thinking about tactics rather than mechanics after a couple of turns has become more and more appealing. This is what led to buy the rules after listening to the podcast.

Some of the stuff in the rules is fairly standard, for example the rules use a D6 for morale/activation and a D10 for combat and markers to manage activations. But what is unusual is that there are no weapon ranges. If you can see it you can shoot it. Also there is no separate melee phase. At 6" range and under firing is more deadly and the close combat/grenades etc is assumed to be part of the combat at that range. This may make the rules seem too simple but they're not. The big thing that sold me was the tactical depth presented by the activation system.

You get one activation marker for each unit you have plus two from the commander and these are used to activate your units, again fairly standard stuff. Where the fun happens is how you use these markers. The player with initiative activates one unit with a marker. He can then decided if he wants to activate another unit or activate the same unit again. If the same unit is activated again he must roll a D6 and get one more than the number of activations that the unit has undertaken e.g. activating a 2nd time he needs a 2+ on a D6. But wait, there's more. His opponent can interrupt the activation and spend one of his markers to activate a unit to react to the move (for example to shoot with an anti-tank gun) but needs a 3+ on a D6 to activate the unit. So your opponent can react to your moves by spending his activation markers but the more markers he spends in reacting the less he will have for his own turn. Plus the player with initiative can at anytime pass the initiative over to his opponent who can pass it back after he has completed at least one activation. So you have a cat & mouse game with resource management. Do you risk spending a marker on reacting or do you save it, if you spent one on reacting with your anti-tank gun but it misses do you spend another or cut your losses. Do you spend markers on the same unit and push ahead to grab an objective or will it get isolated and cut down in your opponents turn. Maybe you've planned ahead and saved some markers to react and protect your advanced unit.

Although it's a bit of a hackneyed cliche the game is like chess in that the basic rules are simple but the tactical gameplay is complex. The rules only cover 11 pages of the 32 page rulebook. The rest is taken up by the four scenarios and the four late war army lists (which cover a page each) and some gameplay examples. Units are 4/5 individual figures to a unit for 28mm or 4/5 figures on a base for 15mm, tanks are based individually, support weapons have 2/3 crew per base so you can easily reuse your existing stuff without rebasing.

Other stuff to cover, a hit inflicts a morale marker on a unit (think pins from Bolt Action) infantry can have 5 markers before they are removed from play. You can spend an activation marker to try and rally a unit and remove some morale markers. Individual figures can have any weapons you like as they are not taken into account. Firing is done with a D10 and a 5+ hits modified by moving, number of morale markers etc and that's about it.

If you want some more details then I suggest you listen to the podcast I mentioned above. I'm really looking forward to giving these rules a try. Now all I have to do find which box my WW2 stuff is in, moving house really messes up your storage system. Once I've had a game I'll post an AAR and link it here.

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