The boardgaming website Shut Up & Sit Down has an excellent, if slightly long, article on explaining the rules, and some of the hazards of being the explainer of rules. It ties in nicely with some of the things I’ve written here about running games at conventions and in other situations where players aren’t familiar with the rules in use.
The comments on the article have some useful followup and additional points, too.
“A Horse of a Different Colour” is nine parts long, and goes into fascinating detail about how horses get the colours they do, as well as how to paint the beasts! Part One is an introduction; Part Two talks about markings, white and otherwise, and oddities like the “bloody-shouldered grey” horse. The whole series can be found in reverse order under the horse of a different colour tag over at Trouble. Finally Part Nine is entirely on painting horses, using the stuff discussed previously to get good, interesting horses.
And yes, my renewed interest in painting horseflesh is because there’s more RCW Cossacks on the painting table, as well as a unit of Cuirassiers for my long-neglected English Civil War/Thirty Year’s War army!
As we’ve played Through the Mud & the Blood-powered Russian Civil War skirmishes over the past year or two (has it really been that long?) we’ve gradually tweaked and modified several of the custom cards we use. This has lead to a number of cards with pencilled notes all over them, a few blank cards re-purposed as hand-written replacements, and various other inelegant things, so I’m taking advantage of some post-Christmas quiet to begin rebuilding my custom card deck.
I’m starting with the Big Man cards, which are by far the most common in an M&B game deck. I’ve removed the “Big Man” text, as it’s obvious without having to be pointed out every time. Command Radius has been joined by a reminder of how much a given BM can influence Fire/Melee die rolls, and there’s space for special abilities or whatever. I’ve also gotten rid of the “Big Man #x” text, as we found we were often ignoring it in favour of a simple pencilled number at the top of a card.
I’ll be adding some notes on the rules to many of other cards, especially Heroic Leader, Dynamic Commander and Friction, which often cause confusion. As well, I’m going to do up a series of “Troop Cards”, which will be quick reference cards for the players roughly the size of recipe cards, with basic details on the troop types, equipment and vehicles in their forces.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Squamous Cthulhumas, or whatever other mid-winter holiday you celebrate!
Here’s a bit of family Christmas history to share. I might well have shown this off here on the the Warbard in the past, but I’m half-full of eggnog and can’t be arsed to search my own blog again on this Christmas Eve.
A South African relative was on the Western Front in France from Autumn 1914 onward, arriving as part of the first South African infantry contingent sent to France. These tins were the brainchild of the then-teenage Princess Mary, and sent out by the thousands to troops in France. James Elliot van der Reit was killed in action in April 1918, having survived nearly the whole of the Great War.
The tin must been returned to his family in South Africa, and was passed on to me a few years ago as part of the cleanup of my late grandmother’s house. You can see more notes and a larger version of the photo if you click on the photo and go to my Flickr account.
I was reminded of my tin (which usually lives tucked under my computer monitor) by a BBC News story about the tin boxes of gifts still sent to British troops; these Princess Mary tins were the first of what has become a standing tradition for the British military.
In some ways, this smallish order of Ainsty resin scenery bits has been a decade in the making; I discovered Ainsty sometime in the very late 1990s or early 2000s, and even though I didn’t (at that point) do much in the way of skirmish gaming in 25/28mm, the huge variety of neat stuff Ainsty made stuck with me! So back in November I finally got around to throwing a bit of money Ainsty’s way, on a mix of scenic details that will see service in various pulp skirmish adventures, Russian Civil War battles, and who knows where else.
Here’s a quick late-night snapshot of what I got:
General sculpting and casting quality is good and clean, although a number of the pieces have a slightly slick, greasy feel to the touch, almost certainly from the mold release used. A good scrub with dish soap and warm water should take care of that, and it should also help get rid of the last of the faint but definite smell of outgassing resin I got when I first unpacked the pieces from the small plastic bags each set was carefully packed in.
Clockwise from top left, here’s a quick review of what I got.
Top left is Trade Goods J Stacked Sacks, three each of four different roughly square sets of stacked sacks. They’re all about 1″ a side at the base, and the tallest stacks are just over 1″ tall. They’ll provide useful cover for docks and warehouses, although a bit more fabric texture on the sacks would have been nice.
Moving clockwise, I got two sets of Trade Goods B Tea Chests. This is described as 18 chests, but it’s really four stacks and three single tea chests. Again, useful cover, and like sacks, the sort of terrain bit that you could build yourself, but which can be fiddly and frustrating to mass-produce at home. I could definitely see throwing another set or two of these into any future Ainsty order; you can never have enough crates cluttering up warehouses in pulp games, especially if they’re in precarious, badly stacked piles just waiting to topple onto someone!
Bottom right we have Trade Goods L Mixed Piles x 4, which is a neat little set of crates, bales, barrels and sacks, up to about 3/4″ tall. This is pretty close to “universal cargo” for anytime from the early-mid 20th Century back at least four or five centuries. Each of the four piles is different, with two of mixed crates, sacks and other baggage, one pile of three canvas bales and one of three small-to-medium wooden barrels.
Moving clockwise once more to bottom centre, we have Mixed Memorials x4, which is a nice mix-and-match set of four bases and four tops for memorials or possibly fancy gateposts. The four base pieces are each different, with two of them having very fine (probably laser-etched?) lettering on the molded plaques on one face. The four top pieces are also each different, with two slightly different obelisk toppers and two lower pieces. One of the bases arrived with a minor chip off one corner, but given that full size monuments out in the real world get dings and chips too, I’m not going to worry about it. The tops of all the bases are finished, so you could even leave the toppers off for further variety. One of the low toppers has been sanded at a bit of a rakish angle on it’s bottom suface, but a few passes on sandpaper will correct that enough to be invisible.
At the centre of the group we have Upright Headstones x8, which are by far the most detailed pieces in my order. Each of the eight headstones is unique, and I’m almost certain they’ve been laser etched, as the lettering is actually completely readable despite being under 2mm tall. The headstones commemorate Kurt Cobain, Bella Lugosi, Gandhi, and others, including two with “A Soldier of the Great War/Known Unto God” on them, which is the wording used for unidentified soldiers buried in the Commonwealth Wargraves Commission’s cemeteries from World War One. My only minor complaint is the massive size of these headstones; the tallest is a full inch tall, or nearly shoulder height on a standing 28mm figure. There certainly are headstones this massive in real life, but memorial stones about 2/3rds this size seem a lot more common in most cemeteries I’ve seen. One of the stones had a tiny casting flaw in each side, but those will be easy to file into minor damage to the stone and won’t be an issue.
Finally, bottom left we have Trade Goods K Rifle Cases x5, with two closed and three open wooden crates holding rifles. One of the seperate crate lids has a rifle resting on it; the open crates show one or two rifles each and the greased cloth that would have been used as packing to preserve and secure the rifles. Everyone always needs more guns (well, in games, anyway), so I suspect these are going to get a lot of use in all sorts of scenarios, as loot or as objective markers of sorts. The detail is very nice on this set, with good wood grain in the crates and enough detail in the rifles to make it obvious what they are. These crates would be suitable from about the mid-19th Century up to modern day, depending on where your adventure was set.
I will definitely put another order in to Ainsty at least once in 2013, after I get this current order all painted up. Shipping time from the UK to Canada was fast, although Ainsty obviously does a lot of it’s casting to order, as there was a delay of about three weeks (November 17th to December 10th) between placement and shipping of my order. The usual fast Royal Mail-Canada Post connection worked nicely in my favour, as it usually does, though, so overall order time was entirely reasonable.
More (with better photos!) as I paint up and finish all the various bits I’ve just acquired!
(oh, and in honour of this being published on December 21st 2012: If you can read this, congratulations, the Mayan Apocalypse never happened. What a surprise…)
No, not rules for Frodo sneaking up on Smaug with that useful ring of his (although possibly related), but the trick of having good rules that you know moderately well become invisible in play, so that you concentrate on gameplay and tactics rather than the minutiae of the rules.
This was prompted by something Sean, our newbie Through the Mud & the Blood player, said right at the end of last Sunday’s M&B-powered Russian Civil War game. I’m paraphrasing slightly, but he said something to the effect of, “I liked that the rules got out of the way and let you just play the game, rather than having to stop every two minutes to look up some special rule or try to interpret something out of a Codex that seems to contradict what’s in the main rulebook.”
This struck me as a useful expansion on something I’ve mentioned here before and long held as a personal tenant, that you should value flow of the game and fun value over nitpicking details of the rules you’re using. The additional thought is that good rules will assist with this process rather than hinder it. This might seem obvious, but it bears pointing out.
I posted this to the TooFatLardies mailing list, and Richard Clarke, the author of the Mud & Blood rules, replied, “Music to my ears. I keep banging on about how rules should be as “invisible” as possible, so it’s good to hear stories like that one.”
Any set of rules, even the most complex RPG rules, can become relatively invisible if enough people in the group know them well enough, but elegantly written rules let you pull the trick off faster. Off the top of my head, two other rules systems that become nearly invisible in play and are also personal favourites are the old fantasy battle game Hordes of the Things (a variant of the famous DBA) and the fantasy skirmish system Songs of Blades & Heroes from Ganesha Games. It’s also one of the attractions of playing an unfamiliar set of rules at a convention, where the details of the rules are the referee’s problem and you can concentrate on getting your troops to do things and rolling the dice when the ref tells you to.
Anyone got any other “invisible” rules to recommend, ones that get out of your way and let you concentrate on tactics and flow instead of the rules?
Ran my first miniatures game in ages yesterday (Sunday), with a friend running the defending Whites and a co-worker/friend who’d never played Through the Mud & the Blood before running the attacking Reds. I gave the attackers about a 30% manpower advantage, although they were short of decent officers (as the Reds tended to be, especially earlier in the Russian Civil War).
The photo is from fairly early in the game, with Sean’s Reds working their way around and over the ridge with the chapel of St. Boris the Intoxicated on it. The Reds wound up taking up a firing line along the hedges on the far side of the ridge and clearing the hamlet beyond with sheer weight of fire, while the Red sailors on the far left worked their way across the hedges, trying single-handedly to assault the right flank of the White village. Supported by fire from the ridge they did succeed in destroying one White section entirely, but at ferocious cost to themselves – nearly 50% casualties. Other Red casualties were fairly light, while the Whites got pasted, taking at least 30% casualties to their entire force, two rifle sections rendered non-functional and the other two withdrawing at the end of the game with a few casualties each.
While both players had fun, and so did I, I’ll do a few things differently next time I run a game like this. I should have thrown a Reinforcements card into the deck for the Whites, with some reinforcements (another rifle section or two, or maybe something more potent like an armoured car) coming in after X turns of that card. I was also shocked at how rusty I’d become about the M&B rules. We did movement through rough ground wrong for the first few turns, which really made the initial Red advance a slog — thankfully they were mostly sheltered behind the ridge, so the only effect was to make the first few turns more boring! Thankfully, everything I got wrong affected both sides more or less equally, so while it irritated me it didn’t screw the game up too badly.
Sean, the Red player, had never played Mud & Blood before. I’m not sure, but this might have been his first non-GW miniatures game ever. He’s stoked for more, enjoyed the rules, and I’m sure we’ll have him back in the proto-USSR in the New Year. He said some interesting things about Mud & Blood that I’ll expand upon in a future post, too.
Over a year ago, in July 2011, I wrote a long article called Great War Resources with links to the Internet Archive and other places you could find resources of interest to Great War/World War One wargaming.
Here’s a bit of a long-delayed followup, the result of an evening wandering the (virtual) aisles of the US Army’s Combined Arms Research Library (CARL) website. My original post mostly had material from the Internet Archives and just a bit from CARL, as I’d only just discovered that resource. CARL material is biased toward the last two years of the Great War, 1917 & 1918. Given that this is an American military library we’re using, it’s only natural it would have more material for the years when the Americans finally realized there was a war on and joined in. Also, there was a huge outpouring of studies and material from all the combatants as the war ground onward, and as I mentioned in my original article, on the Allied side lot of it was deliberately aimed at bringing the newly-arrived Americans up to speed as rapidly as possible in the harsh environment of the Western Front.
To get the best PDF files quickly from a individual CARL listing, use the pale blue “Download” button on the far right of the page, opposite the title. That’ll get you a PDF with a human-readable filename, which is useful. Using the red-and-white PDF symbol gets you the same file, but with a random alphanumeric filename, kind of hard to keep track of once it lands on your own hard drive!
One easy way to sort through the Obsolete Military Manuals material is to sort by date of original publication. I can’t find a way to save links to specific searches (they time out) but use the Advanced Search dropdown on the top bar (beside the search box) and then use the Search By Date function at the bottom of that dropdown. There’s a few random bits and pieces in the 1914-1916 range, then a positive explosion of material from early 1917 onward.
Found any treasures on CARL or elsewhere that I haven’t mentioned? Post them in the comments, please! (Note that comments are moderated, especially if they have multiple links in them, but I do check up on the moderation queue regularly!)