When the Chinese met the train, a RCW game

In a cavalcade of firsts this Sunday, my (mostly) freshly-painted Chinese met their match in our new armed train, all being played on our new gaming mat, some 6′ by 9′ of fully flocked canvas drop cloth.

The game, a preview of Brian’s Trumpeter Salute convention game, was  the defense of a small Russian town by a combined White and Chinese force. Thankfully for the Whites, they had managed to scrounge up a field gun plus a machine gun. The wealthy Chinese warlord Wu Do also brought one along to the party. Facing against them were a large Red force, including the newly-built armed train and the armoured car.

Opening shot. Red armed train the back, Whites in the foreground. Chinese are out of shot to the left.

Due to a lot of luck, the Chinese ended up being the central troops in the game. They had lots of officers and their cards kept coming up, so they quickly occupied the central building and started taking fire. Another squad rushed up a hill, only to discover what happens when a HMG opens up on you when you cannot respond.

The maddest moment of the game came when Sean’s Reds cavalry attempted to run down the White field gun. The gun was right in the middle of town, which meant that his close assault was rudely interrupted by two squads of Chinese, including the Warlord’s aggressive Household troops. This did not end well for the Red cavalry, which were slaughtered to a man (and horse).

Red cavalry attempt to run down the White gun. Chinese infantry and Wu Do in the foreground.

By the end the train had done its job and had cleared a route into the town. We called it when it became clear that the Chinese would retreat (having no interest in defending this particular muddy bit of Russia to the death) and the Whites were too weak to hold back the largely untouched Red infantry (even if they couldn’t move due to bad card luck.)

(As usual, we used Through the Mud and Blood from Too Fat Lardies. An excellent rule set all ’round)

Chinese Warlord Cards & Blinds

Corey recently started painting up a Chinese Warlord force from Copplestone 28mm figures to extend our Russian Civil War gaming in a more Back of Beyond direction, and he’s actually getting units painted and ready for the tabletop (normally I bug him about being the world’s slowest painter…) so I sat down with Inkscape and created a basic set of cards so his Chinese Warlord forces can run in our Through the Mud & the Blood-powered games.

This isn’t quite the full set I made for the Red & White Russian forces; it’s currently missing a LOT of the cards needed for a full M&B game. It works just fine for a Chinese force allied with a White Russian force, though, which is how they’ll be appearing in the next while, until the force gets bigger.

The PDF is four pages long. The first two pages are the cards, set up to match the earlier Russian cards. Page three has the basic graphic needed for colourful markers for a Warlord force – we use these to mark units that are activated or units that are on overwatch (what M&B calls “Wait For It”). The last page is a pair of blinds.

RCW_Warlord_complete_24March2013 — PDF, 349Kb — this file is Copyright 2013 Wirelizard Design/Brian Burger; permission granted to copy or print for personal use.

I’ll do up a full set of Warlord Chinese cards eventually. When I redid all my Russian cards in January I reconfigured the SVG file in Inkscape to make it a LOT easier to edit and create new versions. I’ll also be producing a set of British cards, so my long-neglected Brits in tropical kit can join the Back of Beyond madness in proper style.

Updated M&B Russian Civil War Cards!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’ve been rebuilding the entire deck of cards needed for Through the Mud & the Blood-powered Russian Civil War large skirmishes. I first made these cards back in November 2011, and after a year of use, we realized we’d wound up scribbling extra notes and other edits all over the cards we used, so I sat down and rebuilt the entire deck to incorporate the changes and edits we’d made while using the cards.

rcw-card-splash

You can download the 9-page 2.4Mb PDF here: M&B RCW Cards PDF

There are four pages for Reds and four for Whites, with ten Big Man cards per side, ten Command Initiative cards, a full set of the basic “National Characteristic” cards as laid out in the main M&B rules, and ten more Support or blank cards so you can customize your deck and add scenario-specific cards. The front page also has two Snifter and one Blank card per the main M&B rules, so one printing of all nine pages should give you everything you need for quite large M&B games.

Feedback in the comments, if you’re having problems, find a typo, or have ideas for the next edition of these cards!

Draft Versions of New M&B Cards

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been rebuilding my Russian Civil War cards for Through the Mud & the Blood over the last few weeks. I’ve finally got the revised versions of my existing Red & White Russian card sets for RCW to a point where I’m happy with them, so for a change of pace this evening I set out to design some cards for some of the other forces we’ll have available.

rcw-card-draft-jan13

Quickly assembled screenshots of draft M&B cards, some revised, some new.

Above, a quick screenshot of the current state of my cards. The Red Russian card has slightly changed background art; all the Big Man cards have a significantly changed layout with more information, and I’ve got a basic background for both British and Warlord Chinese forces! I have a small force of British in tropical kit, and late in 2012 my brother picked up a starter force of Warlord Chinese from Copplestone, which he promises to paint up one day.

One thing I’m not sure of: flag or star insignia for the Warlord Chinese forces? The flag fits in better with my other force cards, but the star works a bit better with text on top of it, as that black stripe on the flag really gets in the way of legible text. Opinions in comments below, please!

The British are also, of course, likely to be useful for other M&B folks, so I’ll get that set done up next, probably in February after GottaCon 2013, where I’ll be running an M&B-powered RCW game!

Rebuilding my RCW M&B Cards

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.

New cards in progress – new version in the top row, originals in the lower row.

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.

The Invisibility of Good Rules

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?

Back in the Proto-USSR

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).

RCW wargame photo

Back in the Not-yet-USSR — click on the image to view larger over on Flickr.

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.

Cavalry, Armoured Cars and Other Amusements

The Sunday gaming club was pretty much at capacity today! We meet up at the University of Victoria and have a classroom reserved every Sunday, and this Sunday we had Corey and I playing Russian Civil War, three of the regulars playing 1879 Anglo-Zulu War with Two Hour Wargames’ colonial rules, and a game each of WHFB & 40K to round it out.

Our RCW game was intentionally light and quick; we had both my new armoured car and the half-painted cavalry on the table and wanted to see how these new-to-us forces ran in Through the Mud & the Blood before we got stuck into another larger game. Corey had a White cavalry squadron and a single section of White infantry, intent on rescuing the retired (but widely admired) General Alzheimerski; I took a Red Guard/partisan section, two small sections of Red sailors on trucks, and the armoured car, all under the nominal command of the hapless Commisar Blotski.

The Whites needed to get Alzheimerski to the nearest open patch of ground a British DH9 could land on, so they could bundle the old general onboard and get him to safety; getting his valuables off the table would be a bonus. The Reds were trying to capture Alzheimerski, as part of some scheme of Blotski’s to help him gain influence in Moscow.

Late in our game, the Red Guard and armoured car catch the White caravan guards while they attempt to flee!

To represent the various Red forces involved not really wanting anything to do with Blotski’s scheme, we threw a Hesitant Troops card into the mix for the Reds. The Whites also had a card for Alzheimerski, such that if his card came up before the actual officers of a unit he was attached to, he had a chance to lead that unit off on a death-or-glory charge — or he might do nothing at all…

The game started with the White cavalry, having gathered up the old man and gotten him on a horse, taking off cross country on a direct line to the planned landing zone of the British aircraft. This left the Red trucks and armoured cars at a disadvantage, as they move slower offroad than horses do. The armoured car took off to meet up with the local Red Guard, while the sailors pushed their trucks uphill a bit then began to get out, intending to get into the woods to fend off the White cavalry.

Unfortunately, that ended badly when the White horse came through the woods and down the hill much faster than the sailors were expecting. The cavalry didn’t even slow down, sabering half the sailors dead and thundering onward toward the rendezvous with the escape aircraft. (When cav catch infantry in the open in M&B, they get to double their melee dice… this lead to the cavalry having about two dozen dice in melee to the sailor’s ten or so… it was ugly.)

On the other side of the hill, the Red armoured car and Red Guard did manage to catch up to the White infantry guarding the pack train with the old General’s valuables. Two heavy machine guns and some rifle fire drove the White infantry off in short order and scattered the pack animals, who ran up the hill into the waiting arms of the surviving half of the Red sailors, who discovered that General Alzheimerski’s valuables were very valuable indeed!

We had a few questions about vehicles in M&B, which I’ll take up with the very helpful folks on the TooFatLardies mailing list, but it was a good quick game overall. The armoured car is slow, clumsy but deadly (which feels about right) and cavalry are fast and lethal when they’re able to run over unsupported infantry. I’m looking foward to more varied games now that we’ve got something other than just infantry on the table!

Fiskars Circle Cutter Review, and Markers for M&B

Back one of the before-Christmas sales, I picked up a Fiskars circle cutter on deep discount from one of the local art supply stores. It’s been on my toys-I-want list for ages, and a chance to get it at 40% was too good to pass up.

It’s proven to be a useful gadget, although with some limitations. It will cut paper, light card and styrene up to about .020″ or .030″ thickness no problem; anything heavier than that it’ll score but not cut. With thicker styrene you can score then clean up with a file or sandpaper later, but this obviously means cutting heavier card is out.

Exact alignment of the circle to be cut out can be a bit tricky, but the central rubber “foot” does pull off to reveal a more compass-like needle foot which makes alignment easier. Of course, I only realized the needle foot option existed a few days ago, when I finally got around to reading the “Instructions and Tips” PDF from Fiskar’s site. Amazing what you learn when you read the instructions, isn’t it?

The other work-around for imprecise cutting is to design graphics that don’t have to be cut terribly precisely, of course. That’s what I did when I laid out the graphics for a batch of 1″ circular markers for use in our Russian Civil War games.

fiskarcutter

On the right, the Fiskars Circle Cutter. Central, the prop disc and M&B markers cut with it. On the left, the sheet of markers I made in Inkscape.

The markers will mostly be used for showing which Big Men & units have activated in any given turn, as we noticed it can be easy to loose track of which units have been activated with multiple Big Men running around in Through The Mud & The Blood. They can also be used to mark things like sustained fire lanes for machine guns or similar, of course.

On the left of the photo, notice the sheet I laid out in Inkscape for the markers; except for the star the solid colours are fairly forgiving of cutter placement. A few of the Red star markers have had their tips clipped by the cutter, but they’re still obviously Red Army stars, so I’m not fussed. Now that I’ve discovered the cutter’s needle foot option, I should be able to cut out the remaining marker discs perfectly.

The SPAD’s prop disc was cut from leftover heavy clear plastic from a blister pack, then put down on a sheet of 600 grit sandpaper and spun by hand to get the hint of motion blur in it. I wound up taping the piece of plastic to my cutting mat, then the cutter worked nicely on it.

So, the Fiskars Circle Cutter. A useful piece of kit, within it’s limits. I’m sure I’ll get years of use out of it — but wait until you find one on sale before getting it!

RCW: Blundering Into Each Other

rcw_encounter

Early in the game, with most forces still on Blinds. Whites in the top corner, Reds in the foreground. Click through to Flickr for larger version.

We had another round of Mud & Blood powered Russian Civil War action this afternoon, with a White composite platoon under a very dynamic officer meeting a spread-out Red platoon on the outskirts of a South Russian village and defeating them fairly soundly.

Once again Stout Hearts & Iron Troopers was our starting point, this time Scenario Seven, A Baptism At Bleid, which is a German-vs-French encounter battle, with the French unit resting in a farmyard, more French off-table down the road, and the Germans coming on cautiously as everyone advances into Belgium in 1914. The scenario also has the whole table covered in thick mist, so spotting is considerably more difficult.

We swapped in White Russians for Germans and a Red Guard platoon for the French and went at it. Due to lack of painted figures we had about half the troop density the scenario calls for, but it was still a fun game and really showed the power of a high-Status Big Man in M&B. The Whites had the energetic Capt. Rumelski, Status IV, leading their composite platoon, plus Dynamic Leader (bonus Big Man moves) and Heroic Leader (one heroic act per game by a Big Man) cards in the deck. While the Whites had some initial trouble getting their platoon moving, once they got going they never stopped, and comprehensively shattered the Reds before the Red reinforcements could get onto the table to help out.

Reds scout down the road. Photo by Corey

Reds scout down the road. Photo by Corey

I was commanding the Reds, and really being too aggressive for the quality and quantity of troops I had available. I also launched one unsupported and unwise assault just because we hadn’t yet seen the M&B close combat rules in action yet. Now that we have, I won’t be doing that again… I badly damaged one White section, but utterly destroyed my largest rifle section doing so. Close combat in M&B is indeed decisive and bloody!

White Russian Cossacks. Photo by Corey

White Russian Cossacks. Photo by Corey

There’s still more Russians on my painting table, both Reds & Whites, and I’m looking forward to getting them into the game!