Being a completionist with board game reviews

MassiveBoardGameCollectionI don’t have a huge board game collection. It’s pretty modest. And over the years I thought it better to put up reviews for smaller titles or ones that seemed more the new hotness within the gaming circle buzz I hear. I didn’t feel a need to put up my thoughts for all the board games I own.

However I’ve sort of had a change of heart recently. Looking back, I realize there’s a reason why I’ve picked up certain games. Seems there is more than just being a fun game, but that they have mechanisms that satisfy a type gaming experience I want. They fit within my collection and fill in particular gaps with the types of games I own.

In that aspect I think there is something more to talk about with the games I have. So to that end, I’ll likely start going through my collection and begin to compile my opinions on them. Expect to see a few more board game reviews in the future.

Review: Space Hulk: Death Angel

shdeathangelSpace Hulk was always a favorite Ameritrash board game of mine. While it eventually got bloated with a lot of different expansions, the core game was a fun asymmetrical romp as one group were armored marines with big guns and the other a stealthy group of terrifying aliens seeking to surround and eventually overrun their opponent in hand to hand (or more aptly fangs and claws). It went out of print long ago but occasionally GW reintroduces it for a limited print run. It’s a fun game but not something I think worth picking up again especially as there are other options out there which are better games and just as fun (cough… Level 7: Omega Protocol… cough).

Nonetheless, Space Hulk has that draw and interestingly was something mined for a co-op strategy card game via Fantasy Flight Games. Space Hulk: Death Angel is a cooperative 1-5 player game, where players are teams of 40K space marines exploring a derelict spacecraft, seeking to purge it from genestealers during a salvage operation. They will either succeed in establishing the win condition at a final location (usually by eliminating all the genestealers), or die trying.

Players select a pair of combat teams, commonly one ‘regular Joe’ space marine and the other a special marine. They also get a specific deck of action cards that either allow the space marine team to move and activate a terrain card, support another marine, or attack. The special marine sometimes has different weaponry but will also have a particular ability associated with one of the action cards. So they might be able to do a cool attack with the attack action card, or shift around genestealers with a movement action card, etc.

After players select their combat teams, they line up in a random order in a straight line. The top group in the line facing one direction with the lower half facing the opposite direction. The players have to go through a series of locations represented by a deck. Depending on the number of players, there will always be a specific start location. However for the remaining deck, it will be randomly constructed from three possible cards for each location.

Players have to get through all four location cards and complete the end task on the final card (this doesn’t include the initial starting location for a total of 5 different areas). As a location card is revealed, additional terrain cards are placed in the line of marines representing doors, tight corners, or ventilation shafts. These terrain locations indicate potential spawn points for genestealers.

Players go through action cards in their hand and select one which both marines in their combat team will take for the turn. Each action card has a sequential number and turn order for actions occur based on them. After all the marines have completed their action, remaining genestealers in the area attack the space marines.

Finally, a random event is drawn to end out the turn. Sometimes it’s a boon for players but typically it is some added difficulty like genestealers shifting attack positions, or a marine’s weapon jamming up. The event cards also indicate where more genestealers will spill into the current area by drawing cards from specific piles. Lastly, some groups of aliens might also shift around based on having symbols that match with the drawn event card (more on that later).

Each marine has a range with their weapon showing the number of cards on either side in the formation line which they can shoot. They also have to be facing the direction of aliens they attack, rolling a d6 with special icons. The die has numbers ranging from 0 to 5, and half the faces have a skull icon. If the player rolls a skull icon they remove one genestealer card from the area (so a 50% chance).

When marines are attacked, they have to roll greater than the number of genestealer cards attacking them. So if they are facing five or more cards, they are dead. If a player loses both marines under their control, they are out of the game. Players can get around this by spending support tokens. They allow them to reroll either attack or defense rolls. However this can only be used on groups of genestealers that they are facing. If attacked from behind, they can’t get any rerolls.

Once a turn is over, players cannot use that action card for the next turn (and keep track using special tokens). Instead they have to choose one of the other two options in their hand. This restriction of actions, importance of orientation, and constant random shifting of genestealers means the limits of choices in marine actions lead to tough choices. You will be constantly wrangling your reduced options with other combat teams, trying to attack when you can, maneuver to offer support in future rounds, and pass off support tokens to other teams if needed.

Each location has a limited number of genestealer spawns. As cards are removed from their piles and added to the area (or are eliminated), the piles become exhausted and this becomes a condition to draw another location card. The marines essentially move deeper into the space hulk with new genestealer blip (spawn) piles created and new terrain cards added. The kicker is that all the genestealers from the previous location shift along in the same positions as the previous location. With more creatures constantly being added to the area, the threat of being overwhelmed ramps up. So the players are under constant pressure to keep destroying genestealers.

Not being able to freely select all your actions each turn is where Death Angel shines. Sometimes it can be agonizing to decide what to do and occasionally you have to sacrifice a marine so that others can fight on. It can be heroic and frustratingly challenging.

The Good – It’s a fun engaging game with some difficult choices. Despite being just a card game, it does manage to capture that feel of a group of marines exploring as you overturn new location cards, ever building up the tension as the hordes of genestealers keep coming, all the while ones from previous areas spill over into new sections of the ship.

The combat is brutally simple, but the positioning and management of limited actions adds to it. There is a small variety of location cards adding some replay value. Given that some locations have special abilities (like a means to teleport all creatures in play into space, or doors to cut off routes for the genestealers), this also adds some other key tasks for the players to focus on instead of just shooting genestealers. The cards are nice stock with the great, classic, gothic sci-fi artwork that you’d expect from the 40K universe. The designs and icons on the cards are also well done once you decipher what the particular symbols represent.

The Bad – Although it is a co-op game, there is still player elimination. Given that combat is so unforgiving, you can potentially see a team get eliminated early which sort of sucks for that player. While there are only 3 cards of each location type, given you have a total of 4 locations to go through, there is a decent variety in the box. The same however can’t be said for the space marines. After a few plays you’ll likely slip into using favorite teams with some having abilities that are more applicable in multiple situations compared to others (hence, you might consider them ‘better’ choices).

The game has a large amount of luck. Particularly with the position shifting of genestealer hordes at the end of each phase. You can have a great setup and support tokens to mitigate bad die rolls some, only to have it all fall apart as a horde of aliens have suddenly merged into another group and flanked a key marine. Along with this are some downright painful event cards (like some that can eliminate a marine instantly), all of which contributes to a game that might be too chaotic for some. While I like the randomness, you can indeed manage to get a series of bad draws of event cards that can pretty much tank your game.

The Verdict – I enjoy Space Hulk: Death Angel. It’s an enjoyable co-op strategy game that is light enough to get into quickly but still offers difficult choices. It has enough randomness in the setup and play to add replay which will break away from repeatedly using the same game to game strategies. The only stickler is that I wish there were a few more options for combat teams, or a variety of ability cards for existing marines.

This isn’t the same tactical experience of the original board game. However it’s still pretty fun and even in its abstract form of cards and piles of genestealers shifting around, you still get that experience a little of tense exploration, never quite knowing what the next section of the ship will hold. I think the limited action choice from turn to turn encourages you to talk with other players and try to get some synergy with tactics. Also, it provides a demanding solo play experience too. Given the small box and price, there is a lot of fun to be had inside. If wanting an abstract, tactical game with a sci-fi twist, this isn’t a bad choice.

[UPDATE: Some big news came out a few weeks ago regarding the licensing of GW IP and Fantasy Flight. Appears FF will not be continuing GW games. So it’ll be interesting to see if Death Angel gets picked up by someone else.]

Terrene – a Savage Worlds fantasy setting

For a long time I had Expeditions of Amazing Adventure going which was a series of posts on some manner of a location or culture that could serve as a springboard for an adventure. Primarily my inspiration was a picture and I’d whip up some fantasy locale and occasionally throw in some adventure hooks. It was all very general and my original focus was for 4E D&D.

That series of posts grew and eventually I had a ton of posts. So much so I compiled them into their own section. But it sort of lingered in my brain to do something more with it. I rolled around the idea of maybe compiling them together in a campaign setting.

For my 4E game I ended up making my own setting thrown onto a map from Warhammer. Mixing in the points of light setting along with tweaks I made (using the map as fodder for names), I ended up with Terrene. For well over a year, it was home to my players for our 4E campaign.

I stopped playing 4E and drifted over to Savage Worlds, but the thought of revisiting Terrene was still there. So I looked over at my expeditions blog posts and decided to write them up as part of a generic fantasy setting for the world of Terrene. Adding a sparse bit of rules and some twists to the SW Fantasy Companion, I ended up with a pretty open setting with a few key points:

Few new rules and edges – There are a smattering of new things in the setting. I pretty much wanted to keep it a vanilla setting easily sticking with the SWD and Fantasy Companion books. I have a new race, a new humanoid monster type, and sprinkled in a default skill choice for all of the races.

Portal gates – One quick means of getting around would be through portal gates that allowed instantaneous transportation, but at the same time it is unreliable. Maybe players will land at their intended destination, or maybe not. I think this helps facilitate grand adventures. If the players want to take off to the frigid north or steaming jungles, they have the means to do so and not get mired down in spending weeks or months on the road.

However the travel comes at a cost. Maybe you’ll end up where you want and maybe you’ll end up stuck deep underground in the middle of some lost city. I dig that and it can make for some fun adventures. The portal gates open doors for adventure, not close them off.

No one major power – The Empire exists but there are lots of other kingdoms. The Empire is not necessarily a force of good either. Many leaders, nobles, and lords have selfish interests. This allows for players to be heroes in the world, or be able to serve as mercenaries to the highest bidder if they wish.

There is also some room to play off other powers, be in wars, or take part in espionage if players want. Competing regions means there’s some room for players to have some fun working for different kingdoms, or potentially carve out their own fiefdom.

Long history and fallen cultures – The Pomdarians that are somewhat of a mystery. They are this ancient race of lizard folk that had an immense empire and then overnight they disappeared. What happened to them? There was the entire continent of Alondarra that sank to the bottom of the ocean. What became of them? Over thousands of years many races reached epochs and declined, leaving a wake of ruins and treasure to be found. That makes for some interesting stuff to base adventures on.

So you can find Terrene and a basic map in the downloads section. Admittedly a lot of the the location names are awful. I hobbled myself originally sticking with some goofy alliteration for the expedition posts, but they are serviceable (and certain folks will be changing them). However I hope folks find some useful stuff here for their games.Willingham-Centaur

 

Boardgaming in Korea: First Alleyway

Over the years I’ve covered a lot of board game shops and board game cafes in Seoul but I’d be remiss to not mention my hometown, Gwangju. For several years now there has been a local haunt for tabletop folks at an eatery, The First Alleyway. This isn’t a place that sells any games or gaming supplies. It’s a full up restaurant. However you’ll find it’s a place open to folks playing games at the establishment.

AlleywayA

The place is well lit with several tables that can handle 4 people spaciously, or smaller tables for couples that can be shifted around to accommodate larger groups. While it doesn’t sell board games, there is a decent selection of games on hand. The choices lean towards lighter fare like King of Tokyo, Smallworld, Settlers of Catan, and Ticket to Ride, but a few meaty games like Dominion can be found too.

Just one of the various game shelves throughout the place.

Just one of the various game shelves throughout the place.

The policy of the place for playing games is relaxed. As long as people are buying food and drinks, the owner is open to people playing games at the tables. However on some packed nights during the early evening rush, they might gently ask some folks to move over to tables by the bar if people are more inclined to be just drinking coffee and water.

The interesting news for the place is that the second floor of the building will be open soon exclusively for gaming. A handful of tables will be set up, along with a more extensive game library including RPGs and classic hex and counter wargames (the owner has a soft spot for ASL). There is also a larger table set up for miniature wargaming along with another room that will be host for workbenches if people need some dedicated space for painting.

Now I’ve focused on the gaming potential of First Alleyway which is possible here, but understand you are playing at a public restaurant, so expect all the limitations and issues that come with that. But there are also some major plusses in the manner of craft beers and great western food. A staple selection of hamburgers, (real) pizza, sandwiches, and salads can be found on the menu. Not to mention a variety of offerings for the classic Canadian comfort food, poutine. The place also has a full bar with staff more learned in the art of pouring cocktails than some other places in the city. And their selection of beer is top notch.

AlleywayB

Its location and more info can be found on their facebook page. Gwangju is known for its Korean food. If you ever visit Korea, you are doing a disservice to yourself not to eat local. Yet if spending some time in Korea you might eventually have a hankering for something a little closer to home, and this restaurant certainly fits the bill. However if you are keen on checking out the local gaming scene, the First Alleyway is a must stop. A great place to play board games and at the very least have a drink or two.

Random Sci-fi adventure generator

TravellerArtASo my sci-fi Savage Worlds game is chugging along. Generally it’s a big sandbox game. The players are flying around in the Scalawag and seeing what trouble they can get into. I employ a sci-fi version of a job board. Each system they jump into they have a few options on employment opportunities. For my game I scooped up the idea of Traveller’s FTL travel. You jump so many parsecs and it takes about a week in this alternate space, regardless of the actual distance traveled. In effect is this age of sail feel for the game, allowing players to potentially run from the law or bounty hunters (and making pursuits after baddies all that more aggravating).

I also fell in love with an idea from Traveller Patrons books. Essentially when the PCs get a patron, after making the initial meet and accepting a job, the GM rolls a d6. While the typical results mean that opposition or the expected situation is what the patron described, there is a chance things could be far more difficult, or that the entire situation is not what it initially seems. I loved this concept as I’m certain I tend to telegraph any secret intentions from NPCs. Not to mention this sort of mirrors events in real life. Sometimes things are a lot easier than expected and sometimes well… sh%t happens and everything goes pear shaped.

A fan made supplement I’ve long gushed over, Savage Space, has a great adventure generator. But I wanted to tweak it some. I expanded the potential outcomes and settled on a series of 8 x 8 tables. As a GM you roll two different colored d8 to represent the rows and columns of the tables. In general an adventure framework is:

Players must [Do][Something] at [Location] against [Opposition].

So I have a series of tables for the Do, Opposition, Something, etc. As a twist, sometimes the players might have to go through some hoops to complete an adventure. Success or failure from previous adventures might impact future tasks, so I created another chart to mimic that. This would also potentially throw in complications to the adventure. To add some structure, certain types of adventures would utilize particular types of side missions, and additional charts I whipped up reflect that.

The end result you can find in my downloads section. This adventure generator isn’t perfect and sometimes you get some wacky combinations that need to be reworked some. However I’ve been surprised how flexible it is. It really has become a great way to spark adventure ideas and a helpful tool for creating a foundation for a potential mission. Hope folks find some use for it in their games.

Bolt Action: Empires in Flames

EmpiresInFlamesWarlord games has been diligently releasing their theater specific books and I was able to finally snag a copy of Bolt Action: Empires in Flames, their Pacific campaign book. This details quite a few parts of the entire Pacific and East Asia conflict from the initial invasions of Japan into China during the second Sino-Japanese war, engagements in Burma, to the final allied island-hopping offensive to take back territory from Japan. As with many of the previous books it not only covers some scenarios, special troop types, and unique rules for these games, but also provides brief historical background overviews of the conflicts.

The book is broken down into sections first dealing with the 1937 outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, then detailing the rapid conquests Japan had during the initial part of WW2, up to the final years of the war (with Burma and the other major allied offensives being their own section). There are only 8 scenarios listed in the book, but taking a page from Ostfront, there are lists of scenarios out of the main Bolt Action book that are recommended as ones that would be applicable for that period of the war.

Although the scenario count is limited, many have some unique layouts in terrain to give them a twist from your typical games. Additionally, they employ some special rules incorporating night fighting, mines, or amphibious assaults, or ones more specific to the stress troops had in a jungle environment (like exhaustion, monsoon rains, or deep mud). There are also quite a few suggestions for the density and type of terrain that should be on the table for these games. I’ll admit it’s a little disappointing more rules weren’t included but there is enough to add some wrinkles to your typical game which could capture that feel of jungle fighting.

One thing that stands out included in the book is a complete army force list for Chinese national forces. If hankering to duke it out during the initial Japanese invasion into China, this book has you covered with some Japanese theater specific lists. But along with that is a complete list of units and vehicles that would be thematic for the Chinese national army at the time. It certainly is a very niche force, but an interesting option if looking for something different in your typical Pacific theater games.

Along with this new force list are also some new units for both Japan and the allies (both US and Britain), including rules for Mongolian Russian troops. There are a sparse number of heroes and a few vehicles. Most of the new units are for infantry troop selections. Rules for horse limbers and mule-packed guns are also presented as troop options.

Amphibious rules are presented, as well as rules for night fighting, city fighting, and minefields. There are some additional rules that attempt to capture the challenges of fighting in the jungle (monsoon rains and deep mud). Another interesting rule tweak is exhaustion. This rule potentially strips away troops from infantry and artillery units. Exhaustion can also impeded Run orders (units must always check leadership, even with no pins) and units in reserve are more difficult to bring in. It’s a bit of a gamble if playing with the jungle specific rules for exhaustion as it can randomly effect just the attacker or just the defender (or possibly both sides).

The Good – The book provides a nice overview of the different types of engagements that typified warfare in WW2 for this region. Touching on the years up to the start of the war, along with the initial part of the Japanese military campaign is also welcomed, as it’s something not quite visited in typical WW2 rules.

The theater-specific rules are okay and having additional units are always welcomed. The detailed scenarios aren’t groundbreaking but do offer some different challenges from your standard Bolt Action game. It’s especially nice to have a complete army list and theater-selectors for a Chinese national force, which certainly stands out from your regular Pacific wargame book.

As with many other Osprey books, the art is great. It’s well organized and having the special rules dedicated in a single section at the end of the book is nice.

The Bad – There is a lot of ground and history to cover, but it would have been nice to provide some more scenarios. As with many of the other books, a fair number of scenarios are presented more as generic battles with a Pacific flavor rather than detailing a specific battle. Even though the horse limber rules are presented again, it’s a shame the rules for flag bearer units weren’t included.

The Verdict – Empires in Flames is a niche book. It certainly is for a player wanting to focus on the Pacific war. Most of the rules covered have been seen elsewhere in other campaign books (although it’s nice to have them collected in one book here again). So if looking for tons of new rules, some might be disappointed.

Additionally the number of scenarios provided might be considered a little sparse. However the ones provided offer a nice snapshot of the particular types of battles seen in the Pacific. There are quite a few suggestions for table layouts, special rules, and theater-selector lists to use too.

I think Osprey has hit their stride with putting these campaign books out. Empires in Flames manages to present a wide range of different conflicts in the Asian region well. I don’t consider this book a must have for everyone. But if war in the Pacific is your bag, you’d be remiss not to pick up this campaign book. It’s got a lot of meat in between its pages to keep a Bolt Action fan happy.

Review: Harbour

From Tasty Minstrel Games, Harbour is a 1-4 player game where players are competing trade brokers in a fantasy harbour. It is a compact game that will play in about 45 minutes or so, easily allowing you to get in a few games in one sitting. It revolves primarily around selling and producing goods, all the while trying to buy up special buildings for additional options during your turn and victory points. Once a player has a total of 5 buildings (including their starting warehouse building), the game ends.

Turns run pretty simple. A player moves their meeple to an unoccupied building, and then takes the action on the building to the best of their ability. If goods are sold, the market is adjusted to reflect new prices and the next player takes their turn. Simple.

Each player has an initial warehouse building which tracks the number of different goods that they hold. There are four types of goods (fish, stone, wood, and cattle) and the price of these goods range from $2-5 dollars. Paired with these prices is a required minimum number of goods for that particular type which must be in your warehouse if wanting to sell. As a mental cheat sheet, the price of a resource equals the minimum number of stored goods (so if stone was $3, you’d need at least 3 stone in your warehouse).
HarbourCover
The catch to this is once you sell a good, you sell everything, regardless of the actual price of the goods. So if you’ve got 5 wood stored away and decide to sell it for a measly $2, you have to unload all of it. None of it can be saved for later sales (although certain building types allow you to bypass this restriction).

Added to this is a very fluctuating selling market. It’s hard to describe effectively without diagrams, but essentially goods that are sold move down a track and reenter the market at the lowest value. All unsold goods move up in cost (and the required number of stored goods needed to sell). Depending on the value of the good sold, you can really shake up the market. Low value resources won’t change the market much, but selling higher value goods can really alter the prices of everything else. What compounds this is that most buildings are $6-8 so you are always selling 2 or more resources to get the cash needed to purchase them.

Aside from a winning condition, owning buildings means that other players have to pay a good to use it. Buildings themselves have different abilities which typically allow for the gain of goods coupled with losing some others that are owned, or the shifting of the market. Some buildings also have other properties that allows for storage of more resources, cheaper building prices, or allowing a player to use an opponent’s building for free.

Players can purchase a limited choice of buildings out of a deck of 36 different kinds. Most abilities for buildings are shifting the loss of a few goods to get a small gain in another, or just adding one or two goods to your warehouse. There are a few buildings that allow for gaining of more resources depending on owning particular building icons. However these are few and far between.

Another layer of variation is that the game comes with different player abilities and starting buildings. You have the option of starting out with everyone having a generic player mat. But you can also choose from 14 different player mats with different abilities and matching building types. So out of the box there is quite a lot of variety making room for a different play experience from game to game. You also can play the game solo playing against an AI opponent, so you can stretch the game play even further

The Good – Harbour is a fun little game of worker placement and resource selling. There is a surprising amount of variation in building and player types that give the game a lot of replay. It plays pretty fast and the manipulation of market prices and gaining of select goods is engaging. It’s not overly complicated but certainly will make you think some in how to tangle out what goods to work on and the opportune time to sell and purchase buildings. The artwork is light and whimsical capturing a fun fantasy theme of a fictitious harbor. You get nice, thick, card stock building cards and chunky, wooden resource tokens too.

The Bad – While the market moves prices in an interesting way, it practice it becomes exceedingly difficult to predict. It’s almost too volatile in a 3-4 player game and certainly favors the player that can jump into selling goods early. While there is some room for having a combination of buildings to gain a lot of resources, typically you are only having a net gain of 1 to 2 goods a turn.

This leads into my major gripe with the game. It just seems to end too quickly. You really can’t construct an engine with owned buildings before the game ends. It also creeps into a snowball effect for the few players in the lead. Once they have an advantage of a building or two, it’s almost impossible to catch up.

The Verdict – Harbour is an okay game. Hands down for the price you are paying (less than $20) it’s an immense value. The small box offers a lot of replay and can even offer an engaging solo game. However, while there is room to explore different strategies there never seems enough time to fully develop them.

You’re in a frantic race to gain the right goods at the right time and if you miss out, you can really fall behind. If an opponent is in the lead and can capitalize on another market opportunity, you’ll find yourself in a deep hole that’s too hard to get out of for a victory. So you have to usually jump into buying what buildings you can afford right now, over planning a turn or two to try and pick up other buildings that could offer a deeper ability interaction with others you own.

In the end, I don’t find Harbour a bad game. For such a small package, there is a lot of enjoyable game in the box. But it’s not an amazing game. While the play is engaging and you have some interesting choices, the market is so volatile and the building types so limited in function, it doesn’t allow for a lot of strategic maneuvering. It’s an enjoyable game. But oddly for how much it allows for some careful planning and thoughtful choices during play, other bits like the constant market price swings just make that decision process squandered some.

I think the most saving grace is the price, box size, and card variety. It leaves a small footprint on your shelf and doesn’t sink deep into your wallet. If looking for a relatively light worker placement game with some market interaction, Harbour isn’t a horrible buy and you can squeeze a large amount of play out of it without it getting repetitive.

[House Rule: Players only get to use another player’s building for free if they own more top hat buildings than their opponent. Getting top hat buildings is pretty easy to do. This tweak allows for an advantage if a player delves into owning multiple top hat buildings allowing for a potential strategy. As RAW, it’s a little too to easy to counter by simply gaining one top hat building.]

Dropping Swimming and Climbing skills (or how I learned to love Athletics)

TravellerArtCQuite a while back I talked about some of the fan made settings I liked. One was a great classic space opera ruleset called, Savage Space. There were some really cool ideas in that one, and I latched onto it and used Savage Space to port over to a some other conversions I whipped up.

Savage Worlds doesn’t get saddled down with a lot of different skills. However occasionally you get a few that sort of overlap, or mushroom into a ton of different options that just don’t really amount to much practical differentiation in actual play. The Investigation and Streetwise skill come to mind. Yes there is a difference in how the skills are applied and how they are supposed to work in specific situations. However I can see some players making an argument that either could be applicable to particular challenges.

One that certainly stood out to me was the swimming and climbing skills. A ways back I was working on a Traveller hack using Savage Worlds and ran into this skill problem with swimming and climbing. Traveller uses Athletics as a catch all skill for tests of physical activity. You were never penalized for not having it, and could always test against strength, dexterity, or endurance if needed. But a good way to show you had all round physical prowess were skill levels in Athletics.

While digging through Savage Space, I saw the writer picked up on the same vibe. Climbing and swimming were not skills in that setting. Instead a uniform skill called Athletics was used. I loved it. As RAW, if most characters wanted some decent representation of physical ability they would need to spend 4 points, both to raise swimming and climbing to d6. That is a chunk of points and nearly a third taken up for something that would likely be used in limited situations. There should be other (and better) options.

I’m running another sci-if game and certainly wanted to revisit this again. So I latched onto the idea of an athletics skill. A skill that could represent the overall physical ability of a character. The pickle was would I tie it to strength or agility? So I decided to use both. The skill below has sort of become my go-to skill to cover a lot of physical tests:

Athletics (Agility or Strength, see below)
Points used to raise this skill are either based on Agility or Strength, whichever die type is higher for the wild card. This skill replaces Climbing and Swimming from the Savage Worlds rule book. This skill is also applicable for tests of physical ability. It represents the overall fitness of the character and how well they might complete some physical tasks. If a character was a professional athlete they would likely have at least a d8 for this skill.

Wargames Factory Saxon Thegns

As I mentioned awhile back I’ve been dragging my feet some painting up my SAGA warbands. I wanted to have some flexibility with my models and opted to pick up a few more sets of figures to build both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Dane warbands. Further a lot of battle board abilities for Anglo-Saxons revolve around 10 man units. Having a lot of warriors seems the way to go, so I wanted quite a few models to explore these abilities more.

Wargames Factory’s Saxon Thegns come 32 figures per box. There are plenty of head, shield, and weapon options. A few standards and horns are provided. While not specific for SAGA you also get a lot of bows which are great for other game systems (cough…Frostgrave…cough) and if looking to combine this with other plastic unarmored Saxon sets, a good way to have plenty of bows for your levies. There are also hefty 2 handed Dane axes allowing you to deck out some hearthguard if wanted. My one complaint with the weapons would be that the spears look a little anemic.WargamesFactSaxC

My other complaint would be the necks of the models. The manufacturer suggests cutting down the neck some before assembly. This is a bit of a pain and can be difficult to get just right. Fortunately the models are plastic and with the right amount of glue and pressure, you can get them assembled in due order. I would recommend going for a more viscous plastic cement. The figures fit well together, but you might want to fill the gaps in some for the arms.WargamesFactSaxA

The hands are modeled open to allow different arms to be placed in. The thumbs look a bit odd sticking out but once you’ve got weapons set in the hands, they don’t stand out. Overall the models assemble pretty easy aside from the slight hiccup with the heads. The detail on the figures are not bad. Some of the body and arm details are muted, but overall they look good.

You basically have 4 bodies for the set. Yet with the options for heads and arms, along with different angles you can assemble them, the end result is enough different poses to make up for the lack of body types. One more ding to the set is that no bases are provided. So expect to buy some bases along with the box.WargamesFactSaxB

Another manufacturer out there for medieval plastic sets is Gripping Beast. Likely people will want to know how well the 2 figure lines compare. The pic below is from each company for Saxon Thegns. The one on the left is from Wargames Factory and the one on the right is from Gripping Beast. I think they are very comparable for scale and can mix and match them freely. If anything the Gripping Beast figures seem a little more stocky in the arms and shoulders. Yet once painted up and based, they don’t really stand apart from each other.WargamesVsGrippingBeast

There are a lot of positives for the minis in this box. The Wargames Factory kit does have a lot of different weapon and shield options. The head choices aren’t bad (though are a chore some to glue onto the bodies). The price is also reasonable for what you get and I’m glad to have picked them up. However, I’m on the fence about recommending these Thegns. They aren’t bad figures. It’s just that for armored plastic Saxons I think there are better options out there.

Red Army – Wargames Factory

WGF-W2003-2For a long while now I’ve been pretty much sticking with 20mm for my Bolt Action platoons. I’ve accumulated quite a few different nations dabbling both in the Pacific and European theaters. Usually when I jump into a wargame I end up picking up enough models to fill out a couple of armies. It’s just so much easier for me to spark someone’s interest in playing when I’ve already got an army for them to try out. So for Bolt Action, going 20mm was not a problem at all for me.

However I realize that if I was dumped into a gaming scene where I’d be typically playing against folks with their own armies, well, I guess they might frown a little on me pushing around 1/72 scale troops and tanks. So I wanted to work on another nation army that would be a ‘proper’ 28mm scale and settled on fielding a Russian force. One aspect of my choice was that I’d be able to dig up some 1/48 scale armor and vehicles. I could have chosen some other smaller nation, but rounding that out would likely be difficult. The downside of course would be that I’d have to whip up a lot of models. Russian armies work with having lots of bodies so I certainly wanted to look into plastic kits.

There are a few options out there but in the end I decided to make the bulk of my troops from using the Red Army box sets from Wargames Factory. These are pretty nice sets of around 30 figures with a variety of small arms. Most weapon options are for Mosin Nagant rifles and PPSh-41 smgs, but there are quite a few DP-28 lmgs and various sniper rifles also. My complaint would be that I wish there were more rifles. You can get about 15 figures with rifles from a box set. From my 2 sets, I wanted to squeeze out a 3rd rifle squad but it looks like I might have to stick with making that a smg scout squad instead (was able to get a free 12 man rifle squad though for a total of 3 rifle heavy units).

The figures are pretty well sculpted with a fair amount of detail. It’s hard plastic that is a snap to assemble with cement and they don’t appear to have excessive mold lines (although there are some and you can see from the photos I still need to trim more). Another small bit I love about the box is that lipped bases are also provided. There are a couple of prone figures that don’t get any benefit from the bases, but it’s a nice touch.
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There are a variety of heads but most are with helmets with a smaller proportion having caps. There are a some officer caps and a few female soldier heads also. As a nice touch, you have the option of making a couple of female troops which is cool. Something historically accurate and adds a little variety to how your force looks on the table. I made one of my sniper teams women and working on converting my field medic to be female.
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As pistols and other accessories go, the sprues are a little lacking. They are present but in a limited number. However there are tons of ammo pouches and field kits. So certainly you can deck out your troops to have some additional details. I will grumble some that the entrenching tool and canteen are modeled as a single piece which somewhat limits options for attaching them.

Arms are modeled individually and at first I sort of groaned looking at this, worried how much of a chore it’d be to piece them together properly. However each arm is paired by letter along with a matching body figure making it a much easier process. Still, you’ve got individual arms, heads, and other gear kit bits to glue. Expect your assembly of troops to take a while.
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Nonetheless the end product is fairly good. They are digital sculpts but they look like they can handle some detail rather well. I’ll complain about wanting more rifles, but there are enough different weapons between smgs, sniper rifles, and lmgs to provide lots of options. While most of the bodies are single sculpts, with movable arms and heads you can get enough dynamic poses to give the models variety. Adding more kit options and about 5 body figure types, you end up with enough to make your force look engaging with plenty of differences in poses. Hands down, the quality and price for these kits are hard to beat and are an exceptional value for wargaming. Well worth looking into to bulk up your Russian force.RussiansD