Netrunner Click-Credit Trackers

I dig Netrunner. While I have reservations recommending it to folks, I certainly enjoy it. Lately I’ve lamented some on how much it has dominated my free time gaming. I find I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of deckbuilding and picking up cards for the LCG.

While Netrunner is rather portable, it does require a lot of tokens and markers. I also end up teaching players a lot and while I like the play aids that come with the game, I thought it could be better designed to incorporate both a click tracker and a reminder of player actions on one card.

In addition to that, I thought about using cards to also track credits. Splitting them up into single and 5 credit values on two different cards seemed acceptable. So I went to work and whipped some up on a single sheet.

They are ugly, amatuer designed aids, but functional. The trackers also don’t completely solve the token issue. You’ll still need tokens for bad publicity, tags, recurring credits, virus counters, and advancement markers. But with a little creativity and some different denominations of coins, you could likely cut down on the number of markers you need to lug around using the trackers.

You can print them up on cardstock, or use paper and laminate them if wanting something to take a bit more wear and tear (or just sleeve them like I did). I think they work pretty well. You can find them in the downloads section and I hope folks find a use for them around the table.clicktrackera

Frostgrave in winter: Bitches’ Brew – the warband

FrostgraveWe’ll be starting our Frostgrave campaign soon. Last time I mentioned my enchanter wizard and the different spells in her spellbook. I thought I’d continue on with choices for how I filled out my warband. As always, I had to also pick up an apprentice for 200 gold. You are really severely limiting your warband by not having one. The other bonus is that they can offer group activation for another three models. However I see it more having her there for buffs and support over raw damage, as they don’t cast as well as their master. That leaves me with 300 gold to fill out my warband. Keeping with my wizard, I’m using a Reaper Bones mini to represent my apprentice.

For my soldier followers I am opting to use proxies. I think a few choice selections from my Saxon and Viking warbands for SAGA will do for now. I’m using primarily figures from Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast. They are each decent plastic kits with the Gripping Beast figures being pretty nice. Both sets are an exceedingly good value though and for practically disposable fodder in Frostgrave, not a bad choice as minis.

You need to get treasure off the board. Having some models that can squeeze out an extra inch of movement is helpful. So I have two thieves that will be my dedicated treasure haulers with their move of 7”. They are pretty pitiful in combat so I am intending to drag treasure towards them and have them work on getting loot off the table. Having two would cost me 40 gold.

Next up are a couple of bowmen. Getting hit by arrows is not fun. Unlike melee where you’ve got a chance to return a heavy blow back, being the recipient of ranged combat means you either get killed or have to hunker down and take arrows being shot at you. Also at a two foot range on a 3’ by 3’ board, a bow is nothing to sniff at. I could have gone the route of crossbowmen, but I wanted the flexibility of being able to move and shoot and right now I don’t expect to need heavy hitting bolts, my opponents likely are using lightly armored troops for now. So two archers are a good buy at the minimum, costing me another 100 gold.

The next purchase was a bit of a extravagance but I decided to pick up one man-at-arms. Not really a heavy hitting soldier but has a little more defense. Buffed up by my wizard or apprentice, they can offer a bodyguard of sorts if needed. Likely they won’t do much but having one within a few inches of my wizard will potentially sway off that odd soldier rushing in to fight my wizard in hand to hand. Getting one would set me back 80 gold.

Lastly, to have a few more bodies I ended up getting some cheap thugs. At 20 gold each they hit a little harder than a thief and can drag off some treasure. Ganged up they can also deal out some damage, so I expect them to flank along with my thieves or possibly work as a team together. Getting two would cost me another 40 gold.

Finally I am going cheap and using my enchanter school spells for all their worth. I plan on casting enchant construct for a medium construct before the game (and hope I am successful getting the spell off). A nice bit is that they stay around until destroyed, just like a hireling. Although the bad part is I have to roll for their fate just like a soldier if they are removed. I’m hoping to save a little cash in between games and be able to scrounge up for one or two heavy hitters. So it’ll be risky but allow me some more cash to replenish casualties, or pick up more expensive soldiers later.

The entire warband is 460 gold, leaving me 40 in my treasury. Going with a powerful enchanter wizard and her aspiring enchantress apprentice, I can easily see the hired thugs taking up a rough and tumble name. Likely it was something muttered jovially over a few mugs of ale, out of earshot from their employers. But I expect after a while the wizard took it up with some grudging endearment. So I’m eager to start up my campaign and see how Bitches’ Brew fares exploring the ruins of Frostgrave.

Review: Bolt Action – Armies of Germany 2nd edition

germanarmy2ndOne nice thing that Osprey and Warlord Games is doing with the new edition of Bolt Action is pretty much keeping all the older army books usable. No updates will be made to them. The exception though would be the german army. When Bolt Action first hit, the germans seemed to have gotten stuck with the first army book curse.

A hallmark of 40K was that with each new edition, there would be several new codex books released updating all the races. Commonly the first book would end up being ‘underpowered’ compared to the other armies that were released later. More cool ideas and better balancing (or imbalances) would come out after a new edition was released. Typically the first army book would have point costs and choices that seemed ideal on paper, but after a few years of essentially further playtesting from the community at large, later releases of army books would have better options and point costs more in line with their relative value on the tabletop. Sadly, this was viewed from many the same for Bolt Action regarding the germans.

I’ll start off and cover stuff that hasn’t much changed from the first edition. You still get a nice product that covers the german army and various units that were seen throughout the war. There is a brief historical overview of the conflicts and different theaters the german army participated in, then a breakdown of the force organization and options for a reinforced platoon, followed up by theater specific force lists. The layout follows the new format seen in the force lists of the 2nd edition book, which I think is a little easier to read and digest. I haven’t gotten too deep in the lists, but for the most part it seems the costs and unit options are the same as the first version.

The german army has a few new nation rules though. The replacement of fallen NCOs and Hitler’s buzzsaw (LMG and MMGs get an extra d6 shooting) are still in place. One big change is that all german officers get an extra die for giving orders to other units. In effect a 2nd Lt. acts like a 1st Lt., and a 1st Lt. pulls 3 dice like a captain, etc. which is a big change. With the right deployment you can get very effective turns activating several units within command range. I like this new rule for the german army and it’s something that somewhat reflects the discipline and leadership much of the army had in WW2.

The other new nation rule which is a little more flaky is Tiger Fear. Every enemy unit that sees a vehicle with this special rule acts as if it has an additional pin except for orders to fire on that vehicle. Now for a Panther or an actual Tiger, I could see this as a nice flavor rule. But this also applies to the Panzer IV which to me sort of pushes that into OP territory. You suddenly have a medium tank that can make it difficult for enemy units being able to advance and take objectives, simply by seeing it on the table. I expect Tiger Fear to be heavily house-ruled for many people.

You have a scattering of a few new units. Ambulance vehicles can now be chosen which operate as both a transport and as a medic unit, which is interesting. Additionally there is a special section at the end which covers units and vehicles that had night vision gear for those night fight games.

The Good – This is a fairly comprehensive book for players that want to field a german army for Bolt Action. You get a lot of options including several special units and theater lists that cover much of the war including a few that have some special rules for engagements at certain time periods (such as limited fuel for the end of the war, or unreliable new production panther tanks that were mid-war). I like that the german army also has a few extra nation-specific rules which can bolster their force some. As typical for these books there is a lot of great Osprey artwork and photographs, along with a comfortable layout to read the unit choices and costs.

The Bad – Aside from the few extra paragraphs for the nation specific rules, you aren’t going to find much different from the first edition. There are a few minor changes here and there (such as light infantry mortars no longer being able to fire smoke rounds). But essentially the point costs and unit selections are just about the same. On one hand you might be pleased with this, meaning you don’t have to alter up the composition of your platoons much. But on the other hand, if you think there were glaring imbalances with point costs for certain units, they are likely still there.

The Verdict – If you are a new Bolt Action player and fancy fielding a german platoon, this is a must buy. You get so many options and choices, along with lots of theater-specific lists to let you dabble in more historic TOE forces, it’s worth getting. It’s also an attractive book with a lot of material to offer a decent source of information for both painting and modelling, as well as a touch of history.

If you are an older player of german forces, this might be worth picking up. You could likely take a pencil to the older edition and mark down the few special rules and changes to some key units. Other than that, you could simply commit the new nation rules to memory and work with your old book. You aren’t going to find much here that is new or different from the first edition. In fact, I’d say embrace a more environmentally sound choice and possibly get the PDF version and alter the few special rules in your old print edition manually.

It’s an attractive book and the new nation rules are worth noting. However it’s likely not something you absolutely need to have a print version of if you’ve got the older edition (just use the new nation rules). Yet for new players, the 2nd edition is certainly something to buy if playing a german army. A pleasant book with some more material other than just unit profiles and force selectors to serve as an enjoyable light read for a german army enthusiast.

Wargaming supplies in Seoul: Neighbor Hobby

Scouring around for places to pick up paints and supplies I stumbled across likely the new Mecca for hobby supplies for me, Neighbor Hobby. It’s nestled away unassumingly in the lower floor of an office building. But despite it’s location, they have a pretty amazing stock of model kits of all sorts.
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There is a great selection of military models. Unfortunately for fans of Bolt Action, they carry only Tamiya 1/48 kits, but they seem to have a full selection from that line. As 1/72 and 1/76 scale kits go though, they have a great choice of tanks, soldiers, and terrain. With buildings I usually use 20 mm, even for 28mm stuff as it keeps a smaller footprint on the table and looks okay. I find true 28mm scale buildings just a little too big and even the smallest 2 story house seems to dwarf the rest of the table terrain. So having a lot of building model kits for sale was a pleasant surprise.
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Now for paints, brushes, and other supplies you are set. There is a great selection of paints from Testors, Tamiya, AK Interactive, MIG, as well as my go to for painting, Vallejo. It’s a wonderful amount of choices and stock for both brush and airbrush painters. They also carry a complete selection of Testors and Tamiya sprays. Well worth checking out.
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To get there isn’t too difficult. Take subway line 2 to Hongik University and get off exit number 3. You need to cross the street and footpath park and take a side street, then go right. Once you hit a main street go left and it will be in an office building.

Blue pin near the top marks the location.

Blue pin near the top marks the location.

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The entrance is actually a bit odd. Going behind the building from the parking lot you enter on the first floor. You will follow a long hall towards the elevator, and can find the shop directly.
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However if you enter the front of the building you are actually on the 2nd floor and have to take the lift down to the 1st floor.

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All in all Neighbor Hobby is a fantastic place to pick up military models, paints, and modeling supplies. It certainly is one of the top places to get wargaming model supplies in the city. It’s also in the same neighborhood as Rolling Dice so a great stop to get a double scoop of geek supplies while in Seoul.

Frostgrave in winter: the wizard

As I last mentioned I’ll be starting a Frostgrave campaign soon. I also sort of sketched out how we will play out the campaign some. So I sat down and tried to figure out how what wizard to play.

Given we are playing a campaign, that opens up a lot of potential spells to consider. Spells that would allow some greater mobility such as leap and teleport now are a lot more important since it’s all about getting the treasure. Also out of game spells have some more use with stuff happening between games to maintain the warband.

As miniatures go, I managed to snag some Reaper Bones. They are pretty cheap and have nice detail. They are somewhat a soft plastic and even with boiling and bending (followed by a good dunk into ice water), some parts will be a little droopy. However you do get some nice figures for the price. As spellcasters go Reaper also offers a plethora of choices.

I decided to used a female wizard and latched onto the idea of her being more a subtle caster rather than some fireball flinging figure of raw destruction. Taking that to heart I looked into the enchanter school of magic. Really for the most part I fell in love with the idea of creating constructs. I realized they were clunky and not too useful, but the concept of having a soldier that could just be summoned was pretty cool so animate construct was a must.
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The other spells in their school are pretty supplemental to a warband, adding a small bonus here and there to their profiles. I’ll picked up strength to add some teeth to my soldiers (especially the rather timid hitting medium construct). None of the other enchanter spells called out to me so much. The exception of course was telekinesis. I saw it not only as a way to ferry treasure to my thugs, but also scoot it away from my enemy’s warband.

I see enchanter as saving cash for picking up more and better followers, casting enchantments to provide more permanent buffs though magical gear, rather than using found treasure. The kicker of course is I have to hope that I can get grimoires as treasure and luck out rolling the spells I need. Unlikely, but I can always dream big.

I now needed to select a spell from my aligned schools. From witchcraft I chose fog as I wanted some area effect type of spell and figured being able to throw up something that would block LOS for those pesky archers would be helpful (not to mention spell slinging wizards). From the sigilist school I chose write scroll. It’s an out of game spell but a useful way to keep a heal or movement spell in my back pocket for when I absolutely needed to get a spell off.

Lastly I chose elemental bolt from the elementalist school for my final aligned spell. Just straight up damage and you can’t ignore that +8 shooting attack. It’s going to be a bit tough casting as an aligned school but I’ll just have to make due (and it might be something to scribe in a scroll).

For my final neutral schools I went with some low casting number spells. The penalty (especially with my apprentice) is pretty steep and most likely trying to cast a 12+ level spell just ain’t gonna happen. I chose the thaumaturgy spell, heal, as it’s always helpful trying to keep a wizard on their feet. From the summoner school I picked up leap which is just such a useful spell to cast. I’m hoping with the casting value of 8 for those spells I’ll have better luck getting them off.

It’s going to be a challenge going the route of more support for a main school over another that is raw damage. We’ll see how it works out but I am looking forward to seeing what other schools my opponents select and eager to see how our first game shakes out in the next few weeks.

Frostgrave in winter: establishing the campaign

FrostgraveSo after a small local gaming event (Alleycon 2016) folks I played with were keen to get a short campaign running. Nothing major, just 5 or so games to see how a longer, continuous game with wizard advancement would work for us. So much of the game is geared to having out-of-game spells, which have a role more in maintaining and supporting your warband over raw power on the table. I am eager to see how these type of spells impact the larger game, if you will.

As much as I enjoy Frostgrave and appreciate the approach of a fast and loose wargame, I felt we needed some better ground rules. There is some stuff open to abuse and I’ve got a crafty gaming group. If they see an advantage that they can game, they’ll pounce on it. So I thought it better to try and lay a groundwork for the campaign that we’d all agree with.

Modified campaign rules – Frostgrave seems to have a Mordheim problem with warband advancement. After a few losses, you are likely going to fall behind and never catch up as the rich just get richer. So I worked with some community stuff out there and whipped up a version we’ll be using for our game. One particular thing I like about the rules people have thrown together is that the campaign management actions are limited. You can’t buy just anything and you have to choose carefully how you spend your time preparing for the next battle. I dig that.

There are a couple of changes I made to my older version of the campaign rules, one was the game length. Now instead of likely 5 turns there is a 50% chance of having a turn 6. After that there is a 10% chance of the game getting further turns. I like this as there is certainly a time limit and you have to push to get things done, but if you need to squeeze out another turn of movement, you have a decent chance of getting one.

Rules for placing treasure – Some campaign changes revolve around rules for placing treasure. First off placing treasure can be abused. Models carrying treasure can exit any board edge and the official rules state you can place treasure at least 9″ from your table edge. To curb any abuse plopping treasure a couple of inches from the side edge, treasure also must be at least 6″ from a neutral table edge. This means that players are going to need at least 2 turns to get treasure off the table. Another change is that at least one treasure out of the three must be 12″ from the player’s table edge.

Choosing sides for deployment – A last change to ensure a more fair game is that players both set up the terrain and treasure first, then roll to determine deployment zones. Both roll off and the player that rolled the highest can decide to either go first, or decide which table edge they want to deploy from. So this makes for a fun choice. They can choose to get the initiative on the first turn, or instead opt for the side that they think gives them the best terrain layout. And since no one knows if what option is available, they will try to set up terrain and treasure so that no one has a distinct advantage (unless they want to gamble they can win the first roll and select where to deploy).

Winning the campaign – This likely isn’t a perfect system but we are working along keeping a running advancement total. This is determined by the sell value of treasure, gold crowns, and XP of the wizard, with base improvements (as per listed costs) also being added in. The player with the most advancement points wins. So it’s all about cash and XP basically. The tough choice was to include improving the warband, but I decided against it. Folks can hoard their cash if they want to, as spending crowns to get soldiers won’t help their advancement total. But having more bodies means you can likely get treasure off the board, so in a roundabout way, the advancement points lost (as spend gold) buying a thief likely pays in spades if you get more treasure during a game because of the follower. We’ll see how that works out.

Select scenarios – Mostly this is due to available terrain, but I also wanted us to have the same number and types of scenarios we would all play. The first and last games would be regular battles without any special rules or terrain. The three games in the middle of the campaign would be three specific scenarios that could be played in any order. The Living Museum, the Well of Dreams and Sorrows, and the Complex Temple were selected as they don’t require much of a special table layout (like the Library or Silent Tower) and something we could work with given our available models.

I’m looking forward to our winter campaign. I am hoping to get some battle reports written up but likely they will be simple recaps. I usually get so wrapped up while gaming I forget to take pictures. However I hope this will end up being a fun little series of posts to put up and document how my warband fares through the campaign.

Review: Bolt Action Second Edition

I am a long time fan of Bolt Action and enjoy the game immensely. It’s a bit Hollywood but for skirmish WW2 gaming it gets a lot right. Another bonus for me is that it’s small enough in scale to offer some narrative potential with scenarios.

I’m not going to go much into the mechanisms of the game as my first review pretty much carries the same opinions as before. You instead for the most part have some refinement with the rules with the new edition. The game still has some parts that are a tad gamey, but some of the more glaring rules and wonky tactics that were in the first edition are curbed some.

This won’t be an exhaustive list but I thought I’d highlight a few changes focusing on some of the more notable ones. Likely the biggest change regards officers. Leaders now can potentially have multiple units to activate under their command. Most allow for 1-2 units within 6”, but higher ranking officers increase this to 12” and up to 4 different units.

If an officer successfully passes their order test (note the Down order is exempt from this), they can pull and assign extra order dice. The assigned units still have to pass their orders, but you can get quite a few units getting that extra boost to act while in the presence of an officer. This is a really great rule. Before the benefits of officers were minor unless working with a lot of inexperienced troops. Plus there was not much incentive to take higher ranked officers. This rule completely changes that and makes leadership have a greater impact on the game.

bolt-action-2-coverSome other notable changes to orders were also made. Rally now is not subject to pin modifiers to see if the order is passed, but the unit still only removes D6+1 pin markers. There is a small change to Ambush. If at the end of a turn you want to return a unit’s order die, on a 4+ the unit can immediately execute a Fire order before doing so. Just a little way to get something out of taking a unit off Ambush, if nothing ever presented itself during a turn to trigger it.

Another big change is that the Down order provides at -2 penalty to shooting at infantry and artillery units. This is a pretty hefty defensive bonus. Likely this will make the option of just hitting the dirt due to excessive fire more enticing for units and a solid tactical option. Not to mention those pesky air and artillery observers being able to evade fire.

Assaults no longer take off pins automatically for units fighting in hand to hand. Also target units can return fire automatically if they have not been given an order. Veteran units still have a heavy advantage in assaults, but at least it emphasizes Rally orders for removing pins. Another change is that assault weapons (like pistols and SMGs) get one additional attack if they successfully inflict a casualty, not automatically double the number of attacks. This lowers the effectiveness of these weapons in assaults (units that are Tough Fighters get this too), trimming down their ability to tear through units as before.

As weapons go, there are a few key changes. I always felt LMGs were lacking in the game and it seems that Warlord has listened to the community. Both LMGs and MMGs now throw an extra die when shooting. Another tweak for fixed weapons is that they can make a special Assault move, rotating in place towards any facing, and still be able to fire (with a -1 penalty to hit). These slight changes now make units like MMG teams a little more fearsome.

Flamethrowers were always a bit of a divisive weapon, especially vehicle flamethrowers. Now they don’t automatically hit and instead hit on a basic 3+ ignoring any modifiers for cover or units that are Down. Vehicle flamethrowers now only inflict D6+1 hits instead of 2D6. The plus side is that all flamethrowers now only run out of fuel on a 1 (instead of a 1-2 for man-packed flamethrowers).

Likely the biggest weapon change is in regards to HE as templates are used to determine the number of hits. I’m on the fence some with this. One aspect I cringe about is that the game now can get a little finicky with a player maneuvering templates around. The basic rules are that a player must always try and place a template to hit as many enemy models as possible, and they cannot also target friendly troops.

This limits the number of potential hits, especially for light mortars but it does add some consistency with the number of possible casualties. The plus is that across the board all HE weapons can potentially inflict more pins. Also there were some weird instances in the first edition where you might target a small weapons team and only be able to hit that unit, despite it being positioned close to other enemy troops. This certainly adds some tactical value to spreading different squads out to avoid being hit by large HE rounds.

There are a couple of notable changes to vehicles too. Empty transport vehicles can now fire one weapon. I love this change as it encourages armored transports to be used and having more importance on the battlefield other than just carting troops around. Mind you, the same rule for empty transports being destroyed if ending a turn closer to enemy units is still a thing.

Another change is that a player decides to fire either a main weapon or the co-axial MG, not both. This really cuts down the firepower of tanks. There is also a pretty big change with recce vehicles. They can only make an escape move if they have not been given an order die. It certainly makes using these vehicles for scouting more difficult, but also reduces the abuse some players had with these vehicles taking pop shots and scooting behind buildings to avoid return fire.

Additionally if opting to fire pintle-mounted weapons the tank is considered open topped. This is a small change to differentiate them from tanks with just co-axial weapons. However likely the pintle mounted guns are also flak weapons, and that now has some greater use on the table.

Certain weapons can now provide flak support. When a plane comes in due to an air observer, each flak unit can try to attack it, rolling to hit on a 5+. If scored total hits are 3 or more the plane is either shot down or sent away. I love this rule. It makes using air support a bit trickier to use (and possibly encourages the more expensive artillery observers instead). Lastly, it gives a greater role to flak weapons and encourages a player to add a few as a potential counter to air attacks.

There are some more small bits and tinkered rules (dense terrain, reduced assault rifle ranges, changes to sniper teams, etc.). Overall they are pretty much a refinement and incorporation of a lot of popular community house rules. Some of them shift away from truisms of the past editions. Now you have a reason to take a higher ranking officer. Now full infantry squads can re-roll failed order tests until they suffer a casualty, meaning investing in a large squad can get some tangible benefit other than just being able to suck up a lot of hits (which works especially well with inexperienced troops).

The book has a total of 12 new scenarios. Six of which are more meeting engagements, where the other 6 have clear attackers and defenders. Unfortunately, three of the scenarios are still a Maximum Attrition type of game, where you just have to kill as much of the enemy as possible. But the wrinkles in setup and some scenario specific rules shake them up some.

Much like the previous book, a truncated army force list is provided for each major nation. This time Japan is also included. Fans of a particular nation will eventually want to pick up the army books, but the lists in the book are serviceable and provide options to field a robust platoon. Lastly there are some other supplemental rules for night fighting, rules to incorporate more players, larger forces with multiple activations, and even multi-national forces.

The Good – The second edition is more an assembling of tweaks and house rules than a full blown rework of the game. For the most part this is great news. Some of the changes likely will mean players have to adjust their tactics (leaders with multiple activations, and units no longer automatically removing pins in assaults are a few). There is still that random order activation. Pinning units to degrade morale and effectiveness is still there. In short it’s still Bolt Action.

I like that more scenarios are presented. I’m especially glad to see them mine other games for some fun scenarios (like a classic 40K cleanse mission).The sprinkling of scenario specific rules also helps reinforce that Bolt Action can be very much a narrative historical game, and also an enjoyable tourney game.

The artwork and layout is pleasant, with each section having a nice heading on the outer edges of the page. There are more examples and more diagrams. And typical of Osprey books, lots of great art and pictures including a concise timeline of key historical campaigns and engagements to spur on ideas for possible battles in different theaters of the war.

The Bad – This isn’t a simulation game. There is still some abstract mechanics and you are going to get some pretty shifty tactics from players. With the addition of officers being able to allow multiple activations, some might feel the random initiative is simply too chaotic for their tastes over an IGOUGO system. And lastly, it’s still point based. You are going to get those guys making cheese platoons and trying to game as much out of the force lists as possible.

Another minor quibble is that the background of the pages have this stressed border graphic that appears like flock. All the pages on the right have what appears to be a smudge of gunk. While for a page with a sparse layout of figures and pictures, it doesn’t stand out. But for me it gets a little distracting having it among paragraphs of text.

The Verdict – I love Bolt Action and the 2nd Edition is certainly an improvement of the former rules. There are a lot of small changes and enough so that I would consider picking up the new edition. However if you only play the game once in awhile, likely you could get away with just sticking with the old rules and try to scoop up a new QRS/player aid.

It’s still a great, robust set of rules. It doesn’t lend itself too much towards being a staunch historical game. There are plenty of opportunities to play out those ‘what if’ games, and a few of the mechanics might be too abstract for die hard WW2 wargamers. Not to mention some platoon force lists that will likely make someone well versed in historical TOEs tear out their hair. But it gets so much right.

Bolt Action is chaotic and the concept of throwing a lot of fire at a threat to force it to hit the dirt, so your troops can maneuver, is still there. It’s just such a fun set of skirmish rules. And I particularly enjoy how the game encourages players to dig into historical books and fish out odd units. If you want to field a platoon of Moroccan Goumiers that fought in the Italian campaign, you can do that. That to me demonstrates how pliable the rules can be.

So like with my original review, Bolt Action is still a fun, WW2 skirmish game. And if a die hard fan or a new player interested in getting into historical gaming, the second edition is very much a great book to pick up.

Review: Android – Netrunner

netrunnerboxIn the mid 90s Richard Garfield put out a CCG than embraced the cyberpunk theme called Netrunner which petered out. Almost 15 years later Fantasy Flight picked up the rights and converted it to encompass their futuristic universe, hence the name, Android: Netrunner. It’s a dystopian future where megacorporations truly hold control over every aspect of human lives.

Colonization of the moon and Mars has begun, along with the development of sophisticated AI, androids, and human clones which serve as slave labor and are essentially products bought and sold. Beneath all of this are human beings that go about their daily lives, scraping by, and essentially are at most drones and corporate slaves to their employers just like the clones and androids they encounter regularly. A few choose to explore cyberspace instead fighting for either ideals or profit against the megacorporations as runners, hackers that steal data from corporate assets.

Android: Netrunner (or just Netrunner) is a two player, living card game. Fortunately FFG dumped the collectible aspect. Instead they opted to crank out expansions with fixed numbers of cards. Want to expand your card pool? No random booster packs. Just pick up a small set of cards and you’ve got everything in that expansion. The gotcha of course is through the constant roll out of expansions, you get that lure of the Pokemon gotta-catch-em-all urge to keep buying into the game. Combined with a healthy competitive tournament scene enticing players to keep up with their gaming opponent Joneses, there is definitely a draw to buy new sets as soon as they are released.

I avoided the siren’s call of Netrunner for a long time. But I was in the mood to pick up a new deck builder game and the theme and aspect of a LCG was attractive. I did Magic and was not keen trying to get back into that game. The collectible aspect of Magic just wasn’t something attractive to me any more. So I jumped into Netrunner feet first and now regret that decision immensely. It’s not that the game is bad. Far from it.

The basic rundown of Netrunner is that the corp player has agenda cards in their deck up to a specific total. Each card will commonly be worth between 1 and 3 points. To score them the corp player has to play them and spend actions (clicks) and money (credits) to advance them to a specific sum. Once they do so, they can immediately score it for points. The runner however just needs to access it. The runner isn’t limited to accessing agendas in play. They can also access agendas in the corp player’s hand, deck, and discard pile. To prevent that from happening, the corp player will lay out defensive ice cards to sap resources or stop the runner. The runner in turn slowly builds up a suite of equipment and resources to bypass ice and access those agenda cards. The first player to 7 points wins.

It’s actually a pretty easy game to learn. However once you begin to play, especially as the corp player, you begin to see the route of winning isn’t so easy. The corp player only has 3 actions per turn (or clicks). To play an agenda is one action and to advance it each time also takes an action. Most agendas take must be advanced 3 to 5 times to score. That means it will usually take at least 2 turns to score. All the while, you have to hope that your defensive ice is enough to ward off the runner trying to pick up that agenda. And to make matters worse, the runner has 4 actions during their turn. So they have plenty of opportunities to bolster up their resources and programs to make a successful run.

Now mind you, it’s not just agendas in play, but also agendas you have in your hand or possibly the top card lying in your draw deck. Forced to discard a lot of cards in your deck? Those juicy agendas might now be in your discard pile, just waiting for the runner to scoop them up. And that’s the kicker. While the corp player has to spend cash and actions, slowly and painfully advancing agendas for points, the runner just has to slip past that ice and steal them.

It’s not all roses for the runner though. Some ice is tough and can be one of four different kinds. If the runner doesn’t have an icebreaker program installed, actions on the ice card will execute if the runner bumps into them during a run. Most simply end the run action but some ice can destroy those icebreakers installed by the runner, or force them to discard cards from their hand. This leads into another way the corp player can win. If the runner player ever has to discard more cards than what they have in their hand, they lose immediately. Given each player can only have 5 cards in their hand at the end of their turn, the prospect of hitting horrible defensive ice or a trap card in the corp’s play area becomes a huge threat.

To add to this tension is a simple aspect of hidden information. The runner puts cards into play face up spending an action and paying cash up front. Pretty much everything they do is open to the corp player’s knowledge (save the cards they are holding in their hand). The corp player installs their cards face down simply by spending an action. They can rez (or activate) their cards later, spending the cash when they want to do so. Granted a runner might expect that card gathering up advance tokens is an agenda, but not always so. Sometimes it can be a trap to wipe out the runner’s installed cards (or even worse, force them to discard almost their entire hand). All those defensive ice are also installed face down. While the corp player still has to pay cash to activate them, the runner has no idea if that face down card protecting the corp’s draw pile is huge wall, effectively stopping them until they can install the right icebreaker, or something pretty easy they can bypass.

It’s the hidden information and aspects of bluffing that make the game enjoyable. Add to that the limited actions each player can take per turn, combined with constraints of available resources (credits), and you have a fun game with high player interaction. Layered onto this are the various factions for both the corp and runners. You end up with a game that has a lot of variety in gameplay which is engaging and entertaining.

The factions and aspects of deck building are also a huge draw. You are limited to 3 cards of one type and decks which must have a minimum number of cards affiliated with a particular runner or corp faction. Along with this are rules for influence when building your deck. Each card is worth between 0 to 5 influence points. If you want to dip into another faction you are welcome to do so, but that subtracts from your influence total. There are some powerful cards which can provide great combinations with other factions, but they dig into your influence pool meaning you can only tinker some with another faction. Fortunately there are also neutral cards for both the runner and corp that allow the player to freely add to their deck and don’t cost any influence points (save for a few exceptions)

I think one notable problem with Netrunner is that it can consume your free time so easily. It’s said people live Netrunner, and I can see that. I fear I might end up ditching time to play other games so I can explore Netrunner further. It’s made me keen to keep tinkering with decks and work up wicked combinations, with the added excitement of picking up another expansion, opening up more and varied card options.

The Good– Netrunner is an immensely enjoyable, engaging, with lots of variety in play, and plenty of cards to expand the game further. Thrown into this is the asymmetrical play experience and win conditions. It truly is a wonderful 2 player card game. Not to mention a game plays pretty quick (where a longish match might be 30 minutes at the most). Add to this a bevy of lovely card art and you’ve got a great game.

The Bad – There is an immense game knowledge curve. Learning the game is actually pretty easy. However gaining understanding of all the nuances of play is not, and Netrunner can be brutally unforgiving with mistakes. There is a huge divide between dabblers and folks that play a lot. It’s a combination of both knowledge and cards.

If you play a lot, you know the combinations of cards out there. You are better informed, more prepared, and in turn likely able to construct a deck that is fluid enough to tackle whatever your opponent throws at you. Netrunner has a lot of trump cards and hard counters for them. If you don’t read what your opponent is telegraphing with how (and what) they are playing, you will get smashed. Lastly, it’s a two player game and the core set can’t effectively create decks that more people can mine from if you wanted to do a four player dust up for an evening.

The Verdict – My opinions are in this odd juxtaposition for reviewing Netrunner. If you want to dabble, get a core set and a few choice expansions or data packs. You will find so much to explore and get a thoroughly engaging game that will last you a long time. Add to this a plethora of existing card expansions and you can squeeze years of gaming out of your purchase.

But to jump into the competitive scene it will take effort. So much so it might not be worth doing. You will end up seeing this game divide between casual players that have a lot of fun, and experienced players that go for the deep, engaging, play experience. And if constantly teaching new players, fans of Netrunner will always seem to be struggling to keep within these two camps.

Even as a relative casual player, eventually you’ll be armed with a wealth of knowledge of card types and set strategies. You’ll be able to quickly recognize if an opponent is potentially laying out an agenda to score, or setting up a devious trap. For a brand new player, it’ll take a substantial amount of time to get on a similar level of play, and they might not feel it worth the effort to do so.

It is a niche game. If you have 2 or 3 friends that are adept at CCGs you can get some mileage out of Netrunner. Spend another $30-50 to buy 2-3 select data pack expansions and you’ll have a robust pool of cards to make a variety of decks, more than enough to keep a few casual players occupied for a really long time. But throw a knowledgeable player into the mix and even hobbled with a handicap deck, those experienced players are going to tough to beat. That chasm with familiarity of the cards can be that deep.

To me that’s the problem with Netrunner and something that keeps me from recommending it to all but a few select gamers. To get the most out of it and willing to encompass the larger player base, you need to be committed. If you have the time and players, that might be worth it. Otherwise you will end up just playing once in a while casually. In the end that enjoyment might not go that far, as there are too many other games out there that offer immersive play with less of a learning commitment.

Armourfast Sherman M4A2 75mm

Anyone that’s been reading my blog for a while will know I am a fan of the 1/72 scale Armourfast kits. These are not high quality models. However for 20mm wargaming they are excellent. Cheap, pretty easy to put together, and they come 2 vehicles per kit. If you are going for building up an armor platoon, they are an especially a good buy.

I finally finished up my 20mm Pacific US Marines and wanted to get a tank for my list. I recognize that Stuarts are likely the most popular choice but I wanted something a bit more fearsome, so I went the M4 route.ShermanA

The Armourfast Sherman kit was a snap to put together. I would say one hiccup was fitting the turret peg into the hull. The turret peg isn’t molded into the turret and instead you’ve got to assemble it. Not an issue, but I found the hull hole where the peg fit into was a bit tight. Filing it down and putting a tad too much pressure meant twisting the turret peg some. I pulled it apart quick enough, straightened everything out, and filed the hole some more for an easier fit. However fair warning and ensure that the peg fits well into the hull before assembling (rookie modeler mistake from me as usual).ShermanB

The details of the tank are okay. The pintle mounted 50 cal fits well. As per other Armourfast kits the inside tread wheels are more to be desired and are empty molded plastic without any details whatsoever. The plus is that you can’t readily notice them unless looking at the tank from a lower angle. Another plus is that as a single model peice it’s easy to assemble the tread wheels to the hull.

There are no stowage options and if wanting to add some personality to the model, you’ll have to go the route of pillaging other model kits for that. There are also no decals for the kit, so that is another thing I’ll have to pilfer from other kits.

The details of the tank hull stand up to painting well enough. Yet I’m a bit miffed with my choice of a wash. My original base coat had a nice dark shade for the tank treads but the difference between the hull became quite muddled after a wash coat. Still it’s a serviceable tank model for tabletop wargaming and good enough for 20 mm Bolt Action.
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1/72 Valiant WW2 British infantry

So a long while back I was scrambling to find a PIAT team for my 20mm British platoon. I settled on using some Italeri models which are pretty nice. The unfortunate bit was they were paratroop models. Now Bolt Action is pretty open to mixing and matching troop types. You could hand wave the entire thing and say they’re a few paratroops that folded into a Normandy group the first few days of the invasion. I was perfectly happy with that, but those minis sort of sparked my interest in working up a British paras force.

I went off and got a platoon of Italeri figs and got another British platoon painted and completed. They turned out nice and the box had quite a few different figures, however I still was missing a few weapon teams to round out my force. I started looking over some other minis to get and picked up on one from Valiant Miniatures.

They are pretty nice figures. There is a lot in the box, 4 complete sprues for a total of 68 figures. There is a nice selection of riflemen and figures with Sten guns, as well as PIAT and Vickers MMG troops. A nice bit is that some separate heads wearing berets are also included. While not 100% accurate with the uniform and kits, I was able to swap out some heads and paint them up to supplement my Italeri para troops. I also could now field some 3 and 2 inch mortars too for medium and light mortar teams, respectively.ValiantBritsA

As a bonus, I now had a PIAT team to whip up and throw into my other British infantry platoon painted as a proper army uniform team. I’m also thinking of hacking up one of the Vickers MMG to throw onto a Bren carrier. The downside is I now have a gaggle of odd Brit minis. Maybe I’ll find a use for them or hack up parts for other projects.

The Valiant minis are a stiff plastic which is easy to work with and uses regular plastic cement for assembly and basing. The figures are mostly one piece with a squarish base, so you’ll likely have to put them on bases of your own. They are detailed well enough. Some parts are a little blocky and the figures seem well proportioned even if some of the weapons are a little large. The facial features and hands are a tad cartoon looking, but well enough for 20mm figures.ValiantBritsB

They are somewhat large though compared to other figures, including being a bit over proportioned. I think a few figures don’t stand out too much on the tabletop, but you should be cautioned if trying to mix and match. Below is a comparison with a 20mm Plastic Soldier Co. figure on the left and you can see that the Valiant figure on the right is not only taller but also bulkier.ValiantBritsC

For wargaming they are suitable minis though and a great price with a decent variety in the box. Another nice point is that they are hard plastic which I’ve always found easier to work with in modifying and modeling. Overall if you’re on a budget, they are a good set to pick up for 20mm wargaming.