Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Initiative, Activation and Interruption

Who goes first? How are they chosen and what can I do about it? Those are always key issues for any group of people about to play a game, friendly or competitive. These are the questions that tell us not only who is pouring the first cup of tea, more importantly they tell us a lot about how the game models command and control and even fog-of-war.
Show me a game featuring a new and useful way to answer these questions and you have my attention!

Choosing who goes first is often straightforward; dictated by the scenario we want to play, the roll of dice or draw of a card. Often a simplest, but important, aspect of any turn in a game. Bingo, done.

Things are getting interesting. On our turn are we each moving our entire forces, or alternating one unit at a time? Do we pick that unit or is it chosen for us somehow? Either way, this is where much of the strategist's skill lies; moving to counter and exploit the opponent's strength and weakness.

Very interesting indeed. Many of us have played games featuring 'Overwatch' at one time or another. Overwatch allows us that chance to interrupt our opponent and, ideally, force them to alter their plans in response to our Overwatch fire. Usually a straightforward feature of a rule-set, Overwatch may or may not have impact on the big picture of the game.
But the evolution and growth in popularity of interruption mechanics from ordinary occasional Overwatch to near constant full-on reactive response by almost any unit in line-of-sight has had me fascinated! Here is a new level of sophistication; bringing unpredictable fluidity to tabletop skirmish gaming.

The Chain Reaction family from Two Hour Wargames or any of the titles from Ambush Alley Games all feature in-depth action-reaction mechanics designed to echo the chaos and fog-of-war of modern combat. These are exciting, gritty games with loyal fan-bases and strong online community support. Both feature dice mechanics to help establish the success of a reaction or interruption. Both reward the use of 'real world' tactics; the merit of Bounding Overwatch and the failing of poor scouting. Both reward the player for taking the time to get used to new ideas and ground breaking concepts.

But I recently encountered another approach to Initiative, Activation and Interruption that knocked me down with the simple and efficient way it handled all three concepts in one step. Something of a middle-way, this system primarily models fog-of-war but also offers ample opportunity for each player to respond to and interrupt the opponent's plans.

I'm Talking About Gruntz Again.
Gruntz Playing Card Activation. Aces Go First!
There are a few optional rules in Gruntz that really let this new rule-set shine. Card-based activation is one of them. Simply put, each player is dealt a hand of cards that corresponds to the number of units he can activate on his turn. The player needs to craftily plan which card each unit will get, to coordinate action in sequence. Once the cards are assigned, each player reveals the hand they have been dealt. The initiative order for the turn is set. Every unit on the table is activated according to the card they have been dealt. I may get a lucky run and activate multiple units in a row, or I may find my opponent is activating before and after my units, keeping my forces rattled and suppressed.
Coupled with the (optional) Overwatch rule Gruntz takes on the complexity and responsiveness of a more involved game with (dare I say it?) less involvement required from each player.

Good to Play
So I'm happy to see yet another game earn itself a spot on my shelf of 'good to play' games. I hope it does the same for you. I hope you enjoy the other reaction based games I have mentioned too; the added tension and excitement they offer is a big part of their fun.

Peabody out.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gruntz 15mm After Action Report

Chris from the Trumpeters Society dropped by the other day to play Gruntz. We cooked-up a  patrol scenario featuring a mid-tech force trying to move past a smaller group from a much more advanced civilisation. The setting is tropical (surprise!) and features ample opportunity for ambush!

In Gruntz terms my GZG New Israelis are bog-standard troops with SAW Squad Attachments. All Gruntz (infantry) ride inside Medium Wheeled APC's. The big assets are the UAV, armed with light missiles and a rotary cannon, as well as the tank. The commander is in a Light APC at the rear of the column and a smaller Scout car leads the way. A flying Scout drone stands by.

Chris was playing the much more advanced UNSC forces. Although he has fewer vehicles and troops, they have significant advantages. The UNSC Gruntz would be riding grav-APC's capable of doing serious damage to my vehicles. Each infantry squad has an anti-armour Squad Attachment. A group of three Spider Droids and two Specialist HMG teams round out Chris' UNSC ground troops. Two Light attack flyers are off table but can join the fun on any turn.

Numbered markers, called blinds, track the 'Bogint' units.
The UNSC have the  'Bogint' Perk, (bogus intelligence) allowing Chris to use TWO Blinds per unit until I bring one of my units into LOS and 10" of the Bogint marker.
At that point Chris may choose which blind to place his unit under. Tricky!

This is Chris' first game so we use the basic 'I-go-you-go' turn sequence, perfect for learning the game. However an Alternating Activation and a dynamic Playing Card Activation option are features of Gruntz.

Objective Turn-1: get over the bridge!
My N.I. get initiative and I move up the column, unloading the rear-most Gruntz squad and hustling them up onto the bridge.
That's my turn done.

I normally play 20mm games on this terrain. My 5'x3' table seems so much larger playing in 15mm.

Chris moves his Blinds, varying the movement rates so I can't tell which marker is what sort of unit, creating threatening groups along my route ahead...

"We have movement! Enemy Activity all over the grid!"
Chris' Spider Droids and a UNSC Gauss Canon Specialist unit reveal themselves and start firing on my Mantis UAV. This begins an ground-to-air duel that lasts most of the game, tying up my air support.

Fire from the woods draws the Scout Car's attention.
Before ending his activation, Chris reveals his second UNSC Gauss Canon Specialist and opens up on my Gruntz exposed on the bridge! "We're taking fire! Squad leader Down!"
My squad is suppressed, but fortunately for me the limited Area Effect of the canon failed to damage the APC or Wax (wound) additional squaddies. That's Chris' turn.

Uh, hello...
My response is direct and effective; the tank fires on the Gauss Specialist team, managing to take them out using both of the tank's weapon systems. The suppressed Gruntz choose a new squad leader and manage to move along the bridge.
I want to know what those other Blinds are hiding in the nearby copse and the scout car has enough mobility to get into the light woods, so off he goes to see what he can see... Surprise! It's a UNSC Grav APC!!!
The rest of the column moves up, and my second squad unloads from their APC, a Push Move from the Commander gets them into the woods ready to support the Scout Car. My turn-2 done.

Chris has me where he wants me now; my air support is tied-up and his ground troops are better than mine. He unloads his squad of Gruntz and opens fire on my infantry, Waxing two figures. My Scout car is toast; a victim of the Grav APC's Medium Plasma Canon and the Squad Attachment's RPG. His Grav APC is out of LOS of the rest of my forces, except for the Gruntz in the woods. One ray of sunshine in all this: Chris' squad of Grunts got caught in the Area Effect of one of his weapons, now his squad is also suppressed having lost a member.

But his turn is far from over. "Fast movers, incoming from the North-East!" Chris brings in his flyers, strafing from his table edge in an attempt to get a K.O. on one of my APC's.

Luck is with me this time as the leading High Mobility Wheeled APC soaks up the combined fire of the two attack fliers. As Chris' turn-2 activation comes to a close, I'm wondering two things: Where is his other APC? How long will my luck hold out?

Heading into turn-3 I return fire on the fliers with my Medium APC's. My dice are hot; I score solid hits, forcing Chris to roll for criticals with a damaged system result on each of the flyers. One takes a mobility hit, and the other won't be shooting as accurately!

I move my Tank up the wooded hillside into LOS of two more Blinds, revealing the other Grav APC! Meanwhile my Grunts converge on the the woods, one squad concentrating fire on the APC in a desperate attempt to stop the well armoured craft, and the other driving off the UNSC squad.
My activation for turn-3 ends with my UAV at last finishing off the robust Spider Droids. Now we are in the thick of the fight.

The first thing Chris does as his turn-3 activation begins is to destroy my lead Medium APC with his wounded flyers!
A stalemate is brewing between my 2 squads of Grunts and his Grav APC; neither of us has the right type of weapons to quickly defeat the other. But it's a different story on the wooded hillside, where my Tank takes heavy blows from Chris' Grav APC and another Grunts squad with RPG. Only great rolls save me from critical damage.
Suddenly that's it... I've made it through turn-3 mostly intact!  My Medium air support is one move away from dealing some serious damage to the UNSC.

We decide that the Ambushing forces at this point would most likely withdraw; accepting light casualties in exchange for having destroyed two vehicles. Our objective was met, namely to get Chris up to speed with this great new game.

An easy system to learn and fun to play, Gruntz offers depths of play we will definitely be exploring in the near future.

Peabody out.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Armour Round-Up

Summer road-trips, playing Gruntz 15mm, Disposable Heroes and Real Life™ have all had their part in keeping my work-bench projects from getting done.
But I'm glad to say the the Shermans for Brother Ken and my Vietnam era LVT's are finally finished! Lets have a look before I clean-up the bench and get ready to start phase two of the 15mm Sci-fi Project.

LVTP-5 amphibious troop carrier in 1/76 scale for 20mm gaming
I'm pleased with the end results of this 'olive-drab project'. The Green Stuff sandbags look fine; close enough to scale to look the part.

These resin kits were washed after assembly & primed by airbrush @ 20 psi with Vallejo Acrylic Polyurethane primer.

From there I did the usual; acrylics then oils, matte-varnish, then filters and weathering.

1/72 scale RAFM Charlie Co. USMC on 19mm bases for scale
Given the condition of these older 1/76 scale kits, I didn't put a lot of time or effort into them but they sure stand out on the table.

The LVTP-5a is an iconic piece of USMC hardware and kits for this amphibious troop carrier at this scale are rare as hen's-teeth.

Another very hard to find kit is this LVT6-H, or 'landing vehicle tracked 6- howitzer'. Featuring a short-barrelled 105mm howitzer for assault and support of amphibious landings.

Capable of direct-fire against fortified targets and also able to provide indirect fire onto distant targets, this is an unusual bit of kit for the wargames table.

The Lt. double checks the map co-ordinates; while the RTO calls for fire...

Our sessions of Disposable Heroes are really fun. Armour and infantry have their own pace, providing their own distinct friction to the game. So I'm very happy to have finished some Allied armour to add to the fray.

Here is the completed Armourfast Firefly kitbash. This was very simple and satisfying to do. In minutes this kit took on a new look.
One sticking point though: I forgot to remove and cover over the hull-MG! So while this won't pass muster with the bolt-counters, it still looks the part at 3-feet away. :)

Two Armourfast Fireflys: one out of the box, one kitbashed.

The disruptive camouflage on the barrel of the harder hitting Firefly was intended to make it harder for an enemy to identify and target this version of the Sherman. At first glance it should look like its lighter gunned companions.
The camo on the barrels was masked with Tamiya tape and liquid-mask, then airbrushed.

Two plain-Jane Armourfast Sherman M4's round out the recent line-up of simple kits from the old work-bench. That makes seven fast-build kits going out to Ken's place for our WWII games! I wonder what he will bring over for me to build and paint-up next?

Whatever he may have in mind, I'm going to make him wait. The 15mm Sci-fi experience is about to begin again with a huge build of Ground Zero Games Military Pre-Fab and Colonial Settlement (Shacks) buildings plus the most recent release of those very cool Startown Slums from Battle Works Studios.

Peabody out.