Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fantasy Renaissance II: The Book of War 0.7

It has been over four months now since a seismic shift took place in Fantasy Wargaming. While I've basically spent most of that time playing Infinity (there is even a Chch Facebook group now) and Star Wars Armada, there has been a lot of 'settling out' going on around the place. To the North, they seem to be getting Kings of War going. It doesn't seem to have been embraced locally, yet. However, it is the major local tournament next week and this will likely be the swansong of WHFB 8th edition here. It's a game I have not much played but I do see that, promisingly, the two leading community successors will both be including Pike that are actually worth taking. So progress there. Me, I've been looking at various things, I even tried reading Warthrone. I've looked more at Kings of War, and I've been following the 9th Age and WHFB Rebalanced pretty closely. Then one day, out came the word-processor on the Ipad while I was on the bus.Apparently I am back to tinkering with my own rules. This will probably only be of interest to the handful of people I play 28mm Fantasy with but, if you're like me and like to tinker with rules, comments are more than welcome.

First of all, the mission statement for the 'Book of War' rules: Forget "No plan survives contact with the enemy." It's not ambitious enough. Command and control, morale, and mechanics for my opponent to mess with that, are the top of the list of what I look at in a wargame. As a secondary consideration, I am not a big fan of IGO-UGO as a turn order. In particular, I am a love how card and boardgame mechanics have blended into our gaming via the likes of SAGA and Armada / X-Wing. These build on earlier staples like the order-pip dice of DBx, through the multiple order and reaction mechanics of many Ancients/Medieval games to make take some of the direct control out of the player's hands and make more of a game of trying to plan at all.

What always grabbed me most about Impetvs was something that others have referred to as "controlling the un-control."  So I am always aiming for a game of ever-present dogging misfortune, where every turn you can't bank on controlling all your stuff, and you just have to ride the ups and downs of cruel fate.

"Adversity reveals the genius of a general; good fortune conceals it." -Horace.

For anyone who is familiar with Kings of War, obviously it does not fit this bill well at all. At least Warhammer had Psychology! Epic took it one better and had blast markers and activation rolls...

So how have I set out to do this? Well first of all, I've put 'Stress' into the game as a common currency to represent loss of unit cohesion, fatigue, fear and adverse surprises.

It builds up on units through pressing your troops too hard, or through enemy magic, hails of arrows (that kill few but unsettle many) or through the grind of combat. It can be spent by your opponent to slow your units, or make them easier to kill, or slow weaken their spear-thrusts. Or, it can be left to slowly accumulate and see brave Knights finally break to one charge too many by a rabble of half-sized goblins.

Secondly, 'Turns' are a period in which the battle ebbs one way or the other, rather than a defined period of time where everything has equal opportunity to, for example, move the same distance.

I refer to these as 'Command Cycles' (as each command will get to go once) but the name isn't that important. In The Book of War, armies are made up of a number of commands, typically 3-4. Starting with the player who has who did not activate last, in the prior command cycle, a Command is chosen and all units within it carry out their orders. Then the opposing player gets to activate one of their commands... unless the first player wanted to take a penalty to all their commands and activate a whole another command first.

How does that work then? I've tried it with drawing tokens out of a cup and determining order of activations that way but I just found this too slow. I've also been a little inspired by the SAGA battle board and the pip rolls in DBA. I love how in Saga the 'General' part is a board where you roll dice, the better the dice, the more impressive the abilities you can do and the more units you can do it with. So I came up with my own version. Each time a command is activated, a number of dice a rolled equal to the number of units plus the command rating of the Hero leading them. This will typically be around five-six total. To give an order to a unit, you need a score on those dice equal or under a unit's 'Will' rating. An average will rating is 3. The command will give a bonus to what ever unit he or she is in, but units that have already suffered a lot of stress will also effectively have a lower will. So say you have a unit of two pike blocks, two crossbow, and their Captain. You roll a 1, 2, 2, 4, 5, 5. There are four orders there, including one for the unit the Captain Leads personally.

So seems exactly like just getting to move each unit once, right? Well no there is a little more to it. You can issue group orders move, charge, or shoot orders to multiples of the same kind of unit (Hero / Infantry / Cavalry / Monster) within each command. So one order now could more all four, and then another order could fire those crossbow. So potentially you could march up three time and fire the crossbow! Or shoot the Crossbow, pin the front of your target with some Pike, and double-move the other around to hit the flank. There is more to it, second and subsequent orders make the unit count as cumulatively have one less Will each. On the other hand, movement far from your enemy also means the unit effectively has a higher Will. Then there of course different troop types like 'Impetuous' and 'Mindless' (yes Jason, it's still in the game). Lets not complicate the picture now though.

Instead I also want to mix up the pre-battle phase a fair bit too. This aspect is by far the least finished. At a minimum, there will be different table layouts based on a matrix comparing both General's chosen battle formation. If you think of a typical Book of War army, there will be 3-4 commands and these correspond to the medieval style Battles/Battails with a Vanguard, Body and Rearguard. Generals will be able to approach in Echelon (to refuse a flank) or flat line, or a 'Bulls Horns'/Inverted Crescent or Column etc. The idea is, for example, that if one General had chosen a narrow column while the other had chosen an inverted Crescent, you should get a table layout something like this: The Column would deploy in most of the middle real-estate in the table, extending over halfway. The Inverted Crescent would get to have a command both facing the column in the middle and one on either flank. I'm also conscious that most medieval battles involved sieges or otherwise trying to avoid pitched battle in some way, in true Vegetius fashion, so that should be worked in somehow. It could be as easy as making a camp raid a scenario. Or having one of the table layouts be an army relieving a siege. So the besiegers could even face the potential of being hit also be a sally from the castle or city.

What about Setting, then? Well more on that another time. I have some ideas: I've never been an entirely GW/Warcraft/Tolkien style Fantasy guy. However, a Fantasy Wargame doesn't quite work if people's collections of these types of models can't be accommodated somehow. At the moment, I see a world where the religious would say the 'Creator' is evil. A world where humanity clings to a precarious temperate band fending off the Winter King's undead legions from the frozen north; and the saurian emissaries of eldritch horrors to the shining south. The Nomadic (and non human) Magden tribes would be the bulwark of the south but are equally prone to in-fighting and the plundering of human cities. Likewise, the Elves once effortlessly held back the undead but then humanity migrated to their lands and drove them into seclusion in the under-world....

Anyway, that's what I've been musing over the last few weeks, in my spare moments. Any comments welcome and I'll be returning to my regular scheduled batreps or terrain progress or whatever for next time. Thanks for reading.

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