Sunday, 7 July 2019

Encounters in Hostile Lands

"The men are not their usual selves. They are in the grip of fear: all singing has died out and they look nervously around them, expecting an attack at any minute. We are in Fang territory."

Mary's column climb out of their pirogues and set up camp within a jungle clearing. She brews up a pot of hot water and uses her remaining stock of medicinal plants to cure her Kirangozi and poor M. Bergamote the Botanist of their afflictions. Feeling more refreshed, they prepare to depart. The ominous sound of drums can be heard from nearby Fang villages. But Mary must push on if she is to reach her goal.

Even Ujuwa, looks nervously at the wall of green before him. This is his land, but the local villages have not pledged support to his cause. He must find the white woman's camp and purge it of evil spirits.

[Each column starts within M of opposite table corners. To gain Knowledge Mary and Ujuwa must cross the table and escape from the opposite corner.]

Both columns head carefully into the jungle that lies ahead. Mary's Ruga Ruga stare nervously at the tall trees. What terrors may hide in their dark canopies?

Ujuwa's men are undaunted by the forest, but the local Fang tribe does have a reputation...

Mary, accompanied by her soldiers and last remaining bearer pushes through the vegetation and stare up at a giant forest tree. Suddenly there is a rustle and poison tipped darts shoot down from the canopy. Mary and her men drop to the forest floor. But too late! Her bearer and a soldier shriek in agony and do not stand back up.

[In this scenario, the dangerous terrain really is very dangerous! Every time a group enters terrain they and any other group within S of the terrain find themselves shot at by Fang warriors hidden in the canopy. A 2 x D8 shooting attack is made, but if the D8 show the same number there is no cover roll.]

Ujuwa hears the commotion and smiles wryly to himself. While Mary and her soldiers scramble to avoid the darts, Ujuwa starts to softly chant. Summoning the spirits of the forest to aid him, Ujuwa performs the Ritual of the Wild Hunt.

A rustling sound can be heard from the dead leaves beneath Mary's feet. Giant ants emerge from holes around the base of the tree and flailing helplessly two soldiers fall to the ground where they are engulfed by the biting and stinging terrors. Mary and her remaining soldier catch hold of low lying branches and haul themselves out of danger. But they are exhausted by their efforts.

Unable to contain his glee, Ujuwa urges his warriors onwards and they head into a thicket. But his mirth is cut short when poisoned darts cut down two of his men. The Warriors are suddenly paralysed by fear and are unable to move.

[The discovery marker in this terrain area is cursed preventing the group from activating during the next Actions phase.]

[This above photo illustrates how the terrain can be modified. I create a jungle base to which different elements can be added to create more variety during different games. In this case the central terrain area has been removed to more easily place the figures. Once the figures move on, the terrain is replaced.]

"Oh Madame!" exclaims Bergamote as he rushes towards the dangling lady with his Trained Askari.

But Mary's problems are not over yet. Ujuwa's Baluchi look on at the spectacle before them and raise their muskets. There is a loud crack of gunpowder accompanied by an awful cloud of acrid smoke, but as the air clears the dangling legs remain intact. Seeing that the ants have returned to their subterranean nest, Mary and her remaining soldier drop to the ground and hastily put shrubbery between themselves and danger. 

Meanwhile, Mary's Adventurers decide that they are not being very adventurous and with the Askari, they start to advance. 

The Ruga Ruga see an opportunity and as they dodge more poisoned darts they stumble upon a dead leopard. Who knows how the animal died, but its pelt will prove valuable.  

After helping Mary to recover her composure, Bergamote explores amongst the buttresses of the giant tree and finds an artefact of great importance. 

As the botanist rummages for rare orchids, Ujuwa and his Warriors creep slowly to the edge of the thicket and see that the path ahead is clear. The white woman's camp must be cleansed! 

Emerging into a clearing Ujuwa is confronted by Mary's Askari. 

Time for a diversion. Ujuwa leads his men away from the Askari and finds himself staring straight into the faces of Mary's rather startled Adventurers. 

Spears clash with rifles and the Adventurers are forced to retire.

[In fact one of the adventurous would have fallen, but the group's special rule means that by taking two stress tokens they can avoid a single casualty.]

Ujuwa urges his warriors to charge once again. One of Mary's Adventurers is skewered and the remaining two run for their lives.  Seeing his chance, Ujuwa rushes towards Mary's camp. 

[The adventurous were forced to take a fifth stress token. Since only 4 such tokens can be taken, this meant that the adventurers had to flee away from Ujuwa's group, opening the way for the witchdoctor to leave the table.]

As Ujuwa and his Warriors rush towards the camp, Mary's Askari raise their muskets for one final shot...

But they are startled by a loud noise from the bushes behind them.

A forest elephant appears from the depths of the jungle.

In what can only be described as a rather spirited decision, the Askari change their target in the hope of bagging a pair of tusks.

The musket shots whiz past the startled elephant. Enraged, the elephant trumpets and charges the Askari!

[Elephants are one of the new animal types found in the Throne of Thunder campaign. When in melee the player rolls a D6 to determine how many D10 attacks the elephant makes...]

Oh dear...

But all is not lost. The Askari manage to dodge the beast's tusks and fall backwards to reload their muskets. But before they can unsling their weapons, the elephant charges them once again.

Whilst musket clashes with tusk, a pleasant aroma of fine cooking has perked the interest of Mary's Ruga Ruga who decide to follow their noses into a small clearing amongst the trees.

Looking about them the Ruga Ruga consider the day's events. Poinsoned darts, giant ants and elephants. What else could possibly go wrong?!

"What else indeed!" comes the response from Mary's skewered Adventurer...


Ujuwa managed to exit the table to cleanse Mary's camp. His Archers also managed to make a discovery of Magical Plants for a total of 19 vp.

Mary's men secured two discoveries and Bergamote found some loot for 10 vp. But the loss of her bearer cost Mary 2 vp so her total came to 8 vp.

Mary has lost this adventure and gained no Knowledge. She remains at level 1, so still has no barter tokens left (or bearers)...

By cleansing Mary's camp, Ujuwa gains one more domain of knowledge. He has plenty of medicinal plants and no need for more warriors. So he decides to brave the fast forest river. Unfortunately, sickness ravages his camp meaning that at the beginning of the next adventure he will have to test each of his groups for casualties. Ujuwa has successfully made 17 Rituals (up 6 from the last game).

Mary chooses to chance her luck with the local villagers. After all, she needs to barter to recover her rather poached adventurer. Although the response from the village is unenthusiastic, she does enlist the aid of two brothers who offer to act as bearers. But negotiations take time and Mary has now spent 20 months on expedition.

To date the campaign Accomplishment Points are as follows:

Mary: 18 AP (down 2 from last game)

Ujuwa: 31 AP (up 9 from last game)

Mary has one domain of knowledge whilst Ujuwa now has 3.

Stay tuned for Mary and Ujuwa's final adventure - The Mountain of the Gods

Friday, 21 June 2019

Dino Safari - The Rules

Club games at wargame shows are tricky things and the most successful require a considerable amount of effort. This could be because there is an emphasis on creating spectacular terrain or displaying beautifully painted figures. I've been to many shows now and seen really super tables. Some are fantastically original whilst others are based on well known conflicts but just look spectacular.

Just one example, this Darkest Africa game at Broadside in 2015 has really superb terrain. I'd love to see this table up close again to get ideas for making realistic jungle!

Games can fall into different categories. Typically games are either demonstration or participation. The difference being that visitors to the show are encouraged to watch the former but get involved in the gameplay with the latter. Sometimes, clubs put on games that don't actually involve anybody playing and simply represent a large diorama.

My preference is to focus on creating a good participation game. Although sometimes, this can become a demonstration game if nobody actually wants to play! With demonstration games, clubs can rely on existing rulesets (even if they are homemade). There is no need to teach anybody how to play (although this can certainly happen). The club members know the rules and the game can progress at a good clip.

Participation games can certainly use existing rulesets and many excellent club games do just that. But I tend to find that it is better to 'simplify' things for games held at shows where participants may be younger or otherwise not experienced with playing wargames. By simplify I mean use a cut down version of the rules to reduce the need for too much looking up. Playing a game that runs along at a reasonable pace helps to keep everybody engaged, especially when multiple players are involved.

Friday Night Fire Fight Club typically attend three shows each year. These include Cavalier in February, Broadside in June and SELWG in October. Our strategy is to try and put on participation games that are either completely original or put a new twist on an existing ruleset or conflict.

Examples of FNFFC games include our take on Rorke's Drift played using SAGA at Cavalier in 2016Dr. Who at Broadside in 2014 and Vikings against Zombies at SELWG in 2015.

So this rambling preamble brings us on to Broadside 2019 and our game of Dino Safari.

I've already tried to cover the miniatures that feature in the game with some discussion of terrain, but thought that it may also be useful to discuss the rules.

My main design goal was to base the core rules on an established ruleset, but modify the rules to keep the game flowing when several participants are playing.

One of my favourite game systems is Congo and this provided the basis for my rules. I used Congo's stick based range system (for LOS, movement and shooting), the same dice mechanic (d6, d8 and d10 dice to represent worse/better chances of success), similar melee mechanics and very similar terrain mechanics (modified to account for larger figures such as dinosaurs).

The two major changes were to have a simplified activation system (based on a randomised card draw) and to remove the stress mechanic (too many small tokens on the table can bog a participation game down). Players also had only a limited number of figures. This ensured that players could join in with a high risk of being eaten quickly (!) That is, players needn't be too concerned that they would get trapped with the game for too long (hey, people have figure shopping to do you know)!

I also added some extra mechanics that were influenced by rulesets such as Dinomight (spotting rule to allow dinosaurs to ambush and explorers to hide) and Tusk (fire as a hazard). I also borrowed an idea from an old DWMG Weeping Angels scenario for hidden movement of T. rex (using multiple bases only one of which is the real dinosaur).

In truth, nobody hid during our game at Broadside and the predatory dinosaurs didn't attempt to ambush so nobody needed to use the spotting test. Although some fires did eventually appear, these were quite late in the game and so didn't have a significant impact. Still, I'm glad these features were available.

I created mechanics to allow figures to ride in the truck and control the mole. Since the game was centred around an erupting volcano, there was a mechanic to allow the volcano to gradually get more active. Lost World themed special event cards were also created to spice up each turn.

Despite my aim for simplicity there was still a lot going on and the game required some careful organisation. I'm hoping we will be able to run the game at another show in the near future. The main changes I would make are to designate a club member to be responsible for the herbivore dinosaurs and to have the storage boxes better organised under the table (there's a need to add and remove things to the table as the game progresses).

If anybody is interested in seeing the rules (remembering they are intended to be used as a club run participation game), let me know and I can send a pdf.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

New Blog Page with Links to Resources for Gaming in Darkest Africa

I was searching through some of my back issues of various wargaming mags to hunt down an article for somebody and decided I needed to better organise things. So I've put together a new page on my blog that details links to various resources for gaming in Darkest Africa.

It's meant to be a resource for me, but I thought it might also be useful for others. There are still other bits that I want to add (e.g. figure and terrain manufacturers), but it summarises lots of useful articles and scenarios. I've deliberately not added battle reports (there are lots!), but may do so at a later date.

Friday, 14 June 2019

Dino Safari - Figures and Terrain

A few folks have asked about the figures, terrain and rules that were used in the Dino Safari Game. So I thought I'd post a quick update with a few more details.

Most of the figures (including the raptors) are either Copplestone (via Northstar or Foundry), Artisan or Pulp (both again via Northstar). The German U-Boat figures were painted by my friend Dan. The captain was from Artisan, but the crew are from Tsuba Miniatures. The sailors are listed under the red sailors section as they are meant to represent the mutinous reichsmarines in 1919. Work perfectly as our pulp submarine crew though.

The dinosaurs come from a range of sources. I was lucky enough to find this box in a charity shop from which I sourced Triceratops and Iguanodon.

I also picked up a few more of the same Triceratops models off eBay. One or two of the larger sauropods are Schleich, whilst the dead ceratopsian (supposed to be a Triceratops but different colour scheme) is from Collecta (they do dead Stegosaurus and T. rex as well). This had the in game effect of creating a distraction for predators.

Tamyia make some nice model dinosaurs, but unfortunately they are the wrong scale. The Mesozoic Creatures included juvenile T. rex, juvenile Parasaurolophus and a few other smaller dinosaurs though so proved very useful. I used the crocodile as an immature Deinosuchus. He proved useful in terrorising the Germans - who deserved it since they were terrorising everybody else!

The remainder of the dinosaurs were sourced relatively cheaply from eBay. I think some may have been from Papo. I now have quite a collection!

Some of the dinosaurs were completely repainted, some were touched up a bit and some were left untouched. The only real problem is the pvc that some of them are made from. The material doesn't take varnish very well meaning the varnish doesn't cure properly and the model remains sticky. None of the pvc models were therefore varnished and unfortunately had a slight shine to them. But to be honest, barely noticeable. I tried to keep the theme to Cretaceous dinosaurs, but some of the larger sauropods are really Jurassic.

All of the pine trees were railway models, based to match the rest of the terrain. I made my area terrain from polystyrene pizza bases. Easy to cut to shape and quite thin. Looked the part when covered in sand, painted with a few small plants added for effect. All of the remaining plants were sourced from eBay. The cycads and palms were touched up with a wash and light highlight, based to match the terrain and given a matt varnish spray to remove any shine.

I've mentioned the volcano before. It consisted of a paper mâché model from hobbycraft that I added a broader base to and painted to match my other terrain.

I thought it would be fun to bombard everybody with lava bombs and was lucky to find some 'space rocks' in a pet shop. Painted up with a little stuffing material added and they do the job!

The objectives consisted of resin crystals (Wargames Terrain Workshop), fossils (both models and real fossils copied using blue stuff), resin oil drums from Anyscale (via their eBay shop) and some dinosaur skulls that are branded Toobs (I think).

To keep the theme going, I also made my own dice tray using some animal effect felt, a paint tray and blue foam. Having made it I wish now that I had included some fossils in the outer rocks, but I was a bit rushed. Next time!

Small dragonflies were made using a paper punch, painted and added to small strands of wire for a flying effect or glued to logs. These are bit difficult to see in the game shots, but here they are on the paint table.

The truck was a repainted die cast toy off eBay. The mole is the Emerging Tunneler sold by Ironclad. Rubber dingies are from AnyScale and the cage is sold by Sarissa. I embellished the cage with a few movie posters (these were downloaded, resized and weathered).

We also used a few 3D printed pieces. All done by Dave C. at the club. There were trilobites on the beach and a couple of pith helmets in the explorers camp. The paper maps were downloaded, resized and weathered. To create the folded effect, they were first soaked in water. They retain their shape once dry.

Dave also made some snazzy vp tokens by laser cutting coloured resin (no photo of these I'm afraid). All figure movement and shooting ranges etc followed similar rules as Congo. Dave H at the club made movement sticks in sizes of S, M and L.

Lastly, you may notice that there are a number of small twigs added to various terrain pieces and figure bases. Small twigs from coniferous trees have markings where the needles attach that make them resemble prehistoric trunks. I also had a few twigs with small stems that resemble fallen pine trees and a few pale twigs that look like driftwood. The rest of the club thought I had lost it when I produced three small tubs each with a different type of twig! To wind them up I then sprinkled a little scatter material over the game mat before adding individual fern leaves (created using a hole punch from Green Stuff World) to the mat with a paintbrush... Just a few leaves really helps to make the mat blend in with the area terrain pieces.

The mat is the zulu mat (the one without the river and custom printed without the track) available from TinyWargames. Of course, it needed a good shake out after the game!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Dino Safari at Broadside 2019

After several months of fevered terrain building and figure painting the day finally came and we introduced the world (well, the intrepid explorers braving this year's Broadside) to Dino Safari!

The day started off with some careful packing...

Followed by an even more careful drive to Sittingbourne...

Happily, everything arrived in one piece and at 1 minute past ten we were ready to face the crowds!

I was originally tasked to do the game last year, whilst helping out at SELWG. I gave the working title of Trophy Hunting in the Lost Valley, but over the months this evolved to the more manageable Dino Safari. The basic design aim was to create a fun participation game that includes numerous factions that each have different objectives. The factions were intended to be controlled either by club members or show participants. Since people tend to like to try a game but not be stuck with it for the whole day, I also wanted the factions to be reasonably short lived. There was a T. rex on the loose after all!

To keep things interesting, each faction was awarded victory points for achieving objectives and I made a simple leaderboard that was attached to one side of the table ('The Eaten' in the above photo). I was also keen to include characters from various classic pulp dinosaur films/books.

 We have the intrepid explorers of the Lost World who were searching for fossils...

The Big Game Hunter and Shooting Party...

And yes, there were rules that allowed them to drive the truck. How else would they capture the T. rex calf and get it back to the cage?!

The dastardly German U-Boat Captain and Crew who needed to collect oil from tar-pits and return it to the beach to refine and refuel the sub (!)

The Cavemen Chief and his Tribe who were hunting for fresh meat...

Last but not least, there was also a famous Geologist and two Spear-Armed Adventurers. Sadly, Prof. Blushing was trampled by a stampeding Parasaurolophus and failed to make it onto celluloid. So here's one I prepared earlier...

I was keen to make the terrain work as a dynamic part of the game. So, each terrain area was defined by the type of objects that were placed on it. Vegetated terrain included trees, cycads, ferns and other low lying vegetation. The various herbivore dinosaurs ate different types of vegetation and once all the plants on a terrain area was eaten, the terrain remained, but no longer blocked line of site. The idea was to make the table open up as the game progressed (depending on how hungry the dinosaurs were!). We did reset the vegetation when things got too sparse.

There was also a carefully placed piece of blocking terrain in the middle of the game area (hem!). This was of course the volcano, that rumbled progressively louder as the day progressed culminating in a rather large plume of ash that spat out lava bombs at anybody (adventurer or dinosaur) in range.

In the end the rotten Germans just pipped the Cavemen in VP. Although to be fair, the Cavemen withdrew back to their caves with their lives (and lunch) intact, whilst the Germans had some problems on the beach with a rather annoyed theropod....

The rules were inspired by Studio Tomahawks Congo, with a little bit of Dinomight thrown in for good measure. Player turns were based on a random card draw, with a special effects card each turn.

Overall I was pleased with how the game played and especially pleased that it was so well received, particularly by one or two younger adventurers. Unfortunately I was so busy with the game that I didn't get chance to look at anything else and so I don't have photos of any of the other excellent tables. I guess that being so busy also saved me some money, since I also didn't get chance to buy anything!

A very big thanks to Friday Night Fire Fight Club for helping with the game and to everybody who came along to either watch, play or with kind words.