Thursday 31 March 2016

Aftermath to The Raid

Using his axe to support him, Wulfestan rose to his feet. His head throbbed but looking at the broken helm at his feet he was thankful it wasn't much worse.

"Sigered!" He yelled, "What fate has befallen us?"

The Priest walked between the pews, rubbing ointment into his shoulder. Things didn't look good. The pagans had ransacked the church desecrating the holy shrine and removing everything that they considered of worth. Before him lay four bodies. As Wulfestan moved to stand beside the Priest he looked down.

"Ailred?" He gasped. "The pagans will pay for this sacrilege..."


Johan looked over his shoulder. His warband carried chests and herded both animals and slaves. Ulf the berserker looked bleary eyed and although the gash in his stomach had been sealed with a burning brand, it continued to weep and almost seemed to resemble the shape of a Christian cross.

"Best not mention it" thought Johan.

Ahead loomed the forest.

"Let's move lads!"

Kalf winced and held his hand to his ribs.

"That mail will need some attention" remarked Johan.

"Indeed!" replied the trusted veteran of old. "Do we try for the forest or skirt it's edges?"

Johan looked at the smoke rising from the distant church.

"The Saxons won't be far behind. Ox! What say you?"


Making off with the Spoils



So we've played our first game of Blood Eagle! Rather than just play a single game we intend to play through the Saga suggested in the rulebook.

One game isn't enough to fully form an opinion of the rules but I thought I'd give an overview and share a few thoughts. In terms of the rule mechanics, Blood Eagle is based on the popular steam punk rules In Her Majesty's Name (IHMN). Anyone who's played INHM before will be right at home. Although I've not yet played IHMN, I do own the book so had a quick look to make a comparison. The rules are indeed very similar, word for word in places.

So how do you play? Each player creates a warband. These can be vanilla historical types (several examples are given in the rules), or they can include Heros (think Beowulf). Warbands can also be legendary - a Frost Giant army sounds like a lot of fun.

To begin with it is recommended that players stick to battles using forces made from 250 points (or Reputation Points if you are playing a campaign). Battles can include larger warbands, but I suspect things may start to get a bit unwieldy at point sizes above 400 or 500. Unlike the unit based SAGA and Lion Rampant, Blood Eagle is based on the actions of individual figures. Figures have various statistics that govern their melee abilities, shooting and speed. They also have a fate value that (as my Saxon Thegn discovered), can help them to survive battlefield injuries.

The game is broken down into a series of phases: movement, shooting and melee. Initiative is determined by a roll of a d10 to which is added the warband's highest Leadership value. The player that wins each turn's initiative makes the first move and play then alternates between players until all figures have moved. Shooting and melee are handled in the same way with the same initiative being followed.

There are some subtleties in this mechanism that only become apparent after the first play. Deciding which figure to move and how to arrange figures for shooting or melee will significantly affect success. Shooting and melee bonuses are provided by different weapons. Shooting is particularly interesting since it is heavily influenced by whether a figure has moved (both the shooter and target). Trying to move a Skirmisher and fire a sling at a running Viking (who ends up behind a hedge), just isn't going to work!

At first I was a little concerned by the mechanism for melee. The fighter with initiative rolls a d10 and adds the figure's fight bonus (if any) + any bonuses from the weapon. This is then compared to the target's armour. Armour values depend on whether the figure is wearing leather or mail, wearing a helm, carrying a shield etc. Figures with no armour have a base value of 7. If the fighter scores equal to or more than the armour, the target is hit. So no opposed die rolls (like in Frostgrave for example) and the target's melee ability doesn't influence whether the figure is successfully hit. But in truth, the mechanism in Blood Eagle is actually quite similar to SAGA (with the inclusion of initiative and a greater range of modifiers). Figures can fumble their attack by rolling a natural 1 (followed by another roll of a 1 to confirm the fumble). Figures can gain more bonuses by outnumbering a target and weaker figures can group together to 'mob' a more powerful (or better armoured) enemy. If a figure is hit, it must make a fate roll. Kyle thought this part of the game to be thrilling. Scoring the same as the figure's fate value on the roll of a d10 means the figure is knocked over. Scoring less means they are out of the game (but not necessarily dead). Although the fate value of leaders can be quite low (3+ for my Thegn), some weapons can alter this quite significantly. Being hit by a Dane axe is definitely nasty! After a couple of fights we found the system to work very well and found the whole process very fluid.

But! There are quite a few values to look up (both for weapons and armour). This game really needs a simple reference sheet and a roster for the warbands where values for armour and weapons can be written to make them clearly visible in the heat of battle.

Terrain is simply covered and categorised by type (rated as a value from 1 to 3). Initially I was a bit confused as to how terrain affects movement. Terrain doesn't affect melee and it's affect on shooting is clearly described. But movement? I had a quick scan of the forums and found a few posts from other similarly confused IHMN players. It turns out that the terrain value is simply subtracted from the figure's movement. Most human figures have a base move of 6". This can be increased by their speed value (eg. the berserker is +2) and whether they are running (another +3 for figures unencumbered by medium/heavy armour). So in open terrain a running berserker could move up to 6+2+3 = 11 inches! But in dense forest (Type 3 terrain), this would be reduced by 3". Some terrain can also be defined as impassable.

The mechanisms for moving, shooting and melee are therefore all quite straightforward (and take up only 9 pages of the 100 page rulebook). Where I think the game shines is in the way it encourages you to build a warband and create your own Saga through linked games.

Leaders can be given individual Traits that help to characterise them. For example they could have bonuses to their Leadership or be skilled in unarmed combat. Seers and Priests can be given magical powers that are defined by whether the figure is Christian or Pagan. The magical powers are are bit like how magic was portrayed by Tolkien in Lord of the Rings (the book NOT the films!). Rather subtle and based on what people in the dark ages actually believed. Although if Kyle's skald had managed to get his bolt of fire off, it would have been the talk of the town!

There are a number of scenarios detailed in the book and these can be played together to create a campaign - or to write a Saga on your blog ;-)

Scenarios range from simple raids to assassinations, rescues and the like. Really what you'd expect, but all given a suitable dark age flavour. The scenario involving Grendel looks like just the excuse needed to invest in a large model Great Hall...

Scenarios can be played in any number of Landscapes that are themselves affected by Complications. Landscapes include the typical forests, villages, henges and marshes but also include the deck of a longship - hmm! I find the inclusion of complications to be particularly interesting. Complications are 'things' that affect how the scenario is played and may be influenced by the landscape. Since it was our first game, I chose not to complicate The Raid (sorry!), but we'll definitely be building these in to future games. Example complications detailed in the rulebook include fog/mist, twilight, stormy weather - that type of thing.

For campaign play, each player starts with 400 Reputation points. From this a warband of 250 points can be created for each game in the campaign. Reputation points are lost when figures are killed (or captured) but can be gained for winning scenario objectives, killing the enemy and ransoming captives.

Figures knocked out of action during a game make an unmodified roll on their fate. Failure means death (and loss of reputation)! But a successful roll means they can return for future battles. At the end of our first game only two of my Saxon warriors remained standing. Fate rolls resulted in the deaths of my Huscarle (poor Ailred!), one warrior and two Skirmishers. Luckily my Thegn and priest survived. Since I knocked out the Viking berserker and one veteran I gained a couple of points, but overall my reputation is down to 311. Kyle's Viking Raiders managed to pass their post game fate rolls so no points were lost. For winning the game and knocking out most of my Saxons (!) his reputation increased by an impressive 30.

Things are not lost yet though. Since only 250 points can be used for each game, I can return without the loss of reputation affecting the next warband that I field. Let's hope it doesn't drop to less than 250 after the next game...

For winning the game, Kyle can choose certain advantages in the next game. Other than mocking his dad, he can choose to deploy the terrain, choose a deployment point (subject to scenario), add or remove a complication or deploy up to three non-leader figures as scouts.

Since it's the Easter holidays I'm hoping to get at least one more game in with Kyle. Now, where did I put that box of trees...


[Update: A reference sheet is now available for download]


Wednesday 30 March 2016

Blood Eagle - The Raid

The Viking Raiders emerged from beneath the trees and gazed upon the lands ahead. A church sat defenceless amongst a collection of wooden hovels. Johan had heard about the One God and the wealth hoarded by His priests.



Alongside Johan were a motly crew of Norsemen. Beside him stood Ox a skald of repute who, it was claimed, had acquired his name after a drunken binge when he bellowed and roared so much he appeared to some as a raging bull. Two veterans of old clasped their Dane axes, eager for the battle to come. The new recruit hadn't yet proved himself in battle but his family were known to Johan and he felt confident the lad wouldn't let him down. A low grunt signalled the presence of Ulf. The scars on his body telling stories of past battles. Johan didn't feel entirely safe around Ulf, a dribble in the corner of the berserker's mouth had a red tinge...



Wulfestan stood between the Priest Sigered and his loyal Huscarle retainer, Ailred. Accompanying them were three spearmen and youngsters who, their fathers claimed, could take out the eye of a robin with their slingshot. Time would tell, for in the distance a loud yell announced that the Pagans were upon them!



Wulfestan stood with the Priest before the mighty oak doors, determined that no pagan would despoil this building of God.



The Thegn positions his warriors and Skirmishers around the church with Ailred defending the only other entrance - a small window.

Women, children, old men and their livestock cower within the church. Johan knows that if he can get at least three of his men in the church, the Saxons would not dare fight back.



The Vikings choose their position well rushing towards the church from two separate points [white markers on the right], using buildings and trees as cover.


Seeing the danger, Wulfestan runs around the church, whilst his Skirmishers take up position behind a wooden table.



But misjudging the range, their slingshot falls harmlessly into the hedge.



Ox leads two of the pagans around a hovel. He takes aim at the Priest and mutters words of fire. The air crackles and pops, but nothing happens! Ox mutters dark thoughts...



Perhaps the well will provide good cover against slingshot - if the Saxons ever find their aim!



Taking no heed of the Christian symbols, Johan takes cover behind the stone cross. A Saxon warrior positions himself on the corner of the church, ready to throw his spear at any Vikings that attemp to outflank Ailred.



With a roar, Ulf the berserker charges towards the window! Johan and one of his veteran warriors follow up behind - at a safe distance...



As he rushes forwards, Wulfestan is blessed by Sigered.

"Have faith my son!" Shouts the Priest.



Blood is spilt. A Saxon warrior falls, his skull cleaved. The berserker jumps on his broken body and turns towards Ailred.

"No!" shouts Siegred.

But it is too late, the Norseman's axe plunges into the Huscarle. He slumps and falls, never to rise again.



Hearing Sigered's cries, Ulf jumps over the fallen and rushes past the stone cross. But the Priest stands firm, battering back the berserker with his quarterstaff.



Meanwhile a veteran Viking and his younger brethren rush towards the doors of the church. Only a lone Skirmisher stands between them and the riches within.



Wulfestan stands firm and blows are exchanged with the Viking Jarl. Johan steps back and eyes his quarry. This Saxon knows how to wield an axe! Taking aim, The Viking brings his sword down and strikes Wulfestan's helm! The Saxon Thegn crumples to the ground.



But all is not lost - at least not yet! A Saxon warrior lunges forwards with his spear and a veteran Viking warrior falls.



But Johan slices through a Skirmisher...



Whilst another Skirmisher is mobbed by two Vikings and drops to the ground - dead.



The two Viking warriors run for the church, eager to plunder and loot. Near the window, the berserker grins at the Priest and raises his axe...



But the Priest strikes first! His staff jabs forwards leaving the crucifix embedded in the berserker's flesh...



Behind him a veteran Viking warrior takes deadly revenge and Sigered is struck... And falls.



Ox eyes the church and runs towards the doors shouting Pagan cries of doom!



Meanwhile the last Skirmisher is cut down where he stands.



But two warriors stand before Johan. Their shields locked together, pushing him back from the church.

"It's too late you fools!" Cries Johan.

"Unless you want your kin to join their Priest, stand down!"



Seeing that all is lost, the warriors lower their spears and retreat from the scene of battle.

Johan walks towards the doors rubbing the sweat from his hands...


The Aftermath


Blood Eagle - Prelude to The Raid...

Johan jumped down from his longship and waded through the shallows. He knew that glory and riches lay ahead, but night was nearly upon them so they must make haste. Leading his men from the river they skirted around an area of marsh and came to a narrow but fast flowing stream. A rickety wooden bridge could be seen in the distance. One by one, they crossed.

"Hmm..." thought Johan, "this could prove useful in a tight spot!"

Beyond the bridge lay a vast forest full of untold terrors. Not daring to venture forth in the fading light they made camp.

The church was surrounded by fields and hedgerows. Villagers piled the last of the hay into large stacks before returning to the shelter of their homes. A low mist started to rise, engulfing the distant trees.



Wulfestan looked up from his broth and with a scowl he studied the forest.

"Death stalks the greenwood tonight lads"

"Aye Lord" replied Ailred.

Sigered wrapped his cloak tighter about him and eyed the Huscarle. Ailred's mighty two handed axe glowed red in the fading light. Sigered gently reached for his staff and grasped the bronze crucifix at its tip. Sigered had seen visions before and knew them to be the work of the devil. But now, he could see nothing. It was as though his friend Ailred was no longer there.




Wulfestan stood and turning his back to the forest he said in a low voice.

"The pagans must have landed by now. But not even they will cross the greenwood till the 'morrow".

"Time to sleep..."


The Raid


Sunday 27 March 2016

SAGA Invasions

Finally! Straight from the horse's mouth! Studio Tomahawk have finally divulged some information on the SAGA supplement hitherto known as Age of Arthur. Well, it looks like the supplement will actually be called Invasions. Here's what Studio Tomahawk had to say on their Facebook page (translated from French):


Hello, happy Easter.

The absence of publication of the last month was only due to the preparation of an important part of the history of saga.

While with the croissant & the cross, we were exploring the destinies crusaders of the knights parties in the holy land and of the struggle of oriental to defend their land, with the next volume of saga we're going back further in time and explore the origin of the Dark ages.

Imagine 6 new factions featuring of Britons, Saxon invaders, Romans, Huns, the goths and picts. To lead them to the battle, heroes colorful as aetius, Attila, Arthur, vortigern and other will carry you in an era where the borders Roman suffer the battering incessant barbarians at their doors.

New factions, new mercenaries to join your tapes, a system of campaign and a range of figures are in the programme. Your habits of games will be to review, to reform to establish a new style of play in a system of campaign very original and unexpected.

Latest tests have been carried out there's a few days by our team of valiant fighters. They have experienced the trays, the scenarios, and the infernal campaign: defend the frontier to face the invaders!

Saga: invasion is now entered into production.

It's for when? I see you in advance, we ask the question... Not before the end of the year. The rest is in the hands of the gods...



Firstly - it won't be available until the end of the year - boo! But at least this will help save further damage on my wallet at Salute...

Secondly, Britons, Late Romans, Saxons, Huns, Goths and Picts! Fantastic! Fits in perfectly with the historical period I am collecting for Hail Caesar.

Thirdly, a campaign system? Hmm?! I wonder how this will mesh with Gripping Beast's soon to be released Age of the Wolf? Presumably each campaign system will be specific to their respective time periods so there won't be too many conflicts. I wonder who is actually authoring Age of the Wolf though?




Saturday 26 March 2016

BattleSystems Dungeon Terrain

Last year I backed the BattleSystems Kickstarter for their dungeon terrain. I missed out on the SciFi terrain Kickstarter, but was able to add it to my dungeon pledge. Well it's taken awhile, but today I went from this...



To this...





The terrain is all made from pre-printed cardboard and is modular so just fits together with small plastic clips. I have a few Doctor Who scenarios in mind for both the dungeon and SciFi sets - more on that soon (ish). But we intend on playing a game of Frostgrave first...

Update (Easter Sunday)

Despite Sunday's hail that made us stand in the conservatory with our ears plugged, we had a cracking game of Frostgrave today. Both wizards went down, but survived to play again - Mighty Kyle's wizard now achieving level 6... Still, my Necromancer managed to grab a couple of treasures, just as well since my Captain died from his wounds and I had to hire another! Here's a few photos from today's game (we found it very useful that the dungeon tiles were 1 inch squares - no need to measure for movement).








Congo Close to Publication?

Wargames Illustrated will be showcasing the rules for Studio Tomahawks new game Congo in the April edition of the wargaming magazine. I'm guessing it may well be released at Salute.

I know a few people who are interested in these rules. Looks like my painting schedule will be speared once again this year!

Monday 21 March 2016

Blood Eagle!

Blood Eagle, a new skirmish game set in the Dark Ages has just been released - ahead of schedule!



The book is available for £14.95 and can be ordered from North Star.

Just ordered mine!


Saturday 19 March 2016

Bróðir of Man

Bróðir of Man was a Norse Gael warlord who lived in the 11th Century. As the name suggests, Bróðir is associated with the Isle of Man. However, his claim to fame is the alleged slaying of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. What is interesting is that following a series of omens, Bróðir and his brother Óspak fell out and ended up fighting on opposite sides during the battle (on diagonally opposite flanks). According to folklore, Bróðir's chainmail protected him against all blows until he was repelled by Wolf the Quarrelsome. Bróðir fled the scene and hid in a wood. As can be imagined this led to his men becoming demoralised and they were slain to a man. Some tales suggest that as he fled the battle, Bróðir came upon the elderly Brian Boru who was sat in his tent. Norse and Irish accounts of what happened next differ, but Brian ended up dead.

In SAGA, Bróðir is represented as a Hero of the Viking Age and has a number of special abilities (SAGA The Ravens Shadow, pg. 15). In summary, he generates 3 SAGA dice, has magical chainmail that gives him an armour of 6 that cannot be reduced below 5 by any means (in both shooting and melee). But his warband may only consist of Hearthguards ("murderous foreign Danes").



I've therefore decided to play Bróðir alongside three units of Hearthguard. One 12 man unit will be armed with hand weapons, whilst the other two units of four will wield Dane axes. If you know the Norse Gael battleboard, you'll have a pretty good idea how I intend to use them!



Finally, Bróðir's Sorcerous Divinations introduce further excitement. Using 'divination tokens' both players will randomly determine the game turn when Bróðir is especially difficult to kill (cancelling all hits on a 2) and the game turn when he meets his fate (all hits are doubled). Hopefully in my game next week against Anthony's Normans, Bróðir won't meet the same fate as his real life counterpart....

"Wolf the Quarrelsome cut open his belly, and led him round and round the trunk of a tree, and so wound all his entrails out of him"




Friday 18 March 2016

SAGA - Age of the Wolf

Here I was looking forward to Age of Arthur, when Gripping Beast announce Age of the Wolf!



A campaign system for SAGA, focussing on the Viking Age! Here's hoping it's available at Salute!!


edit: and I now have my copy! I've written some thoughts on the supplement here.


Tuesday 15 March 2016

What's Next on the Paint Table?

After last week's hectic push to get the werewolves finished for our recent Frostgrave game, I decided to finish off a terrain piece that's been hanging around for a while. Just need to flock and varnish and I'll post a few photos.

In the meantime I've been trying to hunt down a certain shade of green paint that I need for the bases of my Ancient Britons. I've been singularly unsuccessful though so the Britons remain in their box. So... I have a game of SAGA booked for a couple of weeks and since I'll be playing Norse Gaels I've decided to paint up a new warlord.



This is Saxon Miniatures' take on Brodir of Man. I have the Viking Warlord and Hirdmen figure collections from Saxon, but haven't yet painted any. The figures are very nicely detailed, so looking forward to getting started on the Man!


Saturday 12 March 2016

A Howl in the Darkness

I decided to run a modified version of the Frostgrave mini Campaign that appeared in a recent edition of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy. Since time was tight, we could only really play two games. I therefore decided to combine the first two scenarios of the campaign (Prey and The Quest) into a single game. If the boys managed to escape the board with treasure, they could forge silver weapons and return for Hunters Become the Hunted. Of course they would have to find the silver treasure...



An unpaved road winds its way through woodland and exits the board through the outskirts of the ruined city (located to the lower right in the above image).

After successfully negotiating his way across the old bridge and escaping from the Frost Giant, Mighty Kyle's dwarven warband decided to rest before continuing their journey to Frostgrave. But during one particularly long and bitterly cold night, the howls of hunting wolves could be heard ahead. Leaving his diminutive wizard to recover his strength the dwarf captain and a handful of soldiers (along with 'Laddy' a summoned highland bull - don't ask) decided to investigate. They make their way along the road and emerge from the trees with a scene of carnage directly ahead.

Kyle's friend took charge of another warband. This one was led by Otto and his soldiers (as per the published campaign). Otto entered the board from the ruins.

The two warbands needed to investigate the ruined caravan and discover who or what was responsible. Wolves were starting to feed on the fallen, even whilst some still lived. The old woman was clearly still alive. But for how long? Four treasure chests were scattered across the board.

After last time (!) the boys immediately decided that they should work together. Otto's men quickly found a treasure chest amongst a ruined tower - but alas the chest was empty...

Fighting off wolves, the dwarven captain secured two chests. One was filled with gold, the other silver. The body closest to the caravan was searched. Its limbs were torn away, this was not the master of the caravan. More wolves appeared.



From amongst the trees a foul shape emerged. Not a wolf, but also not a man.



Fortunately standard werewolves are not shapeshifters and can be killed with normal weapons. As he dispatched the man wolf and removed its head for the promised bounty of 20gc, Otto sighed with relief. His greatest fear was that he would encounter a true werewolf.

But what of the old woman? The wolf before her had turned and bounded off towards the dwarfs. The old woman ran towards the woods. Otto saw her close to the last treasure chest and sent his tracker in pursuit.

By now (turn 6) the sun had set and ragged clouds raced across the night sky, revealing the full moon.

Otto's tracker reached the chest and grasped the old woman. But her wild eyed expression startled him. He stepped back.

With a terrible shriek, the old woman started to writhe and twist. Claws erupted from her fingers and before the tracker's very eyes, the old woman transformed into a hideous werewolf - a True Werewolf! Frozen in fear, the soldier could only watch as the werewolf pounced...



"Time to escape" shouted the dwarf captain - or words to that effect!

Soon, both warbands were running back towards the ruins of Frostgrave, hotly pursued by a pack of wolves and their mistress.


Two more of Otto's men fell along with a dwarven thunderer. But the two captains, puffing and wheezing do manage to make it safely to the ruined city.

After a short interlude, the two warbands return. Both captains have forged themselves silver weapons. The hunt for the werewolf can now begin!



Meanwhile the wolf pack recover their strength by feeding on the fallen. In the light of the moon the shapes of men and dwarfs can be seen in the distance. The wolves emerge from the forest ready for fresh meat!



Led as before by the True Werewolf.



The two captain's advance their warbands.



And the wolves move in for the kill...



But what's this!? Otto's archers are deadly accurate with their dice rolling and two wolves are slain. Turning from the attack, the werewolf scrambles up a hill and casts Heal to stop a third from meeting the same fate. But the werewolf is now dangerously close to the silver weapons. Before she can escape Otto charges. There follows a desparate fight between man and beast. Otto is wounded, but he cuts down the werewolf. The beast staggers and falls. As the werewolf lies bleeding it looks up only to see a silvery flash as the dwarf captain races forwards and brings down his silver coated axe...



As they retrieve the last treasure chest, the two captains decide to share their spoils.

"That looks like a nasty cut" remarks the dwarf to Otto.

"Don't worry" replies the captain "it's just a scratch..."