Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tintin and the Pharaoh's Sword


Last Thursday at the Helensburgh games club, my son and I introduced two new players to Pulp Alley in a thrilling 4-way adventure in the jungle.  The scenario wasn't anything particularly exciting (just various random plot points scattered around the board), but everyone had a great time.  Here's what happened...

The Leagues

So, we had 4 new leagues, all designed by myself and using my own models:


Not the greatest of photos - and Professor Calculus has wandered off again!
Tintin should need no introduction really!  This is a league representing the young Belgian reporter and his closest associates.  It's a League of Heroes, so it has fewer members than average, but they're generally higher level characters than is common:
  • Tintin: the leader of this league is good at solving puzzles and following clues.  He can shoot too, but isn't a specialist fighter.
  • Snowy: Tintin's faithful companion is extremely smart for a dog.  He's got Finesse and Cunning, though in a fight his best defence is his very high Dodge ability.
  • Captain Haddock: Oddly, Tintin's best friend is an aging, alcoholic sailor.  He's good in a fist fight, but isn't particularly subtle.
  • Professor Calculus: Calculus is the epitome of the absent-minded academic.  He's as likely to wander off to follow a rare butterfly as he is to invent a new form of ultrasonic weapon.

The M.I.T. Archaeological Society

This league is formed around an intrepid adventurer/archaeologist and his various hanger-ons.  He's more at home chasing rogues, thieves, pirates and Nazis (or being chased by them) than he is digging and cataloguing artifacts carefully at a year-long site.
Perk: Network of Supporters [although we forgot to apply this at the start of the game]
Catchphrase: "It belongs in a museum!"
  • Idaho Smith: A dashing, inspirational leader, though prone to letting his fists and/or Colt .45 do the thinking for him.
  • Marion Allen: Idaho's on/off girlfriend, best described as feisty.  And then some...
  • Indiana: The family's bloodhound.  Not particularly smart, and liable to wander off.
  • Kerem: A Turkish policemen and excellent shot, totally devoted to Idaho after that incident in Smyrna some years ago.
  • Mother: Idaho's mother often seems to get tangled up in his adventures.  She's occasionally helpful, but more often needs rescuing...

Doctor Demento

Note that one of the Zorgls suffered an accident just before the game started and lost both its arms.  This didn't seem to affect its performance, however...
I'm not sure if the good Doctor is an alien in disguise, or just your typical mad scientist with dreams of glory.  Either way, he has a small army of creatures at his beck and call.
  • Doctor Demento: the leader of this league is Clever and Impervious; he can also affect enemies' minds.  Presumably his powers derive from scientifically-advanced artifacts rather than being supernatural in origin.  His dress sense is a bit...megalomaniac!
  • 4 Zorgls: It's not obvious whether these hairy monsters are biological experiments or an alien slave race.  Either way, Zorgls are tough fighters - if none too bright.

The Mummy

Amenhotep was an ancient Egyptian priest some 3,000 years ago, but now he's a resurrected horror followed by totally loyal servants from the grave.
  • Amenhotep: The mummy is tough, cunning and very dangerous.  His Achilles' heel might be that he doesn't have any ranged weapons - unless issuing curses at people counts.
  • 3 Tomb Guardians: These reanimated skeletons are slow, but very hard to damage.
  • Scarab swarm: A swarm of voracious beetles; they're difficult to hit and perilous on contact.

The Setup

We decided that the board would be defined thus:
  • The major plot point was placed in the centre, at the top of the pyramid.
  • 8 minor plot points (2 for each player) were placed around the board.
  • Climbing up or down the pyramid's sides would be perilous, unless the staircase was used.
  • The quicksand and the pit beast (and the areas around them) would be extremely perilous.
  • A leopard started in the middle of the board.  At the end of each turn, it would move 2d6 inches in a random direction.  It would be extremely perilous to anyone who activated within 3" of the model.  [Note: the peril isn't necessarily the same leopard each time; the jungle is full of such beasts and they come and go as they please]
  • Moving through one of the large, dense patches of jungle would be perilous.

The Game: First Half

Professor Calculus was the first character to move in turn 1, but he didn't get very far before he tripped over a hidden root [another player was very quick to use a fate card - which caused the good professor to take a peril - which he failed].  Not wanting to roll for a 50% chance of recovery, I responded with an I'm Alright card of my own.

Tintin raced straight up the steps of the pyramid, but the other players weren't letting him off easily.  A failed challenge injured the young man, though he did recover Pharaoh's Sword a turn later.

On the other side of the pyramid, a Zorgl climbed up to retrieve a tasty-looking giant snail.  When Amenhotep attempted to intervene, other Zorgls intercepted him.  This started an epic fight between the forces of Doctor Demento and the Mummy which lasted right to the end of the game.

Elsewhere, the scarab swarm attacked Kerem.  Although he shot at it repeatedly (and no doubt killed a few individual bugs), the swarm was only driven off - temporarily - when Indiana (the bloodhound) joined in.

Captain Haddock attempted to talk to the native guide, but was immensely frustrated to find that the plot point challenge required a significant amount of Finesse or Cunning - neither of which were the good Captain's strongest abilities!

Meanwhile, Doctor Demento glided over the quicksand and grabbed the pouch of diamonds from the drowning man.  Even the doctor, with all his powers, found the going tough here; it took him a couple of turns to exit the sticky mess.

About half-way through the game, this was the situation:
  • Most of the Zorgls were engaged in a battle royale against Amenhotep and his Tomb Guardians to the east of the pyramid.
  • In the north, the fourth Zorgl had picked up the journal plot point, but was being stalked by the leopard.  It seemed as if this supposedly-random peril was dogging the Zorgl's footsteps, as it followed him everywhere.  Indeed, in the turn after this, the leopard knocked out the Zorgl and then vanished into the undergrowth, not bothering anyone else for the rest of the game.
  • To the south, Idaho Smith was wavering over whether he should enter the lair of the pit beast to retrieve the crate of rifles plot point.  He did eventually shoot down a tomb guardian which threatened his followers instead.
  • Kerem and Indiana had (temporarily) seen off the scarab swarm.
  • Marion Allen was unchallenged in her attempt on the dynamite plot point, but Mother (who had been with her just moments before) vanished into the undergrowth [in other words, I know she's somewhere at that end of the board, but I cannot see the model in the picture and I can't remember exactly where she was!].
  • In the west, Tintin's league were unmolested as they attempted multiple plot points.  Professor Calculus dusted himself off after his earlier fall.

The Game: Second Half

Tintin had found the all-important Pharaoh's Sword, so he ran for the exit.  At the same time, Snowy recovered a hat and whip, only to be confronted by a middle-aged woman.  "Those are my son's things!" she exclaimed.  "Come here, little dog,  Drop them!" she commanded.  But Snowy wasn't having any of that; he backed off, dodging and weaving when Mother tried to grab him.  She didn't really stand a chance of catching the agile terrier!

Idaho Smith wasn't having a good time!  He had run out of ammunition after shooting a Tomb Guardian to pieces and had decided to go for the crate of rifles after all.  He fought his way into the pit beast's lair, not without some difficulty, only to discover that the crate of rifles wasn't real!  The beast had misled him with some of the remains of a previous victim, laid out artfully to entice him in.

Back on the lower slopes of the pyramid, the Zorgl/Mummy slugfest continued.  The hairy monsters didn't manage to put any hurt onto the hard-as-nails Amenhotep, but they made a stupendous number of recovery rolls to stay in the fight themselves.

The scarab swarm came forwards again; this time Kerem vanished beneath the seething mass of bugs and didn't reappear.  Indiana, the dog, was fine though; the insects couldn't quite figure out whether he was an enemy or just a neutral bystander.

Finally, Captain Haddock thought he'd managed to communicate with the native guide.  However, he was exasperated when the man simply nodded, turned and stalked off into the jungle.  Shouting at him had been going so well up till then...

Idaho managed to extricate himself from the pit beast, though not without much difficulty.  Indeed, I suspect that he had to leave his jacket and most of his shirt behind [Multiple players added Fate cards to the basic "extreme peril" in an attempt to make it easier or harder for him to escape.  This all added up to a very tense and complicated climax to the struggle!].

In another part of the jungle, Professor Calculus stumbled across an old journal just lying in the middle of the path.  "Hmm, this look interesting" he thought, as he picked it up [without any difficulty at all, thanks to a FREE PASS challenge].  He probably didn't notice the bloody streaks in the grass where the leopard had dragged away the Zorgl who had been the journal's previous owner...

In a fit of ungentlemanly pique, Captain Haddock ran at Mother in an attempt to remonstrate with her for persecuting Snowy.  The woman was terrified into submission by the sudden appearance of the rough-looking, large man and his stream of invective.  I'm sure he didn't actually hit her...

And still the battle between the Zorgls and the Mummy's forces continued, with neither side prepared to give an inch.  One of the Tomb Guardians had been destroyed, but every time a Zorgl was knocked down, it would just get back up and stay in the fight!

In the last turn, Idaho turned his attention to the dinosaur footprint.  He was shaken and injured from his encounter with the pit beast; this didn't help and he failed to grasp the significance of this plot point.  Hearing his master's voice, Indiana joined in as well - but the bloodhound was less than impressed by the muddy footprint and took himself off into the undergrowth instead [in other words, Indiana failed a peril and was "knocked out" by it].

Amenhotep finally gave up wresting with the Zorgls.  Calling his one remaining servant to his side, he charged the newly-approaching Doctor Demento instead.  However, this boss fight was simply too late to achieve anything and the Doctor dodged away, still holding his pouch of diamonds.

In the last act of the game, Marion Allen was looking for Mother.  She saw Captain Haddock shouting at the old lady and so she shot him in the back.  This was just a scratch, though; the enraged captain saw red, charged Marion and flattened her with a swift pair of fists.  He probably breathed on her as well; his whisky-charged breath could fell an ox...

So, at the end of turn 6 there weren't quite as many models on the board as there had been at the start of the game!


There was lots of derring-do and mayhem, but how did each league fare at the end:
  • Tintin: Tintin's league made off with the Pharaoh's Sword (3VP), the hat and whip (1VP) and the journal (1VP) for a total of 5VP.  No-one was knocked out, at least in part because they didn't really get into many fights.
  • Doctor Demento: The Zorgls stood up to everything that the Mummy could throw at them and came out (mostly) standing - though without the giant snail which they had intended to collect.  Demento himself had acquired the pouch of diamonds (1VP), which would no doubt help further his researches.  Of course, one Zorgl was taken by a leopard, so they must have a hidden vulnerability...
  • The Mummy: Amenhotep and his followers fought both most of Doctor Demento's league and a significant portion of the M.I.T. Archaeological Society.  They held their own - they inflicted as many casualties as they took - but were unable to claim any plot points at all.
  • M.I.T. Archaeological Society: Idaho Smith himself had a terrible time fighting the pit beast and barely escaping.  Indeed, this league had rotten luck with plot points; they failed to solve the dinosaur footprint, they had the dynamite in their grasp until Marion Allen tangled with Captain Haddock and dropped it - and the crate of rifles proved to be a trap.  Kerem vanished under a swarm of insects and both Mother and Indiana have vanished into the jungle and are lost!
So, technically Tintin won by a landslide, but that's not really fair on everyone else as several of the other players were raw beginners.  Did we have an exciting game?  Yes!  Was there plenty of narrative, with each league having its own successes and setbacks?  Yes!  Did everyone go away happy?  Yes, I believe so!  From that point of view, it was a universal win.  Pulp Alley delivers yet again!

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Showcase: The Beast in the Lagoon


For a while, I've had a feeling that a giant sea monster would be a useful addition to my collection of models.  Obviously it wouldn't fit with many of the games I play, but it should work well in the Pulp/Lost World genre, or fighting against Jason and the Argonauts.  Alternatively (and I admit that this is a bit of a stretch), it could serve as an alien opponent for a starship's away team on an uncharted, watery planet.  Or perhaps it's the "pet" for some megalomaniac evil overlord in a spy story?

Heck, I don't need to rationalise this; I just want one!

The Swamp Creature

I even knew which model I wanted for my nightmare maritime encounter: Scotia Grendel's F0070 - Swamp Creature.  Well, I finally ordered one at Carronade 2018, although I did have to wait a few days for it to be delivered.  It's now finished and I present it here for your entertainment.

The swamp monster comes in 4 parts: a thick, resin base with the head and smaller tentacles, plus 3 separate, larger tentacles that fit into recesses on the base.  These weren't a perfect fit, but a little carving and filing soon fixed that; no filler was needed.

The model was very simple to paint:

  • One colour ("pigskin") for the body and tentacles.
  • One colour (pale violet) for the suckers/undersides of the tentacles.
  • Wash the monster all over (including the suckers) with a very dark brown.
  • The eyes were painted black, then wet-brushed with silver to make them slightly sparkly/shiny.  A small, white spot was added to each eye.
  • The water was base-coated with Paynes' Grey (a dark blue-grey, almost black), then highlighted with viridian green (a blue-green) and re-highlighted with a paler version of the same.
  • For once, I've actually used a gloss varnish for a model!  This helps both the sea and the creature to look wet; not something I would usually do for land-based models.

So, this guy is big.  I've added a regular 28mm figure ("Crazy Joe", the lighthouse keeper) to the picture above in order to give a sense of size.  The beast isn't maybe capable of dragging ocean liners to the bottom of the ocean, but should be able to manage a steam launch, log raft, dugout canoe or sampan without too much difficulty.  And of course, those tentacles can probably reach quite a long way, even onto dry land or into a larger ship!

Sleep well, don't have nightmares 🙂!

Monday, 11 June 2018

Super Dungeon Explore: a game


Last Thursday's club game was Super Dungeon Explore.  This won't be a blow-by-blow account, but rather an overview.  It was a very close game indeed...

The Beginning

So, the Questing Knight (in red armour) and the Thundervale Huntress (the centaur) tore through a number of kobolds and their pet hounds.  Initially, Princess Emerald (steampunk sniper) and the Royal Warden (black trenchcoat and hat) just stood and watched.  Of course I, as the dungeon consul, just spawned new monsters to replace these losses; I didn't care about such losses 😁.

After a while, the heroes seemed to realise that they weren't getting very far.  They switched to prioritising spawn points instead of destroying monsters.  This worked much better and they were working through the second tile when my mini-boss spawned.  Sadly, he was so ineffectual and was dispatched so quickly that I don't even have a picture of him; he just wasn't on the board for long enough...

The third and fourth tiles had some very well-entrenched zombies protecting their spawn points.  Nevertheless, the heroes did manage to destroy one of these before the arrival of the big boss (the Witch Queen, on her pumpkin carriage).

Now it took me a while to figure out how to use the Witch Queen effectively (call me slow if you like...).  She's not much good in a melee, can't heal very well - and the heroes were pretty well tooled up by this time.  However, she can throw curses like there's no tomorrow!

Above is a picture of the Questing Knight shortly before he expired: he is badly wounded and on fire, has hex, bane and ice curses and also is infested by a rabid squirrel and a ghost - none of which are particularly hindered by his considerable strength and armour.  He's not in a good way...

Last to die was the Royal Warden - though not before the Witch Queen had been reduced to 2 health left (from a starting value of 8).  One more turn might well have been enough for the warden to inflict 2 damage, so it is quite possible that the heroes could have won this game.  But they didn't...


We were playing the fan-published Lootimeter Mode rules, rather than one of the two official modes that come as part of the game, though we used 20 cards in each countdown deck rather than 16 .  I think I prefer this mode greatly; Lootimeter Mode provides some very necessary time limits and therefore imparts a real sense of urgency.  The heroes need to stick to their plan; they can't afford to deviate!

Not having destroyed the fourth spawn point made a huge difference, as it allowed the Witch Queen to activate an additional time every move.  In effect, she had 2 turns for each one in which the heroes moved; this is a big multiplier.  Heroes, you really need to kill those spawn points!

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Dumbarton: Rock of Ages


I don't normally post anything which isn't directly related to wargaming, but on a very few occasions I write other articles.  Today is such a day; my son and I spent the afternoon at Dumbarton Castle's annual "Rock of Ages" re-enactment event.

Now I've posted about Dumbarton Castle before (--> here <--), so I'm not going to describe the venue this time.  Suffice it to say that it's my local historical monument and we visit it on occasion.  Today was (very) hot and sunny and there was an event on...

Rock of Ages

"Rock of Ages" is an annual, 2-day event organised by Historic Scotland (the government agency that looks after ancient monuments).  Re-enactment groups with at least some connection to the west of Scotland in general and to Dumbarton Castle in particular gather to put on a show.

There are a multitude of camps set up where you can talk to the various groups, as well as a 10-20 minute slot in the main arena for each lot to show their stuff.

We arrived too late to see the Romans in the arena, but this is their camp.  A lot of the equipment and talk was about the Roman fleet and marines, who did after all penetrate further into/around Scotland than the legions.

The Romans were first into the arena at the end of the event, as might be expected.  Recorded history in Scotland pretty much starts with Romans, after all...

Vikings played a big part in the history of Dumbarton Castle (they besieged it and took away the survivors as slaves after the fortress fell).

As might be expected, the Viking reenactors were ... enthusiastic about their battle scenes; there was a considerable amount of rowdiness.  Note that the big guy on the right (with the long Dane axe) is apparently a Varangian; he has spent time in the middle east and has acquired some silks and other unusual elements to his costume.

I missed taking pictures of the medieval, renaissance and Napoleonic groups, though some of these can be seen in the arena shot at the end of this post.  Suffice it to say that we did have long and interesting talks with a medieval archer (about bows and arrows, duh!) & weapons maker (different types of swords, mostly), renaissance ladies (the intricacies of female costume & fashion), a WWI medic (battlefield medicine), a WWI officer from the eastern mediterranean (dysentery and camels) and a Viking housewife (food; they'd just finished lunch).

Here is a WWI British motorcycle "ambulance" taking a wounded German prisoner back to a dressing station.

This isn't a real tank, or even an attempt at a direct replica.  Rather, it's the sort of mock-up that toured Britain to show to the public in an attempt to get them to buy war bonds.  Apparently (a) it is the full size of the real thing and (b) it was built from plans in the Imperial War Museum - so it's authentic!

Late in the afternoon, there was a fly-past and some aerobatics from a replica SE5a.  Since my first great love was early aircraft, this was an amazing experience, though it is extraordinarily difficult to take decent photographs of aircraft in motion.  This is almost certainly the best of my attempts.

The final parade: these are some of the WWI soldiers and auxiliaries.  To the left of the background can be seen the host (in character as a Victorian policeman from Partick), Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies in waiting (in the blue dress, with hat) and just about visible are some of the medieval soldiers from William Wallace's army (near the saltire).

So, we came away hot and sunburnt, but it was a great way to spend the afternoon.  The re-enactors have my pity, though: they need to do the whole thing again tomorrow!

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

SAGA v2: First Game


I've played a few games of SAGA before (most recently, here), but this time it's different.  At least, it's slightly different, as we recently played our first game of SAGA Version 2.

There are a number of differences between v.1 and v.2, though overall the game is much the same.  Others have reviewed these changes in depth, but here are some of the more obvious alterations:
  • The way that the number of SAGA dice is calculated is more even: all units & heroes generate 1 die each (though levy and warrior units have a minimum size below which they don't count any more, so there's no point in hiding that 1-man warrior unit just for its dice-generating potential any more).
  • Warlords/heroes are beefed up in combat, but cannot join with another friendly unit in a fight.  All combat is therefore one unit against one unit.
  • Melee is one entire unit against another.  No more measuring to try to figure out which figures are involved and which are not.
  • Movement is in a straight line; no fiddling around to measure weird curves.
  • All the battle boards have been reworked and at least some of the abilities are quite different.
Overall, I think these changes make everything simpler and more consistent, but we have only just scratched the surface in terms of gameplay...

Our Game

So, nothing terribly subtle here.  We lined up 6 points of Vikings vs 6 points of Anglo Danes and threw a couple of terrain pieces on the table, then set to.

My Anglo Danes had fewer men overall than the Vikings, but more of them were armoured.  With that in mind, my central hearthguard charged forwards, whilst my warriors tried to avoid the Viking berserkers who were running a long way around a flank.

The initial clash between these well-trained & motivated fighters and their Viking equivalents was...bloody.

Elsewhere, a group of Viking warriors struggled against some unusually feisty Anglo Dane levy, who first dropped several of the Vikings with sling shots and then saw off the warriors' charge with minimal loss.

The remaining Anglo Dane hearthguards fought a war of attrition with a slightly larger group of Viking warriors.  Over a series of clashes, each side would win their charge and cause a small number of casualties, only to be driven back in turn when the other side counter-attacked.  Neither group was prepared to admit defeat and eventually they pretty much wiped each other out.

So, after a few turns, the situation was thus:

  • The Viking berserkers still hadn't caught up with any enemies, though they were getting closer.
  • In the centre, units from both sides were queuing up to fight each other.
  • Both warlords were hovering just behind their front lines, looking for an opportunity to make a difference.
  • There were lots of Vikings behind the wood on the left, but these hadn't made it into the fight yet.

Seeing a remnant of the axe-wielding Anglo Dane hearthguards retreating, the Viking warlord charged through the middle of the battle and cut them down.  This was brave, but left him tired and horribly exposed!

Vengeful Anglo Dane warriors from their second line swarmed all around the solitary Viking hero.  He fought to the last, taking 5 of the attackers with him, but the odds were just too great and the Viking leader fell to a well-aimed spear thrust.

Finally, the Viking berserkers arrived.  They charged into the Anglo Dane slingers and slaughtered them, leaving just one shocked man from the levy.  This wasn't without loss though: 2 berserkers fell as well.

In yet another tit-for-tat move, the reserve Anglo Dane warriors now attacked the depleted group of berserkers.

Knowing how dangerous these frothing loonies could be, the Anglo Dane warriors were boosted by a couple of battle board abilities: Like Rocks and Crush the Weak.  Despite this, they still lost two of their own number before they killed the remaining Vikings.

So, one more fight before the end of the game?  Anglo Dane warriors declared a charge on a slightly smaller group of Vikings.

Despite one of the Vikings declaring "Valhalla!", the defenders were wiped out.  The few remaining victorious Anglo Danes were promptly shot down by the nearby Viking archers.

Having finished off the berserkers, the last group of Anglo Dane warriors then assaulted the Viking archers.  The archers had the worst of it, though the slaughter was high on both sides.

The End

At this point, the turn limit for the game was reached.  As you can see, there weren't many survivors!

We counted up the "slaughter points" for casualties caused and it turned out that each side had exactly the same number!  But wait - bonus slaughter points are also awarded for entire units destroyed:
  • The Anglo Danes had lost a large number of men, but surprisingly only 2 units were completely eliminated (one of hearthguard and one of warriors).  The other hearthguard, the other warrior and the levy unit all still had at least one figure left (and just one figure in most cases!)
  • The Vikings had lost completely 2 units of hearthguard (including the berserkers) and 2 units of warriors (plus their warlord, though I'm not sure if he counts for these purposes).
Thus I declare that it was a (very) narrow win for the Anglo Danes, who have managed to drive off the seaborne invaders and defend their lands from pillage and ruin!


This game took just short of 2 hours, which wasn't too bad considering that we were learning and still referring to the rulebook on a number of occasions.  We had enough time to reset and play a second game; this went much more quickly (and led to a climactic battle between the two opposing leaders, where the Viking was ultimately cut down by the heavily boosted Anglo Dane hero ("Lord of War" is a very powerful ability for this type of duel 😃).

So, what did we think of the rules?
  • Once we were familiar enough with the basic concepts, we fairly rattled through the turns.
  • Sometimes a great plan was stymied by not throwing the right faces on the SAGA dice.  Of course, more forethought might have meant that a "plan B" could be followed instead...
  • Similarly, melee (especially, but shooting as well, to a lesser extent) would produce unexpected results.  The dice could be especially kind or unkind at times, though this isn't really different from many other games.
  • Warlords can be very vulnerable if they become isolated from their bodyguards!  Remember to use their free activation every turn either to move them to a place of safety or to engage the biggest threat.
  • There were certainly some occasions where we forgot about free activations of all sorts (the warlord's personal activation, his "we obey" ability, the free manoeuvre for units more then 'L' from an enemy...).  This can be frustrating when you realise part-way through your opponent's next turn that you didn't make all the moves you had planned!
  • Overall, I think we enjoyed both tester games a great deal.  We'll certainly play again, though I'll probably try to vary the scenarios a bit, rather than just using the single "pitched battle" setup that comes in the SAGA v.2 rules.