Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Paleo Diet: A year in the life of the Stone Finger Tribe

Introduction

A little while ago, I described my first ventures (nay, mishaps!) into the Paleo Diet rules.  You can read the sorry tale here, if you so desire.  Well, last Thursday at the Helensburgh Alternative Hobby Association, we tried the game again.  I had been busy painting more figures and effects (fire!) and was keen to see how these would work.

Game 1: the Mammoths


The hunters of the Stone Finger tribe were pleased.  Their group had survived the long, harsh winter without very many deaths and now that the spring was here, mammoths were on the move.  There's a lot of meat on a mammoth and their families were hungry, so if they could bring down one of these behemoths then everyone could feast!

So, here's the plan:
Grod and Vorn would enter from the left, upwind of the mammoths.  They would set fires in the grass to drive the beasts to the right...

...where Droog and Groob, Dorv and Guban would be waiting in ambush.

Ok, it's a very simple plan, but would it work?  Read on...



So far, so good.  The fire has been lit, the mammoths are getting a bit restless and (most of) the ambushers are in hiding.

One beast breaks ranks and runs forwards.  Dorv leaps up and hits it with his club (Really, a club?  Honestly, who brings a club to a mammoth hunt?  This is 50,000BC, after all...).  He does manage to hurt the animal before it tosses him aside.

While Dorv limps away, someone else inflicts another wound on the confused and angry pachyderm (I cannot remember for sure, but this might have been a lucky shot from Groob's sling).  Meanwhile, Vorn continues to light more fires, just in case...


Droog throws a spear at the injured mammoth: it's a critical hit!  The beast falls over, dying.

The rest of the hunters walk forwards slowly, shouting and waving to drive off the other two mammoths (but not getting too close).  They depart and the hunters cheer!  A successful hunt; plenty of meat for everyone, no-one died and only one hunter was injured.


Game 2: The Puppies



In our second game of the evening, the well-fed Neanderthals decided that some hunting dogs would be a nice addition to their tribe.  There weren't any dogs near them, but a wolf pack was breeding nearby.  Could the hunters raid the wolves' den and steal the litter?

So, another simple plan: approach from 3 sides and try to scare the adult wolves away (rather than fighting with them).  If the adult wolves are gone then catching the puppies should be easy...


Initially, things went rather well.  Vorn lit several fires upwind of the den; these caused consternation amongst the wolf pack.  They kept trying to pluck up courage to charge a hunter, only to turn tail and run from the smoke whenever they got close.


One animal broke sideways from the pack, but Groob injured it with a well-placed stone from his sling.


The injured wolf's mournful howls scared the wits out of Droog and Dorv; they emerged from the den each clutching a puppy and ran in the opposite direction...


...and straight into the path of the somewhat out-of-control flames that were burning forwards at an alarming rate.

Meanwhile, Groob finished off the injured wolf with another sling shot and the rest of the men queued up to grab their own puppies.  The remaining wolves were too scared of the fire to do much other than make a few futile dummy charges, so the tribe escaped with most of the litter (and a couple of badly burned hunters).

This probably counts as a successful scenario too 🙂.


Game 3: Who wants to be King?


The old chieftain died later in the year.  As he was dying, he announced that the next chief would be whoever managed to slay a large and dangerous sabretooth cat which had recently moved into the district.  Four hunters didn't even wait for his last gasp but instead gathered up their weapons, called to a couple of dogs and set off to slay the monster.

So, this scenario was co-operative, but only up to a point.  Tribesmen (and their dogs) may not attack each other, but there can only be one winner: whoever delivers the final blow to kill the predator.  There were some herds of small horses around as well, but they played no real part in the game and so I'll not mention them again.


Droog's dog, Scar, was first to attack the sabretooth.  It didn't go very well for the smaller animal; he ran away yelping with a nasty gash on his flank.


Next up was Guban, aided by his dog, Alpha.  The hunter rushed in without waiting for assistance and although he did manage to spear the tiger, he was promptly mauled to death.


Dorv leaped in as well, though too late to aid his friend.  He gave the sabretooth a crack on the head with his club, but it then turned on him and tore him to pieces.


Droog and Groob were trying to catch up, but were still some way off.  Whilst they ran and panted, Alpha and the sabretooth (both injured) snarled and snapped at each other.

Incredibly, the tiger's attacks missed the dog again and again.  Eventually Alpha got a good hold and ripped out the cat's throat to deliver the fatal blow.  And that is why, even to this day, the Stone Finger Tribe worships dogs and holds them supreme over all other spirits and gods.


Conclusion

Paleo Diet is a quick, simple, fun set of rules.  The animal behaviours are unpredictable, but within realistic bounds, so the (player) hunters are never certain of an easy victory.

We were able to fit three very distinct games into a single evening, with a different (but overlapping) set of players in each.  It would have been ideal as a mini-campaign - and there are rules for this, but on this occasion we weren't tracking injuries, successes or failures from one game to the next.

Next time we'll have to do such a campaign properly.  Hmm, I wonder if it would be possible to organise a club league, with people dropping in for the occasional game as & when it suited them?

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Congo: the Priest and the Slavers

Introduction


After playing Pulp Alley on my new, modular terrain in the morning (see here for a description), Steve and I decided to continue our day of gaming with a return to Congo.  The tiles were re-arranged a bit and set up as an African tribal village.

On the day of the scenario, this particular settlement was hosting a French missionary called "Father Marcellin".  Most of the tribesmen were away hunting when a force of Arab slavers descended on the village.  It appears that they disapproved most strongly of this particular European giving the natives ideas...


The Scenario

This is number 3 of the standard scenarios from the base Congo rules: "A Survivor's Account".  The priest starts the game hidden in one of the huts; the defenders know where he is but the attackers do not.
  • The attackers are split into 2 groups; one enters from each end of the table on the first turn.  Note that we chose to use my dhow model to mark one of these entry points, but the vessel has no game function besides being decorative.  Attackers score points for capturing the missionary and taking him off the table, or for burning and looting the villager's huts.
  • Only a few of the defenders start in the village; the rest arrive piecemeal at random points and times.  The tribe scores points for hustling the priest off the table and for each enemy group destroyed.

The Game


The brigands advanced; Ruga Ruga ran between the deserted huts whilst their tribal auxiliaries were a bit slower.  Zanzibaris and ascaris leaped off the dhow and marched up the beach.

Feeling horribly outnumbered, the villagers scattered.  Experienced hunters ran for cover in a nearby cluster of bushes, while the chieftain and his warriors tried to hide in the lee of the hut nearest to the river.  This hut was where Father Marcellin was staying and so the tribesmen beckoned for him to join them.



The first of the tribal reinforcements arrived in the very far corner of the table; a group of warriors paddled their canoe to shore as fast as they could (again, the canoe is really just for decoration, rather than being a playable, functional model).  They seemed a long way from the action...



The chieftain's group (with the missionary) was harassed by rifle fire from the Zanzibaris.  It looked as if they were about to be outflanked as well, when another bunch of tribal warriors arrived back from their hunting.  These splashed across the shallow stream and charged up the hill.  Even though the opposing auxiliaries were led by a great brute of a man, this initial melee went in favour of the villagers and the attackers' advance was halted.



The attackers' second band of young warriors was struggling.  They didn't like this place, there were strange noises coming from the village, it was bad luck to attack a European and they generally didn't feel nearly as brave as they had done when they agreed to join this expedition [young warriors are especially susceptible to psychological attacks; the villagers made considerable use of such terrors, especially when they didn't have many units to move instead].

Eventually, these bravos built up a total of 4 stress tokens [ie. they were totally freaking out!].  Then, a lion appeared in the nearest patch of scrub...



Never underestimate native firepower!  The Zanzibaris had been ignoring the tribal hunters, but a flurry of arrows dropped several of the Arabs on the beach.



This heralded a veritable storm of activity!
  • Running with the speed of the giraffe, warriors tore across the beach in pursuit of the remaining Zanzibaris.  Indeed, the latter only escaped annihilation because their trader managed to keep retreating, one step ahead of their pursuers.
  • Simultaneously, the chieftain's warriors charged the ascaris and drove them back to the beach, leaving two of their number behind as corpses.
  • Not everything went the way of the villagers, though: the Ruga Ruga fired a volley of muskets at the tribesmen.  They managed just one hit - but it was the chieftain himself who took the bullet and fell!  This unseen attack from afar panicked his bodyguard, if only momentarily.



Finally, the lion woke up and smelled blood.  It charged from cover into the back of the depleted unit of native auxiliaries, killing one of them and sending the other screaming away in terror.

It was about this point that the other unit of young warriors decided to run away; their terror was simply too much for them [this may just be the first time I've seen a unit destroyed entirely by terror attacks!  In this case, they didn't even encounter any enemy or make more than one move onto the board before they fled].



Back at the beach, the furious warriors chased the Zanzibaris right across the sands to the edge of the river, killing as they went.  The Arabs' trader could only do so much to avoid contact; eventually the unit was caught and slaughtered to a man.



The ex-chieftain's battered bodyguard decided that it would be more valuable for them to escort the missionary away from the village than it would be to stay and continue fighting.  Of course, the nearest exit point from the table was the dhow, so they boarded it and cast off from the jetty.  Let's hope that someone in that group knows how to sail!



So far, the victory points had been going entirely to the villagers; they had accumulated an impressive total [16 VP: 10 VP for saving Father Marcelin and 6 VP for eliminating two enemy units, even if one of these had simply run away in terror].

The slavers still had forces in the village, though - they decided that this would be a good time to do some old-fashioned pillaging and burning.  Two huts caught fire immediately, but the third must have been damp or something as it stubbornly refused to catch light.



The Ruga Ruga then poured a terrifying volley from their muskets into the only warriors left in the village.  Although none of them were hurt, the smoke and noise blinded and petrified them.



Maybe the lion sensed their fear, or maybe he was simply confused and angry with all the shouting and banging, smoke and flame?  Whatever the reason, he chose this moment to attack the panicking tribesmen from behind, slaying two of their number and causing the rest to flee.



The beast didn't stop there, either.  He turned on the ascaris (who had completely failed to set fire to the last village hut).  When they fled from the enraged lion, they were intercepted and annihilated by warriors returning from the beach.



It didn't stop there, either!  The predator charged into the victorious warriors, killed one and sent the rest splashing across the river to escape its bloody jaws.  Truly this was a very angry lion!

Even though the game's official time limit hadn't been reached, we called the game at this point.  The remaining slavers escaped with their loot; there was no-one left who could stop them from doing so.  One last tribal reinforcement arrived (a group of hunters and their healer), to find the village burning and bodies littering the streets ... and a lion on the loose.


Conclusion

Well, that was a wonderful game to play!  It had a very different feel to many other scenarios; in particular it seemed difficult to coordinate the various units (especially when they arrived at random points and times).  Having said that, some actions were highly effective, such as the hunters/warriors chasing down and wiping out the Zanzibaris on the beach, or the Ruga Ruga & lion putting paid to a different group of warriors in the village.  And I'm not going to forget the power of multiple terror attacks in driving off the attacking, weak-of-heart young warriors.

Victory points were as follows:
  • Villagers: 19VP: 10VP for saving the missionary, 9VP for eliminating three enemy units.
  • Slavers: 12VP: 6VP for burning two huts and 6VP (?) for the loot they carried away.
From the scores above, it looks as if the defenders pulled off a handsome win.  Consider this, though: the village is in ruins and inhabited by a man-eating lion.  The priest is adrift on a stolen dhow and the river water has so much blood in it that it won't be fit to drink for quite some time.

On the other hand, the Ruga Ruga mercenaries escaped without losing a man and with a considerable amount of plunder.  They'll probably be quite happy with that!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Pulp Alley: Hunt for the Sailor

Introduction

It's been quite a while since the last game of Pulp Alley in our Perilous Island campaign.  Indeed, I'm shocked to discover that it was over a year ago [At Death's Door], so we really must do better!  This is an attempt to get back on track...

The Scenario

A whole shipload of  mad, old sailors.  But which is the one who voyaged with Lord Darrow?
"Soerabaja Manhunt" is a scenario that is set in a seaport in Indonesia; it revolves around the hunt for a crazy, old sailor who was an accomplice of Lord Darrow (and therefore may know something about the nobleman's disappearance).  

Our campaign is set in Africa rather than south-east Asia and I don't have the models to produce much of a colonial town, so there are a few changes.  These are in detail only: the game is set in a remote fishing village on the coast of Mozambique which is so insignificant that it doesn't even have a name!

Tarzan and his allies have tracked down the last known sighting of Lord Darrow to a tiny fishing village.  But the Cult of Hanesh and Sir Henry's safari are close on his heels.  All are searching for the secret location of ... Perilous Island!

Setup


The five sailors (objectives) were scattered around the board, as were some other figures just for decoration (the missionary, his wife, some villagers...).

Terrain was defined thus:
  • Moving through water (i.e. the river or the sea) would be perilous.
  • The rope bridge would be completely safe - unless any character on it or at either end spent an action to damage it.  From that point on, the rope bridge would be extremely perilous.

Once we had done that, the players took turns in placing the following perils.  Each of these would have a 5 inch diameter "danger zone" around them and would move d6 inches in a random direction at the end of every turn:
  • A swarm of angry bees.  Who knows what might set them off?
  • 2 local warriors/thugs.  They don't like strangers.
  • A muttering witch doctor.  He doesn't like pretty much anything.
  • The village drum (it's VERY LOUD).
  • The chieftain's pet leopard.  It's led around the village by a small boy and is supposed to be tame, but sometimes it forgets.

The Forces


This was a 3-player game.  It looks as if our 4th player (Stahl Helm's Nazi Doom Squad) has dropped out for good.  The remaining leagues were thus:

Tarzan's Jungle Alliance

  • Tarzan the mighty
  • Koko, the huge gorilla
  • Caesar, the simian leader
  • 3 other simians

Sir Henry's Safari

  • Sir Henry (rich lord)
  • Alan Quartermain (legendary shot)
  • Captain Good (willing, but a bit of a duffer)
  • Lady Constance
  • 3 ascaris
Sir Henry used some of his Wealth to hire another soldier.  He also used a considerable number of contacts to select a random event for the game: the natives were all stirred up and every peril would be extremely perilous instead.  That sounds like it would make life hard for all but the most powerful characters!

The Snake Cult of Hanesh

  • Al Masudi (cult leader & overlord)
  • Taguerja (the giant snake)
  • 3 sidekicks, one specialising in stealth, one in shooting and one in wrestling.
Al Masudi used his Dominion to recruit a couple more cultists.  These two were armed with grenades.  Honestly, however many cultists we kill there seem to be even more the next time!

The Game: near the canoes


Straight away, Koko charged at the puny men who were trying to reach the Zanzibari sailor.  If he could help it, the gorilla wasn't going to let the Safari have any access to this objective!  Koko's rush contacted Alan Quartermain and two ascaris, but failed to hurt any of them.



There followed several rounds of indecisive fighting, with neither side able to prevail.  One of the ascaris had a golden opportunity to hurt the gorilla when Koko didn't notice him (in Pulp Alley, only a dice roll of 4+ counts and so Koko's 4d8 brawl of 1, 1, 1, 3 was a distinctly unimpressive total of 0 successes) - but the man wasn't able to capitalise on the ape's mistake.



Eventually, Alan Quartermain dodged out of the brawl and ran over to speak to the nearest sailor.  This mariner was only too eager to talk (Quartermain drew a FREE PASS for the plot point challenge) - but he wasn't the man who had travelled with Lord Darrow after all.

Now that he was outnumbered by only 2 to 1, Koko splattered the ascaris and set off in pursuit of Quartermain - but the white hunter had too great a lead and the great ape couldn't catch up before the end of the game.


The Game: From the Missionary's House to the Pier


Sir Henry and his party had arrived at the village on the steam launch.  He left several members of his party to settle affairs with the boat's captain, whilst he advanced towards the missionary's house to speak to the sailor who was visiting there.

However, before Sir Henry could reach the building, Tarzan ran around the side of the house, picked up the sailor bodily and shook his prize into submission (Tarzan just loves might-based challenges; this sailor attempted to resist physically!).  Sir Henry took a potshot at the jungle man as he did this, but the bullet went wide.

For what it's worth, Tarzan's captive wasn't the right sailor either...



Unnoticed up till now, one of the Cult's assassins had been stealthily creeping up on the white men.  He suddenly revealed himself and tossed a grenade at Sir Henry.  The plan was a good one, but the cultist hadn't reckoned with the dash and pluck of the Englishman: Sir Henry batted the bomb away and then shot back, dropping the attacker in his tracks.



Near the jetty, another of Sir Henry's ascaris fell - this time to a crazed local.  Hmm, maybe using his influence to increase the risk from all perils wasn't such a great idea after all?



His compatriots didn't fare any better, either.  Both Captain Good and Lady Constance tried to interrogate the launch's captain, but he was having none of it and knocked them both out (in hindsight, maybe he simply pushed them overboard?).



"If you want something doing properly, do it yourself...".  With a sigh, Sir Henry returned to the launch, tailed at some distance by a wary Tarzan.  Being made of sterner stuff than his minions, the nobleman had no difficulty at all in interrogating the boat's captain, despite the latter's evasive manner.

Once again, it turned out to be the wrong sailor; he had never heard of any fellow called "Darrow", had never sailed to any mysterious islands, wasn't mad, indeed he wasn't really a sailor at all, it's all a big mistake really...



By now, Sir Henry was too far away from the remaining action to quiz any more sailors.  To add to his woes, when he returned to dry land in order to have a better line of fire, he was attacked by a swarm of tropical bees!  Fortunately for him, they didn't do any real damage...


The Game: in the Jungle


In the undergrowth behind the missionary's house, Caesar and a companion simian had noticed a lost, wandering old sailor.  The pair tried to reach the man and managed to drive off one of the lower-level cultists.  However, time was not on their side as the cult's giant snake came gliding along.  It swiftly put paid to the simian; it never really stood a chance.



Caesar was desperate, outnumbered and outclassed.  He puffed himself up into a frenzy, hooted, pranced and prepared to do battle with the serpent (a couple of fortune cards boosted his Brawl up to 5d6, which would have had at least a chance against the snake's 4d8).  But as the ape caught the reptile's eye, the little ape wilted - he remembered the age-old truth that giant snakes eat monkeys, not the other way around (the Cult cancelled one of Tarzan's fortune cards, leaving Caesar with only 3d6)  Predictably, Caesar lost the fight.

Contemptuously, the serpent didn't bother to finish Caesar off, but instead ensnared the bewildered sailor in its coils and made off towards its master (it got the wrong sailor, even so).



As the Cult leader and the snake glided across the rope bridge, Caesar regained his senses.  He hobbled up to the river bank and attacked the bridge's mooring ropes.  This immediately made the crossing Extremely Perilous, but the snake just wound itself around the remaining supports and carried on to the far bank without injury.  Curses, foiled - it would have been a spectacular act of revenge, had the plan worked!


The Game: the Native Village


Right from the start of the game, the village belonged to the Cultists.  One of their assassins threw a well-aimed grenade at their only challengers (two of Tarzan's simians) and blew them to pieces.



After that, it should have been a simple matter of talking to the drunken sailor who had just come out of a native hut, clutching a bottle of whisky.  However, this was a mean, fighting drunk!  He flattened both of the cultists without even spilling his drink, then swayed on the spot and looked around pugnaciously for more opponents.


The Game: End Play


Al Masudi, the cult's high priest, strode into the village, followed by his giant snake.  His hypnotic gaze reduced the drunken sailor's resistance to nothing; the dominated man followed his captor like a lamb.  (Although there was a chance that this objective would be a false lead, it turned out to be the real target after all; this was indeed the aged mariner who had sailed with Lord Darrow.  And now he was spilling everything he knew to the Cult of Hanesh!).

There weren't many other players left on the table now; the extremely perilous environment had taken out almost all the ally and follower characters.  Caesar was still there and was the closest non-cult figure to the village.  In desperation, he tried to cross the failing rope bridge, only to slip and fall into the fast waters below - caught by his own act of destruction!



As the last turn was about to start, it looked as if the cult had the game sewn up.  Their leader was quizzing the drunken sailor behind a hut, whilst the snake was positioned to intercept anyone who even attempted to move.

Indeed, Tarzan was on the wrong side of the raging river.  Even if he could escape the peril he would simply be too slow to reach the objective.  However, he had a plan: he held a Secret Path Fortune card which would allow him to treat the perilous area as normal terrain, thus swinging across the river and entering the fray unexpectedly - hurrah (just don't expect me to make the correct apeman noises here!).



It was all for naught, though, as other players have nefarious plans too!  The Cult turned their victory from almost impregnable to absolutely certain by playing a Parley card at the start of the last turn.  This completely shut down even the faint possibility of dislodging the old sailor from their grasp and thus gave Al Masoudi all the time he needed to find out what the mad, old mariner knew.


"Ahhhhhhh...ahh..ah..ah...ah...ahhhhhhhhh..."
Tarzan did swing across the river (just because he could!), but other than looking impressive this didn't now achieve anything.

Meanwhile, Sir Henry re-boarded the steam launch with his followers and cast off.  Presumably he was trying to steal a march on everyone else and voyage towards Perilous Island?  If only he knew which way to go...


Conclusion

The river and the various natives, bees, leopards &c were originally going to be simple perils.  That would have made it much easier to move about the table, especially from one side of the river to the other!  It would also have meant a lower attrition rate amongst the lower-level characters, only one of whom survived the game (that was Sir Henry's Turkish mercenary, who followed him everywhere and stuck to him like glue).  Sir Henry's use of contacts to stir up trouble and make everything extremely perilous certainly changed the feel of the game a lot!

As always, the players enjoyed the game immensely, despite the challenging environment.  Most of the mobile perils (i.e. the natives, bees &c) were fairly ineffectual - I was especially disappointed that the leopard hid itself away on the far side of the village and refused to come out!  Against this, the leagues took many losses from simply attempting plot points.  That's just how it played out...

Next game should see these three surviving leagues try to land on Perilous Island itself.  That should be exciting!  Hmm, I wonder why it is called "Perilous Island"?  There couldn't be anything dangerous about it, could there?

Final scores:

  • The Cult of Hanesh: 4VP (1 x minor objective, plus the major objective).  A worthy winner, sneaky and callous.  Tarzan's simians suffered particularly badly at the Cult's hands.
  • Sir Henry's Safari: 2VP (2 x minor objectives).  Minor characters found the objectives hard going, but the top guys managed to talk to 2 of the sailors.  Unusually, there wasn't much shooting from this very firepower-dominated league...
  • Tarzan's Jungle Alliance: 1VP (1 x minor objective).  What happened here?  The league did a lot of fighting, but didn't come close to most of the objectives.  Perhaps they were spread too thin?