Early May heralds the first big wargames show of the year - in Scotland, at least. This is the wonderful Carronade, hosted by Falkirk & District Wargames Club. Despite my grumbles about last year's show (most of which were due to hot, sticky weather and a bad temper that I took with me, rather than to any fault of the show itself), my son and I were determined to go and to enjoy ourselves.
This year, 2 things about our preparations were slightly different from previous shows:
- We took the train rather than the car. This was remarkably successful; there was little waiting at the stations and it saved me an hour and a half of driving each way (and that's very tiring after being on the go all day). There was a bit of a walk to & from the venue in Falkirk - perhaps 20 minutes - but the weather was fine and the exercise is probably good for me.
- I'd arranged to meet my friend Steve at the show; it was the first time in quite a while that he'd been to such an event, I think. So for much of the day there were three of us going around together, rather than just two.
So, what was it like? As always, I'm not reporting on the show itself, but rather giving a personal account of what we did and how we found it. If you want a list of, or pictures of all the demonstration games, halls & crowds then you'll need to look elsewhere...
We played a number of games, interspersed with some shopping. Here goes:
Game 1: Star Wars Legion
My son and I played a short game of the new Star Wars: Legion game. This was hosted by a friendly trader who wanted to promote the game, but it was all very amicable and there was no pressure to buy anything. I took the Imperials; my son took the Rebels. Here's a short description of what happened:
- My stormtroopers shot down a surprising number of rebel commandos. Apparently, the stormtroopers aren't usually such great shots, but have better armour saves than the opposition. This squad must have been practicing with their blasters, though...
- The speeder bikes unleashed a torrent of shots towards the rebel walker, but almost all of them just bounced off the armoured machine.
- Luke Skywalker advanced, but hid behind a concrete wall.
- Darth Vader moved forwards purposefully in the open, defying the rebels to stop him. He doesn't move particularly fast in this game; I guess that running would be undignified. But if anyone can stride menacingly then it's him...
- The rebel strider wiped out my bikes, but was then targeted by the first stormtrooper squad. It turns out that they had a rocket launcher and that this was quite effective against armoured vehicles. Who knew 😀?
- The other stormtroopers took a few casualties, but then caught a rebel squad by surprise, in the open - and decimated them.
- Darth Vader came face-to-face with the cowering Jedi and started to lay down some hurt on the lad (it wasn't entirely a one-way fight, if I'm honest - though Darth looked to be winning).
One turn after this, we ended the game and counted up the models from either side which were in front of the bunker door. Final result:
- Rebels: 3 victory points
- Empire: 4 victory points
So, the models are nice and gameplay seems solid enough; the [basic] rules were easy to pick up. I imagine that the components for this game are somewhat pricey, mind - what with it being a licensed product and all - though I didn't check whether this is indeed the case. My bottom line: if you're interested in Star Wars ground combat then this probably the game for you.
For the most part I hadn't contacted vendors in advance. Although I had a shopping list, this was more of a "might be nice" rather than a "must have". I understand that I was taking a chance here, as sellers cannot bring their entire lines to every show, but I was really surprised at just how many of the trade stands didn't have the item(s) that I wanted! Mind you, one of them (Scotia Grendel) did go above and beyond by offering to mail out the pieces I wanted post free, so kudos to them!
I did get one pre-order from a trader who had put a "Collect at Show" option on their online shopping cart. Oddly, none of the others had done this...
Game 2: Bathgate Wargames Club
After a little more wandering about, we sat down to a game called (I think) "King Grocus is Dead". This was set in a fantasy kingdom and was a power struggle between the surviving queens of a recently-dead monarch. Now I don't like to be negative, especially when a number of people have obviously put a lot of work into something, but this game was a stinker. Here's why I thought this:
- The background wasn't a one sentence description as I put in the previous paragraph, but instead was a lot of dense text with much unnecessary detail that we didn't take in.
- Victory conditions weren't explained adequately, nor were any rules made public. It was obvious that the hosting club members knew what the turn sequence was, what the player's options were and how to resolve encounters, searches or fights. But they didn't tell anyone.
- The modifiers and abilities listed on each player's "forces card" suggested a great deal of complexity that I felt was quite unnecessary for a pick up, convention game. Did the various members of my entourage really need to have different movement rates, for example?
- The random starting positions meant that some players were virtually on top of what turned out to be the objectives, whereas others didn't have any realistic hope of reaching them.
So, after all this grousing, what happened? My queen and her party started in the great hall. They spent one turn looking in an office, but not finding anything. The next turn, they searched a chest (not actually what I had wished to do, but rather an action strongly suggested by the gamesmaster) and found the magic sceptre. On the third turn, it was announced that I had used this to cast the spell needed to win the game (again, without really involving me in any way). No-one else had really achieved anything, or even moved much beyond their starting positions.
Ok, I want to try and be positive, so here are some suggestions on how this game could have been improved:
- The scenario and victory conditions need to be short and to the point. Bullet points are probably better than prose here:
+ The king is dead. You are one of his surviving queens and are competing for the crown.
+ To win, you must find the magic gizmo and take it to the great hall.
+ You have a small group of followers, but may recruit others along the way.
- Consider a quick reference sheet, listing
[a] the turn sequence (for example, "draw event cards, then each player activates, one at a time"),
[b] the player's options ("you may move up to 6", then fight any enemies in the same area. If a room is empty then you may search it. If there are neutral figures present then you may attempt to recruit them")
[c] basic rules ("to fight, pair off models against the opponent's models and make opposed dice rolls", "to search, roll 1d6 for each model; a '6' is a success" and so on).
- Keep modifiers to a minimum (perhaps along the lines of "bodyguards get +1 fight", "ladies-in-waiting get +1 charm"...)
- Give the players a few options each turn (2 - 4, perhaps?), but don't make it completely open-ended.
- Initial placement of both the objectives and the players should give each group a somewhat equal chance.
- Try to involve the players a bit more. Ask if they understand what is happening. Make sure they know when and what choices they can make. Explain why you wish them to roll a dice - and what are the possible outcomes.
We had taken a packed lunch and the weather was very pleasant, so we sat outside for our meal. There aren't a huge number of outdoor tables at the show venue, but we didn't have any problem finding 3 seats together.
In past years, I've felt that the area around the indoor catering was intensely crowded (standing room only!), but I didn't really feel that it was so busy this year. Indeed, the show seemed much less crowded in the afternoon than I had expected; a welcome relief for us, though possibly not so great for the traders. Of course, I wasn't counting people and so this could all be just my perception rather than an accurate assessment of reality.
Game 3: Street Wars
On returning indoors, we found a small (but very beautiful) board where the author of Street Wars NYC was running his game. He offered to let 2 of us each take a gang and try to fight each other, mug civilians, chase pimps and cause other 1970's urban mayhem.
My son took the Black Cobras (a Kung Fu gang), whilst Steve faced off against him with a group of skinheads.
Predictably, the gangs moved towards each other, though both groups also pursued some of the randomly-moving objectives.
Indeed, the skinhead lieutenant spent virtually the entire game trying to catch up with and mug the crazy cat lady; she kept moving out of reach and he kept failing his skill tests. Must be the smell of all the cats; he just couldn't bring himself to lay hands on the old woman!
The Black Cobras took some early losses and their leader was then hammered repeatedly by the skinhead captain, However, the Kung Fu guy just wouldn't go down. This allowed the Cobras a bit of respite and they almost regained control, but then the cops showed up and started arresting members of both gangs. I forget the final score, but the skinheads had seized more objectives and had put out of action more enemy gangers, so the victory was theirs.
This was an interesting game, with rules and character attributes that were distinctly reminiscent of Pulp Alley; I'm guessing that this was a definite & conscious influence. The figures were nice, the scenery was nice and the games master/rules author was committed & helpful. If you're interested in gang warfare then you could do a lot worse than give this a look. For myself, the subject matter is a bit too narrow, though I can see that some of the models might be useful in other contexts.
Game 4: Allez Les Mousquetaires!
"So there we were, the four of us, having a drink in our favourite inn and minding our own business. Well, Aramis was trying to chat up one of the local ladies, but there's nothing unusual in that. When, all of a sudden, there's loud banging on the door and in strolls Monsieur Rochefort, calm as you like. He announces that the place is surrounded by Red Guards and that we're all under arrest, so please would we throw down our weapons and come with him. Well, I don't think so...".
For our final game of the show, the three of us had a go at Allez les Mousquetaires! I took Athos, Steve had Aramis, my son played D'Artagnan and a fourth player was Porthos. We weren't going to let any lackey of the Cardinal push us around!
As soon as Rochefort had finished his little speech, I drew my sword, rushed forwards and engaged him. I scored a critical hit and disarmed him, then ran around him to close the door. From then on, things became quite ... swashbuckly.
Roughly speaking, here's what happened (though not blow-by-blow; that would be tedious):
- Various groups of Red Guards tried to break in to the inn, but Porthos & I fought them off at the front door and D'Artagnan protected the rear.
- All of us took potshots at Rochefort whenever we had a spare action. The constant stream of pistol & musket balls hitting nearby must have exhausted him, as he was quickly reduced to being not much of a threat.
- When we ran out of Red Guards inside the tavern, Porthos and I sallied out and fought them in the streets. Not all of them were killed; some ran away...
- Aramis swung from a chandelier to engage the hapless Rochefort, with a view to capturing him. His initial attack was repulsed as the bad guy summoned up some hidden reserves (i.e. he used up the last of his "hero dice").
- Seeing that all the enemy foot soldiers had been repulsed, Aramis called the special "All for One" action, thus allowing me to burst through a window and tackle Rochefort from behind whilst he and Porthos took him from the front. This wasn't a situation that the game master had foreseen, but he ruled (quite reasonably, in my opinion 😀) that the three of us would have no difficulty in overpowering & capturing the shaken and injured Rochefort. That'll teach him to interrupt our carousing!
This was an enormously fun game, at least in part because the players got into the spirit of it and weren't afraid to try the most ridiculously heroic actions. As it happened, our characters seemed all but invulnerable, though it's worth pointing out that the rules are still being developed and adjustments are entirely possible. Indeed, we were asked if we would like to be listed as playtesters; we all agreed enthusiastically.
By the way, I believe that at least some other groups of players chose to flee instead of fighting and had a great time jumping across rooftops & running along the tops of walls...
So, I bought a few things for myself and some for my son as well. We were also given some items for participating in games. Here's the final tally, clockwise from the top left:
- A pre-order from Sally 4th, including more clear, perspex hex bases (for Dreadball) and an MDF card holder and some Fortune cards (for Pulp Alley).
- The SAGA "Age of Crusades" sourcebook, plus a free leader for a crusader faction.
- MDF "tickets" to the show; very useful and quite distinct! These will have a second life as bases.
- A copy of White Dwarf. It's for my teenage son, really...
- 5 novels from the bring-and-buy stands.
- Various animals from Warbases. Mostly for Viking-age Britain, but the chickens may just end up strutting around a tribal settlement in Congo.
- Badges and a sticker from the Street Wars game
- A few more "Nightfolk", from Northumbrian Tin Soldier.
- Some Skraelings, again for SAGA. I don't have enough for a warband yet, but I'll keep adding a few now and again.
- Pokemon cards. No, this stuff really is for my son.
- Bookmarks from the King Grocus is Dead game.
And so ends another Carronade, highly recommended. The late afternoon walk back to the station in Falkirk seemed a bit hotter and more tiring than the trip out in the morning. I think I must have dozed a little on the train because I don't remember much about the journey home. Just as well I wasn't driving, then...