Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Bewitched



An old-school ruleset played for the first time by a middle-aged gamer. Yep, that's me. And it was 15mm too! What is going on? Some unforeseen reaction to recent SAGA overload? Yet Another 'new' system to be added to the list that never should be? Maybe Jimboba at Warchest, high in his Mage Tower, had finally conjured a spell of '15mm Avidity' on me? Whatever the reason, I've at long last ticked off Hoards of the Things from my wargaming roll.



Many of my readers will be familiar with this ruleset, a 'fantasy' supplement to the veteran DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis) rules produced by the Wargames Research Group back in the day and played by many of my gaming peers when they were spotty teenagers. What I was doing at the time is anyone's guess. It would be the eighties, so I was probably busy developing my image of cool with cheap-cut outfits from Top Man replete with white socks and fake crocodile shoes. 

So what prompted this sudden interest timeworn rules? Well, its down to DBA really. It's played at my local club, on and off, and I'm aware of its pedigree within the historical gaming fraternity. And it's one of those systems that I've always wanted to play but for lack of regular opponents. Now I have that opportunity and I'm scheduled to play (with a borrowed army) later this month.

In preparation, I ordered up the latest version of the DBA rules (3.0) and - most likely influenced by recent games of Frostgrave - its fantasy-lite cousin, Hoards of the Things (HotT, v2.1). I say fantasy-lite because it seems to me that if there is a scale of 'magical import', then Hoards of the Things will barely register whilst Frostyfodder will be heading off the chart in bold italics. A quote from the section on the Design Philosophy from HotT pretty much sums this rule set's take on magic:

In this rule set, magicians and their magic are mainly treated analogously to powerful long range artillery, but with the chance of disaster to inept practitioners, inhibition in the immediate presence of clerics, and the imposition of movement constraints on the user's side.

So Monday evening saw me being introduced to 15mm HotT by veteran club member, Andy Wilson. My regular readers will know that I'm pretty much a stalwart 28mm kind of wargamer, although that has mostly come about through the type of games I play, (predominantly skirmish) and in turn, that is influenced by available local opponents.

That's not to say I'm not open to other scales; I have a company or two of painted Flames of War miniatures and have even played 15mm SoBH with Sam Pate's lovely wee warbands. I have some Dystopian Wars starter sets lurking in the Battleshed and have (rather bafflingly, truth be told) backed the forthcoming epic 6mm Age of Tyrants kickstarter! However, I am still of the opinion that 28mm best suits skirmish level games. But that is subjective and down to personal aesthetic, as is some much of our hobby. 

So I was intrigued when Andy had set up a small 2"x2" table for an army-scale battle, with a few pieces of random terrain. Next to it lay an old Box File and whilst I eyed it suspiciously Andy gleefully announced, "I've got five armies in there!" And without further ado, the lid was flipped back to reveal...well, five distinct and colourful wee armies. Some easily identifiable, like the scarlet-clad regimented ranks of Romans or the long pikes and crossbows from a medieval army. And then there were the strange - bands of skeletal warriors, some mounted on creepy skeletal steeds with accompanying bat-swarms. There were even stalwart ranks of stumpy Dwarfs. All filling their wee 'element' bases and easily housed in the Box File. And looking rather impressive too.

Rather than predictably opt for the Dwarfs, I just as predictably opted for the Romans for my first game - although that choice was definitely influenced by my current interest in that era of history, and a six-day hiking trip along the Hadrian's Wall path planned for August. So yes, I'm trying a 'fantasy' version of DBA - and immediately chose an army with absolutely no magic! 

Andy decided to go with the skeletal army and our armies were soon deployed, the Roman's defending their Stronghold. From there on in it's a reasonably simple 'element' based mechanic. For us gaming DBA Philistines, basic armies are 24 points with usually 9-12 elements of equal frontage representing different 'types' of troops (Blades, Spears, Shooters, Riders etc). Turns alternate, with players rolling a D6 to generate their PIPs (Player Initiative Points) to move elements, cast spells and other actions, then shooting and close combat are resolved comparing D6 results with a mostly familiar array of modifiers. For an expanded rules explanation, head over to the HotT Wiki page.

I won't go into a battle report here, as this was an introductory session. Besides, I've got more worrying revelations! We pretty much only ran through the main mechanics of the game, with no magic loosed on the battlefield this time. In fact the game more resembled a standard DBA game except with some added fantasy armies! 

We played three games, with me sticking with the Romans throughout whilst defending against the Skeletals, the medieval army - with iconic pike men - and finally, and rather guiltily...against the Dwarfs. And to rub it in, Andy gave way to a visitor to the club that evening, the sorcerer Jimboba of Warchest. No doubt there to witness first-hand the effects of his 15mm avidity spell on me. I'm sure I heard a faint Mhahahaha! as he lined up the shorties.

What I can say is that it was refreshing for me to play a larger-scale, (as in lots of units), element based game rather than my regular skirmish games. The last time I played anything similar were some forays into Dragon Rampant and Age of Sigmar. In fact, it's been a long time since I deployed massed units of miniatures on the table, probably back when I was playing Warhammer Fantasy regularly. And even further back with 15mm Flames of War.

Not only that, I either had some sort of epiphany or Jimboba's spell was extraordinarily powerful. Either way, I have an have an announcement that may shock. I'm still reeling from the implications;  I thought the 15mm armies really did look great on the table and... possibly (this is hard)... more in scale to the eye for a larger pitched battles than 28mm! There, I said it. Jimboba, your work is done!

I somehow won the first game against the skeletal warriors. Pure luck I think. I drew the second as the two generals (or heroes) slew each other, and...I'm ashamed to say, I let the dark sorcerer Jimboba beat my Romans using my old friends the Dwarfs. It was painful. I'm not ready to talk about it.

I'm starting to feel paranoid now. I'm convinced Sam Pate of Wee Blokes is conspiring with the sorcerer Jimboba too, for snippets of random comments and a sustained campaign of subtle plugs for that scale are bubbling to mind as I look around the internet for 15mm army ideas. Now I think on it, was Jimboba's gift of some 15mm Dwarfs some weeks ago as guileless as it seemed?

It's almost like an out of body experience, as if I'm being manipulated somehow. I have a cold sweat and there is a wee voice pleading and struggling somewhere as I shakily type '15mm wargame miniatures' into my search engine, but it's easily stifled by this overbearing, almost hypnotic bewitching.  I've no idea where this is going. I hope my readers can advise. An intervention may be required...