Monday, 29 March 2021

A Billion Suns

'A Billion Suns' is the new game from the fertile mind of 'Gaslands' creator Mike Hutchinson. Whilst I never got as far as actually playing a game, I have followed the playtest and development stages online for the past couple of years, and decided that I'd have to get a copy when it was released. It arrived the other day.

Sadly my copy somehow got caught in the flooding our area has recently, and was partially waterlogged when it arrived. Obviously I have raised an issue about this with the shipping company (and Osprey, just to be sure), but over a day or so I did manage to dry the book out and make it readable. It looks like it's lived a fair bit, but there's no serious damage.

Anyway, I sat down and read it properly over the weekend.

I haven't played it, so I'm not going to attempt a lengthy review. Basically 'A Billion Suns' is a spaceship combat game. Or, at least, it's a game involving spaceships. How much combat there is is partially up to the players. Because unlike other spaceship games I've seen, ABS is heavily mission-driven. Each player (the game is designed for 2-4 players) is the CEO of a far-future corporation, and you win the game by either having the highest profit at the end or, if things go badly for everyone, the least deficit. The game is set up with three contracts; twelve are provided in the game, with the promise of more to come. The contracts will dictate what terrain and other items will be on the table. Or tables. Yes, you read that right. Some contracts require you to add an extra table to the game. To be fair a 'table' is simply a playing area distinct from the other playing area, or areas. So you can divide up your classic 6' x 4' table in some way to do it. Each contract is worth a number of credits, with different contracts delivering that revenue in different ways and at different rates. Some are time-limited, so have to be achieved against the clock.

And that's it. You will have one or more tables with objectives spread across them, and a bank account with 0 Credits in it. The game then begins.

A CEO has access to a list of ship types, from fighter wings and light utility vessels, to mighty carriers and battleships. Each ship type costs credits and, during the course of their turn, a CEO will requisition ships and jump them into play in order to take on the various missions. Obviously you want to spend no more on ships than you think you can reap in terms of revenue, so there's a delicate balancing act between selecting what you need and selecting what you can afford. And if you need more ships later in the game? You simply requisition them. There's no concept of building a fleet at the start of the game and using that; you adapt what you have in play to the changing circumstances. 

Once two of the three contracts have reached the point where they can generate no more revenue then the game ends, and the CEOs check their balance sheets and prepare to deliver the good or bad news to their shareholders.

What about the mechanics? Well, the game has a fairly daunting turn sequence, but it's broken down into fairly logical steps. CEOs first assign command tokens to their a Command Helm. These can be assigned to seize initiative, jump in more ships or used later to modify various game effects - give a group of ships a bonus move, or strengthen their shields against an attack, for example. The CEOs then take turns to activate ships or groups of ships, which move and then attack. Finally there is an end phase in which various admin tasks are performed.

Ships move in battlegroups, consisting of 1-5 ships of the same type. When a group is activated it is given an order. This allows the group to concentrate on movement, firing, damage control or jumping out of play. Movement is simple; a ship pivots by any amount, and then moves in a straight line up to its thrust value. A ship with Vector orders can move twice. Firing is performed by rolling a handful of dice, the type and number of which vary according to the weapon, looking to score less than the target's silhouette value. Each hit scores a fixed amount of damage, again according to weapon type. A ship may block hits with its shields. The shooting system is quite elegant; big guns score loads of damage, but are less effective against smaller ships because they roll bigger dice; a D6 blaster scoring 1 hit stands more chance of hitting a silhouette 3 fighter group than a torpedo rolling a D10 but scoring 3 hits. A ship's silhouette is also its damage value; the battlegroup accumulates hits until the value reaches a multiple of the silhouette, at which point a ship, or ships, are removed.

A nice feature of the game is Scale. This is a value from 1-10 which the players decide on at the start, and it is used to determine how many objectives a contract might have, which in turn affects the available revenue. Scale will therefore dictate how long and complex the game will be, and the available revenue will dictate, or limit, which ship classes will be viable. Deploying a battleship in a scale 3 game, for example, will cost more than the probable revenue you'll gain from the whole game; scale 3 games are the domain of fighters and light combat vessels. Scale basically allows you to pitch the game to your available time, miniatures and experience level.

This preview has really just scratched the surface of the game. There are lots of neat little rules and ideas tucked away in it, although I suspect that it is similar to games like Maurice and Saga, where there is something of a learning curve not just for the mechanisms themselves, but also how you actually play the game in order to achieve particular results. Some of the game is clever, but not immediately obvious, and a first time player has a lot to take in.

I'm not sure just yet when I will get a chance to play this game. I have a handful of scratchbuilt spaceships, but have put together some simple counters first in order to try it out and get a feel for the numbers of vessels I'll eventually require. You can see an example sheet here:

Friday, 26 March 2021

More Medieval HOTT

Geoff suggested some medieval HOTT for our club-game this week, which was useful since I still had all the figures out from my Swiss vs German DBA games the day before.

He suggested 36AP, so I fielded the Ceidonians at 24AP (with their steam tank and a hero), but gave them 12AP of Swiss allies, fielding the halberd/pike blocks as warband.

Geoff defended with a fairly conventional force of knight and blades, supported by shooters and riders, but including a paladin, a cleric and some artillery. I massed the Swiss in the centre ready for a charge.

Here they come!

Our knights faced off on my right.

The steam tank and my missile troop covered my left, against more of Geoff's knights.

The Swiss charged, and were repulsed, with losses.

And then took more losses. And my knights did badly on my right. In fact I did badly in combats just about everywhere.

Or nearly everywhere. On my left I managed to take out the knight and the shooters there. Geoff attacked my hero with his paladin, but clean and virtuous living didn't win the day over a big sword.

A Geoff rolled forward victorious in the centre, he overlapped and flanked my general and that was the end of the game.

So not an auspicious start to the evening.

We set up a second game, this time at 24AP. Geoff used a similar army to the first one, whereas I basically fielded my Prester John army, but running the man himself as a hero rather than a cleric.

Both of us adjusted our deployments to get the best matchups, although Geoff advanced as well. His outlying riders attacked my ally bowmen, but were cut down.

Emboldened the bowmen cut down an element of knights as well, which is why they are no longer in this picture.

The two lines approached ...

... and met. There was much combat.

Most of the combat was not in my favour.

Including the point where Prester John was outflanked and killed, this giving Geoff a second win.

So that was two wins for Geoff and yet another loss for the unlucky Prester John.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

A Little Bit Of DBA

I thought we could do with a change of pace here, so I set up a game of DBA last night. Once again my Ceidonians (masquerading as Medieval Germans) took to the field against my Early Swiss. This is a tricky one for both sides since it depends on who gets to defend and whether the Germans can bring their knights to bear against the Swiss and ride down their deep infantry formations.

The Swiss defended and closed down the field with some difficult hills. There would have been more but they al ended up in the same quarter. In the limited space, the Ceidonians deployed with their infantry to the fore and their knights behind ready to swing out onto their left flank and bring the battle to the Swiss.

The Swiss sent their mounted crossbows to delay the knights whilst extending their infantry line.

Once they were ready the entire Swiss army charged.

The Ceidonians attacked as well, scattering the Swiss light horse.

The Swiss smashed into the Ceidonain foot, which was mostly militia spear supported by pikemen and crossbowmen.

On the flank they attacked the Duke of Ceidonia himself, who had pursued forward of his supporting knights.

In a disaster for the Ceidonians he was unhorsed and butchered.

The Swiss also broke through the militia foot in the centre, exposing the flanks of the pikes and crossbows.

The Swiss turned left and right to exploit their breakthrough, and also pushed forward against the knights on their right.

On the hill the crosswbowmen fell to the Swiss attack, and so did the Ceidonians deep knight wedge.

So the Swiss picked up a decisive win 5g-1 (and they also destroyed two hordes as well).

Since the first game was so short I set up a second one. This time the Ceidonians defended.

With no intention of messing around the Ceidonians simply charged with their entire force of knights.

As the charge approached the Swiss line the Swiss countercharged, swinging around the Ceidonian flank.

The knight wedge on that flank was routed, as were knights on the other end of the Ceidonian line. In one set of combats the Swiss had three of the four kills they needed to win (the wedge counts as two).

With nothing to lose the remaining Ceidonian knights, led by the new Duke, charged.

This time it was the Swiss who fell, losing two blocks of foot. One of them was the general. With the first block counting as double and the loss of the general, this broke the Swiss army.

So the Ceidonians won a quick but narrow victory, 4g-3.

Double-ranked elements in DBA are quite fun, but make the army very vulnerable to sudden defeats. I'm not entirely sure how useful they are to the Swiss, since their primary advantage is when they fight foot, and most Swiss opponents (aside from themselves) are heavily based around knights. Still, they are fun to look at and use.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Follow That Bird!

It was a terrible rainy day yesterday, so Catherine and I stayed in and had a go at one of the two-player Palaeo Diet scenarios. It was a good excuse to use some of my new figures as well.

In the centre of the table is a bid. It may not look like it but the bird's plumage is especially valuable to all of the tribes who live adjacent to its territory. The objective? Capture the bird alive and take it back to your chief. The problem? There's another tribe has the same idea.

Oh, there's another problem. The area the bird is in is also the territory of a couple of predators. In this case they are a massive cave-bear and an angry big cat.

We took four hunters each, dicing to see who got to choose their entry edge (the other player set up opposite) and then randomly placing the predators afterwards. Catherine took two bows, a spear and an axe, and ended up close to the cat's territory.

I took a bow, a spear, an axe and a fire-user, reasoning that whilst the latter was no good for catching the bird he would be good at keeping predators away from my hunters. And maybe driving them towards the opposition.

Catherine's tribe immediately startled the cat, which rushed into the attack. The bow hunter responsible dodged the attack and deftly put an arrow through the animal's heart, killing it.

However all this activity attracted the bear. Meanwhile the bird remained oblivious in its thicket. That is until one of Catherine's hunters got too close and ...

... out it came. It's classed as a herd grazer for reactions, so is prone to rapid and uncontrolled flight.

It ran straight towards my hunters.

Catherine's hunters moved around the thicket away from the curious bear. She used those with ranged weapons to attack my hunters, but failed to score any wounds.

One of her hunters wasn't fast enough and ended up attacked by the bear. He evaded it (lucky) and ran.

The bird also kept running, startled by all of the activity. If it leaves the table, both tribes lose, so we were keen to get it back under control as soon as possible.

My axe-armed hunter went on the offensive, and killed Catherine's slinger.

Meanwhile two of my hunters moved to head off the bird before it left the table and steered it back towards the centre of the table.

Back at the thicket Catherine's bow hunter avenged his companion, and the bear ambled towards what appeared to be two tasty treats laid on the ground for it.

However my hunters kept their eyes on the prize. The fire hunter rushed up to the bird, startling it and causing it to run directly away from the flames ...

... straight into the arms of another hunter, who scooped it up and exited the table, to win the scenario for my tribe.

The casualties in that scenario were one hunter each.

We set it up again with a new terrain. This time it was very open; just one thicket and some brush off in one corner. The bird was out in the  open. Danger roamed the area in the form of two apex predators - another bear and a giant lizard.

My fire-user scared off the lizard, driving it towards Catherine's hunters.

The bird also ran towards her hunters, but the activity attracted both the bear and the lizard. Both predators were very active in this game.

A scuffle on the other side of the field saw Catherine's bow wounded.

An overview of the early stages.

I can't quite recall what's happening in the background here. I think my bow hunter wounded one of Catherine's hunters, and that attracted the giant lizard, who finished him off. Before the lizard could settle down for a feed another hunter startled it and it ran away. Anyway, Catherine was down one hunter. In the foreground my bow hunter was wounded as well; injured by the stampeding bird! But the bird had fled right into my men, and one of them grabbed it.

However before the hunter could escape with the prize, Catherine brought him down with a slingshot. This attracted both predators. Things were looking hairy for my men.

But the fire drove them off. However the bird also fled back towards Catherine's hunting party.

Another hunter escaped injury at the paws of the bear. But things were pretty chaotic, with the majority of the hunters now wounded or dead.

One of Catherine's hunters grabbed the bird ...

... but my fire-wielder rushed up and downed him before he could escape with it. The bird fled.

Meanwhile my axe-user was attacked and injured by the bear.

The bird kept running, and the mostly injured hunters couldn't catch it before it left the table, forcing a draw.

This game was a bloodbath, with four of the eight hunters involved being killed and another two wounded. And neither side got the prize or even downed a predator.

This was a great pair of games for a wet Saturday afternoon though, with rapidly changing fortunes and plenty of chaos and action. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...