Monday, July 23, 2012

Historicon 2012 After Action Report!

Welcome to the latest of my rare blog entries.  This past weekend I had the chance to attend Historicon in Fredericksburg, VA.  I was able attend from Thursday through Sunday thanks to the generosity of my wife, who let me go while she took care of our two young boys.

My first event on Thursday was a SAGA tournament hosted by the unrivaled Joe Moore and generoulsy sponsored by Architects of War.  SAGA is a skirmish game where Dark Age war-bands duke it out for supremacy.  It features a "battle board" mechanic where dice are rolled to determine what normal and special activations and abilities you can use.  You allocate the dice and plan your turn accordingly.  This allows for a lot of heroic combat a la the Viking Sagas, and is great fun.  The format was three rounds to be followed by a fourth round free-for-all amongst the top 4 competitors.  I played my Irish army, using the Welsh battle board as no rules for Irish exist yet.  The warbands were 6 points.  I took 2 points of hearthguard, 2 of warriors, and 2 of levies.  My plan was to used mass ranged fire and my large numbers to overwhelm my opponents' units in conjunction with the Welsh abilities such as Taunt and Strength in Numbers.  In my first game I played against a Viking army and we played the first scenario Clash of Warlords.  The goal was to kill the enemy warlord and if not to have scored more victory points.  

Early on I maneuvered into the tree line to use the Welsh terrain advantages and start sniping.
But the Vikings were game and took a house as their machine-gun, err bowman nest.  Here some levies of mine are exhausted after being engaged by Viking warriors.
 I then drew the warriors and a unit of 8 hearthguard into the woods and destroyed them piecemeal with the repeated use of the Taunt ability.
But later in the match the Vikings were able to cause a lot of damage from the house and in melee.    After the sixth turn we counted the dead and I had won by the slimmest of margins, 15-14.
 In my second match I faced another Welsh army led by an Army Colonel.  We played the Challenge scenario, where our warlords start fighting in the middle of the board while our warbands rush forward to assist them.
In the early rounds our warlords pathetically slapped each other with fish, doing no damage.  But I was able to bring up my army quickly and bring a large volume of fire on to his warlord.  He took 6 wounds (you get 12 for the scenario) from the hail of javelins and slingshots the Welsh rained down on him.
I took a large number of casualties rushing his warlord but was unable to finish him off.  As the game came to a close my warlord declared victory having severely wounded his foe and suffered no damage himself.  I won this game 6-0 (having lost no wounds to my opponents 6.)  I was very lucky that his powerful hearthguard cavalry were essentially neutralized by their deployment on the left flank.  They took little to no part in the engagement when they could have shellacked my warlord had they been in the center.

Going into the third round I was fairly confident I had a good shot at reaching the final.  That was reassuring as my next opponent was none other than Steve MacLauchlan of the famed "What Would Patton Do?" wargames blog.   Steve fielded Normans and the mission was "The Escort" wherein one side has to get 2 of three baggage carts off the opposite side and the other has to destroy all three.  I chose to escort the baggage.

Here is a picture of our deployment.
Here's another view from the side.
 In the early rounds I abused Steve's 8-man hearthguard unit with "Taunt" and rained javelins and slingshot down on them.  Eventually the unit was reduced to one model and it looked like I was going to walk through his entire army this way.
However, in the middle rounds Steve's ranged units tore me appart with precise, long-range fire while I failed to roll the dice I needed to Taunt him and failed to damage him when I had the chance.  Steve's crossbow-armed serjeants lived a charmed life, mowing down my men and refusing to die when hit.
 In desperation, I decided to move left, leaving a unit of levies to hold Steve's attention while I tried to race across the table on his weaker side.  This did not really work and my units continued to suffer severe attrition as Steve re-deployed to my left.  Steve even destroyed one of my baggage units.
 In a bizarre twist of fate, however, my dice luck returned, and dragons (the Welsh "6" which allows for rolling for more dice) abounded.  Thanks to my dragons giving me lots of activation dice, I was able to scoot one baggage cart all the way to the table edge using multiple activations.  Steve scrambled to kill that baggage unit but failed.  We had a slight mutual rules misunderstanding and the baggage unit retreated off the table, giving me one escaped cart.  In my next turn I once again found a dragon nest in the dice roll and was able to activate the other baggage unit no less than 5 times in succession to get him off the table as well, securing a very improbable win.  Kudos to Steve for being a great sportsman about it all after he really deserved a win for pounding my army into oblivion.  At the end of the game I had only my warlord and some levies still alive.
For the final round, the top four players played the "Feast for Crows" scenario.  This is a four-way scrum where the winner is determined by who caused the most points in casualties.  Two of my prior opponents, Steve and the Colonel, returned for this round so evidently I had faced some strong players getting here.  There was also a Skraeling player, Jeff.  He was playing the contemporary Native Americans which were released as a bit of a lark by the SAGA folks to play on the supposed Viking/Indian encounters in the New World.

Here you can see my warband on the lower right, the Skraelings on the lower left, Steve's Normans top left and the Colonel's Welsh on the top right.
In the early rounds the Colonel and I decided there could be only one Welsh player and went at it on the right side of the board.  Steve moved to the center poised to sandwich the Colonel between us.  We all basically tried to run from the Skraelings and their insane battle board.
Here Steve and Joe discuss the finer points of Steve's "avoid contact" strategy.  Just kidding, Steve!
Here horde of near-naked Native Americans maneuver to seize the center of the board.
Steve fights off fatigue as the early hours with a baby take their toll, along with Skraelings hiding in hard cover from his Normans and pelting him with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
In the later rounds the Colonel and I have devastated each other while Steve is running out of options.  The Skraelings have abused his troops by copying Welsh abilities and drawing him into a bad position.  A miraculous set of dice rolling allowed my warriors at bottom left to see off a huge unit of 12 Skraelings.  As I recall it, Jeff rolled 3 hits on 18 dice, needing 5s to hit.  That's a bad roll!

Steve's forces are dwindling and leaderless after a suicide charge by his warlord into the Skraeling position in the center.  The inter-Welsh conflict comes to a head as the Colonel's warlord with helpers finally dispatches my warlord.

The Skraelings charge out, killing a number of my troops and the Colonel's as well.  Jeff skillfully picks off some of Steve's crossbowmen.  On the last turn, Jeff takes just enough to win it.  Final score: Jeff-15, Brian 14, Colonel-14, Steve 7(ish?).  We all let the Skraelings dictate the game and once they gained that hard cover in the center they were in a very good position.  I diced off with the Colonel for 2nd place and won.  My reward was a FREE army box of Jomsvikings from Gripping Beast courtesy of Architects of War!  Wow!  Thanks again to Joe, my opponents and Architects of War for a fantastic tournament.  I was off to a great start at Historicon!  
On Friday morning I hit the dealer hall, picked up my free Jomsvikings (along with two more blisters of them for a 6-point army, and the expansion rulebook covering them, of course!) and browsed the flea market and dealer areas.  After a quick lunch I assisted my friend Bill in setting up some War and Conquest demonstration games.  I then played in a game I had signed up for "A Dacian a Day keeps the Romans away!" using the Hail Caesar rules.  The Hail Caesar rules are perfect for a big convention game like this as they allow big units to be moved quickly and combats resolved easily.  The GM was the very talented modeler, painter and all around nice guy Miles Reidy.  I was truly awed by the beauty of this table and the many, many models Miles had skillfully painted for the game.

Here you can see the Roman setup.  I was assigned to the Roman army and took command of the cavalry and elephants.  I typically hate the Romans, but well, I had no choice!    In this scenario the Romans are besieging a Dacian fort, and are hit in the rear by a relieving force of Sarmatian heavy cavalry.  The Roman goal is to simply survive the game and protect the siege engines on the hill.  Nos moirturi te salutamus!
Here come the Sarmatian hordes.  Where do smelly barbarians get so much armor??
I played very aggressively with my cavalry, reasoning that every turn spent fighting my units was one the Sarmatians were not approaching the siege engines.  Here my troops have deployed to slow down the enemy cavalry charge.
Sarmatian cavalry flank our lines and strike a Roman legion on the bottom left while the elephants hold the heavy horse at bay on the right.
The Sarmatians get too aggressive with their heavy horse and both units are hit by multiple Roman formations.    Here the Sarmatian cavalry on the lower left will be wiped out and the cataphracts on the right hurled back by a Roman legion and an elephant unit.  The Romans caused steady casualties on the barbarians, losing only a few units themselves.
In desperation, the Dacians in the fort launched a sortie to break through to the siege engines.  In response, the Roman commander sent two units straight into them!  It seemed to be suicide, but the dice gods favored Rome and the three Davian units were completely wiped out, breaking the formation holding the fort!  With that, the game was over with a Roman victory.  What an excellent game!
After my Dacian excursion, I got a quick dinner at Wegman's, which was great to have so clsoe to the convention center.  I then joined Richard Borg's Samurai Battles event.  Mr. Borg has made a huge number of board games over the years, and is perhaps best known for his "Commands and Colors" series of games. The latest of these is "Samurai Battles" which comes with over 120 beautiful plastic samurai figures.  I brought my copy to set up and ended up running a game for some friends and a couple of guests.  I also had a chance to speak to Mr. Borg about some scenario ideas I had for "Imjin War" battles from the samurai invasion of Korea in the late 1500s.  Mr. Borg seemed very interested and I am going to be working on that project in the coming months.  Watch this space!
On Saturday morning, I sold a lot of old stuff in the flea market.  A large number of board games and figures painted and unpainted exchanged hands, and I came out quite far ahead.  I set aside the bulk of what I made for my kids' college account and kept about a third for some convention hobby purchases. I thought the traffic in the Saturday flea market was great ,and in fact I had the best sales day I ever had in all my HMGS events going back almost 10 years.

On Saturday afternoon I did a little shopping and picked up the fantastic (and I mean it) Wargames Factory 28mm WWII Germans and a few other odds and ends.  I retired to the hotel room to assemble a few and I was not disappointed with them.  After dinner I played in a gigantic and gorgeous WWII skirmish game called "Rattenkrieg: Der Kursk Weg" which was set in Ponyri on the Eastern Front and used the Crossfire rules set.  The game was put on by Peter Gaut, another obviously talented modeler and painter!  In this game, I played as a Soviet commander (of course) and our mission was simply to stop the Germans from securing a majority of the victory locations on the board, which were marked by Soviet flags.  The Germans had enormous armored superiority but the Soviets start completely hidden and have some serious artillery and sniper support.

Here is the board before any figures are on it.

Here the Germans have deployed.  Man that is a lot of tanks!
The Germans advance to the woodline.
Artillery shells land everywhere and the Soviets spring an ambush from the building. My unit there severely mauled the Germans in the woods, but was eventually overrun.
The Germans reach the center of the table.
Tovarisch Brian smiles for the camera as German tanks burn in the foreground.  Za Rodinu!
A Shturmovik strike knocks out a Tiger as Germans continue to advance.
My 76mm AT gun ambushes a Panzer IV and they get in a duel lasting a few turns.
German tanks in the city run into a minefiled!
My units in the buildings punish the Germans with a "crossfire" as the attempt to reach our lines.
The 76mm gun crew earn the "Order of the Red Banner" as they finally knock out the German panzer! Sadly, they then perish as another Panzer IV shoots them in retaliation.  Life is hard, comrades, but you gave your all for the motherland!
The sole Soviet tank springs an ambush on the Panzer IV and they trade shots.

Here comes a Panther right behind you, comrade!  Oh, our AT gun was waiting for him!  Urrah!
In the city the German tanks have succumbed to mines and close assaults.  Only the assault gun carries on the attack.
The T-34 scores a kill and the AT gun brews up the Panther!  Truly it is a glorious day for the motherland, comrades!
After sustaining very heavy casualties, the Germans are forced to withdraw as Soviet armored support arrives.  Our defense of Ponyri was a great success!!  On to Berlin!
Thanks to Peter Gaut and his game crew who did a great job!  It was really a privilege to play on this terrain with such fine models.  After saving the Motherland, I went to bed!

On Sunday I went back to the flea market and surprisingly sold a good amount of stuff, despite the much lighter traffic.  I picked up a couple of 28mm German vehicles before I got lunch and headed home!

For shopping, I thought the dealer hall was pretty good, although it did seem perhaps a little smaller than in the past.  There were also not as many good sales as I have sometimes seen in the past.  I picked up the new Bolt Action rules from Osprey, some Flames of War Eastern Front terrain, some SAGA stuff to go with my free army (hee hee) and two boxes of very reasonable 28mm Germans in plastic along with three vehicles from the Bolt Action and Army Group North lines.  At the flea market I got some 20mm plastics for my Imjin War project and a copy of Richard Borg's Abaddon sci-fi game.  I also found a 28mm Tiger for very cheap.  Overall, I got some good stuff and managed to stay focused on the projects I had in mind before I went to the con.

Overall it was my best HMGS experience ever!  I live in VA so it was only an hour drive to the convention for me, which of course was great.  I found the site to be very good.  The acoustics in the main hall were a bit rough but tolerable.  The location offered a lot of food choices, especially if you went not 5 minutes from the building, where there was a Wegman's, or about 5 minutes down the road where there was an enormous number of restaurants.  I stayed at the Hampton Inn, which was perfect.  No mold, no stink, no complaints!  I don't miss the Host at all, folks!  See you next year at Historicon in Fredericksburg!