Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Beyond the Gates of Antares - But I feel fine

For my fourth game of Beyond the Gates of Antares I jumped to 750 points a side. This allowed me to add some command level reinforcements in the form of a NuHu Mandarin for the Concord and a Ghar Command Crawler.

Other than this, I largely kept my armies the same as the last game. I added a light support drone to the Concord and took away my Medium Drone's self-repair ability to make up the difference (not that it had had much effect in the last game). I also gave the Concord the Army Option "Block" which allowed them to return an order dice to the bag once per game.

The Ghar swapped out the Flitters for Tectorist Scouts, largely because I wanted to try them out, and upgraded both of their Battle Suit squads with Plasma Amplifiers, which, when activated, would give them an extra order dice each. Though there was a danger of them burning out in subsequent turns.

I decided to play the "Hold the Line" scenario, which would see the defending Concord guarding three objectives (represented by red crystals) from the Attacking Ghar. The Concord would deploy half their army at the start of the game with the other half and the Ghar moving on to the table from turn 1. I took the opportunity to try out the Lava game matt I got for Christmas.

 Deployment

I deployed the Concord strike squads to guard the objectives with the squads on the left and right flank set up with Ambush orders. In the event, they were joined pretty quickly by their reinforcements with the NuHu and Light Support Drone taking up position between the left and centre squads and the Medium drone between the Centre and Right.

 Concord assume defensive positions

The Ghar advanced quickly, with the Command Crawler and Battle Suits moving from slightly to the left of centre, while the Outcasts crept over the rocks on the right. The Tectorists were pretty evenly spread. The Ghar came under heavy fire straight away, with the Assault Suits taking a heavy pounding and lots of pins. They had to activate their plasma amplifier to get a bonus rally order and clear the pins, but it burned out the following turn. And then one of their number was destroyed.

The Assault Squad comes under fire

The Battle Suits did slightly better, making use of rocks for cover and advancing cautiously towards the left flank. The Command Crawler gave a decent account of itself, killing 4 of the centre Strike Squad, though the survivor passed his break test.

The Ghar were granted a brief respite on turn 3, when two Strike squads failed their command checks to activate, while the Outcasts were able to advance unmolested for a while as the Concord had better targets.

The Ghar advance stalls


Unfortunately for the Ghar, things took a dramatic shift on turn 4. A lucky shot from the NuHu's plasma pistol took out another Assault suit, while the Medium Drone damaged the Command Crawler costing it one of its order dice and putting six pins on it, while the right Strike Squad took out three of the outcasts. The Ghar had to spend the next turn consolidating and removing pins, though more failed Command checks prevented the Concord really pushing their advantage.

Ghar prepare for an all out assault

It was all or nothing for the Ghar now. The Battle Suit Squad advanced on the left Strike Squad, while the Assault Ghar assaulted and destroyed the Medium Drone. But, unless there was another turn, the Ghar had lost. The dice finally turned in their favour and the game continued to turn 7.

Assault Ghar destroys the Medium Drone

The Battle Suit squad assaulted the left strike squad, a high risk strategy given what happened to the Assault Suits in the last game. In fact, neither side proved spectacularly effective, with only two Concord killed, both sides ended up with three pins. This technically meant both sides had lost and had to make a break test. The Ghar passed theirs, but the Concord failed, surrendering the objective.

 The Ghar commence their Assault

With no chance of taking the central objective, it all came down to the right flank. The Strike squad shifted position to level all their firepower at the Assault Suit, but they didn't manage to do anything more than drop pins on him. But, then, in a spectacular display of shooting, the Outcasts and Command Crawler wiped out the squad. All the Assault Ghar had to do was activate to claim the objective. With three pins he needed a 5, but then he rolled a 10 and went Down.

 Command Crawler and Outcasts wipe out the Strike Squad

It seemed to be all over for the Ghar, but then I remembered that the Tectorists hadn't activated. Could they claim objectives? The scenario said it had to be an infantry unit. The Tectorists are described as a "special sharded infantry unit." They were unarmed, but claiming the objective required no enemies within 3", so it would have to be clear anyway. I couldn't find anything in the rules or FAQs that said they couldn't claim it. The Tectorists would have to sprint and pass an agility test to cross the Concord's barrier. He just about made, failing his test for exhaustion and gaining a pin. But it didn't matter, the objective was claimed and the Ghar won.

Observations

1. Adding a unit or units with the Command or, especially, the Follow ability really changes the character of the game. Follow allows units within 5" who haven't activated to be activated with the same order as the unit with Follow. It's faintly reminiscent of the way Might points can be used in Lord of the Rings to break the turn sequence. The NuHu made particularly heavy use of it to the point where she was given a Fire order, even though she was unlikely to be able to shoot much, but because it was more useful to give the order to the Light Support Drone and Strike Squad near by.

2. Pinning had much more of an effect in this game. Partly this was because of more effective shooting by the Concord who used their ability to have Strike Squad Plasma Lances shoot different targets to put pins on other units. Another factor may be the larger number of units, which meant more shooting. I can see pins becoming more of a factor as games get larger.

3. There's not much to choose between Flitters and Tectorists. Flitters are faster and have a longer range, but their effect doesn't always work. Tectorists are more consistent. On the other hand, Flitters definitely couldn't claim the objective which won the Ghar the game.

4. It felt like the Ghar had their bad luck at the beginning of the game and their good luck at the end, but having luck at the end was ultimately more useful.

5. Breaking up the sight lines did make for a more interesting game.

5. A bit of trivia of little interest to anyone except me, Beyond the Gates of Antares is the first miniature game I have played more than once which I have only ever played with entirely painted models. That particular hedge is to exclude demo and display games at conventions which are invariably use entirely painted models.

There may be a bit of a gap before my next game as I have to paint some more Ghar to get the points I need. Hopefully, I will be able to post some updates on my progress.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Beyond the Gates of Antares - An Unexpected Encounter

For my next Beyond the Gates of Antares game, I went to 500 points a size, the minimum supported by the army lists and tried some more varied units. I didn't fancy playing the most straightforward, "kill everything" scenarios, so I tried scenario 3, "An Unexpected Encounter." Both sides were trying to get into their opponent's deployment zone and stop their opponent doing the same. Each unit into the enemy zone was worth 3 victory points and each opposing unit destroyed was worth 2.

At only 500 points a side, I didn't have a lot of options, but I tried to make the two sides a little bit varied and interesting. The Concord had 3 strike squads, each with a plasma lance and spotter drone and a medium support drone with a plasma cannon, spotter drone and the self-repair ability.

The Ghar were a bit more varied. A squad each of Battle and Assault Troopers, a squad of Outcasts with a disruptor cannon and a shard of 6 Flitters. I purchased the "pull yourself together" army option to make up points and then forgot to use it all game.

I didn't take very detailed notes on this game, because I wanted to concentrate on the game, but I jotted done a few bits and bobs and took a few pictures.

 Deployment.

Each side was only allowed to deploy half their force, with the other half moving onto the table on the first turn once they passed a command check. The Ghar Flitters, as a probe unit, had to be deployed and they were joined by the Assault Squad. One Concord squad deployed in a wood, ready to defend the deployment zone from any approaching Ghar, while a second deployed ready to advance through some rocks on their left flank.

The Concord moved on smoothly on the first turn and advanced quickly. But there lead squad came under heavy fire from the Assault Ghar, whose Gouger guns were inaccurate, but good at pinning. They were backed up by the Battle Ghar who wiped out the squad before turning their attention to the Medium Support Drone, the firefight between the two would last all game.

 The Concord advance comes under fire

The more cautious second Concord squad advanced over the central hill and opened fire on the Ghar Outcasts, killing four of them. Surprisingly, the Outcasts passed their break test, but backed off.

However, the shooting attracted the attention of the Assault Ghar who launched a close assault. At this point, things went a bit strange. The Ghar's Disruptor Dischargers, essentially grenade launchers, killed 3 Concord, but the Concord responded with a lucky hit at close range, killing 1 of the Ghar. In close combat, the Assault Ghar should have had the overwhelming advantage, but they only rolled a 1 for their strike value (Plasma Claws have a 1d4 strike value, effectively a saving throw modifier) and couldn't get through the troopers armour. The trooper struck back, hitting the Assault leader who, failed his resistance roll on a 10, the only way he could fail, and then, amazingly, failed the re-roll, leaving only one solitary trooper remaining. Having both suffered heavy losses, both sides broke, but the trade was well worth it for the Concord.

 The Ghar assault does not go as expected.

By now, it had become apparent that neither side had advanced quickly enough to reach the opposing deployment zones, so it was all going to come down to casualties and, at this point, the Ghar had the advantage. The waiting Concord squad 1 broke cover and went after the Outcasts.

 The Outcasts come under fire

The Outcasts had the choice of standing and fighting or running and reducing the Concord's shooting effectiveness. It seemed more Ghar to shoot back, and they did have a Disruptor Cannon. The Outcasts gave a good account of themselves, killing 2 troopers, but in the end they were wiped out.

On the other side of the hill, the Battle Squad and Drone's fire fight concluded with the Drone immobilised and one of the Battle Suits destroyed, but this wasn't enough to score any points.

 An immobilised drone, destroys a Ghar Battle Suit

The game ended with a 2 all draw.

A few notes on the game.

1. It plays very well at this level; quick and simple but with enough crunch to keep things interesting. I was done in just over 2 hours. I hope it continues to scale this well.

2. Pinning continues to be important, but not decisive. No squad had more than 1 or 2 pins at any time except during the assault. In a larger game, it concentrating fire might be more possible, and that might prove more decisive. One thing I keep forgetting is that pins effect shooting and not just command roles. I'm still getting used to this mechanic.

3. Assaults don't play quite the way I expected. Ghar, with a strength of 10, are almost certain to hit, but they don't have a lot of attacks and even Assault Ghar don't have a huge strike value, so troopers have a good chance of surviving. Close range fire proved more effective.

4. Speaking of assaults, the one in this game was obviously atypical, but I'm glad BTGOA is the kind of game where these odd situations can occur. Personally, it's these bizarre situations that I remember best.

5. The Flitters survived the game largely intact, mostly because there were always greater threats than them to shoot at. They helped the Ghar, but didn't tip the balance.

5. I'm still not sure of the best tactics for the Concord to use against the Ghar. I think concentrating fire is key.

For my next game, I want to jump up a level to 750 points, which will let me use my Ghar Command Crawler.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Beyond the Gates of Antares - First Games

This post has been delayed a bit. My original plan had been to write a report on my first game of Beyond the Gates of Antares, using the Drone Integration scenario from the Warlord Games website. The point of the scenario is a very basic introduction which uses a cut down version of the BTGOA rules, all of which are printed on a single page. In principle, you don't need to use the rulebook at all.

The scenario pits 3 small squads of Ghar Battle Suits, each with 2 members, against 2 five person Concord Battle Squads and 1 battle drone on a smaller than usual table. The Drone starts the game deactivated and the Concord have to activate it, which should even the odds. The rules use the order dice activation system, but simplify pinning, shooting and morale and have no rules for close combat.

Deployment for the basic game


It's a nice idea for an introduction and allows you to get used to the order dice and pins. Unfortunately, the simplified rules leave the Drone very vulnerable. Although it can shoot more effectively than the troopers, it can only take one hit and isn't any tougher than the troopers.


Both sides come under fire, but the Ghar prove more resilient

The Concord started the game pretty well, one squad stayed put to cover the other while first squad ran to the Drone. Despite taking heavy fire, the squads got the Drone activated on turn 3. Unfortunately, the Drone didn't have much more luck shooting at the Ghar than the troopers and after taking heavy fire went down pretty quickly. With the Ghar undamaged and the Concord badly damaged, there didn't seem to be much point continuing.

The Ghar triumphant

Being somewhat disappointed by this first attempt, I decided to reconvene and play the scenario again using the full rules. I decided to let the Concord squads have one trooper with a plasma lance and a spotter drone each, while the Drone was equipped with a Fractal cannon, simply because it happened to be attached to the Drone.

 Deployment for the second attempt

The Concord deployed pretty much as in the first game, with Squad 2 covering Squad 1. Thanks to the full rules, Squad 1 were able to sprint to the Drone, but Squad 1 came under heavy fire losing four members of the unit and their spotter drone, thanks to a lucky hit. Amazingly, the 1 survivor passed his command check and stayed put.

 Squad 2 under fire

The Drone activated on Turn 2, but despite getting 2 order dice and firing twice, it didn't do any damage and only put pins on the Ghar. The Ghar's shooting wasn't any more effective and the left squad's advance was slowed by the rocky terrain after they failed their agility check.

Drone Activation

Turn 3 started well for the Concord when the Centre Ghar squad failed it's command check and went down, preventing it from activating. Unfortunately, the Drone followed suit, failing two command checks and staying down all turn. Squad 1 advanced towards the Concord deployment zone, but there shooting by both sides was largely ineffective, though the centre Ghar squad stayed down.

 The Concord Strike Back

The Concord finally made a breakthrough on turn 4 when the Drone managed to destroy one of the left Ghar squad, though the other passed its break test, though it then failed its command check to activate and went down. Concord Squad 1 continued its advance, while the last surviving member of squad 2 got lucky and destroyed one of the centre Ghar squad and then got very lucky when the other failed its break test and was removed.

 The first Ghar casualties

On Turn 5, the surviving Battle Suit in the left squad was destroyed, not by the Drone, but by a lucky hit from Squad 1, which continued its advance. The surviving Ghar squad made a last attempt to take out the Drone, but had no luck and the game ended with the Concord in control of their deployment zone and victorious.

 Concord secure the landing site

In retrospect, the Ghar probably lost because they concentrated their fire on the Drone once it activated, They would have been better off trying to wipe out the troopers, which would have forced the Drone to advance and weakened its shooting.

I have few general thoughts on the game.

1. Despite claims that the BTGOA rules are complex, I found them pretty intuitive and smooth. The order dice activation system is simple, and almost all dice rolling is based around rolling under a characteristic with a few modifiers. The only complication was the pin markers, I  kept losing track of exactly which tests removed them.

2. The Ghar are insanely tough. Most weapons only damage them on a 10. Even the Drones Fractal cannon only knocked it down to 6 or more, still a 50/50 chance of survival. At least the Concord, armed with plasma carbines, were able to put pins on them. Against Boromites, Algoryns or Freeborn who mostly use the weaker mag-guns, they would have counted as heavy armour and would only have taken pins if they were damaged.

3. This means they're probably not the best choice for an introductory scenario or a starter set. They're a fun faction to play and play against, but its like sending infantry against an army of tanks. It requires different thinking. This isn't conducive to learning the rules. Warlord appear to have realised this as their new starter set pits the Concord against the more conventional Algoryn.

4. I am actually really looking forward to playing this again with some slightly larger forces, which says something for its playability.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Like last time, but more so

While it's pretty much agreed that 2016 was an absolutely terrible year internationally, politically and environmentally*, from a personal point of view, it has actually been pretty good. I recognise that this isn't so much small comfort as complete and total absent of comfort, and possibly offensive, but I'm reaching here.

At work my job has changed so I am now making more money for more interesting work and I got back to Japan for the first time since 2016, which is kind of a lifelong dream realised for the second time. From a wargames perspective things have gone pretty well too.



At the start of the year I said I want to game more, paint more of my existing models and buy less. Overall, I haven't done badly. I finished my Warhammer Siege Campaign, finishing a bunch of long neglected models in the process. The year's second project, Beyond the Gates of Antares, saw me focus on models I had picked up at the tail end of 2015.

Beyond the Gates of Antares was supposed to be a small project, finishing just enough models to play a game and then move on. But, once I finished my first Ghar battle suit, I got so into it, that I got slightly carried away. While it's good to get excited about a project, I did break my "no new models" rule pretty comprehensively.



So, in summary, I made progress towards my goals without quite meeting them. With that in mind, my goal for next year is to focus on my existing models and buy as little as possible. Pretty much the same as last year, but this time with more success.

The other thing I want to do is update my blog more, with more up to date posts on my progress. Even if no-one reads them except me, reviewing old blog posts and finding month long gaps can be pretty motivational.

Finally, here's a last update of the year, a C3M4 combat drone for Beyond the Gates of Antares. I picked it up a while back because it was pretty heavily discounted. I pretty much stuck with my standard Concord colour scheme.



The C3M4 is a key component of Warlord's new introductory scenario "Drone Integration." The scenario is so introductory that it doesn't even require the full BTGOA rules, all the rules you need are printed on the sheet.



So my BTGOA plan is: 1) Play Drone Integration, 2) Play a 500 point game with the full rules, 3) Finish painting all my Concord and Ghar stuff and play a 1000 point game, 4) Move onto a new project, using only models I already own.



On to 2017, I'm hoping it gets better for the planet without getting worse for me.

*Seriously, David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher etc etc and yet Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Rupert Murdoch are still breathing!

Thursday, 8 December 2016

A brief observation of casual Sexism and wargaming

I had been planning to write a blog post tonight, just not the one I am actually writing. I got slightly derailed by this.
It's an extract from a new book, "Tabletop Wargames – A Designers’ and Writers’ Handbook" by Rick Priestly and John Lambshead. It came to my attention thanks to the Dice Bag Lady on Twitter (https://twitter.com/TheDiceBagLady) and Delaney King at http://kingsminis.blogspot.co.uk. It was then followed up by this extract.

Unsurprisingly, there was a certain amount of outrage expressed at the casual transphobia inherent in describing a transition from Male to Female as "enough to unsettle anyone" and the inclusion of "it" as a pronoun in the second section. Delaney King has already written a blog post on the subject here.

I have to admit that my immediate reaction was not as straightforwardly angry. I read both statements as crass attempts at humour rather than deliberately intending to offend. But I'm white and male and don't have to put up with this sort of thing on a daily basis. I'm certainly not going to criticise anyone for being angry about this. But there are a number of problematic statements and attitudes on display here.

Firstly, I want to take issue with the opening statement. Whilst it is true that wargaming is a male dominated hobby, I am not sure what about the use of gender neutral or female pronouns in rules renders that "painfully obvious." Where exactly is the pain here? I can't imagine any male gamer reading a rule book, coming across that the words "she" or "her" and thinking much more than "they're trying a bit hard." I suppose it's possible that someone might read such a book and hurl it across the room in disgust at the mere suggestion that women might invade their sacred space, but I think this probably represents a vanishingly small demographic. So where exactly is the pain? I can't see how any male wargamer could be seriously effected by the use of female pronouns.

This might invite the counter argument that if men can tolerate female pronouns, women can tolerate male pronouns. The problem with this is that it ignores the reality of the wargaming hobby. It is, as a matter of fact, male dominated, any visit to a wargaming show will bear that out, which can already be off putting to women gamers. While the use of exclusively male pronouns reinforces it, the use of at least some female pronouns challenges it. There is no requirement for a rulebook to perfectly echo the wargaming hobby. Why shouldn't it present a more inclusive perspective?

There actually seems to be some acknowledgement of this fact in the second paragraph that advise the writer to use the gender neutral term "the player" wherever possible. But this admitted begrudgingly, given the following statement that anything other than he/him is somehow incongruous. It may be technically correct that 'he' can be used neutrally, but it acknowledges that this isn't true in practice. Plus, it misses that the fact that 'he' was ever the default is itself a product of a male-dominant language

I'll concede the point that the use of "they" could be confusing in the context of a two player game in which you potentially have to distinguish between something both players should do or one player should do. But, I don't understand what is supposed to be so confusing or 'unsettling' about alternating between male and female in each paragraph. It might be odd in the context of an example of game play in which players were listed by name, but when the terms are being used in the abstract, I think most readers will be able to cope. If alternating by paragraph is so difficult, why not by chapter or, radical thought, just use she or her throughout. Or would that be too painful? While the statement that it is unsettling seems to only be there as a lead in to a crass joke.

Overall, the tone of the extract is unthinking male privilege. It acknowledges that rule books should avoid gendered pronouns were possible and then casually undermines it by operating on the basis that being male is simply the default and anything else is unusual. It offers no evidence for the claims that using female pronouns is 'painful' or that alternating is 'confusing' or 'unsettling' and then includes an outdated and crass joke about changing sex that adds nothing of value.

I haven't read any more of the book than this extract, so I don't anything about the quality of the rest of it but, based on this, it seems to be one to avoid.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Further Updates from Beyond the Ghar-ates of Antares

My Beyond the Gates of Antares project continues and I have no finished a squad of Outcasts. These are Ghar who have been thrown out of their battle suits as punishment for failure and are used as cannon fodder by the rest of the Ghar.



I hadn't originally planned to get any of these, wanting to focus on the rather lovely looking battle suits, but they do have their uses. They are very good at using up a few spare points. A basic squad costs only 43 points while a battle suit costs 60 and come in squads of at least three. That makes them a cheap way to give you an extra activation a turn. They also count as a Tactical unit, and as you need a minimum of two of these in even the smallest of armies, a cheap one is very useful.

Although I got them for pragmatic reasons, I have really come to love the models. They are absolutely full of character. Apart from the leader, all the troopers look terrified, clutching their weapons like security blankets or firing blindly in panic. I particularly like the one holding his gun over his head and not even looking where he is shooting. While the one riding on the disruptor cannon, has the smug expression of someone who knows he is slightly above everyone else.



The official outcast models have been painted naked, apart from their pants and a selection of metal extra bits. The metal bolts protruding from their backs were, presumably, to interface with their battle suits, while the wrist and ankle tags may have done the same, or be to keep them under control. They also wear metal collars, unsurprising, but more oddly, metal bands around their shoulders. I decided to treat these as sleeves and paint them wearing skin tight black T-shirts, this allowed me to keep them consistent with the army colour scheme.

These black "T-shirts" with the metal pieces protruding, they reminded of the black carapace that Warhammer 40K Space Marines use to interface with their power armour. This got me thinking. Hearing stunted creatures who hate everything and ride around in suits immediately made me think Daleks. But there is another comparison you can make.

The Ghar hate their enemies, live only for war and have no tolerance for failure. They are not aliens, but genetically modified humans, the result of experiments carried out by a long dead creator. They were power armoured suits and use weapons that, though effective, are archaic. Also, their main squad types divided into a basic type, and assault type and a heavy weapon type.

Am I the only one thinking that, with the Ghar, Rick Priestly may have been wriffing off one of his former employers most iconic characters?



With 500 points completed, I have, technically, reached my goal. I have enough points to play a basic game. But I have had so much fun with the Ghar that I couldn't resist one further indulgence.



The Ghar Command Crawler is a combination commander and vehicle, not something I have really used in any game before. The model is absolutely superb, as well as being a very well cast largely resin piece, I had enormous fun painting it.



I stuck mostly to the established army colours, but added some purple elements. I have been using purple stripes to identify my battle suit leaders, so it made sense to add the command colour to my Crawler. With him done, I can scrape together 750 points a side, but I don't think I'm going to stop until I hit 1,000.

Monday, 24 October 2016

They're Ghar-eat

Not a lot of words in this post. Just a quick update with a few more pictures of my Ghar.



This second squad are standard Ghar Battle suits, equipped with claws and Disruptor cannon. They have quite more range, but are not quite as overwhelming up close.

 Squad leader with his Concord trophies and purple stripe on his gun arm

Ghar puts his claw in something soft and squishy

I got four of them in the Beyond the Gates of Antares starter set and have added one more from an extra box I bought. The two others from this box are being kept back for later use.

 Concord trooper loses his head

Ghar trooper has picked up an irritating parasite

In addition to the battle suits, I have also finished this small squad of Tectorists, unarmed, and slightly crazy, Ghar who act as scouts with their tector rods. When they get close to an enemy unit, they give other Ghar a shooting bonus, compensating somewhat for the fact that Ghar don't have spotter drones like most other armies.



I actually have about 500 points done now, which is enough for a small game, but have a few more bits and bobs I want to paint before actually playing. More new soon.