Leeds Night Owls Bolt Action Tournament

Sunday 18th December saw a Bolt Action tournament at Leeds Night Owls.  The club has an excellent venue in a modern Church annexe on the edge of the student ghetto in Leeds West Yorkshire (I always wonder why Leeds castle is in Kent).  We had 9 competition gaming tables up with a 10th for admin and there was still space left for some club games (40K and zombie from a brief look).  I finished about halfway up (or down) the results table which is pretty much what I expected.  We all played 3 2-hour 1,000 point games  I won 1, drew (but lost on points) in another and lost in the final game which was very close and came down to 30 odd kill points difference in scores.  My games ran for 3, 5 and 5 turns so none came to the final turn (6 or 7 in most Bolt Action scenarios).  Only the final game result would have changed much if we did have extra time as it was anyone’s game right down to the wire.  The terrain was all set up before we began with notes on each terrain type stating its definition and cover.  These can be seen in some of the game images.  They were an excellent plan and I did not come across any of the all too common ‘who can shoot at who’ problems caused by terrain definitions.

Here are some of the armies laid out before the gaming started.  Mine is the Soviet army (full list)  with armoured car and quad maxim on a truck.  This was all an regular force apart from 1 unit of veteran scouts and 1 unit of inexperienced conscripts.  It was probably the largest army at the event.  Smaller veteran armies were popular.   Most armies took some sort of tank.

In all games ranking was by victory with killed enemy units breaking ties.  Veterans are harder to kill plus pass more morale tests than other troops.  This makes it hard to kill off the last few men in a veteran squad.  They might be full of pins and have no offensive capacity left but they are still on board, pulling a die and not granting kill points.  On the other hand these armies are small.  This makes it hard for them to cover a lot of ground.  This is needed to attack across a wide front or to defend all across the board.

My best unit was the maxim truck.  20 dice never does any harm.  It tends not to last long but easily makes its points back in kills.  The scouts regularly get hosed down but in exchange tie down plenty of enemy dice actions.  I do not as a rule use tank hunters but had a few points to make up.  By forward deploying like the scouts they are good for area denial in the early game.  Being regular they cannot take much damage so tend to be just a points gift to the opposite side.  I usually take an ATR instead for about the same points.  Not much use but a die in the pot and the +2 penetration can threaten veteran infantry and light transports with a kill.

Game 1 was point defence.  Each side has a single objective to hold.  Capture the opponent’s and you have won.  The strategy would appear to be hold on for the enemy to get worn out in the attack on you then move on their objective.  There is not time for this so both sides need to be on the offensive from the off. In practice this scenario is often a draw and it takes some pretty gutsy tactics to win.   This scenario can make a good start for a tournament as most players will pull a draw and it is not much fun to get badly whipped on your first game.  With respect to the players 5 games of point defence were won outright.  I fought a tricked out German army with lots of small veteran squads piled high with panzerfausts and assault rifles.  I could have done without the panzer IV.


You can see the 2 objectives in the image, they are marked as grey and cream circles.  We only got three turns played although we seemed to be cracking along pretty well. I got a squad up along the left flank but was still far off the objective.  My scouts out in front got shot down as usual.  My opponent’s panzer caused tank fear but I only had one squad that refused to budge because of it.  That tank could have made it onto my objective but did not try to take on my Zis gun.  With no overall winner I lost on kill points, a losing draw.

Game 2.  I as the defender have to hold 3 objectives.  This view shows where all three are.  I am fighting against Germans again with small veteran units but an assault gun rather than a tank.  The German force is not set up yet.  It will come on from the board edge with a concentrated attack along the right side of the table.


Here is the key action hotting up on the flank.  Right at the back are my opponent’s Hummell (or some other sort of gun on tracks) and mortar.  I sent the scouts up to deal with these.  The Hummell got them in the end but they kept these support weapons off my back.


Here is the core action around my right flank objective.


The quad maxim truck is giving out the damage but taking it too (red circles are my pins, Roman numeral dice German pins).


That German armoured car did not plan on missing my truck.  The quad maxim had already shot up more than its points value in air attack and lashed out a good few pins so it had done its bit.


This is the last turn so some actions were made by both sides that otherwise would have been stupid.  The Russian armoured car here has been knocked out.  The German did get in on the objective but I got troops back to contest it so pulled off the win.


Final game was against a British paratroop army.  These were veterans with the vengeance special rule.  This allows a unit a 50% chance to remove a pin if there is an enemy unit within 12″.  A fine example of a rule not thought through by Warlord.  You cannot measure distances before shooting but use of vengeance will give the player his range to the closest enemy.  My opponent here did not exploit this rule in that way although it did save him a couple of pins during the game.

Both sides had a pre-game bombardment.  I lost a sniper and the British their forward artillery observer.  I forgot to use the Soviet rule that allows a unit potentially destroyed by a failed morale test to roll again but I probably would have failed it again (9 base with -2 for pins, -1 last man in team).  With units rallying on their un-modified morale the pre-game bombardment is not much of a threat even against British who roll 2 dice and pick the best.  We both kept our vehicles off the table on deployment to be on the safe side.p1030831

My Zis piled shot after shot into the building with a British unit in it.  HE only needs to roll to hit the building not the unit so makes a mess of units in buildings.  Despite hitting more than once the troops inside took few hits and being veterans were able to keep on the table.


The squad at the bottom of the picture are engaged in a game of cat and mouse with a flamethrower hoping for some easy kill points while the flamethrower was out of range.  In the end they missed then flamethrower got within its range and missed as well.

We started the games at 9:30 and were cleaned away and leaving the building at 17:00.  There was another booking for the room at 17:30.  In all it ran like a well oiled machine.  Few games reached their 6/7 turn conclusions, that might have needed another 30 minutes per game.  There was, however, enough time allocated to ensure that the winner was becoming clear by the time each game was called.

VASSAL Bolt Action PBEM Tutorial

I will blow my own trumpet and push my Bolt Action and Chain of Command module and discuss the nature of using the computer as a virtual tabletop for our toys.  To avoid any risk of a ‘cease and desist’ my module has no mention of any well known WW2 ‘1 figure as 1 man’ set of rules.  It does just happen to have all the templates needed for Bolt Action and Chain of Command.   Co-incidentally there is also an order dice picking system using dice (to be honest cards) hidden in a bag.  The original module is on VASSAL.

VASSAL is a computer program that will run on just about any operating system (I use Linux) that will display images that can be moved around on top of each other and allows their current state to be saved.  It also includes a dice rolling and card management system and has the option to do more if you fancy diving under the hood.  This is more than enough for our sort of games and there are some very fancy modules out there for popular board games.  The system cannot know the game rules but can be set to force actions to run in a particular sequence and to carry out some of the routine bookkeeping and calculations.  VASSAL has a perfectly good designer’s manual.  This article is a less dry walk through of designing a miniatures game module.  It is best followed with the WW2 Skirmish module open in edit mode.

There are remarkably few miniatures modules out there.  This could be due to the relatively high number of possible pieces compared to many board games and the scaling factor in choosing a system to simulate.  It would be great to cover the really big games with lots of models.  To shrink these down so it all fits onto a computer screen those models are going to be pretty darn small.  VASSAL does let you zoom in and out but who wants to do all that zooming to find and move each unit or model?  If detailed images are used and there are a lot of different models involved the file size is going to bloat.  On the other hand consider a smaller scope game such as Pulp Alley, Two Hour Wargames or the ‘Song of’ series.  These require a relatively small play area that is not going to be a lot bigger than a large computer monitor.  So few zoom issues but considering the small footprint of the original it would be a better solution to play the game with models and use video conferencing software to share the game experience.  Bolt Action does fit into the Goldilocks zone, at 750 or so points anyway.  There are not too many moldels to move around.  Also the vague ‘no pre-measuring’ rule helps out.  VASSAL can be set to measure distances for movement and ranges, it can even pre-set movement distances.  In real life Bolt Action games there is a deal of fudging ranges and moving.  It is way too much trouble to measure every single model move.  Often a few figure moves within a unit are measured and the rest of the unit fudged around that.  This fits in well with less precise moves through dragging with the mouse.

In practice VASSAL can be used for PBEM although I would suggest an external voice line rather than relying on the chat function.  It has more potential as a way of trying out armies and terrain.  The big hassle with miniatures gaming is getting out all the terrain and figures.  With VASSAL terrain can be set up and troops laid out on the side of the virtual table.  The game can then be saved and played with minor variations more than once.  For example running the same forces and terrain but swapping the scenarios and victory objectives.  Another application is as a tool for writing up battle reports.

My design goal was to get something out there that was good enough.  Not to spend forever trying to get everything in.  There are a host of different troop types and weapon systems across the various protagonists.  Rather than try for them all I picked the popular systems and went with axis or allied infantry, they will fill in for whatever nations are required.  An initial step was to look at what was out there.  The most similar starting point was the 40K module.  This is not on the VASSAL site, indeed due to GW’s vigorous IP defense it takes a bit of tracking down.  It is quite possible to play Bolt Action using the 40K module.  The key problems are the lack of a dice pull system and the presence of a great deal of detail that is never going to be needed, plus the tanks look a bit odd.  On the plus side the graphics are amazing, if useless for WW2 and I worked out some design tricks for later resuse.  For graphics I went to Junior General.  They have top down graphics of a constant scale.  I posted on the forum and sent messages to the key artists and no one objected.  This gave a source of acceptable images although these needed to be scaled down and cropped to ensure that each had a transparent background.

The game and map scale was based on that used for the 40K module.  The game scale is 15 pixels to 1 inch for moving and firing. 15 pixles to 1 metre for model scale.  The infantry figures were re-scaled to look ‘about right’ next to the vehicles.  Some terrain is from Junior General, some is hand drawn.

Setting up

What follows are some design issues that I overcome and which might be of use to others in improving this module or creating others.  Any module file is just a renamed zip file.  Opening in an archive manager will show the graphics files.  I would not suggest stealing someone else’s graphics but it is useful to see the exact size in pixels used for units, markers and terrain.  Any module can also be opened in edit mode.  This gives full access to the code and layout although the nature of VASSAL will mean that you know a feature has been implemented but tracking down where can be more difficult.  The overall approach is to do a bit, save it and try it out.  This will show up issues straight away.  No one wants to create a slew of graphics and find that it all looks wrong in play.  It is relatively straightforward to swap out graphics if the original files are the same size.  So start with graphics that are good enough and swap them out when something better comes along.

This is the file structure of a brand new module.  Lots of folders, the only file with useful data sets the standard fonts.


A board is a good place to start.  Right click on map boards and add a map.  I used, cell scale factor = 0.2, cell width 350, cell height 125 (the default) and linked to uploaded png images 1080 * 720 pixels.

Now to test this we need a game piece.  Right click on game piece pallete, add a scrollable list, then a pull down menu.  Then add a single piece.  All it needs for the time being is a name and a single image.  I used the game scale of 15 pixles to 1 metre for models and re-sized images to fit this scale.  The image is best with a transparent background and using a circle of the backing colour as a base behind it.grifle

Save the work and open the module.  If the module opens up with 1 piece that can be moved around the board then you are off.  If not start again.  Do not create a lot of pieces at this stage.  The trick is to create piece patterns that obey certain rules then copy those patterns.


Another easy starter is adding a dice button.  Right clicking on the top folder of the file directory shows this amongst other actions.  Several dice buttons can be added, with different sides and combinations.


This is a multi-dice window that prompts for the number of dice to roll.  The report format should be tweaked to change how the user sees the results in the output Window.


Another easy but useful option is the ‘line of sight thread’.  This is added by selecting ‘Main Map’ and right clicking.  It is possible to have more than one of these (as with multiple dice).  One can be used for line of sight and another to calculate range.  The following properties work as a range ruler:


Game Pieces

In a miniatures game the pieces have various roles.  Popular categories would be the models that move around, the terrain that does not move after placement and the templates that do move but are translucent so the elements underneath can be seen.  In the menu 3 diagrams up is a section to add ‘game piece prototype definitions.  A definition can be given any name and set with certain traits.  This is the definition for an infantry prototype:


Each trait needs to be set with appropriate values.  Most are easy to guess.  A movement of 1″ at our scale will be 15px.  The marker layer is to get infantry on top of terrain but under templates.  Terrain is not going to need all those move traits.


The layer (not marker layer) trait is worthy of some investigation.  Choosing its properties shows a window to define layers of the object itself.  In this implementation a number of images have been created that consist of a ring on a transparent backgound.  As the user cycles through the bases with the set keys a different ring appears around the piece the trait is linked to.  This allows a piece to have a choice of rings around it.  This can be used to denote troop type (regular or veteran), wounds or what not.


This definition is in the SmallBase prototype and is used by the small infantry units.


The movement or otherwise of a piece is governed by ‘does not stack’, set here for the Terrain models.  Here a piece will only move if selected with shift first.  This is to prevent a unit moving into some terrain then back out but taking the terrain with it on the way out.


Here is a basic infantry piece with its prototypes and other properties.  VASSAL does not pick up the traits automatically.  They have to be typed up as required.  The restricted access setting is to restrict use of this piece to the axis side or a neutral observer.


Here is a terrain definition.


Here for comparison is a template.  Note that the graphic is a tiny dot. The area of effect sets the template effect by the opacity and radius of effect.



The above instructions will allow a range of suitable game pieces to be created.  To help organise these and make it easier for the player to choose the correct one they should be organised into pull down menus.  Some of the templates and markers here are generic  circles, squares or dots that the player can use for their own devices.  At this point a small selection of pieces should be created and the module tested to ensure that they all work together as expected.



Bolt Action does not have any cards but these are the best mechanism to portray the dice order bag because cards can be shuffled and dealt.  VASSAL cards can be any size and the front does not have to be the same size as the back.  For Bolt Action there will be a largish back so the dice pile is easily seen but a small front so the pulled dice do not dwarf the virtual models.  A reverse of this might be Pulp Action.  Here a small back will keep the deck discrete but a large front makes the text easy to read.

For the dice bag the fronts are a small red or blue square and the back a slightly larger green square with a ‘?’.  It is not easy to create 6 sided cards to model ambush settings and the like.  Players will have to use a generic marker for ambush.  Right click on ‘Main Map’ and add a deck.  Note that the contents are face down and the deck always shuffles.


Here is a blue card or chit, note the ‘return to deck’ setting.


The Mask property is used for the back of the card.


Any piece could have a mask.  Another application would be to have a brewed up image of a vehicle on the mask.  It could then be flipped when destroyed.  I cut back on the drawing work and created a generic smoke trail piece instead.

The dice bag has 1 chit/card in it at the game start so the player can find the pack.  Right click on the deck and ‘add card’.  A red and blue card also both need to be created as game pieces.  When preparing for play the gamer should choose the required number of cards and drop them in the bag (drag them on top of the deck).   That seems too much trouble but it can be automated.

Ctr_R has been set as the shortcut used to return the cards to the deck.


Right click on ‘Main Map’ and ‘add global key command’.   This creates a button that sends Ctr_R to all pieces on the board.


That was enough to get a ‘not Bolt Action’ module off the ground.  The easiest way to set up a game is to drag the pieces needed for each side to a space off the side of the map.  Copy and paste is as one would expect so set up 1 squad and copy as required.  Take care in that copied pieces appear exactly on top of the original.  They can be dragged out of the way but over zealous copying can lead to more units than you expected all stacked up.  the delete feature of pieces will sort this out.  If playing an on-line game 1 player can set up all the units to the side of the board before beginning the game.  This will save on pre-game down time.

It might be of help to use a wider map-board and mark a section off one side for setting up.  The artistic types might want to create pieces for coffee cups, bags and other gaming ‘junk’ to drop here.  This section should be at the side not the top and bottom as the computer screen dimension ratio in combination with game table ratios gives plenty of free space to the side of the table.  Adding more real estate to the top or bottom would zoom the whole view out to fit in the new area with the consequent loss of clarity.


Bolt Action – Operation Lightfoot

We had a go at scenario 7, Operation Lightfoot from Duel in the Sun going for a traditional Britsh vs German 1,000 point match up.  This scenario uses the night fighting rules and it quickly became apparant that as written it was not ideal for v2 of Bolt Action.  In night fighting no unit can be seen more than 18″ away.  On a 4′ wide board the Germans start 12″ in and the British move on board.  With no vehicles available to the British in the scenario their maximum move will be 12″ leaving them 24″ away from the closest possible German and out of sight.  Prior to the game the British had 2 pre-game bombardments, one normal and the other with -1 to the dice.  The Germans fielded 12 units and took above average casualties (1 in 6 chance of a killing blow), 1 figure killed on each of 3 separate units.  2 units  were unharmed and the rest had up to 4 pins.  On turn 1 we ran the maths and skipped the order dice pulling.  All of the British units ran on and all of the Germans rallied (or tried to).  The end result was pins all gone on all but 2 German units and those were gone by the end of turn 2.  Net result, the preliminary bombardment had limited effect and all the British start turn 2 still out of sight in the dark.  Using basic maths the game would be better if turn 1 did not exist and the whole front line moved forwards.  The British move on from their edge and the German front moves forward 24″ to the table centre.  The kill zones are unchanged but the action will start 1 turn earlier.  The Germans have 3 bunkers that the British must capture 1 and at least contest the other 2 to win.  With this revised set up the German would have to put the bunkers down on the centre line to recreate the original game time to contact.  The German will gain an extra 12″ behind him on his table edge that could be used or ignored but which provides options for placing rear area support units that were not present in the original rules write.  The pre-game bombardment can be represented by rolling a die for each German unit and losing a man on a 6.

Some other minor issues cropped up and were sorted before game in the hope of making it reasonably balanced.   The British took ‘blood curdling charge’ as their special rule.  It would be silly not to as this prevents a target being charged from firing before close combat.  The ambush rule, however, allows a unit to shoot during any opponent’s move, with a stress on any.  So does ‘blood curdling charge’ trump ambush.  In historical terms the British special rule is in the British book which is later than the v1 Bolt Action rules but not as recent as the v2.  There will be more than a few of these army book rules out there.  It would not have been difficult for Warlord to stick them all in the new rules book and declare what overrides what.  We decided to allow ambush to trump the charge feeling that without it many of the German defenders would be mutton.  The problem was partly overcome by placing the 3 bunkers (these use the linear obstacles rules) in rough terrain so the British could only charge 6″ not 12″ when assaulting them.  At that distance normal defensive fire is not allowed rendering the ‘blood curdling’ rules less useful.

The British went all infantry (not that they had any choice) with some 6 man inferior squads as meat shields out in front, some 6 man regular squads to up their dice count and some 12 man veteran squads for the big assault.  The Germans were infantry except for 2 guns, a Pak 36 and a light howitzer.  Both armies were of 2 platoons in case another 2 players wanted to join in (that did not happen).  The Germans had 2 8 man veteran squads in each of 2 bunkers and the howitzer in the other (this latter directed by scenario set up).

I did not take any photos but I have re-created the set up on my VASSAL module for Bolt Action, WW2 Skirmish,  also available on this DropBox link, VASSAL 3.2.16 or better is needed to play the module.  The image only shows the German part of the board.   All the British troops come on during turn 1.  There was some terrain on the top part of the baord but this had no impact on the game so can be ignored.  The lines on the image are the table centre and 6″ in from the edge.


The Germans sat in bunkers and behind minefields

The British tactics were brutal.  Advance with the inferiors out in front then swamp the bunkers one at a time.  The inferiors were wiped out by shooting before they got close.  With a 1st Lft issuing orders to 2 other units they both went in.  The first to trigger any ambush and take out a few Germans.  The next to go in with another assault and finish the job.  The Germans were best off shooting at the closest unit they could see and then sitting tight.  A valiant counter-attack led to the loss of an entire squad.  In close combat the loser is wiped out.  With bad dice in shooting the shooter is unharmed but probably looking for clean underwear.  The British need to take the bunkers so are going to go in, relying on withering fire to wipe out the defender is not an option.  Time is on the German side, keeping units in some sort of fighting condition will slow the British assault, so shoot, don’t assualt back.

The game went much as expected.   There was not a lot for either side to do after the initial list construction (and that was limited), terrain placement and set up.  The British rolled over 1 bunker and got close to the second in line.  The game could have run to 7 turns but ended on turn 6.  A notional 7th turn would have seen the 2nd bunker taken and a single man might have contested the 3rd (if not shot or assaulted flat) giving a German win with a very slight chance of a British win.  The tactic of rolling up the line made sense on paper but did not account for the time lost in moving straight ahead to 1 bunker then moving along the lines to the others.  To be fair to the British player there were units approaching all 3 bunkers but only 1 of the assualt groups was strong enough to push into their defences.

Pulp Alley: Where to Start?

Pulp Alley is a set of rules for a handful of figures on a small gaming area.  2 sides with 6 models each on a 3′ square gaming area should do the job.  Rather than going through the rules line by line the best starting point is to track down the free rules and cards on the Pulp Alley website.

I can confirm that I have played the game using just the free version of the rules and the free cards.  In my case the office printer donated the paper and toner.  I used up some spray fixing glue but re-used old card wallets and mounted the cards on ‘donated’ card stock.  I did cheat and source 2 sets of league stats from the web.  The full rules for creating leagues is not in the free book, there are 2 ready to go leagues provided but these did not match up well with the miniatures that I had available.  When running the free game it transpired that at least 1 full game rule (dealing with hiding) was missing but ignoring the rule did not affect the game.  There is only 1 scenario in the free rules compared to 6 in the full rules and that 1 is not especially exciting.  Still you do get to play almost the full system without worrying about the cost.  As this set is a pdf download there is not much waiting either, just the time to print out and mount the bits.

I have now bought the full rules and found that there was very little present that I did not get from the free version.  I then bought Pulp Leagues.  This includes some additional rules and an expanded set of league creation rules compared to that in the full basic rules.  From a monetary point of view I would suggest buying Pulp Leagues after getting the free rules and only to get the full rules for completeness.  Not having the full rules will miss out some bits but the Pulp Leagues creation system is better than that in the basic rules.  The marketing problem is that you get so little extra when moving from the free to paid rules it is scarcely worth the upgrade.  Pulp Alley has an intuitive rules system that is forgiving of mistakes and makes it easy to invent house rules that fit in with the system.

Without the main rules you could be short of scenarios.  The solution here is to get Tomb of the Serpent, the most recent scenario book.  This is chock full of scenarios although I have avoided reading most of them as I plan to play them through and do not want to spoil the campaign story.  Tomb of the Serpent is loosely Egyptian based.  I bought a sprue of Frostgrave cultists for some of the baddies.  GW Tomb Kings type figures ought to do for the rest.  I do not have any of those so GW Lizardmen may have to substitute in.  The campaign could be modified to other settings without any serious effect on game play.  Another key reason to get Tomb of the Serpent is that the pdf version includes card print outs for the solo and horror decks.  The web store also sells these separately but does not make it clear that they are included with the rules for their use in this supplement.

I have not seen the Vice Alley supplement.  As I have no gangster or similar figures I will not be going there.  The other ‘mainstream’ supplement is Pulp Gadgets, Guns and Vehicles.  Annoyingly there is a reference to the big gun rules in this supplement within Pulp Leagues but not the full rules for using them.  At present I will stick with making up any rules that I need to cover this area.  Really big guns are going to dominate this sort of skirmish game.  I would imagine a 6-8 turn game being just long enough for a team to set up and unpack a big gun.  So a game can be set out to complete a task before the big gun is ready to fire, hence it needs no specific rules.

The Pulp Alley characters have a set of statistics stated in terms of rolling a number of dice of differing sides, D6, D8, D10 and rarely D12.  Success is based on scoring a 4+ so a lowly single D6 has a 50% chance of success and a D10 70% (0s are 10 on the die roll).  Combat involves the shooting, brawling and dodge statistics.  Other characteristics are rolled when solving puzzles or when in hostile terrain.  In ranged or close combat both sides roll their dice and note the successes.  The attacker, only, has the option to spend some success dice to cancel out the defender’s successes on a 1 for 1 basis.  This represents blocking punches or spray fire to keep the opposition’s head down.  It is rather gamey that this choice is made after the dice roll rather than declaring an intention before rolling but it keeps the game moving.  The defender can elect to roll dodge rather that combat dice.  These will cancel the attacker’s dice but cannot possibly harm them.  It has the advantage that it can be combined with a short dodge move to get the figure out of harm’s way.  Combat is one on one but if a character is involved in multiple combats on 1 turn they will fight progressively worse.  As both sides in a combat can inflict damage a low dice rolling figure needs to think carefully before engaging its betters.  Hits are converted to wounds by failing a health roll.  The health die (characters only have a single health die) is used to try and cancel all hits.  If you get hit 3 times there are 3 chances to cancel but if only 1 hit is not cancelled the character is wounded.  A wound will result in dropping a health dice level but there is a 1 in 6 chance of recovering the wound at the end of the turn.  Low health dice units have less dice to lose so are not going to last as long.  Only 1 health level can be lost per combat but not per turn.  With some dice luck multiple attacks from low dice characters are going to cause multiple dice drops and perhaps knock out a high level character.  When following this plan some of those low dice minions are likely to be taking one for the team.

In the basic rules all ranged combat is the same.  The game does not differentiate between a throwing knife and a SMG.  At these skirmish ranges and with plenty of cover this is probably not a serious issue.  Pulp Leagues does include more types of weapon with slight changes in how they fire but the list is short.  None of the changes consider that some weapons might do more damage when they hit than others.  A possible reason for the American Indians preferring the musket to their native bows was the improved stopping power of the musket.  Another concept that is not covered is that some weapons are more awkward to use than others.  A firearm can be shot from cover with little exposure to the shooter.  A bow or spear requires the shooter to expose some of their body when preparing to loose or throw.  I have not come across rules for these situations in Pulp Alley but the system could easily accommodate them.

Setting up a league for a straight up shoot out is not very successful.  The game improves through the use of the scenarios and these rely on plot points.  Plot points are victory objectives and they require passing die rolls on characteristics other than those used in combat.  The weaker characters have poor dice settings so are much less likely to solve plot points.  They can spread solving a plot point over several turns but that does rely on nothing else happening to them.  The plot points should be modelled as NPCs to talk to, chests to open or sacks to search.   Strictly following the rules allows any character to solve any plot.  This could include having the gorilla talk to the NPC and find the location of the treasure map. Some pre-game thought would be required in cases such as those.

After 2 rough games to get the feel of the system I am trying the first of the Tomb of the Serpent scenarios.  All my figures are set up for Darkest Africa, having been drawn in by the excellent Congo rules.  I will be using the solitaire deck.  This cuts out the interesting initiative and card interaction rules but obviously facilitates solo play.  Both sides share the solo deck.  The player decides the first 3 characters to activate and each draws a card from the solo deck.  These cards can be good or bad, some are instant and others stick with the activated figure.  There are simple rules for how the opposing side will act but making the best possible choice for them will also work.


Our heroes


Their Pulp Alley stats, 3 slots assigned to perks

Our first outing is to the fairground.  Making use of what models I have this will be to a World’s Fair exhibition in London.  Specifically to the Darkest Africa section.  The exhibits include a selection of freaks and weirdos to pull in the crowd.  I am hoping that one of these will reveal our first clue.


The fairground folk (plot points or NPCs)

The reader may notice that one of the above has a slight birthmark.  This is the enlightened 19th century so we do not talk about such things in polite company.  He is able to make a worthwhile contribution to society as an exhibit in a freak show.


The bad guys

It is not going to be a walk in the park.  These mysterious cultists are also after clues.  The tall guy is a Heroclix repaint and the others are Frostgrave cultists with Warlord Bolt Action weapons.

Our small league of heroes left 3 slots available for league perks.  These resulting in 1 cultist not showing until turn 2 and our heroes being joined by a low level supporter for this episode only.


Start of the game,the huts are made from cardboard tube

Set up for both sides required being 6″ from a plot point and 1″ from the enemy.  This gave a fairly even spread and preventing any attempts to get clues on turn 1.  You have to run to go above 6″ and when running cannot perform an action (except brawling).  Any character who shoots or brawls during the game suffers a string of perils as they are set upon by the crowd.  This was a constant upset for the lower level cultists.

On turn 2 our leader solved the first clue and learnt that the Pigmy King was the man to help us out.  Unfortunately the closest character to him was the cultist leader who ran over to begin some gentle persuation on turn 3.


The cultist leader chats with the Pigmy King, cultists protect his flank

The cultist leader and our own hero avoided any direct combat so as to make it easier to get around and solve clues.  The cultist leader did well scoring half the successes needed to weedle the main clue from the Pigmy King on his first attempt.  Some desparate work from our heroes knocked him down once and kept him weak so his health never got above d6.


The Pygmy King gives out some information

This pegged his other stats at d6 and made it hard to persuade the Pigmy King who in turn knocked him about helping to keep his health down.


Help is on the way

Our party just about held off the cultists until our leader came up, still in good d10 health and with a reward card to help kneedle the reward from the Pigmy King at the end of turn 6.


Our hero to the rescue but staying out of line of sight

At the beginning of turn 7 he manfully ran off with his reward pursued by the cultist leader.  Although caught our hero was easily able to knock back the cultist leader.


He shoots, he scores, the crowd goes wild

The game took about 1 hour to play through the 7 turns (1 added by game event).  The solo deck was cycled through once with 1 card after the shuffle.  Most of the action revolved around the major plot point held by the Pigmy King.  Having identified this it made sense for both sides to concentrate on it although interacting with the other NPCs could have brought rewards to help with passing the clue success test.  No one dared to go in the tent with the purple guy or perhaps they were too tight to shell out the 3d entry fee.