Frostgrave with Dungeons and Lasers

Dungeons and Lasers is a hard plastic modular building system from Archon Studio in Poland. Sets to build dungeon layouts are available direct from Archon. In the UK their distributor is Warcradle Studios. A much wider range of Archon’s products have been sold through Kickstarter and Gamefound. These are only available while the various pledges are live. UK delivery will be subject to VAT, shipping fees and the vagaries of International deliveries. Items from previous campaigns do, however, show up on eBay.

The common floor structure is a block of 4 squares each of 3cm sides. With 28mm figures that would be about 2m each making a single block 4m x 4m, a good sized room in a real house. It is still a bit of a squeeze with 28mm models partly due to their integral bases. It would also be a tight place for a fight if the usual 3-seater settee, bookcases and coffee tables were in place. The Dungeons and Lasers room boxes are of 9 floor block equivalents (3 doubles and 3 singles) with enough sides for some inner walls as well as round the edges. There are 2 dungeon base sets. The core set only comes with the Gamefound campaigns and has an equivalent of 42 floor sections. The starter set is available at retail with 21 floors and a selection of props to dress the rooms and corridors. The core set (in the Gamefound campaigns) costs less than the starter making the core the smart buy. Multiple starters will load up on the extras but there is a limit to how many statues, chests and the like that anyone might want. The dungeon rooms come with door archways but no doors. It is no surprise that they have no windows. In the above ground rooms every wall has a window so to make up larger building rooms some of the dungeon walls and floors might be re-purposed for interior use.

There are too many room, roof and pavement options for anyone to realistically collect the lot so the question crops up as to how many sets are really needed? A single starter could be used by a role-play dungeon master to create 1 or 2 rooms on the fly. It is not nearly enough for even a small skirmish game. The set up below for our Frostgrave game proved adequate and was made from 2 1/2 core sets and 2 standard rooms.

The pieces come in a dark grey plastic that could pass for stone but lacks depth of colour. Some of the rooms above were primed then painted with GW Contrast paints. This worked but was expensive. A core set used up roughly 1 can of spray paint and 1 1/2 pots of Contrast. Here is the cheap solution. Prime then hit with a dip made from wood stain. Apply liberally so the stain soaks into the cracks then wipe off excess stain. The walls are supported on the connectors supplied for assembling the rooms. They are then painted and left to dry vertically. The stain will then drip down the walls creating staining just like damp going down a real wall.

The exact mix of the stain or dip is varnish and water in about the consistency of milk together with enough acrylic paint to darken the final colour. The varnish needs to be water not oil based. It should also be satin or matt not gloss and the darkest base stain available. The end results can be glossy at best but with a gloss base can verge on the dazzling. The picture illustrates that this is a messy process. The water-based stain will just about come out of clothes if washed quickly in hot water but best wear old clothes and not do this in the front room.

Here are the results. These are not as glossy as they appear in the photo but having a stash of matt varnish to hand is helpful in case of overly shiny results. The torches and mirrors here came with the starter set and were also part of the original Kickstarter stretch goals. There is a conflict between gluing decorations to the wall sections and leaving them loose. If these extra bits are loose it will be easier to stack and store the walls but it will take more time to set up the rooms. Having tried it out the best approach seems to be glue any wall decorations in place. This provides some variety in walls that would otherwise all be remarkably similar and avoids the bits falling over during a game. Obvious room scatter such as chests and traps can be kept separate and placed as required for the game.

The Frostgrave setup has rooms with Contrast paint and dip alone. There are 3 colours of grey undercoat partly explaining the difference in room colour and the sheer volume of paint needed get several sets ready. The drop in quality when not using Contrast is easily outweighed by the time and effort saved.

After all this we got a 5-player game of Frostgrave in action at the club. Each player started at a separate entrance with the aim of picking up as much treasure as possible then getting out through the portal at the far end of the dungeon. Frostgrave is a simple system; it has been further developed into Stargrave and Silver Bayonet. There are several Frostgrave books, one is specifically aimed at dungeon battles but it is not really required to play. There is not enough difference between Frostgrave 1st and 2nd editions to make buying the newer edition essential. The game did lend itself to players holding place at key junctions so they could move forwards and grab more loot while those held back were losing time and money. The wall spell is especially effective in dungeons although we did increase the chance of it dissipating. The game came to a conclusion when the first player escaped the dungeon. We then counted up loot and experience points. From a decision making point of view it was closer to moving toys around on the living room carpet than chess but it got the dungeon out, looked good and entertained the troops for the evening.

Warmaster Wagon Train

Escorting the wagon train is often an interesting change to the standard ‘last man standing’ wargame. This is the scenario from the Warmaster Revolution ruleset so has probably been through some degree of prior testing. Chaos guard the wagons with Empire trying to destroy or capture them. The terrain has been chosen to try and match that suggested in the rules.

The chaos forces deploy first so the Empire can see where they are and optimise the ambush. Chaos puts the best cavalry in front so that even if they fail to receive orders a half move ahead will keep the column moving faster than an infantry half move. Two big infantry blocks cover either flank and marauder cavalry protect the rear.

Chaos: 2000

General 125

2x Hero 160

Sorcerer 90

4x Chaos Warriors 600

4x Chaos Marauders 240

3x Marauder Horsemen 270

Chaos Knights 200

2x Chaos Hounds 60

2x Chaos Chariots 190

Harpies 65

This list builds on that used in the previous battle. The successful marauder and warrior block has been doubled up. The chariots hit hard but are brittle. Swapping both units for another unit of knights might be preferable.

The Empire plan is to use the cannon to disrupt the chaos centre, knights break through from the rear and a halberd block blocks the main road. The 2 shooting blocks are deployed where they can get off good shots and will not be blocked by their own melee units.

Empire: 2000

General 125

Hero + Sword of Fate 85

2x Wizard 90

4x Halberdiers + Skirmishers 280

Handgunners 65

2x Crossbowmen + Skirmishers 160

3x Crossbowmen 165

4x Knights 440

2x Pistoliers 190

2x Helblaster 100

2x Cannon 170

Steam Tank 130

The Empire army is neither fish nor foul. The halberds are very average but there are not enough of them to make a decent tar-pit. The knights are the best units but more are needed for serious hitting.

Both armies field more commanders than they need but this gives them the flexibility to move around separate groups. The chaos front and Empire blocking units are both led by Generals. This is to give a better chance of these groups acting under orders. If a General fails an order then the whole army cannot receive more orders. With a little luck and some daring a General can issue a few orders and then stop before failing any orders. The remaining commanders can then continue to issue orders although the General can issue no more orders that turn. This ensures that a crucial part of the army will move at a possible cost of less important elements being left behind.

Chaos moves forward putting out flyers and wolves to block the Empire’s missile fire. Units of both are driven back and confused. Part of the chaos flank has to make way for the flyer’s retreat but they avoid being confused. The Empire front swings in to try and block the road. The knights set up a line to threaten the chaos rear.

Chaos forces shift forwards but leave a rearguard line to hold off the Empire knights.

Shooting pushes back the chaos flanks. The Empire front closes in on the road

The knights make a mess of the rearguard. Pistol fire pushes back the chaos infantry to the front. There are no losses but in the retreat the elite chaos knights are forced to make way. The chaos knights are confused and will not be able to scythe through the Empire infantry ahead.

Chaos forms a new desperate rear line. The wagons move forward but lack any covering units from the fire of the Empire crossbows on the hill.

The wagons are not quite close enough for the Empire crossbow to charge them on initiative and their hero fails the order roll to shift them. Nevertheless Empire missile fire eliminates 4 wagons. This does not get the Empire any victory points but prevents chaos from gaining points by moving them off table. It would be better to melee the wagons but in Warmaster a unit must shoot at its closest target that it can see. Elsewhere the Empire tightens up the holding line and moves further up on the chaos rear. For the first time in the game the steam tank passes an order to move.

Chaos make a strong effort to push through the Empire centre and possibly break Empire morale. They shatter the majority of the line and move up units to block the crossbow fire on the remaining 2 wagons. Unfortunately the last halberd unit and a rogue skirmisher still block the road and the chaos general fails an order roll to move the wagons off-road.

Empire halberds destroy the remaining wagons. They have the option to capture them but with a strong chance of chaos troops getting them back. The Empire knights continue to slice through the chaos rear.

With turn 6 over the game could continue for 2 more turns but chaos have no wagons to move off and they are 1/2 a unit from breaking morale. The larger Empire force is nowhere near breaking so an Empire victory is declared.

With the terrain all set up and the armies out of their boxes it would be a shame not to swap sides and have another go. Only the highlights are presented below.

The Empire have the problem that their artillery is very slow moving and vulnerable to being taken in the flank or rear by flyers or cheap cavalry. To counter this the Empire artillery is at the rear and sides of the defensive box. Knights are at the front to try and punch through any Chaos blocking units. With the Chaos army being so much smaller than the Empire they are not able to threaten so much of the column. Both sides begin the game by activating their generals to ensure that key units move up. Both blunder after their first activation role so turn 1 is effectively a mutual write off.

As the game progresses the Empire artillery gets shots off on Chaos units before those units are able to move away from the board edge. 2 units are destroyed as they are unable to retreat. Chaos should have hidden the flank threat behind a hill (not failing their activation rolls would also have helped). On the plus side a group of chariots and Chaos knights bursts through Empire pistols holding the other flank. The Chaos knights have a clear pursuit to attack the wagons. They decide not to destroy 2 wagons but hold on as there are more points to be earned for looted than destroyed wagons.

The Empire pile all they can in an initiative charge into the chaos knights. They wrap around the knight’s flank with halberds but those knights are tough. Chaos wins the combat and to rub it in pull back putting their knights further out of the way for the next turn. Empire knights have some success pushing back on of the Chaos blocking units by hitting it in the flank. The 2 rear wagons are stuck on the road as their path had been blocked by the Chaos knights.

The Chaos knights evade right back. This does not pan out well as the Empire crossbow and hellfire gun line moves up on them and eventually drives the unit off table with missile fire. As the chaos knights are no longer in play their wagons count as destroyed not looted. The rest of the Empire army pushes forward covering the remaining wagons while chaos blocks the road. Units of chaos marauders and knights are badly mauled by Empire knight charges.

The chaos line breaks through the few Empire knights on the road and captures more wagons. Chaos has now suffered enough losses to break their army and must withdraw. Chaos has 6 victory points (2 looted wagons and 4 destroyed). Empire has 5 (chaos broken and 1 wagon that will be saved). An army that has broken cannot claim a win so the final result is a draw.

To conclude a worthwhile scenario. Success depends in part on the army list so is best played twice with swapping sides or without forewarning using ‘best effort’ lists. There are interesting puzzles involved in choosing which commands to activate so the units do not get in each other’s way and some progress is made even if the activation dice go against you. The issues is slightly eased with the Warmaster Revolution rules that allow some limited movement if an initial activation is failed but not blundered.

Fantastic Battles

Fantastic Battles is a set of miniatures rules for fantasy or historical gaming. It is available as a PDF or for slightly more as a printed A4 book from Amazon. The author might have been poorly served by Amazon. For whom the dice rolls is a Spanish Civil War ruleset with a similar Amazon printing option but those rules are on heavier paper and with a sturdier cover.

There are limited rules for formations so the rules should work where the relationship between formations is key. They would be fine for most ancient or medieval periods. They would struggle with pike and shot where shot support horse and pike support shot. They should work for linear shot settings such as the Seven Years War. Napoleonics would not be a good setting.

Games can be run in any scale but fits in well with Warmaster based 10mms. Some of the provided lists matching closely with Warmaster army units. The key difference in modelling is that Warmaster runs units in sets of 3 bases. The basic Fantastic Battles building block can be a rectangle or square but putting 2 Warmaster bases together as 1 Fantastic Battles base works out. This will lead to some left over Warmaster bases and some fiddling for the few single base Warmaster units such as giants or the steam tank.

To compare the rules the same terrain will be used as in the last Warmaster report. The Empire army will be based on that in Fantastic Battles. There is no equivalent Chaos list but the ‘free men’ list is the closest starting point. Both forces have been closely modeled on those in the Warmaster battle although as the stats differ they will not be an exact match. In Fantastic Battles there is a short list of set troops types that can be customised by adding up to 3 traits, plus 1 more shared by all units of a race to each basic troop stat. Units are rated for resilience (hits), movement, melee, shooting and save. Some of the traits modify these base numbers others add a new ability. Add mounted and the unit moves faster and is better in melee. Flying gives obvious benefits over foot sloggers. A unit that is mounted and flying flies faster. Some abilities are mutually exclusive. A unit cannot be slow and fast. The limit to 4 abilities makes it harder to create some of the high power, high cost units available to Warmaster.

Although troops are bought by the unit they can be deployed alone or as groups. The groups are of up to 4 units of the same type. They add up their individual stats making them more powerful and more survivable. A single unit can move as it wishes. The groups are forced to wheel and adopt formations making them harder to shift about.

The Empire army is 991 points and Chaos 992. Unit costs are in increments such that getting an exact 1,000 is hard in troops alone. There are some cheaper ruses and special items that fill out the totals. Here the Chaos have ‘quartermaster’ to reduce problems with deployment. The Empire field ‘master of horse’ and gain a bonus to mounted charges. Chaos was the defender and deployed first. The Empire deployed second but in a reduced deployment area. The Chaos training allowed most of their line to stay in place. 2 units ran on in front; a boon as they were going in that direction anyway. The Empire saw some losses to units from desertion before the game began and the deployment of their knights, already a tight squeeze was further messed up.

In each turn the armies take turns in shooting then activate by chit draw. The armies have a chit per commander and another for all units out of command. The out of command units are activated first and have only a 50% chance of following orders. Here the steam tank has moved forward. The Empire begins to sort out the rest of the line. The knights are proving a problem as (like in Warmaster) most units cannot move through other units. The Chaos army moves forward in respectable order.

The steam tank hopes for the best but is a target for the massed Chaos chariots.

On the other flank barbarian horsemen crash into Empire crossbow on the hill but fail to achieve enough hits to eliminate them. Shooting and melee is through rolling dice based on the attacker’s stats and beating the save of the defender. Tactical factors will affect the dice rolled and some weapons change the score needed but it is a single die score not a case of roll to hit then roll to save. A problem with Fantastic Battles compared to Warmaster is that final hits need to be recorded. They can be reduced by a ‘bless’ spell from a wizard or a rally action from a commander but eliminating a significant number of hits from a unit within a game is unlikely. In Warmaster excess hits are removed at the end of a phase.

The Empire pistols are having difficulty getting into the combat as they need to wheel into action.

The crossbow don’t last long nor did the steam tank. Chaos units crash into combat where they can. The barbarian warriors are faster than the tougher Chaos infantry warriors. The activation sequence has an effect on melee combat which can extend over several turns. If a unit charges into another that has not yet activated it can counter-charge or if it has missiles gains a benefit in combat. Otherwise the target just hangs around, it will fight back but with no additional bonus. Where a combat has extended to a subsequent turn any unit in melee to its front only can elect to withdraw. They will end up out of combat but with their backs to the enemy. If that enemy has yet to active it can still move and if quick enough can catch the original disengagers in the rear. If a unit tries to disengage but is in contact with enemy that have already activated then there is no additional penalty if they fail.

The Chaos centre moves up. The unit in the built up area have been slowed by the terrain. The Empire pistols still hold on but losses are mounting. The Chaos knights are suffering badly from missile fire. As there is only 1 unit of them they can only soak up a more limited pool of losses.

The Empire right is looking good. The Chaos chariots and knights are gone. The missile units are running out of targets so are moving to find new targets instead of reloading. The Empire pistols are still hanging on but one unit of halberds has gone.

The pistols are finally removed but the victorious Chaos units are some way from the Empire centre. The crossbow unit piles into the flank of the remaining warrior and halberd melee. They are not great in combat but the flank attack benefits them and harms the Chaos warriors.

Breaking the Chaos warrior unit sees half the army destroyed and an Empire victory. Empire losses were also substantial but as their average unit cost was less they could hold out. If the Chaos army had time to sort out their victorious left the Empire would have been in trouble.

Fantastic Battles could appeal to anyone not liking the command activation rolls of Warmaster. The effect of these are, however, much reduced in Warmaster Revolutions. A limited number of units can always make a single half move forward each turn. As in Warmaster command range is important. Uncommanded units will have to roll for actions. There is no initiative for units close to the enemy as in Warmaster so in some cases generals will have less control in Fantastic Battles.

To wrap up a note on wheeling. Groups of 2, 3 or 4 units need to know how to wheel. With large blocks of models a wheel template is a big help here. If playing with 10mm figures on 4cm bases it is a fiddly business to work out wheels. Getting the calculations wrong can mean the difference between getting a charge in or not. Thankfully maths comes to the rescue and we can work out the length of any arc for a given radius. It is θ * r where θ is in radians. Using some rounding to nice numbers here are wheel distances for 4cm bases to angles that might be judged by eye. Those without a protractor to hand could use the movement value for the next highest degree of turn.

Degrees2 bases3 bases4 bases
304 cm6 cm8 cm
456 cm9 cm12 cm
608 cm12 cm16 cm
9012 cm18 cm25 cm

Return to Warmaster

An idle scan of the rules shelf revealed the Warmaster and Battle of the Five Armies rulebooks. A printed and dated army list next to the books dates their last outing to 2016. Empire, Undead, Orc and High Elf armies sit stacked amongst the ‘ready to go’ army boxes so Warmaster gets a new outing.

The original Warmaster rules were pretty simple. A unit is 3 stands but up to 4 units can be brigaded together to allow them all move with a single order. Roll 4+ to hit in the open, armour gives a save of 3+ at best, 2-4 hits eliminates a stand. Ability to move is based on proximity to the enemy or a friendly commander passing a 2D6 command rating score. Close combat is a case of lining up opposing units and it is the lining up concept that is hardest to interpret. There are subtleties in which stands can line up, in what order, which units fight or give rear support and at what angle onto an opponent can give flank or rear advantages.

Games Workshop wrapped up their involvement in the game sometime around 2004 after 21 issues of their Warmaster Magazine and annuals in 2002 and 2003. By that time the content and figures were mail order specials with only a limited selection of the product available in store. The magazines and annuals clarified rules and introduced new armies all of which would have been a mystery to the casual player. With some poking around the internet most of the printed material can be tracked down but thankfully that is no longer necessary.

The free fan implementation at Warmaster Revolution includes the expanded army list from GW together with further additions and adds some scenarios. Most importantly it modifies and clarifies how units can move into combat and advance or retreat after combat. These are a necessary improvement; in the original rules a unit victorious in melee could keep ploughing forward and exploit a flank attack to roll up a chunk of the opposition’s forces. In Revolution a single combat is capped at 2 rounds. If the enemy is destroyed a subsequent combat by the same attacker is also capped at 2 rounds. Unfortunately for owners of the original book; the printout of the core of the expanded rules comes to 80+ pages and there is no easy way to print the full details of just the changes.

The basic army battle strength seems to be 2,000 points although a 1,000 point battle works well on a 4′ by 4′ table. The official list army maximums and minimums go up in steps of 1,000 points. Up to 1,999 points the 1,000 point limits apply meaning that fewer filler units need to be bought. The limits also apply to command figures so the 1,999 point army will be limited to the maximum commanders of a 1,000 point army and will probably have difficulty moving units around.

The Brumbaer list generator has been out since the rules were in print and is still up to date for the official Warmaster list additions. WM-Selector works with Warmaster and Warmaster Revolutions armies giving a wider range of armies and some point modifications. Unlike Brumbaer it does not show all the stats and special rules on screen. Most armies have a minimum requirement of cheap but ‘not so good’ models; so armies are relatively large. To be fair if an army only had a small number of high value units it might quickly be overwhelmed. The original GW models were a true 10mm. Just about any scale can be used instead and as long as the models fit on a 4cm by 2cm base and would even be compatible with other scale choices from another player.

Paper counters and list ideas are on the ‘League of Ordinary Gentlemen.‘ The original GW models still turn up from time to time. In metal Pendraken (fantasy) and Irregular are a little larger than GW humans, for fantasy races anything goes. The Pendraken historical minis are pretty close to GW size. Kallistra also do metal figures as do Magister Militum (an eclectic selection) and Black Gate (daemon and ogre specialist). Copplestone have a small range of orcs and humans. Eureka have very close non-GW Lizardmen but are expensive in the UK. A new trend is to print in resin, for example; Excellent Miniatures (In Germany), Geekvillain (UK), Printing In Detail (UK), Cromarty Forge (UK). The images of these are very attractive but some are more expensive than older metal lines. There are also resin prints available on eBay and Etsy. Many of these are implementations of the same licensed sculptures. The sculpts will be the same for each but the quality of the resin and degree of clean up can vary between printers. Supply of the licensed prints is less of an issue for those with their own 3D resin printers. Comparing the costs of printed armies to that of new resin printers and dedicated washing and curing units the whole set up would start to pay off around the 3rd printed army. Resin prints can hold onto their distinctive smell if kept in closed containers even when they have been painted and varnished. Another issue is that resin lacks the heft of metal so resin models are more likely to slide off hills.

The 3D print files would probably not work in FDM filament machines because of the print lines. An exception would be chaos figures where any ridges might be a feature as the daemon shifts between dimensions and for terrain elements. As with any set of sculpts a more expensive but more detailed model will look better and be easier to paint up than a cheap blob of resin or metal. When basing the main consideration is to choose and arrange models that fit within the 4cm by 2cm bases and allow stands to line up cleanly.

A painting tip is to use distinct costume colours on each unit set of 3 bases. This makes it easier to allocate attacks to specific units in combat and check unit losses for army break points. For some armies such as skeletons this plan will be hard to achieve. Below are GW, Irregular and Pendraken infantry. Their heights are close enough although the keen eyed will notice that the skeletons are bigger than humans. This is of course because the skeletons are not human but come from some extinct race of big apes.

Cavalry: Pendraken, GW and Irregular lined up. The size difference is less obvious due to the relative proportion of the mount model in relation to its rider.

Resin prints of Onmioji sculpts with Kallistra in the middle.

Here is a 1,500 point game between Chaos and The Empire on a 4′ square board. There are some enclosed fields and a built up area towards the centre of the board. The Chaos forces have not brought any missile units but The Empire has crossbow and artillery. Missile fire is more likely to break up battle lines and drive units back than to destroy anything. To compensate for this the Chaos deployment has expendable hounds and harpies out in front. The Warmaster Revolution rules are in use including the optional rules that make giving orders slightly easier.

Characters (19.7%)295Characters (17.3%)260
General125General – Sword of Destruction135
Infantry(28%)420Infantry (23.0%)345
2x Chaos Warriors3004x Halberdiers180
2x Chaos Marauders1203xCrossbowmen165
All the Rest (52.3%)785All the Rest (59.7%)895
3x Marauder Horsemen2704x Knights440
Chaos Knights2002x Pistoliers190
2x Chaos Hounds60Helblaster50
2x Chaos Chariots190Cannon85

Chaos moves first getting their infantry well into the enclosed areas where they will benefit from a better defense. The cavalry support on one flank moves up in support but fails to shift on the other.

The Empire also move up, trying to get their missile units into shooting positions. Their artillery are slow and don’t get above the crest of the hill. On the opposite flank Chaos hounds are driven back slightly. The Empire centre slowly shuffles forwards.

Chaos continue to move up. Empire missile fire drives back the Chaos hounds and confuses them and a unit that had to get out of the way (the red burst markers). Confused units cannot be ordered in their following turn. The Empire halberd block lines the fence at the edge of the built up area.

The Empire halberds behind the fence count as defended, taking hits on a 5+ not a 4+. The Chaos infantry move up although they also lose their charge in the open bonus. The Chaos warriors are as hard as the Empire halberd are weedy. The Empire are driven off taking heavy losses, the Chaos warriors retire behind the fence line. To the top of the image Chaos harpies charged the Empire hellblaster gun in the rear, destroyed it then mopped up the adjacent unit of Empire crossbow for good measure. This took some fortunate command rolls, first to get behind the Empire gun line then again to charge in as a second order and more than 20cm from their commander.

The Empire try to save the flank with their knights. A charge into the flank of the marauders supporting the Chaos warriors knocks out a stand. Everything else just messes up due to a lack of command successes. The remaining halberd troops pull back away from the Chaos centre, they can do that for free.

The Chaos chariots move up and destroy all but one of the Empire pistol stands. The remaining crossbow unit having made a poor job of driving off the Chaos flyers.

The Empire best chance is with their knights. They charge in and damage several Chaos units but eliminate none.

Chaos eliminate a crossbow unit and the last pistol stand with their horse and chariots. They also eliminate a lone knight stand. More than half the Empire army is destroyed resulting in a Chaos victory.

In conclusion the Chaos centre went through the Empire centre like butter. The Empire knights got into a mess and the Empire firepower was neutralised by the Chaos wolves and flyers. Artillery are based to the short edge so will stick out to the rear or front next to a single line of infantry. This allows a targeted charge to hit them but not an adjacent unit. The Empire has a solution in using their skirmisher units attached to an adjacent unit to offer protection to their artillery. The hellblaster can put out a serious 8 shots to an attacker from the front if it does not break down. The cannon are not so handy but have a decent range if no one gets in the way.

The Chaos army load out worked with a decent proportion of marauder and other chaff to fill out the excellent if expensive warriors and knights. The Empire are going to need some sorting either bulking out with skirmishers or adding more cheaper units. This will require having to lose something to pay for it, possibly the cannon.

Saga Underneath vs Undead

2 WarMachine armies trotted out for an 8-point Age of Magic battle at the club.

Cryx are a demony-undead force in WarMachine so a shoe in for The Undead Legions.  Warlord, Sorcerer, Mindless (Mechanithralls, 20 models), 2 units of creatures (small walkers), Behemoth (Wraith Engine), Hearthguard (Brute Thralls with 1 stand in walker model) and 2 units of Warriors (Bane Warriors)

Khador like many WarMachine armies make use of firearms so we mapped to Masters of the Underneath.  Warlord, Alchemist (Widowmaker marksman), Sorcerer,  3 units of Warriors (Winter Guard), 2 units of creatures (Man-O-War), 1 static  Warmachine (Field Gun, paid for from warrior models), 2 units of Hearthguard (sundry warmachine solos, 2 used to pay for the Alchemist).  In all not such a good fit as the Undead.  On reflection this force should have bought a unit of levy as they ran on the same die face as the canon.  The canon can only fire once a turn and having something else to spend a specific die score on opens up its in-game options.

The Underneath are at the bottom of the table, at each side of their deployment is a cavern entrance which they can use to move 1 unit between each turn.   The lizard skull is the Undead special terrain.  The matting by the palm trees defines the edge of a wood.  The stones are low broken ground and the other terrain pieces are high hills.

The Underneath took the 1st turn and placed a chasm in front of the Undead Behomoth forcing it and the nearby creatures to back off.  The rest of the Undead army plods forward.  The Mindless can only move on a Warlord’s ‘follow me’ or on 2 advanced abilities (1 needing 2 dice).  Even then they only move ‘S’.  They do not suffer fatigue so plod as fast they can burning 1 Saga dice, a ‘follow me’ and a free ‘march’ activation.

The Underneath hold still and shoot a bit, with minimal effect.

The Mindless are just about in.  A smattering of casualties from Underneath shooting does not deter the Undead.

The Underneath move their Hearthguard from 1 cave entrance to the other and start to grind the Mindless down with firepower and melee.  The Mindless are not too hard to knock down but they come back almost as easily.  The Underneath creatures close by are of little immediate use as they are on the wrong side of an impassable obstacle (unless they wanted to cross the table using the cave portal).

The to and fro continues around the Mindless.  To get anywhere the Underneath need to wipe them out so they can’t come back.  On the other hand the Mindless are rubbish in attack.  With 1 point of Undead tying up 3 of Underneath the Mindless are doing their job but eating up Saga dice that the rest of the army could use to move forward more swiftly.

Another turn, fewer Mindless but still too many.

The Undead Warriors finally get their act together and take out the Underneath canon.

Another attempt to wipe out the Mindless fails.

The Undead Behemoth gets into the action and takes out the Underneath Warlord.  If their Hearthguard had stayed with him instead of charging off after Mindless the Warlord might have pulled through.

Casualties were relatively light on both sides for a Saga game.  With the Underneath Warlord gone and a smattering of other losses the Underneath took second place.  A host of Mindless and a few Undead Warriors had been sent off but the Undead regeneration abilities had them swiftly back on the field so they did not count as casualties.

Both sides cast spells but these had little effect on the gameplay.  We cut the Wizards and 1 unit of Creatures from each side and ran the game again with 6 points and 2 different players.  The Undead did not waste time on getting stuck in and the familiar Saga bloodbath ensued.  The end result was a draw with the Mindless again tying up more than their share of Underneath Saga points.  In both games the Mindless were able to stay close enough to Underneath units to charge into combat on 1 advanced Saga die.  In many cases the Underneath obliged by charging in on their turn.  A possible counter to Mindless is to move away from them as they are dice costly to move about.

Saga Age of Magic Playthrough

Thank you to Gripping Beast who provided ‘Age of Magic’ gratis  for review and refunded your author’s original payment for it.

‘Age of Magic’ is an expansion for Saga and does require the base Saga rules to play.  Special rules from the main rulebook are referenced but not detailed in this supplement.  The ‘Age of Magic’ dedicated spell cards and dice are not required.  Designs to make substitutes are available from Studio Tomahawk.  It is recommended to re-jig historical armies as the ‘Age of Magic’ lists rather than run their original boards although there is nothing in the rules system to stop the use of boards from other books.

‘Age of Magic’ introduces 6 new factions ‘The Otherworld’ (demons), ‘Masters of the Underearth’, ‘The Horde’, ‘The Lords of the Wild’, ‘The Undead Legions’ and ‘The Great Kingdoms’ (medieval society).  The existing Saga troop types are joined by warmachines, creatures (big), monsters (bigger), the lieutenant (a mini warlord) and sorcerers.

Each faction has its own battleboard and can choose spells from 2 of the 6 schools of magic.  There is an overlap in the magic schools available to the factions and some sharing of common troop types such as hearthguard and sorcerers but beyond that there is considerable difference in the load out available to the various factions.  This will please habitual list builders but also requires some thought into what to use to model each faction.

Each faction has a variant of the lieutenant class, as well as another unique troop variant and heroic units specific to that list.  There are also 2 sub lists of each faction with a restricted choice of troop types from within the parent faction but new specific abilities.  Some, possibly all, of these specialist units are identifiable as existing fantasy models.  ‘The Incredible and Extraordinary Machine’ is a Steam Tank, ‘Destruction Teams’ could be a Goblin Doom Diver.  ‘The Horde’ have a chariot that fits into the Orc or Goblin chariots.

With the rules only recently released many players will be looking to see how the models they already have fit into the existing factions.  ‘The Undead Legions’ are the simplest approach, models should reflect the concept of ‘undeadness’.     The other factions could be modeled by just about any fantasy trope as long as there is a consistent theme.   The restrictions are troop load out and battle board rather than setting related.

Consider a Games Workshop Lizardman force.  They have a back story of swamps and forest so ought to fit with ‘The Lords of the Wild’.  They certainly could be run as that faction but the related battleboard has 3 abilities linked to models with ranged weapons.  The Workshop Lizardmen are not modeled with bows and although spears and swords are legal as warriors or hearthguard in the ‘The Lords of the Wild’ list the army would be missing out on these 3 shooting key abilities.  The smaller Workshop skink figures have javelins so can run as levy or the blowpipe models could work as bow armed warriors (although a bit wimpy for warriors).  The various Lizardmen big models would easily fit in as creatures and monsters so the list can run but is it the optimal gaming choice?  Looking at the other boards the Lizardmen could easily fit in as ‘The Horde’ or as ‘The Otherworld’.  In a world where just about anything can be a demon, scales claws and teeth are a popular choice.  ‘The Otherworld’ does, however, have an option to make the entire army able to fly which the Lizardmen could only partly make use of, only a small proportion of their models being winged.

Fielding existing models in ‘Age Of Magic’ should not be a major issue.  The rules do state recommended base sizes but these ranges are quite generous and most Games Workshop type basing should fit in with no adjustments.   Apart from the rules, dice and troops each faction will need a specialist piece of terrain.  This does not count when working how much terrain has been selected when setting up a game but can be moved as part of the set up process.  Each piece of specialist terrain has some game effect.  Some examples will have limited influence on the game as they depend on one or both sides being close to the terrain.  The most useful piece is possibly the tunnel system of the ‘Masters of the Underearth’.  This faction alone has 2 pieces of special terrain.  Models can move from within VS of 1 piece to VS of the other and then cannot be activated again that turn.

To run the game out 2 armies based on Games Workshop Empire and Lizardmen armies were drawn up.  It might be best described as a game between 2 experienced but inexpert players.

The Great Kingdoms Empire
Warlord 0 points
Sorcerer 1 point
Incredible and Extraordinary Machine 2 points
Levy 1 point
2* Warrior 2 point
2*Hearthguard 2 points 6 models
Paladin Bought with 2 hearthguard figures
The Horde Lizardmen
Warlord 0 points
Sorcerer 1 point
Monster 1 point
Levy 1 point
2*Creatures 2 points, 1 extra model from removed Warrior models
2* Warriors 2 points, 12 figures
Hearthguard 1 point

We diced for deployment order then diced for sides so the Lizard special terrain ended up in the Empire zone (good) and the Empire terrain in the Lizard zone (bad).  The mound towards the centre of the table is ‘low uneven’ the other mound is a wood (the trees are a clue).

The Empire went first and rolled 3 very middling Saga dice results. Not wanting to get any closer to the Lizard horde the dice were spent on defensive abilities but no movement.

Off to a good start the Lizardmen cast a spell at maximum effect causing choking weeds from the nearby wood to exhaust the Empire hearthguard (mounted knights). The first of several spells to be ‘shot’ at maximum effect by both sides with no adverse result to either wizard. The rest of the Lizard horde advanced cautiously.

The Empire wizard tries to heal his hearthguard with a spell but only manages to strip 1 point of fatigue.  Foolishly the Empire did not allocate dice to rest the unit, hoping the wizard would do the job on his own.  The steam tank gets off a couple of shots.  It uses a levy die so has to share activation opportunities with the adjacent levy shot.  The ‘Great Kingdoms’ board has an advanced ability to shoot with 2 units but only if they are ‘M’ apart; spot the deployment error.  The Empire general uses a manoeuvre to  fly across the board to outside ‘L’ of the Lizard rear line.

The Lizard hearthguard come in and with good use of Saga abilities eliminate the Empire opposition at a loss of 1 of their own number.  The Lizard levy take a few useful shots and the rest of the army plods forward rather too slowly.

The Empire general charges the Lizard hearthguard but an error has been made.  Warlords have pride so he must charge the Lizard wizard instead.  The hearthguard combat is ‘rolled back’  there should be 1 more Lizard hearthguard on the table from now on but this did not affect the game.  The Lizard wizard was off for an early bath.  Elsewhere some shooting and a warrior on warrior melee knocks the Lizard warrior unit down a bit.

A clash of Warlords is up next; both started the combat equal in abilities and melee dice.  The Empire decided not to take chances and activated ‘Legendary Hero’ to become invulnerable but exhausted.  The Lizard warlord cannot win and recoils ‘S’ after the combat.  The Lizard army takes a chance and charges their warriors into the exhausted warlord although those warriors are coming in with 2 fatigue.  At this point the importance of resilience and fatigue comes in.  The Empire warlord has resilience 2.  If the warriors go straight to dice rolling they will need 1 hit to kill the Warlord but the Empire spends the warrior fatigue to make his armour 6.  Seven dice needing a 6 ought to do it.  Spending a warlord fatigue would mean seven dice needing 5s.  Not one 5 but three because the warlord can take two as a single fatigue (as he is now down to 2 fatigue not 3)and the third kills.  Not only have the odds of success dropped but each hit can be saved on a 5+ so needing more hits increases the chance of some being saved.  In the end the wrong choice was made, 1 hit got through which the warlord could now spend on a fatigue and stay in the game.  The Lizardmen warriors got a good thrashing for their pains, even exhausted a warlord packs a punch.

The Empire warriors polish off the Lizardmen warriors.  This clears a path for the human wizard to ride up and strip some of the fatigue off the Empire Warlord who is then able to polish off his Lizardman counterpart.

There are still lots of Lizardmen left but their advance has been broken up.  The creatures at the back have been forgotten and should at least have manoeuvred closer to the action.  An attack on the Empire warriors by the closer creature unit is beaten off.  The steam tank would have been a better target because yields only 1 die in melee.

The humans shuffle about, tidying up the line and remove what fatigue they can.  They get off a few ineffective shots.

Lizardmen charges have limited results, the fight is starting to go out of them although they are still rolling 5 Saga dice.

The Empire wizard flies over his own troops to charge and take out the Lizardmen hearthguard.  One of the Lizardmen levy archer units finally loses a figure to shooting.  A total of 2 more dice dropped by Team Lizard.

Another Lizardmen turn was possible but with most of Team Lizard back in the changing room the game was called as an Empire victory.

The important gaming experience of this battle was of resilience and as a result of that fatigue. In the historical lists only the warlord and the Russian wagon deal with resilience.  Here it also applies to monsters, creatures, warmachines, wizards and lieutenants.  As we found out you don’t want your own resilient units in combat with a high fatigue count.  Resilience can be used to take fatigue instead of losses so the more fatigue you are holding on to the more likely you are to take losses.  The creatures have some leeway as they have more than 1 model in a unit.  Wizards and warlords have the bodyguards rule but for other troop types 1 hit that cannot be cancelled by fatigue will be the end for it.  The direct consequence of this in the battle was a lot of resting and consequently slightly less moving around by the big hitting units.  The Empire brought spells that could cancel fatigue and also inflict fatigue on enemy units.  This was an important factor in their overall victory.

Although this was an 8 point game and the players started with 6 (Empire) and 8 (Lizardmen) Saga dice there did not seem enough good dice scores to go around.  Monsters are powerful but they share an activation box with levy and war machines.  This means that an army with a high proportion of these troop types will be hard to get going.  Monsters have the added disadvantage of being unable to activate with advanced Saga abilities.  This all points to the relative benefit of creatures who although not as powerful are multi model units and activate as warriors.   Both warlords were mounted on creatures giving them a bonus in combat dice but losing the ‘we obey’ rule making shifting bodies of troops even harder.

Beers of War (Kings of War Tourney)

Off to chilly Wakefield on the last Saturday in April for the Beers of War (5) doubles Kings of War tournament.  I had signed up for the Bolt Action event but that and the 40K games had been dropped due to a lack of players.  I do have Kings of War Orc, Human and Lizardmen forces but these are all loosely magnetised to movement trays.  They would not have done well on the 5km walk to the railway station.   Instead I was generously offered the loan of a 1000 point Undead list, local sources informed me this was a pretty good line up but I would not have known.  Chris Christopherson was lined up as my partner with a 1,000 point Forces of Nature list.  There were some nicely painted models in that list although a Forces of Nature army could possibly be made up from bits of twig, moss and stones from the garden.  We played 3 games each taking about 2 hours with an hour’s break mid-afternoon.


Starting positions for game 1, my lads are in grey with most of the tree huggers hiding in the woods.  We are playing against Ogres and Basileans (or possibly goblins).  Victory was judged on destroying the 3 most valuable units (not individuals) on each side.  For us that was the big skeleton horde and 2 nature units.  I took the task of going for the 2 regiments of green things at right below.  The opposition had unsportingly lined up these key victory units behind 2 hordes of rubbish Goblins.


Our lads managed to hack through the goblins but took some damage in the process and went down to the Ogres behind.  An eventual loss for our team but the final ‘death count’ was very similar on both sides.


Game 2 against Brotherhood and (another) Forces of Nature.  The aim is to control the 2 hills through having more and bigger units close to each than the opposition.


Our boys surge over the victory hill and push the unpainted humans out of the way.  The red flame thing caused our undead a lot of pain but we eventually saw him off.


Things went pretty well on my partner’s side of the table although that horde in the centre below could regenerate losses and caused considerable trouble.


End game sees a clearly held hill.


And the same story on the other flank for a win.


The last game depends on controlling 5 loot tokens (that cannot be moved).  These are the brown cicular markers on the table.


We are fighting Dwarfs and Brotherhood and learn that Dwarfs are tough.  My horde made little impact against the dwarf horde it was facing.  We caught the green rocky things in the front of the image below in front and flank and still failed to drive them off.


End game shows the sole surviving undead unit, its commander.  My partner also took a drubbing for a clear loss overall.


The Beers of War name does give some clue to the event and may have driven off some prospective players.  Although some teams were clearly gunning for the most alcohol drunk award other players were sticking to coffee and soft drinks.  Winning a game gave each team member a drinks token.  Our game 3 opponents were really putting it away and I was hoping for a default win when they both passed out but they clearly knew how to play and gave us a good game.  Only 1 player in the tournament seemed slightly worse for wear and the day passed in a quiet and civilised manner not requiring either police or medical intervention.

The Kings of War rules proved robust.  Some of the scenarios and minor rules came from supplements that I had not seen but these were small changes and easily picked up.  There are some key points to note that are not immediately obvious in the Kings of War rules.  These are mainly concerned with who can see what.  Everything has a height, models and terrain.  You can’t see over an equal height obstacle or unit.  To charge you need line of sight and a unit to your front.  Careful rotating can decide if a unit can be in the 45 degree charge arc and that the target is close enough of the charger’s centre point to be contacted.  No examples cropped up of obscure rules or strict grammatical rules interpretations that allowed events to take place that might not be immediately obvious.  I brought along a copy of the rules but did not need to open the book let alone run a tooth-comb through each line to find a reference and interpret what it meant.  A clear win for Kings of War as a gaming platform.

Kings of War Orcs vs Humans

A 2,000 point game at the club of humans against Orcs although in practice the Orcs ended up a few points light.  I thought that I had 5 units of Orc regiments but on laying out the models that turned out to be 2 regiments and 1 horde.  My opponent had no experience of Kings of War so took the theoretically stronger human force.  All the figures (except the giant) are Games Workshop that were originally signed up for  Warhammer armies.  With the introduction of Age of Sigmar classic Warhammer games are no longer in vogue over here.  The 2 obvious alternatives are the fan supported 9th Age or Mantic’s Kings of War.  With the exception of the trolls and some individual pieces the models are on magnetised movement trays.  Some of these are commercial MDF others made from bits of wood and floor tile.  All my trays used to be optimised for Warhammer unit sizes and some have now been cut down for Kings of War.  I can also do Kings of War using Warmaster based 10mm figures.  These are a tiny bit fiddly but a lot easier to transport than 28mm armies.  I only just made it to the club with this lot.

A view of the human army from the Orc lines at set up.  The Orc archers have used their free vanguard move to get into the trees on the right before turn 1.  Just off camera to the left is a giant signed up with  the Orcs.  The brown areas are wooded broken ground.  They have no significant height.


The Orcs took first turn and made a cautious advance in the centre while pushing forward on the right wing.  Good shooting and a poor nerve test saw the human shot unit that used to be where the yellow die is now take an early bath.


The rest of the Orc army moved forward cautiously except on the left wing where units advanced to deny the rough terrain to the humans.


Human turn 1 sees shot and reitiers manoevring to block the Orc flank attack.  All yellow dice are unit losses, green dice are rolled for combat.  The giant takes a single hit.


A view from the human lines at the end of their turn 1.  Most of the action is on the human right but human berserkers are moving up on their far left.  The cannon only shot once through the entire game and even then inflicted minimal damage.


Orc turn 2 sees the Orc archers repositioning to shoot at the human knights.  3 chariots will not fit onto the approved base size so the chariot unit is made up of only 2 chariots but with a boar mounted outrider.


On human turn 2 there is more shuffling as the humans rely on firepower alone to halt the Orcs.  The results are disappointing.


Orc turn 3, the giant charges in hoping for an easy kill but inflicts minimal losses and is driven back.  For a repaint of a £1 store toy figure he is still holding his own against those flashy Games Workshop castings.


The beginning of human turn 3 shows the steady Orcish advance.


The humans go for it.  Their knights and general slam into the Orc horde but only cause 5 hits.  We learn that Orcs are tough.


The steamtank also charges into the trolls, again the enemy is not destroyed.


Orc turn 4 sees massive and devastating Orc counter-attacks.  One unit of reiters is lost, another is shaken by a boar rider atttack.  The steam tank and knights are down.


The human flanks are looking weak.  The Orc chariots charge into a unit of shot but the defenders stand.


Human turn 4 sees some good news for the humans as a unit of berserkers sees off the Orc chariots and the human general flies out of danger.


Orc turn 5 sees a steady Orc advance.  The human shot hold out due to the nearby very inspiring leader on his winged beast.  The cannon should have gone at this point but we forgot to treble attacks against war engines.


At the end of human turn 5 the berserkers have destroyed the last unit of Orck bowmen and have turned to face the expected troll onslaught.


Orc turn 6, with the berserkers wiped out by trolls the humans concede.


The spear and halberd hordes in the human centre never got into the battle.  The humans frittered away their excellent knights and the steam tank in unsupported attacks.  The flying general did OK but as a model was a nightmare.  He looks the business but bits stick out all over requiring and unreasonably large box to transport him to and from games.  I will be tidying up the army lists and taking the Orcs up to the full 2,000 points then trotting the armies out again hopefully swapping sides to see to what degree the lists or the generals’ ‘tactics’ had to do with the overall result.