Saturday, November 24, 2012

Song of Blades and Bricks

Introduced my daughter (age 8) to wargaming this weekend with a slightly simplified version of Song of Blades and Heroes.  For figures and terrain, we used Lego minifigs and bricks.

The scenario was simple: get across the pond, through the ruins, get the treasure and get out.

My warband was built for power, 2 Minotaurs, 2 dwarves and 1 dwarf magic user.  My daughter went for stealth and magic - 2 wizards (Harry Potter and Hermione), 2 barbarian cave girls, 1 thief (Red Riding Hood) and a crossbow wielding Hagrid.

While the magic users transfixed my fighters, Little Red Riding Hood sneaked into the ruins and got the treasure. 

The "bad" warband did manage to get back on their feet briefly: 

Hermione versus a Minotaur: 

Red takes out a Minotaur that Harry Potter transfixed:

...and that was the game.  A fun afternoon game, and my daughter grasped the concept of activation and combat rolls very well.  I was impressed that she learned on her own some basic tactics and gameplay exploits - her favorite was transfix with a wizard and then attack with the crossbow.  Two additional educational benefits from the game: quick but basic mental math computation and use of the metric system, both of which are skills not sufficiently taught in American primary schools.

Hopefully, I will soon post pics of my recent painting efforts, a few units of Scots that I have been working on for SAGA, and some El Cid Spaniards for a friend and fellow gamer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Song Dynasty

     The Song Dynasty of China was easily the most wealthy and technologically advanced society in the world in the tenth and eleventh centuries.  Much like their contemporary empire to the west, the Byzantines, the Song Dynasty fought nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples who desired the great wealth that abounded in their kingdom.

     To historians and wargamers, the Song Dynasty gets little credit due to its military and diplomatic blunders. After losing territory in the north to the Jurchen people's Jin kingdom, Song policy makers too slavish followed the maxim 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend,' and they cultivated an allegiance with the Mongols, who were north of the Jin.  When the Mongols turned their sights on the Song after destroying the Jin, China placed far too much confidence in their defensive walls, and were not prepared for the Mongols' mastery of siege warfare. The Song held out longer than many of the Mongol's enemies, but finally fell in 1279.

On the other hand the Song Dynasty lasted about three centuries, if one counts both the Northern Song and the Southern Song periods.  That Dynasty can also be credited with developing a standing navy and the implementation of primitive gunpowder weapons into its army.

It was my first purchase from The Assault Group (what a great name, by the way).  The sculpts are excellent, and look to be based on some Song-era iron sculptures that are still extant.  A pack of four contains four unique figures, and the conscript spearmen could probably used for most any era of China from the Warring States period through early Qing.  While a bit chunky, they are comparable in terms of size and heft with the Crusader Miniatures line.  

I would love to build a huge army for Clash of Empires, my favorite 'big battle' system, but that is definitely a year away, at least.  In the short term, I imagine adapting the Song into SAGA using a Byzantine battleboard.  After all, both were heavily missile based armies who had adapted their armies to fighting steppe nomads.  Other battleboard abilties should take advantage of China's capacity for levies, as well as some limited abilities based on the psychological effect of firelances or thrown bombs.

Reading Suggestions

Tun Huang by Yasushi Inoue. Inoue, Japanese writer of historical fiction (1907-1991), produced this novel in 1959 about Chao Tsing-te, young Chinese scholar in the early eleventh century. He misses his civil service exam by an accidental nap and after a chance encounter with a woman and a mysterious scroll, he wanders westward towards the title city. Again by accident, Chao finds himself fighting in the Song army against the Xi-Xia.  Like a Japanese woodcut, the beauty of Tun-Huang is in its simplicity; an adventure novel, and the search for meaning in the randomness of life.

Friday, November 2, 2012

SAGA Speculation

The release of Raven's Shadow in late November brings the addition of four more factions to the SAGA game: Hiberno-Norse, Franks, Strathclyde Welsh and the Irish.  As with the first expansion, this second expansion is mostly a variation on the original factions.  If you have one or two different warbands, there's at least one warband in this new release that can allow you to use another battleboard.

Where else can SAGA go from here?  Based on hints from Studio Tomahawk, and references in some recent podcast interviews with Meeples and Miniatures and Historical Wargaming, plans are in place to add factions multiple times a year for the next three years.  

1) Back in Time.  Given the popularity of Dux Bellorum and Dux Britannarium, a SAGA Arthurian expansion would be very successful   This could include four to six new factions (Romano-British, Saxon invaders, Picts, Early Irish and Early Welsh) plus some very interesting hero characters. With the amount of Arthurian miniatures people are picking up right now, adding a third game can get more use out of the same figures.

2) Moving East. The official release of the Byzantine battle board, and the non-official Arab release offers promise of SAGA staying in the ninth and through eleventh centuries, but with a move to the east.  Even if Vikings are the glue that hold SAGA together, their eastern journeys bring in the Rus as a new factions along with the Byzantines, Bulgars and possibly a steppe faction.  The Byzantines connect to Italo-Normans, Lombards and possibly the Seljuk Turks.  

3) Reconquista and First Crusade. I seem to recall an interview with Alex where he mentioned that El Cid era Christians and Moors were a part of their plans.  The Spanish theater alone could provide four or more factions from among the Christian kingdoms of the North and the Taifa kingdoms along with the Almoravids.  A Crusades supplement that focuses on the early Crusades could include the Crusaders, Turk/Abbasid, Armenians and Fatimids.     

Worth noting is that Gripping Beast, Studio Tomahawk's miniature partner, already has lines of miniatures for the Spanish, Moors, Rus, Slavs, Early Crusaders and Arthurians.

I'm excited about the future of SAGA and Dark Age skirmishing in general. This speculation has also inspired me to put together another custom battleboard, one still in the tenth and eleventh centuries, but much further afield than Europe and not likely to be officially released.  More later...