A new year, a new approach

2018 was a busy year for Second Thunder but, as many Open Combat players will know, I didn’t manage to get any new product released. This year I aim to finally release a number of products that have been bubbling along for far too long.

Most notable of the releases that didn’t materialise last year is the Black Powder supplement for Open Combat.

There are a number of reasons why I didn’t get this book finished in 2018. Without going into too many details it boils down two things: 1. My working on multiple supplements concurrently so as to keep an eye on any cross-compatibility issues resulted in me failing to focus in on the ‘just finish it’ stage on any of them. 2. We had some pretty big time-consuming changes in family life and being a one-man-band business everything stops if I have to put the metaphorical tools down for an extended period of time (everything is fine, by the way, it just took a lot of time to adjust).

But, after much juggling and wriggling things are finally settling into new patterns and I can finally focus back on supporting Open Combat and getting all the cool new things I’ve been working on finished.

There will be some changes to my approach this year though.

I’m taking a year off from the UK trade show circuit

I love the UK trade show circuit. We’re blessed with loads of wargaming shows on our small island and it’s brilliant.

One of my favourite parts is meeting you guys, the players of Open Combat, chatting to players is one of the most rewarding parts of writing and publishing rules. Hearing what people are doing with the game, answering questions and listening to suggestions all go to help feed the creative machine perpetually whirring away at the back of my mind. The same goes for all the new people I meet at shows too whether it’s simply interested observers who want to have a chat about what I’m doing or painters/terrain makers just wanting a short chat about the hobby in general, it all feeds into the hobby brain for later digestion.

A more ‘nuts and bolts’ benefit of attending shows is the sales. Selling stuff is clearly important (it keeps a half-starved creative from completely starving) and I thank everyone that has supported me at the shows last year and bought into Open Combat, especially those of you that still wanted to buy after listening to me talk at 100mph when you visited my stand!

Another perhaps easily overlooked benefit of being at wargaming shows is exposure. I know, I know… some of you may be thinking “exposure doesn’t pay the bills” and that’s very true but we wargamers take our time over decisions, particularly when looking at new rules. In my experience attending shows and being present at all the different venues has been hugely beneficial to spreading the word about Open Combat. I’ve had many people buy from me who had first heard of Open Combat by seeing me at a show several months prior, or else have ‘seen me around for a while now’ and finally decided to take a closer look. Another way to get exposure is paid-for advertising, either in magazines or online. All of this has it’s place but being physically present and chatting to people, especially about rules where you can take interested gamers through a few examples of play is an incredibly powerful way to spread awareness of a game and wargames shows provide this opportunity.

I’ll also miss the camaraderie with other traders, big and small, even when sometimes it’s just a wave and a nod at someone I’ve been meaning to speak to but we’ve been too busy to chat during the show.

So with all of that said you might be wondering why am I taking a year off the circuit? (… and yes – I’m not even trading at the ‘big’ ones)

There’s a few reasons, in no particular order they come down to:

Time – Attending shows uses up a lot of weekends in the year. Last year involved a lot of juggling diaries in our household, this year is going to be very busy too so I could really do with having flexibility and my weekends available over this next 12 months.

Energy – Attending trade shows as a one-man business promoting rules, particularly the busy shows or the multiple day events, is very tiring, I’m talking constantly. It can physically and/or emotionally drain me for a day or two after the event, particularly if I’ve had very long drive each way. This has a number of knock-on effects but the main one is that it essentially knocks back writing time (see writing below).

Writing – I’ve found that I have to ‘sink to depth’ (rather like a submarine submerging) to write fluently for any length of time. If I get into the writing groove and the words are flowing but I have to stop or I have the groove disrupted and I have to ‘surface’ I then have to go through the whole process of sinking to depth again, which takes time. Attending shows, at least attending as many as I have tried to do this last few years, has meant that I have had very stop-start, sporadic writing periods which has not been very helpful when it comes to completing things.

Perspective – This is perhaps a bit of an unusual reason but it’s important to me when I have my marketing hat on. I want to attend a few shows as a regular attendee to assess them from a visitors perspective. I can then feed this point of view back into how I approach my attendance when I return to the show circuit in 2020. I know I could improve on the way I do things at shows but when I’m actually trading at shows on my own I don’t have a chance to look around the show, let alone consider how I could improve my approach. I’m wanting to do that this year. So I’ll visit a handful of shows this year for a few hours to wander around and think over how I can improve my own stand.

Filling the ‘exposure’ void

As I mentioned above, the trade shows provide important exposure for small companies and that physical presence is particularly important when showing how rules work. It’s also a great way to communicate what is happening with things and how different projects might be progressing. How am I going to maintain an Open Combat presence in the minds of existing and prospective players this year?

There’s several components to my new approach for this year which I’ll talk about as we get into the swing of the year but one of the main elements is that I’m going to publish a quarterly newsletter.

The Second Thunder Newsletter

Inside I’ll be promoting new Open Combat products, other new releases as they come along and highlighting interesting discussions on the forums and/or social media. I’ll promote any Open Combat organised play events that may be occurring over the year too. I might even manage to get some ‘play through’ videos sorted this year!

Perhaps the biggest thing I’ll be doing through the newsletter is providing links to work in progress documents so that players can have a tinker about with new rules in development. I’ll set something up on the forum for conversations to be kept in the same place.

It will hopefully keep Open Combat in mind while I’m off the show circuit and establish something which we can continue when I renew my attendance at shows.

I’ll be publishing the first issue of the Newsletter at the end of January and you can sign up using the form below.

Sign up for the Second Thunder Newsletter

Note: You’ll have to click on the confirmation email you get (and prove you’re not a robot) as I think the process is a double opt-in process. I think that’s how I’ve set it up – you’ll find out when you stick you email in!


Bonescon 2018 report

On Sunday 18th February I took Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the three day Bonescon organised play event at the Hilton Birmingham Metropole Hotel.

I have to admit to being a little sketchy on the details of the event (despite being there). My understanding is that Bonescon is the spiritual successor of the Smogcon event which used to be closely tied to the competitive Warmachine scene in the UK. The team behind Bonescon put together a three day event of competitions, organised play events and painting competitions for multiple game systems all within several halls of the hotel. The atmosphere in the hall I was in on the Sunday was very relaxed and cheerful. One of the guys I spoke to said it was a super honest and helpful crowd all over as he’d forgotten he’d left his miniatures in the competition hall in the morning one day, returned late that night where players were still playing, and discovered his models on the side of the table while a game was progressing. The guys playing said they’d put them to the side so they could use the table and figured someone would be back for them (several sets of players had played at that table over the course of the day).

Along with the competitive games hall there was an open play hall and within this there was an area affectionately called the Butterfly House, run by Mike Marshall and Matt Spooner of the Fools Daily blog and podcast. The Butterfly House was where visitors could play any of a multitude of the less well-known tabletop miniature games on the market. While I was there Gaslands games were going on, Paranoid Miniatures were doing their thing with Mythos and I think there were several others too but I didn’t see them as I didn’t get a chance to leave my table all day. On the previous two days Gav Thorpe had also been running demoes of his work in progress Big Stompy Robots game.

We had three players plus a fourth warband that was commanded by a different person each round at the Open Combat Campaign day on the Sunday of Bonescon 2018.

I wasn’t sure what I would be doing when I agreed to take Open Combat to the Butterfly House section of the event. Initially I thought I’d be running a campaign day but as the months leading up the to event didn’t shed any light on if I had players or not I was anticipating I’d be running demoes all day. However it turned out that I had got three players for a campaign day plus a few that simply fancied having a go at something different!

While two players had very cool warbands that they’d brought along for the event (very nice work by Martin and Conner – I wish I’d got photos of those warbands!), I needed two other warbands for the players without models that simply wanted to give it a go. I quickly threw together a couple of warbands by combining elements from several of my demo lists and we were good to go.

Fortunately I’d got the campaign day I ran at ROBIN still in mind so I used the same organisational template of those games for the day. It was all a little impromptu on my part and I do feel I was being incredibly disorganised but the Butterfly House section was very much just about playing games so the players were happy to just pick a table and play.

One of the warbands I’d put together for use by players was a Dark Ages force based on combining my demo Vikings and Saxons which was reasonably balanced with regards to threats it could put out and model synergies despite being thrown together. The second force was a slightly different story as it was made by combining elements from the two Sword Masters demo forces which were intentionally designed to showcase some of the Sword Masters abilities without much thought for fighting battles in a wider context. So there were a few intentional weaknesses that don’t usually matter in a their own demo environment but do need a player to really understand the possible threats to the force to get the most from them if facing certain opponents. The player that picked these (I think it was Mike, apologies if I’ve got your name wrong!) discovered this in the last round as a combination of tabletop environment and opposing forces put him in a very tricky spot.

The first round was played without much input from me as I was talking to visitors about Open Combat but I did answer a few questions that popped up from players that were either rusty with regards the rules or totally new to the game. The second round saw the Dark Ages warband swap to a new player that fancied a try as the first round player had another game to get to. The second round scenario of Retrieve the Prize commenced and one of the moments that I heard as I was demoing/chatting to a visitor was that Shep, the dog in the Sword Masters warband, had found the Large Fish and proceeded to bound about the place using it to knock enemy fighters over!

A brief break in the proceedings allowed me to eat a quick sandwich and prepare for the next round and once again the player in command of the Dark Ages force needed to swap out to go to play a different game so I took command of them for a round. I faced Martin’s vampire and ghoul warband which looked very cool and had some very clever elements within it. I discovered that a couple of the Dark Ages fighters had picked up some injuries but the Vampire’s minions had also suffered over the day so the Renown levels were very close. The game played out in favour of Martin. Several bouts of poor combat rolls in succession for me combined with Martin playing very well with regards to getting the Prey critters in the right places and playing around the threats of the heavy hitters in the Dark Ages build ensured he had a reasonably comfortable victory. Following the round we had a look at Reputation levels and the Dark Ages Build hadn’t had any spent over the day so had amassed 85 points over the three previous rounds. Conner’s halflings had something in the region of 50-60 (despite replacing casualties), the Sword Masters were also somewhere in the region of 50-60 while Martin’s Vampire’s minions were on about 40 as they’d had to replace models earlier on.

The games had played very quickly and it was early afternoon at this point but I had several people wanting to play demoes so the three campaign players agreed to play a three-way fight using corner deployment for the final round while I retired the Dark Ages warband.

The final round of the Open Combat campaign day was a three player game as I was needed to run several demo games as the afternoon progressed.

The final battle was fought over the Sword Masters demo table layout which is quite an open board with mostly low level terrain features, featuring a ‘trip’ hazardous area in the centre, good clear views made it a good board for archers. The halflings had several archers in their force and deployed on the opposite corner from the Sword Masters while the Vampire and minions deployed in one of the corners between them. From what I could gather from the way the game played out the Vampire and minions got stuck into the Sword Masters while the halflings took advantage of the open areas and rained arrows onto their foes from afar. Neither opposing force had any shields so the bow fire was particularly effective and the halflings won the day as they managed to hold off advances on their positions. Interestingly Conner said that the game the halflings had lost earlier in the day was against the Dark Ages build, most models in that build had shields so had pretty good protection from missile fire. Fortunately for Conner they had sailed off into retirement that round!

This is where manning a busy games table/stand can be a little overwhelming as I’m a little vague on the details of the end of the campaign. I think the final three-way campaign game ended with two warbands (the halflings and the Sword Masters) in the high 80s on Reputation but I can’t be sure as I didn’t get a chance to properly to chat to the guys as they wrapped up. I was deep into a demo game. But they appeared to have enjoyed their games, certainly in the context of the whole weekend and based on chatting with them during the day (plus bearing in mind this was the third day of a three day event) they had enjoyed playing a large selection of different games with different people and generally immersing themselves in the hobby for several days.

It was mid-afternoon at this point and I was now occupied with talking about Open Combat with visitors and running games which took me right the way through to packing up at the end of the day. A big thank you to all of you that came along and asked about Open Combat, played and bought into the game! (Plus thanks to Mike, I met so many people called Mike that day, who helped me pack up and take all my paraphernalia to the car).

A very special thank you to the guys that played in the Open Combat campaign games over the course of the day and apologies for me being a bit scatter-brained most of the day. I know some of the details of the campaign and injury system may have got lost in amongst player swap-overs and the hurly burly of the day but it was good to see games being played in such a relaxed and cheerful atmosphere.

I think Bonescon is likely to happen again next year and I know Mike Marshall has some ideas of how he wishes to move the Butterfly House section forward.

For my part I’ll return to Bonescon. I will have the Open Combat Battle Pits and Arenas supplement out by next year and I think a multiplayer gladiatorial ‘winner stays on’ style of Open Combat participation game might be better suited to the environment of the Butterfly House. I think I need a little more control of the build-up and environment to run a campaign day and something which both ROBIN and Bonescon have highlighted is that trying to run a campaign while doing something else (trading/demoing) is a bit too tall an order for me while I’m working solo. I will certainly be running more campaign days but most likely in a suitable games store and/or wargames club environment. What struck me about Sunday was how quickly the rounds rattled through and we could have easily played another game in the campaign during the day so five games in a day might even be viable. Hmmm… plenty of food for thought for my next organised play event.


ROBIN show and Campaign Days

On the 11th of February 2018 I was trading at the second ROBIN (Red on Blue in Nottingham) wargames show run by the wargames events team.

The Second Thunder trade stand at ROBIN wargames show in 2018
My stand at ROBIN 2018, I’m taking the pic which is why there’s nobody manning the stand!

I don’t get to look around shows when I’m trading (usually being on my stand on my own) so I didn’t really see much of it but the atmosphere seemed to have a happy, positive buzz about it and I was busy all day so from my position it was a good show. This impression is further supported by the general noises I’ve been hearing from the other small independent producers and web comments by visitors to the show too. All good signs for the future of one of the new kids on the wargames show circuit.

Along with trading at the show I was running an Open Combat Campaign Day. I’ve run two of these previously, one at DAFFCON in Firestorm Games, Cardiff several years back and one at Spirit Games in Burton-on-Trent a year or so ago and on both those occasions I’ve had four to six players. It was initially looking like I’d have six players at ROBIN but with one thing or another three couldn’t make the weekend and another had a family situation which meant he had to drop from it. All of this reduced the player count down to two. Could it continue? Of course it could!

An organised play event in the traditional wargames mould is a competition or tourney where the intent is to use swiss pairings (winners versus winners etc.) to end the day with an outright winner. This requires a decent sized field of players to run and two players would have been impossible in this environment. (I can imagine some wargames competitions need more than four players to be viable). There’s also a bit of a tendency to get a bit intense at these events, especially at the top. It’s a competitive environment so this is understandable in the circumstances, but stressing out while wargaming isn’t necessarily what many of us look for in the hobby.

An Open Combat campaign just needs two players. Granted, more players will provide more opponents (with their own cunning minds and strategies) to pit your wits against but two players is still absolutely fine for Open Combat. I spoke to both the players at the begining of the day to explain things and Dave and Mike were happy to simply play against each other over the course of the day.

The beauty of Open Combat is that every game is different even with the same opponent and this is especially so in a campaign environment…

The campaign day consisted of four games, the first a straight up Open Combat fight using Confrontation deployment. The second encounter saw the warbands clash as they sought to Retrieve the Prize, split into three pieces, using Board Edge deployment. The third game used a variation of the Capture the Prey scenario using Confrontation deployment and the final game saw the warbands clash again in Open Combat but using Corner Edge deployment. Each game was played over a different terrain setup with its own Hazards in place so there were situational considerations to make and each encounter developed along its own lines to keep the players on their toes.

The fact that it was a campaign day too meant that, on top of the changing physical environment on the tabletop being fought over, the warbands themselves were changing too as they suffered casualties and/or hired new faces to support the effort.

The number one aim of a campaign day is to have fun, it’s about the story unfolding over the course of the games rather that simply winning. With this in mind both players had a very relaxed day chatting, playing and nipping off to have a look at the show between rounds. But at the end the day as a nod to the heroic efforts of the warbands taking part we all like to see who the ‘winner’ might be. The winner in a campaign day is the warband that ends the day with the highest Reputation. If you’ve played other games with an experience/advancement system the best way to think of Reputation is as Experience Points. In Open Combat you earn Reputation through your efforts (causing damage, grabbing objectives etc) and thus add towards your victory tally but if you wish to add to or develop your warband you have to spend Reputation to do so.

I only got to see little snippets as the day progressed but it was great fun hearing the stories unfold. The first game saw Dave C. and his orcs take a bit of a battering from Mike J’s Vikings and while the goblins which had been taken out of the action made full recoveries the Orc leader died outright (a one in six chance of happening). The Orc with the next highest Renown assumed control of the warband without a need for a leadership fight. Dave joked as long as the goblins don’t have to compete for the leadership he’d be okay. If a leader is killed in an Open Combat warband the next highest value model assumes control but in the case of a tie the contenders have to fight for it which can result in injuries.

The second game saw the slightly battered orcs once again given a taste of Viking axes and amazingly, once again, the goblins survived and the new Orc leader was killed outright! Rather nervously Dave assigned his last remaining Orc as the new leader of his warband. I think at this point we were all getting suspicions that the goblins at the bottom of the pecking order might be somehow rigging the demise of their ‘superiors’. While Dave was watching his warband being gradually demolished over the course of the day Mike was adding extra punch to his already pretty formidable line-up of hard northern men and women. You’d be forgiven for thinking that after two batterings Dave would have little chance in the last two games but this was not the case. Open Combat has an underdog system built into the campaign rules allowing a warband with a lower Renown level (the points size of the force) to hire mercenaries to reach a semblance of parity when facing a higher Renown level warband. The mercenaries don’t earn Reputation but they do give you an expendable resource to send into the action.

The third encounter saw the fortunes of battle start to swing the other way. The high Renown levels of all of the Viking models in Mike’s force meant that if they left the field of battle with captured prey they were having a big effect on the Break Point of his force as a whole. A warband’s Break Point in Open Combat is a measure of how much FOR and MND the warband can lose before it flees, think of it as morale. After a close fought battle both warbands had stolen the same amount of Victory Points worth of Prey items but as the Viking Break Point was reached the orcs claimed the field. It was a draw on points but a valuable moral victory to the orcs.

The final game of the campaign day at ROBIN saw an epic battle as the two forces fought for ultimate victory.

The final battle loomed. A quick check of Renown levels (how powerful the warbands were) and Reputation (a measure of victory points for the day) showed us that Mike had a whopping Renown in the region of 180 allowing Dave to hire 60 Renown worth of mercenaries. I can’t remember the actual numbers here but the Renown difference was significant as Mike had been building his force up over the previous games while Dave had been relying on mercenaries and spending Reputation to fill the gaps in his force. Checking the Reputation levels we were provided with an extra spice to the final battle, the forces were separated by only a few points of Reputation, I think they were on 41 and 30 (ish).

The final battle commenced and with some crazy archery antics from goblins high up on a rocky outcrop the sole archer in the Viking force was taken out early on. The battle would be resolved up close and personal.

The ensuing battle had some epic moments in it. I only caught bits and pieces of it from my trade stand but I did witness the moment when some critical dice rolling and moves were taking place. With his rerolls already all gone, but positioned well Mike J rolled a double 1 on an attack and lost the initiative early in his turn. Play passed to Dave who managed a couple of moves and attacks to pour some pressure onto the Vikings with models being threatened from behind before he too, having burnt the last of his rerolls rolled a double one and the initiative swung back to the Vikings. Both warbands were precariously close to their Break Point at this moment in the battle. Mike had the satisfaction of Taunting one of the pesky goblin archers from the top of the rocks causing it to fall flat on it’s face, wounded. But then disaster again, a double one losing the Initiative mid-turn.

Could the orcs that had taken a battering all day pull something out of the bag? With only 1 FOR damage required to break the Vikings Dave make a two dice attack roll, attacking into the back of one of the weakened Viking warriors, he got the damage he needed and the Vikings broke. I think, if I remember rightly, he actually rolled a double-six at this point which was a fittingly heroic final blow!

As the two players started to add up their final Reputations it became clear it was going to be close. We weren’t disappointed, after four battles through four different environments with four different objectives the Viking force had developed into a warband of high Renown but what of it’s Reputation? The final tally, after a double-check and a calculator was 60. The Orcs, having seen two of their leaders slain during the day, propping themselves up most of the time with mercenaries and spending Reputation on new warband members to fill gaps also did a double-check and a recount, they scored 62!

Clearly the tales of carnage, skullduggery and rumours of downright dodgy-dealing by goblins gave the orcs the edge in the Reputation stakes. But the Vikings took away many a tale of epic battles, enemies slain and treasure stolen so much so that their Reputation was worthy of a saga back home.

Both players enjoyed the day and as a backdrop for the show for me it was fantastic to hear the stories coming from the games on the tables. All with just two players too!

This was the third campaign day I’ve run with pretty much an open theme to allow fantasy and historical figures of any description to be mixed and matched to suit the whims of the players. I am thinking of being a little more proscriptive in the next day I run which will be later in the year when the gunpowder supplement is out. With this in mind I’m considering doing a pirate themed campaign day next time. I’ll probably keep it open in the sense you can have fantasy pirates too because there are some fantastic pirate models across historical and fantasy ranges to choose from.

I’m planning on doing more campaign days and the idea of running them at clubs as part of a wider demo day is something I need to look into properly as the year progresses. Obviously if I was running a day at a club I’d be happy to run it to a theme of their choosing to suit the needs of their members.


Update on progress with supplements

I know there’s quite a few players eagerly awaiting the various supplements that I’ve mentioned over the past 12 months so I thought it way past time to provide an update on where they are in the process. Those of you that have been watching/listening to podcasts over the last few years will have noticed I’ve not been releasing them as quickly as I’d hoped.

There are a number of reasons for this. I’d like to say it’s lack of ‘time’ to get everything done, having only one pair of hands (being a one-man-band business) but that wouldn’t be strictly accurate. It’s more a case of writing and games development both taking up a surprising amount of energy. This isn’t the run-around-a-field-or-lift-weights kind of energy but rather mental and creative energy. Something I hadn’t expected when planning out the supplements was running my own energy reserves so low that I ceased to be able to operate effectively. (There are all the other aspects of life that influence one-man-bands being able to operate such as health, family commitments etc. too but the crux of my slow release schedule has been my own poor management of my energy levels).

The last couple of years, following the release of Open Combat, have been a financial and emotional rollercoaster. I’ve switched from being a self-employed service business providing design & marketing support to other businesses to being a product-driven business. The miniature wargaming and board games hobby is a fantastic hobby to be involved in and to transition my work life into it has been a privilege many hobbyists dream of. I love it but, like anyone moving into a new business arena, I’ve had to learn a lot of new stuff in the process and take the ups and downs associated with becoming accustomed to a new business environment.

Attending shows, running demoes, promoting Open Combat in as many channels as possible, managing product stock levels & cashflow and all the other essential nitty-gritty bits of running a business have plenty of demands on time and energy before you even get to settling down to do any creative games development and writing. Getting to grips with the various business systems while trying to push the various supplements along has taken a lot longer than it should have done. I can only apologise if you’re hanging on, awaiting a particular supplement, they’re all moving along. It’s just been at a seemingly glacial pace up to this point due to me running on empty for a while.

With all that being said, I have been making progress. I’ve been refining various mechanical aspects of the supplements and checking that they work together to try to ensure there’s no crazy cross-supplement combo that throws a game too out of whack. I know this can never be 100% but part of the testing and development process is to try to catch any glaring things early. This has been an ongoing process before I settle down to actually write the ‘real thing’ in proper publishable format.

Musket and bayonet armed fighters in the Peninsula war by Jim Ibbotson.

The next supplement to be released will be the long-awaited gunpowder supplement which I am aiming to get to print in mid-February. The writing of this started a very long way back so it’s been a victim of my juggling multiple projects that has caused it to be so delayed in the production phase. I’m not putting any pre-orders up until I know it’s at the printers (I learned that lesson from Sword Masters).

I have a set of cards for the Retrieve the Prize scenario (and variations) that I also wish to get out in physical form which I’ll run a pre-order system for before release. I’m going to get a single set made by the printers so that I can show you what you get before putting anything online for preorder.

The multi-player supplement (and initiative cards) which includes rules for playing gladiatorial games will be following in April. After that the Magic supplement will get my full attention again to bring it to completion. I can’t say for sure when that’ll be out as I’m aware I have a pretty intensive period between now and April so the month of May might involve a bit of a pause for breath.

In amongst all of this there are also rules for solo play which I’m going to release as a work in progress as anyone can give that a go and provide feedback without needing a playgroup to test it with. I’ve got some of the AI aspect of this built already but I haven’t swung my focus onto it to work out how best to present it in a coherent way yet.

There’s a few other projects on the go to and any supplements that I’ve mentioned elsewhere previously are still on the go (don’t worry), they’re just in the background while I tackle the immediate projects mentioned here.

So with all that being said, things are happening to support Open Combat with new supplements. It is slower than I intended but they are happening.


Tactics In Open Combat: The Force Back

Once you’ve played a game or two of Open Combat you will soon get a feel for how the game flows. You might even get a glimpse of situations where the position of models and/or use of a weapon or skill is particularly effective. One of the core influences in the way a game might flow or events unfold is the Force Back. In this article I look at potential ways you can put the combat result to good use in your games of Open Combat.

The Importance Of Force Backs

Fighting in Open Combat is more than just whacking your opponent about with whatever weapon you have to hand. It’s a dynamic, ever-changing dance where the position you take when you’re on the offensive has a bearing on both the potential damage you might inflict on your opponent and on what could happen to you when the enemy fights back.

A Force Back doesn’t naturally do any damage (although it can) but it can have a huge influence on the choices both you and your opponent make during an encounter. Some of the uses of Force Back are as follows:

  1. Repositioning enemy models.
  2. Increasing the chance of causing damage.
  3. Denying enemy optimal use of activations/actions.
  4. Area control.

Repositioning Enemy Models

At it simplest a Force Back allows you to reposition an enemy model. If you Engage the enemy model, or shoot at it with a missile weapon, from the right angle you can direct an enemy model 1” in a specific direction.

This can be used to pop the model out from behind cover or obstructions or force the model into base-to-base contact with another of your models that has yet to activate. It can force the enemy from an elevated position potentially knocking them Prone or push the enemy model into a Hazard or difficult Area Terrain. If the enemy model is too close to the edge of the board it can even see them pushed from the field and fleeing the encounter. If the scenario involves capturing objectives a Force Back can be used to keep enemy away from the objectives or create a gap for your own models to approach the objective first. Repositioning enemy models through the use of a Force Back can be a game changer at a crucial part of the game.

There are several options that can increase the effectiveness of the Force Back. In hand-to-hand combat the double-handed weapon has the potential to drive an enemy model back a very long way for a single Action. But there is the potential for scoring a Terrible Miss too and losing the Initiative. A Monster or Mounted model can Force Back a smaller model 2” for a single attack. Coupling a Monster with a double-handed weapon can make this a very long way indeed but that’s both the Behaviour Table and the weapon that could lose the Initiative. Slings, when used within 8” of the target, can be a very good way to reposition an enemy model from a safer distance away.

Increasing The Chance Of Causing Damage

When a Force Back is blocked for any reason and the target cannot move the full distance of the Force Back the target will take 1 point of FOR damage. So as you look to Engage enemy models it is a good idea to bear in mind the potential routes you can use to back enemy models up against terrain. (This is one of the reasons a good density of terrain is important in Open Combat).

If there isn’t any useful terrain near to the target model you can engineer your own blocker of Force Back routes by using multiple models in your attack. Use a model to attack from one direction but ensure you position another model behind the enemy model to block the route of any potential Force Back.

The use of a Force Back to cause damage is particularly important when running models that will only ever get one Attack Dice in an attack. Normally these models will be needing a Minor or Solid Hit (5 and 6 on a D6) to score damage but if you can engineer your approach angles correctly you can score damage on your Force Back results (3 or more on a D6). As you can imagine, being surrounded in Open Combat is not a very safe place to be.

Denying Enemy Models Optimal Use of Activations/Actions

Many things in Open Combat are situational and the use of Force Backs to deny your enemy the optimal use of their models is very much in this camp.

In a scenario with objectives the act of forcing your enemy away from the objectives is a very simple way to dictate what actions they take with their models. Your opponent will have to use up actions to get back into the thick of things.

Good positional play to create threats if they are ignored is another way to force your enemy to react to your actions. Putting models armed with missile weapons in a position where they can force an enemy into a Hazard or off the battlefield when they next activate ensures that your opponent has to spend actions to respond or leave their models in a dangerous place.

Positioning your models so that they can only be Engaged from a particular angle and if the enemy chooses to do this they have something behind them such as blocking terrain, a Hazard or other threat can give your opponent a danger to consider before committing to the Engagement. This is something you have to be aware of when making your own attacks, if the enemy model is still alive after you have attacked what position have you left yourself in?

When a model armed for base-to-base combat actions starts Engaged with a similarly armed enemy model if you score a Force Back on your first action you will most likely wish to Follow Up to make a second attack action. If you score a Force Back on the second action the choice is not so clear cut. Do you choose not to Follow Up so that your opponent has to use a Move action to Engage your model or do you Follow Up to deny the enemy the option of repositioning? It depends on the situation but in some circumstances you can deny your enemy the opportunity to use both their actions attacking you with their hand-to-hand fighters. Learning when to Follow Up and when to stay back is one of the many small but important decisions you have to make when playing Open Combat, it can be especially tricky when both warbands are close to their Break Point.

Area Control

This is partly covered by the previous section discussing denying enemy optimal use of activations. If the tabletop has Hazards strewn around, Difficult Ground or Low Obstacles (see Sword Masters supplement) the use of missile weapon armed models can control areas of the tabletop by threat alone. If an opponent knows that a Force Back could put one of their models in an unfortunate position they may take a more circuitous route across the tabletop. A wily player will always try to use this control to their advantage.

How To Minimise The Impact Of Force Backs

When you know that Force Backs can be so effective what can you do to minimise the chances of your opponent using them against you?

There are a couple of things which can be built into your warband to cut down on the impact of Force Backs. Resolute is one ability which can go some way to help and Shields help to stop damage from blocked Force Backs but both of these are no use if the enemy attacks from behind. Using the terrain can help too, when you are defending a barrier such as a fence or wall you can only be Forced Back as part of Solid Hits. Moving from suitable terrain to suitable terrain in this way can cut down on lost momentum if an enemy is trying to keep your models away from certain positions or objectives.

But the simplest answer is good positional play, it’s also perhaps the most difficult thing to master. The best approach in one game may not be suitable in the next as the situation will be different. Learning the nuances in situations based on the prevailing circumstances of the terrain, the scenario and the warbands involved is something which comes with experience. The more you play and experience the more your learn and remember for use another time… and the more you play the more fun you have too!

When you’re next faced with the option to score a Minor Hit or a Force Back it might not be such a straight forward decision. Hopefully this article will give you something to think about next time you play Open Combat.


Wargames Shows 2017

We’re very lucky in the UK to have a thriving wargames show circuit and I try to attend one a month (ish). If you’re a big enough trader, or the main focus of your business is trade shows, you can attend a show nearly every weekend of most months of the year. If you add into the mix the wargames shows overseas, both in Europe and beyond, you could have a very busy schedule indeed (and I know some UK traders do attend several overseas shows).

I’m far too small, being a one-man-band, to attend every event so I have to pick and choose based on a loose criteria of distance, cost and juggling the weekends on the calendar with family commitments. But I do try to take Open Combat to as many wargames shows and events as I can, which as I said above, equates to approximately a dozen shows over the course of a year. During the past six months I’ve attended seven shows.

January 2017

I didn’t get to any shows in January this year, I’ve heard a lot of good noises about Crusade in Wales but never actually managed to get to it yet. It’s one I’m bearing in mind for the future, it’s a fair old trek to get to from where I’m based and probably has a waiting list too but one of these years I’ll try to make it.

February 2017 – ROBIN

In February I attended the inaugural ROBIN wargames show in Nottingham, early indicators give it a lot of promise with a good turn out for it’s first appearance. Next year I will be running an Open Combat campaign day there (more on this at another time) as well as running a trade stand so I might need to muster a helper for that.

March 2017 – Hammerhead, WMMS

In March I was running Open Combat participation games at Hammerhead in Newark aided by Gav Thorpe, where I think we both got beaten multiple times as well as presiding over many battles between visitors. Also in March I attended the West Midland Military Show (WMMS) in Wolverhampton. Aside from chatting about Open Combat I had a great discussion with visitors that along with playing wargames for a hobby, also fight with medieval weapons on weekends. I’m planning on visiting their wargames club to play Open Combat in the near future (alas, I don’t have the time to join their fighting club).

April 2017 – Salute

In April Gav Thorpe again helped me out by running the participation game table of Open Combat while I ran the trade stand at Salute in London. The participation game used one of the work in progress multi-player battlepit scenarios from the forthcoming Open Combat Arenas and Battlepits multi-player supplement. It sounded like everyone enjoyed themselves and also provided useful feedback which is always good. Salute is an incredibly busy show and next year Gav is looking to run games of his own Big Stompy Robots game so I will be needing to pull in some new helpers – especially as I’d like to run a Open Combat games table using the Magic supplement with battling wizards. If you fancy helping out, let me know.

May 2017 – Partizan, ChillCon

In May I was running games of Open Combat on the Ainsty Castings / Northstar mega stand at Partizan in Newark. It was great fun and incredibly busy. One young visitor came back to the table three times, beating me with both sides of the Sword Masters based warbands I had on the table. It highlighted something I’ve witnessed over several years of attending wargames shows. In all the games I’ve played with youngsters the one thing that sticks with me is that there should be some way to bottle their dice rolling skills. You could make millions selling the kind of positive-energy-infused sorcery I’ve seen at play. In May I also attended the new show that started in Sheffield called ChillCon. Again for a new show this one shows a lot of promise and I’ll certainly be attending again.

June 2017 – UK Games Expo

In June I was at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham and I have to say in many ways it’s my favourite show. This is possibly because I’m very much a tabletop gamer that plays all kinds of games and the UK Games Expo has card games, board games, roleplaying games and wargames all under one roof. I’ll admit that I don’t actually get any chance to browse when the show is open (having to scurry around before and after hours) but simply being surrounded by everything for several consecutive days is great sustenance for the soul. Plus, it’s a very good show for Second Thunder too.

Carl Brown demonstrates the freedom of creating your own profiles when putting together a warband roster for Open Combat at UK Games Expo 2017.

Rest of 2017 – Barrage, The Other Partizan, Hereward, Derby Worlds, SELWG, FIASCO

I’m now moving into the second half of the year and I’ll be attending another six shows. These are:

  • Barrage in Stafford, 9th July.
  • I’ll be helping out and running Open Combat on the Ainsty Castings / Northstar stand at The Other Partizan on 20th August.
  • 3rd September will see me over in Peterborough at Hereward 2017.
  • October sees me with a very busy month to end my year of wargame show attendances. On the 7th and 8th I’ll be in the new venue at Derby Worlds then on the 22nd I’ll be at SELWG in London. On 29th I’ll be in Leeds at FIASCO which is held in the Royal Armouries complex.

Open Combat Campaign Days or Events

The preceding blurb is part mini diary of events I’ve been to and part a ‘heads up’ for my show attendances for this year. But I do intend to run a couple of campaign days or events for simply playing Open Combat too this year if I can manage it. Daffcon has been cancelled this year so I’ll not be running an event in in Cardiff in August.

I’ve got to work out some dates and venues but I’ll be talking to Spirit Games in Burton on Trent next week about running a campaign day at their shop again this year.

I’d also like to run a Open Combat open gaming day somewhere in the East Midlands, where I have several tables setup with terrain. Players can come along in a freeform fashion and just play games on different setups against different opponents and maybe try out different warband builds. I could run demos for people that just fancy giving it a try. For existing Open Combat players I could potentially take the opportunity to throw some playtest material into the mix too if they fancied having a go at something still in progress. I’m not sure how viable this kind of thing is yet so if you have an opinion please let me know if it’s something you’ve be interested in.


Salute Interview about Open Combat

While I was at the Salute show this year Pete from the War Gamer youtube channel played in the multiplayer Open Combat game we had on a games table. Gav Thorpe did a sterling job running the game for me while I manned the trade stand (we were both moaning about our knees at the end of the day like a couple of old geezers).

I’ve yet to put together a proper updated introduction video for Open Combat but in the meantime you can see me babble for a few minutes about the game and the hardback book here:

Incidentally it’s worth taking a look at Pete’s youtube channel, there’s some good reviews on there about all kinds of wargames and products.