It’s been a long time since I posted an update on the situation with the Open Combat supplements. So where are things at?
Open Combat Black Powder
I’m aiming to put the Black Powder supplement up for preorder in mid to late October 2020 for release in November 2020.
In the same fashion as the Sword Masters supplement, Black Powder will be available in printed and PDF formats.
The Black Powder supplement introduces a number of entertaining new rules and weapons, some of these weapons involve templates. I’ll be including the templates as a PDF available to download from the Resources page of this website so players can print out and make their own for free. I’ll also be releasing the templates as an optional accessory if you prefer to buy them rather than use DIY templates.
Along with rules for black powder weapons the supplement will also introduce new skills and abilities along with providing new scenarios to play.
With several of the weapons in the Black Powder supplement capable of rendering models dazed or stunned (such as choking fumes from a stink pot!) your models may lose Actions. Some leaders or trusted subordinates have the personality to urge their friends on in those difficult situations, to represent this one of the new abilities is Alert.
Influence ability: Alert
Numerous events can cause a fighter to become distracted, stunned or otherwise confused. At moments like this a shout or warning from a nearby comrade can alert them to danger and speed their recovery from their temporary daze.
This model can encourage, warn or otherwise berate a nearby model to try to remove the effects of losing one or more Actions.
Compare the MND of the model taking this action with the MND of the target model and make a Psychological Attack.
Range: 6” Terrible Miss – Despite this models best efforts the attempt results in frustration as the target ignores their entreaties. Lose one action from this models next activation. Lose Initiative. Minor Hit – Target model regains one lost action. Solid Hit – Target model regains two lost actions.
Open Combat Multiplayer Supplement
Tentatively titled ‘Open Combat Battle Pits’, the Open Combat multiplayer supplement introduces rules for playing games with three or more players in a battlepit or arena style conflict.
The supplement introduces an alternative approach to turn sequencing and includes extra rules specific for games with three or more players.
There will also be guidance on using existing scenarios to play multiplayer games along with introducing new scenarios for arena style games.
I’m currently considering whether to release this as a physical book or to make it initially a PDF only release with a view to rolling it into a physical ‘omnibus’ book of several supplementary pieces in 2021.
The reason for this is that I have a selection of supplementary material that does not necessarily fit within any specific setting, period or genre or require enough pages to warrant a full book. I’d like to release these digitally as I get the production aspect of them completed to gradually build up enough material to form an omnibus if the interest exists to have a physical version.
Open Combat Magic Supplement
The Open Combat Magic supplement is going to be the main Open Combat release in 2021. This supplement will be released in both PDF and physical format at launch.
I’ve spoken about it to those of you I have met at shows over the years, and once the Black Powder supplement is finally released I can move onto the Magic supplement and give fantasy players several cool new tools to create warbands with.
One of my personal favourite aspects of the Magic supplement is the use of the MND and how that interacts with other aspects of Open Combat.
If you already play Open Combat you’ll know that the Break Point of a warband is based on the combined FOR and MND of your models. In the Magic supplement you will need to balance how much MND you want to sink into your spellcasters as they will be using it as a resource to cast spells. This then makes them important models for your Break Point.
But don’t worry, you won’t always have to batter your own Break Point when casting spells. There are power stones which can be bought as part of creating a warband which can be used in lieu of using a spellcasters own MND. Using charges from a power stone instead of spending MND to cast a spell won’t affect your Break Point, but relying on power stones can be risky. They can be stolen by the opposing warband!
The magic supplement also introduces the concept of enthralled minions. These are followers of a spellcaster who, in addition to being a potential protector can also be used as a resource by a magician needing to recover MND points previously spent casting spells. Normally a model can only recover MND or FOR by taking a Rest Action but an enthralled minion can take a rest action on behalf of their controller. We can imagine the spellcaster drawing energy from their minions to sustain their own magical powers.
Another aspect of the magic supplement I really enjoy is the ‘build your own’ system of creating magic items too but I’ll talk about this more next year.
Open Combat Accessories
If you’ve spoken to me at the various shows I’ve attended over the years you may have heard me discuss getting various accessories put together to support Open Combat. I’m finally sorting out getting them produced.
Over the coming months keep an eye out for:
An assortment of counters and tokens for various states/modifiers such as losing actions to Distract, ATK bonuses etc.
A customisable deck of cards. I’m still working out the practicalities of this one but essentially it’s a set of cards which allow you to modify the faces to suit the scenario you might be playing. Perfect for creating a draw deck for Retrieve the Prize scenario or a random Hazard generator.
Break Point Tracker.
Open Combat dice tray.
Plus a few other things I’ll talk about another time.
Second Thunder newsletter
That’s where things are at the moment. I’ll be getting the first issue of the Second Thunder Newsletter out soon. It’ll include a number of details relating to playing Open Combat solo. If you haven’t already signed up please subscribe.
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!
Recent years have seen a huge rise in pre-made terrain and scenery for tabletop wargames. No matter what period or setting you play wargames in you will be able to find the right scenery to help dress your battlefield.
Along with MDF wargames terrain (available both unpainted and painted, depending on the manufacturer) there has been a steady rise in resin terrain being released, these in particular are very good for scatter terrain and detail pieces. So, with all of this fantastic scenery being commercially available why bother making your own?
For me personally there’s two reasons, well maybe four but the last two are sort of bonuses really.
Firstly, because making stuff is fun. I enjoy making terrain as much as any other part of the hobby. I might not be as skilled or refined in my approach as the professional terrain makers but I do enjoy making something from nothing.
Secondly, because the stuff we make ourselves can be absolutely anything we care to imagine and it’ll most likely be unique. One of the byproducts of the plethora of commercially available terrain is that wargames tables can all look a bit ‘samey’. That’s not necessarily a problem in your own gaming group, especially if it’s a small group with only one or two tables running at any given time but if you’re part of a big club it can feel a little bit visually deflating if you look around and it all looks so similar.
If you run tournaments I can totally see the arguments and benefits for the speed and consistency of commercially available terrain when it comes to getting coverage across a lot of tables. But for games in our own home (or if we have a very small play group) spending a bit of time on creating our own terrain can really add to the ambience of our games. Plus we can create things to help promote specific in-game challenges or even make unusual scenarios possible.
The other two reasons I think making our own terrain is a good thing to do and worth the effort are it saves money and it’s an opportunity to recycle stuff so putting less things back into the waste system.
Saving money is pretty self-explanatory – the commercially available terrain is fantastic and if your wallet is deep enough you can easily spend a small fortune on amassing a good selection of it. But for wargamers on a tighter budget, making our own terrain means we don’t have to lack for visually pleasing games even if we can’t stretch very far financially to populate the tabletop.
The recycling aspect is something I think many of us are getting increasingly aware of and while we’re not individually going to save the planet by making a bit of terrain it does at least stop a fraction of stuff going back into the environment.
As an aside I think the plastics and rubbish that are getting washed out to sea are a big problem for the environment. It doesn’t matter where you stand on various environmental issues, when it comes to the rubbish that our single use/throw away society has put into the environment it’s a stone cold fact. The seas are a hugely important part of the health of the planet and the systems we have used to handle waste in our society seem to be screwing them up. In the UK our own recycling system still exports a lot of waste overseas to be dealt with elsewhere which all feels a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to me. In recent years countries that used to take our waste have said they can’t take anymore, I think we all need to change our approach to how we view throwing things away and look to our leaders to put funding into researching and developing more ways to not only handle the new waste we make but deal with the mess we’ve already made. I could go on much further on this topic as the health of the planet affects us all but I’ll get off this soapbox and back to terrain! 🙂
So with all this said if you fancy having a go at making your own terrain where do you start? To help you get going, I’m going to take you through a little ‘do it yourself’ project using something we wargamers will most likely all have access to: packing materials.
Easy Formal Hedges & Decorative Shrubs and Trees
I really struggle to throw the foam/sponge insert away that comes in a blister pack of miniatures. It could be a hedge (I have often thought), but the foam is so uniform in shape it has always felt rather less than inspiring to use for a hedge. Cutting in some jaggedy edges to give it more of a natural shape is never as effective as I hope but that was where I was going wrong. Why try to make a natural ‘wild’ hedge with something so uniform? Why not go in the opposite direction and use the uniformity to my advantage? Let’s make some formal hedges.
Living in the UK we are surrounded by grand houses with immense gardens that usually follow some formal design or geometric pattern. With the internet we don’t have to visit them to look for inspiration (but do so if you can!) try googling an image search for ‘formal gardens’, ‘decorative gardens’ and ‘castle gardens’ and see what comes up. I’m sure your wargamer brain will see a huge amount of potential there for both making things and playing across them!
For me, with Open Combat being played on a 24” x 24” area, a formal garden is a tabletop in itself and the variety of high hedges, low hedges and decorative shrubs can provide ample opportunities for Force Back fun and games.
So what will you need?
A good craft knife (and/or scissors), steel ruler and a cutting mat plus:
Packing chips (these come in all kinds of shapes)
Cocktail sticks or Kebab Skewers (something suitable for a trunk)
Plastic bottle lids (for use as a container)
Optional extra: Tufts with blossoms.
Formal Hedges Step One – Planning and shaping
Before you start getting yourself covered in glue and static grass it’s worth taking a few minutes to think about what you’re wanting to achieve. You might be trying to create an approximation of an actual formal garden design you have seen or a specific historical location to suit the period you are playing your games in. Alternatively, you may simply want to have a good selection of garden components to mix and match and create ad hoc designs as the whim takes you. Whichever route you choose, taking a few minutes to work out what you are wanting to use your terrain for will result in a much more satisfying finished project.
For myself I wanted a selection of garden components so that I could change the designs as the situation required. I can also continue to add to the collection of components over time to freshen up my options without being tied to anything specific.
I wanted some large hedges that blocked line of sight and could be used to build a maze (or part of a maze) as this would make an excellent environment to play games in. I also wanted some low hedges which could provide opportunities for players of Open Combat to force enemies models back across, tripping them and knocking them Prone. Alongside these hedges I wanted some decorative pieces for models to hide behind and, if I’m completely honest, just to look cool on the tabletop.
With all of that in mind I looked at the various pieces of foam I had available. I had some large, chunky blocks of foam (complete with peelable sticky back plastic on one side) which looked perfect for the large hedges. These are approximately 40mm high, 45mm long and 35mm wide, I decided that instead of messing about cutting to a particular size it would be much easier simply to use them ‘as is’.
I also had some long pieces of foam, approximately 8mm wide. I think this might be the standard width in blisters. I cut this into strips approximately 8mm high to form a sort of square profile if viewed from an end and 100mm (4”) in length. I didn’t mind any uneven places due to mistakes while cutting the foam as even well tended formal hedges have a few rogue growths sticking out.
Formal Hedges Step Two – To base or not to base?
Once I had the pieces of foam ready I considered basing. For the large block pieces my first thought was that it didn’t seem necessary. They were so bulky I didn’t envisage any curling as the glue dried and it seemed too much effort to cut bases for them all. But I did a test piece to see if the sticky back plastic on the foam block was any good and fixed it to some scrap plasticard. A bit of brown paint around the plasticard edge combined with a slight bleeding of the paint up the foam hedge (more on this later) convinced me that it was worth the effort.
The low hedges definitely felt like they might need a bit of support against potential curling so I cut some suitable shapes from plasticard (1mm thickness), I ensured that the size of the bases was smaller than the actual foam so that is disappeared beneath the piece of terrain. This was because I only wanted the foam to have a bit of structural support and didn’t want a base interfering with placement when arranging the low profile terrain on the tabletop.
I also wanted a few curved hedges and they definitely needed a base to hold them in shape.
To fix the foam to the plasticard I blobbed superglue (cyanoacrylate) along the plasticard and then gently squashed the foam to it until the glue set.
Then it was time for the messy bit.
Formal Hedges Step Three – Adding the foliage
Using a reasonably big brush I liberally daubed PVA glue over each surface and then sprinkled static grass onto it, firming down with my fingers to ensue the glue soaked into the static grass before shaking off the excess.
It’s useful to shake off the excess static grass onto a clean piece of paper so that you can pour it back into the container to use on the next hedge.
With the big chunky hedges I did two sides in one go and set the piece aside while doing two sides on the next one and so on, after all of them had two sides done I repeated the process on the remaining sides. This was mainly to minimise the sticky mess I was getting into.
On the smaller, low profile hedges I just did each hedge in one hit and got a bit messy in the process but it did the job.
What no primer!?
Now, under normal circumstances I would prime everything before even considering painting, flocking or decorating in any way. For the foam hedges I thought I’d try a shortcut and on the first one I mixed brown paint into the PVA glue (the plan being to provide a ‘woody’ background to the foliage). The result was… unexpected. The paint mixed with the wet PVA dyed the static grass brown and that was not the result I wanted (although I see it as a happy accident with one of my hedges suffering some form of die back on the foliage). In the end I decided to not use any primer or paint at all and simply used straight PVA straight onto the raw foam and the results were perfectly satisfactory.
I did paint the edges of the plasticard bases brown to hide the stark white of the plastic. A fortunate accident with this was that the wet paint bled slightly into the static grass and softened the line between foliage and base.
Decorative Shrubs and Trees Step One – Planning
If you take a look at images of formal gardens you’ll soon see examples of decorative shrubs and trees. Topiary is a very obvious example of this kind of decorative planting and you could easily go wild creating a whole tabletop based around topiary alone! (This is something I think I’ll come back to in another article).
I decided to make two different designs using two types of packing chips. I used the ‘S’ bend polystyrene chips and the cylindrical-shaped corn starch based chips.
Decorative Shrubs and Trees Step Two – Building
I had decided to make some potted shrub/trees for my first experiment with decorative planting. For the stem or trunk of the plants I used bamboo skewers cut to size, the container for these plants was made from plastic bottle lids. Simply cut a hole into the lid and glue the skewer into place. I hid the flat surface of the plastic with some filler (treating it how I would treat my miniature bases) to provide a natural earthy texture where the plant was growing from. What was useful with the plastic lids I used was the ribbed edge, it provided some visual interest to the piece not unlike an actual stone container we might see in a garden.
Decorative Shrubs and Trees Step Three – Shaping the Foliage and Painting
I wanted to keep things relatively simple with the first few designs to get a feel for working with the materials so I decided on using the cylindrical shapes to create a simple chunky tree.
I initially thought about using the S shaped chips ‘as is’ to form a simple S shaped bush (and I may come back another time and do this) but decided to be a little more adventurous with them and see how they behaved if I cut and glued them into a different shape.
In the spirit of producing something decorative I cut some of the S shaped curves and then glued them together to produce a rough heart shape. I had to do a little bit of extra shaping with the knife to get them to look reasonably as intended but once the static grass was glued onto them they made effective looking garden pieces.
I discovered an interesting behaviour in the corn starch packaging chips which, in hindsight, is pretty obvious but surprised me for a few minutes. Corn starch is biodegradable and if you put water on them they absorb some of the moisture and shrink! I hadn’t got this in mind when I started to glue things together so I was a little puzzled as the edges with the wet PVA on seemed to be retreating from each other but shrugged it off as part of learning process. It didn’t appear to be too much of an issue until I came to glue static grass all over the chips to create my shrubs. That was when significant shrinkage occurred. While not quite what I was going for they still looked pretty good.
The bases were primed prior to adding the foliage onto the trunk and painted as I would normally paint a miniature. I added some flowery tufts to the textured area around the trunk to help indicate the garden feel to the pieces.
So that’s it! A pretty simple way to use some of the packing materials we all get when having things sent to us through the mail.
I’m going to continue to experiment and add to the initial collection I have put together. Raised beds and low walls are certainly on my list of projects along with getting creative with topiary shapes. I’d also like to expand on the large block hedges to be able to build large layouts on the tabletop.
It’s a lot of fun creating your own terrain and going through the process has given me plenty of ideas for extra scenarios and table setups that I’m keen to explore in the future. The fact you’re using items you might normally throw away is a big plus too! So, grab some of the stuff you’ve got lying around (I’m sure you or someone you know saves things ‘just in case’) and have a go, it’s well worth the time and effort.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
Repositioning enemy models.
Increasing the chance of causing damage.
Denying enemy optimal use of activations/actions.
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.
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.