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.