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.