Improbabilities

Imagination.  Historical miniature gaming really should be all about imagination.  I know there will be plenty of you out there who shake your head and think, nah, that’s the other guys, the fantasy and sci-fi dudes. But think about it–40K is about the point system, buy GW’s over-priced very cool looking stuff, line it up and have at it. No, I am a believer in the power of imagination in this hobby.

I especially believe that’s true of projects-which I continue to prove over and over again by doing “the weird stuff,” as my friend Michael Koznarsky calls it. I’m really proud of my weird stuff, whether it is my Lewis and Clark project of 80 figures that morphed into the much larger Americans vs Spanish in Louisiana project of 300+ figures, or my childhood obsession with hydroplanes that turned into the never ending Thunderboats! obsession. Today that creativity is consumed with Quetzacoatl Rampant and using the Lion Rampant rules to foster a game playing Aztecs vs the Spanish and their Tlaxcalan allies. Historical miniatures don’t have to be out of the box.

Likewise, scenario-design also offers opportunities for creativity.  The master of all things scenario making is Dave Schueler.  He is super at creating opportunities for player decision- making to achieve their goals.  Sometimes that is about force structure, sometimes it is about the nature of the mission, sometimes it is about routines that can shape the outcome.  What makes Shoe a master, however, is the choices are available, but never so many or so burdensome that they confuse the players.

So, where is all this silliness going? Yesterday was our annual Drumbeat NHMGS hoo-hah winter gathering in Lake City.  It’s not like Enfilade.  There were only 43 paid attendees at the Lake City Community Center in north Seattle, and no hotels to worry about for a one-day affair.  We rent the space relatively cheaply, and with the number of attendees at ten bucks a throw, we made our rent. February 4th is a little late this year, but timing-wise it really worked out well. There were eighteen games in two game periods, leaving plenty for folks to do.

drumbeat-5

Tlaxcalans line up to advance into Xochimilco in search of food.  Four units of porters in the center of the photo. 

And of course, I was in on hosting games.  David Sullivan and I planned for another Quetzacoatl Rampant playtest of our foraging scenario.  David posted a great review of our January 21st playtest on his blog. This playtest ended in complete disaster for the Spanish and their native allies.  But part of the reason for this was dreadful die rolling by the invaders, and very good die rolling by the Aztecs. We made very minor changes and decided we’d have a better idea for how the scenario worked.

drumbeat-1

Aztec defenders mass outside of town. 

The chief premise of the scenario requires the Spanish and their allies to forage for food in an Aztec town. They have six units of native bearers.  The bearers can collect food from four permanent supply points located at the four corners of the town. In addition, there are chinampas, or floating gardens that can be expended along the narrow lake shore.  In addition to the bearers, the Spanish began the game with four units of swordsmen, a unit of wardogs, and a unit of arquebusiers.  There were also six units of Tlaxcalan warriors, including two units of skirmishers.

The town is defended.  The game begins with five units of peasant warriors, the defenders of the town, on the outskirts.  They are supported by a unit of veteran warrior suit-wearers and two units of skirmishers. There is also a late arriving unit of Aztec nasties.  They could arrive on the flank or the in the rear of the Spanish.  Their arrival time is certain, but unknown to the Spanish, and composed of two units of knights and three units of veteran warriors

drumbeat-3

Aztec warriors push through town to secure one of the granaries.  The Spanish, obligingly, won’t advance to contest them. 

The scenario is simple.  The Spanish/Tlaxcalans must collect enough food to “feed” every Spanish figure on the board. The Spanish have the option to add more units, but the more units they add, the more food they must collect.  The scenario allows them to add a unit of horse (very nasty), a unit of swordsmen (very nasty), a cannon (could stave off disaster,) a unit of crossbows (meh.) None are required.  All are calculated equally in terms of supply.  The Spanish at Drumbeat, wait for it, drumroll, chose the crossbows.

We got the game set up early and were off to the races. The Spanish were set up in three “retinues.”  Two of those were set up with mostly Tlaxcalans, and the third on the left flank was mostly Spanish. The Spanish/Tlaxcalans began with a couple of units in the town.  The troops along the lakeside quickly grabbed the closest granary and began loading up, while their troops held off the advancing Aztec peasant army.  But on the Spanish left, where the most of the Spanish troops were located, there was the nasty Lion Rampant bugaboo-the Spanish commanders couldn’t muster enough activations die rolls of five or higher to actually move and engage the Aztecs in front of them.  These Aztecs wisely slung their atl-atl’s from a safe distance, inflicting pin-pricks on their enemies, and screaming nya-nya-nya at the Spanish.

drumbeat-8

Things go terribly wrong when the Aztec relief, spearheaded by a unit of Eagle Knights show up in the Tlaxcalan rear.  The corn’s not tasting so good. 

Everything was looking pretty good for the Tlaxcalans until disaster struck on turn five.  The Aztec relief force arrived on the lakeside.  They immediately began slaughtering and sacrificing the Tlaxcalans in front of them.  It was a mess, and because the Spanish were stuck at the other end of the board, there simply wasn’t an answer for the stronger Aztec forces.  They began falling in with the bearers, and that was the end. We called the game after turn eight.

The playtest was a failure. But by  how much?

David and I agreed we needed some major fixes.  The Aztec reinforcements are too strong.  The Tlaxcalans need more guys.  The Spanish should just get the caballeros. We need to revisit the intent and mechanics of the “your beating heart” rule that allows the Aztecs to increase their own courage at the cost of their enemies.  Lots to talk through and work out.

But we can’t do much about bad die rolls.  For two games now, we’ve seen the Spanish roll horrendously.  How much differently would the game have turned out if the Spanish had just average die rolls. It’s challenging to make wholesale changes to scenario when we plan for probabilities that aren’t met. Sigh.

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2 comments on “Improbabilities

  1. Norris Hazelton says:

    Anytime you work with probabilities, you may also have possibilities. Possibilities allow results beyond the first two standard deviations, and beyond. Perhaps it might be better to use average di and keep the probabilities, but jettison the possibilities. Having seen the scenario twice, I think it’s a splendid concept and fraught with all sorts of entertainment value. Bad dice rolling is part of our hobby, it can only be mitigated not eradicated. “Endeavor to persevere.”

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