Monday, April 18, 2011

HelgaCon IV - Book of War Round Robin Tournament

This was the second year I've held a Book of War test round robin tournament on the Saturday morning of HelgaCon. Again, in theory, I should be releasing a publication version of this soon: one of my priorities was to take this opportunity as a last-chance to run as large a game as I possibly could, and see if that would shake out any heretofore unknown bugs. I had three players (and thus planned 3 round-robin matches): Paul, Max, and Christian -- who, all being brothers, started referring to it as the "War for Succession". So of course I really liked that.

GAME 1: PAUL vs. MAX (500 points)

Turn 1 -- Below you'll see the end of the first-turn movement. Max (left side, in blue) has crossbows, horse archers, medium infantry, pikes, and heavy cavalry. Paul (right side, in red) has two groups of light cavalry, pikes, and heavy crossbows. Note that we're using some cardboard counters because I ran out of horse miniatures for this game.

Turn 2 -- Paul has sent his fast light cavalry charging to the other side of the board, and in single file, threaded between Max's pikes & heavy cavalry. He's trying to get in position to harass the rear of the opposition, but the disadvantage is how he's splitting his own army in three pieces. Max's pikes & heavy cavalry will swing around and get a few hits in before the top light cavalry can pull away on the next turn.

Turn 4 -- Paul's light cavalry has reached the backfield, but this has allowed Max's army to focus entirely on those isolated units. The heavy cavalry and pikes have tried to give chase. More importantly, the horse archers (mostly flat counters) have changed face and swung to the rear so as to fire at the left-most unit, mostly decimating them. And the crossbows on the hill have done an about-face, showering the middle unit with missiles, and routing them. (By necessity, they will flee off the top/left of the table on the next turn.)

Turn 6 -- Having lost all of his vanguard light cavalry, Paul is now positioning his remaining pikes & heavy crossbows on the central hill to finish the fight as a defensive battle. In another two turns, Max's horses attack up the far side and rout the separate group of heavy crossbows there (between Paul's arms in the picture). Shortly after that, time is called (this has taken about 2.5 hours) and Max declared the winner of this event on points!

GAME 2: MAX vs. CHRISTIAN (250 points)

Turn 1 -- Due to time constraints, we've reduced the point values for the armies in question. Max (top, in blue) has horse archers, pikes, and heavy cavalry. Christian (bottom, in red) has light cavalry, light infantry, longbows, and heavy crossbows. After terrain has been placed, both armies have chosen to group on the clearer side of the table -- which amusingly, has provoked a debate over whether it's properly the "left side" or "right side" of the table (depending on player perspective). So this means war!

Turn 3 -- Again, the light cavalry units have been sent galloping at full movement ahead of the rest of their respective armies. Christian (the newest player to the game) has tried to maneuver his light cavalry behind the woods, but this allowed Max's horse archers to ride up behind them and get some attacks off. Also, Christian has elected to send his slowest unit (heavy crossbows in chainmail) up through the woods, so they've fallen behind the rest of his army.

Turn 7 -- Action has separated into two locations on the field. Max's horse archers have gotten to the rear of Christian's army, so his light cavalry and infantry have turned to pursue them. After a few turns of maneuvering for position around the edge of some woods (white notepaper in the picture), melee has occurred, with Christian's cavalry taking the worst and being routed. In another turn or two, his light infantry will make contact: horse archers are reduced to just two figures before driving off that part of the red army, as well. (Apologies for blurriness in this photo.)

Turn 8 -- Meanwhile, Christian is doing better at the center of the table, where his own missile troops have taken the hill and quickly eliminated the light blue pikes. Then the slow, heavy infantry of blue have decided to advance up the hill under the same withering missile fire (in plate mail: move just 6", but hit only on die roll of "6"). On the next turn they take more hits and are routed.

Turn 14 -- The game is now reduced to cat-and-mouse maneuvers between the remaining missile troops for firing position (blue with 2 figures of fast horse archers, red with good-sized units of longbows & crossbows). Surprisingly, blue's heavy infantry regain morale before routing off the table and turn, marching back into the action; Christian's crossbows are detached to try and stop them. Difficult for just 4 figures, when the heavy infantry are hit only on a "6", and only at close range. You can see the result below.

Turn 16 -- Time is called and Christian, recovering from his early losses, is declared the winner on points!

What Went Right (Best Practices)
  1. The Basics. At this point, there aren't that many unknowns surrounding the Book of War basic gameplay. Force selection, terrain, movement, combat, and morale all worked pretty much as expected without any big "that doesn't make sense" moments (either in terms of real-life or an extrapolation of core D&D combat). As usual, forces seem pretty well balanced (as evidenced by the newest player Christian losing on one front, but winning on another). So I won't belabor that point too much -- with a late "beta" test like this, if all works well, ideally there shouldn't be any big surprises.
What Went Wrong (Things to Fix)
  1. Time Management. Okay, so the single most glaring glitch in all my games for the convention was here, in not estimating the time right to play 3 battles. As you may have noticed, I had to abandon the 3rd game, so Paul and Christian only got to play in one game each for this session, and I failed to declare an overall champion without their game being played. So I felt bad about that. For some reason, I have a tough time pounding it into my head that more points/units (and space) means that the game will take more time. The first game at 500 points took about 2.5 hours (and was cut short at that point). The second game was reduced to 250 points and took 1.5 hours (more resolved, but also could have gone longer). Unfortunately my testing goal of seeing the biggest game possible get played got me overambitious with the point values, and collided directly with the tournament structure. (Compare to last year's single-elimination tournament, where 3 initial games were played at 100, and a final game at 200 points; link below) If I do this again in the future, I've got to remember to limit points to 200 maximum if I'm going to keep games to 1 or 1.25 hours length.
  2. Extra Ranks Bonus. There's a bonus to morale in the rules for having a formation with extra ranks backing up the first one (+1 to morale rolls per rank). But this was a bit off-key in play. (a) I actually forgot about in play, routing one of Paul's forces off the table when they shouldn't have. (b) It seemed wrong to grant this bonus to a unit in single-file column formation, especially if hit by missile fire, when if they just did a right-face they would lose all of that bonus -- such as Paul's cavalry. So arguably issues (a) and (b) sort of balanced each other out in this instance. I'm somewhat torn about either measuring unit width in both directions (solving (b), but adding some complexity), or just ditching it entirely (being sensitive to issue (a)). Maybe in this case make it an optional advanced rule, as I write this.
  3. Movement Trays. As part of my increase-size-of-game test, it became obvious that moving largely units was more of a hassle, and having some movement trays would have been nice. Obviously, you Warhammer players have known this for decades, but this was the first time the issue smacked me in the head. In my defense, I've been previously playing on a hardwood table where it was easy to slide the units around smoothly together with a stick or ruler. For this game I had to use a tablecloth which would snag the figures if we tried that (because the table itself was an outdoor porch table with an umbrella-hole in the middle).
  4. Terrain Tiles. Also an issue with the enlarged game, I forgot to print out additional terrain tiles, so we had to resort to some notepaper to fill in here. (That said, the overall ratio of terrain tiles was just what I calculated and expected it to be.)
So another fun and informative game, but the one that had the biggest room for improvement when I do it again (really just in terms of the points-versus-time-management issue). As usual, that will probably stick in my craw to "do it right" sometime in the future.

For more perspectives on this game:


  1. Hi ,

    My name is Catherine Meyers, I'm the admin of a web blog directory, while reading your blog and looking at the great pictures of the board you play at, I was wondering if you might be interested in a link exchange (no money involved), I would link you in my directory so people that visit it, will also visit your web and in exchange you put a link to my website anywhere you like in your blog. Please let me know if you are interested and the best of luck with "Delta's D&D Hotspot".



  2. Hey Cathy, thanks for the interest -- unfortunately, I really don't have a place for links on the blog at this time.

  3. Further notes on rules for this tournament:
    - 3 player round-robin, each player plays each of the others (3 total games)
    - 200 point armies each game (revised from attempted 500 points)
    - Table size 3x7 feet (about 20 square feet).
    - Time 1 hr, 20 min each game. At end of time, most points left on table wins.
    - Tie Break: DM determines amount of terrain controlled.