Monday, July 2, 2012

HelgaCon V - BOW Round Robin Game 1

Heavily-Armored Men Face Off Against Gnolls, Wolf Riders, and Brigand Archers.

Here's the first game that I ran on the Saturday afternoon of HelgaCon -- the Book of War round-robin tournament, which has been a standard feature the last few years (as the game was going through design & testing cycles). What happens here is that I get 4 players -- usually all of whom are new to the game, which is a fun way to introduce it -- and try to run 3 or 4 games in a 4-hour block, in single-elimination brackets, so as to identify a winner.

That said, I've honestly been having an ongoing problem fitting the games into the designated block of time. Two years ago, I managed to fit in 4 games at 100 or 200 point army values. One year ago, I tried to test the game at the as-yet unseen 500 point level on a big table, and then I didn't really even get to two complete games. This year, I set the army values at 300 points, and limited the table space in play (while allowing fantasy figures like dwarves, elves, orcs and goblins for the first time), and again we had to cut things short even to fit in two games. (Plus I slightly scorched the chili I was supposed to watch during that time.)

Observation: At this point I'm accustomed to playing with my girlfriend who really does know the game pretty well at this point, so with her we can run a complete game at the 300 point level in about an hour -- this leads me to think I can fit in 3 or 4 in four hours, but that's not the case if I'm explaining things to new players as we go along. We came up with one modification at the end of the first game which should help a bit in the future (see bottom of this post).

Anyway, here's the first game of the day (second game will be a later post): Dave vs. Jon at the 300 point level. The board you see here has some rough terrain (pond, rough, woods, marsh, and gulley), mostly positioned around the edges of the table. Dave is moving first, coming from the right with a Goblin-centric army in Blue (7 Goblin Wolf Riders, 7 Longbow-men, 18 Gnolls, and 3 Goblin Light Infantry figures). Jon is moving second, coming from the left with an army of heavily armored Men mostly in Red (6 Heavy Cavalry, 10 Heavy Crossbows, and 20 Pike figures). Here's how that played out:

Turn 2 -- The armies have advanced on each other for two turns here. On the right, Dave has more freedom of movement; he has a big force of Gnolls in the center, with Wolf Riders on the wings and human Longbows following in the rear. Jon is advancing more slowly, because his men are getting hung up in the woods, rough, and gulley on his side of the board.

Turn 3 -- Here, the goblins have moved forward, allowing the men to charge into combat and make the first attacks. Pikemen are staying at distance and landed one hit each on the Gnolls (which eliminates no figures, since Gnolls have 2 hits-to-kill). The Heavy Cavalry are also at a disadvantage, since they're fighting on the very lip of the Gulley, and thus have their attacks halved (this is true for all cavalry on any non-open terrain); they haven't scored any hits at all. The Heavy Crossbows have also fired at the far-forward Wolf Riders, scoring one hit.

Turn 4 -- Gnolls and Wolf Riders have now charged into combat on the right. Against the Pikes, this triggers their hellacious defensive attack, and several figures of Gnolls go down as they throw themselves on the massed ranks of pikes -- the men follow up with more attacks, and the Gnolls on the left are now routed. (As always, the severity of the defensive Pike formation catches the player running against it for the first time by surprise.) While the Heavy Cavalry are attacking at half-strength, the Wolves haven't been able to get through their armor with effective attacks yet. The other Wolf Riders on the far left are cagily running a circle around the Crossbows, keeping them off-balance and having to pivot and fire at half-strength. One Wolf figure (really 10 wolves & goblin riders) is down, but morale stays good.

Turn 5 -- The first unit of Gnolls is shattered and running from the fight, leaving an opening for the chaotic Longbowmen to fire a barrage of missiles at the Pikemen; a half-dozen figures go down (60 men), and one of their units is routed. The Heavy Cavalry's plate armor is still turning aside the Gnoll and Wolf attacks; and on the far-left, Wolf Riders have almost -- but not quite -- managed to turn the rear of the Crossbows.

Turn 6 -- One unit of Pikemen is fleeing into the Woods, but the other unit charges ahead at the blue Longbowmen; this allows the longbows to fire another salvo at close-range, almost wiping out the entire unit to a man. Meanwhile, Wolves have contacted the wheeling Crossbows and killed a figure; otherwise, the Gnoll-Wolf-Cavalry fight at the edge of the Gulley continues at something of a vicious stalemate.

Turn 7 -- Here things get a little wonky with the game. Both the Pikemen units have managed to successfully un-rout and return to the fight -- even the one with just a single figure, who has now made contact with the Longbowmen. This will in fact hold up the Longbowmen for the next turn, since their only option is to engage in melee combat to remove that figure (Dave had a very legitimate critique of this action, I think -- pretty awkward on my game's part). The Crossbows have also successful killed a Wolf figure and run off the remainder. Two turns after this, and the Heavy Cavalry finally break the Gnolls they're fighting, and send them running. Based on time, I call the game and count up un-routed unit points still on the table: Dave has 130, Jon has 158. A narrow victory for the Men!

Commentary -- This was a case where the plate-armor of the Heavy Cavalry (get hit only by a 6 on any d6) clearly made a difference; they were able to absorb lots of attacks by the relatively low-level Gnolls and Wolf Riders and still stay in the fight. Dave was also getting very unfortunate rolls, going about 4 turns without landing any attacks on them at all.

The far more critical mechanic here, though, was the allowance for units to un-rout (requires a roll of 10+ on 2d6) and return to the fight. In fact, I think that every single unit that routed managed to turn around and return based on that rule in this game. That caused the very awkward scene above of a single figure holding up the whole Longbow unit, and more generally prolonged the game beyond the point I expected (exacerbating my usual time-management issue). We agreed for the following game(s) to waive that rule, and have routed units automatically move off the table without recourse. I'm told that's standard for Warhammer (for example), and I think that's what I'll do in the future for any tournament events (to help with the time issue).


  1. Are you familiar with DBA? (De Bellis Antiquitatis) I can't help but think of your play reports in relation to my DBA games. In particular, I'm not really sure about the interplay between the crossbows and the wolf-cavalry. In DBA, the crossbows would automatically turn to face their attackers if brought to HtH.

  2. Hi, Alex -- can't say as I'm familiar with that game, sounds interesting, though. In BOW a side does get a whole move/attack cycle before an opponent can respond... Although then they can re-face and attack back basically for free. The very simple turn cycle seems to make it attractive to complete newcomers, I find.