Friday Night Book of War

Here's a game from back in December which doesn't involve myself or anyone else that's previously seen the Book of War game. My girlfriend has some good acquaintances she works with occasionally on art business, and they visited us for an afternoon with their teenaged sons and a friend, for the express purpose of me introducing them to the game. (I'd previously talked up the game to the parents, by way of explaining the kind of thing I spend my time on.)

First of all, I surveyed them on their prior strategy game experience. What I got back was that at least one of them had played each of: Warcraft, Starcraft, and League of Legends (all computer games, obviously). They did say that they'd played some version of D&D in the past. No one had ever played any tabletop wargame (including Warhammer or anything else). I decided to start them off easy, using the Basic game only with 100 point armies of their selection. The game was sufficiently brief that I can show every turn below:

Turn 1A -- As you can see, the players will be fighting among a series of Hills, around a Stream which bisects the battlefield. The first-mover, in red at the bottom of the table (I'll call him "A"), has selected 4 light infantry, 5 archer, 2 pike, and 3 horse archer figures; he's mostly moved the full forward, with archers climbing the hill on his side, and horse archers stepping partway into the stream mid-table. His opponent, mostly in blue at the top (call him "J"), has taken 2 medium cavalry, 6 medium infantry, 3 longbow, and 3 pike figures; he'll move next.

Turn 1B -- J is maneuvering his cavalry and infantry complement around the hill on the far left, using the hill as cover from potential archery attacks (although getting a bit hung up in the narrow gap). On the right, pikes have moved forward full, and longbows have not yet made the top of their hill (staying behind the slower, protective medium infantry). Still no attacks to this point.

Turn 2A -- On the left, A moves his infantry ahead through the stream, and his archers take the top of the hill (no other movement). With only one obvious target, both archers and horse archers start shooting at J's forward-charging pikes, and the barrage of 11 dice wipes them all out (already removed from the board below).

Turn 2B -- In response, J gets his cavalry to charge on the left, catching A's infantry just as they're coming out of the stream -- a good position for J, because his cavalry get full attacks and rout the infantry. On the right, infantry and longbows take their hill, and get half-dice shots at the horse archers; but only 1 hit results (not enough to remove a figure).

Turn 3A -- On the right, A's horse archers are still kept stationary in the stream -- so they get full shots at the longbows, and now they wipe out that whole unit! (Leaving J with no remaining missile troops.) A has also pushed his small pike unit across the stream. On the left, the red archers have turned to fire at the medium cavalry, but only 1 hit results there.

Turn 3B -- An important move for J, who is now rather clearly at a disadvantage. On the right, his infantry charge the horse archers in the stream -- not a bad move, because this ends their bow-fire, and horses lose their double-attacks in terrain such as this; one horse-archer figure has been eliminated, but they do pass their morale check. On the left, something very bad has happened; J ordered a charge of his cavalry at the archers, but he underestimated how much cavalry would be penalized for a move across a stream and up two tiers of hill -- the result is that they don't actually cover the distance, and are here shown working their up the hill below the red archers. Somewhat better, J's infantry are pursuing the fleeing enemy infantry, and gotten another hit from behind that way.

Turn 4A -- On the left, A's archers let loose full attacks at point-blank range at the oncoming medium cavalry, and the enemy unit is entirely destroyed. On the right, A's pikes have wheeled around onto the back of J's infantry, killing all but a single figure from the edge of the stream (who is now routed). All the horse archers really had to do here was keep the enemy boxed up in the stream. There's one turn after this -- J's remaining infantry charge halfway at the archers on the left in desperation, and then likewise get shot down. (The picture is too blurry so I'll skip it.) First victory to A and his excellent Archers!

Commentary -- Really interesting to see first-ever players come to the game, and I'd say that they had enough familiarity with history and strategy games in general that their intuitions were really quite fine. In this game you could see something of the first-mover advantage assisting A, in that he got his archers positioned in the middle of the board (and on top of a hill) first, allowing them the first opportunity for full-shot attacks. The other thing that's very common is for first-time players to underestimate how really crippling rough terrain is for cavalry; here on Turn 3B J thought he could get his cavalry across a stream & hills in a single charge, and that turned out not to be the case (although he got pretty close); probably he'd be more observant of that in the future. And one other thing is the many interesting uses of horse archers: in the post last week, we saw my friend BQ using them a lot in a highly mobile half-shot-on-the-run strategy, whereas here we see A using them quite successfully in a run-to-the-center and then set up as full-shot artillery tactic. There are other uses, as well.

So: A great game. Helped a lot by my girlfriend entertaining the parents while we played, and making also French-style chocolate crepes for everyone involved. A few weeks later we got a text that the boys were holed up in their basement playing Book of War on their own all weekend, and I'll have to say that's the highest compliment possible. Fight on!

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