Thursday, March 30, 2017

Hotlead 2017 Part II - My Part In Its Downfall

First, for all you kids out there, the title is a riff on the title of Spike Milligan's seven-part war memoir trilogy.  In actuality Hotlead is going strong and survived me, but below are the stories and hindsight from my two gaming sessions last weekend.

I put in to run two games, Silent Death Star Wars in The Force Awakens (Ep. VII) setting Friday night, and Song of Drums and Shakos (SDS) cinematic skirmish Sunday morning.  I chose those two timeslots in part because they're a more casual time to game during the weekend, unlike the hot and heavy (in all senses of those words) Saturday sessions.  And the SDS games in particular only take four players, and I didn't want to take up a whole table for a relatively small game.

For both games, my plan was to run multiple scenarios - for Silent Death so as not to overwhelm the players with handling multiple ships, and for SDS because I expected each game to be relatively short.  So I had three scenarios ready for Silent Death, expecting to get through two, and two ready for SDS, with the plan to have the players swap sides and play them again if the games went super-fast.

In the end, in both timeslots we scenario.  For Silent Death, though the one played quickly, that seemed to be all the appetite people had, getting up to speed and re-setting for another game was more than they wanted to do on a Friday night with all the shopping potential in the hall.  I can dig that, and it wasn't like they didn't enjoy the game (more details below).

For SDS, the one scenario we had lasted almost three hours, so everyone got their fill and was ready to check out and head home.

So after this and my KEGSCon experience with SDS (which was like the Silent Death experience this time), I'm surrendering on the multiple scenarios in a timeslot idea.  I'm not sure what I'll do for Silent Death, as the problem of overwhelming players is still there, but it could be something like a scenario where you get reinforcements as the game progresses, so you start with one or two ships, but get more later.

For SDS, it's simpler, the four-player scenarios work well to fill a timeslot.  That also means less to pack!


Getting into each of my games in more detail, I'll have to be the first to admit (because I can't really hide this below) that I forgot to take any pictures of my Star Wars game, and only a few mid-game and end-game of my Napoleonics skirmish.  GMing is a busy time!  If you want to see a pic of the Star Wars table, either check out the Friday night pics in the Hotlead Facebook group, or look at my pre-Hotlead post where I had a photo of a playtest game.

But despite the lack of visual documentation, I did indeed host a Silent Death game on Friday, for a full allocation of six players, though my buddy Ron helped fill in the last slot.  As mentioned, we only played the intro scenario "Last of the Red Hot Y-Wings", which has three TIE/sf fighters entering a system just behind a beat-up Rebellion-era Y-Wing (the only one that survived the first Death Star) piloted by a teenaged girl who's escaped in grandpa's Y-Wing with her boyfriend in the back seat and some secret First Order documents.  As it turns out, the system she's entered has a Resistance base, and three X-Wings rise to meet the challenge.

The game starts with the TIEs and X-Wings at either end of the map, and the Y-Wing just ahead of the TIEs (and their heavy weapons).  Each player has a TIE or X-Wing, and I controlled the Y-Wing, which only had to race ahead in a straight line.  The TIEs initially have to destroy or cripple the Y-Wing, but their orders change when they realize there's a Resistance base here.  The X-Wings initially have to save the Y-Wing, but that also changes when they see the TIEs trying to escape to report back to First Order HQ.

In this game, the Y-Wing got crippled pretty early, and then destroyed while limping along.  Much faster than anticipated, two TIEs also got blown up (on critical hits to their still unprotected reactors), and at that point we called it a game.  The First Order side, in their rush to retreat with the news of the Resistance base, didn't follow Boelcke's Dicta and gave the Resistance some easy flank or rear shots; they should have flown through the X-Wings and then come back out.  One X-Wing got beat up pretty badly in the exchange, but all in all the good guys had an easy time of it.

I had a good group of players, a father and two teenage boys, another boy (maybe 12) and two other adults.  Everyone seemed to have fun in the brief game, one of the teenagers downloaded the free classic-era Star Wars Silent Death rules that were in a magazine 20 odd years ago and are available online, so maybe they'll check that out and use their X-Wing (the game) ships for it.


Sunday I set up a four-player version of "The Last Pig in Russia", which has very hungry French forces trying to round up some bacon (in the form of a live pig) in a Russian village in late 1812.  The Russians, of course, want to protect their holy Russian bacon.

I had a full table again, my friend Mike took on the French hussars with Roger running the French voltigeurs against young Roy (Russian infantry) and Dave (Cossacks).  The game got off to a pretty furious start, with Roger shooting the pig on turn two, but Roy - who rolled hot all game - getting troops to the wounded animal first and starting to haul it off the table their way.

The French suffered from some terrible rolling, and it looked like I was going to need the second scenario, when all of a sudden the tide turned a bit as the French got their act together.  

Here's a shot of just before that happened, with two Russian infantrymen hauling the pig away in the middle-right of the picture (clicking on the picture will bring up a larger view):
The Cossacks turned around from their sweep to the Russian right to come back to help and engage the hussars on their left, but the French broke through and some volley fire and sabre action lead to the poor Russian pair hauling the pig falling dead with the pig ON the table edge, as you see below in this photo from the end of the game (the pig was never picked up again):
It looked like maybe the tide had permanently turned, but the lone surviving hussar charged into the fray rather than grabbing the pig and riding off, and melee broke out everywhere amongst the survivors, and when the French NCO was killed, the game was over.  Just a lone Cossack and a half dozen Russian infantry were left, but that was enough.  The Russian infantry NCO was pretty heroic, beating off all sorts of melee attacks and cavalry charges against him.

Here's another shot of the table at the end of the game from the French side:
It was a fun game to GM and watch, the guys picked up most of the rules really quickly, and watching the tide of the game turn this way and that was great and got some attention from passersby and other tables.  Without really thinking about it, at one point in the game I referred to a wounded figure (wounded figures are removed as being out of action unless you're playing a campaign game) as being "functionally dead", and that became the catchphrase of the game.  Except when someone was tripled in a combat roll, which led to the catchphrase of "really dead dead".

So my first lesson learned was that a four player game is more than enough to fill a timeslot.  Secondly, my new player aid of "It's Your Turn" with the basics on it seemed to help, but I still was doing too much helicopter parenting of the players, rather than stepping them through the QRS' combat modifiers and results and letting them do the work.  It had nothing to do with the game system or the players, just me "hovering" a bit too much.

To help with that, for next time I think I'll come up with a new set of scenario sheets for the players that has just a very, very basic scenario into, simple victory conditions, and their figure stats, and then the "It's Your Turn" piece on the same sheet.  That plus the QRS with all the combat modifiers should help me (or at least remind me) to let them learn the game.  My big QRS on an easel will still be there to help too.

I also forgot the first time it came up to make a player check for morale because his force had hit 50% of its starting strength, but in the end I decided on the fly to overlook that for everybody.  This was a convention game, not a campaign game or a game between two experienced players, and it wouldn't have been fun for anyone to lose their force in the middle of the game.  Plus, a fight to the death made the game the drama that it was, and in this particular scenario, wasn't an unreasonable situation, particularly for the French.

So I think I'll ignore that 50% rule at conventions from now on - all the other reasons to check morale will still be there (leader death, cavalry charges, Green troops etc.), just not this one.  


In the end then, I was pretty happy with the two games - full games, happy players, learned some things about GMing at a convention, and no disasters and no one flipped a table on me.  Next up will be Broadsword 3 in Hamilton in May, then maybe Cangames in Ottawa, and I'll look to run a game of something at each.


  1. Nice AAR. I really like the idea of Napoleonic single-figure skirmish games, and glad to see that SDS fits the bill. One minor question...where did you get the nice dice rolling trays?

    1. Sorry it took so long to reply, I didn't get a notification of your post. The dice rolling trays are actually just dollar store wooden boxes/trays/thick picture frames that I lacquered and then glued in green felt. About $1.50 each total!