Aug 29

Narrative Gaming Weekend: Inquisition Wars

Narrative gaming. It’s the pinnacle of the hobby, so say many. Others say its for those crying into their wet palette in a fit of melancholy and forlorn hopes after having their hobby crushed by Eldar up to their eyes in D-weapons. An article by Jervis Johnson did the rounds when Age of Sigmar hit the shelves without anything that looked like a balancing mechanic, i.e. points. He talked about how the tournament scene drove the hobby in another direction – a direction of competition instead of narrative.

I’m non-competitive when it comes to tabletop gaming. By that I mean I don’t do tournaments. The arena lends itself to rules abuse and cheesy combos which takes away what I like to see in a game: theme and narrative. Nothing against competitive play, or people who like it, but it’s not what I want from a game. For people with a similar outlook, there are narrative gaming events. This post should give you an idea of what to expect at such events, recounting my experience as a first-timer.

When Warhammer World announced a narrative campaign weekend for Warhammer 40k, I snapped up a ticket. The focus was on story, having a great game and forging a narrative with your opponent, not winning. It’s the way I aspire to play, or at least try to despite having a natural competitive streak a mile long.

That’s the theory. The practice? Sort of.

The Background

Two inquisitors were having a bit of a tiff about the disappearance of an Imperial martyr who had a history of surviving against all odds, being the only survivor of his squad whenever he went to battle. The sort of thing that screams heresy in a universe where coincidence and luck draw the eagle eyes of the Inquisition. One inquisitor, Coteaz, heralds the disappearance as a miracle, that the Imperial martyr/saint is returning. The other, Karamazov, has a healthy dose of paranoia befitting the Inquisition, and cries heresy, witchery and general skulduggery. You build an army of 2000 points and pledge your support to one of the factions.


2000 points of Hammers of Dorn declare for Inquisitor Karamazov.

The Mechanics and Narrative Experience

The event consisted of five games over two days. Before each game your faction mustered for a briefing, beautifully role played by one of the events team. To further immerse you into the action, the warlord for your army gained experience over the campaign based on how many objectives you achieved to simulate experience and advancement in his career, giving it that RPG feel.

After your briefing, you receive your mission which details the scenario, who goes first, what your secret objective is, that sort of thing. You also draw a table number at random which defines where you’re playing and who against. You don’t know your opponent’s objective and your opponent does not know yours. That adds to the feel of rival inquisitors working, in secret, to their own ends, furthering the immersion.

The first mission represented the aftermath of a space battle where the rival inquisitors’ fleets fired upon one another. The flagships were destroyed and your army is plummeting to a planet’s surface in saviour pods. This meant that you deployed units one at a time, alternating with your opponent. There were no deployment zones – you had the whole battlefield and your units scattered. This meant that your armies were split and not necessarily where you wanted them. Tough. You just survived your spaceship exploding – be thankful.

Missions differed in each game, following the narrative played out by the events team. Other missions of note were covering up evidence (sounds like Inquisition work to me) and an ambush. The narrative culminated in an epic game where the traitor Coteaz faction (I knew it!) attempt to summon a daemon known as the Ebonclaw. The events team provided unique mechanics for this on the battlefield to turn the game on its head once more.

So the narrative event takes you out of the comfort zone of a pitched battle. It gives you a reason to fight. It builds comradeship with your faction and draws you into the story. You are playing your part.

The Gaming Experience

Experiences differed greatly on the day. You don’t know what you’ll be facing in terms of opposing army and, most importantly, player. My personal experience was good, as four out of my five games were against great guys. The other game required a sharp eye due to the player rerolling dice, inventing some rules and even putting casualties back on the table! That one was exhausting, but outweighed by the others.

Two games stood out for me. This had nothing to do with the mechanics and everything to do with the opponent. When playing a “destroying evidence” mission, I found that my opponent was a kindred spirit, there for the narrative and passionate about the hobby, in addition to being an excellent painter. Our game went right to the wire and ended up a draw in every sense. I’d never met the guy before, but it’s one of the best games of 40k I’ve ever had.

The other outstanding game was the ambush. My opponent and I agreed to give it a cinematic feel so arranged terrain accordingly. As the defender, my opponent set up as though his convoy had just been alerted to the ambush with his tanks making a corral around the infantry. We both played that one right to the narrative. He needed to escape, I needed to leave no trace of his passing.

One the whole, I faced only one army that resembled a power list and that was by no means horrific. We had a very close and enjoyable game. The rest were strong, but balanced, with minimal cheesy shenanigans.

Others did not fare so well in their opponents. I make the caveat based on my understanding of a narrative event: mercilessly crushing your opponent (Win At All Costs) is not the goal but to forge a narrative with your opponent. Play to your mission but ensure you both enjoy the game. A friend at the event must have played every power list out there, thus our experiences differed greatly.

My experience was very positive. I had a weekend immersed in the story, played five good games and met some like-minded people. Had I faced the power lists, I would have had a more frustrating weekend. If you’re considering one of these events, remember that not everyone will have the same perspective as to what constitutes the spirit of the game.

Aug 22

Alternative Miniatures

With the huge range of miniatures games that seem to be springing up out of the ground (Kickstarter) lately, we’re spoilt for choice with what to play. Unless you are on the tournament scene, you should find that proxy or alternative miniatures are generally welcome in a game, provided they are vaguely identifiable for what they represent. This gives the hobbyist who likes to create something special for their games an opportunity to explore the range of alternative miniatures. Adding these into your games can provide extra character for that all important forging of the narrative.

Some of the below I’ve tried, some I’ve seen and like the look of.

Scibor Monstrous Miniatures

Scibor make some sweet monsters, space knights and a whole range of fantasy miniatures. They seem to have a thing for dwarfs. My favourite has to be the Archangel #2. Remind anyone of a certain primarch?

Holier than thou.

Holier than thou.

I bought the archangel for a couple of reasons: it looks great, and as a technical exercise to try out Vallejo Liquid Gold. It would make a great centrepiece for a Basilean army in Kings of War.

Some of the sci-fi miniatures, for example, would make great proxies for Adeptus Custodes:

For the Emperor!

For the Emperor!

The Dice Bag Lady

Annie has expanded her offerings from custom dice bags into miniatures with a focus on believable female miniatures. We’ve all seen the existing ranges. Now, despite being a red-blooded male, I do have to question the protection offered by mail bikinis or the sense of running into battle wearing bracers and sabatons but no top. The Dice Bag Lady reminds these girls to get dressed in the morning, making them more like a badass Boudica than “specialist interest” centrefold.

See how warm she looks?

See how warm she looks?

We aren’t just talking full miniatures here. There are plenty of conversion pieces to give you that extra touch of character and make your force stand out. Also, where else can you get a personified dice bag firing a squid from a rocket launcher? Check out the web store here.

Raging Heroes

More female miniatures. Okay, these are a bit more curvy but offer interesting possibilities for sci-fi games. Many of these would make excellent commisars for the equal opportunities supporting Astra Militarium commander.

Get back in line, soldier.

Get back in line, soldier.

Raging Heroes also make a stunning range of fantasy miniatures.

Other Games

The above don’t necessarily have games associated with them and focus mainly on the miniatures, but there’s nothing stopping you pilfering from other games. This Bushido miniature of mine has alter egos as a monk in Dungeons and Dragons, and as an elementalist wizard in Frostgrave:

Flying Tofu of the Badly Dubbed Mountain...or is that Fil Fireflinger of Frostgrave?

Flying Tofu of the Badly Dubbed Mountain…or is that Fil Fireflinger of Frostgrave?

Want to put a huge army on the table for minimal cost? Check out Mantic. Want to put a second mortgage on your house but have something beautiful on the table, then check out Kingdom Death or Forgeworld.

Sure, you might find the odd person who refuses to play because your tank has the wrong number of rivets or that the paint scheme is accurate for mid-war Russia and you’re playing a late war scenario, but these kinks should be easy to work out before a game (e.g. finding another opponent who’s on your wavelength). We’re not talking about fruit-branded electronics here – there’s no need to be constrained by proprietary miniatures. Of course, this depends on where you play. Your friendly local game store won’t care what system your miniatures come from. If you walk into my local Games Workshop with a Forgeworld miniature, however, the local branch of the Imperial Inquisition smash through the windows and censure you for heresy. Same company. Go figure.

Still, if you can play at an independent store, or club or at home, how about some other options? Both Kings of War and Age of Sigmar claim that their kingdoms of men either span great empires or live across infinitely varied realms. There’s your sandbox. Why not prepare for glory with a Spartan themed army using Warlord Games or Tale of War miniatures?

Games Workshop, we know well. Like them or not – and everyone seems to have an opinion on them – they make some of the best miniatures in the world. Sure, you pay for them, but you get exceptional quality. This post is all about using miniatures from different ranges across different games, and that goes for Games Workshop. Don’t like the Age of Sigmar rules? Fine, take your 10k point Skaven army over to Kings of War. Your Warhammer Fantasy necromancer is perfect for Frostgrave, along with most of the Empire range. But remember that an enormous box of cheap zombies from Kings of War fits beautifully into Age of Sigmar too.

So mix it up. Remember this stuff is about fun, creativity and narrative. We’ve never had the availability of miniatures and games like this before.


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Aug 15

Frostgrave Review

Frostgrave is a new miniatures skirmish game from Osprey Publishing and Northstar and I was lucky enough to get a game in. Since this is the Internet where we don’t let things like experience and qualifications get in the way of sweeping opinion, I felt that that single game was plenty to form a comprehensive review.

The premise is that Frostgrave is a ruined city somewhere cold. It is full of treasure and in your role as a wizard of one of ten schools of magic, that treasure is relevant to your interests. Sure there’s danger, and monsters lurking within those frozen ruins, but you’re cool with that because treasure. As a smartypants wizard (they’re famous for their intelligence, you know?), you decide that going alone is a terrible idea so you hire a band of mercenaries to help you. Enter the points balancing system. With your 500 starting gold, you can choose from an apprentice, archers, knights, barbarians, most fantasy class tropes are covered.

Here’s my elementalist wizard, Fil Fireflinger, and his crew ready to plunder the city:

Fil Fireflinger and hired swords.

Fil Fireflinger and hired swords.

You’ll notice that we proxied miniatures from different systems just to try out the rule set and there’s nothing stopping you from doing the same. Of course, Northstar make a great range of miniatures for the purpose. Part of the beauty of the game from a hobby perspective is the character behind every miniature. You have leave to go crazy and personalise however you like.

When you’ve assembled your crew, you wait for a lull in the blizzards that wrack the city, and you make your move. Treasure tokens are placed around the board based on distance from one another which should be familiar from other miniatures games. Your goal is to grab as much treasure as you can and leg it out of the city before the weather turns again. Characters are (mostly) activated one at a time based on an initiative order defined at the start of each turn. Since each character has two actions, for example a move and spell/shoot/attack, you’re never waiting long for your turn to come back around. Our game had three players and you felt involved the whole time.

Your wizard can be quite the badass hombre if you manage to get his spells to work on their D20 roll. This guy can summon demons to fight for you, shoot bolts of arcane death from a ruined parapet, or create shields to protect the gullible fools he sent to their deaths brave warriors hired to do battle and carry treasure for him. There is a wide range of spells available, plenty for you to get into the character. Want a crypt-dwelling necromancer to call the dead into battle? You got it. How about a pyromaniac zapping enemies from afar? Sure. Wizards can dabble into the spells of other schools–at a cost–so you’re not restricted to a specific route.

Combat is based on a D20 system, meaning it can very much swing either way depending on the dice, and is utterly deadly. Don’t expect to charge into the centre of the board and drag fifteen treasure chests away without turning into a knife block and pin cushion. And don’t get attached to your hired swords. You will definitely want to keep your wizard alive though, and here’s where one of the real defining parts of the game comes in. Frostgrave is designed for campaign play. Treasure gives you experience, as does casting spells and killing other characters which allows your wizard to level up. Gaining a level can provide stat line increases, more spells or make spells easier to cast – ideal if your dice behave like mine. Now, there’s another reason that you want treasure. Treasure lets you buy stuff. Chances are, you’ll need to replace a mercenary or two for the next game, or perhaps your wizard has his eye on a shiny new staff of power. That’s where your money goes. Remember Necromunda’s campaign system? It’s a similar thing.

Our early-game setup. We soon learned that standing in the open in front of four archers drastically reduced life expectancy, although the barbarian charging across the bridge ignored that advice and declared that the last one to the treasure was a big girl’s blouse. We didn’t ask why some streets ended in a sudden wall or why a tape measure was floating in the fountain, as there was treasure to find:

It's safer behind these walls, boss!

It’s safer behind these walls, boss!

Getting the feeling that this has elements of the likes of Mordheim, Dungeons and Dragons and Deadzone? Good, because it does and they’re all great games. It’s the RPG elements that make this stand apart.

We limited the game to five turns and it was a close run thing. We all took casualties and all left the board with the same amount of treasure. As you might expect, things got messy when the outlying treasure was used up and we all had to brave the more dangerous chests in the centre of the city.

Cost of entry to the game is low. You need up to ten miniatures, a rulebook, some dice and a tape measure. Is it worth £15 for a rulebook? Hell yes it is. After the extensive experience of a single game, I’m giving Frostgrave a thumbs up.

Let me know what you think of the post. Here’s some life coming back into the blog and I’d rather write what people want to read! Have you tried Frostgrave yet?


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