Monday, May 13, 2013

Domains at War: Battles Playtest

Ran a first game of DaW:B yesterday afternoon for the old ACKS crew.  Just played the first scenario with no terrain, and it went alright.  Our main difficulty stemmed from having too many players; we had one player for each of the three beastman divisions, one player commanding the human cavalry division, and one running the human infantry divisions.  Given that only I had read the rules beforehand, this produced very slow turns.  The boredom that slow turns caused was further aggravated by the almost IGOUGO pattern resulting from the strategic ability gap between the humans and the beastmen (the human commanders had strategic ability from +2 to +4, while the best beastman commander has +2 and the other two have -1).  Since this modifies initiative, that usual pattern was 'cavalry acts, human infantry or ogres act, any more human infantry acts, orcs act'.  Part of the problem here was that we mostly ignored the Delay rules, which would allow higher-init divisions to stay their hands until an opportune moment and mix the order in their favor.  This was counterbalanced by the fact that the beastman commanders didn't realize that they could charge-move without an attack at the end (to haul their ogres across the field), which delayed closing the battle lines significantly, and also mistook the leadership of their main commander for 4 when it was actually 5, which would likewise have sped their advance.

Tactically, the first and second beastman divisions advanced down the center towards the human infantry line while the cavalry advanced up one flank and was blocked by the third division (commanded by yours truly) in a valiant but suicidal screening action.  This bought time for the main force to meet the human infantry line, and once there they inflicted severe casualties, killing both of the human infantry commanders in two rounds of battle.  However, by this time the cavalry had crushed the third division under their hooves and lances, and they were able to hunt down stragglers and retreating units to push the beastmen over their break point just as the beastmen pushed the humans over theirs.  Due to lower strategic ability, the beastmen rolled morale first, and the ogre chieftain's unit immediately routed after finding its line of retreat cut off by a screen of friendly units protecting its rear from the cavalry :\  We then called the battle in favor of the humans, as with the beastman general routed their morale was shot to hell and all further morale rolls were going to go very poorly.

So an unusual victory at the Fangs, to be sure - a human victory with barely a scratch on the ogre chieftain's unit.  The power of morale.

...  in retrospect, we may have been forgetting to apply the base morale scores for units.  Not sure it would've saved them.

 The group's conclusions were:
  • It seems like a fun game, but we were sort of using it wrong with as many players as we had.  With 5 players, it might work better 4v1 in the standard RPG model rather than in 3v2 like we usually play wargames with this many.
  • Would be much more fun in the context of an RPG campaign.  Which is a good conclusion to draw, since that was what it was designed for.
  • There was some interest in programming a VTT / turn-based tactics sort of interface for it.  I think this might get inordinately tricky with some of the extra elements like terrain and heroes and magic and the delay queue that we didn't use, so we'll see.
  • It actually got people wanting to play ACKS again; we rolled up some low-level characters and hit a semi-random dungeon after, just for kicks and because we couldn't really come up with a good context / structure for running another game of DaW right after that.  There was some discussion of running Fangs with terrain or a battle from the previous ACKS campaign, but it was mid-afternoon and everyone was sort of sleepy and hungry, so we went with low-effort dungeon crawling instead.
  • Likewise, it would be cool to see a pre-written DaW Campaigns scenario which would let you play the whole system and give you framing for multiple battles (region hex map, starting forces and locations, available hero assets, aaaand fight!).  Maybe I'll work something like that up...
My personal conclusion was "Get people to read the rules before the playtest if at all possible, to avoid silly mistakes and to let people use the interesting rules like delay and terrain" :P

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