Monday, 27 March 2017

Another Alien Squad Leader AAR

My Human Imperial army was on the table at the club again yesterday. This time my forces were pitted against Richard's Alien Enslaver horde, who might look somewhat familiar. Alien Enslaver armies are led by members of a Master Race with psychic abilities who command large numbers of psychically-enslaved Thralls. The leaders are also able to unleash psychic attacks against their enemies. This ability proved to be a huge problem for me.

Anyway, time for some scene-setting;

Still smarting from the forced withdrawal from the raid upon the despised Neo-Solar Autarky's planet, Hospar IV, Brigadier Natasha Franklin's strikeforce had withdrawn to Themis III, one of the Third Human Condominium's smaller homeworlds. The planet was not heavily militarised, but did have a 3HC military training academy and a resupply and repair facility. Brigadier Franklin fumed and kicked her heels as vehicles were repaired and new units were integrated into her command. "If only I'd been given enough troops", she fumed "That farming centre would have been dismantled and shipped off to one of our Homeworlds, and we would have stripped Hospar of produce too."

Her troops were almost back to full combat capability and had been reinforced by additional tanks and troops. Unfortunately, some of her jump-pack space marines had been detached for duty elsewhere, but additional heavy weapons teams would make up for their loss.  

With mere days before her force was scheduled to ship out, a hyperspace communication was received from the southern hemisphere, warning her that a strong Alien force of a previously unknown type had landed and was sweeping across the region of Euboea, destroying settlements and carrying off the populations. Within hours, her force was transported to the scene.

Brigadier Franklin's forces were deployed on the outskirts of a small industrial unit, with a number of units detached to hold the strategically-important command centre. 

The remainder of her troops were to the east of the site, under the cover of forests and low hills.

The powerful offensive punch of her main battle tanks was on her left, supported by infantry stormtroopers.

 Surveillance droids revealed the alien threat, which had already occupied the western industrial complex and the country to the south of the built-up area.

Franklin had never seen such troops. They were silent, eerie and their presence filled her with foreboding.

Armoured fighting vehicles began to deploy in the centre.

 Franklin's worst fears were intensified as reports came in from the Command Centre of casualties caused by unknown means began to mount. Her soldiers just fell screaming to the ground and their comrades looked on in horror as heads simply exploded. 

Despite this, Brig. Franklin ordered her troops forwards. The only way to win was to fight.

Some of the defenders of the Command Centre were forced to fall back but the only available jump-pack marines were despatched to reinforce the advance guard.

On the left, despite taking fire, the armour rumbled forwards, accompanied by doughty stormtroopers. Suppressing fire by these troops would prove invaluable on the left flank of the battle.

The evil alien invaders packed the industrial complex in silent ranks and began to advance inexorably towards to Command Centre. Waves of psychic assault finally eliminated the brave defence, leaving the Command Centre at the mercy of the enemy.

The 3HC force had comms links to powerful orbital batteries and commanders were able to call down indirect fire to devastate the alien hordes. Slowly but surely, powerful barrages began to thin out the enemy ranks.

However, despite taking casualties from the guns of the Vanquisher class heavy battle droid and the armoured vehicles, the aliens remained in possession of the Command Centre. Their ability to seemingly shrug off all but the heaviest fire was uncanny.

From the cover of the forest, the powerful battle mech rained fire down on the aliens, destroying a number of floating weapons platforms and depleting the enemy ranks even further.

However, a nasty battle was also being fought on the right, with both sides taking heavy losses before the aliens were finally eliminated in hand-to-hand combat.

 3HC casualties were heavy, mainly from psychic attacks, and the butchers bill grew more and more costly, even though I'd secured my right flank.

On the left, one of the MBTs swung round to occupy a copse of trees from where it launched a series of frontal attacks on the enemy, eventually eliminating them by simply overrunning and crushing them. This swung things my way on this flank, too.

Things were also turning the 3HC way in the centre as the alien numbers were further diminished;

Until, calamitously, after taking a number of hits, the volume of fire told and the giant battle mech exploded in a giant fireball and was eliminated. This left the centre pretty much unable to mount any kind of assault.

Finally, though, the MBT on the left literally crushed all opposition.

Although the aliens still controlled the industrial complex, their numbers were so much depleted that defeat was inevitable and the battered by unbowed 3HC troops cheered wearily as their opponents simply withdrew, as silently as they had arrived.

So, an interesting battle. From my perspective the real threat to my troops came from the psychic Oscillating Force attacks from the Alien commanders. These were pretty devastating early on. In hindsight, I shouldn't have bothered occupying the Command Centre, which was an objective for the aliens, stayed out of range and just blasted everything in sight. My big Mech and MBTs had a longer range than anything on the other side and effectively could have just stayed back, in the open with good lines of sight and picked off anything with heavy weapons. The main body of the alien army were the Thralls, who were pretty rubbish at shooting and in hand-to-hand combat, although the Heavy Weapons Thralls in the centre did eventually manage to kill off my Mech. 

What swung it for me was the indirect fire. I had some incredibly good dice rolls and eliminated a lot of stands of troops, which brought me to the brink of breaking Richard's army. Unfortunately, I was also on the brink of being broken too. Luckily, in the very last round of combat, with nothing left to do except mount three oscillating force attacks against one of my AFVs, only two caused damage, whereas my MBT on the left, plus supporting infantry fire enabled me to destroy the final stand of Thralls I needed to reach Richard's break point, leaving me a very lucky victor.

I think that my new casualty recording bases worked well too. I'll be using them again.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

A neat way to record casualties

In many games, especially those where you have bases with multiple figures, you need to be able to keep track of casualties. There are various ways of doing this, counters, beads, micro-dice etc, but a while ago I bought a bag of skull beads to do this. These are approximately 1cm high and are pierced so you can make necklaces from them. The holes are about 2.5mm across which I discovered was wide enough for me to thread them onto the kind of bamboo skewers that are used for chicken satay and small kebabs.

So, it was a small step from that to cutting some skewers up into short segments and glueing them to 2cm square MDF bases, et voila!

A bit of PVA glue and some base texture, a spray of acrylic sealer and I now have a dozen little stands that will each take up to three skulls.

These will be perfect for Alien Squad Leader where bases and vehicles with more than two hits are removed from play as permanent casualties, and will probably also be useful for other rulesets too. Field Of Glory, IABSM and Sharp Practice all spring to mind.

I could make some taller stands so that more casualties could be recorded, or use different coloured beads to record unit status conditions like Pinned, Suppressed etc.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Reinforcements for my Human Imperial Army

Having now played a game of Alien Squad Leader with my Human Imperial army, and acquired a playtesting copy (thanks Alex!) of the next edition of the rules, I've decided to round out my forces with a few of the new options, as well as bolstering my basic Stormtrooper infantry contingent.

These additions now mean that I have six stands of Stormtrooper Regular Infantry and two Stormtrooper Command stands, giving me the required eight stands of regulars for a 200 point army.

The changes to the rules currently being tested allow this army to take Snipers and a Medic, so I have painted up a Medic character figure and two Snipers, one with a Heavy Weapon. I know that characters really ought to be single figures, but for a nice effect I've given each sniper a spotter figure. I think that this works rather well, visually. I've decided that the sniper's Aiming Device is actually contained in the spotter's distance viewer and linked via a secure microwave beam to the sniping weapon.

For the Medic I've used a kneeling figure using a tablet device, which portrays an advanced diagnostic tool.

These figures are all, as usual from the excellent Ground Zero Games 15mm range.

So, some nice additions to the army. I think that my next additions might involve a ground attack craft and then I'll look to paint up some more power-armoured marines, mainly because I've got a load of them in my lead mountain.

Monday, 20 March 2017

My first Alien Squad Leader AAR

Yesterday my Human Imperial army, of Ground Zero Games 15mm infantry and vehicles, had its first outing on the table at the club. My opponent was Alex Self, the author of the Alien Squad Leader rules, so I approached this game with some trepidation. His army was one made up from the Victorian Imperial list, which represents the troops of a human empire whose formerly advanced technology has gone into decline, but whose troops are subjected to a regime of iron discipline.

The objective of the battle was to take and hold a particular location, identified here as the "Production Centre". In the end, the attacking side (me) was unable to achieve this, although I did manage to cause a lot of casualties on Alex's army, for the loss of much of my basic Stormtrooper infantry. Poor command dice rolls by me also led to my tanks being immobile for a fair part of the game. The "Victorian discipline" rule helped Alex on several occasions, allowing him to re-roll failed command dice throws. 

My heavy battle droid, despite early success against the artillery on Alex's right flank also suffered from rubbish dice-itis when I really needed it to knock out his gunboats and the infantry in the main built-up area which was my objective.

To illustrate the battle, I have put together a narrative that explains why the two armies came to fight one another.

 Long ago, this region of the galaxy was under the control of The Neo-Solar Autarky (NSA), a human empire whose ships ranged far and wide across dozens of star systems, exploiting the resources of countless worlds and bringing them under the paternalistic rule of the imperial government. Hundreds of planets were ruled by colonial governors whose rule was imposed by the brute force of battle-hardened regiments of disciplined troops, backed up by massive war machines of frightening power and complexity. However, absolute power brought complacency and, over the centuries, the knowledge of the technology behind the machinery was lost and the technologists of the empire were forced to admit that they could no longer build new weapons of the same complexity, nor even maintain the weapons that remained. Therefore the giant factories on the imperial industrial planets found simpler ways to build weapons systems and the empire maintained itself using cruder methods, relying on the stern traditions of the regimental system, draconian drill and discipline and massed formations. Against the primitive planetary populations of humans and aliens of the empire, these methods worked, but the decline continued. 

Eventually, younger human societies, possessing newer and more advanced technologies and using superior weaponry began to make inroads into the imperial domains, planets were lost and systems began to break away from imperial control. One of the most aggressive and expansionist of these new societies was the Third Human Condominium (3HC), whose leaders saw the decaying Autarky and proclaimed that their mission was to free the subject peoples of the empire from the iron boot of tyranny. The opportunity to exploit the resources of the NSA's planetary systems was, naturally, never mentioned.

This AAR covers just one raid by 3HC forces against an NSA production facility on an agricultural colony world. 

 Commandant Henry Fortescue-Smythe's family had centuries of military tradition in the service of the Benign Autarch. He himself had fought aliens and humans alike, defending the empire against pirates, raiders and insurgents. Now, his latest posting was to the grain-belt planet of Hospar IV. Three days before, a corvette of the Imperial Navy had brought news of a raiding fleet from one of the upstart worlds approaching the planet and now he knew that the planet's Fourth Production Centre was the target. He concentrated his troops around the target site and awaited the raiders. He had powerful ironclad land cruiser tanks, artillery batteries, hover gunboats, massed regiments of infantry and his beloved cavalry, mounted on their marvellous mechanical steeds. He even had a unit of troops in the latest clanking mechanical armour, sure to vanquish all before them.

His initial deployments filled him with confidence. His command post, together with his line troops and the armoured mechanicals, was located in the central production facility itself, surely the main target for the upstart pirates.

His cavalry and gunboats took up their positions in a wooded area;

The mighty ironclads supported by massed artillery batteries held his left flank;

And skirmishers and more artillery held his right, taking over a barracks block for agricultural slaves;

Meanwhile, the 3HC strike-force deployed to the south of the main facility. Force commander Brigadier Natasha Franklin, secure in her armoured command vehicle took up position in a wood, supported by a unit of powerful heavy weapons.

To her left, stormtrooper infantry and power-armoured jump-pack marines were supported by the fearsome fire-power of a Vanquisher class heavy battle droid.

To her right Goliath main battle tanks waited to unleash their weaponry on the forces of the corrupt and decadent imperialists.

In the centre, some of the 3HC stormtroopers and the marines advanced towards a ridge, known as the Razorback to the south of the target site.

Fortescue-Smythe's mechanical cavalry clanked into action, piston joints creaking in the light of the rising sun. His gunships waited for the coming onslaught.

Brigadier Franklin's  left wing stormtroopers advanced to take up position in a built-up area around a storage silo complex. A road stretched northwards towards the barracks block occupied by imperial troops.

Initial exchanges of fire led to the destruction of the artillery on the imperial right, but their cavalry, supported by skirmishing infantry forced the 3HC stormtroopers back from their positions. The fighting around the storage complex would continue throughout the battle, eventually leading to the loss of most of the clanking robo-nags (as the 3HC troops called the brave and impetuous imperial horse).

Many buildings were destroyed, but eventually the marines of the 3HC managed to gain control over this flank of the battlefield. Despite some appallingly poor firing from the Battle Droid, no doubt caused by some kind of NSA jammer mechanism interfering with its targeting software, the threat of the giant machine was sufficient to occupy the NSA gunboats, whose weapons were unable to cause any damage to it.

In the centre, the battle for the Razorback was long and bloody, with the imperial armoured mechanicals being an early casualty, but eventually the 3HC troops won and forced their enemies off of the heights and into the valley below, where they were destroyed by massed fire.

On Brigadier Franklin's right, the Goliath MBTs destroyed the massed artillery of the NSA but were then assaulted by Fortescue-Smythe's hulking ironclads, spewing fire from their guns and oily smoke from their exhausts. Eventually, these primitive behemoths managed to delay the progress of the superior 3HC tanks sufficiently to prevent them from driving forwards to take control of the battlefield.

A final assault by 3HC infantry, supported by marines was unable to dislodge the Autarky's troops from the Production Centre and Brigadier Franklin was forced to recall her troops from combat. 

So, a pretty tense battle in the end. My technological superiority wasn't really enough to neutralise Alex's army, even though I did manage to knock out a lot of his troops. It was interesting that the threat of his tanks and massed artillery on my right was enough to stop me pushing my tanks into the gap between the two hilly areas, from where they would have been able to fire on the objective. I just couldn't risk losing them. In the centre and on my left, both combats pretty much descended into a meat-grinder slog, which went my way in the end but still wasn't enough to take the objective. 

In the end, we ran out of time.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

....and now for something completely different.

In a break from my usual 15mm figures, and also from my ongoing projects, I bought some 28mm figures from Bad Squiddo Games, which is owned and run by Annie Norman, a.k.a. The Dice Bag Lady. 

In her own words "Bad Squiddo Games provides gamers and painters around the world with the largest selection of female miniatures out there. As well as manufacturing my own line, I carefully hand pick stock from over 50 different manufacturers."

She goes on to say that "The number one aim for Bad Squiddo Games is to create and supply the miniatures that would have made the hobby far far better for my 10 year old self. To welcome more young girls and women into wargaming and miniature painting, as well as providing diverse options to the entire gaming community. And yeah – cool toys!"

I think that a look at her catalogue on the website shows that she is definitely achieving her main aim. Lots of lovely shiny stuff to tempt all sorts of gamers.

Anyway, I am a huge fan of the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and when I found out that my club would be putting on a Cthulhu Mythos-themed game, I started looking at the kind of figures that were around. We were all invited to submit a named character for the forthcoming game, which I have done, and this made me look around to see what was available in case  I might want to have a particular miniature to represent her in the future. 

I decided on the set of Four Female Archaeologists by Copplestone Miniatures.

Here they are, as I painted them;

From left to right they are; Dr Laura Carter Ward, Prof. Jacqueline Thomas, Dr Marie-Claude de St. Aubin and Miss Catherine Broadbury.

Archaeologist biographies

Dr Marie-Claude de St. Aubin
Research Fellow in Transdimensional Architecture
Faculty of Metaphysical History
École Nationale des Sciences Arcanes
Bordeaux, France

Originally a mathematics graduate and amateur archaeologist, Dr de St Aubin first developed an interest in prehistoric megalithic sites and the geometry of such sites while undertaking her Mathematics DPhil at Oxford. Her research, published some years after completing her doctoral thesis, was entitled “The night sky and sacred geometries of pre-historic sites in south-western France” and attracted the attention of Professor Markus Mazur of the University of Krakow., an expert in prehistoric alignments and obscure cult practices. This led to Dr de St Aubin taking up a post of research assistant to Prof. Mazur. Developing her interest in archaeology, Dr de St. Aubin returned to France and studied the subject at the Sorbonne.

Dr de St. Aubin is known for her archaeological studies at a number of ancient sites in Anatolia, the Caucasus and the Levant. Her work on early Bronze Age ritual sites found near Carchemish in Syria, which identified them as being sacred to a number of obscure and arcane deities, although unknown to the general public, is widely considered in Arcane Studies circles to be the definitive study of the cults of a number of previously unknown deities, two who have tentatively been identified as Azathoth and Nyarlathotep, in the Bronze Age Middle East. A noted polymath and linguist, Dr de St Aubin has spent the last three or four years translating a copy of The Necronomicon from Mediaeval Occitan into modern French.

A keen horsewoman, Dr de St. Aubin has represented France internationally. She is also a former national pistol champion and Olympic-standard modern pentathlete.

Dr Laura Carter Ward `
Senior Reader in Advanced Arcane Studies
Faculty of Social Sciences
Miskatonic University
Arkham, Massachusetts, USA

Originally forming her doctoral thesis, and later expanded into a three-volume study, Dr Ward’s groundbreaking work on the subject of prehistoric chthonic cult survivals in the Graeco-Roman world is widely considered to be the authoritative text on the subject. Her work on the relationship between the Pnakotic Manuscripts (Koine Greek translation) and the Enochian texts of Dr John Dee is considered to be a classic example of Arcane Anthropology.

First joining the staff of Miskatonic U as a research assistant to the late Professor Ferdinand Ashley, Dr Ward was later Curator of Arcane Incunabula and Manuscripts before taking up her present duties. She has undertaken lengthy fieldwork in the Andes, Polynesia and Tibet. Dr Ward is currently combining her academic duties with field research into the Witch Cults of 17th century New England and their links to similar cults in Europe.

Dr Ward is a former champion fencer and a keen amateur photographer.

Professor Jacqueline Thomas
Head of Archaeological Sciences
University of Brichester
Gloucestershire, UK

A History graduate of Cambridge University, Prof. Thomas undertook post-graduate research at the University of Göttingen and later completed her doctorate in Archaeology at UCL. Professor Thomas is considered to be the world’s leading authority in the subject area of pre-Druidic cult practices in the British Isles and has published a number of works on this subject. She is a visiting lecturer in Arcane Archaeology at both Miskatonic University and the École Nationale des Sciences Arcanes, where her Summer Schools are always well-attended. Her most recent publication is “Pre-Bronze Age West Semitic Cult Survivals in Mediaeval Palestine and the Crusader States”. She is also known for her archaeological investigations at Megiddo and elsewhere in the Middle East. Her recent identification of a site 75km north-west of Sakaka in Saudi Arabia as a candidate for Irem of the Pillars has been controversial, but some authorities who have examined cult objects and inscriptions excavated from the site are supportive of her claim.

Miss Catherine Broadbury
Parapsychological Investigator
Broadbury Manor
Upper Melchett
Somerset, UK

Although not a professional anthropologist or archaeologist, Miss Broadbury is well-known in specialist circles because of her work as an assistant to her late great-uncle Professor Sir Henry Exham, the famous Egyptologist and Professor of Hittite Studies at Brichester University.. A graduate of St Hilda’s College Oxford with a Master’s in Classics and Ancient History, Miss Broadbury is fluent in many languages and has written a number of books on popular history, archaeology and the paranormal. A prominent debunker of fraudulent psychic practitioners, Miss Broadbury is widely-respected in the field of Arcane Studies for her breadth of knowledge and familiarity with obscure cultic practices. She has carried out unspecified investigative work for certain agencies of the British government.

Miss Broadbury is an accomplished pianist and horsewoman and has represented the UK internationally at the long jump and 110 metres hurdles.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A few more odds and ends for Alien Squad Leader

Not a lot here, just a matter of finishing off a few things that might or might not get used, but, hey, there is a lead mountain to reduce and there are also my submissions to the TooFatLardies Painting Challenge to consider.

So, first off here are two stands of wheeled droids from GZG which will be used as Robotic Infantry;

And secondly, four stands of jetbikes. The two at the back have Space Marine riders and the front ones are ridden by Stormtroopers;

The Space Marine bikes could, I suppose, be used as part of a Human Imperial Strike Force. I do have a fair few other power-armoured figures to paint up, including Heavy Weapons. I'd just need a few Armoured APCs and/or maybe a dropship to bulk the army out. One for the future, I think.