Monday, August 21, 2017

A Quick Review: Dracula's America

I had seen pictures of models on Twitter and in an email for Dracula's America. I wasn't really interested in it at the time. Partly because I'm already in too many games that I'm trying to buy miniatures for. And partly because westerns is a distance 4th for genres I want to play in. That said, I got the chance to read a review copy of the book during a 2 and half hour trip to play some Team Yankee. I wish I didn't. Not because it was a bad read. I wish I had not read it because now I really REALLY want to get a few western models and play a few games.

Dracula's America is a skirmish wargame in a similar vein as Frostgrave, Necromunda and Mordheim. You have a warband of six to ten models (Dracula's America calls it your Posse) where you battle other players' warband and random encounters to earn treasure. Build in these games are campaign systems where your force can gain experiences and grew in power. I will admit that I haven't read all of Dracula's America from cover to cover. I didn't get to the fluff of its alternate history. But I did read the rules of how to play, the various game mechanics, how to build a Posse, a few magic spells and all the powers you get from the special factions. In all, I think I read about 65% of the book and I feel confident that I could play a game with a pre-made Posse and would only have to look in the book for charts. To me that is amazing after a single partial read. For me to do that means the rules were written in a simple and easy to understand way for a game that has quite a bit of complexity to it.

The game uses a dice pool system in a way I've never seen or heard of before. Your base dice pool will depend on the action you want to take. For example, shooting is a 3-die pool while a dodge reactions is a 1-die pool. Situation modifiers can increase or decrease this dice pool, though nothing can reduce the pool below a single die. Any die that rolls a 5 or higher is a success. The more successes rolled, the better the result. The type of die used is depended on the characters. If a character has only recently started wearing a gun on their hip, then they will be using d6s for all their die rolling. Now if a character has been in a few fights and has seen a thing or two in their time, then they would be using d8s. But if a character's name is known throughout the country because of their exploits, then they would probably be using d10s. I really like this tier system. It is a way to make veterans of the west more powerful than novices without giving them bigger numbers for stats.

Like all western based games, Dracula's America uses a deck of cards. A deck per player to be exact. Cards are used as an initiative system. At the beginning of the turn, all players draw cards equal to half the number of models in their posse, round up. So if you had 9 miniatures on the table, you would draw 5 cards. You get to draw an extra card if your boss (whom is the leader of your posse) is still on the table. Initiative is done by each player picking a card in their hand and playing it face down. Once everyone has picked, the cards are reveal. The player with the highest valued card gets to act first, any black cards before red cards. In case of ties, roll off. And if two of the exact same cards are used, a special event happens as well. When its your turn to act, you can either pick one model to take 2 actions or you can pick two models to take 1 action each. After you have resolved both of your actions the model/s get a done token and discard the playing card. The player with the next highest card gets to act. Once all the players get a chance to act, play repeats itself by everyone picking a new card. Models with done tokens can't act again. Play continues until either all models on the table have acted or all players are out of cards. I've never seen an initiative system like this and at least on paper I love it. While essentially play is swap back and forth between two players, I see interesting choices being available at all points. You never know if your opponent will activated one model or two on their next turn. With the right cards in hand, you can setup a plan to take two turns in a row by playing a low card followed by an Ace. You won't have enough cards to have all your models take two actions, so you need to strategize who best to get those extra actions and when.

The types of actions available and interaction with terrain seem to be more or less standard with skirmish games. The one significant difference is that facing matters. Not only does a model have to face in the direction where it is shooting but also getting shot in the back does extra damage. Also one of the available actions is a ready action which allows you to interrupt an enemy model later in the turn. However you have to be able to see them to interrupt and if your back is to them, then you can't use the ready action. Now combat is anything but standard. I already explain how skill test work. For combat, you attack with a skill like shooting. If you get at least one success then you hit. The victim now has to make a save. This is not a test so a success isn't automatic at 5+. Instead the number needed to save is based on the number of successes the attacker got. 5+ on a single success, 6+ with two successes and so on. The victim needs to make this test even if they can't roll high enough to succeed. Damage is based on how much the victim fails their saved. There are three damage states in the game; shaken, down and casualty. Shaken means you have some light wounds and have some penalties. Down means you are either serious wounded, or too scared to get off the ground. Either way, the only thing they can do is crawl until they get healed. Casualty, like the name implies is being dead or too gravely wounded to continue. A model that takes a casualty is removed from the board.

I didn't get to fluff where they explain the story behind the setting because I ran out of time. I only know the tagline which is that Dracula's minions assassinated the president and mind control the congress into making him President for life. I also read about the playable factions in the game. I only got to their game rules but that was enough for me to get a favor of who they are and the possible role in the setting. I think the setting has a lot to offer. I am reminded of Deadlands in tone and mystery. I could very easily see adapting Dracula's America to play a wargame in the Deadlands world. Also I can see adapting your favorite pen and paper roleplaying game to have a lot of fun in Dracula's America as well. Just using Dracula's America ruleset as is or with slight changes make work as rpg as well. Some of the available factions includes The Crusaders of the Twilight Order (whom members can have knight armor, holy bless weapons and can summon angelic gunslingers), vampires that serve Dracula, devil worshipers whom can summon demons, Native American shapeshifters and just a lot more.

What I like most about Dracula's America is how they separated the mundane and supernatural. In most fantastical games, the supernatural aspect is entwine through out the rule system. This fine by me as I love my magic. But if someone was a historical player, it would be a headache if not just impossible to use these fantasy games as mundane historical games in my opinion. Dracula's America on the other hand has made it extremely easy to go mundane. If you want to play a historical skirmish western game, then all you need to do is read the first half of the book and play as it. If you do want to play with supernatural elements then the second half of the book can be seamlessly inserted into your game. I don't know if this design choice was intentional but it is really cool they gave us the option to play without magic if we want.

The only thing that disappointed me about Dracula's America is the campaign system that came package in the book. After seeing a few Frostgrave campaigns and how seemingly rich Dracula's America backstory is, I was expecting something rich with story. Instead we got a very abstract campaign system with very bland scenarios. To be fair Frostgrave's rich campaigns came in separate releases from the initial book. But at the same time Frostgrave had more initial scenarios and those scenarios were far more interesting. I suppose its not too bad to have this as your weak point as it easily fix with a new campaign book release. And my complains only deals with how you suppose to organize a campaign, how to decide the campaign winner and the lack of any kind of story. The system for how your posse grows in strength is excellent.

I'm really looking forward to trying Dracula's America. If you are a fan of a weird west setting or enjoy skirmish wargames with leveling up mechanics, then I would definitely suggest you take a look at Dracula's America. Even if you dislike westerns and/or vampires, as long as you are a skirmish wargame fan, I would still suggest looking at it. The uniqueness of the system might be enough for you to love the game despite its genre. Thank you for reading.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Topic of the Week - Allies in Age of Sigmar

This week topic is related to the up coming General's Handbook 2. I'm not exactly excited about the book because I dislike buying books (just rather put that money towards more models). Also, personally it feels like I just brought General's Handbook 1 and seeing it replace is a downer to me. That said, I AM excited about Age of Sigmar getting allies. There is probably more details about it out at the time of my writing but I don't know it. I get the vast majority of my Age of Sigmar news from the Topic of the Week videos and the few times I get to watch Warhammer Weekly. My understanding is that in the General's Handbook 2 there will be the option to take up to 20% of your army from a different faction as allies and still keep your allegiance abilities. It is unknown to me exactly how this will work, including whether or not it will be possible to cross grand alliances. In any case, my response is that I'm all for it to the extreme. I certainly understand this can lead to abuses and realize this can bring a lot of headaches to the community. However I think the flexibility is worth the risk. I create my own lore and it rarely fits into the same boxes Games workshop sets up. I have two examples of armies that mixes alliances. To really understand why I mix alliance, I need to explain the lore and ideas behind each army.

Funny that I was just talking about my goblin army in my last article when before that I probably hadn't thought about it since a little after Age of Sigmar was first release. My goblin army is a mix of death and destruction and I got inspired to build it from the Diablo 3 expansion. The undead in that game were an eerie light blue. The lore behind my goblin army is that an Angel of Death made a bargain with a tribe of goblins. If the goblins devote themselves and worship him, the Angel bestow his powers to them, allowing the goblins to use it as they see fit. The Angel showed off his powers by instantly killing the Orcs whom enslaved them (and greatly weaken himself in the process). The "default" army would be all goblins. Two-thirds of the goblins would be painted green like normal, while the rest would be painted light blue. The blue goblins would represent goblins that had died and are currently being animated by the Angel's power (gamewise, there is no different between green and blue). Once the Angel recovers some of his strength, he would then be able to animated and summon powerful undead that would be under the control of goblin shamans. The undead would be blue in color, in the same shade as some of the goblins. The undead would be mostly skeletons with the potential of a few heavy hitters, outside of vampire/Tomb King characters. A side benefit to this army was that it was a "reservable" army. By that I mean it wouldn't take much to make it playable as a completely different army. Get a few undead characters, expand a little on the undead elites and use the blue goblins as ghouls and it can serve as a playable pure undead army. The Angel himself wouldn't appear on the battlefield with the exception as unit fillers under 8th edition rules. The unit fillers would have represent the ability of large groups of goblins projecting a ghostly image of him. All I needed to find were Demon Prince size Angel models. Probably would have been one of the few unit fillers that would have cost more than just buying more models!

I discarded the idea of building the goblin army early in Age of Sigmar because I had too many other games and armies I also wanted to work on. Which is probably for the best as it would probably get smash by anything remotely competitive. Since AoS split up goblins into 3 or more factions, I probably couldn't ever get allegiance abilities for it whether or not I included the undead. Its a shame as I really love the theme behind it and think it would have look cool on the tabletop.

My Chaos Army is something I plan to get back to and has multiple narrative parts. Chaos has two separate storylines but the one that mixes alliances deals with the Chaos King Amirren. Amirren is pretty much my version of Archaon. Think I even use Archaon rules to represent Amirren once in a campaign. Powerful warlord, decent sorcerer, but Amirren's greatest gift was his charisma. With it he manage to convince 9 other warlords that were almost as powerful as he is to serve under him. Each of these warlords, which I called the Lords of Chaos, had their own uniquely looking armies (I very much didn't limited my imagination to what my budget could afford!). Half of the Lords of Chaos were sorcerers, some of the greatest in the world and each sorcerer was a master of something. There is the Master of Magic, a sorcerer with knowledge of nearly every possible spell in the world. When I have used him in 7/8th edition games, I've gave him the Third Eye to represent this aspect of him. There is also the Master of Fire, a sorcerer whom can bend flames to his will. Outside of always having lore of fire, I hadn't figured out how to show off his flame mastery on the table. I suppose I can use flamers to act as fire elementals he controls as part of his army. But the one Lord of Chaos I probably developed the most was Vikihra, the Master of Death. Amirren has ordered his Lords from time to time to temporary disband their army and wander the world alone to search for ways to better themselves. Vikihra, having completely mastered death magic, decided to seek the knowledge of undeath magic when she was asked to go on one of these worldly trips. Her goals were not only to gain more power, but also find a way to heal her body. Centuries ago she was burned alive and only survived due to her knowledge of death magic. However her burned body is a constant source of pain and healing magic have shown to have no effect on her. For decades she studied under various vampires and dark priests to learn necromancy directly from those whom wield it. Eventually Vikihra develop her own type of necromancy. In many ways it was inferior to either of the other necromancy magic, but to her, it was better because she made it. Her new fond powers and knowledge did nothing to heal her body. When Amirren summoned his Lords of Chaos and their armies, she shocked the other Lords and even Amirren himself when she arrived with a significant larger army that was bolstered with her own undead creations.

Vikihra is one of the few characters I brought a specific model for though I never got around to convert and paint it. I loved the look of the Queen Khalida miniature and once I decided to use it, it help develop some of Vikihra's history. Unlike my goblin army, I do consider this an active project. And since Vikihra is one of the most develop concept I have, I could see myself having this army on the table in a year or two. It would be also a lot of work. Vikihra's undead will require a lot of conversion as her undead doesn't look normal. Kitbashing Chaos bits with undead parts and making it look good and easily identifiable will be time consuming (and maybe outside of my skill set at this time). But when I do get to it, I would want to be able to travel the country to events with it and not be handicapped. I do see it being stronger than my goblin idea but I don't think its overly strong. But that is something further down the road for me.

What allies means for me NOW is less interesting. The AoS army I'm working on now is my Poison Army which is a mix of Nurgle Chaos Warriors and Clan Pestilens. I have a problem with battlelines. Nurgle Chaos Warriors is the only battleline I can/want to use. I don't mind warriors but they are too expensive to fill my battlelines ONLY with warriors. Plus I want the army to be more Skaven than Chaos. Allies will allowed me to add clanrats as battleline and still have the feel I'm going for. I suppose I could start looking for poison users in other forces and add them with allies though I can't think of any at the moment. Another thing I could do is have Chaos be my allies so I can have allegiance Pestilens. Since I want to use more than 20% Chaos, I'm probably not going to do that. But it is an option and having the option is much better than no option.

Vince's Topic Video -