Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Les Miserables the Wargame:The Premier Performance

Over the past few years, my entire family has become heavily involved in local theater. My son Nick and daughter Maya perform each year in the school plays and musicals and they have each performed in local community theater productions. Nick in fact won a local award for his high school musical and competed in the National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York, actually performing during the award ceremony at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway. Since I retired from the Navy Reserve a couple of years ago, I’ve performed in several community theater productions. My wife helps quite a bit backstage, mostly with costumes. We’ve been big fans of the Les Miserables musical for years and so eagerly waited to see the movie.

Watching the barricade scenes in the movie, it occurred to me that I already had most of what I needed to stage a game based on that fight. Thus was Les Miz the Wargame born. It premiered at Historicon this year and I think was quite a success.

The formidible barricade

The rules I used were based on Howard Whitehouse’s Astounding Tales! and the large scale battle rules I wrote for AT! called All God’s Children Got Guns. Although designed for pulp games, they are quite capable of adaptation to other genres.

I had 9 players who each controlled one of the lead characters along with one or two “units” of extras. None of my games are particularly serious so this was more in the way of a spoof with the lead characters getting special rules particular to their motivation in the movie. For example, Eponine had a special rule that whenever Marius, the object of her unrequited love, was hit, she could make a stunt check and leap across the table to take the bullet herself.

I made it clear to the players that it was virtually impossible for the rebels to win an outright victory but each character had victory conditions other than a military victory. A lot of them involved setting a glorious example by dying for the cause of liberty.

Part of the first assault

The game consisted of a series of assaults by government troops on the student-rebel barricades. If one or more of the 3 government units lost a morale check, the government player could declare an end to the assault. Between assaults, any government casualties were returned. The rebels had a much smaller capacity to return casualties to play and one character could loot the dead for extra ammo as the rebels had a limited ammunition supply. Finally, the government could roll for the entry of the 4 artillery pieces and the rebels could roll for the unlikely general uprising by the entire city.

"Lovely Ladies" throw some interference

The biggest special rule was that any in-game communication had to be sung, since the entire movie/stage play was sung. Additionally, a player could reroll a bad dice roll if they could sing a few bars from any musical. If the song they chose was from Les Miserables, they could choose the better of the two rolls, otherwise, they were bound by the second roll. No song could be repeated.

The death of Enjorlas

I was a bit worried that some players wouldn’t get into the over-the-top nature of the game but I needn’t. All of the players embraced the spirit of the game with gusto, if not particularly good singing. One player had an incredibly extensive memory of show tunes and another had a remarkable ability to come up with game-appropriate lyrics on the fly. It was a thing of beauty to see.

Nick and I were struck by how similar the battle played out to the movie. Inspector Javert, who starts as a spy behind rebel lines was discovered quite quickly but released by Valjean. The first assault was fended off but with some losses to the rebels. The second was cut short by Marius threatening to blow up the barricades with a keg of powder. The third assault proved to be the finale since the artillery showed up and devastated the remaining rebels. Valjean knocked Marius unconscious and escaped with him into the sewers but was pursued by several of Javert’s gendarmes.

The final assault

Where it differed from the movie was interesting. Enjorlas, the main rebel leader was killed at the end of the second assault. Eponine survived the fighting in the streets but chose to lead the gendarmes on a different route away from Marius. When the gendarmes discovered this, they shot her. But Marius lived. Javert suffered a moral crisis from being released by Valjean and flung himself off the nearest monumental architecture. The street urchin Gavroche, who is shot on the barricades in the movie, survived to pop a cap into the dead body of Javert, just to be sure…

Cast photo

A great bunch of players made the game a rousing success. A very good example of the enthusiasm they brought to the game is from Walt O’Hara, whose blog, Third Point of Singularity, is a great gaming resource. After the game, he prepared a comic book version of an AAR that is far more eloquent than the foregoing:

Walt's original is posted at

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Historicon AAR Part I

My son Nick and I went to Historicon again. It was another great convention.

General Observations: Good turnout, everyone seemed to be having a very good time. It might have been just locations but the main gaming hall seemed to be more crowded with games on Friday night than on Saturday which I thought was unusual. While there are still some minor problems with the site (noise and bad chairs), it was clear they were trying to accommodate us and the staff I encountered were universally very friendly.

A lot of great looking games through the convention. Here’s some pictures:

The Big Pirate Game that everyone was talking about. It was truly beautiful

ACW naval and ground game. This was in 28mm and was certainly the equal in quality, if not size of the big pirate game.

A delightful tribute to the centenial of H.G.Wells' Little Wars

Battle of the Rosebud:

Silly hats and costumes seemed to be the theme of this convention (yours truly included as you will see from our Les Miserables game)

Here's some other games that caught my eye:

We played Thursday night in a game of Desperado. It was a nice way to ease into the convention with low figure density and easy to pick up rules. It was quite fun. The town sheriff decided to police his town by setting up as a sniper in the town jail and shooting down the bad guys who were robbing various locations around town. Unfortunately, after most of the bad guys had been eliminated, the sheriff began shooting down anything that moved in the streets, mostly local citizens. We all got together then and stormed the jail, SWAT-style. The lone bandit who survived was riding out of town when he was blown up by some thrown dynamite.

Friday morning I played in another skirmish game, this one based on the “Lost Regiment” novels where a Union regiment is transported onto another world inhabited by large alien tribal warriors, the Tugars, who eat humans. The game involved three small cavalry patrols encountering some of the Tugar scouts. We humans managed to wipe out most of the warriors but not without significant losses.

Saturday morning, we played in a game using the Pig Wars rules but set in the Greek-Persian Wars. The scenario was something of a replay of Marathon with the Greeks defending some hills and us Persians trying to capture at least one of the hills. I controlled the small Persian cavalry force. In the early going of the game, the Persians got chewed up pretty handily - my force was reduced to a single figure very early on in the game. This seems to have led the Greeks into over confidence and they charged down off the hills to try to route us off the field. The Persians pulled back, drawing the Greeks further apart from one another, except for my single horseman who rode up on the nearly empty hills and took pot shots at the Greek commander. Ultimately, a couple of the Greek units were surrounded and wiped out and some mercenary Greek troops and the Persian unit run by Nick pushed their way onto one of the hills. My single cavalryman was there to greet them and the final action of the game was an attack on my cavalryman by three Greeks, two of which I slew. The final result was an unprecedented Persian victory.

Now for the games I ran. Friday night we ran the Res Mechanica weird science Roman game set at the end of the Year of the Four Emperoros.

The game represented the attempt to relieve the Flavians, including Vespasian’s brother Sabinus and his son Domitian, who had barricaded themselves onto the Capitoline Hill when an attempted negotiated surrender by Vitellis was foiled by Vitellius’ followers. The Vitellians had few troops left at this point and so relied on various ad hoc units. Every group had some type of “high tech” weapons or machines to aid them.

We had 10 players and the action split into three separate actions. The first was the Roman fleet force, an airship and landship, each carrying troops approaching from one edge of the board. They were opposed by a bunch of Circus performers and freed slaves, originally gathered for a reenactment of the victory over Boudicca. Also with them was the big Trojan horse and an Amazonian phalanx. Right at the start, the Flavian commander Primus convinced the Amazonians to defect with their Trojan Horse. This doomed the Britons who put up a stiff fight, including trying to storm the land galley but in the end were utterly destroyed. The land galley ultimately rammed through the city walls and linked up with the defecting Vigiles.

The second area of combat involved the Flavian cavalry aided by their Ruritanii allies opposed by some freed Jewish rebels and the Roman mob under Titus Pullo. The mob immediately pulled back into the city and began looting, although they ultimately tried to storm the Capitoline in an attempt to loot the temples there. The main opposition to the Flavians came from the Jewish rebels, who despite small numbers put up a fanatical fight, at one point routing most of the Ruritanii. They were aided by a well-neigh indestructible golem. Finally, the great war aurochs of the Ruritanii, led by King Rheomitalces finally did the creature in but as the great stone thing collapsed, it fell directly on the barbarian king whose memory would be sung by his people for generations. The remaining Jewish rebels were pushed aside and the Flavian steam chariots rushed into the city. There they were surrounded by the die-hard Vitellians. The final action of this part of the game ended when the crew of large steam chariot blew themselves up taking with them the last intact cohort of Vitellian troops.

The third area of action was in the city of Rome where Vespasian’s brother Sabinus and son Domitian had barricaded themselves onto the Capotiline Hill. They were attacked by the last hard-core Vitellian troops who launched repeated attacks only to be fended off each time. The Vitellians had a unit of Icarii, light troops sporting feather and wax wings. These came up with the unique tactic of grabbing a bunch of slave girls from a nearby auction and dropping them on the defenders of the Capitoline as the “Babe Bomb.” Sadly it proved to be less than effective. Towards the end of the game, the Vitellians, with the aid of Pullo’s mob and some gladiators did gain a foothold but were crushed in a stampede when Domitian released the sacrificial cattle onto them. The final event here was an attempt by the last of the Icarii to sweep down on Sabinus to capture him. They failed when a group of Senators who had joined Sabinus fended them off. Imagine the ignominy of losing to a bunch of overweight, middle-aged politicians.

Also within the city was the vigiles under Nigerapis (Blackadder) who decided he wanted no part of being on the losing side and came up with a plan to capture Vitellius himself to use as a bargaining chip. After luring the gluttonous emperor out of the palace with a dish of Carthaginian chicken barbequed on his flame-thrower, Nigerapis turned his men on the German bodyguard and secured the Emperor. By this point, the Roman land galley had broken into the city but caught fire while passing too close to a burning basilica. Nigerapis not only was able to present the Flavian commander with Vitellius but also had his men, Rome’s fire-fighters put out the fire.

I had a great group of players who all got into the fairly wacky spirit of things. Here’s a group photo.

The other game we ran was Les Miserables the Wargame.

This was probably one of the funniest game experiences I ever had. I will write up a separate account of that in the next day or two.

Again, a great convention. Nick and I can hardly wait until next year.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Song of Angry Men: Les Miserables as a Wargame

In addition to my weird science Roman game, I am going to be running at Historicon what may be a first, a game based on a musical, “A Song of Angry Men: Les Miz the Wargame.”

Our family is involved in local theater so we went to see the Les Miserables movie when it came out and really loved it. At one point I realized that I had most of the materials lying around to stage the barricades scene as a game. I also realized that I had some figures that could be easily converted to represent the main characters from the stage play or the movie. Of course, like most of my games, I’m including very silly jokes to make it something of a spoof of the movie/play.

Here’s the table set up:

Here’s an image of the barricade from the movie:

The government forces mass

Here’s an image of some of the troops in attack from the movie.

I got this from a very helpful blog, by Kapiti Fusilier member Arteis, that had some great screen captures of the military images in the movie:

The attack on the barricades:

Eponine sacrifices herself to save Marius, her fate is to die in the friend zone. (I’ve been having some problems with the focus on my camera so I apologize for the blurry quality of some of the photos.

“Lovely Ladies” provide a distraction:

Jean Valjean confronts Javert: