So at the Hothead convention last month I ran an 8 player participation game of Pikeman’s Lament. I was planning to take a load more pictures than I did, but running an 8 player game meant that in reality I was pretty busy! So this post has more text and less pictures. It also means that rather than a straight description of the game I’m changing this post to be a few thoughts on running such a game instead, especially with a 15mm collection of toys vs. what I think is typical with 28mm figs.
First let me say I really like the Pikeman’s Lament rules and they do work for bug multi-player games but some thought and help in running the rules in such a manner needs to be made. I have to thank a friend, Howard who helped on the spur of the moment in the running of the game and rules on one end of the table at Hotlead. This made life easier for me on the day and was much appreciated. Considering this was the first time he had seen the rules that tells you how easy the Pikeman’s Lament rules are to pick up! I have run a few smaller multi-player games at the club in preparation for the big game, so my thoughts on running Pikeman’s lament for bigger multi-player games come from all those occurrences.
As background, let me say a little about the basing I use. You can see examples in the few pictures in this post. I have a large ECW collection, made up of figures from Essex, Old Glory 15’s and Peter Pig miniature manufacturers. This force has been collected over many years and just about all of it was painted before I started this blog. The figures are all based for the DBR rules – so 40mm wide and in varying depths (foot at 20mm, mounted 30mm and 40mm deep for dragoons artillery and commanders). As each Unit in Pikeman’s Lament is made up of 6 or twelve figures what I do is have each of my bases be 2 ‘figures’ in the rules. This means at maximum 1 marker will be used to indicate a half base of casualties – a single fig dead but the base is still on the table. For unit formations I say all the bases have to touch at least one other base and a unit can be at maximum 3 bases wide or deep. This seems to work fine and give the units the right look for the period. I add a 40 x 40 base with a couple of figures on it as the commanders to the unit which has the officer in it. That base does not count for measuring or hits etc (it’s not really there so can be moved as required) but is just a marker to signify which unit has the officer for all players. I use inches for all movement and everything else is as per the rules. This is a pretty flexible system but allows the game to work well with the models and basing I have. It also makes the game look nice IMO – as can be seen in the few pictures below. It means that the game really looks like one with small units vs. just groups of figs.
I use a couple of counters while playing games – one for first fire (white), one to signify a unit in close order (blue) and one for indicating a unit is wavering units (green). This is on top of the red counters used to indicate a half base casualty on a unit. I also use fairly simple terrain rules, which come from the idea’s in the rules. I use felt/area makers to show where the area terrain location is and have moveable items in that for visual indicators. So the trees and buildings in the picture below indicate various types of area’s rather than their exact positions. The trees etc can be moved as required to fit bases. The physical area markers items indicates the exact shape of the terrain. Again this makes for an easier convention/multi-player game but is not as nice looking as this games with wonderfully sculpted terrain boards.I should also say that although in 1 to 1 games I like games which make the players think and use deep strategies, in a multi-player game and convention games especially action is important. Pikeman’s Lament works in both styles so that’s great. Multi-player games that have too much down time for players can be an issue to me, as it slows the game down for everyone. These types of games should be fun and action packed for the players. So when running a game I try to make multi-player games very interactive, with as few real down point for players as possible. Making the game story driven (at least initially), so people get into the game is good as well.
With that in mind for game with more than 4 players – as my game was I like to split the game into separate 2 player games side by side. This is usually possible because the 2 players opposite have the same (or conflicting) objectives. This means that each pair could make alternative moves and not wait for all the others to finish their moves. If as happened multiple times in my game, one of the pairs interacts with another then we just handled that as an interrupt on the other pair and did the interaction as required. At worse this meant that an activating player had to stop and deal with a charge or shooting action on one of their units. Otherwise, it was just like the other players turn, Although it sounds messy with a GM it worked actually very well. There were few real issues with this and I’d recommend this ‘pairing off’ for big games. It allows the pair of players to go at their own pace and ensures that very few delays or long waits for players.I created custom Player handouts so that all players had a reference sheet with the basic rules as well as their own unit stats/special rules for their forces right in front of them. This ensures minimal rules referral in the game. I also simplified a couple of things, in the game. So I had no officer challenges or special skills for players. With experienced players those add extra fun tactical items but for a convention game they complicate the game while adding little for the new players. I also gave players each 12 dice and a measure so there was no issue around counting die or looking for equipment etc when playing.
Overall, the following points are I believe worth sharing for running large or intro multi-player games with Pikeman’s Lament:
- After playing in various convention multi-player games, especially ones with larger numbers of players I find you have to keep the game going and keep everyone involved. The GM is key here to make it interesting and keep things moving for all players. Questions come up and have to be dealt with quickly and fairly – and keep humor and interaction levels high so it is a fun experience for the players.
- A key thing to remember in my opinion is it’s more important to keep the game going and have people have fun than be precisely right with the rules – just be fair in the game. Hopefully you know the rules well enough as a GM that this does not happen but there will always be questions and odd occurrences. I’m all about getting the spirit of the game right and show whats fun about it vs. trying to be perfect with every ruling. It’s not a tournament after all.
- For games of 3 or 4 player games you can have everyone play one at a time and just ‘roll off’ for the highest roll goes first each turn. This works but can be a little slow depending on the players. For games with more than 4 players though it works much better to pair off players to compete with each other over the larger table area.
- Every player should have an easy to understand and track goal. This can be shared across multiple players or unique for each individual but this should be easy for them to know what they need to do ‘to win’. Having secondary goal’s adds to the judgement of ‘who wins’ but these should be simple. I gave players those in their reference sheets so they could see them and referenced them in the intro of the game.
- If doing a convention game or a multi-player game with people new to the system remove the ‘advanced’ rules. Those often add character to a game but also add much more complexity for new players. With experienced they can be used but I have found you don’t lose much for new players dropping them. It does make teaching the game easier. For Pikeman’s Lament the obvious rules for this are Officer skills and challenges. The same is true for having too many special rules/units – such a Elite etc. I keep those to a minimum in such games.
- Keep the forces simple. 3 or 4 types of unit per player seems about right for new players. I ensured everyone had at least a Pike and a shot unit as well as a mounted one when doing 24 points each. This ensures everyone gets the ‘feel’ of the ECW forces.
- Keep the initial overview of the rules at the start of the game simple and quick. None of the players are there for a rules lecture or a teaching session. So short and sweet is the right way to do that intro and just highlight main points. At the first melee and shooting for players I let all the players see this and used these as a slow walk throughs for the mechanics. After doing that a couple of times everyone started to get the combat mechanic and do their own fights, again allowing for faster game play with me just watching and ensuring that things moved smoothly.
Overall, I think you can see I try to follow a KISS (keep it simple stupid) model for such games. Trying to be ‘fast and fun’ keeping players engaged and learning to play the game as they went on – which did happen very well in all cases.So, I guess I should say how the game at Hotlead went. Overall, everyone seemed to really enjoy it and I was thanked by multiple players. So from that side I was very happy. With 8 players each having 24 points (in 5 or 6 units each) on a 12 x 5 foot table it certainly looked like a decent sized engagement. All the games were completed in between 2.5 and 3 hours, which meant players were able to enjoy the game and it did not drag on but came to a final result.
The background story for the game was for the Royalist and Scots (with some English support) are fighting over a village where a defenestration had happened. yes some poor sole has been thrown out of the Church window to their death… A very 17th Century way of settling arguments! Each pair of opponents had a mission, to help their cause. The first pair had to get control of the defenestrated body by the end of the game was their major mission. The body started at the foot of the church tower outside the church grounds. The second pair had a mission to control the church, where the dastardly event (the defenestration) had occurred. The third set of players fought over the hamlet (small group of houses) and had to search them to find the preacher who had instigated the defenestration event, again control of that preacher at the end of the game was their target. The last pair fought to control the hills on the edge of the table, which provided easy passage to the larger cities, where this story would hit the pamphlets making 17th century PR of the event. The ECW was the first war in England where the printing press was a tool and stories such as this could be spun either way for their side so getting the story out in a timely manner was important.
The games played well with the various pairs getting to grips with each other and involving a lot of hard fighting. The Scots had a few Forlorn hope units (aggressive scotsman), but poorer shot units. The Forlorn Hope units tended to end up making the difference in several games.
In the fight over the body, the Scots mad a beeline for the body and captured this fairly quickly. A vicious cavalry battle occurred on this side of the table in which the Royalist Cavalry showed its power but not by as much as one may expect. The Scots were more consistent with their support from foot units and so they won eventually in that area. By the middle of the engagement I think all the cavalry on both sides in this area had been destroyed or left the table. The Scots foot on the day were stronger though and won out to control the body and route the Royalist force going for it.
The church fight was slow to start with the Scots having several early turns of failed activations and even had one of troops retreating on a blunder. This allowed the Royalists to gain control of the church but not in enough numbers to really fortify it. The Royalists had their own blunder with a unit being called away from the battle making them fight with less troops. The Scots charged the church eventually and gained control of it and the graveyard. Even a late charge by the Royalist horse though the graveyard failed to win them control back, as it was beaten back after routing a couple of the Scots units. So the Scots won control of the church as well.
The fight for the village and the search for the preacher moved apace initially with both forces entering different buildings and looking for him. A search was a successful move action while in the building. The Royalists found the preacher and then that building became the focus of the Scots attack. Royalist horse roamed the streets of the village. The Scots fought a building to building attack slowly taking control of most of the village. It was a close thing but the Scottish forlorn hope managed to storm the building which held the preacher in the end and routed the last Royalist troops to secure a victory.
The fight over the hills involved multiple dragoon units (the only two forces which included those troops). Here the Royalists were slow to start and the Scots were the first into the terrain. However, this did not stop the Royalists and they succeeded in forcing their way into the hills and pushing the Scots back. The Royalist horse and dragoons worked well together to win the day after a noble but in the end fruitless charge of the Scots pike onto the hill to try to gain the objective.
Well there we are. The Scots won 3 of the 4 objectives, but the winning Royalist player in the end got most victory points – getting their primary and secondary objectives and not losing and to bad command rolls etc. So a Scottish victory but highest honours to a Royalist player. I hope this gives you a few ideas for playing games and you get a taste of the game I ran as well.