Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Border Fortress

After a grueling finals and end to a long semester, I am slowly reemerging in a Boston reformed by summer leaves and flowers. The transformation seemed to happen over night, with flowering trees blooming to fill the parks and pathways. As a reward to treat myself for a difficult year of study, I decided to conspicuously indulge in this:

Outer packaging of the 1988 Mighty Fortress set.

Now, I have heard everything from accolades praising the 1988 edition of Warhammer Siege to bitter complains about complexity. Certainly, no one claims it is a simple game—it is designed as a full expansion of the original Warhammer Fantasy Battle rules and features both the complete freedom of game mechanics for every imaginable situation as well as the extensive book keeping that this would require. With all of the detail, even though most of it is optional and modular, one can be forgiven for missing things, and I suspect that Warhammer Siege is a game you learn as you play: an experience that gets better with time.

To be fair to Warhammer Siege, it is worth addressing seemingly the most common complaint: that artillery appears to quickly demolish the stronghold walls with little hope for the stalwart defenders. Many first time players have lamented their one and only experience with the game resulting in these catastrophic results. The underlying problem here seems to be the imprudent deployment of massive doomsday devices in the arsenal of the besiegers, particularly the 10-man siege weapons. These apocalypse weapons would have been equivalent to the historical Tsar Cannon or other medieval and Renaissance "super guns."

Complete contents.

The main problem here is that the default wall described in Warhammer Siege is for the lowly "border fortress"—a common, lesser castle often found in the Border Princes. These meager strongholds are cobbled together between the first few harsh winters on the frontier, when a would-be robber baron struggles to establish a foothold in the wilderness. With sparse resources and only unskilled labourers, those bandit kings who do not freeze to death in a half-completed castle before the frost subsides are only able to manage provisional, precarious fortifications to stake their claim. To the desperate outposts and colonies in the barrens, even these ramshackle fortresses are formidable symbols of frontier authority and power—at least until a new warlord arrives. Yet, in relation to these backwoods bulwarks, the most massive cannons in the history of the Old World are incomparable adversaries. The calibre of such ordnance would likely be as thick as the very walls of the border fortress. While such improbable batteries are designed to break down the mightiest citadels and bastions in the world, the lowly border fort hardly stands a chance against such awesome power.

The different plastic pieces—gate and two types of doors, trapdoors and ladders.

It is notable that the two previous siege games that reported disastrous results both explicitly lacked a critical component to any Warhammer Fantasy Battle game—the gamemaster. A decent referee would have readily spotted this incongruous matchup and adjusted the scenario to account for it. For example, a good competitor to a standard "border fortress" (which has a default 10 wounds or "defence points") would be the 5-man cannon (cannons are rated from the smallest 3-man culverin to the largest 10-man bombard). Such an artillery piece would chip away at a battlement and would cause a breach after 12 direct hits (several cannons working in conjunction would make even shorter work). A scenario featuring heavier ordnance would demand thicker walls, however. After all, as the Warhammer Siege rules suggest, the normal Toughness and defence point values "are standard for a typical Border Fortress," but "you may wish to vary this slightly" for mightier castles (Warhammer Siege, 35). Against a 10-man cannon, a gamemaster may increase the defence value of the walls to as high as 45 points, requiring an average of 4 successful hits to cause a breach.

All in all, Warhammer Siege has a lot to offer players who are looking for new kinds of scenarios to add depth to a campaign. It is worth exploring the true gems in this rules expansion, but I will leave that task to a later date. For now, I leave you with these photos to give you a sense of the scale and contents of the Mighty Fortress set. I found this item to be a great purchase—made from dense styrofoam sections that do not chip and can be rearranged into many different castle plans. Along with my recent find of a mint condition Warhammer Townscapes, I will have my hands full this summer building a complete Warhammer world for our local games.




6 comments:

  1. Looking good Evan. Read the other blog posts and I totally agree with you on the GM. A couple of tweaks should easily correct some of the siege weapon problems. Definitely not a reason to disregard the book all together.

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  2. A good analysis indeed. So...where did you get those wonderful fortresses? I have one from back in the day but would love to add a second to my collection.

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  3. This one was an eBay find. It was sitting around a warehouse in Texas for a couple decades!

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  4. Hope your finals went well, especially with all the interruptions of recent weeks. Great post! I mourn for tabletop games because of the disappearance of the GM, playing a wargame without one is almost as crazy as playing D&D without a DM.

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  5. Dave Graffam Models look to be good substitutes for Warhammer Townscape: http://www.davesgames.net/catalog-specials-and-bundles.htm

    Of course, you have to print them yourself, but you don't have to scour eBay, or worry that your 30 year old model will have a cup of tea spilled over it, mid game. Well, you do, but you always just print another.

    (Is he the same Dave Graffam responsible for these Warhammer resources: http://www.windsofchaos.com/?page_id=92)

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    Replies
    1. To answer my own question, yes he is.

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