With Tentacle at the front of the queue at last, I thought I'd better get in a game myself so that I would be all ready to answer any questions that new players might have. It would also give me chance to use my newly painted Harook figures from Mad Robot: so newly painted, in fact, that I had to collect the last of them from the varnish drying room in the garage just before the battle began.
The centrepiece of the 6' by 4' table was a small base or mining town or the like consisting of two halves. Furthest from the camera was the nice half: seven of Critical Mass Games' ARC Fleet buildings snazzily painted up in a grey-with-red-checkerboard pattern. On the other side of the tracks, clustered around the dangerously rusty-looking fuel tank, was a shanty-town surrounded by barbed wire. Just outside the town was a wadi or donga newly-bought from The Last Square at Colours 2012.
The table looked fantastic (if I say so myself) which is why I was gutted when my camera imploded after only a few shots had been taken, forcing me to turn to my mobile 'phone and take fewer and poorer-quality snaps than normal. Anyhow, on to the game...
I would play the Harook: two platoons of six foot tall bird-men backed up by almost a company's worth of grav tanks. As Mad Robot don't yet do vehicles, I decided to use the Top Gun Marketing models that had been languishing at the back of my painting queue for ages. These look quite egg-like, so suit the Harook rather well. They had two heavy tanks as an HQ; four light tanks; four medium tanks; two light mortar tanks; a medic and ambulance; and an electronic warfare specialist vehicle. The Harook would enter the table along the road near the shanty town, and I set the scene for Neil by playing the Camilla and the Chickens' version of Cee Lo Green's Forget You.
Neil would play the Protolene Khanate, dog-men also from Critical Mass Games. The Khanate's support comes from a whole series of walkers of various sizes. His force was two platoons of Hunters (regulars), each consisting of two sections of foot and a section of three light walkers; a platoon of veteran Scouts in the same format; a squad of heavy Marrock walkers; and a squad of light mortar armed walkers. Oh, and I gave him an electronic warfare walker as well. He wanted me to play Who Let The Dog's Out by the Baha Men, but I told him not to be ridiculous: this was serious gaming we were about to do.
The battle began with both sides advancing Blinds on to the table. The Harook unveiled their electronic warfare specialist and scanned the nice area of town, revealing the infantry contingent of the Khanate's scout platoon. A hail of mortar bombs headed over, killing four Scouts and forcing the others to take cover in the buildings. They would actually play no further part in the battle. The Marrock squad was also spotted in the same way.
The Scout walkers (shown above) moved forward to the hedge line around the buildings and spotted an Harook Blind headed their way. This turned out to be the light grav tanks, the crew of one of which were forced to bail out as they got hit by the concentrated fire of all three Scout walkers.
Another Harook Blind began heading down the wadi, in an attempt to circle around the back of the Khanate line, and two Khanate Blinds headed towards the area where the wadi cut through a hill to cut them off. Meanwhile, the Khanate Marrocks headed for the shanty town, but paused to take cover as the Harook heavy tanks deployed from a Blind on the road in the centre of the battlefield. Finally, an Harook Blind was spotted and deployed as a platoon of infantry also heading into the shanty town (see picture, left).
This was actually the high point of the Harook's success!
From that moment on, the cards and the dice just would not fall their way, and what should have been a glorious victory turned into an ignomious defeat! A bit of context is now needed...
One of Tentacle's key attributes is the fact that it comes with no fluff: you create your forces exactly as you envisage them. You can use a given background, perhaps one that comes with the figures...or make one up from scratch...whatever you want. Thus you can make a particular weapon or weapon system either very good or very bad: it's however you think it should work. I, for example, have a big downer on walkers.
My main problem with walkers is...why?
Walking, or controlled falling as we martial artists like to call it, is one of the most difficult modes of movement to mimic mechanically. Walkers are easily spot-able: not an advantage on the modern battlefield, let alone a future one. And they are vulnerable: knees, elbows, toes all look fragile compared to a nice hefty armoured wheel or track or grav plate hidden underneath.
I had therefore defined the Khanate's walkers as having a fairly weak defensive value. In addition, the weapons that Critical Mass Games has given their particular walkers doesn't look very anti-tank to me. The Scouts have multi-barrelled machine guns, the Hunters have sort of blasting cannons that look like something that would be very nasty to foot but not to armour. You'll see that I had therefore created an army that looked like it would fall easy prey to the Harook and all their tanks. I had even apologised to Neil for the unbalanced game, even offering to swap sides.
So, there I was, forces advancing, feeling confident when, as mentioned above, Lady Luck (obviously a dog person not a bird person) decided to even things up.
Every turn began, continued and ended with a run of Khanate cards. This mean that his electronic warfare specialist walker got in the first 'jam' every time: my EW specialist then had to spend its turn (if it came up) either un-jamming my communications systems (my Big Men couldn't issue any orders when they were jammed) or trying to work out why their screens had suddenly gone blank (you can disrupt enemy EW operators with your own EW operators).
Worse off was what happened to my Blind moving through the wadi. It was, as you may have guessed, the squad of four medium grav tanks. The Khanate Blinds managed to ambush it when it was moving through the pass through the hill. The Khanate Blinds turned out to be the three Hunter Assault walkers which carried the only decent anti-tank weapons in the Khanate armoury: shoulder mounted rocket launchers. Even then it took the combined fire of all three of them to take out a medium tank: it was just that they got their shots off first every turn.
My medium tanks did eventually manage to return fire and destroy the three walkers, but only two medium tanks remained operational, and the Hunter infantry had begun close assaulting them from above.
The two pictures below show the Khanate ambush after one turn, with the crew of the lead Harook medium tank already forced to bail out!
In itself, losing the medium tanks wouldn't have been a problem. The trouble is that by this time I had also lost all the light tanks to the veteran Scout walkers, a smattering of infantry, and my heavy tanks were wondering when their card would ever appear!
I had destroyed one Marrock, but as time was now ticking on, we decided to call the game as a Khanate win. Although I still had significant firepower available, I was in an awful position tactically, and the sheer numbers of Khanate walkers threatened to overwhelm me.
A great looking game, very enjoyable...and a brilliant win for Neil, against all the odds: an object lesson in how even an on-paper superior force can lose badly if their enemy manages to concentrate their attacks properly.