Originally, I intended to highlight the Armies of Arcana rule set using an after action report format similar to Part 2 of this series. Events conspired to change my plans. First, my old Samsung Digimax was not up to the task of capturing details of small miniatures while simultaneously providing sufficient panoramic views. Secondly, rookie mistakes with force selection and unit deployment on my part made for a relatively short game. Finally, it seems that the rule set in question is out of print and hard to find. All that being said, this post will provide highlights of the Arcana rule set and general observations on playing large tabletop games.
We used what I think were first edition rules (© 1998) but now the franchise is at the 5th edition (pictured). Thane stated: “You will never have to buy books beyond the original for as long as I own Armies of Arcana.” Unfortunately, Thane has long since sold off the rule set and it seems the current owner, Battlezone Miniatures UK has discontinued stocking the book. They are still selling their line of Armies of Arcana miniatures. If you live in the USA try ordering the rule book from Lone Gunmen Games. When I went to look up the price the website requires one to log in and I didn’t bother trying to sign up. There was one copy of my edition on eBay selling for $15, another for an outrageous price.
I suggest any fantasy wargamer to download the army lists available on Battlezone’s server. I stated before I never used Thane’s Arcana universe as a basis for my scenarios but his army lists and the units available always easily fit into whatever scenario I had in mind.
The following armies are available under the first edition:
Sylvan Elf (this came out prior to John Wright’s Feast but should be Elfs! – though these guys are good elfs)
Halflings (and Centaur Allies)
Human – Arabian Knights
Human – Barbarian
Human – Medieval
Human – Samurai
And an extensive list of monsters to include dragons, elementals, giants, Pegasus, etc. As you can see that’s a nice list of armies ready to populate any gamer’s fantasy universe.
The Battlezone edition, with army lists available for download has added:
They also made their choices for human armies more specific to their universe (e.g. Empires of Marr and the Sun).
They also made available a vital rules summary sheet that we could have used while playing. My 1st edition rule book has a summary on the back cover but it’s not user friendly. The updated one is, of course, specific to 5th edition rules but a quick review shows that it is still a good reference for my edition.
A little off topic but when reviewing the new additions of ratmen, snakemen and lizardmen I recalled Evil Gong Miniatures. Believe they were out of Melbourne, Australia. They would have been the perfect supplier for those armies but afraid they are out of business. Keep an eye out for their figures on eBay and other portals. Example is their Fishman Army which has to be Lovecraft inspired.
Not sure if Paul Jones was inspired by Evil Gong but check out East Riding Miniatures for some lizardmen, ratmen and rhinomen.
I’ll give the statistics for two different units that were on our battlefield and pick two that are diametrically opposed in character and strength: Dwarf Bear Cavalry with Lance and Goblin Regulars.
Keep in mind with that the game is designed to be played with a multitude of figures so statistics are for each figure, not the unit. Also, lower numbers are better to score hits and make saving throws. For ease of reference I’ll provide the statistics for the Goblin Regulars immediately below the Dwarfs.
Bear Cavalry with Lance / Goblin Regulars:
Victory Points: 80
Goblin Regular VP: 10
These are VPs for each figure and used after the VPs for each army is agreed upon (e.g. our scenario the Orc army was over 5000 VPs and the Dwarfs had a little over 3000 VPs).
Move: 12” (plus swimming ability)
GR move: 6”
Self-explanatory. Scale of movement and missiles ranges can easily be adjusted if your playing area is limited.
GR Wounds: 1
The amount of each figure’s “hit points”.
GR Armor: 2 /shield (shield is listed to explain the heavier than usual goblin armor score)
The amount of hits each figure can take before suffering wounds.
GR Magic: 1
In this case it means magic resistance so rolls to save under a 4 on a 1d6 are fairly easy to achieve. Goblins, presumably due to their weak minds, will almost always succumb to the effects of magic.
GR Morale: 6
When prompted for a morale check (e.g. heavy losses in one turn) roll under a 10 (or for the Goblins a 6) using 2d6. There are adjustments to consider so a unit or figure may have to roll over a lower score than the base 10.
Melee: 1/3 Str (1) but Str (2) on a charge. Bear 3/2, Str (1)
GR Melee: 1/2
1/3 means that each figure gets 1d6 to attack during a melee. Prior to any adjustments the figure will score a hit when rolling a one, two or three. If a hit is scored then they inflict 1 strength point of damage, unless they have charged then each hit inflicts 2 hits. Each hit is then subtracted from the opponent’s armor points. If the enemy unit’s figures have armor of 1 then it’s an automatic wound. If the enemy figure has a wound factor of one, then each hit is a kill.
This unit is powerful because the bears being ridden also get an attack, or in this case 3 attacks (mouth and two claws). Each bear attacking rolls 3d6 and scores a hit when rolling a 1 or 2.
I’ll provide an example of a melee roll below.
Missile: N/A for both
Special Ability: N/A for both
As a melee example I’ll recreate one round of combat. Generally, my Dwarfs rolled poorly but they may do better this time. 6 figures of Bear Cavalry with Lances charges a unit of 24 Goblin Regulars. I thought it would be no contest but in the game I lost two figures before the Goblins broke. This time, let’s see if I can get them to break on the first charge:
I roll 6d6 for my lancer’s attack. There are no die roll modifications (the charge modifier is extra strength on a hit). Modifications in melee are for attacking down a slope, attacking immobilized enemies or slow opponents or penalties for trying to chase agile figures).
I roll the following: 6,6,5,4,3 and 2. My melee stat was 1/3 so I had to roll 3 or below for a hit. I only scored 2 hits. At least those two hits caused 4 wounds worth of damage (1/3 Str (2) on charge).
Now I roll for the bears! This time I can roll 18 dice (bear 3/2 Str (1)!!
I get six hits from those 18 dice. Each hit is worth one point so I inflict a total of 10 points damage on the Goblin Regulars. They have 2 for armor so 10 points damage equals 5 wounds. Each figure only has 1 wound so 5 Goblin Regular figures will be removed then when I add the 4 wounds given out by the lancers the Goblins will remove 7 figures (remember the goblin’s armor of 2 absorbs hits).
While the bears are swatting away the goblins swarm the attackers.
Goblin’s melee at 1/2 meaning each figure rolls one die and hits on a roll of 1 or 2. No modifiers to this roll. They roll 24 dice in response scoring 9 hits. The dwarf and bear’s combined armor of 4 means that the goblins only cause two wounds. Each lancer unit has a combined wound score of 4 so a marker is placed next to one figure showing it only has two wounds left. In the game the goblins rolled better and killed one of the precious lancer units in the first contact.
At the end of the melee phase the goblins remove their 7 units and one dwarf lancer unit has two wounds. This is a good result for the dwarfs, especially as they cause the goblin unit to make a morale check (because they suffered a loss of ¼ of the starting unit total in a turn and chances are they will break because of their weak morale. During the morale phase we return to the goblin unit and see if there are any modifiers to the save throw. They suffer a penalty of -1 for every two wounds the unit took during the turn. They took 9 wounds in total, rules are not clear on rounding down or up but it looks bad for the goblins so let’s round down for -4 on the roll. They need a 2 to save but there is another modifier for -1 for every 6 enemy models they are engaged with. The bears have 6 figures so the modifier is now -5. Their base morale is 6 and there’s no way to roll a 1 on 2d6. They flee.
What I learned playing this past game is that under the 1st Edition rules “quantity has a quality of its own”. The dwarf bear lancers are a powerful unit but I only have 6 figures (not including another figure that I used as the General in this game). On this battlefield there were a couple of goblin columns of 36 or so figures. That’s a lot of chances for them to hit back and break down the stronger dwarf armor and wound. The example shown was a great outcome for the dwarfs but they would always be one unlucky dice roll away from a bad day.
We had a little over 600 figures on the battlefield. It took me about 30 minutes to get reacquainted with the rules and explain them to my friend. Of course, we had to reference the rule book constantly for the first 4 turns. After that the turns played quicker. Armies of Arcana is not complicated so we eventually remembered many of the modifiers to die rolls (e.g. -1 for firing missiles after moving) but it was a pain wasting 10 minutes in finding the rule for which side has initiative for the turn (Page 12 under movement phase, upper right corner page “Each player rolls a d6…”).
Setting up the table top took another 30 minutes as it does take time to create the terrain then place a large amount of figures on the table. And this is after all figures were based, usually 5 to a row. My opponent even had a couple columns of goblin conscripts with over 30 figures on one tray.
We spend about 2 hours playing 8 turns. As mentioned before we used a lot of time in learning the rules while we played but there was also a social aspect of the game with talking, drinking, snacks, etc.
For those unwilling to invest in 600 figures there’s always a way to cheaply field an army. After all, the metal miniature is an abstract representation and there’s no reason that cardboard counters (some well-done ones available online) can’t be used instead. Way back in the day the risk board game used to come with small colored wooden blocks in primary colors but a little ingenuity with basing the small wooden blocks (you wouldn’t want to move them individually) or washers, or whatever markers one can devise, allows one to play any miniature rule set. The only drawback is in the aesthetic presentation of the game table, which I believe is the main reason for the hobby continuing on in the computer age.
It’s worth a quick thought on why this hobby does persist in the computer age, especially in light of the involved melee example given earlier in this post. I’d say the following, in no particular order of importance, is relevant:
the overall aesthetics of a game table with nicely painted armies and good scenery,
the artistic pride a hobbyist takes to learn the painting skill set then ownership of a lovingly but laboriously painted unit or army,
the slow and social nature of a game (enhanced by good food and beverages) played by standing around a table as opposed to online chats during frantic gameplay.