Everyone loves a big game – you get out snacks, cold beers, cram all your loudest and most obnoxious friends into one room, and have a great time. So when the guys invited me to a big game party this Sunday, I immediately started brewing up lists to put on the table. But then I realized that they meant that other big game. But that’s no reason not to write an article. So lets take a look at running “big games” of Blood & Plunder. Multiplayer games in particular.
How Big is Army Scale
Firelock already has a set of guidelines for running big games. The ‘No Peace’ expansion gives us the rules for Army Scale. Officially, Army Scale starts at 300 points. Generally, I would agree with that, albeit with a few exceptions. The two most notworthy being sea games, and the new 18th century factions in ‘Raise the Black’. A galleon can easily run up to 600 points and not require changing anything, and the new factions (particularly the Army factions) can chew up a 300pt list with just 40 models.
Aside from the obvious table scaling (3’x5′ for land games below 500pts, and 4’x6′ for larger games, and 4’x6′ and 4’x8′ for sea battles of the same size) the major change is in dividing your forces.
The largest concern for playing big games is unit size. At 300 points, you’re looking at units of 5-16 models. When units become that large, the math of the game becomes more-than-a-little strained. That 4 point musket upgrade for the unit, is now .25pts per guy. When those units Shoot, it becomes far more likely that the enemy unit will become immediately Shaken, and a 16-man Melee can be more than enough to wipe an enemy unit out entirely with 7 Fatigue.
Army Scale does away with that concern by breaking the forces down into sub-divisions called ‘Companies’. Each Company is then an independent force, made of at least 100 points. So a 400pt force broken into 2 companies would have maximum unit sizes of 12, rather than 20. The rules do make a not that these subdivisions do not need to be even. You can break a 400pt force into Companies of 200/100/100, if you like.
The Playbook: Activations at Army Scale
Once the Companies are formed, the players nominate an ‘Army Commander’. That player and their in-game Commander are now in over all command of the force. The Army Commander may give Command Points to any friendly unit. The Commander in each Company force may only assign Command Points to units of their own Company.
Each Commander draws a hand of cards equal to the number of Companies in his force. He then activates those Companies just like units – one card activates the entire Company, with all units using the card assigned.
When moving Ships, a force’s ships will always move on the Army’s first card, the Army’s last card, and the individual captains must choose one other card to move their ship (usually the card used to activate their Company, unless they are the first or last company to activate).
The most obvious drawback to Army Scale activation is that all your units are activating on a single card. If you’re Spanish and get activated on a Club, your entire force is going to gain extra reloads for Poorly Equipped.
The next drawback applies to Sea Games – your ship will always move twice (and enemy ships might move 3 times) before you get to activate any of your units.
The Army Scale rules work great for large games fought between 2 players. I particularly enjoy using them for battles fought “In the European Style” of men in close formations on the field. It’s less fun however, for multiplayer fighting. And that’s where the multiplayer variants come in.
Fortunately, ‘No Peace’ also includes some discussion of multiplayer variants.
Each Player Fields Their Own Force
In this variant, each player draws a hand of cards and activates their force as normal. Everybody throws a card in the ring, flips it over, and activates. Players with fewer units can choose to pass a card until everyone has the same number of cards in hand. It’s pretty self explanatory.
It’s also very slow! The rulebook suggests not using this method for more than 4 players, and that’s not wrong. You’re still activating a large number of units one by one.
The other unexpected (but actually, quite fun) side effect to games like this, is that there are a lot more Event Cards in play. With 6 players at the table, you can see up to 12 events. The unbridled chaos of this is always a laugh.
Ship movement in this game is handled just like regular B&P, with each player moving on their first card, last card, and one card in between. However, I recommend that because players can pass activations, all ships must move on the first activation of the turn, and must hold their last movement until the final activation of the turn. They can still pass cards and not activate a unit, but they must move the ship. This makes movement tracking easier for everyone, and also avoids strange “snap moves” where a ship doesn’t move at all, and then takes three moves back-to-back after their opponent has already moved twice.
Each Player Fields a Portion
This variant is just a big game of Blood & Plunder, where a few players take ownership of units in the force. When those units are activated, the “helping hands” decide what the unit will do. This can be a great way to teach new players the game, or to get youngsters involved – but it’s pretty boring for salty plunderers.
Each Player Fields a Company in Army Scale
This is by far my least favorite way to play B&P unless you are at convention and refighting a historical ‘European’ battle, with each player managing a formation of men. Otherwise, this is only marginally faster than the method above, but far more “swingy.” One player can unload their ship or muskets into another, and there’s no chance for that player to react before Fatigue and Damage stack up. They then spend their own activation just trying to Rally it all off.
Ship movement works just like in Army Scale.
Simultaneous Activation in Army Scale
This is by far the best way to handle multiplayer games. It works a lot like Army Scale with the Companies. However, instead of a single player activating their entire Company, all players activate a single unit from their own Company.
The ‘Army Commander’ still controls the hand of cards, but they draw a number of cards equal to the highest number of units from any Company. Players with fewer units in their company may choose to pass on any card and not activate.
Ship Movement works just like Army Scale, with players choosing which “middle card” to use for their second movement.
This method works well for playing very quickly, because you are activating multiple units at once (like Army Scale) but they are spread nicely across the battlefield. It also keeps everyone engaged, with nobody waiting for 5 other players to complete their activations.
Big Sea Game Activation
There is an even faster version of the previous activation system, useful for large Sea Games. The game’s creator suggested this on one of the social media pages.
Rather than drawing cards based on the number of units, the Commander draws cards based on the highest number of deck sections controlled by any Company. Instead of each player activating a single unit per card, they activate all units in a single deck section. This means no player should be activating more than 2 units at a time.
There is some clarification necessary for this method.
- A unit that has moved into a section during a previous activation cannot be activated again. The unit should be marked in some way to show that it has moved.
- Remember that whenever a unit is engaged in boarding actions, it counts as occupying both the deck it charged from, and the deck it charged in to. Once the deck is clear, the unit may move onto the other ship.
- Captured decks/ships count towards the number of cards drawn. If your team is drawing 4 cards but then the Size 4 player captures an enemy deck – now the team draws 5 cards for as long as that deck remains occupied. Likewise, if a deck is captured by the enemy, reduce the number of cards drawn if necessary.
- Each Boat (size 1 vessel) counts as an individual deck section.
This method plays out faster than Company Scale activation, and can be great for playing large sea battles with several players. If you hand them a ship that is focused on Assignments (eg. artillery) or has a single unit per deck, this can be a very easy way for new players to learn the game.
Designing Forces for Big Games
My opinion is that the best ‘Big Games’ are played to recreate a particular historical event. In those games, it’s easier for the scenario designer to dictate the forces used for each side. If you’re playing this scenario at a Convention and/or with newer players, try to keep the forces relatively simple. When I ran my ‘Extremest Hazard of Fire & Sword’ scenario, each of the English factions was virtually identical – just 3 boats full of Freebooters. The Spanish ships were a little more diverse, but each was simply a single large unit per deck, and none of them had any fancy tricks.
You want to teach new players how to play the game – not how to pilot a particular force. Abusing ‘Motivated’ to reload your guns really fast can be hilarious, but that’s not something to show new players during a participation game.
If you’ve merely been invited to participate in a large battle, bringing your own list – just make sure that your force won’t bog the game down. If your group wants to play a 300pt sea battle featuring a galleon or two, that’s cool. Don’t be “that guy” and show up with a force of 8 canoes. Nobody wants to be sitting around while you laboriously maneuver 8 separate vessels.
Big games are about the spectacle, and they absolutely put on a show. It’s my favorite way to engage with ‘Blood & Plunder’, and I would love to host another large convention battle some day. Historicon isn’t too far away, but also not so close that there’s no prep time. Additionally, there are plans for a large fleet battle as well as a big amphibious game at Adepticon. So as always, stay tuned.
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