Saturday, November 26, 2022

Back of Beyond: "Keys to Shambhala"

I've been reading Andrei Znamenski's 2011 book "Red Shambhala: Magic, Prophecy and Geopolitics in the Heart of Asia" this week. Exploring Bolshevik efforts in the 1920s to exploit apocalyptic Buddhist prophecies to sway Mongolia and Tibet towards Marxism-Leninism, it's ripe for being turned into a Pulpy "Back of Beyond" skirmish game. And so, going through the figures I've got painted (and painting one to finish things off), I prepped a game for this holiday weekend. I need to get some more White Russians and Warlord Chinese painted at some point in the near future to expand these games some as well. 

Honestly, some of the personalities operating in Central Asia during this period are more colorful than would be believable in fiction, which is just wonderful for gaming purposes; I've been a big fan of Roy Chapman Andrews, the American paleontologist who retrieved the first known dinosaur eggs from Mongolia in this period (and who was one of the models for Indiana Jones), for many years now, and he's almost bland by comparison to the likes of Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg, Frank "One-Armed" Sutton, Colonel Frederick M. Bailey, and Cheka agent, cryptographer and paranormal investigator Gleb Bokii.

Bokii's efforts to organize a scientific expedition to locate the legendary kingdom of Shambhala and convince the Ascended Masters therein to turn their occult superscience towards the Bolshevik cause was the inspiration for today's game. I didn't have any figures scrawny and weaselly enough to pass for Bokii, so I used a figure from Pulp Figures' recent "Arcane Academics" Kickstarter as a fictionalized stand-in: Dr. Sergei Kolchak - revolutionary spy, agent provocateur and occult investigator. His grandson would continue the family tradition of exploring the paranormal, fifty years later in the 1970s. 

Setup: 1924, Southern Mongolia. Dr. Sergei Kolchak, head of a secret occult investigation unit within the Soviet Secret Police, has become obsessed with legends of the hidden kingdom of Shambhala in Central Asia; he seeks to meld Leninist-pattern communism with Tantric Buddhist teachings to produce a stronger, more spiritually-pure version of Communist ideology. The monks of the Emerald Monastery, he believes, hold the secret to Shambhala’s location. He’s had the monastery shelled to convince the monks to surrender, and now, under cover of darkness, leads a team into the ruins to collect the monks. However, a team of American expat mercenaries, all veterans of the Polar Bear Operation in 1918, are on hand to protect the monks.


  • General Cappy Boyd (Leader; Encouraging, Steady, Smart) armed with a Pistol
  • Sgt. Piney (Specialist; Tough as Nails, Deadeye) armed with a BAR
  • Pvt. Junior Jones (Regular; Dodge) armed with a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle (anachronistic, I know, but deal with it)
  • Zeb Walton (Regular; Stealthy) armed with a Rifle
  • Michael "Boomer" Murphy (Regular; Sprinter) armed with Dynamite Bundles and a Pistol


  •  Dr. Sergei Kolchak (Leader; Cold-Blooded, Bodyguard, Occult Expert), armed with a Pistol
  • Dragovitch (Specialist; Brawler, Pugilist), armed with a Pistol
  • Commissar Ivanov (Regular; Ferocious), armed with a Pistol and Saber
  • Olga, Heroine of the Revolution (Regular; Indomitable) armed with a Pistol and Banner
  • Red Guardsmen (Grunt Group; Loyal) armed with Rifles

 The Bolsheviks deployed at the northern table edge, while Cappy and Sgt. Piney deployed in the ruined monastery at the center of the table with the four monks; the remainder of the Mercenaries began play off-table, arriving at the table edge upon their turn in the initiative order. Night has fallen, reducing all weapons to an effective range of 12" and giving everyone a -1 modifier to Shooting attacks. The scenario is basically "Caught in a Tight Spot" out of the Fistful of Lead: Wasteland Warriors book. I randomized the table edges that the remaining Mercenaries arrived at though. 

Kolchak moved into cover and took a long shot at General Cappy Boyd and missed; Boyd returned fire, putting a Shock token on Kolchak. Sgt. Piney opened up on the group of Bolsheviks with full auto fire, putting one grunt Out of Action, wounding Commissar Ivanov and putting a Shock token on Dragovitch, while going Out of Ammo himself in the process.


The game quickly turned into a swirl of shooting and close combat as the Bolsheviks attempted to rally and storm the fortified position Boyd and Piney were holding and Junior, Zeb and Boomer entered the field from three different table edges. And, I'll be honest - I got three hours of sleep last night, and I've been up for nineteen hours as of when I'm writing this, and I'm pretty sure I forgot to update the turn counter a couple times. So what happened when is a little hazy today. Instead of the full play-by-play, here's some highlights:

  • Ivanov stands back up after being wounded by Piney, advances towards the center of the table, and is wounded a second time, this time by a shot from Boyd. He stands up again and actually scales the wall to reach the platform the monks are on. He gets into close combat with Boyd and wins, putting the General Out of Action. Before he can grab a monk and make his escape, he's shot by Piney and put Out of Action himself.
  • After using burst fire on the Bolsheviks, Piney was shot at by one of the grunts, taking a Shock token and retreating to the far side of the platform. He spends his next turn reloading, and then is attacked by Dragovitch in close combat, winning and putting Dragovitch prone with a wound. Piney then turns and shoots Ivanov, who'd just killed Boyd.
  • Dragovitch succeeds on his recovery roll, stands up and, despite being wounded, punches out Piney - putting a Shock token on him and pushing him back AND OFF THE PLATFORM. The fall results in Piney taking a second Shock token. Before he can try to recover, Olga shoots him, putting a Wound on him. 
  • THREE figures rolled a "1" on a recovery roll to stand up after being wounded, resulting in them instead expiring and going Out of Action - Piney, Boomer (who was shot twice in quick succession by the last remaining Grunt) and Kolchak himself (shot by Zeb). All in the span of about two turns. 
  • In the final turn, it was just Olga, one Red Guardsman, Junior and Zeb left on the table. Zeb beat the Red Guardsman in close combat, putting the grunt Out of Action, while Olga went Out of Ammo while shooting at Junior from cover. Olga decided fleeing the table was the better course of action than standing around fumbling with reloading her revolver. 


So a victory for the Mercenaries, but a costly one, with only two figures left on the board. I think the monastery may have ended up over-fortified; the Bolsheviks had a very hard time even getting close to the monks, and didn't manage to even shift any of them off the platform; I think having the monks on the raised platform was probably a mistake in hindsight; Piney and Boyd were able to shoot down at the approaching Bolsheviks as they approached pretty handily, and the attackers had to circle around the platform to reach the stairs if they didn't feel like climbing a sheer building side while being shot at. Still, the Bolsheviks gave a pretty good showing for themselves, even if they didn't win.

Friday, November 25, 2022

Old School Miniatures "Starship Skirmishers" Kickstarter

 Old School Miniatures has a Kickstarter going for scifi skirmish figures, and you know me, I love scifi skirmish gaming. Jamie was kind enough to put a call out for volunteers to paint up some of the new figures, and I volunteered, receiving one figure. Between Royal UK Mail and the US Postal Service, I didn't receive it until November 22nd, halfway through the Kickstarter! I knuckled down though and got my contribution cleaned up, based, primed and painted - with 90% of the painting happening TODAY. 

And to top it all off, I can confidently say it's one of the best paintjobs I've ever done.

There's only four days left in the Kickstarter if you want to get a head start on adding this figure, and some other great Rogue Trader-inspired figures, to your collection.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Wasteland Warriors: Into the Zone

 So this AAR isn't Fistful of Lead's "Wasteland Warriors" proper, but more like "Fistful of Zona Alfa." I like the localized apocalypse of Osprey Games' Zona Alfa and its inspirational media (Roadside Picnic, etc), but mechanically, Fistful of Lead is much more my speed. So instead of going full Kamandi, this game is a little more subdued; as such, scavenge points and the Wasteland Warriors rule of "once you go out of ammo, that's it" aren't in play.

15 years ago, an extraterrestrial encounter - a "roadside picnic," the equivalent of a representative of an unimaginably advanced civilization stopping on earth long enough to change a flat and smoke a cigarette - resulted in the creation of the New Mexico Exclusion Zone in the American Southwest. The "Zone" is a place where the normal laws of physics are only loosely enforced, and entrance into the Zone is illegal; nonetheless, the Zone is home to no shortage of bandits, refugees and exiles. Long-term exposure to the Zone results in madness and mutation; many of the Zone's residents could be classified as prehuman, abhuman or posthuman - scientists disagree, but there's speculation that some of these things arrived in the Zone via time- or dimensional portals from somewhere entirely alien. 

From the ravings of an escapee from the Zone, President-for-Life Travolta has learned that an extant copy of Polybius, an arcade game designed as a CIA psyop in the 1980s, might still exist in the camp of a sociopathic bandit gang called the Junkyard Dawgs. Intrigued and eager to lay hands on such a game, President Travolta has authorized a fireteam of private military contractors to enter the Zone and retrieve Polybius' hard drive.


The PMCs are at the bottom of the photo; the Dawgs are deployed in cover.

THE PMCs (Gang Trait: Ranger)

Figures by Hasslefree Miniatures

  • Captain Victoria Chelinski (Leader; Leader, Veteran, Encouraging, Sixth Sense) armed with a pistol with laser sights and a cigar (1/game, removes all Shock)
  • Deano (Specialist; Coolheaded, Tough as Nails) armed with body armor, a medkit and an automatic rifle
  • Harlequin (Regular; Sniper) armed with body armor and an automatic rifle
  • Freak (Regular; Sprinter) armed with body armor and a shotgun
  • Woody (Regular; Stealthy) armed with body armor and an automatic rifle

THE JUNKYARD DAWGS (Gang Trait: Fearless

Figures originally by Grenadier, I think I got mine through Forlorn Hope Games

  • Big Nick (Leader; Leader, Coldblooded, Impervious, Tough as Nails) armed with an SMG and knife
  • Grill (Specialist; Stealthy, Deadeye) armed with a flamethrower and knife
  • Hogan (Regular; Loads of Ammo) armed with an automatic rifle and knife
  • Legs (Regular; Quick) armed with a shotgun and knife
  • Barbie (Regular; Killer) armed with an SMG and knife

The Dawgs started the game deployed in cover around the table, with the PMCs beginning play clustered at one table edge. To make things interesting, once models begin taking injuries, they run the risk of attracting wandering threats from the Zone. As long as at least one unhealed Wound is on the table, each turn ends with a roll of a D10, + the number of Wounds on the table (figures put Out of Action that turn count as 2 Wounds, but don't count towards subsequent turns). If the result is 10 or higher, I'd randomly determine a threat that entered the table, activating on the following turn. Obviously, things would start slow but once the wounds started piling up, more and more threats would show up. 

Captain Chelinski motioned her team forward, advancing into the cactus patch for cover; Barbie stepped forward and fired ineffectively with her SMG at the PMC leader. Freak darted forward and gave Barbie a blast from his shotgun - "1!" Out of Ammo! Meanwhile, Harlequin moved into the shadow of the nearest building, attracting the attention of Legs.

On Turn 2, Legs gave Harlequin a blast from her shotgun, putting her down with a Wound. Deano moved forward and returned fire, Wounding Legs. Captain Chelinski Wounded Barbie with a pistol shot while Freak reloaded. Woody advanced almost to the long main building of the bandit camp. No threats showed up on Turn 2.


Turn 3 saw Deano rush forward and heal Harlequin with the medkit. Unfortunately, Legs struggled to her feet and fired again with her shotgun; Harlequin was put Out of Action and Deano took a Shock token, retreating towards cover. Chelinski finished off Barbie with a pistol shot and waved Woody towards the main building. Unfortunately, Woody got fried extra crispy by Grill and his flamethrower. Drawn by the sounds of combat and the smell of blood and burning flesh, a squad of Hunter-Killer Robots entered the table.

Turn 4, Chelinski shot Grill, Wounding him; he managed to regain his feet and tried to roast Chelinski, but rolled a "1" and going Out of Ammo. Hogan emerged from cover into the alleyway between the two side buildings, shooting ineffectively at Chelinski and getting sent Out of Action by Freak. Seeing this, Legs decided that it wasn't worthwhile to stick around, and routed off the table. Big Nick emerged from the long building, Wounding Chelinski and getting Wounded in turn when a Hunter-Killer robot opened fire with full-auto on him and Grill. Stumbling to his feet and retreating, Grill ran headlong into a slow-moving, blubbery mutant, drawn by the smell of blood.

Staggering to her feet, Chelinski put two Hunter-Killers out of action with two well-placed shots; Big Nick likewise managed to regain his feet, firing again at Chelinski and going Out of Ammo. The Sludge-Man killed Grill easily in close combat, and kept advancing towards the center of fighting. Advancing across the table, Deano shot Big Nick, sending him running with a Shock token - directly into the arms of the Sludge-Man. Big Nick, wounded and out of ammo, was no match for the slobbering mutant. A second Sludge-Man arrived, drawn by the smell of carnage.

Exchanging fire with the remaining Hunter-Killer and the first Sludge-Man kept Freak and Deano busy while Chelinski obtained the Polybius hard drive. Freak ended up in close combat with the second Sludge-Man, and a second squad of Hunter-Killers arrived on the table, while Deano and Chelinski made their way back across the table towards their starting edge with the Polybius hard drive. 

Freak managed to get the Sludge-Man between the Hunter-Killers and himself, letting the machines' simple programming save his bacon; programmed to eradicate the nearest living being, the three robots stood stock still, firing repeatedly into the regenerative bulk of the Sludge-Man without real effect while Freak slipped away, rejoining Chelinski and Deano. They'd fulfilled their objective; hopefully President-for-Life Travolta wouldn't simply order their liquidation once they turned the hard drive over to him.


All in all a really solid game; the addition of random monsters (I made a chart, but just rolled H-K Robots and Sludge-Men instead of any Rad-Zombies, Rad-Ghouls, or Big Mutants. Oh well) made a big difference in that the game wasn't simply over when the PMCs wiped out the Junkyard Dawgs; there was still a threat putting pressure on them, so there was no assumption of completing the original objective of collecting the hard drive. I still had to play out their escape from the table.