Here's a brief after-action report of a session, or rather a micro-session, that took place recently of the original Barbarian Kings, another of SPI's small-scale, speculative games from the pages of Ares Magazine, which I awakened from its PDF hibernation over at the Internet Archive.
BK caught my eye with its curious blend of hex-and-counter wargame grit and a generous sprinkling of magic stardust and purple smoke, so I decided to breathe new life into this old warrior, thinking perhaps to entice my 11-year-old son into playing it. As part of the homebrew process, I whipped up a set of counters that included a personal attempt to update the original graphics whilst remaining true to the sacred writ of Lord R.A. Simonsen, High Mage of ye Wargame Graphic Design. My set included a generous number of "flag" markers in the colours of the various king factions (to hopefully alleviate the bookkeeping chores of unit ownership) plus some markers indicating things like hexes affected by various elemental spells, as well as zombie unit status, just for the heck of it.
To my delight, after I showed him the map and summarized the rules (all six pages of them), my son liked what he saw and readily agreed to try it out with me. He requested a detailed analysis of the various branches of magic - specifically, which spells did what - and the abilities of kings and wizards to employ them. Satisfied, we began.
Turn 1: We each selected our three starting provinces. I claimed the northern barbarian lands of Kann, Arkann and Sukann, while the lad selected the feudal provinces of Chevois and Romark in the south, plus Ela, half of the elvish forest island between the Mel Fira Ocean and the West Starsea. (These names do stir the blood, do they not?)
I bequeathed unto my king the heroic ability of Tactical Skill not once, not twice, but thrice - making him the most cunning battle lord on the continent. My son gifted his with a modest blend of Magic and Heroic abilities, to which I paid no heed.
When it came time to purchase units, I raised a mixed force of barbarian infantry and cavalry, plus a fleet with which to wreak havoc.
My son purchased nothing. Not one unit. "Uh... are you sure about that?" I asked.
Turn 2: I sailed to Korsland with a cavalry unit, my king striking a heroic pose on the prow of the lead ship with war axe in hand. He leapt ashore with his men and horses, and brought this barbarian hinterland under the flag of my growing domain. "Ha hahhh," I exulted.
In the First Magic Phase, my son's king cast an Allegiance spell, rolled a 1, and took control of every neutral unit on the map.
Turn 3: Having grievously mismanaged my kingdom's accounts (ahem) I was forced to sack a few of my barbarian units back in the homelands to balance the books, and so decided to put my king's mighty warcraft to immediate use by galloping into my son's adjacent mountain province of Andesite.
He reinforced his dwarf unit there (via impulse movement, rule 8.7) with elvish infantry from the forests of Sira... led by two newly purchased Heroes, each with Tactical Skill.
There, among the pitiless, fog-skirted peaks, it was demonstrated to me how dwarves have their combat strength doubled in the mountains, while cavalry strength is halved. By sunset, my king was being carted away in iron shackles for an extended term busting rocks in the salt mines of Romark.
I allowed myself the luxury of a moment of gaping at the map in slack-jawed stupefaction (we had agreed before playing that capturing your opponent's king would comprise a victory) before roaring with laughter as we embraced in a back-slapping hug.
Thanks so much for that amazing session report! I know this feeling all to well, my son (also 11) and I just played Cave Evil : Warcults the other day and he kicked my fat old ass all through that cave. Was so much fun and also really great to have him excited to play a hex and counter style game with me. Fantastic post, thanks for the laugh!
Enjoyed your AAR.
I played this when I got it in Ares magazine in the 1970s. (Yeah, I'm that old). I played once with a co-worker. We went back and forth, when I felt like I had him on the ropes. Nope, he came across the mountains with a flying unit taking a rear area I left open, trapping my army on two sides and eventually won the day. What made it memorable was how close I thought I was to victory, and how with a single flying unit I never took seriously, he snatched that away from me within a couple turns. Loved the game. Loved the simplicity of the game, allowing us to spend more time playing the game vs fighting the rules every 10 minutes.
Stay thirsty my friends.
I too still love this game! (Another old as dirt fan with the boxed SPI/Ares edition.)
I think the new edition is hideous, and I believe some rules were changed, but still a wonderful play!
Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Next try The Sword and the Stars!