I played the Ex-Illis miniature game! Haaldaar and I managed to clear enough time on Labor Day to get in three games using the Ex-Illis Beta Kit at our friendly local game store. Each beta kit comes with enough units for a two-player game or you can use the entire kit as a single army. Haaldaar has the kit, but does not have his miniatures together, so we split my army into two equal parts per the rule book and got down to the violence!
Here is a shot of our setup before combat began. We made a slight mistake in the setup, as he single units are heroes and have a retinue with them. We corrected it before starting.
I did not have time to paint my army, so I just primed half of them for easy identification during our test. The map we used is actually one of two available for the game. Haaldaar got the basic set that comes with the laminated map and I bought the “integral” set that comes with interlocking, paintable plastic squares for the maps. They cover the same area, but the plastic plates are nicer. I did not bring them with me because they also need painting, so the laminated map creates a prettier shot for the blog. Here is a shot of the unpainted plastic map plates if you are interested.
Ex-Illis uses software for combat and movement resolution, so we loaded the most current version on Haaldaar’s Mac laptop on the virtual Windows XP partition for the test. When the game starts, each player places his armies in the five starting squares on their side of the map and then the second player repeats the process. Secret unit placement only works when you use two separate devices (or close your eyes while the other army places). We agreed that secret placement changes the game start a bit, but nothing major for the purposes of our test.
Once placed, the software prompts player one to send orders to his units. The instructions for the beta kit are a bit spartan, but some sort of initiative order roll takes place at the beginning of the game. In Haaldaar’s case, his Chevalers (heavy cavalry) went first and he moved them forward. No attack, but they have good movement and got within striking distance. It was then my turn and my Ympes (Imps, ranged casters) now had a shot at the Chevalers. We launched the attack and did some damage, but did not penetrate their armor very well. I also got in a volley from my longbowmen on the Chevalers, but they also did only minor damage. Haaldaar retaliated with a Chevaler charge into my Ympes and killed 4 units in a single attack! Argh! Then his Villiens (peasants with pikes) did something that I did not catch and ended his turn. I took this opportunity to charge my Hobelars (light cavalry) into the pathetic peasant army of Villiens. Sadly, I missed the part where Haaldaar had them set spears against the charge! They took minimal damage, but my Hobelars took 75% casualties. I retaliated with a longbowmen/Ympes volley that killed 50% of the Villiens. After each attack the software tells you how many models to remove in the event of casualties.
We shared a single computer, but we both agreed that each player needs their own device, both for issues of time and secrecy. Time because sharing a single computer is a little cumbersome and secrecy becomes critical during the game. Not knowing if the pikemen , for example set against the charge really adds a level of complexity to your strategy.
The strategic part of the game resembles many other miniature war games, with each side trying to maneuver their best units into advantageous positions. The Chevalers did tremendous damage on a charge, but were far less effective in melee combat. In fact, my billmen (pikemen) hurt them badly in melee combat. Once I discovered that tidbit, I worked very hard to keep the Chevalers engaged in melee whenever possible. However, the Ympes which were fodder on a Chevaler charge, utterly crushed the horsemen with a special lightning attack that targets armor.
Each unit had several options. My Ympes (Imps) for example, had basically five actions; move, fireball attack, lightning attack, melee and a special “mirror image” defensive ability that made them hard to hit for a few rounds. Other units had different options based on their attacks or special abilities. Some of the more powerful special abilities took longer to execute. A notable example were the Arbalestiers (heavy crossbowmen with shields). They did tremendous damage with a volley, but they also spent an entire action reloading, firing every other round.
Each model also had a speed rating. My Ympes fired at least twice before the Chevalers could charge another target. We also noticed that fatigue and morale play a part in unit capabilities. After a particularly bloody round, the peasants simply refused to fight! They could only hold against a charge or retreat, but not engage in melee. Several of the units had “boost morale” powers and this is why. Fatigued units loose the ability to deal damage. Tired units simply do less damage on each hit. In the lower right corner of the screen is a colored grid that probably gives some sort of morale/fatigue feedback, but we did not really worry about it. I will research this further for future games.
Combat resolution is unusual. A screen pops up with an icon representing each attack floating about. They float randomly around the screen and quickly change between different results. You click on each icon and whatever it was at that moment is the result of the attack. In a ranged attack, you either get an “arrow in the target” for a hit, a shield for a arrow that hit armor, an arrow in the dirt for a clean miss or an arrow hitting a person in the back for hitting your own troops! If you do not want to chase the icons on the screen, you hit the arrow in lower-right and it will resolve all of them instantly. Each combat takes only seconds and the results display clearly. I tried to get screen captures, but I could not get windows to cooperate. Look for these in a future post.
Since this is a beta test, we had issues with the software. The first game crashed about half-way through and the subsequent games both crashed when one player exterminated the other and it tried to load the victory screen. However, we were running Windows XP on top of the Snow Leopard OS using Parallels, so it is impossilbe to say how a native windows machine might perform. (Neither of us own a Windows laptop and my Windows XP netbook does not have enough video card horsepower to drive the game.) We also felt some of the units had balance issues. Regardless, I bought the game knowing that it was in beta and I was a beta tester. I expect future versions of the software to resolve many of these issues.
The bottom line for both of us is that we had a lot of fun playing the game and intend to play it again. Once Haaldaar gets his army together, we will play a full army-on-army game using a later version of the beta software in a few weeks. I will of course post about the experience.
If there are any other Beta kit owners out there, feel free to post about your own experiences in the comments or if you have a specific question.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer