Part 13 of 21 in Shall We Play a Game?

Shall We Play a Game?
(Is it Real or is it a Game?)

Part Thirteen

Campaign Trail

Recent developments necessitated a change in overall strategy. It seemed that Moregains was going to employ a scorched earth strategy. This meant we could expect her to raze any city we were going to attack before it became contested. That put shmuckers in her treasury and cost the Avon treasury to restore the cities. Of course it also reduced Fail Wail’s production and shmucker income but if we were going to conquer the city anyway, that was inevitable.

Nor could we risk ignoring cities and pushing onto the capital. Those cities would have units that could attack us from behind or interfere with our supply chains and attack reinforcements. They also contributed to the production and income of Fail Wail so we had to deny both capacities to the enemy.

Avon had an advantage that Fail Wail didn’t though. An ally who hadn’t reached the diminishing returns on city shmucker production yet. Every city added to our side was more units and shmuckers that could be added to the combined war effort. I had just demonstrated that the neutral cities in the area could potentially be converted to a side without conquest. This meant that Tipperary could potentially expand without incurring cost to our military capability. Indeed, each expansion would increase our military assets.

After much discussion and debate, we managed to hammer out a plan.

Avon’s forces would gather at Scarlet Fields (renamed from Idiot Ball) under Sir Lance’s banner. Once the expedition was of sufficient size, it would begin a traditional campaign of conquest against Fail Wail, laying siege to one city at a time and taking it. The path of the conquest would be southerly and aimed directly for the capital of Fail Wail itself.

While that was going on, King Author Pentagram would sally forth from the capital of Avon. He would attempt to use his natural date-a-mancy and the aid of his chief caster to turn a few neutral cities and would start building a massive expeditionary force to eventually rendezvous with Sir Lance’s forces.

While that was going on, Tipperary would be carrying out its own two prong strategy. Queen Tip with the assistance of Four Chan and Warlady Anne would head to neutral cities in the east that were safely surrounded by Avon territory. She would try and recruit four of those cities to our side.

Meanwhile I would head west and recruit neutral cities that were in Fail Wail territory. In particular cities that were in the northern quadrant of their territory. Like Queen Tip, I had four targets designated to capture.

That would leave three neutral cities in Fail Wail’s territory. It was hoped that these could be absorbed by King Pentagram when he started his push west.

That way we hoped to open up a three front war against Fail Wail. Avon would be responsible for two fronts and Tipperary would be responsible for one.

Avon would be a juggernaut in terms of number of cities and production capabilities but they would quickly exhaust their treasury. It would be Tipperary’s job to help staunch their hemmoraging cash flow problems. The primary way we would do that is feeding them all the cash we had left over after providing for the upkeep of our own units. That meant we wouldn’t be popping any more warlords than the one we already had in the que. It also meant we wouldn’t be hiring any casters from the magic kingdom. Scrolls were also a luxury we couldn’t easily afford anymore.

I had several ideas to also help with costs.

Avon had a number of expensive units, their chief caster especially. I introduced them to my shmuckers for rands exploit to bring those costs down significantly. That was just a drop in the bucket however.

The first big cost saver was Johny Dean. Avon would reduce the level of most of their cities, especially those away from the fighting. They would get schmuckers added to their treasury and then Johny would shore up their defenses.

The next cost saver was Andy. Avon and Tipperary would both pop cheap units and then he would provide them with dollamancy items to increase their effectiveness. He would actually halt production of golems to accomplish this. Relatively cheap items he could make were shock lances that provided a limited number of shockamancy attacks to knights (or really anyone). He also made shields that could soak up one shockamancy attack from the enemy before becoming an ordinary shield again. Another favorite were footwear for people and beasts both that would increase a unit’s move. Just a simple matter of adding motion to the items, apparently. Tip’s own skill at dollamancy though limited, allowed her to assist Andy on these projects, lending some of her own juice to the effort. These items would be transferred to Avon through the portals in the magic kingdom.

Focusing on the management of farms for the production of provisions to reduce the upkeep of both sides was another thing Tipperary would do for the war effort. We were even providing some non-combat courtiers to Avon so they could free up more of their warlords for battle.

King Pentagram invested some shmuckers to increase the number of Altruistic Elves in his service. A few of those he provided to our side so we would have a means to heal troops and reduce the number of losses we would incur. Most of them he sent to the front however.

In addition to the Major, Tip and my phone, Avon had three magical hats that could be used to send small objects and messages. Turned out that Four Chan’s cap was another such device. So we felt that we had communications more or less squared away. Regardless, we used the hats to share a code so that secure messages could be sent via thinkagram. It doesn’t matter if the enemy can hear you if they don’t understand what you’re saying. New codes would be sent every evening, just in case the enemy cracked the previous turn’s code. In addition, every code phrase had an alternate in case we suspected that the code was broken. A real possibility since Moregains was a master class signamancer. Not to mention being an adept in both date-a-mancy and flower power.

For transportation, I had a limited number of saw and Trojan horses. So I tasked the twolls at Outpost Four with creating battle wagons to carry troops and supplies while being pulled by our wood golems. One advantage is that I could set up a supply camp where our horses ran out of move or close to it and then march the troops the rest of the way to battle. I generally kept a small contingent of defenders back at camp along with the elves.

In addition, I ensured there were at least one saw horse or other mount with good move at every city. This set up a sort of pony express so that important units such as casters, messages or small but valuable items could be moved throughout the allied territory.

As courtiers were popped, Sir Forum was relieved of garrison duty. His new role would be to start taming ferals that we could use for battle as well as transportation. In particular, I wanted him to find us some flying mounts, such as gwiffons. When our first warlord was popped (a red head named appropriately enough, Ginger), I set her to recruiting ferals as well.

Queen Tip was soon reporting her successes, every second or third turn. The cities of Epsilon Legato, Gamma Hydra, Delta Cherry and Sherman Nirvana all joined the Tipperary roster. King Pentagram was reporting similar if slower success with his neutral cities.

That left me to deal with Shinzon, Alegeron, Pythos and Canaris. The campaign to recruit them wasn’t especially exciting though it did seem to take a long time. None of them were bought for a song like Outpost Four was. On the other hand, I managed to avoid any expensive promotions for any more units. Usually I had to bribe the highest level piker, stabber and archer present with a promotion to knight and the highest level non-combat unit usually received a promotion as well. It was actually a positive source of managers for cities and farms both.

Somehow Queen Tip had managed it in half the time and with no bribes at all. Her natural date-a-mancy was apparently quite strong. Well, that was consistent with my impressions of her signamancy.

Through it all, Sir Gala Band stayed by my side. He assured me that it was because he enjoyed my company but I was pretty certain that he was there to keep an eye on me. I definitely thought that Sir Lance considered me something of an unpredictable and unreliable barbarian. Given how I had behaved at the battle for Idiot Ball, I couldn’t blame him.

That was all just laying the foundations however. The time came for the invasion to start in earnest. Queen Tip sent ninety percent of the side’s entire army to my command as well as all of the warlords and most the casters. The Major was imbedded with King Pentagram’s forces to provide him with communications capabilities. All told we had a little over a thousand infantry and three hundred cavalry and ancillaries. We traveled as a single army and I trained my warlords as we went so they could train their units in turn.

Since it wasn’t part of my strategy to increase our holdings past the ten cities we already possessed, I left the sieges to Sir Lance and King Pentagram. They were better equipped for those anyway. Instead I focused on open engagements and raiding enemy supply lines (another source of income and provisions for us). I also tackled a lot of the scouting.

In other words, this campaign was a lot like every other one in history. There was a lot of hurry up and wait. There were long periods of boredom on the trail or at night that were interrupted with brief flurries of activity and danger. The days bled together and one battle seemed like any other.

Moregains continued her scorched earth strategy. In some ways that made things easier for us. But it also meant that the final battle would be hellabad. That was because she was withdrawing her prime troops to the capital and she had a lot of them.

The port city of Fail Wail bordered three water hexes and three land hexes. It was a level five city that had been (recently) enhanced by a dirtamancer (now in our employ). They had three ships in their fleet, arrayed in the middle water hex. The fleet had been larger but it was believed that she had hired them all out as mercenary forces to other units to keep paying her upkeep. Either that or they were raiding and razing weak cities of other sides. In a way, it was a classic supply by water scenario.

She also dominated the air space. Half a dozen Black Hawks had been popped and were at her disposal. They were supported by knights on brooms. The brooms were provided by a master class dollamancer in her employ by the name of Cover Girl.

Her last caster was Lady Jay, a master class healomancer who was an adept at moneymancy and dabbled in luckamancy. No doubt she was the reason the side was afloat at all but their treasury was surely nearly depleted by now. They only had one city to support a military created by fifteen cities.

The most powerful caster on our side was without a doubt Merlin Morgan. A name I thought to be ironic and appropriate. He was a master class signamancer an adept date-a-mancer and a novice florist. He also dabbled in such fields as shockamancy, lookamancy and foolamancy. Apparently the Major had picked up some new lookamancy and foolamancy tricks from her time with him. To Gala Band, I referred to Merlin as an Omnimancer. He agreed with the assessment.

Six thousand allied forces entered five hexes in a semi-circle around Fail Wail. The three land hexes closest to the capital were filled with their troops with more in the city itself. We would have to fight our way through them. The intent was to wipe out or push back all the forces surrounding the capital before attacking the city itself. This was a war that would be of total extermination.

We couldn’t afford a long siege. We were at the end of a very long supply chain. Of course, Fail Wail couldn’t afford one either. They would soon start to depop units due to lack of support. In just a few turns, we would be in the same boat unless we wanted to start razing Avon cities. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how King Pentagram intended to keep his side economically viable after this battle anyway.

As our forces prepared to move into our hex, I addressed my commanders, knights and senior stack leaders.

“Tippers! We have come a long way to be here. We have earned a place of respect beside our Avon allies. We have pulled our weight and more throughout this entire campaign. Many of you joined us from neutral sides. Some of you were popped as Tippers. From wherever you came from, you’re all equal here on the battlefield. Criticals are the great equalizer from newly popped infantry to the highest level commander!”

“Some of us may die in the battle to come. Some of us may level. I expect all of us to kill the enemy!” Despite my use of the vulgar words, my troops cheered. Soldiers have always loved a commander who swore like one of them. I didn’t pull punches with them either. I told them like it was.

“We have been given the northern most hex to take. I say that Avon has underestimated us! We will take our hex! We will help Avon with the hex beside us! Then we begin our attack against Fail Wail itself. And we will do all this before turn’s end!” Again they cheered.

“Remember your training! When the whistle’s blow, front rank goes back to be healed, next rank steps up fresh and ready to lay a hurt on the enemy. Kill the enemy in front of you but protect your brother and sister units to your right and to your left. Remember that they are also protecting you!” There were nods of agreement from them which is what I wanted to see.

“For your brothers and sisters, for the side, for Queen Tip, for the Titans, let them all see your mettle. May you crit and not be critted! Today will be the day that Tippers will be remembered when the last book of Fail Wail is written! History waits for you!”

The cheers became deafening and I smiled. They were as ready as I could make them. Now was the time to see if it had been enough. “FORM STACKS!”

As rehearsed to exhaustion the night before, my army fell into formation. Sir Gala Band rode up beside me. “Impressive date-a-mancy in that speech. I’m beginning to believe the rumours that you’re one-part warlord, one-part hippie caster.”

“I’m an old war hippie.” I said with a smile and a wink. I gave my weapons all one last once over. I was down to half the ammo I had originally started with as shells had been lost here and there in battle after battle. Andy and Johny had been too busy to see about providing me with new ammo and honestly, it was a pretty low priority. Besides, arrows were popping in my quiver every morning now.

It was my bow that I would be starting with today. “Archers! Prepare to volley! Target air power!”

We made it rain.

Enemy fliers were exterminated before we ran out of arrows. Regardless I had more bundles brought up by our twolls who had been working day and night to ensure we would not run out. Once we took the hex, our archers would assist Avon to the south and engage targets of opportunity on the city walls. For now, however they would soften up the enemy infantry as much as they could.

Fail Wail’s infantry was well protected by their shields however.

“Archers fall back!” I bellowed my order. “Cavalry prepare to charge! Target enemy cavalry and heavies. Infantry, march in after them. Stabbers screen them from enemy infantry. Pikers, flank enemy cavalry. Charge!”

Sir Gala Band and I led the charge. My massive Trojan horse crashed past ranks of pikers. Barding provided by Andy protected it from damage. I had a dollamancy sword in each hand and I was mowing enemy pikers down like wheat. The belly of my horse opened up and two knights rolled out and started screening me from infantry.

Behind me I could hear whistles blowing, signalling the steady changes of stacks to the front. With healers in the rear, my infantry was a meat grinder that chewed up and spit out enemy corpses. At least as long as the elves’ juice held out.

An enemy warlord charged me. He was the hex commander. My Trojan horse stomped enemy infantry in front of me into the ground and I swung my swords to cut a swath to him. We exchanged blows for a few moments before he managed to knock one of the swords out of my hand.

“That was a mistake!” I yelled at him as I parried a two handed attack from him.

He sneered at me. “And why is that?”

“Because I brought a gun.” My pistol whipped out of its holster and I shot him in the face. Then I emptied the magazine into enemy knights that were rushing towards me. One of my own knights handed me back my sword and I continued to hack and slash at the enemy. He took the pistol and traded magazines for me as I had taught him and then it was returned to my holster.

“Our boys beside us are having trouble with those broom knights.” Gala Band advised me and gestured.

“Acknowledged. Help me disengage!” My order brought up several stacks of infantry and I pulled back to the rear of the hex.

“Archers! Watch my trace!” I unslung my bow again and started to engage enemy fliers in the neighboring hex. As I had taught them, my archers volleyed the targets I selected until they were dropping like flies.

“Bring up the magazine wagons!” I commanded over my shoulder to the hex we had recently occupied. Soon more arrows would be arriving.

Then I turned my attention back to the battle. We were driving the enemy units back and decimating their stacks but they weren’t retreating out of the hex. They were going to fight to the last unit with no surrender asked or offered.

I sighed at the waste. The hex would soon be ours.

Sure enough, the enemy were so many corpses on the battlefield.

Sir Gala Band rode up to join me.

We both received a thinkagram from the Major at the same time. “Sir Lance has fallen. Gala Band, you are now chief warlord. Move to the far south hex. King Pentagram wants that you send your cavalry units with him, Justin.”

The newly made chief warlord looked at me questioningly.

I nodded. “Cavalry units! Go with Sir Gala Band. You’re under his command now.” Together they rode out the way we had come and the long way around to the far enemy hex.

Ginger rode up to me on her saw horse. “The hex is ours, chief! What are your orders?”

“Bring me my commanders.” I decided after a moments thought. “Casters too.”

Ginger turned her saw horse around and fetched them all.

“Warlady Anne, take direct command of the archers. Line up on the border with the city but don’t engage yet. We don’t want to have them firing back on us just yet. Johnny, create some defensive barricades for her archers to hide behind once the volleys begin.” They left to carry out my orders.

“Sir Forum, I want you in command of the pikers. You’ll be leading the march into the next hex to help our Avon allies.” He nodded and left to organize the stacks.

“Ginger, you’ll be with me, fighting with the infantry. Andy, you’ll be with us. Use your toys and hobokens to take out targets of opportunity amongst the enemy leadership and heavies. Also, split the elves between the infantry and the archers. When they run out of juice, rotate them out of the battle space.”

We marched into the middle enemy hex but there was barely room for us. The enemy had filled the hex with heavies and knights. My infantry was harder pressed to make headway against them then they were against the lighter enemy forces we had just engaged. It made sense. Fail Wail had underestimated us and had focused their defense against the expected approach of King Pentagram.

I scanned the hex with my scope. The King was at the front and was being pushed back by some heavies. It was for situations such as this that I reserved my rifle these days. My Remington delivered precision shots against the enemy heavies. Ten rounds later, I was out of long rifle ammo but the King now had some breathing room that his knights rushed to fill.

Only then did a warlord in heavy black armor enter my view. His face was covered with a pair of goggles and a mask. In fact he looked rather like an apocalyptic enforcer of the law. He matched the description of Sir Moredread. “Why couldn’t that bastard appear when I still had rounds in my rifle?”

He was cutting swath through Avon units to their king.

I pulled out my phone and made a call. “Gala Band! Your king is in trouble. Drop everything and charge into this hex!” I didn’t wait for his reply.

“Make me a wedge to the center of the hex!” I commanded. “We have to stop that black armored knight at all costs!” My bow was out and I started firing.

To my frustration, every shot either bounced off his shield or hit another enemy unit who just happened to move in the way at the worst possible moment. It was like he was a GM’s pet and the GM was a cheating bastard.

Then an enemy piker got a lucky swing at my bow, past the screen I had around me. The bow snapped in two. “WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK!”

Enemy units in the immediate vicinity collectively took a step back. I drew a sword in one hand and my pistol in the other and then urged my Trojan horse forward.

Between sword swings and pistol shots, I saw Moredread close with King Pentagram and the two start to exchange brutal, two handed blows. It was a drama I had seen and read about many times and just as those times, I seemed to be helpless to prevent it.

On the other side of the royal melee, Gala Band was experiencing similar frustration as he pushed forward through a mass of enemy units.

To our mutual terror, we both saw Moredread’s sword plunge into King Pentagram’s belly. Why hadn’t the fool listened to his warlords and stayed off the battlefield?

With a superhuman push, Gala Band broke free and his sword plunged into Moredread’s side all the way to the hilt.

Likewise, I had a clear shot and my last bullet blew Moredread’s brains out the back of his head.

“Gala Band!” I shouted over the din of the melee. “Get your king out of the hex! I’ll take command here!”

“Chief!” Andy rode up beside me. “The elves are out of juice!”

“Of course they are!” I followed that up with a litany of curses that would make a sailor blush and pushed enemy units well away from me.

Gala Band was personally pulling his sovereign up onto his horse and riding for the rear of the hex with all due haste.

“Tippers! Reform ranks! Avon forces! Reform with them! Protect your king’s withdraw! For Queen Tip! For King Author!” Hectic movement took place around me. The allied forces formed a wall of infantry from one end of the hex to the other. “Commanders! Blow your whistles!”

The meat grinder started churning out corpses again though now we were taking casualties as well. “Commanders! Take the heavily injured out of the battle!” I supplemented my orders. “Cycle back the lightly wounded in reformed stacks.”

“Out of juice.” Andy reported.

“Leave the hex. You’re too valuable to risk here.” Then I added. “You’ve done good here.”

“I leveled.” He informed me without pleasure, blood splattered on his face and probably in his red hair as well. Then he turned and rode out of the hex.

“Ginger, stay here in the rear. Keep on the commanders to keep the stacks changing and as fresh as possible. I have to go the front and help against those heavies.”

She nodded, looking a little relieved at not having to return to the front of the action.

Before I charged forward, I called Anne. “Warlady, fire all remaining arrows into the front of this hex.”

“We’re not attacking the city this turn?” She asked.

“No. We have to secure the remaining hexes first.” Then I ended the call and started for the front line.

With no ammo left, I was left to hack and slash with my two swords. Mounted on a Trojan horse, I had a serious advantage height against the enemy heavies which was further enhanced by my magic swords. With a rain of arrows falling on their heads and our combined infantry pressing against them, they were being whittled down.

Finally the arrows stopped. There was a shout from my left and I saw Gala Band leading a charge of the cavalry from the other Avon hex. Apparently he had returned to the battle and finished up in that hex.

It was the last nail in the coffin of the enemy defense. They had no leadership left, all they could do was fight until the last of them fell to our swords, spears and lances. And fall they did.

Finally the din died and the hexes were all ours. I made a call. “Johnny! Continue your defensive fortifications along the frontier of all three hexes. Line the ground in front of them with traps and then build tunnels between all three hexes and to those behind us so we can move troops around without the enemy observing it.”

“Roger.” He answered and set to work.

Then I found Gala Band giving orders to his men. He looked ten years older than he had when the turn had started.

“How bad is he?” I asked, fearing the worst.

“Bad.” He said grimly. “He’s incapacitated and will die without healing.”

“And all the elves are out of juice.” I frowned.

“They are.” He agreed.

“Chief Warlords.” It was the Major contacting us both again. “The King wishes to speak with you both. You are here by ordered to fall back. Queen Tip supports this order.”

“Acknowledged.” Then I exchanged grim looks with Gala Band before we moved to the rear logistics area.

The King was laying on a stretcher with the Major and Merlin both attending to him.

“Can you heal him?” Gala Band asked immediately of his chief caster.

Merlin shook his head sadly. This was the first time I laid eyes on the chief caster of Avon. He was tall. Very tall. He would have passed for a short human. His eyes looked over me appraisingly before he answered Gala Band. “No. I used all my juice in the battle. Even if I had not, my skill at healomancy is insufficient for wounds of this magnitude.”

“So that’s it then.” Gala Band looked resigned.

“N-not quite yet.” The King managed to lift his head. “There is one way to save the side.”

“We don’t have enough in our treasury to pay for an heir.” Gala Band objected but then turned to me hopefully. “Unless Tipperary has enough?”

I shook my head sadly.

“I have already spoken to Queen Tip.” The King said. “That is not an option.”

“If your commanders all turned barbarian…” Gala Band suggested though he didn’t seem pleased with the idea. A lot of units would still disband at dawn.

The King shook his head. “No, chief warlord.” Then he coughed. “You will all turn to Tipperary. Queen Tip will be your monarch now. The campaign will continue against Fail Wail until it is done.”

“My liege! I can’t!” Sir Gala Band objected. “You are my only King!”

“And I shall always be such. But you will serve a queen now.” The King mustered all his strength. “That is an ORDER, chief warlord the entire side shall turn immediately. Come dawn, Avon will end with me. But only with me.”

A tear stained Sir Gala Band’s face, pushing blood from its path down his cheek. His raiment turned green as did that of all the other Avon units around us except for the King’s.

I left them to attend to their king. I had a siege to plan. Stock was taken of our remaining troops and they were redistributed along the hex borders to prepare a possible sortie from Fail Wail at the start of the next turn. Most of them I kept underground and out of sight so that Fail Wail wouldn’t know where we were strong and where we were weak. Then I moved up the heavy siege units and the logistics units.

When it was all done, I returned to the hex that held the king and let out a heavy sigh. “End turn.”

Night immediately started. I was surprised to find Tip amongst those around the dying king. She was wearing green plate armor and had her sword strapped to her side.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded of her.

“Language.” She tsked at me. “I used your pony express to get here. I’m here because I would see this noble man to his last turn. Then I will see this campaign to its end. I do not intend to be a royal who does nothing.”

“You’ll be a royal who does nothing because you’ll be dead!” My language shocked all those present.

Tip turned on me, looking fierce. “You will protect me.”

“And the best way to do that is to send your ass back to Tipperary using the same pony express that got you here.” I gestured back to the neighboring hexes where tomorrow’s battle would begin. “I don’t know if the line will hold. If the enemy punches through, our entire side ends when they cut you down.”

“Your defenses will hold.” She said with supreme confidence. “You will protect me.”

“I can’t protect you if you don’t do what I say!” I yelled at her. “I order you to retreat at the start of our turn!”

“The troops need to see that they are still led by a royal. One who will lead them properly.” She planted her fists on her hips. “We can’t afford the hit to morale if I leave now.”

“We can’t afford the hit to the entire side if someone gets a crit against you tomorrow.”

“You don’t understand.” Merlin interjected. “There’s a prediction in play here. Moregains can only be defeated in battle by a royal. That is why King Author came up to the front. That is why Queen Tip must be part of the battle tomorrow.”

“She won’t engage enemy units!” I protested. “How is she supposed to defeat Moregains?”

“She doesn’t have to defeat her personally.” Merlin explained. “It is enough if she commands the battle.”

“I have a prediction too.” I said angrily. “This is all going to end in tears!”

Tip stepped up to me and placed a hand on my chest. “Please calm down Justin. We’re still friends, aren’t we?”

I took a deep breath and then sighed. “We’re still friends.”

“Until the end of turns?” She pressed.

“Until the end of turns.”

Part 13 of 21 in Shall We Play a Game?