Montalbán again. The blue waters of the Aegir Ocean lapped against the sides of luxury yachts whose price could be measured in demogrants by the score, worth more than several Corregidor modules, Bakunin collectives, and Tunguskan barangays–individually and in some cases combined. Twelve hours ago the viral worm deployed at Lorena revealed that a Bureau Toth delegate had flagged the apprehension of Mary Problems by ALEPH for inspection. Three hours ago, that delegate had arrived at Montalbán for a diplomatic tête-à-tête with Combined Army, Yu Jing, PanOceanian, and ALEPH delegates to discuss a relief corridor through Midgard for civilian medical supplies to Edda. The Black Hand had replaced one of those delegates with a sleeper agent charged with determining who the Bureau Toth investigator was. Almost certainly, they would be in deep cover, hoping to thwart both those who sought to subvert ALEPH as well as the AI itself. To remain anonymous and insulated from reprisal or capture was the ultimate regulatory advantage. Unfortunately, it was one that could not be allowed to stand.
Boris and Interventor Sorge reviewed the intelligence report from the mole. Based on her appraisal, she has narrowed down the Toth agent to one of three possibilities–a Combined Army Pneumarch, a Dragon Lady of the Imperial Court, or the incomparable Helen of Troy. Elimination of the right target would allow another deep cover agent in a quick cloned Lhost to infiltrate the ALEPH detention camp and release Mary as well as several other Nomad and friendly assets that had been caught up in the QAZ containment race. Ensuring that as many other delegates as possible escaped would help preserve the identity of the mole while killing off as many of the identified targets would buy time before ALEPH and O-12 could recognize the intended target.
It was a hunting mission and Boris convened the best hunters available to the NMF. The infamous Wulver bounty hunter Wolfgang Wolff would be leading the charge, backed up by a second cadre from the Vipera Pursuit Team under the auspices of the daredevil Raoul Spector.
“Bureau Aegis will almost certainly have a response team waiting in the wings to protect their asset,” Boris said as he put his hands on a recently repaired Vostok Sputnik. Bullet scraped markings that spelled out “ilKhan” could still be read between the patches and new armor plates. “Given the fact that Concilium’s a war zone now, they’ll be able to mask a strike team under the guise of normal troop movements.”
“Whatever they bring, we can hack,” Sorge was laconic in her confidence.
The bounty hunter Wolfgang flexed his cybernetic claw with a toothy grin, “And whatever the script kiddies and code jockeys can’t solve, we can hack too. For a price.”
So it's that time of year when you text a friend and say, "hey, new online campaign, can I twist your arm to play?" Lucky me in that the response was yes. Cowzar has featured (but never registered) for Durgama, and since last year he's gotten a few more games in but is not a regular player. This is mostly a favor to me (though always fun to get together and play toy soldiers). Unfortunately, life intervenes a bit and COVID scuttles our in-person game, but the upshot is that rather than referring to lists, we'll be on TTS with all the profiles visible at a glance and a search on the rules wiki just an Alt+Tab away.
After a few games with Military Orders and Varuna, I got to talking to Jim about some unfun play experience. I pushed PanO on him because it's kind of a straight forward intro experience--blue troops shoot good, pew pew bad guys dead. But we played a game of Radiation Leak in the testing lead up to Hungry Walrus and a combination of a linked Grenzer ML, Szally with the good gun and lucky AROs, as well as a Vostok in suppressive in the objective room left him feeling like he had few tools to counter me. So I suggested he might take a look at O-12 and Starmada as PanO with some tricks for second best shooting. After a game of Blockade Runner (this time post-Walrus) where it was the linked Grenzer MSR and Szally again giving him trouble, he decided to stick with his choice as we planned for Unmasking.
As Jim is not a regular player, I drew up his list for him. I figured after his last two games at being on the receiving end of Szally, a Zeta would be a nice turn around and I wouldn't bring my own TAG. He also really liked the Varangian (who doesn't?) so I knew that would go into the list. I gave him two options, one built around a core linked Kappa MSR and Epsilon led specialist gunfighting Haris, and another with more characterful Cassanova for midfield objective gathering with a Kappa link team and Cho CoC so that the Zeta could go have fun. In each case, there's a Reinforcements contingent to blunt the impact of an alpha strike. Jim decides to go spies over guns so that's what we play.
Since Montalbán still has a terrain total special rule, I'm tempted to drop a Kriza again (I swear to God I'll make this work somehow), but given that his list is a little softer in the backfield this time around, I decide to go characters myself. Wolfgang will take point on a Hollowman core with wildcard Vostok while the Interventor and her two redshirts duck in a Haris. I have some GML to keep the hacking game relevant but with a credible killer hacker in the Cyberghost, I think Jim has a good counterplay there. Otherwise, I have some Zellenkriegers to keep forcing myself to learn warbands and Raoul led reinforcements team that will hopefully remember to NCO.
Jim makes me deploy first, so I pay a command token to hold two back. As I'm deploying, a change my mind up a bit a decide to hold back the Reaktion Zond and Extreme Zellenkreiger, assuming that they are the most important counterdeploy drops for me. Since Jim doesn't really play a ton (last time we played was mid-August), there's not a ton of mystery in our troop selection and placement. I have my entire list out on my side of the table to review, he has an army code to look it up, and we're going over what can do what and who's gun shoots how far. The biggest mystery I've dropped on him is that there aren't profiles for reinforcement or Aftermath troops, so I'm adding those as he deploys.
My drop is to put the Securitate/Interventor haris on the right flank, heads down, with the Group 2 Zellenkrieger baby sitting them. The Vertigo is tucked away prone in the middle. And since I'm going first my plan is to power the Vostok to bring my Hollow Core link team up the left, so they go down standing up in a place where it's reasonable hard to get line of sight. After Jim deploys, the Extreme Zellenkrieger will screen for them while the TR bot will hold the middle and guard the Interventor. I put my HVTs out in full cover behind buildings, and the Corporate Exec on the right side will be my real HVT.
Jim decides to drop his link team with Cho as an extra commlink and the missile standing up to watch two of the consoles. His Lawkeeper is in mostly full cover ready to run on the middle objecting. On his flank, he has the Nyoka watching his right (my left) console with the Varangian for back up while the Cyberghost is prone on a center roof. He holds back Cassanova as his reserve drop and puts his Zeta in full cover at my suggestion, the implication being that if he's going to spend his command token to strip orders from me, he shouldn't offer his TAG up at B1 ARO duty. He puts two of his HVTs on his left (my right) and one the right. Jim says I'll never get Helen of Troy, so that's my guess for the Designated Target overall, but the Dragon Lady in the building is a good candidate as well as the lone Pneumarch, who could be there to get me to shift to the other side of the board. Cassanova deploys standing in a building overlooking the main console with an E/M mine out for speedbumping, which I think might be too exposed for the most Bond-y of Bond operatives in a very James Bond sort of mission set up.
I roll up the best sort of MetaChem rolls possible--8-4 & Climbing Plus for the Zellenkreiger and Regen & +3 PH for the Extreme Zellenkreiger, because the dice gods love to punish new players. Don't even need the reroll, those are just the results out of the gates.
Interventor Walpurga Sorge called up a hacking dial and began slicing through the last remaining firewalls of the Montalbán Yacht Club's perimeter defense. With hands raised like a conductor of a silent quantronic symphony she disabled cameras and laserwire rigged turrets in a four-four backbeat legato that ended with attacca subito as the hunting party surrounded the boat house. Soft acid jazz pumping from its outdoor speakers and the din of small talk, champaign flutes, and light hors d'oeuvre being passed barely covering their footsteps.
"Janika, Vangel," Sorge commsed softly as she and the Reaktion Zond took defensive positions on a rooftop overwatching the team's egress. From atop twinkle light strung decks, the startled guests began to point at the tactical team moving up the east beaches of Bianca Island. Someone dropped a tray of glassware. Silence fell on the crowd, letting the acid jazz mingle with the call of gulls and racking of weapons.
"Corporal Toivonen in position, I have eyes on the asset." Janika replied.
"Ensign Trajkovski in position. Commlink active. Signal loud and clear, over."
"I got your robots, bub, and I got my claw. You just give me some targets and we'll move out."
Sorge grimaced but avoided the lecture on proper comms signaling. The bounty hunter wouldn't listen and it would be a waste of everyone's time. From her position she confirmed that other deniable assets moved into place. One was an aristo she'd seen on an undercard bout at the Stadion last time she was on ship. The other looked like something pulled out of the Black Labs' reject pile. It was big, drooly, and looked insatiably hungry and ineffably sad. As it lumbered forward, the tuxedo and gown bedecked guests started to clamor.
"Command, we're in position and ready to commence."
"Copied, Sorge," Boris replied. "We have OpFor imminent. Satellites indicate a TAG inbound."
"Shit, that's a big fucker," Vangel commsed.
"Keep this channel clear," Sorge hissed as she linked up her tactical feed with the satellite broadcast. Sure enough, an O-12 tactical team was taking up defensive position, spearheaded by one of their Zeta Unit Tactical Armored Gears. All the firepower of a Szalamandra and the mobility of a tactical remote. The rest of the opposition team fanned into defensive positions as the Yacht Club's security began to escort guests from the door. No doubt O-12 had another asset embedded in the guests that had radioed for help as soon as the Tunguska team was sighted.
"Copied command," Sorge switched channels, "We have blue suits in the AO, team. If you want a target, Wolff. You won't find anything bigger than that."
Jim strips me of two orders so I have to maximize single group play. Given our relative deployments, I decide to use my impetuous orders to put down some smoke with the Zellenkrieger, hoping to obscure a run on the top objective for one of the three specialists in the Securitate link. It's then that I roll my MetaChem and realize I have more movement, so the smoke placement is kind of a bust. On the other end, the Extreme Zellenkrieger moves forward and discovers the E/M mine. I use this to set up my Vostok to blast the mine while the big cage fighter smokes out my left objective. I give the Stempler a shot at flipping the console (it fails, RIP tachimotos), so I spend another order on the link to have the Hollowman do it and reveal the lone Pneumarch figuring that close is better than correct. It is not the Designated Target, but at least I did a bit of the mission to start. Based on positioning, I can either push the link through smoke to take on the Nyoka and kill the target, or pull back defensively and down Cassanova. I opt for the latter and crit him dead. Bummer for Jim.
On the other side, I put the Zellenkrieger up on a roof and drop more smoke with the lone G2 irregular, but given how many orders my link team had to spend claiming a console and removing Cassanova, there's nothing to do on this side and my Zellenkrieger is a little out of position. Oh well, only 8 points, right? I spend the last G1 regular order retreating with my Extreme Zellenkrieger, so I can hopefully use it's impetuous next turn without much risk.
The smoke grenade from the Black Labs freak had turned the guests' uneasy commotion into a full blown panic. It stood there watching them scatter with a sort of dumbfounded awe, held at the boundary of their dread by a primed landmine that wasn't synced to Nomad IFF.
Wolfgang prowled forward with Sorge's pet remotes in tow. The biggest one, a tin can called a Vostok, trundled after him and I leashed a burst of fire on the explosive trap, detonating it harmlessly.
"One of these diplomats ain't nothing but a rat," he growled before catching sight of the scrawl on the Vostok's chassis. "il-Khan? What kinda dummy missed the opportunity to nickname you tin-Khan, bub?"
The combat remote did not reply. Wolfgang turned to the least dumb robot assigned to his fireteam, one of those lanky, blank husks called Hollow Men. More Black Labs perversions. The rumors of who was piloting that suit turned the even the stomach of the Wulver aristo turned man hunter.
"Get in there," he stabbed a thumb towards the smoke cloud obscuring one of the biometric scanners used to verify the identity of the guests. "Figure out who we're here to take out."
The vacuous face of the Hollow Man held Wolfgang in view for a moment before leaping forward on it's blade legs. A moment later it emerged from the smoke cloud like an ugly smoke stack soat out of a steam engine.
"The Combined Army delegate has a verified identification key.". It's voice was like a strangled synth board.
"Doesn't matter," Wolfgang snarled, "We're still gonna kill the bastard. For Módulo Satélite."
"Wolff," Sorge cut in over comms, "Scanners indicate a concealed hostile in your vicinity. Recommend you neutralize and pull back to a defensible position."
"Roger, bub." He could feel her cringe at his lack of protocol. That made Wolfgang Amadeus Wolff smile. He looked at the tin-Khan. "You heard the lady, get on a roof and shoot anyone dumb enough to be packing."
The Vostok moved out, the spikes at the end of its legs splintering a concrete pillar like a crampon as it scaled above the smoke. A series of deafening claps confirmed that it had found its target. Wolfgang verified the kill via livestream of a puddle of blood and tangled limbs transmitting from it's front sensors.
"We got your bad guy, Sorge," Wolfgang said as he trotted back to cover, bracing his MULTI rifle against the corner of an outbuilding. "They ain't gonna like us killing their buddy, bub. Expect a counter punch."
He stole a look over at the big bastard as it loped back behind one of the marina pylons. Wolfgang wasn't sure whether it was more cruel to let a thing like that live or die.
Jim decides to use both of his impetuous orders and starts with the bike, which promptly draws a shot from the Vostok and goes unconscious. We decide to roll that one back because there's not much profit in the sacrifice. Instead, he focuses on the Varangian who moves up and tries to drop smoke on the same console I tagged. Jim doesn't have an easy specialist to play on this side, but he can probably get the Cyberghost there to flip the console if he wants.
But he really wants to unleash the bike, and to get there he has to deal with my linked Vostok. The Zeta is on good numbers in cover, and we proceed to whiff at each other. He pays a real order to try again and the shoot out is a double miss again. The third attempt draws a crit and a wound from the Vostok.
At which point, we talk through some strategy on how to solve this problem with hacking. The Cyberghost stands up and puts a pitcher down in front of the Vostok. The Zellenkrieger fails its smoke but otherwise no ARO given. Then the Kappa Hacker drops Carbonite and the Vostok is immobilized. I forgot the tinbot on the Hollow Man but I don't think it mattered. In any event, this frees up the Zeta to take another shot as it marched forward and two hits put the Vostok unconscious level 1
Jim thinks about marching his Zeta forward and the Zellenkrieger gets a dodge forward on it. We talk through the implications of me getting into CC, which won't be about winning so much as locking up his TAG for the rest of the game. He decides to try to remove the Zellenkreiger with the linked ML, but he whiffs and I make my smoke on a 2. With one order and an Lt special order left, he marches the Zeta back to his DZ and drops it into suppression. At this point, we call the game for the night, save, and plan to pick up again another day.
[ACCESSING TACTICAL NETWORK: RESTRICTED ACCESS]
[DOUBLE ALPHA PLUS CLEARED]
[ZETA COMMAND UNIT: ACTIVE]
[INCREASING DIVE SPEED]
Lieutenant Erna Reimann ghosted into the Zeta Unit from her tech coffin in Thokk on Helheim. The mission parameters, coded Beta level, were to secure civilian delegates being menaced at the Montalbán Yacht Club on Bianca Island. According to the Double Alpha Plus clearance as mission point, among them was a Bureau Toth agent seconded to Noir who needed immediate extraction. Likely the enemy knew that too.
"This is Reimann, I have tactical link to Team Skögul. Signal, strong. Channel, clear. Assuming command. Psi Unit what's the sitrep?"
Ensign Katherine Cho, a military intelligence analyst on site supporting negotiations, had taken on site command and replied over an encrypted channel modulated by her holomask disguise.
"We have anti-tank weapons on site and are evacuating delegates. Under small arms fire. Our undercover security asset is down and we have several VIPs pinned down by a combat remote."
"Send me telemetry for that REM," Reimann ordered. "And we'll see how small arms fire stacks up against an actual tank."
A targeting reticle appeared in Reimann's interface. With an effortless thought she raised the Zeta's HRMC, a weapon pioneered for point defense on space ships, and leveled it at the remote tucked in on a pool house roof. With a keening whir, the barrels of her weapon began spinning rapidly as they released a cluster of Gauss projectiles at the lip of the rooftop. They slammed into the building in a plume of dust.
"Contact, waiting for confirmation," Reimann commsed over the tactical channel.
"Spotting," Private Das said. "Negative contact, Skögul Leader."
"We also have negative contact, Skögul Leader," tactical command agreed.
"Damn, firing again," Reimann used the Zeta's onboard targeting software to improve the firing solution, but a mix of interference lasers, a photon bending field, and refractive disruption marking patterns made the remote shimmer and distort as she tried to find a more accurate trajectory for the mass driver.
As the firing solution resolved, Reimann's TAG was greeted by a cluster of return fire that penetrated the torso armor of her unit. In her distant tech coffin, alarms began to blare as the onboard lesser AI catalogued the damage.
>> Warning: Ablative plating reduced by 33%
>> Warning: Heat management compromised
>> Warning: Fluid lead detected
Reimann angrily dismissed the damage report and radioed her team.
"That REM is dug in thick and I can't get a lock on it due to optical disruption. Let's get it disabled Agent Montero, get a repeater in range. Lance Corporal Järvi, let's see how you sling code from that Switech Radius."
Skögul Team's hackers acknowledged their orders, deploying a repeater and viral code to disable the remote. Within moments a burst of data had turned the enemy's most powerful weapon into a paperweight. Reimann peeked her TAG out from cover, sighted the REM and let the barrels of her HRMC spin up again, unleashing a fusillade that slagged the remote. As the glowing barrels slowed, smoke rising from the super heated muzzle, she didn't even call for the kill confirmation.
"If the enemy wants to use dirty tricks, let 'em. We got dirty tricks too."
We pick back up a couple days later after we've both had a chance to reflect on our plans and forget the game state we left in. Since I pulled back my Extreme Zellenkrieger, I decide to keep impetuous and drop smoke again, blocking off the console I activated in turn one. The plan here is to take the link team down my left flank to kill the Varangian, the Nyoka, and the decoy leveraging Wolfgang's B5 MULTI rifle. I take way too many orders to pull this off, misjudging the distance around one of the buildings and being forced to burn an order to put down the Varangian, but all told I'm able to make it work.
Wolfgang peers out for his shots and there's an ARO chain rifle that doesn't quite close the distance so the Varangian goes straight to dead after taking two wounds. Then I march down along the board edge out of LoF of the Nyoka rocket launcher. The first exchange see it take two hits but pass two saves. Jim avails himself of courage to roadblock (as appropriate) so I'm forced to take another fight to put it unconscious after one failed save.
Then I peak around to say hey to the Pneumarch. I walk Jim through the forking AROs, either a B5 MULTI rifle to contest the dodge or a B2 Chain-colt template if he uses the stun pistol, which will wear off. Since Jim is fresh off tanking saves, he opts for the stun pistol and promptly dies to Chain-colt while Wolfgang is stunned. But everyone's essentially in position for turn two so I leave the team where they are and hope for the best.
With my last order, I decide to break the haris team and cybermask the Interventor Lt. With reinforcements coming in next turn and another free link, I do see the need to keep the Securitate on burst two. I do, however, want to protect that Interventor from attack and if a friendly on the rooftop can prevent a template attack on the Reaktion Zond, that's not too bad. The Extreme Zellenkrieger shifts over to watch the link team and make a run down the side of the board in case I want it to murderize. I decide to forego the irregular on the group 2 Zellenkrieger since there are two AROs on it and I don't feel like doing Jim's work to get it killed by spending an order on it. No new consoles are flipped, but I am now ahead on consoles and kills.
Wolfgang peered around the corner and caught sight of where the O-12 merc had braced himself to protect the Combined Army delegate. Another Ariadnan by the look of it, from Skara Brae or Cailleach or Castropol, the economic ass-end of nowhere that promised only raids from antipodes or galactics. From the kind of place that made this contract work more profitable than the army but not lucrative enough to retire on. It was a shame that two Ariadnans might fight and kill each other for someone else's cause. The same way it was a shame that Wolfgang had been kidnapped by Yuan Yuans and enslaved in Bakunin's underground Aristeia! matches. And whatever brought this poor sod to die on this foreign planet for some indifferent multi-national government, well, was a shame too. But rising above one's circumstance only happened in the Mayacasts. He pulled the trigger and caught the man in a full burst, just a hair's breadth outside the blast of the chain rifle fired back.
"A' bhiast as mutha ag ithe na beiste as lugha, bub."
Wolfgang kept point, leading the fireteam forward, his claw itching to dig into someone. Shooting down contracted help was part of the job, ripping apart alien invaders was the fun.
"Wolff, you're approaching a hostile," Sorge broke in.
Wolfgang held a fist up and the rest of the team slowed, the remaining tactical Zond shunting it's grinding servos into some sort of quiet mode. The wulver lifted his MULTI rifle and looked down the sight as he peeked around the corner of a boat rack. Sure enough, some snake helmeted operator was looking out from the veranda with a heavy rocket propelled grenade launcher braced against an upturned table. He adjusted the stock against his shoulder and leaned out for the shot.
With a fwump the rocket ignited and a high explosive warhead spiraled at the bounty hunter. With a growl he held his footing and squeezed the trigger, dropping the special forces as the grenade whooshed by his head and into the hull of a luxury catamaran with a satisfying eruption.
"Bad guy down. Getting ready to reach out and gut the target."
"Copied," Sorge's disdain was obvious and almost palpable. Wolfgang licked his lips.
On the other side of the boat rack, an Evolved Intelligence bioroid stood proudly upright, holding what looked to be an improvised taser made from REM parts and VoodooTech magic.
"You gonna use that toy on me, bub? It'll only make me mad," a toothy grin unfurled on Wolfgang's face. His hand itched for the chain-colt at his side.
"You foolish mongrel! We are not your target nor your enemy. We are your destiny! You can either come willingly or--"
Wolfgang drew his chain-colt and fired. A discharge of high voltage energy hit him square in the torso, causing every muscle in his body to tighten and spasm and melt at once. In spite of himself, he let out a howl. Maybe of pain. Maybe of victory. Maybe both.
"No olvidamos Modúlo Satélite," Wolfgang rasped once the spasms subsided. "Pinche pendejo."
It wasn't dead, of course. The puppets of the Evolved Intelligence always had little ways of escaping through bursts of code into the nearest shell. But as the smouldering lower half of the Pneumarch collapsed into a heap at Wolfgang's feet, he felt he had made his point.
We do a quick check for reinforcements and I haven't yet done enough damage to Jim's list, so he has to make due with his main force. He decides to forego the impetuous on the Lawkeeper due to a LoF from the linked Stempler. With no free orders, he decides to use the link's efficiency to delete the Zellenkrieger on the roof that's standing between him and the high console. He tries again with the missile launcher and scores two hits, only one of which is canceled by my smoke. So, in return for the poor sportsmanship of the Nyoka that refused to die, I make all three saves and drop prone.
Not to fear, however, as the Cyberghost still has line of fire and downs the Zellenkrieger who, it seems, can survive missiles but not bullets. With that threat removed, the rest of the turn is about moving his link team up without giving away long-bomb threats to my Stempler or overcommitting to LoF by the Securitate Paramedic or Reaktion Zond. On his second to last regular order, he crawls the hacker in to turn the console and positions his commlink to take a shot on Augustin, only for her to shoot my decoy dead on the last regular order.
Knowing that my reinforcements are coming up, Jim decides to break the Zeta's suppression and move it to single burst ARO duty over the center console with it's tacaware and Lt order. Having flipped a console and killed a defenseless citizen of the great Nomad state, Jim has tied up the game.
"Who the hell are these guys," Reimann wondered as Gujić and Lamont went down.
"They appear to have markings of the Quantum Containment Coalition. A mixed force of mercenary and Nomad units," Cho's voice was flat and matter of factual.
"And what they hell do they want?" The Combined Army delegate was more or less dead now too.
"My analyses suggest their target is our deep cover asset. Any other assassination may be part of a larger ruse to divert our attention."
Reimann scowled in her tech coffin and wished the Zeta could emulate her frustration. "How do they know about our asset?"
"My modeling suggests that they too have a deep cover asset in play. Probably someone they're looking to extract."
"Then what the hell are we waiting for? Let's take the fight to them. Järvi, get their network cracked. Nomad firewalls are good but not invincible. Das, get on the line and see if there's a Gladius team in play. I'll lay covering fire and keep the bastards off of you."
The barrels of the HRMC were already spinning before Reimann had finished talking. The fireteam covering her flank moved out and towards one of the biometric verification consoles, keeping their heads down from enemy fire while she forced the Nomad raiders to do the same.
"Skögul Leader, one of the PMC delegates has failed their verification and their comlog seems to be broadcasting an Arachne signal," Järvi reported. "Could be a red herring, but--"
"Seventy four point six percent chance that this is a decoy signal to divert our attention," the Psi analyst was calm. Even. Deadly. "Recommendation is to eliminate to guard against possible extraction."
"Das, you got the shot?"
"Skögul Leader, I'm in position."
"Right, let's take him down. We can apologize to Neoterra later. But first we send a message to these bastards. If they take one of ours, we take one of theirs." Reimann swept the Zeta unit's weapon across the docks, splitting the masts of sailing yachts and collapsing the bridges of motorized models. If eliminating their agents wasn't enough to send these raiders packing, then she had enough ordinance to put them in the ground.
Reinforcements time. With my center HVT down, I decide to put the drop pod there as it will give the me chance to drop the Marspider by a console while Raoul and the Rounder can threaten the Zeta. The Spektr goes down prone and stares down the link leading Kappa commlink who is not in cover. I decide to flip my commlink to reinforcements for the extra juice on that group.
I take the impetuous on the Extreme Zellenkrieger and just rocket up 8 inches. No plan, just advancing since there's no threat on it. The Spektr then firest the first shot and kills the the commlink dead, breaking the link and denying the order to Jim's reinforcements. I then spend a single order on the console and the Marspider flips it. Of Jim's HVTs, Helen is in the furthest spot while the Dragon Lady is in the most inconvenient spot. I hem and haw for a moment but guess it's the Dragon Lady and Jim confirms that she is indeed the designated target.
With the target revealed, I decide to use Wolfgang's B5 to fix this problem. Basically all of Jim's backline is out of position so I can take the long route without too many AROs. First order of business is to down the Cyberghost, not because its important but because it's on the way. Wolfgang goes about half way up a ladder and shoots the poor bastard dead.
I then try to push through on the Lawkeeper but Jim points out the Zeta can see Wolfgang, as well as the missile launcher. So I flip back to the link team and Raoul, and again talk through the forking ARO. Even with the boarding shotgun's B3 AP, Jim opts to lay a template with the Zeta while the Lawkeeper takes a low odds potshot. The Lawkeeper hits but Raoul tanks the save. Meanwhile, I fail the PH save on the goo while Jim fails two of the shotgun saves and the Zeta goes down. Ouch.
With the Zeta cleared, Wolfgang peeks the corner and splits burst between the Lawkeeper and the missileer. I manage to crit the Kappa who tanks the saves but fails guts prone. The Lawkeeper is not so lucky taking three shots uncontested. I forget the mimetism and call three hits which we roll back only for Jim to fail both saves on two dice, deleting Judge Dredd.
With the way clear and about three orders left, I have to be judicious. If the Dragon Lady dodges or tanks a save, she can duck and Wolfgang will not get the shot back. So I spend the first order just getting closer and hopefully into good range. On the second order, I take the burst five shot and land three hits, only for the Dragon Lady to cancel with her dodge. But a failed hit does not give a guts a roll, so I move forward and drop five dice, only to score one hit and have the Dragon Lady drop prone.
With two orders left in my reinforcements group, I use the Rounder NCO to get the Marspider up 8 inches and then spend the last two moving around the Zeta corpse and getting an angle on the room. For the third time in the game and the round, I present Jim with another ARO fork--two heavy flamethrower templates or four assault pistol shots at good range. While he decides, I advise him of the dodges to his link team since the Marspider will end with LoF to their backs. The Kappa hacker throws a target, the missile launcher fails, and Cho succeeds and moves overhead of my as yet unrevealed designated target, which is problematic since there's only a single Securitate watching that lane and he can probably score at least a console on reinforcements. But that's next turn's problem. Now we have to resolve what happens to his designated target. He's been rolling hot on his dodges so he decides to dodge again, only to take three hits and cancel only one with his dodge. He fails a save and by the end of my turn three I now have two consoles, a decoy, and a designated target.
"I told ya already, bub. I don't need the help." Wolfgang snarled into his comms.
"The Vipera Team is not a reflection on your conduct," an audibly exasperated Sorge replied. "The mission comes first. Vipera Three, we need an ident now."
The Maspider Cornelius Brahe lay prone in front of a biometric console as a spray of gauss shells exploded overhead. He worked carefully with a powered multitool and wire cutters in one set of hands while another removed the unscewed paneling from the machine. "I'm going faster than a blink of the Lockyer Sea, Sorge. Gonna have to factory reset this clunker to break its security."
"Go faster," Sorge said. "We've got to call in extraction. There are enemy reinforcements inbound."
"I'll show you fast, bub," Wolfgang roared as he downed an agent of O-12's Quantronic Intervention Unit.
"That vector is covered, Wolff!"
"I'll clear it out," Spector's voice was ice cold for such a renowned adrenaline junky. There were rumors of his association with Kambur Bey and what he needed to do to get his kicks. It was enough to make Sorge shiver. But if the merc was willing to take on a TAG, she had no reason to get in his way.
"Copied, Spector, be careful--" The comms cut out with the sound of multiple weapons firing.
"Don't you touch that TAG before I get there, you hear me Spector?" Wolfgang thundered, loud enough that no comlog was required to hear him.
"Too late, Pooch," Raoul commsed. "Gah, it's so sticky."
"You stay right there, Spector! I'm gonna deal with you after I'm done with them, bub!" Wolfgang Amadeus Wolff tore out from cover with his MULTI rifle blazing from his hip. A missile from the Kappa team streaked past him as his fire forced their heads down and another spray caught the motorized Lawkeeper in the back. With the last elements of resistance between him and his quarry down, the wulver bounty hunter, at once a terrestrial Ariadnan adrift amongst the star faring Nomads, a product of cross-planet cross-species hybrids not supposed to be, a freed cage fighter turned skip tracer and worse, had a clear shot on his target and emptied his whole magazine into the window. The clatter and tinkle of glass shards raining on the ground seemed to ring louder than the bullets themselves. Everything slowed. The shouts of the few remaining bystanders died in their throats. Every tactical channel went quiet as all eyes turned to see whether or not the woman masquerading as the Yu Jing delegate had survived.
"I have vitals on the target, Sorge. Negative confirm kill," Boris tracked the satellite feeds. They had position but we're running out of time. The chance to rescue Mary Problems was slipping away. A blip on one of his holoscreens tracked faster and closer to the operations area. "I repeat negative confirm kill. Sensors are picking up an imminent drop pod inbound on your location. I'm calling for extraction."
"Defensive positions, Wolff. Team, we have bogey incoming," Sorge called. Already in cybermask herself, she began plotting the team's exit towards the incoming VTOL.
"Ma'am, I can get to the target," the Marspider drawled over the line.
"Vipera Three, are you sure? You'll be out of position and exposed even if you do make it."
"As sure as Olympus Mons is red, boss. I'll be on the target quicker'n a chimera on cat chow."
Sorge checked her heads up display. The analyses from Command had yet to resolve. Already the air was filled with several sonic booms as the Gladius teams broke through the lower atmosphere. The sky around them was darkening in the face of the glow of their heat shield. It was past time to act.
"You're go Vipera Three."
"Roger," Cornelius copied as he began moving out, the Rounder Blanxart covering his approach. Brahe broke into an inhuman stride, a locomotion that could only be borne of six-limbed desperation at Zero-G. Using his second set of arms to grasp on to eave of the boat house roof and swing himself inside, he cleared the downed TAG in a single bound before climbing the sheer face of an interior wall to the second story mezzanine. Dashing behind the remaining Kappas, he loomed over the crouching target with his assault pistol in one hand while his extra arms covered her security escort with arcs of his welders, heady to fuse them to the balcony if they rushed in.
"It ain't personal, lady. We just need your body."
There eyes met for just a moment before flicking to the stairwell down. There was a beat, then a breath, as the both knew how it would happen. She launched from her crouch. He pulled the trigger. In a command module on an incoming VTOL, Boris confirmed the kill.
We're at time again for the night and decide to pause to see if we'll play turn three. It's pretty likely that Jim is playing for a tie but I think it's possible with four orders in each group. We find some time a few days later and throw the O-12 drop pod on the table and talk through a few scenarios.
My remaining HVTs are split across sides. Theoretically, Jim can grab both, but it requires a lot of luck and all his orders. We talk through some formations of the link and he opts for a Haris of Ment, Cuervo, and Jackboot with the Vidocq Doctor on its own. The rought plan is to have the Ment, deployed in cover and out of LoF of my Extreme Zellenkrieger, hit the button and pick an HVT. On the Kappa link side, Cho can cover while the Jackboot (also out of LoF) has a good run on the HVT on the Gladius side. First order down and the Ment reveals my designated target. The 18 PH Extreme Zellenkrieger who could really use a dodge to change LoF for maximum shenanigans rolls a 20 and watches thsi Gladius team tie on consoles.
At this point, we talk through some options. The Marspider has LoF to Cho as does the Securitate paramedic and the Reaktion Zond (though I won't realize/remember that till next order). If Cho spends the Lt order she risks unopposed hits on the Kappa ML as well as shots on herself at B3. If she links, it's worse as the Spektr can shoot the Kappa hacker if its moves, but she'll get B4. Jim opts for more dice (the right call) and spends the regular order at the risk of losing his Lt. Cho shoots and gets tagged by the Securitate Paramedic and the HFT, but tanks the saves and drops prone. The Kappa ML is not so luck and burns to unconscious while the Hacker tanks her own save. For my part, the HVT passes the dodge and cancels some hits but still takes a crit and tanks both saves, failing guts behind the car.
Jim discusses if he wants to keep the link and opts to just for some efficiency. With the burst bonus lost, he puts it on the shoulders of the Kappa hackers +1 BS versus Cho, and moves her up for the shot. This time I do see the Reaktion Zond ARO and take it, while dropping the template on Cho and the Kappa again and taking the shot with the the paramedic. The Designated target fails her dodge this time, but tanks another two saves. In the meantime, the paramedic misses but the Marspider does not, burning Cho dead. In the meantime, the Reaktion Zond gets its only ARO of the game, makes two hits and one wound goes through, dropping the rest of group 1 and saving my Designated Target's bacon.
We decide to play out the run on the last decoy. The Vidocq Doc runs for the console and gets plugged by a pistol shot from the Rounder while failing the WIP roll. So it's up to the Ment to save the day, dragging the link team up in a move-move scenario that will break the team and allow me to template Cuervo to NWI and hit with the Rounder's red fury, only for the Ment to tank the save. Jim spends his last two command tokens and orders to coordinate. First order brings Cuervo and the Jackboot up to have LoF on the Decoy while the Ment goes in and flips the console for the reveal, allowing my Extreme Zellenkrieger to dodge. The Ment laughs off a pistol shot. The second drops two combis and a boarding shotgun template on the Decoy while the 'krieger clears out Cuervo and the Jackbook while the decoy fails her dodge and all three saves. With more consoles and more decoys, Jim scores 5 to my 6 for designated target killed and saved plus a single decoy kill, securing a very tight Nomad win!
"Contact with Skögul leader lost, assuming command," Ensign Katherine Cho radioed the team. "Our VIP is down but the mission parameters haven't changed. Apprehend the enemy agent and hold position until reinforcements arrive."
A deafening crash followed by the explosive discharge of the capsule doors and shouted commands announced their arrival.
"Cho, it's Cuervo. I have boots on the ground. There's a something big and slobbery staring us down, but otherwise the area is secure."
"Copied, Basilisk," Cho. "Good to have you with us. We've been compromised by an enemy mole. I have eyes on a suspect, looking for verification before I neutralize."
"PSID Unit is on it. Hold for verification." The seconds ticked by in a small eternities as they waited for the Ment to complete a job that Montero would have done if he hadn't been so cruelly shot down. Despite her professionalism, part of Cho was willing to pull the trigger without Cuervo's verification.
"Cho, we've checked the DNA on that MagnaObra exec and there's a point zero five variance from file. We think that's the infiltrator. You're cleared and weapons free."
"Firing," Cho confirmed before taking her shot. She cursed softly as the designated target ducked behind an abandoned service vehicle and incoming fire from on the docks forced her prone. A whoosh of flame and panicked cries from Fournier signaled that they had lost their missileer and that the enemy had maneuvered behind their perimeter.
"Negative contact, Järvi, move in to support," Cho called.
The analyses and probabilities calculated real time by her geist dropped from long odds to dismal. There wasn't a good plan left. Only hope and luck.
Everything flared at once like a match stick being struck. Järvi's submachine gun unloaded into the vehicle amidst the screams of the target. Enfilading fire from a Tunguskan Securitate was joined by the staccato clatter of a heavy machine gun remote. She couldn't hear over the gout of flame whether or not Lance Corporal Taika Järvi connected with the mole. As Cho closed her eyes, she could only hope they'd managed to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat.
The VTOL took off with most of the team intact. The Zellenkrieger was out of commission, but the Marspider was already working on the damaged Vostok. At the bounty hunters suggestion, the new armor plates going on were stenciled "Tin-Khan of Montalbán."
Boris let an analyst handle the debrief of the asset. Her cover was blown and they'd have to smuggle her off planet and out of the Concilium System onto one of the motherships before washing her identity through a couple legends and front companies in the Human Edge. It might take months, even years, and probably a new face, before she was back in the field. But the payoff had been worth it. Already the Praxis techs were fabricating a cloned Lhost of the erstwhile "Yu Jing delegate" for a snap inspection of the ALEPH detention facility.
"Well done, Sorge," Boris said. "Top marks on your command and execution."
"Thank you, sir," the Interventor replied. Her eyes said it was all in a day's work.
"One got away," Blanxart, the Rounder, interrupted. "The hacker in the long coat."
"We'll have to assume that the enemy will be on alert for our next drop then. They'll know we got our target. But if we move fast, they won't know why."
And by the time they figure it out, Boris thought, we'll have the Sphere's best tactical hacker back in action.
Well, there's a lot to pick apart here in an already long report. The first thing is the meaning of reinforcements in a game like this. While some folks don't particularly care for the game mode, and I certainly don't love the pricing of a commlink trooper, I think there's a huge psychological safety in knowing that you basically can't get tabled unless there's an exceptionally successful alpha strike that probably ends in a 0-0 tie unless you're playing an opponent who knows how to preserve 67 points. Even more than that, I think it can make third turn feel meaningful and worth playing even if the points math are against you--in two of my four games, I was mathematically eliminated from a win at reinforcements but still managed to do damage and score points and keep the game close(r) than it otherwise would have been. Having that turn three agency makes a difference for me. If this had been a three hundred point game and the game state fixed at the end of my turn 3, there would have been no reason for Jim to play it out. But with an extra deployment of linked specialists, Jim had a medium shot win condition. I think that speaks in favor of the game mode, especially when there's a mismatch in forces or knowledge of the game. You can't lose the whole list at once.
The second thing I'll note is that playing in TTS instead of in person had a couple of benefits. One, it still allows us to play through COVID impacted life. Two, for Jim who just isn't as into the game as me, it has all his stats on the models, eliminating the need of having to refer to the list before and during each order expenditure. Three, it allowed us to save and pick up play over the course of three sessions in a week. A drawn out game, but it also meant that if we needed to call it for time we weren't locked for scoring at the time we turned into pumpkins. Smaller games to manage to time and profile knowledge are still valuable learning tools, but it locks you out of the big stompy robots that make this game fun. So having a way to play a bigger game in chunks achieves a similar result of lessening the cognitive load and managing to time. I'm sure other folks feel differently, and I was of course bummed not to roll out my toy soldiers and terrain for the game, but I am appreciative not only of the connection that TTS provides for players who can't always be in person, but also that CB doesn't police it out of the game. Reporting TTS results on a narrative campaign or as a Satellite event is not something all wargame companies permit because it doesn't obviously translate to sales. It's worth of moment of gratitude to acknowledge the company that accommodates and the community past and present who have built out and supported virtual play.
Now, for the actual play by play analysis, we were able to have a meaningful debrief. Looking at my side, there were a couple of things I wish I did differently. The Reaktion Zond was a bit out of position, it needed to threaten more on my right flank than it did. Secondly, the group 2 Zellenkrieger was misplayed a bit. I either needed to get him on the roof of the building that held the Dragon Lady or keep him off the roofs altogether and let him cover my designated target. While he ended up stalling out Jim's attacks, he was up there to provide smoke for a long shot order intensive console push that I never could make happen and ended up in the wind until a BS 11 combi eventually put an end to his antics. There was also some really inefficient movement from my team. With three models having climbing plus and one with super-jump, it really felt like I was always taking the long way around. While I eventually downed all of Jim's back line, it came at a cost in orders (worth noting we didn't play with ITS 15 O-12 prestige. that would have been a good solve at the cost of adding another reference doc to our play).
I also have to say that the list I handed Jim felt less optimized than mine. The Zeta without engineer support and no MSV 2 for smoke shooting or the dreaded and flexible RoadBot meant he wasn't playing into the best Starmada had to offer. The design leaned into what was painted up for the table, but that's not much of a concern on TTS. The Epsilon Haris in the alt list would have been scarier to me (at least till I dropped a Kriza on the field for my alt list), but we went with the more characterful builds that left some powerful synergies at home. It's a narrative event and still ended close, but I think some combos, even if it's trading a Lawkeeper for a Lambda and Yudbot would have been difference makers.
In terms of what went well, I felt like I actually got use out of the Wolfgang point more so than I ever have before. I still don't really really know how to drive him, but he's at least sometimes credible as a 2W unhackable B5 midfield gunfighter. In some ways, I'd love to trade his berserk for vis mods of some sort since I have barely leveraged his CC, but maybe as I get a better sense of Zellenkriegers to manage TJC's cost structure, I can get him linked up with a smoke throwing Perseus to really lean into his beef. Speaking of the Zellenkriegers, I finally did feel some value out of their impetuous and smoke chucking. While the 8-4 C+ monster alone in G2 didn't do much after T1 AROs, it turns out that not chucking impetuous models at the first target has some pay off. I actually felt good about the play of the Extreme Zellenkrieger, who's job was basically to move up, throw smoke, move back and repeat until I could put him on the flank to cover as my link team went on its adventure. I should have done better with the facing but otherwise it was in the position to make the plays I needed when I needed even if I ended up giving up the last decoy.
On Jim's side, we talked through some ways he might have improved deployment and positioning. Having Cassanova on ARO duty despite his good mods was probably an over-investment of points that didn't leverage the skill set to just run up and touch a console and do some active turn combat. And Jim noted that he felt he would have gotten more leverage out of the Lawkeeper and Varangian if they were supporting each other instead of split up on flanks, which I tend to agree with. Jim was a little down on the Nyoka but I think it did its job costing me two orders to kill and two-three orders to move into position to do it. With eight regular orders in group one that ended up being significant. There's also a case for just going ham with the Zeta. I had no good TAG counters besides hacking and an HRMC doesn't need to be in ZoC to delete, so risking the big robot with the safety blanket of Cho might have done more to deplete me and limit my effectiveness.
On the positive side, I think he really leveraged his teams to get the most of out of that third turn. The trades he made on his Kappa link to delete my first decoy and then position to get my designated target had me sweating. The follow up with his reinforcements meant that had I failed a save, he would have ended up won the game with only 20 army points left. While it didn't pan out, I think being one roll away from a win really speaks to his skill in absorbing a game he's played maybe less than ten times. Even with some rust and gaps in profiles, he keeps a match close and enjoyable.