At the Height of Battle: Quick Rules Review

A little while ago my wife and I actually managed to get our new miniatures from MT Miniatures onto the tabletop for a little skirmish. We haven’t really had the time to do any proper research into any historical engagements during the Imjin War, so we stuck with the tried and true method of dividing our forces and going in for the kill.

At the Height of Battle is a relatively simple rule set covering naval actions in East Asian waters in the middle ages. The starter kit that we purchased (unboxing here, painting here) had ships for the Imjin War, Japan’s fateful attempt to invade China through the Korean Peninsula.

I love simple, easy to play rulesets. I find that I have more fun when I have to worry less about granular details, especially given how busy I am these days. So bear in mind that I have that bias going into the explanation.

At the beginning of each turn both players work out the command phase, which handles morale, sinking ships, and other housekeeping. Then its on to the activations. At the Height of Battle uses a set of three cards per side that act as an initiative deck.

When your side’s card is drawn, you are free to move and fire with each unit under your control. Units are divided into squadrons with a flagship. There are rules to keep squadrons together, which help keep games looking fairly accurate, and highlight the chaos when a flagship is taken out of the action. Movement is either done by sail or oar, (or in some special cases by paddle) and is a simple system of pivoting by degrees and moving in inches. The wind must be taken into account when using sail movement, but we found that it was often more economical to use oars.

When it comes to shooting, ships have both heavy artillery, representing major armaments like catapults and cannons, and light artillery representing small arms. Each ship can fire its heavy artillery only once a turn, but can fire small arms each activation. Both have different bonuses to the opposed die that makes up combat, and successes will deal different amounts of damage, with heavy artillery more likely to deal significant damage.

It’s a good system, but we ran into one snag during our test games. Ships took “crew casualties” far too often. After the first “crew casualties” result, which halves boarding ability, further “crew casualties” results don’t do anything. So we found that almost every ship took this initial hit and then slapped at each other with boarding actions until one side took the win at the opposed die roll. Our proposed house rule is to continue halving boarding ability, rounding down, until it hits zero, for each subsequent “crew casualties” result.

When a fleet has taken half casualties, they roll for morale, given the rating of their commander, and might be forced to flee. There are plenty of other rules for ground batteries, shallow waters, capturing enemy vessels, etc. Everything you’d like to see in a quick play naval rule set.

Overall we had fun, and with the minor adjustment to crew casualties, we think we’ll be playing this one again in the future. Now I just need to do some research, and go back for more ships!

Joe

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Good, clean ruleset that offers a fun and light wargaming experience, with some minor tweeks to make it work better for us. As a complete package, At the Height of Battle is a great buy to dip your toes in miniature naval wargaming.

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At the Height of Battle: Building and Painting

Putting together and painting everything in the “At the Height of Battle” set took a little longer than we had expected, but my wife and I had a great time giving life to these excellent figures. We can’t wait to get them on the table for a little skirmish, but I wanted to walk through our building and painting process.

Building these guys took a little extra effort. For the most part, the white metal casting was done well, with only a few ships having a noticeable difference in definition on the port versus the starboard side. For the most part, the detail was there and distinct, and where it wasn’t a line or a cannon could be fudged with the correct application of paint.

Korean Panokseon and their masts. Also some tools of the trade.

Some of the ships required a little drilling to make room for the masts. This also led to a temporary tragedy when my drill bit went through the side of the hole on the OAtakebune’s second mast. A little ‘greenstuff’ was all it took to right the issue, and with the primer applied it was almost invisible.

Drilling out space for the masts on the Atakebune.
Stupid Stubby Fingers! You can see the damage on the forward mast. I accidentally carved away the whole side of it.Well, it wasn’t the end of the world as some Greenstuff saved the day.
With the repair in place and smoothed out, the primer covered all sins.

For basing, we followed the directions of the rulebook and mounted everyone on 40mm x 30mm card taken from comic book baggies. Not sure why we had them, we don’t read comics, but there they were, so there they went. To stiffen everything up before we tried painting the bases, we coated them in liquid craft glue. In the end it looks a little funny with the giant OAtakebune and the tiny Sekibune sharing the same base, but I like the uniformity.

My wife, with much steadier hands, cutting out the bases from card.
Every ship assigned its base. It’s coming together.

We hand primed the miniatures with a brush and black primer. This was the first time we noticed that the primer occasionally slid away from parts of the miniatures, like there was some kind of repellent on the metal. Perhaps we should have washed the minis before painting, but in the end we managed to cover everything adequately. The primer stayed put so I guess it was a non-issue, but it had me worried for a moment!

Starting to get paint on them! You can be sloppy in the first few stages.
Korean ships sorted. At this stage we simply painted the banners and dry brushed some colour onto the water.
Japanese ships with their base colours in place. Much fine detail brushing was to come.

We wanted to be a little stylish with the different sides, giving the Korean and Japanese ships different base hull colours to help create uniformity among the sides. We kept the deck colour the same for both though. No idea of they’re historically accurate wood colours. Tabletop visibility and actually getting them done trumped that, unfortunately. One thing that I loved when looking at pictures in the rulebook and online was that there seems to have been a lot of decoration on Korean ships. Perhaps if I pick up some more I’ll do some experimenting.

In all their glory!

At the end of the day, Sacha and I had painted and based every ship. They were a blast to paint, but I especially enjoyed the Panokseon. They had some nice lines that really pulled the ship together visually from a distance. Now, on to gaming!

-Joe Fonseca

You can find the starter set here. LTAW gets nothing if you click on the link, and I purchased this set myself.

At The Height of Battle: Unboxing

A while ago I tried Long Face Game’s Russo-Japanese War naval miniature rules White Bear Red Sun (A campaign setting for Broadside and Salvo) and had a good time soloing some scenarios using paper miniatures. You can check out my report of the Battle of Chemulpo Bay. When I heard that they were teaming up with MT Miniatures to do a quick play game covering the Imjin Wars, the Japanese invasions of Korea in the 1590s, I was immediately sold. There is so little coverage of this important conflict, and to be able to game it out on the table with 1/1200 miniature ships was just too tempting. I immediately preordered a copy and, lo and behold, it just arrived!

The Box was a little munched during its journey from the UK to the chilly shores of Canada, but I’m happy to report that there was no damage to the contents. Opening the box reveals each of the different ships types included in the core box. For the Japanese, there are O-Atakabune, Atakabune, and Sekibune. For the Koreans, we get Geobuksen (the famed turtle ships) and Panokseon. There are seven ships a side, so an equal distribution, but it will take a closer reading of the rules and some historical accounts to see what kind of engagements I can knock together with this set alone. So far I love the look of the minis and I can’t wait to paint them up. The rulebook recommends using card bases so I’ll be cutting up so comic book board to mount everyone up.

Looking at the rest of the package, there are a lot of included game aids in laminated sheets that need to be cut out. I have no problem doing that, and I’m glad to see everything important is included. At first glance I’m wondering if I’m going to need some opaque backed card sleeves for the activation cards, as you can kind of see through their backs. As far as I can gather they need to be drawn to determine activation, so covering their backs will be important. The rest are great and include movement and fire aids, wind direction aids, and my absolute favourite, laminated sheets to record ship information. I like a clean table generally so marking things down is perfect for me, though there are included markers as well.

The rules are well written so far, (I only noticed one minor typo!) and the game looks to be the kind of light-mid game that I enjoy. I’m very happy to see that a good bit of history has been included too, not just in describing the ships but in going over the Japanese Invasions of Korea in general.

Overall I’m super impressed with this as a quick start package. My wife and I are going to be sitting down to paint up the minis and cut out all the tokens tomorrow evening, so check back for a little painting guide, a review, and an AAR of our first couple games over the weekend!

-Joe Fonseca

No review copy was provided, this game was purchased(immediately!) at my own discretion. Here is the link to MT games if you want to purchase the set yourself. Let’s Talk About Wargames gets nothing if you click here, so click away!