Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Soak far, so good

So I bit the bullet on the rebasing. I did a trial batch of Imp infantry and they came away okay after a good 12 hour plus soaking. They needed a bit of cleaning up, but have now been re-glued to their new size bases. I'm sufficiently happy with the look to move forward with a few of the British regiments. These are more of a concern. I can afford to make a complete cock up of one Imp unit as I've got hordes of them, but the Brits are a one for one unit recreation of the 1859/60 expeditionary force, so they have to come away unscathed.

For starters on this front a couple of Sikh regiments have gone into the foot bath. That's because I can then clean the paint off the spares and use them as EVA infantry as they wore western uniforms with turbans/head dresses. I'm using a plastic tray that once had oasis in it, - that foamy stuff that florists use for floral arrangements. The trays are designed to keep the oasis moist, so pretty much perfect for standing the bases in water. After a couple of hours soaking I was able to lever a few figures off, but then decided it was best to leave them overnight.

As you can see from the above couple of pictures they came off pretty smoothly. Apart from one base, where I may have used superglue, which needed some intervention by my trusty penknife the figures all peeled away from the mdf bases with little pressure. As Mr "Bruno" Brunavs, my chemistry master at O Level taught me, water is the universal solvent.

What has precipitated this action was Mr Friday's suggestion I look at the Lancashire Games website. After it being out of action most of the weekend it was back up and running today and they seemed to do most of what I wanted in their 15mm 19th Century Europe (1860-1880) range for the French expeditionary force. They also had a sale on, so it was a good time to dive in and buy up what I needed. I therefore had to come to a conclusion of unit size, - 16 or 12 men per regiment/battalion? Being a cheap skate I've gone for 12, so hence the need to rebase.

I only hope the figure sizes are compatible.

The other upside for all of this is that these figures will be based the same as the Chileans/Peruvians and so if I lurch into mid-late 19th century European warfare I've got a basis for some rules as well.

This has lead me to thinking further. I do like the look of three 15mm figures on a 30mm frontage, rather than the normal four on 40mm or on the 30mm x 30mm squares for pre-modern eras. My post WW1 stuff still looks right on the square bases, but I'm beginning to wonder seriously about my other 15mm armies I've done in RFCM style.

Could be I have an on-going project ahead of me.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The original Travel Battle

There's been some buzz recently about the latest product from the Perry twins. This is a wargame-in-a-box that enables you to play figure wargames anywhere, like on a train, beside the pool on holiday, down the pub or anywhere else you are away from your own table and toys. This isn't a new idea. In the last few years Bob Cordery has been writing about his own portable gridded game called "The Portable Wargame", which has garnered some reasonable press and has a good following.

The idea of being able to take your wargame with you dates back even further. There's something in an early Don Featherstone book that talks of maps and talc and sticky units and chinagraphs to enable you to play solo when out and about. Anyway, although I haven't got my hands on a Perry Travel Battle set yet I'll share my thoughts with you at the end of this blog.

Personally I think that the most successful attempt at doing this sort of thing, - by which I mean a travel wargame that I actually made up and took places and played on a train with another real live person - dates back to the 1970s.

A Retiuarius and a Samnite face up to each other
I am talking here of Hugh Walter's Paragon Wargames Club's Gladiator Combat Rules. These first came to my attention through a short article in "Military Modelling" called something like "First Take a Biscuit Tin".

The idea was that as arenas were often circular you could turn a biscuit tin lined with brick paper into a suitable venue for gladiatorial combat.

This idea was intriguing, and when my mate Derek & I went to the big military show at Aldershot (?) one summer in the very early 70s we headed for the Military Modelling tent to see what what it was all about.

The MM tent was a big deal in those days, and was the major show venue in the south, matching Northern Militaire at the time. We found the Paragon boys running the Gladiator game just outside the tent and sat down and played most of the afternoon. Frankly, I think, they got sick of us and eventually introduced the full rules so we got killed and then were encouraged to leave.

Undaunted we went and bought a copy of the A5 Gestetnered rules between us, and also split a pack of Garrison Gladiators in 25mm, which were the only ones available at the time.

We then went home and both made ourselves an arena (that's mine, in the picture above) and our local group of friends played it a lot. Massed combats with all of us in the arena at the same time, chucking nets, feinting this way and that and generally having a great time of it. Soon Minifigs had their gladiator range out so we acquired those, plus other assorted figures suitable for combat, from Lamming, Warrior and anyone else we came across.

The beauty of it all was that it was genuinely portable and it was lots of fun. The rules, copied out meticulously, fitted comfortably in the lid. All my figures, lovingly wrapped in toilet paper, fitted neatly into two old tobacco tins (my Dad was a pipe smoker). One summer Derek and I bought RailRover tickets for the Midlands region and we went all over the place, mainly visiting model and wargames shops. We took the biscuit tin and whiled away the long slow train journey into Birmingham from Rugby stabbing at each other.

I even took my version into school, where me and a small group of friends would disappear at lunchtime to the far end of the playing fields, next to the cricket nets, and happily play a few games. I remember it so well, along with the lovable rogues who threw a spare net over me and roughed me up, damaging my watch, and upending the whole ensemble into a ditch. Happy days.

So there it all sits up on a shelf in the study, still usable after over 40 years. I bought a copy of the 1977 rules reprint a few years ago, but now I want it I have no idea of where it has gone. Typical. No worries, still got all the original handwritten rules in the lid. Derek kept the Gestetner rule book, even tho' he moved on to Ian Beck's "Rudis" (a much more detailed and realistic portrayal of arena combat, but alas missing some of the charm of the Paragon game).

So, what of the Perry game? First off I can say that I won't be buying it. It fits no niche that I have. I can't think of where I would play it, and I'm not turned on by Napoleonics at the moment. On the other hand, I think that some of the press and comment on the subject has missed the point. Remarks that we can't judge it until we see the rules I think are wide of the mark. It's a full terrain board, marked up in squares 10 x 20 in size, with some reasonable sized Napoleonic armies. Although as the figures are 8mm, so you could probably paint or use them for any European conflict up to the 1880s, depending on how fussy you are about shakos. If you want this type of portable product and the rules are rubbish, scan the internet for some that work or write your own. There's loads of square based systems out there. And if you want to widen your horizons then the boards would work with 6mm or 10mm figures for other periods in modern Europe.

Secondly, there's fuss over the price. It's £50. Too expensive? It's a box with terrain boards and two chunky sized armies in it that is in a robust box so you can carry it about. No, it isn't too expensive. I've just ordered 20 packs of 15mm figures from Lancashire games and not got much change out of £50. And that's just one army, no terrain, no box. Get real folks. How much would it cost you to put this together yourself? Or, another way of looking at it, the Black Powder rule book will cost you over £25, and it isn't even complete. Okay, it is toppy compared to some board games, but seriously, Command and Colours is over £50 and isn't portable. The bottom line is that if you reckon you'll play this a lot, then the price point is reasonable. If it's going to sit on your shelf gathering dust, then it's not worth it.

So, if you want a game you can carry around, then it's worth it. If you don't then it isn't. But there are other options if this is an itch you must scratch, as I think I've shown.

Update: Bob Cordery has posted a proper review here: link

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Pause for breath: What's Next?

I've got the last of the SCW Italians cleaned up and under coated on the painting desk, and my last Reconquista Andalusian light cavalry are about to based up, so time to take a deep breath and think about what to do next.

On the game design front I'll still be working on the SCW as the rules need the rough edges knocking off and I need to keep my eye in with them as they're going to COW. It's possible that as I go on over the next few months that I'll identify further shortfalls in the collection. For example I'm fairly sure I don't have enough Basques. One of my problems is that I can tend to "over buy" (the Basques were made up from spare Carlists). I think I've done that with the Italians as I've got a LOT of artillery, and whilst it's all appropriate to the size of forces I've put together it is unlikely all of it will see the light of day on the table at the same time, as it'll be devastating. Still, might as well finish painting them.

However, I have to think about what to paint or build next. To be honest (always a good policy) I've got three DBA armies to paint that I acquired following my trip to Cambodia. Mr Kay at Irregular has supplied me with Khmer, Siamese and Burmese armies in 15mm and if I leave them any longer they won't get done.

Khmer Elephant with Heavy Crossbow (DBA Art)

Khmer Elephant

These will be fun to do, - quite a few elephants, for example, - but they're more of a starter than a main course in terms of a project. I should really use them to break up those long hauls you get in the middle of building an army when you just need to paint loads of PBI. I've also got more El Cid infantry in various boxes but I don't need them that much. I only have them as people kept thrusting them at me and I can't turn down free figures. They will end up contributing to further units, but I've filled all the currently allocated space for these armies.

Khmer Heavy infantry with standard and command 

One thing that does worry me is that I think I've got a major rebasing project to do. My Chines/Taiping/Arrow War figures are based up with 4 figures on 30mm square bases. Following my development of the Peru/Chile armies and rules with 3 figures on 30mm x 15mm bases I'm increasingly of the view that these armies could well be improved by adopting the same structure. Luckily cavalry and artillery won't be affected, but all the infantry has to come off. This will mean I have some spare British figures as the units go down in size from 16 to 12 and I've already got all of the units that served in the campaign. Perhaps they'll serve for things like the EVA of other European style volunteer forces.

The spare Imps & Pings, however, will be recycled into new units, so benefits there as you always need lots of both.

With them sorted I could look again at getting some French for the 1860 campaign, which would probably come from a Crimean 15mm range, so I'll need to find some compatible with Irregular as Ian doesn't do them.

But the problem will be the rebasing. Most of my stuff is based to last. These are PVA'd onto MDF bases then covered with polyfilla/spackle and topped with sand.

Usually I unbase figures using a sharp knife, but mostly I've been upgrading from thick mounting board, and you can skim off the top layer of the card with the knife, then crack the figures out of the polyfilla. Not sure I can do that with the MDF. The normal advice is to soak them in water, but I'm concerned it'll remove the paint as well, if it gets under the varnish.

Something to ponder over the weekend.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

So forty years ago..

Right. After yesterday's post it was time to give the whole thing a go. For the purposes of this game I used the Litiana Bridge scenario (Commandos attacking Vichy French holding a bridge in Syria in 1941), substituting XIVth Army and Japanese. I attached labels to the back of the bases so that I could mark them up with the values from the original counters.

Phil was my guinea pig. Alas, unlike everyone else, he completely avoided SPI games in the 1970s and since, so he took some time getting up to speed. As did I. The SPI rule writing methodology doesn't take any prisoners.

I took the Japanese defenders, and deployed first. I dropped the indirect fire forces for the defenders to make things simpler.

I had two platoons and I needed to hold onto the buildings and the bridge. I had to deploy all on one side of the river, within 4 squares/hexes of it. I got that a bit wrong. Some of my stuff was more than 4 spaces away. I put most of one platoon into the buildings. It looked nice.

Phil had two thirds of his force across the river deployed within 4 spaces of the river on that side, and the remaining third coming on in the bottom right corner on my side of the river, just out of shot of the picture. The areas marked with pebbles are rough going that slow you down, but offer no cover. The trees are all heavy cover.

My troops were all out of command on the first turn, so Phil got a free turn's firing with no reply. He did a fair amount of damage, but I was mostly okay as all my stuff was in decent cover.

Phil pushed up to the river line so he could close assault the following turn. He has 6 Movement Points, and the river takes 4 to cross. Alas you need 3 MPs to enter the buildings, which neither of us realised at the time, so it would take another turn. Meanwhile, out of shot to the right, his other platoon is sneaking up through the trees.

This enables him to get in and close assault me, as his other troops were drawing all the fire.

He was also able to mass enough firepower to shoot his way into the buildings.

I was able to pin his other troops in place the other side of the bridge, but couldn't inflict enough damage to drive them back.

Phil was then able to occupy the buildings fully, which meant I had to get figures onto the bridge to force a draw, or kick him out of the buildings.

One of my last hopes was my HMGs in the trees, but they took a lashing. As fire is not simultaneous even with Overwatch fire, you can get wiped out before you can return fire. As happened here.

Which meant that Phil was able to occupy the bridge and take a win.

Thoughts? Well, it would have been more balanced if I'd used the mines and the indirect fire, but I thought it was a hard task for the Brits, attacking with odds of 3:2. This proved not to be the case, partly because when they got in close their high preponderance of sub-machine guns was telling. Also, the layout of the table made it hard for me to set up interlocking fields of fire. The system, as I said above, has non-simultaneous fire so winning the initiative for shooting is important. I also forgot to apply the "MG Cone of Fire" rule in the first part of the game, which would have shot up a lot more of Phil's chaps across the river.

The game has some issues. The idea of rolling to see who fires first and who moves first is just bearable, but you also have to do this for each round of close assault, and you have to say exactly which base you are firing at, rather than just shooting at a square. You also really need to understand the rules and study the scenario for the thing to work well. Admittedly this scenario was a blood bath historically, but fighting this game over open terrain isn't a bundle of laughs. There is too much certainty with the CRT at the left hand end. Firing four bases at a unit in the open will kill it, regardless of dice rolled, for example. And you have to get the interplay of Direct Fire, Overwatch Fire, Movement and Opportunity Fire right for the game to make sense of it all. It's also confusing that facing is important for MGs, but they also seem to fight when attacked from the rear at full effect.

But then again I don't think the rules are any more complicated than PBI or IABSM. In many ways they are simpler, - much simpler than "Sniper!" and do provide a platform for quite a good company level game.

I would play it again, - in fact I will play it again - but I don't think it will fight its way onto the roster of rules we use for low level combat. Phil tried really hard, but it isn't pushing a lot of the right buttons for him. The thing is you really need to learn this properly to get it to work right, and I don't think any of us has the enthusiasm to try. It's a game that's nearly 40 years old. The world has moved on.

NB Rifle/SMG bases take 4 hits to kill, HMGs 3 and LMGs 2. Hits on the bases were marked with white rings. There's a reorganisation phase that lets you re-man the MGs if they aren't completely wiped out in a urn.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Raiding the 70s.

As I mentioned at the end of my blog post on my relationship with SPI games I was thinking that "RAID!", the game of Commando operations in the 20th century, might translate into a figure game.

I have duly marked up a cloth and gone about transferring the terrain from the hex map onto my table top. This has been a reasonable success although I can't do all of it due to the size of the original map. This was designed to be used for several scenarios, so you don't normally use all of it. The attack on Entebbe scenario uses the top left of the map, and an assault on a bridge takes the bottom left, for example. I've struggled with how to represent the contour lines, so these have been ignored for now. What's more the terrain classifications are delightfully vague, so I've improvised there as well. If this goes okay I'll make some appropriately shaped felt templates.

My river and road sections seem to fit satisfactorily as well, although you do have that irritating side effect of the hex grid meaning you never get a proper crossroads as everything is on a slant.

As to the units involved the set up is pretty much a dead on match for how units were constructed for PBI2, with platoons made up of three squads or sections, each made up of two fire teams, supported by LMG and HMG teams. Command is represented by a platoon officer base. My only issue is that I need to differentiate between the two fire teams as one has the section leader in it.

The original game has some rules about turning counters over to conceal them, but in effect all this does is show you what units have been observed, and you check that every time you shoot anyway.

There's a lot in the game that has made it down to our time, whether consciously or not. The rules cover Direct and Indirect Fire, as well as Overwatch and Opportunity Fire (so far, so PBI in many ways), and there's some simplification for armour, as all tanks count the same (so far, so AK47 Republic).

It looks to me there some good stuff in this system. Whilst the rules are written in SPI house style and take a lot of words to say the obvious there is a simplicity to all of it which is irritatingly absent from, shall we say, "Sniper!". However, who in their right minds buries movement distances in the middle of a paragraph of text. I ask you. Anyway, had to do my own QRS in the end.

I have some other matters to work on, - such as the indirect fire mechanism - but hopefully this is a good starting point.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A bit of Eye-talian Candy

I just realised that my latest project, although nearly finished, hasn't had it's own blog posting. My Spanish Civil War Italians have featured in a game, but haven't graced these pages in their own right.

Time to correct this oversight.

The lack of SCW Italians has been a big hole for a while. When I knocked together some Basque units earlier in the year it became even more evident that I needed to sort out Mussolini's men fairly sharpish.

The Italian TOEs didn't change much from the SCW into WW2. They improved their armour after them found that baked-bean tins weren't a match for T-26s, but otherwise they kept things as they were. Whichi s good, as I have a book with that information in it.

My figure organisation for SCW is based upon my original set of rules, "Send Not to Know" which has 9 base battalions (4 x 2 base companies plus a command base), so these split down comfortably into a couple of "If You Tolerate This" battalions, each with four bases. Artillery is likewise equally flexible.

My order to Peter Pig in February gave me enough for a Division, roughly, including the Fascist Militia battalion, and I filled the artillery (apart from the infantry pack guns) and armour out with an order from Skytrex.

Here's a whole SNTK battalion, with a mix of firing and advancing rifle men. Technically the HMG company should probably have a mortar base in with it. I went for the tropical uniform as that appears most in Bueno's illustrations. Plus it makes them easily recognisable compared to most of the other troop types I'm using for this period. I also like the colour scheme of sand uniforms with green helmets and equipment. Very stylish. The officers, of course, wear a slightly lighter colour and have brown leather webbing and boots.

The LMG pack gives four pairs of gunners and loaders, two pairs each of standing and lying down.

A close up of the HMGs. Annoyingly the loader has a chip bag hat, not a helmet. More annoyingly, as with all PP HMG packs, you get three gun teams and two miscellaneous "command" figures. I'd rather have four gun teams. If I want officers, I'll buy an officer pack.

The firing poses. Good mix of standing and kneeling.

The advancing poses. Again, a nice mix. Always like Martin Goddard's animation

These are the 100mm howitzers. They are Skytrex with Peter Pig crews. The model went together really well, once I'd trimmed the axles down a bit.

The 75mm artillery. Three field guns, and a single howitzer. Found these a bit fiddly, but that could be because I'm using cheap super glue. Again Skytrex guns and Peter Pig crews.

Another shot of the field guns.

A close up of the 75mm howitzer. That's a Peter Pig 47mm pack gun in the background

This is the 47mm gun in focus.

Whilst I mainly represent the support weapons companies as HMGs, I bought some 81mm mortars as well. And some of the small infantry mortars.

The infamous CV35, again from Skytrex. I drilled out the hatch and put in a Peter Pig commander. Had to improvise a hatch cover. Shame they're moulded on, really.

And finally the CV35 flamethrower tank, the version of the CV35 that was worth having. Again drilled out and given a Peter Pig crewman. I also shortened the towing bar for the trailer to fit it on a shorter base.

This is just a sample of the stuff I've painted. I've got some more CV35s to do, plus a few 75mms of both types and a 47mm, then I'm done, I think.

Be prepared to see them in some battle reports over the next few months.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I (and) SPI

Like anyone who wargamed in the 1970s, I guess, I have had more than a passing acquaintance with
SPI. The paper hex boards and tiny cardboard counters seemed to be everywhere. The first game I remember playing was "Napoleon at Waterloo" which belonged to my mate Derek. NAW was sold as an introductory game by SPI, or it might even have been a free gift  with a subscription to "Strategy & Tactics", the SPI bi-monthly history magazine with a game in it.

I know Derek didn't subscribe, so he must have got the game through the advert in Airfix magazine or similar. We played that game a lot, and I don't recall it being improved by the Advanced Game supplement. The first one I think I owned as "Chinese Farm" a game about the opening stages of the Yom Kippur War in Sinai which was in the Folio series so it came in a folder, not in one of the SPI plastic boxes. I liked that one, too, and remember playing it a lot as well.

About 1977 my brother and I took out an S&T subscription. I remember being amazed at the complexity of the rules, the width of the period covered (was there nothing in military history that Jim Dunnigan couldn't reduce to a CRT?) and the unfortunate frequency with which impenetrable ACW games appeared. We ran the subscription for four years, and I recall that we hardly played any of the games. Part of the time my brother was away at Uni, then I was, then he moved out and so on. We also subscribed to Ares, SPI's sci-fi games magazine, mainly because it had a new story by Harry Harrison about Slippery Jin DiGriz as the basis for a game in the first one.

I've still got the S&T magazines. Of the games in the magazines I remember playing "Road to Richmond", mainly because it was the first one we got. Many of the others I had a stab at solo, - I remember being particularly baffled by "South Africa", annoyed at "Cobra" and fascinated by "Siege of Constantinople". The others I recognise but have no clear memory of (except for "Armada", which had such an extensive errata that I took the rules and errata sheet into the Uni Library copy shop to get copies so I could cut them up and put it together in order).

In the meantime I spent some of my own cash on other
games. Simulation Publications UK, the arm of SPI this side of the pond, would periodically print the more popular games in this country, so reducing the price. I therefore bought "Sniper" and later "Sorcerer". We played "Sniper" several times, but I recall being disappointed by it for all the hype and rave reviews. At that point it was obvious to me even as a teenager, that the people playing this game had never played figure games of this type.

"Sorcerer" was an even bigger disappointment. Eschewing a background in established fantasy literature the designers had instead made up a back story which failed to grab the imagination. The suggestion that you should write down the location of every counter each turn so time travel spells could work was frankly laughable.

Why the sudden bout of nostalgia? Well, I bumped into someone on holiday (we'll call him Gary, 'cos that's his name) in Laos who used to play SPI games in his 20s, then had to give them up as opponents moved away and family commitments came on board. We bonded over our mutual annoyance at "Cobra", shared a laugh over "Campaign for North Africa"(that Italian water rule!) and generally baffled some of the others in the party who had known Gary for 30 years or more and had never got this type of game.

Astonished to come across someone else who remembered the games and had even played some of them who furthermore only lived 40 minutes up the road it seemed like a good idea to meet up and play a few.

Several weeks ago we had a game of "Seelowe" - a four hour game that ended in a draw (designed by an American and they complain about cricket) - and intend to play some more.

My attempts to lay my hands on our collection have been frustrated. My brother took all of the games (except "Armada"*) when he left home and moved first into a rented flat and then got married and moved out permanently. A divorce and several house moves the length of the country means they've all gone missing (not helped as he suffered a brain injury in the last 5 years that affects his memory). He found "Sniper" and returned it, however. Great.

One of the games I'd forgotten we'd got was "Raid!", which is a generic commando raid game. I suspect we ignored it as we had the more sophisticated "Sniper", but it turns out it's a favourite of Gary's. I've therefore found the rules on line, and it clearly would work as a figure game. Possibly would work better as a figure game.

So I've been marking up a cloth with 3" off set squares today. They'll take four 30mm x 30mm bases from my Peter Pig PBI or AK47 collections, and are as good as hexes, so I reckon we're nearly there. Also, I reckon this is a gateway game to get Gary to play proper table top miniatures games.

Sneaky, aren't I?

* I'm sure I loaned my revised copy of Armada to Andy "Fergy" McKay who flat shared with Pete Berry for a while in the late 70s/early 80s. I'm equally sure I never got it back as our paths diverged and we lost touch. If anyone knows him, then pass on the message, - I'd be glad to catch up!