Monday, 20 January 2020

Playing "To Ur is Human"

My monthly SPI game partner's interest in the hex and cardboard counter genre has waned a bit of late, so we agreed to play another figure game. As he's really a newbie to this sort of thing we agreed to have a go at "To Ur". Well, I think it is simple to learn.

We used the card deployment system suggested in the rules. I normally don't have the time for players to use this in the evening, so it was good to give it a go again.

We had a little bit of confusion on getting the units out of the boxes, but were soon ready to go.

The armies were not mirror images of each other. Gary had the missile heavy one, and I had one with slightly more in the way of battle carts. Based on my points system they were within a point of each other. I went for a slightly heavier left wing, intending to refuse my right

This tactic seemed to be going okay at first, then it became apparent that Gary was refusing his entire front.

Out on the left I was trying to shield my battle carts with my slingers. There's massed archers out there, protecting that flank. Gary had tried to break through by charging with one of his javelin units, but they failed the Fear Test and refused to move.

As the javelin men were now feeling a bit wobbly I charged them with my slingers and drove them off.

Gary moved up his carts, which he had placed centrally. I was forced to react, and created a central pocket for them to charge to their deaths into.

I was sorting myself out to launch charges by my carts, but it was a bit tricky. I've got my slingers out of the way, but Gary's got some javelin men in the way instead.

Gary started getting pensive and checked the rules. Was he planning something?

I declared a charge, and the javelins dropped a Fear Level. Looking good. The other unit of carts wheeled to exploit the coming breakthrough.

Meanwhile, over on the other flank I'd given up refusing and run down some light infantry instead.

Unfortunately Gary's wobbly light infantry javelin men managed to stick a couple of barbs into my carts.

The javelins broke in the ensuing conflict, but at the cost of a cart base! Disaster. I was left standing in front of massed archers.

On the other flank I've broken right through. Only problem was whether I could turn and exploit the flank before Gary shored it all up with his reserve line.

Blast. A swift volley from the archers and I've lost the rest of the cart unit.

Gary took a closer look at what was going on.

On my right flank some swiftly moving javelin men killed a base. Whoops! I announced that the cart unit would be leaving the board henceforth for some repair work.

There seems to be a missing picture. My remaining left wing carts have bundled through those pesky massed archers and chased them off the table. Meanwhile my General urges his foot forwards, and combat ensues.

Everything is touch and go at first. Gary sends in his General to even things up, but he is killed in the melee.

With his main block pinned to the front, my slingers take the opportunity to attack an exposed flank.

All looking good. My carts on the left have turned round and put the fear of the gods into a unit of Gary's foot. They flee before the rumbling wheels into the mess developing over the corpse of Gary's General.

With nowhere for them to run to, the carts start to massacre the fleeing defenceless troops. The heavies now clash in the centre.

Having destroyed their opponents the carts line up the rear of Gary's centre. Gary's carts on the extreme right decide not to charge.

It's all going on in the centre now, as I clatter into the rear. Amazingly, according to the Fear Test, Gary's guys just love it. Gary rallies his windy battle carts, and orders another charge.

Two units of Heavy Infantry take one look at Gary's carts and turn on their heels and make off.

It isn't a pretty sight. This was supposed to hold them off whilst I won the battle in the centre.

It's all a little meat grinder-y in the centre.

However, I break Gary's troops with the carts, and will be able to gallop through and shore up my right. Gary's carts continue to ride down my heavy infantry who are fleeing.

I should have this in the bag by now. It is close, as I've lost loads of stuff, but I have a couple of combats which I should win and an even roll on the Fear Test will break my opponents. It isn't happening, tho'.

Another rule book check, as my carts hunt down Gary's lone survivor on his left.

Again, the combats are all taking longer than they should.

And then another of Gary's units is broken and it is all over. I had actually won the turn before, but there was a calc error on the big white board on Gary's right. The small board on my side shows I've got to 126 points, and I only need to kill 110.

It was a tense, close game that swung backwards and forwards. It was weird playing this having worked on "IGaBC" so much recently. I had to re-read the rule book to remind myself what I'd written. It was fun to push my figures around as well and roll some dice, rather than umpiring.

And it must have been okay. Even tho' he lost, Gary wants to play them again.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Doing Squares

Several people have asked about how I do squares. So here is a short posting about how I go about making them.

I've had several goes at this over many years, and the facilities available to me have changed over time as I now have a big table to do things on.

My first cloth was 1' squares marked in 6"sub-divisions. As I didn't have a big area to lay the full cloth out I made a template that I could mark through, and then tessellate it across the cloth on the dining room table. This worked reasonably, but you have to be very careful to make sure your squares line up. As you can see I do not mark the edges. I only ever mark the corners for orthogonal grids (off set squares are another problem) and that is really enough.

As you can see more clearly in this picture the corners of the big square are painted on in brown and those of the smaller squares were done with marker pen. Looking back at these now probably 20 years after I did them (!) they would have worked just as well with smaller dots.

I used the same technique on my Sudan desert cloth, although in this case I only wanted 6" squares, and I felt confident enough just to use small dots placed with a permanent marker.

This sheet is my go-to playing surface for "It's Getting A Bit Chile". The mat is made from large vinyl advertising sheets that a friend of mine had as he ran a camping shop. I was able to paint it with the colours I use for my figure bases (the type of paint I use is decorating matt vinyl that I have mixed to specific colour codes by the local DIY supermarket). I realise that this material isn't available to everyone, but this is how I broke through in determining grid size. I wasn't sure about the size I wanted, so I experimented with white sticky dots as you can see in this post: link. In the picture above I have painted over the dots with green to contrast with the mat but rendered them inconspicuous as using the same colour as I used for giving texture to it all.

Moving on, I needed a smaller sized grid on a green cloth but this time I knew the size of grid I wanted. I was able to buy some plastic table cloth with a fabric backing that takes paint. So I've painted the side that isn't the white and blue check. As I was able to lay this out on my table properly and by this point I've got some long, straight edges so I can be confident about the spacing. Having painted the back in my normal green I dotted in the corners with a permanent marker and then covered them with blobs of brown paint. These are so inconspicuous that we normally game on this surface whether we're using squares or not.

Lastly, this is my blue sea cloth. As this is old cotton curtains, and I want one side without squares I couldn't use the permanent marker. I found I could make a mark with a pencil that I could see and then just put a small blob of thick white emulsion paint on it. I didn't want it to soak through, so lower water content was essential.

All of these techniques mean you have to spend some time on the production. If you can't be bothered you can pay someone to print one for you. But the most important thing is not to bother with the edges. Alas that's something you can't avoid for offset squares.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

It's Getting a Bit Chile...without squares

So when I wrote IGABC I chose to put them on a squared grid.  Why? Well the story is brief but educational, to my mind.

I'd already experimented with adapting Neil Thomas' 19th century rules to a grid, to go with Chris A's Russo-Turkish War project. I wrote about it here. We had experienced a number of issues that arose from Neil's annoying refusal to define a number of things clearly, as ever. These issues were resolved by imposing a grid on the game. It was therefore natural that this would be my starting point when gaming the 1879-84 Pacific War. As I said in the introduction to IGABC the rules soon showed their short comings for anything not down-the-line European, so I struck out on my own.

The grid solves a load of problems. It simplifies measurement for firing and moving. It makes game play quicker. It formalises the layout of terrain and, importantly for what I was trying to do, it resolved issues with unit footprint and formations.

Now I am aware that not everyone is enamoured of the square or the hexagon. I have also found sometimes that the grid does not solve all the problems I would like. Sometime in the next two or three years I expect to publish my "Va t'en..." series of rules* which use good old fashioned tape measures. There will not be a squared based version of them, as I cannot resolve the issues that these present without destroying the mechanisms that I like the most. Anyhow, in respect of IGABC, despite my view that the squares improve the game, I was reminded that some people reacted badly to "To Ur is Human" being only workable of squares when I was preparing for publication.

I therefore reversed engineered IGABC to enable it to be played without squares, should that be required by the purchaser. The methodology is contained in a two page section of the rules book, headed "Playing 'It's Getting a Bit Chile' without squares". Bob Cordery, of Wargaming Miscellany, even listed this as part of the rules in his review. I have not, however, always slipped the fact into the product description when publicising the rules, so I thought it might be helpful to go over the information here.

Converting square movement and range to inches or centimetres is really quite easy, as is the adjustment of arcs of fire and wheeling etc. The main issue to be resolved is unit density and formation. This isn't a big deal. For those of you who have not been privy to this piece of insight, DBA is a game played on squares**, where the units carry their squares around with them. The rules then have a procedure to explain how the squares are eventually lined up with each other when units are close enough. That's basically what happens in IGABC, although what you need to do is physically place the units on a square movement tray, - say 3" square - and move them on that. This is what Pete Berry did in his revolutionary "File Leader" rules.

There are some other bits and pieces in the rules which you'll need to take on board, and you'll need to make your own QRS for movement rates and ranges, but otherwise you're good to go, with no more excuses.

* "Va t'en Guerre" and "Va t'en Ecosse". Is two a series?
** thanks Phil

Sunday, 12 January 2020

It's Getting a Bit Chile pdf available

Yes. The pdf for "It's Getting a Bit Chile" is now available over on Wargame Vault: link

So, all of you who can't get the Amazon version, head over there now and place your order.

+++Message Ends+++

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Kind words on Chile

A couple of people have now received their copies of the rules and have posted their reviews.

You can find Bob Cordery's review here: link, ("This is an excellent book in so many ways"and David Crook's here: link. ("He has taken a little known war and wrapped his arms around it and produced a set of theatre specific rules with enough extras to ensure that the table top action will have that all important flavour. It is quite simply a superb piece of work."As you can see from the excerpts both reviews are very complimentary. I know that I know both of the gentlemen concerned but I think that if it wasn't their honest view they'd just say nothing at all.

What has pleased me is that the aims I set myself in writing the rule book have been picked up by both of the reviewers. There is supposed to be enough there to get you started, it is supposed to be obvious that they are specific to the period and it is supposed to be clear and easy to read. And it was a manifestation of my real passion for the period too, and that has apparently come through as well.

It's is becoming obvious to me, if I didn't already know, that this is a period where it is hard to get any traction at all in terms of interest. The water has been particularly muddied by the Perry twins' new Triple Alliance range, which people seem to think is the same war. It isn't. There was a comment on one forum that it was "too bad" that the rules weren't for the Triple Alliance war, as "the uniforms are super cool". Seeing as the uniforms are similar in some areas, being jackets and kepis. Differences include the War of the Pacific has units in pickelhaubes, the Triple Alliance Carlist style berets. In terms of colour variety the Bolivians beat everyone that's the sort of dismissive comment that isn't helpful, when the evidence would tend to suggest that the uniforms in the War of the Pacific are almost certainly more cool than those of the Triple Alliance.

I had an email exchange with Leon at Pendraken who has the most complete range of figures, albeit in 10mm. He says he doesn't sell many of them, but he has very kindly put a link for the rules on that page.

Sales have been ahead of "To Ur" so far, which is probably down to me doing pre-publicity work via TMP and the pent up demand came in quickly in the first couple of days. I can only hope that reviews such as Bob & Dave's will kick sales on as well and inspire some chat elsewhere as well.

On another note the pdf of "To Ur" has gone okay, so I will do some work in the next few days to prepare the "IGABC" files for similar availability.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

VB with SB

Next Monday the Monday Night Group are going to see "1917", instead of having a game. We did the same with "Dunkirk", as not all our spouses were as keen to see a war film as we were. To get us in the mood I put on a WW1 game.

Most of my games in the latter part of the wear have been Allied attacks so I thought I'd swap it round a bit and do something with a German attack instead. This is a bit more awkward than it should be as I don't have nearly as many Germans as I do Brits, so I needed something that I had the forces for.

After hunting around I found an action at the end of the 1918 Spring Offensive, when the Germans attacked Villers Bretonneux with the intention of threatening Amiens. This battle is best known for the "Savage Rabbits" action, where tanks fought tanks for the first time. Of course, that is a minor part of the battle, although it did blunt the march of the A7Vs which were causing havoc. It's also the only German tank attack of the war that relied entirely on home grown machines, rather than captured Mark IVs.

Like every one I've got A7Vs, so it was a chance to use them and even up the sides.

For this game I decided to use RFCMs "Square Bashing". I've used these before and been mostly pleased with them, although I have previously noted issues with them when trying to do refights. On the positive side, as they use squares it becomes easier to overlap a map onto the tabletop.

I had to do some hunting around, but I finally found some maps and orbats. The action I chose was the attack on 8th Division by the German 4th Guards Division. I had to fiddle around with the layout and set up a little bit, but it was close enough.

8th Division had recently received some new inexperienced drafts, and were being deployed in the new "defence in depth" scheme that the British Army was adopting. They had also taken over this stretch of the line fairly recently from the Australians, who had moved to higher, more readily defensible, ground to the North. An attack wasn't expected for a few days as the Germans had recently used persistent gas, and so were thought unlikely to put their troops through the area as it was something they tried to avoid.

Player briefings were:

Villers Bretonneux – 24th April 1918

BEF 8th Division Major-General Sir Francis Davis
8th Division has suffered badly during the German Spring offensives, but has recently received a new draft of troops. However, it is generally regarded as a good Division, and has been fully equipped with the up to date Lewis Gun allocation. It has been moved to the Villers-Bretonneux section, just in front of Amiens. Amiens is a key railway junction, its loss will result in the breakdown of Allied supply for a large proportion of the Front. The Division has been placed in the newly developed deep defence scheme, with two Brigades up and one in reserve. The position has only recently been taken over from the Australians. The Germans have been shelling and gassing the position. It is unclear if this heralds an attack or not. The forces deployed are:
25th Brigade – Left hand side, covering Villers-Bretonneux
2nd Battalion , Rifle Brigade (Left  in front of VB, covering 2 squares + MG + Trench mortar)
2nd Battalion, East Lancs (Defending V-B)
2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire (in front of V-B for counterattacks)
+ one section field guns

23rd Brigade – Centre, covering Villers-Bretonneux & Bois d’Aquenne
2nd Battalion, West Yorks (left front of VB, covering 2 squares + MG + Trench mortar)
2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regt (right front, covering 2 squares)
2nd Battalion, Devonshire Regt (in Bois d’Aquenne for counter attacks)

24th Brigade – Right, covering Bois d’Aquenne
2nd Battalion , Northamptonshire Regt (right front, covering 2 squares)
2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regt (in Bois d’Aquenne for counter attacks)

Assets: Point Effect Barrage (10) Suppressive Barrage (9) Hold the Line Orders (4)

Mobile reserves may be released to cover any breakthrough.

German Army – 4th Guards Division Gen-Maj Graf von Schweinitz

The Division has been tasked with capturing Villers-Bretonneux with a view to enabling a further attack on Amiens, to disrupt Allied supply lines. This attack will be the first assault made with the support of armoured vehicles. The area has been subject to light shelling and Gas attacks.

5th  Guards Grenadier Regt (3 battalions)
5th  Foot Guards Regt (3 battalions)
93rd  Reserve Infantry Regt (3 battalions)

+48th Infantry battalion from 228 Division (3 battalions)
2 x A7V sections
6 x field gun sections

Assets: Point Effect Barrage (8) Suppressive Barrage (10) Rolling Barrage (5) Shock Assault (12)

Reserves may be called upon to exploit a breakthrough, but this is not anticipated as being necessary.


The reserves in the case of the British were two Mark IVs and three Whippets. For the Germans I was going to recycle up to three battalions worth of casualties.

I didn't use the full SB set up process involving moving terrain and so on. I put out 4 objectives to encourage the German players to attack along historical lines, and hopefully give us the Savage Rabbits action on their left in the Bois d'Aquenne. To simulate the way the British held the front line I spread out battalions over two squares frontage and bolstered them with HMGs and a few mortars, as you can see. To simulate their recent occupancy of the area I classified their trenches as Hasty Defences. I also pushed them up to two squares from the German starting edge, to simulate the Germans getting really close due to heavy mist. The Germans also had an off table deployment area, rather than cram everything on the board.

Steve took the British, Richard and Phil took the Germans, with Phil on the right and Richard on the left.

Here's the German forces all lined up and ready to go.

The British wait in their defences, their attackers obscured by mist.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to attack, turn one and Phil is over the British defence line, his infantry leaving their armour support in their wake.

Steve launches an immediate counter attack...

.. but is bounced back by the elated Huns.

Phil has surged across the first line of defences and is heading off for Villers Bretonneux. He has despatched a battalion to deal with the remaining front line unit on the British left flank (he never deals with it throughout the game). Richard is up to the defences, and launches a double assault.

He is successful on the left, but held up by a gallant rearguard on his right.

Steve calls down a suppressive barrage to delay the attack (the German barrage rolls have been unmitigated failures up to this point). Luckily it doesn't stray, and drops a curtain of fire across the German line of attack.

The barrage is followed by a vigorous counterattack. Unable to retire because of the shelling behind them, Richard's forces take heavy casualties. Phil has less opposition, and is able to press on, out of shot at the top of the picture.

In his next turn Steve dropped a Point Barrage on the centre of the table, mainly frustrating Phil, who was desperately trying to avoid taking any morale tests if he could.

Alas the barrage was too much for some of his fellows, who turned tail and headed for the table edge.

At this point it looked like the German assault had stalled. Richard was back on his heels, and Phil's left had been forced back. However, Phil had now got his tank forwards, and was pressing on into Monument Wood, in front of V-B.

It was now time for the Germans to call in a suppressive barrage, which masked off the centre of Steve's second line whilst Phil assaulted objective 4, successfully.

Richard had now re-grouped and gone back on to the offensive.

For the first time the Germans had a tank in position, and drove it across the  British defences, which collapsed.

From the resulting position it looked like Richard could roll up the rest of the British front line.

Phil was now firmly ensconced on objective 4, with the remains of a couple of British battalions hanging on to the table edge in front of them.

At this point we had to stop as chatting and me referring to rules I'm not really familiar with had slowed us down and it was getting on for midnight. It looked like the Germans were on top, but the Brits were holding on. The Game Countdown clock still had 6 points to go. We had a quick wash up and I explained what happened historically. Phil remarked that his Grandfather was with the Machine Gun Corps at the battle, which added some personal colour to the evening.

When I went out this afternoon to put everything away I decided to run through the next turn, as it was obvious what Phil & Richard were about to do.

I held on to objective 4, but launched assaults on the artillery next to them, and the Divisional HQ, now free from barrage smoke. These were both successful.The Germans now held all of V-B, except for one small toe hold in the corner.

Richard's troops were now able to start to roll up the front line, as anticipated.

The Germans now had a significant breakthrough on their left as well.

Time for the "Savage Rabbits", as Lt Mitchell and his tank force emerged onto the table to launch the counter attack.

Alas, tho', I threw a 6 for the countdown clock, and the game ended.

I totted up the Square Bashing victory points, as close as I could, and came up with a marginal British victory, which doesn't feel right. This was probably as the German left hadn't made enough progress, and the key rows and objectives were still mostly in the hands of 8th Division.

The players had said it played well. If I were to do it again I might look at a few things, and would certainly revisit the table layout. I did take some liberties, as you will be able to tell from the map below (half this sector was covered by 58th Div, but I shifted 8th Div across to cover it all as I had more info on them). In reality the Germans got all the way through VB, and made it to the table edge where Mitchell's tanks came on. It all looked very dicey for the Allies. Immediate counter attacks were ordered, but these were held off until nightfall, when the Australian counterattack went in and was completely successful. Most of the A7Vs were lost.

The Australian accounts stress the inexperience of the British troops, and say they were too keen to run away. That's easy to say when you've been moved out of the sector to a stronger position and not been attacked by tanks in positions you've only just occupied and have no anti-tank weapons. And 8th Division was weak, and held on remarkably well considering the odds stacked against them. The artillery men were notably brave, working their pieces despite being under heavy machine gun fire.

SB does have some issues. The ground scale / unit density isn't as scalable as I might like, and it is fairly broad brush in the way troops are represented. However, the constraints it imposes and the way it works does look like a WW1 Western Front battle, so I will persist with it.  However, I have to say that even after all these years the rules are ramshackle, much as I love them and will continue to recommend them. There's no knowing where information might be, even tho' the rules have contents and an index. I hope I've done better than that with my latest set.