Thursday, 21 August 2014

Squares in the Sudan

Due to unforeseen circumstances I ended up with no players this Wednesday evening. No worries, the system plays pretty well as a solo set of rules, so I played it through anyway.

The British drew a low card in the first turn and formed up into a Brigade square. The very sophisticated plan was to march across the table, mowing down any approaching Dervishes should the opportunity arise. It's the sort of plan that made the Empire great. The square is full of baggage, camels, a battery of screw guns and a Gardner gun pulled by some jolly Jack Tars. The cunning Dervish is lurking in cover.

The British horse have moved out to the left to cover the square from that direction as Dervishes emerge from the palm trees. The Gunboat steamer currently thinks its work for the day is over.

Unable to restrain themselves (plus I wanted to finish before 9pm to watch CSI on 5+24 as the DVR failed to record it on Tuesday) the Dervishes emerge from the gullies.

On the left the Dervish horse close and open up a desultory fire on their opposite numbers.

This is just a gratuitous eye-candy shot of the square with the MG deployed, because it looks great from this angle.

Hordes of Dervishes start to swarm across the plain. The square halts and deploys its heavy guns. The Jolly Kaftan moves up to provide covering fire.

Being typically gung-ho the British cavalry launch a charge at some Dervish foot. This doesn't end well.

The Square finally opens fire. The effects are less than stunning. (Rolled four d6 looking for 4 or less. Got four 5s).

Luckily the fore mounted gun on the Jolly Kaftan has the range and opens up to devastating effect.

Despite the Jolly Kaftan's fire one Rub gets through. And it's going to move first this turn before the square can fire. Alas for the Mahdi it is beaten off with cold steel.

Right into the path of the Jolly Kaftan's gun.

The square then opens up again and this time the men in the Redcoats do their business. The Mahdists are driven off with heavy casualties (NB You can see the cavalry skulking behind the square next to the river on the right. They're disorganised, and will continue to be so for most of the game.)

Despite the volume of fire another Dervish Rub contacts the corner of the square.....

...only to be driven off again. This is looking too easy for the British.

Especially as the gunboat keeps delivering on the fire support front.

The square exchanges fire with some dervishes who just won't go away...

...who, together with some other colleagues succeed in Disorganising the corner of the square.

Another Ace, and the Mahdists are in, screaming their battle cry.....

...and the Regiment breaks. The Mahdists overrun the Gardner, leaving several lads lying on the sand who are never going to sea again. They also start slaughtering the camels.

The routing infantry emerge from the back of the square into some fire from the Dervish horse. Could it all be going south for the Soldiers of the Queen?

The Jolly Kaftan sails to the rescue and opens up on the Dervish cavalry with the rear Gardner gun.

The rear of the square about faces and prepares to volley into the centre (now, where have I heard that before?).

The British Cavalry finally get themselves sorted out and produce a charge on the Dervish cavalry to enable the routing troops to reform.

With the Brigadier present the infantry reform and give the Dervishes a volley or two.

The rear of the square opens fire and halts the Dervishes in their tracks. Up at the top of the picture the other face of the square is crossing bayonet and sword with some howling Dervishes. It all looks nip and tuck again.

But help is on its way. The cavalry drive off their opponents and get round to the Dervish flank. They let off a volley of carbine fire.

After a round of combat in the remains of the square everyone is disorganised, but no one is broken.

No matter, as the cavalry deliver a final charge into the flank of the Dervishes....

....routing them into their colleagues. Game over.

Actually, about a third of the Dervishes are left holding the village and their artillery is still intact. There was probably another hour's play if I wanted it, but I'd been running the game for 1 3/4 hours, and it was time for CSI. On reflection it's a bit of a mess for the British. They've lost the Gardner gun and about half of their baggage, and still have a mile or so the trek to the village and another battle to fight before sun down.

I made quite a few notes during the game and have some changes to make. The cavalry aren't working quite right yet and some of the shooting was too devastating.

Still, passed the evening, didn't it? And the Brits very nearly got a good pasting.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Off to the Sudan

Whilst clearing out the study (no excuses as I'm not working at the moment) I came across a set of rules for the 1880s British campaigns in Egypt and the Sudan based upon the Brooks/Drury square based playing card activation system. These date back to about 2006, so I don't think they've ever surfaced on this blog.

Mostly we use Science v Pluck for Sudan games, with the occasional diversion off into RFCM's "Patrols in the Sudan". Both of these are fun, but the former requires several players and a fair amount of preparation from the umpire and the later are, well, a bit low-level at times.

The rules I produced, named "Redcoats and the Sudan", use 6" squares and battalion sized units of four bases. Bob Cordery has done something similar, and although I played those I went back to the Ian Drury originals for my set. They enable quite large actions to be played manageably in an evening without too much preparation.

The rules use playing cards to determine activation sequence and last year I acquired some rather nice playing card tiles in a game called "Play 5" which look a bit more elegant than the little cards I have, - so why not have another go at the Redcoats game for this Wednesday's game?

I ran through a couple of solo games over the last few days and ironed out some bugs in the system. Still not utterly sure that I've got the mechanics for Brigade squares sorted out, but I've managed to get Mahdists into a square once with a mad rush, and then driven them off with volleys of rifle fire. Think I'm doing something right.

The game is based upon Stewart's Desert Column, although not too closely. I've put the Nile at the edge of the board so that I can put out my scratch built Nile steamer.

The scenario is that the column has to march about a mile from the river a seize a village as a base for the following day's march. There may be one or two Mahdists in the vicinity who have other ideas.

The Nile steamer, named "The Jolly Kaftan" is a foam board, card and matchstick construction. She was built specifically for use with the square based rules, hence her rather stunted shape.

The upper deck is purpose built to take four 30mm x 30mm bases of infantry. The gun on the prow is scratch built as well, as is the Gardner gun at the rear which you can't see in this picture.

So, all set for this evening.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Slartibarfast Defence

"In this replacement Earth we're building they've given me Africa to do and of course I'm doing it with all fjords again because I happen to like them, and I'm old fashioned enough to think that they give a lovely baroque feel to a continent. And they tell me it's not equatorial enough. What does it matter? Science has achieved some wonderful things of course, but I'd far rather be happy than right any day."

(Slartibartfast to Arthur Dent, H2G2)

I was pondering this recently when thinking about how we, as wargamers, construct our games.

I visit discussion boards from time to time. TMP, for example and that new one started in the UK: The Wargames Website. It's handy to keep up with what's going on in the hobby and they're a good way of getting in contact with other wargamers and sharing what you're doing as well. Sometimes you even have a discussion that's interesting.

I've played both historical and fantasy sf games during my 40+ years of wargaming and I'm pretty open minded. I'd say I prefer historical games, but my earliest non-Airfix armies were Minifigs Middle Earth so I'll try most things, given a chance. The one thing that I think is important to any game, however, is that the context and parameters of it are consistent. What happens in the world you are recreating, whether from the past or the imagination all the bits should sit together coherently. So in the Middle Earth example above for games set in the War of the Ring there shouldn't be any dragons, - that's the point of the expedition in The Hobbit - unless you postulate the failure of Bilbo and Thorin to have Smaug killed. That's been something common to my wargaming for my entire life. If you pick up any book written by an Old Schooler you'll find that marrying what the toy soldiers do up to how they performed in real life under pins everything. The performance of the table top model has to be consistent with the world it is modelling.

For historical games it should be fairly straight forward, - no LMGs in the ACW and so on. The big, obvious bits are very rarely a problem. It's getting the detail right that often is. And it doesn't tend to be an issue with the actual figures themselves, - it's usually with the rules, scenario or similar.

So a discussion will start on a message board, - often it's a request for help (often it's actually a desire for validation of a decision already taken), or a request to have a look at some pictures of figures or a game.

The discussion will develop and someone will make a comment like: "Nice to see your figures for that Wars of the Roses battle refight, but you have them fighting across enclosed land and that area wasn't enclosed until the 18th century, so the flank should be much more open".

This type of discussion can go one of two ways. The original poster can say thank you for pointing that out, I can get that right next time. Or he can say something like, "I prefer it that way because it gave a better game".

If the second path is chosen the discussion will deteriorate rapidly, until the original poster will type something like "I don't care I'm a GAMER first". Always with GAMER in capitals in case the rest of use have problems reading small type. Whenever I read that my heart sinks as I realise any form of rational discussion has just flown out of the window.

Well, I'm a gamer too. I play wargames, card games and board games, so being a gamer doesn't make you special. In fact, if you want to play games that make no sense because you enjoy them, then go right ahead. Why not? The issue I have is don't get into an argument about how you play historical games and then when it emerges that actually you don't, suddenly shout "I don't care I'm a GAMER". The time to make that point is before you start talking about your game as historical. It sounds awfully like you're a sore loser if you pull the "I'd rather be happy than right" banner out of your bag after you have been found out.

After all, Slartibarfast got there first. Millions of years ago.

And the thing is, it is usually just as easy to get it right (or in alternatively, make it consistent) as it is to get it wrong. And it is usually just as much fun.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Bish, bash, bosh

Classic confrontation for Wednesday Evening, - Greeks & Persians under Armati 2. I maxed out the Greeks on light troops to get them an extra division, and put as many good quality heavy infantry units into the Persians as I could. Then waited for the players.

We were due four of us for the evening. Will & Chris W made it for 8 o'clock - just about - so I put them together. They chose the Greeks  - "fewer troop types to confuse us" as Chris W said.

The picture above gives an idea of the army compositions. I then put up the deployment curtain and we shuffled stuff about. There aren't as many pictures of this game as usual as I was actively involved most of the time.

This is just a picture of my massed Persian infantry. Great, aren't they?

First move over. I'm refusing the left and attacking with my quality infantry (Immortals & hoplites) and heavy cavalry on the right. I'm hoping to play tag with my light cavalry on my left, but I'm not very good at that sort of thing. Will and Chris W were hoping to sweep away my left wing with their massed cavalry and dodge about on their left with peltasts and other lights, whilst sweeping away my middle with loads of hoplites.

Chris K turned up at this point having got over from his weekly posting out to the wilds of Peterborough. I rewarded him with command of the Persian right. He quickly punched a hole in the middle of their phalanx (which has split on contact) and sent some hoplites off to to drive away the peltasts and free up the cavalry for a sweeping manoeuvre. At this point I saw we had a problem. We needed to kill four Greek units (as did the Greeks), and there were only three on our right where we had an advantage. On our left, where the Greeks outgunned us, there were loads of units. Hmm.

The phalanx bears down on my Sparabara and subject infantry. They're shooting away like mad, but with little effect. Off to their left my light cavalry are pretty much pinned back on the base line, and are being destroyed. They are delaying the inevitable as long as they can, but it's all pretty desperate stuff. Will finally manages to free up one of his heavy cavalry units and about face it to charge my rear.

There's lots going on in this picture. Chris K has got his cavalry round over the hill and charged the peltasts in the flank whilst they are pinned to the front by the advancing hoplites. A series of failed "routed into" tests removes them all from the board, along with their skirmishing friends. We now have two heavy cavalry units out on that flank to bring back into the fray. We've reduced their left wing phalanx to one unit. It will die next turn, but Xerxes will also die in the combat. Will, as I said above, has put an undressed cavalry unit into the rear of my subject infantry, having detached his general and added him to one of the hoplite units to bolster their chances of hitting.

His infantry units are 1 or 2 points up all along the line here. Nearest the camera are some Spartan infantry, who should be putting their opponents through the mincer. As you can see they took a hit in the first round, hence Will putting in his cavalry before they were reformed.

In the face of all the odds the rubbish Persian infantry hold off to front and rear, which is a nuisance to Will, as it means he doesn't break them with impetus from the cavalry. I survive another turn.

This is the final turn. Every unit in my line rolls a 6. Will is....less lucky. Off screen to the top, Chris also breaks the last hoplite unit on his wing, meaning we've killed three units and are looking for our fourth.

Which I duly get by rolling a fifth successive six to kill Will's general, having inflicted a hit on his unit. Stunning victory against the odds.

An exciting game that we won mainly by dumb luck. However, if we had not killed the general at this point we'd have had our cavalry piling into the hoplite rear in about two moves, so we would probably have held on for a win, but in a much closer game.

A good, quick game with armies I will re-use in the near future, I think. I'll look again at the army components as my painting schedule advances. Next game I may well max out the Persian cavalry and see where that gets us.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Is this my favourite game?

So, Monday afternoon Mrs T went off to visit a friend for a cup of tea and chat so I thought I'd squeeze in a game. I e-mailed Phil and suggested "AK47 Republic", partly because Peter Pig have just made it available as a pdf on their website. By pure chance he'd just found his copy of the 1997 classic version. It seemed as if fate had thrown us together.

I've got several versions of the original rules, including a 1997 v1 and the May 2006 v2. The latter includes all the suggestions made on the RFCM Yahoo Group and frankly has a load of stuff in it that it shouldn't as everyone's pet ideas got pushed for inclusion and Martin just seemed to lose all critical faculties. Looking back I understand why he dumped it and went off to do Reloaded.

Still, back to the story. I went for a classic game. 6' x 5' table, type three terrain and one of my earliest armies,- a Dictatorship with a two tank unit and a mortar battery. As the table was bigger than normal I also gave all my infantry trucks as well. No particular attempt to finesse the points system with that one.

Phil had his PANTO (PAN-african Treaty Organisation) Dictatorship as well. This has a helicopter and APCs with heavy weapons in it.

Phil attacked, I defended. I got some heavy weapons from the political chart. Phil played a blinder and got everything.

This is the table before we got the troops on. The ridges are gently undulating hills. The trees are scrub. For objectives Phil chose the hill in the centre left, the main central village and the aid station top left. I made him come on from bottom left.

I got three units on. My tanks, the mortars and a militia unit with my C-in-C. Phil got his attack helicopter (gulp) a regular unit with supporting vehicles and his C-in-C's APC with AA gun. Or something.

The helicopter immediately took on my tanks, who had hit one of Phil's support vehicles for his infantry unit (see red smoke). His infantry were meanwhile rushing my militia hidden in the scrub. My mortars were on the central hill, mostly out of range. His General is skulking behind the hill near the objective marker.

Never underestimate your opponent's militia units. My militia had a jeep with an HMG on it (when I bought my initial AK47 kit Martin hadn't produced the Toyota technical) drove up and blazed way at the General's APC and brewed it. Luckily for Phil the General escaped. In this turn I also hit the helicopter, but it made its saving roll for moving.

Next  move I hit the helicopter again, but due to rolling a "1" for movement it didn't get a saving roll. Phil took it really well. Honest.

 He also got some revenge by taking out one of my tanks with an airstrike.

In the scrub land the infantry were going at it tooth and nail. Lots of close assault and RPGs failing to fire. Both units now had a General in attendance which helped with morale. Unless you were Phil, rolling a series of 1s.

I was not doing very well in the exchanges. This shot shows me actually pinning an enemy infantry base. It's also the turn before....

...the two units' supporting weapons vehicles blew each other up. Terrific.

Phil by this point had some late arrivals on the table, and had occupied the aid station. This prompted a flood of refugees.

Phil's infantry in the scrub failed a third morale test and broke, allowing my General to take the high ground.

There was some more argy-bargy at the other end of the table, but I succeeded in seizing another objective just before the game ended.

I ended out winning by a good margin (50 points) but the game was much closer and I'd have been in real trouble if we'd gone on another couple of turns.

Whenever I go back to "AK47 Republic" I'm struck by how fresh and exciting it still is. Sure the rules are a bit of a mess in places, but it works, and works really well. The rules are simple enough but have clever nuances. It is a work of genius. I would be so proud of it if I had written it.

As a footnote I saw on TMP that "AK47 Republic" was listed as one of the games that a contributor wouldn't play for some moral reason (too close to today's news was the reason). In a hobby where people have SS units etc etc and will play games set elsewhere featuring modern armies I have never seen the problem. Without it I'd never have done the reading and research I did on modern Africa and my understanding of that part of the world would be so much worse.

Still, each to his own, I guess.

BTW - Just noticed this is post 500. Phew!