Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Blogs and Pieces

So, post Christmas catch up. I note from my hit counter that the last battle report was a massive turn off, so back to the normal odds and ends.

No up-date on Christmas presents. If they become relevant to wargaming they'll appear at the appropriate points.

Plus blogs with lists of "this is what I got" are a bit dull. Christmas for me is more about eating well, drinking well and gathering together with the rest of the Trebian clan. And playing games, particularly on Christmas Eve. This year we fitted in a particularly full session, including Fluxx (the Monty Python version), Apples to Apples, Family Business, Ratrace and the perennial non-thinking favourite, Newmarket (although we seem to play a variant with rules not available on the internet. As I've played it every Christmas since I was about 5 I'm sticking with our version).

Any how, what of the wargaming news? In the slack time over the past few days I managed to finish Jason Gurney's "Crusade in Spain".

Regular readers may recall that this was one of the second hand books on the Spanish Civil War I picked up in Hay on War back in September. When I bought it I didn't know anything about it, - it just looked interesting and was in the price range I wanted to pay.

It's only a slim volume, - less than 200 pages - but it has a wealth of detail and period colour. Gurney has a short Wikipedia entry and this will lead you to a fuller biography on the Spartacus Educational website (take care here, - the site has its own political agenda!). Essentially Gurney was a naive political radical of a generic sort and went to Spain to fight in the International Brigade because he thought it was right to fight Facism.

The book started slowly being mainly a description of how much fun it was to be an arty type Chelsea in the 1930s (he was a sculptor) and how many women he slept with. The main action however is set round the Battle of Jarama and there is a good description of the action he saw. There's not just a good description of organisation, equipment and tactics (Gurney was a battalion scout so got to see a lot of what was happening) but also excellent pen portraits of the various leaders he came across. If you have an interest in the period I recommend this to you. A lot of memoirs aren't always helpful to wargamers but this one is ripe for what Paddy G called "tactical snippeting" where details of how wars are actually fought by looking for small pieces of evidence in personal writings.

Apart for finishing this off I also completed the fourth and last of my IB battalions. All I have to do now is the flags for this one and two others and they're ready for action. The next painting project is to do the Brigade HQ base and atk support (the English speaking IB had a 37mm atk gun or two). At the same time I'll do my first pair of XIVth Army 25pdrs. Not really sure why I bought six of them now.

All of which means that after painting them I have to sit down with the other packets of Peter Pig SCW figures I was given back in September and assemble the chip-bag hat wearing fraternity into units of Spanish Foreign Legionnaires. I know that they're from a Falangist boxed set but the uniforms are the same and the Falangists never really got near the front line.

And I've picked up another book to read, - a remaindered copy of Edward Vallance's Radical History of Britain. I've been looking forward to this for quite a while, so I hope it doesn't disappoint.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Attack of the Killer Wind Up Christmas Puddings (part 2)

I don’t know when something becomes a tradition. Is two years a tradition or just coincidence?

I’ll go for two years. So, this Wednesday Phil & I had our traditional Society of Ancients competition game of Armati. Come to think of it, it must be a tradition, otherwise why would Phil have driven 10 miles in the snow for a game. Got to be something other than the pleasure of my company and a guaranteed easy win.

Last year’s game featured an appearance from the Christmas Cracker toys of the title. This year, because Mrs Trebian was otherwise engaged, they failed to turn up, so we just had to focus on the game.

The run up to this game started several days before hand. We know we’re going to do 15mm Armati, - all of Phil’s ancient armies are in 15mm and I don’t play any “competition style” rules except for Armati. The question is what period and what armies. The problem for me is that I only have three 15mm ancient armies, - Trajanic Romans, Parthians and Germans – whilst Phil has….lots. So we have the discussion about what sub-period we’re going to play in (obviously from my end it has to be the one with my three armies in) and then Phil reminds me that my Wars of the Roses stuff is covered by the rules and he has some Italian Armies that are sort of contemporary. I consider this for a while. I had a cunning plan to bore Phil into a long drawn out stand off where he loses the will to live and I get a draw. However it would be nice to have an excuse to get the WotR stuff out, so having checked the official listings I reckoned I’d be in with a chance. After all Italian armies have all sorts of fancy finesse style units but I can max out on longbows and turn him into a pin cushion. (How gamey does that sound? I can only hope the spirit of Dr Griffith can forgive me).

The Armati 2 WotR army list is a bit rubbish. It has all sorts of odd bits and pieces (Irish javelins, anyone?) that aren’t really prime features of the army, but doesn’t have any mounted borderers or scourers. So I popped in the equivalent from another list.

Phil indicated he’d go and check the options for his stuff on Warflute (this is the Armati on-line army resource site, - and jolly good it is too, with loads of interesting lists and discussions). Hadn’t thought he might use something not in the main book, but…..still, not worried, - after all Italians are Italians, aren’t they? I’ll still be able to outshoot them.

As it happens there is an Italian army stuffed with longbows. It’s Sir John Hawkwood’s Free Company (okay, not exactly contemporary). Not only has he got the same number of longbows as me, he’s got a similar number of Cross Bows as well. And more cavalry. Gulp.

Plus, it being Phil he also has a plan. I mean I had a plan as well. It was anchor one wing on a wood, stuff the other flank with cavalry and line up my archers supported by billmen in the middle.

I never said it was a sophisticated plan.

Phil’s plan was way more clever. He had extra terrain and he had some stuff concealed behind a wood, skirmishing crossbows supported by heavy cavalry, and also a hidden flanking LHI force. Lots of it was deployed where I couldn’t shoot at it.

For final deployment I modified my plan slightly and pulled all of my dismounted men at arms (DMA in Armati speak) back to be in my “reserve area” behind the main line so I could swing rapidly either way to stop my flanks being overwhelmed. I deployed deep to avoid the effects of impetus and to give me extra manoeuvrability.

There was nothing for it. If I hung back Phil would take me apart piece by piece. I stepped forward with my main line with the intention of sticking arrows in as many of Phil’s exposed troops as I could before those concealed in the woods appeared. Simultaneously although outnumbered I threw my Knights forward on the right flank with the intention of fighting Phil’s crossbow reinforced cavalry as far from my main battle line as possible. At least then if they died horribly it was more than one move before they turned my main line’s flank, giving me time to get the reserve into position to support them.

On the other wing my scourers found minimal opposition and set off on their mission to get round Hawkwood’s rear. My general was My Lord Beaufort, one of the serial failures that litters Lancastrian leadership. It has to be said that Beaufort was perpetually in the wrong place throughout the whole game.

A bit of back bone was provided by the presence of Queen Margaret. You have to admit she looks magnificent, - although I can't claim this paint job as one of mine. Phil provided me with the finished figure (and two little Princes as well).

I got the better of the initial archery exchanges in the middle, but took a hit on my right wing knights as they closed on Phil’s left wing cavalry. However my bold tactics forced Phil to ride down his crossbows in order to get to grips with me before I forced a two – on – one attack on his extreme left. To even up the combat in the left middle Hawkwood joined the battle against my weakened knight unit. This made a real difference as the die rolling was tied over two rounds, inflicting mutual hits. That meant that as I’d taken a crossbow hit on the run in my knights were broken whilst their opponents held on.

Alas for Phil due to my brilliant tactics/die rolling Hawkwood was killed in the melee, evening up the loss of army breakpoints.

Meanwhile in the middle my arrow storm had already broken one of Phil’s longbow units and inflicted severe damage on his veteran dismounted knights. I think concealing stuff in the wood backfired, - it meant I could focus on one or two exposed units rather than spreading the hits evenly along the line. This also broke his line causing a reduction in his initiative roll. However the flanking LHI were rapidly closing in on the exposed left wing of my main battle line. What to do?

I moved towards Phil’s main line forcing him to move forward to avoid being flanked by my scourers. This freed up the scourers to about face and pile into the LHI. I managed to break the dismounted knights with one of my bill units and inflicted hits fairly heavily elsewhere along the line. Again my die rolling was above par.

The battle was decided over on the right. Some of Phil’s heavy cavalry had broken through and collided with my DMA reserve (an obligatory charge which helpfully got his cavalry away from my more vulnerable units). Over two rounds I got the worst of it with some dreadful die rolling and I lost a unit. I think at this point I’d broken 5 of Phil’s units, and he’d broken 4 of mine. Both of us needed to break 6, so the difference was poor old Hawkwood. Which way would the battle go?

Phil managed to flank my remaining knights with the unit that had beaten my other knights. Even though it was a flank attach it was a bit of a gamble as this was Hawkwood’s unit and so only one point from breaking, and their fighting value was a bit low anyway and they had to disorganise themselves to get into a place to attack me. However I don’t think Phil had a choice as I was likely to break one of the other units I was fighting.

As it was my magic die came to me help and I out-rolled Phil by a sufficient margin to break them and win the game.

Er, sorry? What? Yes. Win. The. Game. Un. Be. Live. Able.

At which point we stopped and made tea & coffee.

PS That’s probably the most battle report-y blog I’ve ever written, so I hope it goes down okay. The pictures, such as they are, were taken with a reconditioned Canon E300 Digital SLR. Hopefully the quality of the display is improved, if not the actual composition of the photos themselves.

PPS Merry Christmas to you all.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Don't talk to me about.....

Some tell of the Gravelly Hill Interchange (aka "Spaghetti Junction"). Others shiver at the thought of Swindon's "Magic Roundabout" or its half cousin outside Hemel Hempstead. However I think it is fair to claim that I live near the two worst road junctions in the country.

First up to the north of us is the A14, M1, M6 intersection. It looks innocuous on the map. After all it's a dual carriageway and two motorways, all going in slightly different directions. In total that's 16 lanes to send traffic North, South, East and North West. Plus it's at the beginning of the A14 and practically the start of the M6 so that should make it fairly easy too.

The junction is a work of genius. It runs under the M1 and involves two inter-connected single carriageway roundabouts plus two or three single track country roads also feeding in. So the main route to and from East Anglia and the various ports on the East Coast plus the road one stop down from the Daventry International Rail Freight Terminal all come down to a single carriageway under a bridge where priority goes to a country lane. Half an hour either side of rush hour in morning and evening the queues will be 30 minutes in every direction, backing up onto the M1. Add to that there is no way a contraflow can be set up and any road repairs mean you have to shut the junction completely. If anyone wishes to see evidence of true evil in the world I commend this spot to you.

To the south is the M40/A43 junction. This was another one that ran two major cross country routes down to one roundabout with extra country roads added. At least this one has two lanes but to counteract this it also has the entrance to the motorway services off it. Thus everyone who wants to stop whether going north or south has to drive round it. Brilliant. Add to that that this section of the M40 forms the Middleton Stoney bypass linking the A43 & A34 so you get loads of traffic that only travels between two junctions, - this one and the next one south.

Now after a year or so it was clear this wouldn't work so at the cost of millions they put bin an extra roundabout to alleviate the problem. Only of course two interconnected roundabouts (see above) never make it any better. Plus the new roundabout is concealed in a dip so you can't see how busy it is when choosing your approach lane. And it blocks the view of the M40, so you can't see how busy that is. Overall a completely rubbish design, compounded by the fact they've had two goes at getting it right.

And what has this to do with wargaming? Nothing at all. Sometimes I just like to share.

Short Catch Up Post

I don't tweet. Might be good if I did. You could tweet about each move in a game. However, given what I just wrote about AARs that might not be a good idea. So, in the absence of Twitter here's a similar sized update on my last week.

This week has been chaos in many ways. Too many trips out to London & places, followed by an evening drive to see parents who are variously recovering at home from an operation or in hospital. Not really sure if I'm coming or going and I missed my Friday Night Game, so one of the "anchors" of my week also went. Not sure what day of the week it is.

Now trying to finish Christmas shopping, - but only on-line now. Tried shops and failed miserably.

On the positive side I managed to finish another International Brigade battalion (not including the flag) so that's three out of four done. I achieved this by making use of those odd 10 minutes here or there to move them on.

I reckon that the Falange Peter Pig army will actually be painted as Spanish Foreign Legion, but the sources tell me that I really need Moroccans. The Peter Pig boxed set looks a good start and doesn't have any armour in it that I don't need (only so many FT-17s in the SCW) so I'll order that after Christmas. Well, once your lead mountain becomes unmanageable there's no harm in adding to it, is there?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Battle Reports

Bob Cordery was kind enough to make a comment on my last blog about how he enjoyed my battle reports (or "AARs" - After Action Reports - as they are becoming known). As I don't get that many comments and as I have an hour on the train this morning it seemed to me that it would be an appropriate subject on which to pen a few words.

Well, when I say "pen" I really mean pound the keyboard, but you know what I mean.

The first piece I ever had published in a wargaming magazine was a battle report written by me and my friend Derek when we were probably 14ish. It was for the Wargamers Newsletter, and was a skirmish level WW2 game using Hugh Walter's Paragon Group rules. We played the game specifically to write it up for the magazine. Many of the German soldiers names (all the figures had names) were made up from selecting words at random almost from a German/English dictionary. If I recall correctly one of them rejoiced in the name of Leather Armchair, or something similar.

I don't know if anyone got anything out of the article, although I believe it got us on the list of contributors to WN that ultimately led to the Moor Park invitations and hence our memberships of WD.

It was a move by move, blow by blow, account, typical of that period. The only exceptions to that approach were the Old West Skirmish write ups written by Ian Colwill, Steve Curtis and Mike Blake. They were dignified with a unique type face and beautiful hand drawn maps and character portraits.

Battle reports tend to be characterised by a severe lack of literary style. There was a fashion for "From the Annals..." type cod-saga style writing in Slingshot which it has to be said were toe-curlingly awful. These days it is more a case of a move by move account so that you can almost set the figures up and re-fight the game like a chess problem. Once you look at blog-based battle reports these tend to be of this type, lavishly illustrated with move by move photos. A publishing friend of mine remarked this sort of thing is completely unpublishable on paper simply on the grounds of cost, so this will continue to be an internet phenomenon. For those of you who follow links you'll be aware of Phil Steele's P.B.Eye Candy blog, where he does an excellent job of annotating the pictures so you can really tell what is going on. Plus they're often of my toys, so that aways cheers me up.

On the whole I'm not a big fan of move by move battle reports. It's sort of putting a biological text book up against Shakespeare's love poems. One tells you exactly what is going on, whilst the other makes you know how it feels.

Actually I could never write poetry, and I'm not a big fan if it doesn't rhyme, but hopefully you know what I mean.

So what I try to write is a battle summary and get into a couple of paragraphs what both sides overall ideas were and a quick outline of how both of these came unstuck. The other thing is that despite my best intentions I always forget part way through to either take the picture or make the appropriate notes. It was so much easier when we all used order sheets.

So I don't entirely approve of the mainstay of most wargaming writing. I suspect I may not be alone in this, but I fear I may be. Am I, metaphorically, a cricket fan who doesn't like match reports?

Perhaps, except when we're stuffing the Aussies.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Now I'm Confused

This Friday was supposed to be the next play test of the revised Return to the River Don rules, where I explored further the amended command and control sequence intended to speed the game up.

This hasn't quite gone as planned. The re-writing was supposed to be done during the week, but it never was. Then we thought we were playing at the Vicarage, but the Vicar was away, then it was supposed to be a multi-player game but the snow caused a few people to drop out.

So it ended up with me and Phil in my dining room with everything thrown together at the last minute.

And we played the original rules.

In this instance I can't blame the weather. Honestly round here we've had about 2cms maximum. No, I'm afraid to say that we have had medical issues with both of my parents. Nothing life threatening, but my father is in hospital for an extended stay and my mother had to have minor surgery. Consequently I've been doing the 40 mile round trip most evenings to visit both of them, so I didn't get to re-write anything. Didn't get any painting done either.

However I did give myself Friday evening off for the game.

So, surprisingly I actually got to play in my own game for once because there was only two of us. And it seems that the original game actually goes quickly enough if it's just played as a two player game. So in my quest for improved game time I just need to reduce my number of players. Hence my confusion as it was designed as a multi-player game.

As ever each game play prompts minor changes here and there, - this time something to do with non-moving units, plus I do need to look at the reserve fire rules.

And exactly how I classify the Garford's main cannon, and can it fire both main gun and maxims at the same time.

Anyway, to the game itself. We had a couple of White Regiments (5 battalions in total) with an armoured car section of three vehicles attacking 4 battalions of fairly rough quality Red infantry (apart from some sailors) and some artillery dug in behind wire.

Commanded by Phil the White's main effort was to throw their Officer battalions at the Red conscript battalion on their right whilst pinning the Red right wing with the armoured cars. You can see the Garford Putilov and an Austin Peerless armoured car pressing forwards, with some volunteer units in the background.

This was going quite well when we had to bring the game to an end, partly because the over-zealous Red commissar had succeeded in provoking a mutiny amongst the worker battalion.

On the positive side one of the White officer units was looking a bit worse for wear having been caught in the open by the artillery. They're heading for two hits per base, which is quite bad news, all things considered.

However, as you can see the Reds were also looking a bit ragged, - with a liberal spread of casualty rings and a number of adverse status markers. The hole at the end of the line has arisen as one of the artillery batteries has already packed its bags and left, thumbing its collective noses at the Cheka on the way out.

We finished about half eleven and chatted over what we'd done with a cup of tea or coffee, before Phil departed into the thickly falling snow about midnight (all pretty much gone by the morning).

So I tidied up and listened to the first few overs of the cricket. Enough to hear captain Strauss get himself out. At least it was better news in the morning.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

PC Units

Before I start, here's a picture of the start of the Fascist Hordes. It's a Skytrex Panzer 1a, and is part of a 3 model unit, with an HQ vehicle as well. It has Spanish mottled camouflage, aerial recognition marker on the turret and a small Nationalist flag on the front. At a push I can use them for Condor Legion, although they were probably panzer grey with green mottling.

Anyhow I've had a few further thoughts about Los Americanos. I was rooting through the books to get inspiration for their flag and it occurred to me that whilst I want an American battalion it probably isn't the one I just finished painting.

Why is that I hear you cry? (I have good hearing) Well it's because I don't think I've got the racial mix right in the unit. I was reading "Homage to Catalonia" and Orwell refers to units containing numbers of "coloureds"*, and then I noticed a few pictures of the American battalions and again African-Americans were prominent. Thinking about it that's fairly obvious. If you spent your life fighting the fallout from slavery you're going to be pretty well motivated to fight Fascism. All of the figures painted so far are definitely caucasian, even after I've applied layers of varnish.

Luckily I've got another couple of units to paint so one of those will be come my Americans, complete with a proper racial mix. There'll be called the Jack Daniels Battalion, named after the American 19th Century Socialist, not the other Jack Daniels**.

Most of the armies I've painted recently don't have this as an issue, - for example the ECW & Wars of the Roses are pretty racially homogeneous. However I think I'd have to observe that most modern armies that should have a racial mix don't tend to when you see them on the table top. Of course that could simply be laziness, - after all I prefer to paint a strip of figures as simply as possible so one pot of GW Bronzed Flesh does for all.

On the other hand my XIVth Army units are West Africans supported by Rajputs.

And my Numidians are, well, Numidians.

* Interesting tactical snippet. When the Nationaliusts were hunting down non-Spaniards who fought for the Republic they arrested people in brown corduroy trousers as that was what was most commonly worn.

**Except Jack Daniels the 19th Century American Socialist is a made up person.