Monday, 27 June 2011

The Trebian Toy Soldier Storage Method

I think I’ve written about this before but a recent Larry Leadhead cartoon makes this relevant.

I’m a really ill-disciplined, untidy person. I can’t put stuff away. However one of the consequences of Real Life & Being a Grown Up often means that you share your living space with another Grown Up. If you want that sharing to be reasonably harmonious you have to do your best not to Wind Up the other Grown Up.

Mrs T is unlike me in this respect, - the tidiness thing I mean. She likes stuff to be put away. She is, however, a very tolerant woman but it is important not to abuse that tolerance (after all, it might be needed at a later date).

Having a large collection of wargames figures feeds the undisciplined, untidy part of me. It is so tempting just to get it all out and leave it lying around to put way later. Or just put it all in one big box, because, like I’m going to remember what I was going to do with it all aren’t I?

So, running against all my instincts I have to make sure that as armies are painted the storage runs in parallel with it. If I let the painting run away from the storage it’ll never be done. I therefore have to put it into my routine of army production. This means obtaining the storage before I start the painting.

My storage systems have refined over the years, but I found that when we moved into Trebian Towers, the family’s country estate, that standardisation was key.

First off I decided to standardise on file boxes, and built bespoke shelving in the garage to take the boxes. I discovered at this point that file boxes are not actually standard size. But no worries, the shelving takes several sizes comfortably.

When I started out I was wargaming in 25mm metal, then branched out into 20mm plastic. Because of the nature of what I was doing figures weren’t really in fixed units. This was compounded by my first 15mm armies which were for AK47 Republic as those are likewise really malleable. However, 15mm figures introduced me to the slimline box file and I’ve never really looked back.

The key breakthrough was discovering strip wood of a certain size in my local hardware shop to use as dividers. The problem I had was how to stop figures sliding about in the box, getting damaged and also getting the units all mixed up. One solution was to use magnabase (and Tim at Megablitz and More does this) but I didn’t want the extra height on the figures and the expense. The strip wood doesn’t reach to the top of the box, but it doesn’t need to, - it just has to be tall enough to stop the figures getting out of their section. In practice I don’t put the dividers in right away, - I start by putting the based figures in the boxes in units, and move them about until I work out the optimum layout.

By dividing up the boxes as I do the figures can’t get out of their little sections and unless you really thrown the box around or drop it upside down they generally stay in their places and don’t get damaged from bumping into each other.

I colour code the backs of my figures discretely and then put in box liners with that colour and the unit flag, if any, on them. This enables any one helping to tidy up to make a decent fist of getting the right stuff in the right boxes.

The Spanish Civil War has so far generated four boxes, and I spent some of Sunday cutting up the strip wood in the garage to divide up the boxes and gluing it in place with PVA. This works really well as I discovered when I tried to take the dividers out having realised I could do the configuration in the Legion box to accommodate an extra tabor of Moroccans. I’ve tried to colour code the boxes. So far the red boxes are for the Republicans, and the Black boxes for the Fascists. Eventually they’ll have labels on the top, end & side.
The first, full, Republican box.

All of which brings us back to Larry. Because I'm going to need another box, but I've only got enough figures to fill half of it.

So I'm going to have to buy more figures.


Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Real Life odds & ends

Time to catch up with some Real Life. Miss T is back from Tanzania with tales of what it is like to teach in a village with no running water (other than rain). She has been diligent with her photography so when I go back to my AK47-Republic terrain and building modelling I’ll have lots of inspiration.

Like some other wargamers of a similar age I also have issues with my parents who are quite sprightly but are suffering with the health issues that go with old age. My father has just had a cataract operation so he won’t be driving for a while. That means extra trips to make sure they are both okay and stock up on essentials.

Master Trebian has just graduated and gone off to Glastonbury, complete with new rucksack and tent. Wonder how much of that will survive the forecast weather.

And me…well I’ve been in and out of hospital with kidney pains. Kidney stones I’m told. Been a few years since I had any of those (over 10, in fact) and even so, they’ve been small, if painful.

The miracles of modern technology tell me I have three to worry about, - a 3mm stone (not a big deal), and one each of 6mm & 8mm respectively.

6mm & 8mm! That’s the size of a Baccus figure!!! And there’s only one way they come out naturally. Ouch. Can you imagine p*ssing out a 6mm figure? For a start you wouldn’t want one with a pike or any other sticky out bits, would you.

They’re talking about blasting me with ultrasonics some time in the next eight weeks. That reduces the little blighters to smaller fragments. May be a 2mm size. But hopefully not in one of those strips of figures you can get.

Enough for now. I think my pain medication may be affecting my judgement.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Your Plastic Pal Who's Fun To Be With

I have referred to this in passing in a previous blog, but I did recently acquire a couple of plastic 1/100 scale BT-5s from Zvezda.

In truth I did not really need them. Based on the number of tanks in the Spanish Civil War I am massively over-supplied. I probably have enough Renault FT-17s to deploy the entire Spanish Army's force on a scale of 1:1. Still, the BT-5 is quite a nice looking vehicle and the kit was only £2.75.

Here's a picture of the box:First point I would make is that you do NOT get the command aerial in this kit which is a bit of a shame. What you do get is this:

Yup. One sprue. But the detail is pretty good, I have to say. And if you just want wargaming models then you don't want to be fiddling about for ages like you used to have to do with the old Airfix Churchill.

It's a push together kit, and it goes together quite nicely. I've glued mine to keep the turret in place and to protect the slim gun barrel.

Here's what it looks like all painted, varnished & based. With a little bit of flock.
And finally here it is up next to a Peter Pig T-26.

I think that it looks slightly small in comparison. I suspect that the Zvezda model is more precise in its dimensions because typically Zvezda are very precise in what they do. I also think that PP models are often slightly "beefed up" to maker them more robust. The barrel here is a good example. Personally I prefer them that way, but they don't make a BT-5, so what are you going to do?

All things considered a nice kit & I'm glad I bought a couple.

Friday, 17 June 2011

SN(ea)TK preview

Well, despite not having a playtest this Thursday for reasons we won't go into here I'm sufficiently confident that I have a set of rules that will work now. In fact I'm so confident that I've even designed the cover.

This features a cutout of Capa's famous (now believed faked) photo of the dying Republican militia man against a background mosaic of propaganda posters and images from both sides.

The Capa image was a bit of a pig to do as there's not a lot of differentiation between background and foreground so I had to draw round most of it manually rather than use any of those clever auto-wizards you get with your photo packages. The pen mouse came to the fore on this one.

I'm pleased with the outcome. I now need to take my notes and turn them into a decent text with formatted paragraphs to facilitate contents lists and so on.

Still much to do on these and much to paint as well. I can see some busy weekends ahead.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The Rain & Spain

What a Sunday. Funny how the weather forecasters only get it right when they say it’s going to throw it down all day. The barbecue therefore failed to materialise and we had to cook everything in the oven.

Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Sunday dawned bright & early as Mrs T was off with the Brownies on a day trip. At this point the sun was still shining. Anyhow, regardless of this I was in the garage by 8:45 setting the game up. I was supposed to do this Saturday afternoon but got a dose of Real Life, shuttling back and forwards between my parent’s house, the hospital and the in-laws. The hospital is trying to send my father home following a fall and there’s piles of paper to read through, most of which were to do with Risk Assessments and the Equality Policy. What we need to know could have been printed on two sides of A4, most probably. Then I had to give a tutorial to my father-in-law on how digital pictures are uploaded on to PCs. It does help if you have all the bits.

So, back to Sunday. Playtests so far have been on a standard 6’ x 4’ table and my feeling is that this has been a bit small so I was really looking forward to upsizing to my garage table which can be up to 12’ x 5’. For this game we were on about 9’ x 5’. I really wanted to get as many terrain and unit elements into the game so I could to see how it all works together. Or doesn’t. For this one we had the hills, roads, olive groves, woods, village, dry river bed and open spaces. The forces included everything in my boxes painted to date with the exception of two units of militia and a couple of FT-17s.

So the Nationalists had three battalions of SFL, each with a tabor of Moroccans, plus some a regular army battalion and a unit of falangists. They were supported by three field guns and three Panzer 1s.

The Republicans had 4 battalions of IBs, two of Asaltos and three Popular army. The IBs had an Atk battery as wel,l then they also had two field guns and three T-26s between them.

Both forces were contesting the small village made up of with my newly painted Hovels, complete with roadside shrine.

There were just two of us to start with so I got to play with the Republicans. I rarely get a chance to play in my own games so this was a treat. On this occasion the army command structures were evenly matched, so there was no advantage to either side on the initiative roll which I won on the first turn.

That was really the only thing that went well at the start of the game. I started off by bombarding the Nationalist gun position. This would suppress their fire so my troops could cross the open ground. This was working a treat and I then put in an air strike on the Nationalist gun position to try to put that out of operation. Alas this overshot and ended up landing off table. The Nationalists responded with an air strike (quote my opponent “Hadn’t thought of doing that”) which hit my guns and pinned them. This lifted their barrage on the Nationalist gun position that then proceeded to get stuck into my guns and some units moving in the open.

Whilst my IBs worked through the olive grove on my left and infiltrated towards the village up the dry river bed I pushed one of my T-26s forward aggressively to deter the Nationalist advance. Alas I ran into a clear line of sight from one of their field guns which succeeded in knocking out the vehicle with its first shot.

The brigade on my right moved up a bit too slowly and a unit of SFL occupied the key wood on that flank before I could. In the centre the remaining two tanks headed up towards the village, slower as they were off road. This eventually afforded them an excellent view of the Pz1s powering up the road in the Nationalist rear and a fine piece of shooting saw one of them explode into a fireball.

On my left the IB advance through the olive grove got mis-timed with the result that the opposing falangist unit made it to the wall first and devastated one of the battalions with small arms fire. I was unable to dislodge them and their supporting regular army unit despite using the anti-tank gun in support.

The fight round the village raged most of the day, with first one unit occupying it before being thrown out in a counter attack, then the reverse happening. This was a very bloody phase of the battle, and whilst it gave a realistic outcome the mechanisms weren’t working as well as I might have hoped.

It got a bit desperate for the Nats and they were reduced to making close assault attacks on the T-26's to drive them off. Here's a picture of some Moroccans dying spectacularly in a rather pathetic attempt.

My problem was that I couldn’t move enough units up because they were pinned in the open by artillery fire; the Nationalist problem was my tanks could provide good close support with their main weapons to suppress the defenders whilst I got into position. They had a vain attempt to drive me off by using a Pz1 with armoured piercing bullets at point blank range but to no avail. That Pz1 likewise succumbed to the might of the T-26’s 45mm. This was enough to scare off their remaining vehicle, which scuttled off to the right flank to bolster their position there. I’d started to press forward on my right and was making good progress.

Our left flank had been forced back into a defensive posture. The old 75’s on the hill top had been destroyed and a lonely IB battalion was hunkered down behind a wall, trying not to be wiped out. This meant that their opponents could switch to the village meat grinder, and duly piled into the blood bath in the centre.

When we finished, after about 7 hours, both sides had fought themselves to a standstill. The Nationalists were holding on to the village, just, but could easily be dislodged at any time. In many ways it looked like a typical Republican offensive. Well supplied, and well manned it just couldn’t go that extra mile and break through. On the day some of this was due to luck (we never got as many air strikes, and when we did they never hit anything), some of it down to completely misjudged tactics.

The overall day was very enjoyable, although I never really enjoy barbecue food that hasn’t actually been barbecued. The game itself showed up some holes and issues that needed dealing with. I didn’t get any answers whilst playing, but I woke up this morning with most of the ideas properly formed.

So a quick re-write and back to it on Thursday evening, I think.

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Penultimate Crusade

Design work on Send Not To Know is probably in its end game (except that my rules sets never really get finished completely. I’m always fiddling with bits and pieces but I understand Tony Bath never finished amending his ancient rules so I’m in good company.)

The Spanish Civil War is proving to be a really interesting project and I can see that there is a need for games at different levels of resolution once SNTK is “finalised”.

Anyway, another Thursday, another playtest, ahead of a big all day thrash this Sunday. That should resolve most of my issues before CoW so I can focus on getting the figures painted and doing all of the other bits and pieces such as producing playing aids and getting the rules into booklet format.

The conclusion from the playtest is that most of the mechanisms are working, but that some of the factors may need to be moved up or down. We’re into exactly what number needs to be rolled on the die to guarantee a hit and so on.

The unique selling points for this game were fourfold:

1) The presence on the Nationalist side of some regular infantry, thus reducing the number of SFL “super troops” that get deployed.
2) The re-introduction of armour.
3) The first outing of my new building collection.
4) The introduction of colour coded dice, - red for d6, yellow for d8 & purple for d10s to stop players rolling the wrong dice.

I also had made a few changes to small arms firing and the way artillery bombardment starts and ends. Finally I opened up the battlefield a bit so I can see what happens to units that advance in the open (I hope I’m not getting too far ahead of myself when I tell you it isn’t pretty).

The Nationalists had some SFL & Moroccans, some regular army and some Falangists. They also had a couple of field guns. In the absence of our regular Fascist player we also had a new commander. The Republic was represented by four battalions of IB (ie a full brigade, no less) together with their Anti-Tank battery and three battalions of Ejecito Populare. They were supported by three (yes, count them, three) T-26s.

The scenario was a bit hastily put together I have to admit. The Fascists were holding a small town in the valley between two ridge lines. The Republicans were the other side of a fairly open plain, but they were able to form up in a couple of the ubiquitous olive groves and a few patches of trees also provided a bit of cover.

Unusually the Republicans had a marginal advantage in organisational efficiency as they were no longer trying to tie in so many disparate units. However that didn’t stop the defending Nationalists from getting the advantage in the early stages of the game.

The opening turn saw the Nationalists hit some exposed Republican units with their artillery. Not tremendously accurately or effective as an off target shoot had to be corrected by the Observer and then resulted in minimal blast markers being inflicted.

The Republic tried a general push all along the line, with the centre of their opponent’s position being softened up by barrage fire from the T-26s & the anti-tank gun. This became a theme for the game as the tanks settled into their role as static artillery and just pounded the village. I should have brought along my wrecked buildings.

It was quite a slow moving game in some ways. A Nationalist artillery strike in the middle of the board held up not just the unit it hit, but another one queued up behind it. On the Republican’s left one of the IB battalions got caught in the open by the Nationalist battalion on the ridge line and took a severe pounding.

The concentration of the Republican commander on using his armour and guns to blow up the Falangists in the village meant that there were fewer command cards for the rest of the army. Allied to the occasional artillery hit from the Nationalist batteries the general infantry advance got heavily bogged done. Bored with the whole thing (and, I would add, misunderstanding a change to the rules) the Nationalist commander pushed forward his two wings and walked into a whole hill of pain as close assaults went horribly wrong and he was left falling back to his starting position.

By this point a couple of Panzer 1’s had turned up and made an aggressive push down the main road in the middle of the board. Catching the T-26’s unawares the lead tank accelerated into close contact range and opened up with armoured piercing fire from his twin HMGs. Alas this was to no avail, leaving us at games end with him perched in the precarious position of being within point blank range of the T-26’s much feared 45mm cannon.

I’ve obviously still got work to do. There were a number of unintentional irritants for the players so they need to be turned into intentional irritants or done away with. The HE v armour rules are a bit rudimentary, as are those for the airstrikes. I also need to add rules for the “big beasts” of the conflict, most notably the 88mm and the Italian CV35 with flamethrower (one of our group has both of these. He’ll be discouraged from using them by being forced to take lots of Italians to go with them).

Next up, militia defending trenches, I think.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Unmitigated Nostalgia

I found an old friend recently.

I think this is the first wargaming book I ever bought. It’s Charles Grant Snr’s “Battle – Practical Wargaming”. It’s a set of wargaming rules, supported by a large amount of explanation and discussion, for WW2 combat.

If my memory serves me correctly the book is a “fix-up” of a series of articles that first appeared in Meccano Magazine. I remember seeing it advertised in Military Modelling, I think, and resolving to buy it (my friend had just bought “Introduction to Battlegaming” by Terry Wise which was from the same publishers in the same format) as it we were thrashing around with some fairly rudimentary WW2 rules. I was probably 12 years old.

I bought the book in a small bookshop in Worthing whilst on holiday with my Grandparents. It was a traditional bookshop with shelves stuffed full of all sorts of books, stacked floor to ceiling. They had one copy, on the top shelf. I don’t know how lucky I was to find it, but I don’t recall ever seeing it in another shop.

Our local group of similarly aged wargamers got a lot of mileage out of these rules. From the basic framework in the book (Panther, T34, Sherman) we added every tank Airfix made, and anything we could pick up from the local shop which stocked the odd Minitank, and a range of friction engine powered King Tigers. Not lots of detail in our research, but we sort of knew how relatively powerful the vehicles were and tweaked the numbers accordingly.

I re-read several chapters of the book and found that as a book it holds up really well. Far superior in its structure and writing than, for example, Don Featherstone’s “Wargames”. Each chapter addresses a particular subject, - artillery power, defensive value of armour and so on – building on what has previously been written. The thinking behind the rules and the research process that lead to them is covered pretty well, and each step of the rules, - the infantry game, the armour game and the final all-arms struggle – is illustrated by a well written battle report that makes perfect sense.

The rules are probably a bit more fussy in certain areas that modern sets, and there’s a lot of templates needed for artillery strikes and HMG fire and so on. My copy still has my most recent versions of these cut out of clear plastic tucked inside the rear flap of the dust jacket (which I hasten to add is in fairly good condition as it’s been in a removable book cover for most of its life).

Anyway, I picked it up to see if I could get any inspiration for my armour rules, along with several other sets I have lying around. Most sets, when you boil them down, compare a strike value based upon the quality of the gun firing to the strength of the armour plate on the target. This can be as simple as classifying everything as “Light”, “Medium” or “Heavy” and so on. “Battle” goes into more detail, with defence values by vehicle, and attack values graded by range and weapon type. Take one from the other & make that score with 2D6 & “Hey Presto!” the target brews up. Oh, subject to another “spotting” dice roll beforehand.

I realised that I could combine both the dice rolls into one and produce a simplified hit-roll table, aided considerably by the fact that the armour of most tanks in the SCW is pretty much the same. So that’s what I’ve done ahead of Thursday’s game.

On a side note I looked up the book on today. There were 7 copies available, and you won’t get much change out of £25 for one. There are a few cheaper on Amazon, but they’re still a tenner.

I’m keeping mine.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Back to the fray

Back to the fray, with the added ingredient of some reasonably well thought through artillery rules.

And some newly painted units. Just managed to finish some Republican infantry and artillery the night before.

Our group are hitting these rules fairly hard for us, as this’ll be the third week in a row, I think, that we’ve been play testing them. Plus as Mrs Trebian is out with the Brownies in a couple of weekend’s time I’ll also get in a full day game as well.

Which is all to the good as I’ve promised a Send Not To Know session at the WD Conference of Wargamers (CoW) on the 8-10 July and compared with previous years I’m probably about two months behind on development.

Getting a game ready for CoW workshop session means I have to hit a number of personal buttons. It’s nice if the game is completely finished, but it isn’t essential. It does have to work well enough to keep 6-8 people occupied for about two hours. It has to be interesting enough to make the players think and it has to have significant elements that will be regarded as original either in concept or use. Ideally I want players to walk away from the game intent not necessarily on playing the rules themselves, but on pinching some of the ideas for their own games.

However it would be good to have functioning artillery and armour rules in the system and a lot of the bugs ironed out.

Anyhow, back to the night’s game.

A small-ish force of Nationalists (equivalent to a couple of mixed brigades mostly of SFL but with a Falangist battalion and each with a field gun battery) were attempting to seize a small town at the same times as a slightly larger force of Republicans, made up of a couple of mixed brigades, one of IBs, and one of EP plus militia, and a force of Asaltos. They were likewise supported by two artillery batteries.

I probably overloaded the table a bit with scenery to give the artillery a fair go at it, but the game worked out mostly okay.

The Nationalists had a relatively compact and effective force and had a major advantage in the Army Effectiveness roll at the start of each turn. They duly managed to get in first on turn one with a massive advantage in the number of cards they had to manoeuvre their forces. Their Generalissimo decided to split his cards into all black and all red and go for the objective hell for leather first thing. That meant that the Republicans were sitting around for a while and the regular swapping of movement we’d seen previously didn’t occur.

On the face of it this seemed to be an effective tactic as they stormed into the village and their artillery unleashed a withering barrage on the hapless militia standing around in the open. First use of the artillery rules resulted in a blizzard of blast markers being placed all over the anarchists. One of the Asalto battalions was also held up on the Republican right by the other battery.

The Republicans responded with a general push all along the line, although they had to steer round the Anarchists being pummelled in the middle. Their artillery responded by halting a rush by the Moroccans, and starting to soften up one of the built up areas.

The IBs were starting a pin & flank manoeuvre on the village, whilst the EP were moving up to provide some flank cover on the other side.

The first airstrike in the game came from the Republicans and hit the front of the village. This was swiftly followed by a bayonet charge from one of the IB battalions and resulted in their opponents (either SFL or Moroccans, - I can’t remember) being expelled and forced back to the rear of the village.

This was followed up by another Republican air strike aimed at their new position, but the new target acquisition rules kicked in and the bombs fell on the position just evacuated, so the IBs took a pounding instead.

The Asalato second unit managed to make it to the hedge line on their right only to be subject to an immediate bayonet charge from the Legion unit facing them. Holding their nerve the Asaltos gave them a close range volley then drove them off with considerable casualties (quote from Nationalist general “They were tougher than I expected”). At this point I decided to remind the players that some Asalto units were made up of ex-SFL veterans who had returned to Spain.

The Nationalists were a little bit back on their heals at this point, and the flanking IB unit on the left put in a close assault on the Falangists in the other part of the village. Momentarily distracted from their anti-Socialist reprisals they were evicted from the village in short order and fled back down the road to the table edge in disorder. Inspired by this victory all three IB units put in an abortive attack on the SFL & Moroccan unit clinging on to the corner of the village.

And that was about it for the evening. Again we only played a couple of turns but the multi-action system by unit means a lot gets done in each one. The artillery rules worked pretty much okay, - some tweaking here and there needed to slow down the way batteries can switch targets. Otherwise I need to sit down and work the armour rules out.

The games are getting a quite good narrative flow and they’re keeping people interested. The fast play elements are delivering the speed required. There are a few other niggles the players have come up with and I’ll try to sort those out over the weekend.

Otherwise I just need to get on with the painting. The buildings need replacing with Spanish looking stuff and I need to paint up some “normal” troops. Got too many IB/SFL super troops in the mix at the moment.

Oh, and hopefully my dice order will turn up soon. I’ve been forced to order in a dozen D8s & D10s as I only have two or three of each & I’m using them to differentiate between troop types. I’m also colour coding them, with yellow D8s & purple D10s. Hopefully that way the players won’t find it so easy to mix them up.