Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Donning hats and coats

Really mixing it up now as the Monday Night crew meets on a snowy Tuesday. A late return from work meant that I hadn’t had a chance to put on the heating before we started, so we were all in hats and coats at first as we prepared to face the challenge of the Russian steppes.

Despite blowing a fuse by plugging in too many heating devices we were soon running at a comfortable temperature, fortified by some warm beverages. Actually Shedquarters without the heating is about as warm as the office I’m working in at the moment.

We haven’t done any Russian Civil War stuff for a while, certainly not since Shedquarters was built, so it was about time that we did. The RCW kit represents one of my longer projects and my armies are more complete than some of my other collections. Except for aircraft, perhaps.

I don’t tend to have much truck with the interventionist forces as they were pretty much a sideshow, and tend to focus on the Russians themselves. I mainly play games set in the south where Denikin’s forces campaigned. The rules we were using for this game were my self-penned “Return to the River Don” which were initially based on an RFCM framework. They’re a little bit away from that now, although they still have some rough edges on them. Alas with my rule writing I tend to target being ready for CoW. Having done the CoW game I make a few amendments then go on to the next project, when what I should do is be relentless and return to the system until it is properly finished.

The scenario was a fairly low-key one, with a couple of infantry regiments and a cavalry brigade per side, plus support elements of armoured cars and field guns. Both sides were pushing forwards to seize the railway station and the substantial stanitsa close by. The Reds were slightly stronger in numbers (and had the armoured cars) whilst the Whites had slightly higher quality and a unified command (ie the were commanded by Chris A whilst the Reds were under the hands of a workers committee made up of Will and Phil).

Before the main business of the evening we had a brief show and tell as Phil had brought along his third place trophy from the weekend's DBA tournament. He was struggling to resist the temptation to pull the figure off its plinth and add it to his Bosworth DBA armies.

Phil re-enacts his acceptance speech
By the way he also picked up a DBA Theban army from Chariot Miniatures as a prize, so double well done to him.

Once we were settled down we got on with it at a fairly leisurely pace. The last week has been fairly stressful on the family front and I wasn't sure I was up to a game, so I didn't push it along that quickly. Once we'd got going tho' I realised it was the right decision to play, - wargaming is as much about the people you play with as the figures you use and the rules.
Any how, back to the game. I made the players deploy in the middle of the table, using about 2/3rds (ie leaving 1/6th at either end) to give us a bit of flanking area. Essential if you're using cavalry. You can see the general situation in the following picture, Reds on the right & Whites in the left. Oddly.

The Red armoured cars are rushing down the road, lead by the Garford Putilov (!). The Reds have adopted the original approach of putting their cavalry in the centre of the board. The Whites put theirs out on the left wing, then immediately regretted the decision.
As is common in these games there was a bit of a motivation issue on both sides. Some of the Red units in the first turn gave a resolute "Nyet" to their orders and had to be encouraged forwards by the exhortations of their officers and even some physical encouragement. You can see the evidence of such motivational efforts in the diamond shaped coercion markers in the picture below.

The game progressed smoothly through a number of turns and when we had concluded proceedings for the evening, the following had happened:

1) The Reds had lost all of their artillery to counter battery fire
2) One armoured car had broken down, one was retiring with mechanical problems (the Garford, - typical) and the other one had got fired up and was ready to storm the White positions single handed.
3) The White cavalry had performed a 90 degree wheel.
4) The Red cavalry was badly disorganised, but holding its own
5) The Reds had seized both objectives

Lots more juice in the game. Next week's episode will feature a bayonet charge on an entrenched Red unit in a stanitsa by a White Officer unit.

How could you miss that?

Friday, 22 March 2013

Big Bosworth

This week was Phil’s Bosworth DBA game in 54mm. Some of you will have seen this as it has featured on Phil’s “Ancients on the Move” blog as it is his participation game for the Society of Ancients this year.
The 54mm figures are what catch the eye. They’re a mixture of Irregular, Britains, Phil’s home casts and bits out of lucky bags. Or something like that. They parade beneath a colourful array of banners from Graham Fordham’s “Fluttering Flags”, printed on real cloth. Phil is still working on some of them, as is his wont with his display games. They start the season in playable condition and gradually evolve to fully completed by three or four shows in.

Ready for action. Bit of glare off the display board
What should attract the public is Phil’s use of the new analysis of the battle that derives from the battlefield archaeology done by Foard et al. Having re-fought Bosworth once or twice before this is what stands out. That and Phil is using DBA 3.0, which, like the game, is still in development. As regular readers will know we play DBA from time to time and I still get a bit confused with bits of the new rules. Phil B is still tweaking them and I suspect they will never see publication. Not ever. Not even after Mrs B has got a publishing deal to do a hardback book about how to start wargaming with DBA.

Ricardian baggage, featuring Lord Strange and executioner in waiting.
Playing with the 54mm figures is a bit odd at first. I’m used to the idea of mixing metal and plastic in smaller scales, but you really notice it in 54mm as a block of infantry can be quite heavy, - right up until you pick up one that isn’t. Ironically I fear the bigger figures may prove to be less robust than their smaller brethren.
The game board is Phil’s favourite pasting table turned side to side and re-hinged. He fills it with polystyrene and then sculpts the surface. The marsh area is teddy bear fur painted green. My feeling is that he would benefit from putting on a bit more texture, - either polytex or PVA/sand as the polystyrene can look a bit like painted polystyrene at times.

A view of the deployments. Note artillery range stick

For the evening’s entertainment in the Shed we had me, Phil, Chris K and Ian, and we rotated sides and teams for three games.

The Ricardian vaward
 The setup, for Richard, has his advance guard of four deep archers on the road, supported by two guns. The other two battles are on the base line, consisting of mixed foot and cavalry. One of these only movers on a 5,6.

Richard's massed artillery
Henry has a vaward of one heavy infantry base supported by two normal archers. On their left flank is one artillery piece. Four mercenary bases are on their extreme left. Henry with two supports is on the baseline. Stanley is on his right wing and only moves on a 6. Richard can move Stanley on a 6 as well, but only Henry can make him attack.

Stanley awaits
We played three games and got two Ricardian wins to one Henrician. We may, by the end of the evening, have developed a close to guaranteed win strategy for Henry. Phil had been shown one for Richard and it is easy to see how both players using the optimum strategies would play out quite a long draw.
Historically Henry got stuck in early and caught Richard while he wasn’t formed up properly. Phil tries to do this in the game and from my experience it doesn’t quite work for Henry. The challenge for Henry is that Richard’s forces have quite an unpleasant beaten ground in front of them to cross. In the first game I lost in about three moves as my vaward was blown away.
We know that artillery is significant in the battle as the archaeology now tells us this. My feeling is that in DBA it is too powerful for this game, and having two artillery units packs quite a punch.
DBA is a game of PIPs as we all know, and being unlucky with your PIP rolls can frustrate most players. It is easy to describe DBA as all luck, but at the same time it is not surprising to note that good players win more often than they lose.
Having lost as Henry we swapped sides and I had a go with Richard. The Ricardians won that even quicker through the slaying of Henry. Basic lesson of DBA, - don’t put your general in harm’s way unless it is the only way to save the game.

Henry moves up, and is just about to die
At this point the three players were wondering how Henry ever gets to win this battle, whilst Phil shook his head and remarked he hadn’t seen anything like this in all the show games he had run of it.So we made another brew and swapped again. As Henry for a second time I ignored the umpire’s advice and urgings and resorted to using tactics.

Henry's flank attack gets stuck in
I was helped in this, ironically, but rolling low PIPs whilst my opponents were rolling in the higher register. What this meant in the early stages that I adopted a minimalist approach and kept the army together. Awash with PIPs the Ricardians rushed their reserves hither and yon to get at me as quickly as possible. When their hot streak of PIP rolling dried up they were strung out a bit and a mild improvement in PIPs enabled me to put in a series of perfectly directed counterpunches. Collapse of the Yorkist army and death of Dickie Crouchback soon followed.
The postgame discussion after one of these refights is always entertaining. Phil has done a lot of research and hence has me at a disadvantage in some areas, but I think we made a few points that may influence how he runs the game in the future.
Of course repeated re-playings of the game mean that optimum strategies can be developed which is probably to the detriment of the game overall. A few years ago I re-ran the Trebia for the SoA stand. Will played it a lot and worked out the optimum Roman strategy. That effectively broke the game unless he was very unlucky.
Or played me, as I had the optimum Carthaginian strategy.

Any way, - the Bosworth game is doing the rounds this year. Look it up, and talk to Phil. He really knows a lot about Bosworth now.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gazala - part the third

Another Wednesday, another day in the Western Desert. After the previous two games we reassembled to see the thing through to a conclusion.

We didn’t actually get to a complete finish. However, after about 9 hours of game play and an awful lot of toys on the table we felt we’d had good value from the experience.

The evening’s entertainment divided into three main events with a codicil. Let us start in the south at Bir Hachiem, where the Italian Ariete Division had been hammering at the door for what seemed like forever. The main problem for them was that although they had a slight advantage in the weight of armament (they had a few medium units in amongst the light) they barely had parity of numbers on the section they were engaging and the Free French were well entrenched and counted as a heavy target. Some relief was provided to them by the arrival of the Littoral (Motorised Infantry) Division who threw themselves into the action with little concern for their own well being.

The Italians mass prior to the big assault

The addition of lots of infantry added to the number of dice being rolled, but again they were mainly light. The sheer volume of men involved enabled me to force a way into the position, and the size of the attacking force enabled a sharing of hits that kept the operation in action.  I was helped here as well by some demon dice rolling.

Italians inside the defenses. A short stay
Having forced my way into the position my luck started to turn. I had one round of successful combat and enlarged my toe hold, but the following turn the French counter attacked and reversed all my successes pushing me back into the minefield. At the end of the game I was still banging my head against the position, hoping for them to surrender or retreat as supplies ran out.

Just north of the French 150 Brigade were being pressed on two sides by Trieste (who had been there since nearly the beginning of the game) and the newly arrived 15 Panzer, led by the Desert Fox himself. This joint approach finally worked, with the Germans breaking into the position in fine style. This split the defenders and gave the Italians the chance to get a decisive numerical advantage and storm across the minefield.

Italian armour forces the minefield. Not many survived

Once I was in the defences from two sides it was pretty much all over for the defenders and they capitulated. They are being removed, top left of the picture

150 Brigade's box is overrun. Note paper unit markers as we were losing track!

This opened up supply line across the middle of the board and gave much needed relief to the Axis forces.

In the middle 21 Panzer were very much in the Cauldron, assailed on all sides and running low on fuel and ammunition.
Phil surveys the cauldron
They put up a spirited defence, aided again by some impressive die rolling. They were being attacked from three points and split their forces to combat all of them. I was able to beat off two of the attacks, mainly by luck, but the third one got a slight advantage over me and I was forced to withdraw from the position and fall back upon my supply lines and meet up with 15 Panzer.

21 Panzer retires towards the victorious 15 Panzer position

Protected by the Allied minefields and wire Trieste, 15 & 21 Panzer reorganised and readied themselves for a further push on towards Tobruk.

The fearsome site of Panzers all lined up and ready to go

Meanwhile 170 reconnaissance brigade were circling round the Allies to add a little more power to the counterpunch.

170 skip past the British armour in a nimble fashion

And there we left it, hanging in the balance, with some more dice rolling slug fests ahead of us.

This was a very ambitious game using a lot of space and a lot of equipment to simulate the swirling environment of Western desert warfare. On the whole it went very well and Chris pronounced himself pleased with the game and the outcome. I think we were close to history, but the British did better than their historical antecedents. Rommel’s men are quite badly roughed up and running out of armour and there are quite a few more Allied units to join the game. And we seemed to be no closer to finding the elusive British supply dumps.

NQM performed pretty well, although we really need Chris to keep the wheels moving. He adjusts the rules as we go along to keep the game on track and to take account of those situations that only come up once in a blue moon. I would guess that Chris will want to return with another epic in due course, and he will be welcome in Shedquarters.

Next week, Phil’s DBA Bosworth game in 54mm. Not much of a contrast there, then.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Gazala Again

Not sufficient to try a game on a Tuesday the Monday Night Group this week chose a Wednesday to pick up Chris’ re-run of Gazala using NQM. This game also featured Ian’s first visit to Shedquarters.

Some of you will know Ian Russell-Lowell, Hittite expert, wargamer, one time President of the Society of Ancients and soon to be retired vicar. His impending retirement to Cornwall means it is important that we make the most of the opportunities to wargame with this unique talent. Ian, on the other hand, was keen to see Shedquarters as he is planning something similar in the West Country. Perhaps that’s a business idea, - a whole chain of Shedquarters across the country, built up like a franchise network. Contact me for investment opportunities.

I picked Ian up on the way home from the station, and Chris was soon with us, reorganising and redeploying the kit to take account of the overnight manoeuvres of both sides.

Chris rearranges the toys

What this meant was that the two Panzer Divisions were in an all-round defence posture in the middle of the board, and the Italians...well Ariete were living it up in the recently captured Indian Brigade positions, whilst Trieste were still stuck on the minefield in front of 150th Division. All the troops that weren't engaged reorganised and were ready for fresh action.

In Phil's early absence Ian was given the opportunity to make some decisions on behalf of the Allies. As you can see, he took this very seriously, and thought deeply about it.

General Russell-Lowell surveys the scene
First off Ariete threw themselves at the Free French, expecting another walkover. You have to admit the attack does look promising.

Italians on the minefield

Actually the position was stronger than expected as Phil had taken some kit home to finish the paint work and had just arrived and put it out. By the way, you can see some trucks running across the line of assault. These mark the supply line for 15 & 21 Panzer. They're the main reason Ariete are attacking, - to stop the Free French from sallying forth and interfering with it.

Having reorganised 15 & 21 Panzer I sent them north to capture Tobruk and any handy supply dumps. The only British force in the area duly hid behind a rise, hoping to pull the old "hull down" trick

As you can see from the next picture I was fairly sure I had the measure of them, as I flanked the rise effectively. Chris still counted them as hull down, however.

I think he may have even reduced my armour value for coming over a crest line. The Brits put up stiff resistance, but the power of the Panzers was irresistible.

Alas a large amount of his were dished out by the numerically weaker defenders, as you can see from the red pins liberally stuck in my bases. What made it worse was that when I went to push back the remnants of the British force my quartermaster advised me that I was essentially out of fuel with one of my Panzer divisions. There was nothing for it but to form up in a defensive ring whilst the other Division headed off to join Trieste attacking 150 Div and so open up a shorter supply line.

It was now hotting up in the centre of the board as the dispersed British forces started to coalesce around the defending Panzer Division. Lots of dice rolled, lots of pins inflicted (Phil was in stunning form). It looks like I may soon be one Panzer Division short. Plus my attempt to put 150 Div in a vice was proving strangely unsuccessful.
Which was about where we left it. The final photo shows the full table length. Both the Italian divisions are in a bit of a mess, with Ariete reorganising and seriously considering whether going at the French so gung-ho was wise.
I fear I will be deploying a lot more hamster bedding next week in the final instalment.

So, this looks like Richie will win, Rommel will be sent home in disgrace and Monty will never get his big break.

Or maybe not.

Real Life (part 20)

Yesterday these things happened:

1) My father was taken into hospital as an emergency admission
2) I was advised my contract wouldn't be extended past April.
3) My mother tried to self discharge herself from hospital
4) Sky approached me to make a soap opera about my life

One of these isn't completely true.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Flag Follow Up

I have attached some of the Opium War flags from a post or two back to their flag bearers this morning.

The flags were printed out on standard paper but on a office heavy duty HP colour laser jet. This has given me brighter colours than my inkjet and finer definition, but you still can't see some of the detail.

I have edged the flags with gold paint, but I haven't varnished them. The laser printer has given them a slight sheen anyway, so I think I'll leave them "as is".

Quite pleased with them, I am.

Colour party, 1st (Royal) Regiment.

Colour party, 1st (Royal) Regiment (rear view).

Colour Party 99th (Lanarkshire) Regiment (Regimental Colour only)