Sunday, 23 October 2016

Marchais-en-Brie September 1914 (Op14)

I had a visitor last week. Richard Brooks came to give his "William the Marshal" talk to the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society and before this we were able to squeeze in a game in Shedquarters.

I thought it was too good a chance to miss to have a go at some Op14. I therefore scurried round to find a scenario that Richard hadn't played that I could do with my 1914 forces. Due to recently buying the Osprey on the Battle of the Marne I thought that an afternoon two player game could be made out of Maud'huy's attempt to turn Von Bulow's right flank at Marchais-en-Brie on 8th September 1914.

The map in the Osprey is helpful but doesn't show the whole action and I couldn't get all the info from my other books (my Marne Battlefield Guide doesn't cover this area). There's also a definite typo in the Osprey in respect of the units involved. Bigger maps show the position the day before and after but not exactly where everyone was at the time. I've therefore had to guess at what's to the east of Montmirail. The German OOB and locations don't make sense either, so I've played a bit fast and loose with them. The map below is what I ended up with.

The Germans also had a tethered observation balloon in the wood to the north of Montmirail. The game starts at 10am and goes through until 8pm. You'll see I've had to split a German brigade between Marchais and Fontenelle. After playing the game I should probably have strung them out even thinner at a base per square and suspended the one base unit removal rule.

Here's what it looked like when I set it up, from behind the German position. I took the Germans, as they were on the defensive so that Richard had the most to do.

Here's a close up of the Germans defending Montmirail. This was a pivotal point as it was higher than the surrounding area, and dominated the battlefield. The Germans seem to expect it to have been the subject of serious attack as they defended it more heavily and put more guns there. If I was to play this again I would realign the howitzers you can see behind the town and make them fire more in its defence.

The French start by crossing the Petit Morin in the area of La Celle. That's the HQ unit with the tent, not the mobile brothel as my opponent remarked, unkindly.

Richard took hold of the rules early on. He's being playing games in the Middle East with appropriate  modifications, so he was in need of a refresher. I find that. It's embarrassing when you drag out an old set of your own rules and can't remember them.

The French left where they cross the river is a trifle exposed, so once across the French dive into Courmant Wood in front of Marchais asap. This is about what happened historically. The Soixante-Quinzes deploy to provide fire support. On the other flank the French start to draw a succession of diamonds which stops them moving through obstacles, and firing and missing with the Soixante-Quinzes. In practice I think this is not a problem. Essentially this attack has to pin the Germans in position whilst 71 & 72 brigades turn the German right flank.

The German position in Marchais has guns supporting it, so the French get pinned down in the woods and have to deploy (see the MGs denoting non-moving status).

A general view of the battlefield. The French have generally stalled, fearful of breaking across the open area to attack the weaker points of German defence.

A ferocious French assault storms into Marchais-en-Brie and throws the Germans out with heavy casualties. Reinforcements will need to be pulled in from Fontenelle to enable a counter attack.

The gap in the line is plugged with dismounted Uhlans. I think this is a mistake in the scenario, - the Uhlans should be too weak to do this.

The French really struggled to advance their right, which meant I could concentrate my howitzers on their left. This brought their advance to a halt before they could turn the position. They hold Marchais, but that Division is nearly exhausted, (it is testing each turn) and so can't be relied upon to press any further.

The Germans are therefore able to slip away in the night, as they did historically.

With the tweaks mentioned above this is a nice little scenario, that doesn't out stay its welcome. I learnt quite a bit from playing the game with the author, which will inform my future games. And Richard said nice things about my toys. So, satisfactory all round.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A bit of culture

For wargaming as a hobby poetry probably doesn't rank high on the list of things that are associated with it.

As for me, I avoided Eng Lit at O & A Level* and would mark myself down as a fan of poetry that (a) rhymes and (b) makes me laugh. "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six" rank as my two most favourite poetry books of all time I would say, and I used to be able to recite Jabberwocky.

Consequently the news that The Battlefields Trust had a poet-in-residence was distinctly underwhelming. Well, an interesting idea, but, like "So what?" And it's a performance poet, too.

Anyway, having done this for 12 months she has written enough poems to justify publishing a small book through the Trust.

When we went to Derby Phil turned up with a box of the books as he's a BT Trustee and he's just been to the launch. Phil was very enthusiastic about the book. He's a bit more understanding of poetry than I am. I think he has Eng Lit A Level. He certainly knows his Shakespeare better than me.

Any how, it's all in a good cause, so I bought a copy of "Thorn Kings" by Clare Mulley at Derby and sat down to read a few poems in between playing the Northampton 1460 game.

The poems are based mainly around visits to four battlefields, - Hastings, Towton, Bosworth and Naseby. I can forgive her for not including our very own Northampton as it isn't as well developed in our national consciousness as the others, and I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere.

And they're very good. From the introduction to the explanations it's a gem of a little book. As they're supposed to be performed it helps if you can read them aloud in your head. They're also not at all what I expected. Actually I don't know what I expected, so I'm not sure that statement is relevant. They cover general reflections on battlefields - for example how many are fought on watersheds - to specific incidents such as Okey's dragoons firing at Naseby or individuals such as William the Bastard. The final poem is a general series of thoughts about the conversations held that lead eventually to conflict. One of the best is about the Cock Beck at Towton.

So, a thumbs up from me. here's a link to the Battlfield Trust website about how you can buy it for the little amount of £4. Or you can visit us (well, Phil mostly) at the Society of Ancients/Battlefields Trust/Northampton Battlefields Society stand at most shows and get it there. It was our biggest seller at Derby.

In fact, I was sufficiently inspired to pen the following after I had to walk Northampton Field to take some photographs for the Northampton Battlefields Society.

2pm Northampton September 2016

This time, two hours after noon, there is no meeting denied.

The swish of club, the strike of ball,
Must stand for that of arrow and of blade.
The warning cries of players replace those
Of battle cry and scream of pain.

The dogs let slip are not of war
(although those were of a more martial father)
But are those of hurried half-hour exercise
Between the phone calls and the meeting
That take the place of lunch.

The stream that once washed away a scheme of guns
Now barely fills a dip or hollow and
The trees where a Parliament not of Devils now meets
Stand where once a palisade was breached
By betraying hand.

And the sun shines, unseasonably

As once the rain fell.

(By way of explanation we believe the line of the Lancastrian fortification now runs along a copse called "The Rookery". The collective noun for a rooks is a Parliament. The rest you can work out for yourselves.)

*I actually did French A Level, so I've studied more French than English Lit.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Playing Burma In Shedquarters

...or PBI Shedquarters. Yes, after a break of several years my XIVth Army chaps are out on the table again. Well, three and a half years about. At that time I remarked that I'd just finished a battery of 25pdrs and I really should get round to using them soon. Interesting definition of soon.

The 25pdr is the gun of the Burma campaign. Versatile and jeep transportable it went everywhere and delivered much needed firepower often at quite close range.

Rather than play PBI straight I set up a scenario. Honestly I've hated EVERY pre-game PBI sequence, and the whole reinforcement process which means you can win without putting anything on the table is just irritating. I've got toys, I'm going to use them.

Here we have a British base in the jungle with a radio station (see later photo) defended by a West African company, a couple of Rajput Grants and some emplaced 25pdrs.

I'm using bits of my Matchbox 1:72nd airfield, that looks just right in this scale.

The position includes the remains of an abandoned Buddhist temple in the jungle.

Look! I promised a radio mast. It's one of Phil's. I like it a lot.

We had a lot of jungle and we play a house rule that means it is quicker to move through connected bits of jungle in place of the not completely satisfactory "sneak movement" rule in basic PBI. Suddenly lots of Japanese appeared close up to the temple, and a serious firefight broke out. Phil, as the Japanese, rolled a lot of sixes, but Will saw him off by refusing to roll any ones.

The defenders made use of their armour and guns to keep the attackers at a distance.

However the Japanese had a medium mortar battery and having found a clearing to deploy it in plastered one of the gun positions and knocked out the 25pdr.

In the centre the other howitzer managed to hit the Japanese infantry guns massed on the edge of the village.

One of the attacking tankettes also got the worst of an exchange with a Grant.

Although Will had reinforced his stricken gun emplacement Phil was able to launch a bayonet charge. At this point Phil, at my prompting, was bemoaning the problem with the square by square activation that makes it difficult to launch massed bayonet charges from multiple locations.

The brief but fierce melee rendered all of the attackers dead. The run of sixes at the start of the game had now deserted Phil and he suffered accordingly.

We broke the game at that point as it was getting late. I had under estimated the amount of time we would need for the amount of figures on the table, and Phil hadn't even brought on his reserve platoon yet.

Any how, I managed to blood the 25pdrs at last which was great. I find PBI an infuriating game. I love it and it has a more believable feel than most if not all other low level WW2 games. The motivation/activation sequence gives the players a lot to think about and rewards good decision making. The amount of dice can make it very frustrating (says the man who loves AMW!) as plans can go amiss for no reason other than rank bad luck.

We were using the last but one version of PBI with our own amendments. I was a bigger fan of PBI2, the version before that, but this version fixes some of the issues with them, so that's why we use them. I tried to read the latest version and knowing that Martin has a rigorous playtest process with players that it will be delivering what the PBI die-hards want. However it isn't doing anything extra that I want.

Perhaps it is time for me to write my own.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Another day's wargaming

Being at Derby all weekend clearly wasn't enough, so I spent the following Monday wargaming all day with Richard L, Phil & Chris A.

This day has been on and off for over six months so it was good finally to get it going.

We usually start with a big ancient refight using the AMW/Lost Battles combo. This time round was Gaugamela, which I was surprised to find I'd never done full scale like this. I did it as a matrix game for the SOA Battle Day many years ago and also worked out an 8 unit AMW set up that was printed in Slingshot.

As you can see it needs a lot of toys. In particular it needs lots and lots of cavalry.

Pretty much everything I own was pressed into service. There are some Gauls amongst Alexander's men, and Darius is making use of Indians and Neo-Assyrians.

Richard and Phil took Alexander, with Richard as Alex and Phil as Parmenio. Chris was Darius (looking very relaxed) and I was a lackey. Either Bessos or Mazeus.

Like most refights of this battle the Macedonians didn't follow Alex's plan completely. Partly because the hole to attack into never really opens up, and partly because the phalangites are usually too effective to hold back.

Parmenio's problem is avoiding being enveloped by the masses of cavalry out on the Persian right flank. Alexander's problem is that he appears to have dropped the dice on the floor.

Alexander got stuck straight in, and in common with a lot of rule sets and games the elite cavalry started on a succession of rolling 1s & 2s, especially against levy. The white Persian labels denote levy units; the white Macedonian ones Elite. Everything else is average.

The light infantry are involved in a desperate tussle to allow/prevent the scythe chariots getting at the phalanx.

As you can see my cavalry has been pushed out quite wide to the right in order to get round Parmenio's left. This will cost me later on as it'll take me too long to get them back into the fray. On the right Alexander is making headway at last. Alex's selective re-rolls can make a real difference in combat.

Can't help him with the death roll, however, and Alexander goes down under the hooves of a dying Persian unit. Not even proper Persians, either. Them's is Indians.

Darius threw caution to the winds and closed down the phalanx with his cavalry. I was down the other end of the table with my own problems.

I've got half my cavalry struggling to get to grips with some Thracians. It's taking longer than I'd hoped.

Alexander's wing is slowing down badly. The Companions have failed to make a breakthrough, although the superior Macedonian/Greek foot is making a difference now.

The scythe chariots shrugged off the hail of javelins and closed in on the phalanx. They did a bit of damage, IIRC, but they're then taken off, so you lose a unit by attacking with them.

Alex's wing is looking a bit more open now the chariots and light infantry is mostly out of the way.

The centre starts to become the meat grinder you get when a phalanx gets stuck in.

Parmenio has succeeded in creating an internal flank and throws in all he's got spare. A brilliant move not backed up by brilliant dice rolling.

And then his personal unit takes a lot of hits and Darius goes the way of Alexander.

The Persians have a few complete units in being, but their centre is shot through and the spare units I've got are being shepherded wide.

Parmenio is looking like King of the Battlefield now, causing mayhem in the centre.

We didn't break all the required number of units, but it was clear that the Persians were going to go down. Rather than play out another hour's end game attrition we called it a day and stopped for lunch.

Whilst we'd been hard at it in Shedquarters, Mrs Trebian had made us some ham/cheese/salad wholemeal rolls for lunch. Very handy as it meant I had time to clear the table for the afternoon's games. Have I ever mentioned that Mrs T's wonderful? Well, now I have.

On to the afternoon session.

Richard has never played AK47 Republic in any version, so we dragged out our copies of first edition, divided the table into two and set to it.

I drew Chris, who took a Colonial Settlers army out of those on offer. Richard is a Dictatorship, I think, based on the hat. I've got a Religious Army and I'm wearing a blue beret. Phil's another Colonial, but Chris has my only pith helmet.

This is a type 1 "very open indeed" terrain. The brown wiggly line is a dried up river bed. I had a poor political phase, not getting much in the way of benefit. Didn't get the unit quality upgrades in the last box, which is always a bad sign.

Phil didn't choose a type for his terrain board, just put out lots of cool stuff. He's posted a full account over on his blog.

I don't have a coherent narrative for my game. I attacked. At some point Chris got an air strike and I lost a tank. Rats. That's an Me109 pretending to be a ground attack Cessna.

I did manage to seize one objective, but I had to hide behind it as Chris had professional tanks and armoured cars.

At one point I reckoned I had him, as I got a unit of reinforcements on in the corner near an objective. But then Chris got a unit on and shot at me a lot and I had to run away.

I did have an early close assault on my main objective, but my militia suffered several 1s on the morale rolls and fled, leaving only bodies behind. Chris' units resolutely refused to roll rubbish dice for morale, even the professional ones. Which is just plain unfair.

This is the table at the end of the game. A last desperate attempt to storm the main village objective is just about to end in tears, and Chris has retreated everything away from the edges so I can't shoot at him.

I took a 70 point pasting, which isn't as bad as it seems.

Phil lost by more than 90.

And then it was time to go out for dinner.

We had some PBI planned for the evening, but Richard is an important executive and got summoned away for an early start the following day. So when we got back we drank some coffee and agreed we'd had a really good day.