Monday, 13 February 2017

A Day in the West Country (3) Western Approaches

Finally it was Phil's turn to entertain us. He chose to give us his "Sink The Bismark" game.

He made use of Richard's green/grey cloth to give the impression of a cold dark seac, and used some white smokey stuff to give the flavour of fog banks. The picture in the corner indicates how rough the sea is.

I was the Bismark and Prinz Eugen trying to avoid the Hood, Prince of Wales and Ark Royal battle groups and get out into the Atlantic to sink some ships.

Finally I blundered into the Hood and Devonshire. Attempts to avoid them failed. The cards represent your attack options against the enemy - Big Guns, and Torpedoes, together with things like Fire Control and Drill that improve your effectiveness. Here both my ships are concentrating on the Hood (blue cards from Bismark, green card from the PE). The number of cards is the number of golf tees you pull from a bag.

Blues are misses, reds are hits and whites could be either depending on the circumstances.

The number of hits enable you to draw cards from your opponents hand. These are temporary out of action and are placed behind your ship so you can't use them until they are resolved and become permanent or are repaired. You have a Damage Control and Drill team in your hand, and you can swap these out for things you'd rather not be hit. Like your guns. If your ship has good armour then you have several armour cards in your hand so reducing the chances of your vital bits being hit.

I was taking a bit of a pasting, but I did manage to inflict some permanent damage on Richard. I thought I was for it, and then....

...a couple of lucky hits and I took out the Main Magazine and the Damage Control team on the Devonshire (red cards) and also the Main Magazine on the Hood (white cards). I had previously permanently knocked out the Hood's Damage Control capability (I didn't know this), and so was able to sail out into the Atlantic, with the Royal Navy lighting up the sky behind me.

It's a quick, neat system that gets away from the traditional hull hit point system and focuses on which bits of the ship have been hit.

I like it a lot.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

A Day in the West Country (2) The Game in Spain...

So, I was up next. I was torn between taking "It's getting a bit Chile" and "If You Tolerate This" and in the end plumped for the latter for two reasons. Firstly, the rules for IYTT are stuck in my head and I might get myself more confused than normal and, secondly, because it would be good to play it with someone outside our immediate group who would bring a different perspective.

I set up the terrain and scenario to be very similar to the last game as it went okay and neither Phil nor Richard had played in it. Richard took the Basques and Phil got the Fascists.

The table was slightly smaller and the two sides got to grips with each other even quicker than before. Phil's inability to roll higher than a two on the initiative dice meant that the Nationalist +1 did him no good at all, and Richard started first in all the turns. He also got a really effective airstrike in turn one (no pictures I'm afraid) that pinned Phil's right flank in position.

Richard's first move was to push some militia forward very quickly to occupy one of the villages. Phil countered with his armoured car and cavalry, trying to shoot the defenders out of the position. (BTW sorry for the lighting in these pictures. Richard has some really nice high level spots in Shedquarters West which are easier on the eye, but I'm afraid that for this table I was really missing the lower level more harsh light from the fluorescent tubes in Shedquarters).

Phil was able to get his forces up to the centre village fairly quickly and seize the bridge as Richard's militia were easing their way into it from the other side.

The wave of Russian, er, Republican, armour swept across the board, supported by Basque infantry. Phil was able to take the initiative, however, and slipped some infantry into the village (no picture of this).

This gave Richard the opportunity in the following turn to launch a combined infantry and armour assault for almost the first time ever in a game of IYTT. You'll remember that my attempt to do the same in the previous game fell apart when my activations failed.

The position was soon reinforced by more Basque infantry, lining the river bank.

In the centre fire was being exchanged as the battle for the village warmed up. The Falange on the river bank are taking fire from one of the tanks off to the right out of shot.

Phil is able to fight his way through the village, evicting Richard's troops and taking back control of the church .

On the other side of the board Phil was finally able to get his howitzers deployed and started to shell the village.

My photographic record is really rather poor for the whole game, possibly as Richard had never played before so needed a lot of umpiring support (in a good way) to learn the game. I have no record of Phil's ill fated flanking cavalry manoeuvre in support of his armoured car, and the action generally in that area. There was some discussion of how badly the cavalry came out of the encounter and whether they should have a retire option when they come under fire. I need to think a bit more about that as I have an artillery retirement rule which players have historically completely ignored, preferring to hold onto the ground they occupy. However these last two or three games have been the first where cavalry has got on the board, so maybe time to reconsider.

We finished with the Republicans clinging on to two of the villages whilst the Nationalists were firmly entrenched in the middle of the table. It took them a long time to recover from the first round airstrike which disrupted their right, and I may need to look again at the effectiveness of the air rules. Phil was not helped by his failure in every turn to win either the initiative or get his air support into play.

Richard declared the game enjoyable and held onto a copy of the rules, so that is positive. I'm pleased, as re-development of the system seems to be going pretty well.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

A Day in the West Country(1) What's The Point?

On Friday I went down to Wiltshire to meet up with Phil and Richard for a day of wargaming. Three white fifty-somethings in a purpose built wargames room in a picturesque Wiltshire village. Who says this isn't an inclusive hobby?

We managed four games in the day, first up being "Sharpe Practice" the popular "large skirmish" game from the Too Fat Lardies. This was an interesting prospect as neither Phil nor I had played it before, having both heard good things about it.

Richard got out some of his rather nicely painted Front Rank figures, of which we had about 50 aside. So, as someone who grew up with "Flintlock & Ramrod" from the Old West Skirmish group definitely a large skirmish.

The game has an off-to-on table deployment system, and our deployment points were marked with a cavalry figure each. I grabbed the Brits, so Phil had to manage the French. Obviously with much thinking.

Early doors he got on 6 voltiguers and 24 line infantry, presumably representing 3 sections (don't know if this is a Napoleonic concept. No doubt someone can tell me).

Movement is random by drawing officer chits from a bag. There are also other chits that give extra commands and end the turn, so you don't always know if you'll get to move all of your units.

I got on my two units of line infantry and pushed my one unit of skirmishers towards the wood on my right. My left hand unit is cunningly hiding behind the crest line.

My skirmishers worked their way into the wood, where lurked some of their French opposite numbers.

Then, I was able to move my left hand line up and over the crest....

...where I gave fire at Phil's right hand voltiguers. A waste of a first volley, perhaps? Who cares, - I killed most of them and they took loads of "Shock" and fled to the back of the table.

The skirmishers exchanged fire in the wood, - or at least I shot at Phil - and I hit some chaps and wounded their officer.

As Phil moved up a unit to support his voltiguers in the wood I was able to volley into them with my other line infantry.

I hit quite a few people. Now, pay attention to this bit. The French line blunder into the wood and contact some of my skirmishers. Fisticuffs ensue, and one of the French squads gets badly beaten up and expelled from the wood in a bad state (??)....

... however, Phil's outnumbered voltiguers then counter-attacked through his line, and my skirmishers were ejected from the wood in short order. Right.

By this point we were heading for lunchtime and I had got Phil well on the back foot. We declared it a British win, and Richard went off to make sandwiches.

So, what about a verdict? Well, ignore the nice figures, because this is about the game mechanisms. The system has a number of interesting mechanisms that mesh together to produce a challenging and occasionally tense game. Mostly the system is clear and clean and gives unequivocal results. In a case of parallel development there were a couple of things in there that I have stuck in some of my homegrown rules and thought that I'd made them up myself, so can't complain about them. Admittedly, most of the system is based on a single figure rolling a 6 or other number to hit which isn't ground breaking, but it is done well.

Where I had the problem was I wasn't sure what I thought the game was simulating. I don't know if small groups of men fought like this in the Napoleonic period. I'm inclined to think it is unlikely, and then it hit me. What this set of rules is for (and the clue is in the title) is to enable you to play games of the battles that you see on TV in programmes like "Sharpe", where they try to make 30 men look like an army, or a battalion. It's almost like that set of rules for 1960s Sci-Fi (7TV) which is designed not to produce realistic results but what you saw on your TV set in "The Avengers" and such like.

My personal view is that if you want to play low level actions with 50 figures side you'd be better off seeking out one of Pete Berry's "File Leader" style sets of rules, where figures are deployed as companies on movement trays. They actually simulate a style of warfare for which we've got some decent evidence.

Of course, if you don't care about any of that, then I guess it gives a decent, enjoyable game.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

All My Basques in One Entrance

With their paint barely dry my Basque battalions were out on the table top for some more play testing.

This game was set up as an encounter battle with both sides rushing to seize three river crossings. This was inspired by the recent partial re-painting of a bridge gifted to me by WD chum Tim Gow. I was joined for the evening by Chris A, who took control of the Fascists.

BTW The dry stone walls represent sunken roads/lanes which were a feature of Spanish agricultural areas at the time of the War.

The Fascist Nationalists (FNs) are on the left. They've got a couple of Divisions mostly of Regular Army, but also including Civil Guards and Falange. some cavalry and an armoured car. The Basque Nationalists (BNs) have one Division of Euzoka Gudarostea ("Basque National Army"), a Socialist militia Division, and some tanks. Both sides have got field guns and the FNs have got a 37mm  anti-tank gun. I'd also written some quick air attack rules before Chris arrived, as I'd come to a bit in my book that talks about fighter ground attacks during battles, so I had a better idea of what I wanted to see.

As I said, a unit of cavalry and a QRF Lancia armoured car, I think.

My brave Basques set up with their armour. Gonna capture those bridges and kick some ass.

Unlike previous games the unit activation system really kicked in during this game. We had a lot of fails and the turn passing between players. We also had a couple of instances of activation failures meaning some units didn't get to move at all in a turn. Looked quite realistic, and caused me a lot of problems with my infantry/armour co-ordination.

Chris lead with his armoured car, and tried to rush the bridge on my right flank.

A change of activation meant I got there first with militia and a field gun battery. Chris however then machine gunned my unit in the village and Pinned it in place.

On the other flank I moved up through the olive grove, and put my field guns off the road so they can shell the village on the bridge prior to my assault.They got badly shot up before I could deploy them and played no part in the battle.

In the middle a lone Basque battalion, together with a squadron of tanks is heading for the central bridge.

On my left Chris has already got some Regular Army into the village, and is hauling up his anti-tank gun.

Then some Nationalist fighters turn up. They weave across the table, before lining up a strafing run.

Two of my units take a fair number if hit markers. The mechanism wasn't perfect and I made some of it up as I went along, but I reckon I have it sorted now as a semi-random event.

Chris was unable to press forward on my right with his armoured car, so he brought up a lot of infantry, which cowered in the sunken road.

Then my air support turned up and shot up the village on my left, ahead of my tank-backed close assault. It was all looking good.

And then I lost the activation just as my infantry were going to storm past the tank and into the village. They were stuck exposed in the open, not fully covered by the armour (the tank on the right needs to be a square further forward) and got right royally shot up by the unit to the right of the village as you look at the picture. They were sent backwards in Disorder.

Very Spanish Civil War Republican.

On the right I'd missed an activation or two at the end of the previous turn and hadn't been able to deploy my field guns. My infantry were exchanging fire with the Civil Guards creeping through the olive groves.

I suffered a number of reverses elsewhere, and we ended the game with me holding two villages, but generally my army was in fairly poor shape, having lost a couple of battalions.

This was a really satisfactory game. It looked and felt like a SCW battle, and it ebbed and flowed well with a good level of irritation without it getting silly. And the air rules looked promising.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Basques in case

Whilst waiting for my latest figure order to arrive I poked around in some unpainted figure boxes and found a load of Carlists I had over-ordered a few years ago.

I've known for a while that there's a gap in my collection in respect of the Northern campaign. Whenever I've done games based in that area I've had to use my Ejercito Populare figures to stand in for Basque National Army (the "Euzko Gudarostea"), and that really isn't right. Basque forces looked different and they really deserve better in any event. I've always had a soft spot for the Basques since we had a totally brilliant French language exchange teacher in secondary school who used a book on Basque history and traditions to teach us. Learnt more French in a term with him that I ever did from "Pluto" Thompson in three years. He was even better than "Willie" Baxter, who was otherwise ace, and introduced me to the works of Andre Malraux.

But I digress.

The Basques were notable beret wearers, as were the Carlists. Okay, so the Carlist beret is bigger and floppier, but the Peter Pig figure is a nice one, and it's clearly wearing a beret and the tassel is easy to shave off. The figures also have puttees, which wasn't really a Basque thing, but I use so much paint it'll be hard to tell.

Actually info on Basque uniforms & dress has been a bit sparse so I'm prepared to accept I'm off target with both colours and clothing. Or maybe not.

Anyhow, I cleaned the figures up, swapped out a few heads, and glued them up for painting.

What a joy. I've been doing 28mm figures the past few weeks, - Crusaders, Turks and the Four Musketeers - and they're such a pain with their fiddly detail and weapons you have to glue in and the sheer unnecessary detail on them. And they don't really work with Trebian the stick method so each one has to be handled individually. Not so with Mr Goddard's finest. Good, clear, detail and poses and you can glue 20 of them on a stick to do at once. I've heard this nonsense about having to paint bigger figures as your eyesight gets worse. The detail you have to paint on 28mm is smaller and there's more of it than on a 15mm figure. If you can't see what you're painting, get your eyes checked and have a pair of glasses in your reading prescription done with a shorter focal length. I did, and I can see 15mm & 6mm figures fine and my eyesight is so bad I get free eye tests.

The pictures aren't the best as I couldn't get the lighting right on my painting desk.

Couple of HMGs with beret head swaps, and a command stand in the background with some rifle groups. I do 9 bases in a unit as that's what "Send Not To Know" uses, so they split down to two "If You Tolerate This" battalions.

Oooh. That is a bit dark. The jackets are either deep blue or khaki. The trouser colour is a light blue to approximate the blue "ticking" that they wore.

The Basque flag ("ikurrina") has come up quite well, I think. The standard bearer is the Carlist crucifix carrier. My, that was a pain carving Our Lord and Saviour off his perch. The officer is in a leather jerkin.

There's another unit currently on the drying stand whilst the glue and varnish set. Then all I have to do is finish off the bases and then I can crack on with my just-arrived Italian CTV forces.


Sunday, 5 February 2017

Thinking about SCW Air Rules

When I started writing "If You Tolerate This" it was always my intention to include rules for aircraft on the table top.

Initially physical representation was with aircraft silhouettes. Not connected with this the rules were also fairly rudimentary and never really satisfactory.

In the last 6 months I've finally got round to painting the Tumbling Dice aircraft I bought to replace the cutouts. Replacing the playing pieces hasn't improved the rules, however.

With the current re-write I thought I'd go back to some source material to get the effect of air power on ground troops right. A few years back Bob Cordery gave me a number of his SCW books as he was downsizing his library. This included the classic "Air War Over Spain" by Jesus Salas Larrazabal, so I have been working my way through it.

It's an interesting and very thorough piece of work, - and not just on the air war. You have to accept that there may be problems with it. It was written by someone whose family were avowedly Nationalists who was living in Spain under Franco when it was written, but boy, he's put the work in and his attention to detail is commendable.

There are problems with the sources he uses alas. Those of the Nationalists are well preserved and available. Those of the Republicans less so. With all accounts of air combat there's a big difference between how many each side thinks it has shot down and how many are admitted. Even so, it's still a valuable work.

What's clear so far - I haven't finished the book yet - is that in the early days of the war there aren't a lot of aircraft and one or two in a location make a difference. What's also clear is that most air attacks are against airfields where you can catch the enemy on the ground. The Nationalists try a bit of city bombing but the book reads like their heart isn't really in it. I take that with a pinch of salt, especially given the provenance of the title of the rules. I'm inclined to believe they stopped bombing Madrid because it wasn't very effective and they didn't have many bombers. They sure as hell had another go later with Guernica, however.

The other main aim with air attacks was to catch armies on the move, bombing and strafing them in column or forming up. What I'm not finding a lot of is co-ordinated air/ground attacks, so I'm struggling to see that I should put this on the table at all.

My recollection of the later period of the war is that Franco got obsessed with the power of the Condor Legion and wouldn't attack until his German chums had plastered the Republicans first. Reflecting on that it feels like air power is actually a Peter Pig / RFCM type of pre-game sequence.

If so, that's a nuisance as I've bought the toys. Or perhaps I could get players to place the aircraft on deployed units at the start of the game, then roll for the effect once the target unit tries to move. Although, again. my reading would indicate only one side gets to do this as only one side will have aerial superiority.

Having said all that I've still got half the book to read, so there's still time to alter my conclusions.

Food for thought.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

More from the Spanish Civil War

I was able to squeeze a game in Friday afternoon as my car was stranded at the local garage having an MOT (2 rear shocks & a front spring replacement, thank you for asking. Good job I put that figure order in last week or I'd have decided I couldn't afford it).

So, after some revisions following last week's game, - I've introduced the concept of a unit being "Under Fire", and also done something to keep track of who artillery is firing at to enable me to enforce the changing target rules - I set up a scenario with another Nationalist attack. For this game Phil got a load of Carlists in their fetching red berets, and I got a lot of scruffy militias and some Asaltos. I also chucked in some cavalry as I don't have very good rules for them and a tank.

Phil's always good value with modern cavalry and eschewing the dismounting business and trying to be mobile infantry he threw in a wide arcing manoeuvre and charged my bridge guarding militia in the rear, having deployed his HMG first as support.

On the other flank my lead units defending the village came under fire from both artillery and the tank gun (see the new blast markers looking pretty snazzy).

Having been chased out of their position by the cavalry the militia got badly shot up by the advancing Carlists.

Phil closed on the village with his armour. The "B" marker has a corresponding blast marker so you know who is firing where.

The wider shot shows why the supporting Nationalist infantry has been held up. Heavy fire from the defenders and my guns (not shown) have plastered them as they wade across the stream.

On the other flank my militia are overrun by the Carlist infantry, but I've got the range of that cavalry. Reminder to self, - the water under the bridge needs a repaint so it matches my rivers.

The Carlsits press in on the village, but the armour hasn't been able to co-ordinate. It looks bad for me, but next turn having resolved the hits on the Aslatos I am able to inflict a lot of damage on the Carlists.

I'm also able to observe Phil's guns and put them under fire.

The photo record is incomplete but I was able to prevail this time, and drove the Carlists off with heavy casualties. Alas I realised I was counting the morale levels incorrectly, and I declared a couple of Phil's units broken one step to early. Oh well. Maybe I'll get the rules right next time.

Not withstanding all of that the game is playing much quicker - partly due to increased familiarisation - but also because I'm getting the player aids and the rules sorted, pruning out unnecessary detail.

Looking good.