Friday, 14 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Sunday

Up at a reasonable time for an excellent cooked breakfast, Knuston style. My only criticism is the paucity of brown sauce supplies. A bottle of the old HP on the table would be a real improvement.

My morning's entertainment was "Rattenkrieg", Andrew Rolph's game of the siege of Stalingrad, based on Mike Elliott's Easter Rising game of last year. Andrew has been a supporter of my games since attending COW last year, so I was keen to see what he had been up to.

Andrew introduced it as a two player game, but in true COW style we played it with three players aside. And very convivial it turned out to be. There's nothing like discussing your secret strategy ideas in front of the opposition (this is not a criticism of the game, which was very enjoyable)

I got to be the Soviet Northern Front commander in this one. That's the Germans getting themselves sorted out in the picture above. The zonal movement system was very simple, and the areas were colour coded as to whether they were open or city spaces.

The combat system took the playing pieces off the board into a tactical display where a form of DBA combat resolution system was used. Defences, such as rubble, are placed in the row between the two armies, which deploy from the centre outwards. Rubble, by the way, is caused by shelling areas of the City, and also reduces movement.

Lots of opportunities for pointing.

This illustrates my low point as a commander. Having withdrawn into the grey city spaces I failed to cover that knife shaped open space, pointing directly into the Red October and Barricades space. The Germans slipped round behind me and occupied one of the areas leading to the bridges. I managed to seal the area off so it caused no more problems, and was able to recover it when the units were withdrawn to form an army reserve.

It was a very tense game and featured a hard fought engagement in the Grain Elevator, so it was doing something right.

In summary an excellent session for an excellent game. With a few tweaks as discussed at the time it would make an interesting commercial product. Not bad at all for Andrew's first COW session.

After this it was time for a smashing roast Sunday lunch and a few more games of "Northampton 1460" before the WD AGM and time to take our leavings. Until next year.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Saturday afternoon and evening.

Having spent the morning running my own session in a converted stable block, it was time to go and sample other people's hard work.

My first after lunch session was John Bassett's "Fall Edelweiss". John is better known for his semi-role playing games set either in the ancient world or in the dark corners of the modern day. As someone who has been involved in an Eastern Front campaign on and off for about 30 years, mostly as the Russians, I as intrigued to see John's take on this, the Caucasus campaign of 1942.

John's aim was to have a game that focused on logistics and intelligence, so the game board and the units were all slightly stylised. As the Germans we entered from the top of the map, with the aim of taking Maikop, Grozny & Baku and also severing the pipeline on the Caspian Sea (right hand side of the map as you look at it).

White areas are open ground, green are hills and brown are mountains. Attacking into the latter two reduces the number of regular divisions you can use, but allows any number of mountain troops. I was von Kleist, so I had loads of armour and not a lot of the mountain chaps. Units were represented by oblongs of coloured card, with the unit description and key details on one side. Placed face down, and with the introduction of blanks they provided a solid hidden movement system without too much fuss.

The Soviets deployed first. The face down blue units on top of the reds are our Recce. JB simply picked up the stacks we were recce'ing and gave a vague description of what was there. We could then decide where to advance, and where to allocate resources. Of course you could just charge straight in, but if you do you have to spend the log first, and you only get half back if there's nothing there to fight. I did it one or twice when I was sure I knew that the Russians had fallen back into a square, so I would have something to fight. The combat mechanism was simple, - you could roll as many dice as you spent log points, and you could increase them for the schwerpunkt units, tripling or doubling them which burnt through log, but really frightened the Ruskis.

That's the Russian HQ staff at the far end...

... and this shows more of the Germans at the other end.

Here's Russian Mike pondering really carefully where to place. He's about to descend into a very dark place in the face of the overwhelming power of German armour. As someone who has played Russians on this front A LOT it is easy to be bedazzled by the Germans. You just have to remember that's there's an awful lot of the Soviet Union and only a finite amount of Germans. The trick with the Germans is to appear larger than you are and make the Soviets feel inferior.

Ignoring orders to veer to the left I have punched straight through the middle, and even taken on Russian forces in Cherkessk,  a hilly area. The intention here was to find a big stack of Russians and destroy them to put them on the back foot and frit the living daylights out of them. It succeeded really well, which was lucky as I'd had to spare some of my infantry to help the Roumanians take Armavir as a preliminary to the assault on Maikop.

Next turn I left a covering force in Cherkessk (actually all dummies) and drove to the coast. I was sure that the Soviets were in sufficient awe of our military prowess not to counterattack, as proved to be the case.

So, although we didn't capture everything we meant to we had a pretty good run, so I'm claiming a victory.

It was an interesting game, and my write up doesn't do justice to the simple elegance of the recce and log systems. They were the key to victory and once we'd got ourselves sorted out we did okay. In retrospect there were things that as a team we could have tightened up, buy nothing major. My only issue with the game was that the board needed to be bigger with clearer locations. I went the wrong way in one turn as the roads (or lack of them) were obscured by the scruffy layout of the Soviet unit cards.

After a tea break with cake it was time for the second session; Martin Rapier running Phil Sabin's Kartenspiel.

Kartenspiel is a simple card based resource management game simulating early 19th century warfare. Each side has 5 players, being an army commander and four corps commanders. The army commander has half a pack of standard playing cards. Plain cards are infantry, court cards cavalry. These are allocated to corps commanders and once given can't be got back. As the game is won by beating a corp (ie removing all its cards in combat), you need to keep some in reserve to prevent the breakthrough becoming a rout.

Players decide each turn whether they are attacking or defending,what they are using and if their cavalry are charging. They indicate the decision to attack or defend through a simplified version of rock, paper, scissors without the scissors, same with whether the cavalry is charging or not.

We had a brilliant plan (it was mine, as I was army commander). We would refuse the left and hit them with a strong right wing. Mainly the right was run by John Salt (in red with the beard) as after an initial rebuff I put Alan sitting next to him on the defensive.

We nearly had the game won, and had pulled in all their reserves when our left wing corps commander gave the wrong order and attacked. Caught in the open field by a stronger opponent he was overwhelmed and destroyed. Luckily I had some cavalry in reserve against our breakthrough which covered our retreat. By this time Jerry, leading the other army, admitted he had no reserves so if we hadn't screwed it up we'd have been through with a complete win the following turn.

After the first game I dropped out to have a look about. Kartenspiel is a fun game that takes no more than 30 minutes and I can see it being a lot of fun at a club Christmas evening.

Popping into the Lounge I had a quick glimpse at Ian Drury's Pony Wars game "Hurrah Boys, We've Got Them!"

I clearly had come in at a tense moment as the US Cavalry were preparing to mount up and charge the Redskins, having given them a volley with their car-beens.

Nice looking terrain, with a slightly more subtle grid marked on it than I use for my SCW game.

Elsewhere Tom was running an epic matrix game called "Baltic Challenge". I was intending to play this in the evening, but it got shifted to the afternoon after I'd signed up to Kartenspiel. It looked really interesting, being an analysis of issues that might arise in the Baltic states today between Russia and the USA as well as the locals.

Across the lawn John B was running another matrix game, this time based on the Baader-Meinhof gang. This was another game I would have liked to have played in, but John ran it back-to-back with "Fall Edelweiss", so I thought it was only fair to give him a break from me.

It was then time to go for dinner, to discuss our day's achievements.

The evening's main entertainment for me was a WW1 trench raid RPG run by Tom, in the style he has successfully used for WW2 commando raids, secret agents and weird stuff and spaceships.

The game starts with roles being allocated. I ducked out of being the leader this time, nestling in to a part half way down the hierarchy as a Corporal

You then have to share the kit out and make sure you have everything you need for the mission. It is important to co-ordinate between players to make sure all the important kit gets taken. As you can see I had the handcuffs for our prisoner.

The leader then gives us a briefing about how to perform the mission that Tom has given us.

For this game Tom had made some really nice big hexes for us to navigate our way across. On this one we've just found a Jerry listening post and done for the chaps manning it. We're now just about to crawl down the access tunnel to the main trench.

After this it all went a bit pear shaped and we never did find out what the Germans were up to, although we did capture a prisoner. The Lieutenant got wounded, as did a couple of other chaps, and the Sergeant got killed. Not a rousing success, but Tom was very kind to us in saying we'd done jolly well.

Then most of us died a week later when the Germans unleashed their new fiendish gas distribution method.

After this there was some time for a few more games of "Northampton 1460" before I headed off to bed.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Saturday Morning

Having warmed up with "Northampton 1460" the previous evening my big show of the weekend was the full Saturday morning double session for my Spanish Civil War game "If you (still) tolerate this" that regular readers will know has dominated the last 6 months in Shedquarters. On receiving the COW programme I realised that the session was a bit of a dinosaur. Not only am I using revised rules from 5 years a go, but it's the only full-fat table top 15mm figure game with serious amounts of metal on the table. Except, perhaps, for Ian Drury's Pony Wars game. Had I missed the Conference's Zeitgeist this year? It was a relief to see the sign-up sheet full, so thanks to Rich, Alan, Tony, (Republicans) Alex, Mathew and Andrew (Nationalists).

Having staggered off to bed at 2am I set the alarm for 6:30am to give me a fighting chance of getting everything set up before breakfast.

Gee. This was easier 30 years a go.

On the positive side I was down in the Practical Room, which is just off the main car park, so I could back the car pretty much all the way up to the door to unload.

I hadn't written a full scenario but I had a good idea in my head of how I wanted it to go, using the "Three Bridges" layout I tried a couple of times in the last year, including at one of my whole day wargaming days. Tony threw in a curve ball the previous evening, saying he'd only be able to make the second half, so I sketched in a reinforcement role in my head. Then Alex said he could only make the first half, so what the hell, I decided to play it by ear mostly.

Luckily both Will & Phil from the Shedquarters Regulars turned up as technical advisors and to fill in for the missing. Many thanks to both of them. It was really appreciated, as I'm reluctant to ask them to get involved as they have usually suffered enough for my art in the months leading up to COW.

The set up turned out to be not too difficult, with my sub-conscious really doing the business as I laid the terrain out.

In this fictional encounter I went for a broad mix of troops on both sides. The Nationalists (top left above, on the right below) had a small Italian Division, complete with tankettes, field guns and an AA truck. They were helped out by two mixed brigades of Regular Army each with a Falange Bandera attached, and some guns and at the far end some Condor Legion Panzer 1s.

The Republicans had a couple of weak Basque brigades, holding two of the river crossings, and an International brigade with some T26s arriving to help take the third.

I also placed a motorised column of Communist Militias off table, for Tony to use when he arrived. I kept the arrival point open to allow me to balance up the game after the initial Nationalist successes.

The Italians under Mathew really went for it, and rushed the village with all they had. This was a high risk strategy and it didn't really work. Caught in the open the infantry got badly shot up, and the leading tankette squadron broke into the village losing its infantry support. The plucky Basques had it at them with grenades and whatever else came to hand, inflicting numerous casualties and leaving the squadron going up in smoke.

Just when it looked like it couldn't get any worse for the Nationalists a flight of Ratas turned up, managed to avoid their own troops, and shot up a fair few Fascists. The rules worked okay, which was a massive relief.

Over on the Republican right Alan had put one of his T-26s on the bridge. Mostly because he could, I think. This was the only bridge/town not occupied at the start of the game, and Andrew had got in there in force, with Panzers, so this was a fairly ballsy move.

However, supported by IB infantry he was able to take control of the Cathedral area, driving the Fascists back. The Germans may reconsider the efficacy of having their armour equipped with HMGs when coming up against AFVs with a decent sized gun.

In the centre Alex seems to have come unstuck. I have few pictures of this action, but he seems to have been reduced to a single unit of Falange skulking in an olive grove (for those of you not familiar with my terrain conventions, in Spain dry stone walls denote a sunken road and hedges the boundaries of olive groves). Or perhaps he had ignored the central village, and sent his regular infantry off to support Andrew on the left.

Mathew had had enough of this Basque impudence and brought up his flamethrower tank to sort them out.

This softened them up sufficiently for him to launch a successful combined infantry/armour assault on the village.

We had a quick break for tea/coffee/home made biscuits enabling Alex to sneak out and be replaced by Will. Phil was taking an increasingly active role as Soviet advisor to the Republic, and Tony now turned up with his workers' militia in trucks, lead by a brave commander in a commandeered white staff car. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, next turn one of the Nationalists' Fiat squadrons turned up, and despite losing a plane to AA fire they succeeded in shooting up the column, including the white car, killing its occupant. It could have been worse. Mrs Tony was there and kindly chose the Fiats. It could have been a whole flight of He111s. (On a side point here there was another air attack by the Republicans at some point, where they shot down one of their own aircraft. So that was interesting.)

This is the last picture of the game. The Nationalists are mostly going backwards, although they are still clutching at straws in the centre.

Everyone pronounced themselves happy with the game and, except for Alex stuck, it for the whole double session. I got quite a few "drop ins" who sat and watched for a while. I was pleased with how it went, although having just re-introduced it I again forgot the "retire under fire" rule.

I reckon I've got this game about where I want it. Until I invest in one of those table tops with layers of foam over metal base with magnetised strips to make sunken roads more authentic looking I'm happy with the look of it all. The actual simulation looks good too. The combined arms attacks work well, but you need some luck and it all can become unstuck. The attack/counter attack mechanism in street fighting is quite exciting too.

So I think that can all go back in the box for a year or so.

Now off for a well deserved lunch and a pint of the excellent Phipps IPA that Knuston has introduced to the bar.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Conference of Wargamers 2017 - Friday Evening

Another year has passed, so it was off to Knuston Hall in glorious sunny Northamptonshire once more. I spent most of the day discussing the ins and outs of the Battle of Edgcote with one of my normal wargaming friends, Phil, and we are making decent progress. More will be written on this project over the next few months as our production schedule should see it ready for COW in 2018, so I was well ready by the time I got there.

COW starts with a Plenary Game which all attendees take part in. This year's game was "The Most Dangerous Place on Earth" which was about the Berlin Crisis of 1961.

Some Plenary Games are a bit of silly fluff, over in 30 minutes, including briefing and wash-up. Others are more ambitious and involved. This game was one of the latter. There were five teams, I think (West Germans, East Germans, Russians, the UK and the USA), together with individual players representing Charles De Gaulle, Mao Tse-Tung, Willy Brandt and Marilyn Munroe and probably the world news. As far as I could tell every player (and there were about 50) got a named, written briefing. For example I was Bobby Kennedy. It was a mammoth piece of organisation and authorship for a game top last about an hour.

Each team had maps as well, but the main aim was to circulate with other teams whilst trying to reach your own personal objectives (mine were to stop the Third World War, prevent the Cuban missile crisis ever developing and upstage vice-President LBJ). I think I achieved all of them.

I don't have any pictures of the game in progress, - it was really rather hectic. I'm not sure who won, but I think the East Germans lost, having to back down after being very bellicose over Berlin. They may have invaded the French sector for a short while.

All in all a very impressive game.

After the Plenary it was time to break out the After Dinner Games. I was there to present "Northampton 1460", an event eagerly awaited by me and at least two other people, who button holed me for a copy of the game almost the moment I walked through the door.

It probably got played half a dozen or so times at least. We had a good range of results, including a high scoring Lancastrian victory, - quite a rare outcome. I didn't even have to play in most of the games, as you can see from the picture.

Overall the feedback was good and positive. That's gratifying as the audience at COW is a well informed selection of wargamers, most of whom design as well as play. Most of them spotted the game's antecedents, which provoked some interesting discussion.

The game got played on and off throughout the weekend, using the game book version as it takes up considerably less space. The changes to the core system that I had to make were well received and one participant took a copy, claiming it would make a good template for El Alamein. Best of luck to him.

I know it was well received and popular as I finally got to bed at 2am.

Which wasn't ideal, as I was due to run a large SCW game at 9am the following day.