Friday, 27 April 2018

A Load of Cobras

Those who play these things regularly will tell you that SPI's game "Cobra", which covers the Normandy breakout is a classic, built upon the firm foundations of PGG. I haven't played the game for over 40 years, I reckon, giving it a couple of goes when I first received it in the post back when I was an S&T subscriber. Since then my copy has been moved around and lost (don't ask), so it was good to revisit it as one of the periodic hex games I play with Gary who I met on holiday. Actually a discussion of Cobra is what struck up our friendship, so it was about time we actually played it.

Cobra is regarded as a classic and is a big favourite with our American friends, mainly because it has Patton in it and also because it shows that Montgomery was a fusty old slowcoach compared with those thrusting go ahead types from the New World. It is regarded as a nicely poised game as the Germans try to hold a line to stop the Americans breaking out into Brittany before retiring, hopefully in an orderly fashion, to the East, avoiding getting caught in a pocket as the Allies rush to join up at Falaise.

The problem for the Germans is Allied airpower. As long as the weather is clear the RAF & USAAF  curtail German movement considerably. So much so that units are unable to disengage if next to an Allied unit as they don't have enough movement allowance if they're in anything other than clear terrain. This can be a bit of an irritant for the German player simply because you can't actually move a lot of your pieces for long stretches of the game.

On the other hand for the Allies it can be quite frustrating as the British half of the army, with all the mobile infantry and armour, ends up endlessly headbanging against Caen.

In our playing I got the Germans, and I have to say, - seeing as I'd only read the rules, not looked at the set up - that I took a long time to work out what I was going to do. In then end I resolved to disengage as much of my armour from in front of the British and Canadians as possible, and shift it across to get in the face of Patton's armoured thrust, whilst using well placed infantry units to hold up Monty and his chaps. Then, having roughed up the Americans, use the rather nice central roadway to hot foot it back to the East and escape, piling up the victory points.

Well, the best laid plans, etc. The game's weather mechanism provides for clear weather at the start, then you roll to see if it gets overcast or stormy. It stayed resolutely clear, most of the time. Bizarrely, both players roll for the weather, so it can be clear at the start of the German players turn, overcast for the Allies, then back to clear for the next German turn. Why the weather isn't the same for both of us is a mystery to me. Anyway, although I succeeded in getting my Panzers out and forming a mobile reserve they just sat there, mostly, crawling up minor roads at a snail's pace. In then end I gave up on my strategy. Gary was racking up points by overrunning my infantry line and so I thought I'd better get some points back by driving off the Eastern edge. I shifted most of my Panzers across the map, slowly (well, one turn of storms let me really motor across, and occupy the Eastern edge).

Elsewhere I'd got caught out as I had missed the fact the Major Rivers block ZOCs, so I'd left some holes up in the North Eastern corner of the map, which the British started to exploit. This is all rather odd. Major rivers block ZOCs, but do not hamper units when retreating. One of the safest places to attack from is with your back to a major river, because if you are defeated, you just hop back across the river into spaces where no enemy ZOC can kill you. Baffling, especially as there is a rule that alters the retreat rules for units in bocage.

Having held up the US Army sufficiently to reduce his VPs for getting off to a measly one per counter (instead of a maximum 6)  at the cost, alas of an SS Panzer division, surrounded and overwhelmed, I started to exit my units and soon had amassed a goodly 50 points or more, against Gary's high 20s. The game got even more odd, as it looked like I could earn victory points simply by driving my reinforcements onto the map and then straight off again. By now I was able, intermittently, to disengage some of my infantry and they likewise headed towards the edge of the board as soon as they could get on a road. I finally succeeded in getting 100+ vps, against, I think, 48 for the allies. That was by turn 10, and there wasn't enough for Gary to kill to catch up my score. So a German win by about 50 points. The vp chart only goes from 31 point win for the Allies to a 21 point win for the Germans. It's possible we weren't doing everything right.

Having said that I do recall an article or letter in a magazine when I first got this game that said it was stupid, as all the Germans had to do was run for it at whatever speed they could. This provoked some debate, but it is true that you are better off banking the vps for getting off the map, rather than risk your troops in combat.

Still, it was an enjoyable way of spending about 6 hours, and we did go from wondering how the Germans were ever going to win to total despair for the Allies. Perhaps it'll be different when we swap sides and play again.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Trying Other People's Rules

One of the things about going to the WD conference ("COW") is that although you can't attend all the sessions eventually a fairly full report will turn up in "The Nugget", usually with any rules used and a description of the game. At the last COW Mike Elliot, a doyen of the Battlefields Trust, put on a talk and game about the fairly obscure Battle of St Fagans in 1648. All the Shedquarters crew missed the session so it was good to be able to recreate the event following the publication of the last Nugget.

What made this even more interesting was the promise that here was a set of rules that would enable the middling sized battles of the ECW to be re-fought. This battle had about 2,500 New Model Army up against 8,000 Royalists. The added bonus is that the rules all fit on one side of A4.

Mike used Hexon modular terrain to set the game up, so I was able to reproduce this with my off set square set up, but the rules use ruler measurement. The rules have quite long move distances (Mike's contention is that wargames rules underestimate how fast troops move), and big factor differences for Veteran and Raw troops. Shooting is relatively ineffective, and Melee seems to be the way to break an opponent.

This is the set up. The Royalists are near the camera. They have six units of clubmen (cobbled together with pike men from my other units), six of mixed pike/shot foot, and two small cavalry units. The New Model is on the hill, with two foot regiments, two cavalry regiments and four companies of dragoons.

The set up doesn't incentivise either side to attack. A quick background check indicated to me that the Royalists were the initial aggressors, driven probably be the fear that a detachment of the NMA lead by Cromwell was on its way so they needed to sort out this lot before the could unite with their comrades. Phil, with the NMA, announced he was sitting on the hill until Will got within a move or so of his position, so Will just moved his stuff up.

Soon the Royalists were arrayed at the foot of the hill, and Phil had to start making some decisions.

He started by launching a cavalry charge, whilst moving his dragoons into the woods. The cavalry charge was the more successful of these two moves, as he had not fully taken on the implications of the move distances and the dragoons would end up not making it before the Royalist foot got to them.

The cavalry drove back the Royalist horse, and Will formed a flank with a unit of foot whilst pressing elsewhere. Note that the cavalry have not inflicted enough hits to cause a break test.

On the other flank Phil was forced to try and disperse a unit of clubmen with his horse as Will was doing a fine job of cutting down his room to manoeuvre with his larger numbers. This charge drove back the clubmen (note the white rings) but didn't break them. This move had opened up the cavalry's flank to the Royalist horse. Alas for Will they were well nigh ineffective.

Over on the other side Will marched up on to the crest line, and Phil countered by rushing at them with his dismounted Dragoons. This drove the clubmen back.

In the centre the two Parliamentarian foot units await the onrushing hordes, having broken one of the opposing clubman units. At the top of the picture Phil has managed to turn to face Will's flanking horse and is giving them what for.

Will has just managed to get a 2:1 advantage on that red coat unit at the back. It saw off the Royalists to the front, but has been driven back by the flanking foot, and has taken hits.

There's a big sprawling mess in the middle, as Will screens off the centre from Phil's dragoons, gently shepherding them out of the way.

The Parliamentarians have been inflicting hits steadily, and Royalist units finally start to fail break tests. The army is wavering, but it still has enough to finish the Parliamentarians if things go well.

Alas for Will they don't and one of his Generals is killed, tipping his army over into rout. Win to the NMA, as historically.

Hmmm. Well it was an interesting evening's play. We had to improvise a few rules (eg stopping foot charging cavalry) to keep the game believable, and there were some head scratching moments about what was going on. However the rules do allow a vastly outnumbered force of veterans to prevail over raw troops, so that fits the bill for St Fagans.

Having played the game I am unconvinced by Mike's views on unit movement rates against weapon ranges, and in an I-go-You-go game structure it enables the players to do some amazing things whilst their opponent just stands there and watches them. Musketry is pretty much ineffective, - a standard unit is rolling 4d6 looking for 6s with no modifiers and will normally be lucky to get more than one volley away, - and whilst I do not expect Napoleonic levels of musket mayhem that doesn't feel right. I suspect a game with Mike running it is a different prospect.

In terms of the size of game we were playing there is a gap in my rules collection, and I think this may mean I'm still looking. I've also had another look at my one and only source for the battle, - Richard Brooks - and if I was to revisit this encounter I might set it up slightly differently. My reading is that it is more of a straggling, running, fight as the NMA steadily push the Royalists back from hedgerow to hedgerow but the sources aren't clear.

A more detailed critique of how the rules work and the issues we noted will be sent to Nugget as soon as I can get my act together.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

A Marlburian Muddle, of sorts.

We revisited the War of Spanish Succession last night, using a revised version of the rules. So we could get to the meat of it all more quickly I deployed the armies in advance, rather than require players to advance in column. The results were mixed, but some new ideas came out of it all, and some mechanisms worked quite well. Of course we still suffer from the same old problem of me forgetting what I've written down.

Will turned up first. Because I'm  nice chap I set up the Anglo-Dutch on his side of the table. Because I had been out most of the day visiting a relative in hospital I didn't have the chance to dream up a clever scenario or even reset the terrain from last week.

I have fiddled a bit with the game turn sequence. This means that when you set up as I have done here, with intermixed infantry and cavalry, the units appear to leap frog through each other but it seemed to work okay.

Will went for a general advance in an aggressive way. Play tests so far have indicated that the Anglo-Dutch perform well if they press the enemy hard.

I got to the line of the stream first, and decided to defend it on my left flank, to take a bit of the sting out of my opponent's shock cavalry.

On my right I tried to exploit a slight numerical advantage with a wide hook, and splashed across the stream.

Around the village Will put in a charge against a unit of my infantry. The cavalry made contact and although being disordered by defensive fire still prevailed and drove the infantry back (I need to look at the factors here, - not entirely satisfactory).

Phil had arrived by now and took over my position. In the centre will charged across the stream and broke the French horse. Elsewhere the infantry exchanged volleys and conversation was had about how to simulate the practice of inducing your opponent to fire first.

The French infantry by the village gave ground steadily.

The firefight over the stream intensified. Infantry units cannot close with the  enemy until they have established fire superiority.

The Anglo-Dutch succeeded in forcing the stream line, but the French cavalry were able to extricate themselves and drop back behind their infantry to regroup.

By the time we packed up the French infantry had performed fairly well, managing to close on their opposite numbers in several places and drive them back, whilst the Anglo-Dutch cavalry was besting the French equivalents almost everywhere.

A not entirely satisfactory game. Some aspects of the rules are functioning really well, others less so. I have an issue calibrating the precise values of the DRMs and how long they last for. The means by which cavalry can break off, rally and regroup need looking at again, as does probably a means to enable units to recover casualties.

In other news I have had delivery of a few packages of Washington's Army figures, receiving some from Will McNally via Phil (thanks Will) and also some from an ebay purchase arranged for me by my chum Tone.

I've also got some Airfix Cuirassiers luxuriating in a bath of paint stripper, and several boxes also winging their way from ebay too, - well 3 boxes for £10+p&p. Couldn't pass them up, could I?

Sunday, 15 April 2018

There's Fahsands Of Them. Honest

So to the other reason I went to the National War Memorial Exhibition in Wellington on the Great War.

As part of  the Great War commemoration Peter Jackson commissioned a large diorama of the Battle of Chunuk Bair, which took place in the Gallipoli campaign on the 8th August 1915. This battle was a heroic feat of New Zealand Arms, although it ultimately lead to failure as the ground captured was later lost.

The Gallipoli campaign is a nation defining event for both Australia and New Zealand. It is part of what defines these two countries as independent nations. To say they are key to the national psyche would be an understatement.

The diorama scenery was built by Weta Workshops. The figures are 54mm multi-pose plastic, designed by the Perry twins. The figures were painted by volunteer wargamers and military modellers across New Zealand who signed up to receive a box of figures, paint them to a pre-set standard and return them. As part of creating a nationally relevant memorial for the centenary I have to say that I consider this to be a work of genius. This is a model commemorating a nation defining event, built by the nation.

I was disappointed that there was nothing in the exhibition that talked about how the model was built. I spoke to several locals at the exhibition, all of whom were unaware of how it had been put together, - a missed opportunity to talk about the collective nature of commemoration which should be something we do, rather than is done for us.

The pictures below aren't in any particular order. I didn't know a lot about Chunuk Bair going in, and it was hard to work your way round the exhibit in a coherent way, without going backwards and forwards. The display is open at the top, but with high perspex screens, as you'll see in one of the pictures. This means that to get good pictures you have to hold your camera above the screen and just point. It was easier to get shots by using the zoom for figures on the far side of the display.

The perspex panels also had stickers explaining what was going on, which were informative, but also block clear pictures.

Anyway, here are my pictures without the usual smart-arse commentary, and I'm pleased to be able to share them with you. This is a most impressive piece of work.

A final note. As I said above the Gallipoli Campaign has a national importance in both New Zealand and Australia. It would be easy to forget that other troops from other nations were also deployed and fought. This point is made in the exhibition in a board showing troops deployed. Alas my picture of this isn't any good, so the numbers from Wikipedia are:

345,000 British (including Indians/Newfoundlanders)
79,000 French
50,000 Australians
15,000 New Zealanders

plus 2,000+ Chinese "coolies".

So, as you can see, the campaign was mainly fought by British troops of both regular and service battalions from the New Army. As a proportion of population it is probably the case that the ANZACs were a greater percentage, hence the relative importance. Gallipoli casulaites are dwarfed on our war memorials compared with Ypres and the Somme.

There is a part of the national story, particularly in Australia, that basically still sticks to the line that the British were useless in the Great War, from the officers down, and that the only troops who could be relied upon to do anything were those from the Antipodes. I think that this view has been debunked in the writings of the last 20 years, but I have still found it in on-line resources from respectable Australian Military Museums.

There is a similar potentially sour note in this display. There is a reference to the Glosters wavering and being driven back to their trenches by the Wellington Battalion at bayonet point. Since coming back I can't find a reference to this anywhere (although I don't have access to the official history) and so I do not know whether it is true or not, or whether it falls into part of the Antipodean Great War superman narrative.

I do know that out of 1,000 men the Glosters took over 800 casualties, whilst the Wellingtons took 700 out of 760. You don't need to belittle the bravery of one group of men in order to magnify that of another.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Colouring the Past

During our recent holiday in New Zealand we visited Wellington. Wellington has got two exhibitions commemorating New Zealand's contribution to the Great War. Both were organised by Peter Jackson and the Weta Workshops (if you don't know the latter did the costumes, scenery, visual effects, prosthetics and weapons for the Lord of the Rings).

Due to a timing error, - we stayed in Martinborough the night before and the drive to Wellington was interminable* - we were only able to visit one of them, and I chose the one at the National War Memorial, not the one in the national museum "Te Papa" for reasons you will see in this blog and probably the next.

Peter Jackson is a genius. I thought his achievement with LOTR was impressive before we went to NZ. If you then see how he made the films, and then what he has done with the influence he has gained you have to be impressed. His attention to detail is overwhelming, and he has a clear vision and knows how to tell a story.

One of the controversial things he did for theis exhibition ("The Great War Exhibition") was to take photographs from the IWM collection and have them "colourized". This caused a degree of outrage at the time, with the usual "dumbing down" and "pandering to the masses" type comments. As we all know the First World War was fought entirely in black and white.

Except for in the paintings of the war artists.

And we also tend to forget that in the early days of cinema  Georges Méliès had his films hand coloured, so this isn't actually unusual at all.

Anyhow, I was able to get some decent photos of some of the colourised pictures, and I've posted them below. I was really impressed, and I wish I had taken the time to get good shots of more of them, but then I really wanted to see...but more of that next time.

What do people think?

*The road is very twisty and goes across a mountain range. Apparently Wellingtonians love to go out for a Sunday drive on it, and people with camper vans can only manage about 10mph. What looks like a 40 minute drive on the map is closer to two hours. And we had a nightmare getting out of Martinborough as all the roads were closed for a sponsored walk round the local vineyards.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Back with some WSS

It's been quiet here as Mrs T & I have been away on holiday in New Zealand for the whole of March, and a bit more. Despite the jet lag I thought it was time to get back in the saddle, and re-visit my Marlburian rules, which are intended for COW this year.

Alas re-reading what I last wrote did not bring back a feeling of deja-vu, so this was a re-learning experience all round.

My players were to be Will & Phil, who both braved a wet and cold night to be with me. I put together an encounter battle, with even numbers of units aside. Will got the French (top right) and Phil the Anglo-Dutch.

I've got some extra units on the way once I get my paintbrush back in hand, but this is the first time I've got the horse and foot units in the right proportions. This is a column of French, advancing towards the river/stream.

This is a small column of Dutch.

The "English" contingent marching on to the table.

Finally the last column of French.

Both sides took advantage of being in March Column to press forwards aggressively. The French are winning the initiative rolls, but it makes little difference at this stage.

The cavalry is shaking out into line on both sides. A slip up here with the initiative could cause a lot of problems.

The infantry are getting ready to engage over the bridge at the far end of the table, whilst the cavalry shape up to each other.

Near the village an epic cavalry engagement has started. The Anglo-Dutch have the upper hand, but only just. The buildings are being contested by infantry.

The French cavalry is having the worst of it, but the Anglo-Dutch are becoming tired and are too far away from their supports.

We had to stop with the game nicely poised. As we hadn't met up for a month or more our ratio of chat to game play was higher than normal.

Still, good to be back at the table.