Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Back in the Pacific

Following the launch of "It's Getting a Bit Chile" I've been in correspondence with David Manley of Long Face Games. He specialises in "Naval Stuff", and has done a mostly Naval campaign for the War in the Pacific which uses his "Dahlgren and Columbiad" rules for resolving ship encounters ( a new version of this is due out, - it'll include rules for combining it with land actions using IGaBC.

We've played some of David's games before, so it was probably inevitable that we'd look at these as a group. I spent some time working up ship charts and so on and reading the rules. They look, on the face of it, ideal. They're fairly simple and suitable for small numbers of ships, which fits the Naval side of the Pacific War. If you had more than 6 ships a side it might become awkward to manage, so it's more of a skirmish game than a battle.

The turn consists of three phases of moving and firing for each side, the sequence of which is randomised by using playing cards. There are restrictions on how many times you can fire in each phase. Movement is standard tape measure and angles depending on ship type, so no turning circle required.

The combat system uses the core DBA mechanisms of opposed die rolls and then outcomes depending upon whether you double, treble or simply just beat the target's score. Mercifully the system dispenses with hull hit points, but uses a series of critical or less critical hit tables. On first read through I was attracted to this as an idea. There's also a neat mechanism to take into account armour and the penetrative ability of various artillery pieces.

Phil & I shared the Chileans, and Tim and Richard had the Peruvians. We all had an ironclad with a wooden steam sloop in attendance and came on from the four corners. I didn't feel the need to alter ranges despite using smaller ships than the author, as in any event you measure from the centre of the vessel so it makes little difference.

It's hard to follow the narrative. Above you can see Tim opening fire with the Huascar. He missed. This happened a LOT. Which is sort of accurate (in one early action in the war the Huascar fired 40 times and hit the target once, causing hardly any damage).

Phil was on my left, (off my Port bow, I suppose). As Richard steamed towards Tim to unite their forces, Phil tried to run down Richard's steam sloop, the Pilcomayo. Again, much firing but not a lot of effect.

Tim and I were circling round one another, trying to get a 2:1 advantage on either ship.

Fire is exchanged, but still no one is suffering. Phil took the first damage through a special event when he rolled a 1:6 when firing, and had smoke fill his pilot house. He was not amused.

I have got between Richard & Tim's ships (which might not have been the wisest thing to do), but we are still blazing away with little outcome. It is remarked that this might not be the most interesting game we have ever played. We have a short conversation on realism v fun in this type of game and reflect that in RFCM's "Hammerin' Iron" realism has gone out of the window, but they are fun.

Phil's ironclad, the Blanco Encalada, joins in the whirling action in the centre of the table.

Somewhere around now Richard's ironclad, the Independencia, gets hit, and the rule system has an escalation mechanism if you inflict a hull hit that means you roll on the next level of damage table until you fail to get a hull hit, or the vessel receives a wrecked result. Richard took a Light hit, which turned into a Severe level of damage in short order. We all sat up at this point. It's all a bit random, but this actually looks like early ironclad warfare. Interesting (this level of damage gives a modifier to the die rolls, which we overlooked, otherwise Richard might have been sunk early on).

There's a whole lot of firing going on, so much so that I ran out of black pipe cleaner bit.

Then it all starts happening. More special events cause my steam lines to fail (white steam marker). Then the Union catches fire...

.. followed rapidly by the O'Higgins. After a lot of moves of ineffectual firing suddenly everyone's ships are taking damage. The O'Higgins is hit again and becomes Wrecked. The Independencia has hardly any guns left and her armour has taken a beating. Richard decides to take her off the table before she is lost, and the game ends.

So, what did we think? Firstly I have to say I wasn't enamoured of the DBA based combat on my first read through, but it sort of won me over. I liked the way damage accumulated as real things, and it could escalate suddenly. As was pointed out, however, it isn't clear what you can really do to influence the outcome of the game other than do a lot of firing and hope for no 1:6 results. It helps to get as many ships as you can firing at a single target, but all the stuff that is relevant in Fighting Sail type games, like gaining the weather gauge and stern raking your opponents is irrelevant. And things that work in DBA aren't relevant here. There's no overlapping flanks for example.

That means it is difficult to work out what you are supposed to be doing to win the game. In fairness, that is probably true of the other Ironclad rules we've used for this period. However as it is easier to hit that's less of an issue. You are inflicting damage, so you aren't cudgelling your brains to work out how you can hit something when your shells keep bouncing off.

I keep coming back, however, to the fact that the outcome was really plausible. What David has got here is a mechanism that does what I was trying to work out how to do, using techniques I wouldn't have looked at. Are there things I'd change? Of course, I'm me and that's what I do. The Special Events and the Damage tables are based on experience in the ACW mostly. I would probably go and amend them to have something more like the actual incidents that happened in the Pacific War.

This leaves me in a sort of no man's land. David has done what I was looking to do, and I don't know if I want to re-invent the wheel. I think I need to try these again, probably with the West Country team and a proper scenario.

And what I would do is put them on squares. Yes. I would certainly do that. Perhaps that's where I start.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Playing "To Ur is Human"

My monthly SPI game partner's interest in the hex and cardboard counter genre has waned a bit of late, so we agreed to play another figure game. As he's really a newbie to this sort of thing we agreed to have a go at "To Ur". Well, I think it is simple to learn.

We used the card deployment system suggested in the rules. I normally don't have the time for players to use this in the evening, so it was good to give it a go again.

We had a little bit of confusion on getting the units out of the boxes, but were soon ready to go.

The armies were not mirror images of each other. Gary had the missile heavy one, and I had one with slightly more in the way of battle carts. Based on my points system they were within a point of each other. I went for a slightly heavier left wing, intending to refuse my right

This tactic seemed to be going okay at first, then it became apparent that Gary was refusing his entire front.

Out on the left I was trying to shield my battle carts with my slingers. There's massed archers out there, protecting that flank. Gary had tried to break through by charging with one of his javelin units, but they failed the Fear Test and refused to move.

As the javelin men were now feeling a bit wobbly I charged them with my slingers and drove them off.

Gary moved up his carts, which he had placed centrally. I was forced to react, and created a central pocket for them to charge to their deaths into.

I was sorting myself out to launch charges by my carts, but it was a bit tricky. I've got my slingers out of the way, but Gary's got some javelin men in the way instead.

Gary started getting pensive and checked the rules. Was he planning something?

I declared a charge, and the javelins dropped a Fear Level. Looking good. The other unit of carts wheeled to exploit the coming breakthrough.

Meanwhile, over on the other flank I'd given up refusing and run down some light infantry instead.

Unfortunately Gary's wobbly light infantry javelin men managed to stick a couple of barbs into my carts.

The javelins broke in the ensuing conflict, but at the cost of a cart base! Disaster. I was left standing in front of massed archers.

On the other flank I've broken right through. Only problem was whether I could turn and exploit the flank before Gary shored it all up with his reserve line.

Blast. A swift volley from the archers and I've lost the rest of the cart unit.

Gary took a closer look at what was going on.

On my right flank some swiftly moving javelin men killed a base. Whoops! I announced that the cart unit would be leaving the board henceforth for some repair work.

There seems to be a missing picture. My remaining left wing carts have bundled through those pesky massed archers and chased them off the table. Meanwhile my General urges his foot forwards, and combat ensues.

Everything is touch and go at first. Gary sends in his General to even things up, but he is killed in the melee.

With his main block pinned to the front, my slingers take the opportunity to attack an exposed flank.

All looking good. My carts on the left have turned round and put the fear of the gods into a unit of Gary's foot. They flee before the rumbling wheels into the mess developing over the corpse of Gary's General.

With nowhere for them to run to, the carts start to massacre the fleeing defenceless troops. The heavies now clash in the centre.

Having destroyed their opponents the carts line up the rear of Gary's centre. Gary's carts on the extreme right decide not to charge.

It's all going on in the centre now, as I clatter into the rear. Amazingly, according to the Fear Test, Gary's guys just love it. Gary rallies his windy battle carts, and orders another charge.

Two units of Heavy Infantry take one look at Gary's carts and turn on their heels and make off.

It isn't a pretty sight. This was supposed to hold them off whilst I won the battle in the centre.

It's all a little meat grinder-y in the centre.

However, I break Gary's troops with the carts, and will be able to gallop through and shore up my right. Gary's carts continue to ride down my heavy infantry who are fleeing.

I should have this in the bag by now. It is close, as I've lost loads of stuff, but I have a couple of combats which I should win and an even roll on the Fear Test will break my opponents. It isn't happening, tho'.

Another rule book check, as my carts hunt down Gary's lone survivor on his left.

Again, the combats are all taking longer than they should.

And then another of Gary's units is broken and it is all over. I had actually won the turn before, but there was a calc error on the big white board on Gary's right. The small board on my side shows I've got to 126 points, and I only need to kill 110.

It was a tense, close game that swung backwards and forwards. It was weird playing this having worked on "IGaBC" so much recently. I had to re-read the rule book to remind myself what I'd written. It was fun to push my figures around as well and roll some dice, rather than umpiring.

And it must have been okay. Even tho' he lost, Gary wants to play them again.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Doing Squares

Several people have asked about how I do squares. So here is a short posting about how I go about making them.

I've had several goes at this over many years, and the facilities available to me have changed over time as I now have a big table to do things on.

My first cloth was 1' squares marked in 6"sub-divisions. As I didn't have a big area to lay the full cloth out I made a template that I could mark through, and then tessellate it across the cloth on the dining room table. This worked reasonably, but you have to be very careful to make sure your squares line up. As you can see I do not mark the edges. I only ever mark the corners for orthogonal grids (off set squares are another problem) and that is really enough.

As you can see more clearly in this picture the corners of the big square are painted on in brown and those of the smaller squares were done with marker pen. Looking back at these now probably 20 years after I did them (!) they would have worked just as well with smaller dots.

I used the same technique on my Sudan desert cloth, although in this case I only wanted 6" squares, and I felt confident enough just to use small dots placed with a permanent marker.

This sheet is my go-to playing surface for "It's Getting A Bit Chile". The mat is made from large vinyl advertising sheets that a friend of mine had as he ran a camping shop. I was able to paint it with the colours I use for my figure bases (the type of paint I use is decorating matt vinyl that I have mixed to specific colour codes by the local DIY supermarket). I realise that this material isn't available to everyone, but this is how I broke through in determining grid size. I wasn't sure about the size I wanted, so I experimented with white sticky dots as you can see in this post: link. In the picture above I have painted over the dots with green to contrast with the mat but rendered them inconspicuous as using the same colour as I used for giving texture to it all.

Moving on, I needed a smaller sized grid on a green cloth but this time I knew the size of grid I wanted. I was able to buy some plastic table cloth with a fabric backing that takes paint. So I've painted the side that isn't the white and blue check. As I was able to lay this out on my table properly and by this point I've got some long, straight edges so I can be confident about the spacing. Having painted the back in my normal green I dotted in the corners with a permanent marker and then covered them with blobs of brown paint. These are so inconspicuous that we normally game on this surface whether we're using squares or not.

Lastly, this is my blue sea cloth. As this is old cotton curtains, and I want one side without squares I couldn't use the permanent marker. I found I could make a mark with a pencil that I could see and then just put a small blob of thick white emulsion paint on it. I didn't want it to soak through, so lower water content was essential.

All of these techniques mean you have to spend some time on the production. If you can't be bothered you can pay someone to print one for you. But the most important thing is not to bother with the edges. Alas that's something you can't avoid for offset squares.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

It's Getting a Bit Chile...without squares

So when I wrote IGABC I chose to put them on a squared grid.  Why? Well the story is brief but educational, to my mind.

I'd already experimented with adapting Neil Thomas' 19th century rules to a grid, to go with Chris A's Russo-Turkish War project. I wrote about it here. We had experienced a number of issues that arose from Neil's annoying refusal to define a number of things clearly, as ever. These issues were resolved by imposing a grid on the game. It was therefore natural that this would be my starting point when gaming the 1879-84 Pacific War. As I said in the introduction to IGABC the rules soon showed their short comings for anything not down-the-line European, so I struck out on my own.

The grid solves a load of problems. It simplifies measurement for firing and moving. It makes game play quicker. It formalises the layout of terrain and, importantly for what I was trying to do, it resolved issues with unit footprint and formations.

Now I am aware that not everyone is enamoured of the square or the hexagon. I have also found sometimes that the grid does not solve all the problems I would like. Sometime in the next two or three years I expect to publish my "Va t'en..." series of rules* which use good old fashioned tape measures. There will not be a squared based version of them, as I cannot resolve the issues that these present without destroying the mechanisms that I like the most. Anyhow, in respect of IGABC, despite my view that the squares improve the game, I was reminded that some people reacted badly to "To Ur is Human" being only workable of squares when I was preparing for publication.

I therefore reversed engineered IGABC to enable it to be played without squares, should that be required by the purchaser. The methodology is contained in a two page section of the rules book, headed "Playing 'It's Getting a Bit Chile' without squares". Bob Cordery, of Wargaming Miscellany, even listed this as part of the rules in his review. I have not, however, always slipped the fact into the product description when publicising the rules, so I thought it might be helpful to go over the information here.

Converting square movement and range to inches or centimetres is really quite easy, as is the adjustment of arcs of fire and wheeling etc. The main issue to be resolved is unit density and formation. This isn't a big deal. For those of you who have not been privy to this piece of insight, DBA is a game played on squares**, where the units carry their squares around with them. The rules then have a procedure to explain how the squares are eventually lined up with each other when units are close enough. That's basically what happens in IGABC, although what you need to do is physically place the units on a square movement tray, - say 3" square - and move them on that. This is what Pete Berry did in his revolutionary "File Leader" rules.

There are some other bits and pieces in the rules which you'll need to take on board, and you'll need to make your own QRS for movement rates and ranges, but otherwise you're good to go, with no more excuses.

* "Va t'en Guerre" and "Va t'en Ecosse". Is two a series?
** thanks Phil