Friday, 27 March 2020

What's a Chap to Do?

So, back from holiday and Tuesday evening came round so the Monday Night Group should have been assembling in Shedquarters for our weekly game. Alas, for inexplicable reasons, wargaming is not regarded as an essential function justifying a gathering of more than 2 people, so we called the whole thing off. This is seriously going to impact my game numbers for the year.

That leaves my gaming at a bit of a loose end. There's been some questions about wargaming by Skype or whatever, but generally I wargame as much to be with people as play the game. Never really done a lot of solo gaming.

There are projects to do. My Montrose Army has been sat on the desk being painted very gradually for well over 6 months, which is very unusual for me. Partly that's because I'm doing it because I need it rather than really want it, and partly because having done loads of Jacobites in the last 2 years I really can't face anymore tartan. And then I've got some odds and ends to finish off and then a few battalions for my WSS armies from the new Strelets packets.

At the moment with the weather being nice you can get out and give the car a proper clean, inside and out, so I've done that. Not being able to drive it anywhere means it'll stay cleaner for longer, I hope. Now I have Shedquarters it can also go in the garage and that'll help keep it pristine when the weather turns. Then there's always some gardening. Spring is sprunging, so the lawn needed a mow and weeds in the paving blocks needed removing and so on.

I'm currently trying to finish off the manuscript for the next Northants Battlefields Society publication, which I'm writing with Mike Ingram. We were aiming to launch it at the Battlefield Trust AGM the first weekend in May, but that aim has been thwarted a bit due to its cancellation. My feeling is that we should stick to the agreed schedule and work on it whilst it is still fresh in our thoughts. The challenge there is Mike is a freelance writer and tour guide, so he's having to increase his paid writing as no one is doing tours at the moment. We're nearly there, anyway. Spent yesterday morning sorting pictures and maps out.

When I'm done with that I really must crack on with the rules for the Taipings etc. I've started to re-read some background. Since I last had them out there's been a lot more historical stuff available on line, so I need to look at that, too. I've also been hunting around for out of copyright images to spice up the pages, like this one of the Heavenly King holding court.

I do really need to get another publication out there, as sales of the other two have stalled a little bit. Having said that "To Ur..." has now shifted 250 copies, and "It's getting a bit..." has reached 99, so that's not to be sniffed at. The guys at Outpost have also confirmed that sales of Pacific Wars had a noticeable increase in January, so that's something to be pleased with and mirrors what has happened with Pendraken.

What that seems to mean is that there are people out there taking notice and doing stuff. Be good to see some AARs or blog reports.

Right, now better get on with my "To Do" list.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

That Recommendation Thing

One of the staple questions on most forums/chat groups for wargaming (it may be for other subjects too) starts “What do you recommend…?”. In our case this normally devolves into asking for figure recommendations followed closely by rules sets. It rarely touches the “what really detailed books on this subject can you recommend so that I can make up my own mind on things”.

The figure one, for someone who mostly doesn’t do 28mm can be rather tiresome. If a scale isn’t mentioned then the immediate assumption is that you’ll want 28mm figures. Even if you’ve asked about 15mm the assumption is that you meant to ask about 28mm, or that you intended to start a thread where fans of 28mm figures can discuss their personal favourites.

I find that often I’m lacking context in the discussion, as is often the person asking the question. I spent big chunks of my career analysing products or suppliers in order to recommend a purchase / contract decision. The first thing you needed you know was what people actually wanted. Often, the person asking for the thing didn’t know, and didn’t even realise they didn’t know. So you went into a process of thrashing that all out, then you could have a look at products and make a selection. If you made any assumptions on someone’s behalf you really made sure that they knew you’d done so.

Also, as I moved from place to place it was important to make sure that you didn’t just recommend the decision you made last time as it might not fit (I went from start-ups to multi nationals and back again: one size does not fit all).

So before you recommend you need to know some stuff that the possible newbie doesn’t know they need to know. Are they going to wargame with people locally who are also in the hobby? If so, many of the decisions are made for them, - unless they want to do something different and don’t mind painting both sides.

Budget is also an issue, - what is an affordable army in 20mm plastic isn’t as affordable in 28mm resin or metal. 15mm might possible beat both of them, as may 10mm or 6mm. Then there’s storage. If you have unlimited space, then go for it in as big a size as you want. For me, I find that even going from 28mm to 20mm saves a massive amount of shelf space as I can use shallower boxes. In effect
I can get 3 boxes in a shelf space where previous only 2 went, increasing capacity by 50%. The light weight plastic also means I can use less chunky, more light weight boxes, which is good for my shelves and storing at above eye level.

The other issue then comes down to what type of game you want and your playing surface size. Even with the Shedquarters table size I can’t accommodate some of the games I want to play with the bigger figures. On the other hand if I want to do a skirmish game, then the larger figures win out as they’re easier to see and handle.

And the other thing with figures is the aesthetic of it all. What someone thinks as a great sculpt is either too skinny/too indistinct/too chunky/just plain ugly and so on.

And don't start me on "accuracy"...

Asking for rules recommendations is even worse. Rules for what? Usually a period is the starting point, but generally that's it. "Can you recommend a set of WW2 Rules?" What sort of question is that? I've got PBI, Crossfire and Battle! on my book shelf, and I've played several others, including NQM and Blitzkrieg Commander. None of them really overlap in terms of level of resolution, although PBI/Crossfire sort of overlap, as do NQM/BC. To be fair, most modern wargamers get that there are different levels of resolution and that maybe one size does not fit all at all.

The Ancients & Medieval periods are a real problem for me. Whilst operational wargaming is probably out in that period, battles vary enormously in size and scope from a few hundred, probably, in Dark Age warfare, up to the 10s of thousands in the Classical Period. I've got and use several sets of ancient rules, not even including my own "To Ur is Human". I've got AMW. Armati, Basic Impetus and Hail Caesar as well as Strategos/Lost Battles and I've used all of them by choice in the last 5 to 10 years (and played FOG & ADLG as well, asnd Baccus' SPQR). Each of them scratches a different itch and work for different levels of conflict and periods. I like BI for the medieval period and I like AMW for big refights with lots of players. Armati is good for an evening game, and TUIH is great for Sumerians. The others don't really offer anything else, so I can't see why I'd go to the trouble of really learning them properly. Hail Caesar is way to much of a tool kit to use on a regular basis as well, and although Phil has liked the results we are getting for the Edgcote game I'm less convinced. We get believable results almost in spite of the rules, and they're working because Phil has done a lot of surgery and grafted on character rules that could almost be used anywhere.

So when asking for a recommendation you sort of need to tighten up your act, guys. And when making one, you really need to say why and give your reasons and what you're trying to do.

At least, that's what I think.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Taiping Trials

So, about time I got down to some play testing for my next rules publication. The pressure hasn't been on them as I'm finalising a book on Northamptonshire's battles in collaboration with Mike Ingram and we're pressing to get that done for the start of May, so my thoughts haven't been in this direction.

I've had three or four attempts to play this scenario but I've been frustrated for a number of reasons. Anyhow, last night Richard and I were able to get stuck into some Far Eastern Oriental Action. He got the Ever Victorious Army, trying to evict the Taiping Rebels from a district near Shanghai, and I got the command the Army of the Heavenly Kingdom. We were well entrenched behind some mud walls with our front covered by paddy fields. What could possibly go wrong?

I should note here that I have made some decisions about changes to the rules as they were previously made available. Previously they were played on 6" off set squares, with multiple unit occupancy by square. I've taken the view that, whilst I don't want to sell IGABC again with minor tweaks, buyers might appreciate some commonality, especially if they've gone to the trouble of marking up a cloth. I thought it would be nice if they could re-use that previous work, rather than crawl around drawing up another one.

It is also clear to me from reading this earlier work that there were some design issues that I didn't quite resolve in the area of movement and formations. By taking the movement rates and ranges from IGABC and modifying them slightly (there's no Disorder in "Taiping Era") I found that I'd fixed most of those issues. If players don't need to re-learn all of that then it is an easier task learning the game because let me tell you the combat system is COMPLETELY different not just to IGABC but to anything else I think you'll have ever seen or played. With that said, on with the game.

The Taipings are to the left. They've got two "Brigades" of 5 battalions each, plus some chaps in the pagoda complex and a unit of cavalry. There's a pair of guns in the middle and a couple of sets of jingals too.

The EVA was close to full strength with 6 battalions of foot and a battery of field guns. The infantry was split into two ad-hoc brigades.

Richard immediately confounded the Taiping's cunning plan of hiding behind defences and difficult terrain by marching off to his right to turn the position. Hmm.

I responded by switching some of my units across to my left, but it takes so long with troops using Chinese Drill (I may speed this up a bit as it is hard enough fighting European drilled troops as it is).

Richard has worked out his weapons out range all of mine, so he can stand off and shoot at me. However, he is in range of my artillery if he isn't careful. A lucky shot inflicts some damage on these Malays in open order. Two hits in fact. He is able to rally some of the damage off, another thing I need to think about (I reckon I'm going to do officer cards again, like IGABC, which may address this issue).

The attack on my left is developing quite nicely for Richard. My reinforcements, however, are nearly in position and the cavalry, quite literally, are arriving. The white small Mah Jong tiles indicate where damage is being taken.

Well aimed rifle fire pours into my position, and my brave fellows are starting to suffer. However, we have dished out some damage too, so it isn't all bleak. (Note to self,  - look at firing bases for musket/spear armed units to see if they are being treated unfairly).

My cavalry are now in position, and I've stabilised the position a bit, but that unit with a 3 bamboo tile is looking a bit vulnerable.

Sure enough they're soon going backwards, but the cavalry have slowed the EVA advance by forcing one of their battalions into a square.

My grand plan grinds to halt as the cavalry fail a test and won't advance. This means they have to take an extra round of shooting to what I expected.

But at last they charge home.

Only to be shot up some more and beaten in the hand to hand. The Wang in charge decides to head for home. Nonetheless my infantry are able to close on the square. Perhaps we can see them off?

But what has been going on elsewhere, I hear you cry. Well, those open order infantry have summoned up the courage to charge my jingal unit, as my infantry bumble around trying to get into position.

The square has formed into a firing line to meet my charge out on the left, but they fail their reaction roll and fail to deliver an effective volley. I need a quick win here before that unit on their right collapses.

Bit of swings and roundabouts. My chaps drive back their opponents, but my black flag battalion is tumbled out of the paddy field. My cavalry will not rally up their morale value so are a bit useless for now.

The centre is falling apart too. No need to worry, however, as it pointed me in the direction I needed to go to tighten up some of the rules.

On the left my brave fellows continue to drive back that EVA battalion, oblivious to the carnage around them.

My jingals are driven back in the centre, but it means I'm drawing their opponents into a trap. It's quite an obvious trap, but it's a trap nonetheless.

Alas some well aimed rifle and artillery fire breaks one of my battalions. It really is looking very dicey.

Especially as my left has completely collapsed, apart from that single unit in the distance.

Last photo as most of the right heads for the hills. Complete victory for the EVA, but at the cost of one of their battalions. I'll take that as a win.

The changes made to movement and square size/layout worked okay, so I'll persist with those. Made a fair number of notes as it is clear that the version I was playing from had a load of stuff not written down. To be fair that was the same with both TUIH and IGABC and is probably true of all rules written for personal use. So, some tightening and tidying up to do.

It is hard work for Chinese units fighting European trained troops with better weapons. Richards forces were outnumbered 2:1 and he had to attack. However the greater manoeuvrability of the units and their superior weapons range means that it is easy for them to concentrate force at critical points and their generally higher morale ratings mean they can get out of trouble even if badly handled. Having said that there were a couple of instances where the system nearly produced a couple of catastrophes for the EVA, which is what  I want.

A good start to this bit of the rules publishing project.

Monday, 9 March 2020

WMMS Alumwell - 8th March 2020

Off to Wolverhampton for our first public show of the year.

Alumwell was where we debuted Edgcote last year.  Then we had quite a few painted figures, and some idea of how the game would work, but we were using a green cloth and foam rubber hills.. As you can see below we've moved on from there.

We just about got there in time. We had to pack and unpack the cars before we headed off so we could fit everything in plus our bonus helper for this year (thanks Graham!) and we did get there 5 minutes before the opening. Luckily other stalwarts of the Northamptonshire wargaming scene were also attending, so a quick text as we got close to the venue saying "meet us at the entrance!" produced another 3 volunteers for carrying the car contents to the stand, so thanks to Chris A, another Graham and Steph.

Yes, we have made a lot of progress from last year.

Phil & Graham got to play the game in the afternoon. Funnily enough we've been taking this game round for over a year now and I hardly ever play it. Too busy stopping small children getting their fingers caught in the visors of the helmets we have on display.

We had good space for our stand. We got a bit squeezed last year, IIRC, but we were better placed this time round.

Good amount of passing traffic kept me busy on the armour and sales stand. Met a couple of people who wanted to say hello to Trebian as well. (I arranged with Leon at Pendraken for him to have IGABC on his stand. No one bought any, but then he didn't sell any rules all day, so I'm not in the least put ou.). One person who stopped by to say hello had played TUIH with cardboard counters and liked them. He'd picked up his copy from Bring & Buy last November. It struck me that's really quick from buying to dumping the rules, given the launch date was mid October.

I had a couple of quick walks round the hall and picked up some odds and ends (see below). The re-enactor types were there in force. The WW2 types have now got a small artillery piece.

Here we have a cross period exchange.

Then a chance to look at a few games. This was a 54mm reverse Rorke's Drift called "Lawk's Drift"

There were many Zulus.

This was a mega game of Sharpe Practice set in the French Indian Wars, I think.

It looked impressive. Must have taken the whole day to play.

Following on from last Tuesday, here's a Blitzkrieg Command beach landing.

Right next to us was a lively Jacobite Rebellion game. Top headgear, guys.

Then across the way was a Home Guard invasion game that everyone was enjoying.

Whilst on my stroll round I spotted one of these in 15mm. Brilliant. I wanted one for my 1879 games as they're a feature of the nitrate mines on the Altiplano. The model railway types have them but they're a wee bit expensive. This was £3. I went back for a second and bought the last one.

A chat on the stand with someone asking when I was going to release my SCW rules drew to my attention that Martin Goddard had released a pack of mortars with crew in Isabolina Caps. Now Martin told me when I asked many years ago that there was no demand for them, so I'm pleased he's got round to them (ideally we need some in berets and adrian helmets who aren't in uniforms from other periods, but these will do for starters). Of course when I got there despite there being no demand they had sold out...except Nigel found me a packet just lying around on the stand.

I was also able to pick up two more boxes of these, after finding one by chance in my local model shop. On reflection I should have gone with the Firing Line figures originally, and these were a £1 more expensive than my first box and I have no idea when I 'll get round to painting them but they are rather nice.

So, a rather good day out for us and me, before driving home to watch the England/Wales game on catch up TV from Saturday which rounded off a near perfect weekend.

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Blitzkrieg Beginners

Had a break from Shedquarters for this Tuesday's game and went to have a game in Richard's playroom. Richard was keen to introduce us to "Blitzkrieg Commander". We've never played it before as the space it sort of occupies in gaming terms is usually covered by one of the iterations of Chris Kemp's NQM. Still, it was good to have a look at it as it does seem to be well regarded generally and has a lot of keen users. I think we were playing 2nd edition, if that makes any difference to any readers.

Note: Aware that no one uses digital cameras anymore I left my SLR at home and relied on my phone. You can see how that worked out for me below.

Anyhow, the scenario was the US landings at Salerno in 1943. The Italians have surrendered and the US forces are expecting an easy time of it. They haven't realised that the Germans have occupied the Italian fortified positions. Chris K & I were the US forces, Phil was the Germans.

Richard reckoned this was an introductory game, but it struck me that we had a lot of kit on the table. Hey-ho, the rules are supposed to be easy and quick play. Gawd knows what happened with this photo. That's brightness turned up to 11 and it's still dark as dark. The yellow bit is the beach where we landed. We had four waves that we might get on. First wave was mostly infantry.

We went first. I will say up front that there were immediately a couple of things I didn't like, being the use of a "diradice" for artillery shot fall and a blast template. Yes, I know I have used the latter elsewhere, but only out of absolute necessity but I still don't like it. I remarked to Richard at some point that this would work so much better on a gridded board. He didn't agree.

Anyway Chris and I hatched a plan. Suppress the centre with HMGs and mortars and then encircle it by taking out the flanks with overwhelming force. First off we called in the offshore artillery. We fortunately missed our own troops and Chris destroyed most of the stuff facing him. He rolled 11 sixes on 36 dice at one point. Ouch. Then he moved inland with a couple of command moves, and did a bit of firing. A lot of dice were rolled, and Phil did a bit of Op Fire.

Then it was my turn.

I started out by shelling ancient Paestum with my offshore naval guns. The effect was minimal. Chris had clearly used all of the sixes up on his side of the board. Still, I outnumbered the defenders just over 2:1, so I stormed up the beach and did a bit of shooting, before taking some damage and failing a command roll.

In the centre the plan was obviously not going to work as we couldn't get enough fire into the central strong point to suppress it. I did a quick headcount on the numbers inside and reckoned I could probably get enough to bear to shoot it up at close range or close assault. As it was I managed to get 3 or 4 activations (I was plus one because of recce sort something like that, and rolled 3 on two dice for the last charge. You need low for this). That let me get up close and personal. Phil's defensive fire wasn't great, and I burst into the complex and killed half the defenders and drove the rest back. Then it was the end of my bit of the first turn. It took us an hour and a half to get this far. There are a lot of dice to roll.

Phil got on with his turn. There was some discussion about what had happened to his FAO as my lucky lightening move had surprised him and bounced him out of his viewing position from where Richard had expected him to call down epic amounts of fire on us in the open. By now I was getting the order of play and how things work clearer in my head. In my view the QRS isn't great, but I'd need to get to know the system better before I could say if it could be improved (that's something true of the QRSs for Hail Caesar and Black Powder as well. Not the most helpful. The QRS for BKC iv seems to be better).

So Phil fought back in the centre and had a complete reversal of fortune. His single Recce base caused massive damage and kicked me out with massive casualties.

Over at Paestum I got badly shot up as well. And shelled. The FAO for this fire was on Mount Soprano...

...which was at the back of the board. Phil rolled a 1,1 which was a direct hit, and I suffered accordingly.

That brought an end to Phil's turn. We'd played both sides of turn one in 2 1/2 hours, so we stopped to pick it up at a later date.

My thoughts are a bit mixed. The system can clearly handle a game of this size and complexity. However, a bit like PBI, the non-phasing player can sit around for a long time whilst his opponent rolls move after move and then when he gets a go it can all be over quickly due to the vagaries of the dice.

We clearly need to play this some more before I form a final judgement. I can't see it replacing any of my SCW rules for my own games, and I can't see Chris dropping NQM for it either. I've half a mind to pick up a copy at the weekend, although I realise that it'll be a later version that Richard's. And I have other projects on the go. Just a bit.

Monday, 2 March 2020

West Country Wargaming - February 2020

It's that time again! More all day wargaming in the West Country. Alas we were down one from the normal crew as Phil was off talking about the Battle of Naseby to local Primary School children.

As it was Richard's turn to host he put on the first game. He did another Roman supply ambush game, using a Dux Bellorum variant and some random Briton generation mechanism this time.

I had the Romans and had to get a convoy of wagons from the far end through to the gate of the fort.

I had quite a lot of good stuff to see me through. Gary and Chris A were the Britons.

I put my cavalry out ahead and alternated my foot either side, auxilia types to the front, legionaries to the rear.

The first Britons appear and head for the hill top. I aim to run them down with my cavalry before they get there. The loose officer type figures represent the allocation of command points, rather than using counters. First round I inflict a lot of damage and disorder the  Britons. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, next turn despite me having all the advantages I inflict no damage and take a several hits.

I stayed in contact as the odds were still very much in my favour. Alas some spectacular dice rolling by Gary saw me off without breaking sweat. That was a surprise.

More Britons have appeared so I've been forced to deploy a bit early, due to the loss of my cavalry. I'm also pinned in my half of the table, so I can't trigger the relief column from the fort.

On my right I get charged by some warband. I hold them easily.

My archers on the left exchange shots with Gary's slingers. I push my left hand legionaries up to trigger an attack by Gary's severely weakened warband.

Chariots pile into my Auxilia, who actually handle it rather well, inflicting a lot of damage, but not enough to break them.

Much to my surprise a warband storms through the wood without slowing down or suffering any adverse effects. I'm unable to block them, due to my loss of cavalry, so they start to trash the wagons.

Unbelievably my left hand legionaries are unable to inflict the single hit needed to break the opposing warband, and in fact lose the combat overall. By now I've scared off the slingers and am able to bring my archers back to defend the wagons.

The Britons in the middle move onto their second wagon. Once more I fail to break those pesky damaged warbands. Of course loss of the cavalry meant loss of a command point, so I'm playing a bit of catch-up. Plus I'm also losing the initiative rolls, which isn't helping either.

And would you believe it I lose my legionaries. Three turns and all they needed to do was win one round of combat and inflict one hit. Instead, three straight loses and off they go.

My auxilia are likewise only one hit off breaking the chariots, but it just won't come, and I'm caught in the flank as well now.

The warband charge the archers and we have mutual destruction. Ho hum. Another wagon goes.

And then I lose the right hand warband/legionary combat and the auxilia fail to break the chariots. Game over for me.

That was probably the most comprehensive loss I have ever suffered in an ancients game since I played Steve "Meth the Merciless" Metheringham at Armati up at Derby many years ago. Unlike that latter game I don't think I put a single foot wrong in this one. I just got completely killed by the dice.

Richard felt that he might have got too many command points in the game, and the Briton ability to switch them between independent commands stacked the odds against me a bit. Richard's game plan, I think, was that the Roman units would mostly see off one Briton unit each, then face a second one once it was weakened, making it all a bit more touch and go. Never happened. It might also have been that the table was too long for the movement distances, and Dux Bellorum might not be the best set of rules for this period of warfare.

Anyway, enough moaning. It was a good game and I enjoyed it.

After lunch Gary put on a naval game with a scenario he'd written. This is a first for him. He went for some 1820's anti-slavery action, with the "Black Joke" and "Fair Rosalind" trying to capture some slavers as they attempt to slip out of a West African estuary.

Gary had put a lot of thought and work into this, although not completely finished. The islands are made from expanding filler foam, and he's got felt as sand banks.

We're using Fighting Sail, modified. Gary has put in a mechanism for "phantom ships", dummies represented by bits of paper to help with the hidden movement needed to make this work.

Chris & I were the slavers, Richard and Gary the noble RN. We split up either side of Current Croissant Island. Chris didn't know which ones were the real ships, as I didn't tell him.

Oh no! We're spotted! We were improvising a bit now, as the original idea didn't quite work

Then our second ship was spotted. We're out in the open, caught trying to sneak up a narrow channel.

The RN have us covered. Not looking good. The wind favours the RN, so tacking out of this corner is proving a bit of a challenge.

Richard points out an error his colleague has made.

The Black Joke exchanges fire with a slaver. The RN are firing at rigging so they don't injure any slaves. Gary has this victory point mechanism that punishes the RN for killing rather than rescuing the slaves.

It looks like Chris' ship has been caught, so I turn about and head back round the island.

Chris is grappled and boarded.

Richard turns up to observe the capture of the first slaver. Can I get away?

Well, no. I'm chased down by the Black Joke. She opens fire and hits my rigging, which causes a critical hit. This then rolls up into a more serious hit and I catch fire and start to sink. My crew abandon ship and row off, leaving the shackled slaves to their fate.

Once the points are totalled up it seems its a draw. Gary starts muttering about changing the critical hit rules.

A really interesting and challenging game, and fun too. The scenario needs some work on it, but with a few modifications its well worth playing again. Well done to Gary for ships, scenery and scenario.

We were then going to play a game of Taiping Era, but we sort of ran out of time. I talked people through how it is supposed to work, then we went down the pub for dinner.

Another satisfactory day of wargaming.