Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Elephant in the Room

Well Friday night's playtest of the elephant game went really well. It was an ad-hoc set up. I had a paper playing board and some hurriedly written up game cards. I used some loose figures I had lying around and Phil provided the dominoes.

The idea is to get the game done for Milton Keynes Campaign on 8/9th May so it can go on the Society of Ancients stand as a participation game. The idea is that the elephant is completely randomly controlled, so all the players represent velites. Looking at it the game's more of a WD type game, but the theme is ancient. In any event it'll end up at CoW as an After Dinner Game.

The difficult bit isn't the basic mechanisms but calibrating how long the game should run and the relative strengths of the pieces, but I think we've worked that out. There are a few main variables, - elephant strength points and the number of javelins allowed to each velite being the main ones. As it is a participation game for a show I want the general public to win most of the time - but only just. Killing the elephant and dying in the process just one space from the main Roman line is about the perfect result.

The physical presentation of a game at shows is always important. I'm not the greatest painter in the wold I think me early postings proved that!) but I try to put something together that looks visually arresting. This weekend I've been able to put aside enough time to get most of the figures I need as a minimum painted. Some need bases finishing and I need some more hastati, even though they're just for show. I've put some pictures of the board and figures up with this blog as a view of the work in progress. There's still work to be done on the peripherals, - player aids, turn marker and so on.

However I've got a couple of weeks yet to finish the odds and ends off, and I've done enough for a full playtest next Friday evening. Just so long as Real Life doesn't get in the way. Now, when was that major project supposed to be going live. Oh, that would be Tuesday week. Gulp.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Sometimes you just get lucky....

I was walking past a second hand bookstall in the market of a local town and a book caught my eye. It was the volume of the History of the Royal Artillery Regiment about the Far East.

The stall owner had obviously been unable to get rid of it and had just dropped the price to £6.

As I have a penchant for the Burma theatre I just had to pick it up.

Especially as it's out of print and second hand copies currently retail for £25 - £50. If you can get one.

It's been a good day.

I'll update you all on my elephant game tomorrow.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Real Life (part 10)

Some times being a Grown Up means that life isn't all fun and games. I had to take a day off work today as my father had a hospital appointment for an exploratory procedure. As he's less mobile than he would like, - we use a wheelchair if he has to go out - this means relying on hospital transport or me doing the duty. The hospital transport system means he has to go in at the crack of dawn and is then returned home late afternoon. So I volunteer and it gives us time to sit and chat and catch up on pretty much anything and everything - especially at the moment as to why Arsenal keep blowing opportunities to win the Premier League.

This isn't a blog knocking the NHS as my experience of it throughout my life has been generally good. However what I do not understand is why they gave a dozen people appointments at 9am and then see them one at a time starting at 10 (actually I know the answer to this question as I work with someone whose mother is a hospital administrator and whilst I accept the logic I still don't like it). We eventually got out of the hospital by 12:30, following a procedure and consultation that took 30 minutes in total.

Of course the side effect of having everyone turn up at once is that the waiting room overflows and there aren't enough chairs as all the patients are of a "certain age" and have all taken someone with them so 12 patients doesn't mean 12 chairs, it means 24. At least we took one with us, even if it does have wheels on it.

We endure an hours day time TV (if I didn't know better I'd have thought it was someone doing a really clever sketch on a housing programmes but it went on for an hour) before it gets turned off and then the Blitz spirit clicks in and everyone is chatting away happily. Nearly had a rousing chorus of "We'll Meet Again".

Luckily I had my PC notebook with me and inspiration struck. Inside 30 minutes or so I'd written up pretty much all of the rules for my 1/32 elephant game and solved most of the design issues. I couldn't get a signal on my mobile broadband however so I had to wait to get home to blog about it!

When I got home I found that the first packet of 1/32 figures had arrived. Alas it's the velites. I really hope the company actually has the elephants in stock as the game is going to be sort of dull without them. I've e-mailed them and they assure me their Cardiff branch is on the case.

I then got another shock when I realised that it's less than 3 weeks until Milton Keynes Campaign where this game is to be the centre piece of the Society of Ancients stand.

I hope the playtest this Friday goes well, - and then I've got a lot of painting and building to do in quite short order.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Real Life (part 9)

I'd set aside sometime this weekend to make some real progress on my CoW game design, and to try to get some more work done on my 16th century 28mm Irish (yes, I know what I've posted previously, but these are Irregular to go with my Elizabethan English and they're pretty much 25mm anyway). This has been side swiped a little bit by our game on Friday night. Phil gave us his domino driven game on the Siege of Harfleur. Well, not all of the seige, - just the bit where Henry V tries to get his chaps through the breach, and this got me thinking.

I've been mulling over a game using Hat miniature's 1/32 plastic Carthaginian elephant, and during the evening it sort of all came to me in a moment of revelation. It'd only take an hour or so over the weekend to get it written up, then all I'd have to do is order the figures and get them painted. Oh, and produce a game board.

And then the weather changed. I ask you, - mid April in England. Where's the snow, rain and howling wind? What's all this sunshine nonsense? No excuse to stay in the house, - there's loads to do in the garden. Plus we just had a mail order delivery of plants to go in, - three cherry trees, loads of raspberry canes, strawberry plants and then some oleanders to round it all off ("the plant that thrives on neglect" the brochure says. My kind of plant). Plus the lawn has gone berserk. I sometimes wonder if wargamers do gardening. I mean it's obvious from some of the display games at shows that many amongst us are very good carpenters and are probably good at interior decorating. Plus anyone who has ever made sense of DBMM or FoG et al can surely understand the instructions for IKEA flatpack furniture. On top of that we sort of thrive on bookshelves and other storage systems to stack our lovingly crafted collections on.

But gardening? You never hear anyone mention it, plus I'm running short on wargaming applications of the green-fingered art. Apart from having a nice flat green area for lawn games (a much underrated and rarely performed branch of the hobby) there isn't a lot of linkage. And when you think of it gardening is a weekend activity mostly, - if you want to put in or dig out a major border it's hard to squeeze it in during an evening so that's going to press in on your weekend convention attending time.

I'm not a mad keen gardener, - but I do like a nice tidy area where I can sit on hot summer days reading my latest research tome with a nice cold drink by my side. And there's a lot of pleasure to be derived from sitting in your own garden with friends enjoying an al fresco meal. (Or in this case sitting in the summerhouse blogging on my notebook). My problem is that when I see what effort that Titchmarsh and his cronies put in (not that I watch a lot of gardening programmes) it seems to me that the amount of effort to get the garden they want hardly justifies the number of days when you can actually sit and look at it. After all, as soon as the nice weather comes you're out there mowing and clipping again. The effort/reward ratio seems to me to be all wrong.

Anyhow I ended up spending most of Saturday putting in the minimal amount of work to get things sorted out for the summer. That meant a trip to the garden centre for several large bags of multi-purpose compost etc. Not a completely wasted morning as it has a remainder bookshop in it as well that turns up the odd hidden treasure. I was also able on the way to pop into the local model shop to buy those Hat 1/32 elephants, only to find out that they'd finally sold them. Back at home a quick search on the internet turned into a long search on the internet as it looks like they did one production run and everyone had sold out. Even Hannants. Luckily I found a company based in Cardiff who had a box or two in stock, so hopefully they'll turn up next week.

That left me the rest of the day to for some heavy weight spade work and so on. Luckily the weather stayed good so we were able to wheel out the barbecue in the evening, so my work/reward ration on the day wasn't that bad.

Which brings us to Sunday. I've mown the lawn and I'm just left now with putting in the trees. That means some more deep digging and all that stuff. Still, I'm sure it'll be worth it.

Final note, caught Doctor Who last night. Any takers on how soon before we see a WW2 "Ironsides" game at a show?

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Poor Bloody Ivan

Following on from last Friday's RCW game we decided to keep with the theme for this week's evening game. However as some of us are fans of the RFCM way of doing things we thought we'd dabble our toes in the idea of using PBI for the RCW (hence the title, - "Poor Bloody Ivan" instead of "Poor Bloody Infantry", - my, how we laughed).

PBI attracted us as we quite like the activation process within it and it gives games that can be quite tense. To our minds it has an issue with a pro-German super troop element of the rules and the dominance of armour in what purports to be an infantry company level game. The game itself balances these items through the victory points rules which means that even Volksturm can win against a veteran US Airborne company.

Anyway enough of this. What about PB Ivan and his struggle for freedom against the forces of reaction or socialism depending on whoever swept him up in the draft? The ToE's for the Russian Civil War are not known for their ubiquity and accuracy, especially for the Whites, who ended the war on a make do and mend basis despite supplies from the Western powers. In the Red Army theory tends to triumph over practice as well. As this was our first run through I tried to keep it balanced. I had each side with a four platoon company of 8 rifles stands plus an officer, together with a Company HQ with HMGs (no evidence for this but I thought it might make things interesting). The Whites had a couple of Putilov field guns and the Reds a pair of armoured cars.

The major difference to the standard PBI WW2 company is that there's a lot less firepower at infantry company level. However this shouldn't matter as they all have a bayonet and are highly motivated to fight for Mother Russia or the Workers' Paradise as appropriate.

We had four players, - typical really, you plan for two and get double the numbers - so that enabled us to have some tension between the players on the same side. As I wanted to think about the table top mechanisms and not the pregame I simplified it by using the original AK47 unit arrival system. Rather than play on the rolling open steppe with wide fields of fire I set up a small village as an excuse to use all of my Russian buildings at the same time (with the exception of the railway station as I decided against a railway junction for a change). Together with some wooded squares this gave quite a lot of cover in the middle of the board, but with an open village square to provide some fields of fire.

The Whites set up with a platoon in the village and the Putilov's on the left flank to give as much cover as possible. The Reds got on a platoon and the Company commander, which they put out on their right in order to turn the flank. The HMGs tried to suppress the infantry in the village whilst the infantry charged in on the guns. At this point the first rule query came up. Guns only get Opportunity Fire against vehicles and don't get Here They Come fire at all, so the Reds ran up close in three waves, preparatory to a close assault and the guns were alarmingly ineffective. When the White turn came round the infantry had a whole run of bad activations and the guns simply missed the target (we have boosted the high explosive rules giving artillery an HE effect like a medium mortar, but still all the Reds were unaffected despite being in the open).

This meant the Red infantry could launch a series of close assaults which enabled them to seize the gunnery position. Alas they failed their break test at this point and with the exception of a couple of likely lads who ran into a CHEKA unit disappeared off the table.

Meanwhile in the middle and on the Red right the Reds had managed to get another platoon on and were busy trying to reduce a White section hiding out in a building (now colloquially known as the washer woman's house for no good reason at all). They worked round to three sides of it and wiped them out, fire support from the rest of the platoon not being enough to beat the Reds off. Lack of automated weapons can make it hard when you are outnumbered.

However the Whites had now got on another platoon and the company commander and his HMGs. They moved up swiftly to the merchant's house next to the church in order to dominate the main street which now had the Red armoured cars tentatively driving down it, shadowed by some infantry support.

Both sides were now either side of the main street exchanging rifle and machine gun fire. On the White left a major action had developed round the wood cutter's house and the neighbouring stables and paddock.The Reds seemed to be losing it, and their square was piling up with bodies.

Back in the middle the White's finally managed to engage the armoured cars with their HMGs. A high activation point roll gave them a couple of shots each, and they achieved a couple of hits on both. It got rather tense with the HMG at gun strength 4 against the armoured cars with an armour strength of four. Luckily the Reds stayed in one piece, always by matching the number of hits precisely. Returning fire one of the White HMGs was destroyed although the section managed to hold on.

At this point the Reds gambled by throwing one of their armoured cars down the main street to enfilade the White units anchored on the church. This bold move wrong footed the Whites and decided the battle for the wood cutter's house.

And that was where we ended the game after three hours of close play, with the Reds in the ascendent and the Whites heading for the base line.

Overall a very satisfactory first result. We want to think about the gun issue mentioned earlier and more thought needs to go into what we want out of the armour (with armoured cars treated as mobile pillboxes in the RCW and most infantry having a severe reluctance to close with them we need to think about the armour close assault rules). Elsewhere we used 5 APs for infantry close assaulting and we have to consider if that is right for the period. Then there's the role of the CHEKA and of course what the unit composition should actually look like. The game had a much different feel to normal PBI with more emphasis on getting units into position to assault and less on sheer firepower.

I think we'll be back for more.

Friday, 2 April 2010

The Return of Ivan

So Good Friday. A day off work, - why not have a wargame?

The membership of our local group was heavily depleted, - after all it is the long Easter weekend so people have plans and our Vicar is busy for some reason - so there was just three of us. Having recently watched "Admiral" I decided to get out the Russian Civil War kit for the first time in quite a while.

We use several sets of rules for the RCW depending on the level of resolution we want to play. For operational level games we use a variant of Chris Kemp's "Not Quite Mechanised" ("NQM") which you can download for free on the internet. In this guise we call them "Not Quite Mensheviks" just to show off.

For lower level games we have played the Perfect Captain's "Red Actions". These are very popular and some of those who know the period (eg the chap who runs the excellent Pygmy Wars website) think they capture the period. I'm not convinced. There's a lot of factors to very little effect and too many counters for my liking. There's almost a substitution of chrome for fundamental period design. Plus it really is set at too low a level. So for regimental and divisional level games we use "Red Army, White Guards" which you can find for free on the internet as well. These are a set of card activated, square based rules.

We played on my 6' x 4' put me up tabletop, which gave us a playing area of 12 by 8 squares or the equivalent of about 2 1/2 miles by 3 1/2 miles. I put one and a half White infantry regiments (6 battalions) supported by a cavalry brigade up against twice that number of Reds, supported by an artillery brigade and some armoured cars.

The Whites were holding the line of a railway and I set up quite a bit of wooded area to enable a bit of movement, - because in this period if you have too much open space nothing moves much as soon as the MGs get set up.

(For those who care the roads are home made and the buildings are mostly Peter Pig resin. The fences are scratch built and the trees come from all over the place. The green "blobs" represent a hill crest with the squares round them being forward and reverse slopes).

The Whites put their full strength conscript regiment (four battalions) into the fortified railway buildings with the right flank held by a couple of officer battalions in the woods and the cavalry out on the left. The Reds deployed the infantry mostly in the middle with cavalry split left and right, suported by artillery on the left and the armoured cars (including a half complete scratch built Garford) on the right. The Red plan was to get the cavalry round the flanks to distrct the Whites sufficiently so they could launch the attack on the centre.

In this picture you can see the Red infantry pushing forwards and encountering the White cavalry screen. The white rings represent potential hits on a unit. You can also see the playing cards about to be turned over to give unit move sequence. At the bottom you can see the Red artillery deployed having taken some serious fire from the White MGs in the railway buildings.

Over all the plan worked beyond the Red's wildest dreams. Due to some lucky card drawing for movement sequences and basically some rather uncertain play by the Whites the Red cavalry caused much disruption in rear areas, pinning the Whites in place for the Red assault. The Red armoured cars also performed admirably, their boldness in attack being considerably enhanced once the White artillery had been overrun by the rampaging Red cavalry.

The Whites threw their hand in after about three hours of play, having been surrounded and pinned in place. We did not play through the final grand assault to spare the humiliation entailed.

Overall a very enjoyable afternoon's game. I'm a bit rusty with the rules so we had a few hiccups but it went well enough for us to want to revisit the East in the near future.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

And I Finally Got Round To....

This afternoon at work I produced a 250 word recommendation for a project in about 15 minutes. A few weeks ago I wrote a 1500 word positioning paper on a technical legal point for a committee of the Board in about 2 hours. Both of these had to be precise and clearly worded with all of the facts in place. Neither of them was on subjects about which I have a particular interest.

So why do I find it so difficult to knock out 500 words for a blog of an evening? It's not like I haven't got anything to write about. Can you have writer's block specific to a subject or a PC? If so, I've never really suffered from it before. I'm struggling to get the briefing pack for my CoW game together as well.

It doesn't help that I am, honestly, easily distracted. I mean the IPL has become really quite fascinating, - not real cricket, of course, but fun none the less.

However a justifiable distraction is that I finally got round to watching "Admiral", a two hour epic biopic of the life of Admiral Kolchak, White Russian hero and for a short while Supreme Ruler of Russia.

The film is a recent Russian production and is claimed to be the most expensive film ever made there. It is certainly sumptuous and doesn't stint anywhere in production values. Loads of it may be CGI, but it looks pretty damn real most of the time (check out the naval gunnery).

The film covers his life from his service in the First World War (ie nothing on his polar expeditions) and is hung round his adulterous, and possibly unfulfilled, love affair with a brother officer's wife. This doesn't really work all that well. and has a sub-Dr Zhivago feel to it. However I watched it with Mrs Trebian and even with sub-titles we both felt that it moved along at a fair rate and didn't let you get bored (ie I didn't lose any Brownie points by making her sit through it)

It helped enormously to have read a lot on the Revolution and Civil War period, otherwise bits are disjointed (Kronstadt mutiny takes about 2 minutes and consists of lots of officers being shot). However all you wargamers out there want to know if it is worth it for the military bits and pieces. Well I'd say yes. The naval sequences are excellently done, and I could find no fault with the land battles. The uniforms look good and the equipment - the Putilov guns and the Maxims - seemed to me to be spot on. Most of the big picture history is right, although some of the minor details may not be (was he thrown into a cross-shaped pool, cut in the ice?). Plus it doesn't really major on his anti-semitism and the atrocities he oversaw, so from that point of view it's a whitewash.

I regret that I didn't get to see it in the cinema as it is supposed to be a big screen epic experience and even with home cinema and surround sound it isn't the same. Still it's worth bothering with. Amazon have it for £5 at the moment which is less than I paid for it.

Just what I needed to put me in the mood for a Good Friday RCW struggle to the death.