Saturday, 30 April 2011

What We Did On Our Day Off

Unlike the majority of the population I did not watch the reason for the day off live (except for one brief section, more of which below). Instead four of the local wargaming group turned up for an all day game using my Russian Civil War rules "Return To The River Don".

All things considered we had a jolly good day, but I think I should make some observations first:

1) The rules don't work brilliantly well for a multi-player game where all of the players aren't fully au fait with the system.

2) I need to curb my desire to put as many figures on the table as I can.

3) No matter how you think a game will run, your players will surprise you.

4) The melee rules are rubbish, and I really need to replace them.

5) The morale rules are really harsh on conscripts.

6) The bits of the system I like the most and am most proud of are the bits that really slow it down.

7) My garage can be very cold first thing in the morning.

Any how the scenario was like this. We're late in the Civil War, and the Whites are on the back foot way down in the south. The Reds are pressing them pretty hard, so they've set up a series of blocking positions.

We're in a fairly fertile area with a few scattered farms and the obligatory railway junction. Running down one side is a broad, unfordable river. On the other side is some fairly thick forest.

The Whites have two smallish infantry regiments, one of Officer quality, the other of volunteers. These are supported by an artillery battery, some armoured cars and a cossack regiment. Hopefully the picture of General Kempski inspecting his forces is sufficiently clear.

The Reds have three fairly big infantry regiments, one of which is conscript. They are supported by a top quality Konarmy cavalry regiment, two artillery batteries and some armoured cars, including one of my Garford-Putilovs. This is a photo of the Reds in their "forming up area".

The idea was that the Reds would have the initial advantage and push the Whites back fairly quickly, so that round about the time for lunch it would all look very bleak for them. After lunch reserves in the shape of an armoured train with an infantry regiment on it would turn up to stabilise the front before Red reinforcements in the shape of a motorised Black Sea fleet battalion and some more Konarmy arrived to give us an exciting finale.

Well it didn't really work out like that. The Whites deployed in depth, pushing the cavalry right up to the railway station on their left. I hope that is clear from the picture of Kempski and Agerov deploying their forces. The area this side of the wood and the far side of the river we not part of the battlefield and provided an area for players to put rules and stuff to keep the table clear of clutter.

The Reds planned a push all along the line with one of their regiments assaulting the station are head on, whilst a second regiment performed an internal hook from a central position, supportede by the armoured car unit. On the Red's left the conscripts, supported by the Konarmy and an artillery battery were to push down along the river line, capturing the farm by the river. Closest to the camera is Comrade Wiilanov in a rather fine budnovska.

We got two turns in before lunch (a 2 1/2 hour period) which was less than I expected. In fairness to the game system the players were learning (or re-learning) the rules, some of us hadn't met for a while, so there was a degree of catching up to do as well, and in actual fact units can get quite a lot done in a turn if the activation goes right for them. Any how, we'd got an attritional battle bogging down nicely round the station as you can see.

On the left of the Red position the approach was moving at snail's pace due to some misfortune (which got worse later on as well). The armoured cars of both side puttered around and failed to have much effect.

So we broke for lunch at 1-ish, and removed ourselves to the sun-terrace at the back of Trebian Towers and set ourselves about devouring proper man sized sandwiches and consuming a rather nice bottle of Poilly Fume that President Steele provided. Timing was perfect as we could look through the picture windows into the withdrawing room where Mrs Trebian was watching the day's events in London and so see the Battle of Britain flight approach and fly past over Buck House.

Suitably refreshed it was back to the fray. The White cavalry dismounted fully and decamped into the station, passing up a golden opportunity to charge a mutinous Red regiment that was completely exposed in the open. This wasn't the disaster it could have been as the Reds tied themselves in complete knots and struggled to get to grips with their opponents. They finally managed to launch a close assault on the village opposite the station and evict the cossacks, but it was all grinding exceedingly slowly.

In the middle the armoured cars advanced through artillery fire to exchange MG fire, only for them to break down in increments. On the Red left the conscripts succeeded in drawing 12 successive "can't move" cards (impressive, - that meant drawing either a spade or one of the two jokers 12 times in a row from a standard shuffled deck).

The Konarmy performed an internal flanking manoeuvre and caught the Officer battalion occupying a wood in the flank. It looked all up for the Whites but some spectacularly bad dice rolling by Phil and some average rolling by Chris A meant they were bounced off the position after a couple of rounds of combat. Only the malfunctioning of one of the Whites armoured cars saved them from devastating enfilading fire.

Supported by a dismounted Konarmy unit the conscripts launched an attack on the river village and succeeded in driving the Officer battalion back from their defensive position and wiping out over half of them, more than making up for spending four hours wading through a marsh.

I missed most of the last phases of the action as I was off firing up the barbecue, (so I can't explain why the Commisar base is standing in the river) but once I was out of the way the players took over running the game and it all moved much more quickly.

Luckily for all of us the sun had come out and the terrace was bathed in early evening sunshine as we enjoyed a hearty repast to round the day off.

There's more play in the game, despite taking 6 1/2 hours over it so far, so we may pick it up again.

Thanks go to the Monday Night Group (Phil, Will, Chris's A & K) for making this an enjoyable day and, of course, to Mrs T for being so tolerant as we clump about the house and estate.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Send Not To Know - playtest 1

As promised, a brief account of Thursday's playtest. As I may have mentioned earlier "For Whom The Dice Rolls" has been used by other people, so I have gone for the line precedes the title of Hemingway's novel.

I set up an attack on a Republican position defended by some Internationalists, a battalion of Peninsula army and a unit of Assault Guards. Against them we had some Foreign Legion, some Moroccans, a unit of Requetes and another of Civil Guards, (possessors of the world's silliest hats). The Fascists were supported by some field guns and a couple of Condor Legion tanks. At the moment the forces in games are determined by what figures have been finished. Here's a picture of the Internationalists on the ridge line.

At the start of the game you have to calculate how effectively co-ordinated each side is, by taking into account how many different types of troops it has. This meant the Republicans were slightly ahead of the Nationalists on turn initiative rolls. This got a favourable reaction as a mechanism from the players.

Will & I took the Nationalists, and Phil & Chris the Republicans. In the pictures my figures have the sandy coloured bases, and Chris's the green.

Will and I fired off a few rounds to soften up the Communists, then we leapt out of the sunken road and charged across the open ground towards them. They returned a hail of fire which eventually destroyed a battalion of the Legion,

The Civil Guards supported by the Requetes and the Condor Legion tanks managed to get up to the olive grove on their right and launch a ferocious close assault on the Assault Guards behind the hedge. This is the situation after the combat. That's two, two base, companies at the hedge line, and the marker under one of the bases with a red cross peaking out indicates one of the remaining half companies is damaged.

On the left the Legion had made dogged progress but were caught in a crossfire. As you can see from the picture they were rather exposed as the plain had no cover at all on it. The rules allow for units with high motivation to remove potential casualty markers quite easily, but it was still a gruelling baptism of fire for the little fellows none the less.

The Moroccans had been late off their start line and never really got in the game. They were just poised to attack the Peninsula Army boys holed up in the village when after a couple of hours of play and chat we decided to stop for a wash up.

The immediate result of this playtest is that the co-ordination and command rules I wrote whilst in flight have gone in the bin. I was the only one who tried to use them and they did very little good. I have a few ideas for a replacement process, but that was quite a disappointment.

My firing system works quite well, I just need to get the factors right. Essentially bases have a basic points value that is modified by circumstances. You roll less than that on the die for a hit. At close range you use a d6, at medium a d8 and at long a d10. We had a lot of hits at medium range, so I probably need to downsize the point scores, or switch the dice to d6/d12/d24. The casualty allocation method is shaping up okay. Basically you stack all the hits up next to the command figure. Then when that unit is next activated you dice to see which ones become permanent hits.

The anti-armour rules are not so clear. I don't know if the system works or not. Unlike the infantry firing it isn't obvious if a few tweaks will fix them or not. Hand to hand combat worked, but I'm using an opposed die roll base by base, so that's a bit slow.

Don't know if I need more morale rules either.

Anyway a good enough start, and something for me to work on. I really must get back to some painting as well so we have a bit more balance and variety next time we play. Some Nationalist armour might be nice!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Look wot I dun!

This blog was supposed to be a follow up to the last entry to describe how we got on with Thursday evening's game. I'll will write that up this weekend sometime, but in addition to turning up last night one of my fellow gamers brought along a copy or two of the Society of Ancients' incentive game that I've been wittering on about from time to time.

Like anyone who has ever done anything creative I got quite excited when the stuff turned up. I've only seen it in mock-ups or from my ink jet printer so to see the final version was quite good, to put it mildly. In particular I'd never seen the game board done properly as I can't print on to A2 paper.

So here's a picture of all of the bits you get in the packet. The game board is double sided, so you can only see the Elephant in the Room side in this picture.

The moment I picked up the booklet I spotted a couple of typos and a punctuation error, but other wise it looked okay.

The unique bit about this project has been the attempt to re-create two show participation games. So for the Greyhounds in the Slips game we thought we'd put in a bit of showmanship. This meant the inclusion of some 3D pieces in the package, so I spent a little while this afternoon sitting in the sun assembling them. Don't know if the picture does it justice, but I'm pleased with the outcome.

Tomorrow I'll make up the other game, although as Mrs Trebian has pointed out I've got the originals so why am I bothering.

Feedback from Salute was that footfall past the stand was quite low compared to other shows. Phil managed to run GitS about 4 times, which is well short of normal, but he also sold 8 copies of the game, so that's quite a good conversion rate. Whilst the aim of the Society isn't to sell as many games as possible it is nice to see initial indications of a vindication of the strategy of tying the incentive game into participation on the Society's stand. Hopefully it will also lead to converting more casual browsers to full members as well.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Brief Notes

Tonight is the first try out of my ideas for the Spanish Civil War. Still don't have much painted, but one of our group has a box full, acquired at a Bring & Buy I think. The rules are the roughest I've ever tried to inflict on anyone, and the brilliant ideas I typed up on the plane to New Orleans look a bit ropey in the cold light of day. Ho hum.

Still, I'm sure the pictures will look okay.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Society of Ancients Incentive Game 2011

Good news! - The game has been published and delivered to the SoA. If all goes well it'll be launched at Salute this weekend. President Steele will be there with "Greyhounds in the Slips", although for domestic reasons I won't be able to take "The Elephant in the Room". Go along to the stand and say hello to Phil and the team.

Discovered yesterday that in all of the frenzy to get the Society's re-subscription game finished I, myself, had forgotten to re-subscribe.


Monday, 11 April 2011

Reflections on New Orleans

As with all long distance travel you get the opportunity to sit around for long periods in airports. Which gives you time to type up your thoughts.

Like Costa Rica New Orleans has one famous battle, - the eponymous one in 1815 which cemented the reputation of Andrew Jackson. It's a battle with a lot of mythology about it. I have an excellent book on the subject, called “The British at the Gates” by Robin Reilly which basically proves that all that you know about the battle is essentially wrong. Except we did lose.

Andrew Jackson is quite big in New Orleans. Here's a picture of his statue in Jackson Square. If you look closely you can see his feet of clay. I've never really understood the hero status accorded to Jackson. I did quite a bit of study on his career as part of my degree and it seems to me that he did more harm to the US than good. His one military victory of note was fought after the war had ended and so has no historical importance. As a result of his victory large numbers of freed slaves were sent back to plantations. As part of his presidency he put back American economic development back 50 years because of his obsession over bank specie (don't ask) and caused the Civil War to be delayed 20 years thus ensuring it was fought with serious modern weapons leading to a considerably higher death rate.

Any how, back to NO. It is quite unlike any place I have been. Well, the French Quarter is. Every where you turn there's someone performing in the street, music, magic, whatever. Most of the music is trad jazz and so gets a bit wearing after a while, but we really enjoyed these two girls and bought a couple of their CDs. They're called Tanya & Dorise and they have a myspace page which is something you young people will understand.

I was sort of ready for the music, but the art came as a real surprise. It varies in quality, but a lot of it is really good.

Anyway, that's enough of that. The conference was very useful, workwise, and we got to see a lot of NO, eat too much and drink moderately. And suffer karaoke. All in all not a bad week.

Up in the air - Real Life (part 15 ish)

(NB: This is a bit out of date, - I wrote it on the 3rd April, then couldn't upload it for a week)

Those of you who have follow this blog for a while will know that I don't always blog from the comfort of my own home. I have, in the past, written pithy communiques from speeding trains and also from my stainless-steel and glass topped executive desk at work (during my lunch break, for anyone who knows what I do or knows anyone I work with, I hasted to add).

This one is being composed from the comfort of my executive jet, as I speed to one of my international speaking engagements, although clearly it can't be posted until we are back on terra firma.

Okay, to be perfectly honest I'm actually in the Premium Economy section of a BA 747, but I am heading towards an international speaking engagement (I've done one before, so there), this time in New Orleans. And all at the expense of my hosts, so it costs me and my employer nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Actually, not completely true. Mrs Trebian pointed out when I got the invitation that she'd always wanted to go to New Orleans, and wanted a clear explanation as to why I should get to jet off for a week and get boozed up whilst she was stuck at home on her own. Especially as both the children aren't at home at the moment. So I did a quick check and confirmed that the hotel I was booked into was following the wonderful American tradition of charging the same amount regardless of occupation level. So she gets to go to New Orleans for the week for the cost of the air fare. And as it's cheaper to fly me out weekend to weekend we get some time together whilst there as well. Plus we've only been back from Costa Rica for a week, frankly neither of us really knows what day it is, so we may as well go back to the Americas.

Unbelievably due to overcrowding on the flight I got upgraded to Club Class. We tried it on to get Mrs T upgraded as well, but no dice, alas. So I manfully surrendered my extra luxury and we both ended up back here. Which is quite nice actually. Apart from the really large man to my left, who snores so loudly I can hear him with my i-Pod plugged in quite firmly, and who, when he gets up reveals he has a pair of trousers that don't fit properly, and an annoying tendency to bend over and stick his rear end almost in my face. Still, a bit of sympathy I suppose. He's sufficiently large that he can't open his lap tray, and so has to balance nay food on his lap.

The flight time is about 10 hours, so there's lots of time to while away. The movie selection is quite good, but I rather overdosed going to CR (watched three on the flight, plus a couple of sitcoms), and those headsets, even the really good ones, hurt your ears after a while.

With that in mind I brought the trusty net book with me, and set aside some time to work on my Spanish Civil War rules. These currently have the working title of “Send Not To Know”. I was going to use “For Whom The Dice Rolls”, but that's been done repeatedly already.

I have several pages of scratchy notes, and a sort of idea as to how this all works so I thought I could spend the time knitting it all together. I suppose in the end I got about six hours at it, but of course ended up somewhere different to where I started.

My normal technique for the physical act of writing rules is two fold. Firstly I jot down notes whenever I think of things that might be interesting to use. These can be in any random sequence, - some thoughts on firing, movement, command and control. Odd bits pieces that don't fall in to any of those categories. I usually type these into a word document as I go along, adding thoughts and corrections. At this point they don't look like a set of rules, and I often haven't even got as far as putting toys on the table to help me think. I may have played a game using someone else's rules, and decided that they don't do what I want.

Next I sit down and try to write a first draft in a logical sequence. The actual act of trying to write what I'm thinking in clear English then prompts me to consider the issues I have missed. If I'm lucky at this point I may have an idea of what is significant in the game structure. Often I don't.

So for “SNTK” I started off with unit organisation. That's not too bad as I've sort of sorted that out already. Although not for cavalry (first missing bit!). Then I looked at unit classification. I've gone for two types for each unit, one to cover training and one to cover how motivated units are. This breaks away from my normal approach which is to have a simple three level Raw/Ave/Vet type classification. For the SCW you need something else for those forces that just simply picked up weapons and got on with it.

After that I went straight into command and control. I want to have a turn sequence where play alternates between players, but not too much, and restricts freedom of action, but again not too much.

I'm looking at using an army effectiveness number that is then added to a die roll to see who decides who moves first. The number will be something like 10, less one or two or more depending on many different elements are in the army. My reading so far hasn't thrown up much in the way of outright battlefield disobedience because of different political affiliations, but it is clear that it affected the efficiency of command and control. That's okay, but not too original.

My next aim was to give real benefits to units that are able to co-ordinate their attacks with other units. Co-ordinated units will be able to move and shoot together in any sequence a player wants. Otherwise a unit has to do all of its actions before moving on to another.

Co-ordination will be done by drawing playing cards for the number of units involved and the player will be able to co-ordinate a number of units up to the number of cards of the same colour. They'll be ways that a player can redraw cards so that he can effectively defer a co-ordinated attack to a later turn in order to get more kit involved. Jokers will mean co-ordinated airstrikes.

It all looks very good on the screen, and came as a complete surprise as I wrote it. I think it may be an original idea as well.