Sunday, 29 April 2012

Spanish photo update

Phil has covered my embarrasment by providing a few pictures of Monday's game:

Nationalist airstrike, - ineffective as ever!

International Brigade defending another olive grove

Succesful Moroccan bayonet charge

Republican armour temporarily halted

Another report from the Spanish front

Last Monday an old friend (Tim Gow of "Megablitz and More") came down for the day to discuss the fall out from my redundancy. As we first met over a wargames table it would be rude not to have provided him with appropriate entertainment after our business meeting.

For the afternoon I subjected him to "Call it Qids". His account of this game is given here: Megablitz & Qids, but I failed to take any pictures, so no story on this blog. Besides, I've rather done it to death on these pages I fear.

For the evening we were off to our usual venue for another healthy round of saving Spain from Fascists/Reds, depending on your outlook.

I've been keen for Tim to give SNTK a go as he's a 20th Century aficionado, so this game at last provided a chance.

As we had a guest we got a decent turnout and were able to have a couple of players aside. Phil and Tim took command of the Fascists, made up of a force of SFL & Moroccans, together with some Regular Army and a squadron of Condor Legion tanks. They were charged with evicting a strong force of Reds from their defensive line.

The Reds had some IBs and militia and a goodly number of T-26s, and were led by Richard and Ian.

Having laid the game out I realised I'd left my camera behind. As such you'll have to go to Tim's blog again for some pictures and a battle report: Megablitz goes to Spain.

For my part I got a lot of useful feedback from the game. I clarified a number of areas I needed to look at in the rules, to whit:

  • The role of Army Commanders
  • Saving rolls
  • Artillery hit absorption
  • The use of trucks, loading and unloading
  • Plane and tank terror
  • Airstrike pinning effects
  • C&C for armour
  • Effectiveness of light mortars
  • Unit fire discipline
  • Definition of what constitutes cover
  • Hand to hand modifiers
  • Number of commands given in a turn
  • Moving/stopping/setting up heavy weapons
  • Effect of damaged bases
  • Whether casualty removal is possible
  • What die type to use for the initiative roll.
  • Clarify when Training or Commitment dice are rolled
It looks like a lot but most of it is clarification or tweaking the numbers.

So a good evening's work and, I must  add, a hilarious time had by all.

Next Monday we're back playtesting DBA 3.0. That's the same day that I start my contract in London, so I'm hoping the trains will be kind to me and that I get back in time to take part. Ally this situation with the repeated need to visit ageing parents at the weekend and I'm starting to wonder where my wargaming time will be coming from in the future.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Casualty Markers

I thought it might be interesting for me to write up a brief discussion on the various types of casualty markers I use.

Casualty markers are a necessary evil for me as pretty much all of my figures are mounted on multiple bases, so I can't remove single figures to represent loses (at this point the 28mm brigade snort and switch over to the other channel).

I've seen a few different methodologies. The mini dice seem to be in vogue at the moment, as they're discrete and you can turn them over in order to record the number of hits. I'm not a fan as they can be easily separated from the unit they relate to, or knocked over to show another number.

As followers of this blog will know my favourite method is to use plastic rings as they hook over figures, are clearly visible and don't get lost or separated. I use venetian festoon rings that you can buy in any drapers. My players aren't necessarily as keen as me, as the rings aren't as aesthetically pleasing as some would like. On the other hand sometimes, like in a modern game when a unit has taken a lot of hits from artillery they do give the real impression of a unit being clobbered.

More recently I had a go with small pebbles, such as you can sift out of coarse sand or put in the bottom of fish tanks. These look okay and are pretty discrete. They also sit, mostly, quite comfortable on the 30mm square Peter Pig style bases that I use a lot.

The main downside is that some of my bases have these as decoration on them, so it can be hard to tell how many hits a base has actually got!

I have a number of Peter Pig dead figures, which I use when I play RFCM rules, but for other rule sets I've usually ended up with the rings, reserving the PP figures for when a whole base is lost. For my Byzantine Army, however, I went out and bought a number of Donnington casualty figures.

These will work for Armati as you don't ever take off bases except when the unit breaks and it should be clear what unit they're attached to. To make them go further I've pinched an idea off Chris Ager, a Monday Night irregular. Some of the figures are based on pennies, as these fine fellows are, and count as one casualty.

Other figures are based on 2ps, and as such count as two casualties, just like this fellow. As you can see the bigger base means he can keep his spear compared to his 1p colleague, who had to be trimmed in order to fit.

I concede they look nicer than the rings. I wonder how long my patience with them will last.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Real Life part 17 (most likely)

It's been hectic at Trebian Towers.

You may have noticed that the post on last Monday night's game is a bit later than usual. That's because I've been fairly busy on non-hobby related items. This has involved running around after parents, as usual, and dealing with whatever bureaucratic nightmare (real or imagined) as descended on them.

Most of last week, however, was taken up with trips to London. I'd had Thursday in the diary for a while. as I'd been asked to give a talk on outsourcing and systems implementations at a Breakfast Briefing.

Then towards the end of the previous week I was called and offered an interview. I'd said I could make any time on Thursday after 10:30, so they came back and offered me 11am on Friday.

And then, last Monday I was called and offered another interview. I said anytime Thursday after 10:30, or Friday after 12 pm. They offered me Wednesday at 12:30. So I ended up booking three individual tickets to the City on three successive days. I filled up the rest of the days with catch-up meetings with head hunters.

The guys on Wednesday had me in for nearly two hours, and gave me a thorough going-over. After that the head hunter called me back and said they wanted to see me again, - so I offered the times on Thursday & Friday. They took a slot immediately after my talk on Thursday and I had another hour long discussion.

I then headed off for my next meeting only to get a call saying I had to go and see the headhunter asap. I call into their office to be told I had to do an on-line personality test in their offices now, and would I mind seeing them again on Friday.

Which brings us to Friday, and a morning start for another interview and I get a call saying they want to offer me a 6 month contract and there's no need for a third interview. But do I have a limited company I can contract through, please, and can I start next Wednesday? I push them out to the Monday after, but agree to work from home from Thursday.

So off to London for some pointless meeting/interviews, but well, I've paid for the tickets and I've arranged to meet a wargaming friend for lunch anyway.

Lots of people give me advice about setting up the company, some of which I've taken, and I've sent in all the forms, so hopefully I'll own my own company by close of business Monday (well, part own, - Mrs T has 50% of the shares).

So now I need to see the accountant, open the bank account, transfer my phone and broadband into the company's name and everything else like that.

Busy, busy, busy.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Cunaxa by AMW

A few years ago I was awarded one of the Society of Ancients' annual prizes which turned out to be an autographed copy of Phil Sabin's "Lost Battles". I have remarked on this blog and in Slingshot that LB is a handbook to help refight most of the classical period battles as it clearly lays out the forces, the terrain and the course of the action, together with any special one-offs you need to consider.

At that point I resolved to refight them using Neil Thomas' "Ancient and Medieval Wargaming", did Marathon, wrote it up for Slingshot and then promptly moved on to something else.

Well, this week, I went back and did a second one, - this time Cunaxa. There's a real challenge in adapting the game as AMW is for sides with equal numbers of units, and Cunaxa is not an equal battle. And for me I found I had none of the appropriate troop types. However some later period Persians got pressed into service, and after all a hoplite's a hoplite and I've got loads of them.

Cyrus' Army, lined up for battle.
The AMW rules require you to force your armies into 8 units a side which requires some hard decisions to be made, - just as in DBA. It may reduce the finesse some might like, but it forces you to decide what is important in the battle.

Artaxerxes' mighty array.
In this case it wasn't too hard, although some small units of light cavalry didn't make the final cut.

In many ways the game was unremarkable. Both lines set to each other in even measure, the two central cavalry units seemingly prepared to hazard all to chance.

Artaxerxes (me) started off  aggressively and drove the scythed chariots into the Greeks. They and took some damage from the scythed chariots as there's no rule for letting them run through gaps in the units.

 After this excitement the infantry wings near the river closed steadily on each other and the cavalry in the centre got to grips with each other. This turned into a protracted slog, which I ultimately lost.

This loss wasn't too bad, as the winning cavalry committed suicide by charging into an undamaged heavy infantry units, although this did open me up to a flank attack. On the other hand this distracted Cyrus from the light cavalry I'd got round the rear of his army and was inflicting casualties on various units.

The light cavalry inflicted enough hits to give me the edge in most of the central combats, and the Greeks were unlucky on several rolls. Units dropped like flies and we had a nail biting conclusion in which Cyrus' army finally collapsed and I won with enough troops left over to fill an egg cup.

The lesson from the game was that we needed several tweaks to the rules to make this work as a game, which I have duly added to the article for Slingshot.

Still it passed an evening.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Not Board (2)

Most wargamers of my generation "do" the American Civil War. The reason is simple, - those four packets* of Airfix figures that made it possible. If they'd made musketeers and pikemen we'd all have been doing the English Civil War instead.

I've had several goes at the ACW, - I have Terry Wise's Airfix guide, I bought Heroics & Ros 6mm (or was it 2mm?) blocks, but frankly I never really did get it. After reading Paddy Griffith's excellent monograph "Rally Once Again" (aka "Battle Tactics of the Civil War") I finally understood why I wasn't keen, - it was just plain dull tactically. Not really any nice uniforms either.

A year or so ago, however, my brother bought me for my birthday  Warfrog/Treefrog's "Gettysburg", a two player board wargame of the said battle, designed by Martin Wallace. The main reason for this, I think, is because it was in stock at Spirit Games in Burton on Trent, and the owner said it was good.

I'm afraid to say it sat on the shelf ever since I was given it, still in its shrink wrap. Two reasons for this: firstly, as mentioned above, the ACW bores me rigid, secondly, I had no opponent who would want to play a three hour long, two player, board wargame. (Mrs T plays board games, but she doesn't do wargames particularly and also nothing over 90 minutes mostly).

Anyhow, as those of you who follow this blog will know my brother was recently in a car accident and is convalescing at home. And I'm currently between employments. So, it only seemed fair to boost my sibling's morale by going up and playing a game or two with him. We considered playing a proper table top wargame, but he doesn't have the space and also in his condition he needs to be sitting down, not reaching across a table. So we decided on "Gettysburg."

I took the Rebs, and my brother (aka "RJ") the Yankees (his choice), and away we went. I suppose I should 'fess up at this point and admit that I  had actually played a couple of turns or so of a pre-production version of the game at CoW in 2009, under the watchful eye of Mr Wallace (I can't deny it, - there's photographic proof). I remember being impressed with how it worked then, but hadn't thought much more about it until now.

For those of you brought up on SPI and Ava;on Hill the rule book is small for a board wargame, but there are a number of intricacies in it that need careful reading and re-reading and in places it isn't as well laid out as it could be. However we played through with only minimal reference to it. If we'd thought beforehand RJ could have downloaded the pdf and swotted up as well.

This isn't a battle report. I'm not a fan of some figure battle rpeorts, so a descrition of a board game really doesn't do it for me. However, for those of you interested in summary I finally gave up the assault after 3+ hours of fairly gripping and intense play part way through the final day. It had become clear I had little chance of achieving the last stage of the victory conditions and in addition it was time to go home.

So, what did we think about the game? Well, taking into account neither of us has any real interest in the ACW and both of us would prefer to play a table top game than a board game if we're wargaming, we both really enjoyed it.

The key part of the game is the command mechanism. This requires you to decide in advance where you want to potentially give orders from a finite, but recycled, pool of command blocks with varying levels of potential commands. You then allocate command tokens to these blocks that enables you to gove orders to units around the block. These orders include Move/Assault, Fire Guns, Entrench, Reorganise etc. The number of orders you give in each of the phases is likewise restricted and you can only place orders if you have command blocks on the table. The order tokens are also recycled from game period to period and if you're  not careful these get trapped on the board and you can't reuse them, so your army grinds to a halt. It's simple but also intricate and very thought provoking. Furthermore the way the actual spaces on the board are laid out also provide some real challenges and require you to think several turns ahead.

So we were only into the first move or two and we're already thinking really hard and saying things like "This is really clever" and "What a super piece of design". Whether this is a good recreation of Gettysburg I can't say for sure as it's not a battle I've ever studied a lot but it has the flavour you'd expect. The armies flounder around as inadequate staff work means units arrive too late for where they're needed. Co-ordinating actions across the battlefield is possible but really hard. Full frontal assaults uphill against Yankees supported by their artillery become the only option at some points. These can succeed but are also very bloody and are usually desperately futile.

Physically the game is really nicely put together The map is beautifully done, and after initial resistance I quite came to like the little wooden figures you have as playing pieces. The casualty management system  which uses wooden cubes is a bit fiddly, but even RJ who is having a few issues with co-ordination after his accident coped with them okay.

For two players who know one another and are evenly matched in terms of knowledge of the period and the rule system this proved to be a well balanced, challenging and thoroughly enjoyable game, which is more than I can say for some of the SPI ACW monstrosities I tried to play in my youth.

So, a game I wouldn't have bought myself, but one I really enjoyed. I think we will play it again when I go up for another recuperatory visit. If you enjoy two player games and aren't too bothered about subject matter then this is a winner. I can't say what ACW buffs will think of it. I hope they'd be open minded enough to see it as a really good attempt at capturing the flavour and problems of the period.

So, another but recommendation for a Martin Wallace game.

* Or five if you used Foreign Legion to make Zouaves. Or eight if you include the Wagon Train, Cowboys and Indians. My, those Airfix lads loved the Old West, didn't they?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Pasaremos! SNTK returns. Again

After last week's "Non Pasaran!" type game on the road to Madrid, it was the turn of the Republic to unleash the whirlwind.

For this scenario we had a Republican counter-attack, again around the area of Madrid, in a sort of Battle of Brunete style.

This is an overview of the board. At the top of the picture you can just see a ridge line, with a road running through it towards the bottom.

Behind this are two Republican brigades.

The Popular Army awaits
One of Internationalists (3 battalions) on the left, and one of Popular Army (4 battalions) on the right. Each has a field gun battery supporting it, and the whole force has 5 T-26s to act as an "iron fist".

It would be nice if more than one of these turned up for the start of the battle.

The Falange in position
The three villages and the ridge line across the middle of the board are defended by a bandera of Falange in the foremost village on the right, and three battalions of Regular Army, one in the forward left olive grove, and one in each of the remaining two villages. They are backed by a field gun battery by the windmill, and some Condor Legion tanks at the back of the board.

The game started poorly for the Republic. An expected dawn surprise attack was preempted by the Nationalists who saw them moving into position and pinned one of their artillery batteries with a devastating barrage. The Republicans responded by attempting to pin both the Nationalist's forward positions by using the remaining artillery battery and the solitary tank that had made it to the table. The tank failed to register the target, but the Falange in the village got heavily plastered.

At this point the regular Republican commander arrived and took over from the political appointee who had made such a hash of things. With the Falange pinned he ordered forward the Popular Army, brimming with confidence and keen to get their hands on the Fascists.

The other flank was more problematic as the Regular Army battalion in the olive grove proved difficult to hit and pin down, despite the close attentions of the T-26. Even when it started taking hits it proved very resistant, - even though it was both Untrained and Reluctant!

The attack on the Falange proved to be a success, as they were thrown out of the village in Disorder with heavy casualties, to general rejoicing from the Republicans.

The attack on the olive grove was turning into a complete shambles, with the IB's taking heavy casualties and simply being unable to force their way over the stone wall protecting the grove.

However, the situation in the village was sufficiently worrying for the Fascists to get the Condor Legion fired up and into the action.

They emerged confidently from their overnight laager, and pushed up the road aggressively. You'll note that they command vehicle is taking up the rear, just in case they get outflanked.

Unfortunately for them they immediately drove into some withering artillery fire. The first salvo they avoided, but second time round the lead vehicle got brewed.

On the face of it this was bad news for the Nationalists, as the remaining Republican T-26s finally made their appearance. Confident of their armour against the Pz1's the leading two vehicles closed the distance rapidly, but their shooting was off the mark.

However, elsewhere the attack was grinding to a halt. The Republicans had taken their first line objectives, but the Nationalists were far from beaten. The failure of the tanks to knock out the Pz1's led to some desperate close assaults in order to prevent them getting in amongst the infantry.

Alas these were heroic, but ultimately futile.

At this point the game was drawn to a close.

In summary a victory for the Republic, but in many ways a typical encounter. Well organised and prepared, the attack was ultimately overblown and ground to a halt under its own weight. The activation system within SNTK is working really well, - it is giving pulses of co-ordinated action, but not necessarily enough to enable a plan to be fully implemented, or implemented smoothly.

I'm still having a few issues with the calibration of the firing mechanisms. The mechanisms themselves are fine, - it's just exactly what numbers constitute a hit and a saving roll are still in need of some work.

Both my players pronounced themselves happy with the evening's entertainment. Ideally we should have played an extra couple of moves but we ran out of time.

More to come, I think.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Game in Spain.......

...seems to have slipped from my brain!

After a break of at least 6 months the Monday Night Group went back to the Spanish Civil War this week, to revisit the rules I demonstrated at CoW in June last year. "Send Not To Know" (a.k.a "SNTK") is a set of rules for brigade/divisional level actions using 15mm figures. I'm quite proud of how they work, although their reception at CoW was distinctly underwhelming.

Any how, I haven't done anything SCW related since CoW, so I pulled out the rules and re-read them over the weekend. Whilst I still quite like them I was surprised at how much of the system I'd forgotten and also by the fact that several key points were missing from the rules booklet. Clearly when we were developing them some things were so obvious (eg how many hits to remove a stand) that I didn't need to write them down. Hmm. That's a mistake I've now rectified.

So, for Monday's game a gentle re-introduction with simple troop types, no off table assets and a minimum of tanks and artillery.

The scenario was early in the war. A column of Spanish Foreign Legion, together with some units of Moroccans are heading up the road in trucks towards Madrid, led by an armoured car. The local union-based militia (including one group of anarchists) have set themselves up to ambush the column and hopefully wipe it out. They have coerced some local artillery men to drag along a field gun to support their position. The Fascists were played by Will, the anti-Fascists by Chris K, supported by Phil as it was Chris' first game using the system.

I kicked the game off at the point the ambush is sprung, so the militia went first and managed to hit all of the trucks*, forcing the Legion to de-bus and pinning them as well. They waited for the Moroccans to counter-attack the ambushing troops before launching a close assault by another unit of militia from the other side of the road. This is the situation towards the end of turn 1.

Despite their revolutionary fervour the attacking union militia was unable to press home their advantage and were seen off by the Legionnaires, although with minimal casualties. The Moroccans, however (bottom left of the picture) took the village at the point of the bayonet, driving the militia back across the stream.

The Republican forces then struck a serious blow by manhandling their field gun into position and knocking out the armoured car with their first shot. The Moroccans at the head of the column then veered off to the left to clear out the olive grove of further ambushers.

Inspired by the success of the artillery and noting that the Moroccans were distracted the Anarchist militia decided to launch a frontal assault on the Legionnaires who were still skulking down behind their vehicles.

Alas for the anarchists the Legion managed to sort itself into a firing line, and the militia men were given an object lesson in the effectiveness of modern small arms against targets in the open. First they were pinned down, then wiped out to a man, creating some brave, but ultimately stupid, martyrs for the cause.

Having destroyed these brave men the Legion then developed its advance on the right, fighting up through the  ridge line, forcing the occupying militias back and breaking them. On their left the Moroccans finally fought their way into the olive grove, having been temporarily pinned by an artillery salvo or two, and dealt with the militia in there. However their victory was short lived as a militia unit finally got it right and charged them in the flank. Some suitably heroic die rolling helped them out, and the Moroccans were soon fleeing in disarray.

At this point the Legion mounted up in their trucks and drove off, claiming total victory, and I'm left wondering whether I've got this account of the battle completely right as I didn't take any more photographs and I recall a unit of Moroccans storming the gun position at some point. I think this was the original group from the initial village assault who had gradually moved up from the rear to the front to take over point.

Whatever - everyone claimed to have had an enjoyable evening's gaming, with both sides able to claim some form of success. I, on the other hand, am aware that I need to overhaul some more bits of the rules and clarify how the activation sequence works when units are pinned and also need to think some more about how infantry in trucks works. I also want to fiddle with the artillery effectiveness.

* The eagle eyed amongst you will recognise that the trucks in the picture are actually Russian Gaz trucks from the Peter Pig WW2 range and so are not authentic. In my defence the Gaz is based on a contemporary American vehicle I think, I don't have (not do I intend to buy) a load of Spanish vehicles, and all my other trucks from the RCW & WWI are based on green bases and so don't match.

PS: Got my brother out of hospital today. He's a bit wobbly on his legs and he needs several weeks to recover, but he can walk and it's a relief to all of us seeing him up and about.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Git of the Year

Apologies for posting another non-wargaming blog.

Went to check up on my mother yesterday, and took her out to her favourite pub for lunch. The pub has 3 disabled spaces near the entrance (my mother has a blue badge as she doesn't walk all that well). When we got there one of the spaces had a car in it, and the remaining two had a Range Rover parked across both of them.

I pulled up close to squeeze on to the end of the row whilst my mother went in. I then noticed that the Range Rover wasn't displaying a disabled badge, so I went in to tell the staff. As I'm doing so a bronzed, medallion wearing bloke informs me it's his car in a "So What?" type way. After a request from me a glare from the barman he reluctantly consents to move it. When we get out his main concern is that I don't scratch his car when moving mine, and followed it up by closing my car door on my leg as I'm getting in.

When we've finally moved everything round his parting shot is "Is there a problem with your car or just the driver?" the logic of which slightly escapes me.

What a git.