Thursday, 27 April 2017

An Italian break in the Iberian Peninsula.

After a few weeks break I required retraining as we went back to the Spanish Civil War to give my Italians an outing. Writing your own rules sounds fine, but I can never remember what I've changed week on week.

Phil & Will split an Italian Infantry Division between them, plus a tank group of CV35s. With all the attendant artillery they come very well tooled up. Being a softy I classified them as "Competent", rather than "Bad" or "Awful". (The other classifications are "Elite" and "Determined", - see A-E in quality steps from the worst to the best. Clever, eh?)

I had some Basques and their Socialist allies, and a couple of Renault tanks squadrons someone found at the back of a warehouse and some Ejercito Populare battalions as support. No aircraft for anyone as the spotting rules for them are going really badly.

We set up across the table, so we were fairly close to each other. Will started with a full assault on my unit holding the village on the left. His artillery was able to plaster my position fairly comprehensively (note that he has a howitzer battery on the reverse slope with a crest-line spotter too).

Being a rag tag bundle of Republicans things started to unravel early on as I was unable to pass command effectively between units. The Italians, being all within the same command structure, moved like a well oiled machine and I was unable to activate all of my units before the end of the turn on more than one occasion.

Hordes of Italians and their pesky tankettes closed on the village. I brought up one of my Renaults, and managed to hit the tankettes (you can see a black damage marker on the roof of it if you look carefully).

Meanwhile on the other flank Phil was being more cautious, making full use of the sunken roads, before bursting out across the open ground.

Will was able to close assault the village, and evicted my defenders, who can see are "Moving" and "Disordered" at the bottom of the picture. I had my Renault and a Popular Army battalion poised to counterattack,

Will tried to halt me by hosing my tank with a flamethrower CV35. Luckily this was ineffective.

I was then able to storm into the village, throwing out the Fascists. By this point a lot of Will's units had been badly shot up as I did manage to activate units and shoot him up at close range.

On the other flank Phil close assaulted the Olive Grove with his armour support. My chaps are running away again.

Unfortunately for me on the other side I was unable to set up proper defences in the village, and Will counter attacked with another battalion with armour support, and I soon had another unit going backwards in Disorder.

In the other village my fellows defending the grave yard had been under the artillery pump for a while and I'd been unable to activate them. When I was finally able to do so one of them emerged from the dust and smoke fairly unscathed and poured massed fire into the unit opposite them. The other defending unit was less lucky and was soon heading for the rear table edge. Phil meantime had also got a unit on the flank of my position, you can see them on the "Y" junction.

And I again lost the initiative and couldn't get everything moving, so more concentrated fire from the Fascists and it was all over for my brave chaps.

So, where are we then? The fire mechanism is ticking over nicely. It pins people in position and if you're foolish enough to get caught in the open at close range it is very nasty. The close assault rules are doing good service in the built up areas as they swung backwards and forwards in terms of control.

What did for me in this game was having a polyglot force fighting one with a consolidated command structure. Orders passed from Basque to Socialists to Popular Army were delayed repeatedly, plans were disrupted and units often didn't get any orders at all.

Yes. Looking very good all round.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My friend Oliver and me

When I wrote recently of my experiences playing SPI's "RAID!" I was taken to task by a wargaming friend I met through WD (his name isn't Oliver, by the way. More of that later).

He (that's the wargaming friend, not Oliver) challenged me on two points:

1) The criticism of the SPI house rule writing style was unfair
2) How had tactical wargames "moved on" since the 1970s?

After a brief Facebook exchange I thought that I needed to go away and collect my thoughts and revisit these two particular criticisms.

Is there a problem with the SPI house rules style?
One of the issues here is that I was playing the "RAID!" scenario as a crossover from board game to figure game, and I tend to see all rule writing as a single skill. Having said that, I think it is true that the rules of these two types of game aren't often written in the same style, so maybe different skill sets are required. In any event their purpose is to convey to someone who isn't present with you how to play or operate a simulation that in its operating parameters is likely to be quite complex. There is then a secondary issue that rules tell you what you can and can't do; they don't necessarily tell you how to play the game.

By way of explanation think about chess. The rules are very simple. Movement is unique to each piece, of which there are six. There are two special moves, the first for a pawn and the second, castling. Combat resolution is simple; with the exception of en passant you take a piece by moving on to its square. The game is won by stopping your opponent's King piece moving. What none of that tells you is how you go about actually winning the game. The massive literature about Chess is not about the rules, it is all about the tactics.

What this means is that there is often a moment when playing a game when it clicks, and you realise that if you do "x", then you can do "y", and so what might be called "rules based tactics" emerge. Sometimes rules based tactics, particularly in figure games, are the subject of dispute, and are often termed "gamesmanship" if they do nothing that looks like an historical tactic and may run contrary to what the original game designer intended.

This is less of a problem in most board games unless they have a mechanism that has been overlooked that means there's a sure fire way of winning. You can see this on Board Game Geek when some forum members gleefully opine that such and such a game is broken. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's because the individual hasn't actually read the rules properly.

SPI were in the business of producing complicated games. Even simple games from their stable have a lot of moving parts that need to be explained. They dealt with this by developing a house style that looks a lot like a legal document. Their style is methodical and attempts to leave as little as possible to chance or misinterpretation and aims to be thorough and complete.

Alas, for those games published in S&T magazine the added pressure of producing games to a strict schedule meant that inevitably even the best play tested of the stable of games had a few errors slip through, and as a subscriber I eventually gave up playing new games as they arrived and left them until the next magazine arrived with the errata (to see how essential this became, try to find the errata to "Armada").

In the end I felt the rules were just too long winded. It might have been "Sniper" that finally did for me, but I do remember laughing out loud when the rules for "RAID!" told me that you couldn't transfer Observation Points between units. Clearly it was insufficiently obvious that two people standing together couldn't see twice as far as one person on their own.

Having made my criticisms I then was asked to bring forward my list of much better written, clearer sets of board game (or possibly even figure game) rules. Ah. Good point. My initial reaction was that there must be loads out there.

Problem is that often it's hard to make a fair comparison. Some of the games with the clearest rules are clear simply because they're simple games (Never had a problem with "Takenoko" or "Forbidden Island". "Agricola", less so). When you start looking at games covering subjects of the complexity in the typical SPI game then it does become more difficult to find good examples of rules writing. One of the more interesting board game/wargame crossovers of recent years have been Martin Wallace's "Waterloo" and Gettysburg". In style and layout the rules are very different to SPI, making use of colour and DTP techniques that would have been prohibitively expensive to SPI back in the 70s. Martin succeeds in explaining the game clearly, and I also had an idea of how to win the game by the time I'd finished reading the rules. The rules have more in common with a modern euro game than a 1970s hex based wargame. But even then, the game isn't as complex as, for example, "Seelowe" or "Cobra" or "Sniper".

Phil Barker once remarked that the problem with plugging holes in rules is like filling a hole in a wall. You start off with one crack, and by the time the filler has dried out you end up with two slightly finer cracks. It was that realisation, I think, which lead him to simplify his rules systems so he could write shorter, simpler rules. His attempt to keep rules as short as possible whilst being unambiguous has opened him to a lot of criticism over "Barkerese". As someone who spent a lot of his working life reading legal documents I can say he is no worse than highly paid professionals trying to cover all the issues as best they can.

So where does that get me? Honestly I would say that my increasing dislike of hex games of that style and complexity over time has lead me to judge the SPI rule writing methodology more harshly than I should have done. It is fair to say that if you want to design and play that type of game, then the SPI methodology hasn't, in my experience, been improved upon, and my friend was correct to pull me up on that matter.

Tactical Wargames since the 1970's
So, what did I mean when I said games had "moved on"? Well, I suppose in someways I'm certainly wrong here. Advanced Squad Leader still seems to be available, and I would guess that Squad Leader & then ASL is the standard by which all low level tactical modern games need to be judged. So for the board wargamer, games have not "moved on".

Which is a bit of a problem as I don't play ASL, and it's so long since I tried it I couldn't even begin to comment. Plus, my experience of low level tactical games is more figure than board game based anyway.

And I have played or watched a fair few of this type of figure game.

There is a school of thought on TMP that low level skirmish games with 28mm figures are the only true wargaming. You can get the figures and scenery in perfect sync in terms of ground and figure scale and the size of figure lets you see exactly what your figure has. Consequently there's a bit of discussion around this sort of thing. However, true platoon/company level games actually work better, to my mind, with multi-figure bases and in 15mm as that models unit dynamics better (and, of course, is how "RAID!" is set up).

I would say that there's a number of things in "RAID!" which certainly paint it clearly as not a modern, 21st century tactical wargame. The first would be the absence of any type of morale rules. This is justified in the game as not being necessary as the troops involved are special forces. Well, no. Only one side is special forces (they're commando style raids), so the other side are regular or garrison troops. Using the out of command rules as a substitute doesn't cut it.

Next, troop activation is a bit too certain. Okay, so players take an initiative roll each turn, but otherwise you chose the sequence you want to move and fire stuff and it happens unless you get shot. That's not the case in PBI, IABSM or "Bolt Action" as far as I can remember (although it did in the original "AK47 Republic", but that's a special case).

The lack of differentiation in troop quality, - such as the common Raw/Average/Veteran is something else that you would also expect to see nowadays. In fact, there's a virtual complete absence of chrome, which again is something quite rare these days.

And that CRT, - well, I think most low level games at least contemplate the chance of missing your target these days, regardless of how good things get.

All of which isn't to say things are better. I mean "Bolt Action" has that dice drawing from a bag thing that seems pointless, and the crazy business with lines of sight, that has players resorting to laser pointers.

So, yes, I do think we have moved on. All the things I've touched on aren't necessarily present in all games, but their absence in "RAID!" continues to mark it out as a period piece. I do not think that if it was to be designed today it would turn out the way it did. If it was, I think it would be a hard sell. That may say more about the shallowness of the modern wargamer than anything about the merit of the design.

And what about Oliver? Well he wrote to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland in August 1650, saying "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken". It's a good rule, even when you're fairly sure of yourself. I have considered on this matter, and this is my view.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Soak far, so good

So I bit the bullet on the rebasing. I did a trial batch of Imp infantry and they came away okay after a good 12 hour plus soaking. They needed a bit of cleaning up, but have now been re-glued to their new size bases. I'm sufficiently happy with the look to move forward with a few of the British regiments. These are more of a concern. I can afford to make a complete cock up of one Imp unit as I've got hordes of them, but the Brits are a one for one unit recreation of the 1859/60 expeditionary force, so they have to come away unscathed.

For starters on this front a couple of Sikh regiments have gone into the foot bath. That's because I can then clean the paint off the spares and use them as EVA infantry as they wore western uniforms with turbans/head dresses. I'm using a plastic tray that once had oasis in it, - that foamy stuff that florists use for floral arrangements. The trays are designed to keep the oasis moist, so pretty much perfect for standing the bases in water. After a couple of hours soaking I was able to lever a few figures off, but then decided it was best to leave them overnight.

As you can see from the above couple of pictures they came off pretty smoothly. Apart from one base, where I may have used superglue, which needed some intervention by my trusty penknife the figures all peeled away from the mdf bases with little pressure. As Mr "Bruno" Brunavs, my chemistry master at O Level taught me, water is the universal solvent.

What has precipitated this action was Mr Friday's suggestion I look at the Lancashire Games website. After it being out of action most of the weekend it was back up and running today and they seemed to do most of what I wanted in their 15mm 19th Century Europe (1860-1880) range for the French expeditionary force. They also had a sale on, so it was a good time to dive in and buy up what I needed. I therefore had to come to a conclusion of unit size, - 16 or 12 men per regiment/battalion? Being a cheap skate I've gone for 12, so hence the need to rebase.

I only hope the figure sizes are compatible.

The other upside for all of this is that these figures will be based the same as the Chileans/Peruvians and so if I lurch into mid-late 19th century European warfare I've got a basis for some rules as well.

This has lead me to thinking further. I do like the look of three 15mm figures on a 30mm frontage, rather than the normal four on 40mm or on the 30mm x 30mm squares for pre-modern eras. My post WW1 stuff still looks right on the square bases, but I'm beginning to wonder seriously about my other 15mm armies I've done in RFCM style.

Could be I have an on-going project ahead of me.

Monday, 24 April 2017

The original Travel Battle

There's been some buzz recently about the latest product from the Perry twins. This is a wargame-in-a-box that enables you to play figure wargames anywhere, like on a train, beside the pool on holiday, down the pub or anywhere else you are away from your own table and toys. This isn't a new idea. In the last few years Bob Cordery has been writing about his own portable gridded game called "The Portable Wargame", which has garnered some reasonable press and has a good following.

The idea of being able to take your wargame with you dates back even further. There's something in an early Don Featherstone book that talks of maps and talc and sticky units and chinagraphs to enable you to play solo when out and about. Anyway, although I haven't got my hands on a Perry Travel Battle set yet I'll share my thoughts with you at the end of this blog.

Personally I think that the most successful attempt at doing this sort of thing, - by which I mean a travel wargame that I actually made up and took places and played on a train with another real live person - dates back to the 1970s.

A Retiuarius and a Samnite face up to each other
I am talking here of Hugh Walter's Paragon Wargames Club's Gladiator Combat Rules. These first came to my attention through a short article in "Military Modelling" called something like "First Take a Biscuit Tin".

The idea was that as arenas were often circular you could turn a biscuit tin lined with brick paper into a suitable venue for gladiatorial combat.

This idea was intriguing, and when my mate Derek & I went to the big military show at Aldershot (?) one summer in the very early 70s we headed for the Military Modelling tent to see what what it was all about.

The MM tent was a big deal in those days, and was the major show venue in the south, matching Northern Militaire at the time. We found the Paragon boys running the Gladiator game just outside the tent and sat down and played most of the afternoon. Frankly, I think, they got sick of us and eventually introduced the full rules so we got killed and then were encouraged to leave.

Undaunted we went and bought a copy of the A5 Gestetnered rules between us, and also split a pack of Garrison Gladiators in 25mm, which were the only ones available at the time.

We then went home and both made ourselves an arena (that's mine, in the picture above) and our local group of friends played it a lot. Massed combats with all of us in the arena at the same time, chucking nets, feinting this way and that and generally having a great time of it. Soon Minifigs had their gladiator range out so we acquired those, plus other assorted figures suitable for combat, from Lamming, Warrior and anyone else we came across.

The beauty of it all was that it was genuinely portable and it was lots of fun. The rules, copied out meticulously, fitted comfortably in the lid. All my figures, lovingly wrapped in toilet paper, fitted neatly into two old tobacco tins (my Dad was a pipe smoker). One summer Derek and I bought RailRover tickets for the Midlands region and we went all over the place, mainly visiting model and wargames shops. We took the biscuit tin and whiled away the long slow train journey into Birmingham from Rugby stabbing at each other.

I even took my version into school, where me and a small group of friends would disappear at lunchtime to the far end of the playing fields, next to the cricket nets, and happily play a few games. I remember it so well, along with the lovable rogues who threw a spare net over me and roughed me up, damaging my watch, and upending the whole ensemble into a ditch. Happy days.

So there it all sits up on a shelf in the study, still usable after over 40 years. I bought a copy of the 1977 rules reprint a few years ago, but now I want it I have no idea of where it has gone. Typical. No worries, still got all the original handwritten rules in the lid. Derek kept the Gestetner rule book, even tho' he moved on to Ian Beck's "Rudis" (a much more detailed and realistic portrayal of arena combat, but alas missing some of the charm of the Paragon game).

So, what of the Perry game? First off I can say that I won't be buying it. It fits no niche that I have. I can't think of where I would play it, and I'm not turned on by Napoleonics at the moment. On the other hand, I think that some of the press and comment on the subject has missed the point. Remarks that we can't judge it until we see the rules I think are wide of the mark. It's a full terrain board, marked up in squares 10 x 20 in size, with some reasonable sized Napoleonic armies. Although as the figures are 8mm, so you could probably paint or use them for any European conflict up to the 1880s, depending on how fussy you are about shakos. If you want this type of portable product and the rules are rubbish, scan the internet for some that work or write your own. There's loads of square based systems out there. And if you want to widen your horizons then the boards would work with 6mm or 10mm figures for other periods in modern Europe.

Secondly, there's fuss over the price. It's £50. Too expensive? It's a box with terrain boards and two chunky sized armies in it that is in a robust box so you can carry it about. No, it isn't too expensive. I've just ordered 20 packs of 15mm figures from Lancashire games and not got much change out of £50. And that's just one army, no terrain, no box. Get real folks. How much would it cost you to put this together yourself? Or, another way of looking at it, the Black Powder rule book will cost you over £25, and it isn't even complete. Okay, it is toppy compared to some board games, but seriously, Command and Colours is over £50 and isn't portable. The bottom line is that if you reckon you'll play this a lot, then the price point is reasonable. If it's going to sit on your shelf gathering dust, then it's not worth it.

So, if you want a game you can carry around, then it's worth it. If you don't then it isn't. But there are other options if this is an itch you must scratch, as I think I've shown.

Update: Bob Cordery has posted a proper review here: link

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Pause for breath: What's Next?

I've got the last of the SCW Italians cleaned up and under coated on the painting desk, and my last Reconquista Andalusian light cavalry are about to based up, so time to take a deep breath and think about what to do next.

On the game design front I'll still be working on the SCW as the rules need the rough edges knocking off and I need to keep my eye in with them as they're going to COW. It's possible that as I go on over the next few months that I'll identify further shortfalls in the collection. For example I'm fairly sure I don't have enough Basques. One of my problems is that I can tend to "over buy" (the Basques were made up from spare Carlists). I think I've done that with the Italians as I've got a LOT of artillery, and whilst it's all appropriate to the size of forces I've put together it is unlikely all of it will see the light of day on the table at the same time, as it'll be devastating. Still, might as well finish painting them.

However, I have to think about what to paint or build next. To be honest (always a good policy) I've got three DBA armies to paint that I acquired following my trip to Cambodia. Mr Kay at Irregular has supplied me with Khmer, Siamese and Burmese armies in 15mm and if I leave them any longer they won't get done.

Khmer Elephant with Heavy Crossbow (DBA Art)

Khmer Elephant

These will be fun to do, - quite a few elephants, for example, - but they're more of a starter than a main course in terms of a project. I should really use them to break up those long hauls you get in the middle of building an army when you just need to paint loads of PBI. I've also got more El Cid infantry in various boxes but I don't need them that much. I only have them as people kept thrusting them at me and I can't turn down free figures. They will end up contributing to further units, but I've filled all the currently allocated space for these armies.

Khmer Heavy infantry with standard and command 

One thing that does worry me is that I think I've got a major rebasing project to do. My Chines/Taiping/Arrow War figures are based up with 4 figures on 30mm square bases. Following my development of the Peru/Chile armies and rules with 3 figures on 30mm x 15mm bases I'm increasingly of the view that these armies could well be improved by adopting the same structure. Luckily cavalry and artillery won't be affected, but all the infantry has to come off. This will mean I have some spare British figures as the units go down in size from 16 to 12 and I've already got all of the units that served in the campaign. Perhaps they'll serve for things like the EVA of other European style volunteer forces.

The spare Imps & Pings, however, will be recycled into new units, so benefits there as you always need lots of both.

With them sorted I could look again at getting some French for the 1860 campaign, which would probably come from a Crimean 15mm range, so I'll need to find some compatible with Irregular as Ian doesn't do them.

But the problem will be the rebasing. Most of my stuff is based to last. These are PVA'd onto MDF bases then covered with polyfilla/spackle and topped with sand.

Usually I unbase figures using a sharp knife, but mostly I've been upgrading from thick mounting board, and you can skim off the top layer of the card with the knife, then crack the figures out of the polyfilla. Not sure I can do that with the MDF. The normal advice is to soak them in water, but I'm concerned it'll remove the paint as well, if it gets under the varnish.

Something to ponder over the weekend.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

So forty years ago..

Right. After yesterday's post it was time to give the whole thing a go. For the purposes of this game I used the Litiana Bridge scenario (Commandos attacking Vichy French holding a bridge in Syria in 1941), substituting XIVth Army and Japanese. I attached labels to the back of the bases so that I could mark them up with the values from the original counters.

Phil was my guinea pig. Alas, unlike everyone else, he completely avoided SPI games in the 1970s and since, so he took some time getting up to speed. As did I. The SPI rule writing methodology doesn't take any prisoners.

I took the Japanese defenders, and deployed first. I dropped the indirect fire forces for the defenders to make things simpler.

I had two platoons and I needed to hold onto the buildings and the bridge. I had to deploy all on one side of the river, within 4 squares/hexes of it. I got that a bit wrong. Some of my stuff was more than 4 spaces away. I put most of one platoon into the buildings. It looked nice.

Phil had two thirds of his force across the river deployed within 4 spaces of the river on that side, and the remaining third coming on in the bottom right corner on my side of the river, just out of shot of the picture. The areas marked with pebbles are rough going that slow you down, but offer no cover. The trees are all heavy cover.

My troops were all out of command on the first turn, so Phil got a free turn's firing with no reply. He did a fair amount of damage, but I was mostly okay as all my stuff was in decent cover.

Phil pushed up to the river line so he could close assault the following turn. He has 6 Movement Points, and the river takes 4 to cross. Alas you need 3 MPs to enter the buildings, which neither of us realised at the time, so it would take another turn. Meanwhile, out of shot to the right, his other platoon is sneaking up through the trees.

This enables him to get in and close assault me, as his other troops were drawing all the fire.

He was also able to mass enough firepower to shoot his way into the buildings.

I was able to pin his other troops in place the other side of the bridge, but couldn't inflict enough damage to drive them back.

Phil was then able to occupy the buildings fully, which meant I had to get figures onto the bridge to force a draw, or kick him out of the buildings.

One of my last hopes was my HMGs in the trees, but they took a lashing. As fire is not simultaneous even with Overwatch fire, you can get wiped out before you can return fire. As happened here.

Which meant that Phil was able to occupy the bridge and take a win.

Thoughts? Well, it would have been more balanced if I'd used the mines and the indirect fire, but I thought it was a hard task for the Brits, attacking with odds of 3:2. This proved not to be the case, partly because when they got in close their high preponderance of sub-machine guns was telling. Also, the layout of the table made it hard for me to set up interlocking fields of fire. The system, as I said above, has non-simultaneous fire so winning the initiative for shooting is important. I also forgot to apply the "MG Cone of Fire" rule in the first part of the game, which would have shot up a lot more of Phil's chaps across the river.

The game has some issues. The idea of rolling to see who fires first and who moves first is just bearable, but you also have to do this for each round of close assault, and you have to say exactly which base you are firing at, rather than just shooting at a square. You also really need to understand the rules and study the scenario for the thing to work well. Admittedly this scenario was a blood bath historically, but fighting this game over open terrain isn't a bundle of laughs. There is too much certainty with the CRT at the left hand end. Firing four bases at a unit in the open will kill it, regardless of dice rolled, for example. And you have to get the interplay of Direct Fire, Overwatch Fire, Movement and Opportunity Fire right for the game to make sense of it all. It's also confusing that facing is important for MGs, but they also seem to fight when attacked from the rear at full effect.

But then again I don't think the rules are any more complicated than PBI or IABSM. In many ways they are simpler, - much simpler than "Sniper!" and do provide a platform for quite a good company level game.

I would play it again, - in fact I will play it again - but I don't think it will fight its way onto the roster of rules we use for low level combat. Phil tried really hard, but it isn't pushing a lot of the right buttons for him. The thing is you really need to learn this properly to get it to work right, and I don't think any of us has the enthusiasm to try. It's a game that's nearly 40 years old. The world has moved on.

NB Rifle/SMG bases take 4 hits to kill, HMGs 3 and LMGs 2. Hits on the bases were marked with white rings. There's a reorganisation phase that lets you re-man the MGs if they aren't completely wiped out in a urn.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Raiding the 70s.

As I mentioned at the end of my blog post on my relationship with SPI games I was thinking that "RAID!", the game of Commando operations in the 20th century, might translate into a figure game.

I have duly marked up a cloth and gone about transferring the terrain from the hex map onto my table top. This has been a reasonable success although I can't do all of it due to the size of the original map. This was designed to be used for several scenarios, so you don't normally use all of it. The attack on Entebbe scenario uses the top left of the map, and an assault on a bridge takes the bottom left, for example. I've struggled with how to represent the contour lines, so these have been ignored for now. What's more the terrain classifications are delightfully vague, so I've improvised there as well. If this goes okay I'll make some appropriately shaped felt templates.

My river and road sections seem to fit satisfactorily as well, although you do have that irritating side effect of the hex grid meaning you never get a proper crossroads as everything is on a slant.

As to the units involved the set up is pretty much a dead on match for how units were constructed for PBI2, with platoons made up of three squads or sections, each made up of two fire teams, supported by LMG and HMG teams. Command is represented by a platoon officer base. My only issue is that I need to differentiate between the two fire teams as one has the section leader in it.

The original game has some rules about turning counters over to conceal them, but in effect all this does is show you what units have been observed, and you check that every time you shoot anyway.

There's a lot in the game that has made it down to our time, whether consciously or not. The rules cover Direct and Indirect Fire, as well as Overwatch and Opportunity Fire (so far, so PBI in many ways), and there's some simplification for armour, as all tanks count the same (so far, so AK47 Republic).

It looks to me there some good stuff in this system. Whilst the rules are written in SPI house style and take a lot of words to say the obvious there is a simplicity to all of it which is irritatingly absent from, shall we say, "Sniper!". However, who in their right minds buries movement distances in the middle of a paragraph of text. I ask you. Anyway, had to do my own QRS in the end.

I have some other matters to work on, - such as the indirect fire mechanism - but hopefully this is a good starting point.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A bit of Eye-talian Candy

I just realised that my latest project, although nearly finished, hasn't had it's own blog posting. My Spanish Civil War Italians have featured in a game, but haven't graced these pages in their own right.

Time to correct this oversight.

The lack of SCW Italians has been a big hole for a while. When I knocked together some Basque units earlier in the year it became even more evident that I needed to sort out Mussolini's men fairly sharpish.

The Italian TOEs didn't change much from the SCW into WW2. They improved their armour after them found that baked-bean tins weren't a match for T-26s, but otherwise they kept things as they were. Whichi s good, as I have a book with that information in it.

My figure organisation for SCW is based upon my original set of rules, "Send Not to Know" which has 9 base battalions (4 x 2 base companies plus a command base), so these split down comfortably into a couple of "If You Tolerate This" battalions, each with four bases. Artillery is likewise equally flexible.

My order to Peter Pig in February gave me enough for a Division, roughly, including the Fascist Militia battalion, and I filled the artillery (apart from the infantry pack guns) and armour out with an order from Skytrex.

Here's a whole SNTK battalion, with a mix of firing and advancing rifle men. Technically the HMG company should probably have a mortar base in with it. I went for the tropical uniform as that appears most in Bueno's illustrations. Plus it makes them easily recognisable compared to most of the other troop types I'm using for this period. I also like the colour scheme of sand uniforms with green helmets and equipment. Very stylish. The officers, of course, wear a slightly lighter colour and have brown leather webbing and boots.

The LMG pack gives four pairs of gunners and loaders, two pairs each of standing and lying down.

A close up of the HMGs. Annoyingly the loader has a chip bag hat, not a helmet. More annoyingly, as with all PP HMG packs, you get three gun teams and two miscellaneous "command" figures. I'd rather have four gun teams. If I want officers, I'll buy an officer pack.

The firing poses. Good mix of standing and kneeling.

The advancing poses. Again, a nice mix. Always like Martin Goddard's animation

These are the 100mm howitzers. They are Skytrex with Peter Pig crews. The model went together really well, once I'd trimmed the axles down a bit.

The 75mm artillery. Three field guns, and a single howitzer. Found these a bit fiddly, but that could be because I'm using cheap super glue. Again Skytrex guns and Peter Pig crews.

Another shot of the field guns.

A close up of the 75mm howitzer. That's a Peter Pig 47mm pack gun in the background

This is the 47mm gun in focus.

Whilst I mainly represent the support weapons companies as HMGs, I bought some 81mm mortars as well. And some of the small infantry mortars.

The infamous CV35, again from Skytrex. I drilled out the hatch and put in a Peter Pig commander. Had to improvise a hatch cover. Shame they're moulded on, really.

And finally the CV35 flamethrower tank, the version of the CV35 that was worth having. Again drilled out and given a Peter Pig crewman. I also shortened the towing bar for the trailer to fit it on a shorter base.

This is just a sample of the stuff I've painted. I've got some more CV35s to do, plus a few 75mms of both types and a 47mm, then I'm done, I think.

Be prepared to see them in some battle reports over the next few months.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

I (and) SPI

Like anyone who wargamed in the 1970s, I guess, I have had more than a passing acquaintance with
SPI. The paper hex boards and tiny cardboard counters seemed to be everywhere. The first game I remember playing was "Napoleon at Waterloo" which belonged to my mate Derek. NAW was sold as an introductory game by SPI, or it might even have been a free gift  with a subscription to "Strategy & Tactics", the SPI bi-monthly history magazine with a game in it.

I know Derek didn't subscribe, so he must have got the game through the advert in Airfix magazine or similar. We played that game a lot, and I don't recall it being improved by the Advanced Game supplement. The first one I think I owned as "Chinese Farm" a game about the opening stages of the Yom Kippur War in Sinai which was in the Folio series so it came in a folder, not in one of the SPI plastic boxes. I liked that one, too, and remember playing it a lot as well.

About 1977 my brother and I took out an S&T subscription. I remember being amazed at the complexity of the rules, the width of the period covered (was there nothing in military history that Jim Dunnigan couldn't reduce to a CRT?) and the unfortunate frequency with which impenetrable ACW games appeared. We ran the subscription for four years, and I recall that we hardly played any of the games. Part of the time my brother was away at Uni, then I was, then he moved out and so on. We also subscribed to Ares, SPI's sci-fi games magazine, mainly because it had a new story by Harry Harrison about Slippery Jin DiGriz as the basis for a game in the first one.

I've still got the S&T magazines. Of the games in the magazines I remember playing "Road to Richmond", mainly because it was the first one we got. Many of the others I had a stab at solo, - I remember being particularly baffled by "South Africa", annoyed at "Cobra" and fascinated by "Siege of Constantinople". The others I recognise but have no clear memory of (except for "Armada", which had such an extensive errata that I took the rules and errata sheet into the Uni Library copy shop to get copies so I could cut them up and put it together in order).

In the meantime I spent some of my own cash on other
games. Simulation Publications UK, the arm of SPI this side of the pond, would periodically print the more popular games in this country, so reducing the price. I therefore bought "Sniper" and later "Sorcerer". We played "Sniper" several times, but I recall being disappointed by it for all the hype and rave reviews. At that point it was obvious to me even as a teenager, that the people playing this game had never played figure games of this type.

"Sorcerer" was an even bigger disappointment. Eschewing a background in established fantasy literature the designers had instead made up a back story which failed to grab the imagination. The suggestion that you should write down the location of every counter each turn so time travel spells could work was frankly laughable.

Why the sudden bout of nostalgia? Well, I bumped into someone on holiday (we'll call him Gary, 'cos that's his name) in Laos who used to play SPI games in his 20s, then had to give them up as opponents moved away and family commitments came on board. We bonded over our mutual annoyance at "Cobra", shared a laugh over "Campaign for North Africa"(that Italian water rule!) and generally baffled some of the others in the party who had known Gary for 30 years or more and had never got this type of game.

Astonished to come across someone else who remembered the games and had even played some of them who furthermore only lived 40 minutes up the road it seemed like a good idea to meet up and play a few.

Several weeks ago we had a game of "Seelowe" - a four hour game that ended in a draw (designed by an American and they complain about cricket) - and intend to play some more.

My attempts to lay my hands on our collection have been frustrated. My brother took all of the games (except "Armada"*) when he left home and moved first into a rented flat and then got married and moved out permanently. A divorce and several house moves the length of the country means they've all gone missing (not helped as he suffered a brain injury in the last 5 years that affects his memory). He found "Sniper" and returned it, however. Great.

One of the games I'd forgotten we'd got was "Raid!", which is a generic commando raid game. I suspect we ignored it as we had the more sophisticated "Sniper", but it turns out it's a favourite of Gary's. I've therefore found the rules on line, and it clearly would work as a figure game. Possibly would work better as a figure game.

So I've been marking up a cloth with 3" off set squares today. They'll take four 30mm x 30mm bases from my Peter Pig PBI or AK47 collections, and are as good as hexes, so I reckon we're nearly there. Also, I reckon this is a gateway game to get Gary to play proper table top miniatures games.

Sneaky, aren't I?

* I'm sure I loaned my revised copy of Armada to Andy "Fergy" McKay who flat shared with Pete Berry for a while in the late 70s/early 80s. I'm equally sure I never got it back as our paths diverged and we lost touch. If anyone knows him, then pass on the message, - I'd be glad to catch up!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Arsuf-ing in Shedquarters

As we never got around to using Basic Impetus at the Battle Day, we had a go in Shedquarters this week. One of the reasons I didn't run a game myself at the time was I didn't have any of the relevant figures. I still don't, so it looks like my Reconquista armies will have to stand service in this regard. I also don't have any middle-Eastern cities, so my old Roman Marching Fort made a very rare appearance as the gates of Arsuf.

Also gave me a chance to get out my 25mm baggage train as well, which hasn't seen the light of day for quite a while. Alas I couldn't get everything on the table, but it's a fair selection.

This was the first time we'd tried the battle with BI, and it's only the second game I've put on with the rules as well, so I wasn't expecting to get everything right first time. I wasn't sure of the table size either. The army points system for BI is a bit crude as well, and I also ran out of the Arab figures I needed to use.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed in the rules as well as they don't really cover armies on the march. Consequently I've introduced infantry in column of march and also leaders who can move between units. For this game Phil took the King Richard and the Crusaders* and Will was Saladin.

Will had the initiative for turn one and closed in on the column, showering it with arrows. He inflicted quite a bit of disorder on the infantry, even causing one unit to suffer a permanent loss to its VBU (or combat strength). At least they were fulfilling their role of protecting the cavalry.

Phil pressed on with his wagons whilst halting the disordered infantry to redress its ranks. At the head of the column he opened up a gap to allow his knights to charge out if required.

Phil won the next initiative roll so got a back-to-back turn. It started to get a bit tasty at the head of the column as King Richard joined up with the Templars to charge the Muslim horse that had got a bit close.

The Templars cleared the cavalry in front of them but took a hit. I use Rummikub markers to record the drop in VBU. Once a unit has suffered a permanent loss to its VBU it also loses its impetus bonus, which is really serious for troop types like knights. Meanwhile Will has lined up some units to shoot up the infantry then charge them.

Which duly happened, Now it is own up time. Those foot have long spears which deny impetus, which I had forgotten. The ghulams therefore rolled several more dice than they should have and broke the Crusader foot.

It is getting a bit tense for the Crusaders. Massed archery from the Muslim horse has broken the crossbowmen in the centre of the picture. Ghulams threaten the shaky spear unit at the top. Can Richard/Phil get those knights lined up to save the day?

The spears step forward and the knights wheel round their rear to plug the gap. The Templars under Richard, after an initial hiccup, after causing a bit of chaos are regrouping on the left of the picture.

Richard wheels round and clatters into the flank of two light horse units that have nowhere to run to (in BI you can only evade if attacked from the front). The other knights are lining up to charge the ghulams in the centre.

Richard finally breaks the light horse, and the other knights clear out the first ghulam unit. Saladin is there, however, with his elite guard.

Saladin and his guards see off the knights but Richard is still carving up the rest of the Muslim cavalry. The rear guard are moving forward fitfully, but the baggage train is making good progress.

It's getting desperate as the Muslims start to throw horse at the Crusader infantry (this is me, BTW, - Will has gone home as it is getting late). Phil has some knights nicely poised in the middle of the table to prevent Saladin exploiting his breakthrough.

Saladin has been duly confronted head on and is taking a beating. Phil has freed his Hospitaller unit from the confines of the column is about to sweep up the remaining Muslim formed foot. Elsewhere a desultory rain of arrows falls upon the rearguard.

It was about now we ended the game with Saladin's forces pretty much broken. I could have extended it by bringing on Muslim reinforcements, but that was really enough.

BI worked okay, but there are issues with a scenario like this which isn't a straight stand up and fight battle. FoG actually did a better job at the Battle Day, but then Phil had spent more time thinking about that game than I did about this one. Were I to persist (which I probably won't) then I think this could turn into a really good scenario.

Even with a smaller army in terms of "VD" (unit value) Saladin's men gave Richard a hard time. I think the lesson from the Battle day and this game is that the odds are stacked against Richard and this really is a major achievement for the Crusaders. It could all have ended very badly.

* That well known 1960s beat combo from Brighton