Sunday, 24 February 2019

Quarterly Review - Westerly Wargaming

So it was time for our regular quarterly wargaming day with our friend from the West Country and new podcast star interviewee*.

In our pre-day discussion (we have a WhatsApp group to share ideas. How with it are we?) Richard expressed a desire to play "Crossfire". Right. Now "Crossfire" is one of those sets of rules that everyone says is interesting. The MNG has played it. However it was a while a go,- it was not only pre-Shedquarters, but also pre-blog. So about 10 years ago at least.

I got quite excited about "Crossfire" at the time. I was playing PBI but was not entirely satisfied, and "Crossfire" looked really clever. It soon became clear to me that not everything in the system works perfectly, and the various fora or discussion groups had a messianic zeal in trying to work through these issues whilst striving to play the game.

The game is still unique, as far as I can tell. The move/initiative switching system is ingenious, and it seems to make Line of Sight rules work properly.

Richard had given us an Eastern Front game, using a scenario he found on line. You always need a lot of terrain. The trees look great, but needed some extra weight on the bottom. Richard added washewrs through the use of a glue gun as we went on.

Gary & I took the Ruskis and Phil and Chris the Germans. We were attacking and had to capture the brown oval top centre, which is a hill. The brown oval off to the right is a depression. Gary started in the depression and really struggled to get out of it. I was on the left. My aim was to pin Chris on this side, whilst Gary took on Phil with most of our troops.

I'd started off quite well, and drew "No Fire" results from Chris' men, which I thought meant I was good to move up. Alas I hadn't picked up that the troops on the hill could see me through the gap between the brown trees and the brown felt representing a crest line. I'm quite poor at picking up LOS in games. This is partly because I wear very strong prescription glasses that are also varifocals and so from above looking down I have a parallax problem. I really need to squat down and sight every line very carefully. Or maybe I'm just crap at it full stop. Anyway the consequence of it all was that I got two basses Suppressed in the open rushing to a flanking position.

There is a point I must make here. Because LOS is so important exactly where bases of troops and terrain pieces are is even more crucial than normal. If you nudge anything, or if a felt template gets hooked up on a wooden base when moving figures the game can be changed. I guess that's where PBI from RFCM wins, with its zonal movement.

Gary moved his troops up to the rim of the depression and got involved in a serious firefight. He never worked out how to get his on-table mortar into action.

The fire fight got intense, and Gary was able to sneak a flanking unit into the wood, having pinned / suppressed his opponents.

He was then able to launch a close assault, aided by the Russian troop ability to ignore Pins when close assaulting. We ended the game at this point as we'd been playing for several hours and there weren't many Germans left, although we still hadn't captured the hill.

In the discussion over lunch we weren't sure we were doing the Close Assault moves correctly, and this is a common feeling I had with a lot of the game. CF is so different that I would guess that until you play it a lot then that's always going to be the case.

We were going to play Fighting Sail next. Gary had spruced up his ships and added flags. And then forgotten to put in the manoeuvre chits which are an essential part of the game. At least we hadn't spent ages putting the terrain out.

So my RCW game "Return to the River Don" filled the gap. This account is more incoherent than normal, for two reasons. Firstly I hadn't taken a written scenario with me. Secondly I was starting to go down with a stinking cold, so I wasn't entirely sure what was going on.

Any way, some elite White troops were attacking a Red strong point. The Reds were in place and had deployed their artillery with spotters.

The initial White assault stumbled in open ground, with the commanders having to encourage their troops forward at gunpoint.

There was much scratching of heads as to how to proceed. Gary's men on the far side were pushing through the woods under a hail of fire from Phil's men in a stanitsa.

The Red artillery started to plaster the advancing White troops.

Gary was likewise taking serious damage from the Red defenders.

Then Chris unleashed the Cossacks, who stormed across the river and rode down a unit of Richard's conscripts.

They then reformed, and together with their colleagues started a flanking manoeuvre.

It was too much for some of the Reds, who mutinied and refused to take part any further.

Apologies for poor quality of the pictures. I chose not to take my SLR and to rely on my phone. I won't make that mistake again.

We then adjourned for dinner, and by the time we'd finished it was time to pack up, and I headed home, due to feeling really cr*p. The drive home was a nightmare. For some reason the powers that be chose to close both the A43 and the A508, my two main routes back to Northampton. No signs showing warnings on the way down. Ended up driving via Milton Keynes and the M1, which added 45 minutes to my journey. I was not a happy bunny.

Otherwise an excellent day's wargaming.

* NB This content was behind a paywall when I posted this link.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Edgcote playtest

As part of the Northamptonshire Battlefields Society commemoration of Edgcote's 550th anniversary Phil is working on a model/game to go on our stand at the shows we attend.

This one is going to be in 28mm instead of our usual 15mm. I painted a load of figures for the model a while back (see this post) and then handed them over to Phil to base up and finish off. He was working on the cavalry, wagons and the rest of the foot and the game board. And the rules. So most of it really.

This was the first playtest in a while, and it's still a work in progress. A lot of the tension in the actual campaign derives from who is where, and whose reinforcements will arrive first. Consequently there will be a number of off table holding areas,

This is William Herbert on Edgcote Lodge Hill. We were experimenting with some outlying skirmishing bowmen, so that Herbert was not completely devoid of missile support.

The opening positions. I'm behind Robin of Redesdale's forces. Top right is Banbury. Honest.

I had the initiative and advanced to the stream. I need to get across the stream to be able to shoot at Herbert's forces. It is physically too far in the real world from here. The problem is that I need to do that, then retire back across the river without it causing me too much disruption but still providing a defensive line once we're over it. I'm afraid at this point we were learning that the layout of "Hail Ceasar" is not your friend when learning, even with the rules summary appendix. These rules would not be my first choice. I do not feel they simulate Wars of the Roses combat well (NB this is different to "giving a good game with Wars of the Roses armies").

So I crossed the river and lost the archery exchange with the skirmishers, despite all my units having a bill/bow mix. Such is the way with heavy dice rolling games. My personal view, which Phil later agreed with, is that there's no need to have the skirmish unit in Herbert's army. He doesn't agree with me that it should be part of Robin's but he knows the issue that needs to be resolved which I was suggesting this would fix, and he has a keen eye for getting this type of detail right.

The main battles clash. You'll see that Sir Richard Herbert has passed through the enemy battle, wielding his poleaxe. The armies had a slight disparity in unit sizes and layouts. What the play test showed was that didn't work as expected. We had some problems tracking down the polearms rule. We only have one copy of Hail Caesar, and it doesn't belong to either of us.

The Herbert brothers shattered my central unit. My archery had been ineffective, and I lost the hand to hand combat dice off quite badly.

I also got pushed back on my right by the heavily armoured Welshmen.

In the centre I had rallied back behind the stream.

And then on the left I got lucky and broke the other one of Herbert's units.

Okay, so it didn't look much like Edgcote. The reinforcements never arrived, and in any event, looking at the factors they would not have been decisive. We have an issue with the way the battle line fragmented. That's just not right. We need a way to create more of an ebb and flow, so we can get several phases in the game.

We also need a way for Stafford, who bunks off early before the battle, to rejoin the fight in exceptional circumstances. We looked at a sort of "humble pie" mechanism for Herbert, where he can give away kudos/credit in exchange for Stafford's support. I think that the standard HC victory conditions have an issue because of the size of the game, and a break point/reverse victory point track with appropriate markers (skeletons doing the medieval "Dance of Death" is one idea) that would work. Phil is keen to have a "wheel of fortune" mechanism, and end up with a round playing area too. I shall be intrigued to see how he makes that work, as it is an attractive idea.

As I said above HC would not be my first choice for a rule system, and also wouldn't be in my top three. In truth I would go for a bespoke games system entirely, sort of like "Northampton 1460", but that's just me. Phil has a clear vision for this project, and I understand and support what he is trying to do. Thinking further about it perhaps the side that gets its reinforcements to the battle first wins, unless it has already lost, if you get my meaning.

So Phil has a way to go yet, but expect to see this on our stand over the coming year. Stop by and have a game.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Back at the keyboard

It's been quiet here for the last couple of weeks as Mrs T & I have been off on holiday. We've just spent a couple of weeks in Myanmar (Burma to most of us), on a River Cruise down the Irrawaddy and then visiting some other sights such as Inle Lake and Yangon (Rangoon).

I felt this trip would be quite safe, as I already have a couple of Burmese armies. I've had XIVth Army and opposing Japanese for quite a while (Peter Pig miniatures for the XIVth Army, - much recommended, despite some quibbling from those who asked for them). And I bought an Irregular Miniatures Burmese DBA army after my visit to Cambodia, so that should be enough for anyone.

I read a bit about the three Anglo-Burmese wars fought in the 19th century*, and despite the presence of elephants and different shaped straw hats to normal I avoided the temptation, and continue to do so. There were some nice pieces of silver work we saw of military elephants and some other art work, but nothing that really gave me time and place and inspiration to get involved. I got the feeling that the Burmese aren't that comfortable about talking about their military history so much. They did run a fairly brutal military regime from the 14th through to the 19th century, in one form or another, with routine massacres of their own people and the various minorities that make up modern Myanmar. Perhaps their post-colonial failures to get a settled democratic government shouldn't be a surprise. It just hasn't ever been the way things are done. (I found that the non-Burmese guides from the minorities were more comfortable with British rule, as it stopped the majority Burmese kicking them about**).

Also, unlike Cambodia, their temples/pagodas/monuments don't have the profusion of carvings like you see in Angkor and for various reasons we didn't visit the national museums with the relevant artefacts. And I didn't see any handy English language Burmese history books to pick up either.

So, what did I see or do that was relevant to my hobby? Well, I took George Macdonald Fraser's memoir of the Burma campaign with me and read that, trying to fit his descriptions in with the landscapes and countryside buildings I saw. Reading that convinced me that those who carp about the Peter Pig figures are wrong. GMF clearly says that he and his section went into action in Bush Hats and not helmets, so there you have it.

 I did keep an eye out for any model buildings that I could fit into a DBA camp or use with the XIVth Army.

Turns out this was harder than expected. As a guide explained to me everyone wants little model Buddhas. Why would you want a model Stupa in your home? Alas the thriving laser /die cut wooden puzzle building industry that reaped such a harvest for me in Iran & China has not made it to Myanmar. I did in the end pick up a couple of models, and some mini elephants to make the statues that stand guard at the entrance to the compound.

I'm not sure how to deal with them all yet. Clearly some metal primer for the elephants and the stupa on the left, but I don't know what to do with the shiny one. After all, pagodas etc in Myanmar are very shiny:

Problem is that natural metals/materials never look right in my eyes when you scale them down.

We did end up in Rangoon/Yangon on the trip, and toured the City a bit. It is in need of some TLC, but has massive potential. There are some really magnificent colonial era buildings that are falling into disrepair that would make very nice hotels or company offices. The only one that is receiving any serious attention for now is the Secretariat, which was the home of the Government Offices, until the military junta set up their new capital up country. The Secretariat is very special to the people of Myanmar as it is where Aung San Su Kyi's father (General Aung San) was assassinated. It'll be impressive when it is done.

So that's where I've been. Nice country, nice people, lots of temples and stupas.

(NB A temple is the home to Buddha statues where you can pray. A Stupa is a memorial/prayer building which is solid, - i.e. you cannot go inside them. A Pagoda, in Burmese terms, is the name given to the complex that contains temples and stupas together).

* Unusually we did not start this one. The first Anglo-Burma War was caused when the Burmes invaded what was then India, because they thought that the East India Company were a bunch of softies. That proved not to be the case.
** Plus, under the British, production of rice and teak went up massively, and when we left Burma was the rice bowl of South East Asia and there was more acreage of teak than when we arrived. That is no longer the case. Clearly Empire is wrong as a general idea, and self determination is a Good Thing, but not everyone benefits all the time.