Saturday, 23 December 2017

2017 Scoreboard

A bloody denouement in the corral
My gaming, painting and blogging activity contracted further in 2017 but this was due mainly to other pressures rather than loss of interest.

My penultimate game of the year was a cowboy skirmish game kindly staged by my friend Ian using Games Workshop's old but solid Legends of the Old West. The bad guys (me) were holed up in in a livery stable. Given equal points I was expecting to blow away the lawmen as they approached over open ground, but this was not to be. At one point I decided to come out, guns blazing, but I failed to hit anything and then got well and truly gunned down.

Now for the overall tally. I played 2 games of Command & Colors Ancients, 2 games of X-Wing,  1 game of Battles of Napoleon, 1 game of Crossfire (early Great War), several 'training' games for Great War Spearhead, 4 games of Test of Honour, 1 exploratory run-through of Rommel, and 1 game of Legends of the Old West.

On the modelling front I started a couple of 3mm armies for Rommel and accumulated some 28mm Anglo-Zulu War figures for The Men Who Would Be Kings which I am currently rebasing.

Blog posts declined from 42 in 2016 to 27 (including this one).

My next post will be in the new year and will outline my likely pursuits in 2018.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Unit cards for The Men Who Would Be Kings

While playing the Samurai skirmish game, Test of Honour, I was struck by how discrete unit cards are much better than rosters for reading and absorbing unit data.

I had also seen the excellent unit cards for The Men Who Would Be Kings on the Shed Wars blog. After struggling with Excel and Word, I once again decided to create an Access database. The cards (a 'labels' report) were much easier to configure and I can quickly add new unit types to the underlying table.

The cards aren't as nice as the Shed Wars ones, but I could improve on them later by adding images. I'm indebted to Shed Wars for showing me the way.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Rebasing 28mm figures for The Men Who Would Be Kings

Based and ready to go
So here I am with a growing collection of second-hand Zulu War figures from different sources, all based individually but not in the same way. Rebasing is a priority, mainly so they can be safely stored, transported and used, but also to give the figures a more common look (once textured and grassed).

First step is to remove the existing bases. Card bases are easily weakened by standing them in water, but other bases have been an absolute pain to get off.

The new bases are simply 2p coins. These cost, well, 2p, and are cheaper than steel discs or even MDF. 'Copper' coins were originally bronze but since 1992 they have been copper-coated steel and are attracted to the magnetic plastic sheets which I use to line my storage containers - A4 Really Useful Boxes. 

At some point, of course, I will be adding filler, sand and foliage, but the figures are ready to use. All I need now is more of them.

Friday, 17 November 2017

28mm Zulu War figures for TMWWBK

Playing  the Colonial skirmish game The Men Who Would Be Kings has been on my wish list since the beginning of the year. Other members of my wargames club have tried it out and liked it, so I am encouraged that it will see some play.

I had originally favoured doing the Boxer Rebellion or the North-West Frontier, but I recently accumulated some Zulu War figures when a friend was sadly obliged to retire from wargaming. These have since been supplemented with a couple of eBay purchases.

British Regulars and dismounted Natal Mounted Police
Some of the British figures could also be used for the Second Afghan War or the Urabi Revolt. I don't have enough for a game but it's a good start. The figures are 28mm. I'd be very interested to know the manufacturer(s) and will update this post accordingly.

More Zulus
The picture immediately above shows the figures from eBay. These will need to be rebased and could benefit from a stain.

The figures have been identified as Redoubt Enterprises and very nice they are too. Redoubt is another company which Is underselling itself because of lack of photos in its online shop. 

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Rommel: the Brevity scenario

British left, Axis right. Italians are forward on the
objectives. On-table Germans are in the back row.
The third Italian objective is just out of the picture
at the top. Scenery was highly improvised!
I got my first chance to set up a game of Rommel on the tabletop. It was the  scenario for Operation Brevity, a limited British offensive against Axis forces in North Africa in May 1941. 

Actually, it wasn't so much of a competitive game as a collaborative exploration of the rules, at least to start with. We worked together on the initial Axis deployment. My collaborator, Chris, then set up the British based on their historical deployment. 

Although it wasn't my original intention for us to adopt sides, Chris effectively assumed control of the British while I started making decisions for the Axis.

The British close in on the vulnerable
central objective. It is quickly overrun.
In  the scenario, as in historical reality, the British make a strong showing at the beginning before German reinforcements arrive.

Some German forces are deployed on the back row while others arrive in a later turn (but we didn't get that far). The Italians can be deployed forward to  hold the objectives.

Deployment is very straightforward, but it all feels a little different if you're not used to playing many grid games.

Stalemate on the Axis right.
In our very short game the British soon captured the central Italian-held objective and seriously depleted the Italian forces guarding the town. The struggle for the other Axis objective was a stalemate. 

A counterattack by the German forces already on-table was only partially successful. Had the game continued I think it would have swirled around with both sides threatened by isolation. We completed three moves but didn't have time to pursue the game further. At this point the Axis line seemed very thin indeed. Although this is an introductory scenario, it's an interesting one and should repay playing with different strategies. 

The counter-attack by the on-table German units.
Reading rules is one thing: actually playing a game on the tabletop is another. I hadn't really absorbed the rules properly and we relied on the QRS, whatever I could recollect  and whatever we had to time to look up properly. We didn't get everything right (crucially we neglected to tip retreating attackers) but it was a good start. By the end I felt there probably wasn't a lot more to learn for the basic game and that when everything is learnt, the turns will be playable very quickly, leaving maximum time and energy for play rather than rule referral.

Steven Thomas' Balagan blog recently reviewed a range of Operational-level games that predated Rommel. By  his definition Rommel would not count as an Operational game because the basic unit is a company. 

The town (Sollum) was a hot spot. The defenders
  are critically worn down and destined to shatter.
However, the game is very highly abstracted and certainly  feels Operational. You have to second-guess your opponent with the selection of events and tactics which are pieces of narrative on cards rather than emanating from the position of lead castings, companies are concentrated to apply pressure and combat is attritional. Fights certainly grind to a conclusion over several turns but there are no knockout blows.

My collaborator judged the game to be complicated in comparison with Sam Mustafa's Bluecher and although he considered it realistic he didn't warm to its attritional nature which he found unexciting. Each to his own.

Now for some of the physical practicalities. 

 Deep-Cut Studio gridded meadow mat from
1. My tabletop consisted of 1 ft square cork tiles with little Go counters at their centres to remind players this was a 6" grid. It was OK but still required a degree of mental adjustment. I really felt it would be better to have clearly defined 6" squares with edge lines and I've since ordered the Deep-Cut Studio gridded meadow mat from BigRedBat for use with my 10mm armies.

2. The unit cards don't provide the immediate visual clue given by models and can be awkward to pick up without long nails. If used as game counters they need to be based on MDF.

3. Command Post cards are, I believe, a big improvement on the Command Post sheets but can again be fiddly. This isn't just a question of size but more importantly a result of being printed on ordinary card stock. Proper playing cards are coated and glossy and slide off each other easily.

4. Tipping didn't actually lead to any ambiguity in the game but I think it might. Players naturally want to point attacking units towards their targets. Keeping them perpendicular, unless tipped, feels too much like a boardgame. In future I think I will use markers to indicate tipped.

5. In addition to the D6s used for Ops, I must remember to pack two D6 of another type for combat resolution.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Rommel: Command Post Cards

Customised French Command Post
cards for Hannut scenario.
Rommel uses a 'Command Post' somewhat reminiscent of the planning board in Saga. It gradually fills up with dice to mark the events and tactics used until the whole board is optionally reset.

This is (a) an accident waiting to happen, and (b) difficult for secret selection of tactics, so some players are planning to substitute cards.

As I'd already started a database to generate unit cards, I was in the mood to develop functionality for managing CP cards as well.

This approach is also very convenient for dropping CP items you don't want or adding custom items for specific scenarios.

Database screenshot. Rough and ready but
functionally adequate.
In each CP 'pack' I've also included blank cards so the opposing player doesn't know if you're actually selecting a tactic or not. The cards are discarded when used, unique events for the rest of the game, and others until the CP is reset.

There are, of course, other ways of generating unit and CP cards. Databases require some 'professional' knowledge and more upfront investment but soon pay off on reuse.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Hannut scenario for Rommel

I haven't even played a game of Rommel yet but I have helped to draft an historical scenario, a demonstration of chutzpah that even I find a little embarrassing! It's based on the Battle of Hannut in May 1940.

It all started with the need to decide what to buy and paint in the model area, but with the encouragement and substantial input from RobH this curiosity grew into a draft scenario.

It's a work in progress. You can download all the current files here and follow discussion on the Rommel board of the Honour forum here.

It basically reflects our best attempt to create an historically based map, historical OOBs (mostly the work of Rob) and the historical circumstances. The scenario is completely untested for game balance but we have some ideas in reserve.

Given a map, OOBs and some understanding of a battle, designing a Rommel scenario is straightforward if a little fiddly. Using generic OOBs would have been a lot more straightforward but I have absolutely no regrets about going historical in the detail.

Besides the historical research and game-creation  aspects, this project has also involved resuscitation of graphic and database skills, the latter being utilised to create a set of unit cards. I don't have much free time during the day but insomnia is a great aid to productivity.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hotz mat for Rommel

Hotz felt mat straight out of the bag. The creases will settle.
I recently received delivery of a Hotz ArtWorks 'Enhanced European Fields' game mat for Rommel. It arrived in the UK from the USA only eight days after ordering - the usual great service and great quality.

It measures 72" x 46" and has 4" hexes arranged 18 x 12. It will serve as a less heavy, less bulky alternative to Hexon for club games. I could have gone for squares but consistency will make it easier to get used to the game and I will be able to use Hexon hills and my planned hex BUAs and hex woods etc.

The 4" hexes are principally for my forthcoming 3mm armies, but my 10mm armies on 30mm wide bases will also fit.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Rommel: Maximum base sizes for 4" hexes?

I thought I'd better test my 40mm square basing idea more rigorously in order to ensure there is enough wiggle room when the surrounding hexes are occupied.

These are actually 40mm x 25mm bases which were surplus from another project. I'm not intending to use these as they don't have enough depth. When more than one Company occupies a hex and they attack a neighbouring hex they can easily be placed in column and pushed across the hex edge to distinguish them from non-attacking companies. There is plenty of room.

40mm x 30mm bases. Still enough room IMO.

40mm x 40mm. These are too crowded.
That conclusively establishes that if using Hexon I need to aim for 40mm x 30mm bases for optimum effect. Now the bases...

40mm x 30mm steel, 40mm x 25mm MDF. The exposed steel area on the back is for mounting a removable magnetic plastic or other label. The MDF is the old mechanically-cut variety. I would now of course use laser-cut MDF.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

3mm hex terrain for Rommel

My epic indecision about what base sizes and grids to use for Rommel has come down to a trade-off between the attraction of multiple vehicles on big bases with a 6" square grid versus the attraction of using Hexon with necessarily smaller model bases possibly featuring only one or two vehicles.

Other than the Hexon itself, the game requires BUAs, woods, bocage, soft ground and rivers. In this post I am looking at BUAs and woods.

The heading picture (top right) shows a mock-up of a 4" hex BUA using a Hexon forest template and some Brigade Models 2mm buildings from the English Village and Terrace sets. I think these are fine for Belgium but Northern France and Low Countries sets are planned and those will be even better. The buildings are roughly the same height and the bases will sit on top of them when the hex is occupied. If I add taller buildings like churches and factory chimneys, these will have to go at the centre or close to the edges. The 4" hex is economical on buildings and looks 'neat' IMO.

For contrast, the next picture shows a 6" square with a very Roman street pattern. It requires quite a few more buildings and doesn't look very organic. Perhaps I could have arranged the buildings more imaginatively, but there is an inevitable tendency for squareness to beget squareness. Put a few of these on the table and it begins to look like a chess board. Of course, you don't have to make the towns square just because they fit into a square, but given that I will be placing the units on top I need to have the areas filled to give even support.

Finally, we have a mock-up of a hex wood using Woodland Scenics Underbrush of various different colours.

I think the combination of these pieces with Hexon flocked tiles will begin to look quite realistic in a hexed sort of way.

Although using smaller model bases is disappointing, I think the game will look good overall. It also provides a very fitting purpose for all that Hexon I've accumulated...

Friday, 8 September 2017

Rommel: 6" grid or Hexon?

40mm square bases on Hexon hexes
I like the aesthetic of depicting a whole platoon of 3mm miniatures on a large base, but I'm still weighing up the practicalities. I now have the rules in my hands thanks to Caliver Books and I got a PDF copy as well for study when I am out and about. I see the conversion to hexes in the Advanced Rules is straightforward, or, at least, left to the player.

It prevents use only of the 'Gaps in his Lines' rule, but Peter Hunt (Bertie on TMP) has suggested the following: "We just made it that if a unit is in the ZOC of two enemy held hexes it cannot move into a vacant hex that is in the ZOCs of those same two enemy held hexes unless it is using "Gaps in his Lines." So you can use the rule for what is intended: going around or through a loosely held enemy line."

So what are the pros and cons of switching from the default 6" grid to 4" Hexon hexes?  First the pros:
  • I already have Hexon (including hills) and thus a ready-made battlefield. Rivers are easy to add on the hex edges using felt strips.
  • It would allow me to use a much more compact playing area or play a much larger game in the same space.
  • Hexes look less grid-like than squares and this carries through into the shape of BUAs, wooded areas and river courses.
  • Hexon is going to look better than any alternatives I'm likely to end up with.
  • BUAs would require much fewer buildings.
  • Smaller (40mm wide) unit bases would be more compact to store and transport.
  • Hexes eliminate the distance distortion on the diagonal which could affect artillery in large games.
The cons:
  • There would be a loss of aesthetic appeal to the unit bases. The AFVs would be and look closer when going head-to-head.
  • Full platoons would be a bit overcrowded on a 40mm wide base, but not impossible.
  • Hexon is bulky and heavy but when needed I would have the option of substituting a 4" hex cloth like the European Fields one from Hotz. Another cloth would give me a desert option.
Anyway, I don't have to decide now. My first game will be with counters and then my existing 10mm armies.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

10mm Normandy armies for Rommel

My 10mm WW2 Normandy armies were collected, organised and painted for Spearhead  quite a few years ago, but have never left their boxes for a game. The prospect of coping with all the different sorts of hardware has somewhat inhibited my WW2 wargaming (except for Crossfire).

The imminent appearance of Sam Mustafa's Rommel has given them a purpose in life. So I decided to photograph all of them for the first time in order to review what I have and what I would need to get if I want to deploy proper painted armies.

British Shermans of various types

Yet more British Shermans

British Cromwells and armoured infantry

British leg infantry

German Panthers, Panzer IVs and Tigers

German armoured infantry

German leg infantry and transport
This looks like more than enough for a basic game, except for the absence of artillery which is not represented at the level for which the armies were originally organised. The armies predate my discovery of Pendraken and consist mainly of Minifigs and Pithead Miniatures when they first produced stuff in resin.

Friday, 4 August 2017

3mm minis for Rommel Part 2

Any intentions that I declare in this blog should never be taken too seriously. When it comes to wargaming I often change my mind or fail to pursue things!

Original 60mm x 60mm bases
It occurred to me that the infantry stand shown in the last post had enough Laffly trucks to carry 30 men but only 10 men were depicted on the base! There isn’t room to add another 20 figures, so it would seem sensible to reduce the trucks to just one, thus making the vignette more realistic. This would create an anomaly in that the tanks would be a platoon while the infantry would be only a section. Is that something to lose sleep over though? I also thought of mounting all artillery in pairs so that SPGs could be readily distinguished from tanks (mounted in threes).

40mm x 40mm bases
Before making any final commitment to a particular base size, I thought I’d better revisit 40mm x 40mm basing. This will allow use of a 4” grid or Hexon. It had always been my intention to use Hexon for a game like this. One of the main downsides is the smaller label which might be difficult to read in a dimly-lit wargames hall. I could increase the size of the label but then the base would be more cramped, especially if I start doing later war armies with bigger tanks. A relatively bigger label would also begin to overpower the models.

But there are pluses. A big advantage of a 4” grid rather than a 6” one is that I will need a lot less buildings to depict built up areas. This may be disappointing news for Brigade Models but there you are. I will be able to use my Hexon scenery of which I have quite a bit. I will be able to game at home with models. Bigger battles with models will be easier to accommodate on club nights. Storage will be more compact.

Rather empty 40mm x 40mm bases
The cheapskate option: single models rather than multiples. If the model is just an icon this approach is logical, and it’s what many people will be doing with 6mm models. It’s a possibility but with 3mm models it looks a bit thin. Don't take too much notice of the labels - the content is just filler for layout purposes. More specific identification of the hardware for future reference (not required for the game) will be on the underside of the bases. Thanks to advice on the Pendraken Forum, I would cover the labels with plastic film so the track could be marked off with a water-soluble pen and cleaned afterwards.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

3mm minis for Rommel

With Sam Mustafa's forthcoming Rommel in mind, I finally got round to ordering some 3mm Oddzial Osmy minis which were very promptly supplied by Fighting 15s.

These are the first samples that I've actually been able to see at first hand and I am delighted by the crisp castings and the detail on the vehicles and even on the infantry. I won't necessarily be painting this detail but it's nice to know that it's there.

1940 French tanks, infantry and artillery.
While eagerly awaiting publication of the rules, I've been thinking a lot about the use of unit cards, rosters, and base labels (or some combination) to carry the unit data and damage track.

Unit data cards create table clutter but I find them very convenient in play. Rosters are straightforward but take your eye off the table. Base labels would need to be quite big and the tracking part would need to be replaced after each game or this would require some workaround.

A related question is how big to make the bases. After a considerable amount of thought I'm currently favouring 60mm x 50mm bases that will sit on cards. The cards will be 60mm x 60mm so that a 60mm x 10mm strip will exposed at the rear with essential data and the track. The cards will be expendable and different sets can be used for different scenarios etc.

The 60mm x 60mm bases would fit 2-up, 1-back on a 6" grid, and if I want to use a smaller grid at home or portray a very big battle I can just game with cards. If using models it's worth making them look good, and I think that big bases look best. The tanks, for example, are spread out more realistically. And while I'm only an average painter of models, I'm quite good at doing bases!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Sam Mustafa's Rommel

Erwin Rommel
As long-term readers of this blog may have noticed, I don't get much time for wargaming in the warmer months, and I've had even less time this year owing to pressure from other interests and commitments. I have, however, been keeping my hand in by exploring Great War Spearhead thanks to Robert Dunlop who has kindly been setting up games and teaching me the rules.

I haven't, however, been pursuing anything on my own initiative until I was recently reminded of Rommel, Sam Mustafa's forthcoming set of WW2 grand-tactical rules. Sam's reputation for analytical logic and extremely well-written, user-friendly rules is enough to persuade me to buy them as soon as they become available in the UK, but whether I will actually prefer them to Bloody Big World War Two Battles or any other alternatives will depend in large part on how well  they cover historical scenarios.

As I said previously, the appeal of the grand-tactical for me lies particularly in replaying historical battles. Having said that, Rommel has a neat army creation system for pickup games.

There are podcasts and downloads about the game on Sam's website. It's played on a grid of squares and doesn't need miniatures.  If using a 6' x 4' table the squares are 6", i.e. the grid is 12 x 8 squares. The game will also convert to hexes. Some will regard it as more of a boardgame but the approach suits me. I like grid games and the game can easily be tried out with cards or counters with the option of adding 3D toys and scenery later.

Four possible approaches have crossed my mind:

  1. Just use the unit data cards on an improvised grid which could be drawn onto butcher paper or just marked out with counters. This is the minimalist option, but should be perfectly adequate for playing purposes. 
  2. Make 30mm game counters and use them on a 3" or 4" grid or Hexon. This will make the game compact enough to fit a small table. (The grid squares need to be large enough to hold three bases which is the 'stacking' limit.)
  3. Use my 10mm Normandy armies on the default 6" grid. This will look like a proper game to people who think wargaming must involve miniatures. I would be short on artillery but can borrow some field-guns from my WW1 Square Bashing armies. 
  4. Raise some new 3mm armies for use on a 3", 4" or 6" grid or Hexon.

There's no point in using models unless they are aesthetically attractive. I've thought about / planned WW2 armies in 3mm for literally years. IMO AFVs are going to look best if mounted at least 3-up on reasonably wide bases, i. e. at least 40mm. That pushes the grid size and is probably too large for Hexon. Some of the grid squares also need to contain scenery, e.g. BUAs and woods, but I would make these fairly level so the stands can sit on top of them.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Twilight of the Sun King and some thoughts on generic armies

Promising but not perfect
The Twilight of the Sun King (TotSK) rules cover the period from 1680-1721. They were originally written by Steven Thomas of Balagan fame but authorship subsequently passed through other hands. I'd been meaning to try them for ages but never got round to it. So I already had an interest when the new, third, version was published by the Pike & Shot Society.

It's a high level game, there are historical scenarios, and, uniquely, it combines different forms of combat into a single unit reaction test. The game has, I believe, great promise but I'm not intending to play it just yet.

My Marlburian armies are currently 'between basing' and my 1690 armies turned out to be too small. For grand tactical games with historical scenarios, this has really concentrated my mind on the desirability of having reasonably generic armies that can be used for a range of historical battles (and rules). Time to look again at 2mm, possibly on 25mm square bases?

The other stop factor is the large number of problems with the rules. The TotSK Yahoo Group is awash with queries and an errata (currently 5 pages long!) is in preparation. Sadly this new version of the rules was obviously not adequately tested or proofed. On the plus side, however, there is a lot of interest in and support for the rules from people who want them to work.

There are two lessons for rule-writers here: get them tested by different groups of people who approach the rules in isolation and get them proof-read by someone like me!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Thirty Years War in 3mm?

My interest in the Thirty Years War periodically resurfaces, and I started this article some months ago the last time it did. I haven't taken things any further, but I thought I'd post it anyway.

I was waiting to see Impetus Baroque at the time, but at the Cavalier show last year (February 2016) I caught sight of the Liber Militum: Tercios rules. The rules emanate from Spain and the English-language version is not as good as it could be. Nonetheless, it appears to be easier to follow than some rules allegedly originating in English.

Suggested 15mm basing on full-size bases.
Basing follows the Impetus precedent of being quite large - 120mm wide for pike-and-shot units, 80mm wide for cavalry and 40mm wide for artillery. Regardless of figure scale, I immediately thought of reducing the base sizes so that a game could be played on a compact 48'' x 32'' playing area. A 120 mm base would become 80 mm, an 80 mm base would become about 53mm (say 60mm) and a 40 mm Base would become about 27mm (says 25 mm).

My campaign for open-handed pikemen in 10 mm or 6 mm didn't get too far, so I began to consider the Magister Militum 3mm figure strips. These do not look clipable, so I needed to see how complete strips would work on the desired base sizes. With the strips being 20mm long, this exercise may also applicable to unclipped Baccus strips.

Tercio Square, Classic, Reformed and Modern
 formations using  Magister Militum's 3mm strips.
Tercios has four types of pike-and-shot unit: Tercios, Classic, Reformed and Modern. I've played or looked at a number of Renaissance rule options over the years. These definitions seem to be a good as any and better than many.

There is some disagreement as to whether the distinctive Tercio formation with shot at the corners was actually used in the TYW. As I understand it the Tercios were not entirely inflexible, but capable of various arrangements. If the shot on each flank were to close up a Tercio would present a simple pike block with sleeves of shot, albeit a large and deep one.

The illustration above shows suggested basing for 15 mm figures. The diagrams (right) show how I would do it with 3 mm strips in a way that would best reproduce the relative numbers and proportions of the 15mm figures.

The iconic T formation for the Modern (Swedes) was my own idea. It may not have been commonly used but it's distinctive and a convenient way of arranging the strips.

I'm not sure of the exact depth of the strips. If they are deeper, then the Tercio square in particular may look better than the way I've depicted it (i.e. squarer). In principle the strips seem to work.

Anyway, this was an entirely cart-before-the-horse exercise as I still haven't even read the rules properly, let alone played them. And I do have some reservations. I'm a bit wary about committing to a rules set that uses bases with different frontages. And I don't think Magister Militum's 3mm range yet has all the required figure types.

Two other developments have also recently occurred. Firstly, I've bought a copy of the new edition of Twilight of the Sun King (more anon) and learnt that a TYW/ECW version is also planned for this year. Secondly, I've seen the first releases in the new 6mm TYW/ECW range from Baccus. Notwithstanding the cast pikes, these are superb figures...

Baccus: Fragile cast pikes but very nice effect.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Great War Spearhead - my introduction

Robert Dunlop, a major contributor to Great War Spearhead, kindly introduced me to the rules. Rather than play on opposing sides we went through the sequence and mechanics of play together. This is an absolutely brilliant approach to teaching rules and makes me wonder why I've never tried the same thing myself!

GWSH evolved from Arty Conliffe's original WW2 Spearhead and was developed by Shawn Taylor with Robert's support. The current edition (GWSH II) is now a fully standalone set of rules. Different rules model different things. The Spearhead family focuses on orders which are marked on maps by arrows of advance. These become the absolute drivers of the game until the enemy are spotted and the play becomes tactical. For that the mechanics are relatively simple.

This approach forces the players to plan. They must study the terrain, look at the routes of advance, and consider the areas of deployment. Crucially, they must also take into account likely or possible enemy plans. Later in the game they may discover the holes and be forced to alter plans and move formations.

GWSH uses a scale of about 80 yards to 1 inch. The 30mm square bases used in the game represent companies and about 12-16 of these are grouped into regiments (British brigades) which are the principal level for order writing and manoeuvre. Four regiments might form a division and two divisions a corps. I generalise here in order to give an idea of scale. A divisional game is a reasonable size for an evening's entertainment, but much larger games can and have been staged.

I now look forward to playing a proper game. Spearhead's grand tactical nature does, of course, appeal to me. In fact, my 10mm Normandy armies were planned and organised for playing the original WW2 version, although I've never got round to using them.

Great War Spearhead

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Great War Crossfire

The empty field (lower left-hand corner) had contained a
German platoon. Despite eliminating this, the British
platoon (lower centre) was beginning to lose the firefight
with the German platoon in the copse on the left edge.
Many of you will know Robert Dunlop from his contribution to the Great War Spearhead rules and scenario books and his extremely well-informed forum postings on WW1 topics. It was thus a pleasure and privilege to welcome him to my local wargames club and to play a WW1 Crossfire game which he organised.

Robert has recently been quoting chapter and verse on the Yahoo Crossfire group about low level training and actions during WW1 - the level that Crossfire represents - so I was keen to see how a WW1 game would work with these WW2 rules.

The game was a meeting battle, a common occurrence in northern France in the early days of WW1 during the Race to the Sea. Robert posted an eloquent account of the game in the Crossfire Yahoo Group placing it in historical context.

The absence of smoke and the relative scarcity of HMGs made this a significantly different style of game to the WW2  ones I've played but the rules worked equally well.

Plenty of reserves but nowhere to send them except into
the German meat-grinder. Miniatures are 15mm Peter
Pig and Minifigs.
The game has rekindled my interest in doing some 1914 armies, but I once again find myself spoilt for choice. For Crossfire armies, which are small and predominantly infantry, I would normally go for 15mm figures, but for early WW1 I am very attracted to the superb 12mm Kallistra ranges. But the armies might also be used for Square BashingBloody Big Battles! and/or Great War Spearhead which all require relatively large numbers of bases, so 6mm Baccus figures might be a better option.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Battles of Napoleon

Battles of Napoleon is a hex board game with miniatures which was published in 2010 and is no longer in print. Despite a superficial similarity in appearance to the Command & Colors series of games, it plays quite differently.

Board games with miniatures are said to be the wave of the future, and I would say that miniatures games with hexes or squares are effectively converging from the other direction. This was thus a game I was keen to try.

My friend Ian, who owns the game, chose the Salamanca scenario and gave me the French with the warning that I was unlikely to win, but fate decided otherwise. The British were stronger, particularly in cavalry, but I had more artillery and a good position on a ridge line defending the three objectives which start in French hands.

The aim of this scenario is to take a majority of the objectives, but you can also win the  game by destroying a certain number of units or killing the enemy c-in-c.

The initial French deployment. The British are yet to set up.
The British made a frontal assault in column and uphill which gave me two  bonuses in firepower. Coupled with a  run of skillful dice throwing (!), the British attack shattered on the French rock. The British may have suffered from bad luck but I believe they would have needed an equally exceptional run of good luck to have succeeded in their strategy.

The French hold firm while the British begin to suffer.
I'd certainly be interested in replaying this game from the British side. My strategy would be...well, you'll have to wait for that!

I really enjoyed the game and I think Napoleonic buffs would prefer this game to the more abstract approach of C&C Napoleonics.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game

I don't have much time at the moment to sort out my own games so I'm grateful for the opportunity to play other people's games, even though these are not necessarily part of my annual plan! This recently included a couple of games of X-Wing, the highly popular Star Wars spaceship combat game.

The games were based on a simple introductory scenario which pitted a pair of TIE fighters against an upgraded X-Wing, the components of the core introductory set. I controlled one of the TIE fighters. Although they are generally more manoeuvrable, the upgraded X-Wing continually escaped our arcs of fire while bringing us into its own arc of fire and I was quickly eliminated in the first game.

In the second game it was my companion's turn to be knocked out first. I fared a little better but was still unable to inflict much damage. The X-Wing, however, accidentally flew off the table, giving me the game. It was a victory of sorts, but not really a satisfying one. Had the battlefield been a bit more crowded, we would more easily have ended up with some sort of target in our sights.

The game mechanisms are similar to Wings of Glory WW1 (originally Wings of War) and the game plays straight out of the box. The rules are well written and the gameplay is smooth. The diminutive spaceships are very nicely modelled. I've seen the game played with much larger numbers of much larger ships, so it is very open to the escalation of financial investment.

Despite my recent foray into 15mm Sci-Fi skirmish gaming I'm not a Star Wars fan (or a Trekky), and spaceship combat doesn't really appeal to me. If I wanted to invest in a game of this sort I would probably go for the historical Wings of Glory. At one time I was quite interested in the WW2 variant, but my understanding is that it involves a lot of manoeuvre and that the chance actually to fire is rare, a somewhat frustrating recipe for a wargame. In any event I understand it's out of print at the moment, but never say never. And I see that Ares Games are due to release a new Battle of Britain Starter Set...