Friday, 21 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

Here in the UK Friday 21st is the last working day before the holiday, for most people. Therefore it seemed appropriate to send Christmas wishes to all my readers and followers at this point. Thanks for visiting the blog, and thanks for your many kind and thoughtful comments.

Don't ask.

I guess wargamers have different reasons for starting and maintaining blogs. I have certainly found that creating and maintaining this blog has greatly increased my enjoyment of the hobby. It serves me as a very useful personal record of my activities, but increasingly I have enjoyed trying to broaden its appeal by making it more than just a journal of battles fought and figures painted. I have tried to make it relevant to a wider audience by including views and observations on the hobby (mainly under the 'Talking Wargaming' label) and by including some background in my after-action reports to give perspective and context to my games. I've also tried to start including maps of most games in the hope that they may be useful to other gamers, although to be honest I mainly just like maps.

Overall, my concept for the new year is to create something more like my own little wargames magazine. It will, of course, continue to be personal and parochial, but I believe the modest effort will be fun and worthwhile. I hope the blog will continue to be of some interest to visitors.

Finally, a modest Christmas gift in the form of the latest version of my rules. Of course, I appreciate that few of you (probably none of you!) will actually be playing the rules on your tabletops. Like me, you will download a free set of rules from the interweb in order to check out the concepts, and maybe to 'steal' the odd idea or two. This is all fine and dandy by me. Should any of you check them out in any detail, I am of course most interested in any comments on how you find them. Download them right here, and the playsheet here.

And so finally...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Story Of A Scenario

I have an old box file in which, over the years, I have kept a fair pile of old wargaming documents. They consist of old self-written rules, amendments to old published rulesets, maps of games, the occasional catalogue of long forgotten figure ranges, and (most preciously) a very few old hand-written battle reports. 

I haven't delved into the lower depths of this box file for a fair few years, but doing so recently I turned up the map below, nearly at the botom of the pile. It's the map I drew of my first 'proper' wargame, on the new wargame table my dad had made for me. I reckon this would be about 1972. Until then I'd been wargaming on the floor of my bedroom.

I can remember the terrain items clearly: cardboard river and roads, cardboard profile trees, lichen hedges, Bellona walls and bridges, Airfix fences, home made plastic card houses and stepped hills from polystyrene tiles. All on a reinforced hardboard table painted a lovely shiny green!

The table was 8' x 6' and the game was an ACW encounter using the obligatory Airfix figures. I have no record of the forces or the scenario, but the layout still looked pretty good to me even after all these years. Therefore I decided to make this the basis of the scenario for my next SYW bash. I thought I'd show you how the scenario subsequently developed in my head.

Table Size
I can just about squeeze an 8' x 6' table in my dining room, but it means moving furniture and dealing with a lot of other hassle. 6' x 4' is so much easier. The clincher for the smaller table was that I fancied a more crowded battlefield. I wanted all the toys out, and a 6' x 4' table would mean I could have a good dense layout of troops with second lines and reserves, giving a feeling of depth to each side's deployment. At least that was the plan.

Attack-Defence? Encounter?
I guess those are the two basic options for a table top battle. I decided to choose both - have one side attacking in one area of the battlefield (or at one stage of the battle), and the other side attacking in a different area, or at a different stage. This kind of thing is ideal to keep both sides really involved.

I don't have the right hills for an identical terrain, so a little re-jigging would be needed. The Turnpike could go, making room for a ridge where North Hill is. South Hill also became a ridge. A reduced road network also made sense to me for the 18th century in central Europe as opposed to the 19th century in the USA. And of course the names on the map would need to change, or just be left out.

Like a lot of wargamers, time can be tight for my home games. One way to save time is to have both sides (or most of both sides) already deployed and ready to go. This does mean less generalship can be used in deciding initial deployment and tactics, but it really can save a lot of time in deciding where those figures will go and actually putting them out. Another plus is that your visitor is presented with a table resplendent with toy soldiers all ready to go, which I feel is often a welcoming and tempting sight.

With all this in mind I set up the game as shown below (the map was botched up using Microsoft Office). The Austrians are preparing to attack the Prussians, who they believe they significantly outnumber. The Prussians are expecting a reinforcing grenadier brigade to arrive on their left flank.

Striped units are cavalry, triangles are artillery.


1. Infantry Centre
6 infantry battalions
4 medium artillery batteries

2Infantry Reserve
2 grenadier battalions
1 infantry battalion

3Left Flank Cavalry
2 cuirassier regiments

4Right Flank Cavalry (deficient commander)
2 dragoon regiments
2 hussar regiments

5. Light infantry
2 grenz battalions
1 light gun                                   22 units     

A. Left Wing (distinguished commander)
4 grenadier battalions
2 medium artillery batteries

B. Right Wing
4 infantry battalions
1 frei-korps battalion
2 medium artillery batteries
1 hussar regiment (independent unit)

C. Cavalry
2 dragoon regiments
1 cuirassier regiment

D. Light infantry
2 jager detachments                     19 units     

The Game
I was quite pleased with the way the table looked after I'd set it up. With just about all the toys out on a smallish table it had the dense feel I was looking for.

Ready for action.

With the armies set up in close proximity, fighting commenced straight away.
Here the Prussian cavalry gets stuck in, brushing aside the Austrian light troops then
charging 2 artillery batteries in flank.The grenadiers arrive in the background. 

The Austrians attacked across the valley and the clash was bloody: my rules are designed to move things along quickly. By move 3 this was the result - 4 out of 6 attacking Austrian infantry units done for. You can see 3 of them fleeing back over the ridge to the right of the photo. The Prussians had been pushed back from their positions but had only lost one unit. The Austrian cuirassiers in the foreground were supposed to sweep the opposing Freikorps and Hussars from the field before attacking the Prussian flank - an idea that didn't work out due to poor command rolls.

The main Austrian cavalry force, led by their dithering commander, didn't react quickly enough to stop the Prussian grenadiers getting over the bridges. The grenadiers deployed into line and advanced, leaving the opposing cavalry with little choice but to steadily give way.

A rather bare looking Austrian centre. The Austrian cuirassiers have at last been successful, but without infantry support they can do nothing against the Prussian infantry behind the ridge. However, the Prussians themselves can do little more than shelter in the dead ground behind the ridge crest, which is still swept by Austrain artillery fire from 3 batteries.  In the background the lines of opposing infantry reform after confused fighting on the Prussian left flank.

Final positions after 5 moves. Prussian fire and the unstoppable advance of the Prussian grenadiers have triumphed, with the Austrian reserve seen bested in the background. The Austrians had lost 12 out of 22 units, and so their army was officially broken under my rules. The Prussians had lost 6 out of 19.

A most enjoyable, all-action game with intense fighting from the start. 5 moves had taken 2.5 hours to play out, which I'm happy with. The Austrians never recovered from their blasting at the start of the game when their centre attacked. The Prussians did have a bit of dice luck here - I'm going to try average dice for firing and melee to see if that reduces the role of chance a bit. Armies in my rules move by alternate brigades from each side, and I'm also thinking about introducing that system for firing rather than the simultaneous fire I use at the moment.

On the subject of scenarios, this blog recommends the article on scenario design available on Bob Mackenzie's Web Page.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

A New Project (2)

You Need Friends...
So here's my advice. If you're starting a new wargaming project, and you have a couple of friends who are not only keen wargamers but professional-standard modellers... consult them first, especially before you buy stuff.

We've already seen how my buddy Craig is going to supply the fallschirmjager for this project. Then no sooner have I bought some plastic card and other bits and pieces for a scratch-built hangar than Steve points me towards a site which has a whole host of printed hangars, control towers and other buildings suitable for a WW2 airfield, available for free download. And then he says he'll put them together for me as well, as he's bound to be better at it. Nice! This is the stuff Steve made for his own recent game:

Perfect for what I need. Steve also had some Woodlands Scenics grass mat left over from a previous project which he let me have, so the grass mat I'd bought went back to Antics Model Shop. I spent the refund on some paints and a nice Zvezda 15mm Panzer II. This just keeps getting better and better.

Other Progress
The AA machine guns are completed - here's the kind of thing I was aiming for.

Those funny coloured uniforms are Dutch Army.

And this was the result:

I think the tripods are bit too high, but I only had standing figures available.
The Timecast house is also complete, as you can see. I think it makes a believable
 airfield office/workshop, as well as being a useful general building to add to my collection.

Also finished is the armoured car company.

Now I need to get up the courage to cut out those runways. Once it's done, it can't be undone. I only have enough mat for 1 attempt!

Additional Units
Craig and Steve also came up with some interesting ideas for expanding my German units.

These guys look angry. Should be perfect for storming that airfield.
But how many can you get in a Ju-52?

How many chutes to drop a dinosaur?

Oh yes. Airlanded Panzer Grenadier Mutant Gorillas, supported by Dinosaur Mounted Heavy Weapons. Fortunately Craig was on hand to bring some realism back into the project. I'll only be using the dinosaurs on the command bases. Let's not get silly here.

Stop Press
Apparently those gorillas are now available in 6mm. Excellent! Pygmy Panzer Grenadier Mutant Gorillas!

Let's rock!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dazed and Confused

Rules. One of the main driving forces of the hobby. The rules serve to animate your lovingly prepared figures: using a good set of rules which play easily and have an authentic feel is one of the great pleasures of miniatures wargaming.

I've been looking out for some new rules recently. Now, I'm proud to say I'm definitely not a wargames butterfly. I have my 2 periods, which I intend to stick with, and for me the pleasure is in knowing those 2 periods thoroughly, as well as bringing together a collection of figures and vehicles over time to which I have become quite attached. But that doesn't stop me looking out for new rules which might enhance my wargaming.

However, these days I'm finding the new rules thing a bit problematic. Not that there's any problem with choice. Indeed, I have seen some comments that the number of new rule sets is a bit bewildering, but this isn't my problem. Nor is there a problem with the rules themselves: it seems rules writers are brimming with ideas, and reviews of the new sets seem to indicate that plenty of fresh concepts are out there. My problem is finding a set of rules that are just that - a set of rules.

For example, I Ain't Been Shot Mum! version 3 has recently been released. Being a well known cheapskate I took the opportunity to pick up an old copy of version 2 (2005), for a couple of quid at my local show (Reveille II in Bristol). The book featured interesting and original ideas from those Lardie boys, although overall they were maybe not for me. But I find that, to use the rules, I need (yes, actually need) to buy a period specific supplement for important stuff like stats and card deck composition. So the IABSM rulebook isn't a set of rules, it's part of a set of rules. It's volume 1. I presume v.3 is the same.

I have also been looking at the new Battlegroup Kursk set. For an outstanding review, see here. As you'll see, it's 237 pages long, it's a modelling and painting guide, it's a 25 page history of the Kursk campaign, but... the rules only cover one year of one theatre of WW2. Want to play Poland 1939? You'll have to wait for (and pay for) the supplement. Might be out in a year or two.

Yes, I am a bit bewildered. We all know that more playable and generally simpler rules have been a notable development in wargaming for quite a while. 'Fast Play' is all over the cover of most recent sets. But paradoxically the rule books containing these simpler, fast play rules just keep getting bigger and bigger. A4 size, full colour, quite likely over 200 pages, but somehow incomplete. There's apparently just not enough room to include all you need for your period in these grand books. You'll just have to buy the supplement(s). Not to mention that using that encyclopedia-like tome at the wargames table might be bit inconvenient as well, especially if you're juggling the rulebook and the supplement whilst referring between them.

So there you are. Rules that are too much and yet not enough, at the same time. Marketing concepts seem to be getting in the way of a satisfactory product - getting in the way of utility, if you will. Maybe there are customers out there for someone who just wants to produce a rule set: minimum size, minimum fluff, maximum coverage. Customers for a rules author or a wargames company that can spell concise. But perhaps the profit margin just wouldn't be high enough. In fairness, I should add that my trawls around the interweb would indicate I'm in a minority on this. Most wargamers seem very happy with these recent rulebooks and intend to snap them up.

Funnily enough, if I ever did a third gaming period it would pobably be DBA, with a view to progressing to the 'Big Battle' variant. Ah, DBA... probably counts as Old School by now. A5 format, 52 closely typed pages covering 3500 years of history including army lists... Hmm. Perhaps that's going too far in the other direction. But make that an A4 format, a few more examples of play, and you're there. Fortunately for my bank account, I don't think I have the time to support 3 wargames periods.

And whilst I'm on the subject...
Battlegames continues to be the magazine for the thinking wargamer. On the subject of rules, columnist Neil Shuck suggested in issue 30 that maybe the way into a new period was to choose a set of rules that attracted you, and go from there. Let the rules decide. An interesting idea, I thought, but I wasn't sure I agreed. In issue 32, Mike Siggins helped me clarify my doubts by writing that he thought Saga was a good rule set, and the figures available were excellent, but having played a few games he had decided the Dark Ages was tactically a bit boring. Yes - to avoid disapointment, it's surely best to put the period first.

I believe that the way into a new period is by research - investigate the new period, get to know and understand it. That should be a pleasure in itself. Then check out the rules and figures afterwards.

Even if you're a butterfly, it's better to be an informed butterfly.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A New Project...

... but definitely not a new period. I don't have the time, money or motivation for a new period. But I have settled on a small, do-able project that will involve a modest number of purchases and a bit of scratch building.

Some years ago I had an idea about putting on a demo game at one of the shows, based on the German air assaults on the Dutch airfields around the Hague during the 1940 blitzkrieg. I never went ahead with it - just another idea shelved. But I recently came across some great information on these attacks, and once again I was thinking they would make a great game. But I had no desire to create battalions of Dutch infantry, plus heavy weapons and vehicles, to oppose the Germans - this would put far too much strain on my limited financial resources and (more importantly) my very slow rate of painting. I wanted to have this project finished promptly, and ready to play soon after Christmas.

The solution was straightforward enough - do the scenario, but transpose it to the Polish campaign. The most interesting aspects of each of the 3 airfield attacks could be amalgamated into one scenario, with the Poles standing in for the Dutch. It wasn't too fanciful to imagine similar attacks taking place against Polish airfields during 1939. And I mean really... Poles, Dutch, how many wargamers can tell the difference?...

For the Dutch M36...
...substitute the Polish Wz.29. Simples!
The Scenario
Those interested in the details of the real actions should visit the link already given above. Briefly, I would need an airfield to attack, but also sufficient surrounding area to allow for some off-airfield manoeuvre. This latter area would accomodate the arrival of reinforcements, parachute drop zones and maybe one or two secondary objectives. I settled on a 6' x 6' table formed of nine 2' TSS tiles, with the airfield located roughly in the middle.

I also needed to work out a rough sequence of events for the scenario, based on what actually took place. So we start with a lightly defended Dutch/Polish airfield. Around dawn, the Germans commence their attack with a bombing raid and the dropping of parachute troops at DZs just off the airfield. Very shortly after, units from an airlanding division arrive in Ju-52s, in 2 or 3 waves. At some point, Polish/Dutch reinforcements should also start to arrive, including artillery support as well as a bombing raid against the German aircraft now littering the area. These various forces would then fight it out for possession of the airfield plus (as in the real attacks) at least one secondary objective, probably a bridge over a river or canal.

Burning Ju-52s at Ypenburg. German aircraft losses were heavy.
Ju-52 hit by Dutch AA fire.

Balance of forces would be decided by the real battles, tweaked to give as fair an action as possible, and also guided by the parameters of the 'airborne assault' scenario in the BKC rulebook. Most of the figures used I would already have (Polish and German infantry). Vehicles and heavy weapons needed would be limited - the former would only be fielded by the Dutch/Polish. So what would I need to acquire over and above what I already had?

The actual airfields were all grass. Whether they had marked runways I don't know - airfields in those days tended to be just big grass areas. However, a couple of grass runways would give a nice impression of an aerodrome. Therefore I would purchase some sort of terrain mat from which I would cut out the runways, and these would then contrast nicely with the normal table surface. A runway length of 50cm would fit the intended space nicely and would scale to real runways 1000yards long - a reasonable length. I settled on the Woodland Scenics Small Summer Grass Mat.
Destroyed Ju-52s at Valkenburg, showing the type of grass airfields involved.
The airfield boundary could easily be suggested by roads, fences, hedges and tree lines formed from terrain I already had. The available field defences were also no problem. Some airfield buildings would, however, definitely be needed and these would have to be acquired. In the end I settled on making a scratch built hangar, which would stand alongside a suitable building bought from Timecast. These would form a very basic 'airfield built up area', which I could enhance with a model of a Polish Karas light bomber which was sitting unmade in my 'bits' drawer. The rest of the terrain outside the airfield could easily be created from my normal stock.

Figures and Vehicles
As for figures, I had enough German infantry for a couple of airlanding battalions, and plenty of Poles. The only problem was the Fallschirmjager. Step forward the very lovely Craig of Tiny Terrain, a wargames buddy who has offered to lend me his collection of German paras. Late war, but let's not be fussy! Much more importantly, if they're Craig's, I know they'll be beautifully painted. So that's sorted.

That's Craig, third from left.

I intend to put together a couple of AA mgs for the defenders, to fight alongside an existing Bofors 40mm - once again, I can cobble something together from the bits and bobs tray.

Vehicles: not many needed. A company of Dutch armoured cars were involved at Ypenburg, so I decided to add a Polish Wz.34 and Wz.29 to my list of purchases, to join a Wz.34 I already have.

Most importantly, how about those Ju-52s? 1/100th scale models would be too big and expensive (I wanted at least 4, preferably 6). 1/144th scale models might be ideal, and are available to purchase, but they're still around £15 each including p+p, making £90 for 6. No way. This time it was the Russians to the rescue, when I discovered that Zvezda do a 1/200th Ju-52 kit which you can get for about £2.50. Wingspan is 6", which will do the job. What the hell, maybe I'll buy 8.


With a bit of luck, I hope to keep my purchases within about £50, including modelling materials and the terrain mat.

The Story So Far
I have the terrain mat and materials for the hangar, bought from my (fairly) local model store, Antics in Bristol. The building from Timecast has arrived and is undercoated. The 2 armoured cars have also been purchased from Old Glory UK, who are UK stockists for True North Miniatures. I'll get all these sorted out before allowing myself the luxury of purchasing the Junkers. It's always tempting to buy everything at once, but a little discipline is called for when your budget is tight. And impulse buying is likely to grow one's lead mountain, which none of us needs.

To close, here's the Wz.29 model completed and undercoated.

The commander and turret hatches had to be added, as well as the 2 machine guns,
 the unusual arrangement of which is a distinct part of the vehicle's character.
But not a bad model for its age, and the only one available in 15mm size.

Updates to follow!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Battle of Langensalza

Perhaps I should start by admitting that this is not the Battle of Langensalza. It is, in fact, the Battle of Seminole Ridge, as described in Charles Grant's Wargame Tactics. Of the battle reports in that book, it was Seminole Ridge which attracted me, but that battle was set in the American Civil War, and if replayed in the SYW it obviously needed a new title. 'Langensalza' was the battle in the book that actually was set in the SYW, so I swapped the names round. I hope that's all clear.

The battle is a traditional attack-defence setup, with (in my case) the Austrians defending a ridge line which covers 2 bridges. The bridges are the objective of the attacking Prussians. I went for a 6' x 6' table. The river can only be crossed at the bridges or ford.

The defenders hold the Langensalza Ridge and the ground to the south of it. The attackers deploy on their baseline along the north table edge with the objective of seizing the ridge and the bridges beyond. Mr Grant gave the attackers twice the number of units as the defenders, so I of course followed suit. Forces were:

Prussia (attacking) 
Infantry brigade of 4 infantry battalions 
Infantry brigade of 4 grenadier battalions 
Infantry brigade of 1 Frei battalion, 2 jager battalions 
Cavalry brigade of 2 cuirassier regiments 
Cavalry brigade of 2 dragoon regiments and 1 hussar regiment 
Artillery park of 3 medium batteries, 1 light battery and 1 howitzer battery

21 units.   

Austria (defending) 
Infantry brigade of 3 infantry battalions 
Infantry brigade of 1 infantry battalion and 2 grenz battalions 
Cavalry brigade of 1 cuirassier regiment and 1 dragoon regiment 
Artillery park of 2 medium batteries and 1 light battery. 
3 feet of entrenchments

11 units.     

To give some interest to the deployment process, I decided on the old school process of a curtain across the table, removed once deployment was complete. The details of how I contrive this are in an earlier post. We allocated sides by dice roll - I got the Austrians, my opponent Steve the Prussians. I'll take the liberty of describing the game from my perspective. 

The Game.
Despite its rather Heath Robinson nature, the curtain went up easily enough, accompanied by comments about 'hanging out the washing on the Seigfried Line' from my opponent. There were further comments as we both set out our forces. I admit I do have a habit of muttering to myself when concentrating, but Steve's offer to call Social Services was typical of the sometimes hurtful badinage by which he seeks to gain a psychological advantage during our games. The swine. On removing the curtain, the two sides had deployed as per the photo below.

A little frightening to see one's opponent's baseline stuffed with so many troops. The important thing to note is that  all the Prussian cavalry was on their right flank, the other flank being held by light troops. My own small cavalry brigade would have its work cut out.

And so it transpired. The Prussian cuirassiers forged ahead of their comrades, who were impeded by a wood, and charged into the thin but valiant line of Austrian horse. My own cuirassiers scored first blood and the leading Prussian unit was quickly done for.

Here we see the advance of the Prussian grenadiers. The Prussian line infantry (being moved in the background) proved reluctant to advance beyond Langensalza for a number of moves, with a hesitancy which (in my opinion) bordered on cowardice.

The cavalry melee intensifies as the dragoons of both sides clash. There really was only one possible outcome, but I felt I had little choice but to fight it out and hope for the best.

Overview around mid game. In the distance you can see that my cavalry have been overcome and the Prussian dragoons are preparing to attack the flank of my infantry line. In the foreground, Prussian light troops and the grenadiers make steady but unspectacular progress. The line infantry brigade is stuck at Langensalza, whilst the Prussian artillery on the Langenburg fires at the Austrian entrenchments, with surprisingly little effect so far.

Again my forces are overfaced, this time on the right flank. Two grenz units do their best to hold off Prussian jager and grenadiers. Once more, the eventual result was not in doubt but the Austrian light troops had the pleasure of seeing the Prussian Garde Grenadier battalion leave the line and hasten to the rear, as a result of their steady fire.

Another overview around the same time. The noose is tightening around my troops, on both flanks.

And so to the awful denouement. Here you can see that the leading Prussian dragoon regiment has driven one Austrian infantry battalion from their entrenchments, then continued on to charge the supporting artillery unit. The gutsy gunners saw them off but there was plenty more Prussian cavalry to come...

... as you see here. The Prussian cavalry threw a double move, and now charged the guns in flank, as well as charging 'Loudon's Grenadiers' who were attempting to come across the table to prop up the crumbling Austrian flank. The Prussian hussars exploited the work of their comrades by galloping over and capturing the western bridge. No prizes for guessing that my artillery battery was destroyed, along with Loudon's battalion, which had been caught in march column.

Prussian artillery fire had also now dislodged the Austrian units manning the eastern end of the entrenchments, and the attacking grenadiers are seen here cresting the rise to the astonishment of a lone Austrian staff officer. The Austrian artillery battery at this end of the ridge struggles to extricate its guns.

Oh, please make it stop! The second unit of Prussian cuirassiers, having hacked down my  artillery unit, moved on to charge the last remaining infantry unit on this part of the ridge in flank. Already softened up by a blast of canister, the white clad men were quickly done for. The Austrian light gun in the foreground predictably did little to bother the Prussian hussars crossing the bridge. 

And that was about it. Only the light troops on the Austrian right flank still held their original positions. This overview shows the situation around about move seven, though by this time I had given up counting moves as unit after unit headed off the table for their storage boxes. Oh, the shame!

The Prussian line brigade is seen here finally leaving the outskirts of Langensalza as the game ended. They hadn't been needed in the end, but their threat had helped to pin my own infantry in their entrenchments.

Another Austrian staff officer has an unexpected encounter with advancing enemy troops.  The bridge is a new one  acquired at 'Colours' in September.

I had been resoundingly thrashed, losing 7 of my 11 units, as well as one of the bridges and the whole of the ridge. Steve had lost only 2 of his 21 units. My tactics were certainly not the best. It was obvious from the start that my cavalry would be overwhelmed, and I should have redeployed some units to cover my left flank in anticipation of this. Both sides had their share of bad luck, so I certainly couldn't blame the dice rolls either.

There is the question of how evenly balanced the scenario was, but Mr Grant rarely gets these things wrong. The battle when played out in his book was a near run thing. I think I would add another infantry unit to the Austrian force in future, though.

The rules used were my own. Gaming time was about 2.5 hours. And yes, I did enjoy myself, despite a crushing defeat. That's wargaming, after all.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Battle! - The Missing Chapters

Now I've owned Charles Grant's Battle! Practical Wargaming since the reprint came out in 1972. Of the classic wargaming books on my shelf, it is unique in being the only one bought at the time, not borrowed repeatedly from the library at the time and then finally bought decades later. This book was central to my wargaming for many years - I used the original rules, then adapted them extensively.

I thought I knew this book inside out, but there was evidently one thing I didn't know. The book was, of course, constructed from a series of articles in Meccano Magazine. But (possibly for reasons to do with the size of the book, or time constraints), there were six articles in the magazine that didn't become chapters in the book, dealing with terrain and the use of maps.

I guess a number of you will already know this. This post is one of those where I try and publicise something that others have found out, so that it might be known more widely. So, if this interests you, go to God bless John from New Zealand for telling us all about this on his blog. Downloading the missing chapters is entirely free and legal.

And there's more. An 'expanded' version of the original book is also now on sale from Caliver Books. I thumbed through a copy at Colours, but didn't take too much in. A bit of supplementary content and a few colour pics if I remember rightly. The 'missing chapters' are included. I decided it was not worth the £27.50 asking price for me, but you may well disagree if you check it out.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Holger Eriksson Artillerymen

Something For The Weekend Sir?
It's been said before by many wargamers, but allow me to repeat here that a nice part of the hobby is when one of those little packages drops onto the front doormat. And this time, it came all the way from Sweden!

Address deliberately obscured - thanks Steve.

I like to dabble in bits and pieces from other figure ranges apart from my normal RSM95s, and this time it was the turn of Holger Eriksson figures, ordered via the Spencer Smith website. Just a few artillerymen, but they were needed to fill a gap. SSM have to order them via Sweden, so postage is a little higher than normal, but full marks to the guys for pointing this out before taking the order.

Unfortunately the arrival of the package coincided with the departure of our family to a rare weekend in the country. No sooner did I have the little box in my hands than my wife was indicating that there was no time for fiddling around with toy soldiers - the car needed packing up and we needed to get away to beat the Friday afternoon traffic. So the packet came with me: unopened.

Quite why this should be a source of amusement and ridicule to my wife and children I have no idea. Opening my little parcel and checking out the contents would simply add to the pleasure of the weekend. And in this I was quite correct. (Thank goodness they didn't catch me taking the above photo at the cottage). 

The Figures
So, just 8 artillerymen to unwrap. Elegantly proportioned figures with little or no flash and an acceptable amount of detail - much better in this respect than the Spencer Smith miniatures themselves. Being Swedish they lack the pigtails and turnbacks usual in mid-18th century soldiers, but the figures are very compatible with RSMs and ranges like Willie. If used in small numbers I reckon they add variety without anyone really noticing that the uniforms are a bit wrong. In this spirit I painted the first 2 figures as Bavarian artillerists, and here they are flanking an RSM figure. And no, I didn't take my paints with me for the weekend. Cleaning up and painting took place after my return!

Yes, my painting standard isn't really designed to cope with close up shots.
You'll just have to put up with it.

Now, according to Knottel, SYW Bavarian artillerymen did have the usual 'Germanic' style uniforms, with turnbacks and lapels etc, as well as crossbelts, so even the RSM figure is wrong. You'd be better off using Prussian figures. But I think the light grey and cornflower blue work very well. I also like the 'clutching a cannonball' pose on the right. And frankly I'm not that bothered about strict accuracy. These guys will also be manning a yellow painted Austrian howitzer, instead of a grey-blue coloured Bavarian piece, as the artillery itself is already painted: my decision to go Bavarian for the crew was last minute. But I enjoyed my little painting exercise and these guys can join the small Bavarian contingent fighting alongside my Austrian army.  

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A Bridge Too Far - The Board Game

The Set Up
Well now. Up until a few weeks ago I'd never ever played a board wargame. Ever. They didn't have the visual appeal I wanted in my wargaming (too many weeny cardboard counters), and I'd heard the rules tended to be fiendishly complicated and long winded. But they do have the advantage of taking up a small amount of space, and there's no painting involved. Now, my friend and wargames buddy Paul is a bit of a board and parlour game enthusiast - loves inviting people round for a spot of Monopoly or some such - and so when I happened upon the Flames of War 'A Bridge Too Far' boardgame a few months back, we agreed to go halves on it. What the heck.

The Package
We ordered from Maelstrom Games, and paid £27 including p+p, which is about as cheap as you can get it (RRP £30). A reassuringly big box was delivered in the post a few days later. Of course, I'd done my online homework so knew more or less what to expect, and I was not disappointed (apart from the corny artwork). 

The game board is good quality and very nicely printed out. It comes in 3 sections and measures a total of 48" x 22" (120cm x 55cm). The playing pieces are vehicle models in around 1/285th scale, and infantry figures in about 1/100th scale. They are hard plastic and could easily be painted up if you wanted. Overall they are quite nice representations: they certainly satisfied my own need for 'real' miniatures rather than counters. There are some cardboard counters, which are nicely made from thick card, some themed dice (you can never have too many dice) and a few other bits and pieces. The rule set is full colour with loads of the type of illustrations you would expect from FoW.

The Game
You can play the 'historical' game, where deployments are made according to those of 1944, or you can choose your own deployments and see how your ideas work out. Paul and I have played one of each type of game, and both were very enjoyable. I won't bore you with a detailed run down of the rules. We found them complex enough to make an interesting game with some mild intellectual stimulation, but simple enough not to be a drudge. The various moving, deployment and fighting phases interlock well. Chance has a significant role, but good tactics and thinking things through will give you a good prospect of success. We found no glitches or problems during play - this seems to be a well worked-out and well play-tested game.

Games have a standard length of 5 turns. The box claims games take 60 - 90 minutes. Well, our first game took 3.5 hours, with the usual learning process and frequent reference to the rules (which are well laid out and well explained). The second game a few weeks later seemed much quicker and easier, but still took the best part of 3 hours. This was not a problem - the time flew by. But I reckon playing a game in under 2 hours is unlikely, unless you play on a really regular basis.

After a tough three and a half hours in command, Paul needs a snooze.

There is not much online support for the game, though you can find some comments and reviews at Board Game Geek. There is also the odd comment on the official FoW forum, but this seems to be The Boardgame That Battlefront Forgot, which is a shame as it makes for an entertaining change from getting the miniatures out. There is plenty of replay value - the more familiar the rules become, the more you begin to appreciate the various tactical options. I know we'll be getting this game out again in the future. 

In short, this is a good cross between 'real' wargaming and those boardgames you've been avoiding all these years. Well worth looking into.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Colours 2012

Once again yesterday I made my way to this great show. This year I was lucky enough to be part of a WW2 demonstration game set up by my friend Steve J, which meant I would also be meeting up with some wargaming buddies that I hadn't seen for a while. The game was in 15mm and was set on the Eastern Front in 1944, with the Germans counter-attacking a Soviet bridgehead across the Vistula.

As one would expect with Steve, the game turned out to be well planned and the terrain a pleasure to fight over. Unfortunately the German players (one of whom was me) failed to break through the Soviet defences and were judged to have lost. Nevertheless a great day was had by all 5 of us, with plenty of the obligatory banter to keep things rolling along nicely. One doesn't want to take this wargaming thing too seriously!

Infantry of the 45th Volksgrenadier Division advance bravely towards a Russian held village,
covered by a smoke barrage.

The 'Double Six Gamers' hard at work.
Dave (foreground) arrived by motorbike and is suffering from a bad case of helmet hair.
Personally, I believe this was the reason we missed out on the 'Best Demo Game' prize.

You can have as many tanks as you like,
but breaking through veteran infantry in hard cover is a slow business.

The Volksgrenadiers have taken the village.
As usual with the Germans, command units are in the forefront of the attack.

Overview at a later stage of the game. Russian air support appears over the table.

As for the show itself, I found it as good, if not better, than ever. All 3 floors were full of people enjoying the large number of demonstration and participation games, in addition to which the trade stands area had been expanded and was full of new products. Perhaps the only drawback of being involved in a demo game is that time to see other games and give the trade stands a really good look over is limited. 

I took a few photos of games that appealed to my personal tastes - there will be better and more comprehensive photos on other blogs and sites, I am sure. The standard of many of the demo games was mind-bogglingly high, providing great visual appeal and also inspiration to visiting gamers, which is what you want from a show. 

Agincourt in 15mm.

28mm Napoleonic action.
Bedford Gladiators I believe, and a game related to the 200th anniversary of Borodino

Detail of the above game. Ah, the old 'base too wide for the bridge' problem...

Borodino in 6mm, by 'The Old Guard'.
Look at the extraordinary effort that went into the terrain.

'Borodino, The Grand Redoubt'. 15mm game by Loughton Strike Force. Another  outstanding effort.

Detail of the above game.

Belgium 1914, by the Whistable and Herne Bay Wargamers (20mm).
An example of a 'model railway standard' layout which created a magnificent spectacle.

Another view of the 1914 game. The church and town hall were particularly impressive.

Just one corner of the 28mm 'Very British Civil War' demo game. A table packed with  interest .

These few photos do no justice to the number and variety of quality demonstration games on display. The number of innovative and good looking participation games was also impressive. The time and effort which had obviously been put into some of these games, of both types, was amazing.

All in all, a great day out  and I can't recommend this show highly enough - the nicest venue currently in use, playing host to one of the biggest and most thriving shows out there. Congratulations to the Newbury & Reading Wargames Society on another great success.