June 24, 2017

Proving the theory

Upplagd av Minondas

And so, finally, the day of the first outing for my newly painted Saxons have arrived.

With H.’s offensive on kingdom of Rhegis having slowed down to snail pace, L. decided to see if his tribe wouldn’t have better luck a bit further south, in kingdom of Caer Gynntguic. With his bunch being freshly painted and this being his outing with Dux Britaniarum rules, I decided to keep things simple and let him lead a basic raid on a village. The Saxon goal in this scenario is quite simple – run into individual the village, search the houses, find the loot on a roll of a six, grab the loot, run back home. Oh yes… try not to get killed in the process, but that’s optional. For Britons the objective is also pretty straightforward – kill’em all.

The plans

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L.’s entry point in this scenario was from the far edge of the table. He was lucky enough to get three rounds of movement before my troops arrived on the table, unlucky to find out once I got there, I had all of my troops with me. This fact must have influenced his thinking, as only one group of warriors and a leader was sent into the village in search of the ‘treasure’, potentially slowing down his ‘search for treasure’ rate. Remainder of his raiding party – two units of hearthguard, two units of warriors and the bowmen – set course straight for my guys.

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Just a couple of rounds into the game, the lines were drawn in the sand, traditional greetings in form of insults about relatives and personal hygene were exchanged… and a bit of a crisis materialized for my Britons. As can be seen in the picture, I was a bit too eager to get into contact with L.s hearthguard and exposed my flank to his other group of warriors. L. didn’t fail to notice my predicament and did actually try to smash into my exposed flank, but his dice roll for movement turned out to be inadequate for the task. His failure with the movement dice roll allowed me to bring up my peasant levies, grouped in a single large formation. By pure luck, I managed to avoid a potential disaster.

A quick clarification is necessary at this point – as it turns out, I had a truely crappy ‘photo day’ during this game and vast majority of pictures taken during the game have turned out to be unuseable. Because of that fact, the most vital part of this game has to be narrated without any visual aids.

Basically, what happened was this – L., tempted by a good set of Fate cards, smashed his hearthguard into the shieldwall in front of them. He ignored my commanipulares on the left flank and focused his effort on my warriors in center and the right. It was a pretty even and prolonged fight in which L. managed to break my warrior group on the right flank. In the end though, the Shock points mounted up for him and his front rank broke rank and fled. Remainder of his hearthguard gave it one more try, but it wasn’t enough. Once his chief was wounded, they followed the example of their comrades and withdrew in orderly fashion.

His two units of warriors engaged my other shieldwall, consisting entirely of peasant levies. Surprisingly, here the fight was rather onesided – both sides suffered some casualties, but the Shock caused the Saxons to break contact almost instantly after first clash of arms.

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The picture above shows the situation after these dramatic events. L., unwilling to give up, charged the British warrior group that broke rank in fight with his hearthguard with what remained of his own warriors and actually managed to put them to flight. This success exposed them however to an assault by my peasants, who managed to maul them rather badly.

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Meanwhile, L’s raiders in the village searched freneticaly for anything worth bringing back home. House after house was ransacked, but nothing even remotely shiney could be found.

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With his hearthguard catching a breath at safe distance from what remained of my ‘main’ shieldwall and his search in the village turning up nothing of value, L. made a rather surprising decision to make one final attempt to break my levies. With just four warriors, he smashed in the middle of their shieldwall and actually managed to split it in two. This was however the high watermark of his effort – what remained of my peasants turned onto his warriors like mad dogs, or, at least they did so in my imagination. To be truthfull though, they didn’t manage to do much damage. They did however manage to convince L. about general unhealthiness of his current situation. His Saxons came to sensible conclusion it was best to break contact.

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At this time the game was at a rather peculiar stage. Both L. and I did loose a formation of warriors. L’s hearthguard had a shedload of Shock points to deal with, but was otherwise still combat-worthy (one of his groups lost three men, the other was untouched). L. also had one completely fresh Warrior group in the village. From my perspective, the situation wasn’t that rosy neither. My peasant levy was still alive, but pretty much in shambles. My commanipulares didn’t suffer any casualties, but they were now supported only by a single group of four warriors; these guys would not stand for long if L. decided to attack. In other words, this fight was far from over!

But… as so often is the case in our hobby, real life clock and exhaustion took over. We’ve been at it for almost five hours and L. made the sensible decision to call it a day despite the fact that he didn’t manage to find anything of value in the village.

Musings after the battle

Let’s start with the obvious – the Saxons, newly painted as they were, never really had a chance in this game. The old wargaming truism has been proven yet again! Smile

If I am to be serious though, this game of ours was quite fascinating for me for two reasons. First of all, it was rather entertaining to see how different playing styles of H. and L. shaped the course of the game in very different ways. With H., I can usually assume that the Saxons will act cautiously and, for the lack of better word, rationally. L. explained to me later that he wanted to explore the ruleset and therefore acted consciously much more aggresively, seaching for a fight wherever it could be found. Thus, he took risks I’ve never experienced in my games with H. It has to be said that these risks did pay dividents, most important of them being the fact that he managed to split my levy shield wall with just four warriors accompanied by a leader.

Which brings me to the second reason this game was also a valuable learning experience. In Dux Britaniarum, a formation can be created by groups of warriors being formed either side by side or in two ranks, one behind the other. If a formation consists of two groups, they can be formed like this:

XXXOOO or XXXXXX
XXXOOO    OOOOOO

The difference between these two setups is that side by side groups always take equal shares of potential hits, while in ‘one rank behind the other’ setup the front rank absorbs all hits until their number dwindles to less than half of their comrades in rear rank. Then they shift place.

In our game, I played with groups side by side, L. set up his formations in two ranks. This was new experience, because H. usually preferred same setup as I did.

Why do I mention this? Well, for the first time, I had the opportunity to see the real differences in these two formation variants and they do add some surprising complexity to the ruleset. The advantage of the ‘side by side’ formations is that all involved groups support each other by division of possible hits. But this also means that all groups accumulate the Shock points, not necessarily at equal rate. It seems that one of the groups will always be ‘unlucky’ and accumulate more shock points than everybody else. In the end this will result in their rout, which in turn will split the formation into smaller components.

‘Two ranks’ formation seems to have their own set of pros and cons. As only the front rank absorbs all the hits, their comrades at the back are ‘protected’, at least at the beginning of an engagement. But the almost ‘manipular’ possibility to switch positions once casualties start to mount up seems to me rather unlikely – rather, the front rank wil suffer casualties and shock points and at critical point they just as likely break instantly, leaving their buddies to face the opponent all on their own. This is what happened in case of L’s hearthguard’s attack – his front rank took all shock points and by the time they lost half of their numbers, it was too much for them and they run away.

My point with this rather too long ‘analysis’ is that there are hidden depths in this deceptively simple set of alternatives for formation setup and I’m not sure how to deal with them. Further games seem to be necessary to explore this topic further! Smile

There is this old wargaming saying that claims that there is no better motivation for painting more minis than actually playing games. There may be something to this, because after recent test run of Chain of Command which disclosed how limited my collection of minis really was, I decided to do something about it.

And so, after yet another archeological excavation in my basement, I found what I was looking for – 1/72 sets of German and US infantry from Plastic Soldier Company. For those unfamiliar with this company, it’s been around for a better part of a decade by now. Their goal is simple – to provide affordable hard plastic figures and vehicle models in 15, 20 and (I believe) 28mm scale, mostly for WWII.

First off, as I am in urgent need of getting some .30 cal Brownings on the table, I decided to get cracking with the US Heavy Weapons set. Just to clarify yet again, I use 20mm or 1/72minis, so review is of the box in that scale. The box contains three identical sprues. Each sprue has following contents:

  • 19 miniatures, all of which are sculpted as crew personel for weapons listed below.
  • M1917 water-cooled MMG on a tripode, crew in sitting stance
  • M1919 aircooled MMG on a tripode, crew lying down
  • M2 HMG (aka 50cal or ‘Big Deuce’) on a tripode, crew in sitting stance
  • 60mm mortar
  • 81mm mortar
  • 4.2’’ chemical mortar
  • Bazooka

As I hope can be seen in picture of the sprue, some cleanup, assembly and gluing, both of weapons and figures, is required. For gluing I recommend the glues intended for plastic model kits, such as Revell’s Contacta glue or Tamiya’s Extra Fluid Cement. Superglue will also work, but personally I prefer the kind of glue that melts and fuses plastic together.

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The assembly of minis isn’t complicated, but it does takes a bit of time – this single sprue required about two hours of my time. If you don’t bother with scraping and filing away all tiny mould lines (which are not much of a problem, really), you could probably cut away an hour or so from preparation time.

It has to be said that these little suckers weren’t the easiest ‘build’ I’ve ever worked with. The parts are a tad fiddly and I managed to snap off one leg of the .50 cal tripod, but that’s not really much of an issue. What gave me most problems were the minis with arms separate from the torso – .50 cal gunner, M1917 gunner and the guys with binoculars. The .50 cal gunner is especially tricky, as his arms are fused to the machine gun. If you don’t attach these arms ‘just so’, the entire gun ends up floating in the air. In the end, I had to use some filler for the joints between the arms and torso on a couple of figures and I’m still not 100 percent happy with the result.

Perhaps I make it all sound too dramatic – the minis go together pretty well and I’m sure that with a bit of practice things will move along for you without any hickups. And once you’re done with a sprue, here’s what you get…

The good

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The bazooka team and both medium machine guns are pretty nifty figures. The .30 cal is slightly overdimensioned and bazooka’s details aren’t 100 percent historically accurate, but I don’t think anyone but a true button-counter will have any problems with deploying those minis on the table.

The bad

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With this group, I unfortunately have some issues. Let’s start with the ‘elephant in the room’, and I do mean it quite literally. Seriously, who the heck sculpted this M2? While it is instantly recognizable as what it’s supposed to be representing, it is simply huge. Its length is 3,2 cm, i.e. about 230cm in 1:1 scale. The real thing is about 165cm long. So the overdimensioning in this case is very hard to ignore.

Next the 60mm and 81mm mortars. Both are sensible additions to this set, but… once again, the 60mm tube is grossly oversized, so much so that at one meter’s distance it is really quite hard to distinguish it from its bigger brethren. The real M2 60mm mortar was a tiny thing (relatively speaking), with a barrel just a bit over 72cm long. M1 81mm mortar’s tube was 119cm long. Sadly, this difference in size and heft of the two mortar types is unfortunately hard to observe in this set.

The questionable

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Finally, we arrive to my ‘huh’ moment. Opinions may of course differ, but to me the addition of this heavy piece of equipment in a 1/72 scale set is a bit of a mystery. 20mm minis are most often used in skirmish games. On the other hand, 4.2 inch mortars were deployed as battalion level assets and had minimum range of over 500 meters – not likely the equipment you’d encouncer at the edge of front line. Addition of some troops with sachel charges, bangalore tubes or flamethrowes would in my opinion be much more useful. But here it is, in three ‘copies’.

Luckily, the minis that follow with it are generic sculpts and will certainly come in handy as artillery crews for all kinds of equipment.

Conclusion

In the somewhat underrated WWII movie ‘The Monuments Men’, there is this scene where Matt Damon steps on a German anti-personel mine. He hears the click and freezes. Then Clooney comes along and wonders what happen. Damon tells him and Clooney asks ‘Why did you do something like that?’. Personally, after putting together these figures, my reaction is a bit like that of George Clooney in that movie. The guys running Plastic Soldier Company know their stuff and they certainly know what a whiney bunch we wargamers can be. So why would they decide to give us an .50 Browning looking like a bolt gun from Space Marines set and a 60mm mortar on steroids? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe it’s something about the design process (I think PCS designs in CAD and then scales minis accordingly), maybe it was a concious decision to make the pieces less prone to breakage. I can only speculate, but regardless… overall, I can’t help but think that this set is a bit of a missed opportunity.

Having said that, I must allow my sensible side to have it’s say – despite my criticism, I claim that this box it is most definitely a good purchase. The crew minis look good and you get 47 figures for peanuts when compared with prices of metal figures. And if you’re after a cheap, quick way to flesh out out your U.S. infantry force, I doubt that you’ll find better ‘value for money’ option that this set. I won’t lie to you, in due time I will maybe be replacing these 60mm mortars and .50 cal HMG’s with figures from AB Miniatures (with gritted teeth over their abhorent prices, I may add), but for now I will happily be fielding these minis in my Chain of Command games.

May 26, 2017

When Wargamer’s Magpie Syndrome pays off

Upplagd av Minondas

Let’s face it, we all suffer from it to some degree – new period catches our interest, a new range of minis is released, a book or a movie gives us ideas for a cool scenario or campaign. When this happens, small parcels start being delivered by postal service to our doors. I’m sure that vast majority of wargamers is far more disciplined than I am and manages to put contents of those parcels onto wargaming table within a couple of weeks… In my case though, these newly acquired ‘treasures’ are as often as not inspected, admired, put in some box and then doomed to linger, half-forgotten, in my basement storage room. Sometimes for years, sometimes for decades.

Every once in a while though, a small miracle happens and my interest in the period or theme awakens again. As for example, with the WWII skirmish due to ‘Chain of Command’ ruleset. As I started to seriously consider putting together last week’s test scenario, I realized that I really didn’t have much terrain suitable for such game. And then I remembered… sometime in late ninties I’ve bought a shedload of bits and pieces from Gamecraft Miniatures. It took some effort, but after a small archeological excavation I’ve managed to dig up a bag of resin walls and stones. I am pretty sure that a dozen or so resin buildings are hiding somewhere, so the search is not yet complete!

Anyway… getting these walls and stone formations ready for a game seemed like a plausible goal over a period of two weeks I had for preparation of the game. In ‘raw’ form, the terrain pieces are made of off-white resin. So the first step was to wash them in luke-warm water with some detergent. An old-fashioned toothbrush is quite useful for this task.

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While the resin lumps were put aside to dry, I started to wonder how to approach this particular painting job. Normally, I start with a coat of Vallejo (or these days Plasticoat) grey primer and then get to work with acrylics. But in this case we’re were talking about stone. In nature, both stone walls and outcrops have a lot of subtle tonal variation, but in a limited color range. Browns or greys shift in saturation due to varied exposure to elements – to get a realistic effect, I would have to do a lot of blending and washes. And I have to admit, after all these years blending with acrylics is still a challenge for me. And so, I arrived to a somewhat surprising decision – this time around I would go ‘old school’ and dust off my old Humbrol enamel pots!

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Enamels may be an unfamiliar medium for ‘younger’ wargamers, but they were pretty much all we had before acrylic ‘revolution’ of early ninties. They are not water-solvable and need either white spirits or terpentine to thin (and wash the brushes). They stink (especially some of the older Humbrols can make your nose hair curl in panic as soon as the lid is off) and they take forever to dry. So when acrylics arrived on the scene, enamels didn’t stand a chance. But… this last drawback – long drying time (and I speak about several hours) is under certain circumstances a blessing in disguise. It allows for blending and lifting off techniques (that’s what I call painting and then ‘taking off’ paint from painted surface) that one only can dream of with acrylics.

I started the painting process with an uniform coat of Humbrol 98 for the stone formations and Humbrol 118 for the stone walls. Once this was done, I let the pieces dry over night.

For stone formations I next proceeded with building up several thin layers of 72 and 187 mixed in different ratios. Darker shades were applied all over the stones. I did however try to let the dark base color to get through here and there. That’s where ability to pick off the paint with the brush was very useful. As I successively lightened my mix, I blended it with underlying layers in the areas that would be exposed to sunlight and elements. For final highlights I added some light grey Humbrol 64. Addition of light neutral grey desaturated the mix. It was added to the sharp edges and surfaces that were visibly raised. Normally this step would be done with drybrushing technique. However, since enamels don’t dry in a blink of an eye, I had plenty of time to do proper blending.

I did however switch over to drybrushing once I started working on the walls. Blending of individual stones would simply take too much time. So a heavy drybrush of Humbrol 26 was applied to the raised stone areas with a flat brush, followed by lighter passes of Humbrol 187 and 72 in irregular patterns.

Next, I returned back to the stone formations. I dilutted heavily the dark brown Humbrol 98 with white spirits and used it as a wash, applying it to lower parts and around crevices of stone formation. Once done, I left everything to dry over night.

Last painting step consisted of a wash with Vallejo’s acrylic washes, which I applied on the walls in an attempt to bring out the detail of the walls. I mixed together Black and Oily Earth and applied it all over the walls. Not entirely happy with how this step turned out, but it did add a bit of variation in color tonality.

Once everything was dry, I flocked the terrain bits with turf and foam clumps from Noch/Woodland Scenics.

Overall, I am not entirely happy with how the walls turned out – the reddish tone of Humbrol 118 that I used as base color looks a bit unnatural to me. But from a couple of meters away the walls look perfectly serviceable. On the other hand I am totally delighted over the visual effect of stone formations. The stones have subtle but clearly visible shifts in color, which is exactly what I was after and the dark brown wash that was added in spur of the moment did a lot for creation of ‘natural’ look.

It was a very happy return to an old medium of enamels, which I’ve neglected almost completely over last two decades. For the future, I will have to remember about their special characteristics and positive properties.

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May 21, 2017

First impressions of “Chain of Command”

Upplagd av Minondas

For the wargamers who just arrived from outer space, let’s start with a short introduction to “Chain of Command”. It’s one of the “newest” rulesets from Too Fat Lardies and it’s a WWII skirmish ruleset. One miniature represents one man and one vehicle or artillery piece model represents a corresponding single real world piece of equipment. The ruleset focuses on combat between forces of platoon size with some reinforcements. While it allows the player to directly control every individual figure, the basic manouver and fire units are squads of 8-12 men. Those can be further split into (usually) two teams, which is how most units of that size operated in real life. Specialized weapon teams, such as bazooka or medium machine gun teams provide additional firepower. Command and control is performed by ‘leaders’ of two types; junior leaders usually lead individual squads and weapon teams, while senior leaders provide control at platoon comman level, allowing coordination between individual sub-units of the platoon. Ruleset caters for support units in all forms and shapes – tanks, mortars, artillery (both on the table as well as off-board), engineers, etc are all handled. D6 dice is used throughout the ruleset.

“Chain of Command” has been around for a while now (about three or four years, I believe) and many reviews have allready been written about it, both in printed publications and online. So I will not try to reinvent the wheel by writing yet another lengthy review that will hardly add anything new to what’s already been said and written. If you’re interested in a detailed analysis, I recommend for you to listen to episode 106 of Meeples&Miniatures podcast or read an excellent review posted on Anatoli’s Game Room blog. Both of them provide a very good overview of this ruleset.

So what’s the point of this post of mine then? Well, I hope to provide a ‘rookie’ gamer’s initial impression based on two games I’ve run yesterday. In the first one I acted as Game Master, in the other one (enriched by my impressions of the first game) I took over one of the gaming seats.

The setup

Since it would be a first experience of the ruleset for all involved sides, I’ve picked up the most basic generic scenario that is included in the ruleset – an encounter between two patrols in no-man’s land. In this setup, the players start by establishing their initial zones of control with help of simple meta-game. Basically a bunch of markers are moved over the board until they come into 12’’ of one of enemy marker. Once this is done, players select their jump-off points in territory they control – computer game players can think of those as spawning points. These define where individual squads, teams and leaders can be deployed on the table.

To further simplify the task of ‘first game’, I decided to play on smaller area than recommended 6x4’ table. The game would be played on my kitchen table, which is only 5x3’. The terrain setup was my own creation – i basically threw whatever terrain I had available on the table with hope that this random arrangement would provide for a good game.

Finally, I decided to limit order of battle to a single basic platoon and no support units. So both sides (German and American) had their three squads consisting of an LMG team and rifle team to play with. Each of the squads was led by a junior leader. Furthermore, Americans had at their disposal two platoon leaders and a bazooka team, while Germans had a single platoon leader and a panzerschreck team.

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Game one

In our first game the Americans, played by T., managed to gain control both of the hill and the house in the initial phase. This gave him a huge advantage from the start and set the tone for the game. He deployed one squad in the house and the other two along the ridge of the hill. L. responded by deploying one of his squads in the hedges by the crossroad and the other one in the woods by the ‘northern’ foot of the hill (by the chairs in the picture above Smile). The MG team of that squad gained a foothold on the hill, deploying in the rock outcrops in its northern end. And that was it… both sides started to hammer each other, with Germans clearly getting the worst of it. After a fire-fight lasting over several phases, L. suffered eight casualties to two of T, the  machine gun teams of both of his deployed teams were wiped out and the remainder of the squad in the hedges by the road was pinned by T.s fire from the house. To put it plainly, he was screwed and he knew it. Thus, we ended that game.

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Game two

T. left our company by that time and L. and I gave it another go. Wiser by the experience, L. managed to claim the posession of the house in the initial phase of the game, while I grabbed the hill and the high ground to the south of it.

L. then proceeded by deploying a squad on second floor of the house and another by the wall outside the walled house court. I responded by establishing the line of fire along the ridge with one squad, deploying the second in the rough ground at the southern foot of the hill. I deployed my third squad behind the hill, out of sight. My plan was to move it around the hill and hit the house from the north. Once again, L. never bothered to deploy his third squad, probably waiting with it until he found out my intentions for the squad behind the hill.

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In some respects our game developed in similar manner to the previous. L. blasted at my guys in the rough ground, while I tried to hit him hard with fire from the hill. The pressure mounted on units on both sides, but yet again an impass seemed to occur almost instantly. After a couple of phases I grew tired of this static character of the game and decided to take a risk. I ordered the squad on the hill to fire suppressive fire at the Germans in the house – this is a temporary state where the incoming fire won’t cause any damage, but automatically reduces fire effectivness of any enemy units that are in the sector where suppressive fire is ‘applied’. This was a preparation step for my next action, which was a mad dash across open field toward the house by the rifle team of the squad in the rough ground.

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As Germans hunkered down under suppressive fire, the advancement was completed without any casualties. L. reacted by dropping a couple of grenades on my guys who were now huddling directly below, hiding behind the arcade walls of the house. My luck held and noone was hurt by the explosions. Naturally, as soon as I had the opportunity, I pushed on into the house. A vicious close combat for control of the house now took place… with disastrous consequences for the my side. Once the dust settled, six out of my soldiers were dead, with the sole unhurt man trying to patch up his wounded leader. Normally, such outcome would rout the survivors, but considering the enclosed surroundings we agreed that my survivors were now POW;s.

L.s triumph came however at a cost of three casualties and a wounded squad leader. Another round of whittling fire from the hill completed the grim job, breaking the German squad and forcing them to flee the house.

At this time we were at it for five hours and were more than satisified with the entertainment of the day. Thus, the second game also ended inconclusively.

Musings after the battle

After a single evening, it is far too early to say anything definite about this ruleset. But there is a couple of things I can say with conviction even after this brief exposure.

  • First and foremost, I am not at all surprised that so many people have been raving about ‘Chain of Command’ over last couple of years. It is a cracking ruleset and I will definitely invest much more time and effort into it.
  • In one rather important respect, ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be a very different beast when compared with other similar rulesets (‘Arc of Fire’ and ‘Bolt Action’ comes to mind). Let me explain.

    Over the years, I have learned to identify (and also exhibited myself) in gamers a phenomenon that I believe can be called ‘a stress cone’ – once a player sets his mind on a ‘target’, be it an enemy unit or a specific location, its destruction must be accomplished. And as the game progresses, this target increasingly becomes the sole focus of gamer’s attention. When this happens, a certain blindness to alternative solutions seems to occur. Flanking manouvers, an often valid option of breaking of contact and re-deployment or employment of less obvious assets is no longer considered – the initial goal must be accomplished. What’s even more important, it must be accomplished by direct assault and destruction by fire or close combat. To an unengaged observer, such behavior may seem odd, sometimes even bisarre. But if you think about it, we all occasionally exhibit it and many of us much more often than not!

    So what does this have to do with ‘Chain of Command’? Well, in most wargame ruleset, the initial phase of the game consists of manouvering the units into contact with the enemy. As this takes time, it also allows players to logially consider their options. Once the units come into contact and ‘combat’ starts to happen, player’s attention shifts to the actual action. He may then enter further and further into this ‘stress cone’ I’ve mentioned above. What seems to be special about ‘Chain of command’ is the fact that with this ruleset, the opposing units can be deployed pretty much on top of each other directly at the start of the game. And indeed, this is exactly what the designer of the ruleset states – a game of ‘Chain of command’ starts with opponents already in contact with each other! In other words, players are placed immediately at the small end of the ‘stress cone’ with consequence of ‘shootout’ games being a very tangible possibility if one is not careful and remains cool-headed. But if a player manages to keep his cool and remembers the simple fact that you don’t have to shoot at an enemy as soon as he’s visible, this ruleset has a possibility to provide a damn realistic experience of low level combat in WWII setting.

Allright, enough of ‘deep thoughts’ for this time around. Let me round this post up with repeating the sentiment that ‘Chain of Command’ seems to be an excellent ruleset. If you haven’t yet, you should definitely give it a shot (pun intended). Smile

May 09, 2017

Price of more than one hobby

Upplagd av Minondas

No point denying it, the goal of having one game per month is pretty much a pipe dream by now, largely due to the fact that my focus has mostly been on ‘that other hobby’. Well, at least I have something to show for time spent on model buildning… This time around I’m proud to present Bristol Blenheim Mk I from Airfix. A truly splendid kit that builds like a dream.

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April 29, 2017

Quick and cheap 6mm stone walls

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Last post related to Peter’s Hill scenario… Just a couple of days before the game, I realized that the terrain setup required a long stretch of rough stone wall. I didn’t have time to order any, so it was time to improvise.
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Without having any real concept of how to make the walls, I picked out the materials that made sense:
* PVA glue.
* Medium size tallus I use for basing.
* Small popsicle sticks.











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My initial idea was to mix PVA glue and tallus into a thick grout and spread it across the sticks. This turned out to be a completely impractical idea – the stone/PVA glue porridge stuck everywhere but where I wanted it to, but mostly to my fingers.










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It was time to regroup. Next, I cut up the sticks into smaller bits and then put a thick wad of PVA glue across their length. Then I just strossled the tallus into the glue.







Stone_Walls_003
This approach seemed to work much better, but the ‘wall’ seemed a bit low with just a single layer of tallus. So I waited an hour or so and then repeated the process – I put another blob of PVA glue on top on top of initial layer and more stones were sprinkled on top.
Also, just to make the ‘wall’ a bit more compact, I squeezed the stones together a bit. With the first layer semi-dry I had actually a bit of control when shaping the wall.








Stone_Walls_005
I left the walls to dry over the night. I was a bit concerned about possible warping, since there was a lot of PVA glue pulling at these sticks from the top. But, possibly due to the fact that the wood pieces were no longer than 10 cm, they stayed flat.
Painting process started with an overall black coat.




Stone_Walls_006
Next, I drybrushed the walls with successively lighter shades of grey. Here’s the final result (althogh I did flock the bases with some green turf).
The entire project took me less than two hours to complete. It’s nothing complicated, but I have to admit that I was surprisingly pleased with how those little walls turned out. Mostly because it was a true scratch build and I don’t do those very often.

April 11, 2017

‘Guns at Gettysburg’–initial impressions

Upplagd av Minondas

So let’s discuss ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ for a moment. After one game it is hardly possible to draw any definite conclusions, but my initial impression is definitely very positive. However, it’s not all smooth sailing and even this single game disclosed some ‘holes’ that I know will be bugging me in the future.

The ‘game engine’

‘Guns of Gettysburg’ is a derivative of Partizan Press’ Napoleonic ruleset ‘General de Brigade’ and its origins shine right through even after a single game. If one were crass, it could be said that there really is no justification for ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ to have been released as a separate ruleset, since it’s pretty much ‘General de Brigade’ tweaked to work in ACW period.

I have once upon a time posted my thoughts about ‘General de Brigade’ and its game mechanics. These comments are still valid and may serve well readers wishing to get a better insight into that ruleset. Here, I will limit myself with short walkthrough through a game turn and then concentrate on differences between two rulesets.

The turn sequence in ‘Guns of Gettysburg’ is exactly the same as in ‘General de Brigade’:

    1. Initiative roll where opposing players roll 2D6 who’s gonna have initiative in this particular turn. The initiative give the winner right to be the first to send out new orders to his brigades, declare charges, move his troops and shoot in fire phase.
    2. Change of orders phase - CinC for each side may attempt to change orders for a single brigade. One brigade commander may attempt to change his orders on own initiative.
    3. Mandatory moves - all units trying to get away from the battlefield, as well as units in so called pursuit state move at this stage. This is done ‘simultaneously’ by both sides.
    4. Charge declarations and movement - here things start to get a bit messy. Any charges are declared and if passed, the units so ordered move into contact. This stage is a bit fiddly, as reactions of units on defensive depend a lot on the distance that needs to be covered by the chargers. But in simple terms, if charge can be completed, chargers move half the distance, then defenders choose their actions, which most often is either shoot or evade. Next chargers check their morale and if it is passed, defenders need to do the same. If everyone is still willing, the two sides come into contact and a melee is fought at later stage of the turn.
    5. Normal movement - pretty self-explanatory. Side with initiative moves first.
    6. Firing - everyone who hadn’t shot yet, has a chance to do it now. Side with initiative shoots first, the side without initiative does so after reduction of strength due to losses (which may not be to everyone’s liking).
    7. Melee phase - any melees are processed at this stage.
    8. Morale checks - any units and brigades that need to make a morale check, do it at the end of the phase. Failed checks may result in anything from formation disruptions to ordered retreats and complete routs.

        Any dice rolls in ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ are done with two six-sided dices. The game engine is pretty dice-heavy - all morale checks, firing and melees are decided with dices and even with few units, the amount of rolls does mount up. At the same time, once one gets the grasp of the basics, the game moves along rapidly, without major hick-ups. Consistent use of 2D6:s throughout the ruleset simplifies things and the amount of dice modifiers is kept within reason.

        The new stuff

        As already mentioned above, ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ isn’t really all that different from ‘General de Brigade’. Here and there one can spot small tweaks in the ranges and casualty tables. Some modifications have been done to the dice roll modifiers (some of them are a bit surprising and maybe even questionable, more on that later on). If anything, it’s the parts that have been removed from ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ that are making the biggest difference in my opinion - a lot of fiddly rules related directly to Napoleonic period have been yanked out of its ACW derivative. Ironically, in my opinion, these removal seem to have a positive effect of providing much smoother gameplay!

        There are two significant changes that need to be mentioned. The first is related to formations; squares are no longer available for infantry - a reasonable and hardly surprising decision. Two new formations have also been added. The first - open order - allows the regimental lines to extend their width. This is clearly an attempt to reflect more flexible character of linear formations during ACW and a very justified addition. Addition of second formation - brigade attack column - is a bit harder to justify. It allows regiments of a brigade to ‘stack’ one behind the other, with bonuses to morale when casualties are taken. Clearly, it’s an assault formation intended for brigades with orders to charge the enemy. To my best knowledge, such battering rams were organized on few occasions during the conflict and were hardly a standard modus operandi for ACW armies. Therefore, I’m not entirely convinced that this addition is really necessary.

        The other significant change when compared with ‘General de Brigade’ is of far more importance. Section regarding skirmishers has gone through significant overhaul. In ‘General de Brigade’ there are three options to use skirmishers - throw out light companies as screens for individual battalions, create a brigade screen of combined light companies of a brigade or use light battalions as skirmishers. In ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ options for use of skirmishers have been significantly extended. Individual regiments can deploy into skirmish order either completely or with half of its strength. Brigade screens can consist of up to fifty percent of strength of regiments, with variable number of troops committed from individual units. Perhaps most importantly, skirmishers are no longer regarded as separate formations, but can be deployed and recalled by parent regiments at will. This change is yet again reflecting differences in tactics of the two periods. Added choices deepen the complexity of tactical deployment and I suspect it will take me a while to understand cons and advantages of these new options.

        Other changes to the ruleset aren’t all that dramatic, but couple of things did provoke a reaction from me. On the positive side, the ‘double-six’ rule has been modified and expanded upon. In ‘General de Brigade’, any roll of two sixes in firing or melee phases could cause additional effects on units and generals. In ‘Guns at Gettysburg’, this mechanism extends to all rolls in the game and may give the players ‘bonus cards’ that can be played at subsequent stages of the game. Player may for example move a brigade of his choice at double time, add a one time bonus modifier to his fire/melee dice-roll or call for a morale check with negative modifier upon an enemy unit of his choice. All such actions are ‘one time events’, gained randomly after a roll of a double six. While this game mechanism in itself strikes me as rather gamey, it’s obvious it adds to the fun factor.

        On negative side, few of the modifiers did make me raise an eyebrow in wonderment. One I’m very sceptical to deals with effect of overall losses in regimental morale checks. As default, for each ten percent losses a -1 is added to the morale check dice roll. But… Confederate regiments have here a maximum cap of -3, which definitely gives them an edge in a prolonged firefight. As a compensation, Confederate units rout do suffer a -2 modifier when attempting to rally. And since the rally from rout can only be made once with either success or dispersion of unit as possible outcomes, it is a significant penalty. The designer, apparently aware that these modifiers will be discussed, addresses them specifically in his notes and explains that it’s a simple attempt to differentiate both sides from each other. But at the same time, in his opinion at least, this difference is justified by historical performance of both sides. Well… I will be honest and admit that I am not at all convinced by that explanation. Luckily, it’s an aspect of the ruleset that can be tweaked to one’s heart’s content.

        What seems to be missing

        Actually, ‘missing’ may not be the right term here, but the rules dedicated to cavalry do strike me as a little bit funny. They are very detailed and a lot of space is dedicated to charges, formations and so on… but they all seem to be a carry-over from ‘General de Brigade’ and as we all know, the role of cavalry was very different in ACW from that during Napoleonic Wars. And so, I find it peculiar that cavalry charges are dealt with in detail, but behavior of dismounted cavalry is barely touched upon. This oversight was starkly illustrated in my game, where Union troopers were charged by Confederate infantry. This situation isn’t even considered in melee rules - charge and melee procedures between infantry/artillery on both sides and cavalry as charging party are described in detail, but there is nothing about charges against dismounted cavalry troopers. A slight gap in otherwise solid ruleset, but annoying nonetheless.

        Final observations

        As already said in my reaction immediately after the inaugural game, my initial impression of ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ was very positive. The ruleset is comprehensible and detailed, but didn’t get in the way of the game flow. Some glitches did occur, but nothing major. One thing that I liked very much was in the formating of the ruleset - on a couple of occasions I needed an answer to some very specific questions and every time I found a clearly labeled section dedicated specifically to that aspect of the game. On the other hand, lack of printed number pages in the ruleset is seriously annoying.

        At the same time it must be remarked that ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ is a stripped down and slightly altered version of ‘General de Brigade’. So in it’s core it is still a very formulaic ruleset based on traditional and old-fashioned game mechanisms. So why did I like ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ so much, while ‘General de Brigade’ failed to impress me? I must be honest and admit that my initial reaction to ‘Guns at Gettysburg’ may very well be simply caused the fact that it is something of a relief to use something different than TCHAE for an ACW game. Further research is needed, so stay tuned...