December 30, 2013

E-book sale at Pen&Sword

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Just a quick heads up regarding ongoing sale of e-books at Pen&Sword – they run a ‘buy one, get one for free’-campaign. Considering the fact that their e-books cost £5 per volume, personally I think it’s a pretty sweet deal. Wide range of topics, from classical warfare to current conflicts; take a look, maybe you’ll find something interesting.

December 26, 2013

This little thing called probability

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This is the second part of posts dedicated to somewhat different analysis of card deck driven game engine used in many games from Too Fat Lardies. On this occasion I will look into another ‘heresy’ in world of Lardies – game balance and fairness or, as it turns out to be, probabilities.

Before I start however, I feel that a couple of words need to be said about the comment that Thomas was kind enough to write in response to my previous post. In it he makes a very interesting observation, which finally explained to me why Mr. Clarke often says that a player has about 50 percent chance to activate half his units when the card driven turn sequence game mechanism is in use. Every time I heard or read that statement, I always asked myself: “How does he arrive to that conclusion?”. Thomas has finally clarified the issue for me – every card can come either before or after “Tea break” card and with only two possible outcomes for each card, chances for each card to be in front or behind “Tea break” card are fifty percent.

There is but one problem with this assumption and unfortunately it is a rather serious one. It is correct only the under condition that the ‘'’Tea Break’ card is located in the middle of the card deck. As already shown in previous post, that is highly improbable, as chances for ‘Tea Break’ card to land in a specific position is always 1/n where n is total number of cards in the deck.

Thomas’ suggestion to use two ‘Tea Break’ cards is also worth closer examination. What difference does the second ‘Tea Break’ card really make? Well, let’s start with examining the function of a single ‘Tea Break’ card – when a deck is shuffled it will land in one of n positions, where n is total number of cards. So if we have total of 10 cards, it has 10 possible ‘slots’. If we now add another ‘Tea Break’ card, we increase number of cards in the deck to 11. So the first ‘Tea Break’ card now has 11 possible ‘slots and after it’s been ‘placed’, the second ‘Tea Break’ card can be located in one of the remaining ‘slots’, which in our example have now been reduced to 10. Combination of these two gives us 11 * 10 possible ‘permutations’. Since repetitions don’t interest us, we need to divide 110 by 2 to get total number of ‘combinations’ (after all ‘Tea Break 1’ in second position and ‘Tea Break 2’ in seventh is exactly equivalent to the ‘’Tea Break 2’ in second and ‘Tea Break 1’ in seventh position).

So by adding a second ‘Tea Break’ card, we are actually increasing the ‘unpredictability’ of end of the turn by increasing the number of possible combinations of ‘Tea Break’ within the deck from 12 to 55.

Balance? We don’t need no stinkin’ balance!

In the days when I frequented TMP, two arguments used to flare up on that site’s forums with surprising regularity. The first one was ‘Is our hobby a game or a simulation?’. The second was ‘Balance – do we need it or not?’. My personal conclusion was that many Lardies are of opinion that games played with TFL’s rulesets can be regarded as a historical simulation and not expecting balance in a game is a crucial issue if one is to achieve the ‘simulation’ goal. Thus the unpredictability and at times tangible ‘unfairness’ of the card deck driven turn engine should not only be tolerated, but actually appreciated as a model reflecting reality closer than for example the venerable IGOUGO.

I tend to agree with that opinion; after all, if one plays a scenario set on Eastern Front in 1941, one expects for the generic German company to be more efficient than its Soviet counterpart (I know, I know, it was far from certain, but in general Germans did kick some ass in 1941). So how does the card deck driven turn sequence engine manage to re-create such situations? Well… quite frequently by giving the presumably superior side more cards than the other. The reasoning behind this apparent ‘imbalance’ is simple – the side with units that are judged to be more efficient, better led, with superior training/morale or simply dressed in camouflaged uniforms should be allowed to do more. The choice to give the superior side more cards seems at first glance simple, clean and logical game mechanism. And yet, it is a mechanism with, in my opinion at least, an embedded fatal flaw. You see, it is one thing to say that one side should have greater chance to activate units for this or that reason. It is a completely different thing to say that that side is to have more opportunities to actually participate in the game.

Right… by now you’re thinking: “The poor lad has lost his mind, what is he rambling about?!”. I assure you though that I am completely sane and I do have a point. Let me use a quick practical example to visualize my point: two players play above mentioned game on Eastern front using IABSM ruleset. The Soviet player has three platoons and two leaders – one card for each of them means five cards in the deck. German player has three platoons infantry, an attached MG platoon, three leaders, an additional card for bonus actions for machine guns and an artillery spotter – that’s nine cards.

The player on the Soviet side has obviously a hard task in front of him, but the disparity in forces could be regarded as ‘historically correct’. It needs however to be observed that in a deck consisting of five cards for one side and nine cards for the other, there is also a mathematical disparity which creates a ‘double penalty’ for Soviet player – not only does he have inferior forces at his disposal, he will also have much lower chance to actually do anything with them.

Back to maths

I will not bore you with mathematical formulas this time around. Instead let’s look at another practical situation. Consider a deck consisting of 14 cards of two types – blue and red. For the sake of convenience we place ‘Tea Break’ card in the middle of the deck and will always draw seven cards before the end of the turn. Since we know the position of ‘Tea Break’ cards, it can be disregarded it in the calculations. The table below shows chances for drawing certain number of blue cards, depending on total number of blue cards in the deck.

Probs

In my opinion, there are several things worth interest in this table, but one issue is especially interesting – it doesn’t take much ‘imbalance’ in the deck to create a scenario where the side with inferior number of cards in the deck is pretty much guaranteed to lose; not because of the inferior number of cards (or ‘units’), but simply based on mathematical probabilities.

In our game with nine German and five Soviet cards we find the probabilities for the Soviet player in the middle column. He has just above 50 percent chance to activate either two or three units, which means four or five German cards being activated in same turn. If he loses one unit and reduces number of his cards to four, the probability to activate three units in a turn falls down to about one in four, while chances to draw four cards become very miniscule indeed.

Fair or not fair?

Based on a 10+ years of usage of different rulesets having card driven turn sequence at their core, I’ve always been regarding them as ‘unpredictable’. After spending some time on proper mathematical analysis of that mechanism, I can’t help but regard it as definitely unbalanced. Drawing this conclusion doesn’t however have to automatically mean that it’s also unfair or unplayable. Or it doesn’t mean that until two final questions are answered.

The first question is this – has the game designer accounted for this phenomenon in his game design? If the answer is yes, then there isn’t much room for further discussion – any disadvantages that the player with lower number of cards will suffer have been accounted for (or at least should have been) and such player needs to be regarded as accepting the challenges that follow out of inherent imbalance. If the answer to the question is no, then the ruleset is in my personal opinion seriously flawed.

The second question is perhaps of much more importance; are the players aware of the imbalance embedded in the card driven game turn sequence and if so, do they accept it as part of the game? I dare to say that answer to that question isn’t as clear-cut as one would like to think. Based on observations of my rather limited wargaming community, I think that there is a peculiar unwillingness to look ‘under the hood’ of rulesets and an almost child-like belief that ‘if it’s published, it must be right’.

In the end, of course, it’s ‘to each his own’. Personally, I am freely admitting that I don’t like what I found ‘behind the curtain’. I have therefore done some significant changes to the TCHAE before our latest game. What those changes are and how they afflicted the outcome of that game will be the topic of the final part of this trilogy about card driven turn sequence game engine.

December 01, 2013

One part history and one part math

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This post is something I’ve been both wanting to get of my chest for quite some time. At the same time, I’ve been hesitating to write it, because its content will quite probably be received as “heretical” by some Lardies. Also, I’m afraid that the end result of my efforts will be a mix of a rant and seemingly pointless ramblings. Rest easy though, I will try to get to the point I’m trying to make… eventually.

The history part
By history, I mean my personal wargaming history. If you take a closer look at this blog, it will rather quickly become clear to you that my wargaming revolves to a large degree around rulesets from Too Fat Lardies. ‘I Ain’t Been Shot Mom’, ‘Dux Britanniarum’ and ‘They Couldn’t Hit an Elephant’ are the rulesets I use most frequently and enjoy tremendously. The reason for me liking products from Too Fat Lardies is simple – basics of these rulesets are intuitive and easy to learn while the games they provide are usually quite eventful and unpredictable.

At the same time, I must say that I can’t help but feel that the controversy surrounding the game mechanics routinely used by Two Fat Lardies that ensures the unpredictably I’ve just expressed me liking so much isn’t completely unfounded. Those who are ‘in the know zone’ know of course that I am talking about the ‘staple’ components of most TFL-s rulesets – the card driven game engine and the dreaded ‘Tea Break’ card.

For those unfamiliar with TFL-s rulesets a quick explanation may be in order. Most of TFL-s rulesets share same central game design component  - sequence of the game turn is controlled by a deck of cards. This deck is usually prepared before the game and its content can vary between the games depending on opposing sides or special conditions. It is used to decide the sequence of a game turn – each card, when turned, usually activates a unit or a leader. A card can also trigger an event, give bonus actions, grant temporary advantages and so on. Since the deck is being shuffled at the start of each turn, the sequence of activations is always random and provides a rather ‘chaotic’ game.

The ‘Tea Break’ card (it has different names in different rulesets, but works same way in all of them) adds additional twist to the inherent chaos of card-driven game turn engine described above. When it’s drawn, it signals end of on-going game turn. Oh, your card for that unit posed to charge across the field wasn’t drawn yet? Well, sorry about that, but you’re shit out of luck, let’s hope Lady Fortuna will treat you better in next turn! OK, things aren’t that bad most of the time, units that hadn’t been activated can usually still perform limited set of actions (for example shoot at close range), but the ‘Tea Break’ card usually puts an end to any movement during the turn.

I’ve actually written about these two game mechanisms and their effects on the gameplay before, both in my reviews of TFL-s rulesets and in after action reports for games in which TFL rulesets were used. It is actually hard not to at least mention them whenever TFL-s rulesets are discussed, simply because they are such central part of the whole package. Also, it is hard not to mention them at least once or twice , because they tend to evoke emotions among players… at times those emotions are very strong indeed!

When is “fog of war” fog of war and when is it just plain chaos?
The discussion about pros and cons of turn sequence engine consisting of a card deck and randomized end of turn had been at its height in my small wargaming group few years ago, at the time when we used second edition of ‘I Ain’t Been Shot, Mom’ as our primary WWII ruleset. As my review once indicated, I was quite fond of that ruleset and was willing to accept fair amount of ‘glitches’ as long as we got to use it, but my buddies grew steadily fed up with its unpredictably. The thing is that even I had to agree with the main argument against the game mechanism – it did feel far to random and made any sort of planning nearly impossible.

Now, I am fully familiar with the argument of the Lardies. Lad, dust off your Clausewitz and von Moltke and see for yourself -  the ‘elders’ clearly state that friction of war will make even easiest tasks very hard to accomplish and that no plan survives the contact with the enemy. QED, case closed, who are you to object this ancient wisdom?!

Well… let me start by saying that I completely agree with the above statements. At the same time, I can’t help but point out that a surprising amount of plans in “real” wars did actually work out as planned, at least to a certain degree! Or, if seen from a different perspective, the number of occasions where real world plans turned into a complete FUBAR-s, while always memorable, is surprisingly small in military history when all things are considered.

Over the time, my opinion of the card deck driven turn/random turn end-system crystalized into this - it does the the right thing, but is far too random in its original form. Once I arrived to that conclusion, I couldn’t help but ask the follow-up questions – how random is this system and can anything be done to tweak it into something more manageable?

One part math
Let’s quickly recapitulate how the game turn mechanism works in majority of the rules from TFL. Each side has a set of cards activating a unit or triggering an event. For sake of simplicity let’s call the opposing sides A and B. In addition, the card deck contains at least one ‘neutral’ card (end of turn card), but usually there are other cards that can influence either of the sides (for example ‘Cautions or political leader’ which in ‘They Couldn’t Hit An Elephant’ hamstrings next leader with either of these characteristics that is activated). Let’s call these cards N. So the deck consists of A+B+N. Let’s call that total for T.

Now that we have terms in place, let’s take a look at how the infamous ‘Tea Break’ card works. It’s a
single card in a set of T cards. What are the chances for it being in a specific position once the deck is shuffled? Simple – it’s 1/T.

Simple… and quite devastating. This simple realization shows clearly the volatility of this game mechanism – since the chance of ‘Tea break’ card landing in a specific place in the deck is exactly equal for all locations, there is no ‘average’ for where it will land. Thus, the end of turn is totally random for every single turn in a game.

All right, so why is it so important and ‘grave’ news? To figure that out, we need to move to the subset of mathematics called combinatorics. Among other things, it can answer the question that is quite interesting for us – in how many ways can our deck be ordered. The quick answer to that is yet again quite simple – it’s T!, where ‘!’ stands for factorial. Factorial is a ‘short’ for multiplication of a series of numbers, each of them one less than preceding. So a factorial of 5 (written 5!) is 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1 = 120.

T! gives us a total number of so called permutations for our card deck – that’s number of unique ‘sorts’ where actual order of cards does matter. The idea is this – if we have T number of cards then there are T possible cards for first position in a permutation. Next, we only have T – 1 cards, so only T –1 possibilities remains. Next T –2, T – 3, and so on. We multiply these values with each other to see in how many possible ways they can ‘mix’.

In this particular scenario a simple permutation gives us something slightly different than what we’re really after. Permutations give a number of all possible orderings of the cards, with consideration taken to the order of a specific card. But that’s not really all that interesting to us – what is of real interest to us is in how many different ways card subsets A, B and N can be mixed.

Clarification – look at this like that: if we have x of blue cards, y of yellow cards and z of red cards, how many combinations can we order them in. Since one blue card activates same side as another blue card, we don’t care about where specific cards are placed, only in number of possible colour arrangements.

I will skip a number of ‘maths’ steps required to arrive to the formula below and simply say that as long as we’re considering the whole of a deck, then the number of such selections (as opposed to permutations) is:

T! / (A! * B! * N!)
What’ we’re doing above is really quite simple and logical. First we calculate the total number of possible ‘sorts’ (that’s T!). Next we calculate a total number of possible ‘sorts’ for A, B and N, multiply them with each other to get a total number of combinations between those sorts. Last, we divide the two totals with each other and get a total number of combinations between A, B and N, regardless of how individual cards are placed.

I know that it’s a weird and very un-mathematical explanation, but you’ll just have to take my word for it – this is the formula we’re after. Or, better yet, look into basics of combinatorics. It’s actually quite fun… and somewhat mind-boggling.

Right, so we now have this formula, what’s so interesting about it. Let’s put in some real numbers into it and see what comes out. For example, in the game that I’ve run yesterday (after action report coming soon) I had ten cards for side A, ten cards for side B and finally four cards that could influence either side. This gives us following total number of selections or in wargame terms, number of ways in which opposing sides could be activated and events triggered:

T = 10 + 10 + 4
A = 10
B = 10
N = 4
24! / (10! * 10! * 4!) = 1963217256

A bit larger number than expected, isn’t it? Now, keep this number in mind and recall that the chance for ‘Tea Break’ card being in a specific ‘slot’ is 1/T or in this specific case 1/24. This means that my card deck provides 81800719 possible combinations for every single position for ‘Tea Break’ card.

Finally… yes, we’re getting to the end now… Consider how many turns are usually played in a single game. 30, maybe 40? It doesn’t take much afterthought to realise that these facts, when put together, clearly illustrate that the card deck driven game turn sequence mechanism is completely unpredictable in the scope of a single game.

Call of the Kickstarter sirens

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Normally I am very sceptical to Kickstarter ventures, but I must admit that every once and again there is an announcement of a new venture that manages to bypass even my jadedness. And it must be said, West Wind’s Productions offering to produce a whole shedload of 15/18mm armies for “ancients” if financial backing is provided beforehand is very hard resis; after all, “ancients” has always been my “first love” and those test minis look soooo sweet!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/832150598/war-and-empire-the-miniatures-game-of-ancient-warf

November 24, 2013

And in plastic modelling news…

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…I’m done with another 1/72 kit. This time around it’s an early Stuka kit from Airfix, actually quite a bit older than I am. Surprisingly though, it was a very pleasant build and the end result is a respectable replica of the infamous Ju-87.

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November 23, 2013

Calm Before the Storm

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I don’t know about you, but I find looking at the terrain setup and troops arrayed in their OOBs to be a very soothing and fulfilling experience, especially if we’re talking about a big game and tomorrow’s Southern assault at Shiloh’s Church area is certainly a big game for me.

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934332If I understand it correctly, author's purpose with this book is to counter the criticism of the performance of American troops during Western campaign of 1944-45, which apparently has become rather "popular" among military historians over last decade or so. With this goal in mind, Doubler divides his book in two parts. Its main part is dedicated to a systematic analysis of American tactics and performance in different operational and environmental settings. Following topics are dealt with in separate chapters:

  • combat in boccage country of Normandy
  • cooperation between airforce (both strategic and tactical) and land forces
  • offensive operations against fortified villages
  • urban combat
  • bridging and fording operations
  • operations against fortified positions, with special focus on
  • operations in Huertgen forest
  • defensive operations during Ardennes offensive of 1944

Final two chapters are dedicated to a study of the American soldier as a fighting man and the role of the armed forces as an institution and doctrine provider.

Let me start by saying that judged on its content alone, "Closing with the enemy" is a an outstanding book. Using "typical" operations at company and battalion level, Doubler provides a very detailed and objective analysis of employed tactics, their effectiveness and explains why and how they evolved over the course of the campaign. His approach of concentrating on different "types" of combat during the campaign in separate chapters compartmentalizes the analysis into accessible chunks, making it very easy to absorb the information. It must also be said that the author is a talented writer and manages to keep his narrative consistent and fact-filled, but never boring. The "operational" part of this book was a very appreciated learning experience even for a military history buff like me.

So what about the goal set for this book; does the author manage to vindicate the performance of American soldier and the doctrine employed by U.S. armed forces during that fateful campaign of 1944-45? Well... both yes and no. He succeeds in proving that individual U.S. soldier was a courageous, innovative and resourceful fighter, able to adapt to unfamiliar or unexpected circumstances and make the best of resources at his disposal. In other words, Doubler does in my opinion prove that U.S. soldier was in no way inferior to his German counterpart.

In regard of the U.S. doctrine and philosophy... once again, this is only my personal opinion, but I found it rather ironic that this book can be quite successfully used to prove the exact opposite to what the author tries to state. Based on Doubler's own analysis, it is hard not to conclude that the U.S. doctrine was seriously flawed at the outset of the campaign and needed major revisions before it was able to cope with the challenge of German defences. Solely the number of occasions where the author uses the phrase 'the doctrine was proven to be right, but had to be adjusted' in his narrative made it impossible for me not to get the impression that there was something seriously wrong with American preconceptions regarding the tactics and operational doctrine that would give them the victory.

Furthermore, I am somewhat surprised over what the author chooses not to deal with, considering his clearly stated objective. The most obvious issue that Doubler pretty much dodges away from is the issue of American doctrine regarding employment of armour, which in retrospect is universally regarded as fatally flawed. The only indication that there was something wrong with American ideas in this area consists of fleeting observation that the tank destroyers found 'unexpected' employment as close support infantry weapons. The author fails however to extrapolate on the issue - if he did, he would have to admit the fact that the pre-war distinction between tanks as exploitation weapons and tank destroyers as 'proper tools' for combat against enemy armour turned out to be both naive and impractical, thus rendering the tank destroyers into 'ugly ducks' of armoured forces. Other topics - the conscious decision of American policy makers to disregard the need of heavy tanks, the fact that the use of strategic airpower in support of land forces was if anything an act of desperation, recognition of the 'broad offensive'-approach as a politically motivated decision that had very little to do with sound military strategy, impracticality of independent armour battalions, imbalance in structure of armoured divisions and the negative effects of oversized rear echelon part of U.S. infantry divisions - should in my opinion have been given more attention and 'honest' treatment.

Perhaps most importantly, Doubler fails to explain why so many obvious 'adjustments' in U.S. doctrine weren't implemented from the outset of the campaign, but had to be learned through hard-gained experience. U.S. Army was the only one with ample time to prepare and actually draw conclusions based on actual operational experience of previous years. In my opinion it failed to do that. A perfect example of a lesson that should have been learned before the first soldier landed in France is the need of usable means of communications between tank crews and infantry units they were supposed to support. That the need for such 'tools of trade' was not realized during the two years the Army had to prepare before landing in Europe does reflect rather badly on the creators of its doctrine.

From wargamer’s perspective, this book is a little gem. Author’s examples for typical engagements, with relatively detailed OOBs (for U.S. forces at least), maps and detailed narrative provide a lot of material for company and battalion level scenarios. The book should also be of value for ruleset designers who are trying to seriously simulate demands on chain of command as well as cooperation between different branches of armed forces (I am pretty sure that any ruleset truly employing real-life U.S. cooperation between land forces and tactical aircrafts would make the German player ‘cry uncle’  in second round of the game Ler).

In the final analysis it can be said that 'Closing with the enemy' is a very valuable addition to the library of anyone seriously interested in history of World War II. The fact that the author only partially achieves the goal he sets out for himself at the start of his book, should in no way detract from it being an extremely informative and enjoyable read.

November 16, 2013

Flashpoint Miniatures Local Force VC–First Impressions

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Believe it or not, but I’m actually finished painting first batch of my US infantry for Vietnam project. Pictures to prove that statement will follow as soon as I’m done basing them.

With one side done, I have “swiftly” moved on to the opposition – the vaunted Victor Charlie. Flashpoint Miniatures sticks to historical facts and has split their offerings for Vietnamese troops into three groups – local force, main force and regular Northern troops. Since my project is in its infancy, it seemed prudent to start with the local guys.

As far as I understand things, local VC consisted of local population of Southern Vietnam, peasants at day, partisans at night. Thus, two things distinguished them from their brothers in arms – their clothing was civilian and their equipment was sub-standard. Flashpoint’s LVC Rifle Platoon blister reflects both of these facts. All figures wear ‘classic’ peasant pyjamas and are either bare-headed or wear some sort of civilian headwear – classical hats or bandanas. They’re equipped mainly with what I assume are bolt action or at best SKS rifles. Few AK-s and PPSH submachine guns are thrown into the mix for the sake of variety. Fire support is provided by a couple of figures with RPG-s and single figure blasting away with an RPD.

The blister has a good variety of sculpts – majority of figures are riflemen in different ‘standard’ poses. Five or six figures are unique and suitable for leaders. I also appreciated a dash of cliché in selection of sculpts – one of the figures is an old man with classical Confucian beard and I believe there are at least two female sculpts in the blister. People’s army indeed.

Quality of sculpts is adequate, I doubt however that they will make anybody outburst with wows and ahhhs. They’re on Battlefront’s level of detail and will perform adequately on the table, but  nowhere near the top standard set by AB and Eureka Miniatures. Facial features is one aspect that Flashpoint Miniatures could definitely improve upon.

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October 30, 2013

C4 Open 2013

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It's the end of October and this means one thing - it's time for yet another C4 Open exhibition. For those of you who don't know what C4 Open is (which would be pretty much everybody outside of south-western Sweden and Copenhagen), it's an annual modelling exhibition that takes place at Technical Museum in Malmö. It's also a great opportunity to spend a lot of money on models and modelling supplies.

I could also put it in simple terms and simply say that C4 Open is the closest thing one comes to Nirvana if you're into this hobby and live in the area.

It has become something of a custom of mine to take a bunch of pictures from every installment of C4 Open. This year was no different and I have now selected a selection of best pics from this year's exhibition. Hope you'll enjoy them.

September 30, 2013

First WhifF of Black Powder

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A lot of ‘firsts’ this month, it would seem! Couple of weeks ago I’ve gotten the opportunity to get the first taste of ‘Bolt Action’ and last weekend it was its sibling’s turn to try to impress me.

Now, ‘Black Powder’ has been around for quite some time, and a compulsive ruleset hoarder that I am, I have acquired it pretty much as soon as it was released. Since its arrival at my doorstep, it’s been gathering dust on my Ruleset bookshelf until last month, when L. discovered it along with the ‘Raid on St Michel’ mini-campaign booklet from Caliver Books. At first sight, it’s a rather attractive combination and Unlike me, he has the miniatures and terrain suitable for the period and seeing an opportunity to use them, he quickly commandeered both books.

It took an additional couple of months before L. was ready with  his preparations, but last weekend T. and I were summoned to face off in initial clash of the above-mentioned campaign. Once at L’s place, we received our orders; I was to assume command of a vanguard force tasked with a quick capture of a bridge, thus making it possible for the rest of the army to get over the river. Three infantry regiments of various quality, two cavalry regiments, an artillery battery and some light infantry rabble were made available for me to complete the task. T.’s force was nominal – two infantry regiments, small cavalry force (reinforced in the middle of the game) and an artillery battery would try to do their best to stop me in my tracks.

The game

I won’t spend much time on the game itself – it was a small affair and both T. and I knew that its outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion, mostly due to my superior numbers. At the same time, for the very same reasons, the scenario was a perfect test bed for us getting acquainted with the ruleset, which previous to this game was completely unknown to both of us.

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Let’s make a rather long story short… My advance toward the bridge was veeery plodding, in equal parts thanks to ‘Black Powder’s’ rather arbitrary unit activation system and dismal quality of my commander. This gave T. plenty of time to bring up his paltry force into position. After a while both sides faced of each other over the bridge, which caused my commanding officer to enter a comatose condition. Turn after turn, I failed to activate even a single unit. It is therefore hardly surprising that when the dice finally allowed me to act, I sent my best cavalry regiment over the bridge with every intention of smashing into smithereens whatever stood in their path.

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Well… off they went, only to be promptly disrupted by a well aimed musket salvo from T.’s militia while still on the bridge. A long delay and couple more disruptions followed, but when I finally reached that pesky regiment barring my way, I had all reason to believe that I would instantly punch my way through their lines. Imagine my surprise when the melee that followed spanned over five (!!!) rounds, before being decided in my favour. While that rather odd clash of arms run its course, L. was generous enough to allow me to push my infantry to the other side of the bridge, even though it was really blocked by my cavalry, still stuck in column formation.

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Once my infantry was on the other side of the river, the game was in most respects over and done. T., unable to stop me, ordered a slow retreat for those of his units which were still on the field (that stubborn militia regiment, once defeated, actually ‘vaporised’ into thin air) to the high ground nearby and I was quite satisfied with just the fact that I was finally in possession of the bridge. It was as good time as any to call it a day.

Musings after the battle

Just like in other aspects of life, when it comes to rulesets, sometimes things just “click into place” pretty much from the start. For me “Check Your Six” and “I Aint’ Been Shot Mum” are perfect examples of such rulesets – things just immediately felt right! Then there are rulesets that take a little time to get used to before their potential can be properly appreciated – “Dux Britanniarum” is the most recent experience of this type for me. And then there are rulesets that give you that feeling that something just doesn’t fit. I’m afraid that “Black Powder” may very well be one of those rulesets for me.

Now, let me say this – it is far to early for me to make an authoritative judgement of any kind regarding “Black Powder”. I am yet to read it (once in L’s hands, they are surprisingly hard to reclaim) and we have played only a single game with it (with all misunderstandings and messed up rule interpretations such games are usually plagued with). Furthermore, the scenario we played was rather small and if I understand things correctly, the ruleset is intended for large engagements. In other words, I am hardly in a position where I can dismiss “Black Powder” as a bad ruleset. Quite contrary, I am happy to say that in some respects “Black Powder” is rather likeable. Its core mechanics seem to be simple and based strictly on D6 dice, which makes the ruleset almost instantly playable for most people with basic wargaming experience. Also, it seems to be rather quick – a quality claimed by many rulesets, but provided by far fewer!

At the same time, I can’t disregard the fact that I found some of the rules that are defining for the “feel” of “Black Powder” to be either annoying or worse, not really “anchored” in my perception of black powder era battlefield. Until I actually read the rules and try to grasp designer’s philosophy, I won’t go into further details of that statement. But there is no denying the fact that first “Black Powder” whiff of mine left me rather underwhelmed.

Next game in our campaign is to take place in a couple of weeks. Rest assured that next post about “Black Powder” will be posted shortly afterward.

September 10, 2013

First taste of Bolt Action

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And so, the dry spell was finally broken last Sunday. Not only did I get the chance to roll some dice and move some minis, but what’s even more important, for the very first time in quite some time I played a World War II game that was genuinely fun!

Nuts and bolts of Bolt Action

Although I live in what can only be described a wargaming backwater, even I could not escape being enlightened about the fact that “Bolt Action” has arrived last year. Nor had it escaped my attention that it has since its arrival been hauled as the next best thing since the sliced bread by a rather significant number of WWII wargamers. I am therefore assuming that by now countless detailed reviews have been written about this ruleset and will limit myself to a short overview of what it’s about.

“Bolt Action” is a skirmish WWII ruleset with models representing individual soldiers and vehicles. Each unit (usually a squad or weapon team) and vehicle has its own dice. Each side uses dices of specific colour. Turn is driven by random draw of dice, one dice at a time. The side to which the drawn dice belongs decides freely which of its units is to act next. Units can usually perform single action. List of actions consists of movement, a run, moving and shooting with reduced effectivness, rally attempts, taking or maintaining ambush position (a sort of overwatch triggered by enemy movement) and finally, under certain circumstances, dropping to the ground and hoping to avoid taking a bullet between the eyes.

Shooting, assaults and morale is resolved exclusively with help of one or more D6 dice. Anyone familiar with Warhammer will probably recognize the concepts immediately – weapon’s firepower is represented with certain number of dice, a hit is achieved by rolling certain number or higher. This number can be adjusted by different factors - distance, cover and other “typical” conditions are taken into consideration. If result is achieved, the result is at least one ‘pin’ point and can possibly result in casualties (achieved by additional rolls on dices that had effect in initial roll). Pin results have double effect – first of all they reduce afflicted unit’s morale (base for regulars is 9). Also, if a unit has pin markers, it must pass morale check (rolling 2D6 equal to or below current morale) to be allowed to perform an action. A very nice mechanism, with similar effects as the suppression system I loved so much in previous version of ‘I Ain’t Been Shot Mum’.

The game

The game was a simple ‘let’s see what happens’ put together on the fly by T. Without being presented with the details, L. and I were given command of a platoon of British commandos already deployed on a beach and given the order to knock out nearby bunker and some sort of supply dump located a bit further away from the coast.

IMG_1011Reconnaissance pictures of target area

IMG_0995The landing

First part of the task turned out to be a walk in the park – the bunker turned out not to be manned. It was promptly occupied and demolished. Unfortunately, while approaching it, our little band was spotted by the lone German sentry. As soon as he saw us, he promptly run away in direction of the chateau where rest of Jerries was apparently soundly asleep. Alarmed by the racket raised by the sentry, in no time at all they streamed out of the chateau. A PzKw II parked outside was manned and moved to cover the road, while the rest  of the Germans did their best to form sort of defensive line. They did pretty well, catching one of our squads in open field and pinning them down for couple of rounds. They were wiped out soon enough in the firefight with another squad that moved forward in support of their pinned-down buddies. However, the delay they caused turned out to be of utter significance for the outcome of the game.

IMG_1006Commandos boldly (or foolishly) approaching the bunker

IMG_1015Commandos splitting up along each side of the road
as the German tank assumes covering position

IMG_1019On colliding paths

IMG_1033Situation at the height of the action

Last British squad moved along the other side of the road, without meeting any significant resistance. Soon they were nearby the dump, but with the German tank covering the road any forward movement would be suicidal. Finally a lucky smoke salvo from 2’’ mortar that the Brits dragged with them onto the beach temporarily screened the tank and the commandos rushed across the road. At the dump site they encountered German command group, which was promptly dispatched. Subsequent German counterattack was also repulsed and victory seemed in our reach. Unfortunately, that pesky PzKwII changed position and started to cause some serious problems for the commandos, who were forced to hide among the crates as 2cm shells started to slam into their position. To make matters worse, German reinforcements have arrived. A 37mm flak gun mounted on a truck added to the mayhem created by the PzKwII and a German platoon was not far behind it. Without support (other two squads were stuck in a field) and taking casualties, the British realised that the time was running out and order withdraw was given, thus ending the game.

IMG_1043Storming the supply dump

IMG_1037German reinforcements arrive

Musings after the battle

Since we tried to keep the rules checking to bare minimum, I’m quite convinced that we made multiple mistakes while playing the game. Nonetheless, I think we’ve got a good idea about the “feel” of “Bolt Action” and our impression was unanimously very positive. The game flowed rapidly (total effective gaming time of about 2.5 hours), the rules were easily absorbed and weren’t “in the way” and there were no significant “hiccups”. Most importantly, we all had a great time while playing the game.

Now, a couple of words about the proverbial elephant in the room. It is hard not to notice that Warlord Games is touting “Bolt Action” as a ruleset for individually based 28mm miniatures and accordingly sized vehicles. We run our game with 15mm minis and multiple figures based on individual bases. Nor did we make any adjustments to the movement or firing ranges. Did we experience any problems? None whatsoever! The fact is that we all thought that a game of even this relatively small size would not be visually appealing if played in 28mm “scale” – space available to us is simply not large enough.

All said and done, it was an excellent gaming session and a very positive first impression of “Bolt Action”. I’m really looking forward to next session with this ruleset.

August 31, 2013

Flashpoint Miniatures US HQ Blister–First Impression

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Pheew… almost three months after opening it for the first time, I am happy to report that I am done with first batch of minis for Vietnam project. Three months to paint a little more than 30 15mm minis, that must be something of a record… and they’re not even properly based yet (that’s why there are no pictures of them here).

Anyway… immediately after placing finishing brush strokes on the last figure in the initial batch, I rushed to pick up the US HQ blister and check out its content. Sadly, I have to say that it didn’t take long for my enthusiasm to transform into a mix of disappointment and bewilderment.

There is a grand total of 33 miniatures in US HQ blister. Over half of them are “repeats” from the Platoon blister – with few exceptions, sculpts of the officers, NCO-s, riflemen, guys equipped with Thumper and LAW are the same as those in the Platoon blister. A slight let down, but understandable from economical perspective. The fact that they are there actually made me quite happy – together with the content of Platoon they will now allow me to field a complete company of 3 x 3 bases with four figures on each base.

Additional M60 gunner (different sculpt than the two gunners in Platoon blister) is also a welcome reinforcement to my heavy weapon platoon. Last, but not least, I very much appreciated the inclusion of two man scout/sniper team.

Over to the bewilderment and consternation part of this quick review. It was mainly caused by some rather peculiar choices in selection of the remainder of this blister. Let’s start with the fact that there is a grand total of five figures chatting over the radio – there is already a bunch of similar figures in the Platoon blister, so why include so many RTO-s in this one?

Even more mysterious is the choice of having two dog handlers… and a single dog. Finally, the decision to include two ammo carriers in particularly odd – as already mentioned, there is only single M60 gunner in this blister. The mystery grows when one remembers that the Platoon blister contained two gunners and a single ammo carrier. (???)

Two medic minis included in this set is sensible. The fact that one of them is carrying a wounded buddy over his back isn’t. This particular figure will be fun to paint and will probably make a very nice “one off” vignette, but on the tabletop it will be of limited use. Also (sorry if I’m sounding petty), sculptor’s decision to burden this guy with a belt of M60 ammo while he’s in the process of carrying his buddy to safety made me rise an eyebrow.

The disappointment part is mainly caused by what’s not included in this blister. First and foremost – it’s a HQ blister, where are the guys with binoculars? I know, it’s such a cliché pose, but couple of guys doing some recon would be a nice variation on RTO theme. Second obvious omission – what about the 60mm mortar team? It was used frequently in the field and would be far more useful than a dog handler without a dog.

Final conclusion – in combination with Platoon blister, the HQ pack will provide enough figures for a complete company and support. But its content could have been better thought out and leaves me wishing for more.

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August 30, 2013

GHQ Terrain Part 4–Hills

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Vacation – ironically, in wargaming context, this word means for me at least no games and very little painting. Thus, there is very little to write about… which in turn leads us to the next (and probably last) instalment of “filler” cycle of articles about my experiences with GHQ Terrain system.

Since GHQ Terrain system is hexagon based, making hills are pretty straight forward – you take a hexagon and cut it up in two or more subsections. There are three basic cuts you can make, as shown in the pictures below, each variant giving two useable hill “pieces”.

Couple of things to keep in mind when making the cuts:

  • The initial alignment of the cut is the most important part of the cutting process. Once you progress “into” the hexagon, mistakes or messy cuts can be easily fixed, but a bad initial cut will result in hill pieces not aligning with each other. This in turn will result in sloppy visual effect.
  • In the images below, the cut line is marked with red lines. Keep however in mind that once the cut progresses into the hexagon, you can cut whatever shape you want, as long as the diagonal lines at the edges are consistently aligned.
  • Try to keep the cut on the horizontal surfaces of the hexagon at least one centimetre away from the red line in my pictures. This will give you a ridge with a horizontal surface, a very useful “feature” when trying to place miniatures on the top of the hill.

Hill_1Hill_2Hill_3
Let’s now take a look at different hill shapes and how useful they are. Figure 1 will give you one “short” hill edge and large one “indented” hill side. In my experience, you will need a whole bunch of those “short” pieces – try to make at least ten of those in your first batch. The other piece is far less useful. Observe however that with some care when cutting, it is possible to get two “short pieces out of single hexagon – something definitely worth considering when working with the initial batch of hill pieces.

Figure 2 is pretty straight forward – this cut will give you two  identical “linear” hill slopes. Those are very handy for creation of those long ridges, stretching over large parts of the battlefield, but are of limited usability when trying to make terrain with a lot of smaller elevations. For the initial batch, I would recommend for six, maybe eight such pieces.

Finally, the cut shown in figure 3 provides one hill piece necessary to “expand” the hill slope 60 degrees outward  and one hill piece that “retracts” it 60 degrees inward. Both variants are equally useful, but keep in mind that you will need the “retracting” pieces much more for terrain setups with many smaller elevations.

Personal experiences, troubleshooting and variations on the themes

The guide that follows with each pack of GHQ Terrain hexagons shows you different cut variants. Its illustrations are much more instructive than pictures I’ve included with this post, so take a moment and study them.

Guide’s suggestion to use a saw to make the cuts is however not so nice. I tried to follow this advice initially and found out very quickly that cutting styrofoam with a saw makes incredible mess. Furthermore, saw cuts give very rough surfaces and if I am to be perfectly honest, working with saw felt generally like a bit of a hassle. So no, I would not advise you to use saw for this job. Instead, invest in a proper wire foam cutter.

Now, cutting the hill pieces with foam cutter presents its own set of challenges. First and foremost, if you set the temperature of the wire too high, you may find it difficult to control the cut. Try to find a temperature that allows you to make the cut easily, but you should feel a bit of resistance while slicing through the hexagon. Biggest challenge for me personally was to keep correct alignment of the wire when “exiting” the hexagon, especially when making the tiny “corner” pieces shown in figure 1. After a while I decided to bypass this problem by making two “halfway” cuts instead of a single one – one cut from each side, meeting (hopefully) in the middle of the hexagon.

As with everything else, experience comes with practice, so don’t worry if you make a mess out of a couple of hexagons. Keep in mind though that even if you make a “bad” cut, don’t fret over it. Unless you manage to really butcher the hexagon, most mistakes are easily corrected with some filler; my personal favourite is smooth wall putty. It can be purchased in any DIY shop in plastic tubes – one of those will last you forever. Wall Filler is also quite useable for creation of variations in slope shapes – you can use it to make the slope gentler, more irregular or to create narrow “fingers” that extend from the main hill piece.

To mount or not to mount

Once you cut your first hillside piece, you will probably immediately notice one thing – the lower part of it is very fragile indeed. This is especially evident when working with the hexagons that are 1/4” thick. Now, you may of course be of different opinion, but my personal view is that hillside pieces cannot be used on their own and need to be mounted on another hexagon. Yes, this means that you will need to use two hexagons for single hill slope hex, thus doubling the price of the terrain piece.

White glue can be used to glue two pieces together, but personally I prefer to use contact glue specially made for styrofoam. Woodland Scenics sells such a glue, but see if you can’t find it (usually for significantly less money)  in your local DIY shop.

June 29, 2013

In case you wonder…

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…how my Vietnam project is progressing, the answer is ‘It doesn’t’ and here’s the reason why. Now that I’m done with it, I have every intention to spend some more time with those Flashpoint minis.

I must however admit that I’m not sorry for being distracted – this little Zero from Airfix turned out to be a lovely little kit and I enjoyed working on it quite a lot. And I dare say that it may very well be my best build since I’ve started making model kits again.

 

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June 22, 2013

Flashpoint US Infantry–work in progress

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Allright, time to show the trial batch of those Flashpoint Miniatures US infantry minis I’ve been working with for last couple of days. The paint choice is shamelessly ripped off from Head Under The Bed blog – the minis that come from under this guy’s brush are really something and one of my principles is never to re-invent the wheel unless I absolutely have to.

However, certain modifications had to be done, mostly to replace the colours that I didn’t have in my paint box, but also to adjust the palette to (dare I say this?) my ‘painting style’. I prefer to stack the shades, main color and highlights in that very order. Therefore here the first step was an overall coat of a mix equal parts of Russian Uniform 924 and USA Olive Drab 889. Next, Russian Uniform straight out of the bottle is applied to all major surfaces. Highlights consisting of watered down Green Grey 886 were added as last step in paint job for uniforms. Equipment and webbing were painted with Green Brown 879 and highlighted with Khaki 893. For helmet covers I decided to go with Green Grey as my primary paint, with patches of thinned Reflective Green 890, Russian Uniform, Beige Brown 875 and Vallejo Game Color Yellow Olive used for  camouflage pattern. In retrospect maybe I thinned them down too much, since the camo pattern is barely visible.

At the moment I don’t think all that much about the skin colors or the right shades for the shoes, I just want to get the feel for the minis and how they’re sculpted and what works/doesn’t work in regard of the uniform colors. I’m actually quite happy with this initial selection, but as I'll continue working with those minis, I will try to add some variation. As far as I understand, there could be a rather dramatic difference in color intensity of uniforms, mainly caused by exposure to light and elements. It would be nice to be able to show that effect and see which of my minis are 'short' and which are FNG's.

Couple of words regarding the miniatures. My first impression was rather ‘meeeh’, but I have to say that I’m slowly changing my mind. The detail is crisp, which makes them easy to paint and they certainly have their own ‘character’. I’m still wrinkling my nose at the sculpts of some minis and I don’t care about the number of figures with LAW included in this blister pack, but all that being said, there is no denying that they’re growing on me.

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June 06, 2013

This is a robbery!

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Well, just as I was ready to chalk up May as another month without any wargaming activity, Tony came to the rescue and not only invited me to push some lead and roll some dice but also gave me an opportunity to try a new western ruleset called ‘Dead Man’s Hand’.
For our game, Tony put together a bank robbery scenario with a twist – five robbers ride into town with bad intentions, but what they don’t know is that a bunch of Pinkerton men is waiting for them in an ambush. Luck is initially on the side of the bad guys and they manage to grab the cash without being noticed, but as they exit the bank, the teller runs after them screaming his head off. Anyone familiar with the western movies knows what happens next – a single shot rings out, the obnoxious teller drops dead, silenced forever by a bullet in the head… and then all hell breaks loose!

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Quick overview of the ruleset is in order. ‘Dead Man’s Hand’, just like most of the rulesets in this genre it’s intended for skirmish games with a single miniature representing one character. The activation sequence is decided by a card deck – each character gets a card, the lowest cards act first. Each character gets to perform three actions of out of following selection – move, shoot, aim,  reload and rally. It is also possible to duck back one movement length or take a snapshot out of the turn sequence if the character hadn’t acted yet in the turn. Shooting is done with a D20, the result can be a miss, a ‘hit’ in form of suppression, a serious hit causing a ‘hit’ and an additional morale check causing additional ‘hits’ if it fails and finally a killing shot. Chances for a hit are affected by type of weapon/range and can be improved (marginally) by one or multiple ‘aim’ actions. A character is out of action if number of ‘hits’ exceeds his toughness, which usually is between 3 and 5. Lucky ‘kill shots’ put the character down with immediate effect.

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To add a little spice to this vanilla mix, each side also has a set of cards with different events making life easier for your side or more difficult for the opponents. Players can play as many of those cards as they wish during the game turn, but they only get to pick one new card per turn – consequences for over-eager use of the card hand are obvious.

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I won’t go into details of the game, but it took us about two hours (including the explanation of the rules) to get two of the robbers and all the money out of the town. The remaining three were mercilessly gunned down by the Pinkerton men. All four players, including me, had a pretty good time – ‘Dead Man’s Hand’ provides a fun game of beer and pretzels variety with proper western feeling. If you’re into type of light-hearted games with emphasis on the ‘game’ rather than ‘simulation, I would recommend without reservations that you give it a try.

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Finally, a quick note about the buildings in the pictures below – they are all scratch-built by Tony. Yes, he’s one of those odd characters who’d much rather spend his time on making buildings or scenery than painting figures. And don’t even mention ‘painting horses’ to the guy! Ler
The reason why I mention all this is that Tony let me know that if you like his stuff, he’s willing to take requests… for a reasonable fee, of course. So if you like what you see and would like to get some of your own, drop me a line.

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Time for another update about the Vietnam project. The initial batch of minis has arrived from Australia at the beginning of this week – in other words, a bit over a week for a delivery to Europe. Quite impressive in its own right.

The figures… well, to be honest, I am less than impressed. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending whatever time I could find for painting on excellent Xyston Spartan hoplites, but those Flashpoint minis seem awfully small. Also, not the most detailed 15mm minis I ever held in my hands.

As picture below illustrates, there are 35 minis in a US platoon blisters. Standard grunts are presented by 16 miniatures with M16, 3 with M79 Thumper and two with what I assume is a LAW launcher (although if that’s the case, then the tube is awfully short). Heavy firepower is added by two M60 gunners and one ammo carrier (a bit strange distribution). Then there is a total of eight minis for your lieutenant, non-coms, a medic and the poor guy who, judging from his state, has earned his Purple Heart the hard way.  I am totally clueless about three minis to the right in second lower row – they seem to be holding some sort of short tube, but your guess is as good as mine about what it’s supposed to represent.

I am rather pleased with the variation among the figures in the blister. The choice of sculpts should allow a bit of the ‘dynamics’ to the bases. At the same time, I am a tad disappointed that there aren’t any machine gunners in deployed (lying down) position and the fact that only a single MG assistant is somewhat baffling. Guess I’ll have to make a supplementary purchase from Peter Pig or Quick Reaction Force.

But overall it’s a pretty decent blister. Now, time for some painting.

 

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jarymowycz-roman-tank-tactics

Well, since it looks like May will be another barren month in respect of gaming and I haven’t done one of these in a while, here’s another filler… eh, I mean book review.

I picked up this book based solely on its title and who published it. Based on that, I expected a volume dedicated to “real” tank tactics, perhaps in a form of some sort of comparative analysis of low level tactics, equipment, training and real world experience of opposing sides. As it turns out, this book is a completely different animal and author of this book could not have chosen a more misleading title for this book if he tried to. Precious few pages (in my opinion, maybe five or six) deal with the actual tactics of armoured warfare on western front during 1944.

The real topic of this book is the implementation of armour on battlefields of World War Two at operational level, or more precisely during Normandy breakout attempts and subsequent allied race across France. Books dealing with this aspect of art of war are few and far between - it is a vast topic, encompassing a multitude of aspects, some of them quite mundane, other rather diffuse and difficult to define in clear and definite manner. Uniqueness of this book's topic makes it a valuable contribution to a library of any WWII buff all on its own.

Author deals with the subject matter by splitting it into three logical parts. In first section, Jarymowicz analyses the post-World War I development of armoured forces in armies of what would be major 'players' during the conflict. Theories of the time and how they translated in practical implementation in England, France, Germany, Soviet Union, United States and (oddly enough) Canada are dissected in detail. The author attempts here to compare and contrast different ideas and resulting doctrines. While a bit heavy on internal politics, this part of the book is something of an eye-opener, which answers a lot of questions reader may have about choice of the equipment used in World War II as well as about the rather varied quality of the leadership of armed forces during the conflict.

Next, the author, proceeds with an account of the actual events that took place during the period specified by the title of this book. It needs to be repeated - the narrative deals with the events on operational level, so those looking for exciting tank vs. tank combat descriptions are bound to be disappointed. Goodwood, Spring, Cobra and Totalize are picked apart and analysed in a search of explanation of failures and successes. I won't go into the details of Jarymowycz' analysis, but limit myself to observing that I don't believe I have ever had the pleasure of reading another book where Montgomery is so soundly and consistently trashed and belittled. If you're a fan of Monthy, you better stay away from this book. Of course other allied leaders are dealt with in similar harsh manner – Jarymowycz doesn’t have much good to say about the allied commanders, with the possible exception of Patton and some his lieutenants. To be honest though, it is hard to argue against author's ruthless and at times devastating critique.

In last part of his book Jarymowicz gives us his final analysis of deployment of armoured forces by Western allies during second part of 1944. In this section, besides the 'traditional' examination and comparison, the author does something rather unique and compares the doctrine and usage of armour by Western nations with that of Soviet Union. For me personally (after reading Glantz and Ericson) his conclusions weren't much of a surprise. I do however suspect that many, if not most readers from Western Europe and United States will find this part of the book as rather controversial, maybe even 'heretical'.

Personally, I find the topic of this book absolutely fascinating and was very pleasantly surprised when I realised what “Tank Tactics” was really about. It is therefore a great shame that I have now to say that this volume suffers from a couple of rather severe problems, all of them related to the writing style of Jarymowycz. To put it bluntly, the author doesn't strike me as a very talented writer. I found his style choppy, almost bullet-point-like. The flow of information felt disjointed, with abrupt, unannounced jumps between often unrelated topics every couple of paragraphs. This choppy impression was deepened by author's rather annoying tendency of using 'naked' personal quotes to emphasize the point he's trying to impress on the reader. I was a bit surprised over how disrupting this approach to quotations was for me - if I wanted to find out who said those words, I had to look up the reference at the end of the chapter, thus breaking the flow of often rather complex reasoning. Not a technique I would recommend for frequent usage in a book with this level of complexity.

Finally – how useable is this book from wargamer’s perspective? Well… if one disregards its obvious value as a source of information about otherwise often ignored aspect of modern warfare, its usability is probably limited to being an inspiration for ruleset and army list designers wishing to incorporate operational facets into their creations.

'Tank Tactics: From Normandy to Lorraine' is a solid, in some respects maybe even ground-breaking contribution to literature about World War II. Its main merit consists of the fact that it is solely dedicated to a topic that is almost totally overlooked by “popular” authors writing about that conflict. The effort is however somewhat spoiled by a writing style that fails to engage and makes it difficult to absorb the information contained in this volume. Thus, not the easiest read, but nevertheless worth the effort if you're interested in something else than battle depictions and personal recollections.

May 10, 2013

Jungle terrain–test piece

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If there is one thing I’ve learned from my work with GHQ’s terrain hexagons (or rather from the mistakes I’ve made while working with them), then it is this – if you’re about to make a large number of similar terrain pieces, make a test piece first. There is nothing worse than finishing 20-30 elements and realising that they don’t look so good.

All right, that was the sermon of the month, let’s now move on and get some new terrain on the table.

Preparation

Things I needed before getting started:

a) Base plates – I cheated here and ordered a bunch of laser-cut 3mm MDF bases from Warbases, a British company I’m buying all my bases from. Since they didn’t have bases with irregular shapes I was needing, I drew rough sketches of six different shapes in a graphics program and sent the pictures (with dimensions) with a request for a quota. A prompt response informed me that five bases of each type, including p&p, would cost me about 400SEK. Maybe a bit pricey, but considering how much time, sweat and quite possibly blood I would have to spend if I was to cut thirty such bases on my own, it was actually a bargain.

b) Trees and palms – one word here – Ebay! Gone are the good old days when you could find sweet bargains from fellow wargamers, but those Chinese shops using Ebay as outlet for all possible kind of crap are sometimes godsend. In this particular case, I’ve got some 100 trees and 40 palms for another 400SEK. Sure, they’re not as nice as those from Faller or Heki, but on the other hand I didn’t have to mortgage my flat to afford them.

c) Sand, cat litter and herbs – pet shops, DIY shops, or even your own backyard are all great sources.

d) Flock, turf, scatter materials – every wargamer should have a bunch of this stuff, but if you don’t, pleaaase find a well-sorted miniature railroad shop and get what you need from them. A single bag from Noch, Faller or Woodland Scenics will last you a lifetime and costs about the same as those laboratory petri dishes GF9 is trying to push.

e) Paint – all DIY shops usually sell acrylic wall paint, which is perfect for ground work. An added bonus lies in the fact that the colors usually come in at least five or six different tones – perfect for shade, midtone and highlight. Finally, a 0.5 litre sample can usually costs the same as two GW paint jars.

f) Plastic plants – see previous post.

h) Hot glue pistol – new experience for me, more about it below.

Think before doing

Now, let’s stop for a second and think one last time one last time about what I’m trying to achieve with this project. “Douugh… jungle terrain!” – you say? Sure, that’s the most obvious part. Couple more things need however to be considered, before cutting and gluing ensues. First of all, the scale. The terrain is intended for 15mm, so the plants can’t be too high. Second, is the terrain piece to be impassable or would I like to be able to put the miniatures on it? If I wanted the second option, then sticking all the plants onto the base perhaps isn’t the best option. For this test piece, I wanted to see how many plants would be needed for dense coverage, so I decided to stick everything permanently into place.

Making the piece

Once again, let’s clarify couple of things before we proceed. I am not a professional terrain maker, just a guy who needs a bunch of terrain for a new project. The faster I’m done with it, the better. I use basic techniques familiar to anyone who’s been working with terrain before. If the finished piece looks adequate for the task and doesn’t fall apart, then my task is done. If it looks good, then it’s great news. If it looks great, then it was pure damn luck and I’m probably more surprised over the final result than you are. Ler

 

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1. Texturing the base – the usual procedure – paint the base, cover it with sand, remove the excess sand. Once the paint is dry, paint a second layer of paint to seal the sand. Since I wanted an extra rough texture, I put some cat litter and dried basilica onto the second paint layer. Once the second paint layer was dry, I sealed everything in with a final paint coat.

As a final step, I drybrushed the base in two steps – first a heavy pass with a lighter shade of same brown colour and finally a lighter one with cream-coloured paint.

 

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2. Cut the plants – when cutting the plants, I tried to think about the scale the piece was intended for. It became rather obvious that the plant with long, wide leafs would perhaps not be as suitable for this project as I first though.

 

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3. Gluing – well, I won’t bore you with the details. Using hot glue gun was a bit of a new experience for me, but there really isn’t much to it – heat the glue up, put a blob of glue onto the base, stick the plant in, wait until the glue cools down. Hot glue tends to leave thin strings of glue all over the base, but those can easily be removed  with pliers once the plants are in place.

As can be seen in the picture, I didn’t use any trees. The reason is simple – larger plastic plants were the same height as the trees and things just didn’t look right. I have some thinking to do – do I make the plants a good bit shorter or do I leave the trees out of this project altogether?

 

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4. Final steps – I was a bit surprised over how unseemly and protruding hot glue looked once it dried. It was positively ugly and I had to do something about it. At first I tried to cover those blobs up with some sponge flock (from Heki, I believe) stuck into… more hot glue. This method worked pretty good and actually added some variety to the vegetation. However, some of the glue blobs “inside” the base were hard to get to with the hot glue gun. Those were hidden with good old-fashioned combination of white glue and flock.

Musings “after the battle”

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Well, here is the final result. Purely by the gut feeling, it looks to me more like something you’d find in Africa or on an alien world than in Vietnam. Some further experimentation will be needed – shorter plants, maybe a bit of clump foliage and stones. Still, considering that it’s the first effort, I’m quite happy with it.