Thursday, 15 June 2017

Off the painting table (June 2017)

As mentioned in an earlier post, I planned to upgrade my France 1940 forces from 6mm to 15mm. I purchased the necessary figures from Peter Pig and based them on FoW bases. The decals , plus a couple of FT-17 tanks, were bought from Battlefront.

Rather than present each batch of painting I decided to wait until each army was completed. I opted to start on the French. The infantry are fairly drab, only the officer kepi hats stand out. The tanks are great, really different to those I have previously encountered. The FT-17 and R-35 tanks are small and quirky, whilst the Char B1’s are giants. I like the camo pattern and the playing card decals are unusual.

Next will be the Germans. I want the infantry to have the shield design on the helmets, the recce section on motorbikes and some of the more obscure tanks.

Monday, 5 June 2017

UKGE 2017 show report

UKGE 2017: NEC Birmingham, 2nd & 3rd June 2017

Elaine and I went to UKGE 2017 to meet our friends, Val and Chris. The Friday turned out to be one of ‘those’ days. We got up early, planning to get to Birmingham for doors opening at 11:30 am. I let our dog, Snowy, out in the garden. After 5 minutes he came back in and I noticed his front paw was bleeding. We decided to get the veterinary nurse to check him before taking him to the kennels. It turned out he needed stitches! The vets were excellent and managed to get him back to us 12:30; a bit groggy, with a bandaged leg and lampshade collar. We then dropped him off at the kennels; a place he loves. We know the kennel owner very well and we knew she would look after Snowy perfectly. So, at 13:00 we finally managed to set off. The journey normally takes 90 minutes, but the roads and motorways were snarled-up all the way. We finally arrived at 17:30, only 30 minutes before the hall closed for the day! We met Val and Chris and retired to the Metropole hotel to play some games. We were not staying on site because the NEC was hosting a ‘Take That’ concert and was booked out. We had a hotel about 10 miles away. During the evening it started to rain, but as we made our way back to the car park the sky opened up. We got drenched and roads started to flood! In addition, the ‘Take That’ fans were also leaving, getting equally soaked in their finery; no-one anticipated such a downpour! Getting out of the NEC was a nightmare, and a 15 minute journey took an hour. We finally retired for the night; tired, frustrated with pent-up road-rage, sodden clothes and wreaked shoes. Saturday was a better day, but we did have to leave earlier than planned in order to collect Snowy.

So, what are my thoughts about UKGE2017? Judging from the attendance on Saturday (I cannot comment about the Friday!), I think the visitor numbers were down on last year; it did not feel as crowded and it was easier to wander around (which is a good thing). This may be an illusion, because the show has expanded and moved some of the talks/lectures/competitions into other rooms and locations both in the NEC and Metropole. I also felt that the number of trade stands was also down. All the ‘main traders/producers’ were there, but maybe some of the small ‘peripheral’ traders were missing. We did not visit the B&B section this year (so I cannot comment on it), largely because we were deterred by last years’ experience of long waits and over-crowding once you got in. The addition of a wargaming element to the show seemed rather pointless to me and an unnecessary distraction. If I attended UKGE purely as a wargamer, then I would have been very disappointed. I’m sure there is cross-over between the two gaming genres but there are plenty of dedicated wargame shows already, and I would prefer UKGE to concentrate solely on their core boardgame market. As usual there were plenty of new games on offer, but no obvious block-busters or themes. The range of subjects for new games seemed more diverse than previous years, no dominant theme (zombie, Viking, space etc.), which I think is healthy for the hobby. Because our time at the show was limited we did not play as many demo games as usual; I would have loved to try ‘Kitchen Rush’ (due for release at Essen) and ‘Spice Road’ but both had queues waiting to take part. We did not spend a great deal, just odds and ends, and the only game I bought was ‘Sushi Go, Party’ which had been on my hit-list for a while. In contrast Val and Chris had a couple of bags full and I’m sure we will be trying these out when next visit them. Overall, I enjoyed the show and plan to attend next year, but next time we will hope to stay on-site and possibly travel by train rather than drive!

We did play some games whilst at UKGE:

The first game played was ‘Fresco’, brought by Val and Chris, which is a based around the competitive ‘painting’ of a Renaissance fresco. It is an enjoyable game with a fairly standard worker-placement, Euro-style mechanism. The player order is determined by current score track with the lowest player choosing first. Inevitably, the first couple of players in a turn hog the paint acquisition phase, which can be frustrating for others who face a turn with no additional resources. Instead they are mainly restricted to gaining cash and improving the happiness of their workers in readiness for future turns. This does prevent a player from racing ahead and results in a levelling-out of scores. The result was a tight finish where I surprisingly emerged as the winner, largely due to my large pile of unused cash at the end.

Next Elaine went to Thirsty Meeples and returned with a new game to us, ‘Legacy’.  I think we were all a bit daunted by the number of components and the length of the rules! We persevered and actually picked up the rules and objectives fairly quickly. Essentially you are building a family tree over 4 generations; having children, arranging future marriages, benefiting from actual marriages, building up ‘resources’ to meet mission objectives etc. The artwork is nice and there is considerable humour as you arrange for a daughter to marry a cad, or your first son to marry a beefy heiress who lacks looks but brings much needed cash! Elaine’s ‘family’ seemed to have a genetic problem because she drew plenty of ‘birthing problem’ cards, whilst Chris visited the fertility doctor a worrying number of times! Val emerged as the winner. We all enjoyed the game and spent some time at the end examining/joking about our respective family trees. I think we would all happily play again, and I’m sure the flow would speed up and we would make better decisions etc.

On Saturday morning we started by playing ‘Metro’, a tile laying game themed around the 1898 Paris Metro system. The game is essentially a beefed-up version of ‘Tsuro’, with players placing tiles to move their trains towards destinations whilst mucking up other players moves. We already enjoy Tsuro and we really liked the added depths of Metro. Val won. The game is quick and simple, and I suspect this will be a future purchase (possibly for my birthday in August).

Next I encouraged our group to play ‘Sushi Go’ because I had just bought the expanded ‘Party’ version. I am glad to say we all enjoyed the game, which is essentially a card drafting experience with a Sushi theme. The artwork is both crude and cute, and fits well with the Japanese culture theme. A win for Elaine. I’m looking forward to playing ‘Sushi Go, Party’ in future sessions.

We sat down in the Thirsty Meeples zone and attempted to play another new-to-us game, ‘Imperial Settlers’. I had previously seen plenty of other gamers playing this game, so obviously it is popular, and I was looking forward to trying it. Unfortunately we gave up on the experience after 3 or 4 turns. I don’t think any of us were clear about what we were doing or what we were aiming to achieve. Normally we find that things become clearer as a new game progresses, but not with Imperial Settlers, I was as (or more) confused at the premature finish, than I was at the start! I cannot see us returning to this game, but I intend watching a few videos on BGG to see what I might be missing. In the short time remaining we decided to try a Munchkin card game. I’ve never played any of the large Munchkin family of games, and it appears people either like or hate the game. The Cthulhu theme we chose was also unusual for us. We did not finish due to time but we picked up the mechanism fairly well. It did generate some amusing moments but I don’t think we are aggressive enough as players to fully appreciate the mechanisms; you really need to happily stab your fellow gamers in the back to get the most out of Munchkin.

That was our UKGE 2017 experience. We drove back home (only 90 minutes this time!) and collected Snowy, who was much recovered and back to his energetic, exuberant self!

Monday, 22 May 2017

Boardgame session: 21May17

A busy weekend; on Saturday we travelled to London to see Ballet Rambert perform Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells (wonderful – we last saw this in York 36 years ago!).
On Sunday we visited Val and Chris and played a single game of ‘Lords of Vegas’, which was a new game for us as a group. The strategy revolves around developing and then controlling casinos on the Vegas strip; an interesting mix of economics and dice rolling. The game starts slowly, lulling you into a false state of security, but develops into a cut-throat take-over mode as the end approaches. The ability of players to negotiate deals also plays a significant part of the game, and I think Chris was especially astute in this respect. He gained early control of a large casino complex on the central strip which would win him the game. The final scores were very tight, all players were within 2 scoring places of the winner. An enjoyable game, but players need to be thick skinned because your friends will stab you in the back and you need to be OK with this. I recall that on one turn I was short of $2M, so gambled successfully at Val’s casino and used my winnings to immediately take control of said casino; she was not a happy bunny! Elaine also knifed me a couple of times, but Chris got away relatively unscathed because his casino was too big (and therefore too expensive) to move against.

We only played the single game because we spent time discussing arrangements for our up-coming trip to UKGE at Birmingham NEC in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to this and will write up an account in a future post.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Thoughts about Blitzkrieg Commander version 3

I have not played Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) for many years; I’m not sure why because I generally liked the mechanisms and the games that resulted. Interestingly I have played more games using the modern ‘sister’ set of rules, Cold War Commander (CWC), using my large 6mm late 1970’s Soviet/NATO armies. My old copy of BKC version 2 was a bit tatty, so when the latest BKC version 3 (Pendraken Miniatures, 2017) was published, I immediately decided to purchase.

The rules are nicely produced and illustrated, with key mechanics clarified by worked examples. The layout used for both the scenario and army list sections have been significantly improved in my opinion; much clearer and attractive to look at. Regarding the rules themselves I did not think any major changes had been made compared to version 2. Now I have to say that I have resisted going back to my version 2 rules for the purposes of comparison because I was concerned such a move would result in confusion on the tabletop. Bearing in mind that I have not played BKC for a few years, the only significant changes that stood out for me lay in the off-table support and recce sections, where the rules appear more streamlined.

Next I tried the new version BKC on the table using my 6mm early war French and German forces in a small, solo 1,000 point a side encounter game on a 5’x3’ table. The game flowed well, very smoothly, with little need to refer to the main rulebook. The main thing that needs to be in the mind of a player is opportunity fire: Whether I’m playing solo or opposed games, I tend to find myself switching off during my opponents turn, missing opportunities to interrupt his movement with opportunity fire. The nice thing about opportunity fire is that it does not require a command roll, an important factor for poorly commanded armies (like early war French). In my game the French went down to a major defeat, largely because of the poor command of their HQ units and their poor co-ordination of armour and infantry. One thing really stood out in the game which was the devastating effectiveness of the PzKfw-I units on the unfortunate French infantry. The army listing states the PzKfw-I has a AP rating of 4/60! Surely this must be wrong? OK, the PzKfw-I does cost 85 points but, even so, it is now an infantry killer!

I next played a 1941 North Africa encounter game (1650 points aside). I took the British Crusaders and hoped for the best! On turn 1 I only managed to get my infantry and ATG formation on table, whereas the Germans all appeared and advanced. On turn 2 I again failed to get my armoured forces on table, and the German tanks rapidly advanced threatening both objectives and starting to turn in on my worried infantry. I thought the game was lost but Lady Luck came to my rescue. On turn 3 all my armour arrived and they were now at short range (due to the German advance), so they opened up. The central German PzKfw-III force went up in flames, and the other German tanks suffered a couple of suppressions. On the next turn I was able to largely destroy the remaining Panzers, and my FO accurately brought down fire from my 2 off-table 25pdr batteries on the German infantry in a concentrated strike, wiping them out and suppressing 1 German HQ unit. At this point the game was effectively over, the German threat had been eliminated and I had only taken minor losses. The initial delay I had faced had turned to my advantage, bringing on armoured formations at close range is devastating, and with hindsight the Germans would have been better served not making a dash for the objectives early on. All in all an enjoyable game (for me!), the rules worked well and play was fast.

To conclude, I like BKCv3 very much. The command system introduces a nice degree of uncertainty (the French CV7 HQ’s are a liability) and interestingly I never rolled either a blunder or stunning success (box-cars or snake-eyes). Both players are actively engaged and a key is deciding when and where to engage in reactive fire. Off-table fire, when concentrated, can be lethal (possibly overly so), and I definitely think the PzKfw-! AP value is too high. I can see BKC being a go-to set of rules for larger WW2 games, and perhaps the best compliment is the fact I have decided to invest in some new 1940 France armies. I definitely think 6mm is too small; I had considerable trouble distinguishing PzKfw-I from PzKfw-II, and PzKfw-III from PzKfw-IV tanks. I plan to ditch (sell off) my 6mm forces and buy a larger scale. Initially I thought 10mm would be best (and cheapest) because they both look good and work well scale-wise on table. The disadvantage with 10mm is they are out of kilter with the more common 15mm used by most other WW2 gamers (I’m thinking of FoW gamers in particular), and also I don’t have an extensive array of 10mm terrain pieces. This is not a problem when fighting in North Africa but a European setting would necessitate the purchase a lot of new buildings. I have therefore opted to go with a mainstream 15mm scale, which will allow me to integrate with other gamers and enable me to employ my stock of 15mm terrain.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

On the Painting Table (May 2017)

I always try and paint up the freebies given out at the Salute show as soon as possible (otherwise they sit on my lead pile for ever). This year the figure was a Russian revolutionary woman flag-bearer. In addition, the entry bag contained a strange fantasy female figure wielding a weird halberd over a severed metal tentacle. I soon glued the figure and discarded the box, so I cannot remember either the manufacturer or what the figure represents, but I don’t think this will matter to me!

The Russian figure was simple to paint. I was tempted to add revolutionary slogans to the flag but choose not to because of the ‘furled’ fabric, which would distort any text I attempted. The miscellaneous fantasy figure was more detailed and fun to paint. I like the wave effect on the base but why a metal tentacle? Neither figure will be used on the table and instead will reside in my box of odds and ends. This box contains all my old Salute figures from past years, plus a nice collection of Metal Magic Asterix figures which I cannot bear to part with.

Monday, 1 May 2017

First impressions on Battlegroup Tobruk

I don’t intend to write a review of the ‘Battlegroup’ series of rules because I did this in an earlier blog post (Oct 2016), and I recommend readers to view the earlier post to get a better idea about my thoughts. Instead I want to look at the new ‘Tobruk’ (BG-T) codex which I recently purchased at the Salute show. All my previous comments about the rules and the value of these codex’s still apply; in my opinion they remain over priced, badly laid out, full of fluff etc. But does ‘Battlegroup’ transfer well to the early phase of desert warfare?

Firstly, I used my 10mm desert armies and moved up from the ‘Squad’ level game (250 points) to the ‘Platoon’ level game (650 points). This shift in game size greatly improves the game for 2 main reasons: (1) Order generation; The ‘Squad’ game generates 1D6 orders and the probability is flat-line; if you throw a 1, you are fairly scuppered for that turn, and even a 2 severely limits you. Now in the ‘Platoon’ game you throw 2D6 and the probability is a bell curve, resulting in a more reasonable number of orders generated. (2) The larger armies have higher Battlegroup Ratings (BR); now taking a chit to remove Pin markers is not so drastic. In my earlier ‘Squad’ games I found the BR for a force was frequently exhausted almost before the game got going because ‘key’ elements needed to be un-pinned. Now, unpinning is a more viable choice; the relative cost is lower and there tends to be more elements that require rallying.

My infantry forces are based for FoW and therefore operate as ‘full’ sections; In BG-T I did not split the Germans into rifle and MG squads, nor did I allow the British to separate Bren teams from the section. In the games I have played of BG-T so far I have not really tested whether this change had any significant effect because the battles have both been tank dominated affairs. Infantry comprised only a small part of the armies fielded and tended to hang back out of harm’s way. In theory I cannot see that ‘complete’ sections would be too detrimental to the game, it is not as though there is an abundance of terrain to allow fire&move infantry tactics to be employed.

Regarding the tank battles, I have no real disagreements concerning gun or armour ratings etc. What I did find was that forces tended to close to the 20”-30” range band then stop and engage in a static slogging match; the winner being the player would threw the better dice and had fewer KO’s/Pins. There appears to be no incentive to encourage the British Crusader tanks to engage in cavalry style ‘charges’ firing on the move. OK, the Crusader tank moves 9” compared to the Panzer III move of 8”, but this is negligible, but otherwise there is nothing to encourage historically accurate tactics. Also the move up to ‘Platoon’ sized games highlighted another major deficiency in the rules; there are no unit integrity rules. A Troop of 3 tanks has an Officer tank, but there are no rules compelling the Troop to act as a coherent body, individual tanks can move and operate as single entities. In ‘encounter’ type battles I usually hold roughly a 1/3rd of my force as a reserve, back from the initial frontline. Using BG-T there is nothing to prevent me holding all my Officer tanks in reserve, keeping them out of the firing line and preserving their command bonus for as long as possible. For infantry platoons it appears sensible to move the sections forward independently whilst keeping their commander safely back far away from the action. All very strange.

I also felt the treatment of desert conditions to be a bit too simplistic. Under the rules dust becomes a factor after 2D6 turns of play and simply results in a -1 spotting modifier applied across the board. I would like to have seen dust markers placed behind moving vehicles, obscuring any line of sight passing through them. This would help me in an additional way; I find I forget which vehicles moved in the previous turn, so such a marker would clearly highlight such movement. Artillery fire would also generate large dust clouds which could be easily marked and obscure subsequent spotting in latter turns. Maybe the addition of dust markers might encourage a more mobile battle?

To conclude, I’m not sure what to make of BG-T. I think the game mechanisms have a lot of positive factors going for them and moving to the ‘Platoon’ sized game is a definite improvement. On the downside, there are glaring omissions in the rules; no unit integrity, no smoke/dust, plus the fact that historical tactical traits are not catered for. I’m undecided whether these are the rules for me, certainly some substantial house rules would need to be introduced if I decide to persist with the ‘Battlegroup’ series.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Salute show 2017

It is that time of year again when I make my pilgrimage to Salute at Excel. In some ways I find the show too big to enjoy, but it is the venue where many new releases appear and you can get a feel for what is ‘hot’ in the hobby. In addition, Elaine and I always go up to London the night before and take in a show or exhibition. This year we saw the Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain on the Friday afternoon. For me, Hockney can be a bit ‘hit-or-miss’; I really like his California pool paintings and his ‘Four Seasons’ video installation was spectacular. I’m not keen on his early work but I thought his recent iPad paintings were an interesting use of modern technology. In the evening we went to see Travesties by Tom Stoppard at the Apollo, starring Tom Hollander. We last saw this play in 1980 which makes me feel very old indeed! I had forgotten how good a playwright Stoppard is, particularly his early works which are crammed full of ideas, allusions and verbal playfulness. At the end you want to dash to your bookshelf and re-read the text to catch those moments you missed in the performance. Of course this revival related to the centenary of the action set in Zurich in 1917.

Salute also had a 1917 theme. There were a few Russian Revolution demo games, but I was disappointed that the theme was not as strong as I expected (especially as the Russian Revolution is of interest to me as a wargame setting). In fact, I must confess that I found the standard of demo games this year to be less spectacular than previous years. Although the games were good and of high quality, I cannot think of any that stopped me in my tracks and left me stunned with admiration. From memory the best demo game I saw was Mosquito Coast by Dalauppror, there was also a WW2 Japanese game and a large SYW game that left an impression on me. I am not going to give a photo montage of the show because there are many others who do this better than myself and a selection of these can be found via the TMP website. Small games demonstrating particular rule sets seem to be proliferating at the moment, allowing people to sample a game and observe how a game plays before purchasing. Maybe this downsizing of games reflects a degree of austerity finally hitting the wargame sphere? I did not get any feel for what is hot, or upcoming, with regard to the hobby from this year’s show. I thought that the release of FOWv4 would be dominant, but this was not the case. There was some interest around zombie cowboys, and a fantasy sports themed game (Guild Bowl?), but neither of these appealed to me. I enjoyed wandering around, chatting to friends and examining stalls, but I did not feel drawn or pressurised in to making unplanned purchases. My haul is shown below:

I did buy a copy of Battlegroup Tobruk, even though I have previously stated that the codex’s for Battlegroup were not worthwhile (see blog post: Oct 2016). I succumbed because I have some 10mm FOW armies which I want to get on the table, and none of my friends planned to buy this codex, so I cannot simply borrow the volume. I also got a copy of the new version of Blitzkrieg Commander. I have not played BKC recently, but I liked the rules back then and my old copy was getting a bit threadbare. On a spontaneous whim, I bought the fantasy version of Sword and Spear (not quite sure why), and a copy of Bag the Hun by Too Fat Lardies. In addition, I bought a 3’x3’ mousemat desert terrain mat from Deep-Cut Studios for use with my Dead man’s Hand rules. I was very impressed by these mats and a show is the place to buy to avoid Postage/Packing costs. As you can see from haul, I did not purchase any miniatures (apart from a couple of freebies) – I was not inspired. My lead pile is very low, so I will have to go online and spend some more dosh in the near future.