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.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

On the Painting Table (April 2017) part 2

Following on from my games of The Men Who Would Be Kings (see previous post), I realised I had a box of Perry plastic 28mm British Afghan/Sudan figures sitting in my ‘to-do’ box. So, I decided to make up and paint a couple of British units to add to my collection. My existing British units all wear sandy coloured khaki, but flicking through the Black Powder supplement, Blood on the Nile, I noticed many of the units were painted with grey jackets. Although I don’t know how common this was, I decided to paint my new units wearing grey to differentiate them from, and add some variation to, an otherwise homogeneous force. I’m sure that a gamer with better knowledge of the period will point out that mixing the two colour patterns is incorrect, but I’m sure it will not impact on my enjoyment of the period. I also painted an officer wearing a classic British red jacket to represent the sort of ‘Charlie’ who would both dress for dinner and dress for battle; I just wish I had modelled him with a cricket bat rather than a sword! I also painted one of the dogs included in the box. I would have painted him as my current dog, ‘Snowy’, but the fur was too long, so instead she was painted as my previous dog, ‘Sasha’.

I based the figures in the same style as the others in my Sudan collection. The unit is based on a single 12cm frontage stand, using some spare bases that I have no other use for. The desert texturing is only half completed, I’ve run out of the sand texture paint required (I hope to buy some more pots at Salute next w/e). The whole army requires some further basing work to finish off.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Review of The Men Who Would Be King rules

The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) by Daniel Mersey (Osprey Publishing #16, 2016). These rules were published prior to the release of Pikeman’s Lament, and I bought them at the time of publication but did not have a chance to read or play the rules until now. In my recent review of Pikeman’s Lament (see earlier blogpost, Feb 2017), I was majorly disappointed in the originality and the lack of “Oh, that’s different” moments within Pikeman's Lament. I therefore approached TMWWBK with a degree of trepidation. I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised at the number of interesting changes made from the core Lion Rampant mechanisms.

The first change was the use of randomised Leadership values for each unit, which are diced against to determine activation. Now different units of the same type can differ in their characteristics. I really like this because it adds ‘colour’ to units within an otherwise homogenous tribal horde or regular force etc. Units stand out and you play to the strengths or weaknesses as appropriate. In my second game, we did simplify the system by not adding ‘traits’ to all units, because the speed of play meant that we often forgot who had what trait, or we neglected to remember to apply the trait. We did lose some of the flavour of the rules but play was smoother.

With regard to orders, the Close Order/Volley Fire for Europeans was routinely used; sacrificing some speed for the greatly improved fire effect was an obvious advantage. The new ‘Go-to-Ground’ order for Tribal troops took more getting used to; sure it protected your troops at long range but they were not doing anything. By my second game I had started to appreciate their use, particularly against ‘isolated’ Colonials. Rather than just attack frontally, you Go-to-Ground and concentrate on flanking moves by other units, then if the targeted unit turns to face this new threat, you rise up and continue your attack. This tactic forced the Colonial forces to adopt a mutually supporting formation, such as a square.

The most significant change in the rules was the use of default orders for each unit type (Fire for Regulars, Move for Tribal Infantry etc.). These orders do not require dicing for activation, the unit automatically passes. Previously in Lion Rampant etc. a player would attempt to activate his first unit to undertake an ‘obvious’ action and fail, shifting the initiative back to his opponent. Clearly this would be disastrous in a colonial setting as your steady square faced an on rush of tribal hordes, and then failed to fire upon them! Now your plucky Brit’s will fire, and your noble Natives will move. Of course, if you want units to do other things you risk losing the initiative by having to roll for activation. I think this single change to the order system greatly improves the whole game, brilliant!

Another significant change lies in the combat system where you now roll dice equal to the strength/number of figures in the unit, rather than either 12 dice or 6 dice depending on whether the unit is above/below half strength. Now, whittling units down does have an incremental effect (a cause of concern for the colonial player especially). Tribal units also start with a higher strength (e.g. 16 compared to the regular 12), so it is important to weaken them before they contact you otherwise you will suffer in Hand-to-Hand. Hitting the advancing horde hard and pinning them down is vital for survival.

The final ‘novel’ component of TMWWBK is the addition of a solo gameplay system; ‘Mr Babbage’. I have used this twice now and enjoyed the results in both games. It allows a randomised placement of Native units in different sectors/ranges in relation to moving colonial forces, plus there is a re-cycling of the Native units into the game. The non-player units move and act in a semi-random way determined by dice and a set of ‘Standing Orders’. I think this simple system worked really well and I would recommend players to try it out. Apparently you can play a ‘reverse’ game where you control the Natives rather than the Colonials, but I have yet to try this.

Finally, I would like to mention that, so far, I have only played TMWWBK using 28mm Sudan armies on a 6’x4’ table using 24 points per side. It would be interesting to see how these rules scale up to  larger armies, maybe using a smaller figure scale, on this table size. I do have more 28mm Sudan figures available but I suspect the table would become a bit cramped. Alternatively, I do have a pair of 10mm Zulu War armies which I might try out.