EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, May 30, 2016

Missing What Never Really Was and Other Musings

I seem to be going though a slightly nostalgic phase. In part this may be due to breaking out MacDuff for some single figure off grid games and partly due to trying out Airfix's new rules which have a very old school feeling combat system  with handfuls of dice and morale checks. It may pass.

Recently I watched an old 1950 movie called "Tripoli" starring John Payne and Maureen O'Hara,  not to be confused with the 1942 movie called "Shores of Tripoli" starring John Payne and Maureen O'Hara which is a WWII film.  Tripoli is an adventure film set in 1805 involving a small party of US marines on horse back leaving Egypt with a force of mercenary Greek Arnauts (in amazingly accurate costumes) and Arabs to take the town of Derne from the rear. (As unlikely as it seems, this part was based on historical events).  When the final bombardment and attack was playing, I couldn't help but think what a great scenario it would make for a MacDuff to the Frontier or The Sword & the Flame game. I even once had all the 54mm troops and scenery I would have needed, even the Greeks.

OK these guys aren't actually my old Greeks but close enough.
The fort and its defenders are long gone but they went to a good home.
Actually the movie would have been even better as a game with separate characters with objectives etc as well as units of troops, perhaps Gaslight or something similar. It won't happen here though, despite numerous efforts, I just can't seem to "get into" semi-roleplaying games with characters and story lines. I can just manage if its a group game run by someone else but certainly not solo, I get bored to distraction and self-conscious at the same time. In fact my lack of both imagination and playfulness is downright shocking at times, at least as shocking as my lack of seriousness!   Luckily I'm OK with just being me.

However, since modernized nostalgia or "the way it should have been" is still active, I have been poking about at my boxes of 54's for the Cyprus Hills campaign, thinking about the latest edition of "With MacDuff" and musing.  

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Airfix Battles Again

On Thursday Ron & I, armed with a more complete idea of the rules after some correspondence,  had another go at Airfix battles. There were numerous small things that we had gotten wrong but the big one was that we hadn't realised that in addition to playing interrupts, players alternated playing action cards. This gave the game a much more interactive feel. We had also discovered the Valour token which allows a player to reroll a die or set of dice at the cost of passing the token to the enemy. Its a small thing and rerolls can fail as badly as an original roll but somehow failing once is bad luck, failing twice is fate or the powers that be laughing at you. In any event it was fun and it did had a dramatic effect at a key moment as we shall see.

Contact! The opposing forces are now free to manoeuvre off road. To refresh our memories cards are laid by the unit that carried them out until the clean up phase. 
Ron was a busy man during the intervening week and he redeployed the US and German infantry from 2 man stands to washers. Amazingly 10 of the chunky Plastic Soldier Company figures will fit in a Hexon hex. Just. The table was still set for Sawmill Village so we diced for sides and Ron got the Americans.  The premise is a clash between advance guards and both sides must move down the road at full speed until the enemy is spotted. At that point the objective becomes controlling the village crossroad. Given the layout of the twisty road on Ron's board and the rules, The Americans (or whichever player is on that side) are a shoo in to get to the town first but the other player's main body has a shorter cross country march once the enemy is engaged so it is still well balanced.

We used slightly larger forces this time, in fact all the forces from the first two scenarios. This gave us each 1 captain with a unit of veterans, 4 infantry units with a Leiutenant, and 2 (German) or 3 (American) tanks incuding a Lieutenant. We each had a hand capacity of 7 cards and a draw capability of 5 cards. It paid to try and save up to a full hand and try to hang on to 2 at the end of each turn to maintain maximum flexibility. Of course, sometimes there was a moment of desperation or an opening too good to miss and a few extra interrupts would deplete one's hand requiring a pause to recover your full potential or else a risky full press if the time or situation did not allow time to catch your breath.

The town is ours! or wait was that something moving in the house across the street? 
 As anticipated Ron siezed the town with tanks and infantry so I began organizing an all arms attack on one end of the town, expecting him to stay under cover and bring up reinforcements. Wrong. Luckily my lead infantry survived an assault by one of his shermans and was even able to recover some of my losses thanks to one of the cards. I left his tank to my pair who had been moving forward in support and it may be seen burning smokily above. My infantry had an assault card allowing them to move through the town to open fire on his infantry which they managed to pin encouraging me to assault. At the end of a bloody to and fro I occupied the building (note 1 lone guy peeking around the corner in the photo above to remind me that his friends are inside) while the remnant of Ron's unit retreated across the street to cover and I ended up with the Valour chit.

2 Panzers vs 1 Sherman. This isn't supposed to go well for him.
(Oops this is the essentially the same shot from a slightly different angle, I thought I'd uploaded one of Ron's photos, oh well)
Things were looking up. I just had to move up my supporting infantry, manoeuvre into position to take out his wounded command Sherman and then, frig, another Sherman, OK I'll take him out first. or not. Why am I suddenly rolling so many 1's and 2's? I'll use the Valour chit, Oh boy 1 hit! Considering the combined 10 misses including the reroll, I'll take it. OK new hand, new plan, I'll let the little guy live for now and put everything on the command tank who is down to 1 hit.  OK I don't have the movement to get line of sight to him from both tanks but, now what, oh he had one of those cards too, now he's up to 2 hits, Still I've got a Tiger and it can inflict.....1 hit...sigh. Luckily, if he runs I have an intercept that will let me shoot. Ha! Another Ronsen!  Ok this looks good. My squad in town is down to 5 men but I've got cover and he's only rolling 5 dice for 5's and 6's and is unlikely to roll 5 hits. Ok. Well I'm not likely to fail 5 saves....Seriously? Well at least I didn't have to take a morale check.  OK  more units moving up, but is there time?
OK he's still here and my command tank is a bit rattled but that's my infantry about to dive into cover behind his flank and he's lucky its the end of the game. 
I love those infantry triple move cards. Now its 5 units vs 2. The Sherman had been using my command tank for target practice so given its track record, I decided it was worth more generating new cards than it was engaging in a shooting match. I moved up the Tiger. Then all of a sudden, there we were, last card. The infantry rush hadn't quite reached the house and  the panzerfausts hadn't even caused a morale check on the Sherman. In retrospect I should have used a basic command to move into the street and assault the 5 remaining men but I fired instead. 5 hits! No saves! The town is mine. Jubilation!  Then I remembered  that Ron had the Valour token. Honour obliged..... 
HA! Got them all. The town is MIN...what? Audie Murphy? in the house with a brave private? Still alive?! NOOOOOOOOOO!
( Photo by Ron)

So yes, he saved 2 guys then rolled boxcars on his morale!  So a happy and exhausted draw after 3 hours of thinking and rolling and pushing troops around, not to mention checking notes and discussing how the rules were suppose to be played, especially given the hexes. It took us another hour to debrief, reminisce and discuss future possibilities.  I'm not sure how long the actual playing time was, probably less than 2 hours, but the time flew by without us noticing.  I'll definitely be ordering the rules and cards when they are available over here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

As they roved out on a May morning

The original idea behind this scenario was some variation on an attack on a fort or an ambush either of supplies or a relief column. Unfortunately, given the shape of the cloth and the placing of the painted on terrain features, the only place for the fort was near the middle of one long edge. Given the small table and the large footprint of the fort and of the units, the only scenario that would work was an assault on the fort so I removed it. The table layout then suggested converging columns bumping into each other without warning so that's what I went with. The time period for this historical fantasy setting was the ongoing low level warfare in Nova Scotia that preceded the official outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1756.

Checking the units that were available without too much fudging, I decided to field 6 companies per side. The British, marching up the road from Fort Edward had the Grenadier and 2 line companies of the Royal Irish (yes I know this was 10 years before the date they say they came to America but the reason for that will be seen and yes they do look a lot like the Queen's Irish in the service of Rosmark), 2 companies of Massachusetts militia and a  company of elite highlanders who have presumed the dark blue facings of a royal regiment a few years too soon. The French marching down from Beaubasin perhaps, had 2 bands of Miq'ma  warriors, 1 of veteran irregulars and 1 of less enthusiastic Acadian irregulars as well as 2 Companies Franches from the garrison at Louisberg serving as line troops.    The Miq'ma and Acadian irreguars are 8 man skirmisher units, the rest are 12 man line infantry.

The tracks were deemed open ground rather than roads. None of the pictures of the columns marching on seem to have survived so please picture the columns snaking forward separated only by a wooded hill until they spot each other across the open field and begin to deploy.

About 5 turns in. The battle lines form. On the riverside the farm is about to be contested while inland a group of Mik'ma warriors is working their way through the woods to flank the Highlanders.
I started off using the original 1 unit at a time card draw system which is still an approved option but after 2 turns it just didn't feel right for this scenario so I went back to the initiative option. I added a twist though, instead of dicing, I pulled cards like I have been doing for Square Brigadier and other games for the last few months. Worked like a charm including some chance cards. The rules allow units to fire on their turn instead of moving or to fire just before the joint melee phase so the initiative is important but not as much as in some of the other games.

The British surge forward to claim the farm, forcing the opposing skirmishers to fall back for their own good.  The grenadiers are a bit rash though and are caught by frontal volleys from the advancing French regulars and flanking fire by some Acadians. The telling blow was a handful of 5's and 6's from the brand spanking new company of PA bluejackets followed by a 1 on morale. 
Just after the dramatic repulse of the grenadiers I made a careless error. I pulled a chance card allowing the French to force a morale check on a company of militia. They failed and retreated off table while the Grenadiers also failed (2+ to pass with the Colonel there...) and fellback, except that's not the way it works. Units either rout when they take the test or they fallback a normal move and automatically rally on the next turn. Oops. When I figured it out a few turns later I brought the militia back. 

The British line has stabilized but note the warriors creeping up, firing into the flank of the Highlanders  at the top of the page as well as the 4 survivors of the 2nd Irish company heading for home after being caught in another crossfire and another handful of 5's and 6's from the boys in blue. 
The game was full of twists and turns and drama, some of it due to extreme die rolls at key moments as well as to gambles taken. I was rather surprised at the end to find that I had spent nearly 3 hours playing the 11 turn game. It didn't feel like it. 

I was even more surprised at a brand new unit, the varnish barely dry, rolling high consistently through the game.  I'll have to watch those lads!

The tide seemed to turn again as aggressive close range musketry attacks by the New Englanders and remaining Irish sent the remaining Acadians and Mik'ma as well as the white coated regulars skittering for cover. The Irish Grenadiers had launched another bayonet charge though and again ran into a wall of fire including an enfilade from the Bluecoats. The following turn the last, 1/2 strength,  company of Irish and the New Englanders all took a beating and routed.  The Highlanders, fresh from having chased off the Miq'ma, swords in hand,  moved up to cover the retreat.
Note: No cattle were injured during the playing of this game.