Sunday, February 26, 2017

End of an Era

Having a converted Boer in hand, as well as a paint stripped head from a broken antique Gordon Highlander and having restrained myself from ordering replacement heads, I reluctantly proceeded with making a mold to allow the 54mm Zulu and First Boer War project to proceed.
The first recruits for the 58th Foot.
After much hemming and hawing I went all toy soldiery and painted white, unstained, helmet and belts. The figure on the viewer's left is the original conversion, the other is the copy.

 As the Boer disappeared into the RTV I had one of those forehead slapping moments. Yesterday I had looked through numerous illustrations and confirmed that ammunition bandoliers were almost always worn over the left shoulder. (Presumably to avoid interfering with the rifle butt when aiming.)  What I had just noticed was that I had accidentally (or absent mindedly) reversed this when adding the putty.

Never mind, that could be fixed, or lived with, it was really the pith helmet that I had slipped in that was important. With a bit of work, I eventually managed to coax a slightly lumpy helmet and even more heavily flashed Boer from the mould. Lumpy and flash ridden enough that I could make use of them after much tedious work but not encouraging. The rifle is a lump of flash and there is a big wedge on the brim of the Boer's hat not to mention various smaller faults.  Doing fresh conversions for each figure would be easier than rescuing these though I will do one or two 'just because'. When I finally got a helmet to form it was in slightly better shape, usable but not great.

There was enough putty left over for one more full sized mould so I decided to try again but not with the Boer. This time I used an unconverted, antique, guardsman with his head chopped off and replaced by a pith helmet. If it worked it would give me what I needed to get the game on the table. I already have an ample supply of slouch hats to use for conversions of other figures to Boers to speed their recruitment.

It was with great relief that the result was, not exactly a clean casting, but a usable one. Usable enough to save the day with a bit of tedious work any way. 
Best not let the Sergeant Major catch you with your shirt tail hanging out over your arse Soldier! and Grandpa, what the hell are you pointing at me? I was confused at first by what appeared to be a bandage under the British helmet but it turns out that it was a fault on the antique that I hadn't noticed.
It was around 1999 that I first tried my hand at making my own molds. The initial reason was simply that I couldn't buy what I wanted! If I'd gotten into 54mm a bit earlier and hadn't gotten distracted by the explosion of new and recast 54mm plastic sets, Soldierpac had everything I wanted and while expensive for my budget, within reach if I went slowly. But they closed and the very reasonable prices of the remaining suppliers were beyond my reach for wargaming purposes. Having just gotten into casting Prince August semi-flats, and having bought some moulds for copies of old Britain's from Miniature Moulds who also sell mould making supplies, the next step was obvious. Make my own masters and cast them!

I'll never go down in the list of top miniature sculptors but I like several of my masters more than many commercial figures. Making moulds seemed  like it should be the easy part. It probably is for someone with not just patience and technical knowledge but who is careful and precise and patient.  Like the song says, "it ain't me Babe". I'm not sure how many moulds I've made now. Let's say 50 at least. Maybe 10 of those reliably produce acceptable copies of the original with a minimum of flash, maybe another 10 were completely unusable and the rest were were usable on a good day with a great deal  of recovery work required to produce a poor shadow of the original.

One reason I persevered was that I dreamt back then of having my own one man toy soldier company. From original sculpt to mould to castings, raw or painted.  With hindsight, by 2005 I had enough evidence that my mould making skills had stalled somewhere between mediocre to poor that I should have started investigating having some one else make the moulds. It was a tumultuous time in my life though and there was too much ego involved for rational business decisions. Anyway, I no longer have the desire to work that hard so its sheer cussedness crossed  with a desire for cheap volume that has kept me going at the mould making.

For this project I had actually looked at the price of buying heads from 3 sources and had almost stopped myself from reaching for the RTV but, it was there, bought and paid for, and it had an expiry date. I decided to give it one more go.

Once I was done and looked at the results I went looking at price and availability of RTV and revisited the price of parts.   I needed about 18 pith helmets for this project assuming I cannibalised and repaired more of the antique guards and used my commercial guards mould for bodies.  The result suggests that the cost of those heads would be about equal to what one of the 2 moulds would have cost and I could have grabbed some extras at the same time. Hmmm. Less money, less work, less frustration and I can feel good for supporting the industry.  

The figure on the left is the refurbished antique, the one on the right is the recast after 15-20 minutes of cutting and filing. After all the years of doing British and Canadians in tunics with lace trim, it was realllly hard not to paint any on the front and on the rear vent of the service frocks.  
So I am announcing the end of an era. I do not intend to replace my RTV. I'm quite happy to continue buying moulds for massed armies, like the new Prince August ones and I'm happy to keep converting figures, but I'm trying to downsize my armies and focus on what I enjoy, which does not include mould-making!

If I ever get another mad, insatiable, desire to make a lot of copies of some new originals, I'll start checking the price of hiring someone to do it for me.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Becoming a Bigger Boer

It all seemed so simple. Take a 20mm Boer War Portable Wargame to Huzzah for a relaxed Sunday morning event. I had enough Boers and a couple of Brits painted up. Could even throw together opposing Russian Civil War armies as an option.

Then I thought that it might be nice to take some non-European enemies. I had just about enough Zulus but almost all their shields were gone so I broke out my old, beloved 54mm Nku Khu (aka Zulus) and some even older beloved Britain's British. Which of course led to....."This would look good at a con and be a good example of how 54mm games don't HAVE to be big". After all, I had the Zulus and just needed to do up some proper Brits to opposes them. Of course the only ones I have in Pith Helmets are the Gordon Highlanders. They didn't fight the Zulus but they did fight the Boers two years later..... Oh.....Oh dear.....

One unpainted guards casting, one headswap, one little ball of Milliput....
OK, part of me has been wanting to do this for quite a while, nearly 20 years actually, but when I down-sized everything I talked myself into getting out of 54's, sort of. Obviously my favourite bits stayed around. Now that I'm several years into games with fewer figures  I can enjoy 54mm wargaming with traditional toy soldiers again !

His own Drill Sergeant wouldn't recognise him now!
I've always paid less attention to the first Boer War but it is the one with scarlet tunics and one of the periods where  Boer, Zulu and British wargame armies can each fight the other. If that's not versatile enough it can also share some figures with my North West campaign.

Since the rules are pretty generic, I need a "thing" to make the Boers different but I want to do it without adding rules. They were mounted infantry but during the first war don't seem to have ever fought on horseback though they occasionally did in small numbers earlier or later when the situation called for it. They were expert shots and good at concealment but occasionally shy at close combat and reluctant to take casualties.

Using the roster system I intend to treat the Boers like Native Rifles with 3 SP's  (ie like cavalry) but will give them a special rule that they always count as "in cover" when not adjacent due to their skills at concealment. This means they will typically out shoot the British in the open but will have a reason to stay away from close combat in the open. Being "native" they will get the 50% chance of a double move, in this case representing a commando jumping on their horses to get to a better position. Lastly, having only 3 rather than 4 strength points will make them reluctant to trade hits equally.

Now to test these ideas out on the table. Just got to clean up the master once the putty is dry, make a mold, cast and paint about 20 figures and also convert about 12 more from different poses for variety........ Not going to be ready this weekend.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Review: Last Post (sic)

Having played 3 games in 2 periods using both Sudden Death  and Roster options, I decided to test the rules robustness when tinkered with, after all, tinkering is what I do, even with my own rules!

The Mid-20th Century version seemed like the best starting point, not only because the table was still set but this version covers the widest time frame thus offering a good scope for fine tuning. It is also a period for which I don't currently have a set of rules, just various half tested ideas.

My starting point was to decide how many units I wanted to field and how long I wanted the game to last, then I thought about what aspects of the first game that I thought might be honed to suit what I wanted my game to feel like.

1955 2nd game. The Naryatrians decided to send the light armoured forces and truck mounted infantry on a sweeping left hook leaving the Naryatrian blocking force to the infantry and tanks of the main column. The tank duels continued for much of the game with tanks recoiling and manoeuvring to try and find an advantage or escape from disadvantage. 
For this last game I wanted the majority of my available forces on the table for a game that would last for two or more hours. Before getting more specific I sat down with some spare bases and started reorganising the rabble. Once done I played about a bit and decided that I could live with a pair of heavy tanks being a bit cramped in a square. The result was a similar number of units on table with fewer figures being left in their boxes.

In the previous games Sudden Death had felt a bit too sudden at times but my experience using the strength point system for the Zulu Wargame suggested that the planned game would take too long and that going from possibly sudden death to never sudden death would reduce some of the adrenaline factor. I decided to settle in the middle by giving all units 2 hits and counting lost units for exhaustion. This left the possibility that a unit could be eliminated in a single turn if it was fired at by two units.

I had meant to try giving some Elite units 3 hits while reducing some Poor units to 1 hit but once the game was underway I forgot! In the end I upped the Home Defence units to average and just gave the Elite units their usual willingness to retreat rather than die.

The Shermans were continually forced to retire to avoid being outflanked. The Naryatrian infantry soon ran into problems with too many men in too cramped a space. They didn't expect the local village defences to hold them up so long and ended up sending in human waves without having preplanned it. It wasn't pretty when support Roscian infantry and then the MG's in the Palm Grove opened up from a flank. 

The obsolete vs modern tank question still nagged at me so I tried a new angle. Already infantry, mg's etc cannot knock out armoured units by shooting though such units can do so in close combat. I just extended this so that armoured cars can only knock out other light armour by shooting and obsolete/medium tanks cannot knock out modern/heavy tanks using shooting. They have to get close. I also penalised light armour when fighting tanks in close combat. Special exceptions could be just that.

Lastly I decided to experiment with a Pin result to stop units that are pushed back from simply reoccupying their position as if nothing had happened. After much thought I decided to try having all units become pinned if they take a hit. They would then take a -1 on shooting and combat dice and be prohibited from moving adjacent to an enemy or initiating close combat. A unit which wasn't adjacent could remove the pin by not moving or shooting. Pinned units were marked with red bingo markers, casualty markers will look better.

No retreat! The Naryatrians are stacked up against the wall, held up by a stubborn stand of the Local Defence Force. Unseen here is a unit of Roscian paratroops flanking the village on the far side and an impassible oasis and water tank behind the upper left hand attacking unit.  

The forces for this replay were:
Roscia. 11 units + Commander

  • On table: 2 Infantry.
  • Reinforcements: 1 Elite Infantry with armoured carriers, 2 infantry, 1 MG, 1 Mortar, 1 Engineer, 1 Heavy Tank (Centurion), 1 Medium Tank (Sherman 76mm), Commander.

Naryatria. 16 units + Commander

  • 1 Armoured car, 1 Patrol car (as  Armoured car but not armoured), 1 Heavy tank (T##wannabe), 1 medium tank (T34/85), 1 Heavy artillery, 8 infantry (inc 2 Elite), mortar, 2 trucks, Commander,

Just before the last push. The Naryatrians finally took half the village only to be driven out by a counter attack. Their light armour and truck mounted infantry have driven back the Roscian Elite armoured infantry and are about to make a push for the pass.
 In the end the game lasted about 2 1/2 hours (not that I had noticed, I had thought it closer to one hour until the hounds started hooting for their dinners and I checked the time ). The advantage swung back and forth with Roscia just missing a decisive win but managing to hang on for a technical victory, being exhausted but clinging to their positions with the Naryatrians having too little left to force the pass before the game was over. Most of their units had lost 1 stand already so the next hit would have brought them to exhaustion. Presumably Roscian reinforcements were now at hand or something but in any case turn 15 was next and even if the Roscians retreated at full speed and hadn't planted a minefield across the road, the Naryatrians had been pushed back far enough that even unopposed they couldn't reach the pass.

This balance and the fact that tactical errors caused as many or more losses than unusual runs of dice both contributed to my enjoyment of the game. Of course with a 4'x6' table and double the stands per square its not as portable as it could be but then it really has no where it needs to go. Of course the game would play the same with 1 stand units on my portable board.

End game. Once again the Naryatrian artillery has been deadly but this time their mortars also kicked in, finally clearing the town. Under pressure from an all arms assault the Roscian Centurions were forced back and finally destroyed along with their MG, Mortars and HQ bringing them to their exhaustion point. The Naryatrians hovered just above their exhaustion point but had the luck and space to allow units to fall back rather than being destroyed. However, early in the game I remembered that the engineers I had thrown in to make up Roscian numbers had the ability to plant a minefield. Leaving  the hard pressed infantry to hold back the enemy the Sappers hoofed it across the field wishing the government would build some of the truck kits that are in storage. The minefield was finished just in time to stop a mad dash for through the pass before darkness and Roscian reinforcements arrived. (ie Turn 15)

And so ended the long series of border wars between Roscia and Nariatria. The Naryatrian President was faced with unrest following heavy casualties in defeat after defeat and applied to the UN for arbitration. With the growing threat from the Republic of Lital, Roscia was only too glad to agree  so that they could focus on the real enemy.  Undisclosed sources report that Lital is buying up surplus equipment from the Naryatrian army and even recruiting their discharged soldiers to swell their ranks. There are real fears that some serious Portable Wargaming between Lital and Roscia could break out as early as this summer.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4b: The Fight for the Junction

As seen in previous post's pictures, the game began with Naryatrian recce forces driving hard up the road until they bumped into local Defence Forces.

Ignoring the threat posed by the arrival of Roscian reinforcements the Naryatrian light forces rush forward to try to seize the objective which is the pass at the end of the table. The lead vehicle spotted the defenders of the town and opened up with its HMG. (repeat picture from the previous post)

Initially I had planned to use 12 units attacking 8 using the standard roster system but my infantry units were in disarray after some fever crazed person cut up many of the bases last spring and while I wanted to get as many of my meagre force of 10 tanks as possible onto the table, the planned 2  model tank units looked rather cramped in practice. In the end I decided to up the number of units to 16 units + transports attacking 12 units. I had a feeling that using that many units with the roster system was going to make for a longer game than I was in the mood for so decided to try the Sudden Death option again.

The Roscians react. I'm not keen on the Roscian camouflage pattern but the Centurion hiding amongst the palm trees on the far right suggests it could be effective in the right circumstances.

The first shot of the game was fired by the truck mounted HMG as it rolled up the road and, despite needing a 6 to hit troops in cover while roaring up the road it destroyed the defenders of the first block of buildings.  (Queue the Rat Patrol theme!)

The invaders won the initiative on the first couple of turns and were first up to the low ridge across the road near the middle of the table. The Roscians had two obvious choices. Deploy all mechanised units to the right and race the enemy to the pass hoping that the town would hold up the enemy and that the following infantry could hit the main column in the flank or counter attack the head of the main column vigorously. A roll of the die selected the latter, aggressive plan.

While one Centurion platoon rushed ahead to the crossroads, the other deployed into cover to provide fire support from the flank. The armoured car and mechanised infantry were sent to relieve or retake the town and drive off the opposing light troops.

The town is secure. Clouds of swirling black Angora rabbit hair mark destroyed vehicles. Red dots mark the demise of Roscian infantry, casualty figures mark lost Naryatrian ones. 
A flip in initiative then offered the Roscians a chance to deal a heavy blow but the tank crew's faith in their  20 pounder guns was misplaced. Behind them though the town's defenders who had earlier been driven out of the town by heavy fire, managed to counter attack and take out the enemy armoured car using their obsolete WWII bazookas at point blank range.  (It felt a bit odd that they could rally and come back so quickly and easily. It was partly due to the initiative flip but I didn't want to stop and think about it.)    With the arrival of the elite Paratroopers in their Saracen backed up by a Saladin armoured car, the town now seemed secure while infantry support for the tanks was up.

Nothing daunted the Shermans shot up the Centurion tank at the cross road and pressed forward sending the truck borne infantry and mortars off road to the left to avoid the Roscian infantry and remaining armour. Behind the infantry, unseen by the camera, a pair of T34's has driven right to flush the remaining Centurion out of the woods and away from the road in case it should hit something at last. (Unfortunately for Roscia the dice heavily favoured Naryatria all game. It got to the point where I made them roll the same dice but even that didn't help! ) The Roscian infantry moved into the grove and spread out across the open and prepared to hold against what was coming.

Hordes of Naryatrian infantry race forward firing as they come.
For a turn or two the situation seemed to be stabilising. The T34's had flanked the last Centurion but it had withdrawn and then shot one to pieces. Then the Naryatrians  deployed their secret weapon: Indirect fire from Mortars and Heavy Artillery!  Turn after turn they dealt out indirect death with the blow of a single die! 6 then 1, 6 then 1. Suddenly the Roscian forces were decimated and Exhausted. All the survivors could do was hang on and hope while the infantry returned fire and the mortar opened up, hitting the last company of T34's badly enough to cause the crews to abandon their tanks.

As luck would have it, the last aggressive Roscian move had been to slip their armoured car through a gap in the line towards the deadly artillery. As the gunners hastily lowered their sights and gun barrels, firing wide in panic, the armoured car let loose with HE and machine gun fire.  Suddenly the Naryatrians had had enough!

 The pass was in sight but the Roscians were still blocking the way. Of their 7 AFV units only 2 were still operational and in addition to the loss of their artillery, several infantry companies had been shot apart including the elite Red Berets of the Lion Brigade. (Oddly enough every one of the 4 Elite units (Centurions, Paratroopers and Lion Brigade)  was killed by the first shot that hit it! I was left wishing on their behalf that I had used the roster system!)

Despite the cessation of hostilities due to exhaustion, the Roscian mission had been accomplished. The Pass had been held.

Instead of working on this blog post yesterday as intended, I found myself reorganising  and basing the infantry of both sides into 2 stand units. Further hopeful experiments with putting 2 vehicles in a square were unsuccessful though. Still, it was enough that a new game is on the table with some house rules to try out. That report by Monday!  

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4a: The Set Up.

The mid20th Century portion of the Portable Wargame takes a stab at the nearly impossible task of creating a simple wargame covering a period of wide technological and tactical change. Inevitably there are compromises that must be made and just as inevitable that different wargamers will have different opinions on what is essential to capture the flavour of any given sub-period. Luckily the rules are quite responsive to  tweaks that do not run too counter to the spirit.

I wanted to do something that involved tanks but no longer have my old WWII armies. Micro-armour, 10mm, 1/72nd and 54mm forces, all gone, but I do have my 1/72nd fictional 1950's troops. I wanted something a bit bigger and more complex than the last test game so I decided to base a scenario loosely on CS Grant's Hasty Blocking Position scenario from Programmed Scenarios.
The main Naryatrian column rolls onto the table, 76mm Shermans and the motorised Rhino Brigade leading the way as Roscian reinforcements rush to cut them off at the crossroad.
There is one issue with the mid 20th Century rules that I have trouble getting over and that is Bob's decision to have  just two classes of tank: light and everyone else and only a difference in range between light tank guns and tanks. There are campaigns during WWII when the  opposing sides' armoured and anti-tank forces were well matched and fit easily into the given categories but there were also some campaigns where the opposing armour was very mismatched or where there was a great range in capabilities of antitank and tank weapons. One need only think of the panic in 1940 when an attack by Matilda  tanks could not be stopped by 37mm antitank guns and 88mm antiaircraft guns had to be pressed into service, or of the adage in Normandy that it took three Shermans to take out a Tiger.

I'm not a rivet counter and I'm not interested in minute differences in armour and armament but I want to include that tactical challenge of how to deal with a serious imbalance of capabilities.

The Roscian forces are equipped primarily with British and American tanks, Centurions, Pershings and Shermans (though apparently, based on photographic evidence,  the Naryatrians are now operating Shermans as well). The Naryatrians usually field a mix of T34/85's and T55's.  It goes against the grain to consider Shermans and Centurions as equal but my only options were to call the Shermans and T34's "light" tanks or bring in a house rule. I was initially going to use the roster system so thought about making the heavier tanks Elite with an extra hit point but that would just mean that other modern tanks would have just as much trouble taking out an opposing modern tank as would an obsolete WW2 tank. I eventually decided to arm the obsolete tanks with the same range 3 gun as used by light tanks. This meant that the modern tanks had a 1 area range superiority but once in range of each other, equal combat ability. Any other house rule would have to wait for a future game.

Roscian Centurions roll on. The tan vehicles ahead of them belong to a Naryatrian recce squadron.
 The scenario is "inspired by" rather than an accurate translation of Grant's scenario. In this case there is a road running towards a pass in some rocky hills with a T junction, a village and some scattered groves of trees. A Naryatrian surprise attack has broken through and a column of light armour and infantry is rushing to secure the pass. The village is held by local defence troops while  a column of regular army troops rush to establish a defensive position in the pass before the Naryatrians arrive.

The table grid was 10x14 squares.

The Roscian forces were composed of :
Local Defence: 2 units infantry
Column: 1 Armoured Car
1 Saladin armoured transports with MG carrying a unit of Elite infantry
2 tanks
1 mortar
3 infantry
1 HQ

The Naryatrian force was comprised of

1 armoured car
2 non-armoured cars (a portee recoilless rifle and truck mounted HMG. These aren't in the rules so I treated them like armoured cars except that they are vulnerable to infantry and MG fire and the HMG  can not kill tanks when shooting.)
4 obsolete (light) tanks
4 trucks
6 infantry
1 mortar
1 heavy artillery.
1 HQ

The last of the Roscian local defence troops try to get close enough to use their bazooka on the armoured car.
That's it for tonight. More tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Head'n South!

After three days of throwing cold, wet, white stuff, I'm happy to be heading South.

South to Roscia where the Naryatrians have taken advantage of the distraction caused by the arrival of The Portable Wargame to launch a surprise attack.

1/72 Naryatrian Recce units roar across the  5" gridded cloth and into Roscia.

For those who like a few glimpses of everyday life mixed in with their wargaming here's a shot from Tuesday's clean up just getting underway. I didn't bother taking more pics after today's storm.
Winter is here.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 3b. More Zulus! .

The Second Game: Big Units/Small Board

For some time now I have been debating the relative merits of a small game played with a large number of small, weak units vs a lesser number of bigger, more resilient units. ( This debate presupposes using the same number of miniatures on the same table  ). My head supported the many small units approach but experience, the narrative benefits of a few identifiable, named units and "the look" has been tilting me towards fewer larger units with some sort of roster. 
For the second Zulu game I used 6 units each represented by 2 stands on a 6" grid to replay the same scenario but using the standard Strength Points system rather than Sudden Death.

A Zulu unit with 2 hits.

Knowing that I would probably use strength points at times, I added a marker post when basing up the Zulus. These "posts" (aka finishing nails) can hold at least 3 hit marker rings, usually 4, but if grouped in pairs to form a unit that can take 4 hits only 1 ring is required per base. Each extra hit removes a stand.

Turn 4. The 2nd Zulu reinforcement has arrived. The battlefield looks less congested than it did in the last game but this is partly due to an illusion caused by each grid being 1/2 empty in depth.  

In this game the British benefited from experience to push ahead more aggressively and made more effort to spread out but also benefited from being able to suck up the occasional hit without being destroyed when there was no room to retreat. The Zulus,  however, benefited from having learned the benefits of following up when possible to maximise damage and of keeping close since they were equal in combat but at a disadvantage when shooting thanks to the home rule penalizing their fire. The ability to absorb more than one hit helped with this as well.

Turn 8. Time is growing short! All Zulu units are on board. The British are about to push forward aggressively. Both sides have taken multiple hits but no units have been eliminated yet.

The look and feel of larger looking, longer lasting units with more space in each area worked really well for me. The lack of any chance of sudden death did not detract from the tension at all as the game flowed well with reversals and occasionally units ended up losing several strength points in one turn from a combination of shooting and combat including pursuits. The addition of a turn limit and specific victory conditions also added some tension and made it harder to play safe all the time but that applies regardless of the rules.

In addition, the strength points added a extra decision point at times. Was it better to suck up a hit in order to hold a position or give up the ground to save the strength for later?

Turn 10ish. The Guards have driven back one flanking unit while the artillery risks all to pound the Zulu roadblock. The Guards storm forward with the bayonet eliminating the original  Zulu unit only to follow up into the flank of the reserve unit and be repulsed, falling back into cover. Behind them the Lancers have broken another unit with carbine fire but the Rifles have been over run and the artillery is now under attack from two sides. The game hangs in the balance!

So, all in all I have no hesitation in recommending the Portable Wargame for a quick enjoyable Colonial game. 

Its not the sort of 1:1 low level, semi-roleplaying  skirmish game that some people think of when you mention Colonial game but for this sort of scenario I was happiest considering the units to be Company sized. At this level there are large numbers of suitable scenarios and Tabletop Teasers which are easily obtained in addition to the freedom to design your own.

With a bit of the imagination that is required to get the most out of compact, cardtable type games it would also be easy to go up a level with units being battalions and then you could play some of the famous battles as well.

Turn 15. If the British can exit these last 3 units by the road they win. The General of the exhausted Zulu force is all that stands between the Gordon Highlanders and the board edge. Are they allowed to overrun him? It doesn't matter they are too far from the road. A technical win for the Zulus but it felt like a draw.
There is one last Portable Wargame test to do. For this next one I will break out some mid 20th Century tanks and try the second set of rules. However, with knee deep new snow down mid blizzard and a follow up storm expected Thursday, it may be next week before I can find the time and oomvph to play the game and blog it.

There should be time and mental energy for some painting though. I need to convert and/or refurbish some of my Brits so they look appropriate to face  Zulus!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 3a: Zulu!

I enjoyed the first Zulu play test but I also spent some time last night and this morning thinking about the game and about different game options and the old question "More units or bigger ones?". The upshot is that I reset the table this morning and played it again using different options.
Zulu: The Rerun. 
A. The Scenario. The Scenario I used as a test game was Scenario 13:Escape from Thomas' One Hour Wargames. The scenario has two equal forces each of 6 units, one side trying to break past a blocking force to escape from the table before doom arrives, presumably due to an overwhelming enemy force approaching or perhaps the need to catch the last ferry. In any event the escaping force has 15 turns to get at least 1/2 their units off the table by road.

The blocking force has 1 unit deployed on table and 3 groups of reinforcements that come on at predefined turns in predefined locations. I decided to play with a British force trying to return to the main column before it gets cut off and overwhelmed by pursuing Zulus. I also decided to count all units as equal for scenario balance purposes. I introduced one house rule that Zulus with firearms only hit on a modified score of 6. This was to reflect their lack of quality firearms and ammunition and their lack of training.

B. The First Game: Sudden Death or Small Units/Big Board.  I wanted to try the Sudden Death option but wasn't sure that 6 units aside would be enough as a few bad rolls could be decisive early on. I decided to double the number of units. Since I had only based up a dozen stands of Zulus, I decided to use each stand as a unit and a 12x12 grid of 3" squares.

Game One Turn Three. The British were still marching on when the first Zulu flanking force arrived. Each stand is a unit and the big 6" squares have been divided into four 3" quadrants by a small dot or cross.
The game started well as the British pushed ahead as rapidly as possible against minimal opposition. That soon changed as Zulu reinforcements appeared first on one side then the other. (The Horns!)  Soon the British found themselves with no room to retreat if hit. Under the Sudden Death option it only takes 1 hit to destroy a unit so if there is no room to fall back, any hit is lethal. The Zulus on the other hand, had plenty of room to fall back but since stationary British are more deadly shooting than they are in melee that didn't help as much as it might have.

By turn 7 out of 15 both sides were reaching their exhaustion point and the British hadn't even crossed the center line. It was close but the dice determined that the British would falter first. They had one hope left, there were few Zulus between them and escape, most were behind. If they could shoot one more Zulu unit then they had time to use their artillery to clear the way and then escape up the empty road. The last Zulu reinforcement had just arrived behind the centre (the Loins!) and there was no real choice but to roll a double move, charge into contact with the gun and eliminate it. So they did! Now the Zulus could fall back out of range and wait.  It was game over.

Midgame c Turn 5. The British are about to start feeling the pinch as units are forced to retreat and start colliding.

The game had moved as quickly as expected, taking just under an hour to play. There was a little added tension as each die roll meant the potential elimination of an enemy but also resilience because of the numbers of units. The scenario set up with enemy appearing on three sides made it hard for the British to keep a space available for retreating from combat and the hope of a quick kill led to firing at the halt too often when there was room to manoeuvre. With hindsight it seemed to me that the British General  needed to have been more aggressive at pushing ahead and out, despite the loss of the stationary shooting bonus .

Given the quick pace and short time it seemed like a suitable game for introducing someone to the rules but the more I thought about it the more the low margin of error worried me. The look also wasn't quite right., a little too crowded. I finally decided to try it with 6 units each of 2 stands on a bigger grid but using the standard system with multiple strength points. The table should have been a 9x9 grid of 6" squares to meet the minimum requirement and allow the map to be reproduced properly but my table is only 4 feet across so I went for an area of 4ft x 4ft giving a minimum sized grid of 8x8 6" squares and fudged the map.  Why didn't I go for 8x9 allowing the width at least to fit the map? It didn't occur to me till right now!

However it is late and there is a blizzard blowing in so that is it for tonight. Part 2 will cover the slightly longer and enjoyable "big but portable" wargame version of the same scenario as seen in the top picture and the pros and cons of each approach.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Zulu Preview

Just a quick peek mid-game. The OHW scenario is called "Escape".

The question is "Did they"?

Write up tomorrow if all goes well.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Printed Portable Wargame: A Review.

Having started with a quick dipping of the toes into playing the Portable Wargame as published, I'll now have a quick look at the book itself. The full title is:

Rules for fast-play wargames on gridded tabletops 
by Bob Cordery

The book does provide the actual rules but it also adds a quick look at some of the history of tabletop wargames played on a grid, a look at various grid options and how the various options affect play,  some thoughts on game design in general, as well as explanations of why and how various elements of the Portable Wargame came about.

A work in progress. Contingents of 54mm Zulus and British are preparing for a test game. I'm going to need to use more squares in order to have room to manoeuvre. 
(That's the compulsory pre-game ceremonial dance going on in the foreground.)
The rules sections begins with a look at definitions and at various options that are available when setting up a game. This is followed by design notes. These are well worth reading carefully and revisiting as the notes make the actual rules  easier to grasp and implement and provide a guide if you ever find yourself with a situation where you aren't clear on how a rule should be applied or where there is no specific rule that appears to cover the situation or an unusual troop type.

At this point the two sets of rules are presented. Each of the rules sections is followed by a sample game with quite thorough descriptions of how combat is resolved. The first one is aimed at the late 19th Century including "Colonial" warfare, the second set is for the Early and Mid 20th Century.  However, the rules are essentially the same in both sections, there are only a handful of additions that apply only to the 20th Century version. The key difference is the unit capability charts when it comes to artillery and armoured units.   So if, for example you are looking at the transport rules in the late 19th Century section and wondering "Why would you bother?", check the speed of motorised transport in the early 20th Century version. The rules are the same, the capabilities of available units sometimes change.

I'm not going to go over the rule mechanisms in detail. You can check those on various other blogs including Bob's Wargaming Miscellany blog where the development may be traced or pickup the Kindle edition which is pocket change cheap, about the price of a coffee and tea biscuit here. Instead I'm going to write about some of the things that make the Portable Wargame different from many other popular rule sets.

The first thing is that it is not a attempt to create an illusion of capturing low level tactics and minor differences in weaponry.   Different troop types have slightly different strengths and weaknesses and unit quality can affect a unit's ability to continue fighting but that is that. There are no "national characteristics" either.  The rules are simple and low on chrome but do not be fooled into thinking that they are simplistic or naive.

The second thing is that you are in charge! You can't blame your failures or poor execution of a battle plan on poor activation rolls, card draws and the like. You need to take command and execute it, keeping in mind that there are no guarantees in combat and even the best plan can fail in execution but here you can at least try.

The emphasis is on the basics not minor tactics or exploiting complicated game mechanisms.  Winning a battle is about things like understanding and using the ground to your advantage, understanding and playing to your troop's strengths while exploiting your enemy's weaknesses.  Form a sound plan and execute it. Keep your objective in mind, maintain the initiative (not the turn by turn game initiative but make the enemy dance to your tune, don't dance to his), use an element of surprise to your advantage, whether setting an ambush or by simply doing what the enemy doesn't expect. Oh and best apply the K.I.S.S. principle.

Well that's my observation and opinion anyway.

One of my earliest Portable Wargames from a Mar 2011 blog post.

Now, is the book perfect? No, of course not! I would have liked it to have been twice as long!

My biggest observation is that while the sample games provide some idea for what sorts of forces might be deployed and what sorts of scenarios might be played, there are very few guidelines on how to proceed before the game begins. There are no definitions of exactly what a "unit" represents to use in translating historical orders of battle, no points or army lists and no advice on how to balance a scenario. Is every unit considered to be tactically equal? If historical forces were unbalanced numerically should this necessarily be represented by more units on one side or might it be considered that this unit of native spearmen represents many more men than the opposing unit of regular infantry with rifles?  

These things are no problem for veteran gamers who have the depth of experience to improvise armies and balance scenarios but I could see a novice gamer needing some help.  Perhaps there might be a future release along these lines if there is enough interest.

If anyone reading this has the rules and has been wondering where to go from here, I suspect that Neil Thomas's One Hour Wargame scenarios would translate well if you double the unit count and impose a grid on the map. I haven't tried it yet though so watch out for my next post.

Although I have several armies ready and able to try out the rules, I have been ambushed by some 54mm Zulus who are insisting that they be taken to Huzzah! in Portland, Maine, in May so that  they can take part in the "walk up and try out the Portable Wargame" event that I will be running on Sunday morning. (Please come and give it a go if you can, I'll feel silly sitting there by myself). I based up about 1/2 of my Zulus and am planning to try them out tomorrow so I will try adapting a OHW scenario for the Portable Wargame and we will see how that goes!

And just in case anyone doubts that I don't always use rules etc as intended. This was the Portable Wargame and vintage 54mm toy soldiers replaying Hook's Farm, also in Mar 2011. It probably wasn't all that portable but it was fun.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame: Part 1 of 4

My first in-person encounter with hex based miniature wargames came in the mid-70's when I visited a little wargame shop in Hamilton, Ontario while travelling on leave. Sadly I have forgotten the names of both the shop and the owner but he not only opened up the shop on his day off when he happened by and saw me with my nose pressed against the glass but we spent a good while chatting about wargaming and he showed me the handmade 3d hexes his  group used for their 25mm ancient wargames and talked about the advantages of a gridded game.

Fast forward to the early 21st C and I found myself playing hexed bases miniature games with my friend Ron, occasionally ones designed for it but usually just a conversion of our usual conventional rules to fit his geohex clad table, then a Hexed Hotz Matt and finally Hexon. For most of this past decade all of our games have been hex based. I was slow to convert my own table but by 2010 I was sometimes using a Hexed Hotz Matt (thanks Ron) for solo games at home and was experimenting more and more with cardtable sized games.

This was the setting into which Bob Cordery introduced his Portable Wargame. I had been following Bob's blog before I began to blog myself but something about the Portable Wargame caught me at an opportune moment when I was ripe for a small yet interesting miniature wargame played on a gridded playing field. As a long time rules tinkerer and writer I have gone on to work on my own style of gridded games, both large and small, but I have continued to follow and draw inspiration from the development of the Portable Wargame and occasionally bombard Bob with questions and comments even while I go my own way. When Bob announced the publication of The Portable Wargame I was not only excited for him but  excited to get a copy.

Even before I received my copy, I had decided that the buzz and the known qualities of the game justified my registering to give gamers who attend Huzzah! in Maine a chance to walk up and try their hand at it.  This may help explain my eagerness to actually try the published version and see what I had gotten myself into! So, this post will give a quick report on my first game, the second will review the book, the third will hopefully be a more  thorough game report and the last will be a go at the sudden death option.  
The Boer plan was to use their mobility to seize the town while sending fleet Commandos around the enemy flanks. The British plan was to mass most of the infantry against the town while using their sole mounted unit backed by an MG to block Boer flanking moves one one side while the artillery with infantry support held the other flank. 
Since my social day had been cancelled I decided to break out my old, rarely used, downstairs card table board that I made in 2011 and let some of the younger hounds out so they could play and keep me company. To ease storage issues I had removed the frame which was warping anyway and now one troublesome corner is on a permanent "high".  Luckily I was able to lay out a scenario that kept   the errand corner out of the way.

My initial instinct had been to break out my 1/72nd RCW troops but the 1/72 Boers got to me first. I haven't gotten around to painting up the remaining Esci British yet (give me a break, they've only been waiting 35 years...) but there were enough guardsmen to fill the gaps. I decided to go with all average troops and an even number of units since I had no idea of the relative balance between the mobility of the Boers and the resilience of the British infantry or the hitting power of the MG and artillery.

I decided that the game would be a simple meeting engagement with both sides trying to seize a small town. The initial idea was that a Boer Commando during the guerrilla phase of the 2nd war was out to capture some much needed supplies while the British were out to deny them. Then I realised that the Red coats indicated the 1st Boer War so I took away the Boer's artillery and decided to just to get on with the game without worrying about why the Boers wanted the town.

The Boers had 8 cavalry units plus a commander, the British had a field gun, an MG (looks like a Maxim but doubtless a Gatling), a cavalry unit and 5 infantry units and a commander. Each side had to deploy on the centre 4 squares of the 1st and 2nd rows of their side of the board. The rules were the basic Colonial rules without any of the options that are presented.
The second turn. At first the Boer plan seemed to be working but the British infantry  proved quite stubborn while the building walls seemed to be made of cardboard rather than something more bulletproof. (Maybe I should have left the roofs on?)
Everything went fine until the fighting broke out at which point I realised that there were a few minor points that I was unclear about and that, as simple as the rules were, I needed to keep checking on details such as ranges and kept forgetting modifiers. Obviously, until I have played a number of games, a quick reference sheet would be handy and will be essential for the convention  games.

I was also unable to find answers to some of my questions about details, such as whether or not artillery on a hill could fire over  friends. Luckily these sorts of things are generally no more than a slight check to seasoned gamers so while I have been periodically firing off questions to Bob who always answers quite promptly, the game did not have to stop for such minor details. Since I had deployed the only artillery on a hill I decided to allow overhead fire, not that it mattered when the gun crew was busy trying to break the record for rolling 1's and 2's.

Sometime units have been lost yet but the British have taken one of the houses and the Boers, with smaller units, are losing more men. At last they remembered their horses and started backing out of combat and unequal firefights in order to try and leverage their mobility to gang up on vulnerable British units. 
I knew from past experience that there was no way that I would record each turn properly with unit by unit results so planned to at least take a picture each turn so that I could remind myself of what had happened. Yeah, right.  Its bad enough that the family or Wreck room is the only one with less light than my wargames room making it hard to get usable ones but I kept getting so wrapped in the game that I often forgot to stop and pay attention to the younglings let alone take pictures each turn. Well.....I suppose that sort of forgetfulness is not such a bad thing, right Mr Kinch?

Several unusable photos later, the sun has set and when the Boer leader goes down the remaining Commandos decided that the game wasn't worth the candle. (In other words the Boer Army was exhausted and the British held the objective.)
Apart from the game having kept me rapt for about an hour and a half, it was a very useful exercise in exploring the rules. Several of the rules approach things from a different angle from what I am used to and it would have been easy to dismiss these instances as "wrong" but a few turns often showed that the design was having the right effect regardless of the approach chosen.

For example, all units have the same chance to inflict a "hit" in combat in a given situation regardless of whether the unit is composed of angry villagers armed with rocks or veteran regular infantry with magazine rifles. However, since some units can absorb more hits than others and some units are more likely to be able to choose to withdraw rather than taking a hit,  a tussle between those villagers and the veteran infantry is unlikely to end with a victory by the villagers especially if the infantry choose options that allow them to make the most of their ability to shoot from a safe distance.

Even with this simple test game, it was obvious that although the British tended to have luckier die rolls, the real problem was that the Boers initially made a battle plan that played into the enemy's hand. The cover bonus was insufficient to offset the ability of the British to concentrate fire on the smaller Boer units and drive them back or destroy them. Without a numerical advantage the Boers needed to be more clever than they were on the day and make a plan that either used their mobility to achieve local superiority or else drew the enemy into a trap.  Which is pretty much how the real wars worked out.

That's enough for one post. Part 2 will look at the book itself and briefly comment on the rules and options that are presented. After that will come some (hopefully) more thorough playtest reports including one game using the "Sudden Death" option.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Portable Post Postponed

My Monday test game of the Portable Wargame was postponed due to weather so I played a solo one instead.

The Boer War proves to be Portable.

I intended to write up a report and rules book review today but the day slipped away on various non-wargaming matters. Another storm day is forecast for Wednesday, including up to 3 hours of freezing rain and ice pellets, so if we don't lose power I should have time to write a battle report and review.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Battle of Lesser Fauntelroy

The revised Tin Army has now had its Baptism by Fire (ok by Dice then).

The scenario chosen was the first scenario in CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargames. It is a fairly straight forward scenario, an assault on a prepared position, and one of the larger ones. I have also played it often enough over the last 35 years, using a wide variety of rules in various periods, that it makes a good benchmark when testing a set of rules.

I set a 15 turn limit on the game.
The game is afoot. 
The Red Queen's army was tasked with holding a position with three vital points, a 4 area town on their right, a small farming community in the centre and a redoubt on the left flank. There are additional fortifications between the two towns but these have no strategic value.  Red's army is composed of 3 cavalry, 4 infantry, 1 light infantry and 2 artillery units. The scenario specifies that there must be a gun (ie 1/2 an artillery unit in The Wargame) in each of the three redoubts.

That stipulation gave me some grief at first since the units I planned to use consisted of a single gun and limber as a unit. At first I doubled the number of artillery units which allowed me to deploy heavy, light and field batteries  but there wasn't really room for them all and in theory put far too many batteries on the table to support a single brigade. It also put the "heavy" batteries starting out far too close to the enemy for early 20th Century artillery.  I then tried removing the limbers and fielding two guns per battery (see first picture) but I rather missed having a role for the limbers I have already done. Then I realised that doubling the guns meant that almost every scenario would require me to pool allied artillery and any of the later scenarios which call for 3 batteries would find my artillery park too small. At last I decided not to muck with the rules which were the way I wanted them and resolved the issue by replacing one normal defending battery with 2 limber-less guns, one in each of 2 redoubts each counting as a single stand unit of artillery not able to be moved during the game. I left the last battery intact  and occupied the last redoubt with a company of infantry with machine gun attached.

I then placed an infantry unit in each town, split into 2 detachments, each occupying one area. I placed the light infantry into detachments in the wood and held the cavalry and remaining infantry in reserve.

The Blue Republic had a substantially larger force to attack with: 3 cavalry, 8 infantry, 1 light infantry and 2 batteries. Their mission was to capture at least two of the key positions. I drew up three battle plans and diced for which one to implement. The chosen plan was  to focus on an assault in the centre by 7 of the 8 infantry companies supported by both batteries. The Light Infantry would advance through the wood to probe the enemy position, occupy the defender's attention and threaten the redoubt if possible. The cavalry supported by a company of infantry were to threaten the large town if the garrison were to be weakened but to be ready to shift to the right to break through once the village in the centre was taken.  

Occasional impatience is an old problem. 
The plan quickly ran into problems. The table was too small and cluttered for the guns to deploy in a safe position and bombard the target while the infantry moved forward. With hindsight, the best option would have been to spend a few turns pounding the objective with artillery before advancing the infantry, actually I think that was the original plan.

After a very short bombardment the infantry rushed forward to launch a direct assault. Unfortunately that tactic required above average luck for them rather than the enemy and the lead company was shot to pieces while supporting companies took heavy losses from Red's artillery and supporting infantry.  Both sides were taking losses though and I rather rashly decided to push the attacking artillery forward to open a line of fire from the flank and pushed forward reserves.

That's when things really went wrong! The advancing artillery was caught limbered, suffered heavy losses and was then threatened by a cavalry charge. In the town the garrison was finally forced to retreat by heavy fire but reserves were at hand and an initiative flip allowed them to reoccupy the lead town sector. In the woods the attack by Blue's Jaegers fared no better and they were soon being chased back through the woods.

The battlelines stabilise.
At last Blue got a break. A chance card (Red Jack) let Blue stop Red's cavalry allowing the guns to retire to a safer location and recover. While the survivors of the initial infantry assault tried to rally back to be replaced by reserves, none were available to back up the artillery so it fell to a unit of lancers to quickly redeploy to the right wing and dismount to protect the guns from the advancing Red light infantry.

In the centre the attack defaulted to a lengthy firefight with numbers balanced against cover.  By the time the surviving Royals were forced to pull back the Kapelle Mounted Rifles were at hand to dismount and take their place. It seemed never ending unlike the rapidly diminishing deck of turn cards.

This would probably would have been a good time to shift the rest of  cavalry to double down on an assault up the right. Instead the Blue commander threw them forward to take out Red's battery and pin their remaining reserves. They can be seen rallying back in the next picture.

Throughout the bulk of the game, Blue's left wing battery had been alternating fire between the small town when there was a clear field of fire, and either the deadly Baluch Rifles machine gun and mountain gun in the  redoubts in the centre or the even more deadly field battery when there wasn't. The mountain gun was soon smashed but the Rifles and battery both managed to hold on.  
The growing gap between centre and right is starting to worry Red's commander and making Blue's commander wish he'd kept the Blue Guards in reserve till now.
 It was do or die time! Too late to shift reserves or rethink anything. Every one forward! The Guard Lancers once again charged forward, this time riding over the weakened battery and pursuing into town panicking the enemy infantry and seizing the Stone House. In the centre the Mounted Rifles had been forced out but again reinforcements had come up, half a unit's worth. A final desperate charge by an under strength company was held and eventually repulsed leaving a single red soldier holding the bloody ground. On the right the Lancers mounted up and did their best but fared no better at assaulting a town than the Dragoons had done.

It was over.  

The final charge of the Guard Lancers. 
So ended a very enjoyable game.  Time wise it took a bit over two hours to play the 15 turns. The end result was a decisive win for the defence but there were so many points at which the balance almost shifted that it felt close right up till near the end. Red did get lucky at times but they made far fewer tactical errors and that seems to have been the deciding factor.  Somehow Red's reserves always seemed to be in the right place at the right time while Blue's were too often blocked or out of place to exploit a success or reverse a failure. Blue also showed a remarkable impatience early on and once faced with the evidence that his plan was obviously faulty, he chose to reinforce failure rather than take the time to reorient his army and implement a new plan.  Not exactly the first General to make that sort of mistake.

Best of all however, the concept and rules were validated. The combat worked as envisaged, units were shot up but only a few units were completely destroyed rather than being rendered combat ineffective and too fragile to risk except in extreme need.  I need to do more editing, ensuring the written word accurately reflects practice and checking spelling and so on as well as adding more explanations but  they are good to go.

In conclusion, it is all lights Green for the  Great Atlantican War to proceed. I can start work on the background story, formalise character and unit names, add some more figures and equipment, especially for Oerberg, get the artillery properly fitted out, add terrain and so on but its a go for this summer and fall.

Over the winter though, there are preparations for Huzzah in May to be done. A 16thC Anglo-French scenario that I will cohost with Rob needs some preparation and testing as does my "walk up and try the Portable Wargame" event. Weather permitting, that latter will begin with a game of the printed version on Monday.