Friday, March 30, 2018

Meeting a Tiger in the Woods

On Thursday Ron and I had another go at WWII and a Grant Teaser.

The scenario came from Scenarios for Wargames. A force, Canadian as it happened, is fixing a bridge over a river. Across the river the main road runs through a dense patch of woods so an advance party has been posted to block any German counter attack. There is a secondary bridge and ford off to one side. The Canadians have to hold the main bridge and deny any bridgehead to the Germans.

A Tiger, always a Tiger!
 For rules we used the Airfix Battles rules but not the action deck. Instead, for reasons I can't  really remember but which may have had something to do with wanting a simple Old School feel, we decided to just determine initiative with a card draw then each act with 4 units then determine initiative again. We agreed to alternately activate 1 unit each with the possibility of an initiative flip allowing the sort of double move the Airfix card system gives but promptly forgot and went 4 then 4. 

The result of a flip giving a double turn had some of the effect of the missing tactical cards but next time we might just use the original card system. We'll see when the time comes.

Please imagine various knocked out German tanks as well as a pile of bodies near the far end of the bridge!
The scenario called for a light cavalry unit to be broken into 4 patrols to advance along secret forest paths. Given the card stats crossed with available models, this became 4 35T tanks using an Sdsomethingorother stats card. My brain knew this but eyes saw my force being attacked by 5 German tanks! It wasn't until the first one was blown up by a Piat that I relaxed a little.

The rest of his force included a Tiger, a platoon of Pzr Grenadiers in a halftrack, a pair of antitank guns and a long line of trucks carrying infantry.

My defenders consisted of 3 infantry platoons, some engineers, a 6 pdr, a 25 pdr using the stats of a German 75mm PAK since that was the only card on hand with HE and AT capability, a Bren Carrier and a Churchill w 75mm gun and generous stats.  We definitely need to start making our own unit stats for Ron's stuff that's not covered.
End of the day. Crossing Held!
It seemed highly unlikely to me that any of my guys were going to survive but one must do what one can. What can I say, I got lucky. Lucky as in my Churchill was damned lucky both when shooting and when shot at and lucky as in none of my many tactical errors had a serious impact while Ron made one or two small decisions and one error (as in unlimbering 1 hex short) that cost him dearly because my tank got lucky!

All in all it was a very enjoyable, intense, 4 hours of pushing toys around the table, rolling dice, and pitting wits against "the foe". 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Aux armes, citoyens, Formez vos batteries!

I decided that my WWI French force deserved its own artillery.

I have two more Crescent WW1 18 pdrs in hand but while the Germans are making do with the same somehow it just did not seem right to make the French do the same. None the less,  I did not have a 75 to give them.

I decided to check the cupboard and this is what I found:

What I found was a cheap copy of a Marx howitzer, a surplus Sash & Sabre Napoleonic cannon, and some cardboard, later replaced by some thin plywood.

Oddly enough my childhood Marx  Miniature Masterpiece Over The Top WW1 playset included  a 25mm version of this same howitzer for the French.

Anyway, putting these bits together gave me this:

As an accurate model its a disgrace, as a toy gun, I rather like it and so do "mes enfants"!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Maintaining the Aim

There are many things to think about when preparing to run a participation game at a convention but the primary aim  MUST be to provide an enjoyable experience for the gamers who have committed their money and time to sign up and play. 

Sunday's game using the Tin Army variant of the Square Brigadier.
From my experience, there are some key elements to keep in mind for a multi-player game with strict time limits where the players will be unfamiliar with the rules. It must be possible for gamers to pick up enough from the briefing to be able to make a battle plan  and make reasonable tactical decisions and be able to play fast enough to reach a conclusion before the time is up. Beyond that players should each have enough of a force to keep them busy without being overwhelmed and should have the opportunity to make small decisions throughout the game rather than just being woken up periodically to roll some dice. Its also best if the game is somewhat interactive so they stay focused on the game during the enemy's turn rather than wandering off to see what's happening elsewhere.  I also prefer to avoid all or nothing situations or rules where one or two unlucky die rolls can put a player out of the game early on. 
Another midgame shot.  The Allies are feeling confident of another victory but the day is not yet over.
The game on Saturday was OK but I didn't feel like it would deliver what I described above. I let it stew awhile and decided to try again with changing the sequence of play to A moves, B fires, resolve melee while stripping out some of the finicky bits as well as bringing back the option to cancel a hit by "going to ground" (ie "pinned"). These are all part of the 2014 Square Brigadier variant that I called "the Tin Army".

So much for rules, I also fiddled with the OB's to provide 4 clear commands on each side, each with  a battalion or equivalent. Artillery was shared out with the hope that players will negotiate the best use for it in the absence of an on table player CinC. 

End of the game, the Germans have seized the outlying farm but their attempts to go further were blocked by the armoured car and artillery. 
The result was a game that flowed much better and was interactive all the way through. It also saw repeated German attacks being repulsed while allied losses grew until finally, some of  the gaps couldn't be filled. A final push followed by a weak 11th hour counterattack saw the game end with the Germans ahead by 3 VP's to 2.

End of game on the far flank. 

This was the first time the Germans had even come close and it was close. I liked the flow and I think the rules will be easy for people to grasp. I'm comfortable that I can take this to Huzzah so now I can focus on adding some missing figures and working on terrain before another play through in late April or early May, hopefully with live guinea pigs again.

Link to the Tin Army variant of the Square Brigadier

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tweaking with a Sledge Hammer

There have been too many disruptions and distractions so I have not yet played a full test game of the tweaked scenario and the re-re-re-revised rules but there has been a partial test.

Aerial Recce photo taken prior to Saturday's attack.
For the scenario itself, the tweaks were small, mostly a matter of spreading out the victory points, tweaking the cover to make for a better selection of attack routes to add interest and using the new units to get the force balance closer to what I envisaged. The rules had been more than tweaked and were the real source of my unease until a test game was played.

For several years now I have swayed back and forth between a Charge! inspired system of half casualties for cover (etc) vs a different score by target type approach inspired largely by the old WRG 1685-1845 rules (How's that for a catchy title?). Each time, the 1/2 casualties have eventually won out so I'm not sure why I felt the need to go back and try the other way again.

One of main the advantages of the different score approach is that its easier to have a more nuanced approach with a wider range of weapon and target modifiers. Unfortunately this is also one of the main disadvantages since the rules quickly get more complicated, harder to remember and sometimes its harder to  recognize  the impact of some of the nuances before playing. If restricting yourself to d6 its also really easy to modify yourself into a corner where a small +1 or -1 die modifer changes 'normal' to 'too easy', 'too hard' or even 'impossible' when combined with the "to hit" chart. That is not what this is supposed to be about!

So, after hours of lost time making tweaks during spare bits of downtime during the last two weeks and 3 turns of playing, I reset the rules (click) and the table.

Since this is a dogshow weekend, I anticipate having the time for a full play through on Saturday.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Noteworthy Centennial

Happy 100th Birthday to the late Don Featherstone! (The link will take you to the wiki page where you can learn more about Don if he is unfamiliar to you.)

(Thank you Man of Tin! for the notice and tribute on your blog!  which alerted me to the occasion.)

A sight to inspire a lifetime of figure conversions!
It was at some point during the winter of 1970/71 that I spotted a copy of Battles With Model Soldiers on the shelf at W. Smith's in Montreal and was lost.... or perhaps was found.

Although he provided the rules for my first wargames, by 1973 I'd been nabbed by WRG and was off looking for a different sort of wargame for a few decades. However, by then, he had already gotten me hooked on two vital aspects of our hobby and in life really.

The first was to build on the foundation laid by Henry Harris and to confirm me as a lifelong converter of toy/model soldiers. How long did I spend identifying just what was done to which Airfix figures in the photo above and trying to figure out just how it was done?

One of the shots of mysterious, magical, metal figures that one couldn't buy in shops where I lived! 

The second is reflected in the header to this blog. He helped instill in me an appreciation for the value of doing my own research, making up my own mind and modifying rules to suit or even writing my own rules. The real importance of this though was that Doc Ruddy, my mentor at college, built on that foundation as well as my Dad's example to lead me to take the same attitude to life in general. Blessings on all three men!

I never really understood why he had so many pictures of unpainted Airfix figures in the book when he obviously had so many other painted figures, but I DID understand that one day I would pit British in khaki shorts backed by an armoured car against North West Frontier tribesmen.
This just may be the year!

But in particular, on this 100th anniversary of the birth of Don Featherstone, thank you Don for the inspiration that led to hours and years of pleasure and learning and friendships .

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tuning the Scenario

Having added some of the missing units and de-tweaked the rules a little, I decided that it was time to tweak the scenario and play another solo test. If that works then I can take a break to play something else while I paint a few more figures and work on terrain.

This is essentially the same layout as originally planned but with a few adjustments. The most important is that the allied front line has been moved back and the depth of the German deployment area increased. I have also awarded victory points for the rear woods on the far flank and the farm on the near side as well as for the central hill and each block of the town as before.

Perhaps most importantly, the higher infantry movement rates and ability to move and fire with a penalty to both have been restored so that the Germans have more chance of actually reaching the main town with time to attack it.

In addition to now having the always planned 4th battalion of German infantry I have decided to backtrack on my decision to split up the regimental MG company and will instead field it as a pure MG stand with an extra die but not capable of firing and moving or of assaulting.

Now to see what, if any, difference the tweaking makes to the game.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

A Portable Speed Bump

With winter winding down, I made the trek in to Ron's yesterday for our first game of the year. We had yet to try the WWII Advanced Portable Wargame so we decided to give it a go.

When I arrived the scene was set for France 1940 using the Two Sides of A River scenario from CS Grant's Programmed Scenarios.

About 4 turns in, its pretty clear to me that I am not equipped to halt the Blitzkrieg in this open country. Ron however, was still worried about how to get past the woods to my rear.
Boiling down the scenario forces and translating them into SP's  I ended up with roughly a reinforced infantry battalion with 4 infantry, and 1 each MG, Mortar, light ATG and Carrier (Scout Car) units backed by 2 25lb Field Guns and a pair of French Char B tanks. Ron had a gazillion Pzr II, 35T and Pzr III tanks backed by some infantry in halftracks and a Stuka.

It was rapidly evident that we had a complete mismatch between our expectations, the scenario layout and what the rules are designed for.

Our first clue was when I discovered that the 5 mile range of the 25 pdrs translated to a mere 8 hexes  and rather than being able to cover most of the board as I was used to in past games, they could barely fire across the river. That meant I had to move them, a 3 turn process to move even 2 hexes. I think I manged to fire twice all game. If I had checked that before deploying I would have deployed one on either side not that it would have helped much.

The second issue was when we tried to figure out how to classify the tanks. The Char B was obviously heavy and the PZRII light so we made the 35T's and PzrIII Medium. All well and good but since the rules don't cater for varying levels of armour protection, only range, it was soon clear that the 20mm guns on the PzrII's were able to shoot up the supposedly near impermeable armour of the Char B at their maximum range of 3 hexes. Since heavy tanks can't fire and move, it was easy for the enemy to close and shoot the Char B's to pieces with them hardly getting a shot off. We really missed having separation between offensive and defensive capabilities for tanks. Using Elite and Poor attributes might have helped if I'd thought of it before the game but I'd have been happier using the house modification that I adopted when testing the rules last year (See portable-wargame-review).

We also got a bit confused once the Stuka started to fire its machine guns which led Ron to want to fire the machine guns on his tanks at my infantry rather than using their small calibre anti-tank guns. This seemed reasonable, though not covered, but when Ron pointed out that the rules said the airplane got 3 dice per MG he wanted the same for his tanks but I flatly drew the line there. (More on the air rules below )

The whole level of the game is at a higher level than we are used to and we hadn't  made nearly enough mental adjustments or adapted the scenario properly to fit the rules.

Anyway, it was still an enjoyable game and far from one sided though it was over in about 8 out of 15 turns when my forces became exhausted and he had a clear path around my flank.

We turned our hand to a quick air to air game. It was fast and fun but was almost Reallllly fast. Luckily, just as we were starting I noticed that while the air rules state that planes roll 3 dice per MG, the examples show them rolling 1 per MG. I suspect that the 3 dice rule was an error and we followed the example instead. This was lucky for his Stuka as I was only rolled 4 dice per attack not 12 when my fighter got his Stuka in his sights. Even I couldn't have avoided hitting him with that many dice.

The sun was in my eyes, that's my story.
Anyway, a fun day out. Now back to the Great War.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Blue Guards are ordered to the Front

The Blue Guards, which I painted c 2007/8, were one of my first units of gloss toy soldiers.
(Two of them may be just seen in the top right hand corner of the blog header picture. Apparently they are camera shy since I am having trouble finding good pictures of them from their first 10 years of service)

Ever since I  took the  rash step four years ago of painting my first WW1 troops since my pre-wargaming Airfix days, and then resurrecting my 54mm Toy Soldiers, I've been torn about what to do with my redundant late 19thC units . I did try mixing the drab and coloured units but it never felt convincing. Both the shortage of shelf space and the presence of more active wargame periods than my brain can handle has been bothering me so I have been slowly de-converting and rebadging various units to earlier or later periods but the Blue Guard have remained. Until now!

The Blue Guards in their new uniforms,
waiting for the grass to grow.

Since I need at least one more German unit for Huzzah! I decided to modernize them. The obvious, technically correct, and logical step would have been to strip the paint but, well, logic and I don't really get along unless a debate is in progress. If I stripped them, it would probably be as easy to just melt them down and cast new ones but either way, their little faces would be changed and they would no longer BE the Blue Guard. They would just be another anonymous field-grey unit.

Once again David Nash came to my rescue with a picture of a German soldier in a parade version with field grey uniform with red facings very like the Blue Guards wore, with the same black belts, boots and uncovered helmet. All I would have to do is paint over the tunic and trousers, touch up the leather and facings and there they would be with the same cheery, weathered faces shining up at me.

Archive photo of various Oberhilse uniforms including a Guardsmen in front.

OK so a little incongruous in action in 1914 but no more so than any clean, glossy, toy soldiers and very much in keeping of my vague idea of opposing armies based on what someone had found on the shelves in Eaton's or Ogilvy's back in the day.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Les bicycletes de Belmont

Don't worry, I'm not going to sing, but the Bicycle Scouts are done.

Converted Zinnbrigade Prussians with 3d printed bicycles courtesy of e_tenbris_lux.

The uniforms are a tiny bit darker than intended, an unfortunate side effect of mixing colours in a casual fashion. Since some colours dry darker, it can be easy to misjudge slightly when mixing a rarely used colour. An organized sort of person would probably make a careful note of exact paints used and exact proportions but where's the sense of adventure in that?

There should also be a number on the shako cover but I need to figure out if they should wear the number of the Jaeger regiment they are part of or something else.

The black leather is questionable but I was getting tired of the brown and Nash's Almark book shows one Jaeger in his grey-green uniform with black leather and that was good enough for me!

I was rather unsure what to do about the missing handlebars since the stand needs to be rugged enough to travel to conventions. Luckily I found a picture of German cyclists with their blanket and great coat rolled up and strapped to the handle bars. A close inspection would reveal that the Officer's bike has invisible handlebars underneath the blanket roll.

Next up is, well, a Mystery, even to me at this point.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Striking the Diecast Alloy While the Idea was Hot.

Sometimes its best to act on a thought while its fresh in the mind.

After looking at various pictures of the real 4.5" Howitzer, the main things that struck me were:

a) The wheels and overall height were similar to those of the 18 pdr field gun.

b) The barrel was only as long as the recuperator but the configuration with the barrel on top is the same as the Britain's 25pdr (the toy I was starting with) but opposite to the 18 pdr which was the only other gun available for me to work with.

c) The largest wheel in the latest Prince August SYW mould is very similar in size and spokes to the wheels on the Crescent WWI gun.

d) I have become more comfortable working with die cast metal after frigging with the 25 pdr last fall. 

The pre-Christmas mock up with plastic wagon wheels.

So, roughly my steps were:

A. Separate  the one piece gun & shield  from the carriage.

B. Cut off the old axle holder.

C. Drill a hole at what looked like about the right height, insert a trimmed finishing nail as an axle, and add 2 PA wheels from the bits box, making sure the wheels will turn freely (It's supposed to a toy after all.)

D. Deepen the sockets for the gun trunnions to lower the height of the shield and trunnions then use some putty to push out the bottom of the shield thus increasing the angle of the barrel.

E. Glue it all together.

New crew undergoing howitzer training while waiting for their uniforms.

F. and Paint.

Two batteries coming into action. 

4.5" Howitzers later into the war.
I've already forgotten where I grabbed this photo from but hopefully they will forgive me.

OK back to those Cycling Jaegers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The Arms Race Continues

Time to get back to work on some more toys for my 1914 game.

Since the biggest need was more ordinary infantry, I decided to start by fixing up some toy guns and figuring out what to do with the makings of some bicycle scouts.

Field Artillery and Bicycle Scouts in various states from conception to completion.

Repainting one of the Crescent 18 pdrs was easy. The 25 Pdr Howitzer Conversion is proving more problematic. The original plan was to replace the broken wheels and call it a 4.5" and perhaps that may yet be how it ends up.

Apart from the issues with how accurate a toy it would be, I started to wander when I thought it might be nice for my French friends to have their own artillery. Since I'm only planning on two allied field artillery pieces  and I have nothing like the famous 75, I thought perhaps they should have the Howitzer. Imagine my surprise that confidence in the capabilities of the 75 was so high that a field howitzer had been thought unnecessary. Quite apart from the completely different appearance of heavy howitzers, they wouldn't normally appear on table so it was back to a 4.5" for the British and I turned my mind to the pair of unassembled 3d printed bicycles. (Actually I think there may be more, including the second set of handlebars, I'm just not exactly sure where except that they aren't in with the steam engine kits, but two are all I need anyway.)

Originally they were going to be German but having seen a picture of a French Cyclist in natty red breeches I changed my mind, right up until I saw a picture of British cyclists and thought they might be of more use in other theatres of war in coming years. So I decided to look at OB's to see which would be the best fit for the scenario. By chance, my allied forces are almost all Colonial troops. Apparently, both nations had determined that bicycles were more useful on the paved roads of Europe than in foreign mountains, deserts and jungles. Neither the African nor Indian formations included cyclists. The German Jaegers did though and that is an easier conversion so Jaeger bicycle scouts it will be!

However, the same OB indicated that the heavy artillery for the Indian Corps consisted of 4.7" Guns not 4.5" Howitzers. ARGH!  I could swap in my Boer War era 4.7"  for a rather appropriate Wellsian Little Wars look but I wanted one Howitzer on each side!  I also want to convert that broken 25 pdr into something useful! After some more brain straining, I decided that the confused situation during the Race to the Sea would excuse having elements from the BEF being reinforced first by French Colonial troops and then by elements of the Indian Corps.

So, I am going to do the Jaeger  bicycle scouts first, then I'm going to get some better wheels, move the axle to lower the over all profile and  then shorten the barrel on the 25 pdr to better approximate a 4.5" howitzer. It still won't be an accurate model but it might be a more identifiable toy.

Image from Wikipedia

Monday, March 5, 2018

Souvenirs and Assumptions

One of my IT Bosses used to love writing ASSUME on the whiteboard then slashing it thus: ASS/U/ME, while reciting  "Assume makes an ASS of U and ME" as a way of reminding us never to make assumptions when planning and implementing projects.

Today I was clearing a work space as yet another subconscious tactic to avoid starting in on year end books and tax returns when I came across my little stash of old maps. Two were essentially souvenir maps handed out to the 5th Canadian Armoured Division HQ (Dad's outfit) of their journey up the Italian Boot and through Holland. The third was an old WWI tactical map.

1:20,000 map near Villers-Bretonneux July 1918,
in other words the area where the first tank vs tank battle was fought and the Red Baron shot down.

Now, I haven't really looked at this map since I was a kid, and always ass/u/med it belonged to my Mom's dad who had been a regular in the Royal Horse Artillery, recalled to the colours for the Great War.  Since it seemed both topical and a welcome diversion I decided to take a closer look, to see where it was in France and to call up some of the places in Google maps so I could look at street views of houses and terrain. AMAZING technology we have available to us!

However, that's not the point now, while looking at the scales etc I noticed that the map was subject to updates issued by Canadian Corps Intelligence. What? Why would an RHA corporal have a Canadian army map?

That's when I remembered what I had only fairly recently discovered which is that my Dad's father had emigrated from Glasgow to Montreal before WWI, met a nice girl, (also from Glasgow which is where another assumption had earlier led me astray), got married, had a couple of kids then headed off to war. Luckily he came back from the war and fathered my Dad. He died when I was very young and Dad never talked much about his early life or about his father and every one who had known my grandfather was either already dead or beyond questioning  when I found the picture of him in uniform so I had let it drop for the time being.

Today, I looked him up on line and downloaded his service record. He was 27 (!?) when he joined and served as a driver with the Canadian Field Artillery in France from 1915 to 1918. His medical records indicate that he was invalided to hospital as sick a few times but was never wounded. Well, not in action, there is some indication that he had some fun on his annual 2 week leave in 1917.  Anyway the point is, he came home intact so I am here and apparently he brought home a WWI tactical, topographical, map, all marked up with British and German trenches, enemy battery and MG positions, etc!  Thanks Grampa Mac!

Je me souviens.

Friday, March 2, 2018


Its March! Barely 10 weeks to get the Great Shiny Wargame ready for Huzzah. To get my mind back on track I decided to play a 1914 game.

German Ulans and Hussars scout the British Positions. 
Since I didn't want to either reset the table or replay Sawmill Village I tweaked the terrain slightly and played an attack from the march scenario.

The Allies began with 6 companies of Ango-Indian infantry (1 mg) supported by an 18 pounder battery. On their way were 3 squadrons of cavalry, a cavalry MG and an armoured car.

The Germans marched on with 3 cavalry squadrons and a Jaeger battalion of 4 companies (1 mg). They were followed by 2 similar infantry battalions and 2 batteries, one field gun, one howitzer.

Victory  would go to who ever controlled the village at the end of 15 turns.
The streets are barricaded, the enemy have been spotted. Where are the reinforcements??
Its been another busy week so the game was played in fits and starts.

Alas for the poor Germans, their Commander was very slow to come up with a plan and was caught off guard by an aggressive use of the armoured car to blunt and slow a flank attack on the town.

By the time the artillery had put an end to it, time was running out.
Around Turn 10. The British are near breaking but the town has yet to be seriously attacked and the French cavalry is at hand. 
A rush seemed suicidal so the Germans moved up their artillery and MG's and tried to blast the Indians out or at least weaken them so that a final rush might take the ground. It requires lucky dice to do serious damage to troops in cover but the Indians and 18pdr were in a lucky mood and out shot superior numbers of Germans firing from the shelter of hedges and ditches and lucked into a joker who sped the clock forward. By turn 14 it was obvious that  the Germans needed just a little more time and a few more men! 
Too little, too late. Many casualties later, the Indians are still clinging to the town while the German attack is spent.
Despite the disrupted nature of the game and several fine tunings of the support and morale rules, it was a very enjoyable game and it did what it was intended to do. Now I'm ready to get back to working on figures and then work on terrain.

I'd like to have an overall commander on each side with control of all of the artillery as well as a reserve although that sort of thing can be problematic with a group of random strangers. At any rate I want to provide a force equivalent to 2 battalions (8 "units" )to each player.

Time to get painting!