Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Honours of War - Cover Art

Well now. I fully expected Osprey to draw on their wide range of already available images for the cover of my rules. But instead, they have gone ahead and commissioned a piece of original artwork. Nice. Very nice indeed. 

Men of Prussian IR18, Prinz von Preussen, charge into combat. The snow suggests Leuthen to me - the regiment was present on the Prussian right flank. The artist is Giuseppe Rava. I have always admired the rose pink facings of this regiment. Marvellous!

The playtest feedback I have received from the Yahoo group has been invaluable and has resulted in a large number of positive changes to Honours of War. I have 2 or 3 new playtesters still up my sleeve for final checks, but overall I'm pretty happy with how the rules are. Waiting until next November for publication will be a bit of a pain, but that's the world of publishing for you. At the moment, my two great fears are:

First, the obvious one - the rules are trashed by reviewers and players on publication, no one likes them, and I find I have let Osprey down. Oh, how I fear the wrath of TMP!

Second, having submitted the final manuscript in January 2015, I find that by November I have discovered any number of glitches in the rules, or thought of several ideas or improvements which I would love to include but can't. We all know that by the time Donald Featherstone had published War Games, he no longer used the rules that were contained within it. I am hardly in the Don's league, but you get my meaning. I guess there's really no way out of this one.

I am heartened by Osprey's decision to provide online support for their various rules (at least, that's my reading of the current situation - don't quote me). But if they don't, I will. This will allow me to address any problems and pass on corrections. And it will probably help sales as well.

Regardless of my fears, the whole process continues to be full of interest and enjoyment. I suppose in a way it's work, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. Thanks again to Phil Smith, Games Manager, Osprey Publishing, for giving me the chance to do this.

Friday, 5 September 2014

BKC Breakout Scenario

It's always great to renew old friendships. I was recently contacted by a gaming buddy I had only previously met during the weekend of MadFest 2012. Adam had worked out that my new address was reasonably close to his, and was kind enough to contact me to renew our acquaintanceship. So we decided to have a go at some Blitzkrieg Commander chez moi. I decided to try the Breakout scenario as it is a little out of the ordinary, with a defending force on the centre third of the table being squeezed between a break-out force on one side trying to escape to the far table edge, and a break-in force on the other trying to help their comrades. The setting of course would be Poland 1939.

This is a tricky scenario for the defender to win, particularly with a defending force like the Poles which tends to lack motorised units and mobile armour. But we gave it a go. Forces involved were:

German Forces  Regimental CO CV9

Artillery Battalion FAO CV8
3 105mm artillery units, 6 assets

HS-123 Staffel FAC CV7
1 HS-123 unit, 2 assets

Breakout Force:
Panzer Bn HQ CV8
4 PzI, 2 PzII, 1 PzIII, 1 PzIV

Recce Bn HQ CV8
1 Sdkfz221 (recce), 1 Sdkfz222, 1 Sdkfz231, 3 m/c infantry units, 1 mg unit (truck), 1 75mm IG (truck)

Break-in Force:
Panzer Bn HQ CV8
2 PzI, 4 PzII, 1 PzIII, 1 PzIV

Motorcycle Bn HQ CV8
6 m/c infantry units, 2 m/c mg units, 1 mortar unit (truck), 1 37mm ATG unit (truck)

33 units, BP = 16       (All infantry units have ATR upgrade)

Polish Forces  Regimental CO CV8 

Artillery battalion FAO CV6
3 75mm artillery units

Trenches for 8 units, gun pits for 2 units

Tank Company HQ CV8
2 7tp (37mm), 1 7tp (mg)

Infantry Battalion x 2 HQ CV7  (one battalion has 1 75mm artillery support unit+truck attached)
6 infantry units
2 mg unit
1 mortar unit (truck)
1 37mm ATG (truck)

24 units, BP = 12        (All infantry units have ATR upgrade)

The Battle

This shows the table set-up. The white dice indicate the centre third -
I sent this photo to Adam (Germans) so he could plan his scheduled fire.
Now there's interesting - Adam brought over some Litko smoke screen markers which I was very taken with.
Here the game gets underway with some smoke being fired by the Germans.
The Polish flank on the far side from the hill was the weak point in their defence, which Adam quickly spotted.
This is the now famous 'charge of the motorcycles' which was to successfully unhinge this flank. Note suppressed Polish command unit, and that 2 of the dug-in Polish units are about to be assaulted in their rear.
Oh dear - all those Polish units appear to have been replaced by German ones!
A wide open escape route - German support fire units on hill at right, breakout force gathering itself at left.
Overview towards game end. Polish tanks in the centre (on the road) are being ground down.
Some close-ups. These are the leading armoured car units of the breakout force.
Light tanks of the breakout force lurk in cover, awaiting their opportunity.
The defending Polish infantry battalion in the centre, between hill and village, was not really tested.

This was a very different game from my last BKC outing at the Oxford Wargames Society. It was much more the kind of gaming I am used to - working carefully through each move to make sure the rules were used correctly. As a result I re-learned a lot about the detail of how BKC works. I was particularly distressed to find that units close assaulting in transport dismount automatically from their vehicles (in this case motorcycles), making an attack by motorcycle infantry just that bit more likely to succeed. Blast!

A very absorbing game, and great to find that suddenly I have a new opponent to enjoy wargaming with. Thanks for getting in touch Adam!

Monday, 25 August 2014

Playing With Toy Soldiers

I did think of calling this post New House, Old Magazines 2. I have been reading through the old wargames magazines which I unearthed when moving house. The main result was the realisation that I was keeping most of them for old time's sake only - there was nothing in the majority of them that really interested me, and I would never read them again. So most of them went in the bin. But I did keep a select few with thought-provoking or useful articles inside.

Particularly thought-provoking were a series of articles on the use of toy soldiers in wargaming. Now, I think of my hobby very much as playing with toy soldiers, though I suppose 'miniature wargaming' or 'wargaming with miniatures' is more like the official title. So an article entitled 'The Case Against Toy Soldiers' (MW 13) was bound to jump out at me. Some of you (those of a certain age, shall we say?) may even remember the article. Basically, it was Paddy Griffith being deliberately controversial by making the point that those looking for any sort of realism in their games would be better off trying some other sort of wargaming than that variety which uses model soldiers. Paddy rather patronisingly lets wargamers such as me off the hook early in the article with this statement,

Please note that the points I want to make apply only to games which are aiming at some sort of historical realism. You can ignore them if your aim is just to have a bit of knockabout fun with your toys, or if you are into fantasy.

Yeah, cheers Paddy. Though having 'a bit of knockabout fun' does describe my attitude to wargaming reasonably well. What really struck me was how firmly Paddy completely missed the point about the hobby.  Model or toy soldiers are not peripheral to some practical attempt to recreate the warfare of the past. They are the central factor in a lighthearted pastime that at most aims to create 'historically plausible results' (to quote Henry Hyde). Paddy reckoned that around 50% of wargamers were 'informed members of the wargame hobby' (thanks again) who were seriously into realism in their games. I don't really think that was true when the article was written in 1984, and I'm sure it's not true now. Thankfully, whatever tosh people used to believe about recreating or researching warfare through recreational games has faded into the past. Indeed, how Paddy got to thinking that that was what the hobby was about after reading Donald Featherstone or Charles Grant is beyond me. 

What his article pointed up is, I think, an aberration (or, more accurately, a dead end) that surfaced as wargaming began to develop during the late 70s and 80s: the aberration that we really were trying to research past warfare through gaming, and/or that realism was the holy grail of the hobby, and in particular the holy grail of its rules. This seems to be confirmed by the 3 articles in reply to Paddy that appeared in  MW 17, one of them by Phil Barker. None of them makes the obvious point that Paddy was just barking up the wrong tree. They all try to justify how toy soldiers really can help you out in your simulation of warfare, or how said soldiers really aren't such a problem as Paddy makes out. I won't bore you with the details of the arguments. They were all rather unappealing I'm afraid.

A little later, there appeared a three part article in three consecutive issues of MW (21, 22, and 23 in 1985) entitled 'The Wargame: Game or Simulation?'. This was by another member of Wargame Developments called George Jeffrey. I remembered these articles as soon as I found them - I had read them with considerable care in 1985, thought about what George was trying to say, and finally concluded he was talking bollocks. Again, summarising the arguments would be tiresome, but after assuming that a move towards 'simulation' was the goal of all serious gamers there was some largely inexplicable stuff about games moving from 'decision point' to 'decision point', and what happened between being calculated by applying known casualty and movement rates. Known casualty rates? Fat chance, I thought, even in 1985. How all this could be made into a workable set of rules was unclear, and certainly not laid down in any examples. Most tellingly, nothing along the lines George was suggesting has ever appeared in any published set of rules, at least as far as I know.

Thankfully, this kind of thing then seemed to die out. We all know the results - rules started to get simpler, easier and faster to play, and wargamers began to return to what the hobby had started out as - a bunch of grown men (and the occasional woman) playing with toy soldiers. Unfortunately, those articles coloured my idea of what Wargames Developments was about. Apparently they were a bunch of wargamers who looked down their noses as people like me, and wrote patronising articles pointing out what the rest of us were doing wrong. But they certainly weren't the only ones thinking along those lines. 

I don't know a great deal about what WD get up to, even now, but good luck to them in their quest for new ways to play games, with or without toy soldiers. They deserve more publicity. However, I know which branch of the hobby I'll be sticking with.

Friday, 8 August 2014

Down At The Club (2)

Club wargaming has never been a big part of my hobby. In the past I have been happy to do most of my gaming at home or at other people's homes, within a small circle of wargaming friends. But I appreciate club gaming can add a lot to what one gets out of the hobby - it's just a question of finding a club that suits you and is within a reasonable distance.

In the Bristol area, I was lucky to be steered towards the Portbury Knights club, which at the time I joined was a thriving club with both boardgaming/fantasy and historical players hard at it during most meetings. Such a meeting was the subject of my original Down At The Club post from 2010. Unfortunately the club seems to have fallen on hard times, having zero web presence now as far as I can tell. Rumour has it that historical gaming has more or less stopped. 

On moving to the Oxford area, joining a club was an obvious way to meet new wargamers, so I ended up at the Oxford Wargames Society one Monday evening not long ago. I was lucky in that club members focus mainly on historical wargaming, and I found I was quickly welcomed and invited to join in. A particularly refreshing aspect of the club was that a number of members focus on developing their own rules and trying these out at club meetings.

Anyway, for my third evening at the society I was asked to put on a Blitzkrieg Commander game for some interested players. This I managed to do, using an adaption of my Race To The Vistula scenario from a good few years ago. I am not much used to acting as an umpire, so my guidance tended to be a little lacking in timeliness and accuracy as the evening progressed. Parts of the rules ended up being forgotten or badly explained, but a hectic game ensued with everyone seeming to enjoy themselves. A few photos are shown below:

The initial Polish defenders were set up east of the river,
allowing the Germans to make rapid progress across the table.

"AFVs may not close assault other AFVs".
No point in trying to ram that Panzer I with the armoured train then.

Despite the various random arrivals being mainly Polish, and some of the German command rolls being rather unfortunate, it was obvious by the end of the game that the Germans were going to get enough armoured units off the far side of the table to win.

Umpiring? It's a mug's game if you ask me.
Oh the endless questions, the pressure to get things right, the constant banter.
But on the other hand, with four nice guys like these fellows...

So What's The Point?
Club gaming? Of course, you have to be able to find a club that suits you, that covers your interests and has like-minded people attending. But in my limited experience, club gaming can offer a great deal. On a practical level, it gives you a physical space much greater than any normal home environment, so those big games are a possibility. It also offers an environment away from the pressures of home - you can concentrate on the gaming without interruption. And if you find the right club, those big club projects can become a reality, whether you join in with what's already going on or maybe start your own.

But, as was pointed out to me by one of the members of the OWS, the most significant difference from home wargaming is the social aspect. You encounter new wargamers and are exposed to new ideas and new perspectives. And club games tend to have a different character, especially if more than two of you are involved. Of course, one could just do what one does at home but do it at the club. However, this might be missing the point. The game of BKC I played at the OWS was very different from the game as I would play it at home. The poring over the rulebook, the quiet, concentrated effort to make sure the game correctly included every rule aspect, was replaced by a much more rough and ready approach where what mattered was keeping the game moving as rapidly as possible. Both approaches provide enjoyable wargaming: experiencing both is well worthwhile.

Plus, of course, if you pick the right club you can go down the pub afterwards. No photos of the latter event are available.

Many thanks to the chaps at OWS for making me welcome. Soon it will be time to get them playtesting Honours of War. I just hope they'll be gentle with me...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

New House, Old Magazines

With the closure of Filton Airport in Bristol, this particular Air traffic Controller had to find a new job, and the brief search ended at Oxford Airport. I've been there nearly 18 months, waiting for my daughter to complete her 'A' Level course, but with exams over the new house is chosen and I've moved in, camping out solo until wife and daughter join me at the end of July.

It's time for some country livin' in the really rather nice village of Ascott-under-Wychwood, in the Cotswold Hills. But the important thing is that whilst I'm there on my own, there's plenty of room for wargaming. Oh yes, the toy soldiers were the priority items on the moving list. Even when I'm en famille, the new dining room will be less of a family room than the old one, so there will be the chance of setting up games and leaving them there for a few days. Or such is my fond hope.

Clearing out the cupboards in the old house revealed a stack of old wargames magazines, which of course I will be keeping. I find I am the owner of the first ever Miniature Wargames and the first ever Wargames Illustrated.

Flipping through these old magazines, some of them going back to the 1970s, raises some interesting comparisons with today's products. Generally, the conclusion is that magazines these days are a lot better - better articles, better photos, better everything. The old issues of Miniature Wargames that I have, edited by Duncan Mcfarlane, are really surprisingly dull in many cases, and Wargames Illustrated isn't much better. Some of the articles hardly seem to be about wargaming at all. An honourable exception are the half dozen or so issues of Battle magazine I still have. These are actually most enjoyable to re-read, and have many interesting articles by well known wargamers, notably Charles Grant and Terry Wise. The 'editorial director' is one R. G. Moulton, who I've never heard of. Anybody? He certainly knew his stuff. 

One thing that struck me is that the covers regularly featured actual human beings playing wargames. The two below are my favourites, especially the one on the left. A classic club game in progress, including cigar smoking, and after all these years I'm still itching to join in. Still, at least these days I do have my own windmill.

You know what, maybe I'll check out ebay. There might be more of these old Battle mags out there.

One thing I found out straight away is that the tension between historical gamers and sci-fi/fantasy/board gamers is an old one. The letters page of Battle in particular is full of good old fashioned, bad tempered sniping. And issues like complex rules vs. simple are also apparently as old as the hills. Nothing much new in this hobby after all.

Three Fords

With all the wargaming stuff now shifted to the new house, it was time to christen the Wargames Room (rather quaintly referred to by my wife as the Dining Room). My old chum Paul decided a nosey round the new place and a wargame in secluded surroundings would make for a good Saturday night expedition to the Cotswolds, so it only remained to decide a scenario. My new rules badly needed some homegrown playtesting after the hiatus of the move, so it had to be Seven Years War. By good fortune, I had just purchased Miniature Wargames 374 and an excellent scenario was provided within - on a plate, as it were.

Map © Henry Hyde and Miniature Wargames magazine. Thanks Henry!

Steve Jones of the Newark Irregulars had written the latest in the 'Command Challenge' series, and the article immediately caught my eye. Entitled 'Three Fords, Three Ways', it was basically the story of a fighting retreat, based on a real action in the American War of Independence. Supply wagons and the vital units of the Main Body had to be saved before the attackers overran the position. The table was dominated by a river crossable only at three fords, and force details were given for each of three periods (hence the title). Conforming with the Biffy Theory of classic wargaming, these periods were of course the Ancient (alright, Dark Ages), Horse and Musket and Modern periods. Horse and Musket for me, then.

The map (very kindly provided by Henry Hyde via email) tells the story. The Blue Force baggage and main body stand ready to exit the table from the designated exit point at the north east corner. A rearguard backed by cavalry holds a wooded ridge against the advancing Red enemy. A modest Red flanking force adds further interest. 

Overall, I thought Steve had produced an article in the finest traditions of Charles Grant's much-loved Table Top Teasers: presenting it for three different periods was a fine piece of added value. 

Now this was not to say that some tweaking wouldn't be required. The baggage position shown on the map was obviously (to my mind, and for my rules)) too close to the exit point. To give the attackers a chance, the wagons would need to be re-located nearer the centre of the table. I also had my doubts about the tiny flanking force (a single small unit of elite troops), but I stuck with the idea for my game with Paul. I was able to run through the game twice, first with Paul and then, taking advantage of my current solo existence and the temporary facility of a dedicated wargames room, a solo run through a week later without having to take everything down and set it up again. Luxury!

Unfortunately the first game went unrecorded by the camera, but it was generally a successful and enjoyable game, with the defenders winning. It was also an incredibly useful workout for the rules, as such slightly off-the-wall scenarios usually are. However, I did find my suspicions about the flanking force were confirmed, and I increased it for the solo game. So, my forces and special rules for the second battle were:

Prussians (Red, attacking)

Flanking Force (dependable commander)
1 grenadier battalion.
1 Hussar regiment.
Main Body
Advance Guard (dashing commander)
 1 large dragoon regiment (6 bases), 1 jaeger battalion (small, 3 bases)
Infantry Brigade (dependable commander)
2 grenadier battalions, 2 line infantry battalions, 1 medium battery.

9 units, Army Break Point = 4.

Austrians (Blue, retreating)

Rearguard (dependable commander)
2 Grenz battalions.
Cavalry (dependable commander)
2 dragoon regiments.
Main Body (dependable commander)
1 German line battalion, 1 Bavarian line battalion, 1 militia battalion (small, 3 bases)
Wagons (dithering commander)
4 wagons

11 units, Army Break Point = 5.

 Victory Conditions
The Austrians are trying to save their wagons and the regular units of their main body. If they retreat at least 4 of these 6 units off the table via the exit point before their force is broken, they have won. The wagons must exit first, before the units of the main body.
The Prussians win if they prevent this.
As normal, either side wins if they break the enemy before any victory conditions have been achieved.

Special Rules
Visibility in open woods is 30cm. Units may fire out or in through the edge of the woods provided they are within this distance.
The Austrian commanding general will not take charge of the wagons.

Those of you who have the magazine will note that the victory conditions are much simplified, to suit my rules. The rule about the Austrian commanding general not helping with the wagons is designed to make sure the uncertainties of having a dithering wagon-master are maintained. I figured the general would be concentrating on leading his fighting units.

The Battle In Pictures
(Sorry about the quality, my best camera had to be lent out to the female section of the family).

I reckoned the small size of the forces would be fine on my 'standard' 6' x 5' table, rather than the 8' x 6' Steve used.
After a fair amount of juggling of the available river sections, I managed a reasonable representation of the original map. Setup of the defending forces is shown, with the Prussian advance guard just entering the table on the right.

The Grenzers on the ridge prepare to sell themselves dear.
Operating in the wooded terrain, they did very well, seeing off the advance guard in a brief skirmish with some accurate fire. But the main body of the attackers were not to be so easily deterred, and the advance of the Prussian grenadiers was remorseless. 
Here the grenz infantry have been pushed off the ridge. What could the Austrian dragoons do to delay the enemy?
Not much, was the answer. The Prussian grenadiers cooly advanced to close musket range, conclusively seeing off a desperate charge by one of the dragoon regiments, which lost the Austrian commander his first unit destroyed.
The other dragoon regiment was also driven back, the grenzers falling back as well. The wagons have managed to creak slowly towards the ford and are slowly crossing.
The Prussian flanking force deploys onto the Austrian side of the river. One battalion (the Bavarians) of the Austrian main body has already been sent to the rear whilst the German infantry and the militia seek to buy time. The commanding general is present to give them some backbone.
Meanwhile, at the main ford, chaos reigns. Failed command rolls, some stinging long range musket fire and some shots from the Prussian gun battery bring panic and disorder as everyone tries to cross at once.
Overview as the game reaches its climax. The Prussian flanking force prepares to push forward, the Prussian main force also prepares for its final advance to the main ford, whilst the Bavarians (left) are forced to wait for the Austrian wagons to cross the ford and precede them off the table
The remaining units of the Austrian main body fall back, trying to avoid getting too involved with the Prussian flanking force.
But the vagaries of the command rolls spoil Austrian plans. The Prussian flanking force gets a double move, and the grenadiers charge and destroy the whitecoated infantry battalion facing them. The low quality militia unit is of little help, and is a sitting duck for the Black Hussars who will surely sweep them up next turn.
In the end, there was no next turn. The steady musketry of the Prussian main body destroyed three more Austrian units as they were held up at the crowded ford, and the Austrians had reached their break point. Only 3 wagons, a damaged grenz battalion, the unengaged Bavarians and the near useless militia unit remained. The Prussians had lost no units, though their supposed 'advance guard' was left shamefully in the rear for most of the game after the early set back.

This is a very interesting scenario to play, with lots of different situations possible. I still don't understand the placing of the baggage on the original map - maybe there was some kind of misprint, or maybe I'm missing something. Issue 374 of MW is thoroughly recommended, by the way.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Good Riddance

And so it's done. I have painted my last unit of wargames figures ever. A modest enough effort: just 8 30mm cavalry figures of the Prussian Black Hussars.

Hussar Regiment no.5, The Black Hussars ('The Death Hussars').

The history of their production explains why there will be no more. I started them so long ago I can't remember when it was; maybe a year, maybe 18 months. I have painted other bits and pieces during that period: some guns and their crews, the odd general, a building or two, a tank or two, some aircraft. The hussars themselves I ground out two at a time, sometimes pausing for weeks halfway through completing each lonely pair, sometimes pausing for months between painting one pair and the next. It was the usual story: lack of motivation, lack of interest, other things to do and think about, sheer laziness. But at last the final two are finished and I have decided: I'm not going through that again. I turn my back, and walk away with no regrets. I do not expect or want a renaissance of interest.

Hitting some kind of 'painting wall' is the common currency of any number of blog posts. On the well known Grand Duchy of Stollen blog, the grandly named Heinz-Ulrich von Boffke announced recently he was recovering from what he memorably called his 'painting funk'. I have had many of these and I don't want to experience any more. On the other hand, one can only look on in slack-jawed amazement at the output of some wargamers. Prominent amongst these is the painting force-of-nature known as Olicanalad (James Roach), whose recent efforts preparing for his Zorndorf demonstration game were astonishing in both quantity and quality. This is terrific stuff, but I no longer have the desire to emulate it. In fact, these days I find such efforts rather frightening.

I admit it hasn't all been bad. Like any wargamer, I've done a fair amount of painting in my time, and in the past there were many relaxing hours of peaceful endeavour, as I mentioned in this post from 2010. And of course there was always the pleasure of completion: it was satisfying to contemplate the finished article when it had turned out as good or better than you had hoped for. But in the last couple of years painting has just become a chore. Apart from being fiddly and awkward and time consuming, painting full units is, above all, just so repetitive.

My lead pile is modest enough, and my Poland 1939 and SYW armies are now as big as I want them to be (once the most recent painted reinforcements arrive from the Dayton Painting Consortium). So that's it, apart from the odd bit of dabbling to create one or two new artillery pieces for the SYW, and maybe a German 15cm infantry gun for my 1939 games.

There will be more units, in more periods, I expect; but others will paint them, either financed out of my wages or by selling off a current collection to finance the next. I feel a burden lifting from my shoulders. No longer will half finished units and unpainted figures ruin my peace of mind, making me feel guilty for each evening spent watching the telly or reading in the armchair. I think fellow wargamers will recognise such feelings. They might seem daft to those who are not hobbyists themselves; but never underestimate the significance and consuming nature of a proper hobby. And sometimes one needs to acknowledge that the obsession to perform is not healthy.

And this is where the multi-faceted nature of our hobby shows its advantages. Putting aside any painting ambitions leaves me more time (mentally and physically) for my own preferences: reading about my historical periods, writing rules, improving my terrain, and most of all, getting more games in. It's all good.

The hobby is yours: make of it what you will.