Thursday, 28 April 2016

Jutland: The Refight

Next month sees the centenery of the Battle of Jutland. As readers of this blog will no doubt recall I have been wrestling with how best to commemorate this epic engagement via the medium of a war game (naturally!). My plans began in a grandiose fashion with a refight using 1/2400th models taking place on board HMS Belfast but practicality and logistical considerations have scaled this down somewhat. I plan to refight the battle using the Avalon Hill 'board' game of the same name and this means counters (scaled at around 1/4800th) rather than models.

I seriously considered using 1/6000th scale models for this but if I am honest the price was way over my budget so a cheaper option was needed.

I have often mentioned my fondness for the old Avalon Hill game of Jutland (designed by James Dunnigan and first released in 1967) so this was going to be the basis of the refight. The tactical rules are not perfect but they should be viewed within the context of what is essentially a strategic game. There are a number of rules additions that appeared in the old Avalon Hill General magazine and I plan to incorporate these.

I have flirted with changing the system and making it more 'naval war gamey' but you know what? I am going to leave it as it is and fight the battle(s) using what is essentially an old school system. Besides, it is now too late to consider anything more complex.

I am really looking forward to this and so next month will be very naval centric in terms of blog posts. At this stage the only decision I need to make is how to break the action up into historical scenarios for which I shall be using my modest library in the subject and also the Avalanche Press Great War at Sea board game that covers the North Sea during the period.

More to follow methinks....

Friday, 22 April 2016

Fifty Years Ago

Over a thousand pages of engrossing and enthralling military history

1966 was a good year. Aside from England winning the World Cup it also saw the publication of a very special, indeed seminal book. I am of course referring to The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler.

The man himself - examining a rather familiar piece of headgear

As a young war gamer in the early 1970s - replete with boxes of Airfix figures and inspired by Bruce Quarrie's Airfix Magazine guide to the Napoleonic Wars (not to mention the film Waterloo) - this book represented the Holy Grail of the wars of Napoleon. I always wanted a copy of this book but on my pocket money plastic figures and paints took priority.

The first time I acquired a copy of this book was in the early 80s which was kind of ironic as by that time I had moved on from the wars of Napoleon. My first copy went with a whole pile of gaming stuff during one of my 80s domestic upheavals and so I was bereft of a copy until quite recently.

The advent of Command and Colours Napoleonics and the celebrations around the bicentenary of Waterloo has made me look at the wars of Napoleon again beyond my lifelong interest in the 1815 campaign.

I picked up a secondhand copy almost at the same time as finding a copy at a boot sale for a ridiculously small price (since passed on to Mr. Fox) and had forgotten how good a book this is. There are a myriad of titles in print that cover the various campaigns in far greater detail but this book is the one that everything else taps in to. It may be dated in the light of recent research but in my opinion if you only ever acquired one book on the campaigns of Napoleon then you would not go far wrong by adding this to your collection.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Command and Colours: The Great War

The box in all its glory - photo courtesy of Google images.

When the Plastic Soldier Company announced that they were going to produce a WW1 game in conjunction with Richard Borg of Command and Colours fame I was very interested indeed. I avoided the Kickstarter - or rather forgot about it until it was too late - and planned to take a look once the game was on the market. The game was released and my curiosity was piqued - but at the time not sufficiently to invest in a set.

If I am honest I was unsure about the subject matter of the game - after all I had little interest in the Western front after 1914, at least until the tanks made an appearance. My Great War focus has always been more towards the sideshows - the Middle East and Africa being cases in point. My Great War library has plenty of material on those theatres as well as 1914 but nothing at all from Christmas 1914 on the Western Front. Trench warfare has little appeal for me - at least I thought this was the case until my reading of much of Turkish military history changed my mind. The Turks usually fought from defensive positions and so the concept of spadework on the battlefield should not really be quite so alien to me! I suppose to an extent it is very much a perception thing - the vast slaughter on the Western Front does not make for pleasant reading nor recreating on a table top in my opinion.

How wrong am I?

I have to say that Richard Borg has achieved something of a coup with this latest version of his Command and Colours system.

I will not go into a detailed overview of the game or the rules - simply because there are far better reviews on the internet - as I doubt I would be able to add to what has already been written. Suffice it to say that there are some subtle differences to the rule system to cater for the impact of artillery, machine guns and trenches. As I mentioned the late war does not really interest me per se - at least not until the Tanks were a regular feature - until you get to the more open latter stages. Having said that, the figures are very nice indeed (aside from the care needed to cut the British infantry from their sprues) although closer to 18mm than 15mm. There is an expansion set due to be released in a couple of weeks which adds tanks - 4 x Mark V (2 each of the male and female versions), a pair of A7Vs and a brace of German 105mm guns with crews. There is also the rules and scenarios and some additional terrain tiles.

The base game uses a 12 by 11 hex grid - the extra depth no doubt to allow for multiple trench lines - and the terrain tiles unsurprisingly feature trenches - a lot of them! Artillery is not deployed on the board (which raises the question why did PSC produce both the 18 pounder and the 77mm) and is fired using a template - this should appeal to the old school gamers amongst us!

The planned expansion - photo courtesy of Kickstarter/Google Images.

I plan to get the tank expansion and am happy to dabble in the late war based on the set as it stands but for me the longevity may be an issue. If we get expansions and models for other theatres then I believe that PSC could be on to a winner.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Command and Colours: Ancients

The set that launched a thousand expansions (well half a dozen really....)

I have dabbled in ancient war games since the early 1980s. I first cut my teeth using WRG 6th edition and had many interesting games using these rules. My first two armies were Carthaginian - one in 25mm and soon after one in 15mm. The 25mm version came from my old friend Chris Hardman and was a mixture of Minifigs, Garrison and probably a few Lamming figures thrown in for good measure. When I acquired it from him all I needed to do was to round up a couple of units and tackle some rebasing and in short order it was in action.

I quickly learned that the army fought best of all when the points values were low so fighting at 1,100 points (including the general) quickly became my preferred Modus Operandi. With the 25mm army (back when 28mm was in fact 25mm) the closest I ever came to fighting anything like contemporary opposition was against Chris Hardman's Seleucids - the 'Swiss army knife' army. As I recall I fought him twice - once at Rochford when we went for 3,000 points and I was comprehensively beaten and the second time at the club when I was able to grind out a draw. Actually we called it a draw as we had run out of time and I was grateful to be offered the same!

The 15mm version did manage to fight a Republican Roman army (in fact it only fought against Republican Romans) but every game I took part in ended in a draw.

The army was great fun to use but it was difficult to win with - at least when yours truly was commanding it - as the troops it contained were fairly ordinary. It was difficult to get the momentum going with them as the troop types were so disparate that coordination was a challenge. Plus the fact I am no Hannibal....

I further dabbled with a Late Imperial Roman Army - that was great fun to use - and also a Classical Indian. I can still recall the Irregular B elephants with a general going impetuous and charging downhill into a Roman Legion - then throwing a maximum plus in the resultant melee! 

I kind of fell out of love with the period (rather I was distracted by other things) until DBA came along and most of my figure games since then have been using these rules. I owned a 15mm Numidian Army  that was fun to use - a throwback to my Carthaginian days I suppose - but have never really pushed on with the period like I did in my early days. However, all of that can now change.

Romans (in red, naturally) and Barbarians prepare to get to get to grips - or should that be Agrippina? The picture is courtesy of Google Images.

Some time ago I acquired a copy of the Richard Borg designed Command and Colours: Ancients. This has been a successful series and covers warfare in the ancient world from the time of the Hoplites until the fall of Rome. the basic game covers the Punic Wars and the expansions cover the wars of Alexander and his Successors, the rise of Rome and the end of the Hellenistic era, the wars against the various Barbarians, the wars against the Persians from the Hoplites until Imperial Rome and the final stands of the Legions. In common with the other Command and Colours games the action is card driven and the units follow the usual 4, 3 and 2 block size standard.

Aside from the official scenarios contained in the rule books the game is really well supported with a whole world of internet based goodies - rules variants, army lists, scenarios and much else besides.

I have in addition to the base game a whole pile of blocks from the expansion sets so the collection is pretty complete. With the material I have to hand I should be able to fight pretty much any kind of ancient battle and whilst this will not be my main area of endeavour it certainly gives me something a little different to dabble in. I am not expecting to go down the figure route with this as the blocks are perfectly adequate.

Hopefully I may have better luck with the Carthaginians than I ever did using figures all those years ago!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

86 Days to go....

Despite suffering from a bout of Bronchitis I have had last managed to make a start on cutting out the replacement counters for my planned Jutland refight. Thus far I have completed both the Royal Navy and the High Seas Fleet and the optional 'scaled' Light Ship counters. The latter are very important as I have mentioned previously because the counters in the original game represent formations that are too large. Having a single counter representing some 16 destroyers whilst the capital ships are individual does make for some strange tactical decisions. Under the new system the same formation would be represented by four counters - this is much better from a gaming perspective as the player would be able to make decisions about formations, station keeping etc. It will change how the rules work and this will be something I will need to test.

In the interest of easing myself back into using the core Jutland rule system - it was some 30 years ago I last used after all - I am planning to run a small test game over the next few days with the results posted to the blog.

There will be one change though and that concerns the move distance and ranges. The game as designed uses a measuring device - called the rangefinder - scaled at 20mm equalling 1,000 yards for gunfire. This means that 48cm represents 24,000 yards. For me that is a little too short so I am using 1" to a 1,000 yards. Ships move according to a special gauge with a movement factor of one point for every 2 1/2 knots. Each movement point on the gauge equals 15mm so between the movement and firing ranges there is a difference in how they work. I would prefer a uniform scale of measure so that will be my first priority.

The scenario I envisage running will pit two small forces of battle cruisers in that old standby the encounter battle.

At least fighting a game will not be interrupted by my irritating coughing - which makes painting a challenge for sure!

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Of Mutual Benefit....

Following on from last post - a very brief overview of Cavalier at Tunbridge - I thought it would be a good idea to detail my half of the exchange I undertook with Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany fame. My part of the transaction was a pile of blue Hexon terrain tiles (the remaining green and desert sets are now heading north of the border) and in exchange I received rather a nice and useful selection of books. Bob is a cunning chap and I suspect that he knew EXACTLY which of his titles that he had deemed surplus to requirements would be of interest to me - and he was not wrong!

The North West Frontier in two quite different wars - one that Wellington would have been comfortable with and the other with lorries and aircraft. They have certainly made me think about revisiting the Roghan Valley!

A smattering of naval titles - all at the lower tactical end of the spectrum and therefore hugely gameable! The two that have proven to be of most interest are the small paperback on inland river transport in Mesopotamia and that wonderful book on the Konigsberg.

The rest of the rest. The three pamphlets you see are from Pallas Armata and cover the campaign in Thrace during the Balkan War whilst the three Hoyt titles speak for themselves. The Zanzibar title is also very interesting and is full of ideas for small scale actions - gunboats, landing parties and similar.

NOT from Bob but worth mentioning all the same.

The final title in this post caught my eye simple because the Lawrence connection. Sea power dominated the Red Sea and the elderly ships of the RN that were on station gave sterling service in support of the Arab Revolt. Whilst the Turks had no naval presence to speak of the potential for some cracking 'what if?' actions is huge.

I would like to thank Bob for the enormous selection of titles he conjured up and for a variety of reasons all of them have an immediate use....

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Laugh in Cavalier

On Sunday I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Cavalier show in Tonbridge - and in the words of Wallace and Gromit it was 'A Grand Day Out'!

The haul. There are few things in life more pleasurable than acquiring a new book (or 4).

To begin with I spent some time with Dave Lanchester helping to set up his stand. This is always good fun and is a good opportunity to see what's new in the remaindered and secondhand book world.  I must confess that it is seldom I visit Dave's stand without buying something and the three books you see in the picture (not the Turkish title) are now residing happily in the library in the man cave. Needless to say there are a number of ideas that these new acquisitions will be supporting in due course.

Caliver Books were also in attendance and after a brief catch up with Dave Ryan money duly changed hands and the Ottoman uniform title was also added to the collection. For the record I reckon that I have enough uniform material on the Turkish army from 1912 to 1923 in my collection so producing an army should not be a problem (other than painting it of course....).

I also chatted to Tony at Brigade Models and picked up a couple of packs of 1/1200th scale buildings - the Ancient Roman set and the Middle Eastern village with a couple of Mosques. The former will provide some background for the Salamis project whilst the latter ties in with my next purchase....

Tumbling Dice were also present and the painted examples of their 1/2400th scale Russo Japanese War ships (and the new American range for the Spanish War of 1898 or the Great White Fleet) are really very nice indeed. I managed to avoid buying any of these - for the moment anyhow - but I did pick up a 1/600th WW1 starter pack with German artillery. These 3mm figures are very nice indeed and although purchased as an experiment have a lot of potential for a number of ideas I am currently planning.

A gathering of Rejects with Postie keeping his hands firmly on his wallet in case One Lover Ray opts for another bacon sandwich....Big Lee striking a manly Hannibal like pose whilst Clint heartily wishes he was elsewhere....

Aside from the retail therapy (which is pleasant enough in its own right) Cavalier was also a chance to catch up with old friends and acquaintances, to chat about projects old and new and to see what kind of games were being played and displayed. One of the main orders of business for myself was meeting up with Bob Cordery of Wargaming Miscellany fame. We had a transaction to conclude involving two boxes of blue Hexon tiles and a box of extremely useful books - which will feature in a later post. Bob and I also discussed an idea I have been toying around with and as ever his input was very useful - especially some of the names he came up with - again, more of which in a later post!

I was hoping to get some of my pictures of the games on display but for some reason the resolution was not great so I will leave that to the other bloggers that were present.

All in all it was a grand day (or in my case half a day) out with just the right balance of camaraderie, retail therapy and inspiration.