Friday, 17 November 2017

Naval Relativity

 
A rather atmospheric painting of the Battle of Jutland


The 1/2400th scale collection is moving along nicely so barring any unforeseen dramas is on schedule for completion at the end of the year. The other side of the project is of course the old chestnut of what rules to use. I have a vast number of sets for wargames in the period which of course will be a safe fall back option but I have a hankering to do something myself. It is with this in mind I have written this post as I wanted to share my rationale behind the thought processes involved. I hope it is of some interest and of course, comments would be greatly appreciated.

My fondness of the game Jutland is well known - as is my oft mentioned comment about the tactical rules being rather simple, brutally so if truth be told. Taking into consideration all of the various advanced and optional rules that have appeared over the years you get a tactical system that is better within the spirit of the game but does still not really cut it as a pure standalone tactical naval set.

One of the biggest problems I have experienced in trying to 'wargameify' the rules has been the difficulty in reverse engineering the ship specifications - namely the gunnery and protection values. I looked back over all my noted on the subject and whilst they have a number of valid observations are still very much in the 'hit it and hope' category. With the advantage of some time away from the project and with the benefit of a fresh pair of eyes I can see that in some cases the ships were probably factored based on their historical performance in the battle rather than by the pure translation of their technical specifications.

 
Photo-shopped I know but what a picture!


The 'pure translation of their technical specifications' is a very common part of the naval wargame and in my opinion every set of naval wargame rules should show how the ships were factored - especially when wanting to add a ship not featured. Naval wargamers usually set great store by their knowledge of the ships of their chosen navy - I know I do!


A well known picture with a coloured twist. S.M.S. Seydlitz after the battle - and very lucky to be there!


The Jutland approach then, of modelling ship characteristics to suit a specific scenario, whilst working well within the confines of the game being represented itself, loses out when they are used outside of this, either hypothetically or for other historical refights. Essentially then, what is needed is a baseline of characteristics for all ships - a common standard if you like - upon which the rules can be built. Using Jutland as is, even with all the add-ons, is, in my opinion not going to cut it.

For me personally this is scary stuff. Much as I love the game it is not going to fulfil my immediate needs for a set of naval rules covering 1905 to 1920.

With this sobering yet strangely liberating thought in mind it puts a lot of what I was trying to do previously into a far better context. Instead of trying to adapt an existing set of rules my efforts will be concentrated on drafting a set of rules based on the Jutland system rather than attempting to take it into a direction it was not really intended for.

I genuinely believe that the core mechanics of the Jutland game system could be used as the basis of a very good tactical game of naval combat but that any such undertaking needs to have some clearly defined parameters around what does what, when and how.

Naval Wargame Rules based on Avalon Hill's Jutland

Taking all the above into consideration I shall now set out my stall in respect of the core principles I will be working with in the formulation of the rules - a kind of mission statement I suppose. I will expand on each area in later posts but for the moment the key areas are as follows. The points marked with a J are taken directly from the game rules.

Guns

1. 1 gunnery box per actual barrel - regardless of size.
2. Guns are rated by ship type i.e. - BB, PB, CA, CL and DD (to be defined) - J
3. Two stage firing i.e. - fire to hit and then fire for effect
4. Gun types will have variable effects against target types based on calibre of weapon and armour of target.
5. Range effects as per rangefinder from the game. - J

Damage

1. Guns destroy ship systems whilst torpedoes sink ships. - J
2. Critical hits - as they add flavour! - J
3. Protection/Flotation value calculated by a clear formula
4. Use of fore/aft and port/starboard hit locations and gun based Protection/Flotation hits.

Torpedoes

1. Hard to hit with but effective when they do
2. 'Comb the tracks' option to negate an attack. - J
3. Limitations on types using these weapons and the numbers available. - J

Movement

1. Use of turning devices and national restrictions. - J
2. Use of long/short move (see Barry Carter's book) if grid based.

General

1. Use of damage record sheets - J
2. Working to a 6ft by 4ft playing area with maximum daylight gun range around 3ft and maximum ship movement of around 1ft.

So there you have it, a brief outline of what I want to do - all I have to do now is to do it!




Thursday, 16 November 2017

Squire Haggard of Haggard Hall R.I.P.


 
Squire Haggard (on the right) in action - no doubt concocting another money making scheme whilst consuming industrial quantities of anything alcoholic....
 

Not exactly the good squire but the actor Keith Barron who died yesterday and who portrayed him in the TV series back in the 90s. Keith Barron had a long career on screen and stage and was best known for his part in the comedy series Duty Free (very Brian Rix-ish in the farcical sense) during the 80s and also for his role as the Squire. He appeared in many TV programmes and also in a couple of films - the link gives the full details. For those of you who have never come across the good Squire his Journal was penned by Michael Green (famous for the 'Art of Coarse....' series) as a parody of a late 18th century gentleman's diary - think Boswell crossed with Blackadder.

The journal of the good squire


The journal is unbelievably funny and for most part consists of the Squire, his son Roderick and manservant Grunge 'carousing with prostitutes and servant girls, imbibing copious amounts of Madeira Wine, evicting the poor, expectorating on and firing his pistols at poachers, dissenters and foreigners.' The good squire was always heavily in debt and at one point undertook the Grand Tour in order to avoid both his debtors and a potential duel.

It is very funny and whilst not politically correct in any sense of the word actually reads as one would expect a diary of the period to be written.

 
My old friend Geordie will appreciate this one....


The cute pair of critters above are of course Groundhogs and whilst it is not the actual Groundhog Day (February 2nd next year is the official date I believe) a chance comment on my last post gave me pause for thought. I will post my thinking in more detail later but the reference to the above animals was of course to my current 1/2400th naval/Jutland rules revisited - as I have been there before.

I suppose it was inevitable and certainly the project concerning adapting the rules into something more 'naval wargame friendly' is very much unfinished business. However, I have come up with something that should address this and enable me to finish it off.

That will be the next post then.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Revisiting Avalon Hill's Jutland

 
A piece of gaming history


You may recall that I am a huge fan of the Avalon Hill 'board-game without a board' of Jutland. I had planned to use a variant of this for my ill-fated refight of the battle to coincide with the centenary last year but unfortunately I left it too late to organise properly. The ships raised for that particular undertaking have long since departed - my scale of choice was 1/2400th rather than 1/3000th although with hindsight this was a mistake - and I have no immediate plans to revisit the action using models anytime soon.

Anyway, the reason for this post is simply because as part of my ongoing naval activities with the 1/2400th 'overseas' set up circa 1910 -1914 I had occasion to drag out all the material I have amassed for Jutland. There is rather a lot of it!

The most surprising thing about this game is that I do not actually own a complete copy of it! I have the counters, rules, plot maps, task forces boards, time record sheets, range finders and measuring sticks but no box to put it all in! To be honest the collection is probably too big to fit in the old style box anyway....

 
The compilation of all the articles from the Avalon Hill General


The game featured in a number of editions of the old Avalon Hill General as well as the Boardgamer magazine and so I have copies of everything ever published by way of variants, additional rules or changes to the core system. There are also additional ship stats available including the remaining ships that saw service in the North Sea, the fleets for Russia (Baltic and Black Sea), France, Italy, Austria and Turkey). There is even a variant that exists covering the battle of Tsushima. With the Mediterranean set up there are some very useful plot maps available which is really handy as I am a huge fan of the map search system employed in the game.


 
One of the plot maps. In the base game there are two pads -one for the Germans and one for the British. the maps are identical but the flip side has the ship damage record for each side.


Replacement counters for the base game as well as for all of the various other fleets and additional ships are available from a number of sources - I own those for the rest of the North Sea (those that did not feature in the original game) as well as for the nations mentioned above which means that there is a lot of potential away from the traditional theatre of operations.

The rule system for this game is designed to be quick and to fit within the context of the strategic map movement. In this is does the job admirably however, as a standalone set of naval rules they are a little on the 'light' side. If you add all of the rules additions in from the magazines the game plays in a more satisfying way but I think there is still room for some TLC in a couple of areas. Bearing in the mind the rules are designed for fleet actions between dreadnoughts the ships at the smaller end of the scale (light cruisers and destroyers - lumped into a generic 'light ships' category) are poorly served. To use the rules as they are then for the kind of action I envisage fighting (roughly around 6 to 12 ships a side) would be a little on the light side so some more detail would need to factored in. One has to be careful adjusting a set of rules so as not to unbalance  them or lose the author's intended flavour but I am confident that with the help of all the additional written material available - including the designer's (Jim Dunnigan) original notes this can be tackled sympathetically.

That is what I am going to do - essentially to pick up what I was trying to do 18 months ago but did not finish.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Updating my Naval

 
S.M.S. Scharnhorst sporting her tropical paint scheme


It has been a pretty good weekend all said and done. Aside from the inevitable Autumnal leaf clearing exercise from the lawn (oddly therapeutic I must say!) I have managed to get some work done on  the 1/2400 collection.

I was able to get all of the destroyers for both sides based and undercoated and I have also settled on the names (or numbers in the case the German destroyers) for all of the models. I shall get these typed up and the label sheet printed in due course - this does not take long. Mention of the destroyers has given me the usual headache in terms of how they are painted. As the collection will be seeing service in WW1 based games it would make senses to paint them in the appropriate plumage for the later period. This means grey for the Royal Navy and also for the Germans although they converted from black later in the war. From an identification perspective I am going with black for the Germans and grey for the Royal Navy although I am unsure when they moved over from the black scheme. Certainly having two colours will help with identification on the table top.

 
H.M.S. Arab - a 'B' class torpedo boat destroyer


The models I am using are very nice indeed although I think the funnels on the Royal Navy destroyers are a little on the tall side - for the record they are the re designated 'B' class types sporting four funnels - with a single funnel fore and aft and two adjacent amidships. Of the type H.M.S. Sparrowhawk was wrecked whilst serving on the China Station.

For the names of the ships I am modelling I have where possible chosen those that served on the China Station or geographically near by.

I am pleased with progress so far - I had a couple of self-inflicted issues using the MDF bases which I shall not do again - and plan to continue this over the next few weeks with the aim of having the entire collection complete for the end of the year. Naturally pictures will follow in due course.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Visually Motivating the Wargamer

 
Tom Hanks in 'What's that coming over the hill - is it a monster?' mode from Saving Private Ryan.


The reasons that one embarks upon the wargamer's path are many and varied. My own 'baptism of fire' so to speak was probably a road trodden by many gamers 'of a certain age' in that I am firmly of what has been called the Airfix Generation. I have no issues with being labelled as such; quite the opposite in fact, I am proud to be part of that unofficial band of brothers - it means that I have a common ground with many of my gaming friends and so am able to share 'war stories' with them.

What sustains this though? More specifically, what sustains a gamers interest in a given period? I have often thought about this and in my case the answer is relatively straightforward. For the most part my gaming interests are many and varied but they generally have two things in common. Firstly, there exists a reasonable amount of reference material in the shape of the written word. This can take many forms including campaign histories, uniform and equipment guides, biographies of the commanders, unit histories and even works of fiction set against the period. That is simple enough and for my own part is a significant factor in the choice of period I wish to fight. I have always been an avid reader so for me this is hardly a chore - more like a pleasure to be savoured.

The second factor (and indeed this is why I wrote this post on the first place) is for me the visual appeal. This does not mean the look of the figures - this is important for some people, less so for me - rather it means how the events of history have been given life by the silver screen. I am of course talking about films and TV.

 
Severe delays at junction 30 of the M25 or even a bridge too far from A Bridge Too Far


It is no coincidence that the periods of history I am interested in have also been translated into either film or TV. As wargamers we all have our favourites but it has only recently struck me how important this is to my enjoyment of the games I fight. Of course one has to take into account the fact that what we are seeing may contain inaccuracies (and I am sure we quote chapter and verse on many of the usual suspects in this case!) but for me it is all about capturing the flavour of the events depicted in a visual fashion. The usual film caveat of being 'based upon' what actually happened or of adding fiction against a historical backdrop is well known and as wargamers armed with our books of the period we are usually able to separate the wheat from the chaff. I do not rely on films for the hard facts but purely for the look of the thing.

 
Ali and Lawrence about to attack a Turkish column from Lawrence of Arabia


There are periods of history that keep coming back to as my interest waxes and wanes over time - invariably there is film that anchors it into my consciousness.


 
"The earth seemed proud to bear to many brave men" the review before the battle from Waterloo


Waterloo, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Spartacus, The Kingdon of Heaven, The Battle of Britain, Zulu, Lawrence of Arabia, The Sand Pebbles, A Bridge Too Far and others too numerous to mention are all a key part of my enjoyment of our hobby for the entertainment and visual motivation they provide.

 
Assaulting the walls of Jerusalem from The Kingdom of Heaven
 
Although a film about the period in question is a nice addition to inspiration pool for a project it is my no means obligatory. There are periods of history I am interested in that try as I might I have not been able to find any viewing material, at least not in English. This would not stop me from trying it out but having a visual medium to watch should certainly serve to aid the inspiration, at least it does for me.
 



Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Blocked in Crusaders

 


For the record this is not an 'ooh shiny' purchase - rather it is a substantial part of my long term Crusades project. I should add at this point that it is very firmly on the back burner - I reckon I have at least four other things to tackle beforehand - but the acquisition of the above game means that once I get around to it I will have everything I need to start. Actually that is probably not strictly true as there is always room for  the odd extra book at the very least. The written word is invariably my downfall and if there is one area that always suffers from 'project creep' it is with books.

Books are my weakness - my wargames Achilles heel so to speak.

Anyway, back to the business in hand. The above game is a strategic level depiction of the 3rd Crusade featuring Richard the Lionheart and of course Saladin. It is a fine game on a standalone basis but for me the extra value will be use it as a campaign canvas for a Portable Wargame based set up using the previously mentioned Risk figures or perhaps something else.

I am a great fan of Columbia games block based wargames as they are straightforward to play, are simple but not simplistic and have very good production values. One mechanic the games use is the 'fog of war'. Usually unit blocks are deployed on an edge with the strength side facing the owning player. This means that the opposition does not know the strength of a unit facing him or her until they attack it. Very simple and very effective.

In the meantime though, the ships take priority.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Terminators, Von Spee and Scenery

 
The same version I acquired except the box was slightly battered. Besides at £1.50 for 30 x 28mm plastic figures it was too good to turn down....


It has been a busy weekend - both on the domestic front and the gaming side. On the former I spent rather a lot of time on the phone organising the new buildings and contents insurance, the new energy provider, the travel insurance for our holiday next year and also the final part of the Christmas shopping for our grandson. I also (actually to be accurate is was very much a family affair) took a saw and some shears to the tree in our garden. It now looks rather forlorn but was hanging over next doors greenhouse, our shed and the washing line - so it really needed some TLC.

SWMBO assures me it will grow back although the two wheelie bins full of chopped up branch and leaves would suggest otherwise....

On the gaming front I managed to get some time in on the 1/2400th ships. Essentially the German destroyers have been cleaned up and the bases readied. I have used bases from Warbases and spent some time sealing them with some Rustins MDF Sealer. this is really good stuff as it has the effect of drying with a slightly rough finish which will take paint far more readily than the smooth and slightly shiny version straight out of the packet. the destroyers cleaned up very easily and had little in the way of flash. This evening I shall fix them to the bases and then make a start on their Royal Navy opposite numbers. This is a variation on how I usually do these things - normally I start with the battleships and work down - but I wanted to tackle these first as they are easier to do. they are the only models that do not require any assembly to start with, not to mention the fact that painting them will be a doddle.

 
Small in scale and therefore eminently gameable


With thoughts of the China Station and the East Asia Squadron I suppose it was inevitable that my thoughts gravitated towards the Coronel and the Falklands in 1914. With this thought in mind I was delighted to pick up a copy of the above. Edwin P. Hoyt was a prolific author and wrote many books on the fringe naval side of the Great War. I have three other titles of his in my collection and there are several more I would like to add in time. His works may not be the most technically detailed available but they are easy to read and give the all important flavour to the subject. It is no secret that I am huge fan of the old naval wargame standard of 'hunt the raider' so this is a welcome addition to the library.

I also managed to spend some time finishing off some scenery for my square gridded Portable Wargame style table. This is 3ft by 2ft and is divided into 3" squares (meaning 8 x 12). I had made half a dozen hills using spare Jenga blocks and some offcuts of model railway grass mat some time ago and these are now virtually finished. All I need to do is to trim the edges which will take place this evening and they are then good to go.

Finally, I picked up a copy of the board/miniatures game you se in the photo at the top of this post. As a Terminator fan I was pleased when this first came out but baulked at the price being asked. Several of my gaming friends have tried the rules and they were distinctly underwhelmed by the experience. No matter because even the rules are not quite what I would like the models would be usable with any set of Sci Fi rules. One thing that crossed my mind would be a Space Hulk style game - for which I will speak to the redoubtable Mr Fox for his thoughts....In any event, £1.50 for the game was pretty darned good.

I shall be posting later in the week as I hope to have some pictures of the ships under way. It only remains to leave the last word to Arnie himself...

 
Cheesy? Corney? Cliched?....Moi?