Sunday 28 February 2010

Oh! What a Lovely War

Amongst the usual round of weekend domesticity I have been able to to give the newly acquired Peter Laing 15mm Early WW1 collection a proper look over. As you may recall, I had mentioned on a previous post that I am in the market for a new digital camera and so at the present time I am not going to bother with any photographs of the models - simply because they will not come out particularly well. Profuse apologies for this and as soon as I am fully kitted out with a new camera I will happily snap away in close up!

There is a pile of stuff in this collection and starting with the British we have two battalions standing firing, two advancing, two deployed in trenches, one prone firing and a battalion of Highlanders. These are all sixteen figures strong - as are all the battalions from both the French and German contingents. There is a twelve figures cavalry regiment, two HMGs with three crew each, two field guns with five crew each and a couple of bases of figures suitable for staff or higher command groups. The figures are very roughly painted which looks OK at a distance but really grates when viewed close up! I don't mind a basic paint job (by that I mean unshaded and with blocked colours) but I really dislike a sloppy job e.g. straps painted over the tunic or flesh in the wrong place. A simple and tidy paint job for these figures is all that they would need to look really special in a 'toy soldier' kind of way and so I guess that will be the look to go for. The infantry prone firing will be used as dismounted cavalry but I am not sure that the figures in trenches will see any use although I will have to see in due course. The cavalry are all standing with the lance in its bucket and of all the cavalry the British are in the best condition but probably the most poorly painted. The artillery and HMGs are fine although the Vickers has been painted black and will need to be redone at some point.

The German infantry consists of six battalions advancing, three standing firing and two of jager. There are seven HMGs and eight field guns - four of which look like 77mm pieces; two of 150mm and a couple of 203mm heavy gun/howitzers. There is also an army command base with seven figures including a seated commander in chief with map spread across the table (looking suitably splendid and 'Germanic') and three each of two figure artillery /staff command types and three figure command types. Cavalry wise there is a regiment of hussars and one of ordinary cavalry - both regiments with the lance. Painting wise the same observations as those made for the British apply - a wholly appropriate paint job marred by the sloppiness of application.

The French contingent consists of five battalions - four of line, one with white trousers (I am showing my ignorance here in respect of 1914 French uniforms!) and one which I believe is the Chasseurs Alpine.There are three cavalry regiments - one of Dragoons, one of Cuirassiers and one of Belgians. the French cavalry units are fifteen figures strong as opposed to the twelve figures of the German and British. There are two HMGs and three field pieces - two of which are the famous 'soixante quinze' and the other is a larger piece. Although there is not a dedicated higher command base there are a number of loose painted staff officers that could easily be pressed into service for use as a higher command base. Once again, the same observations re the the painting apply.

As you can see, the scope for this collection is enormous but it has given me an almighty headache. I was expecting to merely have to rebase (which is in itself going to be a huge undertaking) and apply the odd touch up on the painting front but I am now thinking that a complete repaint may be more appropriate. I will be able to expand the collection simply because I will be changing the unit sizes from sixteen to twelve figures for the infantry - based in threes - and six figures for the cavalry (three bases of two figures each).

This will be a long term project and no mistake - the cavalry will need some TLC in the biggest possible way - but oddly enough, given the 'old school' nature of the figures and the fact that I will be able to quite happily use an understated paint job (aka my painting comfort zone!) I am really quite keen to tackle this.

I have a long term idea in mind for use with these figures involving Morschauser and the naval version thereof (the ship charts are finally ready for these and I want to run the final play test before I unleash them on the unsuspecting public!) and will leak the odd detail out from time to time as the mood takes me. In the meantime though - the Balkan Wars stuff needs to take priority and I am hoping to make a severe inroad into that particular project over the next week.

Saturday 27 February 2010

Peter Laing has Landed

I collected the Early WW1 Peter Laing painted 15mm collection from the redoutable Mr Fox yesterday evening and very impressive it is! I will report in full later once I have had the chance to fully review it all but suffice it say at this stage gobsmacked does not even come close! Lots of kit and lots of rebasing but using the 40mm frontage with 3 infantry figures on looks fine so it will mean that there will be extra units made available from breaking up the 4s. The only downside I can see at the moment is the cavalry - the lances are pretty bent and a couple are missing so some repairs and refurbs will be in order - this was hardly surprising though, given the age of the collection.

Painting wise they are, to be honest, pretty rough but in as much as the original job was applied quite sloppily e.g. going over edges too widely etc. Given the quality of the figures though this does not seem too bad. The figures themselves are true 15mm and are quite 'toy soldier' like in terms of detail which I have no problem with. Apparently some of the original Peter Laing moulds were acquired by a gentleman in Scotland somewhere but I have no details in connection with this. Hopefully they will come back into production as I think they are great figures - ideal for the tabletop and easy to paint as well.

Friday 26 February 2010

Projecting the Projected Projects

I realise that the heading of this post may appear to be somewhat cryptic but that is a reflection of the usual modus operandi of what passes for my thought process! I suspect that most gamers usually have several projects ‘on the go’ and I am happily no exception to that worthy principle. Having said that, I sometimes find having a mini project can be a useful fill in during those periods between phases of the main projects. A good example would during painting stages or waiting for the next batch of kit to arrive through the post. Now you would be right in thinking that I have a large number of full blown projects on the go and furthermore you would probably also be right in thinking along the lines ‘why on earth would he want to tackle something else on top of all the other projects?’ Guilty as charged I’m afraid – it must be the Magpie syndrome that most, if not all war gamers have when it comes to acquiring new and shiny things! To which………………………………..

I have in mind a very small mini project (I am sure we have all said that before….!) arising from the new range of 6mm Power Armoured Infantry produced by Brigade Models. These are lovely looking models and the plan is to acquire some Ground Zero Games (GZG) ‘Bugs’ as opposition for some rip-roaring ‘Starship Troopers’ type action. The figures come in bags of 24 for £2.50 so these will sit on bases of four figures on a 40mm frontage. The bugs come in 12s but are slightly larger so putting, say, 3 of these on a slightly deeper base will provide the opposition. I plan to paint the infantry in two basic colours so there will be a couple of forces that could even fight amongst themselves if need be.

This will merely be exercise and will not distract from the more serious business of the Balkan Wars, WW1 and various other assorted projects. Furthermore, I am boldly stating that this project will be complete ‘before the leaves fall’. Seriously though, they will need minimal painting and I plan to game with them using Space Hulk but with fire team bases rather than individual figures. Using this scale of figure will allow for the use of a lot more ‘kit’ in terms things like ‘walkers’, vehicles and such like. Adding the occasional small selection of extra kit is an easy way to expand the set up should I wish and this will also keep the collection ‘fresh’ in terms of gaming longevity.

A further example of a mini project will be the basing and naming of the next batch of ships and aircraft for Axis and Allies: War at Sea. There is not a huge amount of models to be tackled but it would still be an evening or two. There is no pressing urgency to do this immediately as I am still acquiring the kit I need but it still qualifies as a mini project.

I had mentioned the Balkan Wars above (and the WW1 stuff as well) and the state of play has moved along slightly from last weekend. I put the base coat on the horses and this was mainly to see how the effect I was using was going to look. I am painting these using a technique described by Frank Chadwick as ‘stain’ painting. This means using a diluted base colour for the main uniform shade and then using full strength colours for the detail. With just the base colour on it looks horrible but when you start applying the detail the figure really comes to life – and this is from a renowned ‘Non-painting Philistine’. Dare I say it, but I am almost enthusiastic about tackling the figures using this technique! It is probably not suitable for all types of painting but for 20th century flat coloured (i.e. non-camouflaged) uniforms it works really well.

I have also been busy with the Morschauser Afloat naval rules and will have the ship charts ready for Sunday. Once again, this has been a labour of love to a certain extent although my enthusiasm has flagged slightly whilst drawing up yet another set of ship specification charts! This part of the process is more informative than fun but has to be tackled nevertheless. Certainly I shall derive great satisfaction from seeing the finished article.

It will be an interesting couple of months on the project front then – I am hoping that no further distractions arise but then I guess that is one of the beauties of this hobby of ours!

Thursday 25 February 2010

Wind and Water or 'Carry on Jack'.....

Yesterday evening at the club I took part in a small 1/1200th scale Napoleonic Naval action using models from the collection of the redoubtable Mr Fox (and very nice they are) and a fast play set of rules obtained from a magazine some time ago – I cannot remember which so will check and update in due course. Each squadron consisted of 6 ships with the French having five ships of the line and a frigate whilst the Royal Navy had 6 ships of the line. Each force had a first rate as the flagship with the remainder being third rates. The French had the advantage of the weather gauge with the wind directly behind them whilst the Royal Navy had the wind off the bow and so were at an initial disadvantage. The scenario was simple – the French had to exit the Royal Navy baseline whilst the Hearts of Oak had to stop them. For this action yours truly had command of the French whilst our own ex-gunner, Ernie Fosker, hoisted his flag aboard the Royal Sovereign and the Royal Navy.

The French deployed as a single squadron of five ships in line ahead with three of the 3rd rates followed by the 1st rate flagship and an 80 gunner bringing up the rear. The frigate was deployed off the lead French ships starboard beam and sailing on a parallel course. I should point out that although compass points for the wind were not assigned as part of the game set up I have chosen to call the French base line South and so all directional references are based upon this assumption. At the start of the action then, the French were heading in a North Easterly direction.

The British deployed in two divisions of three ships sailing parallel with the flagship deployed in the lead position of the Westerly column. Overall the formation was heading in a South Westerly direction.

The French moved off taking advantage of the wind and headed towards the British who in turn reciprocated whilst battling against the wind to try to initiate the action. The French then turned due North individually and ran before the wind across the van of the two British divisions that had turned due West in anticipation of this move. This brought the Westerly division, with the flagship – Royal Sovereign – into firing distance of the leading French 3rd Rate – the Jupiter – and so first blood went to the British with a damaging broadside. The next turn saw the Jupiter park off the bows of the Royal Sovereign and rake it from stem to stern. The Royal Sovereign then ran into the Jupiter and boarders were called away. The British though had not reckoned on the pluck of their adversaries as the gallant matelots through back their assailants and severed all the grapples etc. The wounded Jupiter stood off and blasted the Royal Sovereign before limping away. The second French 74 received some fire and gave the Royal Sovereign a long range broadside that inflicted minimal damage. The rest of the British were struggling to get to grips with the French who were by now deploying full sail where able in order to make good their escape. The final turn saw the French flagship saluting the British opposite number in passing with the benefit of a full broadside but the damage inflicted was insufficient to make any further impact on the Royal Sovereign. The French then made good their escape thereby satisfying the victory conditions of the scenario.

The final score in respect of damage etc was that no ships were sunk; the French had two damaged 3rd rates – the first with heavy damage, but nothing fatal and the second with very minor damage. The sole British ship damaged was the Royal Sovereign and she had suffered a severe pummelling from two 74s and a 120 gunner. Only the fact that the French gunnery was so poor enabled her to survive and I suspect that their Lordships at the Admiralty would take a pretty dim view of the proceedings.

It was always going to be difficult trying to stop an opponent that had both the weather gauge and that also did not want to be caught and so a certain degree of sympathy should be allowed for the British commander. However, by choosing to use two columns he made his formation much too compact which meant that it was easier for the French to avoid action and that when it did get into range only a couple of ships would be able to have any effect on the issue. The French could have headed North much sooner and would then probably have completely avoided the British but this of course makes no allowance for daring of the respective combatants.

The French Frigate sailed undisturbed across the rear of the British squadron, mindful of the need to resist the obvious temptation of a passing stern rake thereby preserving the gentlemanly tradition of ships of the line not engaging smaller vessels unless they try it on first!

Wednesday 24 February 2010

Huey Loose and the News.................

I have just finished reading the book ‘Chickenhawk’ by Robert Mason; an account of a Huey helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War – and what a great read it is. The Huey was the helicopter that is most closely associated with Vietnam and it saw extensive use both in its troop carrying ‘Slick’ configuration and as a gunship. Want to know what it was like to drop or pick up troops from a hot landing zone? This would be the book for you. It is graphic and pulls few punches when describing the action – both in the front line and in the rear areas. The technical detail and descriptions of actually flying a Huey; what it can and cannot do, is really interesting and provides much food for thought in respect of how best to replicate their use within the context of Memoir 44.

I am not sure at the moment how the use of helicopters will fit into the game but I will certainly be employing them. I was concerned initially at best to represent them but have come up with a simple solution – I will make use of either 1/200th or 1/300th scale models, rather like the aircraft that come with the Memoir 44 Air expansion pack. It should be easy enough to get these – Navwar have a good range in 1/300th – and for helicopters on the ground I will try and source some overhead views of a helicopter to mount on a terrain tile or a counter. I do not envisage needing many models for this so it should be fairly cheap to set up.

A Blast from the Past

When I first embarked upon the war gaming road, back in the early 70s, I used to have a small group of friends that I shared the experience with whilst growing up on the Isle of Sheppey, just off the North Kent coast. We were all of a similar age and inevitably, as jobs, life, family and house moves all took their toll we drifted apart as is commonly the way with such early and formative friendships. I was delighted then, when an old gaming friend of mine renewed his acquaintance with me via Facebook. To be honest we had shared an on and off contact over the preceding years – especially after I had moved to London aged seventeen – so this was hardly a ‘bolt from the blue’ but was still most welcome all the same.

Paul, my friend and ‘comrade in arms’ during those formative years, and I enjoyed many games – primarily Napoleonic although with WW2 featuring as well. We started using Charge! and unpainted Airfix plastic 20mm figures and moved on to the Airfix magazine guide Napoleonic Wargaming (and the later WW2 volume) with the plastic figures being painted this time. We also used to play Waddington’s game Campaign (which I still have!) with Neil, another member of our then ‘secret’ society. Obviously as young teenage boys our street ‘cred’ was all important and so any mention of playing with toy soldiers was kept very quiet! I always had the impression that Paul was made of sterner stuff and would not let such considerations bother him in the slightest – he was, and indeed still is, a very easy going and laid back individual.

Our first games were played using unpainted Airfix figures and Charge! as mentioned but we soon graduated into far more serious gaming using Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming. This was a revelation in many ways and I can remember using the complexity of the book to ‘blind them with science’ when challenged about the ‘playing with toy soldiers’ from any incredulous contemporaries – the tables and charts contained therein were enough to give anybody a nose bleed and so I was clearly and very obviously involved in an incredibly complex and cerebral pastime! Oh the intellectual vanity of youth! For WW2 we used continued to use unpainted infantry but oddly enough we spent a lot of time making tank and vehicle kits.

We dabbled in metal figures – small quantities of Hinchcliffe - and a smattering of Tradition 25mm figures acquired during a day trip to Tradition in London (then still in Piccadilly) accompanied by Neil (another member of the group) and courtesy of his Brother who used to drive to work at Holborn. We also visited Under Two Flags at St Christophers Place (sadly no longer there) and I recall that on the journey up to London from the Island I was violently car sick when we arrived! I remember buying a battalion of Russian Napoleonic Grenadiers for the beginnings of my small set up for 1812. Eventually this army consisted of three battalions of infantry, two of cavalry and some guns and the whole collection was sold to Eric Knowles shortly after I had moved to London. The Hinchcliffe Cuirassiers were huge figures and had a very good record on the table.

Our last gaming project together was to build up two armies for the 1815 era – he had the French and I had the allies – and I remember fondly the hours spent painting and converting figures to use – French Cuirassiers into British Heavy Dragoons and kneeling British Infantry into 95th Riflemen. I also managed to convert some slouch hat wearing Confederate Infantry into Brunswick Jager. Not to be outdone Paul managed to convert some British Hussars into French and also painted up a unit of Swiss Infantry. We also had a very small smattering of Hinchcliffe metal figures – these were obtained from model shop in Sittingbourne if I remember correctly. I remember his squadron of French Red Guard Lancers in action on more than one occasion. Sadly the plastics are no more as the dreaded plastic rot set in and most of the figures became very brittle and began breaking off at the ankles very easily. Still the memory of those games will never disappear and although I managed to amass a record of almost continual defeat against Paul I always enjoyed the experience – anyway, I used to beat him regularly at the aforementioned Campaign so overall the honours were probably even!

Monday 22 February 2010

Morschauser Afloat - Close to Launch!

I have managed to finally agree how the number of attack and defence dice will be assigned by ship class which is the final step before drafting the ship specs. Once this is completed I will then be ready for the final play test. The rules and all the associated charts etc will be available to anyone that wants a set and I am hoping that any resultant feedback will help to improve the final version.

I am thinking ahead for these rules (as I did for the DBSA variant) to cover the WW2 era and of course the impact of air power on naval operations. I also have in mind an earlier variant - ironclads and such like - for the germ of a project I am considering involving all manner of things! This will be a long term effort and will involve the Balkan armies currently under the brush. More on this to follow in due course.

Sunday 21 February 2010

Morschauser and Rosters

The basic mechanics of Joseph Morschauser's grid based war games rules are ideal for use with individually based figures for casualty removal. However, the man himself used figures on multiple bases and employed a roster system to record casualties as they occurred. That is fine but I am averse to using paperwork for such things and would prefer to either remove the figures or show the casualties with a visual marker of some kind. For my naval adaptation I intend to use shell splash markers bur was at a loss as to the best way of doing this a multiple base of figures. Being a slow painter I am loath to paint casualty figures and I don't really want counters on the table so how best to represent losses is a challenge. I sat and gave this some thought and have come up with a novel suggestion that may help resolve this issue.

For the Balkan Wars and the WW1 collection I intend basing the infantry in 3s, the cavalry in 2s and HMGs and artillery with the piece and two crew. The actual base also counts towards the total so, for example, a full infantry unit will consist of 3 figures and the base for a strength of 4; with a cavalry 'unit' being two figures and the base for a strength of 3. To represent losses on the table I propose to try the following:

A full strength unit is deployed along the front edge of the square. When it suffers a casualty it is moved back from the leading edge of the square and has its left flank adjacent to the left edge of the square. A further casualty moves it to the right side of the square and a third casualty forces it to line up along the rear edge of the square. When it has suffered its final casualty it will then be removed. I need to experiment a little with this idea and of course it means that attention will need to be paid to the positioning of a base within a square. I have also not thought about about units larger than 4 figures either!

It may not be the final answer but is certainly worth considering as an alternative to having a roster system in use with the attendant book keeping.

Saturday 20 February 2010

Balkan Wars Update

The Balkan Wars figures have had the first splash of paint applied and my journey into the use of acrylics has thus far been OK. All the foot figures have had the main colour added so the next step will be to break them down into smaller batches for the detail work. Despite my earlier mutterings on the subject I will be basing these in multiples rather than individually a la Morschauser. This will mean that they will tie in with the WW1 collection when that is rebased so that should I want to game hypothetically in 1912 with the British, French and Germans intervening then the forces will share a common basing system. These will be on 40mm frontages and 40 x 20mm will be the standard size for the infantry.
In the meantime I have posted a picture of the Turkish Battleship Messudieh - for no other reason that she is one of favourite Turkish vessels and is a lovely model in 1/3000th!

Friday 19 February 2010

Memoir 44 for Vietnam

Memoir 44 is a game of operational/tactical combat set in WW2 using Richard Borg's award winning Command and Colours order system. In a nutshell, each player has a hand of cards that determine what units can move and fight each turn. The cards are mostly sector based (the board is divided into centre, right and left sectors) and if you don't have an order card for the correct sector then it can do nothing. This is a great game mechanic and can be hugely frustrating as a carefully planned attack stalls as the correct command cards fail to materialise! Troop types are generic - infantry, armour and artillery - although the rules, scenarios and expansions allow for some more exotic types like special forces, sappers, cavalry, French Resistance etc.

The game has been expanded by the release of an additional terrain pack, Eastern Front, Pacific and Mediterranean theatre packs, an expanded air pack, a 'big battle' variant pack, a campaign book and the start of a range of scenario packs. The theatre packs include representative armies (Russian, Japanese and British) and terrain tiles; together with additional scenarios and any special rules for the theatre in question. There is also a double sided gameboard available with a desert terrain on one side and snow covered landscape on the other. The game is very well supported on the Days of Winder website with much available in terms of additional scenarios and FAQs etc.

To be honest, it is more a game than a military exercise but is great fun for all that. the scenarios are based on actual historical actions and the scale is non specific so a standard unit of four infantry figures could feasibly represent anything from a platoon up to a battalion in size. I have played this many times and really enjoy the experience - in fact after having played this many times it becomes apparent just how much thought has gone into the game.
You may recall my previous posts related to matters Vietnam related and how I was mulling over the possibility of using a variant of Memoir 44 for games set during this conflict. The figures are not going to be painted anytime soon; neither will the kits be assembled but a variant of this game for the period can be easily organised. I have spent no more than a couple of lunchtimes over this and I think that what I am going to suggest will be a step in the right direction in capturing the elusive 'feel'. The one thing I wanted to do though was to really set the game up at a tactical level. By this I mean having recognisable low level hardware e.g. MGs, Mortars and Infantry anti tank weapons. I have done this and in doing so it occurred to me that the same principle could be applied to WW2. In effect, a four figure infantry unit in this variant represents a fire team. My preliminary suggestions are as follows and I should apologise in advance to non Memoir 44 players as the comments assume knowledge of the game!
Terrain - Use the terrain tiles from the Pacific theatre expansion as this is absolutely right for the theatre - rice paddies, cave/tunnel complexes, jungle and small villages etc.
US Infantry -Use as per the standard game with special forces, sappers etc as and when appropriate.
NVA Infantry - Use as Russian Infantry to allow for limited tactical flexibility (alternatively use as Japanese infantry - the choice may be scenario specific).
VC Infantry - Use as French Resistance due to local terrain advantages.
HMGs - Range and effect as per standard game artillery EXCEPT may only fire direct.
Mortars - Range and effect as per Mobile Artillery.
Infantry Anti Tank Weapons - RPG2 and 7, LAW and M79 - use as per the Infantry Anti Tank Weapon rules contained in the Mediterranean expansion.
Tanks - as per the standard rules.
I need to think about US fire support and rules for the use of helicopters but the above should be sufficient to be going on with for a test or two. Should anyone try these ideas out please let me know as I would be interested to hear how they work.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

A Magnificent Piece of News

After a lengthy negotiation process (simply down to my own dithering) with the redoubtable Mr Fox I have managed to acquire a complete early WW1 15mm Peter Laing painted and based collection comprising British, French and Germans. The collection is complete and features infantry, cavalry, artillery and staff in the quantities listed below. I am really pleased to have this lot for a number of reasons.

To begin with, the early months of WW1 in the West were marked by a period of frenzied activity as the Germans attempted to apply the Schlieffen Plan (or a diluted version thereof) against a largely unwilling France with Great Britain as one of the supporting cast in the shape of the B.E.F – the legendary ‘Old Contemptibles’. The initial German advance makes the campaign really playable as the sheer variety of historical actions arising serves to provide much in the way of scenario ideas. Fighting retreats, local holding actions, last stands and desperate counter attacks all feature at some point so gaming potential is very well served. The period in question has also been exhaustively written about so acquiring a modest collection of reading material for the library will be fairly straightforward. At the very least there is a number of Ospreys that could be relied on for basic background detail.

In respect of rules to use again there is a plethora of choice. A number of years ago Mr Fox and I played several very good games using this collection and Dave Manley’s adaptation of DBA called DBH – De Bellis Horribilus; a variant covering the Great War. These were great fun to use (and I think are still available from his website) These are an option but I am thinking that Morschauser or When Empires Clash (both of these are by Bob Cordery) may provide the answer to the rules question. At the moment I am leaning more towards Morschauser simply because they will work really nicely in a mini campaign format and the early moves of WW1 are crying out for such treatment. Thoughtful basing will serve for a variety of sets in any event.

The collection is made up of the following and note that all infantry battalions are 16 figures and cavalry regiments are 12.
British - 12 Cavalry (1 regiment), 5 marching/firing bns, 2 entrenched bns, 1 prone firing bn, 2 Hmgs, 2 field guns and a Staff group.
Allies - 5 French infantry bns, 2 Hmgs, 3 field guns, 3 cavalry regts and a Staff group.
Germans - 9 infantry bns, 2 jager bns, 7 Hmgs, 7 field guns, 2 heavy howitzers, 2 cavalry regts and a Staff group.

There is also a pile of Peter Pig figures intended to reinforce the British which are unpainted and will probably be offloaded at some point.

As you can see, this is a phenomenal amount of kit and all it needs is to be sympathetically rebased. They are painted in an ‘old school flat coloured enamel’ style and due to the age there may be some touching up on the paint front required. I would certainly consider perhaps a new coat of varnish as well but other than that it is good to go. New varnish on old figures really brings then to life again and so this will probably be an essential part of the renovation process. I have yet to decide but am leaning towards multiple figures bases for the collection – probably with 40mm frontages.

Now I realise that this has completely wrecked my carefully considered to do list for the year but I will certainly not be abandoning my Balkan Wars project. The above collection will not see action until the rebase has been completed and that will take some time so the Greeks and Turks are safe in the batting order at present. I will try and get some pictures for the blog in due course; after I have taken delivery of the collection.

In the meantime, the Greeks and Turks will be getting their first coat of paint at the weekend and I will need to source a copy of Richard Holmes’s superb book: ‘Riding the Retreat’. I would also like to thank Mr Fox for making this collection available to me - many thanks and I am sure that Thatch, the horse that ate Europe, will be pleased to know that the supporters of his master have stayed true to his bacchanalian ways!! Vive du pain, du vin, du Boursin!!

Sunday 14 February 2010

Cloths, Trees and Digital Cameras

Not a huge amount has been done this weekend as domesticity reigned supreme as SWMBO had her birthday yesterday and today is of course Valentine's day. I did however, manage to fit in a couple of gaming related jobs the first of which concerned my Morschauser 11 x 11 3" squared green felt cloth. I decided to go over the grid lines with a green permanent marker as the first run using a Posco Paint Pen seemed to fade quite quickly. Using the marker pen thickened up the lines somewhat but they are now not quite so sharp and so merge into the cloth far better. I was pleased with the result and will try to get some pictures in due course.

The second task was to have a sort out of my modelling cupboard or rather, put stuff back in the right place! It was not hugely untidy but needed tackling and so I was able to have a good rummage through various boxes. Needless to say, a number of long forgotten about items managed to surface including various sheets of plasticard and plastic rod of various sizes, sundry paints and some knife blades. All useful stuff - especially for scratchbuilding which I shall be undertaking for my various VSF projects later in the year.

One of the more obscure finds though was the cardboard trees from the recent Dungeons and Dragons boardgame. These are roughly 6cm high and are put together by sliding one piece over the other so when viewed from above a cross is formed enabling them to stand up. I have in mind a similar approach for buildings and so these were quite a useful find. All I needed to do was to go around the edges of the foliage and the trunk with green and brown respectively to disguise the card edges and they are ready to use. The only downside is that they are a little glossy but it occurred to me that copying them would be pretty easy and so whole forests could be cheaply churned out.

One other piece of news which will benefit the blog no end is that SWMBO has sanctioned the acquisition of a new digital camera with far more features than out present one. This will mean that I will at last be able to get some decent pictures to add to the blog!

Thursday 11 February 2010

8th Armies Just Deserts...................

Memoir 44 is without a doubt one of my favourite board games and so it is always a pleasure to get the opportunity to play a game at the club. Sure enough, last night saw yours truly taking on the redoubtable Mr.Fox at one of the scenarios from the Mediterranean expansion. The scenario was based on the action at Bir Hakim which saw British Grants in action against the best of the Afrika Korps. The victory conditions were quite simple – the first to five medals was the winner. I took the allies and Mr.Fox commanded the Germans. The game was pretty much over with by the end of turn one as the Germans were able to score some telling blows courtesy of some truly awesome dice rolling. With the allies as rolling as poorly as the Germans had well, the situation was looking bleak for the 8th army as by the end of the second turn they had lost 3 units for no loss. The allied agony was prolonged merely because the Germans had some poor cards and the only targets in reach of their forward elements they were already happily annihilating! The allied dice luck improved slightly and the final score of 6 to 4 was quite flattering.

What insights did the game reveal? To begin with, the Germans had six command cards to the allied four. This meant that obviously the allies were not as manoeuvrable as the Germans. This was nullified to a large extent by the fact that both sides had poor card selections after the initial German thrust had halted. The allies were in fact well placed to get back into the action as they the advantage of numbers. Sadly they were unable to take advantage of the over extended German front as not only were their cards equally as poor but their dice rolling continued to be miserable. The only bright spot during this lull was the successful use of the Air Power card to damage the leading two German armour units as they closed on the allied supply centre. The game went flat for a couple of turns as both sides had run out of commands and targets within range. Ironically the allied defeat was triggered by their own actions as they desperately attempted to engage the marauding panzers thereby exposing themselves to the inevitable counter attack. There was a flurry of combat which saw the allies get up to 4 units destroyed but by then it was too late as the victorious Germans secured their victory with the destruction of the last units required. The allies took scant solace from the fact that their dice rolling improved sufficiently to actually worry the Germans at one point but overall the end was never in doubt.

Oddly enough the action felt very much like how you would imagine a desert armour battle to go – thrusting armour assaults, command and communication breakdowns, last ditch defences of rear areas and the tender administrations of the Desert Air Force. Great fun and I shall look forward to the rematch in due course.

What of the protagonists? Mr Fox was last seen polishing up his Iron Cross 4th class and your humble scribe was heading back to Blighty on a troopship – on the other ranks deck!

Monday 8 February 2010

Morschauser Afloat - Back to (very) Basics

After having considered the entire Morschauser Naval rules situation over lunch today I came to a number of decisions about how I want to take this forward. The first point was that I needed to ensure that the rules maintained the simplicity of Morschauser's concepts and this means moving away from the rivet counting so beloved by most naval wargames rules. Originally I had wanted to model ship specifications for individual types in some detail but this is, on reflection, contrary to how Morschauser would have tackled the subject. I could imagine that he would have had generic ship classes i.e. Battleships, cruisers etc which is fine where the types are broadly similar within a category but we all know that one man's Queen Elizabeth class dreadnought is most certainly not another mans Nassau class. With this in mind I have opted to have generic classes for ship types but to reflect the differences with numbers of attack and defence dice rather than the superior, normal or inferior ratings. I am currently compiling a list with the dice ranges per ship type of main, secondary, torpedo and tonnage/armour ratings. I have taken some liberties with some of the assumptions in my thinking but overall, as long as the relative differences between types are maintained then I should be only fairly solid ground. A example would be that I am giving the aforementioned QE class dreadnought 10 attack dice for its main battery of 8 x 15". An Iron Duke with 10 x 13.5" will have 9 dice; as will those 12" armed later dreadnoughts with 12 guns or more. Ships with 10 x 11" or 12" will have 8 dice and so on down to those with only six guns on a broadside having 6 dice.The number of dice is sometimes the same as the number of barrels but this is coincidental rather than planned! the same process will be applied to all the other ship classes as well as for the number of defence dice so all I need to do is to 'shoehorn' ships specifications into the number of dice of the range in question. It sounds a lot more complex than it is.

I am absolutely happy about movement - it works and is effective and when the use of 'blind' cards is introduced it will make it a whole new game.

Firing has been simplified in that paired 6s at a ships extreme range, 6s at interim ranges and and 5 and 6s when close in are the order of the day. DD and TB are now harder to hit - especially with secondaries - which will give them a little more survivability and ensure that players will need to be alert to the THREAT of torpedoes.

I rationalised that big ships would not be so good with secondary fire as the main focus would be on the big guns. Smaller ships would be better dealt with by the use of smaller ships as they would have more appropriate training in small scale actions - tenuous I know but logical if you think about it.

Torpedoes are deadly but are not easy to hit with and undamaged ships at speed can usually avoid them assuming they can see the attacking ships. As a battleship captain seeing an enemy destroyer flotilla looming out of the smoke at 5,000 yards will mean evasive action and a deluge of secondary fire which may or may not be effective but will certainly look good!

So the work to re Morschauser the rules has not been difficult but it has needed a fresh approach to try and dovetail with the level of ease of use of the system. More to follow in due course.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Morschauser Afloat...and Sunk!

I tested the Morschauser derived naval set today using my Balkan Wars Fleets and sadly it did not go too well. Movement was fine and the use of 'blind' cards will make a huge difference - they will ensure that any 'kamikaze' tendencies will be kept firmly in check as a player will not know what is moving and when! Main gun firing was OK but secondaries were lethal and it was way too easy to hit with torpedoes although ironically the damage inflicted was about right.

The problem with secondaries was they they were being used 'en masse' against single targets and in retrospect should almost work on an area effect basis. For the most part secondaries (and tertiaries) were designed to hose an area with fire with the idea that if enough metal went down range then anything in the way would have a thin time of it. I think that it is correct to represent the quantity available to a given ship but it is unrealistic to expect that every barrel will be pointed at the same target. I need to give this some thought and one of the ideas I am considering is to count pairs of 6s as hits at long range rather than 6s, 5 or 6s at interim range and 5 and 6s at close range (with 6s counting as two hits).

Torpedoes hit too easily at close range - I had a 4, 5 or 6 counting - and this needs revision as well so I may adopt the 'need a 6 at whatever range' technique in the interests of simplicity with a saving roll for undamaged ships, a slightly worse saving roll for damaged ships and no saving roll for crippled vessels.

The biggest problem with this period is the sheer diversity of old and new ship types and how they fit into a set of rules. I want to show the differences between ships but what is the best way of doing this WITHOUT using ship cards?

Despite all of this the test overall went pretty well - I just need to stand back from it for a few days and clear my head a little. Over egging the pudding is a natural tendency methinks and so I need to think about how Morschauser would have tackled it and act accordingly - that means acquiring a copy of his book tout suite!

Saturday 6 February 2010

Vietnam Additions

You may recall a short while ago I managed to acquire six boxes of Revell US and NVA 20mm plastic figures during the recent Modelzone sale. the boxes have sat on my desk in the same place as when I brought home and I was all set to consign them to the cupboard for a rainy day. I also mentioned about tackling a Memoir 44 variant for Vietnam as it would be farely easy to put together. Well the variant exists as a scribbled side of A4 but has gotten no further in the face of Balkan 15mm figures, Morschauser games and cobbling together a naval version thereof. However, I popped over to Othellos - a secondhand bookshop in Leigh and well worth a visit if you are passing - with a selection of titles to exchange and came across the three titles in the picture. It is fairly safe to say that these three have pretty much given me sufficient background detail to be going on with.
The first book is Vietnam by Stanley Karnow and is described as the 'First Complete Account of Vietnam at War'. It is a great doorstop of a tome and accompanied the TV series (I missed that one for sure!) and so is as good a place as any to get the background to the war. Aside from the American involvement the book also covers the French side as well so appears to be fairly complete in its coverage.
The second is Armoured Combat in Vietnam by General Don Starry. This traces the evolution of US armoured tactics in Vietnam and is full of all the detail that you would want in respect of organisations, equipment, tactics and analysis of selected actions with maps. It also covers the unhappy French experience of armoured warfare and how this coloured the US view in the early stages of the war.
The third book is The Vietnam War Handbook by Andrew Rawson. this book is nothing less than an encyclopedia of the just about everything US associated with the war. It covers organisations, what units were where and when; the role of the air force and navy as well as brief looks at the free world allies and both the armies of South and North Vietnam. Certainly worth having on the book shelf.
The final acquisition came from a local toy shop and is the Airfix 1:76 scale kit of the M113 ACAV. This is a nice little kit and I was very pleasantly surprised to see that you could build it as a standard M113; not just as the ACAV variant. I was also pleased to note that this model fits nicely on a 3" RAFM hex transfer so perhaps the Memoir 44 variant may have a little more chance of being realised sooner rather than later...................;-)

Thursday 4 February 2010

Morschauser Afloat Part 2

I have completed the first draft of the rules and am now ready to play test the result. as mentioned previously, all that remained for me to do was to then tackle the amendments to the existing ship specification charts I had already compiled for use with mt DBSA Great War variant. I duly sat down to revise the Balkan Wars ship lists when I was suddenly reminded of just why I tackled the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet first before venturing into the Eastern Mediterranean. They are bigger, much bigger and as a result have a lot more ships so establishing a base line for ship classifications of a particular type is easier and more meaningful by virtue of the available choice of vessels. Unfortunately, both the RN and the Germans were the first ship tables I tackled last year at the start of the DBSA project and the subsequent various rethinks I had as the set evolved were not reflected in them as I concentrated exclusively on the Balkan and Black Sea fleets. The upshot of all this is that I will have to tackle the RN and High Seas Fleet first and they will need proportionally more work to bring up to the current standard than the more modest Greek and Turkish fleet lists. It serves me right really, I should have kept them up to speed with what I was using on the table top!

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Morschauser Afloat

It is fair to say that most, if not all war gamers are inveterate rule tinkerers. From simple house rules added to an existing set through to home made versions or even unofficial supplements or variants we are always ‘fiddling’. Readers of this blog will have no doubt seen the various degrees of tinkering I have taken part in – most significantly with the DBSA WW1 Naval variant (which is in fact a variant of a variant!) – so it will probably come as no surprise to learn that I have been ‘at it again’. The target this time was the grid based rules of Joseph Morschauser that have been given a new lease of life by Bob Cordery via his blog: As things stand at the moment, Bob has developed both 19th century and Modern (primarily aimed at WW2) versions and very good they are too – simple, challenging and a lot of fun to play and once again much thanks and appreciation to Bob for his efforts with this. The rules work so well (a tribute to the soundness of the original concept) that I plan to use them for my Balkan Wars project and indeed many other, as yet uncharted ideas.

I was thinking about the rule system as a whole when it occurred to me that the mechanics could be very easily used for naval games. After the relative torture I endured (as did the long suffering members of SEEMS during the play testing!) making a grid based version of DBSA for the WW1 era, producing a set of Morschauser style naval rules was happily much simpler. The mechanics of combat are very straightforward requiring numbers of d6 rather than the use of factors. This makes for a more ‘fun’ aspect as most gamers (including myself) enjoy rolling handfuls of dice in the heat of combat! There is no record keeping and best of all – the ship details I have already tabled for the DBSA set are usable for this version so I will not have to immerse myself in Jane’s or Conway’s for hours at a time! Of course a few details will need to be checked but mercifully not that many and, to be honest browsing through either of these tomes is hardly a trial! An unexpected bonus in respect of using the dice driven Morschauser combat mechanics is that by using differing numbers of d6 for a ship’s vital statistics in conjunction with having superior, normal and inferior categories I am able to better reflect the differences between ships of the same notional type. This is an important consideration as most naval gamers are very well clued up on their favourite warships and any attempt to fudge the detail will be quickly identified and challenged!

Hits are scored by rolling the number of dice indicated by the ship specification chart for the ship and weapon in use with a hit being scored by the roll of a 6 at the final square of a firing ships range, a 5 or 6 for the interim squares and a 4, 5 or 6 when adjacent to the target. A ship may be able to save against any hits suffered depending on the quality of the firing guns and the targets protection. Movement is very simple and like combat is purely orthogonal – ships may turn up to 90 degrees in each square they enter and are allowed to face a corner in the last square of their movement but have to face either the port or starboard square off the ships bow before commencing their next movement. This allows two things – it enables ships to open their fire arcs and it also adds a little to the fog of war as the opponent will not know which way the ship will move off. I have included the long/short move mechanic (used in my DBSA variant and based on the system used by Barry Carter) as it means that ship speeds can be more accurately reflected when used on the grid. Damage is recorded by the use of white counters or shell splashes for hits; these are removed and exchanged for a black counter when a ship has suffered fifty percent damage. When the ship has but a single damage point left it picks up its second black marker and is counted as crippled. As yet I have not included any tactical modifiers, preferring to ‘let the dice decide’. Submarines, merchantmen, minefields, raiders and shore batteries etc thus far do not feature but I am sure can be slotted in as and when needed.
The version I have drafted covers the same time frame as the DBSA variant – roughly 1900 to the end of the Great War. I can see absolutely no reason why the core system could not be tweaked further to cover WW2 and indeed, I always planned to tackle that for the DBSA variant. The biggest addition will of course be the increasing use of air power. One for later in the year methinks – I have enough painting/modelling/research/reading etc, etc to be getting on with as it is!

I plan to play test the rules over the weekend and will look to give them a run out at the club very soon. I am very excited about the potential of these rules; probably more so than the DBSA variant as they offer a more 'gamey' experience.

The rules as they have been drafted thus far are probably only marginally more complex than Axis and Allies: War at Sea and so will be ideal for any solo or club night mini campaigns. Indeed, the success of Axis and Allies at the club was another reason why I was so pleased to be able to bring about this naval variant of Morschauser.

Monday 1 February 2010

Balkan Intrigues

At long last I have completed the clean up of my 15mm Balkan Wars figures prior to undercoating and painting. The major decision reached as a result of the Morschauser play test (see the previous post) is that the figures are going to be based individually rather than in multiples. It also means that the forces I currently have will be plenty big enough and so no extra figures will be required for either the Turks or the Bulgarians. Now these are at this stage in the process I can also start to think about scenery etc. I am awaiting some wooden buildings from Amazon but am thinking about some other more theatre specific dwellings. Given the stylised nature of the Morschauser system I am seriously considering a radical approach to the whole scenery issue, in part based on the observations of various systems in use for buildings e.g. grid square sized boxes with printed buildings or woods etc or 2d style semi flat terrain. A number of ideas were discussed on this subject with Chris during the play test and they have given me much food for thought. Using the net as a resource means that many great pictures can be downloaded and manipulated into usable terrain and many gamers have done this both successfully and cheaply.

First things first though - I need to get the figures painted before worrying too much about the terrain!

Meandering with Morschauser

I was finally able to play test Bob Cordery’s 19th century adaptation of Joe Morschauser’s grid based figure game from the early 1960’s. The full story as to how these rules have evolved from the original can be found on Bob’s blog and it is well worth a read for this and many other items of interest. In a nutshell, Morschausers’s system made use of small units of figures on a square grid with all ranges and distances etc measured in squares. Pictures of his system in action can be found in Donald Featherstone’s book – Advanced Wargames and very nice it looks as well. Bob has been tweaking these rules for some time and the resultant version is available from his blog.

For reasons of my own (more of which later) I was very keen to explore this system and have been following Bob’s progress with great interest. After having constructed a grid using a piece of green felt marked out in 3” squares and measuring 11 squares by 11 I was able to think about a game. Initially I wanted to test the modern version of the rules (covering WW2) using Memoir 44 terrain tiles and figures etc until my long term friend and gaming acquaintance Chris Hardman kindly offered to bring his 28mm WW1 early war French and German collection to try out the 19th century version of the rules. With SWMBO making a very rare excursion out with her friends on Saturday night it proved to be far too good an opportunity to miss and so the plans were made for an evening of old school gaming.

I already had in mind how the game should go when Chris arrived – it was a play test after all – and so we were able to very quickly set up the playing area using a fairly sterile set up and the terrain tiles from Memoir 44. The terrain was set out with each side having a small hill and a wood fairly close to their deployment area diagonally opposite each other i.e. each wood faced a hill on the opposite side. Plum in the centre of the cloth was a small village. Each side consisted of the same number of units – 6 x 4 figures infantry, 2 x 3 figure cavalry, 1 x 3 figure HMG and 1 x 3 figure Field Gun. The Germans set up with all their infantry deployed in the centre facing the village with the cavalry on either flank and the artillery on the right and the HMG on the left of the central mass of foot soldiers. The French set up was broadly similar except for one critical difference – the artillery was deployed in the centre with the infantry on either flank of it. This meant that the Germans had a numerical advantage in the centre.

I do not propose to give a blow by blow account of the action – simply because aside from recording the casualties I did not make anything like detailed notes – rather I will describe the action in general terms and the points arising from it.

The Germans initially threw all their infantry at the village in the centre and parked their HMG in a wood on the left and their artillery up the hill on the right both with the cavalry tucked behind in support. There was a furious exchange of fire in the centre which saw the French infantry driven off as the Germans stormed into the village. Unfortunately, in an excess of zeal (no doubt as a result of their success thus far) a couple of units pushed on beyond the village and were met with a withering cross fire from either flank and the famed French ‘Soixante-Quinze’ deployed in the centre. The leading two German units were still around, but only just, being down to a single figure apiece. Meanwhile, the remaining French infantry began to work their way cautiously around either flank of the village, trading long range pot shots as they did. The French left flank cavalry appeared in the distance and the impetuous Uhlans tasked with protecting the German artillery suddenly forgot their duty and charged the enemy horse to their front. The resultant melee was short but desperate with all the German troopers cut down to a man, doubtless arriving at the enemy position on blown horses and in some disorder. The French horse on the opposite flank then took advantage of some dead ground and lurked menacingly near the German HMG position. With the German artillery now exposed on the hill the French were able to send both infantry and cavalry to force a conclusion with the stubborn gunners. A rump of an infantry unit was sent to bolster the flank from the village but its arrival in the face of massed French rifle fire and marauding horsemen merely delayed the inevitable. The sole survivor was cut down and the artillery attempted to withdraw from the hill but the order was given far too late and so they too met the fate of the cavalry and infantry supporting them. Fortunately for the Germans, the leading French infantry unit was not entirely unscathed in its struggle with the German artillery and it too succumbed to a spirited fire from the village in the centre. The French right flank cavalry meanwhile tried to sneak up on the HMG team deployed in the wood but was tackled with rifle fire again from the village. The German HMG then proceeded to shoot up its French opposite number as it came down from the hill opposite its position. The remnants of the German infantry that had impetuously charged ahead of the village then tackled the French artillery and succeeded in driving off all the gunners before being rendered hors de combat by the French right flank infantry.

After this frenzy of activity (and after the dust had settled) the Germans were clinging on to the village by their fingernails and the French infantry were moving up to force the position. The last of the French cavalry, despite being in disarray after having despatched the German artillery, was charged by the German Uhlan squadron previously supporting the HMG. Despite being outnumbered the French gave a good account of themselves and when the brief fight was over all that was left was a single German trooper.

At this point we decided to call it a day as the remaining Germans would attempt to withdraw whilst covered by the HMG, the French being too knocked about to do anything other than to occupy the village and to recover from their exertions. It was tremendous fun and the rules only threw up a small number of anomalies – all of which Bob has commented on – and so I will use the old wargaming standby of adding some house rules to the core system. Using 28mm figures on a 3” square was a little on the snug side but would be ideal for 15 or 20mm. I would prefer to have a rectangular playing area as well – perhaps 17 by 11 squares. Certainly the core system is sound enough to cope with some judicious tinkering which is always the hallmark of a good set of rules in my opinion.

Once again I should like to thank Chris for braving the elements and bringing his superb collection of figures (soon to be joined by the Belgians) along as well as his usual insightful observations and comments. I should also like to thank thank Bob Cordery (once again!) for all his work in breathing life into this system.