Monday 29 August 2011

MGs, Mortars and Anti Tank Guns

From the top row - MGs, AT guns and Mortars

Above are the symbols I intend using for the MG, mortar and anti tank units in block form. They are very simple and suitably generic so will cover a multitude of notional types. The size of the formation being represented will vary according to the scale of the action being fought and this will be recorded on the units roster sheet. The next batch will be of the vehicles and the intention is that two sets of blocks will be used for the three colours featured which will mean that I will have 60 blocks to use - 20 for each.

The rules are gradually assuming a definite shape and I intend, as usual, using the blog as a sounding board for the rationale of the rule mechanics used. They will be simple and fast playing and I am aiming for the all important 'feel' rather than the usual myriad of period specific detail.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Bovington Revisited

The trim lines of the Hetzer

Whilst on holiday in Devon (we stayed at Woodbury just outside of Exmouth) I was fortunate enough to have been able to make the trip into Dorset to visit the tank museum at Bovington. This is the second time I have been there and of course, the previous occasion was before the huge lottery funded revamp so I was keen to see what the mark two version looked like.

It is staggering and hugely impressive.

In fact, it was so good that we abandoned any T.E.Lawrence based exploration and concentrated on what could only be described as AFV porn. I took a huge number of pictures and as most of the 'inmates' will be familiar to most gamers I will take the opportunity to post a few pictures of my own particular favourites - but with a nod to Mr. Fox as the Hetzer above was his choice (I gave him a choice and that was his preferred option!). Below then, is a small selection of the kit on display and I would wholeheartedly recommend the museum for a great day out.

The business end of a Jagdpanther - note the 'ambush' colour scheme

The Matilda Infantry Tank Mk. 2

A Renault FT 17 with a Hotchkiss MG

A Sherman Firefly

Tiger 131 - currently awaiting (yet another) an engine rebuild

A 1920 vintage Rolls Royce Armoured Car - the Bovington T.E.Lawrence collection is just behind

A Brough Superior Motorcycle - of the type owned by T.E. Lawrence

Finally, a Russian KV1 - no doubt suitably surprising the Germans in 1941!

All in all then it was a truly great day out - even the lunch taken at the nearby Ship Inn was superb - and a very special thank you to Stephen who was the chauffeur for the occasion and was patience personified as I endlessly extolled the virtues of yet another piece of AFV history and photographed the same! 

BMC Ships and the local Toy and Train Fair

BMC originals - Minifigs ships were almost identical in detail and style

It was a busy day today after our return from the West country - shopping, washing and the usual domestic round being the order of the day. I did manage to sneak away for an hour or so though and was able to visit the local Toy and Train Fair held periodically at my daughters school - which is about a hundred yards from my front door! This was the first time I have visited the fair in the six years I have lived at my present address so I was very pleased to be able to rectify this rather embarrassing situation. Events proved it to have been money well spent as the picture above able demonstrates.

I was able to pick up the three hollow cast BMC ships you see above (as yet to be identified) as well as three Merit Alder trees for a song and which will serve in the navy of the Sublime Porte during my forthcoming 1914 Mediterranean naval campaign. To say I was pleased to get these is an understatement as they are really the 'missing link' as far as the ship composition of the Turkish navy is concerned.

I had the pleasure of meeting up with Mr Fox at the fair and who is now the proud owner of some assorted WW2 die cast armour for his collection of 28mm types - a Churchill tank, a very nice Panther tank and a German half track sporting a detachable 20mm quad flak gun. Needless to say he was very pleased with this little lot.

The fair would be an ideal opportunity for those 'Funny Little Wars' types - Messrs. Cordery and Gow take note! - as the variety of 54mm firing artillery pieces at very modest prices is truly astonishing! Perhaps Cordeguay and Forbodia will contact their respective arms merchants for further details....;-)

I was also very pleased to see Chris Hardman this morning as he popped around clutching a bag full of boxes of Jenga blocks from the Works for my block armies and was last seen heading for the hills with a bag of assorted ironmongery for purposes as yet unknown (and probably best left that way).

Saturday 27 August 2011

Block to the Future

Great news indeed as my very good friend and frequent tabletop nemesis, Chris Hardman, managed to acquire a further six sets of the blocks from the Works in Basildon which will mean that my dilemma of what colour labels to use first will now no longer be an issue. I will produce a standard unit mix for the six colours I am using and will then use a couple of boxes for the 20th century extension for the brown, grey and olive sets - this will include MGs, mortars, anti tank guns and vehicles etc.

Rules will be primarily Volley and Bayonet derived with a dash of Command and Colours and a sprinkling of DBA and Morschauser for good measure.

The pondering stage is nearly over so the real work can commence at last!

Many thanks once again to Chris for acquiring the blocks for me - and the quite superb restaurant recommendation for the Bovington trip!

Back from deepest Devon

Exeter Cathedral - One of the most beautiful buildings in England

Back home today from the wilds of the Wets country (yes I know it should be West but trust me, my version is a lot more accurate!) and as usual with a head full of inspiration and, rather unusually, with the time to do something about it! A fuller post will follow but suffice it to say, Bovington was visited, as was Exeter and, best of all, I went sailing for the first time ever on our friends yacht and lunched at sea under nearly a full spread of canvas whilst dolphins frolicked nearby.....

Boy was it wet though - 2 decent days (fortunately including the sailing day) with the rest being progressively worse as the week went on and culminating in a Thursday night deluge (which lasted through Friday) of monsoon proportions.

Great weather for ducks though!

Friday 19 August 2011

Plans for the Holiday

Today is my last day at my present employment and as I have wound up many of my duties it means that today should be relatively painless. It has however, afforded me the opportunity to make a few calls and to sort out some domestic issues. I have a problem with my PC which means it will need to go into dry dock  - luckily I shall be away and it will be ready for my return - as it seems to get itself into a flat spin when switching between accounts and obstinately refuses to do anything. Even a hard reboot has little effect. The PC is nearly two years old and we have been very pleased with it thus far so I cannot really complain.

I was fortunate in that I was able to post to the blog yesterday and to be able to print off the red label sheet for use with the blocks before the PC expired. As a fall back I have my netbook and my daughter has our old Windows XP machine with Office 2003 so we should be OK in the short term.

As far as my short break is concerned I have a number of plans for things to do and see and needless to say they will reported in the blog upon my return. The 'cerebral' part of the holiday will revolve around the planned block based rules I am drafting and also the Jutlandised naval rules. Now that the long awaited magazine has arrived (the Boardgamer - see yesterday's post for details) I shall be able to make some good progress with the naval rules which were fairly close to being finished in any event. I have a number of ideas for the land based rules and hope to be in the position whereby I shall be able to run a play test upon my return.

The mention of light brown coloured blocks for use with Colonial and Middle Eastern WW1 troops was quite intentional as I have a hankering for some Arab Revolt or Palestine type actions. With this in the back of my mind it is somehow appropriate that part of visit to Devon will involve a run into Dorset to Bovington and the scene of many T.E. Lawrence sites of interest.

I can almost hear the soaring opening to the soundtrack to David Lean's epic masterpiece….;-)

Thursday 18 August 2011

A Welcome Surprise and a Minor Deviation

I am now in the position of winding up my activities at work and so able to get home at a reasonable time and not too tired to tackle anything. Arriving in the post this morning was a copy of the defunct magazine The Boardgamer - volume 9 number 1 and dated back in 2003. If you recall I was keen to acquire this as it featured a Mediterranean variant for use with Jutland - including ship types. I am very pleased to have acquired this although it does present me with a problem. Reference is made to earlier variants and rule amendments with the assumption that the reader has access to these. Needless to say, I do not have these but that certainly does not detract from the article - it really is first class with scenarios for the 1914 Goeben adventure and also the French and Austrians.

The magazine also contains an analysis of the Hasbro game Battle Cry! - the original version which is also very useful and informative.

The 'minor deviation' referred to is that I have a change of plan re the colours of the next set of blocks I shall be preparing. If you recall I have already prepared the blue and grey sets and have printed the brown and olive labels. I only have two more boxes of blocks left (moves are afoot to source some extra supplies) and so have opted instead to label up a red set, together with the brown. This means that the olive set (being used for the Turks) will have to wait for a while - or at least until I can get some more blocks from the Works.

The brown set will see service as many things - from WW1 and 2 Russians and British, Bulgarians, Napoleonic Portuguese, American Indians, Afghan tribesmen, Zulus and probably a few others as well.

I will need to produce a set of a light brown/khaki blocks suitable for the Colonial era as well as WW1 and 2 in the Middle East.

"The dreamers of the day are dangerous men...."

A Moment's Reflection

No news on the job front as yet although feelers are out in various quarters. As I prepare for my forthcoming unemployment my thoughts have turned naturally to what I shall be able to do to fill my time up after the necessary but strenuous and frustrating daily experience of trying to track down some gainful employment has been attended to. There are a number of 1:1 scale painting projects lined up to be tackled under the watchful and vigilant gaze of SWMBO - so there is little or no chance of me escaping them!

Seriously though, in respect of my collection a degree of reorganisation will be undertaken and certain items will be up for disposal as a result. This is not a 'fire sale' as such - more a realisation of what I should be doing rather than what I could be doing! I prefer to offload such excess items amongst friends rather than ebay but suspect that I will be using it for some of the items in due course. I will detail what is up for grabs in due course - probably after my forthcoming week in Devon

From a project point of view very little has changed really, other than the preferred method of execution - the use of blocks rather than figures. I need to work on the rules for use with the ACW and the Balkan Wars - the actual time span covered will be a lot larger than the 50 odd years between these two conflicts - and also to finish the Jutlandised naval rules (still waiting for the magazine!). A further consideration will be the forthcoming Operation Barbarossa I have scheduled for next year. I need to rethink this as I am moving away from using models for land actions and this set does contain rather a lot of them!

On the label front I fully intend experimenting with the side elevation warship designs - my apologies to Dave Manley as the article I thought was his was in fact not! - as I think there is some potential there. I will of course need to finish the ACW models and the Minifigs ships for use with the Mediterranean 1914 set up I have previously mentioned.

It will be nice though, to be able to spend some more time with the family and to attend to all those outstanding domestic wrinkles, as well as being able to address my various projects in a more productive fashion.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

Block and Tackled

I have spent a certain amount of time over recent weeks (in between phone calls and visits to agencies, interviews etc) thinking about the rules I shall be using in order to get the best out of the block armies. Initially my plan was to use Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame rules and indeed, this is still the case up to a point. However, I am looking at systems beyond the use of this set and so have been, in effect, brainstorming ideas which I hope to be able to turn into something a little more tangible whilst I am on holiday. As ever, progress (or lack of!) will be recorded via the blog as and when anything of importance transpires.

I have settled on a few core ideas though and so everything else will be bolted on in due course. I intend having a set of core mechanics with some period specific tweaks and the end result can best be described as a fusion of lots of different approaches - some from miniatures rules and some from board games. One of the core principles I will be employing is that roster sheets will be used. This is for two reasons - they 'personalise' an army (this is important when using generic looking blocks) with unit and commanders names etc and they also serve to record game specific details e.g. unit strength and quality to name but two.

My thinking at the present time revolves around the use of concepts from Volley and Bayonet, DBA and any of the Command and Colours series of games although I will most certainly not be using command cards. The armies are not tied to any specific scale in terms of ground or figures although the type of action being fought will determine this. I am of the opinion that using blocks in this way is a positive advantage over figures as a block still looks like a block regardless of the size of formation it is representing - none of that '4 figures representing a division' malarkey! The rules then will be designed to 'telescope' to a degree and will hopefully function as well at a company level game up to a corps level three day slugfest and across a variety of periods. Aside from 'normal' wars I also fully intend tackling colonial actions and some of the sideshows from both World Wars so having a degree of flexibility within the rules will be essential.

Impossible? Perhaps, but you have to first try something in order to find out if it works or not.

I have also considered using the block approach for naval games. An idea I am pondering is to stand a block on its narrow edge and then draw a ship side elevation in Paint and print the resultant label (obviously copied for both sides!), duly coloured, to stick to the block. The ship name and national flag could go along the top edge so you would have in effect a naval 'flat', albeit a fat one. As I recall I am sure Dave Manley did something along these lines for the Russo - Japanese war some time ago (am I dreaming this Dave?) and it looked very effective. It is easier to draw the side elevation of a warship in my opinion - simply because the lines are straighter! If this works out then the implications for my naval games are legion - especially on the model front.

Another one to ponder methinks….;-)

An Unintentional Break

As I have mentioned previously I work as a compliance officer within the financial services sector, specialising in investment guideline monitoring. I ensure that the glamorous and high flying fund manager types manage the portfolios under their control within the terms of both the legal client agreement and the applicable regulations - essentially my role can be likened to that of a traffic warden and is probably about as popular in certain circles!

Not from this Friday though as my contract is not going to be renewed due a company recruitment freeze combined with the effects of the world's current financial woes. This is the downside of contracting (especially in the financial sector!) but needless to say I have a number of irons in the fire and am sure to be back gainfully employed in fairly short order.

To be honest, having a couple of extra weeks at home will be welcome, if only so that I can catch up with a few long outstanding domestic DIY jobs and another sort out of my collection. I have a week in Devon to look forward to (with some real treats lined up therein!) and hope to spend some time considering the rules I want to use for my block project beyond the use of the Portable Wargame.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Balkan Labels and a Hex Grid

The forces of the Sublime Porte - note the MG labels on the right

Above are examples of the labels I have drafted for use as the Turks and Bulgarians for my Balkan Wars project. For the most part they are identical to the earlier blue and grey versions (merely a change of colour) but with the important addition of a machine gun label.

The forces of Bulgaria

I have also managed to draft a hex grid in Paint which will be really useful for scenario design and campaign maps, as well as battle reports.

The Hex Map

I plan to add the labels to their blocks tomorrow evening and then I will need to give some thought to the rules beyond the initial Portable Wargame phase.

Monday 15 August 2011

The New Blocks and how they look

With a skirmish line to the fore and artillery and cavalry in support the gallant gentlemen of the South prepare to engage the Yankees under the watchful eye of  their commander - Walter Gaylord Mitty the 3rd 

Whilst continuing work with the labels for the Balkan Wars I thought it would be good idea to show exactly how the new and larger blocks look in conjunction with the Hexon tiles and the Town in a Bag buildings.

A desperate assault as the Yankees come under skirmish and artillery fire

The new and larger sized blocks look far better in my opinion as they have far more 'presence' compared to the smaller sizes version of earlier. they certainly add to the look of the thing and you are able to fit 4 blocks comfortably within a single hex.

I have started work on the labels for the Balkan armies and will also need to acquire a few more boxes of the blocks for future use as I have a number of other ideas for this approach.

The rules are also on the agenda although I have nothing concrete tabled as yet.

ACW or Blue and Grey?

I spent some time over he weekend completing my first pair of block armies. Each army consists of 48 blocks and their composition is similar as follows:

18 x Infantry
6 x Cavalry
6 x Artillery
6 x Command
6 x Infantry skirmisher/dismounted cavalry
6 x Cavalry skirmisher.

The blocks are blue and grey and as such will be used for the land element of my ACW river based activities but going forward could easily be used for other armies or periods. Which leads to a further consideration - that of unit identification.

Originally I planned to have a label mounted on the rear face of each block giving the unit/commander identity which would also help to add a little period specific personality to the army being used. Now I am not so sure as should I adopt this approach then it means collecting, for example, several armies of blue blocks should I want to game using a blue army from different periods. This seems to defeat the object of using generic troop blocks so I will need to think of another idea for identifying the component parts of the armies being used.

One idea that occurred to me was to use magnetic strip. By place some metal paper along the rear face I could merely produce labels of unit names for whatever period under consideration, mount these on magnetic strip and affix to the block as and when necessary.

Alternatively I could just add a generic label e.g. Infantry 1, cavalry 3, artillery 4 etc and record the historical unit equivalents on a roster sheet e.g. Infantry 1 equals 20th Maine and so on.

I will give this some further thought and in the meantime will press on with the blocks for the Balkan Wars.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Blocks along the Mississippi....

Detachments and the optical illusion

Well not exactly but you can see where this is going! I printed off this evening the sheets of labels for both sides  for my ACW river based campaign. I am hoping that having the land side to game will help kick start the ACW ships models  - I still have 32 to finish painting - in order that I might be able to undertake some combined arms type operations.

The sheet of smaller symbols represent a compromise in that by having a little green around the actual unit it gives the impression of being smaller than a regular formation. I opted to do this so that is saves me having to cut the blocks in two. the green is a very close match for the flock used on the Hexon terrain tiles so at a distance the units will look smaller. These units represent skirmish type detachments, dismounted cavalry or command groups.

An imaginative optical illusion but one that works quite well and is easily identifiable of the table top.

Friday 12 August 2011

Building Blocks

The great contract chase continues and as a result hobby related stuff is at minimal levels. I have made a decision though in connection with the blocks - I am going to stick with using them as they are and will not be cutting any in half. With most miniatures rules using bases of a common frontage it makes sense to be consistent in this fashion. Having made this decision it means that I will have to tweak some of the labels slightly but I should still be able to knock out armies for both the ACW and the Balkan Wars over the weekend.
At this stage I shall be using Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame rules for my games as they are a wonderful mix of simplicity and challenge and are great for fast play purposes. To be honest I have only really thought about rules in very general terms for this project but will be experimenting (as usual) with different systems in due course. The most pressing requirement I can see at the moment though concerns the use of a roster system for damage recording purposes. The system employed in Volley and Bayonet is a simple but elegant way of tackling the issue of using a base of figures (or indeed a block) that is purely representational.
As mentioned previously, the blocks will have unit identifying labels added along the rear edge and I am also considering the use of national flags in some fashion - as well as something to indicate the size of formation the block is representing.
I also hope to be able to experiment with some ship shapes over the weekend - this would be very much for large scale actions - as I have a number of ideas for this type of approach as well.
Caeli Modum.

Thursday 11 August 2011

Contracting, Blocks, The ACW and Balkan Wars

My time has been impacted in recent weeks due to my employment situation. Basically I am contractor in the financial services sector - specifically in Compliance. I have been contracting since my redundancy in early 2009 and whilst it is financially attractive it does means that you seem to be permanently chasing the next contract. My existing contract finishes fairly shortly and so I have been endeavouring to set something up for when I return from my weeks holiday in Devon. Inevitably it means lots of interviews and these are usually at short notice and out of office hours. This was the case last night and so as a result I arrived home tired, lethargic and in a foul mood. By the time I had dined and unwound there was not a lot of the evening left and so I was not able to get very much done on the hobby front. I had a small session with the labels on the PC and pottered briefly in my den but very little else.
I have however, given some further thought to the vexing questions of what historical periods I should tackle using the block armies and what symbols I should use on the labels of the 20th century units. The ACW would seem to be a logical choice for a first period given the large amount of riverine models I have built and so having a land side would complement it nicely. I had in fact always intended doing this at some point so now would appear to be as good a time as any. This would also hopefully serve to kick start the painting of the stalled ACW ship models thereby killing two birds with one stone. Similarly, the Balkan armies were due to be next on the list after the ACW collection was completed so in real terms I have not greatly changed my project plans from a few months ago - merely the method of execution.
The ACW blocks will be easy enough in terms of the labels I have already constructed but for the Balkans I will need to add an MG into the unit mix. I will also need to source some good orders of battle for unit designations, together with some commanders names. The Balkans will not be existing in isolation as my previous ideas have indicated - I hope to add the Great Powers in one form or another and whilst the blocks may lack the dash of their metal brethren at least I will be able to deploy them this side of the next Olympic Games!
Incidentally, the font type on certain of my posts appears to vary as I have been using the email blog entry facility as well as the more direct post method. I keep meaning to change the font on the email version but keep forgetting to do so. I will rectify this at the earliest opportunity!

Wednesday 10 August 2011

63mm x 21mm x 12mm Deep

The title of this post refers to the size of the new blocks I shall be using and that were recently acquired from the Works in Basildon. As they are larger than the previously illustrated set it meant that I needed to spend some time resizing the existing labels to fit. This was not a success as the increase in dimensions distorted the 'pixilation' of the diagonal lines so it was easier to redraw the blocks to the new size and line them accordingly. I was able to do this easily enough and so I also took the opportunity to align the labels on the page so that it would make cutting them out far simpler and quicker. Further to this, I added another couple of colours to the Paint Palette - Khaki and Olive Green. I am now well set in terms of national colour schemes and so the detailed planning of exactly what I want to fight can now begin.
The one dilemma I am currently facing though, is in connection with unit symbols I am using. Normal infantry and cavalry are easy enough but what about artillery and 20th century types - armour, mechanised/motorised troops, mortars, anti tank guns, mgs etc? I am torn between using the standard military map symbols for these or to use a stylised image of the unit in question. Luckily for the immediate scope of the project this is not a major problem but I will need to address it in due course for any late WW1 or WW2 actions.
At this stage the plan is for the first set to be for the ACW - mainly because this will serve as a kick start to the stalled riverine fleets currently lurking forlornly in boxes and on the paint tray. After that will be the Balkans armies and all that goes with them.
Mention of the Balkan armies brings me rather circuitously to the matter of naval affairs in the Mediterranean during the early 20th century. I have managed to source a copy of the defunct magazine The Boardgamer with an article outlining the details ships used in the Med during WW1 for the Jutland game. This is the only other article I know of covering this game outside of those published in the Avalon Hill General so is most welcome. This will enable me to finalise the Jutlandised naval rules I have been working on.
Finally, last but not least, a very big thank you to Steve Cady (of Castles of Tin fame) for the scans he kindly sent me - they are greatly appreciated and will certainly find much use!

Tuesday 9 August 2011

Telescoping Units

An unexpected but welcome advantage of using blocks for units rather than figures is that they are far easier to 'telescope' in respect of the scale of the units being represented. Realistically an infantry block could just as easily be used for platoon as for a corps depending on the scale of the action being fought. Essentially a block, is a block, is a block. I suspect that this would best be determined at the outset of the action in order to avoid confusion. One thing I will be doing to avoid any scale confusion is to add unit identifiers - the units name and size - to the blocks in order to inject a little personality. Possibly even adding unit flags or standards (grateful thanks to Steelonsand for this idea) to further add to the 'look' of the thing.  I envisage using a roster system for games outside of the realm of whole block casualty removal - for example, the system employed in Volley and Bayonet uses a base as representing a brigade and a typical scale of a strength point equalling 500 men or thereabouts. With access to a PC setting up such things as damage charts or rosters is very simple to undertake. It is very early days with this idea although I intend fighting my first block based action very soon using Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame Rules as a starting point and as benchmark for the mechanics I wish to employ. I will be using the rules as drafted and judging by the various reports circulating in the 'bloggerverse' of actions using them it should be an entertaining experience!
At the time of writing I have yet to decide the protagonists for my play test but suspect that the Spanish peninsula may well be the theatre of choice. This may seem to be slightly odd given that Command and Colours Napoleonics covers it really well but it will give me the opportunity to pick something out of the Osprey Atlas of the Peninsula War. Besides, as I will be using red and blue blocks it seems appropriate somehow!

Sunday 7 August 2011

The Blocks of War

A brigade of Blue infantry, supported by artillery and cavalry defend a country church on a hill. The brigadier oversees his command from the wall of the churchyard. Terrain from the 'Town in a Bag' deployed on Hexon flocked tiles.

I have had a very productive weekend on the block front. I have been able to label one complete set of not-quite Jenga blocks - in red and blue. I should point out that this set is very much a test bed for reasons I will explain later but suffice it to say the blocks cover very basic horse and musket types - infantry, cavalry, artillery and command. I have plans for adding infantry and cavalry skirmisher blocks in due course once I have the core 'look' bedded down. The only thing I have to consider at this stage concerns the representation of artillery units - either the standard military 'dot' or a stylised cannon symbol a la Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon. The stylised cannon will probably win it but it will mean I will have to produce something similar for anti tank guns, machine guns and mortars etc in order to be consistent.

The 'Thin Red Line' awaits the attack of the advancing Blue infantry - shades of the Peninsular perhaps?

The pictures show some of the units deployed just to show how they look and to give an idea of what I am tying to achieve by using this approach rather than figures. As mentioned, this is really a first attempt - the gaming equivalent of a 'concept car'- but thus far I am very encouraged.

The Blocks of War in their raw state.

I managed to source a very cheap supply of blocks - from The Works in Basildon at £1.99 a set - and so hoovered up four sets. I was very pleased by these as the blocks are larger than those in the test version (as the comparison shot below shows) and so will fill the Hexon tiles with greater 'presence'. They will also be far easier to cut in half!

I have yet to consider which rules I will be using with this setup - the main front runner at this stage is Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame which I believe he is currently tweaking in response to player feedback and further thoughts. I will also be looking long and hard at 'Volley and Bayonet' by Messrs. Chadwick and Novak as they are pitched at exactly the army level type of action I want to represent and which I think the blocks are well suited to.

First draft and the second edition

Friday 5 August 2011

Block Around The Clock

Further experimentation with the block labels - both last night and early this morning (whilst nursing an injured cat I might add!) - has given me a useful idea. Within Microsoft Paint is the facility to resize images. The big bonus of this (and as usual I only discovered this AFTER I had drawn up my test sheet!) is that you are able to design images in a large scale (which makes them easier and more accurate) and then shrink them to the required size. I intend using this technique in the fullness of time for more complex unit symbols and also for ship details - turrets, funnels and sundry other naval miscellany.
I was able to produce a stylised cannon for use as an artillery symbol - in the style of the maps in The Campaigns of Napoleon - which looks OK although it could be a little lighter as the lines are slightly on the thick side. It is not perfect so I will probably fine tune it over the weekend.
I also took the opportunity to orientate the sheet itself - it is now on a portrait format with the units adjusted accordingly and as a result I can now fit more units on the page. I am on the hunt for labels today and so will be sawing, cutting and sticking over the weekend with pictures etc to follow in due course.
Still haven't given the rules any serious thought though!

WW2 In the Air - Red Tails in the Sunset....

Just a quickie - if you have any interest in WW2 aerial combat then check this out on the blog of Steve Blease:

If this does not inspire a whole raft of new WW2 Aerial games then I don't know what will!

Seriously though, the story is a fascinating one and if the trailer from the film included on Steve' blog is anything to go by then anybody with a smattering of interest in WW2 air combat is in for a real treat.

Many thanks to Steve for bringing this one out into the open.

Now where did I put that Tumbling Dice 1/600th scale aircraft list?

Thursday 4 August 2011

On the Starting Blocks

Following on from my earlier post I have given some further thought as to the scope and coverage of the unit blocks currently under construction. I have experimented with a more 'gun looking' artillery label and think that I will be able to produce something closer to what I want. I will experiment further with this and see what comes out in the wash. One of the big advantages of using a separate identification label (a white strip along the rear facing edge of the block - visible from the players side of the table only) is that the blocks can be made to represent everything from a company upwards (although you could go to a lower level if need be) so the scale of the game can run from a small skirmish like affair of outposts right up to a refight of Leipzig or similar. I need to formalise my labelling convention - font style and sizes and details of the unit type and size etc, but this will be easy enough to tackle.
I have also given some thought to national colours and also for representing allies and happily Microsoft Paint is very flexible in terms of the palette available so the main uniform colour should be easy enough to show.
Initially this idea in confined to the traditional Horse and Musket era - 1700 to 1900 although I will be using this system for up to around 1915. The mechanised era will need some additional unit types and as mentioned earlier, the symbols will need to be drafted in some fashion first of all.
I have considered Colonial actions featuring native armies and see no reason why they should not be represented in a similar fashion - probably using larger blocks for the massed war band effect.
This is an idea I have been toying with for more years than I care to remember and whilst it will never have the visual appeal of using figures it is certainly a very feasible alternative. My thoughts have also drifted, inevitably, to the use of Microsoft Paint for ships or various types but I have more than enough to be going with in respect of my nautical adventures!

Crying Havoc and Unleashing the Blocks of War

Although I was home early yesterday (courtesy of a dental appointment) I was unable to shake off much of my ongoing lethargy despite the best of intentions - probably the heat had something to do this. It was truly oppressive last night and so my efforts towards anything hobby related were limited to messing about with some label ideas for my military blocks project - the results of which are above.

The blocks themselves are from a cheaper version of the popular game Jenga. There are many unofficial copies of this game - the set I am using is called, rather unimaginatively, Wooden Blocks! - all of which have one thing in common. They are not plastered with the word JENGA all over them! I picked this set up from a boot sale ages ago for 50p or so  purely for use as gaming/modelling purposes and am regularly on the hunt for additional sets as they are good source of ready cut wood.

The labels are in two sizes as I intend cutting a number of blocks in two. The smaller blocks will be used for detachments - skirmishers, artillery, under strength units, commanders etc. To be honest I have yet to formalise what represents what in terms of block/unit size. The symbols used are bog standard military  types which all war gamers are probably familiar with as they feature on countless battle maps in umpteen books.

This first set is very much an experiment and I may yet change the format slightly - especially for the artillery blocks as I wanted to have a stylised gun rather than the black spot. I have avoided having labels for differing weights of cavalry or types of infantry and artillery - simply because I did not want them to become too 'fussy' to look at - as the unit identifier will be on a label strip at the rear of the block. The command blocks - on the right hand end of the bottom row - are based on the design used in David Chandler's The Campaigns of Napoleon. When I have made a few of the blocks up I will of course post some pictures.

The next job is to acquire some sheets of labels to use and I expect to start chopping these up over the weekend. At this stage I have not even thought about the rules I intend using although they will be hex based and will certainly be fast play in their execution! If the idea works I will expand the coverage to include mechanised armies and the associated additional weapon and unit types.

The designs were made up using Microsoft Paint and for these simple first attempts it was easy enough to cobble up - even for a partial technophobe like me - and they measure 2" (or 1" for the smaller size) by 7/16ths of an inch. The size can be varied to suit different sized blocks as needed and in addition to the red set above I have also prepared blue, grey and green versions.

I am quite excited about the potential of this project for a number of reasons as follows:

  • It is suitable for use with many periods
  • It is much cheaper than using conventional figures
  • It is far easier and quicker to create an army
  • It strikes an historical chord (think Kriegspiel!)
  • It is quite aesthetically pleasing in a stylised way
Essentially the look I am aiming for is that of a 3d board game or even a 'living military map' and the above represents my first tentative steps along that path.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Cleaning the Fluff from my Naval

I have been pondering my Jutland adventure and now have reached a kind of stalemate although with a resolution on the horizon. The cause of my pain has been how best to include secondary weapons as a separate set of gunnery factors and also representing 'light ships' (light cruisers and destroyers) as individuals rather than grouped in flotilla/squadron sized formations. I have also had cause to reconsider the flotation/protection factor for reasons I will explain later in this post.

In the original game the effect of secondary weapons (and I am including tertiary and even quaternary weapons in this) was represented by ships of from armoured cruiser size upwards doubling any hits inflicted up to 10,000 yards or trebling any hits up to 3,000 yards. Adopting such an approach meant that all hits were based solely on  how many main gunnery factors were left on the firing ship and so the additional gunnery from smaller calibre and faster firing weapons became, in effect, extra main guns. This clearly favours dreadnoughts (typically with 8 to 12 gun factors) over pre dreadnoughts (usually with 4 main gun factors) as all gunfire is determined by main gunnery factors. It also means that a ship can only engage a single target.

I have assumed that the doubling and trebling effect in the original game also contained a nod to faster firing smaller calibre weapons literally peppering the target as the range come down - this assumption is on the basis that any damage scored in such a fashion is no different in game terms to that inflicted by main guns. It is simpler in game terms to work on a hit being uniform in its effect - be it from a single 15" shell or half a dozen 6" shells. This is fine for my purposes as the cumulative effect of gunnery damage from a variety of sources (the death by a 1,000 cuts) is the usual cause of a ships demise apart from the odd magazine explosion or torpedo!

With this in mind it becomes relatively easy to calculate the effects of such secondary weapons as by using whole gunnery factors (which seem to be proportionally more damaging) the effects of faster firing have already been included in their effects. The difficulty I am having is in calculating the number of gunnery factors that should be assigned to a ship for secondary or other weapons. For guns larger than the assumed standard 11 or 12" weapon a simple multiplier is applied i.e. 1.25 for 13 to 14" and 1.5 for 15". For guns smaller than this size it follows that a multiplier should also be applied but with the result that the number of gunnery factors will be less than the barrels firing as the multiplier will be smaller than 1. This has given me a minor headache in that I have had to, in effect, pick a number to make this work. I should also point out that this will mean guns from 6" to 9" will also have to be 'factored' so that all of the various permutations of weaponry seen on pre dreadnoughts and armoured cruisers can be reflected.

As a rough rule of thumb I have adopted the following: weapons up to 6" are worth 0.5 of a factor and from 6" to 9" the figure 0.75 seems appropriate. As an example then, a ship with a secondary broadside of 6 x 6" guns will have 3 gunnery boxes. Having all guns up to 6" rated as 0.5 of a factor does favour lighter artillery as it means that a 9pdr will do as much damage as a 6" - again, the effect of smaller weapons having a much higher rate of fire is covered by this, albeit in an abstracted fashion.

By applying this principle any ship with guns of various calibres will have a separate line of factors for each type which in turn means various ranges to contend with. I have tackled this by applying F.T. Jane's system to gun calibres and have assigned maximum ranges accordingly.

To finish off on the subject of gunnery I have had to change the gunnery factor table from the original game very slightly. Previously the increments went from 1 to 3 factors and then by twos up to the maximum allowable. I have changed the 1 to 3 column to 1 to 2 which has served to even out slightly the hit distribution by factor as well as helping ships with a smaller number of guns - which will mean anything with weapons that are rated at less than a factor of one.

The next problem is in respect of the flotation/protection value. Rather embarrassingly I looked at the German damage sheet from the game and saw factors obviously based on the maximum belt armour of the ship in question - simple, or so I thought. I then discovered some time later that the British factors are in fact roughly 3/4s of the belt armour which means one of two things - either they have been downgraded from the 'German system' thereby granting the Germans their historical toughness and strength or else a common system was used originally and the British numbers are in fact correct but that the Germans have been upgraded. Personally I prefer the German system as it is easier to implement as all you need is the maximum belt armour for the ship in question and I cannot see how the British numbers were arrived at although I have not explored this to any extent.

For ships smaller than an armoured cruiser, and with progressively less armour protection, a different approach is needed. Destroyers have a protection factor based on their tonnage and this is from 1 to 3. Light cruisers run from 3 to 5. Straightaway this is starting to creep into armoured cruiser territory but the various firing prohibitions will iron out any perceived inconsistencies. These prohibitions need to be clarified but essentially they stop destroyers from engaging battleships with gunfire and battleships from engaging destroyers with main guns. Everything else though is fair game.

The result of all this head scratching is that I am now much clearer in my thinking about how this should work out and more importantly, ensuring that as far as possible I can stay true to the spirit of the original game.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

Revisiting Jutland and the Blocks of War and dealing with Lethargy

I have had a very lazy couple of weeks on the gaming/modelling/painting front. This is not unusual for me as I tend to beaver away for months at a time and then hit a wall of lethargy. As a result the self imposed deadline of completing the ACW ships by the end of July has been comfortably missed, the naval rules, ship charts and ship specifications have been languishing and the Balkans have been noticeably quiet.

I have tidied up my book case though and so my entire naval library is now on display - the 1812 Russian campaign, Vietnam war and the various French Foreign Legion title I own being replaced by the Spanish Armada, various Pirate related titles and some WW2 titles. I have also had the opportunity to rethink some of my naval Jutland based ideas. I think I may have 'over-egged the omelette' to an extent; I have made the rules perhaps a little too far away from the original idea in respect of complexity.

It is always good when messing around with a rule set to take a few days out from it - it serves to clear the mind and a set can look very different when revisited after such and interval. I will explain further in a later post.

Plans for the blocks are moving along quite well and my only difficulty at the present is sourcing some of the correct sizes. Again, no problems per se - just solutions waiting to be found!

I am revisiting the tank museum at Bovington at the end of the month, together with a number of T.E. Lawrence sites in the immediate area and so I am confident that my creative juices will be topped up and something close to my previously insane schedule will resume!