Saturday 23 December 2023

On a Wing and a Prayer

Naturally the Blue Max and Aces High will be required viewing for research purposes….I may even look at Dawn Patrol

The back of the box

Phew! It has been an insanely busy week or so since my last post - work and the domestic round being the guilty parties - so I figured it would be a good time to rectify this regrettable oversight!

With the Christmas break fast approaching - I now off until the second of January - I am determined to fit in some gaming ‘me’ time at some point. This usually means not a lot but I have organised some quick wins that should be achievable. To start with I have some ACW ships to finish as well as a few to start building - luckily these are for the most part simple gunboats and so should not take too long.

Given that much of my gaming these days tends to be solo it is probably surprising that I have not really gone for any dedicated solo boardgames. This is changing though and I suspect that a few others will appear within the collection over time. Western Front Ace is exactly what it says on the lid in that you start off as a new pilot in 1916 and then attempt to stay alive, complete missions, shoot down enemy aircraft, stay alive, gain prestige, promotion and awards, did I mention stay alive? The game is quite brutal and in this sense represents the usually very short lifespan of a Great War Scout (fighter) pilot rather well, some may say rather too well! There are all the usual types represented and one can campaign as one of the historic aces if desired. I am looking forward to this - the game was acquired secondhand but was barely punched and in fact the previous owner only flew twice.

I have a WW2 updated equivalent of the classic Avalon Hill game B17 - Queen of the Skies called Target for Today (there is also an RAF themed version called Target for Tonight) which expands the bombers available to include the B24 which should be fun to do. Although the game is designed with the 8th Air Force in mind it also covers the 15th and so missions over Italy and the Balkans etc will feature - along with Romanian IAR Fighters. Again, this will keep me busy.

I have some reading to catch up on and have a feeling that some books may feature for Christmas but that will feature in a later post.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

One Year Ago….

One year ago - I was (and still am) dead chuffed to have gotten this into print!

The contents.

The year since the Portable Ironclads Wargame was published has flown by! I would like to thank everybody that has acquired a copy and hope that you have enjoyed the book and have even gotten some games in using the rules. If it served to push undecided gamers over the edge into gaming the period then even better!

The book is not without its faults and time and hindsight has a great way of making one look at something with a fresher pair of eyes. Thankfully the problems are not massive although I must confess that I have winced at some of the language used - there was much bloviation for sure! Some of the explanations in the rules could use a little tidying up as well. There is a lesson to be learned here in that what I had written occasionally did not tally with what I thought I had meant!

I had always planned to produce a follow up volume and that is still the plan although it has changed shape slightly. Rather than being a volume consisting merely of optional rules and updated ship specs I have taken the opportunity to rebadge it as a fully revised and expanded version. I thought long and hard about this but my reasoning is quite simple. It is easier to write it this way and will enable me to iron out any remaining wrinkles from the Portable Ironclads Wargame in a tidier manner and without having to go back and forth between volumes. In truth this revised and expanded edition is, upon reflection, what the original title should have been.

So what will be in the new book? Without going into too much detail I plan to include the following:

The rules - tidied up from the first edition and including all the planned optional rules - there will be explanations about these as well as I believe it is important to understand the whys and wherefores. This section will also include the use of a square grid as well as the original hexagonal version.

Expanded ship specifications for the ACW and including those for the War in the Pacific.

A couple of battle reports.

There is something else I am thinking about but have yet to finalise the details…..

A lot of the groundwork for this has been prepared so now the long and laborious task of getting numerous scribbled notes and partially drafted chapters into some kind of order can continue in earnest. There is also the small matter of some further models to be made and of testing a few bits and pieces.

To those that joined me on the first step in this endeavour I will say only this - many thanks and get ready for the next phase!

Sunday 10 December 2023

A Laminated Alternative

The first side - the mats are referred to as Able, Baker, Charlie and Dog

And the reverse. These mats came originally from that all round good chap the legendary Archduke Piccolo to whom I extend my grateful thanks (and apologies it has taken me so long to get around to laminating them!

I am not a fan of paper gaming mats or board game maps printed on thin card. I realise that the latter is usually designed to get the game underway ‘straight from the box’ and that the maps in a board game are an essential part of the game itself. In my experience neither option tends to last well with repeated folding and the inevitable wear along the folds being the main reasons. Years ago I had a set of gaming mats from Axis Allies: War at Sea and also the land based version laminated. This helps to preserve the playing area at the minor inconvenience of them being unable to be folded again. That is not a problem for me as I keep them on my gaming table under a piece similarly sized plywood. They are ‘shiny’ but I can live with that - along with having to secure multiple sheets when required using blue tack or similar - they can slid around if you are not careful so I usually deploy them on top of a cloth which stops any unwanted movement. As an alternative to using a printed gaming mat the biggest single advantage is of course cost. With this in mind I decided to revisit laminating as an option as I have various bits and pieces that could work using this method.

Earlier this week then,  I dropped off a further four Axis and Allies mats - these feature smaller hexes than my original versions - along with with four Axis and Allies: Angels 20 mats (actually two of these are from Bandits High) and a couple of quick reference sheets that are larger than A4. The Axis and Allies mats - these are from the collectible WW2 game - are double sided so there are eight battlefields with even more if they are combined. The hex size - 2” across the flat sides - would only take a single block from my block armies so I would probably opt to use the ‘2 hit and gone’ option from the Portable Wargame, failing that the counters from the travel version of the game Othello which would enable me to use ‘full strength point strength points’ (the usual 4, 3 or 2 standard). These maps are certainly very usable for small scale actions with perhaps half a dozen or so units a side. In fact a single mat would fit on a tray (just about with the ones we have at home - the lid of a 32 litre plastic storage box works just as well!) so a truly ‘trayble’ top wargame.

A nondescript piece of north European real estate - the hexes are 11cm across the flat sides

And an equally nondescript Pacific island

The aerial maps feature two sets each of two sheets. The first pair, from Angels 20, feature an aerial view of a fairly anonymous piece of real estate - representing ‘somewhere in Southern England’ - whilst those from Bandits High feature an island . This is intended for the Pacific but would be equally usable anywhere really.

The mats do slid around a little but as mentioned, placing them on a cloth tends to keep them in place. To join sections I would probably see some file strips or even, and I have done this before, small pieces of blue tack or similar.

I have some other mats and maps that will receive similar treatment in due course and as a cheaper alternative to buying a bespoke cloth I reckon they tick a number of boxes. It also means that the mats or maps will last longer at the minor inconvenience of not be able to be folded.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Midway to Scratching an Itch

Perfect for a Sunday afternoon chasing aircraft carriers across the Pacific!

I have often waxed lyrical about Flat Top - the game of carrier battles in the Pacific during 1942 by my favourite game designer, the late S. Craig Taylor (of Air Force and Wooden Ships and Iron Men fame - again, some of my favourite games) - and although I have played it countless times in the past (marathon weekend sessions with an old gaming chum of mine) it is a game that needs dedication on the part of the players to get the best from it. It is complex but only because the subject matter of carrier operations is as the game mechanics are relatively straightforward - as long one is methodical in one’s record keeping that is! The original Battleline version did not cover Midway but when Avalon Hill updated it the ships for that operation were included although the scenario was not. The boardgame CV, by the same designer and published by Yaquinto, used a near identical rule system to Flat Top and was exclusively devoted to the Midway operation. Anyways, fast forward to early 1990s Avalon Hill produced the Smithsonian range of boardgames that were intended to be entry level offerings to encourage new gamers. Along with Mustangs (which I have and it is a peach of a game), Midway featured as well as Guadalcanal, with the latter covering much the same actions as Flat Top only in a simpler way. By a strange coincidence Mustangs, Midway and Guadalcanal are all designed by, yes you’ve guessed it - the late S. Craig Taylor!

If Mustangs and Midway are anything to go by then it seems as though Taylor had looked at his original designs and pared them back to capture the essence of the subject matter rather than slapping on infinite layers of complexity. I like to think that experience and evolution of gaming systems had honed his approach! His original games were detailed and required dedication to get them to work but the end result felt right - at least in terms of the all important flavour.

At the time the Smithsonian series of boardgames was launched in the early 1990s I was rather unfairly quite dismissive of them. Why would I need simpler version of games covering those areas I was interested in when I had enjoyed their more complex forebears? It was quite shortsighted of me at the time and given that I now prefer games that are simpler in execution was a situation that needed to be addressed - and so I am! The catalyst for this was undoubtedly my acquisition of Mustangs - only then did I realise that S. Craig Taylor was behind it as one can certainly see the Air Force influence in the game - so when I saw that he was also behind Midway and Guadalcanal I naturally had to get them. They are a simpler option to Flat Top and therefore more gamer and time friendly.

I was able to score the above game on evil bay for a very good price and have also managed to get hold of a copy of Guadalcanal for the same cost. At first glance through the rules it is really clear where they have been developed from. The one thing I was pleased to see is that there is rather more rounded combat system via the use of a battle board. It is stylised but works well enough and indeed, it has given me a number of ideas away from the Pacific.

The components are typical Avalon Hill quality with a pair of mounted search boards and a mounted battle board. Larger than usual counters are used for the main surface vessels with destroyers being represented by divisional or flotilla counters. All of the usual suspects for Midway are represented, both afloat and in the air so carrier strikes featuring Zeroes, Kates and Vals for the Japanese and Wildcats, Devastators and Dauntless dive bombers feature - along with a whole raft of patrol and recce types.

Search boards - the very definition of find, fix and strike!

The battle board. Really keen to give this a spin and yes, I am already thinking about uses for this away from the game!

Organisational charts for Task Forces and Air Groups etc - possibly a little on the small side but with a counter count of 199 all in it should not be too much of problem

The mechanics are simple - the idea is to first find your target and then hit it with whatever you are able to muster at the time and that is in range. Careful planning is needed because is you get it wrong your carefully prepared airstrike will hit empty space which then means it has to return and be rearmed etc. I am not sure to work this aspect as a solo exercise but will give it some thought. What I will be able to do though is to fight out the actual air strikes and even surface actions (more applicable to Guadalcanal really).

I cannot see myself tackling this with models at present - for one thing I would need way too many ships and then there is the aircraft to consider. However, as a quick fix for that Pacific itch it certainly ticks a lot of boxes. I am really looking forward to getting Guadalcanal though as the variety of naval operations to game has more to offer. For now though, Midway will be a great appetiser!