Friday, 31 October 2014

Call of the desert

First of what will be a substantial number of models for the Western Desert, WW2 - these are British 2 pdr Anti Tank guns, GHQ models in 6mm (well they insist 1/285 but the difference is less than the margin of tooling error). As always they are on 1" square steel bases - at least the deployed ones - for the towed versions I found some old rectangular steel bases from the same source. I bought those years ago, destined for 15mm Ancients I think.


 

Monday, 27 October 2014

New stuff - Flak and bridging tanks

I have been nibbling away at the pile of unpainted GHQ stuff. Often I am painting up the main fighting troops for a particular force or battle, but in the last few days I have been tidying around the edges with some units that usually tag along at the rear of the battalion, only coming into their own when the moment arrives. The first is a set of three Sdkfz 7/1 Quad 20mm Flak (GHQ Pack G-95).














And the other new items are two Churchill Bridgelayers (GHQ UK-85)
















As always with GHQ, very nice models which take a paint job well. Most of the paints are Lifecolor - base coats airbrushed on and the rest with a brush - some of the detail colours are Coat D'Arms, Foundry or Vallejo - I have a fair collection by now and I grab whatever colour looks good for the little bits. Based as usual on 1" square metal, with Bastex paint to give a bit of landscaping.






Sunday, 26 October 2014

FIASCO

Over the Pennines to Leeds, and the Fiasco show. Not a fiasco, but a bit of a disappointment - Wargames Emporium were there, but they only had a very small selection of GHQ. I am planning to move my WW2 back in time a little from Western Europe 1944 and do some Desert fighting - I had planned to get some of the earlier UK tanks - Matilda, Crusader, Valentine, that sort of thing, and something for them to fight. In the end all I got in that line was a pack of 2pdr Anti Tank guns and a pack of Panzer IIs. I did pick up a large felt cloth in sand colour and some suitable hills from S&A scenics. Other than that my visit was the usual struggle not to buy too much stuff for new periods - I got some new Wild West rules by Chris Peers (the Law of the Gun) but that's OK because I already have plenty of figures and a town to fight in. I did succumb to Crossed Lances jousting rules, mostly because I fancied some knights by Curteys. At least I managed to resist the new pirates rules from Osprey, with accompanying North Star figures, though I suspect that these will be in my future at some point. Every time I go to a show I wind up buying far more that I will have time to paint and use - I still have bags of figures I bought at shows in the eighties.

As for the show itself I'd say it was an OK middle-sized show, nothing special but a good opportunity to browse a large number of vendors and see what's new. No huge theme today - maybe more Bolt Action and less FoW in the WW2 space, and I saw little Saga, by contrast with other previous shows. The hall felt very dark, mainly because the roof and walls above head height were hung with black cloth - presumably for when the hall is used for shows. In fact the lighting was fine, but the overall impression was gloomy. Worth the trip, in my opinion - it isn't Salute, but then what is?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

German Anti-Tank stuff

I've just finished a number of bases of German Infantry, all arising from a pack of late war light Anti-tank weapons from GHQ (pack G511). First I made four bases of Panzerschrecks and four of Panzerfausts - in each case one or two weapons teams per base.
















Also in the pack there are three 28mm Panzer Busche A/T guns


  And five 88mm "Puppchen" A/T weapons
I still had plenty of Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck teams, so I mixed them in with some spare German infantry figures to make six bases of Late War Infantry - although to be honest I'm not that fussy, if I need lots of infantry for a Blitzkrieg scenario these guys are likely to find themselves drafted.

All these troops are based to my current normal standard, on 1" square steel bases, about 1mm thick - I get them from Precision Wargames Supplies for about 20p apiece. They are "landscaped" with Basetex paint (a sand/acrylic mix) and then I add bits of flock and other scenic items. I try to add more clutter to units like anti-tanks guns and tank hunters who would be trying to ambush or stalk their prey. The metal bases and the Basetex paint give a nice heft and feel to these small models. I think.
So overall I got 22 bases from one GHQ pack (£7) plus some spare figures - good value in my view. GHQ are expensive compared with others such as H&R, but for me the difference really doesn't matter, when you consider (1) how much work you put into each pack in painting and basing, and (2) how much use you'll get out of them. The cost of five daily papers (if you read the Telegraph or the Independent) seems very good value in that light.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Storage

Like many wargamers, I have a challenge with storage. How to keep all those somewhat delicate models safe yet available for browsing and selection. Putting them out on shelves is very convenient, but it takes a lot of space (unless you have huge walls) and the models tend to gather dust, especially if they're not used for a while. Boxes such as those margarine comes in (the 1kg size) can be stored conveniently, but you really need to protect the models and it's very hard to browse - this is really a long-term storage solution for the models you have "archived" (i.e. you don't expect to use them again but you can't quite put them into the Bring and Buy). Little cabinets with drawers, the kind you keep screws and bolts in, work for some items - but either you have to pile the models in on top of each other, or you can only have one layer in each drawer, which isn't very efficient.



Since I have started basing my 6mm stuff on 1" square steel bases, the problem has increased. They take up more "floor space" than the models alone, and they are also unsuitable for piling up in a drawer.  My current solution is a series of trays, designed to go in the "Really Useful Box" crates (I get them from Staples, I don't know if they are an own-brand). They are quite shallow, and they stack well on their own, so I don't need the crates they are designed for. I can get 4-5 bases in each section, and there are fifteen sections per tray. I label them and then subdivide as my collection expands - so I started out with one tray labelled German, then split it into German Tanks and German Infantry, and so on until I am now up to about nine trays for the Germans alone. I just keep them in a stack, and when I want to extract troops I pull out the tray I want and pick them out. Only the top tray is exposed to dust at all, and they tend to shuffle around as I use them so that's not a problem. They're not very cheap, about £5 per tray I think, but as I may be holding £100 worth of models in each tray, the cost is fairly unimportant. So far, it works for me.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Canal Time

No wargaming in the last week, we spent it on holiday on a narrowboat, life in the fast lane (3 mph). I was trying to think of any canal-based war incidents. There are a good few where the canal was a water obstacle, the early days of WW1, and the later parts of WW2 in Europe, right up to the final days in Berlin. The RAF spent a lot of effort trying to close canals like the Dortmund-Ems, but I could not identify any incidents where units rode narrowboats into battle - rather slow going.

Lots of time to read, and I took the opportunity to read Antony Beevor's Berlin, about the final assault in 1945. I read Stalingrad earlier in the year and this is the companion volume, really - Stalingrad was the turning point and Berlin was the final climax. I confess that my view of the narrative of the war is from the western allies. I was aware of the general flow from Barbarossa to Moscow, Stalingrad and Kursk, and then that the Soviets rolled back westwards to the end. But I had not appreciated the difference in the fighting on the Eastern Front, the sheer ferocity and hatred on both sides. The Soviets were intent on revenge and raped and slaughtered their way to the heart of Germany. I also hadn't appreciated how intent Stalin was on ensuring that the Russians took Berlin, and how the Americans in particular were naive enough to let them. The other thing I wasn't really aware of was the way in which the Germans desperately wanted to surrender to the west rather than the Soviets, even to the extent of fighting their way out of encirclement in order to reach the Americans to surrender.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Terrain

I thought I would say a bit about my take on terrain. The first thing to say is that I like well modelled, detailed terrain, and I have a large collection of model items, especially in 6mm - houses, trees, hedges etc. However over the years I have come to realise that there's a real tension between a good-looking landscaped board, and the practicalities of playing a wargame. The main problem is the clash of scales, figure scale vs ground scale. That these two are going to be different is pretty much inevitable, certainly in WW2 games, because of the distances over which battle were fought. At 1/300 a mile is nearly 18 feet, so the average table puts units no more than a few hundred yards apart. At larger scales it is worse - two 15mm tanks could engage each other from opposite ends of a tennis court, comfortably so for 20mm or 28mm models.

So, the ground scale is going to be much bigger than the model scale, except for very small scale skirmish games. That means that the beautifully painted house you put on the table is actually 100 yards long, and "represents a village". Half a dozen houses are a moderately sized town. Well that's fine, but now along comes a unit - some tanks or some infantry stands - and wants to occupy this town. In reality we have maybe a dozen vehicles or a hundred men who would filter down the alleys, hide in the gardens and entrench behind the walls. On our table we have some stands, and some buildings, and no way to put the two in the same place. In practice you can balance them on top of the roofs, put them behind the town and say "they are really inside" or put them off table and make a note. Whatever you do is unsatisfactory, makes it hard to handle the fighting as the models aren't where they should be, and doesn't even look authentic, which was the whole point in the first place.

In the end I decided that in order to get a good game with my nicely painted models I was going to have to let the third leg of the triangle go - the authentic-looking terrain. So now I use symbolic representations of areas of terrain. This may be felt - brown squares for towns, green ovals for woods and so on. I have also used paint - plain household emulsion, an overall green for the whole board, then woods, roads, towns etc in appropriate colours. That sounds laborious but it doesn't actually take much longer than setting a table up in the conventional way. Once I have the areas marked out I use models as well - one house in each built up area, a tree model in each wood. That allows me to indulge my modelling itch, and it's also a visual reminder that the flat green patch on the board is actually a wood blocking the LOS. Whatever, if a unit want to occupy the terrain then the symbolic house or tree is shifted out of the way, or removed altogether. That way the model units can be placed exactly where they want to be - on the edge of the terrain or in the middle, with no logistical issues at all.

I don't claim that this is in any way original, but it does annoy me when people pontificate about how plain terrain "let's down" the well-painted models or spoils the look of the battle. I always remember that, except for genuine skirmish games, everything on the table is just a token, representing something larger, and if having landscaped terrain makes it harder to play the game, then I'll take a different route. That's also the reason that I favour counters, beads or labels as play aids on the table - again, the "look's the thing" people will anathematise this. But if having, say, a pink bead to tell you a unit is suppressed makes it easier to see at a glance what's going on, then that makes me happy. Of course people have different motives for wargaming, and if a picture-postcard set makes you happy, then I am not going to say my way is better - it just works for me.

The pictures are the board I used for my recent Operation Epsom solo game - 6mm figures. The base is cork floor tiles, 1 foot square, painted green and then covered with mixed flock - a generic northern European look. On top are mostly felt terrain markers - woods, towns, roads, fields. The river I made from sheet polystyrene, cut into strips and painted blue with green flock "banks". It looks quite good but it is a lot of work and it's more vulnerable to accidental movement than the felt, which sticks slightly to the flocked tiles. (The red strip is a railway embankment, a particular item in that scenario). Overall I am quite happy with the look, somewhere between a real landscape and a coloured map. The battle involved a lot of crowded fighting around two of the towns, and this terrain meant that I could handle that without trees and houses getting in the way.


Monday, 6 October 2014

Sdkfz 251s

A few GHQ half tracks I have painted recently. I'm basing all my 6mm models now - I used to leave the vehicles loose, but I am increasingly liking the look of mini-dioramas on 1" square metal bases. They give the models a nice heft, and they remind us that, except in 1:1 skirmish, the models represent a number of actual vehicles or men spread over an area of land. For the Sdkfz 251/1s I have added a few infantry figures in and around the half tracks to represent Panzergrenadiers. For anti-tank units, as with the third pic here, I tend to add a bit more clutter to indicate the unit hiding or stalking its prey.




Sunday, 5 October 2014

Operation Epsom 26th June 1944 - AAR



This battle was fought solo, my first full battle with the Panzer Korps rules, including all the elements such as air strikes and weather (though in the event it never did rain). I used 6mm figures, almost all GHQ, on 1” square steel bases (though some of my vehicles are not yet based). I used the ground scale recommended for these small models – 1” in the rules translated to 1cm for all purposes. The table was three feet by five. The scenario is very suitable for solo play, as the Germans have limited options, and once entrenched they do not want to be moving around very much. Overall this was tremendous fun, a beautifully balanced fight in which I was convinced from time to time that the British would win easily, then that they had no chance, until finally it all came down to one Decision Die roll in the very last turn of the final Day Segment, as 20:00 struck.

For those unfamiliar with these rules, the day is divided into two-hour Day Segments within which there are a variable number of games turns. DMs are Disorder Markers, which are the measure of damage on battalions. Too many DMs and it may panic, and after, typically, three panics the formation will retreat off the field.

To win the British needed to drive about three miles south to the river Odon and capture at least one of the three bridges, as well as the closest town to that bridge. They had two Infantry Brigades (44th and 46th) each with three infantry battalions, a battalion of Churchills and two artillery battalions. They also expected reinforcements in the shape of 29th Armoured Brigade, with three Sherman battalions, one of Cromwells, a mechanised infantry battalion and a battalion of Sextons. 

To stop them the Germans initially had two regiments (four battalions) of SS Panzergrenadiers, plus a battalion of Flak 88s and a Pioneer battalion, and units of 105mm howitzers and 150mm Nebelwerfers. They planned to make their main defence roughly along the line of the railway, with the two battalions of 26th SS in Mondrainville and Tourville, with the Pioneers in the woods just behind. 1/25th SS took the eastern wood north of the railway, with the 88s in the wood to the west where they would have a good field of fire. 2/25th SS occupied Cheux – rather isolated in their forward position, but put there to deny the British the town and its many converging roads for as long as possible. A Panzer battalion, a half-track Recon battalion and a unit of Wespes were expected to arrive some time around mid-morning.



Day Segment 06:00 – 08:00. Initiative British. Visibility 18”. 3 turns. The British moved out at 0600 with 44th Infantry Brigade on the right (west) and 44th IB on the left. The plan was to concentrate the drive on the western flank, take Cheux and then on to the bridges, with just a small force to demonstrate on the left to fix the Germans there. The off board guns had three rounds of rolling barrage, but only one found a German target, 2/25th SS in Cheux, and the entrenched infantry took no harm. On the second turn 7th RTR got close enough to Cheux to spot the SS and the units exchanged fire to little effect (2DM each). In the next turn an FO with 7 RTR called in fire on Cheux but it fell short and caused minor damage to the British tanks. 9th RTR had now joined their comrades in front of Cheux but their joint fire still failed to inflict much damage on the SS troops (3DM).

Cheux at the Schwerpunkt
Day Segment 08:00 – 10:00. Initiative British. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. The British artillery concentrated on Cheux now, and despite the entrenchments inflicted significant damage on 2/25th SS (5DM). There was no risk of panic yet, it takes overwhelming firepower to force an SS unit to panic, and this was what the British now brought to bear. The Glasgow and Seaforth battalions joined the two RTR units in the attack, pouring fire into the town from the front and both flanks, as the 2/25th truly understood the meaning of Schwerpunkt. They finally panicked and fled, exposing themselves to more fire which caused a further panic (18DM total). In the next turn artillery bombardment and a Typhoon attack pushed them finally into permanent panic and they fled. However they had held up the British advance until 10:00 and there was an unholy traffic jam around Cheux. To the east the British were probing towards the woods. The Humbers of 15th Recce sighted the 88s at close range; surprisingly the powerful German guns only just managed to suppress the armoured cars, and were themselves suppressed – they had to relocate as the British approached to avoid being flanked, so they lost the benefit of entrenchment. However further east the 1/25th SS opened up on the 8th Royal Scots advancing in the open, and sent them back in panic.

Day Segment 10:00 – 12:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. To the Germans’ relief their reinforcements turned up at the earliest possible moment – a PzIVH battalion with an attached Tiger company, plus an elite 250/1 Recon battalion and a battalion of Wespes. This was timely as the British were starting to sort out the jam around Cheux, and the Churchills of 7 RTR advanced over the hill to approach Mondrainville. However the 2/26th SS entrenched there opened fire and panicked the tanks back over the hill. To the east the British artillery pounded the 1/25th SS in the wood, to no effect. By contrast the 8th Royal Scots, caught in the open by artillery and then by fire from the 1/25th were panicked and fragmented. They were only saved because their retreat took them out of range of the infantry, and away from the aiming point of the bombardment.

The British prepare to attack Mondrain
Day Segment 12:00 – 14:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 3 turns. Now it was the turn of the British to have their reinforcements turn up promptly; the 29th Armoured Brigade with four tank battalions, a mechanised battalion of the Rifle Brigade and a battalion of Sextons. 2nd Fife & Forfar and the Rifles went to help on the eastern side, the rest followed up the main push past Cheux. Over the two hours the British approached Mondrainville, but it was slow going, especially for the infantry. 2/26th SS started taking serious damage, first 8DM then 12, but still no panic. By contrast the Shermans of 2nd Fife and Forfar took 3DM from 1/25th SS and panicked back. SS troops in good cover are very tough to shift. The tanks of 2/12th SS Pz and the elite Recon battalion moved up to the gap between Mondrainville and Tourville.

Day Segment 14:00 – 16:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 1 turn. The British artillery was now all focussed on 2/26th SS in Mondrainville, and at last they broke and panicked back out of the town. Then an “over” hit them and they panicked again. 7th RTR and the Cameronians hit the elite SS Recon battalion and surprisingly they panicked, taking 2/26th SS with them again. Typhoons attacked the PzIVHs but to no effect. It was now 16:00, and the British were a long way from the bridges and even further from the towns beyond.

23rd Hussars dash for the gap
Day Segment 16:00 – 18:00. Initiative German. Visibility 30”. 2 turns. German artillery panicked the Cameronians in the fields west of Mondrainville – infantry in the open is very vulnerable to a bad cover die throw on a D4. A Typhoon squadron attacked the SS Panzers but was driven off by an attached AA company. The Panzers panicked 9th RTR but 7th RTR pushed the German tanks back, and the Seaforth Highlanders swung round onto their right flank. Suddenly a gap had opened in the German defences, and the Shermans of the 23rd Hussars, in transit column on the Cheux road, dashed forward like a running back going through the line. There was nothing between them and the bridge to Tourmauville, but a roadblock prevented them reaching the bridge this turn. 1/26th SS in Tourville mounted their 251s and, helped by a free move (the Germans were throwing good white Decision Dice) they threw themselves across the road in front of the Hussars. In spite of the light armour on the half tracks the Shermans were unable to do any decisive damage and the Panzergrenadiers formed a defensive line blocking the bridge. To the west the 2/12th Panzers were being pushed steadily back; retreating across a stream they had accumulated 15DM but still no panic.

Day Segment 18:0 – 20:00. Initiative British. Visibility 18”. 3 turns. Dusk was falling (curiously early for midsummer in northern Europe) but three turns and the initiative gave the British a slim chance of breaking through somewhere. 3rd RTR which had swept up the western edge of the battlefield was threatening the unguarded western bridge, but that was no use without taking Garvus, which was now held by the elite Recon battalion, with the Pioneers in front by the central bridge. 7th RTR panicked the Panzers but that only pushed them back around Garvus, well placed as a buffer against 3rd RTR. The best hope seemed to be a breakthrough by the Hussars in the centre, but they failed to dent 1/26th SS and in return the Germans caused the Sherman battalion to panic and fall right back.
Over to the east, in what was now just a sideshow, two infantry battalions and the Shermans of 2nd Fife and Forfar attacked 1/25th SS in the woods. One battalion was pushed back but the 8th Royal Scots charged home. The close combat was very even, 3DM each, but the Germans had won the leadership roll so the British had to test morale, failed and panicked back. In the end this German battalion held on in their original entrenchments all day.
Meanwhile time was running out for the British. Artillery fire forced the SS Pioneers to fall back across the river, but their fire at 7th RTR caused the Shermans to retreat. 3rd RTR could not force another morale test on the Panzers so Garvus was still solidly held.  

However in the centre 6th Scots Borderers, very footsore, had occupied Tourville, and their fire caused 1/26th SS to panic. 9th RTR, coming up to replace the Hussars, also fired and panicked the SS battalion again, pushing them back (still mounted in their 251s) all the way through Tourmauville and out the other side. With about 15DMs there was no way they could recover, so the bridge and the town lay undefended – could the British seize them before nightfall? On the last turn, 9th RTR would have to form transit column and navigate round the roadblock and over the bridge – too far for a single move. The red Decision Die was rolled and came up – 6! With a Decorated Leader in the HQ unit that meant 7 Red, and a single vital free move. 9th RTR trundled over the bridge and into Tourmauville, and the crossing was secure for Monty’s attack on Caen.

9th RTR occupy Tourmauville and win the game
There was far more going on than I have put down here. The Flak 88s held off a battalion of Cromwells all day in the central woods. The German right flank did a fine job holding on – if they had crumbled then the British would have swept round behind Tourville and won quite easily. In general the German artillery did more damage, catching infantry in the open, but the concentrated fire of 4-5 British artillery formations was crucial in winkling SS units out of their entrenchments in the towns. I realised afterwards that the Germans could have “won” if I had shuffled the Pioneers a little bit east in the final turn – that would have put them just within 16” of the Tourmauville bridge and technically the British would have failed their victory conditions. However I didn’t, and I am glad, because that would have been a very “gamey” way to decide the battle. As it was it felt very realistic, with both sides exhausted but the British just managing to secure the vital bridgehead.

Panzer Korps rules review



I’ve been playing these rules a lot recently, they are a bit out of the usual but I really like them so I thought I would do a write up. They are a Divisional level set, published by Hoplite Research in the US – in the UK you can get them from Caliver where they cost me £23-50. They are written by Manny Granillo, who provides excellent rules advice through a Yahoo group.

The first thing to say is that these rules are somewhat eccentrically edited, to say the least. They are fairly glossy, with plenty of photos, mostly of ordinary wargames models – this isn’t a Warlords publication with Perry miniatures professionally photographed. More to the point, the structure is difficult to penetrate, with important points stuck in seemingly at random, or left out altogether. A lot of interpretations and indeed important core rules can only be found by trawling the archives of the Yahoo group, or asking questions – which are always answered promptly, to be fair. If you expect your rules to be neatly organised, with all ambiguities eliminated and everything fully explained, then these are probably not for you.

So if they are difficult to pick up, why am I bothering to write about them? The answer is that they are well worth the effort, they contain several elegant but very effective mechanisms, and they really give the feeling, for me, of operating at this high level (Division or Brigade) – this is not a set where you move squads or platoons and call them battalions. Once you figure out how they work it all fits together very naturally, flows smoothly and gives an effect which matches the battles we read about in the history books. These are the sort of battles you read about in the Ospreys, not 30 men and a Sherman fighting 30 men and a Stug “somewhere in France”.

As I said, this is Divisional warfare – in a typical single-evening battle you will each command a single Division, though you can easily have larger multi-player Corp-v-Corps games. The basic unit of manoeuvre is the battalion, which is represented by three core companies, normally all the same type. In addition you can have up to four attached companies of many types. So a battalion has 3-7 bases – for example an infantry battalion might have three infantry companies, plus an HMG company, a mortar company and an ATG company. Whatever the make-up the battalion fights as a single entity with a single Fire Die. The type and size of the die depends only on the core companies. The attached companies affect combat by giving plusses to the score on the Fire Die. This means that you don’t have to mess about micro-managing every base – the arrangement of the three core companies shows where the battalion is and what it’s doing (fighting line or transit column) and the attachments are just tucked in behind. If you have, say, a Tiger company attached to your infantry you don’t go sniping enemy armour a mile away. The Tigers stick to supporting their infantry under local control, as they should.

In terms of models, there are two scales – 15mm/20mm where 1” on the table is 50m, and smaller 6mm/10mm models with 1cm = 50m. I use the 6mm models, with companies on 1” square bases – you can spread the bases of a battalion up to 2”/2cm apart to give a battalion frontage of a few hundred metres. At this scale a foot on your table is a mile, so a fairly modest 5x3 or 6x4 table gives you plenty of terrain for a Division offensive. In the larger scale you’d use something like an FoW team base or a single vehicle for each company, but in my view that does not give the visual impression of a large battle. This scale really suits the smaller models.

I mentioned there are some nice mechanisms and it’s worth covering them in detail. The first one is the time structure. Unlike almost all rules we don’t find an arbitrary sequence of turns, with some nominal time equivalent, so that a battle lasts “8 turns” or whatever. A Panzer Korps battle is divided into specific two-hour “Day Segments” – 0600-0800, 0800-1000 and so on. In each segment there are a variable number of turns, up to three. This is diced for at the start of the segment, and the main adjustments are based on the quality of the generals – better generals can get more done in a given time. It is even possible for two poor generals to get nothing done in a given segment, especially in poor weather. Only a good general can get his troops started at 0600, so most battles start at 0800, scenarios of course can vary this. The day ends with a dusk segment and the night is a single segment, with some regrouping allowed. A battle may well go into a second day or longer, as happened in history. This structure gives a very clear feeling of time passing, and the scale of the battle as hours go by. You don’t think “five turns gone out of eight”, you think “it’s 1600 and I have to get to the bridge before nightfall”. It may seem peripheral, but in my view this time structure is a key element to the flavour of the game.

Another key mechanism is the colour dice system. Battalions are organised into “Force Groups” – think Kampfgruppen or Brigades, though this is not rigid. Each turn each Force Group rolls a Decision Die, with a few adjustments. And each force group has a colour, from Black (best) to Yellow (worst). Your roll and the colour translate into a number of formation orders, as well as Auto Rallies and free moves if you are really lucky. The colour system means that a well-organised and trained force (say German 1941) will be able to do more in less time, and be more resilient to casualties, then a badly organised force like the Russians in the same year. A force with a Black die will get the same effect with a 1 as a force with a Yellow die gets by scoring 8 (requiring plusses, obviously). Use of the colour dice, along with the quality of the Generals (from A-H), allows for a lot of variation in army size and quality.

The next feature worth mentioning is the Disorder Marker (DM), which is the mechanism by which battalions take damage. The three core companies are never removed, though attachments can be lost through critical failures. The core of the battalion takes DMs from fire, representing casualties, yes, but more importantly confusion, disruption, disorganisation. You can also get DMs from causes such as moving through difficult terrain, and from morale failures. Each time a formation takes three DMs from fire it takes a Panic test; if it fails it retreats, and also takes more DMs. It automatically stops panicking at the end of the turn, no need to rally it, but there is a limit to the number of times it can recover, based on its quality – three times for Veterans, only once for Militia. If it panics again after reaching the limit then it leaves the field.
DMs can be removed by a formation during each movement turn, representing officers and NCOs getting the unit back in shape. You always remove one DM if you don’t move, one if you are Veteran or Regular and a few other causes. So a small number of DMs are quickly recovered. However once you start taking lots of fire and perhaps panicking they quickly mount up and become much more difficult to remove.  This mechanism makes formations become shaky, fall back to recover and then return, but eventually they withdraw and you better have another battalion ready to fill the gap. To me this seems a realistic simulation of what we see in actual battle histories.

Firing is done by single opposed die rolls. The attacking unit rolls a Fire Die whose size (D6, D8, 10 etc.) is determined by the calibre of AT weapons, or the unit’s quality in the case of AP/HE weapons, and modifiers are applied due to the attached companies and other situational variables. The defender rolls a Cover Die, again of variable size, based on cover or armour class. Infantry in the open roll a D4, in heavy cover they get a D10. The rolls are compared; if the Fire Die beats the Cover Die DMs are applied, based on how badly it is beaten. A Cover Die roll of 1 is a critical failure – an attached company is lost, and a Decorated Leader is killed if present. Obviously this is much more likely if you are rolling a D4 than a large die, so you need to avoid being caught in the open.

Decorated Leaders are another neat mechanism. They represent battle-hardened officers, Big Men to coin a phrase. You get a number of DLs to distribute to your formations, and they have two functions. If they are with an HQ they add to the Decision Die roll (the colour dice). If you have a large force with weak leadership this may be the only way to get your units enough orders to mount a coherent attack. DLs with fighting battalions add bonuses to the Panic roll, and also remove DMs each turn – so they make the unit much more resilient. Balancing these two uses of the limited number of DLs is a crucial decision in organising your force. 

All these mechanisms are quite simple, and soon become automatic – you’ll remember that your 75mm gun rolls a D8 Fire Die, and infantry in the open roll a D4 Cover Die, so reference to the tables is fairly rare. For me, they give a “realistic” feel for this level of command, meaning that what happens on the table matches the sort of Divisional encounters you read in the history books. As I said they are well supported by the author and the Yahoo community, with many free scenarios available. There are supplements with more collections of scenarios, TO&Es for various combatants and a campaign system which is highly suitable for solo play (a big plus for me). As I said at the start they take some getting into, and if you want to grab-and-go they may not be your bag. But in my opinion they are worth persevering with. There are few rule sets for warfare at this level, and fewer successful ones, and for me these hit the spot.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

About Me



For my first post I thought I’d give you a quick resume of my wargaming life, which will also explain the title of the blog. I started as a modeller – for my seventh birthday I got an Airfix Spitfire, and that was my course set. Duck Egg Blue for the undersides, in a little glass jar as I remember. So my childhood was all Airfix kits and soldiers – I remember when my pocket money went up to four shillings a week, and Airfix put up the price of their Series 1 kits to 2s 3d, so I still couldn’t afford two. My friend and I would play games, each lining up a box of the figures on a green cloth and knocking them down alternately. Then we realised that just meant the one with an extra man would win, so we started rolling a dice to get a kill. Then one day in a bookshop I found a book by Donald Featherstone, and I realised with a huge shock that what we were doing had a name, there was actually a hobby called wargaming, that grown men wrote rules and played games with them.

The rest of my teens were Featherstone’s rules and Airfix kits. I wrote some rules for myself, highly derivative, but as far as I was concerned, if Airfix didn’t make it, then it wasn’t important. The only Russian tank was the T34, the only German tanks were the Tiger and the Panther (the PzIV was a late addition to Airfix’s range). At university I began to branch out a bit, naval rules and tiny ships from Leicester Micro Models, WW2 rules from WRG (I was amazed that you had to have specific base sizes) and 6mm models from the likes of Scotia and H&R. But then I bought three small books in a box with the odd title of Dungeons and Dragons, and the next ten years were lost to role playing.....
In 1987 I really got back into wargames – I am not sure what the trigger was, but I picked up with Ancients, designing my own continent with nations based on Rome, the Viking, Burmese etc, the whole Hyperborea thing. I got quite serious, I even entered a competition (Armageddon, now Colours, in Reading) but I did not enjoy the experience. My main motive for wargaming is to create a narrative, hence the personal continent, the nations with dynasties and generals rising and falling. “Working” the rules outside any connection with reality in order to win a match doesn’t fit my idea of the hobby – you might as well play chess.

The next diversion came when my son brought home a Space Marine and asked me to paint it (then complained when it was the wrong colour blue). So began years of 40K, Warhammer, Necromunda, Warmaster and the rest. And to be fair the Games Workshop style, the Brettonians and Tyranids, the Elf dragon riders and the Ork Dreadnaughts, they all allowed me a lot of painting and modelling fun. Through all of this I always still thought of myself as a wargamer, still bought WI and MW and went to the occasional show, but there was little time to do anything practical, especially when I got into an online space game called Eve which ate up all my time.

It was Flames of War that pulled me back in. I got a pair of Pak 43s as a free subscription gift for MW, and had great fun making them. I spent a lot of time (and money) building up a collection, and playing the rules, but I became dissatisfied with the look of the games, the FoW parking lot, with opposing tanks touching gun barrels. For a while I tried playing the FoW rules using 6mm models, which looked better, but about the time of 3rd Edition I could see the old GW “Codex Creep” starting up – new rule books, new army books, new super units and heroes with special abilities. So I began to buy and play various different rules Bolt Action, IABSM, Chain of Command. I also revived my interest in the smaller scale, 6mm, buying the GHQ models which are head and shoulders above their competition and replacing my armies with improved versions. I have played a lot with the GHQ sets (Micro Armour and Micro Armour 1:1) with their models, and also with a set called Panzer Grenadier Deluxe, which is nice. Most recently I have been playing a set called Panzer Korps, a Division level game which has really caught my imagination.

So that's me up to date. There's a huge amount I've skipped, Sci-fi and the Falklands, DBA and the Wild West, Colonials and Age of Sail. And who knows what next?