Saturday 31 October 2009
The opening chapters set the scene of a European was that has ground into a blood soaked impasse with a war that neither side could 'win'. The Germans seem to have settled on the policy of static defence, holding onto their gains from the opening months of the war. The Allies meanwhile try time and again to break the stalemate with men and shells and bayonets. This picture of futility has been burned into our collective Psyche and for many people in Europe they could see no end to the slaughter.
In the background however there was a growing demand for some new tactic or weapon that would unlock the stalemate and allow Europe's armies to fight a more traditional war of maneuver. Many wild and impractical solutions were devised and some, such as the use of Poison Gas, were implemented with little or no effect except to increase the suffering at the front. A handful of individuals however held a vision of a fighting machine capable of crossing no mans land and the trenches beyond.The following chapters go on to reveal the slow and painful development of the Tank from several crackpot ideas to unworkable prototypes through to the first proper tank, Little Willie. The concept was developed further and thus Her Majesties Land Ship Centipede was born. Now the authorities seemed to be grudgingly accepting that maybe this concept had some promise, and a a small initial order was placed for 100 MkI's.
Secrecy was something of a joke. During the preceding years many people who had a hand in the development and concept of the tank had been openly discussing (and in the case of Ernest Swinton, lobbying) this potential wonder weapon. Questions were even asked in the House of commons and printed in Hansard about the new land ships. Fortunately the Germans didn't seem to have a subscription to Hansard and the secret remained secure. A new Training camp was established at Elveden Hall in Norfolk and the first recruits for the Machine Gun Heavy Section (the genesis of the Tank Corp) began to be assembled.
Secrecy however seems to have still been something of a farce and of course it worked both ways. For the new commanders and trainees of the Heavy Section finding out what the 'front' was actually like was near on impossible. None ever got close enough to the lines to see the sort of obstacles they would actually have to traverse and the conditions they would have to endure. None the less a mock trench system and man made trenches were dug at Elveden and the new tanks were put through their paces.
The vehicles themselves were far from perfect, indeed by any acceptable modern definition they would still have been described as prototypes. Prone to breakdowns they were hellish to work inside. Hot, incredibly noisy and filled with fumes the men inside were battered, bruised, roasted and even on some occasions rendered unconscious by the fumes. Despite this they were about to be committed to battle for the first time. The Somme would be their bloody debut and it was a muddy disaster.Throughout the remainder of the book Campbell takes the reader through what felt like one disaster after another. Yet despite the heavy losses, breakdowns and lack of proper tactics the tanks had impressed the likes of Sir Douglas Haig enough that he called for more to be built. At Cambrai Tanks were used for the first time in a combined Arms operation that was initially a huge success. But the lack of a strategic reserve meant that the Germans were able to counterattack and retake most the the ground that was lost. Perhaps more crucially they were also able capture some British tanks and transport them to Germany for their secrets to be unravelled. At times during my time reading this book I felt like shouting at the pages. Battle after battle seems to have been fought using the the same plan as last time only tweaked a little "because this time it will work". The unmitigated horror and loss of life pours out of the pages with every first hand account and eyewitness report. The Generals in charge were not the ancient traditionalists they are often made out to be. Haig in particular seemed very open to new ideas and new technology. But time and time again the implementation of new weapons seemed to be piecemeal, premature and poorly executed resulting in horrific casulaties.
This book is definitely worthy of a place on my shelves and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the period.
Friday 30 October 2009
Just reading his words gave me a warm fuzzy feeling and made me want to rush home, dig out my Red Box and read the rulebooks again. Check out Wil's Blog, I think you'll enjoy it.
Thursday 29 October 2009
One of the things highlighted by May's programme was that kids today have so many distractions. They live in a technological age of wonder (compared to our day) full of computer consoles, iPhones, MSN, Laptops and mobiles. Communication is easy, instant and ubiquitous and entertainment has become hi tech and portable. The tech-noise is now so loud it has drowned out everything else. This sounds like disaster for our hobby which maybe lacks the glamor and easy access of a computer game.
Despite this I did think the programme gave us old farts a small glimmer of hope. When the kids had finished their project (to build a 1:1 scale Airfix Supermarine Spitfire) they seemed genuinely proud of their achievement. Some even said they would make an Airfix model again - without the incentive of a TV personality prodding them with a stick to do so. These children learned the hard way that making a model is fun and deeply satisfying in a way that computer games with their instant gratification are not.
Let me state for the record that I love technology, I love computer games and I love living in the future. OK I haven't got the Jet Packs and Spaceships I wanted as a kid but on the whole we live in an exciting and fast moving age of wonder. But sometimes we need to slow down to truly appreciate what we have. I for one think this is ever more important for our children who are saturated and utterly immersed in this hi-tech world. Now and again we should encourage them to unplug, disconnect, turn off and slow down. That's also good advice for us adults.
Wednesday 28 October 2009
First off, what exactly are Iron Rations? The idea of a pre-prepared food ration for soldiers has been around since the early 1800's but only got fully established in the 20th century. Often these were designed as emergency rations for when troops were not able to be fed and supplied by an army canteen. Rations often include a meal of some kind plus the necessary makings of a hot drink such as coffee or chocolate. The meal might be a dried food item designed for field cooking or it might be a ready-to-eat item such as an energy bar. One thing that is clear is that nothing like this existed in the quasi-medieval world in which D&D is set. The second questions is, what would be a better alternative for our PC's? Tolkien developed the ideal alternative in the form of the Elven Lembas Bread. This is often referred to as waybread and may have been based on the well known (but much less nutritious) hardtack biscuits used by the navy. This would complimented by the invigorating Ent-draught, a drink brewed from mountain spring water by the Tree Ents of Middle Earth.
- Dried meat - Made by soaking strips of meat in salt brine or rubbing with dry salt. The meat is dried and needs to be re-hydrated before eating.
- Hard cheeses: These have a high calorific value and remain edible for a long time. They are also versatile being suitable for cooking.
- Sausages: The sausage has been around for centuries and is a common way of preserving meat during the winter months. Usually made by mixing ground meat with spices and then put in a casing made from animal intestine.
- Bread: The elves are not the only race to enjoy bread. Bread is one of the oldest foods and is high in nutritional value. Bread can be extended in life by twice-baking (or four times in the case of hardtack).
- Pickled Vegetables: The art of pickling is almost as old as the art of bread making.
- Dried Fruits: This was a common way of preserving fruits in the ancient world and would ensure bountiful harvests lasted all year. They are also a good way of ensuring good nutrition for the weary traveler.
Tuesday 27 October 2009
I have used the Lacquer version several times and can testify that it is the best totally flat varnish I have ever used. However I do find that hand brushing to a consistent standard is quite hard. This may be just me but I'd rather use a spray version and have been on the lookout for it for months.
The original formulation of the spray version of the Dullcote fell foul of EU regulations because it contained Toluene. This new formulation works just as well - so I'm told.
The caves have featured in several television programmes including an episode of the BBC programme Doctor Who from 1973 titled The Mutants. Of course according to my kids this isn't Dr Who... "Jon Pertwee who?" they said. "Yes" said I, much to their confusion.More recently, some of the tunnels have been used for live action role-playing (LARPing). This must have been an interesting experience because its not until you've wandered these tunnels with just a paraffin lamp to light your way do you realise how dark it is. This might sound like a silly statement but if you've ever played D&D you'll be familiar with the standard equipment every adventuring Player Character takes with them into the dungeon. The (burning) torch and Lantern sound fine on paper, but in reality they give off very little light. I've run or played in plenty of games where the 'light source' of an adventuring party is given little or no thought. It seems to be assumed that if a torch provides light for say a 60ft radius then everything is clear right out to that distance. In reality anything beyond about 15-20ft will be dark and hard to identify without direct light (from a Bullseye Lamp for instance). In future I will definitely be emphasising the poor visibility provided by these light sources when I run a game. The ubiquitous adventurers burning torch will never be the same again.
Monday 26 October 2009
The Surfacescapes concept has been around for a couple of years but this is the first time I have seen it used in a 'practical' application. This looks like Wizards of the Coasts D&D Insider on steroids! But is it D&D?
I've never really taken to electronic dice rollers - call me old fashioned but I like the tactile experience of holding the dice. Other than this I quite like the look of this concept... especially the fact that this proves that D&D geeks are out there designing the software interfaces of tomorrow.
Truly, the Geeks shall inherit the Earth.
- Nachos/Corn Chips - If it doesn't crunch loudly during the GM's important monologue then it isn't working.
- Beer (if you're not driving) is guaranteed to make the game interesting. Uninhibited players are soooo interesting.
- Cola or other soft drink for the designated driver... meaning me most of the time.
- Pringles - Cheese & Chive or Paprika. Don't know why but I just associate these with a game. And the lids make great mixing trays for paints.
- Pretzels - High salt content they ensure a steady flow of Beer/Cola and trips to the toilet at various crucial moments in the game.
- Pizza - Don't mention the anchovies... no seriously.
- Coffee - To keep the GM Sharp. He needs to be to able to handle the outrageous behaviour of those that have over-consumed item 2
- Chocolate - The Players need the energy boost after the 4th hour of gaming. Especialy when game night is at the end of a long working week.
- Chips or French Fries - Saturated fat and gaming go hand in hand. I'm sure it's in the rules somewhere.
- Kebab... well we are Brits after all.
OK maybe this isn't a list to every ones taste (no pun intended), but this certainly seems to sum up the eating habits of my group. Surprisingly none of us have had a heart attack yet.
Sunday 25 October 2009
The vehicle looks amazingly impractical and is a world away from the Panzers of WWII.
Saturday 24 October 2009
We dressed our wounds and decided to press on towards the Temple. The passage was dark, often narrow and alarmingly shadow filled. Despite this the group pressed on and soon entered the hidden chamber at the back of the temple... we were in!
The Halfling then opens the opposite door to Room 3 with a little less subtlety than the situation required. Inside the room are 4 rather startled Orcs and several straw ‘cots’ indicating others elsewhere in the temple complex. Here we go again....
Friday 23 October 2009
Peter Greenaway (aka. "The Evil GM") - Pete is one of the Old Contemptibles, having been part of the group from the start. He's a talented GM and and uncannily lucky player. Pete took on the job of running our first 4E D&D game and we haven't let him off the hook yet. From time to time I have posted guest articles from Pete as he has an uncanny ability to sit on the fence and argue with himself!
John Dorney is a recent(ish) addition to the group. An Actor and writer he also does a bit of Stand Up Comedy and has been an interviewer at several SciFi conventions. Possibly his most prolific work however has been in several BBC Radio Dr Who episodes. John is the official funny man of the group. His roleplaying characters are always hilarious particularly the Half Orc Fighter, Runk, who became a legend in his own time.
Dave Stokes is a very talented artist who always has a sketchpad to hand. Earlier in the year he published his first art book and he's been very busy since then. He is also a fellow and long time blogger where he displays his artwork. Dave is a big time World of Warcraft player and has also run a Dragonlance D&D campaign for our group in the past, although after the mauling we gave his adventure he may be reconsidering ever doing that again!
Derek Kettlety is the quiet one in the group. This may be because he often found with his head down frantically scribbling notes during every game. Derek is legendary for his in depth development of character backstories. Several of his D&D characters have literally come to life in the form of short stories and even (its rumored) an as yet unpublished book. While other players are maxing out their skills and feats Derek is often the only one considering his PC's motivation and inner feelings.
Andrew Ashenden is another Old Contemptable having been part of our group pretty much from the start. He's also yet another Actor and a qualified Fight Director. Fortunately we haven't needed his skills with a Rapier or Quarterstaff in real life, but its always interesting to play alongside someone for whom these weapons are not just abstract rules in a book. When Andy is playing the GM usually braces himself for the unexpected...meaning action, combat and chaos. Andy literally is the Eye of the Storm.
Peter Gentry is part of the original old school D&D group. Along with the other Peter & Andy we all started playing D&D when it still came in a red box with a Dragon on the front of it. Peter now lives in Ipswich but still attends the occasional game when he passes through the old hometown. The standing joke is that all Pete's characters are actually the same guy, but with a different name. This is a little harsh but very funny. One day when Pete couldn't make a game we put a life sized cardboard cutout wizard and sat it in a chair to stand in for him.
So there you have it. These are the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers... and tonight we venture into the Temple of Orcus to rescue some halfling slaves. Well, thats the plan anyway.
Thursday 22 October 2009
This issue of WI focuses on the American War of Independence, a conflict I know relatively little about. I doubt if I'll rush out and buy a load of models to game the period but I can still enjoy the content and scenarios and who knows, maybe I'll be inspired to do some additional reading on this world changing period of history.
So whats inside the glossy cover of issue 265?
- So much at Stake - AWI - Setting the scene, and overview
- Heavy Artillery in WWI - WWI - The problems of using artillery in tabletop games
- Morgan vs Tarleton - AWI - A look at two lessor known generals
- Recce over the Canal - WWII - A FoW scenario for reconnaissance forces
- Uniforms of the Southern Campaign - AWI - Illustrations & Examples
- Building Bridges - A how to modeling guide
- Battle of Guilford Courthouse 1781 - AWI - Battle report
- In Conversation with Rick Priestley - Discusses the release of Black Powder
- The Battle at El Perez - Peninsular War - Battle report based on the Black Powder rules
- The Chain of Evils - AWI - Scenarios for fighting the Battle of the Capes & Yorktown
- Rules Roundup - AWI - Suggestions for game play
- Festival of History - A tour of the UK's biggest Living History event
Once again this is a glossy, colourful and well put together magazine with interesting content. It's rare that I will read any magazine cover to cover but this is exactly what I have done with every issue of Wargames Illustrated since its rebirth earlier in the year. It could be argued that making each issue a 'special', might put people off if they don't game the period featured. But for me it has the opposite effect. Concentrating related articles on a given subject helps give a novice like me a chance to get inside the history and get a real flavor for gaming the period featured.
Wednesday 21 October 2009
It would be nice to see some of the Demo tables with more information available to visitors. Some of the tables provided information sheets about their games but the majority didn't. This isn't in itself a problem, if you're the sort of person who feels comfortable sparking up a conversation with the guys on the table. But multiply those little conversations by say 30 demo tables and they all start to meld into one confused blur. I guess I feel the problem a little more acutely because I like to come away from a show with pictures as well as miniatures. Trying to figure out who was on what table, what their game was etc can be a bit daunting - even if I process my pictures the same day. As I get older and my mind starts to go I fully expect this problem will get worse!
It would be great if each demo table could provide some sort of handout with basic details on it. This doesn't have to be a double sided A4 colour brochure (although that would be nice). A simple photocopied A5 sheet would be sufficient. Something that would be relatively simple to put together and cheep to reproduce.
So what sort of information would I like to see on the sheet?
- Name of the Club or Organisation running the demo table
- A table number or reference that links to the show guide (if there is one)
- Contact details for the club & details of where they meet etc
- The demonstrators names
- Name/Title of the game
- Period or specific dates if applicable
- A little background or historical context
- The rules system being used
- The scale of the miniatures being used
- Who makes the miniatures on display
- Additional information on terrain features
- If the table is scratch built, who did it?
If you're a club and have run Demo's please don't take the views here as a negative criticism. Far from it I fully appreciate the time and effort that goes into planning, preparing and running a demo or participation game. I just think its a pity that all that effort might not get the recognition it deserves in forums & blogs for instance. Keep up the great work guys, but spare a thought for us bloggers with poor memories!
Tuesday 20 October 2009
The show was split as usual between the Balcony/Concourse and the Main Hall, with two additional halls downstairs for extra displays and the Bring & Buy. Nearly 70 traders were in attendance making this one of the biggest events in the London area (after SALUTE). Some people I spoke to seemed to think attendance was down on previous years but I wasn't able to say myself, having only been once before in 2006. Irrespective of numbers through the door most of the people I spoke to seemed to be parting with large sums of cash and trading appeared brisk all day.
Down in the main hall there was an impressive array of display games covering pretty much every period its possible to game in. Some tables stood out for me, especially the Hockwald Gap game run by Shepway Wargames Club. This was ‘eye candy’ at its best with lots of little details and vignettes that had me returning for more several times during the day. This is the sort of gaming table we all aspire to but realistically can only be achieved as club effort. Another game that caught my eye was the Aspern-Essling Napoleonic encounter run by Too Fat Lardies. This used ‘blank markers’ to identify units that were as yet unidentified by opposing players (the models would come on later in the game as LOS was established). I had a long and interesting chat with one of the guys at the table…but forgot to get his name! (Note to self: Bring notebook in future!!). Deal Wargames Club put on an excellent display with their game Crossing the Irrawaddy. This featured an opposed waterborne landing, a very muddy looking river and some excellent terrain.
Monday 19 October 2009
In the meantime here's a look at what I bought on the trade stands. This was a big event with over 50 traders scattered throughout the venue and I planned to take full advantage of the opportunity. I went with a prepared shopping list, a wodge of cash and hit list of traders I wanted to target first. My purchases were exclusively for my growing Flames of War army and I bought pretty much everything I set out to get. First off I wanted some Panzer Grenadier's so I picked up a Platoon box. I was also on the lookout for my next Panzer Platoon and bought a box of five Panther A's. I plan on picking up some more of these at a later stage but I want to check out the quality of the models first. In particular I'm eager to compare these Panthers to those produced by other manufacturers.
Tomorrow I'll post some pictures from the show and hopefully I'll have the video shortly after that.
Sunday 18 October 2009
Saturday 17 October 2009
"Mr. Wells has developed his game so that the country over which the campaign is to be fought is laid out in any desired manner, with the aid of branches of shrubs as trees, with cardboard bridges, rocks, chalked-out rivers, streams and fords, cardboard forts, barracks, houses, and what not; there are employed leaden infantrymen and cavalrymen, and guns firing wooden cylinders about an inch long, capable of hitting a toy soldiers nine times out of ten at a distance of nine yards, and having a screw adjustment for elevation and depression.
There are strict rules governing the combat. Before the battle begins, the country is divided by the drawing of a curtain across it for a short time, so that the general of each opposing army may dispose of his forces without the enemy's being aware of that disposition. Then the curtains are drawn back and the campaign begins. All moves of men and guns are timed. An infantryman moves not more than a foot at a time, a cavalryman not more than two feet, and a gun, according to whether cavalry or infantry are with it, from one to two feet.
Mr. Wells is seen on the left of the drawing, taking a measurement with a length of string, to determine the distance some of his forces may move. On the right and left are seen the curtains for dividing the country before beginning the game."
(Source: Web Page by Phil Dutre)
Little Wars was first published in 1913 and it is now available online free at Project Gutenberg. The most recent edition of the book in 2004 includes a foreword by Gary Gygax.
Friday 16 October 2009
These miniatures are all resin (with integral base) and produced by Battlefront for the Flames of War game. I picked them up at the Redoubt show way back in July simply because they looked good. The models were actually quite easy to paint although I did find I needed to give them a good scrub in detergent to prep the surfaces for painting.
The detailing on the resin miniatures is quite good without being overly elaborate and this actually made these easier to paint. The only downside to them being a single cast model their is no clearance between the vehicle and the base. This can be 'hidden' by painting the area black, which is fine for wargaming miniatures but maybe not so if you collect for display only.
I'm still unsure how I can use these in my Panzer Company but I'm sure I'll find a place for them eventually.
Thursday 15 October 2009
The first picture shows how I fixed the tracks to the resin Hull pieces. The second picture shows the Mud Guards which I still consider to be too flimsy and their connection to the Tracks to be too small for a robust bond. I strongly suspect these will need regular repair once these models get into usage. The Third picture shows the bolts I fixed to the turrets and hulls to hold the minis while painting. I detailed this method in a recent post. The last of the four pictures shows the assembled vehicles base coated and highlighted awaiting detail.
So how did they turn out in the end?... here's the eye candy.