Monday 31 August 2015

Books, FLGS, the Millennium Falcon & HMS Victory

The last weekend of the school summer vacation and we were hunting around for something to do. Normally we would go to a big event like Military Odyssey but we decided to give it a miss this year as we have done this event so many times even I was getting a little tired of it. So instead we decided to visit Rochester in Kent for a little retail therapy. The high street has several really good bookshops with extensive military history sections. Needless to say I treated myself to a few second-hand books!

Rochester is also graced with an excellent and very well stocked games shop. I treated myself to some X-Wing models and picked up some paint and varnish so by the end of the day I was a very happy chappie. 

We rounded the day off with a visit to the Guildhall Museum in Rochester. They have a very interesting exhibition on the Prison Hulks of the Medway and other nautical items, including an amazing model of the HMS Victory.

Friday 28 August 2015

Ditch the Army List

I have been spending a lot of time recently playing solo wargames and doing small scale test games with my 6mm Desert Raiders forces. Because they are tests I haven't been abiding by official army lists as such, just building forces from assorted platoons that help me explore a particular aspect of a rule or particular scenario. The result has been that I have played half a dozen small scale solo games with wildly asymmetrical forces producing some very interesting results. Each game has presented unique challenges and forced me to 'think outside the box' (a horrible turn of phrase but it aptly describes the situation). The question is, why aren't I/we doing this more often?

LRDG, Outnumbered and out-gunned...just how they like it.
The Angry Lurker once said to me "its your game, play it how you want to" and as loath as I am to agree with the old bugger he was right. I'm not a competition wargamer so I'm free to break the 'official' army lists as much as I like. I've been using the platoons as described in the various FOW campaign books but I'm not really worrying about company/army lists or the points totals as described in the books. Often I just want forces that suite a particular historical scenario and that rarely means both sides being equal.

The concept of Asymmetry in a game isn't a new idea. A Scandinavian board game from the Middle Ages (Hnefatafl) featured forces of different quality and scale. The result is a game where each player must fight in a completely different way to his opponent to use the resources he or she has to the best advantage. Many modern co-operative boardgames also feature asymmetrical forces (games like Axis and Allies for instance) although usually these try to balance the sides by conferring advantages or disadvantages to the forces available. (Check out this post on Tiny Hordes for a more detailed discussion about Asymmetry in Wargames)

"Zulus - thousands of 'em."
Most, but by no means all, wargame rules seem to revolve around points systems and balanced forces. This is particularly evident in those game systems that have an active tournament circuit where forces need to adhere to strict compositional rules and official army lists. But there are also plenty of rule sets out there that have shied away from fixed points values for units. My personal view is that asymmetrical wargames are quite possible in either type of system, providing you stop thinking about points values and instead concentrate on the scenario and its objectives. This is much easier if you are recreating a historical encounter with accurate orders of battle because real army commanders (if they are any good at their job) will be constantly striving for the most asymmetric encounter possible to achieve victory. Concentration of force has been a central principle in military thinking for thousands of years so it should be incredibly rare for two sides of equal strength to end up facing each other, yet that is exactly what happens on games tables time after time.

Its also seems to me that there is far too much talk about 'Balance' in wargames rules. Defining what is balanced and what isn't seems to be an incredibly hazardous undertaking based largely on the viewpoint of the observer (or rule writer in this case). Warfare cannot be reduced to a series of perfect calculations that measure quality or effectiveness, there are too many variables (which is where the dice come in). What I'm trying to say is that any points system aimed at achieving balance is by its very nature a compromise and almost certainly inaccurate, so why get hung up on balance when its a myth in the first place?

Of course if you do decide to ditch the army lists and ignore balance you and your players will have to accept that playing the game is more important than just winning it? Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a victory as much as the next man, but if winning is the be-all and end-all of wargaming then tournaments, points systems and official lists are definitely for you (there's nothing wrong with that, its just not my primary motivator). For me wargaming has always been more than just an elaborate game of chess with a simple victory or defeat outcome. I enjoy researching the history, crafting and painting my forces and of course I enjoy the comradeship that comes from wargaming with other players. But whether I'm playing solo or with my friends I just enjoying playing the game and when I think about the things I love about my hobby, winning games actually comes fairly low on my list.

I've rambled on a bit but I guess what I am trying to say is you should consider throwing caution to the winds, ditch the army lists in favour of more 'realistic' encounters and embrace inequality with open arms. At the very least it'll make for a more interesting game.

Monday 24 August 2015

Playtesting Desert Raiders Game

Over the weekend I took advantage of a wet Sunday afternoon to get my Desert Raiders out on the table and practise some aspects of the rules that I wasn't sure about. Although I am using the Flames of War system there are a lot of special rules that apply that I am not familiar with. Rather than playing solo I decided this would be a great opportunity to get my daughter involved. She's not a complete wargame novice (she loves X-Wing for instance) but she did prove to be more tactically astute than your average 10 year old! As well as being a good opportunity to play test my forces and practice umpiring the game this was also a great afternoon just one to one with my little girl.

I let her play the LRDG while I took on the more challenging Italian forces as they arrived. She then set up the terrain and I guided her through laying out an Airfield as her objective. I don't have a proper games table at home so I improvised with the dining table, giving us a playing surface about 5' x 3'3". The game would open as soon as her attacking LRDG raised the alarm and from that point on her task was to raise hell with the Italians, destroying as many aircraft and buildings as possible before making good her escape at the other and of the table. I played the poor beleaguered Italians with just a handful of troops on the airfield at the start of the game. The vast majority of my defence forces would arrive as time delayed reinforcements meaning the LRDG would have the battlefield largely to themselves at the start of the game. The tricky part for the Allied player would be guessing how long they had to achieve maximum damage to the Italians while still allowing time for their escape. 

Emily formulated her own plan, using one troop of LRDG Chevy's as a diversion while another held a reserve position in the nearby town and the third Patrol attacked the airfield itself. Here you can see the diversionary patrol firing across the perimeter fence of the airfield while the main attacking force races for the main gate. 

First Blood...the LRDG run the gate, quickly destroying the first sentry position before fanning out across the airfield. 

The LRDG quickly pour MG fire into everything in sight, focusing on the Italian Aircraft but also hitting and destroying the Control tower. 

Havoc reigns on the airfield as the LRDG race up and down the runway blasting at everything and setting the field ablaze.

Meanwhile the first of my reinforcements (a Bersaglieri Company) arrives on the opposite of the end of the table, far from the action or any LRDG units. 

The LRDG race back towards the entrance of the airfield, with Italian planes and buildings burning all around them. In the distance the rest of the LRDG patrols have already started to head towards the exit point and are preparing to run the gauntlet of Italian troops now converging on their position. 

The lead vehicle of the escaping LRDG is knocked out forcing the following trucks to slow down. Despite being hit and destroyed the crew of this truck have escaped and are soon picked up by one of the other trucks. 

Job done the attacking Patrol races out of the airfield and begins their long and hazardous escape. 

More LRDG Chevy trucks are destroyed but its probably too little too late for the Italians as they can't stop the first allied vehicles steady progress to freedom. 

Although the tally of LRDG vehicles destroyed would slowing rise as the game concluded the Italians were unable to stop most of the LRDG from escaping off the table.

Much to my daughters delight we declared this an LRDG win as they had wrought havoc on the Italian airfield and escaped with over half of their force intact. So did I learn anything from this test game (aside from never challenge a 10 year old to a wargame!)? 

  • Firstly I need to beef up Italian defences to give them a fighting chance of defending themselves. The LRDG run amok almost unchallenged for the first half of the game and did the vast majority of the damage with just one of their three Patrols. 
  • I applied the night fighting rules during this game but instead of randomly rolling for visibility before every round of shooting I decided that all ranges would be set at 12". This gave the LRDG a huge advantage when attacking the airfield and then unfairly benefited the Italian's during the pursuit stage of the game. Next time I'll stick to the rules as written. 
  • From an Umpires point of view I need to list all the special rules on a single reference sheet because I'm sure I forgot some during the course of this game. 
  • Similarly I need a check sheet to keep track of bailed out LRDG teams from destroyed vehicles. If these escape or are picked up by friendly trucks they count towards the allied victory conditions. 
  • Also when friendly units pick up bailed out crew I think they need a movement penalty to represent them slowing down to allow their comrades to leap on board. 
  • Lastly I think I need to shorten the delay before Italian reinforcements begin to arrive, again to give them a fighting chance against the raiding LRDG. 

We both had a great afternoon and I found this game a very useful practise run for my Desert Raiders. The fact that my daughter thoroughly enjoyed herself at the same time was a clear and welcome bonus. In fact she's already asking when we can play another game. I'm more than happy to indulge, even if I do have to put up with a 10 year old doing a victory dance at the end of the game.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Top 10 Impulse Buying Disasters

Wargamers can be a flighty bunch, flitting from one project to another accumulating a pile of lead (or plastic) in the process. I certainly was until a few years ago when I made a conscious effort to clear my backlog of unfinished projects and not buy anything new unless I had a firm plan for it. Of course like most plans mine didn't survive first contact with the enemy. Despite my best efforts I have bought several items that I later regretted. Some were mistakes, others were pure impulse overriding common sense. Here's my top ten in reverse order.

A Wargamers Top Ten Impulse Buying Disasters

10 - Charity shop gaming mat
I've bought plenty of gaming mats over the years but one was a classic mistake. I picked up mat from a charity shop but didn't open the box in the store before buying it. When I got home I found that the mat had been very badly painted to represent hills and a river. Fortunately the mat only cost me a quid and it quickly migrated to the bin when I discovered its clumsy customisation.

9 - The inadequate tube
I bought a large 'map tube' to store a 6x4' gaming mat in. When I got home I found the tube was actually only 3'9" long. A friend of mine ended up with the tube which he used for the innovative purpose of storing maps in!

8 - Scale creep
Scale creep is something we are all familiar with but still managed to catch me out. I bought some figures from a bargain bin at a show only to find they were completely out of proportion to my existing collection. Most remained in my lead mountain for a long time only to be given away years later.

7 - The wrong tanks
Another rookie mistake I made occurred when I started collecting historical forces for the first time. I merrily bought loads of 15mm WWII vehicles based on what I liked, rather than building a particular army list. This was a case of shinybloodyitus pure and simple and several of the models I bought never made it into any of my armies.

6 - The 'special offer' 
I'm not normally one to get swept away by marketing or 'sales' and try to keep a level head when buying stuff. But at Salute a few years ago I was about to leave the show after a long successful day shopping and saw a special offer on a KR model bag. The fact that I didn't need the bag didn't stop me from picking up this bargain. The bag was eventually sold several years later at the SELWG Bring a Buy for a third of the price I had originally paid for it.

5 - The unused army
I'm guessing I'm not alone in investing in painted figures only to never use them. But I have gone one further, an entire army that never saw action. Way back when I first started wargaming I played Warhammer Fantasy Battle and bought my friends Dwarven Army when he decided to change forces. They were very nice models and remained very nice for several years because they never came out of the boxes I bought them in.

4 - A shattering experience
Another impulse buy made at Salute was a rather nice looking WWII building. The 15mm resin model of a row of bombed out houses came pre painted and really looked the part. However I should have realised the structure was far too fragile for resin and within hours of getting it home I dropped it, breaking it into twenty or thirty bits.

3 - Bargain basement varnish
I had run out of my favourite varnish and rather than wait for my on-line order to arrive I bought a cheap can of spray varnish from a high street discount store. I've no idea how old the can was, or if it had been stored badly by the retailer but the varnish came out completely opaque. Fortunately I tested it first, narrowly avoiding ruining a newly finished infantry platoon.

2 - Twice as good
I have a big collection of books and not surprisingly most are about military history. I came across a nice collection of second hand books on a stall at a living history event and after a bit of haggling on the price walked away with two great books on German armour in WWII. When I got home I found that I had both books already. Worse still they had the prices I paid for them written on the inside cover in pencil and it was less than I had just paid at the show!

1 - There's Sable and then there's Kolinsky Sable
The worst purchase I ever made has to be a whole set of Games Workshop brushes I bought several years ago. For the last decade or more my brush of choice has been the Winsor and Newton Series 7. They are expensive but the quality is outstanding with some of my current brushes still going strong after 10 years service. Why I bought the set from GW is beyond me and after just one use I threw the lot in the bin. Maybe I bought a duff bunch but I have never encountered brushes as poor as those and I really should have known better and stuck with my tried and trusted series 7's.

So having now made a public spectacle of myself the question is, what were your worst hobby purchases? You don't have to list ten, but what about your top five worst impulse buying disasters? I can't be the only Wargamer out there with a tenuous grasp on his money!

Tuesday 18 August 2015

Boston War Memorial

While we were on holiday a few weeks ago the family and I visited Boston in Lincolnshire. We went to a small local museum, did a bit of shopping and I climbed the eighty three meter high tower of St Botolph's Church, known locally as the "Boston Stump". These were all things we knew about before visiting Boston but what we were not expecting to encounter was the towns incredible War Memorial. My interest in the Second World War obviously draws me to memorials and monuments wherever we travel but I have rarely encountered something of such sombre grandeur in such a small(ish) town. 

The Memorial is well kept and each plaque is dedicated to a different campaign or battle from both world wars. 

The most amazing things was that this memorial was raised entirely 'by public subscription'
The original memorial built in 1921 commemorated the 348 residents of Boston who were killed or missing in World War I. After the second world war a further 215 names were added for the townspeople lost in that conflict.

The original memorial garden was added to for the Centenary commemorations last year. More pictures can be seen on the Lost Ancestors website here including images of all the name plates and each of the newly added campaign stones.

Friday 14 August 2015

New Painting Chair

I'm not normally one to sit and paint for long periods, partly because in recent years it really hurts my back. I recognise that this is all part of getting old but but its also a symptom of poor posture. I normally sit at my painting desk on a dining chair which is slightly too high and inevitably results in a hunched, bent over, position during long painting sessions.

Buying a replacement chair has always been on my to-do list but never seems to have become a priority, especially when I looked at the price of suitable chairs (The equation being one chair equals lots and lots of models...I'll take the models please!). However I recently came across this nice second hand leather tub chair and quickly realised it was an ideal replacement for my normal seat.

The chair would ordinarily be too low but this one had four casters on the feet raising it by a couple of inches and making it pretty much the perfect height. The arms needed a little bit of restoration to repair some minor scratches and scuff marks and in the end I changed the casters for larger, more robust ones. All in all a pretty simple repair job and now it sits in pride of place in front of my desk.

My wife - bless her - has been chuckling at me since I first brought the chair home and started repairing it. For some reason she has found my 'childlike enthusiasm' (her phrase, not mine) quite amusing. According to her all I need now is a smoking jacket and pipe to complete the picture! 

Monday 10 August 2015

Military & Flying Machines 2015

On Sunday I went to the excellent Military and Flying Machines event at Damyns Hall Aerodrome in Rainham. I've been going to this 'small' local living history event for some years and it seems to go from strength to strength. This years event was better than ever and as always I took my camera to record the day. 

An SAS Desert Land Rover from the first Gulf War

FV435 armoured personnel carrier

I think this is a US Army TD-24 bulldozer but I#m happy to be contradicted of someone out there knows better.

GMC CCKW 353 Gasoline truck

Ford GPW Jeep

Marmon Herrington Truck

Armourtek Scale vehicles

A replica Sturmgeschütz

Bomb Disposal vehicle


Bedford QRL

An amazing collection of wartime Harleys

The re-enactment battle opens with a very impressive barrage

A Cromwell tank supports the British

And scores a direct  hit on one of the German vehicles

But two Sturmgeschütz move into position and force the Cromwell to retire

A British Universal Carrier

The Cromwell parades after the battle

As does the Sturmgeschütz

The show also features a great air display, including this Mk IV Spitfire

A German Fieseler Fi 156 Storch

The B17 Flying Fortress Sally B

Another Spitfire (also a Mk IV) this time from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight
The weather was hot and sunny and the selection of vehicles and aircraft on display was top notch. A great day out and a fantastic way to finish my summer vacation.