Thursday, 14 May 2015

Bolt Action Tank War - Bagration!

August 1944, Central Poland, in a sandy forest laager near Sandomierz. You are sitting in the turret of your command tank, enjoying the cooling shade and tantalising scents of the dense Polish pine forests. A short respite from the pace and horror of the previous day’s action and weary night road convoys. Your driver hands you a steaming cup of…well, whatever it is, at least it’s hot and wet and presented with a grin. Around you your men have taken the opportunity to conduct some light maintenance, tightening tracks, greasing and lubricating, reloading and restowing ammunition. But every now and then their clangour fades, allowing the buzzing of the insects to rise again, bring a reminder of happier days camping out in woods in the youth summer camps that seem a lifetime ago now, but in truth were less than a decade ago…
Come to think of it, the buzzing of those pesky midges is getting louder…no, it’s a motor cycle – despatches for you no doubt….

Yesterday at the Uni we trialled playing Bolt Action Tank War using 1/72nd scale models, but keeping the original ground scale, designed for 1/56th scale. This would should give a grand, and sweeping game, best suited to a large table....
3 Objectives: village, bridge, and rail crossing.
The Scenario:
Ground              Western Poland - Heavily wooded undulating terrain, some crop fields and small villages. Key North South road, crosses a minor tributary of the Vistula river by stone bridge (Any fording move counts as Rough Ground – ‘Run’ order, but only single move.

Situation      Sandomierz Bridgehead, Poland, 29 August 1944. Operation BAGRATION has been unleashed on Army Group Centre. The Russians have broken through and are racing deep into the rear. A German mobile force has been tasked to set up a hasty defence on the river line. The Germans must hold the bridge, and the two other objectives, as a bridgehead for any counter attack.

Mission        Capture/Hold all 3 objectives per BA Scenario 3: Point Defence (BA, p.112) (Objectives are captured by having a friendly AFV within 6” and no enemy units within 6”.)

Execution     The intention is to play 8 or 9 moves, no. of turns extended to account for larger table size. The German defenders may hide all their on table vehicles per BA page 117. The Soviet attackers get a preliminary bombardment per BA page 118. Dice for each on-table German unit: 1 – no effect, 2 or 3 – 1 pin marker, 4 or 5 - 2 pin marker, 6 – 2 pin markers + Top Armour strike of +3 penetration.

Before the start we diced for teams and then they selected their choice of force, all approximately equal in BA points values:

German. All Experienced.
16. Panzer Division - 6 Panthers, OR
501 Schwere Panzer Abteilung - 5 Tiger II, OR
291st Infantry Division – 2 JagdPanther, 5 Stug.

Soviet.  9 Mechanised Corps – Inexperienced. 10 T34-85, 4 SU-85, OR
12 Guards Tank Corps – Veteran. 2 IS-2, 7 T34-85.
For the first game the German team selected the 5 Tiger IIs, Konigstigers (Bengal Tiger). Well, you would, wouldn't you! The Russians selected the larger, untrained hordes of T34s and SU-85s, hoping that quantity would have a quality all of its own, as uncle Joe Stalin cogently observed.
The Germans opted to keep half their Tigers off table to escape the Russian preliminary bombardment, which whilst no doubt a wise move, meant that they were fighting in penny packets, and duly got swamped in a fast and bloody game...
For the second game, a little wiser, both sides followed the other's example, the Germans going for the larger number of Panthers, the Russians this time selecting the smaller Guards formation. This actually made for a slower, but tactically richer game, although we ran out of time so didn't achieve a clear result...

So what did we think of Bolt Action Tank War in 1/72nd scale? Well my inner megalomaniac enjoyed the spectacle of massed tanks, which you can't really get away with their  larger scale brothers. But that said I do like my 1/56 toys, and would prefer to keep this ruleset reserved for them, and stick to Battle Group rules for this intermediate scale. However, for a fast but large evening game, they do the job. And we had fun, and I had a bit of light relief from the Waterloo 200 preps!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Final Waterloo 200 Practice game!

Yes I know, not another Waterloo 200 practice game! Well, this was the last one of this 2 year project  - if we haven't got it right now, its too bad, the next time the lads meet its the big bad mega game weekend itself! But after Sunday I am confident it will reach the standard of a world class game, memorable in every way as 'wot I did on the 200th Anniversary of the iconic Napoleonic battle'! 

Anyhow, there is some method to our madness - both the Hall of Heroes venues are thriving commercial concerns, so we can only ask Matt to let us completely take over the whole joint for the weekend on the special day - so we have been practicing several combinations of the 5 tables that will make up the whole battlefield - for this game the Westernmost 4 tables, since we covered the Prussian at the last rehearsal.
Which left Vic, above, or should I say Count Lobau, who will be defending the 5th table against the Prussians, somewhat underemployed for this game, so he helped some of the less experienced players with the rules.

Speaking of less experienced players, Chris, above, has only played one or two games, but, Black Powder being the elegant rules they are, he has had no difficulties - although that might be something to do with him being a PhD!
We used our time wisely to go over the salient points of the terrain, and its effects on the game, in terms of movement, garrisons, etc, so we will all be on the same hymm sheet in June...

Although as you can see, despite Terry's stakhanovite efforts, we are still not 100% there with the terrain, in particular there's still much painting and flocking to be done. But Rome wasn't built in a day - although it might have been if Terry had been a military engineer back then instead of more recently - and we still have 6 weeks in hand.

Bryan has also done great work with hand crafting latex rubber roads which fit nicely over our sculpted terrain:
But once everyone was happy with the terrain, and their commands, we held team briefings to issue orders, then got into it...Since we are starting from historical positions, the French issued the opening sally from the grand battery:

Then advanced with DÉrlon's I Corps to the West of La Haye Sainte... 

But where was Ponsonby and the Union Brigade?

Well, actually they're still on my painting table, so the Household Brigade had to stand in, and the Allied team decided not to commit them - obviously far too smart for the mundane work of breaking up a mere infantry corps - so on that corps came, suffering incidental fire from the gallant band of KGL Rifleman garrisoning La Haye Sainte...

Coming on in the same old way....

So that as we ran out of time, having only had time for 5 moves after all our briefings and troop musters, I Corps found itself poised on the Ohain road, on the slopes of the Allied ridge...Will it break through, on to Brussels and Glory?

That, my friends, is something we will know in a few weeks time....

Monday, 16 March 2015

Waterloo 200 Practice game - the Prussians are coming...(eventually)

Yesterday, for a change of venue, we held our penultimate Waterloo 200 practice game at the Hall of Heroes Penrith, better known to the old and bold as The Tin Soldier. This had the added bonus of exposing our project, and large scale Black Powder wargaming to a wider audience.  

No Sir! - its not **#@!** Warhammer ***#!#@* Historical!

Our express aim for the game was to experiment and rehearse with the Prussian side of the Waterloo equation. At what point in the battle should they come on, how should they be allowed to deploy, how do we stop the French establishing a prepared defence on the exits from the Lasne defile, and what on earth do we do with the Prussian players before they get to move their toys onto the table?
On the commemorative weekend itself, our 20+ players will be playing across five 12foot x 6 foot tables, but this practice game concentrated on the Eastern-most table. Controversially, perhaps, we have omitted the village of Plancenoit itself! We feel that if the Prussian IV Corps manages to fight off the Western Edge of table 5 (the grey table), the French can pretty much consider themselves outflanked! It was also a trial run for Philip's command cards, which allocate senior Staff Ratings to certain key Marshals and Generals, so that we can keep the default Staff Rating at an easy to remember 8 all round. It was also a good opportunity for new and recent players to get some practice within a relatively small game, and get their models out on the table. 

Jim P's Chevaux Leger Lanciers - with a few Dragoons to make up the numbers - we tend to go for large units!

The boards were laboriously moved from the Campbelltown store under the good offices of Matt and Terry, and were the first opportunity to showcase Bryan's purpose built roads, both in 'hard' and 'soft' versions, all the better to ride the contours of our hills.  
Mein Kinder! No more shall ye struggle through bog and mud - these roads are fit for Prussian heroes!
The scenario initially experimented with having the first elements of Bulow's IV corps debouching form the Bois de Paris on move 7 (which we calculate would make it about 16:30). 
The leading elements were represented as historically as possible, so that von Losthin's 16th Brigade was allowed to arrive on table arrayed in battle order after having taken the time to shake out after crossing the Lasne defile (which is off table). As von Bulow described it:
It was half past four in the afternoon, when the head of our column advanced out of the Frichermont wood. The 15th Bde uner General von Losthin deployed quickly into battalion columns, throwing out skirmishers...the Brigade cavalry, led by the 2nd Silesian Hussar Regiment, covered this movement.
Peter Hofschroer 1815 The Waterloo Campaign, Vol 2, p. 116.
As our Hussars are provided by Troy, currently serving in Adelaide, 
3rd Brandenburg Landwehr Uhlans
a Brigade of Uhlans stood in.
The French were allowed to deploy halfway across the table, which with hindsight, and knowing Vic and Terry as I do, was a big mistake! 

Vic (l) and Terry (r) rubbing their hands with glee...Newbie Jim is wondering what he's gotten into....
Since we have adopted the Albion Triumphant Vol2 'Pas de Charge' rules for French Infantry to get an additional order bonus for being in Column, the French Infantry crossed the table in record time!
More to the point, the French divisional 6 pounder batteries were able to take the Prussian columns under medium range fires - 2 batteries at medium range - 4 dice needing 3's - Schiess!
Indeed the first few salvoes scored more than their fair share of 6's, resulting in disordered, and therefore stalled, Prussian columns. First scenario hiccup! Historically the only opposition the Prussians faced at this juncture were a few light cavalry units....The Prussian team racked their brains, whilst the French team tried not to laugh.....and continued an aggressive and active forward defence, continuing to close the noose around the exit from the Bois de Paris.

And calling forward their Light Cavalry Brigade to administer the coup de gras...

The Eagles closed on the Prussian columns...

It was not looking good - so the Prussians attempted to regain the initiative by charging with with their only undisrupted formation on table - the Uhlan brigade...

Meanwhile the Landsers were holding on, despite the odds - just...

The opposing Light Cavalry brigades closed in a resounding clash of steel - Lance against Sabre!

This would be a critical roll....

And the French Hussars evaporated - leaving their own Lancers to stem the tide of jubilant Uhlans!

At this point the Prussian medium cavalry, led by the 1st Queen's Dragoons, arrived on the field to stabilise the Prussian right flank.

However, yours truly, as the umpire allowed the French to commit a Dragoon brigade of their own, and with some masterly deployment they managed to achieve the holy trinity against an isolated Uhlan unit - support to both flanks and the rear!

So at this point, move 11, despite some stolid defence the Prussian IV Corps was really struggling to seize the initiative, and the next Prussian corps, von Zieten's I Corps was not due on for another 3 moves. Perhaps a hint of what might have been had Lobau moved forward to defend the Lasne defile.

Anyway, my scenario had pretty much stalled, so we duly wound on the clock to bring on Ziethen, further North, aligned to the Anglo-Netherlands line.

This opened up the battle a bit, if only Bulow's Corps could hang on...

By this time the Prussian Dragoons were making their presence felt, and acting a link between the two corps, first rebuffing the French lights....

Then the mediums...

And some Uhlans even caught a French line out of square, with predictable results!

But all was to no avail - from the South East the French pushed hard and aggressively to block the exit from the Bois de Paris...

So hardly a balanced or historical scenario - but a gripping game where both teams played out of their socks - thrilling to watch. Lessons learnt for the big game? Most certainly: Roads and Command Cards - good; original Prussian deployment model - bad! Back to the drawing board!

Btw, most of the Prussian models used in this game were from the wonderful Calpe Models, whose one man designer/sculpter/caster's love for his subject and outstanding attention to detail make these figures just wonderful. Also fleshed out with several battalions of the Perry hard plastic Prussian Infantry, surely a boon to any Prussian collector with a touch of megalomania!