Thursday, 25 February 2021

Flames of War - Bagration: Swinging the Sickle



Last night at the uni Colin and I played one of the Bagration scenarios Swinging the Sickle. This is a fascinating scenario which to my mind really reflects the sort of actions which characterised the Operation BAGRATION actions in Byelorussia on that fateful summer of '44.

This is a dynamic scenario whereby the objectives disappear over time, Obj. 1 after 3 moves, Obj. 2 after 5, to encourage mobility and aggression, and the defenders forces have to start withdrawing after move 2.

As usual with our evening games, we were each restricted to 70 points, no Air, no AA. I took along two small T-34-85 companies, a hero SMG company, and a 122mm arty battery and observer. Colin brought...well, we'll go into what Colin brought along later, when I need to marshal my excuses for my inevitable interview with the NKVD...


Not having a BA-64 armoured car for my arty observer, I improvised and adapted...Having a point to spare, I also bought the Bagration Soviet Command Card Maskirovka - which allows you to move your opponents pre planned arty marker...unfortunately, Colin didn't bother bringing any arty...the plan had started to unravel already and we hadn't even made contact with the enemy yet...


The table was agreed virtually with Colin prior to the game, to save a little time - well, in the event the game was over so quickly we could have taken our sweet time setting up! I tried to provide plenty of both tall and short cover, and a dominating hill - and it did...


So what did Colin bring for his 70 points? Well, he brought an Elephant! Some other stuff as well, but definitely I remember an Elephant. An Elephant with a 48 inch range, and A/T penetration of 17! And of course he plonked it down on the top of the dominating hill...Did I mention the Elephant? I pointed out that deploying right on top of the hill counted as being in the open, and he laughed at me and pointed out its frontal armour was 16...'nuff said!


The German perspective shown above. Note the Elephant on the hill, and some other stuff...


The T-34s duly made use of all available cover to advance...


And the Red God of War rained down 122mm sized packages of severe prejudice on the lighter German other stuff...


Not without effect...


The infantry snuck up on the village, ever closer to the first objective.


The Elephant started to find the range...


The Tridsat'chetyres opened up on the Stugs...


But this only seemed to goad the Elephant to greater fury...once all my armour had been brewed or bailed, I conceded after turn 3...

Real world: Guards Lieutenant Vasily Sarafonov and crew - thank you for your Service and sacrifice gentlemen.

My force had done all that it could, but nobody said nuthin' about locking horns with no Elephants...it was a wasted trip, Baby!

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Black Powder: Small scale Peninsula action

 

Despite my new found enthusiasm for Lasalle second edition for club games, Black Powder remain my ruleset of choice, particularly for solo game where my poor brain has to run both sides!


Today's solo scenario was a hastily thrown together attack-defence game set in the Peninsula - an Anglo-Portuguese rear guard division of two brigades is holding a pass between two hills. The French Corps of 2 Divisions have to break throw in 8 moves to continue the pursuit. My ulterior motive, is to see if you can have medium sized 28mm Naps game on a 6 x 4 without it looking too cramped. Not that Napoleonic battlefields were wide open spaces!


So the Portuguese and British duly occupy reverse slope positions...


And the French come on in column.


Disciplined volleys of allied firepower, assisted by Cacadores and Rifles on the flanks, pour it on!


The columns stagger and recoil...


Then the second wave come on, keeping the pressure on.


It would help the French cause if the second division could get into the game...


The second wave of assaults force the line back


And finally the second French division pitches in - the lead brigade will contain the Allied left flank, the second brigade, still in march column, prepares to pour through any gap that is created...


En avant mes enfants!


The French columns make one last effort...


And break through! A rare French victory of column over allied line...All in glorious 28mm and plenty enough thrills and spills on a 6 x 4 table!

Friday, 12 February 2021

Lasalle Second Edition: My 2 cents...

 

My friend Sam Mustafa has asked his playtesters to help spread the word that Lasalle Second Edition has now been released.


Hence this blog post illustrated by random scenes from our most recent games and a few from the groups' playtesting last year.

Playtesting in 2020 - in 28mm
 But probably the most useful thing I can do is firstly direct you to the many resources available with this release, and secondly; reprint below, for those without access to our wargaming group's fB page, The Wollongong Wargamers,  the text of a comprehensive review undertaken by David F Brown, who was involved with the play testing from the first, and who created a minor stir with his original review of the first edition all those years ago. At least you know he's no fanboi, but will tell it like it is! I'll also give you my experience, and try to summarise the overall reception so far at the club.


So those resources... Well, first I recommend listening to Sam's podcast associated with this release, as he will then talk you through the various downloads himself, and give you a pretty good feel for how these rules are completely different to the original - in a good way:


And the downloads he refers to therein can be found on the Honour website:


And, if you are already persuaded, you may purchase your hard back copy here: 


I believe there are also pdf formats too for those who are into that sort of thing - you'll have to hunt around on the Honour site, but then again you'll probably be good at that!

There are a variety of methods of keeping track of unit status and which units have fired...

More playtesting...Caesar (l) & David (r)
But before I deliver on my second promise on re-printing David's critique, please allow me to share my own impressions.

Anyone who follows my blog knows me as a die-hard Black Powder gamer. These remain the only ruleset that, just once, enabled to reach my wargaming nirvana of emulating the little General by beating a bigger army by using my French army's superior mobility to almost be in two places at once. Indeed such is my loyalty to BP that I remained aloof from the playtesting of Lasalle last year - my only contribution has been a couple of photos which I'm thrilled Sam was able to use.

The Army Maker - free online - allows for a catholic variety of armies...

But - over the last couple of weeks the play testers have dragooned me into providing the fourth in a couple of doubles games, and I'm glad they did! Naturally, I was on the losing side in both games... But not because I didn't know the rules - more later - but because I made poor tactical decisions - the infantry attacked alone, the guns kept to themselves keeping up a predictable bombardment, and the cavalry also went their own way. And Lasalle punished these choices, quite rightly so!

Brigade commander bases aren't necessary...(but look good and help delineate brigades)

Yes, getting to know the rules....I have to say these are somehow at one and the same time the most complex, and yet the most simple, of rules! Whilst being intuitive and easy to pick up, they provide many different and varying decisions and choices at every level and step of a game turn. The order of play? Up to you! Active or passive player? Up to you! Use your general to intervene or increase your command 'pips' (Momentum points)? - up to you! Yet elegantly, this complex series of OODA loops are presented in a simple package - Sam has brought his years of rules writing experience, and the hard work of play testers all over the world, to bear on this, for him and the Honour series, unique second edition.

Another way of keep track...

At the risk of sounding like a 1970's Ad man, I picked up these rules half way through my first game, and played my second game with just occasional glances at the simpler of the two QRS's on offer!

The baggage marker!
And before I hand you over to David, a quick summary of the current vibe at the club around these rules after our two games. BTW, our play testers are a hardened and experienced bunch of Napoleonic wargamers - they've tried it all, including the bewildering series of rules that have come out in the last couple of years. In fact, the standing joke from our non Napoleonics players when they see yet another set of rules are wiseacre comments about the search for the perfect set of rules continues... Well these guys are unanimous that this set, whilst not providing the full amount of chrome that they would have liked, will soon become the standard. 

Which means that, if like me you want to stick to your tried and tested set but still want to be able to participate socially, you'd be wise to jump on the Lasalle bandwagon sooner rather than later! Just sayin'

David F Brown's review:

Lasalle –II Some longer opinions, a ‘review’ if you like.

Sam Mustafa’s Lasalle-II Napoleonic rules continue the broad scope of the first edition in that players use the ‘wargame-standard’ 12-20 units – in this case being battalions of infantry, regiments of cavalry and companies/batteries of guns.

Units are four bases of foot or cav, two of guns and are arranged to show specific formations; line, column square and so on. Units are organised into roughly three to six brigades – so call it a division or a small corps in scope. A standard game is expected to be of about three hours’ play.

For people familiar with Sam’s other rules; L2 draws inspiration from the first edition, Blucher and Maurice – but includes various new and clever mechanisms.

Everybody will want to jump to the conclusion – is it any good? I’ll colour an answer to that with the disclaimer that my club-mates and I have been play-testers.
Yes, it’s a superb set of rules.

Our gang has over the past year or so tried and abandoned some of the recent new sets of rules (round up the usual suspects) aimed at a similar scope – but we kept playing L2 and are building new armies for it.

Firstly, the rules are spectacularly well presented and organised with diagrams as needed to explain concepts.

As with Sam’s other rules, factors and chrome are reduced to the bare minimum. This means we are playing from memory with the occasional glance at the QRS or even rarer check of the full text.

For our gang this is desirable. We have limited time on club nights and many play a variety of games across different genres – so rules with a high barrier to learn or play are marked down.

Having said that; we have tested L2 as large 4-6 player games and half-day historical re-fights and they work well in those settings too. An Advanced section of the rules has guidance for such larger games.

The lack of granularity may not be everybody’s cup of tea, and as playtesters we were pests in suggesting some more here and there. I won’t re-prosecute them here other than to say the rules are streamlined enough that bolting on house rules is pretty easy if you enjoy experimenting with such things.

The rules are fun to play.

The major departures from the first edition are key strengths of L2. Firstly there is a command system and it uses PIPs (a random total but within a pretty tight band) to limit options and thus generate player choices.

Secondly, the sequence of play is ‘flexible’. Players can issue a series of ‘Orders’ being; Moves (includes charges), Volley fire (includes canister), artillery Bombard, Formation changes and Rally (attempt to repair hits).

These Orders cost mostly one pip, called ‘Mo’ for momentum, but sometimes two or more Mo depending on a small number of factors that you soon memorise, some can be done by a brigade, or some by the whole army, for the same Mo. Units stranded from friends will need individual Mo.

The ‘flexible’ sequence is that you issue Orders in any sequence you like, however each unit can perform each Order only once per turn. The sequence of play is also ‘interleaved’ in that performing an Order with troops ‘near’ the enemy (roughly musketry range) causes you to surrender play to the other side.

Thus if I spend a Mo and volley at you, I have offered up an ‘Interrupt’ and you can now shoot back, charge or something else. Depending on what you do, you might now surrender play back to me, and so, on until we both run out of Mo.

This system of Mo and Orders/sequence of play makes the rules great fun. You have a stream of decision points for players and it generates historical conundrums – if the other side has advanced boldly with cavalry how late can I wait to form square, and will the other guy have Mo left to clobber my squares with his guns?
In confused late stages of battles you can’t do everything and sometimes troops get caught in the wrong place or in a poor formation.

As a hint, if you’re active and can spend a lot of Mo before the other guy gets to interrupt – it’s a good idea to pass leaving one or two in the bank. You’ll find out why. If players both pass in sequence the turn is over and Mo refreshed.

The system of Mo / Orders also binds other strands of the rules. If there was too much chrome elsewhere it would be a grind to work through Orders and turns. And the minimal granularity could be bland without the excitement generated by the decision points.

Another superb rule is the Rally order. It might sound strange to single out a particular rule in a broad-brush review but this one is deceptively simple and important.

Units have 7-5 ‘hits strength’ (2 if arty) which are lost in combat or when shot at. Lose all hits and the unit is destroyed / lifted / dead. The Rally order means you try to bring back hits, dicing for each - however any that fail now become permanent hits that you can’t repair.

This mechanism sets up several things; decisions points about when to Rally (remembering that it costs Mo and may surrender play to the other side) a risk vs reward puzzle – do you want to advance cautiously Rallying frequently to husband troops’ strength or do you concede strength in a bold attack or to gain position knowing you might have a chance to rally later.

It also drives a game ‘story’ and action – those units you relied on to hold a hill just blundered a Rally and are crippled, routing as the enemy now charges them. The conscripts in square holding the end of the enemy line has been battered by horse artillery but the buggers just heroically Rallied off all their hits and will take more time to shift.

For a quick précis, shooting is bucket of dice hits-and-saves, while close combat is a suitably bracing DBx-style single dice throw. Two-on-one melee gang ups provide a small sometimes important but not overwhelming advantage.

Troop moves are really free-form without requiring protractors and so on – just push the figs and have no point exceed its move distance. Charges get up to a 45 deg pivot at the start and then go straight ahead.

Skirmishers

There are many ways table-top rules attempt to reflect skirmishers and all have strengths and weaknesses.
L2 has a standard system and an Advanced option. The standard system is abstracted to a contest of dice throws the winner of which is assumed to have a dominant skirmisher line and gains extra Mo to use this turn. The number of dice depends on troops’ skirmish rating and sometimes current formation.

The Advanced rule has more detail about tracing lines of skirmish to and from units and uses a system of markers to show which enemy are being hassled by skirmishers and how this is computed.

During play-testing the Skirmisher / Mo system was investigated, destroyed and rebuilt many, many, times with all manor of exotic options contemplated.

What you might find odd.

The rules have no morale tests at the unit or brigade level other than losing all of a brigade reduces your Mo quantum.

There is no emergency response to charges – plan ahead. Albeit there is a start-of-bound emergency intervention option for generals to command localised formation changes.

Brigade generals are not represented on table and the supreme general only positioned this bound if he does an emergency intervention as above. A frustrating point in the first edition was tracking all the generals and their various potential values – L2 has one general and only has characteristics as an optional Advanced rule.

There are no routs or retires – the point of contact is pretty static. Nominally routed units are put back in the box – if you want units to advance or retire in response to combat the design philosophy is to do it yourself with Mo. Look up the Huzzar! Rule at your leisure.

Squares not being at a disadvantage in close combat (but they are easier shooting targets) might raise eyebrows, but they can’t charge and the asymmetrical combat outcomes means you always want to be the charger in infantry clashes.

Some players have queried the balance between infantry shooting and melee – my experience is that individual games tend to emphasise either based on the tactical situation. It may be that there is a sweet-spot for particular armies or some optimal time spent shooting before charging, if so I don’t know what it is.

Troop / Army Balance

We have played armies of both crap and small elite forces, I can’t honestly yet tell if the rules tilt a particular way especially if you’re playing some of the provided scenarios. I’ve had my home-bake Persians with a fair bulk of poor troops swept away or sometime swarm over the enemy. 
Turks with a blizzard of modest cavalry can swamp an enemy or just be shot to oblivion, advancing into the teeth of an army maximising grand batteries is character building and educative.

If driven properly your elite troops will perform much better than the levy but there’s enough overlap in probabilities to add uncertainty and fun.

Army Lists / composition

The army lists are a free download on Sam’s page. Armies are 1805+ in Europe but there are Advanced rules to cater for earlier ancen regime armies and an open-source points system to build non-standard troops.

There is a deal of design philosophy to contemplate in army building. There is an invitation to negotiate with your playing group about how permissive you want to be with allied troops and flexibility about particular troops appearing out of time or geography.

A criticism of the first edition was rigidity of army composition – which saw you playing against exactly the same enemy army too frequently. L2 has army lists where brigades typically have some but not a lot of compositional choice but armies have a lot of flexibility about the number and types of assembled brigades.

Lists might be an area where the lack of granularity irks some players. Troops are reasonably rigidly defined – for example all French Hussars are the same with no option to salt in an experience elite unit or raw newly-raised unit. Here again there is the capacity with the open source points to make such adjustments but many players will expect army lists to be a set menu.

A wise gamer once suggested that players spent more time tinkering with army design than actually moving lead – what else is there to do on slow work days?

Scenarios, options, back up etc

The rules provide a number of pre-designed scenarios to play, some equal points others not, and each sets out terrain, objectives and a game turn limit. There is other info for generic intro games or refights.

The Advanced rules include a palate of items to spice up you games, as a standard our gang is using many of them.

I suspect a traditional competition game format would be to generate a reasonably vanilla specific scenario(s) and a points system keyed to game time.
In summary these are an excellent set of rules that are easy to learn and provide an enjoyable fast-paced game.

From what we have seen they work well for club-night pick-up games and multi-player re-fights. I suspect with a little framing of game parameters they should be good for open competitions too.

David F Brown

Saturday, 6 February 2021

Victory at Sea!

 

Whilst we've played Victory at Sea - Pacific at the uni with my 1:2400 scale minis, this game was a try out for my rapidly growing collection of 1:1200 scale minis. How do they appear and work on a 8 x 6 foot table, doubling all distances?

The RN Task Force flagship - fast, well armed, but touchingly vulnerable?

The models themselves are sourced from a variety of sources: Revell plastic kits, Shapeway's Tinythingamajigs, and XP Forge, although all of the latter are still in dock having their bottoms painted...

With its after turret still in dockyard hands, the KGV was free to fight head on with a low profile!

The heavy cruiser York wasn't actually feeling all that heavy at this time...

The chosen scenario was Breakout for the Bismarck, and Defence Line for the RN force: think Channel Dash!


Essentially the Bismarck had to sail off the British edge of the world, the RN had to sink or cripple her first...

The monster slips out from its French lair...

Given the Bismarck's immense toughness - 102 hull points - and the double distances I was applying, I initially thought the scenario would be an easy one for this monster...


Particularly as I had balanced points slightly by declaring the King George V's aft turret u/s, and adding +3 to any Critical Hit roll the Hood might have to make - catastrophic magazine explosions are not unknown unfortunately! 


As an aside, I would like to mention the late Lieutenant Ted Briggs RN, who, as a young Signalman, was one of the few survivors of HMS Hood's explosion and sinking at the Battle of Denmark Strait. As OiC RN Communications School, it was my great privilege to host Ted at several mess dinners, and great company he was too!


The RN Task Force's intention is to form an anvil around Bismarck, so that at least half the force can shoot at her large profile. 


The plan paid off, despite a sticky few moments for the York when she carelessly fell within arc of Bismarck's aft 15"ers...


The Hood got in some good shooting from the start, and the damage on the Bismarck began to mount significantly...I am really impressed with how Damage Control works with Victory at Sea rules. Thankfully I've never had to contend with DC ops at sea for real, but I have experienced plenty enough realistic and intense RN training, thank you very much, and the Bismarck was experiencing that similar 'hockey stick' escalation as uncontained fires quickly spread throughout the ship - nasty!


And indeed it was the Bismarck, not the Hood that suffered catastrophic damage, in the form of a damaged rudder forcing only starboard turns. Now unable to make for the far table edge, and with her weapons systems only firing intermittently, her gallant skipper had no choice but to select a Tactical Withdrawal off the near table edge. The monster had been turned around and allied shipping was safe from surface raids!


Whilst I really only intend to use this scale for Destroyer and Cruiser actions, of which there are many in WW2, I actually found that the scale is manageable with 1:1200 Battleships and Battlecruisers too...