Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Civilization before Christmas

On the day before Christmas a few of us got together to play a first game of Avalon Hill's classic boardgame, Civilization.

The Peoples in play were Italy, Thrace, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt and Africa. Proud Thrace and Cruel Assyria began in the most forthright fashion, vying between themselves for the title of best and strongest. They continued to compete for honour and glory until the Thracian in his pride was hit by a series of calamitous occurrences (internecine warfare, drought, pestilence and still others we shall not name) that brought him low.

The brown jacket of our Assyrian looks particularly wolfish in this light.

On the other side of the Mediterranean world the Pius Italians suffered grievously - twice-in-a-row grievously - from the wrath of Vulcan, which allowed my (Cartho) Africans to throw a few sacrificial youngsters to Moloch and welcome Sicily into their commonwealth of Punic perfidy.

Assyria (in pink) grown fat on the misfortunes of others (all right, and due to his magnificent grasp of the mathematical model underlying the game, but don't tell him that!).

Noble Egypt - plagued somewhat by accounting difficulties - and the Virtuous Woman of Babylon made do the best they could, but as the sands in the hourglass were dribbled first this way then that way it was the Cruel Assyrians who arose the deserved victor.

The Hand of Babylon...

It was a lot of fun and a rare thing in this day and age to find a group of people willing to get together and have a crack at a game this immense. Well done to all the participants!

Friday, December 18, 2015

A little painting progress

It's been a while since I've had the brushes out, but as the year winds down (and after an invigorating tidy of the hobby room) I've pulled finger and tried to get a few things finished up to boost my 2015 painting tally.

At the moment I've got a selection of Companions, Thessalians and Xystophoroi (all Xyston 15mm figures) on the go. I can't quite remember the reasoning behind trying to put them all together in the one mass, but I'll worry about that later...

Anyway, these are still in a reasonably early stage of completion, but as I'd used a brown undercoat, I am using this bunch to experiment with the colours that will work best with it. So far I quite like the results, though the Coat d'arms chestnut wash has not worked well at all. This is not poor old Coat d'arms's fault though: in my zest for experimentation I simply forgot that a wash needs to be darker than its base-coat to be effective!

But enough blathering. Here are a few work-in-progress shots.

Red gray with a lilac highlight (central figure) seems to work quite well on a cloak.

The lion skin is almost there; needs a little more dapple, but the Coat d'arms flesh wash does a great job.

Attempt at a white horse. It will probably almost do.

The chesnut wash on the horse. Almost, but not quite right... It's become an inverse highlight, so I'll need to drybrush with a red-brown to fix that (or else do over with a darker wash)

This chap is pretty much done, but I still want to do a little more on the animal skin.

I've enjoyed it and have worked out a few useful paint combinations. Hopefully I'll manage to get these and the other twenty-odd in the batch done before the new year, but I've said that kind of thing before!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On savage reviews, or their absence

The other week I did a book review here that was less than complimentary. It was a bad book, and I had no qualms about giving it a negative review, except that I may have come across as a bit of an arrogant git, which is a look I'd like to avoid where possible!

While I'm happy to give a bad book a kick, I don't find myself able to be quite so insouciant where games and rules are concerned. It's not a conscious decision, but when it comes to wargaming I just feel uncomfortable giving bad reviews.

Firstly, I have sympathy for the poor rules designer. Secondly, where the hobby endeavours of others are concerned, I generally prefer to be positive rather than negative. Thirdly, there is always the chance that I may be wrong. I may have misread an important rule, been impatient with the game, or have found some other less obvious way to do it an injustice.

I dimly recall having been reasonably scathing on the odd occasion in the past, but these days I would rather just say nothing and quietly put the game or rules set up out of the way.

I guess I'll never make it as a reviewer!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Band of Brothers: 'Ambush at Wardin' Scenario

I've got Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles back on the table again tonight. It's one of those games that I keep meaning to play more of, but never seem to end up so doing.

I'm still learning (and re-learning) the rules, so I thought I'd try for a heavier scenario that brings in weapons teams and vehicles.

As an aside, it's interesting to see the difference in approach between miniatures rules and hex-based games as to how flank shots against vehicles are defined. Vehicles are much more vulnerable here: anything outside the 120 degree frontal arc is a flank shot, so you really have to rethink your strategy.

After turn one.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Bad Book Reviews: 'The Last Templar'

The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury is the worst book I've read in the last five years. It is so bad that after a certain point it became a matter of honour to see it through to the end, just so I could say I'd done it.

(Image from wikipedia)

Fiercely independent, stunningly beautiful female archaeologist? Check. Brave, principled law-enforcement type who needs to learn to love again? Check. Villains who work (or used to work) for various respected institutions and will do anything to find / hide a world-changing occult secret? Check. Scenes in which the aforementioned must [briefly] put aside their differences to work together? Check. A plot line that combines The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail-esque imagi-history with soap opera sexual tension and hoping-for-Hollywood cliffhanger scenes? Check.

The book is a triumph of box ticking.

On top of this there is a subplot featuring our last Templar of the title: a 13th Century knight who has escaped the fall of Acre and been entrusted to safeguard the SECRET OF THE TEMPLARS.

Whatever could the secret be?

While Micheal of Carmaux's story (for that is his name) undoubtedly serves authorial purpose on word count alone, it also allows the author to provide background information and construct parallels between the ancient and modern action that attempt to disguise the plot's reliance on coincidence. His adventures also provide opportunities for TV-rights sword fights and allow the author to signpost the deeper conclusions which readers should be coming to for a second time, just to be sure.

The writing itself is thick, and not only with hidden meaning. Here is an example:
The next few days drifted by in a daze. Tess would spend time with Reilly in the morning before going out for long walks, returning by lunchtime. Late in the afternoon, she would venture out again, usually up to the castle ruins from where she would watch the sun melt into the shimmering Aegean waters. She loved that part of her day the most. Sitting there in quiet reflection with the scent of sage and chamomile wafting down from the hillside, she found the idyllic setting among rocks somewhat reassuring, a bit of respite from the small bundle in her room that was preying on her mind at all times. 
If you didn't desire respite from any small bundle that was preying on your mind before, you certainly do after fifty pages of this!

Still, on the positive side, if you are looking for a book that sits proudly within the great tradition of crap books featuring Templars, you can't go wrong with this one.

Or if you are not looking, you could always read it as a penance!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

WWIII 1980 with Brigade Commander

The second game that Luke and I got through on Sunday was a first attempt at FiveCore Brigade Commander, from Nordic Weasel Games (see Luke's report here).

Our usual Cold War rules are Modern Spearhead, but the problem with Mod.Sp is that it takes us a very long time to play it. A standard MS game for us will start about 10am, finish around 5:30pm, involve about 500 failed artillery call-in dice rolls, and will close with us calling the game for one side because there isn't time to game the scenario out. It looks spectacular, but we get a bit bogged down.

The FiveCore rules on the other hand are supposed to be very quick (and solo-friendly), so I got the Company Commander version and Luke picked up the Brigade Commander edition.

This is what happened.

My Americans (bottom of this picture) were tasked with holding the hill in the centre (marked here with a red circle) while Luke's Czechs were instructed to get twenty-five percent of their force off my edge of the table (see the black arrows).

I had three companies of  M60A1s, three more of mechanised infantry, and another of M60A2s to come on in turn five. I don't know what Luke had exactly, but there were two or three tank companies and a lot of mechanised infantry.

My plan was to advance to occupy the hill, push into the woods beyond it if possible, and hold the high ground to the east of it. On the other flank I wanted to take the village and push another company of tanks onto the ridge to the west.

Arrows show the grand plan...
Luke began by rushing forward at speed, but my tanks were able to destroy one of his mechanised units almost immediately. We got some units into a strong forward position and waited for the rest of our force to catch up.

Champions of democracy on our left...

...and more of them on our right.

The village is secured.
For the next hour we had a massive to-and-fro battle as my companies were driven out of position, rallied, pushed forward again, and again driven back.

The Czechs closed to assault where they could.

Czechs close assault but are driven off.
The Americans continued to attempt to seize key terrain, but Czechs in good forward positions kept forcing the boys in MERDC to back up with effective and accurate reaction fire. The armour on our right was destroyed by artillery fire, and things were looking very iffy for the Americans.

Czechs take the objective!

A series of badly timed 'scurry' (movement only, no shooting or close combat) and 'fire fight' (shooting only, no movement) turn results for the Czechs prevented Luke from being able to make the best of our involuntary withdrawals.

Our lowest point.
At last however we were able to creep forward without being driven back: our tank reserves arrived, and when we were finally able to lay down some fire, it was with powerful effect.

The tide turns; we begin to advance.
An armour company broke through from our left, sweeping around behind the Czech lines and in so doing destroyed three units in successive turns.

These chaps are fighters, and have some juicy targets ahead...
With devils coming up behind him, Luke rushed for our board edge, hoping that enough units would survive our reaction fire, bypass our positions, and allow him to achieve his objective.

Czechs advance towards the guns.

With a couple of 'scurry' turns in succession, the Czechs were indeed able to get three units off table and achieve their mission.

About to get through!

Although both sides achieved their objectives we gave the game to the Americans because they had destroyed a higher percentage of the enemy force. The number of kill dice that the Americans could bring to bear gave them a huge advantage; the kill dice being much more dangerous than the shock dice that the poor old Czechs mostly had to rely on.

We need to play this more to get a proper feel for it, but here are some initial impressions.

1) It does play nice and fast. We got through a lot of turns and a lot of action in a very short (by Modern Spearhead standards!) time.

2) There is room for tactics.

3) The system of rolling up scenarios and forces seems to be quite promising.

4) It feels as if there is a lot of luck involved.

5) We're not quite sure about the 'scurry' turns or the 'displacement' rule. We probably need to re-read the rules in case we missed something there.

6) There is a lot of moving forward and then being pushed back by reaction fire. Not sure how realistic this is, so will need to do a bit more reading.

7) It was an enjoyable game and we'll definitely be looking at this again as a way to get our moderns models and figures on the table more often and relatively painlessly.

Thanks to Luke for a great day's gaming, and for bringing down his superb moderns terrain boards and beautifully painted Czech hordes.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Introducing the boy to wargames

Our wee lad has recently started taking an interest in the hobby room and 'dad's stuff'. He asks to play Dungeon Quest, sets up and moves around some plastic Orcs, and when yesterday he saw Luke and I playing our games sat in a watched for a bit. Although I had to tell him not to touch a couple of times he was pretty good around the figures, so I promised that he and I would have a game today (a public holiday, yay!).

Accordingly, when my wife and the girls went out with O-chan for a stock up on winter clothes we set up a little board and got some 6mm models out, because he had been particularly impressed by the tanks on display yesterday.

He got to place trees and things wherever he liked, and then I gave him a measuring stick to use for movement and we'd dice to fight. He loves rolling dice and gets just as excited when he misses as when he hits.

The rules were that we got five vehicles each, he would hit on a 5 or 6 and I would hit on a 6.

He quickly picked up on how to use the measuring stick.

And was like an old-timer by the end of his first turn!

Second game he got to choose some different models to use, and for the third we added in a plane on his side which rolled two dice and hit if both were 5s or 6s.

He loved it, won all the games, and got very excited when I accidentally rolled a pile of 6s in the last game to almost win it. When he triumphed by the skin of his teeth he jumped up and said 'yes' and was a happy little camper.

Lots of fun for dad, too. He's only four, so if this continues we might have a real gamer on our hands!

Sertorian Wars with 'To the Strongest!'

As mentioned in my last - rather breathless - post, today was a day in which I actually got to get some gaming in, and with another human being, no less!

Luke arrived nice and early and after we fluffed about a little getting reacquainted again after so long the first game got underway about 10:30. The match-up pitted Luke's pseudo-Sertorians against my own partisans of either Metellus Magnus or Pompeius Pius (whichever way you choose to look at it, my lot were an uneasy company!).

The battlefield. Sertorians with the blue shields, Sulla's minions with the red.

The first few turns gave little indication of the carnage that would follow. If my men advanced gingerly on the flanks, they did so gladly in the centre. Luke's meanwhile held back in the middle (one eager unit of Spanish lights excepted) and claimed the high ground elsewhere.

Opening moves.

We had an early setback on the left, losing our light cavalry to missile fire, but this was offset by success on the right, where the enemy general was pulled from his horse and slain as his friends forsook him.

In the centre the Sertorians kept drawing us forward, and we were happy to be in this way drawn.

Mixed fortunes on the flanks; feverish advance in the centre. What could go wrong?

Our men on the left struck a decisive blow in seeing off the enemy's heavy cavalry. Unfortunately, we got ourselves into a badly-managed tangle in so doing, which left us unable to easily prosecute attacks against the remaining units of that enemy command. Several turns of turning (or not turning, depending on how early we failed our activations!) saw us make little progress and ate up valuable time.

On our right the men were somewhat reluctant to close with the enemy despite there being an opportune window for doing so. Questions may perhaps be asked.

But I am getting ahead of myself...

The infantry lines before contact.

Shameful mucking about on our left...

Indecision on the right...

But eventually the lines meet!

Nonetheless, we found ourselves around turn six with a glorious opportunity to press for victory. We had induced the enemy to advance out of his strong defensive position in the centre, giving us temporary local superiority there as a consequence (see picture above).

But at this juncture either Metellus Magnus or Pompieus Pius (whoever it was I refuse to admit that it had anything to do with me) managed to forget which units belonged to which command. For two crucial turns, half of our legionaries were not given attack orders at all!

Within a few short and abominably overseen turns we went from this:

"We can just about taste it, lads!"

To this:

"Don't worry, the veterans might still do something..."

To this:


And we'd been 'stewrendously dismogrificated', as it was reported in Rome.

The whole sorry scene.

And a Shameful Defeat was thereby visited upon us.

But what a game! There is so much to like about To the Strongest! that it's hard to know where to begin. Still, we'll give it a crack.

1) You get army lists. It seems like a long time since I've sat there with ten minutes before game start trying to figure out the best army mix, and I've missed doing it. After this game I actually wanted to work out the ideal armies for situation, opponent and points value.

I haven't been excited about that kind of thing for 20 years.

2)There is a sly mix of 'oh, fer f...'s sake' and 'YEESS' moments throughout the game. An atmosphere develops that's hard to describe. There's a sort of heightened quality to the action that is not exactly cartoonish, but comes close. You end up laughing when things go against you, yet on another level there's a tightening up and an awareness that to play this well you're going to have to put a bit of time and thought into it, and will need to keep your wits about you.

It is a lovely thing to get that 'this is a real game we've got here!' feeling, but when it comes with an 'and I enjoy it even when  I'm losing' corollary, you're moving into rare territory.

3) Space is left for players to make their own mistakes.

4) There is room for satisfying application of tactics.

5) There is a plenty to think about when you're done.

Simon Miller has put together a great set of rules here, and they are only going to get better as they are further refined. They are really well done.

Edit: you can see Luke's report here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

And it's on!

Luke (check out his blog here) and I have finally managed to get a game day organised, and it's tomorrow. I think we're going to combine a morning of ancients using Simon Miller's To the Strongest! with an afternoon of WWIII c.1979 to try out the FiveCore Brigade Commander rules.

Needless to say I'm looking forward to it very much. It's been a long time since we've had a get-together and put some figures on the table!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Fluffy Boa Puzzle Mat: where have you been all my life?

I popped into the hundred yen store yesterday to pick up some tape for work, and as I hadn't been there for a while I had a quick scour of the usual sections to see if there was anything that could be put to honest wargaming use.

Lo and behold, there was a sight for terrain mat hunting eyes: 30cm square interlocking foam mats, topped with a greenish teddy bear fur type material.

I grabbed four to take home and check out (I could always use them as an actual mat, I said to myself...). They looked OK, so I went in again to get another sixteen (the final sixteen, it so happens!) so that I can do a 4' by 5' Lost Battles board.

In their packages...

Set up for Lost Battles' size

With a different filter which is closer to the actual colour of the material.
 Considering how much money I've spent on spraypainting carpet, curtains, bits of felt, etc. (not to mention flocking foam boards), I think getting this lot for less than US$20 is very reasonable indeed!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Warhammer Lot (2)

Further to the last post, this is the other Warhammer lot that arrived today, both are from the same guy.

It includes archers, partly painted.

 More archers, with extra sprues as well. About 30 all told.

Orc warrior types.

Another lot of the same.

More warriors yet to be assembled, plus some command chaps. About 85 warrior types.

An unnassembled pack of more warrior types.

Shields, bases and so on.

So the upshot is that when combined with what I had already in the cupboard, I now have pretty much all I need for an Orc/Goblin army. Will it ever get painted? I'm not too sure, but it's there now, so you never know!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Guilty Pleasures: Warhammer Lot (1)

Readers who have had the dubious distinction of following this blog for a while may know that my first organised wargaming was with Warhammer 3rd Edition, and that I have periodically felt a whimsical nostalgia for that carefree time, when using someone else's figures in someone else's spare room made me an enthusiast, not a sad loser. As it so happens, a chance came up recently to put some nostalgia on the shelves, as it were; just as I was saying to myself 'What on earth am I thinking? I'm never going to pai...' I put that thought aside and bought them.

Phew, that was close; reason almost prevailed!

Anyway, here's the first lot:

Armoured Orcs of some kind, with a Goblin standard bearer. Metal, and proud of it.

Some boar riders. There seem to be 10 boars and riders in one set, plus another couple of command figures. Altogether there are 16 boars and about the same number of riders of various types. Boar riders were the glamour unit in our first few battles, so it would be great to get these into fighting trim. They are in pretty good nick. There are a few porcine tails missing, but I think we can get away with that. The mounts are plastic but the riders are all lead.

Two Orc chariots, and mostly painted, too. They don't sit flat, but why should they? They're Orcs, after all. These are plastic.

Some extra riders and chariot attendants.

A few bits and pieces in the spares bags. Probably another boar and rider plus some decorations if needed.

Finally, there's a Wyvern in box, and another kind of Orc character on a boar.

Not a bad score, and there's another lot to go yet...
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