Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Normandy '44, first turn

One board game in my collection I purchased with high hopes but haven't properly sat down with is Mark Simonitch's Normandy '44. I decided therefore to lay it out and play through at least a couple of turns.

The rules are fairly straightforward, but there are some interesting additions to your bog standard hex and counter rules. Firstly, there is a special kind of zone of control called a hex bond which allows very tight defence lines to be established through which enemy units may not advance, retreat, or trace supply. Secondly, attacking units must nominate a 'main attacking formation' which fights at full strength and that can be supplemented by other units which attack at half strength. Thirdly, there is a 'determined defence' rule, which allows defending units that receive retreat results in combat to roll on a table which may permit them to stand fast, possibly at a cost to themselves.

Anyway here are a few shots of my progress. As usual, the game is being played solo.

Bad jumps for the 82nd and 101st Airborne. High casualties, and the troops are badly scattered.

The British jumps don't have a lot of joy either.

The invasion forces: American.

The invasion forces: Canadian and British.

Sword Beach.

The landings at Utah are very successful.

Those at Omaha less so, but they are there.

The forces landing at Gold and Juno take a lot of step damage, but all units survive.

So too at Sword.

The overall view is of success. The troops have got ashore. Most of the armour is spent, but there is quantity and quality to resist the German counter-attacks.

German and then Allied turns follow the landings. At close of June 6th the positions look like this.

The US sector has seen German units converge on the bridgehead. The 82nd Airborne is isolated and in all kinds of trouble, but if they can last the morning of the 7th they will be rescued.

The Canadians and British have done well in their sectors. The have avenues of advance and Caen looks inviting.

And the overall position at close of day.

There are 22 turns to the game, so I'm not sure that I'll get through them all. It does look already to be a game worth learning properly with a view to playing face to face or over VASSAL.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Gaming war and war as reality.

It's been brought home by recent escalating tensions near here just how crass wargaming must seem to those living in war's shadow or, worse, living its reality.

Lately there have been people on wargaming sites around the web wetting themselves with excitement over the gaming potential of recent flash points and, today, over the US letting loose the so-called 'Mother Of All Bombs'.

The reality is that thousands of lives are on the line right at this moment, and that most of those are innocents who happen to live in a particular place at a particular time, who go about their lives like everyone does, caring for their families, enjoying their friends, and hoping that when their time is up that they leave something of themselves behind that those who knew them will recall with fondness or with pride.

I love the challenge of trying to win a game. I enjoy replaying wars and battles from the past, seeing how the original commanders approached certain problems, and trying situations out myself on a board or on a map.

But I am uncomfortable with modern war, and, by extension, modern wargaming. It's kind of like war as porn. Glorying in technology, the roleplaying of good guys and bad guys, knowing that our guys are good because they're ours, no matter why they are involved or how they are used, and in spite of the current political reality and the moral separation of means and ends. We are told all that is possible is done to avoid civilian casualties, and while I hope that is true, is that enough to justify our involvement, the destruction our involvement brings, and the falsehoods that are used to get us there? The reality is confusion, hatred, uncertainty, fear, death, decay of morality and good purpose and awful destruction of person, family, place, community and society. It's sidestepped with a kind of smugness in wargames and by wargamers - "oh, but see, we're not celebrating it; in fact, WE of all people know just how awful war is..." -  and yet there many of us are, thrilling to the deployment of new and destructive weapons systems, asking which games we can buy that model it, play-mooning about how long it will take for our order to arrive - or what the wife will say when she sees the credit card bill - when we should be asking why we are using these things at all, and where they are taking us. It seems that many wargamers are simply invigorated by it. In the end, it seems, a fair proportion of us want to go and blow things up just like they do on the TV.

Mostly, war does not touch us, except in the abstract, or by proxy. But this week, as the potential for crises rises, war suddenly does not seem like much of a game.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Fire and Movement

One book that I'm positive would be of interest to wargamers of all stripes is Phil Sabin's Simulating War. As well as outlining the theory and practice behind wargaming, Prof. Sabin takes the time to illustrate his axioms with numerous practical examples from designs of his own. As usual with Sabin's games, they cut fairly directly to the chase, ignore extra complications, and are often good for the solitaire gamer to mess about with.

A game from Simulating War that I've been wanting to try out for some time is (one of) Phil Sabin's take(s) on WWII infantry combat, Fire and Movement. The situation involves two under-strength German infantry companies (one mortar and six rifle platoons) being attacked by a British battalion (one machine gun, one mortar and twelve rifle platoons) across a battlefield 8 hexes wide and 6 deep.

The rules are simple: move a platoon and it is spent; shoot with a platoon and it is spent; hit an enemy platoon with fire and the enemy is spent. Spent units can do nothing until they are able to recover.

The trick then is, on your turn, to use fire to suppress as many enemy platoons as you effectively can so that those platoons cannot move or shoot on their own turn.

As the turn order is move, shoot, recover, it neatly forces players to think carefully about where and when to move or shoot - and whom to target - without recourse to complicated activation rules.

In addition to the suppression aspect of fire, there is a casualty track, and every time an enemy platoon is hit successfully, that unit takes a casualty. When the total number of casualties reaches seven, one platoon is removed from the field and the count starts again at one. The British have another problem to contend with: ammunition depletion. Every time a British platoon fires, one 'unit' of ammunition is used up. Once the total number of ammunition units used reaches seven, the last platoon to fire is out of ammunition and removed from the field, and, as with casualties, the ammunition count is reset to one.

The Germans do not have to worry about ammunition depletion (lucky them!).

There are a couple of other things I should mention. Firstly, if a platoon is fresh and adjacent to an enemy, it can perform an assault attack. Assault attacks cause three casualties rather than one, and so are dramatically more effective if you can manage them. Secondly, the Germans start the game dug in, and if they remain dug in, said platoons can ignore one casualty per fire attack, meaning that they can really only be damaged by assault. Some terrain (farms) has the same 'ignore one casualty' effect.

Thirdly, firing units can target units in two hexes that are adjacent to each other if the firing platoon has line of sight to both hexes. This provides a significant incentive to spread platoons out in an effort to lessen the effects of enemy fire.

Fourthly, both sides have a mortar crew off table to call on, and the British have a machine gun team on table. Both mortars and machine guns are rather more effective at hitting the enemy than your standard rifle units, but mortars must have a fresh platoon on table to spot on their behalf.

Lastly, platoons can stack up to two deep in a hex, but if the hex is hit, both platoons are affected, so it's better to spread out if you can, unless in dead ground or, perhaps, when gearing up for an assault.

So there we are with the rules. Fairly short, fairly direct, and quite clear in what they want players to do. The difficulty for the combatants of course is to combine all of these simple rules (and ideally some favourable dice rolls) so as to get your chaps into a winning position. When determining the victor, the Germans get one victory point for every British platoon broken by fire and one point for every friendly platoon still on board after twelve turns are up. The British get one point for every German platoon destroyed, plus one for each friendly platoon on an enemy baseline hex at game end.

The Germans always move first each turn.

Interestingly, the board terrain is diced for before the game. Having a copy of the old Avalon Hill classic Battle Cry to hand, I decided I would use this for the board, as it has most of the terrain features readymade.

Here is my battlefield. Unfortunately for the Brits (I'm actually using Americans, but hopefully you can't tell in 6mm!), the field is very open and there is absolutely no cover for them on the advance.

After deployment, the Germans will dig in in these positions as shown (though using foxholes rather than abatis, one presumes!).

The British start with only two companies and the machine gunners on table. A preliminary bombardment is marginally effective, so they advance as quickly as they can, and bring on more troops.

This is the table after turn two.

On turn three the British deploy more reinforcements as they push forward on the left and and the right, leaving a clear lane of fire for the machine gun platoon in the centre to assist in suppressing targets.

After turn three.

The British are able to advance on the right by suppressing the German squad in the trees with the machine gunners, but the attack is stalling on the left due to deadly accurate fire which pins down the bulk of the British platoons.

Casualties are starting to mount, and ammunition shortages are forcing careful conservation of attacking resources.

After turn four.

A failed assault on the British right leaves the advanced German platoon intact but under severe pressure. With no one able to support it, it seems like it's just a matter of time before the British have their first success.

In the centre, the British gunners and mortars are able to suppress key support units in the centre, but the German right is causing steady casualties to the British left. All the British reserves are now on table, so from here on they must make do with what they have.

After turn five.

It takes two more turns before the British on the right can work the Germans out of their position. The tactics now are set: suppress with the gunners or mortars, advance two platoons into assault position, and then assault with both to inflict six casualties, break a unit, and force the position.

But in the time it is taking to do this the British left is being cut to pieces, and those platoons that can still move are now moving backwards, not forwards.

After turn seven.

(Showing some of the targeting as each side look to cut down the other's options)

With only five turns left the British need a miracle. They are able to hop forward on the right and take another defended position, but time and casualties are against them. The German mortar crews buy valuable breathing space by suppressing the British Vickers gunners, who are thus unable to help cover the advance on the right.

Attacking and defending lines.

Assault, advance, suppress - and advance again.

On the final turn the British make a desperate attempt to assault the central strongpoint, but they are repulsed by determined defensive fire. Exhausted by casualties and ammunition depletion, only three British platoons are left on table, and so the British lose by ten points to three. 

Final position.

Well, I thought it was a cracking little game to play solitaire. There are some lessons for me to digest and some tactics to go over, so I think I'll be playing this one again. It's not one that you'd take down to club night week in and week out, but the simple rules reveal a clever little game of - to coin a phrase - fire and movement (thank you, I'll be here all week!).

And if you've got this far, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

War of the Ring

A couple of chaps who live locally and have been featured on this page before were keen to get together for a postprandial game last night, and with one of them a committed Tolkien man it seemed an opportune moment to try out War of the Ring.

Being quite taken with the idea of an evening stroll in Middle Earth, Matt and Ben inhabited the earthy cloaks and shining helms of the Free Peoples while I assumed a darker - you might even say more shadowy - guise.

We didn't really know what we were doing (which incidentally favoured this incarnation of the Shadow, whose main strategy seems to be a blunt one: attack with overwhelming force), but here is a short AAR anyway.

The Shadow mobilised for war and took Lothlorien almost immediately with a scarcely credible series of dice rolls. Rivendell was thence bent to our Will.

A shadow falls on Middle Earth...

For the Free Peoples the Elvish folk were ready for war but no one else cared to entertain the thought. While Gandalf and Strider detached from the fellowship and sped around in a vain yet Churchillian endeavour to warn the North and Rohan (and everyone else) of the coming peril, Saruman prepared and struck at Rohan with all his might, or at least a decent percentage of it. Helm's Deep fell without a blow, and Edoras too was abandoned.

Why was Edoras abandoned? Because the Rohirrim, fighting fire with fire, sought to capture Dol Guldur from the forces of the lidless eye.

Orcs and Nazgul attack nasty Elves.

And so an entertaining game of move and counter-move followed as both sides utterly disregarded the Ring and strove to win a military victory.

The Free folk took Angband and threatened Mount Gundabad - which would have left them one VP shy of victory - but the Shadow retaliated by taking various other spots and threatening Dol Amroth, leaving Sauron two short of a dark triumph of his own.

On to Gundabad!

But with both sides still a turn and some good results away from win, the bell sounded, and we were obliged by our native good sense to call it a night.

We were all over the place with rules and strategy, but in spite of that the game was great fun, and we could all see the potential there.

Hopefully we'll get to play again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

1st St. Albans

After a couple of weeks of diminishing returns in attempting to finish off some 15mm figures, I decided that I would clear the hobby room table and give another boardgame a go.

Having already tried one of the battles without making much progress, I resolved this time to make the effort to properly learn the rules for Blood and Roses, a game from Richard Berg's Men of Iron series.

The Yorkists (White), arrayed in three battles, are endeavouring to give the Lancastrians a bloody nose and force concessions out of the king.

The Lancastrians are ensconced behind the Tonman Ditch, which, while difficult to traverse, is rather longer than the Lancastrian line. The Yorkist intent then is to get Salisbury across on the left and York across on the right to turn the line from both ends.

Sadly for the Lancastrians, there's not a great deal they can do about it. Their troops are average, they are outnumbered, and they have no longbowmen.

The turning movements begin...

The tactics for the Yorkists are pretty obvious: outflank them; soften them up with the bowmen; then attack with qualitative and numerical superiority.

Salisbury gave us a textbook example, as seen below:

After the longbowmen have disrupted Clifford's foot...

...and after the heavies have gone in.

And after this the net got ever tighter.

Somerset under pressure.

Now Northumberland in trouble.

With the Lancastrian strategy being merely to hold out until nightfall, there were few chances to counterattack. But when those chances did come, they were led by Clifford, who fought desperately to protect the king and fend off that rabid dog, Salisbury.

The king's person changed hands twice, but York would not be denied.

The Percies have had enough.

The heroes of the day for York were many, but for Lancaster only Clifford could hold his head high.

"A Clifford, a Clifford!"


I'll give this scenario another shot or two and look to make sure I'm doing all the rules right (there is a suspicion that one or two things may have been a little 'outside the book'), but once I've done that, I think that I'll enjoy working through the other battles in the box. For all that a boardgame lacks in spectacle compared to miniatures, it's a lot cheaper, it's less time consuming, and it's more portable than two all-options Wars of the Roses armies in 15mm would be!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Messing about with hoplites and legionaries

Following a recent discussion on the Lost Battles yahoo group I've spent the last week or so with a test game set up in the hobby room pitting the Spartan army of 2nd Coronea against the Roman legions from the battle of Sentinum.

The hypothesis on the yahoo group (advanced by Patrick Waterson) was that the hoplite system as represented in Lost Battles is actually tactically superior to the legionary system in the same.

It's just the kind of 'how many angels can fit on the head of a pin' wargaming argument that rings my bell, so I've been enjoying exploring it on the table.

I won't bore readers with details, but as hoplites can use depth to greater effect and  legionaries have greater staying power, the answer, unsurprisingly, is that any such clash would depend on the terrain and the exact composition of the armies.

In the real world no such clash of systems occurred, but in my hypothetical battles the Greeks won three out of four despite having a lower fighting value. Veteran hoplites tended to chew through the legionaries very quickly, but where average quality hoplites were fighting average quality legionaries, the Roman cavalry generally had enough time to outflank the Greeks and gain the advantage.

It was another interesting Lost Battles experiment and, incidentally, the first chance I've had to field my Xyston hoplites.

'Hoplites, Sah. A few dozen of 'em!'

Diceless variant by Patrick Waterson - requiring lots of note-keeping and markers.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Games in the classroom II

With the Japanese school year winding up and my classes winding down I thought that rather than finish my elementary school lessons with the usual couple of review lessons I might instead try a board game. Over the last two weeks then I've been bringing in Settlers of Catan for the older kids, dividing their classes into four or five teams, and letting them play out a simplified version of the game.

We don't use the robber or development cards, and to make team play more interesting each student is given a role (harvester, trader or builder), and they must represent the team in that particular phase of the turn. To encourage greater participation all teams take turns gathering produce (i.e. roll dice one after another), then all teams trade in a plural session, then all teams build.

It has gone down really well, and it has been educational to see how the Japanese kids adapt to the situation.

Social dynamics in Japan are quite interesting, and this game stretches some of the children's ideas about co-operation and competition. While team members must co-operate with one another to understand the game, their roles within in, and their team's overall strategy, each team must also co-operate with other teams to a certain extent. But this co-operation of course is actually fuelled by self-interest, and once the kids see this underlying tension they start to get into the play and enjoy themselves. The division of labour allows students to try out different roles throughout the game session, and the role-playing itself subverts the normal pecking order in each class.

It has been nice to see the quiet kids, the shy kids and the no-one-expects-much-of-me-so-I'll-daydream-or-be-disruptive kids actively participating in an activity and having their contributions valued.

One particular kid who has had a bad year turned out to be the leader in his group and it was good for him and perhaps for his homeroom teacher to see that established patterns of behaviour can be changed by taking different approaches.

Anyway, it has been a worthwhile experiment - even if there was not always a great deal of English being used - and I think I'll try something similar again.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Basing: a question of style

This morning while doing the tedious if ultimately rewarding job of applying white glue and flock to another 24 bases of 15mm troops I started to give some idle thought to the question of why I have not changed my basing style in any noticeable way in ten years.

Now, I am an admirer of many types of basing (and a silent dismisser of some others), but my own basing falls somewhere on the wrong side of middling. It's not attractive, scenic or dramatic in the way that many schemes are, but (he says defensively) it's not just a coat of paint, either.

It's been suggested that adding some tufts and clumps would help improve my armies, and I have to say that I agree.

So why haven't I yet done anything about it?

Well, the main reason is that early on when getting into wargaming I saw examples of various wonderful basing schemes - dry-brushed groundcover topped with different shades of flock cunningly applied to give the impression of highlighting; others of clumps, stalks, water features; hedges, bushes, flowers; snow; desert flora and fauna; rocky vistas - that look magnificent individually, but mismatched when paired on the table with another beautifully based army that uses an entirely different approach.

I saw that both basing styles might be awe-inspiring on their own, but if they did not match on the table it would be all for nothing.

Right from the beginning then I plumped for boring, easily replicated uniformity over the brilliant and unique. I wanted my Iberians, Gauls, Numidians and so on to blend in seamlessly whether they were fighting by the side of my Romans or my Carthaginians, and I wanted them to look okay with Osaka Luke's armies as well.

To be sure, I had a few false starts (and some of my early armies still have a few white stones that glare rather balefully from their bases, but these are slowly falling off, and given a little more time will be nothing but a memory...), but once I found what I wanted I stuck to it.

The other reason I haven't done anything is that my time is limited (i.e., I am lazy), and to add tufts and clumps to the many hundreds of bases I would need to to keep things uniform seems like a lot of extra work.

So there we are. For better or worse, simplicity is here to stay for the near future.

The drying continues...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Spare us, oh Lord

With reports of a horde of Vikings having landed nearby, the local thane has called out heathguard and villagers to stand against the northern menace.

Here they come!

The archers on the Saxon right are quickly overcome.

In the centre the marauders cross the stream, to be hit by a hail of javelins.

The Saxon left is also assailed.

But the first northmen across the stream, undaunted, charge into the shieldwall.

And the rest follow.

The fighting is furious, and the lines begin to waver on both sides.

It seems for a moment that the Vikings may have had enough.

But it is not so.

Instead, it is the Saxons who begin to give way.

The fighting on the Saxon right is vicious.

The line may hold...

But the Vikings have come too far to give up.

In the confusion they cut down the Saxon thane, and the battle is won.

With the route to the village now open, we avert our eyes from the Vikings' rapacious appetites, and prepare instead for Wales vs England in the rugby...

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