Thursday, 31 May 2012

Decisions, decisions, decisions!

I have begun to make some progress with designing my 'new' wargames rules. The working title that I am using for all the related documents and folders is MEMOIR OF BATTLE 2 (MOB2) ... but whether I will want to keep that title in the long rule is something that I will leave until later.

So far I have sketched out a combat mechanism for both Artillery and non-Artillery Combat, with the latter doubling up for Close Combat (i.e. fighting between Units in adjacent abutting grid areas). In the case of Artillery Combat, this will be taken 'as is' from my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules, although I do intend to include a rule that allows an Artillery Unit to 'hold fire' so that it can fire later in the turn sequence in support of another Unit.

Non-Artillery Combat will still use the special D6 dice with symbols rather than numbers on the faces, but the number of dice thrown by each type of Unit will be determined by its strength and possibly its tactical formation, and not the range. This is a significant change to the existing mechanism that I used in my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules, but it makes it easier to accommodate differences in Unit quality and to reflect a Unit's reduced fighting ability as it begins to suffer casualties. I am also including a proviso that non-Artillery Units that move and fire in the same turn will fire with less effect.

I have also decided to keep the existing move distances from my original MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules, but I will remove the difference between Native and non-Native troops. This was only really applicable to a few colonial Native armies and could easily be included in an appendix of optional extra rules.

My current design 'block' concerns the activation of Units during the turn sequence. In my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules I used an IGOUGO mechanism, but this does not provide sufficient uncertainty in both solo and face-to-face wargames. In the end my choice has come down to two alternatives:
Because of the nature of my overall design, it is possible to 'design' many of the mechanisms I intend to use in my 'new' rules as separate self-contained subroutines. The same is true of the Unit activation mechanism I will eventually choose. In fact I could choose one mechanism but still 'offer' the other as an alternative within the appendix of optional extra rules.

I am making progress ... but the progress is still very much rushing slowly!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

How to waste half a day of your life

I own and run a small educational consultancy and IT company, and have done since 2001. In all that time I have never had a major cash flow problem ... until now.

Thanks to cutbacks across the whole of the education sector the company has had an increasingly difficult time getting some clients to pay promptly for the services we have provided. As a prudent businessman I decided that the company needed to arrange an overdraft facility to ensure that the company's cash flow was secure ... so I paid a visit to my bank to arrange it.

This was the beginning of my wasted half-day.

When I arrived at the bank I had to join a queue at the reception desk. There were only two people in front of me ... but I did not reach the front of the queue until fifteen minutes had passed. I was then sent to the waiting area ... where I waited ... and waited ... and waited. Eventually I managed to speak to a customer adviser ... who told me that they no longer dealt with business clients in any of the bank's branches. (Why they could not have told me at the reception desk, I don't know.)

What the customer adviser did give me was the telephone contact details of the bank's business advisers, whom I was assured would be able to help me. It was interesting to note that the telephone number was a Premium Rate one ... and that the bank would make money just by answering my telephone call.

I rang the number ... and, after listening to some somewhat poor quality recordings of classical music, I was eventually connected to a business adviser ... in Mumbai. After answering numerous security questions and explaining what I wanted, I was put on hold before being forwarded to yet another adviser ... this time in the UK.

I had to answer all sorts of questions about my company's finances ... and then the questioning switched to my personal finances. I asked why this was relevant as the company is a limited liability company and has a twelve-year trading record that shows good financial management has been in place all that time. The reply was that because the company had never borrowed money before, it had no record of repaying debts, and I had to show that I had a good personal credit rating.

I reluctantly agreed to answer the personal financial questions ... but when the questions switched to my wife's finances I became very uncomfortable answering them ... and said so. I was told that if the company needed the overdraft facility, the answers had to be provided. In the end I agreed to answer them in writing after asking my wife's permission.

This whole process took from 9.30am until 12.30pm ... and at the end of it I felt that I had wasted my whole morning. I also felt that the bank was singularly unhelpful, and proved the old adage that banks are willing to lend you an umbrella when the sun shines, but want it back when it looks like it will rain.

In the end my wife refused to fill in the Overdraft application form that the bank had emailed to me (as I had expected she would) and I have gone elsewhere to find the money to ensure that the company's cash flow is secure. If I had realised what a waste of time it was going to be dealing with the bank, I would have gone elsewhere from the start.

The morale of the story is that if you want to waste half a day of your life, try borrowing money from a bank!

Megablitz Memories: Kick In The Door! - The Cartoon

I doubt that there are many specific wargames that generate cartoons ... but 'Kick In The Door!' did.

The cartoon was drawn by Dormouse (AKA Chris Kemp) and is based on a remark made by one of the German players whilst both sides were setting up.

Megablitz Memories: Kick In The Door!

The first big MEGABLITZ games were set on the Eastern Front during 1941 ... hence the title. (Albert Speer reported that in conversation about Soviet Russia, Hitler had stated 'We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.')

The battles were fought out over a series of large tables, and in the first battle the fighting took place around Ulyanousk whilst the second battle was fought in and around Ketteringrad and Wellingrad. The following photographs are mainly from the second battle, and are presented as a series of vignettes.

The Battle for Wellingrad
Wellingrad was heavily garrisoned, and its defenders included a large number of Heavy Artillery Regiments.

Whilst Rifle troops and heavy Artillery hold off the advancing Germans, Soviet forces attempt to withdraw into Wellingrad.

Reinforcements flooded into Wellingrad to counter the expected attack across the river.

German troops begin to cross the river and advance into Wellingrad.

The Germans advance into Wellingrad from two directions whilst more Soviet Rifle troops flood into the town to mount a counter-attack.

A close-up of the confused fighting in the centre of Wellingrad.

The fighting was particularly fierce around the bridge over the river ... and I seem to remember that the bridge was blown up in rather unfortunate circumstances!

Ambush ... and counter-attack
In one instance a Soviet force of Tanks and Infantry caught a German column on the road and ambushed it but ...

A Soviet Rifle Division, accompanied by Units of Light and Fast Tanks, attacks the flank of a German .column.

... right behind the German column were two Regiments of Panzer Grenadiers, who counter attacked with considerable vigour. The German counter-attack was supported by Artillery fire and air attacks by Ju87 Stukas.

Six Battalions of Panzer Grenadiers and supporting mobile Artillery mount an all-out attack on the Russian Rifle Division whilst Ju87 Stukas of the Luftwaffe attack the Russian forces rear echelon.

A close-up of some of the fighting.

Italians in the East
Not all the invaders were Germans. Several Axis allies also fielded troops, and the largest contingent was the Italians.

An Italian mobile column advances east.

An Italian Armoured Division. It lacked quality and quantity ... but it had mobility.

The Italian Armoured Division's commander.

If You Go Down To The Woods Today ...
The big advantage of MEGABLITZ is that it is possible to field and use some of the more unusual or exotic military Units that armies sometimes have. For example, Cavalry can be used to reconnoitre, to patrol, to protect flanks, or even to act as a mobile attack force.

Some German Cavalry patrolling a forest.

A close-up of some of the German Cavalry.

Woods and forests are also great places to concentrate troops before mounting a counter-attack or from which to launch ambushes.

Soviet Rifle troops await orders to attack. Judging by the uniforms, they are probably a Reserve or Militia Unit ... or their Quartermaster had a large supply of old uniforms in stock.

A Soviet Machine Gun Unit hides in the woods. The Maxim Machine Gun was heavy ... so heavy in fact that it was mounted on a small wheeled carriage to enable it to be pulled around by its crew rather than carried.

Some Odds and Ends

A Soviet column on the move. The leading vehicle is a T-34 Tank (an old ROCO Minitank), and it is followed by two trucks. The latter are conversions from Majorette Ford A trucks that have had the original wheels removed and replaced by smaller ones. The mudguards and running boards have also been cut off flush with the side of the model to reduce its width. The lead truck has also had a scratch-built quadruple Maxim Machine Gun mount added to its rear body.

A KV-2 Heavy Tank. Meeting one of these sitting astride your line-of-advance can seriously ruin your day as its armour is thick and its 152mm gun packs quite a punch!

A German Motorcycle combination. These were mainly used for reconnaissance.

Soviet Heavy Artillery. This is a 203mm Howitzer L-25, and it was in service throughout the Great Patriotic War. It was even used in direct-fire mode during street fighting as its shells could demolish entire buildings!

The bulk of a Soviet Rifle Division moves forward. Its horse-drawn supply Units follow in the rear.

A Soviet Tank Brigade advances through enemy-occupied territory.

Another view of the Soviet tank brigade.

Yet another view of the Soviet tank brigade. This particular Tank Brigade actually made its way through a gap in the German front-line, and was well on its way towards the rear areas when the battle came to an end.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Rushing slowly

Over the past few days I have been spending quite a bit of time thinking about my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) wargames rules. They work perfectly well 'as is'. This has been shown by the recent play-tests I have undertaken. But in the back of my mind I have had the feeling that they could be just that little bit better, and so I have been trying to put together some ideas and concepts that I think will improve upon the existing rules ... and progress can best be described as rushing slowly.

I did consider just re-writing my existing MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules but I think that a better course of action is to start with a clean slate. This does not mean that I will not borrow heavily from the MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules when I actually put the 'new' rules together ... but it may mean that some of the existing mechanisms will be reworked or even replaced.

This is not a new phenomenon for me. Past experience of wargame design (and my 'training' as an IT lecturer) has shown me that successful designs require several distinct stages of development. These are:
  • Identify the main objectives
  • Analyse the design parameters
  • Design the game’s structure and select and/or design the necessary game mechanisms
  • Implementation of the games structure and game mechanisms
  • Testing and Evaluation of the games structure and game mechanisms
It was relatively easy to complete the Identify stage of the process, and the Analyse stage followed without too much difficulty. This should – in turn – inform the work I do during the Design stage (the stage I have now reached) and if I get this stage right, the Implementation stage should be quite simple to undertake … I hope!

So where am I now?

The objectives I have set myself are:
  • To create a framework for wargames rules that can be used – with minor changes – for historical conflicts fought between 1850 and 1920.
  • That the rules must be capable of being used to fight both face-to-face and solo tabletop battles.
(They may appear to be quite simple objectives but it will be quite a tall order to achieve them … but I have high hopes that I will be able to produce a satisfactory result.)

The design parameters are:
  • The rules must be designed for use with a gridded tabletop (preferably a hexed grid that utilises hexes that are 10cm wide when measured from side-to-side [i.e. the size of Hexon II hexed terrain]).
  • The rules must be usable with either figures mounted on single and/or multi-figure bases or suitably coloured and/or labelled wooden blocks.
  • The mechanisms used must be simple to use, easy to remember, and produce acceptable results.
  • The rules must have a user-friendly layout with a readable-font (i.e. no less than 9pt) and preferably they should fit on no more than two sides of A4-sized paper.
  • The tabletop should be as free from non-essential clutter as possible (i.e. whilst this does not preclude the use of markers, playing cards etc., their use is to be avoided if it is at all possible).
  • Players should feel that they command an army – albeit a small one – on the tabletop battlefield.
  • The rules should encourage players to use the correct historical tactics in order to win, and that no single weapon type should be omnipotent on the tabletop battlefield.
What comes next?

I must now begin to make some decisions about the game’s basic structure (i.e. what will happen during each turn?) and the game mechanisms that I intend to use. I already know that:
  • I want to use turn sequence that allows a degree of action/reaction to take place, and this will mean a move away from the traditional IGOUGO turn sequence used in MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB).
  • I want to keep the existing Morschauser-inspired separation between Artillery and non-Artillery fire combat wherever and whenever this makes tactical sense.
  • I want to have a single combat system for resolving non-Artillery fire combat and Close Combat.
  • I want to use a combat resolution system that uses D6 dice. This does not exclude either the use of specially marked or conventionally marked D6 dice.
  • I want to have a non paper-based method of recording a Unit's combat status. This will probably involve the use of multiple numbers of bases (or wooden blocks) to represent each Unit, with the number of bases representing its fighting strength and willingness to fight.
(Some of these points might appear to belong in the Analyse stage, but it is sometimes difficult to disassociate how you want to achieve something from the mechanisms you use to achieve them.)

It may appear to the casual blog reader that I have achieved most of this already, and that all I have done is to write the design brief for MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB), but the truth of the matter is that MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) evolved in a rather unstructured way, and by going back and designing a set of rules from scratch the resulting rules should be better.

We shall see!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Megablitz Memories: Some staged photos

When it was mooted that MEGABLITZ was going to be published, Tim Gow and I staged some photographs that were possibly going to be included in the published version of the rules. In the end, they were not used ... and have sat – unseen – in a storage box in my toy/wargames room until now.

A German Reconnaissance team run into a French roadblock and possible ambush.

Another view of the French ambush.

A German Ju87 Stuka attacks a French Anti-tank Gun position.

A close-up view of the German Ju87 Stuka.

French airpower in action! A Potez Light Bomber attacks a German armoured column.

A close-up view of the Potez Light Bomber in action.

Soviet armour and infantry from the early stages of the Great Patriotic War.

A close-up of a Soviet T-28 Medium Tank.

A Soviet attack on a dressing station behind the front-line is countered by a German Armoured Car.

A mixture of Russian and American tanks in service with the Soviet Red Army. The American M3 'General Lee' had an unfortunate nickname in Soviet service; It was called 'A coffin for seven brothers'.

If my memory serves me correctly, Tim Gow supplied all the models and I supplied the scenery. The latter included a very nice green vinyl cloth. These used to be sold in branches of Games Workshop, but were discontinued after a year or so. That was a great pity as they were ideal for wargaming because they were hard-wearing, wipe-clean, and did not crease if you kept them rolled up between battles.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Some interesting books

My wife and I spent this morning at the local shopping centre, and as usual I managed to pay a short visit to the branch of Waterstone's bookshop. Whilst I was browsing in the Military History section I saw two books that covered topics related to the Eastern Front/Great Patriotic War ... so I bought them.

Both books are published by Osprey and are written by Robert Forczyk. They are:

WARSAW 1944 (Osprey Campaign Series No.205 [2009] ISBN 978 1 84603 352 0; this book contains illustrations by Peter Dennis) ...

... and GEORGY ZHUKOV (Osprey Command Series No.22 [2012] ISBN 978 1 84908 556 4)

I know next to nothing about the Warsaw Uprising, and WARSAW 1944 will go some way to filling an empty space in my knowledge as well as space on my bookshelves. I already have a copy of Zhukov's somewhat sanitised autobiography, and I hope that GEORGY ZHUKOV will be somewhat more critical in its approach. I happen to think that Zhukov was a great general ... but not as great as some of his hagiographers would like us to believe.

Yeah but, no but...

The two recent play-tests of my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules have proved to me that they are basically fine. That said, several things have emerged from the play-tests and the discussions I have been having with David Crook and Kaptain Kobold that have given me pause for thought ... and I am now considering how best to address them.

Firstly, the rules work quite well as a face-to-face set, but when used solo (which is how I am likely to use them most of the time) the 'Dice for initiative'/IGOUGO section of the Turn Sequence can lead to the sort of situation that occurred in the recent play-tests where one side could not respond in any way to a major change to the situation on the battlefield as it unfolded. One way to deal with this would be to adopt the playing card activation system used in the RED HEX rules developed by Richard Brooks and Ian Drury. In this system each Unit is dealt a small playing card and the Units are 'activated' (i.e. move and fire) in order of precedence.

(The order of card precedence is Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King. The order of suit precedence is Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades. Therefore a 2 of Clubs takes precedence over a 2 of Diamonds, which will in turn take precedence over a 3 of Clubs.)

One advantage of this is that Artillery, which currently only fires during its particular segment of the Turn Sequence, could 'reserve fire' so that it can fire in support of an assault or to counter an attack that develops during that turn of the battle. The playing card would also serve as a reminder as to which Artillery Units have fired during a turn and which have not, and can therefore move.

A disadvantage of this system is that it can look rather unsightly having small playing cards all over the tabletop battlefield during a battle ... but I am sure that there must be a solution to this that would not be too difficult to find.

Secondly, the distances different types of Unit can move on the battlefield did seem a bit over-long during the last play-test battle, but on consideration the only change I am likely to make is to bring the Native Infantry and Cavalry movement distance into line with the other Infantry and Cavalry Units. I know that it is possible to argue for exceptions to be made ... but I would rather make that a scenario-specific rule rather than a general one.

Thirdly, the need to differential between Elite, Normal, and Poor troops has yet to be fully investigated and a working solution found. A simple method would be to make all Elite Units larger than Normal Units, and Poor Units smaller. The combat rules could be adapted to reflect this without too much difficulty, and the use of supernumerary figures to record casualties would be a simple 'on the table' method of recording casualty states without the need for larger numbers of figures to be present on the tabletop. For example, an Elite Infantry Unit might have two bases with three figures on each base and three single-figure supernumerary bases. The latter would be removed first to reflect the number of casualties suffered by the Unit. In a like manner, a Poor Infantry Unit might have two bases with three figures on each base and one single-figure supernumerary base. I understand that Richard Borg has used something similar in his own 28mm-scale figure version of BATTLE CRY! and I see no reason not to copy his example.

Fourthly, as the rules stand at the moment there are not morale rules or - as I prefer to think of them - rules that reflect a Unit's willingness to fight or combat. The Exhaustion Point achieves this for a group of Units, but not for individual Units. I suspect that whatever is devised, it will be linked in some way to a Unit's casualty state.

These are my thoughts at the moment. They may change or they may not ... hence the title of this blog entry!

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The attack on Atmara

This battle was fought as the second play-test of the existing draft of my MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules. Although there has been considerable discussion between myself, David Crook, and Kaptain Kobold about certain developments and improvements that the rules could incorporate, I planned this second play-test before the discussions began, and wanted to keep to my original intention of testing the extant rules with at least two play-tests. I suspected that doing this would confirm that some of the developments and improvements were necessary and it would help prepare me to make the required changes.

As a result of the massacre of Bimbashi Bumble's Punitive Expeditionary Force there was a general upsurge of discontent and violence in Southern Zubia, particularly along the border with Sadun. The Khedive seemed unable to respond, and as a result the commander of the Zubian Army sent one of his best young officers – Miralai Ahmed Kurti – to the nearest provincial capital – Atmara – to ensure that it was properly fortified and able to resist an attack. The commander also sent a consignment of new magazine rifles to arm the town's garrison.

The garrison comprised:
  • Four Infantry Battalions
  • An Artillery Battery
  • A Machine Gun Battery
(N.B. Each of the units that made up the garrison had supernumerary figures that were included so that they could be removed to show casualties. It also allowed the units to fit into the Hexon II trenches, which would otherwise have been impossible. The garrison's Exhaustion Point was 11.)

This proved to be a very sensible course of action and when Miralai Kurti arrived in Atmara he found it to be almost devoid of proper fortifications. Within days he had ensured that the town's defences were repaired and improved, and that the garrison were trained how to use their new rifles and were ready to resist an attack.

The attack was not long in coming.

Turn 1

Atmara's defences.

A large Native army advanced out of the desert to attack Atmara. Thanks to the successful destruction of Bimbashi Bumble's Punitive Expeditionary Force, the numbers of insurgents had greatly increased, and besides Infantry (two bands of rifle-armed Native Infantry and six bands of spear-armed Native Infantry) and Cavalry (two bands each of Native Cavalry and Camelry), it now had a battery of ancient smooth-bore field guns. (N.B. The Native army's Exhaustion Pint was 23.)

The Native army on the march.

Turn 2
The Native army's advance brought them within range of the Zubian Field Artillery ...

... who selected as their target a leading band of spear-armed Native Infantry ...

... who suffered 25% casualties from the effects of the artillery shells that were fired at them.

The Zubian Machine Gun battery then joined in, and fired at another band of spear-armed Native Infantry ...

... whom they almost wiped out!

Turn 3
Before the Native Army could move, the Zubian Field Artillery was able to fire at them for a second time at its previous target ...

... and inflicted a further 50% casualties upon it!

As the Natives had the initiative, they surged forward undaunted by the casualties they had already suffered.

The Cavalry and Camelry advanced unhindered towards the flanks of Atmara's defences whilst the much-depleted band of spear-armed Native Infantry assaulted the position held by the Zubian Machine Gun Battery. Their attack was unsuccessful ...

... as was a second that was conducted by another band of spear-armed Native Infantry ...

... but a third assault did manage to inflict a casualty on the Zubian Machine Gun Battery.

An assault by the other much-depleted band of spear-armed Native Infantry of the Zubian trenches also proved futile ...

... and the rifle fire from one of the two bands of rifle-armed Native Infantry cause no casualties on the entrenched Zubian Field Artillery Battery.

The Native Army closes upon the Zubian defences.

The Zubian Machine Gun Battery opened fire on the large band of spear-armed Native Infantry to its right ...

... which it almost destroyed, the survivors falling back to avoid further casualties.

The Zubian Infantry Battalion in the trenches to the left of the Zubian Artillery Battery fired at one of the on-coming bands of Native Camelry ...

... inflicting 66% casualties on them.

The Zubian Infantry Battalion in the trenches just behind the Zubian Machine Gun Battery fired at remains of the band of spear-armed Native Infantry in front of them ...

... whom they wiped out.

On the right-hand side of Atmara's defences, the Zubian Infantry Battalion stationed in the trenches fired at one of the advancing bands of Native Cavalry ...

... whom the forced to retreat after suffering 33% losses.

(N.B. At this point it is worth noting that the Native army is already over halfway to reaching its Exhaustion Point.)

Turn 4
As the Zubian Artillery battery was the only Artillery Unit on the battlefield able to fire, it engaged the closest Native Unit, a band of rifle-armed Infantry ...

... which it forced back out of single-shot rifle range after causing it 25% casualties.

At this point the battle could have gone either way, and whichever side had the initiative during this move might have been able to assure themselves of victory.

The D6 dice were thrown ... and the Zubians gained the initiative!

They began to exploit their advantage by firing their Machine Gun Battery at the nearest full-strength band of Native Infantry ...

... which it forced to withdraw after it had suffered 50% casualties.

The Zubian Infantry Regiment in the trenches to the left of the Zubian Field Artillery Battery engaged the sole remaining members of a nearby band of Native Camelry ...

... which they destroyed with the rifle fire.

The Zubian Infantry Regiment in the trenches immediately behind the Zubian Machine Gun Battery then fired on the nearest band of spear-armed Native Infantry ...

... who were forced to withdraw after almost being wiped out!

On the right-hand side of Atmara's defences the Zubian Infantry Regiment positioned there chose as its target the nearby band of Native Cavalry ...

... which fell back after suffering 33% casualties.

The Native army had now reached their Exhaustion Point, and were forced onto the defensive.

The situation on the battlefield at the point when the Native army reached its Exhaustion Point.

The Native army began to withdraw, suffering further casualties as they did so as a result of Artillery and Machine Gun fire. The uprising was suppressed – for the moment – and the Khedive could sit more easily on his throne ... although the commander of the Zubian Army had shown that he might be a potent rival in the months and years to come.

As in the previous play-test, one side achieved a decisive victory at a very low cost to themselves in terms of casualties. The rules regarding the ability of troops in trenches to resist unsupported Infantry assaults worked very well, and the idea of using supernumerary figures seems to make perfect sense when space is limited.

Although neither side fielded Elite Units, I am now coming round to the view that the rules must be redrafted to include such Units deal with Poorer quality Units in a more workable way.

One thing did strike me during today's play-test. When one is fielding quite large armies on a small tabletop, the move distances as they currently stand are a bit too long, and this is certainly something that I will need to look at again.

All-in-all this was a very enjoyable play-test, and I look forward to play-testing the next draft of the MEMOIR OF BATTLE (MOB) rules.