Tuesday 30 September 2008

Nugget 220

I took the latest issue of THE NUGGET (N220) to the printers this morning. I hope to collect it on Friday afternoon so that it can be in the post to members of Wargame Developments early next week.

In the meantime a PDF version is available to download and read via the Wargame Developments website.

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Play-test 3

The third play-test used a different scenario. It was devised specifically to test the revised sections of the rules including those relating to aircraft.

The scenario was set during the period after the German invasion of 1941. Elements of a Panzer Division were advancing along one of the few good roads in the area. A small industrial town lay along the road, and the German expected little or no resistance. The Russians had rushed a unit of infantry to the area – supported by a light field artillery unit and an anti-tank gun unit – and had raised two under-strength Workers’ Militia infantry units from local factory and collective farm workers. The Russian defenders therefore had three infantry units (one rated as ‘average’ and the rest rated as ‘below average’), a light field artillery unit (rated as ‘average’), and an anti-tank gun unit (also rated as ‘average’).

The German attackers had three tank units (each equipped with a PzKpfw IVE), two slightly under-strength infantry units (in trucks), a reconnaissance unit (a Kubelwagen), and an infantry gun unit (with towing vehicle). All the German units were rated as ‘above average’. The tank gun carried by the PzKpfw IVE was the short 75mm, and so for the purposes of the play-test the gun was rated as a light and not a medium tank gun.

In addition to these ground forces the Germans had access to air support from the Luftwaffe. This was limited to 1D6 dive-bomber sorties and 1D6 fighter sorties, the D6 being thrown before the battle began. The Luftwaffe was dealt a playing card each turn in the same way as other units; A Spade non-picture card signified that a dive-bomber sortie would arrive over the table two turns later and a Spade picture card signified that a fighter sortie would arrive next turn.

At the beginning of the first turn the German reconnaissance unit sped up the road towards town, and was promptly ambushed by the Russian anti-tank gun unit. The Kubelwagen was destroyed and one of its crew was killed. The other crewmember took cover and frantically signalled what had happened to the German units that were following the reconnaissance unit down the road.

By the end of turn 3 the Germans had begun to deploy their forces to attack the town. The tanks moved cautiously along the axis of the road in an arrowhead formation, whilst the motorized infantry deployed behind them. The motorized infantry gun unit had swung off the road to the left, and prepared to unlimber. The Russian anti-tank gun opened fire on the leading German tank, but missed.

During the next turn the German tanks opened fire on the Russian ant-tank gun unit, which returned fire, but neither side was able to hit the other. The German infantry gun unit unlimbered, and was immediately fired at by the Russian light field artillery unit that was hidden in the town. The artillery fire was ineffective, but served as a warning to the Germans that the town’s defences were stronger than expected.

Turn 5 began with a further exchange of gunfire between the Russian anti-tank gun unit and the leading German tank. The latter had stopped so that its gunfire would be more accurate, and this proved to be a very effective tactic as the anti-tank gun unit was hit and destroyed almost immediately. The other tanks were now able to deploy in order to outflank the town, as were the German motorized infantry units. The Russian light field artillery unit continued to fire at the German infantry gun unit without effect. The Luftwaffe now made an appearance (a Spade non-picture card having been dealt to them during turn 2) in the form of a Stuka dive-bomber. It bombed the Russian front-line defences, but the troops were too well dug-in and suffered no casualties.

The Germans now began a co-ordinated advance on the town, with two of the tank units engaging the Russian front-line defences to good effect – they killed the Russian artillery spotter and several Workers’ Militia infantrymen – whilst the other moved out onto the German right flank to support one of the motorized infantry units that was already beginning to move around the town’s flank. The other German motorized infantry unit had also begun to move forward on the left, and the German infantry gun unit provided it with artillery fire support.

Turn 7 saw the Russian front-line collapse as the German tank attack swept forward. The leading tank crashed through the Russian trenches, and the Russian commander realised that unless the German attack was not thrown back at once, the town would be lost. He therefore ordered his one remaining infantry unit to advance and retake the trenches. Unfortunately he did this at the same time as the Luftwaffe made its second appearance (a Spade picture card having been dealt to them during turn 6) in the form of a Bf109 fighter. The fighter’s strafing run caught the Russians in the open, and four of them were killed, including the commander. The rest of the unit fled, along with the gunners of the light field artillery unit, their morale having collapsed.

The Germans occupied the town during the next turn.

Lessons learned:

The use of above average, average, and below average classifications for units works quite well, with above average units being far harder to destroy than below average ones.

The air attack rules seem to work as I had hoped, and produce reasonable results (the dive-bomb attack kept the Russians pinned down but did not cause any casualties whereas the effect of the Bf109’s strafing run was exceptional due to very good dice scores).

The reconnaissance rules seem to work quite well, although the destruction of the Kubelwagen during the first turn did not give me a lot of opportunity to try them out in any detail.

The plastic beer glasses that I used to ‘fly’ the aircraft above the tabletop are just the right size to allow them to be placed over most obstacles on the tabletop and are very stable.

Friday 26 September 2008

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Draft rules

I have now finished the latest re-draft of RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES (TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED) and have put a PDF copy on my website.

To access a copy, go to RED HEX WARGAMES and follow the simple instructions.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Re-drafting the rules

I have begun the process of re-drafting Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) to take into account the lessons learned during the two play-tests I have staged.

I have also taken the opportunity to simplify some of the mechanisms used, particularly those relating to fire combat. There were occasions during the play-tests when I forgot to use one of the mechanisms … so it obviously did not need to be there!

I hope to finish the re-draft this week, and to stage some play-tests over the weekend.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Play-test 2

The second play-test used the same forces and scenario as the first, but with the addition of a PzKpfw V Panther to the German defenders and two T34/76s to the Russian attackers.

Both sides placed their units in the same starting positions as before. The Germans stationed their Panther in an ambush position so that it could cover the main approach road to the village. The Russians positioned one of their T34s on the road (in the same hex as an under-strength infantry unit) and the other in support of the infantry unit on their right flank. Both tanks were to be used in direct support of the frontal attack.

The first turn saw the Russian field artillery knocked out and the crew killed by gunfire from the German infantry gun. At the same time the T34 on the road roared forward – out pacing it’s supporting infantry – and entered the outskirts of the village. It engaged the German troops occupying the right flank of the German front-line, and killed one of the dug-in infantry. The other T34 moved forward with more caution and mounted the hill opposite the main section of the German front-line.

The next turn saw the German Infantry gun engage the T34 that was now in the village, but to no avail. The Panther then opened fire on the same Russian tank, catching it side on and destroying it with its first shell.
On the German left flank the T34 engaged the front-line of German defences, causing much discomfort and a single casualty.
During the third turn the remaining T34 – with distant support from their following infantry unit – moved into the German front-line defences, and forced the defenders to withdraw into the village. The Panther opened fire on the T34 … and missed! In the middle of the battlefield the Russian infantry that had been following the knocked-out T34 attacked the German heavy machine gun that was dug-in there, suffering heavy casualties in the process and being beaten back.

By the end of the fourth turn the Russian troops attacking the heavy machine gun in the village were wiped out when they again attempted to attack it over open ground without tank support. The T34 continued to advance, the Panther’s shells hitting it several times but without effect.

A further assault on the village by one of the Russian infantry units that was working its way around the German right flank managed to enfilade the German heavy machine gun, destroying it and its crew in the process. On the German left flank a counter attack by the Germans forced the Russian infantry unit that had occupied part of the German front-line to retreat (again there was no NKVD blocking detachment to encourage them to return to the fight!).

By turn six a stalemate had developed. The T34 and the Panther were exchanging fire with one another, but neither could get a decisive hit on the other. Even the German infantry gun tried to knock the T34 out, but its shells just bounced off. In the meantime the Russians had now secured part of the village, and were able to mount an attack on the second line of German defences. At first they were beaten back, but during the next turn they managed to break through and occupy a section in the centre of the German trenches.
At this point in the battle the Russians were poised to push the Germans back, but luck was with the defenders. At last the Panther managed to knock out the T34, and the German infantry gun – firing over open sights and at point-blank range – landed a shell amongst the Russians who had occupied the German trenches, killing all of them.

The battle ended when the last remaining Russian infantry unit – one that had been trying to outflank the right side of the German position – appeared over a hill near the rear of the village. The Panther and the German infantry gun turned to engage them, causing them to retreat. Night then fell, and the Germans consolidated their positions before the inevitable Russian attack took place on the following morning.

Lessons learned:

Don’t attempt to make head-on assaults across open ground towards dug-in heavy machine guns – you just suffer horrendous casualties!

The tank rules work – it is actually quite difficult to hit a tank if you are firing on the move whereas a stationary tank has a much better chance of hitting anything it is aiming at.

Tank assaults on infantry positions are not covered very clearly in the rules as they presently exist, and this section needs some work to make it clear and unambiguous.

I need to develop the section on the rules that deal with morale so that they reflect the differences in quality between different units.

Saturday 20 September 2008

Red Flags and Iron Crosses (Tarred and Featherstoned) - Play-test 1

The first play-test used a very simple scenario; a couple of under-strength German infantry units (supported by an infantry gun unit) had to defend a village and road junction. The attacking Russian force had five infantry units of varying strength and a light field artillery unit.

The Russian plan was to mount a frontal attack with three infantry units (supported by the artillery), whilst the other two infantry units worked their way around the German right flank.

By the end of turn 5 the Russians had smashed through the German front-line, and were beginning to flank the second-line defences. The cost had, however, been high: the Russians had lost 37% of their infantry, and the remains of one infantry unit were falling back (there was no NKVD blocking detachment available to ‘encourage’ them to return to the fight!).

The German situation was worse, as they had lost their artillery observer very early on during the battle – and thus could not fire their artillery except at targets that were in line-of-sight – and had to rely on their heavy machine guns to stop the Russian mass attacks. The Germans had thrown appalling dice, and had failed to inflict overwhelming casualties on the attacking Russians as well as failing to ‘save’ many of their own infantry, even though they were dug in; as a result they had lost 60% of their original infantry strength by the end of the turn.

By the end of turn 7, the battle was over. The Russian flank attack enfiladed the German second-line defences just as their main attack reached it. The result was carnage. The Germans were over-run, and wiped out to a man. The Germans had continued to throw very low dice scores whilst the Russians had not. In the end the Russian casualties were 45% of their original strength. A Russian victory, but bought at a high price in terms of fighting men.

Lessons learned:

The rules are fun, and once one gets going they are simple to use.

The rule that makes opposing forces throw a D6 to decide who fires first makes perfect sense once one starts to use it. In the play-test game this should have meant that the Germans ought to have repulsed the Russian attacks quite easily and at very little cost to themselves; the fact that they did not is indicative as to how bad their dice throws were!

The use of playing cards to ‘activate’ units – a mechanism used in the original version of Red Flags and Iron Crosses – makes playing solo games very easy as the cards determine the order in which units move and fight and not the player’s (un)biased decisions.

Saving throws make sense if - as in this case - the rules mechanisms make it relatively easy to ‘hit enemy units.

Friday 19 September 2008

Tarred and Featherstoned - My latest version of Red Flags and Iron Crosses

When I got my newly printed copy of Donald Featherstone’s War Games (see post below), I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the chapter that contained the two sets of ‘modern’ (i.e. World War II) wargames rules.

I had played a game with Lionel Tarr’s rules at COW2005, but had not used Donald Featherstone’s much simpler rules for many years. As I have a lot of Hexon II hex terrain (see I decided to ‘convert’ the rules so that I could use hexes rather than measuring movement distances and weapon ranges. This turned out to be a bit of a Pandora’s box.

The process of ‘conversion’ was fairly simple, but I soon realised that the resulting rules ended up looking very similar in many respects to the most recent draft of my own World War II wargames rules, Red Flags and Iron Crosses (RF&IC). At this point I decided I would be better off ‘improving’ RF&IC by incorporating ideas and mechanisms from both Donald Featherstone’s and Lionel Tarr’s rules.

The new ‘Tarred and Featherstoned’ version of RF&IC is now complete, and I hope to begin play-testing them this weekend.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Donald Featherstone's War Games - a classic wargames book is available again

Thanks to some tireless work by John Curry, Donald Featherstone’s classic wargames book – War Games – has been republished. It is one of series of publications that are being reprinted as part of John’s ‘History of Wargaming Project’ (see for more details).

As will be obvious from my profile, this was one of the books that turned me from a boy who pushed toy soldiers around in mock battles with no rules into a young man who fought wargames … with proper rules.

For the benefit of anyone who has never read Donald Featherstone’s book, it contains four sets of wargames rule. These are: Tony Bath’s Ancient wargame rules (plus a description of the wargame ‘Battle of Trimos’); Donald Featherstone’s American Civil War wargames rules (plus a description of the wargame ‘Battle of Plattville’); Donald Featherstone’s simple Modern wargames rules (plus a description of the wargame ‘Battle of the St James Road’); and Lionel Tarr’s World War II wargames rules

The book also contains chapters on laying out a battlefield, refighting campaigns, and solo wargaming (something that I have done quite a lot of myself).

I still have an original copy of this book on my bookshelves, and although it is a bit dog-eared and well thumbed, it is a book that still inspires me. Like all wargamers I sometimes ‘go off the boil’; a quick look at War Games soon revives my flagging spirits.

This new edition does have a couple of advantages over the original, including some details from Lionel Tarr’s rules that were inadvertently left out and some explanatory notes that clarify some of the more opaque rules.

This book can be bought from Amazon or direct from the publisher,

PS. I recently overheard a comment from an equally ancient wargamer about the rules in this book that went something along the lines that 'they were very old-fashioned and not worth even looking at’; an interesting point-of-view, but one that I disagree with, especially as I realised that my current re-write of my own World War II rules – Red Flags and Iron Crosses – would benefit from using some of the simple mechanisms laid down in this boom.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Small Beginnings

After much prompting ... and not a little reluctance on my part ... I have decided to take the plunge.

I have now joined the world of the self-publicising, self-centred, self-indulgent blogger.

I intend to share my thoughts on wargaming (and other related matters that crop up) with a wider audience ... probably much to the relief of my wife and wargaming colleagues. So watch this space ... and come prepared to be bored!