Wednesday 29 September 2010

Modified 'Battle Cry': Play-test 1

Turn 1
The first line of the attacking Union troops moved forward two hexes (they moved and did not fire, hence the longer movement distance). As a result, they came into extreme range of the three Confederate Artillery units (whose range was six hexes rather than the normal five as they were sited on top of the berm).

The three dice thrown 'killed' two of the attacking Union Infantry (one each from the centre and right-hand units).

Turn 2
Despite their losses, the front rank of Union troops again moved forward two hexes, supported by the second line that moved forward a similar distance.

The reduction in range made the cannon fire from defending Confederate Artillery units even more effective (they each threw two dice), and all three Union units suffered the loss of two figures (units were allowed to exchange 'flags' that would otherwise have caused them to fall back for additional figure losses on a one-for-one basis).

Turn 3
The very depleted first line of attackers now reached the edge of the Confederate defences.

The Confederate Artillery now fired at almost point-blank range (they threw four dice each) and caused one further casualty on the right-hand Union Infantry unit (which was now destroyed), three on the centre unit (which was also destroyed) ...

... and three on the left-hand unit (which was wiped out).

The entire first line of the Union attack had been swept away, but the second line had been continuing to advance behind it.

Turn 4
The second line of Union troops now came under fire.

They fared somewhat better than the troops that they had followed along the beach, and each unit only suffered the loss of a single figure each.

Turn 5
They next turn brought the Union attackers up to the edge of the Confederate defences.

The Confederate Artillery units each threw four dice, and the right-hand Union unit was 'hit' three times, which meant that it was destroyed. The centre unit was hit once ...

... and the left-hand Union Infantry unit suffered two casualties.

Turn 6
At this point the Union now only had a total of two Infantry units, and they could only muster three figures between them. They attempted to climb over the fieldworks and into the moat, but at point-blank range the Confederate Artillery swept them away.

The modification that allowed the Union Infantry to move forward rapidly at a rate of two hexes per turn if they did not fire, seemed to work quite well, but exchanging 'flags' for further figure losses meant that units were shot to pieces very quickly. I hope to run another play-test using the same scenario but with 'flags' forcing units to fall-back rather than lose additional figures.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Modified 'Battle Cry' play-test - scenario

After what seemed like a very long day at work, I got home feeling tired ... but I was determined to set up the scenario that I am going to use for the play-test of my modified version of Richard Borg's BATTLE CRY wargames rules.

I decide to use the attack on Fort Wagner as the basis for the scenario I will use, but as the BATTLE CRY board does not have any beach areas on it, I used the MEMOIR '44 board instead.

As the photograph shows, the Union troops will advance along the beach with the sea on their left flank and impassable swamps on their right. The Confederate defenders are set up on a raised berm behind a wet moat that has a barrier of earthworks in front of it.

The Union attackers have six Infantry unit, and the Confederate defenders have three Artillery units and one Infantry unit. The Union troops will move first each turn, and will be able to exchange a figure for any 'flags' thrown by the Confederates.

Warships of the Spanish Civil War

During my chat with David Crook (AKA Orgefencer) whilst I was visiting 'Skirmish' last Sunday, one of the topics we discussed was the warships used by both sides during the Spanish Civil War.

It is interesting to note that almost all the warships in service with or being built for the Spanish Navy in 1936 were designed in Britain.
  • The two extant battleships – ESPAÑA (ex-ALFONSO XIII) and JAMIE I – were designed in the UK and their main armament and much of their armour was supplied by Vickers.
  • The two heavy cruisers – CANARIAS and BALEARES – were designed by Watts, and were based upon the Royal Navy's COUNTY-class cruisers.
  • The three light cruisers of the CERVERA-class – LIBERTAD (ex-PRÍNCIPE ALFONSO), MIGUEL DE CERVANTES, and ALMIRANTE CERVERA – were based on the British E-class light cruisers.
  • The light cruiser MÉNDEZ NÚÑEZ (her sister ship – BLAS DE LEZO – sank in 1932) was a better-armed version of the British C-class light cruisers
  • The light cruiser NAVARRA (ex-REPUBLICA, ex-REINA VICTORIA EUGENIA) was based on the Royal Navy's World War I BIRMINGHAM-class of light cruisers
  • The design of the ALSEDO-class destroyers (ALSEDO, LAZAGA, and VELASCO) was based on the NIMROD-class destroyers that served in the Royal Navy during World War I
With the exception of the battleships, almost all of these warships can be converted quite easily from models of their Royal Navy 'sisters' ... and I got the distinct impression that this is something that Ogrefencer might be considering as a future project.

Monday 27 September 2010

I have been to ... Jersey ... but not for some time!

Before my wife and I caught the cruising 'bug', we regularly went to Jersey for our annual holidays.

For anyone with even the slightest interest in World War II, Jersey has a lot to offer. It sometimes appears that there is a relic of the German Occupation around every corner, and although this is somewhat of an exaggeration, there are lots of places visitors can go to see restored German fortifications.

The German Underground Hospital
This underground tunnel complex was build by Organisation Todt using slave labour, and it is now a museum that deals with the Occupation. When we were last there it had been extensively upgraded and re-branded as the JERSEY WAR TUNNELS. The entrance was guarded by a German 37mm Anti-aircraft gun (possibly a SKC/30 single-shot gun used by the Kriegsmarine).

Anti-Tank Gun Casemate, Millbrook, St. Lawrence
This bunker formed part of the German coastal defences on the south coast of Jersey, overlooking St. Aubin's Bay. It contains a very rare example of a Czech fortress anti-tank gun (a 4.7cm Pak K36(t)) that was seized by the Germans after the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938, and re-used in Jersey.

Batterie Moltke, Les Landes, St. Ouen
This battery was originally being built for the Kriegsmarine but before it was completed it was taken over the the Wehrmacht, who mounted four French 155mm GP guns (15.5cm K418(f)) in open emplacements on the site. The battery was part of the defences in the north west of the island, and is situated near Grosnez Castle and the Les Landes Racecourse.

Batterie Lothringen, Noirmont Point, St. Brelade
This battery was built and manned by the Kriegsmarine (3./Batterie, Marine Artillerie Abteilung 604), and was armed with four German naval guns (15cm SK L/45 guns).

Captured French 105mm guns (10.5cm K331 (f)) are also displayed at Noirmont Point.

A large Command Bunker is also situated at Noirmont Point, and it was able to direct the gunfire from the coastal defence batteries in the area at any threat approaching the south west of the island.

Sunday 26 September 2010

I have been to ... Skirmish in Sidcup

'Skirmish' is a twice-yearly Wargames and Toy Soldier show held in Sidcup, Kent, and as it is less than fifteen minutes drive from my house, I like to go if it is at all possible.

This time I spent almost as much time talking to old friends including David Crook, Professor Phil Sabin, Alan Abbey, and Ken Smith as I did looking at the traders stands and the wargames.

The following photographs give a flavour of the show:

Inside the entrance there were several trader stands that specialised in model military vehicle and aircraft kits and toy soldiers.
Also in the entrance were the 'Firepower' Museum's Royal Artillery re-enactors. They had a large display of Second World War military equipment on show, and were both knowledgeable and very welcoming to anyone who showed an interest.
The main hall contained the rest of the trader stands.
One of my old friends - David Crook (AKA Orgefencer with whom I wargamed many, many years ago in the basement wargame room under Eric Knowles's shop, 'New Model Army' in East London.)
The Old Guard Wargame Club fighting a battle from the Crusades using the 'Command and Colours' wargames rules.
A close-up on the second Crusades battle fought by the Old Guard Wargame Club. They corners of the hexes have been marked on the tabletop and can just be seen.
The Orwell Wargamers staged a wonderful 6mm-scale recreation of the fighting around Hougoumont during the Battle of Waterloo. Alan Abbey is watching events unfold ... when he is not making rude comments about me! (What else would you expect from an old friend?)
A close-up of Hougoumont with the fighting in full swing.
An American Civil War battle in progress.
What at first looked like a conventional Napoleonic battle turned out to be far more interesting ... it was a battle from the South American Wars of Liberation!
A large-scale skirmish between German and Russian troops in Stalingrad.
The Russian defenders.
As usual this was a nice, friendly, local show ... just like so many others that now - alas - no longer take place.

PS. Apologies to those wargames clubs whose games I have photographed but whom I have not credited by naming them in my captions. My excuse is that I forgot to ask ... and I will try to do better next time.

Saturday 25 September 2010

A modified version of ‘Battle Cry’

Having already word-processed my notes comparing the movement rates and combat resolution systems used in BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR ’44, it only took me a few minutes to set out some ideas for incorporation into a modified version of BATTLE CRY:

  • Move two hexes or
  • Move one hex and battle
  • Range = 4 hexes; four battle dice are thrown: 4-3-2-1
Smooth-bore Artillery
  • Move one hex or battle
  • Range = 5 hexes; five battle dice are thrown: 5-4-3-2-1
Rifled Artillery
  • Move one hex or battle
  • Range = 6 hexes; three battle dice are thrown: 3-3-2-2-1-1
  • Move three hexes and battle
  • Range = 1 hex; three battle dice are thrown: 3
  • Move three hexes
  • Add one battle dice to Infantry and Cavalry units they are in the same hex with
Wood or Forest hex
  • Units must stop when they enter a wood or forest
  • Units entering a wood or forest may not battle
  • When battling a unit that is in a wood or forest, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one
  • Woods or forests block line of sight
Orchard or vineyard hex
  • No movement restrictions
  • No battle restrictions except that when battling a unit that is in an orchard or vineyard, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one
  • Orchards or vineyards do not block line of sight
Hill hex
  • No movement restrictions
  • When battling a unit that is on a hill, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one except when a unit on a hill is battling a unit that is also on a hill; in this case the number of battle dice thrown is as per normal
  • Artillery firing from a hill increases the range they can fire by one hex (5-4-3-2-1-1 for smooth-bore and 3-3-2-2-1-1-1 for rifled artillery)
  • Hills block line of sight except when units on a hill are looking at units on other hill that are the same height
Built-up Area hex
  • Units must stop when they enter a built-up area
  • Units entering a built-up area may not battle
  • When battling a unit that is in a built-up area, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by two
  • Built-up areas block line of sight
River or Stream hex
  • Units must stop when they enter a hex containing a river or stream
  • Units may only cross rivers or streams in hexes that contain a bridge
  • Rivers and streams do not block line of sight
Field hex
  • No movement restrictions except that units in fields containing tall crops may only move one hex
  • When battling a unit that is in a field containing tall crops, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one
  • A field of tall crops block line of sight
Rough terrain hex
  • Only Infantry may enter rough terrain
  • No battle restrictions
  • Rough terrain does not block line of sight
Fence or Wire hex
  • Units must stop when they enter a hex containing a fence or wire
  • When battling a unit that is in a hex containing a fence, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one
  • When in a hex containing a fence or wire, Infantry either reduce the number of battle dice thrown by one when battling or do not battle and remove the fence or wire
  • Fences or wire do not block line of sight
Fieldworks hex
  • No movement restrictions for the fieldworks; other restrictions may apply
  • When battling a unit that is in a fieldwork, reduce the number of battle dice thrown by two
  • Units in fieldworks ignore the first ‘flag’ rolled against them
  • Fieldworks do not block line of sight
Sand hex
  • Units moving on sand may only move a maximum of two hexes
  • No battle restrictions
  • Sand does not block line of sight
Water hex
  • Units moving on a water may only move a maximum of one hex if they are landing; units may not retreat into water
  • Units on an water may not battle
  • Water does not block line of sight
Now all I have to do is to play-test my ideas!

Friday 24 September 2010

Erast Fandorin

One thing that I did manage to do yesterday was to begin reading the latest Erast Fandorin novel by Boris Akunin – HE LOVER OF DEATH.

Boris Akunin is the pen-name of the Georgian author, Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili, a former editor of a literary magazine and now a full-time writer of fiction. Beside the series of nineteenth century crime novels that feature Erast Fandorin as the main character, he has also penned books about Sister Pelagia – a Russian Orthodox nun – and Nicholas Fandorin, Erast's grandson.

I happened to buy the first of Bakunin’s Fandorin novels to be translated into English – THE WINTER QUEEN – just after it was published, and liked it so much that I pre-ordered each of the later novels as soon as I knew that it was going to be published. Each of the novels has a different style, and fits into one of the sixteen subgenres of crime novels that Akunin is said to have identified.

So far I have bought:
  • THE WINTER QUEEN: This is a conspiracy mystery in which the young investigator Erast Fandorin discovers – and stops – a plot that will lead to world domination, as well as getting married and widowed on the same day.
  • THE TURKISH GAMBIT: This a spy mystery set during the Siege of Plevna, which took place during the Russo-Turkish War. Erast Fandorin sets out to counter the damage being done to the Russian war effort by a well-disguised Turkish spy, and in the process helps to capture Plevna and end the war.
  • MURDER ON THE LEVIATHAN: An Agatha Christie-style closed set-up mystery set on a large luxury liner on its way from Europe to India. Erast Fandorin manages to solve several murders, recover a vital clue to a 'lost' treasure, and prevent the ship from being deliberately sunk by the murders.
  • DEATH OF ACHILLES: This is the story of Erast Fandorin’s hunt for the hired assassin who has succeeded in killing General Sobolev (the military hero featured in THE TURKISH GAMBIT) in a Moscow hotel. Part of the story concentrates on how Achimas Welde became an assassin, and how he had only failed to complete his murderous missions three times during his career ... one of them being the failed attempt on Fandorin's life that takes place at the end of THE WINTER QUEEN, and which results in the death of Erast's wife.
  • JACK OF SPADES (published along with THE DECORATOR under the title SPECIAL ASSIGNMENTS): This is a novella about Erast Fandorin’s attempts to hunt down and arrest a very clever group of swindlers and confidence tricksters.
  • THE DECORATOR: This novella is about Erast Fandorin’s involvement in the hunt for Jack the Ripper, who turns out to be a Russian who has returned to Moscow after his killing spree in London.
  • THE STATE COUNSELLOR: This is a political mystery in which Erast Fandorin tries to counter revolutionary terrorism in Moscow.
  • THE CORONATION: The novel is set amongst Russian high society, and deals with Erast Fandorin’s involvement in the events leading up to the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II.
  • SHE LOVER OF DEATH: In this macabre novel a series of apparently unconnected suicides in Moscow lead Fandorin to uncover – and ultimately destroy – a society dedicated to death.
  • HE LOVER OF DEATH: This is a mystery which has echoes of Dickens, as it deals with life – and death – in the Khitrovka slums in Moscow. This is the area of the city where the professional criminal gangs hold sway, and where a treasure trove has been hidden.

Busy, busy, busy ...

The past two days seem to have been rather frantic ... which is why I have not been able to write a blog entry!

Wednesday afternoon saw me in Central London attending a large meeting, after which I went out to dinner with some of my colleagues. As a result I did not get home until after 10.00pm, and so I had little time to look at my emails, let alone write a blog entry.

Yesterday should have been a lot calmer, but a last minute meeting at the end of the working day meant that I was late leaving work ... and on the way home I managed to get stuck in a traffic jam that was caused by two serious accidents only half a mile apart. The whole of South East London seemed to be gridlocked, and just had to sit there and wait my turn to get through.

It did, however, give me time to think about the modifications that I want to make to BATTLE CRY, and I all I have to do now is set aside an hour or two this weekend to write them down and then – if time permits – play-test them.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

'Wargaming on a budget': A review

As I reported in an earlier blog entry, I recently purchased WARGAMING ON A BUDGET – GAMING CONSTRAINED BY MONEY OR SPACE by Iain Dickie. It is published by Pen and Sword Books Ltd. (ISBN 978 1 84884 115 4) and costs £14.99.

I must admit, that this is – to my knowledge – a unique wargames publication. It does not contain any rules (although it does include some rule mechanisms that can be used be for certain specific types of game or scenarios) and is not lavishly illustrated. It is, however, full of interesting ideas and suggestions.

The book is split into ten chapters, and I have attempted to give a flavour of what each chapter covers in the following paragraphs:

Chapter 1: Resources
This chapter looks at the limitations you might have to deal with when trying to wargame on a budget:
  • Space: How much room do you have determines how big a wargames table you can comfortably set up at home
  • Finance: How much disposable income you have will affect what you can afford to buy
  • Materials: Do you have to buy everything that you need or can it be obtained legally at little or no cost?
Chapter 2: Basic DIY
This chapter explains the basic ‘do-it-yourself’ techniques you will need to make some of the items that are covered in later chapters, including:
  • Measuring: How can you make sure that the parts that you are going to make are the right size so that they will fit together properly?
  • Cutting: Using the right saw for the job
  • Joints: The range of simple wood joints that can be used during construction
  • Drilling: Basic techniques that will make sure that when you drill a hole, it will be done properly
  • Nailing: How to nail wood together without splitting the wood you are nailing
  • Planing: How to select the correct wood plane to suit your budget
  • Knots: How to deal with knots in wood
  • Sanding down: Why it is important and how to do it properly
  • Painting: What paint to use, how to paint properly, how to keep your brushes clean, and where to get cheap paint
Chapter 3: Making a table
This chapter explain how to assemble a wargames table that can be stored easily including:
  • The table top: How to make a tabletop from cheap, damaged, or reclaimed materials
  • Painting the playing surface: Painting your tabletop so that it can be used for naval wargames
  • Mounting the table: How to make a set of folding legs for your tabletop and how to mount your tabletop over your spare bed, dining room, or kitchen table
Chapter 4: The Playing Surface
Having made you wargames table, what are you going to use as a playing surface? This chapter covers the alternatives, including:
  • Sand table: Very heavy and potentially very problematical, it is what a lot of wargamers aspire to
  • Cloth: Cheap and usually easy to source but it can look rather plain and artificial
  • Gaming mat: very hard wearing but they can be quite expensive
  • Square or hexagonal expanded polystyrene tiles: Light and ready-to-go, they can be expensive to buy and are prone to damage
  • Hexagonal plastic tiles: Reasonably light and ready-to-go, they can be expensive to buy and can ‘gap’ around the edges if not fixed together properly
  • Carpet tiles: Cheap and easy to keep clean … if you can find them in appropriate colours and textures!
  • Homemade tiles: Cheap, but they can be messy to make, need a degree of accuracy when cutting, and have the same disadvantages as ready-to-go square or hexagonal expanded polystyrene tile
  • Paint: Cheap, hard-wearing, and simple but can look a bit plain and artificial
Chapter 5: Figures
This chapter is firmly back in regular wargame book territory, and deals with:
  • Scale: What size figures are you going to use depends upon the type of wargaming you want to do
  • Figure ratios
  • Lead figures
  • Homemade lead figures: How to start with a ‘dolly’, and how to create moulds using that ‘dolly’ so that you can cast your own figures at home
  • Plastic figures
  • Card figures: An early alternative to lead figures, these still have their uses, especially as they can be very cheap to make
  • Homemade car figures: How to create your own, homemade card figures using simple techniques
  • Bases: using different materials – MDF, Plasticard, plastic floor tiles, cardboard, sheet lead – to base your figures
  • Figures and the for or war: How to conceal what you units are during a game
  • Painting
  • Conversions: How to convert figures so that they represent something that would otherwise not be available for you to have in your model army
  • Movement trays: How to make movement trays so that your individually based figures can be moved ‘as one’ with other figures in their unit
Chapter 6: Terrain
Now that you have your tabletop battlefield and you armies, you now need some terrain. This chapter explains how to make:
  • Grass
  • Bushes
  • Hedges and scrub
  • Trees
  • Palm trees
  • Marshes and bogs
  • Rivers
  • Hills: Including contoured and sloped hills made from expanded polystyrene and papier mâché
Chapter 7: Man-Made features
Besides natural terrain, you will also need man-made features such as:
  • Buildings: Including how to make an ancient Northern European farmstead, ancient Mediterranean buildings, larger settlements, a walled town, a Medieval village, a 5mm-scale city, castles and forts, a semi-fortified manor house, and more modern towns
  • Roads and tracks
  • Field fortifications: Including trenches, temporary barricades, chevaux-de-frise, and twentieth century fortifications
Chapter 8: Ship and Planes
This chapter explains how to make your own ships and aircraft for wargames, including:
  • Canoes
  • Saxon and Viking longships
  • Classical galleys
  • Early sailing ships
  • Seventeenth to nineteenth century sailing ships
  • Transitional ships
  • Iron battleships
  • Planes
Chapter 9: Storage and transportation
Not all wargamers are like me and sit at home a wargaming solo most of the time; some (in fact most) like to join wargame clubs. This means that they will have to both store and transport part or all of the wargames collection at some stage. This chapter explains how to do that, including:
  • Happenchance systems (i.e. systems that are not designed with wargamers in mind, but which can be used and obtained quite easily): Including cotton reel and thread cabinets, office filing cabinets, cutlery boxes, tool boxes, plastic trays, and plastic storage boxes
  • Purpose-built systems: Including wooden cabinets and foam-line cases
  • A home-made cabinet: Including how to design it and how to build it

Chapter 10: The Game
This chapter appear to return to the ground normally covered by wargames books, but does contain some interesting ideas for different types of wargame. The chapter covers:
  • Choosing the army
  • Skirmish games: Including naval actions, aerial combat, satellite chasing, chariot racing, night attacks, garrison duty, indoor and tunnel actions, robberies, trench raids, street fighting, small-unit actions, hunting, and quests
  • Battles: Including solo wargames
  • Campaign games: Including a campaign scenario
  • An epilogue: Which suggest further sources of information that readers might find useful
I must admit, that at first I thought that this book was a case of ‘teaching your grandmother to suck eggs’, but soon I began to realise that it was written for a generation of people who may not yet have started wargaming, or who started when it was possible to buy a lot of what you needed quite literally ‘off the shelf’. Once viewed in this light, this book becomes a very useful aid to wargamers of all ages and experience. Even someone like me – who has been wargaming since the 1960s – can learn something new from this book … and if, like me, your budget is not unlimited, it would be worth giving serious consideration to spending some of you limited supply of wargaming funds on buying a copy. You might find that it saves you more than its cost!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Comparing movement rates and the combat resolution systems used in 'Battle Cry' and 'Memoir '44': My notes

I finally managed to finish word-processing my notes into a series of tables, which I have converted into images (I have yet to work out how to put tables into a blog entry, and this was the only method I could come up with to get around the problem!).

My intention was to compare the movement rates and the combat resolution systems used in BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR '44 to see if there was anything from the latter that I could use to develop my own version of BATTLE CRY. I suspect that some readers will not like the conclusions I have come to ... but this exercise has really helped me to understand Richard Borg's game design philosophy, and has made me realise how simple yet effective the mechanisms he uses are.

Movement distances and combat resolution data:

The effects of woods, forests, orchards, and hedgerows:

The effects of hills and built-up areas:

The effects of waterways, rivers, fields, and rough terrain:

The effects of fences, wire, and fieldworks:

The effects of beaches and oceans

My next step is to try these ideas out with a play-test sometime soon.

Monday 20 September 2010

Comparing movement rates and the combat resolution systems used in 'Battle Cry' and 'Memoir '44'

Over the past few days I have spent some time comparing the movement rates and combat resolution systems used in BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR '44.

I printed out copies of both sets of rules, and placed them side-by-side on my worktable so that it made the comparison easier. As I made my comparisons it generated some ideas that I think that I might pursue, and to act as an aide-mémoire I jotted some notes down as I worked my way through both sets of rules. With a bit of luck I hope to word-process those notes over the next few days so that I can include them in a forthcoming blog entry.

Combat Resolution Systems

When I first started wargaming, every set of wargames rules seemed to include two separate combat resolution systems; one for fire combat and one for close combat or melee. A lot of modern wargames rules now only have one (e.g. DBA, HOTT, BATTLE CRY, and MEMOIR ’44), and I am tempted to ask … Why?

Did the earlier wargames have separate combat resolution systems because many of the post-War wargaming pioneers were ex-soldiers who had served during the Second World War, and therefore saw fire combat and close combat as two distinct entities ... or was it something that was retained from the wargames rules written by H G Wells?

Do present-day wargames designers view combat as continuum, where the distance at which the combat takes place is just one of several inputs into the process by which the result of combat is generated, and is that why they tend to opt for a single system?

For my part, over recent years I have tended to fall into the second of these two wargame design ‘camps’ ... but I am asking myself why I have gravitated to that end of the spectrum. Was this a conscious choice or was I merely influenced by current trends that I have short-sightedly – if not blindly – followed without questioning?

I don’t know what the answer is … but I think that the questions are worth asking.

Sunday 19 September 2010

‘The Games of War’ by John Bobek: A review

This is one of a pair of wargames books I bought recently. Before I read either of them I had no real knowledge of what they would contain, but as new wargames books – as opposed to wargames rules – are rather rare, I thought that I should buy them and, once I had read them, write a short review. So here is the first of what I hope will be two book reviews …

THE GAMES OF WAR – A TREASURY OF RULES FOR BATTLES WITH TOY SOLDIERS, SHIPS AND PLANES was written by John Bobek, and published by AuthorHouse™ (ISBN 978 1 4343 3028 4). It is a softback book and costs £24.95 in the UK or $32.95 in the USA. It is 276 pages long, and is divided into seven chapters.

According to his biography, John Bobek is a professional educator living in Illinois, and has been a wargamer since 1968. As will become apparent from the review, he has used wargames as a history teaching aid in the classroom, something that I have also done in the past.

I have split the review into eight sections, one for each chapter and one for an overall comment.

Chapter 1: Getting Started
As the title suggests, this chapter is an introduction to wargaming. It covers topics such as scale, umpiring (he calls umpires ‘judges’), game terms (which is a very useful glossary that not only explains the basic terms used in wargaming but which also discusses what would probably be termed ‘wargaming etiquette’), and campaigns. In addition, it examines how wargames can be used as a teaching aid in the classroom and describes three ‘History Labs’ where wargames have been used:
  • The Battle of Chickamauga
  • Over the Top: A First World War trench attack
  • Bloody Tarawa: The 2nd Marine Divisions invasion of Tarawa
Chapter 2: Ancients and the Middle Ages
After a short but interesting series of historical notes about the nature of Ancient Armies (including sections on Campaigns, Sieges, Siege Trains, Politics, and Economics) the chapter includes several sets of rules, including:
  • Ancient Empire: These rules are designed to be used with 2mm-scale figures mounted on stands, each stand representing 1,000 soldiers.
  • We Who Are About To Die Salute You!: These are rules for individual gladiatorial combat.
  • Warfare of the Ancients: These rules appear to be written for somewhat larger scale figures than Ancient Empire and have stands with different numbers of figures on them that represent the different formations used (e.g. Hoplite stands have six figures whereas Phalangite stands have twelve). Each figure represents 20 soldiers.
  • Fealty: Rules for Medieval Warfare: These are designed to be used with figures ranging from 2mm-scale up to 1/32-scale, with one figure representing either one soldier or ten soldiers.
  • Maces High: These rules are designed for individually mounted 1/32 and HO-scale figures, and seems to be inspired by ‘Hollywood’ films about the Middle Ages. They are short and simple … and look like they would be very suitable for people who are not wargamers but who like to play games.
The chapter concludes with a useful bibliography.

Chapter 3: The Horse and Musket Era
The historical notes that begin this chapter cover the development of warfare during this turbulent period of history, and places emphasis on the interplay between tactics and the weaponry that was available. It also includes the following wargames rules:
  • Parliament against the King: Rules for fighting the English Civil War in 6mm-scale or 15mm-scale figures. Each stand represents approximately 100 soldiers.
  • Lace and Lead: 7 Years War Rules: These rules were designed for large-scale battles using 6mm-scale, figures but can be used with figures up to 30mm-scale. Each stand represents 400 infantry or cavalry or an artillery battery of 12 guns and 250 gunners.
  • Regimental Honor: Rules for 18th Century battles: These are an alternative to Lace and Lead: 7 Years War Rules and uses stands that represent approximately 150 soldiers or a battery of 6 guns and crews.
  • One Life to Give: Originally designed for fighting battles of the American revolutionary wars using with 1/32-scale figures, they can also be used with HO-scale figures. Each stand represents an infantry battalion (4 figures), cavalry regiment (3 figures), or artillery battery (1 gun).
  • Ambuscade: These rules cover skirmishes during the Horse and Musket era, and can be sued with both HO and 1/32-scale figures, with each figure representing a single soldier.
  • Road to Glory: The rules are designed to be used to re-fight the large land battles of the Napoleonic era using 2mm figures. Each stand represents 1,000 infantry, 500 cavalry, or a battery of 12 guns with 250 gunners. The rules also contain additional information so that they can be used with larger scale figures, up to and including 15mm-scale.
  • La Gloire de Guerre: These rules are designed for players who want to re-fight brigade-level actions using 1.32 or 1/72-scale figures. Each figure represents 250 to 400 soldiers and each model gun equates to 12 real guns.
  • To Fight for Abraham’s Daughter: These are very similar to One Life to Give but with changes that make them suitable for re-fighting American Civil War battles.
  • We’ll Rally Round the Flag: As the name suggests, these rules were designed in the 1970s to re-fight battle from the American Civil War using 15mm to 25m-scale figures. Each Infantry regiment is made up of six stands, each with 3 figures, whilst the cavalry have four stands of 4 figures. The artillery stand has one gun and 4 crew figures.
  • Who Shall Rule the American Nation?: Originally designed for use with 2mm-scale figures, these rules for re-fighting American Civil War battles can also be used with 6mm and 15mm-scale figures. Each full-sized infantry and cavalry stand represents 1,000 soldiers (half-size stands represent 500 soldiers), and each artillery stand represents 12 to 18 guns.
As with the previous chapter, this one also has an extensive bibliography.

Chapter 4: 20th Century Land Warfare
The introduction to this chapter is shorter than in the previous two chapters, but as it is a period with which readers are likely to already be well acquainted, this is hardly surprising.

It contains rules that cover all the major conflicts of the 20th century including:
  • Over There: These rules cover the First World War, and are designed for large-scale battles. They can be used with 2mm, 6mm, and HO-scale figures, with individual figure representing 70 to 100 soldiers. Each model gun represents 4 to 6 guns (i.e. a battery) with a similar scale used for vehicles; individual model aircraft represent 1 to 3 planes.
  • Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright: These rules are designed so that divisional-level armour/infantry battles of the Second World War can be re-fought using 2mm and 6mm-scale figures. Stand of 6 to 8 figures represent 90 to 120 soldiers, and smaller stands with 3 or 4 figures represent 30 to 50 soldiers. A model gun equates to 3 to 5 real guns (with a similar scale used for aircraft), and a model vehicle represents 4 to 6 real vehicles. These are by far the most extensive rules in the book, covering as they do twenty-one pages, including six that just deal with weapon and vehicle statistics.
  • Bloody Tarawa/Bocage: These rules are referred to in Chapter 1, and are designed to recreate the intense infantry battles that took place during the Pacific Campaign and the Normandy breakout. Each figure represents an individual soldier. They can be used with either HO or 1/32-scale figures.
  • Cold War, Warm Conflicts: These are a version of Bloody Tarawa/Bocage that has been developed to cover post-World War II conflicts.
  • Combat Patrol: These are not so much a set of rules as a framework that utilises similar mechanisms to those in Bloody Tarawa/Bocage to support a role-play game that covers small unit actions.
  • Southeast Asian Wars: Originally designed for use with 6mm figures, an infantry stand represents a squad or fire team, whilst individual model vehicles and aircraft equate to one real vehicle or aircraft.
  • Blue Vs. Red: Rules for Modern Ground Warfare: These appear to be an updated version of Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, and are designed so that most large-scale modern wars (and ‘What ifs?’) can be fought out on the tabletop battlefield.
Bearing in mind the number of wars fought since 1901, it is hardly surprising that this chapter bibliography is seven pages long.

Chapter 5: Sky Warriors
Considering that air warfare is only just over one hundred years old, it has developed in leaps and bounds in a very short time. The notes at the beginning of this chapter concentrate on the reasons why air wargaming requires different game mechanisms from land warfare and seeks to explain that air warfare can be broken down into three distinct but slightly overlapping periods. Each of these periods is covered by a separate set of wargames rules:
  • Aces High: These rules cover air combat during the First World War.
  • Check Your Six O’clock!: These rules deal with air combat during the Second World War, and include over four pages of data that cover all the major aircraft types from the post-World War I biplanes to the early jet fighters.
  • Jet Jockey: These rules cover air combat in the Jet Age, and also include two pages of related aircraft data.
This chapter ends with a two-page long bibliography.

Chapter 6; Naval Wargames
The introduction to the chapter on naval wargames covers the development of naval warfare from Ancient through to modern times, and also looks at the variety of different scale model ships that can be used. The introduction seems to concentrate more on the modern era – World Wars I and II – than the earlier ones; however the chapter does include rules that cover the full range of historical periods, including:
  • Ancient Fleets: The rules were designed in the late 1970s, and were intended to be used with 1/660 and 1/1200-scale model ships. As can be imagined, ramming and boarding are covered in some detail.
  • Line Of Battle Naval Rules: These rules were designed so that fleet action in the Age of Sail can be fought out as part of a larger campaign.
  • Cannon and Cutlass Pirates have long held a fascination for people, and these rules allow players to re-enact their fantasies about leading a gang of cutthroats on the high seas. They have a very ‘Hollywood’ feel about them, and I am sure that they would produce a great, fun battle.
  • ”Damn The Torpedoes”: Although mainly aimed at the period of the American Civil War, these rules seem to be suitable for almost all the early naval battles fought during the early days of steam-powered armoured ships.
  • Steel, Steam and Big Guns: The rules are designed to cover the period when the number of pre-dreadnought and early dreadnought battleships were the measure of a country’s power (i.e. from the Spanish-American War up to and including the First World War).
  • Fighting Fleets: Because they cover the Second World War, these rules are rather more complex than the earlier sets of naval wargames rules included in this book. Not only do they include rules for air attacks and air-to-air combat, they also examine the roles of fleets in campaigns.
  • Action on the High Seas: These are a somewhat simpler set of rules for large-scale modern naval battles than Fighting Fleets and have been underdevelopment since the late 1970s.
  • At Periscope Depth: Like air combat, undersea warfare presents the wargames designer with a different set of problems from the normal to solve. These rules begin with notes about the nature of submarine warfare, which lead the reader neatly into the rules themselves.
  • Naval Warfare in the Age of Missiles: These rules combine both strategic and tactical movement, and reflect the long-range nature of modern naval combat.
As with the previous chapters, this one ends with a substantial and comprehensive bibliography.

Chapter 7: Miscellaneous Rules + Bibliography
The chapter contains a variety of different rules that do not fit in elsewhere in the book including:
  • Spears and Spells: This is not so much a set of rules as an explanation about how to run a Fantasy game.
  • Dodge City: Rules For Old West games: Like Pirates, the Old West occupies a special place in many peoples’ hearts, and it is not surprising to see that this book contains rules for ‘Hollywood’-style, Western gunfights.
  • Hot Sand, Hotter Lead: The Colonial period has hitherto not been covered in this book, but these rules – which like several other sets in this book are heavily influenced by ‘Hollywood’ films of the 1930s and 1940s – make up for that deficiency. They are intended to be used with either 1/32 or 1/72-scale figures, with each figure representing an individual soldier.
  • Law and Disorder: This is an interesting addition to the pantheon of wargame covered by this book as it deals with how the authorities deal with civil disturbances. It is intended to by played using 6mm or 1/72-scale figures, and includes rules regarding press conferences where the actions of the authorities have to be justified, and their justifications believed, if they are to win the game.
  • ”Saturn Blocked Our View!”: This is not a definitive set of wargames rules but a series of suggestions as to how space warfare could be wargamed.
The chapter then has a bibliography that includes many wargames titles (nine of Donald Featherstone’s books are included) and miscellaneous books that do not fit in elsewhere. The chapter concludes with Tables of Organisation and Equipment for the World War II armoured formations of the USA, Germany, the UK, and the USSR, and a final set of wargames rules entitled Eagles High. These are a modification of the Maces High rules mention in Chapter 2, and are intended to be used to fight battles during the Ancient era using 1/32 or HO-scale figures.

Overall comments
Doctor Johnson once said of the Giant’s Causeway that it was ‘Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see.’ I feel something similar about this book; it is worth buying if you see it on sale, but not worth going out of your way to buy. That is not to say that it is a bad book; in fact, from the point of view of cost and content, it is an extremely cost-effective book. After all, where else could you buy forty sets of wargames rules for the price?

I bought it, and I am pleased that I did … but then I do buy lots of books, and will always buy a book about wargaming if I see it. The rules that are included are wide ranging with regard to the historical periods that they cover, and the historical notes are well written; however, many of the rules are very much of their time, and wargames design has moved on somewhat over the past few years. That is not to say that they are badly written or will not enable players to have a great time re-fighting battles with them; the truth is, that they are not the sort of rules that I tend to use.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Trying my ideas out ... and learning from them

To see if my ideas about modifying the combat system used in BATTLE CRY so that it was a feasible to give rifle-armed and musket-armed Infantry different combat ranges and numbers of dice without skewing the results too much, I set up a very simple tactical situation on my BATTLE CRY board using both Confederate and Union Infantry figures. Each side was allocated three Infantry units, with the Confederates being armed with muskets and the Union troops were armed with rifles.

The two sides were set up on opposite sides of the board, and I threw a normal D6 die to see which side would move first each turn. The Confederates threw the higher number, and they moved first during each turn.

Turn 1
The Confederate move forward one hex, but as the Union troops were out of range, no combat was possible. The Union side also advanced one hex, and as their weapons were unable to fire at the Confederates, the turn ended.

Turn 2
Yet again the Confederates moved forward a hex, and yet again they were in no position to fire at their opponents. When the Union troops moved forward, however, they were now only four hexes away from the Confederates, and they opened fire. As each unit was firing at its maximum range (four hexes for rifles), they were only able to throw one combat dice each.

This resulted in one of the Confederate units being forced to retreat. (N.B. I had thought of allowing units to ‘trade off’ retreats by exchanging each retreat ‘flag’ result on the dice for a casualty, but I decided that at this stage this was one additional development that I did not yet want to play-test)

Turn 3
All three Confederate units moved forward a hex, and two were now in range of their opponents. Because they were firing at maximum range for muskets (three hexes), they threw one dice each.

The two ‘flags’ forced two of the Union units to retreat one hex each.

The three Union units then resumed their advance, and because the range was now shorter (three hexes), each unit threw two combat dice.

As a result, each of the Confederate units lost a figure and two were forced to retreat one hex.

Turn 4
The Confederates continued to batter their way forward, despite their losses.

The central unit closed the range to one hex (and therefore threw three combat dice) whilst the other were three hexes from their opponents, and only threw one combat dice each. The Confederate units threw their dice in order, starting with the farthermost one in the following picture. This unit and the one in the centre concentrated their fire on the Union units that has – at that point – advanced furthest … with devastating results.

The Union unit first suffered the loss of a figure, and was then forced to retreat twice by the two ‘flags’ that were thrown by the central Confederate unit. The nearest Union unit in the photograph was also hit, and lost a figure.

The Union retaliated by moving forward once again so that the range of their weapons was as sort as possible.

The furthermost Union unit threw a single combat die as the Confederate unit it was firing at was four hexes away. Its fire was ineffective, but the second Union unit to fire – the one in the centre – was able to throw four combat dice because its opponent was in an adjacent hex, and it destroyed two of the Confederate unit’s figures.

The final Union unit also concentrated its fire on the Confederate unit in the centre, and as it was in an adjacent hex, it was able to throw four combat dice. These ‘killed’ the remaining figure of the Confederate unit, which would otherwise have been forced to retreat.

At this point it became obvious that the Union was going to prevail due to its superior firepower.

It was at this point that I ended this short but very informative play-test.

My conclusions are:
  • The amended combat system works, and gives a definite advantage to Infantry units that are armed with rifles rather than muskets
  • It is easy – in the heat of battle – to forget that the firearms used by one side have both a shorter range and fewer combat dice; at one point I actually threw four combat dice for the Confederates when I should have thrown three, and only just realised my mistake in time
  • The differential system is probably more applicable to asymmetric warfare (i.e. Colonial warfare) than to warfare conducted by very similar forces; again, this is a reason not to change the existing combat system
  • The existing combat system isn’t ‘broke’, and works well as it is; therefore am I wise to change it?
This may all sound as if I have wasted my time, as I am now coming around to the thinking that I will keep the combat system as it is … but my play-test did confirm that the existing system is both capable of modification and that such modifications should only be undertaken if it reflects a significant difference between the opposing forces.