Sunday 31 August 2014

Generic Wargame Armies

I am going to start this blog entry by making one thing very clear; I am not – and never have been – an absolute purist when it comes to my wargame armies. This is not to say that I don’t take pride in trying to make my wargame armies look reasonably accurate, but I try not to take it to extremes.

An example of the extreme viewpoint is illustrated by a wargamer of my acquaintance who refused to buy a particular figure from a manufacturer (I think that it was a Prussian Napoleonic Fusilier of 1815) because the 15mm-scale figure was wearing an item of uniform that was supposed to have been withdrawn from service two or three years earlier. This seemed a bit extreme to me, and when I asked whether or not obsolete items of uniform might have still been in service even though they were supposed to have been withdrawn, I was subjected to a long diatribe about the need for absolute accuracy. To that wargamer wargame figures in accurate uniforms were essential for their enjoyment of the hobby.

I do think accuracy is important … up to a point. For example I would not expect to see Pzkpfw V Panther tanks rolling across the French countryside in 1940, but I would not be desperately upset if I saw a 1945 model of a Pzkpfw V Panther tank on the tabletop during a re-fight of the Battle of Kursk. (I know that there are quite a few wargamers who – having read this far – are now foaming at the mouth and giving serious consideration to tarring and feathering me at the first opportunity that arises!)

In my little world my wargame figures represent what I want them to represent, and as long as they are vaguely correct when seen from about three feet away, I am happy. This has meant that I have been able to use my collection to fight a variety of battles from periods and wars that would otherwise have required me to paint a lot more figures than I would ever have been able – or inclined – to do.

Military fashion has been of great help to me in this. In the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars – and to some extent during it – every nation seemed to copy each other’s uniforms. Only the colours used were markedly different, although dark blue does seem to have been used by a lot of countries. By the middle of the nineteenth century French military fashion set the trends, and almost every nation – with the exception of Prussia and those countries that followed their lead – was dressed in similar uniforms. After the Franco-German War of 1870-71 the trend moved away from French military fashion and more towards Prussian/German styles.

The growth of colonial warfare also led to greater uniformity, and by 1900 most countries had colonial armies that were clothed in brown/khaki uniforms when on active service. Even the uniforms worn within Europe became drabber, with only the French – and the countries that followed their military fashions – retaining any significant colour in their field uniforms. Even their colonial opponents tended to wear similar clothing to each other, and my North West Frontier tribesmen – who wear an off-white tunic and trousers with a white or coloured turban – have seen service as Mahdist riflemen and Turkish irregulars.

By the end of the First World War most of the Allied countries were wearing drab-coloured uniforms, and they set the trend for the next twenty years or so. A figure in French uniform (i.e. Adrian helmet and long overcoat or tunic) can be used to represent French, Belgian, Polish, Russian, Yugoslav, Greek, Romanian, and Italian troops without difficulty (only the colour of the uniform might vary from country to country), whilst a figure in British uniform (i.e. British-style steel helmet and tunic) can be used to represent British, US, and Portuguese troops. Even figures in German steel helmets present opportunities for wargamers who are not uniform purists, and could be used to represent German, Polish, Finnish, Irish, and Chinese troops.

This is by no means a definitive list, and it strikes me that if other wargamers took my less purist attitude to the uniforms their wargame armies wear they could get a lot of use out of them.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Out of the Shed: A Triang Minic task force ... and friends

My first 1:1200th-scale warships were all metal die-casts made by Triang, and I found them when I was sorting through the crates that were stored in our now-defunct shed.

This 'task force' comprised three Centaur-class Aircraft Carriers, two Superb-class Cruisers, and three Daring-class Destroyers.

At some point I tried to repaint the last five ships, but this new paint job does not seem to have withstood the trials and tribulations of storage very well.

I also found some plastic America warships that were used to increase the size of the 'task force'. These appear to be a Forrest Sherman-class Destroyer that is missing its aft funnel, a Fletcher-class destroyer, and a Destroyer Escort.

None of these ships fits in very well with my current 1:1200th-scale wargames fleet, but they could easily find a place in a post-War Cold War fleet.

Thursday 28 August 2014

The adventures of Tintin

I have always been a fan of Hergé's TINTIN stories, and when Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson produced a motion-capture film based on three of the books – THE CRAB WITH THE GOLDEN CLAWS, THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN, and RED RACKHAM'S TREASURE – I looked forward to seeing it when it was released. For a variety of reasons this never happened, and until today I had never seen the film.

When I saw a DVD copy of the film on sale for £3.00 in a local supermarket I bought it and I have now had the chance to watch it ... and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I understand that at least one sequel is planned, and if they are made I will certainly go to see them!

Tuesday 26 August 2014

I have been to ... Eynsford Castle

On the same day that we visited Lullingstone Roman Villa, Sue and I also visited the nearby Eynsford Castle.

The castle was built in period 1085 to 1088 from local squared flint, and was occupied until the fourteenth century, when is was ransacked and subsequently left to decay. It does not appear to have undergone any major re-building during its occupation, and its layout remained unchanged.

The walls are near four feet thick when built were approximately forty feet in height. The walls follow a rather irregular plan (almost the shape of squashed Norman kite-shaped shield) ...

Please click on the image to enlarge it.
... and the area within is approximately three quarters of an acre. In the centre of the castle is the remains of a hall. The castle was originally surrounded by a wet moat, which was probably filled from the nearby River Darent.

The entrance to Eynsford Castle

The walls of the Castle

The three large holes in the wall were the location of the garderobes (i.e. the latrines).

The remains of the Castle's Hall

The Eynsford Castle site is currently maintained by English Heritage.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Out of the Shed: A load of model aircraft kits ... and other sundry models

In a recent blog entry I mentioned finding a crate that contained a large number of unmade 1:1200th-scale model warship kits. I also mentioned that the same crate contained a number of other unmade kits. What I didn't state was what sort of model kits they were.

In fact the majority of the unmade model kits in the crate were 1:144th-scale aircraft, including:
  • 5 x Revell Sea Harrier Fighters
  • 7 x Fujumi Lynx Anti-submarine Helicopters
  • 5 x Revell Bf-109E Fighters
  • 1 x Revell FW-190A Fighter
  • 5 x Revell Ju-87 Dive Bombers
  • 3 x Revell Ju-88 Bombers
  • 3 x Academy Minicraft He-111 Bombers
  • 2 x Academy Minicraft North American P-51D Mustang Fighters
  • 1 x Academy Minicraft Lockheed P-38J Lightning Fighter
  • 2 x Academy Minicraft Grumman TBF-1 Avenger Torpedo-Bomber
  • 1 x Academy Minicraft Martin B-26B Marauder Medium Bomber
  • 1 x Crown Nakajima C6N1 Fighter
An interesting and somewhat eclectic mixture of aircraft types! I seem to remember buying the Sea Harriers and the Lynxs to go aboard a model aircraft carrier that I later passed on to Chris Kemp. The rest were bought to supply air support for my Megablitz armies ... but somehow never progressed beyond being bought.

There was a single 1:87th-scale model aircraft in the crate, a ROCO Minitanks Ju-52. I saw this in a shop and just had to buy it. All I need now is a game to use it in. (I can hear the theme tune of WHERE EAGLES DARE in my head as I write this!)

The other kits in the crate were all of ships, including:
  • 2 x Heller Potemkin Pre-Dreadnought Battleships
  • 2 x Noch HO-scale Tugs
  • 1 x Noch HO-scale Motorised Barge
  • 3 x Noch HO-scale Dumb Barges
This is enough ships to mount a bath-tubbed version of Operation Sealion ... with added off-shore gunfire support!

Saturday 23 August 2014

Pushing even more toy soldiers about on the tabletop

I decided to make a few changes for my next play-test of my card-driven unit activation system ... but they were all to do with the location of the 'battle' and the two participants. I decided that I would set up a meeting engagement between two similar sized opponents (in this case the Nuevo Ricans and the San Theodorans) in the desert that forms part of the border between these two bellicose countries.

For this play-test I reverted to my original card-driven unit activation system. I allocated both sides appropriately coloured playing cards with values 1, 2, 3, and 4 from two packs of playing cards, and added two Jokers to the pack. The pack was thoroughly shuffled and placed face down. The top playing card was then turned over, and the side whose colour was on that card was allowed to activate up to the same number of units as the value of the card.

The rules used were a slightly modified version of MEMOIR '44.

A small exploration team from one of the major American oil companies has been working in the desert border region between Nuevo Rico and San Theodoros ... and has found what they think might be oil-bearing rock. As a result both nations have claimed the desert as their own, and are determined to enforce their respective claims with a military presence in the area. Nuevo Rica and San Theodoros have sent small expeditionary forces into the desert to look for sources of water and to set up military posts.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
Nuevo Rican Forces (Black)
  • 2 x Infantry Units
  • 1 x Armoured Unit
  • 1 x Artillery Unit
  • 1 x Aircraft Unit (This will appear when the second Joker is turned over)
San Theodoran Forces (Red)
  • 4 x Infantry Units
  • 1 x Artillery Unit

The Battle
The sequence of playing cards turned over was as follows:
  • Red 1, Black 3, Red 4, Red 3, Black 1, Black 3, Black 2, Black 3
The situation after eight unit activation cards had been turned over.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
  • Black 1, Red 2, Red 3, Red 2, Red 3, Red 1, Black 2, Red 2
The situation after sixteen unit activation cards had been turned over.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
  • Joker: The pack was re-shuffled.
  • Black 4, Red 2, Black 1, Red 4, Red 3, Black 1, Red 4, Red 3
The situation after twenty four unit activation cards had been turned over.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
  • Joker: The pack was re-shuffled and the Nuevo Rican Aircraft Unit became available.
  • Red 2, Black 3
The arrival of the Nuevo Rican Aircraft Unit was devastating. Its first attack destroyed a San Theodoran Infantry Unit.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
  • Red 4, Black 4
The Nuevo Rican Aircraft Unit's second attack wiped out the remaining crew member of the San Theodoran Artillery Unit.
Please click on the image to enlarge it.
At this point I decided that neither side was going to win the battle. The Nuevo Rican's had managed to push back the San Theodorans at great cost, thanks mainly to the effectiveness of their Armour and Aircraft Units. The San Theodorans had inflicted a serious defeat on the Nuevo Rican Infantry Units and would have seized the border desert area had it not been for the Nuevo Rican Armoured and Aircraft Units.

I was much happier using this version of the card-driven unit activation system, and I think that I will continue to use it in future. The result of the battle was far more even than I had expected, although the arrival of the Nuevo Rican Aircraft Unit did ensure that the San Theodorans were not going to win.

The battle took about thirty minutes to fight, including taking the photographs. This means that I can fight several small battles during an afternoon or evening and still have plenty of time to record what happened as I go along. This is what I had hoped to achieve ... and I am very pleased with the result.

Friday 22 August 2014

Miniature Wargames with Battlegames Issue 377

The postman delivered the latest issue of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES magazine yesterday afternoon, and I from what I have read so far, this looks as if this month's issue is going to be a good one.

The articles included in this issue are:
  • Briefing (i.e. the editorial) by Henry Hyde
  • World Wide Wargaming by Henry Hyde
  • Forward observer by Neil Shuck
  • Getting into a paddy: The continuing tales of a wargames widow by Diane Sutherland
  • Fantasy Facts: All you need from architecture to apes by John Treadaway
  • 'Twixt crescent and cross: SAGA scenarios based on the Alexiad by Matt Morgan
  • The bridges at Monocacy: Alternative ACW railroad action by Robin Miles
  • Wargames photography: Master your digital camera or phone: part 1 by Henry Hyde
  • Send three and fourpence by Conrad Kinch
  • Re-conquering Gaul: Simple ancients campaigning by Jim Webster
  • The importance of magazines: One man's love affair with battle for Wargamers by Jonathan Aird
  • Bovington 2014: A room full of tanks by John Treadaway
  • The trader's survival kit: Tongue-in-cheek comments from behind the stall by Helena Nash
  • The Chechen War 1994: Gaming a difficult war by Dave Tuck and Malc Johnson
  • The Battlegames Combat Stress Appeal report by Henry Hyde
  • Hex encounter by Brad Harmer
  • Recce

Thursday 21 August 2014

A cheap bunker/pillbox

During a recent visit to a local craft shop I saw some ready-made balsa wood/basswood hexagonal boxes on sale for £1.25. I had previously bought some slightly smaller versions with the intention of using them as the basis for some nineteenth century fortifications, but the larger ones looked ideal subjects for conversion into concrete bunkers or pillboxes that I could use with my 20mm-scale figures. I bought two of the boxes, and over the past few days I have been converting them.

The first thing I did was to remove the hinges that held the top and bottom halves of the box together.

I then set the tops of the boxes to one side and marked the position of the weapon slits on each face of the lower half of the box.

I carefully made two vertical cuts in each face of the box down to the lines I had drawn around each box. I then used a craft knife to gently cut along the line between the two cuts on each face of the box. The thin gap that was created allowed then me to use the tip of the knife to gently prise out the wood between the vertical cuts. Once that was done each of the 'slits' in the faces of the hexagon was tidied up and sanded.

As I wanted to use the tops of the boxes to form the roofs of the bunkers/pillboxes I needed to make sure that they would not fall off during a wargame. I therefore glued pieces of matchstick in the corner of the bottom halves of each box, making sure that the pieces of matchstick projected slightly above the top of the box sides.

Once the glue was dry I checked that the tops of the boxes fitted snugly onto the bottoms.

I then separated the tops and bottoms again, and sealed the wood using two coats of PVA glue, making sure that first coat was properly dry before the next was added.

The bunkers/pillboxes were then undercoated before being painted light grey.

After I had finished these bunkers/pillboxes I realised that I could have fixed the roofs in place rather than make them removable. This would certainly have speeded up the whole process, and if I make any more I will probably not bother to make the inside of the bunkers/pillboxes accessible.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

I have been to ... Lullingstone Roman Villa

Sue and I recently paid a visit to Lullingstone Roman Villa, near the village of Eynsford in Kent.

The villa was built during the Roman occupation of Britain, and it is believed that its construction began at some point towards the end of the first century AD. The site was occupied until the fifth century, when it was destroyed by fire, and in the intervening period it underwent several periods of expansion and rebuilding.

The first remains of the building were re-discovered in 1750 when some workers who were erecting a fence dug post holes through a mosaic floor, and further evidence was revealed in 1939 when a large tree was blown down and its roots unearthed fragments of mosaic tiles. A large-scale archaeological dig took place from 1949 to 1961, and resulted in several major discoveries, the most important of which was probably the Chi-Rho fresco, which contains the only known Christian painting in Great Britain that dates from the Roman era.

The remains of the villa are housed in a specially built building that allows visitors to see the villa's layout very clearly.

A model of the villa as it would have looked towards the end of the Roman occupation of Great Britain.

Many of the artifacts found during the excavation of the site are displayed in glass cabinets ...

... and in reconstructions of parts the interior of the villa.

The remains of two human burials are also on display. The adult body was encased in a lead coffin, the top of which is decorated with scallop shells ...

... but the child's body seems to have been interred without any semblance of a proper or religious burial.

The floor mosaic was very impressive.

The part of the mosaic which was on the floor of the villa's dining room depicts the 'Rape of Europa' when the god Jupiter – disguised as a bull – abducted the Princess Europa.

The other part of the mosaic is in the adjacent audience room, and show Bellerophon killing the Chimera. The scene is surrounded by images of four dolphins (which might represent Neptune or Christ) and two scallop shells.

The site is now maintained and managed by English Heritage.

Monday 18 August 2014

Some metal 1:1200th-scale model ironclads

Some years ago I had the opportunity to buy some metal 1:1200th-scale model ironclads at a very reasonable price ... so I bought them. The ships were:

HMS Inflexible

HMS Victoria

Two Brandenburg-class German pre-dreadnought battleships

I repainted these two models as the paintwork was in poor condition, and it has always been my intention that they would represent the Turkish Heireddin Barbarossa (ex-Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm) and Torgud Reis (ex-Weissenburg).

As yet none of these models has taken part in a wargame, but hopefully they will do one day.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Out of the Shed: 1:1200th-scale model warship kits

The crates I took out of the now-defunct shed are still providing me with lots of surprises, and the latest was the discovery of a large number of unmade 1:1200th-scale model warships.

Besides a lot of other kits (more of which will feature in a forthcoming blog entry), I found the following model warships in the crate:
  • 4 x Revell Miniships Roma-class Battleships
  • 9 x Revell Miniships HMS King George V-class Battleships
  • 1 x Airfix HMS Ark Royal-class Aircraft Carrier
  • 2 x Airfix HMS Suffolk-class Heavy Cruisers
  • 3 x Eaglewall HMS Norfolk-class Heavy Cruisers
  • 2 x Lindberg USS Houston-class Light Cruisers
  • 8 x Airfix HMS Cossack-class Destroyers
I already have several unmade kits of some of the warships listed above, and this means that I could easily indulge my desire to build significantly large fleets of warships for Fletcher Pratt naval wargames ... should I so desire it.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Pushing some more toy soldiers about on the tabletop

After the recent play-test of my card-driven unit activation system, and in the light of some of the suggestions and comments I received, I decided to re-fight the scenario using modified versions of the system.

First play-test: Twin pack approach
  • I allocated both sides (Red and Black) appropriately coloured playing cards with values 2, 3, and 4 from two packs of playing cards.
  • I sorted the cards into a Red pile and a Black pile, added a Joker to each pile, and then shuffled the piles separately.
  • I placed the piles of playing cards face down and used a D6 to determine which side turned over a playing card first.
  • Each side then alternated turning over the top playing card of their pile and activated the number of units indicated by the value of the card
  • This continued until a Joker was turned over, at which point both piles of playing cards were re-shuffled.
Red 'won' the dice throw and turned their top card over first. The sequence of playing cards turned over was as follows:
  • Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Black 2, Red 3, Black 3, Red 4, Black 2, Joker
The situation of both side's Units at the point when the first Joker was turned over.
  • Red 4, Black 3, Red 4, Black 2, Red 3, Black 2, Red 2, Black 3, Red 2, Black 3, Red 4, Black 4, Joker
The situation of both side's Units at the point when the second Joker was turned over.
At this point I decided to end the battle.

In some ways this was a more satisfactory way in which to use the card-driven unit activation system BUT I felt that it was just a bit too predictable for use in a solo context. I knew that whatever Red did, Black would have the opportunity to counter it because they would turn over the next playing card and be able to activate some units. I can see this working well in a conventional face-to-face wargame as a means of making the traditional IGOUGO system a bit unpredictable, but I think that it does not work as well in a solo wargame.

Second play-test: The asymmetric card value approach
  • I allocated Red appropriately-coloured playing cards with values 2, 3, and 4 from two packs of playing cards and Black appropriately-coloured playing cards with values 1, 2, and 3 from two packs of playing cards.
  • I sorted the cards into a single pile, added two Jokers to the pile, and then shuffled the pile.
  • I placed the pile of playing cards face down and turned over the top playing card of the pile; the side whose playing card was turned over activated the number of units indicated by the value of the card.
  • This continued until a Joker was turned over, at which point the pile of playing cards was re-shuffled.
The sequence of playing cards turned over was as follows:
  • Black 1, Joker
  • Red 2, Black 2, Black 2, Red 3, Black 3, Red 3, Joker
The situation of both side's Units at the point when the second Joker was turned over.
  • Black 3, Black 2, Red 2, Red 4, Black 2, Black 3, Black 1, Red 4, Red 3, Red 2
At this point all of the Morschauserland Units had been wiped out and the battle ended.

The situation at the point when the battle ended.
I felt that this worked far better than the previous variant as it had an increased level of unpredictability due to the possibility that the sides could get a 'string' or 'run' of cards. I want to have this sort of unpredictability in my solo wargames, but I suspect that it might not be something that would work as well in a conventional face-to-face wargame. I felt that the use of asymmetric playing card values also worked well, and created problems for the 'weaker' side that the use of balanced playing card values did not generate.

After these two additional play-tests I feel that the card-driven unit activation system produces the sort of unpredictable wargames that I want to fight. It may not be perfect, but it is simple. It also has a flexibility that enables it to be tailored to meet the specific needs of a scenario. There are no conventional 'turns', and the absence of IGOUGO unit activation in the second of today's play-tests made the wargame feel as if it seamlessly flowed along.

I want to mount some further play-tests of the asymmetric variant of the card-driven unit activation system ... but already I feel that this is a simple and useful mechanism that I will probably incorporate into any future wargame rules that I design.