EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4b: The Fight for the Junction

As seen in previous post's pictures, the game began with Naryatrian recce forces driving hard up the road until they bumped into local Defence Forces.

Ignoring the threat posed by the arrival of Roscian reinforcements the Naryatrian light forces rush forward to try to seize the objective which is the pass at the end of the table. The lead vehicle spotted the defenders of the town and opened up with its HMG. (repeat picture from the previous post)

Initially I had planned to use 12 units attacking 8 using the standard roster system but my infantry units were in disarray after some fever crazed person cut up many of the bases last spring and while I wanted to get as many of my meagre force of 10 tanks as possible onto the table, the planned 2  model tank units looked rather cramped in practice. In the end I decided to up the number of units to 16 units + transports attacking 12 units. I had a feeling that using that many units with the roster system was going to make for a longer game than I was in the mood for so decided to try the Sudden Death option again.

The Roscians react. I'm not keen on the Roscian camouflage pattern but the Centurion hiding amongst the palm trees on the far right suggests it could be effective in the right circumstances.

The first shot of the game was fired by the truck mounted HMG as it rolled up the road and, despite needing a 6 to hit troops in cover while roaring up the road it destroyed the defenders of the first block of buildings.  (Queue the Rat Patrol theme!)

The invaders won the initiative on the first couple of turns and were first up to the low ridge across the road near the middle of the table. The Roscians had two obvious choices. Deploy all mechanised units to the right and race the enemy to the pass hoping that the town would hold up the enemy and that the following infantry could hit the main column in the flank or counter attack the head of the main column vigorously. A roll of the die selected the latter, aggressive plan.

While one Centurion platoon rushed ahead to the crossroads, the other deployed into cover to provide fire support from the flank. The armoured car and mechanised infantry were sent to relieve or retake the town and drive off the opposing light troops.

The town is secure. Clouds of swirling black Angora rabbit hair mark destroyed vehicles. Red dots mark the demise of Roscian infantry, casualty figures mark lost Naryatrian ones. 
A flip in initiative then offered the Roscians a chance to deal a heavy blow but the tank crew's faith in their  20 pounder guns was misplaced. Behind them though the town's defenders who had earlier been driven out of the town by heavy fire, managed to counter attack and take out the enemy armoured car using their obsolete WWII bazookas at point blank range.  (It felt a bit odd that they could rally and come back so quickly and easily. It was partly due to the initiative flip but I didn't want to stop and think about it.)    With the arrival of the elite Paratroopers in their Saracen backed up by a Saladin armoured car, the town now seemed secure while infantry support for the tanks was up.

Nothing daunted the Shermans shot up the Centurion tank at the cross road and pressed forward sending the truck borne infantry and mortars off road to the left to avoid the Roscian infantry and remaining armour. Behind the infantry, unseen by the camera, a pair of T34's has driven right to flush the remaining Centurion out of the woods and away from the road in case it should hit something at last. (Unfortunately for Roscia the dice heavily favoured Naryatria all game. It got to the point where I made them roll the same dice but even that didn't help! ) The Roscian infantry moved into the grove and spread out across the open and prepared to hold against what was coming.

Hordes of Naryatrian infantry race forward firing as they come.
For a turn or two the situation seemed to be stabilising. The T34's had flanked the last Centurion but it had withdrawn and then shot one to pieces. Then the Naryatrians  deployed their secret weapon: Indirect fire from Mortars and Heavy Artillery!  Turn after turn they dealt out indirect death with the blow of a single die! 6 then 1, 6 then 1. Suddenly the Roscian forces were decimated and Exhausted. All the survivors could do was hang on and hope while the infantry returned fire and the mortar opened up, hitting the last company of T34's badly enough to cause the crews to abandon their tanks.

As luck would have it, the last aggressive Roscian move had been to slip their armoured car through a gap in the line towards the deadly artillery. As the gunners hastily lowered their sights and gun barrels, firing wide in panic, the armoured car let loose with HE and machine gun fire.  Suddenly the Naryatrians had had enough!

 The pass was in sight but the Roscians were still blocking the way. Of their 7 AFV units only 2 were still operational and in addition to the loss of their artillery, several infantry companies had been shot apart including the elite Red Berets of the Lion Brigade. (Oddly enough every one of the 4 Elite units (Centurions, Paratroopers and Lion Brigade)  was killed by the first shot that hit it! I was left wishing on their behalf that I had used the roster system!)

Despite the cessation of hostilities due to exhaustion, the Roscian mission had been accomplished. The Pass had been held.

Instead of working on this blog post yesterday as intended, I found myself reorganising  and basing the infantry of both sides into 2 stand units. Further hopeful experiments with putting 2 vehicles in a square were unsuccessful though. Still, it was enough that a new game is on the table with some house rules to try out. That report by Monday!  

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 4a: The Set Up.

The mid20th Century portion of the Portable Wargame takes a stab at the nearly impossible task of creating a simple wargame covering a period of wide technological and tactical change. Inevitably there are compromises that must be made and just as inevitable that different wargamers will have different opinions on what is essential to capture the flavour of any given sub-period. Luckily the rules are quite responsive to  tweaks that do not run too counter to the spirit.

I wanted to do something that involved tanks but no longer have my old WWII armies. Micro-armour, 10mm, 1/72nd and 54mm forces, all gone, but I do have my 1/72nd fictional 1950's troops. I wanted something a bit bigger and more complex than the last test game so I decided to base a scenario loosely on CS Grant's Hasty Blocking Position scenario from Programmed Scenarios.
The main Naryatrian column rolls onto the table, 76mm Shermans and the motorised Rhino Brigade leading the way as Roscian reinforcements rush to cut them off at the crossroad.
There is one issue with the mid 20th Century rules that I have trouble getting over and that is Bob's decision to have  just two classes of tank: light and everyone else and only a difference in range between light tank guns and tanks. There are campaigns during WWII when the  opposing sides' armoured and anti-tank forces were well matched and fit easily into the given categories but there were also some campaigns where the opposing armour was very mismatched or where there was a great range in capabilities of antitank and tank weapons. One need only think of the panic in 1940 when an attack by Matilda  tanks could not be stopped by 37mm antitank guns and 88mm antiaircraft guns had to be pressed into service, or of the adage in Normandy that it took three Shermans to take out a Tiger.

I'm not a rivet counter and I'm not interested in minute differences in armour and armament but I want to include that tactical challenge of how to deal with a serious imbalance of capabilities.

The Roscian forces are equipped primarily with British and American tanks, Centurions, Pershings and Shermans (though apparently, based on photographic evidence,  the Naryatrians are now operating Shermans as well). The Naryatrians usually field a mix of T34/85's and T55's.  It goes against the grain to consider Shermans and Centurions as equal but my only options were to call the Shermans and T34's "light" tanks or bring in a house rule. I was initially going to use the roster system so thought about making the heavier tanks Elite with an extra hit point but that would just mean that other modern tanks would have just as much trouble taking out an opposing modern tank as would an obsolete WW2 tank. I eventually decided to arm the obsolete tanks with the same range 3 gun as used by light tanks. This meant that the modern tanks had a 1 area range superiority but once in range of each other, equal combat ability. Any other house rule would have to wait for a future game.

Roscian Centurions roll on. The tan vehicles ahead of them belong to a Naryatrian recce squadron.
 The scenario is "inspired by" rather than an accurate translation of Grant's scenario. In this case there is a road running towards a pass in some rocky hills with a T junction, a village and some scattered groves of trees. A Naryatrian surprise attack has broken through and a column of light armour and infantry is rushing to secure the pass. The village is held by local defence troops while  a column of regular army troops rush to establish a defensive position in the pass before the Naryatrians arrive.

The table grid was 10x14 squares.

The Roscian forces were composed of :
Local Defence: 2 units infantry
Column: 1 Armoured Car
1 Saladin armoured transports with MG carrying a unit of Elite infantry
2 tanks
1 mortar
3 infantry
1 HQ

The Naryatrian force was comprised of

1 armoured car
2 non-armoured cars (a portee recoilless rifle and truck mounted HMG. These aren't in the rules so I treated them like armoured cars except that they are vulnerable to infantry and MG fire and the HMG  can not kill tanks when shooting.)
4 obsolete (light) tanks
4 trucks
6 infantry
1 mortar
1 heavy artillery.
1 HQ

The last of the Roscian local defence troops try to get close enough to use their bazooka on the armoured car.
That's it for tonight. More tomorrow.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Head'n South!

After three days of throwing cold, wet, white stuff, I'm happy to be heading South.

South to Roscia where the Naryatrians have taken advantage of the distraction caused by the arrival of The Portable Wargame to launch a surprise attack.

1/72 Naryatrian Recce units roar across the  5" gridded cloth and into Roscia.

For those who like a few glimpses of everyday life mixed in with their wargaming here's a shot from Tuesday's clean up just getting underway. I didn't bother taking more pics after today's storm.
Winter is here.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 3b. More Zulus! .

The Second Game: Big Units/Small Board

For some time now I have been debating the relative merits of a small game played with a large number of small, weak units vs a lesser number of bigger, more resilient units. ( This debate presupposes using the same number of miniatures on the same table  ). My head supported the many small units approach but experience, the narrative benefits of a few identifiable, named units and "the look" has been tilting me towards fewer larger units with some sort of roster. 
For the second Zulu game I used 6 units each represented by 2 stands on a 6" grid to replay the same scenario but using the standard Strength Points system rather than Sudden Death.

A Zulu unit with 2 hits.

Knowing that I would probably use strength points at times, I added a marker post when basing up the Zulus. These "posts" (aka finishing nails) can hold at least 3 hit marker rings, usually 4, but if grouped in pairs to form a unit that can take 4 hits only 1 ring is required per base. Each extra hit removes a stand.

Turn 4. The 2nd Zulu reinforcement has arrived. The battlefield looks less congested than it did in the last game but this is partly due to an illusion caused by each grid being 1/2 empty in depth.  

In this game the British benefited from experience to push ahead more aggressively and made more effort to spread out but also benefited from being able to suck up the occasional hit without being destroyed when there was no room to retreat. The Zulus,  however, benefited from having learned the benefits of following up when possible to maximise damage and of keeping close since they were equal in combat but at a disadvantage when shooting thanks to the home rule penalizing their fire. The ability to absorb more than one hit helped with this as well.

Turn 8. Time is growing short! All Zulu units are on board. The British are about to push forward aggressively. Both sides have taken multiple hits but no units have been eliminated yet.

The look and feel of larger looking, longer lasting units with more space in each area worked really well for me. The lack of any chance of sudden death did not detract from the tension at all as the game flowed well with reversals and occasionally units ended up losing several strength points in one turn from a combination of shooting and combat including pursuits. The addition of a turn limit and specific victory conditions also added some tension and made it harder to play safe all the time but that applies regardless of the rules.

In addition, the strength points added a extra decision point at times. Was it better to suck up a hit in order to hold a position or give up the ground to save the strength for later?

Turn 10ish. The Guards have driven back one flanking unit while the artillery risks all to pound the Zulu roadblock. The Guards storm forward with the bayonet eliminating the original  Zulu unit only to follow up into the flank of the reserve unit and be repulsed, falling back into cover. Behind them the Lancers have broken another unit with carbine fire but the Rifles have been over run and the artillery is now under attack from two sides. The game hangs in the balance!

So, all in all I have no hesitation in recommending the Portable Wargame for a quick enjoyable Colonial game. 

Its not the sort of 1:1 low level, semi-roleplaying  skirmish game that some people think of when you mention Colonial game but for this sort of scenario I was happiest considering the units to be Company sized. At this level there are large numbers of suitable scenarios and Tabletop Teasers which are easily obtained in addition to the freedom to design your own.

With a bit of the imagination that is required to get the most out of compact, cardtable type games it would also be easy to go up a level with units being battalions and then you could play some of the famous battles as well.

Turn 15. If the British can exit these last 3 units by the road they win. The General of the exhausted Zulu force is all that stands between the Gordon Highlanders and the board edge. Are they allowed to overrun him? It doesn't matter they are too far from the road. A technical win for the Zulus but it felt like a draw.
There is one last Portable Wargame test to do. For this next one I will break out some mid 20th Century tanks and try the second set of rules. However, with knee deep new snow down mid blizzard and a follow up storm expected Thursday, it may be next week before I can find the time and oomvph to play the game and blog it.

There should be time and mental energy for some painting though. I need to convert and/or refurbish some of my Brits so they look appropriate to face  Zulus!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Published Portable Wargame Pt 3a: Zulu!

I enjoyed the first Zulu play test but I also spent some time last night and this morning thinking about the game and about different game options and the old question "More units or bigger ones?". The upshot is that I reset the table this morning and played it again using different options.
Zulu: The Rerun. 
A. The Scenario. The Scenario I used as a test game was Scenario 13:Escape from Thomas' One Hour Wargames. The scenario has two equal forces each of 6 units, one side trying to break past a blocking force to escape from the table before doom arrives, presumably due to an overwhelming enemy force approaching or perhaps the need to catch the last ferry. In any event the escaping force has 15 turns to get at least 1/2 their units off the table by road.

The blocking force has 1 unit deployed on table and 3 groups of reinforcements that come on at predefined turns in predefined locations. I decided to play with a British force trying to return to the main column before it gets cut off and overwhelmed by pursuing Zulus. I also decided to count all units as equal for scenario balance purposes. I introduced one house rule that Zulus with firearms only hit on a modified score of 6. This was to reflect their lack of quality firearms and ammunition and their lack of training.

B. The First Game: Sudden Death or Small Units/Big Board.  I wanted to try the Sudden Death option but wasn't sure that 6 units aside would be enough as a few bad rolls could be decisive early on. I decided to double the number of units. Since I had only based up a dozen stands of Zulus, I decided to use each stand as a unit and a 12x12 grid of 3" squares.

Game One Turn Three. The British were still marching on when the first Zulu flanking force arrived. Each stand is a unit and the big 6" squares have been divided into four 3" quadrants by a small dot or cross.
The game started well as the British pushed ahead as rapidly as possible against minimal opposition. That soon changed as Zulu reinforcements appeared first on one side then the other. (The Horns!)  Soon the British found themselves with no room to retreat if hit. Under the Sudden Death option it only takes 1 hit to destroy a unit so if there is no room to fall back, any hit is lethal. The Zulus on the other hand, had plenty of room to fall back but since stationary British are more deadly shooting than they are in melee that didn't help as much as it might have.

By turn 7 out of 15 both sides were reaching their exhaustion point and the British hadn't even crossed the center line. It was close but the dice determined that the British would falter first. They had one hope left, there were few Zulus between them and escape, most were behind. If they could shoot one more Zulu unit then they had time to use their artillery to clear the way and then escape up the empty road. The last Zulu reinforcement had just arrived behind the centre (the Loins!) and there was no real choice but to roll a double move, charge into contact with the gun and eliminate it. So they did! Now the Zulus could fall back out of range and wait.  It was game over.

Midgame c Turn 5. The British are about to start feeling the pinch as units are forced to retreat and start colliding.

The game had moved as quickly as expected, taking just under an hour to play. There was a little added tension as each die roll meant the potential elimination of an enemy but also resilience because of the numbers of units. The scenario set up with enemy appearing on three sides made it hard for the British to keep a space available for retreating from combat and the hope of a quick kill led to firing at the halt too often when there was room to manoeuvre. With hindsight it seemed to me that the British General  needed to have been more aggressive at pushing ahead and out, despite the loss of the stationary shooting bonus .

Given the quick pace and short time it seemed like a suitable game for introducing someone to the rules but the more I thought about it the more the low margin of error worried me. The look also wasn't quite right., a little too crowded. I finally decided to try it with 6 units each of 2 stands on a bigger grid but using the standard system with multiple strength points. The table should have been a 9x9 grid of 6" squares to meet the minimum requirement and allow the map to be reproduced properly but my table is only 4 feet across so I went for an area of 4ft x 4ft giving a minimum sized grid of 8x8 6" squares and fudged the map.  Why didn't I go for 8x9 allowing the width at least to fit the map? It didn't occur to me till right now!

However it is late and there is a blizzard blowing in so that is it for tonight. Part 2 will cover the slightly longer and enjoyable "big but portable" wargame version of the same scenario as seen in the top picture and the pros and cons of each approach.