Monday, 24 April 2017

Salute show 2017

It is that time of year again when I make my pilgrimage to Salute at Excel. In some ways I find the show too big to enjoy, but it is the venue where many new releases appear and you can get a feel for what is ‘hot’ in the hobby. In addition, Elaine and I always go up to London the night before and take in a show or exhibition. This year we saw the Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain on the Friday afternoon. For me, Hockney can be a bit ‘hit-or-miss’; I really like his California pool paintings and his ‘Four Seasons’ video installation was spectacular. I’m not keen on his early work but I thought his recent iPad paintings were an interesting use of modern technology. In the evening we went to see Travesties by Tom Stoppard at the Apollo, starring Tom Hollander. We last saw this play in 1980 which makes me feel very old indeed! I had forgotten how good a playwright Stoppard is, particularly his early works which are crammed full of ideas, allusions and verbal playfulness. At the end you want to dash to your bookshelf and re-read the text to catch those moments you missed in the performance. Of course this revival related to the centenary of the action set in Zurich in 1917.

Salute also had a 1917 theme. There were a few Russian Revolution demo games, but I was disappointed that the theme was not as strong as I expected (especially as the Russian Revolution is of interest to me as a wargame setting). In fact, I must confess that I found the standard of demo games this year to be less spectacular than previous years. Although the games were good and of high quality, I cannot think of any that stopped me in my tracks and left me stunned with admiration. From memory the best demo game I saw was Mosquito Coast by Dalauppror, there was also a WW2 Japanese game and a large SYW game that left an impression on me. I am not going to give a photo montage of the show because there are many others who do this better than myself and a selection of these can be found via the TMP website. Small games demonstrating particular rule sets seem to be proliferating at the moment, allowing people to sample a game and observe how a game plays before purchasing. Maybe this downsizing of games reflects a degree of austerity finally hitting the wargame sphere? I did not get any feel for what is hot, or upcoming, with regard to the hobby from this year’s show. I thought that the release of FOWv4 would be dominant, but this was not the case. There was some interest around zombie cowboys, and a fantasy sports themed game (Guild Bowl?), but neither of these appealed to me. I enjoyed wandering around, chatting to friends and examining stalls, but I did not feel drawn or pressurised in to making unplanned purchases. My haul is shown below:

I did buy a copy of Battlegroup Tobruk, even though I have previously stated that the codex’s for Battlegroup were not worthwhile (see blog post: Oct 2016). I succumbed because I have some 10mm FOW armies which I want to get on the table, and none of my friends planned to buy this codex, so I cannot simply borrow the volume. I also got a copy of the new version of Blitzkrieg Commander. I have not played BKC recently, but I liked the rules back then and my old copy was getting a bit threadbare. On a spontaneous whim, I bought the fantasy version of Sword and Spear (not quite sure why), and a copy of Bag the Hun by Too Fat Lardies. In addition, I bought a 3’x3’ mousemat desert terrain mat from Deep-Cut Studios for use with my Dead man’s Hand rules. I was very impressed by these mats and a show is the place to buy to avoid Postage/Packing costs. As you can see from haul, I did not purchase any miniatures (apart from a couple of freebies) – I was not inspired. My lead pile is very low, so I will have to go online and spend some more dosh in the near future.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

On the Painting Table (April 2017) part 2

Following on from my games of The Men Who Would Be Kings (see previous post), I realised I had a box of Perry plastic 28mm British Afghan/Sudan figures sitting in my ‘to-do’ box. So, I decided to make up and paint a couple of British units to add to my collection. My existing British units all wear sandy coloured khaki, but flicking through the Black Powder supplement, Blood on the Nile, I noticed many of the units were painted with grey jackets. Although I don’t know how common this was, I decided to paint my new units wearing grey to differentiate them from, and add some variation to, an otherwise homogeneous force. I’m sure that a gamer with better knowledge of the period will point out that mixing the two colour patterns is incorrect, but I’m sure it will not impact on my enjoyment of the period. I also painted an officer wearing a classic British red jacket to represent the sort of ‘Charlie’ who would both dress for dinner and dress for battle; I just wish I had modelled him with a cricket bat rather than a sword! I also painted one of the dogs included in the box. I would have painted him as my current dog, ‘Snowy’, but the fur was too long, so instead she was painted as my previous dog, ‘Sasha’.

I based the figures in the same style as the others in my Sudan collection. The unit is based on a single 12cm frontage stand, using some spare bases that I have no other use for. The desert texturing is only half completed, I’ve run out of the sand texture paint required (I hope to buy some more pots at Salute next w/e). The whole army requires some further basing work to finish off.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Review of The Men Who Would Be King rules

The Men Who Would Be Kings (TMWWBK) by Daniel Mersey (Osprey Publishing #16, 2016). These rules were published prior to the release of Pikeman’s Lament, and I bought them at the time of publication but did not have a chance to read or play the rules until now. In my recent review of Pikeman’s Lament (see earlier blogpost, Feb 2017), I was majorly disappointed in the originality and the lack of “Oh, that’s different” moments within Pikeman's Lament. I therefore approached TMWWBK with a degree of trepidation. I am glad to say I was pleasantly surprised at the number of interesting changes made from the core Lion Rampant mechanisms.

The first change was the use of randomised Leadership values for each unit, which are diced against to determine activation. Now different units of the same type can differ in their characteristics. I really like this because it adds ‘colour’ to units within an otherwise homogenous tribal horde or regular force etc. Units stand out and you play to the strengths or weaknesses as appropriate. In my second game, we did simplify the system by not adding ‘traits’ to all units, because the speed of play meant that we often forgot who had what trait, or we neglected to remember to apply the trait. We did lose some of the flavour of the rules but play was smoother.

With regard to orders, the Close Order/Volley Fire for Europeans was routinely used; sacrificing some speed for the greatly improved fire effect was an obvious advantage. The new ‘Go-to-Ground’ order for Tribal troops took more getting used to; sure it protected your troops at long range but they were not doing anything. By my second game I had started to appreciate their use, particularly against ‘isolated’ Colonials. Rather than just attack frontally, you Go-to-Ground and concentrate on flanking moves by other units, then if the targeted unit turns to face this new threat, you rise up and continue your attack. This tactic forced the Colonial forces to adopt a mutually supporting formation, such as a square.

The most significant change in the rules was the use of default orders for each unit type (Fire for Regulars, Move for Tribal Infantry etc.). These orders do not require dicing for activation, the unit automatically passes. Previously in Lion Rampant etc. a player would attempt to activate his first unit to undertake an ‘obvious’ action and fail, shifting the initiative back to his opponent. Clearly this would be disastrous in a colonial setting as your steady square faced an on rush of tribal hordes, and then failed to fire upon them! Now your plucky Brit’s will fire, and your noble Natives will move. Of course, if you want units to do other things you risk losing the initiative by having to roll for activation. I think this single change to the order system greatly improves the whole game, brilliant!

Another significant change lies in the combat system where you now roll dice equal to the strength/number of figures in the unit, rather than either 12 dice or 6 dice depending on whether the unit is above/below half strength. Now, whittling units down does have an incremental effect (a cause of concern for the colonial player especially). Tribal units also start with a higher strength (e.g. 16 compared to the regular 12), so it is important to weaken them before they contact you otherwise you will suffer in Hand-to-Hand. Hitting the advancing horde hard and pinning them down is vital for survival.

The final ‘novel’ component of TMWWBK is the addition of a solo gameplay system; ‘Mr Babbage’. I have used this twice now and enjoyed the results in both games. It allows a randomised placement of Native units in different sectors/ranges in relation to moving colonial forces, plus there is a re-cycling of the Native units into the game. The non-player units move and act in a semi-random way determined by dice and a set of ‘Standing Orders’. I think this simple system worked really well and I would recommend players to try it out. Apparently you can play a ‘reverse’ game where you control the Natives rather than the Colonials, but I have yet to try this.

Finally, I would like to mention that, so far, I have only played TMWWBK using 28mm Sudan armies on a 6’x4’ table using 24 points per side. It would be interesting to see how these rules scale up to  larger armies, maybe using a smaller figure scale, on this table size. I do have more 28mm Sudan figures available but I suspect the table would become a bit cramped. Alternatively, I do have a pair of 10mm Zulu War armies which I might try out.

Monday, 3 April 2017

On the Painting Table (April 2017)

In February I visited Brussels and played a couple of games of Flames of War (FoW) (see earlier blog post). I mentioned that 6-7 years ago I dipped my toe in to the FoW arena, but found it was not to my taste. Back then I was inspired to buy and paint a pair of armies for the mid-war Western desert i.e. DAK and 8th Army. Initially I intended to use the standard 15mm format from Battlefront, but when I calculated the cost I stopped and re-thought the proposal! I always had concerns about the relative scales used in FoW; everything seemed too crowded and close on the tabletop, so reducing the scale may improve the visual element of the game. Moving to 6mm would work, but I still wanted the tanks etc. to remain distinct and attractive to the eye, so 10mm seemed to be the ideal compromise. Also, I could mount the vehicles on standard FoW bases, which would mean that the track2track, parking lot formations beloved by regular FoW players would be less of a problem for me! Therefore I purchased and painted both 1,750 point armies using Pendraken figures, and very nice they were, but my interest in gaming FoW had ceased, so the figures were boxed and left under the table.

When I returned from Brussels, I was motivated to unearth these neglected armies (mainly out of curiosity), and I found some unpainted Italian infantry still in their packs. After completing my 10mm 19th century figures (see last blog post), I decided to paint these Italians next. I organised the basing according to FoW lists so they would be consistent with the other units in the army. I think these figures complete my forces for this period but you never know whether more figures have been squirreled away somewhere.

I am not intending to use the armies for FoW (4th edition has just been released), but instead I may purchase BattleGroup Tobruk (BGT) due later this month. I plan to report on how these armies perform using the BGT system, and whether the FoW basing scheme is easily transferable.

As a side-issue, my sister (Gill) and niece (Erin) visited and we got play some boardgames. Erin (age 15) has always been good at co-op’s (Forbidden Island/Desert etc.) so I decided to introduce her to Pandemic. She picked up the strategy immediately and we beat the game with plenty of time to spare, and suffering only 5 outbreaks! Gill’s initial hand (3 yellow cards) was fortuitous, which allowed her to ‘cure’ the yellow disease in only a couple of turns. The red disease soon followed and, although black did trouble us for a while, the result was never in doubt. This was the first time that I can say we ‘thrashed’ Pandemic (most games are very tight). While dinner was cooking, we played a few games of Quatro, a real brain-teaser. After dinner we concluded with a game of Dominion, which Erin won again. She very quickly picks up game strategy and seems to have a ‘feel’ for when to shift from action collection to higher money collection, and then the moment to start acquiring victory cards. It appears she is a ‘natural’ when comes to boardgaming.

Monday, 27 March 2017

On the Painting Table (March 2017)

March has been one of the quietest months in terms of gaming, both miniatures and board gaming. Just a single game of Key to the City! The primary reason was a short holiday in Spain, but also Spring is happening, so various garden and house tasks need to be done.

I have managed to do the odd spot of painting in the evenings. I have completed 30 bases of 19th Century figures for my Bloody Big Battles armies: Prussians, French and Austrians. All were 10mm Pendraken figures, which are nicely detailed for this scale and paint well. I use a single colour tone on black primed figures; I think this gives a nice appearance and is quick to complete. My armies have about 45 infantry bases in each, still short of the numbers required for the listed scenarios, but beginning to be suitable for some non-historic confrontations.
L to R: Prussians, French; Austrians

Hopefully April will be more productive gaming-wise, certainly I’m looking forward to attending Salute – My first show of the year!

Monday, 13 March 2017

Boardgame Session: 12Mar2017

I bought the game ‘Key to the City – London’ about a month ago, and have been looking forward to giving it a run-out since. Val and Chris came around on Sunday, so this was a perfect opportunity. Unfortunately we had just got back from a break in Spain, during which time all my memory concerning rules and strategy had been wiped. Luckily the rules are fairly straight forward, but the strategies are not! Chris meanwhile had done some investigation online, so was ahead of the rest of us in his understanding.

The game, essentially, revolves around getting iconic buildings into your borough, utilising them for resources and using these resources to upgrade the buildings for additional victory points. To do all these things you use meeples (or keyples), which come in 3 different colours. I think it took us 1 or 2 eras, before we got the hang of things by which time we realised that Chris was dominating the resource availability side of things. As a result, Chris was accumulating meeples in vast numbers, allowing him to dominate the bidding and upgrades in the latter eras, especially the final bidding for Routemaster tiles which generate bonus points. By the game end, it was clear to all who had won! Chris had 137 points, followed by Val (86), then me (62) and Elaine (43).

We all enjoyed the game, and picked up the rules quickly. The artwork on the tiles is excellent. Placing ‘connectors’ can be a bit fiddly but was not a major problem. Where to put these connectors and acquired buildings is important, and this was the issue that really scuppered Elaine’s chances. Another key decision point is when to pass and when to set sail and get out of the era. We also now know not to let a player dominate resource tiles; you just end up paying him, boosting his meeple collection. Next time I’m sure we will all be a bit more savy in our game play.
We finished the session with a quick game of Carcassonne, which I duly won. As a side note, today Snowydog had a haircut, which meant I had an hour or two in town. I looked in the Dogs Trust charity shop and found 3 Reiner Knizia games (Strozzi, Palazzo, Zombiegedden) for sale, and picked them all up for £20 total. The zombie game is not my thing, but as it was cheap (and for charity) so I bought it anyway. I also re-acquired Forbidden Island for only £2 from another charity shop! It clearly pays to keep an eye out for such bargains.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Gaming in Brussels

Elaine and I visited our friend, Graham, in Brussels for a long weekend. It has been years since we were last there. Plenty of good food, wine and beer was consumed, and we had a trip out to Ghent as well. On the Saturday, Graham and I sat down to play wargames, whilst Elaine went into town to view some Brueghel’s.

Graham has a gaming room and, what is most impressive, are the pair cabinets he had custom made to accommodate his figures. Each had a footprint of 4’x3’ and a dozen draws sized to fit 15mm figures, plus a few deeper draws for 28mm figures etc. Each draw had been fitted with a steel lined bottoms so magnetised bases can be used. I was most jealous! For the last decade or so, Graham has been into Flames of War (FoW) and he plays competitively, winning many competitions. His figure collection for FoW is extensive, and they are beautifully painted and modelled (again, he has trophies for ‘Best Painted Army’ on his cabinets). I have never really gotten into FoW; I’ve played half a dozen games about 6/7 years ago, didn’t particularly like the rules, so dropped out. I do have the rules and some 2nd-hand codexes etc. (bought mainly for the artwork), but I’m not sure about which edition they relate to. In addition, I’m very much not a competitive gamer, this aspect of the hobby holds little attraction for me. Therefore I was expecting a drubbing, especially because Graham usually beats me whatever game/rules we are using! Graham drew up some army lists (1,750 points?), we diced for which to use, and diced for the scenario etc.

The first game (sorry no photos, I forgot my camera) was an Early War (1940) clash between French (me) versus Italian (Graham). I was the defender in the ‘Fighting Withdrawal’ scenario. My force was a deep(?) recon company with lots of Panhard a/c, a few Hotchiss tanks, some infantry and artillery. Graham had plenty of M-13 tanks(?) (not sure about Italian tank designations), recon m/c and infantry, plus artillery, and most scary, some lightly armoured flamethrower tanks. From Graham’s pre-game chat, it seemed my task was to stay alive because I would have to withdraw platoons from turn 3. If I survived to turn 6 and 7 I could then remove objective markers so long as I controlled them. I understand the basics of FoW but Graham knows the factors by heart, so I relied on him to compute the factors and tell me how many dice to roll and what scores I required. I don’t know the ‘cheesy’ mechanics/rules that arise in competitive play. I decided to focus my thoughts and plans squarely on the objectives of the mission; no rash moves or actions for me! I sat my artillery (good AT factor) on the objective marker on my left flank, and used most of my platoons to defend the 2 other objectives on the other flank. Graham sent his whole force against these 2 objectives. I soon discovered how poorly armoured a Panhard a/c is, and quickly resorted to hiding if possible. Luckily the gun on the Panhard is not bad, so I took out many Italian tanks in return.  The flame tanks did not turn out to be as scary as I first thought, but they did keep me on edge for most of the game. Withdrawing platoons is key and I was fortunate to be able to pull out weakened Panhard platoons before they broke through losses. I resisted an urge to charge one Panhard platoon into the Italian gun-lines and held back (unusual for my normal gaming style). By turn 6, I still held the objectives. I removed the first objective marker just before Graham closed in on it, and got the second marker off as well. Now I just had to stay alive for victory. I moved my depleted forces back towards my secure left flank and away from the onrushing Italians. Foolishly I allowed Graham to get one clear shot at a unit, and any losses could have remove them, breaking my company morale and handing victory to the Italians. The ‘Dice Gods’ saved me! Victory was mine, but that mistake in the final turn could have cost me everything! I was amazed to win, and I think it was down to concentrating solely on the victory conditions of the scenario, and ignoring other attractive, aggressive opportunities.

The next game was Late War, with me playing the Germans versus Graham’s Russian hordes. The scenario was ‘Dust Up’, where objectives/deployment are in opposite quadrants. My force was a very small Panzer/Tiger training company (4 or 5 Tigers, 3 Panthers, 4 PzKfw-III and a couple of weak infantry platoons). Unfortunately the Tigers did not have the ‘Tiger Ace’ bonuses, all the tanks were ‘Unreliable’ and they could not ‘Stormtrooper’ move. I started with only the Tigers and 1 infantry platoon on-table. The Russians had a many more platoons on-table, including a massive artillery unit and a large Valentine tank platoon. On the first turn one of my Tigers suffered from a 6” shell landing on it, and I realised that big tanks were not quite the leviathans I had imagined. I was initially confused about what I should be doing to win the game, and the Russian re-enforcements forced my Tigers to move to defend my own objective markers. The Russian numbers are intimidating, especially when a dozen or more sizable A/T guns towed by APC’s charge your Tigers, backed up by a dozen or more Lee tanks! The Reds also had special forces, dressed in German uniforms, running around, who my troops refused to fire on. My panic subsided as my Tigers resisted and the problem became how quickly I could take out the pesky Red horde before they overwhelmed me. I realised I was focussed on survival, and not really doing anything to bring about a win for myself. I therefore threw my reserve Panthers, PzKwf-III and a sole infantry platoon against the Russian gun-line and supporting Valetines on the other flank. I threatened the first objective marker, but Graham could always move troops to contest it. My true aim was the second, deeper objective. I whittled down the Russian guns and my lone infantry platoon made a Kamikaze charge on the remaining guns. Graham threw poor dice and the gun-line collapsed. My Panthers advanced on to a hill that was sheltering Graham’s Valentines and promptly missed with every shot. Now, Graham began a run of amazing dice rolling (more 6’s than you can believe possible) and KO’d my Panthers with long-range AT from the flank, plus his Valentines, which had also moved to my flank. I thought I had blown it. My infantry was contesting the objective, but Graham could now move his Valentines back to destroy them. Graham now suffered a brainstorm, for some inexplicable reason he moved his C-in-C away from the objective marker. I immediately thought this was a mistake but believed he had some ‘sneaky’ move planned which would win the game. Not so, and at the end of his turn I pointed out that my infantry were now in sole control of the objective – Victory to me (again!). I was stunned; two victories in a row against Graham is unheard of for me, let alone playing FoW!

With the wargaming completed, the rest of the weekend unfolded. We did play some boardgames in the evenings; 2 games of ‘Carcassonne’, a couple of games of ‘Welcome to the Dungeon’ and a game of ‘San Juan’. Carcassonne is a classic and needs no further discussion. I had recently bought ‘Welcome to the Dungeon’ and this was its first outing: It is a filler game with a push-your-luck mechanic, and the theme is almost superfluous. We were not particularly impressed; it was OK but not as gripping as I had hoped. I don’t think this game will have many appearances, but as it only lasts 30 minutes, it may fulfil its role as a filler at the end of a session. Graham had just bought ‘San Juan’, and interestingly I also have the game, bought 2nd-hand but had not yet played it. It is a card-based resource management/construction game. The rules are simple but the strategy more complex. There are different ways to win because of the various buildings you can construct. Graham was the run-away winner due to his clever use of a ‘Bank’ and a ‘Crane’ at optimal points within the game. We all enjoyed the experience and look forward to many more games to explore the intricacies of the design. So, ‘San Juan’ is a definite HIT. We may get it off the shelf when Val and Chris visit in a couple of weeks.

Finally I would like to thank Graham for his great hospitality, and for graciously allowing me to win both games of FoW. Although I enjoyed playing FoW I’m still not convinced about the rules, but maybe I have been a bit too negative about them in the past. The ‘gamey’ aspects of FoW remains a problem for me: I cannot get used to wheel2wheel, track2track deployment of tanks; or packed tanks ‘hiding’ in blind-spots; or large calibre artillery on-table etc. etc. But each-to-their-own, if the game is enjoyable then that’s the main thing.