Monday, 30 January 2017

AAR; ACW (Longstreet) 9th Battle

This was the final battle of our Longstreet campaign. I had an unassailable 4EP lead, so I volunteered to take the attacker role in our final game (Walled Farm) because, to date, no game has been won by an attacker. In previous games Ian tended to mount ‘balanced’ attacks, using a combination of firepower with limited charges. In this game I decided to ‘go all in’, no stopping to shoot, and to charge at the first (and every) opportunity.
Union attack to the flank of the farm
We both opted for fairly open terrain although Ian did add some walls to the farm. I stacked my forces against Ian’s left flank, with a screen of small units out front supported by my larger ‘Eager’ Coloured units behind. I planned to pass these through the screen for a decisive charge, turning the enemy flank and take the objective. I stuck to the plan but lost heavily on my approach. My charge had mixed results; I forced a unit of Texans back, but was repulsed by the rebel artillery battery. I did force Ian to re-shuffle where he lost +4 cards due to my ‘Sabotage’ campaign skill and another 3 cards due to my play of ‘Rebel Shortages’ card. Ian did look shocked to discard 11 cards, but it was too little too late because my losses resulted in a clear Victory for Ian.
Texans forced back

So, the final score for the campaign was Union 33EP versus Rebel 29EP. I had 6 wins versus Ian’s 2 wins (and 1 drawn game). Both commanders reached the 4 Eagle rank, and Ian achieved this goal a couple of games ahead of me, due to his ‘Political Savvy’ characteristic. In every game, the defender won! I was able to pick to be the defender in most games due to my ‘Indian Wars Veteran’ characteristic, and this single card effectively won the campaign for me!
Depleted Union forces try to press home

To conclude, I think we both enjoyed the mini-campaign and the games it generated. Neither of us could figure out what to do to win when playing the attacker. The balance seems to favour the defender, but we cannot put our finger on why this should be the case. We both like the card draw and play mechanism, and it certainly makes you think about your actions each turn. I do feel a few cards are a bit over the top; for example, I don’t like the frequency of the surprise appearance of marshy ground right in line with the attack you have planned! The rules themselves are nice and simple and give a playable game in the afternoon timeframe of a club setting. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed using Longstreet in the mini-campaign format, I cannot see me using these rules in a pick-up, stand alone ACW game. The campaign system allows unit stats to develop as the games progress, whereas deciding unit stats and strengths for a single game would be difficult without a points system.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Thoughts on Bolt Action v2 rules

I suffer from an affliction common to wargamers: I cannot help tinkering with published rules. When I play any set of rules, I quickly see problems arise which are at variance with my personal, preconceived ideas about how a particular conflict played out. I normally try to stick with the rules as written for a good number of games to ensure that I’m not missing something, or to see if the apparent anomaly diminishes, but deep down I’m already beginning to think of possible ‘patches’ which could fix the apparent problem. I next jot these ‘patches’ down in a notebook and trial them (usually one at a time) in solo games to see if they provide a possible remedy, and to look for side-effects on other aspects of gameplay. If I find the solution appears to work for me, I move to discussing the issue with fellow gamers and testing my solutions in opposed games. This is the stage where most of my ‘patches’ fail! Sometimes others fail to perceive any problem with the written rules and their arguments persuade me of my own error. Other times the problem is acknowledged, but the need for a solution is either not deemed necessary, or more commonly, the solution I propose is incorrect. Often the criticism revolves around unseen consequences introduced by my proposed ‘patch’. The end result is that many of my house rules are rejected, which is fair and reasonable, because I’m sure the authors have undergone a similar process whilst writing the rules as published.

Recently I have played many games of Bolt Action v2, and I have just started trying out my Pacific forces on the table (solo efforts at the moment). I admit I enjoy the games and the mechanisms flow well, and as I previously stated in an earlier review on this blog; Bolt Action gives a good WW2-GAME rather than a good simulation of WW2. There are aspects of the rules which grate on my perception of the period, and a few rules which don’t work for me, so naturally I’ve started thinking of possible ‘patches’. I thought I would air these on this blog before discussing with other gamers, and maybe get some feedback to focus my thoughts.

The first rule I dislike is the turret jam effect (p109). It is surprising how often both I and my opponent simply forget to use this rule in games! When I make the conscious effort to remember and apply it, the result is that tanks commonly become jammed, forcing them to move around the board in a crab-like fashion to ensure their potential targets lie in the now restricted arc of fire. A potential fix would be to reduce the odds of a jam occurring from 4-6 to 5,6 or just a 6. Alternatively, the rule could be just ignored. Ignoring the rule is my preferred option, after all this is not an AFV-focussed set of rules and most of the other AFV rules are fairly simplistic abstractions anyway.

Next concerns on-table, indirect fire weapons. It is probable that their initial shot(s) will miss the target, which is fine but as a consequence nothing happens. I find it hard to accept that the falling shell does not land somewhere on table, reasonably close to the designated target, rather than just disappearing in to ether! This particularly striking when attempting to use smoke rounds; my poor British 2” mortar crews must be perplexed by non-effectiveness of their renown weapon in this regard! I have therefore started to use scatter dice to determine the impact direction of ‘missed’ rounds, and use D6 to determine the distance missed by such rounds. If the range is 10-20” then a single D6 is used, if 20-30” then 2D6, whilst a range of 30”+ uses 3D6. Now smoke rounds always generate screens, but not necessarily in the correct or predicted location. HE rounds can now hit unintended targets. So far this ‘patch’ appears to have worked satisfactorily in solo games I played.

The second problem with indirect fire is the lack of accuracy. A ‘6’ is required to hit with the first shot, then your observer walks the fall on to the target. Therefore it is probable that the first few shots will all miss and in one game I played an observer failed to score a hit on a stationary target after 3 successive turns (i.e. half the game trying!). From my reading of history, mortar stonks were the bane of the frontline infantryman’s life, with many bemoaning the fact they seemed to be able to land shells with uncanny accuracy into a man’s mess-tin at the drop of a hat! Increasing the initial hit probability to 5,6 would improve the threat posed by observed mortar fire. Interestingly, this change can be combined with that of scattering by utilising the GW scatter dice, because two of the sides are marked as ‘Hit’; now a player using such indirect weapons just rolls a single scatter dice rather than a normal D6. Subsequent turns walking the shot on to the target can reflected as optional re-rolls, one for each turn trying.

The next ruling that grabs my attention concerns ‘Exceptional Damage’ (p58). As it stands there is effectively a 1/36 chance of a hit taking out a key squad member, which seems rather low to me. Increasing the score required in the second dice roll to 5,6 (i.e. 1/18) would possibly be a better reflection. I have not yet tested this in any game, but I then thought further: Veteran targets would pose a more difficult proposition when targeting key squad members (all team members would be efficiently carrying out their tasks), whereas Inexperienced squads would need their NCO’s and specialist members to take a more prominent role in the squad actions, and therefore could be easier to target. As a result I’m going trial a ruling that the second dice roll for Exceptional Damage needs to exceed the targets experience rating by one or more. Therefore the score for Exceptional Damage would be 6 for Vets; 5,6 for Regs; and 4-6 for Inexp troops. I realise that this would have significant consequences in the game, accentuating the gap between different troop classifications. I plan to try this in my next few games, and I suspect that this may prove a step too far in terms of game repercussions.

I will stop at this point. I don’t want this post to seem like a diatribe about a set of rules. I like Bolt Action, they do what they appear to want to do i.e. providing a fast, enjoyable WW2 themed game with clean, simple mechanics. I hope the suggestions above will solve the few significant gripes I have, in a harmonious way and do so in a manner that does not alter the prime mechanics and aims of the rules. I do have a few other minor issues but I will leave these for a possible future post.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

On the Painting Table (Jan 2017), part 2

Following the completion of my Japanese, the next task was the USMC opponents. I was keen that these would not look too similar to my NW Europe US forces, but would have a distinct Marine, Pacific feel about them.

Firstly, I again tried to use a range of faded tones from the standard olive green colour. I did not want the wide range I used for the Japanese (which gave them an ‘irregular’ type of appearance), so instead went for a more subtle approach. This looked good once the base colours were applied, but when the additional equipment etc. was added the effect was diminished, and the final figures appeared to have a fairly uniform colouring. The second distinctive feature was the use of camo on helmet covers and groundsheets. I hate painting camo! I rarely get it right, the end results tend to have a generic feel rather than the look seen in photos and illustrations. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I again achieved that generic look – disappointing! Finally, I should discuss the figure sculpts themselves. Most of the figures were from Lancashire Games, with some Brittania Miniatures added. The Lancashire Games sculpts are less dynamic and detailed compared to those for their Japanese range. It is disappointing that there are no bare-chested figures, or any with cut-down/modified tatty uniforms. The Brittania figures mix OK scale-wise, but are over equipped with full packs and groundsheet rolls, and look as if they have come from a training ground rather than having endured a long, arduous Pacific campaign.

All in all, my new USMC force is ‘OK’; usable but not one of my best projects that I want to show-off about. With luck the matched forces will generate some good games and become more loved in time.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

On the Painting Table (January 2017)

Happy New Year! Well, the festive period is over and it proved to be quite productive from a painting point of view. Since I stopped working my internal clock seems to have gone haywire; although I can now lie in, I find I wake up very early (maddening!). The one positive to this is I can fit a good hour or so of painting before the rest of the house rises. I therefore completed my WW2 20mm Japanese in record time.

I decided I did not want a too uniform appearance. I reckon the tropical climate is not kind to uniform fabrics, resulting in a range of faded tones plus some newly issued replacement items. Therefore the colours ranged from a new olive drab down to old, faded sandy yellows.

With the Japanese, flags are a must, even though I’m sure they would not have been that prevalent. I gave each platoon it own flag, plus the NCO’s were distinguished by a small flag on the rifle stock. My ‘suicide’ tank busting sections look the part with their mines and explosive charges, and they should give the USMC armour something to think about. I feel I still need a few more elements to complete the force: a mortar or two, some forward observers, a few AAA-MG’s maybe?

In addition to the above figures, I also completed an Airfix Type-97 Chi-Ha kit, plus another couple of amphibious assault craft for my USMC, which I plan to paint next.