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.