Monday, 22 May 2017

Boardgame session: 21May17

A busy weekend; on Saturday we travelled to London to see Ballet Rambert perform Ghost Dances at Sadler’s Wells (wonderful – we last saw this in York 36 years ago!).
On Sunday we visited Val and Chris and played a single game of ‘Lords of Vegas’, which was a new game for us as a group. The strategy revolves around developing and then controlling casinos on the Vegas strip; an interesting mix of economics and dice rolling. The game starts slowly, lulling you into a false state of security, but develops into a cut-throat take-over mode as the end approaches. The ability of players to negotiate deals also plays a significant part of the game, and I think Chris was especially astute in this respect. He gained early control of a large casino complex on the central strip which would win him the game. The final scores were very tight, all players were within 2 scoring places of the winner. An enjoyable game, but players need to be thick skinned because your friends will stab you in the back and you need to be OK with this. I recall that on one turn I was short of $2M, so gambled successfully at Val’s casino and used my winnings to immediately take control of said casino; she was not a happy bunny! Elaine also knifed me a couple of times, but Chris got away relatively unscathed because his casino was too big (and therefore too expensive) to move against.

We only played the single game because we spent time discussing arrangements for our up-coming trip to UKGE at Birmingham NEC in a couple of weeks. Looking forward to this and will write up an account in a future post.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Thoughts about Blitzkrieg Commander version 3

I have not played Blitzkrieg Commander (BKC) for many years; I’m not sure why because I generally liked the mechanisms and the games that resulted. Interestingly I have played more games using the modern ‘sister’ set of rules, Cold War Commander (CWC), using my large 6mm late 1970’s Soviet/NATO armies. My old copy of BKC version 2 was a bit tatty, so when the latest BKC version 3 (Pendraken Miniatures, 2017) was published, I immediately decided to purchase.

The rules are nicely produced and illustrated, with key mechanics clarified by worked examples. The layout used for both the scenario and army list sections have been significantly improved in my opinion; much clearer and attractive to look at. Regarding the rules themselves I did not think any major changes had been made compared to version 2. Now I have to say that I have resisted going back to my version 2 rules for the purposes of comparison because I was concerned such a move would result in confusion on the tabletop. Bearing in mind that I have not played BKC for a few years, the only significant changes that stood out for me lay in the off-table support and recce sections, where the rules appear more streamlined.

Next I tried the new version BKC on the table using my 6mm early war French and German forces in a small, solo 1,000 point a side encounter game on a 5’x3’ table. The game flowed well, very smoothly, with little need to refer to the main rulebook. The main thing that needs to be in the mind of a player is opportunity fire: Whether I’m playing solo or opposed games, I tend to find myself switching off during my opponents turn, missing opportunities to interrupt his movement with opportunity fire. The nice thing about opportunity fire is that it does not require a command roll, an important factor for poorly commanded armies (like early war French). In my game the French went down to a major defeat, largely because of the poor command of their HQ units and their poor co-ordination of armour and infantry. One thing really stood out in the game which was the devastating effectiveness of the PzKfw-I units on the unfortunate French infantry. The army listing states the PzKfw-I has a AP rating of 4/60! Surely this must be wrong? OK, the PzKfw-I does cost 85 points but, even so, it is now an infantry killer!

I next played a 1941 North Africa encounter game (1650 points aside). I took the British Crusaders and hoped for the best! On turn 1 I only managed to get my infantry and ATG formation on table, whereas the Germans all appeared and advanced. On turn 2 I again failed to get my armoured forces on table, and the German tanks rapidly advanced threatening both objectives and starting to turn in on my worried infantry. I thought the game was lost but Lady Luck came to my rescue. On turn 3 all my armour arrived and they were now at short range (due to the German advance), so they opened up. The central German PzKfw-III force went up in flames, and the other German tanks suffered a couple of suppressions. On the next turn I was able to largely destroy the remaining Panzers, and my FO accurately brought down fire from my 2 off-table 25pdr batteries on the German infantry in a concentrated strike, wiping them out and suppressing 1 German HQ unit. At this point the game was effectively over, the German threat had been eliminated and I had only taken minor losses. The initial delay I had faced had turned to my advantage, bringing on armoured formations at close range is devastating, and with hindsight the Germans would have been better served not making a dash for the objectives early on. All in all an enjoyable game (for me!), the rules worked well and play was fast.

To conclude, I like BKCv3 very much. The command system introduces a nice degree of uncertainty (the French CV7 HQ’s are a liability) and interestingly I never rolled either a blunder or stunning success (box-cars or snake-eyes). Both players are actively engaged and a key is deciding when and where to engage in reactive fire. Off-table fire, when concentrated, can be lethal (possibly overly so), and I definitely think the PzKfw-! AP value is too high. I can see BKC being a go-to set of rules for larger WW2 games, and perhaps the best compliment is the fact I have decided to invest in some new 1940 France armies. I definitely think 6mm is too small; I had considerable trouble distinguishing PzKfw-I from PzKfw-II, and PzKfw-III from PzKfw-IV tanks. I plan to ditch (sell off) my 6mm forces and buy a larger scale. Initially I thought 10mm would be best (and cheapest) because they both look good and work well scale-wise on table. The disadvantage with 10mm is they are out of kilter with the more common 15mm used by most other WW2 gamers (I’m thinking of FoW gamers in particular), and also I don’t have an extensive array of 10mm terrain pieces. This is not a problem when fighting in North Africa but a European setting would necessitate the purchase a lot of new buildings. I have therefore opted to go with a mainstream 15mm scale, which will allow me to integrate with other gamers and enable me to employ my stock of 15mm terrain.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

On the Painting Table (May 2017)

I always try and paint up the freebies given out at the Salute show as soon as possible (otherwise they sit on my lead pile for ever). This year the figure was a Russian revolutionary woman flag-bearer. In addition, the entry bag contained a strange fantasy female figure wielding a weird halberd over a severed metal tentacle. I soon glued the figure and discarded the box, so I cannot remember either the manufacturer or what the figure represents, but I don’t think this will matter to me!

The Russian figure was simple to paint. I was tempted to add revolutionary slogans to the flag but choose not to because of the ‘furled’ fabric, which would distort any text I attempted. The miscellaneous fantasy figure was more detailed and fun to paint. I like the wave effect on the base but why a metal tentacle? Neither figure will be used on the table and instead will reside in my box of odds and ends. This box contains all my old Salute figures from past years, plus a nice collection of Metal Magic Asterix figures which I cannot bear to part with.

Monday, 1 May 2017

First impressions on Battlegroup Tobruk

I don’t intend to write a review of the ‘Battlegroup’ series of rules because I did this in an earlier blog post (Oct 2016), and I recommend readers to view the earlier post to get a better idea about my thoughts. Instead I want to look at the new ‘Tobruk’ (BG-T) codex which I recently purchased at the Salute show. All my previous comments about the rules and the value of these codex’s still apply; in my opinion they remain over priced, badly laid out, full of fluff etc. But does ‘Battlegroup’ transfer well to the early phase of desert warfare?

Firstly, I used my 10mm desert armies and moved up from the ‘Squad’ level game (250 points) to the ‘Platoon’ level game (650 points). This shift in game size greatly improves the game for 2 main reasons: (1) Order generation; The ‘Squad’ game generates 1D6 orders and the probability is flat-line; if you throw a 1, you are fairly scuppered for that turn, and even a 2 severely limits you. Now in the ‘Platoon’ game you throw 2D6 and the probability is a bell curve, resulting in a more reasonable number of orders generated. (2) The larger armies have higher Battlegroup Ratings (BR); now taking a chit to remove Pin markers is not so drastic. In my earlier ‘Squad’ games I found the BR for a force was frequently exhausted almost before the game got going because ‘key’ elements needed to be un-pinned. Now, unpinning is a more viable choice; the relative cost is lower and there tends to be more elements that require rallying.

My infantry forces are based for FoW and therefore operate as ‘full’ sections; In BG-T I did not split the Germans into rifle and MG squads, nor did I allow the British to separate Bren teams from the section. In the games I have played of BG-T so far I have not really tested whether this change had any significant effect because the battles have both been tank dominated affairs. Infantry comprised only a small part of the armies fielded and tended to hang back out of harm’s way. In theory I cannot see that ‘complete’ sections would be too detrimental to the game, it is not as though there is an abundance of terrain to allow fire&move infantry tactics to be employed.

Regarding the tank battles, I have no real disagreements concerning gun or armour ratings etc. What I did find was that forces tended to close to the 20”-30” range band then stop and engage in a static slogging match; the winner being the player would threw the better dice and had fewer KO’s/Pins. There appears to be no incentive to encourage the British Crusader tanks to engage in cavalry style ‘charges’ firing on the move. OK, the Crusader tank moves 9” compared to the Panzer III move of 8”, but this is negligible, but otherwise there is nothing to encourage historically accurate tactics. Also the move up to ‘Platoon’ sized games highlighted another major deficiency in the rules; there are no unit integrity rules. A Troop of 3 tanks has an Officer tank, but there are no rules compelling the Troop to act as a coherent body, individual tanks can move and operate as single entities. In ‘encounter’ type battles I usually hold roughly a 1/3rd of my force as a reserve, back from the initial frontline. Using BG-T there is nothing to prevent me holding all my Officer tanks in reserve, keeping them out of the firing line and preserving their command bonus for as long as possible. For infantry platoons it appears sensible to move the sections forward independently whilst keeping their commander safely back far away from the action. All very strange.

I also felt the treatment of desert conditions to be a bit too simplistic. Under the rules dust becomes a factor after 2D6 turns of play and simply results in a -1 spotting modifier applied across the board. I would like to have seen dust markers placed behind moving vehicles, obscuring any line of sight passing through them. This would help me in an additional way; I find I forget which vehicles moved in the previous turn, so such a marker would clearly highlight such movement. Artillery fire would also generate large dust clouds which could be easily marked and obscure subsequent spotting in latter turns. Maybe the addition of dust markers might encourage a more mobile battle?

To conclude, I’m not sure what to make of BG-T. I think the game mechanisms have a lot of positive factors going for them and moving to the ‘Platoon’ sized game is a definite improvement. On the downside, there are glaring omissions in the rules; no unit integrity, no smoke/dust, plus the fact that historical tactical traits are not catered for. I’m undecided whether these are the rules for me, certainly some substantial house rules would need to be introduced if I decide to persist with the ‘Battlegroup’ series.