Friday, 30 July 2010

Seastrike and Scenario Design

Following on from my previous naval related ramble, my good friend and naval gamer of long standing, Chris Hardman, came up with a suggestion relating to mission objectives. Basically he suggested using a system not unlike that used in the old modern naval game – Seastrike. I do not have a copy of this but apparently the opposing forces had missions that were secret from each side, thereby maintaining the fog of war. Taking this idea a little further there are also mission cards in the game of Risk so this is a well tried technique. Each player would draw a mission card and would fight the action with this in mind – the winner being the first player to achieve their objective. I would not tie the use of mission cards to the force selection as this will give the player an extra challenge along the lines of ‘….she’s the only ship in the quadrant (Star Trek speak – from the Wrath of Khan!)’ or, to put it another way, making do with the ships available rather than what would be most suitable for the task in hand. The challenge with this approach would be to devise a number of missions that would be both achievable and challenging. As a club night system this has much to commend it as it is in effect an instant scenario generator, albeit on a ‘blind’ basis. At the very least it will make for some very interesting after action reports!

Certainly something to think about and so this will go on my projected holiday contemplation list!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

The Continued Ramblings of a Naval Wargamer

Despite the train journey debacle of yesterday I was still able to visit the club; albeit only for an hour or so. A War at Sea game was underway and Mr Kightly and French were taking on the Italians of Mr.Fox. The game was played using a variant of the non grid based set I had used some time ago and when I arrived battle had been joined between the two forces and the pile of sunken ships was already beginning to grow. Great fun was had by all – in never ceases to amaze me of the sheer joy to be had rolling great handfuls of dice! I would like to extend my thanks to both Mr Fox for stepping into the breach with his loan of the Italians and to Mr Kightly for going ahead with the action. The planned game will hopefully take place next week – trains permitting!

Seeing the game being played out as an observer (this is a novel experience in itself) it did give me cause to consider exactly to what degree a naval wargame should mirror the actual subject matter. I am not talking so much about the technical side of weaponry, armour etc – more the human aspect in terms of the usage of tactics and the morale effect.

The game was not a great advert for this consideration in that it was very much along the lines of a ‘last man standing’ knockabout – enormous fun but hugely implausible. Scenario based games with defined victory conditions are a good starting point in this respect – either historically based or using one of a number of generic types e.g. convoy escort, shore bombardment, hunt the raider etc. Ship and fleet morale is a thornier subject but I feel that such a subject is worthy of serious consideration although as yet I am not sure how best to achieve this.

One of the points that arose from the game last night was the vulnerability of destroyers. It is very easy to sink them and it is very rare that a game ends with any of these ships still afloat. Clearly this is wrong and initially I thought that perhaps the rules were to blame. I am now convinced that it is more likely to be caused by incorrect use rather than any perceived flaws in the rules. Consider the following example:

A destroyer wants to torpedo a battleship (its guns would be little or no use against such a target) so bravely steams to within torpedo range to make the attack. The battleship spots this audacious attacker and so immediately opens fire with its secondary batteries – anything from 4 to 6 inch weapons and from half a dozen or so guns. The destroyer is then surrounded by a barrage of shell splashes (no doubt deeply disconcerting to the crew) and eventually the inevitable happens and a hit is scored. A 4” or larger shell exploding in the vitals of an unarmoured ship is going to cause a lot of damage. The torpedo attack is made and as the range is long and the target is moving at 30 knots it misses. The battleship sails serenely on and the destroyer is left smoking, on fire and probably sinking.

An idealised attack perhaps, in clear daylight and assuming everything works. I would maintain that getting close to a battleship with a destroyer is a dangerous business when you consider that the broadside weight of the secondary batteries on most battleships was roughly equivalent to a light cruiser in firepower. A torpedo is a deadly weapon when used correctly – ideally so that the opposition in unaware of the attack and so cannot take any avoiding action. In game terms the safest way to attack a battleship would be at night or in poor visibility – better chances to hit and better chances to get away unscathed. Destroyers are not armoured and so are vulnerable and if used indiscriminately will suffer. Too often I have seen naval games start with a headlong charge by both side’s destroyer forces, usually leading to mutual destruction followed by the heavy units slugging it out.

This meander brings me back to the question of morale and relative values of the units in a fleet. If a fleet lost all of its destroyers what would it do? There would be no anti-submarine screen and no way of negating the opposition’s destroyers other than by shooting at them. Similarly, if a major fleet unit was badly damaged would it be forced to withdraw screened by its destroyers? The points values assigned to models in the game are a good way of matching off abilities and so are a useful mechanic. I would like to have some kind of reference to the relative worth of a vessel within the formation employed and this is very much a subjective view. I like the sudden death combat decider used in DBA and HOTT – especially the latter as it is points based.

In a rather rambling way I think that assigning a notional percentage of total points cost of the forces involved (e.g. say 33%) as a notional victory level would be a good idea. It would serve to make higher value targets a priority and conversely; the protection of ones own high value assets becomes essential. The notional percentage could be flexible, even scenario driven and could even possibly take into consideration that most controversial of topics: national characteristics. I think that using this approach in conjunction with a well written and clearly defined scenario would provide the naval gamer with a challenging command experience as the dual considerations of losses and the tactical objective will serve to focus the mind rather than the inevitable first turn rush to glory. Certainly this would encourage a degree of tactical forethought which can only be a good thing.

Trains, Pains and Automobiles

The title says it all really. Three and a half hours to get home last night due to a trackside fire along the route meant that the RN versus French game had to be shelved until next week. To compound my transport misery I came home to a speeding ticket - the first motoring offence I have ever been taken to task for since I began driving 23 years ago.

To say that Wednesday was not the greatest of days is perhaps something of an understatement..................:-(

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Axis and Allies: War at Sea - Enter the French

This evening at the club sees a rather different action than the usual RN versus the Germans or Italians in that the French are making an appearance. The models are really nice and now that the fleet has grown via the various expansion sets available, a meaningful force can be easily assembled.
We shall be fighting a one off, 250 points a side action, with the rules as they are written so objective markers will feature as well as the usual points for sinking the opposition. I will try to get a write up of the action in due course although this will probably not be until the weekend. One thing I will try to get in the habit of though, is to make sure that the fleet lists are included for any such reports - I may even try to include a map as well although I will need to experiment with this.
The picture above is of the French Battlecruiser Richelieu, taken in 1943 after her refit in the United States.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Sword in the Sand....Part 4

For those of you that are interested, the next instalment of my 'blovel' - The Sword in the Sand - is now ready for viewing. Check out

Comments and observations are, as ever, most welcome.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Sword in the Sand....Part 3

For those of you that are interested, the next instalment of my 'blovel' - The Sword in the Sand - is now ready for viewing. Check out

Comments and observations are, as ever, most welcome.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Back in the Boot Sale Groove

Another Sunday and another Boot Sale and boy did I strike lucky once again! To begin with I picked up the two disc versions of The Mummy and The Mummy Returns as well as the final Pirates of the Caribbean film - At World's End - thereby completing the set so far. These three films came to the princely sum of £3.50 and are in absolutely pristine condition. The Pirates trilogy has thus cost me £3.50 for all three films each of which are in the two disc format which can't be bad in anybodies language.
I also picked up the first four of the Osprey Battles of WW2 partwork covering Poland, France, Norway and the Battle of Britain (see the picture above) together with the Encyclopedia of German Tanks of WW2 by Doyle and Chamberlain, published by Arms and Armour Press in hardback (in very good condition although minus a dust jacket). The cost for this little lot came in at £3.00.
The Osprey titles are basically hardback versions of the corresponding campaign series titles (except for the Battle of Britain title) so at full price of £7.99 are nearly half the price of the corresponding softback version. the Battle of Britain title - England 1940 - is probably the weakest of the four as it is a combined 'Duel' and an 'Aircraft of the Aces' edition.
I had not seen these Ospreys in the newsagents so will investigate further as this route seems to be a far better way to acquire campaign series title than the usual Osprey route.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Sinking the Bismarck (Again)....Part 2

I have finally finished watching this film and have to say I was very impressed. Black and white I know, and with special effects that are best described as 'quaint'; the film was very much a product of the times (1960) so does seem a little stilted. Having said that, most of the technical detail seemed OK and I was particularly taken with the scene when the Bismarck was first hit in the final battle with Rodney and KGV - the shell burst and a cloud of black smoke came from the funnel as a result of the impact. Sadly the channel 4 screening stopped before the end credits had rolled so I was unable to see who advised on this from the naval view. I would also like to find out the carrier used for the launching sequences as some of the footage seemed real time rather than stock WW2 vintage.
Fleet Commander Lutjens came across as a fanatical Nazi which was not how I perceived him to be but again, I think this was more in keeping with the school of 'Nazi Beastliness' later seen in the Commando comic books - 'Donner und Blitzen, Englander Schweinhund, Gott in Himmel etc being the standard phraseology of choice. I suppose this is an ironic counterpoint to the Noel Coward school of stiff upper Britishness!
I am sure that the DVD will have the full specification in respect of credits and who did what and where and so as a result this is very much on my 'to get' list.
Next up...................The Cruel Sea!

Life, the Universe, and Everything in it............

Off topic I know but I wanted to share my news with everybody. As you may be aware I was made redundant in March 2009 and then spent nine months unemployed. I started 'temping' at my current employment at the end of November last year and have been here ever since. Prior to this I considered a career change and took the first part of an adult education teaching course with a view to trying this as a new venture, away from the city and financial services (in which I had worked pretty much since leaving school). An attempted career change at the age of 49 is practical although the time taken to reach the appropriate level of qualification (and by extension, of salary) would have taken me up to around the 55 level. Again, on the face of it this is still a realistic proposition all things being equal.

Unfortunately there is the mortgage. My mortgage is not huge but in order to clear it as soon as possible (I have a 10 plan in mind in that Iwant to have the wretched thing done with at the age of 60) I need to have a salary pitched at certain level and sadly I will not be able to do this if I follow the career change path. This is sad for personal reasons but financial practicality has to be the first priority.

With this in mind I have accepted the inevitable and so will be staying in the city and so was highly delighted when yesterday, my boss at the place I am currently temping, extended to me an offer of a permanent position within the company.

To say I am pleased by this is probably an understatement although I will be required to take a couple of professional qualifications to support my position.

The Teaching will now have to be postponed but I plan to make use of the skills acquired perhaps within a minor training capacity at work if possible.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Back to Base(ics)

I am feeling rather foolish on the back of what can only be described as ‘Homer Simpson’ moment – in other words ‘D’oh!’

I have often described my painting technique for the bases of my Axis and Allies: War at Sea collection. In a nutshell, I cut the bases out, glue the model in place (allowing roughly 1cm around the model for the ‘sea’), paint the base Humbrol Matt 25; apply a wash to the result with blue ink, dry brush waves and wakes in white and then add the national ensign and a label with the ship’s name. It is not difficult, merely time consuming although quite relaxing for all that. This has been the method I have used for all of my collection thus far and various pictures of the models have been posted to the blog so you can see what I mean if you have not done so already.

This technique evolved from my days painting 1/3000th ship models for which the model was fixed to its base, undercoated and then painted. The obvious difference is the fact that the War at Sea models are already painted. I don’t know why I didn’t think of what suddenly became blindingly obvious – if I painted the bases beforehand and then added the models just before the waves, wakes and labels stage, it would save a lot of time as I would not need to carefully paint around the ships hull at the waterline.

I tried this out on the French ships I have prepared for Mr.Kightly and the end result is indistinguishable from my existing collection but has easily taken less than half the time. The new process then will be to mark up the card with the required bases (pressing deeply with the pencil so the shapes are still visible after the paint is applied), paint in the said blue, apply the ink wash and then cut them out. Glue the models in place (I use a cocktail stick for applying the glue) and paint the exposed card edges in blue. Add the waves, wakes and labels and Voila! The fleet is ready to use. The use of the term Voila is singularly appropriate given that I was engaged in working on a WW2 French navy………..;-)

The postscript to this is that when I mentioned this startling discovery to SWMBO she observed that my ‘new’ technique is how she would have expected me to have done this in the first place!

Is it just me or do women have a practicality gene that comes in to use solely to keep mere men in their place?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sinking the Bismarck (Again!)

I have just started watching Sink the Bismarck! Starring Kenneth More for the first time and I am enjoying it immensely. Unbelievably I had never seen this film despite having several books on the subject; not to mention having owned several version of ship in differing scales, and so this is very much filling in a gap in my film CV. I have just gotten past the loss of HMS Hood and already several ideas have occurred to me for representing the said operation. Certain readers may recall Operation Seeadler – the mini campaign based on a reinforced Bismarck breakout – that I organised at the club a couple of years ago (was it really that long ago?) and since then my collection now has more of the actual ships that took part in the operation so refighting the action historically is certainly a possibility.

The thing that has struck me most forcibly from the film was the scenes in the naval operations centre. The large scale map of the North Atlantic, complete with wooden ship shaped blocks (complete with oversized Union Jacks for the RN and swastikas for the Germans) being moved around based on contact reports etc must be crying out for a game – not only for the Bismarck affair but any other naval operation you can think of. It would be incredibly cheap to set up as all that would be needed would be plenty of paper and some wooden blocks for the ships – you would not even need to buy any models (heresy I know!)!

I suppose in a sense this has reinforced my long held conviction that map games are the truest representation of the command experience – more so than perhaps the tactical game. To run such a game would certainly need an umpire or two but the rewards would be many as the sheer ‘fog of war’ (literally, in the case of the Germans entering the Denmark Strait – in the film the shot of Bismarck emerging as huge mountain of steel from within the murk and the shadowing County Class cruiser quietly slipping away looked really evocative) adds immeasurably to the playing experience.

I need to revisit this operation again methinks!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Power, a Risky Business

No boot sales this weekend as holiday shopping came to the fore. One of the jobs I did manage to undertake though was to visit one of the local charity shops in deepest Rayleigh with some items for donation. I was very pleased then, to be able to pick up a couple of boardgames at bargain prices at one of these. I acquired another copy of Risk - the version with the hard plastic generic 12mm 18th century figures - and also a game called Power, originally published by Spears Games back in the 80s or 90s.

Risk I acquired solely for the figures as they have much potential for use in an 18th century 'imagi-nation' type set up. I now have three copies of this version and so Charge! or The Wargame sized units are a definite possibility although heaven knows when this will see the light of day!

Power is an abstract wargame set in the modern era and players have forces of infantry, armoured cars, tanks, fighters, bombers, destroyers and cruisers; together with a huge ICBM. the game uses written plotted move and players may move up to 5 units a turn. the pieces are moulded in plastic and are not scale specific but would be usable for 'serious' map based games or even painted and used conventionally. the fighter is an F4 Phantom whilst the bomber is a B52. The ships look vaguely like late WW2 US types and the vehicles are generic designs.

In its current form this would probably be a good club night game although I am thinking of how I might use the pieces in something else!

Not bad finds and useful to add to the collection and so charity shops will be added to the browsing list next time we are out shopping!

Saturday, 17 July 2010

54mm Soft Plastic Figures - Carrying on Up the Khyber

Some time ago I flirted with Irregular Miniatures 42mm figures and a really good set of rules they produced called Volley Fire by Nick Bouette - designed to showcase the range of models then available. The rules were very stylised and used a 6 x 6 grid of 6" squares. Victory went to the first player to exit a figure off the opposing base edge. The rules were designed with larger figures in mind and Irregular Miniatures offered battlepacks containing the figures needed for a game which was typically 24 foot, 4 mounted, a gun and crew and a general. The period cocered was pretty much from 1700 to 1918 with machine guns and barbed wire featuring in the rules for the later period.

The rules allow a player to 'activate' some or all of his figures from within a single square - moving and engaging in combat, after which the opponent can do the same. This continues until after all troops have activated and are classed as spent. The game continues until the victory conditions are met or one side is unable to continue.

I have played a number of games using these rules and whilst they are very stylised they do give a very challenging game and players are constantly forced to consider how and when they act and in what particular order. Combat is simply resolved by the use of normal playing cards; the score of which is added to the appropriate factor for the troop type in question.

The use of larger scale figures that these rules were designed for got me looking at the various ranges of 54mm plastic figures available (for example Imex, A Call to Arms, ESCI etc) with a view to trying a game with them. I was aware of some manufacturers of figures in this scale but by far and away the best potential source was the American company - Armies in Plastic

For the budding 19th century gamer with an interest in the Colonial era their range is really impressive and the latest news is that they have at last released a British shirt sleeve wearing gun crew complete with a 7 pdr cannon. This is for me fantastic news as the infantry and artillery are already available and for the opposition there is a great range of Sudan era figures, Pathans for the North WestFrontier, Boers and Boxers. Indian infantry and cavalry (Bengal lancers) and also Egyptians feature as well. Given the numbers involved for an 'army' the cost would be minimal as these are are around £8 or £9 a box consisting of 20 foot figures or 5 mounted or perhaps a gun and half a dozen gunners etc.

This does not count as a new project per se; to be honest I was merely awaiting the launch of a suitable gun and crew to kick something off in this scale and the best news of all is that I have a very good supplier of 54mm plastic figures a mere 15 minutes from me -

Oh, the thrill of anticipation! Carry on up the Khyber as it should be done............;-)

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

R Class of its own.................

Whilst awaiting the arrival of my Axis and Allies: War at Sea additions I did a little research on the R class battleships used by the Royal (and Soviet) Navy. HMS Ramillies (named after the battle fought during Marlborough's campaigns) had a very active war and despite being barely able to make 20 knots gave very good service. As a convoy escort and shore bombardment vessel she covered a lot of sea miles and even had the temerity to chase off German destroyers and E Boats in 1944 - not bad for 30 year old warship!
The model is really nice as well so I will post a picture as soon as I have them.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Reorganising the Reorganisation of the Reorganising

Readers of this blog will no doubt be aware of my seemingly chronic inability to concentrate on anything for longer than a week or so and I have tried very hard over the years to combat this trait, usually without success. A short while ago I announced in all seriousness that I would be offloading great piles of sundry wargaming 'kit' and that I would be concentrating my efforts around the military and naval activities in and around the Mediterranean with perhaps a couple of forays to some old favourites e.g. the 1815 campaign and ACW riverine actions. I was going to dispose of my Dark Age material, some naval stuff, AWI and ACW on land and a few other odds and ends. the plan was to use the funds raised to finance the expansion of those projects that 'made the cut'.

That is all fine and dandy and, on the face of it, eminently practical. Sadly, it does not allow for the fickleness of the average wargamer; the sudden inspiration caused by a new range of drop dead gorgeous figures or a stunning title devoted to the subject in question.

I am as malleable as the rest of us in this respect and my head has been turned on many occasions by any one of the above scenarios mentioned. With this in mind I am going to hang on to pretty much all the stuff originally earmarked for disposal.

I tend to look at most periods of military history with the view to gaming them in some fashion. This in turn leads to the acquisition of figures and rules and to begin with I am enthusiasm personified. Usually this lasts at least until the next shiny thing comes along and then the usurped flavour of the month is packed, ignominiously, into a cupboard where it lays forgotten and unwanted.

I tend to come back to certain periods again and again so I guess these are my core interests - WW2 and Napoleonic were my original, 1970s choices although these have been added to with naval, WW1, ancients (in the pre -1500 AD sense) - and so these are the ones I should be concentrating on.

Its is funny that the periods I cut my teeth on are well represented in respect of books and films and the visual and dramatic appeal of these cinematic adventures should not be underestimated. Certainly they are visually impressive and as a young and impressionable teenager such epics as Zulu, The Battle of Britain, Lawrence of Arabia, Ben Hur, Spartacus etc have provided that all important 'wow factor'.

With this in mind I shall hang on to everything as mentioned although as to when some of these ideas will ever see the light of day is a moot point.

I will game the Dark Ages at some point, as well as revisiting the Napoleonic Wars (especially the 1815 campaign) and WW2 on land in some fashion - beyond the use of Memoir '44. My problem has been picking the types of games to play from within my chosen periods - from strategic down to skirmish level and all points in between.

I have finally realised that rather than fighting the lure of temptation I should shrug my shoulders and accept the fact that I am destined to plough a fickle furrow! This diversification of effort amongst numerous periods also places a premium on my time and so the use of small and self contained set ups (e.g. matched paires of DBA style armies) will be obligatory!

Oscar Wilde said: "I can resist anything except temptation." Perhaps he had a point there!

Monday, 12 July 2010

The Sword in the Sand part 2.... now available to view.

Comments etc are appreciated as ever.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

The Sword in the Sand....and so it begins

Those readers intersted in such things may like to take a look at the first instalment of my 'blovel' on my other blog -

As ever, any comments etc would be appreciated.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Elementary, its the Pirates of the Heroscape..........

Saturday morning saw SWMBO and I heading to the boot sale at Sadler's Farm - our usual Saturday boot sale although for a variety of reasons we have missed this one for a few weeks. Presumably due to the fantastic weather it was packed solid with sellers and so I was able to come away with some great bargains.

The first of these was a three volume hardback set of all the Sherlock Holmes stories reproduced as they appeared in the Strand magazine. They are also in chronological order which is handy as well. This particular version is roughly A5 sized so some of the facsimiled print is a little faint (it was published as a budget edition in any event so the print quality was never going to be top drawer) and some of the illustrations are a little indistinct. having said that, I was delighted to add these to the library as I am a great Holmes and Watson fan. I already own a paperback set of the complete series but this version has far more period charm. The set cost me £1!

The second bargain was the two disc special edition of the second of the Pirates of the Caribbean films - Dead Man' Chest - still in its shrinkwrap for the sum of £1. I really enjoyed the first film and have yet to see numbers 2 and 3 so this will make for a good family film day. Strangely enough, I acquired the first film as a similar 2 disc special edition still in shrinkwrap a couple of weeks back so am hoping to complete the set in a similar fashion!

The final bargain was a little more expensive at £2 but is without a doubt the best. I acquired a complete and unused copy of the board game Heroscape by Hasbro. The big attraction of this game is the hexagonal plastic terrain tiles coloured in sand, grey, green and blue used to fight the battles on. This can be assembled in a number of ways and whilst the hexes are only roughly 40mm or so across the flat sides the potential for use with smaller figures is great.

I have owned this game before and to be honest I gave up trying to make use of it - in fact I disposed of the whole lot over a year ago - but now I have a number of newer ideas that could be used with this system so this was a welcome find.

All in all then, not a bad day at the sales......................;-)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Approach of the Holiday - Hoorah!!

It is now merely a matter of five weeks until the family holiday to Olu Deniz in Turkey. This time we are going for two weeks and I am really looking forward to the trip. As is customary (at least in respect of my preparations for the trip) I shall begin the not unpleasant task of selecting my holiday reading. I tend to take a great doorstop of a tome for use in the room or apartment and some thinner titles for the trips to the beach or pool. I also tend to read titles usually linked in some way to where I am staying – I like to think of it as ‘method reading’. I can recall many enjoyable hours reading Zorba the Greek whilst sitting on the beach in Skiathos – it is a slight affectation I know but good fun all the same!

I have a number of Turkish history based titles currently adorning the bookshelves at home but am loathe risking taking them abroad – I will try and acquire the paperback editions where I am able for the trip (they would also be useful for the train journey to and from work) as it is easier carrying them as well as less painful should they be lost/damaged/dropped in the sea etc! Without a doubt my most popular holiday read and also the ‘default’ book of choice is ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by T.E.Lawrence. I have read this many times but can always find time to revisit it. I have a hardback version of this and have actually worn out a number of paperback versions so this may make the cut again – especially as there is a very cheap Wordsworth Classics edition available for a couple of pounds.

I have a couple of trips planned for the cultural aspect of the holiday – Fethiye has a number of interesting 16th century buildings to look at and there is a crusader era castle nearby which looks worth a look. During a two week holiday we tend to have around four days of sightseeing and the touristy trip stuff and the rest of the time is spent chilling out or ‘chillaxing’ as my daughter describes it………..;-) Needless to say the local cuisine and beverages will be examined at length!

Due to my redundancy last year we were only able to have a week abroad due to obvious financial constraints so this year will be a welcome return to the holiday norm. I can’t wait!