Tuesday, September 26, 2023

More Waaaggghhh!

One thing I enjoy about my little aside into fantasy miniatures is that I can just use whatever colors I want, with no worries about historical uniforms. One thing I completely dislike about painting fantasy miniatures is not having historical uniforms to reference!

For my orcs (or orks?), I went with pretty simple brown furs and hides, gunmetal/silver and brass/gold armor.

They were finished last Friday, but I discovered that I had run out of the 30mm bases I've been using for my 28mm fantasy figures. That was a shock to me, as I had over 50 when I started, but then I recalled I had used many of them for my Christmas games.

The bases arrived yesterday and they were quickly glued and flocked.

This brings my greenskins up to four figures, and I still have two more on the paint table. I have quite a few Reaper Bones goblins, and while I long ago painted three or four with bright yellow, I'll paint a few in green to act as toadies for this orc warband.

For both fantasy and Weird World War I games, I knocked out a pair of beetles (the insects, not the car).

I thought about doing stripes but I like the dots better. And they are easier to paint! 

While they can stand in for most giant beetles in an RPG, for WWWI, like the swarms, they will function as blinds

In addition to the two orcs, I have a few more swarms, a mummy, and some rats on the paint table in progress. There are two WWI Italian riflemen waiting patiently to complete the 4th unit of 32, and there are a few lancieri head swaps, too. 

I dread painting horses, so those lancieri will probably take me the rest of 2023!

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Same Stuff, Different Day

 I wanted to try using the off-table artillery rules in Contemptible Little Armies. So, Friday night, I set out one of my favorite scenarios on a 38" square table, treating each unit of 12 as a battalion. 

And it looked and felt all wrong to me.

The bigger table. The units representing battalions. All of it.

Saturday, I reset and set up a 24" square, and called each unit of eight figures a company. Immediately this looked better to my eyes and soothed my brain.

I gave both sides tactical ratings of 4 and morale ratings of 4.

The scenario, once again, is "Late Arrivals" from One Hour Wargames.

The Italian order of battle:

  • Commander
  • Defensive Barrage with Foward Observation Officer
  • Two infantry units
  • One machine gun unit
  • One field gun unit

They started with one infantry company and a machine gun unit holding the trench north of the village. Reinforcements are scheduled to arrive on turns 5 and 10 (two units each time). However, I am using the suggestion from CLA that they have to roll their morale or lower to arrive as scheduled - otherwise, check again the following turn.

All's quiet on the Southern front.

The Austrian order of battle:
  • Commander
  • Static Barrage of High Explosive Ammunition for turns 1 through 4
  • Four infantry units
  • One field gun unit
They arrive on the northern table edge via the road. Because movement in CLA is determined by rolling a die or two, the entry point is severely congested, and units arrive in a delayed manner. Unlike the Italians, they are not reinforcements and so no morale check required.

The lead Austrian company arrives.

CLA has complex turn sequence where each turn has 12 phases - although many require nothing other than noting that phase has come and gone. Off-board artillery arrives after all movement for the turn has completed, but before direct fire shooting starts. 

The static barrage is assumed to be sighted-in, so no roll to hit is required. For HE, a single die (representing one battery) is rolled for each figure within a 4" radius of the target point (which was the center of the trench with the Italian infantry company). On a 6 a figure is removed.


Two figures eliminated right away, and I began to think maybe having only two infantry units would not be enough to stop the Austrian tide. Spoiler alert: those were the only two figures removed by artillery.

Dramatic shot of Austrians in the crosshairs of the Italian MG unit.

In CLA, shooting is figure-to-figure not unit-to-unit. I realized during one of my many games that I wasn't quite handling MG fire correctly - I was rolling all six dice every time and then allocating to the target unit - essentially unit-to-unit shooting.

After reading again, and paying more attention, I noted that MGs can roll six dice, yes, but one die per target figure, and each figure targeted must be within 6" of the first. This can reduce the effect of the MG (not a terrible thing if you're the target).

This got me thinking about how much more I prefer the way GASLIGHT handles shooting. Each figure shoots but the target is a unit (so figure-to-unit) with casualties determined randomly (it's possible for a single figure to be hit more than once - frustrating for the shooting unit but more interesting for a narrative) and I may bolt that on to CLA.

Even so, the shooting by the MG, combined with the rifles in the trench, nearly wiped out the first Austrian company before they made contact. 

But contact was made! Just not much of it. And the first Italian reinforcements arrived.

Wider shot of the same. The third company had moved up in support. Second company had maneuvered through the woods, slowly, to take up a position opposite the Italian MG. 
I also discovered I had lazily returned to rules from some other system. In CLA, no regular infantry unit, mg, or gun, can move and fire in the same turn. However, I was allowing MGs to fire in the next turn. 

That is not the case in CLA. In CLA, MGs and guns cannot fire in the turn they move (or rotate) or in the next turn. 

I like this as it again provides a check on the power of the MG. Unfortunately, this time it didn't matter as the Austrian infantry took forever to get through the woods thanks to terrible die rolling.

The Austrian field gun arrives as does the Italian commander. The latter arrived on turn 6 after failing to arrive on turn 5 due to failed morale check. Typical.

Third company reaches the Italian held trench, supported by the fourth company. Shots from the second company in the woods were ineffective against the Italian MG unit.

Austrians penetrate into the trench line, but it is still heavily contested. The assault from the woods begins and the two lead platoons are nearly wiped out entirely.

The MG unit is destroyed in close combat, but the cost was high. The Austrian unit failed its second morale test and can no longer advance towards the enemy - they can't take the trench! The Austrian commander meanwhile is stumbling blindly through the woods (rolling 1s and 2s to advance).

The Italian counterattack on the Austrian right drives devastates fourth company. With nothing left to take either trench or the village, and with the Italian FOO and Field gun on the scene, the Austrians call off the attack.

An extremely satisfying game. 11 turns before I called it. 

It's not an easy scenario for the attacker using OHW rules, but I believe I still don't have the balance right for CLA - the issue being that in CLA the trench gives -2 to rolls to determine the result of a hit. with a 4+ total needed to remove a figure. That is, the attacker needs a 6 to remove a defender in a trench. 

Then again better artillery usage, and maybe throwing an MG against the defenders might help. As would treating the ground as open not difficult (2d6" vs 1d6" for infantry).

Using eight-figures as a company felt right and is the plan going forward (for CLA). I might expand to nine or ten eventually, but at eight figures, I still need to paint up two Italians and and an Austrian if I want to field four companies simultaneously. Once casualties start mounting though, I can just recycle them - which is how I handled it here.

Hopefully, I'll get to play again soon - perhaps maybe I'll play a different scenario even!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

I Pity the FOO

 Not entirely unrelated to my post from yesterday, I knocked out an Italian Forward Observation Officer "conversion". 

Conversion is in quotes because all i did was lop off his original hand and replace it with a hand holding binoculars, taken from an Armies in Plastic British officer. The AiP hand is slightly too large. with a thicker thumb, but close enough for government work.

Bayonet & Spade (the Bolt Action WWI adaptation that I like) allows the Italians to take an artillery observer. Contemptible Little Armies doesn't allow them any kind of off-table artillery that would use one, but in the Main European Fronts army list supplement, they are allowed Defensive Barrages, which can use an FOO or the C-in-C.

Amusingly, they are allowed Counter-Battery Fire (no FOO required), which was most definitely *not* an Italian strong suit.


Below is a side-by-side comparison with the existing commander figure, to illustrate the difference in raised hand. However, while taking the picture I was struck by what appeared to be an apparent size difference in the figures.


At first, I thought it was an optical illusion ("Q: Which of these two rainbows is bigger?" "A: They are the same size!)", but upon further inspection, they are indeed different.

I have multiple sets from Waterloo 1815, two purchased new in box and one jumble of figures purchased from eBay. The latter are a harder plastic, with better detail (albeit covered in badly flaking bright blue and red paint from a previous owner). I do not believe either of these come from that pile of plastic (most of them are awaiting stripping and painting). 

Instead, I think these come from two different boxes of the softer, and, I believe, more recently manufactured figures - purchased from two different sellers.

That said, there is a slight difference to the pose as well with the angle of the head being the most obvious. Perhaps a retooling? Counterfeit? (seems like an odd thing to counterfeit)

So, it's a mystery to me.

I also painted up a couple of swarms to inhabit the trenches in the Weird World War I games or dungeon crawls for RPGs. These are, like so many of my recently painted figures, from Reaper. 

I have several more to paint, plus some individual large bugs and spiders. Although intended for 28mm (or heroic 28mm or 32mm or whatever size they are calling it), they're pretty big even for 1/35 and 1/32 figures to deal with.

Spiders on the left, beetles on the right. I am applying matte varnish to my 28mm figures and my 1/35 WWI figures, but not to the bugs! I think they look creepier with a wet/shiny look.

As I am working on my own WWWI system, I am thinking of using the swarms as a trigger for random events (monster, "Treasure", narrative, etc.), as what is a crawl through an abandoned trench but a a dungeon crawl?

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Morale and the Italian Army During the First World War

 I recently finished reading Morale and the Italian Army During the First World War by Vanda Wilcox. 

Looking back at my blog, I see that I acquired it a little over a year ago, just before I traveled for my dad's funeral. I started to read it at some point - I don't think it was on that trip despite my intentions, but I did start it earlier this year. 

And then stopped - no fault of the book, I just had too many other books going at the same time. In fact, once I started it this time around, I found it difficult to put down.

(for the tl;dr you can scroll down to the Conclusion section)

Why the (mostly) peasant soldiers fought at all, often with valor, for years, in terrible conditions, is one thread driving the inquiry of this book. The other thread being the converse - what drove these men to perform acts of indiscipline, when they otherwise tended to be resigned to do what they were ordered or what duty commanded, 

Recall that Italy had only been a united country for a little over 50 years at the time. 

Duty was owed to the farm, the family, the Church, and the village long before it was ever owed to the state. Indeed, peasant males had only been granted the right to vote in one election prior to the war (I may be quoting the number incorrectly, but it wasn't much more if not just one). It is on the negotiation of this complex web of expectation and duty that Wilcox focuses. 

To facilitate the examination of the factors involved, the book is helpfully split into two parts.

The first looks at the role of systems external to the soldier - the military organization itself and the society in which it, and more importantly, the soldiers, existed. Official histories and studies of morale and discipline form the bulk of the footnotes here. 

The second part deals with the internal - the psychology and personal beliefs of the soldier - and how they see things themselves (which, of course, is deeply effected by the military and the society from which they come), supported by heavy reliance on  diaries and letters.

Throughout the book, the Italian army (both its policies but also the psychology of the soldiers) is compared and contrasted to other armies during the same period. If your primary interest is in another Entente or in one of the Central Power armies, they probably make more than one appearance either in the main text or in one of the many footnotes. 

Not surprisingly, Italy's draconian system of discipline doesn't come out unscathed and not just in hindsight. Compared to the other nations in the war, the Italian approach to morale and discipline throughout much of the war was unenlightened and inconsistent at best.

Cadorna - who blames socialism and defeatism in the ranks for failures of command - gets a fair amount of well-deserved criticism, while Diaz, unsurprisingly, receives a more positive assessment (though he doesn't escape criticism). This is pretty standard - although I know he has his supporters, no author I have read has praised Cadorna without reservation. On the other hand, Diaz often gets plenty of praise and back slapping simply for not being as inhumane as Cadorna (a low bar if ever there was one).

At times, the text is academic (i.e., dry) but still eminently more readable than most Osprey titles in my opinion, and I am inclined to seek out other works by the author as I find their tone and writing style suits me.

The bibliography is vast and varied, and I've already been looking out for copies of the English-language titles.

Unfortunately, for me and anyone else who does not read Italian, many, if not most, of Wilcox's sources are written in Italian, even excluding the personal diaries and private letters which are obviously so. Despite the limits this imposes on my follow-up reading, I find this citation of a mass of Italian-language sources lends additional credence to the arguments Wilcox makes.


In case you're wondering if this is a book for you: 

For a wargamer, there is little here directly applicable to most wargames' tables. The one exception I can come up with is through the use of chance cards, which could bring in morale effects thematically tied to reasons given in the book. But you probably don't need this book to imagine some of them.

If your interest in WWI is casual or at a higher level - the causes and effects of the war generally, big personalities, major battles - or you are hoping to find a source of scenarios for a wargame, this book is not for you.

However, if you're interested in the discipline and morale questions of "what makes soldiers follow orders" or conversely "what makes soldiers act with indiscipline" with or without emphasis on the Italian army of WWI, there is something here for you.

If you, like me, are invested in learning about the Great War as fought on the Southern Front, and you've already read one of the many overview books on the subject (if, for example, Caporetto is news to you, perhaps don't start with this title), then this is a must read for a deeper dive.


Monday, September 18, 2023

More Fantasy Figures from the Pile of Plastic

I have been enjoying painting of late and so I continue digging into the pile of Reaper minis I have and painting whatever looks interesting. There's no particular plan for the figures - they were acquired (and used for years unpainted) for role-playing games and they still serve that purpose. However, they can easily form into Age of Fantasy warbands or maybe even Song of Blades and Heroes (which I haven't played in a long time).

The paint jobs aren't spectacular, but they represent a growth in my painting techniques. And you can see, now that I have a formula for black highlighting I intend to use it everywhere! 

Give a man a hammer and the world becomes a nail!

I used to spend a lot of time going to goth clubs. She looks like someone I used to see out at the club and so I painted her that way. I wanted to do something more cyber-gothy with her hair, but I don't have any neon paints.

"Gotta keep movin, gotta keep movin', hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail"


The G.O.A.T.

Harryhausen-esque Number 2 .Metal not plastic like the above. Ral Partha not Reaper. I believe the date on the base was 1991 or 1993. I forget and it's glued down now.

The shading (either Army Painter Strong Tone, Citadel's Agrax Earth Shade, or Citadel's Nuln Oil) leaves a gloss behind, and is visible mostly in the deeper recesses where shadow should be. I recently picked up some matte varnish in hopes of dulling the shine on since it looks odd that the shadows are shiny.

I did a test run on an older glossy 28mm figure and it worked a treat, so I'll apply it to these eventually.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Age of Fantasy in the Lost World

As an experiment, I decided to try using Age of Fantasy (AoF), with Lizards vs. French Foreign Legion. I have used the Lizardfolk with AoF before, using the Saurian list. For the French, I found I could make use of the Duchies of Vinci list - treating rifles as crossbows. 

Terrain was randomly determined and deployed. I used the typical AoF "capture objective markers" victory conditions. Not great from a narrative perspective, but it works for a one-off just fine.

Geckos advanced through jungle.

Two units of French Foreign Legion, classed as City Guard, plan to seize the hill (there's an objective marker there)

Three Legionairre sharpshooters (classed as a Sniper unit) take position on the Legion left.

The artillery unlimbers and deploys (Carro Armato for AoF)

Gecks supported by a spinosaurus with its priest rider (walking today) advance towards the French snipers (and an objective in the difficult ground)

An overview at the end of turn 1

A unit of Geckos crashes into the French artillery!

Another overhead shot - end of turn 2. The French have the hill well in hand - having eliminated most of the Lizard archers (classed as Chameleons). The snipers are threatened. Both sides control one objective.

The French Captain shoots and kills the Gecko Champion Chief, having wounded him previously.

The Gecko Champion Shaman fells the captain with a single magical strike (the captain failed to block all three hits)

The shaman makes a gamey move and takes the center objective. A large scrum develops around the French artillery position at the end of turn 4. Neither side scoring decisive melee attacks. The judges review the scoring...

In AoF a regular game ends after four turns. The Lizards controlled two objectives to the French one. Victory to the Lizards!

An enjoyable outing that proved I can use AoF for my VSF/Lost World adventures. 

However, I messed up with the Carro Armato and didn't realize it had a tough (9) rating. That works with the stegosaurus being the tow vehicle, but there's nothing in the stats that account for its attacks - only the cannon and autocrossbow (the Gatling). I need to rethink that.

From what I understand, Patreon supporters of the One Page Rules have access to a system to build their own units and determine points. That might be worth a small donation on my part.

However, before I go that route, I think I may be able to port the magic system over to GASLIGHT, using the section on magic in the GASLIGHT Compendium as a guide. Certainly, it's worth a try. 

I'm also not sold on the objective markers/four turn limit for AoF. Of course, you don't have to use them, but in my experience, with the small points values of my battles, it's rare that both sides could continue past that anyway. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Contemptible Little Armies and the Late Arrivals

I don't usually post so closely to a previous post, but I  have been playing Contemptible Little Armies (CLA) a lot, in an effort to really dive into the nuances that might be there.

I decided to play a One Hour Wargame (OHW) scenario squished to a 24" square, rather than the 36" usually used.

The scenario is 'Late Arrivals' which is one of my favorites and one I played before on a painted 24" "board" using the OHW 'Machine Age' rules and 3"-4" wide companies. That was, in hindsight, quite a bit of space for what amounted to a single battalion with support. I opted to use the same painted board (it's quick to set up after all)  this time, but with CLA.

WWI is notorious for crowded battlefields, especially early-to-mid-war. While dependent on the situation/terrain, generally speaking, as a rule of thumb, a battalion in WWI had the same frontage as a company in WWII( I found this article extremely helpful in visualizing the differences). Thus, the 24" area should force the issue.

Rather than the intended 1:1 figure-to-man scale, which, as I've mentioned before, doesn't make sense to me with the rifle range, I opted to take up the author on their suggestion that figures and units are what you want them to be, and to use three figures per company. This is similar to the 'Machine Age' game I linked to above, but with individually-based figures and multiple battalions per side.

According to at least one source (H.M.G. by Agema) the Bersaglieri have three companies per battalion, so they field nine figures, while the Austrians have four companies, totaling 12 figures. 

Coincidentally, points-wise, which is something CLA has, it gives me 81 points for the Bersaglieri (9 points each) and 84 for the Austrians (7 points each). Really closely balanced by accident. 

And since the Bersaglieri have fewer men per company and a smaller number of companies per battalion, I feel like the equal-ish points reflects the "elite" nature of the Bersaglieri.

I'm using a 40 or so yards per inch based on some really iffy back-of-the-napkin math. Does it matter? No. Although the 12" range makes a whole lot more sense this way.

In any case, the scenario has three battalions of Austrians attacking with two battalions up and one following attacking on a 960 yard front, supported by a field gun unit and an MG unit. attacking a single Italian Bersaglieri battalion, with all three companies in the line (which was pretty typical of the Italians and a source of much dissatisfaction for the troops), with MG support holding a trench line some 640 yards long. The Italians have two battalions and a field gun unit in reserve. The commanders on both sides are starting off table.

In my head I was thinking the 1916 Strafexpedition  but it could just as easily be 1917 Caporetto or 1918 Asiago - admittedly the later dates would invite stormtroops and arditi.

I have played this *many* times now for testing the rules. Here is but one of those:

The lead Austrian battalion advances using the road. Unfortunately for the following units, it's moving kind of slow - road congestion is real!

Turn 5: A second battalion of Bersaglieri arrive to hold the village.

Turn 5 still, the first Austrian battalion has nearly disintegrated against the Italian defenses while whittling the defenders down. The 2nd battalion has finally moved into a position to engage the defenders on the left. The 3rd battalion arrives on the Austrian right to follow up the 1st battalion's efforts.

Turn 6, a jubilant Italian field gun arrives on the scene. For the Italian arrivals, used a CLA suggested rule for reserves to arrive and diced vs their morale. They failed the check on turn 5, but passed on turn 6.

The Austrians attack the trenches. Chaos ensues.

The trench is captured!

A third Bersaglieri battalion arrives in time to draw some of the attackers away from the village.

Side view of same - so you can see the Austrian field gun on the table shooting away, hitting nothing.

Both sides suffered tremendous losses but the Bersaglieri held off the attack. As the Austrians still hold the trench line (barely) a counter-attack (and Austrian reinforcements) would be a likely follow-up.

Interestingly enough - in every replay of this scenario, the game went to at least 13 turns and went to 15 on more than one occasion. It's rare that I go beyond 10-12 turns playing OHW rules. Play time was about an hour including picture taking. I know most of the basic rules by heart so I rarely need to look at the QRS even, and that helps keep the time spent playing.

It's also a scenario where rarely does the attacker win (when I play).

The playing area looked pretty congested which is what I expected and it felt accurate that way. Road congestion was a pretty common occurrence. The variable movement rate in CLA really added some pressure to the Austrian cause - and I found myself focused on getting units to where they needed to be and out of the way of the units following so that I could bring the full force to bear. 

The ticking time clock of the turn counter though forced some decisions, like attacking on the right before the unit on the left was even in position. The benefit there would have been the Italian unit would be losing figures from a single unit, thus forcing morale checks potentially earlier and more often. Although it would have brought the Italian MG into play sooner.

The MG unit in CLA is much more effective than the Heavy Infantry of OHW, and silencing it as soon as possible is a pressing issue once it starts shooting. It rolls 6 dice, and the Austrians are hit on a 3 or higher. The woods only provide a -1 benefit when checking for figure removal (4+ is required normally, so 5 or 6 with the bonus), so MGs cut down the Austrians pretty fast. You can't spend all day plinking away at the MG unit from the woods, hoping to score a removal.

On the plus side of that equation (the one where Austrians are easy to hit), 12-figure units stretched my force capacity and were it not for recycling losses into later arriving units, I could not have fielded three Austrian units. It looks like getting another bag of figures from Armies in Plastic will top my 2024 shopping list.

The next step for CLA for me is to incorporate off-table artillery fire for both sides.