Monday, February 18, 2019

Burning Mountains: First thoughts

As my interest in the Italian front in WWI grows, so too does my desire to play a game related to it. With no painted miniatures and no rule set decisions made, my options are fairly limited. In fact, I currently only have one option, Burning Mountains.

Saturday night, I could hold back the dam no longer and I set up a game, with the goal to play though five or six turns to try to learn the rules.

That would turn out to be optimistic. After 2 hours I had played 1.5 turns and it was time to turn in.

The rules are not immensely complicated, but as an infrequent board wargamer at best (I've only played two others, Worthington's Hold the Line: The American Revolution and Minden Games' Remagen Bridgehead, the latter of which barely qualifies) they were beyond my usual fair and I admittedly struggled a bit. 

Even setup took longer than I anticipated.

Here is the bulk of the board prior to the first turn (the observant among you will see a misplaced Austrian fort. It was moved before the game began officially, but by then my phone was put away):

The setup. Not much to look at really
Once I finally sorted out combat (which took most of the 2 hours, the other large chunk being set up), the only major issue was a distinct lack of sufficient "Out of Supply" markers. Mid-way through the second turn, I realized I was going to have far more units out of supply than markers for the third turn.

I am either misunderstanding supply, I'm playing poorly or it's an actual issue. Either way, I'll make some by hand for next time.

In any case, having to worry about supply lines is a marked difference from anything else I have played.

I believe Featherstone talks about supply lines in his campaigns book, but it's not something that has been much a part of my gaming. Only recently using the Pz8 division-level WW2 rules, did suppply even come up as an in-game phase and it's quite abstract. The combination of large scale units of regiment/brigade level in Burning Mountains, and worrying about which units are going to be low on supplies, and therefore impeded in combat, because they are too far from the baseline or not on an unblocked road definitely feels more like I'm playing a higher level game - more concerned with operations than tactics.


Whether or not this game captures the feel of 1916 warfare in Italy, I can't say yet - I'm far more focused on learning the rules. The advantage given to units for higher altitude certainly seems to fit in with my reading, as does the first turn starting with the Austrian combat phase (in my game, this forced a number of Italian units to fall back one or more hexes right off the bat). Lack of supply for many Italian units became an issue by the second turn, and that too seems right.

At the risk of overstepping my limited experience with the game, I think it makes a better 1-player game than a 2-player game, unless the Italian player is of the kind that enjoys the challenge of denying points to the attacker, rather than trying to make gains of their own.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Atlanta Armor, Figure, and Modeling Contest and Exhibition Acquisitions

This weekend was the Atlanta Armor, Figure, and Modeling Contest and Exhibition. I went a few years ago and scored quite a bit of stuff, but last year at their new location, the vendor room seemed kind of empty, and I only came away with a single Deetail archer. Consequently, I set my expectations very low this year.

I was pleasantly surprised!


There were quite a few Osprey and similar books for sale for very reasonable prices (this one was $5) but I stopped myself from buying them as none of them were on my want list. This one wasn't either, but it's a topic I've been thinking about lately, so it was fortuitous.

The War Game is a book I've seen on Amazon and have always been curious about. For the price (I think it was $6), it was hard to pass up. The history of the battles featured is interesting, but I really enjoy the pictures of the games contained within - they capture a bygone era of wargaming in full color (the book was published in 1972).

Military Modeling was the one I was happiest to snag (another $6). I don't recall ever having read it and I know it's something of a classic. I like Featherstone's writing style, so even had it cost more, I would have nabbed it.

Here's a closeup of the figures I picked up:


The left three are from Conte. The two on the right are Super Deetail. I will be painting their berets, pants, boots, and webbing to match the Conte as close as I can. I picked up two in case I mess up the first one terribly.

They may not be 100% accurate as WWII paratroopers with PIATs but that's what they're going to be used as. This will give my British paras some anti-vehicle capability. I will get them on the table soon with the figures I already have, probably using One Hour Skirmish Wargames.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mail call!

My birthday was about a week ago and my generous parents gifted me some money to treat myself.

I am leaning towards spending a bit of it on improving my table to my current aesthetic preferences (more on that agonizing process later) but a number of books called to me as well.

The first arrived today, The Portable Napoleonic Wargame by Bob Cordery:


There was a time in the distant past (nine years ago - wow) where I considered getting into Napoleonics, after reading some of the Sharpe books and watching some of the shows. I never pulled the trigger on figures - something didn't quite click for me. Even now, I have little interest in starting the period, except maybe at the level of of gaming in One Hour Skirmish Wargames to play Sharpe-like games.

However, I wanted to see how Mr. Cordery approached scaling his rules to handle representing different sized forces and although I've only skimmed the book briefly, it is exactly what I had hoped for in that regards.

As I consider how I might wargame WWI on the Southern Front, division or higher level games have crossed my mind and I think similar adjustments can be made for the PW rules covering later eras. I also think this book is a jumping off point to modifying PW to cover earlier Horse & Musket eras - in my case, I have a number of 1/72 Great Northern War Russians and Swedes languishing in a box,, that are far more likely to see the table with a low figure count rule set (I really don't like painting cavalry).

In the words of old timey smooth talking salespeople, this book would be a bargain at twice the price.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Revisiting One Hour Wargames

I enjoy Neil Thomas's One Hour Wargames medieval rules, but the WW2 rules, while serviceable for pushing figures around the table, often don't feel quite right to me. I suspect the difference is in large part due to having opinions about the latter period and nearly none about the former. That my opinions are completely wrong-headed is entirely possible, but I will blissfully ignore that possibility right now.

Last night, after reading some very old blog posts (has it really been almost 5 years since OHW came out?) on many blogs, I decided to break them out and house-rule "corrections" for things I or others found  "wrong" with the game.

Scenario 12: An Unfortunate Oversight. German deployment by my best guess, US by die roll.
The results were mixed. Below I present a post mortem of three of the changes: one of the failures, one partial success, and one complete success.  It is lengthy and you are forgiven if your eyes glaze over and you move on to the next blog.

Close Assault

One of my biggest problems playing OHW WW2 is that very often, it devolves to the two sides firing away at each other in a battle of attrition. This would be acceptable, if boring, for WW1 trench warfare, but that isn't how I think of this period - there is motion, men scrambling through woods, stealing cover where they can, tanks grinding up the earth beneath their treads as the plow headstrong towards the enemy, etc.
Assaulting a tank, close or otherwise is risky business.

One thing that helps create motion in OHW WW2 is to remember that units can either move or shoot, not both, in a turn. A lot of people, myself included, forget this.

This rule, I  feel I should add, does not bother me - the very idea of rolling a die for hits in any WW2  game system is an abstraction of many bullets being fired. It's not hard to imagine that the units are always firing, but sometimes they are focused on maneuver and sometimes they are focused on doing damage (The Paper Tigers ruleset really drove this point home for me). So if taking a terrain feature is the objective, a unit has to move - albeit at a leisurely pace as the 15 turn time limit is generally far more than needed. So, very often there is no benefit to closing on an enemy unit beyond the range of fire in OHW WW2 until the last few turns.

You could decide that "shoot" is the wrong term, and that the word is "assault" or something vaguer. Therefore, you don't need another mechanism, it just represents different things when in base to base contact. Except, close combat to take an objective seems more brutal and decisive in real life (or the movies for that matter), than sitting at a distance and firing away at an enemy position. And again, if it's the same effect, then there is no benefit, save being in a slightly better position to hold a terrain objective at game end, which, again, given the usual turn limits, isn't often an issue.

To address this, I decided I would add a close assault rule. A unit that ends its move in base to base contact with an enemy would be in close assault. Only infantry or tanks could initiate close assaults and the attacking unit would gain +2 to damage on the turn they moved into contact. That sounded good to me on paper, but the limitations of it came out in play.

The hill battle was a slug fest.
In Neil Thomas's rules for eras in OHW that have melee rules, flanking makes close combat potentially devastating - double damage. Flanking is not possible in the WW2 rules because units have 360 degree field of fire. Relatedly they can turn as much as they want during their moves. The implication is that facing is irrelevant. So, if I'm not wrong about that interpretation, in the end, adding a +2 bonus was not enough benefit to make it worthwhile to close on an enemy.

A further negative is that infantry suffers a -2 against tanks, so close assaulting a tank merely removes this modifier on the turn they charge into close combat. Thereafter they fight at a disadvantage unless they break off and then try again. Unfortunately, this allows the tank to 1) attack them because they are still close assault (no +2 for the tank though, as they don't move into the combat) and then 2) blast the infantry after they move away to regroup for another assault. Finally, the tank, assuming it survives the next assault, gets another attack on the infantry. That's 3 casualty dice to 2 casualty dice.

Changing the 360 degree rule may make sense, but it may have other consequences I haven't thought of.

Limit How Many Units Can Activate

One of the things I like about games like Company Command and One Hour Skirmish Wargames is the limited ability to activate all your units just the way you want to. Being forced to make decisions about whether to make an assault with 1st platoon or maneuver 2nd platoon to be in a position to fire next turn make for interesting moments in the game in my opinion.

It's not that the other units are doing nothing of course - they may be keeping their heads down, they may be regrouping, they may be firing sporadically or calling in mortar support, for example. It just isn't relevant to you as the company commander. However, it allows for some narrative development - perhaps 1st platoon suffers a lack of motivation or maybe they are taking heavy fire and can't even lift their heads, it's up to you and how angry you are at them afterwards.

Since I like Company Command (the only reason I haven't played recently is I want to build some smoke markers and some specific scenery / terrain items), I lifted the standard activation system there. Without giving too much away hopefully, I'll summarize it thusly: sometimes all of your units can fire, sometimes they all can move, sometimes half can move/fire. Except, as this is OHW, I changed the latter to move OR fire.

This has potential, but perhaps due to the scenario played, as well as my undoubtedly poor tactical choices, the result was half of the battlefield sat in stasis while the other half saw constant action. On the plus side, 15 turns may barely be enough to squeak out a win - activating no more than three units most turns results in some very quick turns. Getting to a terrain objective means potentially sacrificing weakening the enemy.

German units at start of game (there's one in the grey house). The ATG would never move. Neither would the infantry in the village until turn 8 or so.
So, I think there is still something to this, but I would either go with the Company Command basic method - either all move/none shoot or half move+shoot, or use a "pip spend" - roll a die and spend 1 pip per action, allowing infantry and tanks to both move and shoot in the same turn for 2 pips. Borrowing from OHSW, I could allow double moves an additional cost of 2 pips (so 3 pips to move 2x), but all movement must be completed before firing.
 -
I suppose another option would be to roll to see if each unit follows its orders - allowing for the possibility that all,some, or none might activate - but that sounds like a lot of dice rolling for a similar effect.

Resupply

This isn't really a good name for this, but it's the name from the rules I borrowed stole it from: Pz8 Divisional WW2 rules. At the end of each turn, roll 1d6, on a 5 or 6, the side can remove 1d6 worth of hits from any units, either all from one or distributed across multiple units.This doesn't address any deficiency with the OHW WW2 rules, at least not in the way that I think most people would address it.

A frequent criticism of OHW is that there are no built-in morale rules.

Normally, I take this to mean, a side fights until there are no units remaining (although nothing in the rules actually requires a player to do so - they could order their troops to quit the battle at any time) rather than breaking if losses are suffered beyond point X. This rule does not address this issue. I play solo, and I am as likely to call off a battle when playing the game any further seems pointless as I am to fight until a single unit stands alone on the field, no matter how "unrealistic".

However, considering that the hits in OHW represent morale as well as injuries and casualties, treating "resupply" as an improvement in morale - and thus the staying power of a unit - makes perfect sense to me. Perhaps the platoon leader made an inspiring speech or maybe Pvt. Walker committed an act of bravery that inspired all those around him and it spread like wildfire.

Because it isn't guaranteed every turn, it is still a rapid play game, but it provides some excitement when one side is on the verge of losing a key unit and they miraculously get 6 points back just when they need it.

 Conclusion

It wasn't a total failure, but the game I played was unsatisfying - perhaps even more so than playing RAW OHW. Maybe it was the hope I placed on the changes or maybe it was that I saw the game merely as a test bed.

All said, I'm not sure when or if I'll try further modifying OHW WW2. At this scale, 1 base = 1 platoon, commanding a company, I have other rules that require less effort to make fun for me.

Of the rules I have, I find Morschauser Modern works well for a rapid-play and "toy soldier" feel for this type of game - and it has brutal close combat rules. In fairness, I do feel the need to house-rule cover, probably with a saving throw as Ross Mac suggested in a comment in an older post. 


For more chrome, Blitzkrieg Commander could work, although this is a very small game for that, as could Tactical Combat (somewhere between Morschauser and BKC on the toy soldier vs simulation scale), with the same caveat. At 1 base = 1 platoon, these games expect around a battalion's worth of units on the table. Morschauser anticipates far more units on the table as well, but I have played it enough with just 6 units on the table to know that it's an enjoyable game that way.

The real benefit of all this is that it once again caused me to consider my WW2 games, what I want from them, and at what level I enjoy gaming this period, which is never a bad thing.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

AiP Imperial Russians : Another Update

With the beard hurdle, um, hurdled, for now, I took some time to bring the other four infantry up to pace.

It ain't easy being green.

A bit more to do on all of these, but the unit is definitely taking shape. I can now easily imagine them in their future glossy toy soldier best.

My intention is to finish this entire unit and their officers this month. This doesn't seem too far beyond the realm of possibility.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Non-English WWII Movies

I recently watched a spate (calling three a spate seems a bit of a stretch, I admit) of non-English WWII movies:

  • April 9th (Danish)
  • The King's Choice (Norwegian)
  • White Tiger  (Russian)
All three were enjoyable in their own ways.

The first two were intense and dramatic (April 9th is now my favorite WWII movie), as well as historical, while White Tiger was less so on the latter count, but still dramatic and also a good deal more "artsy" than I expected based on the little blurb provided by Amazon.

The King's Choice:



White Tiger (this trailer is somewhat misleading about the plot by the way):



I would love to hear your recommendations for non-English language WWII (or WWI movies for that matter) so I can build my "to watch" list.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Imperial Russians - The Bold and the Bearded

Let it be known here and now that I do not under any circumstances like painting beards on toy soldiers.

This is what has kept my Russians from progressing for at least two weeks. Tonight I bit the bullet.

They kind of remind me of the late 60s / early 70s flock-haired G.I. Joe.

There is at least one more painting session before they will be done - I have a lot of touch-ups, the rifles, and the shoulder boards to do. The bases will be yet another session - probably not until the other six figures are done, too.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

WWII Divisional Battles Using Squares : Take 2

 Unwilling to let sleeping dogs lie, I did some digging into a variety of free rules, and found most all of what I was looking for in the PZ8 WW2 Divisional Level Wargame Rules (you have to page through a bit to find them).

Like many of hobbyists, I download a lot of free wargame related things, and it turns out I already had a copy of this document from several years ago! Oh well, better late than never.

To meet my needs, I converted it to squares - because I want to use squares. The exact measurements for movement, artillery, spotting, etc. are up in the air yet as I tweak it, so I'll hold off on my exact conversions until they are settled. That said, one square = 1 km.

On a break today, I set up the same scenario as the other night, with each side getting a divisional HQ as well, and gave it a go.

The first and second turn started with the German retreat, per the scenario setup - with one battalion of infantry stuck south of the river (I ignored the scenario rules calling for the destruction of any red army unit south of the river after turn 2 because the Germans had 5 units this time, instead of 4.).

On the second half of turn two, the three battalions of US infantry, supported by two battalions of tanks and an artillery battalion?regiment? arrived on their base line (squares determined by die roll).

The US tank battalion on the left quickly made contact with the stranded German infantry, driving them back, while on the US right, the German infantry on the north side of the river destroyed a US battalion (pushed it back two squares, right off the table).

A few turns in, the US is down one battalion already.
Word to the wise, be careful of putting units behind other units, as you risk blocking a push back result and losing your unit.
After struggling to get across - and losing another infantry battalion in the process - it looked like the US left had a foothold north of the river, with the tanks barreling onward to overrun German artillery positions.

You would be forgiven for thinking the tanks would win this fight.
 Unfortunately, the tanks were trapped at the waters edge and decimated with brutal precision.

On the right things picked up and tanks and infantry made it across the river, but it was too little too late. Despite eliminating one German battalion, the German Divisional HQ was far more efficient with their resupply and kept the remaining units in good order, while giving their artillery many more fire missions than the four allotted at the start.


Moments after this was taken, the US infantry in the woods to the top right were forced to fall back (again, off the table). With 50% of US combat units gone, I called the game.

Impressions:

THIS is what I was looking for the other night.

Despite being a small game (a regiment vs an under-strength regiment) the rules worked well and it felt "right". The game had a Little Wars quality to it, as infantry / tanks don't distance fire, they have to move into contact (adjacent grid spaces), and only artillery "shoots".

I really like the resupply rule (obviously you can do that with other rules) - it's simple and I used it as written, once I remembered to use it.

Being pushed back is devastating - need to pay attention to who is where before an attack.

Some options to consider  - supported attacks, attached companies, unit stacking?

The Pz8  rules say they are based on the KISS Rommel rules, and I've downloaded them to mine for ideas. Similarly, I found De Belli Mundi Secundus (a DBA variant for the same scale game) and they too look to have some bits and bobs I want to make use of.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Alas, This Last Reincarnation Did Not Run According to Plan

The opportunity to get figures on the table escaped me on Sunday, but last night I had a chance.

With limited time, I set up scenario 20: Fighting Retreat from One Hour Wargames on a 6 x 6 grid to be played using The Portable Wargame rules, with Developing The Portable Wargame on hand to clarify any questions that arose. Forces were generated per OHW.

This was a chance to test my brain's reaction to 4-figures in a line representing a battalion in game terms.


Game 1, Tiger on a hill.

Game 2. Turn 2. The GIs arrive in force.

End of Game 2. The Germans are outnumbered 4 to 2 (there's an infantry unit to the left of the hill) and concede.

I had time to play the scenario twice - good thing as I made more than a few mistakes the first time through. Given the small size of the German force, I ignored the breaking point rules, and decided it would be 50% of the unit count. Both games went to the GIs, but I had a better plan for the Germans in the second game - using the infantry to hold the fords and delay the US advance - and they took it 10 turns before I declared it over for them.

Although very enjoyable, a few things felt "wrong" to me for my intended scale - primarily the shooting distances. So, as it was, I just began to think of them as "units" about half of the time, possibly companies, but definitely not smaller, and battalions the other half.

Nothing wrong with that, mind. However, that wasn't my objective. I think the shooting ranges are what throw me. They seem more suitable to a company per  square, to my brain at least. I'm not at all sure about reality. Generally speaking and in this game!

Tweaking The Portable Wargame is certainly a possibility. I have since stumbled upon Hexes and Miniatures  and there are many ideas there to borrow as well. Perhaps its the "basing" of the units that didn't work? The other possibility is that perhaps a battalion per unit, up to a division per side, is not the best option, and maybe going with a company per unit is.

However, with the space available to me, I think at best I could field an infantry regiment with support in this manner. In any case, more testing to do for sure.

Unrelated to anything above, my little boy was home sick yesterday. He was bored - an amazing feat given all the toys he has. In an effort to alleviate the pain of screen-free time, I lent him some of my unpainted figures and .

Here he is entertaining himself with some Britain's guns and some match sticks for firing. There were no objectives, no concerns about scale incompatibilities, nothing but fun, which is really what it's all about anyway.

Little wars.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Change of Pace: Returning to Grid-based Games

While contemplating the games I enjoy playing and the kinds of games I want to play for WWII, I realized that I really want a higher level game where the result is something like the battle descriptions you read on Wikipedia (I know, I set the bar high). Grids seem like the easiest way to do this without a large investment in additional figures and time spent painting them as they make abstracting an easier prospect, at least for me.

2012, playing"Pacific Assault" rules from Lone Warrior. 

My gaming cloth already has a 6" grid on one side, from that time a few years ago when I had a 4' x 4' table top (which I do again, thanks to a plywood acquisition). Of course, that didn't stop me from contemplating grid sizes from 3" up to 6" and agonizing over it for a few days before settling on exactly where I started.

2014. This is a Crossfire scenario called "Stug Smuggling" from lloydianaspects.co.uk
Converted to The Portable Wargame
To my own surprise, it turns out, I have very definite opinions about what different numbers of figures can represent and in what layouts they can represent them, so it took more time than I expected to make a decision on exactly what number/arrangement of figures I would use and what size unit they would represent..

After an hour or more of manipulating figures and taking pictures and analyzing my reactions to them, I determined that three or four figures in a line seems to work for my brain with respect to calling each unit a battalion (the de facto assumption for The Portable Wargame from what I can figure. Although I get that they can be whatever you want, I think from the perspective of converting scenarios, historical and otherwise, it helps to have a clear idea of what you're working with).

I hope to get in a small 6 space x 6 space game of The Portable Wargame in, using a scenario from One Hour Wargamesm tonight, to see if my decisions really do work in practice.




Wednesday, January 23, 2019

WWI Italian Front Research

I finished Caporetto and the Isonzo Campaign: The Italian Front 1915-1918 (easy read, chronological in approach, tight focus - like it says on the tin, assumes little foreknowledge of the reader, wonderful photographs, bibliography is mostly secondary sources) and I'm about 1/3 into The Italian Army and the First World War
 
With some Christmas money still burning holes in my pocket, I picked up two related titles:


There are a small number of hex-and-chit wargames based on this theater of the Great War, so, unlike choosing a WWII boardgame, or even one for the fighting in the rest of Europe, the choices aren't paralyzing in their immensity.

Burning Mountains gets good reviews on BoardGameGeek and was among the least expensive options (it was on sale at On Military Matters - one of my favorite places to order from) and it doesn't seem terribly complex - but certainly more involved than my toy soldier approach to gaming. In addition to the game, the magazine includes a short article on the spring offensive modeled by the game.

Eventually I will field miniatures for Italy and Austria in WWI (in 1/72 most likely), but I will wait on that until I have a better idea of what about it I want to game.

The War in the Mountains is a lot slimmer and smaller than I expected (I didn't really look at that part of the description on Amazon). Had I paid full-price, I might be a bit irritated, but as I scored this used for a pittance, and it's in like-new condition, I'm not unhappy. Whether reading it is worthwhile, we shall see.

I still have a little money left and it's quite likely I'll pick up a few more books on the topic (I basically raided the bibliographies of the books I have and went looking for the titles). It's also spurred on my interest in WWII fighting in Italy - a fairly neglected topic in movies/documentaries (and wargames tables) compared to much of the rest of the war, albeit less neglected than the Southern Front in WWI.