Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Turkish un-delight (DANG IX)

Monday was the ninth running of Dave's Annual Naval Game (DANG). This is a tradition among a group of friends. Dave Schueler, former submariner and fellow technical writer, hosts a naval game that gets about 6 to 8 of us together for a day-long operational/tactical naval affair. Dave provided a compendium of DANGs past on his blog Naval Gazing.

For all but DANG I, Dave has provided a small set of possible themes that we can vote on to determine the year's game. This year's voting inclined towards the Battle of Lepanto where Turkish naval forces under Ali Pasha got shellacked by the Holy League lead by Don John of Austria. To put your suspense at ease: no, history was not stood on its head in our game.

The ships were Figurehead/Hallmark 1:2400 scale galleys. Dave bought these in October and painted both fleets in record time. The ships come with their own bases, but Dave put these on 20mm x 40mm Litko 3mm thick wooden bases for better movement and getting the ships to line up in formations better.

The Christian fleet, galleasses in front
After a brief intro by Dave, we chose sides. The Turks were Kevin Smyth, Dave Creager, Paul Hannah, and me. The Holy League was Dale Mickel, George Kettler, Scott Murphy, and Mark Waddington. The game started with each side choosing its admirals. We had a list of historical characters with a small bit of information about each choice. After choosing, we were given more information about each admiral, such as how they may react in a battle. The final characteristic of the admirals would not be known until they actually got into a battle, when we would roll to see if they are superior, average, or poor. More on that below.

The first part of the game was an operational phase where each side jockeyed about attempting to raid enemy ports, consolidating our fleets, and seeking out the enemy. The Holy League managed one successful raid on the Turkish-held Dalmatian coast. Our attempted raid on Crete was a disaster resulting in a great loss of fighting crews. We had to slink back to a friendly port to get more soldiers for the fleet.

The fleets consolidating for the big clash
Paul seemed very interested in a raid on Venice, which looked much too formidable—especially after our Crete disaster. We feinted that way with a dummy fleet, but the Holy Leaguers didn't bite. As it was, the operational phase ended when our fully consolidated fleets met off the coast of southern Greece.

Now we rolled to see what our admirals' qualities would be. Of our for admirals, three were sucky and one was merely adequate. This would affect how well we handled our fleets. (The Christians, I believe, rolled better.)

The rules we used for the naval action were Christian Fire and Turkish Fury by David Manley. The rules are an adaptation of the popular American Civil War rules Fire and Fury. Manley's take on the galley-style naval actions is that galley fleets behave more like formations in a land battle than individual ships. He did an earlier set of rules for ancient naval gaming called Greek Fire and Roman Fury, which put shape to his ideas. Christian Fire and Turkish Fury extends that concept to the gunpowder era. It's unclear how to get copies of the rules. They were published in a magazine some time ago. Dave has copies he got from David Manley.

Dave set up the playing area according to his predetermined idea of how coastal islands would feature for any given area on the operational map. The island placement restricted us to a narrow front. The Turkish ships are faster, so we might have attempted a flanking run if we had open water. However, we had to adapt our thinking to what was pretty much a head-on fight.

One restriction to our battle plan was Paul's admiral. Sucky though he was, Hassan, the son of the great Turkish admiral Barbarossa, was a fire eater. The wing he commanded must move at full speed towards the nearest Christian squadron. We lined up with my two Turkish squadrons in line abreast in the center. Paul was on our left in line astern, with the plan to skirt the island there and then form up against the Christian right. Kevin's Barbary squadron, our only elite formation, was behind me as a reserve, and Dave Creager's squadrons were on our right.

The Turks arrayed
We thought, well hoped, that we would have an advantage in numbers to offset the Christian advantage in technology. But that didn't seem to be so. Also, many of our "numbers" were smaller ships with paltry combat value. Against us were several elite Christian squadrons and their galleasses. In the Mediterranean of 1571, the galleass was the dreadnought of its day. With a much broader beam, it could mount a heavier battery, including broadsides, that provided all-around fire rather than being limited to straight-ahead fire as other galleys were. The Leaguers concentrated their three galleasses in the center between two galley squadrons.

The Christian center
We set up far enough apart that it took a few turns of movement before we came in gun range of each other. Paul (a.k.a. Hassan) ran up at full speed, while the rest of the Turks came on at half speed so as to be near enough to support Paul, without being the first into the narrows between the island groups.

The action started, as expected, with Paul's squadrons meeting the Christian right wing. Paul's two leading squadrons were wee galiots with poor long-range fire. The initial long-range volleys had little effect. But in the ensuing close range fire and melee, Paul's galiots fared for the worse worse. In the first couple turns of the game, our left wing was in severe trouble.

Christian fire! Dale shoots Paul's lead squadrons
In the center, I came on with my two large Turkish squadrons right into the teeth of Scott's galleasses. The result was predictable. Both squadrons got shot to bits. My lefthand squadron managed to get into melee contact with its tormentor, but that didn't change things. The Venetian galleys I fought had the upper hand throughout and my squadron was flotsam in just a few rounds. My other squadron held out long enough to inflict a bit of gunfire damage on Scott's ships. I even managed to put a galleass into disorder a couple times, although there was no chance of sinking one.

The fleets closing in after Paul and Dale's first clash
My squadrons engage - poorly
Kevin brought up his elite Barbary squadron and its supporting squadron of fustas. In just a few rounds, Kevin managed to shoot up Scott's lefthand squadron and then close in to destroy it. In the follow-up to that he also managed to contact a galleass that had been disordered by my feeble gunfire (my only tangible contribution to the game) and destroy it.

Kevin's Barbary squadron makes its presence felt
while only two ships remain of my two squadrons
On our right (the Christian left), Dave Creager and George slugged it out in the shadow of the hampering islets. The result was much like the legendary Kilkenny cats. Dave C. came out on top, but with only the bare minimum of ships in one squadron and only his wing flagship surviving out of the other locked in mortal combat with George's flagship, which was George's only survivor.

Turkish Barbary fury! Kevin's squadrons break through
supported on the right by the remnants of Dave C.'s squadrons
The situation by now was Dale victorious over Paul, with little damage to himself. Scott was somewhat diminished in the center, but with two of three galleasses remaining. George vanquished on the Christian left. My two squadrons were as gone as Paul's. Dave C. had just a few ships. Kevin was victorious and undamaged in our center. However, Dale's squadrons were turning in and Kevin had yet to bear the fire of Scott's galleasses. We called it a Christian win.

The day was another DANG success. Much thanks to Dave and his wife Lynn for their hospitality. In addition to a great game, they provide a spread of delicious food. One treat this year were Lynn's rum balls. I haven't had a run ball since the 1970s. My friend Chet's mother used to make rum balls and brandy balls every Christmas and I couldn't get my fill of them. I don't think I ever got drunk on them, but I did retain a fondness for rum well into my 20s.

The day ended with us admiring George's latest model aircraft creations. He's been making masters for 1/285th scale planes for about ten years. He had Phantoms, MiG 21s, MiG 17s, F-105s, and others that were being readied to be sent for casting. It brought to ind how long it's been since we played an air game. We also, discussed options for next year's DANG, although it will be October before we get down to voting on choices.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!

I saw the new release of True Grit on Sunday. I've been anticipating this movie since I saw the preview for it this summer. The 1969 version with John Wayne, Glen Campbell, and Kim Darby is one of my favorite movies. If it's not the favorite, it's at least in my top five. The movie is memorable for many things: John Wayne's only Oscar, Kim Darby's breakout role (although it never flourished after that), and early performances by Dennis Hopper as Moon and Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper. The movie also featured uncredited performances by Wilford Brimley and Jay Silverheels.

I wasn't sure what to expect from the remake, but it's a Coen brothers movie, which is always a good sign. It also features Jeff Bridges, the Dude (or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing) as Rooster Cogburn. I'm a big Jeff Bridges fan and he did a great job in the role. I wasn't too sure about Matt Damon as LaBoeuf, but he was good in the role. The LeBoeuf character in the new version is the biggest departure from the 1969 version.

The biggest uncertainty was about Mattie Ross. Kim Darby gained a great deal of recognition for her acting in that role. Although 24 at the time, her small size and slender frame made her pass well enough for a 14-year old girl. That fact that she was an adult herself, contributed to her ability to portray Mattie's precociousness when dealing with, and getting the best of, her elders. Hailee Steinfeld, who is actually 14, plays Mattie in the new version. She is brilliant. She has put her stamp on the role.

The Coen brothers' remake is said to have followed the novel by Charles Portis more closely than the original. I'm eager to read the book to see for myself—but it's not available for the Nook yet! There are noticeable differences between the two versions, but it's endearing, too, to see how much alike they are in many respects. Much of the more memorable dialogue in the 1969 version is repeated in the 2010 version, which means either that the Coen brothers kept it from Marguerite Robert's 1969 screenplay or that the dialogue comes from the book. In either case, any remake would be the poorer without the climactic exchange between Rooster Cogburn and "Lucky" Ned Pepper as well as other lines and exchanges between the characters.

One interesting homage in the movie is the hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". The tune plays at times through the movie and the hymn is sung by Iris Dement during the ending credits. The only other western that Jeff Bridges has done, as far as I know, is Wild Bill, where "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" is also sung at the movie's end (with the chorus variation "Leaning on Jesus").

As I watched the movie, I unconsciously ticked off every favorite quote from the 1969 version that was retained, in some form, in the 2010 version, but not everything got in. Here are a few favorites that didn't make it:

Rooster Cogburn: By God. She reminds me of me.
LaBoeuf: Well, then we might just not get along.

Mattie Ross: I won't rest until Tom Chaney's barking in hell.

Mattie Ross: Those horses can't get away from Little Blackie - they're loaded down with fat men and iron.

Rooster Cogburn: When's the last time you saw Ned Pepper?
Emmett Quincy: I don't remember any Ned Pepper.
Rooster Cogburn: Short feisty fella, nervous and quick, got a messed-up lower lip.
Emmett Quincy: That don't bring nobody to mind. A funny lip?
Rooster Cogburn: Wasn't always like that, I shot him in it.
Emmett Quincy: In the lower lip? What was you aiming at?
Rooster Cogburn: His upper lip.

Tom Chaney: What are you doin'?
Mattie Ross: I'm getting some water so I can wash my hands.
Tom Chaney: A little smut won't hurt you.
Mattie Ross: That's true - or else you and your chums would surely be dead.

Rooster Cogburn: You can't serve papers on a rat, baby sister. You gotta kill him or let him be.

Mattie Ross: Why do you keep that one chamber empty?
Rooster Cogburn: So I won't shoot my foot off.

Mattie Ross: Do you know a Marshal Rooster Cogburn?
Col. G. Stonehill: Most people around here have heard of Rooster Cogburn and some people live to regret it. I would not be surprised to learn that he's a relative of yours.

LaBoeuf: I wouldn't count too much on bein' able to shade somebody I didn't know, fella.
Rooster Cogburn: I ain't never seen nobody from Texas I couldn't shade.

Rooster Cogburn: LaBoeuf, you get cross ways of me and you'll think a thousand of brick have fell on you! You'll wish you was back at the Alamo with Travis!

Rooster Cogburn: Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way.

Rooster Cogburn: Any man who packs a big bore Sharps carbine could come in mighty handy, if we're attacked by buffalo... or elephants.

The new True Grit is a great film in its own right and I recommend it for any westerns fan or anyone looking for a good adventure film.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Holiday gaming: Part Un

Being currently out of work, "holiday" gaming is a bit of a misnomer. Apart from looking for work and waiting, waiting, waiting to hear about positions I've interviewed for, I have a lot of time on my hands. However, in this formulation, time does not equal money. When I'm making money, I have no time. When I have time, I'm not making money. Why can't I have time and money?

So, during this—hopefully brief—period between jobs, I have been able to get some gaming in.

Boardgaming is a kind of first love for me. I started in the hobby with it, left it for some years, and am now re-enjoying it. My friend Rick recommended a game released this year called Nations at War: White Star Rising from Lock 'n Load games (which I've mentioned in my last posting). It's tactical combat in Western Europe in WW2. I ordered a copy straight away and I've managed to get a number of games in in the past week. I expect to play a few more times in the next week.

White Star Rising (WSR) uses the same games scale as PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader where a single counter/unit represents a platoon. But after that WSR departs considerably. WSR uses a chit-pull command activation system that limits what you can move at a given point, randomizes who gets to move what when, and may cause one or more formations to skip a turn, which can matter much for an attacker who needs to take an objective within the game's turn limit. Formations, when activated by their chit being pulled, can fire, move, overrun, or close assault. After they complete an action, they are marked as Ops Complete. Meanwhile, enemy units can opportunity fire against an activated unit moving.

Rick and I have learned through the game that infantry, especially panzergrenadiers, armored infantry, and paratroopers, are tough. Somewhat easily killed in the open but formidable in close combat against tanks, infantry is best when holding woods or built-up areas against attacking armored forces.

The system uses hit dice and saving rolls, which is novel in a board game. The system is reminiscent of Flames of War in some ways, but more sophisticated. It would make a good translation to miniatures. (Note to self: translate to miniatures.) All you would need to do is make up charts indicating the combat values for the units in a formation and convert the hex distances to inches. There may be some other tweaking desired; for example, it may be a good idea to make standard range bands that apply to all units. You would also need to work out combat, armor, and movement values for vehicles not yet covered in the system.

I like WSR so much that I've ordered some of the the World at War (WaW) system games from Lock 'n Load. This series predates WSR by a few years and is the genesis for the system, except that WaW depicts hypothetical conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces circa 1985.

WaW should arrive tomorrow via UPS, so I hope to get a game or two in this coming week. I also have the Vassal module for it, so I can practice online and work out the rules kinks.

I got my long-awaited pre-ordered-back-before-the-earth-cooled copy of Columbia's Shiloh: April 1862 just before Christmas. I've played one partial game with Rick, just enough to get a feel for it. Its rating on BoardGameGeek is a wopping 8.17 out of 10, so it's been well received in its first month.

As is inevitable in playing a new game, we fumbled through the turns we played. I was Grant, Rick was Johnston/Beauregard. He came on pretty strong in the first turns, but I got lucky on a counterattack and set him back a bit. It bears replaying to see whether or not I was truly lucky or if we got something wrong.

I've only been able to get one miniatures game in. This was a Kampfgruppe Commander game run bu Mark Serafin. The scenario was set Russia 1941 with a pretty poor Soviet force defending a bridge and ford on a river line against a pretty good German force. Pz 38(t)s went up against T-28s, T-26s, and early model T-34s. Unfortunately, all the Soviet tanks were, well, crap. Poor training, low morale, and feeble response ratings pretty much made them fodder for the panzertruppen. Of course, my singular excellence in rolling 10s (the worst result) for my defensive rolls helped considerably.

The game played well, even if a German win was almost inevitable. It provided a good example of the early Barbarossa actions: good German armored forces concentrated against unready infantry forces supported only by a few tanks here and there. Alas, I didn't get photos.

Other stuff
Don't be shocked, but I managed to some painting done as well. I have a box of 15mm buildings cleaned and primed for painting that have sat unmolested in my garage for a few years now. I finally got to a couple. When painted one by one, they go pretty quickly. They're all western European types. Because my WW2 figures are exclusively Russian and German, they'll be good for scenarios where the Russians are running roughshod over the Reich in '45.

I got to some of my half-finished WW2 vehicles, too. Closer to be done are some Russian T-28s, T-70s, and T-34/85s. I also got well along with some StuG IIIs and a Hornisse.

I've also pulled out some 28mm Copplestone Castings Future Wars figures that I've had sitting about for some time. I have long had a desire to use them for playing Stargrunt II. I have enough for a single side with a small section of power-armored troops. (I've been a fan of power armor since I read Heinlein's Starship Troopers.) The Stargrunt II rules are a solid system, but seem a bit cumbersome for larger games. However, if I keep the scale small—just infantry and support weapons—it should make for some nice games.

Monday is DANG. We're playing Lepanto, so I hope to get some photos and do a write-up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I am a Vassal

I've been aware of the Vassal online game engine for some years, but my initial foray into its use didn't impress me. It seemed flaky on the Mac, which was the only computer I had back then, and I was somewhat confused by it all. I immediately gave up. However, I gave it another try today using my PC and I've been having quite a time downloading modules and playing a few solo games—even though Vassal is ideal for playing a board game with an online opponent.

The engine supports modules that someone has designed and uploaded to the Vassal web site. Creating these modules no doubt requires developer/coding skills I lack, but I am curious. Many thanks to the guys who create these modules for no remuneration. They are heroes in the hobby—although I suspect that if I had skills, I would create modules a) for bragging rights and b) so I could play my favorite board game on Vassal.

The number of modules available is pretty impressive. The quality varies and several modules have multiple versions that are either incremental improvements or creations by different designers.

The first module I downloaded was, of course, PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader. I'm pretty impressed at how well this module works. The graphics are great and all the charts and situation cards are available.

Initial Russian attack: Lots of wrecks.
I played a solo game using the Vassal engine, Situation 6.

Russians get past the hill defense and prepare to push onto board 3
The Germans squeaked out a tactical victory, but it was close. The challenge for the Russians is to get from Board 1 to Board 3 by way of Board 2, which is lousy with Germans. It was a nice solo game. I avoid solo board games at Chez Dave because les chats vilains tend to fiddle with the pieces even when I'm right there; to leave the game unguarded is inviting disaster. But with Vassal, the cats are reduced to merely walking back and forth in front of the computer, or sitting on the laptop.

Save your sorry panzer division or feed me. Choose wisely.
Vassal also has a module for The Arab-Israeli Wars, so you get the Avalon Hill trifecta. I hope someone does the Panzer Leader 1940 variant...

Another online game is the fairly recent Nations at War: White Star Rising, which is my new favorite board game. The graphics quality for this module is excellent:

S.Pz.Abt. 501 heading into disaster.
I fiddled around with this solo as well, although I didn't play a full scenario game. My friend Rick and I played WSR scenario 1 yesterday and we debated and alternate approach for the Germans. I tried that approach using even better units that were in the scenario and I think that my avoidance tactics of yesterday was the better course. In the few turns I played, the Tiger were burning, the other panzers were burning, and the SS detachment was cowering in the woods and town to avoid getting shot to bits.

Vassal has modules for several GMT games, such as Men of Iron and Nothing Gained but Glory. There are modules for the World at War series from Lock N Load Publishing (an earlier released system similar to WSR for hypothetical tactical combat circa 1985 in western Europe). I have these games on order, so I look forward to playing them on Vassal.

The Vassal module provides all the graphical elements you need (map, counters, etc.) and provides the dice-rolling mechanisms. It does not provide the rules of play or, in most cases, the game scenarios. You need to buy the games to get those. In some cases, however, you can download game rules for very old games. I downloaded the 1965 and 1975 versions of the Avalon Hill Blitzkrieg game.

I'm not sure how much I'll play with online opponents. For a while, I'll just fiddle with the engine doing solo games and getting to know the ropes. The Vassal modules have no controls that limit your actions. They play just like a board game except that the board, pieces, and die roll results are online. I fear that I'll screw up so badly when playing a live opponent that they'll interpret my stupidty as deviousness.

One sad note about Vassal is that there is a very small number of copyright owners who won't allow Vassal modules for their games. One of these is SPI. That's a shame. I don't know who actually owns the SPI copyrights. Most of these games are 30-40+ years old. I see no intellectual property that they are protecting. None of the old SPI games are available for sale—nor have been for many, many years. Maybe I should start a campaign to get the SI copyright owners to unclench and let those of us who own decaying copies of their board games to play them online. Heck, I'd even pay to get a Vassal module of games like Armageddon or Musket & Pike.

The mystery of SPI's exclusion from Vassal is solved. Decision Games, who holds the copyright on SPI, has it's own online server called HexWar. SPI games will only be available there. HexWar is subscription based and currently offers only 41 games—none of which are the ones I want to play. However, HexWar, unlike Vassal, provides rules and has the game constraints built into the engine. Users don't need to have the game to play it online because everything is provided.

After fiddling with the PanzerBlitz/Panzer Leader module, I've discovered that the module designer included a large number of counters for variants. Even though the Panzer Leader 1940 scenarios aren't included as preset games, you can easily play them using the scenarios from the variant that appeared in The General. You can also create new situations for either game using counters that extend PanzerBlitz back to 1941 with Panzer IIs, Panzer IIIs, Russian KVs, T-26s, T-28s, T-35s, etc. I'm very impressed with that module.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen

I just finished re-reading my beat-up copy of H. Beam Piper's wonderful sci-fi novel Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen. I think we all have a few books in our lives that we read again and again for the sheer pleasure of having a familiar tale unfold for us. And even though we know it all so well, each re-reading is like the first reading all over again. Kalvan is one of those books for me. I've probably read it 20 times since I bought my first copy and it never gets old.

It was Piper's last book. For reasons still unclear, he committed suicide in November 1964, just before Lord Kalvan was published. Speculation is that Piper assumed that his career was heading downhill and that he would never lift himself out of his financial problems. Ironically, Lord Kalvan was his biggest, albeit posthumous, success. He died without knowing the extent of his influence on the genre.

Lord Kalvan's story falls within a familiar theme where a seeming everyman becomes unstuck from his old life by events outside his control and finds a destiny he never imagined possible. Lord Kalvan is the last of the paratime series that started with the short story "He walked around the horses," which appeared in the Magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1948. Piper had a fascination with the idea of parallel worlds where alternate probabilities worked themselves out. It was a theme he used in several short stories and novels. Most of Piper's work is available online as free e-books.

The story's protagonist, Calvin Morrison, is a Pennsylvania State Trooper who gets accidentally sucked into a paratemporal conveyor while he is apprehending a holed-up prison escapee. After a shoot-out with the conveyor operator, he's ejected to what appears to be the same spot he was before but different. Where there was only scrub, there is now primeval forrest, but other landmarks are correct. He stumbles on a farmstead whose humble inhabitants are clearly not from any part of Pennsylvania's history. He eventually convinces himself that he has been transported to a far-distant future where mankind has bootsrapped itself back up to roughly 16th century technology after being blasted back to the stone age in a nuclear holocaust. However, he is really on a alternate probability timeline (Fourth-Level: Aryan-Transpacific) where the Aryan migrations that went south and west to populate Europe and India before the Bronze Age instead turned east, sailed across the Bering Strait, and populated the Americas.

Morrison has wound up in a princedom called Hostigos, whose capital Tarr-Hostigos occupies what is Bellefonte, PA on Morrison's own timeline. He finds himself in the middle of an enemy raid that reaches his hosts' farmstead. He springs to action and, with his state-issue .38 special, helps to repel the attack and begins a counterattack. However, in the confusion of the fight, he is accidentally shot by Princess Rylla, the daughter of Hostigos' ruling Prince Ptosphes, but saved from death by his badge, which blunts the bullet's effect. This detail is an interesting story glitch because the Pennsylvania State Police do not and never have worn badges. I guess the alternate would be the old Bible in the breast pocket trick, but Calvin Morrison is described as an agnostic.

Badly wounded, Morrison is taken to the castle and nursed back to health by Princess Rylla and the priests of the god Dralm, a sort of kinder, gentler Zeus. Rylla teaches him the local language and Morrison, obviously a fish out of water, is able to explain himself as someone sent there by sorcery. Xentos, the high priest Dralm, declares that he was sent by the gods to help Hostigos. Morrison soon learns that Hostigos is beset by its neighbors at the direction of an evil theocracy called Styphon's House.

In the meantime, the Paratime Police, whose job is to protect the secret of paratemporal travel, track Morrison down to kill him if he's deemed to be a threat to the secret. Verkan Vall, the special assistant to the Paratime Police Chief, takes on the job himself. Coming into Hostigos as a free trader from outside the kingdom, he determines that Morrison's misunderstanding of what happened to him and his cover story in Hostigos pose no problem. Vall befriends Morrison, who has now been raised to the peerage as Lord Kalvan by Prince Ptosphes and betrothed to Princess Rylla. Vall admires Kalvan's character and helps him in his fight.

Kalvan is able to greatly improve Hostigos' military situation, but he remains initially unaware of its real problem: it hasn't enough gunpowder to defend itself when its enemies attack. He soon learns that Styphon's House is the sole maker and provider of gunpowder—called fireseed—in all the kingdoms. Only Styphon's highest priests know the secret and Hostigos is under the ban. It's then that Kalvan drops a bomb and reveals that he can make fireseed and proceeds to do so, making a better product than Styphon's.

Kalvan starts major gunpowder production in Hostigos, but also works to let the secret of gunpowder out of the bag so that anyone can make it, thus weakening the control Styphon's House has over the kingdoms. Kalvan sees Styphon's House as the real enemy and vows to destroy it. Styphon's House reacts by stepping up the pressure on Hostigos and urging its minions, the neighboring princedoms of Nostor and Sask, to attack sooner than they planned.

The war that follows is fought on two fronts. Kalvan smashes a two-pronged attack by Nostor and then prepares for a second war against Sask. The decisive battle against Sask is based on the Battle of Barnet in 1471, where Yorkist and Lancastrians fought a confused battle in the fog unaware that each had outflanked the other.

When the wars conclude, Kalvan is raised up as a Great King ruling the princes of Hostigos, Nostor, Sask, and a few minor states—and of course, he marries the princess Rylla, too. The book ends with the knowledge that the wars against Nostor and Sask are only the beginning of a longer fight to overthrow Styphon's House.

I became aware of Lord Kalvan back in the late 70s when I was all into Pike & Shot wargaming. I bought a set of miniatures rules called Down Styphon! that were written by Mike Gilbert and published by Fantasy Games Unlimited. These are still available (or, rather, again available) for just $4.00 directly from FGU. The rules referred to the novel and included an advert for purchasing the book from Ace Books for $1.50 plus 35¢ shipping. I thought I had been cured of responding to adverts after enough misadventures in my younger days with the schlock products that were the staple of the end sheets of every comic book (sea monkeys, X-ray glasses, etc.). But sending away for the book was the best hunch I ever took, especially since I had never been a sci-fi fan before, or really much since.

A few years ago, I acquired a copy of Roland Green and John F. Carr's 1985 novel Great Kings' War, which extends the story to the next phase of Kalvan's war against Styphon's House. Green and Carr have since written another two novels in the series, Siege of Tarr-Hostigos and Kalvan Kingmaker. I haven't read either. Great King's War was a good read, but it hasn't held me like Lord Kalvan. I've re-read it maybe once before, but now I've pitched into it again.

I've always wanted to game the world of Lord Kalvan. There are enough suitable Pike & Shot rules around, including Down Styphon! However, the descriptions of the troops in Lord Kalvan make getting their exact look very hard to do with the available figures. The men are described as looking part medieval and part 16th–17th century with chain mail, plate mail, high-combed morions, and a kind of unvisored sallet.

The Hostigos troops have a lot of crossbows and what firearms they have are a kind of flintlock with an action that works in reverse. I've always thought that a reverse flintlock was an odd thing for Piper to create in his story. I own a flintlock musket, so I'm familiar with how they throw a spark beyond the frizzen. If the action is reversed, the spark from the flint striking the frizzen goes into the shooter's eye. Piper was a gun nut; he ought to have known that.

The Down Styphon! rules announced a figure line to be created especially for Lord Kalvan's world based on specifications provided by Mike Gilbert. They don't seem to have ever been produced. The rules themselves are fairly straightforward and use mechanics that were standard for the 70s, and very typical of FGU games in particular. I am toying with these rules as yet another project. I have some 30 Years' War figures, but perhaps an intervention is needed instead...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lars Porsenna's boys: A review of Gorgon Studios 28mm Etruscan line

I discovered Gorgon Studios back in July this year. The figures I'm painting for my De Bellis Velitum project are all Foundry Greeks, which were sculpted by Steve Saleh. I was browsing the web to see if there was any current range of figures being sculpted by Steve Saleh and sure enough, Gorgon Studios came up on Bing! Not only was I happy to see that Steve was sculpting more figures, but equally happy that the new figures were Early Etruscans, ca. 6th - 5th century BC.

The pre-Roman period of Italy has gotten short shrift so far from most figure manufacturers and I have been hoping for someone to attend to it. Aventine Miniatures does a beautiful range that includes Late Etruscans, which are suitable for use as Italian allied legions in the Republican Roman army, but until Gorgon's line, no one that I know of has done the earlier army that was Rome's first great enemy after they ejected king Tarquinius Superbus and became an republic.

I ordered online on a Tuesday evening and my figures arrived on Saturday from Peoria, IL, where Gorgon Studios is located. That's good turnaround. The cost of the figures is in line with other premium figure ranges: $8.00 per pack of four foot figures,  $14.00 per pack of three mounted figures.

The Etruscan range so far consists of some first class hoplites, second class spearmen, cavalry, and command sets for each. Hank Edley, listed on the Gorgon staff page as taskmaster of Gorgon Studios, says that the Etruscan line will expand. I presume that means that they will create figures for the remaining three classes of the Etruscan army: class 3 (spearmen), class 4 (light spearmen/javelinmen?), and class 5 (slingers).

The figures are sold in packs of four foot and three horse. There are three packs for each, one of which is the command pack.

1st class hoplites, more pictures from the 
The casting is very clean with minimal mold lines and no flash. Also minimal are any of the spikey bits that come from the air-holes used in the casting process. Cleaning the figures has been very quick. The metal has a high tin content and is very rigid, which might make cleaning up some areas more difficult, but since there is little cleanup required, I had no problem working with the figures.

Each figure in a pack is unique. The poses for hoplites and spearmen vary between attacking with spear overarm, thrusting spear underarm, advancing with spear upright and standing/defending with spear upright. The command packs include two leader figures and two musicians.

The poses for the cavalry are various positions of horsemen with spears: overarm, thrusting, and underarm.

All of the figure poses are lively. For my use, skirmish gaming, the variety is perfect. However, I suspect that someone wanting to build larger wargame units for WAB or FoG will want figures that are doing something similar, such as all overarm, all advancing, etc. Gorgon sells their excellent Spartan range packs with figures doing the same thing, so I'm not sure why the Etruscan range should be different.

Detail and accuracy
I'm no estruscologist, so my observations are based on what I've read in secondary sources. The hoplites' helmets and armor look correct and are beautifully executed on the figures. The hoplites wear muscled cuirasses except for two who wear a kind of linothorax-style, where the body is scale and, presumably, the pteruges and shoulders are linen (or maybe leather). The helmets are typically Greek in style.

The tunics are just about knee length, which seems a bit long based on frescoes and statues that show a very short tunic, so short in fact that in some of the sources, the warriors goolies or their rear end hangs out—obviously a premodest society.

Shield forward, spear up, tackle out!

"The uniform 'e wore
Was nothin' much before,
An' rather less than 'arf o' that be'ind"

I'm not complaining about the lack of full-frontal (or full-backal) male nudity in the figures, but I always thought that the short, short tunic was a distinctive look for Italian hoplites and I miss it in the figures.

The figures measure 28M on the Barrett scale and are completely compatible with Foundry's World of the Greeks range (no surprise given that the sculptor is the same for both). The bases aren't thick enough to skew the size of the figures compared to others and the overall height, including helmet crests is about 35mm.

I'm painting several of the figures right now: six mounted and 16 foot. I use the excellent North Star wire spears for arming my boys, cut down to about 40mm in length, which, I think, approximates about 8' length in scale.

I'm using a lot of "pretty" colors for tunics for the hoplites. The 2nd class spearmen will be less flashy. The critical issue is painting the shields, which I've decided to hand-paint rather than use decals. I'm going on the theory that hoplite's shield designs were certainly naive in execution, which happily is much like my painting.

So far, the Etruscan cavalry released in July, 2010 are the last figures produced for this range. I hope to see some light troops soon so I can get some serious skirmish forces painted. I'm also crossing my fingers for early Romans (who may, after all, be the same as Etruscans for this era—so, maybe not).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Milgamex' Ancient Warfare: The Search for the Grail

Well, it may not be as dramatic as all that, but I'm happy to say that I finally acquired a copy of a hard-to-find set of golden oldie wargames rules. I bought them through Noble Knight games, which can be a great source for out-of-print games and rules.

Ancient Warfare came out in 1975 at a time when WRG was releasing it's 5th edition Ancients rules. At the time, many people considered it to be the Betamax to WRG's VHS. Ancient Warfare had some novel mechanics for the time, such as variable movement rates, two movement phases in a turn, a separate Impact phase before a Melee phase (much like Field of Glory uses currently), and combat resolution that didn't tick away at the number of "real" men per figure. However, WRG had established itself internationally as the rules for Ancients competitions and Ancient Warfare never caught on with enough players to establish itself. There were two printings of the rules and by 1980, they were almost impossible to find. They remain rare enough that no one has submitted them to Board Game Geek (well, not until I just did).

The copy I found is a bit knackered, to say the least. It has the feel of an ancient document that may crumble in my hands. The Quick Reference Sheet is very battered and held together by tape. The QRS has a lot of charts that are not included in the text of the rules, so reproducing these is a top priority. It looks like another project for Adobe InDesign.

I don't know what I'll actually do with them. I have a 28mm 3rd c. Roman army for WRG and am working on a Sassanid army for WRG as well. Ancient Warfare used the same base sizes as WRG, which was common for almost every ancients rules set that came out in the 70s due to WRG's dominance of the genre. So, I could alternately play WRG and Milagmex.

But of course, I would need to complete my Sassanid army and I am nothing if not indolent when it comes to painting these days.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Fizzle of '42: The Solomons Campaign part deux

We completed our second turn of the Solomons campaign and it turned out to be a bit disappointing. I got an extra command decision for the turn, so I had five things I could do: a carrier sortie, two reinforcements, a supply mission, and a bombardment mission.

As feared, the carrier sortie couldn't find its own butt using both hands and a mirror. That's probably a good thing because if I could find him, he would find me and the results might be quite uneven.

The supply mission succeeded, but got attacked by the Cactus Air Force on its way back up The Slot towards Rabaul and one light cruiser was sunk.

The bombardment mission failed because Mark sent out two carrier sorties. His first missed my carriers, but his second found my bombardment group moving down from Truk. The result was one battleship sunk and another so badly damaged as to be in dry dock until 1947 or so—just in time for the Americans to tow it to Bikini and blow it up.

The bombardment fiasco wasn't fun. As I mentioned before, Japanese AA fire is about as effective at shooting down attacking planes as blowing kisses at them would be. The game charts for planes attacking ships are quite bloody—if the attacking planes are American. Mark got five hits on one battleship and three hits on the other. Each hit does a world of damage, so Oppenheimer should thank his lucky stars that he'll have Kongo to nuke after the war.

Three ships lost and nothing gained for the turn. I had intended to go to Tacoma on Saturday and play Field of Glory: Renaissance, but I got drawn out to the Panzer Depot instead because I was expecting a surface action with either my supply mission or the bombardment group—generating surface actions being the whole point of running the campaign. Admiral Ghormley, however, has turned Fabius Maximus on me and is now avoiding surface actions. The only thing to do when I got there was to roll to see how badly my ships got sunk by his planes. Haruna was sunk so badly that the next ship named Haruna will automatically sink as soon as it's launched just to cover the excess damage done to Haruna I.

I am a bit less enthusiastic about the campaign now because it's a bit more carrier focused than I care for. We use the GQ3 campaign rules for air-to-surface actions, which can be done quickly with paper, pencil, and few dice. The campaign allows for up to two carrier missions per turn and woe betide you—as I just learned—if you don't run two missions. The loss of two battleships occurred because Mark's spare carrier mission had nothing else to do but go looking for anything else floating.  You get only four missions per turn (typically), but you have to run half of them as carrier missions just to keep your other missions from getting jumped by enemy carrier-based aircraft against which they have no chance of success ("success" here being defined as mere survival). That means that the main part of the campaign, surface actions, gets short shrift.

Remains of the day

Too late to make it down to Tacoma for piking and shotting, I went into Seattle to run some long-delayed errands. First stop was Tacoma Book Center and Sea Ocean Book Berth in Fremont. I was hoping to snag a copy of John Bulkeley's At Close Quarters, the official US Navy account of PT Boats in WW2. I knew that one of the shops had a copy the last time I was there. However, I discovered they sold it just days before.

After browsing a while, I went for lunch at Pacific Inn just across the street. They have Seattle's best fish & chips. I used to work in the neighborhood and I've devoured many a greasy pile of halibut and french fries at PI, washed down with a pint or two of Manny's. It was was a treat to devour more after too long a hiatus.

Next stop was the University Bookstore to get some nice, fat 1.4mm leads for my Faber Castell mechanical pencil. These are hard to find in shops because it's pretty rare to find anyone who carries Faber Castell pens/pencils except some art supply stores. I got their last two refill thingummies, which I hope will last me for a while. I use the mechanical pencil for note-taking, jotting, scribbling, etc. at work. I ran out of my last lead a few weeks back and had been meaning to run to the U to get more, but I always had something else going on.

Final trip of the day was down to Auburn, WA to visit Comstock's Books. I used to get down there much more often. I haven't been in years, which is partly a testimony to the value of online books stores like Abe Books where I can search for and order a lot of long out-of-print books from the comfort of my den. It's also a testimony to my declining tendency to wander far on a weekend. (Am I such a homebody now?)

It had been so long since I was at Comstock's that I feared they might not be there any more. It was a nice surprise to turn the corner onto Main St. and see them still there, still open for the day, and with parking space right in front. They also had a new batch of store cats since I was last there: twin torties and a big white cat, who was lounging in the sun by the main window.

Comstock's has a great section, really several sections, on military history. I browsed their nautical section, still hoping to find At Close Quarters. No luck, but I did find a more recent paperback on PT Boats in the Pacific that had a forward by Bulkeley. (Bulkeley, by the way, was the commander of the PT squadron that took MacArthur away from Corregidor. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for other actions in the Philippines from Dec, 1941 to Feb, 1942 when the few boats he commanded were about the only US Navy in the area.) I also picked up Richard Frank's massive tome on Guadalcanal and, a lucky find, the elusive, out-of-print Osprey book Roman Military Clothing: 100 BC to 200 AD. I'd seen it online before for some absurd price, which I wasn't going to pay. Comstock's had it for the same price as any of the other Osprey titles in stock.

After Comstock's, it was home again, home again, jiggity-jig. I had stopped home earlier after The Panzer Depot  in order to drop off all the stuff I schlepped there expecting a game. I just unloaded it into my garage while Grendel mewled pathetically through the door at me, after which I drove off, much to his chubbiness' chagrin. Now home again, my fat little man was happy to know he, and his harem, would be getting fed.


Later on Saturday, I went to to search for At Close Quarters and discovered several copies available from Amazon affiliated sellers. I ordered a copy from Barbarossa Books, which is just across the sound on Bainbridge Island, and it arrived today. My interest, apart from a good read, is to work out some scenarios for 1:1250th coastal gaming. Hallmark/Figurehead have a nice range of American and Japanese coastal craft, which I'll order as soon as I figure out what I want.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Too many irons in the fire

The sluggard's craving will be the death of him,
because his hands refuse to work.
Proverbs 21:25

Wargamers are like kids in a candy shop—at least most of the gamers I know are. Everything looks good and we want it all. Now. In massive quantities. Thank you.

If you're a well-disciplined and focused painter—like Bill Stewart or Kevin Smyth—your throughput can inspire awe. If you're not well-disciplined and focused—like, er, me—things tend to pile up.

I'm looking around at all the projects I have in progress and I'm a bit dismayed by it all. No sooner do I get well underway with a new project than a newer new project tempts me away (Ooh, look, a shiny thing!). The result is a daunting number of projects that sit round partially painted. Currently on the painting table (in no particular order of priority):

  • 28mm Sassanid Persians - I have several A and A Miniatures figures that I bought years ago to go along with my A and A 3rd Century Romans. My approach to these figures is that no two will be alike. That means that assembly-line painting techniques just won't work. Each horse and rider is done separately. I can do some things in batches, such as paint all the brown horses at once, but past that, the horse furniture and caparisons/barding is all separate. I tackle this project in fits and starts, but it's been stalled for much longer than it's been active.
  • 28mm Ancients skirmish - I posted a while ago about my playing the never-published De Bellis Velitus (DBV) ancient skirmish rules that Phil Barker drafted about 20 years ago as a companion to his De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA) rules. After that playtest, I got busy mounting a number of 28mm Foundry Greeks on the 30mm x 40mm bases I've adopted for DBV. The Greeks were originally intended for use with a home-grown set of rules by Bryan Booker called Warriors of Antiquity, but I've lost my copy, the rules are no longer available, and Bryan Booker has fallen off the face of the earth, alas. I then thought about using them for a grid-based game that was a revival of a set of rules I played in the 70s, but I figured I may never attract other players to it. So DBV it is. I'm just a bit stymied on the momentous question of painting the hoplite shields using simple designs and solid colors or to "cheat" and use Little Big Men shield transfers.
  • 28mm late 17th century - Back in the early 80s, my gaming friends in San Jose and I got together on gaming the late 17th century using the Gush Renaissance rules and using the new Dixon League of Augsburg figures sculpted by Mark Copplestone. With the release last year of a new late 17th c. range, Glory of the Sun, covering the era of 1660 – 1675, Bill Stewart, Doug Hamm, Rich Knapton, and I got excited enough to start a new project using the Beneath the Lily Banners rules. However, Copplestone stalled after his first release of the range. Figures for guns and horse were to be forthcoming, but after a long delay the rumor was that Copplestone had found a "real job" and wouldn't be completing the range. The new rumor is that the old rumor is false, but no new figures seem to be forthcoming. As it is, I'm partly through two infantry regiments, but out of steam because I'm not sure if there's any point...
  • 15mm WW2 Germans - This is only partially a stalled project because I've been painting WW2 figures on and off for 15 years and I have a large collection of painted Germans and Russians for use with the Kampfgruppe Commander rules that we play. However, the only German infantry I have painted are a couple battalions of late-war SS in camouflage. I bought a large number of Peter Pig late war German infantry to be painted as Wehrmacht infantry ca. 1943-45. The total figures will provide about four infantry battalions, several 75mm PAK 40 guns, 81mm and 120mm mortars, and several tripod-mounted MG42s.
  • 1:600th scale ironclads - Kevin Smyth and I got hyped up on naval wargaming for the ironclad era a long, long time ago. We started with 1:1200th Lyzard's Grin figures, but soon switched to the exquisite range of Thoroughbred 1:600 models. I have dozens completed, but there's always more to do. For the longest time I pined away for Toby Barret (Mr. Thoroughbred) to do a model of the USS Choctaw. Now that he's released it, and that I have the model in hand, it's just sat there waiting for me to do something with it. I also have several of Toby's later models that include other ships I've wanted for a long time.
  • 28mm Punic War - I posted a long while ago about starting my 28mm Carthaginian army for Field of Glory. I have a lot of prep work done—about 100 figures cleaned and primed, with may partially painted. Like the Sassanid Persian project, I want each warband type figure and Lybian hoplite to be unique. So, there's a lot of work painting figures one at a time. It's gone on so long, that I'm not even sure I still want to use them for FoG. (I have been thinking recently of scaling the project down and use the circa-1976 Legion rules by Al Margolis.)
  • 15mm Parthians - I started this project using Peter Pig's range of Parthians as a new 15mm Field of Glory army. As with other armies of barbarians, I want each figure to be unique. It's slow going. I haven't played FoG for a while now, so the impetus to get back to painting a new army isn't too strong right now.
  • 1:1250 scale coastal ships - As I posted recently, I've been working on this project for a while and have enough models painted to run several different types of scenarios. However, I also have a number of unpainted or half-painted models that I need to get to. I'm also eyeing the Japanese and American ships available for the Figurehead 1:1250 range, which could just mean more pile-up.
  • 1:2400th WW2 naval - The Solomons campaign that we're started underscores a need for more ships apart from the many that I've already painted.
  • 15mm Renaissance - About five years ago, I bought two armies of Minifigs 15mm Renaissance figures. That was a saga in itself and I wound up with two of each army. The armies are Tudor English and Spanish Imperial. My intent was to build the armies for De Bellis Renationis (DBR), but with the recent release of Field of Glory Renaissance (FoGR), I'm now looking at building the armies for these rules.
  • 28mm Napoleonics - Let this one sink in a minute. Yes, I have Napoleonic figures that are actually in progress of being painted. The Black Powder rules sucked me in. I traded to get some unpainted figures from Bob Mackler, bought some more from Old Glory, and tore apart my garage looking for the Foundry French cuirassiers I bought so long ago, they came four to a pack. This genre IS the black hole of wargaming, so it could easily eclipse all else.
  • 28mm WW1 - This is another offshoot of Black Powder about which I will post more later I've had the figures for some time and recently painted a company. I have another company, a couple machine guns, and some skirmishers to complete.
  • &c. - The above, daunting as it is, is just a précis of the unpainted lead that has piled up over 20 years of sluggardy. I have a 28mm Dark Ages Britain project that I started a long time ago. I played Pig Wars with the figures I had painted (Picts and Irish), but I have a lot of Saxons and some Britons started—and more still in the bags. I have Medieval French in 28mm that I started for the Pig Wars Late Medieval Variant rules that I wrote several years ago. I have 15mm WW2 Polish and Dutch. I have a lot more 15mm WW2 besides. I've got a box full of 1:300 scale WW2 aircraft that I will probably never get back to, having already sold all the painted planes I had. I've got another box of 15mm DBA armies, which I will also probably never paint because I sold all my painted DBA armies a few years back.
So, my work is cut out for me just to make the lead pile go down a bit. However, I'm always buying more, so bet on the pile going up. The only thing buoying my spirit is the age-old belief that a wargamer can never die as long as he has unpainted lead. At this rate, I will give Methuselah a run for his money.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Return to Ironbottom Sound:
    The Solomons Campaign Turn 1

    Ken Kissling got us started on the idea of playing the Solomons naval campaign using Nathan Forney's campaign rules from Old Dominion Game Works (ODGW) and we played out the first campaign turn over the last two weekends. The system is well laid out and I played a  similar campaign in one D.A.N.G. day using an earlier version of the campaign rules, Guadalcanal Nights, by the same author.

    For the campaign, Mark Serafin is Ghormley/Halsey and I am Yamamoto. Other players take command of part of the forces of one side or the other when surface actions are played out. So far, other players have been Steve Puffenberger (IJN), Chris Craft (USN), Marky Ernhardt (USN), and John Kennedy (USN). Ken is running the campaign.

    The campaign is divided into six monthly turns that run from August, 1942 to January 1943. In every campaign turn, the Japanese and American commanders make four command decisions, which could be modified up or down based on chance. The specific options vary each turn, but generally fall into the following:
    • Send out a carrier group
    • Send a bombardment force
    • Send a patrol force
    • Send an escorted or unescorted supply mission
    • Reinforce
    • Transfer (Japanese only, transferring ships from Truk to Rabaul)
    Other options could be an assault on Henderson Field (now Honiara International Airport) by whichever side doesn't control it at the start of the campaign turn. A strategic index keeps track of the ups and downs of the campaign. Whoever holds Henderson by the end of the January '43 turn wins and an estimate of their naval losses determines the scope of the victory.

    The campaign has tables where the command decisions are compared and any actions are determined. In some cases, and action may proceed without interruption. Otherwise, a naval action is played out using the General Quarters 3 (GQ3) rules (also from ODGW).

    The first turn, August '42, resulted in three actions.

    Action 1: Attack! - Repeat - (nevermind)
    The first battle we played out for the campaign was the clash of carriers. Mark sent out a force based on the carriers Enterprise and Saratoga, while I sent out a force based on Shokoaku and Zuikaku. The action was fierce and in the first strike, I inflicted grievous damage to both his carriers, effectively putting them out of the campaign. In return, Mark's SBDs and TBFs sank Shokaku, lightly damaged Zuikaku, and disabled the battleship Kongo.

    Then Ken determined that we had misplayed Mark's CAP defense (i.e., Mark didn't shoot down enough incoming Japanese), so we had to redo the Japanese attack. Then, having done that, he determined that we misplayed the whole carrier action. As it turned out, the Japanese had the strike advantage in the first of three rounds, meaning that my strike went in before Mark could get a strike off—but I failed to actually find Mark's ships with the strike. The next round resulted in no one finding the other and the action ended.

    We went from complete carnage inflicted on both carrier forces to a quiet holiday at sea with nary a shot fired in anger. It was an eye-opener, however, because a lot of the campaign is weighted against the Nihon Kaigun and as we understand better how the rules work, I fear the Japanese will be hard-pressed to make a strike work. The USN has better ships, more effective fighters (i.e., they DOUBLE their effective numbers in air-to-air combat because the Americans used the finger four formation, which the rules consider to be vastly superior to the Japanese three-plane "vic" formation), heavier bomb loads, and score better with women. I also learned that American AA fire is very heavy and that Japanese AA is anemic.

    Still, the chance that a large strike will be entirely wiped out, is remote. At least a few flights will get through and have some chance of making an attack.

    Action 2: Smoke on the Water
    The second action we played was a surface fight at night. My bombardment force from Truk ran into Mark's supply mission. Both sides were equal. I had three heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and two squadrons of destroyers. Mark had three heavy cruisers and a force of destroyers equal in number to my own.

    I did have one of my battle divisions, consisting of two Kongo-class battleships, but it was pointed out that I exceeded the five-sortie limit for my battleships/carriers, since I already had two CVs and two BBs in my carrier group and I had to withdraw them from my OOB.

    The two forces were on set courses until contact was made. For the Americans, contact could be radar detection; for the Japanese, who didn't have such technological wonders, it was visual sighting, which is also the point where target acquisition occurs.

    On detecting us by radar, The American force started bugging out with its transports, which were not at anchor and could therefore flee the scene without having to wait. We made visual contact and acquisition just after that. I got one shot off against Mark's cruisers, resulting in a single hit. Thereafter, the Americans made smoke and kept the screen going all game. The only valid targets were the lead ship making smoke; everything else was screened or obscured within the smoke cloud.

    I did manage to get one hit against a DD, the USS Wilson, when it was the only viable target. I pasted it with 8" shells from the cruisers while Steve hit it with 5" shells from his DD squadron. The ship survived 18 hits and kept on going. It took more damage later on, but never went under during the game. It's one of those anomalies about naval rules where you roll to determine where a shot struck. It's possible to keep getting hit in the same innocuous location; for example, you could take five hits on your depth charges, which does nothing at all to diminish your fighting ability for a surface action. It doesn't even start a fire.

    The Japanese pressed in taking the most of every opportunity to get a hit, but we couldn't hit anything that was screened by smoke or target it with torpedoes. Mark was showing a pronounced reverence for the Type 93 Long Lance. The best success in the game—for both sides—came from the Long Lance. Steve managed to get a chance with several torpedoes resulting in, I think, three American ships sunk. Steve also managed to steam his light cruiser straight into one of my torpedo spreads resulting in one fewer IJN light cruiser for Mark to have to worry about. American gunfire sank another two Japanese DDs.

    We failed get a single hit on the American transports before we broke off the action, so the American supply mission was deemed a success. Otherwise, our ship losses were roughly equal. Besides the ships sunk, the Americans had a few more damaged enough to be out for the remainder of the campaign.

    Action 3: Fly, you fools!
    The third action was my supply mission that was intercepted by a HUGE allied force at night. I had a force of two heavy cruisers, one light cruiser, and 10 DDs escorting a supply squadron of four APDs (destroyers in a supply role).

    Opposing me, Mark had a force with one squadron of four American heavy cruisers, one  squadron of an American light cruiser (the USS San Juan, which is festooned with 5" DP guns) and five DDs, one squadron of two RAN heavy cruisers and a light cruiser, and a fourth squadron with four DDs.

    I figured I would be heavily outnumbered, but my supply ships started the game at anchor. Once I made contact, I would have to relay the contact to the supply ships—which takes two turns—and then get underway—which takes another five turns. The challenge was whether I could hold off a much-superior force for seven turns after first contact without losing everything.

    As fate always has it, the Allied force detected us with radar before we even knew we were at sea. That enables them to begin manouvering around into position, while we had to steam ahead at a preplanned course and speed. The rules give Japanese an advantage for making visual acquisition at night, but it didn't benefit me at all during the game. I didn't spot Mark's cruisers and DDs until we were nearly touching, by which time they saw me as well. I also spotted Marky's RAN squadron from further away.

    On contact, I started firing at Marky's ships and also sent off a salvo of torpedoes his way from my DDs, while reserving my cruiser torpedoes for engaging Mark's American heavies. Meanwhile, Steve engaged Marky's squadron and Mark's DDs with his two DD squadrons.

    Japanese gunfire was desultory throughout the game. We used the revised GQ3 rules that take away rapid-firing from all Japanese guns except for specifically-designed AA guns. For the game, we had no batteries that could rapid fire, while the Allied ships all had rapid fire capability for every gun 5" and smaller. That's a daunting thing when facing the USS San Juan and all its 5" batteries. I exchanged shots with HMAS Canberra, but got the worst of it. Marky hit the Aoba several times and I wound up minus one battery and had two fires on board.

    Torpedo fire was just a bit better for the Japanese. Steve managed to hit the HMAS Hobart with three torpedo spreads, resulting in four hits. This was the only catastrophic sinking in the game.

    After first contact, I turned to present my broadsides to Mark's approaching squadrons with the intent that I would fire torpedoes from my heavy cruisers and then make speed away under smoke. The resulting turn of gunfire nearly did in the Aoba. She lost her second TT mount (the loss of the first was the cause of one of the onboard fires). My other heavy cruiser, the Kinugasa, got off a spread as did the light cruiser Jintsu. Jintsu's spread caused one torpedo hit on Mark's rear heavy cruiser, although it apparently didn't do enough damage to cripple her.

    My smoke protected me for a few more turns. Mark had target fixation on the burning Aoba, but most of the remaining damage was caused by the fires that I couldn't extinguish. Soon the Aoba was slowing badly as her fires caused hull losses and I had to turn her out of the battle line and let her sink, while I went on with the remaining ships in my squadron towards the supply ships.

    I also turned away my two DDs to put them in position for a torpedo attack with their remaining four-tube mounts. This made them prime targets and they got badly shot up, but managed to get their fish in the water—to no avail. Mark was adept at combing the wakes, but the two DDs did buy time since Mark had to turn away to comb the wakes and it bought  a turn or two of respite.

    I tried at several times to acquire new targets with Kinugasa, but my die-rolling was pathetic and I couldn't contact. It was a few turns later when I got within 2000 yds of the Canberra with Kinugasa and Jintsu that I peppered her with four hits and took none in return. That was about my only success in the game with gunfire.

    The supply ships finally got under way by turn 12 and, because they were DDs, could accelerate and move at high speed. I got one torpedo shot off with the outboard DD before I turned toward the board egde making smoke. All through the game, the supply ships, three Shiryatsuyu-class DDs, were represented by a hidden counter. It was only just before they got away that Mark made visual contact, but intervening ships prevented him from firing on them. After 16 game turns, we called it off and declared it a successful Japanese supply mission.

    Losses were almost equal. Mark lost the Hobart and two DDs, I lost the Aoba and two DDs. However, one of his heavy cruisers suffered a torpedo hit, which will take it out of the campaign for a while. I also suspect that HMAS Canberra may be out of action for a few campaign turns.

    The game also saw a repeat of Steve getting hit with one of my torpedoes. We also had a couple collisions. One of Mark's DD losses came as a result of colliding with the Canberra and Steve and I had a collision between two of our DDs. Steve's DD in this collision being particularly unlucky since it was the one that ran into my torpedo next turn.

    My bad luck with torpedoes and gunfire was balanced by my luck in managing to hold off a superior force and get my supply DDs away unscathed. The Kinugasa also had a lot of luck in the game. Targeted several times, she was never hit once. Jintsu, took only a couple hits, but was not disabled by the action.

    Further thoughts and whimseys
    So far, I like the campaign and we've already made our command decisions for the September '42 campaign turn. The campaign creates interesting surface actions and situations. It also causes one to use his ships judiciously. Wargamers being as they are, in a one-off game we would play out the action to the last ship. Now we consider the strategic implications of our losses and act accordingly. In all the naval gaming I've done with GQ3, I never seen more smoke employed than in the last two games. Preservation of a force in being is more important that shooting at the other guy.

    The campaign is also causing us to re-read (or read) the rules. After each game, we discover something we've been doing wrong. For example, in the last game we used the "initial salvo" rule that halves the number of dice you throw for the initial salvo on a target. However, the rule only applies to daytime actions, and our games are night actions.

    Among Mark, Ken and me, we have most of the ships we need for the campaign. Nevertheless, the Lynnwood Naval Shipyards are in full swing with all my hitherto unpainted ship models getting assembled and painted. We're still shy a large number of Japanese DDs, but we can always substitute. The Fubuki-, Yugumo-, and Kagero-class DDs were very similar and at 1:2400th scale, the visible difference is hard to spot.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Action on the narrow seas

    We played a Labor Day game at The Panzer Depot on Monday. I rummaged through my storage, dusted off my old 1:1250th scale coastal forces models, re-read my Action Stations rules, fiddled about with InDesign to create the ships charts, etc. and then put on a game.

    The scenario was a German coastal convoy off Norway in 1943 attacked by a mixed force of British gunboats and torpedo boats.

    The Germans had four tramp streamers of roughly 400-ton to 1200-ton size escorted by two VP-boats (vorpostenboot), two KFKs (kriegsfischkutter), and a single MFP (Marine Artillerie-Fährpram).

    Attacking them were three Denny SGBs (steam gunboats), Two Fairmile D MGBs (motor gunboats), and one Fairmile D MTB (motor torpedo boat).

    The Game started with the Germans forces strung out in convoy using markers to keep their identity from the British. The British had the option to enter the board under way or to lie in wait with their motors off and make a crash start when the enemy hove into sight. They opted to try the old ploy of launching a gunboat attack on one side and then launching the torpedo boats a turn or two later after the enemy was focused on the gunboat attack.

    Accordingly, Ken Kissling started things off by crash-starting his pair of Fairmile D MGBs to attack to starboard (that's nautical for "right") of the German convoy. He immediately started mixing it up with Chris Craft's kriegsfischkutter. Chris, as his luck usually has it, rolled two "1s" to get two hits on Ken's leading MGB with his 37mm autocannon. Ken, as his luck had it, got the worst possible damage result. Half his force was now damaged and burning wildly.

    Chris' wee KFK shooting it out with Ken's MGBs (the yellow is illuminated area)

    Meanwhile, Mark X. got his Fairmile D MTB and SGB into action on the rear port side of the convoy. He got results right off against John Kennedy's VP-boat, hitting it with his foreward 2-pdr pom-pom and setting it afire.

    John's VP-boat burns. Soon to be the least of its trouble.

    The hits didn't put it out of the fight and John gave back a few hits on Mark. However, Mark launched two torpedoes from one of his MTBs and one struck John's VP-boat and blew it up. The other torpedo ran on and a few turns later missed my large tramp steamer. (My first lucky break.)

    Steve Puffenberger brought the last british group into action, which was two of the SGBs. He launched a single fish from one towards Mark Serafin's MFP.

    Torpedo headed straight for Mark's MFP

    Having hit nothing with its pair of 88s and 20mm cannon, Mark regretted that his ship would go down without doing anything. However, the fish missed and ran on (fatefully). Mark's MFP had several more turns in which to hit nothing.

    My ships, the tramp steamers with green gun crews, shot only a few times—to no effect—and then went silent. Their size made them impervious to most hits from the small guns carried by the British boats. However, their one weapon mount seemed to be a shot magnet. The first hit every one took, knocked out its gun. From then on, the only rolling I did was to determine hit damage on my ships (which was never much, anyway).

    Ken's floating torch kept at it. The fires were partially put out and then restarted a few times and it was several turns until the fires were out. With minimal floatation left, and running low on working armament, Ken kept at it until his boat went under. He put Chris' KFK's engines out of action, but Chris got them restarted and kept on fighting. However, the maximum speed of the KFK is 6 knots, while, even damaged, Ken's remaining MGB was going much faster.

    Rather than stay and shoot it out with Chris' 37mm autocannon and 20mm flakvierling, Ken started moving towards my two leading steamers. Peppered with 2-pdr pom-pom, HMG, and LMG fire, my first ship shrugged most of it off (except for those weapon hits).

    At close quarters

    However, my lead ship was a smaller class and not so impervious to small-caliber cannon. I started taking hull hits and a couple of machinery hits that stopped me in the water. Steve got into the action as well. Having shot off all his fish, Steve moved in close to my ships to try and hurt them with his surface fire. At one point, lacking anything else, he got close enough for me to get a serious shot with rifles and pistols (possibly even hand grenades). Of course I missed.

    Mark X. still had a MTB with two fish and he manouvered his boat towards aft of the convoy and fired off a single torpedo towards Mark Serafin's steamer. Mark turned his ship to present his narrow stern (a harder shot), but the torpedo struck anyway. Loaded with ammunition, the ship took even more damage than normal (8 D10s), but was still afloat after the explosion. This was the only steamer hit seriously in the game.

    Finally, the fish from the spread that missed Mark's MFP had run on until, near the other side of the table, it ran into Chris' KFK. The torpedo was set to run shallow, but even with the minuses for ship size and shallow draft, the torpedo hit and blew the KFK to bits.

    We called the game a German win. Even though we lost two ships (well, boats), the British failed to sink a single merchant ship—even though Mark's steamer was certainly in dire straights. Also, the British lost one gunboat and all but one of the remaining gunboats were pretty shot up. Two of the SGBs were nearly sinking, Ken's remaining MGB had one hull box left.

    I haven't played Action stations since D.A.N.G. in January and it was nice to get back to it. Before D.A.N.G., I hadn't played in years. It got me digging out all of the unfinished models I have, including more Fairmile Ds, more S-boats and R-boats, and some larger ships, like British Hunt class DEs and German M35 minesweepers.

    The ships we used were Hallmark Figurehead 1:1250th scale coastal forces range. Phil Bardsley and I jumped right on this range when it came out and we finished several models. I also augmented my Hallmark ships with some Navis-Neptun models of larger ships. However, Hallmark has added several larger ships and expanded to include Italian, Russian, Japanese, and American coastal vessels.

    This game was the second naval game I've done recently. Last week, Ken ran a General Quarters 3 game as a foretaste of our incipient Solomons campaign. I'm digging out my unpainted packs of GHQ Micronauts and filling out the holes in our US and Japanese navies (basically, lots of Yugumo class DDs).