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.