Saturday, October 26, 2013

Red, White, & Bubinga (Dicing in Style)

I have to confess that I'm kind of a dice freak. I don't know how many dice I actually have, but I know it's a lot. I have some of every polyhedron type available: D20s, D12s, D10, D8s, D6s, D4s. I may even have a D100 somewhere. I've got them in all colors and sizes, too, from wee little 5mm dice to bigger dice the size of your fist. (The value of either escapes me just now.)

Because they're relatively cheap, I tend to buy a set of dice for almost every game I play—or just because I find a set that looks cool and I want it. I often try to match dice to the era or armies I'm gaming with. For example, I have green speckled dice (like camouflage) to use for playing Bolt Action with my Marines. I have Red dice to use for Soviets, etc. I also have my beloved "ancient dice" that hate Romans.

I can't say that using a custom set of dice really helps (I tend to roll deplorably regardless of the dice I use), but it lends to the feel of the game.

Custom dice

I have two Wars of the Roses board games that use D6 for combat resolution, Richard III: The Wars of the Roses by Columbia Games and Sun of York by GMT Games. While browsing the photos for these games on BoardGameGeek, I noticed a set of custom D6 that had Roses in place of the 1's. They looked very cool. As I browsed through the comments I saw that the person who had the custom dice made provided a GIF file for the rose pattern and the color patterns of the dice. For $1.00 per die, I had Chessex make a matching custom set for me: 12 dice in Lancastrian red and 12 in Yorkist white.

Getting custom Yorkist and Lancastrian dice has me thinking about some other custom sets. I can see getting a speckled green set with the USMC globe and anchor for my Marines in Bolt Action and red dice with an Imperial chrysanthemum for the Japanese.

Dice trays

I've supported a couple of Kickstarter projects, so I'm on the mailing list and I get notices of other projects starting up. One of the recent projects was from Wyrmwood Gaming, who are coming out with a new product called a dice vault. It's a very nice box made of exotic wood that you can store a dice set in. I passed on the dice vault, but I visited the Wyrmwood Gaming site and found that they make some very nice dice trays.

I've been a dice tray guy for several years since I found a couple of octagonal trays at the now-defunct Phoenix Games in Redmond, WA. It's nice to have a clear flat place to throw dice where you don't need to worry about getting a cocked die or having a die roll off the table to who knows where. The dice trays I have are very nice, but I was smitten with the Wyrmwood Gaming trays as soon as I saw them online.

They come in two levels, the Affinity and the Lotus. The Affinity are made of common hardwoods like Oak, Cherry, Fir, and Walnut. The Lotus are made with more exotic woods. The rolling surface comes in leather or suede. I immediately ordered a tray made from bubinga wood (straight from equatorial Africa) with a black suede rolling surface.

Harmonizing well with my cherry table
The Wyrmwood trays are rectangular and come with a separate section to hold dice that aren't being rolled, so they don't clutter the table top.

Spacious storage room
Each Wyrmwood tray is handmade on order, so it takes a few weeks to get it. I ordered mine on October 5 and it arrived on the 24th. My only buyer's remorse on opening the package was that I didn't order two. They're that nice.

The price was good at $35.00 for the Lotus ($25.00 for the Affinity). Looking at the Wyrmwood Gaming site just now, I see that the prices have increased since I viewed them yesterday. The Lotus is now $45.00 and the Affinity $30.00. Now I'm really sorry I didn't order two.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Red Sabres and Land Battleships

I've been remiss with postings over the last several weeks, so I'm working backwards now to cover our last few Bolt Action games, starting with Saturday's game in this post (because it's fresh in my memory) and going back to July in subsequent posts (for which I'll just make up stuff because I have no recollection now of how the games went).

The genesis for Saturday's game was when I bought a 1:56 scale T-35 from Company B Miniatures at Enfilade! in May. It was a long time getting done, but I finally completed it in September and was eager to get it into a game. I've completed T-35s in three scales now: the C-in-C model in 1:285th, the now out-of-production Battlefront (Flames of War) model in 15mm, and now this great hulking beast.

Land battleship Potemkin
The T-35 fascinates me. The whole idea of the land battleship, of which the T-35 was the epitome, was so wrong-headed—but compelling. All those turrets firing an all-around arc of mayhem has such an irresistible appeal.

Action off the port bow!
The great tragedy of the T-35, of course, is that it never got into serious action and, despite its formidable appearance and bristling gun turrets, it was a truly crappy tank. It was much underpowered, which lead to its remarkable frequency of mechanical breakdown (a fate that befell 90% of the T-35s deployed in 1941). Also, its multiplicity of turrets made it impossible for the tank commander to direct the action of the vehicle's 11 crew because there was no internal communication system.

But this was the occasion to get it on the table as well as to give Bill Stewart's Soviets and Germans a furlough from their storage boxes.

The game was a 1941 scenario with veteran German infantry holding against a Soviet counterattack lead by the T-35 and a couple squadrons of cavalry. We have no 1941 German tanks in suitable camouflage (as a later post of an earlier game will show, they all wound up in Libya), so we had to trust to the Bolt Action rules about the T-35's unreliability, namely that any pin result from fire takes an automatic +1 pin as well. This is a significant drawback because the tank can be reduced to an ineffectual state after just a few hits. However, perhaps as compensation, the Bolt Action rules make its armor a 9+, which is generous considering that the thickest armor on the tank was only 30mm.

The Russians were Jerry Tyer, Dick Larsen, and I. The Germans were Bill Stewart (who painted all the figures except the "beast") and Phil "clear cut" Bardsley.

I was in the center with my "beast" and two infantry squads. Jerry was on the right with an infantry squad, cavalry squadron, Maxim MMG, and an infantry command group. Dick was on the left with a mortar,  infantry squad, cavalry squadron, and mounted command group.

Facing us were Phil on the German right with probably two infantry squads and an MMG, but it was hard to tell because all the trees were in Phil's way. As the game progressed, there were fewer and fewer trees in Phil's position.

Phil's infantry holds the line amidst sylvan splendor 
Bill, on the left, had two squads, an MMG, and two 81mm mortars. Because the Germans had no tanks or AT weapons to counter the "beast," we allowed an integral AT rifle to each squad—which, it turned out, they didn't need...

Steadfast defenders of the pea-patch
I started out advancing a squad down to the river to cross a bridge, which I expected to draw Phil's infantry out of hiding. Once Phil broke cover to shoot my infantry, I unleashed the "beast" and gave Phil three turrets' worth of attention resulting in many hits and a few casualties.

Across the stream
The eruption of all that firepower from the T-35 got the attention of Bill's mortar battalion. The first few salvos missed, but it would only be a matter of time before they zeroed in. Phil's infantry got a hit against the "beast" with its AT rifle, which resulted in two pins using the special rule for the T-35. I was able to get it firing again and put more hurt on Phil's infantry, but time was running out for the land battleship.

On the Soviet left, Dick began his patented move-down-the-table-edge maneuver. His cavalry advanced, but then bolted back in response to a fusillade of 7.92mm bullets from Phil's MG-34.

Defending "Festung Teichschaum"
On the Soviet right. Jerry moved forward with his cavalry against Bill's advanced position "Festung Teichschaum" (fortress pond-scum). Faced with a bit of boggy ground that impeded rapid movement, Jerry withdrew his cavalry after the mausers opened up on him. At this point, both cavalry squadrons had pulled back in response to German fire, but couldn't get far enough back to escape getting hit.

Red Sabres forward!
Jerry advanced his Maxim gun to a position that took both of Bill's positions under fire, although Bill's reserve position, "Festung Erbsenfeld" (fortress pea-patch) was at long range. The Maxim took a few hits early on and was reduced to one heroic machine-gunner keeping up a desultory fire. The minuses for long range, target in cover, and reduced crew (-3 net) made it tough for Jerry to make any impression on "Festung Erbsenfeld" and Bill's Landser remained relatively untouched throughout the game.

Meanwhile, my infantry and the "beast" were whittling away at Phil's right-hand infantry squad and eventually eliminated it with the help of a few 82mm rounds from Dick's mortar.

However, Bill's mortars had finally zeroed in on the T-35 and it was soon hopelessly pinned. I was able to rally once and roll off all the pins, but I was still stationary under a barrage of mortar fire and by next turn, I could no longer do anything because I couldn't pass an order test.

Pinned and useless
Jerry moved his command group to the "beast" to provide some moral persuasion, but a commissar with a pistol has little effect on motivating a tank to return to a state of socialist ardor sufficient to perform as desired. Despite numerous fresh .38 caliber splash marks on the T-35's paint job, the "beast" would do nothing for the rest of the game and eventually withdrew when the number of pins became too great to ever roll off. Even if I had managed to carry out an action, a -4 or more penalty for pins would render any fire insignificant.

I was able to get my two infantry squads to advance. One went towards Phil's position on the hill and the other moved to flank "Festung Teichschaum." Faced with two Soviet squads closing in, Bill abandoned his position and got himself embogged in the swamp to his rear.

Attacking Phil's hill
Flank attack on "Festung Teichschaum" 
Jerry took advantage of Bill's withdrawal to move his infantry into Bill's former position, where he took out the FO for Bill's mortars, and to move his cavalry around to charge in and sabre the retreating Hun. Stormed at with shot and shell and reduced to 40% of its original numbers, there was no stopping the horsemen once they had a target in range.

Sabres in the bog
But in the next turn, "Festung Erbsenfeld" opened up and eliminated Jerry's few remaining bolshies on horsies. It's a glorious—but brief—career in the Red Cavalry.

Dick had been slowly working away at Phil's MMG with his infantry squad while Phil moved his other infantry squad to counter the advance of my infantry (and replace his eliminated squad). This gave Dick the opportunity to move his cavalry unopposed down the table edge to ultimately break through the German line.

Skulking to victory!
Dick ultimately took out Phil's MMG with an assault, which left the road open to another breakthrough (although he didn't make it off the table by game's end).

My infantry was now effectively out of action due to repeated hits that pinned me to the point of uselessness. I routinely failed order check after order check.

By turn six, Phil had one mostly intact squad left, Bill was still holding "Festung Erbsenfeld" with one squad and an MMG, with his two mortars still untouched.

Holding "Festung Erbsensfeld"
My "beast" had departed and I had two very reduced, very pinned squads. Jerry had a shot-up Maxim and a shot-up squad. There was no chance we were going to get these troops off the board past Bill's positions, but Dick's cavalry was galloping around the German rear area like J.E.B. Stuart and his infantry were close behind.

We called it a minor tactical win for Stalin's minions.

No set plans for the next game, but I will run a small Pacific War game at the upcoming NHMGS game day at the Paine Field Flying Heritage Collection in Everett, WA.