Saturday, November 27, 2021

Mésaventure au Mexique

Kevin Smyth has had a large and growing pile of 28mm Maximilian in Mexico figures for decades. It started back sometime in the 90s(!) when we had a few Camerone Day gatherings where we ate roasted lamb and played games on (or near) the anniversary of Captain Danjou and his few French Foreign Legionnaires defending the hacienda against Colonel Milàn and his numerous Mexican troops on April 30, 1863.

Inspired by this, Kevin launched a whole Maximilian in Mexico project that grew and grew. He's run a few Camerone games with them as well as other scenarios using various rules (including some home-brew, if I'm not mistaken). With the onset of Dan Mersey and Michael Leck's Rebels and Patriots rules, it was inevitable that we'd get to playing Mexico Max with them.

Accordingly, Kevin ran a game on November 13 at his house down in Puyallup. He called it the Battle of Matehuala (based on an historical action), although as it turned out, calling it the Battle of ¡Mátalos! might have been more apt. The usual suspects were present: Bill Stewart, Michael Koznarsky, and Dave Schueler played the Mexican forces; Eric Donaldson and I played the French.

Kevin has blogged about the game here. Dave Schueler has blogged it here.

I commanded the forward French forces, deployed around a redoubt on a ridge. My deployment required me to have one unit in the redoubt with the other units being within 6" of it. I had three line infantry units (one veteran), a medium gun, and a light cavalry unit. Having a Frenchified mindset, my deployment for defense followed one guiding principle: J'attaque! In hindsight, I think that was perhaps a mistake. I may have been a bit too plein d'espoir for my own good. I put all my units except the light cavalry right out front on the ridge. Eric's and my task was actually to hold the town quite a way to my rear. I might have done better deploying behind the ridge and ready to make a beeline back to form up with Eric. However, the Mexicans got points for taking the redoubt and I couldn't countenance giving it up without un combat à mort

My feeling that the mort in question may be my own only came to me after I'd deployed and Bill started placing regular infantry and guns within 12" of my units exposed on the ridge. Add to that the fact that the Mexicans won the die roll for first activation and things looked grim. Comment dit-on "bugger" en français?

I survived (mostly) the storm of shot, shell, and minié balls unleashed upon me. I might have withdrawn at this point and joined forces with Eric's troops at and entering the town. But to retreat face à l'ennemi was too much disgrace to countenance. I replied to Bill's fire by standing firm and giving back a bit of my own—although I did commit to a fighting withdrawal on my right flank in the face of Michael's advance with what appeared to be every able-bodied armed man in Mexico heading straight at me.

In no time, the exchange of fire went against me. By turn three (maybe), I had lost the line infantry and gun on my left, my cavalry was skirmishing (badly) with Michael's horde, to their ultimate demise. Dave's cavalry was moving past my flank/rear to attack Eric. But the redoubt held!

I managed to beat back one direct assault after Bill's regulars took my gun, abandoned after the one remaining crewman ran off.

It wasn't enough to stop the tide, however. A few more shots against me and I was forced out of the redoubt and the lone survivor chose the better part of valor.

On my right, Michael's militia—three BIG units worth—continued advancing steadily. I tried to skirmish with my light cavalry, but had a few turns of failed activation with them. They were eventually shot to bits by Michael's troops. Thus, I was down to one line unit, slightly shot up. I fell back with that to join with Eric's line to my left.

Meanwhile, Dave's cavalry moved quickly against Eric's forces which had managed to enter the board without hesitation. 

Dave quickly charged Eric's unit of grenadiers with his Mexican lancers in what became a bit of a paseo de la muerte.

We probably flubbed adjudicating the first round of combat, which the Mexican lancers won in any case, but they may have done worse to the French grenadiers than we reckoned. Eric's grenadiers were merely pushed back in good order. In the immediate compulsory follow-up, Dave's cavalry failed and wound up routing out of existence. His other unit had taken one hit shy of being half strength and wisely withdrew out of range of Eric's cannon.

At this point, Eric still had an almost entirely intact command. Bill's command was mostly intact and advancing past the débris of my ridgeline defense. I had one surviving unit that was down to 10 figures. Michael had three BIG units of militia, which were intact, albeit green troops and poor shooters. Still, their quantity made up for their lack of quality. I ever so slightly thinned a couple of his units, but their morale held and they were still a long way from being anything near half strength.

At this point, we surveyed the field and determined that while Eric would likely be able to hold the town (our larger objective), the Mexicans were well ahead on points due to my over optimistically pugnacious défense á outrance. Sadly, points were not awarded pour la gloire.

At this point, we adjourned to Mssr. Smyth's salle à manger for hot dogs, chilli, beer, and conversation.

In the aftermath of the game, there was the traditional enthusiasm for buying more figures for the period. Fortunately, Foundry is having a big Christmas sale. Kevin has acquired (or will acquire whenever the order actually arrives) a significant reinforcement of troops for Maximilian in Mexico—not least among them the French Foreign Legion troops, including a Jean Danjou figure, which weren't available when he initially bought the figures back during the Clinton administration (first term, IIRC).

I was tempted, especially by the Foreign Legion, but have spent my money on more Mexicans from Boot Hill Miniatures. I have cavalry coming soon and expect to start ordering Texans in December.

Monday, November 8, 2021

¿Por qué no los dos?

So, a short while ago we got the ball rolling on a Mexican-American War project.

Since COVID and the closure of The Panzer Depot, my gaming group has gotten a bit tighter. We've weathered the chaos with gaming on Dave Schueler's lawn in warm weather, Kevin Smyth's garage in sub-freezing weather, Eric Donaldson's basement, and a few public venues like Zulu's Board Game Cafe in resplendently reborn Bothell, WA. In the aftermath of a Rebels and Patriots ACW game in September, I broached the question about a group project for the Texas Revolution of 1835-36 or the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. My question was really more of a "I'm doing Texas Revolution; who's in?" However, when the dust settled we were all on board with Mexican-American War. Baby blue uniforms were looming in my future.

Within a day, several of us had already ordered figures from 1st Corps Miniatures in the UK or Scale Creep Miniatures in Evanston, IL (US distributor for 1st Corps). I'm sure both were surprised to be deluged with several orders from from people in Western Washington. It's not an understatement to say that things escalated quickly.

My initial order to 1st Corps arrived within 10 days, which was similar for others. Other orders to Scale Creep took about four days to arrive. In no time we were swimming in lead.

This was my third attempt at a Mexican-American War project. The first one was in the 70s when there was no commercial range available except Scruby. I started converting Minfigs Napoleonics, which taxed my already short attention span and low commitment level, so it ended quickly—but not after a lot of filing to convert British stovepipe shakos to Mexican ones.

The second attempt was in the 90s and I used 1st Corps minis. It didn't get very far and my only remaining piece was El Supremo:

This is a better example of my pre-dippy days style. I was a slower painter then (much slower) and sustained projects often went nowhere. I've had my painted and based El Supremo sitting on a shelf for years with no one for him to command (¿Dónde están mis soldados?). I'll dust him off, touch him up, and then give him a dip so he matches my current style—and I'll have soldados for him to command.

The Mexican-American War

I ordered from 1st Corps on September 20 and received my first minis on October 5. I started out working on two units of US regulars, a 6 pdr. gun and crew, and two mounted officers. 

I also painted two cats for use on my command stand. They're painted (rather impressionistically) to be Tybalt and Maebh. They come from a pack of 28mm cats produced by Bad Squiddo in the UK.

Going back a way, I've added a cat or two (or four!) to various command stands. It started with an ECW officer. I figured if Rupert can have his dog, my man can have his cat(s). I also added cats to my ACW command stands for Jubal Tardee and Lt. Beauregard Lemieux. Now, I just can't stop myself. Sometime after I'm gone, assuming my minis survive me, some future owner will look at an officer stand and ask, "Why the hell is there a cat there?"

In addition to my regulars, gun, and officers—which are complete and only need to be based—I am nearly done with 24 US volunteers and 6 dragoons. Mere sloth has prevented their being done by now. I expect to have them dipped this week (as I expected it to have been so last week, so place any bets with caution).

I love the 1st Corps minis. I'm glad to have returned to a Mexican-American War project with them. I supplemented my 1st Corps order with a few smaller orders to Scale Creep, which helped me round out another 12 US regulars as well as a lot of Mexicans.

I have many packs of Mexicans to start on now. They're a little more challenging because they have all that piping 'n' stuff on their uniforms. Their shakos alone are a painting project within a project.

Eric Donaldson has completed his force of Americans with no plans to paint Mexicans as far as I know. Kevin Smyth has 2 units of US regulars and 4 units of Mexican line completed with more to come. He's blogged about it. I'm not sure where Dave Schueler and Bill Stewart are at. Both have minis to paint.

John Gee, an ardent fan of Mexican-American War gaming, has long had a large collection of figures (all old Minifigs, I believe), which he's rebased for Rebels and Patriots.

We're looking at maybe early in the new year for our first game. By then, we'll have enough figures painted among us to put a game together. The rules, of course, will be Rebels and Patriots.

So that's where we're at with the Mexican-American War project, but wait! There's more.

Texas Revolution

So, despite all the activity for the Mexican-American War, I always intended at some point to go back to my plans for the Texas Revolution. Between the two, I find the Texas Revolution to be more interesting. It's got a lot more drama to it and there seems to be more potential for interesting small-unit actions. The whole revolution was just a bunch of small-unit actions. I think, too, that the forces were more evenly matched. The revolution ended when Santa Anna was captured after San Jacinto, a victory won by means of a surprise attack. Because Santa Anna was both generalissimo and president of the republic, his capture and coerced cession of Texas ended the fight with strong Mexican forces still in the field. The Texas Revolution of 1835-36 might easily have ended as badly for the rebels as the rebellion of 1813.

I was planning to use the Old Glory range for Texas Revolution. I recall when they first came out. I even bought a pack or two (whose location in my garage of wonder and despair I have yet to ascertain). Overall, it's a good range, but I was concerned about their lack of dismounted cavalry and the fact that there are no Tejanos, despite their playing a key role on the Texian side.

On Saturday, Kevin, Dave, John, and I were partaking of our weekly Zoom 'n' Paint meeting. It's another of these COVID things that keeps us together. We started a Saturday night Zoom meeting where we all just sit at our painting tables Zoomed into our meeting and talk, paint, and share glimpses of our WIPs (yeah, I know that can be taken the wrong way). Dave mentioned that he'd seen the Boot Hill Miniatures site and was impressed by the figures. I wasn't aware that there were any other 28mm Texas Revolution ranges (at least not of any size) than the OG one. Looking at it later, I couldn't help myself but pitch in and order what I thought might be a small number of figures, but then grew. Postage pricing will do that. I hate to buy a small amount and pay big postage, so I feel compelled to buy bigger so the order is a bit more commensurate with the shipping cost.

Needless to say, I ordered because the figures look muy bueno. The sculptor is Matthew Bickley, who's done work for Foundry, Footsore, Warlord, Claymore, and Westfalia, among others. They're very animated and the range is extensive enough to cover all aspects, even those previously forgotten dismounted cavalry and Tejanos.

My "small" order focused on the Mexican army. I got some line infantry marching and command for the same.

And line infantry skirmishing.

I got some cazadores (skirmishers with British Baker rifles).

With command.

I got some dismounted Mexican officers.

I got a pack with a mounted colonel and the "governor," whom Nick Futter of Boot Hill says is really Santa Anna in civilian clothes as he was at the Alamo.

And finally, a pack of the Napoleon of the West himself in gloriously full uniform, mounted and on foot drinking café with his servant in attendance. 

I don't expect to see anything arrive from the UK until mid to late December.

My next order will likely be for Texians. There's a lot there. There are 6 packs of unique basic Texian types, 2 command packs, several packs that contain mounted and dismounted versions of historical characters, 3 packs of mounted and dismounted vaqueros (who can be used as Tejanos), plus a pack of dismounted Tejanos, US Army deserters, Tennesseans (with Davey), New Orleans Greys, Alabama Red Rovers, and the Gonzales cannon on its ungainly carriage. Nick says other artillery is coming.

So rather than be faced with a one or the other proposition, I answer the question, "¿Por qué no los dos?" with "¡Sí, por supuesto los dos!" I'm not sure whether or not I'll be doing this project alone. Eric commented on how nice the figures look. I can see his mind turning. He might yet jump on board. After all, he's finished his Americans. 

I'm not sure who else will follow, but I expect it to be a going concern like my Irish Project that grew and grew, even though I'm its only participant.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Carnage at the Oasis (send your camel to bed): What a Tanker! AAR

We had another round of gaming recently on Dave Schueler's lawn. We played What a Tanker! from Too Fat Lardies. This was our second game since our debut WaT! game at Dave's two weeks ago. I'd played WaT! a few times before and picked up the rules at the time they were released. I've always liked them and we've talked about playing it as a group, but we never did until Dave ran a game last week. 

Dave's game was set in North Africa during Operation Crusader. The tanks we used were Crusader Is, Honeys, and a Matilda II for the British. The Axis had a short-lived PzIIf and some PzIIIjs (which historically weren't around for Crusader, not appearing until May '42). We followed that game with another using my Italians (M11/39s and M13/40s) and early cruiser tanks (A-9s, A-10s, A-13s) and Dave's Matilda.

Kevin Smyth was away for the game, but he was keen on playing WaT!, so he and I planned to play at Zulu's, but when I called to reserve the table, I learned that Zulu's was to be taken over all weekend by an event for the latest Magic: The Gathering release. Ack! At least it wasn't Pokemon. In any case, we were going to cancel the game unless we could find a new venue—and every game store on the planet was apparently having MTG events over the weekend. That's when Dave stepped up and offered his lawn again.

The game that I was planning with Kevin again featured my 1940 Brits and Italians, but was smaller scale as a 1:1 game. For a larger game with multiple players, I got to work finishing more tanks and planning an actual scenario.

I've had the tank models for many years. Once upon a time when we were younger, Kevin, Dave, and I ran an event at our Enfilade! convention that used the Advanced Tobruk board game rules adapted to miniatures. The scenario was the Battle of Mechili in 1940. I started several tank models for that and even made a model of the fort, although we used only a few tanks for the game. The rest sat in a bin half finished for years (and years). I kept meaning to get back to them, but I couldn't think of a reason why until WaT! came along. Even then, I procrastinated. It wasn't until Dave got the ball rolling that I committed myself to finishing the models I'd started.

A challenge with Playing WaT! in North Africa scenarios is that the kind of terrain that would feature in a game set in Europe isn't there in the Libyan desert. I'd been thinking for a while about how to do it and thought that bumps made from 1/2" foam insulation board could be laid under a cloth to represent the kind of micro contours that would be a feature of any "flat" battleground. I found what I wanted at Home Depot and carved/sanded out a series of small hills. The idea being that each contour would function as obstructing terrain for acquiring targets (+1 acquisition die per hill crossed by LOS) and for hitting them (-1 to hit per hill crossed by LOF).

I also created a 1" hill out of pinkboard to be a prominent feature in the scenario. I was intending to make a well and some ruins to use as the objective to be fought over, but I got lazy about buying the DAS air-dry clay I was going to use to make it. By the time I bought it, I realized that it would be dry sometime late in the day after the game. So, I improvised and created an oasis instead using a small pond from Wizard Kraft, some green lichen, and some of the cake-decoration palm trees I made into terrain for the 15mm Tarawa game Kevin Smyth and I did so long ago. They've sat in a box in my garage forever and now I have a use for them!

Finally, I ordered some of the natural lichen from Woodland Scenics to get some proper brownish scrub, which functioned as additional obstructions to acquiring and shooting.

By game day, I had three A-9s, four A-10s, and four A-13s available for the British (I also assumed I could call on Dave to provide a Matilda or additional A-13 if we needed them). 

For the Italians, I had five M13/40s, four M11/39s, and the pièces de résistance, two CV33 tankettes mounting 20mm Solothurn AT rifles. Molto formidabile!

I had to make up the stats for the CV33, since WaT! doesn't include it. I gave it a 1 for armor, a strike value of 2 for its ATR main armament, and made it fast, small, and low profile. In retrospect, I should have made it rapid fire as well, since the Solothurn ATR was semi-auto with a 10-round box magazine. I intended them to be a nuisance, not a potential tank-killer. They proved to be what I intended, so I'm good with my stats—though I will add rapid fire.

For the game on Saturday, Dave Schueler (who ran two tanks) and Bill Stewart were the British; Eric Donaldson, Kevin Smyth, and I were the Italians. 

At the start of the game, the two CV33s, which I ran, were on the one hill, which overlooked the oasis. I assumed that their presence in the game would be short lived and that I would be running a different tank within a few turns.

All the other tanks entered on turn 1.  Kevin and Eric both chose M11/39s to start. Bill chose an A-13 and Dave, who ran two tanks, chose an A-9 and an A-10. Victory conditions depended on points gained from tanks being knocked out as well as holding the oasis at the end of the game.

Eric had a slow start, being unable to roll any drive dice to allow him to move. Kevin plowed in and headed straight for the oasis. Bill charged in with his fast A-13 (I made the A-13s fast because they were at 30 mph top speed, even though WaT! doesn't give them this trait.) Dave sent his two towards the hill where the proud Italian vanguard stood ready to repel them.

Rather than sit and wait exposed on the hill, I decided to run the CV33s forward and use the terrain to my advantage—which was already pretty good given that even in the open the tankettes were hard to acquire and hard to hit. 

But, as expected, Dave quickly knocked out one of the CV33s. 

The other, however, eluded destruction and Guido and Luigi's Excellent Adventure began. Try as he might, Dave couldn't manage to kill the remaining CV33. At first, he had me at 2:1 (or more considering the disparity of the tank stats).

We played cat and mouse behind the micro-contours and around the scrub.

He even used his A-9 to ram me.

I managed a number of pings against his A-9 and IIRC inflicted one permanent command die damage. I didn't come off unscathed, however. My CV33 was eventually down to one command die, the rest being permanent damage with concomitant losses in mobility and sighting. It was a basket case. 

The uncanny survivability of my CV3 was part luck (both with Dave's bad dice and my tendency to bounce hits even with a '1' armor value) and part the nature of the CV33 being small and low profile. It was just harder to see and hit.

While still entangled with my CV33 after ramming it, Dave's A-9 took a hit from Kevin (or was it Eric from across the table) that knocked it out. 

At this point, Guido and Luigi abandoned their all but useless tankette (claiming, of course, to have gloriously defeated the A-9 that was stalking them) and I took up a new tank to run, an M13/40, whose adventures I will relate farther below.

While my CV33 was battling Dave's tanks, Kevin—and eventually Eric—came up to the oasis and started stalking around it against Bill's A-13, which had come up along one side of it.

Bill managed to knock out Eric's M11/39 and proceeded to go past him and around the oasis. Kevin moved his M11/39 towards the hill just as Dave was moving his A-10 that direction. The clash was inevitable.

Kevin's M11/39 was eventually worn down with temporary damage until he had no dice left and had to abandon his tank. This turn of events lead to all three Italian players bringing on M13/40s—not a tank most rivet-heads think of as formidable, but against the early British cruisers, it's pretty decent with '4' armor and a '5' strike value. For a few minutes, it looked like the italians would sweep the field. Most of the melee swirled around the "Hill of Death" and the landscape there was quickly strewn with knocked out or abandoned tanks.

I had my one actual success of the game when I brewed up Bill's moribund A-13. Bill's tank had seen the wars and was fairly knackered by the time I hit it with a flank shot., although he'd knocked out one tank and assisted in reducing another.

The second to the last turn was a bit catastrophic for l'Esercito Italiano. Eric and I both lost our M13/40s, which left Kevin the sole running Italian tank on the board. My poor M13/40 went from hero to zero in one turn, although the crew survived to carry forward their one kill.

At the end of the game, Kevin and his M13/40 were hunkered down in sole possession of the oasis, which was the main victory condition. The Italians had lost two M11/39s, two CV33s, and two M13/40s to give the British 38 points. The British lost one A-9, one A-10, and 2 A-13s to give the Italians 24 points.

If we'd played out the game longer, it's unclear whether the Italians could have kept the oasis. Even without playing further it would have been only a Pyrrhic victory. Eric and I were both bringing on fresh M13/40s, but they were the last we had. The only other Italian tanks in our reserve were another two M11/39s. The British reserve was pretty good. They had another two A-10s, two A-9s, and one A-13 that they could bring on as replacements for tanks lost.

Post mortem

It turned out to be a pretty good game. It was slow at first and was beginning to feel a bit like the complaints some people have made about WaT!, i.e., that it's not deadly enough, too hard to kill tanks—especially early war. However, things got hot and we had several tanks knocked out in rapid succession.

The desert terrain scheme worked out well. It didn't play like we were on a billiard table and acquiring, aiming, and hitting across the microcontours was properly trickey, complicated as well by the oasis and "Hill of Death," which blocked LOS/LOF.

I'll fine-tune this scenario and play it at our upcoming Enfilade! convention, which we pushed out from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. I'll also be continuing with the Desert War as I expand my collection. I picked up a box of M14/4s and Semoventes and just ordered box sets for M3 Grants, M3 Honeys, and Crusader IIs. These tanks will let me do games for the Gazala battles. I don't need to worry about Afrika Korps at this point since Bill has piles of PzIIs, PzIIIs, PzIVs, etc. I'd like to eventually expand to Tunisia '43 and get some Tigers in the game against American Lees and Stuarts. Lots more desert gaming to come.

Let's slip off to a sand dune, real soon
And kick up a little dust