Monday, November 27, 2017

Fall In! 2017 - Part I: Chain of Command Game

Earlier this month, I attended Fall In!, one of the Historical Miniature Gaming Society East's annual shows, held in nearby Lancaster, PA. While I always enjoy going to these shows, I was especially excited because one of the guys from my new gaming group (who is totally new to miniature gaming) was tagging along on Friday.

In addition to making several trips through the vendor area and flea market, Chris and I were able to play in two participation games on Friday. The first was a spirited round of Chain of Command that was part of the Two Fat Lardies Day(s) run throughout the weekend. I'm still waiting on my British Infantry and SS Panzergrendiers (my painter's had a lot going on outside of the hobby...but they're coming), so haven't gotten to play CoC at home yet, but I thought the convention would be great way to show Chris the ropes so he could help me teach the others in the club.

The field of battle
The scenario was set shortly after the D-Day landings as a group of British Commandos, having captured some German entrenchments outside a small village, now must hold onto their dearly-won real estate against a counterattack by a platoon of Heer grenadiers with some captured R-35 tanks and an infantry gun in support.

The first few phases were pretty uneventful as I got both my commando rifle sections, Vickers team, and sniper team deployed in cover and on overwatch by phase three, while Chris's Germans began trickling in and working their way to favorable positions from which to lay down some fire before their assault.

One of my sections deploys along a hedgerow...

...while the other, along with the platoon sergeant and a Vickers team occupy the captured trench.
The Germans opened up with some rifle fire on my section behind the hedgerow and inflicted some shock, but it wasn't until the German infantry gun deployed and started firing that the men started to worry. Two were killed in quick succession and the shock began to pile up.

The pesky German IG with a friendly tank rolling up in support
At this point in the game, the dice gods began to smile on Chris, as he got a couple of back-to-back phases which allowed him to bring up more units and lay down some heavy fire, while I kept rolling lots of 4s (which didn't do much to help the solitary senior leader I had on the table) and several waves of multiple 5s, which certainly help me earn some Chain of Command dice, did not allow me to do much retaliation. Thankfully, our GM had decided to include a random event deck to be used when phase rolls produced at least triple 5's or 6's. One of the cards returned one of my killed Commandos to the ranks, for which I was rather fortunate.

A German rifle squad trying to whittle down the enemy, while the R35 contributes some (ineffective) fire
Eventually the dice began to level out and my section's corporal/junior leader did a great job at whittling away the shock his section had accumulated. The section began returning fire against their tormentors across the hedges, but only got a few points of shock. Thankfully (for me), the German fire gradually grew less effective - especially from the R35, which couldn't hit the broadside of a barndoor.

It was about this time that Chris began making the boldest move of the game, as a German squad began advancing through an orchard on my left, gunning straight toward the entrenchments. Thankfully, I had deployed a sizable portion of my force in their wake by this time and quickly began overpowering them with fire from a rifle section, Vickers, sniper team, and a 2" mortar which shot its allotted 3 rounds of HE in quick succession, but caused considerable casualties. Though the Germans were able to lay day fire as they advanced through the cover, things began to look bad fast (admittedly, this was first due to a mis-measurement on my part). The squad's junior leader was wounded early on, which certainly did not help them keep their shock total low.

A German squad catching all kinds of lead during an advance

Hoping to stabilize the the assault, Chris rushed a flamethrower team forward to attack the trench on their own. While I sent a few rounds their way, but sensing the vulnerability of the rifle section, put most of my attention on them. Finally, the amount of shock doubled the remaining number of figures, causing the squad to break. I then used one of my CoC dice to end the turn, causing the squad to be removed from the field. The next phase, I piled more fire onto the fast-approaching flamethrower team and incapacitated them quickly.

The German flamethrower team beginning to attract a lot of enemy fire
By this point, Chris had not rolled so well on the "Bad Stuff Happens" table and his force morale had dropped to 4, while mine was a 10.  We had been playing for a few hours (there was a small break for a flea market visit) and Chris had gotten a good handle on the rules, so we decided to call it. A hard-won victory by my Commandos! Getting the upper hand on elite troops in heavy cover can be a real challenge!

More on the rest of the show later...

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

New Gaming Group

Apologies for the radio silence. I'm really enjoying my job with the Park Service, but the hour and a half to two hour commute (each way) every day, along with some other big life events (like my wedding two weeks ago) have limited my blogging time. Now that things are settling down a bit, I'm hoping to get in a more of a rhythm.

Another reason to expect more listings is the fact that I've formed a new gaming group. At a get-together with some of my wife's colleagues in the area, I discovered that one of the guys played the Lord of the Rings miniatures game back when he was at school and that another was a big fan of strategy boardgames and video games. To these, we added a former co-worker of mine from the Seminary Ridge Museum in Gettysburg. Though none of these guys have played historical miniatures games, they were all very eager. At least for the present, our schedules have not allowed weekly sessions, but we've been able to meet at least semi-regularly, which has allowed me to start introducing them to some of the games in my repetoire.

Our first game, with my new mates Chris and Wes, was the Operation Mutay I scenario from the Operation Enduring Freedom book for Force on Force. I took the role of the insurgents (I find this to be an easier role for experienced players) and had the other guys play the role of the British paras.

The British Paras advance into Now Zad
From the very start, the game did not go my way. The very first TQ check resulted in a Fog of War card which reduced all my units to low supply. On top of that, I failed all of my attempts to spring ambushes the first two turns and, even when I was able to fire, I inflicted no casualties on the enemy until turn 4 (while, as usual, the insurgents were torn apart by the fire of the ISAF troops).

A lone insurgent leader stands firm against the approaching coalition forces

Taliban reinforcements come...too little, too late

Tables began to turn as the Paras neared their final objective. One plucky insurgent leader held off three enemy fireteams in front of the target compound, which bought time for more reinforcements to be rushed to the scene from other hotspots on the battlefield. These new units slowed down the British advance to a near standstill as the game drew closer to its turn limit, and even scored some hits on the enemy, but some exceptional rolling on first aid checks saved the day for my coalition adversaries. By games end, nearly all the Taliban units had been destroyed and the British had only suffered three light wounded (one from mine explosion caused by a fog of war card) and one serious wound and managed to get their entire platoon to the target compound...a resounding victory for the Paras!

The British platoon takes time to reorganize after a hard-fought victory
The next week only Chris could attend, and so I took our small numbers to introduce him to another favorite from my days with the Williamsburg Legati: SAGA. Chris took my Scots, while I played the Anglo-Danes.

Some of Anglo-Danes prepare for battle
I've only played once in the last few years, and I must admit my memory of the game was not as strong as I had hoped. I insisted on using some house rules (involving turn iniative/order and when dice were rolled) from my old club that I apparently misremembered. As a result, we only had a few melees, but all were bloody. Turn 2 saw each side kill three opposing hearthguard, and in turns 3 and 4, we each lost seven warriors. Finally, in turn 5, some Scots hearthguard ganged up on my warlord and killed him, ending the game. Chris picked up the rules and his faction's battleboard quickly and said he really enjoyed the game. We're definitely both looking forward to playing again and the interest in the game has since caused me to start purchasing some other factions. My Footsore Saracens are currently in the post!

Unknowingly, the Anglo-Danes charge into defeat
Since my wedding in mid-October, we've been able to meet once more and tried out a new game. In an effort to help the bookstore where I work part-time and the publisher's we carry, I've agreed to help showcase the soon-to-be-released Wargame the American Civil War and American Revolution books from Helion & Company at the upcoming Fall In! convention. These are the newest in a series of fantastic paper wargaming figures illustrated by Peter Dennis. The books also include basic rules by Andy Callan. To run the demos at the show, Peter was kind enough to mail me his personal set of ACW "paperboys" across the pond. To get some familiarity with the rules, I decided to run a game for Chris.

Some of the initial dispositions

Confederate troops defend a stonewall atop a hill

The rules include a sample scenario for the beginner's rules and three for the regular game, each of which is loosely based on an historical encounter. I set up "1861: Fight for the Hill." The rules were easy, but not overly simplistic and we had a fun game, even though the dice gods were clearly on Chris's side. Rolls of 6s on D6s were automatic hits and Chris's first volley of two dice from his Union infantry resulted in 2 "6"s. The very next turn, we were caught up in a melee in some woods, during which Chris rolled 10 dice and got 4 "6"s and two "5"s, which were also hits. For the first few turns, most of my units refused to move and/or inflicted very little damage to the oncoming Yankees. By turns 3 and 4, Chris's luck began to run out as his advancing infantry stalled and failed to charge up the hill. I was able to drive the Union troops from my right flank, by my own left began to crumble. Turn 5 saw the arrival of reinforcements to the field, with a Union brigade joining the fray, but I had five new units that would be coming on shortly. The battle hung in the balance by the start of Turn 6, but it was getting late, so we called it a draw.

The beginning of a rather brutal fight for the woods

Confederate artillery begins to take its toll on the Federal advance

The US juggernaut begins to waver under withering CS fire

These are admittedly shorter AARs than I'd like to put up here, but these games have just been little teasers for our new group. We'll hopefully start getting some more thorough games going soon (and hopefully our long-awaited debut of Chain of Command).

If you happen to be at Fall-In this weekend, be sure to say "Hey!" at the For the Historian/Casemate booth!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

4Ground Northwest European Farm Buildings (20mm) Review

At long last, I have the opportunity to post a review for the collection of 20mm farm buildings I bought a few weeks ago from 4Ground. My planned Chain of Command campaigns take place in the rolling farm fields outside Caen, so I knew a collection of agricultural buildings would be a must. As I've been very impressed with the 4Ground kits I've gotten thus far, I saw no reason to stop.

The first building I put together (I actually got two of them) was the North West European Hay Loft. A simple, but practical structure, this building will look great among the large wheatfields that feature in the Scottish Corridor campaign. Not too much to say here. The construction was straightforward and it came together in less than a half hour. Overall, a fairly handsome little structure with removable roof and staircase. I may put some dirt on the ground floor and pick up some hay bales at some point, but I'm glad to just have them to throw out on the table for now.
The completed loft

The loft's second floor interior

The lower floor and stairs
Next was the Dairy/Lean To. I wanted a small building for my farms and thought this would do the trick, but I did not realize at first that this model was just an add-on and, thus, only had three walls. It will add some variety, but undeterred, I bought a second that, when put next to the other, creates a workable (at least I think so) outbuilding.

Dairy exterior

Dairy interior

Ersatz outbuilding (good enough when needed)
Next came my favorite building, the North West European Granary/Cart Shed. Definitely the largest of the lot, this structure was not as intimidating to piece together as I'd thought. It has a nice mix of open ground floor and enclosed top floor, which should provided some useful cover for any defending troops. It also features a mixture of building materials which make it stand out even more. As always, the finished interior on the top floor is a nice touch. I may pimp out the ground floor a bit and maybe get a wagon for one of the stalls, but it's battle-ready for the time being.

Granary/Cart Shed

Upstairs interior

I really like these inlays

Rear detail
Since I needed more buildings than the variety offered, I bought two of the North West European Threshing Barn. Though I've assembled four-wall 4Ground buildings before, I had trouble with both of these. The problem seemed to be gluing the outer walls onto the inner ones fast enough so that the glue would not dry, but then I couldn't seem to get the recommended rubber bands and clothespins on fast enough to prevent the walls from warping slightly. Even leaving the bands and pins on for more than a day didn't seem to help much. The second one definitely came together more easily (though both were definitely messy affairs), but in my haste, I glued the long outer walls on the wrong side, so the vent holes don't match up perfectly with the inner ones. Nevertheless, it doesn't look half bad, and its enclosed design will stand out from the more open buildings. Wouldn't mind trying it again some time (maybe I'll try gluing the walls together first and then attach them to the floor).

The Threshing Barn

Threshing barn interior, showing some of the warping
The last building was the only one I decide to experiment with upgrading, but I felt like a pigsty without dirt and mud just wouldn't look right. As I've stated before, though I'm a veteran wargamer, I have never really done much when it comes to terrain construction or painting before, but figured this would be an easy project on which to experiment, I picked up some brown battleground basing material and wet mud paint from The Army Painter and applied them liberally throughout the pigsty. Though the dirt settled nicely, I was a little disappointed with the mud. I applied an undercoat and then, as instructed on the bottle, hit it with varnish and put another coat on to bring out more of the gloss, but it didn't turn out as expected. I tried the process again, but it still didn't have the glossy effect I hoped for. Perhaps it is just slightly dried mud. :-)

The finished Pigsty/Chicken Coop

The interior of the chicken coop

The interior of the pigsty

Finally, I picked up some accessory packs. I got some of the stone walls and stone walls with gates kits. These are super easy to assemble (and inexpensive) but will add a lot to the table. I also purchased some telegraph pole kits. I was really looking forward to these as I thought they would be a really nice detail that would add a level of realism to my setups. The straights were much lighter than the gate sections, so I hit them with a wash of Vallejo smoke, which helped a little. Might need to add another coat (and do the same to some of the stone buildings). While the base and poles were easy to glue together, but most of the more fiddly pits are made of a very flimsy cardboard that often separated as I tried to cut the pieces out or glue them to the poles. Though I got a few of those pieces on, it was turning out to be much more frustrating than I had hoped. Losing my patience (and terrain-making fun), I decided just to leave a couple as is and save them to be used as Rommel's asparagus - poles with mines mounted on top - if I ever decide to do the 29 Let's Go campaign.

I added some dirt to the walls and put a wash on some of the lighter sections

A sampling of some of my telegraph pole attempts

The untouched sheet of pole bits - the bane of my terraining existence
Though the kits did not all turn out as planned, I'm rather pleased with my acquisitions overall and can't wait to get them on the tabletop with my long-awaited figures. For those looking for farm building kits, I'd highly recommend the Hay Loft, Cart Shed/Granary, Dairy/Lean To, and Pigsty (as well as the stone walls). They are available for 15mm, 20mm, and 28mm figure scales.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Historicon 2017

This past weekend I attended the Historicon miniature wargaming show in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The largest of the three conventions run by HMGS East (that's the Historical Miniature Gaming Society), this show was one of the highlights of my year in grade school, but have not been a regular attendee of late, so when I was asked to run some more playtests for the Skirmish Sanging Platoon Plus game for my friends at the Phalanx Consortium, I was happy to oblige.

The set up for the Afghan War playtest of Operation Platoon Plus that I ran on Friday night

Friday night's playtest went rather smoothly. The game resulted in a pretty serious defeat for the British players, owing partly to some of my misunderstanding of the rules (I only received the current draft from the author the week before the show and hadn't had a chance to play through it myself), terribly unlucky dice throughout for the ISAF forces, and some flaws in the rules which need some more attention. We reached a stopping point after about two hours of play and had a great debrief sessions during which the players provided a lot of constructive criticism and suggestions for future draft that are making their way into an AAR that will be off to the author in New Zealand later this week.

Unfortunately, Saturday's playtest was not nearly as successful. A few hours before the game's start time, I discovered that the show organizers had double booked the table for my game and I was going to have to find another. Fortunately, they were able to squeeze me into another space, but made no formal announcement or posting about the switch. As a result, only one of the six players scheduled to take part showed up. So we ran through some of the basic mechanics and called it a day.

My original plan was to attend the show from Friday through Sunday and had signed up for a big War of 1812 game for Saturday night, but I wound up having to work Sunday, so I wasn't able to make it. This combined with my game mastering schedule meant I was unable to play a proper participation game, but still had a great time.

The highlight of my weekend was getting to demo the new(ish) rules from Firelock Games called Blood and Plunder. This game, covering the historical actions (not the Hollywood ones) of the golden age of piracy in the seventeenth-century Caribbean, has been taking the wargaming community by storm the past few months. The kickstarter for the base game (featuring the Spanish, English, French, and unaligned crews) was wildly successful last year and their current Kickstarter, for an expansion featuring the Dutch, native peoples, and minor European powers, funded in the first four hours (I've backed it for some Dutch and European units). I had purchased the rules previously but had yet to play and so hung out in their booth in the vendor area for a while until I got a chance to try a demo turn.

The demo table featuring some English privateers squaring off against Spanish militia

A sampling of the ships offered in the game
A quick shot of the naval rule demo
Though I didn't play long, I was really impressed. It is a simple, yet elegant game that will provide a lot of fun (and I might even be able to get my fiancee to play, too). My excitement over this game even inspired two of my purchases this weekend - a collection of battlefield debris that will be great for a Caribbean village, some sugar cane fields, and a collection of "pirate village" buildings from Old Glory Miniatures, but more on those later.

Overall, what most impressed me this weekend was the high volume of really high quality tables. Wandering around the gaming areas I found myself constantly marveling at talent and creativity put into some of these games. Here's a selection of some that caught my eye:

Canadian troops advancing in Sicily

A game depicting the epic 1809 battle between the French and the Austrians at Aspern-Essling

A French & Indian War game using Sash & Saber Casting's stunning 40mm figures

A beautiful table for a Battle of Point Pleasant game using the Muskets & Tomahawks rules

Another shot of Point Pleasant

Some scenic ambiance at the Point Pleasant game 
Another pirate game...a popular theme at the show

A well-designed table for the fantasy game Frostgrave

A view of a soon-to-be-released modular warehouse designed by my friend Chris
A Punic Wars game with some 54mm figures

A game called "Ben Franklin's War" - a sort of sci-fi American War of Independence game

A more convention American Revolution game - in this case, the Second Battle of Trenton
On top of the purchases for Blood & Plunder, I also picked up some more trees (and cookies) from "The Tree Girl," a talented and eager 11-year-old gamer, a new American Revolution board game, some magnet sheets to help store the new trees, and a new figure case.

Even with the disappointments of the playtests, it was a great show overall. It's always nice to catch up with old friends and to see what's new in the hobby.