Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Battle of Gallow's Grove, 1864

A DBA-Hx production of the American Civil War

As Sherman marches on the sea, one of Taylor's junior generals, Lt. General Ennis, is sent to protect the agricultural centre of Gallow's Wood with a small division (8 Rifles, 2 Jaeger, 2 Cannon).

As he prepares his defences, a Northern division under General Bartlett (8 Rifles, 2 Jaeger, 2 Cavalry) comes a-knocking. Desperate to spare the town, Ennis advances to battle through the cornfields, blocking the road and daring Bartlett to come to him. The forces meet just as Bartlett exits the small copse known as Gallow's Grove...

McCullough (left) advances against the Union right.

Bartlett orders a general advance.

Union rifle fire recoils the Confederate guns.

Caley's doughty skirmishers hold off McCullough's entire brigade.

A wing battalion disperses under heavy fire.

Weight of fire starts driving Caley back.

The Union centre bounds forward & McCullough's skirmishers attack their flank.

The shattered remnants of Caley's command withdraw.

As dusk settles, the Confederates command the south & east.
Bad dice and Confederate cannon fire shatter the Union centre and drive back the wing.

Caley's men finally founder.

McCullough's skirmishers break the remaining centre battalion.

In one last, desperate, gallant charge, the Union cavalry achieve next to nothing.

As the day dies, Bartlett grimly orders a general withdrawal.
At 7-0 to the Confederates, this was one of the grimmest games of DBA-Hx that I've ever played. Despite an attempt by a third of the Confederates to even the burden of attack, the Union had appalling dice for everything but initiative and consistently drew or lost combats in both sides' bounds.

Man of the Match: Imaginary commander Caley, of the Union Jaegers. Those boys held up 5 elements with 2 for most of the game. It didn't do much, but damned if it wasn't an impressive holding action.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

War Library: Callsign Hades

Within the last thirty seconds, I finished the book Callsign Hades by Patrick Bury, Royal Irish Regiment.

It's an emotional journey with 7 Platoon, Ranger Coy, RIR through March-September 2008 in Afghanistan, and is quite simply superb. Despite a hangover, a head cold and a general dislike of autobiographies, I polished this gem off last night after work and this evening. Well written, engrossing and amazingly both a reminder of the human cost of war as well as a rich vein for mining scenarios, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in modern warfare, the Afghan conflict in particular, or life in the modern British army.

This book has earnt itself a permanent place in my war library, alongside Task Force Helmand, One Bullet Away and NAM Rodger's The Command of the Ocean.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Void and Stars Playtest

I ran a game of Void and Stars down at my Friendly Local Gaming Store, and it was a blast! We had 3 players and me, and a host of engaged on-lookers. One player even decided then and there to apply as a playtester.

We played Imperials vs Colonials at about 1200pts using MSPaint counters, and it was a relatively even game until an excellent bit of manoeuvring by some Imperial escorts resulted in multiple up-the-kilt shots.

Man of the Match: The Imperial MkII Cruiser Onslaught, which killed two ships by herself and commanded the attention of half the Colonial fleet for most of the game. Despite racking up an impressive number of hits, she survived the game a battered, smoking wreck.

-  The Imperials never used their Shield Generators. We would have taken much less damage if we had.
- The rules worked very smoothly, and as soon as we managed to remember whether Odd or Even results affected Weapons or Systems, we barely checked the book at all.
- Carriers really need to hang back. They might be one of the few vessels worth bringing to a Dead Stop.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Candle's Bluff, 1862

As the War Between the States intensifies, both sides decide to seize the hill known to the locals as Candle's Bluff. Unfortunately, as brothers are wont to do, they come to the same conclusion simultaneously - and battle is inevitable.

The battle was fought using the Humberside Extension for DBA, both sides (accidentally!) coming out to:
General; 1 Cannon; 1 Cavalry; 3 Rifles; 2 Jaegers; 5 Muskets. And then, due to a mysterious accident of arithmetic, the Union got an extra piece of cannon.

The Battlefield in all its felty glory.
The Union advance before the might of Barbarossa's elbows.

Unfazed by Barbarossa's giant hands, the Confederates move up too.
Both sides advance towards the hill and up the road.

Confederate sharpshooters crest Candle's Bluff.

Bloody fire is exchanged as the Union press forwards.

A bold charge by the Union cavalry is repulsed by cannon fire.

...and ended by muskets. 0-1
More boys in blue die on Candle's Bluff. 0-2

Union rifles rout the Confederate right wing. 1-2

The return fire is just as deadly. 1-3

Union skirmishers exact revenge on Candle's Bluff. 2-3

Union volunteers wither and flee under the weight of Southern fire. 2-4

Bloodied but unbowed, the Union finally take Candle's Bluff. 3-4

Cannon and skirmishers together rout the southern horse in the woods. 4-4

A Confederate battalion breaks under grapeshot from close cannon. 5-4

So many have died that there aren't enough death tokens... 5-5

Skirmishers fall as the southern battleline turns. 5-6

The straw that breaks the Union's back. 5-7 CSA win!

From Hell's Heart New York stabs at thee! Final score 6-7.
This was a fun, tight game between me and Barbarossa, who was playing DBx for the first time. A staunch GW player, he was astonished at the fun possible with just one die each - and to be honest, it was even more fun than I thought it would be too. I guess he's just a great opponent.

We swapped sides and had a rematch too, which ended 6-8 to the Union. Again, the bluff itself was key to the way the battle ended as the brigaded Union Rifles stormed the hill and massacred the opposing skirmishers and cavalry with heavy fire - and a good thing too, as Barbarossa's Confederates dominated the plains and slaughtered my jaegers in the woods.

Men of the Match: Rifles, on both sides. This truly was a chance for them to show their quality, and they did, outmatching every unit on the table in both killing and staying power.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A Song of Void and Stars

I'm currently playtesting A Song of Void and Stars, the upcoming space combat game being produced for Ganesha Games.

I've always been in a love-hate relationship with space combat games. I love space. Star Wars was the first film I saw in the cinema that broke through my childhood deafness. The terror of being in that loud, dark room as John William's score began, the joy and awe and the film that followed, are all indelibly printed on my mind. It started a love affair with sci-fi that has lasted over fifteen years so far - currently my favourite series of books is David Weber's Honor Harrington series. I love reading the stories, watching the stories, and I love the idea of refighting them.

But I generally dislike space combat games. The closest I've come is with Full Thrust and Warcosm, both of which are fine systems, but still involve more book-keeping than I'm really comfortable with in a game.

A Song of Void and Stars on the other hand, is perfect for me. I was already a big fan of the Song of Blades and Heroes system (I own it and several of its supplements), and the record keeping is minimal. The damage system has two tracks: Weapons (as a whole) and Systems (non-combat systems, including crew casualties and morale) which cascade: get a certain number of one type of damage, and it bumps up to type 2 damage etc.

It's clean, quick and simple - but don't think that means easy! There are still tactical issues to consider, especially with the special rules that both ships and the exceptional personalities of your fleet bring to the match. While effective, these are not the Special Rules of your various international army book dealers - it's very easy to keep track of things in-game.

Here's an AAR from a battle between the Solar Imperium and the Colonies of Man, which are in no way at all based on the Empire and the Colonials of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica. Both fleets are just slightly over the usual game size of 750pts, and are roughly equivalent to a modern carrier group - one capital ship plus escorts.

The Solar Imperium has long cast a covetous eye over the Free Colonies. Living under its long shadow, the Colonies themselves have been arming slowly, developing their fleets in order to provide a stay of execution to their homes and families.
When the blow came, it fell not against the Twelve Worlds, but against the mining outpost of Casus B. Luckily for the miners, the Perilous and her escorts were on a training mission in the area...

Solar Imperium
MkII Cruiser - Supremacy
2 x MkII Carracks – Warden, Valour
Assault Frigate – Fellowship
Lancer Frigate – Guidance

Hermes Battlesun – Perilous
4 Berserker Escorts – Illyria, Thesean, Tyndarus, Medusa

4x4 battlefield. Two minefields in the centre, 7 inches from opposite board edges, 1 nebula in galactic northeast. Imperials started galactic north, Colonials south.

Turn One – Colonial
Having noticed the Imperial presence early, the Colonial commander decided to hang back and spam the inner system with missiles. His ships launched preliminary missiles waves, moving slowly towards Galactic east. Unfortunately though the Illyria's inexperienced captain broke formation, ploughing straight in-system - alerting the Imperial forces.
Turn One – Imperial
Effectively directed by the Fleet Command Centre aboard the Supremacy, the two Carracks moved forward on the Imperial right flank, launching missiles of their own. Worried by the number of Colonial birds launched, the Supremacy spawned two Combat Space Patrols, ordering its fighters to protect the flagship as it moved forward, hoping to bring the Perilous under her guns. The Fellowship tried to follow suit on her activation, but a computer glitch caused a catastrophic failure in her launch bays! As her flight crew choked among the acrid smoke of the fighter that crashed taking off, the turnover came, and the missiles moved again.
Turn Two – Colonial
The Illyria swerved back into formation as the task group as a whole moved east. Her fellow escorts fired another five waves of missiles. With a surge of power, the Perilous moved safely behind her screen and launched a CSP of her own, noting with a nervous glance the Carracks' birds.
Turn Two – Imperial
The Escorts around the Supremacy went mad trying to kill some of the incoming birds. And all failed - there were just too many. The Supremacy launched an extra CSP and braced itself for the incoming attack. One Carrack launched more birds, and the Warden's captain lost his head.
Missile time.

After all the other missile movement, four waves of missiles hit the Supremacy simultaneously, completely swamping her point defence capability. Luckily, her three CSPs were on hand to reduce the effectiveness of those attacks, but the damage was still awful to behold. Even with her shields up and ready, the maelstrom of blistering nuclear explosions tore the skin of her armour and ripped apart her weapons blisters, leaving her offensive capability critically low.
Turn Three – Colonial
The fire of three escorts removed only a third of the missiles threatening the Perilous, so she launched more fighters in an attempt to shield herself. Though her armour bucked and melted under the strain, she survived the firestorm wholly intact thanks to the efforts of her brave pilots, swooping in and out the incoming birds to destroy as many as they could.
Turn Three – Imperial
A potentially lethal short turn for the Imperials. With five waves of missiles threatening the flag, the Guidance moved close to offer point defence support. Unfortunately, before any more preparations could be made, the Fellowship's captain, no doubt worried by the accident in his launch bay, became hysterical. He broke formation and potentially doomed the flag by forcing a turnover.

Missile time.

Despite Guidance's valiant attempts at point defence for her flagship, there were too many missiles for Supremacy's design to handle, and again her anti-missile defences were rendered useful. Having lost most of her pilots fighting off the last assault (and without the time to launch more thanks to Fellowship's shenanigans), she had very little with which to thin the tide approaching. The shields stopped a few missiles from doing their nightmarish work (quadrupling the Imperial score!), but they could not stop the inevitable, and the Supremacy silently popped out of existence in a maelstrom of fire and flying metal.
Turn Four – Colonial
Continuing east, the Berserker spammed seven waves of missiles toward the approaching Carracks, and the Perilous launched another CSP.
Turn Four – Imperial
This was a short turn. The Valour's captain shouted at his crew until they ignored the loss of their flagship, the Warden fired unsuccessfully at the approaching missiles, and the Fellowship ruined things for everyone again by forcing a turnover. When the missiles struck, the Warden took terrible damage, losing nearly all systems AND weapons functionality.
Turn Five – Colonial
Continuing their tactics, the Colonials fired another nine missile waves as they moved east. As the first ones struck the Valour, the ship writhed and bucked, weapons blisters sloughing off under the rain of explosive.
Turn Five – Imperial
As the Warden drifted into empty space, the Valour got the first distance kill on a missile all game! Stuck on the wrong end of the Colonial firing line, the Guidance turned to rejoin the scattered Imperials in the west, and the Fellowship's captain opened his liquor cabinet. What difference did it make?

Once the Fellowship forced the turnover, the missiles struck again. The valiant Guidance was utterly annihilated by the Perilous' powerful payload, shattering into infinite pieces in the black. The Valour shortly followed her, having barely survived four missile attacks and being annihilated by the last.

With that, the crippled Warden and wholly incompetent Fellowship jumped to lightspeed, hoping to purge their logs and present their superiors with a more palatable version of what happened at Casus IV.

Missile spamming works. There's no other way to say it, and as an Honor Harrington fan, that makes me rather happy. Every Colonial kill was down to 4+ missile markers striking on the same same turn. Activating escorts on 2 dice and using the full 3 for the flag once everyone else has moved is also a winner, at least by this game (each activation is an action the ship can perform, but two failures on the same roll forces a turnover).

There was no Man of the Match this time – the Beserkers co-operated fully in swamping the enemy point defence. But the wooden spoon definitely goes to the Fellowship, which achieved precisely nothing except for forcing THREE of the FIVE Imperial turnovers. Ludicrous.

Point defence is potentially understrength in this. The Escort Support rule was used ten times and provided one kill on missiles, which is probably contrary to designer expectation. I would submit that it should be d6+CV vs the missile's CV only. This would allow escorts to effectively shield their flag.

The basic mechanics are fun though, very engaging (as all Song of Blades and Heroes games are), and I think have inspired me to run a campaign based on the war between the Imperials and the Free Colonies. Homemade Counters ho!

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life...

So I had a bike accident yesterday. I'm fine, apart from two mildly sprained wrists, a scuffed knee and a broken rib. But it was already broken, it just made things that little bit more painful when I landed.

But while I was hurtling off my bike towards the concrete, it wasn't physical injury I was worried about. I've been doing martial arts for years, and I work as a doorman. I was worried about three things: my bike (how would I get about), my leather jacket (a gift from my dad, and possibly the most expensive bit of clothing I own), and my bag (my models, oh no!)

That's right, I was on my way back from a game of Flames of War at my FLGS, and they were with me when things went wrong. I didn't check them last night - the police took me to A&E, and I wasn't home until 2am.

I checked them this morning, and holy cow!

I use VHS cases for storing my models, with PVAed cotton wool inside the lid to keep things a little more quiescent.
Their contents are a mystery.
A lot of people disagree with my cheap as chips philosophy, including a lot of my friends, but last night has to some degree validated me - everything was fine. Seriously, no damage. The following pictures were all taken within two seconds of each box being opened. Boxes which were just video cassettes cases with a little cotton wool, and were hurled over my head and onto the tarmac (my messenger bag was actually thrown off me and landed four feet away), as well being lobbed by police and groggy me in A&E. Enjoy:

The stands have moved a little, but that's it. Feel free to click on the pictures for larger versions, and stand in awe at what £2.50 worth of packing and storage can do. Hooray for VHS!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Damn Battleships Ahead!

I have a rule that I try (and fail) to stick to. When attracted, magpie-like, to a new period or army, I refrain from any purchases for a month or so to make sure I'm actually interested.

I've been looking at Navwar's 1/3000 Pre-Dreadnought range for some time now, for a fantasy project as much as anything else. I finally bought them very recently, and may I say Holy Cow in regards to Navwar's service. I posted them an order form and a cheque on the Monday (second class!) and received my packet Thursday morning. It wasn't just Pre-Dreads, I've picked up some Roundway 15mm Jacobites & British for playing Sharp Practice too.

Anyway, it was Phil Barker's Damn Battleships Again that got me interested in the Pre-Dreadnought period, since my group is familiar with the DBx mechanics and it will be easy to stat up fantasy fleets. I was going to split Navwar's starter pack between real and imagi- nations, but I got carried away with my British. Bear in mind that this is only about two thirds of the £10 starter pack - Navwar really is amazing value for money. So without further ado, the beginnings of my Royal Navy. Three battleships, five cruisers and three pairs of torpedo destroyers. Click on the photos for larger versions.

Cruisers top, destroyers to the right, battleships at the bottom.

Cruisers top, destroyers to the right, battleships at the bottom.

Painting Guide: The bases were done by crumpling tissue paper from a flower shop and gluing it to plasticard. Once the ship was stuck on, the whole thing was undercoated with grey car spray.
Ships: GW Charadon Granite hulls, GW Kommando Khaki decks, Vallejo Off White armour/guns and GW Dark Flesh lifeboats.
Sea: GW Regal Blue with a drybrush of GW Shadow Grey, which was also the colour of the trim. This was followed up by a clear coat of Pledge.

The ships look awfully nice in person, but I haven't quite found a way to show that with my funny little camera yet.

As soon as I find another suitably large sea surface (I foolishly made my bed with the usual sheet), an AAR will go up - British vs French. I recall something of a crisis during the reign of Edward VII when a failed assassin in Paris was found to have used a bomb of Birmingham manufacture...

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Force on Force Status Markers

One thing that annoys me when I'm playing Force on Force is trying to keep track of who's pinned, who's suppressed, who's on overwatch, and who's injured.

Cotton wool only takes you so far, and knocking over seriously injured and just-shot models alike is confusing. The answer?

When stuck in a lump of blu-tac on a penny (English penny!) and painted, they're awesome little status markers. I have First Aid, Pinned (two for suppressed) and Overwatch markers, and red and green beads to mark the bases of seriously and lightly wounded models.

Orange is overwatch, Red Cross is First Aid.

These yellow explosion guys are "pinned". Click for a better image.
Possibly the best thing about pushpins is that the box they came in is perfect for storing the beads! Beads which will, now I think about it, do very well in Volley and Bayonet as Disorder markers too...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

FoF Modern British

As requested by Baz over at the AAG Forum, here are some pictures of how the Old Glory UK 15mm Modern British came out.

It was a pretty easy paintjob:
1. Vallejo Iraqi Sand with small stripes of Vallejo English Uniform for the uniforms and webbing.
2. GW Kommando Khaki for the boots.
3. GW Charadon Granite for the guns, GW Catachan Green or the handgrips.

For the land rovers, the only additional steps were GW Adeptus Battlegrey for the windows, GW Camo Green for the foliage, and assorted beiges, browns and greens for the kit in the back.

The pics aren't as good as I was hoping - if anyone has any tips, they'd be greatly appreciated.