Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Slaughter on the North West Frontier

Off to Guildford last night for a game of The Sword and the Flame...one of those rulesets that everyone seems to have played but which have always passed me by.  We were using Mike and Anthony's very nice Armies in Plastic 54mm figures which has prompted me to get back to painting the ones I bought earlier this year.  Of course there are some outstanding Congo natives to paint... and some Aztecs to rebase.... and some ACW ships to paint...

The game pitted our brave boys in khaki against some doubtlessly unscrupulous Pathans as we tried to relieve a  small force holding out in a fort.  TSATF is card activated and thanks to the frequent appearance of the 'HALT' card, which ends the turn sequence, I spent quite a while holding behind a small wood drinking tea and watching Anthony's cavalry gallantly charging the Pathan Horse.  To be honest it was probably the safest place to be...over on the other flank Anthony's troops were mauled by the Pathans and eventually when I did advance I also took a hammering from Andrew's tribesmen who had been skulking in the rocks waiting for their chance to pounce.  The only troops that were happy and undisturbed were the ones in the fort.

It all looked quite rosy at this point..in a couple of turns there were
bloody scraps of khaki in the dust and the survivors had run away...

The rules were fun and intuitive, although it helped that Mike and Anthony have played them quite a bit previously.  Definitely 'old school' skirmish style and very entertaining.

Incidentally Mike has set up a rather spiffy Forum for all things 54mm.... http://littlewarsrevisited.boards.net/

There's also a write up on Mike's blog...

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Colours 2016

I haven't been to Colours or a couple of  years so yesterday I headed off down a very wet M4 to Newbury. The show changed last year (I think) from a 2 day to a 1 day show...I'm not sure what affect this has had on the dynamics of the show but it seemed to be pretty busy when I arrived at lunchtime and was still going strong when I left at 3.

I hadn't gone with a shopping list in mind...I think my parting words to my wife were 'no, there's nothing I'm gong to buy'.  Fatal really...

So the eventual haul included...

The Starter set for the Tanks game from GF9 with some extra tanks (because you can never have enough...)
Some MDF bases
A copy of Michael Howard's 'The Franco-Prussian War'
Some basing stuff from Vallejo and some tufty bits of grass
A copy of Sharp Practice 2 + cards
The last issue of Wargames Illustrated as well as the October issue

...so nothing at all really.... honest dear...

The show was good fun... some excellent looking games on display as always.  Here is a selection of photos.  As usual I haven't always noted what they were or who they were by so apologies to people who put on excellent games and have gone uncredited...

WW2 Russo-Finnish game by Loughton Strike Force...loved the iced-in ship.

Frostgrave (Maidstone & District)

Dux Bellorum?

Excellent 54mm modern Africa game

Really interesting looking Siege of Portsmouth game by Solent Wargames Club...in 2mm

Invasion of Fishguard - Tring Wargames Club

Boshin Wars game  - Solent Wargames Club.  Using Sharp Practice

Kut...Adrian Shepherd.  Looked fantastic and was using 'Setting the East Ablaze' rules

Kut again

...and again...you can tell I liked this one!

Naval Wargames Society's excellent RCW Dvina River game

Achtung Gringo by Crush the Kaiser games
Crawley Wargames Club - Operation Overlord strategic level game...looked great.

Something Warhammery by the South London Warlords...looked very impressive but I
always find these games are so full of figures I can't make sense of what's going on

There were lots more games which I failed to snap including an interesting looking Franco-Prussian War game, a modern Black Ops game and many more.  It was nice to see some participation games of Heroes of Normandie going on which I think is an excellent game.  A great day out marred only by annoying traffic jams on the M25 (just for a change) on the way back.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Congo - first game and first thoughts...

So last night I managed to play a first game of Congo, kindly hosted by Eric the Shed.  We'd planned a 4-handed game which I was going to umpire as most of the others didn't have a copy of the rules.  Sadly one of our players (and the only other one who had read the rules), Legatus, had a bit of a problem when his car packed in so we were down to 3. 

We were going to play one of the scenarios included with the rules, 'The Treasure of Makoko Mbe' which is suitable for more than 2 players, so with a bit of tweaking we had columns from a European force , an African Kingdom group and a Forest Tribe column all heading for the fabled lost treasure in the centre of the table.  The players knew that the treasure was guarded by Fanatical Warriors and that there were areas of Dangerous Terrain around it.  The terrain contained counters which would indicate which corner of the table the players could exit from which incentivised entering the deadly jungle..

It proved to be a very bloody affair, not surprisingly, with the 2 African armies scrapping away with each other while the Europeans sat back and let them weaken each other before moving up and blazing away with their rifles...and if that doesn't sum up European Imperialism I don't know what else could!

An angry gorilla...

Without going into all the scenario details, Rolf's Scouts managed to flush out a very angry gorilla which proved very tricky to deal with, despatching the Scouts before eventually falling to a group of Warriors who at least had the satisfaction of carting it off as loot.  Mark's Forest Tribe Witchdoctor tried casting a spell very early on which immediately went badly wrong and he disappeared in a cloud of evil spirits.  The Europeans advanced at a very steady, civilised pace, pausing for tea and popping off the odd round at a Native.  Rolf had actually done the hard part and killed the defenders of the treasure but was largely wiped out afterwards but did rack up a decent amount of Victory Points in the process.  In the end the Europeans claimed the treasure by default as everyone else was dead or had run off.

We got a few things wrong... I forgot that muskets need to be reloaded and it took me a while to work out exactly which Totem card did what.  I also couldn't find the rules on the Red coloured Actions and what they meant...if the symbol is Red there are some restrictions on what it can be used for.  I also made some errors in the combat results which led to some extra casualties early in the game but at least this was spread equally.  The game was also only meant to last for 7 turns but we ignored this as it was our first outing with the rules.  I'm not sure we'd have got very far if we'd kept strictly to time.

The menagerie is growing...

I think everyone enjoyed the rules...there are some things to think about such as table size and characters vulnerability.  Shooting also doesn't appear to cause any Stress to groups, unlike melee which seemed a little odd.  On the whole though an excellent game and one which I suspect will get quite a few outings...if nothing else we need to rearrange a game when Legatus is mobile again!

No photos I'm afraid as I was too busy trying to cope with umpiring and making sense of the rules (not the rules fault but entirely down to my brain!) but there are some pics and a write up on Eric the Shed's excellent blog...  Shed Wars.  Now to paint up my newly arrived African Kingdoms column from Northstar Miniatures...

Friday, 26 August 2016

Glittering Prizes....

Over in Big Lee's blog, he has recently passed the incredible of 2 000 000 views!  It's a huge number and I'm certainly a long way from reaching those dizzy heights.

To celebrate he is holding a very generous give away of £100 in vouchers.  All the details are here...

Big Lee's Blog

Tuesday, 16 August 2016


A few years ago 'Darkest Africa' was the setting for the games all the cool kids played, often using the excellent rules produced by Chris Peers.  As with all wargaming fads, we cutting-edge trendsetters quickly moved on to the next thing leaving boxes of Zanzabari Slavers, Azandes and Belgians languishing in their boxes.  But all of that is about  to change as the Circle of Life has turned completely and Darkest Africa is cool once again!

Congo are the latest set of rules from Studio Tomahawk, producers of the rather excellent Musket and Tomahawk rules for the French Indian Wars and have been in the planning stages for some time.  Having heard they'd been released I immediately ordered a set from Northstar and the box arrived very promptly 48 hours after the order had been pinged off to them.
The game  deliberately takes a Pulpy approach to the setting describing the setting as "an unexplored, fantasized, wild, dangerous and enchanted Africa, as imagined by newspapers at the end of the 19th Century".  Games are aimed at forces of around 30 figures from one of 4 factions...The White Men Expeditions, The Sultanate of Zanzibar, The Forest Tribes and The African Kingdoms.
The rulebook itself is hardback and 104 pages. It's very nicely put together with lots of photographs and illustrations.  At this point the frugal Scot in me comes to the fore and wonders if the rules could have been produced for less cost with slightly lower production values.  Don't get me wrong, the book is a really nice thing but the full page photos, while they're very pretty to look at, don't add a lot to how the game plays.  Saga and Muskets & Tomahawks (from the same company) are softback and more concise and are both excellent games.  I'm still not sure in my own head how I feel about the balance between gloss and price....I'll have to think about that one some more

Along with the rulebook you'll need a set of cards and tokens which are supplied with it.  More on these later.

The contents page

Lots of illustrations...a good thing?  Discuss...
The mechanics are relatively straightforward and use a nice combination of card activation but not totally randomised.  Each player has a hand of 7 Action Cards which give a combination of Movement, Shooting or Influence (morale) actions. In each turn they select 3 of these  to play.  Players also draw a Totem card each turn which gives additional bonuses.  Finally Witchdoctors (if you have them) have Sorcery cards.  Players then reveal their first Action Card simultaneously and the one with highest Initiative moves first.  One side (determined by the scenario) holds an Initiative Token and in the event of a tie can choose to go first, but then has to relinquish the token to their opponent.

Action Cards

Action Cards


Totem Cards

Totem Cards

Movement is similar to Saga in that Short, Medium and Long moves are used and the game comes with some nice templates for these
Shooting uses the same templates.  5's are needed to succeed but different troop types use different dice to reflect their skill: d6, d8 and d10s.  Casualties and events cause stress and these are shown by Stress Tokens which are drawn from a bag randomly.  Groups can also be targeted with "Terror" as an Action in some cases

The Movement templates and Stress Tokens etc

As I mentioned Witchdoctors have Sorcery determined by their Faction: effects can range from removing stress or increasing attacks, to having angry monkeys throw coconuts at your opponents.
The rules come with info for each Faction: each party has 2 Characters who lead the Column with groups of between 3 and 6 figures making up the rank and file.  Characters could be, for example, an Explorer or Reporter for the White Men expedition or a King or War Chief for one of the African Kingdoms.
Scenarios are presented, rather nicely, as newspaper articles (one is shown below).  There are 4 supplied with the rules and, despite my grumblings earlier about cost vs. glossiness, these are really nicely done.  Each one outlines background to the scenario, set up, etc and specifies any special rules that apply including entertaining random events which are picked from 2 substantial tables
Edit - as has been pointed out to me in the comments below, there are actually 8 scenarios which I would have realised if I'd looked at the other side of the newspaper sheets!!! 

One of the Scenarios

Finally the rules contain Design Notes which is something I like to see...it's always useful to get an insight into why some of the rules features were derived, and ideas for building an African Village and producing Jungle Vegetation.  Again I thought this was a nice touch

So overall the game looks fantastic.  There are some nice mechanics in there but it looks (from a couple of read-throughs) as though it would play quickly and intuitively but with a strong sense of narrative.  Yes, there is an argument about unnecessary use of photos and chatty sidebars but the rules are very attractively produced and well worth seeking out.  Already there seems to be a flurry of companies producing ranges of African tribes and assorted animals so I suspect these are going to be very popular.  Now I just need to brave the terrors of my loft to find my Darkest Africa figures....

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Osprey Black Ops

One of the drawbacks of the Osprey range of wargames rules is that they are very affordable and therefore very tempting.  A little while  ago I bought copies of Black Ops and En Garde but haven't had a chance to try them out.

Last week I was arranging a game at the club and decided this was a good chance to try out Black Ops as I knew my opponent, Andrew, had previously enjoyed other modern era games such as Force on Force.

The rules themselves are split into 2 formats: the main straightforward game
 and one that is more focused on stealth missions.  The inspiration for the rules is clearly very cinematic...indeed the blurb on the cover cites Bond and Bourne films and games such as Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid are an obvious inspiration too. Suggested factions in the rules include regular troops and fanatics/militia but also include ideas for police, criminal gangs, intelligence agencies and even Ninjas.  There are also suggested stats for near-future tech if you want to try out Jump Packs and Stealth Suits

Troops are divided into a number of categories: Aces (leaders), Heavies (not necessarily people with heavy weapons but weapons specialists...marksmen, RPGs etc), Specialists (with non-weapon skills...medics, scientists etc) and Soldiers.  Points are paid for different quality troops and additional weapons, skills etc.  Figures are activated on the turn of a playing card using face cards and Jokers: so, for example if a Red Jack is turned then all 'Soldiers' on the Red side are activated.  Each figure then gets 1 action. 

Figures can deploy on Blinds until spotted but I' decided we may as well go for it and use the Stealth rules as well.  These mean that some of  the defenders are deployed on blinds while the others are patrolling as guards.  The attackers deploy normally and can either sneak past the guards avoiding raising the alarm or go in all guns blazing.  At this stage on the attackers use the cards to activate.  As  the attackers move and fire they generate noise which alerts the guards...they don't necessarily raise the alarm but will investigate (or in my case, wander around aimlessly and ignore the heavily armed troops invading their compound!).  Eventually they should be bright enough to twig something's up and raise the alarm  at which point it reverts to the normal game format.

The rules suggest a range of scenarios  and settings including Assassination, Extraction, Espionage, Sabotage, Raid and Surveillance. Suggested settings include Airfields, Compounds, a Defile, City, Factory and Village.  Our game set small force of Special Forces troops against some generic Fanatics.  in a village with the aim of killing the Leader.  In the centre of the village was a large oil well and some storage tanks which could well make a reappearance in a later Sabotage scenario.
The Playing cards tucked under some buildings mark the possible locations of the leader and off-table guards who are all assumed to be asleep or otherwise occupied

The Special Forces entered from the left and luckily the Leader was in
the house on the far right...otherwise it could have been a short game!

Andrew was doing an excellent job of sneaking around and my guards were proving particularly rubbish at investigating noises but as I suspected, Andrew's impatience got the better of him and he quickly grew tired of sneaking and decided to go for the less subtle approach of killing everyone which would at least ensure the Leader was among the casualties

The fanatics only managed to kill one of the Special Forces (well...they are 'Special') and we found the rushing your opponent and hitting him seemed a very effective way of taking out the opposition, especially if you can outnumber him.  This worked well for Andrew but backfired somewhat when his troops were tied up punching Fanatics, leaving my Leader to abandon his followers and make his way to the truck by the storage tanks and drive off. 

A hail of gunfire from the Special Forces shot out the tires and it took me a couple of turns to realise that this had slowed me so much I would be quicker getting out and walking!  The truck manage to limp to the edge of town before bursting into flames but the Leader was able to leap out and run off into the desert night.  All the remaining Fanatics died...erm...Fanatically.   So technically a win for the Fanatics but I think the Leader will have a bit of trouble recruiting new followers....

I made a couple of errors with the rules...it took me a while to work out that when firing each figure may fire multiple shots depending on their weapon.  This generates more hits but also more noise in the Stealth game.  I also forgot all about the morale rules: the Fanatics took a lot of casualties and should have run away but, hey, they were meant to be Fanatical!  I also had to wing it slightly on a couple of situations eg my leader leaping into the truck and driving off.  There are rules for vehicles but I decided that it should take 3 turns for him to get up to full speed.  A slim volume like the Osprey rules can't be expected to cover every situation but as long as you all play in the spirit then it generally works out ok.

Another excellent set of rules...less confusing than Force on Force I suspect. It would be interesting to try these with a more straightforward stand up fight but I think they would work well.  Coincidentally on the next table at the club there was a Vietnam game also using Black Ops...in this case it was a VC attack on a convoy and they seemed to be having fun too!

Surveys and TV Stars

I suspect a lot of you will already have seen both of these items but it's always worth another plug....

The annual Great Wargaming Survey which has been run by the haps at Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine is having it's latest outing at the moment.  It usually makes interesting reading and is worth spending 10 minutes to complete...there are prizes and everything!  The closing date is August 19th...

survey link

Time Commanders

The other news item which caught my eye is the return of Time Commanders.  This was a BBC series back in 2003-2005 which let teams " go head-to-head with some of the greatest generals from history".  It was more entertaining that it sounds...usually the pleasure came from watching the teams fall apart as one of them would ignore the instructions of everyone else and do something stupid (actually that sounds like a normal team game...and yes, it's usually me doing the ignoring!).  The performance of the team would also be picked apart by a panel of experts including Dr. Aryeh Nusbacher of Sandhurst, Mike Loades, Saul David, Mark Urban or Adrian Goldsworthy.  There are episodes available on YouTube I believe.

The original series used the game system from the Total War series of computer games so it'll be interesting to see the difference 11 years has made to the tech.  Looking at the list of battles fought in the first 2 series they seem to have been mainly Ancient with the latest ones being Stamford Bridge and Hastings (presumably because it used the Rome:Total War engine).  The games have since moved on to later eras so perhaps later battles will feature?

I've already had my brush with TV fame this year (hmm...maybe the subject of another blog post...) so over to you folks....