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'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 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 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....

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lewes Castle

As usual work and life have gotten in the way of regular blogging again so there haven't been any posts for a little while.  Hopefully my normal erratic service will now be resumed!

My job often takes me to the wilds of West Sussex and occasionally into the badlands of East Sussex.  Usually this involves attending a meeting and then heading back home with little chance to see any of the local sites, but the other day I found myself with a bit of spare time after a meeting on Lewes.

Now, I'm known for an interest in castles and Lewes is the site of the remains of an 11th century castle and, of course, the Battle of Lewes.  The battle (as I'm sure everyone knows) was fought between Simon de Montfort and Henry III in 1264.  Henry rather foolishly made the mistake of leaving his nice comfy castle to fight and would have been ok if his son Prince Edward hadn't gone charging off table leaving his father somewhat exposed.

The castle itself now consists of a couple of main towers and an attached small museum and was a nice spot to while away an hour or so although I did have to negotiate my way round the wedding reception that was taking place in the grounds.

The castle was started in 1069 by William de Warenne, 1st Earl of Surrey and the original castle mound is now adjacent to the main castle itself...

You can make out the mound behind the buildings in the foreground

The view from the tower

..and again. 

The museum itself houses a number of Bronze age and Iron age items
Beaker people pot (...are they still called that?  It's been a while since my Archeology GCSE)

Some rather impressive swords and spear heads


And an even more impressive model of Lewes. 

Lewes itself is a pretty little town chock full of antique shops and bookshops (and nightmarish parking!).  I also discovered that one of my heroes, Thomas Paine lived there for some time, in this house...

I seem to be having regular meetings in Lewes at the moment...certainly nicer than East Grinstead!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Angels One Five

This week I had a chance to try out Angels One Five, the strategic WW2 air board game from the stable of Philip Sabin and Victory Point Games.  Chris and I had been trying to arrange this for months but real life has a habit of interfering with important things like gaming.

Image result for angels one five board game

We did finally get the chance to take to the skies though and it was an interesting game.

The game is played using a series of aircraft counters which are viewed top down...because of this each time you change altitude bands the counters become smaller (as you get lower) or larger as you climb.  An interesting idea but I'm not sure it added much other than giving us a confusing number of counters to swap around as we dived or climbed.  The board itself is quite small and consists of 3     6" x 17"  boards which are repositioned as the target bombers fly off the edge

Image result for angels one five board game
image from Boardgamegeek
Each scenario pits fighters against enemy bombers who fly in a straight line across the board and a number of escorts.  This is very much the focus of the game and it takes a strategic view of attacks.  We played through the first 2 scenarios and it took me till the 2nd one to grasp what the game was aiming for. 
I've played various WW2 dogfighting games with Bag the Hun a definite favourite and initially I approached this in the same way.  In fact the game is much more subtle than it first appeared.  There is a clear link between speed and altitude in the game and it quickly became clear that once you lose altitude it's quite tricky to regain height.  Similarly if you slow down to match the speed of the bombers (you need to finish your movement in the same hex in order to fire so this is tempting) it becomes extremely difficult to increase speed again.  Quite a contrast to games like BtH or indeed X Wing where planes speed up and slow down, climb and dive in a suitably heroic style. 
By the second scenario I'd realised that height and power are actually quite finite resources in this game and the skill comes in planning your attack and timing when to change altitude and speed...sadly something I failed to grasp in time!  My 2 Hurricanes successfully lined up on the bombers and evaded the fighter escort but the first one only managed 1 hit on the bombers before being driven off the map by return fire.  My second plane slowed down at the wrong point and I quickly realised I wasn't going to be able to catch the bombers and had set myself up to be bounced by the circling Me109s.
A very interesting game which left me with quite a bit to think about.  Our next plan is to try it again but this time using 1/300 planes on a hex mat instead of the counters.
On an air war related note, there is a new Kickstarter about to be launched by the Plastic Soldier Company for an updated version of the old TSR Battle of Britain game designed by Richard Borg with 1/300 scale aircraft.  Definitely one to keep an eye out for!

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Winner Takes it All!

Image result for miniature wargames 398

I've bought both Miniature Wargames and Battlegames both separately and then more recently in the combined format, since they first came out, through both good and bad issues.  I'm a fan of the more recent directions in the magazine and now I have even more reason to be a fan!

Each month, tucked in the back pages lies the competition and I like to have a go at this...if the prize is something that appeals then I've often sent off an entry with no success. Admittedly in the past this has been because I've failed to answer the questions correctly, failed to supply my details etc.

But this week an email popped into my inbox from Henry Hyde announcing that I'd won!  The prize in the last issue was £25 worth of stuff from Old Glory so I'll now be going off to peruse their website and see what unnecessary items I can pick up.

Incidentally the MWBG website is now shared with their stablemate Tabletop Gaming magazine which is well worth having a look at if you're a fan of boardgames (which I suspect is most of us).

tabletop-gaming-issue-5(on sale 02/06/2016)

Before I go I'd just like to thank my family, my friends, the dogs for their unswerving support, my agent.......