Wednesday, 5 February 2020

The Men Who Would be Kings - Defending the Drift

Bit of a different game this week...I'd left the choice of game to Anthony and he came up with an excellent choice which I hadn't played for ages... The Men Who Would Be Kings.

Anthony has an excellent collection of 54mm figures and for this game his Zulus and British took to the table in one of the scenarios from the rule book.  The Zulus were trying to prevent the British from capturing a vital river crossing into their territory and with a 12 turn limit the pressure was on the Brits to make haste.

The Zulus deploy on the river bank

The British and their Natal Native Contingent troops arrive

As the Zulus I ought to have been playing a defensive game and letting the clock run down against the British but that didn't feel like a very Zulu sort of thing to do so I pushed forward over the river, sending my Veteran troops up into the hills  by the river where they 'Went to Ground' which meant they could only be fired on at close range, hopefully negating the British firing advantage.

On the other side of the table I couldn't resist the temptation of trying to wipe out the NNC who had taken the other hill on the table...I thought these would be easy pickings but they fought well and had the advantage of the high ground and although the fight was a draw, this forced my Zulu regiment back

Before I could launch another attack the British Mounted Infantry charged in support of the NNC.  This turned into a very bloody skirmish with the Zulus regiment being wiped out and the Mounted Infantry then being attacked and finished off by a 2nd regiment to level the scores at 1 unit apiece.

The surviving Zulus from this fight quickly pulled back over the river where the rest of the Zulus had formed a defensive line. The British had been advancing rather cautiously and Anthony had realised that the clock was ticking

I had to really resist the urge the launch my veteran Zulus from the hills onto the advancing British regiments...I knew it would end badly but it seems the right thing to do when you're playing the Zulus!

As the turn limit was reached a brave unit of Redcoats charged the Zulus defending the ford but were driven back with heavy casualties on both sides. In the last turn however the plucky NNC who had finally decided to come down from their hill charged in driving back the rather beaten up Zulus and seizing the crossing. I had one last chance to launch a counter attack and save the day but my regiments all decided that they didn't want to advance...they'd seen what happened to their comrades at the hands of the NNC and the game went to the British (...just ).

We played this using half-strength units as the figures were 54mm which can make combat and firing rather bloody and units quite brittle, but afterwards were thinking that we could have counted each figure as 2 which would counter this.  We'll have to have a re-match to test it out.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Post Captain - first naval engagement

My painting/modelling moments for the last week or so have been spent battling with more rigging on my Napoleonic ships from Warlord.  I built and painted 2 out of the 3 3rd rate ships that I was lucky enough to get for Xmas and struggled through the rigging process.  As these were my first 'proper' ships (as opposed to the freebies that came with issues of Wargames Illustrated) they included some ratlines printed on acetate...I managed to successfully fasten on 1 pair of ratlines before deciding that life was too short and that my blood pressure wouldn't be able to cope and the rest were consigned to the bin!

My fleet now consists of 2 3rd Rates, 2 Frigates and 4 Brigs (although 2 of these need to have their rigging re-done as I'm not happy with it) so it was time to get them on the table

3rd Rates


...and Brigs

I haven't actually invested in a set of Black Seas, the rules the ships were designed for.  I've read various reviews and the feedback on these seems to be mixed.  I suspect that, like Cruel Seas,  they are fine for a multiplayer game or for a quick evening game but there might not be much depth to them.  I haven't read them though so this might be very unfair.

When I think of Napoleonic era naval battles I don't really think of fleet actions or even squadrons.  Most of my inspiration for this comes from people like CS Forrester and Patrick O'Brian and most of the battles in their books always seem to be one on one clashes between ships and that is very much the level I would prefer to play at.  A bit of research for alternative rules threw up a couple of possibilities...

Signal Close Action from Langton Miniatures, which I suspect I have an early edition of somewhere in the loft, and Post Captain by ODGW, the same company who produce General Quarters.  I decided to get a copy of these as they seem to be aimed at players have a couple of ships each max.

The rules come loose bound (and annoyingly in the US format for ring-binders...I never knew there was a difference!).  ODGW very kindly give all purchasers access to their online library which also has a load of downloadable extras.  The rules include data sheets on lots of ships as well as a host of counters and QRFs.

They also provide templates for manoeuvring and for measuring ranges.  These come ready done for a variety of the usual scales for naval games and recently they have added some in 1/720 scale which is close match for the Warlord Games ships (1/600).  I was a bit concerned that this would make movement too big for our playing area so we actually used the ranges for 1/1000 scale which worked fine.  In hindsight I think we would have been ok with the 1/720 scale templates and I'd probably use this next time.

The first thing to point out is that there is a lot of complexity to these rules.  The basics of manoeuvring and firing are well explained but it gets more complex once there is a risk of colliding or boarding enemy ships etc.  The rules actually go into a lot of detail on boarding actions, landing crew onshore for cutting out operations, weather etc. For our 1st game we decided to keep things simple and avoid any of the more advanced rules

Each ship has a data card which has all the info you need represented clearly and this make it easy to record damage and find the info you need on sails, guns etc.

Each turn is divided into 3 phases (red, white and blue) for movement and firing but Captains also have to think about tasks like allocating crew to tasks over the whole turn.  This is easy at the beginning of the game when you have plenty of sailors lounging about on deck drinking rum and singing shanties but later in the game you'll need to man the guns, trim the sails, pump out the water pouring in through those large holes that have appeared in your hull and repair the rigging that has been shot away.  There won't be enough crew to go round (especially if you have taken casualties) so you won't be able to do everything you want to.  There is a bit of book-keeping required as some tasks, such as reloading or repairing rigging, are spread over multiple phases.  I know this can put some people off but it wasn't too onerous.

My initial plan was to give each of us a couple of ships each but my opponent Andrew sensibly suggested sticking to one ship each which proved very good advice!  We decided to refight a historical scenario...the fight between the frigates HMS Nymphe and the Cleopatre which took place on 18th June 1793.  Historically the French frigate suffered damage from gunfire and collided with the Nymphe, becoming entangled.  The French crew refused to attempt to board the Nymphe and, once they realised this, the British were able to board and capture the Cleopatre.  As you'll see our refight had a surprisingly similar outcome...

At the start of the game I had said to Andrew that we should avoid anything complicated like collisions and boarding...bear this in mid for later!!

The 2 ships began 1000 yards apart and HMS Nymphe quickly steered towards the French frigate, hoping to close the range and show off my superior British gunnery skills (actually both sides were evenly matched...the British had a 'Crack' Captain and could reload faster but otherwise there was little between them).  The opening salvo came from the French ship but was ineffective (even at fairly close range the guns were only hitting on a 1 or 2 on a 12 sided dice).

In response the British managed to inflict 2 rigging hits in the opening turn with a lucky shot.  The French returned fire with chain shot which caused some damage to the Nymphe's rigging and I quickly sent men aloft to repair the damage although this meant I wasn't able to man the short-range  Carronades which would have been useful when we moved nearer each other.

The French successfully managed to tack...not an easy task but one that is explained well in the rules for landlubbers like me.

In Turn 3 the ships had closed to 200 yards and a lucky critical hit from Nymphe took out the chains supporting the Mizzen Topgallant causing a Sprung mast  (a bad thing...this means there is a danger of the mast falling each turn) and more rigging and sail damage, slowing the Cleopatre.

Cleopatre then returned fire with more chain shot, firing on the up-roll (a shabby French trick!) which also damaged the British rigging...luckily I had successfully repaired the earlier damage so this wasn't great but not as bad as it could have been.

As his sails and rigging were pretty battered and Andrew hadn't been able to repair them, Cleopatre decided on a drastic course of action and as the Nymphe successfully tacked the French ship deliberately swung across its bows tangling the 2 ships together and causing damage to both ships.  In the collision the French  topgallant mast which had sprung earlier now fell completely, damaging other masts and obstructing the French guns.  The French Marines attempted to board but failed or refused, just as in the real battle.

At this point sadly we ran out of time.  The ships were tangled together but the Cleopatre had suffered a lot more damage and was unable to fire its guns as they were obscured by the fallen mast and rigging.  If we'd had time I would have ordered the British Marines and sailors over the bow of the ship onto the Cleopatre and I have no doubt that they would have swept away all resistance!!  😀

The rules were pretty daunting but by the end of the evening we were pretty much zipping through the complexities of manoeuvring (even tacking) and gunnery.  Obviously Andrew ignored my advice to avoid colliding and boarding but it did mean we got to test these parts of the rules out sooner than planned!  I have no doubt we got lots of things wrong but I thoroughly enjoyed the game and it certainly gave the feel of the kind of naval duel Forrester would have written about which is exactly what I was after.

Sunday, 26 January 2020

SELWG 2020 and a bit of telly

SELWG is one of the wargames shows I usually try and get along's the one that's closest to home and usually has a good range of games and traders.  I've probably been going on and off for around the last 30 years.

So it was a shame to see this post on Facebook yesterday (the post is actually from last October so this may be old news to you but thanks to the mysteries of Facebook algorithms it only appeared on my feed yesterday!)...

... to be fair I can see what they mean about the venue.  It has been held at Crystal Palace sports centre since I've been going and split over 2 floors adjacent to the swimming pool.  The facilities all seem a bit tired and the parking seems to have been increasingly 'challenging'.  The location is great for me but I can see that SE London's lack of tubes and Sunday service on the trains could make it tricky for people to get there although attendance always seems good.

I was quite puzzled by the idea of a move to Lea Valley in North London though... it seems a bit out of their patch and would probably mean I wouldn't make the trip but if it makes it more accessible to more people I guess that's a good thing.  [Edit: with a bit thought it might not be any more of a trek than Salute is so we'll least I have till 2021 to think about it!]

In other news...I'm usually way behind the curve when it comes to keeping up with the latest TV series...I still haven't watched The Wire or The Sopranos and only finally got round to Breaking Bad last year... so I'm very much 'on trend' now and saw the 1st episode of Star Trek Picard on Friday.

I have mixed experiences with Star Trek...again  I missed some series completely and when I recently re-watched some of the original series I was surprised with how badly it had aged (and not just the effects).  Picard seemed very good though and I'll stick with it.

I've also seen some of The Mandalorian which was very impressive although I was surprised at how short the episodes were.  For all its Sci-fi appearances it does seem to basically be a Cowboy series (not a bad thing) can almost hear the jingling spurs!

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

The 1st Battle of extravaganza!

I'm lucky enough to be a part of a slightly anarchic gaming collective gathered together by Eric the Shed of Shed Wars blog fame.  Mostly our gaming is a regular weekly evening game but for the last couple of years Eric has organised an annual full day extravaganza.  In previous years this has included Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift (both in one day!) and Hastings.  This year's spectacular was to be the 1st Battle of Newbury from 1643...a pivotal battle in the Civil War.

There are several posts on Eric's blog explaining the background to the battle and how he put together the terrain,  the armies, rules amendments, orders of battle etc.  He has now posted a great write up of the game itself here.

6 of us gathered at Eric's early on Sunday morning and after a fortifying bacon roll and coffee we went through the briefing for the day.  The table  looked excellent with every regiment represented on table...there had been a bit of last minute reorganisation to make it all fit but everything worked perfectly.  Each regiment and ech commander had an info card which outlined who they were and stats for Pike and Shotte rules.  I know some people aren't keen on cards like this on the table but they really helped and I don't think  we would have been able to keep track of things without them.

Before the battle...

I had been assigned the role of Essex, Parliamentarian commander but each commander also had a commander named after themselves who could take command of a battalia which was a nice touch...funnily enough despite several historical commanders dying in the battle, all of our own mini-me's survived unscathed!

The Parliamentary army had an advantage in infantry battalia but was outnumbered by Royalist cavalry with most of both sides cavalry massing on one flank.  In the centre Parliament's large gun battery were able to quickly get to Round Hill, the high  ground in the centre of the table, and command the field. In the end they were pretty ineffectual but they looked good!

The view from Round Hill

Both sides played a cagey opening couple of moves with the Royalists on their right flank spending several turns skulking in Newbury before they decided to venture out.  Parliament's left flank was a maze of hedgerows which slowed down both sides and in the more open centre both sides sat and stared at each other for a while, with the cowardly (or sensible)  Royalists staying out of artillery range.  It was obvious that the opening moves were going to be made on our right with a cavalry battle and sure enough, after a couple of turns of manoeuvring into position, both sides charged. In fact the very opening casualty was the Parliamentarian cavalry commander, picked off by a sniper!

The cavalry mass...

...and then charge!

The cavalry battle was to last all day and despite being outnumbered  the Parliamentarian horse managed to fight the Royalists to a standstill thanks to some excellent generalship. General Stapleton's death at the hands of a sniper was avenged a few turns later when Prince Rupert died in a clash of cavalry.  A small unit of dismounted Dragoons fought off several Royalist horse units throughout the day and became the target of increasing attacks by the frustrated Royalists before eventually being overrun but they had accounted for several cavalry squadrons before the end.

Although our far left flank had fought to a standstill in the centre-left we began to make some progress and towards the end of the day we had made some progress but in the centre my advance had stalled in the face of heavy musket and artillery fire. I had moved my reserves (the London Trained Bands) over the right to support the cavalry battle so now everything was committed and the clock was ticking down to the end of the day.

Fighting over the hedgerows on the left flank

...and in the centre

In the afternoon we had started checking at the end of each turn to see how close we were to the armies breaking and it was pretty much neck and neck throughout the day.  As we approached the end, generals were flying around trying to rally shaken regiments and shore up the defences.  At the end of the last turn the Royalists were 3 units away from breaking and Parliament was 2 units away so we called it as a draw... the King had failed to destroy the Rebel army which could slip away to London, a pretty historical outcome.

A really epic game with some desperate individual battles fought across the table.  The company was, as always, excellent and really made the day very special.  There has already been some discussion abut the 2021 game,,,I better get painting!!!

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Helion New Year sale

Publisher Helion & Company have been running their New Year sale since 6th January with some hefty discounts and free postage (at least it's free in the UK)

Included in the sale are 3 of the Paper Soldiers books (LINK).  I wasn't tempted by their War of the Spanish Succession book (well...I was tempted but realistically it would never get done) but I did weaken and order the Castle Assault book (set during the Wars of Scottish  and Welsh Wars of Independence) and their European Buildings book which looks generally very handy.

These are discounted down to £4.23 each so too good to pass up!

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Last and first games

My last game of 2019 was a 5 player game of the Game of Thrones boardgame.  I haven't played this for several years so was quite hazy about the rules...all I could remember was it involved a lot of treachery and backstabbing (obviously).  As the Lannisters I found myself slap in the middle of the map and it took a few turns for me to work out what was going on.  The southern half of the board was pretty peaceful as the 3 players here decided to largely ignore each other... the Pykes and Starks to the north had other ideas and I lost quite a lot of ground in a mutually destructive war with the Pykes.  Somehow (and I still don't really know how!)  I managed to sneak into the lead in the last turn and won the game!  I can only think that as everyone was targeting which ever player was in the lead no one noticed me until the end as I'd been pretty weedy for most of the game...a life lesson in there somewhere I think!

2020's gaming started with an outing for Star Wars Rebellion...another game I hadn't played for ages.  It took us ages to set up and remind ourselves of the rules but once we got started it all made sense.

Like a lot of Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars games this suffers a little from having too many 'bits'...I got very confused about which was the Action cards, the Tactics cards, the Projects cards, the Mission cards etc.  This wealth of 'stuff' was one of the things that put me off other FFG games such as Armada.  Luckily my son has a much better grasp of this than I do and kept me on track.  The game is a big strategy game set across a map of the Star Wars universe with the Imperials trying to locate and destroy the secret Rebel Base while the Rebels have to hang on and convince systems to join the alliance.

The Imperials not surprisingly dominate militarily with Star Destroyers, ATATs and even a Death Star available to crush resistance.  They can also potentially build the 2nd Death Star later in the game.  The Rebels have some troops but have to rely more on persuasion and sneakiness to survive until the game end.

Having decided  where my secret base was I then started with most forces in Ryloth in the top right corner...big mistake as I was immediately hemmed in and had a Death Star and Star Destroyer bearing down on me.  Luckily the rebels move first so I was able to slip away.

Each player gets to recruit characters from the film's (some are rather obscure) who can move troops or carry out missions.  Very quickly Darth Vader  captured the Rebel leader Mon Mothma who is their best diplomat and really useful for convincing systems to join the rebellion.

I did eventually manage to rescue her and support for the rebels was slowly building across the galaxy.  Unfortunately the Imperials were advancing faster...they can convince systems to join them but can also subjugate them by landing troops on the planet.  This also reveals whether or not the hidden rebel base is present.  My hideout was on the Wookie system of Kashyyk and had 2 Imperial fleets getting closer and closer so I had to abandon it and relocate to one of the few remaining systems that my son hadn't investigated.  Sadly this only bought me a turn or 2 and he quickly invaded with a fleet and ground over.

I realised part way through the game that I'd made some early blunders with my tactics.  Although the rebels are relatively weak in military terms, they still need to be a bit aggressive and stop the Imperials having free reign to march all over the galaxy gaining resources and sussing out the location of the Rebel Base.  My 'run and hide' tactic was always doomed to failure.

Good fun and a game that gives a very different experience depending which side you play.  Let's hope my success rate improves for the next game in 2020!

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The obligatory 2019 review post.

So it's the end of 2019 and the dawn of the Roaring 20' son's off at a Hogmanay party with a 1920's fancy dress theme to mark the occasion.  I can't help thinking that the last '20s decade brought us financial collapse and the early stirrings of fascism...oh dear...

It's obligatory to post a recap of the year so here goes with a slightly rambling view of 2019.

The blog continues with 45 posts in 2019 (4 more than in 2018) which surprised me...I didn't think I'd posted as much as that.  Views and followers continue to grow although these are modest compared to lots of blogs out there.  To be fair I've never really chased hits so this doesn't worry me too much and I suspect some of the views are randomly generated by bots but that's fine.   By a huge margin the posts that get the most interest are anything to do with boardgames...these seem to attract a much, much larger number of views for some reason

Many thanks to everyone who continues to pop by and to comment. 

Gaming this year has really settled on 3 regular places.   I haven't managed to get to the Guildford club at all this year.  The start times make it a bit of a stressful rush to get there in time to nab a table and get set up.  Instead I am lucky enough to have mix of great friends who host games (including Eric the Shed) and it's great to have a lot of variety in the type of games I get to play.

Games have included a lot of Black Powder at the Shed...despite some flaws it's still (I think) one of the best systems for an evenings gaming: everyone understands the rules, it's easy for newcomers to pick up and games generally come to a sensible conclusion in a reasonable time.

I've also played several games of  Cruel Seas...I got the starter set last xmas and added a few extra boats to the collection. It's an ok system I think...good for a multi-player evenings game but I think for a 2 player game I'd still go with Action Stations by David Manley

I also put together 2 Jacobite period armies from the Peter Dennis Paper Soldier books and these saw quite a bit of action, either using Black Powder or the rules that come with the books.  I'm usually rubbish at seeing a project through to a conclusion so I was pretty chuffed  to have managed to get both the Cruel Seas boats and the Paper Soldiers actually on the table and in action.

In the second half of the year I have been busily painting AWI armies which I think will be used with Rebels and Patriots from Osprey Games.  Again my work rate has been surprisingly high (for me) and it looks like these will see some action in early 2020.

I bought the first of  these back in the summer at the Valhalla show in Surrey/Hants and also bought some Japanese WW2 figures for a Chain of Command project.  These have languished in their box, maturing nicely and hopefully I'll get started on these soon but of course that would distract me from the AWI project!

I've also played a lot of boardgames... some good, some ok and some that really made my brain hurt! I think I've finally realised that my days of playing marathon sessions of games that go on for hours and hours with hundred of counters or tokens to set up (yes GMT games...I'm looking at you!) are over.   I need something that can be fitted into an evening and is relatively easy to pick up.  Without doubt the game I've played most has been Terraforming Mars...and absolutely brilliant game with what seems like an infinite variety of ways to approach the game.  Honourable mentions too for Star Trek Ascendancy, Jaws, Twilight Struggle and Undaunted Normandy which have all seen a lot of play.  I even managed to beat my son at Twilight Struggle for the 1st time!!!

I didn't get to many wargames shows this year...normally I manage to fit in at least 4 shows in and around the South East but this year I only made it to Salute and a brief pop in to Valhalla.  In some cases (like Colours) this was because I was busy but I also couldn't work up the enthusiasm for some of the others.  Perhaps this year I'll be more motivated. 

I also found my online patterns have shifted a bit as well.  I spend a lot less time looking at forums such as TMP and Lead Adventure and more checking out blogs and Facebook groups.  TMP in particular is a real shadow of it's former self with a lot less activity than a couple of years ago and the actual content is of little interest (or just annoys me!).  Facebook is increasingly a really good resource for fans of particular games systems to share photos, information and documents.  FB is by no means perfect...there's a lot of rubbish to wade through to find the odd nugget but it does seem to have taken a place as the successor of things like Yahoo groups

So all in all a good years worth of gaming with lots of variety, fun games and good friends...can't complain!  I'll do another post in a few days with ideas  ( I would call them 'plans' but that makes me sound too organised) for 2020.  I hope everyone has a great Hogmanay and I'll see you on the other side