Saturday, 23 March 2019


My son was back for a flying visit from Uni last weekend and so we managed to squeeze in a quick board game.  This was a bit  of an unusual one for us...normally it's something like Twilight Struggle or Carcassone but a friend gave me a copy of Tokaido at Xmas and we hadn't managed to get round to playing it.

This game is published by Funforge and is based around a journey along the of the Five Routes of the Edo period in Japan.  This road linked Kyoto to Edo and the players travel along a route, stopping off at various places/activities on the way.  In a very Zen-like way the game is all about the Journey rather than a race to the finish. Each player can move between the inns along the road but has to stop and wait for the others to catch up at each inn.

On the way you can stop to buy souvenirs, visit temples, sample different foods, build up paintings of panoramas or stop at a hot spring for a relaxing soak.  Each stop confers different victory points (eg collecting a 'set' of different souvenirs, donating the most money at a temple etc).  As you have to stop at the inn there is a subtle tactical game of choosing where to move to and which places to block so your opponent cant use them.  There's nothing to stop you moving directly from inn to inn but obviously you'd miss out on the chance to gain points and acquire goodies.  As the player at the back of the queue on the road moves first you don't want to get too far ahead of your opponent and allow them to casually stroll from stop to stop picking up points.

one of the character cards
Each player has a 'character' selected from a random draw and each has a varying amount of starting money and special abilities.  Very quickly we found that we were able to manage purely by the symbols and illustrations and needed little reference to the short rule book.

The game is one of those ones that initially seems very easy, almost too easy, and then you start to realise that there is a lot more depth and subtlety to it.  The game components are really lovely and beautifully illustrated.  As games take around 45 minutes it's an ideal game for people (eg my wife) who don't fancy devoting a whole evening to a game but it's a great way to fill in some time...highly recommended.

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Cruel Seas - Convoy Ambush

This week we had another go at Cruel Seas, kindly hosted by Eric the Shed.  This time round there were 4 players which gave me a good excuse to get more boats on the table.

The scenario was an ambush on a German convoy which had just slipped out of a harbour.  The Germans had 2 Merchantmen to protect which were escorted by a Minesweeper, an Armed Trawler and 3 E Boats.  The British were attacking with a flotilla of Vosper MTBs and a single Elco. 

We used the rules mostly 'as is' but added a few  ideas from the David Manley Amendments (which sounds a bit like the latest attempt to sort out Brexit!).  I didn't use all of these but I did change the turn rules and added in the use of star shells and flares from Action Stations.  The rules in Cruel Seas seem far to simplified when it comes to visibility.  We also played on a much larger table(8` x 4`) with rocky islands to break up the open seas, and ignored the turn limit.

The MTBs split into 2 groups and my group attacked first...firing off torpedoes rather optimistically at the larger boats and trying to avoid the illuminated areas of sea.  The enemy boats managed to steer away from the torpedoes and the E Boats sped in to attack the Vospers.  Normally you'd expect games like this to be full of high speed manoeuvering but at one point the E Boats had shifted down to 'slow' and then came to a halt as they struggled to hit the speeding MTBs in the darkness.  This tactic paid off and they were able to shoot up the passing boats.  One of the Vospers suffered a Bridge hit and sped headlong into the side of the German minesweeper with catastrophic results (for the Vosper...I'm not sure the crew on the minesweeper even noticed!).  This has happened to me in every game of Cruel Seas I've played so far!!

Close (and very slow) action

My Elco was able to fire off his last torpedo before speeding off into the night.   It missed the trawler but passed on into the side of one of the Merchantmen.

Torpedo hit!

My half of the flotilla was now spent...the 2 Vospers had been sunk and the Elco had sped off once he'd run out of torpedos.  I did have a last surprise for the Germans...the flares and explosions had attracted the attention of a Blenheim which dropped in on a bombing run aimed at the 2nd Merchant ship.  On its way in it drew fire from the 2 E Boats which drove it off before it could tackle the larger ship.

Incoming Blenheim...

The 2nd MTB group had now worked their way round to attack from the other side and quickly finished off the Minesweeper with gunfire before taking on the trawler.  In a last flurry of torpedoes the other Merchant ship was sunk and it was  convincing (if costly ) victory for the Royal Navy

The rules again worked proved very hard to hit in the dark unless boats were at Slow (which I guess is pretty realistic) but no one made much use of flares and illumination to help with this.  I think the Germans found the slow speeds of the larger boats quite frustrating (just getting the Merchant ships on the table took a couple of turns!) and I think  it felt a bit inevitable that they were going to get torpedoed eventually.  Despite this I think everyone had fun!

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Hastings 1066

I've been a bit slack in getting this post written up but here is my account of a truly epic days wargaming courtesy of Eric the Shed's grand Hastings game which took place a couple of weeks ago.

All the details (and there are a lot of them!) can be found at Eric's blog... here.  There is a full explanation of the set up of the terrain as well as the adaptations made to Hail Caesar including special event cards that both sides took great delight in playing at key moments.

The table was played on a 3.5 x 2m table built on boards that had been bolted together with a deceptively steep slope to the north which was where Harold was making his stand

This was a rare all day game making full use of over 1000 figures that Eric has been painting up over the last year.  I'm very chuffed with myself if I can get enough figures painted for a skirmish game so this is really impressive.  The day began with a very well-received bacon roll before we began planning our tactics.  Along with Steve and Glen, I was on the Norman side and had the honour of holding the centre as William and Bishop Odo. 

The full table length...Normans on the left

Our plan was a relatively simple one.  Hold back the Saxons on our left while the centre and right commands cut off the hill and kill Harold.

The view looking up towards the hill

On the Norman right
...and on our left

As usual our plans didn't quite go as expected.  On our left Steve did a sterling job, tying up the Saxons while Glen on the right pushed forward and drove into the Saxon left.  The Saxon dice throwing at this point proved spectacularly bad and Glen was able to drive his opponents right back to their table edge where they did manage to stage a bit of a rally before eventually succumbing

The Normans push ahead on the right

In the centre my advance was much more steady...mainly thanks to unspectacular dice throwing.  In the event this worked in my favour as it meant the Saxon centre couldn't easily assist the flanks.  I tried several times to use the event cards to lure the Saxons off the hill using Feigned Flight but they had clearly been reading their history books and stayed firmly put.

Advancing slowly towards Harold on his hill

Eventually the Saxon centre began to fragment as Glen's attacks on the right forced them to respond, and Harold abandoned the hill and his Huscarles to the safety of the Saxon left flank where they were still intact but now hemmed in.  I decided it was now time to push up the worryingly steep hill and threw everyone forward.  We discovered that Norman knights are incredibly powerful...they cut their way through several Saxon warbands before eventually becoming a bit beat up but they'd done their job...sadly in the course of this Bishop Odo fell leading a cavalry charge.

The advance up the Hill

The final act came as William led his knights up the slope and into the Huscarles who weren't able to stand and broke

The Saxon Huscarles stare down as William and the Norman Knights approach

The table towards the end of the day

So the history books were right and the Saxon line ended at Hastings.  It was a great days gaming with great company (and pizza!).  Despite the very unlucky dice throwing on Harold's side it felt like a close result.  I've only played a couple of games of Hail Caesar but it does give a very good feeling of a real meat-grinding battle with defence in depth adding lots of support.

Many thanks to Eric and to everyone who took part and made it a really fun day.  Now I'm off to knock up a quick tapestry....

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Some Cruel Seas reinforcements

More boats have been added to my Cruel Seas fleet...just in time as I am planning a game in a couple of  weeks at a friends.

I already have the Vospers and E boats from the starter set, supplemented by the freebies that were included in recent issues of Wargames Illustrated (including some, as yet, unbuilt Elco and Higgins PT boats...these are next on the to-do list) and the mdf Freighters that I posted about here

My fleet has been a bit lacking in larger boats which are really essential as the MTBs and E Boats would generally have been tackling these rather than each other so a quick bit of bargain hunting online was called for.

The first addition is this Isles class Armed Trawler which I bought from this seller on eBay who I can recommend checking out.  It is a very nice 3d printed always these aren't necessarily as sharp or detailed as the kits that are available but it definitely looks the part and painted up well.  He's also working on some other boats so I'll be keeping an eye out for future models.  Although it's a RN trawler it may well see service as a Kreigsfischkutter as well.

My other eBay bargain was this Warlord Games M Class Minesweeper...I figured the Germans will need some escorts for their convoys and this should provide a bit of firepower, as well as giving the MTBs another target to torpedo!

Friday, 8 March 2019

Paper Highlanders on the march

So all my efforts with scissors and glue have finally resulted in a game!  My Paper Soldiers had their first run out in a proper game this week after a lot of cutting and sticking.

Although the book comes with a set of rules by Andy Callan,  I decided to stick to something I know...Black Powder, using some of the amendments in the Glory of Kings 18th Century supplement.   The main changes are that troops can't make multiple moves and fire in the same turn and some restrictions to deploying out of column into line...neither of which had any bearing on our game.

I'd decided to go for a historical scenario and picked the Battle of Falkirk Muir.  It was a Jacobite victory but didn't feel as one sided as either Prestonpans or Culloden.  My opponent Anthony kindly hosted and took on the Government forces.  Both sides started deployed facing each other: I had considered having the Government arrive in column but skipped this phase and went straight for the opening of the battle as a starting point.  The Government's artillery begins the game bogged down in a marsh and needs to roll each turn to free itself. In the event we forgot about it after a couple of turns as events had overtaken us by that point.

The Government army

...and the view from the Jacobite lines

I decided to head straight for the enemy lines, not wanting to get drawn into a firefight against better troops.  Despite the popular image the Jacobites weren't averse to using their muskets effectively but their strength lies in the charge so this seemed the best tactic.  In typical Black Powder fashion the command dice caught me this case my entire army steamed straight into the enemy lines in one turn!  Good for the Jacobites but it did catch me a little by surprise: I'd kind of hoped to have a little time to manoeuvre.

At this point Anthony and I both had visions of the game being over in about 30 minutes.  My left flank hit the Government lines and went into melee.  On my right the 'Terrifying Charge' bonus for the Highlanders meant that the opposing infantry didn't stay around to fight and pulled back in disorder

The Jacobites charge home

Unfortunately the Highlanders failed to break their opponents in the first round and settled down to slugging it  out with the bayonet armed line infantry.  On my right the better Government line troops had pulled back leaving the Glasgow Militia and Argyll Militia to face the Highlanders.  Despite being second rate troops they very effectively poured musket fire in and forced their opponents to stall and then halt.  On my extreme right the Government cavalry moved onto the flank of my line and, after dispatching the rather weedy Jacobite horse, ganged up on the Highlanders.

This clan's days are numbered...

In a couple of turns the battle had turned and the Jacobites broke.  In the photo below the black counters mark Shaken you can see there are quite a lot of them!

...and it's all over

So, despite re-writing history and losing the Battle of Falkirk Muir the game was great fun.  I hadn't taken account of the speed of movement in Black Powder and really the Jacobites shouldn't have been able to contact the enemy in a single turn but luckily my inept dice throwing and some skilful flanking moves on Anthony's part meant the game definitely wasn't one sided.  On a normal 6' x 4' table  I'd maybe do something with the movements rates to slow things down a little.

The Paper Soldiers themselves looked great en masse.  I still have some more to make up and add some extras to existing units to build the armies up.  It's been an interesting project...I've enjoyed making the paper soldiers but for other periods I'd probably stick with actual figures.  The Jacobite period was one I'd always wanted to do and the Paper Soldier concept made it very do-able and has certainly let me scratch that itch.  As a way of fairly quickly putting together armies it's been very cost effective and looks great,

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Cruel Seas - first games

Like wait ages for a game of Cruel Seas and then 2 come along at once!  I've had the game since xmas and very diligently painted up my boats but never actually managed to get them on the table.  Luckily Mike at the Guildford club offered to put a game on so I was able to play there and then followed this by a second night of boaty-action with my friend Andrew.

In both cases we ended up playing the same 2 scenarios which gave a good chance to test the rules out and try and avoid making the same mistakes twice (spoiler....I failed at this!)

Scenario 1 (which is actually Scenario 2 in the book) is an attack on a merchant ship.  In game one I played the British, with the merchant ship and a Vosper and quickly managed to manoeuvre my boat completely out of position, leaving the tanker vulnerable.  My opponent was able to set up an torpedo run which managed to hit (not always easy in CS) and then passed the 'dud' test causing a huge amount of damage but not sinking the tanker.

Here one of the flaws in CS came to light...there doesn't seem to be any penalty for heavy damage in terms of speed or manoeuvrability.  Rules such as Action Stations introduce a reduction in maximum speed for each hull box lost.  My tanker limped on but the enemy S Boot was able to finish it off with gunnery before speeding off into the night.

In the replay of Scenario 1  a week later I still had the tanker but played the Germans this time.  This was a much closer affair...the escorting S Boot was able to inflict quite a bit of damage on one of the attacking Vospers and, thanks to some nifty steering with the tanker I was able to avoid being a sitting duck for the other Vosper.  It came down to the wire...just as my tanker was about to exit the table the MTB launched 2 torpedoes.  the draw of the dice determined that I escaped which was a little unsatisfying but a close run thing.

The Vosper is in a good attack position but too close to the tanker:
the torpedoes need to move a min. of 15cm to arm

The torpedoes speed towards the fleeing tanker

Scenario 2.  The second game (we managed 2 scenarios in an evening quite comfortably) was no. 4 from the book.  An MTB has been damaged and is in the centre of the table, immobile but able to defend itself with limited firepower.  Rescue boats are arriving but enemy boats are also speeding in to capture the crew.  Both times I played the British rescuers.  Given the size of the playing area all boats are into action very quickly.  In the first run at this scenario one of my MTBs was hit and received a critical bridge hit...this meant I couldn't change course and I promptly steered at speed straight into an oncoming E Boat, disintegrating in a cloud of plywood and scratching the paintwork on the larger German boat.  My other rescuers were under heavy fire and then, to cap it all, the boat we were coming to rescue promptly sank!  The E Boats were able to nip in and capture the crew at which point the game ends.

In the second game a week later I was again the British and was determined not to crash this time...

Oops... this time I couldn't even blame a critical dice roll.  This crash was down to my poor steering!  I didn't sink but again came off worse and was then shot up by the other E Boats.

Another Vosper received a critical hit on a torpedo which set off a torpedo on deck finishing that boat off...

I'd also tried using smoke to screen the damaged boat and the rescuers but this seemed very ineffectual under the CS rules as it only last for 1 or 2 turns

Again the damaged boat sank before I could get close enough to rescue the crew and the survivors in their dinghies were taken on board by the E Boats...probably the safest place to be!

So...what's  the verdict on Cruel Seas?  I've always been a fan of Action Stations and it's hard not to compare the 2 sets.  Cruel Seas definitely wins on the ease of recording speed and damage: the wake markers make it much easier to manage the speeds of multiple boats without having to do lots of record keeping although this is at the price of potentially over-simplifying things.  There are lots of gaps in the rules though where things are not addressed or the rules that are there are very simplified...spotting, use of flares and illumination etc.  Action Stations definitely wins on this count and I guess there's no reason not to combine elements from both rule sets.

I'd been a bit concerned about the limited playing area.  Cruel Seas comes with an A0 size mat (84cm x 1120cm approx.) which instinctively seems too small.  Of course there's no reason not to play on a larger table but for these scenarios it was good to try them out as intended.   Interestingly in the first evening I found it very limiting while in the second night's games I quite enjoyed the challenge of having to think carefully about manoeuvring in a limited space.

Overall I'd say Action Stations would probably be my rules of choice for a 2 player scenario but if I wanted to play a couple of scenarios in an evening or to have multiple players per side then Cruel Seas is a much speedier, and manageable game

Monday, 11 February 2019

Cruel Seas - Wooden Liberty Ships

I still haven't actually managed a game of Cruel Seas yet (although I have a couple lined up in the next week or 2) but I have now painted up all the starter set boats as well as  some of the freebies that came with Wargames Illustrated.

The game comes with a cardboard template for a merchant ship to give your MTBs/S Boots something to torpedo but obviously I'd much rather have proper target.  Warlord have been rushing out a lot of very nice models over the last few weeks since the game launch: these look great but aren't cheap.  I'd also checked out 1:350 scale model kits at my local model store (Dorking Models) but these are even more expensive...eye-wateringly in some cases!

As my current spending is on a pretty tight rein I've been looking at alternatives and came across a post in another blog about MDF ship models.  Embarrassingly I can't remember whose blog it was, so apologies to my fellow blogger.

(EDIT...I found the original blog post and it can be found here.  Many thanks to John Lambshead for posting this)

They had plugged ships sold here at JB MDF Products.  There are a variety of models available but I went for a pair of Liberty Ships which worked out at a very affordable £4.25 each.  As you'd expect with MDF the model is a bit boxy and nowhere near as detailed as a plastic kit but as a budget option it's hard to beat. I'm not sure I'd go with their armed trawler model as I think you need the finer detail for the smaller boats but it seems to work for the larger ship.

The hull of the ships comes as 3 strips with the superstructure added on top in layers:

All the parts come loose in a bag...initially I'd thought this was going to be a real challenge but there are some simple instruction on the eBay shop page which made it very easy.  Each ship took about 30 minutes to build

ok...which idiot glued the mast on upside down!!!

My fundamental failure to follow instructions meant I hadn't worked out which way up the masts go.  It's pretty obvious if I'd paid attention.  This is why I hate Ikea...

Masts the right way up on this ship!

Painting was pretty straightforward... grey undercoat (from Halfords) followed by assorted shades of grey on the superstructure and a dull red waterline.

Painted models...the upside down mast has been replaced by a gun!
I'm pleased with these...they look a lot better than I'd hoped and should make a good target for the little boats.