Sunday, 25 October 2020

Lord Callan: a Billhooks Commander

 A couple of weeks ago Wargames Illustrated ran a competition on their Facebook page and on the Never Mind the Billhooks page.  The prize was the latest Giants in Miniature figure... a Wars of the Roses noble titled 'Lord Callan' after Andy Callan, author of NMTB and many other rules.  I was tagged in the competition by Eric the Shed and bizarrely my name came up in the draw!

The figure arrived the day after I was told I'd won and is now set to lead my army to glorious victory (or at least to scrape a win... just one...please...).  It's a lovely figure and brilliantly painted...the only drawback is he'll show up the rest of my figures!

If you have an interest in NMTB or the Wars of the Roses, the Facebook page is well worth a visit.  There's a really active and supportive community full of ideas and suggestions and it's a great source of clarifications and ideas from Andy Callan as well.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

It'll all be over by xmas...

 No...not the pandemic, but our game of Paths of Glory.  

My friend Andrew very kindly gave me a copy of the WW1 grand strategy boardgame by GMT Games last year and it has sat on the shelf  staring, rather  threateningly, at me ever since.  I've always liked the idea of games like this where you command armies and Corps and fling them across maps of Europe like General Melchett but find them quite intimidating.  The sheer amount of time to play them is an issue in itself (6 hours for the full campaign...which I reckon you could easily double!) and games like this can be bewilderingly confusing.  My son was keen to give it a go though and as we're now living under tighter Covid restrictions in London once again and my regular face to face games are on hold this seemed the perfect time to try it.

The game map takes in western and eastern Europe with a  side box for the Middle-East.  

The West...

...and the East...

...and the Middle East

The rules themselves aren't as scary as I'd expected.  They share a lot of mechanics with Twilight Struggle (which I've played a lot) and other card-driven games.  

Typical beastly Hun trick (it's ok...the French get to use Phosgene gas instead!)

Each player has a hand of cards which can either be used to play an event or for operation points.  These can be used to move units, attack, bring in replacements or redeploy units across the map.  So far, so simple... 

While the basic rules are fine there are loads of exceptions to every rule... things like units (see sub-list 3.1.12) may move through Amiens only in Autum 1914 , if they are French but not if it's a Tuesday unless it has been raining and then only if they have remembered to bring sandwiches...

Despite this we set up and played through the detailed example of a couple of turns provided in the rule book.  I have to say this really helped and has saved a lot of head-scratching later on.  We then re-set and kicked off in August 14.

We're playing sporadically with a turn every day or so (no one wanted to eat at the dining table did they??) and have  reached Winter 14.  The Western Front is proving as static and stagnant as used expect although the Germans have destroyed Verdun already and punched a hole in the allied lines.  I'm having to contend with managing multiple nationalities... having more than 1 nations troops in a  zone is crucial as it allows multi-national moves but also means it costs more; presumably the extra time arranging for translators (or for the British to just shout loudly and point at things). Crucially I have managed to get some newly raised British armies across the Channel to fill some gaps.

In the East the Russians are having a great time carving job the Austro-Hungarians but Callum has already begun the process (by playing the right cards) of having Russia grind to a halt due to local unrest which could eventually lead to them withdrawing as the Revolution breaks out.  I need to make sure I do as much damage as I can before that happens.

As the game progresses new decks are added in (a bit like Twilight Struggle) and we both now have moved from the Mobilisation phase to Limited War which has a lot more interesting options.  As in all these card driven games you may not get to play the exciting event card if you need to use it for Ops Points instead which can be frustrating but forces some interesting choices.  Crucially Limited War means that Turkey has now entered the war so the Middle East which so far has been peaceful may be about to liven up

In turn 4 (winter 14) I spotted what appeared to be a very gamey way to win.  All armies and Corps have to be able to trace a line back to their supply centres or they become Out of Supply and are eliminated.  The central Powers trace their lines back to Essen in the West and Breslau in the east.  I noticed it was technically possibly to rapidly move a Russian army past the Austrians to besiege Breslau, and a weedy half-strength French Corps round the flank of the German front and into Essen in the last move of the turn.  This would cut off all their supplies and end the war at a stroke! We decided this was far too gamey and not to do it... in reality a weakened Corps wouldn't bring the entire western front to a grinding halt all on its own.  I'm still claiming a moral victory though!!

oops..the French armies are doomed!

Sadly Callum had a much more legitimate masterstroke up his sleeve: I'd failed to spot the German armies marching through the smouldering ruins of Verdun and encircling my armies in Nancy... they were cut off and eliminated!

Now we're knee deep in the winter mud, everyone's started digging trenches and it's only a matter of time before a bloody poet turns up!  More on this as the game progresses...

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Billhooks - The Battle of Northampton

 Another week, and another Wars of the Roses battle using Never Mind the Billhooks.  We're working our way through the major battles and have reached Northampton (I missed Blore Heath).  Much as I love Billhooks I've yet to actually win a game... would Northampton be my turning point?

As usual there is an excellent write up of the background and rule amendments on Eric the Shed's blog HERE, along with a write up of the game.  The short version is that the plucky Lancastrians (me and John) are holed up with the  King in a fortified camp, secure in the knowledge that those pesky Yorkists (Eric and Mark) won't be able to breach the defences.  Of course, this being the Wars of the Roses, treachery is never far away and Lord Grey on the Lancastrian right is wavering in his loyalty (or has already sold out his allies).

The calm before the storm

The rule changes we were using meant that Grey's loyalty would be determined when Yorkists troops reached the embankment and defences, but could be influenced by the presence of leaders.

The battle was opened by a Papal Legate excommunicating the Lancastrians which had little effect on the army (we lost 1 morale counter...could have been worse).  We decided the Lancastrians obviously had a high number of Lollards in their ranks.

Excommunicating the heretics!

The battle took place in a downpour and we had some rule changes to account for that... as the game progressed the rain steadily increased meaning our artillery and archers were unable to fire and allowed the Yorkists to approach safely.  Thankfully the clouds parted and the rain stopped before they were able to cross the defences and our archers quickly loosed arrows all along the line.

The Yorkists approach the defences

On the Lancastrian left John's archers caused heavy casualties to the approaching Yorkists (along with a small and very annoying unit of skirmishers which had arrived on a bonus card).  The Yorkists attack stalled and blocks of troops reeled back from the embankment.

The artillery was rubbish but at least it didn't explode!

On my side the battle was less frantic.  Essex was leading the Yorkists approaching Grey but didn't actually attack until they'd had a chance to talk and try and get Grey to defect.  Both sides had moved their commanders close to the wavering faction to try and influence the die roll... all I had to do was not roll a 5 or 6.  Of course saying that out loud is the wargamers curse and, sure enough I rolled a 5.  

Grey's men turn round to face their former friends

Each of Grey and Catsby's units had to test and a couple decided to run off rather than actually switching sides, but this still left a significant force sitting on my flank. 

The next Lancastrian lord, Beaumont, led the fight back against the treacherous Grey, swinging some Billmen and Men at Arms round to face the new enemies before charging in.  This fight was actually very close, fought over several rounds but ultimately there were too many  Yorkists pouring in and eventually Beaumont was routed.  There was some satisfaction in Grey being wounded in the fight though.

..and Beaumont's men attack the traitors.

This now left our right flank pretty open (just as in the historical battle).  At the other end of the table John and Eric had been fighting out a ferocious battle with the Yorkists struggling to get over the defences and the morale tokens were changing hands back and forwards every turn.  Eventually the numbers were proving too great and a routing Men at Arms unit tipped the balance, causing a series of routs and the last of our morale counters to go.  History had held out once again!

The Men at Arms are peppered with arrows
before being charged and routing

So, still no Billhooks victory for me but another great game using these rules.   Although they were designed as a 'large skirmish' set of rules I think we've been stretching them well beyond that and they still hold up really well.  We did take away some useful points from this game: we'd been making a bit of an error with combined blocks of troops and now we've found that having these large units is a bit risky.  The Yorkists had to spend a lot of time breaking up the formations into separate units to prevent too many losses.  We also started using commanders differently: in previous games we've been quick to throw them into combat but we've learned that they need to be unattached to sort out rallies and reorganisation... if your leaders are too busy enjoying themselves battering their enemies the rest of the army becomes paralyzed  very quickly.

Next week we're off to Wakefield....will I finally get a win??

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

More Gaslands

Another game of Gaslands this week against my friend Anthony.  I set up the Death Match scenario as this seems a good introduction to the game.  This scenario is based around a figure of 8 track passing through 4 gates.  We decided weapons wouldn't arm until the first car had passed Gate 2 which would give him a chance to get used to the driving mechanics.  I shouldn't have worried about that...

We'd no sooner started than his Pick-up deliberately rammed into the side of my nice Performance Car.. a pretty clear statement of intent! Having taken quite a bit of damage my car used it's speed to get out in front and hopefully out of danger.

My other car, a smaller Buggy, didn't get far either before being hit by very accurate machine gun fire from Anthony's other car with a surprising number of 6s being rolled (which add extra damage) and was wrecked before it made it to gate 2.

We'd decided to respawn with a new randomly drawn car if we were wrecked so my buggy was replaced by a motorbike who was quickly shot up by Anthony's 
Pick-up who hadn't made it very far round the course due to some problems negotiating corners.  The bike took several hits and had to use his smoke to make a quick escape.

My Performance Car had tried get ahead of Anthony's other car but couldn't avoid the HMG fire and was also wrecked just after clearing Gate 3.  We'd decided to award a point for each wrecked car and 2 points for a succesful lap (this gives an incentive for racing as well as just attacking other cars) which meant Anthony was 2 points up and had a clear run to the final gate.  

I decided to push my bike to gear 6 (which is the maximum and makes cornering a bit tricky).  The bike zoomed up behind the enemy car, taking shots at it with the rider's shotgun before pouring out smoke and spinning wildly in a last ditch to cross the line first and tie the game

Just before I could cross the line Anthony's car raced through the smoke, picking up hazard tokens in the process... the driver leaned out and with a single shot from his pistol wrecked the bike which skidded to a halt inches from the winning line!

Another great game. I'm really impressed with this as a system... easy to pick up (clearly too easy as Anthony wiped the floor with me!!!) and really adaptable.