Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Corinth Canal

Played a small WW2 game at the club last night with Tim Gow using his WW2 version of NATO Brigade Commander, very similar to my WW2 version, but also different.... Tim has managed to retain the snappy NBC ancronym for the title.

I took the Allies (a mixed force of Greeks and New Zealanders) and proceeded to fight the mother of all battles against a regiment of grizzled German Fallschirmjaeger who very unfairly landed all over the canal bridge in gliders and by parachute, blocking the retreat of the entire Allied army. My chaps attempted to retake it, and in the process both sides were virtually annihiliated. The game ended with my brigade reduced to a company of infantry and a weak squadron of Vickers Light Tanks, and the German regiment reduced to a company of Fallschirmpioniere still grimly (and very annoyingly) hanging onto the bridge.
Highlights of the game for me were:
  • The Greek Infantry refusing to move from Corinth for several turns, then finally advancing only be be virtually wiped out in a desparate battle around the railway station.
  • Stukas managing to bomb their own troops, putting them to flight and saving a Bofors battery from being overrun.
  • The Vickers Mark VI tank company dominating the battlefield like a small Tiger tank. Well, it helps if your opponents don't have any anti-tank weapons....
Great fun and resolved fairly quickly.
On the rest of the gaming front, I'm fairly happy with Drumfire now after last weeks test game. I've made a few minor revisions, but I think the system is now essentially set and I've just re-worded a lot of it to make it more internally consistent. I need to do some work on French and German attacks, but that is more on the scenario side than mechanisms, and I expect this will be the game I bring to COW 2010. We'll probably give it a rest for a while, but at some point we'll try out a 1917 attack in the ongoing campaign.

I'm still doing the rest of my 20mm WW1 French, just finishing off the paintwork on the infantry before varnishing and basing. They are all inkwashed and drybrushed now and I've just been finishing off details. Now I need to work up a scenario so all three French divisions can attack something!

I've still got a load of 20mm vehicles left from last year which are assembled and undercoated, but I need to finish them off. Mainly late war NWE stuff, and I've got a few more scenarios in mind for Megablitz. Thoughts are now turning to Triples which is only a few months away, so I need to start on my shopping list for this year.

Just downloaded some WW2 Divisional rules by Pz8 which look interesting. Another KISS Rommel variant but with more of a DBA type combat system with step losses. I'll give that a go at the club at some point.

Finally, I went to Venice for a few days before Christmas, and in between dodging the floods and admiring the thick snow over everything, found time to pop into the Naval History Museum. Plenty of exhibits about the exploits of Italian frogmen and manned torpedoes!
There was also this rather interesting 37mm trench gun, I might have to build one of these. It is absolutely minute.

Lots of scale models, as you would expect. This was a rather beautiful one of the Roma.

Something you don't see very often, a piece of Austrian battleship . This is from the stern of the Monarch class SMS Wien, torpedoed in 1917.

Along with the military wonders there was stuff like St Marks Square, the Accademia etc, but I'm sure you don't need any photos of those.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Drumfire report

A brief report on the Dumfire playest game we played on 21st Jan. The game was set in late 1916 (so, around the Battle of the Ancre) which meant that German defences were fairly light as they were hastily constructed, however the weather was awful with thick mud constricting movement and fog and rain grounding aircraft and obscuring vision. The Allies had been given a limited objective attack, just to push up the German second line, capturing the Germans front line and communications zone.
The Allies had two British and one French infantry divisions with fairly limited support outside divisional resources. Five brigades of heavy artillery, one of field artillery, an extra infantry brigade, a company of Mk 1 tanks and a brigade of cavalry in Corps reserves. Both British Divisions had one mile frontages and the bulk of the support assets, whereas the French had a rather sticky wicket with a one and half mile frontage but only one extra groupe each of 75s and 155s. They also had a strongly fortifed redoubt on their front. In the foreground above you can see General Gows newly arrived division with its company of tanks, formed up two brigades up, two back. Beyond that is General Ellsemores experienced division formed up tow up one back with the Corps cavalry deep in the rear. In the far distance is General Armatys French division, three up one back and with distinctly thin artillery support (one gun per 24 yards, the British had one gun per 13 yards). Much of the Allied air arm was grounded by bad weather, and the British have cruelly grabbed all the available spotter planes.

The German defences look rather thin, but are typical for 1916. Two wired trench systems a few kilometres apart with the front line strongly held. Each regimental sector (approx one mile) is held with two infantry battalions and the regimental machineguns in concreted emplacements in the front line, suported by the regimental mortar detachment (36 minenwerfers and granatenwerfers) from entrenchments to the rear and the second line thinly held by one infantry battalion. The immediate tactical reserves are the regimental stormtroop companies, but amply warned by the week long bombardment, in operational reserve are three eingrif regiments ready to counterattack and regain any lost ground 'at all costs' (as the manual says). This brings the defenders close to the recommended strength of one division per 5km supported by another in reserve. Defensive artillery density is one gun per 26 yards, quite sufficient to lay down a devastating SOS barrage in nomansland unless suppressed.

The British offensive opened with a week long barrage. This utterly devastated the German second line, and also succeeded in smashing up the infantry, mortars and pillboxes in the front line although not decisively. Wire cutting was patchy, in some areas it was cleared altgother, but in most sectors it was partially cut. Importantly for the French, the dense wire in front of the enemy redoubt facing them was at least reduced. The ground was heavily cratered throughout the depth of the defences, which didn't please the tank commanders.
In the picture (view north to south) the first wave rolls across Nomansland covered by the creeping barrage as Germans lay down their own defensive SOS barrage. In this case, fog greatly aided the attack. In the south the French chose to delay the assault until they had thoroughly suppressed the defenders, but in the north the British attacked. General Ellsmores troops lay out in Nomansland and by and large managed to surprise the German defenders, as did General Gows men although with further to move they suffered heavily from the barrage and their tanks lagged behind the infantry in the cratered ground, also losing vehicles to the intense defensive barrage.
After a pause for regrouping, the British pressed on in the south behind the barrage. In some sectors the troops began to straggle quite badly, hampered by the mud. In the south the French assault had limited success, although they managed to break thruogh in the centre, the German defences on each side held and the French infantry were massacred in nomansland. In the picture Generla Gows right wing and General Ellsmores left wing have managed to take the German communications zone against patchy resistance while the rest of their troops are stuck trench clearing or straggling up in the mud. In the far distance the big blue mass is the French preparing to press on in their centre.
Initially the German reaction was limited to local counterattacks by the stormtroop companies, but as they day wore on, the Eingrif regiments began to arrive. The British were quite content to push up to the German second line and hang on to their gains covered by the barrage. There was some talk about trying to push into the devastated German second line, but this came to nothing. In the final positions above both British divisions have consolidated in front of the German second line and in the far south a lonely French infantry battalion has also pushed forward, but its flanks are hanging in the air and it will have to withdraw at nightfall. One German regiment is massing in the centre, but faced with the British barrage, its attack is likely to fail. Astonishingly there are still some tanks left in action at this late stage. The German artillery position is also looking quite ragged, counterbattery fire during the bombardment and in direct support of the attack having taken its toll, and the Allied fighters have swept the German airforce from the sky.
In the end, quite a succesful operation for a limited attack. Allied losses were quite steep, particularly as they pushed their massed infantry brigades right through the unsuppressed German artillery, some 16 battalions being rendered ineffective (out of the 36 they started with). The Germans also suffered heavily as they lost almost all their infantry and most of their heavy weapons, in the line holding division at any rate, the Eingrif division never really got into action. Historically that was the major problem with this form of defence. It formed a very tough crust for the Allies to pierce, but by massing their forces forward in the trench system, they presented an excellent static artillery target and by the end of 1916 the Germans decided the losses suffered were unsustainable and adopted new methods.
On to spring 1917 next, when the Allies will fin dout waht the new system of defence entails!

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Drumfire, playtest #3

Finally got to run another scenario for my latest set of WW1 rules, 'Drumfire', we had to postpone the game last week due to the bad weather. Very culturally appropriate.

This newer version went rather quicker than last time, we managed to get through both a seven day bombardment and made it into the afternoon of the assault, at which point a likely outcome could be predicted. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't make it right to the end of the day, but I am still trying pack a lot of activity into a couple of hours. The revised move and combat mechanisms are rather slicker than before, and halving both the German troop density and effectiveness of their artillery made for a slightly more enjoyable game for the attackers!

In the light of the latest playtest, there aren't really any fundamental mechanisms I want to change as I think if I strip out any more it will just end up as a newer version of my old 'Cambrai' game, which in the absence of massed 20mm tanks, will make for a very trivial game. One observation made by Jerry Ellsmore was that if the players could run more of the mechanisms themselves it would go a lot faster, and having been through so many re-writes I am tending to turn up with a great mass of notes and jottings which I have to leaf through. Unlike a lot of operational games, every unit is heavily engaged each and every turn, so the level of abstraction needs to be high to keep things moving. Things I can actively do though are:

  • Do some proper playsheets for the players.
  • Do an umpires playsheet with the information I actually need on it to run the Germans, rather than hunting through various bits of paper. Better presentation of key information will make the game run faster.
  • Get rid of even more dice rolling, particularly for movement. While this introduces plenty of friction, it is still too time consuming. I need to keep it for the assault phase though and I will keep some sort of activation roll for reserves.
  • Simplify the creeping barrage resolution even more, or at least make the mechanisms more transparent so the players can resolve it themselves.
  • The German defensive barrage strength calculations are as simple as I can make them without losing key aspects of the simulation, however I can simplify the way the barrage reacts to the British advance, as well as make it more transparent so the players can resolve it themselves.
  • Make the suppression and disorganised combat outcomes internally consistent. Essentially this means making them the same, so suppressed units will have to rally. Not such a good simulation but easier to manage.
  • Reduce or even eliminate some of the low effectiveness ranged fire. The easiest thing is to say that suppressed units can't conduct ranged fire. Similarly, don't let battalion remnants fire.
  • Make the level of unit representation more consistent, just have infantry battalions, stormtroop companies and outposts, ignoring half battalions. This will help simplify the resolution of defensive fire. Again, it isn't very realistic but it will make the game flow quicker. An alternative would be to up the ground scale to 1 square = 1 mile (which is what I did for Cambrai) but this makes a typical divisional assault frontage 1 square!
  • Aim for simultaneous resolution of movement and combat rather than one square at a time. Clear playsheets and presentation of key information will help this. The aim is to execute the assault phase in one hour, or an average of ten minutes per move. Inevitably the earlier turns will be slower than the later ones. Half an hour setup, half an hour bombardmant, one hour assault and half an hour takedown would actually be a playable game.
  • The victory points seem to be a bit screwy, so I might have another look at the scenario generator again. I'm fairly happy with the generated German setup, it is just the VPs which might need some tweaks.

I did take some photos of the game, as did Tim Gow, so when I've got time I'll upload them and do a photo report. Thanks to my long suffering playtesters for undergoing yet another trial by fire! At least none of them got sacked this time.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Rain stopped play

Well, not much gaming this week, we had to postpone our next battle in the ongoing WW1 campaign due to heavy snow (again) in sheffield. We have at least sorted out who has what, who is attacking where and what they are supposed to be trying to achieve. The drawn out planning process all feels quite realistic, particularly having to postpone due to bad weather! In the next game my long suffering Corps and Division commanders are conducting a bite and hold operation, amidst the mud choked crater fields of the Somme in Autumn 1916, game report next week if it isn't postponed again.

I've played a few turns of a PBEM minis game now. Really very interesting, we send out orders in each turn and the umpire sends us a back a report including photos of what we can see from where we are. The hardest thing I've found as a player so far is 'navigating' the units around, particularly as this scenario is set in a rather featureless bit of desert. I've ended up setting course, speed and turning points, rather like a naval comander. First blood to me at any rate, as my plucky chaps have managed to shoot up a Panzer II, but one cockrel does not a dawn make.

Inspired by the fevered email exchanges around the WW1 game, I've dug out some more bags of mouldering French 20mm figs (mainly Ian Russell Lowells old stuff) for reconditioning. Another couple of French divisions is the plan, and I just 'had' to go and buy some more stuff, in this case a box of Airfix French (I can't resist the blokes with sacks of grub or riding bikes) and some more HaT 75s. Unfortunately the shop had run out of French ones so I had to buy the US box, I've got enough French gunners left over and US figs will come in handy as British at some point. The biggest blow was finding I'm short one mortar, I need nine and I've only got eight. I'll scratch build one tonight and then it is prep and undercoating, hope to get the base coat done later this weekend.

Tim Gow mentioned he's tried using my 'Rifle & Kepi' rules for Napoleonics. I've been thinking about what mods are needed for this earlier period, but it is mainly about re-balancing the various arms as Napoleonics was very much rock-paper-scissors, whereas later in the nineteenth century it is more a case of rock-rock-scissors, with the cavalry as scissors....

My early 1980s British Army puttees have arrived, very exciting. My wife rolled her eyes in despair as I paraded around the kitchen in them, she did however ask why they didn't come right up to my knees, so all those years of exposure to uniformology haven't been wasted.

Monday, 11 January 2010

New year and new start.

Gosh, I haven't posted any updates for a while. Well, lets see if 2010 is going to be better.

I can't really remember what I've been doing wargaming wise since last June. Main things would be:

  • Attending the Conference of Wargamers in July 2009. Always a very enjoyable weekend and this year was no exception.

  • Making some revisions to 'Red Army Brigade Commander', mainly to streamline it a bit and cut down the number of different dice in use for different things.

  • Ran a fairly big Megablitz game at the club, Operation Vitality, clearing the Scheldt Estuary. This was mainly an excuse to get Tims shiny new Canadian 4th Armoured Div out, plus my new K18 costal defence gun (in this case, busy defending Bergen-op-Zoom). The usual traffic jam of 20mm tanks as the Allies drove north heading for the Waal.

  • I finally managed to run Koeniggratz using Rifle and Kepi, been hoping to do this battle for years. The Austrians lost (so no surprises there).

  • Spent a fair bit of time working on various versions of what I've called 'Drumfire', Corps level trench warfare in the First World War. The long suffering members of Sheffield Wargames Society have undergone repeated onslaughts as I've tried to come up with an enjoyable yet realistic yet fast game covering this. Well, maybe this week will go better than last time.

  • Played a very enjoyable WSS/SYW rule set by Steve Thomas, 'Twilight of the Sun King', sort of DBAish treatment but it worked very well, thanks to John Armatys for that.

  • Did a spot of painting. Refurbished some old Revell and Aifix WW1 French infantry, fleshed out with HaT armour and artillery, plus a card model Schneider CA1 which I was rather pleased with. Did a divisions worth to start with, but aim to work up to a Corps.

  • I've had fairly lengthy correspondance with Doug Southwell in the US about using my Panzergruppe/Sinai 67 rules to refight WW1 on the Eastern Front. An interesting project, which hope comes together successfully.

  • Tim Gow has continued to refine and tweak his NATO Brigade Commander rules, and we've had some good games of that. He's also treated us to some modern naval warfare games using his 1/6000th scale ships.

  • I've just started playing an online miniatures game. You give orders out each turn, and get back reports from the GM plus photos of what you can see. Very interesting, quite a different experience.
Umm, that is pretty much all I can recall. Well, hopefully a fuller post next week.

Operation Vitality. Poles and Canadians break through the German defences, then push up to the canal as the Germans fall back blowing the bridges. Finally having conducted a successful opposed river crossing, they press on northwards to cut off Walcheren Island.