Sunday, May 2, 2021

Wargames Emporium is Open!

Jamie and I popped into Sheffield city centre for the first time in weeks (if not months) on Saturday. I visited Waterstones to order a book for Stella's birthday and then went next-door to Wargames Emporium. It was great to be able to browse in a real games shop!

I came away with the box of Prussian infantry I've been planning on getting dice I admitted my desire to do Napoleonic Sharp Practice in 28mm.


This box should give me a whole Prussian force to pit against Richard Phillips's forthcoming Russians.

Having decided to liberate the moths in my wallet, it was only polite to purchase a resin torture chamber by Zitterdes (it'll doubtless appear in the next game in the Song of Pavis campaign) and a nice, new red sable paintbrush.

Jamie took advantage of the nine-for-£20 offer on Vallejo paints fo I'll have plenty of opportunities to try out the new brush!


Saturday, April 24, 2021

Back to Shot, Steel and Stone (updated)

I thought I’d have another go at playing Henry Hyde’s Shot, Steel and Stone rules. I’m using my 6mm Great Northern War period figures with the Russians representing the Grand Duchy of Zheltarus and my Swedes (on their first outing) the nation of Blåland.


I’ll be soloing Charles Grant’s Bridge Demolition scenario from a very old edition of Battle for Wargamers magazine. 

I’ll let you know how it goes.

UPDATE:
SS&S is going along nicely. I can't recall what problem I had with the sequence of play when I first tried to run it for friends.

Four game turns in the Blålanders are deployed to defend the river crossing and their engineers are well on with the job of preparing the bridge for demolition.

Two Zheltarussian infantry brigades are marching down the western and northern roads towards the bridge.



General Broden, the Blålander cavalry commander, has rather lost control of the situation however.  Whilst he has his left-hand regiment, the Nyland cavalry, well in hand, the Småland Regiment have chased off in pursuit of a couple of squadrons of cossacks on the far right flank!


The northern Zheltarussian column is commanded by none other than Oleg, duke of Lil, the younger brother of Grand Duke Mikhail!  I anticipate a mighty clash of armies very soon.


Nyland cavalry Regiment (foreground)
faces Ostrovski's dsmounted dragoons
and behind them, von Grün's infantry.

FURTHER UPDATE:
Turn five has been bloody so far.  The Nyland cavalry, led by General Broden, charged Ostrrovski's dragoons. The latter rolled 3 (on 2d6) for their morale check and decided to evade through the gap between their infantry and the forest. 

The Nyland charged on and smashed into von Grün's infantry behind. The Zheltarussians fired but only inflicted two figures' worth of casualties; not enough to stop the charge. I decided von Grün's were not particularly well-drilled so they were hitting simultaneously with the cavalry. The result was a slaughter - seven unsaved hits on the infantry, none on the cavalry! The Zheltarussians broke completely!

The Nyland cavalry smash through von Grün's
infantry. General Metekov and the column of
Oranijov's infantry regiment are in serious danger!



Tuesday, April 20, 2021

First 28mm Napoleonic

My painting mojo's been a bit absent over the last few weeks. In an effort to reboot my enthusiasm I decided to clear out some of the junk in the games room.

I started by going through the remains of several boxes of 28mm plastics. The sprues went into the plastic recycling, the boxes to cardboard recycling, and the remaining parts into little ziplock bags; much more practical from a storage point of view.

Looking at the bags, I was inspired to see if I could produce useful figures from the left-over bits. 

The only legs I had were the unused spares from the Perry French Hussars. 40 years ago I managed to do a halfway decent job of covering an Airfix 54mm Polish Lancer to stand upright by means of some fairly drastic plastic surgery. Could I do so in 28mm?



The only available torsos were some leftover from the Wargames Foundry WSS cavalry. I chose the plainest ones without neck cloths.  I also added the one remaining Perry sabretache and scabbard.



By this stage, a concept had emerged. A dismounted Hussar officer who has been serving as ADC to a General officer has been wounded whilst carrying an important dispatch. After a time hiding in a barn, he's now trying to make his way back to safety. He has discarded his dolman and pelisse and wears just his blood-soaked shirt.

For arms I chose plain ones from a Warlord American Civil War infantry set. The right arm got a hand holding a pistol from the WSS cavalry set.

Finally I added a be-busbied head from the French hussar set.



The next stage was to fill the various holes, undercoat, and paint. 

I decided to paint him an an officer of the 3rd Hussars.




It's not clear in these photographs but there's a fairly nasty-looking bloodstain on the front of his shirt.



By the way, why is this my first 28mm Napoleonic figure if I had a box of Perry Hussars?  Because I'd converted the hussars into Maximilian Adventure contre-guerilla cavalry, that's why.



Friday, April 16, 2021

Andreivia: an imagi-nation (part two)

Andreivia's first appearance on a wargame table was at the Gauntlet show in North Wales in July of 2007.  This was to be the second game I'd run at Gauntlet under the banner of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers.

I'd been doing some thinking about scenario design and wanted to run a linear game that would keep multiple players engaged with events happening at opposite ends of a long table. I'd also been inspired to build a modern patrol boat from a kid's toy picked up at the local flea market. So I decided on a lake-side town at the mouth of a valley. The town would be contested by rival militias whilst interventionist forces would have to fight their way along the valley to reach the town.

To give the scenario in some historical context I created a 'history of Andreivia' timeline:

Medieval times – Christian nation surrounded by Moslem neighbours. Slavic Andreivians share the territory with Moslem Turks and, in the eastern mountains, a smaller Armenian community.

19th century – successfully avoids integration into the growing Russian Empire but is a battleground during the Russo-Turkish War.

early 20th century – the Armenian population is swelled by refugees fleeing Turkish persecution. There is some inter-ethnic violence.

WW1 – sends a small expeditionary force to fight against the Germans on the Eastern Front.

Russian Civil War – King Alexei V is deposed in a coup and Andreivia briefly joins the Trans-Caucasian Republic but withdraws before the Republic is swallowed up by the Soviet Union. In 1924 the King is invited to return.

1941 – Hitler invades the USSR. Andreivian Prime Minister Mishkin declares the Kingdom neutral and states that she will defend her borders against any attack. Mishkin flirts with the Axis side and a volunteer Andreivian Legion fights with the Germans in Russia. Many Andreivians also join the Red Army and eventually a Regiment of Andreivian Riflemen sees hard fighting in Hungary.

1945 – Soviet Forces occupy Andreivia and install a Communist regime under Istvan Sakhvashev, the highest ranking Andreivian in the Red Army.

Post War – Sakhvashev proves to be a skilled diplomat and successfully rebuffs attempts to integrate Andreivia into the Soviet Union. Subsequently, he even wins for the nation a special status in relation to the Warsaw Pact. Andreivia does not receive the benefits of a large Soviet military presence.

early 1990s – The death of President Sakhvashev and the dissolution of the Soviet Union trigger a scrabble for power within Andreivia and the resurgence of ancient ethnic rivalries. Ivan Dzhugashev is elected President but many Armenian and Turkish delegates boycott the Party Congress.

This year – Dzhugashev proclaims Andreivian to be the sole national language and calls for a renewal of Andreivia's national identity as an Orthodox Christian Republic. Andreivian-Armenian Deputy Serj Benkian declares the republic dissolved and calls for an uprising to establish an Armenian Republic in Eastern Andreivia. Achmed Karamanoglu, professor of art history at Tcherbevan University makes a similar call on behalf of Andreivia's Turkic people. Fighting breaks out throughout the country.

This month – On the strength of a hastily agreed UN resolution, NATO forces cross from Turkey into southern Andreivia. On Russian insistence, the UN resolution severely limits the strength of the NATO contingent.

This week – The charming, lake-side town of Tuzkhur sees heavy fighting. Benkian's Armenians hold most of the town but they are being shelled from the surrounding hills by Andreivian-Turkish artillery. Elsewhere, the main NATO effort is aimed at clearing a corridor to bring humanitarian relief to the capital Tcherbevan.

Today – A small NATO force is tasked with breaking through to Tuzkhur and rescuing trapped foreigners.

Suddenly the internal geography and politics of Andreivia were starting to emerge. Many of the details in this, often deliberately vague, timeline would go on to provide inspiration for later Andreivian events.

But in the meantime I had my starting set up. My small collection of modern US troops (in that mix of temperate and desert camo you may recall from part one) backed up by Richard Baber's Spanish mechanised platoon, would force their way along the Tuzkhur Valley. The valley was held by Andreivian-Turk militia; colleagues of the forces besieging lakeside Tuzkhur. 

The town itself was mostly held by Andreivian-Armenian militia, the exception being "The Important Building" in which forces loyal to the Andreivian government in Tcherbevan were holding out and where the foreign nationals were being held (or kept safe depending on your view of events). Andreivian Government gunboats patrolled the lake.

The events of the action in the Tuzkhur Valley have been described elsewhere. They culminated in a spectacular helicopter-borne landing on the roof of The Important Building by the SAS and the subsequent rescue of the hostages. The game was a success and the players declared themselves keen to play more games in the setting.

Our next outing came about because Phil Gray got us the opportunity (in February 2009) to put on a participation game at the Hammerhead show, then held at Kelham Hall near Newark. I'd built some desert terrain for a previous game and I was keen to reuse it. Thus we established that somewhere on the border between Andreivia and Turkey were the dusty, red, Dagras Hills. A radar station on the peak of disputed Hill 154 would form the centre of the action. Once more, multiple factions were involved as this made it easier to create stand-alone forces that passers-by could pick up and play for a while.

Andreivian government armour attacks 
the Turkish radar station on Hill 154

So now we'd played two games in Andreivia. Over a dozen gamers had taken part. We'd happily used Scott Fisher and Chris Pringle's Arc of Fire rules for both and it was beginning to feel like a campaign of sorts. Obviously there was no detailed tracking of casualties and logistics from game to game, but we were building up a pleasing progressive narrative.

Our next game drove forward regional events rather more significantly. My Soviet/Russian VDV airborne platoon had so far sat on the sidelines. I was keen to see it used in its proper role, however, so I decided that the Russians would launch a coup de main operation to capture the international airport near the Andreivian capital of Tcherbevan! 

Several of the players from the previous two games returned to fight out this action at a church hall in Wirral. This was a fund-raising event so I introduced a couple of "interesting" mechanisms to the game. Players could donate money to purchase artillery support in the form of darts. A dartboard was set up in the room and there were twenty numbered locations identified on a map of the table. Hitting the dartboard would cause an artillery round to land at the appropriately numbered location. Doubles or trebles would reduce the incoming round's deviation. Sadly I hadn't allowed for Rob Connolly's inability to hit the dartboard at all!

Air support could also be purchased for a
charitable donation - here a Russian MiG-27
targets an Andreivian tank on the runway

The game ended with a narrow victory for the Russians. By this point in the development of Andreivia I had firmly settled on the idea that events in "official Andreivian games" established "facts on the ground". These facts would form the previous history to be taken into account in future game development.  In this case, we now knew that the Russians had captured the airport but that the operation had been far from flawless. The Russians would clearly struggle to gain control of the capital. 

I say "official Andreivia games" here because by now Andreivia was being used as a setting by other gamers. I understand some of the guys at the Deeside Defenders club were using the setting, particularly fighting actions in the breakaway eastern region. My attitude to this is, "Go ahead, the more the merrier". However, to keep my own timeline consistent, I'm adopting the approach of "Your Andreivia May Vary". That is to say, take Andreivia where you like but my campaign will only take account of events in games I've organised.

I'll leave it there for now. In the next part of the story we'll cover how Andreivia became the focus for the Crisis Point wargaming weekend and how the development of the plot became even more of a collaborative process.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Andreivia: an imagi-nation (part one)

Having recently enjoyed Henry Hyde’s Partizan-in-the-Cloud video on the origins of his imagi-nations of Faltenland and Prunkland, I thought I’d share some details of my, quite different, approach to creating the fictional nation of Andreivia.

Now, I’ve always been a sucker for a bargain. I own far too many wargames forces and too many of those were built up because I saw some toys going cheap somewhere. I built Maximilian Adventure forces for Sharp Practice because I had half-a-dozen peons I'd previously picked up when considering a Mexico-focussed pulp campaign. In addition, during the mid- to late-1990s I ran the Northern Gathering of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers in Sheffield.  We’d always have a bring-and-buy and I’d always try to buy a souvenir of each event. In a way, these habits were key to the later discovery of Andreivia.

Thanks to my magpie buying habit, I accumulated a truly incoherent stash of late twentieth century military hardware in 20mm scale. Highlights included an A4 Skyhawk, an Argentinian bazooka team, some rather nicely painted plastic Arab infantry, a British Army Wombat AT gun, M2 Bradley IFVs in both temperate and desert camouflage, and even a Japanese Type 60 medium tank from the 1960s. All of this and more on top of a halfway-coherent Soviet force built around a VDV airborne platoon in BMD-1 armoured personnel carriers.

At some point in 2006 I decided I needed to do something with all of this. Even I had come to recognise that I’d most likely never get around to gaming the Falklands conflict, the Arab-Israeli Wars, a 1980s World War Three, and a 1960s invasion of Japan!  

I asked on various internet forums was there any historical setting where I could use a reasonable proportion of this collection? "No" was the resounding answer! 

However, several people did suggest that I create my own tin-pot little African country and play something like Peter Pig’s AK-47 Republic.  This had its appeal, but black African troops were among the few things I didn't have and the idea was most definitely not to buy more stuff to make a project work. [Although of course I'd later go on to purchase plenty of new toys as Andreivia began to build its own momentum.]

So, I started looking around for suitable settings. Where might I use both temperate- and arid-camouflaged materiel with European and Middle eastern-looking infantry?  

The answer came from Raids magazine. This French monthly, then readily available in an English edition, often carried news stories on military exercises in the Mediterranean region, and it wasn’t unusual to see a largely green tank alongside a distinctly desert-coloured armoured personnel carrier.  

Could I use the Med as a setting for a fictional country? Well... maybe... but somehow the region seemed a bit too familiar to allow the levering in of a new country. Then I remembered that the producers of the Sharpe TV series had been happy to send Sean Bean to the Crimea as a reasonably convincing stand-in for the Iberian Peninsula.  Somehow, a new nation on the shores of the Black Sea seemed less of an imposition on at least this Western European's sense of geography.

I knew nothing of the border region between Georgia and eastern Turkey but a new nation there, between the former Soviet Union and NATO, was interesting. If it also touched the borders of Armenia, then the centuries-old antipathy between Turks and Armenians would play into my situation quite nicely.

Influenced by what I had read and seen on television of the Yugoslavian Civil War, I decided to create a socialist republic that had remained outside the Soviet Union and that had managed to maintain a semi-detached relationship to the Warsaw Pact (thus allowing for an eccentric approach to military procurement - I was determined to work in that Japanese Type 60). As the Tito / Enver Hoxha generation of Second World War leaders began to die off there was scope for plenty of internal conflict, which, given the strategic location of the country, could draw in foreign intervention.

If the new country’s next-door neighbour was named for St George, it seemed only reasonable to have mine named for St Andrew. Thus, "Andreivia". 

By similar logic a cross of St Andrew seemed the logical design for the new nation’s flag.  I thought of reversing the colours of the Scottish flag but a blue diagonal cross on a white background already existed in the region as the Russian naval ensign. The easiest fix was to make the background colour yellow.  At that time I declared the cross to be cobalt blue. This was for no other reason than that I happened to have a tube of artist’s acrylic in that colour at the time!

I'd toyed with setting up wargames campaigns in the past. In my youth I was enchanted by Tony Bath's accounts (in Military Modelling and Battle for Wargamers) of his Hyboria campaign. I loved the idea of a long-running campaign with players generating complex and dramatic story lines. However, I knew that even if I had the enthusiasm to create a setting in detail from the ground up, determining population levels and designing fictional national economies, I was unlikely to sustain it over the months or years of campaign administration needed to create the kind of rich setting I aspired to.

So it was that I decided to adopt an approach I'd come across in the context of designing RPG settings; don't nail anything down until you have to!

I created an outline timeline for Andreivia and an outline map.

The eastern Black Sea region in the early 1990s

And there, for the time being, I stopped. 

In the next part of this tale I'll go into detail as to how the history of Andreivia developed as a narrative, co-operative venture starting with some dramatic military operations in the disputed Tuzkhur Valley.


Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Rangers at Blickheim

On Sunday I had another, somewhat larger-scale, go at A Fistful of TOWs 2000. As with the previous game, this was a solo attempt at refreshing my memory of the rules and trying to decide if they represent a useful addition to my rules toolkit. 

Using terrain based on the fictional West German location defended by the Canadians in Kenneth Macksey's book First Clash, I pitched a Soviet tank regiment against a US Ranger battalion.

The Soviets had three battalions of T-64A supported by a motor rifle company in BMP-1. The could expect a motor rifle battalion in BTR-70 to arrive in support some time between game turns two and six. They were ordered to occupy with infantry the villages of Kuppenheim and Blickheim and to get tanks onto the Blickheim ridge.

The NATO force consisted of a US Ranger battalion - three companies of infantry supported by six Dragon ATGW teams. The expected a battalion of West German tanks (reservists in M48A2G2s) and a company of Jagdpanzer Kannone. As with the Soviet reinforcements, these would enter sometime between turns two and six.



The field of battle seen from the Russian entry zone.
Kuppenheim on the left edge between the pylons, Blickheim
on the right at the crossroads.

The Soviet tanks advanced with two battalions towards Blickheim (followed by the BMP company) and one battalion towards Kuppenheim. 

It quickly became apparent that the M47 Dragon was not going to dominate the battlefield. One Dragon fired from the front edge of Kuppenheim but missed. The return fire of an entire battalion of T-64s immediately wiped out the launcher team.


West German M48A2G2s on Blickheim ridge

An overwhelming impression I'm left with is that in FFT a stabilised main gun is a huge advantage to an MBT. There seems to be no penalty to firing on the move. If you move an unstabilised vehicle (like the Jagdpanzer Kannone), you will be shot at by moving enemy tanks and probably destroyed before you get a shot of if the enemy tanks have even the poorest stabilisation.

Jagdpanzer Kannone (left foreground)
about to be wiped out


I did quite like the spotting rules in FFT. I think they could probably be ported to CWC. Recon units don't have the benefits that they have in CWC but there is a use for them in drawing fire and/or spotting units ahead of the main force. Units spotted by any friendly force are spotted by all of them.

Soviet infantry capture Blickheim

T-64s move across the ridge

The game ended in a marginal Soviet victory. The captured one of the villages and moved tanks onto the ridge, driving of the WestGerman armour.

Overall I found FFT OK. I think it's worth having it in the toolbox as a system to use for larger 1/300th games. However, I remain unsold as to its benefits over Cold War Commander. 




Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Fistful of T-80s

Lockdown, combined with now having a semi-permanent war-games table, is prompting me to have a go (usually solo) at some rules I haven't tried for ages. This morning it was A Fistful of TOWs: 2000

I've only tried these modern micro-tank rules once before - my records say it was December 2003(!) when I ran an Iran-Iraq War scenario for Simon Beaver, Graham Spearing, and the late Bill Hoad. I remember being somewhat underwhelmed at the time. The rules, as far as I recall, worked OK but failed to engage our enthusiasm.

I've just run through a very small scenario - "Bezarin's Attack" from Russell Philips's The Bear Marches West. This features British a squadron of Challenger II main battle tanks supported by an infantry company in Warriors defending a ridge against an attacking Russian battalion in T-80BVs.

The early phases of the action went pretty much as I think I'd have expected if I'd used Cold War Commander. The Challengers started picking off T-80s before the latter were in range to return fire. However, once the Russians closed the range, one or two lucky shots were all it took to cause casualties the Challengers could ill afford. 

Eventually I decided the British would pull back to a reverse slope defence. Three platoons of infantry waited behind the ridge while their Warriors manoeuvred to defend against any flanking move around the ridge and the one remaining Challenger troop waited in the rear.


At this point I thought - should the Russian commander (Bezarin presumably) pause to bring up his company of BMP-2s and assault over the ridge with infantry or should he rely on momentum and charge blindly forward with his tanks? The dice decided that Bezarin's regimental commander wanted speed of advance at all costs.

This gave me the chance to try out the close combat rules as the leading T-80 platoons ploughed straight into waiting British infantry. This required a Quality check for each British platoon to see if they got to fire first. Rated as Veteran (3+), they all passed and we got to see the lethality of Carl Gustavs against side armour (infantry in close combat with tanks are always deemed able to get a flank shot). Two of the three T-80 platoons were destroyed.

At this point I made a Quality check for the Russian tank unit as it had taken 2/3rds casualties. They failed and I decided to call it a day at that point.

All in all it was an OK experience. The only command and control restrictions in the rules are that you must keep elements within a certain cohesion distance of the rest of their unit. This seems a bit bland compared to the tension of CWC's "Do I risk trying to activate this unit one more time?"

I think I'll have another go with a more involved scenario. I might dust off the smaller scenario from my First Clash article in Wargames Illustrated half a lifetime ago.