Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Some 6mm terrain experiments

Inspired by Al Sheward's brilliant Oosterbeek terrain at Ebor Lard, I've been thinking about how I might apply some of the techniques in 6mm scale.

Al's terrain consisted of modules (e.g. a building surrounded by gardens and outhouses on a single base) that could be placed side-by-side to fill the area of the table. There are advantages to this including storage and flexibility. A terrain module that fits exactly into the space at the corner of Utrechteseweg and Stationsweg will also work perfectly well in some alternative fictional setting.

One way to have modules that fit together is to give them all right-angle corners. This is something that Richard Phillips has done to great effect in his terrain for the Cold War Commanders games at various shows.

I've done something vaguely similar with some fields I've produced recently.

Because I want to use them for Germany and Czechoslovakia, I've eschewed the use of hedges, the field boards just have chamfered edges covered in a contrast colour of flock/static grass mix.

I then wondered if there was some mileage in producing small modules specifically designed to slot together but more irregular in shape. Using a few offcuts of PVC board I've knocked up these over the last few days.

The oddly-shaped road junction was a piece I'd made from a left-over scrap of cheap vinyl floor tile; my go-to material for 6mm tarmac roads. I cut a piece of PVC board to slot up against its wavy edge. I chamfered all the edges of the small field, coated it with quick-drying Polyfilla, and stuck in some bits of cat litter along the roadside edge to represent stones moved from the field by the farmer.

I then realised that a straight road piece attached to the junction would create an inconveniently shaped triangular space so I quickly made a small grassy extension to the field. With a bit of clump foliage to hide the join, I think the effect's OK. I'll do some more of this sort of thing.

The use of clump foliage to hide joins is important, I think. In the pics below are a couple of areas of broken round I've made from recycled bases of old forest pieces.

I think the use of clump foliage, even only partially covering the join, in the second picture really makes a difference.

I've now got plenty of terrain for at least one Prague Summer 1948 table. Just another five to do!

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Meanwhile, back at Harpers Ferry...

As well as working on 6mm terrain and playing Chain of Command at Ebor Lard, I've been trying to keep  making progress towards having the Harpers Ferry terrain ready in plenty of time so I can playtest my Steel Lard game.

I've built the main structure of the board out of insulating foam. Thanks Fay Hield for the use of your offcuts!

One edge represents the stone wall that separates the armoury from the Potomac River. Here we see it from the Potomac side:

Between the two blue foam walls is the "boat ramp" a slope down to river level used to allow boats to load or unload directly into or from the armoury grounds. A couple of years later a Union Army pontoon bridge was anchored at the foot of the ramp. Abraham Lincoln would walk across the bridge and up the ramp to visit "John Brown's Fort".  

Atop the wall is the raised Baltimore and Ohio railroad line. In reality it was double track but space and considerations of What a Cowboy ground-scale preclude reproducing that.

The track bed is made from 7mm PVC foam board courtesy of Richard Phillips's local coffee shop. I added wood grain using a wire brush and then scribed in planking.

The cast-iron pillars are 3D printed.  A pile of storage boxes carved from insulating foam helps to support the inevitable join between pieces of board.

The space under the railroad was used for storage so I'll be adding some more boxes, barrels, spare columns etc. Obviously I've had to paint much of this part of the project at this stage because it'll be harder to get at it later.

I've added track from Sarissa Precision.

I've glued the 3D-printed fence sections in place too...

I've printed out a pair of cast iron gates to go between the two sets of stone pillars. I think they'll be too delicate to transport safely if I glue them in place so I'm going to create a base that fits in the space to carry them. It'll also carry the bollards that were positioned to prevent wagons bashing into the stone piers when trying to pass through the gate.

The next stage is to build the last and most important building; the engine house or John Brown's Fort itself. I started putting craft knife to foamcore this afternoon:

More pics when I've got further into the job.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Converting Rapid Fire scenarios to TacWWII

This is an update of some ideas that I think I presented on the original Land of Counterpane, the website I had back in the time of dial-up Internet.

The following examples come from this book of scenarios by Richard Marsh:

I can't seem to find my copy of the Rapid Fire rules. I suspect I may have sold them at some Bring and Buy as I haven't played RF for years. However, I can remember enough to comment on the RF-to-TacWWII conversion process.

First up we need to convert the maps to the right scale. This is going to be a challenge because RF plays fast and loose with ground scales! Looking at some of the scenarios in the book, we see that the default is an 8'x5' table. However, no scales are shown on the maps. Looking at Google Earth I estimate that for the following scenarios that eight feet corresponds to:
  • about 6km (60" for TacWWII) in the Crossing the Bug scenario
  • 9-10km (96" for TacWWII) for Nalchik
  • about 5km (48" for TacWWII) for Yuzhnaya Ozereika 
  • about 2km (20" for TacWWII) in Central Pest. 
I think, then, we're going to have to use the RF maps just to give us a general idea of the location of the battle and use modern (or ideally period) maps to give us our wargames terrain.

The position with orders of battle is a bit more healthy although RF uses a peculiar scaling process. One (usually 20mm scale) figure represents about 15 men, whilst one model gun or vehicle represents five in real life. I therefore convert artillery and vehicles between the two rulesets on a one-to-one basis. Infantry companies are converted as follows:
  • 2-4 figures in RF = one platoon in TacWWII
  • 5-7 figures in RF = two platoons in TacWWII
  • 8-10 figures in RF = three platoons in TacWWII
  • and so on.

Let's have a go at an example. This table shows the Soviet forces for the Hill 253.5 and Ponyri scenario from Marsh's book:

The HQ of the 1023rd Rifle Regiment is shown as six figures, which would probably suggest two rifle platoons at TacWWII scale. As they're shown riding in a single car I'd be tempted to simplify this to use one of my Soviet HQ bases motorised by adding a staff car model.

The other HQ assets can be represented by the same number of models in TacWWII (ignore the listed numbers of crew figures). The only question is how to allocate them to companies. Given that the Soviets are all dug into static positions in this scenario, I suggest the following:

HQ Company            1x Command rifle platoon, 1x car, 1x Quad AAHMG, 1x truck

AT Battery                 2x 45mm ATG

Mortar Company      1x 120mm mortar, 1x 76mm infantry gun

Putting the infantry gun and the heavy mortar in the same company gives them a little more robustness from a morale point of view.

For similar reasons I think for the Rifle Battalions I would move the mortar and MG elements into the rifle companies:

Bn HQ                     1x Command rifle platoon

1st Company           2x SMG platoon, 1x MMG platoon

2nd Company         2x Rifle platoon, 1x 82mm mortar platoon

3rd Company         2x Rifle platoon, 1x 50mm mortar platoon

The artillery support doesn't need much organising for TacWWII. Clearly we have two 122mm howitzers and a single Katyusha model. I'd suggest that they be subject to the Obsolete Doctrine rules (can only be called in by units in PD or D modes). I might also insist that the Soviet player allocate particular batteries to particular defending battalions. Remember in TacWWII we don't have separate forward observer elements.

I'd organise the AT Regiment as a single two-gun "company" again for reasons of morale robustness. I'd probably attach it to a defending battalion for command purposes but you could deploy the Regiment as a single-company battalion in a situation where you want to give them unique orders.

The air support presents some interesting questions. The La-5FN is a fighter and contemporary with the Bf-109. I'd be inclined to rate it as "average fighter" in TacWWII terms. I've not seen any reports of them carrying PTAB anti-armour cluster bombs. I'd be inclined to replace it with a Pe-2 if you want to use them. Probably treat the Pe-2 as "good light bomber" with a +1 to the dice roll when using dropped ordnance against hard targets.

We need to think about Morale and Tac ratings. Rapid Fire just uses Poor, Regular and Elite categories that affect both infantry firepower and morale. By far the majority of troops are rated Regular in most of the scenarios. Occasionally we see the rating split; for example the Soviets in the Stalingrad scenario are rated Elite for morale purposes but Regular for firing. In that case, raise the Morale but leave Tac unchanged. Overall I'd suggest something like:

Rapid Fire Rating                        TacWWII Morale            Tac Rating

Poor                                                Shaky or Poor                    7 or 8

Regular                                           Average                              5 to 7

Elite                                                Good or Excellent              4 or 5

The exact Tac rating will, as usual, depend on your assessment of the army's command flexibility, communications equipment, and any other technological factors like a predominance of archaic vehicles.

Finally we can consider the passage of time. My gut feeling at this stage is that a Rapid Fire game turn probably represents a slightly longer chunk of a typical battle. My tentative suggestion is that you increase the time allowed to achieve an objective by 50%. For example in the scenario above the German have 12 RF turns to penetrate to a designated objective line. With TacWWII I'd be inclined to make that 18 turns. 


Sunday, September 3, 2023

Ebor Lard

I was up early yesterday to travel up to North Yorkshire for the annual Ebor Lard gathering organised by John Savage. It was well worth the drive. Green Hammerton Village hall is a nice venue, clean and bright, albeit it can get a bit warm when filled with 40-odd wargamers!

Unlike previous events I was scheduled to pay a single game throughout the day (most people get a short game in the morning and a different one in the afternoon). I won't pretend I didn't find that quite intimidating. What if you get half an hour into the game and find that (a) you aren't enjoying it and (b) you've already cocked up so badly that you've no chance of achieving any of your objectives? 

I needn't have worried. Al Sheward had designed a game that was well balanced and engaging throughout. 

Al's game was one of the Oosterbeek Chain of Command games recently demonstrated to great approbation at the Airborne Museum near Arnhem. It was gorgeous.

I was interested to note that Al didn't use a printed terrain mat. All of the terrain was in the form of irregularly shaped boards that fitted together jigsaw fashion with lichen used where necessary to disguise the joins. I think this is something I'm going to try adapting for use in my 6mm games.

Utrechtseweg from the German end

Mark Pullan and I took on the roles of German platoon commanders attempting to break through the ring of British paras holding the Oosterbeek perimeter. Our opponents were old friend Ned Willets and new friend Neil Hepworth. Both German platoons were made up SS pioneers - far from elite troops. The two SS divisions near Arnhem were refitting after being badly mauled in Normandy. Mark was reinforced by the addition of a tripod-mounted machine-gun while I had a StuG III available.

An important location in the game is the Main Dressing Station - the pair of hotels used as hospitals for wounded during the Oosterbeek battles.

These provided barriers to manoeuvre as both sides seem to have respected them during the fighting.

On the right flank I tried to infiltrate around one of the hotels but the restricted space made it impossible to concentrate fire on the enemy.

In the end, the British were slightly ahead in terms of remaining force morale so Al called it a narrow British victory. It was a pleasure to lose on such a pretty battlefield!

I didn't get to see much of the other games, but here are a few pics.

Simon Walker ran Death in the Donga - an exploration of the death of Louis Napoleon, the Prince Imperial in Zululand that used the What a Cowboy rules:

Jeremy Short ran Getting Hitched using the Dux Brittaniarum rules translated to Medieval England:

Charley Walker can always be relied upon to produce a lovely Kiss Me Hardy naval action and this time it was The Nelson Touch:

Ade Deacon ran another What A Cowboy game, this time in the Mexican setting of Rancho Delmonte:

Host John Savage's own game was a Sharp Practice affair set during a fictional Prussian invasion of Victorian England and called the Battle of Westcott

David Hunter ran a Flashing Blades game called Stink in Brie. Very nicely presented!

And finally, Theo Street ran another What A Cowboy game, this time in a modern setting. I understand it was called Chocolate Hostage. I have no idea why as I was too busy playing my game to investigate.

After the games we retired to the Bay Horse Inn for stimulating conversation (with Richard Clarke as usual talking bollocks), Keralan beef and, in my case, one pint of Ruddles (I was driving). 

If you get the chance to attend a Lardy Day you really should.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Basing 6mm moderns

A certain shed-based habitué of these parts (Hi Richard!) has suggested that it might be useful to share the basing conventions I use for 1/300th scale WW2 and Cold War units. So be it.

I've based my 1/300th scale vehicles since I moved over to playing rules where a single vehicle represents a platoon or more (Cold War Commander, TacWWII, Blitzkrieg Commander). I find bases help remind me that this is a unit, not just a single tank. In addition, regular-sized bases help me to store the models safely, particularly in magnetised drawers when the base has a layer of self-adhesive steel paper.

My basing conventions have evolved over the years but what follows is where we're at now. I'll give the dimensions in millimetres; width x depth.

Rifle platoons have four figures on a 30mm x 20mm base:

Soviet WW2 rifle platoon

Some WW2 armies need tank riders. I've started making special bases for these. I cut out a 30mm square from an old business card. I then glue a few suitable figures along both edges and add 5mm strips in front of and behind the figures to make a 20mm wide channel into which a tank base will fit:

Tank riders with T-34/76

Obviously when the riders dismount they are replaced by a normal infantry base. 

Another recent tweak I've made is to mount my engineer units on 20mm x 30mm bases (i.e. portrait rather than landscape). This helps distinguish them from conventional infantry. I've also taken to adding flamethrower flames from painted clump foliage or barbed wire made from cotton thread and staples:

Soviet assault engineers

Medium and heavy machine guns go on a 30mm x 20mm base with a single team depicted. Given that the gun crew are kneeling around the gun, it's easy to distinguish them from the riflemen:

Cold War British sustained-fire MG

I put medium mortars (typically 81 or 82mm calibre weapons) and heavy (106-120mm) mortars on 30 x 30 bases. 

I don't often represent lighter (50-60mm) mortars as separate units. I usually assume that effect of the British 2" mortar and the German 50mm is factored into the platoon's inherent firepower. However, the H&R US support weapons pack includes some nice 60mm mortar teams to I've started putting a few of them on 25mm x 25mm bases to make them easily distinguishable from their larger brethren:

US 60mm and 81mm mortars

Artillery or anti-aircraft units, whether self-propelled, towed or man-handled, get 30mm x 30mm bases:

US .50 cal AAHMG

I also use 30mm x 30mm bases for battalion HQ elements. A few suitable command figures make for a mini-diorama. I've recently started doing some of these with a space on the base where I can add an un-based vehicle if the HQ is for a motorised unit:

Japanese battalion HQ

The same HQ with staff car

Tanks, armoured personnel carriers, trucks the like generally go on a 20mm x 30mm base:

M18 Hellcat

Tank HQ units are distinguished by appearing on a 30mm x 30mm square:

Panther battalion HQ

However, I've recently started upping the depth where the model has a long gun that would otherwise overhang the base. These 3D printed IS-IIs are on 40mm deep bases, the HQ platoon being 30mm wide to distinguish it:

IS-IIs on extra-deep bases

CWC and BKC distinguish between battalion and higher-level headquarter units. The latter, called CO units, get 40mm x 40mm bases; a great opportunity to try your hand at mini-diorama building:

WW2 US CO base

The Commander series rules depict artillery observers and forward air controllers as separate units. I base these on 2 pence coins (25mm diameter), usually with a suitable vehicle and some dismounted observers:

Artillery observer with 1 tonne Landrover

The same basing can be used to distinguish the Centurion OPRA from its Sabre troop equivalent:

Centurion OPRA

Finally, a one-off. Years ago a wargaming forum had a painting challenge to produce a sniper unit. I decided to go tiny and did a 1/300th scale Frenchman with a .50cal. He went on a one penny (20mm diameter) coin:

French sniper - he should probably
remove the brass badge from his beret!

Sunday, August 27, 2023


At a recent Penkridge wargames sale I picked up a bag of Scotia Japanese infantry on a whim. I've just got them finished. 

The pack was pretty limited in scope. There were plenty of infantrymen with rifles, five machine-gun teams with tripod mounted weapons and a similar number of officers.

I use four figures on a 20mm x 30mm base to represent rifle platoons for TacWWII, BKC or CWC so the pack gave me more than enough for a battalion...

Five MMGs seemed a bit much so I carved one to represent a 60mm light mortar. Mounting it on a 25mm square base helps it stand out from the MMGs and also potentially from any medium mortars I might acquire later (they'll go on 30mm squares).

Finally, I wanted a base to represent the battalion HQ. After building the rifle platoons I had an officer and a couple of riflemen going spare. One of the rifles was broken so I painted the remaining stump black to pass as an SMG. 

The remaining rifleman had his weapon replaced by a length of brass rod around which I glued a flag made from a small piece of nylon cut from the washing instructions tab on a tea towel!

I used an article from an old copy of Wargames Illustrated for Vallejo colour references, the important bits being: uniforms - Khaki Grey, helmets - Brown Violet, and boots - Mahogany Brown.

I've never wargamed the Far Eastern Theatre of WW2 but I'm tempted to one day have a go at the 1945 Manchurian campaign. In the meantime, all but the HQ can probably pass as Czechoslovak troops in 1948 as in 6mm scale the Japanese and Slovakian helmets aren't that different.  

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Prague Summer 2

A few of us recently discussed some ideas about games featuring competing friendly forces. Could we represent rival brigades from the same army racing to reach a strategically valuable objective against relatively weak opposition? 

The classic historical example of this, albeit on a larger scale, would be Zhukov and Konev's respective Fronts racing to be the first to take Berlin in 1945.

The fictional Prague Summer 1948 setting seemed like a good fit for such a game. My plan is to recruit a total of between four and eight players. I hope to arrange a TacWWII game in such a way that the respective command teams can plan their operations in advance.

Two Soviet Divisional Forward Detachments will be tasked with reaching the fictional Czechoslovak city of Stary Boleslav. The Order of Suvorov First Class will be awarded to the first Soviet commander to reach the city.

One Detachment will have to fight its way along tables 1, 2 and 3, the other along tables A, B and C. Each Forward Detachment will be controlled by a Soviet player or by a team of two players if demand for places is high. 

The Czechoslovak players will defend the two routes to Stary Boleslav but they will be limited as to their deployment; political and logistic factors meaning they they must begin with a main force battalion on each of the tables 1, 2, 3, A, B, and C. Again we could have two individual Czechoslovak players or a team of two on each route.

Both sides will have fixed starting forces and the option to purchase additional supports. The Czechoslovak players will be able to co-operate as to how they share out the available supports whereas the Soviet players will be competing to get the best supports from a limited set of resources.

Combat engineers - a possible Soviet support

In addition, I want to make some allowance for political events in the period between the abortive February coup and the July invasion. I'll be asking the Czechoslovak players to roll three six-sided dice some time before the game. They'll be asked to allocate one die result to each of three categories of political effort: 

  • Czechoslovak Intelligence
  • Purging the Communists
  • Seeking Help from the Western Allies

Before allocating the scores they won't know the full effect of this; merely that lower numbers are bad and higher numbers good. The effects of these die rolls (using the umpire's secret table) will influence starting factors such as troops' training, morale, and deployment.

Another thing I'd like to try out, given the chance for the command teams to plan in advance, is an approach to artillery support that more accurately models Soviet doctrine.

I propose to restrict indirect Soviet artillery fire to locations plotted before the game. The Soviet players will be allowed to nominate a limited number of targets and the fire missions to be fire at them. 

The fire missions may be scheduled (e.g "Three 120mm mortar batteries are to fire HE at location B, starts on turn 3 and lasts for two turns") or planned to be called in by a battalion HQ unit that can see the target location (e.g "Perform Fire Mission 6 with immediate effect"). The details of Fire Mission 6 (target, guns firing, ammunition type, and duration) will have been specified before the game.

The number of pre-plotted target points allowed to each Soviet Forward Detachment will be limited. They will be restricted to tables 1 and A unless the relevant Soviet command team purchases the option of pre-battle tactical recon missions from the Air Force. This will mean that the Soviet commands will increasingly need to rely on their Heavy SU Regiments to provide direct fire support as the attack progresses.

If any of you will be within striking distance of Sheffield in Spring of 2024 I'd be delighted to have you as players.