Sunday, July 27, 2014

New Favourite Fiction

I can't recommend too highly the most recent pair of novels by American writer Connie Willis.

Blackout and All Clear form a single, long story in what is sometimes referred to as Willis's Time Travel Series.  

The common link of the series (which also includes historical novel The Domesday Book, romantic comedy To Say Nothing of the Dog, and short story Firewatch) is the idea that Oxford historians in the mid-21st century have time travel.  With certain limitations they can travel back in time to observe and study events. 

History itself seems to have some kind of protective mechanism, though.  Unpredictable geographic or temporal 'slippage' seems to prevent historians from getting to certain key events whose alteration would significantly affect future history, whilst remaining in the past long enough to coincide with your future self on another time travel mission is invariably fatal.

As the covers and titles suggest, Blackout and All Clear are focussed on the British home front during the second world war.  Four young history students study, and become drawn into, the lives of civilians, evacuees, and D-Day preparers during the course of the war.  When it becomes clear that something has gone very wrong with their ride home, they are forced to share more of the danger of war than they bargained for.

Willis's books tend to have a mystery element.  We and the characters suffer information blackout for much of the story but all is satisfyingly clear at the end.

Mainly, though, this is a story of heroism; the understated heroism of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.  Something the historians intend to study but of which they eventually partake.  Given Willis's obvious Anglophilia and keen eye for detail I'd recommend these books to anyone with an interest in British life during the first half of the 1940s.  

Humber Scout Car

I've been a bit quiet here of late as I've not got much in the way of new painting done (though I have planned out a Pulp Alley campaign).

Last night, though, I did manage to finished one of the Humber Scout Cars I bought on the Bring and Buy at Gauntlet.  This is the Britannia one:

I don't usually like Britannia figures as they are a bit big-headed and "cartoon-y" compared to most other manufacturers I use but this guy reminded me so much of Michael Caine in A Bridge Too Far that I couldn't resist using him.

I've gone with 11th Armoured Division markings to go with my Comets.  Unfortunately I didn't check the numbers and so the formation markings don't match - I should have used a 53 rather than the 52 I had in the spare markings box.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Get Here Fast!

I've spent the last couple of weeks gradually churning through the process of basing up my 1/300th scale WW2 Germans for BKC so there's not been much in the way of photogenic stuff to report here. However, yesterday we got in another Saturday Afternoon WargameTM when Andy and Richard came over to play Arc of Fire.

The scenario was adapted from an idea by Bernard Garraty in the SOTCW Journal.  I set it in the Netherlands in March 1945 as I wanted an excuse to use my recently completed Comet troop and possibly my King Tiger! Here are the player briefings.  Jamie played the Germans:

German Briefing

You are the commander of the German forces holding a defensive position east of the small Dutch town of Steenbrug.  Following a hurried radio communication you are hastily putting together a small force for an urgent dash to capture a vital target a few miles west of your current position.  

The exact mission is not yet clear but speed is of the essence.  You can pick six elements from the following ten:

  • Infantry section in half-track
  • Infantry section in half-track
  • Infantry section in truck
  • Infantry section in truck
  • PaK 40 anti-tank gun with SdKfz 10 towing vehicle
  • Forward artillery observer team (in Kubelwagen) with 3x 120mm mortars in support
  • SdKfz 234/1 armoured car
  • Tiger II *
  • Stug IV *
  • Flakpanzer M√∂belwagen *

The elements marked with a “*” will take longer to get ready.  They will arrive on Game Turn 1d6+1 (1d6+2 for the Tiger). All other elements arrive on GT 1.

The Möbelwagen is an experimental prototype with four 20mm flak guns which is in the area on field trials.

The SdKfz 234/1 is the version with an open-topped turret with a 20mm auto cannon.

 Andy and Richard played the Anglo-Canadian force:

Canadian Briefing

You are the commander of Canadian forces in the recently captured small Dutch town of Steenbrug, near Utrecht.  Following a hurried radio communication you are hastily putting together a small force for an urgent dash to capture a vital target a few miles east of your current position.  

The exact mission is not yet clear but speed is of the essence.  You can pick six elements from the following ten:

  • Infantry section in half-track with HMG
  • Infantry section in half-track (no mounted MG)
  • Infantry section + PIAT in DUKW amphibious truck
  • 3” mortar team in light truck
  • T-Force team (six men in two Jeeps, small arms only)
  • Comet tank (attached from the British 11th Armoured Division) *
  • Comet tank (attached from the British 11th Armoured Division) *
  • Comet tank (attached from the British 11th Armoured Division) *
  • Grant CDL 
  • Forward artillery observer team (in carrier) with 3x 25pdr guns in support

The elements marked with a “*” will take longer to get ready.  They will arrive on Game Turn 1d6+1. All other elements arrive on GT 1.

The T-Force team is attached from 21st Army Group.  They are specially trained in fast-moving operations to seize politically, commercially or scientifically important targets.  As such they count as TAC 4 for the purposes of this scenario.

The Grant CDL (Canal Defence Light) is a standard M3 Grant tank with the turret replaced by an armoured box containing a powerful searchlight.  It still retains the 75mm gun in its hull mount.

After finding out which selections the players had made, their choices are underlined above, I filled them in on the detail of the mission.  Some German VIP had been airlifted out of besieged Utrecht last night but the light plane carrying this person had been seen to make an emergency landing somewhere between the front lines.  Both side must race to retrieve the mysterious traveller.

I laid out the terrain (flat of course) as below:

The central road is on an embankment and blocks line of sight between the two halves of the table except from the upper storey of the pair of semi-detached cottages (where the target is hiding).  The Canadians and British entered from the near side.  In retrospect it would have made for more interesting tactical choices to put the embankment slightly nearer to them.  After this photo was taken I scattered on some foliage clumps to break up the uniform green of the GW Battlemat.

The hastily-landed aircraft (a Croatian Air force Hs-126) can be seen just this side of the road.

A river and a few open woods complete the terrain.

We started off with all troops deployed as blinds (painted cardboard markers used to disguise exact locations).

By game turn three the T-Force unit had reached the plane and found it to be empty of either mysterious Germans or useful documents.  Meanwhile the Canadian infantry had reached the embankment and deployed from their halftrack and DUKW.

They looked over to see two out of the three German Grenadier squads debuting from their halftracks...

...whilst the third made for the rear door of the cottages.  Here we can see, a few minutes later, Captain Horvath of the Croatian Air Force and Dr Strabismus (for it is he, whom God preserve) about to be escorted to a waiting vehicle.

At this point Andy and Richard got unlucky with the card sequence.  A number of Jamie's cards came up in sequence and the troops on the road came under withering fire:

The white markers show troops pinned down either by direct fire or thanks to a failed unit morale test.

With the objective taken by the Germans, all the Anglo-Canadians could hope to do was to make the Germans pay a heavy butcher's bill for their victory.

Andy threw his PIAT team forward to the corner of the Bridge parapet (so A Bridge Too Far!) and managed to hit and immobilise the Flakpanzer!

Meanwhile the Comet troop finally arrived (Richard had thrown a five so they arrived on game turn six).

Unfortunately for the 11th Armoured Brigade, the King Tiger arrived a turn later and soon two of the three Comets were burning on the road and the third was beating a hasty retreat.

So, a clear victory for Jamie's Germans.

As I said above, if we played it again I think I'd move the embankment from the middle of the table and put it firmly in the Allied half of the table.  As always, I was pleased with how well AoF moved along and felt that the card activation system gave a pleasing unpredictability to events.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Rubble Four-way Fight

Jamie and I ran a game of Song of Blades and Heroes at last night's PFA barbecue for Mille's primary school.  With Millie going up to big school in September and Jamie hopefully off to university, this may have been the last one.

The game was set in the Big Rubble of Pavis and was a first chance to use my ruined temple.

The scenario involved four forces hunting for Treasure Trove Hurbi who, with his valuable treasure map, was hiding somewhere on the board.  I didn't get a chance to take many photos.  The one above is from near the end of the action.  Hurbi can be seen, having been stripped of his map, running away just to the right of the red and purple dice in the foreground.

There was a confused melee in the ruined temple between Orlanthi rebels and chaos raiders.  The Trolls did relatively little despite having a Giant with them.  They killed a few chaos creatures but eventually the Giant fled off the table when a Trollkin was gruesomely killed right at his feet!

The poor old Lunar players were plagued by bad luck throughout.  In the end, the Orlanthi were able to evade their best efforts and escape with the map.

The Lunar and Troll players decided to finish things with a single combat.

The first round of the combat saw a 6:5 roll in favour of the Troll.  This would put the Lunar heroine on the floor!  The player took advantage of a Hero's ability to reroll one combat roll per game and rolled... another five!  In the next turn the Troll finished off its downed foe!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ruined Temple

The first new addition to my Pavis terrain since I decided to use it for a skirmish campaign, rather than Hordes of the Things games, is this ruined temple from the Big Rubble.

I've deliberately kept it vaguer as to which god was worshipped here.  The old city of Pavis was full of odd cults.

The only purchased components are the two guardian statues above, which are from Zitterdes, and the tufts of grass growing out of the broken masonry.  The floor detail in the shot below is from a broken piece of child's toy that I found in the street!  The wall paintings are downloaded from the internet and printed on heavy grade matt paper before being ripped to shape.

The walls are polystyrene packaging material and the doorway is from sandwiched layers of foamcore.

The wall paintings are great - I'm particularly pleased to see what appears to be a Trollkin to the left of the doorway in the shot below.  It looks like the temple will work fine for Pulp games too.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gauntlet 2014

Jamie and I got to go to Gauntlet briefly on Saturday.  Previously we've either run a game or played in one but this was just a very brief chance to say hello to a few friends and do a bit of shopping.

I got lucky finding a few Glorantha-suitable models like this lovely Dragonewt tailed priest:

Looking forward to painting this one.  Then there's a couple of Broo who should see action in Pavis pretty soon:

And this Dark Ages figures (a Rus perhaps?) who's obviously some kind of Orlanthi thane:

Last (but far from least) of the Gloranthan stuff was this Manticore:

I don't currently plan to do any Beast Valley forces but at four quid I couldn't resist.  The Manticore originally came with a rider with typically over-sized Games Workshop sword but I rejected it and donated it back to the vendor's "50p box".  The same chap also sold me a GW figure-carrying case to transport my Pulp Alley and SOBH collections in and I was very please to get the lot for £20!

On the bring-and-buy I acquired some 20mm WW2 stuff including a couple of Humber scout cars for my late war Brits.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Service Dress

Sheffield Eagles' performance against Halifax on Sunday was truly pitiful but I did get the chance to photograph this mannequin at an armed forces charity stand.

The colours of WW1 uniforms seem to vary quite a bit but this one is fairly close to Vallejo's British Uniform.