Saturday, April 27, 2024

Some Puebla buildings

The Siege of Puebla, 1863 game is going to need a large number of buildings. 

The city is organised on a grid system and this played a significant tactical role in the battle with the French having to assault one defended block or manzana at a time while the streets could be dominated by dug in artillery pieces. 

One block is going to consist of my large, blue-stuccoed, courtyard house. As this is on a 10" square base, I'm adopting that size as the standard manzana. These low relief buildings will form an edge to our area of action whilst indicating that the city continues off-table. Each is 10" wide and an inch or so deep.

They are build on PVC board bases from left over foam core, thin card, and some scraps of Wills pantile sheet. The laser-cut MDF balcony was from a pack of three I bought years ago from Sarissa. They are a little clean at present but they'll get a general dry-brushing and dirtying up when I have the whole table prepared.

Also completed recently was this small shop.

It's by Income Gaming from their Streets of Venice range. 

I've improved it slightly by glazing the front doors and adding roof tiles again from Wills pantile sheet. The model is intended for the Carnivale skirmish game which has large (35mm or so) figures. Originally it came with doors in the end walls. As well as being unrealistically close to the front door, these looked stupid next to my 28mm chaps so I blanked them off and used quick-drying Polyfilla render to hide the signs of their presence.

This model comes apart to allow the placing of figures both upstairs and down. It will form part of a half-depth line of blocks on the Mexican baseline.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

A project update

With Crisis Point out of the way, I thought I'd provide an update on the other things I'm working on. In terms of "which comes first" they are:

Muddy River Blues

I put this Sharp Practice campaign on hold while we all prepared for Crisis Point. Now I need to refamiliarise myself with what's going on in Hendricks County, Mississippi. Fortunately I've been keeping a detailed campaign diary so I just need to find some time to go through it with the players' orders. Look out for more reports as things develop.

Stary Boleslav part two

The Cold War Commanders group is known for putting on attractive Cold-War-period games in 1/300th scale at various conventions but in particular at Joy of Six. In recent years we've tried to move our Jo6 games away from just being spectacularly large to showcasing alternative approaches to 6mm gaming and emphasising the opportunity for punters to try out the rules (be that Cold War Commander or, last year, TacWWII).

This year we plan to revisit the Czechoslovakia 1948 alternative history in a game showcasing the Cold War Commander version 2 rules. The plan is to put on a game that:

  • Looks impressive,
  • Avoids the impression of "some blokes standing around a static diorama",
  • Avoids the danger of "some blokes playing a game and ignoring the punters",
  • Moves fast enough that people who want to try out the rules can do so without having to wait ages for the organisers to finish moving a hundred units just to finish a game turn.
The plan is to build on the narrative of my Crisis Point game with the addition of a Soviet airborne operation to capture the bridge at Stary Boleslav. This will give us the opportunity to demo some fighting in a built up area as the paras move out to capture their initial objectives.

Another part of the table will represent the spearhead of one of the Soviet Forward Detachments fighting to reach the city. This will provide a break from urban combat and give us obvious movement from hour to hour throughout the day.

The Siege of Puebla 1863

I plan to offer a Sharp Practice game at various Lardy Days starting from this year's Steel Lard. I want to explore street fighting in the horse-and-musket era. The Siege of Puebla, during the Second French Intervention in Mexico, provides a great opportunity to do that.

At present I envisage a four player game with two French players attacking and two Mexicans defending. I'm currently digesting as much source material as I can find. Google Translate is proving a boon in this regard.

I've found an indication that one battalion of Tirailleurs Algeriens was in the army at Puebla so my Turcos can provide one of the player forces. 

The second French player will command a company from 99e Regt de Ligne, which will be represented by models from Foundry Miniatures' Legionnaires. I've just added another eight of these guys to the collection and have fourteen more to paint.

One of the events that I want to capture in the game is the general turning up to observe the situation on the front line. This occurred to both sides historically with the French General Vernet de Saumiere managing to get himself killed in the process. I'm not sure yet how I'll handle this in the game. A Random Event is one option but I'm also considering giving one of the players a card to play to make a general turn up on either his or his opponent's baseline. This chap, from the Foundry Mexican Characters pack has just been matt varnished and will get based shortly.

Monday, April 15, 2024

TacWWII Tactical Cards

For the recent Stary Boleslav game I created some cards players could play to help them in key moments. I thought I'd describe them here in case others would find the idea useful.

The intention was to give players an additional tactical option. Something that might help in a key moment, perhaps mitigating the effects of a poor die roll, and maybe adding a little narrative detail. At the same time I wanted to avoid making the cards too powerful. No one wants their carefully crafted plans destroyed simply because their opponent played a "Thousand Bomber Raid" card!

I created the cards in Pages on my iMac and printed them onto 200gsm card.

The cards were intended as one-use and were allocated randomly between the player groups. The Soviet command teams got four cards per team while the Czechoslovaks got six across their whole defending brigade. With some duplicates the cards were as follows:

Ace Pilot - You can re-roll one die in aerial combat.

Heroic Speech - You can re-roll one morale check die roll.

Skills and Drills - One of your companies can re-roll one failed Tac-roll-to-change-Mode.

Shortcut - One of your companies can treat an area of Heavy Going as normal ground for movement purposes this turn.

Friends in High Places - You can elect to re-roll one air support die roll this turn.

Molotov Cocktails - One infantry platoon is treated this turn as if it had assault engineer kit.

Excellent Staff Work - You may write a new order and attempt to transmit it this turn.

Superb Junior Leadership - You can reorganise to combine two companies into one without the need for a Tac roll.

Panzerfaust Cache - One company has plentiful supplies of anti-tank weapons. This turn, if they are in Defence Mode, they can fire at hard targets in phases A, C and E.

The last card is described as I should have designed it. In reality I didn't make it clear that the card was meant to be used just the once and I accidentally increased the range of a Panzerfaust. I don't think this had game-breaking results, though.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Stary Boleslav - the rules reviewed

I thought it might be interesting to review the Stary Boleslav game in the context of how the TacWWII rules performed. 

For those of you new here, the idea is that following a failed coup d'etat by Czechoslovak Communist Party members in February 1948, Soviet forces have invaded to establish a friendly regime in Prague.

Stavka (or whatever its post-Great-Patriotic-War equivalent is called) has determined that the Czechoslovak city of Stary Boleslav must be captured as soon as possible. Two Red Army infantry divisions are in  positions east of the city and Stavka decides that some inter-unit rivalry will spur the troops on to greater exertions. Whichever divisional commander captures the city will be rewarded; whoever does not can expect to see his career significantly hampered. That chemical weapons facility in Uzbekistan needs a guard commander!

Each division forms a Forward Detachment consisting of two motor rifle battalions, two tank battalions, and a heavy self-propelled gun regiment. To support this the Soviet players were able to purchase reinforcements. To simulate other demands on available resources, I had the two Soviet teams competing to choose their reinforcements from a limited list.

The Czechoslovak forces guarding the two highways to Stary Boleslav take the form of a single large, mixed brigade - four infantry battalions and two small tank battalions, again with the option to choose reinforcements.

Before the game I wanted to pay some attention to the political situation in Czechoslovakia between the attempted coup in February and the invasion the following summer. I did this by creating three tables that represented the Czechs' actions in three areas: the activities of Czechoslovakia's intelligence services, efforts to purge communist sympathisers from the armed forces, and seeking help from the Western Allies. 

I rolled three dice to get scores of 1, 3 and 5 and asked the Czechoslovak players to allocate them between the three areas of activity without sight of the table and just knowing that "high is good, low is bad". The results they got in the end are shown in turquoise in the table.

The deployment of Czechoslovak battalions at full strength simplified the administration burden on the day. Bonus! Dicing for morale saw the Czechoslovak 9th Infantry Battalion deploy with Poor Morale but despite this they seem to have fought well on the day. Finally I think the slightly increased probability of fighter cover helped. Certainly Stuart and Ned's Cossack cavalry didn't enjoy the ministrations of low-flying Spitfires!

Understanding the Rules

I think in general the rules mechanisms were picked up pretty quickly. Having “Who can fire in each Fire Phase, A though E” charts on the wall helped considerably.

Where people did struggle, I felt, was in understanding the process of sending and receiving orders and artillery requests. I paused the game at one point to try to explain this better and I think this helped. A revised example of how this works is something I'll add to my next revision of the rules.

Speaking of which, in my "version 1.5" I proposed a change in terminology to bring TacWWII in line with the later Arc of Fire set that’s familiar to many of my regular players. This was to replace “Default Mode” with “Confused Mode”. As several of the players were referring to copies of the original version of the rules, this was potentially confusing. Also “Engineers have to be confused to do engineering tasks" got a few funny looks! 

Given that the effect of "Default Mode" in TacWWII is not identical to "Confused Mode" in AoF, I'm inclined to revert to the original.

Artillery Support 

Given that we had plenty of time for the game I wanted to experiment with a set of rules to capture the peculiarities of Soviet artillery doctrine. This involved them plotting a limited number of pre-registered targets:

  • Six on the first table
  • An additional three on any table(s) if they purchased the pre-game aerial reconaissance option, and
  • An additional one on any table on which they deployed a Spetsnaz unit.
Having selected the targets, each Soviet team could design up to 18 fire missions. Each of these specified the target, calibre of weapons firing, ammunition type, number of tubes firing, duration, and schedule. The 'schedule' entry for each mission could be a number (e.g. 2 means "arrive on game turn 2") or it could be "X" meaning "do this when I request this specific mission".

This approach seemed to work well in capturing the limitations of Soviet doctrine. Certainly by the end of the game, the southern Soviet team were reporting they could see the advantage of including the heavy self-propelled gun regiment in the base force - it gave them significant anti-infantry firepower where they needed it at the time rather than where they thought they might need it later.

The southern team also did a good job of plotting their fire. Two woods targeted in the early game turns proved to contain Czechoslovak defenders.

One further thing that came up in play and that I think probably warrants inclusion in my version 1.6 is that I'm assuming a battalion HQ requesting brigade-level guns will be able to send a request directly to the guns, without having to go through Brigade HQ. I'm not sure if this was the rule-writers' original intent but the alternative is, to my way of thinking, too damned slow.

The northern Forward Detachment's SU Regiment has
a company forced to retire (white marker)

Targeting Headquarters

There was some concern that it was too easy to target battalion headquarters elements given that knocking one out would cause:

  • degradation of the battalion’s Tac score, and
  • a Battalion Morale Test for loss of a company.

My proposed solution prior to the game was that you need to pass a Tac roll to preferentially target HQs but if you fail you can fire at a nearby non-HQ element instead. This was felt to be not strong enough. 

At the same time some late-war German tank battalions are so weak that the battalion HQ is a significant proportion of their available firepower and they shouldn’t be immune to incoming fire. I propose to tweak the rule to something like:

“A battalion headquarters element can only be targeted by direct fire if the firing element makes a successful Tac roll. If the Tac roll is failed, the element doesn’t fire at all in the current Fire Phase - it is deemed to have spent the time unsuccessfully trying to identify the right target within the enemy formation.”

Obviously if your headquarters ends up under an artillery or airstrike template that's just too bad.

Unit Data

It's been usual in published TacWWII scenarios to "stat up" units as, for example, Panzer IV D, Medium Tracked, AC 1, Short 75mm gun. This means the players refer to the generic weapon categories on the Direct Fire Table.

As many of my players have played Cold War Commander before, I decided to provide full "stat lines" for each unit type:

This seemed to work OK and I think I'll stick with the approach in future games if time allows.

Tactical Cards

Finally I created some cards that enabled commanders to make occasional one-off special actions. I'll list them in a future post as this one's getting a bit long.

Overall I'm pleased with how the game went considering all but one of the players were new to the rules. Several of them expressed a desire to play TacWWII again, which I call a win!

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Crisis Point - a first report

So Crisis Point came and went at the weekend and I think it's been a great success. We took over Dungworth Village Hall for the weekend and managed to entertain and feed fifteen participants for the weekend. 

I'd originally planned for three games with the deliberately vague theme of "Invasion" but we were unfortunate in losing one of the games due to family commitments and then, late in the planning process, losing its hastily arranged replacement due to illness.

Despite this we managed to comfortably accommodate the players we had and all of them seem to have enjoyed the experience. A nice side-effect of the cancellation of our original third game was that in the end all of us were playing in the same alternate-reality setting; a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in Summer 1948.

The first game set up was my Stary Boleslav. As regulars here will know, this involved two Soviet Forward Detachments (mixed brigades) advancing on the eponymous Czechoslovak city. The defenders had a single, somewhat disorganised, brigade to resist them across two axes of advance.

I'll put out a later post describing how my planning of the game worked out in detail but for now you need to know that on both axes of advance the Soviet forces found themselves up against a stiffening Czechoslovak defence along the line of the major river. In both cases the Soviets pushed forward with tank units leading and tried to bash through the built-up areas along the river.

In the south Jamie C and Matt Z ran into a few problems by advancing faster than they expected. Their lead Soviet units were so fast that they ran into their own pre-programmed artillery fire.

The southern table, looking toward Stary Boleslav

The first southern table with the town of
Albrechtice top right and Dobruske village
top left

Arthur W and Richard P as the Czechoslovaks fought hard and forced back some of the attacking units before a strike by Soviet Pe-2 dive-bombers took out the headquarters of the infantry battalion defending Albrechtice.

Pe-2 strike on Albrechtice

Both sides had had the option to purchase supporting forces before the game. Jamie and Matt invested some of their points in arranging for the presence of two spetsnaz units in the Czechoslovaks' rear area. One of these, deployed near the airfield, successfully called in a medium bomber strike by a flight of lend-lease B-25 Mitchells somehow kept flying after the end of the Great Patriotic War.

The bomber strike would have been ideally placed to delay the arrival of a Czechoslovak Army "tank" battalion (actually Hetzer self-propelled guns) but delays in getting the message through meant that the strike served only to crater the road near the Dobruske bridge.

The road to Albrechtice turned into a major traffic jam as the Soviets' second echelon passed the parked trucks of the motorised rifle battalion that had supported the initial tank attack on the town.

Infantry are hard to winkle out of towns but repeated artillery and air strikes and the close-range intentions of T-34s and Soviet infantry eventually whittled down the defenders of Albrechtice and Dobruske.

In the north Stuart A and Ned W pushed their Soviet units towards two river crossings; the railway bridge on the right and the medieval stone bridge in Blatno, which was ably defended by Tom Z. 

The northern table, looking west towards
Stary Boleslav. Blatno is the large 
built-up-area on the river.

The old bridge at Blatno with Czechoslovak defenders on the left

Beyond the river was an old castle into which Matt C deployed the only anti-aircraft guns in the game - a couple of troops of 88mm Flak-36s! Being dual-purpose weapons they were able to engage Soviet tanks. Unfortunately for Matt they spent most of the game ineffectually firing at extreme range at heavily armoured T-44s.

The castle - a Kibri Z-scale kit expertly
assembled by Richard P

Legend has it that Field Marshal Sir John French once said, "The machine-gun has no stopping power against the horse." I've been unable to confirm the accuracy of the quote but I can now confirm that if the machine-gun in question is mounted on a low-flying Czechoslovak Spitfire, French is incorrect.

Stuart's Cossack battalion had made good progress and was in the process of crossing the railway bridge when first a strafing attack from Spitfires and then a Czechoslovak artillery barrage stopped their advance.

By the time we reached two o'clock on Sunday (an hour before our planned finish time) it was apparent that a Soviet breakthrough was imminent on both tables. 

In the south the defenders were reduced to a few infantry cowering in the ruins of Albrechtice and some engineers strung out along the highway behind the town. Jamie and Matt Z had husbanded their heavy self-propelled gun regiment and an attached heavy tank regiment as a reserve. They were ideally placed to exploit the hard-won breakthrough.

In the north a similar situation applied. The T-44 company attached to the Cossacks had done much of the hard work capturing the railway bridge and artillery and airstrikes had suppressed the defenders of the castle. A T-34 tank battalion was ready to move into the enemy rear.

We assessed that if we played for the additional hour two things would happen. Firstly the Czechoslovak players would get to see their final forces destroyed or routed, and secondly the Soviet players would get about halfway to Stary Boleslav.

We therefore called the result a tactical Soviet victory but a marginal strategic victory to the Czechoslovakians. There wouldn't be any medals for the Soviet commanders but they'd probably avoided being sent to guard a chemical weapons facility in Uzbekistan!

I'll do another post shortly reviewing how the TacWWII rules worked for this event.


Meanwhile on the other table, Andy T and Neil M were running Czeska Skalice, another game in the same 1948 setting but using the Cold War Commander rules. 

I didn't get to see what was going on in detail but Rob C, Dex M, Phil G and Ron P seemed to be having a great time. For more details see referee Andy's report here.

Richard P also has some fine reports on the weekend: Part one - the set up and Part Two - the games