Sunday, March 17, 2019

COLD WARS 2019

I average about one or two conventions a year and I have to say the conventions have a very important and noteworthy effect on the gamer - they provide some much needed impetus and inspiration for working on or completing projects.  Our sojourn to COLD WARS in Lancaster did just that, and may have been just the remedy for my gaming and project doldrums.

A hopeful Dave setting up his half of the table.  My rules and 1/72 plastics are in the middle.  They sold within the first 10 minutes of opening.  I think we both made out pretty well.

Normally, folks like to post pictures of the beautiful and impressive games that were put on.  Well, you'll be able to see enough of that from the Little Wars guys.  I saw a game that REALLY captured my attention and I am hoping it captures yours as well.  On our way out, actually to leave for dinner on Saturday, I saw an immediately familiar sight - the SPI Cedar Mountain boardgame map - blown up to 5 x 8 and rules adopted for miniatures!  

Read on as I discuss the merits of this brilliant idea and my thoughts for future of my "BIG BATTLE" projects.  Perhaps we've been going about this all wrong?

The SPI Cedar Mountain map, blown up to an impressive size with miniatures AND counters.
Admittedly there is nothing new about the idea.  Folks have been fusing miniatures games and board games for years, but I have never seen it done quite like this.

You can see how a hex map like this caught my eye.  The colors are brilliant, the print job is superb and the shiny, drool-resistant laminated surface makes for a nice, clean look.  Add to that the 1/72 scale plastics that we all know and love and you have a winning combination.

Stonewall Jackson's Corps deploys!  Artillery covering as the troops march on.  Note the original map in the background.  Units are Regiments per the original SPI "Cedar Mountain" rules and behave on the table in a very similar manner.

The GM of this game, Bryan, used most of the features from the SPI game, and combat features from another popular game series (BattleCry, CCN, etc) and made a simple, elegant game that still retains the detail, command/control, and tactical decision making from the board game, with a distinct miniatures game feel.

I never got to play because the game started too late for us, but I at least got the GM to talk me through his rules.  Turns out he lives about 45 minutes away from me and was amenable to putting his game on for us.  I can't wait!

Union starting positions for the attack.  Note the counters neatly placed within the hex.  Figures are removed and are used for strength points.
 Bryan used the strength points from the Regimental counters in the game and equated those to the number of miniatures that the unit would use.  Those miniatures are used for casualty counting, and firing.  Bryan used the shooting method, and I'm assuming the melee method from BattleCry / Commands and Colors and even had the BattleCry dice with him.  Another really great idea.  The range determines your fire dice with a single die used at extreme rifle range (4 or 5 hexes if I remember correctly).

Command and Control is tested each turn and units must be within the prescribed Command range of their superior.  Regiments within their Brigade Commander's radius, Brigade commanders within their Division Commander's radius.  Super easy.  I'm not sure what the penalties for being outside this range are.  Need to read the rules.  The counters remind you of who your brigade commander is, and what your Regiment is armed with, as well as its starting strength points.

Artillery has a range, in some cases, of 20 hexes!  So you can really reach out and touch the enemy.

Union brigades massing 


My megalomania got the better of me, and I immediately thought of the potential for bigger battles, using my square-based 10 or even 15mm troops.  Borodino, Wagram and Aspern-Essling are easily doable on a surface like this, and with rules that are time-tested and simple you could have a very enjoyable "miniatures" game with much less hassle.

It's super easy to test command and control, as well as adjudicate range and movement with these hex based rules and the miniatures really capture "the look" I think that the counters could not hope to achieve.

This got me thinking about Norm's Two Flags-One Nation rules, and his Eagles at Quatre Bras rules, and how much fun I had with them.  Eventually, after the first few turns, you're making decisions and maneuvering your troops.  Not looking things up in a rulebook and trying to figure out what the rules say you can do or what they prohibit.

While probably not everyone's cup of tea, this game at COLD WARS was inspiring for me and really is what I'm looking for in a game.  Maneuvering, fighting, command and control all in a neat, tidy package.

Another note, much of my time was spent in the flea market (Wally's Basement) where I sold 98% of the rules I brought with me and the rest of my 1/72 plastics, and gave away 2 x items that did not sell.  I immediately took that money and put it into acquisitions.  As it turns out, there was a guy about 20 feet away from our table liquidating his entire ACW force and had some great deals.  I dropped a ton of money on this guy's stuff and he ended up giving me a whole bunch more for practically nothing.  Here the lads are, in all their blue and gray glory:

13 new Regiments of Union troops

9 new Union batteries with some limbers

13 new Confederate Regiments with 11 guns and some limbers

The rebels

My reinforcements!  I will rebase them per my basing scheme and add them to my existing collection.  This will bring me up to 28 ACW Union "Units" and 28 ACW Confederate "Units" (be them a brigade or regiment) for ACW battles.  I'm super excited!
I guess I had better go buy more shelves!  By the way, here is a link if you want to read the old SPI rules (I will make this available as a link on the right hand side of the blog).

https://www.spigames.net/rules_downloads.htm

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Playing Pickett's Charge: The Sunken Lane, Antietam, 1862

One of my priorities for the new year was to play more American Civil War games and I had always wanted to try Dave Brown's new-ish "Pickett's Charge" rules so when Ken suggested we play I was all-in.  I spent the week reading up on them and Ken was kind enough to host at his house on his table with his excellent 15mm miniatures.

We played the introductory scenario from the book covering the action at the Sunken Road at Antietam, 1862.  The Union goal is to breakthrough at the sunken lane and also careen into the Rebel rear area.  To do so, the Union is given 5 Brigades of mostly regulars, and 2 batteries of guns.  I kept 1 Brigade off table in reserve as the Union commander.  Ken commanded the Rebs.

Union setup.  The Irish Brigade is on the far right.

A Union Brigade moves into position.  The orange die represented an Aide De Camp or staff officer posting.

Rebel positions in cover at the sunken lane.
We fought through the first few turns as all of the mechanisms were new and untried.  I think Ken had played this once before.  I had not played at all so understanding how the mechanics work took a little time but we got there.  I think we started on or about 130pm and played up to turn 7 of 16 turns in 3 hours.  The game mechanics are pretty straightforward, except for a few things I'll go into later.

You task your staff officers to carry out certain tasks that benefit your force.  To be perfectly honest, I only used my staff officers to re-roll failed activation rolls.  Ken used his for mostly the same purpose although he used "Artillery Assault Fire" or whatever a bunch of times to good effect on my advancing forces.

Brigades must pass an activation roll to move or they become "hesitant" for the turn.  there are a bunch of tables, but you get the hang of it rather quickly.  That's not to say the game plays quickly, but you get the hang of the game pretty quickly.

Irish Brigade with unformed Regiments - they failed their formation check after crossing the fence (another table)  

My center.  Unfortunately my "green" rated brigade is having the most success of the game getting into position.  The guns are constantly getting a "hesitant" result...


 I'm not sure we played the artillery correctly - I treated the batteries like brigades independently but I think they should have been attached to an infantry brigade.  Oh well.  It played just fine.


Union Brigade in the upper left has its lead regiment atop the hill.  They'd advance further than any other Brigade for this game.
 My luck starts running out with ADC postings and I'm not getting the numbers to move every brigade into position like I need to.  You get the impression early on that you're not in complete control of how the battle unfolds.  I do like, however, that you can almost always do something in this game.

Ken's artillery fires upon my sharpshooters!
 Speaking of doing something, units take a penalty for moving and firing.  If you roll too low, you'll find you've lost fire discipline, or if you're an artillery battery, you take fatigue casualties.  This was a huge problem for me as I kept rolling low to begin with for shooting.  In fact, rolling low is an understatement for the performance of my dice today!  On one turn in particular, I ended with almost every Regiment in every Brigade having a "fire discipline" penalty.  So I think Dave Brown is trying to teach us something about moving and firing.

Yankees advancing - the attack shapes up

Battery posted on the Union left.  They rolled "hesitant" more times than any other unit in the battle today.  No firing at long range!  

Rebs along the sunken lane


The Irish Brigade moving up to the fence to engage the Rebels.  A sharp firefight would break out on the right flank while I'm hoping to make a breakthrough on the left flank.

 I get a lucky break and am in position to assault with my "green" brigade.  I start leap-frogging my Regiments forward, with one shooting stationary, and then another moving through them.  It also shields previous Regiments from taking too many casualties.  It's not bad.  Also, supports must start from within 5cms.  Ken was gracious enough to allow me to re-do my charge against the fence.

Brigade in upper-left makes it the furthest.  They would be repulsed badly after this charge.
My lead Regiment makes contact with the fence and per the rules, takes a volley in the face.  Ken rolls high and I end up having to take significant casualties and an "elephant test".  My lead Regiment is now "whipped" and they run for the hills, forcing their supports to also beat a hasty retreat, unformed.


Closer view of the action, and a problem.
One issue we ran into here that is not explained in the rules is when a large regiment makes contact with multiple smaller regiments.  The rules say you must attempt to center the regiment to the greatest extent possible which we did, but Ken has 2 small Regiments and the Union Regiment is 7 stands!  As best we could tell, the Regiment that was "contacted" but was not the target of the charge takes whatever result the target takes in the combat.  And gets to fire defensively prior to contact.  Seemed fair enough.

Another super confusing thing also?  The timing of everything when adjudicating a "whipped" result.  I assumed the in-contact Regiment retreats first but in some places that wording is confusing and you would be forgiven for thinking the lead Regiment in contact could retreat behind a support.  Anyways we suffered through this part with the lead Regiment retiring first, unforming their supports, who then withdrew next.

One more confusing thing - the "retire" move is 30 centimeters but in some places it seems as if that is optional (the full move distance) if there are supports to retreat behind.  I just moved them 30 because that seemed way more advantageous to my Brigade at this point.



The carnage!  A green Union Brigade approaching the fenceline.  

Go get em, boys!  We can take them!  COL Weber urges his men forward.

The grim reality of the failed charge.  Lots of new casualties and 2 Regiments in big trouble.  Looks like I have a new ADC posting for next turn....
I know I said I only used my Staff Officers / ADCs for re rolling command rolls (Brigade Attachment) but if we would have played further I would have tried to remove some hits from Weber's Brigade, who desperately need to reform if we are going to take this position.  Additionally, I have Kimball's Brigade off-table and I'll need 2 ADCs to get them onto the table!  Luckily there are still 9 turns left to make this happen.

Meanwhile the Rebs are doing just fine behind the fence.

Ken's excellent objective and command markers


Ken has fresh reserves and they're not even needed right now.
Wow what a game.  It definitely has an epic feel to it and brings the tactical fight alive in a meaningful way where you feel like a Division Commander.  You really need to have a plan in this game and you must try to execute that plan despite misfortune and the fickleness of the dice.  There are times when your brigade will be "hesitant" and while you needed to advance them this turn, you won't be able to.  At first I thought the Staff Officer / ADC concept wasn't going to matter much, but as I found when the turns got going, I needed them and there were never enough around.  It's a neat mechanism and as the battle progresses, i can see where you feel like the situation is getting away from you, just like a real commander. 

 I personally enjoyed the game very much and would like to play more.  I definitely want to play General de Armee next and see how that plays.  Now readers of my blog know I'm a big Black Powder fan and I also feel that you could get a result, likely a similar result, with Black Powder in a quicker amount of time.  I'm not sure you'd want to use these rules for really big battles where you would want to command a Corps.  While it's entirely possible, it would take a really long time to play.  None of the guys I game with, myself included, have 8 hours to devote to a single sitting.

 Those of you out there who enjoy General de Brigade (and its variants) will probably really like this game as I feel it is a way more streamlined version of GdB.  You pick up the game concepts in a few turns and while we were looking things up each turn, I found that it occurred less and less once we looked it up.  We were able to play half of our turns with just the QRS.  That's a win.

I highly recommend folks try this game out.  It's a solid, tactical game that puts you in the boots of the Division Commander and forces you to have a plan by putting just enough resource management stress on you.  Another win.

Also - Norm - if you're reading this - the introductory scenario from Antietam (sunken lane) would make a good TFON scenario I think.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

BATTLEGROUP: MODERN Meeting Engagement at Ziegenhain

It's been a long time since we played a good game of BATTLEGROUP: MODERN so Dave and I planned on using our newly minted microarmor to play a decent-sized game set around 1983.

Ziegenhain is the populated area to the west.  Schwarzenborn is the purple highlighted area to the east.
Readers will likely not remember the Schwarzenborn series of posts revolving around Kampfgruppe Weber and the Soviet attacks against the town. [click here for a refresher]  Having achieved a breakthrough and some operational freedom within West German III Corps area of operations, Soviet forces have made an attempt to capitalize on the German reorganization of their main lines and have thrown out a reconnaissance-in-force against the urban area at Schwalmstadt, tracking along the Bundestrassen 254 and 454 Federal highways, the Soviets surged forward with everything they could muster - a T-62 tank company, a full reconnaissance detachment, an extra platoon of mechanized infantry, and self propelled artillery.  All in all - a powerful force.

The Germans, still licking their wounds from the battle at Schwarzenborn, have a recon company from Brigade (5th PanzerGrenadier Brigade, 2nd Panzer Division) that is reconstituting and will be thrown in to defend Ziegenhain from the Soviet onslaught.
View down the B254 Federal Highway towards Ziegenhain - Dave made the pine trees.  All of them.  They made the table look good!

View of Local Route 3153 - both approach valleys are canalizing and have various advantages and disadvantages of using them.  While one offers more concealement and cover, it also is constrictive and a good artillery strike would wreak havoc.  The more open route down the B254 is open tank country, but covered by numerous hills from 3 directions.  Perfect killing field.  The Soviets chose the local, more constrictive route today, preferring to bludgeon their way down the road.  It's a ruthless strategy but it paid off this time.

"Have it your way!" Reminders of decadent western capitalism! billboards line the roads!
We play the "recce screen" scenario and roll a 6 so our recon troops will skulk around for 6 turns before the main body starts to arrive.  Dave has 4 SP Luchs with autocannon!  I only have 3 BRDM2s and spend the entire 6 turns hiding from Dave's recon!

Dave's Luchs stalk their prey.

Soviet BRDMs run for cover!
 On my turn when the "main body" arrives, I literally roll a snake eyes for orders, and a "1" for reinforcements.  So my lone T-62 appears on my base edge - only to be ambushed by Dave's Luchs on ambush orders.  Haha - I'm thinking.  There's no way you'll pin my T-62 with autocannon fire from your Luchs.  Right?

Lucky shot - Dave pins the T-62!

West German Leopard Is (bright green are my models)

Marders line up next to the central hill to take on the BRDMs.  Nicely painted Gelbolive are Dave's models blue tacked onto my bases.

Speaking of BRDMs, they're still hiding!

meanwhile a gunfight is starting on the road.  The Luchs trade shots with the T-62s while the Leopards move up to take their place.

My T-62s mass and advance.


 The T-62 and Leopards are trading shots.  We used the stats from REFORGER, so the tanks didn't die as quickly.  Next time around, we're using Richard C's "Battlegroup: Modern" Cold War stats which means this game will go about 1/3 quicker!

Dave's Leo hits manage to pin my T-62s but they're difficult to kill.

Dave getting cagey with the Luchs against my reinforcements.
 More Soviet armor shows up and they start bounding down the highway and using the Burger King billboard sign as concealment!

I love this picture!

Leo I burns on the highway as the Soviet tankers trade shots with the Germans.  We played this game in centimeters so these shots are at extreme range.


The T-62 meets the HOT missile in combat.....


The bulk of the action would happen on the small local road next to the Grenzbach stream.  Next time we will use small clump foliage for the stream so the turrets can see across.  It's important to note that none of the linear terrain blocked LOS - just made it more difficult to spot.

The Soviets send a flanking force through the woods on the central hill.  It's a bad move especially in centimeters and the tanks spend the entire time throwing track, getting lost, and basically not contributing to the fight at all!  Neat picture, though.

Dave's Luchs starting to get knocked out.

Soviet reinforcements streaming up.

Tons of burning, destroyed vehicles both Soviet and German on the highway.  

NATO trying to stop the tide of Russian armor outside of Ziegenhain.

Tracking MILAN shots from the Marders.  I am not sure if the MILANS hit anything this game.

slooooow going



Pushing forward.  I use a 122mm strike against the Leo and Jaguar at the end of the highway near the town and it is brutally effective in KO'ing the vehicles (lucky rolling)

Soviet commanding officer in an MTLB.


The bloody road to Ziegenhain.
 The Germans reach their Breakpoint of 35 before I reach 38 and the game is over with the destruction of the final Luchs.  Dave and I discussed the pros and cons of the scenario, rules, terrain, and forces with lessons learned in each category for when we play it again.

We would like to host this scenario at Historicon this summer and this was our first playtest of this great scenario.  I love the decisions the attacker has to make regarding which approach to take, and I love the decisions the defender has to make about where to establish the defense.

I will post some of our lessons learned later this week and considerations for the next battle (same scenario).  Bottom line was we had a blast and next time around will play in inches and using Richard C's Modern Battlegroup supplements, instead of my REFORGER supplement.  This game took about 3.5 hours to play.  Also - the microarmor was a huge hit.  I actually liked playing with the microarmor better than 15mm.  Don't ask me why - more forces maybe?

The forces we will use next time.  A full Soviet recce detachment and an additional Leo I platoon and Fuchs platoon.

The table looked great today!