Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Dawn Patrol over the Channel: WWII Aerial Combat with Blood Red Skies!

 This post is over a week late but I have been itching to write my initial thoughts about Warlord Games' "Blood Red Skies" World War II air to air combat game.

Ken brought the starter kit over which comes with 5 x Spitfires and 5  x ME109 Messerschmitts.  We played the first 2 x scenarios in the book and they delivered great action, great decision making, and lots of tension and excitement!  We were actually able to play 3 games in an afternoon and that was with much conversation and looking a few things up in the rules.  This also gave me a great excuse to put my Cigar Box Battle "cold water ocean" mat on the table, naturally serving as the English Channel during the Battle of Britain!

Rather than post a proper "batrep" I'll post some of the neat features about the game that I really liked starting first with the really cool models of the planes themselves!                                          

Going after the British Recce plane!  
First of all clear your head of pre conceived notions you might have had about aerial dogfight games.  There is no "altitude" in this game, and maneuvers are fairly generous as well.  The game is way more about resource management, decision making and managing your "advantage" in the current dogfight, denoted by the attitude of the airplane on the base.  Airplane cocked back with the nose pointing up at the sky is "advantaged", flight level is "neutral" and nose pointing down is "disadvantaged."  There are rules governing attacks based on your position and advantage.  You trade advantage to do things such as a risky maneuver or an extra attack.  

THe number on the base is representative of the pilot's skill and experience.  The number influences alot of what you can do.

The game really dispenses with the more technical thoughts that I had about air to air games (Check Your 6 being one of them) and makes the game about decisions - think OODA loop here and you'll understand what I mean.  Selling your advantage to do something now and having a plan thinking a few moves ahead to best your enemy is not only more "realistic" in my opinion, but it matches everything I've read from dogfight accounts.  Another cool feature?  Tie breaker in many cases is the aircraft's maximum speed.   Also, you do NOT want to let a fighter get on your tail at the 6 o'clock position, either.  ahem.  It invites all sorts of unpleasantness!  Take it from me, who is posting this from a leaky life raft in the channel, lucky to be alive...

The game is so abstract, but it all just works, and works well to deliver a fun game that I was still thinking about that evening after everyone packed up and went home - what could I have done differently?  How to stop those Spitfires?  How to deploy for tomorrow's patrol?  I am really excited to play again.

Trying to stop the recce plane!

Since the speedy Spitfire blows right past me, I try a different approach to stop them (also - isn't this mat awesome?  I need to paint up more ships for Trafalgar!!)

Ken and Dave played a more complex scenario controlling 4 planes each and the action turned into a "Furball" with aircraft all over the place.

A furball developing as Ken ducks his airplanes into a cloudbank, preparing to burst out of it next turn and go after the ME109s!

Shooting template down
THere are some neat cards that also help gameplay and enable your forces throughout the battle, allowing you to do extra things or do some things better.

This was a short post I know, but I wanted to get my thoughts about BRS down and let everyone know that, sucker always for a clever set of rules, I forked out the 43 dollars and picked up a starter set from ebay.  Hoping it arrives soon so I can start painting up the planes!  Tally Ho!  Bandits 3 o'clock high!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Battle of Cheriton 1644: In Deo Veritas - First Thoughts!

 Ken and I sat down on Saturday to play our first game of In Deo Veritas 17th century rules from Helion Wargames.  We picked a smallish ECW battle from the IDV rulebook (Battle of Cheriton) as Ken has a nice-sized (and beautifully painted) collection of 28mm ECW miniatures, and we thought this would be a good introductory scenario with a manageable number of combatants.

As most of you probably know already, In Deo Veritas are a 17th Century "big battle" set of rules that dispense with and abstract some detail for the sake of playability and aim to put entire 17th century battles on the table.  If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am a huge fan of "big battle" rules and usually aim to put historical battles on the table as much as I can, so the premise of IDV instantly appealed to me.  

Reading Darren's review of them really sealed the deal for me as I found out they were inspired by, and even structured a bit like Frank Chadwick's "Volley & Bayonet" which are some of my favorite "big battle" rules for the horse and musket era.

The rules and the sequence of play are straightforward enough that you can get into the action quickly, and there is a great card-driven activation system to activate "wings" on the table.  This gives you just enough random activation to add some nice tension and fog of war to the game.

Battle of Cheriton - facing off against the Royalists - this was the first time I've ever played a Parliament force!  (having only played 3 ECW games in my entire life - all the Battle of Montgomery 1644 and all for the Royalist side)

The sequence of play is familiar with movement, combat, and adjudication of morale issues occurring in that order.  I should also say that, like Volley & Bayonet, the movement distances are quite generous.  Units, at least later TYW and ECW units, are 3" x 1.5".  That should sound instantly familiar to V&B players!  

Right cavalry wing and right infantry wing ready to step off and deploy on the field!  We'll try to use the woods to our advantage to keep the Royalist Cavalry as bottled up as we can.

In hindsight I should not have started with my guns deployed

I found myself drooling over Ken's outstanding 28mm troops.

Left Infantry Wing

My plan is to use the right wings to keep the Royalists bottled up.  True to the "hammer and tongs" nature of 17th Century Warfare (what little i know about it), I want to strike hard with my cavalry and follow up with my infantry, eager to make contact.  Ken and I also have large cavalry wings facing off across the field on my left, Ken's right and a huge cavalry battle is in the making as both of us place our forces on "attack" orders.  I like the orders system and they seem intuitive in this case.  The orders also add a nice "fog of war" to the system as I found my right wing cavalry in a "pickle" as I had them on attack orders and not much range to work with!  As a result, with much of my cavalry being engaged, I had to charge a unit of horse straight into a Pike and Shot brigade frontally with telling consequences.  Even a 17th Century "newb" like me knows that's not going to end well!

A thunderous cavalry charge!

Ken and I had some questions during our play through that we couldn't find answers for in the book - for instance when charging do you square up against an opponent?  Is it the point of contact?  Can chargers fire?  Additionally we took some generous "artistic license" with assigning supports for our combats as support ranges weren't defined that we could see.  

One cool feature also of IDV is the disorder system and testing when in proximity to the enemy (again, familiar to V&B players).  This actually enables the enemy's saves which I like.  The combats themselves are simple affairs and the modifiers are manageable.

Detachments in the woods.  We kept forgetting about these poor slobs

cavalry advance onthe right!  note the edge of the woods keeping Ken's cavalry bottled up!

Cavalry battle on the left about to be joined!  

Cool pic of Ken's 28mm minis

Ken and I decided to reset the battle after turn 5.  I had made some initial deployment mistakes not knowing or appreciating the orders restrictions or the move distances.  My cavalry on the right got embroiled in a nasty fight with Ken's supporting Pike and Shot infantry and his Cavalry.  My characteristic bad rolling also plagued me throughout the entire game and I rolled plenty of "1"s at very inopportune times!  We'll refight the battle.  Hopefully my copy arrives in the mail soon so I can get even more familiar with the rules.  

Royalist Horse and infantry in the attack!

THe entire battlefield looking towards the Cheriton woods.  Parliament coming off the ridge to your right

Thoughts on In Deo Veritas
I enjoyed these rules and felt these are a good introduction to the period and allow me to better appreciate the contribution of each combat arm to the battlefield.

I am happy to report that the rules are "loose" enough to allow you to form a plan, and then fight it out, with the enemy naturally getting a vote.  They are straightforward and not at all "gimmicky" in the sense that you will be moving your troops, just not necessarily in the order that you might like.  I learned what I needed to learn by turn 2.  Originally I was going to base my ECW figures on 4 x 2" unit stands, but will instead mount them on 3 x 1.5 inch unit stands moving forward.  I am looking forward to playing IDV again, and frankly, they make me want to play Volley & Bayonet again!

Surprisingly I also played Tilly's Very Bad Day this week and enjoyed those, too.  So you could say this week has been a "crash course" in 17th Century warfare here at Sound Officers Call!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A Fresh Look at Junior General Rules: ACW Battle at Smith Farm and Thirty Years War?

About 2 years ago (!) I posted on the outstanding potential for the rules and scenarios hosted on the Junior General site, which is a site that began as a resource for history teachers to teach their students about history through wargaming.  The simple-but-not-simplistic rules hosted on the site are wonderful, and even inspired Steven Thomas to publish the excellent "Tilly's Very Bad Day" Thirty Years War (TYW) rules.  Both of which are excellent additions to the "Allure of Simple Wargaming" experiment in their own right!

The Junior General Site - Used without permission.

Fast forward to present day, I recently got the chance to put Tilly's Very Bad Day (TBD) through its paces on my own wargaming table, albeit with MDF counters instead of miniatures (All of my ECW miniatures are yet unpainted).  I enjoyed it immensely.  TBD was a wonderful game and I immediately turned to the Junior General rules to have another look at its massive stable of rules and scenarios.  (I plan on doing a post on TYW rules as I have a TYW game scheduled with Ken to try In Deo Veritas).

Tilly's Bad Day TYW Battle - 2 Infantry-Heavy Armies - Red & Blue - clashing somewhere in Moravia?

Looking at the splendid additions Steven put into his TYW work, I wondered what kinds of additions one could add to the Junior General Horse & Musket era rules to make them as exciting and fun as TBD?  First I had to play a game straight out of the box and see how it went.  This being ACW month here at SOUND OFFICERS CALL, I figured - why not try the rules from the Little Round Top scenario?

View to the north of the Smith Farm from "The Widow Freitag's" house and the orchard.

I laid out some dense, ACW styled terrain consisting of 2 large farmsteads - the Smith Farm, and the Widow Freitag's Farm.  This battle would be a completely even meeting engagement consisting of a Division on both sides, each with 2 Brigades of 4 Regiments and an attached Artillery battery.  Rather than use number of gun models, I used crew castings to represent the number of guns.

The Smith Farm - rumor has it Mr Smith packed up and left for Great Britain to become a successful wargame designer!

This was to be a meeting engagement and the forces would arrive randomly with a D6 roll per turn, allowing selection of a Regiment, Battery, or Commander (in the Junior General rules, as in Tilly's Bad Day, commanders are extremely useful).

Rebels pour through the Widow Freitag property and along the Plank Road

The terrain was neat and totally unintentional.  The Smith Farm held a huge open area surrounded by a fence or woods.  To advance into would invite fire from all sides.  Both sides accordingly overwatched the farmstead but chose to advance down the flanks.  Movement is generous at 6" for line and 12" for column.  All obstructions cost 1/2 movement.  Units may move and shoot.  More on this in a bit.

the open expanse of the Smith Farm - a killing field - Union Regiments are moving up hastily to take position along the fenceline

The Rebs have arrived at the Smith Farm as well and are struggling to find a good spot to emplace their artillery.

Sir, how did we get here so fast?  Easy, Porter, we rolled a 6 for our arrival.  Rebel reinforcements stream south.

Large yankee batteries take up position north of the Smith Farm.  8 guns here!

There they are men!

Sensing an opportunity to crush the Yankees before they can mass, the Rebel Division Commander sends the second brigade, 4 regiments, down the left flank and through the cornfield.  The copse of woods at the other side is their intended target.

Double timing through the cornfield
Meanwhile the Yankees move up to reinforce the woods to their front/south.  

The Yankee Artillery fires first.

Yankee troops and Rebel troops careful to avoid the open area in the center are favoring the flanks.  A fight is developing on the half wooded hill on the left and the copse on the right!

I really like the shooting rules - which are by stand.  When you lose a stand, you lose a shooting die.  The JG rules have the ACW units at 6 stands.  I made mine 5.  Tilly's Bad Day uses a system called "resolve" to represent what the individual bases represent in the JG rules.  I liked this and borrowed it for this battle (and everyone knows my preference for single-unit stands).  

Instead of removing stands, I just used a dice to represent "stand loss". These rifle-armed Regiments hit on a "6" at 12" except when shooting closing fire against chargers, in which case they hit on a 5+.   

Units move and shoot, which is incredibly high-octane, but I love it.  Developing an attack is not as challenging and the infantry units feel very powerful.  Probably how it should feel for an ACW battle.  Tilly's Bad Day, really the inspiration for fighting this battle, uses a turn sequence where the Phasing Player moves, and the Reactive Player fires.  I like that because it's chock full of decision making, however for this battle I played as-is because I wanted to get the feel of the rules first.

Union Regiments advancing on the right
The fight on both flanks is heating up.  The battle on the Union left for control of the hill is not going the UNion's way as the Rebels bring up reinforcing Regiments to capture the hill.  THe first Rebel Regiment charges in and is badly mauled by fire in the woods.  On the Union right, a Regiment emerges from the pine forest to the edge of a cornfield where a Rebel Regiment, its colors blazing in the chest high corn, greets it.

Yankees advancing on the Union right through the woods.  Johnny Reb will meet them on the other side of the copse.

Rebs bringing up reinforcements along the Plank Road for the fight for the hill on the Union left.  

The Union have a commanding position on the hill, but how long can they hold out against multiple regiments?  And without a Rally Rule?!?!

The see sawing battle develops with fighting for both flanks.  The Union edge out into Smith Farm's deadly open expanse.

I love how the pre charge sequence works in the JG and Tilly rules.  You must roll your number of remaining stands, or less, on a 1D6.  So say if a unit has 4 stands (or in this case strength points) remaining, they must roll a 4 or less for their morale.  If they have 2 stands or SPs remaining, they must roll a 2 or less.  Commanders can influence this die roll by a factor of a single stand.  The Union on the right, seeing an opportunity to charge, roll their pre charge morale check.  They are full strength with 5 stands, meaning a 5 or less is needed.  The roll a 6!  Of all the times to roll a 6, now was not the time!

The Union aren't as unlucky in other spots of melee and next to the stay-put Union Regiment, another Union unit passes its charge test.  Their target, a Rebel unit with 2 stands lost, fails and withdraws 12" taking another stand loss.  I added a rule, borrowed from the Tilly rules, where each unit they retreat through take a morale test.  If they fail, they lose a stand!

Rebel Regiment taking flight in the cornfield!

The Yanks give a loud hurrah after the flight of the REbels, but there are more Regiments behind those Rebs!

The Rebels move out to challenge the Yanks at Smith Farm.
The fighting is gradually going the Rebels' way as the Union give ground on both flanks, withdrawing to consolidate their line.  The Rebels have lost 2 Regiments, the Union have lost 1 so far in heavy fighting.  The Yanks give ground at the Smith Farm and slowly move back towards the safety of their fenceline.  They shoot at the advancing Rebs rolling 3 sixes!  OUCH!  I made an ruling that any unit rolling 3 or more "6s" had to take an ammo test and if they roll a "1" on their ammo test, they're low on ammo.  (if you've ever played Johnny Reb you remember that rule!).  I'm calling it the "crushing fire" rule based on a quote I read from a NC Confederate officer at Gettysburg advancing against a stone wall from Oak Ridge and taking a fresh volley from a Union unit hidden and crouched behind a stone wall at 50 yards - 100 yards!

Crushing fire!

THe fight on the Union left is also going the Rebs' way as the Union unit there loses a pre charge MC and falls back off the hill.  THe Rebel Regiment moves in and the hill is theirs!

It took almost 3 Rebel Regiments to capture this hill from a Union Regiment in terrain.  Sounds about right to me!
THe Union begins a gradual withdrawal from the cornfield on the right as well, seeking the safety of the fenceline north of the Smith Farm.

Fall Back men!

Johnny Reb owns this cornfield now!

Thoughts and Analysis

I called the game at about 20 turns.  With the Union consolidating their position further north, and the Rebs in almost complete control of the field, I'll give this to the Rebels although it was by no means decided.  Both sides had some fresh units and 80% of their Regiments and Batteries still on the field.  The Rebels had push the Union back to their starting lines but were hesitant to push further.

This game was a real blast and I attribute my playing of Tilly's Very Bad Day to showing me the raw potential of the Junior General rules, which I will play and tinker with for other eras including the AWI, SYW, and Napoleonics (there are scenarios and rules for all of those eras and many, many more on the site).

I think to jazz up the JG rules (which admittedly are meant for youngsters, likely in middle or high school) a few holes need to be plugged.  Here is what I would add for this ACW game, and I base this off of the great work that Stephen has done with Tilly:

The Turn Sequence:  The turn structure deserves some thought.  Tilly's Very Bad Day has a neat feature whereby the attacker moves, defender fires, and both sides launch charges.  I like that especially because Steven restricts shooters from charging.  Make no mistake - the game played perfectly fine as straight IGOUGO, but the "twist" that he puts in makes you think about just shooting all of the time.  Read Steven's thoughts on the turn sequence for Tilly here.

Rallying:  I like the idea that units can rally.  Even if this is a local gathering of shirkers and malingerers or even a dressing of the line and a restoration of the NCO's order over the troops, rallying occurs naturally.  TBD has a "heroics" feature whereby fighting strength and morale is restored through the destruction of enemy units referred as heroics in the TBD rules.  Again, this is worth taking a look at.

Units force off table:  A 12" retreat pretty much guarantees that you're going to have a unit forced off the table.  This happened in the Smith Farm battle to a Union Regiment and with a rules set that conveniently fits into a few paragraphs, it's natural that there aren't rules for this.  I'm inclined to say they're out of the game.

Command and Control Rules:  I love how the JG and TBD rules handle the use and commitment of commanders.  Commanders add a stand's worth of troops to your melee fighting ability and rallying ability.  I love the risk to commanders as well.  TBD has a command radius from a force (wing?) of units.  Any horse and musket rule set should include this feature as well.  I was not very disciplined in the addition of C2 ranges for this ACW battle but will be in future iterations.

Road Movement:  Probably not necessary given that units in column in the JG rules move 12" but I figured since terrain impacts movement in the negative, roads should enable movement in the positive.  I added 3" making a unit in column able to move 15" if they dared...

Line of Sight:  TBD has defined parameters for line of sight and they're worth taking a look at, especially for a "modern" era like the ACW, where rifle ranges reach 12".

Limber/Unlimer/Artillery Action rules:  TBD represents use of artillery as a much less mobile arm as it should be.  On an ACW battlefield, artillery enjoys much more mobility and the JG rules reflect this.  I should also add that I love the rules for "formations" - basically you can switch formation before or after movement, but you can do so only once in a turn.  This really just works.  Artillery gets similar treatment with movement and the rules don't distinguish between limbered and unlimbered, however an artillery battery can never fire on the turn it moves.

Breakpoints:  TBD has introduced some clever features to end the game.  Clearly units did not fight until the last horse, last man, etc.  Armies have a psychological or physical breakpoint.  This should be represented on the tabletop.

That's all for now.  Thanks for reading and you should definitely check out both the Junior General website, and the Tilly's Very Bad Day rules, both of which are free and reflect some great work on behalf of their respective owners.  Junior General has over 85 sets of rules and scenarios (!) and also a massive selection of paper miniatures to print out if you're short on time.  TVBD is well supported by Steven Thomas who posts weekly on many wargaming topics, but has posted at length about design considerations for Tilly. 

Okay - interesting stuff coming up so stay tuned!  ACW Month "marches on" with Shiloh next week in glorious 10mm using Altar of Freedom.  Today a brief diversion playing "In Deo Veritas" TYW/ECW rules at Ken's house.  Also stay tuned for an exciting post on WWII aerial combat, and a "dark" distraction?  Watch this space!