Sunday, December 31, 2023

36 inch Battlefields: The Ponyri Station Assault!

As alluded to in previous posts, I've started looking at "different" options for my gaming.  Many of those options include gaming on a gridded hex mat.  Over the last month, I've accumulated some 36" square felt mats from Amazon in some temperate, desert, and snow motifs and have been (slowly) hand-drawing hexes on them.  The goal?  Fight huge battles using 2" hexes!  

First up is Ponyri Station from the northern pincer of the Kursk battles in 1943!  When you're done reading, you'll wonder how I fit all this WWII action into such a small area!

view from the north.  18th Panzer Division (elements of) are on your left and astride the railroad line, which is oriented diagonally from your bottom left to your upper right.  292nd Infantry Division, 184th Infantry Regiment in your lower right.  Ponyri is the built up area along the tracks. 

The rules I am using are the WWII rules from the excellent blog "Grid Based Wargaming" without too many modifications.  They are slightly based off Panzerblitz which I love and have been using to good effect for this massive battle.

Speaking of this battle, the scenario is from Frank Chadwick's "Blood & Thunder" WWII Eastern Front boardgame where stands are platoons and / or companies.  The count of units is roughly the same from the B&T Ponyri scenario.  Instead of giving the Soviets lots of artillery, each of their infantry commands have an attached "heavy weapons" section firing as mortars.

The Germans have 15 turns to seize Ponryi village.  All of it, without any Soviet units in the town.

So what changes to the rules did I make?  Well for starters, I played this battle twice.  The first time was completely as-written.  The second time around I added an activation mechanic inspired by the "Panzerblitz: Hill of Death" game whereby chits are drawn to see who and how many units activate.  Playing solo this added some really neat tension to the battle that I will review.  I also increased the movement for medium tanks to 3 hexes, and recce to 4 hexes.  Spotting distance was increased to 4 hexes for recce, 3 hexes for AFVs, and up to 2 hexes for infantry.

I also gave some infantry units a "heavy weapons" stand to accompany them, meaning they could engage enemy infantry at 2 hexes instead of 1 hex.  They can also engage tanks at 2 hexes.

The Battle

The Germans activated first and immediately moved their recce along the railroad line to spot for the big Corps guns behind them.  The Soviets see them immediately and call in a Katyusha strike to blind the Germans and their pesky reconnaissance, causing a disruption on them from the start.
explosion noises are mandatory!

The Germans have no problem coordinating their spearheads.  The Infantry move at only 1 hex, however, and it's slow going on the German right.  Meanwhile 18th Panzer Division approaches Hill 253 cautiously with an aim to hopefully bypass!

Elements of 18th Panzer Division on the western side of the RR tracks.  They are joined by 653rd heavy panzer jaegers. The reader will excuse the Tiger I's substituting for Elefants.  I have no micro armor Ferdinands!!  If you stop reading here I'll understand!

Staff car serving as dedicated observer for the heavy corps guns moving along with 184th IR.

Okay forget the whole bypass thing, let's attack the woods south of the hill!  18th Panzer attacks to isolate the Soviet infantry entrenched on HIll 253.  They'll regret not finishing the job later on in the fight.

The rules are fun but very unforgiving and infantry get gobbled up quickly unless in cover.  Mortars and artillery make short work of them in the open, and when you need to "Assault" a position, moving them into the adjacent hexes of multiple units is asking for them to be quickly destroyed, as happened here.  I'm finding I have to save my infantry for all but the most important ground assaults.  Hope 184th IR is having better luck to the west!

The wooden blocks are disruption markers.  2 hits destroys a unit.  The unpainted wooden hexes are hills.

German infantry pushing through the woods around Hill 271 and Ponyri 2.  There are plenty of Russians here still!

The Germans break through south of Hill 253 also but at some cost!  They're bypassing the actual hill though as they'll need those infantry units for the big push into Ponyri!

The spearheads from 18th Panzer and 653rd Schwere PzJg Abt are about to link up!

Meanwhile Hill 271 still has not been taken on the German right.  It's super slow going.  Made worse by reinforcing Soviet armor that's showed up!  The Russians are throwing them towards Hill 271 to slow down 184th IR.

to the west on turn 4, the Germans seize Ponyri 2, a small village to the north held by a Soviet company.  It's tough going and scarcely could be called "blitzkrieg!" (houses are monopoly houses)

Soviet Katyusha strike against 653rd panzer jaeger!

South of Ponyri a massive mobile battle breaks out with the linked-up spearheads from 18th Panzer Division and the reinforcing elements of a Soviet tank brigade!  The Germans are nursing alot of Disrupted markers!

The German 184th IR is reluctant to leave the cover of the woods around HIll 271 due to the threat of mortars from the east and the south.  18th Panzer's Armored Panzergrenadier battalion will have to punch a way into the town, then 184th can continue the advance!  

Gepanzerte Panzergrenadiers awaiting the order to advance on Ponyri.  Once the tanks do their work, the assault into the town can begin!

new masters of Hill 271.  The German artillery finally comes through! (rolled lots of 1s and 2s)

overall situation.  The German noose is closing in on Ponyri but their infantry resources are dwindling.  Can they take the town AND hold it?  It's turn 10!

184th IR awaiting the order to advance on Ponyri.  Note the round stand with an HMG on it.  This denotes a "heavy weapon" upgrade.  This stand can fire at 2 x hexes.  They have been trading fire with Ponyri for the last few turns now. 

single remaining Panzer IV from 18th Panzer's spearhead!  That huge battle with the T34s really did them in.  This hero stand destroyed the final T34 gaggle in a crazy shootout south of Ponryi

The rest of the fight was very much up in the air with the remaining Soviets from atop Hill 253 moving out towards Ponyri with no one to stop them, in order to counter attack the town.  The German panzer grenadiers finally made it into the town and 184th had finished closing their ring around teh town as well, entering Ponryi from the vicinity of the train station and railroad tracks from the northwest.  The Soviets destroyed another German infantry unit during their counter attack in the town, but were themselves destroyed on turn 15.  The order of chit pulls meant the difference betweeen a draw and German victory here by reinforcing the town sectors where ifnantry units were destroyed, they successfully kept the Soviets out of Ponyri.  Had a red counter been drawn, the Soviets would have entered Ponyri and this battle would have been drawn.  Those Soviets were destroyed in the open - this was a German victory - but just barely!

This was a LOT of fun.  So much tension, reversals of fortune and missed die rolls and opportunities.  My hats off to Peter at GBW for coming up with a rules that seamlessly captures the flavor of Panzerblitz and uses combined arms to full effect.  I thought my changes were simple enough that the system did not "Break" but to be honest the game played wonderfully as-written.  I have been a bit obsessed with unravelling the CRT from Panzerblitz lately and was trying to make the die roll based on ratios, using multiple dice for bigger attack ratios (IE 3D6 when the odds are 3:1) but haven't figured it out yet.  It (my way) plays way too bloody for my liking.  Using a single D6 is fine but I am tempted to bump it up to 2D6 with 6+ , 7+, etc To Hit numbers instead because I like rolling multiple dice.

For these rules, your infantry are vulnerable in the open and away from cover, especially when on the attack.  Going into the jaws of multiple units' adjacent hexes is asking to be gobbled up.  It's best to soften up targets first with ranged fires and artillery before going in, and attack down a flank when only 1 unit has LOS to you.  Gang up on these flanks.

Rules on dedicated observers and spotting units - I think in the "new" Panzerblitz (ca. 2011) a unit calling in artillery fire can *only* call in artillery fire and I was confusing myself with this rule a few times in the heat of battle.  Having a dedicated observer was good but I want to codify these rules for myself for next time I play in terms of units doing "other things" like moving or shooting, and also calling in artillery fire.

Rules for support stands -  the  heavy weapon "upgrade" worked out well here.  About 1 in 3 or 4 infantry units can really put the hurt on tanks who stray too close to your positions or infantry in the open.  I allowed heavy weapons a +1 to-hit for their firepower (BN and CO mortars, as well as HMGs) in addition to their range.  However when the unit is destroyed, they lose the heavy weapons as well.  This rule worked out great but I want to codify it for my next WWII game.

Firing Ranges - I assumed that the firing ranges in Peter's game matched the moving ranges.  I cant remember why I assumed this.  With increasing the tank movement ranges to 3, I increased their engagement range to 3 hexes, also.

Heavy Tanks / Light Tanks - Everyone loves playing with the heavy metal.  Who wouldnt???  For this battle, a medium tank/gun firing against a heavy tank received a -1 as if the tank was in cover.  A heavy gun received a +1 to firing and this made them feel lethal, but taking 2 hits they were still easily destroyed, and so still vulnerable to adjacent infantry and of course other tanks.  I just realized there are already rules for Heavy Tanks in the optional section of the rule I used.  Need to try those out.

Terrain - one of my goals for this year is to improve/standardize my terrain.  While on this table, Ponyri looks like a town on the eastern front, I want a more convincing look to these hexes where it is practical.  For hills, I'm going to spray paint level 1 hill hexes tan, level 2 hill hexes brown, and level 3 hills dark brown a la Panzerblitz.  For buildings, I want to play around with card and see if I can build things like the Aspern Church, the Ponyri train station, and other famous landmarks to these battles.  I also want to paint my disrupted markers white so they look like "proper" wargaming markers on the tabletop!

Much more to ponder, but all in all what a wonderful game and a wonderful way to end 2023 - with a "huge" battle fought in a tiny space.  If you liked this battle, stay tuned as there are LOTS of great battles in small spaces coming up here.  I'll throw some teasers out below of what I have in store for my 36 inch battles in 2024:

may or may not be in the mail.


may or may not already be on my shelf!


you didn't think I forgot about Eylau did you? 

last but certainly not least - if there ever was a game screaming out for the miniatures treatment!

So that's it!  I hope everyone has a wonderful New Years and a great 2024.  I plan on gaming the night away with more 36" battles!  Get them ready to fight against a live human! 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

2024 Planning

General Dwight Eisenhower once said "plans are worthless, but planning is essential."  The old man knew a thing or 2 about managing a strategic operation, so it's fitting as I sit down to ponder 2024 that I channel my inner strategist to try and shed some light on the question of "where are we going here?

Portrait of Dwight Eisenhower, from the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery

Rather than a retrospective on 2023's gaming adventures, this post looks forward.  The past year my hobby has felt much like a meteor hurtling through the galaxy.  Those precious opportunities when I've been able to sit down and game felt more like random collisions with other meteors, rather than being on a charted course.  I want to fix that.  While my hobby here is rich in resources, miniatures, gusto, and inspiration, I have not been working towards anything, and amongst all of the acquisition and rules reading and blog skimming, there was no real direction in any of my endeavors.  

So what do you do when you have ample resources, but nothing seems to be coming together?  You do some planning and write a plan, of course :)

Now, I could use this post to daydream about what I want to play, and paint, and build, but the truth is, those plans would likely fall apart.  The plan is the thing that doesn't survive first contact with the enemy (Murphy was a wargamer, afterall), but as Ike said once, the planning bit is essential.

Staff officers debate the true extent and scope of the miniatures collection at SOUND OFFICERS CALL

All of that to say what has been really lacking from my gaming life has been direction and planning.  Call it what you will - strategy?  Purpose?  An end state?  Whatever you call it, there has not been much time for it in my life of late! 

With 2 children in the house, sports, academics, and other extra curricular activities, not to mention a new job started this past summer, there is clearly alot going on around the gaming bunker.  My precious leisure time is not cheap, and as usual, gaming is the first thing cut (rightfully so lest I give up an opportunity to go for a run with my daughter or play catch with my son).  So how do I fix that?  How do I maximize the value of my time and quality of my time spent gaming, and also work towards something?  

Planning for the big Eylau Convention Game 

I think it starts with admitting that I'll likely never get to half of this stuff, so for 2024, I'm planning to right-size my hobby.  I've come up with a plan to do more planning that will hopefully lead to more gaming and more satisfaction in my gaming, rather than chasing after something that is not attainable for me at the moment.  All of this starts with the strategic objective.  

The campaign's objectives if you will:


  1. Play More Games
  2. Reduce Clutter & Right-Size Miniatures & Rules Collection
  3. Standardize Terrain & Miniatures Storage
Don't you love how all the boss has to do is say this stuff and a staff carries it out?  Most of my time in the US Army was spent as a staff officer, so I'm well aware of the "pie in the sky, big thoughts" that have to be carried out by Captains, Majors, and Lieutenant Colonels.  The boss gives his end state, and the staff come up with coordinating instructions and tasks for units and elements.  Those are then translated into orders.

So with that in mind - here are the tasks that need to happen in 2024, sorted by their objective, sub-objectives, and tasks needed to complete the objective.  It's just like a military operation but times are tough so we fired all of the staff officers here at SOUND OFFICERS CALL and I'm acting as the commander AND the staff 😁:

Objective 1. Play More Games

Sub Objectives:
1a. Need simpler, more accessible Rules*
1b. Need smaller games on the table with a clear ending, clear winner, and low rules overhead to be completed all in one sitting
1c. Fast setup & takedown
1d. Larger games on a hex mat 

*Accessible in this case meaning there is low learning overhead to play the system.  It can be easily played on a Friday night when brain matter is at a premium for all players.

Tasks to achieve Objective 1:

1.T.1 Playtest Simpler Rules/ Games
    1.T.1a. Darren's "Vapid" Fire on hexes
    1.T.1b. LNLP's Tank on Tank WWII with MicroArmor on a hex mat
    1.T.1c. Play modified GDW Team Yankee/Panzerblitz with MicroArmor on a hex mat
    1.T.1d. Play my modified SPI hex/minis rules for large battles, also Simplicity in Hexes
    1.T.1e. Try John Acar's D6 Ancients - maybe on a hexmat?
    1.T.1f. Try OHW Ancients on a grid gussed it - a hexmat
    1.T.1g. Commercial Rules to Try include Valour & Fortitude for Friday evening tabletop minis games and legacy Rapid Fire, Commands & Colors series, To The Strongest, Tillys V. Bad Day, OHW variants, Simplicity in Practice
    1.T.1h Maximize use of OHW scenarios for smaller games that support an evening play
1.T2 Come up with a Friday night gaming schedule to play (Dave and I play every other Friday night now)

Objective 2. Reduce Clutter & Right Size Collections

Sub Objectives:
2a. Reduce rules, minis, and terrain collections by up to half
2b. Ensure rules support Objective 1 above
2c. All rules fit on 1 shelf (currently sit on 4 shelves)
2d. Store painted minis not in use or sell collections where multiple scales exist (why do I need 15mm SYW and 10mm SYW armies when they are exactly the same? Same units and everything)
2e. Understand how big my various collections are - some are so bloated I could not even tell you but so many of my minis go unplayed simply because my table is too small (6x4) or I just frankly bought and painted them for huge games that I'll never play
2f. Understand what is in use and what has not been used in a long while (or never)

Tasks to Achieve Objective 2:

2.T.1 Inventory Rules
    2.T.1a Inventory all rules
    2.T.1b Discard or sell all rules not in use - reducing rules collection by 50%
    2.T.1c See if I have a digital equivalent 
    2.T.1d Answer following questions - have they been played?  Do they support the plan? (see obj 1)

2.T.2 Inventory Minis
    2.T.2a Inventory any minis that are NOT currently in the attic
    2.T.2b Discard or mark for selling at convention
    2.T.2c Move surplus to attic

2.T.3 Inventory Terrain Collection
    2.T.3a Answer questions for terrain pieces as above in support of Objective 3

Objective 3. Standardize Terrain & Storage Solutions

Sub Objectives
3a. Reduce Terrain Collections through removal of unassembled terrain and unused pieces
3b. Reduction of space for smaller collection 
3c. Achieve smaller footprint of entire miniatures storage system in order to reduce space and clutter
3d. Use pieces of terrain for multiple eras, theaters of war
3e. Use terrain inventory results to maximize removal of pieces

Tasks to Achieve Objective 3:

3.T.1 Reduce each theater/era to 4 terrain pieces each (buildings)
3.T.2 Remove unused and unassembled pieces unless they are universal pieces
3.T.3 Reduce 15mm terrain in general - sell unopened terrain pieces
3.T.4 Buy smaller storage containers for all 10mm armies (they are currently stored in plastic craft boxes that could easily fit 28mm units and take up too much space on shelf)
3.T.5 All painted minis not in attic are stored on the same shelf in the same location
3.T.6 Maximize universal terrain
3.T.7 Reduce terrain storage to only 2 containers (currently 6)

Planning that Ike would be proud of.

So there you have it.  I'm going to do some serious inventorying and soul-searching in 2024 in order to maximize playing of fun, historical, and challenging games instead of spinning my wheels coming up with plans for huge games that will likely never happen given limited bandwidth.  I may not always blog about them, but a change of direction is certainly needed when I'm making accidental repeat purchases and the lead and plastic piles continue to grow without anything being painted.  If my energy was going towards gaming, I could understand those purchases a bit more.  2024 will *hopefully* be an attempt to rectify that and put simpler games and simpler but more useful terrain on the table!  

Monday, December 25, 2023

The Christmas Surprise: Considerations & Modifications for SPI's Wagram

 I was tempted to call this post the "Christmas Offensive" but everyone knows that is misleading as the Christmas Offensive should be a miniatures game.  Instead, here is a nice surprise from the staff at Sound Officers Call - another experiment with taking a well-known boardgame and ruining it adding some twists to give it more of a rounded-out miniatures feel.  

Follow along as I march into the shadows of game design legends and screw everything up.

Some of you will undoubtedly remember my experimentation with modifying GDW's "Team Yankee" Avalon Hill's "Panzerblitz" , as well as the Battle of Golod over the last few years and this could be my most ambitious board-wargaming feat ever.  That's right, we're taking one of the biggest and most irresponsibly large Napoleonic battles and adding some interesting tweaks to the game system to drive play.  

Step into the command tent with me, but be quietThe Corps' orders are being read and the Emperor is in one of his moods!

First of all let me start by saying the "Napoleon at War" series from SPI is one of their least complex game series out there (dare I say "dead simple"), designed to have you thinking about moving Corps and Divisions, and making terrain a seriously important aspect of the battle as it should be.  

In my humble opinion, one of the most complex aspects of "Wagram: The Peace of Vienna" are probably the victory conditions.  Not because they are complex, but because there are many of them and tracking them solo will not be for the easily daunted.  But...Nec Asperra Terrent - let's unpack them so we know when and how this titanic clash ends.

  • The Game Length is 14 turns.  A turn is when everyone has had a chance to move and conduct combat operations.
  • Victory is awarded in points.  The side with the most points is the winner.  Points are awarded for destroying enemy units and securing terrain objectives.
  • The "Victory Points Schedule" is as follows:
  • Each unit "eliminated" results in 1 VP awarded for each combat strength point eliminated.  Now for the fun part...
  • The Austrian Player receives a whopping 25 VPs if they enter Aspern, 30 VPs if they enter Essling, and 35 VPs if they enter Gross Enzerdorf.  
  • The Austrian Player receives 1 VP for every Austrian Strength Point that exits the western map edge.  The Austrian Player also receives bonus points for remaining in any of the 3 x towns listed above at game's end.  (you read that right - if he takes Aspern, he gets 25 VPs.  If he is in Aspern at the end of Turn 14, he gets another 25 VPs!  Also I need to re-read that it is, indeed, the western map edge that the Austrian player has to exit from).
  • The French, in addition to points awarded for the destruction of units, receives 1 VP per Strength Point atop the Russbach Heights at game's end.
  • The French must amass 75 VPs at game's end or it is an automatic Austrian victory!  

There are victory "grades" which we are not going to delve into now.


Some of the aspects of the game have been modified just to see if I break anything.  Combat will still be broken down into a force ratio, but instead of rolling against a CRT, I'm rolling a varied number of D6 depending on the ratio.  I made a handy table to help:

This CRT is slightly more aggressive than SPIs but is also attritional in nature.  Combats are no longer "all or nothing" affairs as I wanted the game to have more a miniatures "feel" to it, rather than a pure boardgame.  The odds-based "results" are still there roughly however so you still have a chance at attacker retreat, or defender retreat based on odds.  I wanted a slick mechanism for "exchanges" but I'm not there yet.  It worked with opposed die rolls but I removed that in favor of  just the attacker rolling.  I "borrowed" the concept of a natural "1" inflicting a hit on the attacker from Norm's excellent series of rules for the simple fact that in the SPI games there is,most of the time, some risk incurred by the attacker and this models the possibility nicely and adds some tension even to big attacks.  I have not considered the "maths" at this time but remember I was a history major in college and so the extent of my counting was page numbers in written term papers :)  

More Modifications  Sequence of Play

If my "breaking" of the original CRT wasn't bad enough, I'm experimenting with the play sequence stolen from "Pub Battles" which sees the drawing of a chit to activate a Corps.  The Corps will go through the Move/Combat sequence from the original rules, but this adds a nice level of tension and uncertainty to the game.  If it works out, I might have the "delay" or "jump the line" feature that is in Pub Battles, also whereby a player can attempt to delay their activation, or activate a particular Corps early.  That might be a feature of the overall Army commander and might only be done once or twice in a game.  THat would equate to a "card" (not literally) you could play under very rare and dire or important circumstances.

Pull a chit....any chit!

In terms of modifications, that is pretty much it.  The terrain values, movement rules, combat inclusions/exclusions, ZOC rules, etc remain in effect until I find I've broken something.  Let's go through a few turns and see how it plays with the varied turn sequence.

Turn 1 - Approaches

It's not the French but the Austrians who draw the first few chits, but the Austrians, especially on the left, are content to stay put and await the French onslaught.  II (FR) Corps and the Army of Italy make the farthest inroads and are hammering towards Wagram and the Russbach Heights.  Meanwhile, Davout's III (FR) Corps is headed towards Markgrafneusiedl.  My plan is for IV (FR) Corps to support the Army of Italy and crash into Wagram from the west, but the Austrians had other plans and their reinforcing III (AUS) Corps will launch an attack directly into the shoulder of the French advance.

So far, I am REALLY liking the chit draws for the Corps.  When the III (AUS) turn comes up, I will add their chit to the pool since they are reinforcements.  So far, so good.  Nothing has broken.

Turn 2 - First Blood

The French II Corps smashes into the Austrian units of their II Corps at Baumersdorf.  The combat works extremely well and the French, attacking at 1:1 odds (due to the Russbach stream and terrain - it should be almost 3:1) roll 3 dice causing 2 "6" hits and thus reduce the Austrian 1st and 2nd Division of Austrian II Corps by 2 steps.  The miracle is repeated again in an attack a bit further south and forces numerous quality checks which the Austrians fail, causing more casualties. (attacker rolled a "5".  To recap, Single "5s" force quality checks, as do rolling "4"s.  Rolling 2 x "5s" cause an immediate SP loss as does rolling a "6")

combat at Baumersdorf as the French of II Corps attempt to force the Russbach by storm.  The "2" represents 2 strength point losses on that division.

The Austrian counterattack goes badly when II Austrian Corps is activated!  They roll 2 x "1"s which force a quality check on them for each "1" rolled.  They fail both!  Ouch!  That will be 2 more strength points, please!

Meanwhile to the west, Austrian VI Corps attack runs headlong into Bernadotte's IX Corps!  A massive cavalry clash sees the destruction of an Austrian Cavalry Division, and casualties on the French!
One aspect of the game I'm liking is the variable retreat rules.  Here, an Austrian attack goes badly.  So badly, in fact that they fail to score any hits/successes/QCs on the French.  With such low odds, and no successes scored, that means they must roll to check and see if they retreat.  They fail their QC (first time this has happened in the game) and fall back.
Austrians falling back from Baumersdorf.  This couldn't happen again, could it?

It does!  Three more times to be exact!  And the Austrian II Corps abandons its positions along the Russbach and from Baumersdorf, opening the way for a French advance into the town on Turn 5!!

Also remember the Austrian III reinforcing Corps?  They've made enough of a fuss to divert Massena's IV Corps from the Wagram assault.  He sets up a textbook Corps defense to protect the units assaulting the Russbach heights.

IV Corps setting up blocking positions west of Wagram - note the guns behind the units they will support.

the straight line of Austrian units up the road -they are from III Corps and are launching their assault.

To the west, French cavalry is harassing the Austrian VI Corps' advance towards Aspern.  VI Corps loses a Cavalry Division...  Having enough of this, the Austrians get serious.

During their turn, VI Austrian Corps smashes into Bernadotte's force of Cavalry, destroying a Cavalry division and sending another one retreating.  Not the dice along the top.  A "6" is an immediate strength point loss.  2 x "5s" are another immediate SP loss.  The "1" means the Austrians must check to see if they lose a single SP.  They must roll a 4+ to not suffer a casualty themselves.

note the wooden activation chits.  I used these for the various Corps.  VI AK was VI ArmeeKorps.  I tried to scribble the Corps Commanders' names under the Corps numbers but they're hard to read with my chicken scratch.

French assault into Wagram is repulsed with the French retreating

The situation at the beginning of Turn 5 (nighttime) We see a half-hearted Austrian attack from the west (top of the map) and the French engaged all along the Russbach to break onto the heights. 

This has been a very fun experiment.  So far, it is coming together how I'd hoped.  The combat is exciting and "feels" like a miniatures game to some extent.  I am liking my new "combat results table" and the retreat potential, as well as the potential for hits against the attackers.  So what did we learn and what is all of this for?

The combat system is fairly solid and fun.  Solid as in - it did not garner any whacky results.  So far, combat against the Russbach and the SPI ZOC rules have guaranteed that combat has been very inconclusive especially since attacks across the stream are halved.  Even 3:1 attacks, garnering an impressive 4D6 on my CRT have been reduced (halved).  This is why I took a picture of when Austrian II Corps fell back from Baumersdorf.  It all happened in sequence, one after the other!  Basically they attacked (ZOC rules - they had to attack being in a ZOC) did not get a result and failed their QC, falling back.  This was very exciting and helps to build a wonderful narrative about the battle so far.

Having had time to think about the battle, I realized some of the problems that the new CRT introduced:

Game Progress is much slower.  The turns play quickly enough, but the combat is much more drawn out. This should have been obvious.  The SPI CRT is "all or nothing" with units retreating or being eliminated and I imagine that makes for a much more quickly flowing game.  Additionally the turns are "1 to 2 hours" of time.  In my case, an attrition-based CRT probably chops all of this down with units slowly being ground down.  I'll have to think on that more as a 14 turn game is probably not going to work.  The French, after 4 turns, are just starting to make progress in their assault.

As the maneuver warfare to the west unfolds (Austrian VI Corps' attack towards Aspern, and the III Corps attack towards Massena's IV Corps) I think we'll see much bigger combats and more decisive results but those forces haven't made contact completely yet. 

Skewed Victory Conditions.  The original CRT has units destroyed left and right.  Currently it is beginning of Turn 5 and the French have a whopping 3 VPs and the Austrians have a whopping 5 VPs.  While I expect that number to climb (especially when Austrian III Corps crashes into Massena's Corps, or when Austrian VI Corps crashes into Bernadotte's IX Corps infantry along the Stadtlau-Aspern road) but the French will not come close to 75 VPs by turn 14 and that is due to the attritional nature of my CRT.  Unit destruction, especially from an initial attack, is very rare unless it is a smaller unit (4 SPs or less). Another thing to think about.  

Rethinking Retreating.  The SPI designers of this series made retreats an important part of breaking contact.  It's the one of the only ways you can leave an enemy ZOC (the other being advance after combat).  Since the combats are more drawn out now, I'll need to think about how units break contact or even if they should be able to break contact.  Under my current CRT, retreats still happen, but are much less likely in a given combat.  The defender being attacked at 2:1 odds or better must check for retreat if the attacker rolls a natural "6" on one of his attack dice.  If he does, the defender rolls a quality check and must get a 4+ to remain in position.  If he fails, he retreats 1 hex.  As you saw from the II Corps' retreat from Baumersdorf, this does happen, but not often.  If the attacker is attacking at 1:1 odds or lower and fails to roll a 4+, he must check to see if he retreats by passing a QC (4+).  This makes for some nice tension and attacking at reduced odds brings with it risk.

A role for the Cavalry.  I love the mobility of the cavalry (6 movement points).  You can really screen a flank with them or capture a vital crossroads ahead of your main body of infantry.  the problem is, they feel like highly mobile infantry with half of the combat power.  Perhaps I haven't gotten to it in the rules yet, but the Cavalry don't seem to have a "shock" role and they should have that.  I'll think about that a bit more as well.  VI Corps brushed aside Bernadotte's cavalry screen easily with infantry divisions which I could justify through any number of abstractions, especially at this "Grand Tactical" scale but they should have a limited shock role on the battlefield which I dont feel is captured here.

What's all this about?

I recently started back down the path of using my miniatures for board games and the Napoleonic series from SPI made perfect sense considering I could play just about any Peninsula, 100 Days, or 1809 battle and very soon, any battle from the Russian campaigns as well using a hex map, simple terrain and single stand units representing whatever the scale of the game requires.  

But playing with a simple CRT would not give it a miniatures feel to the battle and I want to retain both the simplicity and portability of a board game, with the excitement and spectacle of a miniatures game (design objectives).  If you look at the picture of the beginning of Turn 5 above, just imagine that image with 30mm square stands packed with troops atop a game mat with simple terrain and not cardboard counters!  My inner megalomaniac would be instantly fulfilled.

So watch this space in 2024 as I put huge battles into smaller (much smaller) spaces.  I have already put plans into motion for another go at updating Panzerblitz and Team Yankee and hope to have some WWII and Cold War battles with microarmor on the table using newly modified engagement tables.  I am almost there in terms of being ready to showcase those modifications next, hopefully sometime next week.

In terms of battles to fight, Aspern-Essling, Wagram, and Eylau are all coming up over the new year and perhaps some Peninsula games or 100 Days battles as well.

So that's it!  I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!  I'll be tied up all day with family, but will still find time to sneak away and read Norm's "12 Days of Christmas" post.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Some "New" Buildings

It's all about urban sprawl here at SOUND OFFICERS CALL as we ponder new solutions for buildings on the tabletop.  With high quality 15mm buildings costing dearly in terms of purchase and subsequent storage, something had to give!  Enter 10mm buildings.  Here and there I've been purchasing some 6mm buildings for bigger 10mm games with alot of units on the table where the "area" of the town or city is more important than the actual structures - with the buildings serving more as decor than as strongpoints.

I had some wooden block buildings that I purchased cheaply a few years ago on amazon and thought I'd try sprucing them up.  Those of you who remember my American Civil War terrain binge from a few years ago might remember I took one of those buildings and, using breakfast cereal box card, made some replicas of the famous Codori Barn, Sweeny House, McPherson Barn and a few other Civil War buildings - why had I not tried this for Napoleonics, Seven Years War, et al?  The plan is to basically make lots of buildings for European Wars from the 17th through 19th Centuries that could do double duty and not look *too* out of place on the table, and also not take themselves too seriously.  Some of you will undoubtedly wonder if I've lost my marbles after looking at my crude paint job.  Anyways,  these will be used for "area terrain" for effect.

I am quite pleased with these little buildings. These are only painted and no cereal boxes were harmed in the development of these buildings but I thought they'd be an easy and cool addition to the gaming table.  I plan on painting quite a few more.

A new unit of Austrian Uhlans posts next to a town to reassure the locals 

I got the idea from Peter at "Grid Based Wargaming - But Not Always" after reading a posting he made about pavements.  It was a brilliant idea which inspired me to make my own 10mm version.  While I have not done Peter justice (his buildings and terrain are phenomenal and a model of artful, elegant, and practical simplicity) I did want to put my wooden block buildings, which I've had for  many years, to good use.  The cool thing about these buildings is the more you use, the better the towns look.  I will likely use them for Eylau and its surrounding environs when the time comes.

Note the cool, random cobble-stone look of the town base.  I'm going to start making these in 4x4 shapes.  I only used this piece of wood because I had it on hand.

As you can probably guess, the small wooden block buildings store alot nicer than their 15mm cousins, which are huge investments in terms of storage and cost.  I bought a ton of crescent root French houses, industrial buildings, and middle eastern buildings over the years and now have no place to put them.  My wife told me we need more shelves.  In my reply I was tempted to quote the man himself and say "what do you want me to do?  sh*t them???"  but I just said yes dear....

Not the world's best paint job but effective none-the-less.  There is no mistaking that these are buildings!

I am also working on a church and more townhouses and timber clad buildings and am using cereal box cardboard for some of these!

Another German building in the works.  

This will be a stone church once completed

Dunker Church from my ACW set - this would be for Grand Tactical games as I have 15mm minis.  The minis you see there are Napoleonic Austrian Uhlans from Old Glory 10mm.

Codori Barn for Grand Tactical ACW games

That's all for now.  Still painting when I get a chance.  All of the Austrian Cavalry in my collection is just about done.  Only a single Hussar and Dragoon unit remaining which I will get around to finishing soon.  Then it's MORE Austrian Infantry, Bavarian Infantry, and unfortunately back to painting more and more Russians for Eylau...

This Friday night game coming up with be a Battle of the Bulge themed game.  I'll actually try to blog about this one.  Dave and I have been gaming every other Friday playing simpler Neil Thomas games since these are night time games and both of us are already pretty tired when the first units cross the line of departure.  Stay tuned!