Friday, 18 July 2014

Terrain Inserts for Modular Terrain Boards


I thought I’d put together a brief Blog post on terrain inserts, using as an example the inserts I made for the Operation Gericht games at Partizan and Evesham in June.


By way of introduction, it might be helpful to describe what I mean by “terrain inserts”. A long while back, we made the decision to build our First World War terrain in modular sections of 600mm square Syrofoam blocks mounted on battened MDF boards of the same size. This decision allowed us to “dig” into the Styrofoam terrain boards to create the trenches, shell-craters and flooded areas on the boards. While that looked good and helped create the image of a First World War battlefield, there was one obvious drawback  – once you have built the terrain boards, your decision as to what terrain is featured on the terrain board is made permanently.

You can reduce this challenge by making all the terrain boards an identical size so that they can be re-orientated in any direction. But what’s actually depicted on the board is still fixed.

With this in mind we tried to find a way of making modular terrain more varied. We came up with the idea a long while back of trying to make “inserts” into the modular terrain. So, for any single terrain board featuring an “insert”, we can have two or three variants. A terrain board with a defensive bunker transforms (with a change of the bunker insert) into a terrain board with a crashed Fokker D.VII, or a board with a badly flooded series of shell-craters.


Making the terrain inserts is something you can do much later than building the initial terrain board. Or you can create them at the same time as the original board if you want to try and match the terrain colours and effects perfectly.

In creating the inserts for the Partizan and Evesham games, I wanted to build a couple of flooded and shelled areas, complete with French infantry who had fallen valiantly in their heroic defence of the village of Fleury in the battles raging around Verdun in 1916.

 

 




I also built a small shell damaged version of the cordwainer’s cottage on the edge of Fleury, which would be the target for the German assault troops in the games. I made sure that the ruin would, once built, accommodate a number of support weapons and command stands.



The terrain inserts didn’t take long to make. They were fun to do, and added a lot of variety into some of the terrain boards that we’d already been using for some time with their original inserts.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Summer Wargaming Plans


Judging by the absence of posts over the past few weeks, you may have thought that I’ve been a bit idle on the hobby front. It’d be a fair assumption, but not quite the full story. The truth is that I’ve been pulled in a number of different directions hobby-wise.


First, I’ve been enjoying painting through the “last few” 28mm late war French figures. The Verdun/ Operation Gericht games at Partizan and at Evesham made me realise how much I enjoy running games in this period, and the variety of battles and engagements we can create from the history of the First World War. Within this in mind I’ve steadily been finishing some of the figures which have been in the painting queue for some time, including this French battalion command group. I’ve also not forgotten about posting the Operation Gericht scenario oline, and adding a campaign diary – sorry for being late in doing this, but it’s coming…

One distraction has arrived in the shape of the temptation to recreate a small unit from one of France’s most famous formations. I picked up the excellent Martin Windrow/Mike Chappell book “Uniforms of the French Foreign Legion” a couple of days after returning from Evesham. Getting books like this, stacked full of fine illustrations, is a very bad idea for a wargamer! In the long term, I’m tempted to get some of the splendid Artizan Foreign Legion figures for the 1890s.



For now, however, I bought a “final” few more packs of Brigade Games’ late First World War French infantry to recreate a demi-platoon of the 1e Regiment de Marche from the Legion Etranger, for around 1916/1917. I’m planning some conversions of these figures, aiming for a battle-hardened look. I’m also hoping to add in a couple of Scarab figures to the Brigade Games figures to give the unit a bit of a less uniform appearance. I’m hoping this will be something I can model and paint during the work downtime in August.

Also on the holiday reading list is “Poilu”, a recently edited volume of the memoirs of Louis Barthas. Well known in France, this memoir is less familiar in the UK. I’d not heard of it before famed blogger, and all round gentleman, Curt Campbell very generously brought a copy over for me during his recent visit. I’m about a third of the way through and can thoroughly recommend it. 


The two big distractions for the summer have some in a smaller scale. For about two years, I’ve had a Pendraken 10mm late war French army in a box on my study floor. I bought these as a complement to a 10mm late war German force I painted in 2010. I have no idea why I never painted up the French, apart perhaps from the fact that the focus at my local wargames club in St Albans moved on in the interim from large scale games set in the First World War. However, somewhere, in the Verdun Project, I got the 10mm inspiration again.


This motivation is probably connected with the misery or carting around 28mm terrain to club evenings and wargame events like the Evesham games day. As you know, 28mm terrain looks wonderful, is great fun to create and is something people always seem to enjoy playing on. For one-off games, it’s unbeatable. But for every-week gaming, it’s a bit of a pain. There have been a number of evenings when the club has fallen short of a game last minute because of a scheduling problem. Stepping into the breach with a 28mm game is hard in those situations. Focusing on building some 10mm forces, and easy to transport terrain is one possible alternative I want to try to help fill in those last minute gaps.

 

I’ve cleaned and based up the French over the past couple of weeks. They've not taken long. The Pendraken sculpts are little things of wonder. Beautifully modelled and cast, they are flash free, and just need a little clipping on their base before gluing down. The artillery needs some care, but nothing too which is too much trouble. The main challenge was keeping the wheels on the axles of the 150mm gun carriages – but I found a thick superglue really helped with this. The German infantry have painted up en masse very well, and I think the French with the Horizon Bleu greatcoats may well look even better.  

I’m hoping to try out these figures in August or September, aiming to recreate some of the brigade and divisional actions from the Nivelle Offensive of early 1917. I’m not sure which rules we’ll choose. It’s a temptation to try and create our own ruleset, perhaps borrowing from the work Richard has been putting in on the Boer War. However, I have heard many good things about Great War Spearhead II, and I might well start there and see how they work. There are rumours (heard around the table at the Evesham curry) of a fine set of rules coming from Alex Buchel for the Great war, and I shall certainly be keen to try those out when the arrive.  So, all in all, more on the 10mm front to come, hopefully.

The other small scale distraction is in 6mm, but more of that in a later blog post. It’s French again (at least in part), but from an earlier period and with very pretty uniforms. I’m hoping that’s going to be a lot of fun.


 
 

Thursday, 26 June 2014

TooFatLardies Summer Special 2014


The latest “Special” from TooFatLardies pinged into my email inbox a few minutes ago. These Specials come out twice a year – in Summer and Christmas – and are a great read and excellent value for money. Think of them as an online wargaming magazine which is really focusing on getting games onto the table, and how they’re played.

OK, OK….I admit it, I am very biased as you will know. That being said, speaking honestly, this edition is a cracker and I doubt you will be disappointed if you buy a copy.

The Summer Special can be purchased for the very reasonable price of £6.00 – which is two large cappuccinos in London money - and can be purchased at the TooFatLardies online store HERE.  

And to excite you further, here's the list of contents for the Summer Special 2014

  • Introduction. Nick says hello.
  • Westwind. A complete Chain of Command mini-campaign set in East Prussia 1945.
  • Seven Spears. A truly magical conversion for using Samurai with Dux Britanniarum. 
  • Do Some Dinging C Company. A Charlie Don't Surf scenario from Operation Colorado in 1966.
  • Robin Hood's Black Gold Home Guard versus Fallschirmjager mini campaign for Chain of Command based on original defence plans for Nottinghamshire. 
  • The Siege of Augusta. A multi-player scenario for Sharp Practice in the American War of Independence.
  • Big CoC in Africa. A fantastic report of a post-colonial Africa adaptation for Chain of Command which has been impressing the Australian show circuit.
  • Carribean Broadsides. A squadron action for Kiss Me Hardy. 
  • It's the Chindits! A great new list for Chain of Command with several Chindit force options and three distinct support lists for the varying operations undertaken. There's a smashing little scenario added on to give them a run out too.
  • Hurricanes over Hal Far. Bag the Hun looks at the siege of Malta and presents three scenarios for air war over the Med.
  • Circle the Wagons. A Chain of Command scenario for fighting in Benouville in June 1944. A 70th anniversary scenario.
  • The Roundwood Report. Blogimpressario Sidney Roundwood chats to Big Rich about how he writes rules. So top tips for would be rule designers.
  • Strawberries for Elephants. A spectacular full campaign for Chain of Command set on the Dyle Line in 1940. A great example of gaming interwoven with superb historical research. 
  • Giarabub. In the deserts of North Africa the Australians face the Italians in the aftermath of Operation Compass. A scenario for IABSM
  • Sawrms for Q13. A look at using swarm type forces for our popular Sci-fi rules.
  • OML2. A report from a great Lardy Games day in the West Country. With cakes!
  • Vacquevill. A second 70th anniversary game, this time for IABSM as the Yanks fight their way inland from Omaha beach. 
It's 139 pages in total and each one packed with goodies. And not a single page of adverts to be seen - not even for Ade's delicious cakes....





Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Opearation Gericht - The After Action Report


After all the planning, blogging, frantic activity and late night terrain making, I finally got to Operation Market Larden on Saturday in Evesham. I ran two games of Operation Gericht on the day, making that four games in June, and six of the game overall including the playtests in May.

Before I move on to the game itself, allow me to say some thank you to some heroic endeavours. To Ade, Paul and the rest of the Wyvern Wargamers, thank you for arranging such a great day’s gaming. 


To the players who participated in the game (Paul and Dane, Paul (Pingu) and Dave, Bob and Phil, and Paul and Ralph), thank you all so very much for taking part. Eight finer players for the game I could never have imagined.  

Thank you all for making it such a pleasure to umpire for you – you can all come again, anytime! And huge thanks to everyone who made the trip to Evesham for the day, and for the great curry afterwards. The day of wargaming with friends by far made up for the disappointing footie result!


With thanks to Phil and Paul and many others who stepped into the breach when my iPhone’s battery died at 11am, I’ve posted below some pictures from the games. Both of the games were finely balanced right up to the end. I’ll post the full player briefings later this week, along with the additional rules and rule adaptations for the game which (hopefully) bring out some of the unique challenges of wargaming Verdun.


In the first game, Dane and Paul as the German Stosstrupp slaughtered the French defenders of the Bois de Chapitre in a massive close assault, but then found it hard going through the wood itself. The French defenders, Pingu and Dave, carefully nurtured their forces in Fleury itself, making it near impossible for the German attackers to obtain even a small fingerhold in the village. The result was a notable German success, although falling short of a German triumph.









In the second game, the German forces of Bob and Phil opted for a bold plan. Unlike all of the German forces in the three previous games played (and the two playtests), they decided to surge around the Bois de Chapitre and attack the village of Fleury outright. In doing so, they opted to try for an all-out victory, denying themselves the possibility of a notable success by taking the Bois de Chapitre. It was a bold plan, made workable by a very imaginative artillery fire-plan. Instead of barraging the entire width of the table with the German supporting barrage, the German players opted to barrage in two stages: the first on the Bois de Chapitre only, the second on the base line of French defences in Fleury itself. The overall plan was certainly bold, perhaps even slightly reckless. However, the German players appreciated they had good German troops and they carried their plan out with great determination in the face of very skilled French opposition from Paul and Ralph.




For 90 minutes, I thought Bob and Phil had made a mistake. They seemed to be bogged down in No Man’s Land, their formations suffering dislocation from French fire. However, their main artillery barrage, timed for the seventh turn, came in at precisely the time when French defenders at Fleury were redeploying to fire on the German forces. The French suffered two turns of artillery barrage in which they could do nothing but take cover in their defences. 



This gave the German Stosstrupp just enough time – and I really do mean just enough time – to rush forward and contact the French defenders in Fleury itself. In the last turn of the game, the Germans won the close combat for the Cordwainer’s House, bolstered by choosing an “inspiring speech” from their commander as a pre-game option. The French fell back, and the Germans took the French strongpoint on the edge of Fleury for the first time in six games.











In short, it was a German triumph, and very pleasing to watch unfurl. The French defenders were magnificent (and very magnanimous) in their game-play, but ultimately had no answer to a perfectly planned German assault driven home by an inspiring German tabletop commander.


So, the Knight’s Cross gets awarded to Hauptmann Ulrich von Bek (who we found from the “Big Man German Exits” remained in the Heer after the end of the Great War, suffering the slight indignity of going on manoeuvres on bicycles while awaiting the whirlwind of the 1930s), and no doubt a consolatory cognac for the French defenders as they fell back to their main line defences around Fort Souville.

I thought it might also be useful, after four participation and two play test games, to set out what I feel I’ve learned from the games.
  • Trying to recreate Verdun on the wargames table in a historical manner at a small is very difficult. The strength of the artillery and off-table machine guns, firing on fixed lines, makes assaults murderous. Attacks will fail if not well supported. Attacks will also flounder in bad terrain.
  • The French, as the defenders in the early part of the battle, face a herculean task to hang on. Staging these games has made me respect to an even greater degree the titanic sacrifices of the French army and French nation in just holding on at Verdun.
  • On the tabletop, fighting “down the table”, as opposed to “across the table” is a big challenge in a 2 – 3 hour game. It looks better, and plays more sensibly, but the attackers need to have markedly stronger forces, and some compensation for the distances they need to travel and fight. (I added in an extra, second, Sturmabteilung Vor! card into the deck for the German forces in Evesham to compensate for the Bois de Chapitre, but not at Partizan. I should have done the same at Partisan.)
  • Single mounted figures take too much time to move. I’ve since ordered some figure movement trays from Martin at Warbases to speed the movement phase up.
  • Operation Gericht was a large game, and the card deck was considerable. It contained seven Big Men for each side, plus three additional support weapons cards. I thought this was right on the edge of what was workable. I’ll slightly reduce the size of the game for the next participation.
  • Players seemed to like the background I had created on-line. I didn’t have as long as I wanted to get this up and running. A month, and a slower burn, would have been better.
  • Organising artillery fire-plans in “Through the Mud and the Blood” is a lot of fun, but does take some time and planning. We ran a bit short of tabletop gaming time with the second game because we spent longer in the artillery planning phase. That being said, I thought the introduction of the fire-plan and artillery barrage improved the games immeasurably, and was (at least for me) critical to trying to create an atmosphere of the battle we were trying to recreate. Both the French and the German players used their fire-planning as a significant and valuable tool, and this really added to the game. Watching the French defenders’ faces as the “French SOS Artillery” card finally arrived in the second game was a real treat.

As mentioned above, I’ll post the player briefings over the next week or so. Until then, it’s a short hiatus in the Verdun/ French project while I gather breath. Then, in July, I’ll look a little further towards the Nivelle Offensives of 1917 and the first deployment of the Artillerie Spéciale. Hope you can join me for that!
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