Monday, February 28, 2011

A Closer Look at WI 280 (the Sudan issue)

Picking up where I left off on Wargame Illustrated's Gordan in the Sudan issue in this post.
WI 280 cover

The Sudan theme is every bit as good as I expected it to be after the previously noted skimming. Neil Smith really puts the whole series of episodes in political and military context, including the changes within the British Army in regards to organization and equipment. Having never really studied the period, I've always come away with some basics on the Sudan in the late 19th Century - ie. it was tough fight between the British Empire and the Mahdists and Gordon came to a bad end (and maybe not unexpectedly given his drive). The articles really go a ways towards explaining the how's and why's; you get way more than some interesting battle scenarios. 

The theme also includes the article, "A Good Dusting," written by Sudan rules author David Bickley. He explains the premise of his design concepts for the period and it gives one the impression his game must be driven by scenario/setting concerns instead of just creating a comprehensive set of rules for the entire colonial period. I have not read or tried out Bickley's rules, but I can say that I like his mindset for creating games. If you like to write game scenarios or tweak rules for particular historical encounters/wars, then this article should inspire you. 

I also enjoyed Mike Haught's "Bunker Down" Flames of War material, part of the supporting articles for the recent D-Day/France 1944 releases from Battleground. Even if you have no interest in playing FOW, I recommend the piece to you unless you are already quite familiar with all the types of pillboxes, machine guns nests, and other fortifications used by the Germans. Furthermore, there's lots of practical and historical tactical advice on using them in your World War II games. 

The "Back to Bases" article was also very interesting, and might be worth taking into account if you decide to jump into the Sudan ranges - which, by the way, I think you will find plenty of book and figure references and advertisements to get you started if you have thought about playing the period. 

I have not yet read Howard Whitehouse's "The Tribes of Germania." Not sure what to expect these days on the subject, but I'm encouraged by the article's use of classic sources and modern archeology. This subject is probably far more complex and misunderstood than one might think - and I don't write this because I know so much on the tribal folks at the edge of the Roman Empire - it's simply because I've experienced a few revelations through historians like Guy Halsall and Michael Kulikowski. 

OK, that wraps up my review on the Sudan issue. I left some things out - still haven't finished the magazine yet - but I think the above ought to give you an idea what a good issue it is.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Catching Up with Wargames Illustrated

WI 280 cover
It's been awhile since I posted on Wargames Illustrated and that's because I only recently got hold of some recent issues. I've only skimmed them for the most part, but I'll say this right now - get the Sudan issue (WI 280). Nineteenth Century colonials has long been a favorite subject of the wargaming hobby, but I don't recall such a comprehensive treatment as this - at least between the covers of one issue. Lots of sidebars on the armies and personalities involved which not only connect the pieces, but give them the whole 'sum greater than their parts' feel. I should also mention that Neil Smith wrote several of the Sudan pieces - so you know you are in for a treat.

I have also heard from Dan F. at WI that the issue has received a lot of positive feedback, so I'm not alone in praising this issue.

WI 279 cover
More on WI 279 and WI 280 later. One thing I'm really looking forward to reading is Chris Pramas' article on running big games at conventions. Pramas is one of my favorite game gurus.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rick Priestley Talks Combat for Hail Caesar!

Warlord Game's Ancient Armies logo
I'm encouraged by the latest Hail Caesar! update by Rick Priestley on the Warlord Games website. This time he goes over combat in great detail.

The update is worth your time even if you only read half of it. Combat (and associated factors for units) is divided into Clash, Sustained, Short, and Long. Long is the only truly ranged combat. Short is used for supporting units and for ranged weaponry in melee. Clash and Sustained are mechanics for differentiating between charges/impetus, etc. Priestley provides some examples of combat using Roman legionary and British warband templates that do a lot to show off the system. 

Like Black Powder, units become shaken after taking so many casualties, but it take more losses to shake a unit for the most part. This allows the melee-heavy game to have some brawls. 

One thing I really liked about the example is that the Roman unit did not walk over the British in the long run. Both legionaries and barbarians have some options on how to attack and/or defend that allows for some command decisions that could tip a combat one way or the other. 

With the kind of balance one sees in the examples, this might lead to something rarely seen on the game tables: fairly even numbers between Romans and barbarians. If you suspect that the Roman authors were sometimes exaggerating a little bit about the hordes their armies defeated, this might appeal to your sense of historical gaming. Not sure if this is the take the rules will actually go with, but I'd like to see it. Actually, this is a subject I've been meaning to review for some time now, and I'll bring it up again later. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Uniforms of World War I Encyclopedia

In keeping with the uniform encyclopedias theme, I stumbled across a book due this August for World War I, according to Amazon. It's supposed to cover more than 450 uniforms in 256 pages.

Based on the pictures on the cover, it looks like the volume might be a good value for the money and probably not a bad choice for someone looking to get started in the period. That said, a few reviewers on Amazon have noted that the publisher, Lorenz, has made errors related to accuracy in the past (esp. with the 19th C. Uniforms Encyclopedia).

Monday, February 14, 2011

Uniforms of World War II by Peter Darman

A friend gave me this great book in late 1998, and I still think it's a gem. It covers all the major nations and a number of secondary countries as well --over 250 uniforms, each sharing half the page with lengthy description and other useful context info.

I don't know if it's print these days, but if you if you can find it under $30, then you have found a deal -- and that's even if you don't care a bit about the naval and air force uniforms. There's lots and lots of infantry pictures to get you started if you plan to use it as a guide for painting miniatures. 
On a side note, I think that at least some of the pictures are based on actual photographs. The one that comes to mind is a US ETO infantryman smoking a cigar with a BAR pointing towards the ground (I think he is an sergeant in late war winter gear, but not in an overcoat). I'm sure I've seen a black & white photograph of this man; in the photograph he is pointing his weapon towards an open window of a basement or sub-level apartment. 


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hail Caesar! (Update from Warlord Games)

Warlord Games' Ancient Armies logo
I recently saw another Rick Priestley update on the Warlord Games website concerning the new ancients-themed wargame, Hail Caesar

I like what I am reading, so far. In short it appears the same kind of command mechanism found in Black Powder will be used in the game - command rolls are required to get your units moving and you cannot necessarily depend on how well they can do it. This kind of rule forces players to decide if they want to play it timid or take some chances on coordinating the maneuvers of the whole army. 

The game does not rely as much on shooting (which seems right), and keeps movements shorter and is geared more towards melee combat. That said, it kind of seemed to me that the missile fights may be sharp little affairs in the right context. I think as long as missile power is not, er, overpowering, the game is on the right track.

While I don't know or recall if Hail Caesar will have army lists, I hope it goes the way of Black Powder and provides a small host of unit qualities/abilities (tweaks) and scenario-based templates for putting stats to Roman legionaries, Celtic warriors, etc. 

Well, don't trust my memory or interpretation of what I read, you can check out the update on the Warlord site here.

Friday, February 4, 2011

FOW Project: US Heavy Machine Guns

I've been taking my painting in short spells - an hour here, a couple of hours there. Last weekend I got a lot done with my US  machine gunners, mortar crews, and commanders. No pictures of most of the guys yet, but here's a dark photo of a lone gunner to the right.

I believe that I will need to add in some wood glue or filler to sort of level the HMG base out with the terrain on the plastic base, and I will probably do the same for the mortar crews. I might get away with just going kind of thick with the flock, but that base is pretty deep. 

Speaking of commanders, Battleground recently announced new US SMG platoons. I think  I've seen a number of the figures in other packs (typically NCOs and officers), but there are others I have not seen before. While they are presented as a way to build the SMG squads and platoons of the 2nd US Infantry Division in France in the summer of 1944 (see briefing here), these troops look like a great way to build spare command and recon teams or simply add a little flavor to rifle teams or whatever. In a lot of ways, I think this pack has a lot more flavor than the old US infantry company headquarters pack.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Great War Crossfire: The Ottoman Turks

I have been branching out into other rulesets for wargaming the Great War. I have recently made some adaptions to Arty Conliffe's Crossfire (company level WW2 game) to play out some Middle Eastern Theater actions.

We had some problems using it for a skirmish level game, but it worked well for platoon-company level games. I took the command level down a notch, so instead of moving platoons about the field, we moved sections. Essentially a stand of 4 figures functioned as a team, so we got a 1:1 representation, but the game did not bog down with orders and moves for each soldier. This went a ways toward keeping the whole 'fire and maneuver' dynamic of the next war off the table.

Crossfire has some templates ready-made to tweak for World War I soldiers. For instance, the Japanese and Russians ignore pin results but are killed by suppression when charging in for a close assault. That seems about right for the Turks. Considering the accounts of their massed attacks and lack of good officers, I kept their commanders to a minimum. The game also gives commander bonuses to close assaults and/or rally attempts; I figured the Turk company/platoon commanders ought to give an attack bonus, but not one for rallying. 

But what about the effects of high level officers like Kemal, who famously ordered his men not to fight, but to die while reinforcements made their way towards Gallipoli's western shores? I think his influence might best be taken in the acceptance of high casualties before having to take an army/command morale check. While army morale checks aren't really a part of Crossfire, I would apply this to games that do have it (ie. don't make the Turks test for morale until reduced to 25% effectives or something like that). In Crossfire, it might play out in a higher close combat bonuses conferred by officers.

The Osprey Warrior title, 'Ottoman Infantryman 1914-1918' (pictured right) was a great read and good source for some of my ideas.