Saturday, April 30, 2011

Normal Service Will Shortly Be Resumed

I've been delayed a bit from blogging due to lose of electricity for nearly 48 hours. I'm quite thankful, because outside of the loss of power and a bit of tree branch cutting and removal, my family has not suffered very much in the terrible storms that hit the Tennessee Valley. It was the scariest storm I've been through that I can recall - and I can't believe we couldn't hear the large trees in the woods crashing down.

Anyway, I plan to pick up on the Wargames Illustrated 'Gallipoli Issue' coverage next week. I happened to notice that some of the Ottoman/Memoir 44 for Great War posts had made the Top 10 read posts for the week. Well, if you suspected that some of that material is related to the playtests me and few of my wargaming friends did for John Bianchi's scenarios, then you are correct. The scenarios gave us the perfect excuse to mess about with perfectly good rules and see if we could get them to do something with a little different taste. More later...

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Wargames Illustrated: The Gallipoli Issue

Here's a glimpse of WI 283, the Gallipoli issue. You can get a full preview over at the Flames of War website here.

This was one of the coolest projects I've got to work on in the past year. However, most of the credit goes to veteran WWI article writer John Bianchi and Francophile Tom Downs (you'll be seeing more of him, I'm sure). They know their stuff and showed me a gateway to understanding the Gallipoli campaign far better than I ever had. Check out that awesome battle cover - I think the supporting campaign, battle, and army articles capture the whole venture in that kind of way - unabashedly brutal; as I like to say and do - I believe we called 'em like we saw 'em. I came away amazed at the big and small pictures of the naval, land, and - just as important - the political battles that shaped the miserable meatgrinder fought on the cheap by the Allies and the Turks.

It's hard to read any of the primary sources and not feel humbled by the sacrifice and courage of the men who had to fight for their countries in the Dardanelles during those nine months of terrible bloodletting, hunger, and disease.

More later this week - and I will likely include a battle report or two that I submitted to John regarding his multiple Lone Pine scenarios. Those were some great games. I'll tell you right now - two of them very closely matched and one just an outright nail-biter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dungeons & Dragons and Me: 30 years on

D&D Basic Set box cover art
Dungeons & Dragons has been around for a little longer than 30 years; I think something close to 35 year or older if you count Chainmail and the other early works by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. It was around Easter in 1981 that I got a copy of the D&D Basic Set. This was at a time when the D&D game was published under a couple of different rules/brands. The short of it is that Basic D&D (and its follow up companion, Expert D&D), is that it was simpler than the regular game (called Advanced Dungeons & Dragons), although it they shared core mechanics. The biggest thing that comes to mind is that it combined race and class into one class. All dwarves would probably translate into dwarven fighters in AD&D; elves would be like elven fighter/magic-users (ie. wizards); halflings were like halfling thieves or maybe fighter/thieves. Fighters, clerics, and magic-users were all human.

It was a major epiphany for me to play this game - it was like nothing else. No board, no pieces - just paper, pencils, and maps (that you might not be able to look at). You played a character in a fantasy setting - which was already kind of out there for me. I hadn't really read any fantasy at that time, and about all I could relate it to was The Hobbit animated film I had seen around Thanksgiving back in 1977. 

Speaking of art - dig that picture on the box cover to the Basic D&D Set, which included a rulebook and The Keep on the Borderlands adventure module. That's Erol Otus - one of the signature artists that defined the look of the game in the late 70s/early 80s.

The game itself sometimes had a pulp fantasy feel to it (at least what I recognize as such in hindsight) - and it felt great. Time to pick up some dice soon, and kick off some new campaigns and revisit some old ones. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hail Caesar released at Salute 2011

I suppose it was no big surprise that Warlord Games released their new ancients wargame title at Salute this weekend. Now that it's out, I know I've got to have a copy. When that happens, I'll be sure to post about it on this blog.

In the meantime, check out the PDF reference sheet downloads available at Warlord here (full color) and here (b&w). Talk about your troop types - it looks like 20 or so infantry classifications and another 20 split between all sorts of mounted, plus specials such as elephants and artillery.

I suppose as far as that goes, you might want to check out the previews and all that kind of stuff on the Hail Caesar page.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

FOW Project: Just Add Tufts

I have added Army Painter winter tufts to my US heavy weapons teams, and I like how they turned out. I tried out the model railroad straw stuff about 20 years ago and only managed to get a lot of straw glued to my hands. For $6, I think I got a good value for 20+ tufts that only require me to use a set of tweezers and some glue.

While I was able to get the tufts through my local gaming store, you can take a loot at them on the Warlord Games' Army Painter Battlefield Basing page here. There are winter, swamp, jungle, and Highland tufts available. 

I'll probably work in some swamp or Highland tufts in some of my other FOW models. Frankly, mixing tuft shades ought to be a good idea, just like mixing turf and flock shades - I see plenty of pastures and open fields that are not uniform in color or height, with patches of new, old, and dried grass/weeds all about.

Monday, April 11, 2011

FOW Project: Flakpanzer 38 - conversion gun shields

Flakpanzer 38 with card shield
I got a chance to catch up on some of my Flames of War miniature projects this weekend. First up are the Flak Panzer 38s.

Of my two models, only one had half a gun shield by the time I got around to assembling them. I attached the metal half-shield previously and then decided to use some thin card to do the rest of the work. Obviously, they look a little bit irregular in size/shape (and the full shield is glued on crooked...sigh) - but I think they will pass muster once painted and on the table.

Flakpanzer 38 with metal and card shield
I had originally thought about trying to work something up using plastic styrene, but thin card had a lot going for it: it was easy to bend, easy to find the right thickness (cracker box thickness), and cheap - something headed for the recycling bin. I think the thin card works really well at the  15mm scale and would recommend it to anyone needing to make a fix or conversion on something that won't likely get handled too much.

Friday, April 8, 2011

WI Artillery Issue: ACW to WWI

cover WI 281
Neil Smith fires a couple of impressive salvos in the WI artillery issue, covering the American Civil War, the Franco-Prussian War, and the edge of World War I.

"Bridge to the Future" reviews the industrial capacity and tactical impetus that put artillery firmly in the American arsenal during the Civil War. Beyond that, we get some down-to-earth advice on wargaming applications for such topics as smoothbore v. rifled cannons and differences in artillery organization/utility between the North and the South. A very good point was made in regards to how Confederate command ability, the changing nature of the war (entrenchments v. open field battles) and terrain considerations in general could offset the the Union Army's superiority in number and quality of artillery. A scenario based on the encounter at Brawner's Farm (at Second Manassas) helps bring it all home to the tabletop.

Neil's second artillery article is "Imperial Long Shots," which gets to grips with the Franco-Prussian War, demonstrating how the differences in doctrines served the Germans well (massed artillery) and not so well for the French (artillery reserves). Yes, there's more to it than that - differences in range, accuracy, and the like. It's on these principles - tactical and technical - that see the evolution of artillery as a truly overpowering combat arm not long into the Great War. For me, the icing on the cake was the sidebar 'The British Detour', which expounds upon the lessons learned in the Boer War. The article really helped me to understand the how's and why's artillery made the leaps it did between the American Civil War and the First World War.

For those interested in the rest of the WI Artillery Issue theme, check out the Napoleonic, Medieval, and Ancient article reviews on this blog.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

WI Artillery Issue: Napoleonic Horse Artillery

cover WI 281
Dr. Stephen Summerfield gives readers a one-stop look at Napoleonic horse artillery, and goes just beyond the highlights of weapons/limbers, tactics, and organization for the major players in the period's conflicts. I'm not at all familiar with the era except in a most superficial way, nor am I familiar with Summerfield's extensive work on the subject - but I can say the article packs a lot into a few pages.

The supporting graphic sidebars of cutaway cannons and TOEs really bring the piece around from a gaming perspective. Id' say the TOEs are worth a good look for those building scenarios for the era and trying to build batteries of the correct proportion (and flexibility) for the British, French, Austrians, Prussians, and Russians. Offhand, it should serve as a quick resource for those planning a game around the very tweak-able Black Powder. There's a few anecdotal bits in the piece that might lend themselves towards special rules for deployment, role, or even hitting power in certain battles/years as well. Again, I think Black Powder players might benefit if building army list/abilities from scratch or using the game's templates as jumping off points. Frankly, I imagine that anyone who even has a set of beloved Napoleonic rules will find the article worth reading as well. They should certainly be ready to ask themselves whether or not their games capture the flavor, potential, and drawbacks of the emerging arm of horse artillery in their tabletop games.

Monday, April 4, 2011

WI Artillery Issue: Medieval Guns

Cover of WI 281
Picking up from the last review of Wargames Illustrated's Artillery Issue (#281), we move onto the late medieval period. While I have a general notion of artillery's growing role in military and social trends of the era preceding the dawn of the nation states (and some of that might very well be oversimplified myth by now...), I had no real idea of how it all really got started - nor how complicated and interesting it truly was.

Jim Graham's "Extensive Knowledge of Powder" really does the trick. He gives us a good look at the mercenary nature of the early gunsmiths and how they plied their trade between the Ottoman Empire and Scotland. The reader gets a treat of sidebars on the gunsmith, his patron, and the weapons he creates.

Jim gives us right-sized bits on the scientific, tactical, and political applications (and ramifications) of medieval gunnery.  The article finishes with a 'Siege of Orleans, 1428' scenario.

Right off I see that the article should give sneaky scenario designers some ideas on the iffy nature of medieval guns.  You know, things like increasing the chance for a catastrophic failure for attempting to fire at (or possibly exceed?) long range. Then there's the problem with the gunsmiths offering their services to the highest bidders - easily something worked into a campaign game. It also makes me think that in a campaign game that it might not be easy to replace lost artillery.

Anyway, I've come away with a lot of cool ideas that embrace the dicey nature of the medieval artillery game. Anyone who regularly plays with medieval guns in their tabletop games will get their money's worth out of Jim's insights and have every excuse to make their miniature artillery and even more exciting prospect.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Later This Month: Gallipoli

Anyone with a copy of Wargames Illustrated #282 can see that Gallipoli takes the spotlight theme for the May issue (you know, on the last page of the mag where they post a sneak peak). I got to play a supporting role in that venture, thanks to the always amiable John Bianchi. Once the issue has had a chance to make the online preview at the WI website, I will talk more about the material. I can tell you this right now - when I saw the plans that John drew up for the Gallipoli coverage, I knew it was going to be an absolute winner.

In the meantime, I recommend that anyone interested in the campaign should take a look at Alan Moorehead's classic account on the subject.