Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I recently got a chance to play Milton Bradley's Shogun (aka Samurai Swords), after a wait of probably 24 years (and even then I probably played it no more than twice). I love the game - not only for it's design - but also for how some its rules could be applied to a campaign game of tabletop miniatures set in feudal Japan.

A core concept of the game is the division of armies into either field armies (each player begins with three) or provincial armies. Field armies can hold up to about 20 units, with limitations placed on the number of noble warriors and peasant spearman and matchlock gunners they may contain. Provincial garrisons may only have a handful of troops. Player choices are further limited - and made more important - by the limited number of matchlock gunners and samurai bowmen he can distribute to his forces, period. I like that. Field armies can pick up or drop off units in provinces they occupy or move through.

Most of the action takes place with the maneuver of the field armies; losing field armies certainly reduces one's offensive capability and doesn't do much for defense either (ie. fewer fire brigades). Ultimately, the game is won by the player who can take over half the island's provinces.

The importance of the field armies is heightened by gaining experience with their leaders, the daimyos. Beating an enemy army - even small provincial garrison - earns the commander experience point. With enough experience, the daimyo can make extra moves and attacks on the player's turn. That could be big - although I think I have been knocked out every game well before anyone developed that kind of expertise.

One thing I would recommend as a home rule would be offer more points to a daimyo that defeats a field army. There's gotta be a difference between besting another army of potentially equal size than it is to roll over a couple spearmen in a backwater province. This would also be a quantifiable reward for players who get the action in quick against other players instead of wheedling them out of pieces of easily obtained territory. There's got to be more honor for one daimyo to beat another daimyo.

For tabletop campaign play, I'd recommend the above to any that use some sort of territorial conquest. You would likely need to reduce the field armies to one per player and probably limited the geographic extent of the map. While army lists probably would address composition limitations and decisions, it might be kind of cool to have a bonus "Dogs of War" unit or two that one could add if a battle took place in a particular region. Battlefront's Firestorm campaign did something like this for adding special units to certain fights and this method would work well here as well.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to add that the game has been re-released under the name Ikusa by Wizards of the Coast.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Monte Cassino: Wargaming Ideas from Castle Hill

Matthew Parker's Monte Cassino
There was plenty of brutal fighting to go around during the Allied offensive for Cassino and the Gustav Line in the first half of 1944. I'm specifically referring to assaults and counterattacks for specific strategic points, not the horrific drawn-out attrition that consumed much of the campaign. One battle sticks out in my mind more than others - the struggle for Castle Hill. The German paratrooper counterattacks against British-held Castle Hill (another key point near the Cassino monastery and town) were harrowing affairs that were compared to a medieval siege that used machine guns and hand grenades.

From a gaming perspective, I think this would translate well into a good squad/section or platoon-sized game. Why? Well, for one thing, the rules really need to highlight on the bomb-throwing aspect - and that's something tends to be handled a bit abstractly the further up the org-level of the game (ie. maybe as a combat factor or stat). I think the amount and nature of the castle and ruins might have made linear rifle fire a bit limiting compared to lobbing a grenade over covering obstacles.

While I don't know if there was an unusual number of MG42 and Bren crews positioned for the fights, I could certainly believe the local battalion commanders put as many of them into the hot spots as possible, leaving some sections in reserve without their squad MGs. The idea lends itself to an interesting possibility of scenario-specific orders of battle that allow one to attach a few extra MG crews to the combat squads.

Then there's the terrain. Even if one did not attempt recreate any of the assaults at Castle Hill, the use of medieval walls and gates combined with later period buildings would make for a cool tabletop if handled right. In my mind I'm thinking that some of those plastic Warhammer 40k buildings could pass for Gothic/pseudo-Gothic architecture used in churches and other civic buildings.

This has really got me to thinking thinking about Warlord Games' plastic Commonwealth infantry and their extra weapon sprues. That would be a fairly quick way to get as many bomb throwers and Bren gunners on the table as any, considering the build options available. While they don't offer the German paras in plastic yet, their plastic German infantry (and extra weapon sprues)  would also be a good way to build this mix of troops. Of course, any rifleman can be a grenadier, but I think the visual appeal of having more than a couple of bomb-throwers on the table is a plus.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Coming Up: A few more words on Monte Cassino, plus board games

While I haven't had much time for posting in the last couple of weeks due to a number of unexpected work and home improvement projects, I have been thinking about them at least.

I have a few more game-related things to say about Monte Cassino. After that, I'm ready to talk about some inspiration from Richard Borg's Battle Lore and the Milton Bradley classic, Shogun (aka Samurai Swords).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cassino: Wargaming Ideas

I have been reading Matthew Parker's book on the campaign for Monte Cassino and thought I would share some thoughts I had on rubble in wargaming.

The bombing of Cassino -  which was even more brutal than the bombing of the monastery - and its subsequent assault by Commonwealth troops gave me a lot of ideas for wargaming certain aspects of the terrain conditions. Rubble piles - some measuring 20 feet high - and craters blocked the progress of infantry and armor alike. Like quite a bit of the natural terrain of the campaign area, this forced the Allies to channel troops under fire and countered advantages in numbers and mechanization. Storming a building or strong point might happen, but the town would not be simply and quickly overwhelmed.

I think huge piles of rubble need to make more of an appearance in street fighting scenarios, at least in heavily decimated and contested areas. Offhand, I think of the Ruhr Pocket, Stalingrad (and probably most Eastern Front city battles), and of course, Cassino. I see a lot of ruins and rubble on tabletops, but not often like the way they described in personal accounts. They should be more than table dressing and maybe something more/other than difficult/very difficult terrain.

In games like Flames of War, where the infantry have a steady movement rate regardless of terrain (if I recall correctly), I think some of these debris areas should require a successful skill check to ascend or move across. I would probably consider them impassable to vehicles. Really, I think that might be ideal for most skirmish games in regards to the infantry; heavy movement penalties for entering rough terrain has its place, but I think that requiring a plodding one-quarter move up a debris hill the size of a building as taking away from the fast-paced action one associates with a firefight. I think pass or fail on a climb check seems more like it.