Monday, 28 November 2016

Valiant Miniatures 1:72 scale IF8 Infantry Cart

Sometimes you come across a model that just makes you say "wow". The Valiant Miniatures IF8 Infantry Cart is one of those.

Firstly, you have to wonder why no one did one before, as it is such an iconic piece of German military equipment. Shortly after you have to wonder about why Valiant did it at all, and did it in injection moulded plastic, when there are so many other things they could have done.

Bit of history. The Infantriekarren IF8 to give it its proper name was a simple cart issued to just about every infantry unit in the German Army. Anyone who has seen pics of the Germans on the move will probably have seen one, even if your mind fails to register what is in fact a simple two wheeled cart. They were designed to be hand pulled, horse drawn or even by motorcycle or Kettenkrad. I've even seen pics of one being pulled by dogs! You could pull two together in tandem. They were used for carrying, well anything, but mainly ammunition and other infantry supplies.

However, I can hear you thinking - as I did, why? Wargamers are notorious for wanting big tanks and guns and on this measure I admit the IF8 is a bit lacking, as it doesn't do anything "kewl" and you would be hard pushed to think of a special rule to apply to it. On the other hand this is a fantastic piece of military equipment that will enhance the look of your game just by being there. I plan to use mine as jump off markers for my German Infantry in Chain of Command.

Back to the kit. Its a nice and well detailed kit, you actually get 2 identical sprues in the box, each will make one cart, plus a horse and a soldier to lead it. It goes together well and quickly, and you can build a number different load-outs including a Panzershrek frame and an MG42 AA mount.

You can't mention Valiant without mentioning scale. It says 1/72 on the box. Received wisdom in wargaming circles is 1/72 equates to 20mm. The problem is that the soldier provided is rather taller than that, much closer to 25mm, but still small when compared to other "28mm" ranges. In short (pun intended) these really only fit with other Valiant models.

I'm still totally conflicted about Valiant. They're superb models, but they just don't fit with anything else.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Dropfleet Commander – Ifrit – the Scourge Stiletto

 I’m going to add a bit to the general level of speculation and jetwash about Dropfleet Commander tactics by taking a closer look at one of the Scourge Cruiser options – The Ifrit, and explain why I think this is a must have for Scourge Fleet Commanders, at all points levels.

 The Ifrit is one of the “recommended builds” in a Scourge starter fleet box, so most players probably have one. I’m also fairly sure it is one of the first to be “dropped” when the fleet expands  past Skirmish level, because on pure numbers other ships do it better – the Raiju in particular seems to do everything the Ifrit can, and much more. I think this is a mistake. Allow me to explain.

The Ifrit is something of an odd fish in the Scourge fleet. It falls squarely into the “Medium” cruiser bracket, a bit slower but more resilient that the Yokai and Strix Light Cruisers (which may be worthy of another post) and below the Raiju and ShenLong Heavy Cruisers which are the backbone of most Scourge Cruiser Battlegroups, with good reason as they both are serious bruisers with the added advantage of Stealth Tech. At 110 points it is not expensive, and has the bonus that it can be bought in singles, unlike the theoretically cheaper light Cruisers.

Looking at the basic stat line the Ifrit looks a little “meh”, quite fast and resilient as far as it goes, but under-armed. This is the first Scourge ship to mount a Furnace Cannon, but that takes up so much room there is only a single Oculus Beam, albeit with a good wide firing arc. The Close Action weapon suite is respectable, and the point defence is good, even if the armour is a little weak. Comparing the raw numbers to the other Scourge Cruisers at this point level the Ifrit seems something of a lightweight.


Oculus Beams
Furnace Cannons
Alt-1, Scald, Burnthrough(8)
Furnace Cannons
Alt-1, Scald, Burnthrough(4), Flash
Plasma Storm
Scald, Close Action

It is the Furnace Cannon that makes the Ifrit so useful, at least in its “Flash” mode. This is the Scourge “Burnthrough” weapon and unlike those of the other races it has two firing modes. The first is what at first looks like the main contender, a four attack dice and max 8 damage option. That makes it in theory the heaviest damage potential of any weapon mounted on a cruiser, enough to cripple a Battlecruiser. In reality however you are unlikely to make all eight of those hits count, and even if you do the limited chance of critical hits (which ignore armour) mean quite a lot of that damage will de deflected – particularly against hard targets like the PHR. In comparison the second mode looks less attractive, with only one attack and only four max damage, however on closer examination I think this is usually the better option. In this second mode it hits on 2+ and causes armour avoiding critical hits on 4+. Not enough to cripple a cruiser, but more than enough to cripple or kill a frigate sized target - like a Strike Carrier. Additionally, the Ifrit has sufficient thrust to time a run on turn 2 that can potentially catch Strike Carriers before they hit the safety of atmosphere, or even turn one if the Strike Carrier is rushing to get in drop range of a ground objective. Dropfleet is all about the Ground Objectives, so denying your opponent a Strike Carrier is worth a try, and few other ships can combine the speed and sufficient damage output to kill or cripple them in one attack.

And it is not just Strike Carriers that are vulnerable. Less immediately “game winning” but equally valuable targets are the point defence or sensor Frigates of the other factions. The UCM Lima and Jakarta Class Frigates are so damned useful they will soon be universal, but they are both easy kills for a well handled Ifrit.

Even against larger targets such as Troopships or Fleet Carriers the Ifrit has the power to cause significant damage, and the relatively high thrust rating allows some inventive tactics – such as driving through enemy formations to avoid the bulk of return fire and taking side shots with your Oculus Beam or even rear shots with your Close Action Plasma Storm. Having only two main weapons systems makes you less reliant on “Weapons Free” orders to optimise damage output – a blessing as you need to manoeuvre to keep the narrow arc of the Furnace Cannon on target

All well and good in the skirmish game, but what about the higher points games? Here the Ifrit’s second string kicks in – as a designator for larger attackers. Pairing the Ifrit with a heavy hitter such as a Shenlong (or bigger) will allow you lead with the Ifrit and “Flash” targets(again in the second firing mode)  to make them more visible to the heavy hitters.

So that’s my thoughts on the Ifrit, one of the slightly unloved Scourge Cruisers. The game is constantly evolving and in a direction away from sheer firepower into much more specialist Battlegroup builds. As tactics evolve I can see an even greater role for this useful ship with a lot of potential.

Friday, 28 October 2016

And for completeness I suppose I should mention - Hussites and Derby

Given the earlier post about the Hussites I think it only fair to report on the result of the Impetus Competition and our trip to Derby for Derby World Wargames, which actually happens now in a large shed on Donnington Park. I should apologise for the pics - I'm rubbish with the camera on my phone and was really concentrating on other "stuff" for the most part to take coherent pics..

 The venue moved from the University to Donnington Park a couple of years ago and it is a bit of a mixed blessing. It certainly has more room, and everything is under one roof, but the noise level is high and the other facilities not that great. On the other hand the traders love the easy access and there is plenty of parking. It was as always well organised by the Derby Club, who have plenty of experience at this sort of thing so it runs like a Swiss watch.

The Impetus competition is a small and friendly affair - this year only eight players which put us rather embarrassingly less than the number playing WRG 6th.  It was an open format with the following armies present

Hussite, Chosun Korean, War of the Roses Lancastrian, Thracian, Italian Coalition, Parthian , Carthaginian and last but not least British & Welsh Kingdoms. 

My first round game was against the damned Italians. It was a close run thing, with the Hussites deploying badly and spending the first few turns getting their cavalry back inside the protection of the wagons, then trying a complicated wheeling to get out again. It wasn't quite shambolic but it took time - not helped by one of the generals having a crisis of confident and dropping from Poor to Incompetent. In spite of this I did succeed in turning the Italian flank and it was looking as though I may get a win but we ran out of time, resulting an a low scoring draw. As always the wagons did their thing and anchored the whole army.

Second game was against the Lancastrians. This time I decided to flank march my cavalry with the intention of falling on his exposed flank. This worked, but instead of arriving mid game when the opposition would be strung  out and disordered, they arrived on turn one to find the opposition waiting in their deployment zone. On they charged anyway, to be met by a resounding check all along the front - this shouldn't have happened, and the result was a third of my army was pinned in a corner outnumbered and too far away to be supported. In the end they broke, taking a significant proportion of the opposition with them. Both sides glared at each other, then offered a draw as he had no intention of trying his already battered army against the wall of wagons, and I couldn't launch a credible attack. Another low scoring draw :-(

Last game was against Parthians. This was a beautiful army but totally ill equipped to deal with Hussites. To be fair they did their best, attacking the Hussite cavalry that refused to move far from the  protecting fire from the wagons, `and in the end this was the deciding factor, leaving me with a win that looked a lot better on paper than in reality.

Overall I finished in a creditable second place, and a lot of fun was had. In my incompetence I seem not to have a good pic of armies before we started, however here are a couple of shots snapped between turns of the others.

Other stuff - spending was fairly limited - for reasons I bought some more Hussites (can't resist a Hussite)  and some Pig Iron miniatures Colony Militia, which hopefully will get converted into Serenity\Firefly Browncoats at a later date, plus some interesting fantasy character figures.

The demo games were of typically high standard and almost too many to mention, however mention must be made of the near legendary Sir Rich of Lard Island who was demo'ing Sharp Practice 2

and nearby was more SP2 - this time a Retreat From Moscow

and a final mention should go to the lads of Daruma who were showing off their SLA Industries :Cannibal Sector skirmish game. This looks very much like the one that got away, ie something I would really like to try but know I can't give enough time \ money to. Which is a genuine shame.

So that's my belated roundup of our trip to Derby!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Deja Vu - or I wrote this a few weeks ago and forgot to push the "Publish" button.

So it's Derby World Wargames next weekend, and that on Planet Renko usually means one thing - Impetus. Ok Impetus and beer. Impetus, beer, a curry...

Usually I have my army chosen and a fair few practice games under the belt before the big day - not so this time. This year we are stepping up to 400pts from 300 \ 350. I had originally planned to paint a new Thracian army up for Derby, but that particular bit of mo-jo leaked or was stolen after about half way. That left my Old Faithfull Early Achaemenid Persian, or Richard III, or Ancient British, or.....Hussite

The problem with the Persians is they are very old figures - some of them are from the QT Models range where you got to build the troops by selecting bodies, heads & weapons. All very Avant Garde in the 1980s but now they look rather sad. I have a big pile (a technical term meaning "enough") of Foundry Persians to replace them, but have not quite got around to painting them yet. A also need a camp making. This should be easy, and when completed will look like this

But better and made out of pink foam :-)

So having left it to late to rebuild Persepolis that leaves Richard III - aka Uncle Dicky  and his Yorkists. Problem here is that they are spectacularly unlucky, and not a great army to use - their tactic being to stand still and shoot a lot. All WotR armies are similar in that respect, and it makes for interesting games when they play each other but they are horribly one dimensional, and I didnt fancy that.

So Ancient British? Again I'm not feeling the urge. the Ancient Brits are the diametric opposite of the Yorkists - they charge across the table and win or die. Not a lot of command decisions there either, and open competitions like Derby tend to feature a lot of late Medieval armies with Knights - and they ride the Brits down in droves.

So the unloved child going to Derby is Hussites. I have a 300pt 28mm Hussite army based for Impetus. It looks quite nice, but it has all the on table charm of a car crash. I've decided to give it a go at 400pts to see if this step up improves it at all. I should add the Hussites are spectacularly good at what they do, which in Impetus competitions tends to be to act as a massive tripping hazard to competetive armies, particularly light horse armies, who may as well pack up and go home. This Hussite has seen off Mongols, Scythians, Numidians, Sassanids and Templars - mostly without breaking a sweat.

In case you are not au fait with middle European History, the Hussites were a religious group from Bohemia who fell out with the Church in about 1419 over such major issues as who should get the wine at Communion and which way the Priest faced. This all got out of hand to the point Joan of Arc threatened to lead a Crusade to put them right. The Holy Roman Empire thought it could handle this, and descended on them in a wave of heavily armoured knights. In almost all other circumstances this would have ended quickly with the Peasants ridden down and the wine being back as the sole prerogative of the priesthood. In this case they has a secret weapon - Jan Zizka. Zizka had lived the life of a fairly un-noteworthy soldier up to that point, but cometh the hour, cometh the Jan. He realised his army of peasants and townsfolk couldn't fight knights in the open, and couldn't stand a siege forever either. So he perfected a new form of warfare where his peasants fought from wagons that could be chained together to form a sort of mobile fortification. Each wagon was crewed by crossbowmen and handgunners, with some polearm equipped infantry just in case anyone got close. They also used numerous small cannons - another first as no-one thought they were of any use except in sieges.  The opposition didn't have a clue how to deal with this and so resorted to plan A - "Charge!!". This lead to a string of Hussite victories - in five years of constant war against just about everyone  Zizka never lost a battle, dying in 1424 of the plague. Hussites it is!      

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Painting Scourge for DropFleet Commander - First ships off the production line

So Dropfleet Commander Kickstarter pledges are due "soon" and retail release hopefully mid October. I was lucky enough to get some Scourge ships pre-release and decided to try and paint them. The aim was to have a system that could be repeated without too much effort but looked nice at table ranges - so here goes.

First I undercoated white - I used Citadel white undercoat as it was recommended - and it certainly did the job.

This was followed up with airbrushing everything Vallejo Model Air Chrome - I airbrushed because I didn't have any spray silver - I don't think you need an airbrush but I had it there so used it rather than getting a spray can.

Then everything got a heavy wash with Citadel "Nuln Oil" and left to dry

I followed the Null Oil with a heavy drybrush of Chrome again to return the highlights to a nice shiny effect.

Purple ink (Citadel Druchii Violet) was added to the ridges and left to dry, followed by green (Citadel Athonian Camo) to most of the rest. I went for green as I always see the Scourge Cruisers as almost serpentine in my head.

Once dried I deployed my secret weapon - a make-up brush as recommended by the Hawk painting gurus at Cardiff. I  drybrushed everything with Vallejo Model Air Gold. This gives a really great sheen I think

Picked out "eyes" in red etc, quick coat of matt varnish for protection followed by gloss varnish on the eyes and done. I tried a rough yellow \ white effect on the engines but this may get changed.

Not 100% happy - I think they may need a bit of red ink on the arms \ tentacles but not sure? Similarly the matt varnish takes the sheen down a little which is a shame - not sure if plastic models need a coat or should I try gloss then matt? On the plus side none of this took much time and I'm pretty sure I can churn out a reasonable force once the KS delivers.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Imperial Skies - First Clash over the Baltic

Our copies of the Imperial Skies rulebook arrived on Friday - and so as we had a free evening Saturday we decided to give the rules a try. Typically we had more enthusiasm than sense so niether of us had fully read the rules before we started. However we decided on a 400pts per side game and got down to choosing our fleets. Before going further I have to apologise for the quality of the pics in this report - I was using my phone rather than a real camera, and it shows :-(

As I have Russian models for Aeronef, and Paul has British, that part was easy. I went for a Borodino Class Battleship, supported by a Light Cruiser, Destroyer, and a squadron of 3 Novik class Torpedo boats. Russian ships seem to be a bit slow (the round hull forms can't help) but have a good balance of firepower across all three gun categories.

Paul went for a squadron of an Agincourt class Battleship and three Exeter class Cruisers - clearly he was on a long range patrol and my ships had sortied to intercept. The Battleship had marginally more heavy firepower and was slightly faster than it's Russian counterpart, but had less light and medium firepower. The Cruisers were faster than the Russian but had less firepower all round. 

Our mix of forces proved very fortuitous as it allowed us to try out the target priority rules - more later. 

The game went fast and fairly smooth - particularly considering the fact both of us had no real idea what we were doing and had to constantly refer to the rules, at least at first. Both squadrons turned on to parallel courses to allow maximum firepower to be brought to bear, and the Russian Torpedo boats headed off towards the British. The poker chips are being used to represent Command Points - these are used to issue orders that can allow special actions - increase speed, turn tighter, re-roll some shooting dice etc. This is not really a new system, but in Imperial Skies it is quite nuanced.

The Russian Torpedo boats closed on their target. The British were concentrating their fire on the leading Russian ship - a cruiser, but also the target priority rules prevented them from using their main armament on the little ships - we rationalised this by saying you wouldn't waste your main guns in big, slow traversing turrets trying to hit fast moving small targets. The Borodino managed to hit the nearest Exeter quite heavily, and it dropped out of formation to play no further part in the game.

The first torpedo shots missed, fired from too far out, but the little boats pressed on and managed to score a heavy hit on the Agincourt. Return fire was not very effective and it was clear what the British really needed as a fast Destroyer sized ship to mix it up with the Torpedo boats.

Meanwhile the Russian Cruiser suffered a series of heavy hits when trying to screen the Borodino. Remember those command points? - well you can spend then to use smaller vessels to screen the capital ships they are escorting, taking some damage for them if positioned correctly. This worked too well, and a lucky hit caused the cruiser to explode from a magazine explosion.

As the range was now down to "snotty" (very close) the ships were pounding each other relentlessly. The Russian Destroyer succumbed, followed by the Agincourt, but by that point the Borodino was in serious trouble and the Torpedo craft were out of torpedoes so only had their puny light guns - this wasn't enough and the Borodino soon joined the Agincourt as floating wreckage.

That ended the game. We had a lot of fun and are keen to try it again. The target priority rules in particular worked well, meaning we both quickly recognised you cannot just rely on your big ships, you have to take plenty of escorts to stop enemy torpedo craft getting too close - a nice reflection on the historical tactics.   Looking forward to another game, but this time ........

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Imperial Skies - VSF Evolved?

I'm a big fan of Gruntz - the 15mm Sci Fi rules by Robin Fitton. They're very playable but flexible enough to allow you to play as any faction you can imagine. When I heard he was producing a set of Victorian Sci Fi rules dealing with airships and flying gunboats I thought it would be worth a look.

I've always been a fan of VSF - I particularly liked Space 1889 and it's expansion Ironclads & Ether Flyers, which incidentally made quite a reasonable set of real world Ironclad rules. The problem with Space 1889 was the models were either unavailable or ridiculously expensive, so it never went very far.  I tried Aeronef from Wessex Games. They were fast play but were clearly lacking in some elements - the damage system particularly meant very soon larger ships were condemned to moving in straight lines - not great to be honest. The core rules were solid enough, but there was still a lot of rough edges and the overall result was ok but not great. We did however buy a fair few ships (Nefs technically) from Tony at Brigade Models but these have on the whole gathered dust, which is a shame as they are nice models.

So along came Imperial Skies - announced as a Kickstarter last winter with an expected delivery date of April this year.

The Kickstarter was reassuringly simple - just the rules, with a few add ons and stretch goals, so hopefully not one of these that manages to kill itself by promising too much (I'm looking at you Baker Company and Prodos). The project was a joint effort with Brigade Models and would tie in with their Aeronef range, so I thought it was worth a punt. Of course like all Kickstarters, you have to take the expected shipping date with a pinch of salt, and this was no different, arriving in the first week of September, but it is finally here - so is it worth the wait?

I think so. Production quality is good, with lots of pretty pictures, diagrams explaining rules, an alternate history time line, some associated fiction and the now obligatory painting and modelling section. All well and good. The rules are brief but comprehensive, and well written. Those diagrams I mentioned earlier at first seemed to be a bit overdone as explanatory diagrams, however I soon realised they are actually an integral part of the rules rather than an attempt to explain the text elsewhere, and once I grasped that they were VERY clear and easy to understand. The basic rules bear a resemblance to Aeronef, but with some nice additions and much of the rough edges smoothed off, plus the addition of some very nice command and initiative rules, plus some optional stuff for a more in depth game, topped off with design and construction rules. They read and play fast.

The timeline \ history section is pretty standard stuff, but I was interested to note they had pushed the setting back to what would be WW1 - so I suppose that's Edwardian SF (ESF) rather than VSF. This is a good move, as it makes the inclusion of fixed wing machines much easier to understand and justify.

I do have some gripes - none of them major. The fiction sections are interspersed through the rules. They are not bad as far as they go,  but are not at first glance easily differentiated from the rules sections - ideally I prefer this sort of thing in obvious text boxes so they don't interfere with reading the core rules. More problematical is the data card section. Each ship has a corresponding data card, and they are all printed in the book. The problem is you can't copy them without folding the page all the way over, risking breaking the spine. Robin is working on a set of printed and pdf cards which will fix this. The quick play sheet is the same - it has everything (just about) you need, but you can't copy it without risking damaging the book - another pdf needed I suspect. Additionally the data cards don't get fully explained in one place, which is a bit strange as the following page appeared on the facebook page (I hope he doesn't mind me repeating it here - copyright Rob Fitton etc) but didn't make it into the rules, which is a shame because it helps explain stuff quite a bit. On the other hand once you do understand the layout the cards are very easy to read.

  However, all that aside these are an excellent set of rules with a lot of scope - I heartily recommend them.

Next post will be a quick battle report, so watch this space!