Monday, 7 August 2017

Fantasy Side Project - The Reckoning

So just what has this £50 budget project actually cost?


Golden Fleece £7.50
King Aeertes and Retinue £10
Minotaurs £8.90
Children of the Hydra (Skeletons) £7
Harpies £9.50
Hydra £10
Medea (and spares) £12
Bronze Bull £4.45

Total £69.35

Postage and Packing in total £22.77 (!)

Rules £15

Err £112.12

Biggest shock is p&p - partly a bi-product of using multiple suppliers, partly not being decisive and ordering several times from the same manufacturer. More planning needed "Next Time"

Fantasy side project Part 5 - Back to the Hydra (and kids, and other supporting cast)

So having got sidetracked by the Minotaurs I needed to get back on with the main protagonists, which are clearly The Hydra, and the associated Children of the Hydra that Aeetes summons in the film.

Bullets needed to be bit as I was in definite danger of either blowing a large amount of ££££ on a big model or stalling the project, so I decided to go with the Foundry Hydra. In reality it ticks a lot of boxes, being nicely detailed, no legs, and reasonably priced. What it lacks is size, but size isn't everything. I ordered it at the same time as the "Medea" pack so didn't incur any additional postage and it cost a tenner.

It's a nice model, but a bit of a bitch to assemble - main body, tail, two neck groups and seven separate heads. There was some rather big gaps after assembly and lots of filling needed, but the end result is "not bad at all"

Next up, The Children. In the film Aeertes uses the now dead Hydra's teeth to summon some animated Skeletons to attack Jason and his select team. It is my favourite bit of the film and quite an iconic sequence - these guys go through the Argonauts in short order and Jason only escapes by jumping off a cliff into the sea. Ideally the best models for these guys would be the Wargames Factory plastic skeletons, which were pretty much modelled on the ones in the film (if a bitch to put together I'm told). Sadly since Warlord Games took over distribution these have been removed from the catalogue and are rather hard to find. What I did find however on Ebay were some of the original Citadel plastic skeletons dating from the 1980s. I replaced the shields with some Hoplite ones, and a careful rebase and a quick paint session later I had enough for 2 bases worth - and yes I know I really should only have one base of seven but I got carried away and ended up with 2 bases each with six.

Lastly there are the Harpies. I was told the old GW ones were close enough and that was wrong - they're an EXACT copy of the ones in the film - E-Bay again provided six. I've given them a very quick paint job. The guy who I bought them off had clearly been trying to model them flying, having cut the "slotta" off the base and frilled a few holes. I completed this. I know they will fall off at the most inopportune moment but so far they look quite good!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Fantasy Side Project Part 4. Commanders , Magic Users and Heroes.

Short break from the Battle of Britain and back to "The £50 Fantasy Side Project"

In S&SF Commanders and Magic Users are separate bases that run around pretty freely providing morale and combat boosts. 

Heroes are treated as units but on smaller bases, being quite flexible but somewhat vulnerable if caught on their own. 

Sadly all my Thracian Commanders are based for Impetus and therefore integral to their unit bases (as an aside I understand Impetus 2 may be switching to separate bases for Commanders also). Looking at the rules I’m probably going to need three Commanders \ Characters. Fortunately Foundry make exactly the stuff I want in their “Casting Room” range. I may get on to discussing them in a bit more depth at a later time but needless to say I ordered King Aeetes of Colchis and Guards from Foundry, £10.00 plus £4 p&p. 

I’m planning on two Magic Users. Firstly King Aeertes himself as both the overall commander and high level magic user, and his priestess daughter Medea (who betrays the Fleece due to falling for Jason – I rather doubt that will happen with my army) As I mentioned Aeetes is available from Foundry and comes in a pack with two bareheaded soldiers and two guards wearing Phrygian style caps. 

I’m planning to use one of the bare headed types as a Hero, with the other and the two in hats acting as a Commander and his bodyguard. I searched diligently for a suitable figure to represent Medea before again returning to Foundry – this time their “World of the Greeks” range that includes a pack of Mythical Characters in which there is a rather imposing looking female that will do the job. I'm not sure if she is really supposed to be Medusa but she paints up rather nicely as a dodgy Priestess. Only problem is I made that decision after placing the order for Aeetes so that''s another £10 + £4 p&p

King Aeetes is based with some spare Wargames Factory Skeletons erupting out of the ground in true Ray Harryhausen style. He is rated as a Level 3 Magic User and also Army Commander. That is going to be a bit of a disadvantage as trying to act as a Commander will cramp his Magic Use quite a bit, and vice-versa, but that's a price you pay for trying to get a backstory I suppose.

On the plus side it means he is well placed to do this sort of thing, which is cool!

Medea is on her own with only her charms to protect her. Rated as a Level 1 Magic User her 
main role is to provide support for the rather lacklustre  normal bits of the army.

Here are the Hero and Commander.

So running total now £40.85 on figures and £21.27 on postage

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Over Kentish Fields – Blood Red Skies

Back to Asgard Wargames for another game of Blood Red Skies BRS , the soon to be released WW2 Dogfight game from Warlord Games. Were still using our "Back Catalogue" of 1:144 models rather than the "official" scale of 1:200 - more on that later.

We think we have a grasp of the basic mechanics of 2v2 so decided to try a step up to 4v4. This caused a little technical hitch as we only had 3 Me109s ready but we “fixed” this by including a pair of 110s. An interesting bi-product would be we would get a chance to try out the multi engine rules the nice Mr C explained to me. A down side was we didn’t have the 110s on gimbal bases so we had to mark status with a dice – we’ve since remedied this.

Initial set up we assumed we had one level 3 pilot and the rest were level 2s per side. Dicing for initial advantage status left the British right hand element Advantaged but the lead element mixed normal and disadvantaged. On the other side the 109s had Advantage and the 110s were mixed as the lead Spitfires.

Paul "Herman" Davison in charge of the Luftwaffe!
Turn 1 saw both sides predictably close and “grab” to either gain or maintain advantage.

British side of the table - as clearly indicated by the cup of tea. Germanic order on the other side with the dice arranged in precise formation!
Turn 2 was “The Merge”. Assuming the scenario is even this is probably the first decision point in the Basic Rules game of BRS – and there are a lot of really rather interesting decision to be made. Critically, if you are already in advantage you can try to Outmanoeuvre your opponent – flicking a wing to try to lure him into a mistake and dropping his status – if that works he’s in a world of trouble, and that is pretty much what happened to the Spitfire Flight Leader (on the far left) who found himself only neutral to the opposing 109 who was advantaged. The 109 didn’t risk a head on shot (which would have allowed the Spit to shoot back) but bides his time. The 110s wanted to take a head on shot to take advantage of their heavy nose guns but couldn’t as their immediate opponents were at the same advantage level. (BRS only allows shots at less advantaged targets or if you are targeted by an attack from head on).

Turn 3 and the Spitfire Leader is in a world of trouble. The 109 has the advantage and moves first, passing through and looping around 180 degrees (Burning his Advantage) to put him directly behind the Spitfire, Neutral status in a tailing position. The Spitfire’s Wingman is out of position, so the Spitfire is automatically disadvantaged, and a stream of 20mm cannon fire whips past the Spits cockpit. The pilot manages to evade, but gains a Boom Counter for his side. The 110s bore in, and the second Spitfire pair come around to try and help the leader.

Turn 4 and it all gets a bit hectic. The tailing 109 “drops a bollock” and a combination of Outmanoeuvring, pilot error and better pilot skill the Spitfire Leader reverses the situation. Meanwhile the detached Spitfires are coming around on the 1100. One takes a speculative long range deflection shot and hits. The 110 has a lot of dodge dice (9 in all) but fails and picks up a Boom. Being twin engine this doesn’t immediately count (multi engine planes can accumulate booms up to their number of engines before they count – its more complicated than that but I’m sure that will be explained when the rules get published), but one effect is it loses some speed and its rear gunner is no longer effective as he is slumped over his gun bleeding.

Turn 5 The Spits and 109s are now totally involved trying to manoeuvre for position, and both sides score hits. The second Spitfire element is now all over the 110s like a rash.

Turn 6 and the Spitfires line up a damaged 110 and hit it hard. It goes down in flames. That takes the Boom scores to 4-3 in Brits favour, and the Germans disengage at the end of the turn. Another win for the Few!

 So overall we continue to be impressed by BRS. It is slick and has a good "feel" to it, with minimum record keeping, and some really interesting and thought provoking game mechanics.  The multi engine rules work well and integrate with the single seaters, and as we have stepped up the numbers involved were not yet seeing any strains on the system. Games remain quick  - we played three games in just over an hour, although more planes will make the games longer I don't foresee time as an issue. We are also giving a lot of thought on tactics, and so far, the general theme is, if it worked in real life, it will work in BRS, which is about as good a thing you can say about a set of rules.

As I mentioned, we are at the moment playing with 1:144 - here's why :-) however I will be shifting down to the "official" 1:200 scale when they become available as this may help to prevent some of the "crowding" we are seeing. 

Next step up will be to try out the cards, and try and get more planes on table - Mark (Geordie) is busy churning them out as we speak - have a look at his blog Geordies Big Battles

I'm certainly going to want to get the starter set when it is released (due some time around Christmas?). I'm not so sure about the current pre order bundles on offer from Warlord. I think individually the expected price point for the 2 player starter set and squadron boxes are very reasonable, particularly as they include the cards you want to play the advanced rules (assuming the models are ok) but I'm less sure about people going to jump straight in to full squadron level (ie 12+ planes a side). Hopefully Warlord will offer just the starter or individual squadron boxes as part of the pre order.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

The Fantasy Side Project Part 3 Hydra Envy & Bullshit

At this point in the exercise I sort of got a bit carried away. 

I was looking for some monsters to flesh out the Colchis Army for Fantasy Sword & Spear. The bulk of the troops would just be re-tasked Thracians, but I would need some “proper fantasy stuff”. Clearly the first monster would have to be a Hydra, but here I ran into some problems. 

The glorious owner \ operator \ proprietor of Asgard Wargames, (known to some as “Arkwright” due to the way people are sometimes seen staggering out of the shop with a glazed look on their face grasping a carrier bag full of toys they never intended to buy until they fell under his commercial spell)  - anyway he has a really nice Games Workshop issue Hydra in his Dark Elf Army. I wanted something at least as impressive. The problem is most “modern” Hydras seem to have legs – very different to the Jason \ Greek ones.


I also needed it to fit onto a 6 cm wide frontage if possible. Lastly I needed it to be cheap if I was going to stay anywhere near the £50 project  budget(!). Much searching through internets resulted in three possible options, none of which were ideal. Firstly there was the Steve Barber version, Which I think is too big for my use. The same can be said for the one I saw on ebay from Second City Games – too big (but beautiful) and also £30. Lastly, there was Foundry again, but their Mythos range Hydra was a bit small when compared to the others - particularly Arkwrights! I decided to give the whole Hydra thing a bit more thought and look for something else.

In this rather distracted frame of mind I saw some Reaper miniatures Minotaurs on Ebay. They were the new “Bones” plastic range, so much cheaper than metal. I impulse ordered three different ones. OK not really Colchis, or even Argonauts, but sort of Greek Myth so not too far short. Cost for all three was £8.90 plus £5.58 p&p was I ended up ordering from two different sellers. They all arrived pretty quickly so I painted them “quick & dirty” using a spray undercoat (Fur Brown) then some blocking and a heavy dose of Vallejo sepia dip \ wash. I was rather happy with the result. These are going to be based together as one unit as my Heavy Infantry types to give the army some much needed steel (err bronze)

Of course the cognoscenti will be shouting "Bull!" at this point. Yes I later realised what I really needed was a Khalkotauroi, the legendary bronze bulls of Colchis. There is supposed to be two of them. Luckily I found both Reaper and Foundry do them, so I ordered the Reaper one (again Bones plastic) as it was the cheaper. This is going to be one of my monster options. A giant fire breathing bronze bull - what can go wrong?

Added bonus being it was not exactly a challenge to paint either :-)

Total spend on miniatures is now £20.85 Rules £15, postage £13.27

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blood Red Skies - First Sortie

High over Kent, a pair of Spitfires are directed onto a pair of 109s on a Frei Jagd. Both pairs consist of an Experienced pilot with a Rookie wingman, and are closing at the same altitude, head on. “Tally Ho!”

Initially both sides grab altitude but neither gain an advantage. 

Then as the range drops the Spitfire leader decides to try and outmanoeuvre his opponent, and succeeds in dropping the lead 109s status to neutral. The Brit’s wingman has a chance to shoot at the lead 109 but declines as this would result in a straight exchange of fire and instead moves to get a better position. 

The lead 109 tries scissors on to the lead Spitfire but the British pilot counters and remains in the advantaged position. The second 109 tries to cover the tail of his now vulnerable flight leader, but doesn’t quite manage to get into position. The lead Brit seizes the chance and burns his advantage to brake hard and drops in behind the lead 109 in a tailing position, immediately reducing the German to a disadvantaged position. Eight .303 Browning’s spit fire but no hits are caused. Both 109s desperately twist and turn, and the Spitfires try and stay with them. This continues for several long seconds with neither side gaining a significant advantage or viable shooting chance. Then a burst of MG fire comes close to the second 109, only a deft flick roll saves him, but in doing so he becomes detached from his leader, who is again disadvantaged, and now out on his own. 

Lead Spitfire lines him up, and this time rakes the 109 from tail to cockpit, and the Messerschmitt suddenly rolls into a vertical dive, never to recover. 

The remaining Luftwaffe pilot decides to run for it, and the Spitfires are suddenly the only planes around.

The surprising thing is that pretty much sums up the game we just had using the basic Blood Red Skies rules. What really impressed me was the sheer narrative energy the rules generate. It really did feel as though every decision counted and that fight to gain advantage. Freed from all the charts and order writing we got to play a fast and quite exciting game - which is just what air combat should be.

Couple of caveats – we were only playing the basic rules and we only had a pair of planes each as we wanted to start small. This is partly so we can get a better grasp and partly because we could only scrape together a few planes at short notice (and yes the 109s are not Emils but it was all we had at the time) The planes in the pics are 1:144 scale and on magnetic gimbal mounts, which are rather a nice idea we pinched from playing Wings Of War and are pretty good for marking advantage status in the same way as the "official" bases.

Tally Ho!

Grab for altitude

Closing pass

Throwing the kites around

Killing shot

I’m going to avoid the hyperbole and just say I was rather impressed at both the fluidity and the execution of BRS. There’s a very good feel to the game unlike anything I’ve played on a tabletop for WW2 dogfighting. The way each action can change the all-important advantage status is really something – make a mistake and let the opposition get behind you and you better have either a competent wingman or a lot of luck.  

I'm not sure how it will play with six planes or more a side, but I don't think there is anything in there that will inherently change the game plays - which is, as I say, quite good so far. I think Andy Chambers deserves a pat on the back and if Warlord manage to deliver this without too much faffing and don't bloat it, it could be setting the standard for some time to come. 

We did have a couple of questions about the rules, but its early days and I'm sure some clarifications will follow.

So Tally Ho!

Thanks to Paul Davison acting as opponent \ Guinea Pig. I happen to know a certain Geordie is painting up some ore planes so between us we can try a six v six "soon"

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Blood Red Skies – Interest, and Hope, stirs

WW2 Dogfighting is one of the Holy Triumvirate of unachievable games, along with “The Perfect Set of Napoleonic Rules” which have eluded generations of war gamers, and, well, insert your particular option here.

Blood Red Skies is another attempt to step up to the mark. Written by Andy Chambers and due to be released in the New Year by Warlord Games, it faces a lot of rather difficult hurdles.

Image result for blood red skies game

The problem is many fold. The first hurdle is all that three dimensional stuff. Wargamers really can’t handle heights well. Our playing surfaces are flat, and we think in two dimensions. Any and all efforts to model heights and height differences just results in either ridiculous telescoping stands that make playing the game a chore, or lots of paperwork and counters. In the end we usually just shrug and go back to good old 2d – Mick Spick’s excellent “Air Battles in Miniature” is well worth a read if only for the great writing style and the fact he tries something a bit different.

The next problem is time. An awful lot happens in a few split seconds of air combat. That tends to impose a level of micromanaging on players, which in turn means only a few planes in the sky. It also tends to mean a lot of pre planning – ie order writing. If you are not careful you can end up spending a half hour working out a few seconds worth of action.

Then there is tactics. Air warfare isn’t a thing you can just “do”. Although we like to think of it as a great solo effort the truth is there are some pretty important tactical concepts in there, learned from hard experience. The Dicta Boelcke is about as relevant now as when it was written (ok maybe not in the missile age but certainly in WW2) and formations such as Pairs and Finger Four do make a hell of a difference.

Lastly there is training and skill. Those magnificent loops, Split S’s and the like require a high degree of skill and experience that in war is usually not there. Moreover some manoeuvres simply do not translate well to a tabletop game or to the casual gamer. Some games try and get around this by having the manoeuvres pre-set – so Check your Six (and the Canvas Eagles\Blue Max predecessors) for example allow you to choose from a menu of manoeuvres based on the plane type and pilot skills, usually at the expense of order writing and a hex mat.

So back to Blood Red Skies. Firstly a caveat. I’ve only read through the basic rules and the stats for Spitfires and Me109Es, so what follows contains a whole load of assumptions, so I reserve the right to look red faced later when proven wrong but…

Andy Chambers has taken another look at the whole picture, and decided on a fairly novel solution. Rather than reams of paper, hex grids, lots of counters and the like he has simplified the whole thing down to a fairly straightforward concept – “Advantage” (pretty much energy conservation and positioning), which much harks back to the good old Dicta Boelcke. Planes are moved to achieve advantage. Rather than trying to choreograph the whole process of one plane half looping to counter a split S then the opponent reacting with a scissors or hard break to get into a firing position, Andy Chambers has assumed all that just happens and the result is either advantage, disadvantage or neutral. Players can choose to improve their advantage status by sacrificing manoeuvre or shooting options, or convert advantage to additional move distance. 3d is out the window, and now planes are simply in better or worse tactical positions. Pilot skill is represented too, with better pilots moving and shooting first. Crucially that can mean a better pilot manoeuvres around a less skilled one, changing the advantage status relative to both and getting a shot in before the opponent can react. Advantage status is very fluid – you may have it in your turn but the actions of an opponent can cancel that out or even put to down to disadvantaged, in which case you need to do some fancy flying or you will be in trouble, as you can only normally fire on targets that are in a worse advantage position than you. This feels much more fluid that the rather stale hex based movement of other games. I’ve seen something similar before in a computer\card game but that failed to get the toys on the table feel. He's also gone straight for the idea that this is a team game - each player has a six plane unit and the rules encourage "proper" wingman tactics by allowing wingmen to cancel out opponents advantage that result in a tail on the leader - IF the wingman is in the right place. 

The "official" Warlord planes will be in 1:200 scale - which is a bonus as there are plenty of other sources for the stuff Warlord wont be doing initially.

The more I look at this the more I think he may just have cracked it. Suitably enthused and because the “official” product isn’t going to be available til Christmas I’ve ordered some 1:700 Spitfires and Emils from Tumbling Dice with the aim of trying out the game concepts to see how they work. I could have tried printing up some counters but the total outlay was £7 including £3 p&p so I figure it is worth a try. I’ll report back in due course.

Comments and equally wild speculation welcome!