Thursday, 16 November 2017

Only one day late.... weekly Wednesday update

I had planned to have a Blood Red Skies update, but for a variety of reasons that hasn't happened yet.

In fact the last week has flown by but without a great deal of progress. Actually there has been some progress. I finished painting another half dozen AWI Militia and I can now go ahead and play another Sharp Practice campaign game in confidence - or rather I will once the next batch of movement trays arrive from Warbases but they tend to be fast and efficient.

Image may contain: one or more people, people sitting, table and pool

No progress on Shadespire - actually a bit of a retrograde step as I bought the Ork expansion to get to the non orkish cards in the pack , which is as good an example of why you should avoid this sort of game (I'm looking at you X-Wing) like the plague.

The big news I suppose was the game of Zombiecide, which my non gaming non geek wife actually enjoyed and was interested in having another go. After 20+ years of marriage this is something of an eye opener - who knew?

Other big news is I pre-ordered by set of Blood Red Skies. Getting too close to release date to miss out.

So the big picture is the "Pile of Shame" aka unpainted figures has reduced by an aggregate of 2 figures this week.

That's all for now folks!

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Wednesday update and some progress

I'm planning to do a bit of Blood Red Skies stuff in the near future. To do that I've started a new paint queue with the idea of clearing the decks of other projects then having a serious look at BRS. Basically I'm hoping to get my AWI project done before moving on to VBCW then BRS. At least  that's the plan.

And progress has been made. In the last week or so I have painted another six VBCW guys and six AWI Militia. I didn't particularly enjoy the AWI stuff - not great on painting civilians, but the VBCW was easier and helped out by watching the first series of Peaky Blinders for inspiration. That only leaves about six AWI Militia and the unit is complete. The VBCW stuff is more open ended and there isn't really any time pressure so that could be moved back on the queue, but there's also another couple of series of Peaky Blinders on Netflix so there is plenty of inspiration if I need it.

Then again there is the thorny subject of Shadespire. I went halves on a starter set with Paul D and got another expansion (undead). I've already painted the Shadespire warband (5 Khorne Berserkers) and the undead can wait.

So in the last week I've increased the painted score by 17, and added another 7 figures to the unpainted side of the equation. Progress of sorts.

On the gaming front I've got a slot on the playtest group for Impetus 2, and we had a trial session Monday night that went very well. Looking forward to more of that, particularly as Santa has dropped a hint that there may be a Warlord Games Successor starter army in his sack if I'm a good boy :-). Also I have been requested by a non gaming friend to set up a game of Zombiecide for the weekend - each to their own :-)

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Spitfire vs 109 in Blood Red Skies

The basic starter set for Blood Red Skies has probably the most two iconic WW2 Fighter planes included, the Supermarine Spitfire MkII and the Messerschmidt Bf109E “Emil”, both at their Battle of Britain zenith. I thought I would give a quick and dirty run down on how they match up in BRS, and my thoughts \ opinions on how that is reflects the historical record (or doesn’t). This should be clearly filed in the "initial assessment \ pinch of salt" folder as it's based on only half a dozen games and the information already released, but I think it still has some validity.

In BRS the two aircraft share the same basic stat line –  Firepower 1, Agility 3, Speed 7. The Spitfire has a marginal advantage in the initiative “tie break” of 357mph to the Emil’s 354mph. This means that in all circumstances except one, they are equal.

Speed first, because it has probably the most impact on how you play. Speed is one of the tie breakers when working out who has the initiative. Being faster is therefore important. This nicely segues into the first area I would like to mention – the idea of hard statistics. The problem with any statement about top speed or similar is that in “real life” this could vary quite a bit. Some factors are easy to understand such as speed varies with altitude, so when comparing speed data you really should have comparable altitudes. This is usually just not possible to do with any accuracy. Other factors are frankly bordering on the arcane – some Spitfires were faster than others because the factory that made them used flush rivets rather than mushroom headed ones for instance, and something as simple as a good coat of wax could add a couple of mph, which is why the Photo Recce Spitfires were waxed and polished before missions if they could help it. A good ground crew really did make a difference, even though they never flew in the plane. What I’m trying to say is we need to remember the figures given are estimates, and in all probability sources will be contradictory. In this case there is also a need for some sort of differentiation, so Andy Chambers has given what seems a marginal advantage to the Spitfire which really only counts as a tie breaker for initiative. One of them needed it, so dealers choice. I suspect this "speed" thing is going to rear it's ugly head a lot when BRS is released and discussed, but you just have to accept that in reality there really is no "correct" answer and the best we can manage is "x" aeroplane was usually faster than "y" aeroplane. Usually.

Secondly, Firepower. Here I think there is some room to raise an eyebrow at rating the two planes the same. The Emil has a pair of 20mm cannon and a pair of rifle calibre machine guns which are usually considered as vastly superior to the Spitfires eight .303 rifle calibre machine guns. The fact the RAF tried to switch to cannon as fast as possible tends to bear this out. On the other hand against smaller less protected single seat fighters there is something to be said for having a lot of fast firing guns with lots of ammunition (the 20mms on the Emil had only 60 rounds each). Andy has decided to group them all into the lowest firepower category. Again this is really going to cause some discussions when other aircraft are compared. It is a complicated area because not all guns are the same. This is particularly true of Soviet guns which tended to be just "better" in every way to the others, so when you look at apparently under gunned Soviet fighters, just remember their cannons and MGs are probably throwing out twice as much lead as their German counterparts, and often at higher velocities. In the end to keep it simple Andy went with three broad categories, and both the Spitfire II and 109E are in the lowest one. Its a game designers decision.

Lastly Agility. Both share the same Agility rating of 3 – the best there is. I can here various shouts from the audience about how the Spitfire could out-turn a 109 or the 109 could out dive a Spitfire, and the same as the idea of speed, the issue is more nuanced than first it seems. Firstly note it’s “Agility”, not “turning”, and so this rating includes a basket of general factors such as turning but also rate of roll etc. Could a Spitfire in real life out turn a 109? Actually the jury is still out. The Spitfire has a better wing loading and famously sweet handling. The 109 has a higher wing loading due mostly due to the small and narrow wings which continued to plague the design for the whole of its life. The 109 turned tight but as it did so it got harder to control. To compensate the 109 has a set of automatic slats that deploy at low speed, snapping the nose around, but the physical act of deploying those slats was not something the pilot had control over, and when they did deploy, they did so suddenly and did horrible things to the airflow. A seasoned 109 pilot probably could stay with a Spitfire in a turn, but it was far from comfortable and took a lot of experience and faith to hold your plane in a tight turn with all the problems that involved - and getting it wrong could and would be disastrous. Most pilots simply didn’t risk it, so a Spitfire in a tight turn would lose the 109, usually. On the other hand there is the Spitfire’s much examined lack of direct fuel injection. When a 109 went into a steep dive, because it has fuel injection the engine runs normally. A Spitfire (or Hurricane) has a normal carburetor feed – stick the nose down steeply and the engine is momentarily starved of fuel and stutters, power is lost and then you get an ominous belch of black smoke. Pilots could attempt to avoid it by rolling into dives, and anyway once in a dive the Spitfire would gradually catch a 109, but as with the 109 turning, it took a very brave and experienced pilot to try and get through the initial rather worrying coughing and spluttering, so most didn’t. These “facts” quickly became self-reinforcing – Emil pilots found they could usually dive away to escape, Spitfires could snap into a tight turn. 

So on the whole the stats are even and I think that’s the right choice.

In the advanced game however we get some further options by the addition of Trait Cards.

These are special cards that can be played to “break” the normal rules. In the case of our pair of aircraft the cards reinforce the operational differences I mentioned. The Spitfire has the “Tight Turn” trait, which allows the British player to make his turn at any point in his move, not just the end. In reality this means a Spitfire with a “Tight Turn” card can turn inside a tailing 109.

The 109 has two traits, “Great Dive”, and “Great Climb”. These are a little more complicated than the Tight Turn, but what they do in play is allow the 109 to dive away from a Spitfire, or prevent a Spitfire from gaining a height advantage. Both are a bit more situational than Tight Turn, but once you get the hang of it they will really help keep the Spitfires off your tail.

Lastly: The One That Got Away – Firepower. If you really do feel the need to boost the 109s firepower, there is a way to do it. There is a Theatre Card you could add (more on those at a later date) called "Superior Armament" that allows you to add an additional dice to your shooting attacks, but risks losing the effect when you uses it –like shooting off all 60 rounds of cannon ammunition for instance?

So to sum up, I’m rather impressed at the way BRS manages to represent not only the similarities in these two iconic opponents, but also with the addition of the Trait Cards encourages players to adopt historical tactics. This is starting to look like a set of rules that really hits the target.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Another interlude followed by a resolution

I've always tried to post when I have something to post about, usually a new project, a nice model or game report or whatever. The problem is that can mean long interludes where nothing gets posted up, because I'm either busy with "real world" stuff, or alternatively so busy having fun with playing toys soldiers that I cant be arsed to take the required photographs to illustrate the blog posts. This is a bit of a flaw.

So in an attempt to impose some discipline and structure I'm now planning to post at least once a week, probably Wednesdays. That will also mean my current scattergun approach to subject matter will also almost certainly get worse. C'est la Guerre I suppose.

So whats happened recently I hear no-one ask?

Well I visited Warlord Games for their 10th Birthday and had a really interesting time. There's so much musing there that can wait for another post. Also I resolved NOT to get involved in any new projects, and self righteously abstained from buying into Ghost Archipelago only to order Shadespire in a moment of weakness (thanks to Jamie White) and I'm sure I can follow that up with a detailed look later.

In other news one of my favourite game companies Hawk Wargames has been bought out by TT Combat. I'm pretty conflicted by that. I was (and possibly still am?) part of the Talon demo team for Hawk. They give me toys for playing their games with strangers. This is a good thing. Both Hawk games, Dropzone Commander and Dropfleet Commander are excellent games with superb miniatures and the head Honcho Dave Lewis is as nice a chap as you could want to meet, and a superb designer too. All the Hawk staff are also clearly "in" to the game - they're gamers not businessmen - T-shirts not "Suits". All that being said it is clear that after the problems distributing the Kickstarter for Dropfleet, Hawk had some internal issues that they didn't or couldn't resolve. Rumours were rife they were in trouble, and then the news they are being bought out, but that Dropfleet & Dropzone are still live and Dave is still lead designer. TT are (as I understand) the miniatures arm of Troll Trader, and they in turn are Kingsley distribution. Both Troll and Kingsley have pretty impeccable records at organising the toys getting to the customer, but pretty much zero on design etc, so if TTC are providing the heavy lifting leaving Dave to do the design work this could be a good thing in the long run. That being said, no matter how you sugar coat it a buy out is a worrying thing. I understand TTC have already culled much of the Hawk staff. That is entirely understandable but must be personally hard for the individuals involved. I hope they manage to move on and upwards. Similarly I hope Dave has made the decision to sell up early enough so that he hasn't lost out too much either. These are starting to look like difficult times for gaming companies, with Spartan, then Hawk and I doubt they will be the last.  I'm going to leave the postmortem speculation to others for now.

So on that happy note I'll leave you for now

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Chain of Command – Use of terrain, a cautionary tale

Last night saw the last of our Chain of Command campaign games. We decided to call a halt because we had reached a position where it looked like the British counter attack was simply not going to push through the German defences. The problem wasn’t the rules (which are great) or the campaign, but the terrain we were fighting over – or rather how we had decided to interpret it. I thought I would put a bit of explanation out there as a possible warning to others.

The root of the problem  is – well, the Desert, or rather our representation of it. When we decided to start playing a simple ladder campaign we lifted the locations straight from the excellent “At the Sharp End” campaign system (available from TFL for only £6 and worth every penny at twice the price if you play any sort of 20th C game).

We were very wary of setting up open flat terrain that would favour anyone with a German accent and an MG34. Other players had warned us leaving the terrain too open would mean a walk over for the DAK. We decided to use the club wadi \ gully terrain, and litter the area with rocks etc to provide cover. It looks pretty nice even if I say so myself.

Here were our first mistakes. We failed to appreciate fully how much the wadis would effect play and tactics, blithely deciding you could be in hard cover in the wadi. As we were generous and even handed we ensured the wadis were fairly placed on each side of the table. Basically we had created two parallel trench lines (doh!).

Slightly out of focus British trenches err wadi
Our second problem was that in our enthusiasm to provide cover we were liberal with distribution of our “rocky outcrops” (as an aside these were part of Peter Pigs “Patrols inthe Sudan” terrain and they’re absolutely brilliant for just about any scale. Unfortunately we used too many of the tall ones which blocked line of sight (LOS), rather than just providing cover. 

too many blocked LOS

What we should have done
Lastly, because our wadis were actually raised we tended to think of them as being almost walled areas, where in fact they're in reality flat and at ground level – ie have restricted visibility. A simple low wall should have totally blocked LOS from someone using the wadi for cover – but we didn’t think it through. What we ended up with was a pretty table but one which didn’t really represent what we were wanting. That in turn made our games too static – it was a no brainer to simply set up in a wadi and blaze away, and the difference between trying in to manoeuvre, even with tactical movement and smoke, and sitting in our nice deep wadi was just too stark – a problem highlighted on the odd occasion a squad did try and got badly punished for it.

The last problem was the choke point. The Afrika Korps won their first couple of missions but decided to halt at the pursuit through the enemy position to rest and rearm – also so I could paint up new toys I expected to need for the final assault mission. The Brits counter attacked. Having played over the terrain earlier we felt obliged to us it again, however this mission is a length ways push down the table through some choke points. It didn’t seem fair to start changing things around at this point. Frankly the combination of our poor terrain choices and table layout were making it too easy to defend, so we decided to call the campaign there, an honourable draw.

We had plenty of fun and some really interesting games, but it could have been so much better if we had thought through the consequences of our terrain choice. We will be back of course, probably advancing the timeline to 1942, but next time we will think hard about the effect of wadis – probably just treating them as soft cover, and cutting back on the amount of big areas of LOS blocking terrain, so that there are fewer “safe” areas where we can hunker down.

Comments welcome - indeed sought

Friday, 13 October 2017

Derby Worlds "Welcome to the new Triples?"

I spent the weekend at the "Derby Worlds" playing in the Impetus Competition on Saturday and just browsing on Sunday. The event has come in for a lot of negative comments on line and on the days, mostly from traders and customers so I think it would be useful to give a tournament player and organisers view. The main complaints aired can be summarised as location, size, and cost, so I'll look at each of these in turn

 1. Location. Rather surprisingly the venue this year for the "Derby Worlds" was actually in Leicestershire, out at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground near Lutterworth. Leaving aside the fact it wasn't actually in Derby, or even Derbyshire, this was pretty much as rural as you can get. Initially I didn't see much of a problem finding it - satnav - but that was because we had been staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Leicester and as it happened we were almost in a direct line to the venue down main roads - pure luck. I was a bit puzzled by all the "hard to find, windy roads, middle of nowhere" comment, til we decided to head home on Sunday and because we were heading for the motorway rather than the hotel we were directed into the middle of nowhere down those winding country roads I had heard so much about. Thankfully we were doing this fairly early in the afternoon so it wasn't too busy, but I'm guessing if you tried that as people were leaving or were in a van carrying your stock it would be "interesting" to say the least. Parking was ok for the competitors who arrived early enough to get a spot in the car park but if you were in the overflow (aka a field) it was less than ideal. Something this shares with Vappa in York. The other facilities - ie toilets were ok but badly signposted - in fact I didn't realise there were actually 2 sets of toilets until I saw some of the other comments. The shift South seems to have discouraged some attendance too - although overall I don't have anything other than anecdotal evidence I'm told visitor numbers were very much down on last year, and I understand takings were similarly down with all but one trader I managed to speak to on Sunday. More specifically I know of a half dozen players based in the North East who have been regular attendees at the old venue but who decided the new one was too far.  

2. Size. For the tournament players it was cramped. I can't really quantify the amount of space we had at Bruntingthorpe compared to the previous venue at Donnington Park other than to say it felt like we had a lot less room. We were lucky that we were situated on the end of the rows of tables so we didn't have to try and squeeze past a long line of players and their associated bags and boxes. All my games were interrupted pretty much constantly by people trying to get past to their tables further down the rows - not something I recall from other venues. The other notable effect of the spacing was there were far fewer interested or otherwise members of the public walking around to see the games.  At every other venue or event I've had chats with the wandering public explaining what the rules were and why we liked them etc, but there was no chance of that because the public were clearly discouraged by the obvious cramped nature of the tournament area. This was probably just inconvenient for the tournament players, but at the other end of the hall the traders were suffering somewhat more. They were packed in very tight, and this had a number of effects. Firstly, it meant they couldn't get their full "pitch" set up - I was told they were operating on a 25% smaller area. Secondly, the isles were too narrow. Any sort of group around one stall blocked the aisle to anyone passing. It is difficult to explain how tight these aisles were, but to give an idea a wheelchair user wanted to pass down between two rows of stalls, and this could only be done by everyone moving back out and then moving back in after they had come through. That cramped and tight location has two effects on me. Firstly I was discouraged from browsing or even just chatting with the stall owners because I was aware I was either being constantly jostled or needing to move out of the way to let people get past. Secondly I just didn't bother trying to get through the crush to some stalls. Obviously this cleared up later in the day, but it was a far from comfortable or relaxed situation. The other problem with the lack of space was clear from the demo \ participation games. Again they were too tightly packed to allow easy access and circulation, so in my case I didn't bother trying. I should add there was a fairly spacious entry atrium with a couple of demo games, and these did seem to have plenty of room. Actually the space in the entrance was if anything wasted as it was full of "event special" KR backpacks and "Aeon One" game apparently being sold by the Organisers. These backpacks were full of "stuff" - mugs, keyrings, etc. all ok but hardly "gucchi". As for Aeon One - I'll get to that later. 

3. Cost. The actual entry fee was the same as last year (£15), and as a bonus we got a voucher worth a fiver if we spent a tenner (IIRC) or more at any stall. On that count although it could easily be argued we got less for our money because we got less space, it wasn't bad. The food costs were very high. It cost more to buy a Mars Bar at the makeshift food area than to buy one at a motorway service station. Luckily I had packed some sandwiches etc - or rather bought them at Sainsburys so this wasn't really an issue for me.

OK having dealt with the stuff the main body  of commentary was about I'd like to throw in a couple of other points. Firstly organisation and attitude. We queued up for some time to get in on Saturday morning, unlike previous years. I'm not 100% sure what the cause of this was as it didn't happen at either Donnington or the other venues but I suspect that it was simply lack of staff on the entrance and lack of a specific tournament player queue. They were also taking money on the door which seemed to slow stuff down, particularly as the tournament guys had already paid. Once in we got zero involvement from the organisers, no directions or similar, no visits to check if there were any problems. OK you could argue we didn't need them, but in the past we've always had some contact throughout the day, which is appreciated.  

I mentioned Aeon One. I cannot for a moment understand what the **** the organisers thought they were doing here. It's some sort of fantasy \ Sci fi boxed game they have commissioned. It looked stunningly meh - basically reboxing already available stuff with some new rules and the now obligatory cards. This was retailing (if you can call it that) at £60. I have no idea how much this cost to produce but it looked nothing more than a vanity project. Some traders I spoke to pointed to that as being one of the reasons pitch prices were so high. I cant say if this is correct or not, but given the amount of material, time and printing that went into it, not to mention the ridiculous amount of column inches they have paid for suggests this is probably true.  

All in all I think the organisers need to have a rethink. Actually I don't think its just them who need a rethink, its everyone. Why are tournaments married to trade events? I doubt the tournaments attract visitors in any significant numbers over and above the players. I also doubt the players themselves spend that much with the traders - we usually don't have that much time. Given the space the tournaments take up in comparison to the revenue they generate, organisers would be better advised to give more space to traders and demo \ participation games rather than trying to do all three and failing badly.  As a tournament player I need some reasonable facilities and time \ space. I like the option of shopping and browsing, but I'm there for the tournament. So where does that leave the tournaments ? Actually I think there is plenty of opportunity to organise tournament only venues, smaller perhaps, and maybe with limited trader support - ie if its a Bolt Action Tournament maybe Warlord ? That sort of thing.

Derby this year was not great. Given the failure and apparent demise of the other great "Northern" shows Sheffield Triples, this is a bad time to drop the ball. The overall impression was the organisers tried to do too much with an inadequate venue, plus the whole questionable "Aeon One" vanity project. Lets hope they manage to do something about it next year.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Afrika Korps for Chain of Command

Having mentioned them in an earlier post I suppose it would be polite to show a pic of the Afrika Korps platoon I have been building for Chain of Command.

They're all Perry miniatures with the exception of the vehicles which are a mix of Blitzkrieg, Warlord and Empress, plus a burned out Opel Blitz from Any Scale models - only £6 and cheap at twice the price

I'm rather happy with how they turned out. Of course like any other project there is an element of project creep going on - I've ordered some more supports, this time from Warlord, and I'm working on converting some more Perry miniatures to represent DAK Pioneers. More on that later