Friday, 10 May 2019

Queen of the (Blood Red) Skies

Academy \ Minicraft B17E\Fs
Following up on the post about the Brewster Buffalo I got a couple of requests to look at some other planes that may, for one reason or another, be missing from the current official releases. This time I thought I would move away from fighters and look at something bigger, and wholly more important than the Brewster - Boeing's B17 Flying Fortress.

There's a lot that can be said about the B17, and many many books and on line sources exist, so I won't repeat all that in depth other than a couple of "not a lot of people know that" (NALOPKT) bits, and will concentrate on Blood Red Skies.

The B17 rather surprisingly originated as a maritime patrol bomber. In the 1930s the US and their policy of isolation decided that the way to prevent enemy fleets (read Royal Navy!) attacking the US mainland would be to find and attack them by air. Boeing submitted their design and after some false starts what we now know as the B17 was born.

Everyone knows the USAAF famously used the B17 as a high altitude precision day bomber in the second half of the war. What is less well known is the RAF pioneered this by using B17Cs to raid Germany in daylight, taking advantage of the types excellent ceiling altitude and range. The RAF  bombed from around 30,000 feet but found the extreme altitude and cold resulted in lots of problems with cloud obscuring the targets and equipment failures, and the raids were not successful and discontinued, with the surviving planes transferring to Coastal Command. The USAAF took account of this and tended to operate their B17s lower, and crucially in large numbers and tight supporting formations.

Operationally the B17 didn't really have that heavy a bomb load - usual load was about 4000lb, useful, but to put it in perspective that is the same as some of the Mosquito bomber versions. Of course the Mosquito didn't have any defensive weapons, and to be honest, it isn't a fair comparison as the Mossie breaks most if not all the rules. That being said B17s dropped more tonnage of bombs on Germany than any other USAAF bomber, and in total second only to the Lancaster. It is interesting to compare the two designs - one is a Flying Fortress, the other a Flying Bomb-bay, but that's for another time. 

So anyway, back to BRS.

There are basically 3 versions of the B17 we will encounter in BRS. The first is the B17C, which saw service on day one of the Pacific war, and also was used by the RAF as mentioned above.  This early version is quite a long way from the Flying Fortress we all know, lacking much of the later model firepower and protection. With only 4 .50 cal HMGs and 1 .30 cal all hand held on blister gun positions the type was really no better protected than other bombers of the period. In fact the hand held \ pivot mounted guns were pretty useless as the gunners struggled with the problems of slipstream and wind when trying to operate them, unlike the power operated turrets preferred by the RAF. One thing the USAAF did get right, and the RAF mostly didn't, was using the .50 cal rather than .303. Although the rate of fire on the smaller calibres was far higher, the effective range of the .50 cal and similar HMGs really compensated and allowed bombers to disrupt fighters attacks much further out than was the case with .303s.

B17 C 1941 Speed 6 (323mph) Ag 0 Fp (-) Multi Engine (4) 360 turret FP1 rear +1

In truth the B17C was a bit of a disappointment, particularly as an anti shipping bomber, though it did score some success as a long range patrol aircraft.

Lessons were learned and by the time the 8th Air Force was deployed to Europe with their B17E\Fs the Fortress was starting to live up to it's name. US doctrines called for daylight bombing and close formations for self protection against fighters and the B17F was up-gunned dramatically, adding a new tail gunners position, and dorsal and ventral powered turrets, all with twin .50 cal HMGs. Additionally the B17 received upgraded armour and other protection such as self sealing fuel tanks. Better engines helped compensate for the additional weight involved. F models continued to serve throughout the war.

B17E\F 1942 Speed 6 (318mph) Ag 0 Fp (-) Multi Engine (4) Robust 360 turret FP2 rear +2   

The last B17 model to see lots of service is the G. Operational experience showed the B17s were more vulnerable to head on attacks, so a new "chin" turret was fitted to late F models and adopted for the G. Now mounting 13 (!) defensive guns. Carrying all that extra weight did reduce speed, but that was considered an acceptable trade off. The G models were phased in  from 1943 and by the end of the war were the most numerous B17 encountered.

B17G 1943 Speed 6 (287mph) Ag 0 Fp (-) Multi Engine (4) Robust 360 turret FP2 rear +2, front +1

So why the interest in B17s? I hear you ask, when 1:200 models are "hard to come by" to say the least. Warlord don't do one, and given their production queue it is unlikely one will be coming any time soon. However I got an email from Armaments in Miniature saying their B17G was finally available - $14 (link to the site below). AIM also do B17Cs. Getting a B17 E\F is a bit fraught. There is a plastic kit from Academy that is very useful but now out of production, but it comes up on ebay every now and then so worth watching out for. Ares\Nexus do a very nice model of both the G & G for their Wings of Glory game but the price is usually quite steep -something around £30-50 on ebay at the moment . You can also get die cast B17 Fs and Gs but these are not great as gaming models as they are very heavy and bits keep falling off.   

There is a data card for the B17 E\F available in the USAAF card expansion pack from Warlord 

Armament in Miniature - G model not listed but $14, they also have a B17C

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Brewster Buffalo in Blood Red Skies - the little plane that mostly couldn't.

I run a Facebook page for fans of Blood Red Skies called "The Ready Room". I've been lucky that through that and the kind assistance of the author Andy Chambers and Roger Gerrish, plus Rich Carlisle at Warlord I've had the chance to playtest some BRS stuff and had access to the beta stat list of planes for the game that was not for general publication at that time.

As the game has grown in popularity there have regularly been requests to add more planes to the available list. This has proved quite challenging as Warlord really don't have the capacity to meet every demand for models, some of which have been quite obscure (really). In their credit they realised that the game needed to expand faster than their capacity would allow at present, so in addition to allowing me to "leak" some stats they were happy to release new "expansion" sets containing the data and trait cards needed to play some of the major planes that they had yet to get around to, either by using proxies or third party models. Two of these sets are now on the shelves, with more due in the coming months.

I think it is fair to say neither Andy, Roger, Rich or myself had any idea of the popularity of what Andy once described as a "Clown Car" of the skies. Frankly we expected one of the iconic sleek and fast late war fighting machines like the P38, Tempest or Fw190 Dora to top the wish list, but instead, very much to our surprise, it has been the Brewster Buffalo. You lot are weird.............

I knew a little about the Buffalo of course, but initially we all had discounted it as a possible inclusion into the game - who would want to fly this death trap?, so it was really just a rough beta stat. It was often sighted as one of the quirky mysteries of WW2, The Brewster performed so badly in the Far East that it was thought of as a death trap, yet did great service with the Finns against the Soviets. Why was this? Why could a single type be so bad and yet seemingly quite good at the same time? When you look into it however the answer becomes clearer. The Brewster we think of was really a number of quite different aircraft and the changes made by the different operators sheds what I think is a fascinating side light on how WW2 fighters developed and the requirements of the different users. So here is my take on the Brewster F2A\B239\B339\Buffalo in Blood Red Skies. I should stress this is just my thoughts - the others may disagree.

The US original F2A2 & F2A3
The US operated two different versions of the Brewster, so it is probably best to start there. The USN bought a few Brewster F2A2 to operate off their carriers. It actually was preferred initially to the Grumman F4F Wildcat. Generally it was ok (faint praise) and pilots thought it handled quite well, with a very handy turn and rate of roll. Unfortunately the spec didn't call for any armour or protection - not that unusual pre war, and also some other essentials such as radios were pretty much optional. By the time of Pearl Harbour it had been retired from USN service, probably because the Brewster plant was having problems making the thing in any numbers and the basic design could not be upgraded very much. The USMC however also operated the Brewster as the F2A3. The F2A3 was upgraded with a slightly better engine, wing mounted fuel tanks, radios, pilot protection and the like, which improved the range and theoretically improved the chance of survival but adversely effected handling. This is going to be a repeated theme. The Marine F2A3s saw action against the Japanese during the Battle of Midway. VMF221 has twenty F2A3s based on Midway but they proved totally outclassed by the Zeros they met there and were pretty much annihilated in their first encounter.



That could have been the end of the story, but there were other customers for the tubby little fighter.

Buffalo Mk I
Belgium had been looking for a more modern fighter before the war broke out and had placed an order with Brewster. The Germans arrived first. Britain was now desperate for any sort of modern fighter plane so grabbed the chance and bought up the Belgian order, giving the plane the name Buffalo which is now universally applied, if incorrectly. It did make some sense. Britain was producing Spitfires and Hurricanes as fast as it could, but these were needed for home defence. It was reasoned that the Buffalo could be used as a trainer or out in quiet parts of the far flung empire such as the Far East where the threat was not as great, allowing the Hurricanes and Spitfires to be concentrated at home. Anyway what would the Japanese have that could beat a reasonably modern US design? That lack of foresight was then compounded because the Brits did know quite a bit about modern air combat at that point, and understood what a modern fighter needed was some protection, radio and the like. They therefore made several modifications to the Belgian specs, all of which added weight. Unlike the USMC they didn't get the upgraded engine, in fact due to Brewster production being so badly managed and the urgency of the demand they settled on refurbished engines that had come off air liners. This was a recipe for disaster. The RAF MkIs were totally overloaded and under powered to the point where some pilots found they lacked the ability to loop. When the Japanese arrived in Burma and Malaya with their nimble Oscars it was a foregone conclusion. Almost. A couple of RAAF Squadrons that survived the initial contact decided that their only chance was to lighten the Buffalo. They stripped out most if not all the added equipment, and reduced the ammo and fuel load. In this configuration they at least felt they had a slim chance.

G'day - RAAF Buffalo's

Dutch Courage - the B339C\D
The Netherlands had ordered some F2s from Brewster for use in the Dutch East Indies, and around 70 had arrived when the Japanese invaded. These had improved engines and didn't have all the extra equipment of the British machines. As soon as they made contact with the Japanese the Dutch set about reducing the weight of their planes, flying with reduced fuel and ammo loads, and in these configurations they managed to survive for a while until the Dutch East Indies surrendered, the remaining planes flying to Australia to join the RAAF.


Bucking the trend - Finland
So that is the story of the Brewster  - except for one other user - Finland. The Finns also bought the Brewster - in this case they seem to have got hold of the ex USN F2A models that were "de Navalised" by removing the tail hooks and other equipment. With typical thoroughness they stripped and modified their Brewsters, rearming and re equipping them. The extra equipment made the Finnish Brewsters the slowest of all the variants, but they retained good handling. There is some suggestion that the cooler climate also helped prevent the overheating that the Brewsters were prone to in the Far East. They went into service against the Soviets during the Continuation War, and were surprisingly successful. How much this was a reflection on the quality of Finnish pilots or the poor quality of their Soviet opponents is difficult to tell, but they undoubtedly were effective, achieving kill to loss ratios of over 25\1 and producing 36 Aces. When you add that to the four Commonwealth Aces who achieved that status flying Buffalo's that makes 40 Aces out of a production run of just over 500 of all types, giving the Brewster possibly the best ratio of Aces to aircraft in WW2(!)

Finnish B239

So the Brewster in Blood Red Skies. As I mentioned, we don't really have a real Beta test stat, so these are extrapolations, but I think they're worth a try if you are so inclined.

Brewster F2A2 Buffalo USN Speed 6 323mph Ag 2 FP 1 Rapid Roll, Vulnerable 17 points

Brewster F2A3 Buffalo USMC Speed 6 321mph Ag 2 FP1 18 points

Brewster B239E (Finland) Speed 6 297 mph Ag 2 FP1 Rapid Roll 20 points

Brewster B339E Buffalo Mk I (UK\CW) Speed 6 313mph Ag 1 FP1 Sluggish 8 points

Brewster B339C\D (KNIL) Speed 6 307mph Ag 2 FP1 Rapid Roll Poor Quality 18pts - this last one is a bit of a stretch as the Dutch took out a lot of equipment to keep the weight down to a minimum, and that may have included radios and other bits, hence Poor Quality.

At the moment Warlord are not planning a model of the Brewster, however if you are so inclined, Armaments in Miniature do a very nice one that will happily fit in for any of the versions mentioned above, and Misc Minis do decals to cover the USMC VF221, 67 Squadron RAF, LeLv24 (Finnish) and I'm sure that if asked they will do Dutch too.

Misc Minis
Armaments in Miniature


Zeros in Blood Red Skies part 3 - Swansong - the A6M5


The last version of the Zero to see widespread service is also the first one to be released officially in Blood Red Skies, the A6M5. As the Allies came to know the early Zero and developed tactics to take advantage of it’s weaknesses the Zero lost most of the aura of invincibility. Japanese designers tried to counter this by squeezing as much out of the design as they could, and at the same time trying to improve on the now apparent problems of speed, durability and protection. They also managed to put right some of the issues with the A6M3 Mod 32. Unfortunately, there was a limit to what they could achieve within the tight restrictions of the original design, and so even though they redesigned the wings, added some armour and protection, better guns and more powerful engines, there was simply not enough flexibility in the original design to work with. The A6M5 was marginally faster and marginally better protected than previous models, and was widely thought of as the best version of the Zero, but against the new generation of F4U Corsairs and F6F Hellcats it was no longer king of the hill. This coincided with a drop off in pilot quality as the war progressed and casualties on experienced aircrew mounted. 

The Zero was always an easy plane to fly, and for this reason it was often the preferred choice of aircraft for Kamikaze attacks because it needed less pilot training. As a result many A6M5s were expended as the war neared its end in desperate suicide attacks against Allied shipping.

A6-M5 Zero
7 (354mph)
Tight turn
-Vulnerable -
33 points

In BRS our A6M5 is still a challenge to engage, but it is now noticeably slower than most historical opponents. In fact this is the most manoeuvrable of the Zeros in BRS because it has a full hand of Tight Turn cards available. I'm not 100% sure why Deep Pockets didn't make a return, but by the time the A6M5 was reaching the front the circumstances had changed and the Japanese were on the defensive, so long range was no longer essential. Unfortunately the general trend for heavier firepower in allied planes is now really making the Vulnerable Trait more pronounced, and the A6M5 will regularly be running into FP 2 & 3 fighters, some of which have Heavy Hitter, which will be an absolute nightmare.  In the hands of a good pilot it can certainly hold its own, particularly against enemies who want to stay in close turning fights, but if they use their speed and other advantages the Zero will struggle as it did in real life. 

So that’s the Zero. When first encountered it was a shock to the Allies from which it looked like they may never recover. However, improvements in tactics started to offset that initial shock, and the limitations of the design meant ongoing improvements were difficult and it could not keep up with newer enemy designs. To the end a well flown Zero was a dangerous opponent, particularly if you tried to out turn it, but by 1944 it was clear that the days of Zero supremacy were long gone. In some ways it bucks the trend in BRS because it does manage to keep high Agility through each step in development, however the price for that is a poor overall top speed in comparison to competitors.

Any comments gratefully received.

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Thursday, 25 April 2019

Zeros in Blood Red Skies part 2 - The A6M3 Mod 32, or why changing a winning formula can go wrong

A6M3 Mod 32 showing the signature clipped wingtips
A6M3 Mod 32
Although the A6M2 had been phenomenally successful the Japanese did not rest on their laurels. Steps were taken to try and improve the A6M2 by fitting a bigger engine to improve speed and high-altitude performance. They also tried clipping and redesigning the wings to improve roll rate and handling in a dive, both things the original Zero as not great at. The result was designated the A6M3 Mod 32, and was pushed into production with some urgency in April 1942. They immediately ran into problems caused mainly by the tightness of the original design. The new engine needed more space and to accommodate it, and to fit it in some structural and design changes were needed. This included reducing the size of the internal fuel tanks and moving the engine mounting nearer the cockpit. These changes upset that fine balance of the A6M2 and it was found that the A6M3 was marginally faster and dived better as planned, but the change in the centre of gravity meant it handled less well, and the reduction in fuel capacity caused the range to be reduced significantly. This loss in range was particularly problematic as it meant the A6M3 could not operate over Guadalcanal from the main bases in Rabaul, the major combat zone at the time. On a more positive note the 20mm cannons were upgraded to more modern versions (the Type 99 Mk II) with more ammunition provided. 

The A6M3 Mod 32 was produced in limited quantities and due to the short range tended to be only deployed defensively and as a combat trainer.  It was quickly replaced in production by the A6M3 Mod 22, which saw many of the changes reversed or revised to restore the lost range.

When it was first encountered by the allies the distinctive clipped wings meant they were unsure if this was a new aircraft, and so for a while it was given the reporting code name “Hap” after General “Hap” Arnold, then Commanding General of the USAAF. Arnold took exception and the Hap was quickly renamed “Hamp”, and then simply “Zeke 32”.

How can we represent the A6M3 Mod 32 in BRS? From our beta tests it has the following stats. 

Speed has increased to 343 mph, so still Speed 7. The armament changes now allow an upgrade to FP2, however the reduced range mean Deep Pockets has gone. The changes to the overall balance results in Tight Turn being replaced by Rapid Roll, which is slightly less useful because it allows you to turn at the start OR and of your move, not at any time, but is still quite potent. The A6M3 Mod 32 remains Vulnerable. The loss of Deep Pockets also helps offset the increase in points cost caused by the increased firepower.

A6M3 Zero 1942 7 (343mph) Agility 3 Firepower 2 Rapid Roll -Vulnerable - 32 points

In BRS the A6M3 is still quite a handful, particularly as the synergy with Aggressive Tactics is still there. In some ways it is better than the A6M2 - more firepower for instance, and though Rapid Roll is not as good a trait as Tight Turn, in this case having only a single trait means there is no chance you will not have it available. As with the A6M2 you really want to avoid head on attacks against well armed fighters and tail chases against bombers. 

It is "highly" unlikely that we will see an official model of the A6M3 from Warlord any time soon. However as with the A6M2 the A6M3 is visually quite similar to the A6M5 model, so all that would be required to convert to this version would be to (carefully) clip the wings with some nail clippers and file the edges smooth, or again as with the A6M2, a model is available from Armaments in Miniature.

A6M3 Mod 32 captured in US markings showing the clipped wings

Next , the final production version, the A6M5

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Zeros in Blood Red Skies part 1 - The Legendary A6M2

I thought it would be interesting to look at a couple of WW2 fighters from the perspective of a BRS player, and how those designs changed and through the war. One of the main themes the games designer Andy Chambers wanted with Blood Red Skies was to show the way WW2 fighters evolved. As combat experience was gained planes were designed or modified to have more firepower, speed and protection, but this all came at the inevitable sacrifice of handling and manoeuvrability. 

Having just painted a half a dozen I thought it may be worth looking at the Japanese A6M Zero, with specific reference to Blood Red Skies. I’m using the beta test stats here, so be aware these may be subject to change if and when they get officially released.

First a bit of history. The Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 Rei-sen “Zero” was one of the most advanced fighter planes in the world when it entered service in 1940. As with all Japanese aircraft the US allocated a reporting name, based on the assumption that US pilots would be unable to pronounce or be confused by the Japanese names. Fighters were given boys names, bombers girls, and in the case of the A6M this was christened “Zeke” but on this occasion this didn’t really take hold and was usually just known as the Zero.

The Zero was built to a very specific requirement, that of a long-range carrier fighter, and it met those requirements superbly. Initial reports of the Zeros prowess were discounted in the West – how could the “backward” Japanese build fighters better than “us”? That changed when they were encountered and the Zero ran up a terrifying reputation as a supreme dog fighter, possibly the best of the war, with a phenomenal range of operation. The Zero was incredibly manoeuvrable, particularly at lower speeds, and had a great rate of climb. All over the Far East, Chinese, American, British, Commonwealth and Dutch pilots learned to fear it as it sliced through almost any and all opposition it encountered. Full disclosure here. The Zero is quite similar visually to the Army Type Ki-43 Hayabusa \ Oscar, and I suspect in the heat of combat a lot of Ki43s were misidentified as Zeros in a similar way that a lot of Luftwaffe pilots shot down in the Battle of Britain insisted they were victims to Spitfires when they had really been attacked by Hurricanes. The Oscar was also very nimble and lightweight, so some of the legend of the Zeros invincibility should probably go to the Oscar.

The reason for the Zero’s incredible performance was due to the design team, led initially by Jiro Horikoshi, and their obsession with weight saving. They used new light weight materials and trimmed every ounce of spare weight. A great deal of effort was put into making the Zero clean and streamlined. That meant the plane was very lightweight, improving range and manoeuvrability. The downside however was the Zero was inherently more susceptible to damage than other contemporaries and didn’t have any protection in the way of armour or self-sealing fuel tanks. This was an acceptable trade off to the Japanese, who reasoned that making the Zero hard to hit was more important than surviving if you did get hit. Initially it looked like they may have had a point as in the first six months of combat the Zero ran up an incredible score, and the IJN pilots gained both experience and confidence. Incidentally, this weight saving and streamlining efforts on the Zero meant it was also a very demanding and complex aircraft to manufacture, something that would cause problems later.

So let’s look at the Zero in Blood Red Skies. Currently the only official stats are for the late war A6M5 version, but I am lucky enough to have access to the Beta test stats for the earlier A6M2 which won the fearsome reputation in China, Pearl Harbour and the Philippines. I will also look at the interim A6M3 Mod 32, a less successful mid war upgrade, before taking a quick look at the A6M5 in later posts.

Data card by the talented Martin Evans
The A6M2 is the classic Zero of the early war period. This nimble lightweight fighter is reasonably fast and very agile. Top speed was 331 mph which makes it Speed 7 in BRS, slower than the Me109E and Spitfire II but faster than almost anything it was going to meet in the skies of the Pacific and Far East. Firepower is about average for an early fighter, with a pair of 20mm cannons and pair of .303  machine guns. Like the Me109E the limited ammunition on the cannons and their mediocre performance means the A6M2 has only 1 Firepower in BRS. Like all Zeros it has the “Vulnerable” negative Trait which means opponents shooting at it always have a bonus firepower dice. It has two very useful positive Traits too, Deep Pockets, and Tight Turn. Deep Pockets reflects the superb range and endurance of the A6M2, giving pilots the confidence to maximise their performance without having to worry too much about running out of fuel on the way home. In the game you can discard a Deep Pocket card to ignore one Boom Chit inflicted on the squadron. Tight Turn is a great card to have in your hand, as it allows you to take your standard 45 degree turn at any point in your move, not just the end, making this Zero a real handful in a turning fight. Add to that the fact that the early war Japanese have access to two very powerful Doctrine Cards – Aggressive Tactics and Seasoned Pilots, and keeping a Zero in your sights long enough to get a shot is going to be difficult to say the least. This amazing manoeuvrability comes at a price, and you really need to avoid getting shot at if you can manage it. Try to avoid head to head attacks against fighters and particularly tail shots against bombers with bonus rear defensive weapons where the chance of getting hit by defensive fire is much higher due to the Vulnerable Trait.

At the moment there is no model of the A6M2 available from Warlord, however unless you are a real propeller head the visual differences between the A6M2 and A6M5 are minimal in 1:200 scale, mainly a matter of the exhaust pipes protruding from the engine cowl in later models and a slightly different wing span, so you can use the A6M5 model without too much trouble, either by carving the exhausts off or just not painting them, or if you prefer a very nice resin model is available from Armaments in Miniature.

Nothing lasts forever. In June 1942 a Zero was forced to land in the Aleutian Islands. The pilot was killed in the crash but the plane was recovered by the Americans in a repairable condition and they soon had it flying again and learned the Zeros strengths and weaknesses, particularly poor handling in the high speed dive, and started devising tactics to exploit this.

So part 2 will look at the unloved middle child of the Zero family, the A6M3 Mod 32

Warlord Zero Squadron
AIM Zero

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

The Wrong Zero? - Blood Red Skies

So a couple of weeks or so ago I spent some time regaling anyone who would listen with my reasons to go for "Not A Zero" (NAZ) option for my Japanese in Blood Red Skies, resulting in my Ki44 Shoki Squadron from Armaments in Miniature (AIM).

Thing is, I do have some Zeros too, and I've been painting them up over the last few days.

The models are the "bendy" plastic from Warlord, sourced in China. This gives me no end of anguish, because as I have often repeated, these really are the "wrong" Zero imho. The problem is the Warlord model is the A6M5, which entered service in 1943. I did a couple of posts on these a year or so ago when I first got a glimpse of them. The M5 is the last main production version, which is really a mid war aircraft, so didn't' sit well with the 1940 vintage UK, German and Soviet models in the starter set, and was pretty much dog meat against the 1944 P51D the US got, particularly as the points in the starter were a bit off and made the Zero rather more expensive than it should have been. If Warlord had done the A6M2 of early war Coral Sea \ Midway fame I would have been much happier.

The other problem is the model itself - not wishing to over stress this, but it is a fair bit under scale, something closer to 1:220 than the nominal 1:200 it should be. Like all the "Bendy" (tm) BRS plastic the Zero is a bit prone to, well, bending, and several of mine have some strange wing and fuselage shapes. I know this can usually be corrected with hot & cold water, but it does irritate. It should be said for all of that the model is perfectly serviceable, and 99% of the players wont be bothered by it.

Painting them should have been a fairly easy job. The Japanese don't really have complicated colour schemes, and after 1942 Zeros usually have a simple two tone light grey undersides and green uppers, so what could go wrong? Quite a bit really it turned out. Deciding on what colour green was a bit more complex. You can spend many an hour researching and the best answer is "green". The problem is as much the real WW2 paint was not that standardised anyway, and standards slipped as the supply shortages kicked in. In the Pacific theatre there was the added complication of exposure to the elements which meant paints weathered very quickly, so in reality any green that is near enough is probably good enough. I therefore took the cheapskate option and rifled through my current paint collection until I came upon Army Painter "Greenskin". It looked about right and I figured once it had been dulled down a bit with the Darkshade wash I was intending to use for the panel lines it would be ok. Not sure what went wrong but the bloody stuff took three coats to achieve anything approaching a consistent coverage. The undersides were easier, and the engine covers and canopies were my now standard patterns. It took me a while to block the eight Zeros, and a second session to tidy them up and wash them, but at the end they were looking quite nice, or at least I think so.

So decals. Here I had a cunning plan. I was going to use Warlord's Zero decals.  I usually use MiscMinis, and indeed had ordered some in preparation, but as Warlord did a dedicated set and MiscMinis were designed for use with the AIM model I decided to give Warlord a try. This was partly a response to my knowing that the Warlord model was under scale, so I didn't want to risk the MiscMini decals swamping the models, if you follow. There is an added complication here in that Warlord decals are actually for Zeros based on the carrier Akagi, but the Akagi was sunk at Midway, which was in June 1942, and the A6M5 Zero wasn't even in service until the following year, so Warlord are producing decals for a model they don't make - I got nothing.

That plan went out the window fast. The Warlord decal sheet doesn't have enough of the white edged "Hinomaru" (aka "Meatball" roundel) to complete all eight models. Actually they don't have enough to do the six in the Squadron box, which was a pain. I probably should have done a bit more research and bought two sets. They do include the un-edged Hinomaru to be fair, but that wasn't what I wanted. Luckily, between the left over decals from the Ki44s and the MiscMini sheet I had enough to do the upper wing markings of all eight. The side markings were another issue. Again there was not enough decals but in my "spares" box I had some 1:300/1:285 ones from I-94 Enterprises, and between them there were enough. The tail numbers came from the Misc Minis set, and the under wing Hinomaru came from Warlord. So it was a bit of a collaborative effort in the end. I should add here it was also quite instructional. The main issue with MiscMinis is they are sold as a single sheet, so you have to carefully cut each item, trimming it as close to the decal as possible. This is a major pain in the arse. Both the Warlord and I-94 decals are very different. with each decal being separate. I have to say this made a massive difference in time and general fiddle factor. I will keep using MiscMinis as their range is superb, but maybe in future I will check what Warlord do as well.

So that's about it. Eight Zeros painted up and ready to hit the Blood Red Skies. I think they look "good enough" - in fact I quite like the way they have ended up. I still have one more to paint - that for the Ace Saburo Sakai. I am lucky enough to have a resin pre production Zero from Warlord, and I plan to paint that up as Sakai's mount. It will take a bit of fiddling to get the tail number correct, which is one of the reasons I didn't go ahead and paint it with the rest, but now I have the experience with these under my belt, I don't think it will be too much of a challenge - I may even try to add some weathering. Famous last words.......

One last thought. Nothing has been confirmed by Warlord, but there is a persistent suggestion that they may not be happy with the bendy Chinese models. They have not repeated the process since the starter set, and anything after that has been either the FAR superior UK produced hard plastic as seen in the Mosquito, Hurricane, Bf110 and Fw190 models, or metal. This could be an issue as they are already sold out on a number of "bendy" Ace SKUs and the implication is they will have to either get more from China, or switch to metal or hard plastic. Given the quality of the hard plastic this would be a great opportunity to rejig the moulds and reissue, hopefully taking the time to remaster the 109 in particular. That would be my ideal solution, however the current preference at Warlord is to use their tried and true metal spin casting skills. I rather suspect given the lead time to make plastic they will end up going metal just to fill the gap if it happens.... All idle speculation of course but possibly something to watch in future.

Warlord BRS Zeros
Armaments in Miniature
Warlord Zero Decals
Misc Minis
I-94 Enterprises (available in the uk from Minibits)

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Sunday, 14 April 2019

WorLard - Durham part one - Coastal Patrol

Yesterday I attended "Wor Lard", an annual gaming event arranged by the chaps at Durham Wargaming club where the day is dedicated to the games of the Two Fat Lardies, and indeed attended by Rich Clarke, the face of TFL, and others.

It happens in the Vane Tempest Community Hall in Durham, itself an interesting building as it once was the headquarters of the Durham Militia, but has since been converted into a community centre, which, as they say, is nice.

The Dread Portal!
The format of the day is simple. Everyone is asked in advance what they want to play from a broad menu of current and past TFL hits, you turn up, have a chat, and then get your gaming head on. One game in the morning, break for lunch and snacks, another in the afternoon, wrapping up at around 5:30 in time for a pint at the local hostelry followed by a curry. In many ways an unreconstructed perfect day for me.

My first game was Coastal Patrol - MBTs and Eboats in the Channel and all that, very much a "happening" period due to the popularity of Warlord's Cruel Seas. The scenario was pretty standard fare, E Boats returning from a patrol run into a pair of Fairmiles who are covering an Air Sea Rescue Launch inserting an SOE agent, all complicated by a patrolling R boat with a previous history of trigger happiness so everyone is under strict instructions to identify targets before shooting.

CP uses an action system - each turn a ship dices for how many actions it has, usually between none (Captain asleep at the wheel or otherwise distracted) to three. These are the usual things like change speed, order a turn, attempt to spot, shoot, etc etc.

The game was a blast, and ended with a fairly comprehensive win for the Kriegsmarine when they managed by sheer fluke to blow up the ASR launch within an inch of making it's escape. German gunnery dice were damned impressive throughout, and two critical hits on the bridges of the Dogboats caused them both to be ineffective at the crucial moment as the crew struggled to replace the COs, cut down in a hail of 20mm cannon fire.

Blinds in play

E Boat evading

Contact ! 

An E boat "blind" skilfully weaves between the Fairmiles

So the inevitable comparison with Cruel Seas (CS)? - disclaimer - after just one game of Coastal Patrol! (CP)

Lardies are usually held up as a paragon of "play the period, not the rules" and tend to produce much more "realistic" (tm) rules to Warlord, and Warlord\ Cruel Seas has taken some criticism for this, particularly over their torpedo rules, so I was interested to see how they dealt with the challenges inherent in fast attack games.

Firstly, night. CP immediately assumes the game is set at night, which is the norm for the actual engagements. CS is pretty silent on this, but there is some hand waving going on about the short in game ranges representing the problems of poor visibility and mostly being at night. CP uses a system of blinds to represent this and adds an interesting layer of confusion - "is that a target?" "is it a friend from another flotilla?" etc. This is fun, BUT there is an unavoidable layer of complication in any double blind system tracking who can see what and has identified what. That does make for in interesting game, but also imposes a practical size limit on the number of boats a side as more than 4 or 5 would probably swamp the system. One interesting CP rule is that firing your automatic weapons loses your target in the glare of the muzzle flash, so you have to reacquire taking actions - a nice touch that adds quite a bit of tension. Searchlights - searchlights in CS work in ways that defy logic and physics, it really is just a head shaking moment. CP uses a template that works, if you are stupid enough to use it because although you can see your target, everyone can see you. Nuff said.

The actual firing systems are poles apart. CS uses a number of dice based on each of the weapons firing, CP aggregates firing points devolved by the guns that can bear, meaning an average E Boat was throwing 4 or 5 dice. CS uses a simple hit points system, with possible critical hits, CP a progressive damage system where you basically shoot things off the target until it burns down, blows up or sinks due to flooding. Both systems work, but CS does make your boats extremely short lived where in CP in theory you can take a lot of hits on non essential bits. Dealers choice.

Turning. Another area CS takes some flak for is the way boats turn. There is no real excuse for this - a tanker at 15 knots should not be able to turn twice as far as a E boat at the same speed. CP uses a simple turning circle which takes a lot of hassle out of the game. I hate turning circles personally, but they do work.

Torpedoes. CS takes a LOT of criticism over it's torpedo system, which many feel is too complicated and not realistic, requiring the torpedo to move through the water, dice to hit, dice to explode. CP uses almost the EXACT same system, with one major exception being torpedo hits are pretty much universally fatal, something CS gets very wrong. The similarities between the two systems are striking, which does make me wonder how much the criticism of CS is due to an anti Warlord bias from the naval wargames intelligentsia in their stuffed armchairs (me included)?

Aircraft. CP doesnt have them. This is perfectly sensible. Why would you have aircraft intervening in a night engagement between coastal forces? CS goes all "Hollywood" here, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, or would be if the air attack rules had been better written, which sadly they are not.

On the subject of size, CP and CS both focus on small boats - up to Corvettes and Minelayers, but unlike CS it looks as though the player base has enough understanding not to want to include the Bismark.

Both games have a fair amount of clutter - both use ship cards to track damage for instance, but CP is noticeably "chart heavy", much more so than CS, which is certainly a factor in CS's favour.

So overall? The thing about Cruel Seas is, it is undeniably fun. No matter how much I dislike elements of it, and there is a lot to make you scratch your head in puzzlement, I've not had a game which was not fun. There's a lot to be said for that, even if you have to switch your brain off in places. Coastal Patrol is also fun, but takes a slightly more refined and thoughtful approach.

So either or? - Why not both? I have every intent of giving Coastal Patrol a try using my Cruel Seas models. I assume CP was written with the traditional 1:600 models in mind (which we used today) but there is no reason why it wont work with Cruel Seas 1:300 models, and vice versa.

Coastal Patrol was published in 2011 as part of the TFL 2011 Summer Special, available on line as a pdf for the princely sum of £6.49 from the two Fat Lardies web store. Well worth a look as it contains a veritable boat load of other good stuff

So that got me through the morning. Next post will hopefully cover the afternoon where I struggle to save Roman Civilisation from the waves of unwashed barbarians.......