Saturday, 4 April 2020

Naval Gazing Part 2 - the rules - first impressions

OK so I mentioned seeing the VAS (Victory at Sea) demo set at our FLGS. Sadly I didn't have a chance to read through the rules at the time, but since then I seem to have quite a bit of time on my hands.......

Sadly what I don't have at the moment is ships, or an opponent, so this is going to be a bit "blue sky". or possibly "blue sea". I also have to say I have not played any WW2 naval other than Coastal Forces for quite a while and am quite set in my ways - "if GQ2 was good enough in 1980, it is good enough now" sort of thing. I didn't play the original Victory at Sea either, so bear that in mind.

However I do now have a copy of the starter rules and here are my initial thoughts.

Firstly these are the starter rules, not the full thing. They don't contain any stats for ships other than a couple of battleships. The stats are usually on the data cards provided with the models, however I understand there is a compendium of ships to follow which includes all the stats you will need. I appreciate this will be seen as an attempt to tie players in to Warlord models, which to some extent I think it is, however that's just modern gaming and will take about a minute to resolve if you want to use third party models or a different scale. They're also NOT a straight  lift from the previously published VAS v1 from Mongoose - there is clearly quite a bit of development and polish applied.

On scale, all measurement is from (and I assume to) the ship's bridge, which seems eminently sensible, so there is nothing in the rules that prevents you from using other scales if you already have them.

The actual layout is very good - which we have come to expect from recent Warlord releases. What did strike me immediately is that these rules are not full of Osprey plates, instead they are illustrated with some very nice photo-shopped images of the actual models, plus some artwork that I suspect has been commissioned for the job. There is one glaring and frankly unforgivable picture on page 4 which is in a very different style and appears to show HMS Warspite firing her "A" turret to starboard and simultaneously firing "B" turret to port. I have no words. This is so out of character to the rest of the illustrations I suspect it is a carry over from an earlier Mongoose version - but I digress.

The rules seem simple and straightforward. Initiative followed by alternative movement with the loser going first (not very realistic but a common game mechanic, which means no manoeuvring by squadron) with the shooting phase following the same alternating ship by ship but with the winner shooting first. As damage is applied immediately this could make for some interesting and tense decisions - always a good thing. Gunnery is a "bucket of dice" system which looks perfectly serviceable - normal range being out to 30" - if you want to shoot further you need some spotter aircraft or similar and can only hit stationary targets. Torpedo are just treated as another weapon system, usually one shot but devastating (I suspect a carry over from the sci fi roots of VAS but not unreasonable). Damage is assessed as cumulative damage points lost with a "Crippled" threshold, plus a critical hit system, again nothing new but nothing to suggest any problems. There's is a simple but easy to use damage control system for tracking the ongoing effects of fires and floods with the chance of fixing or the situation worsening, which I liked.  All the rules are clear and well explained and have illustrations to help - at least I found them clear (!)

There is an interesting crew order system to allow you to get your ship to do interesting stuff , some of which are automatic, some are based on a crew quality check which is usually 50/50.

Aircraft are covered in depth, but the stats in the starter set are very restricted - only one type per nation except the Germans who for some reason get the carrier borne versions of the Bf109 and Ju87. It seems strange to include these in the game at all given the number of German aircraft carriers operating in WW2, which was none, to several decimal places.

The second half of the rules covers scenarios, and these are interesting. It's clear that Warlord are aiming for casual "points" based games rather than re-fighting North Cape, but the scenarios provided do look well thought out and will generate interesting games. Having said that these are not totally disconnected from historical reality - you don't need to put your carriers on table for instance, which was refreshing.

Lastly there is the inevitable National fleet sections with special rules for each nation in the initial release, plus some passing mention of French and Italians. These are going to cause some comments, particularly from the historical naval players out there, but I think they do add flavour.

So I can't in all honesty say much about the rules til I play them properly a few times. That being said, my first impressions are broadly positive. I think these rules will give a fast and fun WW2 naval game. I'm 100% certain these will not appeal to everyone, particularly the "Old Salt" naval gamer, but for the casual gamer I think these are going to be worth a look.


Thursday, 26 March 2020

Close your ears - Blood Red Skies Tactical Tips

Episode 28 - Tactics 101

I don't usually NOT recommend something to the readers, or indeed visitors to The Blood Red Skies Ready Room, but on this occasion could I say to any of my opponents, please do NOT listen to the latest episode of the Lead Pursuit Podcast, particularly the section on tactics where Doug annoyingly explains how not to get shot down:  link here -

The Dicta Doug has some great points.
1. Situational Awareness - aka READ THE SCENARIO!
2. Use your "F Suit" - an F Suit is like a G suit that prevents a rush of sh!t to the brain to stop you trying to get to a position to take a risky shot that leaves you in a vulnerable position.
3. Table edges are your friend as you don't need to worry about enemies that way.
4. Avoid head on attacks unless you want to get shot back in the face.
5. Wingmen are a thing - learn to use them (my no 1 tbh),
6. Outmanoeuvre doesn't just cause a loss of advantage, it causes a loss of initiative.     

What did I miss?

So, just to repeat, DO NOT LISTEN TO LEAD PURSUIT - got that?

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Naval Gazing - First look at Warlord's new Victory at Sea

I was hanging around our FLGS mulling over what I would need in the way of supplies for the coming "Isolation", when a parcel was delivered from Warlord Games. It was the demo set of the new(to Warlord - more later) Victory at Sea WW2 naval game, due for release in April.

I'm interested in "this sort of thing" so decided to hang around and take a look. The demo set was not the full starter set - more on that later, but it is enough to show the basic mechanics. It contains 2 Cruisers and 2 Destroyers for both sides, Japanese getting Mogami's and Fubuki Class, US Northampton and Fletcher.

So first the models. These have come in for a lot of initial flak due to the very pronounced oval bases when seen in Warlord's promo pics. I'll come back to the bases in a bit, but the actual models look rather good. They're in the new "Warlord resin" and the castings I saw were crisp and clean, and looked very accurate. The scale s 1:1800 which is NOT a proprietary scale, despite what a lot of people think, and actually I think in this case it is a good choice - small enough to get some impression of ranges, but big enough to gave plenty of detail. The models came as a hull fixed to the base, which has some nice wave details, and a small sprue of detailing parts - turrets,  catapults etc. There was some warping but I expect that should be an easy fix with a quick hot water bath.

Now on to the "hovercraft" effect of the bases  In real life I don't think it is that bad. A quick read of the rules - which I assume are a cut down version, shows no need for the bases as part of the rules mechanics. My assumption is that they needed to base depth to make the casting easier and to allow them to have the names on the bases (which they do - individual ships on the Cruisers and classes on the DDs). Only Warlord know. I think they have made the issue worse in their photos by drybrushing the waves on their model bases, which creates an optical effect of emphasising the darker sides of the base - I suspect painting the sides of the bases a lighter shade would be a good idea.

I didn't get a chance to look at the rules themselves, but the accompanying punch board with tokens and turning angle thing etc was good quality and should last - not so sure about the paper sea mats which will I guess be the first thing to be replaced, but it makes sense to include them. The data cards seemed quite detailed - no idea of how accurate they are as I never got to look at them for any length of time. The damage track "clips" beloved of Warlord make a reappearance but these look to have been redesigned a bit and hopefully will work better than those in Cruel Seas. 

So - lastly a bit of history of Victory at Seas. Not something I have played, being a Dyed in the Wool General Quarters player. This game started out as a Sci Fi set of rules for Babylon 5 iirc, by Mongoose Publishing and it was modified by some enterprising folk to cover real WW 1 & 2 era games - not sure what that says about the rules but the general consensus was that the V1 set worked and gave a reasonably fun game, if not too accurate. V2 was scheduled but never completed, along with some detailed 3d mastered ships - about 50 so I am told. Warlord have done a deal with Mongoose and released this version along with the models. Not sure if this is indeed V1, V2 or somewhere in between. The starter fleets will be available through retail but the suggestion is the follow on models may only be direct sales.

First thoughts are this could be a winner - I know I said that about SPQR and that turned into a disaster to play in record time. In this case I think we are on firmer ground as there is a decade of testing the VAS system in it's various forms so it should have had most of the kinks ironed out.

The starter set is a USN\ v IJN affair and contains 3 US Cruisers and 6 Destroyers  vs 3 IJN Cruisers and 3 Destroyers. There are also Fleet Boxes that add battleships and Carriers and also some Battleships available as single packs.

One to watch

ps I think the ships would make excellent target markers for Blood Red Skies.

Thanks to Ste at Asgard Wargames for the pics - Cheers M8 - and if you're interested in VAS Asgard will have them on pre order now

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

The Rotterdam Project Part 4 - Concrete

A major part of my cunning plan to stop Army Group B will be some fixed defenses and fortifications - or Kazemats in Dutch.

These will consist of a weapon bunker and a squad bunker (both concrete), a road block, and a couple of minefields and wire entanglements which I'll hopefully get finished soon.

The weapon bunker is an easy one - my mate Paul (with the 3d printer) has found a .stl of a Dutch B Type HMG \ ATG bunker and kindly printed it off. The print went a bit off with the roof but I judged it recoverable = beggars cant be choosers and all that. Here it is after a coat of paint.

The second emplacement is larger as it needs to hold either 2 teams \ weapons or a squad. This one is "home made" from pink foam based on a S Type bunker in the Peel-Raam line I found some plans for.

Both are a bit tall - a result of the real things being buried at least partly underground, but we cant really do that on our tables and reducing the height to represent that makes the rear doors look daft so I'm just going to have to live with tall bunkers.

Roadblock, mines and wire to follow........

The Rotterdam Project Part 3 - Support Troops

As I mentioned, the core of my force are Dutch Marines, who fought in the defence of Rotterdam in May 1940. In Chain of Command these troops can (and need to) draw their supports from other Dutch lists, so I have a few choices.

Initially I'm going with a Forward Observer, a Swartzloss Heavy Machinegun team, and a Pioneer team. All the models are from May 1940 miniatures Dutch Infantry. The Pioneers are "repurposed" stretcher bearers with cable reels and the like added from spare bits from the Warlord German Pioneer set, plus a spare officer pointing to tell the guys where to plant their bits. The Pio team is needed as some of the Blitzkrieg scenarios in Chain of Command require you to blow up "stuff" to slow the Germans down.

My last support choice for now is a Landsverk Armoured car. The Dutch had no tanks, but did have a couple of dozen armoured card that by 1939-40 standards were not that bad. This model is another 3d print that went a bit wrong, getting a bit twisted in the curing stage, but it has cleaned up ok and will certainly do til we can get another (better) one run off.

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

The Rotterdam Project Part 2

Update on the Dutch Marines for Chain of Command

ok so this took more than 5 days but the main platoon is now done (!) with plenty of time left before the Germans are due in May :-)

The platoon is a bit strange. It has a fairly standard three squad platoon, but then goes "a bit wrong". The Dutch never took an active part in WW1 so they never had a chance to learn first hand some of the low level lessons. One of these was the need to make the infantry squads more flexible. The Dutch don't have the ability to split a squad into teams, and instead operate as a single eleven man squad.

This has some advantages. It will take a lot more to pin a large squad than a small three or four man team, but it does impose a bit of a tactical straight jacket. Then again the lack of flexibility will be "interesting". The squads do have an LMG, but it is the distinctly WW1 issue Lewis gun, with a rather dodgy big drum mag that is prone to stoppages and cant fire on the move. Rather worryingly no anti tank rifle, indeed no integral support weapons at all. I suppose this is in part because the Marines were organised and equipped to act as landing parties and the like in far flung territories where tanks are not likely. Then again the Regular army dont have an ATR either. Or tanks for that matter. Oh and the officer has a sword - something of a first for my WW2 armies!

Next time - some supports

Monday, 24 February 2020

Traits in Blood Red Skies (4) Staying Alive!

So having dealt with performance and gunnery related Traits, lets look at those which kick in when you actually get on the wrong end of a gun.

First up, Robust. This is an easy Trait to use and explain. When played your opponent loses one attack dice. Simple - just remember to use it before he rolls the dice!

Toby always reminded his owner to play "Robust" in time! 
So let's have a quick look at some of the implications. Firstly Robust is usually a second trait combined with something else. There is also an implication when you have an odd number of planes in a Squadron as you can only take one card per plane - do you take the odd card as Robust or the other Trait? This means you can't always rely on having it available either in normal or Open Deck games so choosing when to use it can be important.  If your opponent is already throwing lots of dice you may be better off saving it until later in the turn (it's a Discard, so it recycles each turn). On the other hand losing one attack dice may be the difference between a crit and a hit - something to take into account if you are facing deflection shots under the optional deflection rules. One area Robust shines is when you are attacking bombers - most of which only have FP1 defensive capability - so in effect when they use it they just don't shoot back..... a good reason to send your Hurricanes after the bombers!

The Wildcat is a bit of an anomaly in that it is a "single Trait" plane with Robust. This is more by accident than design as it doesn't really fit any of the others, and the obvious Trait, Great Dive, doesn't add any benefits as it only kicks in above Speed 6. Andy Chambers is probably going to introduce a new Trait in V2 (whenever that happens) to give to slower planes like the Wildcat to make them a little less one dimensional.

There is only one Bonus Doctrine at the moment that works with Robust, and that is Ram Attack - much in vogue with both Soviet and Japanese Squadrons. It's a doctrine that you need to be careful with - always try to only ram someone who is disadvantaged - the normal rules for attacks and advantage apply, but unlike normal attacks you will also take a heavy hit in return. All in all Ram Attack is a great option when you need to inflict one Boom Chit or kill to win the game, but is not something I would recommend as a regular attack option.

The other Trait to consider here is Armoured. It is a rare Trait, which will probably only appear on two very specialised planes, the Il2 and the Hs129 - nothing else has the level of protection to justify it - think Flying Tank. This is also a positive Trait - basically an "always on" Robust. All the implications of Robust apply here, and there is no need to worry about choosing when to use it. There are no Bonus Doctrines that apply.

The last Trait that impacts on survival - or rather morale, is Deep Pockets (DP). DP is an interesting trait that represents those planes that due to either exceptional long range or large ammo capacity (or both) could hang around in combat longer. It allows you to discard boom chits, meaning your Squadron will soak up more Boom Chits before breaking for home. DP is a "Remove" card, so there is only so much you can get out of it, but if you time it right it can be a real force multiplier. Two good examples are P51s and the Zero.

There is one Bonus Doctrine that works with DP - Wall of Lead - basically you can burn your DP cards to re-roll any dice that don't hit. This is one of those Doctrines that scale with he number of firing dice, but it can be VERY powerful, particularly when used early in a fight to gain a Boom Chit advantage, OR again if using the optional deflection shot rules to try and inflict a Boom Chit with a deflection shot.

I'll not go into too much detail on how DP interacts with the multi engine rules, because it really gets confusing - so much so that the only Agile multi engine so far is the Mosquito, and we're unlikely to be repeating that particular combo. If you are using the "Heavy Fighter" optional rule it is much simpler.

Hope that is useful - next time I will round the series off with a look at the Traits we've missed so far - Jet, Agile, Biplane, and the dreaded Vulnerable, Poor Quality, and Sluggish.