Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Work - Gaming Balance

Sorry for not posting for a while - work is interfering with games but cant be helped.

Some painting is still happening - see this couple of German Pioneers for our Stalingrad campaign.

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I was quite happy and showed the wife - she smiled and said "ah nice Love - Ghost Busters". Something inside cried.

Speaking of Stalingrad, our campaign is back on hold as Andy, one of our Brave Soviets, has been put on night shifts for 9 weeks so we've had to reschedule. C'est la guerre I suppose.

So any new stuff?

Well, yes. Firstly Empress miniatures have released this set of German Ost Front veterans which I've ordered. I know Sevastopol isn't Stalingrad but I couldn't resist


Next up, if you follow "Geordies Big Battles" you will know he's been posting about a 15mm Gruntz game. Gruntz is 15mm Sci Fi, and jolly good fun. Anyway he has been posting what I have to say has been a very one sided and mostly fictitious reports but on one point he was spot on - My New Vistula Legion (Polish) are certainly a bit "light" on support. Not any more - well as soon as the next batch of toys arrive - watch this space

Friday, 18 May 2018

Blood Red Skies - Over the Channel, the tale of J for Johnnie

We've been playing quite a bit of Blood Red Skies from Warlord games, and we have a Battle of Britain mini campaign running at Asgard Wargames in Middlesbrough. This week a flight of plucky Poles ran into their German counterparts high over the English Channel as part of Phase 1 - the Kanalkampf.

On this sortie the Poles are outnumbered -  this is due to previous losses and their CO deciding to rest a couple of pilots due to fatigue - something the campaign factors in. The initial set up sees the Poles in classic "Finger Four"  facing three loose pairs of Bf109s. There is some cloud, but not a lot. The Poles have some advantages however, as they have the "Radar Support" theatre card in play, which should give them a better starting position. One pilot - J for Johnnie - didn't get the message and is starting disadvantaged - possibly a language issue with his British controllers? "Repeat Please"


The concept of "Advantage" is crucial to BRS, so it is probably a good time to mention it for those not familiar with the rules. BRS doesnt track altitude. The designer Andy Chambers thinks we over complicate games and miss the point trying to represent the whole 3d thing by tracking altitude, be it with counters, extending stands or whatever. He thinks altitude on its own isn't the deciding factor, it is how you use the "advantage" it gives you. BRS therefore does not measure altitude, it tracks advantage in three stages, advantage, neutral and disadvantage, and you can use advantage to increase your move or manoeuvre options. I think he has a point, and it works. Crucially you can only shoot at at target that is at a worse status than you are, and you can only be shot down if you are disadvantaged. As status changes throughout the turn your advantage level is marked with the pivot on the bases - nose up is advantaged, level neutral and nose down disadvantaged. As each plane completes it's move you place a small "Zoom" marker next to it so you dont get confused as to who has moved in each turn. This is really important!. The Zoom markers are the card "wings" in the pics and the acrylic "Eagles" - more of that later.

The Poles make a quick decision. Not liking the odds they decide to try and pick off one pair of 109s before they others can concentrate and use their superior numbers against them. J- Johnnie trailing behind a little from his leader climbed to neutral. The 109s jockey for position and manage to outmanoeuvre J -Johnnie using a pilot action and disadvantage him - not good. Pilots have one "action" they can choose at the end of their movement - shoot, climb for advantage, or outmanoeuvre. This last one is important and harsh. Better pilots automatically outmanoeuvre lesser experienced ones, equal or better pilots can test to avoid it happening. If you fail you drop one advantage level.
J-Johnnie is distracted by the nearest 109s

Overall position at the end of turn 2
Turn 3 and the 109s do their stuff. The Rottefuhrer White 5 of the leftmost pair uses the 109s "great dive" ability to burn his advantage and slots in behind J - Johnnie. This would automatically disadvantage him anyway, but he is already struggling. Just to make things worse White 5 plays his "Superior Armament" card, adding an extra dice to his shooting attack. J-Johnnie counters with his "Robust" Trait card, reducing the attack by one dice. The Pole sees him at the last minute, takes some hits but just manages to avoid being shot down, however his Squadron suffer a "Boom" chit - the morale system in BRS -  basically if the number of "Booms" exceed your planes you disengage and run for home.
Dakka dakka dakka...
Meanwhile on the other side of the cloud the other pair of Hurricanes are above their opponents and have the advantage due to Radar. They decide to try a head on pass at the 109s who are still trying to climb up to them. Head on passes are the exception to the rule about only shooting lower advantage level targets - you can always return fire if you are attacked head on. This exchange goes disastrously wrong for the Poles, and they suffer another "Boom" result with no return - in fact the 109 scored 2 hits making the Hurricane lose one defence dice for his dodge attempt and he dropped to neutral. The score is now 2-0 in Boom chits to the Luftwaffe

Head on pass misfires 

 Back to the beleaguered J- Johnnie. Activation is in sequence of advantage, then pilot skill, then speed as a tie breaker. Johnnie is in the unenviable position of being at a lower advantage status AND the slower plane. The Luftwaffe take advantage of this, mercilessly trying to hit him while he is vulnerable. Two more 109s make an attack, this time from the beam. J-Johnnie twists and turns, getting hit twice but on both occasions his Hurricane holds together - just, but two more Boom chits are added to the score - 4-0. One more will cause the Hurricanes to head for home.

J- Johnnie in deep trouble
The 109s on the other side of the cloud try and press their advantage, and another lucky deflection shot causes a "boom" chit - the Poles now have 5 Booms and only 4 planes, so they must disengage at the end of the turn, even though they have yet to suffer anyone shot down.

Hurricanes climbing away from the fight
Which is no help to poor old J-Johnnie, disadvantaged and with four 109s after his blood. Thankfully he survived the 109s fire and managed to make it to the safety of the cloud. Clouds are good places to be in BRS if you are in trouble. When you enter or move through a cloud your advantage resets to neutral and you can no longer be tailed or shot at - in fact you cannot be affected or affect another plane in any way while you are in a cloud. J-Johnnie likes this cloud :-)

Safe!


Final positions

And in a moment the skies were empty again.

The Germans scored a campaign victory and returned to Abbeville for champagne and bratwurst, claiming one Hurricane shot down as they saw J-Johnnie diving into a cloud clearly damaged, and one probable. The Poles made it home but managed to write off one damaged plane in a landing accident - and it wasn't J-Johnnie! What is more, having survived the repeated attacks the pilot actually learned from his experience and increased his skill in the campaign. The next sortie he will know better and listen to his controller more carefully.

The campaign is now moving  on to Phase 2 - the Attacks on the Radar Stations.

A word on the toys. The Bf109Es, dice and card tokens are from the BRS starter set from Warlord Games. Warlord has not released Hurricanes yet for BRS - they're scheduled for a summer release along with Bf110s, but we are lucky in that we have a set of the beta stats for them. The Hurricane models are from the excellent Armaments in Miniatures range. You can also see some very nice third party acrylic measuring sticks and "Zoom" counters in the pics. These are from Buy-the-same-token on ebay. The movement stick is particularly welcome as the one in the starter set is badly designed, a pain to use and also a bit wrong.

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Cheers!

Friday, 11 May 2018

Blood Red Skies - A Tale of Two Adolfs (or Adolphs)

One of the features of Blood Red Skies, the new WW2 air war game, is the inclusion of Aces. In addition to the Squadron Boxes (which I did mention a few weeks ago), each nation in the game gets a named Ace in an Ace Expansion box. The main rules allow you to create Aces, but the named ones are more potent, and more expensive in points too.

Each Ace expansion includes one aircraft model, base and aircraft stat card (identical to the ones in the Squadron), a sheet of stickers (ditto), an Ace card explaining his or her skills, plus the relevant Skill and Trait cards. and Skill Discs and counters.  They retail at £12.00 each from Warlord Games , which is ok but looks a bit pricey for a single model when compared to the 6 plane Squadron box at £20.00, but then again no one is forcing you to buy  them and they do add an extra dimension to the game.

The British Ace is Adolph "Sailor" Malan, a South African who served in the RAF and was for a time the highest scoring RAF fighter pilot, with 27 kills. Malan is a good shot with an interesting ability "Set them Up" that helps friendly pilots flying with him, but he is no slouch when it comes to shooting with the "Killler Instincts" skill that converts close range hits to criticals. All this comes at a hefty price of 166 points (135 for the pilot and 31 for his Spitfire) just over twice as much as a regular pilot & plane.



His German opponent is Adolf Galland, the oft quoted senior pilot who ended up as General der Jagdflieger, the highest rank of fighter pilot in the Luftwaffe, amassing 104 Kills along the way. Galland is particularly interesting in that he is the only Ace in the game so far who has a specific mention of flying jets (as he did at the end of the War). That obviously shows Warlord are planning ahead, but also that it may be possible to transfer Aces to aircraft other than the ones in the Ace expansion. This makes sense, Galland flew several types of Bf109, not just the E included in this set, and also Me262s.  Galland is a more traditional pilot who excels at deflection shooting using his "Snap Shot" skill and is hard to tail because he has "Sixth Sense". like Malan he is expensive - 166 points in total in his 109E


I've already painted up my Spitfires and Bf109s from the starter set. The Spitfires are in the markings of 602 Squadron (City of Glasgow) and my 109s are a generic Luftwaffe scheme - I regretted this almost immediately as it would have been easy to go with a specific unit but I got carried away and painted some rather non historic yellow wingtips . Decals from the Spitfires were from MiscMinis in the US who provided an excellent, speedy and very cheap trans Atlantic service, and the German  markings were from Mehusla's store on ebay 1:144 Direct , who again provided an excellent service. (Side note here - I have used Mehuslas decals numerous times before, and he does a couple of RAF Squadron sets. but I think he was caught napping by the massive spike in demand that happened when BRS was released and struggled initially to keep everything in stock - one of the reasons I tried MiscMinis for the Spitfire decals. Thankfully he seems to have restocked several times so the Great Decal Shortage of Spring 2018 is now at an end here in the UK)



Anyway, back to Adolph and Adolf.  It seemed a good idea to paint the planes up to represent the "real" thing as much as possible. With Malan this means 74 Squadron, and Galland JG26 and I ordered decals from Miscminis who happily do both. I also decided to try and make the Aces a bit different to the normal Squadron aircraft, so I decided to try painting them in different but reasonably historic colour schemes.

For Malan I decided to try the early black & white underside. This scheme predated the Battle of Britain and was mainly used in France, but 74 Squadron certainly had it, and it was different to the duck egg undersides on my 602 Squadron Spitfires.

For Galland I wanted full on light blue with a hard edge upper surface. Galland flew several different Bf109Es during the period and this had the advantage of standing out a bit from the others and also ticking the "Airfix" nostalgia box. I've cheated a little and included his personal Mickey Mouse style emblem which may not be quite 100% accurate but I'm not feeling that concerned.

OK at this point I need to come clean. I didn't paint the models from the Ace boxes as Aces, I painted them as normal planes, which helps explain in part the odd numbers in some of the pics. This is because last year Warlord kindly sent me a couple of resin prototypes to have a look at, and they have languished in a box ever since. I decided to paint these up as the Aces. Apart from the material being different the plastic and resin models are to all intents identical, so I thought "why not?" Actually that's not 100% true. the prototypes have a different (hexagonal) hole for the flying bases. Fortunately this was an easy fix as it had been pointed out to me that the Hawk Wargames "widget" fitted over the BRS base very well, so it was a simple job to drill out a 3mm hole and glue a widget in, so the Aces actually stand a couple of mm taller on their advantage stands.

Here are the finished planes
Galland looking a bit bright blue, and a subdued Wing Man

Malan and his 74 Squadron Wing Man
I'm quite happy with how they turned out

So are the Ace expansions good in the game I hear you ask? BRS isnt going down the XWing route, with ever more expansions that you need to have to be "competitive" - theyre trying to stick within reason to the history. The Aces are good, but the points premium would make me think seriously about including them every time. Nice to have as an option, but not game breaking, which is how it should be.

I'm sure we will see more Aces in future, both for the current models and also for new releases.
       
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Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Scatter Terrain for Stalingrad part 1 Thinking Big

Our Stalingrad Chain of Command campaign is about ready to go, but we still need some terrain. Actually that's not 100% true - we need some nice terrain. So each of us in our own way are working on that. Paul is building a railway siding, Andy is building some more ruins, Mark is, well typically he's got distracted so he's probably working on something Napoleonic Vietnamese in 12mm but he will be back on the program soon, and me?

I'm working on some scatter terrain. Stuff to leave around rather than specific buildings. I've already finished a couple of shot up Opel Blitz trucks - and have just finished something a bit more err ambitious...


Inspiration for this is a bit mixed. I had toyed with the idea of getting a shot down Me109 to use as terrain in the desert, but could not find any suitably cheap kits. Then I went to Vapnartak a few months ago and saw what the Spectre Miniatures Black Ops guys had done with a crashed C130 Hercules and I realised I needed to think bigger. Much searching of ebay finally resulted in a 1:48 scale He 111 from Monogram which I picked up for about £35 - pretty much the top end of the budget on this.

When it arrived I was a bit stunned - there's a lot of it and it has quite a bit of internal detail. After being put off a few times I finally decided enough was enough, and grabbed a razor saw. It was a strange project, trying to work out what to cut, and whether it was best to assemble it first or do the surgery on the components. In the end I did a bit of both, chopping the model into three parts - tail, wing and "the rest". I then blanked off some areas where the razor saw had been at work - the tail was easy as there is a convenient bulkhead half way down the real thing that houses the battery compartment, so that made a convenient place and a plasticard bulkhead was cut to fill the gaping gap. Similarly the now exposed wing root was filled with "bits", Everything got a first coat of paint, based and - and then I stalled. 


This was because I don't have any experience painting anything this big, and it put me off, however after putting it aside the opportunity offered by the Bank Holiday weekend was just too much, so I screwed myself up and decided to get it done. I resisted the temptation to go too daft and didnt try breaking any of the glazing, and anyway this was going to be a "done and dusted" project. 

And here's the result - being climbed over by some wary Pioneers




I have to say I'm quite happy with it. It covers a lot of space on a table, and looks the part. It can also be used in bits if needed. The only real issue is storage and transport - I should have thought a bit more about that :-)


Monday, 7 May 2018

What a Tanker! Lardies on target (again)

So I mentioned in my last post the arrival of Blood Red Skies, which I am really loving. However almost at the same time The Two Fat Lardies unveiled a set of rules that have challenged BRS for my attention - What a Tanker!.

As I understand it WAT is one of Lardy Nick's creations. It is a deceptively simple but elegant game about the trials and tribulations of commanding a tank in WW2. At its most basic each turn the player rolls a "hand" of dice (d6) and can then use the results to fight his tank. Any 1s are "Drive" dice, allowing movement and manouvre, 2s are "Acquire"- it finding a target, 3s Aim, 4s shoot, 5 load and 6s are wildcards that can be used as any other dice. You can play the dice in any order, but you must obviously acquire a target before you aim, and then you must be loaded before you shoot. Dead simple. And so easy to screw up! And that's it in a nutshell. Actually it is a bit more complicated than that, and quite a bit more nuanced, but on the back of a postcard that sums it up.

So now to the nuances. The Drive result can be used to move forward 2D6 (inches), or reverse 1 D6, or pivot on the spot and move 1D6. Crossing an obstacle such as a wall costs a whole Drive dice. Damage reduces the result of each drive dice rolled etc etc. The other results are similarly variable depending on circumstances and vehicle.

What could possibly go wrong? Well it seems quite a lot :-) In addition to the total F**kwit moments all players have naturally when you make a stupid decision, in the heat of combat your gunner may fail to see that size of a house Tiger (no 3s or 6s) or you loader may fumble the loading of his shell at the wrong moment (no 5s). That means you have to think fast and improvise. You can set up a good shot and take care, but you can never guarantee the result. It makes for a superb, fun, tense game.

There are also some equipment options - Fast tanks can automatically turn 1 dice into Drive Dice, Tank Destroyers have advantages acquiring targets etc. There are also some clear omissions - no penalties for 2 man turrets for instance. I was speaking to Richard Clark about this and he said they had a whole raft of "historical" modifications built in to an earlier version, but they decided to remove them as they didnt add that much and the added complication reduced the fun. It's a valid point, though rivet counters like me are probably going to tinker.

I mentioned fun. Oh yes. This game is perfect for a group of players to grab a tank each and get stuck in. There are career modes, where if you survive and take out enough enemy vehicles you can progress to a better tank, or you can stay in your (t)rusty old steel beast and be an Ace tanker, gaining bonuses to your skills. There is also a points system to allow you to build scenarios or balance sides.


Monday, 23 April 2018

Cleared for Take Off - Blood Red Skies

Sorry for the delay posting, it has been a busy couple of weeks on the gaming front. I've been to Salute, the Lardies released What a Tanker, Warlord started shipping Blood Red Skies, and I went to "WorLard" - I'll start with Blood Red Skies.

It has certainly been a while coming, and technically the retail release date is May, but the "pre order" stock has been shipped and as some of that is with distributors it is now pretty much generally available. That raises an interesting thought - if Warlord are holding their game for a later retail date than the distributors are they not missing out on possible sales themselves? Answers and thoughts in the comments below please.

Anyway the two player starter set has arrived Chez Renko, along with a Squadron of Yaks and an Ace for the Brits, Germans and Russians. There are plenty of "unboxing" articles and videos in places like Beasts of War so I wont bother with that, but I will give my general thoughts.

Firstly the box is very nice - well designed with all the bits in a clear plastic tray. - It looks more commercial than the usual stuff we associate with wargames and is I think designed to be played straight from the box with minimal assembly if you want. The quality of the supporting material is also good, nice heavy duty punch board counters and clouds etc and....

er what's that? Stop padding and get to the main point - the toys and how it plays? OK

So the toys. You get six Spitfires MkIIs and six Me109 Es. They're plastic, with Spitfires coloured brown and Me109s grey - and some of them are going to be clearly warped. This isn't a problem as they respond immediately to a nice hot water bath. The plastic is a bit flexible - certainly not the hard injection moulded stuff we expect from Warlord in the past, but I suspect that is deliberate (more later). The Spitfire is the nicer of the two models imho with little or no real faults. The 109 is less easy to love, with a strange bend to the bottom of the fuselage, rather clunky wings and the wrong panel lines for an E version. Having said all that they paint up nicely and are actually fun to paint too.


I've not painted the Spitfires yet but will do so "soon". I have painted up the Yak 1 Squadron box. This contains six Yaks and all the required bits to play, this time in a proletarian green plastic. These also painted up fast and easy, as shown below.

I was watching "The Attackers" on Amazon and all the Yaks are streaked with soot and dirt so I thought - "why not?"
The model again is not too bad at all - a bit thick through the fuselage - "Phat Yak" syndrome, but nice enough.

Ok back to why they're not the usual hard plastic. I think this is deliberate. BRS models are going to take a lot of handling as their Advantage status changes, so they need to be robust. They are also not targeting the rivet counting market, aiming for gaming piece quality rather than model quality. The choice of a slightly more flexible plastic and omission of details that would easily snap off will avoid sad piles of broken gun barrels and radio aerials (I'm looking at you Wings of Glory) - it's a trade off. Similarly the models come with basic self adhesive stickers NOT decals - another nod towards the "open the box and play" idea. Warlord are planning to sell more detailed waterslide decals and there are other suppliers (the ones in my pics are from 1:144 Direct on ebay - confusingly they're 1:200)

Now the important bit. The game plays VERY well. My initial thoughts \ concerns that I would struggle controlling more than 4 planes has gone - I played 8 Yaks and it worked fine - possibly helped by getting bounced on turn 1 and being reduced to 7 before any of my planes moved, but...

I think Warlord may have got this right, and although I can (and have) picked fault with just about every model, they do the job they're designed for well. The game is quick to learn and play in basic mode but surprisingly nuanced once you include the cards and advanced rules included in the starter set. There are some detail problems they should have caught earlier - the measuring stick thingy is a PITA to use and I have a sneaking suspicion it may be a bit "wrong" but as long as everyone uses the same it doesn't matter. Similarly there are a couple of typos that probably should have been fixed but were not. None of that detracts from the game as a whole.

Happy to recommend this one

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Friday, 6 April 2018

When the web was young one man stood for all that was good and proper and British!

And his name was .......................

Major General Tremorden Redderring.

I discovered The Major General's site about an hour after first logging on the the internet - probably from the local library - something like that, it was a long time ago. I fell under the spell of that eclectic eccentric at once, and remain there to this day. What makes the Redderring so good is that it is clear from the outset that he and his mates are also having loads of fun. Their games take place in a fictional late 19th Century colonial setting - Ouragistan, and vary from game to game from "straight" Colonial gaming to some rather more VSF (Victorian Science Fiction) - Steam Punk before we knew what that was.

In many ways he reminds me forcibly of Richard Clarke of Two Fat Lardies fame - he likes to tell a story with his games. Actually it was listening to the Lord of Lard on a recent podcast that made me look up old Rederring again, as Rich was musing as he does about the difference between the beautiful staged photos in our War Games magazines, compared to the stuff on our table. Clarkie is no mean brushman himself, but as he said, we shouldn't be put off because our toys are pedestrian compared to the stuff in the magazines.  And he has a point. The Major General was firmly in the "good enough for the table" category too (some stuff was beautiful) but also him and his group of friends who he played with also shared a lot with TFL  they have vision and style. They also liked to "go large", something we seem to be in danger of losing in a world of a dozen figures a side on a 3x3 table.

Sadly the Major General's site is no more, but thanks to the amazing scientific advances and the Mackintosh Patent Galvanic Analytical Engine you can still find a facsimile preserved here HERE , frozen in time from 2006.

Have a look - you wont regret it, but you will need your stiff upper lip and pith helmet :-)

What is even more surprising is the Major General is in fact an American named David Helber. Who would have thought it? I'd like to take the opportunity to thank him for the inspirational stuff he produced (and also curse him because as a direct result of his damned games I still have a box of bits that will one day become an HM Landship but til then is taking up storage space in my loft). Fine chap.

and I hope he doesnt mind me pinching the portrait ............