Wednesday, 16 October 2019

A break from WW2 - Mig Alley

As a bit of a diversion we thought we would give Mig Alley a run out. In case you missed it Mig Alley is a supplement for Blood Red Skies taking the game into the Korean War and introducing jet vs jet combat. You need the main rules to play - Mig Alley is sold as an expansion which assumes you have BRS. But you really should have them already as they're so damned good ...........

Anyway the thing about Mig Alley is it really hammers home just how different jet combat was to WW2 - or rather, just how much faster things happen. The main change in the game mechanic is the Jet Trait, which can really catch you unawares. Jet allows a plane with this Trait to gain an advantage level on activation as long as there are no nearby enemies, and other aircraft of a lesser power can't climb for advantage within range of the jet. This, combined with the very high speeds everyone is travelling makes for Mig Alley games to be very different to WW2 BRS.

So off to the action. Somewhere over the Yalu River a flight of MiG15s of the North Korean Air Force sight a flight of USAF F86 Sabres. The lead Mig - piloted by a particularly tall, blond haired North Korean with a Russian accent decided to engage - even though he was one plane down (the Yanks had cunningly played the "Restricted Airfields" Theatre card during set up, costing him a MiG), but superior Soviet radar direction (Radar Direction Theatre Card) meant all the MiGs were starting at Advantage, where most of the Sabres were not.


The Sabres split into two pairs, Ivan and his wingman were separated from the lone MiG. All of the MiGs jettisoned their Droptanks (Equipment Card) and pushed the throttle up.


Turn 1 and the Russians (err North Koreans) had an edge, using their "Opening Shot" Doctrine card, to take long range head-on shot, they inflicted a Boob Chit on the closing Sabres and then closed to within 9", preventing the Sabres using their "free" Jet climb for advantage. The Sabres tried to manoeuvre but were at a lower advantage level so could do nothing even when one of them did get behind a MiG. 


This didn't last long however as the single MiG was forced into a disadvantaged situation by the pair of Sabres facing him which also inflicted two Boom chits. Ivan decided his best chance was to burn his Advantage to dive onto the tail of the Sabres attacking his lone comrade, ignoring the Sabres he was tangling with. He took another long range shot (Opening Shot again) and caused a second Boom chit on the USAF, then managed to get into a shooting position on the Sabre - if he could get a hit and shoot it down the Yankees would break. However his MiG had the Rough Ride Trait meaning he needed to pass a pilot test to take the shot - and he failed, as did his wingman (doh!), even though both had the Sabre at their mercy the high G force they were inflicting on themselves was just too much (the USAF have G Suits to avoid this).


Burning advantage had left them vulnerable, and the original pair of Sabres followed them. Both Sabres got hits which the Russians (err North Koreans) dodged, but they were now past their Boom limit and they headed for home. Both sides claimed kills - after all, all that shooting MUST have hit something, and several planes were seen diving away trailing smoke.

All in all this was a great game - and really showed just how different the jets are from their propeller cousins. The Migs made a mistake burning advantage to try and get the Sabre, or rather they gambled and failed. Once they were no longer in an Advantaged state they were vulnerable to being harried, and forced out of the fight. BRS moves at a pace normally, but with Jets involved this really steps up.

All of which means I need more MiGs.

A quick word on the models. These are all 3d prints. We have the Warlord ones in metal and they are more detailed than these 3d printed versions, but being metal they need a special stand. Neither of us are keen on that. When Warlord get the jets into resin, as they are suggesting, I suspect that will change. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Stringbags and Applecores - FAA Carrier planes in Blood Red Skies part 2.

Ok let's get down to it. This time I'm looking at three of the most derided or ignored aircraft to see service in WW2, one of which is also (arguably) the most effective aircraft of it's type ever.

But before I go into details, I need to remind folks that these planes were not designed and built in a vacuum. They are the product of a logical and reasoned requirement. Sadly it may not have been shown by history to have been the correct one, but hindsight is 20\20. The Fleet Air Arm was looking for aircraft that could perform a multitude of tasks, in this case Torpedo attack, gunnery Spotting and Reconnaissance, hence the designation TSR

The Fairy Swordfish


When the Swordfish was under development it was in no way unusual. The three carrier operating nations, the UK, US and Japan were all flying biplane torpedo bombers with open cockpits and fixed undercarriages. The Swordfish was therefore not that remarkable. However by the time it was entering service with the Royal Navy in 1936 both Japan and the USA had ditched the biplane and had introduced or were introducing low wing monoplane torpedo bombers with enclosed cockpits and retracting undercarriages in the B5N and TBD. The Brits were suddenly looking like they were flying a WW1 era plane. On the other hand the Swordfish did have some advantages. It had a very short take off and landing run, was robust, reliable and surprisingly nimble - all useful when operating from a carrier. It also proved to be remarkably versatile and could carry a wide range of weaponry - the "Stringbag" knickname derives from a comment that "never had a housewife packed more into her string bag". It also proved to be a rather useful dive bomber (!), being rock steady in a steep dive, mainly due to the incredible amount of drag. I suppose a modern analogy would probably be a Toyota pick-up truck . On the other hand it was a deathtrap when facing any sort of fighter, achieving all it's successes either at night or out of reach of fighters.

The problem with the Swordfish in BRS is that in many ways it has too many exceptions. We have a max speed of (variously quoted) 156 mph "clean" and about 139 mph loaded. In BRS this equates to Speed 3. If we apply the usual "Laden" rules that drops to Speed 2 (gulp), or we introduce an exception to the Laden rule. That makes for several problems in game. The other issue is that the Swordfish was not just a torpedo bomber, but a rather effective dive bomber. Andy C is uneasy with having these two Traits on a single plane - he thinks it is bad game design (and he's right). I think Swordfish will really only work in special scenarios, but just in case, here is my interpretation for BRS.


Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
Swordfish
1936
3 (156 mph)
2
(-)
Torpedo Bomber, Dive Bomber, Turret (Rear Fp1) + Biplane + No Laden Speed*

* When Laden this aircraft does not lose any speed

The Fairy Albacore


The Albacore was a logical development of the Swordfish. The problem was the real logical decision would have been to end the obvious dead end of that development line and move on to something with less wings and more relevance. The Albacore managed an enclosed cockpit and a marginally improved performance, but beyond that was really just a Swordfish. It was like putting spoilers and go faster stripes on a Trabant. They did give valuable service, mainly in the Med, and like the Swordfish proved to be a handy dive bomber, but like the Swordfish were death traps if caught by a fighter. Albacore was taken out of production pretty quickly as when compared to the Swordfish in the roles both types were being pressed into by the wartime circumstances. The performance difference was marginal and there were plenty of Swordfish around due to the Stringbag's legendary robustness and reliability. In Blood Red Skies the "Applecore" has the same issues as the Stringbag. It's slow, and also dual purpose, with all that implies for game design. By some generous interpretation we can however get the speed up to 4, which allows us to drop the "Laden" exception.

Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
Albacore
1940
4 (175 mph)
2
(-)
Torpedo Bomber, Dive Bomber, Turret (Rear, Fp1) + Biplane +


So last up, the Barracuda


The Fairy Barracuda is one of those almost forgotten planes, which is a shame. Designed as a monoplane replacement for the Swordfish \ Albacore it first flew in 1940 and if it had managed to get through to service then would probably be well thought of. Instead it was found to be under-powered, and went through a drawn out development hell which lasted for three years.  It sits roughly where the TBF Avenger would in US service, with the added advantage of being designed from the outset as a dive-bomber and torpedo bomber (sorry Andy). Barracudas did see quite a bit of action, dive bombing the Tirpitz a couple of times, and serving in the Med and later the Pacific.  More Barracudas were made than any other UK naval type, but by the time it entered service the day of the torpedo bomber had pretty much ended. Out in the Far East it was found the Barracuda struggled with the tropical conditions which impacted on both range and altitude, and with little need for specialist dive bombers many FAA Squadrons operated US built Avengers instead. In BRS it is an interesting option.


Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
Barracuda
1943
5 (228 mph)
1
-
Torpedo Bomber, Dive Bomber, Turret (Rear, Fp1)


So there you go. British carrier borne strike aircraft in BRS. How much use they are in the game is open to debate - actually, it really isn't. The Swordfish \ Albacore are just too slow to survive in our fighter based game - which is 100% correct. The Barracuda is certainly more viable. The real war was not fought on our table top (sadly), which means that players will look on these as oddities and dismiss them, which is a shame. The Swordfish in particular was, when you look at the results, probably on of the "best" (or most effective?) carrier aircraft of the war (gulp - ducks for cover) having crippled or sunk 5 Battleships, at least 1 Cruiser, around 20 U boats and a conservative estimate of over a million tons of Axis shipping. The Swordfish was also capable of operating from small decks and in conditions other types simple could not, and because of that made a huge contribution to winning the Battle of the Atlantic, and ultimately the war in the West. That's quite an achievement for a comedy act.

As an aside, the Swordfish was surprisingly agile for such a big aircraft - and it can't be stressed just how big a Stringbag was. We tend to think of biplanes as being dinky little planes, the Swordfish was about the size of a double decker bus! There is a story that one Swordfish operating in the Norway campaign of 1940 got bounced in a fjord by a 109. The 109 was unable to turn with the Stringbag and "became one with the landscape". The Swordfish crew tried to claim it as a kill, but as they had not fired a single round from either of their guns this was disallowed.  I've used this - and other similar tales to justify giving the Swordfish and Albacore Agility 2. I know Andy C will probably disagree but I think it is possible to justify and makes them different enough to be interesting.

The FAA museum still has three Swordfish in flying condition (did I mention reliable?) and they're a sight to see at a flypast - also good value as they're so slow the flypast takes quite a while :-)


Thursday, 26 September 2019

All the Nice Girls Love a Sailor - Fleet Air Arm in Blood Red Skies (part 1 Home Grown Fighters)

Blood Red Skies is now reaching another milestone. Next year the "cunning plan" is to see the current Battle of Britain starter set replaced with an updated Midway themed one. With this will come an understandable shift in emphasis to the Pacific theatre, with some more US and Japanese releases. Don't worry, there will be European planned releases too.

All this has had me thinking about carrier planes, and British carrier planes in particular. History has not been kind to the Fleet Air Arm and their home built designs. Aircraft such as the Fulmar and Barracuda are not well regarded. The usual view being that they were sub standard and were replaced with superior US designs as soon as possible. As these are unlikely to ever see "official" Warlord releases I thought it would be worth looking at the FAA types in Blood Red Skies. I should stress these are not "official". I've discussed some with the games' designer Andy Chambers and he is not 100% convinced on some, but I'll explain why when I get there.

Before we start I think I should explain about why the Fleet Air Arm planes were designed the way they were. In the 1930s the Royal Navy had a good think about the wars they were going to be fighting. British carriers were expected to fight in support of a conventional fleet action, in close proximity and part of the battle fleet. The carriers would provide a scouting role, finding the enemy fleet and counter enemy scouts. When the expected fleet action was in play, carrier aircraft would provide spotting for the fleets' guns, and torpedo attacks against the enemy battle line. In thinking this, the Royal Navy was not alone. Only very radical thinkers were advocating the ideas of carriers as a separate striking force. It should also be stressed that no-one really envisaged a fleet acting in close proximity to enemy land based fighters - Britain planned for wars against Germany, Japan, the USA, France and Italy, but none of these plans really thought the whole of Europe would be hostile  to a RN Fleet. Accepting that was the expected role of the carriers, and under the usual peace time budget pressures, the Royal Navy designed their carriers and their aircraft accordingly.

So first up let's look at the fighters.

Carrier borne fighter aircraft would not be expected to fight single engine land based fighters. They needed to be able to operate against un-escorted bombers and to keep enemy scouts away. Given the expectation of the type of attacks, ie high and medium level bombing, or low level torpedo attacks what was needed was simply to break up the enemy formations. Uncoordinated attacks by small numbers of planes were not thought to be a great threat. Under constant budgetary pressure there was also an acceptance that the fighters would need to provide a secondary recce role. This recce role in particular meant there needed a second crewman to help with spotting and navigation - something quite important when operating out of sight of carriers as experience had showed single seat planes suffered a particularly high loss rate when operating more than 20 miles of the home carrier as they frequently got lost and pilots did not have the time or capability to do their own navigation. A premium was therefore placed on long range, endurance, heavy armament, large ammunition capacity and a second crewman to act as navigator or observer. Dogfighting was not a consideration.

Faced with these narrow design requirements, it can be argued that the fighters the FAA deployed were actually not that bad. The problem was, they were asked to fight a different war.

Firstly the Blackburn Skua.


A bit of an odd looking bird, but good range, and two seats. The Skua was also expected to act as a Dive Bomber and could haul a 500lb bomb from Scotland to Norway and deliver it with accuracy. The Skua wasn't that bad when deployed in it's designed role(s). As a fighter it proved perfectly adequate against Axis bombers, claiming some of the first kills of the war against German aircraft over the North Sea. They also sank the cruiser Konigsberg by divebombing during the German invasion of Norway. The problem was the Skua was really just too slow as fighter. The Skua suffered heavily when engaging fighters later in the campaign however, and the low speed was shown to be inadequate against more modern bombers so it was quickly relegated to training and support roles, ending the war as a trainer or target tug. So here is my take on the Blackburn Skua in BRS.

Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
British
Blackburn Skua
1938
5 (225mph)
1
1
Deep pockets, Dive Bomber, Turret (Rear, Fp1)
16

Next up, the Fairy Fulmar.


The Fulmar was a recognition of the need to increase speed and firepower. If bombers were getting faster you had less time to keep them in your sights and needed more guns to kill them quicker. The RAF was deploying 8 gun fighters and the Navy could see the point, 8 guns were the new norm, and the Fulmar was 50 mph faster than the Skua. It was also a well built and robust plane, with excellent range and endurance, but again was required to perform a recce role so had a second seat in the back. As with the Skua it was never designed to dogfight with single engine fighters, and suffered accordingly. In fact probably the worse loss was to Japanese Val dive bombers that caught some Fulmars scrambling to get airborne and shot down several after dropping their bombs. That being said, in it's designed role it proved effective and in fact accounted for more enemy aircraft than any other FAA type. I should add the "Robust" trait is marginal, but we do need a Trait to counter Deep Pockets or it would be almost impossible to make a Squadron break through Boom Chits in BRS if it only had the "Deep Pockets" Trait.

Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
British
Fairey Fulmar
1940
5 (272mph)
1
1
Deep Pockets, Robust, 
-Sluggish-
16

The Admiralty were not all fools (!) and even before the war started had tried to hedge their bets by buying some single seat fighters. The only problem was they thought the Hurricane and Spitfire would not be suitable to operate off decks so ordered a naval version of the biplane Gladiator. The Sea Gladiator was already obsolete but they were available. As it happened they saw very limited service as carrier fighters, but a dozen did operate from Malta at the start of the war in the Med and made quite a name for themselves.



Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
British
Gladiator \ Sea Gladiator
1937
5 (254mph)
3
1
Tight Turn
+ Biplane +
27

The Sea Hurricane.


When the war started it became clear that it wasn't going to go the way they planned and that the Skua and Sea Gladiator were not really adequate. Fulmars were on order, but still not available, and anyway there was a growing recognition that maybe a single engine single seat fighter would be needed. The problem was there was little available. The RN took a good look at the new US Wildcat, liked it, but at the time the versions available lacked folding wings that was thought essential to get them below on carriers operating in the Atlantic and North Sea. They also looked at the Brewster Buffalo but the consensus was they were better off with Gladiators - which is saying an awful lot. Then events took a hand. In June 1940 as Norway collapsed 46 Squadron RAF was stranded there. They and their Hurricanes had been ferried over on HMS Glorious and had flown off her decks to operate from Norwegian airfields. As it became clear Norway was lost and would need to be evacuated the Squadron CO, keen not to have to abandon his planes, thought they could land back on Glorious. The Navy were, well, a bit sceptical. The Hurricanes were not fitted with arrestor hooks and none of the pilots were trained in deck landings, but a combination of planning and fortune meant all ten 46 Squadron Hurricanes landed safely. Sadly it was all in vane, as shortly afterwards Glorious was caught and sunk by Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.  The lesson of 46 Squadron was not lost however. This proved conclusively single seat fighters could operate off British carriers. The Admiralty wanted to get Spitfires suitably navalised and put on carriers. The only minor problem was the RAF were in a bit of a flap over the need to get Spitfires for what we now know as The Battle of Britain and they had priority. Would Hurricanes do?  Hurricanes were going to be easier to get, and had comparable performance to Wildcats. A quick program of modifications followed and the Sea Hurricane was born. It should be noted these were all conversions from existing RAF stock rather than new build, so many were already worn air frames and fixed wings but they were available and went into service in early 1941. They were a mixed blessing. The Sea Hurricanes were more capable air to air fighters than the Fulmars, but had much less range and endurance so were pretty useless as recce planes. Later versions were updated with quad 20mm cannons. All in all the Sea Hurricanes were adequate, but were never going to be great. They never managed to fix the folding wing problem, and usually were stored in the open on deck or on outriggers, with all the problems that entailed.  In Blood Red Skies you can just use the "normal" Hurricane stats for Sea Hurricanes, or if you fancy the cannon armed versions they would look something like this.

Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
British
Sea Hurricane IIC
1942
7 (342 mph)
2
2
Tight Turn, Robust
36

That leaves only two home grown fighters to see service. The Seafire and the Firefly. I'm NOT going to go into great depths about the Seafire - that will have to wait for another day, but needless to say it was great in the air but the problem was really getting it there and then landing it afterwards. In hindsight the Seafire was not a great choice as a carrier aircraft and more were bent and broken in landings than lost through enemy action.


So the last home produced fighter that the FAA used was the Fairy Firefly Mk1.



This is sometimes thought of as an upgraded Fulmar, and indeed it did share some of the features of the earlier plane, but in reality was a whole new aircraft designed from scratch. A big single engine, twin seat fighter \ recce aircraft, it spent quite a long time in development until it was finally cleared for operations. Where the Firefly differed from the Fulmar was it was fitted with Fairy-Youngman flaps - similar to those fitted to US P38s. These when extended gave the Firefly excellent slow speed turning and handling capabilities - very useful when operating off a carrier. Combined with a big powerful engine and four 20mm cannons the Firefly was a capable fighter, but slow in comparison to contemporary single seaters. Pilots found the flaps allowed the Firefly to turn inside not only the Spitfire, but also the Zero, but the extra weight meant these tight turns could not be maintained. The Firefly also could carry a respectable rocket or bomb load, and served well as a fighter bomber in the later years of WW2 and then soldiering on into the jet age when they were one of the main FAA types flying in the Korean War.  We do have a problem with stat -ing the Firefly in BRS (and to a similar extent the P38) because their rather impressive turning capabilities really only kick in at low speeds. Andy is toying with a new low speed turn trait, but that will probably only happen when \ if BRS reaches "version 2" so he suggests Tight Turn as a solution, and he is sceptical of the Ag 2 rating but it's my blog so..........

Nation
Type
Date
Speed
Ag
Fp
Traits
Points cost
British
Fairy Firefly Mk I
1943
6 (316 mph)
2
2
Deep Pockets, Tight Turn
32

If you would prefer the AC approved version drop Ag to 1 and reduce the points to 26.

So there you have it - my take on FAA fighters in BRS. Hope you found that useful. Next time I will look at the planes that were supposed to take the fight to the enemy - the bombers.

Cheers

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Black Seas - First look

I wandered into my local games store this afternoon (Asgard Wargames - purveyor of plastic and white metal to the discerning gamer) and noticed on the "hobby table" their demo copy of Warlord's new Napoleonic Age of Sail game Black Seas has arrived. Interest sparked.


Intrigued, I picked the rules up and took a seat to have a read through. I should explain here I have been quite critical of Warlord's last couple of releases. Cruel Seas was quite buggy, and SPQR was basically unplayable as written. Both needed extensive corrections \ FAQs within a week of release. In this SPQR was by far the worse. Most of the problems with Cruel Seas were omissions or editing, and though some of this was irritating or puzzling, the game was still fun. Don't ask about searchlights. I really like Cruel Seas now. Sure there are some bits that need house ruling (err searchlights) and stuff that is counter intuitive but actually the core game is fine, and the models are excellent. SPQR has different problems which I've covered in an earlier blog post so wont go into again. Both these games had exquisitely illustrated rule books, and were lauded pre launch by Warlord and others as being the next great thing, only to cause quite a lot of displeasure when they were actually in the hands of the players. So given the previous two, I was quite cynical about Black Seas, which seems to have been "inspired" by Cruel Seas, and was receiving the same pre release fanfare. I decided to wait to let someone else take the risk of buying only to find another badly playtested or edited Warlord product.

So here was my chance. While Jamie W sat assembling the models (more later) I started to read.

Jamie hard at work


Grabbed and settled down for a read
What follows is just a first read through, and obviously the proof of the pudding is in the eating, but I feel a warm glow of enthusiasm - Warlord may well have got this right. The rules are of course lavishly illustrated - Warlord have a partnership with Osprey that means they can access the Osprey illustrations from their myriad of books, but the rules seem, well at first glace, pretty good. I should make a caveat here. These are an Age of Sail era rules set. The direction of the wind really is important, because you just can't sail into it - physics and all that. Black Sails  (BS- I think they may have needed to think about the title a bit more) allows you to do just that. This was highlighted before and the explanation I heard from some Warlord guy was that a captain would know how to get the most out of his crew and ship. This is of course BS, because, well, physics. It's like suggesting you can fly a plane backwards. No matter how good a captain or crew, physics and gravity tends to trump skill. HOWEVER there is an "advanced" rules section that contains a perfectly playable and reasonably simple set of movement rules that acknowledges, well , physics. For the life of me I don't know why these are not in the "main" section. I suspect there is a concern somewhere in Warlord that they need to keep it simple, which I think is misplaced. Most gamers can handle the idea of wind direction  - it's not rocket science. So that's movement out of the way. Shooting is D10s and seems familiar, sharing some DNA with Cruel Seas, but there was nothing in there to make me pull a face (except maybe speed modifiers to hitting a target - not sure how much that is really a factor when most ships are moving at walking speed, but not a great problem). Boarding seems simple and reasonable. In fact on this first read through the rules look pretty solid and complete.

So I while I was sat reading I asked Jamie what the models were like to assemble and he said "Dead easy". By the time I had finished my read-through (maybe half an hour) he had assembled all the models and was cracking on painting the first Frigate.

Frigates assembled

Brigs assembled
I turned my attention to the other stuff in the demo set. The ship cards were good quality - seemed the same general thickness \ quality as Cruel Seas ship cards. The various counters and other card punched stuff was very good heavy duty card too. In fact the only concern would be the paper map sheets which are the same as the Cruel Seas ones, and will probably get replaced. The other carry over from Cruel Seas was the wake markers and the paper "clips" to record damage. I've no issues with the wake markers, the clip things didn't work in CS as they were a bugger to get out of the sheet and then tore easily - and I suspect the same will happen here, but it's not a major issue.

By the time I had finished rooting around and flicking through the box Jamie had done this using Citadel "Contrast" paints. You could have knocked me down with, well something appropriately naval. Literally less than an hour from sprue to this


So the models. Beautiful. Yes I know they're in the "wrong" scale for traditional Age of Sail games, but on this one I'm not buying into the argument that they chose the scale to make sure you bought their models. The scale means they can make these as plastic kits, and the detail is superb. The pre printed paper sails are a bold move, but they seem to work well - as Jamie has shown. 

I can't do a full review of the rules - you have to play them to do that, but many of my concerns about the rules have been allayed, and my first impressions are very positive. The models are - well the ones I saw are first class. Or should that be First Rate? If the first impression holds true, I think Warlord have really hit the sweet spot here.


Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Cruel Seas - Soviet Minesweeper "Mina"

I've just about finished painting my Soviet fleet box for Cruel Seas. If you have not seen the fleet boxes and are looking at playing CS they're certainly a good place to start. The Soviet one contains four each of the G5 and D3 MTBs, a pair of Bronnekaters (Project 1124s NOT 1125s as Warlord keep insisting) and the Fugas class Minesweeper. The other nations follow a similar pattern - one "big" ship and a selection of little ones.

I left assembling and painting the Fugas til last. Partly this was a matter of being a bit intimidated by the size of the thing, and partly because it was clear the model was of a very early ship, possibly even pre war. This was quite interesting because the ship data card included in the set didn't match the stats in the rule book, but did match the model. I wanted more guns, particularly AA guns as a mid to late war ship - and it was clear this was not only desirable from a gaming point of view, it was also quite historically correct. (edit - they errata'd the stats in the book). The pic below shows how the ships gained additional firepower as the war progressed. The Warlord model is very close to the original Project 53 design , what I was wanting to try for was something closer to the T407 Mina, which as an up-gunned Project 53



The model itself was quite nice, consisting of a very crisply cast rein hull, and some metal details. The only assembly issue being the lifeboat davits which needed a bit of work to get even close to the right position, but they fitted in the end.

My limited research suggested the best way to up gun the ship was to re-site the aft 45mm (which for whatever reason Warlord insist is a 40mm*) further aft and replace it with a 37mm AA gun, and add a pair of the same behind the bridge. Ideally I should have cut the rear of the bridge with the two DshK HMG mounts away, but it was a hefty piece of metal and I bottled that. The Mina with this configuration can be seen in the pic below nearest to the camera.


Getting the 37mm AA was a royal PITA. Warlord don't include this gun in their accessories set, but initially I thought his would be easy - just pick some up from a 1:300 manufacturer such as Heroics and Ros. This idea came a cropper fast as unlike every other nation Heroics and Ros don't make a 37/40mm AA gun for the Soviets. Scotia do, but it is a strange 2 part model with the gun platform integral to a square of metal to represent the ground and it would be a pain to separate. GHQ DO make a beautiful gun in towed and firing set up, but they're also rather expensive and ordering the three I wanted would have increased the cost of the project by 50%. Similarly the other Warlord guns of about the same style such as the Bofors in the US accessories set wouldn't really be suitable as this has a gunshield. 3d prints to the rescue. Paul Davison printed me out some 37mm he found on Thingyverse (or similar) and they cleaned up well. The first prints were way too fine, so I asked him to artificially scale them up to match the oversized guns Warlord were providing, and after a bit of trial and error Paul delivered as requested (Cheers m8). As the gun mounts included the round platforms they also were easy to fit to the ship abaft the bridge with minimum messing about - I had to file the paravane a bit to get them to sit right but all in all they look quite reasonable. I do fear for their long term survival given the extreme thinness but I can always ask Paul to print some more**.

* Warlord are pretty crap at identifying guns OR maybe they think the punters are so dense they cant handle the info, but they seem to have decided to re-designate quite a few of the Soviet guns - so for instance they refer to the very common 45mm as a "40mm", and the 76.2mm F34 on the Bronekaters as "6 Pdrs" . To a rivet counter like me this is really annoying. I suspect this is because they are shoehorning them into fixed categories, but surely the correct way to do this is to say "treat as" rather than just arbitrarily change the name? 



So there she is. It has to be said the additional AA will make her a tougher opponent for any S Boats she runs into, but she remains a bit lightweight when compared to some of the other larger ships in Cruel Seas. Being classed as a large ship she is very vulnerable to torpedo attacks, and her relatively slow top speed wont help either. All in all a really nice model and well worth picking up if you are planning on playing Soviets in Cruel Seas

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Aeronautica Imperialis - If it has wings I will give it a go

So I split the starter set with Paul and ................

Ok getting ahead of myself. On the assumption that some of the "History Guys" here may not have heard, Games Workshop have just released a new version of their Warhammer 40k dogfight game Aeronautica Imperialis in the usual ridiculous high production quality. Given my current love affair with Blood Red Skies, I thought it would be worth a look. Steve at the shop (Asgard Wargames, highly recommended purveyor of gaming stuff) had a demo copy and said it was a bit like BRS with hexes and Orks, and he usually has a good eye for games. Then again, he was trying to sell me it so err.......Doh! he caught me again - Kerching!!

So anyway I picked it up. Production quality is excellent. There are 4 Imperial and 5 Ork models in the box. These are plastic kits - very detailed and flexible. They're not in the same scale as the original AI models released a few years ago by Forge World in case you were wondering - they're quite a bit bigger and will match the scale of Adeptus Titanicus. The game tokens are good quality and map sheet is again good quality paper - but I suspect that will be the first thing most players will replace. The map sheet itself is a 2" hex grid which is used for movement. The rules are a starter version - so just the basics, but the accompanying hardback Rynns World source book contains ground attack and campaign rules, plus stats for a couple of more Ork and Imperial plane variants.

Assembled and painted Orks - and yes I was still in Korean War mode hence the Squig 15
So is it like BRS with Orks ? Here Steve was wide of the mark, but then again he is mainly a GW guy so doesn't have the historical background so I'll forgive him. The rules seem quite "traditional", in fact it is clearly a "homage" to such 80s classics as Blue Max, with pre plotting and hex movement. Blue Max players will be right at home. Planes are restricted to a selection of fixed manoeuvres, so for instance an Ork Fighterbommer can choose between options 1-4 whereas an Imperial Thunderbolt can choose 1-6. The manoeuvres are a bit more flexible than in Blue Max - I suspect this is partly to do with there being fewer manoeuvres available and the diagrams giving both port and starboard options on the same manoeuvre. The other change is the higher speeds mean there is no manoeuvres that are limited to certain speeds unlike in BM, and instead there is a minimum distance between direction changes. It all works, which is good, and the balance between the forces is interesting - Imperials want to fight at mid to long range to make best use of their better tech, but the Orcs like to get in close and nasty - it's a nice touch.

Blue Max 

Aeronautica Imperialis
Having had a couple of games this familiarity with Blue Max is causing me some problems. I'm sure once I can mentally replace the GW terms with something more familiar I will be able to handle the manoeuvre options better, but at the moment my planes are often ending up a bit random in their end positions because I don't connect "swoop" with wing-over (or whatever) . Other than that it seems very straightforward and simple. And quite a bit of fun.

Squig 15 FTW!

The real issue for me with AI is Blood Red Skies does the chaotic dogfight so much better. If I had not played BRS I would have been quite happy with AI. There is just a better feel to the split second decision making that dogfights should be about. AI seems too planned, like someone is ordering a battleship to steer a course, predicting where an opponent may end up in a couple of minutes time,  BRS is the seat of the pants reacting to the enemy on a moment by moment basis. Also there is no tailing as such - you cant get on the tail of an opponent and follow him, but you do get a free shot, which is something. As it is, the whole pre plotting thing seems a bit retro, like flares and mullet haircuts.

I think AI will of course do well, and that GW will continue to turn out some great models. I'm certain to pick up the Ork Heavy Bommer and if Tau happen I may grab those too - I always have a weakness for Commies.

So all in all if you like your 40K this is going to be popular, but maybe if you fancy something a bit more representative and more seat of the pants than pre planning, grab a copy of Blood Red Skies and give WW2 a go.

Incidentally, the two games are connected. Andy Chambers wrote the first 40K aircraft game "Bommerz over da Sulfur River", and he also wrote Blood Red Skies - interesting factoid.