Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Blood Red Skies - First Sortie

High over Kent, a pair of Spitfires are directed onto a pair of 109s on a Frei Jagd. Both pairs consist of an Experienced pilot with a Rookie wingman, and are closing at the same altitude, head on. “Tally Ho!”

Initially both sides grab altitude but neither gain an advantage. 

Then as the range drops the Spitfire leader decides to try and outmanoeuvre his opponent, and succeeds in dropping the lead 109s status to neutral. The Brit’s wingman has a chance to shoot at the lead 109 but declines as this would result in a straight exchange of fire and instead moves to get a better position. 

The lead 109 tries scissors on to the lead Spitfire but the British pilot counters and remains in the advantaged position. The second 109 tries to cover the tail of his now vulnerable flight leader, but doesn’t quite manage to get into position. The lead Brit seizes the chance and burns his advantage to brake hard and drops in behind the lead 109 in a tailing position, immediately reducing the German to a disadvantaged position. Eight .303 Browning’s spit fire but no hits are caused. Both 109s desperately twist and turn, and the Spitfires try and stay with them. This continues for several long seconds with neither side gaining a significant advantage or viable shooting chance. Then a burst of MG fire comes close to the second 109, only a deft flick roll saves him, but in doing so he becomes detached from his leader, who is again disadvantaged, and now out on his own. 

Lead Spitfire lines him up, and this time rakes the 109 from tail to cockpit, and the Messerschmitt suddenly rolls into a vertical dive, never to recover. 

The remaining Luftwaffe pilot decides to run for it, and the Spitfires are suddenly the only planes around.

The surprising thing is that pretty much sums up the game we just had using the basic Blood Red Skies rules. What really impressed me was the sheer narrative energy the rules generate. It really did feel as though every decision counted and that fight to gain advantage. Freed from all the charts and order writing we got to play a fast and quite exciting game - which is just what air combat should be.

Couple of caveats – we were only playing the basic rules and we only had a pair of planes each as we wanted to start small. This is partly so we can get a better grasp and partly because we could only scrape together a few planes at short notice (and yes the 109s are not Emils but it was all we had at the time) The planes in the pics are 1:144 scale and on magnetic gimbal mounts, which are rather a nice idea we pinched from playing Wings Of War and are pretty good for marking advantage status in the same way as the "official" bases.

Tally Ho!

Grab for altitude

Closing pass

Throwing the kites around

Killing shot

I’m going to avoid the hyperbole and just say I was rather impressed at both the fluidity and the execution of BRS. There’s a very good feel to the game unlike anything I’ve played on a tabletop for WW2 dogfighting. The way each action can change the all-important advantage status is really something – make a mistake and let the opposition get behind you and you better have either a competent wingman or a lot of luck.  

I'm not sure how it will play with six planes or more a side, but I don't think there is anything in there that will inherently change the game plays - which is, as I say, quite good so far. I think Andy Chambers deserves a pat on the back and if Warlord manage to deliver this without too much faffing and don't bloat it, it could be setting the standard for some time to come. 

We did have a couple of questions about the rules, but its early days and I'm sure some clarifications will follow.

So Tally Ho!

Thanks to Paul Davison acting as opponent \ Guinea Pig. I happen to know a certain Geordie is painting up some ore planes so between us we can try a six v six "soon"

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Blood Red Skies – Interest, and Hope, stirs

WW2 Dogfighting is one of the Holy Triumvirate of unachievable games, along with “The Perfect Set of Napoleonic Rules” which have eluded generations of war gamers, and, well, insert your particular option here.

Blood Red Skies is another attempt to step up to the mark. Written by Andy Chambers and due to be released in the New Year by Warlord Games, it faces a lot of rather difficult hurdles.

Image result for blood red skies game

The problem is many fold. The first hurdle is all that three dimensional stuff. Wargamers really can’t handle heights well. Our playing surfaces are flat, and we think in two dimensions. Any and all efforts to model heights and height differences just results in either ridiculous telescoping stands that make playing the game a chore, or lots of paperwork and counters. In the end we usually just shrug and go back to good old 2d – Mick Spick’s excellent “Air Battles in Miniature” is well worth a read if only for the great writing style and the fact he tries something a bit different.

The next problem is time. An awful lot happens in a few split seconds of air combat. That tends to impose a level of micromanaging on players, which in turn means only a few planes in the sky. It also tends to mean a lot of pre planning – ie order writing. If you are not careful you can end up spending a half hour working out a few seconds worth of action.

Then there is tactics. Air warfare isn’t a thing you can just “do”. Although we like to think of it as a great solo effort the truth is there are some pretty important tactical concepts in there, learned from hard experience. The Dicta Boelcke is about as relevant now as when it was written (ok maybe not in the missile age but certainly in WW2) and formations such as Pairs and Finger Four do make a hell of a difference.

Lastly there is training and skill. Those magnificent loops, Split S’s and the like require a high degree of skill and experience that in war is usually not there. Moreover some manoeuvres simply do not translate well to a tabletop game or to the casual gamer. Some games try and get around this by having the manoeuvres pre-set – so Check your Six (and the Canvas Eagles\Blue Max predecessors) for example allow you to choose from a menu of manoeuvres based on the plane type and pilot skills, usually at the expense of order writing and a hex mat.

So back to Blood Red Skies. Firstly a caveat. I’ve only read through the basic rules and the stats for Spitfires and Me109Es, so what follows contains a whole load of assumptions, so I reserve the right to look red faced later when proven wrong but…

Andy Chambers has taken another look at the whole picture, and decided on a fairly novel solution. Rather than reams of paper, hex grids, lots of counters and the like he has simplified the whole thing down to a fairly straightforward concept – “Advantage” (pretty much energy conservation and positioning), which much harks back to the good old Dicta Boelcke. Planes are moved to achieve advantage. Rather than trying to choreograph the whole process of one plane half looping to counter a split S then the opponent reacting with a scissors or hard break to get into a firing position, Andy Chambers has assumed all that just happens and the result is either advantage, disadvantage or neutral. Players can choose to improve their advantage status by sacrificing manoeuvre or shooting options, or convert advantage to additional move distance. 3d is out the window, and now planes are simply in better or worse tactical positions. Pilot skill is represented too, with better pilots moving and shooting first. Crucially that can mean a better pilot manoeuvres around a less skilled one, changing the advantage status relative to both and getting a shot in before the opponent can react. Advantage status is very fluid – you may have it in your turn but the actions of an opponent can cancel that out or even put to down to disadvantaged, in which case you need to do some fancy flying or you will be in trouble, as you can only normally fire on targets that are in a worse advantage position than you. This feels much more fluid that the rather stale hex based movement of other games. I’ve seen something similar before in a computer\card game but that failed to get the toys on the table feel. He's also gone straight for the idea that this is a team game - each player has a six plane unit and the rules encourage "proper" wingman tactics by allowing wingmen to cancel out opponents advantage that result in a tail on the leader - IF the wingman is in the right place. 

The "official" Warlord planes will be in 1:200 scale - which is a bonus as there are plenty of other sources for the stuff Warlord wont be doing initially.

The more I look at this the more I think he may just have cracked it. Suitably enthused and because the “official” product isn’t going to be available til Christmas I’ve ordered some 1:700 Spitfires and Emils from Tumbling Dice with the aim of trying out the game concepts to see how they work. I could have tried printing up some counters but the total outlay was £7 including £3 p&p so I figure it is worth a try. I’ll report back in due course.

Comments and equally wild speculation welcome!

Friday, 21 July 2017

The Fantasy Side Project Part 2 - The Golden Fleece

The Fleece arrived promptly from Steve Barber Models . It is a kit consisting of five parts. One resin tree , three metal branches, and the fleece itself, again in metal.

At first I was a bit disappointed. The resin Steve has used is a rather dirty grey and quite heavy type which reminded me forcibly of the bad old days. I suspect I have got used to the more modern lightweight stuff and the beautiful resin from Hawk Wargames. There was also a fair amount of flash to deal with. The branches were in metal and again there was some flash to work on. Additionally it was clear that the branches were designed to have locating pins these had either not cast properly or were missing, and the corresponding sockets on the tree were not immediately visible. This initial disappointment quickly wore off. It only took a couple of minutes work to remove the flash. I then drilled and pinned the branches into where it looked like they would fit best using some cast off bits from where I had cut down brass spears as pins and a pin vice to drill the holes. (Health & Safety warning - if you try this get a mask as the resin dust is not nice stuff) During this time it became apparent that the model was rather well detailed, particularly around the base of the tree, with lots of  subdued features - nice one Steve Barber! I finished it off by filling the gaps with Vallejo Plastic Putty - something of a first but it seemed to work well.

Painting was a breeze. A black spray (car primer) undercoat plus layers of different greys dry-brushed to represent the dead tree. I decided it would be dead as Hydra poo must be pretty toxic. Then I painted and dry-brushed the moss growth around the stump. As I was in a rush I didn't bother with the nice mushrooms at the base - I may go back and do them later just for a giggle.

At this point I realised I had cocked up a bit. The Fleece itself was cast fairly flat. I rapidly painted it with a mix of various golds and bone white for the skull. Then I remembered I had intended to model it wrapped over a branch as it is shown on the web site. That would mean bending the casting quite seriously. After an initial try I gave up and went for a more decorous draping, which at least meant I didn't wreck the paint or the detail on the Fleece.

So here's the finished Fleece in it's rather dead looking tree, just waiting for some wandering pilferer. I'm quite happy with it.


Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The Fantasy Side Project Part 1

Yup yet another one!

There is a plan to put a Fantasy campaign together at Asgard WarGames, linkity link where I seem to be doing a fair % of my gaming nowadays. The players there are thinking of converting their spare Oldhammer figures to use the Sword & Spear Fantasy rules from Great Escape Games. I gather Age of Sigmar is too "skirmishy" for them, and it certainly isnt a project I ever have any chance of getting an interest in. Rather importantly, these rules use group bases rather than individual bases, and the guys at Asgard have fortuitously decided to use the same base sizes as Impetus. When I heard that, my ears pricked up – surely I could use some of my Impetus armies plus a few suitable Fantasy types to flesh them out – that seems very much like “a Cunning Plan”! This looked like another cheap project. In fact I thought, ok maybe £50? That seems reasonable. Yeah.

30.05.17 Rules ordered. £15…not sure if that’s part of the project budget, more the research – we’ll see.

So which army? Clearly I need a theme. Then I thought about the stuff I already had, and for some reason I thought of Jason & the Argonauts, or rather Colchis – the owners of the Golden Fleece. 

This looks like a good idea, its pretty iconic in the sense everyone has heard of them, or at least just about everyone of a certain age has seen the film. It has some great fantasy elements and at the same time I already have both Thracians and Scythian troops from Impetus, and they both fit the “generic foreign” and originate generally in the right area of the Mediterranean \ East to double up as Colchis and their allies, particularly when viewed through the now misted lens of childhood and Hollywood.

So first I need a Golden Fleece! I thought about making one, but there are already a couple on the market. I’ve already got the main troop types so my £50 should be safe for some special bits. Steve Barber makes one in his Greek Myth Range here so why not.....

30.06.17 Golden Fleece ordered from Steve Barber Models. Cost £7.50 plus £4.00 p&p. Does p&p count towards the budget? Not sure, but I suppose so. Total spend so far £26.00. Just over half way there…..or only £7.50 if I ignore the rules (research – clearly a different budget) and p&p (Logistics?)

More in part 2