Sunday, 23 September 2018

Cruel Seas - Warlord Games goes Postal - err Coastal

So I was at Warlord Games Open day on Saturday (22nd September). This was my second year at the event, and truth be told this time it seemed slightly less busy, however I assume it being held on the same day as the nearby and new Derby convention ChillCon contributed to the fairly muted atmosphere.

I was there to do some Blood Red Skies, and in theory Warlord were pushing their Black Powder 2 release, Strontium Dog etc, but the main interest for me and most of the others I spoke to was my first look at Cruel Seas.

Cruel Seas is Warlord's entry into WW2 naval wargaming - and they're doing it with something of a bang. The game revolves around Coastal Forces - shorthand for Motor Torpedo Boats and the like. They were running demo's but as I was busy elsewhere I missed them sadly, so I cant comment on game play, but I can comment on the models, which were stunning.

Clearly inspired by the phrase "Go Big or Go Home" Warlord have went for 1:300 scale for their models. That's twice the size of the older Skytrex "Narrow Seas" range. For example an S Boat is almost 12 cm long.  I missed getting a game, but I did acquire a couple of test sprues, one German, one British, and they are VERY nice indeed. Each sprue contains 2 boats. The British one has a Vosper 73 ft MTB (beloved of Airfix) and a 72 ft. the German has two different S Boats (sorry, I don't know which they are). As with all test sprues there are issues - some sink holes and I think the S-Boats are missing some guns, but the overall level of detail and proportions look excellent, and the whole point of test shots is to highlight problems before they happen so they can be fixed.

Warlord are planning at least 6 "Fleets" - UK, USA, Germany, Italy, Soviets and Japan. Each will get a selection of ships, with the majority being in resin but at least the S Boats and Vospers being plastic - possibly the PT boats too. The fleets all are very well developed - no sign of the "one model a side" approach taken with Blood Red Skies, there seems to be half a dozen models for each faction increasing in size up to Corvette size. That p*ssed me off a bit as a BRS player - we've had to wait a year for any real  expansion, but it is clear where Warlord have been prioritising. Sour grapes aside, the models look bloody good.

Release date is being mooted as December, so something very much to look forward to for Christmas

Warlord Games Open Day - The Future is Bright, and Blood Red

So back from the Warlord Games Open Day, with a bunch of updates and general BRS related information gleaned by attending the seminar by Andy Chambers - Internationally Renowned Games Designer (or IRDG for short) and also cunning interrogation techniques worthy of the KGB.

So all that aside here we go, and in no particular order

1. Warlord are planning a second Blood Red Skies Starter set for release "next year". It will follow the same format as the Battle of Britain one but will be centred on Pacific carrier warfare - Midway being the focus. Still in development but Plastic Wildcats (huzzah!) and Zeros. The Zero is slated to be the same one from the current release - ie the later A6M5 not the A6M2 that should be there - rivet counters like me will be disappointed but the costs of another tool when the models are so close visually it doesn't make financial sense, however the stats and cards will be different (I assume). Lots still unanswered such as will the Wildcats be hard or soft plastic, when is it expected etc, but plenty to be hopeful for - would expect some new scenarios involving torpedo and dive bombing too. ETA "Next Year"

2. Card packs. Warlord are releasing card packs (Hallelujah!) to allow some expansion. These will be Nation specific sets to allow you to play aircraft that are not available yet. The example given for the RAF was it would include later marks of Spitfire, plus possibly Typhoons and Hurricanes, plus the associated Trait and Doctrine cards. Similar packs for US, German, Russian and Japanese, with the possibility of USN\USMC and Italians. First release expected "early in the New Year"

3. Plastic expansions. We saw "test shots" of the new Hurricanes, Mosquito, Fw190 and Me110. Test shots are pre production models that are run to test the mould for issues before it goes into production. They are hard plastic NOT the soft of the current releases. They still have a couple of issues but initial impression was very favourable - I will do a full post on this later but for now thumbs up. Hurricanes and Mosquito's release is expected early November, 190 and 110 January (ish). No idea if the production ones will be pre coloured - forgot to ask (doh!). On the subject of hard plastic, it is unlikely the current "soft" plastic models will be re released in hard plastic if it means new mould plates, again a question of economics over desirability.

4. Plastic Yanks. This slipped out in conversation but the next plastic set AFTER the Germans will be US and will be the P40 and P38 - no confirmed date but next year.

5. More metal. I've rattled on about why BRS should be in plastic or resin not metal but I could be wrong. Warlord hope so - they've released the Wildcat set in metal and I bought it to try it out. Again I will be doing a fuller review at a later date. The advantage of metal is the individual models are more expensive to produce but the set up costs are far less - the upshot being if the Wildcats and Kates sell we may see some more in metal. They have already done the 3D design work on Beaufighters and Ju87s for Cruel Seas (more later) and they see no reason why they could not upscale them to 1:200. If the metals work we could see more by the end of this year half full I suppose.

6. More Aces. There is a good chance we will see more aces, at least two for each release. Bombo Schenk, Otto Kittel and Pips Priller got a mention. Ace packs are a good way for Warlord to fill release schedules as they will use existing models and they give players more options.

Andy Chambers IRGD is busy on new ground attack rules and missions for BRS too. We playtested his early draft High Altitude Interception scenario and it worked rather well - needs tweaks but where it went wrong was more me trying to push too much in rather than problems with the scenario, which I suppose is why IRGD is IRGD :-)

So overall I came away from the Open Day feeling quite positive for the future of BRS. It was pretty clear reading between the lines Warlord were surprised by the success of BRS and they are taking a bit of time adjusting, but they are getting there. I also bagged a test shot Mossie and Hurricane so I will be able to do a more in depth look at those later.

What do you think - comments welcome below

EDIT I forgot 7. Warlord have a deal with Rebellion who have the rights to the old 2000AD and other UK Comics. This is of interest to BRS players because that includes "Battle", and therefore "Johnny Red". There was a mention of a special Ace \ Squadron box for this , which could conceivably include some Russian planes along with the signature Hurricane.

EDIT I also forgot 8 (old age I suppose) but the possibility of Jets was discussed, with WW2 being pretty much certain, but also extending into the Cold War and possibly Alt History 1946 etc - not the weird war stuff, more the new tech. Similarly pushing the system back to 1914-18. All that seems perfectly possible, at least up to the arrival of the missile which may mess with the way Advantage works, so more to look forward to.


Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Uncle Sam to the Rescue - Armaments in Miniature and Miscminis -Superb service from across the pond

 OK this is a quick mention for two US companies based who offer a great service at a very reasonable price, even taking account of the cost of shipping to the UK.

Firstly Armaments in Miniature (link) . I ordered ten models late in the evening of 11th September -  exactly one week ago - and they arrived this morning. Beautiful models, crisp details. Cost to ship them over the Atlantic? $14. Their website is a bit clunky and you have to email your order in, but its well worth it.

Secondly, on the same day I also ordered matching decals for them from Miscellaneous Miniatures (link) , and they too arrived today, shipping $2.50. What is even more impressive I asked Kevin at MiscMinis if he could do me some bespoke decals for a project I am working on, quite a complex one at that, and they were included. That's damned good by anyone's standards.

I'll post the details of the loot at another time, but for now I have to say I cannot recommend both highly enough,  so if you need 1:200th planes, or decals, give them a try, you wont be disappointing.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Mystery Flying Fortress - Blood Red Skies

Sometimes you just have to remember that people screw up!

I have decided to do a B17 squadron for Blood Red Skies. This is a bit of madness bit I think several Flying Fortresses will look rather good as a demo game or a big club game.  At the moment there is no "official" model from Warlord Games, and tbh I don't think there will be for some time. Fortunately there is a plastic B17 kit out there by Academy in the correct 1:200 scale. It is out of production, so not easy to find, but still relatively cheap if you can find them. So far I have 5, but that nice Steve Perry of Dark Ops fame has loaned me 3 he managed to grab on the understanding I paint them for him, which seems fair enough. Ultimately I think nine is the target but they appear only now and then on ebay so it may take a while.

This is what the box looks like

Its an old kit - actually there is a good blog post about that but I will leave it til later, because the interesting thing is, when I have looked around, the unit depicted doesn't seem to exist!

The big A is the 91st Bomb Group, but none of the Bomb Squadrons in the 91st used the ID code LC. The 322nd used LG, the 323rd used OR and the 324th (of Memphis Belle fame) used DF. No LC. I would love to claim I researched that, but actually it was Kevin at MiscMinis who I asked to look into doing some individual BG markings. Kevin is pretty much a "go to" guy and his decals are first class.

So I was searching around the web looking for a Squadron that used LC when I saw this pic titled

"Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortresses" of the 91st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force, enroute toward Cognac, France, fly at 18,000 feet altitude - high above the heavy cloud banks. 31 Dec.43."

Looks a bit familiar? On closer inspection this is has the same tail serial as the Academy kit 23057 N with the ID code LGN, so is from the 322nd BG- I suspect the Academy guys took this exact pic as their reference, but missread the ID code as LCN - mystery solved!

Steve is less "anal" than me about this sort of stuff so he doesnt mind having his three bombers in the same scheme and serials - which will make the job easier. As for me, I've asked Kevin at MiscMinis to do me some custom decals to allow me to field planes from the 324th, though I suppose I should steer away from DF-A for fear of cheese.


EDIT - Google is your friend apparently - B17 F serial 23057 LGN was named "Blonde Bomber". Nice to know

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Blood Red Skies - Ba Ba Black Sheep

Just back from Asgard Wargames in Middlesbrough where a bit of Blood Red Skies was going on. Not a lot out of the ordinary I know except Paul was trying out his new F4U Corsair Squadron VMF 214  VF17 aka - the Black Sheep Jolly Rogers using beta stats for the Corsairs. Flying against him today was James and his rather less famous A6M5 Zero Squadron. The game was 500 points and using full historical Doctrine and Theatre Cards.

Pauls Corsairs were 44 points each, and he  started with an Ace, two Skill 4s and a Skill 3 Pilot all flying F4Us, and chose High Altitude Performance for his Doctrine, and Numbers and Poorly Trained Opponents for his Theatre Cards. Numbers added 2 Skill 4 Corsairs (ouch). James took six A6M5 Zeroes with two Skill 4s Skill 3s,  Aggressive Tactics and Heavy Flak Presence (he didn't have any more Zeros so Numbers wouldn't work)

Very fast moving F4Us - hence the blurry pic :-)
More sedate Zeros
Set up was "interesting". Paul managed to leave a gap at the back of his formation into which a pair of Zeros appeared
Doh! said the Fighter Direction Officer

Starting positions
That initial screw up was not as expensive as it could have been as both the "sneaky" Zeroes rolled Disadvantage on their set up dice and were effectively out of the game for a turn or two. In fact most of James' Zeros were starting Neutral or Disadvantaged so it wasn't looking great.

Turn one was mainly a matter of the F4Us using their high speed (9 \443mph) and Great Dive abilities to get into position to outnumber the main Zero elements before the trailing pair, who were clearly "grabbing" for altitude to join the fight could get involved. It wasn't looking good for the Zeros

But somehow the Corsairs just couldn't seem to make it stick. They inflicted an early Boom Chit on the Zeros, but then one of them got caught tailing a Zero into a cloud by the (quite shocking) combo of Tight Turn and Aggressive Pilot, and took a burst of 20mm cannon shells that even his "Robust" trait didn't help with, evening out the Booms. A second quickly followed, which the F4U failed to dodge, first blood to the Japanese.

The Corsairs struck back with another Boom, but it was quickly clear they were trading rather than making their local numerical advantage stick. Meanwhile the two trailing Zeros burned advantage to dive towards a cloud, then used their pilot action to regain their neutral status.

Back in the Furball the Corsairs were still struggling to make their Firepower 2 stick as the Zeros just kept dodging, then ,finally they connected, hard, and a Zero rolled into an uncontrolled dive, a victim of the US Ace. Score was now 5 all with both sides having 5 planes left - next hit would decide it.

Remember those two Zeros stooging around in an innocent manner at the back? Turns out they were not quite as innocent as they seemed - they burned advantage to Dive through the cloud, which reset them to neutral and put them on the tail of a pair of Corsairs.

 They initially missed, but they dropped one Corsair to Disadvantage due to tailing, and a third Zero carved his way in and delivered the Coup de Grace. The Corsair tried to dodge but his Agility 2 didn't work and another Corsair went down in flames.

The F4Us tried to grasp a draw but just couldn't line up a shot, and they broke for home

Thanks to Paul & James for the game. A good time was had by all

(Edit. Apparently the Corsairs are VF17 The Jolly Rogers NOT the Black Sheep. Need to think of a catchy new title................)

Monday, 3 September 2018

Is 20mm the unloved ginger child of WW2 Wargaming?

This is for Mark really, but I think it may be interesting to see what others think.

I started wargaming in 20mm. I think that is true for most of us who grew up in the 70s and early 80s in the UK. It is almost impossible to explain just how limited your options were as a wargamer in those days. Initially it was just one word. Airfix

I know there were other manufacturers out there making metal models, but if you were like me a young lad the chance of ever discovering them was slim, and even if you were aware you still needed to write and send a self addressed envelope (and possibly a postal order) to get a typed and un-illustrated catalogue. Luckily we had Airfix, and it was available in just about every newsagent and toy shop in the country.

Airfix were the main supporter of my wargaming from the start. That meant for most "periods" their soft plastic 20mm (1:76) figures or polystyrene kits, supported by their rule books initially loaned from the library and illicitly photocopied.

WW2 was the big interest for me. After all the war ended only 30 years before and we all had family members who had taken part. It was possible to play other periods of course, and the idea of fighting Agincourt using just the figures available in the two "Robin Hood" boxes must have occurred,  but the main arena was WW2. Choice was, well, limited. Airfix had a vast breadth of range, but it did lack depth. Germans could happily fill their order of battle with Panzer IVs, Panthers and Tigers, and the ubiquitous German Recce set provided a Kubel and 222, but that was about it. Similarly the Brits could get their hands on a Churchill, Sherman, Crusader and Matilda. This made for exciting times if you were so inclined, trying to convert a passable Cromwell out of plasticard and the wheels from a Crusader etc. Later, Matchbox joined the fray, adding such much needed kits as a Panzer II and III, and a Sherman Firefly. All of this was in what we now call 20mm, and as a WW2 wargamer there was nothing to compete.

But today 20mm is rapidly shrinking into the shadows. Initially 15mm, then more recently 28mm have dominated WW2 gaming. 20mm still survives, but it is no longer the first choice for me and many others, so why is that?

Firstly I should say in many ways it IS the logical scale of choice for some games. Availability of cheap plastic kits in an amazing variety, some, such as those by Dragon are available painted to a standard most of us could only dream of. Figures have also come a long way, and figures by companies such as AB are frankly streets ahead of most of their 28mm rivals in terms of detail and animation. Range is also very comprehensive. In 28mm I only know of one manufacturer makes Belgian infantry, not so in 20mm. Try finding a Sdkfz 132 Marder II in 28mm, no problem in 20mm. Price is also VERY alluring - 20mm kits being equivalently priced to 15mm ones, and usually a fraction of a 28mm one.

The problem is the tyranny of the masses. 15mm has blossomed with popular rules like Flames of War rapidly dominating the market at the "Company" level of gaming. 28mm has followed suit at "Platoon" level even if Bolt Action has a very suspect concept of what a Platoon actually was. What that means is that if you want to play a WW2 game, those scales are where you will have the best chance of finding an opponent. And that, sadly, is a fairly huge factor. OK if your club or group want to either stick with 20mm or start afresh, but once you are in, you are committing to a very fixed group, and if, as often happens, you fall out or move on, then you may end up trying to play solo.

I would also add I like 28mm as a scale to paint. As I grow older I can no longer conceive of painting some of the smaller scales to a standard I would be happy with. That may not include 20mm yet, but it is getting there. And then there is the spectacle. a Tiger in 28mm is quite a lump of eye candy in a way 20mm cant quite manage.

And of course, once you commit to 28mm, it makes little sense to play other scales for similar projects. I'm excited at the soon to be released Chain of Command Fall of France expansion. If I were starting from scratch I may conciser 20mm, (edit - I originally typed 28mm instead of 20mm) but I'm not. I already have quite a bit of 28mm kit that will port over, and a group who prefer to play in 28mm (and another local group who would look puzzled at the thought of playing in 20mm).

So that is why, with some sadness, I wont be starting 20mm again. Sorry Mark, it just does not make sense to me, but I understand why you make the suggestion.

Comments please - let's try and discuss

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Stalingrad Day 4 - more meat in the grinder

After the last game my Pioneers had successfully got the better of Mark's Russians in Fallen Heroes Square, so I handed the baton back to Paul for the next mission - a German probe into the Russian defences.

As we had switched venues to Hartlepool Wargames Club we had an issue with the terrain for Fallen Heroes Square in that some of it came from Asgard Wargames. Additionally the Probe mission really needs a 6x4 table and our FHS layout was only 4x4. So we decided to move the location of the scenario a little closer to the Volga and into the Housing area. Paul and Mark set up the terrain. Paul as the attacker had 3 support points, Mark also had 3 due to his lower force rating. Neither thought they had enough.

They were probably right.

Probe is in my mind probably the most dangerous CoC campaign missions to play because it encourages recklessness. All you have to do to win as the attacker is get one team off the opposition baseline. It's hard to resist the idea of taking a risk in rushing forward to get a cheap and easy win, but if it goes wrong your arse can be flapping in the wind, but even then the temptation to give it one more go is very strong. See later..............

So the Patrol Phase went well for the Germans - in fact due to some Soviet inattentiveness they got a Jump Off Point (JOP) within about 15" of the Soviet table edge, and given they could deploy 6" further on this looked like it was going to be a quick win - after all it was only 9" to the table edge and victory, so what could go wrong?

Jump Off Points after the Patrol Phase - the Germans need to exit one team at any point on the right edge
Rolling for Force Morale saw the Russians just squeeze it with 9 points to the German 8, which gave them a slim possibility of closing the door on the Germans before it was too late.

Turn 1
A breathless sentry rushes into the Soviet Command Post - "Comrade Leytanant he pants - the Germans are outflanking our position!!" Cursing his sleeping sentries, the Leytenant grabs his Tokarev and rouses his men. He quickly gets two squads "on the line" along with his flamethrower team, and ready to move to intercept the Germans. Is it too late?

Not quite. The German deploys one Squad from his advanced JOP and a second behind the wing of a crashed He111 (little known fact, but Stalingrad is littered with crashed He111s).

As it is the turn they deploy neither can move, but the second squad can bring some fire down on the Soviets as they deploy to try and stop the lead squad, killing three Comrades, including an NCO.

Back with the Russians, and there is nothing that can be done but shout Urrah!! and charge before the Germans have slipped past. Sadly none of the squads committed manage to get close enough to the Germans - it looks like this could be over quickly.

Caught in the flank the charging squad takes two more KIA in quick succession. At this point the German commander has an option to change plan and punish the Soviets caught in the open, or push on towards his objective hoping to get the mission completed with minimum casualties. The lead German team decides to go for it - needing 6 or better on three dice - and......the Dice Gods say No

The Soviets cannot believe their luck, and with a bellowed Urragh! charge again - this time reaching the Germans who are almost in touching distance of the table edge and victory, and coincidentally overrunning a German JOP.

The fight is bloody and brutal, with men killing with guns, knives and anything they can lay to hands. As the smoke clears the Germans have lost six, only one NCO and a Landser left alive, but they have inflicted nine casualties on their Soviet opponents to win the melee.

The remaining Soviets fall back, only two soldiers plus their officer holding their nerve slipping into a nearby building, the rest have broken and ran. Their sacrifice has not been in vane however, because the German team is now pinned and unable to advance further, nor can the German use either of the JOPs for the next activation.

Back on the German side things are not as hoped but there is plenty to be happy about. The frantic Soviet charge was repelled with heavy losses. Now the Soviets are reduced to only one effective squad it should be just a matter of brushing them aside.

By this point due to losses the Soviets are down to 3 command dice, but prove that there is no such thing as a lost cause by rolling three 6s, ending the turn, and crucially removing the overrun German JOP. That costs the Germans deary in Force Morale. Then, in a demonstration of just how difficult and dangerous street fighting can be, the two surviving infantrymen (clutching their squad DP LMG) and bolstered by their heroic Leytenant move up a floor and drop a grenade onto the two surviving Germans below - killing the Landser and causing another loss of German Morale. Both sides are down to 3 command dice.

The Germans then deploy their reserve, along with their second Senior Leader, from the remaining JOP - they have 13" of table to cover to reach the table edge. They immediately take casualties as Mark uses his Chain of Command Dice to interrupt the turn and hit them with his DP.

The leader shouts "Run Like Hell" - and again they fall short by an inch or so. Back around the Heinkel, a firefight is raging, but the remaining Soviet squad is never going to out shoot almost twice as many Germans.

The surviving DP team and their Leytenant take a moment to hug, then with a great cry of "For the Motherland" they throw their last grenade and empty their "record player" into the Germans sheltering below. It's not quite enough - but only by the narrowest of margins.

The Germans have manage to break the squad in the firefight and that loss breaks the Soviet force. What is worse the brave Leytenant and his pair of heroic gunners is so far away from a friendly JOP that he and his men are captured due to some appalling dice rolling. He was proposed for an Order of Alexander Nevski, but this will probably never be awarded as he is currently in a POW cage and we know how that ends on the Ost Front. His opposite number has also been put forward for an Iron Cross 2nd Class, but again that has not been confirmed.

As the sound of battle dies both sides lick their wounds. The Germans have succeeded in finding the week spot in the Soviet defences, but at a heavy cost. The Soviet Platoon is now leaderless and down to less than a dozen men.

Something that has now been driven home to me is just how brutal street  fighting can be (Doh! - yes I know, it should be obvious, it is Stalingrad and there are not many happy endings there) It's one thing reading about it, but it's another actually seeing it (in a game of course). It is looking like we may have to rethink our campaign simply because we will very soon run out of troops!

Next time, just in case there has not been enough bloodshed, it will be an assault on the main Soviet defence line. In theory it will be me against Andy, but we may just say "to Hell with it and try playing it as a Big CoC game with all 4 players. After all, the gloves really are off now.

Show report - Border Reiver, Gateshead

There has been a couple of wargames shows cancelled over the last year - Derby being the latest, although given how piss poor it was in 2017 that's no surprise. Triples also seems to have breathed its last. That means in the North we are losing opportunities to wander around and look at the toys in person rather than on line. I'm a bit saddened by this.

With that in mind I decided it may be worth while to have a run up to Gateshead for the Border Reiver show held at the Gateshead International Stadium yesterday.

Border Reiver this year was not bad at all. There was a fairly upbeat feeling in the room, and footfall on the morning seemed quite reasonable. There were some traders - Warlord being the most noteworthy, but most of the rest were fairly local rather than "national" and as a result at least for me the choice was not great - in fact I only had 2 definite items on my shopping list, and I managed to find neither - though one trader has kindly agreed to forward one item post free - which was very welcome. The two biggest "misses" on the trade side were Old Glory, and Dave Thomas. I think OG had decided to stay away due to previous poor customer turn out. Dave Thomas has decided that after years of trading at just about every show in the land, it was time to put up his feet and enjoy the weekends. Gateshead was the first show I have attended where he was a regular, and I have to say he was missed. I doubt he will read this, but just in case can I say "Thanks" for the years of service and chats up and down the country - first rate gang and I suspect a big set of boots to fill.

DTs stall at a previous show

I would stress the show overall was quite good - well organised and a good venue, so hopefully they can grow and maybe attract more gamers and traders next year.