Friday, 31 January 2014

Xanten big game

This Sunday will see a group of 6 of us getting together in Stoke-on-Trent for a big Battlegroup: Fall of the Reich game, just for the fun of it.

I thought I'd post up the historical scenario we'll be using, with the game being set during Operation Blockbuster in March 1945. It will be 3 players a-side, 1,500 pts per side, Canadian armour vs a hodge-podge of German units. Anyway, a full After Action Report will follow here next week... it should be blast, and it's about time I was on the winning side in one of these big games. I have good feeling about this one... famous last words.

March 1st, 1945
Following the attritional success of Operation Veritable, in late February the Canadian 1st Army launched Operation Blockbuster to push on to the Rhine and capture the towns of Xanten  and then Wessel, where the Germans where holding an encircled and shrinking pocket around Wessel’s important Rhine bridge. Attacking from the south-west and south, the Canadian 1st Army found the Germans fighting hard in the Hochwald forest and progress was initially slow. On February 28th, the Canadian 4th Armoured Division captured the village of Sonsberg (south of Xanten) and secured the main road north towards the town.

With Xanten as the key to holding their bridgehead, the Germans have gathered a scratch force and launched a counter-attack to stall the Canadian advance, buying time for a planned retreat over the Rhine and deny the enemy easy use of the main road - the XantenstraBe. This counter-attack used any forces available from those trapped within the Wessel pocket and holding Xanten itself including: 116th Panzer Division, Kampfgruppe Hausser (detached from the Panzer Lehr Division), 8th Fallschirmjager and 180th Infantry Divisions (all already badly mauled in the previous Operation Veritable fighting).

This game recreates the fighting around an important crossroads on the XantenstraBe between Xanten and Sonsberg. Here the German attack had to negotiate the overgrown Hohe-Ley drainage ditch before encountering 4th Canadian Armoured Division’s forces holding the road and preparing to move north against Xanten itself. 

This is the Holland/German border, it is flat and quite open. The XantenstraBe crossroads is towards the northwest corner, next to it are a few buildings, an orchard and a bombed out farm. Another bombed out farm lies midway across the table near the northern table edge. There are a few areas of woods towards the south of the table and on the southern edge. The Hohe-Ley ditch runs north south along the eastern table edge.  The rest of the table is soggy, open fields.

 Sketch map:

Weather: The weather is grey and overcast with occasional heavy showers. If an air attack counter is drawn and an aircraft arrives, re-roll the dice. The second result stands.  Timed air strikes can still be used. 

Ground Conditions: The ground is saturated, soft and very muddy. Off road movement by wheeled vehicles is reduced by a D6”. Tracked vehicles are not affected.

British Forces:
Representing units of 4th Canadian Armoured Division. Each player selects 500 pts using the British 1945 army list. No Churchill or Comet tanks can be taken (they didn’t have any). All players may take a maximum of 1 Restricted unit each. No player should take a Forward HQ, Forward Signals unit or Forward Air Controller, as these are automatically present and cost 0 pts. (Bring models for them though). No defences can be taken. 

German Forces:
A mixed kampfgruppe of the remains of various divisions in the Xanten area. Each player selects 500 pts using the Defenders of the Reich army list. No Tiger tanks can be taken (none were present). All three players may take a maximum of 1 Restricted unit each. No player should take a Forward HQ or Forward Signals unit, as these are automatically present and cost 0 pts. (Bring models for them though). No defences can be taken. 

Objectives: There are three objectives on the tabletop: the crossroads on the XantenstraBe, a farm complex and a woods near  the centre of the table. 

Deployment: One German battlegroup starts on the table, within 30” of the eastern table edge. The other two battlegroups start in reserve. One British battlegroup starts on the table, within 30” of the north-west table corner. The other battlegroup is in reserve.

Reserves: From the beginning of turn 2, both sides roll for Reserves.
 3D6 German units arrive at the start of each of their turns, and are placed anywhere on the eastern table edge, or up to 25” along the southern table edge (ie to the side road).
2D6 British units arrive at the start of each of their turns, and are placed anywhere on the western table edge. 

First Turn: Roll a D6 and add each side’s total number of Scout units, the side with the highest total takes first turn.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Elves, Wizards and other nonsense

Something a bit different for a friday night diversion, and a move anyway from the usual WW2, well ‘a change is as good as’ and all that... and I am so a fan of good fantasy (well, pretty much Tolkien really).

Amongst my gaming circle all of us have Warhammer armies, most of us have several (I currently have 2 but have owned 5 in my time, since edition 1 of Warhammer – yes I have played at least once with every edition since, except 3rd). These collections of hard won (well in hours of painting) toy soldiers do not see the light of day. Put bluntly, nobody wants to play Warhammer. For myself I’m not adverse to a bit of light (or slightly silly) entertainment with the Warhammer rules, and I actual think the latest edition is the best in many iterations, but that’s no good if nobody else wants to play. For most of them, the game has lost its way, rules changes have nerfed their armies or placed a demand on buying a hell of lots of extra, expensive  stuff, which after so long playing they aren’t prepared to do (it all seems a bit cynical). The constant fluxtuations of lists and rules has worn them down. So, our armies gather dust, unused and unloved, in boxes under bed and at the back of garages.

Anyhow, to cut a longer story shorter, for some time we have talked about trying out some different rules for our under-used model collections. Maybe new rules would reinvigorate fantasy gaming for us. So, the first test of that theory came on friday evening when I dug-out my gratis copy of Mantic’s ‘Kings of War’ rules to give them a trial run. I dusted off my High Elves, they haven’t see a tabletop in about 3 years. My opponent dug-out his Dark Elves, they haven’t seen a table in about 4 years and, post take-out Pizza, we set to.

I took a few pics of the game, but the demand of new rules meant I was mostly focussed on playing and learning the game (although it doesn’t take too long) and not getting thrashed. 

 Deployment, High Elves at the bottom

 Dark Elf left

 facing High Elf right

 High Elf left

 Facing the Dark Elf right's massed firepower

 Gargoyles and sorcerer try to fly around and outflank, and got badly shot-up and blasted by magic

Riders quickly into the centre to threaten a flank charge, that halted that advance.

 The Dark Elf left steams forward, it overran the hill and the bolt throwers on it,
doing most of the damage in the process - the rampaging Hydra was all but unstoppable.

I’m not going to review the rules, beyond a few thoughts and impression, and one game really isn’t fair treatment. But, and there has to be one, if a game can’t win you over to its nuances or nice mechanics or ‘feel’ in its first playing, I find it certainly can drive you out completely. Suffice to say, we are out. Kings of War isn’t the answer for us, so we’ll search on, which actually might be good fun in itself. Ultimately, I get the déjà-vu feeling of this being another WW2 dilemna... big miniatures collections we enjoyed collecting and painting but then disliked the actual game experience. The fix for that was dilemna to write my own, maybe this should be the same? One day...

The main discussion points after the game were; the old bugbear of first turn-itus, a hate of mine. The player that wins the roll of for first turn, gets to shoot first and inflict damage that can cripple enemy units before they ever get a go. It’s very common, and something I hate. Here it occurred, with two HighElf units ‘wavering’ after Dark Elf bolt thrower and crossbow fire, never to become unwavered and do nothing all game... with most of the armies in range on turn one, too much weight is on getting that first turn.

The players who’s turn it isn’t(!!) is very passive, effectively he gets to do nothing at all, not even roll any dice. For me, I don’t like the feeling of just being hit and hit again, and not having anything to do with it but take it on the chin. The tables turn of course, but it is unsatisfying for each to just dole out massive blows in strict order. It doesn’t feel like a battle, and is something more akin to a boxing match in a Rocky film (when compared to actual boxing matches). No back and forth, no building of pressure, just a slugging match.

Third, the wavering ‘Nerve’ rule just doesn’t work (maybe we did it wrong, but we checked three times). Once a unit wavers it is effective out of the game (it can withdraw). When this occurred, there is no encouragement to actually go on to finish off the unit until very late in the game, because if they take more damage, they get a new nerve test and can now pass it, thus getting back in the battle. Just ignore them, they can’t hurt you anymore and worry about finishing them off later for the victory points if you need them. In our game it result in bizarre-ness, units left standing about all over the battlefield, doing nothing and with no hope of ever doing anything. My griffon mounted hero was stranded in the very midst of the enemy army, who then just ignored him and big monster.

Lastly, the dice rolling is all very predictable... roll 20 dice needing 4+ and you will get predictable results... so you know what will happen in combats (beyond very extra-ordinary flukes of luck). Most of the rough time to average occurs... dull.

In the end the battle was a draw, 625 point worth of damage taken, to 595 points of damage inflicted. The Dark Elves were in the better position if there had been another turn (and the strict turn limit did result in the usual last turn craziness to ‘hovering up’ victory points, so I’ll give him the winning end of the draw (which was positive my youngest son, as he was went to bed rooting for the bad guys in black to win, a slightly worrying trend). I know you can play a game differently, but the game needs to encourage and reward certain player, and this doesn’t.

Friday, 3 January 2014

New for 2014

 A lot of plastic, 6 Perry ACW infatry boxes, plus 3 guns and some officers.

It has been 6 or 7 years since I last decided to begin a completely new period for my wargaming, so it’s about time. I have so much WW2 stuff that it becomes increasingly hard to find stuff to add to it, although you can always find something, it’s only a few models here and there, rather than any substantial project.
I have always planned to be able to play in various historical periods. I have my ancients/medieval period covered (Crusades) and I have my modern with WW2, but I have nothing for horse and musket. I haven’t played horse and musket wargames regularly since I was about 11 years old, playing Napoleonics with 1.72nd Airfix plastics using Charles S Grant’s rules (photocopied in the local library). It was my formative period of tabletop wargaming, and the games never got finished, but I find my interest returning, in a nostalgic kind of way. It also helps that I have a willing opponent.

So, the first half of 2014 will see a brand new big project get underway, American Civil War in 28mm. I have literal nothing... not a miniature, not a piece of terrain (beyond the generic stuff), no rules, etc. So from scratch my opponent and I have decided on Longstreet (based on good experiences with Maurice). I got choice of sides and went for the boys in blue. Years ago I did a few years re-enacting ACW (and great fun it was), and fought with the Union, so it seemed only right to continue fighting for Yankees, despite the romantic draw of the Confederate underdogs. I’m always drawn to the ‘standard’ troops and like games were it is the rank and file that decide the outcome of battles rather than the vaunted elites and ‘best’ troops, which are always so popular (too popular) on wargaming tables and in rules. For me, these rare units should only add character, not dominate the tabletop. ACW appeals because those units just don’t really feature... neither side has their game winning elites, they are basically the same army, full of ‘bland’ rank and file... no Guards heavy cavalry or elite armoured SS to worry about, just men in blue vs men in grey, with slight wrinkles, but in end, neither side can call upon a game-winning banker. Victory is about what you do on the tabletop, not what you take in the army.

So, anyhow, Santa has delivered and the project is now underway. Our first ACW game is set for Easter, giving me a few months to get about 200 models painted. I have a big can of dark blue spray and a can of medium brown Army Painter ready, and will batch paint about 30 men at a time. It’s gonna get repetitive, but somehow I’m looking forward to that, especially with a hard deadline to aim for... and I can always break the blue monotony with a few WW2 tanks. 

The first 40 men of the 18th Ohio are already well on the way.  Finishing an army like this is a case of stubborn will power, and avoiding too much rubbish TV. Just do something, every night and eventually, you finish.