Tuesday, June 23, 2015

So this happened...

Over 30 years after I gave away the best game ever in a fit of youthful ignorance, I finally got another copy.

Looking forward to once again campaigning across the haunted glens and blasted wastes of Minaria.

Anyone want to give this a shot at Historicon this Summer?

Thursday, June 18, 2015


So here it is.  To observe the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo and the beginning of the end of the Napoleonic wars, I am officially taking up the hobby of Napoleonic wargaming.  It's on like d'Erlon.

 Here are my first two brigades.  4 minis/stand, 6 stands/infantry battalion.  Cavalry is 2 minis/stand, 10 stands/squadron.  Artillery is 1 gun/stand, 1 stand/battery.

So I chose to go with AB Napoleonics 18mm.  I'm a little concerned that they are too large, because I want to scale my games at the battalion level at a ratio of around 20:1, and 15mm or 6mm seem more practical for that scale.  That said, I think AB Napoleonics are excellent miniatures and also a good compromise for my inclination to go with Perry 25mm, which would be pretty unwieldily in battalion scale games.  Can you imagine how cool it would be to play Quatre Bras at the battalion level with perry miniatures though...?

Then there is the (unanswerable) question of rules.  I have played, read, and rejected Napoleon at War.  I have also played and rejected Shako.  I have read Black Powder and Napoleon's Battles, and have ordered Volley and Bayonet because I will be playing two games using those rules at Historicon.  Still, I'm no closer to knowing what to do for rules that will enable big battles at the battalion level.

The bottom line is that I have no idea what I'm doing, but I'm doing it.  What is the consensus out there?  If I'm building battalion sized units, what are the rule sets out there that will enable a large scale battle?

I'm stupidly excited about this.  It's been coming for years.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Omaha Beach, The Cocktail

"Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd."

June 6, 2015.

At 0630, 71 years ago, the 116th Infantry Regiment, comprised mainly of Virginia National Guardsmen, assaulted prepared German defensive positions at Omaha Beach in Normandy near the towns of Vierville, les Moulins, St. Laurent, and Coleville.  They charged from their amphibious landing craft headlong into a storm of fire, smoke, and steel.  These men were the first wave of the Allied invasion that opened the second front in western Europe.  The 116th took horrific losses, but they fought hard and gained the high ground beyond the beach, paving the way in their blood for the rest of the invasion force to launch the liberation of Europe.

I am proud and fortunate to have served in the 116th in combat (Afghanistan).  Each year around Veterans' Day, veterans of the 116th gather in Staunton, Virginia, to celebrate the regiment's proud history and honor those D-Day veterans whose bravery and sacrifice is beyond measure.  We call this event the 116th Regimental Muster.  I look forward to the muster each year for the chance to talk with the D-Day veterans and thank them for what they have done.  The first year I attended the muster there were a couple dozen D-Day veterans in attendance.  Last year, 2014, there were three.

At the muster, the tables of the D-Day veterans include an exclusive libation-a bottle of Calvados-the regional spirit of Normandy, distilled from apples.  I can imagine that my predecessors got into a few bottles of Calvados as they fought their way inland through the Bocage, the dense hedgerows of Normandy, in the days and weeks following their assault on Omaha Beach.

Here, then, is my small tribute to these great men and a salute to their bravery.  The ingredients of this cocktail are not necessarily the best available in their class, but each carefully-chosen ingredient is symbolic in some way of the experience of the 116th Regiment on Omaha Beach and beyond.  Enjoy it, and remember the 116th on Omaha Beach.  Ever Forward!

Omaha Beach
1 shot Virginia Gentleman bourbon
1 shot Calvados
1/4 shot La Belle Orange
3 dashes aromatic bitters
Twist of lemon peel
Dash of salt
Dissolve salt with bitters in old fashioned glass. Add ice and all the booze. Stir. Twist lemon peel over the top. Serve and remember the 116th Infantry Regiment's assault on Omaha Beach, 6 June 1944. Ever Forward!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Bolt Action Battle Report: Sollum, January 1942

Been looking forward to this battle report for a while.  I'm not going to capture the whole fight in detail, but I will relay the critical bits that I saw as the GM.

This past weekend our gaming group played a North Africa scenario on the table that John and I built over the past few weeks.  At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, the table looked really good and I was eagerly anticipating this game.

Here are some shots of the table set-up for the game.  The South Africans would enter and advance from the high ground on the left of the photo.  Their objective was the port on the right side of the photo.

We used a scenario generally based on the 8th Army assault against the besieged Deutsches Afrika Korps garrison in the small frontier port of Sollum in January 1942.  It was one of the final acts of Operation Crusader.  Our scenario was designed to capture the flavor of a small, desperate force trying to hold out against a larger attacking force.

The defenders represented a single platoon from the 300th Oasis Reserve Battalion defending in urban terrain.  Their mission was to interdict the 8th Army forces attacking toward the port.  The DAK platoon was comprised of a platoon HQ and four infantry squads:

Veteran 1st Lieutenant
1 Veteran Rifleman
2 Veterans with SMGs
1 Veteran Light Mortar Team

1st Squad:
Veteran NCO w/ SMG
2 Veteran LMG teams
3 Veteran Riflemen

2nd Squad:
Veteran NCO w/ SMG
Veteran LMG Team
5 Veteran Riflemen

3rd Squad:
Veteran NCO w/ SMG
Veteran LMG Team
5 Veteran Riflemen

4th Squad
Veteran NCO w/ SMG
Veteran w/ SMG
Veteran LMG Team
4 Veteran Riflemen

The DAK team consisted of one assistant GM acting as the Platoon Commander and four players, each taking the role of a Squad Leader.

To enable the kind of game play intended for this scenario we gave the DAK some game-specific special rules.  Each DAK player could break his squad into any number of 2-4 man teams.  Each of these teams would generate an activation die (this was the fundamental mechanic we used to balance the difference in activation dice between the South African company and the DAK platoon).  Each 2-4 man team had special rules that allowed them to move quickly and unseen around the game board.  In addition, 2-man rifle teams gained the sniper special rule (24" range) and also had the ability to snipe the enemy with a low chance of being detected.  Finally, small teams were allowed to break contact, which gave them the chance to shoot first, and then run away using an ADVANCE order.  The intent was to create a defense force that lacked mass, but maximized mobility, protection (buildings), and surprise.  A "death from a thousand paper cuts" kind of approach.

Which is exactly what the DAK team planned.  They devised a scheme with three squads forward and one in reserve with the platoon HQ.  The forward squads would engage and then break contact to fall back toward the port, sniping the enemy as they withdrew.

On the other side of the board was a company from the 6th Infantry Brigade, South Africa.  The mission of the South Africans was to clear a route through Sollum to the port to enable the Brigade main effort (in this case a company of Valentine tanks) to assault and seize the port.  In an effort to balance the nimble, unseen, and hard-to-kill snipers of the DAK defenders, we gave the South Africans an "Overwatch" special rule.  This allowed them to use an AMBUSH order to focus on a specific target area no more than 6" in width.  If an enemy unit fired from or moved within the target area, the Overwatching unit got to fire at that target, adding +1d6 to hit for each weapon shooting.  This rule was intended to give the South Africans powerful "hammer" to use against the "thumbtacks" of the small DAK teams.

The attackers were broken into a company headquarters and three platoons.  The company commander would be played by an assistant GM, and the platoons would each be controlled by a player.  In addition to the infantry company, we also added a tank company to represent the brigade main effort, positioned to roll into town as soon as the infantry cleared the way for them.  The tank company was controlled by two GMs, and would not actually engage in this scenario (though it was this GM's hope that the tanks' presence would frustrate the South African players, much like that scene at the end of A Bridge Too Far where MAJ Cook berates a XXX Corps tank officer for refusing to enter Arnhem).

Company HQ:
3 LMG Teams
Engineer Section (attached)
Morris Truck

3xInfantry Platoons:
HQ (2nd Lieutenant, Rifleman, Light Mortar, AT Rifle)
2x Squads (NCO w/ SMG; LMG team; 8 Riflemen)

The South Africans devised a radical plan to accomplish their task.  Instead of advancing along the intercoastal highway (as tasked in their order), they planned a sweeping maneuver around the outskirts of the city followed by a penetrating assault straight through to the port.  Casey's platoon would provide support-by-fire while Mike's platoon conducted the assault.  Dan's platoon would escort the engineers to deal with obstacles following the assault.  Rhett task-organized the company to best accomplish their assignments, loading Casey down with LMG teams and giving Mike a ton of riflemen to use in the assaults.  He would need them.  Dan had an economy of force with one squad (plus PLT HQ) to escort the engineers.

Rhett also consolidated the mortars into the company HQ, which proved critical to success as the assault proceeded.

Below, the battle begins with a toast between Mike and Dan while Casey moves his forces onto the board.  You can see the tanks of the brigade main effort on the left.  It didn't take long for their presence and inaction to frustrate the attackers.  Heh, heh.

Dan moves his breaching element onto the board while Mike fortifies himself for the assaults ahead.

Mike moves his platoon to his right flank to position for the assault.

South African infantry advancing down the escarpment toward the town.

It was right around here when Drew took the first shot of the game, dropping Casey's lieutenant with an undetected sniper shot.

Mike continues to shift his platoon to his right.

Rhett, the South African company commander and assistant GM, reacts to one of his lieutenant's requesting additional forces.  At least that's how I'm imagining this scene.

The South Africans are poised to start the assault.  Mike's forces are mobbed up on his right (our left). Casey's forces are slightly forward in the center, providing overwatch.  Dan's forces are still on the escarpment in an attempt to keep the engineers (in the truck) safe until they are needed.  Drew's snipers, now visible in the center building, prepare to break contact.

At this point the DAK started to increase the volume of their sniper fire.  Here is how we handled all the hidden setup and movement on the DAK side:
This is a screened battle board with the buildings drawn onto it.  The DAK team used it to maneuver their hidden units.  If you try this mechanic, which works well, I recommend numbering the buildings so the DAK GM can call-out the overall GM where the shots are coming from.  We spent a lot of time going back-and-forth between the table and the DAK battle board to make sure we understood what was going on.  The buildings with dark outlines are sewer nodes, which DAK forces could use to redeploy quickly from one part of the battle to another.

Below, the DAK snipers are forcing the South Africans to seek cover.  What the DAK commander wouldn't give for an air strike right about now.

Gavin and Sean started to pour in sniper and LMG fire from the right of the DAK defensive line, drawing the attention of Dan and Casey.  Drew continued to pepper Mike's advancing assault force form the DAK left, and then suddenly the South Africans were all up in the DAK's grill.

In the picture below, Mike's assault on the right sweeps Drew's DAK teams out of the front line of buildings.  On the left the South African commander uses smoke from his mortars to screen a secondary attack by Dan and Casey into the town.

The DAK were caught flat-footed by the SA assault and several sniper teams died before they could break contact.  The effective use of smoke by the South Africans allowed assaulting forces to penetrate deep into the town.  On the DAK right flank, Gavin sprung an ambush on one of Casey's squads, while Dan, in turn, plastered Gavin's ambush with an overwatching squad.  Sean did a lot of shooting and running around, which concerned the South Africans hardly at all.  Bad dice. 

But the DAK defenders recovered and fought back hard.  Keith and Drew annihilated one of Mike's squads as they assaulted their final objective without the benefit of obscuring smoke.  Birger dropped a perfect mortar shot and totally disrupted the South African attack through the center of the town.  Mike's final squad made an assault, away from the company objective and across the town center, and got cut down by one of Gavin's teams.  With Mike's platoon down, Casey and Dan assumed the assault role, with only marginally better results.  Using the sewers to redeploy undetected, Keith, Birger, and Gavin surprised the South Africans' second assault against the "hotel" with three times as many defenders as they expected to find.  This move caused more than a couple of "WTF" reactions from the South African players.  Thing of beauty.

Here, The South Africans' last assault squads are poised to continue their rampage onto the "hotel" that became the de facto final objective for both sides.  They are about to discover that there are more DAK defenders inside than the two dudes on the ledge.

In the end, the South Africans succeeded in gaining control of the hotel, but at a terrible cost; only 2 of their 9 infantry squads remained combat effective, and the remnants of the assault were in danger of being isolated deep inside the town.  Meanwhile, Dan's engineers were able to remove a couple of obstacles, but they started to take losses from DAK snipers still hidden throughout the town and would be unable to continue until additional infantry arrive to provide security for the breaching operations.  The South African commander would have had no choice at the end but to request reinforcements so he could fight his way back into the city to extract the remnants of his company before they got cut off entirely.  Meanwhile, the brigade main effort is backed-up on the intercoastal highway, unable to proceed until the route is cleared of mines and anti-tank obstacles.  The impending conversation between the South African company commander and the battalion and brigade commanders will not likely go well.

On the DAK side, they were severely bent, but not broken.  Each of their 4 squads took substantial losses.  Although there was not much fight left in them, they still possessed a few key weapon systems in good positions. They would be able to prevent the existing South African forces from breaching any more obstacles, and might succeed in isolating and destroying the remnants of the assault element in the hotel, but another company attack would likely prove too much for them without diverting reinforcements from another part of the town.

Both commanders will have some tough decisions to ponder tonight as they prepare for the next battle.

Below you can see the remnants of Dan's lone infantry squad on the South African objective at the end of the game while a nearby DAK squad prepares to cut them off from their comrades.  Dan's other squad, the engineers, remained behind (and unprotected!) to try to locate and remove mines on their own.  They quickly learned that the DAK still had weapon systems covering the obstacles.  One of Casey's squads is deployed in the background outside the town, while his last remaining squad is barely visible on the building to the far right of the picture.  Behind them, you can just make out the radio operator from the South African company HQ behind a building.  The square panels represent minefields, which the South Africans hilariously (for me at least) managed to avoid against all odds during the game.

This shot says it all.  Lots of intact obstacles on the road to the port with some lonely engineers in the backgroud, while the brigade main effort sits stalled on the highway in the distance.  It will take another company attack to rescue the remnants of the attack, and still another to clear the route, though the DAK resistance against follow on attacks will be greatly reduced.

This was a fantastic game.  Both teams enjoyed some degree of success.  While the South Africans failed to accomplish the mission assigned to them, the manner in which they executed their own rogue plan was pretty well-done, and they deserve some credit for that, at least.  Their coordination of direct and indirect fire support and obscuration allowed the assault element to get on top of the DAK defenders before they could initiate their withdrawal.  On the DAK side, redeploying teams to critical points late in the game allowed them to slow and disrupt the South African attack.  The DAK almost blew it early by waiting too long to reposition their forward squads, but they had just enough Schlitz left at the end of the game to force the South African brigade commander to change his plan.  Tactical success for the South Africans, operational success for the DAK.  The 8th Army will have to divert resources to complete this mission.

There was a lot more to it than that, and I'm sure I do not have all of the facts straight, but this report gives you a general picture of how the game went down.  Bottom line, by cheating/breaking/making rules to fit this specific scenario, the GMs gave the players a format that allowed for some fun and dynamic play between two severely imbalanced force organizations.  Going by Bolt Action army composition values, the attackers enjoyed a better than 2:1 point advantage (not counting the tanks).  After seeing the way this game went down, I would go back to a 3:2 point advantage for the attacker.  A couple of dismally unlikely assault rolls at the end of the game prevented the South Africans from sweeping the DAK off the table, resulting instead in the annihilation of Mike's platoon.  So as a GM, I got lucky with the way it worked out.

Great game, Gentlemen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

North Africa Wargaming Table Project Part 4: All's Well That Ends Well

In the end, I spent a couple of weeks trying to destroy the table while John made some absolutely amazing buildings to finish it.  I'll let him tell you all about those and how he cast the windows and doors and other architectural accoutrements.  The results, well, you be the judge...

I think we both learned a lot from the project.  Our next project will be even cooler, and hopefully fraught with less peril.  Where do you think should we go next time?  Tunisia?  Sicily?  Italy? Normandy?  Russia?  Germany?

Comments and critiques welcome.

We couldn't help ourselves.  The morning after Mike and Tiff Brittany got married, John and I dragged out the table and played a game.  It was awesome.

I love this table.

Some final thoughts for future projects:

Adhering foam to wood=wood glue.

Adhering foam to foam=tacky glue.

The plaster mix is very brittle and chips too easily for use on table panels that are meant to be transported.  The chips are very easy to fix, but a bit of an annoyance.  I think scoring the entire surface of the foam with a wire brush as mentioned in the first post would help.  I also think that adding silicon to the plaster mix, a-la incomparable wargame terrain guru Steve the Kamloopian, will give the plaster some flex and more durability.

Check your silicone caulk for the expiration date.  All that keeps this table from standing among the best examples of wargaming terrain out there are the oil stains that will forever seep through the plaster from the botched caulking job I did.

Protect your foam from Heat Fun.  'Nuff said.

I cannot wait to unveil this table to the group!  Tune in next time for the a report on our first game played on this board.

Game well, my Friends.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

North Africa Wargaming Table Project Part 3: Heat Fun, or, Keep Out of Reach of Children

It was all so magical at the beginning.

In a single day John and I had transformed four panels of wood and pink foam into a very high-quality 1941-1942 Libyan port for North Africa wargame scenarios.  When we parted ways that evening we were both riding high on the knowledge that we were Gods of Wargaming Terrain.  Then I started tinkering with things, and before too long I had a Magicians Apprentice kind of thing going on where my "improvements" to the table started to get away from me.

Then things got worse, much worse, but not right away.  In fact for a while things were going pretty dang well.

I came home from work to find my order of EZ Water Heat and Pour on the front porch, so I headed inside to finish up the waterfront.

I built a containment dam, painted up a sewer pipe, and heavily stippled/sprinkled a bunch of pigment (dark brown, green, and yellow) on top of the existing EZ Water to look like sewage discharge.  Prior to that, though, I had given all the pilings a liberal wash of heavily thinned oil paint.  This process had left a few "pools" of thinned black pigment to dry around the bases of several of the pilings.  I decided to leave them there and see what the second layer of EZ Water would do when it hit these "oil slicks."

Here you can see the sewer discharge dry pigment on top of the first water effect pour.  You can also see the containment dam, which is a Home Depot yardstick wrapped in aluminum foil.

Having recovered emotionally from my earlier caulking disaster, I felt pretty confident about this pour.  And I was right.  When I poured the molten resin into the harbor, some of the pigments glopped together to form solid chunks of skunge suspended in the resin.  Other chunks rose to the top where I used a toothpick to spread them out to create the effect of murk flowing along with the tide.

The oil effects left over from staining the pilings worked perfectly.  Well beyond my expectations.  This will be a go-to move for me in the future.

The pour did not quite cover the tire in the center.  I think we need a third pour, but I will wait until John sees it, assuming the table is still intact when he finally sees what I have been doing to it.  You can see the suspended sewage and murk pretty well in this shot.

Here is the sewer pipe with the many layers of suspended grossness in the water.  It's so awesome!

One of the keys to producing a nice even water pour was my new heat gun (AKA Heat Fun!)

I had the pour pan in one hand and Heat Fun in the other, and was able to melt bubbles quickly to produce a smooth water surface and even some wave swells.  In another instance of accidental brilliance, I was "fixing" a mass of boiling bubbles caused by pouring molten resin over acrylic gloss coat when I realized that the bubbles were perfect to represent the boiling surf where the beach meets the water.  I was able to stop Heat Fun before I obliterated the surf foam completely, but not before I had reduced the number of bubbles significantly.  Still, it looks OK, as you can see below.

I will definitely use the hot resin over acrylic effect for foamy surf in the future.  Might even see what happens with tinted acrylics.

OK, I know you've been waiting patiently for the other shoe to drop, so...


Here we go...

Heat Fun is really good at its job.  It can crank-out a continuous blast of 1350-degree Fahrenheit air when I need it to.  One of the problems I ran into on the secondary pour for the EZ Water on the harbor panel was a major leak along edge where the containment dam met the first layer of water effect.  Because this is an irregular edge, the molten resin flowed through the tiny gaps onto the tabletop and the water did not end up as deep as I wanted it.

In order to avoid a repeat on the second layer of water for the beach panel, I decided to build the containment dam and then melt a handful of resin pellets along the edge of the dam, then let them cool to form a seal with the dam and avoid leakage.  Seemed like an OK plan to me.  So I popped the pellets in and went to work melting them with Heat Fun.  It took a lot longer than I thought to melt the pellets with directly-applied superheated air, but after several minutes of blasting away at the highest setting I had the seal I wanted.  You can see where this is headed, can't you?

I let the seal cool and then heated up the rest of the bag of EZ Water pellets (way more than enough for the beach job).  Once they were molten I poured them in.  And poured, and poured, and poured.  Something was definitely wrong--I was dumping way too much resin into the basin, and the level was hardly rising at all.  I could not detect any leaks (my seal was working great!), but I could not figure out where the molten resin was going.  Only after I had poured the entire pan (it should have taken less than a quarter of the pan) did I feel I had added enough additional water effect to the beach panel.  I went to work with Heat Fun smoothing out the surface bubbles, completely perplexed as to where all the molten resin had gone. 

I let the resin cool and removed the containment dam and immediately saw the problem.  Heat Fun had melted away a huge slab of pink foam, leaving a thin shell of plaster in an area slightly larger than my hand.  No painting over that.  This had not been a problem on the harbor panel because we had lined the foam harbor walls with rock sheets cast from Merlin's Magic, creating a nice thermal barrier between Heat Fun and the foam.  The beach panel had no such barrier and I was staring at the cavernous result.  The EZ Water had flowed into the cavity and cooled directly onto the bare wood.  In essence I had made an underground grotto.  The ultra-thin plaster layer crumbled easily at the slightest touch.

It was bad.  I am confident that a 20mm plastic figure placed on the thin plaster would have easily fallen through.

I really only had one move at this point, two if you count 'rebuild the panel' as an option.  I got out a bag of pumice rocks and a tube of tacky glue and, very carefully and slowly, filled the accidental grotto as best I could.  Then, feeling smart about writing down the base plaster recipe, I masked the water effect in the area with tape, whipped up a fresh batch and frosted over the rock/glue filling.

It worked better than I thought it would.  Much better.  So, I had a huge scare, but it mended pretty well.  Still, I'll be using Heat Fun in tandem with thermal barriers from here out (that, or I'll be making my terrain boards out of rocks instead of foam from here out.)

It could have been much worse, as I had no idea I was obliterating the foam while I was melting pellets to seal the gaps in my containment dam.  Lucky I stopped when I did.

Surprisingly, I stopped taking pictures while I was freaking out about melting the foam, but here is the repair job (dark plaster is still wet.)  I put another layer on the adjoining harbor panel to tie the two spots together.

Once  the plaster dried, you could hardly tell that anything was ever amiss.  The wet sand effect in the picture below is a coat of acrylic gloss.

I'd rather be lucky than good.