I have recently picked up a project that I had abandoned a good four years ago. The year that Warhammer Historical folded, I had picked up a cut price copy of Kampfgruppe Normandy by Warwick Kinrade. It is one of the best rulebooks I have ever read, packed full of historical information, scenarios, Army lists and photographs. I bought the makings of two 20mm forces, one British and one German. I painted a platoon of British and assembled some vehicles, but then stopped. The main reason was the gift of some 28mm Germans and a Warlord King Tiger, followed closely by a group decision to start up some forces for Bolt Action. We have been steadily building our Bolt Action armies and I especially enjoyed creating a stock of terrain pieces.
Bolt Action is great fun but with my table size, it will only ever permit platoon sized games. Tank War in particular is frustrating since the action all occurs at such close ranges. I hanker after something bigger, if only company or battalion level. Last summer I picked up the new printing of Battlegroup, which is pretty much the exact replica of Kampfgruppe Normandy. Another well-written rulebook, although less full of goodies than KgN, it has got me back into playing with smaller models. The 20mm project is back on track.
Several times in recent years I came close to selling my unfinished 20mm collection to fund new projects. I am relieved I didn’t. I have now painted two platoons of German Grenadiers, various support vehicles and an Assault gun. Several models are rejuvenated plastics that my friend Keith used to play with in the 70s. He donated them to me when a house move finally compelled him to thin out his collection. I have also picked up some new kits and am mid way through painting 3 panzer 4s and a troop of Stugs. 4 Shermans and two 6pdrs are on the production lines.
I now have to persuade poor long-suffering Matt to give Battlegroup a try. I swear he thinks this is my way of stopping him from developing his skills. Every time he masters one set of rules I hit him with a new one. In this case, I know he will thank me for the introduction.
We played a three handed daytime game of Bolt Action on Saturday, to mark the first visit by Ian since he left for Asia in December. It was good to be back in BA after a run of Ancients games. Ian brought down his US paratroopers and Fallschirmjaegers and I wanted to include them in the game so I prepared a 1500 Point scenario very loosely based on Market Garden, as follows:
“The 101st Division has been holding the road open to Eindhoven, the first piece of the airborne carpet over which 30th Corps plans to roll in its drive to cross the Rhine. Delayed from the start, the Armoured column is struggling to stick to its timetable. The German forces have reacted faster than the Allies expected and are pulling together an increasingly powerful defence.
Place 3 objective markers along the main road, at 18, 36 and 54 inches from the Southern table edge.
The game lasts 6 turns, with the possibility of a seventh on a roll of 4,5,6.
1 VP for each enemy unit destroyed; 2VP for each objective controlled by troops within 3”.
Matt used his US troops as the relief force, with a Sherman, half track-mounted squad and an infantry platoon. I created 750 points of Heer Grenadiers for the on table Germans and a selection of Waffen SS and Fallschirmjaegers squads, a Stug and a panzer grenadier squad for the reinforcements.
The objectives were represented by oil drums, milk churns and a dog kennel.
The US paras set up in foxholes around the bicycle workshop and the dog kennel objective. The on table Germans all set up to the East of the road, with two squads and an MMG behind a hedge facing South and the rest facing the Paras to the West.
In the first stage of the game, Matt’s relief force attacked the German hedge line while the rear area Germans, reinforced by two arriving squads, attacked the US Paras. In the second stage, the relief force destroyed the hedgerow Germans and advanced on the second German line, while the rear area Germans tightened their grip on the Paras. In stage three, the relief force was stalled by the destruction of an M3 halftrack, and held up long enough for the US Paras to be badly mauled and dislodged from the dog kennel objective. The game ran to a seventh turn and ended with the Allies holding 2 objectives for 4VPs, plus 3VPs for German units destroyed. The Germans meanwhile held one 2VP objective and destroyed 6 US units. So a German victory at 10 VPs to 7.
The game was closer fought than the final score suggests. The US Assault on the first German line was quick and effective, destroying a 10 man squad and an MMG in short order. The second German line held well however, and was helped by the arrival of the Stug which first destroyed the halftrack then placed itself in ambush round the curve of a hill, threatening to enfilade a further US advance northwards. As it happened, when the Sherman did move into view the Stug only managed a ‘crew stunned’, but this bought enough time for the Germans to wipe out the US Paras.
We played a 200 Point game of Art de la Guerre last night. Matt led the Army of Philip V of Macedon against my Republican Romans. Matt was joined by Warren, in his second ever wargame, as commander of his left wing. This was the first ADLG game we have played with pikemen and it was an Education I’d rather have skipped.
Matt won the initiative and chose to attack. I decided to meet him in the mountains, hoping to exploit the vulnerability of pikes in difficult ground. I selected the maximum number of terrain pieces and Matt chose the minimum, one of which was a road. We ended with an impassable river down one flank, a lot of difficult terrain on the other one and a bowling alley down the centre.
It started well for me. Then the game began. With great care, I deployed an ambush of triarii in the difficult ground in my left rear, planning to tear into the Macedonian flank as they bore down on my centre. What a plan. I then completely forgot my basic idea and set off across the table to attack the enemy on their baseline. What a pillock.
Our centres met in open ground and after the brief benefit of impact in the first round of melee, my Swordsmen began to crumble. Warren kept my right wing busy with his Greek and Illyrian horse and Agrianoi javelinmen. He knocked out my Velites and Roman cavalry, then started hammering my heavy infantry from the flank. At about the same time, Matt punched a hole in the centre that I lacked the reinforcements to plug. Where were my triarii when I needed them? Oh, yeah. Sniggering in the bushes on the far side of the table.
The end came in a rush, with too many of my depleted units breaking together. In all, Warren’s flank attack took out two bases of swordsmen, two Roman cavalry units and two velites. On the opposite flank Matt’s Companions destroyed my allied cavalry, while his rock hard pikes in the centre overturned my heavy swordsmen, admittedly after several rounds but with grinding inevitability.
Lessons? Well, if you make a plan, stick to it. Pikemen in the open really are hard to stop and if I’m going to engage them frontally, I should have a pretty good chance of getting troops around their flank before they steamroll my swordsmen. And maybe in future I should spike the enemy’s drinks...
Warren seemed to enjoy himself and had the baptism of stabbing his hand on the agema’s pikes not once, but twice. You’re not a true Ancients player until you’ve drawn blood on a spearpoint.
It is lovely playing with my old 25s. Some of the Macedonians date back to 1982 when we started playing Ancients. Their pikes are dreadfully brittle and held together with superglue. The definition on the moulds is poor by today’s standards but I still love them.
Anybody else know the song Roads to Moscow by Al Stewart, circa 1974? A rare rock song about WWII that isn't thrash metal. Every time a German tank dies in a game, I think of the line:" Two broken Tigers on fire in the night." I was humming it last night.
Ian and I played a game of Bolt Action Tank War. We had 2,200 points each on an 8’ x 4’ table. This was the biggest game we have played so far, with every tank we could get our hands on.
Ian’ Germans had 2 Panthers, a Panzer IV, a Stug and a Puma, plus 520 points of Fallschirmjagers. My British had a Cromwell, 6 Shermans and 500 points of infantry. All tanks on both sides and the British infantry were regular, and Ian's Fallschirmjagers were veteran. I began with 14 dice and Ian with 11.
The table was quite busy to ensure we didn't have too many uninterrupted lines of sight. It was divided up the middle by a cobbled road, on one side of which were the outskirts of a village and on the other, more open farmland. We rolled four objectives which we placed in a rough line, lengthwise down the middle of the table. Three of them were in the village, which was on Ian's left and my right.
On turn 1, Ian placed a lone Puma on his extreme left; his Panzer IV in support of most of his infantry in the centre, then his remaining armour, along with a single infantry squad and an MMG, in the fields on his right. I sent all my infantry into the village in the centre, one Sherman into the open ground on the left and the rest of my armour behind the village and on my right.
I struck lucky early on, knocking out the Panzer IV and a Panther in turn 2. My dice rolling balanced out later when my armour repeatedly failed to damage Ian's vehicles, but it was a great advantage to roll so many high numbers in the opening stages.
The game split into three combats: on my left, the Remaining Panther and Stug duelled with 4 Shermans (quickly reduced to 3); in the centre, our infantry fought for control of two objectives in the village; and on my right, the Cromwell and 1 Sherman played peekaboo with the Puma. Early luck tipped the scales in my favour and by game’s end Ian had lost every tank but his Stug while I had lost just the one Sherman. With two objectives apiece at the end of turn 6 we counted points and I got a ‘clear victory’.
I think this was my luckiest wargame for a very long time. Did skill come into it? A bit, perhaps. My tanks used cover more than Ian, who confessed he had put his faith in the superior armour of his Panzers rather than tuck them behind walls. In truth, an awful lot of my fire did bounce off harmlessly but if you take enough shots even a 75 will get through eventually. I also think it helped to keep my infantry in mutual supporting distance. But if truth be told, I won because I had a big fat slice of improbable luck. Bless him, Ian stayed cheerful until the last 6 was rolled. He used his Puma to tie down three tanks for much of the game: I almost regretted knocking it out on turn 6. Almost. And at least his Stug shrugged off every single attempt to pierce its armour.
I have spent the last couple of weeks painting ACW casualties. I picked up a copy of Pickett's Charge from Too Fat Lardies and they have really caught my imagination. Longstreet is my favourite game for brigade actions (actually it's my favourite game full stop) but it was over its limit when we used it to play day one of Gettysburg. On to Richmond by Paul Koch is excellent for army level actions, with its brigade sized units and streamlined mechanics. But Pickett's Charge strikes me as a good set for divisional and Corps level battles. Unlike Longstreet, these rules require casualty markers, so I needed to get equipped. I bought 30 casualty dials from Warbases, which show numbers from 1 to 12, and painted up some Kallistra 12mm casualties I have had for a year or so. I stuck them on the dials and added sand, tufts and flock. I am pleased with the results. The casualties don't stand out too much but my aim is for the dials to blend in to the rest of the table, which I think they will do.
I decided against splatting ketchup everywhere. The most I'll paint on a wargame figure is a red stain on a bandage. I think this is a generational thing. Zulu is my favourite war film and I wanted my sons to share my enthusiasm. They quite enjoyed it but both thought it odd that with all the shooting and stabbing, virtually no blood was visible throughout the film. This had never occurred to me! Anyway, I prefer my casualties to be nearer the spirit of Zulu than of Saving Private Ryan.
Perhaps I should have waited to see if I enjoyed playing Pickett's Charge before making the markers. But I'm pretty confident it will go down well.
For our first game, I am looking at Bristoe Station in late 1863, the one after which Lee told Hill to bury the dead and say no more about it. I am attracted to the fog of war in this battle, when a force pursuing a retreating enemy was suddenly assailed from a new direction entirely. It is a situation that most wargame rules make very hard to pull of: usually the players can see too much and the rules allow them to do too much. I'm hoping that Pickett's Charge will provide the balance between restricting player omnipotence and still giving a satisfying game.
Meanwhile I have just finished reading Rebel Yell, the biography of Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson by S.C .Gwynne . It is a great book, showing the contrasts in Jackson's character and bringing his campaigns vividly to life. The accounts of fighting are authoritative and clear. This isn't a biased account: Jackson's frailties are scrutinised as closely as his strengths. There is plenty of inspiration here for the wargamer. The author doesn't speculate on what would have happened had Jackson not died after Chancellorsville, but is certain that the loss to the Confederate military cause was immense.
our Epic game on Saturday gave us the opportunity to use my newly made night light smoke stack. I'd rather it was used on a Gargant but it still looked impressive from a distance.
Yesterday we played an Epic 40k game, very loosely based on Operation Market Garden. Nick and Matt led the Orks; Ian commanded the Imperial Guard ground forces and I combined scenario management with leading the Space Wolves force, air-landed to take and hold the Bridge over the river Grime. We had around 4000 points a side. The player briefing was in my last blog.
The Space Wolf detachment landed on open ground north of the river. An Ork Gargant began in the Imperial ruins north of the river, while a Kult of Speed set up just south of it. On turn one, nearly half the Imperial army arrived on the South table edge. The Orks decided to concentrate on wiping out the Space Wolves, so left the Imperial advance unopposed.
Morale levels at end of turn
The Imperials marched up the field while three Ork detachments arrived from the flanks. Imperial siege artillery and armour took out a great many Orks from Zeke'z Army. Using a Fate card, the Orks brought in an orbital barrage against the Imperial siege guns. The Space Wolves were obliterated north of the river.
More Ork reinforcements arrived on the field and started to form a defensive line north of the river. An imperial deathstrike missile hit the Gargant, causing massive damage: the Gargant just survived the turn with three damage points left, three onboard fires and only one weapon unbroken. Two Ork detachments were taken below half strength, but with all objectives still in their possession, their morale stayed pretty resilient.
The Ork line solidified north of the river. The Reaver Titan finished off the damaged Gargant. Ork assaults went in on both flanks: Alarik's Ardboyz, led by Alarik on a Boar, obliterated the Catachan armoured detachment in the East, while Zeke'z Army assaulted but bounced off the Fighting 207th.
The Great Gargant and Mega Gargant arrived at the North table edge (to their frustration as it meant a long walk). Meanwhile three flights of fighta Bommaz appeared on the horizon and nearly wiped out a marching Detachment of Imperial armour. Zeke'z Army managed to stay alive for another turn. Alarik's Ardboyz with their boarboyz spearhead assaulted and broke another Imperial armour detachment.
Alarik and his boars suffered heavy damage from advancing Space Marines but heroically charged a Warhound Titan, who promptly squished them. Thus passed the mighty Alarik. The Orks on the north bank of the Grime started to crossed the bridge to engage the Reaver, surrounding it on three sides. Four detachments broke down its shields then a detachment of battle fortresses destroyed it. One reactor meltdown later and the Reaver was no more. On the Western flank, Zeke and the not-so-fighting 207th both failed to remove a single blast marker, so stalemate fell over that part of the field. The mega Gargant fired a krooz missul into the Imperial siege artillery and took out a manticore and a hydra. Imperial morale took a serious tumble this turn.
The Imperial Fists closed up to the river, while the Great Gargant waded into the water intent on making its mark. Three squadrons of fighta bommaz smacked the Imperials in the West; both great and mega Gargant let rip their armaments and both Warhounds ceased to exist. A second Krooz missul took the Imperial siege artillery below half strength and by turn's end, imperial morale went into the negative. The
Until turn five, the game seemed well balanced. However, the outcome was already becoming inevitable. The Imperials did have some poor reinforcement rolls that delayed the arrival of two big artillery detachments, the Imperial Fists and the Warhounds. Their advance fell into successive waves, which the Orks were able to contain one after the other. Perhaps the most significant decision of the game was in turn one when the Orks ignored the southern front to concentrate on crushing the Space Wolves north of the bridge. The removal of this threat cleaned up the Ork front and made passage over the bridge easy. Obliged to cover ground fast, the Imperials used a lot of March orders and when Ork air power turned up, this proved lethal to the marching Imperial armour.
I hope it was some compensation for the Imperials that the outcome in our game mirrored the outcome of Market Garden. Even with more strength coming up the road, the Imperials would be obliged to halt south of the river.
The day flew by and the game was great fun. As the forces on the table multiplied, it looked pretty impressive too. Hats off to Matt and Nick, and commiserations to Ian, who may have felt a little puzzled that despite being on his side, I seemed to take as much pleasure in the outcome as the Ork players. Of course I'd rather we had won, but I was delighted that the scenario had given a tense game and arresting spectacle. What will inspire us next? The Bulge maybe?
I've just finished painting my Orks to fill out a 4,000 points Epic 40k army. Saving the best fun until last, I ended with a Great Gargant for my Warlord to ride. I have a basic Gargant in shades of metal but thought Warlord Tamrine would demand a red paint job. Writing the detachment lists ready for a practice game next week, prior to the big game on the 8th.
Today I picked up these two titles in our excellent local second hand book store. The German uniform guide, which dates from 1973, is packed full of interesting details. In truth a lot of it will be wasted on my painting skills but I predict that some cuff bands will appear on my Germans pretty soon. I'm also tempted to pick up the Warlord general staff set for the bling.
The Blandford title goes back to 1974. The illustrations, all based on contemporary photos, are very pleasing to study. They include some uniforms I have never seen before, such as an Italian Liberation Corps officer, in British uniform with Bersaglieri feathers on his helmet. There is a French mounted officer of Moroccan rifles in Italy, wearing a fabulous striped djellabah (sleeved over-garment). The fact that every figure is based on a real person brings home how much dress differed from the regulations. I doubt I'll ever collect a French colonial force (although never say never, I didn't expect to own a Cossack 17th century army but there they now are in the cupboard!). But the figures for late war Western Europe provide loads of inspiration. In fact, I think figure 166 alone is enough to inspire me to start a German Grenadier platoon.
I spend hours trawling through the Internet for uniform information and scenario ideas and it is a wonderful resource. But turning the pages of a book, especially when it's a charity shop find, is strangely satisfying.