On 16 January Spencer and I played a game of Chain of Command. I am still learning the ropes but Spencer did a great job helping me to address the subtleties of the game.
The scenario was loosely based on a German counter attack during Market Garden, with Spencer’s elite US airborne in a built up area responding to an assault by my reinforced platoon of regular grenadiers, with Panther support. His morale should by rights have been much higher than mine but the dice rolls left him with 9 and me with 8.
The 6x4 foot table had a street going lengthways down the middle, with houses and ruins on either side and a T junction at one end. Most of the scenery was mine but Spencer brought a lovely lot of rubble, some home made but most from Charlie Foxtrot.
The patrol phase saw each of us trying to gain ground around the other’s right. I was quite happy with the outcome as I think I finally realised how important it is to get patrol markers out in front of the desired jump off points.
On the first turn, Spencer deployed a squad and senior leader on his right. He placed an MMG in rubble and the balance of GIs going tactical in the open, in an early bid to take my left-hand Jump-off Point which was behind his right rear. In my turn I deployed a grenadier squad on this JoP and fired at the Airborne in the open. Some very lucky rolls put a lot of shock on the paras and Spencer decided to pull his squad back behind a wall. Unfortunately for him, he rolled low for movement which meant his squad could only retreat to the wall and had to stay on the German side of it for another turn. I brought on an MG42 and a Panther to lay down concentric fire on the Airborne squad. The Yanks shook off the resulting shock, got over the wall and returned fire. The duel between my regulars and the smaller number of Spencer’s elites was surprisingly balanced, but my original squad’s losses rose and it became pinned, with its junior leader first wounded,then killed. My morale by now had dropped to 5. However, Spencer’s losses also gradually rose and he decided he wouldn’t be able to break the pinned squad before his own losses went critical. Concluding this could only end badly, Spencer withdrew his squad out of sight behind the central building
Meanwhile, in the centre, I brought in my other two squads, placing one in a ruin facing forward and the other behind them and facing right. Spencer deployed a sniper who started nibbling away at the first of these squads, then he brought in another Airborne squad and senior leader on my right flank. As these troops advanced, Spencer brought his original squad round from behind the building to provide supporting fire.
Thus far, the game had been going Spencer’s way, with his morale still intact and mine down by 3 points. But I had been rolling lots of 5s and found myself with two Chain of Command dice. Spencer sent his left hand squad to assault my right flank, which I interrupted with a CoC die. Spencer rolled low for movement and failed to make it into cover. I laid more fire into the advancing Paras, who lost men and some morale points to bad stuff but were still grinding forward. I used the other CoC die to interrupt them again but they still kept coming. Then, I rolled three 6s and was finally able to break Spencer’s left and bring his morale to zero. Game over.
That was fun. Really fun. I cannot gloat as Spencer was most generous in helping me to work out my options and reminding me of the significance of the end of turn. The game had a strong narrative feel and I came across some new and interesting rules wrinkles that didn’t crop up in my first two games.
I was happyish with the table but have decided to buy an urban game mat, as the green high street just looked wrong! I am thinking I would then add green spaces back by making some back gardens and placing these as necessary. I also need more rubble and more walls. Time for another chat with Mr Foxtrot.
Matt and I played an impromptu game of Blücher last Wednesday, having established that this really would be our last chance for a wargame before he moves away. I already had units based and labelled for the Waterloo campaign, so we played a game loosely based on the first Prussian attack against Plancenoit. Matt commanded two brigades of the Prussian IV Corps plus Corps cavalry, while I had the French VI Corps, plus Domon and Subervie’s cavalry brigades. Matt’s IV Corps artillery and the French Young Guard would enter as reinforcements. We had two MO dice each.
The terrain was impressionistic but not too far off the real geography. Matt’s Prussians emerged from the Bois de Paris on the Eastern table edge, to find VI Corps deployed on high ground to the north east of Plancenoit. The Lasnes stream bounded the southern table edge. The village of Plancenoit was an objective for both sides and victory would go, either to the side occupying it at game end, or to whichever broke enemy morale first. The village was unoccupied at the start.
I realised before the first turn that I had already broken the scenario, as the Blücher reserves rule meant that Matt could bypass VI Corps and walk his whole force into and around Plancenoit on his first turn. He is too canny a player to miss an open goal like that. As we were trying to recreate at least the flavour of the historical encounter, we agreed that Matt should treat the village as notionally occupied by the French, meaning that no unit on reserve movement could approach closer than 4BW away.
Matt began the game by advancing on Plancenoit on his left with one brigade while screening my French on the high ground with the other. In response, I shifted some of VI Corps to my right, sending one unit into Plancenoit. This had time to form garrison but would soon be ejected by a combined attack by two Prussian units. Meanwhile Matt tried to cut the village off from the rest of the French force by sending cavalry against my centre. The results there came out about even but I was left with a dent in the line. The French Young Guard then arrived and assaulted Plancenoit, failing to break in on the first attempt but kicking the Prussians out with the second attack.
Matt’s IV Corps artillery arrived and I started to pull back my left hand infantry unit, which had started to look shaky due to Prussian gunnery. On reflection this was a mistake as the unit soon found itself caught between enemy infantry and cavalry, with no support within reach.
By now the turns were running down and Matt concluded he couldn’t eject the Young Guard with his depleted left wing units. Instead he drew back his left and focussed on reducing my morale before the turns ran out. I would have been wise to move back my own command and play for time, since Plancenoit was firmly mine. All I needed to do was hang on for a couple more turns. However we were both one morale point away from defeat and I thought I might break Matt as well as holding the village. What a glorious victory that would be! Of course it went wrong and Matt broke my morale first. Gamer, Know your limits!
So the game ended with Matt victorious. VI Corps was badly battered and the Young Guard held Plancenoit, while the Prussians were stood off from the village, with one brigade nearly used up but the other still in goodish shape. Historically the Prussians would soon be reinforced and retake Plancenoit, only to be ejected again by French Old Guard, before the weight of Prussian numbers, combined with the failure of the Middle Guard to break Wellington’s centre, would oblige the French to give up the village for good and join the general retreat.
This was an exciting and absorbing fight, despite its last minute arrangement and the small number of units. Rarely for me, I still haven’t felt the temptation to fiddle with the rules, as they continue to give plausible outcomes and to be great fun to play. With time for preparation I would have checked the map more carefully and given the scenario a dry run, which would have highlighted the risk that the reserves rule could be used to change the nature of the encounter. I could address this by changing French deployment to allow them to occupy Plancenoit at the start, even though this wasn’t actually how VI Corps initially deployed. Alternatively, we could decide that the Prussians cannot take a reserve move because they have been force marching all day from Wavre.
The figures we used are a mix of 1/72 scale plastics, which I have collected over many years to create the whole 1815 order of battle, originally based for Volley & Bayonet and Grande Armée. The number of figures per base is a bit sparse but I started this project on a budget. For games set in other campaigns besides 1815, I do prefer 6 or 15/18mm.
All in all, our impromptu game was great fun and I’m glad we were able to fit it in.
Last Thursday we held the “Matt Pendle Farewell Commemorative Bolt Action Battlegame”. After four years of happy gaming, Matt is inexplicably moving away. He said something about jobs, wives and quality of life and I wish him well, but the simple fact is that a splendid opponent is leaving the area.
We have played various periods and rules since 2015 but as Matt, Ian and I started out on Bolt Action together, it seemed fitting to return to BA for our final encounter. We were joined by Dan, a player of various games including Star Wars Legions and RPGs. Having watched a Youtube tutorial beforehand on Bolt Action basics, Dan picked up the rules remarkably quickly.
We played a 1000 point game with D Day US versus Late War Germans. I wanted a suitably heroic and memorable game so adapted the Hill defence scenario from Battleground Europe, replacing the defending Poles in the original with Matt’s Americans and transposing the setting to operation Cobra. The briefing is set out below.
“Last Stand on Hill TW20
It is the third day of Operation Cobra, the US breakout from the Cotentin Peninsula. General Bradley’s First Army has pierced the German’s Western flank and is advancing south and eastwards into the interior. If the US armour can break out of the bocage country, the German forces in Normandy face encirclement and annihilation. Aware of the stakes, the Germans are throwing everything they have against the neck of the American advance, aiming to cut off the spearhead from its crucial supplies.
The corridor opened by the assault is narrow. While the tankers race ahead, it is down to the long-suffering GI to keep that corridor open.
Hill TW20 is already behind the US spearhead. It overlooks a key road along which the gasoline and ammunition must flow. It is held by Major Matt “Hedgehog” Pendle and his hard-bitten platoon of veterans. Their task is to hold the hill at all costs.
Approaching from the East is a scratch force of German grenadiers, as determined to take Hill TW20 as Matt’s Marauders are to hold it. Their commander, Hauptmann Rudolf von Rotthund, peers at the hill through his binoculars and plans his assault. He is confident of success: what Ami can resist the power of his new dice tower?”
Matt set his force up on the hill, minus a half track with infantry section in reserve. He was allowed to dig in his infantry, which he did on his left and centre. Dan and I shared the Germans between us. Matt had a pretty clear killing ground to his front so we agreed that we would try a pincer, Dan on the left and I on the right.
How did the game play? Well, I did say I wanted it to be memorable. The first scene unfolded on the German left/US right, as Dan set out to dislodge a US squad behind a row of bocage. This started well, with several useful pins falling on the US squad. Matt regained the initiative with a direct medium mortar hit in its first round, followed by a bazooka taking out Dan’s command halftrack. In return, Dan achieved a first-time direct hit with his medium mortar and started to filter his command squad across to the US side of the bocage. So far, honours were about even. At this point, Matt pulled a very clever turnaround. At the end of one turn he rallied off all of the pins on his right hand squad. When he then drew the first order die of the next turn, he sent the rallied squad smack into Dan’s command squad and wiped it out. Shortly after, Matt’s halftrack arrived and joined in the destruction. From that point on, Dan’s wing was doomed, even with the arrival of a German section from reserve.
On the German right, meanwhile, I was footling around behind a hedge, swapping pins with Matt’s MMG and left hand squad in foxholes. Matt shifted his central squad around his left-rear, overrunning as he did so a sniper team that hadn’t even set up for business yet. This was getting embarrassing. With Matt’s encircling squad arriving to my front, I no longer had cover from enemy fire and suffered the consequences. The rest was a blur: some nasty close combat which went in US favour, a last ditch attack by a panzerschrek team using their bazooka as a club, and eventually agreement on all sides that the Germans were unlikely to get a live body onto the hill. After five turns, Dan and I surrendered, first to the inevitable and then to Matt.
Blimey! What happened there then? Being a modest bloke, Matt pointed out that the dice had been with him at certain key points, both in shooting and in the drawing of order dice. He argued that had a German die been the first to be drawn in one particular turn, this could have reversed the whole course of the game. Let’s be clear: had the luck been strictly balanced, he would still have beaten us, if perhaps a tiny bit less emphatically. We were beaten - and soundly - by the player, not by any dice gods.
This was our first Bolt Action game in several months and I’d forgotten how much fun it can be. The game mechanics are robust, logical and easy to learn: Dan was off and away pretty much from the start of his first ever BA game. There is real suspense in the drawing of order dice and lots of tough choices on who to activate next. There are also moments that may not be historically plausible but are great fun in the game context, often involving success against the odds. And it is the sign of a good rule set that Dan seemed thoroughly to enjoy his first Bolt Action encounter, despite being roundly trounced.
On the whole I don’t find the scale distortion in BA troublesome, although I would happily adopt a house rule that while mortars are paid for as usual, the only presence required on the table top is that of their spotter. It did feel quite cramped to have a German and a US mortar within four feet of one another.
Inspired by Thursday’s game I have painted a new German NCO and MG42 team, to round out another section of grenadiers. I increasingly feel that the more cost-effective investments for a general scenario are in infantry squads and MMG teams: exotic specialist units that might not get to use their kit are less likely to justify the expense.
As for Matt, I hope he was satisfied with the performance of his GIs on their final outing in South East England. What do I mean, final? I am determined to get him back down here for some more games in the future. It would be criminal to lose touch with an opponent who is as sporting, capable and likeable as Matt has been over the past four years. Excuse me for a moment, I have something in my eye….
We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre on Wednesday, with Spencer and Matt pitting their Early Imperial Romans against my Ptolemaic army. Both of them are building their own Roman armies, Spencer’s set a little earlier than Matt’s so with oval shields. Together, they fielded ten bases of legionaries, one of equites and two light infantry bases, supplemented by some Hellenistic horse and medium infantry. My Ptolemaics had six bases of pikes, four of thureophoroi, five of xystophoroi, two Nubians and a bunch of light infantry.
The Romans fielded two commands entirely of infantry and put all their cavalry in their right hand command. The Ptolemaics had the pikes in the centre with cavalry and light infantry divided more or less evenly between the two wings. The Roman plan was to avoid the front of the pikes by drawing their centre back and to the left like a matador’s cloak. Meanwhile their horse would crush my left wing horse and fall upon the rear of my pikes, while their left would fend off my right wing.
To begin with, the Roman plan went well. Their right wing drove my Nubian horse right off the table. But as they turned to engage my centre, their commander threw himself into a melee with some thureophoroi in which he was killed. From then on, the Roman right had to operate with no command roll modifiers and a 2CP cost for each order. Meanwhile, my pikes were able to close with the Roman centre before it could get out of the way. On the Roman left/Ptolemaic right, the Greek/Macedonian horse faced off against Matt’s legionaries with neither side closing.
The combat in the centre went well for the pikes, as their Roman opponents were out of position. Even so, the Romans were a tough nut to crack and took time to wear down. On the unengaged flank, the Ptolemaic horse finally charged the Roman left but there followed several rounds of inconclusive combat. Eventually, the uneven struggle in the centre tipped too far in Ptolemy’s favour and the Roman army broke.
The game ran at a fair pace. We are all now more familiar with the rules although still needed to do some checking here and there. There were various points to note for future games. One is the powerful combination of an elite unit with armour. The armour rule really reduces the chances of an emphatic or rapid result. Another is the crippling effect of losing a commander. Before you get stuck in with a general, make sure it’s worth the risk of losing him.
Another thought is that the threat of combat can be more effective than charging in. For most of the game my right wing was facing off against the Roman left, stopping it from turning to attack my centre from behind but without actually charging it. With hindsight, I needn’t have charged at all since my victory points were coming from elsewhere. Once we did start fighting on this wing, all I really did was increase the risk that poor dice rolling might give the Romans victory points unnecessarily. It is always tempting to get stuck in with everybody but in some situations, I don’t think this is a smart option.
As usual with these opponents, the game was played in a generous and cheerful spirit. Special mention must go to Spencer’s handiwork on his legionaries. Exquisitely painted and posed, each base is a vivid little diorama. He isn’t exactly a fast worker but the results are splendid.
The figures on the table were a mixture of Heroics and Ros plastics, Minifigs, First Corps, Victrix, Warlord and Black Tree Design. Oldest painted in 1981 and newest finished last Tuesday.
We played a 200 point game of Art de la Guerre last Saturday. Spencer having confessed a weakness for elephants, I revisited the lists for the battle of the Metaurus that we used a year or so ago. Spencer took the part of Hasdrubal, arriving in Italy to reinforce his brother Hannibal, while Matt led the combined consular armies of Nero and Salinator.
The army lists were adapted in two ways to reflect the scenario. First, the Gauls in Hasdrubal‘s army were made mediocre and not impetuous, to reflect their poor quality (Roman accounts say they were drunk, but more likely they were just disaffected and wobbly). The Romans were not told about this drop in quality until the Gauls’ first combat. Second, the cavalry limit for the Romans was increased as Nero’s highly irregular decision to join Salinator had given the Romans cavalry superiority, an unusual situation in the Punic wars.
The battlefield was flanked by the river Metaurus on the Carthaginian right, with open plain in the centre and rising ground on the Carthaginian left/Roman right. A hill with a steep ravine at its base ran in front of the Carthaginian left while a more gentle hill faced it on the Roman side of the table.
To reflect the fact that Hasdrubal had been retreating and turned at bay when his pursuers got too close, Spencer was obliged to set up his entire army first. He placed his cavalry on his right, his Gauls in the centre and his Spanish and elephants on his left, including on the hill protected by the steep ravine.
Matt set up with Nero’s infantry on the left, his combined cavalry in the centre and Salinator’s infantry (his largest command) on his right. However, instead of matching Spencer’s frontage, Matt deployed in some depth and his extreme right set up opposite Spencer’s centre. This left the Spanish on the hill with no opposition to their front. Matt’s plan was to grind down the Carthaginian right and centre before Hasdrubal’s left could engage. As the need arose, he was ready to peel off troops from behind Salinator’s front line to hold off Hasdrubal’s left wing if and when it did reach his flank.
On seeing the Roman deployment, Spencer began racing his cavalry to the left behind his front line, in an attempt to get around the Roman right flank. However the gap behind his line was narrow and Matt charged this horse as they tried to pass. The horse managed to evade but now found themselves penned in behind the Carthaginian centre. Thwarted in their plan, Spencer’s cavalry then returned almost to their starting position on the right flank and got stuck in. It was a valiant attempt to seize the initiative but Matt had neutralised it by maintaining his objective, ploughing forwards and restricting Spencer’s room for manoeuvre.
Unusually for a game of ADLG, we ran out of time before a clear victory was won. A points count gave a draw, although we agreed that the moral victory was Matt’s. Certainly for most of the game, the Romans chewed up their opposition and caused much more serious losses than they incurred. However in the later stages, when Spencer’s cavalry stopped manoeuvring and started fighting and his left wing engaged Matt’s right, Roman losses rose quite fast. The outcome seemed much less certain at the point when we finished than it would have, had we stopped three or four turns earlier. Even so, I think Matt would have carried the day as he still had more hitting power in a position to do damage.
It’s always interesting to see how players interpret their brief. Matt took a risk by deploying on a narrow but deep front. At first it looked like he was inviting a Cannae-style envelopment. Had the terrain been more open he would have been in serious trouble. But the ravine-fronted hill on Spencer’s left, while strong defensively, would also impede a Carthaginian advance to envelop the Roman right. It was probably this fact that prompted Spencer to try to send his cavalry around Matt’s right. He nearly succeeded but Matt fended off the attempt with his steadily advancing legionaries. When Spencer did advance his left and it eventually made contact, it did a lot of damage but too late in the game to swing the balance.
It was fun playing a scenario as opposed to a straight points battle. At least, I found the narrative more compelling for knowing who the players were supposed to represent. As usual, the players were great company and courteous to a fault: maybe next time we should play something from the Lace Wars so each can invite the other to shoot first...
Figures are a combination of 25mm Minifigs, Garrison, Newline, Black Tree and First Corps. The Roman army in their entirety are very old Minifigs and they really can’t combine with other ranges, but I am very fond of them, telegraph pole spears notwithstanding.
On Monday evening we played two 100 point games of Art de la Guerre. The aim was to introduce these rules to Spencer, in return for his recently introducing us to Chain of Command. It was also Matt’s first outing with his early Imperial Romans. He hasn’t painted 100 points’ worth yet so we supplemented his army with Iberians. Spencer led a horde of impetuous Gauls. I haven’t known him long but somehow I knew they’d suit him.
After a couple of turns learning the ropes, Spencer got into the swing and sent his lads flying every which way, marching down his right flank, moving up the middle and sending a very cheeky scout around Matt’s right to capture his camp. The Gauls also had the better of combat and this, plus the VPs for plundering the Roman stockade, won Spencer a rapid victory.
Game two was a different proposition. Spencer tried again to distract Matt with his light cavalry but they were quickly chased off the field. As the centres closed, a Gallic chariot charge on their right nearly succeeded but as more supports were committed, Matt won that combat. In the centre the Gauls (mostly) bounced off legionaries and in relatively short order, Matt had his revenge. One game all.
The difference between the two games was interesting. In the first one Matt came forward, making it easier for Spencer to swamp his position. In the second he held his line back, with woods on his left and a difficult hill anchoring his right. On this more constricted front, the Gauls couldn’t get the overlaps and in a straight face to face contest, the odds favoured Rome.
Both games were good fun and I think we’ll get Spencer back to try ADLG again. For the second game we allowed each side a few rerolls as suggested in the optional rules. Matt had observed that a bad roll in a critical moment can be devastating, especially in a 100 Point game, and the rerolls did help here. Next time,we will field 200 point armies as they do make for a more varied game.
ADLG is an easy rule set to learn and it delivers decisive results. Light troops work very convincingly and the evade rule is particularly effective. But I have two low level grumbles. The first is the rules for flank and rear attacks, notably when gaps appear, which for the life of me I can’t retain in my head. Did they have to be so fiddly? The second is the appearance of the table in the closing stages of a game, when the battle lines end up looking like a mouthful of broken teeth. It may be simpler and make sense in gaming terms to remove bases in the middle of the line while their neighbours plough on, but this doesn’t fit my imagination of a line slowly crumbling until everybody goes. I think this is probably just me and I still enjoy the mechanics, - but the game gets less photogenic as play wears on.
That said, any rules that permit two satisfying games on one weekday evening have to be doing something right.
This week I finally played my first game of Chain of Command. I have had the rules for about four years but found them a daunting read and never got around to trying them. Somehow Bolt Action was that bit easier to grasp. Then along came Spencer, member of the Staines Wargamers and keen CoC player, who very kindly agreed to run a game in the shed for me and Matt, who has played it a little but is also pretty much a beginner.
What can I say? I am hooked. These rules are so much more intuitive in play than in print. We had a platoon of regulars each, with no supports. Matt took the Brits and I had the Germans. It was a patrol encounter with a twist: there was a crashed kubelwagen near the middle of the table that I needed to control and Matt needed to deny me.
Chain of Command has been around for a long time so I presume it’s main design elements are pretty well known. The salient features for me are the patrol phase, jump off markers and Command dice. Spencer offered some useful tips for using the patrol phase to win ground, which was actually an intriguing game within the game. When it ended, Matt had a row of jump off markers in the centre of the table while I had two markers facing his in the centre and a third a little behind his left. I hoped this would give me a flanking advantage but in the event my daft deployment nearly cost me the game.
Once we started placing figures, I quickly got into trouble. I deployed my first squad from the jump off point on my right flank in the open, placing the LMG team on overwatch and going tactical with the rifle team (increasing their cover save). Matt then deployed his first team in the building on his left, fired at my squad and began to dismantle it. Thanks to rolling several sixes, he played three phases on the trot, by the end of which I had lost my LMG team, junior leader and a couple of riflemen. My remaining troopers were pinned in the open. Bummer.
When my next turn came around I could do nothing to help the battered squad so deployed my remaining two squads and senior leader on my centre and left, close to the kubelwagen. Matt meanwhile deployed his second section beside his first on his left and his third section in the centre. I think his decision to reinforce his first section gave me a chance to recover from my stupid first move, as although he could now wipe out my first squad, I had more weapons firing at his troops in the centre than he had firing at mine.
To cut a long story short, my left hand squad and senior leader reached the kubelwagen and lined a hedgerow, from which they won a duel with Matt’s third section; Matt moved his second section forward but they were pinned by my central squad; and he took his first section out of their building to put an end to my first squad and neutralise its jump off point. By game end, I had lost one squad and a jump off point, but Matt had lost two sections, two jump off points and control of the kubelwagen. I used my first and only Chain of Command die to end the turn and Matt’s force morale fell to zero.
The game was exciting throughout and I only just managed to swing the win. The dice favoured Matt at the start with his series of rolled over phases but later on, I had some well above average shooting results, so (as always) the luck evened out. Spencer was an excellent tutor and umpire, advising us both on rules niceties and options. I found the rules far easier to absorb in play than they had been while reading the book. I think this is true of all rules to an extent but I do find Lardies rulebooks especially hard to navigate.
As for subtlety, I am sure it will be several games before I start to get the hang of how to play properly.
Having played a great deal of Bolt Action, I suppose I am bound to compare the two rules. BA is easy to learn and plays quickly. It has lots of tension and is always fun. It can however see some pretty unlikely tactics, the ranges are way too short and a lot of hardware appears on table that should be a long way away. I also hate the fact that some players create gamey army lists to get a killer - but unhistorical - army, but that isn’t the fault of the rules themselves.
By contrast I think Chain of Command will take longer to master, even with the help of Spencer. But it will be worth the effort. CoC is definitely exciting to play. I really like the friction and uncertainty from the Command dice; the combat mechanics are not that complicated once you learn them and the players are faced with a wider range of tactical choices than with BA, both in what their figures can do and how they can operate.
Of course, the most important factor to affect enjoyment in any game is the other player. Matt and Spencer were great company and the evening flew by. Spencer has recklessly agreed to come again. Before he does I’ve got some jump off points to build.
We managed to get an evening’s wargaming in over the Easter weekend. My son Nick is always happy to learn new systems so we agreed to try What a Tanker by the Too Fat Lardies. I had picked up the rules at Warfare in November along with a couple of MDF dashboards that the Rubicon team were selling. We took a Sherman and a Stug III G and set up a random table in the kitchen.
We played three games in all, the first one as a cooperative venture to make sure we understood the rules. As it turned out we got the hang of the mechanics within the first couple of turns. We didn’t miss the absence of a quick reference sheet as this function is mostly fulfilled by the dashboard. Also the rules are nicely intuitive: you just have to remember what actions the dice stand for and any special rules for your AFV. We were very soon focussing on how to play, rather than on what the hell the rules meant.
We also really enjoyed ourselves. For those who have yet to play the rules, the core mechanic is the roll of 6 dice for each vehicle at the start of its turn. Each result allows for one action (drive; acquire target; aim; fire; reload; and wild die). The player can play these dice in any order. A tank can lose dice, temporarily or for good, as a result of enemy fire. We found that being restricted by the dice rolls caused some frustration but not so much so as to spoil the enjoyment. In fact it created some exciting moments as a tank found itself unable to exploit a perfect opportunity. And not only do the action dice work well as a mechanic, they are a very effective antidote to the usual wargaming problem of the all-seeing player’s eye in the sky. And even a little reading of tank crew memoirs throws up many examples of the limitations on visibility and awareness for a crew shut up inside an AFV.
Our games involved a lot of cat and mouse creeping around the field, each trying to get a shot in while taking maximum advantage of cover. We learned quite quickly that a flank or rear hit is far more effective than a hit on frontal armour. We also realised that it isn’t always smart to keep firing: that wild die might be better used to move back into cover at the end of the turn than to stay in the open and fire another round.
We also agreed that a straight duel to the death between two tanks can lead to some strange behaviour, as each player hangs on in there for longer and takes more risks than would be sensible in reality. At one point we were following each other around a building, each hoping to land a rear shot. There is little incentive in the basic game to apply the principle of ‘shoot and scoot’! I guess the answer is to have more than two vehicles on the table and/or to create scenarios that encourage ‘historical’ behaviour.
We agreed that What a Tanker is an elegant and exciting set of rules. In years gone by I think we would have called it a Beer and Pretzels game. I would mean that as a compliment.
While in Devon last weekend I played a game laid on by Keith, my ancient and constant wargaming opponent. He had set up a scenario for Longstreet, adapted from Warlord Games’ Glory, Hallelujah! ACW supplement, in which a Federal force of two divisions has the job of capturing a Confederate-held riverside fort, itself supported by two field brigades. I think the original scenario is called Wright’s Farm.
I took the Confederates and Keith the Federals. Both of our break points, based on my outnumbered force, was 44. If Keith captured the fort, it would be worth an additional die towards rolling for my demoralisation. Keith had the option of bringing a steamer down stream to bombard the fort, although this would bring it in range of my heavy guns.
Keith set up on a chain of hills overlooking the fort. I put a regiment in garrison with four heavy rifled artillery pieces in the fort on my left. The valley between the fort and the hill in my centre was filled with an entrenched regiment, then I placed one brigade in the centre and the last on high ground on my right. The frontages of our two forces were therefore about equal at the start, although Keith was deployed in more depth.
In summary, the game began with Keith marching out all along his line, with a little more pace on his two flanks. His right wing assaulted the fort three times and each attack was repulsed. On his left, shortly before his line came within small arms range, I withdrew my right hand brigade and started moving them to reinforce my centre and left. I wanted the Union left flank to land its punch into mid-air and then be too far away to affect the fight for the fort. This nearly worked perfectly except Keith played a Confusion card on my rearmost regiment, which allowed him to catch and maul it. Apart from this I was pleased with the timing and execution of the withdrawal. In the centre, Keith’s initial intention had been to screen but he attacked four of my regiments at the same time as his last assault on the fort. This turn increased my losses but my line held. Shortly after, a very successful round of Confederate shooting pushed Keith over his morale limit and the game ended. The steamer never arrived to bombard the Confederate shore.
This was a tense and fun game. I didn’t fancy my chances at the start since I was so heavily outnumbered but the fort was tough and I was able to inflict a lot of damage on the assaulting troops as they closed.
As ever, the Longstreet cards dealt some memorable incidents that few other rule sets can allow unless they have an umpire. Foremost was the catching of my retreating right wing, which I would not have allowed to happen without the interference of an Interrupt card. Keith also inflicted a ‘couldn’t hit an elephant’ card (ie general hit by enemy fire) that removed 5 cards from my hand in one terrible turn. The Longstreet cards are a finely balanced device, keeping uncertainty high but never overwhelming the mechanics with too much arbitrary luck. Throughout a game, you still play your opponent rather than the system. I have said this before and it is still true: Longstreet is my favourite rules set, for any period. These simple, taut and flavour-filled rules are just masterful.
Longstreet is quite hard to come by these days, at least in the UK. That said, the introductory rules and cards are still available to download for free on the Honour Games website. The combat rules are only slightly less comprehensive than the main rules, although they lack the campaign system. But the free rules and cards are still a great starting point.
The figures were from Keith’s 15/18mm collection, mostly by Peter Pig. Buildings by Timecast and cloth by Cigar Box Battles.
I have had another go at the house rules for adapting FK&P to Eastern Europe. For now we are just looking at the troops needed to refight the battle of Berestechko in 1651, so involving the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, Zaporozhian Cossacks and Tatars. When we are happy with these I’ll have a look at Muscovy. The current house rules are here . This is a lot of fun to do. Poor Matt is going to find himself in the gaming equivalent of Groundhog Day before we are satisfied.