Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Weather Where You Are

Geoff got me an ex-library copy of Charlie Wesencraft's classic Practical Wargaming a few years ago.  It was one of those books we used to take out of Edinburgh Central Library on a regular basis (my copy is from the Lancashire County Library, first borrowed in March 1975, with the last date stamp being 27 Feb 2008.  Nobody needs to know that but I thought I'd record it anyway).
However, not just being a trip down memory lane the book does actually have some interesting ideas in it, not to mention some arresting expressions.  The one I always remember in the discussion about missile fire is that we are not supposed to be interested in whether a particular infantryman 'successfully stops an arrow with his chest', a phrase which I still find funny, if a little macabre.
Fun with hardboard and paint
Anyway, in the Preparation for Battle chapter, there is a discussion of the effects of weather on battles and instructions on how to make and use a weather 'barometer'.

The illustration from the book explains how it is used, which is basically to throw 2D6 at the start of the game to find a starting point between '2' at the top (fog) and '12' (storm) at the bottom and then move the red peg up or down (or not move it at all) depending on die throws each move.
Weather barometers and funk boards: the epitome of 1970s wargaming
As you can see I added an extra section at the top, which is not actually part of the barometer but where the string goes so I can hang it up.

So it will be interesting using this in our next game.  However, I would like to add that, based on a Scandinavian book I had as a child (I still have it), the word 'barometer' is inextricably linked with the word 'foreboding'...

Monday, 17 April 2017

Another Barn Conversion

My previous post was about making a (15-20mm scale) covered structure to go over a bridge I'd constructed even earlier.   However, looking for a small project in between my various trips this year I decided to use the 'barn' for another purpose.
In this case I made a base for it so that the 'barn' could be used as a free-standing structure.  The base includes internal walls and doors at either end.  The objective was to make a ruined substructure that would be revealed when the barn was supposed to be damaged due to shell fire or arson (or inclement weather?) during a game, a suggestion taken from various old-time wargame books.
As you can see, removing the barn would therefore reveal the remains of the ruined barn beneath it, but with enough space and absence of clutter to place troops as necessary.
Construction used the usual mixture of matches, wooden stirring sticks and cardboard.  The sub-structure was designed so that the barn would be held securely in place until it had to be removed.

After putting it together, everything was undercoated in black and then heavily dry-brushed in dark earth, with sand highlights and various coats of thin black wash for shadows and emphasis.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Barn Conversion

Wargaming is a life-long hobby (at least in my case) and there are often things that we've planned to do at some point but have never managed to get around to, until much later.
I am as guilty of that as anyone.  However, the good news is that I have recently managed to complete one of those little projects that was first jotted down some considerable time ago.  In 1987 to be exact.
This is a sketch I made in my wargame journal when I was still at university and we were in the middle of an ACW campaign, partially conducted by mail (the old fashioned kind with envelopes and stamps and things like that).  It was my idea for a covered bridge, or barn bridge as I referred to it.
After making some wooden bridges as recently as 2015, I realised I could use one of them as the basis of my long-planned barn bridge.  Construction (in approximately 20mm scale) comprised a basic internal sheet-polystyrene structure with cardboard roof and walls.  To the walls I glued matches and on the roof I put cut sections of those wooden stirrers you get in coffee shops these days (presumably because the public can't be trusted with teaspoons).
Once the glue was dry, everything was undercoated in black and then liberally dry-brushed in Revell Dark Earth.  Highlights were added with a rapid dry-brushing of Revell Afrikabraun (sand colour).  After that was done I finished off with few coats of thin black wash in selected places to intensify edge contrasts and shadows.
As you can see I made the 'barn' section so that it would fit neatly over the bridge I had made previously, so I now have two bridges for the price of one.  It's only taken me thirty years but some things with a long gestation period are worth waiting for.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

ACW Positional Defence (2)

This is the after action report (AAR) from an American Civil War (ACW) wargame we played near the end of 2016 before various business trips, Christmas and so on intervened (hence the long gap since I last posted here).
The aim was to playtest the Principles of War 2nd edition rules (POW2) I'd had on the shelf for about 10 years.  From reading through the rules I liked their apparent simplicity as well as the interesting command and control mechanism, so I wanted to see how they would play out under stress of battle.  I'd also wanted to find an alternative to Neil Thomas' nineteenth century rules we'd tried earlier in the year which we found too simple.
Positional Defence (2).  Confederate attack.
Alert readers will know that this scenario comes from Charles S Grant's excellent book "Scenarios for Wargames", which we have used a few times in recent years. In fact the first AAR I ever posted on this blog was Positional Defence (1), which coincidentally was also an ACW game.  In the intervening years all of our ACW figures have been rebased (as recounted in detail elsewhere on this blog).  As you will see these are the classic 20mm Airfix figures that we've had for nearly forty years, and still going strong.
Union starting positions
The scenario has the "Red Force", in this case the Confederates, attacking a smaller Union force in a defensive position on high ground with a village at the centre. The forces were adapted from the scenario in the book so the Confederates had seven infantry regiments and three guns, with the Union side having four regiments and two guns.  As you can see from the map, the Union forces were spread thinly with one regiment and gun on each hill, one in the village and one regiment out of sight in reserve behind the village.
Confederate attack on left flank develops
The Confederate plan was quite simple: to wear down the defenders with artillery fire whilst the infantry advanced on both flanks across the open ground towards the objectives.  Initial bombardment was on the infantry in the village, which despite being in hard cover, were rapidly forced out of the houses by incessant artillery fire (and rubbish die throwing).  This allowed the rebels to move forward quickly with few casualties.
Confederate attack on Union right
The lack of effective defence in the centre meant that the rebels could bring up their guns and after a short exchange the Union regiment on the right-hand hill started to withdraw.
Right flank falling back, artillery about to be destroyed
Furthermore, despite some spirited firing, the artillery on the right was worn down rapidly and destroyed, leaving the right flank practically open.
Union forces pushed off hill on the right with reserves trying to move up
Meanwhile, on the left, the rebels were using the woods as cover and were moving up rapidly.
Situation on the left
The battery on the left was mainly engaged in long range counter battery fire but was quickly weakened.
Rebels in the woods
The rebels continued to push hard on the left and the incessant bombardment meant that the Union's last remaining battery's strength was reduced to zero.
Not looking good for the Union
The rebels then moved into the contact against the isolated Union regiment on the left whilst the Confederates climbed the hill on the right.
Confederates capture hill on right, attack hill on left
On the left the sole remaining Union regiment was attacked frontally whilst another rebel regiment contacted it in the flank.
Union regiment outnumbered
However, the Union regiment was able to defeat the rebels to the front and then turn its attention to the flanking force.
Rebels run away.  Right, who's next?
Union regiment combats flanking force
Amazingly the flanking rebel regiment was also repulsed.
Ha!  Take that!
Unfortunately this success was only temporary as the rebels in the woods moved up and attacked again.
Persistent Rebels
However, by now it was all over for the Union as the Confederates controlled the right hand hill and the scenario's main objective, the village.
Rebels to the right of me, Confederates on the left... here I am...
So at that point we called it a day.  The Union side was comprehensively beaten and it appeared that very little could be done to stop the Confederates advancing to contact, sweeping the weaker Union forces away.

As with all of CS Grant's ideas, the scenario was pretty good but perhaps the forces could have been slightly better balanced to make more of a fight of it, although that might have been more to do with how we chose forces rather than the scenario itself.

As for the POW2 rules they worked fine and were easy to follow.  Unlike some sets of rules they don't bother with a lot of 'fluff' but get straight to the point in a structured way, even laying out the rules in the same order as the move sequence, which some well known sets of rules don't seem to bother with.

However, there was something slightly 'flat' about them and I certainly felt that the rules did not give the defenders the expected tactical advantages from cover or elevation that would enable them to even slow the enemy, let alone stop them as they advanced inexorably in the open to contact.

That said the POW2 rules certainly performed better than the very simple nineteenth century Neil Thomas rules so I haven't given up on them just yet.