Seven Steps to Freedom

May 25, 2017

Charlie Wesencraft has published several books on wargaming.  His first, “Practical Wargaming”, covers several periods from ancients through the late horse and musket period.  His second, “With Pike and Musket”,  covers the English Civil War.  What is remarkable about the latter is that it is also an extensive scenario book covering more than 20 battles.  His third, “Seven Steps to Freedom”, covers 29 battles in French and Indian war and American Revolution.  It was rejected by his publisher and was almost never published until John Curry accepted it for his History of Wargaming project.  It was finally published in January 2015.

The Book 

There are 188 pages of text, diagrams and maps in the book.  All of the graphics are black and white line drawings.  There are 29 scenarios in the book, grouped in 7 phases (steps) in chronological order starting with the French and Indian War and ending at Yorktown.  The former has only 4 scenarios.  The balance deal specifically with the American revolution.  There is also a set of rules to play out the scenarios.  These rules are similar to those found in his previous book, “With Pike and Musket.”  The scenario information has enough detail so that you could adopt them to whatever game and basing system you like.  This alone makes the book a real value for anyone wanting to game this period.

The Rules

I’ve seen in other reviews and even from the author(!) that these rules are dated and gaming has moved on.  I strongly disagree.  They are rather unique by today’s standards, but these rules have a lot going for them.

Units are formed of anywhere between 10-20 miniatures.  British regiments, for example are approximately 12 figures.  Cavalry regiments are somewhat smaller.  There is an efficiency rating of 1-4 points which will determine how well the unit obeys orders or fights.  Efficiency is determined randomly at the beginning of the game and then raises or drops based on results of combat when the unit fights.

Movement is basic with the standard rules for turning and changing formation which cost you a portion of movement.  The striking difference is that he uses an activation roll to actually move, charge and stand firm against an enemy.  This roll is modified by the unit’s current efficiency rating.  The player must usually roll a 5 or more with sometimes a 6 or more to escape the ill effects of the situation.  For a standard move or charge, the ill effects usually mean the unit just stands in place.  Standing firm or from taking casualties, the unit may flee.  Efficiency is added to the roll making it more likely that the unit will pass the check.

Combat is chart based.  there is a simple casualty chart that determines how many casualties a unit delivers based on half the number of figures fighting.  This number is modified by a die roll. 1-2 is -1 casualty.  5-6 is +1 casualty.  Simple and effective.

There is a weather gauge that determines the status of the battlefield weather.  Again this is diced for with 2 dice at the beginning of the game.  Weather is then checked for at the beginning of each turn to see if it changes by 1 step.  You might start the battle with clear weather and then a storm may blow in half way through.  It is a simple method.  I’ve seen it used in GDW’s “Fire and Steel” game.

Style

The author writes in a very easy to read narrative style.  The battles are interesting to read about and the author gives some analysis about each battle’s historical conclusion.   As a simple history book, it made for fun, light reading.

Conclusion

This book can be many things to many people.  It is a fine history book on its own.  It has a very playable set of wargame rules and scenarios to provide hours of fun at a fairly low cost.  I highly recommend this book.

“Seven Steps to Freedom” By Charlie Wesencraft


A New Thing to Occupy my Time.

May 25, 2017

I’ve been frequenting The Wargames Website over the past few days.  I quite like what I see.  The site appears to be built off of canned software.  There is a news feed as well as a post role so you can see the latest posts in the various message boards.  The boards in the forum are logically divided and are easy to use.  Some board seem to nest below a parent board for organization purposes.  The site has a small but relatively active community.  While there is a “general” set of boards, these seem to stick to topics that are at least tangentially related to gaming.  I’ve noticed a few familiar faces who are expats from TMP.  Folks seem to be well mannered and friendly.  In short, the editor of the site has produced a nice product.  I hope the community grows in time to provide a vibrant gaming forum experience that I once knew.


Small is good – The Portable Wargame

March 30, 2017

At the end of January, Bob Cordery released his Portable Wargame in a book format called (not surprisingly) The Portable Wargame. The book itself is 108 pages long and covers the history of grid based wargames, a design philosophy, rules for the 19th century, rules for modern warfare and several battle reports demonstrating the rules.

Essentially the rules follow a strict IGO-UGO sequence. Both sides exchange artillery fire with simultaneous effects. Then the players dice to see who goes first. The winner moves and attacks with each unit in turn before going onto the next unit. For instance, a unit could charge, win the combat driving the enemy back. It could then follow up and fight it again. All of this would occur before the next unit. Once both sides have taken a turn, you determine if there is a winner and then start the next turn if not.

I played my first game last night with an excellent little game engine designed to play The Portable Wargame on a computer. I chose the 18th century theme. Rather than playing on a flat plane, I decided to do a river crossing. There was a river that flowed west to east to the center of the board and bent to the south where it then bent again to the east. There was a bridge 1 space away from the bend and a town right next tot he bend. I played in 1 hour wargames style. I had 3 infantry and 1 gun for the defender and 4 infantry 1 gun and 1 cavalry for the attacker. The game played out in a believable manner, first with an artillery duel as well as a prolonged firefight across the river. The attacker crossed at first with a high risk attack. After an initial success, it was halted and then succumbed to flanking fire from both flanks. This maneuver did leave the enemy flanks vulnerable for 1 turn. The defender lost all the initiative rolls. The attacker assaulted a second time. This time, the infantry advanced and wiped out the enemy center unit. It was followed up by a cavalry unit which dispatched the enemy unit in the open. At this point, I ended the game as the defenders were down to their guns and 1 infantry unit still holding the town.

Simple and even simplistic but not in a bad way. I found that I never worried about the rules and never tried to “game” the system. Rather, I was concentrating on strategy and tactics the whole game. I played the game on an 8 by 8 board and 6 units per side comfortably fits on this sized board. I say this because One Hour Wargames uses 6 units per side. You can use this very setup, a chessboard sized board for those that did not pick up that subtlety, to fight out the scenarios in OHW. There is an option for chance cards in OHW as well. With some minor modifications, these can be used in The Portable Wargame too. Most OHW scenarios last 15 turns. In relation to movement, the 8X8 board is about 1/3 smaller than the OHW board. I’d limit the turn length to 10-12 turns per scenario for The Portable Wargame.

After I get a couple of more games under my belt, I think I am going to expand on Bob’s ancient rules. I already have some ideas that don’t fall too far outside the “canon” of his rules. Mainly they will be to provide a small amount of differentiation of units for the classical period. As well, I am going to put some paper armies, board and terrain, all 2.5D, and try to make a truly portable wargame.

The Portable Wargame at Lulu Hardback, Softback, E-Book

Computer game can be found here.

More information and support at the author’s blog.


Sahara 1943/1995

October 4, 2016

Recently, I watched the 1943 movie Sahara staring Humphrey Bogart.  It is a remarkable movie for a number of reasons.  As the movie was made in 1943, the equipment used was all state of the art.  The Allied vehicles were all authentic.  At various times in the movie, there was a M-3 Stuart/Honey, several M-3 Lee tanks, one of which was Lulu-Belle and a M-2 White Scout Car.  As the war was at its height, there was no German equipment to be had.  The White was presumably supposed to be an SDKFZ-250 half-track.

The movies that came about after the war in the early 60s had a curious negative tone toward our Allies, especially the British.  Thankfully, the tone of this movie is more of a cooperative one.  There are a managerie of characters from all arms, mostly explained away because they were at an aid station for various reasons.  They were fighting in the battle of Gazala and a general retreat had been ordered.  So why an American?  Well, the Allies were planning on invading Morocco and the Americans needed some experience fighting in the desert.  Our hero was part of a tank company sent to North Africa to fight along side of the British and gain some practical experience against the Germans.

There are a few stereotypical characters as well.  There is an Italian who is both a little round and has no real stomach for a fight.  He is, however, a pretty good mechanic.  There is a Frenchman who was driven out of France when the Nazis came and executed most of the people in his village because they were suspected resistance fighters.  He is also a bit round and has a love of good wine and good food.  Also not a terribly good fighter but he is willing to kill a German at first chance.  Finally, there is a Sudanese tracker who is a good fighter and is well respected.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this is that the movie was filmed well before the civil rights movement.  The character is both believable and well done.  Not a second banana by any stretch.

A remake of this movie was made in 1995 staring, oddly enough, James Belushi.  This was an Australian made movie.  I saw it on IMDB and thought Id give it a trying.  With lowered expectations, I watched it and was pleasantly surprised.  The cast of characters was quite good.  Most of the story was the same from the older classic.  The opening scene is still the same.  There are a few classic tanks, including a Matilda.  There is no German halftrack but there is a LRDG patrol that finds the gang.  They have a vintage Chevy and a Jeep.  The characters were similar to that of the classic movie but somehow were more endearing.  Luigi the Italian was less of a caricature than previously.  he was still a whiz bang mechanic and still just wanted to get home so he could live out his life with his wife and child.  Frenchy was portrayed a bit mean and even a little sinister.  When he switches out to the famous scene where he talks about what he would do if he were back at his vineyard, he was really likable, much like the classic Frenchy.  But then he remembers that it is not there anymore and he begins to brood again.    It was after this scene that you really see the lads bond.

The attacks were very similar though Waco never goes for help.  He stays to fight and pays the price like the rest of the men except two.  The big difference is that in the old movie, Lulu Belle never moves during the fight.  In the new version it goes on a bit of a joy ride hitting the German attackers hard.  Note that at this stage in the war, German infantry had no effective means of dealing with an M-3.  This is a recon battalion so even if they had a 37mm gun, it would have been ineffective against the 2″ sloped plate of the Lee.  Perhaps not as cool looking as the tank assault on the tree line in the movie “Fury” but a pretty good scene none-the-less.

Finally, there is Joe Gunn.  We all probably know about Bogart and his role.  He does do a fabulous job.  He is quite capable and brave but it not the “Mary Sue” that other action heroes are.  In fact, he is kind of flawed and can even be mean at times in his own right.  As played by James Belushi?  Surprisingly good.  My objection to him is not with the acting but rather with the look.  Belushi just didn’t look “military.”  he did not have a tanker’s uniform which almost certainly would have been a khaki coveralls like the one Bogart wore.  His hair was too long and the hair style a bit too modern.  But his acting was quite good.

You can’t go wrong watching either movie.  They tell the same story.  The acting is quite good in both though the style in the classic movie is a bit dated.  The sign of the times I suppose.  Get them both.  Watch them side by side.  Well worth the 3+ hours you will spend.

 


One Hour Wargames with my son

May 19, 2015

I’ve been getting a fair bit of wargaming in lately…A fair bit for me anyway.  My son was watching my friend Ian and I play out some of the Quatre Bras game as a play-test.  Naturally he asked when we would get to play “…and not the Hobbit again.” he said.    Not that he didn’t like The Hobbit but that he wanted to try something on a bigger scale, or so I supposed.  So, I put together a One Hour Wargames Dark Ages battle.  Essentially, we ended up with Britons vs more Britons.  I setup the first scenario in the book “Pitched Battle.”  Essentially, the battlefield consists of a hill at the center of each baseline and flat plane everywhere else.  The armies were 6 units strong.  He had a cavalry, 4 heavy infantry and a skirmisher.  I had a cavalry, 4 heavy infantry and warband.

I suspect I had the advantage but opted to charge straight ahead.  he charged straight ahead in the same fashion.  The cavalry and infantry were all locked up by turn 4 and formed 6 little struggles all over the battlefield.  The skirmishers managed 2 shots during the game but scored no hits.  They did considerably better in hand to hand combat.  I rolled many 1’s (I was playing a 7 year old after all!).  He managed the first kill on my Warband.  As it was near the flank, he opted to maneuver to the flank of my cavalry and charge it a turn later.  He then had 2 units running free.  He charged into the flanks of my heavy infantry units in the center.  He then destroyed the one fighting his other heavy infantry unit in the center.  My other heavy infantry unit finally destroyed first his skirmishers and then turned and destroyed his cavalry.  On or about turn 8 he finished me off by destroying one of my heavy infantry units on the right straight up.  The other unit was destroyed by a flank charge.

My son’s impression of the game was not favorable.  He said that it was too boring.  “How do you mean?” I asked. Units just get stuck and nothing really happens except die rolling he said.    To translate, I suspect he means there were not enough tactical decisions to be made.  He did say, “I think these guys with bows should be able to retreat from combat after the enemy attacks them.”  Came up with that all by himself and it is not really a bad rule.  7 years old and already tinkering!

My impressions were a bit different.  I thought it worked pretty well for Dark Age warfare.  You can form a shield wall and go at it while trying to gain that little edge that might win you the battle.  The battle will turn based on what happens in the first few turns.  Had I really been playing, I would have ignored his skirmishers and doubled up one of his heavy infantry units.  Even with my poor die rolling, it would have been a much closer game that way.  The other possibility would be to have my warband go after the flank of one of his heavies while isolating his light infantry on the other side of the line.

The warfare of the period is just a simplified version of classical warfare and to this point, the game delivers.  So, this may not be the game for him.  I also have “Throw me a 6” on my “Old School” page.  It has a few more intricacies and even has some retreating as a combat result so maybe that will be more to his liking.  Maybe.


Slayer of Brushes? No More!

March 20, 2015

pinksoapI am one of those unfortunate souls who does not know how to keep a paint brush in a healthy shape.  Someone on TMP recommended a certain kind of brush soap and swore it would extend the life of a paint brush for quite a long time.  I don’t remember the brand but could not find it at my local craft store anyway.  What I did find was Pink Soap.  There are no directions but I assumed that it was a simple application to the index finger.  You then can work it gently in to the bristles with your index finger and thumb.  Then rinse the brush and store properly until the next time.   I have to say the results are quite impressive.  I’ve had 4 paint sessions with my latest set of brushes and there is no sign of wear what so ever.  Normally, I would have destroyed at least one brush by the 4th session.  The bristles have maintained their color without a trace of pigment.  I’d highly recommend brush soap to anyone who paints, anything (miniatures, pictures, ceramics whatever).  A little bit goes a long way.


Bloody Big Battles…First Impressions

January 30, 2015

bbbBloody Big Battles is a simple game designed to play out large 19th century battles in an evening.  The book is 56 page black and white magazine style book.  The rules of play cover just 14 pages and include several examples on movement, shooting and assault.  The game requires 2 six-sided dice and a largish table along with many stands of infantry.  The nominal scale in the book is 1000 infantry or cavalry per base or 24 guns for artillery.  The ground scale is approximately 150 yards per inch.  These numbers are scaled up or down depending on the size of the scenario played.  Speaking of scenarios, there are 8 included with this game manual covering the entire Franco-Prussian war.

The author has based this game largely on Fire and Fury ACW rules set but has greatly simplified many aspects.  Units, regardless of size, become spent based on their training level.  A raw unit becomes spent if it lose just 1 stand while a veteran unit can take 3 hits before becoming spent.

Several aspects dealing with morale are built right into the maneuver table.  As units are raw, trained or veteran, one of the results of shooting is to halt a charge based on the charging units training level.  This will cause no damage but will cause disruption if the unit in question is not better than the result rolled.  For example, I roll an R result when firing at a charger.  That unit is trained so the unit will still charge home.  As well, when rolling on the maneuver table, if the unit in question is in good order, some results will allow the unit to recover a stand if the training level is high enough.

There is one oddity that stood out for me.  When a unit is in a reinforced line (deployed deep by game terms), it may only shoot with the front rank.  But if that same unit were assaulting, it may shoot with BOTH ranks.  I am not sure why this is unless it is because the unit in question is performing some sort of rolling fire drill as it advances.

Otherwise, shooting and assaulting are similar to Fire and Fury.  Each stand is worth so many fire points on the fire table.  Total these points up, roll 2D6 and check the result.  Defender fires first followed by the attacker.  The big difference is the 2D6 instead of the D10.

Assaults also work like Fire and Fury but each player rolls a single D6 and adds up modifiers.  A quick note, the rules sate that the dice are compared immediately and the difference is modified up or down based on attacker and defender.  Attackers will add modifiers while the defenders will subtract.  It would be more straight forward if each player were to roll their die, add modifiers to it and then compare.  It’s a minor quibble.

The rules set covers weaponry from 1815 through 1900.  This means that you can have a wide variety of troops represented on the table top.  As units are ostensibly divisions, this means that much of the tactical detail is abstract.  The reason I say this is that you can probably extend the game pretty easily all the way back to 1700 when armies became truly large.  For instance, there are rules for armies being passive which is a -1 penalty when trying to maneuver a unit.  This can be applied to most armies through the Seven years War.  There are fire control modifiers which will give you a +/-1 combat shift depending on how good/bad your troops are.  English/Dutch troops in the Wars of Spanish Succession might be average while other continental troops would get a penalty for rank fire.  So while this book is clearly aimed at 19th century Europe, the nuts and bolts are there to extend this game to earlier periods.

I picked my game up from FRP games for $20.  Other places are selling the game for $25.  If you enjoyed Fire and Fury but want something a little lighter in concept, you should check these rules out.