Battles of WWII by Osprey Publishing

December 7, 2017

I found two great books from Osprey Publishing this past fall at Southern Front in North Carolina.  The books are reprints from a set of older titles.  The first is on Libya in 1940, dealing with the Italian invasion and subsequent retreat to the Libyan frontier.  The second covers Rommel’s opening moves and carries the reader through Operation Battle Ax.

As usual, the books are well illustrated with maps and period photos though with fewer artist illustrations than more current Osprey Titles.  The summaries of the fighting are well written and very easy to read and follow.

In the section illustrating the armies, there are some fairly detailed orders of battle for the various combatants.  These OOBs are book specific with the Germans only appearing in the Tobruk book.  As an extra surprise, the bok on Libya has a small section in the back with wargaming ideas for gaming the campaign.  Both enjoyable reads and well worth picking up.

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For King or Empress: A Quick Overview

September 13, 2017

I’d been eyeing up For King or Empress by First Command Wargames for some time now.  There is a relative dearth of information on this game.  I finally got the bug and decided to take a chance on the PDF version of the game.  FKoE is a relatively short rule book, at least by today’s standards, weighing in at just 44 pages.  About half the rule book is devoted to all aspects of the game.  FKoE uses a card activation system.  When a General’s card is pulled, the owning player makes a move with all units under that General’s command.

before units are moved, a die is rolled.  If it is greater than the command number for that general, all units under his command may move freely up to their movement rate.  If they fail the command roll (usually by rolling a 1 or a 2) the units under his command move at half speed.

Units move at double speed when they are outside of 8″ from any enemy unit.  Within 8″, units move at normal speed.  This is a simple way to have units fight deployed without having to fiddle with actual formation changes.  There are simple rules for wheeling.

If hits are sustained, morale checks are made.  The more hits you take, the worse the penalty for failing a morale check.  No unit can take more than 4 hits before automatically routing.  A failed check on 3 hits, for example will cause the unit to take another hit and route.  I noted that morale also goes down by 1 for each hit.  So you are double penalized for taking hits on units.  I am not really sure how I feel about this.  After a couple of plays, I will have a better feeling.

Shooting and melee are handled in the same manner.  Each unit (a single element representing a battalion) gets 1 die.  If you roll the units combat rating or less, you score 1 hit on the enemy.  If your chance to hit is 6 or more, you automatically score a hit.  For numbers greater than 6, there is a chance you can score a second hit.  Also, combat hits in melee are modified based on the situation.  Horse, for instance, takes an extra hit when meleeing infantry from the front.

There are rules for setting up the battlefield and a few quick suggestions for campaigns.  Most of the rest of the book is concerned with army lists.  There are set piece lists for small armies which are assumed to be for battles against the advanced guards and more extensive lists for full armies and big battles.

There are some minor errors in the book but no show stoppers.  The game lists the equipment needed at the beginning of the book.  Among the dice needed are D12s and D6s.  However, when we get to the morale section, the call is for a D20.  The call is repeated in the QRS which tells me that D12s were once used for morale but have fallen out of favor for D20s.  Not such a big deal since everything related to morale seems to be geared for D20s throughout book.

So, yes.  The rules junky fell off the wagon and got another wargame.  This one is on my list of games to play in the near future.  The upshot: I have two Baccus 6mm starter armies.  I’ve been vacillating back and forth how I should base them.  I think I have my answer now.  The rule book calls for 4cm frontage and 3cm depth for infantry.  So 3 ranks fills that out nicely.  Ill probably leave a 1cm space to the rear of the base for placing hit markers…which I also have.


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.