Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Battle of Leipzig - 20mm Mega-Game

I was lucky enough to take part in a 20mm battle of Leipzig mega-game staged by Francis Long (of the Napoleonics 20/20 blog) with about 20 players drawn largely from around Reading and the South East and ably umpired by Francis and Tony.

There were around 7000 figures on a three tables, each about 6ft x 24ft, arranged as a horseshoe to cover the N, W and E side of the battle, with Leipzig itself being conveniently the gap in the middle. Elements were battalions more or less representing brigades. The wargame covered only the first day of the battle (16th Oct 1813) whilst things were still quiet open.

The area around Markleeburg

Francis has done a detailed AAR on his blog so I'll confine myself to what I was involved in.

I started out as Oudinot with a Bde of YG under my command, but off table in reserve on the Southern sector. Given the mass of Allies to our front, and the relatively long reserve deployment times it was agreed to pull Oudinot and a Bde of Lt Cavalry onto the S table asap. I arrived Turn 3, between Liebertvolkwitz and Wachau, behind the Galgenberg. Our merry team on the S consisted of Marc on the extreme E holding off the Austrian hoards, Bill (who I've played with for years now at Liphook) defending Liebertvolkwitz , myself, Adrian also coming from reserve to defend Wachau, and Mike and Bob covering from Wachau to Markleeburg.

With battles raging either side of me my first big threat came when Russian Guard Cuirassier (under Mark, who was my opponent for most of the game) came out to try and clear their front. I gallantly sent my lancers and hussars against them, and luckily Francis' rules don't differentiate between lights and heavies too much (just +2 for Guard) so I was able to exchange my lights for his Guard heavies. That then left a bit of a gap so my horse batter came out to play and raked enfilade fire on the Prussians attacking Wachau and helping to relieve the pressure on our defenders who struggled all game to keep the village. By nightfall we still held the key villages, with only Liebertvolkwitz not being hard-pressed, but in the dim light of dusk we saw a Brigade of the Pavlovian Grenadiers and then a Brigade of Austrians line up against us - it was going to be a tough second half.

The Northern Sector
The next day, the sun rose and the Austrians had miraculously been moved all the way out to our far L. The lines were redressed and we still faced the Pavlovians, some more guard heavy horse and a row of batteries on the ridgeline. We started with a few turns of counter-battery, with my Young Guard battery firing over 5 turns and never hitting a thing, although the foot battery next to it, rolled with the same dice, hit every turn. Then it was time for the cavalry to get to grips again, and I now had two Brigades of Guard cavalry, and a series of charges and counter-charges, backed up by some artillery fire, eventually cleared his cavalry away. Nicely all of the cavalry action meant that the Pavlov Grenadiers had to stay in squares, and by the time the melees were over I could still keep them there with my cavalry whilst my horse guns moved up to pound them. Since it was obvious that I was unlikely to face a heavy infantry assault from those boxed up mitres my Young Guard moved R to help defend Wachau.

Looking W over my sector, Wachau in middle distance
As the game drew to a close we ran out of time to really exploit the gap in the centre. The Pavlovs were taking damage each turn, and there was even a gap behind them where my cavalry could swing round the Prussian rear. I'd also handed one Cavalry Brigade off to Bill to help delay the Advancing Austrians on the L flank.

My Horse Battery delivering enfilade fire
Overall a great game, and very genial allies and opponents. The figures and terrain were wonderful, and I hadn't realised how many people were still playing 20mm Napoleonics - great news! The rules were well, far better than the Liphook ones and far more suited to this sort of big game. There were a few things I'd disagree with, but that's always the way, but at least they were quick, led to few debates, and seemed to give mostly realistic results.

The allies assault Liebertvolkwitz

The whole day was graciously hosted by Francis, and everyone was a delight to play with, so a great weekend, and one it would be great to repeat - and the French victory was well-deserved!

Francis and Marc mid-game

Friday, 8 June 2018

Hopton Heath #2 - My Bucket-of-Dice Rules

Every back to their starting places...

Now to play through the scenario again, using the "bucket-of-dice" version of my nascent ECW rules. I tried the BOD approach with my medieval rules after Agincourt last year so thought I'd try them out here. Card based activation and my custom ECW cards all laid out.

A similar Dragoon - on - Dragoon battle on the flanks as before. The opening salvos quite lethal but then with dice lost for open order (firer and tgt) and soft cover (-'ve for Royalists) settle down in Turns 2 and 3. Units can take ~5 hits before breaking, most Dragoons have now taken 3.

The parliamentary foot is again being battered by Roaring Meg (well in fact meg keeps missing and its the light gun which is scoring the hits!)

Left (Royaist) flank with the Roundheads in the enclosures. Every unit dices for Troop Quality ONLY when they first need to know it. A good smattering from +2 to -2 with most at 0 as expected.

Not hanging around so the Royalist charge (gallop) forward to meet the advancing (Trotting) Roundheads - and no mistakes about column! The Roundheads have a TQ of -2 so unsurprising they get routed by the Royalists. The victors roll for the follow-on and get advance but not pursue and so gallop into a risky spot in the midst of the Parlimentarian units before they run out of puff.

Actually feeling less keen on the BOD model as it does give big swings each turn, may go back to my custom D8 - but actually the +/- die I picked up at Games Expo are working very well for determining Troop Quality so I may use those. Will run this game to conclusion and then try with the "old" ECW set - I think with this few DMs the BOD approach is maybe superfluous.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Battle of Hopton Heath - 1643 - ENDEX and AAR

Hopton Heath came to an end at Turn 7 with a decisive Parliamentarian victory.

Frustrated by the delays in the Dragoons clearing the enclosures Turns 3 and 4 saw the Royalists send one Regiment of Horse against the Royalist cavalry, and another against the infantry - straight over the poor bunnies! The Royalists caught the Roundheads in column, so the defenders only got 1D (cf 8D for the attackers), so it was a bit of a blood bath. Interestingly though there are no rules  for victors to get drawn off the board when in pursuit, and the attackers suffered no damage or disorder at all - so just reformed back off the ridge. The cavalry attacking the infantry had a tougher time. The rough ground caused no negatives at all (just relates to movement), and the receiving shot delivered a punishing closing fire. They elected not to go into hedgehog in order to get the shots off, so it became 1 Cav unit vs 1 Pike and 1 Shot - but there didn't seem to be rules for such mixed melee i.e. apply the +'ve DMS for one and -'ve for the other. I took what I think was a sensible course and the cavalry was soon routed.

Turn 5 and 6 still saw no progress on the Dragoons, but each Parliamentary unit was now Shaken, but the Roundheads only had 2 damage each. Roaring Meg continued to punish the Parliamentary line, eventually routing the right shot unit. In return the Roundhead gun put some more damage on one of the two remaining Royalist cavalry units, and put it into disorder. This was crucial as it then couldn't change into line, so Parliament was able to do a double move with its remaining cavalry unit and rout the Royalists (again with the 8D:1D ration but advantages switched). To put the final nail in the Royalist coffin their right flank Dragoons were finally routed by the stiff fire from their Parliamentary opponents. The Shot reinforcement has also just arrived on the Parliamentary side - but too late to join the battle.

Chasing off the Royalist cavalry

The Royalist dragoons break

The final positions

So, not a bad game, and Pike & Shotte certainly plays quickly and simply. However I do have a few reservations about them in terms of how I like to play:

  • Musket fire is far too long
  • There is no progressive degradation
  • There is no danger or chasing off, always a key ECW feature, and victor has complete control post-melee (not even Quarrie had that!)
  • Pike and Shot as separate units
  • Artillery seems too effective
The bucket-of-dice works fine, and will be interesting to see how the  BOD version of my own rule stacks up which I'll use to replay this scenario over the next week.

Looking at Hail Caesar and Black Powder (thanks to the recent free PDF deal) all three sets are pretty much the same mechanics throughout, and musket has a range of 18" in BP (against move of 12" for Inf, 18" for Cav, 9-12" line frontage, and Horse Arty range of 36") - so it gives me a good idea of how that must play. So not my ideal, but I can certainly see it as being pretty playable.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Games Expo 2018

Not for want of trying but I haven't been to Games Expo since it moved off the Hagley Road probably 5-6 years ago. But this year I finally got there, and boy has it grown!

As well as the big trade hall there was also at least 1/2 a hall for competition games, and a great bring and buy.

The British Historical Wargames Society had a competition going on, most Art de l'Guerre by the looks of it with some huge ancient & medieval armies in 6mm. Pity about the blue cloths though!

There was also a hug X-Wing championship going on, and by the end when it was down to just a few tables there were big crowds and sporting "whoops" around all the final games.

The main thing about Games Expo though is always for me trying out new games. There was a neat "playtest corner" full of short games in development that you could try out where the authors were after specific feedback. I tried one game out there, a card game based around skateboard tricks - slick mechanics, easy to play. In touring the stands I also tried a very good robot game, Robot Royale which starts on Kickstarter this week, and was very simple but needed a lot of thought and played out in about 15 mins -  so exactly my kind of game! I'll post the link once its up as I'll certainly be buying a copy.

In terms of trends - lots of games with "oversized" pieces - a whole forest in one! Lots of brand extension - eg Westeros Catan, lots of miniatures with "tabletop gaming" a real thing, some nice 3D printing of pieces, some good kids games. Overall a great mix.

In terms of my loot, very limited, but was deliberately trying to avoid buying any big boxed games as I know I don't really have the time and have two at home (Thunderbirds and Traveller Crad Game) still to play when Jo get's home. But this is what I got:

A 2' x 2' one-inch generic mat for modern and SF skirmish.

The Traveller Mindjammer setting book. Not aware of Mindjammer but interested in SF-RPG takes on transhumanism and talks about rules to adventure in the "Mindscape" caught my eye.

Worth the trip for this as far as I'm concerned - the only real gap in my Traveller Alien Module collection (not too concerned about Darrians!), and last time I saw one and failed to buy it (as they had lots else I did buy ) was about 6 years ago in Vancouver!

Plus that Kickstarter....

So overall a great show, and will still plan to go every year (even if I only make 1 in 5!)

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Battle of Hopton Heath - 1643 - STARTEX

View NE from above Royalist lines

With a still limited playing area the next game up was the Battle of Hopton Heath which took place in 1643 just outside of Stafford. I've been close to the site several times on trips to the Uni but never actually walked the site - must do so next time.

It's the first in my 1643 series of games for this year (last year was 1642), and as a large skirmish (~1200 men a side) ideal for the reduced tabletop. Since I was doing it in 20mm I decided to give Warlord's Pike & Shotte a go, although unlike with Rommel I'm not expecting much form them - but be interesting to see how they play.

The Parliamentarians had about 500 Inf, 400 Cav and 300 Dragoons, with 200 extra inf to arrive later. They established  defensive position along  a low rise, between two sets of enclosures and with the front of the infantry partly protected by a rabbit warren (!). The Royalists had 800 cav and 300 dragoons. They also had the Roaring Meg siege mortar to put terror into their opponents, with bot side also having lighter pieces.

Since the 500 inf were going to equate to what I normally think of as one unit, that equated to 3 P&S units (as they treat the shot sleeves as separate from the pike block). So that gave about 150 - 200 men per P&S unit, about 1:20, so the order of battle was as follows:

Parliament: 2 x shot, 1 x pike, 2 x Dragoons, 2 x Cav, 1 x small Inf reinforcement
Royalists: 4 x cav, 2 x Dragoons

Slightly more dragoons than in reality but needed to be split on both flanks and didn't want to mess around with small units.

The game has about 9 turns, assuming a standard 20min per turn elapsed time, 3pm start and dusk at 6pm. If that's tight I might play to 7pm.

On turn 1 Hastings (commanding the Royalists) failed his order roll for both Dragoon units, so nothing happened. On Turn 2 he succeeded on his R flank and the dragoons went forward. Roaring Meg roared, and caused zero damage, as did the lighter guns on both sides. The defending dragoons let rip at the advancing Royalists and caused 1 hit, but the Royalists failed to return the favour.

Parliamentary gunners keep their cool as the Royalist dragoons advance

Then the first surprise. Despite being 18" (1 hex = 3" for this) away the shot could take on the waiting cavalry. Given frontages I'm estimating each hex at 50m, so that's a 300m engagement! (The rules do say that ranges are set to be "playable" not accurate). Two of the Royalist cavalry units took a hit.

Turn 2 over. On to Turn 3.....

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Rommel Test Game

End Turn 6
In the first few Turns the British and Germans were getting stuck into a tank tit-for-tat on the (British) left flank, whilst on the right the Brits had eliminated the Italian forward positions and encircled the Germans holed-up in Sollum on the coast.

Sollum under seige

Turns 7/8 saw more of the same, with the tank battle seeing most units down to their last step - with a slight advantage to the Germans as they were getting +1 hit on each combat due to their superior tanks.

The Matildas go forward
At the end of Turn 8 an extra battalion or so of Kampfgruppe  Esebeck arrive. With no breakthrough on the L the British commander does a re-plan. Sollum is bound to fall, so for victory he just needs to take and hold the oasis as well. So all forces on the L are pulled back to defend the oasis. The Coast Bn which was in reserve on the R flank is road moved up to help, and as soon as Sollum falls those troops will also be moved up.

So the next few turns sees the British enact the plan and von Esebeck start to try and take the oasis, with other units providing a supporting role.

Sollum Falls, ~ Turn 11

As the battle around the oasis develops the British suddenly notice that the German gun line and supply depot is right in front of them and unprotected, so a "Jock Column" of a Matilda Sqn and Inf Coy is sent forward to reek havoc. They take out the Italian battery, but the German one escapes. They then camp out on the supply point, eating loots of sauerkraut and rendering all German units "isolated". In practical terms that just means they can't use a road move, so it stops any of their more distant units coming to the aid of the oasis fight.

"Jock Column" at right heading for the vulnerable depot and gun line
With the Coast Bn unlikely to hold the Brits thought they had a plan, with the Germans taking the oasis on Turn 14, the Brits retaking it on Turn 15 with the relatively fresh 1 SG just released from Sollum, and then reserving enough dice to hold it during Turn 16.

As it was the Coast Bn held on during Turn 14, and were then relieved in place by 1 SG. There was also a certain amount of gamesmanship with a Tank Sqn being left on the oasis so as to avoid Tank Shock.

So it came down to Turn 16, and the Germans making  literally the last throws of the dice to take the oasis. The Brits expected the Tactic that moves a unit out, and so had a dice ready for "quick reaction" to replace it , but instead the Germans played "no tactics", so all the Brit dice were useless and the Germans called down Reserve Arty and airstrikes to try and dislodge the Brits. Luckily on Turn 15 the brits has played prepare positions, so when the Germans scored 5 hits, 2 went on the prepared positions, 1 wiped out on the armour unit, but the SG companies were able to absorb a hit each  - so the oasis held and the Brits won.

The final battle

In the failing light (literally!) the heroic A & B Coy Scots Gds hold on!

Thoughts on Rommel

So, game over, and I don't think that my views changed a lot. A like what Sam Mustafa tries to do, in this and Blucher, and generally how he does it - you certainly can't fault the production quality - but there is always something that just doesn't gel for me. In Rommel I think its that it has the SAGA problem, it becomes more about how you muster your dice to achieve events and tactics that have no direct on-board presence than it is about moving the "toys" around. I really did feel that I could have played this SPI for no loss of interest, and actually for improved playability and usability. I also didn't particularly think the big squares worked for me, movement and actions were too coarse - even though I've found the 10cm hexes to work fine. There is also huge scope for gamesmanship I think, such as the anti-tank-shock example above (maybe that just good tactics) and also that in the attack on Sollum although I had a Bn on each flank I always attacked with 2 coy from one side and 1 coy from the other so as to get the "flank" advantage. If Sam really wanted to have a more grand tactical/strategic game I think we needed to the focus even higher, so Bn units to make table and events/tactics seem more equal.

Unfortunately I can't see myself racing to play it again - I think that Blitzkrieg Commander is still closer to what I want - so I may be rebasing all my new desert units after their first outing, or try them as-is on 4cm hex. I've promised myself a professional desert hex cloth, and then when BKC4 comes out we'll give it all a whirl again!

Thursday, 10 May 2018

20mm ECW Cavalry

My first completed 20mm metal ECW unit using some nice figures from Tumbling Dice. Have also painted the Shot for a foot unit, but only now doing the Pike. Writing the book wiped out most of April from a painting/gaming perspective, but with that now at the publishers there's time to paint again (although still not much space to play...)