Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Preparing for BAOR 1988

When I started to resurrect my 1/300th Cold War Gone War wargaming a few years ago I was keen to have some sort of campaign game to give context to any battles. I then discovered that SPI did a BAOR game (I have their Next War, but that has Div/Bde units and ~10-20km hexes, and I wanted Bn's and ~2-3 km hexes (ie a table) - which is what BAOR has.

I set up a eBay search on BAOR and kept my eye out at shows but to no avail. I managed to find hi-rez scans of the map and counters, and a copy of the rules. I was on the verge of getting the map printed at A1 when I found a copy of the game (less the magasine and the glorious cover above :-( ) on eBay, so now have the proper map.

Of course being me I wasnt happy with the rest of the game. The counters were more like 1983/84, whereas I wanted 87/88 - when I was in BAOR. Also the rules, whilst they used Fatigue for partial damage,  use the standard ratio based CRT of almost all SPIs types games. I can't say I get along with this model, as every game SPI I've ever played comes down to getting enough points together to just make a ratio threshold, and you lose all sense of what the units are.

I'd been looking for a set of "operational" level wargame rules for a while. I thought that Rommel might fit the equation but it just wasn't what I wanted. I found FreeHexBlitz on the web, and thought it a pretty good start, so I started working up my own rules, the key elements being that each unit has:

  • A size rating, effectively companies/squadrons, which gives how many D10 you roll
  • An attack rating, based on the type and quality of kit
  • A defence rating, based on the type and quality of kit

A key decision was that ratings are relative to the norm of the day, rather than trying to work out any details of armour, penetration etc.

Of course all this meant that I needed to create over 200 counters. Luckily I found this YouTube video by RK who had two great ideas which worked really well:

  • Use the Panorama feature in IfranView to join images exported from PPT into strips, and then join the strips into sheet. Very simple process
  • Use Self Adhesive foam sheets to give the counters more depth than card and make then easier to manage

So SPI map out, my rules play tested over the last couple of weeks, counters made, and all ready to go in time for Election Night!

Monday, 9 December 2019

Battle of Vimeiro AAR and Over the Hills Playtest

Having picked up the new edition of Over The Hills in the Kickstarter earlier in the year I finally got this set to the table, having heard good things about the 1st Edition.

The scenario I chose was Vimeiro, as it was due in my decadal battle series (if a year late!) and there was a nice scenario for the southern part of the battle using OTH courtesy of the Devon Wargames Group.

It was also my first chance to try out my new foam mats, and fight on 10cm squares instead of 10cm hexes (I converted OTH readily for the purpose).

This was the starting deployment, looking S, French on the left.

Four tiles to my 2:1 standard, the Mk1 top right just as underlay

The Battle

Only a brief summary. The French "came on in the same old style, and the British repelled them in the same old style". With only a battery apiece there was little time for preparation so the French columns piled into the British lines on the hill and got beaten back. The British followed up and inflicted more casualties, breaking one Brigade.

The lines clashing. Puff = 1 fatigue

On the French right (bottom of top picture) the cavalry tried to take on the advancing British but the terrain was too complex, the British formed square and the Cavalry went home. A final showpiece British vs French cavalry charge achieved little. At the end of Turn 8 (suggested scenario end-point) the French had 27 fatigues, only 3 off the Army break point, the British had about half that, so a clear victory for the British.

British Light Dragoons - Airfix conversions ~30yr old. Yes I know not Tarleton.

The Rules

I suppose the problem I have with OTH is that they are a very standard set, and as such I naturally think that my "standard set" - Steady Lads Steady - are better, and most of the changes I'd make to OTH would just make them more SLS like. This is in contrast to say Snappy Nappy or Et Sans Resultat where the mechanics are different enough that there is no direct comparison.

30+ yr old brittle Airfix Highlanders get a rare outing!

That said OTH played pretty well, and certainly prefer them to Black Powder or Liphook, but perhaps not to Francis Long's. I need to retry GdA/GdB and Shako for further comparison.

The only thing I particularly liked was the Skirmish ratings as a way of abstracting skirmishers. Did also give me some ideas for better use of Generals in SLS.

French Grenadiers flanking some 95th

Things I was less keen on were (and may just be me misreading rules):

  • The whole movement segment things, just more data to remember
  • Shot from artillery impacting Skirmishers, only getting the line behind on 50% chance follow through
  • The ease with which units could recover Fatigue, so many units stayed at full strength
  • The rules layout, things were often quite buried and not helped by having melee rules about 3 times for the different situations (Inf vs Inf, Cav vs Inf, Cav vs Cav)
So glad I've played it, but not one I'd turn to again out of choice, but happy to play at a club (who might understand them better!)

British Light and Rifles - again 30+ yr old Airfix conversions. Even stovepipes!

The Grid

Worked really well. There are dots every 10cm, but even up close I sometimes had to hunt for them. Units could still manoeuvre on diagonals and wheels - although there wasn't much scope for that in this game. Looking forward to using them in ECW next.

Spot the grid?

Friday, 6 December 2019

Last Ever Napoleonic French Foot in 20mm?

Bold statement I know - but by my calculations we now have enough French troops for Waterloo at ~1:33, assuming my count of my brother's figures is right!

Next year I only have a 3 cavalry units to do (Empress and Carabiners), which are really more about improving very poor early Airfix conversions than filling gaps - and then that will be the Cavalry done too, and Artillery also already there. My focus in 2020 will then switch to support Nick with British allies, and restarting my own Russians so as to better fight other battles.

These last figures are two battalions of Young Guard Voltigeurs, and a one of Young Guard Fusiliers.

The Army Painter Varnish/Dip was getting a bit dense and stale by this stage, hence the heavy-handed look. Will be switching to their wash next year.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Bowes Museum Swan Automata

A few years ago the Science Museum had a nice Robots exhibition. Whilst the modern robots were interesting the most fascinating thing was the "writing boy" C18 automata. They had also had the Bowes' Swan for a while but I missed it. With my daughter up in Durham I promised myself a trip, and finally saw the swan play on Sunday. I's a bit of a "blink and you'll miss it", I guess its less than a minute but the movement of the head and neck as it looks around and then drops down to "catch" a fish is wonderful. All driven by clockwork and a toothed brass disc.

The other really neat bit was the "water". This was a series of glass rods, each with a different "screw" spiral on the outside, all being rotated giving a wonderful impression of flowing water.

Well worth a visit (and the Museum also has a well known painting of Napoleon), and I'd certainly go again and be more ready for the short duration of the animation. It plays at 2pm every day.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Contact:Wait Out - Desert WW2 Take 2

After the somewhat abortive test of CWO in the desert with Nick I decided to run another scenario - paying closer attention to gun ranges this time.

Each element represented a Troop, so there was about a Tank Regiment/Bn on each side. I'd reduced the number of cover categories and rebased the to hit/spot rules, and also simplified the penetration calculation (and made it penetration not save).

The game played a lot better this time, with the roughly equally matched sides exchanging a couple of squadrons each before I called a halt. The British Crusaders were just completing a flanking move round the hill, but the freshest Panzer Kompanie had gone to intercept.

Much as I love the look of WW2 Desert I'm not sure it actually wargames well - just armour heavy and a lack of cover, or a slogging match like El Alamein. Back to Normandy for a while I think...

Remnants of the central squadrons exchanging blows

The British flanking move about to be stoppered

Crusaders on the attack

Matlidas brewing up!

Friday, 8 November 2019

Virtual Reality Wargaming

Isn't it great when day job and hobby come together. I knew I was at the right place when one of the first slides someone put up (actually Steven Bowns from Wargames Research Group) was of the three editions of WRG's Modern Warfare rules, the same rules I cut my modern wargaming teeth on back in the 70s/80s, and the three of which still sit proudly on my bookshelf!

The event was the Defence Science and Technology Lab's show-and-tell on Defence Wargaming. We (my company Daden) were luck enough to get a demo and talking slot.

For the occasion I updated the Virtual Wargames Room (our 3D Virtual Tabletop - 3D VTT) we built in Trainingscapes a year or so ago. The new version was optimised for the Oculus Quest (which meant the hex board and model soldiers had to go).

SPI BAOR at grand scale

A 6x4 type hex table

Within the space we had:

  • Three big floor maps for wargames, BAOR 1984 (an old SP game), Waterloo and the Modern War's Crisis in the Baltic. These have a real sense of scale, the BAOR map in particular looks like it's filling a whole sports hall and you just want to walk all over it!
  • Example counters (done as cubes for ease of handling) for each game
  • A more conventional "wargames table", in this case with a hex grid and some example troop blocks and terrain features, and even an example simple 3D sculpt tank and figure (think Airfix 1/32nd!)
  • A dice for random number generation
  • Some static information panels (one on Soviet tactics, the other a ruleset aide-memoire)
  • A couple of dynamic information panels/web browsers to bring in rule or period related data or even live Google Docs so you can log (or read) activity and someone on the web can read/update it.

About a "28mm" figure - looks great when you kneel down in VR!

One of the whole aims was to keep it very simple. Nothing is automated, it works just the same way as though you got a physical wargame out on a real table (and we even had people knocking things off the table as in real life, and picking them up to keep the place tidy afterwards).

A visitor moving virtual pieces on a virtual wargames table!

That simplicity really worked and we got some great feedback about the whole concept. We also got some great feedback to our lightening talk, linked both to current projects we have with MOD and some of the peripheral (e.g. the BattlefieldAR system we are working up with Battlefields Trust) and hobby projects I am are working on.

The whole day gave a good insight into some of the companies working in the professional wargaming space (or with aspirations to work there), running the whole gamut from machine-learning AI based systems to good old paper and card wargames and PIP dice for unit activation. There was also a good presentation on the current MOD needs in this area, so hopefully we'll get the chance to progress some of the ideas we presented a bit further.

This is the second "professional wargaming" event I've been two in the last 2 months, and I'm missing a third at the end of the month. It's fascinating how there is a huge resurgence in wargaming in the military community (it was a dirty word when I was in), and I can't wait to see how the recreational and professional sides (continue to) interact.

I'm hoping to actually get the 3D VTT to a state when it can be used for a real game over the next few months. If you've got access to an Oculus Quest or Rift and might like to take part then let me know. We might also do a simple 3D session as well where anyone with a decent PC can play - again let me know if you're interested. I might even take it out to COW, or possibly one of the local shows.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Port2Jump on Azure!

This image may look no different to one I posted a month ago but it represents a big step forward as the software is now running on Microsoft's Azure platform. What this means is:

  • I can open up access to the software for alpha and beta testers, and end users, as I'm ready
  • There is "industrial grade" hosting for the images and data
  • The system can scale well beyond any Traveller fan use
  • I can apply the tech to other nascent projects such as the Combat60 Google Maps Campaign system
It also means I can now got back to actually writing the functional code for Port2Jump, as well as some nice bells and whistles like WebGL 3D graphics!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

ECW Covenanters and Irish

The painting task for the last couple of months has been 20mm ECW. Three units completed:

Covenanter Horse - should probably have given them more obvious blue sashes. Not sure how else they were distinguished from "English" horse.

Covenant Lancers - nice looking figures. Forgot to add the shields but think I prefer them without.

Irish Foot - loved painting up my Irish units in 6mm so here's Alastair "The Destroyer" MacColla's finest.

Will probably do a similar lot of Covenanter next year, and maybe one more batch of English ECW and then that might be my 20mm ECW done!

All figures are Tumbling Dice.

Monday, 28 October 2019

Foam Floor Mat Terrain - Part 2

Flocked up one large mat and three "slopes" over the weekend. All was very quick and smooth and I'm estimating <20mg of static grass per 60cm x 60cm square, so say £2 for the grass, £1.50 for the mat, £3.50 all up (cf 6 hexon units for same area, ~ £3.50 each = £18.50!)

Base coated simply with Dulux Feature Wall Enchanted Eden which is a great general purpose green, seeing as a textured approach didn't work out. Note to self - where I've then brown flocked over the green the green shows through a bit, so will base coat "fields" in brown next time. A few bald spots but can be easily touched up.

For the two hills I mixed in some brown flock with the grass. My intention is to use more brown at each contour tier so as to make relief more visible. In fact I think the brown mix really breaks up the "bowling green" look of the plain grass, so I'm tempted to mix a  bit of brown in even on "ground" level. In the above image the brown is mixed 1 brown to 2 grass.

In the bigger hill its 1 brown to 1 grass. Will play with the mix in the next iteration. The nice thing is that even if I change things around all these units can just be re-used as hidden tiers on the high contours.

One thing I do need to watch though is that on slopes the "lugs" on the underlying mat show through - see above photo. So I need to make sure that if an underlying mat will have its lugs exposed they'll need flocking on the lugs too.

I also need to think about and "field" arrangement - these were just tests as ever and whilst they work fine with hedges around (top photo) look a bit barren on their own. My thinking is to keep all fields out of the edge set of 10cm boxes, so that any mat can match to any other mat, but it may be useful to bleed a few to help hide the edges and to try and randomise any pattern.

Whilst the joins are a bit more obvious in the earlier photos than in my first run (there I flocked an edge that was already joined, here I flocked separately) I still don't think they are too bad and can be hidden by hedges (above), or terrain or probably with a final does of free flock before a photo shoot! Odd that in the top photo the flocks on either side of the bottom join looks so different as done at same time. Also the join to the underlying mat closest to camera again has the same flock - but that was on a darker green. Once nice thing about the 60cm mats is  that at least joins will not minimised (30cm certainly wont have worked), as you want a max of 3 deep (180cm) for reach reasons.

My next trial is sculpting a road/river into the mat - not looking good at the moment but will see what it ends up like. Then try a more "textured" approach to the final board based on YouTube videos. Then time for a second pack, probably to try more curvy hills and have enough to actually play test game on.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Foam Floor Mat Terrain - Part 1

Despite my love of hexes I'm increasingly seeing square grids as more usable for many (most) periods and settings. We're also beginning to look more closely at our Waterloo game planned for 2021 and at 1cm=100m the cost of Hexon is somewhat over £2000! I do like modular terrain though so I started thinking about the sort of foam floor tiles you get for gyms, play areas and workshops. Google turned up a few people who've done this for wargaming so I thought it worth some experimentation to see if it was viable.

My first thought was for 30cm squares, which could then be dot marked to 10cm for play. This size would be nice as you could get a building or small wood on a square, and road/rivers would work well too. But on a big table that would be a huge number of squares with lots of joins, and 30cm squares seem far more expensive than 60cm.

With 60cm there would be less scope for "terrain dioramas", but 1/10th (roughly) the squares and joins, and a lot cheaper, so that's what I decided to try.

I looked at online suppliers, but one warning from TMP was that everyone is different in how the interlock works, so if you buy some now off eBay the chances of matching are slim later. And they are bulky to post. I therefore went for the Halfords one as they were just as cheap as online (£10 for 6), and there is more chance of them sticking with the same supplier. For Waterloo I reckon we'd need ~20-30 packs so could probably arrange a bulk order!

Luckily although they have a high-grip moulding on one side the other side is totally plain. For a start I wanted to look at texturing to I did 1/4 in sand and 1/2 with grout.

I'd picked up some spray at Halfords (although will use paint in volume) and sprayed green, and then tried 3 different flocks I had to hand, my standard static grass, a Noch turf, and some random flocks.

I was massively surprised at how evenly the static grass went down - it looked as good as a Hexon hex. I'd initially discounted this approach, but seeing how good it looks I might change my mind. I can blend some darker flocks in to get more variation than Hexon, and it will go really well with my bases.

The textured surface was totally lost under the flock, so don't think I'll do that.

The flocks were poor - but that may just be the flock. I'll go away and look at some terrain videos to get a good mix of paints and flock and method, and compare that to a multi-shade static grass approach. I reckon the grass will cost about £2 a square, cf £1.75 for the square itself - but still cheaper than Hexon and I only need to flock the top levels.

Really happy with how the joins on the edges (eg the edge trim at top above) blend in.

Another question was how well can I make hills. I found the material sliced really nicely with a sharp Stanley knife, so no problems there. May be issues with keeping orientation and interlocking. Next challenge is roads/rivers (although happy to have those as standalone items).

One question is going to be whether for Waterloo I just do standard pieces which we use to get a best fit, or sculpt the contour edge pieces, or a hybrid. Need to do a square grid overlay on my Waterloo master map.

The other key question is how well the rules will play out on 10cm squares instead of 10cm hexes. Should be just a case of redefining movement and flanks. I'm a great fan of "no two diagonals in a row" and may keep with that. Will have a test game shortly.

That's it for now, will report back when I've tried a few more ideas out, but looking far better than I expected.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

My Skirmish Rules Initial Playtest

Following on from last year's skirmish mega-test I finally got my own rules on the table - and promptly found they weren't as finished as I thought they were! Anyway its served to test out some of the basic mechanics as the plucky Brits try and clear a couple of block of insurgents. Key points so far:

  • Figure activation is in an order decided before each turn - far more realistic than random. Initiative determines who moves first, then alternate, but there are some actions that will change card order.
  • Each figure has typically 3AP to use, shooting can be concurrent with that (you can run and fire!)
  • Spotting is similar to my larger scale Contact Wait Out rules, TN and TMs
  • Direct fire ditto
  • Have got separate rules for suppression and auto fire, but may combine
  • Once hit location of damage is rolled first, as then protection (structures and personal) can be taken into account
  • Stress markers cover a whole gamut of things like exhaustion, suppression, light wounds
  • 3 light wounds and you're out, or one serious wound
  • Scenario rules define reactions to friendly casualties for more realistic play
Some bit working well, others less so. Will finish this play through tonight (4 insurgents down for one Brit so far, body armour plus UGL the big plusses) and then try and get the rules finished before I play again.

Section Commander moves forward to the next block

Fire Team B provides cover from one roof top, dead/wounded insurgents L and R

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Mud Flat Trees

On a very warm New Years Day at the very beginning of the year I was walking with friends around a bay in North Wales. The tide was right out so we started to short-cut across the mud flats. I then realised that the small (8-16cm) bare stubby plants looked just like scale model trees. So I picked half a dozen up, and put them in a bag and brought them home meaning to see what I could do with them.

Fast forward 10 months and I finally sat down and had a play, and I think they've some out really well. I just sprayed them with the tacky spray glue you use for photos and stuff, threw Noch Underbrush at them, threw on some other bits of flock, mounted them and hey-presto!

Really pleased with the result. Those are 10cm hexons tile and 20mm figures for scale. There are two bare trees at the back as I ran out of Underbrush, some more on order. The dark green Underbrush was too deep I think, so will stick to light green in future.

Hope to be back in North Wales this New Year so may get some more, keeping the location a secret in case I buy up the tree farming rights and turn this into an industry!